Best Things in Death

The Best Things in Death

Fabulous title, right? Sadly I didn’t come up with it. Fellow Leaguer Lenore Appelhans did! It’s the title of Lenore’s eNovella releasing today!

Here’s the cover:
Here's what Lenore has to say about her eNovella:
The Best Things in Death is a collection of short stories conceived as a companion to the Memory Chronicles novels.  I wanted to share four new memories. Two are from the perspectives of characters you met in The Memory of After and two come from the points-of-view of characters you’ll meet in Chasing Before.

As Lenore mentioned above, "Best Things in Death" shares four new memories with the reader. If you've read "The Memory of After" (and if you haven't, you really should!), you'll remember that the inhabitants of Level 2, among them the main character Felicia, have the opportunity to relive their as well as other people's memories. In the eNovella we get to read new memories from Neil and Julian, whom we both know from "The Memory of After". It was so much fun to read Julian's memory and learn more about him. He's been a bit of a mystery to me in the first book, so it was great to get to know him a bit better.

But my absolute favorite of the four memories is Brady's. We haven't met Brady and Libby yet, but we will in "Chasing Before". Brady's memory had the potential to be weighed down by sadness (if you read the eNovella, you'll know why) but Lenore manages to turn it into something hopeful and cute. Bonus points for diversity, because #weneeddiversebooks! 
Libby's memory made my heart stop. I can't wait to meet her and Brady in "Chasing Before". Now I'm even more excited about finally reading the sequel to "The Memory of After".

The eNovella is a wonderful way to dive back into the world of Level 2 and prepare for "The Memory of After".

Tiffany Trent on Steampunk: A Cabinet of Curiosities

Today we welcome YA steampunk author Tiffany Trent. Her current steampunk novels include The Unnaturalist and The Tinker King.

Steampunk: A Cabinet of Curiosities

The funny thing about all of this is that I never really knew I was writing steampunk. I never realized there was a genre that included my obsession with corsets (though I never wear them) and clockwork (though I don’t own any), airships (never been in one) and octopi (been closer to one than I’ve cared to). (Not to mention my love of museums and fascination with naturalists and collectors of natural objects!) I never knew there was a genre that allowed for a past that never was and a future that still might be.

Steampunk is all these things and more—a true cabinet of curiosities. When forced to define it, aficionados often stumble, because really, it’s almost a felt thing, an experience rather than just a category of literature that has risen to prominence in the last few years. Some people accuse those interested in steampunk of glorifying the past, and while maybe some of that is true, most steampunk is an alternate past that recasts traditional roles and norms. (I will include a list of forward-thinking steampunk at the end, in case you want to look for these novels).

For this and many other reasons, steampunk seems inherently controversial. Other times, people point at it as being just plain silly—the result of when Goths discover the color brown, as Cherie Priest once jokingly said. But I submit that the reason it has become an obsession for many people is that we long for an era when things made sense, when it was easier to both live in the confines of a rigid society where the rules were known but also not to be pigeon-holed in your identity by all the things you unwisely posted on Facebook when you were too young to know better. It was also a time when you could be more than one thing—a poet and an inventor and a theosophist all at once.

Of course, we can never forget the role class played in much of Victorian society and that life was very grim for many people—this is the era of Dickens and the workhouses and imperialism and the industrial revolution and cholera. But I think steampunk gives us the chance to re-envision and/or explore these things, to hear the voices of other cultures and customs that have previously been silenced. To me, that is where the –punk of steampunk comes in. We are taking something old and looking at it through a new (and often rebellious) lens.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—what I love most about steampunk is its DIY spirit. It isn’t satisfied with the status quo. Steampunks are famous for modding cars, computers, phones, even apartments in New York to suit their eccentric lifestyles. And it also recognizes that, for all its mad careening down the tracks of progress, the pace of life can also be slowed down significantly to include time for tea and study and appreciation of the finer things in life.

When I wrote what would become THE UNNATURALISTS, I thought I was writing a fun adventure tale, filled with all the bits of history, the birth of Western science, and Chinese lore that I loved. Turns out that little cabinet of curiosities is exactly what steampunk is, and though I am perhaps the most shy and retiring of those on the current steampunk stage, I’m glad I got the chance to be part of it.

The New York Public Library has a fabulous Introduction to Steampunk page, but
here are a few novels, both adult and YA, that you might enjoy:

Tiffany Trent is the author of the Hallowmere series as well as The Unnaturalists and The Tinker King. You can find her online at her website.

Alexandra Duncan: More Than Escape

Today we welcome debut YA SF author Alexa Duncan. Her book, Salvage, just came out--check it out


Every so often, I run into the idea that the science fiction’s most basic function is to help us escape the real world. After all, what could be more unrealistic than spaceships, aliens, and super-advanced artificial intelligence? And what’s the point of writing something unrealistic if it isn’t to give us a break from reality?

I used to feel that way about science fiction and media in general. I grew up in an unhappy home, and I much preferred fantasizing about wielding a lightsaber and fighting for the Rebel Alliance to what was going on in my own life. I read and watched movies to get out, to give myself a safe place, to keep myself going through the motions until I could get out for real. But once I left for college and started living on my own, I began to discover that there were good things about the real world. I didn’t want out of it anymore, or at least not all the time; I wanted to understand it.

In the same way that some science fiction gave me a much-needed escape, other science fiction helped me see the world in a new way. Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness gave me a better understanding of the nuances of sexual orientation than I ever could have hoped to have growing up in the conservative, rural South. Battlestar Galactica highlighted the fear, paranoia, and prejudice in the air during the War on Terror. I had been too young to really grasp the horrors of South Africa’s Apartheid when it was in effect, but District 9 helped me understand. Movies like Moon, Sunshine, and Children of Men challenged me to think about universal ideas like identity and sacrifice, and books like Nnedi Okorafor’s The Shadow Speaker gave me confidence and inspiration to write my own stories with diversity in mind.

There is nothing wrong with escape. Sometimes it’s exactly what we need. But thinking that’s all science fiction is or can be sells the genre short. At its best, science fiction has the power to show us our own world in an entirely new way and cause us to reexamine old ideas. It has the flexibility to be all of the things any other genre can be – pure escapism, social commentary, satire, a love story, a profound examination of the human condition. Don’t try to put science fiction in a box. It’s too big for that, and so is the human capacity for reflection and wonder.

You can find Alexandra Duncan online at her website. Her debut, Salvage, had League Member Beth Revis raving: "Alexandra Duncan's debut illustrates a richly detailed world that vividly shows a possible future of Earth where society has both regressed and progressed, where the struggles of humanity have become more dire, but where love still remains. Everything--from the world to the characters--felt viscerally real."

Blade Runner vs. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

My new work is heavily influenced by Philip K. Dick, a true pioneer in science fiction and a brilliant author. Even if you don't know him, you do: he's the genius behind Minority Report, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and so, so many more. I swear, whenever Hollywood gets bored, it turns to Philip K. Dick's oeuvre.

Perhaps the best known work based on PKD's stories is the SF classic Blade Runner.

Harrison Ford stars in this classic film of androids and the blade runners--bounty hunters--who chase down and kill the ones who've gone rogue. With amazing graphics and an eerily gripping storyline, this movie changed the way many people thought of the future. 

This is not a pretty world. This is a broken world, with violence and deceit. By the end of the novel, Deckard is questioning what makes someone human or not, questioning his own humanity, and questioning whether or not what he's dedicated his life is worth the price he's paying. Without giving too much away, if I had to distill the message of Blade Runner into a few words, I'd say that the movie is ultimately questioning whether or not something manmade (androids) can develop their own form of humanity. 

Seeing Blade Runner with a critical eye made me really think about what the movie was saying and what it meant. It was a little shocking for me to see the dirtiness of this world--many science fiction stories show at least a little glitter to the future (see: Star Trek and Star Wars, the two classic SFs on film. Sure, bad things happen--but there isn't the depravity that you see in Blade Runner).

And then I read the novel Blade Runner was based on: Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I was, to say the least, surprised. There were differences straight off the bat. Deckard is still a bounty hunter, but he's doing it in part to support his wife--a character not present in the movie. And the world is even more decrepit and empty, scarred and hollow--but the book explains why the world has descended into this state. 

The main elements are still there: Deckard is chasing rogue androids that are so human-like that they can blend into society. And a lot of the same questions about humanity are there, too. 

But...there is something else in the novel. The novel emphasizes that the one solid thing that separates humans from androids is empathy. There's a hint of that in the movie, but in the novel it's remarkably present: the key to humanity, the novel argues, is empathy. 

This is a fascinating angle, and one that adds a totally new perspective to the tale. And it's a perspective that's needed. While the movie seems to question whether or not manmade objects can develop humanity, the novel questions where humans find their own humanity after they've lost it. Androids cannot feel empathy--it is the one rule that separates them from humans, and I don't really think PKD cares that much in this novel to explore whether or not an android can evolve. 

Instead, we see what Deckard empathizes with. As he ignores his wife more and more, as he discards religion and society, and as he falls more and more into the world of the androids, what he empathizes with--and why--changes. 

Because it's not enough, is it? It's not enough to just have empathy. Who we empathize with defines us as a a human. 

In the end, it's not really a question of whether or not androids dream of electric sheep. It's about whether or not we do. 

Guest post: Tracy E. Banghart - Exploring New Worlds : Science Fiction in the Indie World

Hi! My name is Tracy E. Banghart, and I'm the author of two YA paranormal romances, and a YA/crossover scifi adventure called SHATTERED VEIL. Thanks so much for having me! Here's a little more about my book:

"What starts as a tale of star-crossed romance quickly evolves into a gripping page-turner, with gender roles and identity explored and questioned at every turn." ~ STARRED REVIEW, Publishers Weekly

When everything that defines you is stripped away, who do you become?

War has invaded Atalanta's quiet villages and lush woodlands, igniting whispered worries in its glittering capitol. Far from the front lines, 18-year-old Aris Haan, a talented wingjet flyer, has little cause for concern. Until her beloved Calix is thrust into the fray, and a stranger makes her an impossible offer: the chance to join a secret army of women embedded within the all-male military.

Aris's choice to follow Calix to war will do more than put her in physical danger; it will make her question everything she believes about herself. When she and her enigmatic commander uncover a deadly conspiracy, her expert flying may be the only hope for her dominion's survival...and her own.

It's Mulan meets Battlestar Galactica, with a heroine who is strong enough to save a nation...but only if she's willing to sacrifice everything, even the one promise she swore she'd never break.

Why I Went Indie
I have been asked a lot recently why I decided to indie publish. But, honestly, I don't see "indie" or "traditional" as the choice I made. I tried both, actually. I spent three years working with an agent, writing novels, submitting them to editors, and watching them come back rejected. I edited, chasing the perfect voice for THIS editor or the right plot point for THIS editor. I tried so hard to please everyone, I lost sight of the stories I was trying to tell. I knew something needed to change.
Ultimately, the choice I made was to take control of my writing and my story. I didn't want anyone else to define my self-worth as an author. I reworked my books so that they felt real and true to me. And then I put them out in the world. My goal has always been, and always will be, to connect with readers. If that means self-publishing, awesome. It's fun, and I love having all the control. If that means, at some point down the line, working with a traditional publisher, fabulous. I would love to have the editorial and marketing support.
I feel so lucky to be writing at a time when there are so many choices. Self-publishing, traditional, hybrid, digital, serial, novellas, free short stories....writers can and are pushing the boundaries of how and where to put their work out there. It's a wonderful, exciting time to be writing.
When it comes to success stories in indie publishing, most think of romance, new adult, or erotica (hello, FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY). But with Hugh Howey's WOOL series, indie science fiction is beginning to take a stronger foothold. Which is fantastic! Science fiction has always been off the beaten path, a little outside of mainstream. It is "genre", "niche", "pulp". And, most importantly, it's the kind of writing you can never have enough of. So many different worlds, so many different gadgets and creatures and wonderful imaginations at play! If the rise of indie publishing means scifi enthusiasts get more chances to read awesome stories set in new or different worlds, all the better. Here are a couple of my favorite recent indie scifi reads:

Blood Crown

By ali cross
In this science fiction romance, androids have claimed power over what remains of the human race. They rule without remorse. They are the Mind and humans exist only to serve them.

But it wasn't always so.

Before the android uprising, select droids, called Servants, were pivotal in engineering a new human race with nanotechnology enhanced DNA. The Blood Crown theorem was to be humanity's crowning glory and the key to their survival in deep space.

But Serantha, Daughter of the West, was the last female to receive Gifts from her Servant and when the Mind mutinied, she was hidden away, and presumed dead.

Without Serantha there is no hope of the Blood Crown being realized so Nicolai, Son of the East, abandons his crown to join the rebel forces. He might not provide the future for his people he had once dreamed of, but he will not go down without a fight.

When Nicolai discovers Sera among a small compliment of kitchen staff, everything changes--but Sera's Gifts were never completed and she is ill-equipped to face a legion of androids determined to wipe her, and every other human, out of existence.

Their only hope is the Blood Crown--but even if Serantha and Nicolai can realize their potential it may be too late to save mankind.

Legacy Code

By Autumn Kalquist
The last humans fled a dying Earth 300 years ago, but there was something they couldn’t leave behind: the Legacy Code. Every colonist in the fleet carries mangled genes that damage the unborn, and half of all pregnancies must be terminated.

The day Era Corinth is supposed to find out if her baby has the Defect, her ship suffers a hull breach. And it may not have been an accident. As the investigation unfolds, Era begins to question everything she’s been taught about the fleet, their search for a new Earth, and the Defect. But the answers she seeks were never meant to be found...

What are YOUR favorite indie scifis?

Tracy E. Banghart is a cheesy movie–loving, fantasy football–playing (go Ravens!), globe-trotting Army wife who began “practicing” her craft at the age of five, when she wrote her first story. She loves visiting the international friends she met while pursuing her MA in Publishing and spends a portion of every summer at her family’s cabin in Canada, where she finds inspiration and lots of time to relax on the dock. She lives with her husband, son, two lazy dogs and one ornery cat. When not writing or spending time with her family, she is on a mission to bake the perfect cupcake.
She's the author of MOON CHILD, BY BLOOD, and SHATTERED VEIL, the first in The Diatous Wars trilogy. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and her blog.

The Best of All Worlds: Micro, Macro, Close to Home & Across the Universe

The thing I love the most about science fiction stories is seeing something new, something literally out of this world. Nothing gives you perspective quite as much as the gaping void of space. Look at the possibilities of the future and exploring how vast all of space and time can be. I love seeing things beyond what I know--I want a story to let me escape past the world I know.

But...the other thing I love most about science fiction is that it shows me the world I already know.

Take, for example, Alexandra Duncan's Salvage. On the one hand, it shows a world we do not have at all: a girl raised on an oppressive generational space ships, a floating continent made of garbage and scraps, a futuristic Mumbai with spaceships and technology we can only dream about now.

Ava's story is definitely the stuff of science fiction. Her world is so far beyond anything we currently have.

But it's also very, very close to home. We don't have generational spaceships--but we societies that can be oppressive. We don't have Mumbai of the future--but we have Mumbai now.

And that's where Salvage really shines. When I say the best science fiction shows me the world I already know, I mean it shows me the world. Not just the one at my front steps. Salvage is diverse, with characters from all over the world and settings that aren't limited to America and Europe.

Science fiction is all about scope. Often, we forget that detail because we're looking at the macro: space and exploration and battleships. We see the big scope, but the best sci fi also shows us the smaller scope as well--the details don't get lost in the stars. And by showing both the small and the large scopes of our glorious universe, we often see the truth of the world we live in today.

An excellent example of this is this series of photographs that show classic images of world landmarks, then zooms out to show how they appear in the context of their location. The most striking image of the series for me was the Taj Mahal:

Image source: AP
We all know and love that image. But zoom out, and you'll see something different...

Image source: Imgur
There's also a striking difference between what we see as grand and what isn't.

Image source: Getty
Mount Rushmore is huge. Stunningly so. Carved literally out of the side of a mountain. But it doesn't take that far of a pull to see it in context.

Image source: AP
Go just a little further away, and these massive giants would disappear.

In today's science fiction, it's often very easy to default to a futuristic version of the world we live in. But science fiction, at it's heart, is always looking forward--into space and time, yes, but it's important to keep our sights a little closer to home, somewhere between our front steps and a thousand years away.

The very best science fiction--the sci fi that stays with us long after we finish, that arguably helps shape the future it envisioned--is the science fiction that shows us both the vastness of the universe and the beauty in the details. It encompasses both the macro and the micro, and teaches us that we are both insignificant specks and irreplaceable stars.