Book Review – The Robot Chronicles

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We are creators.

Regardless of our professions, each of us is inherently a creator. We start early, creating unconquerable cities with building blocks and spinning entire lives centered around dolls and teddy bears. Creation is at the heart of humanity. Even when we think of our meals, we are mentally creating appetizing combinations of cuisines.

The art of creating has advanced by leaps and bounds as technology has advanced us as a species. Part of the problem with humanity creating is the fear that we might be too good at it. That we might create something we can’t control. That our creation takes on a life of its own.

We’ve seen this in literature for hundreds of years with Frankenstein as the long-lasting example. More recently we can point to 2001, Terminator, Blade Runner, The Matrix and dozens of other books and movies that have shown us what humanity has dared to create has ultimately come back to bite us in the end.

robot anthoAnd so, we get the latest David Gatewood anthology of short stories, The Robot Chronicles. Gatewood has again assembled a ridiculous amount of literary talent for 13 outstanding stories all involving robots in one form or another. Headlining the collection is Hugh Howey (WOOL) and Matthew Mather (Cyber Storm) and neither one disappoint. Howey’s story, Glitch, was published not long ago on its own and reminded me a lot of the movie Real Steel with fighting robots. What one person perceives as a glitch may be more than that, especially to the robot.

I’m not going to go through each of the stories, but each was fantastic and memorable in their own unique ways. I was a huge fan of Isaac Asimov as an adolescent and found each of his Robot stories to be their own moral tales in many ways. These stories are no different, offering viewpoints on what life actually means and how we treat it. Just because we are the creators, does that mean it lessens the life we hold in our hands?

A perfect story to go along with this idea is W.J. Davies’ Empathy for Andrew, where we see a situation similar to what Asimov’s Dr. Susan Calvin might have been involved in. Testing new and breakthrough robotics techniques, scientists push the limits of where the line between robots and humans lie. Andrew is the titular robot who is put through a battery of tests to test his empathy chip and Davies does a remarkable job in telling this story.

Another story I remember from Asimov’s Robot collection was that of Satisfaction Guaranteed, another Susan Calvin story where she was noticeably absent until the end of the tale. In this story, a woman has a human-like robot live with her and eventually she comes to think of him as more than a robot. You see this theme played out in two separate stories – Ann Christy’s PePr, Inc. and Patrice Fitzgerald’s I Dream of PIA. Both handle this theme in remarkable different (and in Fitzgerald’s case, bawdy and funny) ways.

There are also hints at Asimov’s child/buddy stories like A Boy’s Best Friend or Robbie where a child has a robot for a companion and friend. Edward W. Robertson takes the story further. His protagonist, Alex, received Bill as a companion when he is young, but over the years they become more than that – business partners and musicians. Just like a number of famous musicians, things happen and the band doesn’t always survive, but in Baby Your Body’s My Bass, Robertson ends the story on a positive note, in a very Golden-age way.

But the stories that really resonate and stick with me tend to be those that have a larger scope in mind – like A.K. Meek’s The Invariable Man where the fate of the world may be at stake or Deirdre Gould’s post-apocalyptic story System Failure.

One of the best things about this collection of stories is that it got me to get out my collection of Asimov robot stories and re-read and re-discover them in the light of this remarkable modern anthology. Each of the stories in TRC is fantastic, even if I didn’t specifically name the story and author. I’ll carry these stories with me for a long time.

I really enjoyed The Robot Chronicles, just like I did with Synchronic and The Indie Side. David Gatewood is becoming someone to know in the science fiction short story game and his anthologies are now “can’t miss” books for me.

The Robot Chronicles will be available for sale on Friday, July 25.

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Author Interview: Thomas Robins

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As an author, I understand how it feels to finish a book. One of the most challenging, yet fulfilling aspects of the writing process is simply finishing. For Thomas Robins, he finished not only a series, but also the complete novel of Desperate to Escape this week with the fourth installment in the science-fiction serial.

Thomas published the first part of his D2E series last September. It is unique in a number of ways, chiefly in that his protagonist is an African-American woman from the inner city of Chicago. Ineeka Coleman’s unlikely story puts her as a NASA astronaut on her way into space when everything goes wrong. The fascinating part of the book is the dual-narrative where the reader is treated to Ineeka’s time in space in one storyline and her time on earth in the other. Each story can’t exist without the other and even though you know one will end with her in space, there are tons of unexpected results and surprises along the journey for Ineeka.

I’ve been privileged to be a beta-reader for Thomas and his last couple D2E installments and he really pushes the envelope and gets the reader to think in the final couple chapters as the finish line approaches. I had a chance to ask Thomas a few questions about the series, about writing and what’s on the horizon. (Fair warning, the TV series LOST is mentioned more than a few times.)


d2e4 You have finished Desperate to Escape. Describe your feelings and what you’ve learned since starting this series.

I’ve learned that, as an indie author with a full-time job, you can’t find time to write, you make time. I’ve also learned that spending a year on a creative project is exhausting. Rewarding, but exhausting. Short stories are a much different thing: work intensely for a couple weeks and it’s done, but when the word count starts piling up, there are levels of difficulty that go into keeping everything straight. For example, when editing the final part of the story (part four), it turned out one of my characters had changed the way she talked since the last time she was in the story (part one). Something like that is not likely to happen in a short story.

Where did Ineeka Coleman come from? You don’t live in Chicago and Kansas doesn’t strike me as an “urban area,” so how did you go about creating that character?

I knew the main character would have to be strong enough to overcome some substantial hardships and Ineeka’s character came to mind as someone who could survive and grow despite the adversity.  I’ve always heard author’s say a character wrote herself, but this is the first time I’ve had it happen to me. Ineeka’s story seemed to write itself. Really, I think the first scene in the book is still my favorite: a young girl tucked away in bed using her imagination to play out her fantasy of space travel. Looking in from the outside, you’d think her whole life was terrible, but at the end of the day she had dreams just like all children do.

d2e1Did you have the finish line in sight from the beginning or did you make it up as you went along? Please answer as if you are Damon Lindelof, co-creator of LOST. 😉

Ha Ha. I feel like Damon Lindelof as I say this, but I really did have the basic story start to finish developed before I started writing. I did come across a substantial roadblock that changed the structure of the series, however. Originally, the first book “flashbacks” would feature Ineeka, book two was for Williard, book three was for Harold, and book for would go back to Ineeka. When I started writing book two, I just could not make Williard as engaging a character as Ineeka had become. I decided to make her the focus for all the books instead. Of course, I am sitting on a mountain of backstory for Willard and Harold that was not used in the books. I’m not sure they will ever see the light of day, though. Rest assured the ending was exactly as it was meant to be.

Speaking of LOST, once I finished, I really saw a lot of influences from the iconic TV series. How much do you think it influenced you in writing D2E?

I don’t watch much TV. In fact, I didn’t start watching LOST until a few seasons in. I think one of my friends lent me the DVDs and asked me to watch them. It is some of the greatest writing I’ve ever seen in television series. The slow, methodical buildup to the first season cliffhanger was brilliant, in addition to all the philosophical and religious views they touch on. LOST did influence my writing in that I liked how LOST gave equal weight to the backstory and the main storyline. In Desperate to Escape, the two parts of the story are nearly identical in length and help the reader understand why Ineeka acts the way she does.

d2e2What’s next for Thomas Robins?

Wow. I have some short stories running around my head I’ll take a stab at. I already have a superhero short written for a LOOW collaboration titled Repose. That is due out later this year. I fully expect my next novel to be even better than Desperate to Escape. It is a big project that I have been putting off until I am done publishing Desperate to Escape so I can stay on deadline.

How do you incorporate writing into your personal life and career?

Earlier, I said you can’t find time, you make time. Here are my secrets: First, if I am rocking a sleeping child, I don’t watch TV or surf the web on my phone, I write scenes on my phone. It passes the time nicely. One of my Kindle World books was almost entirely written this way. Second, I get to go to the coffee shop one night a week to work on my writing. It’s my night out. My wife has a night out too (for her hobby). It’s a great system we use to allow each of us to have a break from parenting duties while also giving each of us a night to spend quality time with the kids. It’s a win-win.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

This is such a hard question to answer because I don’t keep up with when I read books. The one that comes to mind is Eleanor by Jason Gurley.

DESPERATE_Part3What’s the best thing about being an indie author?

The best thing is when people read my writing and enjoy it. Ultimately, I make up stories all the time. Most of them are forgotten, others are never written down. The only reason I write and publish stories is because I think those stories are worth sharing.

Anything else to add? 

Will, thank you for taking the time to interview me. Please let your readers know they should sign up for my e-newslettter on my blog at www.thomasrobins.com.

Thanks Thomas!

Do yourself a favor, and pick up the four parts of the Desperate to Escape series before the price goes up (because they are really a steal at just 99 cents a piece!) Click right —-> HERE!

 

Oh…and behold the complete D2E cover (all four parts and the omnibus edition were all designed by the amazing Jason Gurley, btw…). Thomas is pegging August 1 as a release date for the full D2E story.

d2e full

Book Review – Strikers

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Yesterday I shared a short interview with Ann Christy, author of the new Young Adult novel, Strikers. Today, I present a review of that book. Ann has written previous novels in Hugh Howey’s world, but she does not shy away from world-building in this tale.

strikers

In many ways Strikers is a perfect name for Ann Christy’s first work outside of Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe.  Just taking a look at the cover is striking, the bold design pops out and will certainly draw scores of readers from just seeing it next to the other books in the Kindle store. But beyond the cover, Ann’s story is striking as a great work of young adult fiction.

In the world Ann Christy creates in Strikers, the United States is no more. In its place is a collection of independent nations, including the place where the story originates – Texas. In Texas, the people are controlled by a few select families and going against the law earns the violator a “strike,” including a tattoo on their neck. They go a bit farther than baseball as five strikes earns an out, or rather, death. That should’ve driven most of the people off the land, but even leaving Texas is an illegal act, making anyone who does so a “Striker.”

For Karas, a free spirit, this means her life is made all the harder than it already was. Life takes a drastic turn when her father, who she’d never ever known, shows up and reveals there is more to life outside of Texas. He comes back along with Maddix, the older brother of her friend Connor. Both are Strikers without any strikes left and Karas and Connor risk everything for their family.

Along with Karas, her friends Cassi and Jovan risks their lives to join her on a life-changing journey.  Along the way, Karas discovers who she really is, the truth about her father and the life she never knew existed outside of the authoritarian nation of Texas.

In this book, Ann Chisty does a fabulous job of world-building, creating a realistic dystopian world where Karas and her friends find out what they are really made of. Her characters are very believable and although she does an admirable job tying up storylines by the end of the story, there are plenty of seeds and avenues to explore in future tales in her Striker Universe. I enjoyed reading it far more than a lot of dystopian young adult books on the market today and I feel she really tapped into the emotion that fuels much of the young adult fiction market these days.

Well done, Ann. I enjoyed Strikers and I know many others will as well.

Author Interview: Ann Christy

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ann christy mugOn Wednesday my friend Ann Christy releases her novel Strikers. She’s written a few short stories recently in Synchronic and the upcoming The Robot Chronicles, but Strikers is her first full work published outside of Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe. I’ll have my review up on Wednesday, but I really enjoyed it. The cover itself will sell a lot of books, but the story itself is well worth it.

In anticipation of the release of Strikers, I decided a small interview with Ann would be great as an introduction to the book and a little bit about what Ann is going to be working on next.


 

Where did the idea for Strikers come from?

I’m a dystopia fan and a huge fan of good YA fiction. But one of the problems with a lot of dystopian fiction is that it is hard to believe it would ever occur like that. Occasionally, the science is really…*really*…bad, as well. What I wanted to do was create a dystopia where the seeds of that dystopia already exist (if not in practice, then in popular thought). Then I wanted to take it out to the point where the good intentions had become so corrupted it was a dystopia. That is what Strikers is and I think it worked. The readers will tell me if it did or not, though. They are the ultimate deciders of that.

strikersWhat’s different about writing for Young Adult as opposed to Adult?

Young Adult is a lot like regular Adult fiction. It’s all in the focus and the newness of experience. Things we tend to take for granted as we get older…like the thrill of sitting close to someone we like or the frightening nature of being on our own for the first time…are still vivid in the YA world and need to be accounted for. I want readers to feel all the thrills and chills they deserve in a book.

For me, it was difficult to write YA. Far more than standard adult fiction. I couldn’t just resort to a curse word or anything like that. I *had* to find the correct way to express what needed expressing. In the end, I think it’s a much better book for having worked that hard to do it right.

Also, I absolutely adore the characters. If I were anywhere between 14 and 18, I would be scheming for a way to go out with Jovan. No question. I like them all, though. And the romance aspects of this story made me smile. I’m not a romance writer in general, but this part of the story turned out to be the most difficult and the most rewarding aspect of it.

This is the first trip out of the silo for you — how is going?

Well, it’s not truly the first trip out of the silo. It’s just the first full length novel out of the silo that I’ve published. I’ve got two other nearly complete novels…about 180,000 words worth…that I just haven’t finished yet. And there are two (or three?) non-silo stories in anthologies out there.

But, you’re right that this is the first non-silo novel I’ve felt ready to put out into the world. It’s scary and I’m keeping my coveralls close by so that I can run back into the decon station at a moment’s notice.

You’ve been included in a few recent short story anthologies as well. What has that experience been like?

My first thought after being asked for the Synchronic anthology was…”Uh, why are they asking me? Aren’t these people all famous?” For the second one, I felt a little less weird, but still completely intimidated. After all, The Robot Chronicles will also feature Hugh Howey in it!

Short story creation is actually really hard work. Essentially, you have to go to all the same work to create a new world you would in a book, but then tell the story in about 1/12th to 1/15th of the length. It’s like walking a high wire. I love it though! It’s the kind of challenge I enjoy. I’m thinking that I’ll probably do more of those.

What’s next on the docket?

After Strikers is released on the 16th of July, I’ll mostly be useless for a little while because I’ll be watching for reviews and seeing if people like it. I have another story for yet another anthology to create…no, make that two.

You and I will be together again in a book, don’t forget. Another LOOW anthology about superpowers. I’m excited about that one!

I’m already working on book two of the Strikers series, but readers should not worry about cliffhangers. I hate cliffhangers. Strikers is a complete novel. That world is a big world though and there is a lot to explore in it.

Also on the back burner, getting simmered to soak up all the flavor, is a series of medium length works I’m calling Good News Gone Bad. Each will be a stand alone story/novella that turns what might have been a good news story into something very dark, dystopic or apocalyptic instead. The first one is called, Young Blood. It’s my dark telling of the recent discovery that GDF11, something found only in young blood, reverses many of the effects of aging on brains in older people. Oh…yes…you can see the dark future there, can’t you?


 

(Full disclosure: Ann and I are both members of LOOW, a writing group that includes writers who have all published in Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe. Her first Silo 49 book was coincidentally published the same day I published my Silo Saga book The Veil.)

Book Review – Ma Tutt’s Donut Hut

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Here’s something I haven’t told a lot of people about: when I was in junior high and high school, I devoured Lilian Jackson Braun’s books. You know the ones, featuring James Qwilleran and his cats Koko and Yum-Yum. I read all the ones the library had and forgot about them for a while. Then when an elderly cousin passed away, I managed to inherit her collection of her “Cat Who…” books as well. I re-read them, catching up on the ones I missed when I went to college. I loved the characteristics of the books and the light-hearted tone, in spite of serious events that would transpire all around Qwill and his friends. A certain supernatural flair surrounding Koko probably fed into my love of the books as well (I will also say as a cat-lover, the cats’ presence in the narrative didn’t hurt, either).

Ma Tutt Cover ThumbSo…fast forward a few more years and I learn about the genre these books belonged to – cozies. As an “adult,” I kind of figured I was past reading these books. And then one of my friends went and wrote one. I agreed to give it a read before he published, and I do not regret it one bit. Ma Tutt’s Donut Hut by Lyn Perry is a fine addition to the Cozy Mystery genre and a great light read. A short novel, Perry tells the story of Ma Tutt, a recent retiree who settles in a new community to open a bakery. In doing so, she inherits a cat, who is a little more than he seems.

The book is really four separate short “tails” that compromise the beginnings of Ma Tutt’s time in her new town and her introduction to the main characters that presumably will propel this series further as Perry decides to write more about Mack the Cat.

As I read this book, I found myself reliving the stories of Koko and Yum-Yum and the seemingly telepathic and prescient way Koko interacted with the story. Since Jackson Braun passed away a couple years ago, I would say Perry’s new world with Mack the Cat may help fill any void left behind.

Ma Tutt’s Donut Hut is on sale for a limited time for just $1.75 ($3.95 normally). Don’t miss this opportunity to grab a copy for a low price!

(Writer’s Note: Lyn’s Silo story The Last Prayer is a part of WOOL Gathering, of which my story The Sheriff’s Son is also a part.)

Deus Ex Clive

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A few days ago, my friend and editor Ellen wrote a blog post about the literary technique of Deus Ex Machina – namely that writers shouldn’t do it. I’ll do her the honor of quoting a bit of her blog post here:

Then we come to the God in the Machine. Joe Character is lost in space; out of interstellar shipping lanes, alone and drifting with no power and no hope for the future. Along comes Jane Character out of nowhere just in time to save the day! Please. I can’t even begin to calculate the odds! The average distance between stars in our galaxy is about 4 light years. That makes our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, dead average  in terms of distance (4.2 light years, if you’re keeping score) but that’s still 4.2(5.87849981 × 1012) miles.   I can’t even write that out—I lose track of the zeros. How likely is it you’re going to bump into someone?

Fine. Got it. In my writing, I’ve really tried to avoid doing this. I’m sure that if I tried, she would call me on it before I had a chance to hit publish (love ya Ellen!).

But…there is a certain writer that I love who uses a Deus Ex Machina in many of his novels, and I LOVE IT.

Clive Cussler.

I was reorganizing my bookshelf today and discovered I have a bit of a Cussler obsession. I actually didn’t start reading his books until 4-5 years ago, but in that time, I’ve developed a robust collection of Cussler books, both paperback and hardback. Check this out:

...and these are just the paperbacks on this shelf. I have a few others and a handful of hardbacks too.

…and these are just the paperbacks on this shelf. I have a few others and a handful of hardbacks too.

In a lot of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books (and a few of his other recent series as well), he has actually inserted HIMSELF as a character. And not just any character, but a seemingly quasi-omnipotent savior. Just like Ellen’s previous example of someone being rescued in the middle of space, our oceans are vast and largely unexplored. Every so often, we hear about a guy who was lost at sea for 6 months or so. How was he out there for so long, undiscovered? Just like that plane from Malaysia was never found – the ocean is ridiculously big.

So invariably, Dirk Pitt or one of his other protagonists is facing the end. Cussler has painted himself into a corner and Pitt is seeing the gates of heaven. Suddenly he wakes up on a yacht and a guy named Clive is sipping champagne and talking about just being in the right place at the right time. They talk for a little while and then our protagonist heads on his way. Within a few minutes though, the main characters are already at a loss for the name of their benevolent savior.

I was a little dumbfounded when I first read this in one of his books, but now I come to expect it. There is a bit of a “Fourth Wall” effect to it where the author gives the reader a wink and a nod. We all now it’s coming and the characters seem to get a sense of a world beyond their own as well.

So…Ellen says Don’t Deus Ex Machina.

I agree, unless your name is Clive Cussler. Then, by all means – go right ahead.

 

Self-Publishing: What a Kick!

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I’ve been on the inside of the self-publishing world for a little over a year now and every day is a new adventure. It is a fun ride and I get to enjoy my own success, along with seeing friends (and even family!) enjoy successes as well. Among some of the things I’ve done in the couple months or so:

  • Published a family short story collection featuring stories by myself, my brother Paul, and my sister Betsy – Baking With Swords. It was very rewarding on a personal level and it is a thrill to have a book with each of our names on it.
  • superRead a number of GREAT indie books. Some have been published already, like Super by Ernie Lindsey, Eleanor by Jason Gurley, Dead in the Water by Carol Davis, The Lazarus Particle by Logan Thomas Snyder, The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz, and Ma Tutt’s Donut Hutt by Lyn Perry. Some haven’t seen the light of day yet, but are going to do great when they are out: Desperate to Escape, Part 4 by Thomas Robins and Strikers by Ann Christy. (You really can’t go wrong with ANY of these books and the genre range is wide from space opera to supernatural to cozy mystery and young adult dystopian.)
  • Wrote and published a new short story within less than 5 days’ time. I wrote about it the other day, but my new short story, Contact Window was released last week and I’ve already received 6 fantastic reviews. I enjoyed the characters so much, I’m really contemplating expanding on the universe in the book after finishing my Dead Sleep Trilogy.
  • CW vertWrote my 100th post on my blog last week. Since starting this site up last summer, I’ve written about a lot of things, but I hope my love of indie books has been clear.
  • And today, watching Michael Bunker’s Amish Sci-fi book Pennsylvania rocket up the charts. All along the way, I’ve seen him be totally transparent about his sales figures and his joy of self-publishing and selling this book.
  • Oh, and I think in the next week or so, I should have something to announce about a WOOL Gathering paperback. Get ready!

This is a new age for books and publishing. The average person may not realize it, but there are boundary-pushing books out there, available, and for a much more reasonable price than the cookie-cutter books the traditional publishers are shoving down our throats. If you haven’t tried a self-published book, just give one of the above books a shot. You might find you were surprised by the quality of self-published fare (especially if you believe what a few of the traditionally-published authors are saying about us in the indie community.)

Throughout it all, I’ve had a blast. Self-publishing is such a kick!