Guest Post: S. Elliot Brandis, “It’s Not The End Of The World”

S. Elliot Brandis is a writer I came into contact with thanks to KBoards. I was immediately taken by his description for his debut novel, Irradiated (part one of The Tunnel Trilogy), and have been patiently waiting for the release of its follow-up, Degenerated. The good news is that the latter is now available, and both can be had for the uber-cheap introductory price of only 99c for a limited time. Two books for less than two bucks. Go buy them immediately!

If you’re wondering whether Irradiated may be up your alley or not, check out my review. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, I think it’s a pretty safe purchase. The story is solid, and Elliot has a damn strong writing voice and a style I really dig. To top it off, those Jason Gurley covers are beauties. All in all, it’s a top-notch package.

01_Brandis_IRRADIATED_EbookEdition02_Brandis_DEGENERATED_EbookEdition

buy irradiated at amazon
buy degenerated at amazon

I’m really happy to have Elliot posting here today, so let’s get on with it. Here’s his article, “It’s Not The End Of The World.” Enjoy!


 

It’s Not The End Of The World

Think of post-apocalyptic fiction, and what do you see? Zombies, bombs, disease, disaster, war? Maybe you see barren landscapes, or bones jutting from emaciated bodies. Whatever it is, I bet it’s unpleasant.

It would be easy to think, then, that post-apocalyptic fiction is about one thing: fear. Indeed, fear is deeply ingrained in the genre. Our stories tap into our fear of the future, of human nature, of what happens when it all goes wrong. However, fear is only half of the equation.

If you distil the genre down into core elements, what you’ll find are two competing emotions: fear and hope. They are the heart of the genre, it’s defining feature. The balance between the two changes, but the conflict between them is always there.

Consider The Walking Dead, in all of its guises. It taps into many of our fears. Our fear of dying, and of losing loved ones. Our fear of fellow man, and the darkness that may lay hidden deep in their hearts, waiting for a chance to surface. It also raises questions about ourselves. If you were pushed to the edge, would you still act in a way that’s moral? Or would you compromise your morals to save yourself and your family? What is more is more important? But, on the other hand, it’s also a show about hope. The hope that if we tough it out and try to work together—maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe we can make a new start, forge new relationships, and persevere. The hope pushes us forward, through all the darkness.

Even the darkest works have this glimmer of hope. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is often described as bleak, perhaps even ‘hopeless’. But I disagree—there is hope. The man and his son are “carrying the fire”. He instils this idea in his son—they are amongst the last flickers of humanity, it’s final chance. Without this sliver of hope, as slim as it is, I doubt that the book would work. It is a trickle of oxygen in an otherwise suffocating world. And, as bad as that novel may make us feel, it also makes us think that perhaps, just perhaps, there is merit in our sheer doggedness.

So, we arrive to the title. Despite the name, post-apocalyptic fiction is not about the end of the world. It’s about our fight to prevent the end of the world. The conflict between hope and fear—the fundamentals of human existence—lay at its core. It’s about our will to survive.

And that’s what makes it so damn good.

Writing Shot

 

S. Elliot Brandis is the author of Irradiated, the first novel in a trilogy. He lives in Brisbane, Australia, and often sets his stories there, too. He loves hearing from readers, and can be found at many locations across the internet.

Website: http://selliotbrandis.com/

Reblog: The Big Idea: Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson

Michael Patrick Hicks:

I’ve been thinking a bit about the genre sometimes known as “weird western” of late. The concept is one that really strikes a chord with me and I love the idea of a low-tech frontier dealing with supernatural forces. I’d hoped for more from the movie Cowboys & Aliens; after all, six-shooters and horses vs. aliens and UFOs seemed ripe for a truly awesome story. Joe R. Lansdale’s Deadman’s Road is in my TBR pile, and Hunter Shea’s Hell Hole has certainly caught my eye.

Thanks to John Scalzi’s blog, I can now add One Night in Sixes to my list. It sounds dynamite!
Author Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson writes, “But as nervous as I am about this Big Idea and how it will be received, the even-bigger one behind it – that is, the push for a more inclusive bookshelf, and the importance of being able to re-imagine our own history without sweeping the uncomfortable bits under the rug – is one that I am really excited about. I hope you will be too.”

I certainly am. And the quote drawing a quick comparison to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower doesn’t hurt any, either! Be sure to check out the original post at Whatever.

Originally posted on Whatever:

When you introduce magic into a real-world setting, you don’t only have to deal with the problems that magic introduces — you have to deal with the problems that already existed in that real world setting. When Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson wanted to introduce magic to an American milieu in One Night in Sixes, she took all of those problems into consideration. Here’s how she made it work.

TEX THOMPSON:

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“I’m tired of Euromedieval fantasy!” I thought. “I’m tired of swords and castles and straight white monocultures. I’m going to write a fantasy about MY country, and MY history, with eleventeen kinds of people rubbing shoulders – like in real life! – and it’s going to be AMAZING.”

And by “amazing”, I must have meant “an absolute landmine of racism, imperialism, slavery and genocide.” Because…

View original 735 more words

Review: Tom Clancy Support and Defend (A Campus Novel) by Mark Greaney

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About Support and Defend

One of Tom Clancy’s most storied characters, Dominic Caruso, is the only one who can stop America’s secrets from falling into enemy hands in this blockbuster new novel written by Clancy’s longtime coauthor.

Over the course of three decades, Tom Clancy created a world alive with prescient action and remarkable individuals. In Tom Clancy Support and Defend, Dominic Caruso is presented with the deadliest challenge of his career.

Dominic Caruso. Nephew of President Jack Ryan. FBI agent and operator for The Campus, a top secret intelligence agency that works off the books for the U.S. government. Already scarred by the death of his brother, Caruso is devastated when he can’t save a friend and his family from a terrorist attack

Ethan Ross was a mid-level staffer for the National Security Council. Now he’s a wanted fugitive on the run with a microdrive that contains enough information to wreck American intelligence efforts around the world. The CIA is desperate to get the drive back, but so are the Russians and various terrorist groups all of whom are closer to catching the fugitive. Only Caruso stands in their way, but can he succeed without the aid of his Campus colleagues?


About the Author

Mark Greaney is the #1 NYT bestselling coauthor of Command Authority, Threat Vector, and Locked On, by Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney. He is also the bestselling author of the Gray Man series, including Dead Eye, The Gray Man, On Target, and Ballistic.

Mark lives in Memphis, Tennessee

Learn more at MARKGREANEYBOOKS.COM


My Thoughts

I was immediately saddened by the loss of Tom Clancy last October, only a few months before the release of his final Jack Ryan novel, Command Authority. I’d been reading Clancy books since high school, after discovering his work by way of Harrison Ford’s adaptation of Patriot Games. The movie quickly became one of my favorites, so I had to read the book it was based upon, which then led to a long-term addiction.

The seven-year drought between The Teeth of the Tiger and Dead or Alive was a much too long dry-spell, but with a team of co-authors the master of technothrillers was back in top-form (in my eyes, at least). No sooner were fresh Clancy books on the shelf, than news came of his unfortunate passing.

Thankfully, not all is lost. Mark Greaney, who collaborated with Clancy on the last three novels, is helping to keep the franchise running and returns with a solo effort focusing on The Campus operator, and series regular, Dominic Caruso.

Ethan Ross, an intelligent NSC staffer guided more by his inflated ego than his principled ideals, finds himself in hot-water after an inter-agency effort to find the source of a classified intelligence leak. That leak led to the murder of a Mossad agent and his family, whom Caruso had become involved with during a series of training exercises. The data was pulled by Ross in order to assist a Wikileaks-like program, the International Transparency Project, and as the FBI’s manhunt intensifies and the nature of the hacktivist brigade he works for grows cloudier, Ross becomes convinced that the only way to protect himself is to steal so much classified data that he then becomes too large of a target for the American government. As Caruso becomes more plugged-in to the investigation surrounding Ross, the more determined he grows in carrying out vengeance for the deceased Yacoby family.

Support and Defend is clearly influenced by the recent Edward Snowden affair, and Greaney proves to be a more than capable handler of Clancy’s legacy. The story elements borrow heavily from a quite recognizable geo-political landscape as Ross attracts the attention of international forces in Israel, Russia and Iran, in addition to agents and agencies at home. Although the Ryan family is absent and unmentioned (although from the few references made to POTUS, it’s clear Jack Ryan, Sr. is still sitting in the Oval Office), Dom is able to carry the weight of the story quite well and the book harkens back, in some respects, to earlier Clancy novels, like The Cardinal of the Kremlin.

While there is a clearly political element to the story (let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a Clancy book without that!) and the repercussions of the data leak pose a global problem to American Intelligence agencies, the primary focus of the story is on espionage and spy-craft, particularly early on when Ross gets a quick education in recognizing a tail and employing old-school trade-craft to alert his handlers within the International Transparency Project. The action is blazing and Greaney manages the same gripping narrative of previous entries, making the read a breezy, but completely interesting and involving, affair. He’s also quite masterful in weaving together the disparate, multi-layered elements presented by the Transparency Project, Russian involvement, and the goals of Mohammed Mobasheri, an agent for the Iranian Republican Guard.

If there’s one complaint to be had, it’s that the epilogue takes a bit of a left-turn into debonaire James Bond territory, and the interaction between Adara Sherman and Caruso felt a little bit off and out of character, particularly for Sherman. Given their previously established relationship and Adara’s professionalism, the resolution to their involvement together seemed forced, as if the material had been cribbed from any number of other generic spy-thrillers in an effort to needlessly spice things up a bit.

That quibble aside, I’m hoping Mark Greaney sticks around for the long haul and that he gets to make the Clancy universe his own. His involvement here provides a nice measure of hope that we haven’t heard the last of The Campus recruits and the Ryan family. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the All-Star team will be making a comeback sooner rather than later. And you can be sure I’ll be adding Greaney’s own The Gray Man series to my reading list soon.

Buy support and defend at amazon
Source: The Official Tom Clancy Page on Facebook

Source: The Official Tom Clancy Page on Facebook

Guest Post: Jessica Rydill, author of The Shamanworld Series

Jessica Rydill is a British fantasy author who came to my attention via Kboards over the last few months. After talking with her and learning about her Shamanworld series, I was impressed with the amount of thought and depth that went into creating her alternate-Earth history, where an Ice Age has radically changed the socio-political developments of a parallel Europe circa the 1800s. A technologically advanced society uneasily rests besides medieval tribes, and magic-wielding shamans wander the land, while certain people live under the whims of the Goddesses.

Originally published by Orbit in the UK in 2001 and Penguin Putnam in the US, Children of the Shaman has since been revised and reformatted for release as an eBook by Rydill. Its follow-up, The Glass Mountain, was published by Orbit in the UK in 2002, and Jessica is currently readying it for re-release soon. The third novel, Malarat, is available now.

Here’s Jessica to discuss her work and its evolution:


Children of the Shaman - eBook Cover Displaying (1)

Many thanks to Michael Hicks for inviting me to do a guest post on his blog.  I write fantasy fiction, though my imaginary world started out as a post-apocalyptic version of the real one. But it didn’t stay that way.

I have written three books so far, starting with Children of the Shaman; the other two are The Glass Mountain* and Malarat. I am also working on a fourth book, called Winterbloom. They follow each other in sequence, and deal with the members of the same family: Annat Vasilyevich, her older brother Malchik, their father, Yuda, and their aunt, Yuste. Some of them are shamans; I discuss what that means below!

When I was working on the back-story to my first book, Children of the Shaman, I imagined it taking place after a nuclear holocaust, in which a small minority of humans had developed super powers. John Wyndham’s novel The Chrysalids influenced me, and also news reports claiming that the Russian secret service was experimenting with psychic forces. This formed the kernel of an idea.

I moved away from a future set in this world to create an imaginary one: Mir. The name comes from the Russian word for the Earth. I abandoned the post-nuclear scenario and chose to invent a mini-Ice Age, like the one that occurred in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages.

The Ice Age on Mir, which lasts from the end of their 15th century to the start of the 19th, is known as the Great Cold. It has several consequences for their history (and geography!). Parts of Europe – Yevropa – get stuck in the Middle Ages. The countries based on China and India become technologically advanced. There isn’t really a British Empire, and the New World (both North and South America) develops differently.

When the Great Cold ends in the early 1800s, a series of mass migrations begins. Large populations leave Northern Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia, and head south. By the time of the story, which is set in the 1850s, many have settled along the shores of the Mediterranean (or Middle Sea).

My stories are set in Lefranu, which is based on France. The north has been cut off from the south during the Great Cold. This means that the northern half of Lefranu is still medieval. They have lost contact with the outside world, and continued to live as they did in the Middle Ages. They are not even aware that things have changed.

In the south, a city-state called Masalyar (Marseille) stands on the shores of the Middle Sea. It’s very cosmopolitan, and there are large numbers of migrants from Sklava (Russia) and Morea (Africa). Most of these immigrants work on the railway – the city has acquired steam-powered technology. When they start to build a railway north, they discover the interior that has been cut off from the outside world for centuries. And they start meeting the original inhabitants, the Franj. Some are friendly and some are hostile; that’s the setting for my stories.

Michael asked me about the religion (or spirituality) in the stories. The main characters are ‘shamans’ which means that they possess psychic powers. They use a form of telepathy that they call ‘sprechen’ to communicate with each other; they heal wounds and cure some illnesses; and they can travel into other dimensions – spirit worlds, underworlds, and other planes. Some of them also use their powers to fight.

There is a mystical side to the shamans. They can and do have spirit animals, though the ones who live in cities don’t know what they are. They have a definite afterlife. When ordinary humans, the Teshvet, die, nobody knows what happens to them. But dead shamans continue traveling through the underworld after death; occasionally they return.

Lefranu has two principal established religions, Doxa and Ya-udi. Doxa is based on Christianity; it’s a blend of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but the Virgin Mary’s counterpart, Megalmayar, is a God. Though the religion is matriarchal, the hierarchy is staffed by men.

The Wanderers or Ya-udi are like the Jews. They were cursed by Megalmayar to wander the earth, in exile from their homeland, Zyon. So they live in a kind of diaspora and are persecuted by the Doxoi to varying degrees. Their God is called the One, and they don’t refer to him by name. Like Judaism, it is a patriarchal religion; the words and the letters of their sacred language, Ebreu, are important (and magical).

And then there are the Goddesses. The other deities, like the One or Megalmayar, are unseen; they don’t appear in person. But the characters meet the Goddesses (or one Goddess with two aspects). This creates a problem for them. Some of them are Doxoi and some are Wanderers, but there is no doubt that the Goddesses are real. And not only are they real, but they draw the main characters into their myth. They don’t ask permission; they mug the characters and leave them to deal with the consequences.

The idea of the Goddesses was inspired by the myth that Mary Magdalen sailed to France in a boat without sails, accompanied by two sisters of the Virgin called Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe, and their servant Sara. The number of women all named Mary immediately suggested a Goddess cult. This seems to be a popular idea, and there are books that suggest that the Virgin Mary was a Temple Virgin, or that Mary Magdalen was a hierodule (or holy prostitute): cf. Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess by Lynn Picknett.

I was interested in the idea of syncretisation, in which one religion is used to hide another, as with religions such as Santeria or Vodou. It seems possible that the story of so many Marys landing in France might have been invented when the country converted to Christianity, and Christian saints replaced local goddesses. It’s an interesting thought!

In my story, the Goddesses (or aspects of one Goddess) are known as Artemyas and Nyssa. She is dual – she has a dark and a light side; but it’s important to note that dark isn’t purely evil and light isn’t purely good. She (or they) are ambivalent. I can’t say much more without a spoiler alert! But writers often treat of goddess religions as if they are wholly benign. In this case, they do have negative aspects.

This tells you a lot about the back story – or background – to my novels. I’m not sure whether they are High Fantasy ‘defined either by its setting in an imaginary world or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot’ to quote Wikipedia, or Low Fantasy ‘nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.’ (Brian Stableford (2009). The A to Z of Fantasy Literature. Scarecrow Press. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-8108-6829-8)

I think probably the latter, because Wikipedia goes on to say: ‘Low fantasy stories are set either in the real world or a fictional but rational world, and are contrasted with high fantasy stories which take place in a completely fictional fantasy world setting with its own set of rules and physical laws.’

But it’s hard to be sure!

 

*[The Glass Mountain hasn’t been published yet; it was part of my back-list and had to be scanned and revised.]

Jessica Rydill writes fantasy and collects Asian Ball Jointed Dolls. This makes her living room an unnerving place to visit. Many of the dolls are based on characters from her books. The bad guys stay locked in the cabinet.

Jessica wishes she could write like Russell Hoban. In the mean time, she has got a cross-over going on between medieval fantasy with warlords, and steampunk adventure with lightning-wielding shamans.

Plus Golems, Dybbuks, Kabbalistic demons, and other nasty surprises from Jewish folklore.

Learn more about Jessica Rydill’s Shamansland books at http://www.shamansland.com/index.html

How The DARPA Of The Energy World Wants To Change The Electricity Grid | Co.Exist | ideas + impact

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The below article, by Jessica Leber for Co.Exist, makes for an interesting read about a government project I hadn’t heard of before: the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy).

Here’s a bit of background on ARPA-E, directly from their factsheet:

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
catalyzes transformational energy technologies that could
create a more secure and affordable American future. We
advance high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that
are too early for private-sector investment. ARPA-E awardees
are unique because they are developing entirely new ways to
generate, store, and use energy.

ARPA-E projects have the potential to radically improve
U.S. economic prosperity, national security, and
environmental well-being. We focus on transformational
energy technology projects that can be meaningfully
advanced with a small investment over a defined period
of time. Our streamlined awards process enables us to act
quickly and advance cutting-edge areas of energy research.

ARPA-E empowers America’s energy researchers with funding,
technical assistance, and market readiness. Our rigorous
program design, competitive project selection process, and
active program management ensure thoughtful expenditures.
ARPA-E Program Directors serve for limited terms to ensure a
constant infusion of fresh thinking and new perspectives.

Given their focus on technological innovation and next-generation breakthroughs, this high-concept research division has drawn parallels to the Department of Defense’s DARPA initiative, and you can check out their current list of more than 300 projects here.

Also worth a listen: Acting Director Cheryl Martin on NPR’s Science Friday.

Original article:

How The DARPA Of The Energy World Wants To Change The Electricity Grid | Co.Exist | ideas + impact.

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Story of Anonymous

cover51152-mediumAs usual, NetGalley keeps upending my reading plans… Maybe I shouldn’t even bother trying to organize anymore given the ever-shifting queue of books.

While browsing today, I came across Gabriella Coleman‘s forthcoming Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Story of Anonymous (a nice play on John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).

A snippet of her bio reads

Gabriella (Biella) Coleman holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, she researches, writes, and teaches on computer hackers and digital activism.

and she tweets at @BiellaColeman.

There are lots more information and links to her work at her website, so go check it out.

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Story of Anonymous releases in November. Here’s the description:

Here is the definitive book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the name Anonymous, by the woman the Chronicle of Higher Education calls “the leading interpreter of digital insurgency” and the Huffington Post says “knows all of Anonymous’ deepest, darkest secrets.” Half a dozen years ago, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of this global collective just as some of its adherents were turning to political protest and disruption (before Anonymous shot to fame as a key player in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street). She ended up becoming so closely connected to Anonymous that some Anons claimed her as “their scholar.” Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy brims with detail from inside a mysterious subculture, including chats with imprisoned hacker Jeremy Hammond and the hacker who helped put him away, Hector “Sabu” Monsegur. It’s a beautifully written book, with fascinating insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, such as the histories of “trolling” and “the lulz.”

And here she is discussing Altruism and Nihilism on the Net:

Review: Soft Target, by Iain Rob Wright

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About Soft Target

– From UK’s Top Selling Horror & Thriller Author, Iain Rob Wright

NOWHERE IS SAFE…
When a quaint village in the United Kingdom is stuck by a suicide bomber, the once proud nation is brought to its knees with grief. Yet that first attack was just the beginning of something much greater and much worse. Something that nobody could ever have predicted.

The days that follow will determine if the UK even has a future left, or if it will be reduced to anarchy and ashes.

The only person that stands between the people of the UK and its complete destruction is an angry, damaged ex-solider named Sarah Stone. Sarah despises her own country and what it did to her, which is what makes it so hard when she is forced to save it.

SOFT TARGET is the first in a series of books featuring acerbic protagonist Sarah Stone. It is a non-stop action thriller in the same vein as 24.


About Iain Rob Wright

Iain Rob Wright is one of the UK’s most successful horror and suspense writers, with novels including the critically acclaimed, THE FINAL WINTER; the disturbing bestseller, ASBO; and the wicked screamfest, THE HOUSEMATES.

His work is currently being adapted for graphic novels, audio books, and foreign audiences. He is an active member of the Horror Writer Association and a massive animal lover.

Check out Iain’s official website for updates at: http://www.iainrobwright.com or add him on Facebook where he would love to meet you.


My Thoughts

Wright attributes his inspiration for Soft Target to 24, and even goes so far as to quote Jack Bauer’s infamous “Damn it!” prior to the book’s opening. It’s a decidedly fun nod and sets the mood, but let me get this particular bias out of the way right up front: I am an unabashed 24 fan. It’s one of my all-time favorite action series, and I was ecstatic to see the Jack Bauer Power Hour make a return to the recently concluded UK-based miniseries, 24: Live Another Day. As it just so happens, Wright’s Soft Target is also set in the UK, his homeland, and, inadvertently or not, further reinforces that parallel to 24. To me, Live Another Day was a fine return to form and a bit like a collection of Greatest Hits spread over its half-season run. All of this is to say that when a thriller writer makes the bold claim that their work is in the vein of 24, it’s a large promise to live up to.

Soft Target introduces us to Sarah Stone, a physically disfigured and emotionally scarred combat veteran who has lost everything. In 2008, she was abducted by Afghan terrorists, led by Al Al-Hariri, after an IED detonated and killed the soldiers under her command. After suicide bombers start detonating themselves across London, and evidence surfaces linking these terrorists to Al-Hariri’s organization, the Major Crimes Unit (Wright’s run-down, underfunded and understaffed equivalent to 24‘s CTU) calls on Stone for help.

While Soft Target draws on the rapid-fire pacing of its inspirational source, Wright, unfortunately,  also brings in some of 24‘s more notable weaknesses, which is evident in the book’s opening. As is typical in these types of thrillers, the narrative is based on the outsider who is called in to assist and who knows far more than the somewhat-bumbling superiors she is assigned to, but whom seem to hardly ever listen, in order to generate more conflict and ratchet up the tension. For instance, after receiving a video attributing the terror attacks to an Afghan terrorist, Sarah Stone instantly knows the video is fake and rifles off certain key aspects to support her theory, primarily the misplaced henna tattoo of the videoed spokesman. It takes some convincing, but eventually MCU is forced to acquiesce to Stone’s knowledge and let her run the show. In between, there’s snarky inter-personal conflicts galore, many of which are instigated by Stone, who is intent on maintaining her outsider lone-wolf status by making bad jokes and generally treating those around her with brusqueness and a cold shoulder attitude.

I was a bit put off by Stone’s self-ascribed bitchiness initially, but Wright was able to layer her personality and unravel the past horrors of her capture in Afghanistan expertly, and, eventually, win me over to her side. There are several flashbacks to Stone’s time in the military, which shed so much light on her current scarred psyche that by book’s end it has actually become quite difficult to not sympathize with her, and she transforms into a figure to root for. The way Wright shades in her history is much appreciated, and those 2008 flashbacks were oftentimes the greatest strength of the book and carried the most emotional resonance.

The Afghanistan interstitials and the mad-bomber threat of the premise alone were enough to keep me turning pages, and by book’s end I was fully invested and completely won over. The action is pretty solid, oftentimes exciting, and I was drawn in by the mystery of why seemingly normal UK citizens were suddenly turning into terrorists (although, this particular issue was not fully resolved with satisfaction or with enough clarity to approach closure, but that may be a subject for the next book). While I still have a bit of those initial misgivings, and there were several scenes that fell a bit flat for me, I can examine them with hindsight and see a tad more clearly what Wright was attempting and where both he and his characters were in terms of head-space.

Soft Target may not reach the glories of 24 in its heyday, but it’s ultimately worth a read. It’s a fun, fast-paced thriller, which is ultimately more important than how well it stacks up as a 24 clone. And while I was a bit put-off by Sarah Stone during the opening moments, her past was sufficiently detailed while her present-day experiences helped to shape and inform her, and help her grow to the point that I’ll be looking forward to seeing where Wright takes her next. I think she could develop into an interesting, multi-layered heroine and the series as a whole has much potential. Soft Target is a good start to a new adventure series, and I’m hopeful it’ll have an explosive future.

At the time of this writing, Soft Target is available for free on Amazon for a limited time, which makes giving this book a try that much easier.

Spoilers for 24: Live Another Day in the comments below. Consider this your warning!

Test Driving BitLit

Yesterday, I came across this article from TechCrunch, which talks about a new mobile app called BitLit and their recent partnership with HarperCollins for an eBook bundling pilot. The impetus is simple – you have a print book, but what if you also want a digital copy of the same book that you already own for easy access while on the go?

I’ve been in the process of slowly going digital with my media consumption, and (confession time!) I have not read a physical hard-copy of a book since becoming an Kindle addict in December. All of my reads have been digital, and my electronic TBR stacking is piling up quickly.

Unfortunately, I also have a ton of physical books in TBR stacks atop the bookshelves and lined up on tables in the basement. I enjoy reading on my lunch breaks at work, but sometimes lugging around a physical book can be a bit too cumbersome, particularly if it’s a monolithic epic like the kind Stephen King has a tendency to produce, or one of the A Song of Ice and Fire books from George R.R. Martin. It’s much, much easier to carry around a Kindle and have a massive, weightless library at my disposal.

Redemption across the format divide has been tricky and, more often than not, lackluster. I was heartened when Amazon launched its Matchbook program, but can’t help but think that has gone by the wayside. Although I have purchased numerous physical books through Amazon, I’m hard pressed to find many of them listed in the Matchbook catalog. I also have plenty of books not purchased on Amazon that would thus be ineligible for the Matchbook program, and having only the option of repurchasing the same title as an eBook.

I’ve been dissatisfied with the Matchbook program, but I’m not if that’s the result of a lack of internal support for the program within Amazon, or a certain reluctance on behalf of the publishers at large. All I know is, all of the titles I’d be keen to obtaining a digital copy of are unavailable, and I’m not willing to shell out an extra $5 – $15 to double-dip and repurchase, particularly for those unread titles that, at this point, I’d be far more likely to read sooner on my digital tablet than in dead tree format.

Recently, Marvel and DC Comics have been giving hard-copy buyers free access to digital copies of the same title. Buy a monthly comic or a collected trade hardcover and get a redemption code for use on their website. It’s simple, easy, convenient, and gives readers full access to their title in whichever format is preferable to them at any given time. Say you want to read AvX but don’t want to lug around a ton of monthlies or bulky over-sized hardcovers and companion volumes – cool, no problem. Just plug-in a code and hit the road with your tablet and read at your leisure through an app. I’m a huge fan of that.

Which is why I instantly fell in love with the BitLit app when I found out about it yesterday. This Vancouver start-up is a great idea, and may help ease some traditional publisher’s recalcitrance when it comes to the digital domain by offering an alternative to Amazon and affording readers more options in how and when they can access purchased materials.

There’s a number of smaller publishing houses signed up with BitLit, most notably (in my opinion) Angry Robot (listed under their parent corporation of Osprey Publishing Ltd). The HarperCollins pilot program is a big first step, but the titles are incredibly limited. At the time of this writing, Halfway to the Grave is the only eligible HarperCollins title, but five more titles are expected to land soon.

If successful, I’m hopeful it will pave the way to more big-name publishers signing on and offering cheaper alternatives than repurchasing a particular title as a full-priced eBook. I’m even more hopeful that some will follow in the footsteps of Angry Robot by offering their electronic titles to owners of the physical copy for free.

The process of obtaining the electronic copies are ridiculously easy (you can see how it works at their site), and since Angry Robot was currently the only publisher whose titles I own that were eligible, I was able to give the app a bit of a test drive.

Once you register the app and log-in, you just hold the book at arm’s length from your camera-equipped mobile device – BitLit is available in both Apple and Google app stores – and line it up between the guide bars, and take a picture.

photo-4The app then verifies the image and matches it against their catalog. This can take a little while, and the better lighting available to you when imaging, the better. I ran into a number of failed attempts when trying to convert Ramez Naam’s Nexus, due to the cover’s color palette and being in my dark, dingy unfinished basement. Oddly, I had no trouble with the darker color palettes from Wendig’s The Blue Blazes and Mockingbird, or Chris F. Holm’s Dead Harvest.

I should note here that because BitLit is still a small company, each scan is supervised, and when they recognized I was having lots of trouble with Nexus, they reached out to me immediately with advice and I trotted the book upstairs to our well-lit kitchen table and the problem was solved instantly.

I also want to note that I was pretty darn impressed with their unobtrusive vetting process. I really respect and appreciate that they’re looking out for their partners and authors, and helping to make sure the app isn’t being used by some delinquent scanners in a bookstore, or preventing the book from being returned by doing a little minor defacing and claim of ownership to the copyright page.

Once the image is verified, you’re asked to write your name in all-caps on the copyright page and snap off a scan of that, too. Again, the image recognition kicks in and registers the physical book to your name, and dispatches the electronic copy to your e-mail address.

I suspect that the deliverable files will vary in formats used depending by the publisher, and that readers will receive either a PDF or universal ePub edition (or both, according to an image on BitLit’s website). Within seconds of completing the scan, I had the electronic copies in DRM-free ePub format and did a quick Calibre conversion to create mobi files to send to my Kindle. The digital files looked perfect, and the conversion did not cause any funky formatting issues, so I’m quite content with the experience!

BitLit makes for a welcome change in the ever-evolving landscape of publishing, and could prove to be the kind of innovation readers will need and want in the digital world.

Unfortunately, the app is still in its early days and content is pretty lacking at the moment. I searched for a handful of titles, both on my app after downloading, and on their website prior to, but couldn’t find much in the way of titles stocked in my own personal catalog. Hachette has not signed up with them, so you’ll not find digital copies of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series ready for claiming (which I really, really, really want!), and you won’t find any big names like Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Marcia Clark, or James Patterson. No George R.R. Martin titles, nor Tom Clancy, nor John Grisham, either. While the Angry Robot titles were enough to hook and draw me, they’re not enough to keep me around long-term until more publishers sign on the dotted line.

That said, I am genuinely interested in how BitLit performs long-term and to see if they can clear the hurdles that Amazon Matchbook has, thus far, seemed incapable of. I’m hoping their catalog of titles and publishers expands considerably in the near-term.

The app makes for a welcome challenger to Amazon’s Matchbook, particularly in the realm of open accessibility for non-Amazon users or books purchased elsewhere. And the app’s mobility and use of pre-existing, built-in technology gives it a significant leg-up. Once BitLit has grown a bit more and both readers and publishing houses become aware of its significance, I suspect quite a few weekends will be lost to scanning.

BitLit.versus.MatchBook-2

Image source: BitLit – “Infographic: eBook Bundling Face Off”

Reblog: BitLit Partners With HarperCollins To Make Buying Digital Versions Of Books You Already Own Easier

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Michael Patrick Hicks:

photo-4Downloading this app now. Seriously much-needed, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more publisher support. I’d love to have a digital edition of The Expanse series on hand. Pretty sure I’ll be scanning like mad…

I’m quite happy to see Angry Robot Books participating, and allowing readers access to digital copies for free. I’ll be requesting the eBooks for the physical copies I have of Chuck Wendig, Ramez Naam, and Chris F. Holm. It’s quite possible this will become my new favorite app.

Original post from TechCrunch below, or head over to BitLit to learn more.

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

The idea behind BitLit is pretty simple: scan the title page of a book you already own, write your name on the copyright page and scan that, too, and within a few seconds, you have access to the e-book version of your book.

In an ideal world, this would work for any book. But the current state of digital publishing isn’t exactly perfect, so while the number of publishers that support BitLit is growing, it remains limited. Some publishers make those e-books available for free, but most charge a fee for the service (most of the time, that’s somewhere between $2 and $6). Others already sell readers a bundle that includes the physical book and a free copy of the e-book through BitLit.

What was mostly missing from BitLit, however, was support from a large mainstream publisher, but it looks like those are slowly coming on board now, too. Starting today, BitLit…

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Reblog: WAR IS CHEAP!

Michael Patrick Hicks:

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Huge congratulations to Tammy Salyer for releasing the final book in her sci-fi civil war trilogy. Here’s how she describes The Spectras Arise Trilogy:

Contract of Defiance, Contract of Betrayal, and Contract of War follow heroine Aly Erikson and her crew of anti-Admin smugglers through an ever-escalating glut of life-and-death adventures and the trials of living on the side of liberty and freedom—whether they agree with the law or not—in the far future of the Algol star system. As former Corps members, most are no strangers to fighting and dissent, but more than anything, they want to spend their lives flying under the radar without control or interference from the system’s central government, The Political and Capital Administration of the Advanced Worlds. But the Admin’s greed-drenched dualism of power and corruption has other plans, and throughout the series, Aly and her crew are reminded of one lesson time and again: when all other options run out, never let go of your gun.

Sounds absolutely terrific to me, and the kind of space-based sci-fi I really go for. I just bought all three books, which are currently on sale for 99 cents each through August. You really should do the same; they sound like killer reads, and the covers are well-designed to boot (I do love a good cover!).

Hit up her site for more info.

Originally posted on Tammy Salyer:

What’s it like for a writer to finish their latest novel, especially when it’s the last book in a trilogy? Is it an occasion for joy, or is it an occasion to shed tears of sadness and separation, the same kind you feel when you finish reading a great novel? Does it feel like a triumph, or does it bring on more of a sense of being lost and confused, kind of like a puppy that has misplaced her favorite shoe?

I suspect the answer to this is different for every writer. Absurdly, the book I’m releasing today is called Contract of War and is a study of postwar behavior in a formerly oligarchical society. And yet I surreptitiously blinked away a couple of tears in a subdued cathartic expulsion of all of the above when I wrote the final words a few months ago. Then, upon having my little…

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