Category Archives: Reading

Renegades: The Gentle One now available on Amazon!

RGO Cover

My new Novella, Renegades: The Gentle One is now available from Amazon and coming soon to Smashwords (and then to various other outlets).    Renegades: The Gentle One is a 35,000 word novella and is the sequel to Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption and the continuation of the Renegades serial.  Read below for the description.

Ariadne has built her life around being a good person. She thinks positive, she tries to help people, and she never gets angry. The last is especially important, because Ariadne is a psychic, and bad things can happen if a psychic loses control of her emotions. 

The problem is, Ariadne and her friends are on the run from an expansionist alien race. As an escapee from a prison station, she’s been marked for death, and the only way out of the star system is to hijack a ship. With limited supplies, powerful enemies, and companions whose trustworthiness is questionable, her enemies seem almost assured of victory. Ariadne is going to have to do the one thing she’s sworn never to do again… 

She’s got to get angry.

Get it here from Amazon

Get it here from Smashwords, and coming soon to other outlets.

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The Evolution of Fantasy

Fantasy as a genre has its origins in the myths and legends of ancient times.  These myths are often seen as primitive man’s attempts to explain the unexplainable.  Yet in modern times, we have explainations for almost everything… so why the interest in such things?  Personally, I think it is some attempt by us to recreate some of the mystery.  Some people turn to tabloids and conspiracy theories to spin wild tales… and the more mentally stable of us look to spin wild stories in other worlds.  But… I digress.  For this entry, I’ll go into a brief history of the genre of fantasy, talk a bit about some of the current trends of Epic Fantasy I’ve seen as a reader and a writer, and then write a bit about where I see the genre is headed.  I’ll also recommend some authors whose works I think are worthy of checking out.

The first ‘real’ fantasy authors included Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs who pioneered the field.  Tolkien and Robert E Howard’s many stories broadened it and yet opened it out into two very different areas.   Tolkien’s works gained more wide-stream attention, for a number of reasons, but Robert Howard’s various works still maintain a substantial following.  Other authors like C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander also had their parts.  These earlier authors often featured themes of good versus evil and heroes whose journeys and quests caused profound changes upon their worlds.  The overall themes and concepts tended to be heroes doing good things (or in the case of Conan, living by a barbarian code) as well as the tendency to reject technology and industrialism.  This was the general theme for the more popular and lasting epic and high fantasy for a while.  This changed somewhat with authors like Terry Brooks and David Eddings, who wrote less idealized stories, and more morally ambiguous characters.  Terry Goodkind, George RR Martin, Harry Turtledove and Robert Jordan led the way in the 1990’s with a host of epic fantasy series.  Fantasy became mainstream almost overnight, and the current round of epic fantasy began.  These authors virtually cast the mold for the ‘ideal’ Epic Fantasy series, with overnight blockbusters that continue to sell twenty plus years later.

That leads us into the current setting for Epic Fantasy, with my topic being about the current trends.  The changes brought on by the surge in readership in the 1990’s is still seen.  Authors like George RR Martin continue to sell books in the millions, have TV shows or movies, and have a massive fan base.  Their writing often includes morally ambiguous characters, convoluted plots, and severe, often drastic consequences for the characters as a consequence of their actions.  The pioneers of these types of books are often extremely proficient at both storytelling and manipulation of the reader’s emotions.  A disturbing trend, as I see it, is flood of books and authors who are not up to those standards.  The Epic Fantasy surge has led to dozens of series that come across as formulaic or rote.  There are a wide variety that follows the Campbellian Monomyth to the letter.  They have the main character on the Hero’s Journey.  They have the love interest.  They have the morally ambiguous companion/guide.  They have the mentor.  These stories check off all of the boxes, but they lack the passion and creativity of their predecessors.  Some authors have tried to replace that passion with grittiness or realism.  They often use anti-heroes or simply use lesser villains as the heroes (which can work, if done well) who turn the theme still darker and more ponderous.  In the rush to make money, fantasy has become exactly what we seek to avoid in real life: boring.  Other writers have sought to do something new or bold by changing the rules: fantasy worlds without magic or magic systems that work in some new or innovative way.  Yet I think in the roots, Fantasy started as escapism, a rejection of the world, if only for a short time, and a means to explore the imagination.  The trend of books that I’ve seen are book after book churned out by the big publishing houses, each looking for that next Robert Jordan or George RR Martin.  To me, at least as a reader, that gets old.  Fantasy, by its nature, is something that thrives on new and interesting, which is one reason we’ve seen the shift to urban fantasy around the turn of the century and more recently the expansion of steampunk.  Epic Fantasy has become too dark and too boring to be the inspiration to imagination it once was.

So what do I see in the future of epic fantasy?  As a genre, I think it hasn’t changed enough in recent times.  I think that new authors and new ideas will soon force it to change.   Evolution is a natural thing and something that will help that evolution along is the self-publishing market.  The variety of books that have become available means that new ideas and new blood is bound to shake things up.  Traditional publishing has stuck to what worked (which makes sense, they’re in the business of making money), but individuals, if they want to stand out, can’t afford to do that.  As a whole, I think we’ll see a lot of new ideas and concepts and hopefully some big changes overall in the market.

As a reference, here’s some authors and their books, both old and new, that are worth looking into for Epic Fantasy:

Robert Howard’s Conan series

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

David Eddings’ Belgariad

Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara

Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time

Lloyd Alexander’s Prydan series

David Weber’s Oath of Swords

Free Stuff

I’ve just added a short story in the free fiction section.  Look to the Stars is a short story set in the same universe as Renegades and The Fallen Race.  The main character, Mason McGann, is a smuggler who is in a bind.  It introduces some of the characters and backstory for The Fallen Race.

I’ve also added a news article that ties into Renegades: the Gentle One.  It’s a translated Chxor document referenced in the story.

In other news, the final edits to Renegades: The Gentle One are underway and the eBooks will be available tomorrow on Amazon and Smashwords.  Also, the paperback version of Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption will be available at the end of the week.

The novel The Fallen Race will be available in the first part of October.  Keep looking here for updates, snippets and other free stuff!

Books and Authors I Recommend

I’m an avid reader, and something that I’ll freely admit is that I’m always looking for a new author or three to try out.   I have rather eclectic tastes, but I thought I’d write a bit about what authors I’m currently reading and what authors I recommend.  I’ll break it down by genre, because otherwise this would just become a long list, and who wants that?  This is just a broad overview and by no means covers everything off my shelves. 

Fantasy:

The obvious here is Tolkien.  The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are well known.  Less well known are some of his shorter fiction.  Farmer Giles of Ham is an excellent short novel, and often overlooked.  I’d also recommend David Eddings with two of his series: The Belgariad and the Elenium.  Both series are long enough to provide plenty of entertainment.  Raymond Feist’s Midkemia series (starting with Magician) is another good read, though it can be difficult to discern what order to read some of the books.  Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising is a more recent entry, and one of the few recently published fantasy stories that I could really get into.  Excellent characterization, amazing setting, tough decisions and good fighting evil are all blended together into an excellent story.

Urban Fantasy:

There’s a variety of urban fantasy, some of it very violent, some not so much.  Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series combines race cars with elves and some more classic fantasy elements as well as renn faires and dragons.  It’s highly entertaining and mostly PG, so a good read for kids.  Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles and his Monster Hunter series are both brilliant.  Both series contain lots of humor, over the top action, and an excellent knowledge of firearms and combat techniques.  John Ringo’s Princess of Wands is another excellent urban fantasy, with the twist that it’s a church-going soccer mom who’s fighting demons and necromancers.  Wen Spencer writes an excellent series of elves and parallel dimensions with Tinker and the rest of her Elfhome series.

Science Fiction:

The general area of science fiction is hard for me to nail down.  I’m drawn to the classics, if I’m recommending to a new reader.  Robert Heinlein’s works: Citizen of the Galaxy, The Moon is A Harsh Mistress, Orphans of the Sky, and The Menace from Earth are all excellent.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is definitely worth a read, though so popular in media that most readers of SF have already read it.  Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is a good read.    More recently, Eric Flint and Ryk Spoor’s Boundary is excellent science fiction.    Sarah Hoyt writes some very good science fiction with the Darkship Renegades, with a lot of excellent social and political commentary.

Military Science Fiction

This is my main area of interest at the moment, and unlikely to change any time soon.  Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, of course, takes pride of precedence.   David Weber has written a host of amazing science fiction books, especially his Honor Harrington series, but also his Imperium of Man series which starts with Mutineer’s Moon.  He’s also written several standalone books such as The Apocalypse Troll and Out of the Dark which are very good.  John Ringo is massively prolific, with a number of excellent series.  A Hymn Before Battle is an excellent near-future novel that starts a great series.   A bit of warning, the series currently ends in a cliff hanger with no final books to close it out in sight.  John Ringo’s team up with Travis Taylor in the Voyages of the Space Bubble series starts with Into the Looking Glass.  The series is excellent with lots of humor, great science, and tons of action.  Mike Shephard’s Kris Longknife series is another fun read, with a main character that has grown and developed over time.  David Drake has a number of excellent series, with Hammers Slammers being his most well known.  Another excellent new author is Leo Champion, whose Legion series has some serious combat and excellent overall story arc.

General Fiction

I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot of general fiction, and most of what I do read tends to edge towards the ‘techie’ or military spectrum anyway.   Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October is excellent, as is Without Remorse, Executive Orders, and Patriot Games.  Also good is Larry Correia and Mike Kupari’s Dead Six and Swords of Exodus, both military genre, though with elements of what I consider fantasy.  Tom Kratman’s Countdown series is excellent in that regard as well, though rather grim at times.

Classics

I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for some of the classics of literature.  Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson are all excellent reads, especially for children.  Mark Twain has a host of good stuff.  Almost everything by Jules Verne is absolutely excellent.

Conclusion:

I’m certain I’m missing an author or two here or there, and I know I’ve left out some books by different authors.  Still, if you’re anything like me, I highly recommend these authors and series.  Next week I’ll try to cover each genre, what I like and what I don’t, what themes I’m seeing as a reader and what I want to work on as a writer.

Building Strong Characters

One of my goals for writing characters is to develop them to the point that they feel real to the reader. Story can be interesting, but strong characters are what the reader ends up caring about. An excellent character will keep a reader coming back, again and again… and the victories and defeats of those characters are what bring out the most emotion in the reader. Flat characters are a crime that few authors can redeem themselves from. Flat characters are boring, trite, and often cliché. So how does one develop strong characters?

Strong characters feel like real people, sometimes more real that people we might interact with or deal with on a daily basis (trust me, I’ve had roommates with less personality than Master Harper Robinton from Anne McCaffery’s Pern series or Polgara from David Eddings’ Belgariad). What exactly does feeling real entail, though? I define it by several areas. First off, they typically have some defining character traits. Second, strong characters have a history, a place where they come from. Third, they have a morality (or lack thereof) that is coherent and based upon their origins. Fourth, strong characters experience joy, anger, love, and heartache just like real people. Last and most important strong characters make decisions based off of their emotions, experiences, and morality.

Character traits are often what define a character to the reader at first glance. These are often the most memorable things about them, and are often the things that pop into mind. Han Solo was a cocky and self centered rogue (he shot first!). Doc, from ‘Back to the Future’, was absent minded and excitable. Character traits are often established early on, typically in the first time the reader meets the character. It helps to make these traits memorable, as a writer, because this makes the character stand out in their mind more. Traits, however, are just a starting point. They create a character that has some resonance to them, but if that isn’t followed through, the character will seem hollow. A hollow character might be better than a flat one, but it robs the reader of the pay off of emotions as the character fails to grow over time and their experiences.

History and past play a huge role in our lives as people. It should be no less important for characters. As a writer, often I develop characters based off of the setting and their place in it. From the society and their place in it, I can develop what things they will find important, what their areas of expertise and knowledge might be. A character raised in the slums of a dystopian future might well view morality through a different lens than your typical 21st Century American. Beyond there, I typically dive into family (or lack thereof), which is often more important than society, and indeed, can alter things significantly. That same character raised in the slums might be the son of a missionary, who grew up treating the sick and injured…. Suddenly he might not be the callus killer. Throw in some life events, such as the death of his mother or the discovery that he was adopted and his adoptive parents never told him. These experiences change who he is, and will have effects upon how he acts.

Morality is often based upon the experiences of people. Morally upright characters can be vastly complicated or totally boring, whereas morally bankrupt characters can be highly entertaining or nauseating. Part of this is perspective and experience. A character who has a twisted sense of morals because of hi s experiences is understandable. He or she may frustrate a reader, but the moral code they follow will at least make sense. The same follows for a character with a comprehensive and solid code of ethics. What will drive me as a reader absolutely crazy is when there is a character whose morality doesn’t make sense. Characters who are bad because it’s cool or fun or the honorable street urchin are anomalies… and unless an author has a legitimate reason why, they quickly become an irritation. Even worse are characters with no defined or inconsistent morality. A character who will shoot a man in the back in one scene and yet fights an honorable duel in another would be incoherent without some background or logic behind his actions. A writer has a burden to show the reasoning and logic behind the characters’ decisions.

Emotion is the next crucial part of a strong character. A character who doesn’t experience emotion is boring, regardless of how many explosions or how interesting the setting might be. One of the best examples of this is from the movie Red Sonya. The main character’s sister — her only surviving family – dies in her arms in the opening part of the movie. Red Sonya then says something to the effect of “This is terrible, drops her sister’s corpse, and stalks off to exact her revenge. For a close knit family, the death of a family member is a powerfully emotional event. This event was supposed to drive Red Sonya to exact her revenge. This isn’t to say that the character should have fallen to pieces, but some small signs can go a long way to establishing the emotional toll of such an event. An excellent positive example of this is from Saving Private Ryan, where Tom Hank’s character, after the Invasion of Normandy, goes to open a canteen and his hands are shaking so much as to make it nearly impossible. This shows that, despite his calm demeanor, he is barely holding it together, and mostly doing so for his men. A show of such emotional turmoil and yet strength immediately establishes his character as someone who feels real. Later on, when he makes decisions for his men, you can see that emotional turmoil is there behind those decisions, at war with his moral code and his defining character traits.

The last crucial part of strong characters is the decisions they make and, as a writer, ensuring those decisions are in line with the character. A character who makes decisions out of line with his morality, emotions and experiences is not a strong character. A character who has his emotions and experiences at odds with his morality is complex and interesting. Difficult decisions are what life is about, and the important decisions are always complex. An important thing to note here is that sometimes the characters don’t make the right decisions. Sometimes their morality or emotions or experiences drive them to make the wrong decision. In those cases, it is often a flaw, sometimes a tragic flaw. This should not be the norm, in my opinion. Authors like George R. Martin make their living by having characters make bad decisions on an almost constant basis. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting reading, but as a reader, it frustrates me to the point that I give up. Good people make bad decisions sometimes, it happens in real life, and it happens in stories. Bad people make good decisions too, sometimes, which I find far more interesting.

The decisions that characters make often define them. These cause new experiences and produce new emotions that in turn, drive character growth and development. And the next step past making a strong character is to make that character grow as he progresses through the story. That’s a topic for another day. In the meantime, what is a strong character that you really liked and what were their defining traits?

Renegades, Psychics, and Aliens, oh my…

The current series that has most of my attention is what I call the Mira universe. I’ve got one completed novel and six novellas as well as five or six short stories set in this universe. This is the universe in which the series Renegades is set. It is also the setting for the book The Fallen Race, coming soon to a Kindle near you. Additionally, I’ve got two more novels outlined and nearing completion in the same universe.

What is so interesting about this universe? I’m glad you asked. The Mira universe is set several hundred years in the future. I’ve set most of my stories in times of either great social upheaval or moments where military combat is common… and sometimes both. These are times where humanity, as a race, is at a cusp, the points where the actions of a few can turn the balance and change the fates of millions.

There’s some other fun things about this universe, both as a writer, and I hope, for those of you who read it. There are boundaries to explore, new worlds, distant space, and of course, the boundaries of the human mind and body. Some humans have developed psychic abilities, and they are a powerful minority. Dealing with the fear and uncertainty that normal people feel for those who can alter their perceptions or read their thoughts adds a layer of social dynamics. In addition, the psychics themselves deal with tough questions as they explore what it really is to be human… and if they really qualify. There are renegades and outcasts of all types: mutants, deserters, pirates and mercenaries. These men and women are often the dregs of society. However, the societal upheavals often put them in positions where they are given opportunities to redeem themselves… or to become scourges who write their names in blood across countless worlds.

And then there are the aliens. There are five highly advanced races that humans have encountered in this future. The Chxor are the emotionless and implacable invaders, who seek to supplant humanity as the reigning power. The Ghornath are friendly if temperamental, eight limbed and three meters tall, generous and honorable, and the most relatable to humans. The Wrethe are violent sociopaths, each a militantly individualistic carnivore that views even their own species as prey. The Iodans are alien and almost incomprehensible. And the Balor are the unknown menace, their advanced weapons and technology sweeps aside human defenses and seems determined to make humanity extinct. Exploring these alien races allows me, as a writer, to explore humans better. When confronted by the unknown and the alien, what responses do the characters have… and what similarities do we see in even the most alien of species?

In both the Renegades series and the upcoming novel The Fallen Race, humanity is pinched between two hostile alien races, both of which will bring about the extinction of our race. Human space is fractured, with the various nations embroiled in wars with one another. Technology is on the decline, as aliens and civil wars have destroyed key infrastructure. Piracy is common, indeed, the most powerful pirates are the Shadow Lords, human psychics whose fleets loot entire worlds and drag away the populations to be their thralls. Civilization is on the decline… the barbarians are at the gates.
The Renegades is a series that explores the efforts of a handful. In feudal Japan, they might be called ronin. In the American West, they would be desperadoes or gunslingers. These are men and women and a few aliens who have no home, no place. They are — with some exceptions — bad people who do bad things. Yet they also have the power to change history. They are people with nothing left to lose… and that makes them very dangerous.

The Fallen Race is similar in concept. It follows the crew of the battleship War Shrike, of the Nova Roma Empire. The ship is cut off after an ambush, heavily damaged and left without support. The ship’s captain is considered little better than a traitor by his own nation, despite numerous heroics, and his family’s history lays over his every accomplishment like a burial shroud. Yet they struggle to take a stand, to halt the steady grind of history before it churns everything they know and care about into the mud.

As a writer, both series allow me to explore the setting. The characters are products of their time, often flawed, sometimes tragically so, they are people, and their emotions and experiences feel as real and raw as those of real people. Everyone has a story; from the Pirate Tommy King, whose every good deed goes wrong, to the psychic Kandergain, whose own mother turned her into a weapon. There is a history here, which I love to explore, one that I hope to share with my readers… and I hope it is as fun to you as it is for me.

So, that’s what I’m working on now. Welcome, and feel free to look around. There will be a short story added to the free fiction section in the near future, something of a prequel to the events of Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy.