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1. Interview with Kristi Helvig, Author of Burn Out


Writer Kristi Helvig makes her authorial debut with her young adult sci-fi novel “Burn Out” (Egmont USA) in spring 2014.

Helvig was born in North Carolina and grew up in Delaware. She holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. She has spent her career in Colorado as a successful clinical psychologist and life coach. She regularly gives lectures
as a professional psychologist and visits schools where she talks with students about books and publishing.

Helvig has contributed as a guest blogger at LiteraryRambles.com and keeps her own blog updated with musings about “Star Trek,” space monkeys, books and other assorted topics.

The geek-for-science-fiction lives outside of Denver, Colo., with her husband of 17 years, two children and their behaviorally challenged dogs. In her spare time, Helvig practices yoga, hikes and loves trying new wines.

Visit Kristi online at http://www.kristihelvig.com/

How did you research the true science involved in “Burn Out?”

Google is a writer’s best friend and I always start there, but it can only take you so far. I watched a lot of documentaries on NatGeo, Science Channel, etc. and then contacted an astrophysics department at a large university. Nothing beats talking to experts in the field, and I was flattered that they took time out of their busy schedules to help me.

As you were learning about these scientific concepts, was there anything that surprised you?

I learned that sending all the world’s nuclear weapons into the sun wouldn’t cause it to burn out. Who knew? Finding a plausible way for the sun to burn out early was challenging, and where I definitely relied on assistance from astrophysicists.

Tell us about the themes you explored in the book and what you hope they mean to readers.

Trust is a huge theme throughout the book, as well as how to move forward after devastating losses. Weapons also play a big role in the book. New technology in my main character’s world has allowed for smarter, more lethal guns and she struggles with their impact on Earth’s remaining survivors.

Did your work as a clinical psychologist influence your writing?

Absolutely. I’ve seen hundreds of clients over the years and though everyone processes events according to their unique perspective, the experiences of love, fear, pain, and loss are common to humanity. It’s interesting to see how people interpret life events within their own personal construct.

What do you like about writing science fiction?burn out

That’s easy. I get to make up whole new worlds and then see what happens when I let characters loose in them. It’s creative and fun, and I get paid to do it. I couldn’t imagine anything better.

What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?

Never give up. Eat lots of chocolate. Drink lots of wine. Seriously though, the most important thing is to keep writing and find some good, honest critique partners…and then listen to them. Always strive to improve your craft. Read a lot. Reading is just as important to me as writing.

If your book were turned into a movie, who would you like to see play Tora, Markus and James?

What a fun question! I think Emily Browning would make a kick-ass Tora, and Skylar Astin as Markus would be awesome. James is tougher. Either Cam Gigandet or Alexander Ludwig is close to how I pictured James as I wrote him.

Who are some of your favorite science fiction and fantasy writers?

Lois Lowry, Madeleine L’Engle, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury to name a few. Additionally, though they’re not straight sci-fi writers, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King have had a huge influence on me.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your book so far?

My favorite so far was when a fellow author told me how much she loved my main character, Tora, and called her “the female Han Solo.” You can’t get a cooler compliment than that.

Is there a second “Burn Out” book in the works?

Yes, I’m hard at work on the second book, and I’m having a blast with it.

Hardcover, $17.99; eBook, $13.07
ISBN: 978-1606844793
Young Adult Science Fiction, 272 pages
Egmont USA, April 8, 2014

Purchase here!

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2. Interview with Sallie Haws, Author of Quantum Spirit: Apocalypse

sallie haws

As the great-granddaughter of the inventor of the drinking fountain and founder of Haws Corporation, Sallie Haws put her UC Santa Barbara bachelor’s degree in organizational psychology to work to make a positive impact on her family’s business. Sallie held numerous jobs in the company over her 26-year tenure from file clerk to President and CEO.

At a young age, Sallie’s passion for writing was fed by taking creative writing classes in high school and college. It was nursed along throughout her adult years by a voracious reading habit of paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy novels.

After selling the family business in 2011, Sallie finally had the time and inspiration to write.

“Quantum Spirit – Apocalypse” (August 2013, Fedd Books) is the culmination of years of personal and professional life experience combined with the
desire to empower, entertain and inspire adults and teenagers.

Sallie lives in Reno, Nevada, with her husband, son, daughter and black kitty named Chubs.

Visit Sallie online at www.quantumspiritbooks.com 


Salena Hawthorne, the teen heroine in “Quantum Spirit: Apocalypse,” is incredibly smart, strong and courageous. What do you want readers to learn from her?

I would love for them to learn how to tap into their own innate power and abilities. After being a business leader and mentor for many years, I decided to take what I’ve learned and share that with eager and open-minded young women through an entertaining and non-threatening medium.

My personal reading genre of choice is paranormal urban fantasy. However, I didn’t want to write a book about vampires or were-creatures. There are some awesome authors out there who do that extremely well, and I didn’t think it needed to be done again. I also wanted to write a book with a positive outlook for humanity’s future. I’m a little tired of the dystopian genre. I wanted to create a state of wonder with my audience. Our world is so full of fear and discord; it’s time to imagine a world full of love and connectedness.

On the surface, “Quantum Spirit” is a fun, easy read about a young girl who has some amazing abilities and some fantastic adventures. But the deeper you get into the book, the more profound the story becomes. Can you expand on that?

For many, the quick surface read will be enough. For those with a little more curiosity, dropping down one level, the premise of the book is how deadly fear can be, and how love, gratitude and forgiveness is the antidote. The third level introduces some metaphysical and spiritual concepts that are currently being practiced and taught all over the world. In that regard, “Quantum Spirit – Apocalypse” could almost be considered realistic fiction.sallie

How did you come up with the idea of giving Salena all of these different gifts – clairvoyance, seeing auras and traveling between dimensions?

I actually had a dream about a young girl who could change her body’s vibrational resonance that allowed her to disappear in the Third Dimension and travel to the Fifth Dimension. So that gift was the first one I came up with, but then I needed to provide reasonable cause as to why she might develop such a talent. Being an exceptionally strong clairvoyant at a young age I felt would lead credence to the development of more advanced abilities at the onset of puberty. Being able to see auras just seemed to make the package complete.

If you could have any the abilities that Salena has in your book, which would you pick and why?

I think my first choice would definitely be the ability to transcend dimensions. Being able to teleport anywhere in the world would seriously cut down on my travel expenses! Not to mention the money I would save on new clothes and accessories that I could instantly manifest while in the Fifth Dimension. As distracting as I’m sure it would be, the ability to see auras would be my second choice.

Crystals play an important role in “Quantum Spirit.” Can you tell us a little about them?

The two main types of crystals that play a role in the book are Selenite and Quartz. The use of Selenite came about by pure synchronicity. It was completely coincidental that the majestic crystal caves in Niaca, Mexico where I chose to put the Akashic Records were made of selenite. Selenite was named after the Greek word for moon, and Selene is the name for the Greek Goddess of the Moon. (I had named my heroine Salena way before I discovered the crystal caves and what type of crystals were in them.) After researching all of the physical and metaphysical properties of selenite, I knew that if the Akashic Records were ever going to be located in a single place, they would definitely be stored in those crystal caves.

I chose quartz for the healing ceremony because that is the first choice for metaphysical practitioners who use crystals to augment their healing practice. Quartz crystals are able to structure, store, amplify, focus, transmit and transform energy, which includes matter, thought, emotion and other forms of information. They were the best tool I could give Salena to allow her to trap the negative energy of the Blue Flu.

Did you do a lot of research while writing “Quantum Spirit?”

Yes. While the story is fiction, all of the metaphysical, spiritual and scientific concepts in the book are based on theories and research done by many different people. I read and/or referenced at least 13 different books and I don’t know how many dozens of websites on the various different concepts that I weaved into my story. Links to the books are all listed on my website.

Do you believe in the paranormal?

Absolutely. In fact, I believe in every one of the metaphysical concepts I put into Quantum Spirit: Apocalypse, even the existence of the Fifth Dimension. That doesn’t mean I have the ability to do any of the “paranormal” things that Salena can do, but I do believe they are possible.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to write a novel my whole life. My first attempt was in seventh grade, and there were a couple of other ones after that. After selling the family business in 2011, I knew I wanted to take this opportunity to finally write, but I didn’t have what I felt was a compelling enough story. In June of 2011, while on a houseboat vacation on Lake Shasta, I dreamed about a young girl who could change her body’s vibrational level and travel back and forth from the third dimension to the fifth dimension. Upon awakening, I walked out to the living room where my husband, son and his friends were eating breakfast and announced to the group, “I have my story.”

Without any spoilers, can you give us a hint of what to expect in your next book, “Quantum Spirit: Redemption?”

Salena has a lot of work ahead of her. On top of staying one step ahead of the nefarious goons who are trying to kidnap her, she must also continue to find a solution to help the millions of souls who are still trapped in stasis. Keeping track of Jace and trying to find a way to save him will also keep her rather busy, and she still has to pass eighth grade algebra.

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3. Smasher, by Scott Bly

Smasher, by Scott Bly (Blue Sky Press, March, 2014, middle grade)

The future is in jeopardy--a madman who has managed to combine incredible technology with the psychic energies of nature (the Hum) is about to enslave mankind by with an infections cocktail of computer code and manipulated DNA. In the 16th century, a boy named Charlie can manipulate the hum even more wonderfully than the madman in the future.  And Charlie's ability to solve puzzles has been honed to a razors edge by his grandfather, and his survival instincts have been honed to a razors edge by fear of bullies and inquisitors....

Travelling between the two times is a girl named Geneva, a robot with miraculous powers of her own.   She comes to get Charlie, and take him to the future, where the two will stand together as last hope for humanity.  (There's a dog too, a very nice indeed puppy with enhancements of her own....there's also an enhanced gorilla, which you don't see that often, but he plays a relatively minor role).

And there's plenty of action, as the bad guy and his minions try to hunt down Charlie and Geneva, and they try to escape while foiling.

It was an enjoyable read, and it's a very good introduction to that fine speculative fiction question of how human a robot can be.  I liked Geneva very much!  Charlie was fine too, but with a relatively straightforward, what you see is what you get, character.  Geneva comes with Mysteries and Questions. 

This is one I'm happy to recommend to kids of ten and eleven or so, moving into sci fi action books.  It offers a nice serving of age-appropriate violence, which is to say there are deaths, and torture, but not disturbingly graphic, and balanced by a lot of sewer-related discomfort.   (Even if a kid's read The Hunger Games  and Ender's Game already, I don't think there's any reason to hurry toward ever more violence.)  However, there is considerable cruelty toward animals, which the bad guy is manipulating in  his lab of evil--this could well cause distress!

The action is balanced by dashes of (not tremendously subtle) philosophy about good vs evil, and by the friendship between Geneva and Charlie, which was a pleasure to read about.  And I think the time travel element will appeal to that audience as well--there's a friendliness to a protagonist who's plunked, like the reader, into a strange and alien landscape where much is confusing at first.

That being said, I myself found the time slip element unsatisfactory.  There's not a lot of time spent in the 16th century, and were it not for the fact that we are told the year is 1542, there's really no way to know.   Likewise, I felt Charlie's easy acceptance of the future somewhat unconvincing.  (It's also hard for me not to care about details like names--as I know the name Charles hadn't made it across the English Channel yet....and how can a boy living in a remote mountain village have three tutors, unless he's the aristocracy, which he doesn't seem to be?).

I also wasn't quite satisfied with the back story--when I'm told right at the beginning of the book that the protagonist's harsh grandfather has blood on his hands, and is apparently a murderer, I expect this to be explained, if not resolved, clearly and with conviction, and (even though I read fast I don't think I missed anything) the details stayed pretty murky.

But I don't think my two issues are the sort that will affect the reading pleasure of the target audience, especially the target audience for fast-paced sci-fi excitement.  Especially recommended for the computer geek kid-coding plays a bit part in the story!

Here's the Kirkus review.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

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4. Coming Soon!: Scan by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine


Tate and his father don’t exactly get along. As Tate sees it, his father has unreasonably high expectations for Tate to be the best—at everything. Tate finally learns what he’s being prepared for when he steals one of his dad’s odd tech inventions and mercenaries ambush the school, killing his father in the process and sending Tate on the run from aliens who look just like humans.

All Tate knows–like how to make weapons out of oranges and lighter fluid–may not be enough to save him as he’s plunged into a secret inter-species conflict that’s been going on for centuries. Aided only by his girlfriend and his estranged mother, with powerful enemies closing in on all sides, Tate races to puzzle out the secret behind his father’s invention and why so many are willing to kill for it. A riveting, fast-paced adventure, Scan is a clever alien thriller with muscle and heart.

By Walter Jury and Sarah Fine
Hardcover, $17.99
eBook, $10.99
ISBN: 978-0399160653
Science Fiction
336 pages
Penguin/G.P. Putnam’s Sons
May 1, 2014

Pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble!

Walter Jury was born in London, has a background in the film industry, is a big fan of the New York Giants, and enthusiast of Jamba Juice’s Protein Berry Workout smoothie only with soy, never whey. “Scan” is his first book for teens. Oh, and under his real name, he’s a producer of one of 2014’s biggest blockbusters. Let’s just say he “diverges” in his career from film to literature quite well.

Sarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is the author (as Sarah Fine) of several young adult books, and when she’s not writing, she’s working as a child psychologist. No, she is not psychoanalyzing you right now.

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5. Call for Submissions: Rose Red Review

Rose Red Review is now accepting submissions for its Summer 2014 issue!

Rose Red Review is published four times a year, in homage to the passing season. In fairy tales, the future is unknown, often summarized by the vague phrase “happily ever after,” but each character is influenced by his or her past, and we, like the characters, live in the moment as we read their story. Rose Red Review seeks to publish art, fiction, photography, and poetry that best reflects the magic in the every day–work that honors the past, the moment, and the uncertain future.

Read more about the publication here.

Please send your submissions here.

Please visit Rose Red Review on Facebook. On Twitter.

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6. Chicanonautica: What the Hell is Chicanonautica?

by Ernest Hogan

¡Guao! I’ve been doing this Chicanonautica stuff for well over three years. About time I pondered just what I’m doing, and what the hell Chicanonautica is, anyway.

I feel like a calaca in a spacesuit here. Just what is this all about?

Some of you may have seen it in a brief premature manifestation -- but that was just me, as usual, stumbling into a new frontier like the slapstick comedian that I am at heart. “One small step for a Chicano --” BANG! CRASH! TINKLE! “I meant to do that . . .”

I had discussed things with Rudy Ch. Garcia, and had the idea to cover the intersection of Latino culture and science fiction/fantasy/the fantastic, and report on developing situations in my home state of Arizona, which has proved to be a constant source of inspiration.

Then I had this drawing (yeah, I’m also an artist, to complicate things) I called “Calacanaut” of a calavera in a space helmet tricked out like a hot rod. Seemed like a perfect icon/alter ego/public persona for this gig.

Chicanonautica seemed like good catch-all label for this free-form rasquache/mestizaje/recombocultural party.

I’ve always been a Chicanonaut, boldly going where my insatiable curiosity led me, even if the dominant society -- and sometimes, even my fellow Chicanos -- didn’t think it was my barrio. Folks keep setting up their borders, and I keep wandering across them, searching for more of my cosmic barrio. 

I can’t cross a border/frontier -- frontera, in Spanish means both border and frontier, in direct conflict with Americano Wild West mythology -- without bringing my identity, my skin color, my ancestry, with me. I had no idea that it would be such a big, fat, hairy chingada with Nueva York publishing gangs when I started out to be a writer.

But lately, things have been changing. The publishers who have been marketing sci-fi to nerds for the last few decades are discovering that not all nerds are white boys from the Midwest. Some adjustments need to be made. Suddenly, the imagination and the future are everybody’s intellectual property.

We are in an age of postcolonialsim and Afrofuturism. I’ve got a feeling that Chicanonautica will fit right in.

Besides, I’ve found  Chicanonautica to be a good strategy for navigating our transmorgrifying world. I recommend it to you writers and artists struggling in the brave new realities. Go forth, have adventures, report back.

Those reports will read like science fiction.

Ernest Hogan is a Chicanonaut and doesn’t care who knows it. BANG! CRASH! TINKLE!

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7. The Book Review Club - The Martian

The Martian
Andy Weir
Science Fiction - Adult

Pop quiz:
1) Do you ever stare at the night sky wondering if there is life out there?
2) Ever tried to levitate something with your mind?
3) Have you ever secretly (or not so secretly) watch Star Trek?

Houston, we have lift off. You like science fiction!

Science fiction has been fascinating readers from the moment Mary Shelley brought Frankenstein's monster to life. And writers of science fiction have been working to keep their edge ever since that first breath of life into their genre. Today, they're getting a little help from actual, real life physicists. Science fiction has become your basic rocket science.

How can this be? Some brilliant people at Tor had the great idea to pair up science fiction writers with NASA scientists. The result is a new list of science fiction titles, headed up by Andy Weir's, The Martian.

Basic premise: Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

More details: Mark Watney, a member of the Ares 3 Mars crew, accidentally gets left on Mars during the middle of a sandstorm. He has a habitat. He has oxygen and water. He has some food. But he doesn't have enough to last until the next Ares mission arrives. Cue creativity. How will Mark survive? Will NASA be able to help?

Weir's characters are wonderfully diverse and wickedly smart without being so smart they become inaccessible. The plot is scary believable. Accidents can happen, especially on a mission to a place as far away and foreign as Mars. The scientific does not way down the story, but rather, enhance it. Admittedly, there were moments when I did zone a little. Then again, that could have been the elliptical machine getting the better of me. I have books I "save" for work outs only. This was one. But I found myself sneaking more of The Martian whenever I could, like a secret stash of chocolate. And more than once that I had to remind myself this is NOT REAL. It's "just" a story (so stop crying!).

Tor has more books in the line up. One is about an elevator from earth to the international space station. Finally, a true fix for my science fiction addiction. I can't wait to see what they imagine up next. And...um...if it's not too much to ask, does anyone know how to get in the super secret society of writers who get to work with these amazing scientists?

For more April fling reads, check out Barrie Summy's website!

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8. Echo, by Alicia Wright Brewster, for Timeslip Tuesday

I love the premise of Echo, by Alicia Wright Brewster (Dragonfairy Press, YA, April 2013).  On an alien planet, settled by two waves of colonization from Earth, the apocalypse has been foretold.   But the council, whose members can control the elements with their minds, is determined to prevent it.  And they are willing to keep trying, even when things don't work out--they simply turn back the clock, rewinding time to give themselves another chance.

When Echo begins, it is the fifth rewind.  The council has tried four times already to avert a disaster whose very nature they were at first uncertain of--and with each rewind, they've gained more information.   And they've determined that what they need this time around is a teenaged girl named Ashara Vine.  This comes as something of a huge, mind-blowing surprise to Ashara, who had no idea that she was one of the very few with the ability to manipulate the ether itself.   And it comes as an additional surprise that the man chosen by the council to train her and a small cohort of other young manipulators is her ex-boyfriend, Loken.

Tension builds as Ashara learns about her powers, and the nature of the threat menacing her planet...and builds as she and Loken rekindle their relationship....and builds still more as information from the previous rewinds is revealed, and plots and machinations within the council, and within her world's society, make it more than somewhat uncertain if this time around, the world will be saved.

Do not, however, expect that because this story takes place on an alien world, it is truly science fiction.  The world building is not such that I felt I was on a different planet, despite the two suns, and the powers of the elemental manipulators read like fantasy. 

Do expect that the romance between Ashara and Loken will sometimes overshadow the end-of-the-world plot, sometimes so much so that I was annoyed (there are times when passionate is appropriate, and times when it is really not to the point).   I would recommend this one to those who like romance books that happen to be speculative fiction, rather than to speculative fiction fans who happen to like a bit of romance.

If you enjoy reading about groups of teenagers being trained together to fight with magical powers, you will enjoy that part of the book.  However, if your mind follows more or less the same trains of thought as mine, you too might find it odd that the fact that there's a coming apocalypse is broadcast to all and sundry, causing rather pointless stress (there's no escaping the countdown clocks).  And you might agree with me that the nature of the threat is ultimately rather unconvincing. 

All in all, it's not possible for me to recommend the book wholeheartedly.  However, I did truly like the premise of time travel being used to figure out how to avert catastrophe, and the interesting ramifications thereof!  And your millage may totally vary; here are some other reviews:

Apocalypse Mama
All In One Place
The Urban Paranormal Book Blog

Final note:  this is one for my multicultural book list--Ashara's father is of African descent, which is made beautifully clear in the front cover picture of Ashara! 

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9. William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (2014)

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back. (William Shakespeare's Star Wars #2) Ian Doescher. 2014. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading William Shakespeare's Star Wars, Verily A New Hope. It was fun seeing the original movie as a Shakespeare play. I liked seeing the dialogue transformed. I liked finding my favorite lines. It was just a fun treat.

Though I definitely enjoy The Empire Strikes Back as a movie, I can't say that this adaptation did it justice. The balance does not feel quite right, in my opinion. Perhaps it errs too much on the side of Shakespeare? Perhaps the characters have become too in touch with their emotions and feelings, perhaps they are too fond of asides and soliloquies. Perhaps there is too much talking in general? I don't know. It could be as simple as me not being in the just-right mood.

Wampa: You viewers all, whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest womp rat creeping on the floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When wampa through in wildest rage doth roar.
Pray know that I am a wampa simple am,
And take no pleasure in my angry mood.
Though with great force this young one's face I slam,
I prithee know I strike but for my food. (12)

AT-AT 1: My friends, we have had quite enough of talk:
The battle is upon us, let us go.
And ye who doubt, I pray remember this:
Although we are but AT-ATs gray and plain,
We have a noble task to undertake--
Our mighty Emperor's reign to protect,
The great Darth Vader to obey and aid,
And Admiral Piett to serve with pride.
So shall an AT-AT swoon before the fight,
Or should our legs be shaken ere th'assault?
Have we been made to cower? I say nay!
An AT-AT should be made of sterner stuff.

AT-AT 3 [to AT-AT2:] I pray, good walker, is he ever thus?

AT-AT 2: Aye, truly, Sir, I never yet have met
An All Terrain Armored Transport who
Is loftier of mind than this one here.
Indeed, although like us he's made of steel,
He never enters battle zones unless
He hath made some great speech to steel his nerves.
It does no harm.

AT-AT3: No harm, but to mine ears.
I'd rather fight than hear another speech. (45-46)

Exogor: Alas, another meal hath fled and gone,
And in the process I am sorely hurt.
These travelers who have escap'd my reach
Us'd me past the endurance of a block!
My stomach they did injure mightily
With jabs and pricks, as though a needle were
A'bouncing in my belly. O cruel Fate!
To be a space slug is a lonely lot,
With no one on this rock to share my life,
No true companion here to mark my days.
And now my meals do from my body fly--
Was e'er a beast by supper so abus'd?
Was e'er a creature's case so pitiful?
Was e'er an exogorth as sad as I?
Was e'er a tragedy as deep as mine?
I shall with weeping crawl back to my cave,
Which shall, sans food, belike become my grave. (86)

Yoda: Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no "try." (98)

Yoda: Warned thee I have--
He a reckless spirit hath.
Now matters are worse.
Obi-Wan: That boy is our first, last, and greatest hope.
Yoda: But nay, 'tis not so.
For another yet there is:
One more hope for us.

O how this plagues me!
The boy for training hath come,
But too soon is fled.

A young bird he is,
Too eager the nest to leave,
Yet trying to fly.

But young birds fly not--
Their wings still too fragile are.
Instead, they do fall.

And fall this one shall.
But how far, how fast, how long?
Time only shall tell.

Little bird, be safe.
If thou the nest seest again
I shall meet thee then. (112)
I'm not saying that there weren't enjoyable scenes in William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back. There were. There always will be when the author sticks close to the inspiration. Luke. Hans. Leia. Yoda. There are characters that you can't help enjoying. (Yoda speaks in haiku in this play). But while I enjoyed the first book cover to cover, while I read it with glee, I can't say the same with this second book. I liked a scene here and there.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

9780091956134This was of the funnest books I can remember reading in a long time. Gripping, funny and told in a totally original and authentic voice you can’t help but be hooked in by this part-Apollo 13, part-Castaway survival story.

Mark Watney is an astronaut, part of the third manned mission to Mars. Six days after landing on Mars a fierce dust storm forces Mark and his crewmates to abandon the planet. However during the evacuation Mark is left behind. Now he must work out how is going to survive on Mars until the next resupply mission. In two years time.

The majority of the book is told via Mark’s log entries detailing his survival. The log is written in a beautifully sarcastic tone where outright panic is only a hair’s breath away. There is plenty of self-deprecating humour and the log format works perfectly in detailing Mark’s day-to-day survival.

Mark is completely stranded. He has no way of communicating with his crewmates or NASA. He only has enough food and water to last half the time he needs. Mark puts to work his skills as an engineer and botanist to figure out if he can survive. The how is one of the most entertaining reads you will come across. Full of insane (but practical) problem solving you are glued to the book wanting to find out how Mark gets himself out of each new predicament he finds himself in. I defy anyone to be able to put this down once they start!

Buy the book here…

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11. Samuel R. Delany: Another Roundtable

Recently, Locus published an online discussion of the work of Samuel R. Delany with a bunch of different writers and critics, primarily aimed at discussing Delany’s status as the newly-crowned Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Plenty of interesting things are said there, and the participants include a number of people I’m very fond of (both as writers and people), but the particular focus ended up, I thought, creating a certain narrowness to the discussion, especially regarding the post-Dhalgren works, and I thought it might be nice to gather a different group of people together to discuss Delany … differently.

So here we are. I put out the call to a wide variety of folks, and this is the group that responded. We used a Google Doc, and the discussion grew rhizomatically more than linearly, so you'll see that we sometimes refer to things said later in the roundtable. (This makes for a richer discussion, I think, but it may be a little jarring if you expect a linear conversation.)

I hope people who didn't have time or ability to join us in the "official" roundtable will feel free to offer their thoughts in the comments — as will, well, anybody else. Therefore, without further ado and all that jazz... 


Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction in a wide variety of venues, including One Story, Locus, Weird Tales, Rain Taxi, and elsewhere. He wrote the introductions to Wesleyan University Press’s editions of Samuel R. Delany’s The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, Starboard Wine, and The American Shore (forthcoming). Currently, he is a student in the Ph.D. in Literature program at the University of New Hampshire. 

Craig Laurance Gidney is the author of Sea, Swallow Me & Other Stories and the YA novel Bereft

Geoffrey H. Goodwin is a journalist, author, and rogue academic with a Bachelor’s in Literary Theory (Syracuse University) and an MFA in Creative Writing (Naropa University). Geoffrey writes fiction; has taught composition and creative writing in a wide range of settings; has interviewed speculative writers and artists for Bookslut, Tor.com, Sirenia Digest, The Mumpsimus, and during Ann Vandermeer’s helming of Weird Tales; and has worked in seven different stores that have sold comic books.
Keguro Macharia is a recovering academic, a lazy blogger, and an itinerant tweeter. Sometimes, he writes things on gukira.wordpress.com or tweets as @Keguro_

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Love is the Law and The Last Weekend. His short fiction has appeared everywhere from Asimov’s Science Fiction to The Mammoth Book of Threesomes and Moresomes.

Njihia Mbitiru is a screenwriter. He lives in Nairobi.

Lavelle Porter is an adjunct professor of English at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and a Ph.D. candidate in English at the CUNY Graduate Center.  His dissertation The Over-Education of the Negro: Academic Novels, Higher Education and the Black Intellectual will be completed this spring. Finally. He’s on Twitter @alavelleporter.

Ethan Robinson blogs, mostly about science fiction, at maroonedoffvesta.blogspot.com, a position he will no doubt shortly be parlaying into literary fame.

Eric Schaller is a biologist, writer, and artist, living in New Hampshire and co-editor of The Revelator.


Matthew Cheney
Locus is “The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field”, and so they’re primarily interested in science fiction. We don’t have to be that narrow here. But let’s start with one of the questions they start with, and see where we go: 

How has Delany influenced your own work or views on writing and literature?

detail of the cover of Dhalgren (Bantam, 1975)

Geoffrey H. Goodwin:
I got to spend a week with Chip, most minutes of every day, when he came and taught at my summer writing program when I was getting an MFA. A friend and I were  the two second year science fiction devotees in the prose program (still not an easy spot in academe, though Chip has made that easier), so we knew that one of us could be his teaching assistant and decided to take it into our own hands. I remember the day Anne Waldman found out Chip was coming. I was in a poetry workship with her that day, so I raced to my friend and I swapped a fight over T.A.-ing for Chip to T.A. for Brian Evenson [who, by my reckoning, said some of the wisest comments in the other Delany roundtable] under the express agreement that my friend and I would both follow Chip around the whole time. So we did. Life-changing. Chip is still helping me learn and comprehend both literature and writing. His About Writing is one of my favorite books on the subject.

If one looks at his criticism, fiction, memoirs, and cultural relevance--not to mention everything else he’s accomplished--he’s incomparable. Sure, I remember how he offered the particle theory, where we read and read and then emit a particle on our own when we write, inspired by how we bombarded ourselves; or how he made sure to place the Marquis de Sade’s books within his young daughter’s reach because he wanted her to make her own choices about literature, and there were lessons and exercises in the workshop that were profound--but I also think of Chip as someone with whom I got to trade stories about Allen Ginsberg for stories about Philip K. Dick and Clive Barker. He’s a constellation in a tiny pantheon of living geniuses.

Nick Mamatas 
I guess I appreciate Delany more as a reader than anything else. He doesn’t influence my writing, or my views. There are aspects of agreements, but I haven’t changed my mind about anything to coincide with Delany’s views. I always assign his book on writing—I’ve probably sold an extra fifty copies so far—not because I agree with everything in it, but because everything in it is worth tangling with.

Ethan Robinson
While discussions of Delany often focus on the beauty of his prose, his skillful "way with words" (usually with an example of some passage of heightened sensory description), for me this obscures one of the most remarkable aspects of his writing. It is true that he can indeed write quite beautifully when he needs to, but he is also willing to let himself write badly--that is, to take on modes of writing that are usually considered bad, clumsy, and really get to the heart of what it is that these modes are doing. I think in particular (but not exclusively) of his dialogue, which I find is very much of a piece with the generally derided style of the American science fiction magazines in its matter-of-factness, its often nakedly expository nature--even sometimes its flatness and lack of differentiation. For me it often calls to mind, say, the tendency of characters in Asimov and, later, McCaffrey (just two examples out of many possible) to talk to one another with bizarre thoroughness and "rational objectivity" about their own psychological makeups. In Delany the contrast between these passages of unattractive writing on the one hand and the heightened "poetic" passages on the other becomes a sort of structuring element, one that I think has been underappreciated and underexamined. And for myself, struggling in my own writing with the received notion that one must write "beautifully" (and/or inconspicuously; implied in both: homogeneously), seeing the value of occasional downright ugliness in Delany's writing has been very emboldening.

Keguro Macharia 
I’ll lift Matt’s second prompt below--on beginnings--and track back to the Locus conversation, which started with “beginnings”: when did you first encounter Delany? Which is also a question about SF as a genre that (to my mind) obsesses about beginnings and endings (ecocides, genocides, monsters, hybrids, extinguishment, survival). Which is also to borrow from Lavelle about AIDS and Delany and, more broadly, the forms of extinguishment and disposability his work speaks to and, in doing so, enables us to speak about--this is the importance of Hogg as an early work. I first encountered Delany in the Patrick Merla anthology (Boys Like Us) that Lavelle mentions below. I don’t remember reading him then and, in fact, I suspect that I did not know how to read him at the time--I wanted a simple(r) narrative than he was willing to offer, a cleaner story that stayed “inside the lines,” affirmed identity, made the pleasures of identification simple, the practices of belonging uncomplicated. (Although Matt wants us to be polite, I’ll add that I read much of this impulse in the Locus discussion.)

I re-encountered Delany through Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, just before I joined grad school. At the time, I was interested in formal innovation, and Times Square modeled the kind of writing and thinking I found necessary as a form of world building. I came to the novels later--Stars in My Pocket, Hogg, Mad Man, the Nevèrÿon series, at much the same time as I was reading Delany’s many essay collections. Delany helped me see form--why form matters, how form matters, to whom form matters, why formalism matters--as a project of world-building, world-remaking, inextricable from embodiment, desire, fantasy, and speculation.

Njihia Mbitiru 
I have absolutely no idea, yet, about his influence on me. Others have spoken with great perspicacity--as well as humor (Brett Cox in the Locus roundtable being one)--about Delany’s influence. I suspect I’m still working through mine and therefore limited in what I can say about it. The first bit of Delany’s writing I encountered was The Towers of Toron, the first in the Fall of the Towers Trilogy. I was twenty-one, if I recall correctly. That was twelve years ago now. I’ve become an avid re-reader of his work, which has made me a re-reader of many other writers I onced-over. And because of this I would very much like to hazard that I am now a better reader, but this also remains to be seen: the simple fact is that proof of such is in writing, whose excellence, much as we strive toward our own finally idiosyncratic sense of it, is also a public affair.

Matt: just to touch on what you’ve said about the narrative of certain of his writings--the later ones, beginning with Dhalgren  (written in his late 20s and early 30s, you’ll recall! so that it’s hard to think of this as ‘late Delany’): I also resist and reject this narrative ( I’m not quite at resentment, but give me time). I find it completely non-sensical. Better and more honest to say, as a reader, that the game he’s hunting as a novelist in Dhalgren, Triton, the Neveryon series up into his present work doesn’t hold your interest. It’s a long way away from that to ‘difficult’.  Only a very narrow reading of SF writing would support an assessment of Delany as ‘difficult’, if we’re talking about prose style (though I suspect that’s not what is meant, which begs the question: what do people mean exactly when they use the term ‘difficult’?). There’s so much at a SF readers’ disposal in terms of range and sophistication, or if you like, the absence of it, as there is in any other genre. I enjoy and appreciate Delany’s writing in no small part because it calls attention to precisely this.

Eric Schaller 
Delany’s writings have influenced me more in my approach to life and thought than in writing itself. Some may dislike John Gardner’s concept and application of ‘moral fiction’ to literature, but I have always found Delany’s work moral in its suggestion of how to live a good life. In this respect, as a philosophy, I could abbreviate it as ‘compassionate individualism’: the importance of discovering and following your own path, the diversity of such paths within a population, and how to maintain your personal dignity without selfishly depriving others of theirs. The dedication in Heavenly Breakfast ("This book is dedicated to everyone who ever did anything no matter how sane or crazy whether it worked or not to give themselves a better life"), when I read it in college brought tears to my eyes, and still does.

Through Delany’s writings, I like to think that I became more intentionally aware. My discovery that Delany was gay—not necessarily obvious from his earlier novels, which featured plenty of male-female couples, or from his earlier biographical information which sometimes mentioned a marriage—more specifically the worlds revealed in his non-fictional/autobiographical works such as The Motion of Light in Water, the contemporary sections from “The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals,” and, more recently, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue personified concerns that I would never experience directly. I donate to GMHC because of these works.

Matthew Cheney
There seems to be a narrative among science fiction fans, and particularly SF fans of a certain age, that there is The Good Delany of the pre-Dhalgren books, Hugo and Nebula Awards, etc. ... and then there is The Problematic Delany of Dhalgren and later. It’s a narrative of loss and disappointment, frequently accompanied by the question, “What happened?!” Because I was born in the year Dhalgren was, at least officially, published (it bears a January 1975 publication date, though it actually hit shelves a little earlier), and didn’t start reading Delany until either late 1987 or sometime in 1988, when the last Nevèrÿon book, The Bridge of Lost Desire (Return to Nevèrÿon) was published, my awareness of his career has always included what older, more traditional SF readers considered the “difficult” writings. It’s probably not surprising that I resist, reject, and resent this narrative.

The book I’ve spent the most time with recently, because I’m working on a conference paper about it, is Dark Reflections, which is really beautiful and much more complexly structured than it seems at first, and which should be accessible to just about any audience, since it’s not at all pornographic and the complexity of the structure is subtle, making a basic reading relatively easy. Also, the book’s a great companion to About Writing, which it echoes often. (There’s some good discussion of the “accessibility” of Dark Reflections, particularly for heterosexual men, in Delany’s 2007 interview with Carl Freedman in Conversations with Samuel R. Delany.) But for various reasons, some having to do with events in the publishing industry, Dark Reflections does not seem to have been widely read, and is currently only in print as an e-book. It deserves a wide audience, though.

So my questions for the roundtable are: What other, more useful, stories of Delany’s career could we tell? Is the Good Delany/Problematic Delany narrative useful in some way that I’m missing, some way that I can’t see because it just makes me so angry?

Ethan Robinson
I’ve not yet read any of his fiction after Trouble on Triton (at a certain point I decided to approach him chronologically and have been stalled at The Einstein Intersection, which my library doesn't have; I should just go ahead and buy it, probably), and haven't in fact read Dhalgren, so I can't say too much about this. But I will say that the way I see people talk about this is always very distressing to me as many of the points singled out as "problems" (too many "ideas," not enough action, unconventional storytelling, etc.) are precisely what draws me not only to Delany but to science fiction in the first place! I know the bulk of sf has always been written on a pretty, shall we say, basic level, but I confess I simply have no idea why people who want nothing but simplicity and action and conventional narrative would be attracted to this field, which seems to long for much more.

Craig Laurance Gidney 
My first introduction to Delany was, interestingly enough, Dhalgren. My older brother had a copy of the book when it first came out in the ‘70s and I appropriated it. I read the book in bits and pieces during my teenaged years, and it formed my taste for esoteric and trippy SF. When people spoke about how difficult the book was, I had a hard time understanding them, maybe because I absorbed the idea of the non-linear and counter-factual texts so young. Everything of his I read is through the locus of Dhalgren. The earlier stuff is great to me because I can see the progression of themes that were refined in his later work.

Eric Schaller
I think some of the variable responses to Delany’s work may arise in part from what piece(s) were initially encountered, and how such initial experiences play into future expectations. I first encountered Delany’s work through several short stories read in high school. I remember how strongly “Time Considered as a Helix of Precious Stones” affected me, and took a perverse pleasure in the fact that my Dad didn’t follow the main character’s morphing names in the initial section. I also remember reading “Aye, and Gomorrah,” in Dangerous Visions, a story that I knew had to be important because Harlan Ellison said so. At first the story seemed slight, but it lingered and poked at my consciousness.

I don’t think I read a novel of Delany’s until the summer after graduating high school. I was working in New York City at Sloan Kettering and the novel was Dhalgren. There had been the joke published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction about the three things that mankind would never reach (“The core of the sun, the speed of light, and page 30 of Dhalgren”), but this if anything incited my interest in the novel. I was of the right age and in the right place to have the novel assume a central station in my life. But it is also one of those novels that I have returned to and re-read over the years, each time taking something new away from it. For instance, Delany having written that The Fall of the Towers was inspired by a painting of that title which did not show towers but rather reactions to their fall, I noticed a similar approach was often used in Dhalgren: the reactions of characters described before you understood to what they were reacting.

As an undergraduate at Michigan State, I sought out every Delany book I could find. And to my mind then, and still, there were differences in the approach to writing found in his early works to what I found in Dhalgren and the Return to Nevèrÿon series. The closest I can come to that difference is to say that in the earlier work Delany seemed to be thinking at a sentence to sentence level. With the later work, it seemed that he inhabited whole paragraphs at once; an individual sentence might not seem that powerful or poetic alone, but within the context of the paragraph it sang.

Geoffrey H. Goodwin
Re-reading the original Locus Roundtable, I can see how some of the context shifted based on the idea of “Samuel R. Delany, Grandmaster.” I know I think differently when “Grandmaster” gets added after anything and then we get the added aspect of, “Welcome to the Science Fiction canon,” by writers who, for no fault of their own, are far less accomplished than Chip. So we have a gay black beatnik who writes science fiction, essays, porn, comics, criticism, and just about everything else—and Chip is the kind of writer who can mean many different things to many different people. Paul Witcover’s review comparing Delany to Hendrix and Bowie really resonates with how I see Chip’s work—but Chip has kept at the work, continuing to evolve. F. Brett Cox nails it when he says Chip was producing books at different points in his life and Chip has always put himself into his books whether they were early SF, criticism, or memoir. And I’d agree that Chip isn’t cranking out spaceships or nuclear-ravaged earths the way the early works could seem—but I also swear that the ideas have been evolving since the beginning. I remember one of the earlier ones, Einstein maybe, where the chapter started with Chip quoting someone he’d talked to that week, citing it as a comment to the author. That level of intertextuality or interstitiality speaks to so much of what Chip has accomplished since then.

Nick Mamatas 
As it turns out, people don’t like porn that isn’t for them. Further, most SF readers are pretty much at sea if they don’t have any tropes to think about. A straightforward and beautiful realist novel like Dark Reflections is just perplexing because it’s just about some guy living his life. No way!

I actually prefer his porn to his SF for the most part. It’s difficult to write transgressive, dirty, occasionally simply wrong stuff with such sympathy and warmth, but Delany manages it. He is an utterly unique writer in th

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12. The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza by James Kochalka, 110 pp, RL 1.5

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - THE GLORKIAN WARRIOR DELIVERS A PIZZA -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza is the newest graphic novel for kids from the multi-talented James Kochalka. I reviewed

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13. The Infinite Sea Cover Reveal

The cover for The Infinite Sea, sequel to Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave, has been revealed. You can see a larger image of it over at USA Today, along with an interesting interview with Rick Yancey. (Note: Although Yancey tries to be careful not to spoil anything, I think it does give some clues about the second book).

The 5th Wave was an excellent book about the aftermath of an alien invasion, although one of the themes of the book is that this alien invasion is not a anything like what you would expect from movies and TV. ("...not-your-grandma's alien invasion," as Yancey says in the interview). You can read my review of The 5th Wave here.

I'm really looking forward to reading The Infinite Sea, which will be published September 16. I'm particularly excited that Yancey mentions in the interview that there are still some plot twists, as one of the things I loved about the first book was the layers of surprising reveals.

Also, Yancey talks about the 5th Wave movie in the interview, and it sounds like that's making progress.

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14. Galaxy Zack #1 : Hello, Nebulon! written by Ray O'Ryan, illustrated by Colin Jack, 115 pp, RL 2

  <!-- START INTERCHANGE - GALAXY ZACK HELLO NEBULON -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> Galaxy Zack by Ray O'Ryan and illustrated by Colin Jack is a fantastic and rare series for emerging readers ready to cross the bridge between

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15. The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

Delacorte Press, 2014

It started with a fishing trip and a ripple in the air….

Prenna was one of the lucky ones.  She was able to escape the blood plague, but not without its consequences on her family.  But now, she lives comfortably, still amazed at how much life has changed.  Although she still has a habit of swatting mosquitoes that spread the virus, it hasn’t happened yet.  She now lives in the time before the destruction of the planet that occurs in the 2070s. 
Although Prenna should be content with life in a virus-free world, she still holds the flame of challenge against the community, wanting questions answered she knows won’t happen.  There are rules the committee enforces on the members ( never reveal to anyone who you are or where you come from; never be intimate with anyone outside of their community to name a few) and seeing Mr. Roberts for sessions when she goes too close to the line of disobedience.  She also knows stories of people who have defied the community’s rules – and have now disappeared.  Soon, Prenna begins experiencing flashbacks and sees objects and places that are familiar to her from her previous life time, which makes her even more curious.  There weren’t supposed to be any….

Ethan remembers the girl at the river.  He saw the ripple in the air around her and knew she was different.  Now, a few years later, they’ve gone from strangers to friends with Ethan remembering every little event and Prenna not remembering any of it.  He decides it’s best to leave well enough alone as he tries hard to not cross the line between friendship and relationship.  Although he’s known her for awhile, she still has a mysteriousness to her he can’t quite figure out. But Ethan holds other secrets from Prenna, which will change their relationship and who they are. 

Then the elusive homeless man appears in their lives, telling Prenna things about the her past and future she can’t ignore as mere coincidence.  All it takes is one providential meeting and both she and Ethan are propelled into a new reality of trying to save the world instead of just living in it.  But it also means sacrifice in so many ways, and those are the things that will hurt both of them the most.

Ann Brashares writes a riveting novel about time travel that will pull readers along with the characters and plot.  The separate timelines of the main character are written seamlessly, making the situation more believable and the future bleaker with every page turned.  Although the beginning took off a little slow for myself, the interactions between characters as well as the unraveling of the plot steadily developed into a novel I had to know the end to.  And Brashares doesn’t disappoint.  If you have fans of science fiction and time travel, recommend this to them. 

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16. Call for Speculative Flash Fiction: Lightning Cake

Lightning Cake is a tiny zine of illustrated speculative flash fiction. New electrifying bites posted weekly—cut yourself a slice and chomp in. Lightning Cake wants speculative stories—stories that are fantastic, strange, idiosyncratic. Science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, slipstream, weird, new weird, futuristic, surreal, mythic, fairy tales—Lightning Cake likes them all. Lightning Cake will fall for the stories that scared you to write, and will love the stories that you loved writing.

Submit previously unpublished speculative flash fiction up to 500 words.

Lightning Cake pays $5 ($0.01-$0.04/word) for accepted stories.

Upcoming reading period: April 1 - July 31, 2014.

Follow @LightningCake on Twitter for updates.

Read our guidelines here.  Our website.

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17. Life on Mars

I'm struggling to maintain a reading life these days. I get 40 minutes a day in the car with my audio book, but LIFE has made it hard for me to read much with my eyes. Luckily, I have avid readers in my classroom. 

When I got this ARC, I knew exactly which student should read it. Her first apps on her new iPad were space apps. Her persuasive essay was about why she should go to space camp. Her passion is All Things Space, and if she doesn't wind up with a career in space science, I will be amazed. Here's W's review of Life on Mars.

Life on Mars
by Jennifer Brown
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, August 2014
ARC provided by the publisher

I really loved the book Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown. When I first saw the book I thought it will be a non-fiction book but when I started reading it I figured out it was fiction. This book is about a boy named Arcturus Betelgeuse Chambers, most people call him Arty. Arty was named after the Alpha star in the constellation Bootes. The Alpha star is the brightest star in the constellation. All of the Chambers family is named after stars. Arty’s sister Cassi is named after the star Cassiopeia. But Cassiopeia dosen’t like being called by her name she likes to be called Cassi.

Arty has been working on something to connect to Mars, and find Martians. The machine he has been working on is called CICM, it stands for Clandestine Interplanetary Communication. Arty and his friend Tripp thinks that Arty’s next door neighbor, who they call “ Mr. Death,” is a zombie, because every night he goes behind their house in his black hoodie with his trash bag and a box and comes out in the morning.

Aunt Sarin has to stay with Arty and his sisters while their parents go to search for house in Las Vegas (A really bright city where you can’t see stars because of the light pollution.) But when Aunt Sarin has to go to the hospital because she is having a baby, Arty has to stay with Mr. Death.

Arty discovers that Mr. Death loves space just like he does, and they become friends. Arty and Mr. Death work on CICM together and decide to name it HUEY instead of CICM. Arty soon discovers a terrible secret about Mr. Death.

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18. Alliance: The Paladin Prophecy Book 2: Mark Frost

Book: Alliance (The Paladin Prophecy, Book 2)
Author: Mark Frost
Pages: 352
Age Range: 12 and up

Alliance is the sequel to Mark Frost's The Paladin Prophecy. (This review may contain spoilers for the first book.) Alliance picks up a few months after the events of the first book, and again features Will, the genetically enhanced center of a group of five students at a special private school. Will is recovering from the physical and emotional traumas of the fall. As summer approaches, he again tries to understand how he fits in to a battle between good and evil. An encounter with someone who helped the teens in the first book sends them on a quest deep below ground, to find a special key. The plot involves physical confrontations, as well as historical investigations into the past, and personal quests to understand each student's special abilities. 

It took me a long time to get through this book. To be fair, I was reading it during a busy time. But every time I would try to read it at night, I would fall asleep after just a couple of pages. I kept going because I was interested in the characters, but I eventually had to find time to finish it during the day. I felt that if the pacing had been a bit tighter, Alliance would have worked better for me. There was one section in particular, where the kids are planning a detailed campaign to gain access to a guarded location, that really dragged for me. I also felt like some of the characterization was a bit over-telegraphed, particularly Nick not being very bright and Ajay being absurdedly geeky.

But there are still things that I like about the book. As in The Paladin Prophecy, I love the way Will is guided by sayings that he learned from his absent father. Like:




An appendix lists all 100 pieces of apt advice. 

There are also cool settings, including a castle-like building, and hidden tunnels and caves. There are neat gadgets. The kids have interesting abilities, and their interactions are reasonably realistic. They use their brains, and work to solve complex puzzles from sparse clues. Kids who enjoy adventures with a supernatural bent (like Rick Riordan's books, for instance) will most likely enjoy this one, too. 

I could on principle do without Will being the love interest of both of the two girls in the group. But in truth, neither of the other two boys would work in that context. As far as content goes on the love interest side, there's a very small amount of kissing - nothing objectionable for younger kids.

Bottom line: Alliance didn't really work for me, but I'd definitely still purchase it if I were shopping for a middle school or high school library. And I won't be surprised if the series ends up in the movie theaters one day. There will certainly be at least one more book, as this one ends on a cliffhanger. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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19. Erased (Altered): Jennifer Rush

Book: Erased (Altered #2)
Author: Jennifer Rush (@Jenn_Rush)
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up

Erased is the sequel to Altered (reviewed here) by Jennifer Rush. Altered introduces Anna, who lives above a secret lab holding four genetically altered boys. A shadowy organization called the Branch has enhanced the boys' capabilities, wiped their memories, and used them as weapons / assassins. In the first book, Anna learns that she has been part of the experiment all along, too. 

Erased finds Anna in hiding from the Branch, with Sam, Nick, and Cas. Although their lives are perilous, there's a certain stability to the surrogate family that Anna and "the boys" form, and to Anna's relationship with Sam. This stability is threatened when it appears that Anna's sister, Dani, whom they all thought was dead, may be looking for them. Various dangers, flashbacks, and investigations into all of their pasts, follow.  

Erased is that rare sequel that, I think, is better than the first book. There's more action, and less figuring out of what's going on along the way. There's still suspense, but as a reader, you have a better idea of what's going on from the start. Rush also does a nice job of recapping the situation from the first book, without going into excessive detail. Also, and this was important for me, Anna is a much stronger character in the second book, not putting herself down so much for not being as physically capable as the boys. She's learned self-defense, and pushed her (not artificially strengthened) body to improve her stamina. 

There is still a little of the "oh, they're so much better than me". Like this:

"Like all the boys, Nick, even at his worst, was gorgeous. It drove me crazy. I didn't consider myself unattractive, but next to them, I was painfully average. They didn't know the meaning of a bad hair day." (Chapter 1)

But this doesn't stop her from being mainly secure in her place with them. 

I did like this:

"In the months since Sam, Nick, and Cas had escaped the Branch's lab, and I'd gone with them, I'd learned that nothing was permanent, not even my memories. Now I took every opportunity to savor what I had, just in case. (Chapter 1)

There are some useful practical tips for anyone on the run from a powerful organization, like the fact that you should use your money to buy weapons, because weapons are a lot harder to steal than food. And how to tell if a house is probably a vacation home, and thus safe to break into to squat for a little while in mid-winter. Fun stuff for thriller fans. 

In terms of content advisory, I do think that this is more a high school book than a middle school book. The language is fine, and there's no overt sex. But Anna is clearly sharing a bedroom with Sam, and there are descriptions of their closeness ("It was like my nerve endings weren't truly functioning unless they were beneath Sam's fingers.") More significant, to me, is the fact that the teens, including Anna, kill quite a number of people. Enemies who are out to get them, mainly, but some adult gatekeepers may find that this aspect of the books makes it less desirable for middle schoolers.

Personally, though, I found Erased to be fast-paced and interesting, with enough clues revealed along the way to make me feel smart as I figured out what was going on. Teens looking for thrillers with a bit of science fiction (brain wipes, genetic modification), and plenty of chases and shootouts, will want to give this series a look. Erased (due out in early January) seems to wrap up the series, but there is a short story prequel being released this week. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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20. Call for Submissions from Kids and Adults: Visionary Press

Visionary Press is looking for submissions for its Kids Write anthology. Submissions will be accepted by both adult authors and children and should be no more than 1,000 words and no less than 500. We are looking for stories that spark the imagination and would be entertaining for children in a wide variety of genres, from sci-fi to fantasy and even a little horror, but not too scary. Think age appropriate. We are particularly interested in stories written by children and stories co-written by parent and child.

We also will be accepting artwork for the anthology, along with your stories.

Reading period will run from February 1st through July 1st. We are looking towards a September release.

Stories that are accepted will receive payment of $5.00, along with a contributors hard copy and a digital edition of the book.

Mail submissions to:

visionarypressATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to .)

with the heading, Kids Create Anthology.

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21. Call for Submissions: Devilfish Review

Devilfish Review is a quarterly online magazine focusing on, but not limited to, speculative fiction, horror, and fantasy. We are currently reading fiction and poetry submissions for our March issue, but our submission box never closes. 

Submissions can be made at Submittable. Submissions representing those who are marginalized in mainstream fiction are especially encouraged, as we do not get nearly enough of them and it makes us sad.

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22. The Quantum League #1: Spell Robbers: Matthew J. Kirby

Book: The Quantum League #1: Spell Robbers
Author: Matthew J. Kirby
Pages: 272
Age Range: 8 - 12

Spell Robbers is the first book in a new series by Matthew J. Kirby, The Quantum League. The premise of the book is that there are people, called Actuators, who can take advantage of quantum mechanics to bring about events with their thoughts. These events include everything from conjuring up fireballs and storm clouds to manipulating locks.

When 12-year-old Ben moves with his grad student mother to a new university, he's invited to join an after-school Science Camp in which a professor is training young Actuators. But when their professor, Dr. Hughes, invents a portable device that makes Actuators much more powerful, the camp is attacked. Dr. Hughes is kidnapped, and Ben and another boy are rescued, and co-opted, by The Quantum League. High-stakes adventures follow.

Kirby does a good job of keeping the plot moving, and adding sufficient twists to keep the reader guessing. I was able to anticipate some, but not all, of the twists. 

I also liked the fact that the capabilities described in Spell Robbers are based on science, rather than magic, even though there's not a huge difference in the end result. [Is "boy, plucked from obscurity, turns out to have strong powers as an Actuator" really all that different from "boy, plucked from obscurity, turns out to have the ability to do magic"?]. Here are a couple of snippets:

"At the atomic level," Dr. Hughes said, "reality is dependent on our observation of it. As the Nobel-winning physicist Eugene Wigner put it, reality is created when our consciousness 'reaches out.' When you actuate, you are reading out to create a potential reality. (Page 36)

"Non-Actuators," Agent Taggart said, "N-A's. Most people who cannot actuate don't really perceive it. It is a part of reality they are blind to, just like you're blind to infrared light. They see the aftermath of actuation, but they attribute it to other things. Freak storms. Freak accidents. Spontaneous combustion. That kind of thing." (Page 62)

I did find a bit disturbing the device that Kirby uses to separate Ben from his mother. I understand that some sort of device was necessary in order to free Ben up to have his high-stakes adventures. But, without giving away any plot points, I didn't like this one. There's also a whole "only kids can actuate because adult brains don't think that it's possible" element to the story that I could see as a necessary plot point (otherwise why would The Quantum League recruit 12-year-olds?), but that I found a bit ... tired. 

Still, I think that middle grade and middle school kids who enjoy over-the-top adventures will like Spell Robbers. There's a superhero vibe to the quantum battles that take place. There are also some scenes that take place in a creepy abandoned amusement park, a highly kid-friendly setting. Ben is smart and loyal. There are various unanswered questions left at the end of Spell Robbers, leaving plenty of room for future titles in the series. 

All in all, while perhaps not quite as original as I might have hoped, The Quantum League offers kid-friendly science fiction with three-dimensional characters (including a 16-year-old girl who helps train Ben) and a fast-moving plot. Definitely worth a look for elementary and middle school libraries, or as a gift for adventure-hungry readers. 

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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23. Book Review: The Summer Prince

The Summer Prince
by Alaya Dawn Johnson

June and her best friend Gil are thrilled to wrangle an invite to the official celebration of the newly elected Summer King, Enki. But they never anticipate that Gil and Enki will fall in love, or how much Enki will affect both of their lives. Although the Summer King has no real power, Enki, who comes from the lowest level of society, is determined to use what influence he has to help his people. June and Enki begin to collaborate on a big art installation, one that they hope will both send a message to the city, and win June the Queen's Award. But none of the three can forget that at the end of the summer, Enki will die. Because the real purpose of the Summer King is sacrifice in service of the city.

The Summer Prince is a brilliant book on so many levels. To start, it's an achingly immersive story set in a future Brazil. Added to that are elements from the Sumerian myth The Epic of Gilgamesh. Going deeper, there are the themes: power and sacrifice, choices and consequences, privilege and class, order and change. Finally, there is the writing: Alaya Dawn Johnson has created a beautiful tapestry so intricately woven that the patterns aren't always obvious on the first read-through. Even on my second read I'm not sure if I saw everything.

Palmares Tres is a gem of a city where past culture and future culture merge. It's a city where people still Samba and eat Vatapá stew, where grafeteiros create masterpieces and street gangs fight with capoeira. And yet it's a city with deep class divisions, where class hierarchy is literally expressed in the city tiers: the higher classes live on the upper levels and the lowest class lives on the bottom tier, where the the stink of the algae vats is ever present. This physical expression of class hierarchy is not a new idea in science fiction, but it's well done here. That stink, known as the Catinga, becomes a powerful symbol in the story, and in fact the higher tiers call the lowest tier "The Catinga."

Palmeres Tres is a city ruled by a matriarchy: a Queen and a council of women called Aunties. Many of them have forgotten the purpose of power, and while they, in their own way, seem to love the city, often their machinations seem designed to protect their own power rather than benefit the city. Most residents of the city live 200 years or more, setting up a situation where anyone under 30 is considered a juvenile, and not to be trusted to make good decisions. So we have class conflict, gender conflict, and age conflict, and with his election as Summer King, Enki becomes the touchstone at the center of all these conflicts.

I've seen this book described as dystopian, but I don't think that it quite falls into that classification. The traditional definition of a dystopia is one that seems utopian on the surface, but is later revealed to be oppressive and deeply flawed. I think that in some ways The Summer Prince turns that around: the flaws are fairly obvious early on, but as you continue to read it becomes clear how much the citizens of Palmeros Tres love their city with a genuine love, even in spite of the flaws. However, The Summer Prince is similar enough to dystopian literature that I think it will appeal to teens who enjoy dystopian books.

It's not necessary to be familiar with The Epic of Gilgamesh or to even recognize those elements are there to enjoy the story, but if you are familiar with the Epic it's a sheer joy to discover the iconic story of Enkidu and Gilgamesh wrestling in the streets transformed into a heart-stopping Samba when Gil and Enki first meet. The Summer Prince is not really a retelling of the myth, but there are some interesting parallels.

June is an imperfect character who struggles throughout the book to make the right choices. Her dream is to be recognized as a great artist, and when that dream comes into conflict with her awakening social awareness, she doesn't always choose the right thing. She blames her mother for her father's death, and because of that she's mean to her mother. All these things make her a believable, realistic character whom the reader can identify with as she grows through her association with Enki.

The Summer Prince does a great job of representing people who are underrepresented in YA lit. All the residents of Palmeros Tres have skin of varying shades of color, and Enki himself is described as being exceptionally charismatic and with very dark skin. Sexual relationships, both same-sex and opposite-sex, are depicted in a natural, unfettered way that's totally a non-issue. In Palmeros Tres it doesn't seem to matter whom you love.

The Brazilian setting is a refreshing change from books set in European-based settings. I personally loved that the book represented a culture and people that you don't often see in American YA Fiction, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out this review of The Summer Prince by a native Brazilian, Ana of The Book Smugglers. I'd encourage you to read the review, but in short, Ana is concerned that the Brazilian cultural elements are not always used accurately, and don't go any deeper than those elements that outsiders identify with Brazil, such as samba, Carnival, and capoeira. To Ana, it feels like a stereotype.

I've been thinking a lot about Ana's review over the last few days. Does the book stereotype Brazilians? Maybe - it's hard for me to know since I'm not Brazilian. Should a writer be able to write about a culture as an outsider to that culture? This, I think, is the crux of the controversy, and I've seen good arguments on both sides. I personally think writers stretching to write about things outside their personal experience is a good thing, because it helps to bring those ideas and cultures to other people who are not familiar with them, but the outsider has to work harder to get it right. I found an interview with Johnson where she says about her research, "I read a lot of books, particularly about the history of the African diaspora in Brazil. Also got advice from my sister, who studied in Brazil and knew many sources. And sent it to Brazilian writers for help."

I totally understand Ana's frustration and annoyance with the book. It's not quite the same thing, but I studied a martial art for 18 years, and I get really annoyed when I read a fiction book that gets the martial arts details wrong. So I get how frustrating it would be to have your culture portrayed inaccurately. But it does sound like Johnson did try get the details right, and I hope that maybe it will at least it will inspire young people to want to learn more about Brazil and read up on it, as I did after finishing the book. In balance, I think that a book like this that encourages young people to think outside their comfort zone and learn about new ideas and new cultures is a good thing. There are no easy answers, but I think it's important that we keep having these conversations as we try to get it right.

The Summer Prince is the 2013 Cybils Awards winner for the YA Speculative Fiction category.

Who would like this book:

Science fiction and dystopian readers, as well as teens who like reading about other cultures.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher for the purpose of Cybils Awards judging. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

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24. The Lost Planet - Guest Post with Author Rachel Searles

Hi, everyone! We have a special treat on the blog today. Rachel Searles, debut author of The Lost Planet is here with a guest post on invention and world-building. We are really excited to have Rachel on today. Don't forget that Rachel will also be a guest at the Pasadena Book Fest on April 26.

Take it away, Rachel!

On Invention and World-Building

When I talk to readers about the differences between fantasy and science fiction, I’m always quick to point out that while fantasy is based on mythology, magic, and all things make-believe, science fiction is based on elements that, while imaginary, are still largely possible within the laws of physics. This feeling of plausibility is one of the things that makes sci-fi so exciting to me, but as a writer it also means extra research to make sure that the details of my story adhere to the boundaries of reality. That said, it is fiction I’m writing, and at times I’ve stretched those boundaries to the furthest limits (and maybe a little beyond) for the sake of a good tale. I know I’ve done my job when the sci in my fi sounds believable enough that readers can’t tell the difference between what’s based in reality, and what I’ve completely made up.

Early in THE LOST PLANET, my main character Chase and his new friend, Parker, eat a meal produced by a food synthesizer in Parker’s autokitchen. Any Star Trek fan would recognize this machine as homage to the food replicators used on the Enterprise. The theory behind a food synthesizer is that the device grabs some subatomic particles, which exist in abundance throughout the universe, and rearranges them into molecules that are then arranged into the requested food. Sounds plausible, right? While I know that this kind of advanced technology is still far beyond our reach, during my research I was fascinated to learn that first-generation food synthesizers are already being tested, with the early prototypes expected to be put into use on the International Space Station as early as this year! Rather than arranging molecules, though, these devices run on the same principle as a 3D printer, using basic materials like proteins or sugars in a non-perishable powder form to build the food layer by layer. The best part is that these basic building powders can come from any number of unusual sources—after all, protein is protein, whether it comes from meat, legumes…or even insects. You can watch a video of the 3D food printer at work here, but in it you’ll see that “pizza” it makes isn’t exactly mouth-watering just yet. For that reason I decided to stick with the Star Trek-inspired version for my book.

Later in the book, in a diner on another planet, the boys enjoy a futuristic fast-food meal of soy-chitin-riboflavin patties, or “scrappies.” We currently consume soy by the ton, and riboflavin—aka vitamin B12—is an important and colorful part of our diet. But chitin, which you may recognize as the main component in the hard exoskeletons of insects, is used more commonly in the production of lipstick and other cosmetics, as well as surgical thread. It is edible, though, and in a chemically modified form has been used for things like edible films and as a thickener. And wouldn’t crisp insect shells work great as the crunchy filling in a delicious, savory scrappy?

One of the biggest advantages I have in writing an outer space setting is that my husband spent ten years designing, building, and launching rockets into orbit, so I can turn to him for help with the physics of space travel. In a scene where my heroes crash land on an uninhabited, mud-coated wasteland of a planet, he helped me to make sure the details of screaming into the atmosphere in a flimsy shuttle were as authentic as possible. But then I gave my characters their only chance to survive by having them climb up into the limbs of a vast jungle of pale, stalk-like plants. When the plants reject the climbers and send them pitching headfirst into the swamp, readers might think I based this on some sort of trigger mechanism like that of the Venus flytrap, where contact with sensory appendages on the plant cause a swift reaction. And this sure sounds plausible—but I didn’t actually research this at all while writing. I just needed to come up with a good way to try to drown my characters in a sea of mud. After all, sometimes it’s just about writing an exciting story.

Thanks, Rachel, for the fantastic guest post. Be sure to check out The Lost Planet

About the Author:

Rachel Searles grew up on the frigid shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she spent her childhood studying languages and plotting to travel around the world. She has lived abroad in Munich and Istanbul, working as a cook, a secretary, a teacher, and a reporter for the Turkish Daily News. She now lives in Los Angeles with her rocket scientist husband and two cats, and spends her free time cooking her way through the Internet and plotting more travel.

THE LOST PLANET, coming January 2014 from Feiwel and Friends, is her debut novel.

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25. Random House’s Suvudu Reveals March Madness Brackets

Suvudu, Random House’s online site for science fiction and fantasy fans, has revealed the brackets for its March Madness-style tournament for fiction.

The fourth annual Cage Match 2014 kicks off on March 10, and will feature five weeks of writing battles. Suvudu invites writers to submit stories based on specific fictional battles. This year’s theme is “Page versus Screen” and writers are challenged to pit characters from sci-fi and fantasy books against characters from television and film. For example, one battle is Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games versus Trillian of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Fans can then vote on their favorite stories and one winner will be selected at the end.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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