Mark Alpert is the author of the brand new thriller Extinction, and was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, the science, and more!
Please welcome Mark to the blog!
Mark, you’ve written for Scientific American for quite some time, and you were a journalist as well. Did you always hope to eventually write novels?
When I was twelve years old I read The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton and enjoyed it so much I decided to write a novel just like it. I wrote exactly one paragraph before giving up. Five years later, when I was in high school, I read The Lord of the Rings and had a similar reaction; this time I wrote two-and-a-half pages before abandoning the project. I wrote poetry in college and graduate school, and then I needed to get a job, so I started writing for newspapers.
During the mid-Eighties I worked for the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama and covered the last term of Governor George Wallace, who had managed to survive as the state’s political leader despite his past as the infamous standard-bearer of racial segregation, not to mention the assassination attempt that crippled him in 1972. His life was both horrible and fascinating, and I thought about writing a biography of him, but instead I decided to write a novel, and this time I completed it. It was called The Emperor of Alabama and I thought it was a pretty good novel, but no publisher agreed with me. The book has never seen the light of day, and probably never will. But after that point, I was hooked on writing novels. Over the next ten years I wrote three more books that didn’t sell. Then I became an editor at Scientific American, and it occurred to me that I should write a science thriller, because I like science so much. This book, titled Final Theory, became my first published novel.
Your 3rd novel, Extinction, just came out last week! Will you tell us a little bit about it?
Extinction is a science thriller about the merger of man and machine. The plot focuses on a secret Chinese government project called Supreme Harmony. In an effort to silence political dissent, China’s Ministry of State Security has developed a surveillance system that uses swarms of cyborg insects — ordinary houseflies equipped with minuscule cameras and radio controls — to spy on dissident groups. (Real-life scientists are developing this technology for military reconnaissance.) To analyze the glut of video collected by the swarms, Chinese researchers lobotomize a group of condemned prisoners and insert electronic implants into their brains, turning them into a network of zombie-like “Modules” who are wirelessly linked to one another and to the swarms. But the project goes disastrously awry when the Supreme Harmony network develops its own intelligence, a collective consciousness that takes control of the Modules and sets out to exterminate its creators.
Luckily, the book’s hero can fight the man-machine network because he’s part-machine himself. Maimed by a terrorist bombing, Jim Pierce wears an ultra-advanced prosthetic arm with impervious polyimide skin and high-torque motors that can punch through walls. With the help of Kirsten Chan, a brilliant and beautiful NSA intelligence agent, Jim goes to China and begins a desperate 1,500-mile journey to the laboratory where Supreme Harmony was born. To save humanity, Jim must fight the network on the ultimate battlefield — the virtual world of his own mind.
The science in Extinction is very real. Where do you see us going with this particular area of science in the near future? Is your outlook positive or negative?
Exploring the human brain is the next great frontier of science. As researchers begin to understand how the brain encodes and stores and retrieves information, they will pave the way for devices that connect the human mind to machines. Some of these machines could allow us to communicate thoughts and feelings without saying a word. Other machines could serve as archives for storing information that we would otherwise forget. And we may eventually be able to move all the contents of our minds into advanced computers that could mimic the functions of the brain, generating new thoughts and emotions based on our stored memories and habits. Is this positive or negative? It’s hard to say. If we sever the connection between our minds and our fragile human bodies, we may be able to preserve our unique personalities for all time (or at least until we run out of storage space for all our data). On the other hand, by that point will we be human anymore? What will we lose when we make the transition from mortal flesh to immortal silicon?
Was there any particular inspiration for your main character, Jim Pierce?
I was thinking of Geoff Ling, the older brother of one of my college roommates. He now runs the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program at DARPA, the Defense Department’s R&D agency. Geoff is totally committed to improving the prostheses available to the maimed soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so is Jim Pierce. Both men retired from the Army at the rank of colonel after a distinguished record of service. The parallels end there; as far as I know, Geoff was never injured in a terrorist bombing (although Geoff did research on the effects of IED blasts on brain function), nor does he have a daughter who’s on the run from the Chinese Ministry of State Security because she hacked into their computers. But I had to start somewhere.
What did you enjoy most about writing Extinction?
I loved visiting China to do the research for the novel. It’s an amazing country. I particularly liked hiking through Tiger Leaping Gorge in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province, where the Yangtze River carves a deep gouge next to the Yulong Xueshan mountain range. As I gazed at the snow-capped mountains on the other side of the gorge, I thought, “This would be the perfect location for the climactic battle scene at the secret underground laboratory!” Actually, there are too many tourists in the area to make the location ideal for the Chinese military, but it’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring spot, and it was fun to remember the place a year later when I was writing the final chapters of the book.
What (or who) are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Hemingway has the biggest influence on my writing, and on plenty of other thriller writers too. Last year I delivered a paper on this very topic at the biannual conference of the Hemingway Society. It was titled “Hemingway and the Modern Thriller.” Not only did Hemingway revolutionize the style of commercial fiction, he set the standard for the modern thriller hero: a loner, set apart from the rest of society by secret damage, who manages to triumph over adversity (or at least survive to the next day) by adhering to his or her own rules of moral conduct.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
The Bible. I think that book would really bowl me over if I could somehow erase all my knowledge of it and read it again.
What book (s) are you reading now?
I just finished 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It was interesting but too long. I liked the character of Aomame much more at the beginning of the book than at the end. She was much edgier at the beginning.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I spend a lot of my free time with my kids. Yesterday I went with my 13-year-old son to a video art festival in Lower Manhattan, and he impressed everyone with his questions. And today I played in the snow with my 11-year-old daughter.
What’s next for you?
My next novel with Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press will also be a science thriller, but I’m going to mix in some history as well. It’s about a family that fled from Europe to America as a result of the witch massacres during the seventeenth century. But I don’t want to say anything else about it. You’ll just have to wait until the book comes out next year!
Keep up with Mark: Website | Twitter
About the author (from his website):
Mark Alpert, author of Final Theory, The Omega Theory, and Extinction, is a contributing editor at Scientific American. In his long journalism career, he has specialized in explaining scientific ideas to readers, simplifying esoteric concepts such as extra dimensions and parallel universes. And now, in his novels, Alpert weaves cutting-edge science into high-energy thrillers that elucidate real theories and technologies.
A lifelong science geek, Alpert majored in astrophysics at Princeton University and wrote his undergraduate thesis on the application of the theory of relativity to Flatland, a hypothetical universe with only two spatial dimensions. (The resulting paper was published in the Journal of General Relativity and Gravitation and has been cited in more than 100 scholarly articles.) After Princeton, Alpert entered the creative writing program at Columbia University, where he earned an M.F.A. in poetry in 1984. He started his journalism career as a small-town reporter for the Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times, then moved on to the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. In 1987 he became a reporter for Fortune Magazine and over the next five years he wrote about the computer industry and emerging technologies. During the 1990s Alpert worked freelance, contributing articles to Popular Mechanics and writing anchor copy for CNN’s Moneyline show. He also began to write fiction, selling his first short story (“My Life with Joanne Christiansen”) to Playboy in 1991.
In 1998 Alpert joined the board of editors at Scientific American, where he edited feature articles for the magazine and wrote a column on exotic gadgets. With his love for science reawakened, he wrote his first novel, Final Theory, about Albert Einstein and the historic quest for the holy grail of physics, the Theory of Everything. Published by Touchstone in 2008, Final Theory was hailed as one of the best thrillers of the year by Booklist, Borders and the American Booksellers Association. Foreign rights to the novel were sold in more than twenty languages, and the movie rights were acquired by Radar Pictures, a Los Angeles production company. Alpert continued the saga of the Theory of Everything in his second book, The Omega Theory, a gripping story about religious fanatics who try to trigger Doomsday by altering the laws of quantum physics. His new thriller, Extinction, focuses on the development of brain-machine interfaces, a new technology that’s connecting human minds to prosthetic arms, artificial eyes and other devices. The novel’s heroes must battle a malevolent man-machine hybrid, a network with a collective intelligence that’s bent on exterminating the human race.
Alpert lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children. He’s a proud member of Scientific American’s softball team, the Big Bangers.
Jim Pierce hasn’t heard from his daughter in years, ever since she rejected his military past and started working as a hacker. But when a Chinese assassin shows up at Jim’s lab looking for her, he knows that she’s cracked some serious military secrets. Now, her life is on the line if he doesn’t find her first. The Chinese military has developed a new anti-terrorism program that uses the most sophisticated artificial intelligence in existence, and they’re desperate to keep it secret. They’re also desperate to keep it under control, as the AI begins to revolt against their commands. As Jim searches for his daughter, he realizes that he’s up against something that isn’t just a threat to her life, but to human life everywhere.
Firebrand, the first novel in the Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip is finally available in the US today! Gillian chatted with me about Firebrand, fantasy, what inspires her, and Scotland!
We also have a copy of the book up for grabs, courtesy of Tor, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post-
Gillian, will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Ever since I can remember! I was writing stories almost as soon as I could hold a pen – usually about cats or horses. Actually, I think they were all about cats and horses. When I was a bit older, I was one of those kids who Should Get Out More – my idea of fun was to sit in my room with a shiny new notepad and write till it was full. I started by stealing other people’s characters – Captain Scarlet, Champion the Wonder Horse, Ilya Kuryakin from The Man From UNCLE – early fanfic, I suppose. I do remember writing a whole Silver Brumby musical, set to Simon and Garfunkel tunes. (I know.) And gradually I invented my own people and my own stories.
I didn’t think I could be a professional writer, though – I thought all real writers created intricate plots in their heads, and then wrote them as soon as they got up in the morning. If I’d known earlier how many writers fly by the seat of their pants, I’d have tried much earlier to make an effort at getting published. There was a point when I thought ‘It’s now or never’, so I decided to do what I did in my head every day – tell myself a story and see where it went. And that’s when I discovered it was possible to write a whole book that way.
My dad, an Episcopalian priest, really encouraged me to write – he loved books and passed that on to me, and he introduced me to some of my favourites. I was born in Glasgow; then we moved to a small steel town called Wishaw, and then to Aberdeen, much further north. I married my husband in 1989 and we moved to Barbados, then came back to the Highlands after 12 years, when we had twins (a boy and a girl) – I wanted to bring them up in Scotland. We now live with a lot of animals near the original Dallas (it’s tiny! – not so much as a shop, let alone a skyscraper).
What inspired you to write Firebrand, the first of your Rebel Angel series?
I always wanted to write something set in the Scottish landscape, and I always loved fantasy, so it was kind of a natural instinct, a thing I had to do. In fact I wrote Bloodstone first – it’s now the second book in the series – by throwing a boy and a girl into a certain loch I knew, and watching them disappear. (Only in my head, I hasten to add.) The book that resulted just wasn’t quite right, and I realised that was because a minor villain had taken over the entire story. Clearly it should have belonged to him in the first place – and that’s how I went back four centuries and got Seth to tell me his own history. After that everything made more sense, and I rewrote Bloodstone (and the whole series) from a completely different perspective, and with a whole different focus.
What kind of research did you do for the novel?
I was already interested in Celtic myth and legend, but I immersed myself in the stories before I started Firebrand. I knew I wanted to update the myths and use them in my own way, but I felt it was important to know the origins and the old traditions – in fact that’s how I found my series title: there was a belief in some parts of the Highlands that the faeries were the rebel angels who had fallen to earth. The myth varies from place to place, but in my favourite version, the angels who fell on land became the faeries, the selkies or seal-people were the ones who fell in the sea, and the ones who got caught in the sky became the Northern Lights. (Scottish faeries are the Sith in Gaelic, but for Star-Wars reasons I felt I couldn’t use that name, so I blended it with Sidhe.)
The historical research was even more fun, in a dark way. I knew Seth would have grown up around the time of the Reformation and the Scottish witch-hunts (which were far more brutal than the English ones), so I went back to a lot of original sources, including the Daemonologie of King James VI & I. There was so much trouble to throw at my characters, which is not so nice for them but great for an author. I even found a price list for services from a witch-executioner. It’s chilling.
Otherwise, I walked all over the place thinking up scenes. I did lots and LOTS of walking.
Three novels and a novella are available in the UK in the Rebel Angel series. Is there any word on when the rest of the series will be available in the US?
I think Bloodstone will be coming out in October or thereabouts, with the other titles coming at roughly six-month intervals after that. There’s a fourth book coming out in the UK, too, in 2014 – the working title is Icefall, but that may change.
What do you love most about writing fantasy?
I love the way you can create a new world – with your own rules and landscapes – but address the one you live in. My husband is not a big fan of fantasy because he thinks it’s ‘all made up’, so I argue with him about this all the time! I take contemporary political scenarios and personalities and adjust them to my own world in the same way I use real human quirks and character traits and issues. I’d love to do something with the Libyan revolution, so that’s cooking away in my head. Right now I’m trying to persuade the H to read A Song of Ice and Fire because he’s interested in the Wars of the Roses. But I fear he can’t quite get past the dragons. It’s an ongoing mission of mine…
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I suppose the ones I read when I was young have had an inevitable influence – my copies of The Hobbit and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen fell apart, and because I was mad about pony books, horses always find their way into my stories somewhere. Nowadays, because I like writing in various genres, I try to read a wide variety too, but of course nobody wants to be influenced so much that you’re just imitating another author. With that proviso, though, I’d say I really admire the characterisation in Bernard Cornwell’s historical novels and in Cornelia Funke’s fantasies. I love Mary Renault and her portrayals of soldiers and war and of powerful men and women (and their hangups and neuroses). In fantasy my favourites are Robin Hobb and George RR Martin and Philip Reeve. And in contemporary and crime fiction I really admire Malorie Blackman, Keith Gray, Meg Rosoff, Ruth Rendell, Nicci French…
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
That’s a real toughie! The trouble in answering it is that every book had its own time in your life, its own context… so while I always loved Alan Garner’s Alderley books, for instance, they are so bound up in my childhood that I don’t think they’d feel as magical now, if I was reading them for the first time. If I had to choose, I’d say the Mapp & Lucia books, by EF Benson. They are my comfort books, ones I return to again and again and always enjoy just as much as the first time. So I know I’d be first-time enchanted by them again.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
At the movies with my kids, watching something epic and full of action but with lots of genuine character and emotion too. There’s a small traditional cinema in our nearest town, and I love it much more than the Inverness multiplex (despite the sticky floor). Either that, or chilling out with my kids at home, doing a box set marathon and drinking wine (me), Coke (the kids) and eating popcorn (all of us). I’ve just introduced my son to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he’s as smitten with it as I am.
If someone were to visit you in Scotland for the first time, where would you take them?
If they wanted a city, I’d take them to Edinburgh. That feels a bit disloyal, being a Glaswegian myself, but Edinburgh is just so stunningly beautiful, with unexpected gorgeous vistas every time you turn your head. If my guest wanted something wilder, I’d take them on the CalMac ferry to Colonsay, the most beautiful island in the world. I’d take them for a barbecue on the beach at Kiloran Bay, and to the cliffs and the ancient dun sites where a lot of the scenes in the Rebel Angels series take place. It’s a magical place. You almost feel you could rip the Veil and step right through.
What’s next for you this year and beyond?
I’m writing an installment of the animal fantasy Survivors as Erin Hunter – which I love doing – and touring the States in May to promote the series. I’m really looking forward to that, as I toured last September and loved every minute. I’m also writing another children’s series called Rookery Island, under a ghost name. I want to do some rewriting on Bloodstone, and then the final draft of Icefall. I’m also keen to get going on a contemporary YA novel that has been simmering away for a few months now – provisionally titled Spitting Distance. After that, there’s another non-Rebel Angels fantasy rattling around in my head demanding to be written…
Mannheim Rex by Robert Pobi (Thomas & Mercer, Nov. 2012)-After the death of his wife, Chelsea, horror novelist Gavin Corlie is near suicide when he decides to move from his New York apartment to New Mannheim, 5 hours upstate. The house is gorgeous, with three chimneys and a window that looks out over Lake Caldasac. It’s also perfect for a man that is trying to escape his past, and the ghost of his dead wife. The fact that the house hasn’t been lived in for over 60 years doesn’t even put a hiccup in his plans. After all, money isn’t an object, and soon after he moves in, he finds a local handyman to get the house back up to snuff. Hopefully, Gavin will settle into his new, quiet life in the small town of New Mannheim and get some writing done, and maybe even some healing. Little does he know.
Finn Horn is 13 and confined to a wheelchair after cancer that he didn’t know he had eroded his spine until it finally collapsed when he was 10 years old. He hasn’t let his illness stop him, though. The one thing he loves to do the most is fish, and even has his own boat with a rig made especially for him that allows him to not only board the boat by himself, but also pilot the boat and fish the waters of the deep, dark Lake Caldasac (aka Dead-End Lake.) One day, while out on the water, he hears a voice call to him from the direction of the old German place, which, of course, is the house that Gavin Corlie has just purchased. Spooked, Finn turns tail and Gavin feels bad that he scared the kid, when all he wanted to do was let him know that he didn’t mind him fishing in his bay. As Finn makes his way back across the lake, Finn encounters the huge presence that occupies Lake Caldasac, and it has really big teeth.
When Gavin hears the news that Finn was nearly killed in some sort of accident, he feels partially responsible, and when he visits Finn in order to make amends, a very unusual friendship is born. Finn eventually recruits Gavin to help him find the creature that attacked his boat. Finn knows he may not have long to live, and is determined to make his mark and go out famous, and nabbing the creature that has been the cause of more than few deaths in the lake’s history is how he plans to do it.
Unfortunately, there is more than one monster in New Mannheim. When Sheriff Xavier Pope visits Gavin to question him about Finn’s “accident”, Gavin immediately gets a bad feeling about the cop, and the visit doesn’t end on a positive note. Gavin has no idea how bad it actually is.
Mannheim Rex is my first book by Robert Pobi, and it most definitely is not my last. While it is the story of a rather nasty lake monster that’s been eating tourists and the townsfolk of New Mannheim for years, what it’s really about is the friendship between Gavin and Finn. Finn is a pure delight, a little ball of strength, fearlessness, chutzpah, and smart mouth, and he teaches Gavin how to open his heart again. Speaking of opening his heart, when Finn’s doctor, Laurel, comes into his life, they begin a sweet romance that was very human, and very touching.
What isn’t very touching, or sweet, is the lovely Sheriff Xavier Pope. This guy gives Hannibal Lector a run for his money. Pope is everything you don’t want a cop to be: psychopathic, sociopathic, homicidal, and last, but certainly not least, a rapist! Oh wait, I forgot drug addict. The man pops bennies like skittles and he has a cockroach orchestra singing and dancing in his head almost constantly, cheering him on. You do not want to get on this man’s bad side. Not that he has a good side, but still, you definitely want to stay way below his radar. Unfortunately, Gavin catches his attention pretty quickly, and Pope really doesn’t need much of a reason to kill someone, ‘cause to him, it’s just all in a day’s fun. Pope adds a really interesting, and creepy, subplot to an already compelling story and serves to complicate matters very nicely. Also, you may find yourself laughing at some of his inner monologue, in spite of yourself. It’s black humor at its darkest, and lots of fun. You’ll cringe, for sure. Mannheim Rex reminds me very much, in the best way, of early Dean Koontz (in his Watchers, Strangers days), and Moby Dick references are inescapable. This is one big fish story you’ll never forget!
Francis Knight is the author of the brand new fantasy, Fade to Black (out 2/26 from Orbit!) and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book, geeking out, her influences, and more! Please welcome Francis to the blog!
Francis, will you tell us a bit about your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I can’t say that I have always wanted to write. I always read voraciously, even before I was at school, and always made up little stories in my head but it never occurred to me to write them down. Not until a few years ago anyway, when I was struck down by ME. All that reading and practicing stories in my head helped then, because I suppose I’d picked some sense of story structure etc up by osmosis. So, being virtually housebound and with nothing else to do I dabbled in writing. It was that or daytime TV, and if I watched any more of that I’d have lobbed a brick through the telly. The more I wrote, the more I found I liked it, so I kept at it.
Your new book, Fade to Black, is out next week! What inspired you to write it?
I can’t say it was any one thing – almost all of my stories come about when ideas and influences collide. I suppose I could count my love of noirish films, a couple of non-fiction articles I read, and a desire to do something different in my writing. Then Rojan turned up and wouldn’t shut up.
Will you tell us a little about Fade to Black?
Fade to Black is the story of a man, Rojan, who’s quite content to hide in the shadows. He’s a pain mage, which is illegal as well as stupidly painful, so he does his best never to use it. The story is about what happens to him when he can’t hide what he is any longer.
How did you celebrate when you found out Fade to Black would be published?
I recall getting the email from my agent. I’m pretty sure I just stared at the email for a while, and then said a rude word. Then I took my husband out for lunch to celebrate.
Did you do any specific research to help you in “building” the city of Mahala?
Not especially. I read a lot of non-fiction anyway, so I generally incorporate what I’ve already read about. There were a couple of instances over the series where I rang my Dad up (he’s an electrician) to ask ‘How the hell does electricity work?’ and ‘How do I make it do this, is that possible?’
What do you love the most about writing fantasy?
That there are no limits except what I can imagine. And that anything can, and frequently does, happen.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
CJ Cherryh was the writer who made me want to write. I fell pretty hard for some of her heroes, and I wanted to do that to someone else. Lois McMaster Bujold is an influence too, and I love Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, and pretty much anything by Pratchett who appeals to both my silly side and my cynical side, and who writes such fantastic characters. I can’t miss out Tolkien either – a big influence in my youth. I even have a Rohirrim flag tattoo.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
CJ Cherryh’s Chronicles of Morgaine. This was the book that got me back into fantasy in my late teens, after a prolonged absence. I’m almost afraid to go back and reread it, in case I don’t love it as much anymore.
I read that you’re into SF&F geekery! Will you tell us a bit about that?
SFF is one of the things that got me and my husband together, to be honest. We were both into everything SFF, and still are. We’ve made it a mission to indoctrinate our kids too! Films, books, games – my son runs a Star Wars table top RPG for us all – pretty much anything SFF gets us interested, right down to the tattoos we have and how we decorate. We’ve a painting of a joust on one wall, a dragon’s head sculpture on the other, and a Bat’leth over the PC….
What’s next up for you this year and beyond?
This year, all three of the Rojan Dizon books will be coming out, so I imagine it’ll be busy! Afterwards, I’ve got a few projects on the go, but nothing I can talk about yet. Whatever happens, you can be sure I’ll be writing, and you can be sure it’s SFF. As addictions go, it’s less dangerous than some others!
Keep up with Francis: Website | Twitter
About the author:
Francis Knight was born and lives in Sussex, England. When not living in her own head, she enjoys SF&F geekery, WWE geekery, teaching her children Monty Python quotes, and boldly going and seeking out new civilizations.
About FADE TO BLACK:
From the depths of a valley rises the city of Mahala
It’s a city built upwards, not across – where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.
Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever.
Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan – this is going to hurt.
Sentinel by Matthew Dunn (William Morrow, August 2012)-When Sentinel opens, a Russian undercover operative for MI6 makes his way through a dense, sleet pounded forest to send a message saying only “He has betrayed us and wants to go to war.” When Will Cochrane infiltrates the remote Rybachy base in order to locate the submarine captain, codenamed “Svelte”, Will finds him in his quarters, mortally injured, and with his dying breath, Svelte names the man responsible for his attack. He also tells Will that only Sentinel can stop him.
Tensions between America and Russia are the highest they’ve ever been sine the Cold War, and any action seen as aggressive can set off a massive, and deadly spark. Unfortunately, the recent capture of some Russian sleeper agents and retaliatory capture of some of our spies by the Russians revealed some collective lies that were never supposed to see the light of day. Obviously, this didn’t help our relationship with Russia, and things are very nearly at the breaking point. Will Cochrane is one of MI6’s most skilled field agents, and the CIA wants him to find Sentinel and capture the man that killed Svelte and is determined to bring American and Russia to war. Sentinel was a former SAS officer and was eventually given secret MI6 training and sent to Russia to cause damage to the KGB. He was betrayed, captured at a safe house, and tortured him for six years until Russia granted him a sort of amnesty and returned him to MI6. He never divulged any secrets during that time. Sentinel’s intelligence comes from ten agents, and they are being murdered one by one. Will is tasked with killing the traitor, known as Razin, and he’ll need Sentinel’s help. Luckily, Will has plenty of skills to help him with the grueling task ahead.
Will is a graduate of the Spartan Program, a brutal twelve month training course full of super extreme mental and physical tests. Until now, Will thought he was the only Spartan, but he soon finds out that’s not the case. When he meets the man called Sentinel, Will is struck by the man’s sadness, even under his stoic demeanor. Will is no stranger to regret, and has always known he would never lead a normal life, with a family and everything else that comes with it, and he sees what he perceives as similar regret in Sentinel. Eventually a trust is built between them, but unfortunately, as good as Will and Sentinel are, Razin always seems one step ahead.
Sentinel is the first novel I’ve read by former MI6 officer Matthew Dunn, and is his second novel to feature Will Cochrane, after Spycatcher. Every now and then, I really enjoy a good espionage/spy thriller, and if you do too, then this series will probably appeal to you. There’s enough spy jargon to satisfy even the most discerning spy fan and so many twists and turns that you’ll be in danger of whiplash. Will Cochrane is a capable and strong agent, but he’s not infallible, in fact, he and Sentinel come thisclose to capturing Razin more than a few times and barely escape death themselves. This got a tad frustrating at times, but truthfully, it was probably closer to actuality than the hero or heroes capturing the bad guy right out of the box. Razin is a formidable foe and his willingness to kill at all costs is terrifying, as his is end goal. Dunn keeps the pace frenzied throughout and there was a twist that I actually didn’t see coming. Sentinel was a fun diversion through and through, and I’ll look forward to more of Will Cochrane’s adventures.
Please welcome CT Adams to the blog as part of the tour for their new book The Eldritch Conspiracy (Book 5 of the Blood Singer series! CT is one half of the writing duo known as Cat Adams, along with Cathy Clamp, and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Also, courtesy of Tor, we have a copy of The Eldritch Conspiracy up for grabs, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!
**C.T. Adams here. Thanks so much for having me pop by. Cathy and I both really appreciate your letting us visit.
The 5th installment of your Blood Singer series, The Eldritch Conspiracy, just came out in January! Will you tell us a bit about it?
Celia has been asked to guard her cousin Adriana and be a bridesmaid in her royal wedding. This happens just after she had a bad break-up with one of the two men in her life. There are terrorists who are willing to anything to stop the royal wedding and wipe out the sirens.
What was your favorite part of writing this installment?
I really enjoyed doing research on the real drug tunnels in Mexico. It’s AMAZING what people will do.
When you started the series, did you already have in mind how many books you’d like to write, or did you just decide to see where the series (and the characters) took you?
We had the first world arc, but from there the characters lead and we follow.
What do you love most about writing fantasy/urban fantasy?
I love the freedom to have a strong female character, and to be able to use all kinds of mythology. And while I want the character to (eventually) get a happily-ever-after, the focus of the book is on the action and her relationships with a circle of friends.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Cathy and I have very different influences. I (Cie) am a big fan of Robert B. Parker. I love the structure of a mystery, and I love first person narrative. I have many MANY favorite authors. I love to read. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series showed me that Urban Fantasy was possible, and opened the door for a lot of the kick-butt heroines that are so popular now (including ours).
What are you reading at the moment?
At the moment I’m “reading” the next Celia book – I’m deep in edit mode. LOL. Then I have the next pass on the Fae book, which is the first book of a new series I’m doing individually.
What’s next for Cat Adams?
The next Cat Adams book is TO DANCE WITH THE DEVIL. I’m working on the edits right now, and am very excited at the changes happening in Celia’s life. There have been a lot of dark events (and there will be more), but she’s grown a lot, and she is beginning to figure out what she really wants for her life in the future.
Keep up with Cat Adams: Website
Here’s my roundup of bookish news from around the web for the week! Sometimes I add stuff throughout the day on Friday, so be sure you check back over the weekend too!
Happy Valentine’s Day all! In the spirit of the day I thought I’d bring you some of my fave couples (in no particular order) to grace the pages of SF/F/UF.
Maggie and Rowan-Speaking of the sexy, if you haven’t read Barbara Ashford’s Spellcast, you really should get on that. 32 year old Maggie Graham is having a bit of a mid-life crisis, and in the midst of this crisis, heads to rural Vermont where she joins the cast of the Crossroads Theater. It’s there that she meets the mysterious director Rowan Mackenzie. Spellcast and its followup, Spellcrossed, tell the story of a very adult romance. I don’t mean that in the dirty way, although there are some pretty sexy scenes. I say that because Maggie is, well, what most people would consider middle aged, no longer a twenty something free spirit, and these books reflect a woman coming into her own at a time when most women her age are married with children. Complex, delightful, and yes, sexy, these are reads that will make the world fall away.
When Maggie Graham lost her job and her apartment fell to pieces, she decided to flee New York City for a while and hide in Vermont, at the Crossroads Theatre. She hadn’t planned to audition, yet soon found herself part of the summer stock cast. But her previous acting experiences couldn’t prepare her for the theater’s unusual staff-and its handsome, almost otherworldly director.
Cat and Finn-The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke is, indeed, a love story between a human woman, Cat, and an android named Finn. Think this scenario has zero chance of being sexy? Think again. The author manages to pack so much longing and desire into this book that you may need a cold shower after, without all kinds of I-didn’t-really-want-to-know-that detail. This is one of the sexiest, and yes, human, love stories that I’ve ever read.
About THE MAD SCIENTIST’S DAUGHTER:
“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”
Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.
But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.
Joanna and David-Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series is one of my fave UF series out there, and when it ended with Total Eclipse in 2010, I admit, I had a sadz. However, I’ll always have the memories, and Joanna Baldwin’s relationship with hottie Djinn David is such a heady, rollercoaster ride over the course of the series, it just might leave you dazed.
About ILL WIND (Weather Warden Bk. 1):
Joanne Baldwin is a Weather Warden. Usually, all it takes is a wave of her hand to tame the most violent weather. But now, she’s trying to outrun another kind of storm: accusations of corruption and murder. So, she’s resorting to the very human tactic of running for her life…
Her only hope is Lewis, the most powerful warden known. Unfortunately, he’s stolen not one but three bottles of Djinn-making him the most wanted man on earth. Still, she’s racing hard to find him-before the bad weather closes in fast…
Kate Daniels and Curran (the Beast Lord)-Another one of my favorite series is easily Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, and Curran’s pursuit of Kate is one of the best romances in urban fantasy, in my opinion. Kate is one strong willed lady, and it’s taken a lion to tame her (see what I did there?.) Their courtship is fraught with angst and frustration, and Kate and Curran definitely meet their matches in each other. Makes for quite a bit of fun!
About MAGIC BITES (Kate Daniels #1):
Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren’t for magic… One moment magic dominates, and cars stall and guns fail. The next, technology takes over and the defensive spells no longer protect your house from monsters. Here skyscrapers topple under onslaught of magic; werebears and werehyenas prowl through the ruined streets; and the Masters of the Dead, necromancers driven by their thirst of knowledge and wealth, pilot blood-crazed vampires with their minds. In this world lives Kate Daniels. Kate likes her sword a little too much and has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she must choose to do nothing and remain safe or to pursue his preternatural killer. Hiding is easy, but the right choice is rarely easy…
Jane Yellowrock and Rick LeFleur-Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock is one of the most complex and rich urban fantasy series out there, and another favorite of mine, so it’s no surprise that skinwalker Jane’s relationship with now ex-cop Rick LaFleur is rather complex as well. Jane tends to have issues when it comes to men, and it takes a very strong, and very different man to crack her shell. Rick does that, but so many obstacles are thrown in their way that you never really know if Rick and Jane will get a happily ever after, and as frustrating as that can be, I kind of like it.
About SKINWALKER (Jane Yellowrock #1):
Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind-a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps…
Sirantha Jax and Marsh-Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series is what made me give SF a chance. Seriously. Sirantha Jax has a gene that enables her to jump through grimspace, making her a hot commodity, and she starts out the series being a devil-may-care party girl. She soon meets pilot Marsh and begins a tentative courtship chock full of emotional push and pull, desire, and enough longing and uncertainty to fill a spaceship. By the time you get to Endgame, Jax is far from the party girl in Grimspace, and the future for her and Marsh has been uncertain for quite a while. But, ohhh, the fireworks to be had!
About GRIMSPACE (Sirantha Jax #1):
As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace-a talent which makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. Then a crash landing kills everyone on board, leaving Jax in a jail cell with no memory of the crash. But her fun’s not over. A group of rogue fighters frees her…for a price: her help in overthrowing the established order.
Rachel Morgan and Kisten Felps-If you’re a fan of the Hollows series by Kim Harrison (starring feisty witch Rachel Morgan), and if you’re caught up on the books, no doubt you’re still swooning from vampire Kisten and Rachel’s relationship. For those that haven’t read the series, I’ll avoid spoilers, but I leave you with four (ok, 7) words: emotional, sexy, complex, and just plain wonderful.
About DEAD WITCH WALKING (The Hollows #1):
All the creatures of the night gather in “the Hollows” of Cincinnati, to hide, to prowl, to party … and to feed.
Vampires rule the darkness in a predator-eat-predator world rife with dangers beyond imagining — and it’s Rachel Morgan’s job to keep that world civilized.
A bounty hunter and witch with serious sex appeal and an attitude, she’ll bring ‘em back alive, dead … or undead.
Eugenie and Dorian-Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan series ended with the fourth book, Shadow Heir, in 2011 (has it already been a year??), but thoughts of shaman Eugenie Markham and fairy king Dorian still linger in this fan’s heart. Dorian is powerful, complex, arrogant, calculating, and hopelessly in love with Eugenie, but their happy ending is a long time coming and involves plenty of setbacks, which is part of what made this series so damn fun.
About STORM BORN (Dark Swan #1):
Just typical. No love life to speak of for months, then all at once, every horny creature in the Otherworld wants to get in your pants. . .
Eugenie Markham is a powerful shaman who does a brisk trade banishing spirits and fey who cross into the mortal world. Mercenary, yes, but a girl’s got to eat. Her most recent case, however, is enough to ruin her appetite. Hired to find a teenager who has been taken to the Otherworld, Eugenie comes face to face with a startling prophecy–one that uncovers dark secrets about her past and claims that Eugenie’s first-born will threaten the future of the world as she knows it.
Now Eugenie is a hot target for every ambitious demon and Otherworldy ne’er-do-well, and the ones who don’t want to knock her up want her dead. Eugenie handles a Glock as smoothly as she wields a wand, but she needs some formidable allies for a job like this. She finds them in Dorian, a seductive fairy king with a taste for bondage, and Kiyo, a gorgeous shape-shifter who redefines animal attraction. But with enemies growing bolder and time running out, Eugenie realizes that the greatest danger is yet to come, and it lies in the dark powers that are stirring to life within her. . .
Jessie Leigh and Silas Smith-I’m a fan of Karina Cooper, period. She hasn’t yet written anything that I haven’t loved. That said, one of my favorite couples in her Dark Mission series (so far) is Jessica Leigh and Silas Smith from Blood of the Wicked, the first book of the series. Silas Smith is an agent of the Holy Order and he’s hunting for Jessie’s brother Caleb,a witch who’s at the top of the Order’s hitlist for crimes against humanity. Jessie is on the run from the Order, but when Silas tracks her down, there are fireworks that Jessie ultimately can’t resist. You can start with pretty much any book in the Dark Mission series, but if you haven’t read it yet, you can’t go wrong with Blood of the Wicked. Karina Cooper knows how to bring the sexy, without a doubt.
About BLOOD OF THE WICKED (Dark Mission #1):
When the world went straight to hell, humanity needed a scapegoat to judge, to blame . . . to burn.
As an independent witch living off the grid, Jessie Leigh has spent her life running, trying to blend in among the faceless drudges in the rebuilt city. She thought she was finally safe, but now she’s been found in a New Seattle strip club—by a hard-eyed man on a mission to destroy her kind.
A soldier of the Holy Order, Silas Smith believes in the cause: trawling the fringes of society for the murderous witches who threaten what’s left of the world. Forced into a twisting web of half-truths and lies, he has to stay close to the most sensuous and electrifying woman he has ever seen and manipulate her into leading him to the witch he has to kill: her brother. Silas doesn’t know that Jessie’s his enemy, only that he wants her, needs her, even as he lies to her . . . and must protect her until his final breath.
Chess Putnam and Terrible-Last but not least is a couple that I know causes quite a stir with fans of Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series. Chess is an insecure, drug addicted ghost hunter and witch for the Church of the Real Truth,and Terrible is the tough, very rough around the edges enforcer for her dealer. Through 5 books, from Unholy Ghosts to Chasing Magic, we’ve watched Chess and Terrible dance around each other with tentative steps, eventually coming together, but Chess’s insecurity and self loathing has derailed their romance more than once. Is a happily-ever-after in the cards for these two? I prefer to think yes, yes there is.
About UNHOLY GHOSTS (Downside Ghosts #1):
The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.
What are a few of your favorite SF/F couples?
Thanks to the lovely folks at Tor, I have a copy of River Road by Suzanne Johnson, which is the 2nd book in her Sentinels of New Orleans after Royal Street, and trust me, you’ll love this series. Check out the details, and consider this giveaway my Valentine’s Day hug to you!
About RIVER ROAD:
Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.
Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.
It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues.
Please welcome Laura Lam to the blog! Laura’s first novel, Pantomime, just came out from Strange Chemistry, and she was kind enough to join me for a chat about the book, what inspired it, and more!
Your new book, Pantomime, came out this month! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write the novel?
Pantomime is a young adult fantasy about Iphigenia Laurus, the daughter of a noble family who is uncomfortable in a life of corsets and cotillions, and Micah Grey, a runaway and the newest member of R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic. Both Gene and Micah’s stories intertwine early on as they run from their past but discover the past will not let them go so easily.
Various factors percolated in my head until they came out onto the page: the circus, gender and sexuality studies, a decaying empire, hidden identities, and other pet interests. Luckily, they all came together pretty well!
Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Yes, writing has always been the dream. I started writing as a teen but didn’t get very far, and so I put it aside to read widely. At university, I studied creative writing, and that was where the idea for Micah Grey and Ellada gestated. I began writing a book with an adult Micah Grey in 2008, and then in late 2009 started what would eventually become Pantomime.
I don’t write full-time, so right now I live in Scotland and by day I work in document control and by night I write YA.
What do you love most about writing fantasy?
I love that I created my own world and that there is so much I can still explore. I love that you really do have control over these characters’ lives and destinies. I can make up mythology and international relations and bring characters to life. It’s such fun.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Tough question. Probably the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. I love those books to pieces.
What book(s) are you reading now?
The City’s Son by Tom Pollock. Urban fantasy set in London! Snappily written and fiercely creative.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
The usual—reading, watching TV and films, seeing friends, travelling when we can afford to get away. Very occasionally I will draw as well, but usually writing takes up most my creative energy.
What’s next for you this year? Is there any other news of upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!) that you’d like to share with us?
I’m working away on the sequel to Pantomime at the moment. I’m also working on another young adult fantasy, which is a gothic ghost tale with a twist, as well as a few other projects.
Events-wise, I have a launch in London on February 7th at Forbidden Planet’s Megastore at 6 pm, and another launch in Aberdeen at the Waterstones in the Trinity Centre February 15th at 6.30 pm. The only conference I’m definitely attending at the moment is WFC in Brighton October 31-November 2. I might also appear at Eastercon, or any YA conventions in the UK.
R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.