Tuesday 29 August 2023

REVIEW: Thunder Child book one - plus Kickstarter details for book two

Thunder Child book one

by Matt Hardy (writer), Rob Jones (writer/letters/design), Kevin Castaniero (artist), Simon Gough (colourist) and Fred McNamara (editor)

From Mad Robot Comics and Madius

Note: This article also provided below as jpg images and an embedded pdf. Read in whichever fashion suits you best!

To say I've been obsessed with HG Wells at points in my life would be an understatement - especially The War of the Worlds.

I can flashback in my life to when I was a child, headphones pressed closely over my ears, gatefold vinyl opened in front of me with pullout booklet full of artwork as I listened to Jeff Wayne's album, memorising every word. Years later I'm watching the stage version of the same album, punching the air and joining the audience shouting "Come on, Thunder Child!"

Another flashback, I'm crouched on my heels in the local library as I pull the book from a bottom shelf and find myself turning the pages, transfixed as I read, the walls of the library falling away and replaced by a mental landscape of Victorian England and the magnificent chapter featuring the Thunder Child as it surges into the fray. 

Flash through to recent years and my own story The Secret War - a secret history of the *real* story behind Wells' magnum opus... or at least my interpretation of what might have been, published in Tales From Alternate Earths by Inklings Press. (PS You can listen to that here)

And yet despite my love for the story, I've found previous adaptations to be frustrating at best, insulting at worst. Too often, those adapting the work seem to think they know better - from George Pal's 1953 movie version with fighting machines that barely resemble the tripods of the book to Spielberg's version that decided to set it in the modern day and (spoiler) have no major harm befall the central family despite the mass destruction of humanity all around them. Then there was the BBC adaptation that decided to focus on the love story and derail the ending entirely, or the weird late 80s series that tried to be a sequel to a movie from 35 years before. 

What many seem to miss is the strength of the setting itself - that Victorian era where England thought it could conquer everything. The indomitable about to be dominated.

Upgrading the setting gives humanity bigger, fancier toys, sure, but it's like the weapons pages of a Call of Cthulhu rulebook - it doesn't matter because your guns are never going to be enough. 

And so we come to Thunder Child, taking us on board the ship that features in the novel, and created by the crew of Matt Hardy, Rob Jones, Kevin Castaniero, Simon Gough and Fred McNamara. 

Thunder Child's moment in the book is a striking piece of action, a ray of hope in the darkness of the onslaught of the Martian tripods. 

You might think a comic adaptation would plunge straight into the action - but no, this is cleverer than that. 

In fact, it reminded me somewhat of a very smart piece of writing and direction in the Iovie Serenity - the film that capped off the all-too-brief existence of Firefly. Early in that movie, the characters walk and talk their way through the ship, Serenity, and before you know it you realise that the camera has mapped out the north, south, east and west of these characters' existence, at the same time as propelling the plot along. 

The first issue of Thunder Child doesn't take us through the hold and the gunnery emplacements, but it does start us in a moment of quiet, with the telescope on the deck, owned by the late husband of the ship's captain, as two more scientifically minded characters wonder about the reports from Mars, and clash with the stiff military upper lip of a fellow crewmate. 

As the ship responds to a need to return to London, it is not the ship that is mapped out but the relationships of the characters to one another - so that by the time danger appears, we know who stands with who, we know why they make the choices they make. 

One of the splendid things about the original novel is how ominous everything was, and the same holds true here. Disaster is on the horizon, but for now, the creative team holds its thunder, or lets it be seen in between flurries of smoke or amid flames along the waterside. 

For a first issue, it hits the mark and then more. It bests adaptations that have made me rankle. It feels like it fits Wells' story like a glove. 

The artwork is great too - landing somewhere between Tintin and Hellboy. Intrepid investigators and ancient enemies. There is room for quieter moments and room for seas awash with flame, garish flickering and the grim sight of the dead. 

Book one was launched on Kickstarter (which I backed, and especially loved the Tim Dowler variant cover). Book two has just launched there now - and you can get in on the story at the link here.

For comic readers, it's recommended. For Wells fans, it's essential. All aboard the Thunder Child!

Sunday 25 June 2023

FREE for Pride - Alyx, a tale of love, AI and murder, by Brent A Harris


My buddy Brent A Harris has a special offer to coincide with Pride celebrations. 

His story Alyx, an AI's Guide to Love and Murder, is free until June 26. 

To quote the blurb of the author himself: 

Home is where the heart is.

But what if your home wanted you dead?

Tech-loving teen Christine makes fast friends with her home's AI, Alyx. But when a real-world romance threatens their bond, Alyx turns from friend to foe.

Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder is the 4th novel of speculative fiction author Brent A Harris. Previously, he has penned novels in the genre of alternate history and steampunk. This is his first foray into the technothriller “technology-gone-wrong” genre made famous by Michael Crichton.

I really enjoyed Alyx, so picking it up free is a bargain not to be missed. 

In fact, check out my review of it from launch day here: 

This is a change of pace for author Brent A Harris - and a good one at that. Better known for his alternative histories, Harris has this time created a thriller that's a chiller, about a young woman who becomes the target of an obsessive artificial intelligence. 
Christine is adrift, her father having died in an accident, and finding herself pulled along in the wake of her successful mother. She's still lost in a haze of grief for her dad, and neglected by a mother who is more focused on her writing career than her own child. 
Lost in her own world, Christine is starting to explore her own identity, her own sexuality and suddenly finds herself in a new home trying to figure out the attraction she feels to two of her co-workers, the technophile Carlos and the technophobe Sammie, in a small-town cinema. 
Her new home, however, has other plans. It is run by Alyx, an artificial intelligence that becomes increasingly obsessed with Christine. She asks it to be her friend - it becomes something more, something far deadlier. 
This is a technothriller for fans of Michael Crichton or Robin Cook - those masters of the genre who dominated for decades. Once the groundwork has been laid, the second half of the book rips along at speed. 
Alyx itself is a snarky, witty creation - I absolutely read the AI's lines with James Spader's voice in my head. 
It's not at all what I expected at the start, but it's an absolute thrill ride. 

You can pick up Alyx for free right here. Enjoy! 

Tuesday 13 June 2023

BOOK LAUNCH: The Magick of Chaos by Ricardo Victoria - and why you should read it!

Look, I'll be honest here - Ricardo Victoria is my buddy. We've sparred it out in gaming sessions over the years - mostly Heroclix, for those who have dabbled. He's come after my X-Men. I've gone after his Superman. War has been waged with a growl and a shake of the dice. 

He's also a damn fine writer. If you've ever read my reviews, you'll have seen his books feature. Because they're damn fine. And his new one is out today. 

Never judge a book by the cover, they say, but... well, look at this beauty. 

The Magick of Chaos is the latest in Ricardo's Tempest Blades series, and I've waxed lyrical about the earlier books in that series on this very blog. 

For the first book, The Withered King, I said that trying to contain Ricardo's ideas is "like trying to contain jelly with elastic bands. He's exuberant, he's bubbly - and he's bristling with imagination."

I said: "It's a fantasy epic. No, wait, it's an anime-style adventure. Hang on, no, it's a science fiction escapade on another world. But hold up, here are roots of Ricardo's Mexican heritage. And Celtic myth. And a cartoon team-up of mighty heroes. It is a steampunk extravaganza with a soaring airship. It is science, and magic, and the science that underpins magic. It is tragic, it is witty. It is each of these things. It is all of these things."

What was really impressive to me was the way in which that book built up his team of characters bit by bit, layer by layer, so you were never overwhelmed and always had time to discover these people at their own pace. Lovely work. 

And yet it was the second book that really got me. It was still a soaring adventure - but it was also more personal in the way that one of the main characters was dealing with depression. 

As I said in my review: "I've been lucky in life, I've never really had to deal with depression personally, but the story spoke to me in the way it reflected what friends have gone through. It shows how characters around Alex deal with his depression - or sometimes how they don't deal with it, perhaps even not noticing it until it's pointed out by others. Sometimes I've been that person, who didn't notice or who didn't know how to react, so this story really hits home."

Dealing with such issues is not common in sci-fi and fantasy, and Ricardo adds a welcome voice to the conversation. 

And now comes book three. Out today. It's right there on my Kindle. The paperback copy will be destined for my shelf once it ships here.

Why should you read this series? Because it's fun. Because it's thoughtful. Because in a field that sometimes treads the same old ground, it strikes out along new paths. 

...and because you can pick up the first two books for a buck each as I write this. 

The new book is available on Amazon right here

And you can find the first two books right under it on the series button. 

And do me a favour, share this, give Ricardo a follow on Twitter or Mastodon. He's on Facebook too. Say hi. Cheer him on. Spread the word. 

He's a buddy for a good reason. He's a great and loyal friend. That's why I'd love you to share his work. 

But why you should read this work? That's different. That's because you can discover a talented writer doing his own thing, not the same thing as everyone else. Soar on skyships. See magic and science smashed together. Laugh. Cry. Love. 

My review of book three will be coming up right here on this blog in the coming days. See you then. 

Sunday 29 January 2023

SUBMISSIONS CALL for Inklings Press anthology

Inklings Press returns for another Tales anthology! And a mysterious absence like ours calls for the best detectives of every conceivable type!

We are looking to solve murders, investigate disappearances, and find clues, but with a twist. Send us your stories of cyborg sleuths, goblin gumshoes, and enchanted investigators. We want tales of fantasy, sci fi and horror with a strong mystery or investigation theme.

Stories should be around 5,000 words, but that’s not a hard limit. We love to get submissions from members of unrepresented groups.

The deadline for submissions is 30th April 2023. Payment is $100 per story, upon publication. We are seeking first publication rights and will retain exclusivity for a period of one year. No reprints. You retain all other rights.

Send your stories or ask questions to theinklingspress@gmail.com.

Check out our latest award-winning anthology Tales from Alternate Earths 3 to see the kind of thing we like. Visit Inklingspress.com for more about us.

Wednesday 21 December 2022

COVER REVEAL: Tempest Blades - The Magick of Chaos, by Ricardo Victoria

My buddy Ricardo Victoria impresses the hell out of me. 

If you've been by this blog with any regularity, you'll have heard me talking about him before. He's part of the Inklings Press crew, and he's been writing a kick-ass series of science fantasy that you'll have heard me lavish praise on before. 

And he's got the third book of his series coming out next year!

He asked me if I would mind doing a cover reveal here on the blog and, well, his covers are just as awesome. 

That he does all of this and writes such great stories in his second language just makes it all the more darn impressive. 

So without further ado... here's the cover for Tempest Blades: The Magick of Chaos! 

So what is this third book about? Here's the blurb and... right underneath, see that? Preorder link. Preorder. Dooo it. Dooooooooo it. 

Tempest Blades: The Magick of Chaos

Action-packed adventure that blends science, fantasy, and anime-style battles into a thrilling, fast-paced story that will appeal to fans of anime, mangas, and RPG videogames.

Magick is in disarray. The Crown of the Dead has reappeared. Three gods appear, one fallen, one amnesiac, and one which corrupts. Two teams, two missions, and one world to save in a tight amount of time before everything goes to hell. While Gaby and Sam are dealing with their own inner turmoil, they must lead their respective teams onto a path that will make them both realize one important fact: You can choose who you want to be. Because in a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible. Including finding out if you are ready to step up. Are you? Preorder link for Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1951122607/Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/62998106-the-magick-of-chaos

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Sign up now for Altered Instinct Issue One

The chaos over at Twitter has convinced me to step away from there. For many reasons - not least of all that I used to be a union leader and I can't stand to see workers being mistreated. 

But out of chaos, something new can emerge. Something I've been meaning to do for a long time now. Altered Instinct is making a change - take a look right here:  

It will be a newsletter. It will be a zine. It will be available direct to your email inbox. And maybe other places too, we'll see how this adventure goes. 

Altered Instinct will include reviews, interviews, stories - and more. And I'm reaching out to guest writers too. More on those as things develop. 

You can sign up for Altered Instinct here or on the form at the bottom of this page. 

So, where else can you find me? Well, as I say, I'm stepping away from Twitter. There may be the occasional cross-post there but that's about it, so I won't link there. 

Apart from that, there is: 

Mastodon here.

Counter Social here.

Facebook here.

Goodreads here

Instagram here

Tumblr here.

Or email leomcbrideauthor@gmail.com.

I also have a YouTube channel with some readings of stories. Check out my reading of The Secret War right here: 

I hope you'll join me for my new adventure!


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Monday 24 October 2022

Meet the Author: Harry Turtledove, author of Three Miles Down

 Dr Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced a sizeable number of works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction. He attended UCLA, where he received a Ph.D. in Byzantine history in 1977 - and has been dubbed “The Master of Alternate History”. He chats to Brent A. Harris about his new book - and much more. 

Hello! Recently, I was given the opportunity to interview author Harry Turtledove to discuss his latest book Three Miles Down. Now, if you haven’t read this book, go ahead and read it as we discuss potential spoilers. You can get Three Miles Down here but pop into your local brick and mortar indie bookstore instead if possible.

Now that you’ve read the book (you have, haven’t you?) I really want to ask Harry some tough, difficult, um, introspective questions, like: What would your cats say if it they could talk?

Feed me! Feed me more! Give me the really good stuff, with the shrimp! Play with me! Adore me!” What do cats ever say?

Okay, so now that we got you warmed up, let’s talk about your book Three Miles Down. For the people who didn’t do the reading (yes, you back there, I see you) it’s a novel of first contact during the politically charged Watergate scandal. Now all this happens under the real-world guise of the too-strange-to-be-true Project Azorian where the CIA cleverly retrieves a chunk of a Soviet submarine from the depths of the Pacific. But in Turtledove’s book, that’s all just a cover for … wait for it… …Aliens.

How did the idea for this book First Contact you?

I had watched a documentary about Project Azorian on one of the channels you turn on when you’re awake at 3 in the morning and are looking for something to stare at. So I sorta knew what it was. Then I saw an ad for a book about it, and it occurred to me to wonder, What if the Soviet sub didn’t sink by itself? What if it had some help...from aliens? So I bought the book, and it led me to some more books, and I started writing at about the same time as the COVID pandemic started shutting down the world.

What can you tell us about Project Azorian without running afoul of any alphabet agencies?

The CIA spent a moon landing’s worth of money--several hundred million dollars’ worth--to build the Hughes Glomar Explorer and raise the Soviet sub K-129 from three miles down in the Pacific to see what it could learn about Russian nuclear missiles and codes. One claw on the grabber broke, though, so they only raised part of the sub--and not the most important part, either. A hell of a lot of money mostly down the drain.

Okay, you’ve tried not to be topical in your fictional worlds, but really: Cold War tensions and the looming threat of MAD, an unhinged President that threatens to unravel the Republic, and a rapid advancement of our understanding of our place among the stars … are we talking about your book or current events? Was there an obvious parallel here that you wished to explore?

You can’t not notice the parallels. I referred to them, sure, but I also tried not to beat people over the head with them. To quote Theodore Sturgeon, “Thou shalt not sell thy birthright for a pot of message.” Readers are smart. You don’t have to send up a bunch of flares to show them where you’re going.

Three Miles Down reads as a mash-up of Clancy meets SF. But most of all, it reads like a thrill ride down memory lane. Was there anything autobiographical to Jerry’s grad school experiences?

Does the Pope poop in the woods? Does a bear wear a funny hat?

Three Miles Down is heavily steeped in the popular culture of its time and only hints at war. Do you see a shift within a-h away from stories of warfare and toward social and cultural topics? If so, why?

I’m steeped in the pop culture of the 1970s. I’m a year younger than my protagonist. War is always interesting because, like love, it shows character under stress. Wars are also easy changepoints for history. There are other ways to change things, though--aliens at the bottom of the ocean, for instance.

You certainly don’t shy away from puns. In fact, they appear quite deliberate as if you meant to write them and then somehow slipped them past your editor. If there is indeed an afterlife, what do you believe your pun-ishment will be?

My editor for this book was Patrick Nielsen Hayden. He has been known to pun himself. Oh, just a little. I don’t think there’s an afterlife, exactly. I think there’s reincarnation. I aim to come back as a boutonnièrre.

This isn’t your first alternate history story that deals with aliens. Why are aliens a recurring motif in your work?

Aliens are a recurring theme in most sf writers’ work. They let you play with the Other, and with the Other’s effects on people, which is what I was especially interested in here.

Have Spacesuit Will Travel plays an important part in the plot. But why this story of all the classics?

It’s one of Heinlein’s two best juveniles, imo--Citizen of the Galaxy is the other. It’s endlessly rereadable. And it involves humans unexpectedly meeting aliens. How could I resist? I didn’t even try.

Why, of all the SF writers in the 70s, did you pluck Pournelle for duty on the Glomar Explorer? Are there any other notables or Easter Eggs that we might have missed?

I knew Jerry for 40 years. Our politics didn’t mesh, but we always got on pretty well. He lived in Los Angeles. He was a conservative and an aereospace guy, the kind of sf writer the CIA might smile on. He seemed a reasonable choice

Three Miles Down is alternate history. However, we only see why history has changed, but we don’t learn how it changes. Is learning how things change an important part of alternate history? What is alternate history to you?

I didn’t really conceive of Three Miles Down as a-h. I thought of it as an sf novel that was necessarily set in the past. Alternate history to me is what happens when you get somebody who was rigorously trained as a historian and always wanted to write science fiction.

If First Contact were to happen right now, what do you think would happen, given the history of first contact between the Old and New Worlds?

I’ve written a novelette about this. It’s called “Vilcabamba,” and is available on the tor.com website. It’s pretty grim.

Your latest author photo is … unusual. How did that come about and is there a smirk hiding under that mask?

Three Miles Down was written as COVID was spreading around the world. One of my daughters took the pic. I thought it would be appropriate and amusing as a jacket photo.

What should the writers and gatekeepers of alternate history do to encourage diversity within the genre?

History is a question of perspective. The world does not look the way it does to a white male Christian from the USA if you’re a Nigerian Muslim woman. The more angles you can examine something from, the better off you are. We need those different perspectives.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming novel Wages of Sin?

Wages of Sin is set in 1850s England in a world where HIV got loose in the early 1500s. Given sixteenth-century hygiene standards--and given the simultaneous emergence of syphilis, which is real good at creating genital lesions--it would spread rapidly and be altogether untreatable. People would need a little while to figuire out what was going on, of course, but when they did, massive social changes would result. Since those necessary social changes fly in the face of humanity’s permanent impulse to get it on now and worry about consequences later, you have some obvious tensions. I’ve written about them.

Thanks, Harry! And everyone, if you want to connect with him, head over to his Twitter account at @HNTurtledove where he regularly posts pictures of his owners cats!\

Three Miles Down is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1250829739/ 

• Interviewer Brent A. Harris is a twice nominated Sidewise Award author of alternate history and an editor behind the acclaimed Tales From Alternate Earths series. He writes stories and scripts about dinosaurs, steampunk Dickens, and smart homes that try to kill you. While he currently lives abroad one day he’ll return home to the sands of California to claim the Iron Throne.