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.

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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…

View original 702 more words

Convergence and the Path to Publication Part V: On Promotion

[Previous installments on the Path to Publication: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV]

Last month, when outlining my five-year plan, I wrote in part three that I wouldn’t begin playing around with price promotions until the three or four-year mark. This idea was mostly because I wanted to wait and build up a significant back-list of titles that could be co-promoted or discoverable by those bargain buyers and new readers. The theory being that, with only one title available it’s less of a draw to bring in readers and keep them hooked.

On the other hand, one of the benefits of being an independent author-publisher is that I can afford to be flexible and no plan or price need be set in stone.

Since releasing Convergence in late February, sales became a bit flat. I had a solid opening month with the bulk of my sales happening in March and April. In May, my book got picked as a Kobo Next Read which came with a nice boost thanks to a mention in their newsletter. But, by June it had stalled out on that platform, as well, and hasn’t pushed a single unit since. June saw only a few sales overall, but July hit an enormous speed bump that drew any forward momentum to an absolute halt.

By mid-month, I decided I needed to something to incentivize sales, and with my next title not due until the fall, it came down to this decision: do I grin and bear it, and let my book just sit there for months on end, potentially not finding any kind of readership, or do I try a promotion just for the hell of it?

Naturally, I went with the latter. I held a week-long 99 cent promotion for Convergence and spent $5 on a bknights promotion through Fiverr. By the end of the week, I was pretty well convinced I’d made the right choice and had the best sales since March. I went from six units sold through the entirety of June to 6 units sold in a handful of hours at the start of the promotion.

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Can you tell when the 99 cent promotion went into full swing?

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The 99 cent promotion also had a significant impact on my author ranking at Amazon.

My numbers may not be too impressive to some (we all have to start somewhere!), but for an unknown indie with only one title and virtually zero brand recognition, I can’t help but be a bit floored.

The first day of promoted sales netted me seven customers (I’d sold three copies in the day prior to the unadvertised promotion), and experienced a slight incremental fall-off in sales over the next few days. What started as seven sales went down to six, then down to five, and then right down to two. I had a small uptick over the DetCon1 weekend, which got me three more sales as I tied the promo price into the sci-fi convention with the DetCon1 hashtag, and the convention’s official twitter account was kind enough to retweet the sale info. A few author acquaintances were also very kind enough to retweet some of my promo tweets.

Although the promo was aimed primarily toward Amazon customers, since that is bknights primary focus, the deal extended to my other platforms as well, and I saw a nice handful of sales on Nook. I was also able to reach out to Indie Author Land, who ran news of the promo and featured the title a few times, and sent out numerous tweets on my behalf. Solid folks there, so be sure to check out their site, too!

Unfortunately, the cheap price tag still wasn’t enough to draw Kobo readers back to my fold, and the Smashwords Summer Sale has done absolutely nothing for me. In fact, it was mostly out of frustration with the Smashwords sale that ultimately led me to running this promo on my own, and the benefit of that decision is pretty plain to me. Although my title is still enrolled in the Smashwords sale and can be bought for only $1 with the code SSW75, it really makes me question the benefit of that platform at all.

All in all, I sold more than 30 copies of Convergence, the bulk of them at the Amazon US store. I did get a few sales at their UK and Canadian outlets though, and Nook, as previously mentioned.

My big hope now is for some more reviews to come in from these new readers!

Lessons learned from this promotional effort? First off, it’s perfectly OK to experiment, and in fact, should be encouraged. It’s also got me thinking a bit on what steps I should take in launching my next title. My previous promotional effort was through eBookSoda, and while that wasn’t successful, I tend to think it was more of a disconnect on my end than theirs, and I treated it more as a release announcement than any sort of promotional venture, so there was no reduced price, and thus less incentive to buy. When I release Consumption, I intend to keep it at a permanent price of 99 cents, which will make future advertising easier by cutting out the necessity of manual price adjustments, but also help make it more eye-catching and hopefully attract some impulse purchasers. I intend on giving eBookSoda another shot, and I will definitely be employing the services of bknights one again, as well. It’s also given me a bit of food-for-thought on how I should launch Emergence next year, and what the role of Convergence will be in terms of advertising and exposure.

As I said, or at least alluded to in my Five Year Plan posts, flexibility is key and there’s always room for reexamination of one’s goals and adapting to those changes in the market and personal plans. My own plan, as is it stands, is more of a rough outline than a specific road-map, and, of course, your mileage may vary considerably.

Author-publishers – what kind of promotions have you found successful? Any tips or comments? Let’s hear them!


CONVERGENCE is available for purchase as an eBook on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other retailers, or as a print copy here.

Pig & Whiskey 2014

The last time my wife, Maureen, and I attended Pig & Whiskey in Ferndale was two years ago, so we were a bit overdue for a return. This festival is the highlight of July in Michigan, as far as I’m concerned, and namely because it involves two of my favorite things: whiskey and pork products.

The temp was a fairly comfortable 80 degrees, a nice breeze blowing, and the sun was shining. Certainly a perfect day to partake in some barbecue and booze.

Unfortunately, the ticket prices and our budgeting didn’t line up exactly, but we still got to sample some damn fine stuff. Among the highlights were Woodward Avenue Brewery‘s candied bacon, Vinsetta Garage‘s Macon Bacon slider with a cup of bannoffee pudding (a small meal that I happily recalled from 2012), Ole Smokey Moonshine, and The Smoke Ring BBQ food truck served up a truly marvelous pork belly sandwich – absolute dynamite!

I’d never had moonshine before, but they had multiple flavors on display, in addition to the straight-up ‘shine. The menu listed blackberry, which caught my eye immediately, but they were out, so the wife and I split a strawberry and, later, apple pie moonshine. Unfortunately, Maureen liked them so much that I didn’t get much more than a taste of either. Still, the sample was more than enough to sway me and we’ll be on the lookout for this during our next shopping trip. Dangerous stuff, that moonshine, but so damn delectable!

I was really surprised by the Black Velvet Reserve. This was my first time trying the brand at all, and I found the drink to be incredibly smooth and mellow, with a solid bit of oak, but not overpowering or unpleasant. Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, and Woodward Reserve were on hand, as was Red Stag, and a few others, but I wanted to focus on some new brands I hadn’t had the pleasure of tasting previously. I did have a SoCo cocktail that was made with a jalapeno syrup that was tasty, but didn’t quite have the heat I was looking for.

The festival had expanded to take over a couple additional blocks then the last time we’d attended. I’d expected more distilleries to be on display given the expanded territory allotted to the festival, but maybe the bigger turnouts were on Friday and Saturday and we just missed them. There was also a large array of music acts scheduled, and I can’t recall what the line-up, if any, was like during our previous attendance. We weren’t too focused on the musicians, though I managed to catch a few snippets of The DeCamp Sisters, and it sounded like they’ve got some nice vocals. I may need to check out their music a bit more later on.

One great thing about the additional space for all the revelry was  that it provided lots of extra room to maneuver, and lots of tables and seating made for easy access comfort, something we struggled with a few years ago. If I had one complaint it would be directed toward the almost incessant badgery of Uber salesfolk; we managed to get stopped three times by three different salesman trying to sell us on the app with reward incentives, but that’s not what we were there for. Even though we promised to find an alternate route through the lot, just to avoid the Uber tent, we somehow always managed to find ourselves passing by it anyway and eventually just kept on walking while they tried to flag us down. I hate to be rude, and I know sales is a tough business, but after a certain point there’s little other recourse. To top it off, we had even less need for Uber than usual thanks to the accompaniment of our sister-in-law, fellow pork enthusiast, and designated driver (thanks again Jenn!!!).

Regardless, it was a lot of fun and I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival. In my opinion, this is, hands down, one of the best events to occur in Michigan (maybe because I’m not much of a car guy and the annual international auto show does little for me? Either way, it seems really hard to go wrong with Pig & Whiskey, far as I’m concerned).

Here’s some pics I took on my iPhone, so excuse the quality and click to embiggen:

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Word of advice upon entry, not that it was needed…

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Aftermath.

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Adding the finishing touch to the paella.

Adding the finishing touch to the paella.

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The Macon Bacon Slider from Vinsetta Garage. So good! Also had a small serving of banoffee pudding – very tasty.
http://vinsettagarage.com/

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Candied Bacon, courtesy of the Woodward Avenue Brewery.
http://www.thewabferndale.com

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The DeCamp Sisters playing on the Jack Daniel’s Main Stage.

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The DeCamp Sisters playing on the Jack Daniel’s Main Stage.

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Ole Smoky moonshine was the surprise hit of the Pig & Whiskey festival for Maureen & I. Dangerously delicious stuff. I recommend drinking it straight from the jar whenever possible.

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Beer Barrel Bourbon – nice and smooth. Didn’t get to sample the Zeppelin Bend, but it comes highly recommended by the wait staff. Supposed to have a very chocolatey taste, so we’ll be on the lookout for this one.

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Review: Blightborn, by Chuck Wendig

cover50117-mediumAbout Blightborn

Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.

Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.

The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?

They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.

Chuck Wendig’s riveting sequel to Under the Empyrean Sky plunges readers into an unsettling world of inequality and destruction, and fleshes out a cast of ragtag characters all fighting for survival and, ultimately, change.


About the Author

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.

Website: http://terribleminds.com/


My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced copy received by the publisher through NetGalley.]

Blightborn, the latest release from the ever-prolific Chuck Wendig, and second in his cornpunk The Heartland Trilogy, follows swiftly on the heels of Under The Empyrean Sky‘s conclusion.

With the world building out of the way, and many of the main cast’s rivalries set up in Empyrean, Blightborn allows Wendig to go hog-wild and blow stuff up, upend expectations, and expand on the premise of The Heartland series in fine fashion.

When last we saw the intrepid crew of the sky ship Betty

- spoilers for Under The Empyrean Sky

Cael had learned that his father was illegally growing fresh produce and had killed the mayor. His girlfriend, Gwennie, was a lottery winner and elevated, along with her family, to live aboard one of the Empyrean’s floating cities and escape the hardscrabble life of the dirt-farming Heartlanders. Needless to say, Cael wasn’t going to let that happen without a fight, and he and his teenage crew of Blue Sky Scavengers set out to cross the desolation of the Heartland and, somehow, win her back. Unfortunately, that ticked the hell out of his Obligated bride-to-be, and the dead mayor’s son, and rival to Cael for Gwennie’s affections, had an awful large score to settle.

Returning to these characters in Blightborn, Wendig delivers fully on the conflicts established at the close of book one, and creates even larger obstacles for his cast to contend with, while driving new wedges between them. As expected, the Empyrean’s lottery is a double-edged sword: the promise of elevation too good to be true, and it comes wrapped in the caul of class-warfare. As Gwennie quickly learns, life in the Empyrean sky is hardly a joy, and even less so for a pure-bred Heartlander like she and her family, who are separated, exiled, and forced into labor.

Beneath the floating flotilla, Cael and his friends are trying to make it to a loading depot, with grand designs of boarding a sky ship (after losing Betty in the previous book) and making their way upward. Along the way, they are beset by raiders, Boyland’s crew, a murderous hobo who wants to catch the wanted trio (they’re considered terrorists by the Empyrean overlords and have a hefty bounty hanging over their heads), and the blight, a ravenous disease that stems from the genetically modified corn fields that cover the Heartland. All of this ties neatly into a bit family history that Cael is unaware of and provides some terrific background to his now-absent parents, which helps to fuel and shape his own quest and place in the Heartland.

Wendig is an author who has been on absolute fire of late. His Miriam Black books are among some of the finest paranormal thrillers I’ve had the pleasure to read, and Mookie Pearl from The Blue Blazes (watch out for subtle nod toward that book early on in Blightborn!) was a fun new character whose return I’m greatly looking forward to later this year in The Hellsblood Bride. The Heartland series is a wonderful departure from either of those previous series, and, in some ways, proves to be a bit darker and deeper. While Miriam’s visions of death and ordeals with serial killers isn’t exactly light-weight stuff, there’s a buoyant flippancy to that series, thanks in large part to her natural sarcasm that lends for a natural sort of humor. There are far less funny shenanigans, wry observations, or witty back-and-forths in this cornpunk entry, but that’s life in the Heartland.

Wendig is focused more on exploring the struggles of a violent class warfare and food politics. That’s not too say the read is dry and dreary – far, far, far from it. Rather, it simply strikes me as, tonally, a more serious work, and that tone grows naturally from the characters and the world they inhabit, as well as the threats they face. It’s dark story of survival and impossible odds.

One thing I appreciated was the increased focus on the female cast members, particularly Gwennie and Cael’s sister, Merelda. The two find themselves on opposite ends of the social spectrum, with the latter having become the mistress of the flotilla’s chief security officer and hiding her true Heartlander roots. Their roles are necessarily expanded after having gotten a bit of a short-shrift in the previous book, but they shine nicely in Blightborn, and it was great to see Gwennie so prominently in on the action (especially since she’s the one who taught Cael how to throw a punch!). I won’t spoil her role in the book, but she does carry a lot of the thematic weight mentioned earlier in regards to the class struggle, and it’s juicy stuff.

Blightborn is a heftier, more serious work than its predecessor, and Wendig is clearly crafting an epic trilogy of terrific scope with this series. It’s also quite a bit darker, which is pretty common in middle entries – the stakes are higher and the threats more formidable. The Initiative, which is teased a bit before finally being revealed in the book’s third act, is a horrifying manipulation that perfectly illustrates the evil and grandiose ego of the Empyrean rulers, and their sense of entitlement. Wendig has also planted a good number of compelling seeds that will bear beautiful fruit come book three. I’d expect the conclusion of this story to release next year, but damn if that’s not going to be a long, brutal wait. Alas, that’s life in the heartland.

Buy This Book

Last Chance: Convergence Sale

convergence-800-cover-reveal-and-promotionalSo, lots of you may know Convergence has been on sale this week for only 99 cents. But, lots more may not know that at all! And since the sale has proved to be pretty healthy, I’m extending it an extra day to cover the full breadth of the DetCon1 weekend.

Even though DetCon1 is happening nearby, I, unfortunately, will not be able to attend. I’ve already committed myself to some family fun with our town’s Founder’s Festival and the annual Pig & Whiskey.

I’m hoping to attend next year’s DetCon1, though! In the meantime, please enjoy Convergence at the nicely (I think) risk-free price of 99 cents throughout the rest of this weekend (and bonus-points for supporting a local, metro-Detroit author, too!).

| Kindle | Nook | Kobo |

 

The vitals:

An Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist

A Kobo Next Sci-Fi & Fantasy Reads Selection, May 2014

Jonah Everitt is a killer, an addict, and a memory thief.

After being hired to kill a ranking officer of the Pacific Rim Coalition and download his memories, Everitt finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a terror cell, a rogue military squadron, and a Chinese gangster named Alice Xie. Xie is a profiteer of street drugs, primarily DRMR, a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead. With his daughter, Mesa, missing in post-war Los Angeles, Everitt is forced into an uneasy alliance with Alice to find her.

Mesa’s abduction is wrapped up in the secrets of a brutal murder during the war’s early days, a murder that Alice Xie wants revenged. In order to find her, Jonah will have to sift through the memories of dead men that could destroy what little he has left.

In a city where peace is tenuous and loyalties are ever shifting, the past and the present are about to converge.

Publisher’s Weekly* called CONVERGENCE a “smart splice of espionage and science fiction. … frighteningly realistic. Well-drawn characters, excellent pacing, and constant surprises make this a great cautionary tale about technology and its abuses.”

“kept me on the edge of my seat the WHOLE friggen time! The writing is tight. The world building is incredible, and the story itself is pretty compelling! A+”
-Melissa “Book Lady” Caldwell, Must Read Faster

“Not only is it original and fresh it makes you think about topics ranging from addiction to loss of personal freedoms and civil liberties. The book is very well written…”
-Amazon Reviewer

“This is a book with well-rounded and evolving characters. It draws you in right from the start and keeps your heart rate up the whole way.”
-Amazon Reviewer

A Top 100 Cyberpunk Bestseller on Amazon

A Top 100 Cyberpunk and Technothrillers Bestseller on Amazon UK

A Top 100 Science Fiction and High Tech Bestseller on Kobo

Infographic: How Long is that Novel? | The Digital Reader

Came by this cool infographic by way of author Steve Vernon, who goes straight to the source:

Infographic: How Long is that Novel? | The Digital Reader.

UPDATE: Looks like the original original source was not, in fact, The Digital Reader but The Arts Shelf. The infographic was created by Jade Denby’s in-house design team at Mediaworks, and was created on behalf of Cartridge Discount (as credited by The Arts Shelf). Thanks to Jade for reaching out to me and alerting me to all this!