Friday, February 27, 2015

Tethered Worlds: Unwelcome Star by Gregory Faccone

Jordahk Wilkrest doesn't think he's special. The backwater world of his birth has only known peace in his lifetime, and the war is bygone history. Far from its centuries-old stalemate line, Jordahk's interest is collecting war era technology called “mystic.”

Suddenly, political corruption and the people's own complacency opens a dreadful door, literally. Their way of life will be no more as the enemy assembles their giant transporting machine in orbit. The Wilkrests valiantly resist, but are unable to thwart the enemy's designs on land or in orbit. Jordahk is forced to leave his wounded parents and go off-world with his stiff grandfather. They venture far into the dustbin of human space looking for war-era help.

Now Jordahk finds out his family line is a lot more special than he ever knew. Their quest leads to dangerous mystic technology—controllable only by a select few. It's a wild ride for Jordahk, who has to come to terms with abilities he never knew he had... and their consequences. Can his new shady crewmates stop fighting amongst themselves long enough to overcome the enemy? They must if Jordahk's parents and his homeworld are to stand any chance.

I felt lost for a good chunk of the beginning of the book. Faccone throws myriad names and terms at the reader that I had trouble keeping the groups straight (Archivers, Sojourners, Perigeum, Cohortium, Imprimaturs, Khromas, Arkhons) and figuring out what the terms (too numerous to mention) meant. It's totally realistic to expect new additions to the lingua franca of the future, but I had a hard time gathering their meaning from the context of the sentence. In those instances where Faccone provided explanations, he went overboard at inopportune times. There would be this intense action scene and Faccone would break away to spend paragraphs to pages explaining the history of and how that piece of technology worked. It was terribly distracting.

There's an AI battle early in the book that went on for far too long—10% of the book, maybe. It felt like I was reading a game hybrid of Pokemon and Risk. I'm not sure I understood the point of the exercise, though it did turn an adversarial relationship between Jordahk and Cranium into a friendly one. I suppose that it also served as a contrast point for when Jordahk later encounters a hostile AI that subdues his own. Still, I believe that it could've been a lot shorter.

Now that I'm done complaining, let me say that this is a really good book. In particular, by the second half of the book, Faccone does a better job of balancing pacing and scheduling interludes of back story.

Faccone has developed a highly detailed world full of sentient AIs, advanced weapons and technology, political chicanery, and a host of new words and slang that demonstrates a tremendous skill at world-building. Although not stated by name, nanotech lurks under the surface: clothes that change color on command, artificial healing systems running through the bloodstream, and ammunition which reconfigures itself upon user command. Everything is networked. Humans and AI are directly linked; a thought is all it takes to switch the safety off a pistol or present data on a holographic projector.

The major characters are personable, except for the villains, who blurred together. Except for the side trips to his parents, the bulk of the story is from Jordahk's point of view. While he's fully versed in technology and battle tactics, his ability to control his emotions and understand his feelings demonstrates that he's very much the coming of age adolescent. That's not a bad thing; it's just that as mid-40's married man with kids I didn't really connect with him. I was more interested in the AI characters and his grandfather's mysterious past.

Tethered Worlds: Unwelcome Star is a fantastic adventure with a galaxy full of technological marvels. Despite the obvious differences in language and culture, people are people—and so are AIs. You can relate to them even if you don't know an "octal" from "scientum". You can tell that Faccone spent a great deal of time and effort creating every minute detail of the universe that fills this 522-page behemoth. I feel bad for having to write anything negative about it, but I had to explain why I'd rate this a four-star novel as opposed to a five-star.

For more information on Unwelcome Star and other books in the Tethered Worlds universe, please visit the author's website.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Interview with M. Terry Green

M. Terry GreenToday, we have the pleasure interviewing M. Terry Green, the author of the Olivia Lawson Techno-Shaman series. As has been posted here previously, Green has been working on a new series entitled, The Chronicles of White World. With her permission, we revealed the cover for the first book, Iced, and an excerpt from the first chapter. Now, she's here to talk to us about the book.

New Podler: Thanks for being here with us today, Terry!

Terry Green: It’s a real pleasure, and thanks for having me!

NP: The cover for Iced is striking. As we're in the midst of a New England winter, the cover isn't helping me forget how cold it is outside.

TG: As we’re in the umpteenth year of drought here in LA, having only just ended 375 straight days when the high temperatures didn’t drop below 60°F, the cover for Iced is a fond, fervent wish for me.

NP: The cover for Iced was created by RPG and book illustrator, Tom Edwards. Most of his work has been very dark, not necessarily in tone, but in color. Did that play a role in your artist selection?

TG: You know, I don’t really see them as dark at all. Then again, my favorite color is black, both in color and tone.

NP: So what drew you in?

TG: Tom makes a world. Each and every piece of artwork I’ve seen of his seems to create some other place entirely. As surely as novels have backstory and world building, I think artwork has it too. I’m immediately transported by his work and always find myself curious to know more.

NP: As we read in your "cover story" guest post, designing book covers is hard work. By my count you went through four cover design styles over the course of the Techno-Shaman series. How has that experience shaped your approach for this series?

TG: I just try to get out the way! I know I’m not up to the task myself, though budget drove me to try my hand in the beginning. For this series, I wanted to put my best foot forward right from the get go. I gave the barest sketch of the environment, the heroine, and the story to Tom. At times, he even had to ask for more information. I’ve found when chatting with readers or seeing their reviews, that my experience of the story can be very different from theirs. I think that’s true of the audiobooks, and I also think that’s true of the covers. A big part of the fun for me is finding someone with amazing talent who then just does what they’re already doing. The end product may not sound or look anything like what was in my head, but I think that’s awesome! There’s also a degree of trust when you place your work in the hands of another creative. For me that goes back to finding the right person in the first place.

Iced by M. Terry GreenNP: What can you tell us about the world where Iced takes place? Besides the fact that it's very cold!

TG: Iced is set on a far future earth. Though it’s fiction, I’ve based it on theories about our planet’s real past during eras that have been called “snowball earth” or “slushball earth.” It’s harsh. Luckily, my heroine is up to the task of surviving. :) Hey, maybe that’ll make for some prequels—all those weaklings who didn’t make it. Or not.

NP: Are there any cultural or political remnants of today still around? Or have the glaciers ground up everything from our world?

TG: It’s definitely a world with remnants of our own. But like other dystopian works, what remains is fractured. In that far future, only the most robust elements survive and frequently they’re cruel: autocratic rule, slavery, and some nasty creatures. On the other side, I’ve also elevated the roles of scientists as preservers of knowledge, people taking an active interest in the preservation and betterment of the human race.

NP: How do people survive? There's nothing to eat around here once the ground freezes. Is it like Minnesota where everyone is ice fishing?

TG: I like to think of it as ice fishing on a big scale. The only viable places for human habitation are places of warmth, near volcanos and fumaroles. Some sea life has survived, but it’s a matter of knowing where to drill. As I built the world, I did quite a bit of research into the latest discoveries that scientists are making in the Arctic, particularly when it comes to what types of life survive under the ice. It’s not easy to survive on White World, but it’s doable.

NP: In the excerpt, it appears that everyone gets around via iceboat—in essence, trimarans equipped with skate blades. While it's a mode of transportation that's been around for centuries, it's seldom used. And forget about seeing it in fiction. Have you done it yourself?

TG: I haven’t but I’d adore it! For the book, I watched videos and looked at sites that talked about how to make your own ice yacht. I’ve looked into land sailing on the ancient, dry lake beds near Las Vegas. That’s most definitely something I intend to try. Thanks for the reminder!

NP: Thirteen is an odd choice for the name of a protagonist. Is there anything you can share with us about her, without revealing any spoilers that is.

TG: Unlike the winning and compassionate protagonist of my previous series, Thirteen’s life has been brutal. As an escaped slave, she may know how to survive, but she has a lot to learn about being human. ‘Thirteen’ is only the name that she goes by because she doesn’t know her real name. But it’s something she’d dearly like to find out.

NP: One final question: What's up with all of your protagonists having white hair?

TG: I’m trending that way myself. They say write what you know. My next series will take place in an albino geriatric ward. That’ll take some research for a change.

NP: That's going to do it for me. If anyone in the audience has any questions for Terry, please post them in the comments.

Thanks again for joining us today, Terry. This was fun and illuminating. =)

TG: This was totally fun! I don’t think I’ve ever smiled at my laptop so much. And thanks for skipping the pirate talk.

NP: Iced is available now for pre-order and is scheduled to go live on February 10th.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Author News: February

We're a little light in this first edition of Author News, but I wanted to make good on that promise.

February 1st: Richard Levesque, author of Strictly Analog, released his latest novel, Foundlings.

Jeremy Robert Johnson, author of We Live Inside You, released Skullcrack City.

February 10th: Iced, the first novel in a new series from 2012 INA Winner, M. Terry Green, will be released.

February 15th: Steve Anderson, a 2010 INA Winner for The Losing Role, will be at the Barnes & Noble Tanasbourne in Beaverton, Oregon at 2PM. Anderson is in the midst of promoting his latest work: Liberated and Under False Flags.

That's all for now.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Excerpt: Iced by M. Terry Green

Iced by M. Terry GreenLast Friday, we revealed the cover for Iced, the first book in the Chronicles of White World series from M. Terry Green. This week, Green has granted us permission to reveal a sample of the story. Enjoy!

Iced by M. Terry Green

It was perfect slaver weather: visibility a hundred clicks, temperature a few degrees below zero, wind out of the northwest. Thirteen kept an eye on the horizon and opened the vent another notch. She watched steam pour from the opening and bend severely into the frigid wind stream.

They’d have to be blind not to see that—blind or dumb.

Slavers weren’t the brightest. She let slack into the control line and dumped more wind. The perlon sail fluttered and flapped, and the rigging slapped along the mast, audible over the high wind of midday. Her speed dropped a notch. The ship already sailed so slowly the wing couldn’t generate enough lift. Under the skimmer’s three hulls, the blades sliced the ice with a scraping and rattling sound.

“Where are you?” she muttered, scanning the infinite white.

The bright gleam of the Pacifica Sheet stretched to the horizon in all directions. Where the pale blue sky met the planet, a hazy seam divided them. Few mountains and no volcanos were in sight. The huge crinkles, saw-toothed hills, and sculpted blocks that pocked the ice near volcanos were absent here. It was easy to make good speed, especially in this weather. High cirrus clouds covered the sun. The sextant shot would wait.

She saw it then, ten points off the stern—a speck.

But as it came closer and grew a little larger, she recognized it: a sloop, typical for this far out, likely a crew of four, so as to leave room for slaves. Although she’d done this countless times, her heart beat faster. She nudged the tiller, putting the ship into a slight skid that kicked up ice shavings in a high sparkling arc off the starboard outrigger. The slavers unfurled more sail.

She lightly touched the pendant through the fabric on her chest. Maybe this slaver ship would be the one. Maybe their captives would know something. Either way, the chase was on, such as it was. Her skimmer would make quite the prize for slavers. They’d be looking for a small family at least, but they weren’t going to find that—not even close.

No longer on the horizon, the sloop was taking shape. Though it wasn’t built for speed, it had three sails up now. It moved fast enough for the wing that connected the three hulls to lift the blades clear of the ice. Harpoons and shotguns were likely at the bow. Even in white, the ship was as plain as a rock. Though the shimmering ice reflected the sunlight, the hulls didn’t. Despite being the exact same color of white, it was like looking at a silhouette—growing larger. They were gaining fast.

In two quick bounds, Thirteen was out of the cockpit and up on the black deck. It was the only part of the skimmer that wasn’t white. Throughout the day it absorbed the heat of the sun and passed it to the cabin below. Thirteen gave the trigger on the winch a quick push and the rope under the railing a little tug. The switches were cocked. Everything was set. She glanced to stern.

Beyond the tall tail and stabilizer that were useless at this slow speed, the power turbine whirled. Via gears in the stern and deck and the belts that ran the length of the ship, it connected to the winch. When she needed power, it’d be ready. Beyond the turbine she watched the slavers. They ought to see her soon even without a scope. Time to give them something to see.

Thirteen raced back to the cockpit and jumped down. She grabbed the light gray jacket from the steps. It was nearly as form-fitting as the first two layers, but the color was like a beacon against the ice or her ship. The way it clung to her would leave no doubt as to whether they were really seeing a woman on deck. Her petite frame would be the clincher. She took the matching cap from the pocket and put it on. Carefully, she tucked every strand of long hair under the snug hat. Then she put on the goggles. Of course they only looked like goggles. They were fake. She needed to look right, and the large, yellow lenses were the most important part of that deception. Already the gray fabric was picking up some heat from the sun. As long as she didn’t sweat it’d be all right. Judging by how fast the slavers were closing, she wouldn’t have to wear it for long.

She stepped into the safety harness, pulled it up, and slipped her arms through. The back was already clipped to the tether that ran up the mast. Bending at the knees, she tested her weight on it. She heard the carabiner rattle in the metal ring behind her as she took the tiller.

Off the stern, the slaver ship was clearly visible. Beyond the sloop’s protruding sounding buoy, a brief glint at the bow let her know the captain had his scope out. She turned profile for his benefit, pretending to look up at the sloppy mainsail, raising one hand against the sun as if it were too bright. At this point, even a fool would see they were being chased by slavers, so she turned to them. Their heading was on an intercept course, still closing fast, not taking any chances. On deck, there were three men. One had to be below. The slaver at the bow wasn’t using his scope any more. He’d seen everything he needed: an unarmed ship with a woman in the cockpit who didn’t know any better than to let steam vent and couldn’t set a sail.

“Come and get it, Slaver,” she said, almost inaudible over the wind.

©2015 M. Terry Green

If you're already hooked, pre-order it! Ship date is February 10th.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Best of 2014

Each year, the reviewers here at the New Podler Review of Books pick the book (or books) which we feel are the very best independently published (or small press) works. The only other requirement we have is that the book was reviewed here on the blog during the calendar year.

Here are the winners for 2014:

Chained by Fear Rob: Jim Melvin's Chained by Fear gets my vote for "Best of 2014." It's book two of the Death Wizard Chronicles, which follows the adventures of Torg the Death-Knower in his quest to free the world of Triken from the mad sun sorcerer Invictus. It's adult fantasy on par with G.R.R. Martin, but with far more magic and monsters. Highly recommended.

Noise by Brett Garcia RoseDED: There were a few titles that I thought were very good this year. In order to narrow the list down I had to pick out the flaws in the choices, no matter how small. That got my list narrowed down to two. It was a tough decision, but ultimately, I chose Noise.

In my review, I wrote: "Noise is a revenge flick dressed up as art house mystery. Rose juxtaposes brutality with spirited, yet acerbic, prose. Meticulous attention to detail evokes noirish cinematic imagery."

Congratulations to the winners!

We reviewed 19 stories last year and rejected over 194. Roughly speaking, that means everyone who submitted a story to us had a 9% chance of being reviewed. I wish that number could be higher, but it's just not possible with the number of reviewers we have.

Unfortunately, Rob Steiner and S.B. Jung are deactivating themselves from our reviewer roster. Rob wants to devote more time to writing while S.B. will be starting nursing school soon. I want to thank them for their time and devotion to the blog over the years and wish them success. Come back when you can, guys!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bastion Magazine - November 2014

Bastion November 2014 coverBastion is a science fiction magazine. Normally we don't review zines, but I don't see why not. They're similar to anthologies in that they contain multiple authors working around a central theme. In this case, that central theme is simple: science fiction. But as I look deeper, I see memory as a common thread.

Another important point is that this issue was not submitted to us. I saw that Rob Steiner was one of the authors in this issue, so I went out and bought it. I'm reviewing it on GoodReads so I may as well post it here too. Small press zines are like indie authors: Publicity is better than obscurity.

The issue opens with "Good Times" by Alexander Jones. Memories are the latest drug. Someone has created the technology where one can extract memories from one person and inject them into another. The experience is like living through them firsthand. Like all drugs, there's always the risk of overdose. I really liked this story. While the characters initially appeared to be just some random shmoes, Jones developed them as each explored a memory shared by the other.

"The Ticket-Taker" by CJ Menart is told to us from the perspective of a ticket-taker robot at a vaudeville show. But something's wrong with it. People are complaining about its behavior. They think it's malfunctioning, and so does the central factory computer, but there seems to be more going on. The robot is a bit of a smart aleck who rambles about its memories of shows past. But if you pay close attention, you just might be able to figure out what the author is trying to say.

A landing on an alien world has gone terribly wrong in "Us or Them". The protagonist in B. Brooks' story is the last person among her crew, pursued by the others and slowly succumbing to the sickness that claimed so many. She struggles to remember her training. And something wants to commandeer her starship and spread its infection to Earth. A nice edge of your seat story.

"The Vestal" is a story that takes place in Rob Steiner's Codex Antonius series. If you know the series, it's back in Kaeso's Umbra Corps days, long before Muses of Roma. But if you're not familiar with it, the story takes place in an alternate universe where Rome never fell. Kaeso works for the CIA equivalent of a free world trying to keep Roma from taking it down. It's an interstellar cold war. In "The Vestal", Kaeso is charged with helping a woman, one of the Vestal Virgins, defect to his world. Hands down, this was my favorite story in the issue. It had action and a solid protagonist. And Rob Steiner's world building is top notch.

In "Playing in the Skeleton on Riot Day", Jedd Cole tells the story of Sheila, a ten-year old girl recounting the days of the occupation of Earth by aliens. Her brother and his friends enjoy watching people protest the occupation. And sometimes it gets ugly. There's an obvious parallel that can be drawn to human armies from one nation that occupy another, where the cultural differences make the other seem alien. But Cole doesn't preach. He's just offering a different POV. Food for thought as it will. A good story.

The editor thought that Michael Andre-Driussi's "Mayhem at Manville" was going to be controversial. I suppose it was because of the S&M, homosexuality, and violent world portrayed in the story. But I didn't find any of it offensive or gratuitous. Human, androids, and aliens mix together in a piece that's part Philip K. Dick, part William S. Burroughs, and all puzzle. I read it twice to try to make sense of it and a chain of memories to see if I could piece together the clues.

In Spencer Wightman's "Shenzhen Blues", video games have become high stakes affairs, like back room poker games are today. But the video games are far more intense than anything we have today. And biotechnology has advanced to the point where implants and organs can be considered collateral on bets. It's the dark underbelly of cyberpunk. The protagonist, Sam, seems hellbent on blazing through life to burn a memory from her past. But at the rate she's blazing, she just might wind up dead.

All in all, I think that this was a good collection of stories and worthy of further investigation. For more information on their current and past issues, visit Bastion's website.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cover Reveal: Iced by M. Terry Green

M. Terry Green, author of the Olivia Lawson Techno-Shaman series, is putting the finishing touches on the first book of a new series, Chronicles of White World. She has graciously let us reveal the cover ahead of the book's release in February. The cover was created by Tom Edwards. So, without further ado...

Iced by M. Terry Green

In the weeks ahead, we'll have a story sample and an interview with Terry. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Feature: Author News

I may be opening up a can of worms here, but I want to try something new.

If you're an author whose work has been reviewed by us, we'd like to do a little more for you. Typically, our relationship with authors ends after we review their work. Some authors like our reviews and stay in touch with us, even if there is little reason beyond hoping we'll review their next book.

We want to do something more. Promoting indie authors is tough. Very few get the recognition they deserve. Some get more than they deserve, but that's another topic entirely. So let's work on that author promotion stuff. If you have something newsworthy to share, let us know. What do I mean by newsworthy? Yeah, I'd better clarify that. What might seem important to you might not be important to us. So I'm going to list what we do consider newsworthy.

Here's what you can share with us:
  • Awards and nominations for awards. Real ones. Not those awards that you can buy: "Send us $20 to be entered in our contest! Surprise! You won!" While it doesn't have to be a prestigious as a Philip K Dick Award, it should be legit. Yes, we consider unsolicited "book of the month" (or year) nods from bloggers acceptable. Include a link with this news.

  • Author Appearances. These should be of the in-person variety. Blog tours don't count. If you're going to be somewhere (book signing, book fair, etc.) with the intention of having your book signed or you're guest lecturing or answering questions, let us know. Be sure to include the where and when. No, hanging out at Starbucks doesn't count. It has to be official. We'll need a link or a picture of a flyer. For example, "Abigail Author will be at the Arkham Library signing copies of her latest release: Sleeping With Pomegranates."

  • New Releases. Publishing something new? Let us know. This is separate from the submission process. We might be closed. You might not want us to review another book of yours. We might not be interested, or the reviewer who read your book might not be available. We can pass the information along to interested readers even if we can't take you up on the opportunity to review your next book. Send us a short blurb along with the release date and where readers can go for more information.
We DON'T want routine stuff like sales, new versions of old books, free giveaways, personal news, sales milestones, a list of your blog posts, links to other reviews, website updates, marketing hype, and so on. This is targeted towards promoting authors, not publishers. We don't want publishers telling us about all the books their promoting each month. The only exceptions are for those authors whose work we've actually reviewed. If XYZ publishing sent us a book from Abigail Author, we'll accept news from them on her behalf. That goes for PR firms too.

We reserve the right to reject anything that we deem sketchy or doesn't fit in with our idea of the above definitions.

The plan is to promote author news once a month. But we'll change the frequency as we see fit. Plan your announcements accordingly. If you have something coming up on February 1st and you send it to us January 31st, you'll have to wait until we get around to it. Put Author News in the subject line so that we can filter it accordingly.

If this unleashes a tsunami of email, we'll shut it down. There's only so much we can do.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Blog It and They Will Come

Clark Stanley's Snake Oil LinimentLast week I received an email from a reputable indie publishing blogger inviting me to a webinar where I could learn how to double my sales from a successful indie author. It sounded too good to be true, but since this was a reputable indie publishing blogger, I decided to give it a shot.

The webinar was packed full of writers, and many went around introducing themselves and where they were from. Judging from the introductions, many were either new writers working on their first book or veterans struggling with limited sales of their first book or two. You can put me in the latter category.

The successful indie author hosted the webinar and (surprise) primarily spent his time plugging his new book, which featured ways that indie authors everywhere could double their sales. He started off relating what he did and gave case studies demonstrating how so-and-so applied the techniques from the book and saw their sales blossom. But every example he gave involved a non-fiction author. And our successful host was a non-fiction author as well. I complained in the audience chat that all we were seeing were non-fiction examples. Anyone with a clue about publishing knows that selling non-fiction is completely different from selling fiction. Several other attendees agreed with me.

People buy non-fiction for a very specific purpose, and it can be anything. You can look up books on shade gardening in New England, building websites for mobile devices, Theodore Roosevelt's childhood years at Oyster Bay, or meatball recipes. People buy fiction just to be entertained, but the specifics are limited. It typically isn't anything more than "alien invasion sci-fi", assuming that "sci-fi" isn't as far down the genre tree as one can go. Nobody looks for "alien invaders from Barnard's Star with trilateral symmetry who choose Africa as ground zero". And even if they wanted to, they couldn't as that level of detail in sub-categories doesn't exist.

I'm not sure how much of the webinar I can relate here without trampling on someone's copyright, but I'll try anyway. One major suggestion was to convert readers into fans. The thinking was to sell product to the fans like how projects on Kickstarter offer tiers of rewards to people who donate more money to their projects. It's an interesting idea, provided you already have a readership, and someone willing to spend $50 on your 3D printed figurine of the half-elf heroine from your epic fantasy.

Fortunately for successful non-fiction indie author, he already had a readership when he applied this method. I consider that an unfair advantage. Indie fiction authors want to know what they can do to make their first paranormal romance novel, for example, stand out from the thousands of other paranormal romance novels. How does one build that initial readership?

The suggestions for fiction authors were limited. We're supposed to give away short stories for free on our website, and we should blog about the writing process.

That was it.

Don't sell your short stories to zines, give them away for free on your website. But the real kicker was: Blog it and they will come. Because people looking for books to read really want to just read the random thoughts of some random person.

Now blogging has been incredibly successful for some people, though they tend to be journalists and pundits. John Scalzi sold his first book to Tor because one of its editors read his blog (He didn't even have to bother with the indie scene). But how many of these success stories are out there? And why was that gentleman reading that blog in the first place? There has to be some sort of connection to the blogger and his/her readership. But if I had a dollar for every blogger that fizzled out, or never got past a dozen readers (like my old blog), I could pay off my mortgage (and then some).

I don't have an answer for you. I'm certainly not a best-selling author. I'd say keep trying your hand at social media. Make sure your work has been edited and hire a professional to create your cover. Whether you view it as art or product, it's important that you produce your best work. One option to try is to keep writing. Maybe if you have enough books out there, someone will stumble into one and it'll start a chain reaction.

Anyone who's found a technique that works should feel free to share it in the comments. Please, share it. Though we've hoped and tried, book reviews aren't enough to help your fellow indie authors (there might be a couple exceptions). We don't mind you plugging your success, so long as you don't try to sell us a book claiming that it will make us successful, cure baldness, have us waking up every day feeling rejuvenated, or help us lose ten pounds without dieting or exercise.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Shared Nightmares, an anthology from Cold Fusion Media

Cover for Shared NightmaresShared Nightmares is a collection of short stories whose central theme revolves around dreams, but more accurately, nightmares. That's about the only thing these stories have in common as the authors tell us tales that span all matter of genres. While horror is the overriding element, some authors make use of other elements: science fiction, historical fiction, and urban fantasy. Some stories rely on visceral action, while others suspense. Fortunately, none of these stories wander down Elm Street, and for that, I'm grateful.

Please indulge me as I offer brief comments about each story.

The anthology opens with “Father’s Day” by Larry Correia. Aliens have invaded Earth and are attacking us through our dreams. And we're losing. Correia does a stand up job with his protagonist, as he fights a bureaucracy in order to protect his daughter.

In “Dreamcatcher”, Sarah Hoyt warns us that things in the dream-world wants to become real. There are guardians who keep the nightmares at bay, and it helps to keep an ax—a very sharp ax—close at hand.

The message I got from D.J. Butler's “Incubation” is that regret is a nightmare that you can't wake up from. It takes some time before we learn what the unreliable narrator has done, but Butler drops us enough clues along the way to piece together this crime scene.

The devil has Adam's number in Tom Lloyd's “The Devil On My Shoulder”. Every time Adam wakes up, whether from actual sleep or blackouts, he discovers that he's been up to no good. Pity him, but pray you never meet him. Lloyd does a great job bringing the reader along on Adam's senseless ride through misery and then rewards Adam (and the reader) by revealing his purpose.

The first of the historical fiction pieces is “Onnen” by Paul Genesse. Having visited the Kyoto imperial palace, he was inspired by its strange, bleak history to write this story. It's an excellent tale of a woman's scorn and her unquenchable thirst for revenge.

In “To Dream Awake, to Sleep the Real” by Michaelbrent Collings, Booker Nyx talks about the dream-like bliss of the early days of marriage: "Existing with one foot in dream, and the other in a place where the world was seen as it truly was: a place of magic, and wonder, and light, and infinite possibility." But then children come along, and the responsibility of parenthood kills the dream. Booker yearns to return to that dream. Collins does a solid job with his sad yet familiar portrayal of Booker's life.

“What Hellhounds Dream” is an action-packed urban fantasy story from Steven Diamond, who's also one of the editors. It was a fun story that seemed like it could be expanded to novel length.

“The Damnation of St. Teresa of Ávila” by Marie Brennan is the other historical fiction piece. The titular character died right at the time when Spain transitioned from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, whereupon ten days were lost. In Brennan's story, St. Teresa's death lasted for those ten days. Drawing from St. Teresa's life and writings, Brennan skillfully paints an all too real picture of the woman as she hovered between life and death.

“Man in the Middle” by Max Gladstone was another fun piece. It appears to be something out of his Craft Sequence series. If you're like me and haven't read anything about it, there's a bit of dead gods and scientific sounding magic (which reminded me of Stross's Laundry) that keeps the world—at least an alternate version of ours—running. This story concerns a trip into a nightmare where Tara discovers a remnant from the God Wars. After reading this story, I feel compelled to dive into this series.

A video game that you play in your sleep is the subject of “U.I.” by Howard Tayler. The game is still in beta as the protagonist is testing it for the developer. Rather than just lamely showing the game action, Tayler presents their conversations, which shows the protagonist's progress in getting caught up in the game.

“The Quality of Light is Not Strain’d” by Peter Orullian was a difficult read due to the subject matter. That's not to say it wasn't a good story. It was well-written, and the difficult parts were tastefully composed. I find that the most disturbing horror stories are not the ones with visceral gore, but rather the mundane acts that are carried out by good people in desperate situations. This is one of those stories.

The anthology concludes with “Health and Wellness” by Dan Wells. It follows a pair of Indian immigrants who are here on work visas and take these special vitamins generously provided by the U.S. government. It's a delightful tale of paranoia and the paranormal.

Editors Steven Diamond and Nathan Shumate have done a fantastic job corralling these disparate tales into a cohesive collection. If you prefer your horror to be on the literary end of the spectrum, without the usual tired clichés, then check out Shared Nightmares. For more info and reading samples, visit the publisher's website.