Author: Elan

Summerlong – Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle is best known for writing The Last Unicorn, which I haven’t read but heard of time and again as childhood-defining. For what it’s worth, I tried watching the animated feature but was vetoed by the other denizens of my household. I shall try another time, and crack open the copy of The Last Unicorn currently sitting on my shelf in due time.

Knowing only about Unicorn was insufficient preparation for reading Beagle’s recent novel, Summerlong, published by Tachyon Publications in September of last year. I made assumptions about what Summerlong would be based on nothing, and that is a huge disservice to what is an extraordinary novel.

Summerlong is on the outer fringes of fantasy, more a story of modern slipstream fiction like something by Haruki Murakami. It’s the kind of book where the boundaries of reality slowly erode and the characters’ realities unravel in consonance with the surreal.

In the case of Summerlong, a complicated-but-functional family on an island in the Puget Sound. A middle-aged couple, Abe and Joanna, have a straightforward life which is rocked by the arrival of Lioness Lazos, a mysterious young woman who enchants the couple completely.

With Lioness’s arrival, the unraveling begins on both macro and micro scales, from strange weather to bizarre animal appearances and children who can pull full-grown flowers from deep in the earth.

The story itself is excellent, full of emotion and tension, action and introspection, character and mystery. But the writing itself is so damn good that even if the plot was weak this would be a fantastic read. Beagle’s language is sophisticated but relatable, his characters bleeding through every word, every carefully placed comma, and the spaces between. Their pain and hope and love and confusion suffuse the text so completely that I achieved that sought-after state of readvana, wherein you look up from a book and you aren’t sure what life is, who you are, or what anything is.

I was enchanted by this book. I was transported, surprised, and amazed by it. If I had read a synopsis of it, I may have passed on it altogether, which would have been a terrible loss. It’s books like Summerlong that are defining points in a budding writer’s journey, where you read something and say “I want to be able to do that.”

Summerlong is available on Amazon and directly from Tachyon.

Inish Carraig – Jo Zebedee

Inish Carraig is a book that was robbed of placement on the shortlist for last year’s Hugo awards, its spot taken by the likes of the inimitable Chuck Tingle, who was placed there by the antics of a group of angry men whose only wish is to Make Science Fiction Great Again.

I hadn’t heard of the book, or of Jo Zebedee, its author, when she emailed me toward the end of last year asking for a review. I imagine that, in some ways, that was the dastardly puppies’ goal. To relegate strong authors to obscurity.  It’s tragic, because so many great books, like Zebedee’s, are casualties of the puppies’ campaign. As I said to her in an email, it’s a tremendous honor for this ol’ blog o’ mine to get contacted by a Hugo nominee. If my review won’t compel you to pick up Innish Carraig, I hope at the very least you’ll check out her other work at jozebedee.com.

Inish Carraig is, among many other things, a great read. Its characters are well-built and compelling (if occasionally frustrating in the way teenagers can be), its setting is electric, and the story so solidly built that I honestly had no idea how the conflict would resolve. Up until the very last pages, I was guessing what would happen, and I was wrong on every count. The surprise was perfect, the resolution satisfying, and the the whole thing packed up neatly.

The story follows John Dray, a survivor of a brutal alien invasion, as he attempts to feed his siblings in bombed-out Belfast. He’s caught up in a conspiracy that is way over his head when he’s accidentally responsible for the genocide of the on-planet occupiers, a sort of insectoid race which came to Earth for its resources.

What follows is equal parts action adventure, mystery, teen angst, and political maneuvering. John is caught in the middle of a galactic war between bizarre species, and the safety of all humanity hangs in the balance. It’s all very epic.

It would have been a clichéd YA novel, if not for Zebedee’s hard approach—it’s definitely not a kids’ book—and excellent planning of the story. She seeded my brain with all of the proper assumptions/red herrings to keep me from predicting how the book would end, and that left such a deep satisfaction in me that as I finished the last paragraph, I actually sighed with contentment.

Inish Carraig isn’t what I expected, and I think that, reading my own words above, it probably isn’t what you expect either. The long story can be condensed thus: Inish Carraig is an excellent take on the alien-invasion paradigm, drawn with stark lines that give no quarter from the anger and terror that such a situation would impose, especially on young survivors. You should absolutely pick up a copy.

Inish Carraig is available on Amazon.

The Echoes of Sin – Chris Philbrook

(Beware of spoilers, for they be plentiful below.)

The concluding entry in Chris Philbrook’s Kinless trilogy, The Echoes of Sin, does a massive amount of worldbuilding. It reminds me a bit of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series, wherein after being taken on a wild journey through a fantastical world, we learn that it’s actually some kind of post-apocalyptic vision of Europe. Whereas Lawrence loosely explains it as a result of science growing too powerful for its own quantum britches, Philbrook leaves the gap between the “fall” and era of the story unfilled.

I burn with curiosity as to the nature of the fall. I hope, nay, pray that he dig into it in some future date. The word ‘trilogy’ fills me with dread, however, that this story is done and that I’ll never find out more about the fascinating world Philbrook has built, where human souls manifest as spirits and the talented can speak to the souls of machines and inanimate objects.

Now that my plea for more information is out of the way, let’s talk about The Echoes of Sin. We find the twins on the run with their compatriots, having been accused of the murder of their aunt—the one who orchestrated the inciting events of the trilogy. But they’ve got bigger fish to fry. They’re on their way to uncover the biggest secret in the world, the thing that pivoted the course of history for the planet, the cataclysm whose echoes ripple throughout the world and the hundreds of years that have elapsed.

Meanwhile, the purple queen (of the empire that took center-stage in the first book) is at the border with an army of zombies and necromancers who are prepared to steamroll over an ill-equipped town that blocks their path. The tension ramps up more rapidly in this book than in the previous two, but that makes sense, given the threads that need addressing in the story,  but the pacing works well.

The heroes get the more immediately compelling of the two plots, fighting a group of vampires with an intriguing connection to the Church of Souls—they were left by the twins’ aunt to protect the secret that the others were killed over. The fighting is tense, the sides find compromise and, eventually, the heroes are lead to the heart of the secret: a gateway to the past.

It’s a must-read if you’ve read the other two. And since you should read the other two, I suppose I’m saying you’ve got to read this one.

There are some excellent twists in The Echoes of Sin, and narrator Kevin T. Collins did an admiral job of bringing the book to life in a way that raised my heart rate at the right times, and personified the whole cast well. As was the case with the previous books, I found his narration a bit slow, but thankfully I was able to easily speed it up to my comfort level.

Before signing off, I want to return to the thought that opened this review. I was being cheeky about it up there, but the message is that the ending of The Echoes of Sins leaves more questions asked than answered. This might frustrate you—it frustrated me a bit—but I think that frustration also falls under the purview of emotions authors may want to elicit in a reader. If you’re reading this, Chris Philbrook, I’d love to know if you did that to me on purpose. Either way, you wrote an excellent trilogy.

The Echoes of Sin is available on Amazon and Audible.

Looking back at 2016

My friends, 2016 is (finally) behind us, and though it’s been a roller coaster of tragedy and disaster in the world at large, I can at least say that it’s been a good year for reading, and a great year to Warble. The bookweb is replete with beautiful souls who love genre fiction and one another, and that gives me hope. I’ve met (digitally and in person!) some fantastic people, and it’s all thanks to our mutual love of These Crazy Books(tm).

So let’s take a look at the year behind us and the year ahead, starting with 2016:

2016 in Review

You might have noticed several changes on the site, the foremost of which is the total visual overhaul of the site and the “brand,” such as it is. I thought it was past time for there to be a more minimalist version of the site, and after completing a redesign of my personal site, I decided to make similar changes here. This is part of an overarching change, whereby this site has become less of a hobby and more of a Serious Pursuit.

In the five years since this blog’s founding, it’s expanded into more than a passion project: it’s part of my identity as a writer, and it’s connecting me to the book world in a way that fills me with joy and pride. It has led to my developing a working relationship with several publishers, all of whom do me a tremendous honor by sending over books for me to review. It has improved my skills as a writer, both from the reading of wider-reaching works and the practice of more frequent writing. It’s also helped me develop discipline (something I’m in dire need of, and can always improve upon) as a writer and business-person.

And this year was by far the most successful year this blog has seen.

  • 2,890 visitors from 75 countries viewed pages on this blog 5,236 times.
  • There were 68 posts published (an average of 1.3 per week!), 31 of which were book reviews.

I’m certainly proud of that. While it was more than a little shy of my personal goal of 52 published reviews (which will remain my goal for this year), I’m stoked. I moved three times, in two states, held three different jobs, had surgery on my face, and still managed to post 31 reviews. Forgive me while I continue tooting my own horn.

So how did this year look, reading-wise? According to Goodreads, I read 41 books this year. However, not all of the books I read were available in Goodreads, nor did I want to mark all of them. As a student, I read six books. Now we’re at 46. As an editor, I read six books. That means I read 53 books in 2016! I achieved my goal!

But now let’s get to the more interesting bits of this post. The best books of 2016.

Best Fantasy

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire

Bands of Mourning – Brandon Sanderson


Best Science Fiction

Central Station – Lavie Tidhar

Binti –  Nnedi Okorafor


Best Non-Fiction

Between the World and Me – Ta Nehisi Coates

Storyteller – Kate Wilhelm

Honorable mentions

While they’re not the best/runner-ups, these are wonderful books that are well worth your time:

So that’s 2016. What can you, friend of the blog, expect from 2017?

To begin, you might have noticed a bunch of small, circular icons beneath the new Warbler logo on the homepage. These all represent the media outlets I hope to extend the blog to in the next year. Chief among those developments is the introduction of video content. My hope is to begin recording video reviews/interviews/thoughts about what I’m reading. The second video element I plan to introduce is live reading sessions on twitch.tv. I think these read-alouds can be a fun way to bring books to readers, while serving as excellent practice for me as a hopeful audiobook narrator some day.

I’d also like to expand the author interviews that started in 2016. I have been working up the nerve to email a few of my favorite authors with a few questions. Hopefully that pans out and you’ll get to hear directly from them.

I’m also going to formally launch a part of the larger Warbler business, in the form of Warbler Author Services (or some such naming convention.) I’ll be offering developmental and copyediting services, as well as web design/support for authors. Be on the lookout for a more formal announcement some time in the next few months.

Finally, as the project grows, I’m toying with the idea of launching a Patreon account for the blog. I’ve yet to determine what the rewards for supporting the blog will be, but if folks feel inclined to throw a few dollars a month at the blog, I’d be incredibly grateful and honored.

Thank you for being a part of my 2016. I look forward to sharing the coming year, and many more, with you.

-Elan

The Motion of Puppets – Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue’s The Motion of Puppets is a wonderful book. It’s an exquisite example of what I’d call literary fantasy, though I’m sure it’s more likely to be filed in “non-fiction” and called  slipstream or magical realism than anything else. But nomenclature and categorization are irrelevant at the end of the day. It’s the story and writing that matter.

The Motion of Puppets is a beautifully written story of a couple in Quebec who become separated by strange circumstances. Kay is part of a circus troupe performing locally, and her husband, Theo, is an academic working on a translation of a biography of Eadweard Muybridge—the photographer who first captured still images of horses in motion to show that they come completely off the ground as they gallop.

Theo’s a worrywart of sorts, and Kay is a free spirit, a distinction evident in their occupations as well as their behaviors. But despite their slight differences, they’re very much in love, and deeply committed to making their relationship work. They have the fire of new love in them, and they nurture that fire with care.

As part of their daily meanderings in the Old City Quebec, they regularly see an old wooden puppet under a bell jar in the window of a closed and always-dark puppet shop. Kay develops an almost obsessive love with the puppet, insisting that they walk by the shop regularly so she can stare in longing at the wooden puppet; it’s seemingly innocuous. And why wouldn’t it be?

After a late night of celebration with her co-performers (including a rather handsy rake of a man), Kay finds herself walking home alone. She feels she’s being watched, followed, so she rushes along her usual walk and finds the lights in the puppet shop on and the door unlocked for the first time. She vanishes.

Theo is beside himself with worry at Kay’s disappearance, and it affects his life in myriad ways: his mother-in-law suspects him of foul play, as do the police (at least initially); his translation work halts; he starts making daily trips to the theater where Kay performed, where he befriends Egon, a dwarf who works for the theater company.

Kay, meanwhile, has been transformed and transported to a new world. She has to learn to navigate her new surroundings and remember the life she’s lost, which grows more difficult with each passing day.

I’ll leave the synopsis at that, because this The Motion of Puppets really deserves your read. It’s written poetically, with a great cast of characters, and a plot that had me guessing where the story would wind up until the very last pages. It was magical and heartfelt, with a deftly applied layer of horror that never crossed over into the realm of “true” fright, but hovered just beyond the edge of sight, casting a shadow over every scene. In short, an excellent book.

The Motion of Puppets is available on Amazon.

Before I close this review, a short humblebrag: this review copy was sent over by Picador. Picador. Okay. I guess this review blog gets seen every now and again. Thanks for bearing with me.

Rarity from the Hollow – Robert Eggleton

Robert Eggleton, the author of Rarity from the Hollow, sent a remarkably in-depth letter describing his book when he reached out  for a review a while back. In that message, he described a book that dealt directly and viscerally with issues of child abuse, poverty, and sexuality—a book that explores how children’s lives are affected by the kinds of cruelty that exist within the home and without.

When I finally sat down to open the book , I anticipated a hard-hitting, visceral approach to the topics of child abuse (particularly sexual abuse), and while it was referenced in the book, it was more of a set dressing.

Eggleton paints a picture of a dysfunctional family in a dilapidated, forgotten hollow somewhere in West Virginia. The abusive father, a gulf war vet, ruling the moment-to-moment lives of his wife and young daughter with a switch and his radically shifting moods. The mother, a “classic” example of a victim. And the daughter, Lacy Dawn, the story’s protagonist, who is a peculiar little girl. More about Lacy Dawn in a bit.

The setting is evocative, but it doesn’t appear to say anything about the trauma and hardship of PTSD and physical and sexual abuse; it only acknowledges its presence. A friend of Lacy Dawn’s is violently and sexually abused by her father (and possibly other men in her family), and is eventually killed, leaving Lacy Dawn lonely and determined to save her parents to succumbing to, well, themselves.

If this were the story of a little girl working on her own to help herself, her sick and abusive father, and her uneducated mother, it’d be one thing. Lacy Dawn does, after all, help her family with the many problems that plague it, and eventually the relationships between them are (somewhat) healthy and positive. But she doesn’t do so on her own, or through her own power.

The story takes a few turns that render it less and less stable, less and less functional commentary about the things that Eggleton claims to be addressing. Lacy Dawn is special because she has access to an alien robot, named DotCom, who lives in a hidden spaceship in a cave on the hill, who has implanted her with a reception port that allows him to educate her quickly and efficiently. She falls in love with DotCom, and most of the first third of the story involves Lacy Dawn and DotCom conspiring to heal her parents using advanced medicines that would require her to put implant ports in her parents bodies. (Granted, that’s not all that happens in the first third, but it is the stuff of consequence that happens therein.) After the administration of medication, psychological as well as physical, the family is healed and begins to function with relative normalcy. Dad gets a job working for the local pot grower. Mom gets her driver’s license and GED. Lacy Dawn is finally ready to hear why she’s special.

That great reveal turns out to be a bit of a let-down. DotCom takes Lacy Dawn (and her mom) to his home planet, which is distractingly named Shtpildrp (or something like it. I’m not kidding), which is the epicenter of economic activity in the universe/galaxy. It is a gigantic mall.

What follows that reveal is a somewhat sprawling and complex narrative that seems to have little to do with the purported message of the novel. It becomes a somewhat-confusing thought experiment, a treatise in support of radical capitalism. Lacy Dawn is given a mission: to save the universe. From what? You don’t know until the very end, and that reveal, too, is disappointing.

It seems like there are two stories in Rarity from the Hollow. In one, an abused little girl fights to get her family to a state of normalcy and love—which can be construed as problematic on its own—and in the other, a rural girl falls in love with a robot and has to prove that she is the best at shopping, then selling her wares at a markup. Bonus points for shoe-horned sexual tension between everyone, and a robot that slowly grows a penis.

I wanted to like Rarity from the Hollow, based on the pitch sent over by Robert Eggleton. The book I read differed wildly from what was presented, though, and I couldn’t connect to that at all. It’s certainly an intriguing concept, but one that could have benefited from more deep developmental editing.

Rarity from the Hollow is available on Amazon.

Storyteller – Kate Wilhelm

storytellerI’m not sure where I first saw the title of this book, but I remember it standing out. It may have been on Cory Doctorow’s twitter feed, but that’s not important. What caught my eye was not so much the title as the subtitle: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop.

I’ve spent the better part of the last year and a half vacillating between opinions regarding my future as a writer. I am currently writing professionally. I write these book reviews for fun (and to develop a personal brand that will be ever-so-appealing to future agents and publishers). And I work on my own fiction almost every day.

But I’ve got a hunger to study writing. I want to sit in a classroom and discuss the craft, read the words of my peers, and build a rigorous practice for myself as a writer.

The hunger led me to researching graduate programs in creative writing; specifically those that would be friendly to genre writers, considering the general sentiment among “academic” fiction writers and instructors toward fantasy and sci-fi.

But then I remembered hearing about Clarion, the six-week intensive workshop designed by and for genrefic writers that has been consistently churning out magnificent, successful writers for about 45 years.

And here’s a book by one of the women who was foundational in the workshop’s creation, writing about her own experience. I bought a copy without hesitation.

Storyteller is at once a memoir, writing textbook, pep-talk, and history. Kate Wilhelm’s writing is clear, engaging, entertaining, and honest. Her love for Clarion, its students, and speculative fiction as a whole. It’s hard not to get caught up in the thrill of the development of this unprecedented workshop, in the struggle as they were forced to move from university to university, in the confusion and emotional intensity that comes from sharing critiquing writing.

It’s a wonderful book, and would be regardless of its usefulness as a writing resource.

As a resource, however, I believe it to be tremendously valuable. The tips Wilhelm weaves within her stories, connected to examples of situations in which they applied, helps to ground her suggestions in reality. Oftentimes I will read pieces of writing advice, and they’ll go in one….eye? and out the other? How do you transpose that idiom?

My point being that there’s an additional weight to the advice Wilhelm gives in Storyteller. Something about the way she writes, coupled with what I’ve heard/read from so many Clarion alums, lends a degree of gravitas to her words.

Not only that, but they’re always kind, encouraging, and honest. It’s exactly what I needed to read to feel like this whole “writing” thing wasn’t a waste of time.

If you’re a writer, particularly a genrefic writer, you’ve got to get this book. Keep it close to you when you write. Leaf through it when you feel like you can’t write any more, and refuel with the gems of advice it contains.

Storyteller is available on Amazon.

It’s All Fun and Games – Dave Barrett

allfungames_finalI watched Dave Barrett’s It’s All Fun and Games climb the charts of the Nerdist Collection contest on Inkshares with a mixture of admiration and curiosity. The premise—a Live-Action Role Play game come to life—seemed pretty basic. I decided it would be made or broken by the quality of the prose and characterization, since the plot could not possibly be that interesting. Right?

Not quite.

Turns out that It’s All Fun and Games was a fabulous read. The writing was effective—not arabesque or anything, but strong writing that was easy to read, but not overly simple—and the characters had enough depth. But what took me by surprise is the larger arc of the story (left unresolved in the book) and where it might lead.

For those of you unfamiliar with Live-Action Role Play (LARP), it’s one of the nerdier pastimes you can get into. Essentially, it is acting out your dungeons and dragons characters and battling each other using foam weapons, nerf arrows, and beanbags as your implements of war. Here’s a cringe-worthy example of LARP in action.

Now that you understand the context, we can talk about It’s All Fun and Games. Six friends begin what seems to be a weekend of normal LARPing adventure when, for reasons unknown, their make-believe becomes real. The begin to take on the mannerisms of their assumed characters, as well as their personalities, memories, and abilities. They take their mysterious and magical translocation in stride, assuming they must play out the “encounter” to discover how to get home.

For a short while, progress is smooth. They save some townsfolk from brutal bandits, find some treasure, and feel powerful with their in-world “enhancements.” But, things tending toward entropy, a member of the team is soon killed, and all but one are taken captive by a group of monsters.

The process of rescuing the team is fun to read, but the tacit acceptance of the changing circumstances by the group (attributed to their assimilation of fictional personalities) is irksome. They rebel at the notion of their captivity in a fictional world for only a short while (until things get real what with the death and all), and from that point forward, are adventurers. I’d have liked to see a bit more resistance on the part of the teenagers—though they’ve become magically skilled and fine warriors in their own right. Even if some parts of it would be awesome, I can’t say I’d be entirely stoked to suddenly find myself in a dungeons and dragons quest.

The end of the story is somewhat abrupt. The crew is rescued by the unlikeliest of members, and they set off to learn more about the Evil Guy who brought them to the fantasy land for reasons unknown. It kind of fizzles out—a single encounter that would have been terrific fun to play with friends in dungeons and dragons, but a less-than-perfect ending to a novel, perhaps.

If, as I surmised from the accompanying text, Dave Barrett intends to make this a serialized story, I’d be glad to read the next installments. It was a quick read, without too many surprises, but absolutely enjoyable and well worth your time, if DnD is your cup of tea.

It’s All Fun and Games is available on Amazon and Inkshares.

Filtered – G.K. Lamb

filteredWhen I read the opening pages of Filtered, I expected to find the book clichéd. A teenaged girl in an oppressive, gas-mask wearing society begins to question the structures that surround her. She deals with broken parents with a broken marriage, and frightening images of death by painful asphyxiation all around her. Will she be the chosen one? What unique power will manifest, turning her into a superheroine that cleans the toxic, ashen air?

I was being superficial, and I regret my initial write-off of G.K. Lamb’s first novel as “just another” YA-targeted story. Filtered was engaging and well-crafted, and at the end of the day it was simply a good read.

It hit me with particular intensity through vivid descriptions of waiting in line to enter and exit buildings—the heads-down shuffling, seeing only the legs and feet of the person in front of you, the weight of your skull and brain pulling painfully at the muscles in your neck. It was a powerful way to show an oppressed society. But it was also directly relevant to an experience I began having shortly after starting the book. I changed my commuting pattern, and I now get on and off the train at one of the busiest stations in San Francisco. For more than a little while, the escalators were out of service, and the vast numbers of commuters clogging the platform had to walk up thin staircases, in single file, to get out of the station. Everyone looking down at their phones, shuffling slowly, waiting for their turn to lift a foot to the first step.

Here I was, reading about the psychological torment caused by the kind of waiting I was doing in my daily life.

But it’s not just that I was having an analogous experience to the protagonist. It’s that this notion of waiting, and others like it in Filtered, are eminently relatable. Even if we don’t have to wear gas masks to keep toxic air out, we can understand oppressive figures in schools, the shame and boredom and inanity of waiting in what feels like a senseless line,  the confusion of adolescence, and the pain of solitude. These are the things Evelyn Brennan (the protagonist) is dealing with, but they’re all punctuated by—and indeed caused by, in a sense—the setting of Filtered, which plays a key role in the story.

Filtered presents Evelyn in peril, using her wits to investigate the un-investigable. Where Lamb departs from conventional thinking, however, is in punishing her, immediately and very harshly, for her actions. The injustice of it is stunning, and you’re left feeling her shame alongside her as she watches the torment meant for her delivered to an innocent creature. It’s far more powerful than if she’d been punished herself.

That moment foreshadows the climax of the story, in which our determined protagonist learns the secret of the Great Society’s founding (oppressive empire figure in Filtered) and galvanizes a heretofore-unknown radical group to action, resulting in catastrophe.

Filtered does what it does well, but the climactic action rises a little quickly given the pacing of the first 60% of the book. I enjoyed the pacing of the first half, but I think the book would have been greatly helped by more hints at revolutionaries throughout, laying foundation for Evelyn’s personal rebellion.

Filtered is available on Amazon.

Author Interview: Robert Batten

Robert Batten is in the top 25 in the Launch Pad contest, which means his work has a shot at being placed in front of some serious eyes in Hollywood. In this interview we chat about his book, Human Resources, zombies, Tasmania, and what’s next for him in the contest.


Q: Tell me a little about yourself—how long have you been writing?

In some ways, I feel like I’ve been doing it forever, and that it was inevitable.  All my life, I’ve been a story person — whether telling my own or losing myself in someone else’s. I first started writing as a child, and have continued — on and off — ever since.

batten003_web400px

Robert Batten, in the flesh

As a child of two outdoor education teachers and mountaineers, my childhood was dominated by exploring  the unrivaled wilderness of Tasmania. Rugged mountain ranges, dense temperate rainforests, high alpine plains; a perfect training ground for any budding adventurer.

This was a setting  with few people (typically only the ones we brought with us), and no internet or other modern distractions. Through necessity, I learned to entertain myself armed with books and my imagination.

Travel was an important contributor to  my formative years. I was fortunate to have parents afflicted with an irresistible urge to explore our amazing planet, an affliction they passed on. I’ve come to view traveling as storytelling in motion — every landscape a new setting, every person a new character in their own narrative, every culture a new tapestry steeped in history. Once you start unravelling that web it’s impossible to stop.

At university, I followed my passion for gadgets and studied Information Systems rather than English. That path has led to an interesting and diverse career in IT, but left my drive to tell tales unfulfilled.

Since then, I’ve picked up my writing a few times. Each time I’d start trying to craft a complex world, get caught in the details of planning (rather than focussing on the story), and intimidate myself into stopping. That changed in early 2010 when I did something different, which was the genesis of Human Resources.

human-resources-cover-3Q: Tell me about Human Resources. 

It all started with a vivid and specific dream. Unlike most of my dreams, this one stuck with me, bouncing around my subconscious, clamouring for my attention. After daydreaming my way through the sequence repeatedly, I decided to write it down. This time, I didn’t attempt to craft a world, just to capture that single scene.  I think that was crucial for me as it reminded me how much I enjoyed writing. Next thing I knew, I was knee-deep in a novel.

The premise of that dream, and the setting for the novel, was a simple one. When the zombie apocalypse comes (and let’s face it, we all know it’s coming), what if the ones to save us were more dangerous than the horror they saved us from? Creatures who were acting out of cold, calculated self-interest?

Human Resources is set in the near future, years after a zombie-like plague overwhelmed civilisation. In the aftermath, all that remains are heavily fortified city-states, created and ruled by global corporations, which in turn are owned and run by vampires. The novel is a story of survival, of freedom, and of unlikely alliances. Possibly most importantly, it is a story of choices — the tallying of risk, the weighing of sacrifices. Sometimes the “right” path is obscured behind shades of grey. Sometimes the greater good demands sacrifices we can’t bear to make. Those decisions define us, and they define our characters. The players in Human Resources have some tough decisions to make.

Q: Were there any books/movies/video games/interpretive dances inspired you to tell this story?

Many, though few directly. I’ve always loved stories in any medium. Books, TV, movies, games, anime, manga — I’ve probably spent as much time out of reality as in it. My preferred genres are Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and (particularly) Urban Fantasy and Alternate Reality. I devour series such as The Dresden Files, Kate Daniels, Guild Hunter, Harry Potter, and Throne of Glass. It’s inevitable that my style and content will reflect some of this, but none of those books have directly influenced Human Resources.

There are some books and movies with closer parallels to the world of Human Resources, either in thematic elements, style, or setting. The Passage by Justin Cronin is an amazing take on a vampire apocalypse, and blew my mind. Daybreakers with Ethan Hawke shares some common setting elements with its vampire-run corporate dystopia. There are also some similarities with aspects of I am Legend.

Early on, I realised I wanted the novel to stand confidently as a science-fiction, with some supernatural elements. This raises some pointed questions about who and what my vampires are, so I set out to discover exactly that. I’ve since published some of the results of that investigation here.

Q: Have you always imagined it as a screenplay as well?

Yes and no. As someone who has spent time playing RPG’s — tabletop and PC/online — I always felt Human Resources would make a great game setting. In my mind I’ve also envisioned it as an anime, rather than visualising it as a live-action movie or TV series. The possibility that it could be picked up for that is an exciting prospect, but for now I am trying to focus on getting the novel into shape fit for publication. Baby steps!

Q: You’re from Tasmania! Why is the story set in the Siberian mountains?

I love my native island state of Tasmania. For those who are about to open a new tab and Google it, Tasmania (or ‘Tassie’ as it is affectionately known by locals) is the Southern-most state of Australia. It is an island some 350 kilometres (220 miles) from the main Australian continent. It’s rugged, sparsely populated, but filled with incredible National Parks and World Heritage Areas.

Moving on to the question, the novel isn’t set in Siberia. Only the virus which brought about the destruction of the civilised world, leaving behind a horde of transformed horrors, originated in Siberia. The story picks up decades after this outbreak and the virus has since covered the globe.

I needed a large urban city for the setting to work. The entire population of Tasmania is only about 500k; I needed somewhere larger and more strategic. In the end, I chose to locate the story in Sydney. Chapter One mentions Edison’s office having a view of the bridge and opera house — these landmarks are the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Q: There’s a trope within the Zombie genre, wherein the world is the same as ours but without any idea about what zombies are. Do you have any opinions about that?

I think it is, to an extent, necessary for many of these stories to work. If you want to take a serious approach to the genre, having victims who are unfamiliar with the lore seems to make this more believable. I feel that if the world started with people well-versed with zombie novels and movies, there tends to be a natural shift towards a comedic approach. Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, and Cabin in the Woods are great examples of this. In a world jaded by zombie cliches, where the CDC has published zombie survival plans, zombies just aren’t scary anymore. However sheepish some might be to admit it, I think we have all spent time planning what we would do, where we would go, and what supplies we would need. The result is a lot less harrowing than a setting full of ignorant, unsuspecting mobile dinners. To me, just seems to fit better.

In Human Resources the question is somewhat moot. Being set so long after the outbreak, it really doesn’t matter what people knew before it occurred. I do want to be careful in what I say when I relate this back to my novel — I’m toeing the line of spoilers — but my zombies are a little different than the classic variety. Indeed, it could be argued the infected in my world share more with those of I am Legend rather than The Walking Dead. I’m afraid you’ll need to read the book to find out more about that.

Q: How long is left in the contest, and how are you what’s your position as of today?

The contest has two concurrent streams; a formal judging stream and the crowdfunding competition.

The formal judging stream concludes at the end of November, with a number of prizes to be announced. This will include at least one manuscript being optioned by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free and at least one author being signed by Energy Entertainment.

The crowdfunding competition runs until 16 December (PST), at which point the three manuscripts with the most pre-orders will be published by Inkshares.

As of right now, Human Resources is performing strongly in the crowdfunding competition, holding the number one position. It has also been named by the Launch Pad judges in their Top 25, so it is also in a position to pick up one of the major prizes from that stream.

In addition to the Launch Pad Manuscript Competition, there have been two exciting new developments in the past week:

  1. Human Resources was named by Inkshares in their new “2016 List” of top projects not yet published.
  2. It crossed the magic 250 pre-orders threshold, which means one way or another Inkshares will publish the novel. The question — dependent on the competition outcome — is whether it will be mass produced and marketed, or print-on-demand.

Q: Any final thoughts you want to share?

Up until May this year, I had not shared my writing with anyone outside a close circle of trusted friends. Indeed, the primary audience for my writing has been my wife, who’s unfailing support and encouragement has kept me going; I certainly hadn’t believed I could be published. A lucky chain of events led me to Inkshares and provided the excuse I needed to share my work — a community-run event encouraging authors to exchange critiques.

Psychologically I’m still struggling to accept all that has happened since then. First joining the Inkshares community, making connections and building confidence, then The Launch Pad Manuscript competition. I’m grateful to Inkshares for their platform, as well as the other partners in the competition. But what I really want to do is single out the Inkshares community. From that first day they have been welcoming and encouraging and I have been carried to this point in part by their enthusiasm and generosity.