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