Sneak Peek: Duneman (Dawning Age Book 1) Epic Fantasy WIP

All right, here’s a confession. Yes. I’ve become a very bad blogger. Whereas for two years I posted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, with regular aplumb, I now find myself posting every other week at least once, two if I’m lucky. So I apologize. Amazingly, the audience for the blog remains steady, even when I don’t post. Some of my posts continue gaining new views regardless, so it’s encouraging that my content matters. But still, my drain creatively from being so busy with editing and writing has hurt my blogging. I am just not thinking up ideas or having creative energy for it like I used. I’ve failed to do some interviews too and had to back off on others. Sincere apologies for that. But I also do not want to be one of those people who posts boring blog posts just to post.  You don’t care if I bought new socks, changed shoe sizes, or what I ate. This blog is about writers and editors and helping the same. So I need content that’s appropriate with substance.

So, I hope this will be a worthwhile post. Those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know I have been working on my first fantasy novel, Duneman, since January2010.  Well, it’s finally done, four drafts later, and four agents are considering it for representation. In the meantime, I have started work on book 2 of that cycle, called The Dawning Age, which I expect to be 4-5 books total. Yeah, that’s right, I’m not sure. I’m a discovery writer, a pantser. The only reason I have an idea I can’t do it in three is because the agents asked for synopses of the next two books, so I had to throw something together. I did a pretty good job with Book 2, I believe, but I was totally lost on book 3…because book 2 isn’t done yet.

So meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at my first fantasy novel. I hope you enjoy it. It took a while to write but I enjoyed every minute.

DUNEMAN

(Dawning Age Book 1) 

CHAPTER ONE, Scene 1

He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?

The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—

stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. Footsteps led toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Scattered severed limbs—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off mid-calf—provided the answer.

His back ached as he examined himself.  Tattered brown pants stretched down to just below his knees where threads of scattered lengths were all that remained. He had no shirt or shoes or socks. The skin of his feet was sunburned cherry red. No wonder his body felt aflame. How long had he been there?

And then it hit him like a stone from a slingshot: Who am I? He searched his memory but no name would come. His mind was like an unpainted canvas or a new fence awaiting its first coat of color.

His left shoulder cried out with every movement of his arm, so he reached back to examine it with his right and found a long, scabby cut running in an arc down his back. Had he been in a fight? Who did this to him? He checked himself again for cuts and abrasions. His forehead hurt, and dried flakes of blood came away on his palm and fingers. He had a large bruise on his abdomen and small ones on his chest and stomach. Pain flared as he moved his right ankle, but he couldn’t tell if it came from sunburned skin or a jagged cut, scabbed over now from the heat and sun.

He stood and his feet cried out in protest. He wobbled, losing his balance and forcing him back down to his knees. He buried the pain in the back of his mind and turned slowly in a circle, looking around him. Scattered, thin cumulus clouds filled the clear blue sky overhead. Thick sandstone walls and clay-tiled roofs topping white stone buildings rose in the distance, a few spires and towers looming in their midst. A trail of smoke curled into the sky from behind them. A city!

Water!

Wait! Why didn’t he hear anything? A few sheep bleated from the west, their cries mixed with scattered insect chirps and bird calls, but there were no sounds of people, wagons, horses, tools. Maybe when he got closer. Ignoring his feet’s protests, he stood again and stumbled across the curved white dunes toward the sandstone walls.

Ahead, beside the city walls, a boy herding sheep stopped a moment to use the untucked tails of his loose-fitting light blue shirt to wipe sweat from his darkly tanned forehead. His boots stretched up over his brown pants well past his ankles, and he held a tall, curved wooden staff in his right hand as he watched the desert grassland and the herd around him.

Drawing near, the man called out to the shephard. “Ho, neighbor!  A fine day for herding.”  His chapped lips and parched throat hurt from the effort, reminding him how much he longed for water.

The boy nodded, staring at him with caution, his left hand wrapping firmly around the staff just below his right.
“What city is this?”  The man smiled, not blaming the boy for his wariness. I must look a fright.

“Chyllos, stranger.” The boy’s voice cracked in the way that occurs when one transitions from a boy to a man.

He must be older than I thought. “What day is it?”

“Third day.” The boy spoke with a gentle, plain accent, his words slow and deliberate.

Orean Midlands? The question popped into his head along with images of the Lands, his home. Multiple states, the Elbian pass and mountains, the mighty Esos River, source of water for much of the inlands. Then: I remember seven day. Could I have been unconscious that long?  “Do you know where I might get water?” He hocked, trying to call up enough saliva to wet his cracked, painful lips and throat, but none came. The boy carried no canteen, and there was no sign of a well.

“There’s a well in the square.”  The boy nodded toward the city walls.

The man limped past the first of the sheep, the boy shrinking away as soon as he moved. “Thank you kindly.”

The boy turned his body to keep the stranger at his front, and the man continued feeling the shephard’s gaze on him as he waded through the grazing herd and on toward the city. A wide, wooden gate stood open to one side with no one standing guard.

The stranger entered through the high stone walls, moving along a sandy street past shabby, rundown houses packed in side-by-side. Their second floors projected out over the boardwalk and into the street where crude signs dangled from creaking rusted hooks. The city appeared to be on the verge of collapse. What city would be this deserted at mid-day?

He hurried up the street, garnering surprised stares from a couple shopkeepers sweeping the wooden boardwalk in front of their stores. Ignoring them, he continued toward a sign labeled “tavern” at the far end, then stumbled up onto the wooden boardwalk. The tavern stood along yet another sandy street which wound off into the distance in both directions. A quick search revealed no currency in his ragged pockets. For a moment, he considered passing by to look for the public well, but the sun continued its baking blare and surely a tavern had water. He grabbed the door handle and swung it open, assaulted immediately by the smell of sawdust and smoke. Stepping inside, the scent of stale ale filled his nose as he waited while the door shut behind him and the sunlight faded away.

The tavern seemed typical for a small city, dimly lit with torches spread evenly around the room on hooks attached to the white plaster walls. The bottom half of each wall consisted of wooden slats hung side-by-side, the floor of matching dark wood with a thin layer of sawdust. As his eyes adjusted, he spotted a bar across the room beyond scattered round wooden tables and chairs. A bartender eyed him from behind the worn, polished surface with the same wary look as the shepherd boy.

“Good afternoon, neighbor,” the man said. “Can you spare a cup of water for a stranger?”  For a moment, he wished he could ask for clothes, too.

The bartender was large and muscular, his skin dark like the shepherd’s, a brown leather apron tied over the top of a loose fitting white shirt and brown trousers.He scowled as the stranger approached. “How did you get here?” he demanded in a scratchy baritone, as the stranger sat on a tall stool in front of the bar.

“I don’t really know. I’m told this place is Chyllos, but I’ve never been here before.”  He shrugged.

“What happened to your clothes?” The Bartender said, staying put at the far end of the bar.

The man shook his head. “I awoke on the dunes. The sun is brutal today. Can you please spare some water?”

The bartender grunted and turned to a large wooden barrel in the corner, reaching into it with a long metal ladle and pouring water into a wooden cup. Setting the cup on the bar, he slid it down to the stranger, watching as water splashed out onto the scarred surface.

The stranger drank eagerly. The fresh water cooled his mouth and throat. Even as he finished, he longed for more. He held out the glass to the bartender and croaked: “More please?”

The bartender grunted again, approaching with the metal scoop and pouring its contents over the wooden cup on the bar until he’d filled it once more. The man noticed the bartender held the scoop as far from the cup as he could manage so they didn’t touch. He drank again, smiling. Water had never tasted so good. He sighed, wiping his dry, cracked lips on his sleeve. “Thank you very much, neighbor.” His voice was louder and warmer now as the water lubricated his throat and the pain faded.

The bartender glared at him. “Okay, now be on your way.”

The man nodded. The bartender must not care much for nonpaying customers. “Can you direct me to an inn?”

“There are no inns available here for the likes of you,” the bartender said, ending the conversation.

“If I have offended you somehow—”

“You offended me the day you were born—you and all your kind.” The bartender’s eyes narrowed, cold and flat. The stranger finished drinking and set the wooden cup back on the counter. What have I done to deserve his wrath?  The bartender motioned to the cup. “Keep it. It’s worthless to me now.”

The stranger nodded and grabbed the cup off the counter, stumbling toward the door.

Sunlight blinded him again as he stepped back out onto the street. He looked around for an inn, searching the creaking wooden signs hanging from the buildings but seeing none in sight. He had to find some clothes and shelter. He limped west along the street past startled citizens sweeping storefronts or moving along the boardwalk with parcels. They hurried out of his path as he passed, scowling at him much as the bartender had. What have I done?  He couldn’t remember ever being in Chyllos before, and, the further he went, the more the silence bothered him. Where were the people who patronized these establishments?

At the end of the boardwalk, he turned into a dirt alleyway between buildings and bumped into a well-dressed woman in a lacy, silk dress who’d just emerged there. “Excuse me,” he said, stepping away from her.

Her brown eyes went wide and she stared at him in horror. “Get away from me!”

The stranger turned, confused, as she ran away down the street, startled by her fear and hostility. How could someone who’d never been here before be so disliked?  What was it about his kind that made them react with fear?

The bartender stood on a boardwalk, chatting with neighboring store owners and pointing at him. All three frowned, squinting angrily. Down the street, dust flew from wagon wheels as a large, dark-bearded man steered his team up the street in the stranger’s direction.

The stranger ducked into the alleyway, hearing the braying of donkeys and whinnying of horses ahead. At the end, he passed a stack of hay bales and moved onto another sandy street beside a large wooden stable. Maybe he could at least get shelter from the sun there.

As he turned right, onto the street, he saw the bartender and several others appear from an alley further down and hurry toward him up the street. Why are they chasing me?

Ducking back into the alley, he turned right again at the main street. Chattering voices came from behind and he glanced back over his shoulder as the frightened well-dressed woman pointed at him, jabbering to several men.

Quickening his pace, he looked for another alley or a good place to turn. He heard shouting and looked back to see the men following him now. The bartender and shopkeepers swooping in from the same alley the stranger had just used to join them.

Turning onto a narrower side street, the man hurried on past storefronts with faded paint fronts and a rotting boardwalk of crumbling wood. Where could he go? Then he heard whinnying and felt the dirt street vibrate as the dark-bearded man in the wagon turned onto the street, following him.

The stranger started running, his burned feet aching from the effort, but then the wagon was passing him. The driver looked down, whistling and motioned toward the wagon. “Get in, stranger!”

The man shot a questioning look. “I didn’t do anything to anyone, sir, I promise.”

“Get in unless you want to explain that to them,” the driver said, slowing his team to a crawl. “Trust me.”

The man could never outrun them. He sighed and jumped onto the back of the wagon.

“Cover yourself quickly!” the driver instructed as he spurred his team forward again.

The man slid down into a bed of straw and pulled the old blanket the driver had indicated over himself. The wagon increased its speed, bouncing harshly up onto cobblestones now as it turned sharply around another corner. What am I doing here?

He stretched out his arms, bracing himself against the slat sides of the wagon as best he could and ignored the outcries of his aching body as the wagon continued racing along, then slowed. Shadows fell over them as he heard the crunch of straw or hay and felt the wagon lurch forward and then stop again, suddenly.

It wobbled as the driver hopped down and the man heard creaks of hinges and the sound of wooden doors sliding together and a bolt snapping into place.

He slid the blanket back, his eyes struggling to see through the darkness. Whinnying and braying came from animals other than the team somewhere as the smell of smoke, hay and manure made him wince, then he realized he probably didn’t smell much better himself.

As his eyes adjusted, he focused on a metal stand nearby containing rows of horseshoes, expertly crafted. Then sat up, blinking.

“You plan to stay there all day or come out a greet a man properly?” the driver’s baritone voice asked.

The stranger brushed hay from his worn clothes and crawled toward the back of the wagon, spotting the driver waiting there with a pensive look. “Who are you and why are you wandering the streets scaring women?”

The stranger sat on the back of the wagon, gathering himself to hop down and fumbled for words. “I didn’t mean—”

“Come now, I’m only jesting,” the driver said with a laugh, wiping his hands on the dark apron covering his brown cotton pants and loose fitting tan shirt. Even his boots resembled those of the shepherd boy. The driver reached out a thick, muscular arm, extending his hand.

The stranger clasped it and slid down, his feet thumping onto the dirt floor as the driver stepped closer and got a closer look at the man, his face a mix of wariness and concern. “Why are they after you? Did you give them a reason?”

Fire raging in a nearby stove cast dancing orange and yellow flames across the walls around them. “What is this place? A smithy?”

The driver laughed. “That’s what they call me around here.” In the light of the fire, the blacksmith’s skin appeared lighter than the other residents the stranger had encountered. His eyes narrowed, locked on the stranger’s face.

“I just asked for water. That’s all. The woman bumped into me by accident.”

“What happened to you?” The smith looked him over, examining his clothes and face.

“I don’t really know.” The stranger leaned against a wooden pillar beside the open fire. “Is it a crime to be a stranger here?”

The blacksmith nodded. “Only if you’re a wizard.”

“Wizard?” the man asked. Is that what I am?

The blacksmith nodded. “You’re from the east, aren’t you?  People around here don’t have such light skin. From what’s left of your clothes and your accent, I’d guess one of the cities along the coast.”

The man shrugged. “I can’t remember.”

The blacksmith seemed puzzled. “You must have come here for a reason, although I’d dare say it appears you’ve had a rough time of it.”

The stranger sighed, nodding. “I awoke on the dunes under the brutal sun.”

The blacksmith nodded again. “The summer sun is harsh in the desert. You look exhausted. What’s your name, stranger?”

The stranger searched his mind, but still had no idea what his name was. “I can’t remember that either.”

The blacksmith raised his eyebrows. “How did you come to be here, then?”

The stranger shook his head. “I don’t know. I think I was attacked in a caravan. The town’s not friendly, is it?”

The smithy shrugged. “After what we’ve been through, some are a bit fearful around strangers, especially those from the east. I prefer to judge men on their actions rather than assume they mean ill. You don’t look like a wizard or a bandit to me.”

The stranger groaned, putting his face in his hands as if he could wipe the frustration away. “I don’t remember anything.”

“Well, if you try anything, you’ll wind up on the wrong end of a hammer, my friend,” the smithy’s eyes narrowed with warning, then he smiled. “Perhaps some rest might help you remember. I can’t offer you much, but you’re welcome to rest for a while in one of the empty stalls. This late in the afternoon, I have few customers. We can talk more later about who you are and how you got here.”

The stranger closed his eyes, sighing. “Thank you so much, Smithy, for your kindness.”

Smithy motioned toward the row of stalls down a corridor to the right. “There’s one or two empty down there. Help yourself.”

The stranger stood and moved down the corridor, forcing his aching feet and legs to take the steps one at a time. It felt like he’d forgotten how to walk. He found an open gate three stalls down on the left and braced himself on the gate post as he stumbed inside. The stall floor lay covered in clean hay. He found a large pile in the corner under the shadows and sank quickly down to his knees. His back cried out as if it were on fire. He lowered himself slowly onto his stomach, the smell of fresh hay filling his nostrils and soon fell asleep.


The Returning Cover front onlyEditor Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl.

Kalimpura Launched to Conclude Jay Lake’s Epic Fantasy Green Trilogy

Kalimpura - LakeIn Chicago this past summer, I finally met my friend Jay Lake. I’ve known Jay and talked with him online for over two years, but it took World Con to finally get us in the same physical space. As expected, Jay was a delight. We also did a panel together, which I moderated. But he also told me about his latest cancer diagnose, and it broke my heart. Jay and I may not agree on politics and religion much of the time, but we share a common passion for people and helping each other and for community. We’re both bluntly honest about our lives in ways that can be both offputting to others and very vulnerable for us. Nowhere did Jay demonstrate this more than his The Specific Gravity Of Grief, a limited release novella from Fairwood Press about a protagonist’s self-discovery during cancer treatment.But if you asked him, I imagine Jay would tell you he wouldn’t have it any other way. And I find transparency to be immensely freeing myself.

That said, I’ve also enjoyed Jay’s work as writer and editor. From his wonderful steampunk novels (Clockwork Earth, TOR) to his short stories and the fun anthology All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, one of several he’s coedited, his world-building is fantastic, character development masterful, and his themes resonate long after you put the books down.  So when TOR asked me help promote Kalimpura, the conclusion of his Green trilogy, I was honored and thrilled.

While I have not yet read the Green books, I have heard people rave about them.

 

In the first novel, Green, Green’s father sold her to the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was trained as both courtesan and assassin. Instead of winding up as so many of her peers, Green takes a knife to destroy her own beauty, and kills her intended master.

In the second, Endurance, Green has won her freedom. Yet she is still claimed by the gods and goddesses of her world, and they still require her service. Their demands are greater than any duke’s could have been. Godslayers have come to the Stone Coast, magicians whose cult is dedicated to destroying the many gods of Green’s world. In the turmoil following the Immortal Duke’s murder, Green made a God out of her power and her memories. Now the gods turn to her to protect them from the Slayers.

In Kalimpura, the final book, Green is forced to leave Copper Downs for Kalimpura, where the maleficent Surali has overtaken the Lily temple aided by evil sorcerers and cultists. He’s taken hostage two children along the way and Green makes an oath to retrieve them. To do so, she must seek out Red Man, a mysterious cult exile and two special knives, all where caring for her own newborn twins.

Describe as epic fantasy “sensual, ominous, shot through with the sweat of fear and the intoxication of power,” this is not Tolkien but something else entirely.

I interviewed Jay a while back about his writing. Since he’s in cancer treatment and unable to do interviews and promotion, here are some excerpts:

SFFWRTCHT: Jay, how do your stories start? With character, question  or situation?

Jay Lake: It varies how I start. Often it’s just with an image or a situation. Visual or language cue, maybe. I can gin up a story from a very small seed. It’s one of the pleasures of the craft for me.

SFFWRTCHT: Your prose is so dense and tight, how many edits does it take to get your sentences throw so much weight around?

JL: Believe it or not, a lot of that happens in the initial draft. Though a novel will have four or five passes.

SFFWRTCHT: How much did your exposure to “other” while growing up as the son of a diplomat effect your writing?

JL: I think growing up overseas in a diplomatic family is a huge part of why I became interested in writing the other. My entire childhood was made of ‘other’. The world is fractally, gloriously complex. Genre fiction re-opens those doors for me.

SFFWRTCHT:  The third in your Green series just came out. Are the Green books a trilogy? Will there be more books after Kalimpura?

JL: Kalimpura is Green 3 and finishes out this story cycle with a logical close. But there might be more if readers and the market want.

 

SFFWRTCHT: Don’t you find inspiration comes from genres diff from what you’re writing, e.g. non-fiction?

JL: Absolutely. That’s why I try to read (and DVD watch) outside my genre. So I don’t grow stale. It’s also why I shoot a lot of photographs and seek out new people and experiences in real life.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you feel about writing/marketing across different genres?

JL: Writing across different genres seems a fine thing to me. I’m not wedded to Fantasy and Science Fiction, it’s just my first and best love.

SFFWRTCHT: You remain very open about your cancer struggles on Facebook and the blog. And one of your departures lately was The Specific Gravity of Grief, a novella about a man going through cancer.  Has that been hard for you to write about?

JL: Cancer is everywhere in my writing, directly and indirectly, but I don’t think it has dominated Primary colon cancer was first diagnosed in April, 2008. Lung metastasis in April, 2009. Mistaken diagnosis of liver metastasis in July, 2010.  I talk openly about the cancer because so many people don’t. I get more fan letters off my cancer blogging than off my fiction. It’s difficult to talk about it sometimes, but it’s also something I can give back/pay forward for all those who have loved me.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you work from outlines or let the story unfold as it comes?

JL: Outlines, for short fiction? Never. I “follow the headlights.” For novels, always. But the process changes every time. The outlines for Sunspin are fantastically more detailed than ever before. The Trial Of Flowers outline was five paragraphs.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you ever consider giving up the day job for full time writing?

JL: No. I need the steady income and the benefits. Cancer means I can never be a full time free lancer.

SFFWRTCHT: What does your writing space look like and do you have any software preferences?

JL: My writing space looks like a MacBook Pro. I can and do write almost anywhere. As for software, I’m a dinosaur. I’ve been using Microsoft Word since it fit on the same floppy as the Mac OS, back in 1985/1986. Or maybe I was using MacWrite back then. But it’s been Word since forever.

SFFWRTCHT: When asked by other writers, what advice do you most commonly offer them?

JL: I like to tell new writers to “write more”. Whatever you’re doing, do more of it. Plus I’m a big fan of putting down the TV and the videogames. Nothing wrong with entertainment, but things that scratch your plot bump will keep you from writing. The question is: do you want to be a producer or a consumer?

SFFWRTCHT: Can you be both?

JL: Of course you can be both. We are all consumers by definition. But to be a producer, you have to shake off some of the habits of being a consumer.  Another comment that comes up a lot is.”Publishing is meritocracy, but it is not a just meritocracy,” which is to say being good is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success.  Writing a lot to learn and grow is exactly how we succeed. Nobody is born a literary genius. You would expect to practice a martial art or a new instrument or a foreign language. Why wouldn’t you practice writing? And write new stuff. Don’t spend years laboring over your Great Work. Trust me, it’s not that great. Go write another one.

SFFWRTCHT: Can’t some consumption lead to inspiration? Read to write idea?

JL: Absolutely. It’s called filling the well. Imagine a chef who never ate anyone else’s cooking. But time is an issue. People complain they don’t have time to write, but they’re in WOW every night, or watching House. Or whatever. That’s a choice.

SFFWRTCHT: For a while you were doing quite a bit of anthology editing. Any more of that on the horizon?

JL: Maybe another anthology or two on the horizon. Mostly I need to find publishers who want to work with me. I love editing anthos. Great fun. But the administrative side of it is tedious. And I don’t want to fund any more.

SFFWRTCHT: You’re amazingly prolific. Sometimes it seems like everywhere I turn I see a story or book you’ve written. Any advice about dealing with rejection?

JL: Yeah, the million bad words theory. I wrote and submitted regularly from 1990 to 2001 before making my first sale. Probably about 800,000 words of first draft before I broke in. At this point, I’ve probably written close to 3,000,000 words of first draft and sold over 2,000,000 of those words.  I still get rejected all the time. More often than I get accepted, I think. Submitting fiction is kind of like dating. It helps to be cheerful and bullet-resistant. Did I ever want to quit? Lots of times. But I kept going. Because, well, this is what I wanted.  And it’s been years since the last time I wanted to quit. Success is its own reward. It takes an inordinate amount of self-motivation to get this far, though.

 —

Sadly, Jay tells me, he may not write any other books. All depends what happens with his cancer treatments. He and some well known friends are raising money to help pay for an experimental treatment which could save his life. You can donate here (21 days left): http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/Sequence-a-Science-Fiction-Writer/38705. Here’s a man who knows he may miss his daughter’s high school graduation, wedding and so much more. There’s also a documentary crew following him around to document his experiences with the latest bout of cancer, and you can support them here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1060155945/lakeside-0

But you can also support Jay by buying his books, so click here for KalimpuraAnd if you pray, do keep him in your prayers.  Regardless, thanks for your support!

Jay Lake photoAbout Jay Lake:

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on multiple writing and editing projects. His 2007 book Mainspring received a starred review in Booklist. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his Web site at www.jlake.com

About Bryan Thomas Schmidt:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Announcing the Sprunk-Schmidt Star Wars Original Trilogy Rewatch: You’re Invited

The Project: Star Wars Original Trilogy Rewatch

The Hosts: Jon Sprunk & Bryan Thomas Schmidt

The Invitation To You: Rewatch the original trilogy in order, one a week, and join the conversation.

Jon and I are of an age where the release of the original Star Wars: A New Hope to theatres in 1977 remains a seminal moment. Bef0re that, while stories were fascinating, the possibilities had limits. Star Wars: A New Hope changed all that. It opened up possibilities for our imaginations that went beyond anything we’d seen before. From its state of the art special effects to its return to a classic storytelling style, Star Wars captured the public and never let go, launching a franchise, a legend, and an empire.

For me, Bryan, Star Wars infused my sense of what I wanted stories to be and the kind of stories I strive to tell, from witty banter to lots of action and large scale, my own Saga of Davi Rhii has been said to capture “the Star Wars feel,” and my forthcoming epic fantasies surely show that influence as well. I still enjoy a good space opera book, Star Wars tie-ins included. And I still like hopeful stories of good v. evil and the possibility of real heroes one can look up to and admire. One of my all time favorite sequences is still the opening battle of A New Hope, and I also still love the escape from the Death Star and the Battle of Yavin tons. There was something about the coming of age, innocent Luke that still attracts me, and I’ve used similar elements in both my Davi Rhii and Dawning Age novel series as well as some short stories.

Jon says: “I was seven years old when A New Hope arrived in theaters. I saw it seventeen times that summer. Never before had a movie—or any story—affected me so profoundly. The original Star Wars films were basic enough that a child could understand them, with their larger-than-life battles between the Empire and the Rebellion. Yet they were also dynamic enough to enthrall an entire generation of wannabe X-Wing pilots, smuggers, Jedi, and Sith Lords. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to appreciate these films for their technical aspects, especially A New Hope, which I consider one of the most structurally-perfect movies ever made. There is no doubt that a little bit of Star Wars infuses my writing, no matter the subject or genre.”

So, starting this week, Jon and I will watch Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and dialogue about it. That post will go up on his blog. We’ll talk about things we like and don’t like and why, how we react to them now as opposed to when we first encountered them as children, influences on our writing, genre, and so much more. You’re invited to join us in comments. We think it’ll be a lot of fun.

So let’s take a trip back to a galaxy far, far away together. We look forward to engaging with you.

Our conversation begins on A New Hope here: http://jonsprunk.blogspot.com/2012/11/hello-friends-today-i-have-special-treat.html

About Us:

Jon Sprunk grew up in central Pennsylvania, the eldest of four and attended Lock Haven University. He graduated with a B.A. in English in 1992. After his disastrous first novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment. Finally, after many more rejections and twists and turns of life, he joined Pennwriters and attended their annual conference in 2004. His short fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of ElvesDreams & Visions #34 andCemetery Moon #4. In June 2009, he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books by whom his Shadow Trilogy dark fantasy series have been published. He can be found on twitter as @jsprunk70, on Facebook and via his website athttp://jonsprunk.com/.

 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tips: Writing The Short Query Novel Pitch

Query letters and synopses are the bane of so many authors’ existence, aren’t they? I dread them and find them quite frustrating. They never seem to elicit the kind of enthusiastic response equal to that I get from my writing itself. It’s always disappointing when readers are loving a manuscript but you can’t agents or publishers to take a look. Yes, I know it’s all about numbers (i.e. percenatages) and finding the right match, but still, it’s so much easier when you can let the writing sell itself, but that’s not how the industry works.

Now, there’s good reason for that. By sheer quantity alone, agents and editors just can’t read all the millions of words that people try and put on their desks. A weeding out of wheat from chafe is necessary and there’s not a perfect way to do that. So query letters and synopses remain key elements of getting professionally published. I don’t see this changing for the foreseeable future either.

That leaves writers with one option: we must learn how to write queries and synopses. So I decided to do a series of Write Tips on related topics as I prepare for my latest round. This first one is going to deal with one of the most important but challenging: writing the short query synopsis for your book. You have to hook them in 100 words and get them to want more. It’s really tough to sum up a 130k novel in 100 words. 90k novels, too. But one of the first paragraphs and key paragraphs of any good query, research says, is the synopsis of the book. So, here’s the one I am working on for Duneman, book 1 of my epic fantasy trilogy The Dawning Age.

The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself. Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.

But before we talk about that, here’s where I started and some Facebook comments that helped me get where I am. (And I am still not done.)

In a world transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead. As he begins piecing back together his identity and his past, he sets out to rescue the kidnapped wife and child who hold the answers he needs. But soon he discovers things are not what they seem—discovering skills he hadn’t imagined he had and evidence that the wife and child are not who he thought. Others are hunting them with nefarious goals and the race is on to see who will get there first. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to uncover the truths about himself and his past and protect his future.

Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Here are comments from my Facebook page a couple of months back when I posted this.

    • Tim Ward I’m not really one to judge query letters, but it looks like a story I’d want to read.
    • Charles P. Zaglanis I would suggest using their names. Even as an introduction, I want to get a feel for the people in the story. Also, maybe excise the bit that sounds like Total Recall, the movie didn’t do well.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel Ooooh – I really like the sound of this! 🙂 Might I suggest: “In a world transitioning from a war-torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead and his wife and child kidnapped/missing/lost/gone/taken. Setting out to rescue them, he soon discovers things are not what they seem – his family may not be who he thought, others are on the hunt for them and he possesses skills previously unknown to him. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, the race is on for him to rescue his wife and child, protect their future and uncover truths about himself.”
    • Cindy Koepp Neato! That sounds like one I’d want to read.
    • Jay Werkheiser Here are a few tweaks I might recommend, but bear in mind that I’m no expert on writing query letters! I’d drop “back” from piecing back his identity. You use forms of the word “discover” twice in the same sentence; I would change one of them. Also in that sentence, I would drop “he had” after skills he hadn’t imagined. In the next sentence, I would drop “with nefarious goals” and “to see who gets there first;” I think both are already implied by the context. Like I said, take my suggestions with a large grain of salt; use what you like and ignore the rest! In any case, it sounds like a cool novel!
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt Jay, Chelvanya, helpful thanks. Thanks Tim and Cindy and even Joe. Charles, honestly, which part sounds like Total Recall? I am missing it…
      Also the problem with names is his identity changes over the course of the story. So it’s hard to know which name to use.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel I like the idea of using his name but I can see why it would be tricky. If you want to use a name, maybe you could use whatever name he starts out with? I feel like using a name works best when the name is unique (even if it is going to change). OR maybe to get that same connection to the story via a name, why not give us the name of the world?
    • Guy Anthony De Marco Any time I see “In a world”, the voice switches to the guy who does voice-overs for movie trailers and I get distracted 🙂
    • Ann Leckie Ditto on using names, at least your MC. I have the same problem with my MC, and I chose one for the query. Which was very successful. I’m in agreement with the “In a world where…” being maybe not the best approach. I also think that “transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason” is a bit awkward–I had to take a couple runs at it to separate it out. And I’d suggest that it’s information that doesn’t need to be in the first sentence. It should be there, just not right up front like that, IMO.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. <–there’s a contradiction here. You tell us his wife and child are missing, then he has questions about his relationship to the kidnapped woman and child…but you’ve already told us what that is. I’d recommend introducing the kidnapped woman and child as unknowns (and telling us why he cares about rescuing them), then raising the question of how they might be related to him. I think we need to know more specifically what the conflict is and how it relates to the peace of their world and Kaleb’s personal quest to find out who he is.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The challenge is he starts out believing one thing and so do we as readers, but it gets twisted and changes over the course of the story. How to convey that in a way that won’t have someone who accepted a query feeling deceived is difficult.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2b: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d say “apparent relationship with the kidnapped woman and child”, and make the things he discovers about his world and himself a little more apparent. Also, if he doesn’t remember who he is, how does he know his wife and child are missing? Is there evidence that’s been planted to make him think that? If he doesn’t remember and doesn’t feel anyhting for them because of that lack of memory, why does that draw him through the story? (these are just questions I’ve got, which an agent might also have. I’m still trying to figure out why his quest has anything to do with the conflict between magic and science, war and peace. Can you tie that more solidly together? At the moment, I can’t figure out why he cares about the woman and child or the transition of the government from magic to science, because what you’ve given is still a bit too vague.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d also just say that all your secrets don’t have to be saved until later. Sometimes you have to spoil the plot a bit in order to show off the main conflict.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I like that a lot better! I think it explains more. What’s still missing is what this has to do with the peace of their world. What role will Kaleb play?
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
      Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.
Okay, that gives you a sense of where I started and how it evolved. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear in comments. Next we’ll discuss the rest of the query before we move on to the big synopsis.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Review: Why You Should Read Sam Sykes Aeons’ Gate Trilogy from Pyr

I don’t do reviews here very often. And this will likely be a bit more of an essay than a review (fair warning). But the reasons are complex. As a fellow writer and professional who is friends or (at least) acquaintances will a lot of other professionals/ writers, I know how hard writers work and how hard bad reviews can be to hear. I also, generally, try and stay mostly positive on this blog, so negative reviews don’t add to that. Plus, if I don’t feel I can compliment the writer and book, there’s a risk of alienating people from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat or in my professional network, and I’m just not at the point where I feel that’s worth the risk or a good move for my career.

That being said, you should also know Sam Sykes is a friend. We have only met in person once, two years ago at World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio. But we have talked online and emailed back and forth and even scuffled over one of my Adventures In SF Publishing posts when we disagreed. We do it with respect and admiration (at least on my part). There’s still a lot we don’t know about each other. We don’t share the same worldview, but we do have a mutual respect and that transcends differences.

Okay, enough disclaimers.

Because if you have not read Sam’s Aeons’ Gate trilogy from PYR, you really should. I reviewed the debut here (Tome Of The Undergates), and I read the Middle book last year and put it on my popular 70 Most Memorable Science Fiction and Fantasy Books I’ve Read To Date post. But you shouldn’t read this series just because of those things, nor because he’s my friend. The two best reasons to read them are: 1) Sam Sykes is one of the most inventive fantasy writers to come along in a while. And 2) Sam Sykes is an example of an author growing as he writes in a way that is both encouraging and inspiring to writers.

If you’re not a writer, the second reason may be of little interest, but since my blog tends to cater toward the creative crowd, I’ll stand by that as a significant thing. In his first book, Tome, there was a rawness and roughness that showed it was a debut. Much like my own debut. In Black Halo, the second book, he moved a bit beyond with his craft, developing his world, characters and even style a bit more in areas where it had been criticized in the first book. However, the book suffered a bit from feeling, as middle books often do, a little less focused and going off on some tangents which took the core characters to separate places, depriving us of some of the fun we had in Tome with their banter and internal conflicts. But now that I am fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at The Skybound Sea, volume 3 in this sword and sorcery saga, I can say with confidence that Sykes is really starting to come into his own.

The Skybound Sea is an even better read than the first two. Although the group gets separated again, Sykes wisely brings them together early on and then again for the climax. The groupings are a bit different this time and aid in the development of subplots involving the character relationships. I have to be careful what I say, because I don’t do spoilers, but those awaiting a satisfying Lenk-Kataria connection will probably be most pleased with how that storyline develops and yet, even saying that feels fair because it develops in ways that are not predictable and which demonstrate Sykes’ inventiveness.

At the same time, the world-building here really steps up a notch, especially in terms of inventiveness. Sykes is not writing typical fantasy or sword and sorcery here in regards to characters or settings, in particular. I jokingly teased Sykes on Twitter that ” I’m pretty sure when @SamSykesSwears wrote The Isle of Jaga sequences mushrooms were involved of a hallucinatory variety. Just saying.” But Jaga is an amazing world with some startlingly unique aspects. And no, I can’t tell you without spoiling the fun, so I won’t. But half of this book takes place there, allowing plenty of time for its many aspects to be revealed and play a part in the story. Sykes uses the setting here, more than in either prior book, as a character. And that’s what I mean by watching him grow. He did an ample job with setting and description from the start, don’t get me wrong. But the milieu was less important than other factors much of the time. Here, in Skybound Sea, the milieu almost becomes inseparable from events, so significant is its role. And thus, like Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Sykes’ world because as inherent to his story as the characters and themes.

Another point of growth is the use of lots of bodily functions in Tome, particularly during the opening battle. Those elements don’t disappear entirely in later books, but, in The Skybound Sea, they become far less prevalent and Sykes even manages to evoke humor in regards to past incidents of them from his characters. There’s a certain sophistication developing here for this young writer, one of the younger adult fantasy writers I’ve come across (mid-20s). And Sykes has plenty of book writing years ahead of him. So I’m quite certain we have a lot more to look forward to.

The Aeons’ Gate trilogy is the tale of a band of ragtag adventurers led by Lenk,  a human with a mysterious past, who’s haunted by an internal voice that often argues with him, manipulates him, criticizes him etc. Aboard a ship attacked by froglike creatures from the depths, Lenk becomes caretaker of The Tome Of The Undergates, a magical book that holds the key to unlocking the Aeons’ Gate, a gate essentially between hell and earth. The frogmen are part of a conspiracy by demons (in essence) to set their master free to terrorize the earth again. When the tome is stolen, Lenk and his band are sent to capture it back and save the world. That road takes them into a lot of conflict and trouble they hadn’t counted on, encountering all kinds of various dangers and creatures along the way. The saga has lots of action, some romance, good interpersonal drama and politicking, some betrayal, scheming, magic, and good v. evil with some serious stakes. The characters are anti-heroes, but several possess a sense of moral core many antiheroes seem to lack these days. Ultimately, they may be flawed, but it’s understandable and their response to those failings is very admirable and believable.

One thing Sykes does here which is not so common is to really dig into the psychology of his characters. That means we go along with them to some dark places, which may be heavier than some readers would enjoy. But it also makes them more interesting, believable and real than a lot of characters because we see so much of the internal conflict behind their decisions. At times, I do think it can distract from pacing a bit, however, as I mention in the next paragraph, still, Sykes does this really well overall.

Are there weaknesses? Well, I’ve mentioned some in the first two books. There’s definitely some graphic violence here, although my contention is it serves the story and Sykes also gets better about how he uses that throughout the course of the trilogy. And the series is a bit dark, which may or may not be to your taste. But those aren’t genuinely weaknesses per se. Also, I found it a bit hard to envision characters until I got really further in. With book 3, the publishers finally include one of Lenk’s companions, and his love interest, with him on the cover with helps. I also found the netherlings and some of their co-antagonistic groups blended together a bit at times making them hard to distinguish. There are layers to all of them, and it wasn’t always easy to discern who’s who. I also felt some of the POV breaks using those characters didn’t add as much and slowed down the pace at times. However, those become minor quibbles in the end, because of the series’ overall strength.

The trilogy also holds the distinction of having one of the longest battle sequences I’ve ever read. I believe the first 100+ pages of Tome Of The Undergates all take place during the same battle. Sykes pulls it off in stunning fashion. In any case, I really think this is a series that fantasy fans young and old, new or ongoing will enjoy and should take the time to discover. And I have no doubt we are just hearing the first of many to come from Sam Sykes. Highly recommended.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Eleven SFF Series I Read And Was Surprised To Love

I read a lot of books for my author interviews on SFFWRTCHT and blogs like GraspingForTheWind.com, www.SFSignal.com, and Ray Gun Revival, as well as my own blog. In fact, reading for those dominates my reading time. I rarely squeeze in books for fun or learning anymore. Most of the time, I’m excited to read the books because I love discovering new authors and for years I didn’t read speculative fiction at all, so I am way behind in my genre knowledge. But every once in a while you come across one that makes you think “I probably won’t enjoy this” for various reasons. Isn’t it wonderful to instead discover you adore them? Here’s Eleven series I had that initial reaction to which are now among my favorites:

1) The Majipoor Books by Robert Silverberg–WHAT?! You say? Well, I’d never heard of Robert Silverberg when my twin sister gave me Lord Valentine’s Castle for Christmas at age 15. It was not a book on my Christmas list, and, frankly, I was annoyed that she would dare deviate from my carefully prepared list. The cover intrigued me though with its aliens juggling and such. And boy, this book knocked my socks off. Other than The Hobbit (I had yet to read Lord Of The Rings), this book had the most amazing world building I had ever seen. It absolutely knocked me out. And I adored it. I snagged Majipoor Chronicles as soon as that came out, and the alien sex scenes certainly stimulated my young teenage boy mind (HEY! I’m only human people!) It took years for me to get the rest and read them, but I finally did and reread the first two as well. My favorite novel series of all time, hands down. Amazing characters, amazing world building, masterful storytelling in every sense. True classics. Not to be missed. His second series surrounding Presimion is maybe even better than the first, but Lord Valentine’s Castle remains my favorite. They are all getting released starting this month by ACE/ROC Books, too.

2) Black Blade Blues by John A. Pitts–An urban fantasy with dragons and a Lesbian heroine with romance. Dragons are overdone. They’ve been done a million times. And I’m straight, not gay. To each his or her own, but when I do read romance, I just prefer male on female. Also, this just sounded like a teen set, girly appeal book to me. Not because John himself is all that girly. He’s really not. In fact, he’s become a good friend. But this was one I expected to not enjoy and instead turned out to be one of my favorite series ever. Pitts writes really good characters and action. He also does some unique POV things, with all Sarah Buehall’s chapters in 1st person, and 3rd person for the supporting POV characters. He takes old tropes like dragons and the blacksmith and breathes new life into them. He also takes modern SCA reenactors and throws them into their living fantasy and mines it for humor skillfully. Just a delight in every way and should not be missed. SERIOUSLY. Straight guys too!

3) Greywalker by Kat Richardson–I read this after meeting Kat at Rainforest Writers. She was delightful. But urban fantasy had never sounded like much of anything I’d enjoy. Instead, I’m hooked. And I have Kat to blame. At first, it sounded too Sixth Sense-like for me. As one of the few people who didn’t care for that movie, this was not a draw. But man, I love this series. I’m hooked. I went out and tracked down copies of every one. I’ve since read another and interviewed her. And it inspired my own idea for an urban fantasy detective noir series I am working on. Love these books. They are even better than you’ve heard.

 

4) Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole–Military fantasy? Military anything really. Okay, I like John Ringo. And I am pro-military. But it just sounded odd, although I adore the book cover. I could not have been more wrong. I absolutely got my socks knocked off, and I still can’t find them. Cole is a master at world building and working old tropes inventively into the modern world. He also knows his military and it shows. It’s like an inside view of military life in so many ways, and I think it makes you respect all the more, the sacrifices our troops make in serving our country. Sure to make you patriotic in a good way but also challenges the idea that obeying orders strictly is an ideal rule of thumb. Cole infuses his characters with humanity, even the goblins, yes, and makes you care about them and root for them. Really fun and exciting possibilities with this one. And women, you’ll love it just as much. He writes good, strong females as well. I can’t wait to read the rest. And I am telling you, this one is for everyone!

5) The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger–Okay, parasol in the title. Pretty much said it all. Romance. Also, vampires and werewolfs AGAIN?????!!! Not my favorite. No one can top Anne Rice in the vampires, if you ask me, although Charlaine Harris is giving her a run for the money at the moment. I read it because Carriger is a leading steampunk author, a genre I love. And I’d heard good things. I am in love with this series, too. Went out and tracked them all down. Carriger is hilarious and she uses old tropes in new ways while making absolutely fantastic use (and fun) of her Victorian setting. She even gets the Old Queen herself involved. Yes, there’s romance, but not in a sappy, smarmy way. (Well, not too much.) Her lead character is not one of those sappy females with dreamy eyed looks and emotions at all. She’s a bit rougher around the edges, and, as such, a bit of an outcast. She also has gifts which set her apart. I won’t spoil it for you. But I adored the first book and can

6) The First Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson–I picked these up because the Darrell Sweet covers were so intriguing and I wanted something fantasy to read. I had been reading a lot of science fiction but not as much fantasy. Then the main character was not so nice and he raped a young girl. I almost put it down right then. So glad I didn’t. The redemption journey of Thomas Covenant is so worth the effort and Donaldson is so masterful a writer. I am thrilled to have met him and had him sign my copy a couple of years ago. And we have an interview coming up for SFFWRTCHT with him where I focused on this series. He’s got two trilogies and a 4 book final cycle in this universe now, and they are rightly regarded as classics of the genre. Also, the later cycles have a female lead, so if you women are turned off by Covenant’s behavior, you really should still give this a chance. The world building is rich and unique and the journey is one that touches the heart. I promise.

7) The Retrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch–I read these because I had read her first Diving book and several great short stories, but the idea of a noir detective in science fiction didn’t sound like my thing. I have never been a huge mystery reader. I think Rusch changed all that with these books. I adore this series and her mix of genres. She also does some really fantastic world building in here as well. Her use of tropes in new ways, her alien species, etc. are so well thought out, with real cross cultural conflicts and consequences arising from their different world views. Authors don’t always think it through that far or even strive to incorporate it all, and she’s challenged me as a writer to go further as a result. Highly recommended. Kris has become a friend and one of my favorite authors.

8 ) The Ender Series by Orson Scott Card–This one I had hesitancy for silly reasons. I wasn’t reading science fiction at the time and I’d only heard bad things about this author’s strong opinions. But my cousin David and his wife insisted I’d love these. They even gave me their copies, so I felt obligated to give them a chance. After all, David and I have always been close and our mutual love of speculative fiction is one reason. David introduced me to D&D, Star Wars and so many things. He was right. Ender’s Game is called a classic with good reason. No matter what you think of Card’s religion or opinions on politics, he’s masterful at writing and those themes don’t come into it with this series (at least so far). This is really good militarySF and space opera. And not to be missed by genre fans.

9)  The Chronicles Of A Distant World series by Mike Resnick–I am now a huge Resnick fan and he’s become a friend and mentor. He even blurbed my forthcoming novel and wrote a story for an anthology I edited. But full disclosure aside, I read this when I really had no idea who this Resnick guy was. I just knew he’d won a lot of awards and was a big shot amongst writers (everyone said). He also had a passion for Africa and so do I. But could a white guy from Ohio really do the African cultures I adored justice? I think he did splendidly, frankly. This series of science fiction inspired by African history and imagining what the future might look like has been a touchstone for me. In fact, the predictions Resnick made came true in some cases. Very unique and not like most other SF you will read but that’s all the more reason you shouldn’t miss it. Masterfully done and really deep world building and cross cultural explanation. No preaching. No judging. He just lays it out there like the expert he is and lets readers to the rest.

10) The Posleen War Series by John Ringo–I am not a big military story reader. I support the military. But reading military books is rare. I love political intrigue like old school Tom Clancy and WEB Griffin, but the idea of war books didn’t appeal. But people kept raving about MilitarySF. And people said John Ringo was a great place to start. Plus I heard an interview with the author that impressed me. A Hymn Before Battle blew me away. I went out and bought the series and can’t wait to tear into the rest. Reading schedule, as mentioned above, has so far prevented me, but they are on the shelf where I can see them and one of these days, soon, I’ll pick them up and tear into them again, and I can’t wait!

11) Pathfinder Tales by various–D&D tie-ins, really? I imagined characters stopping to roll the dice during attacks, and more silliness. I just couldn’t wrap my mind about it. What I never expected to find was good sword & sorcery/fantasy novels, but these are a real find. I have read four so far and enjoyed them thoroughly. This is some great stuff. Don’t let the tie-in stigma scare you off. Editor James L. Sutter is doing some great stuff with some great authors like Howard Andrew Jones and Dave Gross. If you enjoy fantasy and magic, even if you’re not into RPGs, you’ll love this. If you are into RPGs, that’s just a bonus.

Okay, there’s eleven series I loved in spite of initial reservations. I’m sure I’ll discover more, but what about you? Please post yours in comments. I’m sure we’d all love to discover more!’ll be tearing back into this. Military culture is well handled, of course, but the alien invasion and character drama is fascinating too. He really is the Clancy/Griffin of SF writers. His tension and the intrigue level is far more than I’d anticipated. It really keeps you hooked and turning the pages. I really enjoyed these.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Rensick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.