• Category Archives Books
  • Joe Dever has passed on

    2016 does not relent and another legend leaves us.
    It is with great sadness I report the passing of Joe Dever, whom many role playing enthusiasts will know as the principal author of the Lone Wolf series of Fighting Fantasy-style role playing books and the wolrd of Magnamund in which the adventures of Lone Wolf take place. He was only 60 years old.

    To me personally, this is a very great loss, since he is one of the very few authors I consider myself to be a genuine fanboy of and the sum  his work, especially the Drakkarim, has influenced many an adventure I ran as the game master/dungeon master.


    I was lucky enough to have met Joe Dever at the RPC in Cologne in 2013 and dedicated a podcast to him which I am sharing here again.

    Joe Dever will be missed and I will miss him a lot.

    Rest in peace, Sir!


    Joe Dever has passed on

  • Review: Black Silk by Lila Lestrange

    Black Silk by Lila Lestrange has managed something no other book managed before: It wanted me to rage-quit my Kindle out of the window because of the level of disgusting, selfish evil the main villain reached, but let’s start at the beginning:

    Black Silk is a dark fantasy novel of quite some size (more than 100.000 words) and my first forray into Dark Fantasy or more precisely Grimdark Fantasy.

    The setting of Black Silk is the city of Naressina, a bustling trading port reminiscent of Renaissance Venice. Ships from all over the world fill its ports and many strange and wonderful goods from spices to silks to darker things change hands here.

    The first thing that sets Black Silk apart from other fantasy setting is the one non-human race living in rather limited numbers alongside humans in the city. These are the zereshi, humanoids with features of both cats and insects whose home is in some distant landNaressina trades with. One of their kind features prominently on the cover:

    Black Silk by Lila Lestrange Cover


    It is also with one of the zereshi, the merchant Zîf Kaliari, that the story begins. One of his warehouses is broken into but nothing seems to be missing. Instead, he finds a strange golden amulet depicting a beast or deamon of some sort.

    While the wealthy trader Zîf tries to uncover the secret behind the amulet and his health rapidly fades, the gang from Lowtown, the poorest part of Naressina, which broke into the warehouse and who got screwed by their mysterious employer, nearly destroying them, want revenge and a few answers themselves.

    At the same time revolution is brewing and the ruling classes of the city  use the civic unrest and general turmoil for their own ends, which are nefarious in more than one way. The reader lerns pretty quickly that life in the poor quarters of the city is cheap in deed, that the brutish law of the rulers does not even spare children and that dark forces are everywhere in more than one form.

    Enter Viedro, the aforementioned villain who is basically behind every single act of evil in the city. He is a noble who through intrigue and dark magic becomes the de facto ruler of the city, completely untouchable by the law. He is arrogant, lecherous, decadent, cares nothing about the lives of others, has despicable sexual preferences, is in league with deamons, I could go on. This bloated maggot (he is rather obese)  has no redeeming qualities and is depicted so realistically by Lila Lestrange, it made me mad on more than one occasion and let me seethe with rage several times as well.

    The political situation, the treatment of the poor and the self-serving dark magic is not the only thing that makes Black Silk a truely dark piece of fiction. There are the little personal tragedies that play out, the low-grade everyday racism against the zereshi and the bleakness of the lives of the poor.

    Yet, there is hope in the tale. Zîf and the gang which broke into his warehouse, the Wharf Rats, make contact in a roundabout way, uncover the dark conspiracy which has chocked the city and move against it as unlikely allies and make other allies along the way.

    One of the most beautiful scenes in the novel is when one of the truely evil scumbags in charge uses fear-based magic against another character with a dark past and finds out the hard way that fear-based magic does not work against a psychopath who lost his fear a long time ago.

    Also, the Drunken Rat, the tavern the Wharf Rats hang out, is a rare mostly happy place in this dark city of oppession, fear and magic. It is a place of refuge for some of the protagonists and also the reader.

    All in all, Black Silk is a fascinating, captivating, and harrowing tale set in a refreshingly different fantasy world, no elves or orcs but zereshi and two suns.

    8 out of 10 dark deamons.


    Find out more about Naressina and Lila Lestrange here.


  • Raven Choy – An African-American Superheroine

    It happens rarely I simply post a press-release, but here I happily make an exception, because the whole topic is so awesome and also neccessary:

    In Korea, orphan Rayven Choi has had 20 years to feel bitter about the hitman who brutally murdered her parents in cold blood. Now it is time for the thinking to stop and for action to take over. She is back in America, and she is on a mission. She is a bounty hunter with a score to settle…

    Los Angeles, CA, July 25, 2016 – Right on the heels of this weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con International, award-winning writer and director Shequeta L. Smith has launched the first book in a her six-part graphic novel series, Rayven Choi, complete with a 14-minute companion film. The book will be available in both English and Korean.

    The multimedia series turns the comic book boys‘ club on its head with a strong African-American heroine leading the action-packed story of vengeance and female empowerment, written and directed by a woman.

    Putting a powerful African-American protagonist at the heart of the adventure was important for Smith, knowing that positive female characters are in short supply in the comic book world. And recognizing female creators are even rarer in the comic book and film sectors, Smith aims to shine a light on the untapped talent of women in both industries.


    Smith is a seasoned filmmaker who beat more than 5,000 entrants to become the only individual female director to reach the Top 20 in HBO’s Project Greenlight. After that, she turned her focus to adapting her award-winning screenplay, Rayven Choi, into a graphic novel.

    “The female voice has been difficult to find in both the comic book and film worlds,“ she says. „I created Rayven Choi to help fill this void and to showcase the superhuman inner strength that all resilient women seem to possess.“

    Rayven Choi is now available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and iTunes/iBook eBook formats and has remained in the Top five best sellers on Amazon since its release. The film is set to be screened at film festivals later in the year.

    And this is the trailer for the first part of the six-part graphic novel:

  • Book Feature: Cog and the Steel Tower – Steampunk for Young Readers

    Another wonderful thing came in via the Ætherbox, proving once more Steampunk is alive and well, the creativity unbroken. Even better, here comes a novel aimed at younger readers, so this is an ideal way to introduce youngsters to the worlds Steampunk creates and spend their time reading instead of, you know, summoning Elder Gods or something. Right, maybe what happens in my family does not happen that frequently in other families, never mind…

    The Book I am talking about is of course Cog and the Steel Tower:

    Cog and the Steel Tower


    A little about the book in the author’s own words:

    Cog and the Steel Tower is a middle-grade novel set in an alternate-world steampunk setting. I wrote it as both something for my daughter to enjoy and to have fun with the steampunk setting. I really enjoyed taking these old technologies and outdated concepts like aether and alchemy and projecting a society in which they thrive. I have a particular fascination with airships and one of them, the GRD Birkenhead, plays an important role in the story.


    Thirteen-year-old Cog loved getting her hands greasy in her Uncle’s workshop and building the occasional mud-cannon before the return of her mother knocked her life completely off its rails. Before long she’s stowing away on a royal airship and tricking her way into a dream apprenticeship with the Queen’s master engineer by pretending to be a boy. But her situation takes a dangerous turn when she discovers a plot to assassinate the Queen and throw the kingdom into war.

    If she can keep her identity a secret despite her best friend developing a crush on her alter ego, unravel the deadly conspiracy, and keep the demanding master engineer happy, then maybe she can have the future she’s always wanted. Keeping hidden identities and saving kingdoms may not be the same as fixing a steam wagon or an auto-mechanical potion mixer, but Cog has a set of precision screwdrivers and she isn’t afraid to use them.

    Follow Cog’s rollicking adventure as she uses her wits and ingenuity to find friendship, trust, and justice in a colorful but sometimes unforgiving steampunk world full of mechanical mayhem.


    About the Author:

    W.E. Larson was born in Manhattan — the Kansas one — and raised mostly in Topeka Kansas. He went to college in San Antonio at Trinity University where he earned a degree in Physics. After the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider, he decided to seek his fortune with software engineering instead. He has worked as a software engineer at a variety of companies, carefully avoiding ones that have a big IPO that makes all the employees rich.

    An interest in programming started back in middle school where he wasted time in computer lab writing video games on one of the school’s Apple IIe, learning a lot more than the class was teaching. He still has the Atari 400 he parents got him back then. With that kind of nerd potential he naturally gravitated to reading lots of science fiction and fantasy.

    Eventually, he gained an interest in writing his own fantastical tales and has written three fantasy novels. Cog and the Steel Tower is the first one ready for public consumption.

    Currently, he lives in the Kansas City metro with his wife, two kids, and three dogs. Normally he goes by Erik Larson, but had to use W.E. Larson since there is already a well-known author named Erik Larson.


    More about W.E. Larson and Cog an dthe Steel Tower on the web:

    The Author’s website

    Cog and the Steel Tower on Goodreads

    and the book on Amazon


    To kindle your interest, here is an excerpt of the novel:

    “I reckon it’s one hundred ten yards. What do you think?” Cog handed her spyglass over to Winifred.

    Winifred slithered on her stomach to get a better view from the bushes before putting the long brass tube to her eye. “One hundred thirty.”

    “I’ll need to make some adjustments.” Cog scrambled over to the device they had lugged all the way to Farmer Hemsworth’s fields. It looked like a small cannon with brass and copper tubing entwined around it. She checked the pressure gauge and turned the dial. “Okay, I think that’ll do.”

    Together, they propped up the cannon just the right amount with an old log. Winifred took another look through the spyglass. “We need to turn it more to the right.”

    Cog rotated it until Winifred held up her hand. “Perfect!”

    “Powering up.” Cog flipped a switch near the base. Sparks played along the copper coiled around the barrel, and the brass tubing hissed like a bucket of angry snakes. The pressure gauge swung ominously into the red.

    Winifred took a few steps back. “Are you sure this won’t blow up?”

    “Sure, I’m sure,” Cog said, grinning. “We’ll only have one shot, though.”

    “I’ll make sure the target is still there.” Winifred returned to the bushes for another look. “We have a problem.”


    “See for yourself.” Winifred held out the spyglass, and Cog lowered herself to look. The ground was damp and slick, but she hardly worried about getting her workshop overalls dirty.

    Cog put the instrument to her eye. The target, Polly, hadn’t moved from the bench in Mrs. Hemsworth’s rose garden. Polly was fifteen, two years older than Cog, and very pretty. She delighted in teasing Cog about her cropped hair, workshop clothes, and greasy hands. As the unofficial leader of the girls in the village, Polly also made sure that nobody else treated Cog too nicely. Only Winifred broke ranks.

    Winifred’s problem was immediately obvious: a boy had joined Polly. Not just any boy either, it was Lawrence Hemsworth. With his good looks and his family’s wealth, he was the most popular boy in the village. Worse yet, Lawrence was only one of a couple of boys who didn’t take Polly’s lead in tormenting Cog.

    “You still want to do this?” Winifred asked.

    Cog watched him sit next to Polly. They looked good together—Lawrence with his crisp, white shirt and Polly in a flattering, light blue dress. Lawrence leaned in and they met lips, closing their eyes.

    “Definitely!” If Lawrence insisted on kissing pretty, precious Polly… well, he’d have to face the consequences.

    “Who gets the spyglass to watch?” Winifred asked.

    “Rock, paper, scissors.”

    They pounded their fists into their hands and counted. “One… Two… Three… Go!”

    Cog kept her hand in a closed fist, but Winifred held hers open. “Paper covers rock,” she said, grinning.

    “Lucky.” Cog handed her the spyglass. “Ready?”

    “I have them in sight,” Winifred reported.

    “Firing!” Cog flipped a switch and the machine made a crackling sound followed by a tremendous phoomp! A ball shot out of the barrel—a ball of the slimiest, smelliest mud Planter’s Creek had to offer. Cog had designed the mud electro-cannon to apply a powerful electrostatic charge to the moisture that kept the slimy mass intact as it hurtled over the field.

    Cog settled next to her friend to peek out from the bushes. Even at this distance, she could see that Lawrence had slipped his arm around Polly’s shoulders. Polly adjusted herself to face him. They moved toward each other again and… splat!

    “Direct hit!” Winifred shouted before exploding into giggles. She clutched her sides and rolled into a ball, laughing so hard her eyes watered.

    Cog snatched the spyglass. Mud covered Polly. It was in her hair, on her dress, and smeared across her face where she’d tried to wipe it off. She stormed this way and that, searching behind rose bushes. Cog watched her shove some of the rose canes aside only to quickly clutch her hand, apparently too angry to remember thorns.

    Lawrence hadn’t been spared—muddy spots now marred his shirt and face. Unlike Polly though, he merely looked befuddled. Maybe he’d noticed the mud had fallen from the sky.

    Polly turned and her mud-soaked hair swung around to smack her across the face. Cog dissolved into giggles and soon joined Winifred, rolling on the ground and scarcely able to breathe.

    By the time they recovered, Cog’s stomach hurt, and she had to wipe tears from her face. “That should teach Polly to stop teasing me about my hair.”

    “Only if she figures out we were behind it,” Winifred said as she stood and made a futile effort at brushing off her dress.

    “She knows,” Cog reassured her. Who else would Polly suspect of making mud fall from the sky? “Help me get this back to the workshop.”

    With Winifred holding up one end and Cog the other, they began their trek into the village. Cog hoped to get her invention back and at least partly disassembled before Papa returned. He wouldn’t consider a mud electro-cannon a good use of his stock of parts.

    They took a path along a long wind-break of trees to Papa’s workshop. Cog peeked in a window of the white-washed building. “C’mon, Winny, it’s clear.”

    As always, the shop was tidy with racks of tools on the walls and shelves filled with well-organized bins of parts and fasteners. Two large tables took up the rest of the space, one covered with parts and the other empty and clean. They shuffled the device onto the empty table, and Cog immediately started loosening bolts.

    Winifred cleared a little space among the steam wagon parts on the other table and hopped up to sit, swinging her dirty feet. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Polly that mad before.”

    “You made a perfect call on the range,” Cog said, grinning back.

    “Too bad we got Lawrence, too.”

    “He’ll probably be laughing about it by tomorrow,” Cog said. Maybe she could have waited for Polly to be alone, but that would’ve risked missing the chance.

    “Getting the mud from the creek made me think,” Winifred said. “If we made a raft, maybe—”

    Polly burst into the shop like an unwelcome locomotive, her face still smeared and her hair in dirty strings. She jabbed a finger toward Cog. “You!”


    Polly tugged on a particularly muddy part of her dress. “Lawrence said this mud came out of the clear, blue sky.”

    “That’s odd,” Winifred remarked, looking as innocent as a kitten.

    “There’s only one person who could make that happen,” Polly turned her sharp gaze toward the disassembled mud-cannon. “Is that what did it?”

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Cog tried to hold back a guilty grin.

    “Oh yes, you do, you and your stupid gizmos.” Her lips twisted in anger. “Nobody is ever going to hire a girl to fix machines. All this playing around with junk is a waste of time. Your uncle just wishes he had a son instead of some freak girl his sister didn’t want.”

    “Shut up!” Winifred yelled, jumping down from the table.

    “Don’t think I’ve forgotten the freak’s mousy accomplice.” Polly turned to Winifred. “You’ll both pay for—”

    The workshop door’s bell jingled, and Papa came inside. He looked pale.

    Polly turned toward him, pointing to her dress. “Look at what your niece did to—”

    He waved vaguely toward the door. “You can come back and play with Cog later, Polly.”

    “But she—”


    “Hmmmph…” Polly shot one last scathing glare toward Cog before flouncing out the door.

    She vanished from Cog’s mind as quickly as she had from the workshop. What had Papa so upset?

    “Is it Gran?” Cog asked. Her grandmother had taken ill a couple of years ago and still hadn’t recovered.

    Papa shook his head. “No. It’s… well… she’s come back.”

    “Come back? Who?”

    “Your—” He turned to Winifred. “I need to talk with Cog, Winny. Maybe you two—”

    “Albert, that’s where you went off to,” a woman’s voice came from behind him. “Is this the old workshop? You must have expanded it.”

    “Yes, business has been good.” He stepped to the side as a woman slid past him.

    She had the same chestnut hair as Cog, though hers trailed down her back in lustrous curls instead of being cropped short. But the eyes made Cog freeze to the spot. They looked exactly the same as her own: large and dark-brown in color. In her well-tailored lavender dress, the woman looked beautiful, elegant, and completely out of place standing next to a rack of tools.

    “I was just telling—” Papa started.

    “Oh, this must be Corinna,” the woman cooed, sweeping over to Winifred. Her gaze took in Winny’s dirty dress, scabbed knees, and filthy feet. “What a beautiful young lady you’ve grown into.”

    Winifred turned her gaze back and forth, her eyes wide. “Um…”

    “That’s not Corinna,” Papa said.

    “I should go,” Winifred whispered. She crept to the door, shooting Cog a glance that clearly said she’d want a full report.

    The woman turned back to Papa, “Where is she?” She peered around the room before settling on Cog and smiling. “Is this your son, Albert? He looks just like you. You never said anything about—”

    “Abigail,” Papa said, putting a hand on Cog’s shoulder, “this is Corinna.”

    “Corinna?” Her mouth fell open.

    “You’re Papa’s sister?” Cog supposed her mouth must be hanging open too. She’d never suspected the teenage girl that gave her up would be the elegant woman in front of her.

    Abigail regained her composure and opened her arms. “Come here, My Little Princess.”

    Cog took a few unsure steps before holding up her grimy hands. “You probably don’t want me to—”

    Abigail frowned at the dirty fingers. “Perhaps you should keep those behind your back this once.” She closed the distance as Cog kept her hands out of the way. Abigail gingerly pulled her into a loose hug.

    What should meeting your mother for the first time feel like? Her mind had jammed from trying to be happy, angry, curious, nervous, and a hundred other emotions all at once.

    And now, sidle over to Amazon and grab a copy.

  • Book Feature: Legacy by Michelle Lowe

    The popularity of Steampunk is not waning, not at all. In fact, I have not had so many authors contacting me for a feature of their work in a long time. Here comes the next one:

    The lady Michelle Lowe has created an intriguing steam fantasy setting in a book series by the name of Legacy that is my great pleasure to feature here. This is an excerpt of the first novel:

    Pierce Landross’s strange dream about flying machines drifted from his memory. Again, he tried holding onto the images, yet they slipped away as his eyes opened. He remembered nothing.

    He’d awakened in his hotel room after a day’s sleep. He’d arrived just the evening before, tired and hungry. After eating at the downstairs pub, he’d come up to his room and had fallen asleep the moment he’d hit the mattress. He’d stayed in the same position on his belly until his body had fully restored from its restfulness. With a groan and a deep yawn, he got out of bed, stretched, and went over to the washbasin. After cleaning his face and the rest of the sleep away, he looked at himself in the mirror. The room glowed with the afternoon light, giving him a clear view of his scar.

    It was his daily reminder of betrayal and heartbreak. Every detail of that horrible night played out in significant fragments; the punch that had brought him down, the knife, the look on his assailant’s face, and then the abandonment when it was all over. Every time he touched the scar, he could almost feel the jagged blade tearing across his skin.

    He shook off the memory and splashed more water on his face. A pang in his stomach told him that needed food. He also needed to find a ship willing to let him onboard before the royal guards caught up with him. He’d go anywhere as long as it was hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away.

    A week and a half ago, he’d crossed a line, earning him nothing more than a hunting party on his tail, aiming to bring him back to London. He’d managed a razor-thin escape in Aylesham before crossing the Channel into France, where he’d traveled down the coast, only stopping to steal horses to keep up a steady getaway.

    If this has kindled your interest, click the image:




    About the Author:  Michelle E. Lowe is the author of The Warning, Atlantic Pyramid, Cherished Thief, the action adventure/fantasy steampunk series, titled Legacy. Children’s books, Poe’s Haunted House Tour, and the three part adventure children’s series, The Hex Hunt. She is also a mother, wife, and painter. Her works in progress are the continuations for Legacy. Currently, she lives in Lake Forest, California.


    Website: www.michellelowe.net

    Facebook: Facebook.com/michelleloweauthor

    Twitter: @MichelleLowe_7

    Email: Michellelowe7@gmail.com

  • Review: A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

    It is in and of itself an achievement to write a book that your literary agent judges to be unable to be published in both Israel and Germany. Yet, from what Lavie told me, this is exactly what happened to A Man Lies Dreaming.

    The plot can bes summed up in one sentence that explains this phenomenon:


    Jewish Auschwitz prisoner flees from his hellish reality by imagening a pulp detective story in which all the villains in his life (including Hitler, Eichmann etc.) are protagonists.



    A Man Lies Dreaming, is a gut-wrenching, sometimes nauseating hell-ride of a novel. The description of the daily life of the central character, Shomer, in Auschwitz is bad enough, but then comes the story he makes up in his head and things get really, well, twisted.

    The story in Shomer’s head is set in London in 1939, in an alternate universe were the KPD, the German Communist Party, won the election of 1933. The Nazis either fled or chaged sides and everyone with some money, including many Jews fled.

    Now London is full of refugees and expats, trying to settle in and find a new life for themselves. Some of the former leading echolon of the NSDAP are now businessmen in the skin trade, such as Hess and Goebbels. The skin trade is one of the more obvious aspects of the pulp story in which Shomer puts a bucket-load of the things he witnesses every day. It is horrifying to read and the knowledge of where Shomer gets his ideas from make the dark abyss the reader experiences even darker.

    The protagonist of the pulp story is a detective called Wolf, and this is all I am going to say about him as a person. He gets hired by a rich Jewish girl to find her sister and the more brutal Shomers life becomes, the more brutality enters the pulp story and the more Wolf suffers at the hand of various thugs. And here lies one of the worst mind-fucks I have ever experienced, but to go into any more detail would be a major spoiler.

    The novel ends in a really bizarre twist that makes you wonder what the final fate of Shomer is, if he died, crossed dimensions, went insane, travelled in time or what… It is hard to tell and it is an end I did not expect at all.

    On top of it all, A Man Lies Dreaming is fast-paced, fascinating, in all its horror an excellent read, but be warned: This novel kicks you in the guts really hard on an aweful number of occasions and is not for people looking for beauty in literature.


    10/10 and I wonder were Lavie gets his ideas from.


  • Recommendation: Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons

    When I heard that a biography of Gary Gygax, the father of Dungeons & Dragons had been published, I of course rushed to get it. Just for the off chance that you are unaware who Gary Gygax is, as I said, he is the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, the first tabletop (pen & paper) role playing game.
    Thus, he created a genre that would spawn everything from Advanced Dungeons & Dargons, to Star Wars the Role Playing Game, to Magic the Gathering and every computer and online role playing game you have ever played. He set it all in motion, it started in a small house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Gary Gygax is the godfather of one of the greatest popculture phenomena of the 20th century.


    Now for the content of the biography: Empire of Imagination tells the story of Gary’s life and it tells it in a very fitting way: Like an adventure. Every chapter has an intro from a scene of a role playing adventure that reflects the situation Gary is in at the moment. It is just beautiful and sets the mood. The biographical data is deep and broad, I learned plenty about Gary’s life that I had never heard of before, like him being a Jehova’s Witness. I also found the genesis of the first Dungeons & Dragons set fascinating, but I am not going to spoil it for you if you have no idea about the history of role playing games. Let’s just say, even before role playing games, you could be a game nerd and there were plenty around and Gary was one of them.

    I guess Michael Witwer took some liberty imagining some of the scenes in the book since some of the information in the book is probably very hard to come by, especially with 40 years of time passing between Gary coming to prominence and the event. It does not matter, though, after all, Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons is about a guy with a highly active imagination, so there can be imagination in the book as well.

    The biography is also really engaging, well done, Michael Witwer, you really feel with Gary. It is like you are looking over his shoulder the whole time. You are not a distant observer or historian, you are part of his life. You dive into this biography as if Empire of Imagination was a novel and Gary the protagonist. Every time something good happened to Gary, I cheered inside. I felt warm inside my chest when he got married or when one of his children was born and every time his tumultuous handed him lemons, I felt sad. When Lorraine Williams reared her ugly head and booted Gary out of TSR, I was seething, but like every epic adventure, there is some light at the end, a recovery and it ends with Gary passing on a living legend.

    Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons is a book no geek or role player of any sort should miss out on. Get it! It is an excellent read and you owe it to the creator of the genre to read the story of his life. It is also a very motivating tale, because Gary always managed to work himself out of bad situations by his own strength.

    So many layers to this book, such an epic life, Gary lived, so many lives he touched…


  • Book Feature: The Machine – Book One – The Blood and Destiny Series by E.C. Jarvis

    My word! Steampunk is really exploding across the literature scene at the moment. Once again, I have the honour of featuring an upcoming new Steampunk novel, this time from British author E.C. Jarvis.


    From the Official Press Release:
    The Machine is a sensational new novel, written by a determined machine of an author and published by a market-smashing machine of a publisher. Strap into your corset, polish your goggles and purchase a copy, you’re in for a captivating ride!


    Official Synopsis of The Machine – Book one of the Blood and Destiny Series

    Larissa Markus is a humble clerk in a clothing shop with a hidden past when she is swept off her feet by the charismatic Professor.  Their whirlwind romance explodes in her face and leads her down a tumultuous path of adventure, intrigue, love and violence.  Airships, pirates, corsets, torture, murder, and more await in the first novel of the Blood and Destiny Series from E.C. Jarvis.
    The Machine is an adult steampunk fantasy book. Possible triggers are present within the book including but not limited to sex, murder, torture, and violence.


    About the Author

    E.C. Jarvis is a British author working mainly in speculative and fantasy fiction genres. For the last thirteen years, Jarvis has been working her way through the ranks of the accountancy profession in various industries. During ten of those years she has also been writing.

    Her first success at publishing was a poem in a collection titled Fear Itself published by Forward Poetry in 2012. Following a three year hiatus where she “couldn’t even bring myself to write a shopping list”, 2015 saw a turnaround that has seen her complete two full novels, gain two publishing contracts, win a number of online writing competitions and is on track to complete her first trilogy.

    She was born in Surrey, England in 1982. She now resides in Hampshire, England with her daughter and husband.

    Bullet Points:

    • Professional bean counter.
    • Semi-professional word spewer.
    • Once got the two confused – it was not pretty.
    • Born, raised and currently living in England.
    • Over the years, E.C.Jarvis has managed to accumulate a husband, a daughter and a cat.





        Cid reached up to scratch his head. He grunted when the attempt was thwarted by the strap of his goggles and the thick leather glove on his hand. It had escaped his mind that he was wearing either. He looked at his hand for a moment, debating whether the itch was irritating enough to warrant taking off the glove and removing his goggles. He opted to use the spanner in his left hand to get it instead.
    “Fucking pointless,” he muttered to himself and then threw the spanner back into his toolbox, knocking off the blueprints that sat on top. The box jostled and the lid slammed shut.
    The Machine stood in front of him, dominating the room. Its outer shell, constructed from brass and silver, had two great domes that reached up to the ceiling of the control room. It was finished. The steam turbine had been tested and the cooling systems were in place, the condensers and pumps ready to work and every wire connected. The only thing missing was the fuel—the Anthonium.
    Cid chewed on his nail; he didn’t stop when the leather of his glove came between his teeth instead of his fingernail. Absentmindedly, he chewed on the glove instead.
    “How long has he been gone?” Cid called to one of the workers nearby. The short and rotund man looked up at the clock on the wall and then glanced back.
    “Umm, an hour?” the man said with a shrug before scuttling off to get on with his work.
    “Awfully useful, you are,” Cid grumbled. He headed to the Machine and fiddled with the controls inside a hatch, muttering to himself.
    The door to the room on the level above opened and Cid turned to look up at the balcony. The Professor entered, his long blond hair flowing with each stride. Cid had expected his employer to bring the Anthonium in so they could test the Machine tonight. Instead, the Professor had brought a girl with him. Her own mop of blond curls bobbed as they walked together into the room.
    Cid scrunched up his face. He tried to remind himself that this was the Professor’s project. His pride and joy, his design, built with his money, and if he wanted to show it off for the sake of some skirt, that was his choice. Still, it didn’t stop Cid from feeling irked by the situation. Not that he would dare allude to that fact.
    “What does it do?” Cid heard the young woman ask.
    “It’s a small-scale fission reactor, used to generate power through a sustained chain reaction. The heat generated from the reaction with the core element is passed through a fluid, which releases steam. The steam powers a set of turbines which pass a charge to a generator.”
    Cid sunk his forehead into his hand as he listened to the Professor attempt to explain the most complex machine in the entire world to someone who clearly had no concept of it. It was like listening to a physics Professor explain the workings of the universe to a monkey.
    “It will do wonders for our world, Larissa,” the Professor continued. “This will give us incredible power, make our furnaces obsolete, and block out the winter. With this, we’ll be masters of our enemies. I need only one more element to make it work.”
    Cid just about managed to stop himself from bursting into fits of hysterical laughter when he heard the Professor promising all kinds of love and affection to the poor, startled creature in exchange for the one thing Cid needed—and perhaps a few more things the Professor desired.
    Before Cid realized it, the girl had agreed. Now, she handed over her necklace, complete with the Anthonium they’d been so desperate to find. Cid watched with one eye between his fingers as the Professor scooped her into an embrace and dropped the necklace over the balcony.
    Cid caught it. He uncurled the fingers of his glove. It was a much smaller sample than he had planned for, but it didn’t matter. It was enough. He ripped the chain of the necklace from the stone, discarded it, and turned to the Machine.
    One side panel was open; a small housing sat ready for the Anthonium. He inserted the stone into the clips and stood back. In his haste he forgot to shut the panel. Sweat dripped from his brow. His heart thumped inside his chest as he took to the controls and prodded the buttons.
    The Machine clicked and whirred into life. The initial readouts were good. The generator was operational. The cooling towers came online. From one second to the next, the entire thing had come alive, and most importantly of all…
    “By the Gods!” Cid yelled. “It’s working, Professor. It’s bloody working.”
    The Professor turned, smiling down at Cid until the girl grabbed him, resuming the kiss. Some odd noises came from the direction of the door on the level above; several thumps that didn’t sound like knocking. Without warning, the entire doorway exploded inwards with a deafening boom. Chunks of wall and wood shattered. The aftershock from the blast sent the Professor and the girl tumbling over the balcony. Cid turned, grabbed the blueprint on his toolbox, and rushed for cover behind one of the tall cabinets, his heart thumping against his ribs.
    The sound of gunshots echoed around the room, followed by a hiss. Cid shut his eyes tight and waited. It had all been a waste, a complete and utter waste of time and effort. A final, massive explosion rocked the entire building to the core. Something smacked into the side of his head and blackness surrounded him.
    He awoke scrunched in a ball behind the cabinet. The acrid smell of smoke assaulted his senses. As he tried to breathe, his lungs protested the lack of clean air. Cid crawled out into hazy darkness. What remained of the Machine still burned, billowing smoke and ash into the room. The roar of the fire blocked any other sounds. Bodies charred nearby in the flames.
    Through the smoke he saw the young woman sprawled out on her back, the movement of her shallow breathing just visible; the Professor was gone. Cid crawled toward her, dragging himself along and keeping as low to the ground as he could. As he drew close to the fire, he realized he still clutched the blueprints—the only copy. He passed one final glance up at the Machine, tossed the blueprint into the flames, and reached out to grab the girl. She seemed to be the only thing left to save.

  • The SEA is Ours – Interview with Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

    Following up on the review of The SEA is Ours (see below), I got in touch with the curators of the anthology, Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng, and asked them if they would be willing to give me an interview. They were happy to and I am delighted to present the interview here, now.

    And please, if you have not done so yet, get yourself a copy of The SEA is Ours: tales of Steampunk South East Asia!


    Please give us a quick introduction about yourselves.


    Joyce Chng

    Joyce Chng hails from Singapore. She writes mostly science fiction and YA and things in between.


    Jaymee Gho

    Jaymee is a writer, poet, and academic, from Malaysia, currently living in the United States, where she is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside.


    Where can we find you on the web?

    Joyce can be found at A Wolf’s Tale: http://awolfstale.wordpress.com/ She tweets as @jolantru on Twitter.

    Jaymee’s steampunk blog is Silver Goggles: http://silver-goggles.blogspot.com/ her “normal” writer blog is http://jhameia.blogspot.com/ You can also find her on Academia.edu under Jaymee Goh in the University of California, Riverside, Comparative Literature department.


    What is your involvement with steampunk?

    Joyce is a writer mostly and more intrigued by the aesthetic of steampunk.

    Jaymee is primarily a writer and a critic. She writes a postcolonial steampunk blog that picks apart representations of race and racism in steampunk work, and offer up questions to consider when ‘doing’ non-Euro steampunk. She also used to run a monthly interview series of steampunks of color, and travelled the convention circuit over North America to present on multicultural steampunk. She writes steampunk short stories, and a few of them are set in an alternate-history Malayan Straits that was never colonized by the British. In 2012, she co-edited The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk’s Shakespeare Anthology for Doctor Fantastique Books.


    How prominent is steampunk in Southeast Asia?

    It’s a growing trend. In Singapore, you can see people in steampunk costumes during conventions. In Malaysia, there are pockets of fans here and there interested in the concept of steampunk and how to do it. There is a Singaporean steampunk anthology, and sporadically we get steampunk stories from the Philippines, like Paolo Chikiamco’s “On Wooden Wings” and Kate Osias’ “The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso” (which we have reprinted).

    Can you point us to any SEA Steampunk websites?

    Jaymee used to run http://steampunk-nusantara.dreamwidth.org, and there is a Melaka-specific Tumblr. The artist who runs it calls it “seampunk” because she thinks of Melaka (a state of Malaysia that used to be a very important sultanate) as a seam of the world, which is pretty great: http://melakaseampunk.tumblr.com/


    How long did it take to get The SEA Is Ours going (from the initial idea to the final anthology)?



    We were tossing ideas about starting an anthology or a publication for SEA people by SEA people. We were definitely kicking the idea around as early as 2012, and put the idea on the backburner. Rosarium got in touch in 2014, and we ran a call for submissions from February to June 2014. We edited and edited until early 2015, when we commissioned artists to draw illustrations.

    How did you find the authors?

    We had a list of people we sent the call for submissions to and personally invited them to submit. These are folks from all over the world—science fiction writers always find each other somehow. They then forwarded it to people they knew. We also had a general call for submissions page, on the publisher’s website, on Tumblr, and on our blogs. But the bulk of the work in finding the authors really depends on having made friends in the various Southeast Asian SFF communities we could think of reaching, and communicating clearly our vision for a diverse anthology that is Southeast Asian-centric. Rose Lemberg has an important post on how to encourage diversity in submission slush piles: http://roselemberg.net/?p=830


    Sorry, that this is such a loaded question, it is not intended to be: Do you think, European/North American Steampunk literature engages in “glossy colonialism”, i.e. they focus on the glory parts of that era for the usual countries (the colonial powers including the US) while glossing over all the horrors that happened?

    No worries. We have to confront the racism embedded within steampunk itself and that it stems from – you guess it – colonialism. Indeed, colonialism might be flashy, shiny and full of gear bits, but it is true that Eurocentric Steampunk focuses on the glory parts. Most of the literature takes the pov/perspective of the colonizer. Of course, if you are the victor, you write the history. The voices of the colonized have been swept aside and even erased altogether.

    Certainly there are books out there which do so uncritically, and many books which attempt to problematize the colonialism but still don’t push it all the way. There are also books out there which focus on the horrific parts of colonialism for sheer shock value too, in order to seem profound (also because the suffering of the colonized is considered entertainment, still). You will find books which gloss over the horrors of colonialism because their characters simply aren’t in a place to witness them. You will find books which resist the urge to glorify colonialism, but still indulge in a decadent impression of the era.


    What has the feedback been like so far?

    There seems to be a warm reception (and a great need for) to the anthology itself. Perhaps people want different perspectives now and with the cry for diversity, filling a large gap. Thus, so far, pretty good.

    We have some very happy reviews on GoodReads (and even the 1-star review is very telling about the success of the book). People are really excited about the anthology. We even got a Starred Review on Publishers Weekly, which is apparently a very big deal! People from all over the world have tweeted or wrote us in support.


    Did you encounter any racism from the Steampunk scene so far in response to the anthology?

    None so far, regarding racism from the steampunk scene. Steampunks in general are very supportive, and those who aren’t know how to mind their own business!


    Are there any follow-up anthologies planned or already in the works?

    We’ll see! We didn’t get stories from/about half the Southeast Asian countries, so we are definitely interested in having another volume with wider range.


    Thank you very much for your time, it has been an hour and a pleasure and I hope there will be another anthology set in South East Asia.


  • Pre-Release Book Feature: A Vanishing Glow by Alexis Radcliff

    Today’s book feature is a bit different from the others, because this time I asked the author, if she would like to be featured on my blog. I contacted Alexis Radcliff after reading a short description of her upcoming novel A Vanishing Glow on her personal website. A Vanishing Glow will be released on October 1st, but now on to the author and the novel:

    Alexis Radcliff is an author, gamer, unashamed geek, and history junkie who spent the better part of a decade working in tech before dedicating herself to her first love, literature.

    Alexis lives and works in the Portland area with her adorable (if surly) cat and her equally adorable fiancé. When not writing, she spends her time reading, running, playing way too many video games, and thinking too much about everything.

    Lexirad.com | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon



    Here is a blurb:

    A Vanishing Glow is the opening to The Mystech Arcanum series, a blend of steampunk and flintlock fantasy with mature themes. 

    It is an Age of Revolution, an Age of Industrialism. Constructs, living men who are as much brass and steel as they are flesh, man the factories and wage the wars of a ruling elite who gorge themselves on the fruits of the common man’s labor. Mystech, a brilliant fusion of magic and machine, gives rise to a new class of privileged inventors and merchants even as the country festers with wounds from decades of internal strife.

    Only one man holds the promise of a brighter future: Nole Ryon, the crown prince. When his childhood friend Jason Tern answers his call for aid, the two of them set out to fight for the change their country needs in order to survive, even as shadowy foes frustrate their efforts. But soon, Jason and Nole’s idealistic mission of hope becomes a furious manhunt for a political murderer as the nation balances on the precipice of a country-wide civil war. Can they cut through the threads of intrigue to discover their true enemy before everything is lost?

    And here is an excerpt of the first chapter:


    Jason Tern slid his rapier free of its sheath as he crouched in the brush with two other blue-coated soldiers, yards away from the lynching.

    One construct already hung from the solitary oak tree in the clearing before them, dead, still twitching like a marionette on the branch, while his companion screamed, fighting for his life. Two burly men in leather work vests held the remaining construct fast, one to each side, while the ringleader tightened a noose under his chin. Sunlight glinted off the brass-and-steel arm restrained behind the construct’s back as he struggled against his captors. The ringleader stooped to gather the end of the rough hempen rope and tossed it into the air. It arced over a thick branch of the tree, beside the first rope, and sailed back down into his calloused hands. He yanked hard, and their captive jerked with a strangled gasp.

    “I count five of them,” Jason whispered. He and his Windriders would have the element of surprise if they stepped in now. The workmen looked more like common thugs than real fighters—bullies who’d talk big while they had the upper hand, but would back down quickly from the business end of a sword.

    “Five is two more than we have, and they all have clubs,” Albas grumbled. He spit his tobacco into the dirt and pulled his cap low over his eyes. “I don’t like those odds if it comes to a fight. We should wait for our outriders.”

    “It won’t come to a fight.” Their grizzled sergeant, Lugan, loosened his sword in his scabbard and drew his flintlock pistol. “Trust an old veteran. Those men are cowards.”

    The construct screamed again as the two remaining men joined the ringleader and prepared to hoist him into the air. He kicked and scrabbled at the dirt, jerking from side to side. His captors gritted their teeth and held on. The construct wasn’t a large man—scrawny and pale with a mop of dark hair; Istkherian, judging by the style of his factory-made clothes. He would have been no threat at all to the burly men surrounding him, except for the long, skeletal arm with the joins and pistons visible which protruded from the stump of his shoulder. His construct arm lacked the plated armoring or reinforced leverage of a war model. It was stronger than an average man’s arm, but not strong enough to break free of their grip, and little help against a hanging once they had him strung up.

    “I won’t stand by while they kill him,” Jason said. Not unless the council approves it, and this doesn’t look sanctioned.

    “Your call, Captain.” Albas drew his own pistol. “Let’s just hope they don’t have friends hanging back. Numbers have a way of curing cowardice.”

    Jason plunged through the foliage into the open air of the clearing, sword at the ready, with Lugan and Albas close behind him.

    “Stop what you’re doing, in the name of the Council of Ghavarim,” he called out.

    Everyone froze, eyes popping wide, and stared at the long iron barrels his men had trained on them. The end of the hemp rope slid out of the ringleader’s fingers and dropped onto the ground with a tiny puff of dust.

    Jason gestured toward the construct. “What’s going on here?”

    “Who are you?” The ringleader squinted at them suspiciously over the tip of his pinched nose. His workman’s outfit had seen better days, and a thick wooden cudgel swung from a loop attached to his belt. “Those aren’t Crimson Fist uniforms you’re wearing.”

    Another of the men with a face like sanded leather and a touch of gray at his temples coughed. “Those jackets—They’re Windriders. Militia-men, from Fen. Windriders haven’t been this far south of the border since the Ordist rebellion. What are you doing here?”

    “I believe the Captain asked you the same question… And we have the guns.” Albas cocked his pistol and flashed them a crooked, yellow grin that was anything but warm.

    Jason waved him down. They needed to defuse the stand-off; not trade banter. “I’m Captain Jason Tern, Lord of Fen, traveling to Adaron on council business. We heard shouts from the road and came to investigate.”

    “These men are from Lagrish,” Lugan said. Jason nodded his agreement. Their southern accents had marked them clearly. Lagrish had never been friendly to constructs, but when had murdering them in broad daylight become acceptable?

    “Yes, we are. Honest Lagrishmen.” The pinched-face man stuck his chest out and jerked a thumb at the constructs. “And these men are thieves, my lord. We’re having our justice.”

    “I’m not a thief, I’m not!” The construct began to struggle again. “And neither was Peter! These men jumped—” He cut off with a muffled grunt as one of the men holding him cuffed him.

    “You must have mislaid your magistrate’s robes.” Lugan turned his pistol toward the man who’d struck the blow. “Touch him again before you’ve explained yourselves and my finger might get itchy.”

    “What did he steal?” Jason would eat his belt if the construct had actually taken anything from these thugs, but protocol required hearing both sides. He’d have to make a decision here. They didn’t have the manpower to drag all six of these men into Adaron for a judge to sort out. The ringleader opened his mouth but stopped as Jason held up his hand. “Not you.” He pointed to the youngest of the five men, standing a little back from the others in the clearing. “You.”

    The sandy-haired youth’s eyes grew even wider. He licked his lips, throwing a worried glance at his comrades. “Er… well. That is… our jobs, I suppose.”

    “He stole your jobs?” Jason wasn’t sure he’d heard him right.

    “Our livelihoods!” The pinched-face man broke in again, shooting the boy a dirty look. He shifted nervously. “Pity, lord. You’re an Easterner. You must know how it is back East. We came from the Giltland to find work in Adaron, but it’s just as bad up here as it is down there. The capital is crawling with Western junkers like this claptrap, and they’re soaking up all the jobs because their freakish bits let them work faster. These two Istkherian constructs took our jobs and laughed at us as we were turned out.”

    Are you excited about A Vanishing Glow? You can get it here.