Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mr. Ruins by Michael John Grist

Cover for Mr. RuinsRitry Goligh is a former Arctic marine living in a dystopian, tsunami-wrecked future. He works as a graysmith—a specialist capable of diving the minds of others and implanting or erasing memories. Scarred by the events of the Arctic war, he leads a directionless life of alcohol, violence, and sex, until a man calling himself Mr. Ruins offers him a devil’s bargain—gain a future, but forfeit his soul.

At the same time, a crew of hardened marines rouse in a unique submarine designed to dive through lava, within a planet’s molten core. They have no memories except their names, ranks, and a burning urge to complete their mission. Yet none of them know what their mission is, or what the cost will be if they fail.


Before becoming aware of Mr. Grist's work as an author, I'd known that he'd spent some time in Japan, exploring the ruins of man-made structures long since abandoned and reclaimed by the natural world. I can't explain it, but it's something that's always captured my attention. It doesn't matter if it's the majestic columns of the Parthenon or the rusty subterranean confines of abandoned American missile silos; I have to see it. So when I saw that Mr. Grist had written a book (he's written several actually), I thought, "I'll have to check this out." After seeing the striking cover and reading the sample chapters, I knew that I had to explore further.

After getting hooked by the opening, the pace of the book slowed down. I'd say that it didn't pick back up until about midway through. Much of the first half is Ritry wandering around destroying his own brain cells and then trying to recover the alcohol-damaged memories. And in the marines' narrative, they spend an equivalent amount of time wandering around trying to figure out who they are and just staying alive. Eventually, Grist gets both narratives to a point of self-realization where there's clear focus, and then when the connection between the two is made, the story really moves along.

It takes a while before one can develop much sympathy for Ritry Goligh (his unusual name is explained in the book). But as Grist reveals more about his past, it becomes painfully obvious why the guy is hellbent on self-destruction. His experiences alone in the Arctic War would qualify him as someone with PTSD and survivor's guilt, but there's even more: his childhood. We learn about this through the adventures of the marines. Without giving anything away, we find that Ritry's unique childhood started him down this path.

You might wonder why, in a world where the technology exists to implant or erase memories, Ritry didn't seek out a fellow graysmith to assist him with his emotional wounds. There is that saying: doctors make the worst patients. Rather than seek help or a normal life, Ritry has chosen to suffer instead. He feels that he deserves this life, scraping a living out in the skulks—the floating shanty towns outside the city's protective tsunami wall. But for all the pain that his childhood brought him, it ultimately proves to be his source of strength.

Ritry's foe is Mr. Ruins, a wicked bundle of evil so cruel that he seems the very definition of sadist. Before he turns on Ritry, he offers to be his teacher, to help him claw his way out his pit and become something far greater. He's obsessed with Ritry for reasons we don't discern until later. And while much is revealed in the latter half of the book, there is so much more about him that we don't know. Hopefully, as the series progresses, those answers will be revealed.

As for the marines, their story is a surreal one. They're forced to adapt to their bizarre surroundings or perish. While I can't say more about that without spoiling it, I will say that the dynamic between the team members goes beyond mere professionalism. Their dedication to each other is rivaled only by their dedication to the mission.

While the story takes place in a not too distant future (a century?), the names for some prominent places have changed. And for the places that seemed real that I was unfamiliar with, I couldn't find any trace of them online. I wasn't sure if these changes were made to reflect the tsunami ravaged world, or we were on some mirror Earth. There was a common history (Napoleon) and obvious similarities with our own (climate change), but the differences were disorienting. Maybe that was Grist's intent. I chalked it up to creative license.

Unfortunately, my experience was marred by typos and punctuation problems. There were many words that were hyphened that shouldn't have been. And comma usage was just plain wrong in many places. Grist got it right most of the time, so it's not like he's going by a different set of rules. If he had hired a proofreader, I believe that the manuscript would've been much cleaner. If commas and hyphens don't catch your eye, then don't sweat it. Just enjoy the story.

In Mr. Ruins, Grist has drawn upon his real life adventures among our modern ruins and the 2011 Japanese tsunami to set the stage for an ice cap free future. His protagonist is a ruined man living without purpose in a ruined world. Just as the people in this world have rebuilt their cities (behind walls) after tsunamis knocked them down, Grist tears him down and builds him back up again. He takes us on a surrealistic journey into the depths of memory to reveal what shaped his protagonist and shows us the power that lies within to change.

For more information about Mr. Ruins or Grist's other works, please visit his website.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Excerpt: Trapped by M. Terry Green

Trapped book coverM. Terry Green is putting the finishing touches on Trapped, the second book in her Chronicles of White World series. She has graciously granted us permission to post an excerpt from that novel.

Trapped by M. Terry Green

Though much of the crowd would drift away in the afternoon, Céfiro always found this part riveting. The circus was in full swing. On the ice floor of the coliseum, troops of clowns and acrobats performed in seven rings. At the far left, one juggler tossed flaming torches high in the air. To either side of him, two more passed tumbling axes in front of and behind him. A tall pyramid of human bodies, feet on shoulders, was growing at the far right. In the circle next to it, clowns in colorful ballooning clothes walked on pointed stilts that seemed too thin to support them.

Beyond the top of the great, circular arena, the constant wind buffeted the surrounding pennants. Brilliant sunshine flooded the ice, casting short, harsh shadows on the glittering surface. Even without the wind, the temperature was just above freezing.

“Bravo,” Chucho cried out. He waved his scepter, jangling the rows of bells. “Bravo!”

Though the king and queen had left the royal box an hour ago, the little jester had stayed. Céfiro didn’t know what in particular he was watching, nor did he care. The only interesting performance was at the center.

Dangling from several thick ropes strung from the high rectangular frame, the aerial acrobats were at work. The young women pirouetted in midair as the ropes whipped in spirals below them. They wore hardly any clothing, little more than bands of elastic cloth at hips and breasts. Their bodies gleamed as they worked up a sweat. Though they were far away, Céfiro imagined their young, smooth skin would be flawless. Now as a synchronized group, they inverted, seeming to dangle with only a loop of rope around their ankles. Holding their weight like that, it would have to leave a mark. Céfiro could almost feel the dimpled grooves under his fingertips.

Chucho coughed, a deep and watery sound. But only when his scepter hit the floor did Céfiro look. The little man was standing with a hand to his mouth. As he usually did, he stood at the front of the box where he could see over the low wall. Still facing the arena, he backed up in stiff-legged steps until he hit the queen’s chair. He rolled along its front edge, finally facing Céfiro. Chucho’s eyes bulged, and he pressed both hands over his mouth.

As Céfiro watched, his miniature features turned red. Céfiro cocked a head at the darkening skin, trying to puzzle out why he didn’t just cough. But in answer, dark blood seeped through the spaces between the jester’s fingers. Then he coughed.

Céfiro jumped up and sprang back as spittle mixed with blood sprayed the royal chairs. Chucho’s wet hands couldn’t find purchase on the polished wood, and he slowly sank to the ground.

“Guards!” Céfiro yelled.

©2015 M. Terry Green

To learn more, visit Terry's website. If you're already hooked, pre-order it!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Author News - May

April 15th: John Vorhaus co-wrote a documentary with Kevin Pollak entitled Misery Loves Comedy. It was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival. Starting this month, the film will be available nationwide.

April 20th: M. Terry Green revealed the cover to Trapped, the second book in the Chronicles of White World series.

April 23rd: Scott Semegran, author of the Simon Birchwood series, released Good Night, Jerk Face, a novelette.

April 29th: Michaelbrent Collings released his latest novel, The Ridealong.

May 14th: Jeremy Robert Johnson will be at Powell's Hawthorne on Thursday, May 14th at 7:30pm to promote his latest novel, Skullcrack City, which was published on February 1st.

May 19th: Steve Anderson took a break from historical fiction to write the contemporary novel, The Other Oregon: A Thriller. The book drops on this day.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Eden by Martin Roy Hill

Eden book cover"If this is Paradise, how bad could Hell be?"

A sandstorm uncovers a long buried secret in the Iraqi desert, an ancient Sumerian temple dating back at least 6,000 years to the beginning of civilization. An American army patrol sent to investigate the ruins is trapped inside the temple’s eroded walls, first by an insurgent ambush then by another, even more powerful sandstorm. When an enemy mortar shell blasts an opening into a hidden burial chamber, Captain Adam Cadman and his soldiers take refuge deep in the ruins. What they find hidden inside threatens to destroy every belief about the beginnings of mankind—as well as modern civilization as we know it.


Eden plays in a sandbox whose basic foundation is similar to the one that the Stargate movie and TV spinoff shows played in. Both were inspired by Von Däniken's controversial theory that Earth was visited in the distant past by aliens who helped shaped our early history. Whether or not you believe that, I find that in the right human hands it can make for entertaining stories. In the wrong hands, you get the slop put out by the History Channel (but that's a discussion to be had elsewhere). Fortunately, Hill belongs to the former group.

The army patrol is headed by an archeologist, Cadman. His is the level-headed response to the discovery in the ruins. Most of his team, while alarmed by what they've found, respect the chain of command and trust Cadman to do the right thing. One member, Thomas, does not. He's a literalist when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Cadman isn't necessarily an atheist, but when the evidence before him challenges his beliefs, he takes a rational approach.

From the outset of Eden, Cadman and Thomas clash. But Cadman knows the Bible better than Thomas and uses it, along with the chain of command, to keep Thomas in line. But the discovery in the ruins slams the walls of Thomas's belief system, and he's ill-equipped to deal with it. I know guys like Cadman, and I know guys like Thomas. I found them to be solid characters.

A good deal of the story is told through flashbacks. We're taken back to the ancient civilization that built the temple. Hill switches back and forth from showing and telling what happened. I think it would've worked better if he'd spent the whole time showing. Eden is listed as a novella (109 pages), so there was plenty of space to devote to further development of the flashback part of the story: flesh out the setting a bit more, maybe develop some characters from that time period, see things from their perspective.

Eden is a solid sci-fi story that entertains yet carries a message. While there are soldiers and there is action, this is more of a philosophical engagement than a militaristic one. The cultural differences between Cadman and Thomas struck me as being just as great as those between human and alien. Until we can overcome those differences without resorting to bashing in each other's skulls, we won't be ready for the treasures awaiting us in the cosmos.

Eden is available from Amazon. To learn more about Martin Roy Hill or his other books, please visit his website.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Author News - April

March 28th: Scott Semegran, author of the Simon Birchwood series, released "The Great and Powerful, Brave Raideen", a short story.

April 10th: Helen Smith's novel, Beyond Belief, has been nominated for three awards at this year's CrimeFest.

May 14th: Jeremy Robert Johnson will be at Powell's Hawthorne branch on Thursday, May 14th at 7:30pm to promote his latest novel, Skullcrack City, which was published on February 1st.

May 19th: Steve Anderson took a break from historical fiction to write the contemporary novel, The Other Oregon: A Thriller. The book drops on this day.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Witches of Armour Hill - A Crowdfunding Journey

There are many vehicles one can ride in on the road of self-publishing. Some authors opt for the cheapest ride possible. They make the cover themselves and self-edit. While it might technically be a book, it's a ride that few readers want to go on. Some covers look like Bondo covered Pintos; the typos are potholes in the road. But many indie authors realize that readers want that literary ride to be all style and comfort. A slick cover grabs their attention. A polished manuscript makes sure the reader settles in and enjoys the author's story. But to get to this level of enjoyment, authors realize they need to pay someone to do this work for them.

Alyssa Cooper is one of those authors. Now that I've blathered on long enough, here's Alyssa to tell her story.


Alyssa Cooper

Hey everyone!

My name is Alyssa Cooper, and I want to talk to you about my next book series novel, The Witches of Armour Hill.
Margaret May Reis knows how strange she is; people have been telling her for years. At sixteen years old, though, Maggie begins to realize that strangeness is only half the story. Maggie isn’t just strange—she's a witch.
The Witches of Armour Hill is the story of a modern-day witch coven, struggling to maintain their magical culture in a world that has always betrayed them. This story is based a legend that’s well known in my native Ontario—it's believed that in 1840, a young woman from Peterborough was tried for witchcraft. When she was found guilty, the townspeople took her to the highest point in the city, and they burned her at the stake. The Witches of Armour Hill is the story of her descendants, of all the witches they couldn't burn.

The Witches of Armour Hill: Switch
The first installment of The Witches of Armour Hill, Switch, has already taken Wattpad by storm. With 12,000 views and almost 500 favourites, it's become a quick favourite on the free story-sharing platform. But read it while you can—once the finished version of Switch is published, the free version will disappear forever.

After allowing traditional publishers to handle my first three books, and finding myself sadly disappointed, I've moved on to self-publishing. I published four titles on my own last year, but Switch promises to be my biggest undertaking yet. That's why I've decided to crowdfund the publication, using Kickstarter to make this book the very best it can be.

I’m looking raise money for professional editing services, book design, marketing, and distribution - all of the things that can turn a good story into a truly great book. The Witches of Armour Hill’s Kickstarter campaign launched on March 26, and will conclude on April 25. Make a pledge to earn cool prizes, and keep an eye on the campaign page for previews and updates that you won’t see anywhere else. Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you decide to join the coven someday!

******

The author of two novels, two collections, and countless short stories, I can always be found on my website: www.alyssacooper.ca.

I’m also found all over social media:
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Facebook
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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

This Darkness Light by Michaelbrent Collings

This Darkness LightA man with no past, but who holds the future of the world in his hands. A woman who has sworn to protect him, for reasons she does not understand. A killer who must destroy them, or lose all he holds dear. They are running—from each other, from the plague that is killing all around them, from the dark forces beyond their understanding. Running from shadow to shadow. From dark to dark. Hoping to find light. Hoping that this darkness is not all there is. Hoping…because hope is all they have in This Darkness Light.

The book starts out like a Stephen King thriller, like the kind he wrote during the seventies and eighties when he was still hungry. Back before King started writing cinder block-sized epic tomes filled with meandering storylines that wandered off on tangents. It grabs your attention, hints at something terrible just outside your vision, and convinces you to keep reading because you have to know how this is all going to play out. And there's certainly a nod towards King with an all-obscuring fog and strange creatures that lurk within, a la The Mist. Unlike King, Collings is still hungry, and it shows. With only a couple of exceptions, Collings stays focused on the plot and the characters in said plot. There's plenty of action with several fight scenes and car chases. Horror is used to reveal the monsters living within people in a very literal sense.

Collings provides us with three likable protagonists: John (the man with no past), Serafina (the woman sworn to protect him), and Isaiah (the killer). Collings goes in depth with each of them, revealing their pasts and their struggles to hold it together as their worlds come crashing down. Isaiah was the most interesting of the three as he goes from avenging angel to a man caught in an emotional vise, blackmailed to do the dirty work of the antagonists. And he's a priest! I found his life journey from troubled youth to priest to assassin quite intriguing.

The two main antagonists are Dominic and Melville. While the former is in charge, it's the latter that had more depth (as despicable as he is). Dominic seemed too much a cardboard cutout villain. And then there's President Richard Peters, whose emails with Dominic, staff, and foreign leaders opens every chapter. He offers the reader a clue as to how the rest of the world is dealing with the crisis as well as a window into his deteriorating mental state.

After the thriller opening that plays on conspiracy theorists' worst fears of an all-knowing police state, the story morphs into apocalyptic fantasy. Los Angeles is collateral damage as John and Serafina are relentlessly pursued by Dominic's henchmen, Isaiah, and Melville. The disease morphs people into abominations and the fog closes in, yet there always seems to be a car to be found with a full tank of gas and maybe some sandwiches. This is all intentional; the characters are being led to a meeting place in the middle of the country where all will be revealed.

Unfortunately, the manuscript could've used another run through by a proofreader. There were enough mistakes in there that, while it didn't sink the story, proved to be a distraction: "laying down" was used instead of "lying down", an assault shotgun becomes an assault rifle then switches back, a gun becomes a knife, bad dates in email headers, misused punctuation, capitalization (the Bible) and word choice errors.

This Darkness Light is an an action-packed chase across an apocalyptic landscape. While the characters serve familiar roles, Collings embodies (most of) them with enough depth that you can picture who will play them in the movie. Another set of eyes would've been helpful before publication to tidy things up, but it shouldn't stop you from enjoying the ride.

To find out more about This Darkness Light and other works by Michaelbrent Collings, please visit his website.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Authors Need Websites

In this age of social media saturation, too many authors seem content with just a Facebook page and Twitter handle. Authors need websites. Think of them as a base of operations where readers can go to find out everything they need to know about you as an author. Jane Friedman has an excellent list of components that an author needs for her website. Check it out!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Author News: March

February 11th: Michael Sullivan, author of The Crown Conspiracy, announced on his blog that he signed a four-book deal with Del Rey. Congratulations, Michael!

March 11th: Kris Kramer, author of Sanctuary, has partnered with Alistair McIntyre and Patrick Underhill to pen the Rise of Cithria series. More info can be found at their website.

May 14th: Jeremy Robert Johnson will be at Powell's Hawthorne on Thursday, May 14th at 7:30pm to promote his latest novel, Skullcrack City, which was published on February 1st.

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.