Monthly Archives: April 2016

Two eBooks, Three Dollars…


It came to my attention that the publisher is running a price drop promotion on the eBook of NEVER KNEW ANOTHER for $1.99 for I don’t even know how long.

I noticed this promotion does not extend to non-US eBook buyers. Ergo, I dropped the price of STRAGGLETAGGLE down to just 0.99 all over the world.

That’s two critically-acclaimed eBooks for less than three bucks. Tell the people.

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Never speak the names. This is an old anti-curse. The name is a curse. To not speak the name is the uncurse. It is a silence that becomes a kind of curse, even as it is the opposite of the curse. The silence signifies the sound. The sound is forgotten. Soon, only the silence remains, and the idea behind it, an unknowable, unspeakable emotion that cannot be enunciated, and becomes worse from the silence of it. The silence is the word. The silence is the thought that transcends words.

When Odysseus was strapped to the mast, hand and foot, his ears exposed to the sirens, all other men heard silence. The sound was too dangerous. When he sailed his ship close to the six-headed demon, knowing six men would die that die – men he’d gone to war with, who were closer to him than his own son – he did not speak of what was to come. Cry out, after, perhaps, but before do not speak. When Grendel stalked the feasting hall, just before the arm was torn away, the men of war were silent, pretending to sleep. Hush, and do not speak, for it calls the monster’s eye upon the speaker. In terror or unterror, the monster’s eye turns.

There are monsters all around us, and we do not speak their name. We are afraid to summon the gaze upon us, afraid to face our own fear of them. Do not speak of what frightens you.

Wishes are like that, too, except sort of reversed. We are told to make a wish, but to never say it out loud, because doing so will mean it won’t come true. We teach our children to have a wish, but to keep it inside; never speak it. What are we so afraid of? A child makes a wish, and it will never come true if people don’t know about it. Speaking the wish is the critical component of making the wish come true. Naming the wish, summoning it in the dark, when the wailing heart sings to the moon, is critical to the physical realization of such a wish. But, the wish must be some kind of monster, because we tell each other never to speak it’s name.

Be careful what you wish for, is what we say. Do not speak your wish, if you want it to come true, is what we say. The monster of desire haunts our hearts, perhaps, and connects directly to the monster that we must never name, lest we draw the eye of the beast. Keep it all locked up. Wish nothing. Sleep quiet. Pretend it is all only a dream.

Or… Fight the monster when it comes. The fear that comes from facing such terror, the energy pumping through our veins, the fight or flight that drives our fear, has an alternate path.

Wish out loud. Fight for it. In fear, it is always fight or flight. Be the fight.

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John H. Stevens Reviews Amanda Downum’s Dreams of Shreds and Tatters

Amanda Downum’s Dreams of Shards and Tatters is an aptly-titled book; it’s a labyrinth of impressions, visions, and unstable moments. It is a novel the blends Lovecraftian and urban fantasy elements to create sensations and metaphors that render visceral the costs of desire and responsibility. The story is uncomplicated; it follows the efforts of Liz Drake to rescue her friend Blake Enderly from a cruel fate. Liz is a dreamer, who can see portents and other worlds in her dreams, and can even enter the Dreamlands. Blake is an artist who ends up in a coma after his patron Rainer pulls him into the realm of magic. Liz and her boyfriend Alex must put together the strange clues that will lead them to a way to rescue Blake from his fate in Carcosa, the city of the Yellow King.

While the story is straightforward, Downum embellishes it with copious dream-episodes and monster attacks on our protagonists. Mysterious strangers abound, as do narrow escapes. A good portion of the novel is focused on Liz’s multiple trips to the Dreamlands, where voices warn her that she is not ready to save her friend. Unnatural darkness is all around and a drug called mania fills people with magic, sometimes with terrible consequences. Magic and dreaming are rarely good or helpful in this world.

Within these elements there are moments of fabulous description; Downum is great at conjuring images that are pithy and evocative. There are grotesque, lovely passages about Carcosa and the ways that she describes magic make it feel integrated and organic. She creates strong visuals and draws her characters quickly and in motion. The novel starts with no preamble and ends without excessive wrapping-up. Downum is a very good writer with a clear story to tell.

At the same time, there were scenes and interactions that felt under-developed and characters who were stilted even in the clarity of their creation. There were character moments that felt too told to the reader, rather than shown to them. A few characters felt like they were added just to provide timely rescue and support for the protagonists. And the straightforward story felt increasingly predictable. After finishing it I wished that it had been a little longer, that there had been time for more revelations and elaboration. Liz and Antja, the best characters in the story, needed more room to breathe and develop.

I felt this keenly at the end because this was, to me, a story about connection, about responsibility, and about desire. The relationships of the two main couples are intriguing, and I wanted to know more about them, especially as the danger grows for both. Liz’s character is revealed well in the story, while the others are harder to parse. Part of that is not having enough context for the characters; their motivations, their pasts, and even their hopes are barely touched on as the novel progresses. There are elements here that could function wonderfully to delve more deeply into the characters that felt shunted aside for forward motion. That motion was not as fascinating to me at the manner in which Downum links magic and emotion and dreams.

I liked Dreams of Shards and Tatters, and I’ll certainly pick up Downum’s next book. But there was a lot more hinted at than ended up on the page, and I felt that lack as I read. It took some of the fun and much of the gravity out of the story. Excitement and tension both were washed-out by this feeling. While there was some enjoyment here, there was also the sense of a lost opportunity.



John E. O. Stevens is a writer, bookseller, and bibliophile snuggled in his hermitage in Upstate New York. He has been published in Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Le Zaporogue, and frequently contributes to SF Signal. He is also one-third of the monthly The Three Hoarsemen podcast. He can usually be found quoting poetry and expressing incredulity at the vicissitudes of life on Twitter as @eruditeogre.

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My Next Novel is Coming from in January

Announcing A New Novel from J. M. McDermott

We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of a great new science fiction novel from Joe McDermott—The Fortress at the End of Time.
J.M. McDermott is best known for the novelsLast Dragon, Never Knew Another, andMaze. His work has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program. He lives in Texas.
In The Fortress at the End of Time, humanity has expanded across the galaxy by use of ansible and clone technology, but an enemy stands in their way—an enemy alien in concept as much as physiology. Ronaldo Aldo is a clone stationed in the back-end of nowhere—a watch station with a glorious military past, but no future. He’s desperate to prove himself worthy of ascension—of having his consciousness broadcast to a newer clone, far away from his current post at the Citadel.
Joe had this to say:
I was surprised that Justin and, saw great potential in this little novel, a novel not about adventure, but about the way stories of adventure intersect with a soul-crushing bureaucracy in space. I am surprised and delighted to be working with such an amazing team, and see my little book in such fine company as Nnedi Okorafor, Fran Wilde, K.J. Parker, and Mary Robinette-Kowal!
Joe’s editor, Justin Landon, said:
I could have almost been convinced to buy Joe McDermott’s novel based on the title alone. Thankfully, with its high concept ideas and authentic portrayal of life in the military, the book lives up to its title and then some. McDermott’s work has always been beautiful and insightful, but with Fortress he’s written something that makes you sit up and take notice. I sure did and I think’s readers will too.
The Fortress at the End of Time was acquired by senior editor Lee Harris from Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, and will be published in January 2017.

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Old Texas, Old Trouble, and Always Looking for Better News: a review of NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles

I’m writing this review on Columbus Day, or Indigenous People’s Day, and pre-loading it for closer to the book’s release. There is an irony in this, as the genocide that occurred to the indigenous people of the very place where I’m typing – San Antonio, TX – wiped away entire civilizations to make room for a new, mongrel race of European and African immigrants that merged with what was present on the land, if what was present deigned to assimilate into our society on our terms. Those terms were, naturally, awful to the native people and Africans and Mexicans with Indian Heritage.

Sometimes, though, children from the European people were taken by the natives, and raised as native children. They were often taken during violent raids by the native tribes that were known for their brutality. Unlike the peaceful Cherokee, for instance, that actively sought to assimilate, the Wichita and Apache and raiding tribes fought to keep their country. They murdered settlers in the kind of total war that was what was done to them. The children they took were witness to unspeakable violence. They had to become their kidnappers, and had no choice in the matter. I’m not even getting to the book. I’m talking around it. I’m not reaching the characters, because the situation is so morally complex!

See how hard it is to talk about this terrible situation without stumbling all over the racism and the genocide and the injustice? I can’t even begin to describe the character, Johanna, who was taken in a brutal raid when she was six, and kept for four years with the Wichita. At the end of the Indian Wars, if they ever ended, tribes learned that they had to give back their captives or face retribution. Johanna was given back; she was bought for a fifty gold coin piece by her uncle in a German settlement outside of San Antonio near modern day Leon Valley. The black man who initially takes her to Dallas from the Red River near Oklahoma is unwilling to take a little, blonde, white girl all the way down to San Antonio, having no business there, and no safe business escorting a white girl. He reaches out to Captain Kidd, a military veteran of three wars, who used to run a printing press until the Confederate collapse claimed his business with it. He traveled, then, from town to town, reading the news of the world in meeting halls, for ten cents a head, to the communities that may or may not have access to the recent legislation.

The novel details the dangerous journey south, where a young, blonde Indian captive is a valuable commodity in a fronteir town, but the seventy-one-year old Captain Kidd is honor-bound to deliver his charge across dangerous territory to an aunt and uncle that might not even recognize her on site.

It is a journey through time and history, that grapples with the reality of the situation: Native people’s had to assimilate to the control of the white man or die; the whole way of being in the frontier, and ways of thinking, will be lost, on every side of things. No matter how much news reaches the world, the cycles of violence never seem to end. There is a grand adventure, a poet’s deft touch for language on the page, and the exceptional characterizations of the girl and the Captain on their perilous journey. It’s an exceptional book, and the less I say about it, the better. It grapples with very challenging material, and succeeds by focusing closely on the characters in the moment, and the compassion and empathy that is natural to good men, along with the willingness to face unspeakable violence to protect the ones we love.

I highly recommend Paulette Jiles’ new novel, News of the World.

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Every round was challenging, with close calls. Every vote mattered. Each contestant truly brought their best to bear. I am proud of everyone, and everyone did an amazing, amazing job under terrible circumstances! I enjoyed all the stories, and would have voted for all of them.

Alas, I can only declare one winner, but the voters have decided, and their vote is clear.

Congratulations to ERIC BOSARGE!

Eric has two novels coming out that you should check out. Here’s the first, in July, involves time travel and its paradoxical nature.

When Amos, a rebellious young man in the 1930s, attempts to stop time travelers from kidnapping a girl, he learns the future is overrun by aliens — and his future grandson will cause the invasion by contacting them. When the time travelers realize who Amos is, they hunt him down with murderous intent in order to save the future.

But when their plan fails, the time travelers must offer Amos an uneasy exchange — knowledge and wealth for his help in creating a secret refuge outside of time for the survivors of the alien attack. Their goal: to change the future before it happens.

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