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Book Review: Article Three

I was extremely lucky to be gifted an English version of this originally Swedish dystopian YA novel from the author herself for unbiased review. I spent my Christmas holiday reading this book and enjoyed it immensely!

article3

Trust will get you killed – and trust will keep you alive

In a world where the System governs everything, Ava’s a rebel – one who can control other people’s thoughts with her mind. As part of a resistance movement preparing for war, this is a useful skill.

Levi stopped believing in the struggle for freedom when it snatched his parents from him. Now he’s just trying to live a quiet life and control the voices that threaten his sanity.

One night Levi’s sister is arrested. To free her, he has to break old promises and get involved with people he swore he’d never associate with. Ava’s ordered to help him and, together, they leave on a rescue mission. She says he has to trust the rebels. But should they?

First of all, I tend to have a hate and hate-some-more relationship with translations, especially translations from languages I’m somewhat familiar with. While my Swedish definitely isn’t good enough to allow me to read this novel in its original form, I feel I know just enough of the language to be thoroughly irritated when I sense it going wrong. This book, however, was translated very well! There are a few instances of incorrect word use or slightly clunky syntax, but it was never enough to annoy me. And this book gets huge bonus points for being a self-published translation as well! I have read some truly atrocious Big House translations! Okay, but let’s get to the story…

This is a YA dystopian and starts off feeling comfortingly familiar with several identifiable tropes that have made this sub-genre of sci-fi so immensely popular. What made it so different and refreshing is that Lund presents us with a trio of main characters made up of strong, independent young women, and a physically weak, not particularly good-looking guy who freely admits that he isn’t all that smart either. Levi is the antithesis of every brave, buff, and (supposedly) intelligent hero of YA fiction. Forget Roar or Four or Gale – Levi is none of those things and yet, it’s his faults and ineptitude that make him so endearing, not only to the readers but to the women in his team.

Another refreshing aspect to this story was the Scandinavian setting. Without giving too much away, I can say that this book starts off somewhere in what might be the remnants of Germany and takes the trio on a several thousand-kilometre journey north through Denmark, past some well-known sites, to a snowy Sweden where they even get to interact with Sami reindeer herders! Being a resident of the north myself, it was pretty awesome getting to read a YA dystopian novel set in this part of the world.

And finally, the touch of near-supernatural that comes into the story in the form of ‘faculties’ some people possess – that is, explicable talents such as a form of mind reading – makes this a little different again from the way dystopian books usually play out, and another layer to already well-developed characters.

For a first book in a trilogy, the pacing is great and the resolution was satisfying while leaving plenty more story to be told in the sequels. But herein also lies my only gripe. While I know this is a series and Lund is very much going for a slow-burn approach to revealing the characters and their motivations, I did feel like I wanted to get to know the trio all much better as individuals. There are brief moments of flashbacks explaining their behaviour or thoughts but I wanted so much more! I also have to note that the ‘accent’ with which the one character speaks is really distracting and I wish it hadn’t been written into all their dialogue. So two gripes then – both fairly minor things.

Overall, this book is a refreshing take on the dystopian genre, a great first installment in a promising trilogy, and definitely a book I’d recommend to readers who are looking for something fresh in their YA sci-fi.

4/5 ink splats from me!

4 inksplats

~Suzanne~

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Posted by on January 1, 2017 in Reviews

 

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How to Twist Tropes for Fun and Profit by Delilah S. Dawson

upside

I didn’t get psychic powers the day I got my period, which really disappointed me. Stephen King’s Carrie was the first book that made me realize there was a really slim possibility that when one became a woman, one could also become a pyrotechnic mutant capable of exacting revenge. That was one of the first tropes I remember seeing twisted in a story, and I found it very satisfying. Instead of menstruation causing panic and fear, it could trigger empowerment—and someone was actually talking about it instead of acting like it was some shameful secret. That’s why I covered the trope of First Period Panic in the Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling from Apex Book Company, although my protagonist’s new powers further twist the trope in a different direction from Carrie.

The goal of Upside Down was to bring together a wide variety of writers working in fiction and nonfiction and let them twist the tropes that we see so frequently—or discuss and define the tropes. For many of us, it was a delight to take an annoying literary conceit that usually makes us roll our eyes– a chainmaille bikini, really? And turn that on its head. After writing their story, each author was asked to explain their trope and why they chose it, which further enhances the reading experience. It’s almost like reading secrets. It’s got great stories on the Damsel in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Chosen One, The Super Soldier, The Black Man Dies First, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Blind People are Magic, and so many more, often written by people who have experienced these tropes first hand.

I love twisting tropes in my books, and here’s how I make sure the story is about more than just a single twist.

  1. Decide on a trope to twist, usually in a fit of anger. Wake of Vultures, for example, is based on watching Lonesome Dove and being annoyed that women in the Wild West could only be portrayed as whores, martyrs, or lunatics, and also that people of color had very little power during that time of history.

  2. Craft a protagonist who embodies the twist and will be uniquely challenged by the world. In Wake of Vultures, that’s Nettie Lonesome, a mixed race girl raised as a slave who longs to be a cowboy.

  3. Create a rich world that offers tons of possibilities while uniquely challenging the protagonist. I wanted Nettie Lonesome to be more than just a regular cowboy, so I turned mid-1800s Texas into Durango, an alt version of our own history that’s full of monsters. Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, harpies. Taking it a step further, I looked at the Texas Rangers and their spotted past and turned them into a monster hunting outfit … that sometimes performs atroticities in the name of what they consider public safety. And then I made Nettie become a monster-hunting Ranger. So … instant conflict.

  4. Begin the book just before the moment when everything changes so that we see where the protagonist begins and go with them on their journey. Wake of Vultures starts when Nettie is awakened from her nest of rags and goes outside at midnight to find … well, the beginning of her story.

  5. Find places in the plot where the protagonist will fail, nearly fail, or make stupid mistakes. I was also sick of women in stories being simpering and polite, so I made Nettie rough, rude, and violent, which gets her in plenty of trouble.

  6. At any point where you must make a decision, don’t go with what’s expected. Part of twisting tropes is to delight the reader by doing something new. There was one point where Nettie was feeling sick, and instead of having her be super tough, I decided she would be the victim of a troublesome digestion. She threw up on a coyote … who was actually a person. They had lots of arguments, from then on.

  7. Discover new tropes to twist along the way. In Wake of Vultures, a shapeshifter named Coyote Dan shows up to help Nettie and seems like he might be playing into the “Magical Negro/Native” trope, but he busts up that trope pretty fast.

  8. Remember that every character is the hero of their own story. Each character needs motivation, a reason to be near the protagonist or to push them away. The villain needs to have good reasons for what they’re doing. Ultimate Evil is just another crappy trope. Real people are ambiguous, not all good or all evil. The bad guys Nettie fights are never just in it for the hand-wringing Dr. Evil of it all.

  9. Have fun with it. Part of the joy of twisting tropes is to explore new ground. Everybody else went down the trope path, but you’re forging a new trail. If you get bored writing it, the reader will get bored reading it. So spice is up. When in doubt, throw in some sex or violence, I always say. Nettie agrees on both counts.

For more ideas on how to twist tropes, pick up a copy of Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. Believe me: You’ll find plenty to love. And plenty of blood, at least in my story.

delilahauthorpicDelilah S. Dawson is the author of the Blud series, the Hit series, Servants of the Storm, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon and Scorched, and Wake of Vultures and the Shadow series, written as Lila Bowen. Her first comic, Ladycastle, is out in January with BOOM! Studios. She teaches writing online at LitReactor.com and lives with her family in the north Georgia mountains. Find her online at www.whimsydark.com.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2016 in Guest Post

 

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Film Review: Ex Machina

Ages ago I saw the trailer for this ‘indie’ film – directed by The Beach writer Alex Garland – featuring relatively unknown actors and a really interesting looking plot. Then I completely forgot about it until I was bored over the holidays and accidentally stumbled across it thanks to the suggested watch-list on IMDB. So I watched it and I was not disappointed.

ex machina

I love films about artificial intelligence. All the various forms and manifestations and imaginings these types of stories come up with never cease to amaze me, and lately, possibly bore me, because so many of these stories fall into trope-ish territory and become extremely predictable while trying to be thought-provoking.

Ex Machina starts out feeling familiar but strange, playing with the ‘mad scientist’ theme while giving us a ‘normal dude’ to champion through all the indie-film weirdness. Then comes the main body of the plot, which starts to feel even more familiar and predictable, and I endured with a multitude of sighs thinking I knew exactly where the story was going. Without ruining a rather unexpected and pretty interesting ending, suffice it to say, I did not see that coming and found the twist rather refreshing and genuinely thought provoking about how our humanity could be used against us by more subtle and insidious machines. Honestly, I felt a lot more freaked out by some of the ideas presented in this film than I have with any other AI story.

There was a lot to like about this movie, but I think Garland (writer and director of this movie) still played it safe in presenting male human characters creating and becoming entranced by a beautiful, sexy, sensual female android. There was literal objectification of women going on in this movie and not in a snarky, feminist-undertone kind of way. The entire premise actually relied on the tired idea of an average man being beguiled by a beautiful woman, a femme fatale even. I think it would’ve been fascinating to explore the same story idea with the genders reversed.

That said, this movie still made me think long after the credits rolled and I really enjoyed Alicia Vikander as the android Ava. Ex Machina gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: The Martian

Back in March, I reviewed this book knowing I would eventually end up seeing the film, which I did!

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It’s a proven fact that any book-to-movie adaptation is going to divide an audience into those you think it was done well to the point of being fantastic and possibly better than the text, and those who think it was done badly to the point of being a travesty against the written word itself. It’s rare that someone who has enjoyed a book – loved it even – will take the middle ground with the film adaptation. Strangely, I find myself feeling about the movie quite the same way I felt about the book, which is that it’s helluva entertaining, but lacks gravitas, and thus I’m in that liminal middle-ground regarding this adaptation.

The Martian is Ridley Scott in high-gear, not quite Gladiator gear given a few peculiar editing sequences (more noticeable if you’ve read the book) and no breathtaking Hans Zimmer score to accompany it (I honestly could’ve even remember the music in the movie – composed by Harry Gregson-Williams who can certainly compose some awesome scores!). I actually went to the cinema to watch this with my husband who has read the book too and a few other friends, none of whom had read the book – so opinions after the credits rolled were going to be interesting, and I suspected, divisive.

So…

I enjoyed the film. It was funny, managing to capture quite a bit of Mark Watney’s humor while maintaining its PG rating, and Matt Damon did a good job of showing a more emotional-psychological aspect of the character. I still wanted more however. The tone of the film was kept light and breezey, at times even lighter than the book, playing up the absurdity of his situation rather than the serious life-or-death nature of Watney’s every action and decision. Consequently, the movie – like the book – was highly entertaining, but was a little disappointing because it seemed to make his journey appear a lot easier than in the book. What made the book exceptional was how it showed Watney’s thought processes and his step by step ‘applying the scientific method’ approach to everything he did. In the movie, much of his space-MacGyvering is whittled down to Eureka moments that never really show just how intelligent, adaptive, and resourceful the character is in the book. Those who have read the book will undoubtedly be disappointed that certain key parts of the narrative and some particularly nasty mishaps on Mars are left out of the film altogether. Because a lot of the method gets skimmed over, if addressed at all, there are certain things that simply are in the film without any explanation – such as the ‘balloon’ on the rover. This frustrated my friends who hadn’t read the book because they felt like they had missed something, and this frustrated me who had read the book because it was clear the movie-makers had missed something! That said, the scenery is spectacular and at no point did I ever not believe I was actually on Mars. For that reason alone, I am extremely thankful I went to see this on the big screen.

The verdict on this film is much like the verdict on the book: entertaining, engrossing while watching, humorous and good press for NASA and science in general, but not a story that will leave me thinking, pondering existential questions, or haunted by the plight of this lonely astronaut – all things I believe this story should and could’ve done without losing any of its cool sci-fi-ness. Still, this scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Guest Post: Literary Social Science Fiction

Today I’m handing over to Robert Eggleton, the author of the satirical Rarity from the Hollow, discussing Literary Social Science Fiction.

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997, and which also included publication of models of serving disadvantaged and homeless children in the community instead of in large institutions, research into foster care drift involving children bouncing from one home to the next — never finding a permanent loving family, and statistical reports on the occurrence and correlates of child abuse and delinquency. Today, he is a recently retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston , West Virginia , where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. http://www.childhswv.org/ Robert continues to write fiction with new adventures based on a protagonist that is a composite character of children that he met when delivering group therapy services. The overall theme of his stories remains victimization to empowerment.

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Saving an entire universe is a big job for anybody, though. It takes more than just magic. Lacy Dawn needs a team and a very strong sense of humor. First, she motivates the android into helping her fix her family by putting her foot down and flat out telling him that she won’t save the universe unless he helps her first. The android agrees to the terms.

After Lacy Dawn’s father is cured of his mental health problems and stops being so mean to Lacy Dawn and her mom, Lacy Dawn next arranges for her to mother get her rotten teeth replaced, pass her GED, and to get a driver’s license. The mother feels so much better about herself that she also joins the team. By this time, the android has fallen so deeply in love with Lacy Dawn that she has him wrapped around her little finger.

Add a pot head neighbor who sells marijuana and has a strong sense for business transactions, Brownie, a dog who proves to have tremendous empathy for the most vile occupants of any planet, and Faith, the ghost of Lacy Dawn’s best friend who was murdered by her own father — the team is ready to embark on a very weird off-world adventure.

Working together, the team figures out how a few greedy capitalists had made such a mess of the entire universe and how to prevent its destruction without intentionally killing one single being.

Rarity from the Hollow is a Children’s Story For Adults. The content includes serious social commentary and mature satire. There are graphic scenes in the first chapters before Lacy Dawn’s family is fixed.

 

“…You will enjoy the ride with Lacy Dawn, her family and friends, but don’t expect the ride to be without a few bumps, and enough food to last you a long time.”

— Darrell Bain, Award Winning Author

Literary Social Science Fiction

Life can be tough, that’s for sure. Most of us need a break from reality at least every now and then, in one way on another, and to some degree. Of all addictions, reading is probably the least harmful, and sometimes it may be healthful or beneficial during our individual pursuits of happiness. Books present a terrific way to temporarily escape from the stress of real-life. Many people read “genre” fiction, like young adult, mystery, fantasy, or romance novels. Other people choose to read “literary” fiction. It is less about escaping from reality and more like escaping into reality, if that makes sense. Real-life issues, like racism or poverty, are often part of a character driven literary fiction story. Genre fiction tends to leave out such issues and is more plot driven with action and imaginary detail. While these two may sound very different, they share a common function — entertainment. Different strokes for different folks, right? I read both literary and genre fiction.   

Of course, some books don’t fit neatly within this or that box, literary or genre. Plus, there are a zillion subgenres, like paranormal romance or young adult science fiction and some of them may very well address the human condition, a criterion that some apply to distinguish literary from genre fiction, such as dystopian or utopian adventure stories. Sometimes critics will use the term, “popular” in reference to genre fiction. What about The Color Purple?  Few would argue that this story was both literary fiction and very popular literature. Plus, nobody really cares because it was a GREAT story, regardless of where it fits within the schematic. What the heck does “highbrow” mean? Is it a story with excessive adjectives and adverbs with a few big words thrown in? In my opinion, nobody writes any fancier than Ursula K. LeGuin, a genre fiction writer, and if someone does, I’ll just call it something that I don’t want to read, or write.

For me, if I privately reflect on the words of a story long after the last page has been turned, experience the magic of the story over and over again, I’ve just read a “literary” work. On the other hand, if I give a story little deep thought after I’ve finished it, that book may fall within “genre” literature. Any fiction story can have great (or poor) writing. Commercial or “the-most-popular-kid-in-school” type of fiction may not have anything to do with quality. Originality of ideas may set literary fiction apart from some genre fiction because genre fiction may be more likely to have fan bases, such those readers who are so in love with Harry Potter that no other boy will do.  

You know how two biological species cannot successfully mate? That’s not the case with book. Another animal exists. Its first name is “literary” and its middle name is the genre of the story. As examples, there is literary science fiction, literary fantasy, and, conceivably, any other genre. A story that falls into the “western” genre could have the first name “literary” if it has strong characters who address sexism in the Wild West instead of just more gunfights at the OK Corral.

I selected the SF/F backdrop for my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow, because it was the best fit by process of elimination. While it is a fun read, the story does include early scenes and references to tragedy: child maltreatment, poverty, domestic violence, and mental illness in contemporary America . As such, it was not a good fit to the historical or western genres, although the social problems addressed in the story have existed throughout history, and are not restrained by our world’s geography, cultures, or religions. I felt that biographical and nonfiction wouldn’t work because the story would have been so depressing that only the most determined would have finished it. The story had to be hopeful and I especially wanted it to inspire survivors of child maltreatment toward competitiveness within our existing economic structures, instead of people using past victimization as an excuse for inactivity. I didn’t think that anybody would bite on the theme of a knight on a white stallion galloping off a hillside to swoop victims into safety, like in the traditional romance genre. That almost never actually happens in real life, so the romance genre was too unrealistic as the primary. There was already enough horror in the story, so that genre was out too. What could be more horrific than child abuse?

The protagonist and her traumatized teammates needed fantastical elements to achieve empowerment. But, as in life, one cannot overcome barriers by simply imagining them away. That’s where the science fiction came into play. It provided a power source. I tied the science fiction to Capitalism because in today’s reality it will take significant financial investment by benefactors to improve the welfare of children in the world, and to invest in economic development. As symbolized in the story, I feel that our governments are unlikely to fund effective solutions to social problems in the near future because of the politics. The systems in place to help victims of these types of problems are woefully inadequate.

At the 2013 International Skoll Forum, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh reportedly said something like, “We have science fiction and science follows….” He heads a company that loans money to entrepreneurs who live in impoverished areas and who would not otherwise qualify for financial assistance. Dr. Mark Manary of America headed a scientific breakthrough in the processing of peanut butter that is having a significant impact on the social problem of child malnutrition. It’s called a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and is made in Malawi , Sierra Leone , and Ghana . The lives of thousands of African children have already been saved by RUTF. In the 1970s, Ursula K. LeGuin was credited with coining the term, “social science fiction.” It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think any of these famous people are talking about new cell phone technology.

Since Rarity from the Hollow has been pegged as drama, comedy, satire, horror, romance, paranormal, science fiction…I decided to tell the world the proper term for the kind of writing that I enjoy — literary social science fiction cross genre. How’s that for a mouthful? Despite the use of colloquialism, I consider my novel to be literary because there’s enough food for thought to last a long time. So what if there ain’t no fancy words in the story? I consider it to be social science fiction because the story not only includes social commentary, but needs science fiction to pull off its mission — to raise funds for the prevention of child abuse, yes, real-life kids, as real as world hunger. Author proceeds have been donated to child abuse prevention programs operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. Maybe I should call my writing science faction instead of science fiction because the correlates of society’s failure to help maltreated children are fact: addiction, poverty, crime, divorce, suicide, mental illness…      

Read the 1st Chapter here!

Buy the book here: Amazon | Doghorn Publishing

An Excerpt from Chapter 13

Jenny (the mother) walked up the hill to Roundabend. She called Lacy Dawn’s name every few yards. Her muddy tennis shoes slipped and slid.

            I hear her voice. Why won’t she answer me? 

            “Sounds like she’s talking to someone,” Jenny said to the Woods. 

            Nobody responded. The trees weren’t supposed to since Jenny was no longer a child. Her former best friends had made no long-term commitment beyond childhood victimization. They had not agreed to help her deal with domestic violence in adulthood. She hugged the closest tree.

            I will always love you guys. 

Jenny quickened her pace, stopped, and listened for human voices. A few yards later, she stopped again.   

            Now it sounds like she’s behind me instead of in front. 

            Jenny looked to the left of the path.

            There ain’t no cave Roundabend, but there it is. 

            She walked toward the entrance. The voices grew louder and she looked inside. Lacy Dawn sat on a bright orange recliner. Tears streamed down her face.  Jenny ran to her daughter through a cave that didn’t exit and into a blue light that did.

            “All right, you mother f**ker!”

            “Mom!” Lacy Dawn yelled. “You didn’t say, ‘It’s me’ like you’re supposed to (a traditional announcement mentioned earlier in the story).”

            DotCom (the android) sat naked in a lotus position on the floor in front of the recliner.  Jenny covered Lacy Dawn with her body and glared at him.   

            “Grrrrr,” emanated from Jenny.  It was a sound similar to the one that Brownie (Lacy Dawn’s dog) made the entire time the food stamp woman was at their house.  It was a sound that filled the atmosphere with hate.  No one moved.  The spaceship’s door slid shut.

            “Mommmmmy, I can’t breathe. Get up.”

            “You make one move you sonofabitch and I’ll tear your heart out,” Jenny repositioned to take her weight off Lacy Dawn.

            Stay between them.

            “Mommy, he’s my friend. More than my friend, we’re going to get married when I’m old enough — like when I turn fourteen. He’s my boyfriend — what you call it — my fiancé.” 

            “You been messin’ with my little girl you pervert!” Jenny readied to pounce. 

            “MOM!  Take a chill pill! He ain’t been messing with me. He’s a good person, or whatever. Anyway, he’s not a pervert. You need to just calm down and get off me.”

            Jenny stood up. DotCom stood up. Jenny’s jaw dropped.

            He ain’t got no private parts, not even a little bump.   

            “DotCom, I’d like to introduce you to my mommy, Mrs. Jenny Hickman. Mommy, I’d like to introduce you to my fiancé, DotCom.”

            Jenny sat down on the recliner. Her face was less than a foot from DotCom’s crotch and she stared straight at it. It was smooth, hairless, and odor free.  

            “Mrs. Hickman, I apologize for any inconvenience that this misunderstanding has caused. It is very nice to meet you after having heard so much. You arrived earlier than expected. I did not have time to properly prepare and receive. Again, I apologize.” 

            I will need much more training if I’m ever assigned to a more formal setting than a cave, such as to the United Nations.

            “Come on, Mommy. Give him a hug or something.”      

            Jenny’s left eye twitched. 

            DotCom put on clothing that Lacy Dawn had bought him at Goodwill. It hung a little loose until he modified his body. Lacy Dawn hugged her mother…    

            …(scene of Dwayne, the father, overheard by those in the spaceship while talking to himself)… “Besides, the transmitter was part of Daddy’s treatment. There’re a lot of other things that he did to help fix Daddy. DotCom is like a doctor. You can see that Daddy has gotten better every day. And no, there ain’t no transmitter in you. DotCom figured you out like a good doctor and the only things wrong are a lack of opportunity and rotten teeth that poison your body. You don’t need no transmitter. He just gave you a few shots of ego boost. I don’t know what medicine that is, but I trust him. You ain’t complained since the shots started — not even with an upset stomach.”

            “He’s a doctor?” Jenny asked.

            “What’s your problem anyway?” Lacy Dawn asked. “I know.  You’re prejudiced. You told me that people have much more in common than they do that’s different — even if someone is a different color or religion, or from a different state than us. You told me to try to become friends because sometimes that person may need a good friend. Now, here you are acting like a butt hole about my boyfriend. You’re prejudiced because he’s different than us.”

            “Honey, he’s not even a person – that’s about as different as a boyfriend can get,” Jenny said.

            “So?”

            Mommy’s right. Maybe I need a different argument.

            A fast clicking sound, a blur of motion, and a familiar smell assaulted them.

            “What’s that?” Jenny asked. 

            She moved to protect her daughter from whatever threat loomed. Brownie, who had been granted 27 / 7 access to the ship, bounded over the orange recliner, knocked DotCom to the floor, licked DotCom’s face, and rubbed his head on Jenny’s leg. He then jumped onto the recliner and lay down. His tail wagged throughout. Jenny sat down on the recliner beside Brownie and looked at Lacy Dawn.

            “But, you were crying when I first came in. That thing was hurting you.” Jenny shook her finger at DotCom to emphasize a different argument against him.

            “Mommy, I’m so happy that I couldn’t help but cry. My man just came home from an out-of-state job. I didn’t talk to him for a whole year. Before he left, he told me that he wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to come home. I still don’t know what happened while he was gone. We ain’t had no chance to talk. All I know is that he’s home and I’m sooooo happy.”

            “Your man came home from an out-of-state job?” Jenny patted Brownie on his head, some more and some more…. 

            It’s unusual for a man to promise to come back home and ever be seen again. Brownie likes him and that’s a good sign. Maybe she’s right about him helping Dwayne. Something sure did and it wasn’t me. It is a nice living room. They’ve been together for a while and I ain’t seen a mark on her. That’s unusual too. He ain’t got no private parts and that’s another good thing. Hell, if I get in the middle, she’d just run off with him anyway. Id better play it smart. I don’t want to lose my baby. 

            “What about his stupid name?” Jenny asked.

            “I’ve got a stupid name, too. All the kids at school call me hick because my last name is Hickman.”

            “My name was given to me by my manager a very long time ago. It represents a respected tradition — the persistent marketing of that which is not necessarily the most needed. I spam…,” DotCom said. 

            They both glared at him. 

            “Dwayne is sure to be home. I don’t want him to worry. Let’s go,” Jenny said. 

            “Okay, Mommy.”

            “I love you, DotCom,” Lacy Dawn stepped out the ship’s door, which had slid open. Brownie and Jenny were right behind her. 

            “I love you too,” DotCom said.

            Lacy Dawn and Jenny held hands and walked down the path toward home. The trees didn’t smile — at least not so Jenny would notice. On the other hand, no living thing obstructed, intruded, or interfered with the rite.   

            Jenny sang to the Woods, “My little girl’s going to marry a doctor when she grows up, marry a doctor when she grows up, when she grows up.  My little girl’s going to marry a doctor when she grows up, marry a doctor when she grows up, when she grows up….”

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2015 in Guest Post

 

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Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming

This book has been on my radar for ages. It’s also my first foray into the writings of Francesca Lia Block, but it certainly won’t be my last.

love global

Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

What you need to understand before you venture into this story is that this is less science fiction and more magical realism. While Block does attempt to provide some sciency answers to what’s happening in this post-apocalyptic world, most of what’s going on is decidedly trippy and surreal. If you start trying to make sense of what’s happening in terms of science and technology, you will not enjoy this book. Rather, suspend your disbelief, and embrace the bizarre yet beautiful landscape Block effortlessly crafts with elegant prose.

This is the first YA magical realism book I’ve ever read and I absolutely loved it. At first, I was wondering how on earth the author would justify what was happening, but I quickly ceased to care about the details as I became utterly engrossed in the story and emotionally invested in the characters. There isn’t an awful lot of plot in this book. It’s really just a roadtrip adventure through a surrealist landscape with some obvious goals to keep the story moving forward, but the plot isn’t what’s important here, it’s the characters. I should mention that this story is quite openly inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey, with some overt references to the classic. If you’re not au fait with Greek mythology, however, fret not as these references are fairly well explained given that the target audience is teens.

In the world of YA we talk a lot about diversity and the need for intersectionality – where minority meets minority – and this book delivers that in spades. While the story revolves around Pen – a teen girl coming to grips with her bisexuality – all four of the main cast members are queer teens. How refreshing to read about an entirely queer main cast! We have Hex, Ash, and Ez – each with their own gender identity, sexuality, racial identity, and socio-economic background. These traits are masterfully handled by Block so that at no time does the story seem preachy or like a lesson in privilege. Instead, the author weaves the back-stories of each character into the narrative in a way that helps the four friends understand each other and better come to terms with their situation.

In order to fully explain why I loved this book so much I need to give a few details about Hex and Pen which may seem spoilery, so skip the next paragraph if you’d prefer to avoid spoilers…

Hex is a trans boy with whom Pen falls in love. Their relationship brings to mind the unfurling of a flower as they get to know each other and their own hearts. I have never before read open-door sex featuring a trans character in YA fiction. Block handles the love scenes between Pen and Hex as she does everything else in this book, with an easy elegance that results in scenes of true beauty, scenes that are honest and open without becoming crass. I think it’s important to show trans teens having normal relationships and exploring those relationships physically without the usual genital fixation that comes from the cisgendered. This book shows that love is love, subtly giving the reader insight into Hex’s identity while also developing Pen’s character and burgeoning sexuality. Kudos to the author for going there in this book and doing it so well!

Spoilers are over!

This book has a dreamlike quality to it with refined prose referencing art and music in a way that made my nerd hurt extremely happy. References to Goya and Bosch abound – two of my favourite artists – so this was a personal win for me! For anyone who enjoys magical realism and is looking for something a little different, or is looking for a diverse read, I strongly recommend Love in the Time of Global Warming. I’m now going to hunt down the sequel and then make my way through the rest of Block’s works. 5/5 splats for this book!

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Reviews

 

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For Exposure: An Interview with Apex’s Jason Sizemore

What does it take to become a Hugo and Stoker Award-nominated editor and publisher? Follow Jason Sizemore’s unconventional professional path as it winds through a tiny, overheated Baptist church deep within the coal fields of Appalachia, Kentucky, past a busted printer and a self-serving boss that triggered an early mid-life crisis and the epiphany that he should open a magazine spreading the gospel of science fiction to the masses, all the way to WorldCon 2012 and his first Hugo Awards ceremony.
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In this collection of semi-true and sometimes humorous essays, Jason exposes the parties, people, and triumphs that shaped him into the Apex Overlord. He also lays bare the hardships and failures that have threatened to take it all away. Meet Thong Girl, heed the warning about the ham, receive rest stop bathroom wisdom, and visit an emergency room straight out of a horror movie in this extraordinary account of life as a publisher and editor.
With rebuttal essays from Maurice Broaddus, Monica Valentinelli, Lesley Conner, and more, For Exposure tells Jason’s story with insight from key players along his road to success. It is a comprehensive and frank look at what Apex and the genre publishing business is about. Take a shot with the publisher, dance the night away, and become a legend.

And do it all For Exposure.

 

Q. For Exposure seems to be equal parts Apex tell-all, an honest look at the publishing business in general, and a hopeful outlook on the next 10 years of Apex Publications. When you first set out to write the book, did you always intend to mix these themes or did you initially plan to focus more on one than the others?

A. One of my worst traits is that I am an optimistic. When something isn’t working out, my mindset isn’t “Cut my losses and run” but “If I simply work harder things will turn around.” Of course, you can’t just force of will into success, and some of these disastrous and poor decisions derived from my stubbornness I tried to share in For Exposure. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, ya know.

Q. Through Apex Magazine and Apex Book Company, you’ve gotten to work with some of the biggest names in speculative fiction: Lavie Tidhar, Brian Keene, Damien Angelica Walters just to name a few. Is there a particular author you were especially excited to work with?

A. Even after ten years in the publishing business, I still have many fan boy moments. You should have seen me at World Con in 2012 where I think I frightened Jacqueline Carey! My inner fan boy squealed when Tom Piccirilli contacted me with the pitch for What Makes You Die. I believe Tom has written one of the defining southern Gothic novels of our time: November Mourns. Having the opportunity to work with such a gifted writer has been a highlight of my career.

Q. A lot of the stories in For Exposure seem to occur at conventions. How many conventions to do you tend to attend in a year, and how important do you believe they are to the success of a small press publisher?

A. I try to do 5 proper conventions a year. They’re so time consuming, expensive, and exhausting that doing more than five is a real stress on a person’s stamina. Having said that, they’re incredibly fun and are important in terms of networking, promotion, and sales. Convention appearances by ‘Apex’ and associated staff is a lot more cost-effective than taking out an ad in a genre publication such as Locus. Genre small press makes a sizable percentage of revenue from the “true fans”, and many true fans attend conventions. So I believe attending major conventions is of the utmost importance.

Q. There is a particularly disturbing story in For Exposure about ham. Just reading it, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat it again. Do you eat ham or did the experience turn you off of it forever?

A. My mother-in-law makes a really tasty honey baked ham using Coca-cola. I loved that ham. After what happened in Nashville, it took me a couple of years before I could stomach eating her ham again. I’m sure my sudden, inexplicable distaste for her signature dish offended…but when you associate the smell and appearance of ham to the sound of sweaty thighs slapping together…

I’ll not go into further details. You just have to read it in the book.

Q. There are several rebuttal essays written by those who have been a part of Apex over the years. How was it asking people to write rebuttals to your essays? Was there anyone in particular that made you little nervous about the response you might get?

A. No one turned down an opportunity to write a rebuttal. Let’s just say that these people know me well and knew the safest recourse was to offer their sides of the story!

I didn’t feel nervous about any of the rebuttals. But there were a couple that I looked forward to reading the most. In particular, Lesley Conner and Monica Valentinelli. Lesley has worked closely with me for years. To get her perspective was fascinating. Monica’s rebuttal addresses a “controversial” incidental in the Apex mythology: the warm splatter. While I disagree with her take on the situation, I loved that she wrote such a funny, open, and honest(?) response.

Q. Your first book Irredeemable is a short story collection. Your second is nonfiction. Are there any novels in Jason Sizemore’s future?

A. Oh, I get this question a lot! The hope is “Yes, yes, there will be dozens.” The truth is “I don’t know, we will see.” I’m co-writing a novel with Maurice Broaddus titled Serpent. It’s a dark SF crime piece set in the slums of alternate Indianapolis where two factions fight over a new drug created by a preacher with the venom of the snakes he handles at his church.  I just need life to slow down enough for me to finish my part of the book.
 
Buy the book over here:

For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher

About Jason Sizemore:

Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions seeking friends and free food. Visit him online.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Interviews

 

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M.D. Thalmann

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist with an affinity for satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

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