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

Bio

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

(from Amazon bio)

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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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The 2020 Amazing Holiday $0.99 Book Sale

The 2020 Amazing Holiday $0.99 Book Sale

Many of the books for sale this Black Friday weekend (2020) have been reviewed here on Periapsis Press!

The Amazing Holiday $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 clever and compelling fantasy, thick with mystery and suspense, dark magic and demons! Read more
A story of youthful ingenuity set in a flavorful science fiction, alternate history world! Read more
A fun, heavy metal romp following a band of warriors through epic battles to defend against an invasion of Underworld monsters! 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 gritty action novel that blends mecha anime and military science fiction to deliver high-energy combat alongside thrilling intrigue! Read more
A high-speed science fiction thriller about a father’s battle to save his son, underfoot of a kaiju/mech battle for humanity’s survival. Read more
A detailed military space fleet novel featuring diverse alien species and exciting battles both in space and on the ground. Read more

Uriel's Revenge has an excerpt available on our website, also participating in this sale!

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Review: Hell Spawn

Publisher Description:

My name is Officer Thomas Nolan, and I am a saint.

Tommy Nolan lives a quiet life. He walks his beat – showing mercy to the desperate. Locking away the dangerous. Going to church, sharing dinner with his wife and son. Everyone likes Tommy, even the men he puts behind bars.

Then one day a demon shows up and he can smell it. Tommy can smell evil – real evil. Now he’s New York City’s only hope against a horrifying serial killer that preys on the young and defenseless.

But smell alone isn’t enough to get a warrant. Can Tommy track down the killer and prove his guilt?

Dragon Award Nominated Author Declan Finn returns with his typical action-packed, Catholic influenced style, in this groundbreaking horror series about an honest, religious man given the powers of a saint to fight demons in the Big Apple.

How do you do forensics on a killer possessed by a demon?

Can Tommy catch the killer before he becomes a martyr? Or will the demon bring darkness beyond imagination to the whole of New York? Read Hell Spawn today and find out!

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Review: Hell Spawn by Declan Fin

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

This review contains minor spoilers.

Hell Spawn is an action packed novel that is one part exorcism horror, one part urban fantasy. This first installment in the Saint Tommy, NYPD series reverberates with tension, featuring physical battles with the demon-possessed, God-given superpowers, and chillingly palpable evil.

Fantasy Horror

Hell Spawn takes place in New York City and stars a sharp detective with powers that enable him to stand up to powerful, supernatural forces.

The mash-up of urban fantasy, with its tendency towards high stakes and grueling fight scenes, injects the exorcism horror premise with non-stop action and retribution against evil.

Strong Action

These powers, including bilocation and healing, deliver most of the action. Tommy is a likable character and the demon he faces off with equivalently loathsome, making every confrontation a suspenseful one-two punch of trepidation and gratification.

The story kept up the pace, too. When the action let up, the tension swept in to replace it in a drive towards the satisfying conclusion. This story starts the series, but stands alone well, without compromising on the comeuppance that evil deserves.

Urban

Declan Fin’s NYC is grim, as the setting for a story with both a serial killer and a demon must be. However, it is not “dark” in the sense that it is not hopeless. There is a sense of community and belonging for most of the people we meet, and even the criminal element in the neighborhood works to keep out the worse bad guys.

Of course, Fin also taps into the fear such dense population presents to the mind, that you don’t truly know your neighbors and you are never far from threats to your family.

The contemporary, real-world setting is starker than most examples of urban fantasy due to the blatant naming of activist groups and the incorporation of real-world antagonists taking actions we recognize as evil as opposed to mythological beings whose behavior has cataclysmic consequences but may be morally muddled.

Horror

And that is from where the true horror in Hell Spawn springs: not the debilitating agony of a loved one held hostage by a demon, as so often seen in exorcism horror, but from real-world perpetrators of evil much closer to home. The evil usually kept safely behind the fourth wall and the suspension of disbelief is undeniably part of our world, our country, our cities.

Of course, this existential sort of horror is not the only kind present in Hell Spawn. There is a great deal of body horror, due to the nature of the serial killer, and a truly shudder-inducing haunting sequence.

Reckoning

But, to reiterate, Tommy gives this evil no quarter. Instead of the typical, possession tale trajectory, there is no wallowing in helplessness, no harrowing battle with one’s own guilty conscience, no futile death with the demon still at large. Fin’s upstanding hero has been empowered by God to lay the smack down.

The demon can only possess a willing and degenerate host—a simple mechanism which makes all the delicious vengeance possible. There is no young girl thrashing around and projectile vomiting because she played with a Ouija board (although that is still not advisable).

Instead, it is depraved criminals—people who actively reject redemption and embrace their own demonic possession—who face off with the hero. There is no need for him to pull his punches.

Check It Out!

Hell Spawn is an intense ride that delivers both dreadful terror and righteous retribution. This is an amazing start to Saint Tommy’s journey!

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Review: The Mummy of Monte Cristo

Publisher Description:

Revenge takes time; fortunately Edmond Dantes doesn’t sleep. Or breathe.

In a world of monsters and magic, Edmond Dantes has a pretty good life. He’s just been made captain of a ship, and he’s about to marry his sweetheart.

But when jealousy, spite, and ambition conspire to frame him for treason, he loses everything. To make things right, he’ll need to give up the only thing he has left: his humanity.

They thought their troubles died with Edmond. They were wrong on both counts.

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Review: The Mummy of Monte Cristo by J Trevor Robionson

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

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains spoilers.

The Mummy of Monte Cristo is a hair-raising adaptation of Alexandre Duma’s classic revenge story in the style of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, packed with loads of undead and horror delicacies to relish!

The Count of Monte Cristo

The original adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas is ripe for this kind of adaptation. The original story was actually released in parts from 1844 to 1846, which lends the novel an episodic nature of consistent action and tension scaling.

The elements of historic context, particularly the unrest and uncertainty for the average citizen around the Bourbon Restoration and the Hundred Days period when Napoleon returned to power, seep the tale in a beclouded world in which horrible tragedy and gripping vengeance can take place.

Finally, the characters, complex with secrets and inter-relational conflict, make monstrous additions more tenable than, say a public figure such as Abraham Lincoln (Vampire Hunter).

Undead Adaptation

So, then, with such a great starting point, does Robinson pull it off? Yes!

The Mummy of Monte Cristo is packed with tons of undead flavor, from the tweaking of historical events to include a near zombie apocalypse to Edmond Dantès’ mummy transformation. I loved the classic mummy monster mechanics such as the use of his wrappings as weapons!

But Robinson didn’t stop there. Nearly every character brings more horror to the table: vampires, cannibals, a life-sucking amulet, dark rituals, death-curses, and so much more. The result is a setting that feels more like an alternate history, a place where everything is a little bit different, rather than a dark corner of our own world where monsters could exist.

And it is all seamlessly integrated into the original tale! A common critique of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is that the tone is inconsistent; the romance and the zombie action don’t mesh very well. But Robinson pulls it off beautifully in The Mummy of Monte Cristo.

The melodramatic nature of the original lends itself to the adaptation, of course, but the alterations to exposition, dialogue, and action are all so smooth that I could not at first blush identify the point of integration. The presence of monsters or other supernatural elements are a give-away for changes, but Robinson tailored his voice to Dumas’ so that there are no jarring juxtapositions, and I was often in the middle of a scene before I thought, “Well, this wasn’t in the original!”

Humanity

This adaptation is also appropriate for The Count of Monte Cristo thematically. Dantès alienates himself from his humanity while he enacts his revenge, cutting himself off from both society (external) and emotions (internal) and devoting himself to a self-assigned role as an agent of Providence. Thus, “humanity” is an important theme in the original, incorporating ideas of justice, forgiveness, mercy, and hope.

In The Mummy of Monte Cristo, Dantès abandons his humanity literally in order to purse his revenge. However, the thematic thread takes a vastly different path in this adaptation than the original. Whereas the original Dantès regains his humanity through forgiveness, Robinson’s Dantès cannot become human again. He does not forgive Danglars; in fact, Danglars earns the most graphic death in the adaptation.

Neither is the idea of a limit to human vengeance present – an important idea in the original. The quote, “Tell the angel who will watch over your life to pray now and then for a man who, like Satan, believed himself for an instant to be equal to God, but who realized in all humility that supreme power and wisdom are in the hands of God alone,” is not present in any form.

Rather, Dantès is given a new vocation to continue to pursue and defeat “petty and harmful men” and to “make sure there is no possible way for the world to be troubled by the undead again.”

Responsibility

This difference is an important one, but it should not be taken as a commentary on or contradiction of the original theme of vengeance and forgiveness, but rather a completely separate message to a very different audience.

In The Mummy of Monte Cristo, vengeance is part of Dantès’ origin story. Like many superheroes, he awakens to the evil present in the world by first becoming a victim to it and rising to enact vengeance against it. Once that is accomplished, his abilities and awareness make him responsible for pursuing justice beyond revenge.

He himself still needs forgiveness and love, but he does not extend it to evil, nor attempt to rejoin humanity in general. This is a typical motif in modern storytelling (The Myth of the American Superhero) wherein the hero remains apart from society rather that rejoining it (The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

Personally, I found Danglars’ new end thick with Schadenfreude and the idea of additional adventures to come enticing, although it did come at the cost of a moral ideal and stronger theological argument.

Check It Out!

The Mummy of Monte Cristo is a seamless adaptation of a great adventure story into a darker, undead version sure to satisfy your thirst for all things classic horror and bad guys getting what they deserve. If you enjoy Dumas’ original story or the undead genre, this is a must read!

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Review: A Greater Duty

Publisher Description:

The Galactic Alliance was not ready for war. When it is suddenly invaded by the cold and relentless Tyrannodon Armada, under the command of emotionless, amoral Executor Darkclaw, it is immediately sent reeling.

The invasion was a godsend for some, however, such as Grand Admiral Nayasar Khariah, who had wanted nothing more than revenge on the Alliance following an attack on her homeworld. The arrival of the Tyrannodons presents her with an opportunity, one that she seizes gleefully.

However, Executor Darkclaw, who has been prosecuting the invasion on orders of his master, the all-powerful energy being known only as the High Lord, has started having second thoughts once he unexpectedly starts feeling emotions he does not understand. Suddenly, he finds himself heretically questioning the only purpose he has ever known—irrevocably altering his view of the ongoing war.

Meanwhile, within the Galactic Alliance, Second Scion Dalcon Oresh, member of an order dedicated to preserving the it, struggles to stop the Alliance’s bleeding, the source of which may not be entirely external.

Darkclaw’s newfound friendship with Nayasar will be pushed to its breaking point, Nayasar’s relationships with her closest friends and loved ones will be strained as her quest for vengeance becomes more and more a personal obsession, and Dalcon must determine who he can truly trust.

All the while, the imminent existential threat of the High Lord looms over everything, and the key to stopping him, and saving not just the Alliance, but the entire galaxy, may only be found in the remains of a ancient, powerful race, and the creations they left behind…

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Review: A Greater Duty by Yakov Merkin

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

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

A Greater Duty is a detailed military space fleet novel featuring diverse alien species and exciting battles both in space and on the ground. This self-contained story makes a compelling start to the Galaxy Ascendant series.

Heavy Action, Light Mechanics

A Greater Duty features both detailed tactical battles in space and heart-pounding clashes on the ground. This varied military action keeps the engagements fresh as the war progresses throughout the story.

I particularly enjoyed the ground battles, where the characters’ choices felt more crucial and personal than those made from the command center of a flagship. It also felt more fantastical: Nayasar rides on a battle mount decked out with enough weapons and technology to make it pack the punch of a light tank. These fights also stuck out to me as having greater individuality than the space battles, since the settings and situations differed between them, while the space battles were fairly consistent, conveyed largely through dialogue and shifting shapes on a display.

The science fiction elements of the story are less detailed, preventing the story from becoming bogged down with too much realism. There are a few innovative technologies, but they are only described enough to serve the story, rather than existing for their own sake.

For example, the space ships are mainly military vehicles, and thus described less in terms of the science behind space travel and more along the lines of practicality. This does result in some less meticulous elements, such as their tendency to arrive places whenever it is most convenient for the story, rather than some consistent sense of distance traveled.

However, I can’t help but feel that this is a net gain, as the emphasis resultingly landed on the conflict and the characters, which is consistent for the military science fiction genre.

Suspense

A Greater Duty’s true strength, however, lies in the main character Darkclaw’s emotional journey and the tension that develops as he becomes more sympathetic towards his allies and begins to question his High Lord.

The question of how he can stand up to an all-powerful, mind-reading energy being builds through the entire story. It makes Darkclaw particularly sympathetic, and the climax manages to deliver a satisfying pay-off to this building suspense.

Foils and Emotion

Darkclaw begins the story entirely emotionless: a completely rational character. He believes the Tyrannodons to be superior due to this trait, although others of his species do have limited emotions. His struggle to maintain his composure and hide his emotions as they develop is extremely relatable, and his resolution to then change his behavior once he understands others better as a result of his emotional experiences is admirable.

Nayasar was a more frustrating character for me, though she makes an excellent foil for Darkclaw. She not only feels things very vividly, but she throws herself into her emotions. She dwells on the deaths of civilians that she feels responsible for, and actively resists the advice of others that would help her to find healing. Her quest for revenge ends with a realization that allowing her emotions to control her caused her to hurt others.

Dalcon is likewise an interesting foil for Darkclaw, although perhaps a more subtle one. He begins the story as a character who values rational behavior. Like Darkclaw, he works to maintain his composure. Where Nayasar represents a character willingly ruled by her emotions – and the dangers that involves – Dalcon is a character who intentionally sets aside his emotions in order to keep from alienating people who recognize his species as dangerous. He has intentionally distanced himself from his home world and his inherent fire abilities as a result. In the end, he does not have as urgent a repentance as Nayasar, but he does become aware that he has likewise been isolated, and seeks reconciliation with his people.

Darkclaw manages to walk a middle road between these extremes, and is able to achieve peace and unity with both his own people and the peoples of the Galactic Alliance.

Loyalty, Sacrifice, and Religion

A Greater Duty emphasizes the values typical for the military genre, including loyalty, sacrifice, bravery, and, of course, of duty. However, these values interplay with the thematic thread of emotion in a unique way. When Darkclaw lacks emotions, he retains loyalty and a sense of duty, but they are to the High Lord, governed only by a sterile logic based on the High Lord’s rhetoric. However, as Darkclaw begins to experience emotions, his loyalties and sense of duty change to align with his allies. He is even able to appreciate the religion of Nayasar’s people.

So, then, is the thematic argument of this story that feelings determine morality? Not at all. Nayasar’s emotions steer her to commit condemnable acts. Rather, the note seems to be that emotions breathe life into these values. Camaraderie strengthens the loyalty between characters. Enacting responsibilities leads to fulfillment. Courage is not even possible without fear. Grief deepens the sacrifice of subordinates; love, self-sacrifice.

Merkin delivers a message of emotional balance, neither blindly employing them as a moral compass nor condemning them as solely problematic. Rather, A Greater Duty embraces the reality that, while feelings should not be responsible for structural integrity, their presence alongside virtues turns a plain building into a cathedral.

Check It Out!

A Greater Duty delivers detailed action and a thought-provoking spin on the usual themes of the military sci-fi genre. It is an exciting first foray into the Galaxy Ascendant series!

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The Swordbringer Book II Call for Beta Readers

The Sword Bringer Book II Call for Beta Readers

Alexander Hellene invites Twitter DMs from anyone interested in providing an honest review of The Second Sojourn

Today, Sept. 29th, 2020, Alexander Hellene announced on Twitter that The Second Sojourn, book two in The Swordbringer series, was complete barring the glossary. He welcomes anyone interested in beta reading in exchange for an honest review to contact him via direct message.

On his website, Hellene has a copy for this story:

“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.”

We reviewed the first book in this series The Last Ancestor here on Periapsis Press. We are looking forward to this next installment in this sword and planet series!

 

Check out our positive, long-form review of the first The Swordbringer novel!

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Author Interview: J Trevor Robinson

Bio

When J Trevor was young, he received a well-worn stack of mystery and horror novels from his older brother, and it instilled in him a lifelong desire to be an author. Heavily influenced by Stephen King’s scares, Jim Butcher’s action scenes, and the larger-than-life characters in Ayn Rand’s books, he blended those influences with classic literature and pulp horror to write his upcoming novel THE MUMMY OF MONTE CRISTO.

He has also self-published a young-adult horror novel THE GOOD FIGHT, and was published in the Amazon #1 bestselling horror anthology SECRET STAIRS as the sole romance story in the collection.

He lives in Toronto keeping the redhead gene alive with his wife through their newborn daughter, born Friday the 13th.

(From website bio)

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“The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies!  . . . I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader!”

“Instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.”

“There’s also a theme in the book about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers no matter their politics.”

Author Interview with J Trevor Robinson

We talk with the author of The Mummy of Monte Cristo, the exciting new undead adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic revenge tale!

Pre-order Available Now on Amazon!

Publisher’s Description:

In a world where mankind shares the world with monsters and magic, and where the undead roamed Europe until Napoleon conquered the Dead Plague, Edmond Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned against the backdrop of the French Revolution and Hundred Days.

Desperate and with nothing left to lose, Edmond turns to a dark power beyond his understanding to reach from beyond the grave and torment his accusers. He will return to Paris with new riches, a new face, and a new weapon – THE MUMMY’S CURSE.

I am really excited to share my thoughts on The Mummy of Monte Cristo with you all! I have already read it thanks to an advance copy and can attest that it is a fantastic accomplishment: Dumas’ classic revenge tale packed with all the undead and horror goodies you could wish for!

So keep an eye out for our positive, long-form review when The Mummy of Monte Cristo is officially released on October 20th, 2020!

For today, I have a real treat. 

I sent author J Trevor Robinson some questions to pick his brain about what went into adapting this classic, and he was good enough to take the time to make some thoughtful responses. I hope you enjoy!

 How has the original The Count of Monte Cristo impacted you as a reader and as a writer?

I remember I first read The Count of Monte Cristo back in 2009, on a trip to Vancouver for my cousin’s wedding. Aside from Lord of the Rings, it was certainly the largest and longest book I’d ever read up to that point, and the scheming in the plot is still some of the most intricate I’ve ever seen.

One of the biggest impressions it’s left on me though, both from when I first read it and now after adapting it, is the amount of historical context and research it can take to really dive into a book like this. In the original, the edition I first read (and still have) was filled with footnotes explaining fascinating things about 19th-century French culture that Dumas’ original readers would have just known. In my adaptation, I took a lot of care to weave that background into the narrative so that the exposition doesn’t take away from the story.

Another reason that’s important is that when you’re adapting a story that’s so dependent on historical events of the period (in this case, the downfall and return of the monarchy and Napoleon’s time in power) you’d better be sure you understand it enough not to make a total mess of it. Of course, I got to exploit the convenient loophole of inventing things like zombie attacks to simplify some of the subtleties of history!

What do you enjoy about the undead adaptation genre?

The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies! Like, to the point that I don’t watch The Walking Dead (or even Shaun of the Dead!) For some reason, zombies just hit some nerve in my head where I become very aware of how badly equipped I’d be to survive in a world where they were real. Give me a vampire or a wolfman to deal with before putting me into a zombie apocalypse; I’m probably still getting eaten, but somehow it just seems less horrible when it’s not walking corpses doing it one puny human bite at a time.

I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader! “Write what you know,” you know? There’s a scene where Edmond reminisces about growing up in a world where zombies roamed the Earth where I drill into that fear a little further. Maybe one day I’ll put out a short story set during the Dead Plague, that could be fun.

What about The Count of Monte Cristo lends itself to this kind of adaptation?

When I started this project, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to write a “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” kind of mash-up story that injects monsters and horrors into a classic novel. Of course, to do this sort of thing it needs to be old enough that the original book is in public domain, and the most fun and exciting book that I’d ever read which fit that description was Count of Monte Cristo.

Once I’d picked that, it was pretty easy to decide on a monster to use. I briefly toyed with using The Blob, and have it be a running joke that nobody realized the count was just a wad of pink carnivorous jelly wearing a suit, but having him become a mummy instead was the clear winner. After all, mummies in horror stories are often driven to take revenge on the treasure-hunters who disturbed their rest, so it was a natural fit.

On top of that, there’s a theme in the original story that I don’t think Dumas really dove into as much as he could have, which is how all the suffering Edmond goes through is ultimately due to a complete abuse of government power; one could even say, due to a government with far too much power. I feel like that becomes a more important theme to explore with every passing day, and I’ll get into that again a little bit later too.

Where did you draw inspiration from for the horror / undead genre elements?

Since I try to avoid watching any zombie movies or TV, I’m not really as familiar with the zombie tropes as I could be. In lieu of that, I focused on what makes them so scary to me, like how they can multiply so quickly, or how you never know if one could be lying hidden in tall grass or under someone’s porch waiting to bite any convenient ankles that come along.

As for the mummy’s powers, I had a lot of room to play with there too. Mummy movies tend to give the monster whatever magic serves the plot, so I did the same, focusing on what kind of abilities would help Edmond to pursue his goals. And of course, every monster needs weaknesses; I think I did a good job coming up with some to maintain a level of uncertainty and danger in his quest!

Was it difficult to integrate those elements?

Once I’d settled on the mummy as the main monster, I hit a small problem: Edmond’s story was so well-suited to it that I needed more supernatural elements to really make the book stand out from the original. There’s a line in “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris, when Lecter is decorating a room, that goes something like “too much would be too much, but far too much was just right.” So instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.

What were the challenges and/or highlights of writing this adaptation?

One of the big challenges was knowing what from the original to cut to make room for the new elements I was adding in. Some characters from the original and their related subplots are entirely gone.

Another challenge was giving other characters things to do which served the new story. Let’s face it: in the original Max and Valentine are kind of dull, and Eugenie doesn’t do a whole lot either. But some of the changes I made let them get involved in the Mummy’s plans a lot more actively than they used to be, and I think it really helps the flow of the book.

What did you think was important to preserve about the original?

I felt that the root motivations of the main characters really needed to stay the same, partly because they work so well and partly because they’re so relevant to the state of the world today. Fernand is jealous that Mercedes loves Edmond instead of him, and feels entitled to her. Villefort is a fanatic who thinks that the government he serves is the highest moral purpose and can do no wrong. Danglars is just a bitter and twisted man who likes to see people taken down a peg when he thinks they have “too much” success. If fewer people behaved like the three of them in the real world, we’d be in a much better place.

What do you believe makes this classic story timely for today’s audience?

For starters, a story about life in the aftermath of a major plague is definitely fitting for 2020! The final edits were already with my publisher, Immortal Works, when coronavirus happened; it wasn’t even until early summer that I realized how coincidental the timing was.

There’s also a theme in the book about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers no matter their politics. The main plot kicks off because the villains exploit the Royalist/Bonapartist political schism to frame Edmond and have him locked away despite his innocence, a clear abuse of state force.

One thing I was very careful to do was not to represent either the Royalist or Bonapartist faction as fundamentally better than the other. The only glimpse I even give of their policies is in a brief conversation between two characters who try to defend their own sides, but end up just showcasing the ways that they both were in the wrong. The point isn’t for people to look at the factions and say “Oh, this one is Conservative and that one is Liberal, or this one is Republican and that one is Democrat.” The point is to look at the system those factions are part of and say “This is a mess, both teams are doing things they have no right to do, and a lot of innocent people are getting hurt for nothing.”

(and just like the plague angle, I had no idea just how much more fitting that would be by the time the book released!)

Pre-Order The Mummy of Monte Cristo today!

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Review: Collateral Damage

Publisher Description:

Destructive Battles Rage Between Hellish Kaiju and Giant Mech Protectors

A desperate father must rescue his son when a deadly kaiju rampages across his city.

When opportunists lurk and buildings crumble around him, the battle might be the least of his worries. Each minute means more destruction, and the clock is ticking.

The first in a new kaiju series where the ordinary collides with the oversized, Collateral Damage is based on a short story of the same title originally published in Broadswords & Blasters Magazine. Experience the first taste of this series with a punch to the gut. Mind the shadows — you could be crushed.

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Review: Collateral Damage by Adam Furman

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

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Collateral Damage is a high-speed science fiction thriller about a father’s battle to save his son, underfoot of a kaiju/mech battle for humanity’s survival. This first installment of the series is a wild ride of paternal determination and an intense mashup of the ordinary and the fantastic!

Aggressive Pacing

While Collateral Damage begins with a simple premise: a father of a broken family doing whatever he has to in order to be with his young son. Initially, the goal is to pass an apartment inspection in order to get visitation rights. The common situation provides a moderate amount of tension, stemming from the relatability of the father-son relationship.

The initial obstacles are likewise of the everyday sort, but the situation quickly goes off the rails. When a kaiju attacks the city and his son is unaccounted for, DeShawn hurdles into an epic quest to find him and keep him safe. He meets with one problem after another, but never gives up.

Furman does an exemplary job of utilizing the “yes, but / no, and” storytelling technique. The consistent complications deny the release of tension, pushing the drive of the story even harder with every event. Furthermore, DeShawn is impacted physically at every turn – a tactic reminiscent of Jim Butcher – which continues to amplify the suspense.

Present Tense

Reading a story told in present tense can take some mental adjusting if you aren’t used to it (generally, it is more common in short stories than genre fiction), but in Collateral Damage, the style is used to further emphasize the immediacy and build the suspense.

The effect is one of careening into the unknown. It is not unlike a Crash Bandicoot game in which the character runs full-tilt towards the screen; the player is perched on the edge of his seat, reacting to problems seconds after they appear and trusting that there is a way through to the finish line and to victory.

Biting Visuals

The fast pace and intense emotional investment do not prevent the setting from making an undeniable impression. Images, such as driving a blue convertible through a mech’s legs as it battles a giant monster overhead, stick with you.

Some of the descriptions are quite graphic, emphasizing the “collateral damage” occurring while the battle rages above. The destruction, violence, and even gore further contribute to the rising tension by reducing the control the reader perceives the main character as having.

But it also casts some thematic threads.

Timely Theme

The story works off a simple premise, and the central theme reflects that. The importance of a father figure and the desire for a whole and loving family are threads that lead to the payoff, the feel-good ending the reader craves like water after a gut-wrenching race.

However, there is another theme, more timely than timeless.

There are political events occurring in the world that are intriguingly similar to our own current events. Zenith, a communist group of zealots works to overthrow the mechs, the force established by the government to defend the people.

Zenith has occupied part of the city, obstruct roadways, accost ordinary people on their way home from work, steal and kill, and take advantage of a bad situation to further their own goals. However, they have some valid concerns, including the blasé acceptance of the damage caused and lives lost as a result of the mechs’ battles, and the impunity of the mech pilots for their behavior. Most people seem to love them, though, and watch their battles as a kind of entertainment.

In this situation, DeShawn is once again painfully relatable. He does not mindlessly embrace the mechs, forgiving the carnage and rejecting all criticism of them, and so he is himself rejected by others as “anti-government.” One character even goes as far to call him a monster for his mere opinion. However, he also cannot accept Zenith who stole his wallet, appropriated his apartment, and killed the people he approached for help. As a result, he is labeled a “patriot” by them.

Collateral Damage

He, like so many people in the Western world today, finds himself in a no-man’s land, disavowed by opposite ends of the spectrum as the enemy, and denied the opportunity to find common ground with either of them due to the labels they are so quick to brand him with. He represents the “collateral damage” in this political and cultural war.

The thematic arc resolves with DeShawn’s conclusion that he is happy that the mechs exist. This is not a surrender of his inhibitions regarding them, nor an inconsistent, emotional response to his rescue. It is a nuanced discernment of the good and the bad, one that has been denied to him throughout the story.

I am reluctant to pin any particular, deeper message onto this thread, any call to action regarding our own world’s politics. But the story clearly cautions against the adoption of an “us vs them” mentality, and the satisfying ending is really only possible because DeShawn lets go of some of his own judgement towards his ex and his father, enabling them to become a whole family instead of one divided against itself.

Check It Out!

Collateral Damage is an exciting kaiju thriller with a breakneck pace that will keep you up late reading it and thought-provoking themes to mull over for days afterwards! I am looking forward to seeing where Furman takes this series.

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The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale

The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale 2020

Many of the books for sale this labor day weekend (2020) have been reviewed here on Periapsis Press!

The Amazing Labor 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!

A fun, heavy metal romp following a band of warriors through epic battles to defend against an invasion of Underworld monsters!

A story of youthful ingenuity set in a flavorful science fiction, alternate history world!

A dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring!

A gritty action novel that blends mecha anime and military science fiction to deliver high-energy combat alongside thrilling intrigue!

A streamlined tale of steampunk-flavored adventure told from the perspective of a young farm girl who inherits an airship. Air battles, heroic rescues, explosions, and dramatic outfits ensue!

Uriel's Revenge has an excerpt available on our website, also participating in this sale!

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