The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

DickTheManInTheHighCastleNarrator: Jeff Cummings

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2015)

Length: 9 hours 58 minutes

Author’s Page

In this alternate history, the US and it’s allies lost WWII in the 1940s. The US in 1962 is divided up between Germany and Japan, with an unoccupied strip in the middle following the Rocky Mountain Range. A banned novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is read by many of the main characters, influencing their choices, but perhaps not as much as the popular I Ching.

It was very interesting visiting this SF classic after having watched the first season of the TV series. Juliana is one of the few ladies to have a full name and a role in the plot. She’s Frank Frink’s ex-wife and lives in Canon City in the neutral Mountain States teaching martial arts. Meanwhile, Frank is still in San Francisco working at a metalsmith’s shop. He’s one of a shrinking number of Jewish Americans living in the Japanese occupied states. For me, it was these two characters that I initially gravitated towards the most.

A Mountain States author wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy some years ago and it was initially banned in all Axis occupied lands. However, Japan lifted it’s ban and this has allowed the book to spread a bit. This book depicts a world in which the Allies won; the book’s WWII outcome doesn’t reflect our historical reality but provides yet another possible scenario which I found interesting. Most of the main characters have an interaction with this book and each character’s reaction is a bit different. Juliana becomes a bit obsessed with the book after she meets a truck driver, Joe Cinnadella, who let her borrow his copy.

I didn’t particularly like Juliana after she hooked up with Joe. Her character really had this shift that I didn’t find fully believable. I also noticed the same thing happen with Robert Childan, the man who runs a San Francisco antiques store. Both characters change direction and are then used by the plot. It felt like PKD wrote a quarter of this novel, set it aside, and when he came back to it he decided he wanted to take a different path but was too lazy to rewrite these characters to fit what came next. Instead, he just has this rather swift shift in character for each of them that feels unnatural the rest of the book.

While there is not much more than a peek into Nazi-occupied US, we do hear quite a bit about the Germans. They have a huge advantage in technology, so much so that they are sending Germans to Mars and Venus to colonize them. Japan is increasingly falling behind in their tech and tensions continue to mount between these two world powers. I did get a giggle out of the apparent jump in tech and science (colonizing Mars) and yet the Germans and Japanese continue to use tape recorders. I just had to keep in mind that this book was originally published in 1962 and many authors, even the SF greats, rarely saw any tech beyond physical recordings on some sort of plastic strip.

The story winds up the reader, tightening the tension with each chapter. Some characters are just trying to get by. Others are actively assisting the German government in maintaining their current world dominance. Some few are interested in finding a way out of this Germany/Japanese controlled world for everyone. Yet even as the story reaches what I was expecting to be the final crescendo, nothing truly big happens at the end. Most of our characters are still, for the most part, stuck in their various situations trying to find a way out. Nothing is truly resolved. Since I wasn’t fully invested in the characters, I was OK with that. This novel was pretty mediocre for me.

I received a free copy of this book from eStories in exchange for a review of their audiobook services. Their service is set up much the same as other audiobook platforms. When you sign up, you get 1 audiobook for free and you have this free audiobooks trial period as well. There’s also the free audiobooks download app for iPhone or Android. Keep in mind, my experience is for this single book. Nowhere on their website does it say that you can download to a PC or laptop, so I had to clarify that with a representative before I agreed to give their services a try since 90% of my audiobook listening happens on a laptop. Once I signed up, I picked out my book, I went to my eStories library, and there is a DOWNLOAD button, which I clicked. I was expecting options to pop up – various formats, perhaps a eStories specific player for computers (or links to Windows Media Player or iTunes), etc. However, instead it just started downloading a zip file full of the MP3s for my book. Now, for me, this was fine. Once fully downloaded in my Download Folder, I wanted to move my audiobook to another folder but the move failed completely and I had to redownload. (I don’t know if the failed download was due to corrupted files or not, but considering the small difficulty with the Android player, that might well be the case.) Later on, since we were headed out on a road trip, we downloaded the same book from eStories to my man’s Android cellphone. The download went swiftly, however there was some minor corruption of each MP3 file. Each file ended with a random sentence fragment taken from that file. At first, we thought the eStories player was cutting off the last word or two of the chapter but a spot check of my laptop audiobook revealed what was happening (though not the why of it). I informed my contact of this and the info was passed on to the tech team, so hopefully that is already fixed if you go to use the Android player. Browsing their selection is pretty good – genre, length, abridged or unabridged, etc. They don’t have as big a selection as Audible.com but they do have some small publishers and indie authors/narrators as well as the big publishing houses. You can create a Wish List as well. One cool thing is that you can upload any audiobook from your computer to your eStories library and from there listen to it on your Android or iPhone. I haven’t tried this yet but I like the idea for Librivox audiobooks for my husband’s Android. Each book has a detailed description – author, narrator, publisher, length, series, etc. However, unlike other platforms, I can’t click on the series and have all the books in the series pop up. Overall, eStories has potential.

The Narration:  Jeff Cummings was OK. He did fine with regional American accents but his foreign accents were pretty rough, especially his Italian accent. He did do a good job imbuing the characters with emotions at the right times. 

What I Liked: It was an interesting look into a world where WWII had a different outcome; Frank Frink is an interesting character; Having the US divided up into 3 sections gives a view into 3 different sets of human standards; use of the I Ching; the alternate WWII ending in the fictitious book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

What I Disliked: Juliana is one of the few female characters; a few characters have sudden shifts in their outlooks and then their motives feel forced the rest of the book; no real look into German-occupied US; the story winds us up and then just leaves us; narration was a little rough with foreign accents.

VintageScifiBadgeVintage SciFi Month! This book was originally published in 1962, and being of the alternate history SF genre, it easily qualifies for my Vintage SF challenge. Hooray! Anyone is welcome to join the yearly Vintage SF Month!

What Others Think:

Philip K. Dick Fan Site

Conceptual Fiction

Prometheus Unbound

Infinity Plus

Rat Race Refuge

Man of la Book

Audiobook Giveaway & Interview: S. C. Flynn, Author of Children of the Different

FlynnChildrenOfTheDifferentEveryone, please give a warm welcome to author S. C. Flynn. I’ve quite enjoyed his Australian dystopian novel Children of the Different. Today, we chat about survival quests, making up stories in grain bins, a Doctor Who debate, and plenty more! Also, don’t miss the GIVEAWAY at the end of this post – an Audible.com version of Children of the Different, narrated by Stephen Briggs

If you were sent on a survival quest, which other 4 post-apocalyptic/dystopian authors would you take with you?

SCF: Margaret Atwood, because she would be our high priestess and could communicate in all known languages and cultural situations. David Brin, because he would invent anything we needed. Hugh Howey, because he would have plenty of time to tell me the secret of publishing success. Jeff VanderMeer, because of his experience in organising expeditions and group endeavours. 

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you choose to do?

SCF: Jazz musician. I grew up playing trumpet in my dad’s band.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

SCF: I really like finding new bloggers and serious readers. I have made lots of good online friends. The biggest challenge is simply finding the time to keep up with what everyone else is doing.

What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

SCF: I always wanted to hide away and make up stories. I grew up in country Australia, and I used to sit in a wheat bin, where I was away from everyone and free to invent things; there’s a photo somewhere of me in there. Back then, I didn’t think in terms of being a writer as such, but I was already on the path.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

SCF: Mary Shelley: spaghetti and clams. James Tiptree Jr: steak and chips, beer, neat whisky, with port and cigar afterwards. H.G. Wells: steak and kidney pie.. Jack Vance: fillet of black marlin. Philip K Dick: Baked Ubik.

What do you do when you are not writing?

SCF: Not much music these days, unfortunately! Reading, watching films.

What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

SCF: The best era of classic Doctor Who (the 3rd Doctor, by the way, even though it was before my time…).

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

SCF: 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne; I still liked it last time I read it! 

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

SCF: This interview is part of a blog tour for “Children of the Different” that is running every day on various sites and podcasts till early October; details of what I am doing and where can be found on my site, www.scflynn.com

Thanks for your time.

SCF: Thank you, Susan!

About the Author

S. C. Flynn was born in a small town in South West Western Australia. He has lived in Europe for a long time; first the United Kingdom, then Italy and currently Ireland, the home of his ancestors. He still speaks English with an Australian accent, and fluent Italian.

He reads everything, revises his writing obsessively and plays jazz. His wife Claudia shares his passions and always encourages him.

S. C. Flynn has written for as long as he can remember and has worked seriously towards becoming a writer for many years. This path included two periods of being represented by professional literary agents, from whom he learnt a lot about writing, but who were unable to get him published.

He responded by deciding to self-publish his post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, Children of the Different and, together with an American support team, aimed for a book as good as those created by the major publishers.

S. C. Flynn blogs on science fiction and fantasy at scflynn.com. He is on Twitter @scyflynn and on Facebook. Join his email newsletter list here.

Book Blurb for Children of the Different

FlynnChildrenOfTheDifferentNineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and either emerge with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.

In the great forest of south-western Australia, thirteen year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.

After their Changings, the twins have powers that let them fight their enemy and face their destiny on a long journey to an abandoned American military base on the north-west coast of Australia. If they can reach it before time runs out.

CHILDREN OF THE DIFFERENT is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel set among the varied landscapes and wildlife of Western Australia.

Purchase Links

Amazon US             Amazon UK              Amazon Australia

GIVEAWAY!

S. C. Flynn is offering up an Audible.com audiobook of Children of the Different. You can enter the Rafflecopter below or you can answer these questions in the comments: 1) Do you have an Audible.com account? 2) What do you do when you’re not reading? 3) Please leave a way to contact you if you win. Giveaways ends October 17, 2016, midnight.

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Flynnchildrenofthedifferentfinalanimation2

Interview: Gary & George of Unsung Stories

HockingDejaVuFolks, please welcome the brains behind Unsung Stories, an indie SFF publisher based in London, UK. Unsung Stories publishes intelligent genre fiction – science fiction, fantasy, horror, speculative, steampunk, and importantly those works that blur the boundaries between these genres.

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy/horror/scifi fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

So this turned out to be a vast question that we couldn’t really answer concisely at all. We’re both in agreement on the themes of the answer, as below, but given it’s a big question we figured it deserved a big answer.

George

Starting with an easy one I see! All narratives, contemporary SFFH, Homeric epics, Jane Austen and even The Daily Mail, are reflective of the society that created them and help shape history. So unicorns, dragons, the Cyclops, witches, changelings and more, have very specific functions beyond whether or not people believe they’re actually there. The same applies to Ebenezer Scrooge, Hamlet, Emma Woodhouse and Malcolm Tucker.

Demons and angels. Our aspirations and our fears. How we manifest these in art has changed, absolutely, but the reason why we do it remains as essential and indefinable as ever.

As to whether contemporary SFFH affects human cultures today? Of course! The how is more telling. One of the most pervasive SF narratives of recent times is Star Trek, which is at its core a utopia project. Sure, they’re knocking on the doors of the Heavens, and it’s about intrepid adventurers and individual acts of heroism, but the thesis is of humanity at its best. Reaching to the stars, embodying justice in a universally welcoming and productive society. Add a splash more hubris and tragedy and you’re getting back into the same territory as Homeric epics. Only this time Icarus has shields and inertial dampeners.

One idea I have is that we use different genres for different purposes. So science fiction is about exploring hypotheses for humanity. What our existence will mean when the fundamental state of humanity has changed. Gibson does this excellently, Haldeman’s The Forever War and countless others. It’s a sandbox for thought experiments, inherently philosophical at heart.

Fantasy has created vast explorations of history and the moralities of governance and action. We can transpose political realities into new environments and comment on and satirise them. There’s so much of humanity’s history to understand and fantasy lets us do that freely, calls on us to tackle political and sociological Gordian knots.

Finally horror might be the most introspective of the three. Sure, it’s about scaring people but it’s also based on what we are afraid of. It’s more than big rats, it’s the darkness and the void, our weaknesses and fears, our inability to protect what we love.

Obviously that’s three broad generalisations, and only offered as a springboard for thought. It’s a big question!

Gary

All of human history, all human life, is shaped by narrative; it’s how we fundamentally understand and process the complex, messy reality we find ourselves in.

I see that SFFH affects human culture today in some very profound ways. Speculative fiction as a whole has always been a wonderful way of exposing and exploring collective hopes, dreams, fears and nightmares.

Trends in science-fiction can accurately map entire cultures’ feelings towards the future – do we see utopia or dystopia ahead? Will technology set us free, or create new traps for us? Do we even believe in a future anymore? In turn, these narratives exploring these issues will inform how we think about ourselves and the way we live, and where we are going (or perhaps going wrong).

The horror genre is a place where our worst fears, anxieties and repulsions can be explored (and exploited). I think there are two camps of horror fiction, the cathartic ‘ghost train’ types of horror, where everything works out in the end, where the evil is defeated and mankind overcomes: fiction ultimately as a form of validation that the world is OK. 

Then there’s the other kind of horror, pioneered by Lovecraft and perfected by writers like Thomas Ligotti, where there is no victory, no catharsis, where the bad things win. This is my preferred model of horror fiction – not because I think life is hopeless or inherently ‘bad’, but because I think this kind of writing serves a useful function, to allow readers to face and explore difficult emotional topics.

We have a deep psychological need for monsters. Through storytelling we can turn an abstract fear into something physical that can be, at least potentially, defeated. Fear of the consumerist, mindless masses become zombies, aggressive male sexuality takes form in the werewolf, the ghost is a clear manifestation of past guilt/trauma, and so on.

With fantasy the enduring appeal of Tolkien and the LOTR films, the continued popularity of epic fantasy novels, the Game of Thrones phenomenon are all things that cannot be discounted. It would be nice if some mainstream fantasy was not based on the models established by Tolkien (Celtic/Saxon/Norse European myths, essentially). But there’s obviously some appeal to that kind of mythic setting that has a real appeal.

WhiteleyTheBeautyIt’s time for you to host the book club. Who do you invite (living, dead, fictional, real)? And what 3 books will you be discussing?

The invite list first: Iain M. Banks, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett first of all because you need wise, nice and irreverent people to balance any debate. To stir the pot I’d add Hunter Thompson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Adam Roberts, Octavia Butler, John-Paul Satre and Charles Bukowski. That should provide enough knowledge, experience and strong-willed extroverts to ensure a healthy debate, right? Or at least an unforgettable evening. Actually, maybe add Imperator Furiosa as referee.

As for the books? I’d go with Ubik, The Trial and The Master and Margarita. Not because they are perfect bedfellows but the all fascinate and terrify me in equal measure. They all poke at the consensus of the ‘normal ‘state of affairs, be those philosophical, social or political. And they all leave you with very difficult questions.

Are strict guidelines for genres dead in today’s book market? Where does Unsung Stories fit in? 

Increasingly I’d say genre is being normalised, the distinctions eroded by audiences growing more sophisticated. We’re not the people who thought The War of the Worlds was real. Genre tropes are commonplace now and we are seeing an increasing number of crossover success stories both ways. Ishiguro is exploring genre in his work. Cloud Atlas was nominated for the Booker and the Clark and Nebula. Gaiman is an international sensation despite being massively Genre, even starting out in *gasp* comics. And of course SF and fantasy are all over TV and cinema. So it’s increasingly not about defining the lines between ideas, but the opportunities in how they interact.

Here at Unsung Stories, we love non-generic takes on genre. We want to give a home to writers who grab this opportunity with both hands. The people who don’t see rules or conventions, just the way their story is. Commissioning isn’t about if we can see a market, it’s about finding the stories we love, and know deserve to be published.

LangmeadDarkStarWhat now-dead author would you like to interview? What are some of the things you would chat about?

Philip K. Dick, probably. He’s the man who posited a Matrix-like reality decades before even Gibson started at it. Aside from writing some of my favourite books his take on reality fascinates me as much as it seemed to trouble him. Especially because he didn’t seem to have that layer of detachment from the problem academics do. So I’d talk to him about what his philosophies of perception and what it is he thinks we’re not seeing.

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

All of the bits that weren’t terrible, ideally. But if I had to pick one it would be The Sandman because it achieves so many different things. It’s a glorious collection of short stories, it’s a revelation for the potential of comics, it’s a vast indulgence of amazing ideas, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s utterly heart-breaking in several places, and so much more.

In fact, if I could have just one page, I’d ask for Delirium and Death in the funeral procession from Worlds End. It might just be perfect.

Over the years, are the changes in society reflected in today’s villains and heroes?

One thing I find fascinating is the development of monsters in horror. After the explosion in the 1960s monsters abound, starting with the classics like Dracula, Frankenstein’s creation and werewolves. Then aliens are introduced, incomprehensible powers given physical form. Soon we’re creating new demons for cinema like Freddy and Jason, where they can be defeated but only temporarily. The step after is the one that grabs me though, where they all suddenly become human. Us. No more immortals, no masked killers returning from the grave. Teenagers. Your neighbours. Your children…

With SFF we’re beyond grimdark and sci-fi horror now as well. Bank’s Culture is full of stories that blur the ideas of who is the hero. We love Game of Thrones and Abercrombie because it’s not so simple to say who the hero is. We’re interested in the grey areas more these days, probably because we understand them better than the extremes of heroism or villainy.

So yes, absolutely. And watching how this growing canon of influences develops is something I find incessantly fascinating.

The other thing is post-apocalyptic fiction is huge right now, which works on the base assumption that we somehow failed as a race. As a result of technological developments in the last 20 years we have burgeoning global identities, a greater awareness of what is happening across the world. Maybe we’re coming to realise it’s not about heroes and villains, but about our collective responsibilities as a species?

More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any plans to take Unsung Stories into the multimedia realm?

I think it will continue to evolve as it already has been. Ebooks are commonplace now for instance, and apps and enriched variants are going the same way. A lot of the most interesting examples I’ve come across have been games – Device 6 or Dear Esther for example – but that doesn’t mean it will all be games. What I will say, is I suspect the great ideas will come from writers/indies who create something as a labour of love. People in the industry are readers, gamers, fans, just like everyone else. So they’ll be there with everyone else when good things happen.

Unsung don’t have plans right now, but if we see an idea we like enough we’ll go for it. There’s no reason for stories to be limited to books any more (however much we love them). The crucial thing is to ensure the story works for the format. So, for example, rather than shoehorning a popular book into a graphic novel I’d want to see something written with comic format in mind. It’s about best serving the stories, after all.

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment where you were gushing over an author’s work?

I exist in a perpetual state of anxiety as a rule so that would mainly involve every conversation I’ve had with an author, ever. I’m also particularly bad at recognising people as we rule so my worst moments are the opposite kind where you talk to someone, usually spouting flawed opinions at great length, to then discover they’re Pat Cadigan, or someone like that. Things like that happen to me, so I operate the working assumption that my brain hates me.

That said, when I met Brian May I had a not-inconsiderable haircut myself and proceeded to compliment him on his hair. Not his music, charity work or career as an astrophysicist. His hair. I got the impression I wasn’t the first person to do that.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

I’m not sure what it was called but there was something involving a mad professor taking a teenage boy to Jupiter where he had to play hockey with 20 metre tall bruisers. It’s the illustrations I remember more than anything. Something I remember the title of though, is either the Mary Plain books by Gwynedd Rae, or The Arabian Nights. That and poring over the Terran Trade Authority books in my primary school’s library.

Finally, what upcoming Unsung Stories events and works would you like to share with the readers?

We have our Unsung Live event scheduled for 20th October in Kings Cross, London. This is SFF storytelling, with readings from Simon Guerrier, Robert Sharp, Cassandra Khaw and David Hartley. We’re doing this because we couldn’t find any live-lit events for genre fiction and thought there should be at least one! Tickets are free, you just need to RSVP to secure a place at – www.meetup.com/unsung/events/224926265/. It was very popular last time so booking is advised!

We do have other things in the pipeline in terms of books, but nothing I can talk about yet. They’ll be good though, promise.

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Book Giveaway & Interview: Martin Berman-Gorvine, Author of Heroes of Earth

Berman-GorvineAuthorEveryone, please welcome Martin Berman-Gorvine. He’s here to entertain us with a chat on Gulliver’s Travels, Awesomecon 2015, geeky arguments, Martin’s upcoming works, and much more! Martin has also generously offered up a giveaway, open internationally, so don’t miss that at the bottom of this post.

More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any plans to take your works in the multimedia realm? 

It’s increasingly the case that books, movies, graphic novels, etc. are viewed as comprising a single profit-obsessed beast called “the entertainment industry.” The word industry for me conjures smoke-belching factories, and the convergence of every form of storytelling is regrettable in many ways because it erases healthy distinctions between different forms of high art and pop art—this at the same time that new, absurdly specific “genres” are constantly being invented out of whole cloth by crazed marketers (middle-grade paranormal suburban steampunk, anyone?)

But it would be hypocritical of me as a speculative fiction writer not to acknowledge that I benefit from not being shoved into the ghetto of low-brow, disreputable and dangerous art that science fiction resided in back in the 1950’s, along with comic books, or to pretend that I wouldn’t welcome a phone call from some sunglass-wearing, poolside-drinks-sipping Hollywood producer eager to put my eminently filmable fiction on the screen. It wouldn’t even cost that much thanks to digital graphics to depict the psychedelic biplanes zipping around a Quetzelcoatlus-descended dragon in my latest novel, Heroes of Earth.

Berman-GorvineHeroesOfEarthWhat were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

I was a lonely, picked-on, self-pitying nerd (a term that had no positive connotations when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s). When I was in eighth grade I wrote a satirical sociology of the junior high school I was attending, dividing my classmates into five castes: Averages, Toughs, Pseudo-Toughs, Brainy Averages, and Brainy Weirdos. The last of these groups was the one I saw myself belonging to: “These have even higher I.Q.s than Brainy Averages. They are usually wimps. They do not conform to any usual style of dress (unless they are Pseudo-Toughs) and are likely to become nuclear physicists, cellular biologists, or something like that. They are not usually dangerous except when you trip over them.” (See my blog athttp://martianperspective.blogspot.com/2013/03/guest-post-1980s-time-capsule.html for the whole thing). Arnold in Heroes of Earth is like that. There’s a lot of the young Martin in him, to be honest.

As you can probably guess, when I wrote about the “Brainy Weirdos” I already saw myself as a writer, and had done so for several years by that point, producing reams of poetry (especially haiku), short stories and essays. I was hooked on expressing myself that way from the moment in elementary school when I read aloud in class an Inspector Clouseau ripoff I had composed for an assignment and basked in the laughter of my classmates—and for once, they weren’t laughing at me.

Berman-GorvineSaveTheDragonsIf you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in science fiction literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

I’m a great believer in classics, and I would start with Gulliver’s Travels because for me the presentation of very different kinds of people and creatures, fantastical technologies such as the “project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers” at the grand academy of Lagado, and of course the underlying satire of human venality and violence are the very same things that draw so many of us to reading and writing science fiction. H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds established two of the major themes in science fiction and have never been exceeded in storytelling excitement. Alternate history classics such as Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee and Philip K. Dick’s flawed but brilliant The Man in the High Castle helped create an important subgenre and pave the way for Harry Turtledove’s novels and my own work, such as the British America in my novels Save the Dragons and Heroes of Earth. The works of the great women writers who overlapped with “Second Wave” feminism in the larger American culture, such as Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, and James Tiptree Jr.’s Houston, Houston, Do You Read? provided vital new perspectives. I would want to include the work of Robert Charles Wilson, who writes three-dimensional characters and ponders deep religious questions amid world-shaking events, notably in The Spin. Really I’d have a lot of trouble limiting the reading list, or fighting the temptation to assign my own work.

DanielsBraveNewGirlsCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

Oh gosh. At Awesomecon 2015 I got the chance to meet Amber Benson, the actress, filmmaker and urban fantasy author. I wanted to give her a copy of my book Heroes of Earth that I had with me, but I worried that would make me seem like some kind of freakily obsessed fan, or maybe an author nobody wanted to read, especially because there were staff hovering around to prevent the truly obsessed from bothering the “celebrities.” So I settled for giving her a bookmark with my books listed on it. If by some bizarre chance she ends up reading this, I still have the book I meant to give her, autographed and everything!

What do you do when you are not writing?

Reading, mostly history or speculative fiction. Cleaning up excretia from our five cats and one dog. Disregarding Petula Clark’s advice and falling asleep on the subway. Working at my day job as a newsletter reporter and editor.

Berman-GorvineSevenAgainstMarsWhat is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

I have these every day with my sixteen-year-old son Daniel. He asks me what I would do if I could travel in time—“and you’re not allowed to kill Hitler, Dad.” “Kill Hitler,” I say. His follow-up question is, “What superpower would you have, if you could have any?” I haven’t figured out the answer to that one, so I shift us over to a little light ontological debate. Sometimes he offers me some useful advice for my next novel—for example, when I told him about the philosophical problem posed by the existence of parallel worlds in Larry Niven’s short story “All the Myriad Ways,” where the main character decides to kill himself because free will is meaningless in a multiverse where all possible decisions have been made somewhere, he suggested a counterargument that made it into Heroes of Earth. When we finish talking he’ll go back to playing Skyrim and I’ll go back to such fun pursuits as reading about the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939.

Berman-Gorvine36Side characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works? What side characters in your own work have caught more attention than you expected?

Side characters can assume outsize importance in the hands of a skilled author. For example, I recently finished reading Erica O’Rourke’s Dissonance, one of the most intriguing and complex approaches I’ve ever encountered on a parallel world theme. The main character, Delancey, is something of a standard-issue young adult heroine in being a rebel and a misfit, though she’s no less appealing for that. Her older sister Addison is her foil for much of the novel, a goody-two-shoes and seemingly an untroubled snitch who starts to develop unexpected depths and nuances toward the end of the novel. I’m looking forward to seeing both girls’ characters develop in the sequel.

In my own work, Jo Purnell, who first appeared as the annoying kid sister of one of the two teenage main characters in my 2013 novel Save the Dragons, returns in a more central role in Heroes of Earth, and I can feel she is definitely demanding her own novel. She’s going to get what she wants, too, because I’m a little intimidated by a girl who can telepathically talk to dragons, out-think Albert Einstein and Roger Penrose in mathematical physics, effortlessly picture higher dimensions in her mind, is musically talented, and outspoken and willing to fight for what she believes in. The challenges she faces will have to be considerable to be worthy of her. But she may live to regret getting what she wants, because I’ve recently signed a deal for a four-book horror novel series with Silver Leaf Books—the first one, All Souls Day, is due out in February 2016.

Places to find Martin Berman-Gorvine

Twitter: @MeshuggeWriter

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Interview: Michael Meyerhofer, Author of Wytchfire

MichaelMeyerhoferAuthorEveryone, please welcome the author of Wytchfire to the blog today, Michael Meyehofer. We’re going to chat about poetry, ways to burn down a city under siege, the Star Wars Holiday Special, a college course in SFF literature, sidekicks, along with a lot more! Prepare to be entertained!

What are your non-writer influences?

Being an unapologetic addict to the History Channel (Ancient Aliens notwithstanding), I get a lot of inspiration from documentaries. I’m fascinated by ancient and religious history, and of course ancient military history, and I try to weave those elements into my stories whenever I can. One small example: in The Knight of the Crane, the forthcoming sequel to Wytchfire, I needed a quick way for one of my more loathsome antagonist-generals to take down a well-fortified city. I recalled a documentary that mentioned how someone (I think it was Olga of Kiev) conquered a hostile town by capturing birds, tying burning twigs to their claws, and setting them free to spread the blaze around the rooftops of the town. I thought it was a fascinating, if macabre, story (those poor birds!) and decided to incorporate something similar into my book. I also tried to incorporate a lot of my nerdy interest in the history of the samurai and medieval European knighthood.

MeyerhoferWytchfireWhich ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Ha, I’ve always wanted to sit down and read Paradise Lost but to this day, I still haven’t gotten around to it. I’m really fascinated by different religious texts (especially the Epic of Gilgamesh). Not sure if this counts because I technically read them piecemeal in college, but I’ve always wanted to go back and spend some time with The Odyssey and The Iliad, too.

Who are some of your favorite book villains?

Not to state the obvious but pretty much all of George R. R. Martin’s villains are chillingly awesome—I think because they’re so complex, never quite completely evil. In that same vein, I’m also really partial to Tolkien’s Boromir, Lloyd Alexander’s Ellidyr, and Raistlin from the Dragonlance books.

Often various historical aspects (people, locations, events) are used in fantasy and sometimes rehashed in a far-flung future. Are there examples of such historical aspects being used well in the SF/F genre? Examples of what didn’t work for you?

Not to sound like a broken record but GRRM is another great go-to for this. His rugged, realistic depictions of realistic, messy warfare seem heavily influenced by medieval history and political intrigue. I think Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books pull that off, too. Here are a couple more examples relating to warfare, since we’re already on that topic. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also a big fan of how Raymond Feist handles his battles (and even more so, the preparation for battle). There’s also the obvious example of how JRR Tolkien’s experiences with trench warfare affected his depictions of battle in his Lord of the Rings books, not to mention how Kurt Vonnegut’s experiences informed Slaughterhouse-Five and his other works.

There are plenty of examples of historical stuff woven into stories besides those involving warfare, though. I was recently impressed by the way Deborah Harkness uses her background as an academic to weave historical elements into A Discovery of Witches. I also love the echoes of “western” philosophy and “eastern” religion that frequently pop up in SFF, plus how the social and political strife in SFF worlds often mirror the social and cultural revolutions we’ve experienced throughout our country’s own relatively short history. Frank Herbert’s Dune books and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are a couple examples. In terms of what doesn’t work for me, though, I don’t have specific examples so much as a general complaint. I find that I’m not all that interested in stories that propagate rather silly historical misconceptions. For instance, the Knighthood in my Dragonkin Trilogy is heavily inspired by the samurai, but I tried to steer clear of silly stereotypes that the samurai were always honorable, undefeatable paragons of virtue. I think that, like medieval European knights, they could be as terrible and repressive as they could be honorable and selfless.

MeyerhoferClayShaper'sHusbandWhat reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

I’m a sucker for pretty much any dark re-imagining of fairy tales, ever since Anne Sexton did that in her poetry. I picked up My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me the other day and I’m already halfway through it, really digging the premise! Also maybe it’s just the English prof in me but I can’t help thinking that virtually all the stories we see today can in some way be traced back to Shakespeare (of which there have been plenty of excellent and awful adaptations, by the way). That’s not a bad thing, though, since probably all the basic story elements in Shakespeare’s plays can be traced back even earlier, maybe to Homer. And his stories echo even earlier myths, back and back, to cave-shadowed campfires near heaps of charred animal bones. Even back then, I think humans had the same basic fears, desires, and curiosities (but significantly less literacy and way more body hair).

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

There’s no denying the fact that self-promotion is as challenging as it is essential—especially with so many other fine, hard-working authors clamoring to get noticed! You need to write countless blog and forum posts, plus maintain very active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and maybe even more importantly, you can’t just promote your own work! Especially with so many books coming out all the time, readers don’t just want to hear from someone who pops in once a year to announce a book release, then disappears. They want authors who are also active members of the community. And it has to be genuine because readers are smart and they’ll see through insincerity pretty quickly. In other words, an author also has to prove that they’re a voracious reader, that he or she loves the genre they’re writing in, that they’re as willing and eager to talk shop and promote other writers they admire. Oh, and authors need to do all this while still finding time to write and revise three, four, even five-hundred-page manuscripts.

That’s all pretty daunting, sure, but I don’t mind. Actually, I like it because it’s worthwhile. Whoever said that it should be easy? I’d add that I first came to publishing as a contemporary poet, and poetry has an even smaller audience than SFF! So that made me more respectful of what it takes to “make it,” and even more grateful and humbled when I find a reader willing to give my work a chance, or a fellow author willing to promote my work aside her or his own.

What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

I’d love to sit in a big smoky hall and hoist a mug on Durin’s Day (the Tolkien Dwarfish equivalent of New Years Day). Whacking Day from The Simpsons would be cool, provided the snakes are unquestionably eeeevil! I’m also tempted to add Life Day from the Star Wars Holiday Special, though I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to do it.

MeyerhoferDamnatioMemoriaeWhat were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

Oh, I was the poster child for shyness and over-sensitivity! I recall spending whole days sitting with a book—sometimes because I was lost in a story, other times because I was afraid to go outside and face bullying for birth defects (a malformed right ear and a bad limp, which seemed like the end of the world back then). Eventually, though, overcoming this gave me extra ambition and some extra perspective that I could weave into my own writing.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Li Po – hot and sour soup and a salmon bagel. Walt Whitman – a big plate of hot wings. D. H. Lawrence – mead and a turkey leg. Emily Dickinson – a Cinnabon. Raymond Carver – straight whiskey, probably.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

Oh, that’s a tough one! I know there’s some disagreement as to whether or not this constitutes SF but Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five would be high on my list. I already mentioned George R. R. Martin earlier, though I’d probably start with The Tales of Dunk and Egg, his Song of Ice and Fire prequels. I’m also partial to the character development (particularly for Erik Von Darkmoor) and the realism in Shadow of a Dark Queen, the first book in Raymond Feist’s Serpentwar Saga. Of course, there’s Arthur Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (though I’m maybe a bit more partial to Childhood’s End). I’d also need Madeleine L’Engle, J.K. Rowling, and Philip Dick in there somewhere, too, though I’d have a terrible time picking one of their books over another.

KnaakReaversBloodSeaCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

What, me be awkward?! Ha, actually, I’d have a hard time coming up with an instance when I met a writer (novelist or poet) that I really admired and I wasn’t kind of a dork about it! I tend to get really, really excited when I read something I like. In fact, I have kind of a strange rule that if I come across a book that blows me away (or a short story or a poem, for that matter), I make an effort to contact the author and let them know. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few readers do that for me and let me tell you, that kind of thing makes it all worthwhile.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

While part of me has a soft spot for minimalism, I also love the epic feel of pretty much every cover made for Richard Knaak’s books. And I’m still jealous of the cover of Raising Chaos by fellow Red Adept author, Elizabeth Corrigan!

CorriganRaisingChaosWhat do you do when you are not writing?

I’m really into exercise, especially weightlifting. Like I said, I love documentaries. And video games. And, of course, reading.

Side characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works (books, movies, plays, etc.)?

Oh, I have a soft spot for side characters! I absolutely love Tolkien’s Faramir, Lloyd Alexander’s Prince Rhun, GRRM’s Davos Seaworth, Terry Brooks’ Garet Jax, and Margaret Weiss and Tricky Hickman’s Hugh the Hand.

You are also a poet, and as such, what works would you recommend for a science fiction, fantasy reader?

I like poets who know how to tell engaging stories with humor and cool imagery, but without pretension. Luckily, there are plenty who can do just that! Here are just a few of my contemporary favorites: Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Yusef Komunyakaa, Stephen Dobyns, Allison Joseph, Justin Hamm, Norman Minnick, Peter Davis, George Bilgere, Djelloul Marbrook, Travis Mossotti, and Tony Hoagland. For poets technically no longer listed among the living, some of my favorites are Walt Whitman, James Wright, Li Po, Emily Dickinson, D.H. Lawrence, Basho, Issa, Chiyo-ni, Wallace Stevens, and Ai.

Places to Find Michael Meyerhofer

Website

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K2DPJ60

Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wytchfire-michael-meyerhofer/1119392198?ean=2940149291106

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/wytchfire-3

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20935130-wytchfire

Book Page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/wytchfire/

Author page on RAP:  http://redadeptpublishing.com/michael-meyerhofer/

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Great Classic Science Fiction by Various Authors

Smudge's face makes me laugh!
Smudge’s face makes me laugh!

Why I Read It: It’s Vintage Scifi Month and this fits right in.

Where I Got It: My library.

Who I Recommend This To: Those who want to enjoy some snippets of classic SF.

Narrators: Various (see below for each story)

Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America (2010)

Length: 7 hours 45 minutes

A little description for each of 8 stories captured in this collection follows below. Any misspellings of names are my own fault. This collection was an awesome, eclectic bit of classic science fiction. My favorite tale was by Andre Norton, featuring Stina and Bat (btw: it was the only tale featuring a woman as the protagonist). The ostrich-like Martian was probably my favorite character (Weinbaum did a great job of breaking down communication to its basic elements). Missing Link by Herbert was a very satisfying tale to end the collection with.

The Door in the Wall by H. G. Wells (narrated by Simon Vance)

Originally published in 1906. In this story, Wallace had a strange experience as a kid where he went through a beautiful and magical door and had a fanciful time. This experience haunts him for his life, driving him to search out the door again later in life.

All Cats are Gray by Andre Norton (narrated by Barbara Rosenblat)

Originally published in 1953. Stina and her cat, Bat, figured out where to find the lost ghost ship Empress of Mars has gotten off to. She’s a starliner, rich is goods and prestige. Once found though, there is question of why she disappeared. Bat figures the answer first, and luckily, tips off her mistress.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum (narrated by Nick Sullivan)

Originally published in 1934. Four scientists land on Mars, and one, Dick Jarvis, has quite the adventure with the native Martian life. Think of some ostrich-like highly intelligent being, and the obvious communication issues.

Victory by Lester del Rey (narrated by Robert Fass)

Originally published in 1955. Set in a rich universe full of humanoid, insectoid, and fungoid races, Duke O’Neal is a jaded warrior married to a non-human who has been trapped in a war zone for some time. This tale is rather too long to be a short story, but rather was a novella. Lester del Rey pulls in SF coolness like time dilation and interplanetary relations.

The Moon is Green by Fritz Leiber (narrated by Katherine Kellgren)

Originally published in 1952. Ephie and Hank are stuck in an unhappy marriage, underground, for decades, while the man-made radiation storm blows over. But Ephie dreams of a life outside, which drives her to push back the lead shielding, and peer outside. Which leads her to meet Patrick, who has only a few mutations.

The Winds of Time by James H. Schmitz (narrated by Stephen R. Thorne)

Originally published 1962. Gefty Rammer is the pilot of the Silver Queen and has been hired by Marlbo to carry him, his secretary (Carrom Ruse), and his cargo to a corner of the galaxy. Of course, the cargo turns out to be something highly unexpected and Gefty has to fight for his life and rescue the secretary.

The Defenders by Philip K. Dick (narrated by Greg Itzin)

Originally published 1953. The cold war between Russia and the US escalated to peak, and the world was plunged into a radioactive inferno. Now humans live below the surface while robots (called letties) maintain the ongoing war on the surface. Don and Mary Taylor have their morning interrupted when Don is called into the office. Don, Frank, and Moss end up on the surface and discover a surprise.

Missing Link by Frank Herbert (narrated by Scott Brick)

Originally published in 1959. Lewis Orne is a junior fieldman and his mission is to find the remains of the Delphinus on an uncleared planet with hostile natives.

I often avoid audio short story collections that are read by 1 narrator as the stories tend to blend together. But this was a great collection because each story was told by a different narrator. Several of these narrators have been favorites for some time (Scott Brick, Barbara Rosenblat, Simon Vance). Others were unknown to me. All did a great job. Robert Fass (Victory) did this awesome thing with his voice to mimic how some of the aliens would sound.

VintageScifiBadgeWhat I Liked: A great mix of stories; aliens, time travel, apocalyptic rehab; the narrators were awesome; several favorite authors were featured.

What I Disliked: Nearly all the stories a) had zero females or b) the women were minimized or needed rescuing.

January is Vintage SciFi Month over at Andrea’s Little Red Reviewer. Make sure to check out her site for the tons of pre-1979 SF going on. Also, January and February are The Science Fiction Experience over at Carl’s Stainless Steel Droppings. He also has great SF stuff going on, so stop by his place and don’t miss out on the fun.

readandreviewbuttonI am also including this in Anya’s weekly Read&Review Hop over on On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to check it out for other great reviews.

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