Alternate Futures

Review: Nexus by Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings

Nexus (The Androma Saga #2)

by Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Release Date: May 7th 2019Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis:
#1 New York Times bestselling authors Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings deliver the dazzling finale to the acclaimed Androma Saga, where stunning betrayals and devastating secrets send an embattled galaxy spiraling into the ultimate nightmare.
Her ship is gone, her crew is captured and notorious mercenary Androma Racella is no longer the powerful Bloody Baroness, but a fugitive ruthlessly hunted across the Mirabel Galaxy. The bloodthirsty Queen Nor now rules most of the galaxy through a mind-control toxin and she’ll stop at nothing to destroy her most hated adversary.
Andi will risk anything, even her precious freedom, to find a cure. Stranded with her unlikely ally, Dex, on the unforgiving ice planet of Solera, their plan to infiltrate a black-market city proves dangerously irresistible.
Back in Arcardius, Nor’s actions have opened Mirabel to invasion. As Andi’s crew fights to regain their freedom, Andi and Dex discover a threat far greater than anything they’ve faced before.
Only by saving their mortal enemy can the crew of the Maraudermake one last desperate strike to save the galaxy—unaware that a shattering, centuries-old secret may demand the most wrenching sacrifice of all.

My Take on Nexus

To begin with, it’s important to note that I haven’t read the first book in this duology, Zenith. I received Nexus to review from the Fantastic Flying Book Club. Despite this, however, information from the first story was woven subtly but completely enough into Nexus that I felt I had a good understanding of what happened without feeling like I’d been force-fed an infodump.

Nexus follows several characters – sometimes feeling a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy meets Star Wars – although the Bloody Baroness, space pirate Androma Racella is the main character. Following events of the previous book, she’s been brought low and has lost almost everything, very nearly including her life. The majority of the small Mirabel galaxy is now under the compulsion of queen Nor, with the help of her brother Valen, who controls the will of the people completely. Worse, she intends to tear open a rift in the dark void that would allow an alien race into the galaxy. It falls to Androma and her aptly-named right-hand man, Dextro, with the timely help of the mysterious Arachnid, to save the galaxy.

Nexus is a well-written story that moves along at an engaging pace. It’s been some time since I’ve read a science fiction novel that kept me turning the pages like this one. The main characters are interesting and each one feels unique. Both heroes and villains are well developed and we come to understand them as three-dimensional beings. The galaxy, although small, has had sufficient thought put into the world-building such that each system feels unique. This is, however, very soft-science fiction, with a great deal of magic masquerading as species traits. That’s not bad, and it plays an integral part in the story. It’s just useful to know before reading as some SF fans can be very selective about their sub-genre.

If I had any criticism of the story, it would have to be the weaker combat scenes. The authors seemed to shun writing in any detail about the combat to the point that I sometimes had trouble visualizing what was actually happening. Instead, each time they seemed to spend most of the conflict concentrating on the thoughts and feelings of the main characters. For me, this slowed down what should have been fast, dramatic scenes. However, these parts were few and far between and the true power of Nexus was in the intrigue built around the main plot. Especially, regarding the villains.

Overall, Nexus was a very enjoyable read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys space fantasy – especially if you like ancient mystic powers, space pirates, and galactic-level threats.

Sasha Alsberg is the #1 NYT Bestselling Co-Author of ZENITH: The Androma Saga.
When Sasha is not writing or obsessing over Scotland she is making YouTube videos on her channel Abookutopia. She lives in Massachusetts with her dogs, Fraser and Fiona
For her writing, she is represented by Joanna Volpe at New Leaf Literary.

Lindsay Cummings is the #1 NYT Bestselling co-author of ZENITH, along with her duology, THE MURDER COMPLEX from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, and the MG trilogy THE BALANCE KEEPERS, from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. She is represented by Pete Knapp at Park Literary in NYC.
Lindsay deals with chronic fatigue, writes full time from her home in the deep woods in North Texas, and loves to chat with fellow book nerds. Lindsay created the #booknerdigans hashtag.
She’s still waiting on her letter from Hogwarts–it was probably just lost in the mail. You can follow Lindsay on twitter @authorlindsayc or on instagram @authorlindsaycummings

Alternate Futures

Review and Giveaway of Dimension Drift prequel Umbra

Umbra
Christina Bauer
(Dimension Drift Prequels, #2)
Published by: Monster House Books
Publication date: March 26th 2019
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult

A prequel novella to the new series from USA Today’s ‘must read YA paranormal romance’ author, Christina Bauer.

One day, eighteen-year-old Thorne will be the Emperor of the Omniverse, the single being who rules countless worlds. Trouble is, his father Cole–who’s also the current Emperor–is a sadistic freak.

In fact, Cole won’t even keep his promises to the very humans who got him his throne.

Thorne won’t stand for it. He decides to travel to the human world and make good on his father’s promises. What he doesn’t count on is falling in love….

My Take (Review)

Umbra is the second prequel in the Dimensional Drift series by Christina Bauer, although it’s the first book I’ve read in the series. This series is a YA science fiction romance series, with fairly heavy empahsis on the romance, if Umbra is representative.

Umbra features the story of Thorne, third in line to the crown of the omniverse and weakest Sentient user in his family. Thorne and family use their connection to technology called ‘sentients’ (there are multiple types) to drift between Earths of different universes in the multiverse and stop calamaties, often caused by their enemies. On one such Earth, while aiding the humans who gave his father the Crown Sentient, Thorne encounters Meimi, the main character of the Dimensional Drift series. Without spoiling it for those who haven’t read the series, their relationship grows in ways that are important to the fate of both worlds.

Umbra features some very interesting worldbuilding, of which I would have liked to have seen more. Thorne’s imperial world that rules the omniverse should have a great deal of imperial intrigue happening. And what about dealing with other races in an advanced universe? Or the king training his sons in the ways of the court to prepare them to take over from him? Unfortunately, we see very little of that here (although I can’t say for other books). What we do see, however, is still fun and interesting, as we watch Thorne manipulate his sentient in order to solve crises on multiple Earths – until he becomes romantically entangled with super-genius Meimi.

This is where I found the book to be at it’s weakest. However, bear in mind I’m not a fan of romance novels. And don’t get me wrong, there were times it was fine. However, I found Thorne almost too cringy to read during many of his dealings with Meimi. I felt this was played in such as way as to suggest it was meant to be romantic, but it just felt wrong as he continually objectified her in a possessive manner.

Nevertheless, the story was interesting, well-written, and moved at a good pace. It ends where it needs to in order to lead into the first book, however, as a stand-alone this feels like an unsatisfactory point to end the book as nothing has been resoved (it’s all left for the main series). I do recommend Umbra, but I would also recommend trying to get it as part of a boxset or discounted with the rest of the series (or in the Giveaway below!).

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Google Play

Author Bio:

Christina Bauer thinks that fantasy books are like bacon: they just make life better. All of which is why she writes romance novels that feature demons, dragons, wizards, witches, elves, elementals, and a bunch of random stuff that she brainstorms while riding the Boston T. Oh, and she includes lots of humor and kick-ass chicks, too.

Christina graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with BA’s in English along with Television, Radio, and Film Production. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, son, and semi-insane golden retriever, Ruby.

Be the first to know about new releases from Christina by signing up for her newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/CBupdates

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Fiction

How Captain Marvel could have been the MCU’s Wonder…

To begin with I’d like to state that this critique will not involve any discussion of any of the controversy surrounding the Captain Marvel movie or Brie Larson. I intend this to be solely an exploration of how the rather lackluster movie could have been so much stronger. Frustratingly, I believe this could have been easily achieved by changing the emotional arc of the story while maintaining most of the scenes that already exist.

The Challenge

Captain Marvel has had a troubled history for much of the last twenty years. In the comics, the character has been rebooted anywhere from 7-12 times (depending on who does the counting). Yet Marvel Comics continues to try and find a way to make this character work. The probable reason is not surprising – a strong female superhero that shares the company name is a highly desirable marketing tool. Still, the comic division of the company appears to have failed repeatedly in their attempt to ingratiate this character with the hardcore fans.

Enter Captain Marvel, the MCU version. Yet another attempt to ‘get this character right’. Wtihout going into details of the internet battles fought around this character and the movie, certain promotional choices made by Disney/Marvel suggested they never truly had confidence in this version of the character either.

They didn’t let the movie evolve organically from the characters and it shows.

After seeing the movie, I believe they were right to be concerned — at least with this entry into the MCU franchise. My take on the movie is that it probably could have been at or near the top 5 MCU movies, instead of languishing around 14th place, if the directors/producers would have realized what movie they were actually making and play to its strengths instead of attempting to force the movie into the story they thought they wanted to make. That is, they didn’t let the movie evolve organically from the characters and it shows.

Let me explain.

How to Improve The Movie

Needless to say, if you haven’t seen Captain Marvel yet…

***** SPOILER ALERT ********

Yes, really. A lot of spoilers.

But that should be obvious.

Are you sure you’re ready?

Okay then, on with the discussion.

***** SPOILERS BELOW ********

The Wrong Emotional Arc

The biggest problem with the Captain Marvel movie is that the directors/producers attempted to force the story around the wrong emotional arc. That led to too little time develop the necessary emotional aspects of the story they wanted to tell, and too much time developing the emotional aspects of the story they weren’t telling. But a bit more on the movie to help you understand what I mean.

A Brief Summary of the Movie

Captain Marvel begins on the Kree homeworld of Hala with a nightmare/flashback that ‘Veers’ doesn’t understand. to get over it, she wakes her senior officer for a sparing match where he warns her against losing emotions and that she won’t achieve her true potential until she can defeat him without her powers (yes, we see her already with powers from the start).

To make things brief, they go on a mission that is an ambush by the hated Skrulls and she is captured. As they probe her mind we begin to learn about her past on Earth, including short clips of all the times people doubted her abilities, completely devoid of emotion. She escapes, single-handedly battling through the entire ship of Skrulls (it would have been useful if they had the device that stunned her originally) and escapes, plunging to Earth where she crashlands, without a ship, in a Blockbuster store, completely fine and barely even stunned.

She meets Nick Fury and Agent Colson, and chases some Skrulls, before discovering more of her history including a scientist she used to know and the identity of her former best friend (before her amnesia). And a cat. Chased by more Skrulls, they blast off in an experimental ship and land at her old friend’s house to a heartfelt welcome and a heart-to-heart with the head Skrull. He helps reveal her true past and the betrayal of the Kree. They then discover the hidden laboratory they’re looking for is in space, they modify their ship and blast off to find… the tesseract and a ship full of Skrull refugees. Turns out Skrulls aren’t the scourge of the galaxy but relatively innocent victims of the Kree who are looking for a new homeland.

Battles ensue, Captain Marvel is captured by frees herself from the influence of the Kree superior mind after finally realizing the Kree didn’t create her, they’re inhibiting her. She can now fly, is invulnerable and doesn’t require a space suit in space, essentially becoming Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk all combined. She chases off the Kree ships and everyone is happy. Then she flies off to stop the Kree/Skrull war… cue credits.

Despite all the action and all the potential, this movie falls flat. We don’t really care about any of the characters except maybe the Skrull refugees and there’s nothing to interest us in much of the rest of the story, as cool as it sounds on paper. As a writer, I’m very interested in why this movie fell flat and, of course, I think I know or I wouldn’t be writing this article.

Dont’ Fear the Haters

The emotional arc that Disney/Marvel went for in Captain Marvel was essentially ‘don’t listen to the haters’. We eventually learn, through flashbacks, that Carol Danvers has multiple experiences where her abilities are doubted, including as a kid, during military training, and even with the Kree she is constantly doubted by her squad commander. However, not only are these shown through rapid flashbacks, but we rarely see them having any emotional effect on the character, so likewise, we’re emotionally unaffected. Once Carol Danvers learns to grow past those who have held her back (physically represented by an actual inhibitor implanted in her neck) her full power is unleashed and she becomes unstoppable.

If this was truly the character arc the writers/producers wanted to develop, they needed to show us in much greater detail how Carol was affected by the doubters. We needed to see more than just brief flashbacks of those scenes, we needed to actually be there with her for at least one, but preferably several, in some detail. In fact, I would suggest we needed to follow her through some scenes as she grows up and even through basic training.

Instead, the flashbacks all feel quite rushed and we eventually understand what has happened without truly empathizing with her, leaving us to develop no emotional attachment with her.

The Power of Friendship and the Sting of Betrayal

In truth, instead of developing Carol’s ‘insecurity’ arc, the movie spends most of its time – apparently without realizing it – developing a ‘friendship/betrayal’ arc for Carol. We spend a lot of time with Rambeau and her daughter, Carol develops a strong relationship with Fury, she was good friends with Mar-Vel the Kree scientist, and even has very strong camaraderie, laced with a hint of one-sided romantic overtones, with Yon-Rogg her Kree commanding officer and ultimate betrayer, where we also spend much of the early movie. She’s even able to make friends with the Skrull, overcoming her Kree-programmed hatred of them.

The current story structure of the movie leaves us with too little time seeing the impact of the ‘haters’ to empathize with Carol, and too much time developing friendships for us to feel she’s been wronged by the haters. The time spent on each doesn’t appear to match what seems to be the intended emotional arc, leading me to believe that Disney/Marvel didn’t realize which movie they were making and perhaps, which they should have been making.

Rambeau and Danvers walking to their planes.

Instead, if Disney/Marvel would have developed the ‘importance of friendships/avenging a betrayal’ arc, the scenes would have fit much better, albeit in a different order.

I suggest the story should have gone something like this:

We begin with Carol Danvers and Rambeau as friends and pilots who get involved with the strange, secretive plot of their scientist-friend Lawson (Mar-Vel). Before the spaceship chase scene, we develop the friendships fully and hint at a mystery surrounding what Mar-Vel is working on. Things go bad and Mar-Vel needs a way out, Carol offers to fly her out of there and they’re attacked and brought down. Mar-Vel is killed and Carol goes unconscious as the power-source they were carrying explodes. She only sees the attackers identity through a haze.

Next, we fast forward through a montage of ‘rebuilding’ and training years to the the point we start with in the current movie. Carol is beginning to remember things, but the Kree appear unable to explain what she remembers although we get hints they want to keep something from her.

At this point we can follow forward with the story arc of the movie almost entirely as is. Now that we’ve developed the proper emotional arc we will see and feel the horror of the truth that the Kree betrayed her and used her, stealing her away from her home planet and her friends. We will also be continually curious about how she will regain her memories and what her reaction will be. We also meet her without powers and see her character before she becomes the superhero. And the short flashbacks will be useful in the emotional arc, rather than just being there for a bit of the story. In this way, the movie would have much greater emotional depth.

Frustratingly, this is such a small change to the story arc but, I believe, would have resulted in an immensely better movie with a deeper emotional arc.

An Incomplete Heroes Journey

The changes above would have made it much more apparent why this second change would be necessary. A smaller but equally important thing the movie gets wrong is forgetting to finish the heroes journey.

One very specific mistake the movie makes is near the end. Carol confronts Yon-Rogg, her Kree mentor who has constantly taunted her that she won’t truly be ready to lead until she can beat him without using her powers. It’s obvious that his taunt is in large part because he knows he can’t beat her now that she fully come into her powers and her response is to blast him mid-sentence with her pulse beams claiming that she doesn’t need to prove anything to him. I’m not sure whether this was meant to be a ‘girl power’ moment, a ‘stop mansplaining’ moment, or a hat-tip to Indiana Jones, but it fails for one big reason. The showdown with Yon-Rogg is the natural conclusion to her heroic arc. He is the person that gained her trust, lied to her, betrayed her, and then tried to kill her. She’s right that she doesn’t have anything to prove to him, but as a hero she should have a need to prove it to herself. She has to demonstrate to herself that she’s more than just fancy lights from her hands.

When push comes to shove, a hero is not the sum of the powers but the strength of their heart. If their powers are removed they still remain a hero. That’s what we see in Iron Man 1, that’s what we see in Thor 1, that’s what Steve Rogers demonstrates before becoming Captain America, that’s what T’Challa demonstrates in the challenge of Black Panther. Even Dr. Strange has to learn that before he truly comes into his powers (when he’s between the power of his doctor skills and the mystical powers he gains). But Carol Danvers doesn’t. And if the proper emotional arc had been developed in the movie, this would have been self-evident.

In the current form of the movie, we experience almost no heroic qualities from Carol Danvers prior to receiving her powers (except a fairly short flashback with all emotion drained from it) and the only larger-than-life deeds we see her accomplish are with her powers. And she only gets stronger and more invincible as the movie goes on. So we never see her truly challenged. The one chance for this important part of the heroic journey to be fulfilled was in the face-off with Yon-Rogg. A scene that utterly fails to fulfil its purpose.

In Summary

Captain Marvel is an action-filled bore-fest that didn’t need to be that way. The lack of empathy and engagement from the audience comes from the producers failing to develop the proper emotional arc. Frustratingly, this didn’t have to be the case. All the elements were there for a strong story. For whatever reason, the producers just decided to make a different, less engaging story.

Alternate Futures

Artificial Intelligence: A View into the New Future

AI and The World of Tomorrow?

A row of cars wait, orderly and patient, as we reach the school driveway. I head for our family Auto, distinguishable by the customized chromo-flex decal on the hood, currently set to cycle through red and black arrows pointing toward the front. It’s supposed to look dramatic, tough, and it might if dad didn’t keep setting the chromo-flex body skin to cycle through a pattern of pale purple and blue.

The two side doors open outward from a centre seam as I come within range of the RFID scanner and flip my hand up, palm facing the door.
Dad’s colours change to an electric blue tech pattern as the Auto says, “Hello, sir, how are you today?” The deep, soothing voice is an immediate comfort after the crazy day.

Will and I reprogrammed the vehicle’s AI for an alternative behaviour pattern when there are no adults about. For one thing, it mimics the Artificial Intelligence that was Manifold’s partner in The Destiny Justice Force, a movie series Will and I were obsessed with a few years ago. For another, mom and dad’s AI is a nanny-bot.

“Fine, Jacob. How are you?” I answer, climbing into the spacious interior and taking a place on the circular sofa.

“As well as always, sir. Master Will, Mistress Annie, will you be joining us today?”

“Sure will Jacob.”

“Yes, thank you.”

Will and Annie climb in, spreading out to get comfortable. Our teachers and parents regularly try to impress upon us what it was like before Autos— autodrive cars— had revolutionalized personal transportation, but it’s just unimaginable. Apparently, there was a lot less room inside the car and parents had to pick their kids up from school— assuming they didn’t take the bus. However, most of the normal population has Autos now, except those in small, rural communities.

“Would sir like the usual visual feeds for the drive home?”

“I won’t be going home just yet, Jacob. Override destination alpha-seven-niner-delta-four. Voice code ‘singularity’ ”. Of course, I couldn’t reprogram the AI without giving myself a backdoor.

“Very good, sir. Your parents have been notified that you and Master Will will be meeting at the library. Where would you like to go?”

“Seventy-three Newton Place. There’s a flash tournament I want in on. Oh, and would you pipe my usual training feeds, please.”

“Very good, sir. Arrival will be in thirteen minutes, twenty seven seconds from the time of departure. Will that be all, sir?”

“You have any snacks, Jacob?” Will asks as I feel the car pull away from the school lot.

The circle of screens surrounding the interior light-up, displaying live streams from the top gaming sites, as well as recordings from the global Regional Championships.

“I have recently been fitted with a prototype organic printer. It makes a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies. They will take five minutes to print. Would you like some?”

“Of course! Bring ’em on.”

The above excerpt is (c) 2019 Edwin H Rydberg

The preceding is an excerpt from a work-in-progress of mine, a near-future world where AI is one all-pervasive technology that is just accepted as common-place. This is, of course, AI as we currently experience it, not self-aware or ‘General’ AI (the development of the latter AI drives some of the above story).

In previous posts (7 areas that could see massive benefits from artificial intelligence, AI – Wonder tool or human replacement?, Fake News is about to get real (prevalent), AI – Boon or Bane?) I’ve written about various developments with AI, so how might they all come together? What might the future be with artificial intelligence?

The Good

As you can see in the excerpt, I suggest humans are adaptable and I believe most humans will adapt to the convenience of pervasive artificial intelligence even at the cost of privacy and security.

As a side note, artificial intelligence is not synonymous with a loss of privacy or security. Those only follow it in our world because of the big companies (and governments) that are behind the development of it. In theory, one could develop their own AI that wouldn’t have such flaws.

AI Assistants

‘Assistant’ AI (advanced versions of Alexa, Siri, or Google@home) will be accessible from every room in a house (except ‘privacy rooms’), in the auto-drive cars, and will eventually enter the workplace by the time today’s toddlers reach adulthood. Combining this with ever-improving speech-to-text algorithms will mean all jobs will experience dramatic change as individuals become one-person departments.

AI for Research

But such simplistic AI barely touches on the true power of the technology. Google’s Deep Mind project has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years tackling everything from strategy games with incomplete information, to the vast complexity of protein folding, to helping manage medical services. Projects I’d love to see them take on (with unbiased training sets) are climate change, global food and water management, government management, space vehicle propulsion, and the use of gravitational ‘highways’ for interplanetary transportation.

The Human Connection

However, back on Earth, once we get over the initial response of ‘massive job loss, computers can do everything better, and the future is no longer human’ we come to realize that it is still humans who act with purpose and direction and this technology will actually allow us to do far more than we ever could without it. After all, the universe is an incredibly complex place and it’s possible our brains are simply not capable of processing that complexity without assistance. The downside is, of course, that we have entered a period in our history where we no longer understand how our own technology works.

The Bad

Pervasive artificial intelligence will, without a doubt, continue the trend toward increasing human laziness and an ever-growing disconnect with both nature and our own past as we move further from both.

Changing Job Market

However, even before that we will see massive changes in the job market. With individuals being able to do more and technologies like auto-drive cars dramatically impacting the transport of goods and people the job market at all levels will change. Professionals like doctors and lawyers won’t be safe either as both of their jobs have a large database retrieval component to them which, at best, would mean a reorientation toward the human-centred part of the job rather than the diagnostic portion. By this time we’ll be long past the point were ‘learn to code’ will be useful advice.

Somewhat ironically perhaps, a consideration of AIs limitations would suggest that jobs in traditional trades (although upscaled for dealing with the installation of new tech) will be the safest and will be among the last replaced.

Fake News

Also, fake news, which is always being discussed these days, will continue increasing in amount and believability as new technologies come online. Not only will AI be able to write amazingly realistic fake news stories, but it will even be able to generate videos of famous people that appear authentic. Bots are already being used to generate fake static facial images for social media, but video is not far behind.

Increasing Vulnerability

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t address an ever-present concern in the increasingly connected world. Specifically that of malicious hackers. Being so dependent on a connected world and the Internet of Things (IoT) necessarily leaves us increasingly open to cyberbullying, cyber-attack, and having our devices used for malicious purposes. Let’s hope the developers consider their builds well, and that our governments don’t try and force them to put in backdoors.

The Strange

All of the above doesn’t even touch on up-and-coming technologies like Elon Musk’s NeuraLink, which intends to build a direct interface between the human brain and technology and could be the beginning steps toward a cybernetic future. That, combined with his global internet called StarLink, of which the early stages are currently being placed in orbit would mean hands-free technology access anywhere on the planet. Something that would forever alter humanity.

And just imagine how AI could aid the new business space-race and the space tourism industry about to take off.

In Conclusion

I, for one, am cautiously optimistic about the future with artificial intelligence and excited about the possible advancement we can make with it — at least until it becomes self-aware. Perhaps I am fortunate to be entering my 50s as the wave of AI comes online, however, it means somehow preparing the children for what’s coming even when we can’t see it clearly ourselves.

We are truly at the event horizon of the technological singularity. As usual, we’ve predicted the existence of something without having any idea of what it actually means. But humans are explorers so let’s travel to this undiscovered country.

Fiction

Apocalypse 5 – Excerpt & Giveaway

Apocalypse Five
Stacey Rourke
(Archive of the Fives, #1)
Publication date: February 12th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Good luck and have a pleasant apocalypse.

The end of the world is coming. How or when, scientists can’t agree upon. For decades, Earth’s best line of defense has been a team of young soldiers known as the Apocalypse Five, forced into virtual reality simulations to train for Doom’s Day. But, this is no game. Death on the grid is brutally final and calls up the next in a long line of cadets.

Stationed aboard the AT-1-NS Starship, the A5 are celebrities thrust into the limelight by a calling they didn’t choose. All it takes is one unscheduled mission, showing seventeen-year-old team leader Detroit a harsh and unfathomable reality, to shake the A5’s belief in all they thought they knew. After questioning people with the power to destroy them, the team is framed for a crime they didn’t commit and marked for death. Now, the hunt is on.

Can the Apocalypse Five expose the truth the starship would kill to keep hidden? Or, will their bravery end in a public execution?

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Author Bio:

RONE Award Winner for Best YA Paranormal Work of 2012 for Embrace, a Gryphon Series Novel

Young Adult and Teen Reader voted Author of the Year 2012

Turning Pages Magazine Winner for Best YA book of 2013 & Best Teen Book of 2013

Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal Winner for Crane 2015

Stacey Rourke is the author of the award winning YA Gryphon Series, the chillingly suspenseful Legends Saga, and the romantic comedy Reel Romance Series. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two beautiful daughters, and two giant dogs. She loves to travel, has an unhealthy shoe addiction, and considers herself blessed to make a career out of talking to the imaginary people that live in her head.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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Fiction

The TransHuman Project – Giveaway and Review

The Transhuman Project
Erin Rhew
Publication date: January 15th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

When a video of Molly Richards is taken out of context and goes viral, she’s thrust into the upper echelons of social media stardom and becomes an overnight success in a country where Life Channel ratings reign supreme. As Kadar’s fastest rising celebrity, her life becomes a media circus, a show put on for the shallow national audience salivating for the next new thing.

But in a world where image is king, danger and death hide among the shadows. In the nearby country of Pacifica, the brutal Caezar turns his citizens into robotic weapons who infiltrate Kadar as sleeper transhumans. They walk among the populace, unaware they are pawns in the madman’s personal arsenal.

Only Molly, her friends, and an elite group of Kadarian fighters known as the Cyber Knights fully understand the transhuman threat, and only they can break the Caezar’s terrorist grip on both Pacifica and Kadar. Battling Fire Bots and humanoid agents, they seek to put a stop to the Caezar’s tyranny by unraveling the secrets buried between layers of deception.And they have to do it all while smiling and waving for the cameras.

As Molly and her friends peer behind the glitz and glamour, they discover something more frightening and more sinister than anything they’ve encountered yet…the truth.

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 My Take on The TransHuman Project

Molly and her friends, trapped in the neighbouring country of Kadar after escaping the prisons and research centres of their home country of Pacifica, find themselves the centre of a power struggle between, and within, the two nations. For Molly, this means being thrust into the spotlight as the new number one reality star of Kadar and having the public choose her life direction. That means becoming part of a forced love-story leading to marriage. Not only does she not love her new fiance, but she fears he may have been turned into a transhuman weapon by the Caezar of Pacifica. With the public oblivious and the powers plotting among themselves, it’s up to Molly and her friends to solve the transhuman puzzle and stop the loss of countless lives. But can they do it before the wedding?

At its heart, The Transhuman project is a collection of romance stories in a science fiction wrapper. Each character has their own ‘forbidden romance’ often created as a consequence of the harsh behaviour of their parental figures. Some of these play a crucial role in the plot and some do not. The theme of unforgiving parents is so common that it affects virtually all the main characters in the book and is intimately related to the national conflicts.

The setting is interesting being essentially a tale of two countries. Pacifica, ruled by the Caezar, feels like one huge prison with most people either incarcerated or living in underground bunkers. Kadar, instead, is a beautiful but intellectually empty country ruled by what appears to be a matriarchal oligarchy, where the majority of the citizens spend their time living vicariously through the lives of the few Life Channel superstars (who are largely selected by the governing committee).

To conclude, I don’t believe I’m the target audience for this story. For me, The TransHuman Project moved quite slowly for the first two-thirds, where it focussed mostly on the romance, and then picked up very nicely in the last third. So, if the romance is your preference then this is probably a good book for you. Most of the characters were consistent, but I thought they sometimes responded naively given the hardships they endured growing up. Probably my biggest issue, however, was that I felt like I missed the first book of the series. The one detailing the backstory of the countries and the how and why of the main characters’ lives. Yet I checked several times and this appears to be the only book in this world.

Overall, if you like a lot of romance with your science fiction then this book is probably for you.

Author Bio:

Erin Rhew is an editor, the operations manager for a small press, and a YA fantasy and sci-fi author. Since she picked up Morris the Moose Goes to School at age four, she has been infatuated with the written word. She went on to work as a grammar and writing tutor in college and is still teased by her family and friends for being a member of the “Grammar Police.”

A Southern girl by blood and birth, Erin spent years in a rainy pocket of the Pacific Northwest before returning to her roots in the land of hushpuppies, sweet tea, and pig pickin’. She’s married to fellow author, the amazingly talented (and totally handsome) Deek Rhew, and spends her time writing side-by-side with him under the watchful eye of their patient-as-a-saint writing assistant, a tabby cat named Trinity. Erin and Deek enjoy taking long walks, drinking coffee, lifting, boxing, eating pizza, staying up late into the night talking, and adventuring together.

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Fiction

Specular Superhero Novel Giveaway

As someone interested in superhero stories, even to the level of having published the start of my own superhero series online (Echoes of the Past: Altered Destiny), I love to see stories of new and original superheroes. Enter Specular. Published in August 2018, Specular by L.K.Brooks-Simpson, is the origin story of a hero with mental health issues, in an original setting. If you enjoy superhero stories, there’s an exerpt below as well as a giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Specular
L.K Brooks-Simpson 
(IXI COMICS, #1)
Publication date: August 16th 2018
Genres: Superhero, Young Adult

The first installment of the IXI COMICS series by author L.K BROOKS-SIMPSON

This novel is of the fantasy/superhero fiction genre and tackles some important implications of mental health and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Imagine being afraid to fall asleep in fear that you will not wake up to the life you know. This is exactly what Tre Moon experienced at nine years old. He awakes to his second dissociative identity having set his house aflame. With his home ruined and his parents murdered at his own hands, he is sentenced to trial for a life sentence. Young Tre Moon is forced to walk a path that will change his life forever.

When seventeen year old Tre comes into contact with a prohibited substance called Colloidal Supersilver his life will change forever when he finds out he has the ability to change how light refracts from his body. His new powers come with new challenges to an already complicated life, having battled Dissociative Identity Disorder for the majority of his youth.

Follow the origin story of IXI COMICS first hero as he becomes Indiana’s newest vigilante, Specular! In a city full of crime, recession, drug underlords and other mysterious vigilante’s, the legend of Tre Moon will unfold, all the while, his dark past tries to catch up with him…

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT
CRACK!
The howl of several sonic booms consumed the first room and cocooned Tre in place. The wind came from plates that had unfolded in the walls and by the extreme reverberation, Tre was held prisoner by the process of acoustic levitation. There were immense forces being applied to his body, so immense in fact, that his anatomy was sent into anarchy: his ear drums were tapping out from the sheer volume. He could feel his bones rattling against the surrounding tissue and he was being held in place, against his will. Over the roars of sound, he was sure he could hear a faint alarm blazing from outside the room. Heron’s suit looked fainter than ever through the murkiness of the colliding waves. He struggled to move and to breathe because the power of sound knocked both momentum and oxygen from the stream. Just when Tre thought he would find no salvation from his asphyxiation, calm struck. Gently, Tre returned to the ground and an ever so smooth stream of air was available for him to breathe. When he looked around the sonic shockwaves were still blasting from the folds of the first room, however there was a thin layer between his skin and where the shockwaves would have made contact. This thin layer drowned out the noise around him and gave him peace in the chaos surrounding him. Tre did not question, he merely proceeded to the second room. Once again, his first step was met with instant reaction. In the walls of the second room, seven square folds disappeared and, in its place, seven turrets emerged from within. Without warning, each turret fired a beam of laser directly at him. Tre felt the unknowingly hot singe of the laser for a millisecond before it cooled to a warm ambience that spread to this layer around his body. Unbelievably, the point the lasers contacted his body was only the beginning of a new path, as they were redirected outward. All without leaving a single scratch on the teenager. He noticed that when he moved at certain angles the laser would refract at different angles also. Overcome with the natural urge to do so, Tre opened his hand outward and focused. Suddenly the point of the laser’s redirection changed once again and he watched with his own eyes as the beams slowly crawled across his body like obedient serpents and formed at the destination of his palm. Tre admired the ball of laser; he felt the consistency in his hand and even tracked the harmless trail from the ball, across his body, the point of contact and back to the turret where it came from. It truly was a thing of xenology. Tre squeezed his fist tightly and watched as the lasers fought to free themselves from his hand. They slipped from the gaps between his fingers and shot outward, destroying the turrets that originated them in a series of destructive ricochets.

Author Bio:

L.K. Brooks-Simpson is a native of London, England. He is an English Literature graduate and Film Production student.
Aside from his creative ventures, he is a strong supporter of philanthropy. He cites his biggest influences as J.R.R. Tolkien, Sanyika Shakur, J.K. Rowling, Tsugumi Ohba, Stan Lee and Maya Angelou, among many others.
Three sentences he would use to describe himself – A book is for the mind. Travel is for the heart. Family is for the soul.
Lara has always considered himself a student of literature and story form and for this reason, his taste is eclectic. Ranging from novels to manga – poems to screenwriting and even comic book story boards. Just as genres define certain works, there are a lot of elements that define his creative process. He has aspirations to write in many different genres.

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Fiction

Newly Released! Waypoint by Deborah Adams and Kimberly Perkins

Waypoint
Deborah Adams & Kimberley Perkins
Publication date: December 1st 2018
Genres: Adventure, Post-Apocalyptic, Thriller, Young Adult

How far will they go to restore the power?

It’s been lights-out for three months and society is already falling into chaos.

Teenage tech-genius Simon Harper and his team of fellow gamers have been searching for the cause of the outage since it went down. Simon and his twin brother West are often at odds, but when the key to restoring power drops into their hands, they’ll risk everything and join forces to bring it back.

Descend into an epic, young adult adventure, featuring family and friendship with a heart-skipping side of romance by debut authors Deborah Adams and Kimberley Perkins.

Mysterious deaths and disappearances are piling up, and unknown enemies are everywhere. As the brothers make their 500-mile journey to Waypoint they’ll have to decide who they can trust, and which secrets can be told.

“Thanks to its tantalizing pace, well-established consequences, and complicated character development, this novel is worth writing home about. I didn’t feel ready for it to end.” -Independent Book Review

My Two Cents
Waypoint is a near-future young adult SF action/adventure story told from the perspective of four teens attempting to survive a hostile new future while uncovering the mystery of how it got that way.

Decades in the future a company will create a technology that provides cheap electricity to the entire globe… only to have the system crash leaving nations without power and collapsing the social infrastructure. Three months later, brothers Alex and Simon are on the scene when a scientist is shot. With his dying breath, he gives them a USB stick with code that can restore power thrusting them into a race across the country in an attempt to get to the mysterious Waypoint and use the USB stick before they are caught and killed by any number of mysterious, violent groups chasing them.

I found that Waypoint started a little slow until the brothers acquired the USB MacGuffin. From then on, it’s a fun ride as the brothers separate paths and race across the country. The addition of two more teens they meet on their trip serves to increase the tension and mystery even further.

I did have some issues with the far-too-pleasant post-apocalyptic landscape of the cities, but I discuss that more in another post. There’s also the issue of why they didn’t copy the USB drive at any of the several chances they had along their trip. I also felt the ending was too sudden and too much of a cliff-hanger (obviously leading into the next book). I felt that at least one plot thread should have been concluded in this book and this would have been fairly simple and still leave room for the ending as it was.

However, nit-picking aside, Waypoint was a very enjoyable read. The story flowed well and once it got going I didn’t feel it bogged down anywhere. If you’d like to get your own copy, it’s now available at several online locations, or you can enter the give-away below for a chance to win a copy.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

Author Bio:

DEBORAH ADAMS and KIMBERLEY PERKINS are friends and coworkers. They share a love of coffee, literature, and teenagers saving the world. By day, they work for a defense contractor in Huntsville, Alabama as the HR Director and an Excel-wielding Analyst, respectively. By night, they build worlds with words and devour stories. For more information about Deborah Adams and Kimberley Perkins and their foray into writing, check them out on social media.

 

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CLICK HERE TO ENTER TO WIN!

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Fiction

Just Out: Sun Scorched by Jen Crane (+ giveaway!)

Sunscorched
Jen Crane
(Subterranean Series, #1)
Publication date: October 23rd 2018
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult

Death at daylight. Danger at dark.

Life can’t possibly get more treacherous than a violent sun allergy in a solar-blighted world. At least that’s what seventeen-year-old Nori Chisholm thought before news of an impending sunscorch delivered her death sentence.

Desperate to survive the scorch, she’s forced to shelter underground and discovers a secret subterranean world where life is hard, and so are the people. Betrayed and left for dead by the man who pledged to help her, Nori is sold to a gritty pit fighting ring. There she makes a friend—and plenty of enemies.

Speeding by motorcycle through the underground world, Nori makes a shocking discovery that shatters everything she thought she knew. Can she use the knowledge to save what’s left of the world?

Winner of the Rosemary Award for excellence in young adult fiction, Sunscorched is a tale of survival and self-discovery at breakneck speed. Fans of Bella Forrest and Marie Lu, who crave dangerous heroes and dark secrets, will love the Sunscorched world.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

Author Bio:

Though she grew up on a working cattle ranch, it’s fantasy and sci-fi that shine Jen Crane’s saddle. Her latest novel, Sunscorched, received a Rosemary Award for excellence in young adult fiction.

Jen has a master’s degree and solid work histories in government and non-profit administration. But just in the nick of time she pronounced life *too real* for nonfiction. She lives in The South and creates endearing characters and alternate realms filled with adventure, magic, and love.

Book 2 in Jen’s fantasy romance series, Descended of Dragons, was selected by iTunes/iBooks as “Our Pick” in fantasy/sci-fi.

**Sign up for Jen’s newsletter to get release updates and freebies: bit.ly/Jen_Crane_Newsletter**

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Fiction

Cover Reveal – Game, Set, Deathmatch by Edwin H…

Here is the cover for my new Science Fiction novel. Based loosely on First Person Shooters, it follows DaemonS and the Apocalypz Cowgirls who find their Death Match hopes derailed by disaster as they uncover a plot to end all life as they know it.

Release Date: November 15, 2018

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