Steampunk Review: Tainted by Morgan Busse

 

Tainted is a Steampunk novel set in a Victorian-style fantasy world that doesn’t feel all too different from most London settings. Kat is mostly alone—with a dead mother and a mad scientist father who spends all his time away from her, on his projects, and she’s left raised by paid staff, a woman who ends up a relation to the other main character, who is a detective become bounty hunter after his life goes wrong.

Morgan Busse does about as excellent a job as possible as setting up sympathetic characters. Both are put into situations where they’re hurting immensely through betrayal within the first few chapters, a trick that the master of sci-fi, Lois McMaster Bujold oft uses in her books, a formula to put characters through the worst possible situations from their perspective and see what happens when they come out the other side. When writers do that, it makes it very easy to latch on and go through the rest of books, and Busse succeeded in this.

The story is billed as a Frankenstein redone steampunk, and there are some of those elements there, but this reads much more like a romance-fantasy than a horror novel, so I think it’s better to go in with those expectations. Kat goes to what basically amounts to a mad science school, and has these strange powers she can’t explain that she tries not to use because it makes her feel as if she’s losing a part of her soul. Stephen spends early chapters moping, but he eventually decides to help Kat in her quest to figure out what’s going on with her.

It eventually comes to a climax that is hard to put down in the last hundred pages as the pace picks up and the stakes keep getting raised. There’s romance, betrayal, and a cool mad science laboratory with Frankenstein-style experiments that I wish I’d seen a lot more of earlier in the book, as this is where the world becomes compelling. Naturally there’s an airship captain because it’s steampunk, and the set up there does play a useful part to the story. Busse does an excellent job with the Chekov’s gun and making sure everything ties in, and is foreshadowed ahead of time.

A couple of criticisms of the book are that it uses the standard “no women are allowed into _____” trope where it didn’t really seem to have much use to the story. It’d be nice to not see that in every book out there, but it’s what we have in the market currently. After the first couple chapters, this part of the storyline goes away almost completely so it doesn’t negatively impact the book too much.

Second, this is done by a Christian publisher and it falls into the small trap where the characters stop and pray every few chapters as if to remind a reader it’s a Christian book. World city, however, is set in a fantasy world, and the religion and who/what they’re praying to isn’t well defined, and doesn’t seem to impact the story. Again this is minor, as it happens periodically but doesn’t overwhelm the story, but might be something to look out for.

Minor elements that didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the story too much.

Overall this is a fine first steampunk outing. Fun characters, a well-paced story that’s on the run and doesn’t stop. The writing style is light and easy to read, good for a fantasy/steampunk set up. The heroes are heroes reluctantly, and the villains are certainly villains. The last third of the book is where it really shines after the set up. Tainted does not completely resolve, but is set up for a book 2 so be aware of that as well. It was a pretty natural stopping point for the story, however, and I did enjoy enough that I will read the second in the series.

https://www.amazon.com/Tainted-Soul-Chronicles-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01BTHEUWQ

What Makes Great Sci-Fi Tv?

My hands are a bit sore because I’m cranking away at a novel, so I did a periscope rather than a couple thousand words on the topic. This stems from a Facebook discussion I had yesterday where I said both Farscape and Andromeda are better than Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. It stirred up a lot of folks, but here’s some deeper thoughts into that:

https://www.pscp.tv/w/bHWG-jFheWpWdll6VkxsanB8MWRSSlpubmxQdmdKQm9uZmpyscqAKZd8CH1w11JW7rtc7hA9azQregjxOgtI

Music Blog: Brand New – Jesus Christ

One song has really stuck with me as one of the most profound lyrical songs of the last couple decades, and that’s the one referenced at the top of the blog.

 

Really the song is one of the few songs that deals with Christianity and Jesus Christ from a perspective that’s different than you hear in most praise songs.

Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty face
The kind you’d find on someone that could save
If they don’t put me away
It’ll be a miracle

Do you believe you’re missing out?
That everything good is happening somewhere else
With nobody in your bed
The night is hard to get through

And I will die all alone
And when I arrive I won’t know anyone

The first verse deals with an immediate human unworthiness of Christ’s grace. He uses the term Jesus Christ almost like a double entendre, in the sorta swearing way that it’s used quite regularly these days, but also very nakedly like he’s talking to Jesus personally. There’s a loneliness in that, as through our sin we’re separated from God and need companionship more than anything else. But note that in his reverie, he understand that he’s overwhelmed by sin, in this case lust, and can’t get away from it no matter how he tries. Such an honest admission is so rare, even in poets and artists. Because of that, he feels ostracized in both who he is and his faith. I know I’ve felt this way, and recognized my failings. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to vocalize them in something public like this, however. It’s extremely bold for him to have done so.

Jesus Christ, I’m alone again
So what did you do those three days you were dead?
Because this problem is gonna last
More than the weekend

Jesus Christ I’m not scared to die
But I’m a little bit scared of what comes after
Do I get the gold chariot
Or do I float through the ceiling

Or do I divide and pull apart
Cause my bright is too slight to hold back all my dark
This ship went down in sight of land
And at the gates does Thomas ask to see my hands?

This second verse really goes deeper into that human failure and loneliness. But then he reflects: how lonely must it have been for God to be in the grave, without any solace, truly alone and facing pain. It had to be worse than anything we ever could experience, as at least when we die — we can be with God. Jesus did that for us. He suffered some of the worst pains imaginable so we wouldn’t be alone. And yet at the same time — we have doubts about the end of our own lives. Despite all of the reassurances, we’re often uncertain. The second stanza is something again many of us reflect upon.

That lack of certainty leads to doubt, and he plays this up to say that his doubts are even worse than the Apostle Thomas was when he came face to face with Christ and didn’t believe he’d risen from the grave. The message is clear: we are so unworthy of God’s sacrifice that it’s ridiculous. The darkness within us is so terrible, he finds it hard to believe that Christ would even want him around, that his works are not good enough to sustain eternal life. I think we all can feel that way sometimes, but we shouldn’t let it bring us down. That is the amazingness of God’s love in a nutshell though — that despite our faults, He will never betray us, never leave us. God’s love for us is infinite. And while Jesse may have felt alone while writing this, he doesn’t have to be, for it is written: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” – Jeremiah 31:3

I know you’re coming in the night like a thief
But I’ve had some time, O Lord, to hone my lying technique
I know you think that I’m someone you can trust
But I’m scared I’ll get scared and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up

The end build here is some of the most beautiful work ever recorded. It still gives me shivers and can bring tears to the eye to this day. This end is about how we constantly betray Christ over and over again in our daily lives. We give into sin, we all do, we can’t help it. And it’s a shame. This is why we have to repent over and over because we keep failing at the very simple commandments Christ gave to us to love one another and love the Lord God. And more than that –we’ve all honed our lying techniques where we become so good at lying to ourselves that what we’re doing really “isn’t that bad”. It’s a big trap where we compartmentalize our sins in our lives, and justify them to ourselves, when we really need to get back to living as Christ taught us. It’s something to be keenly aware of in order to help us avoid the cycle of sin.

So do you think that we could work out a sign
So I’ll know it’s you and that it’s over so I won’t even try
I know you’re coming for the people like me
But we all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails 
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we sleep inside of this machine

And just like the pharisees, Jesse is aware that he — and all of us — keep asking God for signs to prove who he is, as if He owes us, even though we have failed His commandments. It’s sickening to think about how we do that after he came here, was tortured and brutally murdered by our ancestors, and still managed to forgive us of our sins that we demand from God. Even though we know he’s coming for us. We know it in  every core of our being. So why do we keep making these demands? Why do we keep failing him? It’s like he says — we all good wood and nails. If we were in that position, we might be shouting jeers at Christ ourselves and betraying him. There’s no way we are more enlightened or better people who were witnessing Christ firsthand. If He came today, we might very well be part of that same crowd killing our Lord God over again.

It’s a painful, depressing and an uncomfortable song, I know, but what it does is serve as a big reminder to us: we live in sin. We must do all we can to live as Christ told us, and that involves actively thinking about His will at every moment of every day, not just going to church on Sunday, not just during times we’ve set, but in all things we do. It’s so hard, it may even be impossible, but if we keep asking God for help in this, He’ll deliver as always. That’s the only way we can get outside of this machine we’re sleeping in.

Despite the rather tragic song There is so much good news though. The fact that Christ loves us so much that he did sacrifice himself is inspiring. Though we have our failures and that is a depressing thing — it doesn’t matter, and we can take solace in that. It’s hard in these modern times to imagine the kind of unconditional love Christ brings to us, as everything is so conditional in our lives to the point where it feels like nothing lasts, but it is there. He came for us, he sacrificed, and he rose again. It’s already over, and we don’t even have to try. God will give us his grace if we simply ask for it. It’s such a beautiful thing. As Paul said:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:8-10

What a beautiful thing. It’s cause for rejoicing. And while I think it’s fine to feel the empathy of this song that we should feel because of how much Christ suffered for us and because of our inherent unworthiness, we should do our best to focus on the joy God has given us as well. It still remains a beautiful song, and one that stirs deep reflection in me. I hope it does in you as well!

If you ever want to talk about Christ, learn more about Him, I am not sure I’m the best teacher, I have failings just like anyone else — but I’ll do my best and I’m happy to talk to you whenever. There’s nothing more important for you or for me, so I’ll make the time. Don’t be afraid to contact me!

Mindset Motivation: The Greatest Fighters Of All Time

Naturally the talk of the weekend was the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight. There were a couple narratives going on the whole time: Mayweather is too old, past his prime, can’t do it anymore. McGregor doesn’t know how to box, he won’t last, shouldn’t be there.

Both fighters were in there saying “I’m the best ever, I can do this, I’m gonna win.”

And you know what? They were both right.

This is how powerful mindset is in life. If you keep saying that you’re going to win, that you are the best, that you can do it, you won’t win all the time, but each small victory can be a large victory for you and keep you going. Keeping the drive and energy to persevere through tough spots is the difference in the marathon of life between the winners and losers.

You may think I’ve had a bit of a bad month from the outside. I was removed from a pro-writer’s group The Codex Writers, unfairly, as they picked on me for my politics, right after I was admitted entry for my successes in the field (you have to have a certain level of success to join). After removal, I had a hugo-nominated editor defame me, call me all sorts of names. I had New York Times bestseller John Scalzi, one of the most well-known names in the field ramble about me incessantly on twitter. I had another hugo winner call me a “white supremacist” and the current best novel hugo winner NK Jemisin talk about how she blocked me intentionally because of how awful I am, even though she’d never interacted with me.

On top of that, the only one that really hurt: I lost a friend in Beth Cato, who attacked a writer friend of mine on the Codex Writers and because I stood up to that, and she of course couldn’t swallow a little pride and defend me from the attacks I received for doing the right thing, she blocked me. This one hurt most as I’ve done a lot to push her books over the years and even am solely responsible for getting her a Dragon Award nomination.

That’s a lot to endure! The Sci-Fi industry is toxic. People who hate the genre, hate fun, and don’t want anyone in their little Mean Girls club to get any sort of prominence will do anything to tear writers down from the outside.

But do you know what? My mindset means it’s not even going to slow me down.

I jokingly called myself the Floyd Mayweather of Science Fiction this weekend, and I thought, you know what? That’s not a bad analogy. My opponents and haters expend a ton of energy on me. They get really riled up, outraged that I exist, that I won’t play by their rules and wait in line, that I refuse to hate the people they tell me to hate and that i love everyone equally (including them! I know one day I’ll see some of these folk in person, they’ll apologize and we’ll be good, I don’t hold grudges when people treat me right).  I found it to be a pretty good comparison actually. When I get jabbed at incessantly, I use that to sell more books every time — and it works every time. I don’t go out there intentionally trying to get these people to hate me, but they can’t help it, and they throw hard punches, overstepping and making it very easy to dodge and get in that counterblow — exactly the way Mayweather fights and exactly the way Mayweather wins.

And McGregor is about as inspiring as it comes this weekend. It wasn’t his field, it wasn’t his place to be in the ring with this champion, and he held his own. He did everything he could and he actually picked more rounds off of Mayweather than I’ve seen anyone do in years.  Despite the commentariat — the people who make their drive by negativity their livelihoods, he showed that he is a fighter, and that’s worthy of respect. Not only do both fighters have my immense respect for taking their risks, but they won monetarily for it too. Why? Because the public respects people standing up and not running away. When the going gets tough, the tough get going as was so famously said in Animal House.

It’s all about the mindset. I’m selling books, and that’s what matters to me.

So really, can anyone disagree when I take a page out of Mayweather’s playbook and say For Steam And Country is The Best Ever? Or, the Best Steampunk Ever as I now brand it? I believe in the book, and so do a lot of readers. It doesn’t matter what a few jealous haters in the industry call me

Last Call For Dragons!

The last ballots go out this weekend, so this is literally your last chance to sign up for the Dragons. If you want to support my work in journalism and producing quality, fun science fiction, the best way to do so is of course to pick up the books themselves, and review on Amazon. But the Dragon Award is about the second best thing you can do. The sign up is here, it’s free, anyone can join. Please do so:

http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_signup.php

You’ll get an email to confirm, do so then. They don’t send ballots out right away, so watch for an email from Dragon Con, and it’ll have a survey link in there. Star Realms: Rescue Run is in the Best Military Science Fiction category. Thank you all so much for your support since this has come out, it’s really been fantastic. Love you all! Now back to writing that next book 🙂

Big Tech Bullies The Little Guy

Big Tech has been making more and more aggressive overtures over the last few weeks, silencing artists in an attempt to remove their platform. Most of these artists don’t say anything remotely offensive to the average person – but they do draw the ire of alt-left internet trolls who hit them with complaints. From Milo to Sargon, these incidents are fast becoming the norm in the online world, which is why I wrote my article for The Federalist, detailing alternatives to these Big Tech companies.

As it stands, however, these alternatives only offer some solace. These giant mega-corporations operate in oligopolies, huge communications platforms and hardware platforms that unless one is part of the elite already, the barrier to entry is so high it makes it impossible to compete. The fact that they are disregarding free speech to this level, hurting independent artists along that way is so disconcerting because there’s very little that can be done. This is in essence why anti-trust laws are in place, though the government, with so much lobbying money funneling in from these monoliths, is unlikely to do anything about it.

This week we’ve seen further craziness, coming from big entertainment multimedia conglomerate megacorporation Disney subsidiary ESPN. A sports commentator was removed from a football game because he happened to have the name Robert Lee. The absurdity of this grew to something in which everyone’s hear about now – as the fellow wasn’t even white, the primary typical race targets of these removals – but he was an Asian man, of which Lee is a common last name for Asian Americans. In the push to virtue signal, now even minorities are getting hit.

But what drew my attention isn’t that, but it’s small operators that don’t have platforms like jobs at ESPN. The small youtube commentators who are building their followings slowly and surely, and don’t have much of a platform or group advocating for them are the ones in real danger from this Big Tech convergence. And ones that aren’t even steeped in politics at that.

Last night, I saw that comic book reviewer Douglas Ernst had YouTube flag his review for Amazing Spider-Man #31 as “not suitable for all advertisers.”  I’ve watched several of Doug’s reviews, and this seems to have started with his calling out some of the Spider-Man book’s absurd social justice signaling, where several issues ago, Spider-Man hesitated in beating up bad guys because he didn’t want to be racist. It was bizarre to say the least to see that in a comic book, and of course Doug readily criticized it, and has criticized much of Marvel’s work.

How does this tie-in to ESPN and big tech? It’s about the trends and how this all fits together in a puzzle. Youtube has been on a spree of demonetizing anyone remotely perceived as right wing, and anyone criticizing SJW standards are perceived as right wing. On top of that, Marvel is another mega-corporate Disney subsidiary, known for their hard push in social justice at both subsidiaries, and recently going hand-in-hand with Big Tech to ostracize any content creators who don’t toe that line. It can appear to the average viewer as if Disney is colluding with YouTube to in this instance to make sure that negative reviews of their products don’t get any traction, by financially harming any reviewers that criticize their books.

I watched Doug’s review of Amazing Spider-Man #31, and I have to say, there’s no swearing, there’s nothing that even could be construed as offensive. It is a pure criticism of the comic book itself (spoiler: he didn’t like it much). The fact that YouTube would flag this is disconcerting, and the only plausible reasons are: 1. Doug is a target of either his personal politics (of which he does tend to lean-right on twitter), or 2. this is a piece of Disney content being criticized, which they don’t want to allow. Either way is very frightening.

What can we do? I’ve mentioned alternatives before, but YouTube, subsidiary of Google, has far too much infrastructure, lobbying, and government subsidies to really have a credible threat rise against them. If Doug wants to have his comic reviews seen, it’s about the only option for an outlet. The long term repercussions of financially censoring artists and critics based on the mores of what the platform believes – whether that be Google or Disney or both – is staggering. It can only harm our culture when only some views are allowed to be expressed.

It was one thing when they came after the alt-right extreme commentators. Then they came after the gamers (PewDiePie!). Then they came after comic book reviewers. How much longer are the people going to put up with this before they come after you?

You can follow Douglas Ernst, who does fantastic comic reviews at: @douglasernst on Twitter, or subscribe to his youtube channel, Douglas Ernst, here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCphr2x8FR96PZexWzamPvkw

Breaking News: New Peter Grant Fantasy Novel

Those who have been following for a bit may know that I’m quite the fan of Peter Grant. I discovered him last year with the audiobook version of his first western novel, Brings The Lightning, which I’ve stated is my favorite book of 2016 (including my own!), and have since gone on to read his sci-fi Maxwell Saga. What both of those books have in common is a man really trying to make his own way in the world, though at different points of life experience, both are charting new territory for something unknown and there’s a lot of parallels between the two series. Brings the Lightning I feel does it best as there’s something about the classic western that’s been missing in recent culture — and Grant recovered that spirit.

Today, Mr. Grant released his first fantasy novel, King’s Champion. This book starts out in a completely different manner than his other work. It’s got an aged protagonist who’s already seen war and his glory days, something that I personally have a soft spot for in fiction, as almost all fiction out there focuses on teenage protagonists, so it’s nice to see real diversity in content. Owain’s best friend is dead, his former lover or wife is dead too, he’s on his own and the world doesn’t remember many of the trials he’s faced. It’s a nice set up before the second chapter gets into really intense action.

Grant brings a gravitas to his voice and tone, as he always does, that reminds me of the heavier fantasies of yore, that a lot of fiction doesn’t have these days. It’s also a short book, which I vastly prefer. Fantasy doesn’t have to be overly-verbose to be epic. I look forward to reading the rest of the book and you can check it out here:

King’s Champion by Peter Grant

An Important Announcement From A Divine Goddess

Yes, you read that right. And there is of course only one person who could be worthy of such a title in this fallen world. She, of course, is Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift has announced her long-awaited follow-up to 1989, Reputation. The singer’s sixth album will be released on November 10th.

Swift teased fans with an imminent announcement when she recently wiped all of her social media, including her Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. Over the last few days, the pop star has been posting glitch-y, short, silent videos of a snake slithering in darkness. On Wednesday, a video showed the snake coming towards the camera.

Along with the title, Swift debuted the album cover, which features a much darker look than the bright neons of her 1989 era alongside her name in various newspaper-style fonts. Swift also confirmed that she would release an as-yet-untitled first single on Thursday evening.

Yes, she has returned as was prophesied and I have no doubts in my mind that this effort as she has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and come out the other side such a beacon of hope for humanity, will be even more awe inspiring than her divinely inspired words of the epic poem which has been passed down by many an oracle, “Shake It Off”, and perhaps even better than the anthem of the wokest of humans:

 

Looks Like I’m Goin’ To Worldcon!

Got a nice email back from the Worldcon committee last night on setting up a table and getting some #PulpRev goodness going for WorldCon 2018. I doubt I or any of the other PulpRev folk will be invited to panels or anything like that — so the thought is, we’ll have our own and discuss science fiction on our terms — like we always do! And it’ll be a lot of fun in the process.

The current plan is to get a table in the vendor hall, where we’ll set up. I’m not the best at recording stuff — if you’ve watched my youtube you’ve seen I’ve operated even without using a mic or anything like that, so if someone has a mixer or can help me get set up to do a proper podcast/vidcast sorta deal in the next year or so, that would be extremely helpful!

Also — this is a call for #PulpRev types to plan your Worldcon. It’s in San Jose, CA and you’ve got a year to figure things out. I’m happy to host people who don’t want to pay for hotel at my house in — which is about 35 minutes from the convention, though if too many people take me up on this we’re gonna end up with floor space only, so plan accordingly.

Hopefully we can get some great guests and make this the best convention of all time. With me there, won’t be hard, as I bring the fun wherever I go. Just ask the folk who have attended my stuff at Baycon over the years. 🙂