Vote for Z Ball!

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Oh boy.

Each week, my pal Preston Leigh (owner and operator of The Leighgendarium blog) features a short story as part of an ongoing series. This week, one of my stories is up for the weekly honors, but the competition is tougher than ever. I really feel like Z Ball (originally in The Z Chronicles) is one of my best tales, but I’ve got the likes of Hugh Howey’s Second Suicide (featured in The Alien Chronicles), Vincent Trigili’s The Storymaster (from The Dragon Chronicles), Ann Christy’s Unnatural (from Alt.History 101), and Susan Kaye Quinn’s Restore (from The A.I. Chronicles).

Whoa.

So…I’m not going to win. But, let’s give these master storytellers a run for their money.

Click on the graphic below to go to The Leighgendarium and vote for Z BALL:

zombie vote

(Oh, and while you’re there, hop in on the conversation about Michelle Browne’s story The Factory, this week’s story selection.)

One more thing…

LONG LIVE Z BALL.

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Book Review – Dark Beyond The Stars

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A couple weeks ago, I finished a wonderful new science fiction anthology. Dark Beyond The Stars is a star-studded and potentially ground-breaking collection of stories all set in space in one form or another. The authors and piublishers haven’t made a big deal out of it, but I believe the fact that women make up the entire line-up from cover to cover is significant. When I’m looking for role models for my daughter, I can positively look to these authors as bold, confident women who aren’t afraid to write science fiction in a field where their gender can sometimes be controversial in itself.

I already wrote a fairly comprehensive review of the anthology on Amazon and I’ll share that here. The book is officially out on Kindle today and for a couple more weeks, they are selling the Kindle version for 99 cents, so if you haven’t gotten your copy yet, now is the time.


darkAmazon Review:

For the past year and a half, I’ve fallen back in love with short stories. It was seeing the anthology From The Indie Side, edited by David Gatewood, that brought it all back. It reminded me of the collections of science fiction short stories and novellas I devoured as a teenager. I didn’t always love all the stories, but each one resonated in some way the more I read them, and I slowly learned that huge ideas can be vacuum-packed into a smaller word count.

So I eagerly leapt at a chance to read the latest anthology edited by David Gatewood, Dark Beyond The Stars. Again, I can’t say I fell in love with every story, but the collection featured story after story that reached something deep inside and pulled me along until the page count finally ran out. Dark Beyond The Stars takes readers on an epic journey through space, rewarding them with tales guaranteed to entertain as well as elicit tears.

I also don’t think I can address the quality of the book without mentioning a unique fact about the anthology — each and every writer is a woman. I hope to someday live in a world where this note is unnecessary, but that day is not today. There are some out there who will refuse to read a collection that features only women writers. There are some who may cling to the out-dated belief that science fiction is a men’s game. There are those who wouldn’t even give a each of the writers a chance based on their misogynistic thinking.

Those people would be wrong. These women prove that science fiction is a poorer field without them in it. Dark Beyond The Stars is a rich and full universe of stories that, I believe, benefit from a woman’s perspective and voice.

Now, as I analyze the volume, I’m not going to go into detail on each and every story — other reviews have taken care of this and readers can find those details in those reviews — but I’ll highlight a few of the pinnacles of the book for me.

First off, the choice of Susan Kaye Quinn to start the anthology with her story “Containment” is a sure-fire winner. While Quinn sets the story firmly within the universe she’s established in her latest novel “The Legacy Human,” the story stands securely on its own. As with many of the stories in the collection, the point doesn’t become what happens, but really what does it all mean? In this case, we meet an artificial intelligence who works as the manager of mining on Thebe. As the story slowly develops, we peel back layers of the onion to discover our A.I. is more than what he is allowed to be. The themes of A.I., wealth inequality, and slavery are prevalent throughout the story and make it one to remember.

Another story I loved was Ann Christy’s “Lulu Ad Infinitum” and consequences of a horrific accident on a colony ship headed into space. One of the passengers, Lulu, is left alive, and is confronted with the fact that the only way to continue is with help, and the only way to get help is by cloning. As the mind wanders over decades and generations, what does the ship look like and who is Lulu after all this time?

In the same themes of a colony ship, Theresa Kay’s “Protocol A235,” takes the view of disaster happening in space to the extreme. In contrast to Christy’s Lulu, however, Theresa Kay pulls a slow burn as the first-person protagonist slowly finds out what’s happened, and the life that she has in front of her. The horror of the situation seems a little more apparent to the reader, but watching it play out makes her story one of the gems of this collection.

And the heartbreaker of the bunch had to be Jennifer Foehner Wells “Carindi.” Those familiar with Wells’ “Fluency” know the intricacies of the alien ships, operated by octopi-like beings, but commanded by a different species entirely. Ei’Pio is one of the former, resigned to a fate where she cannot move after a plague wiped out the population of her ship. She discovers a lifeform in the aftermath, one confined to a stasis suit who will be her companion for years. The story plays out until a decision must be made and they must leave their area of space or die. Just as I loved “Fluency,” “Carindi” adds a greater depth and history to Wells’ universe.

Ultimately, David Gatewood succeeds in editing another premier anthology, but he is merely the pilot ship for an armada of warships made up of supremely talented writers. I loved Dark Beyond the Stars and hope that there is more to come from this group.

Chronicles Week! (with Kindle Paperwhite Giveaway!)

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Been radio silence around here for a couple months. Sorry about that…I’ll fill you in later. Suffice it to say this summer didn’t go exactly as planned on the writing front, but was still productive as well.

(Yes, yes…I’ll get to the Kindle Paperwhite giveaway in a bit…)

But while I haven’t been updating Ye Olde Blog at all this summer, I’m breaking that fast now for Chronicles Week.

Let me back up a bit. When I started writing, I credited a lot of the reasons why to one man — Hugh Howey. After reading his blog and WOOL, I was heartened by his approach and the success he had. Not success as in worldwide blockbuster multi-millionaire success, but rather just simply getting that book written and published success. I told anyone and everyone that it was due to Hugh Howey’s career that I had one as well.

While I still credit Hugh a lot, I’ve taken my own course in the past year. And what a year it’s been in my life. Exactly a year ago this week, I arrived home after flying to Africa with my wife to adopt our four (now five) year old son. If you’re familiar at all with international adoption, you know that the transition isn’t always smooth. Our son has been a blessing on our lives, but my writing schedule took a huge hit. I went from being able to write hundreds or thousands of words a day to dozens. Maybe.

So it was a huge boon when I worked up the courage to introduce myself to Samuel Peralta.

robot chSam is the publisher and curator of The Future Chronicles. A year ago at this time he’d only published the first of the series — The Robot Chronicles. I nabbed an early copy and wrote up a review for it and honestly included it in my best-of-the-year list. I saw some of the authors he’d included in that volume and knew I was as qualified as some of them. I asked about being considered for a future anthology and he graciously read my novella Ant Apocalypse. A few weeks after returning from Africa (and writing virtually nothing the whole time), Sam got in touch with me and offered me a spot in The Alien Chronicles.

I will honestly tell you my heart skipped a beat when I read the message that Sunday afternoon (yes, I can tell you exactly where I was) and I had to read it a couple times before I would believe it.

I knew the quality of story the Chronicles called for, so I took a personal day off teaching and wrote all day. The worst part of that? I ended up scrapping the entire story I spent the day on and went a different direction. But I needed that time to convince myself the first story wasn’t as good as the story I ended up writing — Uncle Allen.

(Hold on, the Paperwhite giveaway is down a bit, hang in there…)

alien chWhen The Alien Chronicles released in early January 2015, my story was one cited in a number of reviews as a favorite, and I reached a bigger audience in that month than I had in the previous year and a half I’d been publishing put together.

The Chronicles allowed me to keep writing, but adjust my new life around quality stories with a larger audience thanks to the dozen writers featured in each volume. Being put alongside writers like Hugh Howey(!), Jen Wells, B.V. Larsen, W.J. Davies, Ann Christy, and… (I could literally go on all day…) has elevated my stories and pushed me to write even better than I did before. The relationships I’ve developed in the past few months have shown me the different ways to be an author in today’s new publishing system and Samuel Peralta is a true visionary with goals for the Future Chronicles for multiple anthologies down the road. I’m as thankful for Peralta and the universes he has had a hand in creating as I am for Hugh Howey at the start of my career.

the-z-chroncilesUncle Allen led to Z Ball (my editor says its my best yet) in The Z Chronicles and I’m one of the few veteran voices to be featured in The Immortality Chronicles (now up for preorder — get your copy now!)

With all that said, it’s CHRONICLES WEEK! All the authors behind the current Chronicles books (so far we’ve had Robot, Telepath, Alien, A.I., Dragon, Z, and Alt.History 101) plus the half-dozen or so planned in the next eight to nine months are showcasing the Future Chronicles anthologies. If you haven’t yet read a Chronicles book, there is a special edition due out in a month, entitled (appropriately enough) The Future Chronicles. It will feature ten stories which have previously appeared in Chronicles books and five NEW stories, as well as a Foreword by Hugh Howey himself(!). It’s up for preorder right now for just 99 cents.

And in honor of the celebration, The Future Chronicles authors are giving away a Kindle Paperwhite. Wait, there’s more! Not only will you get a brand new Kindle Paperwhite, this amazing machine will be pre-loaded with all the Chronicles titles already released. Each of these books have hit #1 in the Sci-fi/Fantasy Anthology list and you want to win this thing. Visit here to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway (GIVEAWAY is now closed. Thanks for all who entered!)

Still here? 

uncle allenOkay…visit The Future Chronicles this week and check out all the amazing books there. If you want a taste, my Alien Chronicles story, Uncle Allen is FREE this week only. Check it out as a taste of the collection.

I Don’t Worry About My Opinion And You Shouldn’t Have To Either

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I don’t have to worry about my opinions.

I am a middle-aged (is 35 middle-aged? I still feel young…) white man. I have every privilege in the United States afforded to me. I have benefitted from hundreds of years of institutionalized white patriarchy. I wouldn’t change who I am – I like me – but instead I wish the world were a much different place than it is.

I was stupid once. (Who knows, maybe I still am.) When I was in high school and we had to observe Black History Month in February, I was one of the ones in the classroom who argued for a White History Month. It took a while for it to get through my thick skull that we do have a White History Month. It’s called January, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December. As a history instructor, it’s easy to see. What do I teach? How the white man conquered barbarians and emerged as the leader in the world today. Because the names are difficult to pronounce, let alone remember, we tend to skip over Eastern Civilizations or African History.

It’s only now that I have the so-called “minorities” in my family, living in my house that I see the injustice each deals with.

If the history books would have you believe anything, it would be that men procreated with men until the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920. We barely get mention of any woman throughout history, and oftentimes it is because of their relationships with men. Cleopatra was surely admired for being a queen in Egypt, right? In my World History textbook, she is noted more for her affairs with both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

And for blacks (African-Americans, Africans, or other ethnicities that share the same skin tone), the crimes against them have been too numerous to even count, yet we expect the generational hatred to just dissipate with each passing year. I’m not even talking about slavery in the United States (which is a whole other burden for the entire nation). Instead, look at the European “colonization” of Africa. They called their lands in Africa “colonies” yet there were already people there. In my view, a colony is where we land on the Moon or Mars and create a colony from scratch. Colonies shouldn’t exist where there is a native population already. And not only did they colonize (the British, the French, the Belgian, etc…), but they actively stripped the lands there of natural resources. Even today as those European powers have retreated to their own continent, the control over the money and wealth in those countries is still in the hands of old white dudes. When a country like Uganda or Nigeria has never been able to govern their own land and resources, how do we expect them to do it right and without warlords sweeping in?

But…I digress.

Suffice it to say that white men have ruled the “civilized” world for centuries upon centuries. We are often entitled and expect life to hand us pre-made lemonade. The lemons get picked by other ethnicities and the women can squeeze them. We’ll kick back and enjoy a nice cold glass, thank you very much.

Except…that’s all changing. And my fellow white dudes are having a hard time with this. Me? I say bring it on.

I read on The Passive Voice earlier today about a reader who quit using the site Goodreads (the full story can be found here). She had seen some disturbing trends and had recently gotten some threats regarding some three-star reviews she’d left for a book. She couches her departure from the site in an attempt to pare down on her social media usage, but the cause is birthed from a place of fear.

And this isn’t by any means the first instance of women feeling unsafe on the Internet. Gamergate is a huge recent example where women are disrupting a typical male industry and get public (and private) harassment for just existing there.

I also have a number of female writer friends. More than a few of them have pen names and have refused to share their real name with me. I haven’t pressed – I don’t need to know – but the fact they have had to resort to using a fake name to sell their own words is troubling. They didn’t create their alternate identity to fool anyone or to sell more books (although I’m sure they would welcome additional sales), but they did it in response to issues they have had in the past. Harassment, threats, stalking, private messages meant to disgust and intimidate – all tools used to keep women in their place and out of the male-dominated industries.

I feel…gutted by this. I contemplated using a pen name when I began publishing, but there was NEVER a thought of doing it because I didn’t want stalkers. I never once had to worry about rape threats because of my gender or identity. My only thought was that my last name was different enough to relegate me to the bottom of a reader’s list. Unlike some of my female writer friends, my mind was on economics, instead of my own welfare and safety.

This has been brought into focus for me not only by those friends of mine, but also by my daughter. I’ve used her name before, but I’m going to attempt to limit that going forward. I’ll call her Tonks (after her who she said was one of her favorite HP character). Tonks is highly creative. She has a knack for art – mainly drawing ponies, dragons, and Minecraft figures right now, but hey you gotta start somewhere. She also writes. For a fifth grader, Tonks’ writing is well above many of the high school students I see every day. She can put a sentence together like few writers I know and she could easily release some of her stories on Kindle today and make some money. (I know I’m biased, but in some respects, she’s already a better writer than I am.)

But I fear for her. Tonks has no online presence (unless you count Pottermore, or watching Stampy Minecraft videos on YouTube). When she does, will guys constantly be hitting on her, expecting something in return? Will threats be a constant part of her life? Will she view her rights in comparison to the rights of men?

I would never have called myself a feminist, until I realized that by advocating women’s rights, I’m advocating for my wife and my daughter. I’m advocating for a world where she can live without fear of a man telling her she can’t do something just because she was born with ovaries. I am no better than anyone else just because I was born with different body parts. I hate that she will one day experience some of these things for herself.

And yet…

I am hopeful. I see my friends. I see in the narrow genre of science fiction where women are garnering huge praise. I see Ann Christy – recently a retired Navy Commander – churning out hit after hit and finding her voice in a sea of men. I see Jen Wells, whose novel Fluency blew me away and is helping to set the stage for women’s voices in the area of first contact science fiction. I see Patrice Fitzgerald who uses a cozy mystery sense of humor and applies it to science fiction, bringing women over to the dark side. I see Susan Kaye Quinn, breaking barriers in many areas of science fiction. I see Carol Davis, a great writer who pens stories in a multitude of areas. And of course, I couldn’t make this list without mentioning Ellen Campbell, my editor, who informs the voices of a number of writers, men and women alike.

I can go on and on. The writing field is still dominated by men, but each and every day women are breaking through.

These are hopes I have. The women I have chosen to surround myself with online have made that hope a real thing. They are fighting against the establishment and show through their work and actions that women can have a voice in this male-dominated world. I hope they realize how much they mean to me and how much they will mean to the next generation of writers, no matter their gender.

I usually don’t have to worry about my opinions.

I hope there will be a day when my daughter doesn’t have to worry about hers.

Anthology Awesomeness!

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Whoa…time got away from me and I forgot to update you guys over here. In the span of one week in the beginning of 2015, I have two stories in two separate anthologies to tell you about. Let’s start with The Powers That Be.

Cover3Back in early 2014, I was privileged to be in my first anthology — WOOL Gathering. All the stories were centered around Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe and were penned by authors who had all previously written WOOL stories. It was a fantastic collection that I will forever be proud of. One of the best parts is that all the proceeds will go towards the National Novel Writing Month Young Authors program.

So, the authors of LOOW (the League of Original Woolwriters or perhaps the Loofah of Obstinate Wetness) have brought forth another charity anthology — The Powers That Be. It’s already been for sale for a few days and been holding steady on the Kindle Science Fiction Anthology sales charts. Nine stories, all centered around superpowers. Authors are: Ann Christy, WJ Davies, Samuel Peralta, Logan Thomas Snyder, Carol Davis, Thomas Robins, David Adams, Paul K. Swardstrom, and myself. And, I was able to cajole Ernie Lindsey into penning a wonderful Foreword to the book. All great stories, confirmed by the outstanding reviews we’ve received so far.

My story is called “To Sacrifice A King,” and deals with the oft-overlooked role of superhero sidekick. A touch of humor, a smattering of pop culture superhero references, and a question: do powers really make a hero?

For a limited time, just 99 cents and all proceeds for this book will go towards the Sickle Cell Clinic at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana. The price will go up soon, so get your copy before it’s too late.

alien chrThe next book to tell you about is The Alien Chronicles. Throughout the back half of 2014, I watched a few independent anthologies get published — From the Indie Side, Synchronic, The Robot Chronicles & The Telepath Chronicles. After reading the first three and absolutely loving The Robot Chronicles (enough for it to make my top 18 list of 2014), I approached Samuel Peralta about joining in a future installment. He looked over my meager qualifications and invited me to join The Alien Chronicles.

To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. But I was also incredibly nervous. These anthologies are showcasing some amazing independent publishing talent and I was going to put my stuff up against theirs and say it’s on the same level. I worked hard to put out the best story I could — ultimately drawing back to my roots visiting my grandmother’s farm growing up. My story is called “Uncle Allen,” and has about the same vibe of my short story Ant Apocalypse.

But check out the list of authors joining me: Hugh Freakin’ Howey, B.V. Larson, Jennifer Foehner Wells (her Fluency was on my Top 18 List, too!), Daniel Arenson, Blair Babylon, Annie Bellet, Peter Cawdron (I love that dude), my good friend and writer WJ Davies, Patrice Fitzgerald, Autumn Kalquist, Moira Katson, Samuel Peralta, Geoffrey Wakeling, and Nicholas Wilson. Foreword by my pal Stefan Bolz. Holy Smokes. Edited by the incredible David Gatewood with a cover by the incomparable Jason Gurley and you have about a perfect package. People are going to love this book.

It’s up for pre-order right now and will officially be for sale on Friday, so pick up your copy and get to reading. Between these two books, you can read 24 stories for less than the cost of a Value Meal at McDonald’s. Amazing value for some amazing stories.

My Top 10 (actually 18) Books of 2014

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It’s December, so that can only mean one thing – end of the year Top 10 lists! I did my favorite reads of 2013 last year, so now this can be a yearly thing. Just like last year, most of the books I read over the last 365 days or so were independently-published. Just like last year, I really believe we are in the midst of a publishing renaissance thanks to the new digital publishing tools at our disposal.

Personally, I did manage to get my second novel published, but everything else I published ended up being short stories (a couple will even be showing up in the first couple weeks of 2015). Due a lot of family situations, including a major addition to my family in August, writing just wasn’t as much of a priority during a few stretches. I can say I was able to get about 1/3 of Dead Search written and will endeavor to write the rest by spring. The year 2015 will be a great year and I encourage you to check back on this blog for future updates.

Anyway, back to the list. There are more than 10. Yep—a top ten list with more than 10. Deal with it. I took all my honorable mentions and just included them as well. Also, these are books I got a kick out of reading. Me. So if you don’t agree, I understand, but this is my list.

I don’t want to rank them, even though it will certainly come across that way, just due to seeing them in an order. So, the order will be assigned in alphabetical fashion, with one exception. The top spot belongs to one book that I know I will be reading over and over again. That book is:

The Martian by Andy Weir

martianHands down, The Martian was the best book I read in 2014. I read it in February and also listened to it as an audiobook this summer. Even after that, I still long to re-read it with fresh eyes. That’s the notes I was getting from friends when I first started reading it. From my Amazon review:

“I can honestly say I understand and I will have those jealousy pangs when I recommend it to a friend. The last book I honestly felt like that with was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. My brother was reading it for the first time a few weeks ago and I felt that. Like I wished I could go back in time, read it for the first time without spoilers and experience all those feelings I did for the very first time. This book was fantastic.”

From there, I will put the rest of my 2014 favorites in author reverse-alphabetical order (cuz those at the end of the alphabet get screwed. Jennifer Wells knows what I’m talking about), starting with:

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells

fluencyI kept getting recommendations from Amazon and other places to buy and read this book. Finally I ran out of excuses a couple of months ago and I am glad I gave in. Fluency is a terrific tale of first contact with an alien race. Told from the perspective of a non-astronaut, Dr. Jane Holloway, a linguist, who is along on the trip to hopefully help find an “Alien Rosetta Stone,” of a sort. Instead, Holloway herself ends up being the Rosetta Stone and we see what happens in deep space when you begin to question all you know, your own sanity, and even your crewmates. Fluency is well done and I am intrigued by what Wells will offer us next.

 

The Violet Series by Logan Thomas Snyder

BV-Full-Cover-e1408487510867Three parts into a multi-part story and I’m fully engrossed. Logan Thomas Snyder has given us three tales so far—Becoming Violet, Being Violet, and Breaking Violet, and each have given us a great story with artificial intelligence as a fascinating backdrop. Here’s a part of my review of Becoming: “At first, I thought it was a typical “Bicentennial Man,” Isaac Asimov robot story with a man dissatisfied with his robot. Snyder, however, took the story in a new direction, giving the reader an introspective, yet action-filled tale of love in the face of trials. What does it mean to love? Does it have to be between two humans or can it be more than that?”
I know Snyder has a few more parts up his sleeve, but I also suspect that the farther he goes, the more the story will continue to grow and thrive. If you haven’t checked these stories out, they are just 99 cents a pop and are a great, easy read.

 

Zero Echo Shadow Prime by Peter Samet

ZESP_cover650Perhaps the most “holy cow, what did I just read” book I laid my eyes on this past year. I had heard some early buzz about this book and the cover was certainly an eye catcher. Frankly, this book did not catch on for some reason, but it still deserves an audience. From my Amazon review:

“So you might be asking – what is this book about? Zero Echo Shadow Prime is a novel about one character…or is it four…or a billion? My head is frankly still spinning a little…
But even apart from all the action, this book really offers some intriguing questions. What exactly is a human? Is it just flesh and bone or is there something more? If a person was able to move their consciousness to a computer, is there a spark of humanity there?”

Desperate to Escape by Thomas Robins

d2e fullThere are a number of authors on this list that I can claim a friendship with, and Thomas Robins is one of them. Desperate to Escape was published partly in 2013, but was finished in 2014 with a thought-provoking finish.

In four serial installments to the book, Robins gives us the story of Ineeka, an astronaut hailing from the inner city of Chicago, who, like the title implies, is desperate to escape from the constrained circumstances of her life. Throughout a flashback style narrative similar to “Lost,” Robins gives us a complete portrait of Ineeka, a girl lost on earth, but who finds her destiny in space.

Super by Ernie Lindsey

superLindsey is one of the best indie storytellers out there today. He has the ability to tell compelling tales in a variety of subjects and genres, and in Super, he took on superheroes. Super was released in the wake of “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” which showed the corruption of the government and its attempts to reign in the world’s superheroes. Edward Snowden and NSA data mining was also a very contemporary issue during the summer months when Super hit Amazon, which made the book and its subject all the more applicable.

From my Amazon review:

“I didn’t come into reading Ernie Lindsey’s Super with CA2 in mind, but it is hard to distance yourself too much from it after finishing and realizing the complex web Lindsey wove to get to the ending of the book. This is one book that I genuinely had a hard time putting down and when my Kindle ran out of battery life, I had to bide my time until it was ready for me to finish the book off.”

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship GriftersI really can’t put it better than my Amazon review.

“After reading Robert Kroese’s Starship Grifters, I came to one conclusion: everyone in the 31st century is an idiot. Rex Nihilo is either the smartest man alive, or a Forrest Gump of a con artist, lucky enough to stay alive in the face of ridiculously deadly circumstances. I’m still not sure — I’ll get back to you on that.
In fact, the only one in Rex’s world that seems to have any brains is his robot, Sasha, who is programmed to turn herself off whenever she actually has an original thought. In a world like that, Rex seems to surround himself with the power players of the galaxy who all turn out to be bumbling morons.
I don’t often laugh at the books I read, but I found myself chuckling, chortling, at times flat-out guffawing — at times uncontrollably — at Kroese’s humor placed in the best places in the story.
At the end of the story, we do get answers to questions I wasn’t sure we were asking, but it certainly paved the way for more Rex Nihilo books, which I will gladly shell out money for whenever Mr. Kroese decides to write them.”

Sand by Hugh Howey

sandSand was one of the first novels I read in 2014, and almost a whole year later, it is still a thrilling book that continues to set Hugh Howey apart from other authors. I was lucky enough to read Sand earlier than most, and shared my thoughts on Amazon:

“I can honestly say I was blown away by Sand.  After I read Part 5, I said SAND > WOOL and I’m sticking by it almost a week later. The book is just magnificent and Howey once again shows off his masterful storytelling with an imaginative dystopian world that is all at once hard to fathom and easy to believe all at once.
Hugh calls Sand the antithesis to WOOL and I can see that clearly. While WOOL is about the absolute control that a small group of people can exert upon the masses, Sand is the opposite. It’s what happens when there is no clear authority and yet people live, work, and die — all under the invisible thumb of some unknown force.

If reading Hugh Howey is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

EleanorShould we call this book Eleanor 1.0? After releasing Eleanor earlier this year, Jason Gurley acquired an agent, and sold the rights to Eleanor. A new and edited version of the book should be in stores in 2015, so perhaps Eleanor will grace this list again next December. Regardless, the book I read was a great work; one that was clearly a labor of love.

From my Amazon review:

“There are many different reasons to read a book. Most times I tend to read to think about something in a new or different way. To spark my creativity and challenge my accepted ideas.
This book, Eleanor by Jason Gurley, is not that kind of book. Not that it doesn’t make you think. I had a lot of thoughts while I read this book. I thought about the similarities between it and two other books I’ve read. One was fairly recent – Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, while the other I read when I was just a child – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Both had a profound influence on me, but all three of these books didn’t so much make me think.
They made me feel.”
The Robot Chronicles, edited by David Gatewood

robot anthoThere were a number of short story anthologies that I just fell in love with over the last year, but The Robot Chronicles absolutely leads the way. David Gatewood started out with the terrific, but eclectic From the Indie Side, then we got various tastes of time travel in Synchronic, but it was in Robot that the audience really got a treat. So many great stories, told in manageable little chunks. There are a ton of amazing stories inside, starting with Hugh Howey’s Glitch. Among the other authors to pay attention to is Matthew Mather, Wes Davies, Patrice Fitzgerald, Ann Christy, Edward W. Robertson, and A.K. Meek among the others.

I was a HUGE Isaac Asimov fan growing up and still have a lot of reverence for a well-told robot story, so I greeted this collection with excitement and a bit of trepidation, but the authors pulled it off. From my Amazon review:

“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.”
(Reviewer’s Note: I have a story that is slated to appear in The Alien Chronicles, which is the third in the Future Chronicles series after Robot and Telepath. I was selected after I had already read and loved TRC.)

Dead in the Water by Carol Davis

DITWThis book is definitely different than most on this list. I think you’ll find most are hard science fiction with a great many set in space, but Dead in the Water takes our two protagonists to a creepy lake town in upstate New York to investigate a series of deaths over the decades.

Davis is a heckuva writer. This woman can paint a scene. Her mind works on the level of screenplays, so virtually every scene I can see set before me, as if leaping off the page and onto my TV screen. From my Amazon review: “While she is a pro at putting together a plot for short stories, Dead in the Water shows she is more than capable of adding the complexity a novel calls for. Her writing is sharp, and in this case, not for the faint of heart. She isn’t afraid to scare her readers, putting her protagonists in terrifying situations, only to play out their fears for the readers to see.”

Binary Cycle by Wes Davies

binary cycleI think a lot of people were interested to see what Wes Davies had up his sleeve after he finished telling his Silo Submerged series—one of the first WOOL fanfic stories. In Binary Cycle, Davies gave his readers a novel originally told in three parts that works quite well when put together. After reading the third part, I wrote: “The action is taken to a new level and after the early revelations in the book, Davies pushes his characters physically and emotionally, so much that the reader is left panting by the end of the book.”

Originally, I had a couple issues with the second installment and the pacing of the series, but in the third story redeemed Davies and when put together, I think it all works fairly well.

Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole

spsNick Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier may be a traditionally published book, but it has the heart of an indie title. Cole certainly champions independent authors and his book takes risks like an indie author might. There were certainly moments that harkened to a book like Ready Player One, but there was more to this, and in fact Cole tackles the anonymous nature of online interaction with a violence inherent to modern video games.

From my review:

“With a name like Soda Pop Soldier, I half-expected a light-hearted romp through modern video games. What I got was something completely different. Something telling about how many of us live our lives online and the anonymity that we expect. Something visceral and violent, yet clean and sanitized at the same time. Something that fully engaged my head and heart alike.”

Strikers by Ann Christy

strikersAnn Christy likes to call herself an “accidental author.” If it’s an accident, it’s a happy one, as this woman can really tell a story. In Strikersher first full-length foray outside of Hugh Howey’s silos, Ann showed what she can do. From my review:

“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.”
My Sweet Satan by Peter Cawdron

mssI’ll just start with the beginning of my Amazon review:

“With a title like that, it was a little difficult for me to want to read this book. Peter Cawdron has made a title that is very provocative, but if the reader can just get past it — get to the heart of the story — they will realize that Satan has very little to do with this tale at all.”

In fact, Cawdron has made a great first contact story that is really less about the first contact than it is a character study of stressed individuals in deep space approaching the unknown. Is it really Satan or something else – something worse?

I’ve always been a fan of Cawdron’s stories and can’t seem to get enough of them. The best part of MSS was perhaps the character of Jason, the ship’s AI. Again, from my review:

“I’ll say this about Jason — he may be the best character I’ve seen in a long time. I loved what Cawdron did in creating a character that feels totally real, but is not only fictional, but also doesn’t have a body to call his own. The evolution of Jason was fantastic and I would love to see more of him in a future book if Mr. Cawdron ever decides to revisit his MSS Universe.”

Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

Bunker_PENNSYLVANIA_Omnibus_EbookEdition-640x1024The first two parts of Pennsylvania were on my list from last year, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. Bunker finished up his book by answering questions, but certainly leaving more than a few unanswered for a sequel in the upcoming Oklahoma.

From my Amazon review:

“The book is a great work, alternating between moments of calm with the Amish lifestyle, and anxiety with the pending war between the two factions on New Pennsylvania. The simple life that that Amish lead with the chaos and politics of the “English” world raging around them. Bunker has painted a brilliant picture of this dichotomy by showing the differences between Jed and Amos. One content to be plain – the other aware of a different calling on his life.”

The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz

10338227_10203080505026343_2241684756519716173_nIt hadn’t been very long after I’d read Stefan Bolz’s other novel, The Three Feathers, when I got my hands on The Fourth Sage. I found it to be a wonderful example of a dystopian novel without the depressing tropes that so often inhabit those books. From my review:

“There is a positivity present in Bolz’s work that you don’t find in other author’s books. In a post-apocalyptic, authoritarian society, you would expect to find death and depression around every turn, but for some reason, whenever Aries, her winged friend, Born of Night, or any of her numerous friends appear on the page, it is difficult to not smile and know that somehow, someway, their destiny is to survive and even thrive.”

Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon-Max-BarryLexicon is one of the few books I haven’t written an Amazon review for, but there are a few reasons for that. One – I actually read it as a paperback and wasn’t immediately prompted to write a review, and two – it was the first book I had a chance to read after the adoption of our son was complete.

Regardless, Lexicon was a ride and a half. Hugh Howey had been pushing this book for a while and when I had some money to spend at Barnes & Noble, I specifically looked for this book and devoured it in the days that followed. I loved the secret society nature of the book and the pacing. It was extremely well-written and I’ll certainly look out for Barry’s books in the future.

Coming Soon – The Powers That Be

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Earlier this year, I was in an anthology entitled WOOL Gathering. I am lucky enough to be in a writer’s group called LOOW. We have all published stories set in Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe and have stayed connected even as most of us have moved on to writing our own brand of fiction. WOOL Gathering served as a nice collection of short stories set in (and around) the silos and all the proceeds went towards the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program.

Cover3We wanted to keep writing together, so we planned another anthology — this time with the theme of superpowers, which will be called The Powers That Be. There are nine fantastic stories inside with most of the same authors who wrote for our first collection and a few new faces as well. On the right is the cover, designed by LOOW member David Adams.

Here is a list of the stories to be included in the collection:

  • Cassie Dreams of Flying by Carol Davis
  • Lucky Chance by Wes Davies
  • Repose by Thomas Robins
  • Who Will Save Supergirl? by David Adams
  • Yankari by Ann Christy
  • Hotbox Runner by Paul K. Swardstrom & Will Swardstrom
  • We’re Coming For You by Logan Thomas Snyder
  • Faster by Samuel Peralta
  • To Sacrifice A King by Will Swardstrom

In addition to a great line-up of stories, Ernie Lindsey (author of the amazing book Super) agreed to write the foreword. If you like stories about superheroes and those gifted with powers, this is the collection for you.

But, by far the best thing about this book is where the money is going. Just like with WOOL Gathering, we’ve agreed to send the proceeds to someplace else besides our pockets. After recently adopting our son, my wife and I have spent more than enough time at the hospital to see what amazing work the doctors, nurses, and support staff do on a daily basis. Even more than that, the children who visit the or even live at the hospital are heroes in my book for their courage and will to fight on.

With that in mind, we’ve agreed to donate the proceeds to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana, specifically the Sickle Cell Clinic to help the patients and families cope and live with this disease.

The book is currently out for formatting, but once it is back from that, we should have a release date soon. I’m really excited for people to read this book and for the hospital to see some much needed money to help people cope with Sickle Cell Anemia.