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.

Rebirth, by L. Fergus

The God of Evil has forgotten who she is. After defeating the Harbingers, the gods deemed Kita a threat to all existence. Stripped of her memories, she is left to languish in Angelica, a new playground city for the ultra-rich of the United Earth Empire. There, beneath the waves of an oceanic moon, Kita makes her living using her skills as an assassin to protect the pampered elite. But fate is fickle. Trouble is brewing on the frontier: first contact has been made between humanity and an alien race. Humanity has been watching Kita for a decade and knows her history. They also know that even in her diminished state, she is powerful and they want all the weapons they can muster against this new threat. Can the humans convince Kita to fight for them or will she remember who and what she is and escape to the other side?

The story of PL/Kita and her unknown past with hidden talents is nothing new in the world of literature. I’ve read most of L. Fergus’ books on Wattpad, and while Rebirth isn’t the first story in a long series, it is one of the best (Birthright is another solid read.) In a world where literature is accessible to almost anyone, there’s a lot of content out there. You can read many LGBT fantasy stories by many talented authors, and L. Fergus’ prose and attention to detail is top-notch. When some authors go into a lot of description, my brain often gets distracted, and it pulls me out of the narrative. This isn’t the case with Rebirth. There is a lot of description, but it’s presented in such a way that it feels natural reading about Kita and her world.

Rebirth gives us something I think is wonderful: We see how Kita, as PL, sees her world. We share in the wonderment. We share in the confusion. We’ve read her as a powerful God, and now we see her at the other end of the spectrum. In modern society we struggle with classism. We struggle with identity. We struggle with the basic tenants that make us part of society. We witness all these foibles as Kita discovers who she is. We follow her pratfalls as she comes to grips with her mistakes.

One of the important things that Rebirth tells us is identity. In the first chapter, Kita performs a daily ritual to make herself “normal.” She hides her true self out of fear of what society and others think of her. She hurts herself to conform to the ideals of her environment, and in doing so, she loses her identity. This commonality in the LGBT community has gone on for many years, and many wonderful people hide what they offer the world. I think it appropriate that Rebirth be published during pride month.

I enjoyed reading Rebirth, and I was glued to the page as the saying goes. Every book is not without flaws. I found some of Kita’s antics a little immature, but no worse than the antics of a celebrity or a spoiled millionaire. But still sigh-worthy. As a stand-alone, I’d rate Rebirth four and a half stars. As of the writing of this review, the book is available for purchase tomorrow, and I recommend fans of science fantasy check it out – especially since it’s free to read via Kindle Unlimited.

L. Fergus is a Wattpad featured author of science fiction, including The Fallen Angel Saga, which has more than two hundred thousand reads. The books Birthright and Rebirth have won over ten awards, including Best Overall. Like L. Fergus’ main character Kita, L. fosters teenage girls to give them a supportive place to grow up and thrive.

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Kill the Farm Boy, by Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told. This is not that fairy tale. There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened. And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell. There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he’s bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there’s the Dark Lord who wishes for the boy’s untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there’s a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar “happily ever after” that ever once-upon-a-timed.

I absolutely lurved Kill the Farm Boy. I’ve read more Delilah Dawson than Kevin Hearne, but I’ve read and enjoyed them both. The easiest way to describe Kill the Farm Boy is that it is Spaceballs, but in a fantasy setting. Everything that I loved about Spaceballs is everything I love about Kill the Farm Boy. Puns, double entendre, slapstick situational comedy, and a general irreverence to the genre the writing duo parodies. Plus, Dawson and Hearne don’t take themselves seriously. When the authors can laugh at themselves, the reader will too. I can totally imagine Dawson and Hearne at the bar of a hotel after a day at a convention, daring each other to write this story.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be that while the writers are aware of the genre they poke fun at, the tropes are alive and well in this parody. Several plot twists were plainly evident, and if this story had a character that broke the fourth wall, I’d expect them to pop up and declare, “plot twist!” Now that I write this down, I think that a character breaking the fourth wall would’ve been just the ticket. It works for Ferris Bueller and Deadpool, why not an irreverent parody of fantasy. Kevin Smith famously said that he made all his money with phallus and flatulence jokes.

The story obviously parodies The Princess Bride, Shrek, and just about every Dungeons and Dragons campaign ever made. The humor is at times crude, often juvenile, but always there. There’s a reason the tag line is “Once. A pun. A time.” For the same reasons that people enjoy Mel Brooks, Monty Python, and the Three Stooges, they’ll enjoy Kill the Farm Boy. To steal a meme from the Internet, “I don’t always read the punnies, but when I do, it’s to Kill the Farm Boy.” There will be a lot of consternation about the humor, but what did they expect? I’m awarding this story 3.14 stars, because I like pie.

Delilah S. Dawson writes whimsical and dark Fantasy for adults and teens. She is a winner of the RT Book Reviews Steampunk Book of the Year and May Seal of Excellence for 2013. Delilah teaches writing classes at LitReactor and wrote the Island of Mesmer world for Storium. Delilah lives with her husband, two small children, a horse, a dog, and two cats in Florida.

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http://www.whimsydark.com/
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Kevin hugs the hell out of trees and loves doggies and pretending that he knows stuff about hockey. He is also fond of comic books, tacos, fresh air, clean energy, and friendly people. He’s been told that his handwriting is really quite lovely.

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http://www.kevinhearne.com/
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Kill the Farm Boy:
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Head On, by John Scalzi

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it. Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field. Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth—and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

It’s a relief to know that people are who you think they are. People often end up disappointed when they meet their heroes or people that they admire. Over Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to be on a panel with John Scalzi while we were both at Phoenix Comic Fest. I was relieved that Scalzi is as intelligent and perceptive in person as he is with his writing. (I may have even gushed a little about Old Man’s War.)

I think Head On is a better story than Lock In. Since we already knew so much of the world from Lock In, Head On felt like returning to a comfortable series where we knew what to expect. Scalzi continued to play by his rules and we cringed each time a threep was destroyed.

Whereas Lock In leaned more toward sci-fi action/adventure, Head On felt more like a sci-fi mystery. I was on the edge of my seat as they’re wont to say, and I wasn’t sure whodunit until the end of the story. I also appreciated Scalzi’s subtle commentary on professional sports and reality television.

Four stars is my rating. I hope that there is enough interest for Scalzi to keep writing the life and times of Chris Shane and the intriguing world in which he and his colleagues inhabit. I for one would be a ready reader to future installments.

John Scalzi is an American science fiction author and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is best known for his Old Man’s War series, three novels of which have been nominated for the Hugo Award, and for his blog Whatever, where he has written on a number of topics since 1998. He won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2008 based predominantly on that blog, which he has also used for several charity drives. His novel Redshirts won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel. He has written non-fiction books and columns on diverse topics such as finance, video games, films, astronomy, writing and politics, and served as a creative consultant for the TV series Stargate Universe.

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https://whatever.scalzi.com
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2018 Phoenix Comic Fest

I’ve been slacking a little bit lately. There’s an Italian translation of Warmache that needs review and approval along with English audiobooks for Brass Automaton and Days Until Home. I’ll definitely have all those projects completed and ready for sale for my appearances at the Payson Book Festival and Fandomania July 21st and 28th.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know the reason for my slacking: I’ll be at Phoenix Comic Fest (formerly Phoenix Comicon) for Memorial Day weekend! I’ll be with Florida-based celebrity bookstore Bard’s Tower in the lower level exhibitor’s hall just inside the doors to hall six at booth 1566/1568. Here are the other great authors that I’ll be sharing the booth with:

Jody Lynn Nye
Mercedes Lackey
L.E. Modesitt
Melinda Snodgrass
Larry Dixon
Alan Dean Foster
D.J. Butler
Brian Lee Durfee
Christopher Husberg
Kevin Ikenberry
Amity Green
Kuta Marler


 

I’ll be doing a panel on writing accurate military in scifi called “Marching Orders.” It’ll be at 1:30PM on Friday in the north building, room 126C next to the food court and stairwell. Fellow veteran and booth dweller Kevin Ikenberry will be with me on that panel, along with Sylvain Neuvel, John Scalzi, and Melinda Snodgrass.

Like last year, I’ll be at the “Drinks with Authors” event in the North Ballroom Friday at 8pm. This is a Phoenix Comic Fest “Signature Event,” so the entry fee is $10, only adults 18+ will be admitted, and the event supports Kids Need To Read. The photo here is from the 2017 event.

Other than those events, I should pretty much be at the Bard’s Tower booth. I’ll be playing in a couple Magic: the Gathering tournaments on Friday and Saturday. Depending on how well I play, I could be gone a few hours then, plus, I gotta get Peter Clines to sign my hardcovers and visit a few other authors here and there. It’ll be a fun respite from the daily grind, and I’m super stoked to be there.


Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

It has a dark past—one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more. Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue. What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

 

I moved Artificial Condition to the top of my reading list after getting the approval email from NetGalley because I absolutely love The Murderbot Diaries. Wells’ writing is superb, and her wit and subtle snark shines in the form of a rogue SecUnit who would probably slay humanity if only it could finish watching the future’s version of Netflix.

In Artificial Condition, we see more of Eden’s world, and the behind-the-scenes politics and machinations that push the story forward. I love that although Eden can totally murder all humans, it’s still afraid of other sentient constructs. She and ART bond over their love of space soap operas, and Eden’s allies increase.

Eden needs allies, because its rouge slaughter of the miners doesn’t hold water, and the truth just may be more criminal than the story. Humans are so much worse than Eden originally thought, and as Eden examines the artificial condition, so too must we examine the human condition.

Artificial Condition is another home run from Martha Wells, and the wait for Rogue Protocol will be a difficult one. Five stars, get it now!

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series, the Ile-Rien series as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins, and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novels are The Edge of Worlds in 2016 and The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, forthcoming from Tor.com. She was the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering’s Dominaria expansion in 2018. Her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, and her books have been published in eleven languages.

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All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

What’s not to love about a misanthropic robot that might destroy humanity, if only they didn’t create such wonderful holo dramas? I think that my favorite aspect of the Murderbot Diaries is that Eden could totally kill all humans, but, like, meh. In a world of highly skilled humans, we often end up doing only what is required in our job because there’s no incentive (other than losing our job) to do more. Oh how I relate to Eden and ter loathing of humanity. How many times have I been at work, and wished that I were Netflixing or reading a book instead.

In All Systems Red, we get the backstory of Eden and ter sordid past as an ineffectual murderbot. Ter really does care about the humans that te is expected to protect. Te doesn’t have to protect them, because of the hacked governor, but te does it out of a sense of professional responsibility.

I enjoyed All Systems Red, and look forward to reading more offerings by Martha Wells, especially more Murderbot Diaries. Five stars! Recommended to scifi fans and misanthropes everywhere.

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series, the Ile-Rien series as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins, and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novels are The Edge of Worlds in 2016 and The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, forthcoming from Tor.com. She was the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering’s Dominaria expansion in 2018. Her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, and her books have been published in eleven languages.

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http://www.marthawells.com
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Cradle of the Deep, by Deirdre Gould

The Keseburg once boasted a complement of fifty thousand. Generations of hardship, space hazards and disease have whittled it down to just under thirty thousand. That was the number when a small crew of resource miners departed on a routine asteroid run three months ago. But when they return home to the ship, all traces of their friends and family are gone. The Keseburg is silent, adrift, and running out of fuel. As they search the massive ship for survivors and answers, something else stalks them. Something that does not belong on the Keseburg.

The story of Issk’ath continues in Cradle of the Deep. What? You thought that the series was about the people aboard the Keseberg? ‘Fraid not. It was always about Issk’ath and its interaction with humanity, or at least the humanity that’s left. Issk’ath deals with guilt, called iterations in the narrative. Each time it does something that could be seen as inhumane, Issk’ath iterates. The parallel with humanity is not wasted here. Some people are wracked with guilt for minor infractions. Inter-generational guilt is a common theme in literature. But at times, Issk’ath is immune from its guilt – we’ve all encountered someone whose agenda precludes all other feelings, including guilt. But what is the nature of guilt, and by extension humanity? If a machine can feel guilt, then what is it about humanity that sets it apart from machine or even our genetic ancestors?

Like Traveler in the Dark, Cradle of the Deep focuses on a small cast of characters. Prior to this story, Issk’ath moves from permissive to overt action to “save” humanity from their frail casings. This causes much iteration, and sets us up for the crew of the Dolan to discover the Keseberg adrift with all souls lost at the hands (pincers?) of a homicidal robot. Can someone dying say no to termination under the claim of humane action? Can an otherwise able-bodied person choose to end their life for convenience?

The odd naming structure that baffled me in book one is gone from book two. It’s much easier to understand who is talking to whom in this story. Themes of predestination, choice, and rebellion are rife in this installment of Ex Situ. The narrative did suffer a little bit in this book, with some omnipotent head-hopping. I was able to follow who was doing/thinking what, but at least once or twice, I had to reread a paragraph when I got lost. The story was a fun read, and the ending worked well setting up book three without short-changing the reader. I’d give Cradle of the Deep four stars.

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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Aftermath, by Kelley Armstrong

Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter. Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don’t heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend–Skye. Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can’t resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.

I knew that Aftermath, by Kelley Armstrong, would elicit strong emotions. It’s about the family of a school shooter after all. I found Skye and Jesse to be written well, and very relatable. The emotional arc of both characters was believable, and within the norms one would expect of people in this situation. The writer does an excellent job of disguising the antagonist throughout the book. I had my eye on a character, but as expected that character was only a red herring. I had correctly guessed who the villain was, but the author had me doubting myself before the reveal, and their was definitely a “oh no they didn’t” moment that is fortunately overcome right away. I wasn’t totally sure until the very end.

This is a story of emotional healing after a tragedy, and how something like a school shooting can affect those connected to the dead and injured. School bullying is forefront, and there’s an obvious theme of those responsible for protecting children seeming to fail again and again to do so. While gun violence is a pertinent topic here in the states, the book doesn’t advocate gun control or gun fetishism. I’m glad that that topic wasn’t shoehorned in. It could’ve easily been the focus of this story, but the victims and the families of those that died and the shooters were what this story was truly about.

I started reading Aftermath on a Wednesday evening, and couldn’t stop reading until I had consumed it all. Aftermath is a powerful story about love, loss, and redemption. Five stars, and highly recommended.

Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.

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Drop by Drop, by Morgan Llywelyn

In this first book in the Step By Step trilogy, global catastrophe occurs as all plastic mysteriously liquefies. All the small components making many technologies possible—navigation systems, communications, medical equipment—fail. In Sycamore River, citizens find their lives disrupted as everything they’ve depended on melts around them, with sometimes fatal results. All they can rely upon is themselves. And this is only the beginning . . .

Drop by Drop is an interesting concept: plastics all over the world start to liquefy, and anything depending on plastics stop working. The idea is very much like the TV show, Jericho, and a non-zombie post apocalyptic story is a fresh read, so I requested it on Netgalley. The problem with Drop by Drop is that there is no plot. The story just meanders through a few years without a solid understanding of the flow of time. I think that the entire story spans a few years, maybe as many as four? The time shifts are abrupt, sometimes happening in the middle of a chapter. The vignettes are interesting by themselves, but linked together with no apparent ending to the story, the whole thing is an exercise in futility, but excessive head hopping soils even the interesting vignettes. Often I had to re-read a page or paragraph to figure out whom the section was about. Any time this happens in a book, I’m knocked out of the narrative, and any time the reader is knocked out of the narrative, it’s a chance that they’ll stop reading. I think that this story would’ve been better as a series of short stories, or even following a particular character through out the ordeal, perhaps in some sort of repeated chronology to show how different people and couples handle the plastic apocalypse. Very few of the characters are relatable, and although some backstory is filled in, the origins of most of the characters are nebulous at best. One of the biggest sins I feel a writer can commit is a bad ending, and Drop by Drop does just that: nothing is resolved, and a new impending doom is introduced to entice you to purchase book two. It took me five days to grind through a book that’s 336 pages, so you can imagine how frustrating it was to end in a cliffhanger. I kept hoping for a payout, but that wasn’t the case. Overall, I’d give Drop by Drop three stars, and with a $13 price tag for the ebook, I’d avoid this story entirely.

Morgan Llywelyn is an American-born Irish author best known for her historical fantasy, historical fiction, and historical non-fiction. Her fiction has received several awards and has sold more than 40 million copies, and she herself is recipient of the 1999 Exceptional Celtic Woman of the Year Award from Celtic Women International.

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The Good Twin, by Marti Green

Mallory Holcolm is an unfulfilled waitress and aspiring artist living in a Queens boardinghouse when she learns something astonishing about her past: she has an identical twin sister named Charly she never knew existed. Charly is a Princeton graduate, a respected gallery owner, and an heiress married to her handsome college sweetheart, Ben. Charly got everything she ever wanted. Everything Mallory wanted, too. And now it might be easier than Mallory ever imagined. Because Ben has reasons of his own for wanting to help her. It begins with his startling proposal. All Mallory has to do is say yes. But as their devious plan falls into place, piece by piece, Mallory learns more about her sister and herself than she ever meant to—a discovery that comes with an unexpected twist. A chilling deception is about to become a dangerous double cross. And it’s going to change the rules of Ben and Mallory’s game to the very end.

There seems to be a lot of animosity toward The Good Twin, by Marti Green. When I saw it on Netgalley, I requested it. I started reading it on a Friday evening, and read until it was done, finishing very early Saturday morning. It’s very compelling, and while some of the motivations for Mallory don’t quite pass muster, it’s an engrossing read. It was hard to find sympathy for Mallory, but I’m not sure what I would’ve done different. Charly was much easier to identify with – most of us have felt betrayed at some point in our lives, and Charly’s arc was, I think, a better read than Mallory’s. Part three is a little bit of a downer, and it felt rushed – almost incomplete. Overall I really enjoyed the story, and am awarding it four stars.

After receiving her Master of Science degree and New York State Professional Certificate in school psychology, Marti Green realized her true passion was the law. She went on to receive her law degree from Hofstra University and worked as an in-house counsel for a major cable television operator for twenty-three years, specializing in contracts, intellectual property law and regulatory issues. A lifelong New Yorker, Marti Green moved to The Villages, FL nine years ago, and now lives there with her husband, Lenny, and cat, Howie. She has two adult sons and five grandchildren.

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