All posts by SFF Book Bonanza

The World of The Children of Clay

by Ono Ekeh

The Children of Clay series is about a god, Queen Nouei, who is desperate for the respect of the other god in this world, Ryna. The series begins with the Queen declaring her intent to travel back in time, by reincarnating as a young woman, Bridget Blade. Her goal is to rewrite a few thousand years of history in two weeks (her time) to prevent her humiliation at the hands of the worshippers of Ryna.

The world of CoC series is very similar to ours. Queen Nouei is a god in a dystopian future, a couple of thousand years from the present. The world for much of the story, when she reincarnates, is the contemporary world. But if you look closely enough, you’ll see it is a very different world.

First, I should note that Ryna is the creator. But Nouei has done something ingenious. She has splintered Ryna’s world into millions of parallel worlds. Each world is indexed to different probability distributions. What does that mean?

In Icon of Clay, the third book of the series, Sister Kaypore explains the general idea. She asks Khzir Khan, what would be the probability of flipping a fair coin to get heads or tails. Khzir responds, “70-30”–a clue that this world is different. What this means is that if you flipped a fair coin a million times, you would get heads/tails seventy percent of the time and the other, thirty percent of the time. This is a 70-30 world. Which means the physics differs slightly from ours and the people are a little different.

The series begins with someone from the world of 100% probability index coming through to the world of zero-probabilities. I try to capture the uniqueness of the personality types of these separate worlds. The series, though moves quickly to the 70-30 world and that’s where most of the story will take place.

In terms of geography and culture, the countries are similar, there is a United States, China, France, etc. However, the history of the world is different, because in this world, there are two gods that are worshipped. At this point, Nouei/Bridget is not even on the radar as a god. Ryna is the god who’s been worshipped for millennia now, and in the past five hundred years, a new god has arisen, called Thysia. Ryna is a blood thirsty god in contrast to Thysia. So the series will see the decline of the worship of Ryna, whom the reader knows to be the actual true god.

Science and religion have no conflict in this world. In a 70-30 world, the people are more apt to be sure of themselves than not. For us, much of the conflicts between science and religion have to do with the degree to which evidence justifies belief in anything. In the world of this book, evidence functions differently. It is not necessarily a precursor to belief. So one does not need evidence to believe which means that there aren’t the sort of competing authorities claiming to be the source of knowledge.

The science and technology in this world is comparable to ours. In Books 4, 5, and 6, which are all partially written, we’ll see some significant technological differences, especially with autonomous vehicles and the infrastructure for such in place. The mathematics and physics differ from ours. I don’t address the physics much, but in Book 4, I hope to talk about the mathematics of the world a little more.

The series in the later books will move far into the future and there I’ll have to figure out how to create a highly sophisticated technological world in a dystopian context with its limited resources.

So this is the world of The Children of Clay series. I hope you’ve found it interesting.

Book Buyer’s Remorse: How to Not Hate Yourself

by Richard Parry

We’ve all been there. A book arrives on our Kindle/Kobo/iDevice, credit card already creaking from the strain of holiday shopping, and we think, Well, hot damn, but this book sucks.

At this point, it’s either suicide or push through, right?

The thing is, we also know how you got there. There are two paths.

  1. Recommendations from a friend. I tend to whitelist or blacklist my friends. One of my buddies kept pointing me at the most atrocious trash, with shills like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever read!” He’s been voted off the island, but I needed to burn a little time to get there. That’s no fun. One person’s gold is another person’s … you get the idea.
  2. Also-boughts by your retailer. Let’s be clear here: only about half the people in the world vote the way you do. Stands to reason only about half their recommendations are worthwhile. You can troll through these for the diamond in the rough, but if people’s views on Justin Bieber or their choices in interior decorating are anything to go by, most people have terrible taste. You do you.

Let’s see if we can build a sensible system for making clever purchases. I have a 5-step program that will save you time, money, and sanity. What’s not to like?

The Cover

You’ve been told before to never judge a book by a cover.

This is wrong. All your life, people have lied to you. This is just one of those times. Pick yourself up, move on. Along with the lies about potpourri making rooms smell better? The mighty falsehood of covers being a bad marker of book quality.

There are a lot of reasons to judge a book by its cover, but the main one is this: if it’s got a cover that a five-year-old did in MS Paint, odds are good a similar production quality has been applied to the rest of the book. You don’t have time to wade through bad editing, clumsy prose, and poor font choices.

If the cover looks clumsy, roll on by. Don’t know what I mean by a bad book cover? Well, I’m here to help.

[Hilariously Bad Book Covers] [Kindle Cover Disasters]

Star Ratings

Social proof is important. It’s difficult (not impossible, but tricky) to scam a bunch of reviews on popular retailers like Amazon. There are two tests you need to do here.

  • [Time in the Oven] If the book has fewer than ten reviews and is more than a couple months old, it’s likely a significant number of people bounced off it. Pull the ripcord, friend, and be free.
  • [Pure Gold] If the overall star rating is below 4 for an author-published book or below 3 for a traditionally-published book, it’s probably bad. This isn’t a hard and fast rule; the longer the book’s been alive, the more likely review scores will trend down (as writing evolves, ideas and approaches can appear stale or archaic after a while). But if it’s a new-ish release where even the advance readers gave it three stars? Run.

This isn’t to say that reviews are the be-all and end-all, but they’re useful. Scalzi has run the One-Star Challenge, showing that even Hugo winners get doused with kerosene and set alight.

[One-Star Roundup] [Accepting the One-Star Challenge] [One-Star Review Challenge]

Blurb

Read it. Seriously.

Blurbs tell you a bunch of things, but mostly they’ll tell you whether the story is interesting. Blurbs follow a formula that can be applied from epic fantasy through to food memoirs.

  • Character intro (just one, two at the most, not twelve). You should see a name and something about them.
  • The “Awww, hell no” thing that’s going on. This should be clear! If it’s a book about aliens, it will mention aliens.
  • What the character has to do to fix it. If this is some complicated snakes-and-ladders story about the protagonist and their twelve friends, the book is likely more confused than the blurb.
  • What happens if they don’t fix it. I’ve read a bunch of books where there was no real consequence. Friends, stories without consequence are boring.

Okay, I admit: maybe food memoirs don’t follow that exact formula, but fiction tends to. Signs of a confused story are too many characters, unclear goals, lack of consequence, and no agency for the protagonist. If you can check that list off, the book likely has a good story structure.

Review Quick Check

You thought we were done with reviews because I said, “Stars.” But we’re not. Stars are a broad-brush stroke, but they don’t dive into the heart of all issues.

We’ve all got trigger points. Maybe we don’t like books with a long time to payoff (I don’t want to read 800 pages of a 900-page book to get to the ‘good part’). Sometimes books have protagonists that are scum and kinda boring to boot (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are an epic fantasy about a jerk who should have been euthanized in the first part of the first book). Maybe the book is a mix of eleventy-billion genres (really, an orphan, who uses magic, in outer space, against aliens? Oh, and it’s a post-apocalyptic romance).

Whatever your triggers are, look for people in the reviews commenting on ‘em. If you’re past the first two checks, this is worth your time, because despite what the blurb and excerpt might tell you, others have waded through to mine the real gold in them there hills.

I skim a bunch of four- and two- star reviews. It takes about thirty seconds to pull out my trigger points. If I don’t see ‘em, we’re almost there.

Almost.

Dollar Threshold

This is the last trap. I remember a cry of pure rage from my wife, who had bought a new release from Neil Gaiman for about a hundred dollars, only to find it was a novella that she finished before dinner.

What you want to have in your own head is what length is worth to you. If you’re gonna drop a bunch of gold bullion on your latest read, it needs to give you value for your time.

Check the length of the book. If it feels expensive for the length, then wait for a sale.

Despite this, I’d also encourage against absolutes, which is why this part is last. I’ve read short books that changed my life that I got for a couple bucks. I’ve read long books that weren’t expensive yet left me wanting to core out my skull with a sand blaster. Use the previous weightings to define how you feel about the particular book you’re considering.

Once you’ve passed all the tests, you may use your retailer’s preview system (e.g., Look Inside), or just go buy it. Your odds of hitting buyer’s remorse should be next to zero. You’re welcome.

About Richard Parry

Richard is the author of the Night’s Champion trilogy, the Tyche’s Journey trilogy, and a huge liar.

His latest Tyche’s Journey trilogy is a space opera where sword-wielding blaster-shooting heroes save not just Earth, but the entire universe through action scenes and clever dialogue.

You can find his Internet empire at http://www.mondegreen.co.

Author Interview: LC Champlin

What genre do you write?

I like a lot of genres, so I tend to blend them when I write. My current book series is sci-fi, action-adventure, dystopian, thriller. There are creatures like zombies in it, but they’re not really zombies in the classical sense, so while I classify it as zombie fiction, it’s not your average hack- and-slash zombie series. The thriller-genre elements like the ticking clock and the web of intrigue surrounding the outbreak make the story appealing to more than just zombie fans.

Is dystopian and zombie apocalypse (zompoc) really sci-fi?

That depends. I think it’s subjective, but if you focus more on the science end rather than just gore and scary zombie attacks, it falls into sci-fi rather than horror.

Why do you write?

Well it’s certainly not to pay the bills! The series I’m writing now, I’m writing because I had a story I wanted to tell. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, and that’s fine. I think as a writer, there are primarily two reasons to write. One is you are trying to write the next hit. Two is that you’re writing a story you would like to hear and would like other people to hear.

When I write, I can make worlds how I like. Of course, it’s easier to base the story’s world in reality, the present day, and America, since that’s what I’m familiar with. As a writer, I have full control of what my worlds do. I just don’t have full control of what my characters do!

That’s another good reason to write: to see what your characters will do, how they’ll react in situations, and who they will become. I don’t know many authors who have a story and characters planned out from the get-go, then follow that plan to the letter. Even if they do, it’s after the plot outline went through a lot of evolution. When I write, it’s almost like I’m reading someone else’s book. Except I’m the one in charge of making sure everything makes sense, so I can’t take the easy way out and read the end!

What genres do you read?

I used to read primarily fantasy. But somewhere along the way, probably around when I was in college and didn’t have time to read anything but textbooks, I lost a lot of interest in the sword and sorcery genre. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love the classics, such as Dragonlance and Lord of the Ring, but I prefer sci-fi. While I will read some “space sci-fi” from time to time if the characters are the source of the plot (“space opera”), rather than the tech (“hard sci-fi”), it’s not my real love. I like stories set on Earth, preferably close to the present day. It’s interesting to see how the world could be different, even in small ways. I like dystopian sci-fi as well. It shows where the world could go if left to the dark side. Then again, what we call dystopian, most of the world calls every-day life.

How likely is it that the zombie apocalypse could happen?

Depends what you mean! If you mean walking dead — as in animated corpses, not the series — then not likely. Scientifically it would be difficult to have a corpse behave in the way zombies do. While you can make muscles contract with electrical stimulation, they won’t do so indefinitely. But if you mean is there technology or organisms or medications out there that could turn people into a zombie, of course. Illicit substances already do it, just look at drugs such as Flakka. Certain brain injuries can reduce people to zombie-like behavior. And I have no doubt that at some point, scientists will invent a device that can control how the brain operates.

Bio

Writer, traveler, adventurer, prepper. Lover of all things Geek and Dark. INTJ. I write the Wolves of the Apocalypse series.

I write fiction because the characters in my head have too much attitude to stay in my skull, I want to see the world through different eyes, and I want to live life through different souls.

Ghosts in Fiction

by C.A. Verstraete

Ghosts aren’t just for Halloween.

In fact in fiction, they continue to be popular characters for both their real and un-real actions. While some books with ghostly or paranormal elements are often called “woo-woo” books, that doesn’t mean the story or characters are any less intriguing than their more “solid” counterparts.

For fun, here are some ghostly books and authors for your reading pleasure:

1. Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series is a great read for its ghosts and paranormal elements. In this addicting series, the FBI team has “special” abilities to see, hear and interact with the dead. Okay, maybe these ghosts sometimes are “talkier” or can do things you wouldn’t expect, but the stories are enjoyable enough that I, at least, am willing to go with it.

2. For ghostly elements, you can’t beat Sherlock Holmes, of course. Who can forget the gripping terror of that phantom dog howling in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

3. You can’t beat stories from classic authors like Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and others for the best ghostly thrills. This collection of Classic Ghost Stories has enough chills to keep you shivering all night.

4. I remember being hooked on the Nancy Drew books. Add in a few ghosts as in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall (#25, 1948) and you had a mystery that kept you reading to the end. There also are newer versions now with Nancy and friends investigating in The Nancy Drew Diaries and collections of short stories for ghost-loving young readers.

5. Once again, I’m going back to one of the classics. The Haunting of Hill House remains one of the classics for its spookiness. After all, what’s a ghost story without that creepy house watching you?


C.A. (Christine) Verstraete is the author of The Haunting of Dr. Bowen and Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. Learn more at http://www.cverstraete.com or visit her blog, http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com.

The World of New Hampton

by L.A. Frederick

Hello all, and welcome to my explanation or at least attempted report into the city of New Hampton. It has a mind of its own so trying to explain it is harder than you might think!

It doesn’t quite have a mind of its own. But it is the one dominating force in a country that pretty much all packed up and headed for New Hampton. The nation is nameless throughout, but if you held a gun to my head… I’d say it’s an ambiguous cross between the United States of America and England.

I am an Englishman who’s obsessed with American literature and TV shows. Thus it was only natural that I’d fall upon something between the two for my debut sci-fi series.

The world of New Hampton is a dark, urban mystery setting. The enormous city makes up 99% of the country’s population. A few small fishing towns are still in existence in the very northern part of the nation.

On a timeline, the city is set in current times, so say 2017. The focus is on the urban, city environment of the cutthroat New Hampton. A few hundred years ago there were decent sized towns scattered up and down the country. That was until the Great Depression hit. Hundreds of thousands of people forced to move. The only remaining prosperous area in the country, you got it, New Hampton.

As a result, in the modern day, the city has an overcrowded population and has become a corporations dream. Millions upon millions of consumers lap up whatever the corporate fat cats throw at them. All in a vain attempt to elevate their meaningless existence in a city of greed and corruption.

The vast forest that spans the entirety of the northern part of the city masks the city from the wastelands. Hiding the city from the reality that makes up the majority of the country. All that remains near New Hampton to show that life ever existed are thousands of wooden shacks. That used to house a vibrant community. That community is often referred to as the lost society. They upped and left one day, never seen again; did they make it into New Hampton? No one seems to know.

The most prominent feature of New Hampton, especially in the past six months or so, is…The Rain.

A Few Key Locations:

The Emerald Mile

The Emerald Mile is the height of wealth and opulence. Huge townhouses, high-rise buildings and the Royal Palace the standoYetures. There hasn’t been a Royal family for hundreds of years. The Royal Museum is a treasure trove of information on the city. The well to do live within the bubble of the Emerald Mile, a few miles away from the mire and filth of the…

The Docks

Dangerous men live there. Dangerous men work there. It’s not a place for the faint-hearted. The seedy pubs that stain the boardwalk are full of biker gangs. Organised criminals frequent the bars and the entire area. All in the knowledge that the law won’t dare touch them in that area.

As you would expect, the docks are dark and dingy. Dank moisture lingers in the air wafting in from the sea up the river.

Abandoned Warehouses And Factories

The northern part of the city is littered with hundreds of them. Over the years the wealth and prosperity have grouped down in the southern parts of the city. As such several industrial buildings are derelict, eyesores on the city. They provide yet another layer of shielding from the stark realities of the country. You either live in New Hampton or the fishing towns, or you go elsewhere.

These warehouses and factories are not as unused as some might think…

So that’s New Hampton in a quick nutshell. As one reader describes it ‘It reminded me of a dark, gothic Batman type superhero book.’

That’s a pretty apt description of it, a city that takes over and consumes everything in its path. It is a dangerous place, with a combination of the affluent and the poor, threatening to boil over at any minute. A criminal element resides under the surface of the mysterious megalopolis of New Hampton.

Finding Fantasy Settings

by P.H. Solomon

Fantasy always seems to have some basis in fact or real world. The further along I’ve written in The Bow of Hart Saga the more I realized how much the real world had influenced my settings. All too often, the settings arrived from places I had visited long ago or even some I frequented many times over the years. Here are three places that ended up in the series without almost a thought for a long time:

1. The Auguron Oaks and the forest – I lived in Oregon as a child one summer. It was a wondrous time with many visits to various locations on the west coast that really impacted me. Having begun the original version of The Bow of Destiny some thirty years ago, I turned to places then that I had seen as a child and some of that included the rain forests of western Oregon and Washington which I visited often during that long-ago summer. On one visit, I saw trees so large that they were hundreds of feet tall – including a few redwoods. Those forests held a wonder for me and still do to this day. Auguron is a vast forest-land but the roots of those trees lie in my memories of that summer in the mid-1970s.

2. The Drelkhaz Mountains – that same summer, I first witnessed the sights of high mountains in the forms of the Cascade Mountains and the Rockies. All summer, I viewed some of the highest mountains in North America just by driving into Portland from Beaverton. Looking north on a clear day you could see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens (before it erupted and what a memory!), the Three Sisters and even Mt. Ranier. Growing up in Alabama, I didn’t get to see white-capped mountains so these majestic wonders were the first I saw in person. I even visited Mt. Hood one summer day and stood on snow while dressed in a t-shirt – quite an experience for a kid used to the humid weather of the south.

Later that summer, we drove back from Oregon cross-country. The trip took us over the Rockies and that was an even bigger thrill. Once into eastern Montana, we viewed the Grand Tetons which still stick in my mind (not to mention a trip to Yellowstone!). The Drelkhaz Mountains are a major setting of An Arrow Against the Wind and owe much of their origin from those distant days during an adventurous summer that still rides high in my memory.

3. The Funnel – this is a setting in An Arrow Against the Wind that involves a deep gorge with sheer sides at the bottom of which runs a deep river. This fictional location finds as its origin a real place near which I grew up. This little-known National Preserve is named Little River Canyon and, with drops of sometimes over 600 feet, it’s one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi River. There are dramatic cliffs with incredible views and a river that runs through it. About 26 miles long, the river is a favorite for kayak enthusiasts and a place I visited several times when I was a kid until today. It’s a geologic wonder with several unique species of plants growing within its confines.

Bonus: the Troll-Neath is a deep and dark network of natural caves leading into the dwarf kingdom of Chokkra. I’ve visited many caves in the southeast that run into the southern Appalachians. Some caves in the area are rumored to go on for days according to old native American tales. A number have been explored and some have not. Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, TN, is a place where an underground river flows over a falls but no one is sure of the source and certainly not where it goes. All of these make for great sources of fantasy settings.

Finding a fantasy setting can be as easy as looking out your back door or remembering a favorite trip. I have any number of memories upon which to draw. What places would you choose to use as a fantasy book setting?

My Ten Favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels

by Robert I. Katz

First of all, I’ve been reading science fiction (I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction) since 1960. I very well remember the first thing that I picked up and read, other than a school assignment, just because I wanted to. I was about seven years old. It was comic book, something with a World War II submarine crew getting involved with dinosaurs. I loved it. The first actual book that I read, again, just because I wanted to read it, was At the Earth’s Core, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It had one of those wildly romantic Frank Frazetta covers. I saw it in the paperback rack at a local candy store and I wanted it. I was there with a cousin of my Father’s, who was nice enough to buy it for me, and I was hooked from that day. I was soon reading everything I could find by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and then Otis Adelbert Kline, Robert A. Heinlein, E. E. “Doc” Smith, John W. Campbell and a bunch of others. My tastes have perhaps grown more sophisticated as I’ve grown older but I still love all the books I read as a kid. Here now, my ten all time favorites:

  1. Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury: A nominee for the Hugo and the winner of the Compton Crook award, to me, this is the best science fiction novel I have ever read. The books concerns a lost civilization on the planet Geta, brought to their world in the distant past by a ship that is still in orbit, and is considered a “god” by Geta’s inhabitants. The people of Geta have pulled themselves up out of barbarism (mostly) but their world is lacking in resources and the local fauna and flora are largely poisonous. The book refers to the “sacred eight,” which are the eight foods surviving from Earth that can be eaten by the local populace. Among these are okra, wheat and bees. Since edible food is so scarce, the populace by necessity are cannibals. It is stated that those societies that rejected cannibalism have, in the end, starved to death. The specific plot concerns three brothers, their two wives and their search for a third wife to round out their family. They are challenged by their city’s leader to court one very famous, brilliant and rebellious woman, though they really desire a different and equally brilliant woman. Two different conspiracies to conquer the world are encountered and dealt with. The book is concerned with environmental principles and the needs of survival in a hostile world. It’s fantastic.
  2. Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch: The United States is involved in a war. The book’s protagonist, Louis Sachetti, has been imprisoned in a government run prison called Camp Archimedes, for reasons that are not made exactly clear but which seem to involve either draft resistance or just general resistance to the government. Camp Archimedes is a secret research facility where a mutated form of syphilis gives its victims unmatched intelligence and ultimately, inevitably kills them. A testament to the human spirit and the lengths to which dictatorial governments will go to have their way.
  3. Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks: The third in Banks’ celebrated Culture novels, and in my opinion the best. The Culture is a galaxy spanning civilization that possesses technology sufficient to satisfy every member’s material needs. They don’t use money because everything that they can possibly desire is at their fingertips. The protagonist is Cheradenine Zakalwe, an agent of the Culture who is employed by “Special Circumstances” to violently deal with wars and rebellions on backward planets in order to nudge them into more peaceful and less dictatorial ways, which works only part of the time. The book has two alternating plots, one going forward in time, the other backward, until they meet at the end of the novel, revealing a secret that puts Zakalwe’s life in an entirely different perspective. I loved it.
  4. Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny: Zelazny, along with Samuel R. Delany, John Brunner, Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison and a few others, was a giant of the “New Wave” during the 1960’s and 1970’s. In this incomparable novel, a far-off colony of Earth is ruled by what appear to be the gods of the Hindu pantheon. In reality, the original colony ship’s passengers were mostly from India and the crew of the ship has assumed the aspect of the Hindu gods, with powers that seem to be partly innate but are largely machine enhanced. The protagonist is Mahasamatman, who prefers to be called Sam, a member of the crew who rebels against the other gods in an effort to bring freedom to the world. The plot of the book outlines Sam’s rebellion, success, failure and ultimate resolution. Fantastic, engrossing and absolutely brilliant.
  5. Dune by Frank Herbert: I hardly need to spend much time on this one, as it’s become increasingly famous over the years. The Atreides family has been given ownership of the planet Arrakis, or Dune, which produces “spice,” a substance that gives long life and enables navigators to guide interstellar ships. Paul Atreides must gain vengeance after his father, Leto, is betrayed and killed by the combined forces of the Emperor and the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. An enormously entertaining pot-boiler that’s beloved by many generations of science fiction readers.
  6. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien: I was on a panel at a convention a few years ago when Jo Walton stated that Cyteen, by C. J. Cherryh, was the second best book ever written. I asked her what the best book was and she said, “The Lord of the Rings.” I won’t argue. I know that scholars and members of University English Departments despair over this book’s popularity, but I say, ignore them. Again, I don’t need to say much about the plot, since the book is almost universally beloved. Suffice it to say that the evil Sauron has fashioned a ring of power designed to bring other rings of power under it’s sway, and our heroes, primarily the hobbit, Frodo Baggins and Aragorn, son of Arathorn, descended from the kings of old, have to deliver the ring to Mount Doom and destroy it, or Sauron will rule the world.
  7. A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay: Guy Gavriel Kay at one point worked for Christopher Tolkien and assisted in editing The Silmarilion. He was also a fervent admirer of Dorothy Dunnett, the celebrated author of the Lymond Chronicles and the House of Niccolo series. Kay’s style is reminiscent of Dunnett’s, being florid, lyrical and erudite. In my opinion, A Song for Arbonne is his best book. It’s set in an alternate history world based on medieval Provence, where musicians and poets are prized as much as warriors. The protagonist is Blaise de Garsenc, a Northern mercenary, who becomes involved in a war between Arbonne’s two principal Dukedoms, and incidentally finds himself embroiled in a plot to claim the throne of his own distant nation.
  8. The Riddlemaster Triology by Patrical McKillip: Patricia McKillip writes lyrical, gem like prose and her books are often considered young adult, but this is a fantasy that belongs among the greats. The protagonist is Morgan, the Prince of Hed, a small and unimportant island, who is destined to return wizardry to the world and must confront “The High One,” who has usurped the other wizards’ powers. It’s a wonderful story with fully rounded characters that ends up just where the reader figures it should, but the journey is worth it.
  9. A Billion Days of Earth by Doris Piserchia: Doris Piserchia published perhaps a dozen novels in the 1970’s. I thought she was fantastic but somehow, her work never became very popular. A Billion Days of Earth is delightfully wacky. Set approximately three million years from today, humanity has evolved to become “gods” and rats have gained intelligence and call themselves “human.” The plot revolves around an amorphous being called Sheen that telepathically preys on other sentient beings and the efforts of a “human” named Rik to defeat it.
  10. In Conquest Born by C. S. Friedman: The tenth was a tough one. I was tempted to go with Jerusalem Fire by R. M. Meluch, but I recently re-read it and noted some plot inconsistencies that I had not remembered. I might have included Isle of the Dead, by Roger Zelazny, but I already have a Zelazny book and I know that some other authors do not share my fondness for this one. In the end, I’ll go with In Conquest Born, by C. S. Friedman. In this book, humanity is divided into two warring races, the Azeans and the Braxi. Azeans prize uniformity and peace. The Braxi are almost insanely aggressive and warlike. Over the centuries, there have been long intervals of peace but sooner or later, the Braxi always renew the war. The plot has two protagonists: Anzha, General of the Azeans and Zatar, General of the Braxi. The book revolves around numerous interconnecting plots, stratagems and counterplots, as these two come to be obsessed by the war and by each other. Both are outcasts from their own culture and it is part of the tragedy that, in the end, each is best understood by their most dedicated enemy. An immense, galaxy spanning space opera, it deserves its place among my favorite books of all time.

Evocative Imagery in Fantasy Art

by Stuart Thaman

From an early age, I always wanted to be a painter. I loved getting lost in the details of masterful art, and the sense of wonder I felt when I saw something truly incredible that wasn’t a photograph, that was something made by hand, has always stuck with me. Well, I’m terrible at making art myself, but I do like to think I have keen eye for it—at least in fantasy.

What is it with art, especially fantasy art, which captures the imagination so quickly and so thoroughly? How do we get lost within the battle scenes, cityscapes, and sweeping wings of dragons painted on the page or coming to life on the screen? What sets fantasy art apart from other genres is actually rather simple, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Firstly, due diligence must be paid to the masters. The classic painters of yore deserve all the fame they have earned, yet for most, for the average person who only offers a passing glance to the art they see every day, the wonders of the renaissance and baroque periods go largely unnoticed. There are scores of people who get easily lost in the grand scale of a Game of Thrones episode yet will not give an original Rembrandt painting more than a moment’s notice. Why?

What sets fantasy art on a different level, not necessarily a better or worse level than the classics, is the exact thing that has drawn hordes of hungry viewers to Game of Thrones. The idea of a “grand scale” is something most of the old masters never captured. They found their artistry in each and every stroke of the brush, every minute detail regarded at a critical level, and what fantasy does in almost every medium is shatter that expectation. Instead of giving the consumer something to ponder and perplex, fantasy gives us worlds to devour and endless amazement.

If you’re a fan of fantasy or sci-fi, try to think of your favorite thing in that genre—your favorite video game, book, movie, poster, whatever it is. For me, that’s the very opening scene from David Dalglish’s masterpiece The Weight of Blood. The book, which begins the acclaimed “Half-Orc” series, opens with one of the most dramatic and grandiose scenes I have ever read. Two half-orcs run near a city wall as hundreds of flaming skulls, objects of pure magic, sail overhead to fill the citizens with terror. Qurrah, one of the half-orcs, is also a necromancer, though he is untrained. He gets his first real test in the opening scene, which he passes, that also brings him to a startling revelation. Desperately out of energy in his brother’s arms, he realizes that the well of magic he is connected to is unending: “The well is limitless.”

The well is limitless.

That line packs such a poignant punch it can hardly be adequately described. The opening scene of the book is only a page or two long, yet it vividly captures the imagination just like a dramatic movie trailer or an action packed cinematic release for a video game—just like incredible art. But that’s what books are, at least at some level, and at least to some people. Books are art. Most people pass by the majority of them without notice. Those with a keen eye find the absolute gems, and anyone with an imagination gets something more. The imaginative reader gets to watch the books they read. They get to turn each page and find a fresh painting done by the most masterful hand waiting to suck them in with every word, each letter at once becoming a highly detailed brush stroke.

Fantasy in all its glorious forms strives to capture the most powerful sense of wonder humans are capable of feeling, and then it tries to distill that emotion into something tangible. When we experience the best fantasy has to offer, we get lost in it. The grand scale, the epic nature of absolutely everything in the scene, and the sweeping beauty of each part coming together in just the right way coalesce to form exact idea Dalglish captured in his opening. No matter what the media is, the artistry of epic fantasy is what gets people to save a piece as their desktop wallpaper, or to read a thousand page book six times a year, or to spend thousands of hours playing only one game. When it comes to fantasy, that well is limitless.

Futurism as Shown Through Tom Cruise and Will Smith Movies

by Julia Vee

Have you ever noticed that Tom Cruise and Will Smith have been in a bunch of sci fi films? If not, maybe it’s just me.

One of my absolute favorite books that I have read this year is All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. For a fan of military sci-fi, this brilliant story has it all. A bloody hopeless future fighting an alien invasion on earth, in mech suits of course. The English translation is already so good, I can only imagine how good it is in the original Japanese. (The English version has a glowing intro by John Scalzi, as well.)

Imagine my delight when I heard there was a movie version. Only, it’s got a different name—Edge of Tomorrow. Now, this article is not a discussion of how the book is way better than the movie. So let’s just start with the tagline of the film poster and how it’s a great hook – “LIVE. DIE. REPEAT.” Immediately, the viewer knows this is a futuristic military film that involves…time loops.

Let’s talk about those battle suits. Gritty, bulky, and hard edged, the stripped down version of the battle suit apparently weighed 85 lbs! The amped up version with sniper rifle and rocket launcher weighed 130 lbs.

And what about those quadcopter dropships? Apparently the movie dropship design was  based on the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey. Notable feature of that bird – ability to tilt its rotors to fly as either planes or choppers.

As good as Edge of Tomorrow is, it pales in comparison to Minority Report for futuristic elements. Flash back to this Spielberg film of 2002 and it still holds up for its sleek high tech vision of the future. Most interesting to me were the modes of travel:

  • Solo uncovered elevators that lift individuals up several stories;
  • Jet pods that spiral around the outer edge of the urban stretches;
  • Helicopters that are basically giant flying nautilus shapes.

Never mind the whole mind crime element, the visuals of this film really bring it home how far we are from Spielberg’s vision of how future technology could change our lives.

On to Will Smith. He’s been in a lot of scifiction, post-apocalyptic films. (And he’s in Bright, a cop film where humans live side by side with elves, orcs and other magical elements.) But we’re not going to talk about After Earth, I am Legend, or the Men in Black films.

I, Robot is set in 2035. Now keep in mind, this film is from 2004 so the writers no doubt thought thirty years was a long time away. Plenty of time for technology to shape our lives in such a dramatic fashion. But now it’s 2018. So we’re talking 17 years into the future. Very near future.

The film elements do a great job of keeping things mostly the same. Will Smith still drives a car (but he never seems to have to deal with traffic). The weaponry looks standard, and the cityscape is still recognizable. So the movie saves all of its futurism for the robots. The robots are all humanoid. They walk our dogs, nanny our children, and live with humans in their domestic capacity. The other futuristic elements are reserved for the lab/manufacturing facility. It’s ultramodern, decked out in chrome, glass and bright white walls and flooring.

And though Elon Musk predicted that our greatest threat is from AI, I think it is safe to assume that we are unlikely to have manufacturing of android armies in an urban environment. Rent is just too high.

But the lab design process rings true. I live in Silicon Valley, and I can easily stop imagine that the biotech labs of Milpitas all along the HWY 880 are housed with facilities like that of US Robotics in the film. And Musk is right, the tests of AI (on Twitter bots, etc.) reveal how they go terribly wrong with our present programming capabilities. So it seems more likely that the threat raised in I, Robot is not so much a physical army of robots threatening mankind is not so much in our future but rather, the Skynet vision of the Terminator.


And that concludes today’s Futurism as told through movies segment. Julia Vee writes about Futurism and Fiction on www.juliavee.com.

Fine Line Between Fact & Fiction

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by Peter Cawdron

Science fiction is make-believe.

Even at its finest, it’s nothing more than conjecture and hypotheticals, and yet people flock to movies where characters flash lightsabers and fly around in exotic spacecraft. Why?

I think science fiction speaks to our longing for the horizon, our nomadic nature yearning for something beyond the hum drum and repetition of daily life. We’re adventurous by nature, but real-life adventures carry costs and risks. Fiction satisfies this itch, allowing us to explore far-flung worlds from the safety of an armchair.

When it comes to science fiction, our dreams can become reality.

While America was engulfed in a civil war, an obscure French author penned a story called From Earth to the Moon. At the time, steam engines were in vogue. Sailing ships and the trusty horse and cart dominated commerce. The idea of launching to the Moon was a flight of pure fantasy on the part of Jules Verne, and yet just over a hundred years later Neil Armstrong stepped out on the dusty lunar surface.

During the early 1960s, a struggling writer developed a story about a wagon train going to the stars. He struggled to secure finances for his wild, new concept. When Lucille Ball heard the title “Star Trek,” she thought it was a reality show following USO performers around the world as they toured for US troops. Lucille overruled her own board to get the pilot made without realizing she was helping make science fiction history.

Gene Roddenberry

Star Trek gave the world a glimpse of the future.

Handheld communicators eventually became the smart phones we enjoy today. Paperless tablet computers on the show inspired iPads. Automatic sliding doors became common place in malls and shops. Non-invasive medical scans found their future in MRI and CT scanners, but beyond that, Star Trek spoke of a new world. Racism was relegate to history, as was nationalism. Reason, it seemed, would dominate the future, not tribal superstitions.

We still have a way to go before the dreams of Gene Roddenberry are realized, but the fiction of today is often the facts of tomorrow. So whenever you read science fiction or watch a scifi movie, pause to consider which aspects may lie in our future.


Peter Cawdron is the author of Retrograde