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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

Top Ten Sci-Fi & Fantasy Series

by R.R. Virdi

Sci-fi and fantasy books have millions of fans around the world, and it’s fair to say in the world of self-publishing, those numbers are being published yearly as well. So, with an endless number to read, growing by the second in fact, how do you pick where to start next? This guide is a completely subjective top ten list on where to begin to sate your SFF cravings. This list will also be excluding The Lord of the Rings for obvious reasons. It’s a bit too well known and goes without saying as a great series to read. Same with Dune.

  1. The Wheel of Time: Robert Jordan

This epic has been so successful, Jordan went onto be known as the American Tolkien. The Wheel of Time is an epic high fantasy of unparalleled writing, world building, and stakes. The series spans 14 novels and totals well over 4,000,000 words. The Wheel of Time focuses on a multiple point-of-view journey among characters battling against the return of Shaitan, the dark one or lord, and his endless minions. A mythical figure, The Dragon Reborn, is supposed to be reborn and walk the line between madness and clarity, and use his gifts to banish the darkness, hopefully for good this time. The struggle has continued throughout the ages, will this be the final time? Will light finally conquer the dark, or will the cycle continue?

  1. The Mistborn Trilogy: Brandon Sanderson

The Mistborn series is beloved by many, and for good reason. It’s an epic fantasy of hard, codified magic known as, Allomancy, the manipulation and consumption of metals. Yes, you read that right, in the dystopian world of Scadrial, Allomancers have the ability to ingest certain metals that will give them temporary abilities. A certain subgroup of Allomances called, Mistborn, have the rare gift to consume any metal and use the corresponding abilities. The characters are beautifully written, the plot amazingly executed, and the world building goes beyond anything else, so much so, you’ll have to read many of Sanderson’s other works to fully grasp the breadth of it all. That’s not a bad thing. If you love hard magic, evil empires, action like out of things like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’ll love this series.

  1. The Kingkiller Chronicle: Patrick Rothfuss

This series isn’t complete, something many fans have bemoaned about for nearly a decade. But, don’t let that deter you. The first two books are well worth it. The prose is near-poetic, almost song-like. Rothfuss weaves a wonderful picaresque following a roguish legend in his own world as he tells his story to a travelling chronicler over the span of three days. The audience knows and impending doom is coming, the protagonist, the mythical, Kvote (pronounced: Quothe), lets us know he’s expecting to die soon. That doesn’t stop him from regaling us with a tale of mischief, heartache, trauma, ambition, love, loss, and the stuff epics are made of. A wonderful blend of hard and soft magic make up this series. The story continues to pull you along smoothly, page-after-page, as you navigate Kvothe’s early years, up until the end of book two. It’s been said the man has killed an angel, spoken to gods, killed a demon, burned a town, and so much more. Does he live up to legend? You tell me.

  1. The Dresden Files: Jim Butcher

My personal number 1 favorite. This hard-hitting, noir, semi-automagical series follows Harry Blackthorne Copperfield Dresden, professional wizard, and he’s in the phonebook. It’s urban fantasy at its best. Flawed, hope-inspiring characters battling themselves just as much as the forces of supernatural evil, and sometimes just plain mortal darkness. The fae, gods, vampires, werewolves, all your favorite mythological creatures, along with many lesser-known ones. Harry’s day job is as PI in Chicago, and magic doesn’t pay the bills all that well. He lives of consultancy work for the local PD, and the series begins when a magical drug sweeps through streets, and a grisly penthouse murder requires his expertise. 15 books in, and 8 more to go, The Dresden Files is a must read magical fantasy set today. Magic. Monsters. Mischief.

  1. The Lost Fleet: Jack Campbell

This interstellar military sci fi focuses on a century-long war between two human groups divided by culture. Our main character, Captain John Geary, also known as “Black Jack”, is a legend for a last stand he led 100 years ago. Now out of suspended animation, he’s put up to the task of winning the war. If only it was the easy. This is one of the military sci fi series that has led to a string of imitators because, well, it’s brilliant.

  1. The Black Company: Glen Cook

A grim dark military fantasy that was killing off beloved characters long before the name, Martin, was uttered for doing so. The series focuses on an elite mercenary company doing the hard jobs, the dirty ones, and the ones that lead to an early grave. Spanning nearly 10 books, the Black Company’s story is wonderful told, reveals gritty and gorgeously complicated/flawed characters, and the horrible things they have had to and will do. It’s not a pretty series. There isn’t always a happy ending. And sometimes, bad things do just happen, but in this world, a lot of the times their done by bad people. Get used to it. If you want a hardcore and gruesome military fantasy, this is what you’re looking for.

  1. Discworld: Terry Pratchett

A master of humor, whimsy, and hitting you on the nose with philosophy wrapped in sarcasm and wittery, Terry Pratchett’s work is nothing short of brilliant and masterful. Discworld is in fact a collection of stories from multiple series focusing on different protagonists set in, yes, Discworld. It’s a flat world resting on the backs of four elephants standing atop a giant space sailing turtle. Yes, you read that right. It’s hilarious, tackles all manner of complicated socio-political issues with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, is full of parodies of fantasy clichés and tropes, and just so much more. Don’t worry, Discworld consists of only around 40 novels. Get reading. You’re going to be busy for a while.

  1. Redwall: Brian Jacques

Welcome to a world where animals are the main characters, a world spanning 22 years and with 15 novels published so far. Travel to Redwall Abbey and meet the peaceful residents who’ve lived a pleasant life…until a ship of pillaging/pirating rats lands in the distance and its crew seeks to kill/enslave all those in their way. The novels are written in a nonlinear fashion, jumping through time to tell the tales of legends past, and heroes coming after the original novel: Redwall. The books are entertaining and easy to get swept up by, and they appeal to all ages.

  1. The Icewind Dale Trilogy: R.A. Salvatore

One of the earliest fantasy greats I can remember. Most fantasy nerds do not need an introduction to one of the most iconic characters ever, Drizzt Do’Urden, dark elf, hero, and legend. This trilogy, only a small number of the books penned by Salvatore and following the journeys of the famous dark elf rogue, is what started it all. Any Dungeons and Dragons fan must read these. But, if you’re one of those, chances are you already have. And, if you haven’t, fix that now!

  1. The Expanse: James S.A. Corey

Set in a future where we humans have colonized much of our solar system, the various groups among our galaxy are taking issue with one another, raising tensions. The series carries all of the story plots you want to see out of a space travelling/space ship series: pirates, space battles, political scheming, machine organisms, aliens, and new sorts of space travel.

Gearing Up for the Apocalypse

by Joshua C. Chadd

James and Connor Andderson are two brothers who’re patriots and outdoorsmen. They’re suddenly thrown into the apocalypse, but unlike most, they’re prepared. Or so they thought. They have a plethora of badass gear throughout both of the Brother’s Creed books so far. They’ll also be getting more awesome gear as the story progresses in the next couple books. In this blog, I’ll go over that gear (a lot of which I own, so I have a working knowledge of it). Here we go!

Both brothers wear Kryptek hunting/tactical gear. Not only is it the best camouflage in both industries, but it is owned and operated by All-American Heroes. The brothers have full sets of the Highlander hunting line, but will later get suits more oriented toward the tactical side in the Typhon pattern. Check out Kryptek at https://kryptek.com/

Both brother’s also wear a typical tactical vest for their spare magazines and a few other assorted items.

James, the oldest but smaller brother, carries a Smith & Wesson M&P 15. This is an AR-15 style rifle that shoots .223/5.56 rounds. He has a foregrip, tactical light, IR laser, bipod, suppressor and Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 variable scope on it. It’s a very accurate and deadly weapon that is perfect for taking down the pesky zombies! He is also very capable shooting it, although not as much as his brother. James also carries a Remington 1911 handgun in .45 ACP.

Connor, the younger but more bulky of the brothers, carries a Bushmaster AR-15 that also shoots .223/5.56. His is equipped with a foregrip, tactical light, IR laser, bipod, and suppressor, but his scope is a Trijicon ACOG 4×32 BAC. He is an ace shot and his Marine training pays off as they face more than just zombies. He carries a Kimber Custom Pro 1911 handgun in .45 ACP.

Oh, another thing they always carry is a tactical tomahawk on the opposite hip from their handguns. Perfect for crackin’ skulls!

Now, the next stuff is gear that (more than likely) they’ll be getting in the next book. This stuff is awesome because I don’t have any experience with it and had to research it. This gear is on my wish list and way badass, get ready!

The Bushmaster ACR. This awesome gun not only looks slightly futuristic but has some awesome features. One of which allows you to change out the barrels without losing your zero! There are some other cool guns in this article as well, so check ‘em out! http://www.tactical-life.com/firearms/top-20-next-gen-combat-rifles/3/#bushmaster-acr-dmr-gen-evergreen-lead

Also something they will be finding is this tank of a vehicle! My sister-in-law actually found this and said it’d be awesome to have in the books, she was right! The Terradyne Gurkha is a force to be reckoned with and is perfect for the end of the world! I mean just check out these awesome specs! https://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/terradyne-gurkha-rpv-civilian-edition-news-specs-pictures/#ixzz4fVw2wKI1

Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope you have enjoyed this look into the Andderson brothers’ gear. If you’d like to know more about their gear or how they use it, be sure to check out The Brother’s Creed series on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073HGF2YK/

PS- Here is the cover of the latest book, as it shows the characters with all their gear.

Speculative Fiction: A Safe Space for Exploring Topical Issues?

 

by Chloe Garner

I don’t know if you’ve looked around recently, but the world is kind of a tricky place. Issues concerning race and cultural identity live at the forefront of everything in the American news cycle, and I know that different versions of the same conversations are going on all over the world. Problems that I wouldn’t even imagine for the sake of my own fiction are very real, and no one wants anyone else to tell them what they are, what they should want, who they should be.

And I get that. There are no good answers.  Most of us have been mistreated at some point, and no one wants to see things they identify with painted as villainous, either in the real world or in fiction. It creates a situation that – I’ve gotta tell you – is challenging for a fiction writer. Fiction is about the way the world is, the way the world could be, the way the world has been, and the way the world should be. Underneath of that, there are statements, theories, ideas, perspectives, pictures of what it means to be human.  Thoughts about the way humans are, what’s normal, what’s not, what’s okay, and what really isn’t.

And those are really, really important to me, as a person, as a reader, and as a writer.

Conversations among authors are hot with passionate opinions about how to treat characters by type. I was in a class where a woman argued that describing a woman as ‘small’ was sexist, and I’ve more recently seen a statement that creating a bisexual assassin character plays on negative stereotypes about bisexual individuals. And sensitivity here is important. It’s also paralyzing. No one wants to see their people set up as villains. Even if the evil of the character has nothing to do with their race, class, or cultural associations, they don’t like it, and that’s perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable, and something I’m wholly empathetic to.

But fiction needs conflict.

And some women are small. And thieves exist most everywhere in the world.  As do cheats and liars and busybodies.

Add to this a genuinely held belief that a writer does not have the ability to speak from a perspective that he has not experienced, be it racially, culturally, economically, or elsewise, and I often find myself at a loss. Because fiction remains important.  Stories about people, regardless of where they come from or what formed them, they’re critical to empathy and our ability to look outside of ourselves and understand how others might experience the world.

We must tell stories.

More and more, both as a reader and as an author, I find that I take refuge in the world of fantasy. The things that are true about fantasy characters are also true about real people, but the divide between who is allowed to tell a story and whether or not their perspective is biased or inappropriate vanishes because we are now talking about races that do not have a real history – indeed, they have a complete history that exists solely in the head of the writer. Conflicts can be as complex as they need to be, but without the risk of underplaying a dynamic that is core to someone’s real life. Without the risk of speaking for the collective experience of a group, authors are free to create an experience that has an authentic and instructive perspective.

For much of my life, the grown ups have looked at fantasy as a form of childish play. Something that I would outgrow, that I would join the adult world in its pursuit of more adult fiction.

As I sit here today, thinking about what I want to write, what I care about, and the things that I believe are true, I wonder if maybe more childish play is exactly what we need.  Play is where we learn to interact safely and healthily with others, and it’s about instruction more than agenda. The things that we have always needed fiction for remain true, today, perhaps even more than ever, but we close doors and condemn them as venues of conversation. Some writers are simply brave, but in being brave, they take on an additional layer of responsibility for being fair to all of the parties and types and groups that they’re representing.

I love speculative fiction. I always have. I don’t want to write fiction that is necessarily fair: I want to write fiction that is authentic and real and meaningful, even if it is about vampires and demons and aliens and magic. I think that, rather than being a barrier to reality, these separations from the real world form a protective shield, a barrier that protects these stories from the pressure to conform to sincere, well-meaning rules, and just tell the story that needs to be there.

Urban Fantasy – What is It and Why Should You Be Reading It?

by R.R. Virdi

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of the traditional fantasy parent genre in literature. You know, kings, horses, courts, monsters, magic, mayhem, and typically a roguish hero. The genre’s come about in the last thirty or so years even though the term has been used since sparingly since the early 20th century. Urban fantasy has one notable difference from its sister genre, Contemporary fantasy. So long as—you guessed it, the genre takes place in an urban environment with some level of fantastical qualities, it counts as urban fantasy. Contemporary requires the story to be set in present day times.

This subtle difference allows people to play with the genre in ways to niche it into other genres and widen its appeal. The Daggers and Steele series by Alex P. Berg is a wonderful example of this. It’s a bit of a spoiler to give this away, but the great twist and wonderful part of this series is that it’s an alternative history like fiction with an urban fantasy emphasis. You’re aware of the genre from the get-go. The cover and blurb tell you all you need to know:

Elven side kick, tough guy investigator who sleuths into mysteries that defy normal convention, and urban setting. It’s a concentrated does of some of the urban fantasy tropes that old readers will resonate with and find familiar, and new ones will be sucked in by and glean understanding of in what makes the genre. Daggers and Steele is a series that helps show the flexibility of the urban fantasy subgenre and how far or…back (see what I did there) the setting can be taken and tweaked to add to the fantastical elements already within this brand of fiction.

The name really stuck to the style of fiction and began to describe it in the late 1980’s with a few scattered pieces of work then, to now with hundreds of series between traditionally published and indie.

Some of the earliest and most notable authors in the genre who helped it find its feet are: Laurel K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake series—often considered one of the most substantial works in the genre, Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, Neverwhere (the urban fantasy adventure set in London and a twist off parallel London Below), and another in the genre that’s developed a major cult following: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. A series that follows the grizzled and snarky, self-abasing wizard, Harry Dresden.

All three of those works are some of the best examples to show the variances allowed in setting and style within the genre while all falling under its umbrella. Laurel K. Hamilton’s series follows a necromancer, Anita Blake, living in a world where the supernatural are widely known about and have rights. It’s a dark and seedy version of Missouri following the paranormal side of things. While it’s urban and set in a present day setting, the world is vastly different than ours on a series of levels.

Butcher’s Dresden Files takes a different route—set in modern day Chicago where the supernatural elements are mostly kept under wraps by their own powers. For the most part, his Chicago is pretty much along the same lines as ours. The paranormal lurk, are unexplained and unbelieved by most people. Freak accidents and occurrences are just that. The boldest and most shocking bit of overt magical presence is none other than the protagonist himself, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He’s in the phonebook as such.

And then Gaiman’s work falls somewhere, and lovably in between. Richard, the main character, crosses path with a young woman, Door, who possesses the uncanny ability of opening up doorways between the modern (at that time) London, and a twisted version, London Below. She accidently ends up dragging him along into her weird world of odd people selling odder things, a portal fantasy set within a major city where monsters and myths are real. Members of the normal world apart from Richard aren’t aware these places and things exist. In fact, as time passes and Richard becomes more immersed in London Below…people forget he exists.

All three references offer just a hint of how fluid the genre can be as well as welcoming to readers with different tastes and a want of setting that might be different and resonate with their personal interests.

My own series, The Grave Report, follows a disembodied soul, Vincent Graves, murdered by the paranormal and tasked with inhabiting the bodies of those killed by the supernatural and using their minds, bodies, memories, and skills to solve their murders. The series is predominantly set in the burrows of New York. Given that urban fantasy allows for so much flexibility, I wanted to play with that. So, the series shifts urban locales per novel/story, and yet always retains the urban fantasy vibe tinged with the classic noir investigator hints that permeate many novels in the genre. Given that he’s a soul that can bounce into any body murdered anywhere…the series isn’t limited by setting all. And, it still qualifies as urban fantasy.

That series has gone onto land award finalist positions alongside giants in the genre: Jim Butcher and Larry Correia, last year at the inaugural DragonCon Dragon Awards under the Best Fantasy (Paranormal) category. As noted, two other urban fantasy writers all with their own spins on the endlessly workable genre.

The urban fantasy subgenre has no limits on what can be done, and so very few constraints. So, make sure to dive into it, readers. I’m sure you’ll find something more along the flavors you yearn for. There’s certain no shortage of material and takes on the genre. Go looking, read on, I know there are works out there for you, and I’ve only named a few.

The Cosmic Train Schedule, and Getting Science Right

by Jennifer Willis

During the Q&A following my author reading at Orycon in November, I was asked a question I’d not gotten before:

“What was the coolest thing you learned while researching your Mars books?”

What an awesome question, right? I had to think quickly on my feet and sort through all of the fun stuff I got to dig into while working on these three books. The answer that sprung to mind, though, was the Cosmic Train Schedule. And I promise that’s not something I just made up.

The Cosmic Train Schedule is an online resource that includes real-world transit times between Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. It’s a massive timetable that spans centuries and gives exact dates for departures and arrivals as well as information on aphelion, perihelion, and other fun geekery.

And I did geek out over this. I opened up a new project in Aeon Timeline and mapped out all of the (fictional) manned missions to Mars for my series, including both the government-sponsored trips crewed by trained astronauts and the waves of colony missions that are central to my stories. This helped me get a better sense for the lengths of missions, a reasonable timeline for sending people on interplanetary voyages, and a hard schedule for overlaps between missions and gaps when there would be no human beings on the Red Planet. While I had a lot of nerdy fun pulling that together and inserting more mundane elements like future Super Bowl dates (because I also mapped out a fictional NFL expansion as background material), I also needed this information to construct and drive my stories—particularly for the third book, Mars Heat.

So why go to all this trouble? Because actual science matters in science fiction. This can be tricky for authors, because sometimes real-world limitations and physics can get in the way of what would otherwise be an awesome plot point. But I try not to use handwavium too much if I can help it. This is a big reason I’m still excited that I got to participate in the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers at the University of Wyoming in 2011, even though my brain melted as we tried to absorb what amounted to a college course in astrophysics in the space of a single week. It’s no coincidence that Mike Brotherton—founder of Launch Pad, UW physics and astronomy professor, and sci-fi author—is the one who directed me to the Cosmic Train Schedule.

Sci-fi authors have a unique opportunity to promote science literacy through our work. Countless astronauts, scientists, and others credit their early sci-fi reading for inspiring their studies and careers, and scientific understanding is important for everyone. Plus, it’s fun to learn something new while you’re in the middle of a great read. My SFR books aren’t hard science fiction, but I do try to get the science right where possible.


A chronically optimistic nerd, Jennifer Willis writes urban fantasy, sci-fi, and sci-fi romance. She is also the writer behind the Northwest Love Stories feature in The Oregonian and has a byline in the Hugo Award-winning Women Destroy Science Fiction from Lightspeed.

5 Kick Ass Women Warriors in Japanese History Who Fought in Battles

by K. Bird Lincoln

Part of what drew me to women warriors in Japan is that Japan has had very rigid, traditionally defined gender characteristics and roles for long periods in its history. Yet when I first encountered Onnagatta actors (boys/men who play women characters in the 1600’s) and Okama entertainers (transvestite or transsexual TV stars) I was surprised by how Japanese society accepted a chosen gender as long as the person abided by those rigid stereotypes.

The men are treated as women. The very rigidness of how to dress, how to speak, how to act actually seemed like a framework that allowed the men to be women in society’s eyes.

I was fascinated to see if the opposite held true. Could women also be accepted in a man’s gender role? Historically, there have been many women in Japanese history who picked up a sword, but that didn’t necessarily make them men. And to this day, the famous Takarazuka actresses who play male roles retain a sense of their femaleness.

But in creating my main characters in Tiger Lily, I wanted to delve into the lives of women, who born according to the twelve-year cycle zodiac calendar in the Tiger year, express their gender in unconventional ways. Here are some of the most famous historical women warriors in Japanese History that inspired me.

Empress Jingu

As the wife of an emperor sometime around 160-260 AD, Jingu has some historical legitimacy, although her exploits as regent after her husband died are somewhat in the legendary category. Apparently after taking power around 200 A.D, she invaded the Korean kingdom of Silla, starting a long-standing troublesome relationship between historical Korea and Japan. She’s depicted as a warrior and shamaness, using both sword and her ocean-controlling divine jewels to invade Korea. Jingu’s legend is intricately tied up with Japanese Nationalism, so it’s hard to tell what’s legend and what’s propaganda, but along with Himiko, who we’re not touching upon here, she’s one of the foremothers of women warriors in Japan.

Hangaku Gozen and Tomoe Gozen

These two women warriors (onna-musha or onna bugeisha) lived around the same time period but weren’t related. Tomoe is the more famous of the two, and noted in the famous 12th Century chronicle of battles called the Heike Monogatari. She is depicted artistically as wearing battle armor, was famed for her horsemanship and archery, and considered extremely brave. She went into battle for her master/lover Minamoto Yoshinaka with a sword, not just the traditional female bladed pole naginata.

She is also described as being beautiful, so despite her leading battles and wearing armor, she still was seen as primarily female. There is controversy over how her life ended. Some say she was forcibly married to another warrior, some that she was beheaded, and another that she died a nun. Tomoe has been immortalized in anime, videogames, movies, and books, including a historical science-fiction-fantasy trilogy written by Jessica Salmonson, titled The Tomoe Gozen Saga.

Hangaku Gozen rode into battle with naginata and bow with her nephew during the Kennin Uprising against the main military government in Kamakura. She led 3000 against a force of 10,000 warriors. Hangaku is said to have been ‘fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower’, so despite her male leadership role, history cast her into a female role. Her ending quite firmly teaches her a lesson about females daring to get mixed up with political battles: married off to an enemy warrior after she is wounded and taken prisoner by the Kamakura military government.

Nakano Takeko

Here we have our first entirely historical woman warrior who fought on the losing side of the Boshin War. Although not officially allowed to join the fight, Nakano teamed up with 20 other women, including her mother and sister, and formed a counter-attack to break the siege on her castle. She killed 5 enemy soldiers before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. But here’s where she doubled down on her kick-assery: fearful the enemy would take her head as a trophy and she might risk disgracing her family even in death, she asked her sister to cut off her head and bury it.

Rui Sasaki

Rui was a sword instructor in the mid-17th century. Although a known female, she would walk around town in men’s clothing and her hair in an unfeminine style on her way to her martial arts school. She would occasionally tangle with sword-wielding hoodlums. This got around, and apparently wasn’t considered the appropriate behavior for the daughter of a samurai. This meant certain authorities made it their business to find a husband to keep her in line.

So there you have 5 really kick-ass women warriors in Japanese history. None of them were able to shed their femaleness completely even when going into battle—and several of them experienced the subjugation of a husband figure to firmly put them back into their less powerful, female place. But their legacy of strength and honorable resolve is one I hope informs my characters who also have to find ways to battle despite not quite fitting into the rigid lines of what females should be—whether shamaness or warrior.


K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her first novel, Tiger Lily, a medieval Japanese fantasy, is available from Amazon. Her debut Urban Fantasy, Dream Eater, was published in April 2017 by World Weaver Press. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews on Goodreads, ponders breast cancer, chocolate, and fantasy on her What I Should Have Said blog and hangs out on Facebook.