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Thursday, December 22, 2016

GUEST POST: Mixing History & Thrillers by Michael Bolan


I was drinking cheap Beaujolais at a cocktail reception for corporate lawyers, when an unexpected question caught me off guard. Why would you use the Thirty Years War as the backdrop for a thriller and not write a ‘normal’ historical fiction book? I looked so shocked that my interlocutor frowned, concerned that she had caused offense. I hadn’t even realized that anyone there knew that I was an author (I have an alter ego who’s a businessman), let alone knew anything about my books. Scrambling to refocus my mind on the question, I blurted the flippant response, “Why not?” and realized I would have to come up with a better answer than that.

The Devil’s Bible Series is set at the end of the Thirty Years War, perhaps the most violent conflict in history, and yet desperately under-represented in the English language. The war started with a bang: three men were thrown out of a seventy-foot window because of their religion. They survived, thanks to a soft landing in a dungheap, but aggrieved Catholics began arming for war with their Protestant neighbours, like the Empire going after that pesky Rebel Alliance. So there are immediately two sides to the story and a basis for conflict, which as Donald Maass (just google him) points out, is the number one ingredient for any thriller.

The 17th century itself was a century of discovery. The Reformation allowed even devout Catholics to challenge the Church’s repression of science. From astronomy to anatomy, to zoology and zymology, the next few generations saw the life expectancy of the common man more than double. This spirit of innovation was driven (slightly ironically) by the desire for more sophisticated ways of killing one another. The advent and development of the gun led to the decline of the sword as the weapon of choice, but the middle of the century was a heady mix of pistols and muskets, swords and halberds. And cavalry. Lots of cavalry. And cannon. Lots of cannon.

With this change underway, there would have been an advantage in mastering all forms of weapon and tactics. We know there was a competitive industry in mercenary companies: most were formed on a military basis, and often led by noblemen. In the services sector, training of staff is key to success – the companies which performed most consistently were those that invested in their people and other assets. Just like The Sons of Brabant, who are ready to kick ass at the drop of a hat.


And as for the scene-setting, I can’t imagine a more exciting backdrop. In the time of the Devil’s Bible Series, there was no Germany, no Italy, no Belgium, just a big Spain and a big Austria. The Netherlands was divided: brother fought brother as half the country struggled for independence. Tensions in England led to the Pilgrim Fathers epic voyage to colonise America, and ultimately to a bloody Civil War. They chopped the king’s head off! You don’t get much more thrilling than that.

But all was not rosy. The average life expectancy was approximately 30 years. Continuous war led to chronic famine across the continent and displaced millions from their homes. Cities became the only home for hordes of refugees, who eked out a living in abominable squalor. With hundreds of thousands crammed into tiny spaces, it’s small wonder that rats were able to spread the Great Plague, which caused millions to die in agony.

So upon reflection, my blithe “why not?” is actually a measured response. With a wealth of characters, world-changing discoveries and events, two sides at war, and yet enough freedom to bend the rules slightly, the 17th century seemed like the perfect place to set a thriller.

What do you think?

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Official Author Website 
Order The Stone Bridge HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, "The Sons of Brabant". An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was. Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom. Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boƫ, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

His website is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

GUEST POST: Mixing Fantasy and Science Fiction by F. T. McKinstry


"Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible." - Rod Serling

Way back when I had a respectable job, I took some college courses in software engineering. One of them was on compilers, a software program that transforms programming language into machine language used by a computer processor. I sat in there amid a serious bunch of guys wielding thick glasses, pocket protectors and computer science degrees, and I felt like an impostor. For my final exam, I wrote the front end of a compiler in AWK (anyone who knows what that is gets an Award of Excellence in Geekery). I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had imagination and a lot of nerve. I also feared the worst. When the instructor handed me my graded final, I expected him to say, “Who are you and what are you doing in this class?” Instead, he said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.” He gave me an A.

Turns out, this is an obscure metaphor for my take on fantasy and science fiction.

I spent the better part of my childhood reading not only speculative fiction but also the esoteric things that inspire it. I was the kind of kid who would do a book report on Hermetic occultism or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I was more somewhere else than here, but oddly, this taught me about reality. I never bothered to define the difference between fantasy and science fiction; now, I couldn’t say how many novels there are mixing strong elements of both. It's challenge to mix them without throwing out the definitions. Genres tend to blur over time, and then split into sub-genres, because gods forbid we can’t conveniently define something.

For the sake of argument, let’s call these genres distinct and go with classical definitions. To my mind, Science Fiction starts on a foundation of what’s known and provable, usually involving technological advances, the state of civilization, etc., and goes from there. Think Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke or Becoming Human by Valerie J. Freireich.


Fantasy deals more in the realms of myth, fairy tales and the unreal, usually involving magic or otherworldly forces—and that’s not to say it has to be soft or without rugged themes or realities. In this context, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings is definitive; the Legend of Drizzt series by R.A. Salvatore, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle are exemplary.

In fantasy, within reason, you can do anything if you can imagine it. This is probably why I’ve always leaned towards this genre, particularly the epic or high sub-genres where nearly everything is made up aside from basic references that serve to ground us in the story; for example, a medieval setting. I’ve written some science fiction, but it’s not my first love and despite a long and varied high tech career, I avoid writing it for the same reason I hid beneath an invisibility cloak in compiler class: Impostor! It’s a world full of geeks and somebody will call me out.

And yet, by way of my aforementioned nerve, I went there.

After writing Outpost, which is decidedly fantasy—if not epic or high fantasy if we want to get persnickety—I wrote this little tag line: “Epic fantasy entwined with Norse mythology and a touch of science fiction.” I must have taken out and put back in “a touch of science fiction” a dozen times. Finally, I removed it, but it left a stain. No science fiction here! I grumped, and then I thought about it—an inter-dimensional portal with specific dimensions and geometry built by extraterrestrial warlords to travel to and from other planets without having to wait for rare planetary alignments, humans trained in the principles of light, crystals, and energy so they can maintain the power source—Yeah yeah, ok. A touch of science fiction.

But it’s subtle. Said warlords are immortal, like elves, they are essentially Vikings—albeit highly evolved ones—and walk alongside warlocks, goblins, draugr and gods. Reprieved! The idea here touches on Arthur C. Clarke’s venerable quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In other words, what’s real? There is a seeming chasm in our society between science and magic; what’s acceptable as real and what’s not; and this is evident in these genre definitions. There’s a feel to it. However, as the advance of quantum theory is showing us, this chasm is itself an illusion.

Ergo, I can write the front end of a compiler in any language I want. Hold my beer.

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Official Author Website
Order Outpost HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: F.T. McKinstry grew up studying classical music, reading books, drawing things, and searching the skies for aliens. With a background in computer electronics and software development, she wrote and illustrated technical documentation for many years, during which time she created fantasy worlds. Among other things, her work is inspired by Northern European mythology and folklore, fairy tales, swords and sorcery, medieval warfare, shamanism, psychology, mysticism and plant and animal lore.

F.T. is the author of the fantasy series The Chronicles of Ealiron and a short story collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. She lives in New England with a patient husband, a pile of cats, a couple of live-planted aquariums and a lot of gardens.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

COVER REVEAL: The Age of Swords Book Two of The Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan



Fantasy Book Critic is extremely excited to be able to debut the cover for Michael J. Sullivan's upcoming novel – Age of Swords. Michael J. Sullivan is a favorite author of ours here at Fantasy Book Critic and we are excited to be a part of this and to bring you the new cover!

Age of Swords is scheduled to be released in June 2017 by Del Rey. It is the second novel in the Legend of the First Empire series.

The Legend of the First Empire Series began in June of 2016 with Age of Myth. Age of Myth has had a great 2016. It (so far) has made it onto several Best Of lists for 2016. It has been on the 2016 Audible Best of 2016, The Quill to Live Best of 2016, AudioFile Magazine Best of 2016, 2016 Amazon's 20 Best Fantasy and Sci-Fi Novels, and it was a 2016 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy. 

To learn more about Michael J. Sullivan, feel free to visit his website here

Without further ado, I present to you the cover of Age of Swords! Cover is created by Marc Simonetti.

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From Goodreads: 

Stone tipped spears are no match for the bronze swords and shining armor of the Fhrey. As the clan chieftains struggle to appoint a warlord to lead them in the coming war, Persephone sets out with an unlikely group of misfits on a quest to obtain iron weapons. In the land of the Dherg, they find the source of the treasure they seek, but winning it will demand more than strength and courage, it will take heroes the likes of which the world has never seen. 

Learn more about The Age of Myth (the first book of The Legends of the First Empire) - 
 

Age of Myth inaugurates an original six-book series, and one of fantasy's finest next-generation storytellers continues to break new ground.

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.

For more updates on The Age of Swords, visit Michael J. Sullivan's official website here
Friday, December 2, 2016

GIVEAWAY: Win A Thousand Nights Companion Series Prize Pack (Spindle and A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston)




Fantasy Book Critic is excited to partner with Disney-Hyperion to offer a giveaway of A Thousand Nights Companion Series by EK Johnston. One very lucky winner will receive a copy of A Thousand Nights and a copy of Spindle!

Spindle is the newest book in A Thousand Nights Companion Series. It is scheduled for release on December 6, 2016. For one lucky person, they will win both of these books! Giveaway rules are below.

A huge thank you goes out to Disney-Hyperion for providing the giveaway package and for sending a review copy.

Download The Garden of Three Hundred Flowers for free for your Nook or Kindle

The Garden of Three Hundred Flowers is an interstitial short story by E.K. Johnston set between her novels A THOUSAND NIGHTS and SPINDLE. For readers excited to learn more, this story also includes excerpts from A THOUSAND NIGHTS, SPINDLE, and Johnston's Star Wars novel, AHSOKA.

About Spindle: 

The world is made safe by a woman...but it is a very big world.
It has been generations since the Storyteller Queen drove the demon out of her husband and saved her country from fire and blood. Her family has prospered beyond the borders of their village, and two new kingdoms have sprouted on either side of the mountains where the demons are kept prisoner by bright iron, and by the creatures the Storyteller Queen made to keep them contained.

But the prison is crumbling. Through years of careful manipulation, a demon has regained her power. She has made one kingdom strong and brought the other to its knees, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When a princess is born, the demon is ready with the final blow: a curse that will cost the princess her very soul, or force her to destroy her own people to save her life.

The threads of magic are tightly spun, binding princess and exiled spinners into a desperate plot to break the curse before the demon can become a queen of men. But the web of power is dangerously tangled--and they may not see the true pattern until it is unspooled.
 
About E.K. Johnston:
E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.

You can follow Kate on Twitter (@ek_johnston) to learn more about Alderaanian political theory than you really need to know, on Tumblr (ekjohnston) if you’re just here for the pretty pictures, or online at ekjohnston.ca.

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RULES FOR GIVEAWAY 

1. This contest is open to US addresses only. 

2. Giveaway starts December 2, 2016 at 12:01 a.m. EST and runs until December 10, 2016 at 12:01 a.m.

3. Please only one entry per person.
 
4. One lucky random winner will receive a copy of A Thousand Nights and Spindle by E.K. Johnston 

5. To enter please send an email with the subject "SPINDLE" to FBCgiveaway@gmail.com. Please include your name, your address (street address) and email address. 

6. One winner will be chosen at the end of the contest.

7. All entries will be deleted after the winner is choosen. 

Good luck!

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