Sunday, November 30, 2014

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for November 2014

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some October books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have a broad spectrum of titles, featuring hard science fiction, space opera, military science fiction (lots of all three, in fact), Steampunk, dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, grimdark fantasy, historical fantasy, young adult fantasy, fairytales, aliens, werewolves (straight, lesbian and in Renaissance Europe), were-reindeer (really), body snatchers, arm thieves (yes, really) as well as quite a few books about gay and lesbian characters.

So whether you're looking for something to read during the holiday season or for a gift for a friend or loved one, you're sure to find something here.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Mate by Andrew AshlingMate by Andrew Ashling

Anaxantis, Prince of Ximerion…

In the aftermath of the fall of their city, the fortunes of several Naodymans are turned upside down. If the insurrection of Trachia against the Lorsanthian occupation is to succeed, Prince Phrademys needs to be its focal point. However, he first wants to find out what happened to Thenoclon. There is hope he may still be alive, since Commander-General Meri is selling off the entire Naodyman population into slavery.
Antybion has concluded his mission with success, but before he can be offered a new challenge, an unexpected death occurs.

While the Rhonoman general, Hirmon Marradar, confidently continues his march to meet Lorsanthia’s largest army yet, Anaxantis seems to tarry and steer his small force away from all possible confrontations with a far stronger enemy. That is, until he explains his plans to his officers.

In the Highlands of Great Renuvia the patience of the hardliners of the Mahpodah is running out. While Lady Brynda tries to play for time, several of the rebel lords entertain their own ambitions. Even some of Ehandar’s squires are involved in this dangerous game. But Count Cynbenor will have none of it and he means to force a decision. For the Highlands to be free again, Anaxantis must never return home, in his opinion. If the warlord doesn’t fall in battle, he and his brother, must be killed.

Ehandar is unaware of how dangerous the situation has become. He learns that some of his squires are involved, and as a result he is about to sink into a depression. Once again he feels he is at the mercy of circumstances he can’t control, and his old demons resurface. When a mortally wounded squire tells him Anaxantis’s life is in danger, he snaps out of his morose mood…

This is book 7 of the Dark Tales of Randamor the Recluse series.

Defiance by Lucas BaleDefiance by Lucas Bale

The darkness in the human heart is infinite.

At a time when power means everything, the ultimate power, the imperium, rests with the Consulate Magistratus. The murder of a man in the lowest caste may be inconsequential, but one man, one of the Caesteri lawmen who still believes in justice, refuses to ignore it.

The woman he hunts is violent and unstable, and haunted by her own callous ghosts. She will drag him to the furthest reaches of space, where the abyss which awaits them hides an unspeakable truth.

When faced with their own mortality, there is no limit to what human beings will do to protect themselves, their family, their property. The human mind changes when exposed to relentless horror. It becomes dehumanised. The grotesque becomes mundane.There is no pity, no remorse – only instinct. An instinct which cannot be controlled.

The imperium belongs only to those who are strong enough to wield it.

The war to control humanity’s future is about to begin…

Defiance is the second book in the Beyond the Wall series, following The Heretic.

Wrathlight by Christopher BarrieauWrathlight: Son of Azelkur by Chris Barrieau

Scott Shaw, hero of the arena, finds himself on the frontlines of a war against the evil Bathel. An Alliance of liberated races and Humanity has formed, and guided by the mighty Warlord, is driving back The Bathel toward their homeworld.

But as the Alliance wins victory after victory, Scott finds himself in a different kind of arena – of clashing personalities and corrupt allies, of exotic cultures and lethal taboos.

And when Warlord departs, Scott finds himself facing down a deadly, vengeful enemy and a hideous Son of the dark god Azelkur. If he should fail, it means death for an entire world, his mentor Felix, his men, and himself.

Wrathlight: Son of Azelkur is 43,000 words and is the sequel to Wrathlight.

The Heart Thief by S. Lee BenedictThe Heart Thief by S. Lee Benedict

Ezra Keene is an artistic sixteen year-old who wants nothing more than to settle in at his new school and put the tragedy of his brother’s death behind him. He awakens one night, reeling from a hazy dream, to find his fingers blackened with pencil lead and a new drawing in his sketchbook—a drawing that depicts the grisly murder of someone he knows. The next morning he is shocked to learn the picture has become a reality.

Ezra has reason to believe the father of a classmate, an eccentric German scientist, is somehow involved in the slaying, but he needs something tangible to bring to the police. He sets out to discover the truth, but what he finds instead is that something much more sinister than murder lies at the heart of this mystery. Monsters exist, magic is real, and sometimes there are worse things than death.

Fool's Sacrifice by Geronimo BoschFool’s Sacrifice by Geronimo Bosch

DOMINION: A lawless city of ten million desperate souls. The State ignores the struggles of the dispossessed, but crushes any who challenge its rule.

G-Boy is a delinquent graffiti artist and ace pilot working the airborne auto theft trade who finds his life threatened when he teams up with a slick newcomer, a girl named Spider. She’s tech savvy and scopes all the angles, but comes wrapped in a web of secrecy and bad luck. After they lift a haul of booby-trapped vehicles and their partners in crime are blown from the skies, they find themselves under suspicion from their gangland boss and painted as terrorists by the authorities who govern Dominion City.

As the net tightens around them, G-Boy is presented with a dilemma. Face punishment for his crimes or accept a fool’s sacrifice by taking the hand of a mysterious stranger offering escape. But, at a price.

Sun Dragon by Michael BrookesSun Dragon by Michael Brookes

2012: NASA’s Curiosity Rover lands on Mars to search for signs of whether microbial life existed on the planet.

2018: The first alien lifeform, a simple wormlike creature is discovered, gripping the world’s imagination.

2022: The first manned mission to Mars begins the longest and most dangerous journey ever undertaken by humankind.

From hundreds of potential candidates, six astronauts from countries around the world are selected to crew the historic mission. Led by Commander Samantha Collins, they must travel across the gulf of interplanetary space, over 150 million miles from home and help. Their mission is to investigate alien life, but what they discover is far beyond what anyone ever imagined…

Wraithblade by K.M. CarrollWraithblade by K.M. Carroll

Revi is an assassin on her first assignment–and she’s not willing to kill a child.

When she goes on the run from her assassin brotherhood with a knife that opens doors between worlds, she runs afoul of three factions: inter-world police, the other assassins, and a shrewd bounty hunter named Jacob Argent. And he’s the only one interested in keeping her alive.

Now unwillingly allied with Jake, Revi flees across the war-torn world of Tyrona. Against a backdrop of warring factions on floating continents battling via zeppelins, robot suits, and flying monsters, she tries to survive being both pawn and prize in a cosmic chess game between two mega-chronomancers. But worst of all, she’s developing feelings for Jake–her enemy.

Jacob Argent is a lonely bounty hunter on an assignment–locate the missing person known as Revenant. But when he locates her, he must protect her from the assassins and police–and the growing attraction of his own heart.

Now Jake must work through his grief over his dead fiance, before Revi is lost to him forever. Because his actions have earned him the personal hatred of a super-mage called the Oracle, who means to kill Jake any way he can.

This is book 3 of the Spacetime Legacy series, following Storm Chase and Chronocrime.

The Immortality Game by Ted CrossThe Immortality Game by Ted Cross

Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child.

When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

The Brigadoon Boondoggle by Robert DahlenThe Brigadoon Boondoggle by Robert Dahlen

“I have to help them. All of them. It’s why I do this.”

Michiko, the hero known as the Monkey Queen, and geek girl Beth McGill thought it would be easy. They’ve become good friends since they started working together to save the world, why not become roommates? Of course, that was before the kitchen fire. And the broken bedroom door. Not to mention the cranky guinea pig.

But they have bigger problems ahead. A shady real estate deal has left two new groups of Emigres arguing over a meadow. Other Emigres are vanishing without a trace. And enemies old and new lurk in the woods, in the shadows, even in dreams.

Can Michiko and Beth stop the darkness…or will they be the next victims?

The is book two of the Monkey Queen series, following Of Introductions And Abductions

Iron City Eprising by John DonlanIron City Uprising by John Donlan

Trapped in the sprawling ruins of the Warren, the rebel fighters of the Fist, led by Abigail Cunningham, are slowly being hunted down by Lucian and his brutish Iron Hand thugs. If they are to survive to see their rebellion, the Fist must devise a plan that is both daring, and dangerous.

Meanwhile, Abel, determined to find out the truth about his past, returns to the Skein, where he uncovers something that will not only shake the foundations of his world, but will bring the city closer to the brink of chaos.

With time running out, and a horrific plan about to be enacted, a chance meeting in the Heights will spell the difference between destruction, and the hope of a new beginning.

This is the sequel to Iron City Rebels.

Sworn to Ascension by Terah EdunSworn to Ascension by Terah Edun

Ciardis Weathervane is officially engaged to one man and bonded to a second. She should be planning the wedding ceremony, bearding the nobles of the imperial court in their dens, and exposing an imposter emperor. Instead she’s spending her engagement on the lawless road to the western lands.

Now with the help of a guide from a tribe of seers, Ciardis is traveling to the ancient city of Kifar. Rumored to hold the only device capable of stopping the blutgott, Ciardis, Sebastian and Thanar must break a half-century’s old quarantine in order to enter the fabled city.

But the collar of Diamis is not the only thing they seek. The princess heir’s pet wyvern lurks in wait for them and the emperor, who has done everything short of challenging the new triad of Algardis outright, wants its head on a platter upon their return.

If the unscrupulous bandits don’t make short work of them, Ciardis knows that she and Sebastian will have to a face and unmask the man who has stolen the imperial throne. The only question that remains…will that be before or after they’re forced to battle a god?

The sixth novel in the Courtlight series continues the story of Ciardis Weathervane from Sworn To Defiance.

Journey of the Hunted by Tracy FalbeJourney of the Hunted by Tracy Falbe

Facing uncertain destinies, Thal and Altea must escape Bohemia. The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand himself has signed the warrant for Thal’s capture on charges of shape shifting and the killing of Jesuits.
A hefty reward attracts countless bounty hunters into the heart of this 16th century Christian empire. Thal emerges from hiding with his young wife Altea who is barely recovered from torture at the hands of witch hunters. With his werewolf powers, he battles the bounty hunters and begins a daring journey across the Holy Roman Empire.

But more than men stalk him. Servants of Tekax, sorcerer to the Turks, have been unleashed upon his trail.
The werewolf Rotfeng covets the enchanted fur that lets Thal change form at will, regardless of the phase of the moon.

Worse yet comes Janfelter, an undying fext created in the dark fortress of Tekax.

These heartless killers are tasked with stopping Thal from reaching his father Sarputeen, the arch nemesis of Tekax. Thal’s only refuge awaits him in what is left of the Kingdom of Hungary after a Turkish conquest. In the remote castle Vlkbohveza the ancient sorcerer Sarputeen lives untouched despite widespread persecution of magic users and pagans.

Although Thal longs to be with his own kind, he worries about the reunion with his father. It was Sarputeen’s magic that made Thal a werelord, a master of wolves. But what shall the sorcerer require of his creation now that Tekax aims to settle an old score?

This is book two of the Werewolves in the Renaissance series, following Werelord Thal.

Alpha by Allison GohAlpha by Allison Goh

Kate has escaped from the facility. She reaches out to Max and reveals the secret she has been protecting for years, the secret that Orion so desperately wants to contain. Friendships and relationships are tested as they pit themselves against an army of genetically modified super soldiers controlled by the most powerful man in Egalia. But a greater truth is yet to be revealed. One that ties all their fates together. Will it all come crashing down?

This is book 2 of the Egalia series, following The Genetic Lottery.

To Make a Witch by Heather Hamilton-SenterTo Make a Witch by Heather Hamilton-Senter

On December 17th, 2013, a vandal painted the tomb of Marie Laveau—the famed Voodoo Queen of New Orleans — bright pink. It is believed that the vandal’s intent was to cover the X marks that had been scratched into the tomb. This story takes place just after that event.

At her old high school, Lacey found herself on the wrong side of a conflict between Celtic gods. Making a new start in an exclusive boarding school in New Orleans, she hopes to forget that she was once on the verge of becoming a powerful witch—and everything she’s lost both since and before then.

When a gruesome murder occurs in the very heart of Westover Academy, Lacey discovers a connection between it and the desecration of the tomb of Marie Laveau, the famed Voodoo Queen. Haunted by a trauma in her past, Lacey must solve the mystery before she becomes the killer’s next target.

Circumstances beyond her control may once again make Lacey McInnis — cheerleader, scholar, and all-around good girl — a witch.

To Make A Witch is a novella featuring the enigmatic Lacey McInnis from Bound In Blue: Book One of the Sword of Elements series.

Terminus by Kevin HardmanTerminus by Kevin Hardman

Master Sergeant Gant Maker was a highly-decorated and well-respected Marine – until his last mission left him as the sole survivor of an encounter with a vicious race called the Vacra. Served up as a scapegoat and drummed out of the military, he has since lived a life of seclusion with only an adopted alien as a companion.

Now the Vacra have returned. As the only person to have ever faced them and survived, Maker is reinstated in the Corps and given the onerous task of finding this enemy on a world located at the edge of known space. Assisting him is an unlikely band of military rejects, including a blind sharpshooter, an unstable psychic, and a genetically-engineered killing machine who refuses to fight.

Given that the Vacra have superior weapons and technology, Maker recognizes that his team is at a distinct disadvantage. But Marines are nothing if not resourceful, and Maker has an audacious plan that just may level the playing field – if it doesn’t get them all killed.

Second Star by Josh HayesSecond Star: Breaking Through by Josh Hayes

Sixty-six days is all pilot John McNeal has left on his service contract, after that his combat days will be over for good — if he survives that long.

After a mysterious rift in the fabric of spacetime strands him on an alien world, John must join forces with some unlikely childhood heroes to have any chance of surviving and soon discovers that this strange new world isn’t that alien after all.

Someone has been here before and found a way back to tell about it. There is hope, but this is not the fairy tale he knows and John will have to fight if he wants to get home.

A Town Called No Hope by Izzy HunterA Town Called No Hope by Izzy Hunter

Mona Miller would agree that her life is not too shabby. Sheriff of a prosperous mid-west settlement and with her mute lover Henry by her side, it’s a far cry from her wild antics back in England.

But after an ill-advised bank robbery goes wrong, Mona pursues the thief, via airship, to the city of New Moray. There she catches the culprit and plans to bring him back to face the music. So far, so easy.

But what isn’t so easy is dealing with a criminal mastermind who spends his time controlling his illegal activities in an underground labyrinth. Nor with a handsome stranger who just wont leave her side.

And when she finally returns to No Hope, what she finds there could destroy the very life she has carefully built for herself and those that she loves.

The Scientist's Son by SB JamesThe Scientist’s Son by SB James

Ethan Stanwood may have prevailed over dangerous foes before, but his troubles are just beginning.
Ethan arrives in Rome, but a number of his enemies appear there as well, Professor Colbourne being among them. Colbourne is still intent on getting the prototype that Ethan has been tasked with protecting and returning to his father. But his father’s actions and secrets catch up to Ethan, causing chaos and danger wherever he goes.

It is not only Ethan’s father whose life has been shrouded in secrecy, but his deceased mother as well. A man who is a friend of his mother’s side of the family has returned to help Ethan, presumably at the behest of the Order of the Crystal Star. He says his intentions are pure, but his actions may just prove otherwise, with terrible consequences.

And in the shadows, Aloysius Hardwick, who seeks to turn Ethan to the darkness, discovers that he is not the only one of his kind with the same intentions. To protect his claim on the Stanwood family, Hardwick will go to any lengths, and kill anyone necessary, to keep Ethan in his eventual control.

The Scientist’s Son is Book 2 of the paranormal Steampunk series started with The Inventor’s Son.
Also, don’t miss The Inventor’s Son: The Beginning, an introduction to a Victorian London that could have been.

Fool's Ride by John L. MonkFool’s Ride by John L. Monk

Dan Jenkins is back, body hopping a scumbag at a time in his quest for the perfect ride. He doesn’t need much. Premium cable TV, good books, a well-stocked pantry, and he’s set. But the Great Whomever has other plans.

After six months waiting in limbo, Dan catches a ride as a horror novelist whose gruesome stories aren’t just fiction. Later, he hunts a man who’s escaped justice for far too long. Then, in his greatest challenge yet, he strays too deeply into the lives of the people he loves: his most foolish ride of all.

This is the sequel to Kick.

Give me back my god damn arm by PhronkGive Me Back My God Damn Arm by Phronk

When Ford wakes up to find his favorite arm missing, he knows he doesn’t have long before years of progress slip through his fingers. Can he get it back? On one hand, the old cop in charge of the investigation doesn’t believe Ford had a third arm in the first place. On the other hand, his young partner has a good grasp on the latest digital tracking technology. All they need to gain the upper hand is to point out who would want to steal Ford’s God damn arm in the first place.

Give Me Back My God Damn Arm is a weird 4000 word (16 page) short story.

The Titan Trap by Christine PopeThe Titan Trap by Christine Pope

Cassidy Evans inherited the Titan run when her father died and left her a broken-down cargo transport and a regular gig hauling supplies to the maximum-security prison located on Jupiter’s moon. When convicted murderer Derek Tagawa hijacks her ship and demands her help in clearing his name, Cass can’t help but wonder if there aren’t easier ways to make a living. But Derek has those amazing…eyes…and she begins to believe there may be more to his story than she originally thought.

Running from the authorities, they head to the heart of Gaia to unearth a conspiracy so far-reaching that exposing it could rock the Consortium to its very foundation… and change the future course of both their lives.

Bridge of Seven Stones by Becca PriceBridge of Seven Stones by Becca Price, illustrated by Sara Anderson

“I’m not a baby!”
“Prove it!”

A child leaves the safety of the Garden of the Morning and begins exploring the Gardens of Growing Up.
The Bridge of Seven Stones is a story about losing teeth, and growing up. An alternative to the Tooth Fairy story, it recognizes the losses of familiar ways and things, and shows how each new stage leads to new and wonderful discoveries.

This book was was designed to give parents an idea, an alternative to the tooth-fairy story, a way to celebrate the loss of a baby tooth and to prepare the child for the transitions that come with growing up. This story was designed to be read to help a child proclaim:

“I’m not a baby anymore.”

Elves and Deer by Hollis ShilohElves and Deer by Hollis Shiloh

Greer is a reindeer shifter working at a magical shipping hub up North. He has little use for or understanding of elves—such delicate, short-lived creatures—but he tries to do his best by the ones in his life. And it seems like more and more are coming into his life, confusing and frustrating him, needing help, needing rescued.

Since Greer is always busy, it’s easy to overlook the things he doesn’t want to acknowledge—until a terrible danger gives him unwanted time to think…and to realize there’s just one elf who means more to him than he’s ever wanted to admit.

A Christmas tale
38,000 words
Heat level: very low

Union by Brian SpanglerUnion by Brian Spangler

For centuries, Phil Stark has been the keeper of the machine that changed the world–a lighthouse keeper–guilt-ridden, impossibly alone and losing his mind, the machine is his penance for what he had done centuries before.

When Phil meets Isla, he finds a kinship that he didn’t think could be possible. And when he crosses paths with Sammi and Declan, he believes that his life, and the fate of the world, might just change forever.

Union is the final book in the Gray Series. In this installment, Declan finds the answers he’s sought since first seeing the chalky letters spelling out the words: End of Gray Skies. With Sammi and his father and Ms. Gilly, they team up with an unlikely partner in one final attempt to rescue the sunlight and bring it back to their world.

Hunting in Bruges by E.J. StevensHunting in Bruges by E.J. Stevens

The only thing worse than being a Hunter in the fae-ridden city of Harborsmouth, is hunting vamps in Bruges.
Being shipped off to Belgium sucks. The medieval city of Bruges is quaint, but the local Hunters’ Guild is understaffed, the canals are choked with dead bodies, and there’s no shortage of supernatural predators as likely suspects.

On second thought, maybe Bruges isn’t so bad after all.

With a desire to prove herself, protect the innocent, and advance within the ranks of the Hunters’ Guild, Jenna Lehane hits the cobbled streets of Bruges with blades at the ready. Someone, or something, is murdering tourists and dumping their bodies in the city’s scenic canals. With the help of a mysterious stranger, Jenna begins to piece together clues that are dotted throughout the city like blood spatter.

Determined to stop the killings, Jenna delves into a bloody local history that only raises more questions–but some secrets are best left buried. Jenna must put her combat training to the test as she struggles to unearth the truth about an ancient enemy.

Hunting in Bruges is the first novel in the Hunters’ Guild urban fantasy series set in the world of Ivy Granger.

Into the Dark by J.A. SutherlandInto the Dark by J.A. Sutherland

At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few. She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women.

Wielder Apprentice by Mark TysonWielder: Apprentice by Mark Tyson

The making of a legend…

Sheyna Namear believes she has been left to fend for herself on the streets of the notoriously corrupt city of Symbor. She has very little memory of her life prior, and she is forced to steal what she can to survive. When her natural ability to enchant everyday items eventually catches the eye of a powerful magic wielder, Sheyna is taken into the woman’s tower as an apprentice. But something is not quite right. Sheyna constantly feels like she is being watched, her roommate hates her, and a mysterious shadow hides in the darkness outside her window.

Book One of The Wielder Cycle.

Full Dark by Kenneth WardFull Dark by Kenneth Ward

Bramen Hold triumphantly survived the city of Hyll’s grimy underworld. But the victory was short-lived. Now Bramen finds himself in the custody of the High Command who’s taken notice of his abilities.

Convinced he may be cut out for a secretive special mission, an official with the High Command throws Bramen into a horrific gauntlet and proving ground known as The Grim. With the lives of his family and friends hanging in the balance, Bramen is forced to face his greatest fears until a secret is revealed that changes everything.

This is part 2 of the Cannibal Collapse series, following The Clone Rules.

Alpha's Heart by Skye WintersAlpha’s Heart Part 1 and Part 2 by Skye Winters

Surrendering her heart to the woman she loves could cost the pack their lives.

The laws within the boundary are painstakingly clear. Alphas mate with alphas to keep peace between the packs and the veil hiding their existence in place.

Anna’s determined to pass pack leadership to her brothers in order to share her bond with Rowan—the she-wolf who effortlessly stole her heart. But with her mother’s health and their population in decline, staying true to her bond might just be the biggest challenge of all.

These are the first two parts of a lesbian shifter serial and contains scenes not suitable for those under the age of eighteen.

Interview with Mark Stockton, founder of

1. What inspired you to set up

First off, let me just define what actually is. In essence, we're a free mailing list for Science Fiction fans to find deals on eBooks and discover authors they might not otherwise have found. The focus is on giving Science Fiction readers the chance to pick up interesting and well-written eBooks that are going to be worth their time.

The inspiration came from looking at BookBub's numbers and thinking, 'hmmm...those look a bit low to me!' I'm only half joking. 830,000 subscribers on their Science Fiction list is a big, big number and I commend them for being able to do that. However, they are claiming 1,590 average paid downloads, which is around 0.2% conversion rate.

That's the bit which sounded low to me. I felt we could do something slightly different, slightly better and with a lot more value to the people subscribing. A dedicated service run by people who are utterly immersed in Science Fiction (that's us!) would give subscribers the feeling that the people who run are 'our people'.

2. What audience does the newsletter serve?

If your first love is Science Fiction, then you are our audience. Myself and my lovely team (I'm contractually obliged to call them 'lovely' at all times) are very aware that some people prefer Hard Science Fiction, some like Steampunk, some only want Dystopias so we try to feature a good variety of different things.

3. What sort of writers do you feature?

Well, we've promoted everything from a super cheap deal on Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury to new writers who self-published their first novel a few days before. So, as long as it's Science Fiction, then we'll consider it.

4. Who decides which books you feature?

We have a team of three people who review, read, discuss and ultimately make the decision. As I said before, we try to mix up the styles and types of books that get featured.

5. You mention "curation" - what does that mean to you?
6. Who are you, and how did you accumulate 110 years of knowledge?

I'm going to take both of these questions together as, in my mind, they are interlinked.

Firstly, we're not 'internet famous' names in Science Fiction fandom or aspiring authors or editors at Tor Books or whatever. We're making no great claims to being the arbiters of perfect taste or anything of that ilk.

The '110 years of knowledge' comes from our combined years of reading Science Fiction. We have a secret weapon - Jan - who is a) retired and b) has a eidetic memory and has been reading S.F. since the mid 1950s. He's read everything, so often when we find a book we like, he'll say 'ah yes, that reminds me of such and such from 1973.'

We use some of this knowledge in the 'Our View' editorial paragraph that we put at the end of each book listing. I think this adds credibility and let's our subscribers know that we really do know a bit about this stuff.

'Curation' is a part of that. We have to be very mindful of the fact that Science Fiction readers are a sharp lot and if we say 'read this, it's great' and it's actually a rewrite of something else, then - bang - we instantly lose our audience.

Similarly, it's not unreasonable for readers to expect proper formatting, grammatical excellence and cogent writing, so these are also requirements to be listed.

I'm well aware that 'curation' has a certain whiff of Big Publishing and Literary Elitism and other unsavoury types of snobbery. That's not what we're about at all.

7. Do you think there is a different readership for indie and trad published books?

Not really, no. Readers just want to read good books. I don't believe any reader in the history of the world has ever said 'well, I'm not reading that book because it's published by Simon & Schuster and I only read stuff published by Hachette'.

Independent authors have already solved the potential 'isn't-a-self-published-book-going-to-be-rubbish?' conundrum via creative pricing strategies. We're now at the point where independent authors are judged solely on the quality of their work in the same way that traditionally published authors have always been. All is good.

8. What made you decide not to feature free eBooks?

Ah. We definitely need to update the website! We do now feature free eBooks.

Originally, our thinking was that we didn't want to attract a freebie hunting subscriber base and the easiest way to do that was not to feature free ebooks. Job done.

You need to remember that we're still in Beta, so we're trying stuff out all the time to see how we can optimise the service for readers and, ultimately, for authors.

Not offering free eBooks was one of those things that made sense when we soft launched. However, we discovered something very interesting when we did include free eBooks.

Firstly, our open rate increased. That's not the surprising bit. What is surprising is that we actually generated a significantly higher click through to the paid book we featured in the same newsletter.

I'm not going to speculate on why this happens but it does, so we're going to stick with it.

Our current approach is to feature two books in each mailing. Either 1 paid and 1 free or 2 paid - with the paid always being listed first.

I'm certain that we're building trust and credibility all the time and that the freebie hunters don't make up a huge percentage of our audience. Our analytics supports this, but I'm not going into more detail as I don't want to give away any competitive advantage we may have.

9. What do you regard as the scope of Science Fiction?

Oh, God. You like to ask challenging questions, don't you? Personally, I like the Oxford English Dictionary definition, which is this:

"Fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets."

I think that gets as close to the scope of what is Science Fiction as you are likely to get. There's always plenty of debate on this topic and I'm certain that my definition of the scope of Science Fiction has no more validity than anyone else's.

10. How do authors contact you?

Right now, is still in Beta. Authors can contact us via the contact form here, but we're not at the point of accepting direct author submissions as yet. However, if you are an author reading this and you're feeling particularly cheeky, then get in touch. We don't bite.

The reason is that we want to grow our subscriber base and make certain, when we do start accepting direct submissions from authors that we have a very strong offering for them.

We can't, in all conscience, start charging money to be included if we aren't able to deliver a worthwhile return on that investment.

Right now, we're pretty close. We have a high conversion ratio of subscribers to purchases and our 'Book of the Week' feature on the website adds sales for that particular book during the week as well.

11. What about new readers - how do they subscribe?

Just visit and enter your email address. It's that simple and that painless. Our list is double opt-in, so you will have to confirm your email address but we've made it as easy as possible to sign up.

12. Will you be expanding in future?

Of course. The first step will be when we start accepting direct author submissions in 2015.

This, I hope, will be good news for authors, especially those with brand new books or with books that are struggling to gain traction.

We're not going to have a 'minimum number of reviews' criterion for acceptance so if you're a Science Fiction author with only one or two books out and haven't managed to gain reviews, we still want to hear from you.

I fully understand why many of our rivals do use reviews as part of their criteria for including a book, but we want to help authors find their audience, not just expand the audience for authors who have already gained some traction.

13. How do you find time to read all those books?!

Well, I've already mentioned Jan  - our secret weapon. He does the most but all three of us on the team read and we have a few other people we ask to help out as and when needed.

Plus, we don't just feature new or recent releases, so we will include discount deals on classics that we read years ago.

We've got the 'reading all the books' stuff down to an art form and I think the fact that we do read everything before we include it shines through.

14. How does the US audience/readership differ from those elsewhere?

That's a very interesting question. This is what I can say for certain: US readers are more likely to purchase military Science Fiction while the Brits are more likely to buy stuff that's slightly weird and kooky.

That may sound a little like cultural stereotyping but it's true and reflected in the sales numbers. It's  strange, because the click-through percentage from the newsletter to military Science Fiction or satire is the same for both Americans and the rest of the world. It's just that readers from certain countries are more likely to think 'yeah, I'll give that a try'.

Oh, and everyone loves Steampunk. Everyone. British, Australian, American, Canadian. If it's Steampunk and it's good, we see similar sales percentages in all the English speaking markets.

If you've never read any Steampunk, then what are you waiting for? Feel free to sign up to the newsletter and we'll point you in the right direction.

About Mark Stockton:

Mark Stockton is the owner of and an internet marketing veteran, but please don't hold that against him. He's also a real human being and not some evil automaton who is trying to take over the world. You can visit to join the mailing list. It won't hurt and it only takes a minute!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fairy Tale Advent Calendar

Katharina Gerlach has created a Fairy Tale Advent Calendar to enjoy this holiday season. With the help of six very talented writers, she will bring you an array of Fairy Tales, Myths, and Legends.  From December 1st thru December 24th, you will be able to open a door to read an original story. 

Your hosts this year are:

The calendar has click-able "doors" that will lead to the stories. We can barely wait for the first of December to open the first one! Sign up for the email list to receive a special Christmas greeting eMail and the daily alerts. Everyone who signs up for the advent calendar email list will also receive a gift ebook of the six stories on December 26th.

Please tell all your friends about this opportunity!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for November 28, 2014

  Here is our weekly round-up of interesting links about speculative fiction from around the web:

Speculative fiction in general:

Writing, publishing and promotion:




Con reports:

Science and technology:

Odds and ends: 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Guest post - A. E. Williams: Why MANNED Space Exploration? A Treatise on the Necessity for Manned Spaceflight

The inherent danger of the privatization of manned space flight is in the news, again, with the recent destruction of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two class test vehicle, the VSS Enterprise.

The test pilots on this flight were Peter Siebold and Michael Alsbury, and astronaut Alsbury died during the crash. The bravery of these men has allowed humanity to boldly go, again, into the exploration of the unknown.

Three days earlier, a non-manned private mission by Orbital was destroyed six seconds after launch when it went off course.

Less than two weeks after the Virgin incident, the robotic lander Philae, bounced around on the surface of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P).

Space exploration is a funny thing for humans to undertake.

As a species, humanity has an innate curiosity about everything we experience, and a need to dissect and understand the intricacies of our world and the larger Universe surrounding it. It applies to all aspects of life. We want to know more, always more, about ourselves, other people, cultures, and the ways in which we interact. We want to know about the WHY, and the HOW. The human race is cursed by infinite curiosity, ever reaching into unknown areas.

This aspect of humanity has caused untold suffering, in that we have inflicted our wills and viewpoints, often violently, in the name of one cause or other. People have been vilified, categorized as worthy of extermination, conquered, and enslaved over the perception (right or wrong) that they were the cause of some misfortune or other.

The expansionist and egoistic leaders of the past have forced us to evolve, to develop civilized societies that provided the foundations for the great achievements to which we bear witness today.

There is a particular selfishness amongst these leaders to be remembered by history, to be thought of as to having added to the posterity of their lineage. Our major technological achievements are the culmination of perhaps thousands of critical minds, yet few are honored by the text books of our schools.

So, when manned space flight comes up as a subject of discussion, it stands alone in the context of being a truly human experience, shared by visionaries and workers alike.

And, in my view, that is an odd arrangement of agreement on a planet so fraught with disagreements over petty and trivial things.

At this time, the United States Space Program counts 18 astronauts as having given their lives in the exploration of space.

Of course, there are far more sacrifices than that, if one includes the scientists, test engineers, technicians and other people who were killed from the inception of rocketry, through the Cold War Space Race, and leading up through today’s corporate adoption of manned space flight.

I personally can name at least fifteen people with whom I worked who have died that were instrumental in making significant advancements in the industry. Some died of heart attacks, some of ‘natural causes’. Some died because of the technology.

Now, I do not want to assume that the value of one person’s life is worth more or less than any other.

I would like you to consider that almost all of these people, I feel, would argue that being a participant in our Space Program was worth all of the cost and effort expended, including the loss of lives.

Let me be clear – people die in warfare, millions of them.

Their lives are certainly every bit as valuable as yours or mine, or your children, or any other human.

But, for the brief time we inhabit it, most of us are bound to this planet.

The vast majority of humanity never goes any higher than their local hilltop.

Many climb mountains, or fly in an airplane.

But an astoundingly paltry few of us have made it into space, the Great Unknown that weighs above all of our heads for the entirety of our lives.

And that’s a damn shame.

And it needs to be corrected, right now.


Figure 1 shows a photograph of the SR-71 Blackbird, on display outside of the Air and Space Museum in San Diego, California, where I was visiting in October of 2012.

The Blackbird had two J-58 engines, manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, and I was privileged to have been part of the team that provided experimental data on test stand A-1 back in the early and mid-1980’s.

Figure 1 - Science Fiction Author and Jet Engine Guy

You can see me posing with the SR-71, which is a magnificent aircraft, well ahead of its time, whose performance is still unmatched to this day.

A lot of that was because of the unique airframe, and a lot of it had to do with these magnificent beasts of engines.

The SR-71 was a satellite that orbited the Earth within its own atmosphere, providing tactical data and information on the enemy forces that threatened the United States during its tenure. It could be deployed and on-station within only a scant few hours, and, because it was flown by pilots, also had a built-in ability to deal with escalating strategic situations instantly.

The men who flew it were representative of the best of humanity - sharp, keen minds, physically excellent and dedicated to the cause of advancing our knowledge.

Figure 2 – SR-71 Main Engine, the J-58, in Full Afterburner, Non-Assisted
Figure 2 is a picture snapped on the A-1 Stand[1], in the midst of the Florida swamps, from that time.

You can see these diamond shaped “things” in the exhaust.

Those are called “shock-diamonds”, and occur at high speeds, above supersonic. 

The engine is in afterburner mode here, which is NOT anything compared to when it ran in RAMJET mode. The J-58 used a hybrid system that allowed normal aspirated flight during take-off and landing and climb to altitude. It had a mechanism that would move an aerospike inside of the engine, that could manage where the supersonic shock waves would occur, and, at altitude, by-passed the turbine section to operate fully as a ramjet.

BTW, I am in this photo.

Now, if you can’t really see me in this photo, it’s because I am in the blockhouse, behind that engine - with my hand on the throttle.

Let me tell you, it was something else. That raw power, unleashed in front of your eyes, watching those numbers on the Mach gauge climbing to classified levels!

The ground rumbled, the building shook, and it felt as though an earthquake were happening right there!

Only, if I reduced power, it didn’t shake quite as much, and if I gave it MOAR POWER it really started to loosen your fillings.

Now, I am not saying this to brag about the experience.

I want to share the excitement and feeling of awe that I felt to be there, at that moment, which was the culmination of hundreds of people’s efforts, testing, calculations and sweat.

Some additional annoying autobiographic info:

This is the F-14 Tomcat:
Figure 3 – Top Gun
It uses the TF-30 afterburning turbojet engine, and was one of the premier aircraft ever created, with a movable swept-wing for optimal performance across its flight envelope.

This is the F-15 Eagle:

Figure 4 – F-15 Eagle
It has the distinction of being the only aircraft to shoot down a satellite[2].
The F-15 can stand on its tail and accelerate vertically in a climb to over 25,000 feet.

And this is the F-16:

Figure 5 – F-16 Falcon, Affectionately Known as the ‘Lawn Dart’

The F-15 and F-16 both use the F-100 engine.

The F-15 has two of them, the F-16 only one (hence its nickname).

This is the F-22 Raptor:

Figure 6 – F-22 Raptor
The F-22 uses two F-119 engines, which are derivatives of the F-100, and much more powerful. As well, they have interesting vectored nozzles. I was involved in setting up production areas for these.
All of the engines powering these planes were built by P&W. And, I worked on all of them, in one capacity or another.

To bring us full circle into the realm of manned space flight, I would like to introduce the STS, or Space Transportation System:

Figure 7 – The STS Space Shuttle

This is one of the three Space Shuttle Main Engines used on each STS flight:[3]

Figure 8 – Space Shuttle Main Engine

These are the LOX and Fuel turbopumps for that engine:

Figure 9 – SSME Turbopumps.
(Image copyrighted internally by P&W, but widely disseminated as marketing materials.)

All of this technology was developed from decades of hard work. People trained for years to develop the skills needed from math, science, engineering, chemistry, and physics disciplines. There were hundreds of people involved in design, testing, materials science, aerospace engineering and physics. 

Thermodynamics, statics, and physical chemistry all lent a hand in determining how best to create these marvelous machines. There were architects, construction workers, plant safety and industrial security, electronics and electricians, custodians, clerks, accountants, contract specialists, government liaisons, and more than I can list, all involved in just building the facilities where these fantastic creations could be built and tested.

There were shipping and receiving areas, warehouses with forklifts, trucks, aircraft, computers, mainframes, and test areas. At one point, over 8,000 people were involved in manufacturing, testing and getting the engines to where they were needed.

There were plenty of mistakes, and outright failures, such as one of the turbine disks exploding during a test and puncturing a containment vessel, then shooting off into a wall in a bathroom – over a hundred feet and three rooms away.

I put in a pretty decent amount of time, working in many disparate areas. There was a huge amount of secrecy, security and record keeping.

So, when I start off telling you how interesting, exciting, dangerous and absolutely mind-blowing it is to have worked on these programs, I hope you can understand my passion.

I hope to make it very clear why I feel so strongly that manned space flight is maybe the most important thing EVER that humans have undertaken.

And, I also hope you can understand my excitement that manned space flight is entering a new phase with the opportunity of having private corporations engaged in continuing the tradition set forth in the last five decades by governments.

That is trivial adventure compared to what is a routine daily mission to our best.

Many years ago, in the original Star Trek series episode Return to Tomorrow, Captain James T. Kirk outlines to the crew of a mythical starship, (also christened ENTERPRISE), the importance of accepting that risk.

You can view this inspiring speech here.

It was written by John T. Dugan, under the pen-name "John Kingsbridge", and is probably the best and most succinct reason anyone involved in space exploration can give as to "Why?"

That speech has always stayed with me, and is one of the reasons I ended up where I am.

The facts are the same now as they were then -- when you have complicated machines, thousands of people involved in constructing and launching the most advanced mechanisms mankind has ever created, and the inevitable constraints of cost and time, you are going to have to assume some measure of risk.

Humans have accepted that risk over the centuries, which is why we stand at a pinnacle of great achievements today.

Our current world is a fast-paced, interconnected global powerhouse of talent and intellect. Every day, advances are made towards creations that free the majority of us from worries about survival, including clean water, sanitation facilities, and food.

Yes, we still have a very far way to travel before we have alleviated these problems for all of us, but I would illustrate that those problems are ones of political and not technical nature. We have the ability to feed, clothe, house, educate and care for everyone on the planet. We do not seem to have the necessary maturity to rise above prejudice and bias about each other – yet.

A manned space program provides that vision, and the necessary maturity to do the hard things. There is no margin for error. The attention to detail is ferocious, and the consequences permanent.

We learn, we try, we fail, and we integrate the lessons into our future endeavors. People and equipment are lost. Decades of work disintegrate as we all move into the future, and the hard-won secrets are sometimes lost as well.

Above all, we have had the privilege of watching the best of us test the bounds of Earth, touch the Heavens, and leave footprints on other worlds.

It is for this reason alone, the celebration of the hubris of humanity, that we need to continue to reach out, accept the risks and continue on our journey of manned space exploration.

“Ad Astra Per Aspara.”


A.E. Williams has a unique background of military experience, aerospace engineering and intelligence analysis. He is the author of the exciting hard science fiction series Terminal Reset.

Portions of this essay are taken from previous forum posts, or are excerpted from Author’s notes from “Terminal Reset – The Coming of The Wave – Episode Eight”.

[1] Source: Kurt Schmidt Writes:
“The picture actually shows test cell A-1 at Pratt and Whitney’s West Palm Beach facility. I had the pleasure of working this test cell in the mid 1980’s. This test cell was actually an altitude simulation cell used for testing purposes. (We had a additional cell used for sea level runs for motors which were overhauled onsite also.) It used a non-afterburning J-79 as a slave motor. The exhaust of the slave was introduced to the inlet of the J-58 through a series of valves thereby simulating the speed, temperature, and density of the air at the inlet normally seen during flight. In this particular picture the motor is running at sea level as indicated by the inlet screen. I spent many hot and humid nights servicing, mounting, and running this particular cell. I was one of a crew of five. Some of the greatest co-workers I have ever had the privilege to of worked with. Sadly, the cell is no more. It didn’t go without a fight though. The contractor had to repeatedly repair his demolition equipment saying it was the hardest concrete he had ever had to remove. Sincerely, Kurt Schmidt”
[3]This is NOT what failed during the Challenger mission. That was the solid rocket booster O-ring failure.

Copyright 2014, A.E. Williams, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Minoan Zero Mind Tool by John Moon Forker

Release Date: November 6, 2014
Subgenre: Psychological Science Fiction, Dystopian

ABOUT The Minoan Zero Mind Tool:

An ancient civilization creates a technology lost long ago that is discovered. A technology dug up by an archeology graduate student who has almost no idea the power of what she’s found. A student who prior to this discovery had a mystical experience in a sacred cave high up on a mountain in Crete that impels her to go on a dangerous quest to heal her troubled mind.

A more than one-hundred-year old woman reaches out in holographic form from another world. She says that Atlantis exists, but it in no way resembles what everyone thinks it is. And she wants to bestow a gift.

A former self-help teacher, turned religious leader, claims to have a way for people to speak directly with God. Yet he lusts for power and would take the technology if he can get his hands on it.

A jaded journalist is offered a way to believe in people again.

A very special dog teaches an extremely valuable lesson.

The environment continues to crumble and the economy continues to sink. People in America have lost hope.

But hope might be making a comeback. In a big way.


She communicates with the dead. But they do all the talking. She just listens. They speak through the things they've left behind. The utensils, the art, the weapons, the inscriptions on clay tablets.

When she studies an artifact, an arrowhead, some pottery, anything, she feels a connection to the people who used it, who handled it every day. It's as if she inhabits their lives and becomes them.

She sees connections between an artifact the archeological team might find and a pattern of behavior, a clue as to where they walked, where they hunted, where they spent the night. They tell her of their brief moments of glory, the birth of a child, a battle won, a home defended. They tell her of the daily hunt for food, the injuries, diseases and the deaths they all suffered and they tell her of their fear and wonder at what lies beyond their time in this world.

But that feeling of being connected to them is what matters because she doesn't really feel all that connected to the living in this world. The dead are always there for her and they will never trouble her, bother her, demand of her, or ridicule her. They invite her to become a part of their own distant lives. And this connection diminishes her loneliness, if just for a moment.

Some people say what she has is a gift but that's not how she sees it. For her, it is an escape from the world where she is a prisoner of her own personality, of her own shortcomings, of her own futile quest to change herself and break out of this prison. A prison she made for herself and cannot unmake because there are three dead who do not speak to her, who will never speak, who would be alive today if she hadn't been so foolish twenty-two years ago when she was eleven years old. Her mother, father and younger brother.

Jane Ozzimo——most everyone calls her Oz——rides in the back seat of Mervin's gas-guzzling Chevy. One of the last few thousands of petroleum-powered cars on the streets of Los Angeles. Most every other vehicle these days is electric. Trying to reduce carbon emissions and slow down global warming, but the horse is already out of the barn.

So she is kind of embarrassed riding in this polluting pig of a car. But Mervin stubbornly holds on to this piece of junk——he likes the sound of the engine——and will probably do so right up to the deadline at the end of the year when the city is forcing all gas-using cars off the road. Tough to buy gas anyway.

Mervin Chimney and Melissa Canovoot, her roommates and fellow archeology grad students at the University of Southern California, sit in the front. Roommates being a financial necessity for her.

Many of the students in the department have been called to an excavation site downtown. A city inspector found something on the grounds of an abandoned building about to be demolished and the city called the school to come take a look.

Maybe she'll see something interesting at this site. Not likely, but the city is very jumpy about preserving what they think of as historical artifacts and are halting construction projects every time something pops up out of the ground. So this is probably nothing.

She hopes to graduate with her PhD in December. Less than two months away now. But she's worried that she'll never find the acceptable evidence that will convince Dr. Eisenbarth. Worried that maybe it was a mistake to have changed her thesis topic.

What she had was safe. Very safe. But safe was so boring. Her taking a stab at deciphering the two mysterious Minoan languages, Linear A and the hieroglyphic language seen on the Phaistos disk.

What realistic hope did she have of unraveling these languages? No one else has. But just the attempt would have gotten her the degree.

However, after the experience in the cave on Crete last summer there was no way she could continue with that. A transformative experience that let her escape the prison of herself even if it lasted only for maybe two minutes.

And with the change of topic, she's gotten a lot of resistance from others in the department. Sure, Professor Vasquez, the head of her dissertation committee, believes in her. Go for it, she said. But, Dr. Eisenbarth, the graduate adviser, doesn't like it, doesn't want it, and has warned her to drop it. Threatens to reject it. He has that power.

And if he does that she doesn't graduate. No degree, then no job in archeology. And in this miserable economy, then what? Back in the gutter. Go full-time at the kennel shoveling dog shit? Become homeless again. No hope, no future. No way out. No thanks.

Oz looks out the window. Worries. It's only through archeology that she will ever find anything like what she found in that cave up on Mt. Ida on Crete. That one moment when she was free of all the garbage in her life, when she felt real joy, when she experienced a powerful sense of vitality, when she was free of herself.

What she saw on the floor of that cave, those drawings, and that experience, that powerful experience by the pool of water, showed her that the Minoans of thirty-five hundred years ago were exploring the workings of the mind and had progressed pretty far, so far that their technology——if that's what you want to call it——gave her the best moment of her life ever since the day that her parents and brother died. Deaths that never should have happened. Wouldn't have if she hadn't been so insistent on going down into that canyon. She should have died too.

But once that Minoan cave collapsed in the avalanche the door to freedom and most of her evidence disappeared in the dust.

Before that she had run down the mountain in sheer excitement at what she had discovered and brought Dr. Eisenbarth back up. He was right there in the cave. Saw the drawings. But him stupidly swinging that flashlight beam everywhere somehow turned off the technology happening in the pool of water and he never experienced what she experienced. If only he had then he would have believed.

But she didn't hallucinate anything. She knows what she saw. She knows what she experienced and more evidence has to be out there somewhere. That technology couldn't have all been in just that one sanctuary cave. The Minoans must have had it in other locations. She just has to find it. Must find it.

Just ahead, on the side of the Santa Monica tollway, she sees one of those King Zee Whitehead billboards. This guy seems to be everywhere lately. Here he's standing up, arm upraised, gazing out into the infinite as if he sees a vision, beckoning all to follow him to God. Of course, it's animated and 3D, like they all are, imparting a strong sense of motion which, with that weird 3D sense of depth, gives it a sort of unreal feeling like it's not grounded to anything but just hanging untethered up there in the air.

"He's getting more popular," Oz says.

"Who?" Mervin says.

"This billboard we're about to pass. This King Zee Whitehead."

Melissa says, "Yeah, I have a friend——you remember Nancy." She nudges Mervin. "And she did one of those ceremonies, private one I think, not one of those public extravaganzas that he puts on, and she, well, I think she liked it but thought it was pretty intense. Not that she spoke to God or anything, like he claims you can, but still."

"I wonder what God would say if you could?" Oz says gazing out the window.

"Fucking scam," Mervin says shaking his head.

Melissa uses her thumb and forefinger to pinch his cheek, a big smile on her face. Mervin smiles too and uses his right hand to scoot his fingers up her leg to where the seams on her pants meet in a big Y.

"Oh." Melissa's forehead arcs in surprise beneath the bangs of her hair. These bangs tend to puff out a little like a tent on a windy day. Kind of matches her puffy cheeks.

Mervin is a little squat, a little heavy, long dark-blonde hair dipping across his shoulders, and a face that often looks quizzical even when he's not.

Since they share the same first and last initials in their names, they have taken to calling themselves the M.C.s. They laugh uproariously almost every time they say it. Oz found it funny the first time she heard it.

She feels a brief ache of longing watching Mervin and Melissa. A long ago memory. But she stomps it down. Stupid foolish feeling. Her former boyfriend. Sam Delgatto. She must have been delusional. Must have thought she was in love. But she doubts it was love. That's not really what she was looking for, but maybe she thought it was at the time.

She realized he was just another trap. A substitution for a family she did not have.

And she let this feeling of being trapped grow and grow until the rainy January morning when she whispered to him she had to leave, and he became increasingly furious, as she could not explain to him why she was doing this.

Within minutes she was gone. Out on the street. Out in the rain. Nowhere to go.

She planned that really well, didn't she?

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, John Moon Forker knew he wanted to be a writer when he was eleven. Reading opened up worlds to him. Worlds he then wanted to create.

His first published book is The Minoan Zero Mind Tool. There are five or six other novels that are hiding on a shelf, too shy to come out. But maybe someday. Some of them are still in shock from when John papered the walls with agent rejection letters. But those days are gone.

Now, living in the Los Angeles area, he frequently hikes in the Santa Monica mountains and will occasionally drink an exquisite microbrewed beer. He is especially fond of reading the works of Neal Stephenson, T.R. Pearson, and Stephen King.

And he does not own a smartphone.