Indie Feature Friday: Cyberpunk Book Review — The New Prometheus by Andrew M. Dobell

There is nothing better than curling up with a cup of coffee or tea when it’s -46°C and hiding from reality with a good book. When it’s this cold outside, I like to pretend I live just about anywhere else.

Even a high-tech, low-life dystopian future society where I’d probably be lucky to last an hour in… because that’s longer than I would last outside today.

To those of you fortunate souls who don’t live on the the bald-ass, howling-wind, frigid wasteland of the Canadian Prairies, I commend you for your clearly superior life choices. But I bet there are things you’d like an escape from, too.

We all do. Right? Right??

Of course we do.

To this end, I offer you todays Indie Feature Friday Cyberpunk Book Review The New Prometheus by Andrew M. Dobell!

The New Prometheus by Andrew M. Dobell

The Blurb

Attacked and left for dead,
she wakes up in a cyborg body,
and a corporation is hunting her down.

In world of massive inequality and slums filled with millions, society is dominated by cruel corporate rule.

Working a dead-end job, living in a dingy apartment, Frankie is always behind on rent. But knowing there are those with less, she spends her free time in the slums, helping those who have nothing.
When a Jacker Gang attacks, Frankie is shot, and left for dead.

She wakes up in a body that isn’t hers.

Her life was saved by a back alley cyber doc, who implanted her brain into a cyborg body.
Frankie has barely woken up when the corporations attack, kidnap the doctor and force Frankie to flee.

Pursued by corporate operatives, hulking mechs and deadly cybernetic agents, Frankie is lost in the slums in a body that’s not hers.
She must deal with endless attacks and find allies she can trust if she’s going to survive.

My Take

Some books are just begging to be made into blockbuster action movies. This is one of them.

Frankie is an eminently likeable character. She’s tough and strong-willed, and has a heart of gold. But she’s far from invincible.

That is, until she is shot and a back alley cyber doc transfers her brain into a massively overpowered cyborg body using tech that he designed and stole from the friendly neighbourhood megacorporation.

Frankie must save the doctor who saved her life; she might just want to strangle him herself.

I loved the parallels between this story and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As a lover of literary fiction this little detail really tickled my fancy. But the comparisons between The New Prometheus and any lit fic pretty much end there.

This is a relentlessly paced techno-thriller for readers who like non-stop action, epic firefights, mech-battles, and cyborg brawls. There isn’t quite as much introspection as we find in Agent G (you can read my reviews for Infiltrator and Saboteur here!) but Frankie is a fantastic character and it’s a pleasure to see her come into her own as she transforms from a young philanthropist to a weapon of mass destruction.

I quite enjoyed the dynamic between Frankie and Detective Gibson, and look forward to seeing how this develops. The good doctor himself is a complicated character, and part of me really wants to see him get what’s coming to him… but maybe after he fixes that one little problem with Frankie’s new body (I’m not telling what it is, but I’d have killed him for it).

If you enjoyed Ghost in the Shell or Alita: Battle Angel, you’ll have a blast with Frankie as The New Prometheus.

If you’re on the fence, Dobell has two free prequel novellas available for download, so you can dip your toes into the series.

The first, The Prometheus Awakens, tells Frankie’s story before the events that occur in The New Prometheus. The second, The Prometheus Dawns, tells the back story of Detective Gibson.

In order to claim these free titles you must sign up for Andrew M. Dobell’s newsletter, but you can unsubscribe at any time, and he’s a super cool guy so you will probably want to stick around. He’s got lots of books!

All in all, this is a great cyberpunk flavoured techno-thriller and I look forward to the rest of the series. This is an older series that Dobell is currently rereleasing, so if you are a fast reader looking for a new series to binge, this is a great one to check out. A new book is being released every week until all five books are out, and they are all available in audiobook on Audible as well as Kindle Unlimited. [Note: If you sign up for your free trial using either of those links, I will get a small commission from amazon at no cost to you! It’s win-win! UK Readers click here for Audible and here for Kindle Unlimited.]

Discussion

What are you hiding from when you escape into fiction? Work/School deadlines? Family drama? Miserable weather? Life in general?

What are your favourite kind of books to escape into?

Cyberpunk Book Review: When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

In my effort read all the indie cyberpunk books I could get my hands on this year, my foray into the classics has been a bit stilted. I’ve managed to read some proto-cyberpunk by Philip K. Dick and Larry Niven, as well as Neuromancer by William Gibson, and a few short stories, but that’s about it.

When I first looked into When Gravity Fails it really seemed to check all my happy boxes: cyberpunk, noir style, murder mystery, exotic locations… but it took me a long time to actually pick it up and read it.

Now I wish I had ordered the next to book in the series because I want to keep reading them ASAP!

This book is incredible. I loved it. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about it!

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

The Blurb

In a decadent world of cheap pleasures and easy death, Marid Audrian has kept his independence the hardway. Still, like everything else in the Budayeen, he’s available…for a price.

For a new kind of killer roams the streets of the Arab ghetto, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. And Marid Audrian has been made an offer he can’t refuse.

The 200-year-old “godfather” of the Budayeen’s underworld has enlisted Marid as his instrument of vengeance. But first Marid must undergo the most sophisticated of surgical implants before he dares to confront a killer who carries the power of every psychopath since the beginning of time.

Wry, savage, and unignorable, When Gravity Fails was hailed as a classic by Effinger’s fellow SF writers on its original publication in 1987, and the sequence of “Marid Audrian” novels it begins were the culmination of his career.

My Review

This book, to me, is stylistic perfection.

It is the marriage between science fiction and hard-boiled noir novels that I have always dreamed of creating some day. When I first starting writing Bubbles in Space, in the back of my mind I was trying to make something like this book. I didn’t know it existed yet, but this is what I wanted.

Bubbles in Space ended up more like a parody of this world, and it’s themes completely diverged from that of societal corruption to one of personal growth. But that’s besides the point. Stories do what they want…

And in the end it’s a good thing, because When Gravity Fails is the book I was envisioning anyway, and I wouldn’t want to have to compete with it.

Effinger’s world is rich and immersive. The setting of a high-tech Arab city was an interesting diversion from the usual focus on Asian or American city settings, and one which kept me interested. I loved the juxtaposition between Muslim traditions and spirituality and the decadence of the Budayeen.

Marid Audrian is wry and funny, with the perfect balance of noir cynicism and self-effacing humour. The crimes are brutal. The technology is absolutely stunning, despite its simplistic treatment, even reading it from a modern perspective. It holds together in a cohesive, believable way.

I really appreciate Effinger’s exploration of gender and sexuality, too. It was never central to the plot, but this is a future that really allows for a kind of fluidity of gender and sexuality that we don’t see often enough in science fiction.

My only complaint is that it relies heavily on binary expressions, and people seem locked into gendered roles in this society. The world is still on in which females (biological or otherwise) are viewed as inferior to males. (In fact, I think every significant female character in the book was once male, which makes me wonder a bit about what Effinger thought of those of us born with XX chromosomes, but that’s a thought for another time)

In many ways, the classic hard-boiled noir tropes are still in place. The femme-fatale had a sex-change operation, but once she became a woman, she never strayed from the usual female character tropes.

Still, it’s a starting point (and the book came out in 1987, so we have to give Effinger some credit here) that hasn’t been pushed past hard enough.

As a crime and mystery novel, it was fantastic. Very reminiscent of the the classics like Raymond Chandler, but with a few additional sci-fi plot twists to keep it feeling fresh and interesting. The style is definitely closer to the classic detective novels rather than newer mysteries. You aren’t really meant to solve the mystery alongside the main character, and in a sense the mystery itself is an aside to the story of Marid’s transformation. You won’t find any heroes here and, I believe, that’s the point.

In many ways, this is literary fiction masquerading as genre fiction, which is maybe why the critical reception has been a bit polarized. Still, it won a Hugo, and I think it deserved to.

I am excited to read the other two books in this series next year!

Discussion

Opinions on When Gravity Fails seem to be hot or cold. Have you read it? Did you love it or hate it? What was your favourite or least favourite aspect of the story and characters?

New Year, New Books!

Happy New Year from S.C. Jensen and Bubbles Marlowe!

2021 was an absolute whirlwind year for me as an author. I finally decided to go all in with indie publishing and set myself some aggressive writing and release goals. I managed to get out five full length novels and two novellas, along with two short stories and another novella which will be released in early 2022.

I’d like to thank all of the readers and reviewers who have supported me this year and helped to make the Bubbles in Space series a resounding success.

No, I’m not going to be able to retire on my income this year. In fact, I spent the majority of my book earnings on covers, editing, and advertising… *sad laughter*

2021 Results

I have sold 1400 books, and had and additional 198,968 page reads in Kindle Unlimited, since the release of Tropical Punch on March 31, 2021. For an indie author without an established fan base, that is a phenomenal first year!

Did you know that many books, including those published by major publishing houses, never sell more than 1000 copies? Not per month, not per year, but in their lifetime? Relatively successful traditional books often only sell 5000-10,000 copies in their lifetime. (Never mind those bestsellers that sell this many every day, there aren’t that many of them and they tend to skew the results.)

I’m not anywhere near those numbers yet, but for less than a year in the field I’m feeling like I’m off to a strong start. If you are an indie author and are looking for some hard numbers, here’s what I sold in 2021.


Tropical Punch (Bubbles in Space #1) sold 709 copies in nine months.
Chew ‘Em Up (Bubbles in Space #2) sold 307 copies in seven months.
Pop ‘Em One (Bubbles in Space #3) sold 160 copies in five months.
Spit ‘Em Out (Bubbles in Space #4) sold 79 copies in three months.
Cherry Bomb (Bubbles in Space #5) sold 40 copies in one month.
Bubbles in Space (Digital Edition Boxed Set) sold 15 copies in 10 days.

Dames for Hire (HoloCity Case Files #1) sold 82 copies in nine months. [Note: This is my reader magnet, which I give away for free when people join my mailing list, which is why this number is so much lower. There were 82 people who chose to buy it instead.]

HoloCity Hard Boys (HoloCity Case Files #2) sold 8 copies in 1 day (It just came out yesterday, so it’s not really of interest yet, but it was a part of my total sales for 2021.)

The Hard Truth

Getting and staying visible in an industry that has thousands of new books and new authors being pumped into it every day is a challenge. It requires either a lot of time and social media know-how to leverage free promotional sources and fan groups and/or a lot of money to throw into advertising on Amazon, Facebook, and other major outlets.

Bubbles in Space grossed $3280 USD in 2021. That’s great! But I spent almost all of that on ads to get there.

The good news is, I’ve learned a lot about how ads work and how best to market my series going forward. The bad news is, I didn’t actually make any money on my books this year.

Please don’t let this discourage you! One of the reasons that I spent so much on ads was that I’m writing in a very small, hard to target niche. Many authors who have done a better job at writing to market in a larger niche do much better with much less ad spend.

You do not have to do it the way I did. I decided to invest into building my readership because I set aside money specifically for this before I started. I actually don’t plan to make much money for at least 3-5 years.

Looking Forward

Bubbles in Space will always be my passion series. I absolutely love it and my readers love it and I look forward to growing this world! My next projects are going to attempt to broaden the appeal of this series by reaching two larger genres, namely Space Opera and Techo-Thrillers.

I hope to learn from the mistakes I made this year and make 2022 an even bigger success than 2021.

Maybe I’ll even get to keep some of that book revenue…

And indie author can dream, can’t she?

Discussion

If you are an indie author looking for insights into the business, is there anything that you would like to know? Please ask! I will be as transparent as I can (I’ll have better numbers once I do my taxes).


Indie Feature Friday: Cyberpunk Book Review — Agent G: Saboteur by C.T. Phipps

Greetings, book lovers! I hope your holiday time has treated you well and that you’ve had lots of quiet time to relax and read.

With the kids home from school for a couple of weeks, I have had nothing of the sort! But I will live vicariously through you…

I have gotten lots of reading done, but I’ve had to be selective about the kind of books I read. I need fast paced, action-packed thrillers that have me so invested in the lives of the characters that I physically cannot be interrupted, even by the most persistent cases of “Mom, I’m hungry!” or “Mom, she’s breathing my air!”

If you, too, suffer from these kinds of interruptions… I give you C.T. Phipps’ Agent G series!

I’ve already reviewed Agent G: Infliltrator (Agent G #1) and loved it. You can read my take here.

I was excited to start the next book in the series after the first one had me on the edge of my seat, and Phipps does not disappoint.

Agent G: Saboteur (Agent G #2)

Cyborg James Bond? Yes, please…

The Blurb

From the best-selling author of the Supervillainy Saga comes the sequel to Agent G: Infiltrator.

Agent G has left the service of the International Refugee Society, the world’s biggest provider of murder for hire, in order to work for the US government. Unfortunately, they are sending him after his former employers, and they know him as well as he knows them.

The clock is ticking, though, until the Society’s remaining leadership starts eliminating their opponents and attempts to seize control of the presidency. A traitor is also providing them with all the information they need to survive until their puppet is in power.

Will G and his allies survive the purge?

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a cyborg spy.

My Review

I absolutely loved the first two Agent G books, and have already downloaded the third and final book in this series for my January reads.

This is an action-packed spy thriller series with a sci-fi twist, full of political intrigue, lies, double-crossing, lies and more lies.

Did I mention the LIES?? I’m practically traumatized by all the betrayals in this story. And yet, here I am, itching to start Book 3…

The plot is relentlessly fast-paced. I loved that I never knew what was going to happen next, but none of the twists felt like cop out, deus ex machina type devices. Phipps does a great job of laying the groundwork so that everything that happens, as wild and crazy as some of it is, feels true to the plot and the characters.

The characters, by the way, are my favourite part of these books. There’s a great dynamic between all of the various people who have worked for, betrayed and been betrayed by the Society and the American government. Everyone has their own agendas, but there are strong interpersonal connections that keep each of them from being predictable. I loved the banter in this one, just like book 2, and I especially loved the depth of thought that Phipps has put into these characters and their relationship to their world.

The setting of this story is a kind of pre-cyberpunk. Phipps offers up some speculation as to how our current world might devolve into the cyberpunk dystopias we love (and love to worry about). He also tackles a lot of themes that I believe are integral to the genre, including questions about what make us human (do memories make the man? can our actions redeem us?), how an android or cyborg might approach spirituality, how technological disparities could be our undoing, etc.

Again, like Book 1, you can really approach this series with as much or as little introspection as you like. There is more than enough action and adventure and one liners to keep you entertained if you just want an exciting way to spend a few hours. But if you want a book that makes you think, Phipps gives us plenty of things to ponder.

Fans of classic spy thrillers who are looking for a fresh take on some old tropes will absolutely love Agent G. Likewise, science fiction fans who are looking for a departure from space ships and aliens but still want lots of high-tech intrigue, look no further!

I had a blast with this book and highly recommend C.T. Phipps as an indie author to keep your eyes on. He also has a bestselling super-hero parody series, The Supervillainy Saga which is worth checking out if you like quirky urban fantasy, pop-culture references, and hilarious shenanigans.

Discussion

What have you been reading this month?

Indie Feature Friday: Cyberpunk Book Review – Ten Sigma by A.W. Wang

I’ve got a gruesome one for you today, if you’re a sci-fi AND a horror fan.

I just read an incredible indie cyberpunk novel, and it is not for the faint of heart. Read on if you dare…

Ten Sigma by A.W. Wang

The Blurb

In future America, the downloaded consciousnesses in the Ten Sigma Program fight endless battles. The struggles span all possibilities: face-offs with knives and clubs, skirmishes as Roman legionaries, pitched WW1 trench warfare, duels with ultra-modern hypersonic weapons, and everything in between.

The combatants who live are rewarded with another battle until they reach the unreachable score of ten sigmas. Those who die are expunged from the system, gone forever. The methods, so harsh they go beyond anything possible in the real world, are necessary for the end goal: violent evolution to produce the greatest warriors in all of human history.

Who would choose such a fate?

Those with no hope.

On a wintry night, a government representative presents Mary, who is dying of incurable cancer, with the offer: a second chance at life and for those completing the requirements, a return to the real world in a fresh, healthy body. To save her family from bankrupting medical bills, she accepts.

After her consciousness is transferred into the virtual universe of the program, her essence is ripped apart and her memories shattered. She’s reassembled as the perfect killer.

As the life-and-death contests begin, she discovers the true nature of what lies ahead. But, she won’t surrender to the impossible and grimly embarks on the journey to return to her family while trying to save her soul.

My Review

This series is billed as a Military Sci-Fi Adventure, and it certainly is that. But I’m including it in my “cyberpunk” book reviews, because I think its got a lot of the relevant themes in place.

That, and a dash of holy sh*t batman what did I just read?!?

When I finished this book, I closed my kindle and just set it aside for a second with my mouth hanging open like an idiot. It was a wild ride.

Is it cyberpunk? Yes, but it almost doesn’t feel like it because so much takes place in a simulated training environment. Wang shows of his knowledge of historical warfare with battle scenes spanning centuries and cultures from around the globe.

Now, I have to admit, I usually hate reading lots of action scenes back to back. My eyes glaze over when authors describe endless blow-by-blow combat scenes. And yet this book kept me completely riveted.

Why?

First, while there are countless fight scenes, each one is completely different with unique goals and challenges, so it never feels like too much. Second, the character development is so exquisitely done that I was completely invested in every fight and had to know what happened next.

Ten Sigma follows a woman’s loss of self as she becomes a highly trained killing machine. Her ever changing relationships with the other characters and the AI avatars that run the simulations are really what drive the plot.

Wang also pulls off a feat I always love to see which is that in this massively complex story, literally every detail he includes is important. It all comes back full circle and nothing is forgotten. It was such a satisfying read.

Word of warning, though. This book is absolutely brutal. The fight scenes, the sex scenes, everything is, in the immortal words of Anthony Burgess, Ultra-Violent. People do pretty much every horrifying thing people can do to each other. Not for the faint of heart.

If you love intense, fast-paced action, detailed fight scenes, high stakes plots, and infuriating intrigue (I mean that in the best way), this is for you.

But wait, there’s more!

I have already bought the next two books in this series, and I understand there are to be at least three more… so if you’re a fan of longer series, you definitely need to get started!

Discussion

How do you feel about violence in novels? I’m pretty hard to shake, but I don’t go out of my way to read gory books. I much prefer to be scared/grossed out by my own imagination. One book that I read recently that really stuck with me was Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch. It was also brutal, and yet… I could not look away…

Hit me with some sci-fi horror suggestions!

Indie Feature Friday: SF Book Review – Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage by Marcus Alexander Hart

Happy Friday!

I can’t believe it’s December already.

I’m in a cozy reads mood right now. I’m all bundled up with blankets and tea or hot chocolate and big fuzzy socks, even though this year hasn’t been as cold here as usual. It’s full-on hibernation time here, for which I like fun, funny, and heartwarming books (sometimes with the occasional murder)

If you’re looking for a last minute gift for a Sci-Fi lover on your list, or you’re just wanting some suggestions for great books to curl up with this holiday season, I have the series for you!

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage by Marcus Alexander Hart

The Blurb:

Humanity needed a hero. It got a karaoke DJ.

Leo MacGavin is not the brightest specimen of humanity. But when he inadvertently rescues a flirty alien heiress, he’s promoted from second-rate lounge entertainer to captain of the galaxy’s most sophisticated cruise ship.

Before he can flee in terror, a human-hating executive gives Leo an ultimatum—complete the vessel’s maiden voyage or mankind’s last colony will be turned into a sewage dump. To make matters worse, a militant cyborg is undermining his authority, a giant spider is terrifying the passengers, and a sentient plant keeps stealing all the beer.

If Leo ever wants to see his home again, he’ll have to keep the guests happy through seven days of onboard antics and madcap shore excursions. As strange malfunctions tear the ship apart, can he hold his rag-tag crew together, or will he flush the last bastion of humanity down the crapper?

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage is a hilarious science fiction comedy adventure for readers who love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Space Team. And moviegoers who love Galaxy QuestSpaceballs, and Guardians of the Galaxy. And TV watchers who love Red DwarfFuturama, and The Orville. And people who basically just want to see The Love Boat on a spaceship.

Don’t get left on the spacedock! Grab this silly, madcap space caper now!

My Review:

Oh, Galaxy Cruise. How do I love you? Let me count the ways…

Okay, no. I’m not going to torture you with poetry.

But this book ticked so many boxes for me that I do feel slightly compelled to break into rhyming couplets.

I’m going to be honest with you. Sci-Fi Comedy is a really tough genre to impress me in. I love it when it’s done well, but humour is tricky. A tiny misstep and a joke goes from funny to WTF faster than a Cowboy Bebop fan can spew unmitigated wrath at anyone who dares to say they’re enjoying the Netflix adaptation.

Humour is a deeply personal thing, and what resonates with one reader/viewer will not necessarily tickle the funny bone of the person next to them.

And that’s okay. That’s cool. That’s what makes the world go round.

But I’ve recently read a lot of Sci-Fi Comedy books that just… didn’t do it for me. (I’m looking at you A Robot Named Clunk)

So Galaxy Cruise was such a glorious find I immediately bought Book 2 and pre-ordered Book 3 when I finished Book 1: The Maiden Voyage.

I’ve read one of Hart’s books before, so I was pretty confident that I’d enjoy this one. You can read my review of his fabulously irreverent urban fantasy novel Alexis vs. the Afterlife here!

Marcus Alexander Hart is a superb storyteller. His plots follow a tried and true structure similar to the storytelling style of Disney/Pixar films. There’s a familiarity and a trust involved in this kind of perfectly plotted book, the kind that can destroy a reading experience if the author fumbles the readers expectations. Hart does not disappoint.

Galaxy Cruise balances this familiar structure with a completely zany cast of characters, an outlandish situation, and more problems that you can shake a Karaoke mic at. I was entertained the entire time I was reading, and while I was right about some of my predictions I was still surprised by the resolution of this first book. There were twists and turns I didn’t see coming, and I was left with the immediate need to jump into Book 2!

Hart’s characters are his greatest asset, and I love that both books of his I’ve read have featured queer female characters. But what I have come to appreciate the most about his work after reading a few comedic flops is this: Hart is a master of his authorial voice.

When I read Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente I was struck by a sense of her really trying to channel Douglas Adams. She did a good job, and the book is laugh out loud funny at times, but it was exhausting to get through sometimes.

A Robot Named Clunk suffered from the same feeling of soulless imitation. All the right parts were there, except the tin man had no heart.

Even Bob’s Saucer Repair by Jerry Boyd, which I enjoyed for other reasons, lacked the strength and confidence of Marcus Alexander Hart’s voice in Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage.

That voice is why I will read everything Hart puts out. He’s an indie author that truly raises the bar for other indie authors and easily competes with traditionally published science fiction.

The Technical Details:

There are a lot of great indie books out there, and they come in various stages of professionalism.

The cost involved in producing a book independently can mean that a book doesn’t have the best cover or it doesn’t get that second or third round of proofreading.

Then there are books like Galaxy Cruise which you could put in front of any discerning reader and they would never guess that it was self-published.

I do not personally believe that a book without typos is necessarily indicative of a professionally written story. I’m willing to overlook some errors of the sake of a book I’m emotionally invested in.

But Galaxy Cruise goes to prove that a stellar story combined with a professional cover, editing, formatting, and proofreading really does improve the reader experience.

It’s a knock-out, through and through.

Discussion

What’s your favourite Sci-Fi Comedy movie or novel? Have you read any of Hart’s work? Let me know in the comments!

The Sober Creative: 5 Tips to Jumpstart Your Creativity in Recovery from Drug and Alcohol Addiction

One of my biggest fears when I quit drinking was that I would lose my ability to write.

Loosening up for a writing session with a glass (or a bottle) of wine had become such a major part of my writing ritual that I conflated the two.

You’ve probably heard the writing advice, often attributed to Hemmingway, that you should “Write drunk. Edit Sober.” (Spoiler alert: This is really bad advice)

There have been so many famous drug- and alcohol-dependant writers and artists throughout history that we begin to believe that they were successful because of their addiction rather than in spite of it.

We believe drugs and alcohol help us to expand our minds, free our creativity, and become a truer version of ourselves. Or we believe that the pain and torment of addiction somehow fuels the emotional power of our work.

We romanticize substance abuse and addiction.

Well, it’s time to bust that myth.

I quit drinking more than three years ago after years of depression and alcohol abuse.

Did this affect my creativity? Yes.

But not in the way I thought it would.

Since quitting drinking and working on my mental health, I have finished writing seven novels and many more short stories and novellas.

I have won writing contests and competitions and been invited to participate in anthologies with best-selling authors in my genre.

I have turned my passion for writing fiction into a career and taken on challenges I never would have dreamed of being possible. You can read a bit about this journey in my article Goal-Smashing: What writing pulp fiction taught me about creativity and productivity.

I am a much better writer sober than I ever was when I was drinking.

But at first, it was really hard. I had to relearn my creative process and find new ways to tap into my muse.

So today, I’d like to share some the early steps I took when I was newly sober and struggling to connect to my creative mind.

5 Tips to Jumpstart Your Creativity in Recovery

1. Go Outside

No matter what the weather is like, going outside for a short walk or bike ride, or even just to sit under a tree and listen to the birds, is a great way to connect with your creative side.

Turn your phone off. Breathe the air and try to identify all the different scents and sounds around you. Look at the sky and the flowers and think of other things that share these colour schemes. Make up stories (even if you aren’t a writer) about the people who live inside the houses you pass, or conversations for the people you see talking in the distance.

Even if it’s cold or rainy, allow yourself to feel what it is like for your body to be outside. I come up with all kinds of interesting metaphors and associations when I’m uncomfortable.

You might not use any of it right away, or at all, but being outside and experiencing nature has a magical way of filling up the creative well in side us.

Exercising outside is also a great way to jumpstart your brain when you are feeling blocked. Our brains are better problem solvers while we are exercising and afterwards.

2. Practice Mindfulness

The first tip is really about mindfulness, but the added bonus of fresh air. But mindfulness itself is a great way to prime your brain for creativity. Each day, spend some time practicing being in the moment.

I like to do this when I first wake up and I’m drinking my tea or coffee on the couch before the kids wake up. Put away the phone, turn off the TV and any other distractions.

Meditation is great habit too (or so I’ve heard… ) I’ve never gotten the hang of it. Mindfulness has been my compromise.

Any kind of activity that allows you to to exist in the moment without passing judgement on it or yourself is like a healing balm to our creative minds. Judgement and criticism are major creative blocks and the more time you can spend without them, the better!

3. Journal Your Thoughts

I love Julia Cameron’s book “The Right to Write.” While I am not a daily journaller, I often doodle and write snippets when I’m daydreaming or brainstorming. Being a consistent journaller has always been a dream of mine, just like daily yoga and meditation… And I’m not there yet.

However, the benefits of journalling can be had even if you’re just a sporadic doodler. This is really an exercise in not letting your brain “self edit” your thoughts. Write down or draw things that you think are stupid, let yourself get ideas out even if they aren’t polished yet. Even if they are clichés, or stereotypes, or over-used tropes. Get it all out there.

Crappy ideas are like the clay you build a beautiful sculpture with. They’re ugly, messy, and aren’t much good when they sit there like a blob on the page. But they do some interesting things when you start poking and prodding and moving them around. Sometimes two crappy ideas will combine and make something really cool and unexpected.

You don’t know until you try!

4. Become a Creative Consumer

When I am stuck for ideas and feel like my creative well has run dry, sometimes it isn’t helpful to try to force it. Sometimes the best way to fill up those creative cups is to drink from other people’s cups. In a post-Covid world that metaphor goes all kinds of sideways, but work with me here…

Consuming creative work is a great way to get our muses back into the flow of things. But in an effort to avoid falling into a pit of despair and imposter syndrome, sometimes it’s best to step outside our comfort zone.

If you are a writer, read outside your genre. Better yet, go visit an art gallery. If you are a musician, check out some venues that are not your scene, or go to a movie and listen to the music score. If you are an artist, study other mediums or work from artists in another part of the world.

Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and we often find it when we aren’t looking for it. This is why consuming creative work that is very different from our own can be such a great trigger. We are stimulating our creative minds but we are also off-guard enough that inspiration can flow freely.

5. Pretend to be Someone Else

If you are really stuck, and you can’t get out of your own head enough to find your own creative spark, maybe it’s time to be someone else.

Write a journal entry as if you are someone completely different: a sibling, or a coworker, a hated rival, or a romantic interest. Imagine what it’s like to be in their head.

Artists and musicians can do this by participating in #DrawThisInYourStyle challenges or by learning someone else’s songs and either imitating them or trying to cover it in a different sound.

You can take a class in an art form you’ve never tried before. Writers, pick up some ukulele classes. Artists, try a writing class. Musicians, try cartooning.

There is nothing more freeing than going back to the very basics of a skill and learning something new from the ground up. Building these creative connections in your brain will help you when you practice your own craft, too.

Baby Steps!

Getting sober is tough. Somedays it will feel like all you can do to get through the day without adding anything else to your plate.

Getting in tune with your creative side in recovery can be a great way to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts about drinking/using, and it can help you focus your attention and channel your energy in a positive way.

The most important thing is to give yourself grace. Don’t expect miracles overnight. Baby steps are still steps. When you’re consistently moving forward a little at a time, suddenly you’ll look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Discussion

What are your favourite ways to get ready to create? Do you have any tips or tricks for unblocking your creativity? Share in the comments!

Special Guest: Interview with Cyberpunk Author Norfy A.R. of Welcome to Autumnport

Greetings, cyberpunk lovers.

And Welcome to Autumnport… Where “You will exist as my toy in perpetuity – and you will like it!”

Well, not mine. You belong to the Duchess now.

And you will like it. You will love it!

I haven’t had this much fun with a cyberpunk book in… well, ever.

If you want to know what I’m talking about, you can check out my review of Act 1 in the fun, sexy cyberpunk romp through Norfy A.R.’s fantastic debut Welcome to Autumnport. Click here to read.

But today, I have an extra special treat, because we are sitting down with the Grand Duchess of Cyberpunk herself, Norfy A.R., to learn a little bit about how this world came about and what we can expect to see in the next acts.

Norfy and I connected in a Cyberpunk fan group and I have had an absolute blast getting to know her and her work. She’s easily one of the most brilliant indie authors I’ve had the pleasure to meet… perhaps a bit too brilliant… but if we must have a questionable moral character cracking the whip in our dystopian future, Norfy gets my vote!

Without further ado, let’s meet our new evil overlord!

Can you describe what Welcome to Autumnport is about? What themes are you exploring?


Without spoiling anything, Autumnport is basically my take on the Isekai-style of light novels, in which the main character is flung from Earth into another world bound to completely different laws of physics. The setting is delimited to the namesake metropolis, ruled by the evil cyborg demoness Duchess, and follows the exploits of Doctor Vortimer Lance as he plays a game of double agent to undermine her rule.

Superficially, Autumnport is the unholy combination of mad scientist characters, urban fantasy backdrops, and antics straight out of some Japanese dating simulator – which’ll hopefully make a fantastic lure to reel in new readers, that promise of a smutty romp through cyberland. Once I have my poor reader tangled up in the world, they will find that Autumnport, at its core, is a story about overcoming difficult emotions, breaking human limits, and of shaking apart the often self-imposed shackles that bind you to learned helplessness. The story really is just one big allegory for that.

Vortimer Lance

What is Doctor Lance like, and how did he become your protagonist?

Vortimer Lance is my handsome emoboi protagonist, a chaotic-neutral mad scientist afflicted with an Edgar Allen Poe-esque internal ennui. He is a superposition of all my own weaknesses and neuroses, a psychological test dummy to be flung into Autumnport on a personalized trial of character. The city is a proving ground from which champions are forged. Lance will either flounder in anxiety-ridden mediocrity as he submits to a reprehensible technocratic regime, or he will overcome the external and internal limits that bar his full potential and finally defeat the literal demons that haunt him.

To separate him from the typical isekai protagonist, I wrote him as a bisexual man with androgynous/gender-neutral mannerisms. Even still, he is inexplicably magnetized to attractive and highly unusual women – and sometimes men. It’s an adult book. I don’t set the rules.

The Duchess

Tell us about Duchess and how she came to be the antagonist.



Duchess is a Mary Sue turned on her head. She is an absurdly powerful egomaniac with universe-conquering ambitions – and with the technology and might to follow through on them. She is the manifestation of my own aspirational drives cranked up until the dial is snapped entirely. Unlike a proper Mary Sue, though, she is more-or-less resented and despised by the others in her world. She rules her human subjects with a kind of sinister science they can easily see through, a superficial meddling upon basic impulses {especially the sexual kind} that ignores the deeper need for spiritual fulfillment and self-actualization. She has cultivated Autumnport into this hedonistic dystopia of fornication and nihilism. It is a true hell that only gets scarier the deeper you consider it, and one that I think to be a clever remix of the standard cyberpunk dystopia.

Duchess is the ultimate tormentor for Lance. But, as the reader will realize, she too suffers from her own profound existentialism and identity issues. She maintains a SHODAN or Kerrigan inspired façade in the face of her subjects, but she is otherwise painfully aware of her status as a monster, and it’s not something she is always proud of.

She’s also an intersex lesbian woman, and is my best attempt at filling the void for powerful, interesting queer villains.

What drew you to cyberpunk as a genre? How does it complement your themes?

I like the neon-soaked aesthetic, but more than that I like that it’s a near-future backdrop dealing with social and technological topics more readily envisionable than those in, say, a space opera. It feels the most down-to-earth of the high-tech speculative fiction genres. Hardcore cyberpunk fans are certainly going to scoff at Autumnport as being blatantly impure to the genre, so I’m better off erring to say it’s an urban fantasy with a cyberpunk coat of paint, in much the same way Star Wars is a samurai fantasy with a space opera coat of paint.

DNA-440F Policy Enforcement Android

Welcome to Autumnport is a wonderful genre mashup. Where did you draw your inspirations from?



Autumnport is my love letter to all the speculative fiction media I’ve exposed myself to throughout my life, which encompasses far too many works to list off here, but which include books, movies, music, anime, and especially video games. Everything from System Shock, Black Butler, Akame ga Kill, Star Control II, Star Trek, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Monster Girl Quest {if you get that reference, shame on you}, and even prog rock bands like Rush, Genesis, and Devin Townsend can claim their fair share of credit for creative inspiration.

Ask me again on a different day of the week and I’ll give you an entirely different list.

Would you like to live in Autumnport?

With one caveat, yes. Autumnport by itself is my conception of a dream city. It’s a scientific utopia of unrestrained progress and a bastion of my aesthetic and epistemological values. For the sake of an interesting story, of course, I had to put an actual devil there to rule it and twist said values to suit her own mania. Think of how George Orwell, despite being a socialist himself, wrote a book to explore how his own beliefs may be misconstrued and exaggerated into a corrupted permutation.

Remove the megalomaniacal tyrant {or reserve the position specifically for myself, muhaha} and I’m totally on board.

Doctor Molly Eden

Who is your favourite character?

Gods, that’s a brutal question to answer; It’s hard to pick favorites among my brainchildren. As my readers could probably tell, I favor Duchess due to my personal disposition for lawful-evil big bads. She’s not nearly as fun to write as our friendly hacker dead_crow is, though, if only cause I just love reminiscing on my own ridiculous mannerisms as a teenager. Maxwell may seem like a generic, throwaway baddie for the time being, but I love him in my head ‘cause I’m so excited to flesh him out in future installments and hopefully make him into a fan favorite. Daphne is adorable, too; I love her inappropriate remarks, and the fact she’s a crooked subversion of the anime cliché of the cute, innocent loli companion by being a murderbot in disguise – and who viciously defends the MC rather than the other way around.

When did you start writing and why do you write?

Before Autumnport, I was writing a non-fiction book about the history of computer malware, cybercriminality, and the underground virus and cracker scene. The flip from non-fiction to fiction was motivated by a combination of boredom and a desire to allegorize my tough feelings into a fictional world that I have total control over. In a way, Autumnport started out as an outlet for my own power fantasies. It’s just so much fun to torment my poor characters with increasingly unlikely trials and tribulations. Supposing it just helps me to navigate my own difficulties in life after I’ve acted them out in a hyperbolic sandbox of sorts.

It’s also nice to take a break from fangirling over the intellectual property of others and take a stab at creating one of my own. I consider it my way of giving back to the genre that’s done so much to fill the voids in my life with wonder and discovery.

What drove you to publish this first book?



In all honesty, the most exciting part of publishing this first book was the chance to cultivate a community and a scene of my own. If anything were going to motivate me to continue writing, it would be for the reading pleasure of those who loved Act I and are eagerly looking forward to the next installment. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I also have starry-eyed thoughts of hosting a booth at some convention and getting to meet my readers in person and sign books and all that. I’m a fairly extroverted woman, so the social aspect of publishing the book and getting eyes on me and my work has easily been the biggest source of joy for me throughout all this.

What can we expect to see in Acts II and III?



Hoo boy, you’re in for a treat. You can expect gorgeous new additions to Lance’s harem, gorgeous new additions to his friendzone, and best of all, gorgeous new additions to his circle of enemies. We’ll further explore the backstory of Lance, Duchess, and various other characters, and expand upon various subplots and other themes that were {purposefully} handwaved away in Act I. Most exciting of all, you’ll see Lance grow his backbone at last and establish himself as a formidable contender against the bad guys. Hope you’re as excited as I am! I just need to put down my heavily modded copy of Stellaris long enough to actually write the damn thing down.

Discussion

I have been delighted to connect with Norfy since we first met in a Cyberpunk fan group earlier this year, and she’s easily the most interesting and intellectual cyberpunk creative know (and she’s got the comp. sci. chops to back her ideas up which is super cool, too!)

Have you read Welcome to Autumnport yet? What did you think?

Indie Feature Friday: Historical Fantasy Book Review – The Dogwood Grove by W.A. Ford

Look at me, posting my Indie Feature Friday review, and it’s actually a Friday and everything!

I hope my American friends are comfortably digesting their holiday dinners and that no one’s credit cards have melted with all the Black Friday shopping happening today.

If you’re like me, and you prefer to spend your long weekends curled up with a good book rather than battling shopping crowds, I have a great suggestion for you…

Today I’m featuring a book by an author I have read and reviewed here before, W.A. Ford — who wrote The Fadian Experiment and The Fadian Escape — and I love her blend of sci-fi and fantasy. But today, I’m reviewing something a little bit different.

And I think Ford’s voice absolutely excels in this genre!

Historical Fantasy Book Review: The Dogwood Grove by W.A. Ford

The Blurb:

Friedrich des Allmandes is not that unusual for his time and place. A mixed-raced freeman, he gets by on day work and his deceased mother’s mystical reputation. On the surface, his life is no different from any other hired hand, but Friedrich has his own mystical reputation. To his mother’s people, he is a promised savior who can lead them to freedom, but not until he embraces the spirits of their homeland. To his father’s people, he’s a ghost…his father’s ghost, and they’re far more accurate than they know. Friedrich has no plans on following either path until he lays eyes on the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.

Savench lives in a gilded cage built by those who share her blood. Her days are spent serving her well-bred half-sister, but now that they’ve come of age, their resemblance cannot be ignored. Shunned by polite society, they are shunted into a rural household. All seems well, but behind the scenes Savench is victim to the supernatural forces of their new home. Help comes in the form of a hulking German who promises her an escape from her horrible life. The opportunity is perfect, but is he or anything he promises real?

The fate of an entire bloodline rests on the choices made by two people with little understanding of their role in the universe.

My Review:

I am going to be honest here. I have a weakness for books set in the Southeastern United States. I think it started with Anne Rice’s thick, moody descriptions of New Orleans in the 18th and 19th centuries in her Vampire Chronicles. I spent so much time with those characters as a teenager that I almost feel like New Orleans was a formative part of my childhood, even though I’ve never been there.

Now, as an adult, I realize that the gothic romance version that lives in my head is probably not remotely realistic. However, the feeling sticks.

I love Carl Hiassan’s crime caper novels set in Florida.

I recently read an old G.R.R. Martin novel called The Fevre Dream which is set on a steamboat on the Mississipi River. It also features vampires, though in a much less romanticized way than Rice’s series. It’s quite a brutal read at times. The true horror of that novel is the way human beings treat one another. We are the monsters.

N.K. Jemisin wrote a short story called “The Effluent Engine,” in her collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, a queer steampunk love story set in an alternate past New Orleans. It stands out as one of my favourites in that collection, and I loved every single one of the stories in it.

From Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to The Princess and the Frog (my all time favourite Disney movie) I have to say this particular area of the world is one of my favourite fictional settings.

Why?

I don’t know. I love the dichotomy between the vast wealth and opulence of the upper classes and the harsh realities faced by everyone else. I love the great cultural stew pot, and the dynamic between old world and new world ideals and ideas. There is a richness and a depth to the history of this area that begs to be explored.

Of course, these dichotomies are ripe with conflict, which is why it’s so powerful in fiction. And we would be remiss not to acknowledge the very real struggles of people past and present who have lived with the absolutely brutal reality of the “interesting times” that shaped the Southeastern United States.

There’s a reason that “May you live in interesting times” is a curse.

That said, W.A. Ford’s The Dogwood Grove is one of the best books I’ve read in this, my favourite, setting.

The Dogwood Grove is set on a plantation in the bayou. And it is full of mystery, magic, and absolutely dripping with tension. Ford’s descriptive power shines in this novel, I felt as I was reading how she invested herself in every character and every scene.

Deliciously atmospheric and complex, the book has a large cast of characters each with their own conflicting goals and motives, and each with a distinct voice. We get perspectives of slaves and settlers, ghosts and gods, and Ford pulls it off beautifully.

The blend of mysticism and magic from all around the globe — Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Africa — is stirred up in a pressure cooker in the steamy swamps of the bayou.

I found myself surprised by the people (and other entities) that Ford was able to make me feel compassion and empathy for. And this, to me, is the finest mark of a great storyteller.

If you love historical fantasy and want to try something very different, I highly suggest grabbing a copy of The Dogwood Grove.

Technical details:

This is an indie novel, which means the cost of producing this book falls entirely upon the author. It often takes years to save up to put a book out, and more years again to earn enough to fix any errors we find.

That said, I was very happy with the quality of this book.

Ford is clearly an excellent writer. You won’t find any sloppy prose here. While there were minor typos and punctuation errors scattered throughout the book, I didn’t find they detracted at all from my reading experience because I was so invested in the story.

To me, personally, a poorly written book that has been well-proofed for misplaced commas is still a bad book.

This is a great book with some minor errors.

Discussion:

What is your favourite book set in the Southeastern US? Do you have a favourite book setting? Let me know in the comments!

Indie Feature Friday: SF Book Review – Bob’s Saucer Repair by Jerry Boyd

Looking for some light reading this weekend? I’ve got a great book suggestion for you.

I pay close attention to the “customers also bought” suggestions that Amazon makes on my own books, because I like to have an idea of what kind of readers my weirdo genre mash up series is appealing to (in hopes that it might unlock some secret that makes it easier for me to advertise them… )

So I have been noticing a series of books that readers of my own series seem to like. It’s a Humorous Sci-Fi series called Bob and Nikki, by Jerry Boyd, which is 21 books long and counting!

This series consistently ranks in the top 5000, and I’ve seen the latest book crack the top 500, in the entire Amazon store. This is the kind of series I dream of writing some day. Oh, to serve a hungry niche audience a steady diet of humorous sci-fi adventure stories! *sigh*

Well, clearly Mr. Boyd knows what he’s doing. So I decided to check out his work, and I downloaded Bob and Nikki #1 Bob’s Saucer Repair.

I also tracked the author down on social media and asked if I could pick his brain a little bit about what he thought made Bob and Nikki so successful. We had a fantastic conversation, and I may ask if I can interview him for a future blog article because what he had to say was very interesting.

But this is a book review post, so let’s review this book!

Bob and Nikki #1: Bob’s Saucer Repair

The Blurb:

Bob thought he was doing fine on his own. Then the love of his life fell out of the sky. Can he get her back in the air with auto parts and a cutting torch? If he does, will she ever come back?

Nikki took a job before she saw the equipment. Can she keep her passengers alive on a strange planet?
Are the natives friendly?”

John is doing well with his underground medical practice, when his sometime partner Bob calls him with a job. A job that changes everything.

My Review:

Bob’s Saucer Repair is a fun, wholesome take on the Men’s Adventure Fiction genre. The premise is simple.

What would you do if you came home from work and found an alien fixing her flying saucer in your garage?

Fortunately for Bob and Nikki, she is descended from a group of space faring humans likely responsible for populating earth with homo sapiens around the time that we broke from homo neanderthalensis (a classic sci-fi trope on its own!)

So, although there are some slight evolutionary and technological differences, the two hit it off. But Nikki has a job to do and Bob takes it upon himself to help her get her team off the planet.

Stylistically, Boyd favours dialogue over prose heavy exposition, and a lot of the plot is revealed through the fun and funny banter between Bob and Nikki, and some of the other friends they recruit along the way. There isn’t a ton of difference between the characters in voice or humour, but the resulting dialogue is very fast paced and readable. They riff well off each other, and the dialogue really does help to move the plot along.

Something I appreciate about this series, and one of the things that Boyd contributes to his success, is that it’s a very clean and wholesome compared to a lot of darker, grittier, and explicit books on the market. There is no “on page” sex, minimal violence, cursing is pretty PG. There’s a little flirting and innuendo, but it’s nothing you would be appalled to see a 12 year old kid pick up.

It’s a very light read, pure pleasure reading. I devoured it in a single sitting (partly because Boyd has chosen not to use chapter breaks, and I was driven to just keep going! tricky, tricky, Mr. Boyd). There are no major conflicts. The conflicts that do come up are debated, and skillfully handled. This is not high stakes action. It’s youthful adventurousness. Not, “OMG they’re all going to die.” But “I wonder what’s going to happen next!”

This will not be for everyone. It’s not even the kind of book I usually gravitate toward. I like my high-stakes action! But I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of it. It was like popcorn. I started and I couldn’t stop. And I will go on to read the other books in the series when I need a nice light read because I’m tired, or need to recover from a more intense book.

Discussion

It does surprise me a bit that readers of Bubbles in Space are also reading Bob and Nikki, because they are very different stylistically. I do have a lot of humour in my books, and I use the Humorous Sci-Fi category, too. My humour tends to be a bit darker, though, and of course there’s a lot more high-stakes action.

But I don’t swear or have “on page” sex, and although the world is dark and gritty, there is a lightness in the interactions between the characters. So maybe this is the connection? I’d love to hear from readers who enjoy both series’ to hear what the common denominator is!

Do you like light fluffy reads every once in a while? What’s your go to popcorn read?