Monday, October 30, 2023

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for October 2023


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 and small press authors newly published this month, though some September 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, portal fantasy, historical fantasy, sword and sorcery, paranormal romance, paranormal mystery, space opera, military science fiction, science fiction poetry, Steampunk, cosmic horror, wizards, gnomes, zombies, sea serpents, ancient evils, starships, space marines, mercenaries, gladiators, warrior princesses, crime-busting witches, jaunts through the Multiverse 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:

Josh and Sen Save the Multiverse by D.P. BehlingJosh & Sen Save the Multiverse by D.P. Behling:

Josh Tanner, was trying to fix his life and get back to his four-year-old daughter Sophie. Then he was pulled into the multidimensional world of the Immortals simply by being the last person on the elevator after lunch . . . and carrying a briefcase!

Senyak Marztanak needs to reacquire his immortality and his place on his family’s ruling seat. Both having been stripped away when he failed his grandfather’s trial.

Now, after being bonded through karma, Josh and Sen are forced to rise together through the levels of mortal cultivation to reach transcendence.

In a new and fully developed sci/fi-fantasy universe. Chock full of multiethnic mythology, ageless powers, saviors and treacherous villains. Josh & Sen Save the Multiverse tells the tale of two unlikely heroes pushed together by the fates, karma, and the most powerful immortals in existence. Through hilarious and life-threatening adventures, they form bonds of friendship and brotherhood. All while having to rely on each other’s unique qualities to survive eight iterations away from their universe of origin.

Follow Josh and Sen as they grow, fight, live, laugh, love and cry. They don’t know it yet . . . But for each to get home they will not only have to save their own lives . . . but the entire Multiverse!

Federation Marine Recruit by Jonathan P. BrazeeFederation Marine: Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee:

What would you do to change your life? How far would you go? How hard would you fight?

Rather than work his bones into dust toiling away on a barren world, Ryck Lysander chooses to enlist in the Federation Marine Corps.

But as he quickly finds out, this path isn't just a job. . . it's a calling. . . and not everyone is suited to wear the uniform.

Like millions before him, Ryck will need to develop discipline, endurance, and strength as he’s pushed to the very limit of what he can do, all to earn his ticket off a baren world and into the stars.

But the price of failure won't just mean going home to work the dirt fields. . . it could cost him his very life.

The time to stand is now, and Ryck will need every ounce of willpower to become what the galaxy needs. . .

He must become a Federation Marine.

Omega Force: Dead Reckoning by Joshua DalzelleOmega Force: Dead Reckoning by Joshua Dalzelle:

Mercenary life is hard.

No home. No family. Always looking over your shoulder, likely for the rest of your life.

When you find a crew that you can trust, you do anything for them. Jason Burke has a crew like that. He would kill for them… and he would die for them. Right now, they need his help and it will take all of his cunning and skill to bring them home safely. He is alone, without his powerful ship, the Phoenix, and the criminal cartels he’s going up against are some of the most ruthless in the galaxy.

For Captain Burke it’s all or nothing: bring his friends home safe… or die trying.

A Vengeful Realm by Tim FacciolaA Vengeful Realm by Tim Facciola:

Peace bought by blood seldom lasts, for vengeance knows no end. The same is true for mortals and Gods alike. Decades, centuries, eras may pass, but the cycle remains. As war and revolution rise again, Zephyrus finds himself at the center of it all. Chosen by the Gods, hailed as a prophet of liberation, and forged as a weapon to break the kingdom and restore balance to the realm, hope rests squarely on his shoulders.

If only he could remember…

Enslaved as a gladiator and thrust into a prince’s game of espionage, Zephyrus has only two clues to help unlock his shattered past: a prophecy foretelling destruction, and a letter to the enemy king, promising peace. Now Zephyrus must survive the dangers of the gladiatorial arena, the cunning fury of the Prince’s enemies, and the Gods’ torment if he is to find the truth of his identity and fulfill his fate. But to have any hope of breaking the cycle, first he must secure his freedom—and not just from his slavers.

Within this vengeful realm, a queen protecting her kingdom, a prince defending his father, and a gladiator slave haunted by a prophecy each contend for their own brand of freedom. But the Gods have an agenda of their own, and they'll use any vessel—patrician, plebeian, or slave—to see it done.

The scales must be balanced. By peace. Or by blood.

Achy Breaky Hax by Lily Harper HartAchy Breaky Hex by Lily Harper Hart:

Hannah Hickok has a lot on her mind.

She’s engaged, with a wedding around the corner.

She and her husband-to-be Cooper Wyatt are building a house near the cosplay western town she inherited from her late grandmother.

And she’s gearing up for a fight with the witch who wants to steal her magic and kill her.

All of that falls by the wayside when Hannah realizes that people are starting to develop magical crushes…and the outcome is ugly when the fighting begins.

First up is local Sheriff James Boone’s teenage daughter. She’s overwhelmed by a spell when her latest crush’s attention is on the line.

Then the women at the bakery, all sisters, start fighting over the same man.

Then Cooper decides to come to blows for Hannah’s honor and it almost results in someone’s death.

Hannah is understandably confused. The only thing she knows without question is that there’s witchy magic afoot. Where is it coming from, though?

Hannah’s life is leading toward a specific fight. This fight, however, needs to be won before she can look to the future. Unfortunately for Hannah, the odds of winning are long.

There’s no evading the fight. So, here it comes.

Perilous Potions by Amanda M. LeePerilous Potions by Amanda M. Lee:

Luna Thorn sprang into being in the middle of the night in a downtown Detroit park years ago. She had no memory of her past and no idea what the future would hold for her. The only thing she possessed was magic…and the determination to win at all costs.

She’s finally about to get the answers she’s been looking for .

There are zombies popping up on Detroit’s mean inner city streets. They’re not normal zombies, however. They move fast and don’t go down under the usual methods. They have a mission, though, and the only thing that stops them is death.

Luna knows someone is controlling them, but who? She’s determined to find answers on her own, but the people who know her best and love her most refuse to let her fight this battle without backup.

Luna has been a loner for as long as she can remember, but her blood is running hot these days after joining with a phoenix, and news that she’s a traveler—a being that can jump through time—has her second-guessing every decision she’s ever made.

Detroit is about to be rocked by death and destruction. The question is, will Luna be the saint protecting it or the sinner bringing it down?

Things are about to change for everybody, and it’s impossible to know who will rise from the ashes.

The fight between good and evil, the past and the present, is on, and Luna will be right in the middle of it for better or worse.

The world is about to burn.

As the Cookie Crumbles by Amanda M. LeeAs the Cookie Crumbles by Amanda M. Lee:

Christmas is right around the corner, and Stormy Morgan is ready to celebrate for the first time in years. She’s been dreaming of one thing…Shadow Hills’ infamous Christmas festival.

There’s just one little problem.

When helping her new friend Easton pick out clothes in the thrift store, Stormy discovers the owner is missing. What’s worse, it looks as if there was a struggle in the back room. What happened to the married mother of one?

Stormy gets her boyfriend Hunter Ryan involved and they start searching. The only thing they can ascertain with any certainty is that there’s a hint of magic pulsing around the town, and maybe it has something to do with the disappearance.

Stormy has her hands full with gnome shifters and her old high school nemesis, so a missing person’s case isn’t something she’s looking forward to. She has no choice but to dig, though. Her conscious won’t allow the alternative.

Stormy might be new at the magic contest, but she understands winning. When another person disappears, she realizes she’s playing the wrong game.

In a world where fire rules, cold is about to claim them all. Can Stormy win? She’s about to find out. Come along for the ride.

The Horror at Pleasant Brook by Kevin LuciaThe Horror at Pleasant Brook by Kevin Lucia:

At the edge of the Adirondacks, an ancient malevolence descends upon the quiet town of Pleasant Brook, setting the stage for a chilling battle between the forgotten and an unstoppable evil.

Standing resolutely in its shadow is an unlikely alliance—the remnants, the forgotten, the outcasts, and the underestimated. As the malevolence swells, they emerge as the town's last bastion of defense, its only hope against an ancient, remorseless force that brooks no resistance.

Yet, how can they hope to prevail against a power so ancient, so pitiless, so inexorable? The town of Pleasant Brook becomes the battleground for a confrontation between humanity's resilience and an evil beyond imagination.

“Kevin Lucia paints in blood and dances in the viscera in a terrorized small town. Chilling and non-stop, horrifying in the best kind of way. Forget Halloween movies and pick up The Horror at Pleasant Brook instead.” —NYT bestselling author Tosca Lee

Prepare for a chilling journey into the heart of darkness with this horror novel that will grip fans of Stephen King, and Robert R. McCammon. Delve into a world of creeping dread, small-town enigmas, and suspense-laden horror that will keep you riveted from the very first page.

Discover the sinister secrets of The Horror at Pleasant Brook, a gripping addition to the pantheon of horror books and novels. Dive into the depths of horror fiction that will haunt your nightmares and captivate fans of horror and suspense books.

Bringer of the Scourge by M. Daniel McDowellBringer of the Scourge by M. Daniel McDowell:

When the end of ages comes for the empire, the princess must rescue herself.

An army of three brittle allegiances aims for the throne of Derebor, laying siege to the castle Talorr, where Vierrelyne, the last living daughter of the tyrant king, waits locked in a tower cell for the prophesied apocalypse that only she can prevent.

To escape the castle with the aid of her closest counsel, she takes a formidable ancient weapon from her family crypt: a holy suit of armor and a diadem infused with the soul of a demon prince. With this power, Vierrelyne is unstoppable, but its presence is corrosive.

Vierrelyne is haunted by what it means for her to tame the power she has been given, and by what means she might conquer the Bringer of the Scourge. For, if the prophecy she dreads is true, the weapons she wields might destroy everything she holds dear.

A (Non) Comprehensive Guide to Sea Serpents by A.J. SherwoodA (Non) Comprehensive Guide to Sea Serpents by A.J. Sherwood:

Two new apprentices. One charming engineer. A potential battle with both sea serpents and evil sorcerers.

When Sorcerer Adrien Danvers takes on a job that leads him into the slums of England, he never imagined he’d end up with not one, but two apprentices. Despite his doubts in himself, he’s the only chance the two pre-teens have to escape their hellish life.

When Sir Hugh Quartermain contracts him to deal with the mysterious circumstances surrounding his home on the Isle of Man, Adrien finds the more time they spend together, the more his walls come down around the beguiling engineer–an unusual occurrence and a terrifying prospect.

But as it turns out, this case is about to take a turn–a battle with both beast and man, the ultimate test of Adrien’s willingness to accept help. When he does, Hugh proves to be a fierce protector and friend, more so than Adrien could’ve ever bargained for, and he finds himself longing for something he shouldn’t.

Falling for his new friend is not a complication Adrien needs. (His matchmaking apprentices disagree.)

How To Navigate Our Universe by Mary Soon LeeHow To Navigate Our Universe by Mary Soon Lee:

How to Be a Star

Gravitationally collapse a nebula.
Fuse hydrogen into helium.
If desired, explode.

How-to astronomy poetry to answer vexing questions such as How to Surprise Saturn, How to Blush Like Betelgeuse, and How to Survive a Black Hole.

"Unraveling meaning from partial glimpses of the universe has preoccupied astronomers for thousands of years. Mary Soon Lee's remarkable collection of poetry traces this journey, capturing the wonder of the celestial bodies that comprise our universe, the elegance of the rules that guide its evolution and the humanity of those who search to better our understanding."
—Andy Connolly, Professor of Astronomy, University of Washington

Mary Soon Lee is a Grand Master of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, and has won the Rhysling Award, the Elgin Award, and the AnLab Readers' Award. Her work has appeared in Science, American Scholar, Spillway, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons. This is her second collection of science poetry, following on from Elemental Haiku: Poems to honor the periodic table three lines at a time. Born and raised in London, she now lives in Pittsburgh.

Raven's Flag by Glynn StewartRaven's Flag by Glynn Stewart:

In times of peace, alliances wither and are forgotten.
In times of war, honor must reforge them in fire and steel!

The United Planets Alliance fought the Kenmiri Empire with a hundred allies at their side. Bound in common cause until genocide broke the Kenmiri—and Kenmiri schemes broke the alliance in turn—those one-time allies still left deep debts of blood and friendship behind.

Still, the UPA has forged ahead in the post-Kenmiri times, weaving new economic and military alliances despite their more limited reach. The last thing they are expecting is for a soldier of the Londu, one of those half-forgotten allies, to arrive in Sol itself and ask for help.

An unknown alien force, armed with weapons thought unique to humanity, has assaulted the Londu people. To honor debts and promises alike, Rear Admiral Henry Wong and Ambassador Sylvia Todorovich find themselves called to take a fleet farther than any human ship has gone in half a decade—and challenge an enemy they know nothing about.

If the Londu are even still there when they arrive…

The Beacon by James David VictorThe Beacon by James David Victor:

The fourth book in the epic Sentinels sci-fi adventure from Amazon All-Star author James David Victor.

The Beacon is the fourth book in the Sentinels series. If you like sci-fi adventures, space battles with complex alien invaders, and unexpected twists in humanities exploration of the stars, this could be your new favorite series.

Download The Beacon and see what happens next in this epic space adventure!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Interview with Mark Engels, author of Werecats Convergent (Forest Exiles Saga, Book 2)


Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Mark Engels, author of Werecats Convergent (Forest Exiles Saga, Book 2)

We’re here to talk about your Forest Exiles Saga and the books released so far, Werecats Emergent and Werecats Convergent. Who or what are the werecats of the title?

My main characters are a young woman named Pawly and her twin brother Tommy, both of whom as teenagers come to learn they are werecats. Their mother and uncle are too, as were their ancestors going back generations.

Your website features some striking fanart inspired by the books. What can you tell us about it?

Some of the pieces there are fanart, but most of them are commissioned pieces. Being a longtime anime and manga fan, I had first envisioned telling my stories as webcomics or even a series of graphic novels. I had commissioned several pieces as an aid to share my vision with other artists, which I would need for such an undertaking. But I quickly learned artists I could afford were wholly consumed with their own original work. So I set about the business of writing and selling novels, grateful I had these works to use as promotional materials. From the responses you've shared with me, seems they indeed enkindle interest in my books--just what I want from them.

You started out as an electrical engineer designing signalling and communications systems for the railroads in the US. What inspired you to write and how did you begin?

I still do that work which I'm glad to do, having been a train buff and an electronics geek since boyhood. Through it I afford me and my family a decent living. Having lived out of a suitcase for months on end multiple times over the course of my career, writing and all the activity associated with it allowed me to channel my restless energies into exploits far less likely to leave me broke or passed out or in jail (unlike some of my coworkers, but those are stories for another time.)

The protagonist of Werecats Emergent and Werecats Convergent is Pawly, a teenaged girl who discovers her heritage after she transforms at Halloween. How does she deal with the shock of discovering who she is?

Her transformation comes as a shock to the rest of her family too, for reasons explained in the books. Fortunately, she has her mother and the rest of their blended human-werecat family to help her and her twin brother understand and come to grips with who--and what--they are. Which, as they both discover, has its upsides as well...

Why do Pawly’s family ask a Chicago drug cartel for help as they seek an outlet for her and her twin brother’s bloodlust?

The family knows it needs money, a cover, and an outlet for the twins' feral bloodlust. The Noh family is eager to provide all three, just as it did for the twins' mother and uncle a generation before. Until, that is, the twins' grandfather, a renowned scientist and respected university professor, drew the cartel's ire by refusing to help them commercialize their drug production operations. An all-too-convenient leak to the press detailing the grandfather's clandestine research to benefit the twins' mother and uncle resulted in his deportation.

What is Pawly’s family background and how important is her Polish heritage to the story?

One of Pawly's grandfathers, the renowned scientist hailing from Poland, was a key member of a Cold War-era Soviet "super soldier" development program. Her other grandfather was the CIA operative sent to infiltrate the Soviets' organization and smuggle him back to the States. Pawly's ancestral werecat clan was caught in the crossfire as the two humans made their escape, leaving her mother and her uncle as its only surviving members. The four of them, together with the scientist's young wife, fled to the CIA agent's native Chicago. There, in an ethnic Polish neighborhood, they all began to rebuild their lives. Before long the scientist and his wife adopted Pawly's mother and uncle. In the years following, her mother came to fall in love and be married--to the CIA agent's son. To whom she bore twins: Pawly and Tommy. At the time of the story Pawly's grandfather has been deported back to Poland, accompanied by her uncle who himself grew up to be a scientist. There they resume the grandfather's research, desperate to find a way the twins might sate their kinds' lethal bloodlust lest they go feral.

When her uncle Ritzi seeks an alternative solution to the twins’ situation, where does it lead, and what is the result?

He journeys to Poland to help the twins' grandfather resume his "super soldier" development work. But while there Ritzi inadvertently draws notice from an elder werecat representing a rogue state, desiring to exploit the twins' deadly talents for his employer's own ends.

How do Pawly and her brother end up preparing to enlist in the military of a rogue state, and how does their father react?

When a Noh cartel enforcer is found savagely mauled following the twins' first job, Ritzi insists Pawly and her brother enlist in the rogue state's service to ensure their safety. Because he knows firsthand that the Noh family cartel is bad news. The twins' father on the other hand, having just been grievously wounded in a covert operation against said rogue state, knows that it is bad news as well. Each one-upping the other throughout the last half of the first book seeking to resolve their impasse results in...well, let's just say there's a lot of collateral damage.

You mention your “long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms”. What influence did this have on your choice of theme and on the aesthetic of the series and fanart?

These books are my way of giving back to the anime, manga, and anthropomorphic fandoms which I have given me such joy through the years, fandoms which enabled me to meet kindred spirits including several of my closest friends. Pawly and her antagonist Hana are each an amalgamation of several of my favorite anime and manga heroines. My books include an ensemble cast and a numerous flashbacks in part because so many of my favorite anime and manga creators employed such devices to tell their stories. Since I first had a webcomic or a graphic novel series in mind when I first sat down to write my stories, I think the narrative would still well suit one of those formats. Any artists who believe they would want to work with me to make that happen, please look me up!

Avoiding spoilers, where is Pawly at the start of book two?

Smack dab in the middle of a firefight along with the rest of her Navy unit, pierside near the Gulf of Oman. Fighting tooth and claw against an enemy werecat--Hana, in fact.

You mention that you are a member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state's oldest writing collectives, and the Furry Writer’s Guild. What can you tell us about these writers’ groups?

Allied Authors traces its roots back nearly a hundred years to the Milwaukee Fictioneers. Among the groups more recent members was a fellow named Gene DeWeese. His works included an 80s era young adult novel called  The Adventures of a Two-Minute Werewolf; I read my Weekly Reader Book Club hardcover edition over and over again until the spine finally split. (If the premise sounds familiar, it might be because the book was made into an ABC Weekend Special miniseries--not all that long before the original Teen Wolf movie came out.) To say DeWeese's book left an impression on me is an understatement. I write what I write now because I read what he wrote then. Sadly, Mr. DeWeese passed away a couple of years before I joined.

The Furry Writers’ Guild is a group of writers whose works, running the gamut of formats, all feature anthropomorphic animals. A writer's characters, however, need not be furry all the time for a writer to qualify for membership. For that I'm grateful, as several of the friends I've made there number among my werecat books' staunchest supporters (and my trusted confidants.)

The Forest Exiles Saga interweaves tropes of magic and shape-shifters with modern geopolitical combat. How do you blend real-life themes with urban fantasy?

I puzzled over this question for some while, yet have little to show for it by way of explanation. How does a squirrel know how to climb a tree? He doesn't, you know, he just goes and does it. So blending real-life themes together with urban fantasy wasn't really a conscious choice near as I can recall. What was, however, was the realization that these were the books I had in my heart to write, the books I wanted to read and couldn't find. I am over the moon that other people enjoy my books' genre fusion aesthetic, too.

How important is the landscape and nature of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes to your writing and imagination?

I write both out of the abundance of my heart and out of the deep, aching longings within it. Parts of my books are inspired by the life I've lived, others by the life I wish I had. And many of both types were themselves inspired by numerous locales around the Great Lakes region, especially Wisconsin where my family and I now live. Readers can take heart that whatever mental picture they formulate of one setting or another, I've likely beheld that very same scene with my own two eyes.

Book 3 of the Saga, Werecats Resurgent, is due out in December. When that is published, what are your plans?

I've made no commitments beyond marketing the complete series. Need a writer panelist or a writer guest-of-honor for an upcoming con? Have books, will travel. My muse hasn't told me yet just whether there are more stories to tell, though rest assured she will make it abundantly clear if there are. She has claws and fangs and knows how to use them! Readers can join my mailing list via the "Subscribe" link on my web site to stay abreast of my writerly goings-on. (And they'll receive excerpts from my first two books to read and enjoy.)

What has your experience been as an Indie writer negotiating the landscape of Amazon and marketing?

There is a ridicustupid amount of information out there about writing and publishing and marketing. Something I learned the hard way is that what might have worked for them/there/then may or may not work for me/here/now, though it might be worth considering. I recommend one read a lot and listen to a lot then chart their own course, being prepared to re-chart their course as needed in light of new information and insights. The Kindlepreneur site has become a trusted and valued resource to help me do just that, one I can heartily recommend to any and all fellow writers regardless of genre or target audience or the manner in which they seek to publish.


About Mark Engels:

Boyhood interests in trains and electronics fostered Mark's career as an electrical engineer, designing and commissioning signal and communications systems for railroads and rail transit agencies across the United States. Along the way Mark indulged his writing desire by authoring articles for rail and transit industry trade magazines. Coupled with Mark's long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms, he took up writing genre fiction. Growing up in Michigan, never far from his beloved Great Lakes, Mark and his wife today make their home in Wisconsin with their son and a dog who naps beside him as he writes.

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Thursday, October 26, 2023

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for October 27, 2023

It's time for the latest weekly round-up of interesting links about speculative fiction from around the web, this week with the 2023 Hugo winners and the 2023 Worldcon in Chengdu, China, Star Trek Lower Decks and Star Trek in general, Star Wars in general, Loki and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, season 2 of Our Flag Means Death, Gen V,  The Fall of the House of Usher, Five Nights at Freddy's, tributes to Richard Roundtree, a whole lot of horror and much more.

Speculative fiction in general:
Film and TV:
Comments on season 2 of Our Flag Means Death:
Comments on Gen V
Comments on The Fall of the House of Usher
Comments on Five Nights at Freddy's
Comments on the SAG-AFTRA strike:

Writing, publishing and promotion:
Classics reviews:
Con and event reports:
Science and technology:
Toys and collectibles:
Free online fiction: