Saturday, 16 May 2020

Take one part Dickens, one part Steampunk, and give it a Twist - discover Brent A. Harris' new book

Brent A. Harris is a regular visitor to the blog - but seldom at a time that's quite as exciting as this. It's launch weekend for his new book, A Twist In Time - a blend of Dickens and steampunk that seems like such a good match. He joins us to chat about the book, which is already on my Kindle (and my Audible list). Anyway, take it away, Brent! 
 
Why A Twist in Time?
This book has sort of a strange origin to it. Originally, it was a short story. I wanted to take a known character from Dickens’ Victorian setting and fling him far into the future. He landed in a fairly dystopic setting which wasn’t all that different from where he started. I liked the story, but I wasn’t quite happy with Oliver’s role in it. So I wanted to give him a wider story to star in.
Then, while pursuing an MFA, one of our projects was to write a film script. It seemed easier to build a script from a story I’d already written than to create something new. After all, writing a script was something I’d never done before and it’s akin to learning a new language. Why complicate the process? So I dusted the short story off… and then wrote something completely different.
After film classes were completed, I needed a Master’s Thesis, which had to be a book. I thought it easier to write something that I had already outlined as a script instead of starting over from scratch.
So, it came about because I was dissatisfied with my original story, mixed with a strong bout of laziness. It’s a perfect recipe for writers everywhere. We all simply reinvent the same wheel. Shh, don’t tell anyone. 
Okay, but where’d the original idea spring from?
I’m a speculative fiction author. I love the idea of speculating about what’s to come, but much of what will happen in the future has its roots in the past. The idea that rapidly progressing technology causes massive social upheaval isn’t new. We’re all alarmed about how quickly machines, robots, and AI are replacing humans as the dominate workforce.
Yet, Charles Dickens wrote about the same things over a century ago. Only, it wasn’t about malevolent robotic AIs. He wrote about the Industrial Revolution and how its rapid onset sent workers and children to the slums and covered London in coal dust and smog.
Dickens was ahead of his time. He wrote in serialized format, which was fairly new at the time, but to us it’s normal – television writers do it all the time. Netflix thanks him. Dickens was also a great champion of social causes and his writing cast light into the darker side of what we’d like to think of as a fancy, regal Victorian age. It wasn’t.
Of course, there are darker themes addressed in A Twist in Time, but just as Star Trek dressed social issues in green paint and Styrofoam planets, my story uses a steampunk aesthetic and time-travel elements to entertain first. If anyone walks away from my book with a deeper message or even better -- wants to read or re-read Dickens, then I consider that a success. But it’s a secondary to just vegging out and reading a fun story; escapism in a time of quarantine and shelter-in-place.
What’s a Twist in Time about?
The very same Oliver that grew up in a workhouse and begged for a second bowl of gruel has grown up. But he came of age in a world that faces rapidly moving technology; not just from the Industrial Revolution but from steam power and the possibilities that power creates. It’s driven workers from factories, driven down wages, and driven a further social divide as the rich profit and the poor lose everything. In many ways, the steampunk aesthetic of Victorian London has made everything worse for the city than it did when Oliver was younger.
Oliver, for his part, has sided with the foundlings and taken them under his care. But when they begin to go missing, he sets out to save them. Along the way he’ll need help from tinkerer Nell Trent and a slew of fantastical contraptions - including a mysterious pocket watch that allows its bearer to bend the rules of time.
Yet, Oliver faces many challenges, including the return of his childhood nemesis, the Artful Dodger, and her lethal bag of tricks. He’ll soon discover that there is more at stake than his own life and the missing orphans. Can he save London from the flames?
Dodger’s a girl?
Jack Dawkins is reimagined as Jill. The Artful Dodger is fictional, a construct of Dickens’ mind. And while Dickens is a great writer, he didn’t write a lot of female characters. When he did, he typically killed them off. That created a problem for me because I’m writing to a modern audience. So a change had to be made. If I lose any readers because of my choice, it’ll be a shame because she was a fun character to write.
Tell us about yourself, what have you written?
I’m perhaps best known for writing alternate history, and I don’t think that steampunk diverges too far from that genre. In many ways, A Twist in Time is an alternative split from Oliver Twist, as Oliver’s actions from Dickens’ book (with one slight change) essentially creates the world of A Twist in Time.
My previous book is straight alternate history. A Time of Need creates a world where American forces fight against George Washington and the British during the American Revolution. I’ve also written many short stories. The most well-known is Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon where a group of dinosaurs time-travel to the past to save their dying world. That short story and A Time of Need have each earned me a Sidewise Award nomination in alternate history.
When I’m not writing, I like to play board games and binge shows like The Witcher and all the heroes in the Arrowverse. I’m also homeschooling two kids due to the quarantine, so I’m no longer getting much writing done. Ironically, we’re currently stationed in Italy, because we like to travel, but we’re not doing any of that either now. I guess it’s just time to settle down and read, right?
Where can we find A Twist in Time?
A Twist in Time releases May 15th as an ebook and is free to read on Kindle Unlimited. A paperback will also be available but due to current world events I can’t promise that it will be out exactly on the 15th. There’s also an audiobook in production, narrated by Kyle Bullock. What I’ve heard of the audio is simply amazing. That will release on Audible around the middle of May.
You can pre-order your ebook copy of A Twist in Time now.
What’s next?
I’m currently querying my next novel Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder. It’s a horror novel with a technothriller twist that sees its hero locked in her home (sound familiar?) and the home’s integrated AI attempts to murder her and her friends. I admit my timing isn’t the best. Not sure who wants to read a book about a murderous home when we’re all sheltered inside. It’d be like watching Jaws while swimming in the ocean.
I’ll also be releasing a collection of my most popular short stories. I’m also writing the sequel to A Twist in Time, which gives Oliver the impossible task of redeeming Scrooge. And if you think you know how the story ends, then you’re in for A Christmas Twist. Lastly, Dark Eagle, the follow-up to A Time of Need is still in the works.
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to pre-order your copy now and follow Brent on social media:
Order your ebook here! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08683MHM2
Or international readers: Mybook.to/ATwistinTime 
Follow Brent on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrentAHarris1
Or visit Brent's website at: www.BrentAHarris.com


Sunday, 3 May 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Mr Doyle's Class Presents A Study In Scarlet

Last night, I read a clever little comic from Matt Hardy of @MadRobotComics - a reimagining of A Study In Scarlet that really does some smart things with a familiar story. So.... let's talk!

First of all, let's start with that word Scarlet, which ends up being a gender flip. Meet Scarlet, our genius detective. For this is our Sherlock in this story. Sort of. Sort of? Yes, well, you don't know Sherlock Holmes yet. Read on.


You see, it's all framed as a school play of the Sherlock story. And Scarlet is our lead actor.

But the more the actors get into their roles the more they become like their characters. The lines between reality and story become blurred.

In essence the young actors become the detectives, trying to solve the mystery even as they perform it on stage.


Written for a child friendly audience it even has an intermission with a chance to explain some parts of Victorian life.

It even includes the American venture often dropped in other adaptations.

In the end, it is both a great companion read for children discovering Sherlock for the first time and a story in its own right about what its cast learns along the way.

Nicely done all round and with a hint of a sequel. Well done to @MattPHardy, artist Russell Mark Olson, letterer @RobJonesWrites, and editor Elinor Winter. And praise too to Portsmouth City Council for their involvement in the project, a nice way to bring an old favourite to a new, young audience.


Saturday, 18 April 2020

BOOK LAUNCH: Anki Legacies, by S Shane Thomas

Shane Thomas is a member of the SciFi Roundtable, a group of authors on Facebook who blow off steam, chat about their work, sharpen their skills and are really encouraging to one another. He has a new book out, and I said to him hey, want to mention it over on my blog? And here we are. Anki Legacies. Take it away, Shane, tell folks all about it. 



What if human civilization was not initiated by the ingenuity of our hunter gatherer ancestors in prehistory? What if a race of magical beings descended to Earth from the stars? Would the science and technology of modern man be enough to remain the dominant species if such a race reemerged?

Four novels and three short stories will unveil Earth’s ancient civilizers for better or worse. Three generations of the Rogers family and their extraordinary friends chase the Anki from the present day, to mankind’s Stone Age, into the stars, and across other worlds to learn if humanity can ever be truly free of the Anki Empire.Each story brings us face to face with danger and adventure. Years of martial arts training deliver immersive action scenes that will leave your heart pounding.

I know you’ll enjoy reading these Sci-fi Adventures as much as I enjoyed writing them!

Check out the book here and you should follow Shane on Twitter. You'll find him right here

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Meet the author: CH Clepitt chats about writing, audiobooks - and Murder She Wrote!

CH Clepitt is a writer whose work I've regularly enjoyed if you've followed my reviews. I particularly enjoy the Crew Chronicles, a sci-fi series of short tales about a crew making its way through a universe filled with fairies. Making a return visit to chat about writing progress, well... things get out of hand. I take no blame but all the credit. Yes. Ok. Murder She Wrote kind of got involved. You'll see. Read on.


Welcome back to the blog! Last time you visited was shortly after Everything Is Better With A Cape came out – what are you working on at present? 


I’m working on two things at the moment: a contemporary romance called “Checked Out: A Lesbian Librarian Romance” - don’t even start - and my version of Beauty and the Beast called “Eye of the Beholder”. Rather like my “fixed” version of Twelfth Night, I am making it queer, but also ‘fixing’ all the problematic bits. It’s gunna be very different from any other interpretation you’ve read (I hope).


You’ve done a few audiobook versions of books – tell us a little about the process. How did you find narrators and what were the unexpected things you encountered along the way?


I think the most unexpected thing was actually being able to get my work onto audio! Being visually impaired it was very important to me to make my books accessible. I was initially concerned about the audiobook process, because all the articles I read said that no narrators would work with indie authors on a royalty share basis, and if you wanted a good one you would need to pay them up front. That’s quite a big initial outlay. Turns out, this isn’t true. Lots of narrators will work with you if they like the writing and think it’s something they’d enjoy reading. I put my books up for auditions and then listen to them and choose the best ones. Sometimes I approach a narrator I like the sound of and ask if they’d like to work with me. So far I’ve been lucky enough to have them say yes. I have plans to work with a friend on future recordings. They want to get into narrating, and I have lots of stories that need to be made into audiobooks! Hopefully we can both make a little money too.

Obviously, life is proving to have more than a few challenges this year… how are you faring with the lockdowns going on and what are you doing to fill your time?


I switch between very calm and super high fight or flight anxiety. Obviously there’s nowhere to fly, but the recent fly invasion has given me something to fight… follow me on Twitter for ninja fly warrior updates. I can assure you, they are thrilling… Honestly, I am struggling to focus on anything for too long, so lots of easy games on my phone. I am aiming to write a chapter a week and even that’s hard at the moment. Hopefully it’ll get easier.




I see you’ve been having a Murder She Wrote marathon! Imagine, if you will, you get to script an episode. What happens and whodunnit?


OMG! Have you just asked me to write Murder She Wrote fanfic?! (Editor: Wait!) You have, haven’t you?! (Editor: Um...) OK… picture it:

Cabot Cove, 1989. Jessica Fletcher sits at her kitchen table typing, when her phone rings.
Jessica: [getting up and walking to the phone] Oh my goodness, who can that be at this hour? [answering] Hello? Jessica Fletcher.
Phone voice: [crackling] Jessica? It’s Marti. Marti Singer?
Jessica: [surprised face - massive eyes] Marti? Oh gracious, how long has it been?
Marti: Oh goodness, I don’t know! Twenty years at least! I’m so sorry to bother you! I came in on the 9pm flight from New York, I’m supposed to be staying with Dave for Mom’s 80th birthday, but when I got to the house it was dark, all the lights were out. I had to walk half an hour to get to a payphone and I’ve been ringing and ringing and I can’t get an answer. The only other name I recognised in the phonebook was yours! I’m sorry to bother you!
Jessica: Don’t be silly Marti! It’s no bother. Are you at the phone box by the bay? I’ll come and meet you. You can spend the night here and we’ll pop in on Dave in the morning.
Marti: Thank you Jessica.
Cut to next morning, around Jessica’s breakfast table
Marti: Thank you for taking me in Jessica. I would have had to sleep on a bench otherwise! 
Jessica: No problem at all, Marti. I wonder why Dave wasn’t answering the door though.
Marti: The last time we spoke he said that Doctor Haslet had prescribed him sleeping pills. Maybe they knocked him out.
Jessica: Maybe. Well, come on, let’s take a walk over and see if he’s up!
Cut to outside Dave’s House. An ambulance outside and paramedics are wheeling out a body bag. Pan to Marti - hysterical - running up to Amos.
Marti: Sheriff! What happened?
Amos: Step aside, Miss. This is official police business!
Marti: But this is my brother’s house!
Amos: Brother, you say! And who might you be?
Marti: [Producing a driver’s license] I’m Marti Singer.
Amos: Well, that’s odd.
Marti: Why?
Amos: Because that [indicates body bag] is Marti Singer.
Marti: What?
Amos: I think you’d better come down the station with me.
Jessica: [butting in] Amos! You can’t possibly….
Amos: Not now, Mrs. Fletcher, this is police business. Floyd, please take this lady for questioning.
Floyd: [leading Marti to a police car] This way, ma’am.
Jessica: But Amos!
Amos: Not now, Mrs. Fletcher.
Pan to Jessica looking a mixture of shocked, surprised and constipated, big eyes. Fade to black.

That’s the ad break, folks. If you want to find out what happens after the break. Pop a comment and Leo might let me come back next week...



Um. Yes. I may need a nice cup of tea now. What’s been the best response you’ve had to one of your books? The kind of thing that has been a real encouragement?


When I first released I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse I was met with a lot of homophobic responses. But the best response was a friend buying a copy for her housemate, and when I asked why she thought her housemate would like it she said something like “she has dated men and women and I think she would like to see that in a book”. It made it worth it to me. Representation matters and that’s why I won’t stop, no matter how hard it is.

What are your release plans for the year ahead?


I’m finding it really hard to focus on writing at the moment, but I hope to finish both my current projects, and maybe get some audiobooks released too. Watch this space.

Tell me, if we could wave a magic wand, what would be the goal you most want to achieve with your writing in the next couple of years?


The hardest part, getting people to notice it! When people read my books they really enjoy them, and usually read the whole series, but trying to get people to notice them feels a lot like screaming into the void at times!

The usual question we have here for visitors – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year? 

I am reading the original Beauty and the Beast (research for my project) and I am listening to the Sherlock Holmes stories on audio. I reckon my best read this year was the Batwoman graphic novels, I love them and am super excited about the series.

Thanks for having me!

Very welcome! Ooh, and perhaps I should point the Sherlock Holmes graphic novel A Study in Scarlet your way! Still have to catch up with the Batwoman TV series here because of being so far behind on all the CW shows, but looking forward to it. Thanks for visiting the blog, and welcome back anytime!

Keep up with CH Clepitt over on Twitter at @BadgersTweetToo or on Facebook here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

What if Dickens went steampunk? Check out A Twist In Time, a new release from Brent A Harris

Regular readers will be familiar with Brent A Harris, a visitor to these parts on more than one occasion. He has a new book coming out - huzzah! - and it's a fabulous mix of classic literature and steampunk action. Check out the chat with him below. I'll be reviewing the book when it comes out on May 15 - when it will also be available in audiobook as well as ebook and paperback, so be sure to check back for my thoughts when it comes out. 

Why A Twist in Time?
This book has sort of a strange origin to it. Originally, it was a short story. I wanted to take a known character from Dickens’ Victorian setting and fling him far into the future. He landed in a fairly dystopic setting which wasn’t all that different from where he started. I liked the story, but I wasn’t quite happy with Oliver’s role in it. So I wanted to give him a wider story to star in.
Then, while pursuing an MFA, one of our projects was to write a film script. It seemed easier to build a script from a story I’d already written than to create something new. After all, writing a script was something I’d never done before and it’s akin to learning a new language. Why complicate the process? So I dusted the short story off… and then wrote something completely different.
After film classes were completed, I needed a Master’s Thesis, which had to be a book. I thought it easier to write something that I had already outlined as a script instead of starting over from scratch.
So, it came about because I was dissatisfied with my original story, mixed with a strong bout of laziness. It’s a perfect recipe for writers everywhere. We all simply reinvent the same wheel. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

Okay, but where’d the original idea spring from?
I’m a speculative fiction author. I love the idea of speculating about what’s to come, but much of what will happen in the future has its roots in the past. The idea that rapidly progressing technology causes massive social upheaval isn’t new. We’re all alarmed about how quickly machines, robots, and AI are replacing humans as the dominate workforce.
Yet, Charles Dickens wrote about the same things over a century ago. Only, it wasn’t about malevolent robotic AIs. He wrote about the Industrial Revolution and how its rapid onset sent workers and children to the slums and covered London in coal dust and smog.
Dickens was ahead of his time. He wrote in serialized format, which was fairly new at the time, but to us it’s normal – television writers do it all the time. Netflix thanks him. Dickens was also a great champion of social causes and his writing cast light into the darker side of what we’d like to think of as a fancy, regal Victorian age. It wasn’t.
Of course, there are darker themes addressed in A Twist in Time, but just as Star Trek dressed social issues in green paint and Styrofoam planets, my story uses a steampunk aesthetic and time-travel elements to entertain first. If anyone walks away from my book with a deeper message or even better -- wants to read or re-read Dickens, then I consider that a success. But it’s a secondary to just vegging out and reading a fun story; escapism in a time of quarantine and shelter-in-place.
What’s a Twist in Time about?
The very same Oliver that grew up in a workhouse and begged for a second bowl of gruel has grown up. But he came of age in a world that faces rapidly moving technology; not just from the Industrial Revolution but from steam power and the possibilities that power creates. It’s driven workers from factories, driven down wages, and driven a further social divide as the rich profit and the poor lose everything. In many ways, the steampunk aesthetic of Victorian London has made everything worse for the city than it did when Oliver was younger.
Oliver, for his part, has sided with the foundlings and taken them under his care. But when they begin to go missing, he sets out to save them. Along the way he’ll need help from tinkerer Nell Trent and a slew of fantastical contraptions - including a mysterious pocket watch that allows its bearer to bend the rules of time.
Yet, Oliver faces many challenges, including the return of his childhood nemesis, the Artful Dodger, and her lethal bag of tricks. He’ll soon discover that there is more at stake than his own life and the missing orphans. Can he save London from the flames?
Dodger’s a girl?
Jack Dawkins is reimagined as Jill. The Artful Dodger is fictional, a construct of Dickens’ mind. And while Dickens is a great writer, he didn’t write a lot of female characters. When he did, he typically killed them off. That created a problem for me because I’m writing to a modern audience. So a change had to be made. If I lose any readers because of my choice, it’ll be a shame because she was a fun character to write.
Tell us about yourself, what have you written?
I’m perhaps best known for writing alternate history, and I don’t think that steampunk diverges too far from that genre. In many ways, A Twist in Time is an alternative split from Oliver Twist, as Oliver’s actions from Dickens’ book (with one slight change) essentially creates the world of A Twist in Time.
My previous book is straight alternate history. A Time of Need creates a world where American forces fight against George Washington and the British during the American Revolution. I’ve also written many short stories. The most well-known is Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon where a group of dinosaurs time-travel to the past to save their dying world. That short story and A Time of Need have each earned me a Sidewise Award nomination in alternate history.
When I’m not writing, I like to play board games and binge shows like The Witcher and all the heroes in the Arrowverse. I’m also homeschooling two kids due to the quarantine, so I’m no longer getting much writing done. Ironically, we’re currently stationed in Italy, because we like to travel, but we’re not doing any of that either now. I guess it’s just time to settle down and read, right?
Where can we find A Twist in Time?
A Twist in Time releases May 15th as an ebook and is free to read on Kindle Unlimited. A paperback will also be available but due to current world events I can’t promise that it will be out exactly on the 15th. There’s also an audiobook in production, narrated by Kyle Bullock. What I’ve heard of the audio is simply amazing. That will release on Audible around the middle of May.
You can pre-order your ebook copy of A Twist in Time now.
What’s next?
I’m currently querying my next novel Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder. It’s a horror novel with a technothriller twist that sees its hero locked in her home (sound familiar?) and the home’s integrated AI attempts to murder her and her friends. I admit my timing isn’t the best. Not sure who wants to read a book about a murderous home when we’re all sheltered inside. It’d be like watching Jaws while swimming in the ocean.
I’ll also be releasing a collection of my most popular short stories. I’m also writing the sequel to A Twist in Time, which gives Oliver the impossible task of redeeming Scrooge. And if you think you know how the story ends, then you’re in for A Christmas Twist. Lastly, Dark Eagle, the follow-up to A Time of Need is still in the works.
Thanks for stopping by, Brent! Where can people find out more?
You can pre-order A Twist In Time now and follow me on social media:
Pre-order your ebook here! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08683MHM2
Or international readers: Mybook.to/ATwistinTime 
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrentAHarris1
Or visit my website at: www.BrentAHarris.com
Good luck with it! And I'm looking forward to the read.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

BOOK REVIEWS: Becoming Superman, by J Michael Straczynski; Rise and Rescue anthology; Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire; Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon

Welcome back to my latest round of reviews - which this time around includes a Hugo nominee. 
Without further ado...


Becoming Superman, by J Michael Straczynski

Joe Straczynski is the creator of Babylon 5. I mean, you may know him from many other things. You may know him as the pen behind Sense8 on Netflix. You might know him from The Changeling, the Angelina Jolie movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Or Jeremiah. Or Spider-Man comics. Or... well, you get the idea. He's been involved in writing for TV and movies for far longer than many writers manage to stay in the ring.
This is his autobiography - and while you might think it's a happy trip through the successes he's had over the years, it's far from that. Indeed, it's far more intimate and personal than that.
This is the story of the young boy Joseph, and his abusive father, who tormented his whole family. It is a story that tells of Nazi sympathising. Of murder. Of a boy trying to grow up sane with a family life that was far from stable, moving from town to town and skipping out whenever people showed up to collect money.
Sure, it tells how he went through the early cycle of writing stories that turned out to be not so great, then writing more, and more, and banging his head against the door of rejection. There's the glimmers of encouragement, such as when the stranger who read his work at a school event and said there was promise in there turned out to be Rod Serling. But this is a story of a boy who fought to be a man free of his father, of a man who fought to get his stories accepted, and a TV writer who fought against the restraints imposed by executives all too often - to the point of his agent's exasperation.
He describes one moment in his youth - in which he gets the shit kicked out of him by a bunch of kids only to stand up and taunt them so they came back and did it again as, in retrospect, being the perfect preparation for becoming a TV writer.
There's a great deal of insight in here to the projects he worked on - from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, to Murder She Wrote. As a Babylon 5 fan, I particularly hung on the material to do with the show - even the saddest notes with the death of some of the cast members over the year. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Peter Jurasik from the show, and the poignancy of those moments came across in two voices mourning old friends, the writer and the narrator.
More than anything, though, this book tells the story of Mr Straczynski's relationship with his father. So determined was he not to be like his father, his life in some ways seem to have been defined by purposely choosing to be the thing his father was not, the shape of his life being dictated by non-conformity to the monster he grew up with.
It's a brutal story to tell. There are no end of truly shocking moments. And yet, despite what he had to endure, he ultimately defined himself, who he would be, and rose to the success his father said he wouldn't reach. Is it inspirational? I'm not sure that's the word. That's like those moments when you see what people have gone through and pat them on the head and call them an inspiration. That's not quite right. No, but it is admirable. With a stubborn streak a mile wide, he managed to achieve things that had never been done before. And he did it with a sharp wit and a ready pen.
This book has been nominated for a Hugo Award. It certainly deserves it.

AI Rating: 5/5

Becoming Superman is available on Amazon


Rise and Rescue Volume 1: A Game Lit Anthology

Game Lit is one of those sub genres that has really burst into life in the past few years. The idea is that it is literature that revolves around gaming - computer gaming, roleplaying, that kind of thing. As such, it has its own particular quirks, and some of this anthology is more heavily immersed in those quirks than other stories.
First thing first, though, this anthology is for a good cause - it's helping out in the aftermath of the fires that swept Australia. There are Australians writing here, and other writers from the world around who also wanted to reach out and help.
One of those odd quirks in game lit is sometimes providing statistic updates for characters as you read. It can throw you a little, especially if this is the first time you're encountering the genre, but hey, that's the genre, it is what it is.
For me, the stories I enjoyed more played less on that - I really liked Anthea Sharp's Spark Jaxley story which kicks off the anthology, in which a gamer takes her shot at trying to win a world title and maybe give her family some financial hope in the process. It's quite brilliant.
Then there's Marcus Sloss' fun snippet, Texas Wildlife Volunteers, which looks at the victims of fire themselves and serves as a nice break from the other stories.
KR Dimmick's Hacked tells a story of a group quest on an online roleplaying game where only the players can save the day, while EM Swift-Hook plays gently with the genre by flipping the perspective to an NPC adapting to the new rollout of an update to a game that may have some unusual consequences.
There's scorching fantasy in Jane Jago's Dragon Riders, with a flame of passion too, and wartime action from lawrence Dagstine's The War Module.
Like any anthology, some stories will catch you more than others - but this is a solid bunch of reads with some that really shone to me. And, of course, it helps those who need help.

AI Rating: 5/5

Rise and Rescue is available on Amazon


Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

The concept behind Every Heart A Doorway is quite brilliant.
When the fairy tale is done, where do the children from them go? The ones who disappear down rabbit holes, or through the back of a wardrobe, what happens to them next?
This is the story that explores that, in a school that is a kind of limbo for children as they wait to go through their next doorway, the one that takes them to the land that will be their perfect fit.
It's weird and delightful and enchanting. More than that, it looks at these children and what they are looking for themselves. What they want. What they need. What they desire. What they would call home.
Wrapped around a murder mystery, it counters the gossamer touch of fairy tales with the harsh reality of being a child out of place. It tackles LGBT issues and more.
For some, this will be a book that hits them right in the soul. It didn't quite get me the same way, but I found much to admire.
I will confess though, I listened to the audiobook version and I urge you if you want to tackle this book to read the words on the page instead. The narrator for the audiobook had such a monotone that it stole the magic from the words and rendered them dreary. It was a chore to listen to at times, and didn't serve the book well.
So turn the pages and hear the voice in your own head instead, it'll serve you better.

AI Rating: 4/5

Every Heart A Doorway is available on Amazon


Alien: Out of the Shadows

Inserting itself in between Alien movies, this audio drama wakes up Ripley before she gets rescued at the start of Aliens. The crew of a mining vessel wakes her up, and unfortunately find themselves having to deal with the xenomorph threat she hoped to have left behind.
There's another survivor from the first movie too - Ash, the android, who has become a ghost in the machinery of her escape capsule's computer, surviving as only a voice and a an aggressive way of taking control of other machinery. Of course, when the voice is that of Rutger Hauer filling the role, you've got a lot going for you.
Indeed, the audio production quality on this is really absolutely superb. The background audio of wet alien bites or acid hissing or steam pipes venting while alarms sound and so on is excellent. You're pitched into a claustrophobic world as Ripley allies with the crew of the mining vessel Marion, led by the engineer Hooper, to first try to stop the aliens and then just to survive them. Sadly, they don't make the most of having Rutger Hauer on board, dumping him with a bit of a role giving recaps rather than involving him more, but heck, he's great whenever he appears. Laurel Lefkow, as Ripley, also does a great job, really inhabiting Sigourney Weaver's role.
The script doesn't live up to the performance, and you'll soon spot the way in which characters live long enough to fulfill their solitary function before being gobbled up by angry aliens. Still, as a show, it's great fun, creating the feel of a big action movie in your headphones.

AI Rating: 4/5

Alien: Out of the Shadows is available on Audible

Saturday, 28 March 2020

FREE AUDIO STORY: Percy, by Leo McBride



Hi all,

With the world pretty much upended at the moment, I wanted to try something different. So here's one of my most popular stories, Percy, from my Quartet collection. It's the story of a homeless man in Chicago who is more than he seems.

But rather than having it hear to read, instead I've recorded it as an audio track. You can listen to it right here, the links are below. It's on Soundcloud and Youtube too.

I hope you enjoy - and if you want to hear more of my stories this way, let me know. Anyway, let me get out of Percy's way. This old man has been waiting long enough. Happy listening.

Oh, and if you want to read more? You can pick up Quartet at mybook.to/Quartet

Listen on YouTube


Listen on Soundcloud