Book Reviews: Wishes and Sorrows and The Best of Kate Elliot

Wishes and Sorrows is a collection of fantasy short stories by Cindy Lynn Speer. Like Black Swan, White Raven, many of the stories are retellings of fairy tales, although some are original. Many of the stories in Wishes are dark and complicated, revealing the downside of magical gifts.

On the whole, I enjoyed most of these stories, though I felt it would have been nice to mix up the tone of the stories a bit--most are quite dark, and a few light-hearted stories would have been a welcome change of pace. Still, many of the stories were delightfully creepy. I particularly enjoyed "The Train," which is a haunting and creepy retelling of Frankenstein. The "doctor" of that story is one of the most unsettling villains I've read in quite a while, especially considering the suggestion that the main character had escaped him before. Likewise, "Every Word I Speak" perfectly captured the downside of a fairy's ill-planned gift. Its harrowing premise is that the "gift" makes it impossible to tell who really cares for the main character, and who just wants riches.

Another excellent story, "But Can You Let Him Go?" travels through multiple versions of the Cinderella story, told from the point of view of Cinderella's fairy godmother. The fairy is trying to atone for her part in keeping Cinderella and her prince apart, but each story ends in tragedy until she can figure out how to set all of them free.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy short stories or fairy tale retellings. Some of the stories, like "The Train," are excellent science fiction as well.

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The Very Best of Kate Elliott is a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories as well as a handful of Elliot's essays on writing, fantasy, and having compassion. Many of the stories in this book are haunting and tense, with deeply evocative characters. "The Gates of Joriun" is one of the most taut, suspenseful fantasy stories I've read, and it's ambiguous ending leaves the reader yearning for more. Likewise, "A Memory of Peace" is a harrowing tale of growing up in the midst of a brutal war. Yet, Elliot's collection contains a wide variety of genres, settings, and tones, and several stories are lighthearted, even funny. "My Voice Is in my Sword" is breezy science fiction romp that takes place among a company of actors sent to perform "Macbeth" for an alien audience. Elliot creates the most odious narcissist I've ever read, then gives him a well-earned comeuppance.

In stories like "Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine," Elliot skirts the line between tense drama and deeply ironic comedy. What else to say about a story where the main character, Anna, survives a treacherous ordeal because her enemies are so used to ignoring poor, middle-aged women that she can pass right by them unnoticed? The author turns the invisibility that society inflicts on older women and turns it into a powerful weapon.

A few stories fall short. "With God to Guard Her" seems like Elliot is trying to write a modern update on typical Medieval "virtuous female saint" stories. While I appreciate what she's trying to accomplish, the story doesn't quite work--It feels too methodical and predictable. I found the story "Sunseeker" a bit tedious as well.

But I enjoyed reading most of Elliot's stories, and the four essays were a treat as well. Her essay "The Omniscient Breast" was a funny take on a pervasive problem that too many writers and readers don't think about until it's pointed out to them. As a writer myself, I hope to stay aware of the male gaze and its effect on my writing. "And Pharaoh's Heart Hardened" is a heart-felt essay on the importance of treating people with kindness and compassion, especially people who've been oppressed. It's an important reminder that oppression like racism and sexism happen because people dehumanize others and harden their hearts against other people's suffering.

This is a book I'd recommend to anyone interested in a fresh take on science fiction or fantasy, and if you're a writer yourself, don't skip the essays!

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The Moonlight Pegasus: Book Spotlight

The World of The Moonlight Pegasus

Sapphira is a desert world with little plant life, where the people live in the shadows of gray sunlight, sickened by the Dark Plague. To cure the people, the Guardian of Dreams sends the Spirit of Truth to bring the light back into his darkened world. In the form of Pegasus, he enters the world through the pure, innocent dreams of Selene, the reluctant princess and heir-apparent to the throne. Now, with her brother Dorian as king, another rebellion is stirring. All eyes are turning to Selene to bring peace through an arranged marriage. However, Selene only has eyes for her true love—her protector, Etoileon. As the rebellion unleashes its fury upon the kingdom of Sapphira and the supernatural forces collide, Selene is caught in the middle of all conflicts—the battle for her world, the battle for her love, and the battle for her very soul.

Check out The Moonlight Pegasus, a stand alone High Fantasy Novel from C.A. Sabol and C.S. Johnson!

Check out The Moonlight Pegasus, a stand alone High Fantasy Novel from C.A. Sabol and C.S. Johnson!

Excerpt from The Moonlight Pegasus

Etoileon smiled as he pulled out his special gift for Selene—having taken Ronal’s earlier advice, he had a tiny bouquet of deep red ekedlets, small minuscule flowers that smelled like sweet fruit. The ekedlets were tied together with a small yellow ribbon. He’d thought that the small gift would be perfect for her. It had taken him a while to get them, too. He was only allowed into the city, along with the other members of the Palace crew, only twice a month. Etoileon was lucky that he’d known the streets well enough to know where to go so he could get back in time to escort Selene down to the ballroom entrance.

The city was crowded for the opening of the reception. Etoileon had run into more than one person trying to reach his destination, Madame Flora’s Shop. Though he had meant to hurry up, Etoileon slowed down to look around, amazed to see just how the streets had changed to him in so short a time.

He’d been raised on the streets, mostly all alone.

It had been a miracle that he had survived there, let alone to manage to get a job in the Diamond City Palace, considering a job at the palace was a highly coveted position in society. Middle class children often took jobs in the palace, using their connections to be introduced into the flashy world of riches and wealth. After a number of years, they were able to use their earned capital to be educated in the way of society. Using the skills they would acquire from training and teaching of their instructors and parents, the now young adults would be able to be placed in a position where it was likely for a marriage to be arranged or sought after.

Etoileon had none of this.

He had no parents, no real family, few allies … there were plenty of untrustworthy people, enemies, and dangers around every corner. All he had were survival skills, and the good fortune to happen to be in the right place at the right time. As Etoileon leaned back on the tower wall, he thought about the night that he’d met Selene. He did not get too lost in his memories. The Palace was beginning to feel more like home to him as time went on, and his memories of the darker times of his life were beginning to fade.

It was a moment later that the door opened and Selene walked into the Tower room as well.

“Etoileon,” she greeted him, her eyes quickly losing their flicker of surprise and replacing it with an expression of warmth. “I did not think you would be up here this early.”

“You are,” he pointed out, a small smile forming on his face.

“Well,” Selene blushed, “There was something I wanted to do before later.”

“You mean before I came?” Etoileon asked. “What was it?”

“Well … ” Her face had turned even redder, and she looked away as she reached behind her and pulled out a small bag. “I wanted to give this to you later, but I have no objections to giving it to you a little early.”

Etoileon looked down at the bag she placed delicately in his hand. It had been carefully prepared for him, he could tell. The bag was all dressed up, tiny curls of ribbons surrounding the drawstrings of the sack, and made from cheerfully colored fabric

Selene nodded. “Open it, Etoileon. It’s for you.”

Inside the bag, he found a small silver-framed photograph of Selene and him from a few years ago. It was when he had first undergone his training for the Fighter squad. Selene was sitting in front of him in the picture, while he was standing behind her. He could tell that his eyes had been focused on her; Etoileon figured that he must have missed the camera. His eyes examined the picture closely, running over Selene’s face again and again.

“I don’t remember this picture,” he said slowly.

“It's from the time that you came storming out of the Fighter’s training room, remember? You were not too happy, I recall. My memory of the reason has faded, but I remember thinking you needed me there,” she said in a hushed voice. “I still come to watch, sometimes.”

I still need you there, he thought. But he could not say that. So instead, he looked over at her intently, and said, “Thank you.”

“So you like it?” Her smile seemed to brighten up the entire evening sky.

“Very much,” he nodded. “That must’ve been the day that Master Norio told me in front of everyone that I had been poorly trained and it would be a miracle if I amounted to anything.”

Selene’s sad smile flitted to her lips. “Poor Master Norio. That has to be the most incorrect he’s ever been.”

Check out The Moonlight Pegasus on Amazon!

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About the Author:

C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more about the author on her website, on facebook, or on goodreads!

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My Latest Book News--Reviews, Interviews, and the Library!

In addition to the mini-book tour, I’ve also had some great online book promotion lately! I had a lovely interview with Dr. J, a book blogger who’s also reviewed both Sapience and Saints & Curses. Here’s my favorite quote (this is so me right now, even more so since school started and I’ve back at work):

Just keep going--read, write, don't beat yourself up, just keep going! Lots of great books took their authors years, even decades, to write. While I respect people who write quickly, if that's not you (and it's not me), just keep writing and you'll get there.

Even reading it again, it helps to remind myself that it gets better. Right now, at the start of a new school year, I’m bone-tired and stressed out, and I can' hardly get any writing done at all. But it will pass. Everyone will adjust to being back at school, we’ll find a good routine, and I’ll get my energy back. Someday. Right?

Saints and Curses also got lovely reviews from book bloggers GripLitGrl and Sarah Lillian! Here’s my favorite quote from GripLitGrl’s review:

I love how Lantgen put together these short stories with great balance the stories transition between dark and light magical fantasy. Each time one story ends you’ll be looking forward to reading the next one.

And here’s another quote from Sarah Lillian:

Although Erlkong was short, of course as it is part of a short story collection, it still made me cry. In a few pages Alexis hit me hard in the feels (in the best way).

I’m so glad that both bloggers enjoyed my book!

Sapience also got a book spotlight on a new book blog, Functionally Fictional, and Saints & Curses had a spotlight with an excerpt on K.M. Jenkins’ blog.

And of course, some of my big news! My books are both available in the public library in Carrollton, Texas! I had heard it could be a challenge to get books on the shelves of libraries, since many librarians are very picky about their collections. But as of now, both Sapience and Saints & Curses on the shelves! My experience at the Carrollton library was so easy and painless that I’m going to try for some more libraries soon. As soon as I’m adjusted enough to my teaching schedule that I don’t feel like my brain is being sucked out of a funnel by the end of the day:)

My books, Sapience and Saints & Curses, are on the shelves in my local library! It’s a writer’s dream come true!

My books, Sapience and Saints & Curses, are on the shelves in my local library! It’s a writer’s dream come true!

If you’d like to know more about my upcoming author events and other book news, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter!

Six Very Short Stories (August 2019)

Here are six more of my very short stories! These are mostly scifi, with some dark stories that are more horror. I wrote them for the hashtags #vss365, #scififri, and #satsplat.

Safe Harbor

Kenda fired up her ship's safe harbor beacon. A bright flash of light indicated a nearby SOS--injuries, low on fuel, no food. The distressed ship was cheap--a hardscrabble freighter like settler families used. No money for her troubles. She clicked "ignore."

Glory

They told him about bravery, loyalty, and patriotism. They told stories of glory and courage. But the end came in a muddy field, shivering, guts trembling. The pale horse that felled thousands of soldiers with the most ignoble death. He cried for his mother.

Doppelganger

She leaned forward, as if she stared into a dark mirror. The other woman was identical, but not. A web of scars on one cheek, lips curled in a brutal scowl. A hand reached up and yanked her hair. She couldn't tell if the scream came from her, or the other.

Mutation

It was a small mutation in an ordinary flu virus. Under an electron microscope they looked identical and early symptoms were the same. But the patients--after a week, their eyes bled, their skin erupted in weeping sores. They died choking on their own blood.

Haven

The suit could feel like a haven. Away from everyone else, floating in the dark, the soft glow of distant corals the only light. Jethon couldn't reach her. But it was an illusion. A layer of graphene and insulation wouldn't protect her from sharp spines or teeth.

They’re Coming

She slammed the door and slid the bolt into place. The front window shattered.

"You'll answer for what you've done, Witch!" her neighbor screamed, tearing at her curtains, his eyes bulging.

"I didn't," she said. No one heard her. Or if they did, no one cared.

Mirrors

Mirrors

If you enjoyed my very short stories, check out my books, Sapience and Saints & Curses! And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter!

Our Half Price Books Tour: Results

If you’ve been following my blog or other social media, you may know that my friend Sarah Mensinga and I did a mini-book tour of our local Half Price Bookstores. I thought I’d write about how we set up the tour, and what results we had in terms of sales and experiences. It’s been a fun and exciting journey!

Setting Up an Author Event

It turns out that arranging book signings and other events at local bookstores, at least at the Half Price Bookstores here in Texas, is fairly easy. Honestly, I started by just visiting the bookstores and asking if they did events for local authors. If they did, I asked who to contact or talk to arrange an event of my own. Sometimes we had to fill out a form online or send one into the store, but most of the time either me or Sarah just had to email or talk to the manager of the store and arrange a date. Truthfully, I was surprised at how easy this part was!

Now, I do think that it’s likely easier to arrange events at used bookstores or indie bookstores than it may be at larger chains, but since I love used and indie bookstores, that didn’t bother me. There’s also a waiting list of a couple of months at the larger bookstores, such as the Flagship Half Price in Dallas. But if you’re patient, professional, and flexible on dates, I don’t think it would be particularly hard for most authors to arrange a book signing at a couple of local stores.

My author table at the Flagship Half Price Bookstore in Dallas!

My author table at the Flagship Half Price Bookstore in Dallas!

Presenting Your Books—the Display

Sarah and I had already bought banners, banner stands, and book stands for our table at Dallas Fan Expo, so we didn’t really need any more materials for our events. The nice thing about a good author banner is that you can reuse it at tons of different events! I also had a few books leftover from Fan Expo and Arlingcon, though I did end up buying about ten more copies of both Sapience and Saints & Curses to bring on the tour.

A good display should show off a couple of copies of your books, have a clear and easy to read price list (including any deals or sales you’re having), and be eye-catching (dramatic colors, texts large enough for people to read at a distance, etc.). We had cute little mini-easels that held copy of each books upright, so people could see them easily. Sarah found these at an art supply store for a steep discount. I also printed a couple sheets of QR codes, so that people could scan them and easily find our books/website online if they wanted. I’d also recommend that you have a way to take credit cards, which is easy to do using the Square App (they’ll send you a free card-swiper).

I think one of the things a lot of author miss at book events, however, is a clear communication of genre. As a reader and a writer, I generally prefer science fiction and fantasy. Whatever genres you write, your banner—its pictures, its text, and its style—should reflect that. One thing I’ve discovered is that many people have clear preferences for say, science fiction, and they are looking for a display that screams “scifi here!” Which is fine, as my banner does just that, and that’s what I like to write. But if your banner is genre ambiguous—if people can’t tell if it’s high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, or scifi—tons of potential readers will give you a hard pass. So make your genre clear! Even if it turns off a few casual readers who don’t care for say, Urban Fantasy, that’s okay. Those people probably wouldn’t have bought your book anyway, and your banner will be a beacon to people who are interested in what you write.

Smiles and Professionalism—Meeting Your Readers

Most of the book signings we did were about 2-3 hours long, and the amount of traffic we saw during that time was highly variable. Our position in the stores seemed to matter a bit too—we generally sold more from a central location, right where people entering the store could see us clearly. I also sold dramatically more books at the large Flagship store in Dallas than in the smaller suburban stores. But, we made sales and connections at every store we visited, even if we were in an out-of-the way corner.

I think it helps to smile, greet people, then have a short pitch ready for people who come by your table. Try to give the basic of your book in a sentence or two—genre, length, topic of interest, price. My pitch for Sapience went something like this:

Hello! I’m a local author. Sapience is my collection of science fiction short stories. Many of the stories take place on a colony on Jupiter’s Moon Europa, because Europa is one of the places that NASA thinks we are most likely to find extraterrestrial life in our solar system. All of the books are ten dollars a piece.”

Short, simple, to the point. If they seemed interested in any of our books, I had a short description of each of them ready. I encouraged people to pick the books up, read the back, flip through them, and many people did. At that point, I shut up and left them alone. I wanted a chance to explain the basics of my books, but I didn’t want them to feel pressured or harassed. What’s more, if someone walked away, I kept a smile on my face and thanked them for coming by. No one will buy your book if you come off as sullen or resentful, and people will sometimes come back to buy your book as you’re leaving, or even online. It may be coincidence, but I often had an online sales bump after good sales at a bookstore. Besides, if you come back to the same stores, you may see regular costumers, and you always want to treat them with kindness and respect! Make their memories and encounters with you positive, and even if they don’t buy your book right then, they may buy it later or tell their friends.

In fact—here’s a fun story! One lovely lady who bought a copy of Sapience at an earlier event, came to see me a second time at our big event in the Flagship Half Price! She liked my book so much she bought copies for all of her friends!

Results and Sales

One of the nice things about doing the book signings in Half Price Books was that our table was free (unlike cons, which can charge a significant amount for a table at the larger events). Furthermore, since we already had most of our set up and display equipment from previous events, the only cost for our tour was the books themselves. That’s nice, because it meant I felt less pressure to sell a certain amount of books to cover the cost of the table.

We sold books at every event, but I definitely sold dramatically more books at the Flagship Half Price. It was a significantly larger store, they did signs in the store to promote us, and we were very centrally located. However, one of the major sales I had was to a reader who’d met me at a previous event at a smaller store. My point is, while you will likely sell more at larger stores and events, that’s not the only thing that matters. Sometimes making a meaningful connection with a reader, even if you only sell one or two books, is what’s most important.

Overall, I’d highly recommend organizing in-person local bookstore events to any author, whether traditional or indie. Many people really enjoy meeting authors face-to-face. It’s easy to get bogged down in the digital world and think that the best way to promote your books is on social media, but I’ve found in-person events can give you great connection to readers, as well as good sales, that you might not find online.

Book Sales, Reviews, Author Interview, and a Guest Post on New Adventures in Scifi!

I’ve been doing tons of book promotions lately, and I’m excited to announce that both of my books are on sale for the first time! Both Sapience and Saints & Curses are on sale for $0.99 (a Kindle Countdown) until Aug. 16, 2019. Be sure to check them out!

I’m also excited that both Saints & Curses received an excellent review from writer and book blogger Dr. J, on the blog, Dr. J Reads! Dr. J also wrote a wonderful review of Sapience on Amazon, and was kind enough to ask me for an interview, which should be out soon.

If there’s anything I like in fantasy stories, it’s the idea that even in a modern and sometimes decidedly mundane world, magic is just around the corner. I find some fantasy writers act as though magic or incredible things or heroism are relics of an ancient past, and I just find that mentality really depressing. I find magic, at least in the sense of the mysterious and haunting qualities of nature or human beings, very real and present today. —from my interview on Torcian.com

I’ve also been happy that I had another author interview come out, this one on Torcian.com! It’s a very interesting website, especially for writers, so check it out!

One of the things I enjoy most on Twitter is writing very short stories, or vss. There are tons of great hashtags to give you prompts, including #vss365, #SciFiFri, #SciFanSat, and #Satsplat. For someone who’s busy or a bit overwhelmed but still wants to write, these hashtags are a great way to write and be creative in tiny bursts throughout the week.—from my guest post on New Adventures in Sci-Fi

Last but not least, I’ve also shared some of my most recent very short stories on Chris Morton’s New Adventures in Sci-fi! These were some of my favorite recent vss, if you like my mini stories, especially science fiction and fantasy ones, take a look!

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Reading Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Nov/Dec 2015

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Nov/Dec 2015

If you’re interested in reading science fiction or fantasy, there are some great magazines with plenty of excellent short stories. As a writer, I’ve often submitted stories to magazines like these, and if you’re interested in submitting stories as well, its a good idea to read a few of them to see what the editors there like. I decided to start with the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several reasons. First, it's well-established--it's been around since 1949, and over the years it's had plenty of short stories nominated for prestigious awards, including the Nebula and the Hugo awards. Second, and perhaps equally important, I've found them to be a great magazine for writers. The submission process is easy, and I get a very quick response from their editor, C.C. Finlay. Though I've not yet had a story accepted there, Mr. Finlay has always offered me a short critique of the rejected story, as well as encouragement to send more. That's helped me keep going even when I've gotten tons of rejections.

I found F&SF at my local bookstore, though it's also easy to buy on their website and on Amazon, and you can often find tons of old issues at used bookstores. Considering the prices of most books (and it's pretty much the length of a short book), it's very affordable. I started with the 2015 Nov/Dec issue, and I was very impressed with the overall quality of the stories. My favorite ones were "Dreampet" and the novelette "Tomorrow is a Lovely Day." "Dreampet" begins like a fairy tale of the future, where pets are genetically customized. Kittens stay kittens forever, and they grow pink and purple fur with a child's name written in it. The narrator works for the Dreampet company, and he appears deeply enthusiastic about his products, having given Dreampets to each member of his family. Yet, his family's indifference and neglect of their splendid pets introduces a creepy, discomfiting note to the story that builds to a disturbing conclusion.

"Tomorrow is a Lovely Day" is a hard to describe--it's the story of a man stuck reliving a terrible day over and over, stuck in a nightmare that he hates. As the story unfolds, he slides deeper into the horror of his situation. Can he figure out a machine's mysterious last riddle, or will he be doomed to relive the same bitter moments again and again?

I enjoyed many of the other stories in the magazine as well, including the tragic and haunting "Gypsy" and the thoughtful meditation on war in "Thirteen Mercies." The only one that didn't work for me was the first story, "The Winter Wraith." While the story was atmospheric, it lacked a strong climax, and the ending felt too ambiguous. The other story with a subtle, ambiguous ending, "Cleanout," had a stronger emotional core and more interesting characters. F&SF has non-fiction articles as well, including book and movie reviews, and these were interesting and turned me on to books and movies I'd like to check out.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Jan/Feb 2016

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Jan/Feb 2016

Since I enjoyed reading the 2015 Nov/Dec issue so much, I decided to get the issue from Jan/Feb 2016 as well. Like the previous issue, the Jan/Feb magazine contained plenty of brilliant and engaging stories, each as different in tone as the authors themselves. The issue is themed around the planet Mars, and the first three stories are set there, yet each of them has such a unique vision of the planet it hardly seems to be the same place each time. Gregory Benford's "Vortex," which opens the 'zine, is my favorite of these. The author's conception of the Marsmat, a completely alien, possibly intelligent life-form, intrigued me completely. On the other hand, Mary Robinette Kowal's "Rockets Red," also set on Mars, is a sweet, heart-warming tale of community and teamwork. The last Mars tale, Alex Irvine's "Number Nine Moon," is more of a survival story set during the evacuation of the first and last human colony on the red planet.

The rest of the stories in the magazine were quite good as well, with a few that stand out as exceptional. Albert Cowdry's haunting and creepy tale "The Visionaries" stayed with me more than some of the others. If the first couple of paragraphs didn't initially grab me, Cowdry certainly built up tension from there, until the final horrifying reveal. What's more, his characters are lovable and fascinating, down-to-earth Jim and sensitive Morrie playing off each other in great ways. Their gentle conflict, as well as Cowdry's subtle references to current political events, make the story feel real, which deepens its frightening, unsettling finale. Likewise, E. Lily Yu's "Braid of Days and Wake of Nights" alternates between brutal reality and a surreal, lovely vision of an alternative world. Its ending was as ambiguous as it was heart-rending. I loved it so much!

Overall, I'd highly recommend The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to anyone who loves, well, fantasy and science fiction. I've enjoyed the stories in it so much I'm considering getting a subscription, which is more affordable than buying it in Barnes and Noble every couple of months. One last thing--I loved the science article "Welcome to Pleistocene Park," which contained such fantastic and interesting ideas about ecology and woolly Mammoths I've been mulling it over ever since.

Asimov’s June 2016

Asimov’s June 2016

After reading the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, as well as listening to podcasts like EscapePod and Podcastle, I decided to try reading Asimov's for the first time with the June 2016 issue. Asimov’s is easy to find at Barnes and Noble, though you can also get copies from Asimov's website or via Amazon. Like most of the scifi/fantasy magazines I've found, it's very affordable, only $4.99 at B&N, and older issues are often available at used bookstore as well.

I enjoyed most of the stories in this issue of Asimov's, and surprisingly, I loved the poetry. I don't usually associate poetry and scifi, but I found the ones here quite interesting, especially Geoffrey Landis' "A Robot Grows Old." Even the short-form poems had vivid images I liked. Among the short stories, Sarah Pinsker's "Clearance" was a fascinating example of slipstream, one that moved between parallel worlds yet felt so grounded in mundane reality that she still managed to tell a powerful story of love and estrangement. I loved Rick Wilbur's "Rambunctious" as well. The relationships between the characters felt beautifully warm and well-developed, and the setting as lush as the Florida Keys themselves.

If I felt that Rivera's "Unreeled" covered similar plot points as many other works of scifi, I do think he did a good job of creating tension and unsettling dread. "Rats Dream of the Future" had a fascinating premise, but somehow the story felt rushed--I think it would have worked better if the main character had delved more deeply into her rival's experiments, perhaps even seen one in action. Instead, it felt like the major plot points occurred "off-camera."

"What We Hold Onto" is this issue's novella, and it was an interesting story. I liked the world the author created and the characters he developed. The idea of "Nomads," the ultimate freelancers, felt fascinating and perhaps even prescient. Yet, for me the story's pacing felt inconsistent, while the author did a good job of making the romance feel passionate, I had a hard time believing the two characters knew each other well enough for the ending to quite make sense. Likewise, "Project Symmetry," the novelette, had a great main character and a good premise, but the ending didn't feel earned--it kind of came out of nowhere. I felt the story could have used more foreshadowing and groundwork before the ultimate confrontation between the main character and her family.

Overall, I'd highly recommend Asimov's to anyone who likes science fiction. The stories were fascinating and unique, and the small size of the magazine made it easy for me to carry it around (even inside my purse) to read whenever I felt like it. The wide variety of stories made each one feel unique and reflected the breadth and depth of modern science fiction writing. I’m going to continue to read more science fiction and fantasy magazines.

If you enjoy my writing and my reviews, check out my collection of science fiction short stories, Sapience, and subscribe to my newsletter!

Reading the Witcher--The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny, Blood of Elves, and The Time of Contempt

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I'm a huge fan of the video game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt --it's got great game play and an excellent story. I enjoyed the game so much that after my first play through (I'm on my second right now), I decided to try reading the books that inspired the game, as well as a new Netflix series with Henry Cavill. The Witcher books were written by Andrzej Sapkowski, a Polish author who's considered the Tolkien of Poland. He's had a huge influence on fantasy in Poland, and it's clear why--the books are fun to read, with compelling characters and great, if episodic, storytelling.

The first Witcher book, The Last Wish: Introducing The Witcher, is a collection of short stories linked by the main character, Geralt. Many of them are extremely dark, heart-rending re-tellings of fairy tales, including a brutal version of Snow White, but some of the stories, especially “The Last Wish” story the collection is named after, are hilariously funny. Anyone who’s played the games knows that for the the pathos and tragedy that surrounds his life, Geralt can still get into some screamingly funny misadventures! The book tells about many of the key moments of Geralt's early life, including his first meeting with Yennefer and how he invoked the Law of Surprise to become Ciri's eventual guardian. While some of the language in translation is a bit clunky, the characters and stories in the book make it a compelling read, especially for anyone who loved the game.

The next book is in the Witcher series is another collection of short stories, The Sword of Destiny. I ended up loving this collection almost as much as The Last Wish. It explores Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship further, in particular how their inability to have a child together despite Yennefer’s desperate yearning complicates their relationship. To me, the stories in The Sword of Destiny are ultimately about family and love (though with plenty of monsters, dragons, infidelity, and dryads along the way). Geralt was bereft of a family from a young age, having been abandoned by his sorceress mother with the Witchers. Yennefer also is bereft of a family, and her and Geralt’s infertility make it impossible for them to form their own in a typical way. They dance around each other, in love and sadness. Likewise, Geralt meets Ciri for the first time, but her formidable grandmother, the Lioness of Cintra, makes it clear that despite the Law of Surprise, she won’t let him take her.

But destiny is a twisting and complicated road, though as Geralt notes, destiny by itself requires something more. And in the haunting and heartrending final, it’s clear what that is—love. This is another book I’d highly recommend—it might be my favorite of the Witcher books, though I also loved The Last Wish. so it’s hard to pick a definitive favorite. While you don’t necessarily need to read The Last Wish to appreciate The Sword of Destiny, it might help to establish the relationships with the characters.

The next book in the series, Blood of Elves, is more of a cohesive novel, but since it tells its story from multiple perspectives it's still a bit episodic. Nonetheless, it tells an excellent story and as usual, the characters are one of the best parts. Geralt seems like the strong, silent type, but Sapkowski gives him a depth and mystery that make him compelling even when he's understated. And Yennefer develops into a complex, intriguing woman with a subtle intelligence. If you don't understand why Geralt is so in love with her after playing the games, this book shows why. Sapkowski draws a complicated web of relationships between Geralt, Yennefer, Ciri and Triss, creating both understanding and mystery.

The Time of Contempt is the second novel and the fourth book in Adrzej Sapkowski's series of books on the Witcher. I really enjoyed the first two books, and this one did not disappoint. The story focuses as much on Ciri as it does on Geralt, but both their stories are exciting and interesting. What's more, for a book with plenty of action, the story is surprisingly philosophical at times. Geralt tries to do what he thinks is best to protect Ciri and do the right thing. Yet, time and again Sapkowski shows how tricky it is to determine the "right" path in a complex, morally ambiguous world. The haunting tragedy of war, and the terrible choices that people make when confronted by devastating circumstances become a running theme.

I loved the characterizations of Geralt and Yennefer--their relationship has complexity and depth, and the reader ends up sympathetic to both characters even when they seem opposed to each other. Their touching love for Ciri shines through their actions, even when they disagree about what's best for her. Even Dandelion becomes a fascinating character, one with more complicated connections than you might think. What's more, Dandelion's "translations" of Geralt and Yennefer's discussions is both touching and hilarious.

For those of you who love the games, this book gives quite a bit of backstory on characters like Phillippa Eilhart and Dijkstra. It also reveals the origins of the political strife and warfare from the games.

I'd recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy, the Witcher games, or is excited to see the new Netiflix series with Henry Cavill. Reading these books had deepened my appreciation for the game, yet they are excellent reads even if you don't ever play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt . They have a world as deep and fully realized as anything in Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, and rich, intriguing characters.

If you like my posts, check out my books, Sapience or Saints and Curses, and subscribe to my newsletter!

Seven Very Short Stories (July 2019)

I’ve continued writing tons more very short stories this month! These I mostly shared on the hashtags #vss365, #satsplat, and #scififri.

Silver Hair

She had silver hair she kept in tight braids during the day. But at night, when she told me stories, she let her hair flow down like a winter river. In the darkest times, I dream about her, but now her eyes are stars and her hair flows across the sky.

Leaving

She stared out the orphanage window, imagining a glittering life elsewhere. She told the other children about the dances she'd attend, the men who'd love her. It all came true. She came back to the orphanage pregnant.

"Stay, little one," she whispered to her baby, dying.

Not a Scratch

He left her without a single visible scar, not even a scratch. Just the memories, bright and brutal and horrible, burned into her retinas. And the loss--a gaping hole in her life where her friends had been, the love and support she'd needed when she left him.

Fly

"An unlikely astronaut," the teacher had muttered under his breath as Lina presented her project. All he saw was her chair. Now she floated above the ship's console, staring out the viewport. A verdant new world. She couldn't walk--but she could fly.

Equanimity

She faced her husband's death with equanimity, even when they made her identify his body. Stay strong for the children, she thought, clutching a rosary to her chest. But then they wheeled out her son.

Soul

"Do you have a soul? Can a true psyche emerge from gears and nano fibers?" he asked, stroking her face and kissing her. She adjusted her automatic responses to prevent cringing.

"I have a soul, Senator. It belongs to you, if you support the Digital Citizen Act."

Condor System

The Condor system was a worldwide project, a way to protect the entire planet from meteors, comets, all extinction level events from space. But someone on the project betrayed us. The plasma guns incinerated DC and Moscow.

Let us help, China said. For a price.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my very short stories, check out my collection of science fiction short stories, Sapience, or my new book, Saints and Curses. And remember to subscribe to my newsletter!

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Guest Post, an Interview, and two Reviews

I’ve been busy promoting both my books, Sapience and Saints and Curses, and I’m happy with how that’s going! Today, my friend Sarah Mensinga and I had out first book signing at a local Half Price Bookstore in Plano, TX! We’ll be doing a mini tour of bookstores (find our schedule here). In addition to in-person events, I’ve done another guest post, an interview, and I’ve had two more reviews, including my first by a booktuber!

Me (Alexis Lantgen) holding a copy of my book, Saints and Curses: A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories, at my table at Half Price Books.

Me (Alexis Lantgen) holding a copy of my book, Saints and Curses: A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories, at my table at Half Price Books.

You can find my latest guest post at the Sorcerer of Tea’s website. I wrote “5 Tips for First Time Book Convention Vendors,” and I’m happy with how it turned out. If you’re a writer interested in potentially getting a table at a Comicon, or if you just love Comicons, check it out!

I knew as soon as I decided to publish my first book, Sapience, that I’d love to get a table at a local book convention. I’d been to cons before, and there are always tons of science fiction/fantasy fans roaming about, enjoying the finely polished dice and the hilarious T-shirt slogans.

My most recent interview is with Pond’s Press, which is website about Video Games, Movies, and Netflix shows. I appreciate Chase Pond for contacting me!

My next interview is about a leader in a science fiction writing organization here in DFW. Let’s hear more about it from Alexis Lantgen.

I’m also happy to have a new review of Saints and Curses from writer and book blogger Laura Elizabeth. She has some really beautiful things to say about my book, and it’s always wonderful to hear how much someone enjoyed your stories (honestly, I even enjoy reading a thoughtful critique—it’s nice when someone thinks deeply about your work as well).

I enjoyed the variety in these stories, and Lantgen does well to give each one a completely distinct feel. Moving from story to story we’re treated to some vivid and surprisingly detailed characters, a real strength of the collection, and completely different narrative tones.

Last but not least, I got my first review by a booktuber, April Grace. She gives a very thoughtful description of the stories in Saints and Curses in the video below. She’s agreed to read Sapience as well, and I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say about my science fiction short stories too.

If you’d like to hear more about my author events, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter!