Thursday, 5 May 2016

Free Post-Apocalyptic Story!

I'm offering my post-apocalyptic story The Scavenger for free on Amazon for the next five days, May 5-9.

This story is a 67-page teaser for my Toxic World series, which starts with the novel Radio Hope. The Scavenger is a standalone story, but it gives a different perspective on some of the places and characters that appear in Radio Hope.

The blurb is below:

In a world shattered by war, pollution, and disease, a lone scavenger discovers a priceless relic from the Old Times.

The problem is, it's stuck in the middle of the worst wasteland he knows--a contaminated city inhabited by insane chem addicts and vengeful villagers. Only his wits, his gun, and an unlikely ally can get him out alive.

Set in the Toxic World series introduced in the novel Radio Hope, this 10,000-word story explores more of the dangers and personalities that make up a post-apocalyptic world that's all too possible.

It's free on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and all the other Amazons. Enjoy!

Monday, 2 May 2016

Book Review: Dark Matters: Memories by Andrew Leon Hudson

Dark Matters: Memories (Dark Matters #4)Dark Matters: Memories by Andrew Leon Hudson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: Andrew Leon Hudson is in my writers group and I have been a beta reader on several of his stories, including one that was in this volume. Still, I'll try to be objective.
Speculative fiction author Andrew Leon Hudson continues his collection of short story two-packs with this one on the theme of the Great War. The first story, "The Palimpsest", is my favorite of all his stories and follows a WWI veteran and artist as he sketches ruins in England's remote north. Strange things start to occur reminiscent of M.R. James ghost story. Hudson captures the feel of a James story quite well and the ending is powerful. Very well done.
I was less intrigued with "The Foundation", another tale of memory as it relates to the Great War. I thought the dream sequences were handled well and the overall writing was good but it lacked the punch of the other story. Perhaps I've read too much, "we must not forget" literature for this sort of thing to gut punch me anymore, especially when nothing is added to the premise. Others might find it more moving. Even if they don't, "The Palimpsest" is well worth the low price of admission.
Hudson is a writer to watch, and I hope he'll start writing longer works in the future.

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Friday, 29 April 2016

Civil War Photo Friday: Black Civil War Soldiers Fighting Bloodhounds

I've been researching the Civil War for more some 15 years now and this is the first time I've come across this little tidbit. Titled, “Terrible Fight with Bloodhounds,” this engraving appeared in Leslie’s Illustrated magazine in March of 1864. It illustrates the strange fight of one of the very first African-American regiments organized during the Civil War.

On October 23, 1862, the 1st South Carolina Regiment (Colored) was attacked by the Confederates at Pocatalago Bridge, South Carolina. The rebels sent bloodhounds after the black troops. These dogs, as any student of black history knows, were commonly sent after runaway slaves and most black people were terrified of them. Things had changed, however. Now these former slaves had rifles and bayonets. As their hated canine enemies charged at them, the Union soldiers bayoneted them.

This odd little fight made quite an impression on both the black and white population and highlighted that black soldiers were not to be trifled with. They weren't scared anymore!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Book Review: Singapore Passage Singapore Passage by Donald Barr Chidsey

Singapore Passage Singapore Passage by Donald Barr Chidsey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently discovered the all-but-forgotten pulp writer Donald Barr Chidsey when I read his novel The Flaming Island. Chidsey was a regular contributor to the pulp magazines in the 1930s, writing in a wide range of genres as many of the old pulp writers did. He spent much of his youth as a merchant seaman and wrote many stories set on the sea in various exotic locales. Later in life he earned a bit of fame as a history writer, once again focusing on the sea.

As I noticed in The Flaming Island, Chidsey is best when writing about the sea. His scenes on land are routine pulp fare, exciting and fun but not outstanding. When his characters unfurl the sails and get out onto the ocean, however, then Chidsey's prose really shines. His love of the sea and his deep knowledge of maritime life comes through in every sentence.

Luckily, Singapore Passage mostly takes place on the waves. It's the mid-19th century, and a first mate with a near-mutinous crew has to become temporary captain when his boss gets stabbed in a tavern. His goal--make the Singapore Passage with a shipment of opium before the competition. If he wins, he'll get rich and get a ship of his own. If he loses, he's stuck in his current position. Besides the crew, he's got pirates to worry about plus a female missionary on board who hates the opium trade. What's a sailor to do?

Singapore Passage is a great read, with lots of interesting detail about the East Asia trade in the Age of Sail. For example, Chinese ingots, called sycee, came in various forms, including ones that looked like a woman's slipper! There's also plenty of action, and of course some sexual tension between the first mate and the missionary. All in all, a fun little read.

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Travel Tuesday: El Castillo de Aulencia, Spain

My wife works about 15 miles outside of Madrid and this castle is right next to her research institute. Spring has finally sprung here in Spain and she took this amazing photo. It the winter this castle looks completely different, dark and brooding on its bare hill.

This is the Castillo de Aulencia, which guarded the confluence of the Aulencia and Guadarrama rivers. It started as an Arab castle until it was captured by the advancing Christian armies in the 14th century. They rebuilt the castle and most of what you see today dates to the 15th century. After the Reconquista pushed the Moors further and further south, this castle became less useful, especially after the Moors were kicked out of Spain entirely in 1492. Then it was allowed to slowly decay.

It took a few hits during the Spanish Civil War when the Battle of Brunete raged around it in 1937. It had a good view of the surrounding countryside so a unit of Russian volunteers on the Republican side held it for a time. The fascists pummeled the walls with artillery fire, forcing the Russians to withdraw.

Unfortunately this castle is not open to the public. This is the closest I've ever been!

Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Book Review: The Tilt by M.A. Robbins

The Tilt: Book One in the Tilt SeriesThe Tilt: Book One in the Tilt Series by M.A. Robbins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and was really excited because the premise sounded fascinating. A scientist promises unlimited energy by basically fracking into the San Andreas Fault and, of course, everything goes wrong. The world is riven by giant earthquakes that leave bottomless fissures cutting across the landscape. Now, in a post-apocalyptic Alaska, a sheriff has to fend off a Chinese invasion while suspecting the scientist might be up to his old tricks again.
Unfortunately the book went steadily downhill. Robbins has created an interesting world but never explores it. We don't learn the full effects of the tilt, nor do we get many details about society and how much technology survives. Instead we're treated to endless fight scenes. While well-written, they quickly become repetitive. Cutting out a couple would still keep this an action-packed novel while giving room for character and world development. As it is, we have cardboard characters in a two-dimensional backdrop. We also don't learn why the scientist would want to repeat the experiment that wrecked the world. Is he suicidal?
A deeper problem is the depiction of the Chinese. They are all evil, bloodthirsty, two-dimensional, and talk like Fu Manchu. It's like some Yellow Peril novel from 1905. Don't get me wrong, I'm no cringing college liberal whining about political correctness. Thugs come in all colors and it's OK to reflect that in your fiction. But when all members of a group are portrayed as menacing dangers to civilization, that's just lazy writing and you're doing real harm to real people.
It's a shame, because Robbins is a good stylist. The pacing is quick and the action scenes are well-done. With a little more thought and care this could have been a good novel. Instead it just falls flat.

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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Travel Tuesday: Archaeological Museum of Cuenca, Spain

The coolest artifact in the collection, a Roman brick that a couple of people stepped on while it was still wet. You can imagine the bricklayer screaming at the clueless pedestrian as he walked on it two thousand years ago, only to have a second person do the same thing!

Last weekend we got away from Madrid and spent some time in Cuenca, an hour's train ride from the capital. I'll be writing up this historic town more thoroughly in my usual Wednesday post over at Black Gate. In the meantime, here are some photos from the city's excellent little archaeological museum.

The museum has modest collections from the Neolithic, Medieval, and Early Modern periods and some impressive items from the Iron Age and Roman times. The province of Cuenca has three major Roman towns--Ercávica, Segóbriga, and Valeria, so the Roman section was especially good.

Roman feet!

Maybe the hipsters will make this style popular again.

This little guy is an Iron Age figurine, one of many in the museum's collection.

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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