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Sunday, July 31, 2016

GUEST POST: Montana or Bust by W. C. Bauers


Promise scooped up the stray bullets from her sheets and rolled them around in her palm. Listened to the clinks. Loaded the magazine and fed it to her semiauto. Click. Thumbed the slide stop and felt the weapon quake.

“Loaded and lethal,” she said aloud.

She drew the weapon in close until the frame fuzzed. Faint traces of solvent and gunpowder tickled her nose. The pungent odor evoked a memory of her mother, Sandra. Promise closed her eyes and found herself on the soil of her birth world, Montana. A trio of moons hung in her memory’s sky, barely visible in the morning light. Her mother stood some distance away, in a shooter’s stance, arms extended downrange. Promise saw a much younger version of herself standing in her mother’s shadow, no older than five or perhaps six years of age. Her mother’s breath had turned to vapor in the chilly air. Out, in, and out again. Then Sandra inhaled deeply, exhaled halfway, and fired.

Boom. Textbook. Recoil. Reacquire.

Boom. A third shot rang out as her mother’s arms rode the recoil upward, rode the groove back to fire again, and again, and again. Until the chamber locked open and spit out the last shell. The casing spun end over end along its axis, clinked, and rolled to a stop against Promise’s foot. Then her vision blurred into reality.

She was back aboard RNS Kearsarge, in her cabin, pressing her mother’s weapon to her own forehead with no memory of how it got there. She breathed in deeply, exhaled halfway, and drew the weapon back to her temple.

Why Montana? I’ve been asked before why I set the story of UNBREAKABLE on a planet named after a flyover state. To this point I’ve not given much of an answer. Even now, I can’t say for sure why I named the world Montana, and not, say, Alaska, or some other place entirely.

As it happens, I grew up in Alaska. Long winters, daylight until midnight, the Aurora Borealis, and rogue moose and bears were common enough childhood sightings. I once woke to a young moose fogging up my bedroom window. My father called animal patrol to relocate the animal outside of city limits. It was no big deal. At the grocery store, you’d often see a woman or man with a revolver on the hip (okay, not everyone, but this was fairly common practice in an open carry, frontier state, particularly in the more rural areas). Open space and starlight skies were my playground. On many nights the Northern Lights shrouded the sky like a semi-translucent, star-speckled muslin? What was out there? Why was the canvas so vast? Why so many stars? Surly they weren’t made just for planet Earth.

You don’t know what light pollution is until you’ve lived in a part of the country where it’s non-existent. Having said that, it should come as no surprise that I now live in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. A 14,000-foot mountain is in my backyard. Open space is stitched into my DNA.

Considering my childhood, a novel set on Montana makes tremendous sense. Almost immediately upon starting UNBREAKABLE, I was drawn to a story on a frontier world, where small communities and family ties were often one in the same, where old-world, timeless principles of duty, hard work, and self-reliance formed a durable, three-fold chord. Such is Montana, Promise Paen’s birth world. But, I knew early in the writing process that Promise would make a pivot and leave Montana to start anew. Montana by itself was too small a canvas to paint her story. The genesis of Promise Paen, in a very real sense, is the planet Montana. But her future was among the stars. Book two, INDOMITABLE, takes place on two very different living worlds. They are nothing like Montana. Perhaps Promise will return to Montana someday. I can’t say when that might be.

Back to Montana for a moment…

She was born Promise Gration. After her mother’s death and her father’s murder, Promise rejected her birth name for another, for the name her Mother left behind at the altar, Paen. Oddly enough, Paen gave Promise her much-needed fresh start. She enlisted, got off world, and found a new family in the Corps. Little did she know that she’d be called home to defend her birth planet years later. At the risk of giving away too much, I’ll stop here.

Montana reminds me of my childhood. I could just as easily have named the planet Alaska. Rugged. Uncompromising. Untamed. Primal. Those words summarize much of my upbringing. They form the core of my planet Montana, and in many ways they describe the nature and character of Promise Paen, too.

Official Author Website
Order Unbreakable HERE
Order Indomitable HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: W. C. Bauers works in sales and publishing during the day and writes military science fiction and space opera at night. His first novel, UNBREAKABLE, was an Amazon and B&N "SF/F Best Book of the Month" pick for January 2015. His second, INDOMITABLE, releases July 2016.

​Bauers' interests include Taekwondo, military history, all varieties of Munchkin, and drinking hot caf. He lives in the Rocky Mountains with his wife, three boys, and the best rescue in the world.

INDOMITABLE BOOK INFO: Promise Paen, commander of Victor Company's mechanized armored infantry, is back for another adventure protecting the Republic of Aligned Worlds.

Lieutenant Paen barely survived her last encounter with the Lusitanian Empire. She's returned home to heal. But the nightmares won't stop. And she's got a newly reconstituted unit of green marines to whip into shape before they deploy. If the enemies of the RAW don't kill them first, she just might do the job herself.

Light-years away, on the edge of the Verge, a massive vein of rare ore is discovered on the mining planet of Sheol, which ignites an arms race and a proxy war between the Republic and the Lusitanians. Paen and Victor Company are ordered to Sheol, to help hold the planet at all costs.

On the eve of their deployment, a friendly fire incident occurs, putting Paen's career in jeopardy and stripping her of her command. When the Lusitanians send mercenaries to raid Sheol and destabilize its mining operations, matters reach crisis levels. Disgraced and angry, Promise is offered one shot to get back into her mechsuit. But she'll have to jump across the galaxy and possibly storm the gates of hell itself.
Monday, July 18, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Hey, You Got Space Travel in My Historical Drama! by David D. Levine (Arabella of Mars Blog Tour)

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to be a part of the Ababella of Mars blog tour. This fun, fast paced sci-fi fantasy novel has a historical flare and is filled with fun and excitement. Today, we are pleased to welcome David D. Levine to our blog to talk about the novel and what it is like to write a historical drama that just so happens to have a bit of space travel involved.

Summary of Arabella of Mars:
Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father's deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family's circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.

View the amazing Youtube book trailer for Arabella of Mars here.

Enter to win the giveaway for a copy of Arabella of Mars here 

Without further ado, we welcome David D. Levine!

Hey, You Got Space Travel In My Historical Drama!

My novel Arabella of Mars is set, as you might guess from the title, largely on Mars. But most of it takes place in 1813. How -- and perhaps more important, why -- did I go about combining space travel and history?

I've been a space nut since I was a little kid. But even though the cool NASA hardware -- thundering rockets, high-tech materials, lots of blinking lights -- was always one of the most exciting things about space, I've also always had a hankering for a simpler time. The idea of a literal Wagon Train to the Stars has always been appealing, and I love stories in which space travel is accomplished with much lower tech. Examples include The Shadow of the Ship by Robert Wilfred Franson, The Ragged Astronauts by Bob Shaw, Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder, and "A Relic of the Empire" by Larry Niven. My own short story "Ukaliq and the Great Hunt" combines rocket plants, like Niven's stage trees, with genetically engineered beings whose artificially created culture -- based on the Inuit -- allows and indeed requires them to voyage into space with a Neolithic tech level.

Arabella of Mars combines my enthusiasm for space, my interest in low-tech space travel, and my love of the seafaring adventure novels of Patrick O'Brian into what I call a "Regency interplanetary airship adventure." The initial idea was simple: it's an alternate universe in which the solar system is full of air and travel to Mars and Venus can be accomplished by sailing ship. Sailing ships imply a historical time period (or equivalent fantasy world), and I quickly settled on the English Regency, which is rich in dramatic possibilities and fabulous outfits. But I didn't want this to be a fantasy, or set in a secondary world; I wanted it to be, as much as possible, hard science fiction... using the science of the Age of Reason. Basically, this would be an alternate history... a novel that's completely historical except for that one teeny-weeny change of filling the sky with air. And that meant plenty of historical research.

One of the things that occupied far too much of my attention during the worldbuilding phase of the project was nomenclature. There were dozens of Martian proper nouns to make up, which required making some decisions about what sounds would be common in the Martian languages. Places on Mars would require names as well; I couldn't use names like Syrtis Major and Chryse Planitia because in real-world history those weren't assigned until much later than the Regency. Instead, I figured the English would name places on Mars after royalty and military heroes and mangled versions of the natives' place names, the same as they did everywhere else. The terms "zero gravity" and "free fall" sounded too much like NASA, and after some reading of period scientific journals I came up with the term "state of free descent," which sounds like something Benjamin Franklin might have said. And the rotary sails at the back of the boat -- sorry, "stern," -- could likewise not be called "propellers," so I coined the name "propulsive sails," or "pulsers" for short (this sounds pretty modern but is actually in keeping with the linguistic conventions of period, as I understand them). Most of the other naval equipment was named, as new stuff usually is in the real world, by applying an existing word to something vaguely similar. For example, the small aerial vessel used to ferry people between ships in midair -- basically an open frame of rattan with a small four-sail pulser and a few sails for steering -- is called a "cutter," even though it is physically nothing like the correspondingly-named seagoing boat.

Another aspect of worldbuilding on which I spent more time than I probably should is the mechanism by which these aerial ships are launched, propelled, directed, and navigated through the airy deeps between planets. I must confess that, even though I am an Analog writer, I did not do the math, and indeed much of what I've described couldn't possibly pencil out. But I did give it enough consideration, applying what I know of real-world physics, that it feels real to most readers... and I hope I've left out enough details that even physics-savvy readers will be able to suspend disbelief.

I also gave quite a bit of thought to the politics and economics of this world. Would Brittania rule the airlanes as it did the waves in the real world, or would France -- which, in our history, invented the balloon first -- dominate? I decided that there were a number of economic and technological factors that favored the English, which was good because it kept my alternate history from being too alternate. And what could justify the great expense of an interplanetary voyage? The history of India and China suggested that it would be based on otherwise-scarce resources. Perhaps Mars produces an exceptionally strong, lightweight wood which facilitates the building of aerial ships? (This, of course, creates a Catch-22, which I resolved in my novelette "The Wreck of the Mars Adventure.")

But mostly I did a lot of research. One thing about the Regency is that, thanks largely to the popularity of Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian, there are plenty of primary sources and good secondary sources online. And the amazing thing about historical research is the truly weird facts you find. For example, when I found out how sailors of the period made sure every member of the crew got a fair share of the food, it was just too strange not to put in. I swear, sometimes the weirdest stuff in the book is not the Martians but the stuff I got from real history.

So the answer to the question of how you combine historical fiction with space travel is the same as any other worldbuilding question: you do your research, you steal as much as you can from the real world -- which is stranger than anything you can make up -- and then you fake the rest, using what you've learned from your research as a basis.

If you do a good enough job, people will buy it -- in both senses of the word.
Saturday, July 16, 2016

"The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice" by Andrew S. Chilton (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: Brimming with dragons, goblins, and logic puzzles, this middle-grade fantasy adventure is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Princess Bride or Rump.

THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.

All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.

FORMAT: Goblin's Puzzle is a MG humorous adventure fantasy novel. It stands at 279 pages and was published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on January 19, 2016.

ANALYSIS: Written in a style that is very similar to Lemony Snicket, The Goblin's Puzzle tells the tale of a slave with no name who has been inadvertently finds himself in a bit of a mess. The young slave has always been a good slave, but now he is faced with the difficult task of having to decide what to do after the son of his master is brutally murdered - a murder which could be pinned on the young slave.

While deciding what to do with his life, the young slave meets a tricky goblin. The goblin may hold the answers to who the young slave boy is and he even hints that the young slave may have a destiny far greater than he could ever imagine.

In addition to the tale of the young slave boy and the goblin, The Goblin's Puzzle also follows the story of a young village girl who is faced with a case of mistaken identity and Princess Alice who is the target of a potential kidnapping plot. Somehow the two girls' story intertwines with the young slave boy's story and it makes for an adventurous fantasy novel.  

The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice is a fun, witty children's adventure fantasy novel that will certainly appeal to the older, more mature audience (the adults who have a heart of a child). It isn't laugh out loud funny, but there is a slight humor to the novel that makes it exciting and something that adults will certainly enjoy.

While the story has a fairly run-of-the-mill fantasy plot, it is the way it is told that makes it fun and exciting. Each and every character is developed, which is amazing because the novel isn't really that long. Readers are given a sense that they have known the characters for a while and are extremely familiar to them.

There are some twists and turns and puzzle-like themes throughout the novel, but all play a role in the plot. They aren't thrown out there to make the book more confusing or 'fun'. It fits in nicely with the flow of the novel.

That being said there are some aspects of Goblin's Puzzle that should be noted. First, the murder of the master's son. It was a bit graphic, which could be difficult for younger readers who may be sensitive to such things. The book is middle grade and while death/murder isn't anything new, the description of the murder was fairly detailed which might be unexpected to some readers.

The second aspect that should be noted is the focus on politics and religion. These aspects don't play a huge role in the story, but the book spends a lot of time on them. A younger reader or someone looking for action and adventure will find this information tedious and boring. On the other hand, the older reader will certainly appreciate the hat tip and some of the side remarks about religion and politics.

The focus on politics and religion isn't bad, but it does slow the story down a bit. It is information that the adult audience would like, but that I'm not 100% certain the younger target audience would really even care about.

Another, more personal, problem with Goblin's Puzzle was the way I felt at the end. The entire book was so solid until the end. The last part of the book just made me feel like I wanted more. There wasn't anything that I can honestly pinpoint (the story was wrapped up and completed) that made me feel this way, but I finished the book and just expected more from the ending.

Overall, Goblin's Puzzle was a fun, quick middle grade novel that has solid writing and is stand alone! There are some aspects that should be considered if you are considering it for a younger middle grade audience, but I think older MG audiences and adults will certainly like the story, especially if you are craving something that is a little more than your average 'fluff' fantasy quest novel.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016

GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of Serafina and the Twisted Staff and Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

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One of my favorite books from 2015 was Serafina and the Black Cloak. (Read FBC's review of it here) Now, thanks to Disney-Hyperion you can enjoy this book too and the newly released sequel. The giveaway is being offered to celebrate the release of the second book – Serafina and the Twisted Staff.  

Read a two-chapter sample of Serafina and the Twisted Staff here

Disney-Hyperion has partnered up with Fantasy Book Critic to offer 1 lucky winner a copy of Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff. Details on Serafina and the Twisted Staff as well as how to enter the giveaway are below!

Synopsis for Serafina and the Twisted Staff

Serafina’s defeat of the Man in the Black Cloak has brought her out of the shadows and into the daylight realm of her home, Biltmore Estate. Every night she visits her mother in the forest, eager to learn the ways of the catamount. But Serafina finds herself caught between her two worlds: she’s too wild for Biltmore’s beautifully dressed ladies and formal customs, and too human to fully join her kin.

Late one night, Serafina encounters a strange and terrifying figure in the forest, and is attacked by the vicious wolfhounds that seem to be under his control. Even worse, she’s convinced that the stranger was not alone, that he has sent his accomplice into Biltmore in disguise.

Someone is wreaking havoc at the estate. A mysterious series of attacked test Serafina’s role as Biltmore’s protector, culminating in a tragedy that tears Serafina’s best friend and only ally, Braeden Vanderbilt, from her side. Heartbroken, she flees.

Deep in the forest, Serafina comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore—and discovers its reach is far greater than she’s ever imagined. All the humans and creatures of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger. For Serafina to defeat this new evil before it engulfs her beloved home, she must search deep inside herself and embrace the destiny that has always awaited her.

About the Author
Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.


1. This giveaway is open to US addresses only. 

2. The giveaway begins 12:01 a.m. EST July 14, 2016 and runs until 12:01 a.m. July 22, 2016. 

3. Only one entry per person. Duplicate entries will be deleted. 

4. To enter send an email with the subject line SERAFINA PRIZE PACK to Please include in the email your name, email address, and physical address to send the prize pack to. 

5. One lucky winner will be drawn at the end of the contest. 

6. All entries to the giveaway will be used only for the sole purpose of this giveaway. Entries will be deleted at the end of the giveaway. 

7. Feel free to share this giveaway with friends and family. 

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Friday, July 8, 2016

EXCERPT: Chains Of Command by Marko Kloos

We now call it the Exodus.

One year ago, a Lanky seed ship appeared in Earth’s orbit, humanity’s worst nightmare manifesting in the night sky above the North American continent: immovable object and irresistible force all rolled into a glistening black torpedo shape three kilometers long.

The world’s fleets were down to the dregs then. We lost half the NAC Fleet in the unsuccessful defense of Mars, which the Lankies took a few months before they showed up at Earth for the first time. Most of the rest is still scattered across the settled galaxy, unable to return home because of the Lanky blockade of our Alcubierre nodes. We had very little left on the board, but we stopped the Lanky seed ship and blew it out of space, only the second time in our half-decade war with them we ever managed to kill one of their ships.

But our victory came with a huge bill.

The last-ditch multinational screening force above Earth lost four ships in the battle. Twelve hundred soldiers and sailors, gone in a few moments of furious and mostly one-sided combat. Five of those sailors were on the NACS Indianapolis, which won us the battle by ramming the Lanky at fractional c velocity and damaging the seed ship enough for us to take it apart with nukes. The Lanky ship lived long enough to spew out its seedpods all over North America—each with a dozen settler-scouts in it, twenty-five meters tall and as hard to kill as a building. We followed them down to Earth, and we killed the ones that survived their descent, and we lost even more people. Hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians died in one night of heavy, desperate fighting, and we reduced entire city blocks to smoking rubble.

But we beat them, and we survived. Earth won a reprieve.

And now we had something new: Lanky bodies, hundreds of them, and dozens of crashed seedpods. Lots of stuff for our scientists to study and dissect. To figure out how they work, how they can be killed. How their ships can be broken.

Just before the Lankies came to Earth last year, the government of the North American Commonwealth evacuated the Solar System in secret. They took with them a dozen first-rate warships, almost twenty bulk freighters, and the Commonwealth’s political and social elite and their families. Nobody knows yet where they went. Fleet rumors say that the Exodus fleet had a secret Alcubierre node to a refuge system prepared long in advance, in anticipation of Earth falling to the Lankies sooner or later. We have electronic intelligence from a cluster of recon buoys Colonel Campbell and Indianapolis left when we discovered the secret Exodus staging area just before their hasty departure a year ago. I suppose we need to thank the Lankies for rushing their departure ahead of plan, because they had to leave behind two unfinished warships that are unlike anything any fleet has ever put into space: two heavy battleships, purpose-built for only one job—to close with Lanky seed ships and destroy them.

We spent the last year finishing those battleships and pressing them into service with the hull paint still wet. The Sino-Russians, pragmatic sons of bitches, came up with their own Lanky hammer—orbitally launched antiship missiles, monstrous things with ten-thousand-ton warheads made from a mixture of ice and wood pulp, driven to fractional c velocities in mere minutes via nuclear pulse propulsion. After making new friends on the other side of the fence last year, I am deeply convinced that it must have been a Russian who cooked up the idea

of making a pointy block of ice the weight of a heavy cruiser, and then using nukes to propel the thing. It’s crude, dirty, and ugly, but, by God, it works. Two more Lanky ships showed up in the Earth-Luna space in one-month intervals a few months after the Battle of Earth, and the Russians blew both of them out of space with their new Orion missiles without any human losses. The Lankies stopped scouting out Earth then.

Of course, using nuke-propulsion kinetic weaponry capable of wiping out half a continent from Earth orbit was a massive Svalbard Treaty violation, but that sort of thing was really low on everyone’s priority lists when the Lankies showed up again.

The Orion missiles, as effective as they are, have one major operational drawback. They’re too big and heavy to be launched from a starship, so we can’t take them through an Alcubierre node. They share that drawback with the new battleships, which don’t have Alcubierre drives

installed yet. So we finally have viable antiship weapons to use against Lanky seed ships, but they’re good only for orbital defense. Mars is still in Lanky hands, and our colonies are still cut off by the Lanky blockade. But we are working around the clock to find a way to take the fight to

them for a change. To get revenge for our dead, to reclaim what’s ours, and to kick them out of the Solar System for good. And if we can chase them to whatever system they call home and wipe them out altogether, I wouldn’t lose any sleep at night.

Humanity’s survival is still on the edge of a knife. But we are finally starting to pull on the same end of the rope together, and we are finally killing Lankies in numbers. There’s much work left to do, and I know we will lose more people and ships before it’s all over, but there is finally

a glimmer of hope that the world isn’t going to go to shit after all.

Well, at least not any further.


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