Review: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex

Writing horror isn’t easy. There are a lot of pitfalls that an author can fall into revolving around whether something turns too gory, too real, too fake, too hopeless, too unbelievable, or too disconnected from it’s audience. A lot of horror starts out well, but when it comes to the middle of the second act, it falls apart, a victim of it’s own narrative as the author tries and fails to ramp up the tension in new and exciting ways while still keeping our interest in these characters that we’re pretty sure are all going to die anyway.
It isn’t easy.
I point this out because I think that Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is possibly one of the best examples that I have ever seen of how to take a few classic horror tropes and write them as new and exciting plot devices without being too heavy-handed.

Continue reading

Laptop Woes!

Recently, my laptop has been on the fritz.
When I first got it, it was a refurbished model off of Groupon. I was impressed (at the time) with the hard drive size (500 GB) and the RAM (4 GB), but I was less than impressed with the amount of heat pouring off of it every time I used it. I dealt with the heat issue by getting one of those lap fans everybody uses, but also by researching as much as I could about heat issues with computers.
I ended up installing different BIOS updates and all sorts of other things before finally surrendering to the fact that this computer was just going to run hot.
Since then, the heat (and a few bad USB ports) are the only things I’ve had to complain about. It’s been fine otherwise, and perfect for helping me progress through my writing career.
Unfortunately, after a fun trip this weekend, I might have shoved my laptop into a too-tight bag and subsequently made it annoyingly unuseful for a writer. After our trip, I had some server updates that I wanted to run (yeah, we have a home server. I’m that nerd) and went to my browser on my laptop to access the server via Chrome. For some reason, my laptop decided not to open any icon that I clicked on. After three restarts finally seemed to solve that problem, I began to the type the IP Address for the server and noticed a problem when I got about halfway through it. The 9 button just decided to start typing on it’s own.
I restarted, tested, restarted again, tested, restarted again, and it seemed to fix itself, but the desktop icons wouldn’t open again. I Did one final restart and everything finally seemed to be working.
Then I opened up a word document to start working on the end of Broken Nights: Strange Worlds, and wouldn’t you believe it, the 9 button decided it wanted to help me write the story again.
Very Loud Sigh…followed by cuss words.
That’s no good for an author, but lucky for me, I have solutions.
The real problem for my dilemma is that I don’t want to buy a new computer. This isn’t entirely true, of course. Anyone who knows me knows that I really enjoy buying new computers. The truth is, I don’t want to spend the money.
My wife offered to loan me hers, but my “Maker” ways make me tear apart and mod things that I use. Basically, if she loans me her computer, I’ll want to do things to it that make it very un-hers. My wife is awesome, even for thinking of such a wonderful suggestion, but she’s too awesome for me to abuse her wonderful gift.
I also repurpose laptops for friends when they need them. I swap out hard drives, add and remove RAM, and install different Linux environments so that my friends can have a running laptop. If this solution is good enough for my friends, why not me?
A few months ago, my mother sent me my dad’s dying computer. I installed the latest Ubuntu on it, and was using it as more of a prototyping experiment more than anything. In light of the system failures in my laptop, I started downloading my entire OneDrive (only a few GB) to the Ubuntu box.
My only reason for seeing the Ubuntu laptop as an inconvenience is that I have subscriptions on the Windows machine. Steam, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Office. All things that don’t translate well when switching over to Linux. To be fair, there is a Linux Steam client and GIMP is a great Photoshop alternative, but Microsoft Office is a disappointing service to lose full access to.
The great news is that there are tons of open source (free) alternatives to everything that I’m used to, and Microsoft has online tools that are just slimmed down versions of their downloaded suite of services.
So, my plan for now is to transfer anything important to the Linux laptop, install the programs I need to keep on keeping on, and to transfer the RAM cards from my laptop to the Linux laptop to improve the functionality of it.
What does this mean for my writing? Absolutely nothing. I was using OneDrive as a back up for my important things, including my writing. When I hit save on my story last time I was writing it, it uploaded any changes to OneDrive instantly. All I need to do is sign into Word Online and start typing, or open the downloaded OneDrive backup I did the other night and continue the document from there.
Frustrated at losing a computer’s functionality, but not as frustrated as I could have been! #creativelife!
–MD–

Review: X-Files: Cold Cases

Product DetailsBack in 2008, I moved to Iowa from upstate New York (read that as “Farther upstate than what you’re thinking”). I’m a social butterfly, and I made a ton of friends in my new home very quickly, but that didn’t stop me from having evenings alone. On one of those particular evenings, I made a serious decision to do something silly: I was going to rent all of the sci-fi shows that I had never gotten a chance to see before then and give them a watch (to be fair, I also included every b-rated sci-fi movie as well. For that reason, I’ve seen both Time Runner and The Guyver. For both of those, I thank you Mark Hamill).
This is how I became a fan of The X-Files, staring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (and a million other stars who would later go on to guest star or star in their own sci-fi shows). I went on every single mission with them and grew to love Mulder’s silly moments and Scully’s skepticism.
And, after binge-watching all nine seasons, keeping magnets at the ready, and learning to fear the year 2012, I faced the inevitable truth that so many others had already learned to cope with.
The X-files was over.
It sucked, and I tried finding more of the snarky Fox wit through the comic books, but it wasn’t the same. The movies came and went, trying to fill the gaps for some of us, but alas, they were a drop of water in a desert. There and gone far too quickly to quench any real thirst. I had to face a cold and hard fact: There were never going to be any more of The X-files.
Life happened and years went by and I was sitting at my computer and writing when my wife blurted out, “They’re bringing back X-files.”
Wait…what?
Not a reboot, and not another movie, but a new season picking up with most of the original cast and some great sounding new cast.
Then the season came, with mixed reviews, but I loved it. The mixed reviews had me worried, though. Would they keep it going?
Yes, it turns out. They are working on a 11th season as we speak.
Absolutely wonderful, but what about the time in between. Do I really have in the vast oceans of time between each of these seasons?
As it turns out, no, my friend, we no longer have to wait idly by. That’s where Audible’s new series, The X-files: Cold Cases, steps in.
Cold Cases is a full cast dramatization, bringing back all of your favorite characters and filling the gap between the end of the first nine seasons and the beginning of the 10th season. It’s cleverly done, and brings to life the characters that have earned so much of our respect. The only negative to any of this was that the writing of the show had to be changed to fit the new format. Instead of seeing something and then getting a snarky Mulder comment or a dry Scully remark, we instead get told that something is happening and then receive the comment.
For example (totally made up and not in the books, but illustrating my point): “Mulder, why are you holding that gun at an odd angle? And why is it covered in paint?” “Scully, lower your eyebrow before it floats away. I’m holding this gun because it’s evidence, and it’s painted this very interesting shade of blue because it’s covered in alien fecal matter.”
See, very descriptive, reminding you that it’s a radio show. I think I might have preferred narration instead, but I honestly don’t know because it’s not an option. This isn’t a complaint, so much as the only thing that made it different than the show we love.
Other than that, you get all of the great sci-fi tropes and monster of the week things that X-files is famous for, as well as some new sci-fi tropes that I don’t think X-files has ever dealt with in the past. You get Smoking Man, Skinner, Reyes, Doggit, and a few more surprises that I won’t spoil for you.
Oh boy, you’re in for a surprise.
I give this a 5 out of 5. I loved it, and I want more Audible Original full dramatizations. I’m moving on to the Alien ones next, and the sequel to Cold Cases will be out in October!
Can’t wait!
–MD–

Review: Lucifer’s Star

Lucifer's StarI was going to introduce this review with a comparison to all of the works that Lucifer’s Star reminded me of, but, while there are so many of them, not a single one can be used to give you a good sense of what this book is about.
Lucifer’s Star follows Cassius Mass, a former member of a royal house with huge political sway that they use to wage war. The world building in this book was amazing and we see a lot of detailed explanations in the interplanetary relationships as well as the individual cultures, all without taking away from the main story by being too filled with description. The descriptors come out naturally.
Cassius is a clone of the sovereign, with cybernetic implants to make him the perfect warrior, the perfect royal heir, and the perfect sexual partner. Each of these lending itself toward complicating his life more and more before finally, as a direct result of the Archduchy’s ongoing war. By the start of chapter 2, we find a down and out, drug and alcohol addled, his face and DNA changed to hide his identity, and living aboard a pirate spaceship with a questionable crew.
Then the crew finds out that he’s one of those rich nobles who somehow screwed each one of them over in some different way in the past.
From that point, his past begins to come back in a huge way and takes Cassius on a path that makes him question not only who he is, but also everything that he previously held as true. He’s forced to question everything from the difference (culturally) of right and wrong, the idea of identity, what defines a life, the galactic politics, and lots of questions of what love is versus like and versus lust.
Like most CT Phipps books, this book focuses a lot on Cassius discovering his identity once he’s been stripped of all the superfluous things that he thought was his identity. He goes through a huge transition from the beginning of the book all the way to the end.
When I said this book reminded me of a couple of other stories, it really did, but mostly in just elements. The entire pirate ship and such reminded me a lot of Talon Kardde from the Star Wars Expanded Universe/Legends books. The politics, and how they are so intricately defined, as well as the caste system that’s plainly obvious, reminded me a lot of the Red Rising books. There was even a moment that reminded me of the Borg from Star Trek. A lot of reminders, or ingredients, that made themselves into a great cake.
And I love cake!
5 out of 5. Epic Space Fantasy that leaves me begging to learn more about Cassius Mass!

Review: The Science of Supervillainy

The Supervillainy series by C.T. Phipps has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few years now. Not only has Gary Karkofsky’s antics as an accidentally successful supervillain just been an absolute pleasure to read, but the world environment, the unexpected twists, and the tongue-in-cheek references to pop-culture makes for an exciting and entertaining read.
The newest arrival to that series, The Science of Supervillainy, hits all of those notes in spades.
This book picks up directly where the last book left off. The Other Gary and President Omega are about to pull off their plan, but Gary and crew take care of it pretty quickly, until they don’t. A time jump ahead and all of the old characters, a bunch of new characters, and a little girl with a super brain step up to help Gary save…err… I mean take over…err…well save first, and then take over? Whatever his plans, the world is in danger, and not his kind of danger. So it’s up to him and his rough and tumble crew to step up and stop Other Gary from erasing them all from existence.
The Science of Supervillainy is filled with both comedic and dramatic moments that blend well together. Using both the dramatic and comedic is how Phipps illustrates, surprisingly well, the conflicts of being a supervillain with morals. Wanting to own and rule the world doesn’t necessarily mean that you want the world to be a filled with shitty people, and Gary most certainly wants to rule the world, but why can’t he have his cake and eat it too?
Elements of this book I loved were the same as the previous titles. The cross-pollination from other worlds, time-travel, comedy, weirdly conceived relationships, and of course the pop-culture references help to make this a fun read. It works so well, and I look forward to the next installment.

5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Tower of Zhaal

Post-Apocalyptic fiction is fun, but Post-Apocalyptic Lovecraft fiction is even better.

That kind of fun led me to C.T. Phipps’ “The Tower of Zhaal.”

The Tower of Zhaal is the sequel to Phipps’ first successful foray into Lovecraftian fiction, Cthulhu Armageddon. In that first book, the world has been ravaged by the long ago (but still in our current future) rise of the Great Old Ones. The hero of the first book, John Henry Booth is back, and the taint of the world has eeked it’s way into his own flesh. With Nyarlahotep whispering in his ear, and the threat of the end of the human race on the brink of happening, John has to risk everything with a team that he can’t trust in order to save the few parts of the hellish world that mean something to him.

While traveling to and with some very Mythos specific names, as well as some that are a treat for readers of contemporary Mythos fiction (ie: the Ghoul priest being named Hoade as an obvious reference to fellow contemporary Mythos writer, Sean Hoade). The explanations of Magic, the Science of the Mind, and the different Alien races make it an epic adventure on par with Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but within the Mythos elements that bring us back.

The world has ended, Alien Gods are everywhere, and the question of humanities survival is a complex one. Can Humanity survive? Should Humanity survive? Would the Humanity that survives even be recognizable as Human?

Phipps weaves a great tale, that makes for an exciting read.

5 out of 5 Stars!

Minor Potential Spoiler: There’s a scene in this book that made me laugh out loud, but not because it was funny. The moment I read it, I wanted to shout, “Ah! He’s been Rick and Morty’d!!!”

Review: The Haunting of Barry Allen

Wow, just wow! When I get really involved in a show, I tend to either hunt for more stories in that universe or write my own in the form of fan-fiction. It was one of these hunts that led me to discovering Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen.
The entire book reads like a long episode of the Flash. We get a look at each character as they work on their own plot specifics, and we even get a great chance to see Rathaway as a villain again. Pre-Flashpoint has made a lot of great stories possible, by making everything that takes place before that Canon/Not-Canon, since Flashpoint ends up undoing anything that might have been story specific.
Anyway, Rathaway builds his own Rogue’s Gallery out of Peekaboo, Nimbus, Prism, and Weather Wizard. He uses them to terrorize the city. The major plot here is actually a callback to the giant wormhole that opened up when Eddie Thawne ended season 1 the way he did. Barry’s visited by ghosts and mirages from the future while also trying to battle to protect his city. It’s more than one man, even the fastest man, can handle.
Enter the Arrow! Teams join together to combat the evil that has plagued the city and the end result is a great read that has me incredibly excited about the second book that just came out.
This book was well done and fits well with the Canon of the series. Loved it, and have already started reading book 2.

Introducing Iowa Book Source

Guest Post by Wendy Siefken:

Hey everyone! trying to get your written book seen? Try this one on for size. Showcase your physical book with other indie authors in a display window at our local mall! this weekend we are having a home and garden show. Lot’s of vendors and visitors will see your book! Only $5.00 a month whether you have one book or ten! A landing page directs the curious buyer to where they can get an ebook copy of your book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or wherever you have your ebooks sold through.  So check it out and let others know!  Iowa Book SourceIowa Book Source display window

Like what you see? Every two weeks or so I will change out the decorations to keep it fresh and appealing to the eye.  Contact me at WendyandCharlesSiefken@yahoo.com for more information!

Short Story: Lerdrin’s Rings

Sprinting through the woods was easy enough. If one was so inclined they could find themselves a sort of path that maybe animals or whatnot might frequent and avoiding branches and the like wouldn’t become an issue. The problem arose from when one was being chased. As was the case with Lerdrin.

Lerdrin had, up until this particular day, been more or less ignored. Having lived on the streets in Cardenshire for the last several years, he was the kind of man that you’d hire for a small job that would only last a few hours. Jobs such as pushing carts, emptying caravans, shoveling stables, or helping a family move (never pack, as everyone assumed, correctly, that Lerdrin was quite fast with his hands).

Assumptions what they were, Lerdrin wasn’t just quite fast with his hands, he was a former entertainer, from years long gone. In his youth, he’d entertained children with puppet shows and magic acts, claiming to be a long lost wizard, pulling clothing from secret compartments, coins from ears and noses, and wallets from pockets. When Lerdrin’s age and nasty habits finally started to catch up with him, he decided that keeping quiet and living a life of fast hands on the street was a good way to go.

Catching up with him being the operative phrase as, he could see glancing over his shoulder, it was happening again. Lerdrin had once again had his hand caught and almost cut off, as he had tried to pilfer certain jewelries from his most recent work. The work had been simple enough, help the people unload their wagon, get enough coins for dinner and a small room for the night. Unfortunately, the rings had not been included in the deal.

Behind Lerdrin and near enough he could feel the air from their swinging clubs, were several men, two of which had been with the lady who’s rings he had attempted to liberate. The third was Nader, Knight for the town of Cardenshire, which was only large enough to deem one Knight necessary. Nader and Lerdrin, for the most part, left each other alone with the unspoken understanding that if anyone complained about Lerdrin, Nader would come down on him with a very heavy set of chains.

Glancing again over his shoulder, Lerdrin faced forward just in time to crash into a waist-high rock, flipping over end and feeling an instant reverberation and ache throughout his fifty-three year old bones.

Hitting the ground on the other side, his head spun as he rolled over onto his back and tried to regain his composure. Mostly this consisted of doing his best to stop the world from spinning.

As he looked straight into the midday sky, the branches overhead spun less and less, and the pounding in his head quieted enough that he was starting to hear a very questionable noise, a sort of low hum coming from the direction of the rock he’d tripped over. Propping himself up on his elbows he did his best to try to stand.

At this juncture, Lerdrin was capable to get away with trying much less than his best, as he was swiftly aided in standing by Knight Nader. Using one hand, the unarmored man of about his mid-twenties lifted Lerdrin up by the nape of his neck and threw him against the very same rock that he’d previously flipped over. His back was bent over it, as it was only as high as his waist and Lerdrin found that he could easily see his life ending here. Lerdrin could also hear the humming, much louder now, and definitely coming from somewhere around the rock. This same rock, Lerdrin was noticing, was freezing him through his clothing even though it was mid-June and was very smooth on his back.

These, of course are all secondary things that Lerdrin noted, as the point of Nader’s blade pressed into the old beggar’s ribs had slightly more of his attention.

“Lerdrin, you damned fool!” Nader reached into Lerdrin’s patched coat and yanked out a handful of the baubles that the elder had taken only a half an hour earlier. Nader turned towards one of the men from earlier. “Are they yours?” he asked, reaching out to show the items. The man nodded, never actually looking at the items so much as staring intently at Lerdrin.

Nader handed the rings and such to the man and then turned towards the third companion who was quieter and showed less hate and more indifference. “Hold his hand down, on the stone.” The man hesitantly complied.

Lerdrin struggled but was limited by the sword still jabbed into his ribs. Reaching out, the man took his wrist and pulled it out straight along the stone, palm up. Fearing for the accuracy of the sword, the man pulled a rope seemingly from nowhere and tossed one end of it to the accuser who took it and, together, they pulled it tightly across Lerdrin’s forearm, making it effectively immobile.

Unexpectedly, Nader brought his sword up and back down very swiftly. Lerdrin had assumed that the Knight would have slowly brought the sword up to bring it crashing down with ferocious speed. Instead, the blade left Lerdrin’s rib cage and was brought down before the old man even realized it.

Another surprise awaited everyone at this. The sword stopped over Lerdrin’s wrist and held fastly. In his inability to understand why, Nader pulled at his blade, attempting with all of his might to free it from the invisible grip over Lerdrin’s wrist. Maniacally laughing, for the fates had smiled upon him in this instance, Lerdrin started struggling to free his wrist from the bond of the two men. In the back of his mind, Lerdin noted that the hum in the stone had become louder.

As Nader yanked on his sword, not willing to surrender to the unknown force, it started to glow. Not just the sword, as Lerdrin was slow to notice, but all three men, the rope and the sword. All of them except Lerdrin, failed to notice this. The glow intensified, slowly, achingly, bringing tears of pain to Lerdrin’s closed eyes as he lay there, still immobilized by the rope.

Finally, through his eyelids, Lerdrin noted that the painfully bright light had vanished. Slowly opening his eyes he screamed in horror. All three of his pursuers had vanished. No trace of them having been there was left. Lerdrin slid from the stone onto the ground and started crying uncontrollably. He didn’t know why he cried. On the one hand he was free, alive, and with two hands. On the other, somehow and for some reason, someone or something had deemed him worthy to keep breathing instead of the three very justified men.

The hum was louder now, loud enough to break through Lerdrin’s spiraling train of thought. He turned and stared at the stone, smooth and reflective, as if made of metal and he panicked, scooting backwards away from it in a rushed terror. He stopped his rush, but not his terror, when the god arrived.

From an nondescript place upon the stone, as smooth as another other place, a ray of light rose from it, coalescing on a spot right in front of Lerdrin. The circular beam expanded slowly until what looked like a man stood in front of the old beggar.

The man within the beam of light was dressed in a tight fitting cloth and had no hair upon his head. The clothing, if it could be called that, was all white except for a red stripe down the man’s left side and a patch in the shape of some sort of four pointed star over his left breast.

The god smiled down at Lerdrin and then started to laugh. “It worked. I can’t believe it worked.” He knelt down to Lerdrin. “Can you hear me?”

The words were accented in a very peculiar way, but for the most part, Lerdrin understood, and therefore, not knowing what else to do, nodded.

The god jumped up, no longer kneeling, and punched at the air, laughing in a manner similar to how Lerdrin had started laughing when the sword had first been halted.

Lerdrin found his voice, deep down in his feet almost, and brought it to the surface.

“What manner of god are you?”

Immediately, the god stopped laughing and regarded the little beggar at his feet. “God?” He looked around, taking in his surroundings. “Well, I must be then.” His smile returned. “Reaching this far back, actually interacting. I would have to be.” He turned towards the stone and started poking at it with different fingers from each hand, as if weaving some sort of invisible spell on its surface. Mumbling to himself, Lerdrin heard, “How much can I interact?”

As the god worked his spell on the stone it stopped humming and instead let out a loud snap, cracking in half to reveal a table with several small items on it that Lerdrin couldn’t identify from the distance that he now rested.

“Stand then, my disciple.” He stopped for a minute and looked off into the distance to his right. “No, phase two can wait. We’ve got a perfect opportunity to activate phase three now and I’m going to.” He hesitated. “No, no, no. Its going to be this way or no way, keep working. I don’t want your opinions I want your progress.” Turning back to the now even more confused Lerdrin, he put back on his smile, now looking slightly forced. “What is your name?”

Lerdrin choked for a bit on his words before answering, “Lerdrin.”

The god smiled again, this time a real smile. “That’s almost too perfect.” He waved his hand to the stone, actually passing through it for a second, reinforcing Lerdrin’s confirmation of the divine within this being. “These rings are yours, to be used in my service.”

Forgetting to be scared, Lerdrin stepped forward and looked at the rings, each a simple band, each of a different color, and five in total.

The god smiled as Lerdrin eyed them, obviously already covetous. “You shall be a wizard of the order of…” the god thought for just a second before saying with a smile, “Jim.”

Lerdrin reached into the stone and pulled out the first ring. It was a small bad, green as the leaves on the trees and otherwise lacking in any descriptive features. “That ring will give you the ability to repair wounds.” Lerdrin slipped it onto his left index finger and let out a sharp gasp as something inside the ring sunk itself into his flesh. At his gasp, the god Jim explained.

“The rings get their power from your…soul and can only come off if you die.” Lerdrin looked at his new god, annoyed that he hadn’t been warned of this beforehand. The pain had subsided at this point, and soon was forgotten as Lerdin remembered that their were four other rings.

Picking up a ring as black as night, he put it on his other index finger and gritted his teeth through the bite into his flesh. “That ring will allow you to put to sleep any who challenge you.”

The next ring was a beautiful sky blue. This Lerdrin placed on his left ring finger. “This ring will…throw lightning.”

Hearing that, Lerdrin looked at the god with shock. This was truly of being of power if he could harness the powers of the sky in such a small bauble.

The ring of blood red was the fourth ring, and this he placed on his middle finger of his right hand.  He was starting to get better at ignoring the biting pain each ring inflicted. “The red ring will defend you.”

Finally, the last ring was a bright white and slightly smaller than the rest. Putting this on his right pinky finger, Lerdrin waited for the explanation.

The god Jim was hesitant though, as if the complexities of this ring might need more explanation than the others had. Finally, Jim spoke, slowly. “This ring, the white ring, allows for all you’ve done to become undone. If things get too out of hand, this ring will give you the option to erase it all, back to now and only once.”

Holding up his hands, palms out, Lerdrin eyed his new power with hunger, smiling at the two rings on his left hand and the three on his right. Green and blue on his left; black, red, and white on his right.

“What do you want me to do, god Jim?” Lerdrin asked, begging for a chance to exercise his power.

“Who is the leader of this land?”

Lerdrin didn’t hesitate. “Lord Richard owns these lands, as far as I’ve ever been.”

“Go to Lord Richard and explain to him what you now are. Aid him in everything he asks.”

“Is that all, god Jim?”

The god Jim smiled. “For now.”

Lerdrin, without hesitation, sprinted back the way he had come into the forest, not caring to watch his footfalls anymore than he had when he’d entered, as now he was in a rush to do his god’s bidding.

Minutes after he left, Jim still stood, a hologram of light from the time capsule, as a blast of lightning struck the stone and blinded him for just a moment. At his feet lay Lerdrin, older than when he’d left, the white ring on his hand glowing brightly as it drained the last of his life. The rings, advanced technology, even for Jim’s time, dissolved now that Lerdrin was dead, and were soon reconstructed in the time capsule to await for Jim to pick them up himself.

Typing into the holographic interface the time capsule closed around them and Jim stepped out of the holographic field, vanishing from Lerdrin’s time.