SPSFC Book Review: “Derelict” by L.J. Cohen

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and have been delighted to see the wide range of offerings authors have shared with us. Check out all my posts on the SPSFC here.

Derelict by LJ Cohen

What happens when you’ve got a bunch of smart kids locked on a space station with a derelict spaceship and not enough to occupy their time? Basically, you get the plot of Derelict, a coming-of-age/hard sci-fi mashup.

The plot centers around that eponymous derelict ship as several characters find themselves in life-or-death situations struggling to figure out how to survive when they accidentally launch the ship. There are enough of these situations to draw comparisons to The Martian with its constant “what goes wrong next?” chorus, but the way the characters move through the challenges feels a bit more realistic even as the focus is less on the science here.

What’s especially impressive is how very real each of the characters feel. Even when I wasn’t sure I liked some of them, it was hard to deny that their motivations and concerns made sense in the moment, and that they were clearly learning and changing over the course of the novel. I also enjoyed that physical pain and injuries had more of an impact on the story than they often do. Too many times, I’ve seen characters in novels suffer debilitating injuries only to be fine a chapter or two later. It doesn’t happen here.

My main complaint with the novel is that it can seem to drag through some sections as characters face a challenge, defeat it, and then have something else go wrong that makes it feel like the original challenge wasn’t really resolved. Honestly, this is pretty realistic, but at times I just wanted the magic plot wand to get waved and for things to get settled down a bit. The combination of so many Things Going Wrong with the occasional slice of life narrative made a few chapters slow to a crawl.

I do want to note one other thing I enjoyed, which was the way antagonists were developed here. I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, but every time I thought I figured out why a certain character and another had so many issues, Cohen introduced a new thread that made their relationship even more interesting. It’s quite well done.

I listened to the audiobook of this one, and it was read well. It would be a good way to experience the novel.

Derelict is an entertaining read that ends with a flourish. Fans of coming-of-age stories and hard sci-fi should give it a try.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

I was provided with a copy of the audiobook for review

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.

SPSFC Author Interview: KT Belt, Author of “Monster of the Dark”

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! KT Belt is now one of the finalists for the contest.

KT Belt, author of Monster of the Dark

How did you get into speculative fiction? What made you decide to write it?

Like most authors I read a lot growing up. But unlike most authors, I suspect, what led me into science fiction were non-fiction books. My first love is aviation and I’m also interested in cars and history. I spent countless hours reading how the machines worked both in broad and specific detail. As example, I remember when I was at a summer camp and rather than play in the pool with everyone else I was reading turn performance charts for an F/A-18C [an American strike fighter].

If you’re curious they look like this:

One of the camp counselors (highschooler) saw me and asked in amazement if I could actually read that. Never thought what I was doing was strange until then. It wasn’t much of a leap for me to go from studying cars and airplanes to studying future vehicles, then far future vehicles, then vehicles that don’t or can’t exist. My bookshelf was filled with science fiction before I knew it.

As for the second part of your question, I love telling stories and I find the craft and mechanics of storytelling endlessly fascinating. However, what drove me in a lot of ways to write was dissatisfaction in the stories I read and watched. It wasn’t, “I can do this better” it was more, “what if you did it this way.” In many cases the key elements for me was/is intensity, deep character focus, personal in lieu of societal or civilizational threats, and world building that doesn’t require the story to stop to be explained. Everyone has their own personal preferences, for me the four pillars I mentioned are what I specialize in as a writer.

Wow! I have never even seen a chart like that. It’s fascinating how people come to speculative fiction from all kinds of different experiences. As I recall, vehicles don’t really feature much in “Monster of the Dark.” What inspired you to write that novel, with its visceral, psychological feel? 

You are quite right. The traditional elements of science fiction such as technology, otherworldly settings, aliens, etc are present in the next books in the series, but not “Monster of the Dark.” When I conceived “Monster of the Dark” (more than ten years ago) I made a very deliberate choice to eschew fantastical technologies or settings to instead keep an extremely tight focus on character. There are hints of it in the background, but I didn’t want any distractions from the central focus.

I was very interested in the tools and methods of social/individual control at the time I was working out the major beats of the story. You, me, everybody has been programmed from the moment we were born to think and act in a certain manner. That can be positive, though there are countless examples where it has been to an individual person’s or people’s detriment.

The main character of the story and the series, Carmen, is unique in that she ages from six to nineteen years old over the course of the story. That she is manipulated and some of the techniques used to do so are obvious, but there are many which are quite subtle. What is also subtle, and in fact was technically difficult to write, were the changes in personality as she matures. A lot of research went into childhood development, abuse victims, and responses to trauma. As Carmen ages I wanted the reader to see who she was turned into, what she could have been turned into, while seeing hints of what she was supposed to but can never be. The tight focus on character is what creates the visceral psychological feel. The reader is with Carmen every step of the way and is in her head as she feels and experiences everything. My intent was to have the reader empathize with Carmen to the point that it feels like they are going through the same trials she is. And while there are moments in the story that are genuinely funny or light-hearted, no punches are pulled.

The long preamble of the past few paragraphs was required for me to answer the question, “what inspired me to write the novel?” I’m an unabashed optimist. It is interesting to see how people fall, there is an entire genre dedicated to it (tragedy). I personally am more interested in how people rise. As I mentioned in the previous question, I like to try to do things differently. The conventions of storytelling have existed for thousands of years for a reason. I don’t wish to shatter those conventions, but to bend or warp them with a purpose and in a way that is meant to enlighten. As prime example, Carmen is written as an inverted power fantasy.

In the typical power fantasy, the character starts very weak then grows, usually in self-knowledge. The climax of the story is the character using the mastery of self (usually represented as martial skill) to overcome their obstacles which are usually an individual (i.e. the villain). Carmen wields extreme personal power even as a six-year-old. She is intelligent (though not knowledgeable), has extreme martial skill, and is described as physically beautiful. Her growth in the mastery of self is not expressed in martial skill but in the wisdom to know WHEN and even IF to use martial skill, as well as her other talents. With that in mind what “inspired” me to write “Monster of the Dark” was the hope it could inspire people to realize that in matters of the spirit, no matter their circumstances and no matter how impossible it might appear to be, they already have everything they need to succeed.

You’ve definitely given readers, including myself, something to look forward to! I was a big fan of the intensely focused narrative of the first novel. I like the notion that it is pushing back against some of the trope-flipping that is common in some corners of sci-fi. Now that you’ve whetted our appetites for the rest of the series, let’s talk about it a bit more. I had book 3 preordered, and it just released. Is the series a trilogy, or are there more books planned? If there are more, how long is the series planned to be? Do you have other writing projects coming up, too?

Thank you for preordering “Cause of Death,” I hope you enjoy it. The Mirrors in the Dark series is planned to be five books long. I’m working on book four (untitled) and it is coming along slowly but steadily. It is a very complicated story for reasons I’d love to say, but can’t mention without spoiling anything. It should be done in early to mid 2023. After this series is done I’ll probably write an epic fantasy trilogy. A lot of lessons learned from the Mirrors in the Dark books have gone into its conception and I very much look forward to writing it. After that I have a near future standalone that is basically a love letter to the pleasure of driving. I also have another standalone, this time dystopian sci-fi. Lastly, I have another sci-fi trilogy set in the Mirrors in the Dark universe but set several hundred years before “Monster of the Dark” takes place. It is about decadence and the fall of societies.

Those are the firm books that are plotted and read to go. All of them are character stories. Character-driven speculative fiction is my lane and no matter what changes with regards to setting, plot, or theme the central focus will remain the same. I don’t know how many stories I have in me, everytime I think I’ve run out of ideas something new pops in my head. For that I’m thankful. Writing books is fun!

Thanks so much for sharing some ideas for upcoming series! I’m sure my readers will be excited to see more. Where can they follow you to keep updated?

I can be followed at Bookbub: KT Belt Books – BookBub. Goodreads: K.T. Belt (Author of Monster of the Dark) | Goodreads. Though the best place is my website: KT Belt (ktbeltbooks.com).

This interview has truly been a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Thank you!

Again, be sure to check out the first book, and SPSFC Finalist (currently free on Kindle), Monster of the Dark

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 Quiet Pools” by Michael P. Kube-McDowell- A surprising, forgotten classic

This cover is so very 90s.

The only reason I read The Quiet Pools is because it was a Hugo Award nominee. I love lists, and I’ve been reading through every Hugo nominee and winner. I tried to track down a copy of this book through the library system, after discovering it wasn’t available as an e-book (at least not anywhere I knew to look). The library system, even through interlibrary loan, took a while to track it down. I was surprised at its apparent scarcity, given it was a Hugo nominee and also a fairly recent (1991) novel. Then I read it, and was thrilled. It’s books like The Quiet Pools that make me want to read lists like I do–they help me discover reads that I enjoy immensely that I’d never have encountered otherwise. 

Kube-McDowell has crafted a surprising look at the launch of a generation ship. Many novels set around the same idea focus either on the generation ship’s flight or on the apocalypse that leads to its launch. Here, though, the entire book is around the leadup to the launch of the second generation ship to leave Earth. The first one was met with adulation, but this one is seen by some as stealing the best and brightest from Earth for chasing a forlorn and possibly heretical dream in the stars.

What surprised me most, though, is that the part of the book I was most interested in was following the imagined family dynamics of the future as Kube-McDowell explores the concept of a “Trine” (family group with three adults married) or other groups with more people through the lens, primarily, of the male partner of three. Initially, Christopher comes off as foolish and jealous, but the way the group gets developed is fascinating, as is the look at counseling for Christopher. It’s a familiar idea with new developments , and it gives a strong basis for character development that actually goes somewhere in the midst of this novel with bigger ideas. In a way, the whole book reads like a kind of slice-of-life novel set around a major world event, and the main thrust of the novel–the launch of the generation ship–can almost fade into the background at times as we see not just Christopher but several other characters living their lives. Yes, these lives are centered around the ship in many ways, but they also are lives lived, full of flaws and tragedy and hope and development. 

There are also scenes centered around the selection process for who goes on the ship and who stays. There are some action scenes around terrorist-fueled attempts to stop the launch or disrupt the selection process. There is tragedy and loss, and triumph. It’s all written in a rather quiet way. I saw the reviews on Goodreads/Amazon placing it squarely in the 3/5 camp on average, and that doesn’t surprise me. One almost has to be in the right mood for this book. It’s an exploration of humanity, but not one that is as wide and vaunted as a space opera, nor one as hyper-focused as some hard sci-fi thriller. And it hit me at the right time, in the right way. 

The Quiet Pools holds up well. Kube-McDowell doesn’t try to predict the future, but simply reports a version of it as he imagines it. And it’s believable, almost to the point of being humdrum. It just feels like it could be the near future, especially the near future as viewed from the early 90s, when the novel was written. I’m not saying that it is dated–and it probably is, in some ways–I’m saying that it is the kind of book that gives insight into the view of the world at the time in which it was written. I mean this in a good way. 

The Quiet Pools ought to be considered a classic of science fiction. It’s a subtle story that reflects upon human nature in the midst of greater events. And it deserves a wider readership.

Links

Sci-Fi Hub– Come read many, many more posts about science fiction novels and shows. I look forward to reading with you and discussing more books and shows!

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!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

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.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time: Crusade, Episodes 9-10

You’ve got some dirt on your nose. Right… there.

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Now I’ve finished the series, but am working my way through the movies, related works, comics, and books. Please don’t spoil anything from other works here! 

9: Racing the Night

JMS sure likes the phrase “The Last, Best Hope,” doesn’t he? I appreciated this dream/flashback sequences that lets us get filled in on the extreme importance of Excalibur’s mission. Also I gotta say as cheesy as it is, I was delighted by the CG scene of Gideon flying through this abandoned city. It’s campy and insanely fun. But oh no! Not much time to think about that as some dude gets cut to pieces by a laser!?

And now we get space archaeology, too? As I said in the first-ish episode, this is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi tropes. I just love the sense of the vastness of space and time that happens when we get space archaeology. Someone having their internal organs pulled out seems like a bad sign on a planet that has no signs of living things despite clear evidence of massive civilization.

I loved our resident technomage’s one liner: “I thought you don’t hold a grudge…” “I don’t. I have no surviving enemies.”

This episode is full of cheesy stuff that somehow works because it’s hilarious and tongue in cheek. It’s also got some ominous parts, which it somehow manages to sell despite the silliness of some aspects of the episode. The big reveal here, that these aliens are dissecting everyone who shows up to try to find a cure, wasn’t terribly surprising, but it absolutely matches the theme of the whole thing. I loved it, to be honest.

10: The Memory of War

News from Earth is universally bad. Riots, food shortages, quarantines everywhere–it’s a disaster that just continues forever, apparently. Meanwhile, on Excalibur, they’ve found a planet that appears to have been ravaged by the Drakh plague or something similar. The crew thinks that it might show a way to fight the plague, but Galen warns them against touching down.

On the surface of the planet, they encounter no one, but some startling possibilities about degradation of materials that they dropped down to the surface are immediately encountered in the form of their probes surviving but crumbling to pieces. Dureena uses her parkour abilities to nab a data crystal, and Eilerson decodes it to see a message from the former inhabitants of the planet apparently saying something about a death that comes at night. Then, the crap starts to hit the fan as a few of the security detail die mysteriously.

Then, the revelation: it was a techno-mage who created the “obscene” (using Galen’s word) thing that is causing so much destruction on the planet’s surface. Galen races to the planet to beat Nightfall and work against the techno-mage’s powers on the surface. Galen encounters a kind of AI techno-mage fragment from one who went against the order because he had a “price.” He developed the virus for one side in a war, which ultimately destroyed all of the people on the planet by having them all kill each other. The AI confronts Galen saying that he, too, has a price. Galen manages to find its power core and destroy it with his staff, but it looks as though the staff is lost in the aftermath.

On Excalibur, Galen reveals the importance of the staff to him and his deep disappointment with its loss. Dureena, however, went on one last shuttle trip and managed to miraculously get through millions of tons of dirt and stone and recover his staff. Because she’s awesome. Meanwhile, Dr. Chambers takes the inert nanovirus and reprograms it to be used to essentially become immune to the virus for limited time periods without contamination. I’m hoping this or something else will give us some resolution for the main plot of the show, but I don’t have huge hope to hold out for that. There’s only a few episodes left and we need to wrap up a lot of threads, and since it was cancelled I don’t think we’ll get it. But still, I think in my head I can just think they adapted this tech to eventually provide a cure.

This was an okay episode, but the core plot was a bit too thin to carry the entire episode. Without any real B-plot, it meant that the action scenes had to make up for the time gaps, and so it dragged occasionally. Overall, though, it gave us some more respect for Dureena and a little bit of flair from Dr. Chambers.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.)

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content 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.

SPSFC Book Review: “Mazarin Blues” by Al Hess

The SPSFC started with 300 books and narrowed it down to 30 semi-finalists. I’ll be reviewing every semi-finalist, as well as several books from other group’s slush piles that looked interesting to me.

Mazarin Blues by Al Hess

In the future, U.S. citizens are required to have AI tech riding around in their heads in order to identify themselves, make purchases, and more. A subculture has developed around an art deco style. They wear colors, accessories, and push back against tech requirements. Reed, our protagonist, has a newly-updated (against his choice) AI that has named itself “Mazarin,” acknowledging Reed’s love of the color blue. Reed is a hep cat art deco guy who struggles to fit in at work. Mazarin encourages him to find dates, go out with friends, and embrace himself for who he is.

Let’s get this out of the way: Mazarin Blues is a relentlessly stylish, book. It’s a hep cat in between dust jackets. Hess has clearly thought about the idea of this art deco subculture quite a bit, and, for this reader at least (with little knowledge of art deco/etc.), the slang, style, and records that go with it were totally believable. The development of this subculture is the primary piece of worldbuilding in the book, and it absolutely shines all the way through. The world is absolutely believable, and the development of the subculture makes sense contextually. Even the aspects of the world that hint at the government control and conspiracy theories about rogue AIs are woven intricately together into a cohesive whole.

The story itself is a kind of slice-of-life narrative that follows Reed as he looks for love, Mazarin as the AI seeks to figure itself out, and a broader plot of how the Beta AIs are driving some owners to horrible acts or self-harm. Reed is a fantastic protagonist who makes mistakes, has flaws, and sometimes gets things figured out. Mazarin is an intriguing AI, and there are enough twists in the plot to keep the narrative moving.

This story, though, isn’t the kind to whip through in an afternoon. It’s one you want to sit down with a mixed drink and savor over the course of several evenings. You can feel the essence of the world and story as you read. Queer representation is found throughout the story, and they never feel like placeholders are checked boxes. They’re all people, living their lives within the world Hess has created.

Mazarin Blues is a stylish, character-driven science fiction story that delivers a wonderful experience. It’s got great vibes all the way through, and makes you relate to its main characters. Highly recommended.

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.

SPSFC Book Review: “All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise” by Neve Maslakovic

All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise by Neve Maslakovich

[This book is one of my group’s official semifinalists.]

New Seattle is an exclusive city in the midst of a frozen wasteland. The population is brutally controlled to ensure the society can continue to thrive, by whatever definition of thriving the elites have chosen. Many simply work to create goods and services for 10,000 people who dominate the culture of New Seattle through their brands. Delilah is foremost in brands, a walking symbol of epic marketing, thoughtfulness of pose and expression, and more. And… she’s dead.

Our story follows Scottie as she comes of age in this society and tries to form her own brand so that she won’t (potentially) be kicked out into the (literal, deadly) cold. It’s an absolutely fabulous premise to start off with. The story is told largely from Scottie’s perspective, and purports to tell us about what happened to the eponymous Delilah. I was super interested in finding out more about the world and the mystery of what happened to Delilah.

Unfortunately, after a promising start, the novel started to drag. Large portions of the middle section turned into discourse about what individual gems could mean, various discussions of brands, and more. Rather than letting the characters build the world, the world was relayed through lengthy info dumps. I typically don’t mind info dumps, so long as they’re punctuated by action or major character moments, but the middle section of the book read to me like it was an info dump followed by more people sitting around talking followed by an info dump (rinse/repeat). It made the book slow down to a crawling pace. Realistically, a lot of this could have been cut while still keeping the core plot engaging.

The ending was good, with a surprisingly hopeful upturn. I liked it, and it left me as a reader feeling better about having read the book, but it also felt a bit like too little, too late. The promising start with its interesting world and thrilling potential never seemed fully realized. The story of Delilah’s demise went to the side while characters seemed to flounder.

I hugely enjoyed the beginning of All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise, but some of my enjoyment fizzled out by the end. I would be interested in sampling another work in this world by the author, but would want more action and dynamic world building.

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.

“A Star Named Vega” by Benjamin J. Roberts- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Review

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.

A Star Named Vega by Benjamin J. Roberts

Aster Vale loves doing street art, competing in an interplanetary game that ranks the art based on quality, danger of getting caught, and other details. She dreams of moving up the ranks as Wildflower, her screen name in the game. Isaac, a wizard for hacking, is on the same luxury liner she’s on board as they head towards Vega. Rel is a genetically-engineered soldier whose mission is to stop that liner before it can reach Vega. Why? It would mean extinction for his people.

A Star Named Vega is an incredibly fun space adventure story. Aster was immediately compelling to me as a character, and Isaac quickly grew on me. They each had such shenanigans and fun throughout the novel that it was hard to not crack a smile at times. Rel, our erstwhile antagonist/protagonist (question mark) is compelling as well.

The world-building is both narrowly focused and expansively broad, and I liked how focused the plot was to go along with it. The characters live in our far future, largely dominated by AIs who take care of humanity’s every needs. The inevitable dark side can rear its ugly head here, but Roberts balances the setup for a kind of dystopic plot with the many benefits of this near-utopian society. Of course, some of that plays into the main plot, so I don’t want to spoil too much of it. The takeaway here is that Roberts deftly balances questions about ‘What Could Go Wrong’ with ‘What If It’s Worth It’? in ways that I found unexpected and unique. I’d honestly have liked even more along those lines going on.

Roberts also builds some political intrigue and family drama into the book. I thought this was exciting, especially given the hyper-focused setting of the novel. It’s difficult to balance broader possibilities when the story is taking place on a star cruiser, but Roberts does it here and it makes the world feel very lived-in and real despite the narrow focus.

The novel starts as a kind of young adult, perhaps even juvenile fiction feel, but the amount of content going on behind the scenes and the way stakes are raised steadily from the beginning make it an ultimately satisfying read for readers of any age. I ended up hugely enjoying it, and I would think most of my readers here would as well.

Ultimately, A Star Named Vega is a delightful romp. Yes, there are darker things at the fringes, but the characters make the journey fun–and often funny as well.

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.

SPSFC Book Review: “Captain Wu” by Patrice Fitzgerald and Jack Lyster

The SPSFC started with 300 books and narrowed it down to 30 semi-finalists. I’ll be reviewing every semi-finalist, as well as several books from other group’s slush piles that looked interesting to me.

Captain Wu: Starship Nameless #1 by Patrice Fitzgerald and Jack Lyster

Captain Wu is the eponymous character in this delightful space adventure. She’s a smuggler and a tough fighter, and she’s assembled a motley crew of like-minded individuals who travel with her across the stars. They’re quickly on the run, though, as they get some cargo that might be a bit too dangerous for them to have wanted to carry if they’d known about it.

I loved this book. I fell in love with the characters fairly quickly. It’s got real found family vibes, but there’s also actual family as Captain Wu’s granddaughter shows up. What? Her granddaughter? Yes, the lead character here is a grandma, not some teenager with a chosen one quest (okay, I actually quite enjoy chosen one narratives, but only reading them would get boring eventually). The diversity in this book isn’t just diversity of orientation, race, or species, but also age, which is somehow almost rarer than some of the other ones. It’s a wonderful thing to see characters from different generations interact, and do some in such winsome and often hilarious ways.

Most of the plot involves Wu &co. racing across the stars, sometimes a step ahead of their pursuers, sometimes a step behind. It checks a lot of the boxes for what you’d expect from a space adventure, but like many of those you’ve enjoyed, it is wonderful not because of originality, necessarily, but because of the very well the story is told. You’re going for the crew through and through, and they grow on you more as the book goes on.

There are some great action scenes here, too. One especially memorable scene has a character in a spacesuit trying to blast off a grappling hook with a “potato gun.” I’ll let you imagine the details, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a kind of fierce inventiveness that carries the book even as some of the “trope” boxes get checked. It’s a great way to balance the sometime predictability of the novel with some humorous and delightful moments.

Captain Wu is a hugely enjoyable space adventure. I highly recommend it to readers.

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 Islanders” by Christopher Priest- Reading the Bristish Science Fiction Awards: 2011

The British Science Fiction Awards often highlight books that don’t even make it onto awards lists dominated by American authors. I hoped it would help round out my reading a bit, and haven’t been disappointed!

The 2011 winner was The Islanders by Christopher Priest. It won the BSFA award for best novel, but didn’t show up on the Hugo or Nominee shortlists.

The Islanders by Christopher Priest

Christopher Priest is rapidly becoming an author I seek out to read. I read The Prestige a few years back when I discovered the movie had been based on a book. I’d never heard of Priest before that, but as I go back and explore vintage sci-fi, I see his name time and again. The Islanders isn’t exactly vintage yet, having been published in 2011, but I could see it living as an acknowledged classic for years to come.

If I had one word to describe the book, I’d call it a maze. It’s written like a kind of travel gazette introducing readers to the Dream Archipelago, a group of islands that contains some apparent temporal and spatial anomalies (or does it?). It’s organized alphabetically by island, and after a couple islands, readers will wonder if it is only the a fictional travel gazette after all. But then we get introduced to some characters, and begin to wonder about a murder, and artists, and the narrator who is relaying these islands to us. Why do they include islands they don’t care about? Wait, who wrote the introduction? Oh!

I found myself flipping back and forth in the book as I continued more deeply into the story, and discovering that some names got repeated and hints of events taking place could be uncovered with some effort. The main plot of the story centers around a murder, a murderer, and lovers. But that main plot occupies perhaps a quarter of the text of the novel, much of which is dominated instead by vignettes of the islands and asides about literary, scientific, and artistic works. However, as you read the book, you discover that each of these may have mysteries embedded therein as well.

I’m not at all convinced I managed to tease out even a tenth of the threads interwoven throughout the book. What connection do the snippets of art have with the broader story going on? What, exactly, is “tunneling” and how might it have impacted the mystery in some way? I have many, many more questions, and I know I’ll be coming back to find out more.

The Islanders is an unforgettable maze of a novel. I believe I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time, and there’s no question it’s worth revisiting to see if one can extract more from its pages. I recommend it.

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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 Author Interview: Kyoko M., Author of “Of Cinder & Bone”

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Specifically, I’ll have interviews from my team’s semifinalists. Without further adieu, to the interview!

Kyoko M., Author of Of Cinder & Bone

See my review of Of Cinder & Bone

First off, tell us a bit about your background. What got you into science fiction? 

It’s a combination of my own interests and my parents during my childhood. My parents used to read to me as a kid, so I grew up with a love of books. I read things on my own and then as a family, we were definitely into science fiction movies and TV shows. There are the standard things we watched as kids like the DC Animated Universe written and/or directed by Bruce Timm (i.e. Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Static Shock), and then the Marvel animated shows like the 90s Spider-Man and X-Men, and then things like Transformers: Beast Wars and pretty much anything on WB Kids or Toonami at the time.

I also loved anime as a kid and into my teens, so pretty much most of the 2000s Toonami anime lineup, I grew up watching every day. I am a huge Batman fan, first and foremost. I’ve met Kevin Conroy and gotten a photo op and autograph from him and I have the Bat signal tattooed on my right shoulder in his honor. All those different things are what got me into science fiction and I still enjoy it very much to this very day. 

It’s incredible to see how you got into science fiction and how much of that journey we share. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my all-time favorites, and I recently bought the whole series to re-watch it all. Toonami was my jam and got me into anime and certainly some flavors of sci-fi I didn’t know existed. Thanks for that trip down memory lane! 

Your work includes a lot of diverse main characters, both protagonists and antagonists, like Dr. Kamala Anjali, Kazuma Okegawa, Yagami Sugimoto, and Misaki Fujioka. Is their inclusion in the story related to being a BIPOC (Black Indigenous Person of Color) in the science fiction genre?

Yes, certainly. One of the first things I did before I even decided to write Of Cinder and Bone was survey the science fiction landscape. One thing that I think is distinctly lacking in American science fiction is people of color as the main leads instead of simply rounding out a mostly white cast cast or being the Token Minority. And those times you do have POC, it’s often only black characters in anything mainstream, and they’re often still in the minority (no pun intended) in the stories. I noted that Indian and Middle Eastern characters in particular don’t show up that much in American mainstream science fiction, so that motivated me very much with Dr. Kamala Anjali. I feel extremely passionate about writing her because the American lens of India and Pakistan (Kamala is biracial) is extremely skewed and I thought she would be an excellent main character. I also took great care to make sure Kamala was also not just The Love Interest. She is her own person with her own agency and her own important to both Jack and the story. 

As for the Japanese characters, I noticed that from an American perspective, Japanese characters really only ever show up in American mainstream fiction in the context of martial arts films and sometimes in crime dramas. While it’s true I did lean a bit into the yakuza stereotypes for Kazuma Okegawa, overall, I wanted to dive into the richness of what Japan has to offer by setting half of the book in Tokyo and its surrounding areas. I especially find the Japanese language absolutely fascinating. It’s one of my favorite languages, hence why my pen name is Japanese, and I featured it heavily in the book to give it some more exposure in the science fiction genre, but in a way I hope is organic. 

The end goal of having Kamala and the others as main leads is to avert some common stereotypes about people from those cultures and backgrounds and to show the world from another perspective. 

I think that one of the biggest strengths of Of Cinder and Bone is its characters, and it’s wonderful to see your inspiration for them. What inspired you to write the book itself, and how did you think about the background for dragons?

Thank you! Famously, I’ve said in interviews before that the two biggest inspirations for the Of Cinder and Bone series are film-based: Jurassic Park (1993) and Reign of Fire (2002). 

I’m sure the inspiration from the classic, amazing Jurassic Park is pretty apparent. I have seen that film so many times not only for the action-horror elements, incredible practical effects, and all around incredible atmosphere, but what I found over the years that I really liked was the conversations that they have about Man vs. Nature and Man vs. God. The lunch scene in particular is one of my favorite exchanges in the movie, even with there being more awesome, iconic moments in the rest of the film. I liked the argument that just because you have the ability to create life from something selected by nature to be eliminated doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. Especially not for the sake of profit. I love the theme being discussed so well by the characters. I decided to play with that idea in another sense–exploring what happens if we instead tried to create life for an extinct creature that was unfairly hunted to extinction, not chosen by nature not to continue. As always, though, greed and disregard for life took over and there were horrible consequences, but the series also explores that there were some good things that come of Jack and Kamala’s resurrection project as well.

The other inspiration is from a rather ridiculous, over the top, largely forgotten movie called Reign of Fire. Few people remember it, but it always stuck out to me even 20 years ago as being one of the only times a Hollywood film explored dragons in the context of actual science fiction and not fantasy. We all know famous fantasy dragons like Draco from Dragonheart or Smaug from The Hobbit movies, but Reign of Fire took an actual scientific approach to their dragons and I was intrigued by the idea of what it would be like to have these enormous invasive species walking around in modern times. At first, I had planned to do a post-apocalyptic story like the one in Reign of Fire, but as I began writing the first book, I realized I actually didn’t want to do it. In Reign of Fire, the dragons are essentially monsters. They do not coexist with any other species on the planet, not even their own, as we see them later cannibalizing one another when food begins to run out after they scorched the Earth. The conversation I wanted to have in my series is summed up by a line from Jack later in the first book: “Just because something’s dangerous doesn’t mean it has no place in the world.” And so I scrapped the idea for a dragon apocalypse and wanted to write about the idea that dragons were indeed invasive, but not necessarily evil or deserving of being hunted to extinction. I thought approaching it from a conservationist angle would be a cool idea to explore. 

As for the background of the dragons themselves, oh boy. I did a mountain of research before I began the first draft and I’ve done several more mountains of research as the books continue. Hell, just for the fifth book coming out April 22nd, the research document is a whopping eighteen pages long. Single spaced. The dragons in the books are all put within the context of reptiles, so I studied alligators, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, komodo dragons, chameleons, you name it. For the later books (mild spoiler alert), feathered dragons with more avian traits are introduced, so then I had to do research for birds of prey. I studied to see the different physical traits they’d have if they were real, the types of foods they’d eat, their mating habits, and then I added in some environmental science to study the most likely place each type of dragon would inhabit. That’s how some of the dragons ended up with endemic names like the Nordic sea serpent or the Japanese viper dragon. It is a lot of hard work, but I honestly love it. I’ve learned so many cool things about reptiles and birds of prey and I truly hope it comes through in the books. Especially with Of Claws and Inferno. My sister-in-law, who reads the advanced copies before my books come out, joked that this book is the most National Geographic of the series. I really went hardcore on the animal and environmental science with this book, trust me. 

You can definitely see all the research and inspirations you cite throughout the first book. At this point, I’m sure readers are eager to sink their teeth into it! How many books do you have planned for the Of Cinder & Bone series, and do you have an end in mind? And, for our readers, what are the best ways to follow you and find out about your works?

It’s very unlike me, but I actually don’t know when the series is going to end? Of Claws and Inferno ends in a sort of open-ended way for that very same reason. I have a three book deal with Falstaff Books with the first book tentatively scheduled for February 2023, so I know I’ll be working on those until 2025. With my debut urban fantasy series, I knew for certain it would be a trilogy and then the short story anthology and the novella were added on later as bonus content. I’m going to take some time as I write the new science fiction novels for Falstaff Books to decide if the series will end with Of Claws and Inferno or if it will continue. My early hunch is that it will continue, but it might be after a time jump of a substantial amount. The first two books in the series occur back to back, but then Books 3-5 take place close to a year apart each. If I write another one, I think it would be with a larger time skip of multiple years to catch up with the gang to see what’s changed, but we’ll see. All I can say is stay tuned for now. Once I figure it out, I’ll definitely be forthcoming about my plans. 

As for wanting to keep up to date, my website is http://www.shewhowritesmonsters.com and that has all the books and any news or relevant things about my upcoming events. My Twitter handle is @misskyokom. My Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/She-Who-Writes-Monsters-161227150647087.

Other Works by Me:

-The Black Parade series: The Black Parade is my debut urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel. It tells the tale of Jordan Amador–a cranky waitress with a drinking problem who lives in Albany, New York–who happens to be a Seer, or someone who can see and hear ghosts, angels, and demons. She accidentally killed a Seer and has to help 100 souls crossover into the afterlife in two years or she’s going to Hell. Her hundredth soul comes in the form of a handsome but annoying poltergeist named Michael. His peculiar ability to touch things and interact with his environment tips her off that there’s something special about him, and as she starts solving his case, she stumbles across a much bigger plot by the archdemon, Belial, to take over the free will of innocent people. 

There are five books in that series: The Black Parade, The Deadly Seven: Stories from the Black Parade series, She Who Fights Monsters, Back to Black, and The Holy Dark. All of them can be found here and on all other sales platforms as well. The first book has been positively reviewed by Publishers Weekly and by New York Times and USA Today bestselling urban fantasy author, Ilona Andrews. It is also permanently free to download on all sales channels.   

-Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda anthology: This is a 2021 release by Marvel Comics and Titans Books featuring yours truly and 17 other incredibly talented black and African/African-American authors writing about the world of Wakanda. My story is called “Ukubamba” and it’s about Okoye searching for a kidnapped girl. Go here to get a copy in ebook or hardcover: https://titanbooks.com/70432-black-panther-tales-of-wakanda/

-Terminus and Terminus II anthologies: There are both anthologies with science fiction and fantasy stories based in Atlanta, Georgia published by MV Media LLC. My stories are “My Dinner with Vlad” and “Hunted,” both about a werewolf named Cassandra Moody, who is the original Wolfman’s daughter. In the first story, she’s taking Dracula, known to her simply as Vlad, out into Midtown Atlanta for a night on the town and they both run headlong into trouble. The second story, “Hunted,” is Cassandra about five years later out for a midnight stroll through the woods and she realizes she’s being stalked. Grab copies here: https://www.mvmediaatl.com/all-products

 All other works by me can be found here: http://shewhowritesmonsters.com/my-books/

Thank you so much for this opportunity. It’s been a pleasure! 

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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.