Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Cadain's Watch by Daniella Bova




I must admit I approached this book with trepidation, for two reasons.

My first and most obvious thought was, "Hey, a dystopian novel set in the near-future U.S., told mostly from the points of view of several characters from the resistance movement? That sounds an awful lot like my own novel. How could I possibly enjoy it without constantly making comparisons, for better or worse?"

The second source of hesitation came from the presence of a Christian Angel as a character. I've seen some discussions as to the difficulty of writing real-world (rather than imaginary) religions, in particular Christianity, into fiction. After all, having an all-powerful God explicitly on the side of the heroes removes much of the suspense in the outcome, at least on the macro level. The story can still be great, mind you, but generally speaking it's not what I prefer to read.

That said, I was somewhat familiar with Daniella Bova's writings from a couple of her published short stories, so I decided to give her full-length novel a try.

As it turned out, in spite of superficial similarities of the premise, this novel is nothing like mine, and it's a good thing. If nothing else, it answers the common complaint that nowadays we have too many dystopias, and they're all alike.

Well, not this one.

A few things immediately stand out, before you even get to the supernatural element. The main characters are older, and they have families. It's understandable why most dystopias focus on the young and the unattached. It's hard to rebel against the government, no matter how oppressive, when you have family to feed, and when said government can come after your wife and kids if you step out of line. On the other hand, in reality, people will more readily fight and die for their loved ones than for an idea, and this is the approach this author takes. Yes, there are some characters who join the resistance because it's the right thing to do, but for the most part, it's a timeless tale of hard men in hard times fighting to protect their wives and kids.

Not that women are entirely absent from the story. They also, for the most part, serve the timeless role as protectors, nurturers and teachers, and thus the keepers of civilization in a broken world. At least such are the women on the side of the Light. Some of the main villains are also women, but only nominally so, for by the time we meet them, they have lost all right to be called human, let alone members of the fair sex.

As for the Angel Cadain, he serves as an occasional narrator for the story, both to fill in the blanks in the overall picture and to show us the thoughts and actions of some of the non-POV characters. For that I am grateful because let's face it, there are some heads where you as a reader will not want to spend any time. Does it break the traditional narrative structure? Does it nevertheless make for a more readable story? Yes to both.

To answer my original concern, while Cadain does put the finger on the scales, as it were, to encourage, guide and occasionally outright help the heroes, the actual work is all done by men, and as a result not everything works the way it's planned, not every battle won, and not every heartache avoided. And so, nail-biting suspense scenes abound, even in this setup.

On a side note, while reading this novel, especially the parts with the supernatural element, I was reminded of an article by one of the Jewish scholars on the story of Passover. The miracle of the Parting of the Red Sea is one of the great examples of Divine help given to the righteous. However, some scholars claim that Moses had to first walk into the Red Sea and keep walking until the water was all the way up to his nose, and only then, once he--as a man--had gone as far as he could, did the Miracle occur to take him and the rest of the Jews safely across.

And that's the reason why the novel works on this level. The men fight, struggle and suffer, but there is hope and help available to pull them through, and the reason it doesn't feel like an easy way out is because none of it, not a single action or decision or sacrifice is easy. Every victory comes at a price, and all of it is earned.

Is it a flawless story? No, not really, although for the most part my criticisms are subjective. The pace is slow, and only in part because the author tends to the wordy, but also the writing on the whole is more literary than common to the genre. It's very much "a journey, not a destination" kind of read, and frankly your enjoyment will hinge on how much you like spending time with the characters. To me, the protagonists, both male and female, are easy to like, in spite (because?) of the guys acting like real-life blue collar Americans, complete with love of smokes, whiskey and colorful language. Which reminds me: this is not your typical Christian fiction. There's foul language, occasionally cringe-inducing violence and many scenes and references that are downright disturbing. That is a feature, not a bug, because a dystopia should disturb, even though this one unlike many others also gives you a large measure of hope.

 All in all, it's not "light" reading by any definition, but it's worth your time and emotional investment. Recommended.

Purchase Cadain's Watch on Amazon

Thursday, November 9, 2017

New Release and a Giveaway: MAGA 2020 is Live; Chasing Freedom Free with Purchase

After many months on hard work, the much-anticipated anthology MAGA 2020 and Beyond is available in e-book and paperback versions. This is truly a one-of-a-kind anthology, full of optimistic stories of the future as well as essays by some of the more intriguing thinkers of our day.

Much as I love reading (and creating) dystopian stories, perhaps the time has come to switch gears. Cautionary tales serve their purpose, but if all you are is scared of the future, it's not by itself enough as a motivation to make it better. Occasionally, inspiration is required. I think one of the drawbacks of  a conservative cultural movement is that we, as a rule, are good at pointing out all that is wrong, but not so good at offering a compelling, exciting alternative.

MAGA 2020 and Beyond offers a solid sampling of positive speculative fiction themed around the consequences of Donald Trump's Presidency. I hope it inspires many more works that show us optimistic visions of the future, not only in terms of technological progress but in the way we organize our society and live our day-to-day lives.

That having been said, not every dystopian tale is meant to only scare and depress. My Dragon Awards-nominated dystopian novel Chasing Freedom is a good example of a dystopia that is more uplifting and optimistic than is the norm for the genre. And for a limited time, you can grab an e-copy for free by taking advantage of this promotional deal from Superversive Press.

Purchase MAGA2020 and Beyond on Amazon


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Concert Report: Otherwise/10 Years/Red

Over the last couple of years, I've made an effort to see as many of my favorite bands in concert as possible. Now is a great time to be a music lover because with the economics of music distribution being what it is, most bands make their money not from CD sales or iTunes downloads, but from tours. So for those of us who enjoy smaller bands, seeing them live is not only possible but essential. We get a great experience, and our favorite musicians make enough dough to pay for those fancy tour buses. Win-win.

Red, an Christian alternative metal band who had long been on my must-see list, was the headliner and the main draw for me, although the fans standing on line waiting for the doors to open seemed to be equally split between all three performers. And in truth, all of them were very much worth seeing.

Otherwise, the first act of the show, did what most openers are meant to do, namely warm up the crowd for the bigger acts. I was less familiar with their songs (Soldiers is probably the one best known to regular listeners of SiriusXM Octane station), but enjoyed the performance nevertheless just because of their high energy level and interacting with the crowd.

10 Years is, in my opinion, a somewhat under-rated band, and they definitely are worth seeing live. Most of their songs sound fairly sedate when played on the radio, in part because of the smooth vocals of the lead singer. Their live sound is much harder, which helps drive home the often edgy and disturbing lyrics that tackle subjects ranging from drug use to suicide to the dark side of the entertainment industry. (Listening to Beautiful in light of the latest revelations regarding Hollywood was a somewhat surreal experience.)

Finally, the headliner performance by Red was nothing short of amazing, especially considering the small size of the venue that did not allow for much in terms of pyrotechnics. I appreciated the balance between covering the old-time favorites like Feed the Machine, Faceless and Release the Panic along with a substantial sampling from their new album Gone. This band, as many of the type, is huge on audience interaction. If you know the lyrics of their popular songs, chances are pretty good that in a small venue you'll get to sing a line or two into the live microphone.

And now comes the real reason I decided to blog about going to a concert. After it was over, my husband and I went to the garage to get out car, and right there, standing on line with the claim ticket, was Adrian Patrick, the lead singer from Otherwise. He was gracious enough to pose for pictures (as you will see in my slide show) before loading his toddler in the car and driving off with his family. While the prima donnas like Bruce Springsteen think nothing of dissing the fans who pay hard-earned money to see them, there are many hard working up-and-coming musicians out there who appreciate each and every fan and go an extra mile to make them happy. It's definitely something to consider the next time you think of how to spend whatever time and money you have allocated towards entertainment.

I hope you check out these bands' albums, or better yet, take your time to see them on tour.
Maybe my little slide show will serve to convince you. Enjoy.





Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Coming Nov. 8 in MAGA 2020 and Beyond: Exile, a Short Story



When I first heard of a pro-Trump anthology intended to show the bright side of Trump’s election, I was curious about the concept, but had no thought of contributing. For one, stories of a great future are hard to write. There is less conflict in a utopia. Typically, positive future stories tend to be science fiction, with Star Trek being probably the prime example. The appeal of Star Trek at its best comes from the sense of wonder and adventure, and the conflict, when it happens, is usually external in nature, be it hostile aliens or technical difficulties.The Federation is essentially a utopia, but the show doesn't linger on the details. If someone decided to tell a story of the greatness of life in The Federation, it would likely be a snooze fest.

Add to it the fact that I am a dystopian author, and you can see why I initially scrolled on by when the submission call came across my Facebook feed.

But then, as I suppose is the case with many speculative fiction writers, I started thinking of the “what if.”

What if a group of hardcore Trump opponents decided to separate themselves from the society, not through a secession that created two side-by-side states, but by entirely cutting themselves off? (Think the Galt’s Gulch, but populated by… let’s just say they’re not the Randian hero types). No flow of information. No knowledge whether Trump’s policies succeeded. As the first generation dies off, even stories of the past are fading. The outside might be great, or it might be an Apocalyptic wasteland where people starve in the streets. The only way to know is to leave, but there is no coming back.

What would you do?

Sure, your life isn’t great. Work is hard. Food is limited. There is no privacy. Government officials watch your every move.

So leaving is a no-brainer, then?

Well…

You have a job. A place to live. Food. Friendship. Respect. It’s not much, but it’s a life.

Do you throw it all away and venture into the unknown?

And just like that, it’s not so simple, is it?

As an immigrant whose family waited for permission to leave the Soviet Union for ten years, let me tell you: it’s really not. When that final moment comes, when you realize all you’re giving up, when you suddenly remember the little things about your life that you do like… No matter how motivated you are, the doubt will be there.

Conversely, what if you were content to stay? How would you react to someone who wanted to leave? Would you feel worried, angry, betrayed, or some combination of both? Would you try to stop them?


And so, I had enough questions in my mind to write a story of almost 6,000 words called Exile. I hope you enjoy the result.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DragonCon After-Action Report: The Right Geek Podcast

Last night I talked to Stephanie Souders, The Right Geek Blogger/podcaster and a life-long science fiction fan, about my experience at DragonCon. Stephanie has volunteered at DragonCon for many years, while this was my first visit, so it was interesting to compare our perspectives.

We discussed the general Con experience, from getting around to making the most of the panels to the inexplicably addictive PB&J sandwiches at the Con Suite. Since I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at two panels, I also describe my impressions from interacting with panelists and audiences who were very much outside my comfort zone in terms of political leanings. (Spoiler: it appears SJW's have not yet ruined all of the fandom, although not for lack of trying.)

Probably the most important lesson I took away from the Con, and I think it's very much applicable outside the fandom, was that people can unite and have fun together on a massive scale in spite of serious disagreements. It does not solve our current problems of being a politically and culturally divided country, but it does give me a measure of hope. Perhaps this is why the Left is working so relentlessly to divide the fandom and diminish what we have in common, but they will not succeed. 

Seeing the sheer number of people from all over the world gather to share their passion made me appreciate how small the internal squabbles really are. When it comes to fandom, fun rules. Let's give the fans what they want: great stories, full of imagination, unimpeded by demands and complaints of petty people. Let's support fellow creatives and make new friends. And most of all, let's not forget to enjoy ourselves in the process. 





Tuesday, September 5, 2017

DragonCon Mini-Highlights Reel

Happy to report that I survived my first ever DragonCon. I will do more write-up once I've had more than four hours of sleep, but for now, enjoy this highlights video, including some stills from the Cruxshadows concert. Parade video is coming separately because I went a little insane with the photos and will have to put them in a separate file.




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: Dangerous by Milo



I bought this book on principle because I wanted to support Milo, especially after Simon and Schuster pulled it from Amazon after the latest manufactured outrage proved too much for their tender corporate feelings. (And before you ask, yes, I've seen the infamous interview that precipitated the breach of contract from S&S. Considering this is the same company that published Lena Dunham, color me unimpressed.) Be that as it may, I forked over the big bucks for the hard cover, or rather had my husband pre-order it for me for our wedding anniversary, with the full expectation of having it in my book case as a conversation piece and not much more. After all, having gotten into the habit of listening to Milo's broadcasts on Youtube while doing housework, I was very familiar with his views and could probably repeat most of his jokes verbatim.

Unlike most nonfiction from popular commentators, however, Dangerous is not simply a "best of" collection from previous speeches and blog posts. It's a combination of a personal manifesto and solid cultural analysis, complete with references and statistics, and it flows seamlessly from hilariously irreverent to deadly serious. Much as I enjoyed this book, I wish Milo would consider writing fiction because oh my does he have a way with words.

Dangerous is  divided into three parts. The first (Foreword, Preamble and Prologue) is an introduction to who Milo is, what he does, and why so many consider him dangerous. Prone as he is to exaggerations, the claim is absolutely true. Mention his name in mixed company and you're likely to encounter an equivalent of the Kingsman finale minus the pretty fireworks.

Personally I think he nails it with the following:

"I am a threat because I don't belong to anyone. I am unaffiliated."

This goes beyond identity politics, which insists on putting people in neat little boxes and proceeds to predict everything from the food they should eat to books they should read to politicians and causes they support. In addition to being impossible to classify, Milo is also immune to social and peer pressure. The fools who rejoiced at him resigning from Breitbart (where he already had essentially free hand) didn't realize that he would become even more unstoppable with private funding and self-made platform. This is one scalp not up for the taking by Social Justice Brigades, and it has to drive them insane.

The second part is eleven chapters, nine of which are titled "Why [insert a group here] Hate Me." If you believe the adage of knowing the man by his enemies, the list is impressive (or should I say fabulous?):

Progressive Left
Alt-Right
Twitter
Feminists
Black Lives Matter
The Media
Establishment Gays
Establishment Republicans
and finally...
Muslims

Some on this list hate because they should be able to control him and claim him as one of their own, but can't. Some because he is the only one pointing out the unspeakable truths in a way that's actually accessible, therefore reaching the audience most others can't. Some because he's a direct threat to their comfort and power. It's a mix-and-match kind of thing with a lot of overlap. He does not hate all of the groups back, by the way, cutting some of them more slack than I would do personally, but the nuance is not reciprocated by the other side. No matter. The haters don't win, and their attempts only result in getting him more followers and better hair products.

These chapters are useful not just as a recap of Milo's detractors, but also provide a refresher on the history and current state of each group,  and whether or not there's  hope that one or some of them would ever turn towards the light, so to speak. He has surprising amount of respect for intellectuals, considering how vocally he had been denounced by nearly every Conservative pundit. And, as he points out at the end of the Establishment Republicans chapter, "No movement has ever survived with just moderates and intellectual, and no movement has ever survived with just hellraisers. If we want to win, we need both." To which I say, Amen. In spite of the current frictions, the two sides of the pro-freedom coin need not be at odds.

There are two additional chapters dedicated to the folks who DON'T hate him: Gamergate and college kids who love free speech. If you're still unfamiliar with Gamergate, this chapter provides and excellent summary. And apparently we have Allum Bokhari of Breitbart to thank (or blame) for kickstarting Milo's career by sending him information on Gamergate. Or should we more accurately thank Zoe Quinn? Well, you get the idea.

The chapter on college tours gives me hope. The protesters and general therapy-dog-demanding whiners get all the attention, but Milo would not BE doing college tours to begin with if there weren't large groups of students eager to see and support him. Perhaps there's no need to be overly down on the new generation after all. There's a lot of free thought and bravery to be found among the current crop of college students, and they could very well fix the world we of the Gen X allowed so carelessly to slide in the wrong direction.

The third pard, Epilogue, has a title I will leave for you to discover. Suffice it to say, it's essentially a call to action, and a guide on how to be successful if you want to try your luck as a Milo-style Culture Warrior. While there's only one Milo, the field is wide open for ambitious copycats.
The gist of the advice is as simple as it is challenging: work hard and be fearless.

Not everyone can be hot.
Not everyone can be outrageous and funny.
Not everyone can risk denouncement and loss of employment.
But everyone can do something.
Find that something.
Then do it.

In the meantime, go read the book.

Purchase Dangerous on Amazon