May 15, 2012 — 278 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
After half an hour in a Revita Tube, a solid dinner, and a good night's sleep, Tic Bolter felt ready to put this whole mess with Lady Libden, the Liberati, rare action figures, and secret doomsday devices behind him.
He woke up gradually and plodded into the museum's kitchen, where he ate a plate of bacon and a heaping bowl of sugary porridge. The curator came and joined him as he was finishing his meal. "Feeling okay, Mr. Bolter?"
"Best I've felt in years," confessed Tic.
"My men have been working on your ship all night. Come see." The curator led Tic to the loading bay, where the Galactic Pelican was hidden under a mountain of scaffolding.
Jenks saw them approaching and lifted his welding mask. "We've done our best," he said, "but it's hard to make something from nothing..."
Tic shrugged. "As long as she flies and holds cargo, I'll be happy."
"All right..." said Jenks. He called, "Roll her out!"
A massive wheeled cart carried the Pelican out from under the scaffolding. Every surface gleamed. The four booster turbines that had previously straddled the wings had been replaced with several smaller, fancier sublight engines.
"Wow," Tic breathed.
"Like I said," reiterated Jenks, "hard to make something from nothing. But not impossible. Those new jets should nearly double your cruising speed."
Tic lowered the ramp and walked up into the hold. "Pelly, you should see yourself! You're gorgeous!"
"Thank you kindly," echoed a smooth male voice out of Pelly's speakers. "Are you Mr. Tic Bolter? I'm told you're my captain."
Tic's jaw dropped, and his heart drooped.
May 14, 2012 — 1,223 words
By Ellie Hall
The Aeon Calling
By Garth Erickson
"Alex Brown is hit with unbearable trauma; self-conscious and obsessive, at once the haunted and the haunter, he time-travels from personal tragedy through war in Africa, rain in Glasgow, and a shit-load of monkey business in-between to domestic psychosis. Armed with the Tarot (a guide for the misguided) and a ghostly pair of pistols, Alex sets about trying to reset his world. Sex, Death and Time - A dark, multi-layered journey through the obsessed and haunted mind of Alex Brown. Alex's mind is alive with the pre-apocalyptic world, but focussed only on Susan - the one woman he cannot have.
The Aeon Calling was my second attempt at writing a novel, the first being an odd little sci-fi thing called Transfer at Pandora Central. Which is not to say that The Aeon Calling is not odd - I did my best to ignore all perceived novel writing wisdom and portray what I saw in my head - supernatural, sexy, sometimes semi-autobiographical and, of course, with the usual helping of pseudo-philosophic-psycho-babble."
Any episodic entertainment takes a risk. Every time an ad breaks the stream of my concentration on the telly I am likely to lose interest and wander off, or turn to another program. The same happens with series and serials. If one episode is bad, the incentive to tune in again next time is at risk. And so it is with serial fiction. But when you find good webfiction, like that found at WFG, fictionaut, Year Zero Writers, or flashing by, it’s addictive. That is how and where I found the author of this month’s review book.
I first read Garth Erickson’s serials from a link at flashing by. I was immediately struck by the beauty of his words and a sense that I was only just holding on to the pieces of each story as he brought them together. That sense of clinging to understanding by the tips of the fingers but learning to trust the author and enjoy the work came with familiarity, and reading his work in novel form is no disappointment.
I loved The Aeon Calling, as I thought I probably would. Erickson’s summary of this book calls it multi-layered. Multi-layered does not begin to describe it.
Alex Brown hears the voices of his ‘ghosts’ long before any trauma has entered his life. They are always there, even the ghosts of his toys broken in anger. As he spins through the chaos and pain of his life they are constant, as is the guilt for things over which he had no control, the Tarot cards he took from beside his dead mother, memories of the Angolan war, and the love of his wife, who is perfect in every way – except she is not the one woman he obsesses over.
Each subject creates a layer of meaning and confusion in Alex’ life, and as we slip into his madness, time itself has no relevance. Memories come and go; there is no firm NOW in this book until the very end. It is a journey through a man’s psychosis. There is no firm REAL for Alex; he recalls his life, and experiences his madness: at times omniscient, at times powerless in the face of consequences.
Don’t be alarmed at the thought of this lack of line. All the separate threads begin to tie together and an order emerges naturally as we follow Alex’ age in each memory. There are clear and clearer markers given at each point to give the reader a firm enough grasp on where they are in the narrative.
The Tarot itself, specifically the Aeon card referenced in the title, gives some insight into Alex’ view of reality:
The Aeon (or Judgement, Last Judgement, Atonement, Resurrection) is numbered twenty and often shows figures arising from graves in answer to the clarion call of an angel. The Aeon forces us to acknowledge that our actions set up a chain of cause-and-effect for which we are solely responsible. Here we pass through the fire of purification, shedding dead and dying wood as we go. We judge ourselves frankly, forgive, and leave the past behind. And then we are free to step into the light.
There will come a moment, if we are true to ourselves, when we know exactly what we need to do. And when that moment comes there will be no further prevarication, no doubt, no fear. This is because time itself has enormous power. To find the right time for anything is a really useful life skill. When a choice comes to its own moment, it becomes empowered by its own momentum, and at that moment we can move forward with confidence. Sometimes, then, just of itself, this card will bring about changes on the day that it rules.
Reading some of Garth’s bio will also shed light into the depths of feeling revealed by the author through his character. The Aeon Calling is not autobiographical, but it plainly draws on a number of experiences and beliefs held by the author [AKA Pisces Iscariot] himself.
I rate this an easy FIVE stars. That means I not only enjoyed it, I recommend it without any reservation, and no ifs or exceptions. Superb.
About the author: Garth Erickson
Just for the record: the most I will try and sell you is one of my books; I have no other agenda; I’m not a teacher, a preacher or a double glazing salesman. Neither do I aspire to be any of those. Which is not to say that I have nothing to give; I believe that the events that shaped (and continue to shape) my life have resonance beyond the (meta)physical presence of Pisces Iscariot. We are all involved in history. With this in mind, anyone expecting guidance, enlightenment, epiphanies or healing might as well leave now.
Some basic facts: • I was born in Durban in 1962. According to the rules of the game this makes me a South African. • I am a pacifist; I don't want to get killed in anybody's territorial/resource war • I am an atheist; I owe my soul to no god. Other works
May 12, 2012 — 307 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
The world exploded, and Tic thought he felt his skull burst. Then he blinked, coughed, and saw the ground rushing towards him through the cockpit viewscreen.
He hauled back on the controls. For a horrifying half-second, the Pelican didn't respond. Then it whined feebly and levelled out.
"Atta girl, Pelly!" cheered Tic.
The AI didn't respond.
The curator sat up, rubbing his head. "Excellent work with the shields, Jenks."
"Credit Cogs, sir," replied Jenks from the hold. "He reacted faster than I did."
"We're in rough shape, sir," said Jeffries from the seat beside Tic. "I'm not sure how we held together, honestly."
"The Gyrians do good work," said Tic, patting the dashboard affectionately.
"Better land before we crash," said Jeffries.
"Belay that," ordered the curator. "Do a low pass over the enemy crash sites."
"Yes, sir," said Tic. He swooped the Pelican down over the smoking wreckage of the first Liberati ship. There was no movement. Near the second crater, however, two figures were crawling out from under white parachutes. Jeffries took them out with well-placed bursts from the vacuum generators.
The curator said, "Now we can head back."
Tic flew the Pelican up to the museum, past the charred remains of the hangars. Milly, Haglyn, and Overard were nervously waiting.
The moment Tic landed, every flickering screen and sparking circuit went dark. "Don't worry," the curator assured him. "Our techs will fix her better than ever in no time, maybe even do some upgrading. Parts and labour on the house; you've earned it!"
"Can you get the AI back?" asked Tic.
"No promises," said Jenks. "Looks like a pretty catastrophic system failure. We'll try."
Tic forced the hold door open manually and stepped into the loading bay, where Milly astonished him with a tearful hug.
May 11, 2012 — 291 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"We've gotta restore power to our shields," said the curator, as Tic strapped back in.
"Wait," said Tic.
The curator glared. "Think you know better than I do, son?"
"Of course not, sir. But they tore through us like paper before, and we couldn't even scratch them."
"We weren't cloaked before," pointed out the curator.
"Exactly," said Tic. "So let's make that our defense. Forget the shielding: put the extra power into the blasters."
"You know, that's not bad," mused the curator. He grabbed his handset and relayed the plan.
Tic took the flight controls back. "Now," he said, grimly, "let's go hunting..." He pulled the Pelican up into a higher altitude. Searching visually, he spotted the Liberati ships doing confused circles below. "This one's for Pelly," he muttered, then swooped.
The vacuum generators churned out pockets of negative pressure and the curator bombarded the area with heavy laser fire. One of the Liberati ships lost a wing and went spiralling into the ground.
"Whoo!" shouted the curator gleefully.
The other enemy ship sent return fire ripping through the air where the Pelican had been, but Tic had already changed course. He brought the ship around in a tight arc, placing the second enemy directly in the crosshairs.
A blinking red alert popped up on the viewscreen. "Um," said Tic. "What's that?"
"Missile detection!" said Jeffries. "Cloak-breaker, headed our way!"
"Shoot it down!" roared the curator. He hammered the trigger control, and the air filled with lasers. The other enemy ship took several scattered hits and spun away, in flames.
The missile kept coming.
Tic slammed the control stick left to dodge.
"FULL POWER TO SHIELDS!" shouted the curator into his handset.
The missile hit.
May 10, 2012 — 880 words
By Letitia Coyne
I’ve been reading a lot again lately, after a few years of reading very little. I had lost interest in most of what I found on the shelves at the bookstores, finding I was disappointed as often as not. Since discovering online fiction and especially webfiction, I’ve found it is possible to read a great deal without the sort of time and emotional investment needed for a really good novel.
Not that there aren’t plenty of exceptional, emotionally involving works available in serial form, but the enforced wait between updates can serve to dampen the effect just as easily as it can heighten anticipation. Which is, of course, the perfect reason to look to the list of 1889 Labs publications; when you have enjoyed the story in episodic form, you can enjoy it all again, differently, with the release of a book.
But, anyway, back to my day to day. I felt it had been too long since I read some really good fantasy - so, off I went to Google up a list of the best in fantasy titles to see what would tickle my fancy. I found an excellent list, which then directed me to a well known online super-marketplace, where I could find reviews on the recommended titles. Once there, I did what I always do. I read a handful of the 5 stars and a number of the 1 star reviews for each title. [I also add up the number of reviews marked 3 stars and under and then compare it to the number of high scores. See, 3 is a fail, for me. Not for the book, it means it is a fair enough read, but I want to find the BEST. There are too many good books out there to waste time choosing something that is just okay.]
What I found reminded me of a comment made by a friend who worked at a pizza chain call centre. She said, “You only hear from the lovers or the haters.” But I wonder how many times lovers and haters are struck by the exact same points. Do the phoner-inners hate their anchovy with a passion as grand as those who were angry there was not enough anchovy? Does an excess of cheese get a poor reception from the diet-conscious and wild applause from the cheese lovers of the world?
In fiction, it seems to happen a lot.
Looking at the Song of Ice and Fire saga from George RR Martin, the very first review listed all the points the subsequent negative and positive reviews would reveal. Many of the elements which make up Martin’s work are not stereotypical, and for those who loved a new face on fantasy: disposable, ambiguous characters, gritty, violent realism, misogyny, and complex plots and subplots, it is a masterpiece. For those who hate all of these elements with an equal passion, it is an abomination.
Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson did not trouble readers so much with leaving behind the norms of the genre. Erikson struggled with what reviewers called a controversial writing style; controversial, because debate wound on and on about whether he was a genius wordsmith or a verbose fool writing incomprehensible drivel. Those who loved his voice delighted in every meandering paragraph through book after book. Many others abandoned the first book, even after several determined starts.
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss struck a different cord again. For readers, lovers and critics alike, it was the characters he drew that caused dissent. Some loved and praised the realization of his central character as both youthfully foolish, and at the same time, clever and skilled enough to show his arrogance. Critics canned Rothfuss for writing an unlikable and contradictory character.
The list is one of fine books, and the reviews for all of them are thoughtful and wonderfully emotive. But in a short time I realized how strongly each of us is motivated by the individual lens through which we see a book. We rarely stop to think – this is not to my taste. We judge the work as good or bad, because we liked or disliked it or something about it. The more passionately we are moved by the fault/genius of the story, the higher or lower we will be tempted to mark it in a review.
It makes reading both the highest and lowest reviews a worthwhile process. People who feel passionately enough about a book to have rated it a 5 star faultless, or a 1 star bilge water, and have then gone to the trouble of telling others why they felt this strongly, have a valid point to make. Whether in the end you agree or disagree, whether you decide to read the book or to let it slide, the book did what all books should do - it stirred an emotional response that was worth sharing.
After that, it’s all a matter of taste.
May 10, 2012 — 299 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic's eyes lit on a cupboard. In a frenzy, he whipped up the strongest Saucy Wench he'd ever mixed, tore open the top of Dr. Fester's IV bag, dumped the drink in, and squeezed. The alcohol rushed directly into Fester's veins.
The old man's eyelids fluttered, then shot wide open. He leapt out of bed like his pants were on fire and shouted, "I predict!"
"I know," said Tic, "but—"
"I predict walruses!" cackled Fester. "I predict the reunification of plaid! I predict a fine pickle!"
Tic scratched his head. "What did that stuff do to you?"
The curator shouted, "Bolter! What's going on back there!?"
Tic ripped the IV needle out of Dr. Fester's hand and pulled the old scientist into the hold. "I hope some part of your brain is still working..." He picked Fester up by the armpits—the man was surprisingly light—and lowered him down beside Mr. Cogs. "Give him some tools and see if anything useful happens!" said Tic, by way of explanation, and ran back to the cockpit. "Sir," he began, "I—"
Jeffries interrupted: "Enemy straight ahead!"
"Evasive maneuvers!" commanded the curator.
"AI's still offline... I'm stuck on manual!"
The Liberati ship loomed as Jeffries dodged helplessly, sluggishly left and right. Tic could see the enemy's turrets beginning to glow. He tensed...
And a burst of lasers sliced through the air twenty metres to their right.
"They aren't pursuing!" reported Jeffries. He dropped the Pelican's altitude again and tabbed through some diagnostics on the viewscreen. "Sir... We're cloaked!"
"Ah ha!" said the curator. "Excellent work, men!"
Jeffries added, "And that's not all, sir... We've got extra power flowing to our turrets from somewhere."
"Yeehaw!" said the curator. "We're back in business!"
May 9, 2012 — 309 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic killed the engine, shoved the control stick forward, and dropped the Pelican into a steep downwards dive. The Liberati ship below them found itself squarely in the Pelican's crosshairs.
"Let 'im have it!" cried the curator. He blasted away with his turrets, while Jeffries riddled the sky with vacuumized air pockets, tossing the ship around in heavy turbulence. But the enemy recovered and peeled off, and the Pelican went plummeting past.
Tic's stomach jumped into his throat as the cratered plains rose towards them. He yanked back on the control stick and fired the engine again, and they levelled out at the last moment. Puffs of dust and sand kicked up all around them under a hail of Liberati lasers.
"Did we land any hits?" asked Tic.
"Seemed to, but it didn't do much good," admitted the curator. "Those things have too much energy shielding! We need physical ammo, something explosive or acidic... Jeffries, boost the power on those vac gens if you can! Bolter, get us another pass."
"I'll try," said Tic. "Pelly, where are they?"
But before Pelly could answer, the Pelican was rocked by a heavy impact. The ship nosedived towards the sand, but Tic fought off the dive, skimming the rim of a crater.
"Shields are down!" reported the curator.
"Pelly," said Tic, "how are we doing? Pelly? Pelly!?"
There was no response.
"We're sitting poultry!" said the curator. "We need that cloaking device, now. Jenks, Cogs, how close are we?"
The curator's handset crackled. "We need more time, sir! It's these Gyrian fittings..."
The curator sighed. "Anyone got any bright ideas?"
Something twigged in Tic's subconscious. "I know who can help! Jeffries, take over." He scrambled for the passenger cabin.
Somehow, Dr. Fester was still in a deep coma.
May 8, 2012 — 135 words
By 1889 Labs
1889 Labs has teamed up with BIG JUMP Productions to publish a series of teen novels entitled ASCENSION. The series will be written by debut author Yvonne Reid, with the first book scheduled for release this summer.
We can't give away too many spoilers just yet, but what we will say is that ASCENSION follows a teenage girl whose only hope of survival is winning a tournament she's never trained for... all the while keeping her identity secret. And if anyone discovers who she really is, she'll never make it home alive.
Think "Hunger Games meets robots". Then make it ten times cooler.
The first installment of ASCENSION is coming out this summer. Keep your eyes peeled.
May 8, 2012 — 295 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
The first thought Tic had when he saw the cloud of red lasers erupting from the turrets of the Liberati ships was "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!"
His next thought, as the lasers raked across the Pelican's sides, making the freighter shake violently, was "EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!"
His third thought, upon realizing he was still alive, was "OOOOOOOHH..."
With his fourth thought, he mused that he had skipped a vowel.
"Excellent," grunted the curator, fiddling with his handset. "They only took down twenty percent of the force-shields. Gotta love those modular turrets, eh, Jeffries?"
"Love 'em like I love my own mother, sir," said Jeffries.
"Wait," said Tic. "Those turrets you installed generate force-shields, too?"
"Our museum displays the finest in twenty-year-old Entulovian military technology!" beamed the curator.
"Wow," said Tic. "So we might actually have a chance..."
The Pelican shook under another barrage.
"Not much of one, if we don't get crackin'!" snapped the curator. "Jeffries, man the vac gens. I'll control the turrets from my handset. Bolter, fly!"
"Yes, sir!" barked Jeffries.
"Er, okay," said Tic. He grabbed the controls. "Work with me, Pelly!"
"Yes, dear," responded the AI. "We're being flanked, by the way."
"Great..." said Tic. "So, uh, let's try this, then." He thrust the controls forward and put the Pelican into a steep dive, then pulled up and around in a tight arc. "Where are they now?"
"Directly behind us," said Pelly. The ship shook again, as if in confirmation.
The curator snarled, "We're at 55% shields! Gotta play some offense. Bolter, get one in front of us!"
Tic banked hard to the right and came around in a 180-degree turn. "Now?"
"One above us," said Pelly, "and one below."
"Uuurgh!" said Tic. "Okay, here goes nothing!"
May 7, 2012 — 420 words
By Greg X. Graves
I would make a terrible journalist.
Did you know that they're not allowed to lie? And if they lie, then there are consequences? Every time a journalist lies the moustache of a robber baron grows three inches and becomes three degrees curlier. A scummy crime boss grows another layer of grim. A corrupt politician crashes the first six miles of his Bentley into an orphanage and has time to finish his single-malt scotch before climbing into his auxiliary Cadillac and jettisoning before the passenger compartment comes within view of the wreckage.
The thought of responsibility makes me sweat. That's why I spend my writing time making up stuff.
Fact about me: facts don't work on me. I zone out and have flashbacks to my past life as a history student. Did you know that Caesar Augustus was not the final Roman Emperor to ride a Tyrannosaurus Rex into battle? That the Sack of Rome is not a lewd reference to Mark Antony? That everything that I know about the ancient world could be inscribed on a grain of rice with an extra-fat Sharpie?
Don't put the cap back on the marker. Take a few deep breaths, then open up Tacitus. You'll get an idea of how I understand history.
But sometimes I have to struggle with facts (ew), just like I have to struggle with transitions. Both hurdles have come up very recently.
I’ve been writing an alternate history novel for the past nine months. And it turns out that for it to be "alternate history" and not "mindfluff" then I have to put some actual history into it. World War I. Wireless telegraphy. Electrification, urban and rural. Tesla. The Curies. Nuclear weapons.
One of these things is totally like the other and you'd believe me if it wasn't for stupid facts.
History, granted, is not fact: history is by its very nature an interpretive act. Historians must choose what stories to tell and what stories go untold. They piece together stories and data into patterns that make or break a thesis. Historians combine fact with passion, intramural drama and incredible myopia to interpret the past.
These qualities are vital to wrest any sort of tangible, worthwhile product out of the howling mysteries of the past.
Wait. These qualities also make for great plots. Passion? Intramural drama? Myopia?
Maybe my next book should be about historians instead of history. Maybe I could ignore some of these facts.
Whoops. I said the f-word again. I have to go lie down.