Tuesday, 18 May 2021

BOOK LAUNCH: Meet Kristin L Stamper, author of Ternary

Kristin L Stamper is a writer of YA and adult science fiction - having also served in the US Navy where she gained experience in computers and robotics. And now her debut novel is out. Ternara publishes at the end of May, with pre-orders available now, and she stopped by the blog to talk about her work, her life, and... well, tribbles. 

Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

Ternary is my debut novel: a sci-fi tale narrated by a sarcastic cyborg with a unique twist on a polyamorous love story. Elora, our recently mentioned sarcastic cyborg, has never been sure if she’s actually human or just an incredibly advanced simulation of one. But when the consciousness of a dead man is accidentally downloaded into her cybernetic brain, she finds herself falling for his still-living spouse and rediscovering her humanity—But are those her feelings or his?

Without spoilers, what was one of your favourite moments of the story to write? What was it that made you enjoy that section so much? 

There’s a section toward the middle of the book where the lead trio find themselves in dire straits. The main character, Elora, is doing everything she can to save them. But the thing about Elora is that she cannot allow herself to be seen in any kind of positive light. It’s a defense mechanism to keep from making genuine connections that will eventually lead to her getting hurt. Even when she is helping someone else, she’ll still find ways to twist it into a selfish act.

So, in this scene where she is trying to save the day, sacrifice herself to save someone else, and the pressure is really on, instead of being a hero—she ends up snapping. She goes off on this mini-tirade about dying and coming back to seek vengeance as an angry ghost. Somehow, she even manages to make the point that her dying will give her an advantage in an argument she’d been having earlier. Her intentions in the scene are good and yet her justification for them are ridiculously terrible.

I love this scene first of all because it was so much fun to write. Elora is already a fun character to write. Think Rocket Racoon meets Dr. House. But in this scene, Elora isn’t in her right mind, so her usual cold, stand-offish quips become a downright temper tantrum. But also, Elora is a grade-A self-sabotager, and that’s something I really relate to. Even when I am doing something right, I tend to have to find a way to blow it up. I just can’t help myself. And neither can she. So this scene, for me, is a turning point in the story where I really start to form a deep bond with Elora.

Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise? 

I think one of the most important themes touched on in this story is what it’s like to be the “other.” For the record, I am a white individual, and as such, I have no idea what it’s like to experience racial prejudice against me, nor would I ever claim to. This is not a story about race. If someone is looking for a story about othering in regards to race, they should check out The Forgotten Girl by India Hill—which I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed—or countless other books by authors of color.

I am queer. However, it has been my personal experience (and others’ experiences will be different) that I have actually been through more othering, more prejudice, more persecution merely as a woman in society than I have being queer. I was raised in a family of all boys. As the only girl, I was always left out of everything. My family was also the kind to strongly value boys and more “masculine values” if you will, causing me to feel that I was literally worth less than my brothers. Additionally, we were a military family. We moved every 2-3 years. Which meant outside the home, at school, I was always the new kid. I had few friends, and it seemed whenever I made any close connections I would move away shortly after.

As an adult, I joined the military to pay for college. And I have to tell you. If you ever want to experience being the other, try being a shy, artistically inclined, smallish woman in the military.

All these things combined means that I have literally never been a part of anything. I have always been the odd one out. And when everyone around you sees you as the odd one out and treats you differently, it really wears on you. You internalize it. You begin to see yourself as the other as much as they do.

This is exactly what Elora experiences in this story. As a cyborg in a society that recently defeated a robot uprising, she is the other. She is unaccepted by those around her. She’s different. And Elora has really internalized that. So not only does she have to actively fight for her place in the solar system, but she has to do so while not really believing that she deserves it. Or knowing for sure if she even wants it. And even when it comes to the romance aspect of the story, which is poly, she still finds herself as the odd one out. Her love interest is already married to someone else, so how does she fit into that? It’s a theme that’s tied into all the events of the book.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? 

Firstly, I’m a single mom of a three-year-old. That takes up a good portion of my time. But I love her more than anything, so I’m completely okay with that. She’s the most important thing in my life. I’m also a college student. I’m trying to rewrite my life a little bit. Trying to find where I belong. And in that effort, I’ve been working toward a degree in Special and Elementary Education. I should have my license within the next few years. Most of my life goes toward those two things.

But when I’m not chasing a three-year-old or doing homework, I’m into lots of artsy type things. This summer I hope to get back into plushie making. I’ve made a few in the past. I’m really terrible at it, but I also refuse to look up patterns (I make my own), and I don’t have proper materials so I always end up MacGyvering it. I also do digital art, although I haven’t really done anything in a few years. I might try to create a few images for the launch of Ternary. If I do, they’ll be popping up on my Twitter.

What has been your favourite reaction from readers? 

I love when readers tell me about which of my characters they have crushes on. My very first reader referred to Bertie as “Best Boyfriend Bertie” throughout their review, and I’ll never forget that. I also had a few readers tell me about how much they loved Gareth’s subtle insecurities. Elora hasn’t had so many crushes so far (most of my readers so far have been cishet women and gay men), but she’s gotten lots of compliments on her snarky attitude. Basically, I just love hearing the different things people like about the characters. They’re very close to my heart, so it means a lot.

Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies? 

Star Trek. Let’s just get that right out of the way. Yes, I love Star Trek. Yes, there are Star Trek inspired elements in Ternary. Star Trek is such an integral part of who I am. I have seen every episode of every series. I’ve been to conventions. I love the lore, the universe, the way it focuses on a future in which humans came together and thrived instead of falling apart.

I am all about this idea of looking to the future through a hopeful lens and seeing the best of what we could be instead of viewing it through a dark, dystopian, apocalyptic lens. And I’m all about sci-fi that is built on thoughtfulness instead of just shooting lasers and beating up aliens (although shooting lasers and beating up aliens is also good—just in moderation). So, yeah. Let’s go to Quark’s and bond over Romulan Ale. Live long and prosper. Stay away from the borg unless Janeway is your captain. Don’t feed your tribbles.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

You can find me on Twitter (@klsmopit) and my website and blog are both in the same spot (kristinlstamper.com). You can also subscribe to my newsletter (https://mailchi.mp/2779c7e71480/kristinsub).

What are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Right now I am reading The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown. I’ve been reading a lot of MG fiction recently. I really highly recommend The Wild Robot. But the best book I have read in the past year is Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It is a brilliantly written and thoughtful sci-fi story about a group of humans on their way to a new world after the Earth is destroyed and the alien race of spiders who already live on that world. 

Ternary will eventually be available from most major retailers. Right now it's available at:

Friday, 14 May 2021

PRESS KIT: Tales From Alternate Earths 3

The countdown is on until the launch of Tales From Alternate Earths 3 - and this page will act as a press kit, with more material being added the closer it gets to publication. 

To start with, that's some announcement detail about the authors appearing, along with some graphics to go with it - but more will be added as we go. 

Here, then, are the graphics announcing the first authors to appear in this, the next alternate history anthology from Inklings Press. 

Saturday, 27 March 2021

BOOK REVIEWS: A Dead Djinn in Cairo, by P Djeli Clark; Spellsinger, by Alan Dean Foster; The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle; Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows, by James Lovegrove; Skyward, by Joe Henderson, Antonio Fabela, and Lee Garbett

There's been a distinctly Lovecraftian turn in my reading of late - horror bleeding through the walls of reality must clearly be comforting right now. This week's round of reviews includes two stories with direct connections to such cosmic horrors, and one - by P Djeli Clark - that takes possession of the genre from a completely different approach, and all the better for that. Let's dive in.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo, by P Djeli Clark

Take an early 20th century Cairo, and give it a twist. Then another twist. And another. Then you might be close to this fabulous creation by P Djeli Clark, an Egypt where people rub shoulders with the otherwordly. Where ghouls run rampant in graveyards at night. Where djinn are commonplace. Where clockwork angels tick their own path towards armageddon. 

It starts with a mysterious suicide of a djinn, and sets investigators off on a path that could lead to the end of the world. Filled with memorable characters and just begging us to explore the shady alleys this story could lead us off into, this is an absolute blast of dynamite to the sometimes stodgy world of cosmic horror. 

Bursting with bravado and action, it somehow unfolds its mystery in a very short time yet still never seems obvious. 

This is the first I've read by P Djeli Clark, and on finishing it I right away went and bought some more. Buy it. Read it. You won't regret it. 

AI Rating: 5/5

A Dead Djinn in Cairo is available on Amazon here - and can also be read free on the Tor website here.

Spellsinger, by Alan Dean Foster

Alan Dean Foster was one of the writers whose books filled the shelves of my local library when I was growing up as a kid. While Splinter of the Mind's Eye and the Alien novelisation were among the books I gobbled up back then, Spellsinger somehow slipped through the net - and I've been diving back into his work of late. 
Imagine the discovery of Narnia at the back of a wardrobe, or Thomas Covenant waking up in The Land - only in Spellsinger, our protagonist discovers a whole new world while in the middle of being very, very stoned. 
He finds himself on a trip that turns out not to be drug-induced, to a world full of foul-mouthed animals and weird magic. He thinks to start with it's all some kind of hazy vision - and the book itself is that kind of ride. Weird, dream-like, prone to bursts of silliness. 
It's fun, probably especially for Discworld fans, but in the end it's a bit of a middling book, as it more sets up the world than delivers the story. There are sequels aplenty - so if it catches you, there's lots of places to go on to. But as a standalone, it's more of an amusement than a must-read. 

AI Rating: 3/5

Spellsinger is available on Amazon here.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

I've always loved the Cthulhu Mythos created by HP Lovecraft, but let's face it, the author was a racist and some of his work is particularly egregious in that regard. 
It's intriguing then to see Victor LaValle take that work and turn it on its head, making it an examination of the racism of the time as much as an exploration of the cosmic terrors just a blink away from our world. 
Charles Thomas Tester is a hustler, trying to get enough money to feed himself and his dad, who got used up and cast on the junk heap by the job he gave his youth to. Tommy tries whatever he can to get ahead in a time when black men aren't allowed to get ahead. That means dealing with racist cops and a society where he has to protect himself every single day. Then he gets a gig offer for a job that pays far too much to be safe, and too much to turn down whatever the risk. It opens the door to a world of darkness, and in Tommy tumbles. 
This is a book of two halves, the first told from Tommy's perspective, the second from an investigator hot on the heels of the legendary Black Tom and his employer. It's also a retelling of Lovecraft's Horror of Red Hook, one of the most racist of Lovecraft's stories.
It poses tough questions, and shows why someone would choose to tear down a society that offers no place for them. 
My only wish is that it was longer. I wanted to spend more time with Tommy in the first half, to get to know him better before the dominoes of his world started tumbling into one another. 
In the end, it shows the evils of this world as strongly as the evils of the cosmos, laying one against the other in an invitation to say which is worse. 
It's a delight to see Lovecraft's work getting this kind of reinvention - alongside the likes of Lovecraft Country on television, and Premee Mohamed's Beneath The Rising in print. Cosmic horror has never been fresher. 

AI Rating: 4/5

The Ballad of Black Tom is available on Amazon here.

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows, by James Lovegrove

Combining Sherlock Holmes and HP Lovecraft seems to be one of those fabulous fanfic ideas that just cries out to be explored. 
It's been done to great success too by Neil Gaiman, who shuffled the two packs of cards together to bring a Britain ruled by Great Old Ones and a gentleman detective investigating the worst only to deliver the most exquisite of twists at the end. 
James Lovegrove gives us a less radically altered world, with Holmes and his new-found companion Watson probing a series of murders. Only Watson's history in Afghanistan has brought him an encounter with the unknown, and Holmes has a fondness for investigating the uncanny. It brings them both face to face with eldritch horrors, dream quests and more. 
Told in the mannered style of Arthur Conan Doyle with Watson recounting the investigation in classic manner, this is a faithful tribute to the Sherlock tales. It really is a "what if?" pitting Sherlock against the horrors of Lovecraft's imagination. That's good and bad in some ways - it could perhaps have been a bit bolder in its plunge into the horror, rather than slowing things down with Sherlock demonstrating his dazzling intellect by predicting how much coffee the police inspector had drunk that morning. 
Still, for fans of both literary universes, it very much hits the spot. Perhaps it brings more smiles of recognition than gasps of horror, but that is probably very much its selling point. The unimaginable has become the comfortably familiar for its fans, so settle in and enjoy. 
I listened to the audiobook version, with narration by Dennis Kleinman that very much captures the spirit of Watson, following in the wake of a brilliant man into unknown horrors. 

AI Rating: 3/5

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is available on Amazon here.

Skyward, by Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, Antonio Fabela and Simon Bowland

Gosh, I wish this comic would get an adaptation as a computer game. Set in a world where the Earth's gravity shifted to just a fraction of our own, this is a story that very literally turns our world on its head. 
Willa is a woman who was just a baby when G-Day hit - taking with it her mother and leaving her with a father who doesn't dare step out of his home, even though he might be the man who could have the key to fixing the world. 
Willa herself is just trying to make ends meet as a delivery girl. That can be dangerous work, but it keeps her going, and gets her to see the man she has a secret crush on. 
The comic is great at exploring the visual possibilities of a low-G world. I'm not sure of the longevity of the overall story - which of course stretches beyond this initial book - but there's lots of imagination on show. It's slightly reminiscent of Halo Jones in a way - with a girl determined to get out of the humdrum expectations of life in a world that doesn't encourage such endeavour - but brewing up its own flavour along the way. 
The first arc finishes in a way where you could leave it there if you wanted. But then again, what could come next? Go on, take a leap. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Skyward is available on Amazon here.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Five things I liked about Zack Snyder's Justice League - and five things I didn't

With much hype and acclaim, Zack Snyder's Justice League has landed over at HBO Max. It's four hours, four super-long hours - more than double the running time of the version released in cinemas by director Joss Whedon. 

I had mixed feelings about them recutting that original - not least because the Whedon version was just... average at best? In fact, I found it a bit dull. So what would the new version bring? Well, for me there was good... and there was bad. So here's five things I liked... before I talk about five things I didn't. Inevitably, spoilers ahead, so stop now if you want to stay spoiler-free.

The good

1 Cyborg

The character that gains the most from the recut is definitely Cyborg. His story takes up a good chunk of the new recut. We see his relationship with his mother, his damaged relationship with his father and the journey that takes. We see him becoming Cyborg and getting used to his powers. All of that was sidelined in the original version - about which much has been written, including about Whedon's relationship with his actors. The luxury of having four hours to tell the story instead of two means that the Cyborg story really gets room to breathe - and, bonus, it's really good. I especially liked the scenes with his mother, with her showing up to see his football games... as she sits next to an empty seat where his father failed to show up because he was at work. 

I don't think it all works - his role in the final battle had me raising an eyebrow thinking it was a bit forced, but nonetheless having the extra story let it build up to that payoff, and was one of the better additions to the movie. 

2. Flash and Iris

Now this scene I can completely see why it was cut from the previous version - but it's very sweet and I'm glad it got to be included with the extra time. It's a fairly simple rescue scene - Iris saved from a crashing car by Barry in between him applying for a job as a dogsitter. It's a nice first meeting... but as it isn't followed up anywhere in this movie, you can see why it got snipped previously. 

3. The final battle

The final battle is much smoother in the Snyder cut than in the Whedon. It feels better organised and it's easier to follow what the character goals are - plus there's more tension in there. Then, at the last... the team fails. They lose. And Barry's talk of time being a bit weird when he gets near the speed of light pays off, and he's able to roll back the couple of seconds it took so they could win instead. It's hard for these moments to pay off but for a moment... just a moment, there really was a sense of oh no, they've blown it! 

Better yet, no Russian family as in the first one - where apparently the only family living within miles of Steppenwolf's base kept taking up screen time. I know that was to show the threat to humans in the midst of this conflict about superhumans, but it really didn't work and just left me cheering on the parademons to get rid of them. Where the demons failed, Snyder succeeded. 

4 They didn't do this... 

5 Knightmare future

I'm slightly mixed on this one, because if they don't follow it up and do more with it then it's just a fairly pointless tease - but the glimpse of the Knightmare future with the team made up of villains and heroes working together (albeit alongside the rather wooden Atlantean Mera) was really intriguing. I'd love to see more of it. No idea if we will. If we don't, then what was the purpose?

The bad

1 Slooooooowwwww moooooooooooottioooooon

Look, I know it's a Zack Snyder style but gosh there was way too much slow motion. I can completely understand it at times but wow it felt as if you could lop half an hour off the run time just by running things at normal speed. 

Perhaps the most annoying one was the slow mo on Lois Lane getting a coffee from a coffee shop and walking past a Daily Planet van. There are moments I can say ok, yeah, that's a cool moment to slow down and swoop in on, but... coffee? Terribly indulgent.

2 Slowest news day ever

That slow mo Daily Planet van? The driver tosses out a stack of newspapers with... this! The slowest news day ever at the Daily Planet, with a story that would never make the front page of a village weekly paper. 

Seriously, Superman dead, aliens having attacked the world, super beings starting to make their presence more and more known, half of Metropolis still rebuilding and... they splash a triple deck headline on a bank looking for an architect? I was thinking as I was watching what on earth is that foreshadowing, but it turns out it's just a reference to The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, which Snyder has an interest in making as an entirely separate movie. If you want a definition of how indulgent this cut is, then it's right here. 

3 Oh, those slowed down classic pop songs

Again, this is a Snyder tic, but gosh it was all a bit obvious. He has a habit of taking moments and slowing them down and setting them to a maudlin version of an old pop song. They're usually great versions but they really slow down the movie. I can forgive the version lovingly looking at Jason Momoa because everyone who wants a bit of that eye candy deserves some. The music for the Iris West rescue scene - a version of the magnificent Song to the Siren (a Jeff Buckley song, but I'm a fan of the This Mortal Coil cover) - just doesn't fit the scene, for me. Another part of the cut that came across as an indulgence, style wise, rather than just getting on with telling the story. 

Speaking of things that could have happily been left on the cutting room floor, when Batman tracks down Aquaman (and frankly part of his journey could have been trimmed too), the villagers sing a song of farewell to Aquaman which at the end, I just shrugged and said ok, that happened, and on with the movie. 

4 Martha Manhunter

There's a nice scene between Martha and Lois where they get to sit and chat... and then as Martha goes out, it turns out she was Martian Manhunter all along. Which completely undermined what had gone before in the chat (for me). I literally laughed at the screen and said that's nonsense. 

5 The scream heard around the world

And the bit I most disliked for last. The opening of the movie sees Superman's death scream reverberate around the world and even underwater, reaching each of the mother boxes and... activating them? I mean, aside from how anyone in his proximity isn't permanently deaf, why would that activate the boxes other than just to link it thematically? It seemed silly to me. Also, the action picks up quite quickly with the attack on the Amazons (and is it just me or did they get the rough end of the R rating with the greater level of violence seemingly chiefly directed at them with greater splashes of blood). But that left me wondering about how much time was passing before the rest of the movie picks up. Lois, it seems, has been grieving for some time - Barry too for his idol, so Superman has clearly been gone for a while. Batman's search for allies also seems to be going on at length - so how does that fit in with everything being activated by Superman's scream? It seemed an idea to link everything up that then just didn't really connect with everything that followed. And following the sound waves around the world just had me saying "Really?" to the screen. 

My verdict

In the end, I think the whole was much better than the previous cut - but there were things I missed from the Whedon cut too. I liked, for example, the lasso scene where Aquaman sat on Wonder Woman's lasso and couldn't help but tell the truth, a scene that was entirely made by Jason Momoa. 

I think this version fixed bits that just didn't work - such as that Russian family, for example - and removed bits like the Flash lying on Wonder Woman's chest. On the other hand, it had issues of its own, like that newspaper indulgence or the excessive slow motion. 

Against that, my eldest child just finished watching it and says it was 10/10 and ranks just behind Infinity War in his favourite superhero movies. So what do I know?

I do think it'd be an interesting challenge for would-be filmmakers and film critics to take that Snyder cut and figure out where to take out two hours to end up with a two-hour movie for the theatrical release. Would Cyborg's story make your version left on the cutting room floor? Would the Knightmare future survive? What would be the first thing you'd cut to get down to the two-hour mark?

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the movie - it's been an interesting experience to compare two versions of the same work. Toodle pip!

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

 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!

Alyx: An AI's Guide to Love and Murder, by Brent A Harris

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. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Alyx: An AI's Guide to Love and Murder is available here.

Manifest Recall, by Alan Baxter

First things first, this book has an absolutely delicious opening line. 
"I bought a used car off a woman as thin as her hand-rolled cigarettes," it begins. What a line. That's the kind of line that could launch a Leonard Cohen song. 
What it launches here is a mean, dark, dirty tale of a man on the run, with a partially-dressed woman secured with cable ties in the car next to her - and he has no idea where he is, who she is or what's going on. 
The man is Eli Carver, a hitman who has made all the bad choices you could make, and it emerges that the woman next to him is the daughter of his boss. His mind is a mess, from the trauma that led him here - and from the ghosts of the dead that show up to taunt him along the way. 
It's a fast-moving story where the supernatural isn't overplayed - and where revenge is the guiding light. This is a world of violent people doing violent things, and where you don't cheer on the best people, but the least worst. 
It hits you hard then leaves you bitter, like a hard hangover after a bottle of tequila, but you enjoy it just the same. Take a shot. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Manifest Recall is available on Amazon.

An Unusual Practice, by Tom Jolly

One of the delights of reading indie writers alongside traditionally published works is that you sometimes get absolute treats. This is one of those. 
It follows a doctor, who shows up at a modest clinic and starts his work, only to accidentally stumble upon the world of the supernatural. He helps out a werewolf, without knowing it's a werewolf, and in turn finds himself being turned to by creatures that can't drop into the emergency room with their ailments. 
Told in almost a detective noir style at times, it follows Dr Hamilton and his, yes, unusual practice, as he develops a reputation of being the man who can help you - regardless of whether you're invisible, a witch or, well, even dead. 
Dr Hamilton soon finds himself making unexpected friends... and with that come dangerous enemies. 
Each case builds upon the previous case as Dr Hamilton finds himself drawing on allies for the danger that is coming his way. 
It's a warm, witty treat of a novel, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It left me smiling for days. 

AI Rating: 5/5

An Unusual Practice is available on Amazon.

Hexagon magazine issue three

I confess, Hexagon is a magazine I only recently encountered thanks to Twitter, so I went in a little blind when I picked this up. I'm glad I did. It's short and sweet, with five short stories. 
The one I enjoyed most was Winter's Heart, by Vanessa Fogg, a story of a woman born of winter, a maiden to the Winter Queen, who finds love and warmth in her family only to feel herself being torn away as winter encroaches once more. There's a cold ache at the heart of this story, the tearing between home and family when those two things are not the same thing. There is sadness. And yet, in the end, perhaps there is hope.
Another sad tale is The Minute, by Joshua Green, which again mines the bitter-sweet feelings that balance between happiness and sadness. A man gets to live out the end of his life experiencing one minute over and over, and as he talks to the technician setting everything up, the reasons for his choice unfold. 
Charmed Honeycake, by Archita Mittra, is a delight, meanwhile. It's written as a recipe, for when the fairies have stolen one of your won, but more than light it's about love and life and parenthood and childhood. It's whinsome and wonderful. 
Rounded out with two more stories by Disha Bisht and Ioanna Papadopoulou, I'm awfully glad I picked this up. I'll be glad to see the next issue!

AI Rating: 4/5

Hexagon magazine is available here.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Of Tentacles And Terror - meet the team behind Twisted Anatomy, a body horror anthology

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

BOOK LAUNCH: Alyx: An AI's Guide to Love and Murder, by Brent A. Harris

 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.

You can pick up Alyx on a host of platforms, check out the link here or at Getbook.at/Alyx.