Arabella of Mars: Q&A, Excerpt, and Giveaway!

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Q&A with David D. Levine

How do you make world-building choices when writing alternate history?

All of the pieces have to make sense together. Given the alternate-history premise, how would economics, politics, and warfare change? How about fashion and sports? How would these changes affect each other? I try to think through the implications of the initial change, and every change that results from it, until I come up with a fully-realized world where the reader can say “ah, of course that would follow.” I also pull in a lot of unexpected details from real history, which is weirder and more surprising than anything I could make up.

What inspired you to write Arabella of Mars?

Like many great successes in life, this one came from failure. I was shopping my first and second SF novels and working on a third, but editors and agents kept telling me categorically that “SF doesn’t sell.” I didn’t really believe it, but if the editors and agents did that was a sufficient obstacle. So I looked through my ideas file for something that was sufficiently SF for my own self-respect (and to hold my interest through the two years it takes me to write a novel) but close enough to Fantasy to match the market’s tastes. The idea I settled on was this: “What if the sky were full of air?” The answer, eventually, was Arabella of Mars.

What is your favorite quote from the book?

Wow, that’s a toughie. But I’m quite fond of this paragraph from the prologue:
Some day, Arabella thought, perhaps she might take passage on such a ship. To sail the air, and see the asteroids, and visit the swamps of Venus would be a grand adventure indeed. But to be sure, no matter how far she traveled she would always return to her beloved Woodthrush Woods.


EXCERPT:

ARABELLA OF MARS Continue reading Arabella of Mars: Q&A, Excerpt, and Giveaway!

Fantasy Book Review: Wings of Fire: Escaping Peril

Wings of Fire: Escaping Peril by Tui T Sutherland

Synopsis:
Peril has been loyal to Queen Scarlet, who used her fatal firescales to kill countless dragons in the SkyWing arena. Now, Peril is loyal to Clay, the only dragonet who has ever been her friend. So when Scarlet threatens Jade Mountain Academy, Peril sets off to find her former queen, stop her, and save the day, no matter what it takes.

There’s just one problem: a strangely persistent SeaWing, Turtle, insists on coming along, too. Turtle is worried about his friends, who left to search for Scarlet and haven’t returned. Peril is worried that she might accidentally burn Turtle – or burn him on purpose, for being so annoying – and frustrated that she keeps saying and doing the wrong things. She can’t escape her firescales, and she can’t escape her reputation as the deadliest dragon in Pyrrhia.

So when she’s offered a chance to trade everything for a second chance, Peril has to decide who she’s really loyal to.. and whether her own scales might actually be worth saving.

Review:
Escaping Peril is the 8th installment in the Wings of Fire series. This story focuses solely on Peril, a young dragon with a tortured past and an uncertain future. She is a fantastic character who goes through a lot of changes in a short time.

This is one of my top favorite children’s series. This story is a bit unique in that the main character is more than a bit conflicted about right and wrong. Her moral compass is certainly skewed. There is plenty of suspense, intrigue, and drama in this exciting fantasy. And the cliffhanger ending will leave readers eager for the next in this fantastic series.

Blog Tour: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator Excerpt and Giveaway!

Claudia ChristianMorgan Grant Buchanan

About the Book:
When her mother and brother are murdered, young noblewoman Accala Viridius cries out for vengeance. But the empire is being torn apart by a galactic civil war, and her demands fall on deaf ears. Undeterred, Accala sacrifices privilege and status to train as a common gladiator. Mastering the one weapon available to her—a razor-sharp discus that always returns when thrown–she enters the deadly imperial games, the only arena where she can face her enemies.

But Fortune’s wheel grants Accala no favors—the emperor decrees that the games will be used to settle the civil war, the indigenous lifeforms of the arena-world are staging a violent revolt, and Accala finds herself drugged, cast into slavery and forced to fight on the side of the men she set out to kill.

Set in a future Rome that never fell, but instead expanded to become a galaxy-spanning empire, Accala’s struggle to survive and exact her revenge will take her on a dark journey that will cost her more than she ever imagined. Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan is now available from Tor Books.

EXCERPT of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, Chapter 2:

II

Out onto the balcony, past my clusters of miniature fruit trees, I stepped right up to the railing and in between two parallel bars. The bars ran back toward my apartment for a length of four feet before curving down to terminate in the balcony floor. The hot summer wind buffeted me as I gripped the bars on either side, thumbing the small built-in disc controls. At once my aer chariot broke away from the structure of the balcony and glided out over the Wolf’s Den, House Viridian’s family compound on the Aventine.

The Den was home. I was born and raised there, schooled in Viridian history, fed lists of Viridian virtues, surrounded by Viridian cousins so that when I reached eleven years of age and entered junior school with the children of the other noble houses, there should be no doubt in my mind that the greatest gift Fortune could bestow upon a newborn was that it should come into the world from the womb of a woman who had married into House Viridian.

We had been taught that Viridians traced their genetic origins to the sons and daughters of Remus and Numa— honest and hardworking, rising from simple stock to achieve a nobility based on honor and tradition, renowned for our skills in strategy and our logistics expertise. As such, we had always occupied the Aventine. Our allies, House Calpurnian and House Flavian, held the Esquiline and Caelian Hills. The Calpurnians were skilled agriculturists with a long history of seeding barren planets with carpets of oxygen- rich greenery, while the Flavians were experts in the design of faster- than- light engine technology and communication platforms, connecting the citizens of the empire as she continued her eternal expansion. Together, we three houses were formally known as the Caninine Alliance.

Steering the chariot away from the plaza and parade ground (no point announcing my presence to the guards and soldiers), I shot low over the roofs of the stacked, terraced buildings that housed my extended family. Great flags bearing the emblem of the golden wolf flapped in the morning breeze atop the barracks hall. The compound’s armored walls, decorated in faded gold and malachite green, wore cracks like old cowhide. Its ancient structures might be worn and crumbling, but the Den, like the hill fortresses of the neighboring houses, was considered a sacred beacon— a center from which a house’s power radiated outward, managing its galactic province, territories, legions, assets, and possessions. Tradition dictated that each of the eight houses should possess one of the seven sacred hills upon which Rome was founded. The obvious problem of sharing seven hills among eight houses was pragmatically and symbolically solved by the emperor and his family— encompassing the other hills by classifying their “hill” as Mother Earth herself. The emperor’s house, the current being House Numerian, took on the honorific Sons of Romulus, the hero who founded Rome city after slaying his brother Remus in a fight over whose village had bigger walls.

Activating the homemade frequency decoder on my armilla, I dropped below the sensors of the western guard tower and slipped over the boundary wall. The decoder flashed to indicate that it had completed its job a split second before I passed right through the yellow- tinged security dome, thankfully without suffering disintegration.

I shot past the small balconies of administrators and military officers who lived in the crowded apartment blocks below the fortress, opened up the throttle, and pulled clear of the Aventine, the wind whipping my robes about as I met with the aerway and vanished into the rush of morning traffic, dodging in and out of flying chariots, palanquins, and transport convoys.

Eternal Rome spread out before me, gleaming in the light of the morning sun. Perpetually pristine— white marble temples, majestic porphyry towers, and haughty civic buildings of shining granite, architecture infused with vertical light- filled channels that lent the city a celestial glow. She was breathtaking. The noise and bustle of the traffic dropped away when you beheld her magnificence. The capital of Mother Earth, which was in turn capital of the imperial province of Terra Firma. Jewel of the provinces, the wellspring of civilization, the axial city upon which the entire galaxy turned. Honor, justice, loyalty, imperium, the Pax Romana, the Senate and the people, the Twelve Tables of Roman Law— these were the virtues and institutions that made Rome great. That was the way we were taught to think of the city, the way her solemn beauty reflected those ideals, but the last two years had taught me to look past the surface of things. I’d learned that the real Rome, devoid of honor and justice, lay behind the scenes, where old wounds festered. Three hundred families governed the empire. Forty- nine families led by consuls ruled over the three hundred. Seven families led by proconsuls ruled over the forty- nine, and one emperor and his family ruled over all. Like unruly children in the class of a strict tutor, the representatives of the great houses of the city feigned amity and cooperation as they carried out the dirty business of running the empire. Feuds between families, some millennia old, played out in assassinations, espionage, and double-dealing, but none of it was ever publicly acknowledged; it all stayed hidden beneath the façade of civilization. On the surface everything was peacefully perfect. You’d never have known that a civil war was raging, threatening to tear the empire apart.


The civil war started the moment House Sertorian launched their unprovoked attack on Olympus Decimus, but a potential conflict had been brewing for a long time before that. Two decades earlier the Sertorians began making a long play to take a step up in society and become one of the eight great ruling houses. They even bought up property in the Carinae, the fashionable district at the base of the Esquiline, to be near one of the sacred hills, but internal power disputes and factional fighting prevented them from rising very far; tolerance and cooperation were not natural Sertorian traits. Then the charismatic Aquilinus Sertorius Macula came to power. Aquilinus not only united his house, he gave them the essential ingredients they had lacked in their quest for upward mobility: roots and a connection to the ancient past.

He reminded his people that, as the Viridians looked to Remus and Numa, House Sertorian could trace their genetic lineage to the ancient emperor Caligula. Although it was commonly understood that Caligula was completely insane, as well as demonically creative when it came to indulging his sadism, the Sertorians weren’t dissuaded in the slightest from adopting him as their ancestor and guiding influence. Aquilinus argued that what others called madness and cruel excess in ancient emperors could not be seen as sinful or blameworthy. He didn’t believe in the gods but he was of the opinion that emperors were a close equivalent, the highest point of human achievement. So a superior man’s passions could not be understood or contextualized by mere mortals. He argued that Caligula’s excesses should be embraced as an essential component of Roman character and emulated by those of the Sertorian nobility. To concretize this, Aquilinus developed a manifesto of genetic superiority, a path that he promised would lead to a Sertorian- led empire, a shared vision all Sertorians found very appealing. His manifesto united the factions of his house like nothing before, and within a few years they were powerful, influential, and wealthy beyond belief, exploring every avenue for profit in the most ruthless and backhanded ways. They were just waiting for their chance to swoop on a weakness, and ironically it was my own house, which sought to deter them more than any other, that gave them the means to elevation.

It came about when the old emperor Julius Heliogabalus Caesar died, his mind and body crippled by millennia of inbreeding that even radical gene therapy couldn’t correct. Heliogabalus’ madness reached its zenith with the decision to memorialize himself and each prior Julian emperor going back to Julius Caesar by sculpting the planets of a distant solar system into a series of monumental busts— which turned out to be not so easy, as some of them were gas giants—leaving the imperial treasury’s coffers nearly drained. My uncle, the Viridian proconsul Quintus Viridius Severus, led a contingent of houses seeking to reestablish a republic in which the elected representatives of the Senate ruled the empire in place of a single dictator. Unfortunately, House Numerian, famous for its powerful warriors and land barons, chose to reestablish the existing model, and our house was left in the lurch, having backed the wrong horse.

The Sertorian leader went out of his way to make a strong impression on the new emperor, promoting his house’s mastery of finance and commerce, and donating vast sums of money to fill the empire’s coffers. The result was their elevation to the Council of Great Houses, commonly known as the Eight, and possession of the Palatine Hill, right opposite us, on the other side of the Circus Maximus, a position of honor, traditionally owned by the wealthiest house after the emperor’s. Aquilinus became a proconsul and was granted a province that they named Aeria Sertorius. He wasted no time introducing corruption into areas of commerce no one had previously thought to exploit and using the proceeds to shower the mob with festivals to increase House Sertorian’s popularity.

Soaring high above the River Tiber, I passed the Palladium— the atmosphere-scraping statue of Minerva in full armor with her shield raised, lightning spear ready to cast, the great guardian of the city wreathed and decorated to celebrate her festival.

A niggling voice at the back of my mind told me to stop into the temple at the base of the statue and make a sacrifice. I’d missed my chance back at the apartment when Bulla surprised me. But no, Minerva would have to wait. I simply didn’t have the time. Roman life was set to a strict calendar of festivals. The Festival of Minerva was drawing to a close, and tomorrow the teams for the Festival of Jupiter’s games would depart. My life would be over if I couldn’t get back on the team today. How could I live with myself if I stopped to honor Minerva and in doing so missed a vital window to turn things around?
The aerway I was on ran on a counterclockwise route around the outer edge of the city, a longer route but normally quicker unless it was a busy day, and now that the news of the new rounds at the Colosseum had been released, I could already see the traffic starting to bank up, so I prayed for Minerva’s help and switched up two lanes to Via Cordia, which would take me right into the heart of the old city.
The downside of my new route, though, was that I had to double back a little, passing the eastern side of the Palatine. It took me right past the imposing ruby and onyx compound of House Sertorian. Great black flags whipped about in the wind— the emblem of the crimson hawk at their center, wings and claws outstretched in the moment before it snatched up its prey. The building had a circular base and interlocking layers of smooth, curving arcs that rose up and terminated in sharp points. It was supposed to symbolize the hawk’s talons rising up from a drop of divine blood, but to me it best resembled a bruised and bleeding artichoke.


Shortly after House Sertorian joined the Eight and had a powerful voice in the Senate, they started questioning the precise location of the traditional boundary between their new province and ours which neighbored it, insisting we were in possession of a couple of thousand light- years of space that was rightfully theirs, specifically the ice world Olympus Decimus. The world had only one major asset— its ionosphere was filled with supercharged particles that accelerated the speed of transmission signals passing through it. It was a valuable communication hub, but even so, not important enough to go to war over. Everyone was shocked when Aquilinus sent ships into Viridian space, bombed our settlement on Olympus Decimus, and laid claim to the world for House Sertorian.

Our side protested to the Senate immediately (my uncle Quintus had served in the legions with Aquilinus and hated the man with a passion) and began to mobilize to retaliate, but before a ruling could be made, Aquilinus ordered thirty- six simultaneous bombing strikes on key Viridian outposts spread across the border of the contested space. His ruthlessness impressed houses Tullian and Ovidian, and they allied themselves to the Sertorians. Turning their backs on their gods, sacrificing worship of Mithras and Diana in order to follow Proconsul Aquilinus, they joined what became known as the Talonite Axis, a coalition of self- serving greed and ambition that threatened all the ideals that made Rome great.

Aquilinus had judged his combined fleet powerful enough to eliminate our defenses in a single, coordinated assault, but in typical Sertorian fashion, he overestimated his strength and underestimated ours. Uncle Quintus commanded our legions with those of our three allied houses in a counterattack that repelled the Sertorians and secured most of our territory, though not Olympus Decimus. He showed them that Viridians are tough, resourceful. We fight to the end; we don’t surrender.

By the end of the first year of fighting, we had the Sertorians on the back foot and were close to total victory, but then Proconsul Aquilinus, as if by some minor miracle, managed to convince one of our allies to abandon us and take up with his axis. The defection of House Arrian was a shock no one saw coming. Arms manufacturer and creator of the force field technology vital to the running of the empire, House Arrian was an ally we couldn’t do without. The tide turned, from four houses to three in our favor to four to three against.


About the Authors:
Claudia Christian is an actress, writer, singer, songwriter, director, producer, and voice-over artist. She has starred in studio pictures such as Clean and Sober with Morgan Freeman and Michael Keaton and in TV shows such as sci-fi megahit Babylon 5 and the new Showtime series Look. She lives in Los Angeles.

Morgan Grant Buchanan is an Australian writer of sci-fi and historical fantasy. He writes comics, film, and short stories.


Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a copy of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends July 29. I’ll draw a name on July 30, and notify winner via email.

ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!

Good luck!

Continue reading Blog Tour: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator Excerpt and Giveaway!

Box Review: Comic Bento – June 2016

Comic Bento

Comic Bento is a subscription Graphic Novel Box – A surprise selection of fantastic Graphic Novels with at least $60 worth of comics in every box and mailed right to your door!

Pricing starts at $20/month plus shipping. Sign up now and save 15% with code SAVE15 and this link!

Comic Bento

This month’s theme was Valiant Entertainment. All picks were from this publisher this month. Each box comes with a nice card describing each of the month’s picks.

Comic Bento

Faith Volume 1: Hollywood & Vine (Retail $9.99)

Comic Bento

Harbinger Wars (Retail $14.99)

Comic Bento

Harbingers Vol 2: Renegades (Retail $14.99)

Comic Bento

Armor Hunters Vol 1 (Retail $14.99)

Summary: This was a bit of a letdown for me. I’m not a big fan of any of the Valiant lines, and I prefer to more of a variety. At least if any were hardbacks or exclusive covers, it would feel like a better value. I’m hoping next month makes up for this disappointment.

Box Review: Z-Box – June 2016 and Welcome Box/Bonus Box

Z Box

“The ZBOX is a monthly geek box themed around your favourite geeky interests and will include a variety of items tied to a monthly theme. Each month you will be sent a box containing over $50 worth of exclusive, licensed merchandise. Perfect as a monthly treat or a gift for your geeky friends!”

Monthly boxes start at $22.99. And right now, you can get a FREE mystery box and collectible figure with the purchase of a 1-month sub with code: ZBOXGIFT.

Continue reading Box Review: Z-Box – June 2016 and Welcome Box/Bonus Box

SciFi Book Review: Unplugged

Unplugged by Donna Freitas

Synopsis:
Humanity is split into a dying physical world for the poor and an extravagant virtual world for the wealthy. Years ago, Skylar Cruz crossed over to the App World for a chance at a better life, and her family stayed behind in the Real World. Now Skye is a virtual teenager, surrounded by glamorous apps and expensive downloads—yet she’s never felt like she fits in, and all she wants is to see her mother and sister again.

Skye is desperate and ready to risk everything to unplug from the App World. But she soon learns that the only person she can trust—in either world, including friends and family—is herself.

Review:
Skye is a strong-willed young woman who will do anything to get back to the real world and her family. Even though her way home seems impossible. She makes a deal to get back in exchange for sending back a well-known, rich man’s son. But there is a mystery surrounding him as well.

Unplugged is the first in an exciting, science fiction series for young adults. This was a fast-paced story with mystery, intrigue, suspense, and drama. There are plenty of surprising twists along the way. And I thoroughly enjoyed this unpredictable story from beginning to the climactic end. I’ll be impatiently waiting for the next in this series.

Keri Arthur’s Souls of Fire Full Series Giveaway!

Courtesy of Signet, I have a copy of Fireborn, Wicked Embers, and Flameout by Keri Arthur for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends July 22. I’ll draw a name on July 23, and notify winner via email.

ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!

Good luck!

Continue reading Keri Arthur’s Souls of Fire Full Series Giveaway!

Received in June

The following are the books, movies, television shows, etc. I received in June for review and/or giveaways:

Blu-Ray/DVD:
Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan Director’s Cut Blu-ray
Star Trek 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Star Trek: Into Darkness 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The X-Files: The Event Series Blu-ray

Mystery Box:
My Geek Box
Munch Pak
Bam Box

Amazon / 47North:
Enemy by K. Eason

BBC Books:
The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who by Simon Guerrier

Dabel Brothers:
Dark-Hunter Coloring Book 01 by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Dark-Hunter Coloring Book 02 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Daw:
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
The Transference Engine by Julia Verne St. John

Disney Hyperion / Freeform:
Star Wars ABC-3PO: Alphabet Book by Calliope Glass
The Amateurs by Sara Shepard
Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken
In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken
Pete’s Dragon: Elliot Gets Lost by David Lowery
Pete’s Dragon Junior Novel by Disney Book Group
Pete’s Dragon: The Lost Years by Elizabeth Rudnick

First Second:
Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Harper Voyager:
Lost Gods by Brom
The Rift Uprising by Amy S. Foster
The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
Remnants of Trust by Elizabeth Bonesteel
A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan

The Library of America:
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

Penguin / NAL:
The Great Library: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
The Great Library: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Penguin Young Readers / Viking:
My Gym Teacher Is an Alien Overlord by David Solomons

Pocket Books:
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Force and Motion by Jeffrey Lang
Star Trek: The Original Series: Legacies: Book 1: Captain to Captain by Greg Cox

Pyr:
Gods of Nabban by K. V. Johansen

Random House / Doubleday / Ballantine:
The Devil’s Evidence by Simon Kurt Unsworth
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Scholastic:
The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

Simon & Schuster / Saga / Gallery:
Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja
Zombies!: A Creepy Coloring Book for the Coming Global Apocalypse by Juscelino Neco
The Binding by Nicholas Wolff

Sterling Children’s Books:
Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings

Subterranean Press:
The Purloined Poodle by Kevin Hearne

Tor:
All Your Wishes by Cat Adams
Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine
Time Siege by Wesley Chu

Tor Teen / Starscape:
Flying by Carrie Jones
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

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