Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

But enough about me -- let's get down to some reviewing. Specifically, my putative Hugo nominees. The only one on my reading list that has blown me away so far is Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Spiderlight, which I love with all my heart at the moment. There’s something joyous about the way a compatible book drags you into its spell, cancelling out the last several incompatible books that nearly made you swear off print.

In Spiderlight, a D&D party (cleric, mage, a warrior of each gender and a rogue) out to slay a Big Bad heads into the forest to acquire a fang from the Mother of Spiders. You may be thinking to yourself, oh yeah, I read that book – probably a couple hundred times, but you haven’t. First of all, there’s Enth, a stalwart spider warrior who gets transformed into a human-like biped and serves as the party’s hostage on the way to meet up with the Big Bad. Enth has exactly the kind of interior monologue a giant spider transformed into a human would have. I mean, Tchaikovsky has this thing for spiders, and probably knows more about them than your typical writer. His spider characters are a little bit like the Watership Down rabbits, or the dinosaurs in Raptor Red – believable, three-dimensional non-human creatures that are simultaneously relateable and genuinely alien.

Then there are the D&D party members: the arrogant mage, the insufferable cleric, the beer-guzzling rogue, the lady warrior trying to impress on the dude warrior that it was a one time fling. Their characters are rich and three-dimensional and alive as they bicker and power trip and make fumbling passes at each other. I applaud this. It is rare for a story to ponder how all the characters mesh with each other rather than having them all circulate around the hero like obssessive satellites.

And then, even beyonder, is the dark-versus-light stuff. Enth, being a big scary spider, is dark by nature. The cleric would just as soon see him dead, given his innate scary darkness. This theme keeps reappearing, such as when the party debates whether to slay some of the big bad’s servants, and it all bubbles to a head with some vicious philosophy wars during the climactic fight scene. This is the facet that really knocked my brain for a loop and made me fall in love with the book. There are lots of little ethical situations that arise, and the characters deal with them in interesting and thoughtful ways.


Even though I’ve heard rumors it may not be eligible due to seeing print in the UK before the allotted time span, I’m nominating this one for a best-novel Hugo due to the abundant sheer enjoyment factor. If you like spiders, D&D, thinking and/or books, check it out. 




Saturday, February 18, 2017

An Interview With Myself About Sieging Manganela

Since fake news is all the rage these days, I made up a fake promotional interview with myself which was never actually published in anything vaguely resembling a news source. Yet here I am, trying to fool you into thinking it’s newsworthy. I’m such a trendoid. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’ll get around to the actual (finger quotes) professional publicity soon and bust out of this echo chamber, but first I gotta write a few books so I’ll have something to promote.

 😁😁😁 

Charon Dunn originated in Maui, lives in San Francisco, and is leaping into self-published science fiction authorhood after a lifetime of quiet fanlike behavior. She has a thirty-pound cat, a multitude of trial prep skills and an obsessive fondness for chicken tikka masala. She keeps a blog at http://charondunntheblog.blogspot.com/ and she is right in the middle of the Adventures of Sonny Knight trilogy, volume 2 of which shall be released later this year. Her goal is to accumulate a modest cult following comprised of people that don’t really join cults, and then later on to be a brain in a jar that walks around on robotic legs.

Sieging Manganela is a short novel (just under 65k words) which takes place in the Sonny Knight universe, concerning a young soldier named Turo who, while laying siege to a city, makes a connection with a girl who lives inside.

IMAGINARY INTERVIEWER THAT I MADE UP (BECAUSE I AM AN ASOCIAL FRIEND-LACKING HERMIT) TO ASK ME QUESTIONS THAT I CRIBBED FROM REAL INTERVIEWS WITH SUCCESSFUL WRITERS: So tell me about your protagonist.

CD: Arturo “Turo” Berengar has lots of references to bears in his name, because he’s a strong stoic bear most of the time. His friends used to call him Turo, but they all died, and he has a massive case of stress and grief and survivor’s guilt and depression as a result. He’s trying to hold it together until the war ends, to keep his blind mother receiving benefits. He’s a bundle of stress but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at him. He conceals it well. He is seventeen years old.

II: What’s his moral compass like?

CD: He’s been talking to a girl that lives inside the city he’s sieging, and that might be treason, but the war might be over soon and Turo’s prospects for meeting girls are pretty slim. That’s what he wants, a wife and kids and a farm like the one where he grew up.

He has also started thinking about all the ways in which his society has bent and twisted itself to accommodate an extended war. His people used biological modification to make themselves extreme warriors – large and muscular, quick reflexes, superb healing capacity. Unfortunately it had a bad effect on their fertility, rendering most women sterile and making the fertile ones extra picky. If Turo wants the family he craves, he’s either going to have to be a big war hero or start dating girls from other cultures.

II: What’s the setting like?

CD: I’m writing in the far future, 3741 to be exact. The climate has warmed and cooled. Meteors took out Central America. The oceans are anoxic and toxic, metal degrades rapidly and atmospheric changes have made flight impossible – people are forced to travel by ocean or railroad, with frequent stops for repairs. Most of the wildlife died out after the meteors but there are bioengineered pets and livestock. People are either bottled up in large enclosed cities or leading hardy low-tech lives in this changed environment. The city of Manganela is approximately in northern Argentina, right at the edge of the reconfigured coast.

When the meteors hit, the people of earth (the cooperative ones, anyway) built large enclosed domes, and hid out for three or four generations, waiting for the dust to settle. During that time, specifically in North and South America, nationalities dissolved, and a civil war broke out involving a 1/3-2/3 split. After everyone came out of the domes and reestablished their territory a war happened, and the majority side, a bunch of different proto-nations operating under the acronym AMBIT, won. The victorious warriors split into two countries – a low-tech outdoorsy farming nation full of bioengineered super folks, and a bottled-up nation full of nerds who sold them the bioenhancements, and these are the two countries at war. Sieging Manganela takes place just as that war is supposedly ending.

I wanted to write about a planet upon which all the disasterous changes have happened, and yet people dealt with it and kept going. Kind of an optimistic dystopia, if you will. Aside from Sieging Manganela, which takes place in the last little dystopic corner of this idyllic world, where warriors clash with scientists. There is lots of bioengineering and high tech medicine, with plentiful virtual reality and digitized people and ancestral social media on the internet, but there’s no space, no aliens, no time travel, no mind melding and no magic.

II: Hard military science fiction, then?

CD: You could call it that, but the notion of me writing in that genre blows my mind and I’ll probably never do it again. Sieging Manganela came from me doing NaNoWriMo in the middle of being blocked on the Sonny Knight trilogy, which I’d classify as YA science fiction adventure. Sieging Manganela is darker and closer to horror, which is a genre I adore yet can’t seem to write – until I tried coming at it from a military science fiction angle. And yes, in fact it is military science fiction in a salute to Heinlein kind of way.

And, since most of the point of view characters are teens, I guess it counts as YA. So, military horror YA bioengineering dystopian science fiction adventure, hold the starships.

I will note that the research for it involved some grueling reading about soldiers, and specifically child soldiers, because I wanted to treat my soldier characters honorably. I love soldiers, especially when they’re happy and healthy and still have all their parts attached and are goofing off drawing pictures and drinking beer and telling each other about the awesome lives they’re going to have after they’re done being soldiers. There are some villains in this tale, and they are not soldiers.
That said, yeah, there’s kind of an anti-war theme running through it, but no preachy granola hogwash and no disrespecting of warriors. In the same spirit of trigger-disclosure, there’s minimal sex, some extreme violence and no animal cruelty. There’s at least one nonstr8 character but since it’s not relevant to the plot it’s undisclosed, and you’ll have to guess who.

II: Was this your first NaNoWriMo?

CD: It was! I was feeling rather gloomy because I had just started to expand Sonny Knight from one book into three, and even then I was pessimistic about its commercial potential. Even though I was trying hard to keep it corporate-publishing-friendly, it seemed like it got longer and weirder every day. The story springs from an act of revenge that occurs 3/20/3748, and I wanted to explore the incident that inspired the revenge, and so I decided to write it as a NaNoWriMo novel. I was pleased with the result, and I went back later and wove in a couple of flashbacks to thicken it up a little.

I went in thinking Sieging might be a good introductory novel for starting the rejection slip process, but it insisted on coming out several shades darker than I normally write – I’ll blame that on the time pressure. And it’s in a genre where I’m only a tourist.

It appears that I’m spectacularly inept when it comes to commercial potential.  Therefore, I’ve decided to just spew words and self-publish them until people either start paying me or show up at my house with torches and pitchforks encouraging me to stop.



Announcing my new novel: Sieging Manganela

A long time from now, there was a war.

Very different from the normal sort of war. One side was full of brave, strong, dedicated soldiers. So dedicated that their great-grandfathers modified their DNA to make sure they’d be the best warriors ever.

The other side sold them those DNA modifications. They’re not about to come outside and exchange blows with a bunch of hypermuscular giants. Not when they can kick back in air-conditioned cities sending out remote-controlled drones. 

Turo is one of those giants, although to be honest, he’s not very tall. He’s heard rumors that the war is nearly at an end, and if they are true, he won’t have to pretend that he isn’t overwhelmed by anxiety anymore. Plus there’s a chance he might get a chance to talk to this cute girl he knows. She lives inside the city he’s sieging.

Maybe someday he’ll get to hang out with her. Assuming he survives the drones.

Available on Amazon

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Farming For Love

I’m not a very dedicated World of Warcraft [“WoW”] player anymore, but at one time I was. I have all twelve classes at max level, plus an extra druid who spies on the Alliance, and I keep them kinda updated with the latest expansion. My main is a troll shadow priest that I made deliberately because it was the least popular combination, and she’s got over 19k achievement points.

I think I keep it up because somewhere at the back of my mind, it’s an instant hobby. With very little effort, I could go hop into a guild and then find myself sitting on my couch chatting with a bunch of people from everywhere as we slay dragons together in coordinated fashion. And yet I haven’t done that, because I’m focusing on my writing, but I could. If I weren’t being so asocial.

I’ve always been the kind of introvert that needs a day or two of isolation to recharge after doing majorly sociable things like concerts or airports or parties. Lately I’ve become even more introverted, for many reasons. Some of my friends are avoiding everyone since the election. Some may be ghosting me, or perhaps I’m ghosting them, or it could be mutual. I’m avoiding people with negative politics on all sides of the spectrum. As John Lennon once said, “If you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is brother you’ll have to wait.”

There’s this thing in WoW, the Big Love Rocket. It’s approximately a 1-in-a-thousand drop, and I’ve got at least 250 failed attempts under my belt – can’t quit now!  It’s available for two weeks every February, for Valentine’s Day, making it a perfect way for us asocial types to kick back while all that smooching is going on out there. 

Note that I said asocial, not antisocial. I don’t dislike people, even the hateful-minded ones that I’m avoiding the most strenuously.  I just don’t want to be around them, right now. While I’m working on farming my Big Love Rocket. By sending my entire squad of WoW characters into the encounter. Thirteen characters, once a night, every night, for two weeks. 

I wouldn’t rule out falling in love, if an appropriate lover happened to appear, but my definition of appropriate has been getting progressively more difficult over the years. Plus most lovers typically want to do silly things like leave the house rather than staying home and writing, which is the main thing I want to do. 


The Big Love Rocket is pretty awesome. It’s all red and phallic, with zebra-striped upholstery. You can have your animated characters fly around on it.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Excerpt from Sieging Manganela

Which will be out this month depending on how fast I can get off my butt to proof it one last time and pending completion of the awesome artwork. 


“Berengar!” The sergeant singled him out, and Turo felt ice cold for an instant, even though the  scorching hot day was well underway and sweat was running down his ribs. “Report to south tower, Berengar. Get out of here. You died doing this yesterday so you get a pass today.”

“Siryessir,” he gasped, feeling ashamed.  They rotated tower duty. It was probably near his turn. It wasn’t like he was dodging, throwing someone else into the death lottery in his place. The tower could also be dangerous, if there was anything that spewed way up high, but that was rare. For the most part, drones stayed on the ground, where all the targets were. Drones were extremely economical. There was no sense in building one to waste energy flying around in search of targets when you could use the same amount of materials to make something designed to stagger a few hundred meters before exploding in a big cloud of death.

Drones came in many different models, which had many different classifications that every soldier was required to memorize, and recite back in surprise quizzes given at random times. They could carry weapons, like the electrified spikes that had killed Turo. They might have payloads of explosives or corrosives or shrapnel or modded bees and snakes and scorpions or mind-altering drugs or projectiles. If it was lethal within ten meters for a duration of ten minutes or less, it was legal according to the Rules of Engagement. In the seven years of siege, thousands of soldiers had been wounded by drones, and eight hundred and forty-six of them had been irretreivably and irrevocably killed.

Turo zigzagged over to south tower, keeping an eye on Manganela. A big door on the side was slowly closing. Nothing but badness ever came out of that door, and six shifts of six men each were tasked with staring at it around the clock, and sounding the alarm when it opened. Turo had seen pictures of what had happened on the occasions they’d tried to assault that door, and they still flashed through his mind sometimes and caused his stomach to twitch. He knew the surface of Manganela was made of some kind of mutated coral, with embedded poison jets and flamethrowers and jagged projectile launchers. There were rumors they had some kind of a supervirus – some said thousands of them – embedded in the walls to infect anybody who figured out how to peel through the layers.

The door was now slowly closing, and rolling down the bare and rocky stretch of perimeter, toward the base, was a mottled gray container, like a big truck without a cab. It trundled slowly forward until it was level with the towers. The men already there handed Turo a thick curved transparent shield that was big enough to block his entire body, which was apparently what it was intended to do, and Turo joined the shield wall and watched the front panel of the container drop open.

At least forty drones were inside. Normally the enemy unleashed no more than five at a time. Turo guessed they wanted to use up their supply before the war was officially over. It looked like they’d been saving some of them for a special occasion. The drone that had killed Turo had been plain and utilitarian, but these drones were the decorated type.

Turo had a little bit of fab experience. You had to, growing up on a farm. The heavy duty stuff made of metal had to be worked over by a blacksmith, and wasn’t really as reliable as fab, which was limited to the size of your printer and whatever medium you put into it, which was often sheep shit on Turo’s family’s farm. Sometimes tree trunks and rice hulls. The printer would separate off the materials it could use and then, depending on what schematic you had loaded into it, it would print you a nice new three dimensional object that no longer smelled like sheep shit, for the most part. Shovel heads, tractor gaskets, floor tiles, whatever.

On Turo’s farm they could output things up to a meter square, but in Manganela, they had a fab printer that could output larger pieces, with far better detail. Many of the drones they created looked like toys for spoiled rich city kids. Colorful race cars. Shiny robots. Fashionably dressed dolls. Seven or eight miniature scorpion tanks that shot unpleasant substances from a forward mounted rear cannon, with claws on the front for removing any inconveniently obstructing dead people or their belongings. Turo believed all the full sized scorpion tanks were lying scattered in pieces now, or at least he hoped so.

The guy next to him kissed his shield with a loud smack. Shields were key to this war. Dysz had great shields, and at the beginning of the war it had given them a tremendous advantage. Then Vanram had figured out how to rip the shielding off of whatever they captured and use it to block whatever Dysz was chucking their way, and then the border had started moving in the opposite direction.

Captain Rufus Marshall stomped out of his quarters, bearing no trace of hangover from the previous night’s indulgence, although he did have a lot more stubble. Bulky sunglasses covered his eyes.  He was carrying more weapons than Turo could count strapped to his torso and bulging from holsters and pockets and scabbards. In his hands were two little crossbows with pistol grips. He hollered something and a army medic shot forward and took a position behind Rufe, quivering with tension.

One of the tanks zipped forward, spewing something from its cannon, and the rest of the drones followed the charge, spreading out. A couple of drones took to the air, and the man who had kissed his shield popped up for a fraction of a second and fired, nailing them both in rapid succession. The drones flared in a brief blue explosion, which took out another drone, one shaped like a toy alligator with snapping jaws. Turo saw another explosion over by the mess hall, a gout of flame shooting high into the sky.

He heard a scream and looked down to see a man lying on the ground with wide slices of leg flesh missing and blood fountaining skywards. The colorful pinwheel drone that had hit him was spraying some kind of caustic in jerky, random jets, discouraging a squad of medics trying to circle around and grab him.

A memory gripped Turo. Andre, coming toward him, face twisted in an evil grin, covered with streaks of gore, aiming a rifle in Turo’s general direction and asking the question, “Why don’t you just shoot me?” Turo had shot him, had in fact looked him in the eye just before shooting him, and that’s what he was doing now as the battle below him faded. His memory-hand pulled his memory-trigger and Andre’s head exploded into a pile of goo, and then it looped, seven or six times before Turo came back to the tower, and the shield, and the noise, and the stink of chemicals. Frozen, behind his shield.

He saw Madrigal fleeing from a purple penguin, screaming, as Hortsvang ran over to help him. Hortsvang had a combustion pistol in his hand and he aimed at the penguin, and Turo stood up over his shield to scream at Hortsvang in a vain attempt to advise him not to be an idiot, but Hortsvang fired anyway. Penguin shards flew everywhere, along with a clear liquid that looked like water, most of which landed on Madrigal. Turo was close enough to see Madrigal’s face, which looked normal for about thirty seconds until it started swelling, from the inside, his mouth distorted in a scream which Turo couldn’t hear. Madrigal ran into the base, toward a crowd, his body swelling as he went. He burst out of his clothes, a naked fat man, and then he burst right out of his skin, spraying the crowd he was running toward. Thirty seconds later, some of them were swelling up too as the crowd rapidly dispersed and a containment squad arrived.

Hortsvang, whose mouth was making sounds that would probably sound like whimpering if Turo had been close enough to hear, dropped his combustion pistol and ran straight into the path of another drone heading up behind him. This one was shaped like a cat, and looked like it belonged on a little girl’s bed. It target-locked Hortsvang, and the cartoonish cat head unfolded into an array of rapidly spinning circular saws. Turo bit into his lip. A combustion pistol might have actually done some good against a sharps drone. The fact that Hortsvang was an idiot didn’t stop Turo from wincing as the saws thrust at his midsection and laid it open, releasing a coil of bluish intestine.

The robocat spun around as Rufe appeared and gave it a new target to lock. Rufe target-locked it right back, firing  a combustion round out of his left crossbow and scattering the drone into pieces. One piece nicked Rufe’s arm, but a medic was right behind him, holding a shield up in one hand, using the other hand to spray medicated nanobot-infested goo over the wound. 

While his arm was healing, Rufe dropped another drone with a projectile from his left crossbow, then he grabbed a harpoon gun from his back and sighted along it before firing at a race car drone, pinning it to the ground. He didn’t get to the scorpion tank in time to keep it from spraying some kind of corrosive into Hortsvang’s face, and Hortsvang was long past caring, but Rufe did have the courtesy to draw a spray cannister from a leg pocket and spray the bug with a neutralizer, which incidentally froze it solid.

Rufe was very good at destroying drones. Turo saw him down at least ten, while barking orders that probably helped others to down several more. The battle wound down and soldiers cleaned up the mess like industrious ants, and Turo got tasked with taking notes for the report. He didn’t look up until the all clear was sounded. There were still smears on the dirt that used to be Hortsvang, and Madrigal, which containment teams were spraying down and staking off.


Rufe was standing right at the border of no man’s land, where he had dragged a pile of drone pieces. He was pitching them, one by one, against the walls of Manganela, while yelling abuse, and demanding that they come out and fight. 



Thursday, February 2, 2017

Stuffing My Head and Kindle With Books in Preparation for Hugo Nominations

Movies:

Moana, then Rogue One, then Deadpool.

TV:

Westworld, even though some of it pisses me off. Not sure which episode.
I tried watching Stranger Things because it's getting buzz but I just couldn't get into it.

Books:

Lovecraft Country is my absolute favorite so far. Especially that wicked ending.

On my Kindle, awaiting reading, are the following:

Lizards & Lying Men by T. Thom Coyle.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar.
This was recommended by a friend. Samatar also has a Hugo eligible one called The Winged Histories so I'm going to read that first.

The Devourers by Indra Das.

Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black - has a guitar on the cover. I'm a sucker for books with a guitar on the cover.

In The Shadow Of The Gods: ... by Rachel Dunne.
Since I may be sitting next to Ms. Dunne on a bookstore shelf some day, I'd kinda like to get an idea of what she's like.

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Woohoo, more Tchaikovsky spiders!

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle.
This is also a book with African-American and Lovecraft themes, so let's see if it's as good as Lovecraft Country.

Borderline by Mishell Baker.
This story is getting a lot of buzz, it's an urban fantasy with a protagonist that has borderline personality disorder. I'm going to confess that I have a bit of a personal prejudice against borderline personality disorder due to bad encounters and antithetical worldviews, so I probably owe it to myself, in the spirit of neurodiversity, to read this. Maybe it'll make me more sympathetic to the thousands of BPD people out there who have never annoyed the crap out of me.