Thursday, May 30, 2013

REVIEW: Dead Size / Sawney Hatton

TITLE: Dead Size
AUTHOR: Sawney Hatton
PUBLISHER: Self-published

Comedy—Dark Humor

This book was strangely addictive. While not a traditional page-turner in terms of plot, something about the author’s style made it hard to put down, and I ended up finishing it in less than a day.

Third person omniscient. For the most part, the author stays in the head of whoever the key player in the scene is, but sometimes rotates within a section. Each section is written in the author’s distinct narrative voice.

Gulliver Huggens hasn’t had it easy. His family—parents and older brother Dale—were killed in a car crash when he was a child, and he’s a loner. The few people he encounters—his neighbor, his motorcycle dude employer, etc.—think he’s nice enough, if a little weird. Kooky but harmless.

Gulliver’s only companions are the Little People: a race of three-inch tall people with high-pitched voices who live in the walls of his house. In exchange for materials, food, and entertainment (they watch TV and play Scrabble with Gulliver), they cook and clean for him. They’re like little house fairies in Gulliver’s own private fairy tale. Like his famous namesake character, Gulliver finds himself friends with the Lilliputians.

Dead Size opens with Gulliver’s attempts to win the affections of Kat, an attractive, punk rocker-type barista. While things go all right at first, his confession that Little People live in his walls causes her to think him crazy and flee. But Gulliver’s not crazy—is he?

The question of what’s real becomes more convoluted when Gulliver encounters a giant, who claims to represent a race of peaceful colossuses living in the woods near Gulliver’s town. A Brobdingnagian, if you will. The giant tells Gulliver that the Little People carry a disease fatal to his people, and that Gulliver must exterminate them or face the consequences. While Gulliver is initially incredulous, the giant follows up his threat with a series of very real murders, leaving Gulliver torn between killing the only real friends he’s had since his brother’s death and letting the giant wreak havoc on the people around him.

Hatton writes in a distinctive narrative voice, telling the story from an omniscient third person perspective. Infused with dark humor and sarcastic commentary, it’s strangely addictive to read. Unlike the popular show-don’t-tell screenplay-like stories that have become fashionable these days, Dead Size makes the invisible narrator as much a character as Gulliver or Sheriff Boone, the head of local law enforcement who investigates the giant murders. In fact, the satirical lilt with which Hatton writes is reminiscent of a 21st century Jonathan Swift. I think the “telling” aspect of the story works quite well in this case, as it gives the reader the information needed in an entertaining way.

Each of the main characters, who are all quite memorable, is given a back story and perspective that brings them to life on the page. Their personalities seem to be intentionally exaggerated, which fits into the satirical style of the novel. While they may not be entirely realistic, their motivations are well-drawn, and they come across as believable.

The plot of Dead Size takes some twists and turns on its way to the ending, which was rather unexpected. Once the giants entered the picture, I couldn’t stop reading, since I had to know how it would all turn out. Even before that, though, the book was hard to put down. While it’s not a traditional page-turner, the author’s style is strangely addictive. I ended up starting this book one evening, staying up until far past I meant to, and then finishing it the next morning.

This book is well-written and well-edited; I didn’t find any typos or errors.

This book contains some violence and a few sex scenes (mostly a man’s sexual fantasies), but nothing graphic.

Dead Size is Sawney Hatton's debut novel.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Writing - It's a Disease

I'm afraid I've been neglecting Zigzag Timeline for a few weeks now, and I must apologize, especially to the authors whose books are still in my review queue. Despite the delay, I promise, every book I've accepted will get reviewed, and I'll try to speed up the process.

Where have I been? Well, suffice it to say, I fell down a writing hole. After I finished penning the manuscript to Artificial Absolutes' sequel, Synthetic Illusions, I tried to pick up the pace on blogging again and make up for lost time. I thought I had some time to catch up on my review queue once the manuscript was submitted. However, my brain had other plans. A new idea for a book, in an entirely unexpected genre, hit me in April, and I just had to write it down.

Now, this new book wasn't supposed to get written for a long time. I already have two series on the go, and the last thing I need is a third to occupy what little time I have left. The plan was to just jot down some ideas and pick it up again after I'd taken care of the Artificial Absolutes trilogy. But the thoughts kept hammering at my head, so finally I caved and said, "Fine! I'll start writing!"

Once I started writing, I couldn't stop, May ended up being my own unofficial NaNoWriMo, to the detriment of everything else in my life (except my day job). I stopped going to the gym. My apartment became filthy. I didn't sleep much because I wanted to stay up and finish each chapter. I subsisted on ramen because I didn't want to take the time to go to the grocery store. And my poor review books sat unread on my Kindle and on my nightstand. All I cared about was banging out this damn book, which is tentatively titled Butterfly Dome.

My roommate even suggested (only half jokingly) that I should see a therapist, and that I might have some form of OCD. I don't blame her - it must have been weird for her to go out in the evening, return hours later, and find me in the same spot on the couch, tapping away at my computer.

Thing is, I don't even know what drives me to write this book. It's a far cry from the twisty-turny chases and adventures I've become accustomed to writing, and the elements that drove me to write the Artificial Absolutes and Flynn Nightsider books are largely absent. Unlike Artificial, Butterfly Dome isn't in a genre I've been obsessed with since I was a kid. Unlike Flynn, it's not a plot-driven action/adventure with mouthy characters.

I'm playing with an entirely new genre: YA paranormal romance. Well, Butterfly Dome was supposed to be sci-fi, but the emphasis on drama over plot, plus the romance between a human girl and a mysterious humanoid alien boy, put it in PNR territory. Which is, I think, my comeuppance for my previous disdain toward the genre (in my defense, my only exposure was through Twilight). Haha, universe. Very funny. My current genre of dislike is James Patterson-type crime thrillers with gratuitous violence. Now watch me get an idea for one that I just can't let go...

In conclusion, writing is a disease. It infected me and wouldn't let me do anything else. But now that I've finished the first part of Butterfly Dome, it seems to be letting up a bit, which should, hopefully, give me time to catch up on my poor review queue. Maybe I'll even see sunshine again...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

SPOTLIGHT: Space Games / Dean Lombardo

Today, I'm spotlighting sci-fi/fantasy publisher Kristell Ink's latest offering: Space Games by Dean Lombardo, which is available on Amazon.

A sleekly modern rendition of pulp sci-fi, Space Games is fast-paced, straightforward read that leaves you wanting to know what happens next. This book is easy to fly through, full of excitement and action. The realistic dialogue, tight writing, and quick action all make for great entertainment.

The characters and action in Space Games, which is written almost cinematically, pop from the page. It’s easy to "see" what’s going on and "hear" the characters' distinctive voices. The pacing is spot-on, creating an exciting reading experience that snowballs into a tense page-turner as an ill-conceived reality show goes to hell. Space Games isn't for the faint of heart, and Lombardo, who is also known as a horror writer, isn’t afraid to take risks. I think that's one of the book's strengths: it fiercely barrels through the events in a merciless, unapologetic fashion.

Visit the author's website.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Peter Allen, author of the science fiction novel Mother of the World, talks about his novel's inspirations and his background as a writer.

Mother of the World is the story of a scientist in the far future trying to find the truth behind humanity’s origins. What was the first idea you had for this story, and how did the novel grow from there?

For me the idea of the book pivots around the final scene. I had been thinking for a while about the status of our knowledge. Given my professional interest in how people respond to information about their environment, I wondered how we could respond in general to the whole of our understanding: “life, the universe and everything”, to quote the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We live in a miraculous time. We know the age of the universe and of the Earth. We know the origin of both. We know the very process of life and its history. How can we respond to all this? Perhaps we all have different answers but I recalled something I saw in a TV nature documentary way back when TV was black and white. A female chimpanzee had become separated from her group. She was lost and in danger. She came upon another group and, if I remember correctly, it was explained that she needed to join them. I was struck by what happened and it stuck firmly in my memory: she went from ape to ape, standing on her hind legs, and reached out her hand. Each sitting chimpanzee reached out and grasped her hand in return. It was a very powerful image, not least because it was so human. The chimpanzees are mute by nature but I feel strongly that we can do little but cling silently to each other in the face of our knowledge of reality. We can explain so much but we cannot ‘understand’ it in the way we want to, in a human way, because it isn’t human. It’s outside our scale and, truly, beyond our experience.

That image started me thinking about how a character, perhaps a thinking man like Kelvin in Solaris, might be made to confront it all and respond accordingly. I thought he would have to start out learning science, trying to find his way, uncertain about what to study but led on by curiosity. His sense of puzzlement would crystallise around human migration but he would soon need to encounter some contradiction or other that would propel him into a more compulsive quest.

He would also need a companion, and for many reasons, not least the metaphorical significance of their relationship, he needed a woman. Originally I spent far too much time getting him finding out historical facts and so on, which merely prolonged the beginning, until I realized they were irrelevant to the progression. So, fairly early on, she finds him. The contradictions he discovers separate them and he sets out in earnest, now with the added tension of the unresolved relationship in the background. After some episodes uncovering major anomalies they must be reunited for the denouement, which will confront them both with mystery.

How did you get into writing?

My school writing used to get attention – other pupils were directed to read my essays. Perhaps this was a punishment but it was surprising to be confronted with the role of guru at such an age. In any event I wanted to do science, much to the English teacher’s chagrin. In the event I worked straight from school, though I more or less always intended to go to university. So, after an interesting delay of some years in the wider working world I went to university and stayed to build a career. Writing of all kinds was naturally part of my job. I might also mention that in my many international projects I ended up being the ‘editor in chief’, given my native language. It turns out that editing ability is an essential skill for anyone wanting to write.

The matter of science versus religion is central to Mother of the World. Why did you choose to examine this idea?

I think the conflict between the two is more imagined than real. Apart from the western historical confrontations, which have other explanations, there is little antagonism in principal. But intellectually, for me there is a real problem of meaning. If you are aware of the powerful insights that science has provided how can you not see that extending our ‘understanding’ to some realm outside reality implies a contradiction? Obviously the two types of thought must stand in parallel rather than interact but that’s the nub of it: they stand there in individual minds. I’ve encountered several striking examples of this but here’s one that left an impression. I was on a plane with colleagues returning from Russia when I was taken ill. My companion, a physicist, began praying for me. I was taken aback. Here was a person who understands partial differential equations, talking to a supposed supernatural power, for which there is no evidence whatsoever, and asking said power to intervene in the world to prevent me suffering from the effects of what may have been food poisoning, too much vodka, or both.

So it is the ‘meaning’ of what we know that underlies the comparisons presented in the story, whether that be the meaning of our scientific understanding, the arbitrary meaning attributable to imagined beings or the fundamental human meaning shared by people in their relationships with one another. We are designed by nature to seek ‘meaning’, and, as a result, often do so where it is probably inappropriate. I set out to examine the nature of knowledge and, along the way, realized that I was also writing about what it is like to ‘do science’.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Mother of the World?

Without doubt getting it into sensible form. This was my first major piece of fiction and, since one is writing at length, it’s tempting to indulge all kinds of ideas that really just add to the length rather than the story. So, cut, cut and cut again. I actually enjoy editing, and I’m very used to it from my years of rewriting Euro- English, so I could get on with it. Not quite so easy to judge the level of discourse. It’s a novel, not a treatise and so must be entertaining and not sound like a ponce’s trip to the multisyllabic word emporium. I have been heartened to find readers say it is accessible.

What’s your favourite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

I like most of them I have to say. For example when Peae is sitting by the sea in Farael, I can feel the sun on his (my) face. I know exactly where I based that scene, though I haven’t been there for years and it probably now only exists in my memory. But if you force me to choose I would say a rather dry example: in the Library. One never knows about readers and just hopes to strike a chord. In that scene Peae is just going through the records as he usually does when he find something strange. This actually happens all the time: a ‘new’ score by Mozart, an unexpected letter from a major historical figure that reveals an entirely new version of events. One of my readers knew exactly what that atmosphere is like and related to it strongly. It may not involve ray guns and violence but it is real world excitement: to find something extraordinary. To know something nobody else knows.

Are there any books or authors who have influenced your writing?

Of course, there are very many. When people at work occasionally asked me what I intended doing at university I used to say that I would be reading science fiction. In the end that turned out to be quite true. I would fill in between study with blocks of reading SF. So all the greats and lots of trash. I think many people who study do a similar thing. It’s useful to have a distraction. It helps with concentration.

I kept up my general literary reading as well of course. So you might say the traditional full liberal education (laughs). Who would I pick out? Well Conrad certainly, especially ‘Heart of Darkness’ but more especially I would have to cite Kafka. It has long been clear that we live in our own constructed fantasy. Writers can lift the lid a little on that process but paradoxically to do so they must form their own fantastic vision. The unsettling world that K inhabits in the ‘Castle’ reveals a bit of the real remoteness of the human world. The remoteness of the physical world is another matter altogether. One day on a trawl through a charity shop I picked up a paperback called ‘Solaris’. I read the first page and went straight home to read it all. Thus I discovered Stanislav Lem. Here was a contemporary SF writer using imagined situations in space to make points about the nature of our existence, sometimes humorously like Swift with his Gulliver, but often seriously; guilt and the nature of our response to death in ‘Solaris’ for example. But usually, behind the action, the brooding truly alien nature of reality, especially what the very concept of alien, or indeed, ‘an alien’ might be. I must admit it made me think: ‘I want to do this’.

Are you working on anything new?

What I am doing is revisiting a popular science book concept that has a long and disappointing (non) publication history. It went the full round of editorial analysis with one of the top science publishers only to fall at the last, despite considerable support from the UK editor. I’m revising it again because I think it has good potential. Those who liked the idea seemed quite fired up about it so I guess it’s a question of keep on pushing.

Mother of the World is available at: Amazon US (paperback), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

REVIEW: Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Foebreaker's Curse

TITLE: Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Foebreaker’s Curse
AUTHOR: Samuel Medina
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon US (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback), Smashwords (multiple e-book formats)


This book is the first in a series

Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Foebreaker’s Curse rolls along at a decent pace, alternating between action and world-building.

Third person omniscient.

Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Foebreaker’s Curse follows the adventure of a young half-Elvish girl, the titular Katarina. In this fantastical universe, which Medina laced with elements of science fiction, the children of humans and elves are often sold as slaves who must work to buy their freedom. In the novel’s opening, Katarina is sold to a silkworm farmer. An innovative and precocious child, she invents new ways to improve the farm. One day, a dragon attacks her village, killing her master. Katarina manages to slay the dragon. Not long after, she meets an old Elf called Oren, a master of ancient ways, who takes her under his wing.

In Medina’s world, dragons can be either good or evil. While the first dragon Katarina encountered and slayed was wicked, she befriends another dragon not long after. This dragon, Dalandra, actually helps train her in how to kill the wicked among her own kind.

Katarina is a feisty and likable young heroine. Bold, brave, and intelligent, she’s reminiscent of Arya, Ned Stark’s daughter, from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. She’s quick to take action, which sometimes gets her into trouble, and yet humble in the presence of those wiser than her.

The world Medina has created in his novel will seem familiar to fans of J.R.R. Tolkien. Medina even writes with a similar storyteller’s lilt, describing the silkworms as not nasty worms in a similar manner to how Tolkein opens The Hobbit with a description of how hobbit holes are not nasty holes. However, Medina seems to have borrowed the best of Tolkein—the imagination, the distinctive voice, the journey—and given it his own twist while leaving behind the old master’s lengthy, not-so-fun exposition. Also, this may come as sacrilege to some and is mostly likely due to my 21st century sensibilities, I believe Medina is more appealing than Tolkien in his pacing and dialogue. Katarina moves forward at a fine pace, and between the world building and the adventure, there’s never a dull moment.

Medina has clearly spent a lot of time developing his mythology, and it really shows. The laws of his universe are well drawn, and it’s easy to get lost in the expansive world he’s created. He creates and uses his own terminology, for which there is a helpful appendix at the back of the book.

For fans of epic fantasies, Katarina is a welcome return to the kind of fun heroic adventures we all love. While Katarina is not necessarily a children’s book, its child protagonist, bright adventure, and colorful characters will definitely appeal to younger audiences.

I found a few errors, but nothing distracting.

This book contains some fantasy-style violence.

Katarina the Dragonslayer and the Foebreaker’s Curse is Samuel Medina’s debut novel.

Friday, May 3, 2013

SPOTLIGHT: Urban Fantasy

It seems that lately, I've been in an urban fantasy kind of mood. I'm not entirely sure what prompted this sudden desire for magic in modern times, but I've been lucky enough to find great books to fulfill my craving. Here are my three current favorites:

Oracle of Philadelphia by Elizabeth Corrigan An 8,000-year-old Oracle living in modern day Philadelphia tangles with angels in demons in her efforts to save a good man who sold his soul to an archdemon.

The Beholder by Ivan Amberlake
An ordinary New Yorker finds himself at the center of a critical battle between light and dark energies.   

Click here to read an interview with the author

Hera, Queen of Gods by T.D. Thomas
Hera, the queen of the Greek Gods, takes on mortal form in order to search for the missing Fates and prevent catastrophe from befalling existence.
Click here to read an interview with the author.

The Hidden Ones by Nancy Madore
A woman, kidnapped by a secret society who believe her to be the demon Lilith, recounts the past searching for information that could prevent a terrorist attack.
Click here to read an interview with the author.     

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Purple Prose

The other day, I was wasting time on Wikipedia when I stumbled upon an article about Amanda McKittrick Ros, who published her novel Irene Iddesleigh back in 1897 at her own expense. Clearly, vanity publishing is nothing new. Ros fancied herself a poet and filled her books with flowery, confusing descriptions, also known as "purple prose." For example, here is the opening line from her novel Delina Delaney:

"Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?"

Huh? What's she talking about? Apparently, this is all a fancy way of describing part of Ireland. Unfortunately, this kind of writing seems pretty representative of her style, and she was mocked for it back in the day. Writers such as Mark Twain, Lord Beveridge, and Aldous Huxley seemed astounded by her capacity for twisting words in an attempt to sound artistic. Although Ros was ridiculed, she had the last laugh - her book sold well and went down in history, even if it wasn't for the reasons she'd hoped for. I guess you could say she found success in self-publishing before it was cool.

As a reader, purple prose is one of my biggest pet peeves. I find it distracting, perplexing, and, most of all, pretentious. It draws attention to itself in an obnoxious way, as though the writer is saying, "Look at me! Look what I can do!" when really all I want is to be drawn into the story. Whenever I stumble across it, I want to smack the page and say, "Look, author, it's not about you!" In my opinion, the best kind of writing is invisible; that is, it leaves you so engaged in the story, you don't really notice it.

Some writers are very good at using figures of speech to bring their stories to life without taking a reader out of the story. For that, I applaud them. It takes a special kind of skill to weave poetic descriptions into prose and let it melt into the story's plot.

As opposed to this attempt by Ros to describe Delina's job as a seamstress (or something):

"She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father's slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness."

Say what? I'm still scratching my head.