Saturday, November 27, 2010

Science fiction book review: The Unwanted by Daniel L. Carter

Young genetically engineered super children escape their evil origins in science fiction thriller The Unwanted by Daniel L. Carter.
Nurses Janet and Michele are initially excited about their high-paying side job at a research facility. Then the weirdness of the situation starts to bother them. The constant administration of unknown drugs to pregnant women who don't speak English and the creepy wheelchair-bound Dr. Tibon Scharf soon make Janet and Michele wary of their employer.

Meanwhile Nick, an FBI agent investigating a series of deadly explosions that kill mysterious groups of infants, learns that the people involved are using genetic engineering equipment. Despite his efforts, he is always one step behind Tibon and his ruthless assistant Liz Bolan. Tibon destroys his latest research facility and moves before the FBI catch up, but this time the clean up job is botched. Janet and Michele narrowly escape the explosion meant to kill them and five experimental infants. Knowing Tibon has law enforcement connections, the women flee with the babies to a remote cabin on the Oklahoma ranch of Janet's uncle, Leigh Barrus.

Uncle Leigh shelters them secretly after they explain the danger. The babies (three boys and two girls) are named Sampson, Marcus, Zack, Angie, and Anna. They soon exhibit rapid growth and alarming powers of intellect and strength as the years go by. Tibon continues with his genetic engineering experiments while Nick's FBI career flounders into failure.

As I read the novel, Carter's writing built genuine feelings in me for the fugitive family. They grapple with money problems, nosey redneck neighbors, and their difficult state of isolation. Uncle Leigh was the star of the novel for me. His gentle, loving, and protective influence provided everything a person could want in a father figure. The weirdly advanced children love and respect him too, and the influence of his Christian values has a positive effect on the five children, whose lives have special challenges.

Although a story with genetically engineered super children is not particularly original, the Christian upbringing did provide an interesting twist. Prayer gives the children a coping mechanism for their intense emotional issues, and belief in a higher power helps them see beyond their personal problems. However, when Anna tells Uncle Leigh that God speaks to her, even he is incredulous at first. Yet there is no denying her intense psychic abilities, and Uncle Leigh accepts that perhaps she does have a superior connection with God.

The accelerated development of the children is presented in a reasonable and interesting fashion. The stupid and often insensitive boyish excesses of the Marcus, Zack, and Sampson feel real, and the girls are charmingly bossy and reliable.

The Unwanted is a well paced novel that never gets slow. Something is always going on. It has plenty of tense gunfights, super power battles, tranquilizer darts, helicopters, missiles, explosions, and the threat of poison gas.

About my only problem with the novel was the cliche nature of the scenes involving FBI agent Nick. They read like any crime drama you've ever seen. I'm not saying they are badly written. Carter has a smooth flowing style that lets a narrative unfold with great clarity. But Nick and his law enforcement fiascoes lacked originality. Why does the law enforcement character always have to be divorced, obsessed with a case, and driven to drink? Although this character annoyed me, he does not dominate the novel. The majority of the novel is very engaging, and the developing young super heroes are sympathetic and likable.

As the first in a trilogy, The Unwanted sets up a great foundation for further adventures with characters whose origins have been thoroughly explained. The Unwanted markets itself as a novel for all ages, and I agree. As an adult I found it to be intelligent reading, and I think that teens would find much to appreciate as well. My bottom line opinion is that The Unwanted reads like you are watching a Hollywood blockbuster.

Go to http://www.theunwantedtrilogy.com/ to read a sample or go straight to buying The Unwanted.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Musical Saturday - Listen to the universe with sitar music

I love sitar music. Like many people I first heard this instrument on Beatles' albums. I don't think there is any musical instrument that reaches into the energies of my body and ignites my imagination like the sitar.

The website of musician and composer Biswabrata Chakrabarti explains that Indian classical music is based on the concept that "the whole universe was created from the energy of sound - it's only the sound that exists in the beginning."

Hindu music traditions reach back thousands of years. The beauty and complexity of Indian classical music place it at the pinnacle of the musical art form. For your enjoyment this weekend, expand your mind and emotions with the exceedingly famous Ravi Shankar.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Movie Review: Skyline


A horde of technologically superior brain-gulping aliens descends on Earth in this sci fi horror directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause.

Skyline distinguishes itself for its lack of hope. No one has a viable plan for fighting the aliens. None of the characters are military commanders or scientific aides to the President. Skyline is an alien invasion horror that reduces its cast to squealing feeder mice as the aliens harvest major cities of its protein treasure.

Set in a hedonistic Los Angeles high rise, a visiting young couple, Jarrod and Elaine from Brooklyn, party down with Jarrod's old rapper buddy Terry, who is now successful in the music business and wants Jarrod to join his crew. This premise nicely sets up a plausible situation in which beautiful young people populate the story. Scary movies need beautiful young people. No one wants to watch ugly people face their worst fears.

Jarrod and Elaine's first day in Los Angeles includes pool-side fun and alcohol-fueled partying in Terry's penthouse. Issues flare up constantly, like Elaine's new pregnancy and Terry's bold adultery with his assistant in the penthouse he shares with his wife.

After everyone passes out, the aliens come. No one has any idea what is going on. The characters are all pretty much stupid blockheads. This was actually captivating in a weird kind of way. There was no character who was on the staff of SETI or a genius computer scientist or a survivor of alien abduction. No one in Skyline has any brilliant ideas. No one is going to hack into the alien operating system with a smart phone. Much of the dialogue is:

"What's happening?"
"I don't know!"

The script suits the painfully average crew of actors, but that does not really detract from the movie. The point of Skyline, which it delivers well, is that no one is going to come across as smart when humanity is being destroyed by beings that are technologically and biologically superior.

Skyline is a well executed study in watching one species consume another. The movie never drags. It is always engaging. It spends a lot of time with the men arguing over their bad ideas while the women cringe helplessly. Overall it is an entertaining movie that rewarded me with a couple chuckles although it did not mean to. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. Having paid matinee price and eschewed the purchase of concessions at criminally insane price points, I feel I got good value. Skyline actually became most interesting at its cliffhanger ending, leaving me wondering what will happen next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Musical Saturday - New recording of complete Conan the Barbarian soundtrack

The weekend can be a time to brush aside mundane distractions and focus on inspiring music. I tend to be very fond of soundtracks, especially symphonic scores. The score for the film Conan the Barbarian by distinguished composer Basil Poledouris has recently been freshly recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra with Nic Raine conducting.

This special 2-cd collection presents the original 100-minute film score, complete with tracks not included in the original soundtrack release. I certainly plan on updating my music collection to include this new complete version of the soundtrack. The score for Conan the Barbarian has inspired me for years. I love to listen to it when I am writing. Its epic and exciting musical landscape drives away the real world and opens the doors to "high adventure." I found the new Conan soundtrack at Buysoundtrax.com.

Enjoy this video excerpt of a City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra recording session.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with thriller author John Walker

Find the complete Dark Retribution quartet and other novels by John Walker at http://www.sanctuaryinthedarkness.com/
I recently encountered revenge thriller author John Walker on Goodreads. His body of work (six novels and counting) gets good ratings from readers, and I was intrigued by his long term dedication to writing and his independent business sense. Although he and I do not write the same type of novels, I wanted to know more about this kindred spirit of the writing craft, and John Walker agreed to an interview.

1. You write in the first person, which you use effectively to draw in your readers, but how do you overcome some of the challenges of writing in the first person? For example, revealing thoughts/motivations of other characters.

Through conversations, meetings and by having the central character witness events. Writing through the first person seems the most realistic way to present a story for me as we all live our lives, view the world around us and think in the first person. In writing my stories, as I am viewing the fictional world of my central character(s), I am in effect living vicariously through them.

The only variation I have encountered in real life is when I met some individuals who refer to themselves in the 3rd person. For example: instead of saying “I’m going to do this,” they will state their own name and say something like: “[Jack/Jill] will do this.”

2. With six novels published and another on the way, you obviously have a creative drive to write. Do you find writing therapeutic? fun? personally entertaining? What do you get out of the creative process?

Writing has always been something close to magical for me. I have always been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. There has never been a single period of my life when I haven’t been without a book to read. When I was 12-years-old, rewriting my school homework essays in my spare time, something woke up inside me. From then on there was no doubt that being a writer was everything I’ve ever wanted to be. Other creative people express themselves by composing or playing music, others through drawing, painting, sculpting, others through directing movies. It’s all just different mediums that fuel the magic of creativity. Through writing I can leave this world and enter another, immerse myself in the characters and the situations they are in … all by just sitting at my desk and day dreaming! I’m happiest when I’m working and for me it doesn’t get better than that. When I finally completed God’s Soldiers, the final book in the Dark Retribution Quartet, something happened to me that I hadn’t anticipated: my mood plunged and I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so despondent. After all, I’d managed to complete four books in a series that was important to me. I should have been cheering with joy. Everyone around me noticed the depression I’d sank into and it wasn’t until I began to discuss it with others that I was able to understand the reasons why: the cause was because I was leaving behind characters that had been a part of my life for many years. I’d finished the story and was leaving their world behind. It’s another magical thing about writing that our characters will eventually become so real to us.

3. All your novels receive high ratings at retail and review sites. Your main work so far is the Dark Retribution Quartet. Do you know if a majority of readers of the first book Wrath and Remembrance follow through and complete the series?

There have been some readers who have read the first book, Wrath and Remembrance, and haven’t been able to continue with the other 3 because of the genre and dark, violent themes just aren’t for them. I can appreciate that and I have no problem with it. My books aren’t for everyone. We all like different things. It’s part of what makes us individuals and why our world is so diverse and full of variety. I love getting feedback from readers. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s positive or negative. My stories run like a movie in my mind and my characters all look a certain way. What intrigues me is how other readers perceive the characters and situations in the books. The German director Wim Wenders made a movie in 1991 called Until the End of the World, starring William Hurt, Solveig Dommartin, Sam Neill, Max von Sydow and Jeanne Moreau. Part of the story involves the invention of a device that can record the characters’ dreams while they sleep and they play them back the following day. I’ve always wished someone would somehow realise this concept, make technology catch up to the idea, and create a device that would record a reader’s imagination. It would be cool to be able to see how others imagine what authors set down on paper. Movies come someway close to that with a director’s cinematic interpretation.

4. The concept for your novel Hank Shank VIII is to set loose the character of Henry VIII in modern times. How did you get the idea and does the modern Hank Shank go through as many wives?

The idea came when another publisher asked me if I was interested in writing a biography on Henry VIII. I’d learned about him at school and always found him a deeply flawed, paranoid, ruthless, but fascinating man. I was already involved with writing God’s Soldiers at the time so I shelved the project for about a year. Although I hadn’t begun writing Hank Shank VIII, I still gave it a lot of thought. I didn’t really want to write yet another conventional bio’. There have been many done and I’d already read Henry VIII: King and Court, by Alison Weir, which is my favorite book on that subject. Then an idea came to me as I wondered how Henry VIII would have lived in our era and inspiration sprang from there. In researching Henry’s story, I made a life-chart, complete with dates and that made it easier to retell his story in a contemporary setting. And, yes, he goes through the same dynamics of life and the same number of wives.

5. Your earliest novel, Wrath and Remembrance, has been published since 1998. Were you originally published by another company or have you always self produced your fiction?

Wrath and Remembrance was a long time in the writing. I began writing it in the mid-1980s. Initially, all 4 books in the quartet were part of one massive volume. I knew back then that the story was too big to tell in one go and I was still getting so many new ideas for the characters and the story, so several rewrites followed.

During the early 90s, one publisher read a different draft version of Wrath and Remembrance and told me they’d only publish it if I completely changed the ending and didn’t kill off one of the characters. Even if I’d complied, it would have meant deleting several chapters of the book and it would have ruined many aspects of the next 3 books in the series. So I refused and didn’t bother with that publisher.

In 2004, I was offered an ebook contract with a different publisher. The concept of ebooks was new to me then and I agreed to let someone else take the reins as it meant freeing up more of my time and making my work available to a world-wide audience. Unfortunately, that particular publisher proved both unreliable and uncommunicative, and I cancelled my contract with them after 3 years. I’m still in touch with many of the other authors who were contracted to the same publisher and they had a similar experience to mine. I was bitter for a long time after that as I’m serious about what I do, have a strong work ethic and I don’t appreciate having others waste my time.

I decided to create my own publishing label and go back to having full control over my work as I enjoy being independent and my own boss.

I would certainly be open to consider an offer of a contract from another publisher if one was offered to me, but sales are going well as things stand now.

6. Any additional comments?

Right now I’m busy with my 7th book, entitled Backlash. It’s a psychological road-chase-thriller set across 8 states in America. I’m still only on the first draft, but very happy with the way the story is developing.

I also have ideas for a future book project on the American Civil War. This subject has interested me for a long time and I’d love to produce a book on that.

Thanks again for the opportunity to do this interview. It’s time I put on some fresh coffee and got back to work. I just had an idea for my book!

Readers interested in John Walker can read the first chapter of Wrath and Remembrance at his website.

Also, see reader reviews and ratings of his all his novels at his Goodreads author page.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Easy Rider: They do NOT make movies like this anymore

Provocative, illuminating, and riveting from start to finish, the counter-culture 60s movie classic Easy Rider will still get movie lovers' motors running.

I was somewhat reluctant to watch Easy Rider. I knew the film was regarded as a classic, but I was not sure if a movie with two dudes riding around on motorcycles (choppers?) would appeal to me. Well, don't judge a man by his haircut because I was wrong to doubt the artistic quality of Easy Rider.

Released in 1969, Easy Rider was independently produced by Peter Fonda, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper star in the movie as Wyatt and Billy respectively.

Easy Rider opens with Wyatt and Billy making a bunch of cash from a cocaine sale in Southern California. After outfitting themselves with a pair of fancy motorcycles, Wyatt fills a soft plastic tube with his money and conceals it in the gas tank of his motorcycle. They then take off on a cross-country ride to New Orleans to enjoy Mardi Gras. And thus the road trip begins.

They soon discover an America that is not receptive to a pair of outlandish bikers who don't seem to have any honest business being anywhere. Wyatt and Billy are refused rooms at little motels across the desert, forcing them to camp every night. Only a rancher distinguishes himself by offering some repair assistance and a hot meal.

Then the bikers end up staying at some far flung hippie commune of spaced out back-to-the-land idealists who think they are going to be able to grow all their own food. Billy watches incredulously as they plant seeds in dry soil and inquires if they expect any rain.

Throughout the movie Billy, as played by Dennis Hopper, does most of the talking. Wyatt, played marvelously by Peter Fonda, tends to quietly roll joints and occasionally offer pithy statements of wisdom. For example, when Billy tires of the weirdo commune and wants to leave, he complains to Wyatt harshly about the people over dinner. Wyatt's response is to simply point out to Billy that they are eating the food those people shared with them. 

All the scenes at the commune offer a critical view of the misguided idealists who got wrapped up with strange cult-like leaders during that era. The commune leader collects his flock for group drug use in front of their own children. The scene with the little kids bemused by their whacked-out parents is difficult to interpret. I think it represents how easily revolutionary intentions can descend into stupidity.

Before Wyatt and Billy depart the commune, the commune leader gives Wyatt some LSD to take with him. Ever open-minded, Wyatt accepts the hallucinogen for later use.  

After further adventures, Wyatt and Billy hook up with the drunkard lawyer George Hanson, played by Jack Nicholson. Fans of Nicholson will appreciate this early role. Hanson decides to join the two bikers on their trip to Mardi Gras. The Hanson character serves as a fascinating contrast to Wyatt and Billy. Outwardly, Hanson is a down-home conservative in a suit. He employs the socially-accepted drug of alcohol as his means of self destruction, but he becomes enamored of the strange freedom embodied by Billy and Wyatt, who go where they want to go, do what they want to do, and look how they want to look. The story of George Hanson presents a twisted morality tale as he suffers the backlash of a hostile conservative culture that forbids experimentation and free thinking.

To avoid giving away more of this story, I'll conclude only by revealing that Wyatt and Billy do make it to Mardi Gras. Easy Rider is a film that will leave you thinking. It has been months since I watched it, and I still ponder it regularly. I'm letting it gestate in my mind before watching it again. So far my interpretation of Easy Rider is that freedom is anathema to a dominant culture and that there are no easy rides no matter what course you take.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Blog tours welcome at Her Ladyship's Quest

Blog tours are a mainstay of online social media campaigns, and they have gained a new stop at Her Ladyship's Quest, the blog of fantasy author Tracy Falbe. Styled as a place to feature the new, the old, and the best of the overlooked, Falbe's blog is accepting submissions from authors, musicians, visual artists, journalists, and filmmakers organizing blog tours. People can pitch their ideas for guest posts, interviews, giveaways, excerpts, and samples.

Every post at every blog on a tour helps to boost online buzz. Falbe's blog was recently visited by the blog tour of Chris Kelly, author of Invictus: Matilda Raleigh, and she considered the experience a positive contribution to her blog.

"Like any blogger, I am always looking for ideas to write about, and blog tours provide a mutually beneficial way for me to find new media that I think is cool and help creatives get the word out. My blog is not just me talking about myself," Falbe said.

Her eclectic blog features both fiction and nonfiction. All genres are considered although there is an emphasis on fantasy. Falbe believes that her interests in history, archaeology, and Nature expressed at her blog complement her love of genre entertainment. Knowledge is a tributary to the river of imagination.

Reviews and interviews shape the core of the blog's content while articles and essays enliven the mix. Because this blog is not locked into rigid content guidelines, the opportunities to various content producers creating a blog tour are numerous. People needing to get their work featured online in as many places as possible can benefit from submitting their tour requests at this blog.

Although books, ebooks, and movies dominate most posts, Falbe is interested in branching out into coverage of other media like music, graphic novels, video gaming, and independent films (including documentaries) because the purpose of Her Ladyship's Quest is to travel the media landscape.

Falbe can be easily contacted with form on the blog tours page. Anyone organizing a blog tour should provide a brief description of the media being promoted, express posting ideas about the content, and be clear if any specific dates are needed for publicity purposes.

[This information was also distributed as a blog tours news release.]

Historic fiction readers get high sea adventure, daring traders, and abolition in Ice King

Iconic image from the British abolition movement
I added my review of Ice King by Geoff Woodland to Historical Novel Review yesterday. I enjoyed the novel very much. It is fast paced and wraps the big historical issue of slavery in a personal drama. Set against the complicated world of trans-Atlantic trade, the Ice King focuses on the economic factors that relied on the Slave Trade and the efforts of abolitionists to establish new economic models that were more humane.

This novel has a broad scope. The action swings between Liverpool, England, Boston, Massachusetts, and the West Indies. Every historical setting is carefully crafted, and having read this novel I feel much more informed about the era of the early 1800s when Great Britain was beginning to disassociate itself from slavery and the young United States was still plagued by the issue. All while the wealthy world relentlessly craved the sugar coming from the slave plantations of the West Indies.

The hero of the novel is Captain William King. He is a capable and creative character. I enjoyed reading a novel in which the hero already had many of his skills established. It was not a story of him gaining experience. It was the adventure of a man applying his experience.

Please enjoy my full review at the Historical Novel Review blog: Ice King by Geoff Woodland review.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New monthly giveaway drawings for fantasy readers

Looking for a lucky winner every month
As of today, I have started a new promotion at my fantasy fiction website Brave Luck Books (TM). I have always offered the first novel in my fantasy series The Rys Chronicles as a free download in multiple formats. Now, any person who joins my readers' list gains access to my free ebook AND is automatically entered in the current month's drawing.

What am I giving away?

For all entrants in November the prize is the full length novel The Jade Owl by Edward C. Patterson. The prize will be the ebook version in the format desired by the winner. After the drawing, I will purchase a copy of the novel and email it to the winner.

The Jade Owl gets consistently high ratings at retail and review sites and was a Finalist for the 2009 RAINBOW AWARDS.

About the novel:

In China they whisper about the Jade Owl and its awful power. This ancient stone, commissioned by the Empress Wu and crafted by a mineral charmer, long haunted the folk of the Middle Kingdom until it vanished into an enigma of legend and lore. Now the Jade Owl is found. It wakes to steal the day from day. Its power to enchant and distort rises again. Its horror is revealed to a band of five, who must return it to the Valley of the Dead before the laws of ch'i are set aside in favor of destruction's dance. Five China Hands, each drawn through time's thin fabric by the bird, discover enchantment on the secret garland. Five China Hands, and one holds the key to the world's fate. Five China Hands. Only one Jade Owl - but it's awake and in China, they whisper again. 

Find out more about prolific novelist Edward C. Patterson.

If you'd like to read my fantasy novel Union of Renegades and get a chance to win The Jade Owl, please enter the giveaway. No purchase is necessary.

My monthly drawings will always be giving away digital goods that I can award to a winner anywhere in the world. I know that I have readers in countries other than the United States, so providing digital prizes through my giveaway drawings allows me to be inclusive to an international audience.

Sample the fantasy fiction of Tracy Falbe

Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I

Download the free ebook and get a copy emailed to you.

FREE epub

FREE PDF

FREE Kindle Mobi

Additionally, you can download Union of Renegades from these ebook retailers:

Smashwords

Apple iBooks

Kindle

Nook

Kobo

Rys Rising: Book I

Download the free ebook and get a copy emailed to you.

FREE Epub

FREE PDF

FREE Kindle Mobi

Additionally, find Rys Rising: Book I at these retailers for $2.99:

Smashwords

Apple iBooks

Kindle

Nook

Kobo

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