Andrez Bergen, if you follow my blog for some time, you have heard the name before, has yet another of his very distinct and unique tales ready to present to the world. I do not even know how to properly introduce Black Sails, Disco Inferno, since the whole premise of the novel is… Well… Read for yourselves:
An unnamed city, in which crime families flourish and the police pinch pennies from those with most power..
Black Sails, Disco Inferno is a retelling of the classic medieval romance of Tristan and Isolde, turning things on their head by reversing the sex of the chief protagonists and placing them in a ’70’s pulp/noir world.
Andrez Bergen’s latest novel (with Renee Asher Pickup) exposes Trista and Issy to a sensual, disco-infused narrative — one overflowing with double-dealings, violent brutality, and a spellbinding mystery.
This does not sound like any run-of-the-mill book of any sort and I am looking forward to reading it (once I am through the novel I am in the last third of, actually).
Tristan and Isolde as a 1970’s crime story… my word…
From beautiful Budapest comes an independent graphic novel called Victorian Bareknuckle League, set in alternative past really not too different from our own Victorian Era, and it is my pleasure to give you a glimpse into it already.
First, a really short synopsis what it is all about:
Victorian Bareknuckle League is the story of a peace loving young lady who descends into the seedy underbelly of the eponymous Victorian Bareknuckle League, and all kinds of adventure ensue.
The creative crew (one of whom, Mr. Bilbao, has credentials working for Marvel) are the right honorable:
Writer Carl Jackson
Artist Jake Bilbao
Colourist Pika Ciuka
Here is some artwork, so you can get a glimpse of what glorious things awaits you once the project is finished:
Today’s podcast features the author, nurse, geek and lady of many talents Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali.
She was kind enough to respond to my call for Muslim geeks so we could have a chat to make one thing clear: The regular Muslim you meet is just that: A regular person with regular thing on their mind and in this particular case: A lot of regular geek things.
We talk about faith, politics (especially concerning bad-hair guy), writing, anime, Mass Effect, Fallout and gaming in general, and podcasts.
Yes, what happens, when the Cthulhu Mythos and Steampunk touch Ceres? A short story, that’s what. I just thought I do a little self-plug and give you a snippet of Reaching Out, a Steampunk/Cthulhu short story I penned a while ago and laready featured here previously, but this time I share a snippet with a little bit more cosmic dread and ancient secrets in it. The protagonists have touched down on Ceres and find some almost organic ruins:
Before us appeared a cluster of what first seemed to be the shells of some kind of titanic molluscs. Curved, spiralled and somewhat bent conical shapes, about 10 metres high and about 7 metres diameter at the the base. They, too, were covered with the blue mouldy growth and looked as if they had sprouted from Ceres‘ surface. We counted six domes. Only two had openings we could see and those were created by decay, seismic forces or rock crashing down from the dark sky.
The easiest hole for us to reach and climb through was about four metres from the ground, so I could easily jump up there. Cautiously I tried, so as not to jump too high and propel myself into the overhanging top of the structure. After the third attempt, I got a grip on the edges of the accidental window and pulled myself up. The window opened a view into a room also infested and illuminated by the omnipresent fungal growth.
It was a large, rounded, almost spherical chamber. Along the walls, spaced rather evenly, stood and lay what I thought to be boxes, chests or sarcophagi, some upright, but most lying on the floor. The far wall was also covered with strange protrusions and spikes, the pattern and exact shape I simply cannot describe. I turned away, dizzied, and waved for Kuhn to jump up as well. With one leap, he came up, I grabbed his outstretched arm and pulled him in.
Together, we took a closer look at our discovery. I used my knife to scratch some of the mouldy dust off the surface of one of the boxes, while Kuhn inspected the strange pattern on the wall.
The boxes, I labeled them thus because of their size and shape, were made of some peculiar green-brown material. It reminded me of a cross between jade and wood. The edges, as far as I could scrape them free of dust, were edged with some confusing geometrical shapes which gave the impression of wanting to jump out at the observer.
The patch of the top surface I managed to clear of mould appeared simply polished, my knife was unable to make a scratch into it, but without further edgings. Then, Kuhn’s voice came through the aetherphone in my helmet. He had discovered something about the strange spikes. He shone the light of his torch on a patch he had gotten somewhat clean and moved the torch from left to right. Some bizarre shadows, strange shapes, maybe the former inhabitants of this place, appeared and a fragment of a scene seemed to play out. The scene played backward and forward with the moving light of the torch.
We marvelled at this display of an undoubtably advanced civilisation but then noticed we had to turn back soon, so we started looking around for something we could take with us. Since there was no apparent connection to another room, I guess doors were hidden by the omnipresent glowing vegetation, we tried our luck with one of the upright boxes. After some rocking and pushing we managed to topple it over. Hitting the floor, what must have been some kind of door sprang open on its side and revealed something greyish that seemed to consist entirely of caked dust. We were disappointed with our find, until Kuhn noticed something metallic sticking out of the side of the grey mass. He managed to pull it free, causing quite some dust to spill on the floor. It was about the size of a revolver, matted black and obviously not made for human hands. We could not even tell if it was a weapon, tool, or piece of alien art. Its form made no sense to us at all. Kuhn put it in his satchel and together we jumped down unto the surface of Ceres again and made our way back.
I hope this kindled the interests of some of you, or if you know someone who might enjoy the short story, pass the message on.
Central Station is an upcoming novel by Lavie Tidhar and this one is hard sci-fi, very hard. Central Station is set in and around the eponymous Central Station, a space port near Tel Aviv, still running after centuries of service, inhabited by humans, robots, robotniks, children created from hacked genes, virtual entities and more.
The novel is a collection of lives at a very vibrant and strange place. A place that very well could be one day exist on earth and the lives described could very well be lived in the future. We meet a single mother, rasing a child that was hacked together from public domain and stolen genes by a former lover of hers. The boy, Kranki, himself is odd and exists both in the offline and online word at the same time, but without agmentation. A family linked together by memories stretching generations because of a modification the patriarch of the familiy made to him and the genes he passed on generations ago. A robot priest and a soldier killed in action, revived as a robotnik (cyborged soldier). Both are by now centuries ol and remember wars that no longer even have names.
Lavie Tidhar gives enormous depth to the world he creates, there are subcultures of various modified humans (as a Cthulhu fanboy I was particularly delighted by the tentacle freaks), the Conversation, which is in short a Solar-System-wide internet with sentient entities existing only in there (like Kranki’s best friend) and which holds strange dangers for many. Almost all of humanity is connected to and in this conversation and everybody is always surrounded by its buzz. Almost everybody is part of a constant flow of information.
The Solar Sytsem has been settled for centuries at this point, there is a trading language, a sort of pidgin, complet with its own poetry, and we get a few glimpses what life amomg the planets and in the asteroid belt is like.
And from the darkness between the planets a vampire of the Conversation descents down into Central Station and connects a few unlikely people and also falls in love with the one human she cannot feed on, because he only exist in Reality One, offline, with no connection to the Conversation.
But there is more, the cultures of the region come into play, new gods appear and vanish but always, life goes on.
Central Station is a fascinating glimpse into a very possible future which creates a lot of craving for a follow up.
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.
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…
Following up on the book feature of E.C. Jarvis‘ debut Steampunk novel The Machine (see below) I also had the opportunity to interview E.C., which was quite a pleasure. I also found it highly interesting we both have a completely boring, mundane and uncreative job in our respective background.
But now, without further ado, here is the interview:
Please give us a quick introduction about yourself
I am a grumpy old man trapped in an English woman’s body. I dislike most things, driving, other people driving, queues in shops, other people in queues in shops… you know what? I could be here all day doing a list, let’s just say the list of things that don’t make me angry on a frequent basis is very short and mostly includes my husband and four year old daughter, and our hilariously stupid cat.
As George Bush Jr once said, “I have opinions, strong opinions – but – I don’t always agree with them.” I’m not a fan of the man but this quote is so profoundly wonderful in a way I’m sure he has no concept of.
From what I gathered, The Machine is your first foray into steampunk, is that correct? (if not, what was it?)
Yes it is. I saw a prompt for a short story on a writing website that required the story to be steampunk. I had no idea what it was or what I was getting myself into, but after some research I found myself hooked.
What other genres have you covered with your works?
Let’s say most of my writing is fantasy. So within that you have sci-fi, steampunk (obviously), epic fantasy, and erotica, all of which I have written/am writing.
What got you interested in steampunk?
A fantasy world with airships, machines, and an impeccable dress code? What’s not to love? I know that a lot of steampunk stories are written as an alternative history, but I feel the genre has so much more scope. It’s a very divisive genre in some places, there seems to be some contention as to what is, and what isn’t steampunk, but I ignored the fussy people and just wrote the story as it felt right. I don’t see the point in worrying yourself so much over matching someone else’s definition of the aesthetic. If you try and enclose a genre into a tight box then you block out a world of possibility and who wants to do that?
Is there something you find particularly appealing in the genre?
I like that it has a great fan-base. The cosplayers, the readers and writers, it’s all there, a plethora of inspiration and complete commitment to the style. Whomever calls steampunk lovers by any derisive name, I shall happily punch in the cog pocket, there is nothing wrong with having passion for a subject and steampunk people are nothing if not passionate.
You are in accountancy as your day job, are you planning on getting rid of that dayjob for good one day? I know, this is a nosy question, but we are sort of in the same boat. I used to be a bank clerk…
Totally. It pays the bills, but it’s only fulfilling in that I have an odd affinity for excel spreadsheets (I’m the goddess of excel), aside from that I have no love for the job. If I could spend all day every day writing, living inside my own head and tapping out those weird imaginings onto the page AND have that pay the bills, I’d be one very happy lady. It’s that or turn to drink and live in a box etching wobbly musings on the walls of my box house in crayon.
How prolific are you as a writer?
Getting to be. It’s tough when you work full time, have a family and life just gets in the way. I have written two full novels (and two half novels) this year, so I think that’s pretty good going. Like anything, the more you do it the easier it gets, it’s becoming a habit.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
I have a small imaginary friend called Dranos who whispers in my ear at 8.23 am every day… Or, you know, the usual, movies, books, life. I daydream a lot and I also practice lucid dreaming so stuff just pops into my head, floating around, usually when I’m nowhere near a computer or writing apparatus. – my muse probably thinks it’s hysterical to taunt me so.
Are there any other settings/genres you wish to explore in the future and are there any other novels, short stories or just fragments of ideas you are working on at the moment?
I have an erotica novel lined up after book three of this series is done, then I’m onto sci-fi. Also there’s a YA fantasy rattling around in the back of my brain somewhere.
What are your plans concerning future projects
Write. Publish. Sell. Success. Repeat.
Thank you, E.C, it has been a pleasure. I hope you will rather sooner than later be able to get out of accountancy altogether and be a full-time writer.
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.
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.