Author Archives: Mark Gardner

About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior.

The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe

It starts with an itch you just can’t shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you’ll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in. And then you’re dead. When sixteen-year-old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying goodbye, she never dreams that she might not see him again. Then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one can come back. Cut off from the world, the remaining islanders must fend for themselves. Supplies are dwindling, fatalities rising, and panic is turning into violence. With no cure in sight, Kaelyn knows their only hope of survival is to band together. Desperate to save her home, she joins forces with a former rival and opens her heart to a boy she once feared. But as the virus robs her of friends and family, Kaelyn realizes her efforts may be in vain. How can she fight an enemy that’s too small to see?

After reading the Earth & Sky series, I had an idea what to expect from The Way We Fall. Crewe writes teen characters that seem realistic in the way that teens see themselves. In YA, a common trope is that the teens are as smart as the adults, if only they’d get a chance to shine. The teen (or teens) get the chance to “show up” the adults with their unique way of looking at things. I really enjoyed that after all the effort and angst that Kaelyn put into finding the link, her dad is like, “Yeah, we figured that out weeks ago.”

It’s not that I don’t find smart teens to be unrealistic- my own teen confounds me with some bit of logic from time to time. But teens are just too inexperienced to really shine in the way they they think they should. Which is fine, people need time to make mistakes and learn and grow. YA novels attempt to force the protagonist to grow up by inserting tragedy – often by the loss of a parent. I saw in the reviews that someone complained about one of the teens being a budding expert in botany. I do not find this aspect to be unbelievable at all – teens are definitely driven, with a single-mindedness that often confounds. With my own teen enrolled in an agribusiness and equine high school, with dual enrollment in a community college, I’ve seen teens that know a heck of a lot more than I do in those fields.

The setting and premise of The Way We Fall is an interesting one: An unknown virus affects the inhabitants of an isolated community, and everything goes sideways, including those responsible for keeping everyone safe. Nothing new there – people have been writing about that forever. The story ends without much resolved – a pet peeve of mine. But, it’s a common trope, so I grumble and move on.

Megan Crewe writes well, and the re-release doesn’t have any of the typos I’ve come to expect from Disney-Hyperion. Like most YA, the language and vocabulary is simple. Also like most YA, there is quite a bit of teenage angst. As often with series books picked up by a large publisher, the first is a true glimpse to what the writer intended, and later books seem to have the spark revised out. I’m definitely curious how subsequent books in the series fare. I’d rate The Way We Fall 3.75 stars, and I’ll read the next book in the series as soon as I can get ahold of it. With the entire series being available own Kindle Unlimited, that should be pretty soon.

megan-crewe

Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son (and does on occasion say “eh”), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she’s spent the last six years studying kung fu, so you should probably be nice to her. She has been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer.

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The World That Was

This isn’t a sneak peak at anything from the Technophobia universe, just a little vignette in an experimental format. These 1000 words contain the following prompts:
Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds
Linda Hill at Stream of Consciousness Saturday #SoCS
Julie Duffy at Write On Wednesday
Bree Salyer at #FFC2018
 

I think that I always knew that I was different. I wasn’t like other adults that I knew. I know, it’s not something you expect someone to admit. Most people will tell you that they weren’t like other children. Me, I’m not like other adults. I’ve tried time and again to figure it out, but it always eluded me. It’s like a scene from a… Well, this is going to shock you. I can trust you, can’t I? It’s like a scene from a book, but a book that I’ve never read. Right, no one reads books, except… I see the realization behind your eyes. Yes, I’m a librarian. You know, in the world that was, that word had a completely different meaning.

There are lots of words that existed once before, but are lost to the decay. “Gun” is one of those words. The easiest way to explain it is that that we used chemicals to launch a piece of metal at mind-staggering speeds. Right? Something like that up here? It would kill us all. Don’t look at me like that. It was an occurrence all too common in the worlds that was. People then weren’t confined to metal and plastic. They experienced endless vistas of sky and rock. So beautiful…

That’s, um. Well… That’s not to say that we don’t have beauty up here. I’ve sat for hours in the ring. Just watching. The black field with so so many points of light. Then she presents herself. The ancient Greeks called her Gaea. The equally ancient Romans called her Terra. I can only imagine what those ancient peoples saw when they looked up at the sky. But Gaea, or Terra, is just so sad now. I’ve seen images of her in books. Blue waters, green landmass, and puffy clouds of white.

What? I told you I’m a librarian. I go down to the surface all the time. Remember? I’m different from other adults. If I make you uncomfortable, you can leave. I know that you didn’t know who you were going to meet. No? Okay. Where was I? Oh, yes, the world that was. Right, how we killed Terra. Right, or Gaea. Well, those chemicals that fired hunks of metal at incredulous speeds? We kept making them bigger and faster. More chemicals, refined and shaped hunks of metal. And the chemicals? Explosions that could destroy great swaths of land and everyone on it. You can imagine, we almost caused our own extinction. We ravaged her, you know. We ravaged each other. We became so obsessed with how to hurt one another…
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Traveler in the Dark, by Deidre Gould

Sixteen hundred years ago, they fled Earth. Now their long journey may finally be at an end. None of them have ever walked on soil, felt rain, or breathed unrecycled air. Their resources nearly spent, they sent a last exploratory mission to a new planet. It’s ideal… but they are not alone. In the struggle for survival, they must make a choice. Sacrifice another species or accept their own extinction. And time is running out.
 

I liked the concept of Deidre Gould’s Traveler in the Dark. I found the story engrossing, and it was hard to put down as life’s demands took away my precious reading time. I found the portrayal of the multi-generational surveyors and their initial reaction to the alien planet after a lifetime aboard a spacefaring habitat to be quite believable, and in line with expectations based on my studies of human behavior.

What I did find a little hard to swallow was the “villain.” In Traveler in the Dark, the villain is not really a person or a group of persons, but a thought. An idea. Albeit an extreme form of environmentalism, it’s presented in such a way that rings true to extremist behaviors. The reader is allowed an almost child-like naiveté through the actions of Issk’ath. The trope of an alien intelligence trying to understand humanity, and humanity’s distrust of that intelligence has been done many times, and I enjoyed Gould’s take on the subject.

The writing did suffer from a major issue though. The characters are briefly introduced by first and last name, referred to in dialog by other characters by first name (or nickname), and the author’s narration by last name. By the end of the book, I still had a hard time telling who was who. I found this handling of the names to be confusing, and not consistent with my experience as a sailor since most, if not all, space fiction is based on naval traditions and terms.

Considering my reviews in the past, I’d think that this book would be a four-star read, but for some reason, I just grokked this story. I’m eager to read more books in the series, but I’m afraid that they will pale in comparison. I’m not a fan of environmentalism novels—Ben Bova and Kim Stanley Robinson have both killed a story by being too heavy handed on the environmentalism. I’m gonna go ahead and award five stars. The story is not without its flaws, but I think it’s a solid read.

Deirdre Gould lives in Central Maine with her three children and husband. She’s also resided in northern Idaho, coastal Virginia and central Pennsylvania, but all of them just led her back home.The winters sure are cold, but that just means the zombies run slower. The area is isolated, but that just means the apocalyptic diseases don’t spread as quickly. And the storms are bad enough that no one thinks you’re crazy for “prepping.” It’s kind of ideal for a post-apocalypse writer when you think about it.

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Save 50% on Diane Duane’s ebooks and help save Diane Duane’s home

I’ve written a number of times about the occasional ebook sales Diane Duane runs on her self-owned ebook store, but this one has a special urgency. A series of medical expenses and lower-than-expected royalty payments have put Duane and her husband, Peter Morwood, in danger of losing the home where they’ve lived for the last twenty years.

To raise some money, Duane has slashed prices by 50% on Ebooks Direct, the ebook store she runs for the books to which she and her husband have the ebook rights. All titles are DRM-free and multiformat, and include the guarantee that if you ever lose the ebook files, they’ll replace them free.

There are some great books there—the Young Wizards New Millennium Editions, Feline Wizardry trilogy, and associated Young Wizards novellas, the Tale of the Five, and many more. If you haven’t read them yet, this would be a great…

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Truth

Chuck’s prompt today is to type in the words “strange photos” into everyone’s favorite marketing engine, and use one of the photos as inspiration. I saw this photo from a video game called “Life is Strange,” and I was brought back to my unfinished YA novel, Mental State. I realize that it has been seven months since I wrote more for it, but I dunno, I was inspired or something? You’re welcome to follow the link and read the previous chapters, or just check this one out on its own. I finished this scene at 1191 words, but after rereading it, realized that it wasn’t complete. The ending was lame. It needed something. What it needed was another 650 words. Darn it! I continued the chapter after the second scene break, and incorporated additional prompts: #FFC2018, The Writing Reader, Write on Wednesday, and #SoCS.

TRIGGER WARNING for suicide and self harm, as is the rest of Mental State.


Do it now. Do what you must do.

Steven covered his ears though he knew it was pointless. The voice tormented him. There were no physical attacks, but Steven’s body weakened each day. He couldn’t go on like this.

Don’t do it, they will destroy you.

The voice seemed to guess what Steven’s plans were. At school, the voice still spoke to him, but it didn’t seem to have the physical drain it was having on him now.

They will just kill you, make it easy for them.

“No,” Steven said, defiance strengthened his resolve. “I will not take my life! My tale will not end that way!” His proclamation silenced the voice, but Steven knew it would return.

He surveyed himself in the mirror. He was a wreck. His face still bore bruises, and cuts from the fight; he was almost indistinguishable from his former self. Myself before Lindsay… He shook his head as if he could dislodge the thought. If it weren’t for the cuts and bruises, it would be easier to notice he hadn’t shaved in weeks. The fuzz all over his face looked like he smeared dirt on himself. His clothes, although brand new, looked old and ragged.

Steven resisted the temptation to punch the mirror; he hated that it showed such a sad version of himself. That’s what he felt: anger and hatred toward everything and everyone around him. It consumed him and fueled the voice inside his mind.

Anger swept over him, and the voice returned. Muttering once more that he wished it would shut up, Steven threw himself on the bed. He decided it was time to go back to school. He lost count how many times he had said that.
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Prime Meridian, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.
 

With Prime Meridian, I expected a space sci-fi, but ended up with a life drama. I liked the dystopian world that Amelia lives in. It’s so poignant and tells a story we’ve heard time and time again in real life. She was on track for a stable life, and then everything went sideways. The years rolled forward, and she finds herself in a situation many of us face every day. But she still dreams of Mars.

Sometimes, it’s hard to like Amelia, but as in life, no one is perfect, except on Facebook. The relationship between Amelia and Lucía is so wonderfully written, and so “real,” I wonder if it is the fictionalization of actual events. I applaud writers that can pack so much story into a novella, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia does just that. The division between the haves and the have nots is perfectly realized in this novella.

Prime Meridian is a powerful novella, and although the cover and description led me astray, I’m glad that I got to read this excellent novella. Definitely a four-star read.

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about music, magic and Mexico City, won a Copper Cylinder Award and was nominated for the British Fantasy, Locus, Aurora and Sunburst awards. Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, is a noir with Mexicans vampires. She co-edited the anthology She Walks in Shadows (winner of the World Fantasy Award) and is an editor at the magazine The Dark.
 

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The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Disgraced government operative Colonel Chu is exiled to the flooded relic of New York City. Something called the Light has hit the streets like an epidemic, leavings its users strung out and disconnected from the mind-network humanity relies on. Chu has lost everything she cares about to the Light. She’ll end the threat or die trying. A former corporate pilot who controlled a thousand ships with her mind, Zola looks like just another Light-junkie living hand to mouth on the edge of society. She’s special though. As much as she needs the Light, the Light needs her too. But, Chu is getting close and Zola can’t hide forever.

The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu has a lot of plusses on the balance sheet. The tale of Manhattan post-apocalypse is fleshed out in such a short story. The division of society we experience today continues in this futaure. Even the villain makes sense with a back story that makes her drive to eradicate Zola, and the Light believable. But, what the heck is the Light? Is it a drug? Is it some sort of AI gone rogue? Is it an ancient evil bent on enslaving humanity? Is it angelic grace from the TV show Supernatural? After reading, and ruminating on the story, I still have no idea what it was.

While the characters were written well, and they all passed the sniff test, they weren’t relatable. I wasn’t able to connect with any of them. I didn’t care if the light did whatever the light was trying to do. I didn’t care if Chu killed the junkies or Zola. The ending was a letdown. I’m not sure if the author intended the ending to be happy or sad, or what… I didn’t get it.

I’m glad that TOR is producing more novellas, and they seem to have a decent digital price point. I think The Burning Light shows just how difficult it is to create a deep story within the constraints of short fiction. Despite my complaints, I’d still recommend reading The Burning Light. I’d rate it at four stars, and I look forward to reading more novellas from TOR.

Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but life eventually intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn’t going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, and many more. Brad and his novels have garnered  many accolades including two Hotties—the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice—on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo.

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