Thursday, January 28, 2021

Microreview [book]: A Song with Teeth by T. Frohock

The conclusion to Los Nefilim harkens back and ties up plots and characters, including those from the previous novella trilogy, in a winning and engaging fashion.

T Frohock’s Los Nefilim Trilogy follows the story of a group of angel and demon descended beings who reside in Spain. The Los Nefilim, as befits their supernatural nature, are born and reborn again and again, and have a society and social structure, conflicts, power plays and relations with unknowing humanity. It’s like World of Darkness’ Masquerade, but with beings more in line with In Nomine.  In the first two novels, starting with Where Oblivion Lives, we saw how various factions of Los Nefilim took on opposite sides of the conflict that became the 1930’s Spanish Civil War. This is not a world where Los Nefilim control and subjugate humanity secretly, the horrors of humanity are firmly caused by humans, but they do indeed influence and bring out the best and worst in people. By the end of the second novel, Carved From Stone and Dream, many of the Los Nefilim have had to abandon Spain and the darkness of Franco’s regime, for France, just in time for the Second World War. 

Now, in A Song With Teeth (with the side exception of a brief opening in 1942), the year is 1944. France is under the Axis heel, the Allies hopes of an invasion are stymied because of supernatural help to German defenses. The remnants of the Spanish Los Nefilim, living in France in exile from Franco’s rule, and dodging the Axis occupation, do not have a lot of room to maneuver to try and help, even though they try. There are the Daimons, the demon descended members of their species, corrupting, dangerous, self interested.  The local French Les Nefilim, devastated by the German occupation.  And the German Los Nefilim, Die Nefilim, are out and out working with the mortal Axis Germans. The greatest test for Los Nefilim: Diago, Miquel, Guillermo, Ysa and all the others, is here and now, in the stews of war and occupation, in France.

The novel does a great job out of the gate doing something that is out of fashion among many fantasy novels, and that is recapping previous events in an expository fashion before we dive into the narrative. I think more novels could take a page from Frohock here and take this tack, especially for very complicated worlds, character threads and overarching plots that either require a photographic memory on the part of the reader, or a lot of snow shoveling of recollection on the part of characters--Frohock does do calling back all the way to the original trilogy of novellas, trying and binding the threads, personal and overarching, that have been part of the narrative since the beginning. Readers who have read In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death will find additional enrichment in this volume, particularly of the new trilogy as there are plenty of callbacks to the events of the novellas, but readers who started off with this trilogy or even this volume are well taken care of in learning who is whom and what is going on.

A real source of strength and power in these novellas is the use of characters. We’ve followed as readers Diago, Miquel and those around them for several books and novellas now, and there is real joy in the character development and character interactions that Frohock has brought to the series. There is real triumph and tragedy when family members, on opposite sides of conflict, must choose how to deal with one another, this is compounded by the fact that, generally, you will meet again in future lives. (although the threat of extinction, the Second Death, is the ultimate and most devastatingly card to play that even the antagonists of the book will not use except sparingly) , The queer Miquel and Diago relationship, and their relationship with Diago’s son Rafael, finds it final and ultimate flowering in this book. Guillermo’s relationship with his adversary, his brother, Jordi, shows the promise and peril of a fraternal relationship where siblings both hold power and cannot abide the plans of the other. Guillermo’s daughter Ysa really comes into her own in this novel, becoming a full fledged and fully take charge member of Los Nefilim. Aside from the Diago-Miquel-Rafael trio, hers was the story I felt the most resonance with, and I felt that the author poured a lot of heart and soul into Ysa’s story.  It is these sorts of characters, their relationships, how those relationships make and drive the plot, is the reason, I feel, to immerse yourself in the author’s work.

The overall plot, then, is much more born of these relationships than a grand meta-plot of events grinding, although, like the previous novels, she has a hell of an engine for that--the Second World War here (as opposed to the Spanish Civil War in the first two novels). Los Nefilim sympathetic to the allied cause are trying to undermine the Germans, trying to help paver the way for the eventual liberation of France, but the various factions all have personal and individual things to bring to account.But, again, it’s the personal relationships and what they do, sometimes harkening back to previous lives long ago, that really drives the narrative and the overall plot. This novel is a little looser than the previous two (which dealt with a power struggle in the first book, and an exodus in the second book) in that overall structure, but wrapped up in the characters, the relative lack of a superstructure is not a weakness.

I want to highlight a more granular level of joy in this book (and Frohock’s writing in general) and that is the use of sensory description. There was a bit of a debate on twitter between authors who “Describe food” versus “Describe fashion”. And it is true that in fantasy that authors tend to fall into particularly types of description and descriptors and ways of invoking the environment. Various authors invoke and evoke the world of their novels through particular stratum or entry points. L.E Modesitt, for example, can be counted on to have vivid and descriptive descriptions and recountings of food, be it in Recluce or in his science fiction (no “food pills” for HIM). But what Frohock does here in this novel and in all of her writing is to work the senses, and not just one, like sight. No, she mixes sight, and sound, and smell, and taste and touch and effectively brings place, and feeling and emotion in her writing in a vivid way. Frohock’s stories never suffer from white room syndrome, and she does it by mixing up and varying which senses are brought to the table. It really helps me immerse myself into what the characters are experiencing, and more authors could take lessons on how to do that by studying her writing. 

Overall, it's a fantastic ending to a series of three novellas and three novels. There is one little bit I would have liked to have had the author tie in. Way back at the beginning of the sequence, the overarching concern was the potential gift of a superweapon from the infernal realms to powers here on Earth. Keeping that weapon out of the hands of those who would do horrible things with it has been one of the voices in the fugue that is the Los Nefilim sequence. I would have liked a little more touching back to that thread (it gets mentioned, but not quite as deeply or resonantly as it might deserve) 

In this world and moment in global history where authoritarians and fascists rise to try and overturn the results of Democracy, the story of the Los Nefilim is potent, resonant and a story that needs to be told. Not only as a warning and as a cautionary tale of where societies can go in the darkness of evil, but the good things and the positive things that are worth fighting for. Love, be it straight, queer or platonic. Friendship. Loyalty. Family, found and by blood. Doing what’s right and trying to build a better world, even while standing in the ruins of the old.

I look forward to what Frohock writes next. T., I will watch for you.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for well researched and resonant historical grounding and background for her secret fantasy history.

+1 for vivid, emotion packed and sensory rich writing that draws the reader into the world and characters.

Penalties: -1 A couple of plot beats of the series and arc don’t quite resolve satisfactorily

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 well worth your time and attention

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Reference: Frohock, T. A Song with Teeth [Harper Voyager, 2021]

Microreview [book]: On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu

A lightly speculative story of a refugee family, told with unflinching empathy

Content Warning: On Fragile Waves contains violence (individual and systemic), abuse and racism

I'm excited by Erewhon Press, the new independent SFF publisher on the block whose offerings almost all seem tailor made to hit my "must read" list. One of the earliest stories I got excited for in their catalogue was On Fragile Waves, a intriguing looking tale of refugee migration from author E. Lily Yu. Originally slated for a 2020 release, On Fragile Waves was pushed back to early this year, and now this prettiest and bleakest of stories is finally coming into the world.

On Fragile Waves is a refugee story, centred around young girl Firuzeh Daizangi, along with her younger brother Nour, and her parents (generally referred to as Abay and Atay, but named Bahar and Omid), as they flee Afghanistan and attempt to reach Australia, falling foul of the country's inhumane policy towards refugees in the process, before finally trying to begin making a new life for themselves despite their still-uncertain status in Melbourne. Firuzeh's story is one impacted by both the deep traumas of her refugee experience, particularly during the boat trip from Indonesia and her family's subsequent stay in Nauru, and the more mundane challenges of being a loved but often overlooked, or overburdened daughter, with an irritating, spoiled younger brother and parents trying to adapt to challenges of their own.

The other defining aspect of Firuzeh's experience is the book's speculative element -although it's important to note that readers approaching On Fragile Waves solely because of its speculative content are likely to come away disappointed. During the family's journey to Australia, Firuzeh meets another girl, Nasima, whose is also fleeing the country with her parents. Self-important, status conscious, and confident about her new life, Nasima isn't a particularly pleasant friend to Firuzeh, but she nevertheless offers continuity and connection which is cut tragically short during the boat ride the two share from Indonesia. Afterwards, Firuzeh begins to see and confide in Nasima's ghost to make sense of developments in her own life, and even to begin to imagine (or exert?) some tenuous control over certain circumstances. The connection between the two girls, despite their brief friendship and diverging paths, underscores the fragility which forms the book's core (the clue is in the title). Everything that separates Firuzeh's life from Nasima's death is built on fragile foundations, and one moment of luck - and Firuzeh and her family have to build their lives within a system that never lets them forget it.

On Fragile Waves is mostly told from Firuzeh's perspective, in sparse but often beautiful prose, but it diverts often into different perspectives and voices, building up a picture of the people around them. These range from the small-minded racist guard whose chapter only serves to highlight the difference between his internal monologue about his actions and their external impacts on the refugees he holds power over, to the language tutor who volunteers with the family, to Nasima's older brothers, already in Australia and waiting for the rest of their family. Each of these chapters takes on a different tone and voice, and the effect is a novel whose prose is a fundamental part of its characters. There are also chapters where the narration becomes significantly more fragmented and poetic, including an opening which effectively summarises Firuzeh's first six years and introduces, in just a few lines, the interplay between threat and beauty in which the rest of the novel takes place, and later on, some of her dreams are told in the same style. One or two stylistic choices aside (the lack of quoted speech always takes a little while for me to get used to), On Fragile Waves isn't a demanding read where its prose style is concerned, but it is a book that encourages its reader to pay attention to style and language to get the most out of it. There's also a distinct separation between the first half of the book, which covers the family's journey from Afghanistan to Nauru and their time there, and the second half in Australia: it feels like because we see Melbourne through the eyes of an older Firuzeh, there's more direct representation of the interpersonal complexity, as well as a greater understanding of her parents' trauma and how it continues to affect them. In contrast, the family's time in Nauru contains more depictions of overt brutality and horror, but some experiences - like Firuzeh's brief befriending of a camp sex worker, and an attack perpetrated against her mother for being late for a bus - are beyond her capacity to process in the same way as the audience does, leaving us to piece together the broader dynamics from her incomplete perspective.

Yu - who is from the USA - has noted that a decade of research went into On Fragile Waves, and there's even a chapter with a self-deprecating self-insert character (a US researcher who doesn't know any of the right questions to ask of the refugees she is interviewing, and has to be set on the right path by a more experienced Australian woman.) The question of authenticity is, on one level, hard to escape from - is Yu the right person to be writing this refugee story? Does this capture the reality of the experience? - but it's not a question that I, as a British person with no refugee experience, can begin to answer. What I can say about On Fragile Waves is that its empathy leaps off the page: an empathy that doesn't shy away from showing characters at their lowest, or darkest, or most destructive, but is always fundamentally generous about the circumstances and motivations that underpin those dark moments. I found it impossible not to feel for almost all of the characters (shitty racist camp guards obviously being among the exceptions), even when their motivations conflicted or it was obvious that one character's emotional response to a situation was notably shallower than the other parties involved. For instance, Grace Nguyen, the language teacher who volunteers with the Daizangis, laments the amount of food at that Bahar insists on her leaving with and considers her Vietnamese family's own refugee experience; we know from Firuzeh that the food Grace has left with will result in the Daizangi family themselves going hungry, in the name of maintaining a form of hospitality which doesn't even cross the cultural divide particularly well. Yu's choice of narrator, and the detached way the narrative plays out, seems to reflect that focus on seeking empathy rather than full understanding Firuzeh's childish reactions to her circumstances require a different sort of narration to what her mother or father's perspective might look like, and I think it was the right choice for the book to avoid making any specific judgement about her parents' motivations. This story isn't the right one to give them a direct voice, and I think that's OK.

On Fragile Waves is a hard book. Given the subject matter, there's no responsible way for it to be anything but a hard book. But it's also a book which ends, however tentatively, with a feeling of hope: that despite systems of oppression, people do survive, and things do get better, and there will always be people who care and try to do right by each other even when our experiences make it hard for us to understand. Despite that, I think it's an excellent read - one which I devoured in an afternoon and found myself deeply satisfied by. If this is where Erewhon is going with it's line, I'm more invested than ever before.

The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 A deeply empathetic story that works within the boundaries of its own undersatnding

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10

POSTED BY: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy

Reference: Yu, E. Lily. On Fragile Waves [Erewhon, 2021]

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Two Ships in the Night

 Or, Normalize Platonic Relationships

Every few months, someone tweets/posts/whatever something along the lines of "why are there even sex scenes in movies/shows/books" and then everyone feels the need to pile on because it's a bad take and piling on bad takes is fun and easy. There are a innumerable silly debates regarding media, particularly when it comes to sex and relationships. The TL;DR of it is that all of them can be with merit and worrying about if they are needed is an exercise in futility.

There is one relationship that I don't believe gets enough attention, and that is simple, healthy friendship. Obviously, there are multitudinous platonic relationships in every form of media out there - fine and good. But I was struck watching, of all shows, Sons of Anarchy, by the sheer number of times some form of "I love you" was said. Not in a romantic sense, but simply one man to another.

It's interesting, in a show that is about a LOT of complicated relationships, most them fantastically unhealthy, that affection is expressed so directly - especially by men. Because, yes, there is no shortage of male friendships in media, and certainly no shortage of bro type movies, and the term bromance is a thing, yet men are still expected to have this hypocritical and harmful notion of masculinity.

"Sex sells" is the common refrain. That's true - "shipping" is a whole... thing. Which, again, fine- it's not unworthy, and it's definitely a fun exercise. But media is simultaneously a reflection of society, and a driver of it, and in a world where men are often taught expressing emotion or affection somehow makes you less of a man, that you shouldn't act or dress in certain ways - let's normalize all that.

For all the failures of the Star Wars 'Sequel Trilogy', this wasn't one of them. Poe and Finn had an earnest, deep connection. The ship crowd definitely ran with it, and while I would have 100% loved for Star Wars to provide representation on the big screen for a historically underrepresented demographic - I loved that they were friends, that they cared about each other, and they expressed that in tangible ways. 

Fun fact: giving someone your jacket is the greatest expression of love

If I have a point to make, it's this: take the time to tell the people you love that you love them. Be yourself, let your feelings show. And if you write books, movies, video games, comics, whatever - give a moment to ponder the sincerity of the friendships and relationships in your work.

All my love-


Dean is the author of the 
3024AD series of science fiction stories. You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog (which he hasn't updated in, like, forever). When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Microreview [anthology]: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins, ed. Aiki Flinthart

An anthology that harnesses its star power and the skills of its contributors to often strong and striking effect.

To me, successful anthologies rely on leaning hard on one of two strategies to succeed and remain relevant and memorable.  The editor can choose stories that hew very closely to a theme, an idea, a framework and so the the anthology is primarily remembered and treasured for the power of the theme and what that theme brought to the table. The early exemplar of that is the prolific Mike Resnick Alternate history anthologies, like for example, Alternate Presidents, where I remember the strength of the theme and the ways that theme gets used in a broad sense (Dukakis becomes President and turns out to be an alien spy? Ay!). Strong thematic resonance in an anthology, in both the topic chosen and how the editor(s) choose stories to hit that theme, mean that the collection overall takes precedence over individual stories.

The other choice is to keep the theme and frame as loose as possible and lean into your cast of writers and the stories that they write. This backgrounds and diminishes the overall theme you are going for, being a really loose set of requirements, and you highlight excellent stories and writers instead. Taken to an extreme, you start to wonder if the theme really is there at all. The Dangerous Visions anthologies really feel like this. Are they really “Dangerous Visions?”, now or then? It doesn’t seem so to me, but those anthologies have some of the best writers and stories of their age in them. The Jigsaw Man, Eutopia, Faith of our Fathers, When it Changed, The Word for World is Forest...Stories so good that you even don’t realize, sometimes, they were originally part of a particular anthology, they have always been part of the genre conversation since the anthology brought them to light.

So where does Aiki Flinthart’s Relics, Wrecks and Ruins fit into this bimodal classification scheme? At a first glance, it could be either. The anthology  provides a variety of locales and a framework that could work in the same way as, say, those aforementioned Resnick anthologies. On the other hand, the anthology has this as its line up:

Washing the Plaid by Juliet Marillier

The Names of the Drowned are These by Angela Slatter

The God Complex by Jan-Andrew (JA) Henderson

A Malediction on the Village by Garth Nix

In Opposition to the Foe by Pamela Jeffs

The Echo of Love by Marianne de Pierres

16 Minutes by Jasper Fforde

American Changeling by Mary Robinette Kowal

Pattern on Stone by James S.A. Corey

The Wreck of the Tartarus by Lee Murray

Six-String Demon by Sebastien de Castell

The Shard by Ian Irvine

The Wind and the Rain by Robert Silverberg

Thaw by Mark Lawrence

Morgan of the Fay by Kate Forsyth

Geisha Boy by Kylie Chan

Cosmic Spring by Ken Liu

Dreams of Hercules by Cat Sparks

River of Stars by David Farland

The Mirror in the Mirror by Jack Dann

Relic (noun): A Widow; a thing remaining from the past by Alison Goodman

Heartbreak Hotel by Dirk Flinthart

The Movers of the Stones (poem) by Neil Gaiman

Old Souls by Aiki Flinthart

As I dove into this anthology, I saw that the editorial hand of Flinthart and their genius, as it were, was assembling this group of authors and giving them the space to let their words run, and leverage an editorial hand to make the stories sing. Truly the theme is a very thin skeleton to hang the stories on, and I tried to, throughout the anthology, tie the title, or the stated theme in the forematter.

The collection doesn’t waste any time with the heavy hitters, starting off with Juliet Marillier’s story, “Washing the Plaid”. This is a story of friendship, and writing, and the subtle magic of the creation of stories, and being inspired to do so, slaying the monsters that holds one back from trying. Angela Slatter’s “The Name of the Drowned are These” is a story firmly within Slatter’s canon, of a story grounded in Tasmania, where a woman’s return to the site of the destruction of a community, a home,  opens a door that her boyfriend does not expect her to open. One of the longer pieces, "A Malediction on the Village" by Garth Nix takes her out of our world into an alternate Earth, where a young district witch finds trouble on her temporary assignment that might be biting off more than she can chew. Mary Robinette Kowal’s "American Changeling" is about Faerie immigrants to the United States, who find that the ties of their old world, the land of Faerie, are stronger than the young Kim quite realizes.

The collection is not just limited to good fantasy, either. We get a Sentients of Orion story from Marianne De Pierres, “The Echo of Love”, with a mysterious alien in a mystery ship visiting Leto Station, and a scientist’s determination to have this tricky investigation and contact as a golden opportunity to make his mark. Jasper Fforde’s "16 Minutes" is a devilish little short story of a punishment of being looped into the same 16 minutes in the same spot over and over, a Groundhog Day as a punishment tool. James S A Corey’s “Pattern on Stone” scratches that Xenoarchaeological itch that the later Expanse novels hit (although this is an independent universe, a better comparison might be to the work of Jack McDevitt). Corey mirrors discussion of the titular “Carrath Stones’ with the story of the disintegration of the main characters’ relationship, giving a smoky, somber tang to the tea of the story.  And long before his Dandelion Dynasty door stoppers, Ken Liu was one of the more prolific short story writers out there. He shows his short story bona fides are as strong as ever with a far far future story of a Universe near the end of its life cycle, in “Cosmic Spring”. 

And there is plenty here from authors I had not previous heard of, like Dirk Flinthart's AI Elvis and his crew of Rat Pack buddies, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and the rest, as they encounter an Eastern States of America force determined to repurpose his technology, in “Heartbreak Hotel”. Alison Goodman’s "Relict (noun) A Widow; a thing remaining from the past"., gives us an alternate Britain, where a series of alien ship crashes has given the Empire transportation and weapons technology far beyond its 19th century base, and tells the story of a young woman whose possession and bonding to a deadly weapon is a prize in and of itself worth killing her over. The anthology capstones itself with a gut punch to the heart of a story from Aiki Flinthart herself, a story of a future world where births and reincarnated souls lead to an inescapable destiny for the protagonist, in "Old Souls."

Relics, Wrecks and Ruins is a very strong anthology which leverages its authors and their talents to come up with a group of diverse  stories for readers who are in the mood for excellent short fiction. If you have interest in short SFF fiction at all, you will want to take a look at this volume.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for a top flight cast of authors assembled here; +1 for some truly strong stories and not just from the “big name” authors, too.

Penalties: -1 An opportunity to better and more holistically arrange the stories was missed. 

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 A standout anthology. 

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Reference: Flinthart, Aiki, Relics, Wrecks and Ruins [Cat Press, 2021] 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Interview: Matt Betts, author of Red Gear 9

I've been following Matt Betts' career for a while now. From his pop culture short stories to his steampunk Civil War zombie thriller Odd Men Out, to his X-Men-but-darker urban fantasy Indelible Ink.  Betts writes quirky stuff that packs a wallop and then comes out of left field with a perfectly placed joke.  With a professional background in radio communications and side gigs in comedy, Betts is just the guy to pull you into any story. 

Betts's newest novel Red Gear 9 has all the steampunk, airships, zombies, and wild imagination of it's predecessor Odd Men Out, along with James Bond style spyware and gadgets, and new characters and adventures.  If steampunk, humor,  and pop culture is your thing, this is the series for you!   Not familiar with Odd Men Out? The review I wrote at SFSignal can catch you up to speed without too many spoilers. 

Red Gear 9 takes place shortly after the events of Odd Men Out, which means I'm hoping for more snappy dialog, steampunk technology, fun characters, found families and fresh starts, and faster-than-you-think zombies.  

Betts has written novels, short stories, flash fiction, and has published two books of poetry.  His poem "Godzilla's Better Half" was nominated for a Rhysling Award, and his short fiction and poetry have appeared in Arkham Tales, Ethereal Tales, Bizarro Fiction!, A Thousand Faces, Star*Line, Kaleidotrope, and elsewhere, and his other novels include The Boogeyman's Intern and White Anvil: Sasquatch Onslaught.  You can learn more about Betts and his work by checking out his website,, or by following him on twitter at @betts_matt.   He was kind enough to chat with me about Red Gear 9, and the fun of returning to world of Odd Men Out.  Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: What's the elevator pitch for Red Gear 9? And as much as I love the cryptic title, could you explain it?

Matt Betts: Red Gear 9 takes place just a few months after Odd Men Out ends. It opens with a Confederate spy named Reeves breaking out of Alcatraz after being stuck there for years. He and his fellow escapees find themselves in a new world of airships and hordes of the dead. As they prepare to make their way home to their families in the east, old contacts tempt them back into the life they went to prison for.

The crew of the Polk from the first book are hot on the trail of the escaped prisoners, and determined to keep the peace. Three of their best officers, Cyrus, Bethy, and Lucinda race to stop the convicts before the criminals either disappear into the vast reaches of the two Americas, or burn everything down.

The title is one of my homages to the spy genre of movies and books. As we go through the novel, we find it's the equivalent of James Bond's '00' designation. The Red Gears are the book's Confederate version of elite spies and clandestine operatives. In the story, I suggest that most of the Red Gears were rounded up after the truce, captured during the war (with some still languishing in prisons) and others dead. I tried so many different titles for these undercover soldiers but none of them stuck, but when I came up with Red Gears, I figured that was a pretty excellent title for a steampunk novel.

NOAF: Odd Men Out came out in 2013, and has meta pop-culture references that all these years later, I am still giggling about. When did you get the idea to write the sequel, Red Gear 9, and what was it like to return to this world?

MB: I really loved the world, too. When I finished with OMO, I really wanted to revisit it, but I was kind of burnt out with all the writing and revisions. So I wrote a couple of other books and outlined three books in the same world as OMO. Once I got started on Red Gear 9, I ended up combining two of the stories I outlined and making it one. On their own, the plots were too thin, so I took the best of each and they worked well together.

I do include a pop culture reference or two in this book as well, but nothing quite as overt and fun as the one you like from the first book. I really had fun creating the main character, Reeves. I made him a combination of Boyd Crowder from the Justified TV show, Tom Cruise from the Mission Impossible movies and James Bond. He's a Confederate spy who's been in prison for years, so when he breaks out, he's a little rusty, but still somewhat savvy. He was in prison when the chewer outbreak started and wasn't prepared for it. I equip him with various cool (for the era) gadgets and a network or sort of trustworthy people. He was fun to create because I really got to channel those inspirations to ask "How would Ethan Hunt handle this... if he were in Civil War-era America?

NOAF: Can readers who are new to the series start with Red Gear 9, or is it imperative that they read Odd Men Out first? For the newbies who are starting with Red Gear 9, what should they know about this world, before diving in?

MB: I've had that conversation with a couple of my beta readers. They were split on whether they thought it could stand alone or if you needed to read them both. I think they finally came down to the thought that it could stand on it's own, but reading OMO would certainly enrich the reading of RG9.

To catch anyone up that hasn't read the first... It's set in a world where the Civil War ended in a treaty so that both sides could fight off an outbreak of men who've come back from the dead. The story itself begins long after the truce, where we find Cyrus and his friend Lucinda joining a peace-keeping force called the Office of Military Operations. The group was created to keep the peace, but in the course of the novel they also fight rebels, chewers, circus folk and other surprising enemies.

NOAF: This series takes place in the 1860's, and writing alternate history can be tricky. What research did you do for the historical aspects of this story? How did you decide what historical aspects to stay true to, and which to play fast and loose with?

MB: The research and those kinds of decisions are so much fun when writing alternate history. I started by asking what would happen if the Civil War was interrupted by a zombie outbreak. What would change as far as the war is concerned? As far as the rest of the world?

I used the internet quite a bit for things like Civil War battle maps, fort locations, personnel lists and firearms. I hit the bookstores and libraries to check out other details I might want to pursue. I enjoyed the illustrated books I found with colorized pictures from the Civil War. Those brought some ideas to life for me and humanized the officers a little more. For Red Gear 9, I contacted park officials at Alcatraz Island and they were very helpful in pointing me to Civil War-era maps of the place. I also used my family history records when writing OMO. We were lucky enough to have a good stack of information about one of our relatives who was shot during the fighting. I borrowed a few details from his medical records and muster rolls, which was fun.

As for what to keep and what to change, it really depends on what I needed for the story. I did research on various weapons and where they were used during the war, then I looked a little further ahead in history to see when certain innovations came about. If they were pretty close together I figured the fight with the chewers could accelerate the research for those items. In fact, one of the plot points in Odd Men Out involved a warehouse of things a scientist was developing. In RG9, there's a scene where several men are walking through these weapons, and trying to figure out how they all work. Another thing that caught my eye in research was the fact that both sides in the war had used balloons for one thing or another. This helped me design how the airships in my books might work and how they got started.

NOAF: Who was your favorite character to write in Red Gear 9, and why were they your favorite?

MB: I think the new character, Reeves, was the most enjoyable to write. There are several new characters in this book, but he was the most fun to figure out. The returning characters from the first book felt like they were ready to go, broken in already. These new ones, especially Reeves, took a little while to figure out, and really weren't crystal clear until maybe the final draft. There were so many questions that he left hanging for me until I actually wrote him into the manuscript, where I would think "OH! That's why he would do that." or "That's how that situation might resolve itself better." Being this amalgam of spy tropes in my head made me want to push him into more and more interesting and difficult situations. I have at least two scenes that I was sad to cut, but they served no other purpose than to show off his spy skills and how good he was at his job.

NOAF: Without giving any spoilers, can you tell us what scene in Red Gear 9 was most challenging to write, and how you got through it?

MB: Without spoilers... There's a big fight toward the end that involves almost the whole cast of characters. I think the challenge, was to make it interesting and clear. I didn't want it to be "this person shoots this other person, so that guy punches this guy..." through the whole scene. I think what got me through it was figuring out who the most important person was as the scene progressed. Since I use different points of view for each chapter, I had to know who had the most to lose or gain as the fight went on. So, once that was figured out, it hopefully clarified things for me as the storyteller and for the reader. I may even admit to using action figures and whiteboards to block out the fighting, much as a director might do for a play. I needed to know where everyone was throughout the airship at any given time, and that seemed like the best way!

NOAF: Who are some of your favorite writers? How has their work impacted you as a writer, and as a reader?

MB: I'm a big scifi fan, but I have to admit I probably read more crime novels than anything. I love Elmore Leonard's work. He told the best stories of criminals, while also giving them unforgettable personalities. His dialogue is something I try to emulate as much as possible - believable conversations. He liked to keep things simple and brief without a lot of embellishment. I also like Carl Hiaasen for the same reasons.

I've also read a lot of Stephen King. In fact, I started writing because after reading some of his work, I said "I can do that." Eh, it wasn't so easy. The thing about King's earlier work is that he makes them seem pretty simple. The plots aren't terribly intricate, but his characters, his details and nuances make the story have some emotional resonance with the readers. And that makes his work more accessible to me than some other authors I've read.

Some of the scifi writers I've loved include Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, and steampunk authors Cherie Priest, Scott Westerfeld and Ekaterina Sedia.

NOAF:  Thanks Matt!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

Microreview [book]: The Mask of Mirrors by M A Carrick

An epic fantasy that sets a high bar for itself, and winningly meets its own standards.

On the mean streets of the Venice-inspired city of Nadezra, young Ren’s life is not a good one. Under the thumb of the criminal Ondrakja, her existence is precarious and dependent on her capricious moods. Is it any wonder that she takes decisive action to get her and her siblings to escape, by poisoning her? 

Now, years later, Ren is back. Now she’s an adult, and with Tess, her skills have morphed into con artistry of a high order. She has a plan for wealth and power by targeting the weak and precarious noble family of Treamentis. Once the Treamentis was one of the leading families of Nadezra, but they have fallen on very hard times, a crumbling ruin of their former glory. But by posing as Renata Viraudax, a daughter of Letilia, a family member who fled long ago, Ren can infiltrate herself into high society and make some good coin. She has enough inside knowledge of “Renata’s” mother that she can socially engineer this. And as the Gods as her witness, she will never go hungry again. But it is a tough assignment, the Treamentis family are wary even given Renata’s polished patter, a local crime lord turned respectable businessman is suspicious of Ren, and just what are a number of the city nobles up to?

But that's not all by half. Ren’s major problem, unbeknownst to her, is that as she tries to infiltrate and fleece the family, she will be drawn, despite herself, into a plot that could topple the entire city, and everyone, including Ren, within it. There are dark forces afoot indeed. Ren is no hero, but when the city of her birth is existentially threatened, she might have to become one, like it or not.

This is the story of M. A. Carrick's - the pen name for authors Alyc Helms and Marie Brennan - The Mask of Mirrors.

Let’s set this up as a three card spread of Pattern Reading. In Nadezra, the tarot-like cards are used for fortune telling. There is the standard nine card spread, and then there is the simpler and more straightforward three card spread. The book goes into detail regarding this, as it forms a strong strand of the worldbuilding and the plot as well. Cards have positive and negative aspects, adding to the complexity of a potential reading, and providing maneuver room for interpretation. So where did this book come from, where does it stand in the course of this review, and where is it going?

The Face of Flame:

Making Something, pouring their heart and soul in the endeavor

This book is, very clearly, a labor of love from the two authors. This is the authors giving their all to characters and a world, not stinting on any of the good parts, putting it all out there and hoping that it is good enough and that it will resonate with readers. From the complex and complicated worldbuilding, to the richly described verse we have here, to the strong central character of Ren, it is clear that the authors decided to shoot for the moon. 

The Mask of Mirrors.

And here we come to my review and a rather appropriate card, being the title of the book itself. There is a lot I want to talk about in this review, and yet there is a lot I feel I should withhold, as that pleasant surprise for readers. There are plenty of pleasant secrets, lies, revelations, and things uncovered in the novel that it would be difficult for me to spoil everything and everything about it.

Sisters Victorious.

Rise to the Challenge. Reach inside for Strength. The negative side works well to talk about here. This book started as something that seemed insurmountable--something written for fun between Alyc and Marie. It was not something that I think anyone imagined could become a real life book--and yet, they rose to the challenge, reached inside for strength and now have a series to write. Can they build on the success of something they started for each other for fun into a series?

I’ve already mentioned Ren in the context of her posing as Renata Viradaux, but Ren is a complicated character. In the keeping of “threes” as being a foundational number, there are really three Rens.. There is the Ren of her youth, the thieving urchin. There is Ren in her guise as the noble Renata. And then there is her alternate  guise as Arenza, a fortuneteller of the Pattern. Her deck of cards, the only thing she has of her deceased mother, is not only a totemic object for her, but it seems that it has power of its own--or is it that Renata herself does? As the titular Mask of Mirrors card indicates, there are plenty of secrets and revelations in this novel. Many of them swirl around Ren, and we get flashbacks to her life on the street in addition to the opening sequence that sets her early life in the city, and provides the foundation for both of the present day Rens...and more than harkens back to her past in current events. 

Three is indeed a magic number. Three members of Ren’s adoptive family (herself, Tess and Sedge -- and can we talk about the interesting worldbuilding we have in this novel about families, both by blood and by choice) Three cards to the short spread. Nine (three threes) for the longer spread. Three living members of the Treamentis family that Ren is trying to infiltrate--Matriarch Donaia, and her children Leato and Giuna. Other numbers, particularly two and five, resonate throughout the novel. The authors do a great job with these patterns and structures and the more I read, the more I found, and I encourage you to do the same. Quaerendo Invenietis!

So let’s talk about Nadezra and the world the authors have created. Nadezra has a base chassis that is definitely meant to invoke Renaissance italy. Canals, masks (an important part of the culture), an entrepot of a port that connects far flung places, a oligarchy of powerful families in control, (a moon to the distant sun of other powers, Nadezra starts off with that chassis and then runs with it in fantastic invention. There are a number of magic systems and magic elements to the city--from the aforementioned Pattern cards through relatively inexpensive magics common to the city, to curses (and their removal)  to the geometric numinatria, geometric magics that range all the way from the small to complex and strange rituals that can affect the entire city. There is no one single magic structure here, there is a variety of them coming into contact, a reflection and a metaphor for the two cultures and peoples that make up the city. The authors reflect the worldbuilding of the local population and the ruling elite and their relationship and cast that across not only social relations, but magic, belief systems, and more. Nadezra is a much more socially complicated place than that original inspiration of Venice (or, frankly, a lot of other fantasy cities which are also inspired by Venice). The undercurrents of competing cultures and power create a rich tapestry for the city and its characters.

And such characters. Ren with her tripartite aspects is the center of the novel, and forms a trio with her found family Tess and Sedge. The Treamentis form another nexus of characters, in and of themselves even beyond Ren’s attempt to insert herself into that family. Then there is Vargo, a criminal gangster turned respectable businessman, or attempting to be the same. He is very much like a Wilson Fisk character who is trying to shed his disreputable past and insert himself in the upper echelons of society. He has an uphill climb, not only because he is a lower class Vraszen trying to be part of the dominant minority Liganti upper crust and so there is a double barrier there to his rise. Vargo was for me the most fascinating character beyond Ren herself, and he has complexity and depth to match. A novel of the events here with him as  primary, rather than secondary point of view would be fascinating (although it would prematurely reveal some of the mysteries about him that we get as the novel unfolds). The authors provide a variety of other characters from across the spectrum of societies, with interlocking and interdependent relationships. The world of the novel is very queer friendly as well, and this is a tolerance that is baked in on all levels of society. This is simply a world where queerness is normalized and accepted. 

The plotting is clockwork. While our entry into the world is Ren's impersonation, it is through that and the other characters that the greater overarching plot, and its elements, slowly become clear, an interlocking series of gears. By the time the reader (and Ren) is immersed into her own plot, she is also interlaced into the main plot, and with the reader joins the main story, and takes action. There is plenty of action and adventure to go along with the social maneuvering. As I mentioned above, the authors shot for the moon in putting everything they love--worldbuilding, characters, action, adventure, intrigue, grand plots, petty criminals and much more. And it all works together. It could have been easily a farrago but under the skilled writing here, it comes together into a wonderful package.

I do admit that with such a large cast on display, a couple of secondary characters could possibly have used another beat or two of character development (Tess, I am looking at you) and this is a complex secondary world fantasy that I would not hand to someone new to the genre. Otherwise, however, this is a collaboration that hits all the marks that I had hoped it would given the track record of the collaborators. It is clearly the first of a series, but it provides a solid complete story here that you can off ramp should you decide that you only want a one book visit to Nadezra. As for me, I look forward to what subsequent volumes will bring. M A Carrick, in the personage of Helms and Brennan, are really just getting started.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses : +1 for a rich, diverse, fractally complex and envisioned fantasy world

+1 for an intriguing and central main characters, whose strengths, flaws, character arc and depiction are all top notch.

Penalties: -1 A couple of the secondary characters could have used a tad more fleshing out. Hopefully book two will provide this.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 very high quality/standout in its category

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Reference: Carrick, M A. The Mask of Mirrors [Orbit, 2021]

Thursday, January 21, 2021

2021 Nerds of a Feather Hugo Awards Recommended Reading, Part 4: Institutional Categories


Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of the Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together 2021 Hugo Awards Longlist!

This time we are looking at what are, for lack of a better term, the "nonfiction and institutional categories": Best Related Work, Best Semiprozine, Best Fanzine and Best Fancast. Some of these categories are the hardest to figure out eligibility for, either because they require intimate knowledge of Hugo rules ("Semiprozine", why are you a word in our vocabulary) or because the precedent for them has historically been weird (e.g. recognising the podcasts of profit-making websites in Best Fancast). Nonetheless, we have done our best, and ask that you a) forgive us and b) gently bother Adri on Twitter if you feel we've got something wrong.

There are still a couple of sticky issues that made putting this list together a bit difficult. For example, deciding on when to put single author ventures in fanzine or recognise their authors in fan writer (or both!) continues to pose a challenge. We have tried to create clear and consistent guidelines for inclusion in this category. Thus, we have tried to recognise publications in this category which are (1) a fan venture (i.e. must not generate a significant amount of money, or pay professional rates for work); (2) publishing a substantial amount of content under a unified "brand" in a given year; and (3) (obviously) publishing "award worthy" content.

We also feel obliged to mention that 'nerds of a feather, flock together' is eligible in this category, but whether we belong on anyone's list (short, long, good or bad) is another story, and part of a conversation we aren't inclined to join in this post. We'd much rather talk about all the other sites we like to read! 

Best Related Work was also an interesting category for us this year. The longstanding catch-all nature of this category means that this year we feel there's a plethora of both fandom achievements and genre non-fiction that is worthy of consideration. While the dichotomy raises long term questions about the future of Best Related Work as a single category, we suggest voters follow their heart and embrace the wide range of things eligible this year, from groundbreaking virtual events to (b/v)logs to academic work. What's an award without a little chaos variety, after all? 

Before moving on to the recommendations, we'd like to remind everyone once again that this list is not and does not intend to be a comprehensive survey of genre or fandom. Rather, these are recommendations we suggest you consider alongside whatever other candidates you have in mind.

Nerds of a Feather 2021 Recommendation List Series:

Related Work
A Handful of Earth. A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, by Lynell George (Angel City Press)
Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall”, by Alec Nevala-Lee (, 7 Jan 2020)
Biology and Manners: Essays on the Worlds and Works of Lois McMaster Bujold ed. Regina Yung Lee and Una McCormack (Liverpool University Press)
ConZealand Fringe by Claire Rousseau, Adri Joy, C, Marguerite Kenner, Alasdair Stuart, Cheryl Morgan and Cassie Hart
Europa28: Writing by Women on the Future of Europe, ed. Sophie Hughes and Sarah Cleve (Comma Press)
FIYAHCON, by L.D. Lewis, Brent Lambert, iori Kusano, Vida Cruz, and the FIYAHCON team
Flights of Foundry by Dream Foundry
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics!, by Tom Scioli (Crown Books for Young Readers)
Into the Omegaverse: How a Fanfic Trope Landed in Federal Court, by Lindsay Ellis
Margaret Atwood: A Word After A Word After a Word is Power (Note: May be ineligible based on scale of original 2019 release)
Strange Horizons Reviews: A Twentieth Anniversary Roundtable, by Rachel Cordasco, Erin Horáková, ML Kejera, Samira Nadkarni, Abigail Nussbaum, Charles Payseur, Nisi Shawl, Aishwarya Subramanian and Bogi Takács
"The State of Black Speculative Fiction" by Eugen Bacon and Milton Davis (Hadithi & The State of Black Speculative Fiction)
Ties that Bind: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. Francesca T. Barbini (Luna Press Publishing)
"Timeless: A History of Chrono Trigger", by Aidan Moher

Anathema: Spec from the Margins
Augur Magazine
Baffling Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
FIYAH Literary Magazine
The Future Fire
Strange Horizons

Astrolabe  by Aidan Moher
The Fantasy Inn by Hiu, Jenia, Kopratic, Sharade, Tam, Travis and Wol
The Full Lid by Alasdair Stuart
Genre Grapevine by Jason Sanford
Insert Cartridge by Aidan Moher
Lady Business ed. Ira, Renay, Susan, KJ and Jodie
Quick Sip Reviews by Charles Payseur
The Quiet Pond by CW, Joce and Skye
The Rec Center by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Elizabeth Minkel
SF In Translation by Rachel Cordasco
Women Write About Comics by Nola Pfau and Wendy Browne

Claire Rousseau
Chronicles of Noria
The Coode Street Podcast
The Fantasy Inn Podcast
The Functional Nerds
Hugo, Girl
Hugos There
Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men
My Name is Marines
Onyx Pages
Perpetual Pages
SFF Audio
SFF Yeah!
Skiffy and Fanty
Sword and Laser

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Interview: Samuel Marzioli, author of Hollow Skulls and Other Stories

Samuel Marzioli is an Italian-Filipino writer who specializes in dark fiction and horror.   His short fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Shock Totem, Perihelion, Urban Fantasy Magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and multiple anthologies.   In 2018, his short story "Multo" was featured on LeVar Burton Reads, you can listen to it here, and read it here.

Hollow Skulls and Other Stories is Marzioli's debut collection, and if you like eerie tales, urban legends, and folklore that is very real, this is the collection for you! The thirteen stories in the collection showcase Marzioli's best work of the last ten years, featuring stories inspired by his experiences becoming a father, an unusual medical condition, and the author's own Filipino heritage.  These stories will tease you with hope, and then take you to the edge of dread.  You may want to read them in the middle of the day, with all the lights turned on.

You can learn more about Marzioli by checking out his blog Tales from Marz and by following him on twitter, where he is @Marzioli. He was kind enough to chat with me about how Hollow Skulls and Other Stories came together,  weaving his Filipino roots into his fiction, what it was like to hear LeVar Burton read "Multo", and much more. 

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: Congratulations on the publication of your short story collection Hollow Skulls and Other Stories! How did you decide which of your works would appear in the collection?

Samuel Marzioli: Thank you! I dreamed for years about releasing a collection and without the good people at JournalStone Publishing—especially Scarlett R. Algee—it may have remained a dream. As far as how I chose my stories, I had several favorites in mind which I felt best reflected who I am as an author, whether because they mean something to me, or because they were thoroughly steeped in my voice. 

“Multo,” for instance, may be the story I’m most known for, at least among the small group of short story enthusiasts who know me at all. It was also the first of several I wrote inspired by Filipino folklore and urban legends. “A Pocket of Madness” highlighted an unusual condition I’ve had since my 20’s: hypnopompic hallucinations. Both “A Pocket of Madness” and “She Who Would Rip the Sky Asunder” were based on my experiences with fatherhood, albeit rendered into fiction, and filtered through the dark lens of my mind. 

Ultimately, with all my selections I wanted Hollow Skulls and Other Stories to be dark, depressing, and scary, but also introspective and hopeful, with just a glimmer of light peeking from an outer edge. I hope I succeeded, but I recognize that’s entirely up to the readers to decide.

NOAF: Once you decided to do a collection, what was the process like and how long did it take to go from “here's what I want to do!” to holding the finished product in your hands? 

SM: Some writers get invited to submit collections based solely on the strength of a few stories, or perhaps their reputation. I had to do it the old fashion way: by slogging waist-deep through the slush pile marsh. A few years back, I came across a notable publisher open to collection submissions, so I assembled my lineup, read their guidelines, and shot them an email. Months before I got a response. A “nope,” but one with a flattering personal rejection. That gave me enough encouragement to try again, and, in this case, second time’s the charm. Between submissions, the contract, and slipping me into the publication schedule, it took a little under two years—though technically, I still haven’t held a copy of my book yet.  

NOAF: Which stories in the collection are you most proud of? 

SM: Obviously “Multo” for reasons already stated, but also "Pagpag.” For “Pagpag,” I had to do a lot of research, and while ultimately the locations were fictionalized to serve the story, it does address real living conditions and struggles within poor communities of the Philippines. I never had Filipino protagonists in the novels and stories I grew up with. As a third generation immigrant from the Phillippines, including Filipinos and Filipino experiences in my stories means a lot. I’d count “The Last Great Failing of the Light” in the proud column too as it was very loosely inspired by pre-colonial Tagalog societies.

NOAF: And that cover art, wow!  Did you have input on the cover art? What did you think of the cover art when you first saw it?

SM: My editor Scarlett and I brainstormed ideas for what we thought the cover should look like. She sent these notes to the artist, Don Noble, who then sent back a design. The results were well done, a great example of the quality Don is known for, but went in a direction I hadn’t expected. I offered a few additional notes, and Don absolutely nailed it on the second go. The final cover has personality, sets a mood, and I feel it represents the content of the collection well.

NOAF: Are there particular things in your own life that terrify you?  Do you ever weave those things into your fiction?

SM: If I had to choose something, I suppose it would be death. It doesn’t matter how often it happens because new death never “gets old,” is still as sad and debilitating as the last one. It’s ubiquitous, the only true, lasting terror for anyone with the capacity for love. I incorporate it into my fiction, of course, both because it happens to be a fascinating subject, and because it helps me deal with my own grief and loss. 

NOAF: I hear you have an ongoing series of Filipino Monster stories?  Please! Tell us more!

SM: They’re only a series in the sense that I’ve written several, though none are explicitly connected. I’ve mentioned “Multo” and “Pagpag,” which are included in this collection, but the others are as follows. “Servant of the Aswang” is about a girl who is forced to select young victims for her aswang master. This was my first aswang story, and is far more faithful to the folklore than “Pagpag.” “Everything Mimsy” is a portal fantasy about a man who travels to a world inhabited by Filipino monsters of all kinds. Because this was meant to be lighthearted, I got to play with beasties I wouldn’t normally write about, like the duwende (goblin/elf) and the kapre (giant). “Devil on the Night Train” is about a girl and her grandfather, and the peculiar devil who stalks his victims from a phantom train. This one is inspired by the Devil Cigar Man urban legend, and gave me a great excuse to research World War II from a Filipino point of view. I’m pleased to say all of them have been published, and several of them podcasted too. I work by inspiration, so I can’t say when I’ll write another one, but I have every intention of doing so. I’d also love to include “Servant” and “Devil” in my next collection, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

NOAF: As luck would have it, your story “Multo” was one of the first episodes of Levar Burton Reads that I listened to, and what an experience that was!  And rereading that story, all I can hear is Levar's velvet voice pulling me into Adan's past. What was it like to hear Levar Burton read your story? As the author, did you have any involvement in providing pronunciation notes or production notes? 

SM: When the show’s producer Julia Smith approached me about the audio rights to “Multo,” I was gobsmacked. I’m reminded of a line from Romeo and Juliet: “It’s an honor that I dream not of.” Though I mean this only in the sense that I didn’t know it was something that could happen so dreaming about it never crossed my mind. I grew up on Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and LeVar Burton was my favorite in both. To hear him speak words I wrote? I might as well have been a clock melting over a tree branch, it was so surreal! Since I can only say a few words in Tagalog, I relied on the expertise of my Aunt Judith White for all translations and pronunciations. Though when I sent Mr. Burton audio of the story’s Tagalog content, I provided one pronunciation (“kumusta kayo”) just so I could say he heard me speak. Weird? Probably a little, but also kind of cool, right?

NOAF: Who are some of your favorite writers and artists? How has their work influenced you?

SM: I have too many, and quite a few of them the usual suspects, but this is a selection of excellent writers who I believe deserve far more recognition than they get: Ramsey Campbell, Mercedes M. Yardley, Michael Wehunt, Laird Barron, and David G. Blake. They’re all so different both in style and focus, but I’ve probably sampled all of them on the way to finding my own voice, Campbell most of all. He may disagree—and since he’s the expert of his style, he’s probably right—but every once in a while, I’ll notice a phrase sneak into my stories that I’ll feel has Campbell smeared all over it. 

As for artists, Adrian Borda is a Romanian surrealist painter and photographer whose work I adore. I own some of his paintings, and was even lucky enough to appear in an anthology (The Best of Apex Magazine) where one of his paintings was used as the cover. Isaac Marzioli is an illustrator and prop designer on Spongebob Squarepants. He focuses more on adorable than creepy, but he’s an incredible artist who just happens to be my brother. We’ve done a few projects on spec that combined the best of both of our talents, and they were a blast to work on.

NOAF: Thanks Samuel!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.