“Iron Truth” by S.A. Tholin- An SPSFC Finalist Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin

Iron Truth is a doorstopper of a science fiction novel. The plot primarily follows two characters on a far-off planet. One, Joy, was stranded there when her ship crashed while she was in cryogenic sleep; the other, Cassimer, is a soldier searching for a secret on the planet.

The characters are strong, and fully formed. They develop immensely over the course of the novel. Looking back over the expanse of pages, it is awesome how Tholin moves the characters in ways that make sense. I would say Joy and Cassimer both feel fleshed out, with motivations that make sense or don’t, just as those of real people do. Other characters get viewpoint chapters later, and I admit to not enjoying them as much. At that point, my investment Joy and Cassimer was too strong to be set alongside others.

The world-building is also a strong point. The Primaterre organization, in which Cassimer is a soldier, has many things akin to Warhammer 40,000. Its demands of allegiance, purity, and railing against heresy are highlights. The world never felt derivative, though. The similarities are superficial, and indeed some later plot reveals make the whole thing kind of stand on its head. I could get lost in this world, and did get lost (in a good way) at times as I read the book.

The novel’s main problem is, in fact, its length. I don’t mind long books. What makes the lengthiness of the novel problematic is that so much of it is unnecessary. I legitimately think that 50% of this novel could be cut without meaningfully losing any plot, character-building, or world-building. That’s a huge problem for a book of this length. At times, I found myself forcing myself forward because I just wanted something to happen. Tholin does string along multiple high points throughout the story. Some twists hit extremely hard, and others reveal major plot details. These were major highlights of my reading time, often leading to me pausing or a while to mull them over. But these moments are so spread out that it gets difficult at times to forge onward. The world and characters make it worth reading, but only with some frustration at how much it seems should be cut.

Iron Truth is a frustrating read. Its highs are among the highest in the whole contest. But those highs are distributed among lengthy–very lengthy–portions of story in which little-to-nothing happens. With a major round of editing, I believe this could be one of the best reads in the contest. As it stands, it is uneven. I enjoyed my time, but felt I spent too much of it here. Recommended for fans of massive worldbuilding space operas.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Indie Author Interview: Kay MacLeod

I’m delighted to bring you an interview with Kay MacLeod, a favorite indie author of mine. I hope you’ll check it out and be sure to check out her books (links near end)!

Interview with Kay MacLeod

What got you into speculative fiction as a reader, and as an author?

I grew up in a family who loved fantasy. My mum’s an incredible artist who drew and painted fairies, and my dad was always a big reader. He had shelves filled with speculative fiction and it was the passionate way he talked about the books he enjoyed that sparked my interest from an early age. Soon enough, I began reading for myself; The Hobbit, Redwall, Discworld. They captivated me like nothing else.

I devoured everything fantasy related I could get my hands on, expanding my obsession with video games such as Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and Baldur’s Gate. It seemed a natural progression to create worlds of my own at that point, though I only wrote small pieces and mostly drew maps and characters. I didn’t seriously consider writing my own books for a long time. My creations were a way to occupy my time and gave me joy. It didn’t occur to me that others would enjoy them. Until I started to DM Dungeons & Dragons games. The thrill of seeing other people invested in my world and plotlines was amazing. They cared about the stuff I made up and wanted more!

I love that you had a kind of natural progression from Redwall (and others) to DMing and storytelling. In many ways, your background is similar to mine. I was absolutely obsessed with Redwall. You have one series, the Maiyamon series, which seems inspired by Pokémon. What led you to write a gamelit series?

Maiyamon was definitely inspired by Pokémon. I got my first Gameboy with Pokemon Red in 1999 when I was 11 – the perfect age it was catered to. Over the years, I got every new release and still do. But now I’m in my 30s and the story isn’t aimed at me anymore. I’ll never grow out of it, I’m as excited for Scarlet/Violet as I was for Gold/Silver, but I do want something different from the genre.

As an adult, I crave more depth of story and characters, and I figured there was a whole generation of original Pokefans with that problem. So, Maiyamon was born. The main characters are around twenty years old, and I’ve done my best to include more mature themes and conflicts without going too extreme the other way and putting off younger fans. Exploring what would really happen if superpowered animals existed has been delightful, especially looking at how technology would change, or the opposing viewpoints people have on the subject.

To be honest, I adore gaming as much as reading. Combining them is a no-brainer! Even my fantasy books have been compared to Dragon Age (still the best compliment I ever received). Though I’m still working on my Maiyamon novels, I do have some ideas for other GameLit books in the future – a Rune Factory farming style series and a Magic: The Gathering card game inspired story. We’ll see if they go anywhere…

Okay, I gotta say your ideas for other series have definitely gotten me excited! I think having a more mature plot with a monster collecting-type game is going to get more and more popular as people who got introduced to RPGs with Pokemon grow up. You mentioned your fantasy series–what’s the elevator pitch on that?

I have way too many ideas and want to write them all right now! My fantasy series is about an invasion by a spirit race who feed on life energy looking for a new world to consume. To combat them, a group of ten people know as the Constellations are given unique powers which are passed to their first-born child. Some of those parents were better at preparing their children than others… Kitty never questioned why she could bullseye every shot with a bow. Asher assumed the other new Constellations would have been pushed to breaking point to develop their powers like he was. Add in an aloof member of the royal family, and they have to figure out a way to work together to find the rest of their allies before the enemy picks them off first.

There are three books out in The Constellation Saga so far with the final one due after the third Maiyamon book is complete. It’s such a fun series with some of my favourite characters – I often describe it as swords, sorcery, and sarcasm.

It looks like readers have a fun range of works to dive into from you! I know I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read. Where can readers look to find out more/follow you/etc.?

If you want to check out my range, I have a free welcome pack with several short stories set in each world – including an exclusive peek at some Maiyamon history… You can get it by signing up to my newsletter at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/3c5ckf3ld7 All my books are available from http://author.to/KayMacleod And I’m around on most social media sites as @kaymacleodbooks so please feel free to follow or get in touch (especially if you want to chat books, RPGs, miniature painting, or Critical Role).

Thanks so much for your time! I’m looking forward to reading more!

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“In the Orbit of Sirens” by T.A. Bruno- An SPSFC Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

In the Orbit of Sirens by T.A. Bruno

Humans are on the run, seeking refuge on a remote planet that holds more threats than it might initially seem. In the Orbit of Sirens is a space opera that features fantastic world-building and plenty of action to keep the story moving.

The major threads in the story are about the human refugees, a mysterious illness spreading among them, the resident lifeforms of the planet they landed upon, and an ancient threat that endangers them all. There’s a lot going on in the book, in other words, and with that comes a broad assortment of characters and settings. Space opera is absolutely the right description for this book. It’s got the drama and depth of an epic.

The story itself builds throughout the book, just as the world humans are exploring is built around them as the reader continues. The world-building is a huge strength of the book, as is Bruno’s penchant for pushing the plot along with punctuated action whenever it seems to be on the verge of getting too slow. As readers learn about the birdlike Auk’nai, the indigenous population of the planet, they discover a grand culture and nature populated in realistic ways. If there’s one area that I personally felt was a weakness, it would be the depth of the characters. There are many of them, and some of them don’t get enough development to make them as interesting as I’d hoped they’d be in such a rich setting. While they aren’t the deepest people brought to print, Bruno makes good use of them, including some surprising moments near the end. I also thought the book nailed the ending, leaving more avenues for exploration without it feeling like a letdown or a clear cliffhanger “gotcha” moment.

There are a surprising number of elements found in this book, too. There’s a helping of first contact, a little cosmic horror, a dose of space opera, and some thriller sprinkled on top for good measure. It makes the book feel fresh all the way through. The stakes are raised throughout the book, but I also struggled to get a full grasp on exactly how urgent the plight of humanity was in the novel. Was this a localized threat or was it truly a cosmic, possibly extinction-level threat that was happening? I do know that this book was enough of setup to get me interested in the next one.

A note about the audiobook, for those who enjoy them: I thought the reader for this one, Michael Reimer, did a fine job. It wasn’t too slow–an issue I often have–and I appreciated his range with voices and small effects here and there. Those looking to supplement their reading with some listening would do well checking this one out on audio.

In the Orbit of Sirens is a great space opera with enough world developed to set up for future installments. I found it an exciting read, and one that I’d recommend to other fans of the genre.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire” by G.M. Nair- An SPSFC Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M. Nair

Michael Duckett and his roommate Stephanie Dyer are Private Investigators–they just don’t know it at the beginning of the book. Duckett just wants to get a date, get the girl, and move on with life. Dyer wants… well that seems to change on a whim. When people start disappearing and others start demanding Duckett and Dyer investigate, they get roped into a plot that’s bigger than either of them anticipated.

I think credit where it’s due is important, and I want to say that the cover for this book and its tongue-in-cheek title were hugely enjoyable. Every time I see the cover, I get a little smirk. Kudos for a well-designed indie book.

Anyway, the meat of the novel is its comedy. The plot is there mostly as a vehicle for throwing the characters into ridiculous scenarios where their synergy (or lack thereof) can be tested. There is some character development through the novel–Michael perhaps learns some about himself, and Stephanie shows she’s not entirely useless–but the rubber hits the road on their comedic interplays. Many of the scenes read as though they’re set pieces to launch a clever line from one or the other character. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Nair’s sense of humor struck me, at least, in the right ways. It does, however, get a bit stretched out over the course of the story. I felt some relief when one major plot reveal happened that allowed a focus less on the humor and more on a plot that was happening.

Readers who like plot as a vessel for comedy should be right at home here, and it’s a sub-genre with a venerable tradition in science fiction. Nair doesn’t bring the acerbic bite of satire to the table; instead, the comedy here is more slapstick or character comedy. It’s a read that would do great on a beach or a plane ride: it’s light, fun, and leaves readers feeling satisfied afterwards. Those looking for a strong plot or serious science should look elsewhere.

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire is a fun romp that fans of comedic sci-fi should read. It brought a lot of smiles to my face, and I suspect other readers would feel the same.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1979

Not the original cover, but the one I read and the one that will forever define the novel to me.

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end. There may be SPOILERS for the books discussed.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (Winner)- Grade: A+
Just about every aspect of this novel is spectacular.  It had so many things that I love in science fiction. But what truly struck me the most was how very different and unique it was in what issues it addressed. For example, how often do we run into -anything- about men having difficulties with sex in science fiction? Especially when those difficulties are not something like “He’s ugly so he can’t get with a hot woman”? I mean, I was absolutely blown away by the discussion of Gabriel’s difficulty with control, whether it was meant as a possible euphemism for something more explicit or not. Just having that part of the story exist made it wonderfully unique, and, frankly, intimate in a way that I have rarely experienced in a book. As a reader, I hugely appreciated Snake’s handling of the situation as well as the way it all played out.

Then, there’s the story right alongside that with Melissa, which not only addresses another serious issue but also does it in a way that provides a child with genuine agency. After Snake rescues Melissa, they have a rather lengthy conversation about what happens next. And Snake actually listens to the 12-year-old child and grants that this child might have reasons for wanting something. I cannot say how huge that is for me to encounter in science fiction. Children are generally either prodigies with near (or actual) divine powers or essentially props for adults. Here, Melissa is granted space to have agency.

Really, this made me think of the book in strongly feminist terms, which apparently is not unwarranted given McIntyre’s history so far as I can tell on Wiki. It’s not only adult women given autonomy and action in this world. It’s girls whose opinions are valued and who even manage to change the mind of an adult. It’s a beautiful moment in a novel that has them in spades. I haven’t even mentioned McIntyre’s handling of the city and the hints of “offworlders,” or the deft handling of the Dreamsnake problem itself. All of these were things I loved–the limited perspective, the hints of hard sci-fi in my Mad Max-like book, the strong featuring of snakes. The book is a superb work on every level. I adored it.

The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey- Grade: B
McCaffrey’s science fantasy series continues to entertain with the third book, The White Dragon. The central aspect of the world of Pern which McCaffrey created is the threat of Threadfall, some non-sentient creatures that fall at certain intervals from a distant planet. In the first book, Dragonflight, this was made bleakly threatening. The second book kept that threat and the sense of ancient age of the world in which the characters exist. In this third book, The White Dragon, readers get more intimate with the characters. This gives us a better picture of how the world is lived in on a day-to-day basis, but it also takes away some of the density of the world building in the first two books that I enjoyed so much. Here, we have a titular white dragon who would not have lived had he not been saved at hatching. His powers are extraordinary in some ways, but we don’t get a great sense of how this might play out. Eventually, after some threats are met and defeated, the book ends on a hopeful note that leaves it wide open for future development. I liked this one, but not as much as the first two in the series.

Blind Voices by Tom Reamy- Grade: B-
I found this such a surprising novel on just about every level. I have to admit, I did not expect to like it going in. It looked very much unlike anything I would enjoy. The premise seemed outside of anything I like either. The book’s central plot is around a summer in which some children from a village in Kansas discover the delights of a traveling wagon show. But it turns out that the people with their strange features are more than they appear–and certainly more than the deceptions some of the children assume them to be. As the novel wears on, we discover strangeness time and again. There’s a strong sense of the mysterious here, combined with a sense of wonder. Mix in a bit of “coming of age” type plotting, and the novel ends up being a rather unique mix of material. On the negative side, the pace struggles at times and the characterization is fairly thin. That said, this is a fascinating book that is rather shocking to find on the Hugo list at this point in time. It’s so atypical from what has been featured thus far.

The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh- Grade: A-
A fully-fleshed out world that shows off the range of Cherryh’s aliens and the depth of her character interactions. Cherryh is an author whose works are so dense that it can become difficult to unpack them from themselves. I have tried time and again to enter into her impenetrable worlds, and this novel finally felt like things began to click. The recovery from a devastating war is intertwined with the social niceties of alien cultures in ways that still feel dense but at least are presented through a narrative perspective that allows some explanation for the reader. Comparisons to Dune feel inevitable here, as the world is a desert planet and one of the main characters is even named Duncan. These comparisons will only find superficial points, though, because Cherryh has made her own endless well of world and character development that has that feel of only barely scratching the surface here. This novel actually took me 3 tries to finally get going, as I struggled keeping track of everything going on. It’s a great story, but only if you’re in the mood for a read that requires quite a bit of effort.

1979- Only 4 nominees this go-round, but it’s an incredible lineup. Dreamsnake can arguably considered among the best-ever science fiction in my opinion. Blind Voices is weird but absolutely deserving. The White Dragon sees McAffrey’s series truly start to sprawl out, and Cherryh finally made sense to me. Truly an excellent year.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Monster of the Dark” by KT Belt

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

Monster of the Dark by KT Belt

I’ll be honest: I didn’t know what to expect going in to this one. The story hooked me from the beginning, though, and didn’t let go from there. Carmen Grey is a potential Clairvoyant, a post-human with psychic powers. She’s taken from her parents, who are all-too-willing to let her go, to be trained at an underground facility for what humanity will face in the stars.

The story is a kind of coming-of-age story as it follows Carmen from a young age through young adulthood. Some of these sections are extensive, such as when the 5-6 year old Carmen is learning how to fight. The intensity of her training means the plot doesn’t really let up for this whole first part, and it’s easy to sit down and binge read this section as you want to know what’s going on with Carmen and whether Janus, her “handler,” will ever reveal more about what is happening. There are a few hints of a wider world here, but they are very few and far between. Belt keeps readers interested by remaining intensely focused on Carmen and the glimpses we see through Janus of other things happening. There is apparently some kind of alien threat that they need Clairvoyants to fight, and the hints about possible conflict between Earth and other humans make for an intriguing world that never fully opens in this book.

The hyper-focused nature of the plot starts to get a little repetitive in the middle section, where I was like Carmen in thinking that Janus and others lacked knowledge of what was happening next. Belt delivers action throughout this part, but it starts to lack the character reveals and wonder that the earlier sections had. The last 20% or so of the book was especially confusing to me. It felt like the first 50% or so of the book had built up to a potentially epic finale, with Carmen coming out and stomping on aliens or, at least, her captors. I don’t want to spoil much, but those expectations were very much subverted. Although I’m not sure I was a fan of how it ended, I will say I’m basically desperate to read the next book and find out what’s next for Carmen and others.

Monster of the Dark is an intriguing first volume in a series. It’s impossible not to be enthralled by Carmen’s story, but it would have been nice to have a bit more payoff for the broader world in this book.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger, a critical review

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife a few years ago as part of a list of the best science fiction books of all time. I remember I was sick when I was reading it–one of those feverish illnesses that keeps you up for hours at a time at night. I’d migrated downstairs to the couch so as not to disturb anyone else’s slumber, then turned the lights on dim and read the entire book overnight in between bouts of more severe illness.

I was perplexed. It was well-written stylistically. I was absolutely engrossed almost the entire time I read the book. However, it was also highly problematic on several levels. I typed a lengthy reflection on it, then sat it in my drafts until now. With the new adaptation coming out, I figured it was worth publishing my review of the book, offering my critical view of the popular novel. What follows from here is largely my edited comments from sitting down and writing a review the day after reading the novel. Content warnings for grooming of a minor, assault, and sexual assault.

Stylistically, The Time Traveler’s Wife is captivating. That alone makes me understand how it ends up on “best of” sci-fi lists. That said, there were a few things that really got to me in this one. This will be long and spoiler-y.

First, none of the characters were very likable. I don’t think protagonists need to be perfect, by any means, but the two primary characters here just aren’t endearing. Henry shows up naked in different times periods, having randomly been pulled from his own ‘present’ without anything but his birthday suit to help him. When he shows up in different time periods, he picks locks, pockets, and steals to get what he needs. Sure, sometimes people will give him stuff for free, but mostly he’s decided he has to be a ‘tough guy.’

One example of this is one scene when, after Henry endures some insults in one outfit, he decides it’s time to beat someone to within an inch of their life–cause that’s justified, right? But no, no apologies. It’s basically just accepted. There’s absolutely no reflection on whether this was justified or acceptable. Henry assaults someone because they insulted him and we’re apparently supposed to just move on; after all, who hasn’t wanted to beat someone up because they made fun of their outfit? Wait, that might be true, but how many of us have actually done so and expected to do so consequence-free or even with subtle approval of the powers that be?

Both Henry and Clare assault and publicly humiliate a minor because he burned Clare. Yes, that guy was a turd–and a violent one. He’s shown to be a horrible human being. But there’s not even a question of going to the authorities or seeking justice; let’s just beat the hell outta the guy, tie him up naked, and have all the girls in school come laugh at him… after they kick his man parts. No, seriously! That’s what they do! And once again, the authorial voices seems to give tacit approval!

Clare sticks with Henry through thick and thin, but when she discovers he’s dead she almost immediately starts having sex with her best friend’s partner in her own kitchen while her best friend is out with her daughter (I think that’s how it went down). We’re supposed to just like Clare because she’s good looking and wealthy I think. I couldn’t actually find any other reason to like her. Truly, those are the only reasons given anywhere so far as I can tell. Her actions don’t seem to give us any reason to appreciate her as a human. Henry seems to be intentionally unlikeable. While it’s never really acknowledged, he acts frequently like a psychopath, whether it’s his violent retaliation to insults or his assault–including sexual brutalization–of a minor.

Second, there are some major vibes of grooming happening here. Clare first meets Henry when he’s naked and she’s 6. Yes, his time traveling is random. He has no control over it. However, when he discovers she’s his future wife he totally just hangs out with a minor as he’s naked as if this is the typical thing to do with a minor who will, apparently, one day be your spous. This continues to happen throughout Clare’s life–a grown man shows up naked, and eventually they come to an agreement that she’ll have clothes on hand to take care of him when it happens near enough to her. That’s somehow endearing? I’m not sure. Anyway, they agree to put off sex until she turns 18. Once more, there’s no authorial commentary here. It’s like we’re supposed to just acknowledge a grown man talking to a minor saying things like “You’ll be my wife in the future, but for now let’s just put off sex until you’re legally an adult.” What!?

The iteration of Henry that shows up is 41 years old at the time they finally have sex–old enough to be her father, easily. In this scene, he mentions in passing that before this point there were numerous times he had to fight against arousal to avoid having sex with Clare. Yeah, while she was a minor. It doesn’t say when that started, but the clear reading of the text is that it has happened a lot, which would imply it’s happened possibly for years. Creepy. Yes, he’s her husband–in the future. In Clare’s here-and-now she’s a minor child who is in a egregiously gross relationship with an adult man who ultimately reveals he is her future husband, and that is supposed to make everything okay, apparently? The more I think about this, the more I’m bothered by it all. It’s like her whole life is determined by this creepy old guy who time travels to ultimately have sex with her. Not okay.

Reflecting on this just a little bit also makes one wonder even more about the power dynamics. How is a six year old supposed to react to a grown man in this situation? Did Clare really have any agency when it came to her future love life? Is Henry her husband only because he came to the past and effectively groomed her into being his future spouse, ultimately being her first sexual partner when she was 18 and he was 41? It baffles me that this is seen as a beautiful love story.

Third, I get that time travel will never make much sense, but why is Henry seemingly limited to only his life, his wife’s life, or his daughter’s life when it comes to the temporal dissonance or whatever it’s supposed to be? Why doesn’t he get sent back to the stone age? How has he not been hit by a car or buried under a building? He just pops into existence, seemingly wherever. Why not in front of a semi? And how does he keep his job as a librarian when he keeps showing up naked in the stacks? One offhand remark is made about this, but it’s dismissed as kind of a ‘that’s Henry, haha!’ Sorry, but if you show up naked at almost any job, pretty sure you’d get fired. Maybe this was explained and I missed it, but it seemed pretty implausible to me.

Ultimately, The Time Traveler’s Wife is an incredibly creepy story to me. There’s not much more I want to say about it. It’s gross. This thing has nearly 5/5 stars on Amazon with thousands of reviews. I don’t get it, and I’m not sure I want to.

(All links to Amazon are Affiliates Links)

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Interview: Edward Nile, Author of “Ironshield”

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Edward Nile is the author of Ironshield, a dieselpunk epic set in a war-torn world.

Edward Nile Interview

What was your gateway to speculative fiction? How did you decide to write it?

This is where I give the normal answer that I’ve been a lifelong lover of fantasy blah blah. It’s a cliché because it’s true. As a nineties kid, some of my first memories were of cartoons and television shows like the Power Rangers. I swung plastic swords and collected Transformers (No prizes for guessing why I write about giant robots) and generally was absorbed in stories, whether it was what was on the screen or what I made up in my own head while bashing figures together. I’d spend unhealthily long hours making stuff up until the sun rose. From Beast Wars to Gargoyles to Reboot, I devoured it all. A love of traditional fantasy followed. One of the very first movies I remember being engrossed in that wasn’t a Disney cartoon was DragonHeart when I was about six or seven. So, around that age I started drawing a lot, making up characters and scenarios to fuel my addiction to escapism. By the time I was twelve I was dead set on becoming a comic book creator. Anime was a huge influence at the time, with Escaflowne and Gundam Wing being two of my earliest discoveries. By age fifteen, after reading all the popular fantasy and sci fi everyone was reading at the time, I’d scrapped the comic book dream in favor of wanting to write my very own Robert Jordan-esque door stopper fantasy novel. And here we are.

And here we are.

I love that people can come to speculative fiction from childhood but have different influences. Can you tell us about your inspiration for your fantasy world?

After a hiatus from writing I tried to reinvent one of my darling stories from when I was 15. Scrapped it. Tried a dystopian sci-fi, wound up shelving a first draft that will never see the light of day. Moved on to an attempt at urban fantasy/horror. At this point I realized I needed to work on something unique just to keep myself motivated. I’d had an interest in dieselpunk for a while. Trench warfare always held a fascination for me and my reading was veering steadily from fiction to military history. I started listening to podcasts about WW1 and WW2 and picking up just about any book on the subject I could find. Then it was the American Civil War. Now, my shelves are crammed with books about just about every conflict from the Crusades to the Vietnam War (I’m currently reading an excellent book about the Anglo-Boer conflict and have a tome about the Crimea waiting for me). So, pretty quickly I knew I wanted to write something that reflected this newfound interest in 19th and 20th century warfare. Still being a fantasy nerd, I wrote my first published novel, “Bloodlight”, to be a blend of fantasy and dieselpunk. But before “Bloodlight”, I wrote a little short story called “The Worm Sleeps.” A vignette set in a dystopian future in which a mech pilot operates an old rust bucket, juxtaposed with the more advanced, futuristic machines of his comrades. This piece (which I’ve since thrown on Amazon with one of my fantasy shorts for a dollar) was a test run for me. I wanted to write about mechs, but I wanted them to have all the grit and grime of a WW2 tank. Fast forward about a year. “Bloodlight” is being prepped for release, and I’m at a friend’s place leafing through Shelby Foote’s series on the Civil War. And the scene just springs to mind, of a hulking gray mech standing in a dusty road, being challenged by a man with a field gun. Everything just grew from there.

I thought I sensed some of the historical background of both the Civil War and World War I in “Ironshield.” It’s good to know I wasn’t far off! How long do you expect the Ironshield Saga to be, and what other projects do you have up your sleeve?

I think any time an author taps into a world and story with this kind of scope, it opens the way for an almost infinite number of ideas. After all, the history of humanity and armed conflict is such a vast cornicopea of information it’s literally impossible to write or read everything involved. Doubly so for me, because while there are historical inspirations to “Ironshield” it is, at the end of the day, a fictional world I’m writing. I can do whatever I want with it, combine inspirations from just about anything. I have material for the Ironshield Saga to last for more books than I can count. Originally, I envisioned at least 4-5 large, numbered entries in the main series, plus a ton of smaller novels and novellas such as “Old Bolts” to flesh out the world further. And that’s just in the first era of “Ironshield.” I have plans for an urban detective story set a century or so after the main events I’m currently writing about. A series built around a central character in a steadily advancing dieselpunk world, complete with new technologies and the implications they come with. That being said, I have to be realistic with my time and my efforts. “Ironshield” clocked in at 170k words. “Iron Wrath,” coming out this June, is over 200k. These are large books with a lot of story to them, and I have to balance their production with real life obligations. Knowing that, it’s likely I’ll have to switch gears to another story setting at some point for my own sanity. There’s an epic fantasy book I want to write, as well as a dark fantasy western and a ton of other projects I really want to work on. More ideas and stories than I can reasonably complete in a lifetime. Of course, when this writing thing starts paying some of the bills, I’ll be able to put more time in (ha!).

Can we circle back for a moment and discuss a side topic? WWI and some of the other influences you mentioned were heavily influenced by colonialism. In “Ironshield,” some of that colonialism appears as a possibility in how both the Xangese people and the native inhabitants of the continent are treated. How are you wrestling with the history of colonialism and the evils thereof within this fictional setting?

What “Ironshield” wrestles with, if it “wrestles” with anything, is monarchy and centralized power. Xang, a monarchy ruled over by a king, has neglected its hold on a nearby island chain, which has since developed its own identity and considers itself a separate entity from Xang, even though they share a language and other cultural background. As far as Arkenia is concerned, why shouldn’t they? Why should someone miles away who knows nothing of the everyday lives of a people get to make blanket declarations about how they live? This was the basis of Arkenia’s Revolution, after all, the desire not to have a distant authority tell them what to do, what to believe etc. As far as the native tribes, I only really get to explore one fringe group, a cargo cult called the K’Tani, who worship machines, falsely believing the Arkenians had used their Warsuits (mechs) to save them from colonial rule. In fact it was their own freedom the Arkenians wanted, and the benefits to the tribes came as an unintended bonus. If my book was to be more focused on an anti-colonialist message, I’d be writing a different story. “Iron Wrath” has been delayed two years because I had to scrap an outline that was, in part, unworkable due to my trying to cram too much political realism into the narrative. Having real-world inspirations is great, but I’m writing books about stompy robutts. Everything that goes into the plot, therefor, leans toward said stompy robutts in some form or another. If an aspect of the world doesn’t tie into that, it doesn’t get explored too deeply on the page. Hence we only really see the tribe that is most directly involved with these machines.

I appreciate how the setting clearly has so much going on behind the scenes, too. Of course, the big draw for me was the stompies, too! How can readers connect with you?

Readers can follow my page, MechWizard Press on Facebook or shoot me a message. There’s also a blog where I give updates. I recommend readers hit “follow” on my Amazon author page and/or on Goodreads to get updates on my releases. Iron Wrath, the sequel to Ironshield is out as of June. If anyone wants a great short novel to read in the meantime, and wants some more background on characters appearing in Iron Wrath and future installments, I recommend they check out “Old Bolts” which was a semi-finalist for SPFBO 7.

Thanks for the interview and the thoughtful questions!

Thank you for your insightful comments!

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Steel Guardian” by Cameron Coral- An SPSFC Book Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral

Block is a CleanerBot who just wants to do what he’s programmed to do: clean a hotel. When readers start the story, we’re dropped into a post-apocalyptic world in which an AI uprising led to widescale destruction and killing of humans. Pockets of humans survive, and robots are aggressively hunting them.

Block, though, is trying to find the perfect hotel to keep clean. He’s struggled to do so due to the state of disrepair or destruction of several he’s encountered. Nevertheless, he presses on. Eventually, as he’s taking cover from some fighting with SoldierBots, he finds an infant that he decides to take care of. In doing so, he works to nab a human woman being sold at auction by malevolent bots, meets up with more humans, and goes on a bigger adventure than he’d been planning.

Steel Guardian is a comfort read type of book, in my opinion. It’s fairly predictable so far as the plot goes, and the attitude of Block makes even the most intense action scenes read as just another step along the way. Block is a fine narrator, though he’s clearly confused about how the world works at times. This makes him more endearing than he may otherwise have been. The narrative voice from Block is perhaps not quite alien enough [or robotic enough] to feel anything other than human [read: robot], but it gets close enough to suspend disbelief. The few twists near the end made the setting more interesting. It remains a bit generic, in my opinion, but the major plot details that are revealed late in the game do bring up some interesting questions.

I did, however, have some difficulties with the book. For one, characters appear and drop off at extremely convenient moments and basically always do exactly what they need to in order for the main plot to advance. And here, I need to elucidate a specific example. When Block starts off the story, he’s traveling with a Vacuubot, a rather simple-minded bot with an interactive interface that basically just makes smiley faces like “=-)” or frowning faces in the same vein. I was immediately drawn to this Vacuubot as a kind of cute tag-along with some potentially momentous smiley faces about to drop. For the first 10-20% of the story, I was riveted to its interactions with Block. But then, when Block is forced to go looking for a power source, he leaves Vacuubot behind. When the crap hits the fan, he’s unable to immediately retrieve his buddy bot, but then… he never does. Vacuubot is just left in the woods for the remainder of the book and the only reference later is that Block at one point wishes he’d been able to stay in the woods with the other robot and that would have meant death for him. Well, apparently it does mean death for Vacuubot! =-(, indeed! Worse, the implications of this are never really acknowledged by Block. I just wanted the robot buddy comedy to continue. This is the most egregious of the times in which this happens, but more than once characters just pop in and out whenever it’s most convenient for the sake of plot. It makes it feel more contrived than it ought to.

There are a few plot threads that got more interesting as the story went on, especially the question of the malevolent AI and why robots are so interested in chasing a baby down. These made the story interesting front-to-back. I never got bored reading the book, despite the issues I mentioned.

Steel Guardian is a good robot-centered read. Fans of AIs, robots, and post-apocalyptic settings should check it out.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 19: “Know No Fear” by Dan Abnett

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Know No Fear by Dan Abnett

Dan Abnett wrote a little bit after the end of the book in the edition I have. Basically, he says that after some reader complaints about Prospero Burns, he felt cathartic burning everything in Know No Fear with an epic slugfest of battle that is largely unrelenting through the whole book. I mean, yes, this is exactly it. My problems with Prospero Burns wasn’t that it didn’t have enough action; rather, as I point out in my review, it’s that the book is advertised as something it manifestly is not. Anyway, all of that said, it was actually quite nice to read Know No Fear, which is basically a lengthy, massive battle with pieces of plot intermixed in it.

Here we have the Ultramarines caught unaware. They don’t know about the heresy spreading across various parts of the Empire, and the Word Bearers launch an unprovoked pre-emptive attack on Calth, one of the worlds of the Ultramarines. The scenes are utter chaos start to finish, with massive spaceships blasting apart, daemons being fought in corridors, brother turning against brother, and almost relentless destruction being waged across the planet and above it.

The novel does have character development and plot throughout the story. Whether it’s from members of the Ultramarines bonding as they fight daemonic forces or looks into the Word Bearers’ side of the conflict, there is quite a bit going on here. Ultimately, though, the draw of the novel is to read about some serious, powerful fighting between space marines and heretics.

The battles are truly epic to behold. Whether it’s visions of massive spaceships slugging it out and being boarded or action on the ground, each scene is pulse-thumping action throughout. Abnett is masterful and writing these kinds of scenes and it’s nice to see him apply himself with such vigor to it.

Know No Fear is an action-packed entry in the Horus Heresy that moves the story forward in impactful ways.

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Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– Links to all of my Warhammer-related reviews and writings, including those on the Horus Heresy, 40K, and Warhammer Fantasy (pending) can be found here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.