Category: Reading

Featured Author: Peter Ravlich

With the Inkshares/Geek & Sundry contest into its second week, it’s time to continue the featured author series! This time, Peter Ravlich’s Phase Three, which touches on some classic science fiction themes while addressing some very real elements of our lives today as consumers. Peter Ravlich can be found on twitter (@PeterRavlich) and on inklings.co.nz.

Cover-PhaseThree-Draft2About Phase Three:

The world has an addiction. Augmenting reality – augmenting ourselves – averted a looming energy crisis, but it has become something more than that. “Overnight equality,” promises the slogan, and what’s a decade or two between advertisers?

We redefined what it means to be human, then bought our own bullshit retail.

But the physical world still exists, however much we stare into the infinite. People yet remain, living outside the reality bubbles we create. And so do the consequences of our inattention.

Three individuals, each a casualty of flawed implementation, face intimate, inconsequential decisions in pursuit of their goals. Then there’s Gordon, who simply wants to escape his past without being killed.

And their actions could unravel the world. Or save it.

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

A: Most of my science-fiction – like the stories I grew up with – begins with a hypothetical question, a what-if?

For the short story that became Phase Three, I wanted to explore the implications of wholesale virtual and augmented realities for those who define themselves by a connection to the land, particularly indigenous people. When readers asked me to develop the story into a novel, I was faced with a new array of questions. I had to consider social and scientific approaches to the energy crisis, and how different emergent technologies might interact and converge to counter current trends, where increased energy-efficiency hasn’t been correlated with lower energy consumption.

That was an exciting backdrop – to me – and might make for an engaging essay. But stories live or die on their characters, and the most exciting part of my world – and of the writing process – is when a character starts to really inhabit that world, and manages to surprise you. Three of my four main characters did so almost immediately, while a fourth snuck up on me slowly, then stabbed me in the kidneys. In a good way.

Q: Why did you choose to fund with Inkshares?

A: I got back into “serious” fiction writing when Nika Harper’s WordPlay videos were out on Geek & Sundry, and was part of the forum community that built up around them. I used Nika’s prompts as mini-deadlines, and they were instrumental in building up a professional writing routine. So I owe a large debt of gratitude to Geek & Sundry… and I guess now I’d like something more from them? Let me start that again:

So I obviously came to Inkshares via the G&S competition, but the business model is exactly the right kind of disruptive, reshaping the niche between traditional and independent publishing models and empowering readers themselves. Three days in, Inkshares’ secret weapon seems to be their proactive and passionate user-base, which has levels of engagement and community I haven’t seen since the peak of Usenet. I don’t know if my campaign will succeed on Inkshares, but I’m already thankful for the experience, which has been unreservedly positive and inspiring.

Q: What are some novels that are similar to Phase Three?

A: Much as I love Asimov and the elegance of his work, I can’t put Phase Three beside Foundation and keep a straight face – similar themes are explored, but we have vastly different styles.

I’ve got to be careful here (to avoid any implied spoilers) so I’ll dodge the question, instead: I’d like to think of my science fiction as a freaky hybrid of Philip K Dick and Hugh Howey, with a dash of Ben Elton’s irreverent humour. Phase Three is something of a hybrid, actually, because my four protagonists have really different points of view and it colours their individual narratives – one character’s tone, for example, is more reflective, closer to Murakami or Mitchell, while another’s is raw, reactive and haunted.

Now that I’ve compared Phase Three to the all-time greats and exponentially increased expectations, I should probably get back to the draft… But I am genuinely blown away by the ongoing response from Inkshares readers and authors both, and look forward to sending Phase Three out into the world.

Featured Author: Tal M. Klein

Readers, it is once again time to feature a group of great books on the blog. Inkshares is running a new contest, this time with Geek & Sundry, searching for the next great works of hard science fiction. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of hard sci-fi, I boil it down to this: hard sci-fi is fiction that builds upon the known rules of plausible science, emphasizing and explaining the science as an integral part of the world and/or plot. That definition might not capture hard sci-fi for diehard fans, but it’ll suffice for us. So, let’s dig into our first featured author, Tal M. Klein, and his book, The Punch Escrow.

Cover Tal M KleinAbout The Punch Escrow:
It’s summer in New York, 2471. Teleportation is the elite mode of transportation. Air pollution isn’t a problem anymore. Advanced nanotechnology has made everlasting life possible. Artificially intelligent things make daily chores a cinch. And yet for some reason, everybody seems to want Joel Byram dead.

Trouble is, Joel doesn’t seem to want to die.

Disavowed and hunted, he must reluctantly fight against the laws of both man and science to survive. Armed only with his wits and an encyclopedic knowledge of trivia, Joel isn’t giving up on reclaiming his life (and his wife).

Don’t blame the mosquitoes though, they’re only helping.

 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about your world?
A: I guess my favorite things about my version of Earth in the 25th century is that it’s not particularly dystopian, or at least not much more dystopian than Earth today. Sure, since much of commerce and social discourse is tethered to internet connected cranial implants, Big Brother is technically “bigger,” but humanity has compensated for it in creative ways. Some people choose to disconnect sometimes, some “cut the cord” all together. Also, I really enjoyed coming up with the ways in which humanity overcame climate change and pollution, like mosquitoes that are genetically modified to “eat” carbon gases, exhale air, and excrete water. Having four centuries between me and the protagonist is a very comfortable buffer with which to evolve society and technology.

Q: Why did you choose to fund with Inkshares?
A: I chose Inkshares because I wanted to connect directly with readers. I really love my book. Writing it has been an amazing experience. When you’re not a “professional” author, it means juggling writing between work, family, friends. I didn’t want to put control of these characters and this world I’d created in my precious “stolen” time in anybody else’s hands. The Inkshares community and staff were incredibly welcoming. My good friend Peter Birdsall recently got his book funded on Inkshares and his experience was great. I considered others like Unbound and Reedsy, but Inkshares had the best platform for what I was trying to do.

Q: What books out there are similar to yours?
A: First and foremost, I really feel an immense amount of debt to Andy Weir, Ernest Cline, and Scott Meyer for inventing the “hard science fiction and also fart jokes” genre. They really paved the path for my protagonist’s voice. Second, since teleportation is front and center in the plot, I wanted to ensure I really studied and understood the science behind what would make it possible, how it might become a pragmatic form of transportation. Other than Ned Beauman’s “The Teleportation Accident,” I haven’t really been impressed by the way most novels have handled teleportation. The best treatment I’ve ever seen of teleportation is in the short film “The Un-Gone” by Simon Bovey.

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Stay tuned for more featured authors over the next few weeks, and be sure to check out the contest at Inkshares.

Calamity – Brandon Sanderson

calamityWith Calamity, Brandon Sanderson gives fans the rarest of treats: an ending. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I love Brandon’s work, am beyond thrilled at his expansive and intricate Cosmere, and am fully committed for the long haul, if it ends at thirty-six books, or fifty, or one hundred.

But to see the pieces click into place, to watch the carefully laid plans line up and deliver on an epic-if you’ll pardon the pun-finale; that’s a special feeling. And while it doesn’t answer every question raised in the Reckoners series, Calamity ties up the story with an explosive bow. (See my Steelheart and Firefight reviews before continuing, and beware of spoilers below.)

The Reckoners series is about fear. It’s about what feat does to us when we let it own us, and it’s about how it can be taken advantage of as a means of control.

It is also about confronting fear, accepting it, and living through—and past—it.

Fear is a facet of the human experience that has long been of particular interest to me. Specific fears vary wildly between individuals, but the idea of communal fear, of cultural fear, is a far more fascinating one. I started thinking about cultural fear when I moved back to the US as a pre-teen, after living in Israel for close to six years. Ironically, the concept of cultural fear didn’t occur to me while living in a practical war-zone—only when the questions began did I start thinking about fear.

“Why would you live there?” 
“Are your parents crazy?”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“Weren’t you afraid?”

And these questions didn’t come solely from other children—even adults would challenge the very idea of living in Israel as a frightening one. Cultural fear is the basis of intolerance, the source of an “us-versus-them” mentality. We can argue the philosophy of that statement another time, or in the comments below, if you feel like it. I feel—and have been called pessimistic for it—that the only thing that will unite humanity, allow us to set aside our many differences, is a common enemy to fear.

What happens in The Reckoners is that humanity is united by a single fear that supersedes cultural fears. Death at the hands of terrifying super-beings , called epics, who have an equally supernatural distaste for non-supers. Sounds like a pretty good grand unifier to me.

Unbeknownst to the average human, these epics are also ruled by fear. Use of their powers infects the epics with a kind of darkness that is the source of their cruelty toward humans. Their weaknesses—because they’ve got to have them—are defined by their fears, as is their path out of the darkness. By facing their fears in an almost literal manifestation of Individuation, they overcome the darkness, gaining the ability to use their powers without being overcome by darkness.

So, in the Reckoners, Brandon has created a world defined by its fears. Cleverly, he gives one of the main characters the ability to access other possible universes. And when David is sent to a world where epics are not feared, and Calamity, the bizarre satellite responsible for creating the epics, is nowhere to be seen. When he sees a word not ruled by fear, he is overwhelmed with the knowledge that it can be beaten.

The path to victory for the Reckoners is paved with more than fighting prowess, epic battles, and lots of bullets; it’s paved with the bravery required to admit one’s own fear, face it, and move through it.

As I read Calamity, my thoughts drifted over my favorite passage from Dune, a well-known litany that helped me, many characters, and countless people deal with fear:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Calamity was an excellent book. The entirety of the Reckoners series is some great fiction. I highly recommend picking it, and Steelheart and Firefight up, if you want some awesome super-powered action, and a little bit of inspiration besides. (Using these links helps support The Warbler!)

An Unattractive Vampire – Jim McDoniel 

McDoniel-final

Now that the past few (very busy) weeks are behind me, I can focus on reviewing Jim McDoniel’s An Unattractive Vampire, which I finished a few weeks ago.
It’s the second of three winners from Inkshares’s Sword and Laser contest—the first being The Life Engineered—and is a pleasure to read.

An Unattractive Vampire is a humorous swing of the pendulum, a witty response to a zeitgeist flooded with angsty teenage vampires who are no longer monstrous, no longer the stuff of horror. It is a guffaw in the face of the “sexy vampire” that boldly states, “you think that’s a vampire?! THIS is a vampire!”

And yet, there is angst, and kitsch, and a healthy number overly-sexualized teenage vampires in An Unattractive Vampire. And it all serves to move along an active, interesting, quickly-paced plot that rewards the reader greatly.

It follows an unlikely trio, orphaned siblings, the older sister—a nurse—acting as guardian of her overly curious and prodigiously intelligent younger brother, and an ancient horror, a vampire named Yulric Bile.

When Yulric discovers that the new world he’s awoken to is one that finds him more gross than frightening, one where monstrosities called “automobiles” can put some serious hurt on you, regardless of your immortality, he gets into a funk. He’s depressed. So he does what any self-respecting vampire would do: loafs around on the couch watching cheesy television dramas about vampires, their sparkly, godlike bodies, and their tangled love lives. Then, it turns out the vampires in the TV show are real, and Yulric resolves to change the public perception of the vampire to its original, horrifying state.

It doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

McDoniel’s writing is strong, conversational, almost conspiratorial at times, punctuated by witty footnotes and parenthetical asides that add additional color to a joke every few pages. He uses character voice to great effect, illustrating how absurd many of our modern comforts are by showing them through the eyes of an immortal curmudgeon.

While I read Vampire, I often thought about how much fun it must have been to write. I hope that for McDoniel it was at least half as fun as it was to read. There were times that the misperception-fueled jokes felt forced (for instance, I think that “mysterious pad of eye” might have been too far, whereas “the odd tabula looked nothing like an eyepatch” might have served better”), but those moments were few and far between.

McDoniel wrote a delightful, funny, irreverent, and poignant book about the absurdity—and inevitability—of evolving mythologies. I encourage you to pick up An Unattractive Vampire. It’s well worth your time. (Clicking and buying from that link helps support the Warbler!)

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire

heart-bigAfter seeing her at a reading at Borderlands in San Francisco, I became a fan of Seanan McGuire. Before that reading, I’d only seen her work in Altered Perceptions, wherein she wrote a very moving personal piece about living with OCD. I knew she was rather prolific (from her essay more than anything else), and knew that I wanted to read something by her, the gods of my ever-growing to-read list willing.

The opportunity came to request her upcoming novella, Every Heart a Doorway from NetGalley, and I was delighted. Two birds with one stone, as they say.

Every Heart a Doorway is a tale of belonging, of a community of misfits and ill-fits, and of self-discovery. While it is, superficially, a simple tale, it is built on a wonderful, rich concept that is so large in scope that it encompasses worlds. It’s appeal lay in its telling-which was beautifully executed-and in its characters, a varied group of wonderfully zany, morbid, logical, calm children.
Set in a boarding school for children who’ve journeyed “beyond the looking-glass,” Every Heart a Doorway follows Nancy, a girl who found her way through a door in the cellar into the halls of the dead. Upon her return, like all children who go through portals to other worlds, she was somewhat incompatible with her old life.

One of the things I liked best about Every Heart a Doorway is the way McGuire built a system around the various magical worlds. While the story never delved deeply into this “magic system,” its presence served as a compass that positioned the characters in a framework, made their wild variations make perfect sense, and piqued my curiosity more than a little. The “handwavium” of many fairytale worlds is effectively nullified by an intellectual and academic approach.

The school is filled with characters who traveled to fascinating worlds, all of whom want to return, thinking them their true homes. For whatever reason-different for each child-they were returned to reality. Some were expelled, others returned as a test, administered to ensure their commitment to their particular world or their desire to stay in reality.

When students (and eventually a teacher) start turning up dead-brutally murdered-a panic sets in over the school. Nancy and her (few) friends set about uncovering the mystery. The challenge makes makes marvelous use of the skills or abilities some of the children gained in their worlds, leading to fantastical moments-like a boy animating the skeleton of one of the victims using a flute carved of bone-that make the story shine.

Every Heart a Doorway was a beautiful read, and some of the underlying messages could do with wider spreading-inclusion, openness, self-confidence-especially in this troubled sociopolitical climate.

I hope that Every Heart a Doorway is a taste of a larger world McGuire is building-I picture a world-hopping heroine embarking on many adventures in this multi-verse-but if it is not, Every Heart a Doorway was a delightful and satisfying enough morsel on its own. It is yet another fantastic novella that you should not miss.

Pre-order Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway on Amazon.com. (Using that link helps support The Warbler!)

Bands of Mourning – Brandon Sanderson

BandsofMourning_cover

The sixth book in Brandon Sanderson’s outstanding Mistborn series, Bands of Mourning is a wonderful read. Like all of the Mistborn books, it is action-packed and fast-paced, but the purpose of Bands seems-to me at least-to be more of an informational novel.

It’s no secret to fans of Sanderson (and fans of this blog, if there are any out there,) that most of his novels take place in a single universe: the Cosmere. The deeper we get into a single series, the more the connection to the Cosmere becomes apparent.

Bands of Mourning blows the lid off of the connection to the Grand Story, making it direct, and raising as many questions as it begins to answer. For a die-hard Sandersonian, it’s an epic feast of thought-provoking Easter eggs. I bet the forums at the 17th shard (the Sanderson fan site) are still out of control with discussions about the ramifications of what we learned in Bands of Mourning.

So, in terms of content, it was a smorgasbord. A delightful feast that I will have to read again, maybe twice, to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Technically, Sanderson’s writing continues to grow. Reading it directly after Firstborn & Defending Elysium really exaggerates the dramatic change in his writing. His characters are better-constructed, his changes in voice for narrators stronger, and more effective.

It’s just a fantastic novel. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it. I will not spoil any of it here.

The added bonus for this one was a well-kept secret that surprised me (and all of his fans) deeply: an additional novella released on the same day, set over the course of the first Mistborn trilogy:

Mistborn: Secret History

This was a bit of a departure for Sanderson, and if Bands was expository for the Grand Story, Secret History was on another level entirely. Major spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read all six Mistborn novels, throw your computer or touchscreen device in a lake, go buy them, and read them immediately.


c56f5178-9e8b-4499-8556-e27a8c530948
Secret History follows the adventure of Kelsier, a hero of the first Mistborn novel, after his death.

After his death.

In the Cosmere, there are three “realms”: the cognitive, the physical, and the spiritual. As more books come out and deal with investiture, which appears to be at the heart of all Cosmere Magic systems, we learn more about the three realms of existence-especially in The Stormlight Archive and Warbreaker,  where that discussion is plot-relevant.

When Kelsier dies, his spiritual self is ripped say from his physical self, and dwells somewhere in between, chatting it up with God. Well, not “God,” precisely, but a god. One of sixteen…we can take more steps back into the Cosmere, Adonalsium, the Shards, and Realmatic Theory, but instead I’d like to talk about Secret History some more.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I love about Sanderson’s novels is his crises of faith-characters who live in worlds with real gods (and in some cases are gods) and still have trouble with deities, theology, and religion in general. Secret History takes that idea to the next level. In it, we encounter a fallible, dying, confused, vulnerable god who somehow remains infinite. We see the results of this “war between gods” hinted at in his other novels in action, and it’s a disturbing, if somewhat heartwarming and relatable, vision.

Kelsier gets a chance to dwell in the realm of gods for a while, and has time to think and observe, which offers up fun tidbits connecting back to the Mistborn trilogy, but are nowhere near as interesting as his discussions with Fuzz (his name for this particular god) and his subsequent adventure.

This “subsequent adventure” is where Secret History gets really exciting, in my opinion. There’s so much exposition, so much to consider about the large-scale universe, that I found myself literally whispering “oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!” As I got deeper into the story.

It’s an exciting, quick tale, that had evidently been written over the course of many years, when Sanderson had a moment between moments to jot down a scene. Despite its piecemeal construction, it’s a cohesive thing that pulls me even deeper into planet Sanderson. Perhaps I should say universe Sanderson?

Secret History is a fun short, but it is only for involved Sanderson fans who’ve read a good amount of his work and have a vested interest in the Grand Story. It was a wonderful gift to his fans, and I am thankful for it.

The Bands of Mourning and Secret History are available on Amazon.com

The Life Engineered – JF Dubeau

LifeEngineered_Cover_Final

It takes courage-and perhaps audacity-to come out swinging, and I’d say JF Dubeau‘s debut novel, The Life Engineered, throws a few powerful punches that make his a book worth giving your undivided attention. In many ways, The Life Engineered is archetypical, but in other ways, it represents a novel approach to a classic medium: robot-focused science fiction.

The Life Engineered, one of the Inkshares / Sword and Laser contest winners, is available today, at the end of a long and interesting road. Because of its publication through Inkshares, readers have had unprecedented access to information about the writing and publication process, and knowing Dubeau’s state of mind put some additional weight behind moments in the novel. But, as I’m learning in a wonderful book called Reading Like a Writer, it is important to look at the words themselves, rather than the extraneous meta-data of the circumstances surrounding their origin. So I will endeavor to do just that.

The Life Engineered is several things: it is a love-song to space, a bold claim about artificial intelligence, and a classic hero’s journey. And while its plot was a bit predictable, the characters and setting drew me in so effectively that I ignored (or forgot) the predictability in favor of some “wow” moments.

And though it bludgeons the reader with references to old mythologies and historical factoids throughout the novel, there’s an obvious and clearly-stated reason for it that ties directly into the mechanism through which the robots—called Capeks in the novel, after the Czech man who coined the term “robot”—are given life and sentience.

There are three things in particular that made me love this book:

The first, as I referenced earlier, is that it is a love-song to space. I am a big fan of space, and I found Dubeau’s solutions to faster-than-light space travel, his descriptions of he phenomena taking place in deep space, and his approach to telling a focused story with a small cast in an (ostensibly) endless space to be wonderfully executed. The shifting and warping of space as the sentient ships travel, the beauty of the vastness of space as seen through the eyes of Dagir, the protagonist; it was stunning to read. I would have liked more time with those moments, deeper dives into the extraordinary setting that is at once fantastical and very real. Dubeau clearly put a lot of thought into how to make his far-future Galaxy a scientifically plausible, and I’d have really liked for him to dig into harder sci-fi, if at least to make the book a bit meatier.

The second is the cast of characters, who cannot be talked about without addressing the manner of their “birth.” A literal process of samsara precedes every Capek life. The robots’ consciousness, before having a body of its own, lives as many lives as is required for it to ascend to nirvana. Once it achieves its enlightenment, it takes an active role in constructing its own body with its “mother”, a conscious factory that spans the surface of a moon.

I mean…come on. That’s pretty great, right? I think it is.

As a result, the Capeks that make up the cast of The Life Engineered are varied and fascinating. I thought about what experiences each of Dagir’s friends (and enemies) must have had in their gestation that lead them to their choice of physical form, their declared purposes. They fell into natural classifications, but each is a wholly unique being. I want to know everything about all of them. Granted, that wasn’t possible in the scope of the story Dubeau told in The Life Engineered, but I posit below that it might have been possible. You’ll see what I mean.

The third is more abstract, and departs from the Reading Like a Writer edict to ignore the world around this book. I love what this book stands for; what it represents. This thing that we’re all engaged in, this dream of telling stories and having them reach a few sets of eyes in the world—that’s what The Life Engineered is. And it’s a good book! The other books I read for Inkshares didn’t feel this way for me. I didn’t watch as they were produced. I didn’t talk to the writers, or meet them in person. Like it or not, Reading-Like-a-Writer‘s-author, books occupy a space beyond their word counts and any between-the-lines analysis. To me, this book (and likely the next few I read by authors I consider my friends), will be monumental experiences that transcend words on paper, that supersede even the stories in their pages. But enough about that.

My final thought about The Life Engineered is that, though it is a complete start-to-finish story, it feels more like the first act in a larger novel. It may be because I’m used to reading thousand-page epics, but I felt like The Life Engineered was the inciting event. And obviously, it is—Dubeau intends to make a series of it, and has the entire thing outlined, if I’m not mistaken. The type of cliffhanger that closes The Life Engineered is not uncommon, but something about its execution left me feeling unsatisfied. I wanted more, I suppose, and I wanted it right away.

Do yourself, a new writer, and great company a favor. Go buy The Life Engineered (World Engineered) today.

Featured Author: Zack Jordan

Zack Jordan’s entry in the Inkshares/Nerdist space opera contest, The Life Interstellar, looks like one hellofa novel. His reader updates are wonderful, and the pitch is outstanding. I can’t wait to read this one.

About the book: TLI-Cover-2

The Life Interstellar is a rip-roaring, unapologetic space opera. It’s set in a crowded galaxy at some undetermined point in the future where the Humans, sadly, have been exterminated. No one seems to know what happened to them, a fact which only adds to their mystique. What kind of intelligence could wipe out four trillion beings in a single Galactic year and yet make each death look like an accident? From novas to starship crashes to an isolated escalator incident on Braka IV, what made the Humans so special–or so frightening–that they warranted such treatment?

This is how legends are born. Humans have been the boogeymen of the galaxy for hundreds of years now; these days it would be difficult to find someone who didn’t know a good Human horror story. Lately, though, a different sort of legend has arisen. Ships have returned from the less-traveled tradeways of the Rim, missing cargo and crew members but bearing tales of a new band of smugglers and pirates, headed by a captain who looks a lot like the galaxy’s worst nightmare: a real-live Human.

About Zack Jordan: 

Zack is a compulsive creator, a junkie for the creator’s high if ever there was one. He admits that it’s a problem that has only gotten worse as he’s aged, to the alternating delight and chagrin of those who love and/or employ him. He’s a musician, a game designer, a programmer, a product designer, and a bunch of other stuff that hasn’t returned on investment (yet?). He’s lost more money than he wants to talk about, but he’s created many things in the process. A win? Depends on your perspective. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two baby girls, and spends every waking moment working on his first novel, The Life Interstellar.

Q: What feature of your universe really excites you?

A: There are two aspects that I am very proud of. The first is that it’s just so freaking big. I restrict the entire story to one galaxy (out of trillions) in one universe (out of gazillions), but even that galaxy has over a million sentient species. And it is not like Star Trek, where everybody we meet is at about the same level of development. No, this is a multiple-billion-year-old cosmopolitan society, ranging from godlike beings at the top (and even then, they’re only at the top of one tiny galaxy) to the very bottom rung where the Humans are. Well, the Humans were. Because that’s the other unique aspect. The entire arc takes place in a post-Human society. Not only that, but the Humans didn’t just fade away like most extinct species do. Something big took them out, something that spooked the entire Galaxy of one-point-whatever million species. So reality is huge, the Humans are gone (but remembered), and the one Human that has stepped out of nowhere a millennium later is the most terrifying thing in the galaxy.

Firstborn & Defending Elysium – Brandon Sanderson

elysiumAny opportunity we have to see the progress of those we idolize, to humanize our creative deities, is a good thing. I’ve made no secret of my passion/obsession with Brandon Sanderson’s work both on and off the page. His contribution to genre fiction will surely go down in history as the most significant of our time. He’s our Tolkien, or our Bradbury. There are other authors who have made spectacular contributions to genre fiction, and I do not mean to minimize their impact, but I think Brandon Sanderson has made the biggest waves among them.

And yet, he constantly makes his fans feel special. Like each and every individual matters. Like those fans of his who are aspiring writers (like me) have every chance to become great too. A great example of this kind of encouragement comes in the form of Firstborn & Defending Elysium, two novelettes bound into a single tête-bêche volume, written by Brandon Sanderson before he was the superstar he is today.

The reason these matter is because he shares their origin, and the vulnerability of the creative process, and the occasional need we writers face of realigning ourselves to our chosen outlets.

I wasn’t enamored with Firstborn, the first of the two short stories I read. It was his first published short, and it’s a somewhat-lackluster tale of jealousy and betrayal. What it does for me is further humanize Mr. Sanderson. It gives the superhero his origin story. In Firstborn are the kernels of Sanderson’s creativity and sense of scale, his love of classic elemental stories told in far-out settings. Even if I didn’t love it, I’m glad for the opportunity to read it and, through that experience, gain a better understanding of the trajectory of his writing career.

Sanderson’s introduction to Defending Elysium describes a time when he was feeling particularly vulnerable and at odds with the craft. He’d been writing for years, finished a dozen novels, and hadn’t sold a thing. He was lost in the quagmire of writing, but feeling like he wasn’t writing stuff he’d want to read.

What he needed, he decided, was to write for writing’s sake. So while on vacation with a few writer friends in Monterey, he wrote Defending Elysium.

It is an excellent story. The ideas it puts forth are massive in scale, existing in the periphery of the story and giving the universe the feeling of enormity beyond he on-screen events. I always appreciate when a short story does this; it makes it much easier for me to jump into the events of the short story.

The writing is solid, but not the most interesting part of the Elysium reading experience. Brandon was in A difficult and very sensitive headspace while he wrote Elysium, whose protagonist, a blind man who is an agent for the Phone Company (which controls the secrets of FTL communication and is the only group that can freely talk with aliens), sees with the aid of technology.

The world he “sees” is vibrant, with colors as vibrations—which, incidentally, I saw in an interesting in TED talk a while ago—giving him a unique view of the world around him.

Maybe I’m projecting, but I get the impression that Elysium is a story into which Sanderson injected himself, consciously or otherwise. His character is misunderstood, not entirely honest with his peers, and blind. He is good at what he does, but is somewhat disillusioned with it.

Later in the story, he loses his sight for a time, and quickly descends into madness and terror. The visceral description of his horror at his renewed blindness, his fear of every sound around him that he’s unable to parse into an image of the world, is riveting. It swept me up, and my heart raced alongside the character’s. I felt his fear in a way I haven’t connected with a character in a very long time. Sanderson, in the depths of existential creative crisis, wrote a blind character who is nonetheless capable, who then rediscovers the horror of sightlessness, only to gain it back and become more powerful than before. Maybe it isn’t a representation of his issues with writing. Like I said, I could very well be projecting.

Firstborn and Defending Elysium are both short reads—I read both in a few hours—and are well worth getting if you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s work. If you’re not, you can skip it.

Featured Author: Christina Feindel

Christina Feindel’s The Revenantanother competitor for the glory of a top spot in the Inkshares/Nerdist contest, features the badass heroine we’ve all been dying to read.

About the book:The Revenant 800x1200

With its advanced weaponry, the Revenant was supposed to turn the tide of the war… but went missing instead. Ten years later, the Federation’s hold on the three suns is firmly cemented and corrupt in every way, and any Separatist hopes or dreams seem to have gone the way of Old Earth and its dinosaurs.

Grayson Delamere was still a child when the war ended and she doesn’t much care why it was fought in the first place. In the vac, most lives are short and brutal with or without the Federation’s interference. She’s worked hard to keep her head low, making her living as a mechanic on any ship that’d have her… and covering her tracks well any time that ship happened to be involved in something a little less than legal. If she’s done wrong, it’s no more or less than anyone else on the fringe of the system.

But now, someone has discovered all of her dirty little secrets–and will hold them hostage to ensure Grayson’s help in the most dangerous job of her life: To recover the Revenant and rekindle the fires of rebellion.

About Christina Feindel: 

Christina Feindel grew up in a quiet suburb of Texas, often seeking adventure at the local library with wizards, goblins, knights, and gunslingers. Later, while traversing academia, chronic illness, and civil service, she found herself returning to writing to both escape and explain her life. The Revenant is a joint venture with her husband, Noah Mowry, born of their mutual love for world-building, character development, and a good ol’ romp through space. The best place to get in touch with her is on her Inkshares page.

Q: What inspired you to tell this story?

A: My husband is a wonderful storyteller, but not much of a writer. When he pitched The Revenant to me and I had to think up a heroine through which to experience the story, I immediately thought of all the badass women of recent sci-fi and literature–Furiosa, Starbuck, Lisbeth. My heroines in the past have been more traditional do-gooders and, in the difficult, uncivilized terrain of the final frontier, confronting strange technologies, despotic leaders, failing engines, and supply shortages, I wanted a hardass who knew how to look after herself and wasn’t afraid to step on toes to do it. How Grayson came to be the way she is became one of those threads we pulled as I wrote, only seeing where it led as we unraveled it. She’s not what I envisioned at the start of the project and I love that. My husband may have gotten the ball rolling, but Grayson’s mysteries kept it in motion, and it being a fun project for the two of us to work on together at the end of our busy days didn’t hurt, either! We’re captivated by the world we’ve created and the characters we’ve met, and we can’t wait to see where it all takes us. We hope some of you find that you feel the same way, once you dive in.