It's been a good month for reading - lots of great books that have been on my reading list, plus a magazine or two I hadn't encountered before. So on with the reviews!
Monday, 15 February 2021
BOOK REVIEWS: Alyx, by Brent A Harris; An Unusual Practice, by Tom Jolly; Manifest Recall, by Alan Baxter; Hexagon issue 3
Saturday, 13 February 2021
Hi there, and welcome to Altered Instinct! For those not familiar with Sci-Fi & Scary, I must say I first encountered your crew over on Twitter, full of a love of horror and sci-fi, with oodles of reviews and a passion for things that make you squeal. But the reason we’re chatting here today is because you’ve got an anthology coming up – Twisted Anatomy.
So, this is your first charity anthology – so tell me, how did it first come slithering into being?
It all sprung from a conversation between Lilyn and Laurel Hightower on Twitter about vagina tentacles (hey, you asked!) and it all kind of snowballed from there.
You’ve recently finished the submissions process, along with notifying authors of acceptances and rejections – how was that process?
Some of it was easy because while some stories were great, they just didn’t quite fit the theme of the anthology. Which, you know, body horror is a super-specific niche so that was fairly easy. It really got hard when we got to the winnowing down phase. We all had some stories that we were willing to go to bat for. So that was a little hard to do.
Tell me, how did you decide on the charities you’ve decided to support?
Pulmonary Hypertension Association affects Lilyn’s daughter Monster and it’s very important to us. Domestic abuse still holds such a stigma for those reaching out for help and various reasons can keep a person trapped in life-threatening situations. The Domestic Abuse Hotline helps people find resources from trained sources and we want to help with that.
How did you settle on the theme for the anthology?
Well, mainly with Lilyn and Laurel’s Twitter conversation about nether tentacles. And really, body horror may be niche but it’s kind of niche for a reason. People are afraid of their bodies betraying them and body horror digs deep into that fear, bringing real issues and fears to light in a multitude of ways.
What was the most surprising thing about the process so far – has it been the response so far? Or perhaps a story that took you by surprise and made the hairs on your neck prickle?
We were very surprised by the number of responses we got, for sure. Body horror is such a niche sub-genre to start with and, honestly, we were flattered that so many authors put their trust in us. Especially since this is our first endeavor with it.
Without giving too much away, tell me a little about the stories that are going to feature – but let’s do it a little differently, tell me four movies that evoke the spirit of some of the stories in the book.
I would have to say The Fly, Videodrome, RAW, and Bug might be close to a few of them.
What publication date are you aiming at? And has it stirred your appetite to do more?
Twisted Anatomy is up for pre-order right now with a publishing date of February 19th, 2021. It has definitely created a stirring to do more. Sam and I are interested in possibly doing a Gothic/Haunted House\ themed one but that will be far in the future once we recover from Twisted Anatomy, lol.
Where will be the best place for people to find out more about the book when it lands?
You can keep an eye on our site, our various Twitters (included at bottom) and we now have a Youtube channel (Sci-Fi & Scary) where we have some stories featured from Twisted Anatomy and some original fiction.
One last question, a traditional one here at Altered Instinct - what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
That’s hard to say with so many people working with the site but we can tell what our personal favourite stories from Twisted Anatomy are:
Lilyn - Girls Don’t by Riya Anne Polcastro
Gracie - Little Teeth by Tabatha Wood
Olly - Just Beneath Her Skin by S.H. Cooper
Sam - Blood Bogged by Red Lagoe
Tracy - Witness Bearer by RJ Joseph
Bill - Blood Bogged by Red Lagoe
You can find out more about Sci-Fi & Scary at https://www.scifiandscary.com/ or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ScifiandScary. The team also has a YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVqVK4B3hZHfKqos1Qadqtg
Sam’s Twitter - https://twitter.com/literaryhooker
GracieKat’s Twitter - https://twitter.com/GracieKat13
Saturday, 23 January 2021
It's book launch day for Brent A. Harris - a regular at this blog - and his new book is already on my Kindle. He stops by to tell us a little bit more about his new sci-fi thriller tale Alyx - in case you want to add it to your book pile!
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.
Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder can be ordered anywhere books are sold. The ebook is exclusive to Amazon and is FREE to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Harris is a two-time Sidewise Award nominee. He lives with his family in Naples, Italy. When not writing, he enjoys playing boardgames and traveling. Since he can’t do much travel, he journeys to new worlds created in his mind.
To contact the author, visit www.BrentAHarris.com where you can join his mailing list or follow him on Facebook and/or Twitter.
Sunday, 10 January 2021
Claire Buss is no stranger to this blog. We've reviewed her work - and she's been published in Inklings Press books too. She's a smashing writer, and her Roshaven series is in no small part inspired by her love of Terry Pratchett's books. She has a new book in the series coming out and asked if she could stop by the blog to tell you all about it. So without further ado... take it away, Claire! Tell us all about... The Silk Thief.
The Silk Thief (The Roshaven Series Book 2)
A Humorous Urban Fantasy Novel
Fourteen, heir to the Empire of Roshaven, must find a new name before Theo, Lord of neighbouring Fidelia, brings his schemes to fruition.
Not only has he stolen Roshaven’s trade, but he plans to make Fourteen his own and take her empire in the bargain.
Her protector, Ned Spinks, is plagued with supernatural nightmares whilst his assistant, Jenni the sprite, has lost her magick.
Can they figure out how to thwart Theo’s dastardly plan before it’s too late for his city and her empire?
PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY: mybook.to/SilkThief
The Silk Thief is out on June 4, 2021.
The Silk Thief is the second quirky magical mystery adventure set in the Roshaven series of humorous fantasy novels. If you like the wit and humour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, then you’ll love The Silk Thief.
More about the Roshaven books
The Rose Thief, The Roshaven Series book 1
Someone is stealing the Emperor’s roses and if they take the magical red rose then love will be lost, to everyone, forever.
It’s up to Ned Spinks, Chief Thief Catcher, and his band of motley catchers to apprehend the thief and save the day.
But the thief isn’t exactly who they seem to be. Neither is the Emperor.
Ned and his team will have to go on a quest; defeating vampire mermaids, illusionists, estranged family members and an evil sorcerer in order to win the day. What could possibly go wrong?
Available in paperback and ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/bQaxw6
Editor note: I reviewed The Rose Thief here - and really enjoyed it!
The Interspecies Poker Tournament, Prequel Novella to The Rose Thief
Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, has a new case. A murderous moustache-wearing cult is killing off members of Roshaven's fae community. At least that's what he's been led to believe by his not-so-trusty sidekick, Jenni the sprite. She has information she's not sharing but plans to get her boss into the Interspecies Poker Tournament so he can catch the bad guy and save the day. If only Ned knew how to play!
Available in paperback and ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/m2Vk0R
Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, a Roshaven short story
Join Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, and his sidekick Jenni the sprite in this short story about an unwanted magick shoppe.
This free short story is available in ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/4XXPw1
What Readers Say
“Loved the quirky banter!”
“Entirely delightful and captivating.”
“A wonderful tribute to the Late Great Sir Terry.”
“If you are a fan of the discworld you will love this book.”
“A hilariously thrilling fantasy mystery.”
About the Author
Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.
Editor note: Want to learn more about Claire? Check out her interview here.
Social Media Links
FB Group: www.facebook.com/groups/BussBookStop
Tuesday, 5 January 2021
APEX magazine is back!
For those unfamiliar with the magazine, it has been on hiatus recently. It's a magazine of science fiction, fantasy and all those words that slip in between those categories - and it's been missed.
I got a chance to read the new issue ahead of its recent relaunch - it's out today - and it's been like meeting an old friend again.
Editor Jason Sizemore talks in the introduction about the return, the reasons for the hiatus, and the new schedule. It'll now be a bi-monthly magazine. It includes essays, author interviews, an interview with cover artist Vicki Be Wicked, and short fiction reviews by AC Wise.
Most importantly, it is brimful of stories. Six new stories, two reprints - plus a flash fiction competition winner. Like any mix of stories, readers will enjoy some more than others, and I'm no different.
Fittingly for our pandemic era, Elana Gomel's The Niddah was one of the stand-outs. Elana conjures up a world where a future pandemic has led to the reinvention of society, with a new virus bringing about radical changes in physiology for people - but only when an infected person comes into contact with the blood of another. Given how strained social conventions are today even in the face of a less radical pandemic, it is easy to believe this reimagined world in Gomel's story, and even less surprising that the worse end of the deal falls to women. Already in our COVID-19 world, women have been bearing the brunt economically more than men - and that becomes ever more so in this world where one drop of blood could kill or transform, with women forced to hide away during their period to avoid contact with others. That's the set up - but the story itself is one of finding choices in a world which takes them away, as the lead character, Gemma, discovers the mother she thought she'd lost might still be alive. I'll say no more, but Gomel has created a world akin to a Jeff VanderMeer novel - that leaves you longing to explore more.
Root Rot, by Fargo Tbakhi, is the opening story in the collection - and a challenging one in that the lead character is so hard to like. He's a screw-up of screw-ups, whose messed up relationships, his life, his associates, and is on a downward spiral of drinking and dying. It's set in a future exploring what might happen to the people of Palestine, and one particular person, who spent his days digging in Martian soil in the hope of making a life with his lover only to end up washed up and paying literally in blood to be able to cross city sections, and trying to pay off the bar bill he's run up beyond his ability to settle. It's a brutal world, with not much in the way of hope. But there's some, and that's something to cling to in order to make up for a legacy of screw-ups. It's no easy tale to read, but then it's no easy life to have lived.
Mr Death made me cry. It's a story by Alix E Harrow about a reaper. Less grim, more respectful. Sam Grayson died in his 40s after losing his own son in an accident. Trouble is, when he died, he found his work wasn't over. He was given the job of junior reaper. And now he has another job to do - overseeing the passing of a two-year-old boy. I was so on edge reading this that I almost didn't dare turn the page. It's not a horror, it's a story of compassion and, well, love. But the imminent nature of this little baby boy's death is so unnerving that you treasure every action, every moment. I'll say no more because it really deserves to be read. But gosh, I salute the author for a truly wonderful tale.
The magazine is worth the purchase price for Alix Harrow's story alone - but there are also stories by PH Lee, Cassandra Khaw, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, Tonya Liburd, LH Moore, and a festive flash fiction piece by Charles Payseur.
Welcome back, Apex, we sure missed you.
For more about the magazine, check out: https://apex-magazine.com/
Sunday, 27 December 2020
It's been, to say the least, a strange year. Between work and supervising the kids as they studied at home, there's been precious little time to sit down and read. Still, to my surprise, I hit my Goodreads reading challenge goal - and there really were some gems that I enjoyed through the year. And goodness knows, if these were able to transport me away from the world of 2020, then they might just bring you joy too. So without further ado, here's five books I loved this year, starting - as it happens - with my latest read.
Premee Mohamed has gleefully snatched up two fistfuls of Cthulhu Mythos, dropped it into the modern day and proceeded to ruin the lives of her two lead characters with it. Possibly while giggling manically.
But while she creates a canvas from that mythos, it's the story of those characters that will draw you in. Johnny and Nick are two survivors of a childhood tragedy that bound them together. Johnny is the superstar, a genius inventor with money and talent. Nick is her devoted friend, trailing in her wake, struggling to manage work shifts and helping his family while she soars ahead like a shooting star.
Things change, though, when Johnny needs help. A door has opened, and she might be to blame, and things that should not be are creeping through it.
The real delight of this book is the relationship between the two lead characters. Johnny is a star, and Nick is locked in her orbit, drawn to her and in love with her in so many ways, but more than that a friend. The two have their shorthand ways of talking, the banter that goes with people who have been friends forever, even as they struggle to deal with things at the heart of their relationship that they cannot tell one another. They are broken in so many ways, and lean on one another to get through because trying to fix things would hurt even more.
All this continues as the world starts to unravel - and it turns out that two people who have nothing in the world except one another might be the world's only hope for survival. There are secrets revealed, bad bargains, and the kind of regrets that leave the taste of ashes in the mouth.
A fantastic book. I heartily recommend it.
AI Rating: 5/5
Beneath The Rising is available on Amazon
This is a really fun adventure - starting off with a drifter, thief and misfit who comes to be known as Grey, our hero. He gets a most unusual offer to impersonate a rich man who doesn't want to take up the place at a superhero academy his connected family has arranged for him - and so Grey finds himself heading to a school full of aliens, with only the thinnest of lies to protect him.
All this makes for some soaring space adventure - but there's also a depth here. Grey, a loner for so long, unexpectedly finds friendship. One of the things about the academy is that people find their perfectly ordinary abilities on their own worlds might just make them superheroes elsewhere - even if their ability is as mundane as the ability to be a good farmer. For Grey, he suddenly finds himself unexpectedly with a home - and, perhaps, with the chance to be a hero himself.
Until it all comes crashing down.
By turns witty and thoughtful, Rob Edwards creates a universe that's a delight to visit, and to which I hope we shall return.
The Ascension Machine is available on Amazon
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
The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K Le Guin
I'll freely admit this is a re-read rather than a new read - but in such a wonderful new edition. Illustrated throughout by Charles Vess, this is a magical book to open.
I remember reading an article by Ursula K Le Guin about how unhappy she had been over the years with the covers to her Earthsea books. I owned one cover she particularly hated with its pale, white version of Ged, who is anything but that in her books.
So it is a treat to see the world conjured up anew through the art of Mr Vess. A single image from him would be a joy, but this is a book full of his work.
I have loved the Earthsea saga since I was a kid. And now, with this book, I have a version of it that my own kids can fall in love with. It is, quite simply, magnificent.
AI Rating: 5/5
The Books of Earthsea can be be bought on Amazon
Oh, and while you're here... let me give you a gift. The first two books of Tales From Alternate Earths are FREE until December 20. Pick them up at the links below:
Tuesday, 8 December 2020
BOOK REVIEW: The Ascension Machine, by Rob Edwards; Magen, by Edward Buatois; Firefly: Big Damn Hero, by James Lovegrove; Dark Rite, by Alan Baxter and David Wood; Alien: River of Pain, by Christopher Golden; Emoto's Promise, by Shel Calopa
It's been a funny old year for reviews - between working from home and the kids learning from home, there's been precious little time for reading. Still, I'm delighted to say that the books I have squeezed in recently - including some audiobooks - have certainly brought a smile at the end of the day. My latest review round-up starts here.