Saturday, November 30, 2019

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for November 2019

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month

It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some October books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, gaslamp fantasy, sword and sorcery, paranormal mystery, paranormal romance, fantasy romance, time travel romance, science fiction romance, planetary romance, space opera, military science fiction, military fantasy, dystopian fiction, alternate history, Steampunk, horror, vampires, ghosts, gods, aliens, space marines, planet killers, gladiators in space, virgin sacrifices, crime-busting witches, autumn on Mars, the afterlife in Amsterdam and much more.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

The Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah AshThe Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah Ash:

“But what happened to Gavril and Kiukiu after Children of the Serpent Gate? When is the sequel coming out?”

Readers have been asking me this question ever since Book 3 of The Tears of Artamon was published – and at last I’ve had the chance to provide an answer in Book 4: The Arkhel Conundrum.

Azhkendir, land of snow and shadows, harbours many secrets – and a powerful ancient winter deity is awakened when a foreign mining company begins to strip out the rare mineral resources beneath the mountains. Old clan hatreds are stirred up. The High Steward of Azhkendir, Lord Gavril, and his wife, Spirit Singer Kiukiu, hope to seek help from the Emperor Eugene. But their onetime enemy turned ally is distracted by his competition to build a flying machine. Is someone from their past trying to destabilize the fragile peace of the empire? Or are there supernatural forces involved? The Magus, Kaspar Linnaius, may have the answers...but he has disappeared and no one knows where he is or how to contact him.

God Given, Book 1 by Odette C. BellGod Given, Book 1 by Odette C. Bell:

“Every god will hunt you. They will not stop. There will be nowhere safe on the face of this planet. From now until the day you die, you will have to run.”

Those were the words that started everything. Casey was once normal – now she’s the most important piece in a game for the world.

She’s dragged into the realm of gods. It is violent, it’s tortured, and at its heart is a man she’s never been able to forget.

The Temple of the Snake God by Cora BuhlertThe Temple of the Snake God by Richard Blakemore and Cora Buhlert:

It was supposed to be an easy job. Go in, grab the eye of the idol and get out.

But the temple of the snake god Tseghirun turns out to be unexpectedly busy, when Thurvok, the sellsword, and his friends, Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin, the sorceress Sharenna and Meldom's sweetheart Lysha attempt to steal the eye. Not only is there a ceremony going on at the temple, no, the cultists are also about to sacrifice several young girls to the snake god Tseghirun. And so what started out as a simple heist quickly turns into a rescue mission.

This is a short story of 6200 words or approximately 22 print pages in the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

Honourable Enemies by Cora BuhlertHonourable Enemies by Cora Buhlert:

Once, Colonel Brian Mayhew was the deputy commander of the Republican Special Commando Forces. But now he's gone AWOL to take out crime lord Rick Santerna, the man who murdered his family.

Mayhew's quest for vengeance brings him to the rim world of Maciste, where he runs into his former protégé Mikhail Grikov, now wanted as a traitor and deserter for eloping with enemy soldier Anjali Patel.

Mayhew knows that it's his duty to bring in Mikhail and Anjali. But with Santerna hot his tail, he finds that he needs their help.

Mikhail and Anjali know that Brian Mayhew is a threat to their freedom and their new life together. But now they are faced with a hard choice. Should they risk their lives to help a man who could condemn them both to death or should they let Mayhew die in the Great Arena of Maciste?

This is a short novel of 57000 words or approximately 200 print pages in the "In Love and War" series, but may be read as a standalone.

Planet Killer by Lindsay BurokerPlanet Killer by Lindsay Buroker:

Casmir has survived against impossible odds, and now he longs to return home. But an invasion force is blockading the Kingdom’s wormhole gate, and it would be suicidal to fly through it now. Worse, his family and friends are stuck on the other side, with hostile forces attacking their home world.

The only way Casmir can help is to find out who’s behind the invasion… and convince him to stop.

But Casmir isn’t known for his ability to strong-arm people, and this is one enemy who won’t be won over by his friendly demeanor. As he soon finds out, he must face the very rich and very powerful person who’s been trying to have him killed for months.

Tooth and Blade by Shad CallisterTooth and Blade by Shad Callister:

Desperate young warriors fighting for gold and glory in a land filled with monsters.

The warriors of the Tooth and Blade will fight for Ostora, to protect the people of this new land from the dangers that stalk it. Somehow, if they live long enough, they hope to find a place for themselves here.

But the future of these fighting men is anything but certain, and Captain Pelekarr of the cavalry must work quickly with Damicos of the foot soldiers to establish the fledgling company's reputation. The Kerathi military has pulled out, and the barbarian tribesmen are massing for battle while huge monsters lurk in the trees.

If the Tooth and Blade can fight their way past all this, they'll become legends. But how many will die trying?

Before the Darkness by April CanavanBefore the Darkness by April Canavan:

Never stand in the way of fate.

Winter gave up on the human realm after she lost the love of her life. Being a witch didn’t stop the pain, and neither did the enchanted sleep she put herself in. She wakes up to a whole new world, and a mission given to her by the Mother of All.

Help two people fall in love.

Sarah’s a mortal, and Zander…well he’s the next in line for the vampire throne. As they welcome the attraction between them, Winter’s faced with a dilemma. Fate has other plans for Sarah and Zander. Winter finds herself having to choose between two impossible situations: let the love blooming between Sarah and Zander thrive now and destroy their worlds, or Winter can come to terms with the fact that no one escapes their fate.

Beauty by Stacy ClaflinBeauty by Stacy Claflin:

Chase Williams is desperate to find Penelope Jackson, and the only shot he has is by locating a specific mirror. Even then, his chances are slim. He can’t operate it, so she’d have to tumble through it to his exact time.

Penelope has been traveling through various years in her history in search of her parents’ killers. She’d been with the agency so long, she can hardly remember life before. She relies on her trusty mirror to take her to the times and places she needs to go.

Then one day, she stumbles out into a strange new place… and meets a man who clearly knows who she is. But she’s never seen him before—of that much, she’s sure. Unless her future self has? The possibilities are too numerous to count, and the implications could be disastrous. Is this man trustworthy or out to get her?

Giving her heart over could be the only way to find out for sure. Or it could lead to her ultimate demise. And maybe the destruction of time as we know it.

Hollow Heart by Ben EadsHollow Heart by Ben Eads:

Welcome to Shady Hills, Florida, where death is the beginning and pain is the only true Art…

Harold Stoe was a proud Marine until an insurgent’s bullet relegated him to a wheelchair. Now the only things he’s proud of are quitting alcohol and raising his sixteen-year-old son, Dale.

But there is an infernal rhythm, beating like a diseased heart from the hollow behind his home. An aberration known as The Architect has finished his masterpiece: A god which slumbers beneath the hollow, hell-bent on changing the world into its own image.

As the body count rises and the neighborhood residents change into mindless, shambling horrors, Harold and his former lover, Mary, begin their harrowing journey into the world within the hollow. If they fail, the hollow will expand to infinity. Every living being will be stripped of flesh and muscle, their nerves wrapped tightly around ribcages, so The Architect can play his sick music through them loud enough to swallow what gives them life: The last vestiges of a dying star.

Crimson Yuletide by Rachel FordCrimson Yuletide by Rachel Ford:

Autumn gone off to sleep
And winter her secrets no more keep
Rises he from the deep
Flesh to flay and flesh to eat

Twelve days of Christmas. Twelve days of terror and death.

An ancient evil prowls the quiet streets of Wixcombe. An old man is murdered in the town square. Children disappear in the night. Villagers report sightings of Krampus, the Christmas demon.

For siblings Nan and William Fitzgerald, the season began with a promise of new loves and Christmas magic. But they find themselves in the eye of the storm when their godfather becomes the prime suspect in the killings.

To protect both the women they love and their village, the siblings must discover Krampus’ true identity. But they might not like the answers they find…

Wicked Decisions by Lily Harper HartWicked Decisions by Lily Harper Hart:

Ivy Morgan is getting married, which means she needs a dress. Now that she’s finally embraced the idea of planning for the wedding (rather than just enjoying the marriage and honeymoon) she’s gung-ho to check things off her list.

The local dressmaker Zelda Morris has just the thing for Ivy. Before she can show it to her, though, she’s murdered in the back of her own store … while Ivy waits for her to return to the storefront. Unfortunately for Ivy, because she didn’t hear a thing, that makes her a suspect.

Jack Harker isn’t happy with the turn of events. He knows Ivy is innocent but he’s in a precarious position. If word gets out that he’s protecting his fiancée, then the Michigan State Police could take over the investigation, and he’s worried they might fixate on Ivy. That means he has to dig deep for answers … and what he finds is troubling.

It seems Zelda was only one of a multitude of women dating local lothario Henry Spencer, a man who has more girlfriends than brains. One of those girlfriends happens to be Ivy’s aunt, Felicity Goodings, which means the long eye of the law falls directly on both of them.

It’s up to Jack and Ivy to untangle a mess of motives and suspects, which include her beloved aunt. That causes issues with Ivy’s mother, who is loyal to her sister to a fault.

It’s a tense time, and it only gets worse when Ivy decides to embrace her magic and use it to solve the case.

There’s a killer on the loose and Ivy might be a target because she can’t keep her nose out of trouble. She needs to discover a killer, avoid this individual’s wrath, and continue planning her wedding if she wants a happily ever after.

It’s going to be a tall task.

A Riddle in Bronze by Simon HaynesA Riddle in Bronze by Simon Haynes:

Ghostly goings-on in Victorian London...

An elderly professor and his daughter advertise for an expert bookkeeper. Instead, they employ a naive young man with very little experience.

But what if keeping the books is not the real reason they hired him? What if they have an ulterior motive?

London, England, 1871.

When I applied for a position with Professor Twickham and his daughter, I lied about my qualifications.

As it turns out, they lied about the job for which I was applying.

Had we not been so untruthful with each other, there might have been fewer night terrors stalking the inhabitants of the City.

Fewer unexplained disappearances.

Fewer deaths.

Now, nobody is safe from the creeping horrors we've unleashed.

With no time to spare, we face an impossible task: we must discover the mysteries in metal in order to right this wrong.

But is it already too late?

Floodtide by Heather Rose JonesFloodtide by Heather Rose Jones:

The streets are a perilous place for a young laundry maid dismissed without a character for indecent acts. Roz knew the end of the path for a country girl alone in the city of Rotenek. A desperate escape in the night brings her to the doorstep of Dominique the dressmaker and the hope of a second chance beyond what she could have imagined. Roz’s apprenticeship with the needle, under the patronage of the royal thaumaturgist, wasn’t supposed to include learning magic, but Celeste, the dressmaker’s daughter, draws Roz into the mysterious world of the charm-wives. When floodwaters and fever sweep through the lower city, Celeste’s magical charms could bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor of Rotenek, but only if Roz can claim the help of some unlikely allies.

Set in the magical early 19th century world of Alpennia, Floodtide tells an independent tale that interweaves with the adventures.

The Towering Flame by Robert I. Katz The Towering Flame by Robert I. Katz:

Once, long ago, the Empire of Mankind spread among the stars, but the Empire fell into civil war and anarchy, leaving every human inhabited world across the galaxy to go its own way.

Today, after two thousand years of isolation, the Viceroy rules over seven nations on one long-abandoned planet. He alone possesses any vestige of the technology left behind by the vanished Empire and he uses it to rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove.

But below the surface, ambitious men are struggling for power and rebellion is simmering.
Terence Allen is the third son of a wealthy father. Terence is satisfied with his life. He has few responsibilities, fewer challenges and little desire to change.

Terence Allen is an unlikely catalyst for rebellion, but Terence’s destiny changes the moment he sees Thierry Jorge Garcia striding toward him one night at the Summer Fair in Varanisi, the Viceroy’s city. Thierry, the heir to a long-standing military tradition, will let nothing keep him from pursuing Irina Archer, the woman he had known and loved as a young man in far-off Cathay, the woman who is now Terence Allen’s fiancée.

The feud that results will have repercussions far beyond the borders of the city, as the seven nations seethe with conspiracies, rumors and strife. A war that has been brewing for over a century is coming, a war that will upend the foundations of both men’s world.

Witchin' Around the Clock by Amanda M. LeeWitchin' Around the Clock by Amanda M. Lee:

Witches are descending on Hemlock Cove and the town is gearing up for mayhem. Bay Winchester is ready to cover the event for her newspaper, and is excited to see faces she hasn’t interacted with in more than a decade.

Then the unthinkable happens.

The local blacksmith shop catches fire and Bay and her cousin Thistle risk death to try and rescue the owner. Unfortunately, they’re too late, and the man is unable to be resuscitated. Not only that, but it wasn’t the fire that killed him. No, he was murdered.

Bay can’t shake the feeling that something bad is about to happen. Harbingers of the feathered variety are filling the sky … and threatening attack. Dark magic is at work, and someone is plotting multiple deaths.

It’s up to Bay and her family to save the day, and they have to do it before cousin Clove gets married on the summer solstice. It’s a big day for the family, and a big moment for Bay. She’s the center of attention as the clock ticks down, the weight of the world on her shoulders.

The Winchesters won’t sit back and wait for a fight to come to them, they’ll go after the fight … and this is no exception. As death comes calling, they will answer.

Sit back and enjoy the ride. Love, marriage, death, and destruction are about to collide. You won’t want to miss a thing.

Blood of the Prime: Spark by Erin MacMichaelBlood of the Prime: Spark by Erin MacMichael:

New bonds, new abilities. Will they be enough to change the game?

Rhys's fiery union with Karra brings seeds of change rippling through his awareness. No longer afraid of Biak's harassment, he uses the bizarre connection between them to launch his own quest to stop the reptile.

When Biak unleashes his war on the Maians, he encounters some unexpected surprises. Certain that the young pilot is interfering with his campaign, his obsession with Rhys escalates into rage and his strikes into Maia and Alcyone become brazen and deadly.

While the fleet meets Biak's assaults head-on, Rhys travels with Karra to a geometric city in the Dreamcore where he senses the invisible presence of the T'nari League, a legendary group reputed to be fighting the Drahk. Driven to connect with the slippery League, he leads his family and friends on a journey to unlock the power of sexuality, blood, gold–and choice.

–"I’m just a match to light the fire. Before we’re done with this ride, we’ll all be up in flames."

Sad All Over by Gideon MarcusSad All Over by Gideon Marcus:

I want to doff my hat in memory of an event that pummeled the nation. I don’t think any of us have any difficulty remembering the terrible events of Dallas that day. But shortly thereafter, as Beatlemania was sweeping the nation in the wake of the Fab Four’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the dark part of my brain came up with a way that November 22, 1963 could have been even worse.

Haunted Hearts by Christine PopeHaunted Hearts by Christine Pope:

His prison lives in his very bones. She holds the key that could free him… or break him.

Elena Salazar doesn’t exactly have permission to house-sit, but she’s sure her cousin Ava won’t mind the not-quite break-in. After all, Ava would want her to feel safe. And free. Two concepts Elena’s still adjusting to after eleven years a prisoner in her own home, thanks to her terrifying ability to summon demons.

She manages to make peace with the resident ghost in Ava’s house, but she has to do some really fast talking when a tattooed, tautly muscled warlock shows up with Ava’s keys in his hand and deep-seated pain in his troubled eyes.

The Salvadoran Escobar clan is healing under new primus Gabriel’s leadership. But no one is likely to forget that the cruel former primus used Alessandro Escobar and his fearful gift as a weapon, unwilling though he was. When Gabriel sends him to Ava’s house for an extended “vacation,” Alessandro packs his bags with a heavy heart.

No one warned him the house was already occupied.

Elena is beautiful, skittish, fragile, with a demon for a friend and a nervous habit of hiding behind her books and her art. Alessandro drinks in her sweetness like water from a desert spring. But if he dares reveal who he is, what he is, the key to her heart could vanish, leaving him the lonely prisoner of his gift.

This time, for good.

Doll Crimes by Karen RungeDoll Crimes by Karen Runge:

‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’

A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister?

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

Charon's Song by Skolion Authors CollectiveCharon's Song by the Skolion Authors Collective:

A collection of stories by the Skolion Authors Collective.

In the Greek myths Charon is the ferryman who helps the dead across the rivers that separate the lands of the living from the underworld. Like Charon, each writer in this collection is a guide and guardian. Some of their stories are gentle and hopeful, some tell of betrayal and despair. There are tales set in the future of our Earth, or in magical realms of fantasy. Every story helps us look fearlessly into the face of death.

Step into the boat, gentle reader, and join us on this journey through the dark.

Stories by: Laurie Janey, Nerine Dorman, Cristy Zinn, Tallulah Lucy, Icy Sedgwick, Toby Bennett, Suzanne van Rooyen, Yolandie Horak, Masha du Toit, Cat Hellisen

Edited by Masha du Toit and Nerine Dorman

Autumn on Mars by SMAAutumn on Mars by SMA:

Tripp doesn't know who he is, how he got here, or why this gorgeous man with dark eyes is the only familiar thing in sight.

But he does know this:

It's Autumntide on Mars and love is in the air!

—Embrace the wonders of Fall in this dreamy and evocative MM seasonal romance—
Louisa May Alcott meets the science fantasy of Ray Bradbury!

Tripp is a young employee of the Division, corporate authority in the Crater region. Reserved and sardonic, he's inexplicably drawn to Dolan—a goofy, enthusiastic romantic with a body made to remember.

But it's not just strong arms pulling Tripp toward this onyx-eyed man. Both colleagues are victims of amnesia caused by their recent interplanetary re-assignment. Though they don't even recognize themselves, they're driven by intense chemistry that feels too familiar to be coincidence ...

With work suspended for the month-long Autumntide festival, can Tripp let his walls down and learn to love—even when he's a stranger in his own head?

Experience the festivities as two lost souls find each other—again—under the ochre skies of Autumn on Mars.

The Journey by SMAThe Journey by SMA:

The Routine's dominion is cracking. Can Owen pick up the pieces in time to save humanity?

Step into the realm of the Routine once again in this sensually adventurous continuation of the Twisting Fates saga.


It's not every day you fall in love and get sent to assassinate an AI god.

Dispatched to discover the truth about the missing colony on Mars, Owen finds allies in unexpected conditions, and explores the depths of new love.

But nothing can be taken for granted under the AI's shadow. The Routine is dangerous, and the man Owen is sleeping next to every night might be its most vicious secret weapon.

Cut off from the world, the young Initiate must confront the strength in his own heart—and be prepared to lose everything. What awaits them on Mars, and can he really trust his new allies? Each discovery leads closer to the truth, but there’s one fact Owen will never forget:

The Routine is lying to us all.

Join the journey as Owen pursues the secrets of the Routine—and learns the endless bounds of love and his own desire.

An immersively mysterious sci-fi romance adventure that spans the solar system!

Helter Witchelter by Lotta SmithHelter Witchelter by Lotta Smith:

A haunted mansion in a beautiful town… A chilling ghost awaiting for his next prey… Throw in a newbie witch realtor!

Fio Valentine is starting to settle into her sometimes vexing job in the Haunted and Hexed Properties Management Department of Quest Realty, but when her friend Suze invites her on a weekend trip to Santa Barbara, she’s less than excited about visiting yet another haunted house.

Rumored to be hosting the ghost of a wealthy businessman, the mansion could hold a clue to the disappearance of Chris Adams, the older brother of her foxy boss Jack, and since Jack has decided his current assignment is too dangerous for her, Fio takes Suze up her offer, her spirit animal Champ in tow.

Can Fio solve the mystery of the ghost in the garden and earn some points with Jack at same time?

Find out in Book Three of the Witches Guide to Haunted Properties.

Night Raiders by James David VictorNight Raiders by James David Victor:

All the universe’s answers lie in the depths of space where it’s black as night.

Anders and Dalia have escaped and now know who the real enemy is. Their only chance to stop them is to venture into the depths of space that can steal a man’s soul. And sanity. They soon learn that there are more players involved and none of them are likely to care if they succeed or fail. Can they find a weapon that can defeat the Throne or will they fall to the raiders from the dark reaches of space?

Night Raiders is the third book in the Memories of Earth space opera series. If you enjoy stories in fantastic worlds of aliens, space travel, and genetic engineering, the Memories of Earth series will be right up your alley.

Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron WarrenInto Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren:

"A tale of creeping dread … Recommended." —Tade Thompson, author of Rosewater and The Murders of Molly Southbourne

"Dark, disturbing, visceral" (5 stars) —NB Magazine

In this gothic-styled ghost story that simmers with strange, Warren shows once again her flair for exploring the mundane—themes of love, loss, grief, and guilt manifest in a way that is both hauntingly familiar and eerily askew.

People come to The Angelsea, a rooming house near the beach, for many reasons. Some come to get some sleep, because here, you sleep like the dead. Dora arrives seeking solitude and escape from reality. Instead, she finds a place haunted by the drowned and desperate, who speak through the sleeping inhabitants. She fears sleep herself, terrified that the ghosts of her daughters will tell her “it’s all your fault we’re dead.” At the same time, she’d give anything to hear them one more time.

Fate by Kirtsen WeissFate by Kirsten Weiss:

Something wicked this way comes…

Witch Jayce Bonheim has spent the last four months waiting for a horde of dark magicians to come to town.

Now, they’ve arrived, embedded in a traveling circus.

And they’re bigger and badder than this ex-party girl could have imagined, wreaking havoc wherever they go.

But when a murder rocks her small town, Jayce must stop the chaos. Walking a tightrope between dark spells and past regrets, can Jayce stop a murderer and stop these magicians from transforming the world forever?

Silver Search by Rock WhitehouseSilver Search by Rock Whitehouse:

It's been just six months since the unprovoked, brutal attack on Inoria that killed tens of thousands. The enemy has paid a price in the deep-space skirmishes since but seems in no mind to retire. But, what, in fact, is the enemy mind? What, in the end, do they want?

Carol Hansen and her Antares shipmates are going back to solve the mystery they found at Beta Hydri, taking a retinue of academics with them.

David Powell survived Sigma's battle, dragging that battered ship to safety. Now promoted and on Columbia with his old friend Dan Smith in command, a new role, indeed, a new life, begins for him.

Joanne Henderson's Intrepid continues its silent mission among the nearby stars, while Natalie Hayden and Ben Price begin to find connections beyond what happens inside a Sentinel.

But back at Fleet HQ, there is growing frustration about how to run a war when a light-year-per-day just doesn’t seem nearly fast enough.

Mary van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in RecoveryMary van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in Recovery by M.P. Wilhelm:

Now that Mary van Amsterdam is dead, she can finally live.

The Amsterdam Afterlife empowered Mary, in a way she’d only dreamed of in the living realm. She's devoted herself to the Tragically Dead in Recovery—quirky dead animals, struggling to come to terms with the trauma of their untimely deaths. Their macabre appearance and occasionally prickly personalities reflect each one’s painful demise. Just when Mary thinks she has a handle on things, her eccentric sanctuary comes under attack by a rogue soul reaper who threatens to upend her posthumous ambition.

Mary has her own emotional baggage. Mortally separated from her friends and family, she’s moving on. There's little time for reflection on her past. Her hands are full, supporting a troubled dead horse on his Deathday, and making a journey to Prague to rescue a newly deceased raven. Troubles multiply when Mary finds herself face-to-face with the stalking menace, reopening painful emotions from her tragic time among the living.

Can Mary stay on track and protect her vulnerable companions?

Follow Mary and her menagerie of misfits, as she discovers new, mystical abilities to manage the new, menacing threat. Will this change the course of the Amsterdam Afterlife forever?

Friday, November 29, 2019

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for November 29, 2019

It's time for the latest weekly round-up of interesting links about speculative fiction from around the web, this week with the best SFF novels of 2019 and the decade, The Mandalorian, The Rise of Skywalker and Star Wars in general, His Dark Materials, Watchmen, Harley Quinn, The Dragon Prince, Frozen II, tributes to Gahan Wilson and much more. 

Speculative fiction in general:

 Best of 2019 and the decades:

 Tributes to Gahan Wilson:

Film and TV:

Comments on The Mandalorian, The Rise of Skywalker and Star Wars in general (warning: spoilers):

Comments on His Dark Materials:

Comments on the latest version of Watchmen:

Comments on the animated Harley Quinn:

Comments on season 3 of The Dragon Prince

Comments on Frozen II


Writing, publishing and promotion:



Classics reviews: 

Con and event reports: 

Science and technology:

Free online fiction:

Odds and ends: 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Interview with M.P. Wilhelm, author of Mary Van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in Recovery

Today the Speculative Fiction Showcase takes great pleasure in interviewing M.P. Wilhelm, whose first book, Mary Van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in Recovery we featured on November 20th.

Can you tell us a little about “Cute & Macabre”? Is it a thing, or about to be one?
Cute & Macabre is my own little production label. I am just getting started with it. I intend to create multiple works that reflect the tastes of people who like grim but lovable things. I was initially going to call it Cute & Macabre Publishing, but that sounds like it just limits me to books. I don’t want to limit what sort of things I make, so it is just called Cute & Macabre for now. The first thing produced is the Amsterdam Afterlife Series, but there are many other projects planned.

You began your first life as a designer of gaming software. What prompted you to change to the written word - and images?
I am fortunate to have an education in traditional arts as well as computer graphics. I enjoyed a career in video games. Software, especially mainstream commercial game production, is usually a long, industrial-scale process involving surprisingly large teams and an ever-shifting dynamic of cutting edge technology. I love the excitement of working on such multi-disciplinary, collaborative teams—what comes out of the mix of influences is often surprising. 

But, sometimes, you want to make something in a less volatile environment. I like to make things that express me. By writing, I get to focus on my singular vision (with input from editors and beta readers.) But at its essence, by writing, I can produce a work that is a more accurate reflection of the things I value. Doing small projects in a relatively stable medium allows me to make something all on my own. For the moment anyway, more satisfying. I love every aspect of independent publishing. I find writing and illustrating books, as well as tackling the layout, publishing, and marketing, very gratifying. My desire may change in the future, but life is too short not to do what you love!

The Mary van Amsterdam series was inspired by time spent living in the canal district of Amsterdam. Can you tell us more about that?
I worked a contract job as a consultant for a start-up game studio in Amsterdam. It was a dream-come-true to be able to live in a 17th century flat along Herengracht, one of the premier canals of the city. My time in Amsterdam was fantastic. With a “Knowledge Worker Visa,” I received my own Dutch Social Security number and opened a Dutch bank account. I even attempted to learn Dutch, though it was almost pointless (Once Amsterdammers detect any hint of the non-native tongue, they switch to English.) I walked along the canals to work during the week, and on the weekends, I frequently made excursions near and far. I took walking tours and learned as much about Amsterdam as I could. There is a ton of history to discover in the 9 Streets district, and the landmark Jordaan district, which famously features the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk. 

I should also mention that, in a sense, the Netherlands was like going home in terms of my ancestry. I have a Dutch great-grandmother on my mother’s side, and my grandfather from my father’s side is Dutch. I was lucky to have access to relatives there. They invited me over frequently and made me feel very much at home. WWII and the occupation of the Netherlands directly affected my family, and details of the suffering they endured are genuinely harrowing. Dutch history and the Dutch people hold a special place in my heart. Even though I was there just shy of two years, it has taken me a year of being back home in the US to get over my homesickness for the Netherlands. Writing the book series is a way for me to stay there in some ways.

The story concerns a dead - ghost - girl who looks after newly dead animals from Amsterdam’s past. This is a really unusual idea. What inspired it, and why did you choose to make it into an illustrated series?
Events from the history of Amsterdam and specifically the Jordaan district inspired the main characters. On a walking tour of the Jordaan, I learned about the Eel Riots of 1886 for the first time. There is also the origin story of “Cafe het Bruine Paard” (The Brown Horse Cafe), where, legend has it, a team of horses pulling a fire engine plowed into a cafe racing to a tenement fire across town. I took these stories and looked at them from the perspective of the animals at their core. What would it be like to be an eel in an eel pulling?  What about the point-of-view of those horses who slipped on an icy bridge? It had to be frightening to crash head-first into a cafe with a massive fire engine pushing through from behind? What would these souls have to say if they had the benefit of language and introspection that we have as humans? How would they find peace with it? Who could they tell to help heal their suffering and loss? Who would have the patience and compassion to heal their trauma? These are the questions that led me directly to Mary van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in Recovery.

I illustrated it because I ‘think’ in a very visual manner. I feel that my images help to lead the reader in some ways, and it helps set a specific tone. The characters in my imagination look pretty awesome to me, and I wanted to share how I envision them with my readers. Explaining that an eel is resting on the shoulder of, and consoling, a dead horse in a hallway is a rather abstract concept. With the aid of an illustration, though, it becomes more concrete. Though, I wanted to be careful not to take too much away from the imagination of the reader.

The first book, Mary van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in Recovery has recently been published. How did you classify it within Amazon’s mysterious system?
It was suggested early on by one of the developmental editors I worked with that the story would be a good fit for the young adult fantasy category—that made sense. My biggest influences are YA Fantasy, so I pursued information on how to obtain such a category. If you want to target YA in Amazon, you choose Juvenile Fiction -> Fantasy. Then set your age range 13-18+ to target the young adult category. In choosing my secondary category, I wasn’t sure my story quite fit into urban fantasy. It is primarily set in the paranormal realm and doesn’t have the gritty detective aspects, so I chose Paranormal Fantasy as my secondary category. I didn’t explicitly write the book to genre or market. Perhaps some would say that for my debut, this is a mistake, but I’d rather it be a pure form of expression than compromised by targeting a particular market.

The second book in the series is awaiting publication. How many books are you planning?
Yes, I just put the second book up on Amazon for pre-order. I am certainly doing three initially, but I hope to go much further.

How has your considerable experience designing video games (and teaching game design) affected the writing - and marketing - process?
Much of what a game designer is concerned with is the player experience. In general, how does the player know what they are supposed to do, what should we allow them to do, and what should we not let them do? It is similar to writing. A writer has to decide what aspects of the story to tell the reader, what do they need to know, what should we tell them, and what should we omit, to leave to their imagination?

There seems to be a renewed interest in the macabre, from organisations such as Morbid Anatomy (based in New York) to the Last Tuesday Society in London, England. Why do you think this is?
The dark and macabre have always existed in ancient cultures. I think it’s odd that this aspect of existence isn’t more prominent in modern culture. Modern western civilization still seems to be reluctant to accept the fact that without darkness, light cannot exist—with destruction comes rebirth and liberation. These are obvious and accepted concepts in Eastern philosophy.

I think another part of the renewed popularity is undoubtedly an appealing aesthetic. It may be an acquired taste. Still, the goth and morbid aesthetic promoted by pop-culture influencers such as Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro, innumerable rock icons, comic books, and other mediums, appeals to a broad swath of people.

But back to the broader aspect of it, the appeal of the macabre is a vital aspect of human nature. Our fascination with dark or scary things is a way of coping with the existential crisis we all face. We can choose to fear and avoid thinking about the inevitable destination of mortality, and the prevalence of suffering and loss, or accept it by embracing and celebrating the unavoidable “slings and arrows” of existence, death included. 

With Mary van Amsterdam how do you see your readers? Or will they come from many quarters?
I think reflective individuals can relate to the vulnerability of characters and the story. Even though there are dark aspects of the book, it is a story with a heart. The main characters in Mary van Amsterdam suffer a great deal of trauma due to their untimely deaths. Still, they find refuge by sticking together and celebrating their differences and unique abilities. Even though the book is about death and the hereafter, it is truly a reflection of being alive. The book is a fusing of things I am fascinated by, metaphysics, philosophy, flawed, but relatable characters, a dash of allusions to European history both overt and obfuscated. People who like grim and creepy things gravitate to it; the feed has drawn a lot of subculture types (goths, punks, emos, etc.)  But from what I can tell, fans of the series are demographically very diverse.

Paris and Prague have featured in many fantastic and magical realist (and other) stories. Why has Amsterdam featured less (or am I unaware of a tradition?)
It is my understanding that Ketterdam, the setting for Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, is based on Amsterdam, but I am not aware of many other fantasy stories set in such a place. 

In general, I do think Amsterdam is a little underrepresented, but I like that the city I love is a bit niche. Visiting is more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of the metropolises like Paris or London. Amsterdam is quaint and full of rich history. The spirit of the city runs much deeper than its canals, and just under the surface lie more profound meaning than most have the knowledge to appreciate. 

Amsterdam is too frequently associated with its tourism, canals, coffee shops, and the red-light district. Unfortunately, too many people are not well-versed in what else the city has to offer. There is so much more to discover. Everyone knows weed is legal to buy, but few understand who Baruch Spinoza is or why he is vital to the European Enlightenment. His arguments for secular governance are essential to the progress of humanity.

There seems to be an interesting and productive blurring of the edges between different genres and media - games, television, films, books and more (not forgetting music). What are your views on this?
For me, this is great. I love ingesting all forms of media, and I love creating work in all sorts of media. As I have pursued creating visual art, poetry, novels, music, and games, I have found that a project truly shines when it best utilizes the complementary strengths of the medium. For example, some narratives in games work great, others not so much. If there were a narrative tacked on in between rounds of Tetris, the experience would be annoying and clumsy. There are limits to the way you tell stories in games, just as there are in books. 

First-person narratives in games like Portal work most brilliantly, in my opinion. Portal could be a good book, but likely explaining the feeling of working through the three-dimensional puzzles would not be near as fun as experiencing it first-hand. Fortnite would be a dull book if it stuck to the way the game is actually played. Round after round of retelling of battles would not sustain most readers.

Reversing things, Sun Also Rises, the complete story experienced as written, would not entertain in an interactive format, unless you could taste the food. I always get hungry for brasserie cuisine reading Hemingway. As technology gets better, interacting with book-like narratives could become more and more appropriate.

What have you got planned next?
In the Amsterdam Afterlife series, books two and three, Mary van Amsterdam is bombarded with echoes of her past on all fronts. Her newly arrived ex (who she broke up with before she died) has followed her to the afterlife and is desperately trying to find a way his way back with her. At the same time, a new scourge of xenophobia is taking hold in the afterlife, in reaction to an influx of new souls arriving in disturbed states. The situation leads to the emergence of a totalitarian regime that threatens peace across the continent. It is just like what occurred during Mary’s lifetime leading directly to her death. As the guardian of the Amsterdam Afterlife, she is older, wiser and has more power than she did as a girl during the occupation. Now she is determined to stop the regime before the horrors of such hatred destroy everything she values. With that as the background, the secondary characters, Darkhorse, Aal, Tycho, and Fawn each play their part in dealing with the challenges. Book two also introduces new characters among Mary’s circle—allies, foes, and characters that fall somewhere in between.

I have several ideas that will extend the series far into the future, and other project ideas as well, but for now, I am determined to get the first three in the series going as fast as I possibly can, to build up a writer platform. I want to have the third book on sale by March at the latest.

What do you read or watch for entertainment?
Creators who express from their heart are my greatest inspiration. They are genuine heroes. I can’t name all the writers, animators, directors, and musicians whose work has made a significant improvement in my life. You could almost say they contributed to saving my life and, I believe, the lives of countless others. I think the world doesn’t give creators enough credit for the contributions to our culture and progress.

The works of J.K. Rowling are hugely influential and inspiring. I love how many great women there are in fantasy: Naomi Novik, V.E. Schwab, and Diana Wynne Jones, to name a few. I discovered Howl’s Moving Castle through the Hayao Miyazaki film, years later, I read the book and loved it just as much, if not more. 

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is one of my favorite series ever. Incidentally, the new HBO show is good. Roald Dahl, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Edward Gorey, and again, countless others, are huge influences.

I am also genuinely grateful for the cheeky prose of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. The wisdom and gentle nature of Neil Gaiman’s stories are held close to my heart as well.

Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is the last thing I read in physical book form. Lately, I utilize podcasts and audiobooks to learn and read while I work out, walk the dog, or draw. I am a fan of multi-tasking. I love In Our Time, Star Talk, and Radio Lab—to name a few. Writing, though, takes my undivided attention. 

I  can only listen to music without words while I write. I am so busy writing and illustrating the Amsterdam Afterlife that I have very little time for proper reading. After I publish Book Three, I plan to take a creative break and have a few weeks designated strictly for reading physical books and catch up on a long backlog. 

As for cinema, as I alluded to, I am a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki. I also love Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Brad Bird. I am sure I will regret omitting some influence that doesn’t immediately come to mind, but there is a limit to how long I can waste time finding what I think is the perfect answer to this challenging question.

Have there been any special influences on your writing or artwork?
I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but I think my whole life experience has influenced my writing and artwork. Everything I create comes from something I learned or discovered that inspires me. When I am not creating, I am busy finding new fuel for the fire. The arts, science, philosophy, and history are significant influences, but just sitting still and meditating is equally informative. The universe has a great deal to teach us, and we can access it externally and from within ourselves. Sorry if I just got too “woo-woo.”

I take influence from everywhere. As for the Amsterdam Afterlife Series, I think the key influences are The Diary of Anne Frank, Lincoln in the Bardo, and (believe it or not) Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows were significant inspirations. In a way, I combined their core elements, to get Mary van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in Recovery.

Some of our readers - and featured writers! - have been gamers. What’s the next big thing?
Games will inevitably become more and more accepted, to the point where they will be considered just another form of expression and creativity. It’s long overdue. Every medium has it’s elegantly crafted masterpieces, faddy, disposable thrills, and everything in between. But just as people dismiss Amsterdam due to their short-sightedness, games are equally dismissed by the uninformed.

About M.P. Wilhelm:

Marc P. Wilhelm was born and raised in Northglenn, Colorado. When he graduated from art school, he moved to the San Francisco Bay area and began a career in video game design. For two decades, his career as a professional game designer led to the development of iconic game franchises and an appointment as a professor in a top-ranked game design program.

Creating experiences with or without a controller has always been his passion. After two years living in the canal district of Amsterdam, Holland, he was inspired to create the Amsterdam Afterlife and its Tragically Dead in Recovery. The forthcoming multi-book fantasy series is planned for release in the Fall of 2019.

When not writing, he's making art, traveling, creating music, reading, playing games, or on a hike with his silly dog, Bravo.