An Introduction to Agent Smith

Standard

Next month I’ll be releasing my new novel, co-written with my brother Paul. The novel revolves around a secret government organization called The Utility Company (think X-Files, Fringe) and the lead agent there named Agent Smith. I’ll have more about that book down the road, including a synopsis and cover reveal, but for now, I want to introduce you to Agent Smith.

A couple weeks ago, Paul said to me, “Hey, we should do an Agent Smith story for Christmas revolving around the Elf on a Shelf.” (or something…I really only half pay attention). I pretty much said, “eh” but the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t shake it. I drafted the opening and then tagged Paul. He wrote some and then it was on. Within four days we had a legit story that we both loved. It’s a good introduction to the Utility Company and Agent Smith, and is a good old fashioned holiday yarn with at least twelve days of Christmas “Easter” Eggs.

Here’s the cover (click to go to it on Amazon):

NaughtyElf 2

On a side note, you’ll notice an emblem in the star on top of the tree. It’s the logo for the Utility Company, which Adam Hall graciously allowed me to utilize for this short story cover. The cover for the full length novel, Blink, is a fantastic work by Adam Hall and I’ll unveil that in the next few weeks.

Until then, please check out Agent Smith’s Christmas Eve adventures at the Utility Company.

Advertisements

My Top 10 (Actually 12) Favorite Short Stories of 2015

Standard

2015 is almost up, and you know what that means…

That’s right — excessive weight gain around the holidays!

Also Top 10 Lists!!

Last year I loved making my Top 10 books of the year (which ended up being around 17 or something), but this year I’m going to break down my lists into smaller categories. One of those will be the Top 10 (Actually 12) Short Stories I read in 2015.

Obviously not comprehensive, and not all were written in the past year, but all made a big impression on me. I’m terrible at telling you exactly which was THE BEST, so I’m just going to give them to you in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Fair warning — many of them are in the Future Chronicles anthologies since I’ve read each of them this year making them a significant reading source for me each time one was released.

A few caveats: A few stories may not have made the cut because I only took one per anthology, and I definitely left all of the parts of Hugh Howey’s Beacon 23 series off since they’ll make an appearance as a full novel on my best books of the year list.


Zero Hour by Eamon Ambrose

zeroRight off the bat, we get a revelation. Eamon has been well-known in the indie community for a few years as being a top reviewer and a big supporter of indie writers. That much talent wasn’t going to stay hidden behind his blog, though, and we were treated to the first of three (so far!), short stories by Eamon in August. The story could be written off, except that Eamon penned the story in the dreaded second-person perspective. You know — the same POV that you read all those Choose Your Own Adventure books in back in middle school. Eamon pulls it off with a flourish and is a fantastic new voice.

The Traveler by Stefan Bolz

tt chronI love how Stefan Bolz writes. Always interesting. Always compelling. Always positive. Even in The Traveler, which originally appeared in The Time Travel Chronicles, where bad things happen, there is an overall optimistic outlook. Bolz has the unique ability to take a dystopia and make it a place you want to be. In The Traveler, Bolz gives us a nuts and bolts (pun definitely intended) look at time travel as our protagonist builds a machine from scratch. The story is poignant and touching, and is one of a handful of phenomenal stories from that anthology.

Free Fall by Peter Cawdron

freefallPeter Cawdron is perhaps the best writer who you should be reading if you aren’t. He’s written stories about aliens, genetic engineering, time travel, and has most recently been focusing his time and talents on zombies and the monsters humanity creates. Free Fall is set in Cawdron’s zombie universe and is a fascinating take on the genre, putting an astronaut in space at the time of the z-pocalypse. What does he do? How does he react when a distress call comes to him from a little girl on earth? The tale is thrilling and captivating.

Tasty Dragon Meat by KJ Colt

dragonIn The Dragon Chronicles, one title took the title of the “Most Talked About,” and that was Tasty Dragon Meat. KJ Colt managed to tell a story that was funny, scary, and thrilling all at the same time. Who would imagine that ingesting dragon meat would do anything besides fill a starving man’s stomach? The idea that the addictive flesh of the dragon had hidden qualities was fun and inventive and earned Colt a spot on this list.

A Long Horizon by Harlow Fallon

11796327_10153423837640170_1900403244562143189_nThe Immortality Chronicles was the first Future Chronicles title to send proceeds to charity. One might think the stories would be subpar, but throughout it, the authors strove for excellence. Harlow Fallon’s A Long Horizon capped the collection with a bang. The story spans hundreds of years from a ship bound for the New World from Europe to a ship in deep space bound for unknown destinations. One thing is consistent – an alien who has formed a symbiotic (even parasitic) relationship with its host, a woman who was just on the cusp of adulthood on her voyage to America. It is touching, interesting, and visceral.

Piece of Cake by Patrice Fitzgerald

aiPatrice Fitzgerald takes artificial intelligence and adds something we all can relate to – cake. Originally published in The A.I. Chronicles, Fitzgerald’s story takes the cake (sorry!) as the story of A.I. run amok with political correctness. There are certainly shades and hints that allude to our society today and the steps we take to making everyone the “same” and ignoring unique body shapes. I applaud Patrice’s work on the story and how it rings true, but also how it hits the funny bone as well.

Writer’s Block by Hank Garner

writers blockEarlier when I mentioned Eamon Ambrose, I talked about how much of a boon to indie publishing he’d been. Hank Garner is quickly becoming a major voice for publishing with his Author Stories Podcast. Recording one a week, Hank is giving a voice (literally) to dozens of writers who deserve to be heard. Garner is a heck of a writer as well, publishing a number of works this year, including Writer’s Block, a story that most any writer can relate to. Of course, it isn’t as simple as just a case of writer’s block, as our protagonist Stu finds out and we get a magical story out of it.

Under the Grassy Knoll by Richard Gleaves

tinfoilDavid Gatewood is one of the best editors out there, and he took a chance this year by publishing Tales of Tinfoil, a short story anthology centered on conspiracy theories. The anthology is a bold choice and I think it pays off. Gleaves’ story leads the collection with a JFK rabbit-hole tale. Where Gleaves shines is the attention to detail and the plausibility. By the end, I was almost convinced that was the actual circumstances of the president’s assassination. Gleaves’ main work on his Sleepy Hollow series is lengthy (the three books total over a half-million words), but the short story here is a fine work, indeed.

Unconditional by Chris Pourteau

Unconditional_sml2Apparently this year Chris Pourteau just wanted to rip people’s hearts out. He originally published Unconditional on its own at the beginning of the year, and then folded it into an anthology entitled Tails of the Apocalypse featuring stories of animals in the end times. I’m sure with both appearances, readers left the story a few tears fewer. Basic premise: What about the family dog during a zombie apocalypse? Here’s the twist — the story is told from the POV of the dog who is loyal to the last. Well done, Mr. Pourteau, thanks for making me think of it all over again. I hate you.

Where Dragons Lie by Thomas Robins

41MGayjgjJLThis may be more of a novella, but I’m putting it here anyway. Right about the time The Dragon Chronicles was out and garnering five-star reviews, Thomas Robins released the first of two stories in a fantasy world inhabited by dragons and those afraid of them. The title dragon isn’t all he seems to be, however, and you’ll find yourself questioning a lot as you read through the story. Robins has since followed it up with a quasi-sequel and I hope he continues the story in 2016.

Concerns of the Second Sex by Pavarti Tyler

althistoryI don’t know if I can say it much better than what I said about this story when it was first released with the alt.history 101 title in July. So here we go: “Important? Yes. Important. Take Pavarti Tyler’s story for example. Entitled Concerns of the Second Sex, her tale looks at a world where the 19th Amendment never came to be. In fact, with the absence of the women’s vote, the world has reverted to a place barely recognizable. Well, recognizable if you’ve read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but that’s about it. Tyler pays homage to Atwood with this story and takes it a step further with the treatment of other races, including race mixing. If we never respected the rights of half of the species, why would the race movement of the 50’s and 60’s be successful, either? The story is tragic, yet Tyler does give it a hopeful note. I found it poignant and an important story to read and understand where we’ve come from and where we are going.”

Carindi by Jennifer Foehner Wells

darkAn emotional gut punch rounds out this list as Jennifer Wells gets all the feels as the heart of the Dark Beyond The Stars collection. The authors and curator didn’t try to focus on it, but each of the authors for the anthology is a woman, showing that science fiction isn’t just for men. One of my favorites was Carindi, set in the universe of Wells’ debut novel, Fluency. The story focuses on dependency, love, and sacrifice. When everything you have is in the hands of someone else, what is does love mean? In the end, our actions are the loudest words of all, as we find in this moving short story.


…and there we go. What a great list. By no means is this comprehensive. I read a lot this year, but my my own admission, my reading list was mostly limited to independent publishing, namely The Future Chronicles anthologies. I rated A LOT of stories as five stars this year, so this list could change a lot depending on my mood. There were certainly stories that were great, but I had to set the line somewhere. Don’t worry — still going to have a Best Books of the Year list coming up in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned for that.

But what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

 

Things I Think – December 2015 Edition

Standard

Been a while…sorry about that. Had a story due a couple days ago I was obsessing over…tried NaNoWriMo (and failed, but I’m okay with that)…had my yearly evaluation…Thanksgiving…stuff…you know.

So to try to ease my way back into the blog, I thought I would go (mostly) lighthearted with a random buckshot of thoughts rolling through my head right now.

  • Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson is the best instrumental Christmas song. Hands down. Proof: 
  • Just finished Jessica Jones yesterday. Wow. I thought Daredevil was edgy, and then I watched JJ. It was phenomenal. I’ve read a number of articles that talks about how Kilgrave is essentially representing domestic abuse and what happened in the past couple years with Gamer Gate (here’s a good one: LINK) and they couldn’t be more right. As a high school teacher, I see this with young couples who are testing their limits and too often we try to get the girls out of those type of relationships (and a boy or two as well), and they keep on getting sucked back in. It’s hard to see and disturbing in Jessica Jones’ case as well. There was some criticism of her as a character by a Facebook friend last night and I can understand that, but I think we initially have the same thoughts about women in these situations. “Why are they staying? Why are they acting like that? Can’t they just be happy?” I think (without spoiling too much), that the Jessica we see down the line will be different after everything she goes through in these 13 episodes.
  • I think I might be able to just drink Diet Mtn Dew for the rest of my life. Maybe.
  • I have two tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Friday, Dec. 18 for me and my daughter. CAN NOT WAIT.
  • Every month there is a new edition of The Future Chronicles put out by curator Samuel Peralta. If you haven’t read any yet, the latest — Galaxy — just dropped the other day. Just $1.99 for a limited time and a huge collection of space-based stories. My brother (and co-author on our upcoming novel), Paul will be one of the featured authors in The Cyborg Chronicles, releasing at the end of December. Great books — check them out.
  • How about that Bears-Packers game on Thanksgiving? I know…I know…the general trend isn’t going the Bears way, but allow me a moment of joy. (Also a note…first NFL game I’ve watched since Week 2. We ditched the Dish in September.)
  • 26105206I’ve been a giving a lot of thought on my best books of the year and Ernie Lindsey’s alter ego is probably getting a lot of First Place votes from me. Which book? Maybe this will give you a hint…
  • Black Friday was still crazy, but I think Internet shopping has dramatically changed things. There were decidedly less people than I’ve ever seen and the crowds tended to be fairly civil. Of course, the news wants the insane videos so we got that, but I think those tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
  • It is impossible to diet in November and December. Maintain, yes, but to actually diet and intend to lose weight? Forget it.
  • I am not a fan of Thomas the Train (or Tank Engine for you Trainheads out there. ;).
  • Not that it needs to be said, but Adele is amazing. I could listen to her sing the phone book.
  • Speaking of, who uses the phone book anymore? Maybe I should say I could listen to Adele sing my contact list from my phone. Better.
  • And…that’s it for today. Tune in next time for a smattering of my thoughts.