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

Listen on YouTube

Listen on Soundcloud

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Stuck inside? Here are some free books to read

With the outbreak of the coronavirus, many people find themselves at home through either self-isolation or quarantine. Over at Inklings Press, there's very little we can do about the bigger situation, obviously. Indeed, many of our authors are caught up in the middle of it just the same as everyone else. So we're doing what little we can - hopefully offering a little distraction from it all.

All of our books will be free as electronic downloads from March 20-24. Grab 'em, download 'em, enjoy 'em whenever they might keep your mind off things.

Also, to other authors, if you have free books available that you want to let people know about, pass the word here and we'll happily add the links so people can find them.

Be safe, be well, and we'll be around on @InklingsPress and @AlteredInstinct to chat if needed.

Oh, and from now until the Inklings Press offer kicks in on Friday, Leo McBride's short story collection Quartet is also available as a free download. Enjoy.

Links below to each of the downloads. Remember, it's not until Friday that the Inklings Press free offer kicks in, so don't buy by accident.

Inklings Press Books

Tales From The Tower collects the first two Inklings anthologies - Tales From The Mists and Tales From The Tavern. Tavern was the first book we produced, with five fantasy stories. Mists lets horror creep in, with another five horror stories. Available at:

Tales From The Universe sets its sights on the stars. Universe collects ten science fiction stories, stretching from visions of Earth's future to the most distant of stars. Available at:

 Tales From Alternate Earths was our first voyage into alternate history - and turned out to be an award-winner for Daniel M Bensen, whose story Treasure Fleet won the coveted Sidewise Award. Brent A Harris and Ricardo Victoria also scored a nomination for their tale of dinosaurs and time travel. Check it out at:

Tales of Wonder takes science in one hand and fantasy in the other and smashes them together to create worlds where both exist. As Arthur C Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Join us and see if you can spot where one ends and the other begins. Available at:

Tales From The Underground came about by popular demand from our authors and would-be contributors. They wanted an anthology where the focus was underground, the stories beneath our feet, or sometimes beneath the surface of society. Bursting with 12 tales delving deep into possible worlds, we hope you enjoy:

After the success of Tales From Alternate Earths, a return to alternate history was inevitable - and it produced some fabulous stories. Packed with 11 tales, Tales From Alternate Earths 2 is available at:

 Our most recent anthology plunged into realms of fantasy - back where it all began for Inklings Press. With 12 stories, it delves into dungeons, crosses battlefields, challenges prophecies and conjures up characters ready to face the gods themselves. Available at:

The Sparkly Badgers of Facebook

The Sparkly Badgers of Facebook is a splendid group of supportive authors - and for Halloween last year they produced a horror anthology. It's permanently free on Amazon, and you can pick it up here:

Nils Odlund

Nils Odlund is a fellow member of the SciFi Roundtable Facebook group - he has the first four books of his Lost Dogs series available free from March 20-22. Check them out below.

Jane Jago and E.M.Swift-Hook

I don't think I would have gotten quite so far along with my writing if it wasn't for the inestimable encouragement of the marvelous Jane Jago and E.M.Swift-Hook. They have two books that will be free from Saturday until Wednesday, the Dai and Julia omnibus, a collection of their first stories in their alternate history world of detectives in a modern-day Roman Empire, and Aaspa's Eyes, a novel from Jane. Links below.

Diane Morrison

Diane Morrison is someone you really ought to follow on Twitter. She gave a shoutout for some of her works. There's a few links, so let me add her tweet here then you can follow her and follow the links all in one :)

Danielle DeSote

Also from the SciFi Roundtable, Danielle DeSote offered this list of her books available for free:

Cursed Hearts Box Set (entire series plus bonus novella)
The Dreamer (Keepers Prequel Novella)
Mother of Shadows (The Chosen Book 1)

Other books

Danielle was kind enough to also supply a list of other books presently available for free. It's quite lengthy, so hopefully you'll find something in this list to suit you. Do double check the free offer is still running, of course, just in case some have expired or not kicked in yet.

Jessica Wayne (Contemp & Fantasy Romance)
The Lumberjack Effect
Olive You
Rescuing Norah
Shielding Jemma
The Prophecy Series Box Set
Tethered Duet
Collateral Damage
The Last Ward:
Randi Cooley Wilson (PNR)
Laura Thalassa
Dark Bargainer Series:
May Sage (PNR)
After Darkness Falls:
Colleen Hoover (Contemp Romance):
Too Late:
Never Never:
C.M. Stunich (Romance - Various)
Becoming Us Again (standalone) -
Baby Girl (standalone) -
Pack Ebon Red (book #1) -
Gray and Graves (book #1) -
Indigo & Iris (book #1) -
A M Johnson
Laurelin Paige (Contemp Romance)
Fiona Davenport (Contemp Romance)
Adriane Leigh (Contemp Romance)
Whiskey Girl
J.M. Walker (Erotic Romance)
Beautiful Pain -
From Within -
Broken Scars -
Unexpected Surrender -
On A Whim (Novella) -
One (An Erotic Novella) -
Heat (Parker Reed, #1) -
Edge (Parker Reed, #2) -
Break Me (Shattered, #1) -
Always Me (Shattered, #2) -
Remember Me (Shattered, #3) -
Torn Series Boxed Set (Books 1-4) -
Red (A Brett MacLean Duet) -
Grit (King's Harlots, #1) -
Greyson (Hell's Harlem, #1) -
Crystal Perkins (Romance Various) (authors entire catalog of about 40)

Jane Last

Jane Last also got in touch from the Sci-Fi Roundtable to let us know that her distant future novel Hyos: The Sleep Machine is available for free at various stores. Here's the Kobo link:

Thursday, 12 March 2020

MEET THE AUTHOR: Ian Bristow, creator of Contact

Author, artist, musician... Ian Bristow is a very talented man. He also has a new book out - Contact released just before Christmas, and is the first of a series. He joins us at the blog to chat about its creation, its inspiration, and give us a little glimpse of what he enjoyed most about writing it.

Welcome to the blog - and with a new book too! When you last stopped by, this was a WIP so congratulations on publication. Tell us a little about Contact. 
Hey, thanks for having me. Contact marks my first voyage into the world of sci-fi writing. It was equal parts fun and difficult to write, but the end result is a book I’m quite proud of. And a writer can’t really ask for more than that.

So it's a story of discovering a new culture - what did you enjoy most about developing that culture as a writer?
Developing another culture that my human readers could empathize with was a fascinating journey. It certainly taught me a lot about the small realities that sometimes slip through the cracks of our daily lives. One main point I came to realize is that you can put a character in any skin you like, but in the end, if they don’t have similar difficulties to those the human reader has experienced, they will never truly be someone the reader can feel for and connect with.
I see the reviews mention a bunch of different apparent influences - the likes of Star Trek as you boldly go to a new world or Avatar and so on, but what would you say your influences are for this story?
Quite honestly, my main influence came from a concept that brewed in my mind during a Cultural Anthropology course in college. I thought, what might it be like to become the first cultural anthropologist to study and alien race? And that infant of thought led to the book, as they tend to. I’ve seen my share of all things sci-fi in pop culture, so no doubt those things played into the initial ideas once I had my main concept, but I didn’t purposely do the recipe thing: 1 part Star Trek, 2 parts Avatar, etc.

For me, perhaps the most intriguing thing in exploration stories is what they show about our culture - and your story shows some of the dark side of humanity's approach. What did you enjoy most about what the story shows us about who we are?

Artwork by Ian Bristow

Great question! The classic idea of good vs evil is at play here, but not so simple as the idea that some people are evil and some are good. It’s about how human motivations can range from selfish and misguided to selfless and informed and everything in between. Between black and white are all manner of shades of grey, and that is where real people live, and so that is where my book lives. The ‘antagonist’ is more a group of people fearing for their lives than it is one bad guy with an eye patch petting a cat and barking orders at cronies. Granted, there are a select few who have let that fear manifest into making decisions that are incredibly cruel and inhumane, and some who hold onto age old ideas that some people are of better stock than others. The ‘protagonist’ is a group of people willing to use their skill and knowledge to do what they can to find a peaceful solution to a devastating reality.

You're an artist too of course - and the cover is by you. What were you trying to capture in the cover?
For the cover I wanted to show the potential reader that they are looking at a sci-fi novel within a split second. Additionally, I wanted them to know the MC is a woman and that she will be venturing into space. I’d like to think I accomplished that.

What's been your favourite reaction to the book so far? 
By far it’s that the story feels well researched and like something that could actually happen. I worked tirelessly to bring a sense of authenticity to the read, not just write something hyper-fantastical that’s fun to read but has absolutely no gravitas.

This is the start of a series, yes? Is the sequel under way already? Any hints at what we might see? Without spoilers, of course!
It’s set to be a duology, and I will be starting the sequel this April. I took a much-needed break from writing after I finished Contact, which was a two-year writing project that drained me well and truly of all creative writing energy. But I’m starting to come back to a boil now. The sequel will wrap the story (at least that’s the plan), so my readers can expect a lot of loose ends to be dealt with. Also, there will be a good amount more world building involved now that the main cast is already on the world they had to travel to in the first book.

Is there a soundtrack? I know you compose as well, but wondering if you have a playlist to go with the book. 
I listened to a lot of progressive rock while writing the book, namely Camel, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Opeth and Haken. But I also listened to Gustov Holst’s The Planets quite a bit (which I’d recommend highly to readers who like to listen while they read). I personally haven’t composed any music to go with the book outside the music I wrote for my trailer. Though it is a neat idea that I might pursue. Perhaps I could release a score for the series when I release the second book.

How did you come to want to explore anthropology? 
As I mentioned before, it was taking anthropology in college that inspired me. As any writer should be, I’m incredibly fascinated by the human condition, and cultural anthropology is one of the best classes I’ve ever taken for looking at what it means to be human without holding onto our own cultural biases, but rather purposefully detaching ourselves from them to open up the door for empathy that would have otherwise been very hard to achieve.

Artwork by Ian Bristow

What kickstarted the story in your head? Was there some particular moment that slotted together as the key to the tale? 
I had to write a paper on ethnographies in class and that is what gave me the main idea for my MC’s objective in going to study the aliens.

What's next on your literary or artistic palate? 
As for writing, I’ll be writing the sequel to Contact. For art, I paint almost every day, so it might be client work or maybe just something I fancy painting. But I assure you it will be something.

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year? 
I’m currently rereading the Silmarillion by (do I really have to say?) Tolkien. The best book I read this past year was hands down Not To Be, by the vastly talented author E.M. Swift-Hook. I can’t recommend her writing highly enough.

Thank you very much!

Contact is available on Amazon.

Monday, 9 March 2020

BOOK REVIEWS: Invasive, by Chuck Wendig; The Black Company, by Glen Cook; Archangel, by William Gibson; Dark Flash 4, by Maria Haskins; Warming Season, by SR Algernon; Madness in the Shadows, by Jason J Nugent

It's review time again - including a couple of books I listened to as audiobooks. Audio is a different experience when it comes to books. For starters, the narrator can make a world of difference. A great story with a weak narrator can fail to shine, while a great narrator can keep you going through a humdrum story. Elsewhere this week, we have short stories and sci-fi - and a graphic novel from the splendid William Gibson. Here we go...

Invasive, by Chuck Wendig

This is the third novel of Chuck Wendig's that I've read - and it's fair to say I've had the full range of reactions to his work. I say read, this one I listened to as an audiobook, but previously I loved his first Miriam Black novel, but couldn't warm to his take on Star Wars in Aftermath. This one? Well, it ticks all the boxes for something I ought to love. 
It starts with a bang, an FBI consultant being asked to come and investigate a cabin where a weird death has taken place. The consultant, Hannah, is a futurist, who seems to have a habit of imagining all of the worst possible outcomes without ever really seeing the best. She uncovers clues that suggest that ants are being used as a weapon - and follows the trail of their little tiny feet as she hunts for the suspects. 
After the start, though, things get bogged down with very little action - Wendig throws in a few dream sequences as jump scares to distract from the lack of much happening. He writes really well, his style absorbing and immediate, but it takes a while for the story to pick up the pace - with Hannah all the while making bad choices and failing to see the consequences in her own personal future. 
Stick with it and about halfway through all hell breaks loose - in a good way. Suddenly I was pouring a glass of rum and enjoying the ride. Still, it took a while. 
So did I love it? Hate it? In the end, somewhere in the middle. I liked it - but it took a bit of patience to hang in there. I really like Wendig's writing, but the plot here was a bit humdrum, and it was easy to predict whodunnit. 
I must say, however, the narrator - XE Sands - was brilliant. Disarming in the face of scientific explanations and adding a real human uncertainty to the lead character, she really knocked it out of the park. Top notch narration. 

AI Rating: 3/5

Invasive is available on Amazon.

The Black Company, by Glen Cook

This came highly recommended to me on Twitter - so I'm sad to say it was a bit of a disappointment for me. 
First things first, what it's about - it's a fantasy tale of a company of mercenaries. Trouble is, they're on the side of the bad guys. Caught in the middle of conflicts while trying to make some coin, the mercenaries find themselves fighting alongside monsters while doing their best to bring down the heroes on the other side. 
So far, so good - but there are so many shades of grey going on here that it's hard to tell much difference between the cast in the company, uniformly morose and miserable and almost entirely male. Female voices are few and far between except for the Lady who leads the evil army. Worse, so many of the characters speak alike - I feel for the narrator on the audiobook I listened to who had to work hard to give them a distinct voice.
Many of the characters are unlikeable too - they rape, they pillage. The lead character at one point wakes from a dream in which he's forcing himself on underage girls - so I tended to cheer against the lead characters. 
In many ways, it reads a lot like a game of Warhammer - with the monstrous entities the company fights alongside almost like special units in a wargame. 
The story - such as it is, more a collage of short stories travelling the same path - picks up in the latter half of the book, and a plot appears, but the first half of the book could very well be offputting for many. 
In the end, it wasn't for me. I don't mind anti-heroes - but this company of soldiers are too covered in dirt and mud to be able to tell much difference between the worst of the worst and the best of the rest. 

AI Rating: 2/5

The Black Company is available on Amazon.

Archangel, by William Gibson

I've always really enjoyed William Gibson's work - but I didn't know he'd done any graphic novels until this popped up on my Kindle recommendations. 
In I dived, falling into an alternate history world where World War 2 ends very differently and time travellers try to put the timeline back the way it should be. 
It's a lot lighter than Gibson's usual fare - almost a pulp sci-fi take on things, and it feels like it could have done with being fleshed out a little more. That mostly hurts a couple of the characters who we don't really get to know well enough, leaving them as fairly broadly drawn archetypes. 
But it's fun. It really is. And makes you wonder about how things might have played out for the worse. 
I picked it up on Kindle Unlimited, and I'm glad I did. Worth the read. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Archangel is available on Amazon.

Dark Flash 4, by Maria Haskins

Maria Haskins has become one of my favourite short story writers. She's also writing here, there and all over the place - so these Dark Flash collections are a great way of keeping up with her progress.
These collect her flash fiction pieces written for the Word Count podcast, by RB Wood, which itself is worth checking out. 
Maria has a knack of turning her pen into a scalpel, able to peel open your flesh with a deft flick of the wrist. I read these at a time when my emotions were particularly high but this collection really got to me at times.
Now, being flash fiction, these are quick, sharp slices - it can be hard to get too in depth. And while they were all written to different prompts for the podcast, if there is something of a theme across them it is of becoming. Becoming something more. Someone more. Becoming... well, you'll just have to read to see. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Dark Flash 4 is available on Amazon

Warming Season, by SR Algernon

By golly, this is a strong slice of worldbuilding. A sci-fi tale in a world of conflicting cultures, this feels like a world close to the author's heart. It's also nice to see a sci-fi setting that isn't predominantly Western in its background, with a strong element of Chinese culture here.
The story itself kicks off with murder, and builds towards revolution - though it's a slow start. Once things get going, so the consequences build, amid a powder keg of arrogance, religious beliefs and cultural clashes. 
It was a tough one for me to pick a star rating for - as the worldbuilding is great, but sometimes at the expense of the flow of the story. Still, I enjoyed it - and it's great to see a vision of a future that's unique, not just piggybacking off other mainstream sci-fi. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Warming Season is available on Amazon

Madness in the Shadows, by Jason J Nugent

This collection is something of a revisit for me - bringing together two short story collections I've reviewed previously and tossing in a couple of bonus extras. 
As such, it's an easy one for me to rate - I gave both previous collections five stars so I guess I add those together and... wait, five stars is the maximum, right? Dammit. 
As for the feel, a lot of these come across like little slivers of Twilight Zone goodness - thoughtful and scary all at once. 
Many of the stories are short flash fiction pieces rather than longer stories, so glorious nibbles of darkness to enjoy with your coffee on a break. Delightful, dark and delicious. The coffee is, too. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Madness in the Shadows is available on Amazon.
Thanks for reading, all - and hey, in the comments, tell me what you've been reading!