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.

Our First Interview!

Our first interview on the Wrambling Writers podcast went live a couple of hours ago! We got to talk with Liberty Speidel, author of The Darby Shaw Chronicles. She jumped right in and wrambled along with us on everything from her books, to Donald Trump, to Star Wars. Go check it out and leave a review for the podcast on iTunes.

Review: Capitulation by Liberty Speidel

The Bottom Line

All around better writing and a fantastic twist make this an enjoyable read. It’s only held back slightly by a lackluster resolution.

B+

The Review

I’ve been reading Liberty Speidel’s The Darby Shaw Chronicles for what feels like quite a while now, but I finished the third book last week. It’s taken me a little while to get my thoughts posted here for but they’re finally up! You can also hear my discussion of the book with Josh on The Wrambling Writers podcast.

The first thing you need to know about Capitulation is that it continues to upward trajectory Liberty has been following since Emergence. Each book in the series is better than the last and I’m honestly hoping she’s got more coming because I’d love to see another Darby book even better than this one.

A big weakness of the first two in my opinion was that they were very predictable. Retaliation (the second book) had an interesting story but I was never surprised. Not once. Capitulation however managed to get an audible exclamation of surprise out of me when the big twist hit. I’m not going to say anything more about that because I hate spoilers, but I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it.

The structure of this one is a bit different from Speidel’s previous outings as well. Darby and Mark are working a case throughout most of the book but that case isn’t central to main character drama. Very much like a detective/cop/mystery television show where’s there a new case every week but underlying drama between the characters that connects everything. I love that structure and Speidel uses it well for the most part. That case keeps things moving and even ties in to main story. In fact, the biggest problem I had with Capitulation came after that case gets closed because the pace started to lag and I felt like I was spending too much time listening in on random conversations that drug on just a touch too long.

In general, the characters are deeper, the dialogue is sharper, and the writing is just plain better than the previous two books. It’s been awesome watching the development of Liberty’s craft from one book to the next. Again, I’m really hoping there’s more, just so I can see more improvement!

Where it’s really lacking is in the ending. After that big moment I mentioned earlier, the plot drags and wraps up in a really dry way. On top of that, there are several bigs questions left hanging. Though I’m told they might get answered in the short story that’s included in the edition that includes books 1-3 in a single volume. I’ll get back to you on that.

To Read or Not to Read

Read. With no hesitation at all. This is a highly entertaining book with great characters and an interesting plot. You won’t regret picking this one up and I’m sure you’ll be waiting with me for the next one.

I Got Second Place!

A few months back, I entered a short story contest. That’s not something I do often but this one was a perfect fit for a story I’d been sitting on for a while and didn’t really have any particular plans for. That story is called “Insha’Allah” and deals with issues of free will, God’s sovereignty, and technology from a Muslim perspective. I’d sent it to a magazine or two without getting accepted but I wasn’t really shopping it around too hard.

Then I found Islam and Science Fiction on Twitter and soon ended up reading about their Islamicate Science Fiction Short Story Competition. Since that’s a bit of a mouthful, the short version is that it’s for sci-fi stories with some connection to the Muslim world, whether through characters, setting, themes, or something else. With “Insha’Allah” just sitting on my hard drive, I figured I had nothing to lose by entering it. I sent the submission and mostly forgot about it. Until I got an email saying that I’d won second place in the competition!

You can read the announcement here and be on the lookout for news about when the FREE anthology of all the best stories from the competition will be released.

New Podcast Episode

In case you read my review of Retaliation last week and have been waiting to hear the full discussion on the book, your wait is over. The third episode of The Wrambling Writers is available on our website and on iTunes. The review format is a bit different since Josh was too swamped to get through the book. So it’s a Q&A instead of a traditional review. But I think you’ll still enjoy it! Check it out, then let me know wha you think!

Review: Retaliation by Liberty Speidel

Bottom Line

Same intriguing world as Emergence with a better story and improved writing. An odd plotting decision holds it back, but a big step up for sure.

B

The Review

Retaliation is book two in Liberty Speidel’s superhero detective series, The Darby Shaw Chronicles. If you read my review of Emergence, you’ll probably remember that I wasn’t very impressed by it. I wanted to like it and I did like the world, but the book itself fell flat for me. However, Liberty told me that she thought the series got much better as it went along and it does make sense for a writer’s craft to improve with time and practice. So I was genuinely looking forward to reading Retaliation.

I’m happy to say that I was not let down. There is a significant improvement in the overall writing and the pacing of this story. Darby’s partner, Mark Herman, was my favorite character in Emergence and he’s back to play a big role in this book. He continues to be well-rounded and interesting and he’s really the main character here, making “Darby Shaw Chronicles” a bit of a misnomer. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but Mark is really center stage on this book. That’s not a complaint, because I like the character, just an observation that the title doesn’t quite fit.

My biggest critique concerns the plot and structuring of the story. It begins with a flurry of action that drew me in right away – then falls back to “six weeks earlier.” Even though I’m predisposed to dislike that strategy for hooking my attention, I resolved to keep an open mind. After all, people do get it right on occasion. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be one of those occasions and the story dragged until it caught up with its starting point.

Once we reach that point, the plot moves along nicely and I never found myself wondering when something was finally going to happen. It’s an engaging, though predictable, story that continues to explore the conflict between governmental authority and individual rights. The conflict is driven by a new development in Darby’s powers and we get hints (carefully placed, subtle hints) of another development that I suspect will play a role in book three.

If Emergence was not free (and very short), I would recommend that you begin your reading of The Darby Shaw Chronicles with Retaliation. The first installment of the series is inferior to this second one in many ways and is really more of an extended prologue. You can pick up on everything that happened in Emergence as a matter of backstory while reading Retaliation. However, Emergence doesn’t cost you anything but the hour or so it will take you to read it. So you might as well be fully informed going into book two unless you’re really pressed for time and storage space on your eReader of choice.

To Read or Not to Read

Read. If you liked Emergence, you’re sure to love Retaliation because there is nothing but improvement. If, on the other hand, you didn’t care for Emergence (like me), Retaliation is still worth your time and it just might redeem the series for you.

Review: Emergence by Liberty Speidel

Bottom Line

Fascinating world, interesting story, mildly fresh spin on two well-trodden niches. But the writing is sub-par and the spin isn’t that fresh.

C+

The Review

Emergence is the first in a series of three novellas that make up The Darby Shaw Chronicles by my fellow independent author, Liberty Speidel. The trilogy’s tagline is “A superhuman detective novella” and, based on what I’ve seen so far, it delivers on that promise. It’s a mash-up between a next-step-in-human-evolution approach to mutants with powers and a police procedural. Well, this first installment is really more of a juxtaposition than a mash-up.

It starts off all police thriller, with an end of shift call to a domestic violence incident that quickly becomes a murder scene. Then it morphs into a political drama about the rights of mutants with special powers. These superhumans, as they’re called in this world, have been around for some time, but our protagonist, Darby Shaw, has a new ability that some government agencies argue puts her in a different category. Then we jump into a detective story with a bit of mutant powers dashed in for the climax. All of that in seven chapters.

All in all, it’s not a bad book. It’s a quick read at just about 50 pages with an interesting story, a fascinating world, and at least a couple of deep characters. However, the writing feels a bit awkward in places, particularly the dialogue. And the whole middle chunk will very familiar to fans of other franchises that have already explored the idea of the government going after mutants (Heroes, The Tomorrow People, and X-Men have all been there in multiple media). With all of that combined, I had a hard time getting into the story, despite its bright points.

Among those bright points is a very unique world. Unlike TV shows like Heroes and The Tomorrow PeopleThe Darby Shaw Chronicles picks up decades after superhumans have become commonplace. There is a Superhuman Bill of Rights in place to protect them and the chaos documented by those TV show I mentioned above is a distant memory for most citizens. Some people in Speidel’s universe have accepted superhumans and get along with them, while others remain fiercely prejudiced against them. A scene with a police chief referring to Darby’s powers as “witchcraft” captures that attitude well. Another highlight is Darby’s partner, Mark Herman. While many of the characters, especially the government officials from the middle act, feel very flat and boring, Mark is quite well-rounded. He has a believable mix of good and bad traits that makes his interactions with Darby very entertaining.

Overall, I’m giving Emergence a C+. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t really stand out either. I will say that I’m excited for what’s coming next in this trilogy. Liberty has already heard the substance of this review on my podcast and she agrees that Emergence could have been better. She also says that the following installments are better.

To Read or Not To Read

Read. It’s not perfect, but it’s only 50 pages long and, best of all, it’s free. If you like detective stories, mutants, or both, you’ve got nothing to lose by picking this up.