Reblog: A review and discussion of ‘Revolver’ by Michael Patrick Hicks

Many thanks to Tommy Muncie for this insightful and gracious review of REVOLVER! Some choice snippets follow, but please give it a read in full over at the link below.

What makes it so brilliant is that it stirs emotions in the reader that mirror the way emotions are stirred by the media within the story itself: a strong reaction and a response are what’s desired.

‘Revolver’ is a brave, powerful piece of writing that says ‘let’s not dress things up or put thin veils on the idea, let’s just shout about it and make it read like it’s a gun pointed in the reader’s face.’ It’s unapologetic, visceral, and the kind of story that would probably have sent the Clean Reader app into cyber meltdown. Give it a read if you like your stories to take you to the edge of your seat.

Source: A review and discussion of ‘Revolver’ by Michael Patrick Hicks.

REVOLVER is available now for purchase on the Amazon Kindle, or free to read to members of Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Owners Lending Library. You can check it out by clicking here.

Reblog: A review and discussion of ‘Revolver’ by Michael Patrick Hicks

Review: The Z Chronicles – An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Z ChroniclesAbout The Z Chronicles

Z. Among the most monstrous creations of our imaginations, the zombie terrifies, with its capacity to pursue its prey, to run it down, exhaust it to surrender, unrelentingly.

In this title in the acclaimed Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, fourteen authors confront the nightmare, that horrific mirror of ourselves that pursues us with untiring hunger.

The Z Chronicles features stories by bestselling authors Hugh Howey (Wool), Jennifer Foehner Wells (Fluency), plus twelve more of today’s top authors in speculative and science fiction.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review.]

The Z Chronicles is the latest in Samuel Peralta’s ever-growing series of The Future Chronicles anthologies. While I’ve only read a couple of the previous collections, this zombie-themed antho is far and away my favorite of the bunch and represents one the strongest over-all anthologies that I’ve ever read.

There is a mighty fine assemblage of authors here, and a number of superb stories that, on their own, more than make the price of entry completely worthwhile. And, as with any good anthology, this has given me a nice starting point to delve deeper into the works of authors that are new to me. In fact, after reading several of the stories included here, I immediately hopped onto Amazon and bought a couple titles from writers like Ann Christy and Deirdre Gould. Following here, then, are a few thoughts on my favorites – consider this a LIGHT SPOILER WARNING and feel free to skip down to the bottom if you want to be completely blind going in.

Christy’s story, VINDICA, kicks of The Z Chronicles in grand style with a story of insurrection in an underground habitat built for the rich. It’s a strong stand-along story, but also provides a great taste of the author’s Between series.

KAMIKA-Z by Christopher Boore, and Will Swardstron’s Z BALL are also very strong efforts, with the former featuring cyborg zombies unleashed upon the US during a war with China. This one is told across three viewpoints of a single family struggling to survive. It’s dark, but the characters are richly developed and their own unique voices are allowed to shine across each chapter. My only complaint is that I really wanted to see more of these cyborg zombie things! It’s such a cool concept, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Boore expands on it in a larger work soon.

Z BALL casts the zombie uprising through the bright lights of American sports. This one is a wonderful outside-of-the-box approach to the zombie apocalypse and the way society responds and adapts to changing circumstances. And, just for good measure, it’s all wrapped up in a nice shell of conspiracy and paranoia.

Hugh Howey and David Adams play around a bit in Howey’s own I, Zombie world. GLORIA is a story of a woman coming to grips with her own zombiefication, while Adams presents a similar story of a transgender individual who has been zombified. Both of these showcase a great bit of internal character development as they grapple with their post-death existence that finds their healthy mental states locked inside bodies they can no longer control thanks to the ravages of the plague.

Peter Cawdron’s FREE FALL is another excellent piece that begins with a bit of a sci-fi bent as an astronaut returns to a decimated Earth. The opening bit of this story is a terrific slow-burn as the spaceman attempts to establish contact with Houston Ground Control only to slowly realize things are not quite right. It slowly morphs into a more traditional zombie-survival story, one that is really well done. Fans of the comics Y: The Last Man and The Walking Dead should find quite a lot to appreciate here.

CURING KHANG YEO finished off the anthology with a stunningly rich character piece that finds the title character cured after several years as a zombie. Reclaimed by a very different world than the one he left, Yeo discovers that there are worse things than being a zombie – namely, living with yourself in the wake of all that you’ve done and those you’ve killed. His sense of guilt is supremely palpable, with the struggle between his own desires and the wishes of his medical saviors (if you can really call them that) is effectively striking. Author Deirdre Gould scores a huge, huge win with this story and I loved it so much that I immediately grabbed a copy of the first installment in her After The Cure series. While YEO is set in that same series, it is certainly effective as a stand-alone, but I suspect readers discovering Gould for the first time will find it difficult to ignore her novel-length works after reading this one. I, for one, absolutely need to know more about the world she’s constructed and the psychological and societal aftermath of this cure.

As with any anthology, there were a couple stories that didn’t strike a strong chord with me, but those that did, particularly those outlined above, were just incredibly top-notch efforts. Overall, this is a wickedly strong anthology and zombie fans should be devouring this one ASAP. If you’re going through withdrawal’s of AMC’s The Walking Dead, or looking for something to fill the gap left by Jonathan Maberry’s ROT & RUIN series, this fix is now in. Highly recommended!

Buy The Z Chronicles At Amazon
Review: The Z Chronicles – An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Sci-Fi November: WANDERERS – A Short Film

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Image source: erikwernquist.com

It’s hard to believe that November is nearly over, and with it the conclusion of this year’s Sci-Fi Month (you can find all my contributions here).

I want to leave you with this short speculative science fiction film, Wanderers, by . The voice-over is excerpted from Carl Sagan’s reading of Pale Blue Dot, and the visual imagery is inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson and Arthur C. Clarke, whose names should all be familiar to fans of science, both fiction and non-.

Wernquist writes about this film on vimeo:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.
Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea with the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.

You can find more information on this film, as well as a gallery of images, at his website erikwernquist.com/wanderers.

Now, turn up the volume, play this film in full-screen, and enjoy.

Sci-Fi November: WANDERERS – A Short Film

Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

ThreeBodyProblem1About The Three-Body Problem

Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.


About the Author

Liu Cixin is the most prolific and popular science fiction writer in the People’s Republic of China. Liu is an eight-time winner of the Galaxy Award (the Chinese Hugo) and a winner of the Nebula Award. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as an engineer in a power plant in Yangquan, Shanxi.

Ken Liu (translator) is a writer, lawyer, and computer programmer. His short story “The Paper Menagerie” was the first work of fiction ever to sweep the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader’s copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Liu Cixin, one of China’s most popular science fiction authors, is making his US debut thanks to Tor Books‘ publication of The Three-Body Problem. Originally published in China in 2007, Liu’s novel is the first in a trilogy (the next installment, The Dark Forest, will release in July 2015) and the first Chinese science fiction novel to be translated into English, thanks to the efforts of Ken Liu.

The Three-Body Problem is a work that unfolds across time, beginning in the late 1960s at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution. After witnessing the murder of her father by revolutionaries, Ye Wenjie finds herself politically tainted, yet useful to the new hierarchy of command. As an astrophysicist, she possesses skills that make her suitable for work at the Red Coast Base, a secret installation that she’ll never be able to leave and that has spawned much speculation and rumor.

In the present (or, at least, very near-future), Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist, is enlisted to infiltrate a cadre of cutting-edge scientists and learn their secrets. What he finds, instead, is an ominous layer of secrecy that has left several other scientists, including Wenjie’s daughter, dead. Along the way, he stumbles upon Three Body, a virtual reality simulator depicting the end and rebirth of civilization on a world surrounded by three suns. The conflicting gravity fields and the ebb and flows of the planet’s orbit inevitably leads to disaster, and the game’s participants are challenged to find and exploit a pattern in the chaotic three-body problem.

Liu presents a science fiction story that is grounded in modernity and physics, fully utilizing the aspects of “science” alongside his fiction. The narrative thrust is largely cerebral, as well as political, and constantly engaging. He has a skillful hand in layering the many mysteries at the book’s core, and pulls all the various threads together for form a complete whole by book’s finish.

While the book’s description bills this novel as an alien invasion story, it’s really not until late in the game that the plot dovetails toward that revelation. It’s clear that this ingredient will play a larger role in the other two installments, but for now it’s a simmering plot point that helps to really blow up the novel in the third act. I’ve seen some marketing that claims this book has the “commercial action of Independence Day,” but that’s really not the case. The Three-Body Problem is a far more subtle and nuanced work that favors a slow-boil approach, rather than attempting to be a run-and-gun actioneer. As for the aliens themselves, what we learn of them is pretty magnificent and I can’t help but think that their evolutionary tract must have been pretty damn innovative. Their scientific savvy is mind-blowing, although Liu is able to relate the real-world high-level physics supporting his plot in easily digestible chunks.

In fact, I found the strongest elements of this novel to be on its scientific and (mostly) Earth-based foci. As an American reader with an interest in both science and history, I was truly fascinated by the political machinations that dogged these characters, particularly Wenjie, and which shaped their approaches to science and their world. This intersection of politics and science is a topic Americas would do well to pay keen attention to, particularly in light of science-denying politicians, like Lamar Smith and James Inhofe, garnering positions of power. The focus on China’s Cultural Revolution and how that would shape a first-contact scenario was a very refreshing break from the presentation of similar material shaped by largely democratic, English-speaking countries. While I felt a bit of tonal similarity to British sci-fi author, Alastair Reynolds, the cultural forces informing their works are nicely dissonant.

The only real problems I had with the story were a rather bland set of characters, but the thriller-like momentum of the plot itself kept the story moving briskly despite not having a solid protagonist to really latch on to or worry about. Wang is bit too stiff and lacks any really strong elements of characterization. As I said earlier, this is largely a cerebral effort, but it lacks a lot of heart. There were also several instances where the dialog felt a bit stiff and stilted, with characters frequently going into long-winded monologues,  but perhaps something was simply lost in translation. In the end, though, these are minor gripes that are far outweighed by the sense of mental excitement and enjoyable brain-games the novel carries.

Overall, I found The Three Body-Problem to be a solid work and a wonderful introduction to a terrific writer. I was truly delighted with the way Liu developed his plot and the follow-through he exhibited in unraveling the scientific quandaries of this first-contact scenario. As the first in a trilogy, it promises enough scope and an epic scale, along with a spectacular thoughtfulness, to keep me eagerly awaiting the remaining two titles. I really need to know how the rest of this series plays out!

buy The Three-Body Problem At Amazon
Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Sci-Fi November: Short Films

Today, I thought I’d showcase some science fiction short films that you might enjoy.

Up first is the recently released Ambition, produced for the European Space Agency to celebrate the upcoming launch of their Rosetta mission on Nov. 12.

As Tomek Bagiński’s short film Ambition makes clear, it is the essence of what it means to be human, to attempt difficult things, to reach for seemingly impossible goals, to learn, adapt and evolve.

And at the heart of this film is Rosetta, ESA’s real mission to rendezvous with, escort and land on a comet. A mission that began as a dream, but that after decades of planning, construction and flight through the Solar System, has arrived at its goal.

Its aim? To unlock the secrets hidden within the icy treasure chest for 4.6 billion years. To study its make-up and its history. To search for clues as to our own origins.

Rosetta: The Ambition To Turn Science Fiction Into Science Fact.

You may recognize Aiden Gillen as The Master here, from his previous work in Game of Thrones, The Wire, and The Dark Knight Rises.

For a look behind the scenes of Ambition, check out the making of:

I also really enjoyed the cyberpunk short film True Skin, which was released Oct. 2012.

And finally, The Service, another cyberpunk short from earlier this year that was also listed as an official selection of the Viewster Online Film Fest 3 and an official selection of Filmshortage:

If you’ve got a favorite you’d like to highlight, post in the comments below!

Sci-Fi November: Short Films

CONSUMPTION News, An Interview, Giveaways, and More!

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Consumption has been in the wild for a few days now, and had a wonderful launch this past Tuesday. As you can see from the image above, it was a #1 short story release on Kobo, and even made it as high as #3 in their overall Horror listings upon its release. I’m really, really proud of this one, and a great big THANK YOU to everyone who has purchased the eBook thus far.

If you haven’t yet bought Consumption, what are you waiting for? It’s a terrific Halloween treat for yourself or your gore-hound friends. Or it could be a fun 99 cent trick to play on somebody, but they might end up thanking you for it anyway.

To celebrate my new release, I’m offering up 25 freebies of both Consumption and Convergence eBooks through a LibraryThing giveaway. There are a huge amount of titles up for grabs over there, so if you’d like a shot at either (or both) of my titles, go enter! To make finding them a bit easier, run a quick search (Ctrl+F) in your browser and start typing the titles. You’ll land upon them pretty quickly.

The Consumption giveaway is running until the afternoon of Oct. 28, and Convergence is being offered until Nov. 7.

I recently had a great conversation with fellow author S. Elliot Brandis, whose work I’ve become a huge fan of. You can read his interview with me over at his site, where we talk a bit about both of my titles and what’s coming up next for me. While you’re there, be sure to check out his review of Consumption, too!

As far as what’s next for me, as I said the interview, I’m working on editing Emergence, the follow-up to Convergence, for a 2015 release. 2015 is going to be a neat year for me, I think, as I’ll also be taking part in an anthology of sci-fi themed works. I’m taking a small break from editing to work on a new short story for this collection. Hopefully I don’t jinx myself by saying the writing is going well! I can’t tell you much about this story or the anthology just yet, but as soon as I can release the news I will. I’m über excited to be involved in this project and there’s some fresh, top-notch talent involved. So, keep your eyes peeled for news and be among the first to know by signing up for my newsletter.

You can also check out the full details on Consumption and Convergence at these links, and be sure to add them to your Goodreads page, as well.

CONSUMPTION News, An Interview, Giveaways, and More!

CONSUMPTION: Behind The Scenes

CONSUMPTION COMPLETE

At the tail end of May, my wife and I were watching a few episodes of Food Network’s CHOPPED. It had been a while since we’d last seen the show, and the opening credits had gotten a bit of a makeover in our absence. As the sequence ended, the camera flashed on a weird, tentacly creature that surprised us, and we weren’t sure if it was a squid or octopus, or what. I made a joke, something like, “In tonight’s basket: Cthulhu!”

It was one of those stupid off-handed comments, but for whatever reason an idea took root. It must have been a Thursday, and by that weekend I was off to the races, writing more than three thousands words each day. By Monday, after a feverish writing sprint, the first draft of the story was finished.

I hadn’t written anything quite like it in a while. When I explained the premise to my wife, her first reaction was “Isn’t that a bit out of your range?” I’ve only dabbled in horror, long ago, and my last serious effort was a bit of a non-starter, one that aborted early on. In fact, for a look at my first and only published horror story to date (until CONSUMPTION releases on Oct. 14, that is!), you’d have to go back a whole decade, to June 2004, when my short story CATECHISM was published in the magazine REVELATION by Fourth Horseman Press. Since then, I’ve been much more on the side of consumer than producer in the realm of horror.  This story, though, was an ugly little baby, and I couldn’t turn away from it.

The initial concept was a bit of extreme cuisine by way of H.P. Lovecraft, a sort of satirical look at foodporn culture and Instagram dinners by way of a splatter-gore creature feature. Granted, I’m guilty of indulging in foodporn culture myself. I love food, and if it’s presented well enough I have no problem commemorating such a dish. The Food Network is my go-to station; CHOPPED, IRON CHEF AMERICA, even some of their home-cook turned celebrity shows are entertaining. I am an unabashed fan of Anthony Bourdain. And I think that NBC’s HANNIBAL is one of the best damn shows on television and is the perfect representation of culinary horror.

So naturally, I wanted to take this stuff to the point of excess and linger over some of the more disturbing intonations of it all. Originally, I was going to call the story YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT but that was a bit too on the nose for my tastes, and felt like more of a parody title than what I was going for. CONSUMPTION was more evocative to me, more mysterious, darker, and captured the sort of predatory feel of the piece itself.

My wife is right, though. It is a bit out of my wheelhouse. It’s more experimental that my previous science fiction novel, CONVERGENCE, but experimentation is one of the joys of writing and self-publishing. I can try whatever the hell I want and let readers decide how worthwhile it really is. There’s certainly a part of me that prefers being a writer as a whole, rather than pigeon-holed into a single category or type of writer. I want to dabble. I want to play with all kinds of ingredients and different flavors, if you will. On the other hand, I fully embrace the category of speculative fiction, which is broad and murky in its definition. All you need is a ‘what if.’ And CONSUMPTION began with one hell of a what if, one that, quite literally, consumed me for days on end.

Almost as soon as I finished writing it, I began editing. I carved away quite a bit, added new stuff, fleshed out the characters a little bit more, and amped up the gore. If the first draft was about just carving loose a horror story, then the second draft was a very deliberate attempt to make readers feel dirty by the end of it. By the end of the second draft, I felt that I had a tighter, better written piece, and that it was ready to go to a professional editor (and author herself) for the next round of work, and Carol Davis did a bang-up job fixing my mistakes.

For the cover design, I turned to Debbie at The Cover Collection for a custom job. While I was writing, I was also thinking about what sort of image would best represent CONSUMPTION. I very much wanted to see a kind of old-fashioned butcher’s chart, and came across this vintage diagram:

Photo by Lisa Michelle, Twisted Orchid Designs, 2013.

Instead of a pig, cow, or chicken, I wanted a nasty looking beastie. Debbie sent me a terrific stock image, and I asked for some specific alterations to bring it more in line with the creature of CONSUMPTION. The end result is a pretty close, neatly dissected representation, that was then grunged up a bit, and which focuses on the culinary themes of the story.

Hopefully you’re ready and willing to join me on this little adventure of food-gore. I hope you’re well fed, perhaps full of long pig, and well-satiated, yet ready for one more small morsel as the night deepens.

You can pre-order CONSUMPTION at Amazon, or check here for links to other fine eBook retailers where the book is available.

CONSUMPTION: Behind The Scenes