What was your gateway into speculative fiction? What lead you to write it?
I very distinctly remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in and then sitting on the floor at the grocery store reading the Marvel Comics right after. This is 1977 and I’m also reading everything the rack. X-Men. Spider-Man. And I was writing or trying to around five or six. Little comics and stories. I read everything. The thrift store always had older scifi books for like 10 cents and then a quarter. Frankenstein is what really got its claws in me, though I’m not a horror person. It always came back to comics. The Body.
I love that it was Star Wars and comics that got you into speculative fiction. That combination reads like an inspiration for “Ever the Hero.” What other inspirations led you to writing this specific novel and featuring diverse characters?
Firefighters in Tennessee let a house burn because the owner didn’t pay a bill for emergency services. At the time, the callousness seemed particular. Now it feels too familiar. Sadly, the book becomes more relevant all the time as states pass bills that outlaw giving bottled water to homeless people among other things.
But right away the idea clicked – what if you had to pay for superheroes? It took a while to get to the right shape. I tried a few different approaches. One was a television pilot. I took that to the Austin Film Festival in 2016 and it made the second round in the Screenplay Competition.
I started writing what became the novel in November of that year. It took some more work before I finally published in 2020.
I wanted the book to reflect the world I live in. I grew up and live in a town in Iowa that has the largest African-American community in the state. I grew up with a lot of girls like Kit. It’s very diverse in general. LGBTQ representation is very important to me as well. I always strive for authenticity and make sure as best I can I’m elevating and honoring. And knowing where my limits are.
Around college I found Kelly Link, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Cunningham. Writers who were writing speculative fiction with literary elements. That really inspired me.
I both love and hate that a real world event inspired the idea behind the story, and it definitely makes for a fascinating premise. I also appreciate your efforts to have broad representation in your novel. What helped you write experiences beyond your own?
I pride myself on being a good listener. A good observer. I’m curious and I think you have to be to appreciate the world you live in. The people in it. So I want to learn. I want to see the world from different perspectives. That’s one reason the Eververse series shifts protagonists from book to book. My interest is in perspective. Voice. Embodying a character.
In the last few years I’ve learned I’m autistic. I think this informs my interest in how other people a great deal. It helps me with Kit certainly, who is also autistic. This becomes more prevalent as the series goes on, since we’re both on a journey of self-discovery.
What (spoiler free!) can you tell us about the rest of the series and the aliens in future reads? Where can our readers find you?
The inaugural Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is over, but I am reading and reviewing every single semifinalist! Follow along to see what I think of the judges choices for the top 30 out of 300 books!
A theocratic government dominates known space as Selene, sole survivor of a planet that was completely destroyed seeks a new life. She meets up with Ondo Logan and together they begin an adventure that leads them to seeking out a mythic paradise planet that could be the key to what went right–or wrong–in the universe.
As plot setups go, this one has an epic one. Selene and Ondo experience quite a bit of adventure as the story goes on, too. Selene is doubtful of Ondo’s belief in the lost planet, even when presented of evidence. Over time, more and more events come together to point them in a certain direction and send them on a grand adventure.
The adventure is a good one, too. The characters experience quite a bit of growth, though one sometimes wonders whether Selene shouldn’t be more emotionally distraught by her loss of… basically everything. The worldbuilding is quite well done, too, as the malevolent theocracy that dominates their lives feels genuinely foreboding at times.
The main problem here is that the novel reads very much like the first part of a story rather than a complete adventure on its own. It leaves off almost exactly at the point where readers will most want to know more about what’s going to happen next. That makes it feel a bit of a letdown when it ends, though it certainly whets the appetite for the next book.
Dead Staris an intriguing space opera with good worldbuilding and strong characters. Recommended, so long as you’re willing to dive into more to find out the end.
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing whichever books in the contest appealed to me! Follow the blog to keep up with more updates from the contest, along with many, many other reviews and topics!
Broken Angel is a rarity. It’s a novel that feels unique and unusual even to someone who constantly reads science fiction. It ended up in my group’s reads for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and that’s what clued me into it. Reynolds-Ward starts the story with a kind of strange child-swap as the matriarch of a wealthy family attempts to end an internal feud by artificial means, giving the child of each of two brothers to the other to raise. It’s a strange setup that somehow feels exactly in line with what one might expect in some kind of cozy mystery story with a sci-fi bent.
Things don’t go as planned, however, and one of the children, Gabriel, has to flee the family at a relatively young age. He tries to testify against his vicious uncle, only to discover a kind of nanobot imbued control scheme has been placed upon him to control some of his actions and words. He goes into witness protection and then… the story turns for a while into a kind of rodeo romance. And it is, frankly, a pretty good rodeo romance, though I probably am not the best judge of that. Just as I was settling into this new frontier as a reader, Reynolds-Ward threw more twists into the story. Mind control, nanobots, corporate espionage, and some slight shades of agriculture all make up the rest of the way with a story that spans almost a full generation in length.
The length of time covered by the novel means readers get a big picture view of Gabriel’s life and struggles, but it also means that occasionally the focus moves on quickly in scenes that could have used a little more development. That said, readers won’t ever get too settled into a single idea or even the feeling of a single subgenre as Reynolds-Ward deftly juggles conflict, romance, and the core plot throughout.
Broken Angel is a well-written story that sucked me in based on its characters and then sustained that interest with plenty of twists and turns and “what’s going on?” moments. Recommended for sci-fi readers looking for something very different from what they’ve read.
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest.
Here, we’ll be interviewing Clayton Snyder, author of Blackthorneand many other works, including co-authoring the SPFBO Finalist, Norylska Groans.
What was your gateway into speculative fiction? What lead you to write it?
I’d say my gateway at the earliest age was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. My mother bought me the big bound version, and I used to read it on a regular basis. As far as writing it, it wasn’t until I read Zelazny’s Amber series I thought it was possible. He had such a facility for painting a picture in small strokes. For whatever reason, that opened the craft for me. I could see how the sausage was made, so to speak, and loved the idea that writing wasn’t this opaque wall, but a window I could see into and subsequently learn from. It also helped that something about Amber really captured my imagination and made me want to spin out worlds of my own.
Zelazny certainly had an impact on many readers! His “Lord of Light” is among my personal favorites. “Blackthorne” is your entry for the SPSFC2, and one of the first thing I noticed is the theme of some darker magic combined with cyberpunk ideas. What inspired you to bring a kind of necromancy over to science fiction?
Honestly, I’ve always loved that idea of magic mixing with tech. I had my first taste of it through RPGs like Shadowrun and Rifts, and the early Pern novels to Final Fantasy. I’ve always kind of figured if I’m going to write speculative fiction, why not go for broke.
What else did you draw on to inspire “Blackthorne”? Can readers expect a sequel?
Movies. Action flicks, specifically. The Rock, a little bit of Blade Runner, some Conan, etc. I will be working on a sequel next year, as I’ve had more than a couple readers threaten me with unrelenting positivity towards this novel. In the interim, I’m working on a more traditional cyberpunk noir.
Your novel, “Norylska Groans” was co-written with Michael Fletcher, another semifinalist from our group! What’s it been like being in the SPSFC with your coauthor?
Fun. Mike and I get along really well, and in this case it’s less friendly competition and more of us cheering each other on. I figure as long as I stay positive for him, he’ll never see the assassins coming.
Your library of works includes westerns, fantasy, and science fiction. What has led you to incorporate a grimdark flare into the genres you’re writing?
I’m a weird mix of optimist and cynic, and I mostly write about the terrible things we do to each other, but as cautionary tales. The idea that there’s hope, but only if we’re willing to open our eyes and see the things we’re capable of and turn away from those paths.
Awesome! Glad you’re having a good time in the contest! Where can my readers find you?
Mattias Temple witnesses a horrific crime, then gets framed for another. He’s got the powers of necromancy, but is locked up for some reasons unknown–they seem to want him to stay where he’s at. Then, a military group captures a governor and Temple’s talents are needed again.
Snyder sets up an action-packed premise and mostly keeps the gas pedal firmly depressed to the floor. The action doesn’t let up, whether it’s a heist gone wrong or Mattias’s multiple escape attempts from incarceration. Plenty of the early scenes are revealed as stage-setting for the big conflict to come. When the governor is captured, witchcraft and other dark forces abound and the only way to stop them is to… well, you’ve got to read it to find out! Snyder doesn’t let readers get very far from the edge of their seat as they read this story, and that was definitely the high point.
The book is also deeper than it appears on the surface (my thanks to another group member for pointing this out). There appears to be no small critique of warfare set alongside the sorrowful consequences of the same as a theme running throughout the book. This is especially evident with one character and Mattias’s constant hope to be reunited with them.
I did wish, however, that Mattias’s powers were revealed in a broader way. We learn more about the powers of witches and some related magic users, but while necromancy is constantly lauded as this super powerful skill, we don’t see much of it beyond glimpses. One person in our group of judges pointed out that early on, the necromancy just reads like glorified lock picking. I’d have liked to have seen it unshackled more so that we could know more the workings and powers being discussed.
Blackthorneis an action packed, gory entry that meshes science fiction and fantasy in some intriguing ways. It would be great to see a sequel exploring the magic powers more deeply. Recommended for fans of grimdark and science fantasy.
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.
After the Terminal Plague, humanity left Earth behind. Those left behind turned into a devolved species of homo sapiens. Now, those who have been living in orbit have decided to come back, training with simulations to be ready for the challenges back on Earth. Liam Stone is one who is training on the simulations to go back to Earth. Now, after his sister is chosen instead of him, he’ll give anything to get back.
Following Liam’s story gives readers a kind of survivalist story that reminds me of the survival video game subgenre. Liam is thrown together with several other characters on this adventure, dodging hostile pseudo-humans and trying to figure out how to live on an Earth depleted of resources… at least ostensibly. The characters develop quite a bit, though in mostly predictable ways. The survivalist plot is also predictable. Realistically, my biggest complaint is that everything feels kind of bland. Everything about the novel, whether the characters, plot, or world, felt average. It’s all “okay” but doesn’t really rise above that level.
Life on Planet Earthwill deliver what one expects: a post-apocalyptic survival story. While it didn’t wow me, fans of the subgenre will likely feel right at home, with many things to enjoy with the plot.
I’m so pleased to announce that Team Red Stars has our 10 quarterfinalists ready! These 10 books are those that we chose out of our slush pile to move on to get fully read by the group and get narrowed down to just 3 to pass on to the wider group of judges! For those books/authors cut–know that we had so much fun sampling all the books and some of us will be reviewing some of those slush books that didn’t make it through but made an impression on us! So know we’ll have some more reviews coming even if you’re not in the quarterfinalists! Check out the whole Red Stars slush pile here.
A caustic fog blankets the Earth. Only the transparent barrier known as the Shield holds it at bay. It is the Amboians—an advanced alien species—and their technology that saved the last remnants of Humanity from the deadly Haze…
As disturbing reports of attacks from beyond the perimeter of the Shield reach the capital city of Amboy, all eyes turn eastward.
In 2120, New America is the world leader in technology and individual freedom. Why, then, has seventeen-year-old Fae Luna felt like an isolated prisoner her entire life? She survived the worst of the foster care system by honing her skills as a top-level hacker and thanks to the support of her humanoid robot, Sunny, who is illegally upgraded to a human-level AI. Finally, she’s matched with a foster mom who treats her kindly. Fae slowly lets her guard down until a suspicious tragedy tears them apart.
I actually read this whole book to decide whether or not to pass it. Terenna packs tons of twists and turns into this book that seems like it should be straightforward (it’s not). Group members thought the writing was strong and the characters were enough to get into and keep going. I’ll have a full review when I can.
Framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Haunted by the ghosts of his past. Incarcerated in the most notorious prison in the Freeholds. Fate has mauled Mattias Temple, a failed cadre necromancer, leaving him with little hope.
One of the two goriest books we got, which usually puts me off, Blackthorne sold me on the totally weird premise and the way it used tech to incorporate things that are more traditionally fantasy (such as necromancy). I was also very curious about the kind of black ops/project going on with the main character and others. Military sci-fi with a big twist on the sub-genre.
Kit Baldwin can’t afford trouble, not in a city where superhuman Empowered offer their help only for a fee. But rent doesn’t wait so she scavenges the ruins for valuable artifacts from a crashed alien ship. When Kit discovers a powerful alien object, it pays off more than she ever hoped.
I read this one last year and will re-read it for the contest this year. This superhero-fueled sci-fi story deserves attention. Check out my review for my fuller (mostly spoiler free) thoughts.
The children are the future. And someone is turning them into highly trained killing machines.
Straight out of school, Griffin, a junior Investigations agent for the North American Trade Union, is put on the case: Find and close the illegal crèches. No one expects him to succeed, Griffin least of all.
Installed in a combat chassis Abdul, a depressed seventeen year old killed during the Secession Wars in Old Montreal, is assigned as Griffin’s Heavy Weapons support.
Nadia, a state-sanctioned investigative reporter working the stolen children story, pushes Griffin ever deeper into the nightmare of the black market brain trade.
Lots of violence and gore in this one, which is usually a huge turn-off for me. But the violence and gore is there for a reason and makes sense within the flow of the story. And what a story! It’s got robotics, cyberpunk vibes, grimdark, and more. I’m super into it, and want to see where it goes.
25 years after the fall of Earth, the Commonwealth is locked in a vicious, galaxy-spanning war against the Revenant. Countless worlds have been lost in the fighting, and now one crew must come together and stand in the way of galactic annihilation.
Heritage is a big-feeling space opera with vibes of found family and heist. I enjoyed the big scale of events and the narrow focus taking place therein. It’s a chunky book, so there’s a lot to read to find out the ultimate payoff!
Talos June performs with the creed of never break character. It lets him hide his awkward self from the universe as the ancient and powerful Wizard Joontal. No one knows the man behind the curtain.
It is a good job, and he has his artificial companions to keep him company as he plays with the most fabulous technologies the colonized planets have produced. Technologies as dangerous as they are exciting.
A wizard in a cyberpunk/gamelit world at a birthday party starts this book off, and I was sold from the gate. I enjoyed the introspective voice, the kindness of the main character, and the way “magic” worked in this tech-y world. I want to know what happens next, and I’m glad we’ll be finding out more in this round!
Imogen “Chim” Esper is thrust into the center of an interplanetary conflict when her family is torn apart by the cruel and indifferent Kardashev Corporation. Forced to run, along with her robotic best friend, Chim struggles to find her place in a society that is poised for revolutionary transformation.
The Kardashev Corporation dominates all commerce and politics in the solar system. Its megalomaniac CEO, Alton Neal, is hell-bent on transforming society by capturing the full energy output of the sun through the creation of a Dyson Swarm.
Citizens of Earth and the stations throughout the system must band together to protect access to the lifeblood of the system or risk becoming permanently enslaved to the Kardashev Corporation.
At first, I was worried this was going to be a pretty straightforward adventure, but one big twist early on changed it into something more than that. I am a fan of YA, and I loved the tone, style, and characters in Mercury’s Shadow were all delivering the goods in the part I sampled. I am very much wanting to read more.
The year is 20018. The famed magician Illuminari is dead, and his greatest illusion has died with him. Dark forces now seek the Engine of Armageddon, the ancient, sentient doomsday weapon that Illuminari hid amongst the stars.
Enter Percival Gynt, accountant and part-time hero, whose quest to find the Engine before it falls into the wrong hands may be our universe’s last best hope for survival. It is a quest that will take him from the highest reaches of power to the lowest pits of despair and through every manner of horror and absurdity between.
But beware. This accountant has a secret. A secret that may damn us all.
Our group had such fun sampling this one. The tone, the humor, and even the plot all were spot on. For me personally, I find melding sci-fi and humor is something that can really put me off, but Melbourne sucked me in with a solid plot and tone that never relented or distracted. It felt to me a bit like reading Douglas Adams, and that’s high praise. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
The inaugural Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is over, but I am reading and reviewing every single semifinalist! Follow along to see what I think of the judges choices for the top 30 out of 300 books!
Crucial Larson has been summoned to the elitist utopia on Mars to solve a missing persons case. The missing person is his sister, and her capture somehow evaded the all-seeing, all-knowing-ish AI known as Halo. Halo starts interrogating Crucial after he also manages to get off the grid for a little bit on Mars, desperate to know what happened to defeat its monitoring systems. That’s where the story begins in this hard-hitting mystery.
The plot hook is fantastic. I was all in on the story of Gates of Mars from the get-go. Of course, a hook isn’t all that makes a good story, so the question that lingered in my mind was whether it would be able to maintain my interest throughout its 350-ish page length. McFall and Hays add wrinkles throughout the book to keep it going. Many of these are highly successful–such as the lingering thread about what happened with some giraffes on Mars (truly!). Others sometimes read as a bit deus ex machina. The most egregious of these were some of the ways Halo’s detection was avoided, which started to make it feel as if it were the simplest thing rather than an insanely stunning achievement.
When the plot trajectory changes around the 55-65% mark, there are some bigger highs and lows. I found some of it a bit long–possibly in need of editing down. However, at that point my investment in the characters was strong enough to sustain me even in the parts I thought might drag a bit. The conclusion was satisfying, bringing the story to a conclusion that felt like a natural end point despite clearly being ready for the rest of a series.
Gates of Marsis a great noir-sci-fi combination that I would highly recommend to fans of that genre mashup. I found it nearly un-put-down-able at times. The narrative voice, characters, and worldbuilding are quite strong.
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing a bunch of books besides the semi-finalists and finalists! Check out my SPSFC 2021 Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.
I saw copies of Bloodlines on multiple bookshelves in booktube-type videos or pictures of favorite books on a shelf and felt a distinct sense of FOMO. While the book wasn’t in my group’s reading, I threw it on my list of books to read because I wanted to be sure I got around to it. I’m glad I did. Bloodlines merges genres deftly, borrowing inspirations from Blade Runner and Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” while carving out its own space in a somewhat crowded cyberpunk field.
Bloodlines follows Tom “Doc” Holliday (love the Wild West reference) as he gets a chance to be part of a secret detective unit dealing with crimes that appear to be impossible based on mundane reality. It quickly appears the first murder he needs to solve may have been from a vampire. But these vampires and the setting of the book push the boundaries of science fiction and fantasy, meshing them together in some surprising ways.
There are a good number of characters here, and the chase to find a mysterious killer gets more exciting as the novel goes on. While there possibly are a few twists and turns too many–the novel could have used a bit of thinning down–the story remains satisfying and has enough action to sustain the reader throughout. Characters are interesting, and while many only get a surface-level outline, others grow and develop throughout the story.
I realized at one point deep into the novel that I genuinely had little idea of “Whodunit.” It wasn’t that the novel wasn’t well written enough to give hints; instead, it’s well written enough to conceal the big reveals quite well–basically until Hartog is ready for the reader to know. It makes the mystery that much more satisfying and certainly delivers a solid ending.
The setting is done well, with a kind of inter-dimensionality setting up the possibility of seemingly magical creatures showing up in our own reality. This leads to, among other things, the possibility for near-humans from alternate timelines and realities to show up–one of whom ends up as a kind of partner for Holliday. I quite enjoyed the worldbuilding, even though it is admittedly a bit hand-wavey about some of the details. You aren’t reading this book for comprehensive scientific accuracy, though, you’re reading it for fun; and Hartog provides fun in droves.
Bloodlinesis a great read that fans of the inspirations and subgenres it emulates should go run and grab as soon as possible. I found it to be a fun read, and I’ll definitely be grabbing the next book in the series. Recommended.
The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (“SPACEFIC”) is underway, and my group is going through one of my favorite parts of the contest: sorting through a slush pile. Basically, we get a stack of books and need to sample them all to narrow down our selections for quarter- and semi-finalists. Here, I’ll be going over my first impressions of some of these books. Please note my “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” vote is only indicative of my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of our whole group. Since we advance books as a group, it’s possible a “Yes” from me may end up a “No” overall and vice versa. Let me know what you think of the books in the comments!
A foster child whose best friend is an illegally upgraded AI robot deals with… a lot in this intriguing novel by Brian Terenna. I kept thinking I’d settled in and figured out what the novel would ultimately be about and then a major twist or shift of the rails would hit and I’d find myself wanting to push forward to find out what would happen next. Fae Luna, our hacker-teenager extraordinaire, lives in a New America with a new set of heroes, new constitution, and newly found freedoms. So they say, anyway. What feels like a clear setup for a YA dystopia isn’t that. Or it’s not only that. Or… well, there’s so much more going on here than one would think. Even the first 5-10% hits with some super unexpected vibes. Terenna constantly subverts expectations, but doesn’t ever make the reader feel cheated for having done so. I ended up finishing the book. It’s a yes.
On Venus, if you believe lies, you’re subject to be an underclass. Here, we have two main characters–Hix, who has risen from the underbelly of Venus to become a star, and Neeva, whose fate seems destined for greatness. I was into the vibes at the beginning of this one, but also was hoping for more than a kind of generic-feeling space opera. So far, it didn’t hit me hard on either the action or plot, but I am intrigued enough by the setting and characters to want more. I’m putting it down as a tentative maybe, and I’ll need to circle back to it to read more.
I’m not sure what to make of this one at 20% in. It’s got a well-developed, real-feeling world. It has quite a bit of political court intrigue. There are vibes of stories I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. So far, though, it reads like a fantasy court drama, not like anything set on another planet. If I could describe it at this point, I’d say it’s like a story of Anastasia, but with a few twists. I am intrigued enough to want to keep going, but confused enough to not say a firm “yes” quite yet. I have it on my “maybe” stack to circle back to when I have time for final determination.
Another 3 books, and no firm “no” in the bunch. I am excited that our slush pile is so strong. Have you read any of these, or did these reviews make you want to check them out? Let me know in the comments.