The Apocalypse Interview with Jody Wallace

Jody Wallace has a new book out called Prodigal. It’s the third title in her Maelstrom Chronicles. Because it features an apocalypse and aliens, I wanted to read it. They’re…kinda my thing. Spoiler alert: It’s a very entertaining book! It’s a great blend of apocalypse and aliens, plus action, a sexy romance and a hint of the paranormal with the way the shades and daemons operate.You can read my review here. Then I decided to ask Jody a few questions and that turned into us talking apocalypses. Apparently they’re her thing too. Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Kissing Cherries and The Song

 

Here are couple more of my contributions to the Monday Flash Fics group on Facebook. These stories and more can be read on my flash fiction Tumblr.

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Kissing Cherries

“Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow! That pure congealèd white, high Taurus’ snow…”

Again, I faltered. It was the word congealed. Generally, I enjoyed the fun Shakespeare had with words, but every time I hit this line, I imagined that fuzz you got on your teeth in the morning if you forgot to brush the night before.

“You’re thinking about teeth again, aren’t you?” Ray said.

“I can’t help it! The high Taurus snow part is perfect. I’m thinking white, there. Glacial white. Fresh as a mountain whatever.” I tapped the script. “And then he goes and ruins it with the crow reference.”

“It’s a comparison. It means Helena’s hands are very, very white.”

“Seriously, if you tried a line like that at Becker’s, you’d find six dudes asleep at your feet and one frothing at the mouth.”

“Frothing?”

“Because he’d be insane.”

Grinning, Ray bent toward the floor and tapped at the phone he’d laid there. “Congealed. Take shape, coalesce, especially to form a satisfying whole.” He glanced up. “How does Google’s interpretation work for you?”

I rolled the concept around in my mind a little, disregarding fuzzy teeth and trying for coalescence. A satisfying whole. My gaze strayed toward the floor and I found myself distracted by Ray’s feet. They were pale, as far as feet went. And kinda delicate for a guy’s feet. His toes were long and straight and his nails were clean. The sparse hair across the top and on his big toe stood out darkly, making me think of the crow’s wing comparison. A little smile tugged at one corner of my mouth.

“What?” Ray’s tone bordered on suspicious.

“You always take your shoes off when you come over.”

One shoulder hitched up slightly. “Is it a problem?”

“No, it’s…” I glanced up to find him regarding me with a coded expression. As if my response would decide his response. I’d never seen that look before. I hesitated to call it vulnerable, because Ray didn’t do vulnerable. He wasn’t shy, or reticent. He spoke his mind, and meant it.

“I like it,” I continued. A tiny crease winked into existence between his brows. Otherwise, he didn’t shift one way or the other. He was still waiting. Askingwhy without asking. “It means you’re comfortable here.”

His smile happened then, as sudden and unexpected as sunlight peeking over a mountain top. “Cool.” He wriggled his toes. “Your place is much quieter than mine.” He glanced down at his script, but I could see the color creeping up out of his shirt collar. “What to try again?”

“Hmm?”

Ray tapped the script. “From kissing cherries.” His blush spread a little higher.

I leaned in close. “Nah, I think I’d rather kiss you.”

Line Break

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The Song

Clouds continued to break over the western horizon, giving way to a sky of blue tinged with gold. Every breath of wind was warmer than the last. Soon the sun would warm Karen’s back—but it would not ease the prescient poke that held her spine stiff, her chin high.

It will rain again tomorrow. Sylvia’s whisper floated somewhere between her ears, a tickle against her mind. And even if it doesn’t, I’ll be fine.

What if it doesn’t rain the day after tomorrow? Karen answered. What if it doesn’t rain the day after that?

They’d talked about Sylvia extending her roots into the ocean, but only as a way to pass the time. Both knew the salt water would kill her. Even now, with her roots bound into the shape of the boat that carried them, she risked herself. Instead, she dangled tendrils from her boughs, seeking moisture from the air. Now they stirred in the warming breeze.

Karen turned away from the prow of the small vessel and leaned into the trunk of her tree. She wrapped her arms around the scratchy bark and pressed her cheek into a space above the window, a patch that might have been worn smooth by years of similar embraces.

“I’m afraid,” she murmured.

In answer, Sylvia began to hum. The music pulsed deep within her trunk, beginning in the chamber where she’d carried Karen’s seed, nurturing it until she birthed a spindly-legged child.

The water beneath her hull stirred into a light chop. Overhead, a flock of birds wheeled down out of the parting clouds, their black feathers glistening in the sunlight. The wind strengthened, freshened. A capricious gust reached inside the boat and plucked a paper shape from the floor, tossing it overboard. One by one, Karen’s workings lined up behind the boat like chicks following their mother.

Karen’s throat moved as the song caught her. Her first hum sounded cracked and broken. Then her voice rose above the beat of wavelets bumping the hull, entwined with Sylvia’s deep and resonant murmur, sweetened, rose, and called to the birds circling overhead.

No song could bring land where there was none, or call clouds back together against the sun. But she would continue to sing for Sylvia, because Sylvia sang for her. It was the least she could do—and the most, perhaps—for her mother and her home. For the tree who would sacrifice all she was to save her daughter.

Sylvia might be nothing but an empty shell when they found land. But Karen already carried a new seed inside her. As soon as her feet touched soil, she would send her toes down deep and spread her arms up high. Face pointed toward the sky, she would sing this very song until her face stiffened and her mouth disappeared beneath ridges of crusty bark. Then she would nurture her seed, grow it until she was ready to birth a wobbly new child.

Shading her eyes, Karen looked toward the western horizon. She saw nothing. She turned back to her tree and sang a new verse, one where she birthed more than one seed and taught the song to daughters and sisters and aunts and nieces. Where she became a forest, her song so loud, even the birds carried it.

Overhead, the birds cawed, and in that shrill cry, Karen heard hope.

Railroaded by the Railroad

I finally finished Fallout 4. (This write up may contain mild spoilers)

I don’t know if it’s that I enjoy exploring post-apocalyptic worlds, or if Bethesda simply excels at creating compelling environments, but I could (and did) spend hundreds of hours wandering ruined America—and that is perhaps my favourite part of any Fallout game, the time lost to roving.

FoodstuffCuriosity is not always rewarded kindly. Scouring the edges of the map will drop you into obscure quests and hair-raising encounters. Foodstuff machines, a stranded ship crewed by robots, loners who should be left alone, atomic cults, a barely operational nuclear sub, aliens and the mother of all mirelurks. I tripped over a hill into a nest of glowing green radscorpions and died horribly (while running away). I hadn’t saved for a while and lost twenty minutes of game play. I reloaded and ventured into the Glowing Sea again, because what’s twenty minutes when you’re already four hours distant from the quest you were absolutely, positively going to finish today? Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Headfirst and Reminders

On my travels around the internet I often stumble across photographs that tell a story. Sometimes it’s a single moment, one I can capture in a few hundred words. More often I’m really only telling part of the story–what brought the character(s) to this point, or what’s happening right now. These snippets end up in my Big Book of Ideas, and one day I hope to expand on a few of them. The others, the single moments, stand as they are.

Today, I’m sharing one of each. A story I feel is a complete moment, and one that is a slice of something much bigger. There’s more story to both, of course, but in the first case, I believe the moment I’ve captured–or more accurately, remembered on behalf of my narrator–tells more than everything that might have come before.

Both of these pictures were posted as prompts by the Monday Flash Fics group on Facebook and these stories and more can be read on my flash fiction Tumblr.

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Headfirst

When people see this picture, they think I’m the one out front, diving headfirst into the river. There’s always this weird moment when I tell them it’s Damien. A beat of silence as they snap a few facts together. Then the creeping awkwardness as they wonder if that’s when it happened.

“He was always a headfirst sort of person,” I say. To quell the inevitable flash of horror, I push on. “Still is.”

By now, they’re uncomfortable, and so am I. It’s hard to find fault in their disquiet, though, and I often feel a bit like an arse for keeping the conversation alive. But they looked at the picture. They asked.

So I keep talking.

“Headfirst is definitely the better of the two. It’s not leaping without looking”—I actually had someone turn green at this point—“it’s looking where you’re going and stepping out anyway. It’s being brave. Always being ready to dive in. Thinking as fast as you move. Taking chances. Never backing down from a challenge.”

This is when the follow up questions start—if they’re too polite to let a conversation lapse in the middle.

“What about feet first?” is the gist of what they want to know.

“Feet first is caution. It’s worrying about where you’re going to step, and what you’re going to step in. It’s putting the least vulnerable part of you through the door first. It’s leaving your shoes on inside the house in case you tread on a Lego. It’s gloves and hats and earmuffs because you’re sensitive. It’s worrying about things that might never happen, simply because if you can think it up, it might be possible.”

This would be about where sympathy overpowers all the rest of what they’re feeling. They still feel awkward. It’s hard not to. Our house is a temple to awkward. But they’re trying to fit our reality into theirs and make themselves comfortable. And I’ve talked long enough to make it all feel a bit more normal. Sort of. It’s hard for me to get past the Lego part without looking like I’ve stepped on one.

And that’s being a feet first person all over.

This is usually when Damien wheels in, the width of his chair making sense of our weird furniture arrangement. He might be smiling, or he might be stern faced. It’ll depend on how itchy I’ve made our guests. Whether I’ve got my own sad face on—because I still have days like that, even ten years after. When I wish it had been me who jumped first. We’d have known then, how shallow the water was.

Thing is, Damien probably still would have gone for the dive. It’s what he does. Always.

Now, he’ll simply take my hand, give that half squeeze that’s the best he can manage on his left side, and ask, “Is Harry being all maudlin?”

They usually don’t know how to answer—and that’s my cue to hop up and fetch the next album. The one of our trip to Spain the year after Damien’s accident. And as I tell those stories, I make it clear that if not for Damien being a headfirst sort of person, always, we might never have been anywhere at all.

~+~+~+~

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Reminders

On a clear day, when the sun is bright and the sky blue, you can almost imagine there is life in the city. That the streets buzz and the buildings are alive with industry—people thinking and dreaming and doing. The air sings on days like this, and the melody is clear and sweet. It’s the sound of birds rejoicing in the light, of a wind more curious than mournful.

These are the days when I go to see him.

He is my favourite of the Reminders—and not simply because he is beautiful. Strong, yet serene. Poised, movement restrained, but also ready to bend, leap, spin. To dance to the sunlit music only I seem to hear.

Of course, he never will, but he looks as if he might, and that’s what makes him so wonderful.

No one knows who or what the Reminders are. Whether they are art or something divine. None of them are pictured in the many books left in the libraries, but Reminders dot the city like statues—never crumbling, never breaking.

Most people like the Reminder standing outside the safety rail on the Brooklyn Bridge. I agree she’s compelling. It’s hard to tell if she’s about to fall or dive or is simply admiring the view. She combines fear with hope. The Reminder sitting in Bryant Park is the most famous—not that fame spreads far and wide now. The plastic news sheet he holds is as crisp as he is. You can read the date on the perpetual display. June 25, 2023. Many speculate that was when it happened.

The dancer has something the others do not, though. I call it persistence. The world has ended, but he is still here, still concentrating on perfection and making it look—not simple, but attainable. The tension in his frame is easy. He is gathered strength, he his kinetic energy. He is a reminder that beauty can have a purpose—that while it can be achieved for its own sake, it’s more powerful when there is a reason.

He doesn’t get as many visitors as the others, but I think he is the reason we call these frozen people Reminders. Because in this ugly, broken and half dead world, it’s easy to forget things like beauty. Purpose drives us every day, and strength is what separates the living from the dead. We’re taught we don’t have time for useless things.

There’s this poem, though, in one of those old books. It talks about beauty and joy and forever. Someone called John Keats wrote it and when I read it, I think about the dancer and I feel the music. The sunlight and the curious wind. And I think maybe this world isn’t so lost after all.

I think that maybe the Reminders are us, or who we’re supposed to be.

What I’ve Been Reading

25894059Arena by Holly Jennings

I don’t always get lucky with books I choose to review for SFCrowsnest. There are a lot of books that sound really great, but don’t quite live up to their promise. I’m getting better at picking winners, though, and Arena by Holly Jennings is definitely that. It’s a great book, one I’m really glad I’ve read.

You can read my full review here, but in short, my favourite aspect of this story—actually, I really liked two things. One was the character arc of Kali. It took me a long time to warm to her, and the fact I admired her so much at the end of the book was due to her growth—and that she did it all by herself. This young woman literally pulled herself up by the bootstraps and got on with the business of winning. In every respect.

I also really enjoyed Holly Jennings’ take on gaming culture and the way it shaped the story. She didn’t just sprinkle a few references throughout the text and say there, gamer book. The story itself is constructed like a quest chain, with each success promising a greater reward. Very well done.

 

13630171The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle, #4) by Peter V. Brett

Another more than pleasant surprise. After the soap opera/dirge that was Daylight War, I nearly gave up on this series. I love the premise. I adore this world. It’s one of the most fascinating fantasy worlds ever created, with a new magic system, hints of old apocalypse and fully fleshed out characters you really come to know and care about. Peter Brett’s habit of going back to tell the origin story of all of those characters had started to wear on my by the third time ‘round, though.

Daylight War ends with a pretty damn big question—one the cover copy for The Skull Throne doesn’t answer. Also, when you’re nearly 2000 pages into an epic series, it’s hard to let it go. So I moved on to The Skull Throne—and read it in two days. That’s nearly 800 pages in two or three sittings. The pacing was phenomenal with a lot of the plot threads tangling themselves into dreadful knots. The lives and loves aspect is still there, but with more a immediate meaning and an absolute bearing on the plot. Also, there’s very little flashing back to ‘this is how it all began.’ There really isn’t time. This book is a race. It’s frenetic and bloody and a lot of what you might have taken as the status quo up to this point will be challenged and changed.

Unfortunately, we have to wait a year until the fifth and final installment. (◕︵◕)

 

28531239Trailer Trash by Marie Sexton

I’m late to the Marie Sexton fandom, which actually works in my favor. She’s got a huge backlist for me to explore. The book of hers that really won me over was Winter Oranges. Before then, I’d really enjoyed her collaborations with Heidi Cullinan (Family Man and Second Hand) and Promises, book one of her Coda series. I enjoy her characters immensely. They’re normal guys doing normal things. It’s this accessibility and Sexton’s skill in making them feel real that makes her books so compulsively readable.

Trailer Trash has an irresistible premise: two high school seniors from opposite sides of the tracks, who alternately fight and give in to their attraction for one another. What makes this story special, however, is the focus on the emotional aspects of their relationships with their family, friends and each other.

Teenagers feel things very deeply and to them, what they’re feeling is everything. They can’t think beyond right now and find it difficult to imagine they’ll ever feel that way again. I remember being there and so does Sexton. Her boys are so real and their love story is so wonderfully tender. I loved every word of it.

 

20821614You (You, #1) by Caroline Kepnes

The cover copy really undersells this book. Yes, it’s possible to take a lesson about how much we reveal about ourselves on social media from this story, but more I found it to be a tale about secret selves and how some people simply cannot be judged by their ‘covers’.

It took me a little while to grasp the point of view—it’s Joe, our apparent villain, talking to Beck, his victim, as if this were his journal and she the only reader. There aren’t a lot of stories told from the perspective of the villain, so that was my hook. The scariest part, though, wasn’t what Joe did (or the why or the how), it was the fact that I empathized with him—nearly the whole way through. Even when he was doing very, very bad things. I liked Joe. Additionally, the premise of the book would have us believe Beck was the victim, but I’m not convinced she wasn’t the most evil character of all.

A very thought provoking read—and there’s a sequel!

 

18373Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My daughter read this for school. On the day she started, she described the premise to me in the car. It sounded very familiar, so I asked if she was reading Flowers for Algernon and she replied that she was and further commented on the fact she should have guessed I would know the book because I’ve read everything.

I hadn’t actually read it. I’d seen the movie. I also, inexplicably, had the audio book sitting in my library—untouched. It must have been a daily deal at some point. So I downloaded it and listened.

Flowers for Algernon should be required reading for every human being. The book’s power is in its simplicity, thanks in part to Charlie’s narration. What it says about us as people is both beautiful and sad, and reading it inspired me to become a better person—to be kinder, gentler and more thoughtful; to count my blessings and to remember those who have less. To understand that happiness is completely subjective and that one should never assume their version of it might suit another.

You’d also might think I’d have learned by now that I really shouldn’t listen to books that make my cry while I’m driving. Not sure if I’ll ever remember that one, though.

 

24983889East of West, Vol. 4: Who Wants War? by Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Nick Dragotta (Artist), Frank Martin(Colourist)

I’ve been a fan of this series since the beginning. The apocalyptic landscape grabbed me, the promise of more doom and gloom to come kept me reading. But really, it’s the combination of art and storytelling that makes East of West such a stand out.

So often during a comic/graphic series, the writer or the artist will change issue to issue—either as guests are invited to participate or ‘staff’ are rotated through current offerings. Sometimes it’s exciting to see what a new artist will do and certainly some artists are more adept at telling different kinds of stories. With its large cast of characters, however, the consistency of the art in East of West—which is always phenomenal and perfectly matched to the story—is such an important factor. At a glance I can tell who is who, even without glancing at the text and dialogue. Given that comic books and graphic novels are such a visual medium, this is really helps the reader with the flow of the story. If you’re too busy trying to figure out whose face is squashed across the page, then you’ve fallen out of suspension. That’s not good.

As for the story, it’s fantastically complex and ever deepening. With the exception of Knights of the Old Republic, this may be the series I’ve invested the most time in and I’m not ready to quit yet.

Review: Rising Tide by Rajan Khanna

Rising Tide

In Rajan Khanna’s first novel, Falling Sky, we meet Benjamin Gold, a fairly typical post-apocalyptic survivor in an atypical post-apocalyptic world. Combining zombies with airships, Khanna delivers the perfect setting for Ben. Touch is dangerous and the ground is a wasteland called the Sick. Being a loner and a somewhat self-absorbed prick are the sort of traits that keep a man alive.

If there’s one thing you can rely on, however, it’s that Ben will always make the practical choice. He’ll sacrifice one for the many and he sees the value in taking certain risks, until these choices become a little too personal or he meets someone for whom he is willing to sacrifice himself.

That someone is Miranda and she graces the cover of Rajan Khanna’s second book, Rising Tide. Miranda is an awesome character, one female readers such as myself have been looking forward to meeting. She’s smart, geeky, self-possessed and far from perfect. She might also have the answer to this zombie plague thing, so she’s important enough for Ben to change his ways. Also, he likes her quite a bit which makes Ben easy to manipulate.

You can’t have an apocalyptic, everyone-out-for-themselves environment without factions, mad despots and not so altruistic folks looking for their version of happy ever after.

So what’s the story here?

When we last saw Ben, he’d sacrificed his home and livelihood and the airship Cherub to save the island of Tamoanchan. He is rescued from the ocean, but not by someone who is going to make his life easier. An old friend/foe finds him and immediately sets out to even the score, using Miranda as collateral. So, the first half of ‘Rising Tide’ is Ben and Miranda winning free of their rescuer.

The second half is their return to Tamoanchan and the realisation that there is still an awful lot of work to be done. Miranda develops a successful test for the virus that decimated North America, but there is a new strain of the bug, one engineered for a different purpose. Miranda falls ill and people start dying. Then the invasion happens, which for Ben is something akin to a slap in the face with a battleship. This is what he sacrificed everything to prevent and now the island is under siege by disease and invaders.

The structure of Rising Tide is a little weird. The first half feels almost like a separate adventure, as if the author needed something else to happen before utterly betraying his lead character. I enjoyed the greater insight into Ben’s past but I did wonder how it would all tie in. It does, thankfully. The second half of the book moves very swiftly, which is a good thing, as it’s crushing. We’ve seen Ben come so far only to run into even greater obstacles.

What’s next? It’s hard to guess. Where Falling Sky left us with multiple choice questions, Rising Tide leaves us with the dreaded essay question. There’s still a lot of material to cover and we’ve been left in a situation where we’re not sure who will be with us for the next chapter. Which, of course, means I’ll be reading on.

Reviewed for SFCrownsnest.

Review: The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta

 

At the centre of the known world there is a valley occupied by a society of widows. The valley forms a centre of learning and resources where young men are invited to stay for a Season, a period four months. During that time, they will be paired with one of the widows – an Alleshi – who will use methods honed over centuries to help shape these young men into leaders – Alemen and defenders of the Peace.

Rishana is a new Alleshi and her first boy, her Winter Boy, doesn’t bend easily to her mould, even after they enter the ‘inner room’, where intimacy is used to enhance the lessons. For his part, Ryl feels as if his entire existence has become a lesson. He resents having to think on every word and it takes him a while to grasp the difference between reaction and thought. As the young do, he bucks the system. He is what the Alleshi would call a ‘problem boy’. But Rishana was encouraged to choose him for many reasons, chief among which is the fact her style of mentoring might be just what is needed to encourage the gem to emerge from Ryl’s rough exterior. With his sharp mind and questioning nature, Ryl could be a talented Aleman and a powerful ally of the Peace. Continue reading

Review: East of West Volume 3: There is No Us

East of West, Vol. 3: There Is No UsEast Of West Volume 3: There Is No Us’ collects issues 11-15 of the comic ‘East Of West’. It’s tempting to babble senselessly about how good this comic is, urge you to go out and buy all available issues right away, but I wouldn’t be much of a reviewer if I didn’t explain my fascination. I’ll start with a little back story.

Loosely based on the ‘Book Of Revelations’, ‘East Of West’ tells the story of impending apocalypse. It’s clear from the very first issue that the world has been destroyed and revived before in what might be an endless cycle. What’s not clear is the role to be taken by the very recognisable symbols of a biblical apocalypse. The Four Horsemen are missing one of their number, Death. The Seven Seals have been replaced by seven nations. The Beast is…difficult to explain without spoiling some of the surprises of the story. Then there is the Message, which is presented as a constraint upon the actions of all. A dictate on how the world will end. Mixed into this over-arching story are the lives of the people within each nation. The leaders and their friends and foes. Continue reading