The Marvelous Memorial Day $0.99 (or Free!) Book Sale

The 2021 Marvelous Memorial Day $0.99 (or Free!) Book Sale

Many of the books for sale this Memorial Day weekend (2021) have been reviewed here on Periapsis Press!

The Marvelous Memorial Day $0.99 Book Sale, hosted by Hans G. Schantz, contains lots of great books for sale for $0.99 (and some for free)!

Below are a few that we have reviewed here on Periapsis Press.

A delightful magic school tale of fast friendships, secrets, and parallel worlds! Read more
A dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring! Read more
A story of youthful ingenuity set in a flavorful science fiction, alternate history world! Read more
An energetic young adult superhero novel, featuring superpowers, aliens, an extraterrestrial sex trafficking ring, and the imminent invasion of earth! Read more
An action packed novel that is one part exorcism horror, one part urban fantasy, featuring physical battles with the demon-possessed, God-given superpowers, and chillingly palpable Read more
A streamlined tale of steampunk-flavored adventure Read more
A gritty action novel that blends mecha anime and military science fiction to deliver high-energy combat alongside thrilling intrigue! Read more
A detailed military space fleet novel featuring diverse alien species and exciting battles both in space and on the ground. Read more

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Review: Abort

Publisher Description:

It’s easy to tell when someone is dead, but what makes them alive? Is it the memories they keep, or the pain they feel, or the love they share? For Cecilio, the first colony of Proxima B, the answer could bring prosperity or crack the very foundations of society.

After a five-year leave of absence, Commander Mason Wyatt is sent to an antique starship with the chance to earn back his rank and bury his past. All he must do is uphold the answer: life is what Cecilio says it is. But as the starship nears Proxima B, Mason’s past boils to the surface and Cecilio’s answer begins to unravel.

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Review: Abort by C D Hulen

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Abort. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Abort is a Christian science-fiction short story filled with tension and thematic imagery. This review will be a little more condensed so as not to give too much away.

Tension

The plot is relatively simple and revolves around a single big decision that the main character needs to make. C. D. Hulen does an excellent job maintaining the tension through the careful metering of information, keeping an element of mystery through the first act, and then continually raising the stakes through the second.

Sympathetic Characters

The main character Mason Wyatt is readily sympathetic, even though he initially represents the immoral position on the topic at hand – what is life and what is his responsibility regarding it. He does have a clunky conversion scene in the third act, making this “Christian Fiction” in the traditional definition of the genre.

Not Abortion Argument

The title and imagery in this work appear at first glance to be a neon sign labeling it as allegory. However, the situation presented would more readily suggest a discussion regarding immigration, as the individuals involved are adults approaching a planet where they are unwanted.

However, Abort is not really an argument against abortion. It is Christian Fiction, after all, and intended for Christian readers. The only argument made in the story regarding the question of morality is that killing these people is wrong because God says so. That should be more than enough for any Christ-follower.

They Are Blind

Abort is nominally allegorical, but it is not a situational argument. The premise is not, “You wouldn’t kill these people in this situation which is similar to abortion, so abortion is clearly wrong.”

Instead, the state of affairs is, “No, they WOULD kill these people and unborn children.”

Two characters express frustration in trying to reason with Mason Wyatt: “Why can’t you see?” The answer is that he is blind until he is saved and his eyes are opened. That is the true issue at the heart of this story and the abortion issue in our society. Without God there is no moral authority. People need God to change their hearts in order to repent of their sin, regardless of what social issue it falls under.

Abortion is wrong because God says so, and while it is important to do what we can to prevent such evil from occurring in our communities, Christians need to be mindful that our arguments are not necessarily going to reach our opponents. Hulen skillfully reminds the reader that the immortal souls of those men and women are also at stake. By the grace of God, our diligent witness and prayers may reach where arguments do not.

Check It Out!

Abort is an engaging little read with a compelling plot and thematic exploration. I am excited to try more from C. D. Hulen!

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Review: Penance

Publisher Description:

Penance Copper is tired of being a tool for evil.

She’s been working for Acid ever since she was small. She had no other choice, he owned her. Even with her superpowers, she’s never been able to escape. But at least he only has her steal. Never anything worse than that.

Until he orders her to use her powers to kill the superhero Justice for investigating trafficked girls.

Penance doesn’t want to be a murderer. She uses the opportunity to run away from Acid and make a new life. One where she can make up for everything she did on Acid’s orders.

But events larger than Penance are spinning into action, and soon she is embroiled in an intergalactic encounter with an alien boy named Kail, who is perhaps as lonely and broken as she is. Even if he is infuriatingly arrogant.

The first young adult series in the shared Heroes Unleashed universe launches with the Teen Heroes Unleashed series. Readers will love hardworking, sassy Penance as she tries to learn to use her superpowers to save the world instead of to steal.

Can Penance and Kail find the missing girls and save the Earth from an alien invasion? Or will Acid find her again and punish her for running away?

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Review: Penance by Paula Richey and Thomas Plutarch

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Penance. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Penance is an energizing young adult superhero novel, featuring superpowers, aliens, an extraterrestrial sex trafficking ring, and the imminent invasion of earth! This first installment of the Teen Heroes Unleashed series is wholesome and entertaining.

Sympathetic Youths

One of the typical attributes of YA fiction is the age of the main character. It is highly unfortunate that most YA fiction seems determined to reflect the worst of that age group, resulting in unappealing view point characters. Penance is not one of these.

Authors Paula Richey and Thomas Plutarch did not make Penance overly emotional or stupid in order to appear young. Instead, her inexperience is communicated through her eagerness to learn and her tendency to make herself involved in creating solutions to problems as she sees them. This proactive attitude is much more sympathetic than moody or sullen, and much more believable than unexplainably charismatic and rebellious.

Penance does rebel, of course. But once again, her rebellion is mature. It is not the acting out of a child wishing to be acknowledged as an adult as much as it is a young woman becoming an adult by taking responsibility for her own beliefs and behaviors. As a result, she rebels against the evil she had been part of and seeks to do the right thing.

Kail, the male lead, is also sympathetic. His respectful, goal-oriented outlook is easy to understand and like. It is a refreshing change from snarky and rash. He, too, sets an example of working proactively, even when situations are out of his control.

Strong Adults

The non-antagonistic adults in this YA novel are reasonable people. They are not negligent or stupid, rather their understanding of the situation is actively sabotaged. This makes them effective and trustworthy cavalry in the later acts of the story.

They also display a desirable trait: everyone is able to offer help, admit when they need help, and accept help from others. These heroes do not need to take on impossible odds alone in order to be heroic, and this results in more believable conflicts which in turn deliver better emotional pay-offs.

Furthermore, it almost completely avoids the always frustrating and ultimately pointless discussion wherein adults deny teenagers agency by insisting that they cannot help and should remain “safe.” Penance and Kail are sent to a safehouse at one point, allowing for some welcome down-time interaction between the leads, but it was clear that they would eventually return to action.

Punchy Action

The pacing of the story is lively. Even when Penance is bored, the audience is not. There is enough tension and expectation to drive the story forward, and the occasional point-of-view switch to a minor character is tolerable as the emphasis remains on the action.

This is animated and striking, effective without dragging in long sequences. No one character is overpowered, so the stakes remain high for each conflict. Penance has great powers, but she is also inexperienced and doesn’t always fully understand them. Her greatest success is actually not won through physical confrontation at all, but an application of head knowledge and relationship growth.

The action is enthusiastic, and it complements the rest of the story elements, rather than overshadowing them.

Young Adult

On the surface, most books are labeled “Young Adult” fiction due to the age of the main character, but there are two fairly consistent elements that appear in most YA novels.

The first is, of course, romantic tension, particularly of the trials and elations of first love. Penance is charged with the atmosphere of unspoken romantic attraction, which serves to layer additional tension within the story. Its unresolved nature will certainly contribute to readthrough as the series continues.

However, what makes Penance a distinctly YA story is the theme of self-discovery. Both Penance and Kail struggle with self-worth, identity, and belonging throughout the story. These are common for young people moving into adulthood, and thus they have an important place in YA literature.

That being said, Richey and Plutarch use the standard theme to point the reader eloquently towards Christ.

Christianity

Penance converts to Christianity early in the story, but it takes place “off stage,” so to speak. The reader sees her exposure and initial interest, but the actual moment when she takes the leap occurs while the story is in Kail’s point of view, away from his experience.

This makes Penance’s conversion far more tolerable than typical “Christian fiction,” which is generally defined as having a conversion of a main character as a major plot point. Changing hearts is a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and thus difficult to portray convincingly in fiction, especially when the author is preachy and determined to resolve a character’s every doubt.

As for Penance, the reader sees her searching and then trusting. It is enough that she reached a decision in that moment and is determined to see it through. She still has doubts and lots of things she doesn’t know or understand about God, but that is an unadorned, realistic depiction of Christianity, which leaves room for character growth.

The placement of the conversion early in the story emphasizes this. Penance’s faith becomes the answer to her questions of self-worth, identity, and belonging, while Kail’s trust in the false god of his culture is betrayed, leaving him unsure of his place in the world.

Check It Out!

Penance is a fantastic superhero novel for readers looking for congenial young characters to admire and aspire to, who engage in clearly praiseworthy efforts to protect others with their powers. I look forward to seeing more from the Teen Heroes Unleashed subseries of Heroes Unleashed!

This book is also available on Amazon.

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Review: Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast

Publisher Description:

You can feel Castle Bloodghast seething around you.

This ancient castle is the grave of many a hero. When a fearful angel appears to him in a vision, Gideon is charged to enter the cursed fortress in search of his childhood friend. But demons are the least of the denizens lurking in the heart of the castle. Gideon must battle the fruits of the most depraved genius as he struggles to reach his old comrade.

Abominations lurk in every shadow, and the worst atrocities are those committed by bloody human hands. Will Gideon put the corrupted experiments to the torch as they rampage out of control? Will he find a way to escape the curse and free his friend? Or will he break under the unrelenting horror at the heart of the fortress?

Enter Castle Bloodghast, where even angels fear to tread.

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Review: Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast by Adam Lane Smith

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast is a heavy metal Christian campaign to bring a lost lamb out of a stronghold of evil and back to the fold. This fourth installment of the Deus Vult Wastelanders series continues to deliver hard-hitting action.

Chilling Setting

This time, Gideon Ira spends less time traversing the apocalypse-ravaged countryside and dives straight into a shiver-inducing dungeon crawl.

Castle Bloodghast provides a more structured feel to the pace of this story, alternating detailed battles with monsters and suspenseful exploration of dark laboratories. The juxtaposition of mad science and the deeper malevolent character of the castle itself gives the story a layered tension. This made it difficult to predict the sorts of evil the characters would have to face as they proceeded towards their goal.

Straight-forward Action

One of the unique attributes of the Deus Vult Wastelanders series is the stark nature of the story. No matter where you open the story to, something exciting will be happening, and there are no great complexities of character, plot, or theme, that detract from the entertainment value of the simple action.

Gideon Ira, for example, although confronted by demons with guilt and temptation, is in no great danger of submitting to them. He is a model knight of strong character. His companions are stalwart and true.

Furthermore, he was charged with his task by God, making it impossible that he should fail, as long as he remains faithful, which is under no doubt. In fact, the greatest uncertainty is how the characters will be able to prevail as they continue to rack up the injuries.

But we didn’t come to read about Gideon struggling to do the right thing. We get enough of that in our own spiritual life. We came to experience the righteous battle and undeniable victory of the Lord in glorious, bloody action!

Theme

The theme is, therefore, impossible to miss. Christianity is not tucked neatly under the surface to take the reader by surprise or present itself only when looked for. There are numerous confessions of faith and two conversions, both of which emphasize that anyone is redeemable by God.

The one that is central to the plot, Gideon’s childhood friend, is actively participating in the evil plaguing the region and is even possessed by a demon. He does not desire God, but God uses Gideon to confront him and change his heart.

Catholicism

It should be noted, that this book is very Catholic. Obviously, Catholics will not take issue with this, but what about a Baptist girl like me?

Adam Lane Smith is diplomatic, but as with all elements of the story, the religion is worn on the sleeve. However, the prayers and confessions, most of the theology in fact, are universal Christian beliefs. Nothing to violate the conscience of a firm Protestant.

Check It Out!

Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast is a great addition to the Deus Vult Wastelanders series. Although it is technically the fourth, each story stands well on its own, making it easy to jump in at any point!

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Call for Adventure Stories for Young Readers

Call for Adventure Stories for Young Readers

Submissions open March 15 for this anthology from Misha Burnett and Sanderley Studios

Misha Burnette is partnering with Sanderley Studios to assemble an anthology for teen readers that features stories of adventure and virtue.

Burnette described his hopes for submissions on the Sanderley Studios website, saying

“I am looking for a particular kind of story, uplifting, hopeful in tone, and above all, fun. Adventure in the classic sense of the word, in which danger is balanced by the thrill of discovery and virtue is rewarded. I believe that children today need a sense of excitement and promise more than ever before.”

Submissions will be open from March 15 to May 15, 2021.

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Combat Frame XSeed: SS Crowdfund

Combat Frame XSeed: S Crowdfund

Brian Niemeier's Fifth XSeed Campaign Is Funded in Four Hours

On Monday, Combat Frame XSeed: SS set a new record for Brian Niemeier’s series, all of which have been crowdfunded. This latest installment has already surpassed its first stretch goal, guaranteeing all backers a free Combat Frame XSeed short story in addition to SS, with purportedly many more rewards to unlock.

 On the campaign page, Niemeier says,

“XSeed: S was just the warmup.  Now the hit mech saga goes thermonuclear with Combat Frame XSeed: SS!”

You can read more about Combat Frame XSeed: SS and this campaign on Niemeier’s website: https://www.brianniemeier.com/2021/03/combat-frame-xseed-ss.html

This campaign ends March 31, 2021.

Check out our positive, long-form review of the very first Combat Frame XSeed novel!

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Review: Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross

Publisher Description:

Demons and Necromancers haunt a burnt and blasted future in the ruins of what was once America.

A holy crusader sworn to slaughter the dark cults of Ba’al the Ever-Hungry must rescue a band of innocent children with his blade and blood-soaked gauntlets, or die trying.

All of Hell thirsts for his blood, but a man of God will never be broken. This holy crusader’s vengeance will be brutal.

The first book in a new heavy metal Christian pulp series.

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Review: Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross by Adam Lane Smith

This review was written by Ben Espen and originally appeared on his blog With Both Hands on January 9, 2020. Periapsis Press is sharing it with permission. I encourage you to check out his website!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Gideon Ira reminds me of Solomon Kane, if he had a repeating firearm and power armor. This assessment of Solomon could easily be written of Gideon:

A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, and urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things, avenge all crimes against right and justice. Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect–he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.

Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross is a post-apocalyptic adventure that will leave no demon unscathed.

Unlike Solomon, Gideon does not need to restlessly wander the Earth looking for evil men to ease of their lives. There is an abundance of such, and far worse, close to home, and Gideon finds his purpose in defending his home from the horrors that roam the world.

Not Gideon, but a brother in spirit

NOT GIDEON, BUT A BROTHER IN SPIRIT

We don’t know exactly what happened to the world. Since it has been several centuries since the world was “torn”, perhaps true knowledge of that event has passed from living memory. In my imagination, it was something like the precipitating event of the Doom series, a scientific investigation pushed far beyond the bounds of reason and sense in the pursuit of pure power.

However, the same civilization that presumably brought the world to ruin also left behind artifacts of great power that have been pressed into service by the defenders of humanity. Hence, Gideon and his brother Knights have the ability to not only combat wicked men, but also the foul demons and other hellspawn that were unleashed in the now legendary cataclysm.

And Gideon does this in abundance. In the opening chapter, Gideon does battle with a Pride demon, three times the height of a man and covered in insect-like armor. Later he massacres leathery flying monsters and animated skeletons by the dozens. Unfortunately, as natives of Hell, these things cannot truly be killed, only inconveniently discorporated.

A key difference in the world of Doom and Gideon’s world is that ordinary people are able to live out their lives, protected not only by Gideon’s fierceness, but also by holy places and holy signs. The unclean things cannot abide a cross, or the touch of a sacramental like holy water. Thus life can in some respects go on, for those who seek the protection of the Church.

While there are some fascinating hints that the devil-worshipers who live in the blasted wastelands and the faithful protected by careful maintenance of blessed objects are locked in a kind of economic interdependence, this is primarily an adventure novel, and not hard sci-fi or fantasy with rivets. Thus, we get a quick line that the flying transports the Knights use are fueled by demon blood, and a deduction that the population of the demon-haunted regions could only be sustained by defection and fed by theft, since they neither toil nor spin.

However, the real meat of the novel consists not in the derring-do of Gideon, but in the Solzhenitsyn like realization that the real border between good and evil lies not in the boundary formation made with crosses and blessed paint, but within each man’s heart. In a world where demons roam the Earth, and holy water and crosses repel them, you might be tempted to think that the petty arguments we have about religion would fall by the wayside.

In a way, that is correct, insofar as the Catholic Church dominates Gideon’s world. However, it doesn’t really change the fundamental relationship of men to truth, or the way that temptation works. What has changed is that in cases where you might suspect demonic influence, it is now overt rather than covert. The demons just shout the things that they might have previously whispered to you in a dream. In our world, dark conspiracy theories claim that worshiping the devil is a means to worldly power. In Gideon’s world, you really do get magical powers from kneeling before the demons, and all the fun that comes from seeing your enemies driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women.

On the other hand, we have very real evidence of the power of God. Those demons fear holy things, and are burned by the sacramental holy water that priests can produce in nearly unlimited quantities as long as they have a source to draw from. In a curious reversal to the unlife of the hellspawn, an embodied demon can steal your life by force, but not your soul. The demons must rely on the old-fashioned methods to do that.

Thus, faith, hope, and charity are critical virtues to maintain in Gideon’s world, just as much in ours. Gideon himself, as stalwart as he is, primarily draws his strength from the theological virtues. For that, plus a fun, finely crafted story, I can heartily recommend this for anyone who likes pulp adventure.

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Review: The Devil’s Dictum

Publisher Description:

In a topsy-turvy United States founded by pirates, the personal assassin to the chief justice receives a terrifying order: round up and kill all men who look like himself.

Why does the chief justice want these men dead? What threat could they possibly pose? And can the assassin save them—or will he become the final victim?

Spooky, sly and satirical, The Devil’s Dictum recasts J. Edgar Hoover as a Satanic high priest, Calvin Coolidge as a private eye, and Richard Nixon as the pilot of a giant armored robot.

Readers hungering for original and mind-blowing alternate history need look no further.

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Review: The Devil's Dictum by Frederick Gero Heimbach

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Devil’s Dictum. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

The Devil’s Dictum is a satirical alternate history featuring a United States founded by pirates and propagated into a country of wickedness more playfully crude than baldly evil. This stand-alone novel crafts a coherent and exciting story out of glittering fragments of our history.

Alternate History

What if the pilgrims were rebuffed from landing at Plymouth Rock by pirates, who then founded the United States of America – “the only satanic republic”? The setting for The Devil’s Dictum rests on this scenario. This is not really a serious thought experiment, but rather a situation to create comedy.

This is executed brilliantly, weaving historical figures and real places into ridiculous circumstances, not unlike a child with a number of movie-based toys. The result is a delightfully original and pleasingly unpredictable.

I especially enjoyed the numerous “In Point of Fact” items peppered throughout the story. These pseudo-serious records and artifacts from this alternate world fleshed out the setting nicely, often contributing to comedy and the plot in unexpected ways.

Decay, Destruction, and Neglect

The setting of the story, this satanic United States, is steeped in a well-developed atmosphere of decline. From the first chapter, Heimbach makes clear that things are falling into disrepair, and not all of it is based in physical descriptions of the characters’ surroundings, although those tend to be falling apart, too.

The madness of most government officials, the crude humor in a literal river of urine, the national motto “Eh. Whatever.”–all contribute to the mood of atrophy.

However, the story itself does not take on the weight of hopelessness this might suggest. The situations are so outlandish and entertaining that the sense of degeneration is less heavy than it might be in a more earnest alternate history. The other element that makes the setting bearable is, of course, the main character.

The Special Master

The Devil’s Dictum follows the Special Master as he navigates a bewildering and terrifying new agenda from his boss, the Chief Justice. His uncertainty further contributes to the setting’s atmosphere, but it is our hero’s integrity that equips the reader with optimism.

The Special Master is a compelling and sympathetic character. Even though he works as an assassin, his resolve to discover the truth and protect others makes it easy to root for him. He upholds a moral decency, applying honesty, mercy, and respect. He even treats the Chief Justice with consistent kindness, even as their relationship deteriorates, which tends to soften the central antagonist for the reader from irredeemably evil to misguided and pitiable.

In a crumbling world, the Special Master is reliable and upright, providing an appealing point of view character.

Rewarding Plot

The plot of The Devil’s Dictum is well-laid and each element introduced plays a role later, often returning more significantly in a light-handed foreshadowing that allows a pleasing sense of gratification.

This was often accomplished through the “A Point of Fact” chapters. They often touched upon people or places that had already been introduced and seemed to be included primarily for flavor, but would actually expose the reader to additional concepts or items that would come into the story later. As I was reading, I would be distracted by the former, which kept the foreshadowing from being too explicit.

The World’s Only Satanic Republic

The Devil’s Dictum, with its satanic rituals and under-handed deeds, did not join the cacophony of media in derogatory treatment of Christianity. Rather, the ideals of Christianity were used primarily to craft a humorous, photo-negative world.

Still, a story with a setting predicated on a religious impetuosity must consequentially have a great deal to say about religion, whether intentional or not. The themes derived are thought-provoking, to say the least.

First and foremost, Heimbach presents a forthright argument that the success of the American Experiment was (and continues to be) possible due to the Christian values of the founders. By replacing the pilgrims with pirates devoted to Satan instead of Christ, and further by portraying various consequences including the decay and neglect, The Devil’s Dictum presents an interesting scenario that opens a discussion of less dramatic what-if’s when considering the importance of our nation’s founding values.

A second thematic reflection evident throughout the story is that evil does not have to be ambitious or overt in order to destroy. The national motto, “eh, whatever,” embodies this sentiment. There are plenty of obviously evil acts in the story, but neglect and the failure to follow through are just as detrimental to the success of the nation.

Finally, there is the complete absence of women in the country, which says something important about the role of women in society that I’m sure would be irritating to modern, politically-correct sentiments.

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The Devil’s Dictum is a satirical tale of adventure in a twisted-history version of the United States. A highly entertaining stand-alone story!

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Author Interview: Alexander Hellene

Bio

Alexander Hellene is either a Renaissance man or a dilettante, depending on whom you ask. A musician, athlete, artist, and law school graduate, Alexander has always been attracted to fantastical tales, since they tend to do a better job of explaining how the world works than just about anything else.

(Copied from his website)

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Author Interview: Alexander Hellene

We sit down with the author of sword and planet adventure The Last Ancestor to discuss The Second Sojourn

Available Now on Amazon!

Publisher’s Description:

Terror strikes the heart of Pysh!

The Global Union has tracked the Canaanites across the galaxy, hellbent on finishing the job of extermination. But first they need to recover a secret, one that will explain everything.

A distress signal from the East brings Garrett, Ghryxa, and their friends closer to the answers about what happened on Earth. The lost ship survives! But to find it they must cross the Waran Steppes, and an endless swamp filled with ancient, deadly creatures.

Pursued by assassins, Garrett must make the hard choices and be a hero like his late father. Escaping the High Lord was just the beginning.

The Second Sojourn is available, and I have already snagged myself a copy!

I can’t wait to crack it open (metaphorically…my Kindle wouldn’t take kindly to being actually cracked), but if it has the panache of The Last Ancestor, I’m confident it will be a hit! (You can read our positive, long-form review of the first book in The Swordbringer series here.)

Alexander Hellene generously agreed to answer some questions about his series and this sequel in particular. Prepare to have your appetite whetted for the continuation of this classic sword and planet adventure!

The Last Ancestor was a great sword and planet adventure. Where did you draw inspiration for this series?

Thank you! I’m glad you liked it! Inspiration came from many places. I had recently read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and I loved the strangeness of it, and the freaky aliens. I took inspiration from that, but also from the old Masters of the Universe cartoon and toys. Eternita was a big inspiration for the planet Yxakh—it felt so ancient and primordial and lived in.

I also loved the idea of animal-men. I’ve always been a big fan of anthropomorphic animals and settled on anthropomorphic dogs, which became the Growlers. I thought that having man’s best friend be these hostile, deadly creatures would be fun. It was originally to be solely animal people, with Princess Dhaxiha being the main character.

But I also had this image of a young American teen exploring such a world with one of these dog creatures, and the idea of crashed humans on this world grew from that. The religious aspect came next: Why were humans there? Why had they left Earth? Religious persecution seemed a perfect reason. The Canaanites in The Last Ancestor were pilgrims in a way, maybe a resulting inspiration of my having grown up in New England.

Although The Swordbringer series is intended for Young Adults, it probably isn’t typical of modern YA science fiction in terms of character or theme. Would you say that is accurate?

I’d say that’s very accurate. Interestingly, I never intended The Swordbringer as being YA, though having a teenaged human protagonist and what is essentially a teenaged alien puts it in that category. Still, I didn’t want the series to be “mature” in the violence and sex way, just thematically. Lots of heady stuff I tried to wrap in a package of fun and exploration. I’d like to think I succeeded and that young people can enjoy it as much as adults.

The cover for The Second Sojourn looks exciting! I remember when I was reading The Last Ancestor, I was really pleased to discover that the scene depicted on that cover actually took place within the story. Can we look forward to something similar occurring in the sequel?

Thank you! All credit to Manuel Guzman, aka Lolo. He’s truly a remarkable artist and I’m glad to have found him. Yes, there is definitely a scene in The Second Sojourn like that depicted on the cover. I’ve always been a big fan of books that do that, and wanted my own to capture that same spirit instead of something more generic or just an action pose.

What were some key challenges or highlights you had while writing The Second Sojourn?

I had never written a sequel before, let alone part two in a trilogy. The big challenges were making sure to ramp up the stakes and create a self-contained story with a satisfying arc that also acts as an arc, or crisis point, for the overall story. That, and creating new characters that were not redundant and didn’t overwhelm the reader. I’m particularly proud of Rikkert and Tarleo.

Other than that, it took some work getting the prologue right—should it be in the present and then flash back in chapter one to explain how our crew got to Pysh, or vice versa? At my awesome editor Emily Red’s advice, I kept it chronological. Then, at my great beta reader’s advice, I made the journey start with a bang before getting into the more prosaic travel portion. I think it worked much better.

The Last Ancestor boasted some spectacular locations, but the ending took the characters out of the bounds of the established setting. Can we look forward to equally detailed new settings in the sequel?

You sure can. I’m a big fan of incremental world building. I like teasing new locations and then getting to them later on. Hence the relative mystery of Pysh, save for the one Pyshan character in The Last Ancestor (Pason) to hopefully whet the reader’s appetite to see what Pysh and its culture and society are like in The Second Sojourn. I do more of that in The Second Sojourn as well. A little mystery goes a long way, as long as there is some payoff.

What about new monsters and people/alien groups?

Lots of them. We have the Pyshans and their more refined culture, as well as the Waran, nomadic warriors who live far across the river to the east. And both lands are filled with flora and especially fauna both domesticated and deadly. That’s not even getting to the disgusting things that live in the giant swamp our heroes have to cross…

How did changing up the characters’ situation impact the thematic message of the story?

Our characters are still strangers in a strange land without a home, exiled from Earth and still not safe despite Pysh’s relatively welcoming nature. Compared to Kharvalar it’s like heaven, but danger abounds and the Canaanites have gotten soft in the intervening year. So thematically there’s still a lot of danger and a sense of being unsettled as the Canaanites try yet again to rebuild their lives in an alien environment. And of course, they’re still being chased by those hellbent on their destruction. Nothing is easy!

Thematically, there’s still the sense that, no matter how they try to fit in, the humans and their faith bring changes that are not always welcome to their host nation.

Who was your favorite character in The Last Ancestor? Are there new characters in the sequel that you are excited to share with readers? Do we get to see more from any of the supporting cast?

Garrett and Ghryxa are my favorite. Their relationship is fun to write, and I wanted to make sure they each had their arc and that Ghryxa wasn’t just along for the ride. Dhaxiha and Yhtax were also fun. I liked how their personal changes drove the story.

As far as supporting characters in The Second Sojourn, I had a good time giving Tracy an expanded role and getting to know him more than just his little part in The Last Ancestor. It was also good to give Julie and Gregory a very satisfying arc that will continue into book three. My favorite new character was Rikkert. Always cool to write that “frenemy” character. The Waran were also a personal favorite that I hope readers dig as well.

What do you think The Last Ancestor did well that you hope to continue or expand on in the sequel?

I like to think The Last Ancestor took relatively simple themes of bravery and faith in the face of deadly peril, and trying to live up to obligations, and couched them in a fresh, exciting way. Those themes are expanded, as well as that of being a disruptive agent of change, even if unintentionally. Lots of the importance of duty and obligation and staying true to oneself and one’s beliefs despite temptation to throw it all away for an easy out.

Do we get to meet any other human survivors of the original crash onto this alien planet?

That would be telling, but let’s just say that our characters are just as interested in this, and wanting to know that is what drives the bulk of The Second Sojourn. Are they still there? Who sent that signal, and are they friendly? That sort of thing. Some journeys are worth undertaking even if the answer isn’t clear. You have to have hope and you have to have faith that all of your struggles are worth it. Leave no man behind, or more appropriately, if you have 99 sheep safely with you and one goes missing, you go after that one!

What do you hope your audience comes away with from The Swordbringer stories?

Great question! A few things: that family and duty and honor matter. That it is important to maintain your culture and your ways, but that some changes are good even if they are tough. That leaders make the hard choices and try to salvage the worst situations. That reading can be fun and exciting and not dragged down by despair and nihilism—there is always hope!

And ultimately that you can have “Christian fiction,” or at least fiction with Christian themes, that is still fun for anyone regardless of their faith, if any, and that it doesn’t have to be boring or preachy. And lastly, that it’s good to forgive and it’s never too late to make amends.

Read The Second Sojourn today!

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Author Interview: Fenton Wood

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Fenton Wood is a fictional character, just like the characters in his books.

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Author Interview: Fenton Wood

We sit down with the author of the Yankee Republic series to discuss these classic-feel, sci-fi adventures

Publisher’s Description:

A young radio engineer travels across an alt-history America, encountering primeval gods, mythical beasts, and tall tales come to life, in a quest to build a radio transmitter that can reach the stars.

YANKEE REPUBLIC is an old-school adventure series with traditional values and down-to-earth heroes. Escape from the pessimism and propaganda of modern fiction, and take a journey through a mythic America that might have been.

I loved Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves (you can read our positive, long-form review here!), and while we have not posted reviews of any other books in the Yankee Republic series, I can attest that they continue to impress.

The Kickstarter for the Yankee Republic Omnibus is on now, and Fenton Wood has graciously given me some of his time to answer a few questions about the series!

You describe the Yankee Republic as an old-school adventure series. Were there any stories from this genre that made an impact on you as a writer? What about the alternate history elements?

It’s not a typical alternate history story, because the history isn’t the focus. Some influences include Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card, The Seven Citadels by Geraldine Harris, and the TV show Adventure Time, which takes place in a strangely altered post-apocalyptic world.

People have said that Yankee Republic is a unique take on American magical realism, but Alvin Maker was first. I love the way Alvin has to learn a difficult real-world skill (blacksmithing) in order to develop his abilities as a Maker. The plot structure of Philo’s quest was an homage to The Seven Citadels, reimagining the seven sorcerers as various outré characters ranging from scientists to ancient gods.

You’ve also mentioned The Three Investigators was a favorite of yours as a kid; did that have an impact on your writing?

I loved the ingenuity and realism of The Three Investigators. Philo, Randall, and Pete are basically The Three Investigators with their personality traits swapped around. I introduced a new trio in Book 2 with a similar dynamic.

Even though you have extremely detailed factual elements, your stories are accessible even for young readers. How much general knowledge do you expect your audience to have?

The story should be accessible to readers age 10 and up. The plot incorporates linguistics, genetics, and astrophysics, but it’s presented in a way that’s easy to understand.

How much of your mythos is “alternate” (history or science). What do you think is the most surprising thing you included in your books that is true about the “real” world?

Most of the myth and folklore is based on historical sources. There really is a temple to Viridios, an obscure god who may be connected to the Green Man and to ancient harvest rituals. “The 101 Tales of Randall” are mostly real. The ELF transmitter is real.

What were some challenges or highlights about writing this kind of story?

I spent a couple of years developing the plot in my head before I wrote anything. The biggest challenge was adapting radio technology to the requirements of the plot. I had to learn the basics of radio and figure out how to create a pirate mountain station, a transcontinental AM station, a shore-to-submarine transmitter, and an interstellar transmitter. The last one requires a super-metal with properties that don’t exist in reality, but most of the radio tech is realistic.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned in the process of writing this series?

The most surprising thing I learned about was the Theia hypothesis. An iron-rich planetoid collided with the Earth about 4.5 billion years ago, creating the Earth’s unusually large iron core. The core acts as a dynamo and generates a magnetic field that repels the solar wind and prevents it from stripping away the atmosphere.

You have talked a little on Twitter about working with Hans G. Schantz on some of the science and math involved in your stories. Can you comment further on how your research influences your writing process and informs or alters your plot?

The series would have been very different without Hans’ input. It would have been lazy Hollywood-style writing where the science is treated like magic. Hans saved the story on several occasions by figuring out how to do the impossible with real technology.

I get frustrated when I see lazily written movies or YA novels that could have been so much better if they had put a little effort into the research. Real-life sciences and trades have a wealth of interesting details that make for a better story.

Your writing has a strong sense of place. Were any of the settings based on real locations or were there other inspirations?

The alt-history setting is a way to compensate for my lack of travel and experience. Instead of describing real places, I can just make stuff up. Porterville isn’t really Appalachia, it’s a composite of Ray Bradbury’s Illinois and the strange Deep South cultures in Huckleberry Finn. Iburakon isn’t really NYC, it’s more like an Old World city.

The easiest way for me to relate to other cultures is through their myths, so I gave Iburakon its own myths based on the real history of NYC. If I tried to evoke the atmosphere of NYC by describing it in a realistic way, I don’t think it would work. I’m not a city person and I couldn’t imagine living there.

Music plays a significant role in your stories. How has music influenced you and your work? I know you have talked about metal on twitter.

I was a lyricist before I was a novelist, and I wrote mythology-influenced lyrics that provided a lot of material for the Yankee Republic series. I used music and lyrics as a way to portray the culture of the mountain people. The experimental music project in Book 2 was influenced by my work as a music producer and engineer.

I had to come up with an alternate history of American music to fit the overall history. It’s more insular and more rustic. A form of jazz exists in the Regnum, a strange country corresponding to Louisiana, but it isn’t well-known in the Republic. I grew up on thrash metal and death metal, but my biggest musical heroes are probably Brian Wilson, Brian May, and Wendy Carlos.

You have mentioned Zelazny as an influence on your lyrics, which in turn influenced your antagonists. Could you describe how? Any lyrics you would be willing to share as examples?

Zelazny uses myth in most of his stories, and he’s responsible for my mythological obsession. Whenever I write a story, I look for parallels in real-world myths to give it more resonance.

A lot of metal bands draw on mythology or fantasy literature. I used to write narrative lyrics with dark, Zelazny-esque protagonists. They were original creations, not borrowed Zelazny characters. A lot of them ended up in the Yankee Republic series, but they were made more sympathetic. Most of the lyrics weren’t very good and they probably won’t see the light of day.

What do you hope your readers take away from Yankee Republic?

The people in the Yankee Republic don’t want to fix the world or control other people. They accept their limitations and look for practical solutions, instead of pursuing grandiose visions that lead to disaster.

The Ancient Marauder legend, which describes an ancient conqueror being struck down by divine wrath, is an important part of their culture. That’s why the Republic is much smaller than the US and isn’t a world power, and it’s peaceful instead of being torn apart by partisan struggles. Wherever Philo goes, he is careful to act as a guest and not as a conqueror. He values home and family much more than empty things like wealth and power.

Another thing I learned from The Seven Citadels was how to write a hero who solves problems without using violence. There’s nothing wrong with war stories, but I don’t have the experience or knowledge to write them. A lot of my writing approach is dictated by the necessity of working around my shortcomings. That’s why my stories are so odd and eccentric.

With the conclusion of the Yankee Republic series, what are you working on next? Will you ever return to this setting or characters again in the future?

My next book will be NIGHTLAND RACER. It’s influenced by classical mythology, in contrast to Yankee Republic, which used a lot of pre-Indo-European and indigenous mythology.

I’d like to write an entire book about the World-Tree, because it’s a very big story that was barely hinted at in Yankee Republic.

Back the Yankee Republic Omnibus Kickstarter today!

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