Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Dragon Awards Post, Procrastinators' Edition

Let me guess: you meant to vote for Dragon Awards nominations. You just needed more time. After all, you had until June 30th, so there was no rush, right?
:Looks at the calendar:
Yeeeah, about that...

 So now you have just a couple of days to scour your Kindle trying to remember which books you read over the last year, then look up when those books were published to make sure they're eligible, and THEN decide how to classify them in the most appropriate way. Good luck with that last one if you're like me and read overwhelmingly indie/small press books. Those authors don't have the publisher forcing them to squeeze a story into a pigeonhole for the best Barnes & Noble shelf placement. They write what they write. Great for reading. A nightmare for category designations.

Fear not, my fellow procrastinators, for much of the work of finding, listing and categorizing some outstanding eligible books has already been done for you. Below I will link a few websites/blogs with nomination suggestions. You will see that many of the suggestions overlap. It's either a "great minds think alike" thing or the Russians rigged it. (Not me. Other Russians.) In any case, if you read the books and liked them, now's the time to give them some love. If you haven't, what are you doing looking at blogs? You've got some great fiction to read.

Useful sites with suggestions, in alphabetical order.

Declan Finn 📖  

Happy Frogs 🐸

Injustice Gamer 🎮

Russell Newquist 📚

Speaking of all things Dragon, I will be at Dragoncon this year, and because my novel Chasing Freedom was a nominee last year I actually get a spiffy Attending Pro badge. What it means, I don't know, but it sounds like fun. Hope to see lots of you there!

Dragon Awards vote link is here. There is no cost to participate, and you know what that means: more money for books 😀   Best of luck to the contenders and as always Happy Reading!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: For Steam and Country by Jon del Arroz



A couple of weeks ago, I took my 12-year-old daughter to the town library in search of something to read. When I asked the librarian in charge of the YA section to recommend something without suicide or sex, she said, without hostility but quite firmly that we were in the wrong section. Apparently those were the predominant themes of modern YA literature. (Mind you, this is the stuff offered to them as pleasure reading, in addition to the doom-and-gloom highbrow literature they're already required to read for school.) And then we wonder why so many of today's teens are A. depressed and B. avoid pleasure reading at all costs.

It is therefore with great pleasure that I report on this latest offering from a science fiction author Jon del Arroz. For Steam and Country is, as the title implies, a steampunk adventure first and foremost, but it also succeeds brilliantly as YA.

The protagonist, Zaira von Monocle, is a 16-year-old, who--shocker!--actually behaves as a normal teen, even though the circumstances of her life are anything but ordinary. Sure, she is a daughter of a great adventurer, who inherits her father's airship and goes off to far away lands and gets involved in battles that might decide the fate of her country. Yet at the same time she is subject to the same challenges and emotions as any teen. She has a secret crush on a neighbor boy who, frustratingly, only sees her as a friend. She feels sad about having lost her mother at a young age and devastated at the news that her father is presumed dead. She has a comically adorable attachment to her pet ferret (yes, there's a ferret named Toby, and he's important to the plot!). And, as most teenagers, she has her flaws: she is stubborn, occasionally rash, doesn't know her limitations while at the same time being insecure... Did I mention the "normal teen" thing? If you don't have teens of your own, just take my word for it. Zaira is true to life, perhaps more so than the cynical and too-smart-for-their-age creatures that populate modern YA fiction, especially the kind geared towards girls.

That's not to say Zaira is the only interesting character, or even the only one in whom the reader gets invested during the story. James starts out as a somewhat of an obligatory sidekick/love interest, but his story arc is separate and, while he doesn't get a lot of "screen time," is interesting in its own right. (I am in fact hoping for a spinoff because the whole Knights angle has a lot of potential that was only explored in a cursory way in this novel). Captain von Cravat is more than your garden variety Strong Female Character. The Iron Emperor is a fascinating villain who appears just long enough for us to wonder who or what exactly he is. And Toby the ferret is just begging for a whole series of his own, if he could ever be convinced to leave Zaira's side.

The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and the prose is just right for the type of story this is: clear without being dumbed down, with enough information on the world and the basics of technology to be interesting, but not so much that we get bored with the minutia of the steamship operations. The battles are well choreographed and descriptive in a way that we can visualize exactly what's going on while providing enough tension and excitement. There are a few twists along the way as well as some loose ends likely to be addressed in the rest of the series, but on the whole the story wraps up in a satisfying way.

I'm told that this particular take on steampunk is unusual, so I will simply recommend it to anyone who likes old-fashioned adventure free of sex, graphic violence or so-called "social commentary." It's also a great way to introduce your teenager to the joys of adventure fiction. As someone who grew up reading Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, I am glad to see that there are modern offerings in the same vein available to the new generation, even if they have to go beyond the local librarians' choices to get to it.

Purchase For Steam and Country on Amazon




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Guest Post by Matthew Quinn: Classism, "Evil Rednecks" and The Thing in the Woods

Matthew Quinn is an author friend of mine who has just come out with a new book on Amazon. Below are this thoughts on the traditional horror genre and how his work challenges some of the stereotypes of the classics. I am not personally a horror fan, but I love it when authors veer from the tired tropes and create something fresh, which is why I agreed to host Matthew's promotion on my blog. Enjoy!
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Once upon a time, I was visiting the East Cobb Borders and read from a Call of Cthulhu role-playing game manual. The manual begins a proposed gaming scenario describes how in many cases the Great Old Ones and other horrors from beyond are worshiped in rural, isolated areas. What happens if these areas become suburbanized? The book uses the phrase "supernatural Love Canal," a reference to a New York neighborhood built on top of a forgotten toxic waste dump. That scenario got my creative gears turning and soon spawned The Thing in the Woods, which takes place in the small town of Edington just south of Atlanta. Edington is rapidly becoming a bedroom community for Atlanta, much to the annoyance of Phil Davidson, owner of a local barbecue restaurant and the high priest of a cult worshiping an alien tentacle monster in the local woods.
However, this is not a book about evil "rednecks." H.P. Lovecraft, the man whose writings on Cthulhu and other cosmic horrors, was  classist toward "degenerate" whites and rural folk as well as a racist toward non-whites and "ethnics" like Italians. I'm not going to look down my nose on people who live outside the big cities, the people who disproportionately serve in the military and produce much of our food. This is reflected in three of the Edington-born characters in The Thing in the Woods.
The female lead in Thing is Amber Webb. She's an Edington native, a high-school senior like Buckhead transplant and story protagonist James Daly. Instead of a being a cultureless hick, she's active in the local arts scene and the community theater, including a major role in the play Once Upon a Mattress. She has no objection to another white teenage girl dating an young Indian man from Atlanta, and when other members of her small-town girl posse believe James to be a murderer, she's open-minded enough to dig further rather than merely assume. We all know what "assume" stands for, after all. And when the cult unleashes its wrath, her initiative and sheer nerve come in handy.
Another character from Edington is Sam Dixon. Sam served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War (he explicitly references Medina Ridge, and the First Armored Division was at other battles as well). Given his references to "damned blue on blue," at times he was in danger from both the Iraqis and his own side. Since the war, he's worked at the local sheet metal plant and done well for himself. He is a devoted husband, although he and his wife are unable to have children. Although he serves Phil and the abomination in the woods, he has a very strong sense of fair play and duty toward his fellow veterans and isn't drinking the racist Kool-Aid poured by another cult member who is a bigot. It's that moral sense that propels his story arc. I am reminded of Romans 2, which states every man has the law of God written on their hearts.
Even Phil, for all his many faults, is not without his virtues. He's a decorated Vietnam veteran, a member of the Third Marine Division who saw action as a junior officer at the Battle of Con Thien. He pays his restaurant employees more than the typical wage to keep the wheels of the local economy spinning and to encourage employee loyalty. This is much like the great industrialist Henry Ford, who paid his employees more than the usual wage for the auto industry to ensure his employees could buy his cars. Phil also has members of the cult keep up properties left vacant during the recession, to ensure they don't get stripped for metal or become drug houses. Although his methods are extreme and immoral, keeping Edington a functional community in an dark time is very important to him. And he's a father and grandfather who prioritizes the welfare of family, even very distant relations like his cousin's stepdaughter, Sam's wife Brenda.
So if you like the style and concepts of H.P. Lovecraft but are tired of evil hick stereotypes, check out The Thing in the Woods


Monday, May 29, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I have to admit, after the third movie in the series I decided I was done. The plot was overly complicated, the good guys kept double crossing each other, and the ending... Let's just say a movie of that caliber did not earn such and ending and leave it at that (and no, the after-credits were not enough to provide satisfaction for what was at the time meant to be the end of the trilogy.)

I skipped the fourth. More than that, I forgot it existed and had to look up why this latest installment was billed as Number Five. When the new trailer came out, my first thought was, "Oh no, they're at it AGAIN? Meh." Still, it was a long weekend and I decided to kill a few hours by watching it on the cheap in a smaller local theater. Yes, $11 for an adult ticket is what passes for cheap nowadays. But I digress...

My husband, who saw Dead Men a few days before me, said it was actually better than the original. I'm not sure about that because the original was, well, the original. The characters, the world, the visuals--it was all new and so by default more entertaining. But this one comes close and does better than the original on a couple of fronts. Also, and this is a biggie,  we're not talking about going back to the well. This movie continues the story where #3 left off. (I hear Penelope Cruz didn't want to come back. They didn't make the character die of leukemia a la  Sarah Connor, but the script behaves as though #4 never happened, as far as I can tell.)

In the first scene, we meet young Henry, Will Turner's son, who promises to break the curse that requires his father to be forever sailing The Flying Dutchman. Fast forward nine years, and grown up Henry is getting in trouble at sea over having too much knowledge of the legends no one believes until... well, I won't spoil that one. In the meantime, Carina, the scientist obsessed with the stars she believes will lead her to her father is about to hang for witchcraft. As for Jack Sparrow, let's just say the shameless ripoff of one of the Fast and Furious movies works very well as his re-introduction scene. The three main characters are thrown together, sometimes literally, until they agree to work with each other to obtain this particular movie's McGuffin.

It is rare to see the fifth entry into any franchise that succeeds both at taking us back and introducing new characters. Henry and Carina are immediately likable as driven, passionate individuals who make a lively, forever bantering couple. Jack Sparrow is entertaining as ever as a down-and-out captain without a ship, far removed from his former glory. (There is a marvelous flashback scene, thanks to the wonders of CGI, that made me wish for a prequel. I wanted to spend the time with THAT Jack Sparrow, one less interesting and flamboyant, but more admirable. If we do see a prequel, I'll know I'm not alone.) Barbossa is seen in a new light, and Salazar, the current villain, is sufficiently murderous yet has understandable motivations. The plot is clear of unnecessary complications, and the action has near perfect balance of CGI and live action. Except for a couple of scenes that look like a setup for a new Disney attraction (you'll know of what I speak when you see them) the movie does not have the look and feel of a video game. The camera work is solid, and there is no confusion, in spite of many scenes taking place in the dark, as to who is doing what where.

And then there are all the things that are not in the movie.

No Strong Female Character. I know, it's shocking to have a woman character who is physically capable, strong-willed, and a scientist to boot to not be the dreaded SFC. Writers of books and movie scripts alike seem to have forgotten that it's possible, and yet here we have Carina as a great reminder. She is smart and educated without knowing everything or being right every time. She is brave and athletic, yet sometimes needs saving from perils she can't handle on her own. She is driven and stubborn without being hostile, and while she doesn't "need" a man, she clearly enjoys being courted even as she refuses to admit it.

No anachronistic nods to modern Hollywood conventions. The romance is sweet, in tune with the rules of the movie's world. Carina blushes at the notion that she's attracted to Henry. Henry is happy at seeing Carina's ankles. Jack Sparrow, being more worldly, makes fun of the innocent lovers, but it's good natured fun, and whatever else Sparrow is meant to be, role model isn't it. There is physical contact, sure, but not the semi-obligatory casual hookup that we'd come to expect and/or fear from most Hollywood productions, whether or not said hookups make sense in the context of the story. Also, Carina's actions are consistent with the way a woman would act in the male-dominated world. When a shop owner tells her to leave and not touch his instruments because women are not allowed inside his shop, she reacts not with righteous indignation or physical assault, but with an offer to fix his maps and to pay him extra for the item she desires. It was a small scene, but I appreciated the care that went into crafting it to feel as true as possible right before the movie veers back into the over-the top action mode.

No on-the-nose references to politics. None. No purposeful controversies during the movie's promotion. No gratuitous jabs at Evil Politician of the Day. No inane quotes that end up marring the telephone poles for decades to come *cough* Star Wars Prequels *cough*. Not even a Very Special Screening for Group X (that one is not the movie's fault, but still highly annoying). All you get is a 2hrs + break from the world events, and it's engaging enough to keep you from checking your social media feed on the phone for the duration. There was a time most if not all blockbusters would provide this oasis of entertainment to the viewers. Now, sadly, it's so rare that it merits praise, and so praise it gets. I recommend it wholeheartedly. See it in the theater. Tell your friends. Let's make it an amazing success so Hollywood gives us more of what we want: good old-fashioned entertainment.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Right Geek Chat: Dystopia, Darkness and the Real World

It was my privilege to be the very first guest on the newly launched The Right Geek show hosted by my friend, blogger and all around great gal Stephanie Souders. We discussed my novel Chasing Freedom and other related topics, including but not limited to:

- World-building through the eyes of the characters vs. the narrative style
- Creating realistic "bad guys"
- Using one's life experiences add realism to a dystopian world (OK, coming from the former USSR, I have an advantage on that one, but other authors can apply the concept in their own way)
- Classic vs modern dystopias
- Can A Handmaid's Tale happen here?
- How did "dark" come to equal "deep" and can anything be done to change this perception?

All of the above is covered in the first forty minutes or so, at which time the technology gremlins attacked and my side of the conversation became very difficult to hear. You can still figure out most of what I said from Stephanie's follow-up and responses. We were talking mostly of the current college campus environment and whether or not it indicates a fundamental shift in the mood of the country.

I want to thank Stephanie for having me over and making for a very intellectually stimulating conversation. I hope everyone tunes in for her future live broadcasts to make her new show a success.

Youtube video of the full interview is below.



Chasing Freedom is available on Amazon.

Make sure to check out Stephanie's blog for reviews and commentary.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Musings: The Fate of the Furious



***Cross-posted from SuperversiveSF.com***

On one level, The Fate of the Furious is the easiest movie to review:
1. Great fun
2. Leave your brain (especially the part that understands physics) at home

And now, folks, your seat belts (HA!) because I will try to make this post deep. How deep? Glad you asked. I’m going to take the recent discussion of what qualifies as superversive fiction and apply it to this movie. If you’re rolling on the floor in fits of laughter, I don’t blame you. But stick with me here. Just because something is lowbrow, doesn’t mean it can’t be superversive, at least in part. And if we can see superversive elements in this piece of schlock, maybe they would become easier to identify elsewhere. Thus, let the experiment begin!

Aspiring/Inspiring. Our heroes are far from being role models, that’s for sure. But are they reaching for something higher? Are they attempting to improve the world, what little of it is in their control? The opening segment includes a prolonged drag-racing sequence that ends with Dom Toretto acting with both generosity and honor towards a person who really deserves neither. Much later, when the villainess questions why Dom seemingly rewarded the man who tried to kill him, the response is, “I changed him.” Does it work like that in real life? Probably not. Thugs don’t choose to join the side of light because of one event, not commonly anyway. Is it possible? Yes, I suppose it is. Is it something we’d like to occasionally see in our art? Absolutely.

Virtuous. I can see how this requirement can be viewed as problematic at first glance, but we need to remember that superversive heroes don’t need to be perfect. They do, however, need to know right from wrong, and more importantly, the story itself must be clear on the matter. An advantage of a well crafted dumb action movie is that the central conflict is very clear. The good guys are… maybe not all that good, not all of them, but they are working for a good cause. And the villainess Cipher, played with obvious delight by Charlize Theron, is as cold and vicious as they come. Her purported justification sounds vaguely noble from throwing around words like “accountability,” but at no point are we sympathetic or thinking, “Well, she’s kind of right…” Nope. Not even close. In this story, shades of gray are non-existent.

Heroic. This one is easy. Unlike in some of the other entries in F&F franchise, the protagonists’ motives here are mostly pure: family, loyalty, honor and oh yeah, saving the world. There is revenge mixed in for some, and an opportunity for a second chance for others. In particular, Deckard (Jason Statham), a villain from one of the previous films, is at first hard to accept as one of the good guys, but he does redeem himself in one of the more spectacular and absurd scenes in a movie that’s full of them. In the end, they all rise to the occasion and do what they must to fight evil, no matter the cost. Additionally, in what to me is the stand-out moment of the movie, Letty bets her life, without hesitation, for a chance to reach and save her husband who appears to have gone rogue. It plays much better if you know the history of these characters, but it’s powerful in either case.

Decisive. Again, easy, as per requirements of the genre. The protagonists don’t have time to agonize over their choices, in part because there aren’t too many. Saving the world is a non-negotiable goal. While there are heart-breaking scenes, we see not a hint of the modern “why me?” angst that has infected even many of the superhero movies. They hurt and they grieve, but never stop moving towards the goal.

Non-subversive. You’d think a movie in a franchise built around essentially glorifying outlaws would be subversive by definition. Not so. This entry in particular has a villainess whose main intent is destruction of the current order, but there’s even more than that. In one of the obligatory Villain Exposition scenes, she’s intent on convincing Dom Toretto, the man who values family and faith, that he is wrong in his priorities. It’s not enough for her to use Dom’s skills. She has a need to destroy who he is, to prove that his life has no meaning, and by extension, no one’s life has meaning. This is an important point. If life is of no value, if family, faith and honor are but an illusion, then mass murder is a perfectly acceptable stepping stone to one’s goals. The villainess is a nearly perfect embodiment of subversion. She would not, in fact, be out of place in an old-fashioned fairly tale, from the time before our culture has developed a need to understand, justify, and sympathize with villains rather than to advocate and celebrate their unconditional defeat.

There were other things that are remarkable on that front. For all the banter and joking around, there’s not a hint of irony when it comes to good old fashioned values. Dom talk constantly about family as if it’s some kind of magic mantra needed to pull him back to the light. (One reviewer commented that at times the movie has a feel of a GOP convention, with the word “family” being mentioned over 50 times.) They pause before a meal to say grace. Crosses figure prominently, both in the visuals and once actually in the plot. Two young hot-blooded men are courting an attractive woman, but that’s where it stays. There is no obligatory danger-inspired hookup, but on the flip side, no blanket rejection of men or romance either. It’s a small scene, fun and light-hearted, but also old-fashioned. And in the end, for all the ridiculous special effects and action, I think this is one of the reasons the franchise has endured. These movies entertain and amuse without tearing down, and they leave you, if not inspired, at least satisfied with a simple tale that shows the world working mostly as you know it should. Not so bad for a piece of dumb action after all.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn

I admit, I started this book with a bit of trepidation. The Big Bad in the previous installment was so big and so bad and so near-indestructible that trying to top it could very well veer into the ridiculous (think some of the more unfortunate James Bond movies, for example). Wisely, the author didn't go that route. Oh sure, there's a worthy adversary for our favorite couple and their merry crew, but this novel is more concerned with adding more layers of plot and character development in between the 'splosions and bursts of machine gun fire. Yes, we get machine guns added to the mix this time, because, well, why not?

The story starts off... angsty, for lack of a better word. Marco and Amanda are separated, causing much brooding for them and pain for the baddies. When those two brood, the soundtrack is more death metal than country, if you get my drift. In the meantime, Merle the international man of supernatural mystery, discovers/confirms a connection between the U.N. and the vampires, both of whom, it so happens, want Marco dead at all costs. The rest of the plot revolves around our heroes facing and dealing with the new super-assassin, while trying to finally resolve their feelings for each other.

That last part, in my opinion, takes up most of the energy of the novel. Let's face it, in an ongoing series we can't be overly worried if the main characters make it through the next chapter. Finn is not entirely averse to killing someone we care about, on occasion, but he hasn't been affected by the Joss Whedon disease (looking at you, Terry Goodkind, grrr...) and let's hope he never does. So the assassin subplot becomes more of a "journey, not a destination" kind of deal. You know she will be defeated. You don't know how, or why she's on the job in the first place, or even who the heck she is. Also, did I mention 'splosions? So there's a lot of pure fun to be had along the way, but to really make us care, there has to be something else. Something beyond the heroes' survival to the next installment, and beyond the intellectual challenge of solving the fundamental mystery of the overarching plot. That leaves us with...

If you guessed, "romance," congratulations! You're in for a treat. If not, and if your reaction is, "Oh no, not that!" rest assured that it's not your usual YA drama. These are serious people, with the fate of, if not the world, at least thousands of lives on their shoulders, who cannot function at full capacity till they address what is delicately called the issues of the heart. I'll give no spoilers in this regard since I consider this particular narrative thread the most suspenseful. Suffice it to say that there is a level of progress achieved, with hints of more to come. Stay tuned and wait for the sequel.

Purchase Live and Let Bite on Amazon



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Awards and Amusements

It's that time of the year: the snow is melting, the new flowers are blooming, and the book awards season is coming into full swing. Unlike with the Oscars and other movie-oriented awards, where audiences tune in to see lavish dresses and occasional on-screen celebrity meltdowns, most of the book awards entertainment comes from--you guessed it--reading. Thus this week's roundup for your online entertainment.

First, an award that's near and dear to my heart, as I co-founded the group that runs it:

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance 2017 Book of the Year.




The competition for this one was stiff, with the Top Two contenders vying for the lead until the final hours. In the end, Peter Grant claimed the first place with his Post-Civil War themed Western Brings the Lightning.  John Ringo/Larry Correia collaboration Monster Hunter: Grunge came in second, and John C. Wright's wildly imaginative fantasy Iron Chamber of Memory rounded up the Top Three.

For complete information on the award, full list of the finalists as well as the nature and goals of CLFA, please visit Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance website.

(I especially recommend the visit to those who had the misfortune of visiting a certain blog, where some of the commenters took it upon themselves to re-write both the nature and the history of CLFA to suit their narrative. Amusing as it was to read the conjectures, it is important for the truth to come out, and going to the source is usually the best solution. Also, please feel free to post questions in the Comments section.)

Second: The Hugo Awards finalists have been announced.

I'm happy to see John C. Wright's excellent short story from God, Robot getting the nod, even if the environment surrounding this particular award is guaranteed to keep him from winning.

The same comment applies to Jeffro Johnson and Castalia House blog, in their respective categories.

If you're looking for more analysis, here is some from Declan Finn (I think the headline provides a hint of how he feels, but you may want to read the whole thing to be sure). Jon del Arroz crunches some vote numbers, for those who are into math. And finally, since I promised amusement, John C. Wright, in the comments on Vox Popoli blog, reacts to receiving the nomination. Kind of.

Third: The Dragon Awards nominations are open.



Larry Correia provides this timely reminder as only he can. Personally, since the eligibility period for that one runs into the current year, I'm holding off a little longer. But there's no doubt that for sci-fi and fantasy fans, this is the award to watch (and for the authors, to strive to win).

I guess this is a good time to mention that I will be going to Dragoncon this year, for the first time ever, and for some reason have been accepted as an Attending Pro. Soooo, if anyone has hints and tips, or wants to meet up, please comment below. Hope to see many of you there!

Till then, as always, Happy reading!



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: Renegades: Origins by Kal Spriggs


As the title implies, this novel, while following a coherent and moderately exciting plot, is more of a collection of shorts giving us individual characters' history and insights into what makes them tick. If you like your fiction character-oriented, but shy away from the so-called "literary" works where that's ALL you get, this one is for you. Each part of the plot is told from a different POV (some characters get more than one chapter, and a couple don't get any, but that's the general structure).

There's a risk to this method of storytelling because the readers' engagement hinges on whether or not they like the characters and care what happens to them. For that reason, it took me a while to get into the story. At first glance, these characters can appear obnoxious, annoying, or both, and even though I intellectually knew they were the good guys, at least in comparison to their opponents, I honestly wouldn't have minded to see at a couple of them knocked off. I am, however, a patient reader, and was willing to give the story a chance to convince me otherwise. I'm happy I did because the characters do grow on you, and as it happens, the story as a whole gets better until, about half-way through, I was overstaying my lunch hour to finish a particular section.

One thing the author does very well is managing a large cast while never confusing the reader or making the characters seem interchangeable. The three aliens not only come from vastly different species, but have different goals, personalities and, strangely enough, considering two of them happen to be psycho killers, enough quirks and hangups to make them both entertaining and relatable. In fact, somewhere along the way, I realized that Rastar is actually what Jar-Jar Binks should've been in George Lucas were a half decent writer: funny, friendly to the point of annoyance, but with a heart and skills of a mighty warrior. In case I didn't hate the Jar-Jar character enough, now that I see the possibilities, I'm even happier that Lucas has given up his death grip on Star Wars. But I digress...

The humans are interesting as well. All of them are running, not just from their former alien jailers, but from the things they've done, or are accused of having done, and in some cases, just things that live as unending nightmares in their heads. While some of them are natural jerks, there's usually a reason for what seems to be irrational or downright immoral behavior. I won't give it away because the slow revelations of their backstories is what makes this work special, but I have to give the author credit for understanding the difference between and explanation and an excuse when it comes to the characters' more questionable actions. Redemption, or at least a second chance, is one of my favorite themes, and is very much the thread that unites both the characters and the overall story. While it's impossible, or desirable, to resolve all of the issues in what is by design an origin story, we're given hope that the characters, both human and alien, will find a satisfactory conclusion to their individual stories when all is said and done.

If you're expecting wall-to-wall action or a One Hero Does Everything type of tale (not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with those), go elsewhere. However, if you're looking to meet some interesting people and aliens in space and watch them fight for their lives while also battling their inner demons, this is your kind of story.

Purchase Renegades: Origins on Amazon

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Guest Promotion: Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager

Krysten Lindsay Hager is a fellow author I "met" through Clean Indie Reads Facebook group. While I don't limit myself to reading strictly clean fiction, I think it's important to give readers a variety of choices. Clean fiction, once used limited mostly to Christian publishers, it's beginning to gain traction in the mainstream. There are plenty of great stories out there without excessive violence or explicit sex, and I'm happy to do my small part to help them get read. (Full disclosure: my own novel Chasing Freedom has been accepted for listing on Clean Indie Reads website and will be linked there within the next couple of weeks).

And now, for Krysten's new offering:




Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager
YA contemporary romance
Published by Clean Reads

Blurb:
Emme is a sophomore in high school who starts dating, Brendon Agretti, the popular senior who happens to be a senator's son and well-known for his good looks. Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon's world and it doesn't help that his picture perfect ex, Lauren seems determined to get back into his life along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti. Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend cheated on her and her whole world is off kilter with her family issues. Life suddenly seems easier keeping Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her. Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses. Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work? Life sure is complicated when you're dating the it guy.


Short Excerpt:
“By the way, did you hear Lauren got into Senator Agretti’s old school?”
“Seriously? I wonder if she applied there because Brendon did,” I said.
Margaux snorted. “Duh, of course. Seriously, she might as well just pee on him to mark her territory.”
“Margaux, shut up,” Kylie said.
“Whatever. Anyway, the important thing is if Brendon knew she was applying there,” Margaux said. “Em, do you think he knew?”
I hoped Lauren was just trying to follow Brendon, but what if they had planned this whole thing while they were dating? What if he convinced her to apply there so they could go to college together, wear matching American flag sweaters with big scarves while drinking hot chocolate, and jump into leaf piles just like a preppy clothing catalog. At least now I didn’t have to worry about them reciting poetry to one another in South Bend, but still, what if they had made plans to go to school together?
“Don’t worry about it,” Kylie said. “She was probably trying to follow him—like she always does. She’s so pathetic.”
Kylie was trying to make me feel better, but Lauren was far from pathetic. After all, she was pretty much the “Most Likely to Succeed” poster girl. While she was out overachieving and saving the world without messing up her perfect, bouncy hair, I was trying to get through each day. I tried to push away the image of Lauren and Brendon holding hands and drinking hot chocolate under a stadium blanket.

Purchase:
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2m5y9OC


 Follow Krysten

Bio: Besides mining her teen years and humiliating moments for her novels, ​Krysten is a also a book addict who has never met a bookstore she didn’t like. She’s worked as a journalist and writes young adult, middle grade, new adult, and adult fiction as well as humor essays. She is originally from Michigan and has lived in Portugal, South Dakota, and currently resides in southwestern Ohio where you can find her reading and writing when she’s not catching up on her favorite shows (she's addicted to American Dad to the point where she quotes episodes on a daily basis and also loves Girl Meets World). She's also a third generation Detroit Lions fan.
Krysten writes about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, crushes, fame, first loves, and values. She is the author of True Colors, Best Friends...Forever?, Next Door to a Star,  Landry in Like, and Competing with the Star (The Star Series: Book 2). Her debut novel, True Colors, won the Readers Favorite award for best preteen book. Krysten's work has been featured in USA Today, The Flint Journal, the Grand Haven Tribune, the Beavercreek Current, the Bellbrook Times and on Living Dayton.

Praise for Dating the It Guy:
“A sweet, endearing story—you’ll fall in love with Emme just like I did!” --Kimber Leigh Wheaton, YA/NA author

"Hager's authentic characters will resonate with readers of all ages as they are immersed in the story  - complete with teen drama and angst, but also the relationships which make it all worthwhile." --  Leslie L. McKee, book reviewer, Edits and Reviews by Leslie

Friday, March 17, 2017

Netflix Review: Downfall



Downfall is a strangely compelling film. Not only do we know the ending, and the fate of all major characters, before we start, but we also have no heroes to root for, and the villains... well, we really couldn't hate them any more, could we?

And yet, unlike so many yawn-inducing historical dramas, this one holds our rapt attention throughout, and leaves us with much food for thought afterwards. Why is that? Are we still so fascinated with all things Hitler? Do we find satisfaction in seeing evil men and their immediate enablers get their due? Does the girl-next-door character of Traudl Junge provide enough of a different perspective to make us care--something impossible to do with the more important historical figures?

I suppose all of the above are true, but there's more depth to this particular version of the well-known story. The claustrophobic setup, both in the physical location and in the sense of immediate, inevitable doom, allows us to see all the players as we perhaps had not seen them before, at least outside of obscure historical documents.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the claim that Downfall humanizes Hitler. Some would even say he is shown as sympathetic. I admit there are moments where, having been accustomed to think of him as an abstraction, a stand-in for "monster," the viewer is surprised that he is, after all, just a man. He is kind to his employees. He clearly loves Eva. He personally makes sure his dog dies a quick death rather than starve in the ruins of Berlin or be shot by a passerby. It's almost tempting, especially considering his many temper tantrums, the best of which has been turned into a Youtube sensation, to attribute the horrors he inflicted on the world to insanity.

That, however, would be a lie. After all, the movie provides us enough moments of Hitler, perfectly relaxed and coherent, casually dismissing compassion as weakness; refusing to grant mercy to his former associates and German people alike; and counting the destruction of Jews as his crowning achievement. He might be delusional in some ways, particularly in his insistence during the first half of the movie that a military victory is still possible. But he isn't insane. If anything, while most of his underlings (and his lover, for that matter) spend their remaining time drinking themselves into oblivion, Hitler doesn't as much as break his dietary restrictions. His very last meal is vegetarian, and he makes a point to thank the cook after he is finished.

Nor is Hitler alone in this duality. Martha Goebbels is at once a proud mother and a cold-blooded killer. She also is sane, at least by legal definition, choosing loyalty to her lost cause over life itself. In perhaps the best demonstration of the power that evil ideals can have over seemingly normal human beings, she methodically poisons her children in their sleep. If the future is not the way she had envisioned, then it's not worth having. In her mind, it's as simple and logical as that.

Mind you, there are a few sympathetic characters sprinkled in: a father trying to convince his last remaining child to come home from the street fighting; doctors trying to save lives in the midst of carnage; even one of Hitler's close associates risking his life in coming back to Berlin in the last-ditch attempt to convince the boss to give up on the needless destruction. And then, of course, there is our nominal protagonist Traudl Junge, a young secretary who is so clueless of her surroundings that she takes the appearance of the Goebbels children in the bunker as a sign of hope rather than a harbinger of doom. The scene when she finally understands the truth is one of the more heartbreaking moments because we realize just how very innocent she is.

Except... as the older, wiser Traudl reminds us at the conclusion of the story, youth is no excuse, and it wasn't a case of true innocence, but willful ignorance. At the age of twenty-two, this smart, poised woman went to work for one of the most evil men in history and ended up providing a measure of comfort to him in his last days. As sins go, it's a minor one, but it's easy to understand why she spent her life feeling guilty for not choosing a different path.

I think in the end, Traudl is the character who discovers the lesson of the movie, and the reason it's so fascinating to watch. Fantastical creatures, cackling hags and monsters under the bed make for great fiction because storytellers are able to distill evil to its essence. But in real life it's very likely to appear only as a middle-aged man with funny hair who loves his dog and eats his spinach. As the last line of the movie reminds us, it's possible to find out the truth. All we can hope for in our own lives is to see the truth before it's too late.

Highly recommended.

Purchase Downfall on Amazon

Traudl Junge's memoir on Amazon

Thursday, March 2, 2017

CLFA 2017 Book of the Year Voting is now Open!

No obnoxiously over-priced gowns. No celebrities telling you how unworthy you really are. No falling props or envelope malfunctions. Just great books by freedom-loving authors, and you decide who gets the award! My novel Chasing Freedom is among the finalists.

From Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance website:

The nominations are in and counted, and the CLFA is thrilled to present our ten finalists for the CLFA Book of the Year 2017!
Beginning in January 2017, CLFA members have been hard at work, compiling a list of our favorite 2016 releases. We ran several rounds of voting to refine the list to the top ten in the survey. For the final winner, we always open up voting to the public.
Click here and follow the big red button to vote. Good luck to all and may the best book win!









Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New Blog Reviews for Chasing Freedom

Yesterday, I was delighted to receive two glowing reviews on my novel.

From Jagi Lamplighter Wright of Superversivesf:

Chasing Freedom is a lovely tale in the tradition of the old distopias–Brave New World, Animal Farm, We. Unlike nearly every other distopia, Chasing Freedom starts in a world that is practically our own and shows the disintegration of a world in the grips of bureaucratic tyranny and the rise of a new resistance full of hope and willing to bear the terrible price...
A chilling yet inspiring tale beautifully told.

From Daniel Humphreys, author of A Place Outside the Wild and Fade:

This is no ‘Red Dawn’ or ‘Equilibrium’. Yes, while the freedom fighters are more than willing to use force and violence to achieve their means, it’s not the preferred method. In a sense, this answers the question, and quite well — how would one put a nation back together again, should it come to arms? 

Read more of the review here. By the way, Mr. Humphreys gets instant cred from yours truly for even knowing what Equilibrium is, let alone referring to it in proper context. Personally, I enjoyed the movie very much, but was always bothered by an abrupt "we won, now what?" kind of ending. It's not uncommon to dystopias, and is definitely something I wanted to avoid in my novel. It sounds like I succeeded, at least in that regard. 

And now, to quote Scott Adams, "Buy my book! It has words!"

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Day in the Life of Joe (Blue State Edition)

***Cross-posted from Superversivesf.com***

NOTE: The following is a response to “A Day in the Life of Joe Republican,” meant to demonstrate the usefulness of Progressive policies in everyday life. The original is in italics, and my “re-write” is in bold.


Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee.
Joe gets up at 6 a.m. to prepare his morning coffee. Then he remembers that he doesn’t have any real coffee. All the coffee beans are now Free Trade and Organic, so he can’t afford to buy them anymore. He measures out the instant coffee powder into his mug and fills it with water.

The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.
The water trickles very slowly into the mug because his kitchen is equipped with low-flow faucets, as per the new regulations. After a couple of minutes, the mug is full and he heats the coffee in the microwave.

With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.
With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication. It’s not as effective as the one he used to take, but FDA banned the medication that worked for him because it could cause miscarriages. Joe tried to explain to his doctor that he was not in danger of a miscarriage, but there was nothing to be done.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.
The medication used to only have a $10 co-pay, but now Joe has to pay $50 because the union negotiated the new insurance plan that covers in-vitro fertilization for female employees, and the cost had to be made up by reducing pharmacy coverage.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

He prepares his morning breakfast, a bowl of organic oatmeal. He misses his eggs and bacon, but a carton of eggs is $10 at his local supermarket because the eggs came from free range chickens who only eat organic corn. Bacon is illegal in his town because it offends his Muslim neighbors.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.
In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. It doesn’t clean his hair very well, but it’s made of bio-degradable vegetable based ingredients that are safe for the local wildlife. He takes care to finish the shower after 2 minutes to comply with the city water restrictions.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.
Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. He coughs from inhaling the car exhaust fumes. His street is now much more crowded with cars because one of the two lanes is reserved for bikes. It’s the middle of winter so no one is riding a bike, but the law still applies.

He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.
He walks to the subway station and sticks the Metro Card into the slot. It’s rejected because the fare just went up again and he needs to re-charge the card more often. Luckily, he has plenty of time because the loudspeaker just said something about a delay, and judging by the crowd on the platform, he may not even get into the next train anyway. Joe had to give up his car last year because the new 35% parking tax at the garage. At least he doesn’t have to worry about gas prices going up. The thought energizes him enough to push his way through the crowd and make it inside the train just before the doors slide shut.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.
Joe begins his work day. He’s an excellent worker, but only received a 2% increase last year because he reached the top of his pay grade and can now only get inflation adjustments. His usual partner has been on paid leave for the last week to take care of a sick pet. The union fought very hard for that concession, and Joe was happy when they won. Now he’s not very happy because he needs to cover the station on with a less experienced employee, but it’s worth it to have the union benefits for everyone.

Joe is home from work… He turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.
Joe is home from work. He turns on the evening news. The news anchor keeps saying that conservatives are bad and liberals are good. He doesn’t mention that the beloved Democrats have passed laws and regulations that caused many of the difficulties and sacrifices Joe faces throughout the day.

Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

Joe agrees: “It’s a good thing we don’t have those free-market conservatives in charge! After all, I’m just a regular man who believes the government should make everyone’s lives easier, just like they’ve done for me.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

Heroes. We Keep Using that Word...

Here it comes. My obligatory Milo post. The Internet is full of them. Here are a few of my favorites that I think cover the situation very well. If your first inclination is to run away screaming, you probably need to read at least a a couple before moving on to the rest of the blog.

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To start, one of the the more level-headed articles from Dystopic. A good summary of facts, including the actual video. A short piece from John C. Wright is a good companion because it explains more about the mechanics of the editing that was done to the original source. (More from Wright below).

Here are a couple of posts talking about the wider implications, for those who care about the culture war (less level-headed, but on point):

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance
Brian Neimeier

Still don't care? Sarah Hoyt tells you why you should.

Finally, Moira Greyland Peat offers a unique perspective. A hard one to read because of the subject matter, but necessary.

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Assuming you're still here, a few thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for, oh, a few months now.

As much of a political junkie as I am, my other passion is for storytelling, as per the tagline of my blog. During the Presidential election, something started bugging me and has now, with the Milo revelations and the fallout, coalesced into a two-part question:

Why does modern storytelling standard demand the heroes to be flawed?

And if that is the case, should we not be more tolerant of flawed heroes in real life?

The answer to the first is many-fold:

Flawed heroes are generally more interesting, in part because they're more likely to fail and thus provide us with more suspense.

Since we the readers are also flawed, and since we have been conditioned to seek out fictional heroes who are "more like us," most of us have developed this preference.

A redemption-based story arc, that by definition demands a flawed protagonist, is one of the most enduring, and shows no sign of falling out of fashion.

On a more disturbing side, both Hollywood and traditional book/comic publishing have become enamored with undercutting the traditional hero archetype, bringing us anything from Superman the Deadbeat Dad to the "terrible people doing terrible things" story lines, of which The Game of Thrones is perhaps the most successful.

The second question is more puzzling.

If our artistic preferences indicate that we have internalized the fact that no perfect heroes exist, and art is supposed to represent the Truth, why are we so blind to it in real life?

For that matter, why are we so quick to make heroes out of athletes and celebrities, but overlook those who are actually working, and taking risks, to make a difference?

I think the rather tragic truth is that we're desperate for true heroes. But we have been told over and over they don't exist. So in one of those cruel ironies beloved by storytellers, we eagerly fill the void with remote and glamorous celebrities, while gleefully tearing down those among us who might be admirable but are proven on close inspection to be imperfect. It confirms our pre-conceived notions. We tell ourselves there wasn't much worth appreciating in the first place, and we go on our no-so-merry way on the road that leads, not to finding better ideas and people to admire, but to the dead end of nihilism.

To be sure, real heroes are not immediately obvious. Sometimes it takes years, even generations, to see the full extent of a person's sacrifice and achievement, if that ever happens at all. But what I ask is, when you do see a spark of the heroic, even when it's wrapped inside a less than stellar package, do take time to notice and appreciate it, even if only for a while. Disappointment is always a risk, in fact almost an inevitability. Yet the alternative of retreating into a permanent state of cynical dismissal, of accepting that the days of heroes are forever behind us, is not one worth contemplating.

_______________________________________

And now as promised, more from John C. Wright. The quote below had me giggling throughout the day, but it's not a happy laughter. There are some people who need to read this one and realize that this is exactly how they come across. It isn't pretty.

Is he [Milo] a shameful and terrible spokesman for our beautiful Church? Yes, indeed, I fear he is. When I get to heaven, I will certainly chide Saint Mary Magdalene the whore and St. Matthew the tax-gathering collaborator, wag my finger under their noses, and demand to know why persons of doubtful morals speak up for Christ, embarrassing the righteous and the just.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Culture War and the Cost of Silence: a Sequel.

Only a couple of days after a blog post regarding the choices we on the Right have to make about speaking up in a potentially hostile environment, I came across this article in New York Post.

At first glance, the story of Chadwick Moore, a gay journalist who saw his life fall apart as a result of, essentially, doing his job too well, is tragic. Losing friends over politics is hard enough, as many on both sides of the left/right divide had discovered over the last several months. How much harder must it be for someone whose social circle is already limited? In this case the circle in question is the gay community in New York City, but the particulars are almost irrelevant.

In this day and age, politics invades every part of life. As the saying goes, you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you, and boy oh boy, is it ever. Whether you're a gay man who just wants to grab some drinks with a friend, a geek author looking forward to attending a con, or a suburban mother trying to have fun on a Girls' Night Out -- the danger of being condemned and shunned for a single show of non-conformity seems to lurk around every corner.

But wait, you might ask, doesn't the article, and many similar, less newsworthy examples, argue precisely for the silence, not against it? After all, who wants to suffer such terrible fate?

Ah, but if you read to the end of the story, you will discover that it has as much of a happy ending as one might expect outside of a feel-good Hollywood movie. I know, those are hard to find nowadays, but stick with me here. Having been forcibly ejected from his comfortable bubble of "friends" who liked only their perception of him, not who he really was, Mr. Chadwick had to look beyond. He opened up to new ideas (Ann Coulter, of all people?), re-connected with his Iowa farmer father, and even, in defiance of a strange post-election phenomenon among Leftists, started dating again. A Republican construction worker. No matter what your views are on homosexuality, this has to make you smile, just a little.

And so, to expand on my prior comments about the cost of silence, there is one that I overlooked. The biggest cost, when it comes down to it, is ignorance. My husband, upon reading the story, compared Mr. Chadwick's experience to that of someone taking the red pill in The Matrix. Believe it or not, unlike myself or other politically inclined Internet dwellers, he had never heard of "re-pilling" being a popular expression in certain circles. It truly just came to him as the best analogy, and he is, of course, correct.

To be clear, I don't encourage anyone to endanger their livelihood. Heck, nowadays even physical safety is not a given, what with the Soros thug brigades prowling the streets looking for "Nazis" to assault. But IF you can, WHEN you can, it might be a good idea to find out which parts of your life are solid, which of your friends are real, and what else could possibly be out there. Otherwise, you're just stuck in an artificial world, vaguely wondering why you can't sleep at night and everything seems to taste like chicken.