Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Glass Shore by Stefan Jackson

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Glass Shore by Stefan Jackson
Digital Edition in September 2014; Paperback in December 2014

What if ‘Think Differently’ was more than a campaign slogan?

What if it was part of a mind control network geared toward advanced sciences, creating a vibrant, creative and competitive workforce?

This is the world of Glass Shore, a dynamic existence featuring fierce vehicles, cruel weapons and serious body augmentation.

Manhattan, 2076. The fabled city of gold realised; a city of dazzling buildings and beautiful people; a city celebrated for converting an obsolete subway system into an adult playground. Manhattanite Nikki’s life changes forever when she finds the files labelled ‘Project Blue Book appendix 63-A’. The report contains a disc related to the Glass Shore, the horrendous nuclear event at Puget Sound in 2062. Disclosure of these files is not an option, so powerful people want Nikki dead. To protect her Nikki hires Apollo, her long-time friend and lover, who is magnificent at his job. He is also a clothes whore with an honest enthusiasm for life.

Nikki and Apollo are the hottest couple in Manhattan. Betrayed by friends at every turn, set upon by bounty hunters and other elements of security, law enforcement and civil protection, they utilise the best hotels, the sexy Underground and the glorious city of Manhattan as their shield.

“Government hit squads, illegal weaponry, hackers, cyborgs, twists, turns, sex, drugs, and a surprising lack of rock’n’roll – Glass Shore takes its readers on an express journey through the highs and lows of life in a dystopian future. Leaving you wondering at each turn what will come next, the story is superbly balanced between government conspiracies, criminals and corporations and how they inevitably intertwine.”

This one appeals to me on so many levels - it just seems like a cool sci-fi read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview with Nigel Lampard (author of The Loser Has to Fall)

Good morning all, and welcome to the next in our series of interviews with the authors of Thorstruck Press.

This week we're sitting down to chat with Nigel Lampard, author of more than a dozen psychological thrillers and murder mystery, with The Loser Has to Fall - a war romance - coming soon.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Nigel. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

My name is Nigel Lampard and I spent thirty-nine years in uniform with the British Army before working as a civilian for them for eight years.  I started writing after a tour in Berlin back in the early 1980s: I fell in love with the city and what it stood for and after leaving Berlin I needed to continue the experience, so I put pen to paper – then I fell in love with writing, a love affair that is still very strong.  Jane, my wife, and I have been married forty years, we have two sons and with their partners we have three grandchildren.  I have written thirteen novels so far, four of which have been published. You can expect from me a sense of humour, dedication, integrity, loyalty and when needed, support.

Q: As I'm sure you can attest, the journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and what has the journey to publication been like?

As I said, I started writing in the early 1980s and although the possibility of being published was always at the back of my mind – a dream – I didn't think it would ever happen. After I retired at the ripe old age of sixty-one a dedicated supporter told me that I should ‘do something’ with my novels. Without any expectations I joined a website called Struggling Authors, its owner read some of my work and put me in touch with Night Publishing – which became Taylor Street Books (TSB). I never looked back. It had taken thirty years but as I never thought the dream would come true, those thirty years were the equivalent of five minutes.  TSB folded on 1st June 2014 but fortunately I discovered Thorstruck Press Ltd, was accepted, and now I feel that together we have a long friendship ahead of us.

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

Initially it didn’t matter because only loyal friends and relatives read my ramblings, but when it became serious I was very fortunate to have a great editor (teacher!) who has given me tremendous support and confidence.  I find – as I’m sure many other authors do – that once I have created the characters they take over and quite often change the direction in which I wanted to go. In order of difficulty though, I would say the first paragraph is the hardest because that is where you have to grab the reader’s attention and hopefully, keep it.  The final paragraph is dependent on whether there is to be a sequel or not.  As long as most of the readers are happy with the outcome, the last paragraph can be very satisfying. I don’t like writing the cover blurb but I don’t find it difficult. I think the author of the cover blurb ought to be independent of the author of the novel, but that is just me.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

I touched on this in my previous answer. I was walking through a local quintessentially pretty English village called Ashby St Ledgers in Northamptonshire with my family, when one of my sons suggested I write a novel centred in and around the village. Ashby St Ledgers just happened to be the location of where the Gunpowder Plot was planned.  It was 2003 and the 400th anniversary of the plot would fall the following year. I had just finished a novel so I took on the challenge.  A modern day gunpowder plot would give me a tremendous story line and in 2003/4 there were a number of politicians I would gladly put a bomb under! I even called the main character Peter Salter, a play on Salt Petre being a constituent part of gunpowder.   Suffice to say in Subliminal – the title of the book – the gunpowder plot gets a passing mention, the thrust of the story was taken over by the characters and concentrated on the tricks of the subconscious mind – how different could that be? Although the story was turned on its head – literally – by the characters I had created, I finished the story feeling they had got it right and thank God they had! The politicians lived to see another day!

Q: When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

Initially I wrote for my own satisfaction but since some of my books were published, and when editing my own work, the reader and reviewer are constantly on my mind. Writing for me is like entertaining: you invite people into your home to enjoy themselves, therefore I invite people to read my books and enjoy what I write – if I did not think of them I would be failing as a host.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

One reviewer said that one of my novels – In Denial – was the best story she had ever read, another  reviewer said that Pooh Bridge – my first novel to be published – was summed up very well in the title – pooh! The accolades – although unbelievable on occasions – boost the ego, the criticisms at first, hurt.  I have learnt to cope with the good and the bad but abuse, which I’m sure all authors have experienced, is uncalled for but will always happen. There are some strange people out there.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

Yes, Robert Goddard –  I was an avid reader of his books before I started writing seriously but I felt if I could emulate him then I would be happy. I was overcome with pride when a reviewer said about one of my books – In Denial I think – that Robert Goddard was still alive and well. I also thoroughly enjoyed MR Hall’s Jenny Cooper (Coroner) series. But now I find myself reading a variety of books – judging the opposition – on my Kindle and highlighting the typos, and the grammatical and PoV  errors as I read. Perhaps that makes me rather sad!

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?

Obviously it would depend on which book was being dramatised for the big screen. I am sure as with other authors, I visualise my characters and then they become real people. Yes, there are known actors who could be cast in the leading roles but also there are people on the street who could equally fit the bill. Authors have to be people watchers and I often see an individual and think, yes, she could be Sarah, he could be Colin etc, etc. So, this is a difficult question to answer and one which if the producer didn’t get right, I would withdraw – if I could – the rights for dramatisation.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

The first book to be published by Thorstruck Press LtdThe Loser Has to Fall - is very different to the ones already published by Taylor Street Books and which will hopefully be republished by Thorstruck. I suppose my genre – I hate that word – is thriller/romance, but The Loser Has to Fall is a tearjerker set in Sarawak during WW2 and in post-war England.  My future books – already written – fall back into the original genre although I have written one science fiction novel, but if my sons’ comments are worthy of note, it will need a lot of revising! So something completely different is closer than the horizon, but changing genres can – I am told – lose an author some of his followers. We will see.


About the Author

Nigel Lampard was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army when after thirty-nine years he retired from active service in 1999. Trained as an ammunition and explosives expert, he travelled all over the world and was appointed an Order of the British Empire for services to his country. Before finally retiring in 2007 and as a second career, he helped British Forces personnel with their transition to civilian life.

Nigel and his wife, Jane, have been married for forty years and they have two sons and three grandchildren. They have lived in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex since 2007.

Nigel started writing after a tour in Berlin in the early 1980s – he fell in love with what was then a walled and divided city. After leaving Berlin the only way he could continue the well-developed affair was to write about it. By the time he completed the draft for his first novel he was already in love with writing. Over the ensuing years, and for sheer enjoyment, he wrote a further twelve novels most of which are in the psychological thriller/murder mystery genre but there is always a bit of romance thrown in! However, the first novel – The Loser Has to Fall - to published by Thorstruck Press is not in this genre, it is a war romance set in a war-torn Sarawak on the island of Borneo and then in post-war England: if ‘Tearjerker’ is a genre than this story fits the bill.

Nigel is a previously published author with Taylor Street Books


About the Book

The Loser Has to Fall by Nigel Lampard
Coming Soon . . .

War comes to sleepy Sarawak
Lovers are separated
The misery ends and they are reunited
But the war has taken its toll

When Colin attempts to escape the invasion, Rachel is interned by the Japanese. She begins nearly four years of untold hell. Injured, Colin is cared for by the Iban – the notorious head-hunters of Borneo – and embarks on a previously unimaginable life, taking Aslah, the headman’s daughter, for his wife.

But his heart is torn in two for although separated, the love Colin and Rachel have for each other never wanes.

The war ends.
Colin, Rachel and Aslah stand to lose everything.
There could be winners.
But The Loser Has to Fall.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sci-Fi Review - Levels: The Host by Peter Emshwiller

As hard as it is to believe that it's been 25 years since Peter Emshwiller's cyberpunk classic first hit shelves, it's even harder to accept that it's been out of print for so long. Fortunately, in celebration of it's silver anniversary, it's now available as an e-book, complete with a new intro and a shiny new cover.

Fortunately, the story itself hasn't changed, and neither has the telling. Levels: The Host still has that early 90s, edge-of-apocalypse, pulp sci-fi sort of feel to it, but it's surprisingly fresh and original. Re-reading it now, after so many years, it's just as imaginative and just as much fun as the first time around.

Part of what makes the story so attractive is the simple ways in which Emshwiller subverts expectations - beginning with language. Instead of inventing new slang that's dated almost as soon as the final page is turned, he plays with words we already know, extending conversational trends, turning the f-bomb into a part of everyday speech, and making words like rape the coarsest of curses. Even his hero is a subversion, an all-around average guy who wants nothing more than a chance to be a mother (not in a gender sense, but that of gender roles).

Yes, Watly Caiper is a First Leveler, a denizen of the subterranean industrial slums, who aspires to an impossible dream of motherhood. In order to save up enough money to cover the costs, he has applied to become a host, renting out his body to angry, horny, or bored Second Levelers who want to to play in the slums without risking their bodies. It's a dangerous job, despite the multiple safeguards, but it pays extraordinarily well. Unfortunately for Watly, his second gig not only sees his body being used to assassinate one of the most prominent Second Level businessmen around, but the stranger taking a ride inside him has worked very hard to disable all those safeguards and frame Watly for murder.

What follows is a classic thriller, with Watly desperately trying to evade capture while trying to clear his name. The set pieces are fantastic, dark and claustrophobic on the First Level, and gleaming chrome and blue skies on the Second. There's at least one narrow escape in just about every chapter, a few great chase scenes, and more than one double-cross that proves to be as clever as it is entertaining. The emphasis here is very much on the human element, with technology playing a supporting role, as evidenced by the experience of hosting. While we do learn about the how and why of it works, it's really the sensory experience of what Watly feels and how he experiences his world as a consciousness with no physical control over his own body that drives the story.

Levels: The Host is a fun, fast-paced read that doesn't try to 'wow' the reader with technological genius, and which avoids the temptation to drive any sort of 'hard' moralizing or ecological message. The climax is something of a shocker, setting up the events of Short Blade, but the core mystery here is resolved.

Mass Market Paperback, 368 pages
Orginally published April 1st 1991 by Spectra

Following My Muse: a Guest Post by Leonard D. Hilley II (author of Shawndirea)

Sometimes a writer’s muse will do unexpected things with a character or a storyline, but that’s a good thing. Don’t ignore the gentle prodding. Follow. I give you two examples of how this has worked well for me.


I’ve been asked if I use an outline when I write. The answer is: “No.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to outline events well before they occur in my fiction. When a great idea pops into my head, I immediately write it down. That’s my writer instinct. I may not know where the idea will lead, but I’m willing to follow.

That’s how the Darkness Series began. In January 1996, when I laid down to go to sleep, the opening sentence came to me: “Dropping a cat from the top of a ten story office building was not the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.”

I was intrigued. I didn’t know where the story would go or why someone dropped the cat off the building, but I got up and wrote it down. A few minutes later when I was trying to go to sleep, the next two paragraphs came to me. So, again, I got up and wrote down the words.

The next day I sat at my computer and hammered out twenty pages in a few hours. At the end of those pages, I found myself in a new dilemma. I couldn’t add anything else to the storyline. Anything I attempted to add didn’t fit, sounded too corny, or took away from the characters and the building plot. I was stuck, and I didn’t know why. I printed it out and set it in a box to work on later.

Two years later, during my final year at Morehead State University, I registered to take two creative writing classes in the coming fall. During the summer I took out the twenty pages and thought I would see if any new ideas stirred to breathe life into this story. Rereading the piece I realized something. I didn’t have twenty pages of the novel. What I had was the skeleton of a novel that needed depth, description, and more urgency to push the plot forward.

I took a yellow notepad and made a lot of notes. When I was content with how I would flesh the book out, I sat at the computer and spent a week working and revising with the new ideas. The last sentence of the original twenty pages now ended on page 100; but still, I couldn’t add anything else. Frustrated, I set it aside.

Once the fall semester started, we met the new creative writing professor, Dr. Chris Offutt. He stated that his class would be treated like a writer’s workshop, and on our designated days, we could bring in a short story or the chapter of a book we were working on to have the class evaluate it. When my day came, I brought the first chapter (~32 pages) of Predators of Darkness: Aftermath in and gave each student a copy. The next week they came back to critique and offer suggestions about what did/didn’t work.

After everyone in the class made their suggestions, the professor walked to the chalkboard. He drew out a diagram on the board and said, “Leonard, you don’t have one chapter here. What you have is five or six chapters.” In a matter of minutes he mapped out five chapters. I feverishly wrote down his suggestions. The best part is that something clicked. The fog lifted. And I suddenly visualized my characters, their uniqueness, and their voices were audible in my head.

Eventually, Predators of Darkness: Aftermath grew into 340 pages, and there are four complete novels in the series. Had I not written that sentence down, I do wonder if the series would have occurred. After all, I didn’t have a plot or any characters. All I had was the one sentence. I never imagined the opening sentence would spawn four more novels afterwards (Yes, I’m working on the fifth book), which is why I suggest that writers follow their muse, carry notebooks, and don’t get chained to an outline. If a character takes an unexpected turn into a dark alley, don’t stop him/her. Follow.


A couple of years ago I published Devils Den. Due to the characters in the fantasy realm of the novel, I thought that writing a novella backstory would be a good idea. However, my muse had a much different idea.

The fantasy characters in Devils Den I’ve known—in my mind, at least—for more than twenty years. The first novel I attempted was based on these characters, but the plot was too weak to develop, so I killed the story. But the characters never died. They didn’t speak a lot, but they were there in the back of my mind, maturing.

As I started the “Prequel” for Devils Den, something strange occurred. The characters wanted their voices to be heard, and they weren’t shy about letting me know. What I thought would be 40-50,000 words, came to life on a much larger scale. Twenty years of maturing in my mind, the characters suddenly brought their world to life. And thanks to Millard Pollitt, who drew an outstanding map of the realm, so many places can be explored. The plotlines are endless.

The new novel is a 148,000 word epic fantasy novel (Name and cover soon to be announced). Since the events in this novel are twenty years prior to Devils Den, and so much occurs between the two, the new book has become the first book in its own series.

So, you see, my muse took me in a different direction and definitely farther than the novella I had planned. Most often my muse knows more than I do, so I follow, take notes, and I write down what I hear and see. If there’s a better formula than that, I don’t know it.


About the Author

Leonard D. Hilley II currently lives in the mountains of Kentucky with his wife, Christal. He is a biologist that has also earned his MFA in creative writing. Having a passion for books at an early age, he knew he wanted to author his own creative works. He wrote his first novel at the age of eleven and has never lost his love for books.


Twitter: @Deimosweb Publishing



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About the Book

Chronicles of Aetheaon
Book I
Leonard D. Hilley II

Genre: Fantasy (Epic, Adventure, Sword/Sorcerer)

Publisher: DeimosWeb Publishing
Date of Publication: June 27, 2014

ISBN: 9781310304965

Number of pages: 536 printed pages
Word Count: 148,000

Book Description:

Often the smallest unexpected surprises garner the most demanding dilemmas, which proves to be the ordeal that entomologist Ben Whytten faces. While netting butterflies to add to his vast collection, he mistakenly sweeps what he thinks is the most spectacular butterfly he has ever seen into his net. Upon examining his catch, Ben is horrified to discover he has captured a faery and shredded her delicate wings into useless ribbons.

Devastated, Ben vows to take Shawndirea back to her realm, Aetheaon; but he discovers that doing so places their lives into immediate danger. To get to Aetheaon, they must pass through a portal rift deep inside the haunted cavern, Devils Den.

Once they cross the rift, Ben enters a world where mysteries, magic, betrayal, and power struggles await. He must adapt quickly or die because Aetheaon is filled with enchanted creatures and numerous races where chaos often dominates order. And since Shawndirea’s destined for the throne of Elvendale, opposing dark forces plot to prevent her from ever reaching her kingdom again. The faery's magic isn't enough to fully protect them, so he must trust other adventurers to aid them during their journey.



Chapter One

The early autumn sun blazed over the freshly cut hayfield in Cider Knoll, Kentucky.  Ben Whytten rested his butterfly net against the rusted barbed wire fence and then wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.  Sweat soaked his shirt and blue jeans.  Although fall had officially begun, the outside temperature didn’t indicate it. Sporting near ninety degrees, summer refused to let go of the climate and turned what should have been a pleasant Saturday afternoon into an intimidating taunt, daring anyone with partial sanity to remain outdoors in the sweltering heat.
After he unscrewed the canteen cap, he tilted it back and took a long drink of cold water.  Beads of water dripped down his short brown beard.  He sighed and twisted the cap tightly.  His piercing brown eyes studied the sky.  Not a cloud in sight.  No breeze to help combat the hellish sticky heat.
Ben combed his sweat-matted brown hair from his eyes with his fingers.  He picked up the butterfly net and looked across the straw-colored field at the small grove of pastel leafed maples that lined a winding stream.  The shade was inviting, and he guessed a good ten degrees cooler than the open field.  He took a deep breath and trudged across brittle grass stems that crunched beneath his hiking boots.
Collecting butterflies during autumn was better than spring or summer because the diversity of species increased.  The fall forms of butterflies were generally brighter, larger, and fed in greater clusters on the ironweed, milkweed, and clover.  Brilliantly colored swallowtails puddled along the creek beds.  Plump moth larvae were also easier to find as they searched for places to spin cocoons or burrow beneath the soil to pupate before the colder temperatures set in.
“If colder weather ever settles in,” Ben thought, “Hell will have truly frozen over.”
Long narrow grasshoppers jumped and took to flight as Ben crossed the field.  Their wings buzzed as the alarmed insects glided and drifted downward, landed, and propelled themselves into the air again.
Reaching the shade beneath the maple branches, Ben leaned against a thick tree trunk and closed his eyes.  The shallow stream trickled softly.  Cicadas hummed.  In the distance a woodpecker rapped the bark of a massive dead pine.  Weather had stripped away sections of the rough pine bark, revealing the smooth yellow wood underneath.  The soothing sounds of nature relaxed him, and he was thankful to be outside, alone.
Dr. Isaac Deiko had planned to collect insects with Ben this particular Saturday, but at the last minute, he called and said that he couldn’t go.  Deiko had to help set up tables for a gun show in a neighboring town.
The news didn’t disappoint Ben.  He’d rather collect butterflies and other insects alone.  The outdoors was a place where he gathered his thoughts and meditated about life.  The forests, bluffs, and meadows were the best places where he felt at peace.  Leaving the fast-paced, bustling technological-craving addicts for a calmer, slow-paced life without all their distractions was worth more than millions of dollars to Ben.  He’d give up all the instant gadgets for the tranquility that his grandfather and great-grandfather experienced while working on their farms.
Ben kept a serious outlook on life while Dr. Deiko spent more time playing practical jokes on their colleagues and students, which often irritated and infuriated Ben.  He knew if Deiko came on this field trip, the collecting possibilities would be little or none simply because Deiko was clumsy-footed and boisterous.
Ben had never extended an invitation for Deiko to join him in the first place.  In fact, Deiko had invited himself when he found out about Ben’s collecting plans for the weekend.  Although Deiko was a biologist like Ben, Deiko was more concerned with uncovering a discovery to make him famous, whereas Ben loved science and didn’t care if anyone other than his students knew he existed.  Of course when final exams rolled around, most of his students would rather he didn’t exist.  Other than giving his students field trips from Hell, his tests were considered harsher than rigorous ten mile hikes through steep mountainous terrain.
Ben looked back across the field and chuckled.  He had traipsed hundreds of acres through forests, caves, and fields when he was still in middle school.  He had done so voluntarily, without a word of complaint, and yet, today’s college students voiced disdain over the least thing.  The challenge wasn’t getting them to learn; it was getting them to do anything that didn’t require the pacifying need for their technology.
His inner frustration brought more heat to his face.  He was seconds from rehashing how he wished computers and cellphones weren’t so controlling until the soft bubbling creek caught his attention.  The gentle soft sound of water allowed his mind to leave the tensions of the classroom and return to the natural calm surrounding him.  He expelled a long sigh and refocused himself.
Tall narrow blades of grass covered the sandy banks of the shallow stream.  Small drab satyr butterflies fluttered lazily from grass blade to grass blade.  Ben shook his head.  After two hours of walking the fields and woods, he had hoped to capture a few new specimens to add to his collection.  But with each species he encountered, he already had at least a half-dozen of those pinned inside glass-top boxes at home.  In many ways, he believed he’d have done himself a greater service by staying home.
But regardless of what he deemed bad luck, his life was about to change.
He removed his backpack and set it down.  Slowly he lowered himself and sat back against the tree trunk to rest.  He set down the canteen and placed the net handle across his lap and watched the gentle stream flow.  A few minnows darted back and forth beneath the water as water striders skimmed like polished skaters across the water’s surface.
Ben was drenched in sweat and drained from the heat.  A cool breeze stirred along the stream, which seemed an invitation to relax a while longer.  His eyes ached to close for a nap.  He fought the urge to doze even though the place was so comforting and peaceful.  But, if nothing interesting presented itself soon, he was going home.  He dreaded walking across the dry pasture to his SUV.
Ben took his hunting knife from the sheath attached to his belt and then picked up a dried oak branch.  He whittled and shaved away bark.
Perhaps it was the extreme heat that kept the most brilliant butterflies in hiding, but he still didn’t see any within the grove or along the sandy banks.  Later in the evening he might have better luck, but he refused to stick around that long.  He slid the knife back into its sheath and rubbed his tired eyes.
Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy.  Several birds flew low across the stream and through the trees.  Seconds later two yellow butterflies glided to the edge of the far bank and landed.  A larger butterfly caught his attention.  At first glance he thought it was a giant swallowtail, but instead, it turned out to be an oversized tiger swallowtail.
Ben’s fingers tightened around the net handle.  He pushed himself to his feet.  He stepped lightly and headed toward the stream to get a better look at the butterflies.  Near the bank, a blur of metallic bluish-green streaked past him.
“Damn!” he said, watching the zipping wings catch the breeze and glide.
With incredible speed, it darted up, down, left to right, and along the stream’s edge.  Perhaps the sweltering heat or near dehydration was playing tricks on him, but he was almost certain glittery dust trailed behind it.
Ben hurried after the butterfly, a prize unlike any other in his collection.
Few butterflies in this part of Kentucky had such metallic colorings.  One he thought of immediately was the White M Hairstreak, but this one was too large and flew much swifter.  Another butterfly with similar colors was the long-tailed skipper, but the sheen sparkling off the butterfly following the stream was too bright.  Its flight was also more erratic.  The skipper stayed near gardens, and he doubted any strayed this far into the woods since the larvae food plant was the leaf of various beanstalks.
Ben realized he had just discovered something new.  Excitement shot through him.
He hurried along the stream and jumped over a fallen tree.  His sudden pursuit had not gone unnoticed.  The iridescent creature darted downward and swept through the tiny branches of a shrub.  But Ben moved faster.
As the beautifully winged specimen shot through the other side of the bush, Ben arced the net sharply and captured his prize.  The end of the net pulled and stretched while his captive struggled to fight free.
Quickly, Ben clamped his fingers near the end of the net, but by the time he did, the struggling ceased.
He opened the net and looked inside.  His eyes widened.
“What the hell?” he asked.
At the bottom of the net lay a gorgeous creature, but not what he had expected to capture.  Her wings were tattered, frayed.  Unconscious, he hoped, but he feared she might be dying or already dead.  Broken scales and wing fragments covered her nearly nude body.
His excitement of the chase suddenly turned to regret and dread.
A faery?
Ben dropped to his knees and gently set down the net. 
“God,” he whispered.  “I hope I didn’t kill you.”
He carefully placed his left hand beside her unmoving form.  He nudged her into the palm of his hand with the tip of his finger.  She breathed, but her eyes remained closed.  Her radiant face was more beautiful than any woman he had ever met.
A door slammed and echoed near the pasture gate where he had parked his SUV.
Ben looked over his shoulder but couldn’t see who had driven up.
“Ben!” Deiko shouted.  “Where are you?”
“Dammit,” Ben grumbled under his breath, looking back over his shoulder.  “What the hell are you doing here?”
He hurried to the tree where his pack lay.  He curled his left hand gently around the faery’s limp body while reaching into the pack.
Ben took a wide-mouthed dark plastic bottle, set it between his knees and unscrewed the hole-punched lid.  Glancing back over his shoulder he saw Deiko’s lanky figure jogging toward the grove.  Deiko smiled and waved when their eyes met.  His jog turned into a sprint as he headed toward Ben.
Ben placed the faery into the jar, turned the lid, and wrapped the jar inside a white cloth before setting it back into his pack.  No sooner had he placed it there and zipped the pack shut, Deiko’s thundering footsteps stopped beside him.
“Catch something nice?” Deiko asked.
“No,” Ben replied, looking up but not making eye contact with Deiko.  “Not much activity out here today.  I blame the heat.”
Deiko smiled broadly.  “You caught something.  Something special.”
Ben shook his head, picked up his pack, and stood.  “Look around, Isaac.  What do you see?”
Deiko glanced around but then his eyes focused on Ben’s backpack again.  “I agree.  Not much flying around.  But you got something.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Your eyes.  It’s the same with poker players who have a great hand and haven’t conditioned themselves to suppress their excitement or like kids that find money on the ground after someone drops it.  Hell, I noticed people at the gun show who bought guns from people far cheaper than the owners knew the guns were worth.”
Ben’s eyes narrowed, and he chose to change the subject.  He said, “How was the gun show?  I thought you’d be there all day.”
Deiko shrugged.  “That had been the plan.  Not much going on there, either.  Got a couple good deals though.  Like this Ruger.”
He pulled a handgun from the back of his belt.
“Nice,” Ben replied.  Carefully he slipped his pack over his shoulder and headed toward the hay field.
“Well?” Deiko said.  He tucked the gun behind his belt and stepped in front of Ben.  “Aren’t you going to show me?”
Sweat dripped from his Deiko’s black hair and beaded on his brow.  Ben studied the determination set in his colleague’s dark eyes and his firm muscular jaw.  Within seconds, Deiko’s boyish face had hardened into that of a fierce murderous villain.  Physically, he had no weight to put behind his facial threat.  He was tall and quite bony with slender arms.  And although Deiko was probably fifteen years younger, Ben had no doubt if he was forced to fight that Deiko would be the one sitting on the ground looking up and rubbing his jaw.  But, then, there was the gun issue.  Isaac was armed and all Ben had was his knife.  Even those odds didn’t stand in Isaac’s favor.
“Show you what?” Ben asked.
“Your prize.  It must be something nice since you still refuse to show me.”
“How many times have I told you that I haven’t found anything?”
“You and I should play poker sometime,” Deiko said.  “I’d make a fortune.”
“Being as I don’t play cards, you’re probably correct with that assumption.”
“Oh, come on, Ben,” Deiko said.  Hostility loomed in his voice and darkness narrowed his eyes.  “Why are you afraid to show me what you found?”
Ben studied him for a moment.  Never had he seen Isaac behave like a demented spoiled brat.  He had his moments, but Dr. Deiko generally didn’t keep a quiet and intimidating tone.  But out here, away from others, Ben suddenly saw the violence that hid deep within the botanist, and it was creeping to the surface.  Knowing that Deiko lusted for fame, for a discovery beyond what man had seen or could fathom, Ben knew he could never show the faery to Deiko.  The second he did, something horrible would happen.  To Ben and the lovely faery.
Deiko had not only shown the gun as his grand prize from the gun show, he had established his subtle threat by revealing he had brought it into the field.  Hunting season was still a few weeks away, and no one needed a gun to collect butterflies.  He had shown the gun for a reason—either as a bullying tactic or simply to exhibit dominance.
“I think the heat is getting to you, Isaac,” Ben said, shaking his head and stepping around his colleague.
“Put down the pack,” Isaac said.
Ben froze when Isaac inserted the magazine into the gun and snapped the gun’s chamber back and forth.
“Put down your pack.  I want to see what you’re hiding inside.”
Ben turned.  He looked in Isaac’s eyes, then to the gun.
Isaac shook his head.  “Uh-uh.  Just set it down.”
Ben frowned and slowly lowered his pack to the ground.  He held his hands before him in surrender.  “You’re making a big mistake.”
“So you did find something.”
“And if I did?  You going to kill me for it?” Ben asked.
Isaac chuckled.  “Depends on how good a find it is.”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: The Apex Book of World SF (Volume 3) edited by Lavie Tidhar

As we pass the halfway mark of the year, we find the first of the new 'best of' anthologies flooding the market. Currently I have 4 monster tomes that I've been reading through, jumping around between favorite authors and intriguing titles. I'm not one to read an anthology from cover-to-cover, but I try to give the bulk of the stories a fair shot.

First up was Space Opera from Rich Horton; The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year #8 from Jonathan Strahan; and The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Volume 2) edited by Gordon Van Gelder.

Lastly, we have The Apex Book of World SF Volume 3, edited by Lavie Tidhar, which collects 282 pages of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This is a collection where, to be honest, I didn't recognize a single author from the table of contents. Instead, the appeal for me was in the quality of work that I've known Apex put out in the past - yes, I'd be going in blind, but I also knew I'd find some gems.

“Courtship in the Country of Machine–Gods” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew was an odd choice to lead things off with, being a bit confusing and hard to grasp, but it reminds us that good science fiction isn't always immediately accessible. “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia was a more entertaining follow-up, exploring the streets walked by the dead, but even it strayed a bit into confusion towards the end.

The next few tales I didn't care for at all, but “The City of Silence” by Ma Boyong may very well be the smartest, more entertaining story in the collection. “Planetfall” by Athena Andreadis was interesting, but tried to do too much, while “Jungle Fever” by Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar surprised me with how well it worked as a monsters-among-us sort of tale. The next few stories fell flat for me, although I may go back and give “Ahuizotl” by Nelly Geraldine García–Rosas another read when I get the chance, as I fear I may have missed something that would deliver on its initial promise.

“Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo was another twist on the traditional ghost story, offering something different yet again from that of Xia Jia. While Ma Boyong may have the smartest tale in the collection, Ange has the most imaginative in “Three Little Children” - a very dark twist on faery tales and their role in society. “Brita’s Holiday Village” by Karin Tidbeck is one of those stories about writing stories, which rarely ever work for me, but “Regressions” by Swapna Kishore was surprisingly deep and thoughtful, with some really interesting conclusions to be found.

Finally, if Benjanun Sriduangkaew was an odd choice with which to open the collection, Berit Ellingsen is absolutely perfect to close things out. On the surface, “Dancing on the Red Planet” seems like the most traditional story in the collection, but like Mars itself it has layers to its narrative, all of them musically inclined. Odd, and somewhat disjointed, but entertaining as a while - much like the collection itself.

If you're open to new authors, and are open to the challenge of exploring new ways of telling a story, then The Apex Book of World SF Volume 3 is worth checking out. So many of this year's anthologies have been about revisiting favorite authors and familiar stories, it's important to remember that they were all unknown to us at one point . . . and the thrill of discovery is as important in the reader's mind as it is on the page.

Paperback, 282 pages
Published June 29th 2014 by Apex Book Company

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

I've been focusing on striking a better balance between upcoming titles and my personal TBR shelves, and it's working, so I treated myself to a few October ARCs that caught my eye.

Black Dog: Hellhound Chronicles by Caitlin Kittredge
Expected publication: October 28th 2014 by Harper Voyager

The first installment in a fabulous dark urban fantasy series—think Kill Bill with demons and gangsters instead of martial arts—from the award-winning author of the Iron Codex trilogy and Vertigo comic Coffin Hill

Ava has spent the last hundred years as a hellhound, the indentured servant of a reaper who hunts errant souls and sends them to Hell. When a human necromancer convinces her to steal her reaper’s scythe, Ava incurs the wrath of the demon Lilith, her reaper’s boss.

As punishment for her transgression, Lilith orders Ava to track down the last soul in her reaper’s ledger . . . or die trying.

But after a hundred years of servitude, it’s time for payback. And Hell hath no fury like an avenging Ava . .

Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel by Chris Evans
Expected publication: October 14th 2014 by Gallery Books

Apocalypse Now meets The Lord of the Rings in a bold new fantasy from the acclaimed author of the Iron Elves trilogy, filled with "heroic action that keeps fans coming back" (Publishers Weekly).

Channeling the turbulent period of the Vietnam War and its ruthless pitting of ideologies, cultures, generations, and races against each other, military historian and acclaimed fantasy writer Chris Evans takes a daring new approach to the traditional world of sword and sorcery by thrusting it into a maelstrom of racial animus, drug use, rebellion, and a growing war that seems at once unwinnable and with no end in sight. In this thrilling epic, right and wrong, country and honor, freedom and sacrifice are all put to the ultimate test in the heart of a dark, bloody, otherworldly jungle.

In this strange, new world deep among the shadows under a triple-canopy jungle and plagued by dangers real and imagined, soldiers strive to fulfill a mission they don’t understand and are ill-equipped to carry out. And high above them, the heavy rush of wings slashing through the humid air herald a coming wave of death and destruction, and just possibly, salvation.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

• Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb  
Fitz and Fool are back! I've been sitting on this forever, waiting for closer to the release date to post a review, but I'm done waiting - time to get reading!.

• Plague by C.C. Humphreys  
Historical fiction about a serial killer, a plague, and a culture of excess - written by a fellow Canadian.

• Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown 
A rip-roaring, spice-laden, steampunk action adventure series featuring a heroine who subverts all the norms. Sounds great.

What's topping your shelves this week?