Category: Reading

Pet Human – Nannybot A3–4

PET HUMAN COVERPet Human, by Nannybot A3-4, has to be one of the oddest pieces I’ve read in a while. It’s an instruction manual for the caring and control of pet humans. See, it turns out that sometime later this century, we create the first functional AIs, which leads to the subsequent development of TIs, Technological Intelligences (read: not artificial), which propels technology forward at an incredible pace. Cut forward a few thousand years, and we’re in something of an odd situation.

Pet Human is written for an audience across space and time, and is thus comprehensible to the likes of you and me. It’s a strangely enthralling read, for an instruction manual. Between the lines of its matter-of-fact descriptions of a post-humanist universe, wherein humanity has been improved upon, but reduced to pets, lay a magnificently built world. But there’s something more to it.

While the manual has me convinced of the TIs’ good intentions, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, lurking beneath the world of “operating environments” wherein the pet humans live is something more sinister; a darkness evinced by the existence of “strays” who nip at the heels of the TIs, whose core processing forbids them from returning the aggression.

The manual is detailed, and is sprinkled with definitions for terms used by inheritors of the future. There’s some captivating postulations on physics, spirituality, and human nature contained within those definitions, and they tell a remarkable amount of story considering their odd structure.

I didn’t know what to think of Pet Human when I opened it up, but was glued to it in a way I’d have thought unlikely if you’d told me the premise of the piece before handing it to me. It is abstract in its content, but intensely concrete in its form. I can think of a number of my close friends who would really enjoy reading it, but I think everyone should take a crack at it. It’s bizarre, but fascinating.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear from Nannybot-A3-4. I wonder what’ll get beamed down to our parent-present node next. For now, I’m going to keep wishing that immersion pools were a real thing. For now, Pet Human is available on Amazon.

Spell/Sword – G. Derek Adams

Asteroid Made of Dragons was G. Derek Adams’s first (semi-)traditionally published work, but the man was no stranger to releasing books. As you may (or may not) recall from my review of AMoD, Adams had self-published two prequels prior to winning the Sword and Laser contest on Inkshares.

The first of those books is Spell/Sword, wherein we meet the protagonist duo of Rime and Jonas and go careening through glowing canyons and flying on wyverns with them on their first adventure.

Adams was kind enough to provide me with a copy of Spell/Sword in audiobook form, which is currently available on Audible, and is wonderfully narrated by Rachel Ahrens, who brings a voice and character to Rime so close to what my mind created when I read AMoD that I was a bit surprised, to be honest. She really did a fantastic job.

The thing about Adams’s writing is that, when you read it, you can tell how much fun he had writing it. His settings and scenes frequently border on the absurd, and as you laugh along with the characters at the situation, you are convinced of the imminent threats to them and deeply invested in their wellbeing. And curious about how the hell they intend to escape rocket-powered-electro-toads.

AMoD had the benefit of an editorial team, and is therefore more polished than Spell/Sword, but the nice thing about reading (or listening to) his self-published work is that it serves as proof of Adams’s skill as an author. He’s got what it takes to “go pro,” in my opinion.

Spell/Sword is a great read; it’s paced well, action-packed, and does an excellent job of setting high stakes and wrapping up neatly while leaving enough threads unraveled to spawn a torrent of sequels. For my part, I’m glad to know Derek. That means I can pester him about when the next book is coming out.

Until then, I can read Riddle Box, the next book in the series.

Spell/Sword is available at Amazon.com. The audiobook is available from Audible (also Amazon.)

(Using these links helps to support the Warbler!)

Monkey Business – Landon Crutcher

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I enjoy a good laugh as much as the next person, but I rarely find myself seeking out books in the humor category, opting instead for more “serious fare.” I don’t know why. I loved Lamb, had an exceedingly good time with Asteroid Made of Dragons, and have a leather bound and much loved collection of Douglas Adams’s famous Hitchhiker’s Guide series. And those are off the top of my head. Point is, I probably ought to laugh more. So when I spoke to Landon Crutcher about his debut novel— the first to be published by Inkshares’s Quill imprint — I decided it was past time for me to read a book that’d make me laugh.

And laugh I did.

Monkey Business is just like Landon described it in our chat: a zany, shenanigans-filled Will Ferrell-style comedy on paper. I was of two minds when I initially heard that description, as I wasn’t sure how that kind of slapstick, occasionally scatological humor would translate, but Landon did an excellent job of threading a well-paced adventure among his many jokes, the great majority of which landed with great success.

In particular, the strength of Monkey Business is in its banter. The character’s quick-witted retorts and dry humor make an otherwise tragic scene—being marooned on an island—hilarious. Another thing he does well in Monkey Business is physical humor, which I think is rather impression, given the difficulty of transmitting one-to-one the exact blocking of a scene in such a way that the readers see exactly what you intend. I had a hard time not laughing at the vision of a character, screaming at the top of his lungs at sentient trees (which were not, in fact, sentient) and hacking at them with an axe. Or when another character smokes a dubious flower and goes on the wackiest spirit quest imaginable, culminating in his discovery of of a new friend in the form of a long-deceased man’s skull. Perhaps you had to be there. Either way, it was lots of fun.

The book isn’t without its issues, which I think is due in large part to less editorial attention than books receiving full funding support from Inkshares. It feels like it’s firmly between a self-published book and something a little more formally produced, which I believe is more-or-less the purpose of the Quill imprint. I’m curious to see how the imprint develops, with some twenty-five books already slated to be published under it. The machine can only be tuned to run more smoothly, I assume.

If you don’t mind a bit of dirty humor, and feel like giggling at banter between two dehydrated men, a talking monkey, and a dead man’s skull, do yourself a favor and pick up Monkey Business. If can be found on Amazon and Inkshares.com.

Ageless – Paul Inman

ageless_paul_inmanWe often try to classify writing by its elemental genre, the thing at the heart of the text that drives or emotional attachment to the story. These aren’t things like “fantasy,” “science fiction,” or “slipstream”; rather, it’s mystery, adventure, wonder, horror, relationship, and the like that connect us, on a human level, to what we read.

At a first glance, Ageless seems to be a combination of mystery and wonder: we have the big “what if” of wonder— what if a person aged so slowly that they were essentially immortal?— and the puzzle-piece arrangement of our leap into the story, immediately eliciting questions of “how” that start off a mystery.

But as Ageless progresses, it becomes clear that it is a character-driven story, unfolding across generations, and dealing with fundamental questions of love and loss, and the limits of human kindness and cruelty. It is a book about relationships.

It’s a good book, and it tells its story well, jumping back and forth across time, building a picture of how one (ostensibly endless) life can touch others, and the ripple effect that flows through the years as a result. Perhaps it was the nazi experimentation, or the conflicted emotional relationships I built with the cast as I read, but Ageless made me think at length about the chance meetings that have had a lasting impact on my life, and the events of the past that inform so many pieces of my life, in ways great and subtle. I think also about the monumental, global-scale events, like the holocaust, the transistor, and atomic bomb, in whose wake all human life is altered, the ripples more like tidal waves pushing us toward the future.

The climactic moment at the end of Ageless is intended to be (I imagine,) tragic, but I felt for Alessandra in that moment. She had dealt with enough. It was time. It was tragic, yes, but there was also release.

A peculiar way to relate to a character, perhaps, but that’s the result of the theoretical exercise that is Ageless. What would it be like to be ostensibly immortal? A life punctuated by fear and loss, mistrust and bitter solitude. Death is a grand unifier. To be excluded from it, while a utopian dream on the one hand, strips one of the basic elements of basic humanity away.

Ageless a compelling adventure populated with dynamic characters, and it’s thought provoking. Books don’t get much better than that.

Ageless is available on Amazon and on Inkshares.com

Octavia’s Brood – Walida Imarisha & Adrienne Marie Brown

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A few weeks ago, I attended a rally in support of Bernie Sanders just north of Oakland, in Vallejo, California. At the rally, I heard a sentence that struck a deep chord within me: An idea does not have to be radical to be revolutionary.

It’s a simple statement, sure, but it has legs. I imagine that, during the height of the civil rights movement, there was a portion of the American population that felt the idea of racial equality was radical. But thinking about it, were people asking for anything completely new? No. They were asking to have the rights of protection, access, and representation that already existed for a majority of Americans. I don’t mean to say that radical action wasn’t taken in the name of revolution. Rather, that the desires of the movement were not radical, though they were certainly revolutionary.

I think that our current politics are in a similar boat. The things that the progressive left is asking for—protection from militarized police, access to affordable education and healthcare, and political representation free from the corroding influence of a rigged campaign finance system—are likewise not radical. These rights exist and are protected in most of the developed world, yet they are treated as heretical impossibilities by people who refuse to acknowledge the facts of the matter.

Ideas can be radical or revolutionary, and the can certainly be both. Writers of speculative fiction, particularly science fiction, frequently create works that embody that duality. Consider our fantastical, technological lives. How many of these devices were born from the minds of great SF writers?

In a recent speech at the national book awards where she was honored for a lifetime of contributions to fiction and writing in general, Ursula K. Le Guin issued a challenge to writers of speculative fiction:

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

[…]

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”

Octavia E. Butler was an author with radical ideas. Her contributions to the annals of science fiction were revolutionary.  I have books by Octavia Butler on my bookshelf, and several more on my e-reader, but I have yet to open them. I’ve been meaning to, but a consequence of the expansion of this blog has been the total loss of time to read books on my old “to read” list. The books are, for the moment, collecting dust.

So when the opportunity arose, through the ever beneficent folks at Audible, to listen to an anthology of short stories inspired by her work, I leapt at the opportunity.

Octavia’s Brood is, for lack of a better word, different. It’s editors, Walida Imarisha and Adrienne Marie Brown, say it is “the first book to explore deeply the connections between […] ‘visionary fiction’ and movements for social change through the vehicle of of short stories. We believe that radical science fiction is actually better termed visionary fiction because it pulls from real life experience, inequalities and movement building to creative innovative ways of understanding the world around us, paint visions of new worlds that could be, and teach us new ways of interacting with one another.

The term ‘visionary fiction’ is thought provoking, though I doubt many would want to see the dystopian visions of the future in some of the stories come to pass. It demonstrates an understanding of the power of fiction that Ursula Le Guin spoke of: the power to evoke change.

Some of the stories in the anthology are great; others are “merely” good. All of them resonate deeply. And Je Nie Fleming, the narrator, did a wonderful job of imbuing the varied casts of characters with life and emotion, which must have been rather difficult given the range of character backgrounds and settings. It’s the kind of book I want to buy twenty or thirty copies of and hand out to people, just so I can say “here! This is the power of science fiction! This is why we write and keep imagination alive!”

I cannot recommend Octavia’s Brood enough, to social justice activists, science fiction enthusiasts, and everyone in between. If I could get through to them, I’d call on the puppies (the semi-organized group of frothing racists who, like GamerGaters, are currently engaged in a campaign to Make Video Games / Comics / Science Fiction Great Again) to read this anthology. It might teach them a bit about reality while showing them just how good science fiction can be when they open their minds. And that’s the purpose of speculative fiction to begin with; to broaden our horizons. As Ursula Le Guin said, Resistance and change often begin in art. If you’re a fan of art, especially the art of words, you ought to get used to change.

Central Station – Lavie Tidhar

central-stationI thought it would be difficult to find a book at good as Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction this year, but Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, also published by Tachyon, has overtaken it for the top spot in my list this year. By a tiny margin.

For me, Central Station was more than a good—or even great—book. It was an important book, for several reasons. The first is that it is some advanced science fiction that breaks through a number of barriers in the genre, which I’ll dig into below. The second is that it was written by an Israeli author and takes place in Tel Aviv.

Representation in speculative fiction has been a hot topic for the last few years, and I’ve been rather appalled by the backlash in some areas of the community at the idea of  diversity in sci-fi and fantasy. I love reading fiction precisely because of the extraordinary opportunity it provides to ride behind the eyes of an Other, to have fleeting moments where the world falls away and I experience the impossible, or at least the highly improbable. The things I cannot experience in this reality. To expand my emotional vocabulary.

But I hadn’t thought much about how the issue of personal representation in genre fiction affected me until reading the synopsis of Central Station. Science fiction often features religion, entirely fabricated or otherwise, but Jews are often underrepresented, or misrepresented when they do appear. From the new testament to Shylock to Dune’s Jews, it suffices to say that we have had a rough go of it inside and outside the collective imagination for the last couple thousand years. It was the status quo, and unlikely to change.

But opening Central Station and reading about the ethnically, religiously, philosophically, technologically different citizens of the Tel Aviv of the future was deeply cathartic for me. When was the last time a character in a sci-fi novel was named Baruch? Yossi? Ibrahim? More importantly, these were people, with all of the rich complications, flaws, beauty, curiosity, hope, and sadness left intact. People with names like mine. Like the people I grew up with. With a shared vocabulary. Shared ancestry. It was a powerful thing to read.

Then there was the setting. Tel Aviv, Israel’s megalopolis, is one of my favorite cities in the world, if not my absolute favorite. My brother lived there when I was young, and I remember driving down from our small village in the north, to visit him in the Big City, and being blown away by its vibrancy, is vivacity, and its vitality. I’ve had reason to visit many times since, and every time I go back to Tel Aviv I catch myself thinking, “this is home. I could stay here forever.”

Lavie Tidhar, an Israeli, imbued the Tel Aviv of the future, the one beneath central station, blinking under the lights of interplanetary vessels coming and going, filled with so many people of different backgrounds, the truest melting pot in the cradle of western religious civilization, with that life. That bright, beautiful, buoyant life. I smelled the smells of Tel Aviv in the first paragraph of the introduction, meat cooking and sweat and sand and Mediterranean air. I saw the city squares, flowing with life and laughter and languages. I felt like I had come home.

Beyond its significance to me for personal reasons, Central Station is an excellent book that pushes at the boundaries of science fiction, while maintaining a deliberately sci-fi core. It was not a story of adventure, or of love, or of horror, though at points it had elements of of all of these. It is a human story. It offers glimpses into the lives of people living their lives, and shows us that no matter how sophisticated our technology becomes or how the world may change, to be human is to struggle, to connect, to love, to fear, to believe and disbelieve. It is absolutely science fiction, and it is also a literary exploration of the human condition through the lenses of family, death, evolution, technology, and religion.

Central Station is told almost in vignettes, which makes sense given that Tidhar wrote and published each chapter separately over the course of several years before compiling them into a book with Tachyon. The cast sometimes feel disconnected from each other, but then you realize their connection is their home. Tel Aviv. Central Station. The writing is superb, sometimes eschewing superficial imagery for abstraction, but always returns to a place of clarity. It flows beautifully throughout the read, and though it is short, it is full.

Central Station blew me away. I hope it will do the same for you. You can pick it up on Amazon.

Chariots of the Gods — Erich von Daniken

9781452671536Several years ago, while working at PlayStation, I was introduced to the most compelling evidence I have ever seen for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. That there is extraterrestrial life is, to me, a given. That there is intelligent extraterrestrial life also strikes me as true, it not because of statistical likelihood, then certainly because of the aforementioned evidence.

That evidence came in the form of a four hour documentary called “The Disclosure Project,” in which people who are trained observers — pilots, control tower operators, radar technicians… Mainly military and paramilitary personnel —  soberly talk about their experiences with UFOs and other phenomena. I’m not asking you to watch all four hours of it, but I encourage you to check it out. It might blow your mind a little bit.

“The Disclosure Project” started me down the rabbit hole of research into extraterrestrials. The issue is that the “good stuff” is obfuscated — some say intentionally — by stories and individuals that must be ignored outright. Finding the wheat among the chaff is, unfortunately, not unlike searching for a particular piece of hay in a haystack. The labyrinthine world of extraterrestrial research collides with many other communities, from New Agers to conspiracy theorists and everything in between, and among the group are the Ancient Astronaut theorists.

Simply put, the Ancient Astronaut theory states that ancient texts — religious texts in particular — contain accounts of extraterrestrial visitation. The theory uses things like the great pyramids, nazca lines, and other relics of the ancient past to further prove their point; ancient peoples, they reason, can’t possibly have had the technology to build those things. Therefore, aliens.

The-Ancient-Aliens-Guy-And-The-Ancient-Astronaut-TheoryI’m not certain, but I believe the principle text of Ancient Astronaut theory is Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which was on sale at Audible.com over black Friday.

So I happily purchased it, knowing that I’d get to it eventually, and a few weeks ago I had roughly five and a half hours of chores to do during which I listened to the book in its entirety.  The narrator, William Dufris, performed admirably, but considering that the book is non-fiction, performance wasn’t a thing to which I gave much consideration.

What I cared about was the substance of the book. I wanted to find in it compelling evidence that would show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that civilizations visited this planet thousands of years ago and sparked human society.

But I didn’t find it in Chariots of the Gods. What I found instead was more of the same frustrating tactics that plague the UFO discussion at large: the faulty logic that absence of evidence for one condition constitutes evidence for another, the assumption that ancient religious texts are literally true, and half-formed points followed by series of leading questions designed to distract from the lack of complete evidence.

That isn’t to say that the book wasn’t interesting; on the contrary, I found it to be a fascinating look back in time, to the late 60s, when the moon landing electrified the world and filled people with wild dreams of a technological, interplanetary future. It is particularly interesting to see von Daniken’s wishful predictions about moon colonies in the 80s and humans on Mars by the 90s. I often wondered while listening to the book whether his thoughts were representative of the zeitgeist or if he was an outlier. I suppose I could ask my parents, who would have been in their early twenties at the time.

But back to the book. I understand the point of a persuasive essay, sure, but a Chariots of the Gods only has a handful of salient points within its pages. That being said, I find Ancient Astronaut theory plausible—which would essentially make humanity a cargo cult— which is why I was even more disappointed in the book than I ought to have been.

By asking a plausible question and following up with hysterically delivered series of hypothetical absurdities, von Daniken weakens his salient points. He rests his hat upon the assertion that the Epic of Gilgamesh, Bhagavad Gita, and old testament are literally true, that Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly Merkabah (Chariot) was an eyewitness account. He takes them to be truths without offering any kind of support for that assumption, leaning (I surmise) on the convenience of widespread belief in gospel truth.

That particular assumption fails my first litmus test, and that so many of the subsequent arguments are built on this shaky foundation weakens the whole book enough for me to want to throw the babies out with the bathwater. There are good points in there: rock quarried from places too far to transport conveniently, with no evidence of said transport; mysterious metal alloys that make no sense; accurate drawings of the Pleiades constellation on rocks; and many, many others. Instead, von Daniken and his heirs argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were annihilated by nuclear weapons.  In my mind, that’s not a relevant point.

At the end of the day, the five-hour book is worth listening to, not only because of its sporadic delivery of real head-scratchers, but for its effectiveness as a window into the recent past. And if you click on this here link, you’ll be throwing me a bone, which I appreciate. But if you’re looking for something a bit more serious to dig into UFO research, look at Disclosure (part one, part 2) and  Sirius.

Asteroid Made of Dragons – G. Derek Adams

image001It is obvious that G. Derek Adams, author of Asteroid Made of Dragons, understands the trappings and tropes of fantasy backwards and forwards. It is also obvious that he has tremendous love for the genre because (and in spite) of its cheesier clichés and frequent absurdities.

I’m not getting down on fantasy here. Long time readers of the Warbler know that I, too, love fantasy well, even if my interest waned of late.

Adams’s book was the perfect supplement to A Crucible of Souls—a book that took itself very seriously—in reinvigorating my love of fantasy. Asteroid Made of Dragons is a self-aware, funny, and action-packed novel that is basically a Dungeons and Dragons adventure in delicious prose. It is absurd and delightful, with a great cast of characters, fun set pieces, and suffused with a larger-than-fantasy-life essence that punctuates every page of the book.

It also happens to be the third book in an ongoing series, the first two of which were self-published by Adams. And while I’ve gone into the pitfalls of starting mid-series in the past, none of those risks factor into the Asteroid Made of Dragons experience. Adams deftly drops us into a world with a very “watch this now, ask questions later” kind of rhythm. And while the book moves along at nearly breakneck pace, you’re never lost.

Like An Unattractive Vampire and The Life Engineered, the other two Sword and Laser contest winners, Asteroid Made of Dragons must have been terrific fun to write. Especially Asteroid.

There are many moments in the novel wherein a character is on the verge of lapsing into a clichéd speech; some kind of obvious expositional monologue. Or an unnecessary act of heroism which would be patently foolish, when Adams applies his wit with surgical precision, managing to insert a highly self-aware quip without knocking the reader out of the story. Your mind, while reading Asteroid Made of Dragons, is in a superposition between “this is ridiculous and hilarious” and “this is awesome!”

Yet there are times when Adams forgets to quip about fantasy mid-sentence, and the humor dissipates, leaving behind some excellent writing. It’s in these moments in particular that we can see how much he loves fantasy. Spectacular prose, world details, and lovingly crafted characters remain behind, and these moments are very different—though equally pleasurable—to read.

Asteroid Made of Dragons was a fantastic read, and is well set up for a sequel. In an interview he did on the Write Brain podcast, he mentioned that he is writing Episodic Fantasy as opposed to Epic Fantasy. His goal is to be inviting to all readers, taking them on short, ridiculous romps through his magical world, requiring little of them but their time and willingness to laugh. I, for one, am more than willing.

Asteroid Made of Dragons is available on Inkshares and Amazon.com.
(Using the Amazon.com link helps support The Warbler!)

A Crucible of Souls – Mitchell Hogan

91TpLxjBSwLWhen the prologue of A Crucible of Souls started to play, I noticed a few interesting things happen simultaneously. First, I recognized instantaneously that the reader, Oliver Wyman, would be fantastic. Second, I thought “oh I know where this is going.” And finally, I thought, “this, again?”

You see, over the past year I’ve found that epic fantasy has gotten a bit stale for me. This doesn’t cover all of epic fantasy, not by a long shot. But I’ve grown tired of some of the tropes endemic to the genre. This feeling was particularly pronounced when I listened to The Sword of Shannara, which I found tiresome and derivative, much to the chagrin of a few commenters on the internet.

Poorly understood precursor civilizations, whose only remains are valuable artifacts, some language, and thinly veiled threats to not repeat their mistakes, lest you lead the world to a second “shattering,” or “breaking,” or “cataclysm.” A young boy who feels strange, then finds he has an aptitude for magic far beyond what a “normal” boy should have. A big city, idolized in dream, only it is actually a filthy place, rife with thieves and danger.

And A Crucible of Souls has those things. In fact, at about a quarter of the way through the audiobook, I contemplated turning it off and giving up.

And then I decided that no, I would give it a chance.  And I’m glad I did.

What began as a dive through tropes of epic fantasy became a series of reminders about why I found the genre so compelling for so many years.

Mysteries wrapped in more mysteries. Factions and politics and betrayal. Magic and swordplay, learning and bending the boundaries of what’s possible within a framework. And through it all, the thread of good and evil, always twisted so that it isn’t quite obvious where some of the characters stand, and paragons of either side to provide a compass for “true good” and “true evil” in the world.

A Crucible of Souls has all of that in spades. Oliver Wyman’s reading brings the book to life, making the nineteen-ish hour listening journey fun, dramatic, and engaging.

Of those three things I realized at the outset of the prologue, one was absolutely true, one was totally false, and the third was partially true.

The narration was fantastic—I highly recommend you picking up the book on audible if fantasy’s your cup of tea.

I wasn’t quite right about where the book was going. It held more than a few surprises that really satisfied.

And while “this, again?” was false, it’s an easily rectified error. Now I can think of epic fantasy and say, “this, again!”

In particular, I enjoyed the way A Crucible of Souls dealt with swordplay and its magic system. The swordplay was great because it was fluid—the way Hogan was able to slow time and give the reader the same sense of focus—and confusion—that Caldan, the protagonist, experiences as he fights. He’s faster and stronger than he has ever been, and doesn’t know why. Sword fighting comes more naturally to him, and he loses himself in the fights, unaware that he’s displaying an uncanny mastery over the blade. I think that Hogan achieves this by being intentionally vague with the minutae of the fight. You get a sense of what’s happening and some basic blocking of the scene, but more generally, you’re imbued with the feeling of the fight. It’s beautifully done, and reminds me of why I loved the fight scenes in the Wheel of Time series so much.

The magic is treated similarly. We are given details not about the mechanisms by which Caldan achieves his magical feats; rather, we are shown his feelings, thoughts, and learning process as he experiments. We know nothing of what the runes and glyphs he carves into metal and paints onto paper are, but we know what he hopes to achieve with them and, ultimately, how well his creations perform under pressure.

What we end up with is a character who is fiercely talented, almost unreasonably good, and very competent. Typically, this type of “superhero” can be a bore to read, but Caldan also has trust issues, and keeps many secrets, which makes him much more interesting. All told, A Crucible of Souls is a fun work of epic fantasy, that I’m sure is followed by an excellent series. I don’t know that I’ll be picking up the next books any time soon, but they’re on my list for the future.

The copy of A Crucible of Souls I listened to was provided by audible.com. You can pick the book up on amazon. (Using this link helps support The Warbler!)

Featured Author: John Carter

Today’s featured author is John Carter, who can be found on Facebook and at TheWorldsofJohnCarter.com. His book, The Army of the Man, makes use of one of the most intriguing parasites around today, Toxoplasma gondii. I can’t wait to read this book.

ArmyCoverAbout The Army of the Man:

1968.

The arms race spirals out of control as the world’s super powers push the limits of science to obtain superiority. Science fiction becomes fact with the breakthrough of the Sekhmet Serum. The dawn of the super soldier is on the horizon thanks to a common parasite: Toxoplasma gondii.

2018

Eric Lawson, a fervent protester and opponent of the United States government, is broke. With graduation at hand, he faces an uncertain future. When approached by a representative of “The Man,” he’s offered a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of changing the world.

After being injected with the Sekhmet Serum, Eric embarks on an epic journey of the body and the mind. He learns that “The Man” is much more than he was led to believe. Things born from the shadows rarely come into the light. Eric will have to question everything he believes and sacrifice more than he can imagine to escape and stop the Army of the Man.

Q: What part of your novel’s world excites you most?

A: I think what excites me the most about my novel is the science behind the parasite Toxoplasma gondii and the possibilities that might exist if we could harness the innovative behaviors of this microscopic organism for our own purposes, good or evil. My novel takes place in only the near future, so for the most part the feel of what it would be like to be alive alongside the main character, Eric Lawson, would be similar to what we are living today. The exception is that medical science has advanced to a point where we have found a way to manipulate human behavior using the unique characteristics of this unique parasite. But is that power being used for the good of humanity? The owners of this technology claim to want to change the world, but what exactly is their end goal? These are the questions Eric will have to resolve as he finds his place in The Army of the Man.

Q: Why did you choose to fund with Inkshares?

A: To be honest, I only recently discovered the existence of Inkshares. I have self-published 7 middle grade sci-fi, adventure novels, as well as published a children’s picture book through a small local publishing company. I had some ideas for an adult sci-fi novel based of Toxoplasma gondii, and had discussed them with a friend. Not long after, my friend came across the announcement for the Hard Science Contest on Inkshares sponsored by Geek and Sundry. She thought my book idea would be a perfect fit, so here I am! I’ve been in that cycle of writing query letters, sending to individual agents, being rejected and starting over again. I have spent plenty of time waiting for essentially one person to love your book and decide to back it. I am intrigued by the idea of allowing readers and fellow authors to come together and decide on funding a book’s publishing, giving the power to the masses instead of one person at an agency.

Q: What are some novels that are similar to yours?

A: I believe my novel will feel more similar to classic superhero comic books and sci-fi rags from the 40s and 50s than any novel I have ever read. Between the twisted true to science technology of the Sekhmet Serum, to its uncontrollable side effects that must be dealt with, to the conspiracy theory that makes it impossible to trust your gut on anyone, this will truly be a one-of-a-kind novel.