Virtual reality has long been the stuff of fiction–from the Holodeck in Star Trek, the holograms in Star Wars, to the Matrix itself. Then several months ago Niantic released the game Pokemon Go, representing the first time that normal people could experience virtual reality for themselves. I mean, yeah the Oculus Rift and Google Glass are a thing, but let’s face it, they aren’t something that the vast majority of us get to play with.
A bunch of my friends and I have all jumped on the Pokemon Go train. (I’m a level 22 Mystic, and Mike is a level 25 instinct. He claims that makes me a traitorous blueberry.) It’s been fun so far, and has taught me a lot about some of the hidden landmarks in my own neighborhood.
When I started playing Pokemon Go, the game got me thinking about some of my favorite books that incorporate the idea of virtual reality. Here are a few of them, with links to full reviews. What are some of your favorite books about virtual reality?
“Digital Rapture” edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Digital Rapture is a fiction anthology about the singularity, or the point where mankind is made obsolete by our robot overlords. Many of the stories in the collection explore the concepts like virtual reality, computer simulations, and artificial intelligence.
“Fool’s War” by Sarah Zettel
Fools War is a story about an artificial intelligence that becomes sentient. It doesn’t know what’s happening, so it is scared, angry, and very dangerous. The protagonist is a Muslim woman who is a space captain, which adds a fascinating element of balancing faith and career while also trying to save the world.
“Love Minus Eighty” by Will McIntosh
Love Minus Eighty takes place in a futuristic world where most people view the world through a layer of virtual reality. The protagonist is a man named Rob who falls in love with a woman who was in a fatal accident, but whose consciousness was salvaged. The process of getting a new body is extremely expensive, so is financed through a sort of “speed dating” where people whose consciousness has been saved are resurrected for a few minutes to hope to convince someone to sponsor them, much like the concept of a mail-order bride.
“Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne Valente
Silently and Very Fast is a novella told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence who becomes sentient. Much of the story takes place within the virtual reality dreamscape of her mind as she reminisces about her past. Valente’s prose is absolutely stunning.
Today I’m delighted to welcome S.C. Flynn, who recently released his debut novel, Children of the Different. Children of the Different is a fascinating post-apocalyptic journey, which occurs as much in the mind as in reality.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your new book Children of the Different.
SCF: I am an Australian/British/Irish/Italian reader and obsessive reviser. I was born in a small town in South West Western Australia, but I have lived in Europe for more than twenty years. First the United Kingdom, then Italy and currently Ireland, the home of my ancestors. That has been a great experience, but also difficult and lonely at times.
My whole life has been fairly multicultural, I guess. The town I grew up in had lots of different nationalities. And there was the Australian Aboriginal culture. When I lived in London, there seemed to be just about every culture in the world! Then I met my Italian wife and lived in Italy, and now I speak fluent Italian. So you never really know what directions life will take you in!
Oh, I have played old jazz and drunk strong coffee all my life. So not much of a morning person, no.
“Children of the Different” is a Young Adult post-apocalyptic fantasy novel set in Western Australia. The story begins twenty years after a brain disease killed almost the entire world’s population. All the survivors had something special about their brains, and now their children go into a coma at the beginning of adolescence and either emerge damaged or with special powers. The novel follows the Changings and later adventures of two telepathic twins, Narrah (a boy) and Arika (a girl).
Q: What was your inspiration for the novel?
SCF: The varied landscape and wildlife of Western Australia, above all. Australia is famous for its weird mammals, but it is above all the continent of insects. From them, I got the idea of adolescents going into a coma, like insects into a cocoon, and then emerging as something completely different. That’s a creepy idea when it is humans that are transformed like that. Once I had that central idea (or it had me), much of the rest followed: the age of the characters, the switch back and forth between the outside world and the coma world (known as The Changeland), as well as the specific sub-genre. Post-apocalyptic stories are common, but ones with fantasy elements are rare, so it was interesting and challenging to work on something that is not often done.
Q: What kind of books do you enjoy reading? What are some of your recent favorites?
SCF: When I was very young I read lots of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Tarzan, Doc Savage, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov.
People in other countries are often surprised when I say that in school in Australia, we studied quite a bit of classic science fiction and fantasy: Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham. I am very grateful for that now.
For quite a while now, I have been reading or re-reading a lot of modern classic science fiction and fantasy. My favourites among those writers include Ursula Le Guin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jennifer Fallon, Gene Wolfe and Dan Simmons.
James Tiptree Jr’s collection of stories “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” and “Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress have been my favourites in the last few months.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
SCF: Not much music these days, unfortunately! Reading, watching films.
Q: If you were a superhero, what would your power be?
SCF: Like Doctor Strange – mastery of the mystic arts! The first Marvel comic I can remember reading (Defenders #13) introduced me to the doctor. I loved the idea of his “sanctum sanctorum” right from the first moment I saw it and always dreamed of having a space like that myself.
About S.C. Flynn
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.
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Girl Who Fought Napoleon: A Novel of the Russian Empire
by Linda Lafferty Published:
September 20th 2016 by Lake Union Publishing Genres: Historical Fiction Pages:
430 Format: Paperback Source:
TLC Book Tours Buy on Amazon View on Goodreads
The Girl Who Fought Napoleon is a historical fiction novel by Linda Lafferty about a Russian girl named Nadya who cross-dresses in order to join the army and fight in the Napoleonic war. Nadya’s story is interspersed with point-of-view segments from Tsar Alexander as he struggles with balancing his Enlightenment ideals with the harsher reality that accompanies war and politics.
I was a Russian major in undergrad, and so the idea of this book appealed to me in many ways. Most of what I know about Russian history is focused on the 1861+ years, after the Emancipation of the Serfs, and so it was interesting to read about Tsar Alexander, who ruled shortly after Catherine the Great. His grandmother had given him a liberal education, which included Enlightenment concepts like freedom and democracy. He had so much hope for his rule to be different, but it began prematurely and the circumstances of his father’s death cast a shadow he struggled to be rid of. By the end of the novel, his circumstances have shaped him into an entirely different personality.
I hadn’t heard of Nadya before, but her story is fascinating. Her father was in the military, and she was born on the road. She had a hard time fitting into the gender roles expected of women of her era, and at a young age, she ran away with her horse and joined the cavalry. I really enjoyed Lafferty’s portrayal of Nadya’s journey, because she didn’t start out a competent soldier, even though her career eventually led to her becoming an officer. She started out exactly as you’d expect someone who ran away from home to join the army with very little training and no experience would. It was a constant struggle, and she made plenty of mistakes. But news of her courage eventually reached Tsar Alexander, and rather than forcing her to return to her father, he gave her a promotion and allowed her to continue her career.
There’s one part of The Girl Who Fought Napoleon that didn’t sit quite so well with me. To understand why, you have to understand that the book was based on Nadya’s memoir. And because of the limitations of her memoir (and her decision to omit certain parts of her life from it), the ending was very unclear, and at times contradictory. I found myself flipping back to earlier in the novel where I remembered reading something very different, and I kept thinking that I was losing my mind. It turns out that I wasn’t, and that it was a deliberate choice, and it was explained in the Epilogue, but it broke the cohesion of the narrative and was somewhat jarring to read. It would have been a lot better if the twist were evident in the prologue, or at least further hinted at, so that readers do not doubt their own sanity when they get to the end of the book.
Aside from that, The Girl Who Fought Napoleon was a lovely glimpse into the lives of two historical figures who struggled to balance their visions of themselves with the expectations of society. Nadya and Alexander did their best with the hands that fate dealt them, and each lived in bold defiance of tradition. If you’re interested in Russian history, you’ll enjoy this novel.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
by Tanith Lee Published:
July 19th 1977 by DAW Books Genres: Fantasy
, Horror/Gothic Pages:
192 Format: Paperback Source: Purchased Buy on Amazon View on Goodreads
My paperback of Volkhavaar by Tanith Lee is so old and battered that even my cell phone Instagram picture is higher resolution that anything I can find on the internet. This tells me two things–(A) Volkhavaar is not one of Tanith Lee’s best known books, and (B) I got hella lucky at the used bookstore.
Volkhavaar is quintessentially a novel about the power of love. The story begins with Shaina, a slave girl with a rough but ordinary life in a peasant village. One day she goes up the mountain to walk the goats, and encounters a witch, who tells her that her life is about to change. That night, a magician and his troupe come to town, and all of the villagers enthralled by his performance. And when I say enthralled, I don’ mean just figuratively–they’re completely under his spell. Everyone, that is, except for Shaina, who immediately falls in love with one of the magician’s assistants. The magician is, of course, the titular Volkhavaar, and he’s not just an illusionist, but a power-crazed warlock who manipulates people for shits and giggles. Shaina’s lover is under his spell, and so Shaina must fight Volkhavaar in order to regain his soul.
I’m always pleased by the kind of atmosphere that Tanith Lee’s writing evokes, and this book is no exception. It’s kind of a cross between fairy tales and horror, which is how most true fairy tales are. Volkhavaar is dark and twisted, with each character a larger-than-life archetype in the battle between love and the lust for power. As someone who loves Russian literature and mythology, I found myself seeing echoes of Eastern European folklore, from the gods of the forests to the witch (who reminded me more than a bit of Baba Yaga, minus the chicken leg house).
Perhaps my favorite part of the novel was the ending. I’ve been on a Tanith Lee kick lately, and in each of her books that I’ve read thus far, the ending has a bit of a twist that challenges assumptions that you’ve made while you’ve been reading. I love that, especially when I’m reading books that have a pulpier feel to them.
Overall, Volkhavaar was a delightful little tale, and if you come across it in a used bookstore, it’s definitely worth your time.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Winterwood (Rowankind, #1)
by Jacey Bedford Series: Rowankind #1 Published:
February 2nd 2016 by DAW Genres: Fantasy Pages:
432 Format: Paperback Source:
the publisher Buy on Amazon View on Goodreads
Winterwood by Jacey Bedford is the first book in the Rowankind series. It features a strong female protagonist, angry fae, and pirates, which are an excellent combination.
Although it’s the first book in the Rowankind series, Winterwood is self-contained and forms a complete story arc. Book 2, Silverwolf, is scheduled for release in January.
Rossalinde (or Ross) Tremayne is a privateer captain. Her husband was Captain Redbeard, and when he died, she started cross-dressing and took up his role on the high seas. She’s having a hard time letting go though, as evidenced by the fact that she’s constantly followed by his ghost.
One day Ross gets called to her mother’s deathbed, and she’s given a winterwood box. The box is magical, and is the key to righting a sin committed by her family several generations ago. It’s also the key to understanding the Rowankind, a race enslaved by the aristocracy on the British Isles. Ross initially tries to run away from the task, in part because she’s got some serious Mommy issues. You see, in this alternate version of history, magic exists but is highly regulated by the Crown. And when Ross discovered that she had magic, her mother became cold and hostile, pushing her away. Ross still hasn’t forgiven her, and has built her own happy life on the high seas.
Then Ross discovers that she has a half brother, her other brother is still alive, and there’s some seriously weird shit going on in her family tree. Oh, and she’s also being followed and hunted by members of a Secret Service type of organization, who are hell-bent to kill her and retrieve the Winterwood box. And this is where the book gets political and philosophical, because the Winterwood box holds the secret as to why the Rowankind are enslaved, and using the box will change the face of England. It’s both the right thing to do, and equally terrifying to Ross, because she has no idea how the Rowankind will react and is afraid of triggering a bloodbath.
Winterwood also has a romantic aspect. In her journey, Ross meets Corwin, a mysterious silver-haired gentleman who awakens long-buried feelings. And in order to pursue a relationship with Corwin, Ross needs to learn how to let go of her husband’s ghost and move on, which is easier said than done.
Winterwood was an excellent vacation read. It’s not a particularly serious book, and has a lot of fun fantasy elements, including magic, ghosts, werewolves, hellish creatures, and of course the fae.
Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening
by Marjorie M. Liu
, Sana Takeda Series: Monstress #1 Published:
July 19th 2016 by Image Comics Genres: Graphic Novels
, Horror/Gothic Pages:
192 Format: Paperback Source: Purchased Buy on Amazon View on Goodreads
Have you ever impulsively purchased a book and then been completely blown away by how mindbogglingly amazing it was? Earlier this summer I was traveling for work, and was horribly sick. In between meetings I stepped into a comic book store and saw the first issue of Monstress. The art was breathtaking, and I immediately grabbed the trade collection. I’m so glad I did, because Monstress is unlike anything I’ve read before.
The story takes place in an alternate version of early 1900s Asia. The story opens as Maika, the teenage heroine, is being auctioned as a slave. But Maika is there because she wants to be, because she’s secretly a spy and is trying to bring the whole system down. You see, the half-animal magical folk are having their body parts stolen by the humans in order to create life-extending alchemy. It’s so brutal. And along the way, Maika rescues a terrified fox-child and becomes her friend. Having a friend is something that Maika has a hard time with, because she’s also semi-possessed by an Eldritch monster with a constant hunger for blood.
Monstress is definitely a story for mature readers. It’s dark and brutal, and horrible things happen to innocent people. And while it’s dark, it’s beautifully dark. Gloriously dark. The art has a steampunk/art-deco vibe, mixed with a whole lot of Lovecraft. Oh, and did I mention the cute magical historian cats that appear throughout the novel to explain things?
One other really neat aspect of the book is that pretty much all of the major characters are women of color. You know how you sometimes read comics or stories where every character is a white dude, and for some inexplicable reason there are no women and no other races in the entire universe? Monstress turns that trope on its head, and it’s so refreshing. Even the villains are women, and they’re creepy as hell. Creepy in the ‘even Helena Bonham Carter would have a hard time being this creepy’ kind of way. It’s glorious.
There are some books that that are so vibrant that they make all other books look pale and watery by comparison. Monstress is one of them.
Seriously guys, tentacle monsters and cats. It’s an amazing combination, and you have to read it.
I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.An Oath of Wintersteel: A Weird West Steampunk Adventure (A Sojourn Into Twilight Book 1)
by JM Guillen Series: The Paean of Sundered Dreams
, A Sojourn Into Twilight #1 Published:
2016 by Irrational Worlds Genres: Horror/Gothic
, Steampunk Pages:
196 Format: eARC Source:
the author Buy on Amazon View on Goodreads
An Oath of Wintersteel is the latest book by evil mastermind JM Guillen, who has fast become one of my favorite authors. Guillen’s series The Paean of Sundered Dreams is a lot like Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, in that all of his books are set in a shared multiverse despite different times, characters, planets, and even genres. The entire concept here is of irrational worlds–ones that have been broken by a Lovecraftian apocalyptic event that nobody truly understands. Figuring out what happened and how the remnants of humanity are holding the darkness at bay is one of the really fun parts of reading this series–even though you can jump in at any place, it’s a lot like putting together a puzzle as you keep gathering more and more clues from each book.
So, onward to Wintersteel. This story takes place on the same planet as On the Matter of the Red Hand, but in a different time and a different part of the world. It’s also a completely different genre–a Western/steampunk/horror story.
An Oath of Wintersteel begins as Sierra del Amaija and her mentor Domingo ride their horses through the desert. They’re chasing rumors about the Lost City of Teredon, and have learned about a witch called the Harridan who seeks something lost beneath the world. Their quest takes them through an underground labyrinth where they face maddening winds, eldritch horrors, mushroom creatures, and malevolent automatons. Armed with only their guns (and a handful of explosives), Sierra and Domingo must fight battles of both strength and with in order to achieve their quest.
While An Oath of Wintersteel is only the first segment of Sierra’s story, it has a satisfying story arc. This is something that I find important when I read series that aren’t over yet. I want each book to be both a story in and of itself and a gateway into a larger world, and Wintersteel did an excellent job of striking that balance.
Having read nearly all of Guillen’s published stories (I may be missing a novella or two), I enjoyed that Sierra had her own voice that felt distinct from other narrators. I enjoyed getting into her head and seeing her navigate the territory between being an emotionless yet artful gunslinger and being a woman whose is driven by temper and emotions. She’s kind of like a cowboy paladin, which is pretty damn cool.
An Oath of Wintersteel is an excellent chapter in an excellent series/shared world/diabolical plot to keep me up reading way past my bedtime, and I highly recommend it. (And I’m not just saying it because the eldritch voices tell me to!)
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Night Ringing
by Laura Foley Published:
January 11th 2016 by Headmistress Press Genres: Poetry Pages:
110 Format: Paperback Source:
TLC Book Tours Buy on Amazon View on Goodreads
Night Ringing is a new autobiographical collection of poems from author Laura Davies Foley. I read her Joy Street collection several years ago and am delighted to be able to explore more of her work.
Night Ringing includes 63ish (my count may be slightly off) short poems that begin in childhood, but quickly progress to more adult themes of finding love, losing love, divorce, and new beginnings. The collection is divided into five sections, which are reflective of different life stages. The poems within each are contemplative, and range from joyful to poignant. For example, the titular Night Ringing comes from a piece about being woken up by phone calls when a loved one has died.
My favorite poem in the collection is “In the Honda Service Area,” which relates an adult’s conversation about hip replacements through the eyes of a teenage girl reading The Iliad in the waiting room of a car dealership. I remember carrying around my battered copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey the summer before I took Advanced English in high school, desperately trying to finish the reading assignment before the school year started, and as I read Foley’s poem, I found my own memories reflected in the poem.
Because poetry is a form of art that often must be experienced to truly get a feel for an author’s writing style, here’s another of my favorite poems from the collection:
Incident in the Coffee Shop
I’m having my usual,
OJ, bialy, eggs poached easy.
I’ve known this waitress years:
Florence has met my kids,
my sons’ girlfriends,
my lover who I’m
breaking up with.
Today, when she asks
if everything’s okay,
I begin to cry
she means the food.
The poems in Night Ringing are truly a reflection of life’s ups and downs, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Foley has a way with words, and can convey a range of emotion and experience in just a few breathtaking lines. If you enjoy contemporary poetry, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her work.
And if your curiosity has been piqued, today is your lucky day! As part of the blog tour, I’m giving away a copy of the book (US/Canada only). The giveaway will end on 9/28, and you may enter using the Rafflecopter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
You are also welcome to join an author chat with Laura Foley in the Facebook group TLC Readers, on September 13th from 3 – 4 pm PST/ 6-7 pm EST. Our moderator will be Deb Christensen from the blog Kahakai Kitchen. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/540186836158011/?fref=nf
I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Children of the Different
by S.C. Flynn Published:
September 10th 2016 by The Hive Genres: Young Adult
, Science Fiction Pages:
318 Format: eARC Source:
the author Buy on Amazon View on Goodreads
Children of the Different is a young adult post-apocalyptic novel set in a future Australia. A disease has wiped out most of humanity, and the only people who survived were those who had something different about them mentally–i.e. psychic powers, brain damage, coma, etc. The protagonists are a set of twins who were born after the cataclysm. Arika and Narrah live in a small enclave of survivors. Because of the virus, children who hit puberty go into a trance-like state referred to as the Changeland, and come back from it with some kind of new power or ability. That is, if they don’t come back a zombie.
Arika and Narrah have always had a psychic connection to each other. When Arika enters the Changeland, the connection is weakened, and both characters find themselves alone for the first time in their lives. And at the same time, they are thrust into situations where they need to rely on and trust each other in order to survive, all while feeling alienated from themselves as their minds and bodies change. The Changeland is so insightful into the feelings one has during puberty. We many not have psychic powers, but we all change as we grow up, and often without feeling ready for it.
One of my favorite elements of Children of the Different was looking at how different groups of survivors responded to the apocalypse. Arika and Narrah are part of an enclave that saw technology as the cause of disaster, and so there was a back-to-the-land ethos that permeated every aspect of daily life. In his adventures, Narrah encounters a scientist who has brought together survivors in the hope of using technology to make the world better. And Arika uncovers an ocean-worshiping cult who believe that the secret to survival will come from the oldest forms of life.
I loved this book. Children of the Different is trippy and surreal, and is a thought-provoking adventure.
August was a fantastic month for me, both in terms of blogging and in terms of real life. A few months ago, I was super stressed and having a rough time, and decided I needed a vacation. I found a deal on Groupon for a trip to the Bahamas that seemed too good to pass up, and last week, it finally happened. It was exactly what I needed. The sum total of my plans going in were, “Well, I can sit on a beach. I can go on a boat. I can drink rum. And if I do all of those at once, then I might be a pirate!” The water was blue, the beaches were empty, the sharks were just chilling in the bay, and the rum flowed freely. And even though I didn’t commandeer a ship, I did read a book about pirates, which is close enough for me.
I went into August hoping to play catch-up on reviewing and on my yearly Goodreads challenge. I made ridiculous progress.
What did you read this month?
Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall (and RIP)
And now summer is finally coming to a close. The humidity is dying down a bit, and it feels good to walk around outside. Fall is a time of new beginnings, cozy sweaters (or just pajamas… it’s DC, let’s be real, it is still hot outside), pumpkin spice, and atmospheric reads. Fall is a time for Carl’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, and I can’t wait to get started!
Carl’s reading challenges were some of the first events I participated in when I started blogging, and they were one of the things that really brought me into the book blogging community. Every year, I feel so blessed to be able to take part in them again. And guys, R.I.P. is a great challenge. It’s not a challenge in the traditional sense, and there really aren’t any rules except to have fun and enjoy books/movies/comics/etc. in any of the following genres: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Gothic, Horror, Dark Fantasy, and Things-That-Go-Bump-in-the-Night. The challenge runs now through Halloween, and I can’t wait to get started!
Here are some of the books I plan to read/feature during the event:
- Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn – post-apocalyptic YA novel with zombies
- Monstress by Marjorie Liu – a graphic novel about eldritch creatures, revenge, and general badassery
- Volkhavaar by Tanith Lee – SF/horror about a lovestruck slave fighting a warlock
- An Oath of Wintersteel by J.M. Guillen – a steampunk Western with Lovecraftian monsters
Are you participating in R.I.P.? What fall reads are you looking forward to?