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Among Others by Jo Walton

November 25, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Anthonyisms, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not too sure what I was expecting when I picked this up for my Kindle when I saw it won the Hugo, but I was really surprised to find a come-of-age young adult novel. Twenty pages into the book I could envision an editor seeing this book for the first time and rubbing her hands with glee. AMONG OTHERS was extremely delicious as a urban fantasy dipped in the love of science fiction in the voice of a fifteen year-old girl.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close. This book was written for people who love a good story, love science fiction, magic and love come-of-age novels. The heartache of the main character was raw and painful at times. We get glimpses of a terribleness too terrible to describe. But Walton starts the book in the most perfect place–that after tragedy and heartache, there is life.The yearning that comes with reading science fiction can be more than just story, it’s water for the thirsty, color for the blind and a light in the darkness.

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Bonded: Three Fairy Tales, One Bond by Michelle Davidson Argyle

November 08, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  2 Comments

Yummers yum yum!

Bonded is out, and I just ordered my hardcover edition because I am a sucker for beautiful prose in a beautiful physical book.

The first story in this novel, Cinders, was unexpectedly flawless, and I’m not surprised to see it snatched up by a publisher and put into a novella collection. I can’t wait to read the other two stories, and it’s all I can do not to order the Kindle edition and read it this weekend.

If you are a lover of prose so good it’s sensual, if you appreciate the bittersweet truth to the human condition and like storytelling that extracts the pure heart of a fairytale, then I also suggest getting Bonded. Cinders was that good, and there is no doubt the others will be right up there in the literary clouds of whipped awesomesauce.

Michelle is an excellent writer but these are the stories that push her into that otherworldly zone of awe.

Fifthwind by Ken Kiser

July 06, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  1 Comment

There are many readers, myself included, whom are not enamored with recent trends in epic fantasy. The long, drawn out series where the editor seems to have taken a backseat to the writer’s ego seems to dominate the genre. Then when you come across creative bit of fantasy goodness, you realize you have, in your hands, message fiction. The author has a bone to pick, and you’re along for the ride.

Where, an epic fantasy reader, wonders, did sword and sorcery go?  For years and years it seemed R.A. Salvator was carrying the classic epic fantasy torch.

Where indeed. If ever there was a disconnect between what’s on the traditional bookshelf and what people want to read, epic fantasy was it. I don’t want a twelve book serial where book seven makes no sense. Epic fantasy should rise above pulp but also fulfill the basic yearning of what comes with the fantasy genre. I’ve found a few authors (some in my recommended list) scratching that fantasy itch. Now I’ve found another. If you like epic fantasy and was thinking about or actually writing it, then check out Kin Kiser’s Fifthwind.

Fifthwind, my friends, is classic epic fantasy at its best.

It’s totally obvious, when reading Fifthwind, that Ken Kiser is a classic epic fantasy fan. Take everything you like about epic fantasy: the world-building, the rich characters, the high-stakes plot, an honest protagonist, the epic feel of the setting–these are all present.

Yet, Fifthwind turns out to be original and fresh while at the same time dishing up what makes classic epic fantasy so great. We depart recent fantasy troupe trends with the main character, Ben. Ben is a bad-ass. He starts the book as a bad-ass and simply dials his bad-ass-ery up notches as the novel progresses.

Yes, let’s talk about Ben.

Ben is bad-ass with a slice of awesome toast served with magic butter and jelly made from the tears of lessor fantasy main characters. Normally, I find characters like this annoying, but not Ben. No, Ben is too busy trying to save everyone else and his own ass to grow his ego and arrogance. In the brief moment where there is a pause in the action and Ben becomes reflective, Ben has doubts, but they are proper doubts. Ben doesn’t doubt who he is for a minute, but he doubts his actions because he doesn’t have all the information. And when he gets information that throws him for a loop, his character changes in subtle ways. Ben eventually learns what he doesn’t know can kill him, and instead of focusing on the obvious, he focuses on information gathering. And every piece of information Ben gathers that helps him figure out what is going on, it makes him a right-royal holy terror on the battlefield.

It’s a great piece of careful plotting in which the story moves forward and so does the main character.

Yeah, this is how one should write fantasy characters. It’s familiar: we have the trusted friend, the mentor, the love interest. Kiser doesn’t spend a single moment in the book turning these people into something they are not in the guise of being “original” or “fresh.” Fifthwind is so refreshingly honest, as a fantasy book, it leaves a reader wondering why other novels of its kind are so hard to find.

The plot, as I allude to, has a large mystery and Ben chews away at it and, often, simply refuses to give up because he simply must know. When he becomes a student of a secret society, it’s almost as if his mentor is simply on a crash course to connect the dots for Ben and not preach to the choir. And the scene where Ben learns that his simple view of the world is dead is quite telling. Ben sees that he must harden up. People are going to die, and soon.

And die they do. Fifthwind has the impressive body count, which dives into the highlight of this novel: the action scenes are many and detailed. They make logical sense and they have a certain urgency yet graceful flow about them, which is totally fitting for the martial whirlwind of death that is Ben. This is fantasy action at it’s very best and I am not exaggerating. It’s R.A. Salvatore good. That, dear writers, is so very worth the careful read.

Fithwind is also bittersweet. The story did not end the way I thought it would and I loved every page of the last two chapters, so if you like your epic fantasy served with grim and dark, you’ve come to the right book. You’ve also come to the right book if message fiction and cheap and pretensions thematics causes you to toss a book aside. Fifthwind doesn’t truck in recent trends of literary preaching. It’s an epic story of good vs. evil–monsters and bad guys that simply need killing. Violently.

Highly recommended for both a novelist in the fantasy genre and the reader. I give Fifthwind the coveted five bacon strips out of five.

The Unfinished Song: Initiate by Tara Maya

January 05, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

For anyone new to Rehabilitated Hack Writer Recommends, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here). I also need to point out that this is a review of the first book of a series, not the series itself.

Before we dive headfirst into the fantasy pool of epic goodness that is Tara Mara’s The Unfinished Song: Initiate, we need to take a step back and formally define what epic fantasy is in the novel landscape of 2012. The classic definition of epic or high fantasy is it’s a sub-genre of fantasy set in invented worlds.

I hate that definition.

To me, epic fantasy needs to be, well, epic. Epic. This is fun, but not epic, fantasy:

A mysterious, sexy pale-skinned sword dancer hires an infamous mercenary to find her kidnapped brother. The mercenary learns there is more to women than bedding them, while the sister learns that if she lets her quest define her life, she becomes defeated before the rescue of her brother ever begins.

Bonus points if you can guess that book, by the way.

Now this, this is epic:

The good peoples, it seemed, never defeated the evil that threatened to consume them all, only delayed the final battle. The dark and vile lord who threaten freedom everywhere wrapped his essence into a ring, and now a band of unlikely heroes must cast the ring into the fiery pit of its creation or see it reunited with its maker. Setting out on their quest with the best intentions, the task soon falls to the smallest and unlikeliest hero while the armies of evil marshal to crush everything in its path. If the hero doesn’t destroy the ring and thus the dark lord in time, there won’t be anything left to save.

Epic fantasy is ambitious. Epic fantasy is grandiose. Epic fantasy is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s heroic, it’s classic, it’s is all-encompassing and all-consuming fantasy. There are stakes. The stakes are high. You could say that the stakes are (wait for it!) epic.

And Mara’s Unfinished Song: Initiate is an introduction into 21st century epic fantasy. Here’s the teaser:

Dindi can’t do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi’s clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.

Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don’t kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father’s wars and his mother’s curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her… assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.

Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, wow, that sounds cool, but um, that doesn’t sound too epic to me.

Oh, my friends, pour a cup of hot tea and wait for it. Don’t let the girly frou-frou cover and character-driven teaser fool you. Behind the rich, detailed world-building lies the heartbeat of an epic fantasy tale that rises above the bounds of mythology and into a coming-of-age novel that will leave the reader yearning for more. Maya clearly dips her plot and characters in several different mythologies, yet the book has a distinctive voice that tugs at your heartstrings.

Let’s deconstruct the goodness going on here.

World-Building

Maya’s world building kicks ass. It’s unique, it’s ambitious, and it has an undercurrent of femininity that, without the advent of the interweb tubes, the story Maya is trying to tell never would have seen the light of day. It’s so different it is, and I say this with no exaggeration, a high fantasy literary bomb of mass destruction. It is not so much a filled with troupes and familiar themes as it becomes a classic example of the very idea of world-building.

How does she accomplish this? Maya’s neolithic setting latches on the magical undercurrents of the world she envisioned and never lets them go.

For example, stone-aged peoples in the real world were concerned primarily with survival. Gender roles and relations follow a path necessary for the continuation of the individual and the group.  There is a reason when an attractive woman smiles at a man she unconscionably puts her hair behind an ear, why rejection impacts men and women differently and why we are creatures of instinct despite our technological advancements.

Yet, toss magic into the fray. Magic, like technology, lends itself to the removal of the disparity of force. Maya takes this one step where few tread: it’s not necessarily what you can wield, but more what you know. Dindi’s quest isn’t so much a classic grab-onto-the-power but an unlocking of a mystery.

That moves us back to the impact of the type of magic Maya puts forth. Women, in her tribal society, have distinct roles but they are far from simple property. Women need to bear children so the society she has shaped takes that into account, but it’s not as if the magic is something that sits around in a feudal or even Victorian society as if it’s a character by itself rather than infused into the setting. It has a distinct feminine vibe without the politically correct bullshit.

This is evident from the ground up. It’s in the way characters talk. You might think ancient peoples would also have a primitive language and culture. But neolithic-era people with magic? Maya nails this. It’s in the way they dress, how they pick their mates, how they relate to other tribes, how they view politics, honor and duty. In a world where magic comes forth from a dance, where pixies, talking bears, and fae abound–Maya uses this magic as the glue to everything: setting, plot and characterization. It is the basis of her world-building and because of the creative and talented way she does it, Initiate comes off as highly original, unique and engrossing.

I’m not exaggerating here. World-building. How To. Tara Maya. Initiate. Read it.

Characterization

My number one surprise with this book is that this book has guy stuffs in it. I could talk at length how fascinating Dindi is, how she comes across as both vulnerable yet puts aside her fears to do what must be done. How she seems like she is fourteen going on eighteen one moment, and fourteen going on twelve the next. Maya pens her as tenacious and doesn’t shy away from giving her a sexuality. Dindi’s great.

My little fantasy heart, however, belongs to Kavio.

Because Kavio kicks ass.

Kavio, actually, is a tragic figure. Maya gives him nobility and youthful idealism as his moral fiber, and tosses him into situations of conflict where it becomes apparent that Kavio greatest enemy is himself. Kavio is a good guy, but he’s also a weapon of mass destruction. He follows the rules when obviously he could, quite simply, make up the rules himself with his magic. He’s like a Jedi Knight being given a ticket by a traffic cop. Press hard, Kavio, you’re making five copies. The cop has a gun and feels superior, but Kavio could turn him inside out, burn his cruiser, go to the station, and have it swallowed whole by a rent in the earth while blood pixies rip out everyone’s eyeballs through their noses making the police station scene in The Terminator look like a scene from a Jane Austin novel.

Instead, he signs.

Did I mention he’s a bad-ass?

As a writer, Kavio fascinates me mightily. I’m beginning to wonder if someone handed Maya an honorary penis because she hones in on the masculine feel of Kavio with laser-like focus. She nails what I call the Tragic Masculine Paradox: when confronted with an attractive young woman coming-of-age, the man of honor is torn with feelings of protectiveness as a father figure yet desires as a lover. You see this in fiction all the time. Rarely do you see it done with such empathy and understatement. Many writers go overboard with this, giving this a tragic (and pervy) element. Maya, however, simply presents it as-is. Kavio has bigger problems than his youthful naïveté.

Dindi’s feminine, innocent beauty, simply highlights Kavio’s main attraction: Dindi is magically powerful. Without going into the rest of the series, he’s slowly falling in love, and love, my friends, is messy. Dindi is more than a girl and then more than a young woman. She’s the catalyst to…

But I digress. Dindi isn’t the only character in a come-of-age journey in Initiate.

Plot

Which leads us to the clever, delicious plotting, and how we come full circle back to our discussion about epic fantasy.

A prevalent, and welcomed trend in speculative fiction is the come-of-age journey set in a fantastic (be it wonderful or dystopian) setting. I am a huge sucker for these types of stories, and in Initiate, Maya plots a literal come-of-age journey as Dindi goes out to become a woman, ready or not (and no, she wasn’t ready).

But epic fantasy has stakes. Big stakes. End-of-the-world (or worse!) type stakes, but unlike much of what is out there today, this book is surprisingly not a coming-of-age novel with an epic plot line to give the character’s punch and excuses to reveal their literary humanity. No, this is a book that provides the foundation for the true story: the battle with the malevolent forces out to crush humanity. It’s not exactly Clan of the Cave Bear meets The Lord of the Rings, but you get the idea.

Dindi is on a personal journey and she yearns to become a magical dancer in the society she was born in. However, if, as a reader, you’re paying attention, you can spot the epic plot that Maya is serving up like drops of water to the thirsty.

And this is where we depart the shackles of traditional publishing. Maya fearlessly has plotted out a twelve book series and each book is building  on that plot in a relentless, epic fashion. Let me be very clear, I am not a big fan of many-book fantasy series. Many of them have problems with continuity, editing, and, quite frankly, sometimes as a reader, I feel I’ve been ripped off around book four because I’m being milked rather than being cleverly entertained.

eBooks, and today’s book market, however, has expanded the types of books we can find and buy, and Maya’s greatest accomplishment as a writer is taking  full advantage of medium. The twelve book format, based on her world-building, is not only daring but also a little slice of epic fantasy goodness, and her skill at characterization draws the reader right into her world.

It’s epic fantasy by our very definition, and it’s yummy. Give me those twelve books. I’ll gladly ready every one of them. If you love a good fantasy series fix, Maya’s your drug dealer, Baby.

More Please

You can tell I’m a fan. Initiate is a wonderful, rich and diverse book and the series thus far is a fantasy reader’s fantasy series. I do have quibbles with it, but they are nits in the larger picture. I’m not a fan of the cover art. I disagree with some of the editorial decisions made and feel Maya’s talent could easily support books of larger word counts, smoothing some of the abruptness of the plot presentation.

Yet these are mere nits because from a storytelling standpoint, it just doesn’t work, it’s a slice of Awesome Toast with Bacon. I tell my non-writer, but reader friends, the Era of the Reader is upon us. Novels like Initiate proves that assertion. If you are a writer, take a step back from all the meta that goes on with writing, look at the bigger picture, and read Initiate. You’ll realize the sum of the book is bigger than its parts, and, at its heart, epic fantasy many readers want to buy, but haven’t really been able to do so.

I give Initiate four bacon strips out of five. And while this is a singular book recommendation, I’ll just drop a teaser that as good as it is, the other books in the series get better.

Epic Space Rescue is Epic

June 04, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Plot, Setting, STUFF BLOWING UP IN SPACE, The Craft  0 Comments

Got Space Opera? No? Well, here you go.

Here is Chapter 20 in its entirety. Please excuse the grammatical boo-boos and typos, this it it, raw, right out of Suff Blowing Up in Space.

What do you think? Comment below, my 9.3 readers.

***

Chapter 20

“Princess, you are not trained for rescue operations. We’re hot docking to a heavy cruiser that may lose gravity compensation and turn everyone inside into pasty goo. I request you stay on the ship.”

Leiesha stared at James. He was being oh so respectful and oh so proper.

She was going to oh so bite him.

“Captain. That is the flagship of Aoe Sector. Let me be very specific with you. If it goes up, I’m going with it. So if you value my love, and my life, your S&R operation will not fail.”

“Mitty and Kitty won’t leave…”

He shut up.

“My apologies.”

She glared at him. “Damn it, James, stop being so formal. We’re alone in your conference room. It’s just you and me.”

He gave her a little smile and her heart actually started to beat faster. Did the male have to be so good looking?

“I was trying to spare you the horrors of war, Leiesha. When was the last time you saw a dead body?”

She bit her lip.

“You have me there, James. But I have to grow up sometime.”

He paused. “Aye, I just, this bond thing. It makes me want to hold you and shelter you and tell you that everything will be okay and I will fix it.”

She smiled. “You are so romantic.”

She gave him a little kiss.

***

She should have stayed on the Coolidge.

Burt bodies.

Bodies with shrapnel wounds from exploding electronics.

Bodies cut in half by slamming blast doors.

Bodies left like so much litter because the living had better things to do. It was obscene and grotesque.

That’s when she saw Koiea.

She had met Koiea at some Navy function on Aoe Station. The sish was young, and Leiesha had felt a pang of attraction when the young officer marched up to her while everyone else was ignoring the grumpy Princess, and started telling jokes. Leiesha even considered sneaking off with her and making out, but Palace Security had a grip on her lips just as they did on her sex.

Young Koiea was dead. A bar of metal had detached somewhere and impaled her right below her belly, right through her suit. It looked like she died trying to pull it out, hands wrapped around the protrusion.

Koiea’s face painted the tale: she died in pain, from blood loss and alone.

Leiesha opened her faceplate, leaned forward and puked all over the deck.

Mitty and Kitty were right there. One helped her stand straight and the other gave her a .water pouch.

“You’re doing better than I did,” said Mitty. “I puked on body two.”

She rinsed her mouth out feeling monumentally stupid. “What? I thought you came out of the womb wearing armor and spitting hell fire.”

The marine chuckled. “That was Kitty.”

Leiesha could not stop looking at Koiea.

Kitty came up to her. “Ma’am, we need to focus on the living.”

Leiesha gave herself a little shake. She looked at Kitty.

“Let’s go fix this deck’s net and see what’s what,” she said, trying to hold onto something besides the body in front of her.

“Aye, aye, Space Marshal.”

***

No sooner had they plugged in the new net module then Sergeant Koltsov was in the all-channel.

“Listen up, people. We’ve got enough new and repaired nodes to get the missing decks in the battle net. Be lively, the engineers are really busy, and if you asked me how this thing is still under helm control, I really couldn’t say. I guess they got a hamster somewhere and a wheel. Here it comes…”

“Ma’am, watch your inputs, Fleet armor integration is a little different,” said Kitty.

“Thank you, Kitty. You can call me…”

Suddenly her brain was the ship.

***

“Little different, she said,” Leiesha mumbled running down a corridor with her marines in tow. “You think? No, really, a little different?”

“Well, Kitty has been known to be a master of understatement,” said Mitty.

Leiesha snorted as the corridor ended in a closed blast door with red flashing lights over it.

“I don’t know where I end and ship begins,” she said as her armored hands flew over the manual controls, as the automatic ones didn’t respond.

Atmospheric leakage, hull integrity degraded. Magnetic locks engaged. Override required.

“Hey, this door is a better conversationalist than Kitty,” Leiesha quipped.

Mitty snickered.

Leiesha had the override panel open.

“Is this what a battle net feels like in ground combat?” She knew she was babbling but the talking grounded her where she was. It made her feel more real rather than the feeling of being a networked computer node.

“Mostly, minus the oh Goddess we’re going to die, oh Goddess, oh my Goddess,” added Mitty.

The override wheel was difficult to turn. She put a push into it and it started to spin.

“Ma’am, save the telekinetics. Use the power assist in your armor,” said Kitty.

“Right. Sorry, I’ve trained with power armor but never anything so light.” She did as the marine suggested. “I can’t even feel the tube in my butt.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of a bummer,” Kitty said wistfully.

The door came open and wind started whistling past them. The armor was so sensitive, it actually felt like wind on her skin.

“That’s not good,” Leiesha said. “Right? Wind on spaceship bad?”

“Yes. Wind on spaceship bad,” said Mitty.

They were past the blast door and it slammed shut behind them, magnetic locks going clang, clang, clang.

They had a sudden wave of vertigo as they stepped forward. The gravity on this deck was much lighter.

“Just so we’re all on the same page, gravity changes while spaceship is moving also bad,” Mitty added.

“Hurry, they are this way,” said Kitty and they ran down yet another corridor.

Goddess of Space, does the ship have to be this big?

“Whatever you three are doing in that section you better hurry the fuck up, because according the laws of physics it shouldn’t even be there,” said Sergeant Koltsov in her ear.

***

“And to round if off, that’s really bad,” Mitty said.

They were looking at the cabin through a bulkhead, which showed up in her vision as a high-detailed wireframe with structural problems shaded from green to red.

The cabin was yellow with large red cracks over all the surfaces.

Three sish were in the middle of the cabin in slim-suits. They were floating off the floor, arms linked, in a circle facing each other.

“Ma’am, what are they doing?” asked Kitty.

“They’ve, um, this is hard to explain in Common,” Leiesha took a deep breath. “You can say each user of telekinesis operates on a different frequency, unique and not like anyone else’s. If you’re lovers, though, especially with a linked ovulation cycle, you can be in telekinetic harmony.”

She nodded in their direction. “I can feel the push coming from them. They are holding the structural integrity of this hull section intact by meditating and using each other’s strength as an amplifier of their own.”

“Ovulation cycle?” Mitty sounded confused. “I thought sish didn’t have periods.”

“We don’t, but when you really love someone and that person wants to go into heat, sometimes you don’t have a choice and go along with her. Those three are lovers.”

“Awww, that’s so sweet.” Kitty said.

Suddenly the push fluctuated and the entire deck around them groaned.

“Um, Mitty? Gonna remind you that if the structural integrity goes in that section, the intact gravatonics will squish everything inward” said Koltsov over the squad channel.

“Copy that. Death by squish imminent. Sarge, we got ourselves a situation here, we’ll get back to you.”

“Copy that. Shut up and let us think,” he said.

There was another groan and this time Leiesha could feel the deck vibrate.

“So, they’ve been doing that for a long time—almost an entire day-cycle. How long can they keep this up? Can they last until we dock?”

Leiesha bit her lip. “They should have been dead hours ago. We have minutes, maybe less.”

Mitty actually frowned. “Poop on that. Options?”

“I’m leaned towards sheer panic and outright hysteria,” Leiesha said.

“That works for me,” said Kitty.

This time the deck buckled. Her wireframe extended out to the corridor they were in, most of it yellow, and she could feel the deck bend beneath her boots.

Leiesha’s mind whirled. The Goddess of Space spared those three. She would be damned, literally in her mind, if she wasted their efforts. Maybe she could augment their push…

A red crack appeared at the end of the corridor along the wall near the floor.

She had a sudden thought.

“Okay, I have a plan. It is clever and heroic as it is stupid and mostly impossible.”

Mitty nodded, “Hey, you just described life as a Fleet Marine!”

“Awesome,” said Kitty.

Leiesha activated the ship-to-ship channel. “Coolidge, Coolidge, Coolidge, depressurize your aft passenger airlock and open the outer door. We’ll be there shortly. Now here’s the very important part. Don’t open the inner door after we depressurize until Mitty or Kitty gives permission to proceed. Got that? “

“Copy that. Aft passenger airlock depressurizing, door open shortly. Marines give the go for inner door,” said James.

Why does Fleet repeat everything when the armor records it all, she thought, and then told her brain to shut up because they all were about to die.

“What’s the plan?” asked Mitty. She sounded causal, but Leiesha could tell it was an act as the world around them turned a computer generated yellow and red.

Leiesha turned to the short and tasty marine. “There’s going to be a big hole in the bulkhead in front of us and we’ll need to grab those three real fucking fast.” She waved her hands and labeled each sish 1, 2 and 3.

“And then?” Mitty just raised an eyebrow, her face through her helmet a forced blank.

I can appreciate fake calm, thought Leiesha.

“And then I’m going to pull some funky sish shit,” she said, hoping she had rid her voice of all the panic she felt.

“I got 2,” she said.

“I got 1,” said Mitty.

“3,” said Kitty.

Then the deck split in half.

Leiesha pushed and pulled, her telekinetics pouring forth as the ship tried to crush them. She forced a tear right into the bulkhead, which wasn’t too hard since it was breaking apart, defeated by the undamaged portions of the cruiser’s gravity field.

The three sish in the cabin held each other tightly, but they turned as the other three of them skipped and ran over the buckling deck.

RELAX THIS WILL STING A LITTLE came a thought from Mitty, very loud, and right before Leiesha slammed into sish 2, the slim-suited sish turned and looked at her with very wide, hungry eyes.

Wham! All three of the sish were in armored embraces, and the cabin was open to space. The hull seemed to crush in around them.

Leiesha pushed. She pushed outwards in all directions as she had never pushed before.

The hull exploded. It just—exploded—outwards and she screamed with the effort. They were in space, wreckage flying away.

Leiesha reversed her push and latched on with telekinetic tendrils to her two marines. They snapped close to her and she noted dimly the three slim-suits were trailing atmosphere, most likely tears from the exploding composite decking and armor.

Leiesha pushed again and the three of them flew in a tight formation, and she reversed their direction by doing a loop and spinning her body along her long axis.

They flew. They flew back to the cruiser, and then along the hull only meters away from it, faster now. Faster.

“Weeeeee!” shouted Mitty as the hull zipped “underneath” them.

“Goddess in Space! Goddess in Space!” Kitty yelled.

They looped around the entire ship, and there was the Coolidge.

She flew them along the Coolidge’s hull.

Airlock!

Slow down slow down slow down!

They stopped right before all six of them hit the first inner door.

The outer door slammed shut.

“Pressurization!” yelled James.

The three sish were struggling with their suits. Leiesha set her sish on the deck as she clawed at her helmet release.

“Mitty, Kitty, stay suited,” she said in a shaky voice. “This is going to be very ugly. You need to just leave them be while…” she swallowed.

“While what, Space Marshal?” Mitty asked in a command voice.

“While they, um, feed,” she said as she undid the memory seams of her armor.

Leiesha saw that Mitty now understood that the sish were not merely taking off their helmets to get air.

She and Kitty pulled out their stunners.

“No! They can still die! Leave them be. Leave me be. I’m trained for this.”

Leiesha took off her helmet.

“Her” sish crawled to her and jerked at her armor on her leg, peeling it off. She latched onto a calf and bit.

“Ah!” the pain was intense as another ripped at her sleeve and bit her arm. Leiesha started to cry. It hurt. It hurt a lot. The three were indeed in deep need.

The third sish was crying and crawling along the deck.

“Should we help?” Kitty asked, looking very sour.

“No. It… is important for her… to… to … do herself.”

The crawling sish on the deck took a deep breath and slowly stood up.

She was the center, thought Leiesha. So strong.

The sish took faltering steps. She walked behind Leiesha, and with trembling hands, peeled the combat suit away from her upper torso.

Leiesha felt fangs go into her shoulder.

“Oh, oh. Ah,” Leiesha started to pant. It hurt—Goddess did it ever hurt.

“Leiesha! This is terrible. We can’t let them do this to you!” Kitty practically screeched.

“Sorry, my bond… mates. No time… explain. Leave be.”

When do we make them stop, Mitty thought at her. Her telepathy was sharp, almost as if it had an edge.

You don’t. I will do that, she thought back.

She felt the humans’ empathic link as if she was drowning in a sea of their emotions. The marines were sick with worry, the ascension bond causing them mental anguish at her pain. Their suffering was almost too much.

Almost done, my loves. Almost done.

Almost.

Just a little longer.

Let them take a little more…

Only…

“Leiesha!”

As the world faded, Leiesha heard the snap-hiss of stunners, a fist of pain slammed into her, and she thankfully felt no more.

Opening Line

April 16, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Plot, Setting, The Craft  2 Comments

The landscape Josh glided through was bleak and blasted, a twisted caress of despair and destruction, yet it was nothing compared to the dark memory of the girl that abused his thoughts.

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

January 04, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

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For anyone new popping up on the scene, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here).

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt was my holiday me me me book, but it turned into much more than that. For the novelist interested in speculative fiction, Darkship Thieves is a course of science fiction om nom nom nom with a major serving of romp and romance.

Here’s the book blurb:

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger—who turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime—if she managed to survive . . . .

You can always count on the publisher, Baen, to deliver some classic sci-fi with a bit of the libertarian thematic, but Darkship Thieves is a not-so-subtle homage to Robert Heinlein, and that is one reason it is worthy of study. Once a reader gets into that, the book comes into its own in a major, major way, and how Hoyt does this is a bit of the ‘ole awesomesauce.

Essentially it goes like this: any Heinlein fan is going to read this book and start grinning like a dork about a quarter of a way through it. Halfway through the book the little science fiction libertarian in you will go “this is soooooo good,” but then, like the dogs of war unleashed, the novel takes off on its own and doesn’t end until the reader is breathless.

And Hoyt does this with an exploration of love and honesty, two great libertarian themes so worthy of needing exploration in science fiction.

Heinlein was the master of the libertarian thematic but he also dabbled on the edges of libertarianism beyond the personal affirmation and the economic delivery from tyranny. The core of libertarian philosophy centers around peaceful interactions between people in a “trust, but verify” relationship. A person has to believe in the overall good of mankind, yet expect the odd duck to cause problems and thus plan accordingly.

Thena finds herself as the obligatory fish-out-of-water in a libertarian society after being rescued by Kit, a genetically modified pilot who makes a living stealing power from the terrans. Kit brings her to Eden, a large asteroid with refugees from a nasty war back on Earth. Eden is, for the most part, an anarcho-capitalism society.

Oh, but Kit. Kit is so nakedly honest, so honorable (not to mention a bit of a studmuffin), Thena falls in love with him. She falls hard. She’s a product of a declining civilization, a civilization kept together through understated oppression and slight of hand. When encountering pure goodness, it drives her a little crazy, and she is drawn to Kit not so much because he can get inside her head (literally) but because Kit is simply Kit and no one else. Hoyt brings out the craziness in Thena as she realizes the core of her beliefs are a lie, and then, like a master novelist, Hoyt dials it up to eleven when Thena finds out her life has been a lie.

Thena, my fellow writers, kicks-ass throughout the entire novel despite all of the setbacks a cruel universe throws at her. And yet, when faced with the prospect of losing the first real taste of love she has ever known, she goes on an unholy libertarian rampage that is both epic and intensely personal at the same time.

I could prattle on and on about how Darkship Thieves is a marvelous science fiction book in a classical sense, with wonderful uses of technology and some truly clever settings. At its heart, however, it is a romantic love story wrapped up in a personal coming-of-age yarn about good triumphing over evil.

For a novelist in any type of speculative fiction, I give the novel five slices of bacon up out of five.

The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby

December 06, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  61 Comments

Update: Comments closed, winner selected!

pericles commissionHere I insert my standard disclaimer: I target my book reviews to novelists.

Also, if you would like to win a FREE copy of The Pericles Commission, comment on this post. I will select a commenter at random and mail you the copy. You need only to have a valid postal address somewhere in the world. The contest ends December 13 at noon, Pacific Time.

The Pericles Commission is a wonderful debut novel by researcher and writer Gary Corby. A murder mystery set in ancient Greece, the novel is also a political thriller, a coming-of-age-story and a cultural study all in one tight, little, whirlwind package of historical mystery goodness.

And Corby pulls it off masterfully.

Thus, I give you a disclaimer. If you are a novelist who likes to write murder mysteries (as I do), this book will make your head spin. Corby’s artistic creativity at putting a mystery together has the capability of frying your poor writer brain if you attempt to deconstruct the novel beyond its entertainment value.

The plot goes like this:

Early one bright, clear morning in Athens, 461 B.C., a dead man falls from the sky, landing at the feet of Nicolaos.

It doesn’t normally rain corpses. This one is the politician Ephialtes, who only days before had turned Athens into a democracy, and with it, kick-started western civilization. It looks very much as if Ephialtes was assassinated to stifle the world’s first democracy at its birth.

But Ephialtes has a lieutenant: a rising young politician by the name of Pericles. Pericles commissions the clever young Nicolaos to expose the assassin.

Nicolaos walks the mean streets of classical Athens in search of a killer. He’s totally confident he’ll succeed in finding him.

There are only a few small problems. Pericles is looking over his shoulder, critiquing his every move. Nicolaos would like to get closer (much closer) to Diotima, the intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis. He’d prefer not to go near Pythax, the brutally tough chief of the city guard. It would definitely help if the main suspect weren’t Xanthippus, a leading conservative and, worst of all, the father of Pericles.

But most of all, what Nicolaos really needs is to shake off his irritating twelve-year-old brother, Socrates, who keeps making helpful suggestions.

Can Nicolaos save Athens, democracy, and the future of western civilization?

Oh, how I loved Nicolaos, and Corby’s voicing with his main character leaves a reader not so much seeing the wonders of ancient Greece through his eyes, but living it in a visceral, immersive escapism that I had not experienced in a murder mystery since Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Realtime.

There is a certain purity in murder mysteries. There’s a dead body. Sometimes more. The stakes are high, and beyond the expert voicing and characterization, the gem of The Pericles Commission is its sheer relentlessness.  For this novel is relentless in the stakes. Corby ratchets them up again and again and again until a reader is left almost panting with tension, reading furiously as nothing so much as the fate of humanity is on the line.

This novel happily dances around thriller territory and simply calling it a historical murder mystery is an understatement.  If you are a writer, don’t let the fabulous research blind you, or the mesmerizing voicing nor the purity of how the setting comes alive. Never has a historical book been so much fun to read. It was intelligent escapism at its highest form, and that, dear writers, was simply awesome. The Pericles Commission is not so much a novel as it is crack for mystery lovers.

Don’t forget to comment below to win a chance at a free copy!