An Awards Post that’s not about the Hugos

The 2018 Hugo Awards ceremony is still a couple of hours away. And due to the awkward timing (the ceremony starts at 5 AM German time), you probably can’t expect a post from me about it until tomorrow night.

However, I can reports that the winners for another award, namely the winners of the 2018 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards have been announced today and my In Love and War prequel story “Baptism of Fire” is a runner-up in the best short story category.

Congrats to all the winners and thank you to everybody who nominated and voted or me.

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Some Comments on the 1943 Retro Hugo Award Winners

Before the main event on Sunday, the 1943 Retro Hugos were awarded last night at WorldCon 76 in San José, California. The full list of winners may be found here. The full detailed results of the votes and nominations may be found here.

Short verdict: Wow, that’s a lot of Heinlein.

Longer verdict: That’s really a lot of Heinlein.

For my detailed verdict, see behind the cut. Continue reading

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Cora blogs elsewhere yet again…

Today, I’m over at Galactic Journey again, this time with a look at the state of East German and East European (well, Polish, since East Germany already had Stanislaw Lem translations at the time) science fiction back in 1963.

For those who don’t know, Galactic Journey is a fanzine that’s set 55 years in the past (and was rewarded by a Hugo nomination in the distant future of 2018), i.e. as far as Galactic Journey is concerned it’s August 1963, John F. Kennedy is still president of the US, Konrad Adenauer is still German chancellor and Philip K. Dick will win the Hugo Award for best novel for The Man in the High Castle in a few weeks time, while Jack Vance will win the best short fiction Hugo for “The Dragon Masters”, beating my personal favourite, Fritz Leiber’s supremely creepy “The Unholy Grail”, which by some coincidence I just reread and still found as excellent as I remembered.

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The 2018 Dragon Award Nominees and the Rise of the Kindle Unlimited Writing Factories

For the third time in a row, Dragon Con, a big media con in Atlanta, Georgia, has enlivened the dead period just before WorldCon starts and the Hugo winners are announced, by announcing the nominees for the Dragon Awards. You can see the nominees on the official website here and in a less eye-searing design over at File 770, where there’s also some discussion in the comments.

Those of you who’ve followed the saga of the Dragon Awards (see my previous posts on the subject here) know that the award has been troubled from the start three years ago. The Dragons started out with the intention to award the sort of broadly popular works that have a lot of mass appeal, but rarely show up on the Hugo and Nebula shortlists. This is in theory a good idea, except that the actual shortlist and even the winners in the first two years did not really reflect those intentions at all and instead were a mix of the sort of broadly popular works the Dragons claimed to champion and “Who the hell is this?” nominees. For the Dragon Awards have zero voting controls (basically, you can nominate and vote with as many e-mail addresses as you can generate) and even less transparency (so far, they never released any voting and nomination data and according to the rules, it’s not even certain that the finalists or winners are actually the most nominated books), which makes them extremely vulnerable to ballot stuffing. The Sad and Rabid Puppies and their various offshoot groups tried it with varying success, as did other groups like Inkshares, the Red Panda Faction (who do good work and offered an eligibility spreadsheet for the 2018 Dragon Awards) and individual authors with large followings. Camestros Felapton, probably the foremost chronicler of the Dragon Awards, did the work and hunted down various Dragon Award recommendation lists and slates and “Please vote for my book” posts to offer his predictions of the finalists.

So now the preliminaries are out of the way, let’s look at the actual shortlist. Once more, it’s a curious mix of broadly popular works and “What the hell is this?” nominees. It’s also a very white and very male ballot. I count thirteen women out of 50 authors nominated in the fiction category (since several books have multiple authors), that’s 26%, i.e. a little over a fourth of all Dragon nominees in the fiction categories are women. They’re also unevenly distributed: The YA category is five women and one man, while science fiction and fantasy only include one female nominee each and military SF doesn’t have any women at all. I also count between four and six writers of colour (two nominees are immigrants from Iberic peninsula, who are often considered Hispanic in the US, but don’t necessarily self-identify that way), that’s between 8 and 12%. Though I may have missed someone, since I’m not familiar with all the authors.

In the best science fiction novel category, we have Persepolis Rising, the latest Expanse novel by James S.A. Corey and Artemis by Andy Weir, both highly popular works by author with a large following. Sins of Her Father by Mike Kupari is a Baen Book that only briefly surfaced on my radar because of some snark about the cover with its very phallic rocket and huge nozzles. But considering how reliably awful Baen’s cover art is, that doesn’t mean the book is bad. Kupari’s novel was also pushed by Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia. Vera Nazarian is an indie and small press pioneer and past Nebula finalist. Her nominated novel Win seems to be a Hunger Games style YA dystopia, but is clearly popular judging by the number of Amazon reviews. The Mutineer’s Daughter by Chris Kennedy and Thomas A. Mays is military SF from one of the Kindle Unlimited writing factories. It also seems that Chris Kennedy and pals campaigned heavily for the Dragons, since they’ve got several books on the shortlist. It Takes Death to Reach a Star by Gareth Worthington and Stu Jones finally is a novel I’d never heard of. Going by the blurb, it’s a post-apocalyptic novel of the sort that tends to make puppies cry.

The best fantasy shortlist consists of Brandon Sanderson, who of course has a huge fanbase, and several writers I know very little about. Pippa DaCosta is a popular indie author and her nominated book Shoot the Messenger seeems to be in the popular “mages in space” and “reverse harem” subgenres. The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston is an grimdark fantasy novel published by Angry Robot that has somehow flown under my radar, but then this subgenre isn’t rally my thing. Aleron Kong is another popular indie author and his novel The Land: Predators is part of a series in the popular LitRPG genre. A Tempered Warrior by Jon R. Osborne is epic fantasy from Chris Kennedy’s publishing outfit. War Hammer by Shayne Silvers is tough guy urban fantasy by yet another popular indie author, who nonetheless managed to pass completely beneath my radar.

The best young adult/middle grade shortlist, on the other hand, consists solely of highly popular authors and books. It’s also the most female shortlist, featuring five women and one man (which is only to be expected, because YA is heavily female dominated). There is no overlap with the Andre Norton Award or the new YA not-a-Hugo, but then there is very little overlap between the Hugo and Nebula shortlists and the Dragon shortlist in general. Coincidentally, there is also not a single indie book among the nominees in this category.

Best military SF/fantasy is another mixed bag. Former countryman Marko Kloos is a popular military SF author and by all accounts a good guy. Communications Failure by Joe Zieja is part of a series of satirical military SF, which actually seems to do something interesting with this subgenre. A Call to Vengeance by David Weber, Timothy Zahn and Thomas Pope is a prequel to David Weber’s hugely popular Honor Harrington series and therefore not exactly a surprising nominee. And yes, I know that Baen likes collaborations, but three authors for a single book is really pushing it. Jonathan P. Brazee is a popular indie military SF author, was a Nebula finlists this year and is by all accounts a good guy. Finally, we have two more books from two of the big Kindle Unlimited writing factories. Legend by Christopher Woods is another book from Chris Kennedy’s outfit and apparently a prequel of sorts to his Four Horsemen series. Michael Anderle and Craig Martelle are both popular indie SF authors and their nominated book Price of Freedom is part of Anderle’s Kutherian Gambit series. Michael Anderle is also the founder of the 20 books to 50K Facebook group of market-focussed indie SFF writers and finds many of his co-authors there. Coincidentally, this is the only all-male category.

On to best alternate history, which is probably the strangest Dragon Award category, since it’s such a small and peculiar subgenre, whereas big subgenres like epic and urban fantasy have to share a single category. Charles Stross is very popular and clearly a deserving nominee, though not to my taste at all. Though going by the blurb, I’m not sure if his nominated novel Dark State actually is alternate history, since it seems to be near future SF. But then, the Dragons did name a religiously tinged space opera best horror novel once, so odd categorisation is common for this award. D.J. Butler’s Witchy Winter is part of a popular historical fantasy series, though again I wouldn’t really classify this as alternate history. S.M. Stirling is another broadly popular author and actually writes alternate history. Kevin J. Anderson is another very popular author and Uncharted, written with Sarah Hoyt, is an actual alternate history novel. Dream of the Iron Dragon by Robert Kroese was promoted by several of the puppy-adjacent groups/authors like Superversive SF, Happy Frogs and Declan Finn. though mostly in the best science fiction category. The premise is vikings in space, so I guess it would count as alternate history. Minds of Men by Kacey Ezell is another book to come out of Chris Kennedy’s publishing outfit. It also is actually alternate history.

ETA: Paul Weimer and commenter Andrew at File 770 confirm that Dark State is indeed alternate history, so it’s absolutely in the correct category here.

Best media tie-in is a new category for the Dragon Awards and has replaced the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic category. The finalists are two Star Wars tie-in novels (both by female writers about female characters), two Star Trek Discovery tie-in novels, a Halo tie-in novel and a World of Warcraft tie-in novel. All popular franchises, so it’s not particularly surprising to see them here. Coincidentally, Before the Storm by Christie Golden is also the only finalists from Vox Day’s Dragon Awards slate to make the ballot. And considering how many people play World of Warcraft, I suspect it would have made the ballot with or without Vox.

Oddly enough, best horror is the one category in the Dragon Awards which usually looks most like what it says on the tin, probably because the ballot stuffers don’t particularly care for horror. Even though a religiously tinged space opera won the category in the first year. This year, we have the biggest living name in horror, Stephen King and his son Owen King with Sleeping Beauties. Paul Tremblay is an up and coming horror writer and his The Cabin at the End of the World got quite a bit of buzz. Jonathan Maberry is another very popular horror author. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero is an interesting take on Scooby Doo and also got quite a bit of buzz. I’ve never heard of Beneath the Lighthouse by Julianne Lynch. Going by the blurb, it seems to be YA horror. Mark Wandrey, finally, is a frequent co-author of Chris Kennedy’s. His nominated novel A Time to Run seems to be a zombie apocalypse story.

Best comic book is a mix of popular series such as Saga or The Mighty Thor (Is this still the Jane Foster Thor or the restored Thor Odinsson?), popular, if unfinished miniseries such as Mister Miracle and Doomsday Clock and two media tie-in comics. In best graphic novel, we have popular works like Monstress, Paper Girls and Vision, all of whom are/were Hugo finalists in this category. There is also a Brandon Sanderson graphic novel and two works I’m not familiar with at all. Chicago Typewriter is a prohibition era noir tale with supernatural undertones, while Be Prepared by Vera Bresgol looks like the sort of thing that makes puppies cry. Coincidentally, not a single one of Vox Day’s Arkhaven/Alt-Hero comics or any of the other crowdfunded alt-right Comicsgate books managed to get a nomination.

The film and TV categories is full of very popular works with very few surprises. The film category is very Marvel dominated with pretty much every eligible Marvel movie plus Deadpool 2 nominated. Though I’m a bit surprised that Ready Player One managed to garner a nomination, considering how panned it was, but then it probably did appeal to the Dragon Con demographic. No Last Jedi or Solo, which is a bit of a surprise, especially since Last Jedi did well at the box office, in spite of a hate campaign.

I can’t say much about the game categories except that I’ve heard of many of the nominated games, which means that they’re popular. Coincidentally, Azul by two developers from Bremen just won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award (which is pretty much the biggest award a boardgame can win), while Photosynthesis was a finalist. Though neither of those is even remotely science fiction or fantasy.

So what’s the verdict? The good news is that the Sad and Rabid Puppies and their offshoots have very little presence on the Dragon shortlist this year and indeed Camestros Felapton declares a preemptive no award for the Rabid Puppies. Sarah Hoyt is the only Sad Puppy I see and since she’s nominated for a book co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson, I suspect that the puppies didn’t have a whole lot to do with this nomination. Robert Kroese is puppy adjacent and was promoted by various puppy offshoot groups. Mike Kupari was promoted by Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia, though I have no idea if he is a puppy himself. At any rate, I don’t recall ever coming across his name in that context. The wording on the website of Chris Kennedy’s publishing company declares that they focus on fun and message-free science fiction and fantasy, which sounds very puppy-like. Ironically, the very first book on the website is a dystopian science fiction novel set in a Chinese occupied Seattle, which may be fun to some people, but sure as hell isn’t message free. Two of Chris Kennedy’s authors were on the puppy Hugo slates (Thomas A. Mays who withdrew and Jason Cordova who didn’t) and I also recall seeing his and Mark Wandrey’s books promoted at the Castalia House blog, when it was still active. Nonetheless, I’m not sure if Kennedy and friends are puppy-adjacent or just fellow travellers who happen to write the sort of thing puppies like.

ETA: Taking a look at the puppy camp, at Superversive SF, Declan Finn seems mostly happy about the Dragon nominations for Robert Kroese, Chris Kennedy and friends as well as for various Baen authors and Brandon Sanderson and expresses his disinterest in categories like best media tie-in or best comic book, where none of his favourites was nominated. And Richard Paolinelli admits that none of his nominations made the cut, which gives him a worse hit rate than me (I got four, in YA, media tie-in, comic and film), and shares which nominees he will be voting for. All links go to archive.org.

So the various puppy groups aren’t much of a problem for the Dragon Awards this year. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of the Kindle Unlimited writing factories in the Dragon Awards, namely extremely prolific indie authors (Aleron Kong, Pippa DaCosta) and author collectives (Chris Kennedy’s and Michael Anderle’s groups). These people are very talented self-promoters who adhere to the so-called “write to market” maxim and managed to rise to the top of the Amazon charts in their respective categories via a combination of a high ad budget, an eager fanbase and the artificial rank inflation due to Kindle Unlimited, where a borrow counts as much as a sale. These are clearly very popular authors and they write in subgenres that are popular among the Kindle Unlimited crowd such as military SF, LitRPG, reverse harem, mages and vikings in space, etc… A lot of these authors write in shared worlds, e.g. the various Chris Kennedy books seem to be part of one or more shared worlds, ditto for the Michael Anderle and Craig Martelle collaboration. Nonetheless, these books and authors are often little known outside the Kindle Unlimited eco-system and their little subgenre niche, which contributes to the “Who the hell are these people?” feeling that several of the finalists elicit. And I’m probably more familiar with the big names of indie SFF than many others and have indeed featured books by some of these authors in my new release round-ups before.

The 2018 Dragon Awards shortlist does resemble the subcategory besteller lists in Amazon’s Kindle store, which does go a step towards the stated aim of rewarding popular works. Though the Kindle charts are distorted by Kindle Unlimited and also by all sorts of promotional tactics ranging from the perfectly acceptable such as buying advertising (including at Amazon, so writers are actually paying Amazon to promote their books) via things like employing ghostwriters to put out more books to shady tactics such as clickfarms, pageread manipulation, etc… And indeed, it is notable that two SFF authors associated with big Kindle Unlimited writing factories have had their accounts closed by Amazon in the last month, though neither of them is on the Dragon shortlist.

So does this shortlist really reflect what is popular among a broad swath of the SFF readership or just which authors are good at promoting themselves to the top of the Kindle charts? It seems to me as if the Dragons have traded one problem (ballot stuffing by SFF’s rightwing puppies) for another (Kindle Unlimited writing factories that warp the Amazon charts and the indie SFF market in general). And while there is little overlap between the Dragon shortlist and the Hugo and Nebula shortlists, there is also little overlap between the Dragon shortlist and indie book awards like the e-Festival of Words Best of the Independent e-Book Awards. Finally, the Dragon shortlist still tends very much towards white and male nominees, but then popular vote awards often tend towards white dude nominees – also see the David Gemmell Legend Awards.

ETA: Mike Glyer has hunted down the number of Goodreads reviews for the Dragon Award nominees and also remarks upon the total lack of overlap both with the Hugo and Nebula finalists and Vox Day’s and Jon Del Arroz’s Happy Frogs slates.

Of course, being nominated for an award doesn’t necessarily mean winning. And so it will be very interesting to see which books actually win.

ETA: Some of our canine friends seem to have taken exception to me calling some Dragon nominees the output of Kindle Unlimited writing factories. Folks, hard as it may be for you to imagine, I wasn’t talking about any of you. None of you is even remotely prolific enough to be a writing factory.

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Convention Programming in the Age of Necromancy – A Short Story

In my blogpost about the 2018 July Short Story Challenge, I wrote that every year that challenge generates one or two stories that are not something I can publish either in e-book form or send to a magazine. Often, these are short satirical pieces that are too tied to a specific moment in time to have much in the way of staying power.

This is one of those pieces. It was inspired at least in part by the WorldCon 76 programming debate (for a quick summery, see this and this post at File 770).

Another inspiration was this tweet by Camestros Felapton, in which he suggests that certain sad puppies would be glad to put the Heinlein on every panel in perpetuity, if they could only figure out how to reanimate him first.

That tweet made me wonder what if it were possible to reanimate the great science fiction and fantasy authors of bygone days and put them on panels at a modern con. And why stop at Heinlein? I ran with that thought and this is the result.

By the way, the various con volunteers are not based on any specific people. If there are any volunteers of those names at WorldCon 76 or any other con, that’s entirely coincidental.

 

Convention Programming in the Age of Necromancy

At the daily program operations meeting of a science fiction convention that shall remain unnamed, the debate got rather heated.

“We absolutely need to hold the ‘Future of Military Science Fiction’ panel in Auditorium 3,” the head of programming, whom we’ll call Matt, said.

“And why?” his fellow volunteer, who shall henceforth be known as Lucy, asked, “Is military SF so important, that it needs one of the bigger rooms, while we shove the ‘Own Voices’ panel into a tiny cupboard?”

“No,” Matt said, “But Auditorium 3 has air conditioning.”

Lucy tapped her foot. “And? Are old white dude military SF fans more deserving of coolness and air than own voices creators and fans?”

Matt sighed. “No, but Heinlein’s reanimated corpse is coming to the panel. And trust me, he smells abominably. Oh yes, and he’s declared that he wants to attend the ‘Alternative Sexualities in Science Fiction’ panel, so we’d better put that in a room with AC, too.”

“Can anybody explain to me why Robert A. Heinlein of all people is an authority on the future of military SF anyway?” program volunteer three, who shall henceforth be known as Derek, asked, “After all, the guy died in 1988.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “I know. But in spite of being dead, he is the biggest name and the biggest draw on the panel. The entire Heinlein Society will be there.”

A devilish gleam appeared in Lucy’s eye. “Did you put John Ringo on the military SF panel as well?”

Matt grinned. “Sure. After all, he considers himself the greatest living authority on the genre, so it’s only fair that he be paired with the greatest undead authority.”

Lucy clapped her hands. “I’d love to watch that. Do you think they’ll come to blows?”

“If they do, I pity the cleaning staff,” Matt said, “Cause Heinlein’s corpse… well, let’s just say he drips.”

Lucy made a face.

At this moment, the door opened and a program volunteer named Sunita burst in.

“Guys, we have a problem. The reanimated corpse of Isaac Asimov just pinched a female fan’s butt after the ‘Future of AI’ panel, which is totally against the code of conduct. And when I tried to explain the problem to him, he not just refused to listen, he pinched my butt as well.”

“And that…” Lucy said, “…is why we should only have reanimated female authors. Cause those white male dinosaurs don’t really get that it’s not the 1950s anymore.”

“Talking of which, how is Leigh Brackett’s corpse doing?” Matt wanted to know.

Lucy sighed. “Still watching her way through the entire Star Wars series.”

“Sure, that’s a huge binge, but it shouldn’t take that long,” Derek pointed out.

Lucy sighed once more. “I know. But whenever I leave the room for half an hour, Ms. Brackett stops the Star Wars films and starts watching something else. Last time I caught her binging Jessica Jones.”

At this moment, yet another program volunteer named Chris burst through the door, almost bumping into Sunita.

“Sorry,” Chris said, “But we have a problem with the Robert E. Howard sword fighting demonstration in the courtyard. It fell apart.”

“The sword fighting demonstration?” Matt asked.

“No, Robert E. Howard’s skeleton. He tried swinging a broadsword just like Conan. It clearly was too heavy for him and the entire skeleton just broke apart. We’re trying to put him together again, but…” Chris shrugged. “…let’s just say Humpty Dumpty is more accurate than you’d imagine.”

“Does Howard still have a panel scheduled?” Lucy asked Matt.

Matt checked his schedule. “Nope, the sword fighting demo was the last one.”

“Then why don’t we just leave him like that and put him back together after the con is over?” Lucy asked.

“Because he’s a guest of honour,” Matt said.

“”Ghost of honour,” Sunita corrected.

“He’s a skeleton,” Lucy countered, “It’s not as if he’ll notice. And anyway, it’s still got to be better than rotting away in a grave in Cross Plains, Texas.”

Before the argument could continue, the door burst open for the third time and a program volunteer named Kayla burst in.

“Folks, the ‘New Takes on the Cthulhu Myth’ panel just imploded. Or rather H.P. Lovecraft did.”

“So what went wrong with this one?” Derek sighed, “After all, we all agreed that Lovecraft and several young authors of Lovecraftian horror would be perfect for the Cthulhu panel.”

“Yes, but the other panellists…” Kayla was close to hyperventilating. “Well, two are women, one is trans and three are people of colour…”

“I thought there were only four people on the panel,” Sunita pointed out, “Well, five if we include Lovecraft.”

“Exactly. Lovecraft took one look at his fellow panellists and… well, it was just too much for him. He started crying and screamed incoherently and…”

Lucy put up her hand. “Sorry, but how can Lovecraft cry? He’s a corpse.”

“I don’t know,” Kayla said, close to tears herself, “But somehow, he managed to cry and then he panicked and ran away and locked himself in the bathroom. It’s the gender neutral bathroom, too, so he freaks out even more whenever anybody comes in. These last ten minutes, he’s been mumbling something that sounds like an incantation to summon Cthulhu. We’ve been trying to get him to come out, but he won’t. So I tried to fetch Robert E. Howard to coax out Lovecraft, but…”

“Howard is a pile of bones in the courtyard,” Chris said, “Yes, we know.”

“Anyway, what shall we do about Lovecraft? Someone will have to get him out of that bathroom and he won’t listen to me, cause I’m a woman.”

The program volunteers looked at each other.

“I can’t go,” Derek finally said, “I’m black and we all know how much Lovecraft hates African Americans.”

“I can’t go either,” Sunita said, “I’m Asian and Lovecraft hates us, too.”

“Me neither,” Lucy said, “Like Kayla said, Lovecraft won’t listen to women.”

“And I’m genderqueer,” Chris added, “That’s sure to confuse him. It even confused Heinlein and he is more open-minded than most of that bunch.” Chris shook their head. “I can’t believe I’m saying that.”

Matt threw up his hands in frustration. “All right, all right, I’ll go. Though I still think that Lovecraft is overrated.”

He hadn’t even reached the door, when a security staff member named Enrique burst in. “Folks, we have a fight in the lobby. The corpse of Heinlein just denounced the Sad Puppies and let’s just say, it didn’t go down well. So far, Heinlein is holding his own, but he’s dripping.”

“I’ll go,” Derek said.

But before he could, the door burst open once again or would have, if anybody had bothered to close it.

“Folks,” security staffer Alex exclaimed, “The skull of Robert E. Howard just denounced the Pulp Revolution and declared that he only wrote the Conan stories for the money anyway and… well, it’s not pretty. And Leigh Brackett’s corpse got into a discussion on screenwriting with Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin…”

“Are they about to kill each other?” Derek asked.

“No, but they’re all supposed to be on different panels right now,” Alex replied, “Oh yes, and Dr. Asimov has pinched someone’s butt again.”

Lucy shot an acrid look at Matt. “Whose idea was it again to reanimate the biggest names of our genre, so we could learn from them?”

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The July Short Story Challenge 2018 – 31 Short Stories in 31 Days

You may have noticed that there was very little blogging in July apart from links to stuff posted elsewhere. This is because for the fourth year running, I did the July short story challenge, where the objective is to write a complete short story every day during the month of July.

But first of all, I have a few promos to announce. Kobo is currently running a 3 for 9, i.e. 3 books for 9 dollars, promotion in the US and Canada. There are lots of great books to choose from, including several of mine. The good folks at Magic Book Deals are also running several 99 cent promotions this August. There is one for romance, one for science fiction and fantasy and one for mysteries and thrillers. Lots of e-books in different subgenres, including some of mine, all for 99 cents all August long.

With the commercial break out of the way, let’s get back to the July short story challenge. The background is that in July 2015, Dean Wesley Smith announced that he was planning to write a brand new short story every day during the month of July. The original post seems to be gone now, but the Wayback Machine has a copy here. At the time, several people announced that they would play along, so I decided to give it a try as well. And then I did it again the following year. And the next. If you want to read my post-mortems of the previous July short story challenges, here are the posts for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Since I’d already done the July short story challenge three years in a row and usually enjoyed the experience a whole lot, I was aiming for a repeat this year. Plus, unlike previous years my workload was relatively light with classes mostly on hiatus and fairly little translation work. A complicating factor was that my Dad was in hospital for a scheduled operation for the first two weeks of the month and at home and unable to drive (and cranky) for the rest of the month, which meant a lot of extra errands. But a much more notable complicating factor was the extremely hot weather, which sapped my energy, especially we’ve been having pretty much non-stop heat here since early April. But still, somehow I managed to write a short story every day during the very hot July of 2018.

As in previous years, the overwhelming majority of stories I wrote were some flavour of speculative fiction with crime fiction and romance getting a look in as well. So let’s take a look at the genre/subgenre breakdown:

  • Apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction: 5 stories
  • Sword and sorcery: 5 stories
  • Space opera: 4 stories
  • Dystopian fiction: 4 stories
  • Alien invasion: 2 stories
  • Mystery/crime fiction: 2 stories
  • Horror: 2 stories
  • Humorous fantasy: 2 stories
  • Urban fantasy: 1 story
  • Historical romance: 1 story
  • Men’s adventure: 1 story
  • Steampunk: 1 story
  • Other science fiction: 1 story

As in previous years, the genres/subgenres tended to blend into each other. And so, two of the dystopian stories as well as both alien invasion stories and one of the space operas are also crime stories. About half of the stories have romance subplots of some kind. The sword and sorcery stories also have horror elements (well, that’s kind of baked into the genre). One of the horror stories is also funny, since I’m still not very good at writing straight horror and will probably never be.

Let’s take a look at the length breakdown: The shortest story I wrote was 816 words long, i.e. flash fiction length, the longest was 7630 words long, i.e. just into novelette territory. This year, I only wrote one flash fiction story (i.e. under 1000 words). 23 stories were longer than 2000 words, 11 longer than 3000 words. Altogether, I wrote a little over 86000 words this July, which coincidentally is the highest wordcount I ever got during a July short story challenge.

When Dean Wesley Smith did his July short story challenge back in 2015, he found that most of the stories he wrote were part of established worlds or series. Interestingly, my experience at the time was the opposite and I wrote only standalones. Though in subsequent July short story challenges, the number of stories in established or new series slowly went up. So I wrote five series stories in 2016 and seven in 2017 (though two of those only became series subsequently). This year then, a whopping fifteen stories, i.e. almost half of the stories produced during the challenge, were part of a series. And so I wrote a new Hallowind Cove story, a new The Day the Saucers Came… story, a new Two-Fisted Todd story, a Helen Shepherd Mysteries spin-off story starring Detective Constable Kevin Walker (the story is mostly a wild chase and since usually Helen lets DC Walker do the running anyway, he might as well be the POV character this time around), two more stories in the setting of The Shantytown Robin Hoods, which is a series now I guess (tentatively called the Shantytown series), and four In Love and War stories, though two of those are companion pieces, which will be published in a single volume, while one is a companion piece to Bullet Holes focussing on the Pietro Garibaldi character from Freedom’s Horizon and the third is a brand-new story that happens just before Freedom’s Horizon. And yes, I tend to write series out of order, but then I have excellent company there in Lois McMaster Bujold, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard and many other fine writers.

Stories in established series are good for something like the July short story challenge, because the world and the characters already exist. So I don’t have to bother with worldbuilding or developing characters, I only have to come up with a plot. Besides, stories with established characters are quicker to write for me, because I already know who these people are, how they talk, how they will react in a given situation, etc… On the downside, established characters also tend bring their own baggage, which makes the stories longer and more complex. And so it’s no surprise that several of the series stories I wrote during the challenge are part of series that are linked via their setting (the quirky seaside town of Hallowind Cove, the 1950s B-movie style alien invasion of The Day the Saucers Came…, the dystopian future of Shantytown) rather than their characters, though many of the stories in those worlds/settings share characters. And the Helen Shepherd Mysteries and the Two-Fisted Todd Adventures are so designed that the characters can be plugged into a variety of mystery or respectively adventure plots. Of the four In Love and War stories, three are character pieces which are fairly low on plot, while the one that has more plot is also the one that turned into a novelette.

Finally, I also came up with a brand-new series during this July short story challenge. For towards the end of the challenge, I found myself writing a sword and sorcery story about a brawny warrior fighting monsters. By the end of the story, my protagonist Thurvok (originally called Thurok, but apparently there is a videogame and comic character with a very similar name) had also acquired travelling companion. The following day, I came up with a story idea and suddenly realised that my sword and sorcery duo would be the ideal protagonists for this story. Then, two days later I was playing around with an idea for a historical tale that I’d had on the backburner for a while, basically a burghers of Calais scenario, only with young women instead of older men. It was a solid idea, except that the conclusion relied on a pretty horrible warlord suddenly deciding not to be a completely horrible person, which is not all that realistic, even though it is supposedly what happened in the case of the burghers of Calais, if we want to believe the legend. But once I combined this story idea with my sword and sorcery adventurers (who had by now become a trio), I suddenly had a version of this story that worked. Because now, the horrible warlord turns out to be even worse than expected (and promptly gets his comeuppance via getting killed by a zombie) and a situation that was difficult to impossible to solve by physical force gets resolved via an extra dose of magic. On the following days, I came up with ideas for two more sword and sorcery tales featuring the same cast of characters, who had by now become a quartet, since two of the damsels saved from distress decided to stick around. They both turned out to be very useful, too. One is a sorceress and actually the biggest gun of the team. The other is a non-combatant, but has a head for business and makes sure that our heroes don’t drink away all the treasures they’ve pilfered. So now I have a five part sword and sorcery series. Coincidentally, I wrote those stories during the hottest week of the year, where my brain was not capable to produce anything other than characters bantering, having adventures, saving damsels in distress and slaying monsters. Still, I really like those characters and by now, I’m also getting hints of their backstories. And indeed one character’s backstory actually made it into one of the stories.

So let’s talk about inspiration. Because the key to the July short story challenge is coming up with new story ideas every single day. And if you need to quickly develop story ideas, you sometimes need a bit of help. During the past challenges, the most fruitful way of generating story ideas was to look at inspirational images, usually SFF concept art. Now I have an entire folder of SFF concept art labelled “Inspiration” on my hard drive and whenever I needed an idea, I scrolled through that folder and went with whatever sparked an idea. All in all, seventeen of the stories I wrote during this challenge were at least partly inspired by images. Other sources of inspiration were: Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges, an article about shortwave radio number stations, a hilarious typo, someone’s humorous tweet, a particularly lurid headline in a vintage men’s adventure magazine (these are a great source of inspiration, because the headlines are so over the top), playing Pokémon Go and realising how ridiculous the whole thing must seem to someone who’s never played it, a scene in a random TV crime drama where an assassin is interrupted by a phone call, coming across a Scandinavian crime drama on TV and wondering what it would be like, if the typical protagonist of such a drama met aliens, a dish with a colourful history that I made for lunch one day, etc… Once I drew a tarot card for inspiration – and promptly incorporated the image on the card into the story rather than its meaning. A lot of the stories also drew inspiration from several sources, such as the historical tale turned sword and sorcery adventure.

As always, certain themes began to emerge during the challenge. Sword and sorcery is an obvious one, especially since it’s not normally a subgenre I write in. As for where it came from, I’m not sure. The inspiration for the first Thurvok story was an image of a brawny man (who was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, i.e. not exactly sword and sorcery garb) fighting monsters in a desert setting. However, I could easily have written a contemporary fantasy story rather than a sword and sorcery tale based on that image. Another possible reason for me turning to writing sword and sorcery is that I turned to reading it during this time. For like every year, I did part of my Hugo and Retro Hugo reading in July. And one of the stories nominated for the Retro Hugos is “The Sunken Land”, a Fafhrd and Grey Mouser adventure by Fritz Leiber. Now I know I must have read “The Sunken Land” before, but remembered very little about it, so I pulled my Fafhrd and Grey Mouser collection from the shelf to reread it and enjoyed myself so much that I promptly went on to reread some of the other tales, because they’re short, fun and not too taxing, i.e. ideal for extremely hot days. However, I didn’t even pick up the Leiber collection until I had already written the first two sword and sorcery stories.

The third possible reason why my brain decided to write sword and sorcery lies in a completely different series of mine, namely the 1930s set pulpy adventures of the Silencer. Now I did not write a Silencer story for the July short story challenge this year, because my mind wouldn’t come up with a good idea. However, in Mean Streets and Dead Alleys, Richard picks up the latest issue of Weird Tales (this one) and is thrilled to find a Margaret Brundage cover as well as a new Conan and a new Jirel of Joiry story inside. He also muses that he’d like to try his hand at writing something like that someday. Ever since I wrote that scene I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind that Richard actually did write a series of sword and sorcery stories in the 1930s. I’ve also had the even crazier idea bubbling at the back of my mind that maybe I should write Richard Blakemore’s lost sword and sorcery series someday (because the Silencer stories you are reading are explicitly not the ones Richard Blakemore writes, though we do get snippets of Richard’s pulp writing). I guess all of these influences combined in the great stewpot of my subconsciousness to create the Thurvok stories. And yes, I’m actually considering publishing the Thurvok stories as pulp writer Richard Blakemore’s long lost sword and sorcery series written for Jake Levonsky’s Weird Tales competitor in the 1930s and listing myself as the editor and author of the introduction. Having characters who are writers is certainly an experience, especially if they want you to write their fiction for them.

The post-apocalyptic theme, which was already strong during previous years, re-emerged this year as well, probably because the world looks pretty grim right now and hasn’t gotten any better these past two years. I’ve also written about an apocalyptic scenario I have never tackled before, namely a super volcano eruption. This time around, the post-apocalyptic stories tended to be road trips and they tended to be set in desert settings. Come to think of it, two of the sword and sorcery stories have desert settings as well and all of them feature road trips. One of the two horror stories is a road trip as well. I suspect the intense heat is to blame for the proliferation of desert settings. Not sure where the road trips came from.

Another notable theme was food. Now food always plays a big role in my fiction, but during the challenge I wrote four stories that are centred on food (partly inspired by one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges), plus several more where food is mentioned, but doesn’t play a central role. A related theme is stories told in bars or taverns. I have two stories where a tale told in a bar literally serves as a framing device and various others which have scenes of people telling stories in bars, taverns, restaurants or while sitting around a campfire and eating. Now once again, this isn’t exactly an uncommon theme for me, cause I have written plenty of bar and restaurant scenes and have even used the “tale told in a bar” framing device before in Old Mommark’s Tale.

Another theme that emerged during the 2018 July short story challenge was assassins. I wrote three otherwise completely different stories featuring assassins, eight if you count the five sword and sorcery stories, cause one of Thurvok’s companions is described as a thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin, though he doesn’t actually assassinate anybody in any of the stories and also insists that he doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore.

Once again, I’ve found that the July challenge stories offer a huge range of settings and characters. This time around, all POV characters are human, but I’ve still got men and women, gay and straight characters, characters of varying ages, races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Which proves that creating under pressure doesn’t meant that you have to default to straight white protagonists.

One thing that the July short story challenge proves time and again (apart from that it’s possible to write a short story in a day and that those stories can sometimes be damned good) is that everything that we read, watch or otherwise consume goes into the great stewpot of our subconscious, where it’s mixed and blended, until it arises in the form of story ideas.  The July short story challenge functions like a pressure cooker for your creativity and speeds up the stewing process. And sometimes, the result is magic.

Now not every story to come out of the Juy short story challenge can be a winner. Some stories are great and need only very little work, others need extensive rewrites to be brought into publishable form. Some stories aren’t really publishable at all, because they are either too tied to a specific moment in time (which has usually passed by the time you can get it into publishable form) or because they just don’t work. But with 31 stories even the occasional one that’s not publishable isn’t a great loss.

So will I do another July short story challenge next year? Well, time and health permitting, why not? After all, the past four challenges have resulted in a lot of wonderful stories and even series that might otherwise have never been written.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for July 2018

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 June 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 Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, grimdark fantasy, YA fantasy, paranormal mystery, science fiction mystery, science fiction thriller, space opera, space western, military science fiction, science fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, dystopian fiction, horror, Steampunk, Mannerpunk, Cyberpunk, Steampunk romance, LitRPG, zombies, witches, dragons, superheroes, vengeful ghosts, deadly videogames, reincarnation, worldending disasters, alien pets, clockwork dogs, space deputies, renegadesm exiles and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

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:

Pendulum Heroes by James BeamonPendulum Heroes by James Beamon:

Melvin Morrow has become a barbarian warrior maiden. Will he be able to escape this new, dangerous world and the chainmail bikini he foolishly chose as his armor or will he and his friends be stuck living their lives as their game avatars?

Melvin’s a teenage boy not used to being ogled or the real world consequences of wearing a steel bikini. But the real world has shifted… him, his friends Jason and Rich, and his big brother Mike are stuck in character, in a place where danger doesn’t lurk because it prefers to boldly stride out in the open.

Mages import game players like Melvin via the Rift Pendulum. The reason: the work’s suicidal and pendulum heroes are insanely powerful. Usually. Melvin and his friends can be, too, if they’re in the right emotional state to trigger into character. Melvin’s a one-man, uh, one warrior maiden army when he’s angry but anger’s hard to find with all that mortal danger striding around everywhere.

The road back home’s at the end of a suicidal quest. Melvin better find something to rage about… because being genre-savvy only gets you so far.

Pendulum Heroes, James Beamon’s debut novel, is an adrenaline fueled adventure for anyone who’s spent a little too much time on the character creation screen instead of playing the game, those of us who have thought just how godmode we’d be with mage power, but mostly it’s for all of us who have wondered who the heck installs a portal to another world in a wardrobe. Fans of Ernest Cline and Scott Meyer better be prepared to fall in love with a new series..

What Man Defies by Clara CoulsonWhat Man Defies by Clara Coulson:

“It was all fun and games until a vengeful ghost threw a washing machine at your head.”

Three weeks after his disastrous showdown with Abarta, Vincent Whelan is well on his way to recovering from the fight and putting the whole nightmare behind him. But when a standard stretch recovery job comes to an end with an angry ghost slinging heavy objects, Vince discovers a thread he left hanging has frayed beyond repair.

For almost two months, random people in Kinsale have been mysteriously vanishing. Now their shades, damaged by terrible deaths, have begun to plague the city. Spurred by the growing list of victims, Vince goes on the hunt for the person or creature responsible for the kidnappings. Only to get more than he bargained for when one of his own friends is snatched before his very eyes.

In a race against time, Vince puts together a ragtag team to venture into the Otherworld and rescue the remaining victims before they all succumb to a horrible fate. But the path to victory is fraught with peril, and the mastermind at the end of the road may just be unbeatable.

A vault protecting a powerful relic. Merciless enemies at every turn. And countless lives at risk.

All Vince wanted was a little peace and quiet. Now he’s got the fate of the world resting in his hands.

What Man Defies is the second novel of The Frost Arcana, an action-packed urban fantasy series set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Glitch by Victor DeckardGlitch by Victor Deckard:

Max, a rather plain guy, finds himself inside a post-apocalyptic survival roleplaying videogame. He has no idea how he has ended up in the virtual reality or how to quit it. He has no choice but to play the game.

Shortly afterward, he learns that the game is quite harsh and cruel. Max finds out that in order to survive he has to scavenge, gather various resources, craft warm clothes and armor, upgrade weapons and vehicles, and so on.

Moreover, the entire game world is a full-on PvP zone. So Max has to not only fight brutal mutants but also protect himself against gamers who have teamed up in order to ratchet up their chances of survival as well as against high-leveled players who take great pleasure in murdering newbies.

And all the while Max has been trying to find out what has befallen him, how he has gotten in the videogame, and whether or not there is any chance of exiting the game. Bit by bit he gleans more and more information about the game. He finds out that the game is full of bugs. Later on he also learns that he himself is some kind of a glitch. Unlike all the other players, he feels pain in the game and can interact with some game objects while all the other players cannot…

The Jupiter Man by Nick DorseyThe Jupiter Man by Nick Dorsey:

Let’s say you’ve just gotten out of prison, and your old boss wants to rehire you. Sounds great! But what if your old boss is the Frozen Avenger? His last job was the attempted kidnapping of an acclaimed astrophysicist in order reinstate Pluto as a full-fledged planet, and now he wants you to help him steal a set of precious meteorites to fund his obsession. Still sound great?

And what if an elite team of superheroes forces you to take the job and work for them as a double agent? Do these superheroes want to put away criminals, or are they just looking for a way to get these meteorites for their own mysterious purposes? Maybe these superheroes aren’t heroes after all.

What if all of the Frozen Avenger’s old goons are turning up murdered and it looks like you might be next? What if sinister corporations are taking an interest in your work history, and you’ve got a seductive cat woman, whiskers and everything, knocking on your door at all hours?

What are you going to do?

If you’re Zach Hernandez, professional henchman, you better forget about the dream of getting a normal job, having a normal life. You better learn not to follow orders. Then you do what it takes to stay alive.

The Full Moon's Slumber by Snow EdenThe Full Moon’s Slumber by Snow Eden:

Cinnamon Mercy Claus has been a witch for two years. At least that’s how long it’s been since her grandmother let her in on their little secret. She’s in the process of picking up her life and starting over, searching for something that means more to her than her mundane existence. Then a fairy drips down out of her bathroom faucet and tells her the moon’s gone all wonky and it’s up to Cinnamon to figure things out.

Since there’s nothing like a threat to the earth’s very existence to give your new life a kick into high gear, Cinnamon heads out across the country—with a talking dog and a woman who absolutely terrifies her—to figure out a mystery she doesn’t have a clue about.

Dark Mage Rises by J.J. GreenDark Mage Rises by J.J. Green:

A mage clan torn apart…

Evil deeds avenged…

Dark magic awakened…

Carina Lin escaped from captivity and freed her mage brothers and sisters, but she is quickly caught again. Her captors are the last people she wants to meet—the Dirksens. Carina defied this proud, vindictive clan when she rescued her kidnapped brother.

Carina’s siblings are lost on a frontier planet. She must escape and find them before the Dirksens realize who and what she is.

Meanwhile, a galactic war rages. Dark magic is stirring and about to join in the conflict. Carina is one of the few who can prevent the triumph of evil, if she chooses.

When the dark mage rises, who shall stand in his way?

Dark Mage Rises is book two in the dark, exciting space fantasy, Star Mage Rises.

Two Moons by R.E. JohnstonTwo Moons – Memories from a World with One by R.E. Johnston:

A boy remembers the woman he was.

She was a brilliant scientist on a different planet, living a life of misery.

Jay Shipman is now a good student in a small town under a sky with two moons. Jay, his family, his friends, and everyone on his planet are much like us. Actually, at one time they were us—each has vivid memories of their first life back on Earth.

Memories from a previous life can be enlightening and empowering. They can be the foundation of a successful second life. They can help develop the world.

For Jay, though, memories from the woman he was on Earth are downright dangerous.

Grab yourself a second life!

Not a Zombie by Madeline KirbyNot a Zombie by Madeline Kirby

Jake, Petreski, and the rest are back for another installment of caffeine, snark, and a touch of romance.

It’s the start of a new semester and familiar faces are popping up all over – most of them unwelcome.

Jake knows Petreski’s not going to like his new study buddy and Don has a big decision to make. Jake’s mother will no longer be denied, and it’s meet the parents time. Miss Nancy’s past comes calling in an all too literal way. And to top it all off, Petreski’s ex shows up and it turns out there’s someone out there who Perez hates even more than Jake.

Oh, and somebody gets murdered.

Now with fewer carbs and more caffeine!

Entangled Earth by David LeaEntangled Earth by David Lea:

Physics isn’t easy. Rule number one should always be ‘Don’t Destroy The World’. Sometimes science doesn’t follow the rules.

An experiment gone wrong means the Earth only has days left before it is torn apart by an invisible parallel world. Everyday activities become waves of destruction as the influence of the parallel world devastates the planet. Unstoppable, invisible cars plough through buildings, flocks of unseen birds tear people apart. When death is round every corner, what hope does anyone have?

Physicist Mia Green finds herself stuck in Paris, in the middle of the unnatural disaster. With calamity only ever a step away, she has to get home to England to find her family and stop the experiment that’s ending the world, but that’s easier said than done when the entire world has become an invisible and unpredictable puzzle filled with unseen danger?

Bat Out of Spell by Amanda M. LeeBat Out of Spell by Amanda M. Lee:

Welcome to Eternal Springs, home to more than a thousand “normal” people and four feisty witches. Just a tip, the witches are more fun.

Especially Skye Thornton, an air witch about town who would rather be on the mainland than a touristy island that’s home to four climate zones and a gaping hole under the local school that allows monsters to creep through and wreak havoc on the community.

A reporter, Skye likes to be in the thick of things – she’s a busybody and proud of it – until she quite literally trips over a dead body at the island resort. In quick order, she finds herself fighting off monsters while trying to discover one of the human variety.

Since she can’t keep clear of trouble, Skye is determined to track down a murderer, fight off a wishing well beast and stay away from a local security chief who she’s always hated … or has she?

It’s a full slate of activity for Skye and her witchy friends. The laughs and insults will be flying fast and furious. Of course, so will the danger.

Look out world, here come four witches with attitude, and they’re not taking any prisoners.

The Fury Yet To Come by Steven McKinnonThe Fury Yet To Come by Steven McKinnon:

A loyal soldier. A sadistic witch. A battle to the brink of madness.

Corporal Tyson Gallows would confront any danger to keep his fiancée out of harm’s way. After his elite squadron falls to an enemy ambush, he wakes to find his hands chained and his mind held captive by a demented witch.

Tortured to the verge of insanity, he wages war in the battlefield of his subconscious and scouts for his opportunity to strike back. With his fellow soldiers’ tormented cries ringing in his ears, Gallows misfires his attack and exposes the source of his strength—his deep devotion to the woman he loves. If he can’t break free of the witch’s stranglehold soon, he’ll lose something far more precious than military secrets—he’ll lose his soulmate.

The Fury Yet To Come is a grimdark fantasy novella. If you like fierce battles, black magic, and psychological thrillers, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s action-packed prequel to Symphony of the Wind.

Bonded in Space by Trisha McNaryBonded in Space by Trisha McNary:

Strange things happen when a crazy alien can’t get you out of his mind. Antaska wants to forget about Marroo the slave hunter, but she can’t stop thinking about him. Marroo wants to forget about Antaska too. So he plans to kidnap another Earth female, experience her love, and move on. But it’s not working out like he expected. Just out of space school, Earth girl Pweet can’t wait to take off from Earth. But she runs into some problems. And Potat the psychic cat is miffed when another semi-humanoid cat follows Antaska home. The first chapters of Alien Pets and hypnoSnatch are included in this version.

Alien Pets – Life gets weird when you’re adopted by an alien. One million years in the future, Antaska, a young human, and her psychic cat are adopted as pets by a gigantic alien. Traveling in outer space, she becomes telepathic in a world where that’s dangerous. Then she gets into a love triangle that’s even more dangerous. Her cat tries to tell Antaska what she’s doing wrong, but will she listen?

hypnoSnatch – Is it love, or is it alien abduction? Antaska is trying to deal with life as the pet of a gigantic alien. But things keep getting weirder as she travels in outer space with the alien and her psychic cat. Mischievous but evil part-reptile humanoids team up with Antaska’s nemesis, a genetically enhanced fitness instructor, to take revenge on her to the ends of the universe. Her unexpected alien abduction spoils their plans.

Concealed by Vanessa NelsonConcealed by Vanessa Nelson:

A fragile peace, a suspicious death, and secrets that could destroy everyone.

Oath-bound to the arrogant Erith in exchange for her life, Arrow’s freedom is days away when they set her one last task; investigate the death of a high-ranking shape-changer, one of their old enemies.

The shape-changers suspect the Erith of murder and Arrow nearly becomes the first victim in a new war between races, her life spared so she can seek answers. Except someone does not want their secrets uncovered. Not only is her freedom at risk, but so is her life. It will take all of her training and skill with magic to live long enough to find the answers in time to avert a bloodbath.

Darkblade Seeker by Andy PeloquinDarkblade Seeker by Andy Peloquin:

The price of truth is blood and death

The Sage and The Warmaster. Names whispered by dying lips, the true power controlling the demons hiding among mankind.

And now, the Hunter has climbed the highest mountain peak to put an end to their reign. Facing a secret sect of professional torturers and the descendants of a long-dead race, his skills as an assassin will be put to the ultimate test.

But the twin temples of Kara-ket harbor more than just his enemies. Built by a long-dead race, they house secrets that could not only give him the answers he seeks, but unleash a whirlwind of chaos and bloodshed across their world.

He must make a choice: will he obtain the answers he seeks at any cost, or sacrifice himself for the sake of those who rejected him?

Cybershot by Jaxon ReedCybershot by Jaxon Reed:

An ancient organization has created a psychic with untold power. Raising the boy in secret, they hope to make him a world leader. But he escapes and heads for Texas to find his father, Gerald Bryce, the empathic detective. When someone tries to warn Bryce, a criminal mastermind uses the latest technology from neural immersive video games to kill the informant. Now Bryce and his partner must race the clock as a level three psychic terrorist battles the military for control of the city, and perhaps the world.

 

Vesta's Clockwork Companions by Juli D. RevezzoVesta’s Clockwork Companions by Juli D. Revezzo:

When Vesta Bartlett, a wealthy alchemist and inventor, arrives in England to finalize an arranged marriage and help overhaul a family friend’s outdated ironworks, she never expects to find the family so secretive, nor to develop feelings for her fiancé’s younger brother, Henry.

But the growing attraction between Vesta and Henry is just the beginning of their troubles. Things really heat up when they’re drawn into a secret project for Queen Victoria’s military, one that requires Vesta’s knowledge of clockwork and Henry’s iron.

An epidemic has wiped out all the dogs in Britain, and beyond. If the military fail in their effort to restore the species, a clockwork creation may be all that stands in the way of a world without canine companionship.

Are Vesta and Henry up to the challenge?

Arcane Awakenings by Shelley Russell NolanArcane Awakenings by Shelley Russell Nolan:

A hidden past. An uncertain future.

In Angel Fire, all Andie wants is acceptance, a task made difficult thanks to the nightmare that’s plagued her for the past fifteen years. Then she learns it’s a terrifying memory of the night she lost her identical twin. When Angel’s spirit calls to her, begging to be saved, Andie is determined to discover what really happened the night her sister died.

The story continues in Wild Lightning, when Celeste wakes in a mental institution with no memory of who she is or why she can shoot lightning from her fingertips. Spurred on by a vision of Angel, Celeste escapes and searches for answers as her captors close in.

Andie and Celeste must battle ruthless adversaries as they seek to uncover the truth, but will this lead to a future more dangerous than what they’ve left behind?

Arcane Awakenings – a fast-paced paranormal fantasy novella series.

Space Deputy by Jenny SchwartzSpace Deputy by Jenny Schwartz:

A millennium into the future, the Saloon Sector is where the Wild West meets the 1950s, in space, with robots. It’s where careers go to die.

Thelma Bach graduated top of her class after four years at the Galactic Justice academy. But she’s a Rock Sector citizen. The core worlders were never going to let her transcend her background. So she’s been assigned to serve her seven years as a deputy in the Saloon Sector. The message for the Federation’s out-world citizens is clear: you’ll never be our equal, so don’t even try.

The stuffy bureaucrats of the Galactic Justice service chose the wrong person to push around. Thelma will subvert her interstellar sheriff, charm artificial intelligences, fight bandits and hunt the legendary Eldorado Cache. But with the frontier region holding secrets of its own, she needs to choose her new allies wisely because a scary, business-suited enemy is hunting her.

“Space Deputy” is a fast-paced, offbeat space adventure.

The Renegade by Alasdair ShawThe Renegade, edited by Alasdair Shaw:

Some renegades are born rebels, some forced into it to survive, while others make the choice on principle.

The Renegade is an anthology of eleven science fiction short stories by writers from across the globe. It is part of the Newcomer series of scifi anthologies.

The stories are:-
Conscience – Alasdair Shaw
First – Nate Johnson
Atonement – Rick Partlow
The Stepford Florist – JT Lawrence
Tyrant – Mark Gardner
Live by the Ten, Die by the Gun – Milo James Fowler
S.A.D. – Jody Wenner
Chameleon – C Gold
Learning Curve – John Triptych
A Pirate’s Life – Al Macy
Needs of the Many – Troy McLaughlan

Kill Code by Justin SloanKill Code by Justin Sloan:

When a Marine turned video gamer is recalled for the world’s first virtual war, he finds he’s unable to escape the simulation and that his fellow Marines are being killed off both in the sim and in real life. This was supposed to be impossible.

In his struggle for survival, he discovers the sim has been hacked. What follows is a crazy adventure of one Marine searching for survivors, battling mechs, and finding abnormalities in the sim that tie back to his old-school days as a gamer. His only help comes in the form of three badass warrior ladies. He’s not sure he can trust them, but is willing to try.

It’s up to him and his new friends to win this war, or die trying.

Code Blood by Val St. CroweCode Blood by Val St. Crowe:

Experience the thrilling conclusion to this spy urban fantasy series

Jesse Talon wants Wyatt Flint. But it’s complicated. Because he’s got some weird connection to Morgan Steele, the woman who absorbed his arch nemesis the Green King.

Which is fine, really, because who wants to be distracted by annoying romantic entanglements when trying to hunt down a megalomaniac with godlike powers?

(Apparently, Connor and Duke do. Wow, is that some hot guy-on-guy PDA.)

But not Jesse. She’s all about work.

Once Wyatt kills Steele, then they’ll see.

If Wyatt kills the Steele.

It’s maybe a teensy problem that they can’t find her.

Exile by Glynn StewartExile by Glynn Stewart:

A shackled Earth, ruled by an unstoppable tyrant
An exiled son, and a one-way trip across the galaxy
A perfect world, their last hope for survival

Vice Admiral Isaac Gallant is the heir apparent to the First Admiral, the dictator of the Confederacy of Humanity. Unwilling to let his mother’s tyranny stand, he joins the rebellion and leads his ships into war against the might of his own nation.

Betrayal and failure, however, see Isaac Gallant and his allies captured. Rather than execute her only son, the First Admiral instead decides to exile them, flinging four million dissidents and rebels through a one-shot wormhole to the other end of the galaxy.

There, Isaac finds himself forced to keep order and peace as they seek out a new home without becoming the very dictator he fought against—and when that new home turns out to be too perfect to be true, he and his fellow exiles must decide how hard they are prepared to fight for paradise…against the very people who built it.

A Quiet Rebellion: Guilt by M.H. ThaungA Quiet Rebellion: Guilt by M.H. Thaung:

In a society that lives in fear of beasts and the curse they carry, imprisoning victims is the only thing to do.

Convoy captain Jonathan has a guilty secret: he killed a traveller who was cursed while under his protection. The killing wasn’t to defend the innocent, but to hide governmental employment of curse victims—like Jonathan—who have developed paranormal powers.

To assuage his guilt, he bends the rules to help another, younger victim. His growing fatherly affection for her leaves him vulnerable to pressure from an unethical researcher. Can he navigate the bureaucratic web, do his duty and still keep his conscience intact?

Lost Highways, edited by D. Alexander WardLost Highways – Dark Fiction From the Road, edited by D. Alexander Ward:

It’s dangerous out there…on the road.

The highways, byways and backroads of America are teeming day and night with regular folks. Moms and dads making long commutes. Teenagers headed to the beach. Bands on their way to the next gig. Truckers pulling long hauls. Families driving cross country to visit their kin.

But there are others, too. The desperate and the lost. The cruel and the criminal.

Theirs is a world of roadside honky-tonks, truck stops, motels, and the empty miles between destinations. The unseen spaces.

And there are even stranger things. Places that aren’t on any map. Wayfaring terrors and haunted legends about which seasoned and road-weary travelers only whisper.

But those are just stories. Aren’t they?

Find out for yourself as you get behind the wheel with some of today’s finest authors of the dark and horrific as they bring you these harrowing tales from the road.

Tales that could only be spawned by the endless miles of America’s lost highways.

So go ahead and hop in. Let’s take a ride.

Line-up:

Introduction by Brian Keene
doungjai gam & Ed Kurtz — “Crossroads of Opportunity”
Matt Hayward — “Where the Wild Winds Blow”
Joe R. Lansdale — “Not from Detroit”
Kristi DeMeester — “A Life That is Not Mine”
Robert Ford — “Mr. Hugsy”
Lisa Kröger — “Swamp Dog”
Orrin Grey — “No Exit”
Michael Bailey — “The Long White Line”
Kelli Owen — “Jim’s Meats”
Bracken MacLeod — “Back Seat”
Jess Landry — “The Heart Stops at the End of Laurel Lane”
Jonathan Janz — “Titan, Tyger”
Nick Kolakowski — “Your Pound of Flesh”
Richard Thomas — “Requital”
Damien Angelica Walters — “That Pilgrims’ Hands Do Touch”
Cullen Bunn — “Outrunning the End”
Christopher Buehlman — “Motel Nine”
Rachel Autumn Deering — “Dew Upon the Wing”
Josh Malerman — “Room 4 at the Haymaker”
Rio Youers — “The Widow”

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

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Indie Crime of the Month for July 2018

Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some June 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 Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, hardboiled mysteries, humorous mysteries, paranormal mysteries, science fiction mysteries, children’s mysteries, animal mysteries, culinary mysteries, crime thrillers, action thrillers, spy thrillers, noir, romantic suspense, private investigators, amateur sleuths, serial killers and their daughters, superheroes, spies, shady butchers, zombies, crime-busting witches, crime-solving dogs, kidnapping, blackmail, impossible crimes, murder in Amish country and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

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:

The Butcher by Nathan BurrowsThe Butcher by Nathan Burrows:

Remember that nice joint of pork you tucked into for your Sunday lunch? Well, what if it wasn’t pork…?

Frank Pinch is a butcher. Not a very successful one, what with Brexit and everything, but he still knows how to carve a joint of meat. His brother, Tom, is a pig farmer with very few pigs to his name. The farm they both live on is struggling now that the United Kingdom is out of Europe. Even the migrant workers have stopped coming – the legal ones, anyway – and the brothers are forced to use illegal labour to keep the farm afloat. After a horrible accident in one of the pig sheds, Frank and Tom come up with a novel way of disposing of the resulting body. But it doesn’t quite go as planned.

Emily Underwood has just started work as an inspector for the Environment Agency. As the new girl, she’s struggling hard to find her feet, and one or two minor disasters don’t help. From machete wielding restaurant owners to rioting football fans, her first few months don’t go as expected. When she crosses paths with Frank and Tom Pinch, things get a whole lot worse.

From the author of Blind Justice, this deliciously funny dark comedy will change the way you look at sausages forever.

Immoral Justice by M.A. ComleyImmoral Justice by M.A. Comley:

A chance encounter leads to a gruesome conclusion.

But there is much more to this case than first meets the eye.

Yet another case for determined DI Lorne Warner and her team to solve.

The investigation proves to be a complex one from the outset, revealing not just one murder to solve but several.

Just when Lorne believes she has all the answers, the killer contacts her and makes a terrifying threat.

She’s up against it, mentally and physically…

Will Lorne be able to pit her wits against a killer who isn’t afraid of getting caught?

The Jupiter Man by Nick DorseyThe Jupiter Man by Nick Dorsey:

Let’s say you’ve just gotten out of prison, and your old boss wants to rehire you. Sounds great! But what if your old boss is the Frozen Avenger? His last job was the attempted kidnapping of an acclaimed astrophysicist in order reinstate Pluto as a full-fledged planet, and now he wants you to help him steal a set of precious meteorites to fund his obsession. Still sound great?

And what if an elite team of superheroes forces you to take the job and work for them as a double agent? Do these superheroes want to put away criminals, or are they just looking for a way to get these meteorites for their own mysterious purposes? Maybe these superheroes aren’t heroes after all.

What if all of the Frozen Avenger’s old goons are turning up murdered and it looks like you might be next? What if sinister corporations are taking an interest in your work history, and you’ve got a seductive cat woman, whiskers and everything, knocking on your door at all hours?

What are you going to do?

If you’re Zach Hernandez, professional henchman, you better forget about the dream of getting a normal job, having a normal life. You better learn not to follow orders. Then you do what it takes to stay alive.

The Full Moon's Slumber by Snow EdenThe Full Moon’s Slumber by Snow Eden:

Cinnamon Mercy Claus has been a witch for two years. At least that’s how long it’s been since her grandmother let her in on their little secret. She’s in the process of picking up her life and starting over, searching for something that means more to her than her mundane existence. Then a fairy drips down out of her bathroom faucet and tells her the moon’s gone all wonky and it’s up to Cinnamon to figure things out.

Since there’s nothing like a threat to the earth’s very existence to give your new life a kick into high gear, Cinnamon heads out across the country—with a talking dog and a woman who absolutely terrifies her—to figure out a mystery she doesn’t have a clue about.

Diamonds and White Lace in Osprey Cove by Luisa Marietta GoldDiamonds and White Lace in Osprey Cove by Luisa Marietta Gold:

The mysterious find in the secret compartment of the Corvette has indeed changed and intertwined lives, irretrievably so. And from these altered lives, new mysteries have emerged that have spanned decades. No one has been affected more than Catherine, who has sought escape and refuge at The Osprey Cove Lodge. Is recovery possible? Will there be a happily-ever-after? It is time for secrets to come out of the darkness and for mysteries to be solved. Book Eight of The Osprey Cove Lodge Series will bring an exciting and dramatic, if not unexpected, conclusion to the storylines raised in Books 1-7.

Drizzle of Death by CeeCee JamesDrizzle of Death by CeeCee James:

Georgie Tanner didn’t expect much more than old world charm when she led a group of tourists on a visit to a local Amish township. But when a young girl pulls her aside, she discovers a dark underbelly to this peaceful village.

A young man, just returned from Rumspringa – the Amish rite of passage to adulthood – has been found murdered. The girl is terrified to tell any of the elders for fear she’ll be banished from her community. With nobody else for her to turn to, Georgie reluctantly agrees to help.

But when the community moves to cover things up, Georgie discovers her only witness has gone missing. With no evidence and no one willing to listen to her, it’s up to her to find the missing girl before she becomes the next murdered victim..

Arctic Wargame by Ethan JonesArctic Wargame by Ethan Jones:

All they had left was . . . survival.

Mysterious icebreakers appear off the Arctic coast.

A treasonous plot is in the works.

CIS Spymaster Justin Hall has no time to put the pieces together.

Betrayed, disarmed, freezing, and left for dead, Justin must save himself and his entire country.

If you like Baldacci, Thor, or Flynn, you’ll love Arctic Wargame.

An adrenaline-drenched chilling spy thriller filled with action, suspense and betrayal.

Enjoy the book that started the Justin Hall best-selling espionage series.

Not a Zombie by Madeline KirbyNot a Zombie by Madeline Kirby

Jake, Petreski, and the rest are back for another installment of caffeine, snark, and a touch of romance.

It’s the start of a new semester and familiar faces are popping up all over – most of them unwelcome.

Jake knows Petreski’s not going to like his new study buddy and Don has a big decision to make. Jake’s mother will no longer be denied, and it’s meet the parents time. Miss Nancy’s past comes calling in an all too literal way. And to top it all off, Petreski’s ex shows up and it turns out there’s someone out there who Perez hates even more than Jake.

Oh, and somebody gets murdered.

Now with fewer carbs and more caffeine!

Bat Out of Spell by Amanda M. LeeBat Out of Spell by Amanda M. Lee:

Welcome to Eternal Springs, home to more than a thousand “normal” people and four feisty witches. Just a tip, the witches are more fun.

Especially Skye Thornton, an air witch about town who would rather be on the mainland than a touristy island that’s home to four climate zones and a gaping hole under the local school that allows monsters to creep through and wreak havoc on the community.

A reporter, Skye likes to be in the thick of things – she’s a busybody and proud of it – until she quite literally trips over a dead body at the island resort. In quick order, she finds herself fighting off monsters while trying to discover one of the human variety.

Since she can’t keep clear of trouble, Skye is determined to track down a murderer, fight off a wishing well beast and stay away from a local security chief who she’s always hated … or has she?

It’s a full slate of activity for Skye and her witchy friends. The laughs and insults will be flying fast and furious. Of course, so will the danger.

Look out world, here come four witches with attitude, and they’re not taking any prisoners.

Trip Wire by C.J. LyonsTrip Wire by C.J. Lyons:

Heartless killer…or helpless victim?

It’s perfectly normal to be a little shaky on your first day back to work. Especially if you’re Morgan Ames, returning to work after killing her serial killer father, waking up from a coma, fighting back through rehab…and, with the help of her boyfriend, keeping her vow never to kill again.

Except when Morgan walks into the Galloway and Stone offices, she finds her boss holding a bomb.

Definitely no time for the shakes as Morgan jumps right back into her old life and saves the day. But the bomber has other ideas, igniting a killing spree targeting those Morgan holds most dear.

Morgan must decide what to sacrifice: her promise to never kill again or the lives of everyone she loves.

Phyllis Wong and the Secrets of Mr. Okyto by Geoffrey McSkimmingPhyllis Wong and the Secrets of Mr. Okyto by Geoffrey McSkimming:

Conjuring is in Phyllis Wong’s veins. The love for all things magical was passed down from her great-grandfather who, before his mysterious disappearance, was one of the world’s most brilliant and successful stage magicians. Now Phyllis lives in what was his beautiful old home in the middle of the city with her father and her loyal dog Daisy.

When a series of incomprehensible robberies takes place in the city, Phyllis realises that there is more to the crimes than meets the eye. It all may be baffling her friend Chief Inspector Inglis, but Phyllis is determined to find out more. Who is this thief? What does he want? And how is he achieving the impossible?

An exciting mystery about a young sleuth with sleight of hand (and lots more up her sleeve) from the author of the ever-popular Cairo Jim chronicles, Geoffrey McSkimming.

The first Phyllis Wong: Time Detective Mystery.

Back AT You by John W. MeffordBack AT You by John W. Mefford:

The voice was disguised.

The agonizing message was not.

Alex gets a call no parent should ever receive. It’s a dagger to her heart. But she can’t afford to stop.

Forced to carry out the wishes of the captors, Alex is threatened at every turn. It defiles her, but she’ll do anything to get her daughter back. Will it work?

The treacherous journey is never-ending. Her life is threatened, but she brushes it off. The connection to her family member is still strong. But will she ever see her again?

An Amber Alert in San Antonio — and Ivy Nash intercepts the assailant. But the story behind the story grabs her by the throat. Would a mother actually do such a thing, or is this simply a custody issue?

Two paths intersect, and neither Alex nor Ivy will back down. They must save the lives of these young girls.

The opioid crisis devours people by the thousands. And those behind it slither around like snakes, using the addicted like they’re animals on the end of a leash. Can anyone stop the cycle of abuse?

It all has to stop. One life at a time. One daughter at a time. Alex and Ivy will either succeed or die in the process.

Who will make it out alive?

But in the end, could there be one shining moment?

Man's Best Alibi by Tara MeyersMan’s Best Alibi by Tara Meyers

Something strange is happening in the mountains of Sanctuary

Veterinarian Ember Burns makes a grisly discovery and it leads authorities to the body of a man in the woods above her home. Although the circumstances are suspicious, the only witness is her dog and the death’s ruled a suicide.

But things aren’t that simple. When Ember looks into the man’s local connections, it creates more questions than answers. Including the source of an unusual rock, and what he was really doing in the mountains.

As a mysterious illness sickens the local animals, Ember’s battle to save them leads to a startling discovery. She races to prove both the cause of the animals’ symptoms and how the man died, but will it be too late?

Cybershot by Jaxon ReedCybershot by Jaxon Reed:

An ancient organization has created a psychic with untold power. Raising the boy in secret, they hope to make him a world leader. But he escapes and heads for Texas to find his father, Gerald Bryce, the empathic detective. When someone tries to warn Bryce, a criminal mastermind uses the latest technology from neural immersive video games to kill the informant. Now Bryce and his partner must race the clock as a level three psychic terrorist battles the military for control of the city, and perhaps the world.

 

Gideon's Rescue by Alan RussellGideon’s Rescue by Alan Russell:

Something wicked his way comes…

LAPD detective Michael Gideon and his German shepherd K-9 partner, Sirius, walked through fire to catch an infamous serial killer, and Gideon is still paying the price with his PTSD fire dreams. To assist the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Gideon has agreed to monthly prison visits with Ellis Haines, aka the Weatherman. This time, a homicide case the FBI wants Haines to analyze sparks a chilling discovery: A new serial killer has struck, and he’s lacing his crime scenes with hidden messages intended for Haines.

Haines isn’t the only killer whose twisted game Gideon must try to break up. A missing man’s love poems are delivered to his fiancée with the message: So sorry for your loss. And when a sweet pit bull named Emily is rescued after being left for dead, Gideon and Sirius pull out all the stops to try and bring down the dogfighting ring that abused her.

Northtown Eclipse by Robert WhiteNorthtown Eclipse by Robert White

The brutal summer heat seems to have everyone in Northtown, Ohio on edge. A high school reunion is the catalyst for long held grudges to bubble up to the surface but quickly becomes a sideshow as private detective Raimo Jarvi is drawn into a murderous rampage that extends far beyond his usual remit of unfaithful wives and petty personal disputes. Raimo knows his estranged brother Rikki is up to his neck in something big and as the conspiracy starts to unravel it’s clear if he doesn’t move quickly they could both end up dead. This perfect slice of mid-western noir grippingly captures the long hot summers and simmering resentments of small town America where secrets are buried deep but the past is never quite forgotten

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Voting is open for the 2018 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards

efestival of word award 2018 nomineeAs I mentioned before, my In Love and War short story “Baptism of Fire” is a finalist for the 2018 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards.

Voting is now open for the awards and the official ballot is here.

And yes, I’d be very happy if you would vote for “Baptism of Fire” in the best short story category. But if you like another story better and would rather vote for that one, that’s all right as well.

There are also a lot of other fine indie e-books nominated. For example, The Guardian, the anthology in which “Baptism of Fire” was first published, is nominated in the best anthology category. Children of the Shaman by my friend and co-host of the Speculative Fiction Showcase Jessica Rydill is nominated in the best contemporary/urban fantasy category. I also spot several other author friends as well as authors I’ve featured among the finalists.

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A quick post and a couple of links

I’m still busy with the 2018 July short story challenge as well as other stuff, so this is just a quick post with some links to elsewhere:

First of all, I’m blogging at Galactic Journey again. This month, I talk about (West) Germany’s premier science fiction series, Perry Rhodan, as well as some Perry Rhodan imitators.

And if book deals are more your thing, Smashwords is running its annual summer sale. Lots of e-books at reduced prices, including several of mine.

Finally, romance writer Christa Maurice has organised a big Christmas in July romance promotion. So if you want to cool down with a wintery romance and are looking for your next book boyfriend (or girlfriend in my case), check it out.

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