Book Review – Brother, Frankenstein

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BookSized_Frank_SmallOne of the best things about the Indie Book Revolution is that readers have the chance to read stories that never would have seen the light of day under the previous model of publishing. Compelling, interesting, and engaging stories that would have been shunned by the New York publishing houses. Yet thanks to the digital revolution, we get to enjoy these imaginative tales for ourselves. We get to be the Gatekeepers.

Michael Bunker’s newest book Brother, Frankenstein is one of those books. Of course, we don’t know for sure, but it is too daring, too out of the box, too…Amish…to be a traditionally published book. We like our Amish in neat little romance books. A girl in an apron on the front cover, clutching a bouquet of flowers, and a covered wagon driving away in the distance. There’s too much risk to allow the Amish to mix with sci-fi in the way Bunker does in Brother, Frankenstein.

But in that risk, in taking a leap of faith that readers can cope with “out of the box,” Bunker has achieved a wonderful book that transcends many of the books you would be able to find on the shelf of Barnes and Noble today.

In a way, this was always meant to be. The simple life of the Amish, combined with the world’s first truly science fiction story – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The moral dilemmas that Dr. Frankenstein encountered and dealt with in the groundbreaking novel are presented here as well. In Bunker’s work, Dr. Chris Alexander has a military grade robot body that is just in need of a heart and brain. The donations come from an autistic Amish boy who was dying anyway. Dr. Alexander believes he is giving the boy a gift. Another chance at life…in a body that can wipe entire towns off the map with the firepower contained within.

As Dr. Alexander goes on the run with Frank, the government sends in an agent who is as ruthless as he is skilled at his job – Cyrano Dresser. Dresser approaches the search for Frank and the Doc as his own White Whale, and has no problem in running over whoever gets in his way. He is a special type of evil villain and I can totally see the character on the big screen.

So, with the government hunting them down, where do the fugitives go? Amish country of course. There they fit in (as best they can), and Alexander works to contain Frank’s emotions. Emotions aren’t Frank’s friends – that’s because when he gets mad, he transforms into a Voltron-type robot capable of mass destruction. Not quite Amish.

In the end, I found the book to be quite enjoyable and Bunker’s best work to date. Pennsylvania was a Bunker’s previous attempt at “Amish Sci-Fi” but he’s refined his style and his pacing in Brother, Frankenstein was much improved. The stakes are high for Alexander and his experiment, and the emotional payoff for the reader and for Frank is worth it.

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Book Review – Tales of Tinfoil

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tinfoilWhen I think of tinfoil, I think of leftovers. Day-old pizza, a cover for a bowl of soup, you know…tinfoil. At least, that’s what they want to you to think.

You know who I’m talking about. Could be the government (which one? Take your pick.)…maybe its the Masons…the Illuminati…maybe whoever is covering up the truth is so skillful we have no idea as to their identity.

We’re all a little desperate to uncover the real truth behind the whitewashed truth we’re given in the media. We all believe something we might call a conspiracy theory. Because of those beliefs, David Gatewood’s latest short story anthology, Tales of Tinfoil, has a certain ring of truth to it, but also a whole lot of crazy.

I won’t go through all the stories, but suffice it to say the whole collection is a great addition to the world of indie publishing with some amazing stand-outs.

Now, you should definitely read past the first story, but the highlight of the collection for me was Richard Gleaves’ Under The Grassy Knoll. I debated for a while of whether the story was as good as I thought since it covered the ground of perhaps the biggest conspiracy theory of them all — JFK’s assassination. As I went back and forth, I realized that the original theory itself was partly what made this such an outstanding story. So many people have theories as to what actually happened that day, and Gleaves certainly showcases how own in the story.

Chris Pourteau’s story The French Deception is another treat, taking a look at another presidential assassination — this one of our nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.

And just to prove not all conspiracies surround presidents or moon landings, Ernie LIndsey’s story The Long Slow Burn surrounds the creation of a light bulb that will last forever. If one was built, would it ever see the light of day, or do so many jobs and money depend on the continuation of light bulb replacement that it would just get swept under the rug?

Tales of Tinfoil is a wonderful collection of 12 stories all devoted to conspiracy theories. Each one is a wild ride into the secrets we hold, or like to think exist behind the curtain. I would recommend the collection, not only to those with interest in conspiracies, but also to just anyone who loves a great short story.


Tales of Tinfoil: Stories of Paranoia and Conspiracy is available on preorder now and will be officially released on April 17.

Book Review – Texocalypse Now

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A few weeks ago, I had my first taste of the wave of Apocalypse Weird novels to be released next week in the form of Nick Cole and Michael Bunker’s Texocalypse Now. The book has some great moments and sets up a lot, but I was really unprepared for the quality of stories I would find in the other three AW stories not written by Cole or Bunker. The following is my review for TN, but over the next few days I’ll share reviews for Jennifer Ellis’ Reversal, E.E. Giorgi’s Immunity, and Chris Pourteau’s The Serenity Strain in addition to my thoughts on the first sequel in the AW Universe — Nick Cole’s The Dark Knight. 


tex nowThere have been some early comparisons between the Apocalypse Weird series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of us are familiar with how Marvel is expanding their comic books with tales on the Silver Screen in the form of Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy. While that familiarity may not be present in the Apocalypse Weird series, the analogy is appropriate nonetheless, especially when it comes to the Nick Cole/Michael Bunker novel, Texocalypse Now. And that familiarity will come in time if the quality of the stories in AW continues like it does in this novel.

A huge part of constructing the Marvel movies is telling an engaging story while advancing potential threads that can branch off into different plotlines for future movies. For example, Captain America’s shield was seen in Tony Stark’s lab in Iron Man 2 and Thanos was seen in a post-credits scene of The Avengers – both of which helped to set up future stories and villains.

I don’t think many would say The Avengers didn’t deliver as a stand-alone movie, yet it laid the groundwork for potentially dozens of future movies. That’s because Marvel went in with a plan and made sure certain threads were maintained and manicured throughout the editing process.

The same is true of Texocalypse Now. After The Red King, it serves as one of the next in a wave of AW stories to be released in February, and by being in that wave, it needs to serve two functions – be a wicked-awesome story (check), and further the overall mythology of AW (check).

We’ll get back to the overall mythos in a bit, but let’s take a look at what Cole and Bunker did here.

It’s an apocalypse story, so we need at least one apocalyptic event, and the authors take care of that with the Blindness — a moment when the entire world went dark, causing madness in most people. Combine that with zombie hordes who scour the earth after taking the weight-loss drug, Slenderex, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster and Mad Max-type scenarios.

In the wake of this, a family comes together. Not one of blood, but of circumstance, that has a bond forged by violence. To save themselves, they turn to a series of tunnels under the ground — tunnels put there years before for a different purpose (which is a fascinating side story that deserves a book of its own). As the book progresses, the action ramps up, powered by an evil figure: Mayhem.

Even as all of this happens, Cole and Bunker make sure to plant seeds for future installments of Apocalypse Weird books. Not all of those seeds are blatantly obvious, but just like in the Marvel Universe, they are important and play a key role in the proceedings.

Texocalypse Now stands perfectly on its own and is an exciting, powerful book. But, when you look at it as part of the AW series, it works tremendously well and will be an important book to read for anyone interested in the Apocalypse Weird novels. I thoroughly enjoyed the Cole-Bunker collaboration and hope to see more from the two in the future.

Author Interview – Chris Pourteau

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Yesterday, I had an interview with Apocalypse Weird writer Jennifer Ellis, author of the amazing polar apocalyptic tale, Reversal. Another one of the AW stories to be unleashed next week is Chris Pourteau’s incredible book The Serenity Strain. Just like with Reversal, I felt like I was on the ground with the characters, living their lives with them for better or for worse (usually worse). There are a lot of great things to like about The Serenity Strain. I highly recommend it. To talk about the book and his experience in indie publishing as well as AW, here is Chris Pourteau:


WS: First off, give us a short background about who Chris Pourteau is and your career thus far.

CP: Well, I’ve been a technical writer and editor for the past 20+ years at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). I started working there after I finished my master’s degree in English at Texas A&M and, you know, needed a job. TTI is the dayjob that pays for my fiction writing in my spare time. In Sept. 2013, I indie-published my first novel, Shadows Burned In (SBI). Short of the technical aspects of putting it up on Amazon, I had no idea what I was doing. Like many first-time indie authors, I think I had it in my head: “OK, here’s the opportunity to show the world what the traditional publishing world was too stupid to see.” So I put it out there and waited. And waited. And waited. Lightning did not strike. I was not declared the next Great American Author. What a pisser, right?

But that turned out to be a good thing. The best thing that’s happened to me in the last year and a half is that I got plugged into the independent publishing community and met great folks like Nick Cole, Michael Bunker, Jennifer Ellis, Hank Garner, and yourself, all of whom seem determined to help one another out. What a concept! So, in retrospect, I’m glad SBI didn’t take off. Quick success might’ve robbed me of getting to know, and coming to rely on, my fellow indie authors. Every one I’ve met has been generous and helpful to me in my quest to become a successful fiction writer. And whenever I can, I take the opportunity to pay forward the kindness to others who are just entering the world of independent publishing. I’m a big believer in karma, and that if you put good out into the world, it’ll come back to you.

tssWS: How did your involvement in AW come about?

CP: I met Michael about a year and a half ago via Nick Cole’s Facebook page. Michael’s a fellow Texan and we share the same barbed sense of humor, so we hit it off pretty quickly. I did the standard “new author” thing of “Hey, would you read my book?” So Michael read SBI and liked it, and I wrote some fan fiction in his world of Pennsylvania, and he loved that. So he invited me onboard AW.

WS: What inspired your story The Serenity Strain?

CP: Back in September, Nick asked for a pitch. I gave him one, he liked it, and he assigned me a deadline of mid-December for my novel. I was horrified. I’d written SBI back in 2000 or so, shelved it due to disinterest from the traditional-publishing establishment, picked it back up in 2013, reworked it several times . . . well, as you can see, publishing SBI wasn’t a fast process. So the idea of banging out a full-blown novel in a couple of months was very daunting. (Nick can knock out a Hemingwayesque classic over a weekend in Sausalito… 😉 ) Plus, I was in the middle of producing Tales from Pennsylvania, a short story collection set in Bunker’s world of Pennsylvania, and my second Pennsylvania fanfic novella, Susquehanna. So I didn’t even get started on TSS until mid-October. I even remember PM’ing Nick and telling him, “I’m gonna bust my ass for you, but prepare for me to blow past your deadline, man.” He was totally cool about it, though.

So, I had very little time, in my book (heh), to produce a quality novel. To save time, I decided to go with what I knew (the old writer’s mantra, right?).

  1. I’ve lived on the Gulf Coast all my life, so multiple hurricanes seemed natural apocalyptic fare to use;
  2. I set the novel in North Houston, a region I know very well;
  3. The concept of a demon who unleashes appetite-driven inhibitions was very appealing to me. I’m a licensed professional counselor [LPC], so understanding Freudian psychology is part of my DNA;
  4. The 3-part, 7-chapter organization I’d used in SBI gave me some structural reassurance amidst the “crap! I have to do this in two months!” feeling;
  5. And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been through the pain of divorce, so it wasn’t hard to plug into those feelings for my main characters.

All those elements became my essential equation for TSS. And, by the way, I was only a week off Nick’s schedule in bringing the novel in, so I was kinda proud of (more or less) making his deadline.

WS: Do you think this was easier because you did Pennsylvania fan fiction? Why?

CP: Absolutely. Michael Bunker liked SBI, and that was very gratifying. But he was really enthusiastic about my writing after he read Gettysburg, and he had a similar reaction to Susquehanna, as did Nick to both novellas. I think those two pieces, plus co-helming Tales, showed them both I could write well enough and be organized and reliable about it.

WS: I really liked the nonstop thriller aspect. From what I can tell, you had four distinct storylines that intersected here and there, eventually coalescing in the final scenes of the book. Talk about the challenge of writing a multi-strand book and making sure all the chess pieces end up at the right place.

CP: Thanks! You know, I don’t think a lot about the plotting while I’m writing. For me, the story is all about characters and how the circumstances of the story make them into the people the reader comes to know, if that makes sense. In TSS, a couple of my “heroes” aren’t very likable people at first. But black and white hats bore me. Sometimes life has a way of forcing us to step up, and that’s what I try to remember when writing characters. I want to write about complex people who aren’t perfect but who, at the end of the day, find it within themselves to reach for nobility, usually through an act of self-sacrifice. That appreciation for the journey of self-awareness and self-actualization probably comes from the same place that drove me to become an LPC.

Having said that, I did a lot of outlining for each section of TSS before I started writing. Again, I was writing a lot and fast, so I needed to give myself direction. (I’m pretty anal retentive—if I don’t have a plan, I’ll just stare at a blinking cursory with no idea what to do; I’m not good at improv.) I basically wrote an extended story arc for each of the three sections before I started them, so I could aim at a target. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll keep it general, but I knew the basic plot—family in crisis crosses paths with the evil characters in the book—who the Big Bad Boss was gonna be, and how she’d enlist the lesser bad guys in the novel.

Beyond that, I relied on my section outline to give me general direction, with the actual plot details coming about as I wrote. I guess the (too late) short answer is, for me as a writer, plotting is organic and derives from characters and their motivations. I know it’s not that way for everyone. But a general idea of where I’m going with the story is absolutely necessary to my going anywhere with it. 😉

WS: What other books were influential in what you put into this book?

CP: I tell anyone who will listen—Nick Cole’s The Old Man and the Wasteland is a modern classic of dystopian fiction. Someday (if they aren’t already), people are going to hold that up as one of the turning point works for independent publishing demonstrating how, quality wise, it could compete with traditionally published works. At its heart, Nick’s book is a “journey story” of self-discovery and adventure, like its namesake, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’d also call out King’s The Stand or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain is also an author-hero of mine) as examples of that kind of story. Combine that journey/adventure-of-self-discovery model with the psychological grotesquery in Poe’s tales and the “normal guy next door thrown into a horrific situation” of King, and I think that pretty well defines my approach in TSS.

WS: What’s it been like being a part of the initial AW team?

CP: Awesome! I’d also make this point more generally about the indie-publishing community, but it’s certainly true of AW—we aren’t just a bunch of authors working on a common project. We’re a team—and here’s a quick example. When I was trying to figure out how the Serenity Virus would work, I did what all writers do these days—I Googled. But I couldn’t make heads or tails of some of the research—it’s complex stuff! Then I became Facebook friends with E.E. Giorgi and, within a week, found out she does HIV research. Wow! A real-live scientist! So, via Facebook, I reached out to her (she didn’t really know me from Adam) to help me figure out how Serenity might work, if it were real. She reached right back and was very generous with her time and expertise in doing that.

That’s very indicative of how everyone has worked together in AW. I do the same for the other authors, when they ask. I have over 20 years’ professional editing experience, so while AW has its own awesome in-house editor, Ellen Campbell, she doesn’t have time to answer every grammatical question that pops up. So if someone reaches out for that, I do the best I can for them. AW has been (and continues to be) a wonderful example of—as Nick calls it—a Community Created Bookverse, where authors, graphic designers, marketing experts, and all-around good people come together to help lift one another up and produce excellent works of speculative fiction. I’m honored and damned lucky to be a part of this group. I will now lead you in a chorus of Kumbaya 😉

WS: How about that M.S. Corley cover?

CP: Yeah, how about that!? Mike did a great job of individualizing each cover for the 5 launch books but making them obvious members of a family of AW works. Working with him was awesome. He asked for ideas for important characters/stuff to include, then gave me a sketch (which was pretty much on target). Then we refined the sketch together, and he added color and finalized it. It was seamless, painless, and he was very open to my suggestions as the writer. I recommend Mike very highly. A great guy and a very talented artist!

WS: Any hints on your next book?

CP: I’m actually working on two short stories at the moment—one for David Gatewood’s The Tinfoil Tales, one for Sam Peralta’s Dragon Chronicles—both due around March 1. I’ve outlined my third B Company tale, Columbia, which continues the story begun in Gettysburg and Susquehanna. Writing that will take me through March. After that, we’ll see. I have a futuristic/sci-fi/dystopian story idea about an over-the-hill mob enforcer who becomes the target of his own employer, and I’m anxious to pursue that. And I have a couple of what I think are unique ideas for short story anthologies I’d like to helm. Plus, hopefully TSS will be successful, and Michael and Nick will be knocking on my door to write the sequel. 😉 The immediate future is packed with projects, and that’s a good problem to have.

WS: Last thing…besides your book, what is your favorite AW book?

CP: Oh, besides mine? 😉 I’ll be honest, I’ve only read (to date) The Red King, Reversal, and Immunity. ALL of them are excellent. It’s like asking me: Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, or Bernard Cornwell—which is the better author? Well, they’re all great…but different. And that’s what I’d say about the AW novels. We all have different styles and different approaches to our stories, but each has its strengths and “great moments.” So, I’d say, read ’em for yourself…and you make the call.

Author Interview – Jennifer Ellis

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Jennifer Ellis is one of five authors with books releasing next week under the “Apocalypse Weird” banner. The series started out with The Red King by Nick Cole and is spreading like a firebomb with the next books in the series, which include entries by Ellis, Michael Bunker, Chris Pourteau, E.E. Giorgi, and Cole himself with the follow-up to Red King. After reading Ellis’ book Reversal, I knew I wanted to interview her on my blog. The novel is a great read, in or out of the AW series. It reads a lot like a Clive Cussler novel with bits of Dean Koontz mixed in for good measure. And while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, check out that M.S. Corley cover as well. Wicked.

Oh…and there may be a few spoilers, so consider yourself warned in advance.


WS: Jennifer, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Why don’t you start with a short background about who Jennifer Ellis is and your career thus far.

JE: Well, I’m a bit of an enigma, even to myself. I started off as a serious academic and have a PhD in Geography, but quickly decided academia was not for me. I always wanted to be a writer and I could not see how a career teaching at a university and being forced to publish or perish could fit with my writing aspirations. I’m also a bit of a lone wolf. I like working on short-term projects, over which I have significant control, on my own, preferably in my house, in my pajamas, with the option to sneak out for a skate ski in the afternoon. So for the past sixteen years, I’ve worked as an independent consultant doing research, coordinating projects, and writing reports for multiple clients in the fields of sustainability and climate change. I started writing fiction seriously in 2007, and after having an agent and trying the traditional route for several years, published my first novel , A Pair of Docks, in 2013, which is a middle-grade science fiction fantasy. I have published two more since then—the second in my middle grade series, called A Quill Ladder, and a dystopian action adventure novel for adults, called In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation. Reversal will be my fourth novel. I also have published two short stories in anthologies—Synchronic and Tales from Pennsylvania.

My writing career thus far has been pretty fun, and I’m so glad I decided to go indie. I have had lots of amazing breaks and met lots of fantastic people. I’m still very much at the beginning of my career, but plan to ramp things up significantly in the coming year. I had just started two pretty major and intense consulting contracts in December 2013, which left very little time for writing over the past year. Those two projects will be done in March, and I’m really looking forward to focusing more on writing.

Reversal_FT_FINALWS: How did your involvement in AW come about?

JE: I had met Nick Cole and Michael Bunker through my involvement in Synchronic, which I was invited to join by my editor, David Gatewood, and got to know them a bit through the Facebook Launch Party and subsequent Facebook interactions. You know Michael and Nick—never a dull Facebook moment when they are around, beards and all. It’s sort of like working with Iceman and Maverick. And more importantly, they are both seriously great writers. Then I worked with them both in the Tales From Pennsylvania anthology. They asked me to join the AW crew and after doing some quick math in terms of whether I could generate the required word count to produce a complete novel by December, I gave them a resounding yes, and have been thrilled to be along for the ride ever since.

WS: What inspired your story Reversal?

JE: Well, I am Canadian, so I wanted to do something with a bit of a Canadian and snowy spin. I also have friends who have done Arctic research and I thought the Ellesmere Island setting offered a lot of scope to do something a bit different than what the others were doing. Also, since I do have a background in climate change and geography, I wanted to take more of a geomorphological and environmental approach to the apocalypse with pole reversal, solar flares, super volcanoes and methane-venting craters. I’ve always been interested in the different theories of mass extinction and what from an environmental perspective might finally do us in.

WS: One aspect I was impressed with was the authenticity. Do you have a background in Arctic research?

JE: Thanks so much. No, I don’t have a background in Arctic research. But I did hang out with people who did do northern research in grad school and heard a lot of their stories, mostly about not being able to shower for 45 days. I also spend a lot of time in a snowy climate, as I live in a ski town. We have bears in town and our yard routinely. Regular black bears of course, but I am accustomed to thinking about bears every time I go out for a run in the summer. I also did a research paper on penguins in university, and when I started writing Reversal, I had just finished reading a book about Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic. Pulling the rest together was just pure straight research, which I am pretty used to doing.

WS: What’s it been being a part of the initial AW team?

JE: The best! They are such a great group and have been fantastic to work with. It has also been super exciting to be part of something that is such a revolution in publishing. But it has also been a bit nerve-wracking because of course I wanted to make sure my novel measured up to Nick’s and Michael’s and the other two launch books by Chris Pourteau and E.E. Giorgi.

WS: How about that Corley cover?

JE; I love it. He is a pro and totally worked with me to develop the elements that I wanted to include. It was great fun to be able to imagine what my characters looked like and how I saw the various settings and be able to send him links and have him just produce them with his pencil. That is true talent.

WS: Any hints on your next book?

JE: My next Apocalypse Weird book will be called Undercurrent. Sasha will carry on to the Falkland Islands in search of Murphy and Soren, and then back to the Arctic to retrieve the green folder with the mysterious coordinates with the help of Gregor, who has uncovered some information regarding the polar bear tags. They will encounter more than they bargained for, and discover that all magnetic roads lead to Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, the Deccan Traps in India, Parhump, Nevada and the year 1974. That is of course, assuming I get to write it, because that is not a given in the Apocalypse Weird world, as readers have to connect with my writing and characters, so if you want more Polar Wyrd, make sure you leave a review for Reversal.

WS: One last thing…exploding penguins???

JE: It seemed appropriately apocalyptic. I do feel a bit bad about the penguins. No real penguins were harmed in the writing of Reversal, I swear. I might have to have the penguins take over the Antarctic research station in Undercurrent to make up for it.


Seriously — if you love a good thriller, Jennifer Ellis’ Reversal might be right up your alley. A bit sci-fi, a bit mystery, a bit supernatural. All together a great read. It is just one of the five Apocalypse Weird books releasing on February 23.

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.

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.)