Thursday, March 31, 2011

8 Opening Lines From The Greats of Sci Fi

Countless hours of creative agony. A months-long artistic marathon full of toil and loneliness. 350 pages of blood, sweat, and tears.

And here I am, about to package it all up as a tidy email attachment. As I prepare to push Send, hoping to catch the fleeting and jaded attention of a that one agent or editor who’ll smile on my work and help usher me into the hallowed Order of The Published, I find myself taking a second look at what they’ll see first.  Five words out of a hundred and five thousand.  

My opening line.

The Opening Line
Everyone will tell you the opening chapter of any book is important. Your first page is even more important, and your first paragraph more important still.  

Your opening line? Well, you get the idea. It’s that first lonely spark that either gets the fire going, or sputters and dies in darkness.

Then I wondered – how might I stack up against the openers from the best-selling classics we know and love? That’s something I can’t answer yet (or maybe I just don't want to), but I thought it might be fun to go through a few and see how well they do the job.  So here they are – the inaugural words from some of the heavyweights of science fiction:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review - Hunter's Run by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham

There are a number of interesting things going on in this story. I'll try to explain without causing any spoilers.

1. Our hero is a jerk.
2. Interesting, sympathetic aliens who are neither cute nor cuddly.
3. Human civilization in the background is Hispanic/South American, not your standard issue white bread.
4. Interesting identity bending.

Suffice it to say that #2-4 managed to keep me reading in spite of #1.

From a writer's point of view, this story is all about carefully choosing what to explain to the reader, and when to explain it, and how to do it without bogging down the hunting aspect of the plot that's keeping the whole thing moving. At the same time, the hero is coming to grips with things that he never expected to. Can't say much more without spoiling it for you, though.

The ending was a little... soft, in my opinion, but I'm not complaining too much. Still recommending it.

Retro tie-in: The hunting aspect made me fondly remember two anthologies I read many years ago. They probably qualify as "vintage" SF if not "classic" by now... Men Hunting Things and Things Hunting Men. Pulpy, fun, old-school SF.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Behind the Curtain with Rhiannon Ellis

Animal rescuer Jaci Waters has her hands full when a rogue wolf invades her small, backwoods town of Tall Oaks, Alabama. Her goal is to not only protect her neighbors and fellow townsfolk, but to capture and relocate the trouble-making canine who's worn out his welcome. Little does she know, the wolf is more than meets the eye. He's here, in Tall Oaks, for Jaci. But he's not the only one...

Dolton Freye has come to the speck-sized town with one goal in mind: kill the blood-thirsty bastard who's stalking and out to get the woman he's sworn to protect.

BZ:  Thanks for stopping by, Rhiannon! Can you tell us what inspired you to write Dark Wolf Protector?

RE:  I can’t pin down my inspiration to one thing or another, but after reading dozens of paranormal/shifter stories and loving them all, I wanted to write one of my own. Isn’t that how all of us writers start out? We get sucked into a genre or series and can’t let it go, even after we get to the end. The desire to live in that world never goes away, so we continue it in our words, with new characters, and in fresh locations.

BZ:  DWP's heroine, Jaci Waters, is half Cherokee. Did you research shapeshifting in Native American folklore prior to writing DWP, or did you create your own mythology from scratch?

Sure, some research was involved. However, I kept the details of her ancestry simple enough so that her Native American heritage could enrich the story without actually being the story. This wasn’t my initial intention. I’d planned to use a lot of Native American spirituality to enhance the plot but changed my mind after some research. 
I learned that Native American “religions” are exclusive to their tribes and dependent on the way of life on each reservation. A person, like you or I, can’t be converted or walk into a church and join. It’s as much about culture as it is about faith. As fascinating as I found the details concerning their spirituality, I quickly realized my character, Jaci, couldn’t be a part of it since she hadn’t been raised on a reservation or deeply immersed in their traditions.
BZ:  March marks the release of your debut novel, the contemporary romance Bonded in Brazil, as well as DWP. Two in one month! What advice would you give aspiring authors?

RE:  Read. A lot. Write even more. Be honest with yourself and your work. Brace yourself for the long haul. Establish an online presence early. That way, once your book is available, you’ll hopefully have thousands of contacts.

BZ:  For DWP you worked with Cobblestone Press, a primarily electronic publisher. How did that process differ from your experience with Camel Press, which published Bonded in Brazil?

RE:  Cobblestone’s process was totally different from Camel’s. I’m not sure if it had anything to do with one being primarily electronic or not. From what I hear, each publisher has their own way of doing things, and most authors find themselves adjusting every time they work with a new house. Just look at submission guidelines! Each press has their own, specific set of requirements, and the publishing process is no exception.

I will say the biggest difference is that I worked through an agent with one book and not the other. My agent had worked with Camel Press prior to my signing, so she had a plethora of information on how things worked at that house. This is a great advantage, by the way, because when an author sits around twiddling their thumbs for three or four months before edits begin, they start conjuring up questions and imagining concerns. Having an agent to field those queries prevents said author from pestering their publisher to death and wearing out their welcome. Not that I would know any of this from personal, first-hand experience…
BZ:  What are you currently reading?
RE:  I’m supposed to be reading this awesome science fiction manuscript for a critique partner, but I’m seriously slacking. Plus, I can’t stop reading stories that promise explicit sex. I have a problem, I think. My husband benefits, though, so he encourages my habit. Enabler!

BZ:  What is your next project? Will we see Jaci, Dolton and Ian again?

RE:  You’ll definitely be seeing Ian Kingsley again. He’s one of the stars in the next installment of Love on the Wild Side, and I’m really excited about him. I’ll quickly sum up the next book: Heavy metal. Fighting. Rough sex. Okay, I got a little excited and made up that last one. There will be sex but not necessarily the rough kind. This interview is taking a turn for the worse. I’ll try to behave for the last question.

BZ:  Okay then, last and most important... what is one thing about you that might surprise your readers?

RE:  I was homeschooled and although I technically “graduated” high school and attended college at sixteen, I don’t have a diploma…or a degree. My first job was sweeping trash and cleaning toilets at an amusement park. I wore something that resembled a pastel-striped, skirted clown suit and made about $4.20 an hour. Now that I think about it, that’s awesome because I still do those things, (minus the costume) only for free.

BZ:  There's a mental image for the ages. Thanks for your time, Rhiannon, and congratulations again!

Dark Wolf Protector is available as an ebook here. Rhiannon's contemporary romance Bonded in Brazil is available on Amazon in paperback or as an ebook.

Rhiannon Ellis lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their two children. She is also the proud stepmom of a preteen. When Rhiannon isn't writing, cleaning house or chasing her kids around, she can most often be found curled up with her e-reader, taking pleasure in one of the many genres she loves. She and her husband enjoy visiting casinos, are avid followers of politics, and are devoted fans of Wisconsin's basketball team--the Milwaukee Bucks.

Visit Rhiannon at or at her blog, Whispers.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Spellbent

Just finished reading Lucy A. Snyder’s first novel, Spellbent. You just have to love that cover. And here is le blurbĂ©:

In the heart of Ohio, Jessie Shimmer is caught up in hot, magic-drenched passion with her roguish lover, Cooper Marron, who is teaching her how to tap her supernatural powers. When they try to break a drought by calling down a rainstorm, a hellish portal opens and Cooper is ripped from this world, leaving Jessie fighting for her life against a vicious demon that's been unleashed.

In the aftermath, Jessie, who knows so little about her own true nature, is branded an outlaw. She must survive by her wits and with the help of her familiar, a ferret named Palimpsest. Stalked by malevolent enemies, Jessie is determined to find out what happened to Cooper. But when she moves heaven and earth to find her man, she'll be shocked by what she discovers—and by what she must ultimately do to save them all.

This book was great. The humour, the action, they were both spot on. You know those times where you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it? *Points at this book*. Lately I’ve been suffering through some formulaic urban fantasy, most of which is really paranormal romance masquerading as something it’s not. I’m a (straight) guy, and so I start to sulk when I come across books where romance (usually of the his-butt-was-so-tight­-I-wanted-to-slap-it variety) hijacks the storyline. I don’t mind it, but if I’m reading urban fantasy then I want more urban fantasy than hot male bodies and sex. Fortunately, that isn’t an issue in this book. The romancin’ in Spellbent is kept to a minimum, even though Jesse Shimmer’s love for her master-cum-lover Cooper is the driving force behind the story. You get enough to give you a good feel for why she’s so determined to see Cooper out safe, but it doesn’t blow the plot off its rails.

One of the main reasons this book is a winner is that Jesse is a really likeable character. She’s smart, she’s determined, and she doesn’t spend much time wangsting like some main characters are wont to do. Even when she does angst, she has a pretty good reason for it. She isn’t perfect though; she even makes a pretty big mistake around the start of the story… but you never feel she’s been given the Idiot Ball. There’s also Palimpsest, her ferret familiar. Here’s another likeable character if I ever saw one. I found myself looking forward to the parts in his perspective, just to find out titbits about him and his past.

The magic system of ubiquemancy (or ‘Babbling’) was also pretty intriguing, along with the different beings introduced and the idea of personal hells. I won’t give away too much because discovering these things is part of what makes fantasy so interesting ;)

Now, the bad stuff. Where the story falls short for me was the main antagonist. Some of his actions seemed a little over-the-top with regard to his motivations. It’s not a deal breaker, but I felt there could have been something more realistic serving as a propellant. The book also ended quite abruptly, leaving me with a lot of questions, but I suppose it could also be seen as a good thing – it didn’t drag on for longer than it had to.

All in all I’d give this book a 4/5 (that’s 8 out of 10, folks!). While it’s a great read, it isn’t life changing or miles deep. But who says all books have to be? I really, really suggest you give it a try. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in this series, Shotgun Sorceress :)

Book review: Song of Scarabaeus

In anticipation for Sara Creasy's sequel, which comes out March. 29, I thought I'd post this review of her awesome debut novel Song of Scarabaeus.

The gist: Edie is a biocyph, a combination of biology and cybernetics that's necessary to germinate new worlds. While on the job, she's kidnapped by space-pirates and forced to work for them. Their goal: to free the Fringe colonists from the repressive Crib government that holds a monopoly over everyone's heads. And it's not just her life on the line. The pirates link her up to a former slave, now her bodyguard, and if she tries to run, her bodyguard will die.

Pros: Now I like Edie, except for her stupid moments at the end when she tries to save everybody - sorry, but you're not superwoman. She's neither a kick-ass female nor a weak vulnerable girl; she has her strengths and weaknesses and has some really cool abilities, like being able to manipulate DNA on a cybernetic level. She is slightly passive, but considering her circumstances it's not like she could do much. She did attempt to break free and to me that says something even if she wasn't successful. I also like the allusions to music in the tech scripts, how the scripts sang their songs. That was cool.

I love the science in the book it gets into a technical level, but if you've taken a biology course it shouldn't be too hard to get. It's what makes science fiction science fiction after all. The romance is brief, but for me, I was glad it didn't derail the main plot. I honestly hate it when the romance between characters overwhelms the main point of the book.

Negs: I had my eyes rolling when some of the crew, who were originally sticking guns into Edie's side, suddenly try to be her best pals. I felt like Edie forgave them too easily just because they put a smile on. There's also a false choice at the start, where they say she can go with them or stay working for the Crib, which made no sense. Why go through the trouble of kidnapping her only to give her a choice? Plus, it was clear they were never going to let her go. Kill her, sure. But not set her free.

I also didn't care for Edie's dreams, partly because they're in present tense, and partly because they read like a prologue, except they're spread throughout the book rather than dumping it in front. I guess it's a clever way to get people to read prologues. I know the dreams are suppose to add context to Edie, but I always feel how the main character behaves in their current situation will reveal more about them than giving us a history lesson on the character. Plus, who has dreams of their past? These aren't exactly flashbacks.

Then there's Haller. I hated him so much. But not because he's the antagonist, but because he's so stupid and 2-dimensional. I honestly cannot picture a whole crew following his short-sighted plans. He constantly lets his anger get the better of him, which makes him a bad leader with very little respect. If there was some redeeming quality, I could see why they may follow him, like perhaps he's a jerk but he has brilliant strategies. Instead, he was just a doofus who demanded that everyone else to fix his problems. Luckily, he won't be coming back for the sequel.

Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It has its flaws, but still enjoyable to read if you're looking for a space adventure with a touch of romance.

This review was originally posted on Amazon under my account.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review - Eon, by Greg Bear

Nothing ages faster than the future.

Eon, by Greg Bear, was published in 1985. It was set in 2005. And even though the fall of the Berlin Wall was less than five years away when this was published, there was no doubt in the author's mind that the Cold War would continue into the new millennium. That was the first thing that made me pensive.

The other thing that struck me was how easy it was to fall back into the Cold War mentality (like riding a bike?). Which is why I don't blame Mr. Bear for the first point -- I remember how sudden, how stunning, it was to watch the Soviet bloc unravel.

Anybody here too young to remember that? Thoughts on reading Cold War-era science fiction?

Getting back to the book: despite the dated Cold War assumptions, the book holds up. The names and governments may have changed, but if a mysterious, self-propelled asteroid appeared in near Earth orbit I expect things would still play out along similar lines today. As a hard science fiction fan I was especially interested in the invasion of an O'Neill habitat from its zero-gee axis. Once the story moved into more advanced levels of sci-fi, the "hardness" becomes less relevant but where it was still obvious, the laws of physics held firm.

From a more structural point of view, this is a book with many subplots. Most of them overshadow, in fact, the one plot that runs through the entire novel -- Patricia wants to go home. The throughline persists just visibly enough that when it asserts itself toward the end, you see that it was the goal all along. An interesting lesson in structure.

One last point: at first blush, this novel made me think of Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke. All they have in common is the O'Neill habitat, though. If you're interested in hard science fiction, you should read both.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Munchies

Jocelynn Drake, New York Times bestselling author of the Dark Days urban fantasy series, has posted an excerpt from her upcoming release Burn the Night. Read it here! Burn the Night, the final chapter in this intense series, comes out June 28.

Our next menu item: Dark Wolf Protector, the new paranormal romance novella by Rhiannon Ellis, came out on Friday! Watch the book trailer below, and read an excerpt or buy the e-book here! Also, check back here later this week for an interview with Rhiannon about the inspiration behind Dark Wolf Protector and her experiences breaking into the publishing biz.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review - Battle: Los Angeles

A veteran unit of marines goes into battle against an unknown foe, led by a grizzled sergeant and a freshly-minted rookie lieutenant. From the petrified private, to the shell-shocked corporal, to the tough-as-nails air force sergeant, the characters find themselves in heavy combat, fighting for their lives. As the casualties mount, the reluctant Sgt. Nantz steps up to lead the squad from harm's way, protect a handful of civilians, and find a way to defeat the enemy -- all while facing the inner demons of his own past.

Oh. And there are aliens.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Where are your earthquakes?

In the wake of the disaster in Japan, a question for every writer who's building their own world: where are the earthquakes?

We've probably all at least heard of plate tectonics: the crust of our planet is broken into a number of plates of various shapes and sizes, and they are all moving around, scraping and shoving. In some places, the plates are sinking and in some places the plates are growing.

We've probably all heard of the ring of fire around the Pacific Ocean, where the crust's getting squeezed down under the continents. The movement causes earthquakes and the abundance of melting crust causes volcanoes. On the other side of the planet, the Atlantic Ocean is growing, inexorably putting the squeeze on the Pacific.

This is all a massive simplification, of course. But you don't have to be a geologist to build a world.

Does your world have a rift where the plates are spreading? Magma bubbling up from below and forming new rock? And if so, where is the squeeze happening? Where are the plates pushing and grinding?

More importantly, what do the people living in the area think is going on?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just Dream

Gonna do something different because, you know, I gotta be different. I'm not a fan of talking about myself, but I do like to share things, and I want to share an awesome Toonami promo - if you don't know what Toonami is then you missed out. It was a collection of actiony cartoons (mostly animes) on Cartoon Network, and I'd rush home every weekday after school to catch it. Yes, that's right, once upon a time Cartoon Network was actually something watchable. I told you you missed out.

In regards to the toonami promo, it spells out how I feel about sci-fi/fantasy genre. It’s the inspiration that makes us go out and pursue what we do, to create what we create, to turn the imaginary into reality. Like looking up at the night sky and thinking: “I’m totally going to get my ass to Mars.”

And it’s flat out friggin awesome what people can do when inspired by sci-fi/fantasy, like create real lightsabers – okay, so it’s not quite the same, but you can pretend! Hopefully one day we will get to Mars or maybe one of the moons Jupiter and explore another world, besides the ones in our heads. But until then we have to keep dreaming, and even if we don’t make it, those dreams will be left behind for others to pick up and carry on. We’ll make it, in some shape or form, humans may be stupid at times but we’ve got perseverance, like a cockroach – just not as crunchy.

So keep on dreaming, who knows what it might turn into tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Next one up

Hey! My name's John, and I guess I'm the next one up.

It'd be absolute madness for me to try to recall what exactly sparked my love for fantasy (I can barely remember what I did five minutes ago) so I won't try. All I know is that my big sister's manga and a bunch of toddler-sized fantasy tomes at school had something to do with it.

Seriously, if one more person makes a "Porn of Prophecy" quip...

I was an extremely curious kid, and I loved, loved, loved to learn new stuff so I could make other kids feel dumb later so I could help people. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, even the majority of my mother's behemoth of a dictionary. Nothing captivated me quite like fantasy. I'm not certain why that is. I think it's the sheer scope of things that the fantasy genre allows an author to include. It can accomodate every other genre (romance, mystery, horror, etc) and there are very few boundaries exluding those that the author makes for him/herself. Seriously, what's not to like?


All this time, I never let up reading manga. I loved reading stories with magical elements set in the present day (schools and other 'normal' places), and wished that there was more of that kind of thing in novels. Someone pointed me to a bunch of urban fantasy books, and eventually the first book of Dresden Files, Storm Front, by Jim Butcher hit my lap. I was hooked.

And there you go :) Somewhere down the line I got into writing it. But that's a story for another time...

Burned on the brain

2010: The Year We Make Contact

If you hear about this movie at all, it's usually in the context of how it wasn't as good as 2001. When I saw it, I didn't know that it was a sequel and somehow, in spite of having already seen Star Wars and Star Trek and Tron and the original Battlestar Galactica and many episodes of Tom Baker-era Dr. Who that gave me nightmares, it was 2010 that crushed all the space opera under a perfectly proportioned black monolith and made me a hard science fiction writer.

There's a moment in the movie where the Leonov is approaching Jupiter and the frame is simply the planet, black space, and the ship with its center portion spinning... it's burned on my brain. When I started writing science fiction, there was nowhere else for me to go. Back to Jupiter.

All the science fiction I've read or seen since then has covered all the great themes of the genre: action, adventure, fear, idealism, oppression. I've always been fond of the wonder, though. The cosmic grandeur. Sure, I've made my pilgrimage to Mordor, I've languished in Narnia and Earthsea. Fantasy has its grand themes of good and evil. But space is different.

A planet, a ship and the void. Let's go.

Creating the Story

So we’re kicking things off here at WU with an exciting stable of contributors who’ll each focus on sci-fi, fantasy, or horror from the writer’s perspective. To get things started, we’re taking a peek at what gives us a passion for these mainstays of speculative fiction and what drives us to write stories in them.

For me, this could mean a look back many things. How the unreal became so real the night I first saw Star Wars in theaters at the ripe old age of four. Or how I couldn’t wait to get home from school each day to turn on the TV and be transported to Iscandar in Star Blazers or see the Fiery Phoenix in Battle of the Planets. How I’d shamelessly sink every quarter I could beg, borrow or steal into the slots of video games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Galaga.

So many quarters gone...
Movies, cartoons, games – when it came to science fiction, I consumed it all, condensing it down to a sugary pulp of imagination like cotton candy.

But it wasn’t until I got my hands on an unremarkable little paperback from my school library that I learned there could be more to it than just consuming these stories, these other worlds. That I might be able to create them myself...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ten Things I Learned from Science Fiction & Fantasy

Spring, 1986: A movie called Legend opens in theatres. I’ve only recently mastered the art of not pooping on myself. Goblins, unicorns, faeries, blurred lines between good and evil: all become part of my developing paradigm. As do slap bracelets, new wave music, and Nintendo. (The movie tanks at the box office.)

Summer, 1986: Another movie opens in theatres, a little flick by the name of Labyrinth. Tagline: Where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems. (It also bombs. wtf, America?)

1987: The Lost Boys hits theatres, and doesn’t bomb. Kiefer’s mullet takes full credit for this.

Kids see everything. Kids learn from everything, and often not the intended lesson. So what did I learn?

I learned to be careful what I wish for. I learned that my reality is not the only reality, and I learned to embrace the strange. I learned that the sins of our fathers shape the world but our own choices define us. I learned that mistakes can be redeemed, at a cost. I learned to be flexible, because there are forces at work beyond my knowing. I learned to think outside the box. I learned to be compassionate, because the surface is only the barest distorted-mirror reflection of things.

I learned that nothing is what it seems, and that’s awesome.

I also learned that men in lavender spandex leggings are sexy, something I’m still trying to unlearn.