A Quick Excerpt

I told you a few weeks ago about “The Waters Above,” a new short story I’ve been working on that blends sci-fi and theology. Now I’m almost finished with the first draft and I want to share a brief snippet of the story with you. In the next few days, I’ll be making the first draft available to my creative team for feedback, so if you’d like to get on board, head over to Patreon and join!


Anomaly detected.

The thin electronic voice of the Star Duster’s on-board computer cut through his stupor and dragged him back into consciousness.

Anomaly detected.

The voice was calm, almost soothing, and Waqaz’s body begged him to ignore it and go back to sleep for just a few more…

He came fully awake as he remembered where he was. And how long he had been “sleeping.” Of course, there was no way to know how long that had been. Sleeping wasn’t really the right word for it. What the body went through in carbon hibernation was nothing at all like sleep. If Waqaz had ever doubted that before, he certainly wouldn’t again. There was no REM in hibernation, no real rest at all. Only suspension. In fact, he was still plagued by the same headache that had been with him when he went down.

Waqaz spent a brief moment wondering how long ago that had been. The question was a useless one. When time was measured by the earth’s sun, it had little relevance beyond the solar system. And they were far, far beyond the confines of the solar system. It was impossible to say how long he’d been under in terms that meant anything at all.

Still, his eyes were drawn toward the place he knew the clock was positioned.

Except that he couldn’t see the clock.

Or anything else.

Before his rational mind could catch up and assure him that hibernation blindness was a perfectly normal reaction to spending so much time in suspension, the panic set it.

He had designed the pod he was in. He knew that once the outer barrier had retracted, there was a raised edge of about four centimeters to step over. He knew that the cylindrical hibernation pod rested at an angle of about ten degrees back from vertical.

He knew all of these things, but, in his desperation, it didn’t matter.

Waqaz surged forward, tripped over the edge of the hibernation pod, and went sprawling onto the cold floor of the Star Duster. The impact jolted him back to his senses and he closed his eyes — unnecessarily — to take long, deep breaths.

“It’s normal, it won’t last long.” He spoke the words out loud in an effort to reassure himself but the sound of his voice was so hollow and dry that the last word almost didn’t make it past his lips.

Anamoly detected.

The ship’s mechanical voice intoned its warning again and Waqaz pushed himself to his feet. Traveling in hibernation meant they didn’t need much room, so the Space Duster was small. Even though he’d only been in the cabin for a few days before going under, Waqaz remembered the layout well enough.

The pods were in the back, about five meters behind two chairs that were situated in front of a bank of controls he knew little about. Beyond the control panel, a broad, flat view screen would be pointed out into empty space. If had been able to see, he would’ve had an unobstructed view of countless stars.

The thought led to another spike of panic and he stumbled forward. His knee slammed against the hard base of the chair and he smacked my face on the firm, upholstered back rest as he doubled over from the pain. The combination of blows sent him reeling backwards and onto the floor again.

“Waqaz?” Another voice, this one thin and nasal, but definitely human. “Waqaz, are you alright?”

Waqaz got his feet under him and stood on shaky legs, ignoring the throbbing pain in his knee. A moment later, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Waqaz, what’s the—” Faadi’s sentence ended a gasp, probably as he saw Waqaz’s blind, vacant stare.

His hand moved from Waqaz’s shoulder to his elbow and he guided him into one of the seats.

Waqaz hated being led around like a useless old man, but what choice did he have? When he was still a few centimeters away from being settled in, Faadi gasped again and released his arm. Waqaz could hear his boots striking the floor as he staggered back two steps.

“In the name of Allah…”

“What?” Waqaz demanded when Faadi didn’t say more. “What is it?”


That’s all I can share for now! The full story will eventually be available in a magazine if things go the way I’d like them to. But you can also read it early (and even improve it!) by joining my creative team at Patreon.

Review: Hellfire by Jeff Provine

The Bottom Line

An alternate history/steampunk adventure with a touch of supernatural thriller and strong spiritual themes that will hold your attention with its intriguing premise and interesting plot. Held back primarily by weak character development.

C

The Review

I was excited to get to Jeff Provine’s Hellfire because it’s the first alternate history we’ve reviewed on The Wrambling Writers. It’s also got a healthy does of the supernatural mixed in with the alternate history and that’s something I’m always down for.

The premise is that a crystalline fire-enhancer known as Newton’s Catalyst has jump started a steam-driven industrial revolution ahead of schedule. It’s set in an 1856 filled with airships, steam-driven wagons, powerful locomotives, and an abundance of steel technology. But there’s a catch. The catalyst is also opening doorways to another dimension and monsters are coming through. The resulting story is a supernatural, alternate history, steampunk adventure that tackles issues of faith, technology, and government corruption.

On a broad level, I really enjoyed it. It’s an interesting concept, the story is intriguing, and I was never bored. When you get down to the details, though, I found it lacking in a few places.

Hellfire’s biggest weakness is its characters. I wanted to like them, but never really felt a connection with any of them. Provine does a good job of not ambushing us with character backstory early on, mostly working their histories in throughout the story. There is however, a lull in the action near the book’s final act, during which we get exposed to one character’s story in more detail. It’s done through conversation, so it’s not awful, but it comes too close to info dump for my tastes.

The biggest problem, however, was that the characters simply didn’t feel alive to me. Perhaps because their battle against the evil Rail Agency has little connection to anything personal in their lives. They go on their quest because each of them is thrust into it and they have to either fight to survive or die. There are no real personal stakes or goals tied directly to the large scale events of the story. That leads to a cast of characters who all feel more or less the same, so that it’s sometimes easy to forget who’s talking.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that I’m really picky about dialogue. Really picky. The dialogue in Hellfire is not bad by any means. It’s just not great either. It’s solidly average. There are some good moments, a few bad ones, and mostly just middle grade, passable dialogue. It gets the job done.

Another big point for me is a book’s ending. I haven’t decided what I think of Hellfire’s ending yet, even though I finished it a few days ago. The very final pages do a good job of wrapping up the immediate story while making it clear where the characters are going from here. That combination of resolved-yet-open-ended can be difficult to strike and I applaud Provine for hitting it. What I’m less sure about is the actual climax a few pages earlier. The story is full of the supernatural, with God and demons playing important roles. So the divine intervention required to save the day isn’t wholly out of place. But it is a bit convenient and takes some of the thrill out of the high point. Again, it’s not awful, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

Like I said, I did really enjoy this book. The alternate history elements are very well done and we get small hints about what’s different in the world without ever being subjected to a boring (alternate) history lesson. The passing reference to Napoleon’s use of airships to invade Britain was brilliant. I absolutely love those subtly dropped details. They create a world that was fantastically built and which plays an integral part in the story. I love world building and Jeff Provine nailed that part of Hellfire.

The story itself, in the sense of plot, is also very interesting. Even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the characters, I still cared enough about what was going to happen to keep reading. And that’s because the plot was interesting and the twist was surprising, while not coming from so far off the radar that it felt implausible.

To Read Or Not To Read?

If you enjoy alternate history at all, you should read this book, no doubt. The biggest caveat is that if you’re easily turned off by spiritual themes, it’s probably not for you.

New Patreon Page

I recently discovered the platform Patreon and knew right away it was something I wanted to get involved in. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking of how to build a page that delivers real value to my potential patrons and now it’s ready. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already one of my core fans so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to take our connection to the next level and share the page with your friends.

What I’m most excited about is the way Patreon is going to allow me to get you involved in my work. I’ll be posting updates about new ideas all through the planning stage and inviting feedback on everything from character names to plot twists and beyond. You only have to pledge $1 per book in my upcoming series The Silent Path, to get on the team.

But if you give more, you get more. Lots more. Rewards for higher pledges include downloads and paperback versions of The Silent Path books, plus all of my new works. That means every time I publish anything, you get it. Directly from me.

I hope to see you on my team!

Free Kindle Copy of The Other Side of Hope

Exciting news! I’m giving away thirty copies of the The Other Side of Hope! All you have to do is answer a brief survey and you’ll be entered to win! Just click here to get started!

The Other Side of Hope is a war drama set in a world in which the global roles of Christianity and Islam are switched. It is a story of loss and revenge, of redemption and hope. You’ll see a virtually unrecognizable North America mired in poverty and religious extremism. A devastating terrorist attack in Istanbul, Turkey, the thriving economic center of the world, touches off a war driven by revenge and fueled by mutual hatred and misunderstanding.

Fast-paced and exciting, The Other Side of Hopehas been called “flawless,” “captivating,” and “powerful.” Don’t miss your chance to read it!

Q&A From the Islam Sci-Fi Anthology

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Islamicates Volume Inow is the time! It’s a free short story anthology, so what do you have to lose! As an extra bonus, IslamSciFi.com has also released a brief Q&A with the three winners of the contest (which includes me!). It’s a chance to learn a little more about the writers, where the stories came from, and what else we’re working on. Who knows, you might find a new author whose work you want to follow!

Islamicates Volume I is Out

Technically, it’s been out for a couple of weeks now, but I was slow to notice and share it with you. I shared a few weeks ago that I placed 2nd in a Sci-Fi short story contest run by IslamSciFi.com. Well, that story is now officially available in Islamicates Volume IIt’s an anthology of the best stories from the contest, including my entry, “Inshallah.”

The anthology is completely free and available for download in a wide range of formats, so there’s no reason not to go check it out! I just downloaded my copy and I’m looking forward to reading the other stories! Take a look, then let me know what you think. And don’t forget to sign up to get more free stories from me!

Review: Kingsley by Carolyn O’Neal

The Bottom Line

Well-written, with an exceptional plot and realistic characters. Kingsley is an engaging book that will you make you stop and think about the impact we’re having on our environment without beating you over the head with its message.

B+

The Review

Kingsley is classified by author Carolyn O’Neal as a dystopian eco-thriller. Even if you don’t know that means right away, I’m sure you can see why I was intrigued by the description. And really, it’s very simple to decipher. It’s a dystopia with strong ecological themes and a science-driven end to society as we know it.

The basic premise is that there a disease that causes brain tumors in everything with a Y-chromosome. Meaning every male human and animal on the planet. It starts in a few different mammals, then spreads to humans, sparking worldwide chaos. You know how too many independent books have a great premise but fail to deliver a story that matches? This isn’t one of those books.

Kingsley is a fantastic read packed with great characters and interesting twists. I have just a few minor complaints, and I’ll get them out of the way first.

The biggest was the dialogue. There are spots, especially near the beginning, where I felt like the characters came across just a little bit stiff. Almost like they got to the point too quickly. One early scene in particular involving a divorced couple and the wife’s new fiancee could (should?) have been charged with tension and unspoken hostility. Instead, the characters said exactly what was on their minds. It got the issue out in the open but it felt a little forced and weird. But that was a rare problem and most of the dialogue flows much more smoothly.

The other was the structure. I won’t go into this too much because Josh and I talked about this point a lot in our review on The Wrambling Writers podcast, but I basically would have built the novel a bit differently. There’s nothing wrong or even bad about the way it’s done. There are just some abrupt transitions that I would’ve handled differently myself. You may read it (you should read it!) and not even notice.

Now the good!

The story itself is top notch. Fascinating concept and excellent execution. It’s well paced with enough excitement to keep you going and just enough space to let you catch your breath. The characters are all very well-developed and there is no dead weight at all. Every character you meet feels real. Some of them are likable, some are detestable, some are annoying, some are pitiable. But they’re all real.

The absolute best part is the perspective. I’ve seen so many writers drop the ball on perspective, by head-hopping or some other common mistake, that I get really excited to see one do a decent job in this area. Carolyn did more than decent when it comes to perspective – she nailed it. In fact, Kingsley could easily be a case study on great perspective.

Part of the brilliance is that we’re seeing the end of the world from the perspective of a 14-year old boy. So a lot of the high level details are appropriately left out. You won’t hear anything about governments, local or national, deal with the crisis because Kingsley is only concerned about his headaches, his mother, and his crush, Amanda. The world is falling apart all around him, but you only know that from context clues. It’s not the focus and it makes the collapse seem that much more real and frightening.

The science that underpins the story is also very well research, lending a further tint of realism to the whole thing. I worried early on that we were going to be subject to long lectures on environmental issues but that never happened. Still, the science is there, driving the plot and making the events seem more plausible that you’d like to believe they are.

The ending wasn’t quite perfect, but I still liked it. That coming from someone who’s very picky about endings. I don’t want to give anything away, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

Best of all, the book has a strong environmental message that it communicates without being “preachy.” Whatever your opinion on various “green” initiatives, Kingsley is guaranteed to make you stop and think.

To Read or Not To Read

Read. Absolutely 100% read. I’m going to put the link right here again so you have no excuse not to go read this book.

Are you reading yet?

The Waters Above

I’ve noticed that it’s rare for sci-fi and other forms of speculative fiction to give much place to religion. Think about it: the typical story set in the future will give practically no mention to religions of any kind, despite the fact that the vast majority of humanity holds some type of religious belief. I’m not saying that sci-fi writers should devote vast quantities of time and effort to religion, simply that creating worlds without religion makes for worlds which are quite unrealistic.

I can’t change an entire genre myself, but I do want to contribute to sci-fi, and spec fic in general, stories which give a reasonable place and thoughtful consideration to religion. I think I’ve already done that to some degree but my next short story is going to be my first intentional effort in that direction.

Its current working title is “The Waters Above” and it will be about two Pakistani physicists on an expedition to explore the farthest reaches of space; the very edge of the known universe. What they find there will bend the expectations and realties of both science and religion. The story will be shaped in a significant way by both Muslim and Christianity theology as well as hard science facts — and healthy speculation!

At this point, I’m planning to shop the completed story around to major sci-fi markets like Clarkesworld and Asimov’s. So if all goes well, you’ll need to purchase one of those publications to read it.

New Alternate History Anthology and More

 

I want to share a few things that I’ve discovered over the past few weeks that I think you might enjoy checking out. Some books, blog posts, and even some music!

Zarya 

New author Jackiem Joyner is also a musician. He’s a phenomenal saxophone player with roots in Virginia, so you should definitely give him a listen! With the release of Zarya: Cyndus Final Hope, you’ve got another reason to pay attention to Joyner. It’s a YA science fiction with a strong female lead, lots of action, and a bit of environmentalism.

Inklings Press

I connected with Inklings Press a few weeks ago on Twitter and I’m so glad I did! They’re a relatively new small press with a focus on science fiction, fantasy, and alternate history. Since we’re right in the same trenches together, I’m excited for future partnership opportunities. But right now I want to make sure you all check out their new anthology, Tales From Alternate Earths. Especially if you’re new to alternate history, this collection of 8 short stories is a great place to start.

Altered Instinct

Speaking of being new to alternate history, Brent Harris (from Inklings Press) recently published a blog post entitled “The Truth About Alternate History.” In it, he talks about some of the challenges and advantages of the genre and reading it got me pumped up to go diving back into my own alternate history project (The Other Side of Unity).

I also published a guest post on Long and Short Reviews that’s basically an introduction to alternate history for those unfamiliar with it. I highly recommend both if you find yourself wondering what the heck I’m talking about when I saw alternate history, or if the phrase makes you think of a historical textbook.

Collaberative Project

Not long ago, I joined up with a group of three other writers on the website Booksie to publish a collaborative science fiction story titled Sins of Our Fathers. I got into it without really knowing what a collab was but it’s been a blast so far. We’re 8 chapters in so far and it’s looking good so go take a look and let us know what you think!

Be sure to sign up for my newsletter and be the first to get these recommendations.

Book Signing in Scottsville

If you’re from Appomattox, I’m sure you’re familiar with Baines Books. It’s easily one of the most important gathering places in our small town and one of my favorite places in the whole area. What you might not know about everyone’s favorite local bookstore/coffee shop/music venue is that there are in fact two of them. There’s the one in Appomattox, of course, but there’s also another location in Scottsville (it’s close to Charlottesville).

You might be thinking that a Baines’ location near Charlottesville holds no meaning for you. But if you missed out on my book signing at the Appomattox Baines a couple of weeks ago, this is your chance to get a signed copy of The Other Side of Hope and enjoy a day trip to Charlottesville while you’re at it!

So share this with your friends in C’Ville, and start making plans to head (just a touch) north on Saturday. I’ve heard that Scottsville puts on a big “Second Saturdays” event every month that promises to be a lot of fun and is sure to make the trip worthwhile if you don’t live in the area.

I’ll be at Baines’ from 11 to 2. Hope to see you there!

Here’s their address if you need it: 485 Valley St Scottsville, VA 24590