Tuesday, July 31, 2018

RJ Batla's Fire Eyes Awakened

Okay, let's write a story. We'll start out with a little steampunk. Then we'll toss in just a bit of a classic Science Fiction feel. Then, just for shits and giggles, we'll throw in a HUGE dose of comic book style superhero action. And of course, we're going to need a super villain. And maybe a conflict for our hero. Oh, and we can't forget a sexy lady or two. We could do all of that. It sounds like a good story. Or, since I'm feeling lazy, maybe I'll just let R.J. Batla do it for us. He did a good job with it too. Seriously. Fire Eyes Awakened is a romping good time.

I'll get to our main character in a minute, but first let me say that I can't believe how much Batla managed to get into this book. I mean, not only does he have everything I mentioned above, but the themes in Fire Eyes Awakened are amazeballs. There's morality. There's a Christian theme. You've got good versus evil. You've got selflessness. You see the value of thrift and hard work. You get a look at the value of charity. There is really a lot here and not a single bit of it is preached at the audience. Batla just writes it in and away you go.

Our main character, our hero, is one Jayton Baird, also known as Jay. This is a guy who worked and saved money his entire life to become Awakened and gain superpowers. You'd think a guy like that would be out for power, but he basically just wants a good paying job. He's hoping that through thrift and hard work he can overcome his poor upbringing and earn a decent living by putting his life on the line to defend the East Side (more about this in a minute) from the depredations of the evil monsters of the West Side. He's basically a really good guy who just wants what's best for himself and his parents and is willing to serve to do it. I like him.

I don't want to give too much away, but you can't get a feel for this book without knowing that he gains huge powers in like the first ten pages of the story. A lot of the book centers around Jay learning to use his powers. He also gains one power that makes him a threat to all around him. He spends the majority of the book under suspicion. All he wants to do is his duty. This kid is amazing.

The world of Fire Eyes Awakened is a dangerous place. On one said we have humanity and it's allies. Superpowers are common among the no-human populace but are rare and expensive to acquire for humans. The good guys live on the East Side of the Break, a range of mountains with a huge wall across them. One the East Side are the monsters and they're pissed. They've been locked out. Granted, it's because their ancestors were tearing things up and hurting people but they're convinced that they've been done dirty and the other side has it better. There is a war coming.

Our antagonist is named Malstrak. He has the same power that causes Jay to come under suspicion – and he embraces it. Malstrak commands the armies of the West Side and he's on his way to cause havoc, if he can make it. He has been cast out from the East Side and is not at all happy about it. At some point, he's going to find a way to get revenge. He's got all the creatures of the West Side happy to help him do it. I seriously want to slap this guy. He's coming though.

There are several subplots and challenges contained within the pages of Fire Eyes Awakened. I don't do spoilers and I'm not going to try to go over them all here. The main focus though is on Jay and his training. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to his character arc. We get a really good feel for how Jay learns what his powers are and how to use them. We see Jay fight to control his dark side. We see Jay dealing with normal emotions as well. Batla did a really good job constructing this character and his travails.

That's not to say that the other characters are not well developed as well. Jay's friends and enemies are well thought out and live in the pages. We really do get a good idea of what makes the rest of the cast tick. They all go through their own arcs and we get a feel for what the good guys actually are: A family. Jay is a member of the Senturian Corps, a group that combines the responsibilities of army, law enforcement, fire department and often EMT and doctors all rolled into one group. They're responsible for just about everything regarding the safety of their people. They kind of have a military feel to them and the kind of don't. It's a weird middle ground, but it makes sense in context. Batla did a great job making the Senturian Corps his own instead of creating just another military SF organization.

My only complaint about Fire Eyes Awakened is that it is too short. I really wanted this book to give me an ending to a particular storyline, but it kind of ends right at the good part. I really shouldn't panic. I already have a copy of Tempus, the sequel so it's not like I'll never know what happens, but still you can feel the lack at the end of this one. It's like ending Star Wars Episode Four just when the Rebel fleet finds the Death Star. I mean, it's like ahhhhhH!!!!!!!! I want more! I'm SO TOTALLY gonna tell my MOM!!!!!

Then again, I'm not totally certain that it's as bad as I'm making it out to be. At the end of the day, if the audience wants more, then the author has done his job. I definitely can't wait to see what happens next. Except that I'm going to, because I never review the same author twice in a row. Stay tuned though. I'll get there soon.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Train Whistles

Fire Eyes Awakened
R.J. Batla
Self Published, 2017

Fire Eyes Awakened is available for purchase at the following link:

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Jon Del Arroz's Knight Training

I don't usually read anything in a series out of order. I had a bad experience with that in the Nineties with L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth series. (Shut up. I was twelve.) I started at book six, not realizing it was book six and then had to start over and then re-read the sixth one. It made much more sense the second time. But, I figured I'd pick up Jon Del Arroz's latest novella anyway. I had hear it worked well as a standalone and it does. I still do plan on going back to pick upFor Steam and Country but Knight Training worked just fine without it. I had a good time.

Our hero is a young apprentice Knight named James. (I approve. I find all guys named James to be both awesome and humble. Yes, that is my name. What does that have to do with anything?) He has a problem: He's good at what he does and he has the favor of the royal family. Why is that a problem? Because the other apprentices hate him. They basically see him as a teacher's pet. His life is hell.

I found myself identifying with this kid. I was the guy in high school whose teacher gave him a pet name (I spent my freshman year answering to “Scribble” in my biology class. Yes, my handwriting is that bad.) and check tests. A lot of people hated me as well. The difference is that this James can't just go home at the end of the day to get away from the crap. He spends his nights in a dorm with the people who are tormenting him. I couldn't help but to feel bad for the kid.

The fact remains that this not some “Woe is me. My life sucks. I'm being bullied.” story. James's solution to being tormented is to work harder and make his fellow apprentices eat their words. And, put bluntly, he really is that good. His instructors love him because of his talent and work ethic. He puts in the time. A competition is announced. It's just when that happens that James stumbles onto something...

I don't want to give too much away here, so I won't say what it is or where it leads, but James ends up doing even more than I expected him to when I picked this Knight Training up. I really like this kid. He's the kind of person I wish I had been at his age. He has been through a lot but he keeps persevering. What didn't kill him really did make him stronger. James is a real dynamo.

James and friends do not have it as bad as the characters in a George R.R. Martin novel, but they don't have it easy either. In a way, James himself almost has a Harry Dresden feeling to him. Either that, or he's a Timex watch. Regardless of how you view it, he takes a beating and keeps on fighting. This kid can absorb more punishment than a quarterback for the Detroit Lions. If he were any tougher, he'd be your mama's pot roast. The lost thing I saw get beaten like that was my...



The thing is, he's not that super competent, Honor Harrington type, ominpotently awesome dynamo that some other characters are. He's willing. He's able. He wants to do what he needs to do. The problem is that James is an apprentice. He knows that he doesn't know everything but that knowledge, in and of itself, is not enough to save him. He has to get some help from his friends sometimes and is not always smart enough to seek it. There is a bit of Harry Potter in this kid and it's not because he has a lightning shaped scar or gets treated like The Chosen One. No, James wants to do it all but can't always get 'er done. The thing is, he never stops trying.

I hear a lot of people complain about the boarding school cliché in Young Adult literature but it works here. Knight Training starts at the knight training academy. James states (the book is in first person) early on that he has the goal of becoming the youngest Journeyman knight in history. I find myself wondering if that's because of flat out ambition or if he's just trying to escape all of the assholes. It may actually be a little bit of both. Either way, the reason the boarding school has become so common in these types of stories is because they provide a big enough place to tell a story and a place small enough to keep things from getting out of control, especially in a novella where the author may not have room to introduce an entire planet full of people.

You know, I keep telling myself I'm going to read more Steampunk and then not doing it. That's sad because this really is a great genre and I am looking forward to reading more Steampunk by Jon Del Arroz soon. I love this setting and others like it. I confess to being more of a fan of the “electronic stuff hasn't been invented yet” thing than the “all the electronics have failed” gimmick but the former is what Del Arroz uses here. It really does work. Because electronics haven't been invented yet, Knight Training is able to focus on the future instead of constantly pining for a lost past.

Del Arroz also avoids the trap that some Steampunk works fall into. Any good story focuses on the people in it. Don't get me wrong. Any Steampunk novel needs to have Steampunk tech in it, but the author needs to keep in mind that the tech is part of the setting and not the whole story. The 1999 version of Wild Wild West fell into this trap, but Knight Training didn't. You might read about horseless carriages in the background or a special gun but the tech is kept in its place. Kudos to him for getting the balance right.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Wooden Swords.

Knight Training
Jon Del Arroz
Superversive Press, 2018

Knight Training is available for purchase at the following link:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Guest post by Riley McCoy: The Silver Eyes by Kira Breed-Wisley and Scott Cawthon

(Editor's Note:This is a giest post by my oldest daughter Riley. I'm a proud papa right now. Good job Riley!)

This book was based on the popular game franchise Five nights at Freddy's by Scott Cawthon. The book was unexpected. I wasn't sure what to expect. I had been watching theories on FNAF and wanted to read the book.

The book takes place in a small town, there used to be a Freddy Fazzbears pizzeria, the POV starts in third person limited to a girl named Charlotte AKA Charlie. Then transitions to her friends. Her father had created the animatronics and the restaurant. Along with William Afton. Well her father is never directly named you can infer he father is Henry (no last name given).

They are all back in the small town because of one reason: to commemorate their childhood friends death. He had died at Freddy's.

The book goes on and you find out that Freddy's was sealed in a mall that had become abandoned. They then go to the pizzeria. Charlie and her friends go to the place they once loved in their childhood and now fear. Will they make it out alive find out in
Five Nights at Freddy's: Silver eyes

The Silver Eyes
Kira Breed-Wisley and Scott Cawthon
Scholastic, 2016

The Silver Eyes is available for purchase at the following link:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Best of Abyss and Apex: Volume 2 Wendy Delmater Ed.

Being younger that some other readers of Science Fiction and Fantasy, I came to the love of the short story as an art form late. I mean that seriously. I am aware of the heyday of the pulp magazines. It must have been a great time. For me, and many others my age, that is not, however, how we fell in love with SF/F. My first real exposure to SF/F was Star Trek: The Original Series. Once I got old enough to make use of both the public library and the one at school, I expanded my axis of SF/F exploration to include novels. Then I got my first job at fourteen and hit the bookstore! I could get books I didn't have to get back! The closest thing I read to an anthology would have been the old Star Trek Log novels, but those only kinda, sorta count. Of course, we read some shorts in school but that almost put me off of the art form forever. The stuff they make you read in school sucks.

Even when I got older, I routinely bought the monthly bundles put out by Baen Books and didn't read the anthologies that came with them. But eventually, I stumbled into one on accident. And when I get a new one to review it's always bittersweet. Sweet because I get to read some really good stories that way. Bitter because I now know what I was missing. But when I received a copy of The Best of Abyss and Apex, Volume Two I was excited because I can now get further into something that I find myself enjoying more and more every time I read them: Actual quality short stories. This anthology definitely has a bunch of them. This anthology was a good time. And, if I write the occasional piece of fiction and have a recently conceived dream of seeing myself on these pages that doesn't hurt in the slightest. I couldn't wait to crack this thing open (metaphorically, I got the ebook) and read it. I was quite happy with what I found there.

Oh, and even though it's in the introduction and not one of the stories, I'd like to announce that I'm stealing the concept of a “word well.” Uhh... Hold on. I changed my mind. Nope, I have no clue why your world well disappeared or where it went. Whaddaya mean my back yard? I'm innocent. Innocent I tell ya!

A quick note: Something I've always done when I review anthologies is to go through one story at a time and give a quick impression. It gives credit to each author and also gives the reader a good idea of what's in the tome. This is going to be fun! I've got roughly thirty works to go write about. And...go!

Up first is “The Last Tower” by C.J. Cherryh. I've got some of her stuff piled up as part of Mount TBR but I have yet to read it. It sounds like I'd better get a move on though, because this is a good short. An old man in a tower wants to defend his home. He has a little magic. Will he succeed?

Up next is a poem, entitled “How Strange the Starship's Shudder.” Good poem.

That is followed by “Socorro” by S.L. Knapp. I really liked this one. It's a story about an attack on a planet that has sentient, breeding starships and the reaction of one of the people who live there. I missed a call at work because of this story. I don't regret losing the money.

After that comes Thesaurus (Not A Prehistoric Animal) by Robert Borski. Another poem. I gave a little chuckle at the end.

“Emmett, Joey and the Beelz,” by Ralph Servush is a story about a long-lived golem. There is a bit of personal sacrifice and a lesson to be learned here. I enjoyed it.

“Snatch Me Another” by Mercurio D. Rivera is deep. It's a story about people living in a time and place where they can reach into a magic hole and grab familiar things from an alternate universe. What they steal might surprise you. It sure did surprise me. There is the potential for a full novel with this short expanded into the first chapter or two. As it sits, it's an amazing short.

“Name Calling” by Celeste Rita Baker is a story written in dialect about a hotel maid who has recently gotten a name. I have to admit to having a bit of trouble in following the dialect in this one. It's got a definite Creole feeling to it but I've never been to the appropriate part of the country.

“Oblivion” is a poen by Yilin Wang. It's pretty deep and thoughtful.

“Anything Chocolate” by Caren Gusoff Sumpiton is a story about a man whose father is about to die. The twist is that it's set in a future where death is no longer an issue for the majority of the population. Only people who were born too early still die of death and disease. It's touching and wonderful, even if I did have a sense of frustration for both the main character and his father and the predicament they faced.

“Sunlight” by Kelly Dwyer is a story about a young boy who goes to speak to an old man who, rumor has it, has testicles that are literally made of steel. The twist here is pretty predictable but it's still a really good story and something I have to find a way to get my kids to read, because I think there's a lesson here.

Linda Neuer's “Humboldt Squid” is a poem about space mollusks. I enjoyed it.

“Dreadnought Under Ice” by George S. Walker is a short that could easily be translated into an entire series. There is political intrigue and underwater action aplenty in this one. More please!

Alexandra Seidel's “New Worlds” is a poem. Actually, it's more of a dream in poem form.

“Stone Eater” by Brent Knowles is a good one. Our hero is trapped and imprisoned by an evil witch. What might happen if he escapes? My first love is epic fantasy and this has that feeling to it.

“The Wizard and the Sorceress” by Christopher Vera is a poem about an arguing couple with magical powers. Remind me not to mess with these two.

“The Dwarf Femme and the Dragon” by Charie' Craig is a story about a woman involving herself in a man's world illicitly. She's really hardcore. This is another one with an epic fantasy feel and I really loved it.

“Letter Found In A Chest Belonging To The Marquis de Monsteraille, Following The Death OF That Worthy Individual” by Marie Brennan has a premise that is fairly obvious from the title. The letter itself details a war in a fantasy setting. Good story.

“Mirror Girl” by Paul Carlson is a story about a little girl who may or may not have an invisible limb. She has a high IQ and an inquisitive nature. Very few of the people who read SF/F would have any problems at all identifying with her. It might surprise you to find out why her limb is missing.

“Coupling” by Ken Poyer is a poem about a love affair between two machines. Interesting.

“Bots d'Amor” by Cat Rambo is a story about an interstellar trader in a very bad spot. I loved the humor here. Good story.

“The Coin Whisperer” is a story about a woman who can read the past of objects. She ends up with more questions than she started out with, but it's a good time.

“Bumbershoot” by Howard V. Vendrix is a poem. I find it a bit confusing.

“All the Wonder in the World,” by Lavie Tidhar is a story about a lonely man searching through a building. I didn't expect him to find what he did, but it makes sense. I enjoyed the story and I like Tidhar's take on the media.

“The Specialist” by Andrew Kaye is a story about trying to survive an invasion of the fae in a hospital. What do you do if you find out that your baby is a faerie and might turn on you when they get older? Haunting, but good.

“Prayer Causes Stars” by Greg Beatty is a really short poem, but it's got me thinking.

Lael Salaets “The Halo Wave” is a story about a drug addicted soldier who gets kindapped by smugglers. He's got a lot to do if he wants to get paid and survive. I liked it.

“In the Bag,' by Tabitha St. Germain is a story about a young boy who inherits what basically amounts to a Bag of Holding. What he puts in it can influence his future.

“In the End, Basking in Love” is a poem by A.B.S. Dudevant. It's frightening for something so short.

“At the End of Days” by Robert Silverberg is a story about a man in the last few days of the Earth's existence. Then there's a twist. Now I need to go re-read Lord Valentine's Castle.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Talented Scribes

The Best of Abyss and Apex: Volume 2
Wendy S. Delmater, Ed.
Abyss & Apex Publishing, 2016

The Best of Abyss and Apex: Volume 2 is available for purchase at the following link:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

WorldCon Follies

Someday, I want to be able to write a fiction story about something this incredibly jacked up and have someone actually find what I wrote about to be believable. One magical evening I want to look into my crystal ball and pull something out of it that even comes close to the level of stupidity I have recently witnessed. On that fateful day, I'll know that I've reached the pinnacle of the writing world and published something that will sell more copies than The Bible. Today is not that day, but here's hoping, right?

In a recent post about the Dragon Awards, I mentioned the irrelevance of the Hugo Awards. I wrote about how authors were being nominated not for the quality of their work or the size of their following but for the correct politics and for being “diverse.” I lamented the fact that good stories were no longer being featured and pointed out the worthlessness of the awards in a commercial sense. I knew what I was saying was true, but at no point did I expect WorldCon, the Science Fiction convention where the Hugo Awards are given out, to agree with me publicly. And then, Oh God this is good, they did, at least indirectly.

The WorldCon schedule came out this past weekend and people lost their mind. There were professional authors in attendance that weren't being asked to speak on panels. Many of those same authors were members of the LGBTQ+ .(I can't remember the whole acronym and I'm too lazy to look it up and try to determine which one is the most current.) Here's the kicker: Many of those same LGBTQ+ authors were former Hugo nominees. The Convention committee knew they were going to be in attendance and didn't feel that they were relevant enough to be given spots. This at the same convention where the awards they were nominated for was handed out.

Think about that for a minute. The people that give out the award didn't include the nominees in their programming. Why? They weren't relevant and weren't going to attract fans. The business of any con, whether it's WorldCon, or the San Diego Comic Con or a freaking smaller, local con like Penguicon here in the Detroit Area is to entertain and engage the fans. Any guest invited is there to interact with their fans face to face, whether in panels or just in passing in the hallway. Seriously. I once had a conversation with Brandon Sanderson in a stairwell while climbing. (For the record: He's a nice guy and, based on the way he handled the stairs, in better shape than me.)

This is what happens when you nominate people for the wrong reasons. Look, I'm not saying that trans persons (I can call them that, right? Even if they're like otherkin or some shit?) should be locked out of anything. I'm just saying that if you want to win an award that has the prestige that the Hugos claim to have, you should have to write a story that is entertaining and attracts an actual fanbase. Why else would someone (gay, straight, trans, cis, whatever and throw in race, religion and whatever else you like) actually deserve a nomination, let alone an award? Seriously, if the best reason you can come up with to nominate someone for an award is to make yourself feel good about casting a vote for them because of race/class/orientation/etc, they don't deserve it. The only criterion that should count for a writing award is writing and the Hugos are a literary award.

So I'd like to take this time to thank both WorldCon and the Hugos for proving my point for me. I mean, failing to invite your own nominees to your panels does more to show how little you matter more than anything I could ever say or do. I mean that seriously. There is literally (and I mean literally literally not literally figuratively) nothing that any of your detractors, myself included, could have done to show the world why you don't matter. So thank you for your support.

Of course, it doesn't end there. WorldCon also managed to misgender one of its trans guests. Bogi Takacs has taken offense at the fact that e (no, that is not a typo) was referred to as “he” in e's biographical entry in the program and has decided that he is “honestly not sure if I [sic] can safely attend.” Others are withdrawing in support of e's predicament and also of the plight shared by others like Takacs who feel that they have been marginalized because of their gender beliefs. N.K. Jemison has withdrawn from her spot on a couple of panels to make more room for the slighted.

And actually, that's kind of sad. I have no personal opinion of Ms. Jemison's work. I haven't read it. I am aware that she won a Nebula award the year that the Nebula's went to all female persons of color, but that is not really a mark of quality. What I will say about her is this: She's got a following. I've actually seen her on television. Don't get me wrong. I don't claim to be a fan of someone I haven't read. Having said that much, the woman has a following. She is the type of author that fans go to see at cons. Her fans have now been deprived of a chance to see and interact with her on a panel where they may have been able to greet her and ask her question about her work so that Takacs, and other like him who most of the attendees have never heard of, can get onto a panel to show the world their specialness because they insist on having some made up “gender-identity.”

Not only is that wrong all on its own, but hey guess what? N.K. Jemison is both black and female. Takacs is white and appears to have been born with a penis. If you're into intersectionalism (and I personally think it's an evil, hateful philosophy that denigrates some and keeps others from striving to achieve because they think they'll be prevented from success) that's someone at the intersection of being black and female giving up a spot for a person who is not instersectional and is instead merely trans. Even by your standards that's bullshit.

It gets better. WorldCon pulled its schedule and is reworking it to suit the whiners. They've thrown everything out with less than a month left. They're scrambling thinking they've got a chance to this right.

I'm not going to deny a certain amount of schadenfreude here. I haven't seen a meltdown this epic since Chernobyl. Seeing your enemies shoot themselves in the foot is a good feeling. The fact remains that they failed to see this coming and I see that as laughable. Evil eats its own. That's always been a fact.. When you submit to the SJWs in any setting you have to keep submitting to them. When things push past the point where you're willing to submit you become problematic and get purged.

Keep moving in this direction WorldCon. It only gets worse from here. Don't say we didn't tell you it was coming. The rest of us will be off in the corner laughing at you. You're never going to be sufficiently woke to make everyone happy. Seriously. At this point you might as well fold and stop handing out your pointless awards. You should have let the Sad Puppies make your awards relevant again. Instead you've moved further away from the mainstream and out of the lives of the people who love what you claim to. Your time is over, now go away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Leatherneck Reconnect Does Important Work

Yes, this is a Science Fiction and Fantasy blog. Yes, that's normally what I do. Sometimes though, there are other things that deserve the space. Other things that


might just be more important than a hobby. Sometimes, there are things that transcend the world of fiction. Sometimes there are people who deserve some recognition and it's up to those of us who know how to write effectively to get it for them. With great power comes great responsibility. Well, I'm not saying I'm great but I guess with pretty decent power comes a pretty decent amount of responsibility. So, here comes my chance to do something decent with my power.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I support the US Military here. I do an annual Memorial Day event where I feature a book (this year, three books and a bonus one later) written by a member (or former member) of the US Military and featuring it in action. This country has been at war for sixteen years now. Even during peacetime they sacrifice every day to keep us safe. How many of our troops are deployed on any given day? How many of them aren't deployed but are stationed far from home? How much time do they miss with their families because they're keeping us safe? Do you know why we have a Veteran's Administration in this country? No, it's not just because the troops have earned lifelong care through their sacrifice, although they have. It's because a lot of them are broken physically. Jumping out of planes, running with a rucksack full of rocks, marching for miles carrying heavy loads and more leave them with medical problems that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Let's not forget how many have been effected by Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome.

So today, I'm going to do something I should have done a long time ago. I'm actually a bit embarrassed that it's taken me this long. It's time to talk about an old friend, a veteran and a man who is doing important work, even if I'm not entirely certain he realizes how important it is. Matt Dudley is a guy I went to high school with. After graduation, he went off and joined the Marine Corps, serving as a mortarman. Matt learned how to use and fire a weapon to destroy an enemy and protect his brother Marines. He served his time with honor.

But I have lots of veteran friends. I'm not here just to praise him for that. Granted, all vets deserve recognition, but I don't have that kind of time. What Matt has done is to go on tour with his buddy Mike Lose to visit his old Marine buddies and just say hi. He has documented these visits and put them online under the name Leatherneck Reconnect. What we see is a bunch of guys talking, having a good time and just being normal guys. (The Marines didn't allow women in combat roles until well after Matt finished his hitch.)

And that's why it's incredibly important. It today's world there is a movement against veterans. There are people out there who will tell you that all vets suffer from PTSD. That they can't fit in with normal society and are dangerous. Listen, I'm not here to belittle anyone who has been through something that I can't even imagine that they're not suffering. I'm just saying that it's not all of them. The majority of the members of the military are able to reintegrate into society really well.

People need to see veterans who are normal dudes. They need to see guys who have finished their hitch successfully and who are not murderous nutcases. They need to see Marines functioning in a civilian world. They need to see Leatherneck Reconnect.

I have no idea if that's what they intended. It's my interpretation of events, but it's my blog. So props to Matt and Mike for doing the right thing, whether they meant to or not. This is a seriously awesome project done at just the right time. I'm really excited to be sharing this with you because I believe in it.

I know that some of the people who read my blog are vets. This should bring back some good memories for you too. I have a sneaking suspicion that if some of you were to watch this you might end up wanting to get in touch with your old buddies as well. I hope you do. My understanding is that Matt and Mike want to get other Marines involved in their project but you'd have to contact him to make sure I'm not goofy and to find out how.

A question I've heard asked on more than one occasion is "Would you let your kid join the military?" Well, guess what, Matt did. His nephew joined too. He has done documentaries involving both his son and his nephew and their journey through enlistment and training and then through a reunion later. I don't want to spoil anything, but it does kind of hit you in the feels a couple of times. Matt did a terrific job with these.

I, being me, sent some questions to Matt about some things I wanted to add to this article and didn't give him enough time to respond before I wrote this post. As a result, he hasn't responded. Go figure. I'm hoping to get some information that I can add later, but for now this is what I have. Check back for edits once I hear back from him. My bad.

This is where to find the Facebook Page.

This is where to find the Youtube Channel.

There was an Indiegogo but it closed.

There is some information about a shirt that they're selling on the Facebook page but if they have an actual storefront somewhere, I couldn't find it. Click on the Shop Now link at the top of the page. Help these guys out. Buy their merch and keep this thing moving forward.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vote! Matter! Be a Dragon!

For decades, the fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy have deserved to have their own version of the Peoples' Choice Awards. SF/F fans are some of the most passionate fans on the planet. We love our favorites. We hate the stuff that annoys us. Very rarely is there a happy medium to us. Something either rocks or it sucks. Seriously. Have you ever met a hardcore SF fan who liked Avatar? Think Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It's supposed to be everybody's favorite. It's not my favorite. I've always preferred Return of the Jedi. How many of you just lost your shit? I didn't. I think the rest of you are goofy. It's only fair that we should be able to show support for our favorites by giving them a trophy. Now we can. They're called the Dragon Awards and it's time to nominate.

Certainly, there have been awards in the past. The Science Fiction Writers Association has presented the Nebula Awards for decades. But only members of the SFWA are eligible to nominate or vote. It used to be a mark of excellence. Nowadays, it's more an award that you win for the proper politics, race or genitalia. Either way though, it was never up to the people who gave their money to support the genre. The Nebulas are SF/F's answer to Hollywood's Academy Awards aka The Oscars: An insider award give to other insiders. They're not a sign of excellence or awesomeness. They're not even a measure of pretty-goodness. They're pointless in a modern sense.

Worldcon has given its Hugo Awards since 1953. Once again, this is an award that has been given by a group of elitists. Only people who paid for a Worldcon membership, either Attending or Supporting, are allowed to nominate and/or vote. They have always billed themselves as being given by the fans but that is a flat out lie. The Hugos are given out by people who attend the con and/or have the money for a supporting membership. Once a mark of excellence, Hugo Awards are also given out for the wrong reasons. Politics and being one of the cool kids mean more than writing a story worth reading. The Hugos have frozen out anyone who is not part of the ruling clique and are now effectively worthless. Seriously. When I was a kid, seeing a Hugo logo on a book meant something. Now, the houses don't bother because they know the award holds no value.

So what's a fan to do? The vast majority of us aren't members of the SFWA and some can't afford even a Supporting Membership to Worldcon. I'm not too sure I'd give my money to them anyway. So, what to do now? Vote in the Dragon Awards! Well nominate for now, since final voting hasn't started yet. All you need is an email account. You're on the internet reading this, so you probably already have one. If not, you can get one free at Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail. Seriously. Go to the site, sign up, nominate, and they'll send you a ballot when it's ready. That's all there is to it.

And get this: You don't have to be in a clique to matter. You don't have to nominate according to politics, although you can if you choose to. You can nominate for whatever you want, as long as it was released between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. And, since I've been putting writing this off, you only have until Friday to nominate. Sorry. Here is the link.

Oh, and you can only nominate a particular work in one category. It sucks, I know. How do you decide whether to nominate that totally awesome Mil SF work for Best Mil Sf and Best SF? Well, that's up to you, but honestly your favorite probably has a better chance at winning in its own subgenre. Oh, and just to prove that I never follow my own advice, here are my picks:

Best Science Fiction Novel: The Stars Entwined, Jon Del Arroz
I wanna dress up like an alien and infiltrate someone else's society! Take me with you!

Best Fantasy Novel: Redcaps Rising: A Walter Bailey Misadventure, P.A. Piatt
Funny. Entertaining. Sequel worth. Boosh farts!

Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident, Jennifer Brozek
Ok, I'm a BT fanboi and have been for like twenty-five years now. Yeah, that probably effects my judgment here. Oh well. It's my list and I thought this book rocked.

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: A Fiery Sunset, Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey
I'm in love with the Four Horsemen Universe! It's all their fault!

Best Alternate History: Minds of Men, Kacey Ezell
Looking over the past year's worth of reviews on my blog, there is precisely one five-star review. It's a work of Alternate History. Why would I nominate someone else, when this is already perfect?

Best Media Tie-In Novel: Left blank, Budget Issues
Did you write one? Will it release over the next year? Send it to me. You might get nominated next year.

Best Horror Novel: Good to the Last Drop, Delcan Finn
Declan Finn. Vampires. Uhh... What was the question again?

Best Comic Book: The Prince of Artemis V Jennifer Brozek and Elizabeth Guizetti
The art was beautiful. The story was moving. I want more.

Best Graphic Novel:Left Blank, Budget Issues

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series, TV or Internet: Stranger Things, Netflix
OMG I love this show. It occurs to me that I never got around to reviewing it. I suck. It doesn't. I love the whole nostalgia thing. Eleven is a badass. The other kids are awesome. And they play D+D!

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie: Black Panther
I've heard way too many people state that this movie sucks because the tech wouldn't be possible without a manufacturing base. BLOW IT OUT YOUR ASS! This movie rocks and you have no proof that the manufacturing base doesn't exist. Who wants to watch some guy work the line when there is ass to be kicked?

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC/Console Game:Left Blank
About the only PC game I play is World of Warcraft. The latest expansion came out the year before last and isn't eligible. So, I haven't played anything and don't have a nominee.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game: Marvel Future Fight, Netmarble
I keep meaning to review this, but it's a romping good time. Collect heroes. Beat bosses. Follow storylines based on specific characters. I love it.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game: Left Blank. Budget Issues

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures/Collectible Card/Role-Playing Game:Left Blank. Budget Issues
I want to play an RPG. Anybody running a game? I can't do Tuesday, Friday or Saturday nights. Other than that, I'm open. I have the D+D 5e Rules PHB, DMG and MM but I haven't had a chance to play at all. Somebody hook your boy up!

So got get nominating! You've only got three days left!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Frank J. Fleming's Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled

(I don't do this, but I'm going to recommend listening to Code Monkey by Jonathan Coulton while reading this review. It fits and it's available on Spotify so you can listen to it for free.)

Ya know, it's weird. I've read approximately eleventy bajillion books. I've read books with heroes so eager to do their thing that they screw it up. I've read books with reluctant heroes who were forced into a role they never wanted and did what they had to do regardless. But I just read Frank J. Fleming's Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled and it is the first book I've read whose protagonist doesn't rush off to do the right thing because he's not sure if it's real or not. It can be a bit frustrating at some points, but it's also really awesome.

Terrance Denby is one of us. He's not some Superdude in bright colored underwear flying off to destroy the opposition with his big muscles and X-ray vision. He's not a test pilot and he doesn't have some magical power ring that can make whatever he likes out of light and have it function like a regular object. He doesn't have a lass of truth and bullet proof bracelets. He's a goofball programmer who has no luck with chicks. One day, someone hands him a sword he doesn't know how to use. And he's not even sure if he WANTS to use it. Even worse, he's not even sure that there is a need to use it.

Look, I loved the opening to Monster Hunter International as much as any other human being on the planet. I hope to be able to write an opening like that myself someday. That much being said, I do kind of find Terrance's response to be more realistic than a lot of other peoples'. Seriously, Terrance is confronted with the fact that there might be a world that he is unaware of and isn't sure if he should believe in it or not. He doesn't run away in fear but he doesn't charge ahead swinging a sword either.

Mr. Denby (and I say this lovingly and as a kindred soul) is a nerd. He programs computers, plays video games and watches nerdy movies. He is way to easily influenced by beautiful women. He thinks before he acts but sometimes he's afraid to reach the right conclusions. And, above all, I can't help but shake the impression that he'd prefer to spend his time in his nerdtacular pursuits and just ignore the existence of the rest of the planet. I could see myself spending a Friday night with this guy over a bag of chips and a beverage or two playing Dungeons and Dragons and arguing over the proper tactics to take down the boss dragon at the end of the adventure. He's that guy and I'd be cool with it as long as he didn't keep my copy of Dragons of Autumn Twilight at the end of the campaign and eat all of my beef jerky because, ya know...



The world of Sidequest is our normal mundane world, only it's not. There are places that we could get to if only we knew how and where to look for them. Walmart and McDonalds exist there, but there's something pounding on the bottom of the floor, and Terrance lives in a ground floor apartment. His company has empowerment meetings, but they may not mean what he always thought they did. It's almost right but not quite. There are pretty ladies but you might be surprised what they do for a living. It's complex, it's rich and it feels close to normal without being mundane. I like it.

Of course, a sword is a weapon of war and when Terrance is given one, he finds out that there is a war to be fought. The enemy is not necessarily my favorite type of villain. It is neither obvious nor easily defined to start out. There is an immediacy to the threat but not one that most of the population can see. This isn't a Harry Potter novel. It's not that the villain is He Who Must Not Be Named. It's that Terrance isn't even sure if the villain exists or what they might be like. That adds a level of creepiness but it also speaks to another pet peeve of a lot of people, and how well Fleming avoided it.

Terrance Denby is not Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. He doesn't have any superpowers or a suit of all powerful armor. Terrance Denby is also not Honor Harrington or Montgomery Scott. He makes mistakes. He has massive shortcomings. He struggles the whole book just to believe that he is capable of doing what he needs to do. Half the time when he does something right it feels like he did so on accident.

I don't want to give too much away, but Terrance's girlfriend reminds me in some ways of some of the women I've dated and the one I was married to. I just wish they would have been as obvious about their tendencies when we first met. Lord knows I can feel his pain at times. He's not always as decisive in his love life as he should be either, but who can't identify with that? We've all had to fight that feeling of doubt before. Terrance may take things a bit further than I would but hey, it's his call and I know the feeling.

There has to be a sequel coming. Actually, let me rephrase that: I WANT MY SEQUEL DAMMIT!!! I have yet to see an actual announcement but if I don't get one I'm going to pout like a three year old and refuse to eat my dinner. I mean it. There better be a sequel. I'm not going to give away the ending because I'm not that guy. I will say that not everything is as resolved as I want it to be. I need closure. I have to know where this story goes next. Threads are dangling. I'm not a cat. I don't like dangling threads. Dangling threads are for authors to play with. They don't make good toys for Jimbos. I know this from experience. But when your biggest gripe about a book is that the next one hasn't been released yet, I suppose you have to acknowledge that it was a massively enjoyable read.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Faerie Swords

Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled
Frank J. Fleming
Liberty Island, 2018

Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled is available for purchase at the following link:

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Jon Del Arroz's Gravity of the Game

I'm a fan of the epic Science Fiction or Fantasy story. I always have been. I want to see Jim Kirk and friends save the galaxy for the four million and sixth time. I want to see the Heroes of the Lance charge in and defeat the evil goddess Takhisis and foil her attempt to take over the world of Krynn...

Yup, there's nothing like a good romp with a definable villain and some heroes that just want to beat the everloving tar out of them because they deserve it. I mean, who doesn't love that kind of story? (Okay, people who read romance but they're weird.) Then again, sometimes it's good to read something a little lighter. Every once in awhile, a feel good story works and removes all your cares... and entertains you if it's good enough.

Enter Jon Del Arroz and Gravity of the Game. It's a story about a baseball commissioner, a sick child and baseball on the moon. Yes, you read that right. Baseball on the moon. It's not really possible at first because of the gravitational differences between Earth and the Moon but hey, what's a story without a little conflict?

When Hideki Ichiro, retired baseball player and commissioner of all of professional baseball, decides he needs to expand his league, things get a little weird. He thinks expansion is necessary. All of his owners seem to think that expansion is necessary. The problem is over-saturation. Where do you put a team when there is nowhere left to put a team? How do you grow your sport when it fills up pretty much anywhere that the sport is consumed? It's a conundrum to be sure.

Of course, that's not the only problem. Commissioner Ichiro is not universally loved by his owners. There are some inter-league politics that make his life especially rough. Partially, his plan to expand on the moon is motivated by them. Partially, he just plain sees an open market. He just needs to make the physics work. And that's where the truly Science Fictional part of the story comes in.

I don't want to give too much away, but the title of the story ought to make it obvious that Ichiro has to find a way to either make baseball work in one-sixth of Earth's gravity or increase the gravitational attraction of the moon. I don't want to give away too much, but I'm thinking that most SF fans won't be too surprised at the solution he comes up with. It's pretty standard in damn near every SF story that takes place in space.

And that's one of the really cool parts of this novella. We get to be in on the ground floor so to speak. A lot of works reference similar tropes and we all accept them because they're what we're used to, but very rarely do we get to start at the beginning and see where they came from. I really got a kick out of that. I have a feeling a physics professor may experience a catastrophic meltdown if exposed to the concept, but honestly I got out of the sciences because I didn't like physics professors and their tendency to force everyone to follow their formulas instead of thinking. So kudos to Del Arroz and all of the other SF writers out there who were able to think instead of following some formula out of a book.

I really like Mr. Ichiro too. He does his best to promote the interests of the game, and that includes making teams more profitable, or at least keeping their revenue from shrinking to the extent possible. It's not just about that with him though. Somehow this always seems to get lost in modern day sports coverage. We obsess over a player's stats and his paycheck. We'll spend all day debating a manager's play-calls and trying to get him fired. We'll all talk trash about our favorite team's general manager (and I'm from Detroit where criticizing Randy Smith used to be a more popular pastime than watching Tigers games) when he makes a move that we think might be slightly sub-optimal. What no-one seems to talk about is the people in the league and how much they love the game.
But Del Arroz seems to get what it's all about. Ichiro is not just some money-grubbing executive out to make as much as he can. He genuinely cares about the game and what happens to it. Listen, we've all seen our favorite pitcher walk a batter and asked if he could have struck him out for another million. It happens, but in Gravity of the Game we're reminded that the guys we watch on television love baseball as much as we do. They've dedicated their lives to it and there was a lot of work put in before they got their first check. It's something to think about.

I'll be honest in stating that Gravity of the Game is quite a bit shorter than the books I typically review on my blog. I picked it up one day over lunch (I eat the vast majority of my meals alone) so that I would have something to read while I was eating. I was intrigued by the fact that I loved The Stars Entwined and also by the ninety-nine cent price point. I didn't want to spend a whole lot on a story that was only one meal long. I'm pretty glad I did though. It actually took me two meals to read and was a good time.

At the end of the day though Gravity of the Game is what it is. If you're the kind of person that only reads works overrun by explosions and severed body parts, you won't find them here. This is a good story with a real conflict but it's not solved with swords or bomb-pumped lasers. There is no fireball tossing wizard and you won't find a single phaser pistol in existence. On the other hand, if you're looking for something a little more laid back and relaxed with a solid plot and likeable characters, give Gravity of the Game a try. You'll be glad you did.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Outside Strikes

Gravity of the Game
Jon Del Arroz
Superversive Press, 2017

Gravity of the Game is available for purchase at the following link:

Friday, July 6, 2018

Daniel Humphreys's Night's Black Agents

One day soon I'm going to have to sit down and have a chat with one Mr. Daniel Humphreys. You see, Mr. Humphreys seems to enjoy messing with me by putting the best parts of the books right where I'm about to be interrupted. Now you, dear reader, may be tempted to tell me that Mr. Humphreys had no way to know during what part of his stories I would be interrupted while reading. Others out there may want to point out that even if he did, I am hardly his only reader and so why would he tailor everything to me? In response I can only state the obvious: I am the Great and Terrible Jimbo, sole possessor of Jimbosity and many other good things. My sheer amount of awesome and good looks is surpassed only by my incredible humility...

>AHEM< So, now that I've set all of your bullshit meters off... I received a copy of Daniel Humphreys's Night's Black Agents because I'm on his ARC team, so I get to review all of his stuff as soon as it comes out. Of course, it's always been my pleasure (all two times I've done it) because he writes really well. He gives us all some really believable characters and a world only slightly outside our own. Seriously, it's just far enough off to be interesting but close enough so that it all feels familiar. I really liked this one, in large part because of how well Humphreys blends the two worlds.

Our hero, once again, is Paxton Locke, budding mage and a Fade who can both see and communicate with ghosts. Locke is at war (and, despite my saying the same thing about my mother over some teenage spats this fits) with his mother Helen. Helen, you see, killed Paxton's father while Paxton watched. This was all covered in the first book Fade but it's worth repeating. It's not a fight he particularly wants. He's been forced into it by his mother who has broken out of prison and wants something that he has.

Helen Locke, for her part, is like a modern day female Raistlin Majere, only without the hourglass eyes and regret that saves the universe. She is four parts evil and no parts even tolerable. This is a woman who covets power for its own sake and will do whatever it takes to get it. She will lie, cheat, steal and murder. As a matter of fact, she has done all of the above and doesn't seem to be the slightest bit remorseful for any of it. I love to hate this chick. The only thing that I can kind of identify with about her is that she's chasing a rare book. Granted, it's a grimoire full of magic with potentially evil applications,but hey, it's a book, right?

Helen and her group of three followers make up a coven of witches that are actually pretty frightening. None of them are all that experienced in magic and mayhem but they more than make up for the lack with power and enthusiasm. These girls want to kick ass and they manage to do so. I can't help but wonder if a certain amount of subtlety might serve them better than just charging ahead seems to do, but that's how crass newbies act. They're dangerous enough already. If they actually get their poop in a group they're going to be horrifying effective. It's a good thing Paxton still has room to grow because things are looking rough for him in the near and far term future.

Of course, Paxton has friends too. The government agents in Division M are on Paxton's side. Well, for the most part. It's not like they actually TRUST him, but they damn sure don't like his mother so as long as he's up against her, they'll back him. Or maybe they'll use him, but whatever he needs the help. And if not everyone is who they seem to be, at least it's fun to watch him try to figure it out.

Of course, as far as Paxton knows, his mother isn't, and really shouldn't be, the main focus of his life. He finds out in the first chapter (or maybe two, I didn't take notes) that there are two missing young boys and that they've been taken by a cult. The cult appears to be out to sacrifice them. Mr. Locke, not wanting to see something terrible happen to two kids who have done absolutely nothing to deserve it, goes to their rescue. A large part of the book involves his search for them. He's not exactly clueless about the fact that his mother is looking for him. He just isn't focused on her because he has other things going on. He does realize that he has her grimoire and that she'll be looking for it but he has other things on his mind.

While I'm happy to say that this book features far less depravity than the first one, it is not without its fair share of mayhem and destruction. That's good though, because it just wouldn't be Paxton Locke without some blood (or maybe ichor) and gore at some point. Night's Black Agents, like Fade before it, has a very strong central conflict which can only be resolved though explosions and force blades and magicky stuff. (What's a force blade? Sorry, I can't tell you. I guess you'll have to buy the book to find out. I can tell you that it has nothing to do with Star Wars.) So, if you're a person who likes things that go BOOM, this is the book for you.

I can't really find anything to complain about. The book moves. The characters are believable. There really is never a chance to catch your breath, but that's a good thing. Humphreys switches back and forth between different point of view characters to always keep things fresh and moving forward. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind seeing this as a television/Netflix series once there are a few more books out. Humphreys's writing has an ability to consistently shift to wherever the action is that would work well on the small screen. I'd even hang on through the commercial break and make the sponsors happy.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Ichor Splatters.

Night's Black Agents
Daniel Humphreys
Silver Empire, 2018

Night's Black Agents is available for purchase at the following link:

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Interview with Wendy S. Delmater regarding The Best of Abyss & Apex, Volume 1 anthology

(Blog Owner's Note: I'd like to say thank to Wendy Delmater for the following guest post. I have a copy of the anthology for the review and I'll have one out as soon as I can. This one has me excited. Maybe I'll be sending some stuff to Ms. Delmater ar some point as I am currently unpublished.)

I started working on The Best of A&A Volume 2 by keeping a list of my favorite stories we’d published since the first “Best Of” volume. There was an early story by Lavie Tidhar and a second novella that would not fit in Best of A&A 1—“Emmet, Joey & the Beelz”—but the rest were all published since the earlier A&A anthology. I ended up having to trim a story to two for the book-length and in one case had to drop a poem due to no longer being able to reach the author via email to send a contract. But the table of contents was pretty much that saved list, with two exceptions.

I’m in the habit of asking professional science fiction and fantasy authors if we could do reprints or get a flash-fiction piece from them since we pay pro rates for flash. That’s how Abyss & Apex ended up publishing Michael Swanwick, Ken Scholes, Jay Lake, and a story we reprinted in the antho by CJ Cherryh. Then, when I was out in Spokane, WA for the 2015 Worldcon I asked if Robert Silverberg had anything he’d not published online yet, specifically for Best of A&A 2. He sent me “End of Days,” which we used to close the anthology. But we don’t publish many pros.

You see, although A&A likes to pair new and emerging writers with established ones in the table of contents, which gives a vicarious boost to new writers’ careers, we cannot afford to pay pro rates for anything longer than flash fiction. Mostly, I’m stuck helping to make my authors into future pros via rewrites or at least getting them a publication credit that the pro markets respect. Shelia Williams of Asimov’s tells me she reads the cover letter last, and she says that she’s not surprised when she finds a good piece of fiction in her slush and they mention they’ve been published in Abyss & Apex.

A&A specializes in new writers. Twenty-five percent of the short stories we publish are the first thing that writer ever sold, and we’re proud of that record. For example many of the writers in The Best of A&A Volume 1 went on to great careers in SF& F, writers such as Aliette de Bodard, Lisa Mantchev, Will McIntosh, and Karl Bunker. And The Best of Abyss & Apex, Volume 2, has early stories by Marie Brennan and Mercurio D. Rivera, plus people I consider potential future pros like George S. Walker.

Changing the focus slightly, I’d like to share a story about the cover art for the Best of Abyss & Apex, Volume 2. Since Abyss & Apex Magazine publishes half science fiction and half fantasy, our anthology covers are a mash-up of both genres. For example, Best of A&A 1 had an astronaut on the front cover and a knight in armor on the back cover—reflected in each other’s helmets. For The Best of Abyss & Apex, Volume 2 we chose The Lady of the Lake receiving a sword from a robot. You get her underwater view of the robot on the back cover.

There was a bit of romance in the making of this book! As it was going to press I met, had a whirlwind courtship with, and married the love of my life at the age of 53. It sort of distracted me from the book launch, but he was kind enough to be one of the proofreaders. My husband Brian is now our webmaster.

We hope that this anthology, which has some stories not available at our online magazine, will continue to win Abyss & Apex new fans. And we look forward to publishing The Best of Abyss & Apex, Volume 3. You’re all going to love it.

- Wendy S Delmater, Editor
Abyss & Apex

The Best of Abyss and Apex Volume 2 is available at the following link.