Friday, 13 May 2022

A very magical offer - FREE BOOKS this weekend

 


ROLL up, roll up, get your free books! 

Thanks to the fabulous Christine McMullen, who invited Inklings Press to take part, four of the Inklings books are in a multi-author promotion taking place today. 

All four books - Tales of Magic & Destiny, Tales From The Underground, Tales of Wonder and Tales From The Pirate's Cove - are FREE this weekend. 

But. But. But. Don't just stop there. 

I did say multi-author promotion, did I not? 

You can check out the full list of books that are available - many free, some discounted to less than a buck - over at a dedicated blog page set up for the purpose. 

You can find that full list right here: https://www.vampiresandrobots.com/p/its-lucky-13-free-and-discount-book.html

Who are the authors involved? Well, aside from finding them on that blog page, you can also find them on Twitter. Follow the links in my tweet below. 




You'll find four stories of mine in the mix - 

• Out of the Dust in Tales of Magic & Destiny

• Professor Algernon Whitlock's Exotic and Fabulous Grand Tour of the Underworld in Tales From The Underground

The Last Sorceror in Tales of Wonder

• To The End of the World in Tales From The Pirate's Cove. 

You can find an audio reading of Out of the Dust, by me, in the YouTube clip below: 



And that's it. Free stuff. Good stuff. So go visit https://www.vampiresandrobots.com/p/its-lucky-13-free-and-discount-book.html and grab your weekend's reading. 

Monday, 25 April 2022

Where you can find me on social media

So... in the news today is the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, for $44 billion that he found down the back of his sofa. 

How will Twitter change? It's hard to say right now - and it will be a shame if it becomes unusable as it's been a great place for me personally for reaching out to meet fellow authors and other people involved in the writing community. I'll wait and see how changes take effect - but it won't be the first platform that's come and gone if that's what happens. Somewhere out there are the shambling ghosts of my Google+ and Livejournal accounts, let alone the likes of Usenet and Geocities. 

What it does highlight is the importance of having more than one outlet - and so here's an update on where you can find me on various parts of social media. This might also be the prompt to get me to finally get round to starting a newsletter - but more on that if I do. 

So where can you find me? 

Well, while I'm still on Twitter, you can find me here



Then of course there's right here on this blog. 

What about Facebook? Why yes, I do have a page there, and you can visit me here. That said, Facebook has done its best to limit visibility of pages in order to encourage people to pay to promote them. So you're welcome to come by, but I won't be too surprised if the algorithm doesn't let you see me! 

I'm also on Goodreads, which I mainly use to post reviews and monitor my reading challenge for the year. You'll find me here

I not so long ago restarted my Instagram account - you'll find that here.

You'll find a couple of my stories over at Wattpad. Those same stories are here on this blog though, so have a read right here and tell me what you think! 

I also have a YouTube channel with some readings of stories, which I'm aiming to build up a little more too. More on that news in the next couple of months. Check out my reading of The Secret War right here: 


What will the future bring? Hard to say. I'm not dashing to leave Twitter just yet - but I'm wary the changes there might encourage trolls and misinformation. I hope not. But if you need to find me, I'll be at least a few of the places above. 

See you out there!

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Meet the author: Christina McMullen, author of Poster Child in the Maxima City Talent series

Christina McMullen is someone I first met on Twitter - and who has always been supportive of other authors, cheering them on, sharing their work and generally being an absolute gem. With a new book coming out, what else could I do but invite Christina to the blog to chat about it? Read on! 


Hi there, and welcome to Altered Instinct! 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!

Poster Child is the fourth book in the Maxima City Talent series, which takes satirical pot shots at the superhero genre. This one follows Acrobot, a Malevolent talent who would rather mastermind from the shadows, but her boss has other ideas. Without giving too much away, underneath the humor and many salad related puns, it is a very heavy handed tale taking on the difference between inclusion and token diversity. 

What inspired the story?

Initially, a conversation with two other authors, Ben Mariner and CB Archer, about lower ranking bad guys inspired the first book, A Shot at the Big Time. But even as I was writing, it grew in breadth to encompass all of the questionable actions that are glossed over in the superhero genre, especially the property damages levied by both sides.

I’d always intended for it to become a series, but after suffering some major burnout, I took a rather long hiatus that I am just now emerging from. So instead of trying to muscle through,  I enlisted the very writers who inspired book one to write in the same universe and I can’t be happier with what they’ve done with it. As for this particular entry, I’ve had the basic plotline for Poster Child in the back of my head for a while, but the finer points were updated to reflect a more current vibe. 

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 is a chapter that starts with a ridiculously lengthy description of the perfect salad. This was written as a rebuttal to the lengthy description of the perfect froyo order in An Honest Living, which was written by Ben Mariner, a notorious veggie hater. 



As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights?

This would definitely be Bogie, the English language butchering demon with a heart of gold from the Rise of the Discordant series. He was just meant to be part comic relief, part homage to Robert Asprin’s Myth series mobsters, but he quickly became everyone’s favorite, which led to a much bigger role in the series overall.

What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in? 

Science fiction, fantasy, and speculative. Within the fantastic, I’m all over the board. I’ll read a hard sci-fi or a fluffy YA time travel tale. I do tend towards urban fantasy and humor over the swords and dragons.

What has been your favourite reaction from readers? 

Honestly, all of them. Of course, I love it when people like my books, but the opposite can be fun as well. 



What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

This year marks my 10th anniversary as an author, so I’m hoping to do a series of shorts that follow the characters of my first series, ten years later. After that, I’ve got a whole slew of ideas that have been simmering on the back burners for a while. I can only hope one of them becomes something delicious.

What has been your most satisfying moment as a writer so far? What made you punch the air? 

In Mid-November, 2017, for the briefest of fleeting moments, my Rise of the Discordant series box set hit number one in the humorous fantasy category on Amazon. Having the #1 orange banner was pretty nice, but what truly made me jump for joy was the fact that in the number two spot was Good Omens. Of course a screen shot exists. I’m surprised I haven’t printed and framed it yet.

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

I’m a giant Star Trek nerd who is very happy to be living in such a rich and bountiful moment within the franchise.

I have to ask for readers who might want to know: Is this a kissing book?

Though no one’s full sexual identity is broadcasted, it is heavily implied that Acrobot is aromantic and considers sex a fun distraction and nothing more. 

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

I’m on Twitter @mcmullenwrites and I have a blog that I’m trying my best not to neglect at www.vampiresandrobots.com

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?

Interestingly enough, I’m currently reading the Tales from Alternate Earths compilations at the moment since I’ve been in a short story mood for a while. As for the best so far, whew, there are many and I have to say shamefully that my “you still haven’t reviewed this” pile is about 2 years overdue (thanks pandemic augmented depression), but one that sticks out is Ken Hoover’s The Midnight Agency, which I discovered thanks to it being in the same universe as Reese Hogan’s Holding the Ashes, which is a really amazing read. 

Poster Child is available on Amazon here.










Sunday, 13 March 2022

NEW BOOK: The Crossover Paradox, by Rob Edwards

Today on the blog, I'm giving a shout out for a new book out by my buddy, Rob Edwards. 

It's a sequel to his 2020 book The Ascension Machine, which I loved. That book saw a... well... morally uncertain fellow by the name of Grey finding himself with a spot at a superhero academy for aliens. And he shouldn't be there. 

As the plot thickens, so do the bonds of friendship between Grey and his fellow students, except he's lying to them all along and that doesn't bode well for when the truth comes out. 

I don't want to spoil the first book, but book two sees us back at the academy for a second year for more shenanigans. I've started reading it already and one thing I love about Rob is his smooth, easy style, often with a simmering undercurrent of wit. 

Grey reminds me very much of the Stainless Steel Rat, though more looking for a place in the world than looking for way to come out on top like Slippery Jim DiGriz. The outcome in the first book was thoughtful, warm and delightful - so I have no hesitation in recommending you join me in reading book two.


With cover art by Ian Bristow, The Crossover Paradox is available now at mybook.to/crossoverparadox as both an ebook and in print. 

I'll have a full review coming up soon on the blog too. Why not join me as I read it? 

Oh, and you can follow Rob on Twitter too. 


 







Friday, 18 February 2022

Meet the Author: Matthew Kresal, author of Our Man On The Hill and Sidewise Award winner Moonshot

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. He’s written about and discussed topics as wide-ranging as the BBC’s Doctor Who, Cold War fact and fiction, and the UFO phenomenon. He has appeared on podcasts including Spybrary, Dead Hand Radio, The 20mb Doctor Who Podcast, and The Saucer Life. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Press and short fiction including The Aurora Affair in Belanger Books’ A Tribute to H.G. Wells and The Light of a Thousand Suns in in D&T Publishing’s After the Kool-Aid is Gone. He was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.



Hi there, and welcome to Altered Instinct! Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? 
It’s called Our Man on the Hill and the elevator pitch is “what if Senator Joe McCarthy, the Cold War’s most infamous hunter of ‘Reds under the bed,’ was really working for the Soviets all along?”

What inspired the story?
I’ve long had an interest in the Cold War and espionage. A few years back my interest was rekindled by a podcast called Spybrary, started by Shane Whaley, which I’ve been lucky enough to be on a few times. Part of that rekindling led to my picking up a non-fiction work called The Haunted Wood. Published in the late nineties when the old Soviet archives were briefly opened up, it contained some fascinating stories of Americans who spied for the Soviets during the 1930s and the World War II years. Reading how it ended, and how little McCarthy really picked up on, was an eye opener. Then I came across somewhere a great quote from President Harry Truman about McCarthy that called the senator “The greatest asset the Kremlin has,” or words to that effect. My mind was off to the races, since “asset” is an intelligence phrase for agent (though I’m certain that’s not what Truman meant when he said it!).  



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 confrontation between McCarthy and then Presidential candidate Eisenhower that I got to write. It was a scene based on a real meeting between the two men where we know how things were said but not what was said, if that makes sense? I had fun fitting that encounter into the narrative, figuring out what McCarthy and his Russian handlers might have come up with that caused Eisenhower to go from about to publicly criticize McCarthy to sharing a stage with him, exchanging handshakes and getting an endorsement.  

What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in? 
To risk sounding pretentious, I don’t know that I read genres specifically. I read what interests me, whether it’s science fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction or whatever. My main thing is, if it’s fiction, to tell me a good story. Non-fiction is different as reading tends to be either for research or just out of general interest. That said, I do seem to read a lot of science fiction and thrillers, as well as history, so I guess you can call those favourties. 

What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?
Growing up in North Alabama, home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Space & Rocket Center museum (the only place in the world with TWO Saturn V’s, even if one is a replica), I was reading books about space from a very young age. I don’t remember specific titles, I wish I did, but I was a voracious reader from a shockingly young age. The first book I remember falling in love with was Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember on the sinking of the Titanic. I read it in third grade around the same time I got bit by the writing bug, and I can’t help but think there’s got to be a connection there.

Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise? 
I don’t know if it’s a theme, as such, but writing alternate history (which Our Man on the Hill fits into, even though it’s a Cold War spy thriller) did allow me to explore some of the real-life history involved. There’s some fascinating stories that came out of the Cold War at large that aren’t as well known as they ought to be. One of the things I hoped to do in writing the novel was to bring some of those stories, and the people behind them, to life. 

What has been your most satisfying moment as a writer so far? What made you punch the air? 
Oh, it’s got to be when my short story Moonshot (featured in Alternate Australias from Sea Lion Press) was nominated and then won the Sidewise Award. As a teenager getting into alternate history, I remember looking at that list in the mid-2000s and being impressed by what I saw. To now be a name on that list still seems surreal, even with having the plaque on my wall. 

Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies? 
Doctor Who is my great love as a TV series and, in an odd way, I owe my writing career to it as I started out writing reviews of it online. The central idea and character, this figure who travels through time and space in a blue box of all things helping out where they can, is storytelling gold. Before Doctor Who, The West Wing was my favorite series and it still holds a special place in my heart as a series that helped inspire me to be a writer. As an alternate history fan and lifelong space nerd, I’m also loving Apple TV’s For All Mankind with its vision of a space race that never ended. 
In terms of movies, The Third Man remains my favorite film, being something that works on so many levels. My tastes in movies, like my reading, are pretty eclectic so the list includes the amazing documentary For All Mankind on the Apollo missions, Oliver Stone’s JFK, and the 1995 film of Richard III starring Ian McKellen.



Matthew also appeared in the Tales From Alternate Earths 3 anthology from Inklings Press, with his story about a film version of Titanic made by Alfred Hitchcock.

You get stuck on an island and had only one book packed in your travel bag before the ship went down – what book do you hope you have in there? 
It’s almost certainly going to be The Complete Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, given that it travels with me everywhere. There’s some New Agey woo woo in there, to be sure, but also a lot of practical creative advice. Indeed, I credit the book (and my best friend for giving it to me) for helping me become the writer I’ve become.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?
They can find me on Facebook by searching by name and I’m on Twitter @KresalWrites. I also still have an infrequently updated LiveJournal account at timdalton007.livejournal.com.

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 reading Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh, which has been intriguing read. I’m also enjoying the audiobook of Survivors by Terry Nation, his part adaptation and part reworking of his 1970s BBC series after writing of the series was taken out of his hands, read by Carolyn Seymour (who was one of the stars of the series). 
Best book I’ve read in the past year? Probably Stephen Walker’s Beyond, a non-fiction account of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to orbit the Earth. Walker writes with an almost novelistic flair in places and his ability to convey period while also slaying myths is first-rate. A non-fiction thriller, in so many respects.






Saturday, 12 February 2022

Meet the author: J Dianne Dotson, author of the Questrison Saga

 J Dianne Dotson lives in Southern California and dreams of other worlds far beyond. She is the author of the Questrison Saga, as well as boasting a host of other accomplishments - VP of Public Relations for a biotech company, a science writer, content writer, watercolorist and illustrator. She is also a lively presence on Twitter - and she stopped by Altered Instinct to chat about her work. 


Hi there, and welcome to Altered Instinct! Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? 
My most recent book is LUMINIFEROUS: THE QUESTRISON SAGA®: BOOK FOUR:
The stunning conclusion to The Questrison Saga®. Devastation, annihilation, and fear. Leaders sundered and scattered. Decades of control by Paosh Tohon and its Valemog minions have brought the galaxy to the brink of collapse.
Love and war. Spaceships and exotic worlds. Aliens, androids, ecosystems. Mages and presidents. Long cons. Family feuds that led to galactic destruction. Family ties that could save the galaxy. 
With heroes destroyed, captured, or missing, Paosh Tohon’s campaign seems unstoppable. Yet one world remains immune: a hidden planet, with defenses both natural and unnatural. The secrets and legacies harbored there protect the last bastions of hope, if they can escape the world and withstand the evils beyond...


What inspired the story?
This is the finale to The Questrison Saga®, which I began writing about 35 years ago off and on. It is a space opera with elements of science fiction and fantasy, and is inspired by my love of both genres, fairy tales, science, mythology, found and made family, and heroism.


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? 
Some of the dreamlike setting of the city Allurulla, on the strange planet Quopeia, seems very real to me, as I came up with that setting decades ago. Wrapping up the series was incredibly fun, and it’s hard to pick one favorite. There is an extremely passionate and tender scene; there are homages in the climax to Aliens and The Thing; and there are massive, epic showdowns. It was most satisfying to tie everything together that I had built.


As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights?
No, this has not really ever happened. I know my characters going in.

What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in? 
Science fiction, fantasy, science, travel, food, history; each offers something different, and I don’t stay reading in one genre for long. I often read several kinds of books at once. I like both fiction and non-fiction, and they all attract me by examining who we are and where we fit in the Universe.

What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?
I loved L. Frank Baum’s original 14 Oz books, particularly. I was fond of classic fairy tales. I enjoyed sci-fi classics like The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. 

Who are your favourite authors to read? And whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work most? 
Ray Bradbury and L. Frank Baum are main influences. I read a fair bit of Asimov and Clarke, as well as Anne McCaffrey, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, some Stephen King.

Ok, we’re waving the Altered Instinct magic wand. Your story is being turned into a movie – and you get to cast the main roles. Who do you cast for the leading characters? Bonus perk: Who directs?
First, I want no movies. I want TV series. There’s no way that movies could capture what a series could with the story and characters. Actors would be mostly unknowns. I would be very particular, executive producing and having a say on casting. The Russo Brothers would be perfect directors. 




Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise? 
I address family, belonging (or lack thereof), betrayal, leadership, and growing up.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Tell us about yourself. 
I am also a science writer, content manager, artist, and editor. I am also VP of public relations for a biotech company. I have a science background. For hobbies, I like road trips and anything to do with food. 

Tell us about your main character. Who is he/she/other and what makes the character special?
In the series, the main character switches from a human man, Forster, in the first book, Heliopause: The Questrison Saga: Book One, to an alien woman who looks human, Galla-Deia, for the rest of the series, starting with Ephemeris: The Questrison Saga: Book Two. Forster was a flawed, disillusioned man in his 40s who felt like he hadn’t got anything right. He’s got latent powers that are triggered by a series of events and people, giving him a chance to have a very different future than he imagined. Galla was sheltered by androids and needs to learn to be more human so she can help protect humanity. Galla is very innocent and slightly feral at first, so she must grow as a person and as a leader to help fight against the malevolent being, Paosh Tohon, and its growing sycophants, Valemog. Galla, in Luminiferous, has undergone a terrible, traumatic event from the prior book, and must heal in order to help save the galaxy. She’s very feisty, with her mercurial hair a weathervane of her emotions, but she is loyal and determined, being both incredibly powerful yet vulnerable at the same time. 

What has been your favourite reaction from readers? 
That I stuck the landing for the series. It’s universally loved. I love any feedback, and the final book certainly brought out strong emotions from readers. 

What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?
I have several works in progress now. I submitted a short story for an anthology; I’m finishing a near-future sci-fi novella; I’m collaborating with my writer fiancĂ© Gareth L. Powell on another novella; I have middle grade dark fantasy, high fantasy, dark comedy horror, and myriad other novels and novellas in the works. I’m writing short story collections also. I want to make the jump to screenwriting and writing comics also.

What has been your biggest challenge as a writer? What hurdles have you had to overcome, and what helped you to do so?
Find the time to write as a person with several gigs AND teens. I just learned to carve out the time by trial and error to see what worked best for me and my schedule.

What’s the most fun piece of technology/magic that you’ve included in your novel that you wish you had in real life?
I like the ships, the star-cities, the diamethyst crystals and their power, and the extraordinary nature of the planet Quopeia, which might let me in, but I sure wish I could visit it. 

What has been your most satisfying moment as a writer so far? What made you punch the air? 
Every moment I put words on a page, I feel good about being a writer. Getting this last novel of the series out was the ultimate dream come true, though, and while I will continue writing short stories in that universe, it’s just great to know I made a four-book series and that readers are enjoying it. 

Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies? 
I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, Alien/Aliens, Blade Runner/Blade Runner 2049, Dark City, The Sound of Music, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Fifth Element, Macross Plus, The X-Files, Farscape, Frasier, Schitt’s Creek…etc.

Are your books available in audio format? 
My books are not yet available in audio format as I would have to pay for this out of pocket, but things are afoot, so stay tuned. 

Marketing is always a challenge for writers – to share the love, what have you found the most useful tip for spreading the word about books? 
Social media presence is essential, and so is fostering an audience by keeping them engaged.

You get stuck on an island and had only one book packed in your travel bag before the ship went down – what book do you hope you have in there? 
One big collection of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. 

I have to ask for readers who might want to know: Is this a kissing book?
There is extreme hotness in some scenes of this book, but the scenes make good sense, as the payoff is extraordinary. Some of the scenes made some readers break into a sweat, no hyperbole. 

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/TikTok at @jdiannedotson (remember the two n’s), on Facebook at @jdiannedotsonwriter, and on LinkedIn. Head to my website jdiannedotson.com and sign up for my newsletter. 

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?
Currently, I am reading Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell, Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, who I am interviewing soon, The Faith Machine by Tone Milazzo, Dead Spots by Melissa F. Olson, Travel Writer’s Field Guide by Phoebe Smith & Daniel Neilson, and Death’s Legacy by Dennis K. Crosby.







Sunday, 2 January 2022

My top five reads of 2021


2021 was a strange year. And yet, amid it all, there were some fabulous books. This is my pick of my favourite books that I read last year. Ordinarily, that means they can come from any year - just last year was the one I got round to reading them, but as it happens this time out all but one were published in 2021 as well. 

Before I dive into the list though, one thing - there is nothing that can be more helpful to authors than sharing your love of their work. Be it reviews, word of mouth, sharing things along on Twitter and so on... it helps. And for a lot of authors, it can make the difference between a week of no sales and a week where they find some new readers. So do share!

Here I go, in no particular order... my top five of 2021. Three horrors, one science fantasy, and one collection of stories to break your heart. 


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 (inexplicably now cancelled!), and Premee Mohamed's Beneath The Rising in print. Cosmic horror has never been fresher.


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.


The Gulp, by Alan Baxter

Some horrors start off with creeping dread and mystery. This one sits down across the table from you, flashes a devilish grin, slides you a beer and asks what's the worst possible thing you can imagine. Then chuckles and says that's all you've got? Let me tell you a story.
Five stories, in fact. Each a slice of life and death in the remote Australian community of Gulpepper, nicknamed The Gulp. It's the kind of town you might find in The Twilight Zone if Clive Barker was mayor. Everything's a little twisted, a little wrong, a little off-kilter.
The five stories seem separate at first - how a trucker finds his safe world slipping away from him, how some teenagers deal with the weird things happening to their mother, how a group of backpackers fall under the spell of a local rock band... but the pieces start to make up a bigger picture. Something strange is always going on in The Gulp, but now... well, strange is stacking up on strange.
Alan Baxter does a great job of inviting you into a weird part of the world, starting with uncomfortable before plunging into the grotesque and the ominous. There's clearly more to come, but building slowly, steadily. Each of these stories is a crack of distant thunder, warning that the storm is coming nearer, nearer. I'm looking forward to when it arrives.


Tempest Blades: The Cursed Titans, by Ricardo Victoria

Let the tournament commence!
The Cursed Titans is the sequel to Ricardo Victoria's The Withered King. It largely stands alone - but the first book did so well at introducing its large cast of characters that it would be a shame not to start there.
This time around, with all those introductions done, the plot can rattle away at pace - and it certainly does that. This is full-on adventure, full of zip and zest, with witty one-liners being dispensed faster than the energy arrows launched by lead character Alex.
The plot centres around a tournament that doubles up as a way of nations resolving their differences. There is a swirl of politics around the tournament itself - and it provides the perfect opportunity for chaos itself to be unleashed.
I've said before that the Final Fantasy series is a good touchstone for Ricardo's writing, and it holds true here again. It has that anime spirit, that high sci-fi feel. There are new friends to be made, and new enemies.
Adventure? Check. Fun? Check. Freewheeling sci-fi? Check. If you want all of that, it's all here.
But what impressed me is that this time around there's something more. Alex is wrestling with depression, and the story explores that in some depth. I've been lucky in life, I've never really had to deal with depression personally, but the story spoke to me in the way it reflected what friends have gone through. It shows how characters around Alex deal with his depression - or sometimes how they don't deal with it, perhaps even not noticing it until it's pointed out by others. Sometimes I've been that person, who didn't notice or who didn't know how to react, so this story really hits home.
In the end, this is as much about Alex confronting himself as the monsters unleashed in the world, and the most important alliances and friendships are the ones that help him on that personal journey.
This kind of exploration of depression in science fiction and fantasy is not common - so Ricardo adds a welcome voice to the conversation.
This is a good read. A fun read. But it's also perhaps an important one.


Six Dreams About The Train and Other Stories, by Maria Haskins

Maria Haskins is one of the best writers in the field today. That takes some saying, because this really is a golden age for short story writing. There are magicians who delight, conjurers who pop up worlds of magnificence and entertainers who bring a grin.
Maria writes extraordinary stories. I bought this and... well, I couldn't read it quickly. I had to savour it. I had to let each story of pain and heartbreak and love and uncertainty settle in my bones before I could move on to the next.
There's And You Shall Sing To Me A Deeper Song, which creates a world of rogue military AI and the singers who silenced them - only to become unwanted weapons no longer needed in the aftermath.
There's the title story which binds together fragments of action with cords made of heartache and hurt, telling the short tale of imminent and unavoidable tragedy.
There's Cleaver, Meat and Block, which has made it into the best horror stories of the year anthology, telling of a world after a zombie apocalypse in which the zombies were cured, and those who weren't infected live side by side with those who ate their friends, their relatives.
Then there's one I had a hand in publishing originally, Tunguska, 1987, which tells its story across time periods about a man and his dog having a strange encounter in 1929 and picking up the after-effects of that in a world of 1987 where the Tunguska meteor contained something very different from in our own world.
It's a collection of beautiful, sometimes painful stories. There's an old story about two sculptors who are carving a piece of work. Both are asked what they're carving, and one says "A unicorn! It's beautiful!" and the other says "My heart." Maria is carving her heart with these stories to see what it shows. They are personal, and really linger with you afterwards.
Read this. It's wonderful.