Blog Tour, Guest Post

Blog Tour: A Gathering of Shadows + Guest Post by V.E. Schwab + Giveaway

Gathering of Shadows blog tour

I’m really excited to say that today I am hosting V.E. Schwab, author of the Shades of Magic series, as part of her blog tour for the release of A Gathering of Shadows. I read and reviewed the first book in the series, A Darker Shade of Magic last April, and absolutely loved it. I finished A Gathering of Shadows just a few days ago and loved even more than the first… it’s worth the wait, everyone! I hope to have my review up in the next couple of days. For her post today, Victoria will be answering the question:

If I was a character in A Gathering of Shadows, who would I be and why?

‘This is a hard question to answer, because there’s a difference between who I’d LIKE to be — who I find aspirational — and who I think I actually am. Delilah Bard is flawed in many ways, but she’s also strong in ways I wish I was. She’s unencumbered by fear, doesn’t psych herself out, is willing to shoulder risk for reward. And while I am these things to a certain degree, I know that I’m much more like Kell: neurotic, perpetually concerned by the world around me, and searching for my place in it.

If I had to choose a new character instead of a continuing one, though, I’d say that I’m most like Alucard Emery, the captain of the Night Spire. Alucard is the onion of the series, a character wrapped in layers upon layers, and even in AGOS, we only see the first few. He’s different things to different people, a performer shifting to fit the audience. He knows his strengths, and guards his weaknesses, and he wants to win.’

I really love Victoria’s answer – especially her description of Alucard as the onion of the series! He was definitely my favourite character of the book, and I can’t wait for more of his layers to be revealed! 😉

Thanks so much to Titan Books for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and for sending me a copy of A Gathering of Shadows, and thank you also to Victoria for writing a piece for the blog and of course, writing the book itself! A Gathering of Shadows is out to buy now!

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Guest Post

Guest Post: Freya’s Account of BristolCon, October 2014

Bristolcon

Some of you may remember that in 2013, I went to a science fiction and fantasy convention called BristolCon – it was wonderful to have such a thing in my little corner of England rather than all the way out in London or elsewhere. Unfortunately, as I wasn’t in that little corner of England, or much less England at all, for BristolCon 2014, I couldn’t attend. However, my lovely friend Freya did, and she has kindly written an account of her experience!

BristolCon 2014

Hello peeps – Freya here guest posting for Rinn Reads! Last year I attended BristolCon with Rinn and another of our friends from university which was pretty awesome and had a great time! This year due to a few reasons (Rinn being in another country for starters!), I went book-raiding at BristolCon 2014 as a party of one – it was a good day, but going with friends certainly makes the day – I’m looking at you Rinn for attending a Convention next year!

Guests of Honour this year were: Jon Courtnay Grimwood, Emma Newman and Julian Quaye, with a whole host of other authors appearing on panels, doing readings and signings, including: Paul Cornell, Jaine Fenn, Gareth L. Powell, Adrian Tchaikovsky and many more

There were so many exciting talks and panels going on and it was sometimes difficult to decide which ones to go to! I sadly missed the talk on Modelling the Climate of Tolkien’s Middle Earth (and our Earth) which I am STILL kicking myself over!

Freya's BristolCon haul!
Freya’s BristolCon haul!

I did manage to attend Writing Historical Fantasy which discussed historical accuracy and the pros and cons of sticking to events or being only loosely based in fact. I also went to Sex or Death? where the authors discussed killing characters and how difficult it can be to write a sex scene without it being gratuitous or just ending up a reflection of authors’ preferences and experiences! Amusingly in the same time slot in another room was More Weird Sex – apparently ‘when a mummy alien and a daddy alien who love each other very much…’ or more about bizarre mating and offspring in science fiction.

After a number of mugs of tea and some lunch I went to listen to Garth L. Powell interview Guest of Honour Emma Newman. She is amazing, a lovely person who told me not to apologise for wanting some books signed (I have a habit of sprinkling my sentences with ‘sorry’). She is also very funny with her interview having me in fits and some slightly strange but amusing part about fitting turnips into socks?! She’s a roleplayer, and science fiction short story author though I first heard about her through her Split Worlds trilogy. She also runs a podcast with her author husband Peter Newman called Tea and Jeopardy which just sounds amazing! I would recommend you check out her website where there are free stories (who doesn’t love a free story?). She finished off with a reading of her new science fiction novel called Planetfall which sounds like it is going to be great!

Emma Newman Emma Newman

Finally I attended talks on Writing Non-Human Characters with the challenges that brings of making them relatable but trying not to make them sound like a human in a costume, and finally Rogues, Ruffians, Pirates and Thieves where I queried that although these type of characters are often our favourites in fiction, would we actually like them if they were in the real world, as in fiction the consequences of their actions do not affect us? By this point in the day my stomach was growling for supper and I had a tedious headache so sticking around for the evening boardgaming they were planning to do after last year’s pilot was not going to happen for me and I headed home with my goodies from the day.

My goodie bag had a free book by Michael Moorcock, Gloriana, or ‘The Unfulfilled Queen’ and I got books two and three of the Split Worlds Trilogy by Emma Newman signed, Jaine Fenn’s Downside Girls and Principles of Angels signed, and Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky signed. The dealers room had a brilliant range of books, graphic novels, jewellery and other goodies being sold and I would have bought a lot more but the Forbidden Planet stall nicked all my money buying books instead (whoops?), however I did want to mention the artwork of Jennie Gyllblad, an illustrator and graphic novel artist who had some beautiful artwork on sale! She has also been writing some of her own graphic novels as well as illustrating them so I suggest you check out her website and take a gander!

Jaine Fenn Jaine Fenn

BristolCon 2015 is earlier than normal on September 26th at the Doubletree Hotel in Bristol. It’s £20 for the day in advance or £25 on the day – really not bad for a Convention price and it’s growing bigger every year. The Guests of Honour for 2015 will be Jasper Fforde, Jaine Fenn and the artist Chris Moore.

Thank you so much to Freya for her account of BristolCon 2014! Have you ever attended BristolCon, or another smaller convention? Do you prefer these sorts of conventions to ones like Comicon?

Guest Post, Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2014: Guest Review of Sirius by Olaf Stapledon

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2014, an event hosted by myself and Oh, the Books!. You can keep up to date by following @SciFiMonth on Twitter, or the official hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Today is a special occasion – I’m hosting one of my best friends, Kleo, on the blog! She’s written a review especially for Sci-Fi Month.

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Goodreads

Hi everyone! I’m Kleo and I’ve been friends with Rinn since we were 9 years old. Rinn and I share a love for sci-fi and when she asked if I would like to write on her blog as part of Sci-Fi Month, I couldn’t wait to pick a book and get reading.

Whoever thought a story based in rural Wales could be the basis for a really good science fiction book? I never would have, until I read the story of Sirius. The story follows Thomas Trelone’s scientific experiment (a Super Sheep Dog named Sirius) as he grows up. The book examines his relationship with the Trelone family and the many ups and downs of being an oddity.

From the book, I really enjoyed the idea of an animal of smarter intelligence. I remember being really interested in Planet of the Apes as a child, and the idea of an animal that humans often treat as inferior to them being in a place of power. Another thing that was really great about this book, was the amount of detail Stapledon went into about Sirius. I work in Mental Health so I found Sirius’ way of thinking incredibly interesting. At points the details led to me feeling really tearful, not something that I can say has happened often! My favourite part of the story was the telling of Sirius as a sheep dog. I will leave it there as I don’t want to spoil it for you!

On the flip side, I found certain parts of the book somewhat unbelievable. As this story seems to be based in reality of the time some of people’s responses to Sirius left me feeling somewhat confused. Without giving too much away I found one scene gave the complete opposite reaction to what I would have expected. He was accepted as a curiosity, whereas I would have thought people would have reacted in horror. I also found Plaxy the other main character’s attitude to Sirius really annoying and at times where I wish I could have shouted at her. I’m guessing it’s what Stapledon wanted the character to be but at the same time it was definitely a disadvantage to the book for me.

I feel this book would suit anyone who enjoys psychology of animals and people who like science fiction based in the real world. From start to finish I was absolutely fascinated by Sirius’ story and related to his struggles of being misunderstood growing up. On Goodreads I gave Sirius five stars because it really surprised me. I just wasn’t expecting the book to be this good. If you ever have chance to read it please do. I will be giving Rinn my copy to borrow once she is home for Christmas.

Blog Tour, Guest Post

Blog Tour + Guest Post: Adam-Troy Castro, Book of Apex Vol 4

Book of Apex Blog Tour

Here is my fourth and final post as part of the Book of Apex Volume 4 Blog Tour – a guest post by author Adam-Troy Castro. As part of the tour so far I’ve shared my review of the Book of Apex Volume 4, an interview with Adam-Troy Castro and an interview with author Rahul Kanakia.

Things Seen By The Story Guy

by Adam-Troy Castro

You see, the thing is, I’m a story guy.

I would be a story guy even if I wasn’t also a writer of fiction and therefore a producer of stories myself.

My hunger for story is insatiable; it is in large part what drives me. It probably drives me too much. I live what is very likely too much of my life following lies about nonexistent people, caring about them as if their troubles impact my own.

I can bore you senseless, just on the subject of Batman.

But part of being enamored of any form of art is growing so familiar with its various manifestations that you recognize when a practitioner has done a half-assed job. This makes us incomprehensible pains in the ass to those whose love of the art in question is not quite so fervent.

As a story guy, I am therefore in the position I observe when a music guy (or for that matter gal) insists on telling me that a certain song is a three-finger exercise, a piece of hackwork shit, when I am less sophisticated myself and know only that it’s something I can hum.

Few things demoralize a story guy more than when we point out that a given story contradicts its own premises, makes up its rules as it goes along, makes no sense, depends entirely on you completely forgetting in any given five minutes what happened five minutes earlier, and is morally reprehensible to boot, and the friend not a story guy sniffs, why do you have to analyze everything? Can’t we just, you know, enjoy it?

Yes, I suppose you can.
If you’re not a story guy.
Me, I always see where the scaffolding has been left behind when the story has been declared done.
Always.

Even in classics.

I see how this one brilliant writer I can name, whose talent I venerate and whose prose is driven by rich sensual description and an unerring sense of place, inevitably runs into a wall at the two-thirds mark of his novels, when he realizes that the story he’s been writing will soon have to be wrapped up; and he’s still only midway through the first act. I see how his prose becomes less lush, how his narrative speeds up to the point of desperation, and how he is all too clearly in the part of his tale that he didn’t plan for and must somehow wrench to an end anyway. I see that this never quite works. I still think he’s brilliant. But plot is not something he excels at.

I see how one very popular series of novels works only because the writer happens to be very good at making sure you don’t ask some pressing questions about its universe. I further notice that there was a vast and important element of the background that the writer just didn’t want to get into at all, and that the solution was having everybody tell you that the only person who could tell you about it was so boring he put people to sleep. I see how this fulfills the desired function of putting all that dull stuff aside, and I have actually praised the solution as perversely brilliant. But I also see how it renders the narrative all foreground, dependent on you the reader not asking questions you might otherwise be moved to ask.

I see how in this classic epic story that the entire world loves, the writer maneuvered himself into a situation where his characters were so thoroughly screwed that the only way to get them out of trouble was to invent a whole bunch of previously unestablished supernatural allies. I see how this story is driven by many such cases of the author playing favorites with his characters, acting as a kind of benevolent God to make sure they all make it through okay. I see how this becomes harder and harder to ignore on subsequent exposures.

I see how in one of the greatest books in all of American history, the writer established a murder mystery, somehow didn’t find the time to get back to it in a story that happened to be about matters richer to the human condition; and how, with the end of the book in sight, he threw in some half-assed shit on the last page, just to wrap it up.

I see how in one of the most important works by one of our most beloved genre writers, he found himself wandering around for the length of a shorter book trying to find the story again; and how he finally did find it again, and how he managed to hide the fact that what happens between then and the end of the book still doesn’t quite work.

I see how one of the greatest works by one of the greatest writers who ever lived builds to an unbearable tragedy at about the 2/3 mark, that results in the protagonist being estranged from his whole support system; and how he simply returns not long afterward to grins and smiles and to disastrous consequences that an idiot would have been able to see coming.

I see how another great work by yet another of the greatest writers who ever lived depends on coincidence; how a love story subplot is the deadly dull poison pill at the center of it; how the young couple involved are pretty damn intolerable; how it is impossible to go without that subplot but it’s less a compelling story element of its own than a McGuffin that wrenches a lengthy tale into its final act.

These are all books.

One of my favorite movies is built around the search for all-important documents that, at the end, don’t have much to do with anything. Another depends on a ruthless villain somehow failing to do the most practical thing, which she has actually threatened to do. Another depends on a trapped protagonist not realizing until the last five minutes that he can defuse a dangerous situation by doing something that he could have done hours earlier.

These are all, mind you, things I see in stories I love.

They are all real examples, so real that I suspect story guys (and gals) reading these words may be able to identify the individual works by their capsule descriptions.

I am still capable of loving the stories I cite because I also see what they do well. I see how they illuminate. I see how they resonate. I see how they are flawed gems and not just rickety structures. I get to the point where I regard the flaws I’ve mentioned with bemused affection, as the imperfect elements that make the surrounding beauty possible. I see the achievement. But I can feel solidarity with even the greatest of writers, losing rhythm while spinning plates.

So when I point at some much lesser work and say, no, this doesn’t work at all because of this, this, this, and this; when I conclude that the sins overwhelm the virtues, and that the story just isn’t very good; when people accuse me of being a picky scold out to ruin things for everybody else, I absolutely understand how they feel.

But I’m a story guy.

I honestly can’t help myself.

And when your defense of a work you love is a sputtering, “It’s just a story! You’re over thinking it! It doesn’t HAVE to make sense!”, I simply don’t understand you at all.

Guest Post, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: A Tribute to Mass Effect + Guest Post from John Sutherland

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Mass Effect is my absolute favourite game series, and today I want to pay tribute to it and also share with you a guest post written by John Sutherland, the Story Doctor of the games, where he discusses story development within the series. So whether you’re already a fan, or are interested in playing it, I hope you enjoy my little tribute. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

 

In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.

They called it the greatest discovery in human history.

The civilizations of the galaxy call it… MASS EFFECT.

 

Firstly, I apologise in advance for the length of this post – when I love something, I tend to waffle. A lot. And I love playing video games – although I don’t spend all my time playing them, I generally spend several hours a week flitting between various games. I have this really bad habit of playing everything at once, and as a result it’s quite rare for me to actually complete a game. I had Portal 2 saved about thirty seconds before end-game for months and months, because I was playing other things.

Mass Effect, however, is a totally different story.

I remember being aware of the series for years before playing it. One of my exes had the game for Xbox, and then a later ex-boyfriend said he thought I might enjoy the game. So I downloaded the demo on Steam and that was it – I was completely and utterly enthralled. Instead of my usual habit of letting a game last forever, I had to keep playing, I had to know what was going to happen – and I’ve finished all three games several times. I pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 as soon as I could, it was released during exam period, and I actually could not wait to play it – so I abandoned revision for it. But I did just fine, so it’s okay 😉

So what’s so great about Mass Effect? Oh, so so many things…

 
 

Although the plot is quite complicated in places, the basic outline is that the player assumes the role of Commander Shepard, the first human ‘Spectre’ (a sort of intergalactic special forces agent), and must investigate a Prothean artifact – Protheans being an ancient alien race, who have long died out. However, Shepard discovers the existence of the Reapers, another ancient alien race who seem hellbent on exterminating all life. And now it is up to Shepard to stop them.

Default Male and Female Shepard
 

Whilst that may sound pretty typical – evil aliens, only one hero who can get in their way, etc – there are so many extra points, so many twists and turns and absolutely wonderful moments that just make the game what it is. You can make your own Shepard at the start of the game, so you can be male or female, and the best part – you make all of the decisions. Faced with a problem, you choose the solution. You can go down the path of righteousness (Paragon), be a bad-ass rebel (Renegade) or take a more neutral stance.

The way you act towards others, the choices you make and the actions you take – they all matter. Each decision has an effect on future events. For example, one choice might result in the death of a friend – or you could save their life. And to make it even better, your choices are carried over from one game to the next. It means that you’re completely invested in every choice and instead of just flicking through the cutscenes you really listen.

 
 

The main reason I am so invested in my choices? Because I want the amazing cast of characters to live. 

First of all, Shepard is a brilliant character, whatever path you take. The voice acting is outstanding, and Paragon Shepard = a total role model, Renegade Shepard = sassy and hilarious. This video kind of says it all (plus it has some great clips):

Here are the squadmates from all three games, plus a few other major characters:

From left to right, top to bottom: Ashley Williams, Garrus Vakarian, Kaidan Alenko, Liara T’Soni, Tali’Zorah vas Normandy, Urdnot Wrex, Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau, Urdnot Grunt, Jack, Jacob Taylor, Kasumi Goto, Legion, Miranda Lawson, Mordin Solus, Morinth, Samara, Thane Krios, Zaeed Massani, [I’m leaving this name out because it’s a potential spoiler!], James Vega, Javik, Captain David Anderson, The Illusive Man and Kai Leng.

My favourite character? Garrus Vakarian, hands down. He is my love interest in both the second and third games (he’s not a choice in the first, boo hoo). He was a security officer for the Citadel (the main deep space station in the game), but after a certain event becomes a figurehead for justice and completely proves himself. His relationship with Shepard, should you choose the romance path, is so sweet. In fact I’m sure all the relationships in the game are really well-built, but I only ever pick Garrus! 

Shepard and Garrus share a moment.

The game also has a stellar cast – many of you will probably recognise Joker’s voice, as he is played by Seth Green.

Well I already spoke a little about relationships, but let me tell you – this series really pulls at the heartstrings. The characters are so wonderfully built that, as with awesome book series, you become so attached and can’t bear anything bad happening to them. And if you’re not careful, it will. In the third game, I didn’t move quick enough, and it resulted in the death of a character. Another time, I made the wrong decision and effectively destroyed the homeworld of one of my favourite characters – who then killed themself. Which made me SCREAM at my computer, and I redid the level completely so I could save them.

And then there’s moments like this, interaction between various characters:

 

A moment between Garrus and Shepard, showing their relationship. There are moments between the two towards the end of the third and final game that actually made me sob like a baby.
 

As Mass Effect is set on many different planets, the player can experience so many different types of locations. And Bioware do not disappoint: there are so many beautiful landscapes to be seen, so much wonderful architecture.

Some examples:

 

All three games have fantastic music, but it’s the soundtrack to the second and third games that really stirs up my emotions. Because I love playlists, here’s a  list of my favourite tracks from the games!

 

 

I’m really excited to be able to share with you today a guest post by Mass Effect Story Doctor, John Sutherland! Thank you so much to John for taking the time to write up something for my blog. 

Thoughts on the Story Development in Mass Effect

by John Sutherland

For a story to be effective in a video game, everything has to go right. Games are the most collaborative story form I can think of — moreso than film, even. The writer has to stay involved with all parts of production, and everyone has to both understand how story works, and be an ally of story through the whole process, or all is lost.

Witness the example of Mass Effect, on which I was the Story Doctor from the Microsoft end, and which is the result of a lot of important things happening together. It was not created in a vacuum by the writers. The original ideas for the story came out of meetings at Bioware with Lead Writer Drew Karpyshyn, Lead Designer Preston Watamaniuk, and Producer Casey Hudson.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a producer who understands story. Casey was a big fan of the TV series Lost, which was in its early seasons at the time, and which Casey described as “a storytelling clinic.” (Is it public knowledge that that’s why the player character is named Commander Shepard, after Jack Shepard in the show? Anyway, it’s true.)

My official title was Lead Writer on the project at Microsoft, which really meant I was in charge of making sure the story structure and pacing worked, and that this team of four writers from Bioware all sounded like one narrative voice.

Bioware’s ambitions were high. Very high.

Microsoft had signed the game in the hope of publishing a different game, and based on the strength of the team, which had just produced Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic (everyone in the industry just calls it KOTOR), to great critical acclaim and pretty good sales.

But Bioware declared that they were going to make “the ultimate science fiction story game,” and most people at Microsoft, frankly, were skeptical at this boldness. Bioware had just worked on one of the most iconic science fiction franchises in the world, and now they thought they were going to do what? When I came onto the project, someone on the Microsoft leads team gave me the story summary and said they just didn’t understand it. It looked like a mess to them, like Bioware didn’t know what they were doing.

But it wasn’t true. Story structure in games was my specialty, and I could see that their story had all the right bones. It turned in all the right places, had great reversals, drove interest forward, and paid off all its promises. I think one of my best accomplishments on this game was just advocating for Bioware’s work within Microsoft.

The conflicts were very solid, and helped the game resonate at a lot of levels. The big conflict, organic life versus machines, would expand through all three games. I heard people say, this has been done before. Look at Halo. Look at The Matrix. Yes, but big themes, big fears, are worth revisiting in new ways.

There was also a lot of topical resonance in the conflict between humans and other races. In Mass Effect, humans had just discovered faster than light travel, and this had led to a rapid, often clumsy expansion through parts of the universe that were new to them, but really quite old and established. Keep in mind, this was in 2006, when the relatively young upstart Americans were stumbling into ancient Baghdad, and not everything was going the way their ideologue leaders had promised. The half of the country that didn’t already know it was a bad idea started to wake up to the disaster. Interesting commentary from our Canadian friends. It may not have registered on a conscious level for many players, but it was there, and it made the story richer to have the hero sometimes resented by other characters, and sometimes for good reasons. Heroes in games are often so righteous and uncomplicated that there’s no interest at all.

So my big concern as we went through production was not the story’s structure or themes, but the pacing. KOTOR was a very good game, but it was slow. The process of making each story decision involved reading through three paragraphs.

Bioware’s invention of the conversation wheel helped enormously, but the longer dialog that played after the players made their story choices needed to be much more efficient if this was going to play like cinema.

But once it did that, it had all of the elements of a well-told story, and in the final product was pleasing that people related to it just as we hoped they would. Despite the early misunderstandings, the working relationship between Microsoft and Bioware was excellent, a real model for how respectful, creative publisher-developer cooperation should work. I wish more games turned out that way.

John Sutherland has been a Story Doctor and game writer for over fourteen years. He was the Story Doctor of Mass Effect, as well as the contributing writer of the Alan Wake video game series. Forthcoming works include Murdered: Soul Suspect. You can find out more about John and his services at VidGameStory.com.

Thank you so much to John for contributing to Sci-Fi Month (and for being a part of the awesome story of Mass Effect, of course)!

Just a collection of Mass Effect related links and videos:

Have you played the games, or have I sparked your interest? Did you enjoy reading John’s guest post? Let me know in the comments!

 

Giveaway, Guest Post, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Guest Post by Author Nick Cole

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Today, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I’d like to share a guest post, written by author Nick Cole. Nick’s most recent work, The Wasteland Saga, a collection of his three novels, has been published by HarperCollins. Thank you also to HarperCollins for contacting Nick on my behalf. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Conan in the Post Apocalypse

Guest post by Nick Cole

A few years back I wrote a novel called The Old Man and the Wasteland. I had some good success with the initial Indie Explosion and was asked by HarperVoyager to produce a sequel. I agreed.

The Old Man and the Wasteland is the story of a salvager surviving in the Post American Apocalyptic Southwest. He’s only had one book to read for the last forty years and that book is Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It’s adventurous and meditative. It’s close to Jack London and it falls in style somewhere between Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. Or at least that was my intention. A lot of people liked it. So, for the second book I wanted to give people a bigger taste of the New American Dark Ages as set forth in the first book. I wanted to show its savagery and civilizations. I wanted to show what mankind does to itself after forty years of lawlessness and survival by any means. To do that, I needed another character besides the Old Man, the hero of the first book. I needed someone who was half savage, half civilized. Someone who was introspective and possessed a greater perspective than just the regional, local politics of some outpost survivor. And because the New American Dark Ages are especially violent, I needed a warrior.

I’ll stop there.

Here’s how I wrote the first book. In a nutshell, I’m a big fan of the Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I was playing a Post-Apocalyptic video game called Fallout 3. One day I thought, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be neat if Santiago’s story (yes, that is Hemingway’s fisherman’s name) was set after a nuclear war?” That was the jumping off point for my book. Instead of it being Santiago, it became an Old Man whose favorite book is the one Santiago is the hero of: The Old Man and the Sea. In fact my Old Man liked Santiago so much, he’d become such a real friend to my Old Man, that he’d begun to talk to Santiago as if he were real.

How did I become such a big fan of The Old Man and the Sea? Well, I fell off a building. Yes, I fell off a building and broke my arm one summer and I had to spend the rest of the summer sitting by the pool and reading since I couldn’t go in the water. I can read a lot, about a book or two a day. So of course I began to frequent a used book store because of the expensive nature of my addiction, and that is where, one hot afternoon when the old book smell seemed like a sweet blanket in the back of the store, I discovered The Old Man and the Sea.

It resonated within me. I was down and out. I’d gotten out of the Army and I was floundering. People were giving up on me. I had given up on me. Exactly like Santiago in Hemingway’s book felt on the morning he began to row out farther into the gulf than he’d ever gone before. He would either catch the big fish or never come back. So, it was a very inspirational story to me. It’s a good book. You should read it. It’s very short.

I was also reading a lot of other books that summer. Among which, I discovered the works of R.E. Howard, a little known West Texas pulp writer who no one ever heard of while he was alive. He wrote prodigiously and died tragically young. If you’ve heard of Conan the Barbarian, he’s the guy who developed the character. Conan was a long process for him. If you read some of his earlier works you begin to see other characters that are early models of the black-haired, blue-eyed Cimmerian, Conan. Most people have an idea of Conan in their heads and it’s  probably a poor idea due to the movies that have been made and the actors who have portrayed him. So, to set the record straight, Conan is, yes, a barbarian. In modern terms, he comes from a group of survivalist/preppers that have decided the ways of civilization don’t work for them and they choose to live high in the mountains, out of the reach of gentrified society. They eschew wealth and the finer things in favor of strength, competence and self-reliance.

Now, Hollywood has a tendency to see the word “Barbarian” and immediately cast a stereotype. “Dumb, stupid, hulking, muscle-bound, savage, prone to reasonless rage,” might read the casting call breakdown. Conan, this is not.

In the Hyperborean world, the world Howard set Conan in, Conan is often a fish out of water. Citified ways and customs seem alien and stupid to him. Lies, deceptions, and connivery lack the importance of integrity, one’s word, and the contests of skill and strength he prefers to measure himself and others by.


And here’s the really amazing thing about Conan: Howard wrote him as having a high IQ. No formal learning, no education, but a vast intelligence. Which is a stunningly brilliant character choice. The execution comes off almost flawlessly because Conan can never realize he is actually smarter than everyone else. His actions must prove it, which fit nicely with his outmoded, at least in Hyperborea, moral code. Thus Conan has an affinity for languages and tactics and reason. His mind is unclouded by the petty politics and social mores of a dozen competing world views that we find in the Hyperborean world. Everyone perceives Conan as a savage because of his dress, his lack of connections, his outlander appearance, his brute exterior. They perceive him thus and they immediately assign him a small role in their worldview, which is their first big mistake.
Everyone underestimates Conan because of his appearance.

Here’s a typical Conan Novel scenario: Conan wanders into a town. Conan drinks a lot, eats a lot, and meets a pretty and shamelessly immoral woman. Conan then needs money because what the drink and the food haven’t seen to, the pretty immoral woman has made off with. Conan’s massive intelligence often fails its saving throw when a comely wench enters the story.

Now, within the novel there’s probably some kind of power struggle going on in the town, region, or kingdom. Plans laid are coming to fruition. Both sides perceive Conan to be little more than a pawn in their evil schemes to attain power. Both sides try to at once enlist and/or destroy Conan. By the end of the novel, Conan has most likely:

a.) slain a lot of people
b.) turned the tables on both sides and ended up making off with all their money and prizes which were the focus of each faction’s efforts
and…
c.) He’s met an even prettier, not so immoral girl.

Did I mention a lot of people get killed very violently?

So, I had my character archetype for the next novel in The Wasteland Saga. I called him the Boy. He’s disabled. One side of him is super strong, but the other side is withered because of all the nuclear background radiation. He’s got an affinity for the savage pidgin-speak of the mass of tribes that have formed in lieu of civilization. The Possum Hunters. The Psychos. The DeathKnights… etc. And he’s really good with weapons and tactics. His mentor is the last surviving U.S. Soldier. Staff Sergeant Lyman Julius Presley. Together they’ve journeyed across the entire United States to arrive in the overgrown ruins of Washington D.C. to see if the government has survived the nuclear annihilation of the entire planet.

There’s some Conan in the Boy. He’s a peerless warrior. He’s often underestimated because of his disability. He’s been raised by the last living voice of an America that disappeared in a blinding flash. He’s a fish out of water in all of these bang and rattle salvage outposts. He has no tribe, no people, and no language that isn’t someone else’s. And yet he must live. He must live one more day, each day, relying only on his wits and strength to survive in a world gone into savage darkness. But there are other aspects to the Boy. There’s Shakespeare’s Romeo. Because what young man doesn’t fall in love at least once and sometimes forever? And then there’s a little of “us” in the Boy. Because like us, the Boy is trying to find out who he is. Just like we are, every day, in every thing we do.

We’re trying to answer the question of who we are.

The Savage Boy is the story of a young man trying to answer that question in a world no one today would recognize. There are hints and rumors and shadows of what once was, among the fallen skyscrapers and crumbling roads of the New American Dark Ages. And like us, like Howard’s Conan, we must fight to survive one more day, every day, and maybe we will find the answer to all our questions. Maybe we will find out who we are.

About the Novels

Years after a nuclear holocaust, a sense of normalcy has settled over the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was once Yuma, Arizona, and the survivors don’t need to fight for life quite so hard. But one Old Man has nothing but his survivor’s instincts. Nothing but those, his bad luck, and a battered, read and re-read copy of The Old Man and the Sea. A cross between Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, The Old Man and the Wasteland takes readers on an odyssey into the dark heart of the Post-Apocalyptic American southwest in an incredible tale of survival and endurance. One man must survive the desert wilderness and mankind gone savage to discover the truth of Hemingway’s classic tale of man versus nature.
 
Armageddon has long since happened; a thermonuclear apocalypse has ravaged the landscape of America and turned it into a wilderness straight out of the Dark Ages of man. Barbaric tribes run rampant and dole out chaos and terror with no regard for the morals, safety, or sanity of others. In the midst of the hellish Wasteland, a young soldier boy is tasked with a final mission from his dying commanding officer: go to California and join up with members of a fractured army. With nothing but his horse and lessons from a dying man, The Savage Boy undertakes an epic journey across the Wasteland—from which he may never emerge.
 
The Old Man returns… only to set out on his most dangerous journey yet. With his granddaughter in tow, he sets out across a post-apocalyptic wasteland to free a group of survivors trapped beneath a mountain in the underground bunker at NORAD. They trek across the desert, riddled with the terrors of insane vagrants, infected with radiation poisoning, and head into the dangerous tribal territory of the Apaches, rescuing a mysterious Boy in the desert along the way. This is King Lear as viewed through a gritty, post-apocalyptic lens, and the madness becomes tangible as our heroes confront the infamous and unsettling King Charlie—a maniacal fool bent on the nonsense of utopia.
 
Published in one volume as The Wasteland Saga, you can find out how to purchase the book here.
 

About the Author


Nick Cole is a working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by the students of various film schools for their projects, he can often be found as a guard for King Phillip the Second of Spain in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera or some similar role. Nick Cole has been writing for most of his life and acting in Hollywood after serving in the U.S. Army.

Giveaway

Thank you to Harper Voyager for providing the prize, which is one copy of The Wasteland Saga. The giveaway is US only I’m afraid, sorry to my readers from elsewhere! (giveaway removed after migration to WordPress)
Guest Post, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: ‘Dragon Riding – Science or Fantasy?’ – a guest post by Katherine Roberts


Today, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I have a guest post written by the wonderful Katherine Roberts, author of The Echorium Sequence, The Seven Fabulous Wonders series, and most recently The Pendragon LegacyDon’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Dragon Riding – Science or Fantasy?

by Katherine Roberts

It was Anne McCaffrey who first introduced me to dragon riding. As a teenager, I devoured her Pern books, set on an alien planet colonised by humans who have bred dragons to help them fight off an alien spore called Thread, which falls from the Red Star. Although strictly science fiction, these books have a fantasy feel because the colonists have forgotten most of their early history, and no longer have space flight.

Anne McCaffrey’s dragons are amazing, beautiful creatures of different colours, from aristocratic golds, through bronzes and blues, to the lowly greens. They can fly ‘between’ space and time, and form an emotional bond with their riders upon hatching known as ‘impression’ – a bond so strong that the death of one partner often means the suicide of the other. My favourite books from the Pern series are “Dragonsinger” about a girl from a sea-hold who becomes a friend of dragons and a Harper, and “The White Dragon” about the son of a Lord Holder, who accidentally impresses the white runt of the hatching ground.

Many other authors have written about dragons and dragon riders, of course. J.R.R. Tolkien had his terrifying Black Riders, or Nazgul, who start off on horseback and progress to flying on what is surely dragonback during their hunt for Frodo and his friends in The Lord of the Rings:

“It was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was…” (from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien)

In this case, the dragons are villains rather than heroes, at one with their dark riders in their pursuit of the prey.

Tolkien’s Nazgul (fair use, copyright John Howe – image source)
Tolkien’s Nazgul (fair use, copyright John Howe – image source)

Friendly dragons are popular in books and films for children, including Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider and the TV series Merlin, where a dragon advises the young wizard. More recently, I came across dragons in Julia Golding’s Young Knights series, where they are the unwilling slaves of the Fey, kept chained in the dark until they have lost their bright colours.

On the non-fiction side, my publisher Templar produced Dragonology with its beautiful jewelled covers for students of dragon lore. And Peter Dickinson wrote a wonderful book Flight of Dragons, which takes a scientific approach to dragons, examining how it’s possible for them to breathe fire and fly.

Dragons were always going to feature in my Pendragon Legacy series, since Pendragon means ‘head dragon’. But I take a different approach to dragon riding, as my books are set in the Dark Ages after the Romans left Britain when dragons are thought to be extinct – killed off by heroic knights from the old stories rescuing damsels in distress.

Shadrake - artwork by Scott Altmann
Shadrake – artwork by Scott Altmann

King Arthur’s shield bears a red dragon design, scarred by battle. In the first book Sword of Light Merlin takes this shield from the dying king’s body and gives it to Arthur’s daughter, Rhianna, because he thinks she’s going to need it to defend herself against her evil cousin Mordred. The shield comes in useful when the first live dragon appears in the shape of an ice-breathing shadrake from the dark land of Annwn, which chases Rhianna and her friends when they leave the safety of Avalon.

The third book of my series takes Rhianna and her friends to Dragonland in search of Arthur’s crown, which was stolen by a dragon from the battlefield when the king fell and carried off to its lair. The Pendragon crown turns out to contain the ancient secret of dragon riding, hidden in one of the jewels as you might store data on a computer disk. When Rhianna wears the crown she can access its secrets, and her spirit escapes her body to fly with the nearest dragon. This is a useful skill, since it means she can see through the dragon’s eyes – but it also leaves her body chained in the dark at Mordred’s mercy.

My own theory of dragons is that they were dinosaurs, which somehow survived whatever disaster wiped out their species on Earth, and (being long-lived reptiles) lingered on into the middle ages to terrorise people. I can easily imagine hot-blooded young knights, in search of adventure or reward, riding out on dragon hunts to kill them. The poor creatures would probably have holed up in the high wild places, maybe breeding occasionally, but struggling to survive in Earth’s new climate and eventually dying out as humans took over. Did anybody actually ride them? I can’t say for sure, but there are just too many stories and legends to dismiss dragons as pure fantasy!

About the author

Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award in 2000 and writes fantasy and historical fantasy for young readers. The final book in her Pendragon Legacy series Grail of Stars is published this month by Templar in hardcover, and the first three titles are now available in hardcover, paperback or ebook.

More details at www.katherineroberts.co.uk or Twitter @AuthorKatherine. I also interviewed Katherine back in August.