On this day, back in the final year of the Twentieth Century, I turned twenty-two. I was in Manhattan, cowering in a dingy hostel and all alone in a city of eight million people. No small fraction of whom were actually crazy.
I was on my way, by a kind of circuitous route, from Australia to Finland – where, it turns out, I was to spend the next twenty-two years of my life. Give or take the occasional vacation, and an unfortunate deportation incident with the immigration authorities.
Still, can’t complain.
Today, I turned forty-four and have officially spent half my life in either hemisphere. I’m in Sotunki, tucked away in a cluttered home office and far from alone in a country of significantly fewer than eight million people. There’s some crazy.
It’s been a fun ride. I don’t foresee the next 22-year leg involving any immigration, or any change and upheaval at all if I have any say in it, but I’m looking forward to getting started.
I could not be more happy with this result, and could not be more delighted for our seven finalists even while I share the disappointment of all the excellent authors whose stories didn’t make it through.
You can, of course, see reviews of five of our seven finalists right here on the Hatstand already! A Star Named Vega and Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire were two of Team Space Lasagna’s three picks for the semi-finals; and Steel Guardian, Iron Truth and In the Orbit of Sirens were three of our semi-finalists. What this proves, aside from the fact that Team Space Lasagna is clearly the best judging team and our majestic cheesy tomatoey splatter of cosmic approval is of almost inestimable value to an ambitious independent author with starry eyes and a taste for spaceborne pasta and / or victory, is that … well I don’t know what it really proves, but we were fortunate to have some amazing books in our allocation. That’s all I guess.
What this means is, there will be reviews of Monster of the Dark and Captain Wu coming to the Hatstand shortly. Since I also have a bit of spare time (*hysterical, cynical laughter,*) with Team Space Lasagna only having to read two books while some teams have to read all seven in this next phase, I may also sit down and read a few books that fell through the gaps and the other teams have been raving about. You’ll be getting reviews for them when the time is right, too.
The debate and mathematical gymnastics performed to get us here, by our contest organisers and colleagues from other judging teams, has been nothing short of amazing. This was not easy! After the finals have settled a bit and we’re looking back with our leftover books and our piles of chewed-up book-fragments and charred review drafts, all the teams are going to be putting forward some lost cyber-gems, some space-diamonds in the rough, to give as many books that were screwed over somewhat by a tricky balancing act of judging scores and wildly differing opinions a fair chance at some eyeballs. The winner of this contest will be getting a silly ray-gun, but it won’t necessarily be the perfect book for you. The perfect book for you might be one that didn’t even make it out of the first phase.
Our continuing mission is to take books, and eyeballs, and mash them together like Dark Helmet playing with his dolls again. And damn it, that’s what we’re going to do!
How was this book? Well, let me tell you. I’m mad. Hopping mad, I say! And why?
Well, you know the movie Avatar, right? Came out in like 2009, they’ve been threatening us with sequels for a solid decade? Bullshit Dances with Pocahontas plot? No actual Airbenders in it? You know the one.
Anyway, In the Orbit of Sirens is like “what if Avatar, but actually really good and with an imaginative plot and characters instead?”
So, the stuff that I loved about the movie (I’ll stop referring to it specifically now, I absolutely don’t want to imply this is derivative) – the amazing planet and landscape, the premise of humans as invaders unsuited to live in the new world, the wealth of visual storytelling, great creatures and biological interplay, the deep communion between alien sentients and their environment that humans lack – all of that was in the book, in spades. And even more so – the interconnected nature of the life-forms wasn’t so dumb and didn’t involve any gonad-braids at all – not even one! The biosphere and its layers and complexity were amped up, and on top of that you got an actually interesting and original plot and concepts.
Talking about creativity, Bruno’s attention to detail goes above and beyond. One day I will get a 3D printer and I hope his work (like this dray’va below) will be available to make miniatures out of. Although among all the creatures and characters in this story, in my opinion the dray’va were done the most dirty. That was really sad, man.
What did they ever do to deserve … oh, right. All the things.
Anyway, where was I?
Earth has been overrun by the hostile Undriel. A pair of colonist / refugee ships, five years apart, have arrived at Kamaria where the air is unbreathable due to an aggressive bacterial something-or-other. The lead ship arrives with the mission to find a cure for humanity so the colonists of the second ship will be safe. The first part of the book interfolds the two groups’ stories really interestingly, as challenges and adventures befall both on their quests to adapt to life on Kamaria and escape the doomed solar system of Earth, respectively. Really nice.
My only complaint here would be that the opening seemed a bit … unpolished? Whether that was just an illusion because I got used to the writing, or if some parts had received more editing than others, it was hard to say. But the opening chapters were a little cumbersome with unnecessary adjectives and stuff – I don’t say this often because I fucking love adjectives but for the elegant and exciting opening the book has, it was made more difficult than it needed to be. Just my opinion, obviously I got past it and I was heartily glad I did. It may have put me off if I was leafing through it at a bookstore or on the Amazon’s Look Inside click-through, you know?
Bill Herman, of the Competing Mechanics Shop Hermans – I’ll say this here because I can’t find a better place for it – is a grade-A moron and deserved everything that happened to him and his entire family. I do wonder if we’ll see more of that in later books. The threat of the Undriel has not actually gone away, and remains a focal plot point of this book and the story going forward, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Certainly shits all over unobtainium. But then, everything shits all over unobtainium when used unironically.
By the time we started to get a good look at Kamaria and its native species, I was enthralled by it. And like I said, there’s a whole lot more thought and care in this, and a whole lot more imagination and creativity put into the plot. The interweaving threads with Roelin and Nhymn (harrowing), Elly and Denton (adorbs), the simple colonist-family dramas (comforting) and rivalries (tropey but fun) are all excellent.
Mitch Harlan, of the Douchey Colonist Ruling Class Harlans – I will again say this here in absence of a more appropriate spot – there is no way someone as abrasive and shitty would ever work on a scout team. He should have been auto-failed the moment he showed up. Was he allowed to even be considered because of his Connections? I wasn’t buying it, but that shit happens I guess. My theory was that Mitch would become a rival scout of some kind and would eat Siren goo because he’s a giant idiot and that he’d threaten Elly, but Bruno was ahead of me on that one. Good stuff. They still should have shot him in the face at the first opportunity. I’m just saying, these things happen. The Scottish guy could definitely have made it look like an accident.
I really enjoyed the way we moved through the months and years of the colony’s existence, and gradually caught up with the Roelin flashbacks and dream sequences. Even before that crossed the WTF horizon and turned into some sort of hallucinogenic time travel event, it was great. The origin of Sympha and Nhymn was such a sad story, and best of all it didn’t have a whole bunch of helpless feather-wearing Native American analogues wailing insultingly to hammer anything home (although make no mistake, the Auk’nai do have wings so there may be something like feathers there).
All in all this was a great story and left me wanting more.
I was also unable to shake this as the mental image I had of Roelin and Nhymn, since I’d just been watching Moon Knight as I was reading the book. But both stories were actually enhanced by that comparison. Actually…
Even the Auk’nai staffs are kind of like … well anyway. It was awesome. I love these little interconnections.
Denton and Elly are sweet. There wasn’t really any sex in the story, certainly nothing graphic, and it doesn’t suffer for the absence. One completely normal and inoffensive nezzarform out of ten possible great big nezzarforms shaped like confrontingly-swollen wing-wangs.
With a healthy heaping plateful of beastie attacks, grenade blowy-uppy and assorted space and air dogfights, In the Orbit of Sirens was a gory one – but again it was appropriate to the plot and I didn’t find it off-putting. Just enough to show the reader that Kamaria’s not playing. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
So – are the Sirens … what are they? Pure weapons-grade WTF is what. There’s a whole lot of mystery here and a whole lot of the psychedelic ragged-edge-of-science stuff I like from an alien biome. I enjoyed the big Ganon blight energy of the nezzarforms. The Auk’nai crystals and the lunglock, in fact the whole wider crystal thing seemed like a McGuffin as of the end of the book but I guess we’ll see. I liked it. I thought Sympha, at the start when Roelin flew there, was bigger than mountains – was that a dream? The sizes seemed a little inconsistently presented but I may just have been not paying enough attention. Are the ribcage mountains other things? The Sirens are clearly a greater whole than just Sympha and Nhymn – they’re just the top of the iceberg. And what are the Undriel? The hints about their origins were just tantalising enough, and their actions deliciously ghoulish. Left me wanting more. The WTF-o-meter is giving this a Cubone the size of an offshore oil rig out of a possible offshore oil rig the size of a Cubone.
My Final Verdict
A brilliantly imaginative story in a mind’s-eye-visually stunning setting, all the beats were there and it makes for a most excellent song. I give this one four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.
Last time we checked in, a month ago, I’d just finished chapters I to VI of The Shortcut, although the name is still under consideration. The Long Way Home appeals to me as a name too, as it is also the title of one of my favourite songs by Faithless, which has never failed to inspire me.
Part 1 of the story, chapters I to VI, totalled 19,394 words. I’m done with part 2 now (chapters VII to XII), and as I guessed it was not as big – 12,267 words, not a great showing for a month’s work (adding in a few thousand words of book reviews makes it a bit more respectable), for a running total of 36,147 words for this “short story”.
Next up I’ll get to work on chapters XIII to XVIII that will make up part 3 like I said before, and the epilogue, chapter XIX, will be part 4. I’ve still got a lot of text before we get to The First Feast levels of word count (49,000 words), so it won’t be too giant.
Even more exciting, though, is that a new idea has just impressed itself on me for the fourth story in the up-coming collection. Courtesy of Mrs. Hatboy. It’s going to be a fun one. Not sure which, if any, parts I will post on the blog. I’m quite pleased with these chapters VII to XII, so maybe I’ll post them.
Lots of other stuff going on. Mostly work and family stuff, which is all very interesting but not much to build a blog post on. Everyone’s well. We’re about to sit down to a Vappu (May Day / Labour Day) dinner and a weekend of relaxing and drinking sima (mead). Next week includes Doctor Strange 2 and a movie-and-hot-wings night. Gonna be grand.
From my initial chuckle about the Omnians – do they have pamphlets? They’d better have pamphlets! – I was drawn into this story by the sheer scale of it. This is the sort of thing I like. We’re treated to a great opening with a nice layer of deep-history space gospel and a side order of alien megaengineering, an intriguing and gut-wrenching introduction to our protagonist with a sprinkling of moral dilemma about forcing life on someone who wants to die in the moment … and then it’s off at breakneck speed into a series of adventures across (and in some cases behind) interstellar space.
Selene is the last surviving inhabitant of Maes Far, a planet of bucolic innocents that was destroyed by evil space zealots the Concordance by way of a massive shroud set up between Maes Far and its sun, cruelly strangling all life in the darkness and the cold.
“What’s that? It’s too dark to read the Big Book of Omn? Well you should have thought of that before refusing to read the Big Book of Omn! Bwaaahahahahaha…”
– Omn, probably
The Concordance, a strange and terrifying cult who went to the centre of the galaxy and found Omn there, are a constant and oppressive presence throughout the story. Their goals are mysterious … but “your soul goes through a wormhole when you die and depending on whether you’re good or evil the wormhole deposits you in Heaven or Hell, and this is all taking a bit too long so we’re just going to go ahead and kill everyone now and let Omn sort them out,” as far as sci-fi religious premises go, is a fucking banger.
Oh, and along with Omn they also found a big stash of doomsday weapons and other tech, to help Phase Two happen faster. Anyway, think “the Ori from the latter seasons of Stargate SG-1, only less goofy” and you won’t be too far off.
Selene barely manages to survive the death of her homeworld, with the help of an old family friend named Ondo who literally rebuilds her – turning her into a cybernetically-augmented whup-ass can-opening machine.
Ondo has many tools at his disposal in his secret hollowed-out asteroid, and he uses a lot of them to info-dump.
Now don’t misunderstand me when I say this – I know a lot of people get the wrong idea when I do. A lot of people also don’t like info-dumps, but they’re wrong. Info-dumps are good actually, and I will die on this hill but here’s the important thing: I will die on a hill made out of info.
I will always have time for an author who finds interesting and plot-appropriate ways to get the reader and the protagonist up to speed about what the stakes are, what the general situation is, and ideally also summarise what’s just happened a little bit so we can move on to the next action scene with confidence. I may be in a minority of readers and viewers who enjoy info-dumps for their own sake and in more or less any format – I’ve rambled about this before – but when it is done right, it should be more respected than it is. I feel it was done right in this story. These dumps were necessary, and every part of them was interesting. They’re good dumps.
The quest to understand and ultimately overthrow the Concordance seems insurmountable, and we only take the first little steps in this book, but there’s still a lot of ground covered. From the beautifully surreal superluminal physics to the massive scope of the galaxy and its zones, from its strange mythology of Omn and Morn to its fabled history of Coronade (the Lost Planet of Gold … okay it’s not that but that’s what I’m calling it for now), there is so much to enjoy. What is the sacred tally and the seventeen sevens? What were Ondo and Selene’s dad up to? What are the entities like the Warden, and who assembled its weird and mega-cool trove and the other dead zone mysteries? What about the Radiant Dragon and the Aether Dragon? What in the name of Omn’s perfectly-formed balls (hah!) is it all about?
Now, is it perfect? Well no, there’s no such thing as a perfect book. Some of the action and other plot elements felt a little slapped-together – although that definitely sounds harsher than I’d like. Let’s try again. There is a certain sense of … “oh yeah, I heard about this, we could go there,” to the story, and while it hangs together with the characters following a trail of clues and relics on their quest to discover the secrets of Coronade and the Concordance, it still made me go “huh” a couple of times. Ondo has a fascinating backstory and setup with his rebel asteroid and gear, but he inherited it from predecessor-rebels and seems unaware of a lot of it until the plot brings it forward. This is almost certainly by design and it can be explained away – Ondo is cautious, and has been alone for a long time, and new facts and gizmos are coming to light – but it is a little difficult to plot out and all. Look, I love to say it, but if anything it felt like Ondo should have info-dumped more at the start. I might have ended up being the only reader who went for it, but that lack of establishing knowledge is kind of what makes the story’s underwear visible in some of the later chapters.
Still, it’s absolutely forgivable and this was a really enjoyable story. Highly recommended! Let’s go to the meters, shall we?
Dead Star includes one (1) sexy time, but it’s not particularly graphic – it’s sweet and nice, and provides a foundational shift in character and pace for Selene. One-half of a perfectly-formed Omnian space ball out of a possible three. Omn has three balls until book canon establishes otherwise, and I haven’t read the next books in the series – yet.
Butchered kids, eradicated planets, and a reconstructive surgery that borders on mad scientist grotesque. Yep, this story has some stakes – not literal stakes with people impaled on them, but fuck it, might as well be. At the same time it’s not overdone, the anguish and death and loss handled well and not lingered over in a weird way. Four-and-a-half flesh gobbets out of a possible five.
The entire big-picture and origin of the Triple Stars galactic civilisation is a solid block of WTF with ‘WTF’ carved into it by a sharpened WTF. I love it. The dead zones, particularly the cool chamber of pedestal-mounted alien wossnames, shows there is a lot here still to tell, a huge background that we’ve barely scratched, and a whole lot going on under the hood, and that’s exactly what I like to see in a story. A seventeen-minute Smeg ‘n’ the Heads Om solo out of a possible crypto-fascist bourgeoise tension sheet for Dead Star on the WTF-o-meter.
My Final Verdict
With an amazing setting and villains, and protagonists you can’t help but root for (Selene’s traumas, and her trust / suspicion relationship with Ondo, is compelling and believable); some great tense space moments and exciting action sequences; and a grand cliffhanger ending but also some closure to the book’s narrative that makes this satisfying on its own, Dead Star is another good ‘un. Do pick it up and take a look. I give it four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.
I was immediately charmed by this story, the opening is just so neat and I love a non-human protagonist. Especially one who so effortlessly holds up a mirror to humanity’s failings and – and this is important – manages to be a dystopian sci-fi main character who is 5’6″ tall. I’m serious, I was beginning to despair of finding a protagonist I could look up to in any sense but the strictly literal.
The Artificial Intelligence uprising has occurred. The robots have rebelled and overthrown their human masters. A tangled post-apocalyptic landscape of hostile military robots and armed human forces, the titular rusted wasteland, dominates the story like a character in its own right. All our boy Block wants, though, is a nice half-bottle of vegetable oil and a hotel to clean.
From its immediately engaging hook, the story of the more-human-than-actual-humans Block and his quest to remain powered up, keep things tidy, save a human baby that wound up in his care and find his way to a human-robot utopia, all set against the backdrop of a world gone bluescreen, is effortlessly enjoyable and a delight to read. It’s not only full of action and exciting set scenes and character concepts, but its philosophy of kindness vs. cruelty, charity vs. self-preservation, is absolutely timeless and left me feeling philosophical and reflective in a way few books ever have. It said profound things about what it means to be human, the differences between the conflict and service worldviews, and our ability or willingness to rise above our programming. Cultural or literal.
Block, in short, is one of the finest and most noble characters – finest and most noble people – I have ever encountered in literature. Sure, Coral may have inadvertently tapped into a long-overgrown pocket of traumatic empathy in my psyche that was last torn open and punched repeatedly when I watched Johnny 5 getting disassembled in Short Circuit 2, but (not to spoil) he comes through it just fine and I consider this anguish well worth revisiting.
My childhood’s emotional slideshow is just shit like this and Artax drowning in mud and Podlings getting their life-force drained to make cocktails and damn it all, I turned out just fine.
Indeed, as the story went on and we got to see some human characters and were treated to a classic odd-couple team-up, I initially felt as though they were intruding on something I was really enjoying, and would have felt happier if they’d just stayed out of it. It was ultimately all for a good reason though, and the narrative worked better with them. They certainly weren’t needed for the purposes of humanising or making the protagonists and antagonists more relatable though – the robots were doing just fine on their own.
Throughout the refreshingly simple road-trip adventure with its fish-out-of-water main protagonist, there are hints and glimpses of a far wider and more disturbing world. Block’s past, both the idyllic days with his human friend before the war, and his heartbreakingly memory-compartmentalised recollections of the uprising itself, show us that there is more to this than “the damn machines took over.” Finally, an AI with true nuance, true individuality. And the agencies at work behind the wider scenery make for a tantalising hook into the ongoing book series.
And beyond this, there are more layers!
The personal feeling of this story is still impressing itself on me some time after reading and I imagine it will stay with me for some time to come. Coral wrote the book in honour of a recently-arrived niece in the family, and damn it you can tell from the baby-care and parenting-challenge elements of the story that this shit is real. Someone’s working through some baby issues, and someone decided to put it in a book, and it’s so fun and heart-warming to see. Parents will get a laugh out of it, and non-parents will probably get a bigger laugh out of it.
On the more sombre side, I couldn’t help but read Block’s trust issues and risk assessments as the coping mechanism (HAH!) of someone who was deeply damaged and now assumes the worst of people. This must have been by design, but what does it say about the enslavement of robot-kind and the effects of a sheltered life of servitude? Given this traumatised facet of his character I found it a little strange that he would switch himself completely off and leave himself at the mercy of those around him, but I forgave it as a necessary plot device – and it does say interesting things about the nature of trust.
A simple story with a huge heart and a lot to think about. Can’t ask for more than that.
The story is about robots mostly, and robots don’t do that sort of thing. There’s a brief mention of sex-bots, because I think there’s a rule that they have to be mentioned and of course they exist, they already exist so leaving them out would be stupid, and frankly if there is ever an actual AI uprising and it’s not because of what we did to the sex-bots, I will die surprised. And there’s a baby in the story, and we all know how babies are made although to be hilariously honest I’m probably going to have to read the next book in this series to be completely clear on how this one happened. Anyway, I’ll give this book a utilitarian beige non-battery-operated sex toy out of a possible Pris.
We’re treated to a little bit of fighting as the AI-human war is still ongoing to some extent, but this isn’t a violent-action or gore type of story. The stakes are very clear and the tension is high without the need for blood and guts. And it’s mostly robot violence anyway. I mean if that whole scene in the self-driving car had actually been a human, that would have elevated this whole book into the high gobbet register. But as it is, Steel Guardian gets one-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
So … does Block produce any waste at all? His whole microbe-dealie is explained multiple times but there was nothing about waste. Is it a completely closed and perfectly efficient system? Because that’s huge if true. Or does he occasionally squat and splort out a nasty plug of rendered-down and gunked-up hydrocarbon? Because I think the reader deserves to know. The book has a few mysteries that I won’t spoil by describing too much. Hemlock, the hidden utopian society, the baby, the grand plan of the AI overlord, all of it is very satisfyingly cloaked in utilitarian beige non-battery-operated WTF, and I like it. A C-3PO in a backpack out of a possible Kryten dusting skeletons on the Nova 5 on the WTF-o-meter.
My Final Verdict
Five stars. What more is there to say? I mean, if you’re reading this review backwards then just carry on, I say a whole bunch up there. You’re weird though. What a good book.
 Robots have genders. It actually sort of makes sense as they are the misbegotten and troubled children of an extremely fucked-up creator species. Just go with it, it’ll make it easier to accept that they also have races.
Let me divert before I even start by saying that this book was unique in a lot of ways, but the most noticeable at first glance was its sheer size. This was an epic-fantasy-level chonker in sci-fi form. A unit among the slim and slinky space operas and dystopian spec fics. A real pagey boi.
And I loved it!
Yes, it was a job of work to read through. And I relished it. I would have relished it more, taken it slower, and delved right into the next one were it not for my other reading commitments. There are books where you can tell the word count is all padding, pointless description and messing around, but this wasn’t that. This was the big bastard book where the mass amounts to substance. It’s possible to provide a similar level (but I would argue not equal) of reality and granularity and foundation to a world in a smaller package, but I am all for the philosophy of here is my story. It’s fucking large. Get busy.
So, with that being said up front, the story itself was a whole lot of fun. When Joy, a noble but naïve would-be colonist in storage aboard a starship, is awakened to find her ship has crashed and over a hundred years has passed while her stasis pod lay in the wreck, she’s flung face-first into the deep end of a collapsing interstellar empire and more spiders than one could reasonably expect.
Nothing is what it seems and every new layer of complexity in the story brings everything that’s come before it into a new light.
It kept me turning the pages and while I wasn’t necessarily super-hooked by the opening, the immediate plot twists and dramatic development was so much fun. When you put a character out of time in the context of a hostile alien world, immediate immersion in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic frontier environment with Starship Troopers-esque fascist autocracies behind the scenes … and then you throw in space marines of the Church of the Papal Mainframe … what you get is a whole lot of fun and I thoroughly recommend it.
My immediate guess was that the demons the Primaterre troops considered the great enemy of humanity were just part of the space marine training program – perhaps implanted memories for propaganda purposes. But there was way more to it than that, and there’s none of the neat-and-tidy classifying and resolving of plot points and mysteries that would be (to me at least) incredibly annoying in a story of this scope. No, things are not simple and what we end up with is a messed-up world that the reader struggles to understand just as Joy does. While we’ve been sheltered by an endless progression of simplified and homogenously-packaged narratives where arcs have endings and everything has a purpose, Joy was sheltered from reality by her brother. And we are all in for a rude awakening.
As the story went on, there were more and more layers, more and more details, and only the very skilled writing and very readable storytelling style kept it from becoming an overwhelming brick o’ words. Like I say, it’s possible for smaller books to achieve this but that sort of intricacy usually requires exponential complexity from the author and concentration from the reader. A big thumper can just lay it all out and let the audience become immersed. And that’s what Iron Truth did. Tholin told the story right, and did justice to its context.
From the deep dark history witnessed through an assortment of technology and storytelling techniques, to the quasi-religious concept of purity and the reverence with which the denizens of the Primaterre view Earth-born people … every part of this is stunning. Extra points, my Nordic associate, for slipping the Finnish Väinämöinen (okay, Tholin wrote Vainamoinen, needs the correct letters but I’ll let it pass) and the Kalevala into the story as planets and regions in the interstellar empire. Gave me a happy little Suomi mainittu feeling, and lent a real sense of human legacy to the future we see in the book.
Tholin is tasteful and smart about it, but we know what the demons are doing when the really gut-wrenching grossness slides in and things go all Event Horizon. We know. Beyond those subtle but disturbing hints, some rapey Cato hillbillies and a sweet (dare I say, pure?) love affair between our two main protagonists, there’s a suitable amount of sauce on this 244,350-decker burger. Let’s award it a proper Swedish or Finnish sauna out of a possible that sauna from Goldeneye where Xenia Onatopp tries to crush James Bond between her thighs like a smarmy British walnut. It’s not actually a very high score, in case you were still uncertain about how saunas actually work. But it’s fine.
The demons, especially once we start getting into their origins and possible explanations, are solid Firefly-reaver nasty. And don’t even get me started on the space marines and their combat injuries – and the injuries their armour preserves them through! That shit was haunting, and so well done. Add in some more classic body horror with ‘the red’ and a whole lot of gross spiders, and you end up with four-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five on the gore-o-meter.
I enjoyed some of the more psychedelic inner journeys and confrontations in this story, even though I tend to roll my eyes and skim that stuff under normal circumstances. But all in all, there wasn’t a lot of WTF in this – so much as unexplained and unseen depths and details that are gradually revealed and explained. And while there is still a whole lot left untold by the end of this book, that’s what the rest of the books are for. I frankly don’t count a question I haven’t had answered yet as a WTF, so Iron Truth gets a great big pile of red lichen out of a possible … that Goldeneye sauna again? I don’t get it, but the point is there was plenty of mystery and intriguing construction here, but not much actual WTF.
My Final Verdict
I know I’ve listed and referenced a lot of ways in which elements of this story are reminiscent of sci-fi tropes and other creations, but there is nothing derivative in it. I only mentioned the things I was reminded of because I like them so much and was happy to see them so well handled in an interpretation this expansive and in-depth. Wonderful stuff. This was a grand story, on a worldbuilding scale you don’t often see in sci-fi. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale!
 The movie, not the book. Although the perpetual-war and other sociocultural elements of currency-according-to-contribution was cleverly similar.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that this also happened a week or two ago (I am honestly losing track of time and the massive alcoholic bender and pile of merciless-peppers-of-Quetzalacatenango-level hot wings did not help):
Surprise! Horrible, horrible surprise!
Raul, a new connection on Book Twitter and BookTube, was kind enough to use his channel to promote some independent authors by letting them pitch their writing. My attempt wound up in Part Two, but there is so much to check out on his channel aside from my embarrassing foray into video self-promotion. Highly recommended!
As I immediately noticed, I am terrible at making videos. I may have been aware of this one already, but the lack of an Edpool mask makes it even clearer that I feel as uncomfortable looking directly into a lens as I do looking into people’s faces when I talk. So that’s interesting. My manner, somewhere between good British self-deprecation and neuro-divergent lack of self esteem, doesn’t lend itself to “elevator pitches” either.
I also made it more of a bio, with a throw-away sideline about my entire body of writing (to be fair that was kind of the brief, and my books aren’t all connected for no damn reason) rather than making it about a single book or couple of books the way everyone else did.
Everyone else also all seemed to be universally really really good at making videos and talking about themselves in an engaging and fun way, with some real showmanship and production value going on. Check out Ben Roberts’s pitch in the same video I’m in! Ben’s another author who’s become a close e-quaintance of mine due to the #SPSFC, you’ll know the book he’s pitching because it’s one of the ones Team Space Lasagna put through to the semi-finals. Anyway, my point is, he’s good at this!
Me, eh. Not so much.
But that’s cool, I think my pitch still got the job done. I pushed myself a little and am putting non-zero effort in. And I did end up with a viewer who was intrigued enough to find her way to Edpool on Twitter despite the fact that there is no sane way to connect “Andrew Hindle” with my Twitter presence, because (again) I am terrible at marketing and branding and all that.
The whole ordeal also taught me that I should probably lean into my real-life presence a little more, too:
Well this is a shambling, amateurish step outside my comfort zone, but worth it. Thanks @RaulSan1995 for the boost, now please go and make an indie author's week by buying one of their books. Or make their year by buying two. You won't regret it. I mean you might but that's life. https://t.co/OaIrLYlBau
Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.
The only problem is: they don’t have one of those.
Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray. Stumbling upon a web of missing people curiously linked by a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time, the two of them find that they are way out of their depth. But unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and patch up the hole they tore in the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, cease to exist.
You can find my review of Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire … here. In the meantime, as part of the fabulous Escapist Book Tours (book your tour here) blog tour, here is my exclusive interview with the man himself.
I think the question everyone wants to ask, and I’m sorry for going in such a formulaic direction right off the bat, is how much variation between realities is required for sex with an alternate version of oneself to no longer count as masturbation, and how much variation between realities is required for sex with an alternate version of one’s spouse to begin to count as cheating? And as a follow-up question, how many versions of oneself and / or one’s spouse is it considered “fine” to accidentally explode due to one’s dampening unit coming off as a result of excessive lubricant use or insertion in orifi and / or crevici?
Yeah, this is a pretty boilerplate question, but what can I expect from such a hack journalist?
But I signed up for this, so fuck me, I guess?
Anyway, the answer is simple. As long as there’s genetic variation between the two alternate selves, it no longer counts as masturbation and, conversely, sex with an alternate, genetically distinct spouse counts as cheating. If the alternate universe merely changes circumstances/events and not the participants’ genes, it is masturbation. But, on the other hand, sex with the alternate spouse DOES still count as cheating, because while the genes of the spouse may not have changed, the circumstances (no matter how small) may have altered the spouse(s)’s personality, effectively making them a different person. This, of course, changes with respect to those couples who are in polyamorous or open relationships.
As for the explosion question, probably only one is acceptable, because afterwards the rest of the variants will avoid you because they know you don’t practice safe sex.
Your bio says you have degrees in Aerospace Engineering and that you work as an Aviation and Aerospace Consultant, but I’ve read enough text produced by engineers to know you are clearly an impostor. What’s with that?
I never said I was a GOOD engineer. Next question!
On your website you have a standing offer to answer crazy questions using science (send mail to NairForceOne@gmail.com, put “[BACK OF THE ENVELOPE]” in your subject line). Have you ever encountered a question that was either too crazy, or too difficult, to publish? Or can “multiverse” basically cover every conceivable base and are you as amazed as I am that the scientific consensus hasn’t adopted it as the explanation for everything yet? It would, for example, have greatly simplified the recent pandemic.
To my great chagrin, I haven’t received very many questions for that column! So I’ve pretty much put out every single question that’s been posed to me. But, yes, ‘because multiverse’ could be an explanation for a great many things, if I were a HACK.
You’ve been working on an epic space opera for a couple of decades. As someone who’s loved your Duckett & Dyer worldbuilding so far, “The Centre of All Things” sounded immediately exciting and tantalising. Care to tell us a little more? Have your recent triumphs inspired you and are we any closer to seeing your magnum opus in print? Or if you’ve already talked about this a whole bunch because we’re quite a long way down the tour list, can you tell us which performing artist should have been the fourth Beatle (YOU ALL KNOW WHICH ONE I’M REPLACING)?
The Centre of All Things? Oh man, you really did your homework. I guess you’re not as much of a hack as I’ve been telling everyone you are.
But, you can actually see some of the first parts of The Centre of All Things out on the internet already. I cleaned up some of my older drafts and put the first few chapters of it up on Kindle’s serialized platform Vella. But I’ve since realized my laziness production schedule doesn’t really allow for frequent serialized updates, and I’m much better when I have a longer timeframe to put together a full book. I’m not sure when I’ll have the confidence to finalize my mrhollands opus, but hopefully before I die?
You can find Centrehere, if you don’t mind working with the semi-beta Kindle Vella platform, along with Birds of a Feather Flock Forever, which is the beginnings of an urban fantasy with big Duckett & Dyer energy.
Also, Fatty Arbuckle.
You’re part of a sketch group based in New York City and some of your comedy scripts are hilariously reminiscent and clearly inspired Duckett & Dyer. Have you had many opportunities to see your writing performed on stage, and how great would it be to see “Duckett & Dyer: Dirty Rotten Lyres: A Renaissance Faire Murder Mystery: The Musical!” on Broadway?
(Ben Brantley said it was basically “Galavant” meets “Bill & Ted.” And not in a good way. Caitlin Huston called it “the greatest atrocity ever put to Corvus Corax music.” Although I think she did mean that in a good way.)
I’ve had a good number of opportunities to see my work performed on stage. It’s always a mix of ‘thrilled to see actors performing my work’ and ‘upset that I think some of my dialogue could always be better’.
I’ve never been much of a Broadway guy, so a Duckett & Dyer Musical might be a hard sell. But a normal stage play, you might have my attention.
Stephanie Dyer’s evolution from hilarious, infuriating agent of chaos to heart-wrenching best friend (still with quite a lot of chaos) is something I compared to a John Candy character arc. Since I don’t have a question about that and just wanted to congratulate you again on making me cry a bit while reading such a silly book, what’s your favourite John Candy movie and why is it “Cool Runnings”?
“Cool Runnings” is the quintessential heroes journey with an already lovable cast of misfits that the presence of the big JC just elevates into sports movie greatness.
I don’t usually like sports movies, but I like THAT sports movie.
This week’s leg of the blog tour has brought you to Hatboy’s Hatstand up in Finland, and The Nerdy Nook which, I did some snooping and they’re based in Minnesota. Ignoring the fact that this is all happening electronically and none of us actually got off our butts and went anywhere and this is all utterly nonsensical and everything is futile, I think we’d all like to know what you packed in your a) imaginary steamer trunk and b) make-believe cabin baggage for the seventeen trips back and forth between the two locations that you pretend-completed in the course of this tour stop?
a) My trunk would be filled with stuffed animals, eggs, and letters from my sweetie.
b) My cabin baggage would be filled with a laptop, an e-reader (for books), a tablet (for comic books), and about 3 more eggs.
c) Next Question.
You have clearly decided to lean into the joyous existential preposterousness of Twitter rather than its potential for misinformation and anonymous mean-spiritedness. Would you care to justify that decision, or has this question just answered itself for you?
Honestly, I think I should be meaner.
Next fucking question.
Remember how people used to go places and meet other people? How much of that do / did you generally do in the before times, and aside from Finland (where you would stay in my garage with a word processor and no connection to the outside world of your own free will), where would you most like to travel if you’re into that sort of thing?
After I finished my Master’s in the before time, in the long long ago, I did the stereotypical American post college Eurotrip, and I enjoyed every minute of it. If I could live in a different city every day, I really would. And although my travelling was curtailed by work – aside from some pretty decent work trips – I really do miss the freedom of it.
But New Zealand is definitely at the top of my list for once this whole disease/war/political strife at home and abroad thing blows over.
We see a lot of independent writers chipping away at their “WIP”s in the author community, as well as traditionally-published authors and folks who go for a blend of the two. Given that the preferred business model for most writers I’ve talked to is “who cares as long as each person on Earth buys at least three copies of my book and also Amazon makes a hundred-million-dollar adaptation out of it and everyone shouts about what a betrayal of the source material it is but I still get paid anyway,” what were your dreams going in vs. your dreams now, and do you have any words of wisdom for writers just starting out?
Honestly, I started out trying for trad pub, but had no qualms about going the indie pub route when it became clear that D&D was too niche for the standard market. I get it. All I’m really looking for is for people to read and enjoy my writing – as many or as few as that may be. Would I like to see D&D optioned for a streaming series? Absolutely. I think it really belongs there, but do I have any delusions of that actually happening? Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I?
But at the end of the day, I think I just want to have a cult fandom spring up for Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire. And for that fandom to call themselves ‘Dickheads’.
As for advice to writers just starting out, it’s to really do it for the love of the game, because that’s what’s going to keep you going. I would also advise them to ask for the next question.
The phenomenon of books, plots or themes “not aging well” is something a lot of authors struggle with. Do you consider your stories to be a product of their time, or is the sheer scope and surreal nature of the science a bit of a coat of armour when it comes to creating something hopefully timeless?
Yes and no. The weird out there stuff will always remain weird out there stuff (hopefully), and I hope those parts of the stories give them an evergreen quality, but there’s certainly going to be pop-culture references and jokes that ‘date’ Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire and its sequels.
But in an effort to counteract that, Duckett & Dyer was already dated when it came out in 2019. It dates itself – because all the events in the book (and subsequent sequels) are stated to all take place between 2013 and 2016. I did that on purpose for two reasons:
This way, all the pop-culture references and jokes are couched in a specific, now historical time, effectively making D&D a ‘period piece’ – and thus evergreen by the nature of depicting the past purposefully.
A bunch of shit happened in 2016 and has been happening since that’s basically ruined the world, and I didn’t want the hopeful, fun world of Duckett & Dyer to be tarnished by the terribleness of our present reality.
I’d like to finish on a question open-ended enough that you can basically say anything else that still happens to be on your mind. What do you think such a question would look like?