Tag Archives: science fiction

Christian Speculative Fiction Anthology

What’s more exciting than having something published? Being published in the same project as a good friend or a loved one! Last year I celebrated the release of Hot Apple Cider With Cinnamon, an anthology with a short poem of mine that also included a true story by my mom, Beverlee Wamboldt, and stories from two others from my local writing group, Ruth Ann Adams and Laura Aliese Miedema.

RealmScapes - A Science Fiction and Fantasy AnthologyThis year I’m celebrating RealmScapes, an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories, which has a story of mine and also a story by one of my sons, Matthew Sketchley. (His is better.)

Yes, I write suspense, but I also dabble in science fiction.

RealmScapes is a science fiction and fantasy anthology of 17 tales, each based on the idea of escape. It’s published by Brimstone Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Christians who write science fiction and fantasy are a small but mighty group within the larger family of Christian writers. For the past few years, those who can have gathered for the Realm Makers’ Conference.

As part of the lead-up to the 2015 conference, the organizers held a short story contest to benefit the scholarship fund. Matthew and I each entered a story, and while neither of us won, our stories are both included in the RealmScapes anthology, which released at the end of July, 2016.

I don’t yet have a contributor’s copy to hold in my hand, but I’ve read all the stories. If you enjoy these sorts of tales, do check it out. Print books are available through various online stores, but at present the ebook seems only available through Amazon. I hope that will change. Don’t feel like paying for a print copy? See if your local library can order one to share with the other patrons.


Review: Trial Run, by Thomas Locke

Trial Run, by Thomas LockeTrial Run, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2015)

With Trial Run, Thomas Locke delivers an international techno-thriller set just beyond our current technology. Gabriella Speciale’s research team has fled danger in the US and set up a secret base in Switzerland, where their experiments with out-of-body consciousness have resulted in an unexpected casualty.

In the US, a shadow group within the government wants to replicate their work for the purposes of espionage.

The third key players are two California university students, Trent Major and a girl named Shane Schearer. The information Trent receives in dreams from an older version of himself puts them in the shadow group’s sights.

This is one of those novels you start reading without a clue about what’s going on. In the hands of a skilled writer like Thomas Locke, it makes for a good ride. (If you want an easier entry, read his free ebook novella, Double Edge, which introduces Gabriella and Charlie Hazard and explains the experiments.)

Trial Run is book one in the Fault Lines series, and I suspect questions that aren’t answered yet will be resolved in future books. (For example, does Trent really see a future version of himself, or who is it really? And how does future-Trent do this?)

The writing is tight and evocative. Some of my favourite lines:

He felt it too. Like the dark had grown claws that scraped the skin off his spine. [page 9]

It was a warrior’s grin. A drawing back of every facial muscle, exposing the raw power of a man who knew the business of death. [page 278]

Part of the plot involves quantum theory, which is presented in small, layperson-level instalments. I didn’t get it, but apparently most people don’t, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. Two minor things that did act as speed bumps: the use of “lay/laying” instead of “lie/lying” (I work so hard to get this right, myself) and the expression “Indian territory” for dangerous territory.

Revell is a Christian publisher, but Trial Run is a clean mainstream novel. If you’re looking for a faith thread, the closest you’ll get is one character’s unexplained compulsion to forgive select people. If you just want a fun read, this is it.

Thomas Locke is the pen name of well-known Christian author Davis Bunn. Under the Locke name, he’s writing this sort of near-future suspense as well as epic fantasy. I’ve reviewed his fantasy novel, Emissary, here. For more about Thomas Locke’s books or to sign up for his newsletter, visit tlocke.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Inner Sanctum, by Darlene Oakley

Inner Sanctum, by Darlene OakleyInner Sanctum, by Darlene Oakley (Lanico Media House, 2014)

In the mid 2100’s, with a global war raging, underground cities were established as refuges. The plan was to assess the inhabitants’ health at the 50-year mark and then seal them in until those on the surface considered it safe to bring them back.

Around 400 years after its founding, Aurora Cassle and her childhood friend, Den Maron, hold responsible positions in the underground city of Egerton. Aurora’s discovery that the population is declining in numbers and in health coincides with the finding of the forgotten door to the surface.

The mayor insists all citizens must remain in Egerton. Aurora and Den lead those who defy him through the doorway. Aurora’s and Den’s marriages have both ended by this point, and their childhood attraction revives during their early days on the surface.

I found the plot an interesting concept, very well thought-out and researched, especially in terms of how a colony could survive and what medical effects could manifest over generations. The first half of the novel takes place underground, the second on what the people begin to call New World Earth. It’s interesting to watch them rediscover, rebuild and work together.

In terms of story delivery, I couldn’t really engage with the characters. Everything felt a bit distant, except for a few disturbingly sensual encounters between Aurora and Den in the second half. That said, Inner Sanctum is a clean read, and there’s a Judeo-Christian faith element in the latter part as Aurora discovers records of the Old World Earth religions and finds parallels between the Egertonians’ journey and the Israelites of the Old Testament.

I love the cover.

Inner Sanctum is Canadian author Darlene Oakley’s first novel, although she has a long track record behind the scenes as an editor. For more about the author, visit Dar’s Corrections.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn

The Icarus Hunt, by Timothy ZahnThe Icarus Hunt, by Timothy Zahn (Bantam Spectra, 1999)

This is one of those novels that I loved on a first read and appreciate just as much (if not more) on subsequent visits when I can watch the hints and clues drop into place.

If Alistair MacLean were to have written a space thriller, it might look like this. Twists, turns, people who aren’t what they seem, and a protagonist I somehow trusted from page one even though his resume testified against him. (That might have had something to do with the way he dispatched three large, hairy aliens who picked a fight with him in a seedy spaceport tavern.)

Jordan McKell and his partner, Ixil, smuggle drugs for an interstellar cartel. (I’m very fond of Ixil, the alien with the two symbiotic, ferret-like “outriders.”)

The thing about McKell? You can’t stop him. So despite his unsavoury life, when he’s hired to lead a mismatched band of strangers flying a bizarre-looking ship across the galaxy to Earth, you know that somehow he’ll get it done. Despite increasingly strong opposition.

The Icarus Hunt is a chase. It’s also a puzzle, as McKell and his crew try to find out what makes this ungainly ship such a hot commodity.

This is a mainstream novel containing minor profanity, but otherwise what I’d class as a clean read. There’s violence, but it’s more punching or shooting than bleeding or screaming.

Timothy Zahn is my favourite science fiction author, and The Icarus Hunt may be my favourite of his stand-alone titles. He’s written over 40 novels, including some of the best ones in the Star Wars expanded universe, as well as numerous shorter stories. Along the way he’s won a Hugo Award and become a New York Times bestselling author.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth MoonThe Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey Books Mass Market Edition, 2005)

Spend some time in a high-functioning autistic man’s head, and you may be surprised at how much you relate.

Lou Arrendale is in his 30’s, employed with a small group of other autistic people in the computer division of a large pharmaceutical company. He works at pattern analysis, although he likely couldn’t tell you the purposes of the patterns he creates from what’s on his screen.

The time is our near future. Other than people using “handcomps” (hand-held computers – tablets, anyone?) the main evidence of technological advance is that many health issues, including autism, can now be treated at birth, and that people who can afford it can have life-extending treatments. Oh, and there’s more funding for space exploration again.

Lou was born before the new treatments came about, but far enough into our future that good therapies and alternative learning approaches were in place. He has learned the “rules” for social interaction. He sums it up on the first page of chapter one:

“Everything in my life that I value has been gained at the cost of not saying what I really think and saying what they want me to say.”

Now he has the opportunity to try an experimental procedure that may reverse his autism. He’s content with his life, except for the way some people react to him. Should he submit to this opportunity? Does he want to? What if he’s “cured” but loses who he is?

The Speed of Dark is a fascinating look at the world through the eyes of someone who’s in some ways not so different from us “normal” people. Author Elizabeth Moon has an autistic son, and I assume the realistic feel of the book is based on her observations and research.

Lou and his autistic friends have been trained to act as normal as possible. Normal is happy. Normal is good. It doesn’t frighten people. Nobody told them that not all normal people are happy, good or un-frightening. Or that not all normal people like the same music or activities.

His work, his fencing practice (with “normals”), his research into the experimental procedure, all shape and grow Lou. He discovers that most of his brain really is the same as everyone else’s – that in fact he’s gifted at pattern analysis and capable of university-level learning. But he doesn’t like those things that act as barriers to his relationships with those around him.

This is a mainstream novel, with mild (and one instance of major) profanity. It also includes a scene in Lou’s church where the priest talks about one of Jesus’ healing miracles (John 5:1-15) and echoes Lou’s own question. Does he want to be healed? Even if the healing doesn’t look like he wants it to look? [The novel places this miracle at the Pool of Siloam instead of the Pool at Bethesda, but the priest’s theology is sound.]

Not just for science fiction fans, The Speed of Dark is for anyone interested in the search for identity and who at times feel they don’t fit in.

Elizabeth Moon also writes classic science fiction (I thoroughly enjoyed the Vatta’s War series) and fantasy. The Speed of Dark won the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novel. For more about the author, visit her website: www.elizabethmoon.com

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Legion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson

Legion Skin DeepLegion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment, 2014)

This is the second Legion novella, and I’m really enjoying the series. It’s an intriguing concept: what if an everyday-boring-normal guy is actually brilliant, but only because of his mental illness?

Doctors can’t quite label Stephen Leeds’ condition, but they think it’s a form of schizophrenia. Steve sees a host of imaginary characters called aspects. Each one is an aspect of his own personality, and each one is “unhinged” in his or her own way. Each is also an expert in some field of knowledge, based on what Steve has read. Fortunately for him, he’s a speed-reader and can also absorb audio books.

Steve has forty-seven aspects. The biblically literate will appreciate the “Legion” reference.

Here’s how he describes one of them:

Sarcasm was kind of her native tongue, though she was fluent in “stern disappointment” and “light condescension” as well. [chapter 1, page 4]

I love how he describes the office layout for the office building he visits, which is set up with a variety of informal, creativity-building opportunities:

Like a gorilla enclosure for nerds. [chapter 4, page 2]

Or this description of one of the engineers:

He wasn’t particularly overweight, but had some of the round edges that came from a life working a desk job. [chapter 5, page 1]

In this story, Steve must locate a dead body at the centre of high-stakes industrial espionage. With the minor complication that the other side has hired an assassin to stop him. At the same time, he struggles to manage his aspects, and he faces the possibility that he may be helpless without them.

Legion is a hybrid of science fiction and thriller, so it’s faster-paced than Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels. Same skill and deft touch, and a satisfying twist to the ending.

This is a mainstream novella, but I was surprised to find some mild profanity from this author.

Brandon Sanderson is best known for his epic fantasy novels, most notably the Mistborn and Stormlight series and the final books in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. For a real treat, listen to the opening five minutes of the audiobook version of Legion: Skin Deep from audible.com at SoundCloud (narrated by Oliver Wyman).

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Cloak, by Timothy Zahn

CloakCloak, by Timothy Zahn (Silence in the Library Publishing, 2014)

In a secret room, two men make a choice: Will they kill one man to save a nation? Well, one man plus enough bystanders that nobody knows he was the original target. Turning him into a martyr would only give him more power.

So begins the best thriller I’ve read in a long, long time. A nuclear weapon is stolen in India and transported toward an unknown target, amid as many red herrings as the planners can spread. In the US, a technological breakthrough is also stolen: specially-treated cloth that, when draped over an object, presents the illusion of invisibility.

Readers know these thefts are linked, but the investigating officials don’t—until it may be too late. There’s a lot that readers don’t know, however, like who is private detective Adam Ross and why did he rescue a key person of interest from assassins—and then keep her away from the police?

Cloak has a large cast of characters, especially in the opening chapters to set everything in motion. Because of that, I’d recommend reading a fair-sized chunk to get started. Otherwise you may forget who’s who. After that, well, stop if you can.

Hugo-award-winning author Timothy Zahn is known for his science fiction novels, including best-sellers within the Star Wars universe. I hesitate to call Cloak science fiction, because except for that one piece of technology, it could come straight from tomorrow’s headlines. Perhaps it’s better labelled a cyber-thriller.

My favourite line describes a man as observed by the female police officer who approaches him:

…he greeted the sudden appearance of a uniformed cop with the kind of jolted wariness most people reserved for unexpected snakes in the garden. [Kobo version: page 6 of chapter 34]

Timothy Zahn is a master strategist, both in terms of military and politics. He nails every aspect of the plot, creating characters we can root for even when we’re not sure of their full game plan. All I can say about the ending is that you won’t see it coming. J

Cloak would make a fantastic movie, except that Hollywood would likely ruin it by adding sex and hardcore profanity. The novel contains mild profanity in places, and I could have done without that, but it wasn’t enough to diminish my overall reading experience.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Last Toqeph, by Yvonne Anderson

The Last Toqeph, by Yvonne AndersonThe Last Toqeph, by Yvonne Anderson (Yvonne Anderson, 2014)

The Last Toqeph brings the Gateway to Gannah series to a satisfying close. Because it’s the fourth book, I appreciated the recap at the beginning, as told by Adam, one of the central characters. This means a new reader could start here and not feel confused, although the series is worth reading from the beginning.

Gannah is an Eden-like world, and although to North American eyes some of its customs seem harsh, the people value honesty and honour. The best thing about being a native Gannahan is having an organ called a meah, which allows one to communicate telepathically with other Gannahans and also with the Yasha (as God is known on this planet).

The whole story of how the people of Gannah came to worship the Christian God is part of why I recommend starting with book 1, The Story in the Stars. It’s fascinating.

Present-day Gannah has one pure-blooded native remaining, plus her mixed-race children and a settlement of immigrants who want to follow the traditional Gannahan way of life. At least that’s what they all think – until Adam meets a native Gannahan stranger, Daviyd. In truth, there’s an entire colony of survivors.

Although the characters are in some ways different than we are, there are enough common points that I never felt “alienated” by them. In fact, they consider themselves humans – just Gannahan, not Earthish. Characters from other planets bring different cultural backgrounds and biases into the settlement, and that makes for added conflict. If you don’t relate to an aspect of Gannahan conduct, it’s likely that one of the other characters will agree with you.

I enjoyed discovering the different planetary backgrounds and perspectives. The author definitely did her homework when it came to world-building. The differences increase the sense of realism.

The Last Toqeph wraps up all the plot threads woven through the series, and while not all aspects of the ending are happy, they’re satisfying. Not everything is cut and dried, though. Readers can speculate for themselves over the intent behind Adam’s closing line of dialogue.

I hope we’ll see more novels from Yvonne Anderson. In the mean time, you can learn more about Gannah on her website, Y’s Words.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Soulminder, by Timothy Zahn

Soulminder, by Timothy ZahnSoulminder, by Timothy Zahn (Open Road Integrated Media, 2014)

Adrian Sommer’s 5-year-old son died in his arms after a car accident. The boy’s injuries were all treatable, if there’d been a way—a sort of holding tank—to keep his soul from departing. Thus began Sommer’s obsessive quest to invent a means of stopping untimely deaths. And Soulminder was created.

What could possibly go wrong?

Timothy Zahn is a master of short fiction (won a Nebula) as well as novel-length (won a Hugo), and Soulminder feels like a seven-part series of short stories, spanning 20 years of Soulminder use.

We follow Sommer, his business partner Jessica Sands, and security expert Frank Everly through the unforeseen challenges and crises caused by those who would use Soulminder for their personal or political gain. What could go wrong, indeed? What kind of political, moral, ethical, social, legal and other upheavals could technology like this cause?

This is one of Timothy Zahn’s few novels set on nearly present-day Earth, and the action is mainly intellectual and verbal as opposed to space battles. The author is no stranger to interpersonal tactics, negotiations and manoeuvrings (check out his Conquerors’ Trilogy), and Sommer and friends pull off some slick victories to keep Soulminder out of the wrong hands.

Soulminder is a mainstream novel, with what may be the requisite minor profanity. It’s fast-paced yet with plenty to offer the thinking reader. I appreciated the challenge to do the right thing even if it’s costly—or a losing battle. My favourite line:

Late at night, with the extra blackness of a storm approaching, was a horrible time to have to watch a man die. (p. 3)

Timothy Zahn is the author of over 40 science fiction novels plus shorter works. For more about the author, see his Facebook page or his page at Open Road.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Wind and Shadow, by Kathy Tyers

Wind and Shadow, by Kathy TyersWind and Shadow, by Kathy Tyers (Marcher Lord Press [now Enclave Publishing], 2011)

Prophetic hope, ancient evil, and the struggle to live a life of faith when temptation masks as truth and danger is all around…

Fans of Kathy Tyers’ Firebird trilogy waited a long time for the story to continue. Wind and  Shadow begins the tale of the next generation of the Caldwells, a Sentinel family prophesied to produce a messiah-type hero.

The Sentinels are humans with psionic power, feared but needed by the other humans. And the enemies they faced in the original series aren’t as vanquished as readers had hoped.

Wind and Shadow features twins Kiel and Kinnor Caldwell, one a priest and one a soldier, and Wind Haworth, a young woman divided between two cultures and welcomed by none.

Is Kiel the Promised One? The evil being that captures him schemes to turn him from the Path. Kinnor and Wind are unlikely allies to rescue him … or die trying. And more lives are at stake than they know.

You don’t have to read the Firebird trilogy first, although it’s a strong series and now available in a single volume with the author’s annotations. Wind and Shadow refers to past characters and events as needed and new readers will have no trouble starting here. Since it introduces an unfamiliar planet with new characters, all readers need to orient themselves at the beginning.

It’s a compelling and satisfying story (complete with danger, romance, fast ships and explosions). The planet, culture and technology come to life, as do the internal conflicts of the key characters. I appreciate how those of faith struggle to apply that faith in crisis, and how their choices are not always straightforward – or even right.

You can learn more about NYT bestselling author Kathy Tyers at her website. Daystar, the conclusion to the Firebird saga, released in April 2012.

[Review copy from my personal library.]