The Fourth Piece (Order’s Last Play #1)
By E. Ardell
Genre: YA Sci-fi/Fantasy
Release Date: July 8th 2016
Summary from Goodreads:
Admitting what you are will end everything you know. Embracing who you are will start a war…
Life is great when you’re good-looking and popular…so long as no one knows you’re a vulatto. Being half-alien gets you labeled “loser” quicker than being a full vader. So it’s a good thing Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence can easily pass for human—until the night of the party. Nothing kills a good time faster than three brothers sharing a psychic vision of a fourth brother who’s off-world and going to die unless they do something. But when your brother’s emergency happens off-planet, calling 9-1-1 really isn’t an option.
In their attempt to save a brother they barely remember, Devon, Lyle and Lawrence expose themselves to mortal danger and inherit a destiny that killed the last four guys cursed with it. In 2022, there are humans and aliens, heroes and monsters, choices and prophecies—and four brothers with the power to choose what’s left when the gods decide they’re through playing games.
Book I in the Order’s Last Play series
Aliens in Literature…or How Aliens Help Writers Spread Subliminal Messages
I always get a strange look when I say that I write science fiction books, especially science fiction books with aliens in them. Non-sci-fi readers typically equate “science fiction with aliens in it” to cheesy B and C straight-to-video movies without giving it a chance. I’ve had friends who are also writers of science fiction say they have trouble writing synopses or sharing what their book is about to non-sci-fi readers because it “sounds stupid.” So, maybe extraterrestrials in fiction sound silly, but if those the ideas sound silly to actually looked into the genre, they’d find this interesting fact:
The best science fiction reflects and parallels human culture and historical movements. A writer gets to enjoy flexing his or her creative muscles, while making a statement that some readers might not even notice.
Just so I’m not all talk, I’ll throw out examples of some current or popular science fiction literature that involve alien races and show parallels to our society. I’ll separate them according to tropes. (The trope order I list has nothing to do with any official ranking system. This is just the order I thought of them in.)
The first trope I want to talk about is: bodiless or parasitic aliens that hijack human bodies and consciousness and enslave them.
These aliens aren’t seeking to live in symbiosis; they want docile humans. They either like Earth how it is because it is compatible to their native environment, or they find that it is a suitable place to cultivate. They infiltrate our ranks slowly, seizing human vessels one at a time and taking over communities. They like to implant themselves into those in power as well as into the mundane.
Example books: The Host by Stephenie Meyer, The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey, Animorphs by K.A. Applegate, and, for manga fans out there, Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki. All of these popular works feature aliens that use humans as hosts. Humanity as a whole is typically blind to what is happening until it is too late. Individuals that haven’t been invaded are scattered or gathered in small paranoid groups that are highly suspicious of outsiders, especially ones that want to introduce new ideas or who want to promote peace and understanding between themselves and the “others.” In others words, strangers who enter the group with ideas different from the norm. In this trope, there are usually key aliens who are sympathetic to man’s plight and wish to assist humanity and live in symbiosis if possible.
Real world connection: If we look at the United States in its current condition, this theme is about Muslims under fire in the United States because of a national fear of ISIS, it’s about racism, or about LGBT movements. People can read science fiction and easily distance themselves, believing that they are simply reading a fun adventure about aliens. It’s not real, I don’t have to contemplate any hidden meaning. However, on a deeper level, I think people who don’t generally read sci-fi but can enjoy The Fifth Wave and The Host, resonate with the universal theme of “Us versus Them.” Not saying that they agree with the ideal, but it makes the story more credible to them, because, to like a storyline, readers need to be able to relate in some way to the topic, regardless of their standpoints on any real-life movement or event. It is something that is actively happening.
The second trope: Alien races that love Earth, but can do without the cockroach (human) infestation.
In books like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Orphanage by Robert Buettner, the aliens seek to eradicate mankind so that they can cultivate the planet how they like. The human race unites to combat the outside invaders who are technologically and intellectually superior to us in every way.
Real life connection: Historically, we can liken this to the Allies against Axis. Peoples from different countries and cultures can unite against a common perceived enemy. The faction that opposes you and how you feel things should be, become the “aliens.”
It’s sad, but this theme shows that mankind seems to only unite in the face of threats to its norm. And, as seen at the conclusion of Ender’s Game (keep in mind I’m only talking about Ender’s Game as a title independent from the happenings in the rest of the series.), when that threat has been suitably dealt with, the world goes back to being separate nations with no more mutual understandings. In fact, the nations ended up almost immediately warring against each other, all trying to seize a war hero and become greater world powers. After World Wars I and II, though there are organizations like the UN, can we truly say it’s not still Us and Them when speaking about people from other nations?
Buettner’s Orphanage seems to solve the problem at the conclusion of Ender’s Game by not letting the alien threat ever truly vanish. Mankind has to stretch out into the stars and educate, still finding traces of “the slugs” (the enemy aliens) and entering combat. The military and training of soldiers all around the world is still needed, because the planet must always stand prepared for the return of the bad guys.
This is scary, because when we parallel this theme to human culture, it means we can only stay united and help one another under the threat of war. We must forever be paranoid. Is this true of human nature? Can the majority of us only temporarily put aside differences when it comes to survival? Perhaps it just means that as a species, we lack maturity. Which is demonstrated in the next popular trope…
Trope three: Aliens as advanced beings that wish to share their knowledge with us and include us in their planetary unions, because they want to help better us.
In works such as My Teacher is an Alien series by Bruce Coville and space operas like The Ruby Dynasty by Catherine Asaro, extraterrestrials reach out to Earth, building embassies or sending ambassadors. Their minds and technology are always superior and there’s usually a hint of condescension, but they generally mean well. Sometimes, humans are resistant, like in Coville’s series, the aliens try to enter our modern society and are met with extreme prejudice and opposition.
Real world connection: Some social groups would rather remain homogenous (which is ironic to say in places like the US) than to readily accept immigrants who bring with them not only a diverse look but strange cultures and dissimilar beliefs.
In the Ruby Dynasty Saga, the author takes us hundreds of years into the future to create a more advanced human society open to new ideas and diversity. Earthlings, because some of the “alien” races are simply humans very far removed from us, are the underdogs, but we are not ignorant when it comes to other races. We are instead ignorant to injustices done to other races and want to remain separate from wars not our own. We ignore firsthand accounts and examples of cruelty, not wanting to pick a side, because we enjoy our neutrality and wish to remain in the good graces of both sides for trading purposes.
Real world connection: This reflects what can be seen as perceived irresponsible inaction on the parts of first world countries when it comes to devastating conflicts elsewhere, such as the bloodshed between the Hutus and the Tutsi in Africa.
The fourth trope, and also the last trope I want to bring up, is: Aliens in hiding.
In works like I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and The Lux Series by Jennifer Armentrout, the characters are on the run from other alien groups that wish to kill or capture them. The beings in hiding either look human or can assume human form, and in some cases, depending on the audience, these human forms are extremely sexy. This gives the alien a “just like us” vibe. They befriend a human, or humans, who are willing to help them hide or fight, when the bad guys come to collect.
Real world connection: This trope reflects on everyday heroes, people who aren’t decorated soldiers or world leaders. They are the one or two people who are willing to stand up for others while endangering themselves in the process. They are Miep Gies who helped hide the Frank family from the Nazis, or the abolitionists who participated in the Underground Railroad, or the first grade teacher who hid her students from a gunman. They didn’t stand up for medals or acknowledgement, they just felt it was the right thing to do.
Hearing true stories like these gives humanity hope that even though terrible things are happening there are good people out there, and it tells you that you don’t have to be “special” to help someone. The human characters in this trope certainly don’t protect their alien companions out of a need to be great or to win an award. They’re simply being brave or decent. I feel that some readers want to relate to this theme and may internalize the message.
To summarize and conclude this over-long post, I do want to say that no matter the writer’s intentions when they write a work of science fiction, it typically contains a theme or themes that audiences recognize (consciously or unconsciously) about the society in which they live. Like people in ancient civilizations created mythology to explain the world around them, we create science fiction. I also think, to soften the blow or to make a work not so political, some writers may purposefully choose to use aliens and other worlds, so that readers can distance themselves from reality, but the underlying meaning is still there.
I will end this with something I’ve already said, but I truly believe it. The best science fiction is grounded by true events or issues and actively reflects and parallels human history. Aliens in fiction simply represent what is different from the norm, whether it be a person, an ideal, or a society as a whole, and how we may or may not react. That’s not so far-fetched and once that is explained, people who look surprised by others who write or enjoy reading science fiction may reinterpret their previous opinions.
About the Author
Ardell spent her childhood in Houston, Texas, obsessed with anything science fiction, fantastic, paranormal or just plain weird. She loves to write stories that feature young people with extraordinary talents thrown into strange and dangerous situations. She took her obsession to the next level, earning a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Southern Maine where she specialized in young adult genre fiction. She’s a big kid at heart and loves her job as a teen librarian at Monterey Public Library in Monterey, California, where she voluntarily shuts herself in rooms with hungry hordes of teenagers and runs crazy after-school programs for them. When she’s not working, she’s reading, writing, running writers critique groups, trying to keep up with a blog, and even writing fan fiction as her guilty pleasure.
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Quanta Reset (The Shadow Ravens #3)
By Lola Dodge
Release Date: September 27th 2016
Summary from Goodreads:
Quanta has escaped her laboratory prison, but that’s where the good news ends.
Life at the Shadow Ravens’ compound is a disaster. She’s drowning in visions of the dark pasts and darker futures of her fellow Ravens and is plagued by her own panic-inducing memories, but Lady Eva still expects her to “train” and “participate in missions.” Plus, the food tastes like burnt plastic.
The only bright spot is her genetic pairing to the brilliant Altair Orpheus. As their relationship grows, she’s positive that chemicals aren’t the only things drawing them together—although chemistry is definitely involved.
While they test the limits of her game-changing new ability to reset time, word arrives from Eva’s agents: Doctor Nagi is still experimenting with her DNA. If he succeeds in duplicating her power…
Forget the Shadow Ravens. The whole world is toast.
Guest post on YA science fiction writing, dos and donts.
When writing YA sci fi, here are a few things to keep in mind:
DO focus on the story. The characters and their emotions will drive the story forward and keep readers reading. The science can and should be part of the setting, plot, and world, but nobody wants to read a five-page thesis on how and why your ray gun works.
DO be clear about how much science is in your book. SF readers know what they want. Some of them want heavier science and some only want a little of it. Whichever way you lean, make sure the book is marketed appropriately. If your book is a futuristic romance, readers who thought it was hard SF are going to be disappointed and vise-versa.
DON’T get too bogged down in the science. Do enough research that you know what you’re talking about in whatever fields of science your book delves into, but don’t make the reader feel like they’re reading someone’s PHD thesis. There has to be a balance and this advice is the same whether you’re writing sports or space travel. It’s fiction, not non-fiction!
DON’T go too crazy with the vocab words. This goes for science terms and your own made-up words for your SF creatures and cultures. You don’t want the reader leaving the story to check a dictionary or a glossary. Chances are, at some point they won’t come back to the story.
DO read widely. YA SF is still growing and its genre lines aren’t quite set. Like where’s the boundary between SF and dystopia? You could argue that one! And regardless, you’ll want to be well-read in your genre. Plus, supporting your fellow authors is the best way to make sure the field stays alive and growing : )
About the Author
Lola is a compulsive traveler, baker, and procrastinator. She earned her BA in English from Stonehill College and MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University—and hasn’t stopped moving since. When she’s not on the road, Lola spends her time indoors where the sunlight can’t melt her, writing or bingeing on anime and cherry soda. She can be summoned in a ritual involving curry, Hello Kitty idols, and a solid chocolate pentagram.
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The Embodied Trilogy
by J.B. Dutton
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy/sci-fi
Page count: Approx. 560 pages
Release date: July 11th 2016
The Embodied trilogy is an unusual web of adventure, romance, fantasy, and science fiction.
Book one, Silent Symmetry, introduces smart, plucky Manhattan prep school student Kari Marriner, who becomes aware that mysterious aliens called the Embodied and their pseudo-religion, the Temple of Truth, have been influencing her family’s life for decades. As she falls for Cruz, a boy at school, and meets warring Embodied siblings Noon and Aranara, Kari starts to question her emotions and finds herself ensnared in a mystery that reaches further than she could possibly have imagined.
In book two, Starley’s Rust, a charismatic young English artist named Starley, who is plagued by race memories of the Embodied, convinces Kari that he can find her missing mother if she flies to Paris with him to draw out her kidnappers. But the Embodied seemed to have vanished, and now there’s a new, more terrifying visitor from the Dark Universe – a Thoth high priest in the form of a dragon. Kari soon discovers the mind-blowing extent of the Embodied beings’ involvement in human history and her own family’s tragic past.
In the trilogy’s thrilling conclusion, Diamond Splinters, Kari has a heart-wrenching choice to make: rescue her mother or save the Earth. And her only hope to figure out a solution is to team up with the one person she can never trust. When a submarine trip to the bottom of the Hudson River ends in death and disaster, Kari is scarred, both emotionally and physically. She wants to run and hide, but digs deep to find new sources of inner strength. As the storm of the century hits New York, a child’s life hangs in the balance and Kari gambles everything in a final confrontation with the genocidal Thoth.
The first sensation was my stomach lurching and spinning. Then I seemed to be plunging dizzily while simultaneously zooming higher on some kind of impossible rollercoaster ride. And suddenly I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was separated from any kind of physical reality, like – oh… oh wow – like I was totally disembodied. I could sense things but not see them with my eyes. I had… a sort of mathematical awareness, as though I was plugged directly into the mainframe of a supercomputer the size of the universe, my mind swimming in pure information. Geometric shapes twinkled in and out of existence. Lines and points moved around in constant motion. It felt like a dream made of numbers… patterns and data combining and separating. Spirals within spirals and symmetries within symmetries.
“Mom?” I called out. Or at least imagined myself calling out. Ripples in this web of information undulated in front of me when I said her name. “Mom? It’s me. It’s Kari.”
More complex ripples floated away.
At that moment it occurred to me I had no way of getting back home.
“Noon?” I said hopefully. Oh man – he’d told me how to use the sphere to reach the Dark Universe but now I was here and totally disembodied, I had no way of controlling my body to remove the sphere from my forehead.
But before I could worry about this too much, the waves of information started to coalesce into more recognizable shapes. Pyramids and spheres, but not solid ones. They seemed to be made of… of symbols and binary code. That was it – they were like living equations! And then weirdly, in one of the pyramid shapes, I could recognize Noon. I felt as though I could see his mesmerizing face. Even though it was data or whatever, it was somehow him. The whole experience was kinda hypnotic. Was it even really happening? In one respect, I guess none of it was real, because I was literally seeing outside my universe.
“Kari – you made it,” I heard him say.
“Is that really you? Cilic didn’t kill you?”
“Well, he killed Embodied me, but the Mihim brought my diamond pyramid back here.”
This was super-bizarro. Now it was like the surrounding patterns had gone out of focus and I could clearly see the pyramid that was Noon’s true form.
“Wait, let me do something,” he said. “I’m going to recreate a reality you’re familiar with to make this easier for you.”
And the entire crazy churning data kaleidoscope sort of crystalized. I found myself standing in a towering hall with walls, floor, and ceiling made of what looked like sheets of sheer diamond. But in the depths of the diamond the same patterns I’d seen before were refracted in a million colors. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever encountered.
About the Author
After graduating from film school in London, England, JB Dutton emigrated to Montreal in 1987, where he still lives with his two young children and their even younger goldfish. He spent over a decade as a music TV director before moving into the advertising industry as an award-winning copywriter for clients such as Cirque du Soleil. JB Dutton has written novels, short stories, blogs, screenplays and a stage play. He also writes adult fiction under the name John B. Dutton.
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Why Literary Fiction? By Nath Jones
First, what is literary fiction? I’m fine with what Wikipedia suggests that literary fiction asks us to analyze and focus on reality rather than allowing the reader an escape.
I do want to escape—as a reader and a writer. There is nothing I want more, really. So if I’m not offering a romance—erotic or sci-fi, a thriller, a western shoot ‘em up story of horse hooves slipping down arroyos, or an adrenaline-pumping plot of best-dressed espionage, what am I giving to anyone? Why should a reader trade his or her precious evening hours for a world I’ve created, one that instead acknowledges suffering and forces us to watch fate, as acetone, take us all on like butterflies suffocating in tightly sealed jars?
Take two books, just a couple I’ve grabbed off my shelf at home. One is Kathryn Ann Clarke’s The Breakable Vow, a romance. The other is Joseph Conrad’s Youth: A Narrative.
“Newlyweds!” sang out a woman’s voice. Mrs. Nelson, the coach’s wife, appeared. ‘Only newlyweds hug in the grocery store.
The first thing I did was to put my head down the square of the midship ventilator. As I lifted the lid a visible breath, something like a thin fog, a puff of faint haze, rose from the opening. The ascending air was hot, and had a heavy, sooty, paraffiny smell. I gave one sniff, and put the lid down gently. It was no use choking myself. The cargo was on fire.
I suppose it would be nice to relate to two newlyweds hugging in the grocery store. I would like to suspend my disbelief for the two of them, for myself even, but I cannot. I can’t even if I would love to dive headlong into some fantasy.
Beyond that when I combine the essential grip of that peril with the literary aspect of his work, remembering that the whole piece is an extended metaphor for Youth? Then not only do I believe him, not only am I with him, but I thank God for what he has been able to acknowledge and articulate about this life. And suddenly there is no need to escape. Because nothing is more true: that kind of reactive terror, of fumbling futility in the face of circumstance, that hopelessness and unrest of sailors on a burning ship on the ocean is Youth.
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A Night Without Stars
Genre: YA Paranormal
Summary from Goodreads:
You might know vampires…but you don’t know Lola.
Sixteen-year-old Lola Sanchez is no hero. Snarky, rebellious, and completely fed up with her life, she has one goal: graduate high school and get the hell out of her small hometown. Until a night of terror and bloodshed changes everything…forever.
Now the only thing Lola wants to do is survive. But how can she survive when everything she knows has been destroyed and the one person she thought she could trust ends up being the most dangerous person of all?
Please Note: ‘A Night Without Stars’ was previously published as a novella entitled ‘Pitch’ in 2012. It is now a full length novel. All reviews prior to 01/21/14 are for ‘Pitch’.
“Do you think there is anyone else left?” I asked quietly. “Any survivors, like us?”
Maximus’ shoulders lifted and fell beneath his leather jacket. “There are always survivors. You know what they say about cockroaches, don’t you?”
I shook my head.
“If the world was destroyed by a nuclear blast, cockroaches would find a way to survive.”
The corners of my mouth tightened. “Are you comparing us to cockroaches?”
“What if I am?”
“Then I would say you’re crazy. This isn’t some kind of nuclear blast or a war or something.”
“That’s where you are wrong, Lola.” Maximus stepped closer, crowding me back against the edge of the sidewalk. I could have easily stepped down over the curb, but I held my ground. I found I liked being close to him, a dangerous thing to discover when you were supposed to be running for your life. “This is a war,” he said softly, so softly I had no choice but to lean towards him. He angled his body to mine. We were as close as two people could physically be without touching. My breath caught in my throat, refusing to go up or down.
“What kind of war?” I managed to croak.
“A war to end all wars.” His eyes burned into mine. “A war to end the human race.”
About the Author
Curse of the Sphinx Character Interview by Raye Wagner.
It’s summer in Seattle, and after sitting in traffic for an hour, I’m ecstatic when I find a blue Nissan pulling out of a spot near Pike Place Market. The sun is playing peek-a-boo with fluffy cumulous clouds, and by late this afternoon, I’ll be glad I’m staying in a hotel with air conditioning.
I cross the street and make my way down Pine Street. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is on the corner, and I can see a young man wearing a white apron stirring a large vat of what, I’m guessing, is curds and whey. But I don’t really know. Whatever is in that milky substance has been rated the best local cheese for over a decade, and I’m craving a grilled cheese sandwich. Or maybe some macaroni and cheese.
My meal planning hits a major derailment when the young man I’m meeting crosses the store to greet me.
“Raye?” Athan asks, extending his hand.
He has quite possibly the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen, and I think I stare a little too long to be appropriate before I take his hand.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” I say. Or at least I think that’s what comes out of my mouth.
He’s tall, like six four, and I’m guessing just under two hundred pounds. He’s thin, but not skinny, and his shoulders are broader than I thought they would be. He’s lean, but still chiseled like an Olympian athlete.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he assures me.
He points toward a table at the back of the store. Past the small round tables that are bar height, with metal backless stools. The wooden rectangle has actual seats around it, and a cup and phone sitting on it. I wonder if he’s just that trusting, or if he doesn’t care.
“May I order for you? I’m going to get the mac-n-cheese . . .” He cocks an eyebrow and smiles.
No kidding, I think my brain short-circuits. I can see why Krista hated Hope, and why Obelia was jealous. But I’m happily married, I remind myself, and I have an interview to do.
“That would be great. Thank you.”
I set up my laptop, and grab the old-fashioned Dictaphone I borrowed from my dad. Good thing, too, I doubt my memory will be at its best.
Athan returns a few minutes later with two plates of steaming, gooey white cheese and penne pasta. It looks divine. He sets a diet Dr. Pepper in front of me, as well, leading me to wonder . . .
“You posted something about it on Facebook,” he says.
“Nice. You did some homework, too.”
He holds up his hands with a guilty smirk. “My father says it never hurts.”
We eat and chat about the Market, the weather, and I show him pictures of my kids. And then we get down to brass tacks.
“You’re sure you don’t mind?” I’m going to be invading his privacy for sure with the list I got from my friends.
“My life’s an open book,” he says, leaning back in his chair.
I push record on the black contraption, and bite my lip as I look over my list.
“Let’s start easy . . . What’s it like being the son of Hermes?”
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