Interview with Dan Koboldt

It's been awhile since I've posted a good, old-fashioned interview, but luck is with us, because I have one for you today!

This is the publication week for Dan Koboldt's second novel in his Gateways to Alissia series, The Island Deception. I thoroughly enjoyed Dan's first novel in Gateways to Alissia, The Rogue Retrieval, and you can read my Goodreads review for it here.

For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He'd done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he's also tasted true power. Real magic.

He misses it. Luckily--or not--CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task: Help take Richard Holt down.

It's impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds--a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia--if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

He also might learn how to use real magic himself.

How did you get started writing?

Like many authors, I was a reader first. I fancied the idea of becoming a writer, but didn't really try until my late 20's. I took an "Introduction to Fiction Writing" night class, which required students to write and workshop two short stories. I'd done a fair amount of nonfiction writing as part of my job as a scientist, so I thought it would come easily.

It did not. Writing my first story proved quite difficult. My classmates found it stiff and inaccessible. Even so, that class taught me the fundamentals of offering and taking feedback. I took the next class, as did many of my fellow students. We continued to critique for one another after the class ended. One bit of feedback I consistently received was that my work felt like part of a larger story.

That was around when I heard about National Novel Writing Month, a crazy community effort in which participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That was 2008, I think, and I've been doing it ever since. The NaNoWriMo project that I began in 2012 went on to become my debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval.

What's the idea behind Gateways to Alissia?

Well, I'd always grown up reading epic fantasy. I loved immersing myself in fantastic secondary worlds, so of course I wanted to create my own. But I have a second love, which is science. For a long time, I thought it would be impossible to write something that let me play in both worlds.

Then I had the idea that maybe there's a portal between a magical world and ours. Rather than some children or a snarky teen stumbling upon it, maybe the gateway falls into the hands of a large and powerful corporation. Of course, they keep the other world's existence a secret, and have been quietly studying it for fifteen years.

Then a member of the research team goes missing through the gateway, and the company must assemble a retrieval team to go get him. Because the other world is inhabited, but at a medieval state of technology, they recruit a Vegas stage magician to come along and pose as a wizard on the other side. He’s the main character in the Gateways to Alissia series.

Tell us a little about the main characters ...

I’d love to! The main character is Quinn Bradley, an up-and-coming stage magician out of Las Vegas. At the start of the series, his only dream is to headline for one of the major casinos on the Strip. Then he gets a puzzling offer: half a million dollars for six months on a private assignment. Ordinarily he’d have refused, but they don’t really give him a choice. Luckily, he’s adaptable, and quickly learns that the company’s secret world has a lot to offer. Real magic, if it exists, could give Quinn a huge advantage in his chosen career. And he’s the kind of guy who’s always looking for an angle. He also has a knack for getting into trouble and a slight problem with authority, which keeps things interesting in the other world.

Lieutenant Kiara is the company’s top military official for in-world operations. She also has operational command of the retrieval mission, which is unusual. She’s a veteran with a long history of service to the company, extremely loyal, and sees the world in black and white. Basically, she’s going to get the job done whatever it takes. She comes to the Alissian world with some baggage, since her predecessor – who was lost sea in the early days of the project – was also her older sister.

Ex-Navy S.E.A.L. Paul Logan is Lieutenant Commander’s right hand, and tasked with security on both sides of the gateway. He also trains the mercenary teams who undertake missions in the Alissian world. That means he’s also responsible for Quinn, which he isn’t very happy about. Since the beginning, he’s opposed the idea of bringing a civilian along on what he sees as a purely military operation. He’d never admit this, but part of his reluctance is that he likes Quinn and doesn’t want to see him get hurt.

At the time of his disappearance through the gateway, Richard Holt had headed the company’s Alissian research team for fifteen years. Much of that, he spent in the world itself, studying the people and their culture from the inside out. His intelligence network would impress the American CIA. His defection is not only a loss for the research team, but also makes him the most dire threat they have faced. Because Holt knows Alissia better than anyone.

Veena Chaudri is an anthropologist by training, and she’s just taking over leadership of the research team when the story begins. Richard Holt trained her well, but also left big shoes to fill. Veena has studied the Alissian world for longer than the rest of the research team, but she let Holt handle most of the fieldwork. She must not only prove herself to the retrieval team, but wants to impress her former mentor as well. She’s a more valuable asset than everyone realizes: in all those years that Richard Holt was studying Alissia, Veena was studying him.

What are some other books or authors that The Island Deception reminds you of?

My publisher pitches it as appealing to fans of Terry Pratchett and Terry Brooks. I think that’s far too high of praise, but I understand the thinking: Brooks is a founding father of second world epic fantasy, and Pratchett was the king of dry humor. I certainly aimed to have a good mix of both in my books.

Because I’m a scientist, I like to include some of the super-cool near future technology in my books -- whether it’s drones or super -- LEDs or novel synthetic materials. There’s also a large corporation with somewhat nefarious intentions. If you put these elements together, I think my books might be reminiscent of Michael Crichton, one of my favorite authors.

If you want a more recent comp title, I think that the Time Salvager series by Wesley Chu has very similar themes to mine, especially time travel and a hint of military science fiction. Rumor is that his series is being developed into a movie directed by Michael Bay, so I’m clearly not the only one who finds all of this entertaining.

So now you've achieved your dream! Is writing your full-time job?

HAHAHAHAHA *dies laughing*

No, writing is my hobby and I don’t expect that to change any time in the near future. That’s primarily for two reasons. First, it’s very difficult to make a living as a full-time writer these days, particularly if you only have a couple of books out. Most writers have day jobs or other sources of income (like a partner who works). Those who do go full-time often do a lot of freelance work to make ends meet.

The other reason I don’t write full-time is that I enjoy my day job. I’m a genetics researcher for a major children’s hospital. Our institute uses next-generation DNA sequencing to study rare pediatric conditions, with the goal of improving the lives of our patients and their families. If that’s not rewarding work, I don’t know what is.

Tell us about some of the good books you've read lately.

I have! One perk of joining the ranks of published authors is that I hear about a lot of great books, even if they don’t generate a lot of buzz in the mainstream media (very few books do). My favorite book from last year was Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which is a Polish-inspired epic fantasy and just lovely. This year, I’ve been reading awards-nominated work including Arabella of Mars (David Levine) and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. My favorite book so far is the one I’m currently reading -- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin -- which won the Hugo Award in 2016.

My favorite nonfiction book in recent memory was The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers by Donald Maass. It offers a wealth of advice for aspiring and established novelists. The author heads my literary agency (DMLA), so take from that what you will.

What are you working on next?

Right now, I’m writing the third and final installment of Gateways To Alissia, tentatively entitled THE WORLD AWAKENING. That’ll go to my editor this summer, and is slated for publication in February 2018. I have a short story (not related to this series) that will appear in Rhonda Parrish’s EQUUS anthology this summer, and a couple of others due out this year in Galaxy’s Edge magazine and Stupefying Stories magazine.

I also plan to maintain “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy” which is my ongoing blog series. Each week, we discuss one of the scientific/technical/medical aspects of science fiction or a cultural/historical topic in fantasy, with the help from an expert in the field. It’s a wonderful resource for aspiring SF/F authors and I think it’s informative for fans of the genre, too.

* * * 

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. Dan is also an avid deer hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard.

If you want to keep up with Dan, follow him at his website, on Twitter, subscribe to his mailing list, Facebook, Amazon, or Goodreads.

False prophets

This is one of those blog posts that I write more for me than for you so that I can get the noise out of my head and write fiction. It's boring and long, and if you want to skip it, I won't be offended.

For those of you who only know me through my Los Nefilim novellas, you may or may not know about my novel Miserere. I learned a lot about Christianity while writing Miserere--facts that my Evangelical upbringing neglected, and I talk about that a little more here and here. The upshot of it is that I have heard the Bible twisted to suit the needs of everyone from Jerry Falwell to Jim and Tammy Faye Baker to Joel Osteen.

In order to determine the truth from the lies, I studied the Bible to learn what it really said, because context is important. That philosophy served me well when I analyzed case law, where I discovered early on that the best way to argue against a fact was to thoroughly understand your opponent's argument. I learned to think like the opposition in order to use their own arguments against them.

Even in doing so, I never underestimated the opposition. Nor did I rely on obfuscation to make my points. Words can only be twisted so far before they no longer resemble the truth, and flimsy polemics can easily be blown apart.

Which brings me to Erick Erickson, whose name sounds flashy, like a stage name. Erickson is a speaker, which means he has a good shtick and people pay him money to hear him flap his gums about whatever. He uses Romans 1.16 in his Twitter bio, which states: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

Not being ashamed of the gospel and actually understanding what the gospel means are two very different things. Erickson is one of those false prophets Jesus warned his disciples about in Matthew 7.15 when he said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

Erickson is pushing a growing Evangelical philosophy of self-sufficiency and selfishness. This is not new. Christianity has long wrestled with the issue of Christ's poverty and what it meant for both the church and his followers. Umberto Eco had great fun showing the ridiculousness of the arguments for wealth in his novel The Name of the Rose. 

Likewise, Diarmaid MacCulloch points out in A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years that the "Beatitudes' have remained as a subversive tug at the sleeve for churchmen in the centuries during which they have had too much worldly comfort." Whether it's the Vatican or the Evangelical rich and famous, the clergy is notorious for seeking ways to justify their own worldly comfort.

As more people, such as Erickson, have advocated dropping public assistance for the poor, they falsely base their rationales on scripture. Many more people, myself included, have begun to refute these false claims with references to Matthew 25.31-46. In this passage, Jesus speaks to the Great Judgment and how he will judge the dead:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand, and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' [Emphasis mine.]

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcome you, or anked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.'

Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 

Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' [Emphasis mine.]

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

*"members of my family" translated from the Greek "these my brothers"

Based on people quoting this portion of Matthew, Erick Erickson unleashed the following tweet:

The foremost point in deconstructing this particular tweet is that Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus was a Jew, so it seems rather disingenuous for Erickson to claim that Jesus was speaking of "fellow Christians" in the passage. It also speaks to his ignorance on the subject.

Erickson rejects Jesus's teaching that we should care for people less fortunate than ourselves. He seeks to deflect Jesus's words from the poor, the sick, the imprisoned to Christians in general, which is a monumental conceit, and one that is easily dismantled with a thorough look at the scriptural evidence.

Both in Matthew 25.31-46 and previously in Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, and again in Luke's shorter version of the Beatitudes in Luke 6.20-26, Jesus repeatedly exhorts his followers to seek humility and to treat one another as they wish to be treated. We can add to these scriptures the weight of Jesus's other teachings to support the view that Jesus did, in fact, consider the poor, the sick, the imprisoned as "the least of these."

This is not a message that is congruent with attracting and hoarding one's own wealth, or demonizing the poor and sick as societal leeches. However, that has not stopped people like Erickson in the past. These men have long relied on their white male privilege to aid their credibility. They usually say whatever they please and no one contradicts them in their many Biblical misinterpretations.

And I understand that a lot of younger people are so turned off by "Christians" like Erickson, they reject even looking at religious texts. I know exactly how they feel, because I used to be the same way. However, the reason the Ericksons of the world have been winning this war on words is because no one has stood against them in the past.

Yet resistance to Erickson's twisted narrative is imperative, because Erickson, and people like him, seek to shift all moral responsibility for their actions from themselves to a divinity. In doing so, they are attempting to absolve themselves of the ramifications of their actions.

"Jesus said the poor will always be with us," said Roger Marshall in an attempt to deflect responsibility for Trumpcare from himself and back to a distant faceless deity. He, too, was misquoting a passage in Matthew and reapplying it to his personal point of view. The general implication from these men is: God doesn't care, so why should I? And blaming God becomes a crutch for weak reasoning.

In his study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Christian ethics, Larry L. Rasmussen notes:

Man, using his autonomous reason, can and does answer the questions of life; man can and does interpret natural and social processes, all without the tutelage of a divinity, without God as the working hypothesis. Further, man is accountable for the use of his reason and its behavioral expression.

Human beings are responsible for their actions; otherwise, there would be no need for judgment, divine or otherwise. To say, on the one hand, that God gave us free will and we will be judged on our actions based on our proper usage of free will, and then, on the other hand, say that we are helplessly adhering to scripture, because we are to follow God blindly is at best a paradox, at worst a lie.

This is why, from a moral standpoint, it is necessary for Christians to resist people such as Erickson and Marshall, who are determined to hijack Christianity for their own personal gain. And make no mistake about it: all of these men, who are twisting theological viewpoints in order to enrich themselves, are seeking to push the dire ramifications of their policies as far from their personal lives as possible.

It is our responsibility as Christians to correct and resist this false narrative whenever and wherever it arises. Nor should we allow ourselves to be pulled into the fiction that being poor or sick is a personal decision, because both are circumstances often beyond a person's control. The moral decision as to whether or not to help those less fortunate than ourselves is our own, and we must hold ourselves and those in power accountable for their actions.

A Harper Voyager Author SFFChat and Giveaway!

Family is such a comfort. There's your blood family and then there's the family you create through shared experiences. There's no better shared experience than writing, and many of the authors from Harper Voyager have become close. We love to support each other.

And we love to do things together! Like chat about science fiction and fantasy books.

And super lucky for readers, we like to give away books together, too!

HVI_giveaway.jpg

Please check out this collection of magnificent science fiction and fantasy books! Then use the rafflecopter below to enter to win a paperback copy. Or if a book sounds too good to miss, links are included so you can go ahead and purchase.

We will choose three winners/each winner will receive four books. (Note: Winners must provide a US address.) The contest runs from Saturday, March 4th until March 15th. Please remember to tweet about the giveaway for extra chances to win!

And be sure to join us for our monthly twitter #SFFChat at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm EST on Monday, March 6th. We'll be chatting about every aspect of being a writer: querying, editing, drafting, marketing, and much more. We want you to join our SFF Family.

GIVEAWAY BOOKS

WOODWALKER

Goodreads / Amazon

woodwalker.jpg

“What on earth would I gain from that?” I asked him. “Risk my own neck by violating my banishment just to leave you? The sentence placed on me if I return is execution. If I’m entering the mountains again, I’d damn well better get something out of it.”

Exiled from the Silverwood and the people she loves, Mae has few illusions about ever returning to her home. But when she comes across three out-of-place strangers in her wanderings, she finds herself contemplating the unthinkable: risking death to help a deposed queen regain her throne.

And if anyone can help Mona Alastaire of Lumen Lake, it is a former Woodwalker—a ranger whose very being is intimately tied to the woods they are sworn to protect. Mae was once one of the best, and despite the potential of every tree limb to become the gibbet she’s hanged from, she not only feels a duty to aide Mona and her brothers, but also to walk beneath her beloved trees once more.

A grand quest in the tradition of great epic fantasies, filled with adventure and the sharp wit—and tongue—of a unique hero, Woodwalker is the perfect novel to start your own journey into the realm of magical fiction.

UNVEILED

Goodreads / Amazon

Following the events of Elixir, Mabily “Mab” Jones’ life has returned to normal. Or as normal as life can be for a changeling, who also happens to be a private detective working her first independent case, and dating a half-fey.

But then a summons to return to the fairy world arrives in the form of a knife on her pillow. And in the process of investigating her case, Mab discovers the fairies are stealing joy-producing chemicals directly from the minds of humans in order to manufacture their magic Elixir, the dwindling source of their powers. Worst of all, Mab’s boyfriend Obadiah vows to abstain from Elixir, believing the benefits are not worth the cost in human suffering—even though he knows fairies can’t long survive without their magic.

Mab soon realizes she has no choice but to answer the summons and return to the Vale. But the deeper she is drawn into the machinations of the realm, the more she becomes ensnared by promises she made in the past. And in trying to do the right thing, Mab will face her most devastating betrayal yet, one that threatens everything and everyone she holds most dear.

LOS NEFILIM

Goodreads / Amazon

Three brilliant novellas. One fantastic story.

Collected together for the first time, T. Frohock’s three novellas—In Midnight’s SilenceWithout Light or Guide, and The Second Death—brings to life the world of Los Nefilim, Spanish Nephilim that possess the power to harness music and light in the supernatural war between the angels and daimons. In 1931, Los Nefilim’s existence is shaken by the preternatural forces commanding them … and a half-breed caught in-between.

Diago Alvarez, a singular being of daimonic and angelic descent, is pulled into the ranks of Los Nefilim in order to protect his newly-found son. As an angelic war brews in the numinous realms, and Spain marches closer to civil war, the destiny of two worlds hangs on Diago’s actions. Yet it is the combined fates of his lover, Miquel, and his young son, Rafael, that weighs most heavily on his soul.

Lyrical and magical, Los Nefilim explores whether moving towards the light is necessarily the right move, and what it means to live amongst the shadows.

GRUDGING

Goodreads / Amazon

A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

BREATH OF EARTH

Goodreads / Amazon

After the Earth’s power is suddenly left unprotected, a young geomancer must rely on her unique magical powers to survive in in this fresh fantasy series from the author of acclaimed The Clockwork Dagger.

In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer Wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills. 

When assassins kill the Wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . . 

Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

NINE OF STARS

Goodreads / Amazon

Winter is the most deadly season in Temperance. And it’s not just because of the fierce cold. Evil is stalking the backcountry of Yellowstone, killing wolves and leaving only their skins behind.

As the snow deepens, Geologist Petra Dee is staring her own death in the face, while former Hanged Man Gabriel struggles with his abrupt transition back to mortality. The ravens and the rest of the Hanged Men are gone, and there are no magical solutions to Petra’s illness or Gabriel’s longing for what he’s lost…and what he stands to lose now.

Meanwhile, there’s a new sheriff in town. Sheriff Owen Rutherford has inherited the Rutherford ranch and the remnants of the Alchemical Tree of Life. He’s also a dangerously haunted man, and his investigation of Sal’s death is leading him right to Gabriel.

It’s up to Petra, her coyote sidekick Sig, and Gabriel to get ahead of both Owen and the unnatural being stalking them all – before the trail turns deathly cold.

THREE DAYS IN APRIL

Goodreads / Amazon

Anders Jensen is having a bad month. His roommate is a data thief, his girlfriend picks fights in bars, and his best friend is a cyborg…and a lousy tipper. When everything is spiraling out of control, though, maybe those are exactly the kind of friends you need.

In a world divided between the genetically engineered elite and the unmodified masses, Anders is an anomaly: engineered, but still broke and living next to a crack house. All he wants is to land a tenure-track faculty position, and maybe meet someone who's not technically a criminal—but when a nightmare plague rips through Hagerstown, Anders finds himself dodging kinetic energy weapons and government assassins as Baltimore slips into chaos. His friends aren't as helpless as they seem, though, and his girlfriend's street-magician brother-in-law might be a pretentious hipster—or might hold the secret to saving them all.

Frenetic and audacious, Three Days in April is a speculative thriller that raises an important question: once humanity goes down the rabbit hole, can it ever find its way back?

DISSENSION

Goodreads / Amazon

For four hundred years, the Church has led the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal. A clone who shouldn’t care about anything but her duty. Who shouldn’t be able to.

When rebellious citizens challenge the Church’s authority, it is Echo’s duty to hunt them down before civil war can tumble the city back into the dark. But Echo hides a deadly secret: doubt. And when Echo’s mission leads her to Lia, a rebel leader who has a secret of her own, Echo is forced to face that doubt.

For Lia holds the key to the city’s survival, and Echo must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill. 

THE DAY BEFORE

Goodreads / Amazon

A body is found in the Alabama wilderness. The question is: 

Is it a human corpse … or is it just a piece of discarded property? 

Agent Samantha Rose has been exiled to a backwater assignment for the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, a death knell for her career. But then Sam catches a break—a murder—that could give her the boost she needs to get her life back on track. There's a snag, though: the body is a clone, and technically that means it's not a homicide. And yet, something about the body raises questions, not only for her, but for coroner Linsey Mackenzie.

The more they dig, the more they realize nothing about this case is what it seems … and for Sam, nothing about Mac is what it seems, either.

This case might be the way out for her, but that way could be in a bodybag.

A thrilling new mystery from Liana Brooks, The Day Before will have you looking over your shoulder and questioning what it means to be human.

PROPHETS OF THE GHOSTS ANTS

Goodreads / Amazon

Both familiar and fantastic, Clark T. Carlton’s Prophets of the Ghost Ants explores a world in which food, weapons, clothing, art—even religious beliefs—are derived from Humankind’s profound intertwining with the insect world. 

In a savage landscape where humans have evolved to the size of insects, they cannot hope to dominate. Ceaselessly, humans are stalked by night wasps, lair spiders, and marauder fleas. And just as sinister, men are still men. Corrupt elites ruthlessly enforce a rigid caste system. Duplicitous clergymen and power-mongering royalty wage pointless wars for their own glory. Fantasies of a better life and a better world serve only to torment those who dare to dream. 

One so tormented is a half-breed slave named Anand, a dung-collector who has known nothing but squalor and abuse. Anand wants to lead his people against a genocidal army who fight atop fearsome, translucent Ghost Ants. But to his horror, Anand learns this merciless enemy is led by someone from his own family: a religious zealot bent on the conversion of all non-believers . . . or their extermination.

A mix of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt, Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, and Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass, this is a powerful new addition to the genre.

AMONG WOLVES

Goodreads / Amazon

Young Devin Roché is about to graduate as an Archivist from the prestigious Llisé’s University, and there is just one more task he wants to complete – to preserve a complete history of Llisé.

The history of Llisé and its fifteen provinces are a peaceful affair, filled with harmony, resolution and a rich oral tradition of storytelling. Nothing untoward ever happens in this peaceful land. Or does it?

Trainee archivist Devin Roché has just taken his finals at the prestigious Académie. As the sixth son of the ruler of Llisé, his future is his own, and so he embarks on an adventure to memorize stories chronicling the history of each province.

As Devin begins his journey with only his best friend Gaspard and their guardian Marcus, he hears rumors of entire communities suddenly disappearing without a trace and of Master Bards being assassinated in the night.

As the three companions get closer to unearthing the truth behind these mysteries, they can’t help but wonder whether it is their pursuit that has led to them.

But if that is the case, what do Llisé and Devin’s father have to hide?

UNEXPECTED RAIN

Goodreads / Amazon

In a domed city on a planet orbiting Barnard's Star, a recently hired maintenance man has just committed murder.

Minutes later, the airlocks on the neighbourhood block are opened and the murderer is asphyxiated along with thirty-one innocent residents.

Jax, the lowly dome operator on duty at the time, is accused of mass homicide and faced with a mound of impossible evidence against him.

His only ally is Runstom, the rogue police officer charged with transporting him to a secure off-world facility. The pair must risk everything to prove Jax didn't commit the atrocity and uncover the truth before they both wind up dead.

Brief cyborg report and a new member of the family

I met with my audiologist last week, and she is positively thrilled with the progress that I've made with my implant. I can hear keys jingling (and they sound like keys jingling), the warning bells in my car, the click of the dog's nails on the floor, and a multitude of other sounds. I sat in the backseat of our car and was able to have a conversation with my husband while he drove. I haven't been able to do that in years.

Speech and communication are getting much, much better. To give you another idea of how my communication has improved: when my audiologist and I first met, her voice went entirely out of my hearing range. In order to discuss the results of my exam and my options, she had to pull up a word document and type everything she wanted to say for me. When we activated the implant, I could hear her voice, but we still had to rely on typing to make sure I understood everything she wanted me to do. On our last visit, the only time she had to type to me was when she turned my processor off to map it.

At this point, I have essentially gone from no ability to communicate with her to being able to hear and understand her words with visual cues (i.e. lip-reading). I still don't have a lot of speech discrimination without visual cues, but I am beginning to pick up random words here and there. My audiologist said to be patient--that word discrimination will come. Given everything else, I believe her.

I am doing listening exercises and working to distinguish sounds so that I can improve. And if I haven't said it often or loud enough: Dr. Eric Oliver, Carolyn Wilkinson, Au.D., and the staff at Wake Forest Baptist absolutely rock.

In other news

For those of you who have been following along, you know that last fall, we lost our boxer Bruce to cancer. He was a good dog and my husband missed him terribly--and even though I'm the cat person in the family, I missed Bruce too. So we decided to work with a boxer rescue group to find another dog.

Enter Dimie-girl.

Her official name with the rescue group was Diamond, but she doesn't answer to any name. Her last foster home called her Dimie-girl, and she seems to respond to the Di in Dimie ... sometimes. We're working with her.

Dimie is somewhere between three and five years old. Don't let the picture fool you, she is huge. Macavity seems to like her just fine, or as much as Macavity likes any dog, which is to say he hasn't started peeing on all of his favorite sleeping spots to keep her away. She isn't as bouncy as Bruce, which also makes Macavity happy, because bouncy dogs upset him, especially bouncy dogs that like to give him big licks on the side of his face.

Dimie is reticent, but she is slowly warming to her new environment. She still hasn't mastered the stairs. Unfortunately, she sometimes tends to get excited coming downstairs, and she slips. Unlike Bruce, who would catch his balance and keep coming, Dimie tends to freak out and she locks up. Her front legs shoot out in front of her and she essentially slides down the stairs on her belly. When this happens, it sounds like my house is falling down, the cat thinks she coming to kill him and hides behind the sofa. We run to see what happened to find Dimie standing at the bottom of the stairs somewhat stunned but in one piece. We're looking at getting some stair treads to help her with traction.

She seems a bit forlorn in the picture, but don't let that fool you. She has forgotten herself on a couple of occasions and acted happy. She is not a barker. She whines, so I get to practice distinguishing pitches based on her whines.

So ... say hi to Dimie.

On Writing

As for me, I spent some time this weekend tweaking the website. I wanted to start 2017 with a new look, and I'm happy with the new header and color scheme. It might not seem important to many of you, but for me, playing with pictures on the website is an outlet for my creativity that relaxes me.

Quite frankly, the last portion of 2016 and the first part of 2017 were a bad time for me emotionally. I had to force myself to write and often spent more time staring at the screen than actually writing.

Since my audiologist wants me to practice listening with visual cues, I decided to open a file and see if I could use my text-to-speech program in Word to edit what I'd written. For the first time in about five or six years, I could hear the words as the program read my text. Before I knew it, I was cleaning up clunky sentences and fixing logistics while practicing my listening.

Last night I opened the file, thinking I would just tweak a couple of sentences and then go to bed. I ended up writing for two hours.

I'm becoming more operational by the day, so let the world know: I'm back and I'm angry and there are stories to write ...

Book review: Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich

I usually don't review history books here, nor do I review books before I've finished them, but I made some comments on my Facebook page regarding Ullrich's biography of Hitler and the parallels of Trump's rise to power. People asked for more detail, but Facebook is somewhat limited in the scope of formatting quotes so here we are.

A caveat before we begin: this not a review in the usual context of a review, where I tell you about the book and whether I think the book is good or bad. I'll be overlapping my discussion of Hitler with Trump's rise to power. I have shut off comments, because this isn't really something I want to discuss; however if I don't get all of these thoughts out of my head, my brain might explode.

With that said ...

Historians watched the 2016 presidential election with horror, just as we are currently watching the political climate ... also in horror. We tried to warn family, friends, and associates, only to be ignored and castigated when anti-intellectuals derided us. Of course, this isn't the first time the 'intelligentsia' has come under attack because we didn't tell people what they wanted to hear.

Hitler's inferiority complex ... led him to excoriate "the so-called 'intelligentsia' who ... in their never-ending arrogance look down on everyone who hasn't been run through the obligatory schools and been pumped full of the necessary knowledge." [Ullrich, 82]

Trump doesn't like us either.

Frankly, 2016 was so wretched for me, I couldn't read any history from July through December. It was like watching a high-speed train wreck while clinging to the cowcatcher. From that perspective, I guess ignorance is bliss.

For those who don't know me, or missed the other eight hundred times I've talked about this, my father was fascinated by the events surrounding World War II. He was a child in the thirties and forties and lost a brother due to the war. His interest in history was infectious. I caught the bug and have been reading histories of World War II since my teens. Needless to say, I cut my teeth on biographies of Hitler and his entourage.

Like every other student of the era, I asked that enduring question: how did a man who was described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a "half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” rise to power?

*coughs*

Now we know.

And if you read Volker Ullrich's biography, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, you will begin to note conspicuous similarities between Hitler's and Trump's rise to power, both in socioeconomic terms and in their political rhetoric. Given that so many members of Trump's entourage, now known as his Cabinet, are affiliated with the Neo-Nazi movement in America, their understanding and blatant reproduction of Hitler's techniques comes as no surprise to anyone who has studied the Nazi movement in the thirties. The parallels are so striking that you can take sentences from Ullrich's biography, change "Hitler" to "Trump", "the Treaty of Versailles" to "NAFTA," and "Jews" to "Mexicans and Muslims" and be talking about precisely the same populist attitudes that led to the rise of each politician.

Ullrich promises in his introduction that his biography will 'normalize' Hitler; although, according to Ullrich, "this will not make him seem more ‘normal.' If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific." Thus far, I've found Ullrich to be a man of his word.

By juxtaposing passages from Mein Kampf with actual events, Ullrich destroys the myth of Hitler's meteoric political rise and brings it into context with the times. The mix of economic insecurity, the public's resistance to social change, and post-war trauma came together in the perfect storm to give Hitler the necessary ladder to work his way out of obscurity and into politics.

The circumstances at the time played into Hitler's hands, and he was more skillful and unscrupulous about using them than any of his rivals on the nationalist far right. [Ullrich, 92]

Hitler was an obscure figure on the political front until he joined the DAP (German Workers' Party), which he eventually molded into the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party). The DAP was a far right (alt. right in twenty-first century parlance) group of men with chauvinist-ethnic theories, who met periodically to discuss politics. When Hitler attended DAP meetings in the early twenties, the group consisted of a handful of members with no strong leadership, and Hitler saw a moment ripe for exploitation. It was also during his days with the DAP that Hitler discovered his talent for rhetoric and speaking.

Hitler was "someone seduced by himself," someone who was so inseparable from his words "that a measure of authenticity flowed over the audience even when he was telling obvious lies." [Ullrich, 97]

During his days as speaker for the DAP, Hitler cultivated his performances in the beer halls with live bands playing music prior to his events in order to rouse the people's spirits. He also had a deliberate habit of showing up a half hour late to raise the crowd's anticipation. The same format was used by Trump at his rallies with loud music and late appearances as Trump capitalized on the fragmentation of the Republican party during the 2016 election cycle. Trump could have learned the art of mastering a crowd from Hitler, whose events were said to combine "the spectacular elements of the circus and the grand opera with the uplifting elements of the circus and the grand opera with the uplifting ceremony of the church's liturgical ritual."

A master of the moment, Hitler played on Germans' widespread bitterness over the Treaty of Versailles in plain-spoken speeches ("plain-spoken speeches" can be translated to:"tells it like it is" for the twenty-first century crowd). He claimed the Treaty brought Germany to its knees and subjugated the nation to the whims of other countries just as Trump rails against NAFTA and NATO, claiming that both are out to constrict the will of the United States and its people through unfair trade agreements and treaties.

The receptivity of large masses is very limited. Their capacity to understand things is slight whereas their forgetfulness is great. --Hitler, Mein Kampf

From attacks on treaties, it was but a short step for Hitler to sow distrust among the people against their own government. He ranted against the democratic Weimar Republic by calling the representatives "a republic of scoundrels," a "Berlin Jew government," and a "criminal republic." He portrayed everyone, including Reich President Friedrich Ebert as "incompetent and corrupt." Likewise, Trump questioned the legitimacy of President Barack Obama's birth certificate, and thereby the legitimacy of his presidency, painted his political rivals as corrupt, and seized "lock her up" rants to fuel people's anger.

Effective propaganda must restrict itself to a handful of points, which it repeats as slogans as long as it takes for the dumbest member of the audience to get an idea of what they mean. --Hitler, Mein Kampf

Hitler [and Trump] repeated the message of politicians selling out the people ad nauseam, and the people in Germany in the early thirties bought it all hook, line, and sinker just as the people in America bought the same lines in 2016. Nuance was as non-existent then as it is now. Political rhetoric was driven by series of propaganda points. Hitler's speeches from 1920-22 attracted larger and larger audiences, because he kept hammering home mantra-like vows of revenge, accusations against politicians, and promises to fix everything.

Like Trump did in 2016.

I am about a quarter of the way into the biography, and I can assure you that Ullrich keeps his promise to horrify. Although at times, I'm not sure if I'm repelled by Hitler or by my internal comparisons to Trump. Either way, I'll continue to read ... even though we all know how Hitler's Reich ended. If nothing else, I'm looking for the sign of things to come in the hopes that we can somehow mitigate the damages.

In terms of the biography, I highly recommend Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939. It is an excellent starting point if you have never tried to read a Hitler biography. Ullrich is a journalist as well as a historian, and his journalist approach to the facts brings together large amounts of information in a very methodical and easy to read format. Don't be intimidated by the size. The actual biography is only 758 pages, the rest is Ullrich's extensive notes. It even has photographs for the anti-intellectual in your family who just wants picture books.

If you're into rating systems of stars: 5 out of 5 stars.