2016 Website Updates, Round One!

In preparation for the new year, I’ll be bringing some updates to my blog and website.  The first round of updates will mostly be placeholders for upcoming content, however soon I’ll have pages for maps, character biographies, in universe lore (news articles, wanted posters, and some short fiction), and other things to spice up the different universe web pages.

As more pages come online, I’ll link them here.  If there’s enough interest, I’ll also link writing posts for easy viewing  (by enough interest, I mean people ask for it).

For now, here’s the first page to go live, albeit with limited overall content: Eoriel Maps.  As I get maps from the artist, I’ll post more there!

Review: Desert Strike by Leo Champion

Leo Champion's Desert Strike
Leo Champion’s Desert Strike

Leo Champion’s Desert Strike is a book.  Okay, review done.  No, seriously, it’s a book.  And it’s got things in it.  Go read it.

In all seriousness, there’s a lot going on in Desert Strike.  We see war on a global scale, with a Chamberlain-esque government determined to avoid it, a hyper-violent enemy determined to murder and/or enslave the good guys, and a strange semi-benevolent star-spanning nation which supports both sides in return for the resources they’re fighting over.

Mix into this massive landships up-to and including aircraft carriers, a mix of tech that feels gritty and at the same time cutting edge, and incompetent leaders within the good guy’s chain of command, and you have a very interesting setting for the story that unfolds.

The book has several characters, and what Leo Champion does best is making those central characters seem real with believable goals and ambitions.  You have a bad-ass, general, Jaeger, driven by anger and revenge.  You’ve got a young, rookie pilot, O’Conner, who wants to leave his mark.  These are the “Tropes” the “of course he has this person” but Leo goes further than that, he makes them real.  The side characters abound, with momentary glimpses at a bigger universe, then whipping back to the central plot.

And what a plot.  The enemy has been given free rein, and they use it.  This isn’t a book where the good guys have it easy, where victory is well within grasp if they only work hard for it.  If anything, I’d say the odds are too heavily stacked against them.   At times, you feel that the only victory left is a pyrric, one, where the planet is left a radioactive wasteland… yet somehow you still cling to hope that the good guys will turn the tide.

Desert Strike is a book which surprised me in a lot of ways.  I’ve enjoyed reading several of Leo’s books, but he writes in a certain tone, one which is instantly recognizable.  Desert Strike takes his normal tone and softens it a bit, ironic in a book about combat and war.  It has a fun edge to it, one which isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, a bit of tongue in cheek even as a character’s life is in the balance.

The aerial combat feels like Vietnam Era, the ground war feels like something from the far future, and everything fits in a way that is hard to describe.  If you’re a fan of military science fiction, I think you’ll enjoy the solid characters and gripping combat.  If you just like exploding stuff, well, there’s plenty of that here for you too.

It’s about to go hot. 

On the dry world of Arkin, the Zinj are taking over. A technologically-competent strain of Islam that make ISIS look like the Amish, they’re challenged only by the nations of the West – and a divided West without much will to fight.

Among those who do have the will are fighter pilot Egan O’Connor, a working-class kid from a tough neighborhood, ready to test himself and serve his country. He’s a chivalrous rookie ready for an honorable battle.

Jimmy Newland’s a cavalry NCO who’s earned his spurs. He’s ready to fight but he doesn’t want to; he’s seen enough skirmishes to know how bad it can be. But he’ll do his job if the cold war gets nastier – as it’s about to.

And there’s nothing chivalrous at all about Air Marshal Elisabeth Jaeger, a career intelligence officer promoted to field command. Twenty-five years ago she saw her husband murdered by the Zinj; she’s spent the time since avenging him. As she’s about do on a scale just a little bit broader than spywork…

You can find it: here.

Merry Christmas 2015!

Merry Christmas to all my readers. Take this time to enjoy time with your families and friends, to read a good book, and to be thankful for the good things in your life.

If you’re not religious or celebrate a different religion, still, I hope you have a cheerful and happy time, preferably surrounded by books and good friends (which are often the same thing).

Pike's Peak in Colorado
Pike’s Peak in Colorado

Review: Star Wars The Force Awakens (Spoiler Free)

maxresdefaultAfter seeing that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was coming out the same weekend as not only my anniversary but also my move, I was pretty certain I wouldn’t get to see it until the following week.  Fortunately for my sanity, my wife is also a fan and we managed to fit it into our insane schedule for the weekend.

Since the move revolves around surprises and plot twists, I’ll keep this review spoiler free and friendly to those who don’t want anything ruined.  I may, at a later time, discuss some of those things, but not here.

First off, it captures a lot of the spirit of the original.  This is, in no uncertain terms, an homage to the originals, albiet one written by a younger generation.  The themes, of good struggling against evil and of evil against good, are the same.  The idea of family legacies and of discovering ones full potential, are there as well.  There are many references, both direct and indirect, to places, people, and events of the previous movies, along with deliberate parallels written to make the audience go “Okay, this is Star Wars.”

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the movie’s merits, but much of the disappointment (and there is some) is more from those who didn’t manage their expectations.  There is no way that JJ Abrams and Disney are going to recreate the Expanded Universe books, page by page.  For one thing, there’s too much there and for another, it would strip away all the pleasure of the mystery and wonder of discovery.  I loved Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn books and those of Michael Stackpole’s X Wing series, and other books of the expanded universe were fun, engaging, and exciting.  What they are not is a good way to write a new and exciting movie.   I’ve heard they’re writing new books, set in the new universe.  I’ll probably read some of them and I might introduce my children to them, someday.  For that matter, I’d love the opportunity to write some of them.

Where the movie succeeds is in capturing the excitement, from the very opening crawl to the last, emotional scene, you can feel that this is Star Wars, that the cast and crew poured love and excitement into its crafting, and that it is a movie that your children will want to share with theirs.  It did what I hoped it would and resurrected the franchise.

Is it a perfect movie?  Not in the least.  There’s a tone of pandering at times, of giving the audience what they want.  As an adult, there were many twists that I could guess at, ones that a child or someone new to the genre probably wouldn’t.  Some of the constraints of the good guys, as well, were maddening, but mostly, again, from my own perspective rather than the flow of the film.

Still, the movie is exceptional in that it breathed new life to the Star Wars franchise.  I’m excited to see the next one, thrilled to have spin-offs like Rogue One, and overall filled with questions.  I highly recommend the movie to all fans of the original Star Wars trilogy.

A Reblog and a Note on Moving

Cedar Sanderson has a post up on her blog about something very important: food.  More specifically, she contacted me for my favorite recipe.  While she did it a little differently than me, she’s posted my recipe for your reading (and eating) pleasure.  It’s a simple one, but what can I say, I like cooking with beer.

In other news, I’ve mostly completed my move to Denver (more specificially, Aurora).  Unfortunately, it has drastically impacted my writing time, the past week and a half has been nothing but prepping for the move and we’ll be unpacking for weeks.  It had to be done, since my new job is here in Denver, but I’ll be glad to be done with all of it and back to writing on a regular basis again.

The good news there, at least, is that my commute to and from work has gone from 3-5 hours a day to around 1 hour a day.  That added time means I can hopefully write more.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading.

Author’s Toolbag: Maps and Drawings

The number one job of an author is to tell a story.  In this sense, illustrations such as maps and drawings can be excellent tools for an author, particularly when they are used to immerse the reader more fully into the world.

I’m the type of reader who spends hours, sometimes days pouring over the maps, imagining myself in those worlds and feeling a bit of a thrill as I follow the characters along their journeys.  While I also enjoy the occasional drawing of a character, location, or item, seldom do these things resonate with me as well as a good map.

I’m also the type of author who is into world-building: creating a living, breathing world… and maps are a key part of that for me.  I’ve had the world layout for Eoriel mapped out for almost twenty years, tweaking details, changing names of cities and mountain ranges, altering coastlines slightly, but always with the same general layout.  The same can be said for the Shadow Space Chronicles, I’ve had the general layout of the universe in mind for years, and I’ve spent countless hours drawing out star systems, planet orbits, and the typical routes that ships travel.  I do this because I want to know what path the characters will take and why.  I want to know what language the locals will speak when the characters stop into a bar or tavern.

What does this have to do with the story?  A bit of nothing and a bit of everything.  It doesn’t matter in the slightest what language they speak in the bar… but the fact that they have a culture and language adds a level of richness, of reality to your writing.  So to, does having a map, of knowing that the characters can take the dangerous mountain pass in the dead of winter or divert two hundred miles to a  fortress held by enemies which is the only other way through.   Knowing that the characters will need three weeks (or three months) to travel to the next star system not only gives you a way to pace your story, but adds all kinds of fun plot developments and character arcs.  What do they do to pass that time?  How do they get along together on a tiny ship?  Which character(s) snap under the pressure?

Drawings, in the same way, not only help the reader to visualize the world, but it helps you as an author too.  Even a crude sketch can help you to develop what a character looks like in order to better describe them, or whether that city in the mountains is nestled in a valley or sprawls across a hilltop.  For a reader, a nice drawing can be an added bit, a way to fill in some of the details or even to add to the layer of mystery around something in your story.  As they say, a picture can be worth a thousand words.

How do I approach both of these?  Well, to be honest, with a map, I want there to be reasons for conflict.  Natural boundaries are frequently the dividing lines for nations… but sometimes those nations may disagree on which dividing line they are prepared to accept.  A nation that lives and thrives in the jungles may come into conflict with another nation which clearcuts the jungle to establish farmland.  Mountain tribes might raid lowlands where the growing season is longer and food is more plentiful… or lowlanders might send conquest parties to seize mineral rich valleys for mining.

Rivers, coastlines, bays, and lakes all serve as methods of transportation and as boundaries.  Mountains serve as boundaries and have profound effects upon rainfall and local climate.  Forests and jungle can act as barriers or havens, while swamps and marshes serve as foreboding locations and obstacles for characters or refuges for those who need to hide.  Deserts too, can serve as both obstacle and refuge, depending on the cultures of the people involved.

Drawings can hint at cultural themes, with stylistic emphasis in order to accentuate descriptions in your writing.   A well drawn illustration at the start of the book can set the mood or establish a theme for the reader, putting them in the right mindset.

Maps and drawings are both tools.  Learning to use them right is an excellent way to develop your novel and take it to the next level.

Book Review: Glynn Stewart’s Starship’s Mage

Glynn Stewart's Starship's Mage
Glynn Stewart’s Starship’s Mage

Leo Champion described Glynn Stewart to me as one of the best authors he’s had the experience of working with. Since I also work with Leo, I took that as a bit of a challenge to step up my game, but as a reader, it made me want to check out what Glynn has written, particularly since he seems to be reading my blog and writing book reviews about my stuff.

I’m happy to say I haven’t been disappointed. Glynn Stewart’s Space Opera/Fantasy novel, Starship’s Mage, is excellent. The main character, Damien, is engaging and interesting and Glynn has created a fascinating world, one where technology and magic coexist in a science fiction setting, much like another of my favorite author’s works: Ryk Spoor.

The trials and tribulations of young Damien are vast and varied, as he tries to fix one problem only to create three more in the process. Damien is smart (possibly too smart for his own good), and he is hard working and a loyal friend. He’s also painfully naïve and far too eager to please, which make fun character flaws in a character as powerful as a wizard can be.

Overall, the book definitely feels like the first book of a planned “epic” series. While young Damien grows powerful, we still see that not only does he have limits, but those limits are profound compared to his opponents. The other characters, from ship’s officers to pirates are robust and rewarding in their own ways and in general, it was a fun read.

That isn’t to say it is a “perfect” book. There were a few minor gramatical errors (less, in fact, than some books I’ve recently read from major publishers), but there was also a nagging repetition where some things would be explained multiple times. I can understand the urge, in case the reader wasn’t paying attention, but for me, it actually broke my immersion a little bit as some of the technology and universe was explained once and then again, right before it became pertinent to the story. That said, it’s a very minor pet peeve in a book that I really enjoyed.  (Further note: I hadn’t realized it was originally released as novellas, so it suffers from the same problem as my own Renegades: Origins, so disregard)

My only question, at the end of it, is what do you call this genre? Space Fantasy sounds… trite and doesn’t adequately describe it. It feels like “Hard” fantasy, where the magic has rules and the story revolves as much around those rules as the characters. Science Fantasy just sounds odd. Whatever it is, it’s fun, fast, and enjoyable.

You can pick it up here from Amazon.

In a galaxy tied together by the magic of the elite Jump Magi, Damien Montgomery is a newly graduated member of their number.
With no family or connections to find a ship, he is forced to service on an interstellar freighter known to be hunted by pirates.
When he takes drastic action to save the Blue Jay from their pursuers, he sets in motion a sequence of events beyond his control – and attracts enemies on both sides of the law!

Starship’s Mage was originally released as five separate episodes.

Author’s Toolbag: Creating Science Fiction and Fantasy Languages

One of the things that impressed me about reading Tolkien for the first time (and even more so, years later) is how he crafted entire unique languages for all of the nations and peoples in Middle Earth. The same has been done (with varying levels of success) by many authors. Some have created languages that are memorable, others crafted ones that add some flavor but not much more than that, and still others create a mess that serves as a hindrance to the reader.

When someone goes about crafting a language, Tolkien is often held up as the example. Of course, he was a linguist, so he had some advantages. He knew and understood languages on a level which most authors don’t really have time to do. Don’t forget, that he spent years developing his languages.

So, other than spending years working on developing a language, how can an author produce something that adds value to their work? There are a number of techniques that I’ve seen and used myself. The first one is to “borrow” from other languages. Tolkien borrowed heavily from Welsh, Finnish, and Gaelic. This of course requires finding or knowing languages that sound or look right for the culture you’re dealing with, as well as some vague familiarity with the language.

Another great technique is using a few words to add a bit of flavor to your text. A greeting here, a curse word there, can give the reader a feel of a distant land and new people. A great example of this is the Firefly series, where they used Chinese greetings, exclamations, and curses. Never enough that a listener was confused, just enough to add some spice.

Crafting languages with other alphabets or runic symbols is another method to add a bit of variety. Where this becomes an issue is formatting, especially with ebooks. If you fancy yourself an artist, you can spend hours, weeks, or even years crafting a unique alphabet (or borrowing from existing ones), which may then only appear in cover art or pictures within the novel.

Pitfalls of writing with your own fantasy and science fiction languages are things most well-read readers have encountered.

By and large, most readers tend to avoid big blocks of text they can’t read or understand. Now, if your intention is to confuse the reader, having long sentences in your own created language can work, but otherwise, I’d advise against it. Unless you think you’re as good as Tolkien (and even then) you probably won’t have people spending hours or days figuring out how to read your invented language.

The above mentioned runic language is another pitfall. Even if you consider yourself a professional artist, take the time to make sure what you are putting into a novel is what you really want there. Even in traditionally published novels I’ve seen crudely drawn bits of runes that I’ve mistaken for doodling in the margins.

By and large, the most important aspect is when you edit your novel. You may have spent years developing your languages, but if your story flows better without those, then you’ll need to cut it. By all means, throw some things in there to make it a bit more exciting or exotic, but not enough to eject the reader from your story.

Kal’s December 2015 Forecast

Wow, December 2015 is here and I’m not really sure where the year went, on the one hand, and I’m absolutely stunned by everything that I’ve managed to do over this past year. I’ll do a full roll-up later this month, but it’s been a very busy year, not just for writing, but for everything.

Here in December I’ve begun work on Renegades: Out of the Cold, which is mostly some scene development while I finish The Fate of the Tyrant. The Fate of the Tyrant is going well, though I’m a little behind schedule due to the long commute, my Army Reserve Annual Training, and having to move to Denver for my new job.

Still, the plan is that I’ll finish that and begin work full time on Renegades: Out of the Cold. My next project after that is to finish off another book set in the Shadow Space Universe, this one is on the origins of Kandergain and Shaden, two of the most powerful human psychics alive at the time of Lucius Giovanni.

In addition to all that, I’m adopting a posting pattern to maintain regular updates here. Right now the plan is for me to post book reviews on Mondays, general posts and updates on Wednesday, and Author’s Toolbag posts on Fridays.

Lastly, I’ll have maps, appendixes and other notes available over the next few weeks for several sections of the website. I’ll be certain to post when they are added to the site.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading and check in back here soon for more updates!

Book Review: Frank Chadwick’s How Dark the World Becomes

How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick
How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick

Frank Chadwick’s How Dark the World Becomes is a space opera, adventure science fiction novel from Baen Books. I’ll admit that I was somewhat dubious about a “new” author, but I quickly became fully absorbed in the story of Sasha Naradnyo.

At first glance he is an utterly reprehensible character: he’s a mid-level crime boss who makes money from running gambling rackets and drugs. Yet this is a universe where humans survive on the margins of society, where they are welcome only in areas of brute labor, violence, and crime. Sasha is only a criminal because it is the only way for him to rise… but he also gives back in the form of funding a local hospital and protecting those he can from the harsh universe.

We don’t see much of Sasha as a criminal, instead, we come to him as he transitions, forced out of his previous life and into a wider world as he shows his true colors by protecting two children and their keeper. The writing is fast-paced and the universe is gritty and everything about it feels like one of the noir crime detective novels.

It is a fantastic read from a great author. I went from hating the main character to giving him a grudging respect that surprised me. Frank Chadwick doesn’t pull any punches, he delves into the darkness of his universe, taking his characters and putting them through the wringer and making it very clear from the beginning that no one – not even the main character – is safe.

I’ll note, this isn’t a book I would read when I’m in a dark mood. It’s gritty and in your face, not a cheerful or inspirational story, but one with a world-weary main character who has almost everything stripped from him.

The exciting debut of a nonstop noir SF from legendary game creator Frank Chadwick.  With one single act of kindness, a tough-as-nails hood with a heart of gold saves two alien children from assassination—and resets the balance of galactic power in the process.

Sasha Naradnyo is a gangster.  He’s a gangster with heart, sure, but Sasha sticks his neck out for no man.  That’s how you stay alive in Crack City, a colony stuffed deep into the crust of the otherwise unlivable planet Peezgtaan.  Alive only—because if you’re human, you don’t prosper, at least not for long.  Sasha is a second generation City native. His parents came to this rock figuring to make it big, only to find that they’d been recruited as an indentured labor force for alien overlords known as the Varoki.

Now a pair of rich young Varoki under the care of a beautiful human nanny are fleeing Peezgtaan, and Sasha is recruited to help.  All things considered, he’d rather leave the little alien lordlings to their fate, but certain considerations—such as Sasha’s own imminent demise if he remains—make it beneficial for him to take on the job.

But Sasha discovers his simple choice has thrust him into the midst of a political battle that could remake the galactic balance of power and save humanity from slow death by servitude.  Now all he has to do is survive and keep his charges alive on a hostile planet undergoing its own revolution.

But it’s the galaxy that had better watch out.  For now the toughest thug in Crack City has gotten his first taste of real freedom. He likes it, and wants more.

The stunning debut of a nonstop science fiction noir thriller from legendary game creator Frank Chadwick.

You can find it here on Amazon