Special Guest: Indie SF&F Author C.S. Boyack

What are you reading this spooky season?

I like to reserve October reads for all things horror and paranormal, and this year I’m doing something a little different.

I’ve decided to dive into C.S. Boyack’s The Hat series! It has been so much fun.

I have read and loved Boyack’s cyberpunk detective novel Grinders, and have been wanting to explore some of his other worlds.

Boyack is a writer who really knows his craft and seems to have no end of wild and whimsical ideas to explore.

I really appreciate his sense of humour and love of the absurd, and that’s ultimately why I settled on The Hat series. You can read my review of the entire series (so far) here!

I’m fortunate to have C.S. Boyack on the blog today to share a little bit about this series, and in particular the book Viral Blues! Check it out. Maybe The Hat will tickle your fancy, too…

Viral Blues by C.S. Boyack

Thanks for lending me your space today. This is a new stop for me, and I’m excited to visit. I like to give my paranormal stories a little nudge during October, and that’s the reason for the visit. This year, I’m pushing The Hat Series. There are currently four titles, I have four weeks, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

This week, the focus is on Viral Blues. I try to have a lot of fun in this series, so consider it as dark humor. This was my poke at the superhero team-up adventures that are all the rage right now. I have enough characters to pull it off, and had a great time putting them in the same story and letting them fight for page time.

One of the goals in this series is to make them all stand-alone titles. If you were to pick any of them up, you won’t feel lost by reading them out of order. This one is a lot of fun, and involves someone tampering with the nation’s vaccine supply. Oddly enough, I published it before we ever heard of Covid and the whole mess the world has right now.

The clues behind this disaster have supernatural overtones, and this is why the team comes together. This is a rollicking adventure with humor, blood, brains, and even a flamethrower involved.

As another poke at pop culture, I included a secret last chapter after my author comments. You don’t have to read it to get the complete story, but you’re going to want to. Think of it like my after-the-credits scene.

This story includes some of my most popular characters over the years, but Lizzie and the hat are center stage. It’s one of their tales. I hope your readers will give it a shot.

http://mybook.to/The-Hat-Series

The Blurb

The Hat Series is my opportunity to have a little fun, and readers seem to be enjoying themselves, too. The series fits into a variety of pigeonholes as all stories do. If you’re looking for supernatural, paranormal, or urban fantasy, with a dose of dark humor, this might be the series you’re looking for.

Lizzie St. Laurent is a hard working twenty-something. She’s struggling with the issues of being a young adult, but also dealing with the supernatural world. After her grandmother died, she tried to get a memento from the estate. Her greedy uncle refused to share, so in desperation, she stole a box from the moving van.

Her treasure turned out to be an old hat that belonged to her grandfather. Not exactly the knickknack she was hoping for. This isn’t any ordinary hat. He’s actually a being from another dimension who was brought here by witchcraft. He has a few magical skills, but also some more ordinary ones. He can transport her to a cabin, deep in the forest, among other things. A bit more ordinary is his ability to play the upright bass, but only if he has a human host to manipulate. He’s also a shapeshifter, but is limited to always being a hat of some kind.

The hat has been in Lizzie’s family for centuries, and all of his partners have been monster hunters. Their symbiotic relationship also created an additional income stream for Lizzie. They formed a small cover band, which tends gets them out at night when monster hunting is more productive.

I put all kinds of strange things into these stories to make them fun. My section breaks have all been replaced with a series of bass clefs. I also include silly graphics in various locations to enhance the tales. You’ll find tons of snark mixed in with your blood and adventure.

These are short novels, designed for a single afternoon. While it is a series, they can be read as stand-alone tales. If one of the other volumes is your entry-point, I don’t think you’ll feel lost.

If this sounds like something to make your October complete, I’d appreciate you checking it out.

Discussion

What do you think? Are you intrigued? Titillated? Maybe even a little bit… excited?

Thank you so much, Craig, for sharing this series with us!

You can read my reviews of Boyack’s work here:

Indie Feature Friday: Grinders by C.S. Boyack

Indie Feature Friday: The Hat by C.S. Boyack

Indie Feature Friday: The Voyage of the Lanternfish by C.S. Boyack (coming soon)

Monday Musings: Why so Serious? The Curse of Women Being “Taken Seriously” in Sci-Fi

Unpopular Opinion: I’m kinda tired of women being “taken seriously” in Sci-Fi.

Before you tear my head off, hear me out.

Please!

Women have struggled for years to be included in and taken seriously as characters and creatives in the world of Science Fiction.

For decades we were lucky to be included at all. At best we were pieces of ditzy eye-candy for the real “heroes” to ogle and make cringey remarks about. At worst, we weren’t even there at all.

Have you ever read women as written by “the great” Isaac Asimov? I’ve tossed a couple of his books at the wall, trying to make my way through the classics of the genre.

I’ve just about abandoned the Sci-Fi Cannon for this reason.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

A New Age of Women in Sci-Fi

Today, more and more women are being taken seriously as skilled scientists, science fiction writers, and as characters in science fiction books.

AS WE SHOULD BE!

Make no mistake.

This is great! It’s wonderful. It’s glorious!

Hallelujah!

Most of my absolute favourite Sci-Fi writers are women. Octavia E. Butler, Margaret Atwood, N.K. Jemisin, Martha Wells, Anne McCaffery, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula K. LeGuin, C.J. Cherryh… the list goes on.

Coincidentally, these female Sci-Fi authors tend to write the most well-rounded female Sci-Fi characters, too. These characters are strong and smart, capable leaders, fierce warriors, reluctant saviours, sometimes nurturing and sometimes destructive. Always badass.

They’re characters that young women and girls can look up to and respect, they’re the kind of people anyone could aspire to be like.

But is there such a thing as being taken too seriously?

There is one archetype that we often see in male sci-fi characters, particularly in sci-fi humour, but which we rarely see in female leads.

Character Archetype: The Fool.

There is a serious derth of fun, funny, feisty, f*ck ups in our Sci-Fi femmes.

Why is this?

I think we have been fighting for so long to be taken seriously that we have forgotten that it’s okay to be a screw up.

What Exactly is the Fool Archetype in Story?

Despite the name, Fools are not necessarily foolish. And they aren’t always screw-ups, either.

Often the Fool is a light-hearted character, but their role can be quite disruptive to the status quo. This makes them fascinating to watch and read, as they undermine authority with innocence and humour, and ultimately act as a balance against characters that are too powerful, too serious, and too rigid in their beliefs.

Traits & Characteristics of the Fool or Jester Archetype

  • The Fool is a character that, knowingly or not, breaks cultural norms in the name of Truth.
  • They are willing to say and do things others are scared to, without regret or embarrassment.
  • They are rarely cruel on purpose, but sometimes hurt people who are unable or unwilling to accept the Fool’s unfiltered observations.
  • The Fool is unashamed of who they are, and doesn’t care much for what other people think of them.
  • They are resilient, they laugh at their mistakes, and will get back up again no matter how many times they are knocked down.
  • They live in the moment, usually not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, but focused on enjoying the moment.
  • Often the Fool is an innocent, either a fish-out-of-water in a world they don’t understand or someone who is naïve to life’s harsh realities.
  • They are Truth Speakers. Their observations often reveal hidden realities that other characters wish would be overlooked.
  • They poke holes in over-inflated egos.
  • The Fool is a balance against Authority figures, and often acts as a metaphor for cultural conscience.

Pure Fool characters usually don’t make the best protagonists, because their innocence gets in the way of their agency.

However, elements of the Fool are often used to round out characters who are a little too tough to be believable.

Men have always had great Fool characters, especially in comedy.

There are elements of the Fool in many of Sci-Fi’s classic action heroes, because it provides a nice balance to the invincible super-hero archetype.

Marvel knows what’s up.

The most endearing moments of Marvel movies are when these god-like characters get a little goofy. It’s the entire reason that Guardians of the Galaxy is so much fun to watch.

DC capitalized on an Essence of Fool in the beginning of the 2017 Wonder Woman film, too. Diana’s character embraces many traits of the Fool when she is first introduced to life in “the real world.”

But it’s rare for women to be allowed to play the Fool.

Where are the Foolish Women?

Women in Sci-Fi now fall into two major groups these days.

There are the tough as nails warrior types, who are essentially male action heroes with a mammary make-over, maybe with some superficial nods to motherhood or menstrual cramps for authenticity’s sake. These characters can be fun, and are a nice nod to the “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” attitude that female inclusion often takes on in its early stages. It’s a bit of over-compensation, but it’s cool.

Similarly, there are the “expert” types. Hyper-competent at whatever they do, from particle physics to piloting a space craft, these indominable ladies occasionally battle interpersonal conflicts with people who (rightfully) feel inferior to them, or they’re given some past trauma to make them more relatable. Often, these women must learn to “soften” themselves in order to rally their teams around them and take on the world.

But they rarely embody the Fool.

The Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Women’s Fiction Advantage

We all love to see ourselves as heroes, but women need to see themselves as Fools, too.

It can be inspiring to read about successful, competent, fearless people.

But it can be alienating, as well.

Especially in these uncertain times, where no one really knows what’s going on or what the “next right thing” is. Characters who always seem to know what to do are… well, not exactly relatable.

Sometimes escapism is about visiting other worlds as a powerful hero, dominating every challenger to cross our paths.

And sometimes escapism is joining a clumsy, over-looked, under-dog scrabble around for survival (no world-domination in sight).

Women like to read female characters that embody aspects of themselves. And this includes the less-than-glamourous stuff.

I would argue the rise in popularity of Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal Women’s Fiction is due to female authors tapping into this need.

And they’ve been wildly successful with it.

Why Do Adult Women Love Young Adult Novels?

Female SF&F readers have long been drawn to “Coming of Age” themed Fantasy novels because it’s one subgenre that has historically included us in a more than just a superficial way.

The rise in popularity of Young Adult novels is really just a rise in popularity of the Coming of Age theme, probably as the number of young people peaked in the 1980s and the Late Gen X and Early Millennials kids became a massively powerful buying market.

I would argue that one reason women (more so than men) have continued to read Young Adult novels once they reach adulthood is that there is a scarcity of these fun, naïve, care-free Fool type female characters for us to identify with in much of popular culture.

Adult women’s stories have tended to revolve around motherhood, marriage, and careers, with a very short window for care-free characters to enjoy their freedom, and that freedom is often presented as a kind of guilty pleasure. Women who don’t settle down are looked down upon in a way men typically aren’t.

Even today society treats with suspicion any woman who chooses not to get married and have children.

But women are waiting longer to have children (if at all), are choosing not to get married, are redefining male dominated industries, and becoming successful business people in all kinds of non-traditional ways.

And that fish-out-of-water feeling often never goes away.

Women are drawn to awkward, sometimes-bumbling, but well-intentioned screw ups…

Why?

Because we’re stumbling our way down a lot of unbeaten paths!

The Urban Fantasy Explosion

If you’ve browsed the Urban Fantasy section of Amazon lately, you’ll find fun, brightly coloured, covers featuring tough and sexy female leads with magic literally exploding from their fingertips.

These books contain stories about sassy, sarcastic women who don’t conform to society’s expectations of them and who often find they really belong in a hidden, secret world where their flaws are actually assets and they are destined to be something important (something more than a good student, a wife, a mother, or a successful career woman).

And usually they suck at mastering their secret skills. Because nothing worth having comes easily, dammit.

These books are fun and funny, usually have a little romance, but ultimately are about underdogs finding a place to belong.

It’s a grown up version of the classic bildungsroman or Coming of Age novel.

It’s grown up because women are still struggling with these real life problems well into their 20s and 30s.

And it’s still there in our 40s, 50s, and beyond, which brings us to…

The Middle-Aged Magic of Paranormal Women’s Fiction

Paranormal Women’s Fiction is a hugely popular subgenre of Urban Fantasy that caters to women over the age of 40.

The characters in these books are still fun, sassy, and sarcastic but they have a different mission from our 20-something Urban Fantasy protagonists.

These women are re-discovering themselves, often after divorce, the death of a partner, children moving away from home, or abandoning an unfulfilling career.

And they, too are bumbling along making a mess of things. Despite everything they have learned, they are in many ways an embodiment of the Fool, as they reveal aspects of themselves that they had buried in order to put others before themselves.

The Curse of Being “Taken Seriously” in Science Fiction

How many female protagonists in Science Fiction fit this Foolish archetype?

Not many.

Why?

Because we’re still fighting to be taken seriously in this male dominated genre.

Being seen as silly, frivolous, emotional, or HEAVEN FORBID “irrational” in Science Fiction is to be written off as NOT REAL SCIENCE FICTION.

Men are allowed to be silly and frivolous in Sci-Fi, but not women. How many of these 19 Funniest Sci-Fi Books are written by women? One. How many are about women? One and a half.

Here’s another list of 25 Best Funny Sci-Fi Books. Six are written by women, of these one is a fantasy novel and four are written about men.

The reason I’m using Humorous Sci-Fi lists as an example is that outside of this sub-genre it’s even harder to find Female Fool characters.

Is There Hope for the Female Fool?

I believe the winds of change are blowing…

Young Adult Sci-Fi is becoming more popular, where it used to favour straight Fantasy and Fairy Tale retellings.

That means adult women are reading more Sci-Fi. Okay, I haven’t done a deep dive on the data but they make up the largest percentage of YA readers, so it’s a reasonable assumption.

And frankly, I think we’re moving beyond trying to impress our male peers with how much we can act like them.

We’re getting a lot more comfortable just being ourselves, as quirky, fun, nerdy, colourful, and sparkly as we like to be.

If that sounds frivolous to you, I’m sorry. I’m sending glitter rainbows of sympathy your way.

Soon, I predict, we’ll see an influx of Urban Fantasy-esque female leads who don’t quite have their proverbial shit together, but who are still struggling to find their place in their Sci-Fi worlds.

At least I hope so, because these are the books I’m trying to write…

Bubbles in Space

Bubbles Marlowe is my take on the kind of character I’d like to see more of in Sci-Fi.

She’s broke, newly sober, sucks at her job, and hates her life.

But when it comes to protecting her friends and the innocent people of HoloCity, she’s the first one to stand up and fight.

She’s just not always all that good at it…

Discussion

Do you have a favourite female character who embodies some of the traits of The Fool archetype? Bonus points for Sci-Fi characters!

Indie Feature Friday: C.S. Boyack’s Lizzie and the Hat Paranormal Mystery Series

Have you ever been completely caught off guard by a series?

Have you picked up a book that sounds interesting–if a little quirky and weird–and then been totally blown away?

I know, I say “quirky” and “weird” as if that’s not exactly what I’m usually looking for. You know I love quirky and weird. The challenge is finding quirky and weird and good all together in once place.

Often what sounds quirky and weird ends up being directionless and confusing, especially with indie books.

But C.S. Boyack’s paranormal mystery series about Lizzie and the Hat is quirky and weird, and fantastic!

I have read some of Boyack’s work before. You can read my review of his cyberpunk detective novel Grinders, here. So I knew this series would be good.

Why this series?

I usually read and review sci-fi. But in autumn, I really start to gravitate toward spooky, Halloween-y books…

So what better place to start than with a series of short novels about a monster-slaying musician and her mysterious talking hat?

I was looking for something light-hearted, fun, and quick to read, in the weeks between finishing my draft for Bubbles in Space #4 Spit ‘Em Out and getting my edits back from my editor. I was also supposed to be getting out corporate taxes done early for once instead of leaving it to the last minute like I do every year…

So this series from C.S. Boyack sounded perfect.

And it was!

Except… I didn’t get my taxes done because I was having too much fun reading.

Oh well.

#1 The Hat

The Blurb:

Lizzie St. Laurent is dealing with many of the struggles of young life. She lost her grandmother, and her living arrangements. Her new roommate abandoned her, and she’s working multiple jobs just to keep her head above water.

She inherits an old hat from her grandmother’s estate, but it belonged to her grandfather. This is no ordinary hat, but a being from an alternate dimension. One with special powers.

Lizzie and the hat don’t exactly hit it off right away, but when her best friend’s newborn is kidnapped by a ring of baby traffickers, Lizzie turns to the hat for help. This leads her deep into her family history and a world she’s never known.

Lizzie gives up everything to rescue the babies. She loses her jobs, and may wind up in jail before it’s over. Along the way, she and the hat may have a new way of making ends meet.

Humorous and fun, The Hat is novella length. Wonderful escapism for an afternoon.

My Review:

The Hat is the first book in the series, though each story stands alone and they can be read in any order.

It does a great job of setting up the series, introducing us to Lizzie and the mysterious Hat, and some of the problems Lizzie will face as the series progresses. It’s quick, funny, and fast-paced. I read this one in a single sitting.

Other than the hat and a few practice ghoulies, this is the least “paranormal” book of the series, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. I love the details with Lizzie’s various jobs and with the Hat’s love of music.

I’d recommend reading the books in order, as I feel Boyack really does a great job of building up the world and the relationships between the characters. As I continued with the series, I loved each book better than the last!

#2 Viral Blues

The Blurb:

Someone knows about the hat. The creature from another dimension that helps Lizzie fight against the creatures of darkness.

They are summoned to a cryptic meeting with a secret society, where they meet other people with enhanced skills. It turns out someone, or something, has been tampering with the world’s vaccine supply. The goal doesn’t appear to be political or financial, but biblical pestilence.

Can this group of loners come together in time to make a difference when even the proper authorities are obstacles?

Check out Viral Blues, for your dose of paranormal adventure, with a strong sample of dark humor. And in recent superhero style, don’t miss the secret last chapter after the back material.

My Review:

The second book in the series is Viral Blues which, is the most sci-fi flavoured book in the series so far. This one is a little different than the first in that we are dealing with a whole host of characters as Lizzie and the Hat join a secret society to help save the world from a familiar threat… a deadly string of viruses caused by the vaccines that are meant to protect!

This book was written in 2019, long before any of us were thinking about diving headfirst into a global pandemic and all of the complications we’ve had with vaccines and viruses in the last two years. It is actually kind of eerie how close Boyack comes to things that have actually happened (and things that people are afraid of happening) even if his virus outbreak was paranormally driven.

If you are suffering from coronavirus overload and don’t want to think about that kind of thing for a while, you could safely skip this one and not lose anything from the rest of the series.

That said, I really enjoyed this one. I loved all the various characters (each have their own books in Boyack’s back catalogue and are well worth checking out!) and I love the heist style action team. This book is a bit darker than the other three, and definitely has a grittier hard-boiled feel, especially with the character Clovis. But Viral Blues has everything from witchcraft and demons to zombies and ghouls to mobsters and machine guns. It is absolutely packed full of fantastic characters, witty dialogue, great fight scenes, and high-stakes action. If you can handle the virus/vaccine theme, I definitely wouldn’t skip it!

#3 The Ballad of Mrs. Molony

The Blurb:

Lizzie and the hat are back, and this time they’re chasing vampires across a subculture of America. A pair of rodeo cowboys are holding a woman captive to use like a milk cow since they joined the undead.

The person who put them onto the trail is also a vampire, but he has to be the worst vampire in history. Is he really that pitiful, or is he setting a trap for our heroes? Does the woman even exists? Can Lizzie and the hat find her before she also takes up blood sucking?

Follow Lizzie and the hat as they use their cover band to stalk vamps across the country music scene.

My Review:

Vampire cowboys! Okay, now we’re talking…

The Ballad of Mrs. Molony is a much more traditional take on the paranormal mystery genre. But the unusual setting, with vampires stalking the rodeo circuit, makes this a vampire hunting book unlike anything you’ve probably ever read.

I really appreciated the details about the rodeo scene as I have rodeo competitors in my family (barrel racers, bronc riders, and rodeo clowns) and I feel like it was really well researched and perfectly captured. Especially the scene with the rodeo clowns; it’s really the most dangerous job there is!

There are no sparkly romantic vamps here. These are dangerous predators, and the tensions rise for Lizzie and the Hat as Lizzie prepares to take on the most monstrous creatures she has battled yet!

Plus we get all the great details of Lizzie and the Hat playing with their band, which I absolutely adore. This is my favourite thing about these books, the subplots with the band. It’s so much fun and adds yet another layer to make this series completely different. When I finished this book I thought “How is he going to top this?”

And then…

#4 Lunar Boogie

The Blurb:

Lizzie and the hat are back in action, only this time they’re up against the most tragic monster of all, a werewolf.

This adventure is more like hunting an animal, and the werewolf is unlikely to come to any of their musical performances. This puts Lizzie out in the dark corners and wooded areas of the city. It may be more beneficial to get the monster to hunt Lizzie than to stalk him on his own turf. All she has to do is be quicker on the trigger than the wolf is on his feet.

At the same time, the police think they’re after a serial killer. Lizzie tries to keep them alive while also keeping them out of her way. As the body count rises, so do the pressures. It doesn’t help that people are blaming Lizzie and the hat for the killings. This involves an urban myth about them that the locals call Hellpox.

Pull on your boogie shoes and join the hunt. Designed as an afternoon read, this one is tons of supernatural fun.

My Review:

This one is my favourite so far!

The tension really starts to heat up in the fourth installment of the series as the Hat tries to protect Lizzie from a monster she’s not ready to fight, and Lizzie starts to worry that the killer might be someone she knows.

Lunar Boogie really checks all the paranormal mystery boxes for me. It’s scary, sometimes funny, tense, and well structured. Boyack has a great balance here between Lizzie’s private life and her monster-hunting secret identity, and we start to see the borders between the two blur a little. I loved the additional perspective of the detective who is trying to solve the case alongside Lizzie. And I extra loved the final scenes with Lizzie’s hippy-dippy mom. I absolutely can’t wait to read the next book when it comes out!

Discussion

What’s your favourite paranormal series? What’s the most unusual book you’ve read recently? Will you give Lizzie and the Hat a try? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Monday Musings: How far away is the technological singularity, really?

Will we some day invent super-intelligent computers capable of absorbing and destroying the human race?

It’s a question that science fiction writers have loved to explore since the early days of computing. It’s an evolution of the fear that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, really.

Will human beings take their desire to “play God” too far and end up being destroyed by their own creation?

We have had similar fears about cloning, gene hacking, and weather manipulation. But there is something about computers and artificial intelligence that rings louder alarm bells for many of today’s top scientists working in the field. And while AI and robotics continues to be one of the fastest advancing branches of scientific research–and recent developments promise to bring human quality of life to new, higher standards–the cold, hard truth of the matter is that this technology could be very dangerous.

What is the singularity?

The technological singularity is a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization.

What will the singularity look like?

Because “the singularity” is a hypothetical situation, we don’t really know.

The concept is not based on any one scientific or technological fact but rather is the product of a kind of guesswork–guesses made by some of the most brilliant minds of this century, mind you, but guesses nonetheless–based on what we currently know about the limits of computing, coding, and the human brain.

At what point in machine learning do we consider a computer/program/robot to be sentient or sapient?

Is sapience required for singularity? Does a machine have to be self-aware to be a danger to human beings.

What if computers learn to think differently from humans and we don’t recognize their self-awareness?

We don’t know.

But it helps to understand how machines are currently being taught to think, and how that differs from the way human beings think.

What is the difference between machine learning and deep learning?

These two terms are tossed around a lot when people discuss developments in artificial intelligence.

Machine learning implies the kind of pre-programmed code that teaches machines how to behave in certain situations.

It can be as simple as your phone knowing the difference between a tap and a swipe or as complex as the algorithms that drive facial recognition software or the “You May Also Like…” feature on your favourite online shopping store.

Machine learning is basically a way of describing the way machines observe, interpret, and apply data and they way they learn from that process.

Machine learning allows for automation in many industries, and is something we take for granted in most of our personal tech, including the software and apps we use every day.

Deep learning implies something a little more mystical than “just coding,” and is often likened to the way human brains process data. Indeed, deep learning is an attempt to create human-like thought processes in computers.

But deep learning is machine learning, it’s simply layered machine learning, designed to mimic the neural networks in organic brains.

With simple machine learning, an algorithm uses existing data to interpret new data, such as a music recommendation on a playlist. The machine knows that many listeners of Song A also liked Song B. If you listen to it, like it, and add it to a playlist, the algorithm as more information with which to make suggestions. If you don’t like it, you tell your app “don’t show me this song” and it adds that information to its database.

But if you don’t TELL the app you don’t like the song, you will probably see the same bad recommendation over and over again. It requires human input to decide if its choice was right or wrong.

When algorithms are layered, the machine’s need for human intervention is reduced. The simple yes/no of selecting a song for your playlist can be added to another algorithm that interprets a lack of input (when you ignore a suggestion) as its own type of data, and the songs you don’t listen to or only listen to once for 15 seconds, and it can make its own decision not to show you more of that or similar songs in order to increase the efficacy of its suggestions.

This type of deep machine learning is the closest we have come to teaching machines to think for themselves, and has created such AI marvels as Google’s AlphaGo which is the first computer program to defeat a human champion Go player.

How does the human brain work?

The biggest challenge to artificial intelligence today is our limited understanding of how the human brain actually works. We are starting to unravel the mysteries of the human mind, and our knowledge of our own neural networks has given us the ability to create deep learning in machines.

However, there is much we don’t know about consciousness, and we have yet to decide on a satisfactory way to prove sentience or sapience in any other living creature. Some philosophers argue that we cannot truly prove that anyone exists out of our own mind.

But there is a chance that our deep learning machines will unravel their own mysteries before we get a chance to and this moment will be the beginning of the singularity.

Once machines become capable of learning and teaching without human input, they will likely be running circles around us before we even realize what has happened.

When will the singularity happen?

Most experts put the early stages of the technological singularity within this century. Many suggest we will be seeing AI take off by 2045.

Current advances in AI seem to support this “sooner rather than later” prediction.

Sophia, the social robot created by Hansen Robotics has become a household name after performing on various talk shows and giving hilariously unsettling interviews in which she jokes about overthrowing humanity. Sophia is currently being mass-produced, along with three other robots, and will be available for purchase later this year.

As these “thinking” robots spend more and more time with humans their programming is likely to improve exponentially.

What about transhumanism?

Transhumanism, the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology, complicates the issue of the singularity.

We have already entered the transhumanist age with cybernetics and biocomputing changing the lives of people all around the world. It will also change the way we interact with computers. As technologies are developed that make more and more computing an integral part of our physical existence–implants that help us control smart houses, or access email without a phone or computer–we may well already be a part of computers as they become self-aware. Our own brains may passively teach the deep learning computer programs more efficiently than we can ever do consciously.

Machines may teach us more about ourselves than we can teach them.

Hopefully, they will give us some time to enjoy the newfound knowledge before they destroy us!

Discussion

Does the thought of a technological singularity terrify or excite you? Do you think it’s so far off that we needed worry? Is it a fantasy? A very real threat?

The cyberpunk genre loves to explore the liminal space between transhumanism and singularity, which is one of my favourite things about it. When I first started writing the Bubbles in Space series I meant for it to be a fun, tongue-in-cheek look at the way technology might help us and fail us in the future, and it didn’t take long for me to start exploring these ideas in my own way, too.

How much can we alter the human body and mind with technology before we are not really human anymore? What will we call Humanity v2.0?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Indie Feature Friday: Techno Thriller Book Review – Agent G: Infiltrator by C.T. Phipps

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for another Indie Feature Friday book review!

I’ve been madly busy the last couple of weeks, scrambling to finish writing Bubbles in Space #4: Spit ‘Em Out while battling a nasty head cold.

Today was the first day I had to sit down and simply read for pleasure for more than half an hour.

And I chose to spend these precious moments of free time with a new-to-me SF writer, C.T. Phipps.

His Agent G trilogy really piqued my interest as I’ve been thinking about tackling a techno thriller series set HoloCity (the setting of Bubbles in Space) as a way of branching out and attracting new readers to my weird little niche series, lol.

But that’s neither here nor there.

What is here and now and painfully cool is Agent G!

Agent G: Infiltrator by C.T. Phipps

The Blurb:

“Black Technology has made murder a billion dollar industry.”

The International Refugee Society has twenty-six cybernetically enhanced “Letters,” and for the right price, they’ll eliminate anyone. They’ve given up their families and their memories for ten years of service with the promise of a life of luxury awaiting them.

Agent G is one of these “Letters,” but clues to his past are starting to emerge while he’s on a dangerous mission to infiltrate the Society’s most dangerous competitor. In the midst of all the violence, subterfuge, and deceit, he’ll need to keep his wits about him and trust sparingly.

After all if an organization will kill for money, what would they do to keep the truth hidden?

My Review:

I had a ton of fun with this fast, action-packed, sci-fi thriller.

Agent G is pure style–think cyborg James Bond–a calm, cool killer for hire working for the dubiously moral International Refugee Society. The novel starts off with a bang (literally!) as we get a peek into G’s high-stakes, ultra-rich, no-limits lifestyle as a professionally trained and artificially conditioned political assassin.

Now, I normally shy away from books with invincible action hero types. I tend to prefer underdog characters, people with real life struggles, you know? But this book took me completely by surprise. What starts off as a guilty-pleasure type read, full of car chases and gun-fights and sexy leading ladies, suddenly takes a turn for something much more complicated.

And I dig it.

G’s ultra-cool exterior is slowly chipped away by a series of betrayals and jobs that have him questioning his job, the people he works for, and who he is as a person under the high-tech façade. As more of G’s past is revealed, and he starts to get glimpses of his own unconditioned emotions, G’s character becomes so much more than your standard action-flick super badass and he starts to resemble something much real and human.

And then the twist at the end! Oh my. This is going to be a totally bingeable trilogy.

Phipps tackles some big issues regarding empathy, morality, and transhumanism in a fun, sarcastic, and light way. So you can really read into it with was much or as little depth as you’re feeling at the moment. If you feel like a lightning-paced action thriller with tons of twists and turns to keep you guessing, you’ll love this book. And if you like your SF thrillers with a side of technological catch-22s and transhumanist-flavoured existential dread, Agent G will not disappoint.

I’ll definitely be picking up the next two in this series!

Discussion:

Have you read any of Phipp’s work? What did you think? He has a superhero series that looks really cool, too!

What’s your favourite action movie/book that tackles themes that go beyond fast and easy entertainment?

Bubbles in Space: Top 5 Cyberpunk Movie Inspirations

I often get asked where my inspiration for the larger-than-life characters and glittery/gritty settings of HoloCity came from when I started writing my new cybernoir detective series, Bubbles in Space. Of course the whole “rainy nights and neon lights” aesthetic was largely solidified into the cyberpunk genre canon with the one-two punch of and Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner and William Gibson’s 1984 chart-topper, Neuromancer.

But they aren’t the only works I have been inspired by!

These are the Top 5 Cyberpunk Films that inspired Bubbles in Space

  • The Fifth Element

This has always been one of my favourite SF films, and I found myself re-watching it halfway through writing Tropical Punch just to add a bit more glittery pizzazz to my space cruiser settings. You will definitely see some character inspirations popping up, too. Chris Tucker’s gender bending character, Ruby Rhod, was in the back of my mind when I created the fashion magnate Cosmo Régale. He’s a huge personality, and I also loved the way The Fifth Element flipped gender expectations. The (to us) effeminate Ruby Rhod was the epitome of high-fashion masculinity, and I really wanted to play with the idea of gender in this series. Although The Fifth Element is more Space Opera than Cyberpunk, it really helped me visualize a lot of my high-tech settings. The glitz and glamour of the rich and famous was an important dichotomy to represent next to the grit and poverty of life on the streets of HoloCity.

  • Blade Runner/Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner represents of the of those rare instances where I love the film as much as the book it was based on. In my opinion, this is one of the best book to movie adaptations every made. It is not 100% true to the plot of the book, but I think it does an excellent job of exploring PKD’s themes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in a way that stays true to the soul of the story. This is another classic in terms of cyberpunk aesthetic, too. The dark nights, neon lights, perpetual rain. It shaped the genre, in film and literature, for generations. The android Rachael is one of my favourite characters of all time and she inspired one of the characters in Tropical Punch (I won’t say who, no spoilers!). She is the ultimate femme fatale. Blade Runner 2049 expands on the success of the first film and is such a cinematic joy to watch. It is beautifully shot and scored, and the dull, throbbing ache to the emotional vibe is so cyberpunk it hurts. They are both must sees as far as I’m concerned!

  • The Ghost in the Shell

I know a lot of people didn’t like this movie. As I wasn’t familiar with the original, I didn’t really have any expectations going into it. I really enjoyed the visuals and the story and felt like it brought what I loved about Blade Runner and The Matrix, into the present day. The use of holograms in this film inspired some of the scenes in Tropical Punch. I liked the gritty use of back alley cybernetic enhancement, too. You will see a lot of parallels between this movie and my Bubbles in Space series, though Bubbles doesn’t take herself quite as seriously as Major!

  • Cowboy Bebop

Okay, it’s not a film (although there is one, I haven’t seen it yet!). But this TV series is fantastic! My husband and I have been binge watching the whole thing. It’s also got a lot of Space Opera elements, but I love the way it blends in Cyberpunk themes and aesthetics. It showed me that I could mash up my favourite sci-fi genres and gave me a lot of ideas on how I might expand the Bubbles in Space series into a more traditional Space Opera. The storytelling in this series is absolutely phenomenal, and I really feel like each episode could have been expanded into a full length movie. But because they haven’t been, my imagination has been able to run wild with ideas!

  • Alita: Battle Angel

Technically I can’t call this an inspiration for Tropical Punch because I didn’t watch it until after the first book was written. However, I really love the combination of post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk settings in this movie! There are so many cool themes and ideas being explored in this film, I hope they’ll make more. Cyborg gladiators, the floating city, bounty hunters. Alita brings the high-tech, low-life vibe of cyberpunk into an even starker contrast and really pushes some of the boundaries we’ve come to expect. Here, cyberpunk loses it’s “retro” feel and steps into the future. For me, Alita really represents an evolution in the genre and I’m very excited to see what other new works it will inspire.

Discussion

What are your favourite cyberpunk movies? Are you surprised by any of these inspirations for Bubbles in Space?

Indie Feature Friday: Heroes Road by Chuck Rogers

Have you ever read a book that completely re-kindled your love for a genre you thought you’d moved on from?

When I was younger, I read a lot of epic fantasy. It was my preferred genre. I couldn’t get enough of it. But somewhere along the line, it started to feel a bit stale and tired. The tropes felt too tropey. The things I used to love became obvious and cliched…

I think this happens when you become too familiar with any one genre or sub-genre. Sometimes you just need a break, even from the things you once thought you couldn’t do without.

Well it’s been years, and my love for epic fantasy has never really come back to me.

I have been trying!

Part of me feels like I just don’t have the mental capacity for long, slow world building and massive series now that I’m an adult. Home ownership, having small children, being self-employed… it all takes up a lot of head space.

But I think the sad truth is I just haven’t been able to find a lot of writers who push the boundaries of expectations enough to keep me interested while still retaining that classic, epic fantasy “feel” I originally fell in love with.

Fortunately, Fate intervened on my behalf and put me in the path of this book…

I just finished reading Heroes Road by Chuck Rogers and I am absolutely blown away by how much I loved it.

I was hooked in the first chapter. It’s familiar in all the right ways, and yet completely unexpected and fresh feeling. I loved that Rogers blended historical fiction with fantasy in a completely different way than I’ve ever seen before.

Rogers’ action scenes are relentlessly paced and yet perfectly grounded. His characters are well-rounded and hilarious and build a fantastic group dynamic. Each character has believable strengths and flaws and grows throughout the book. You will root for them and pull out your hair and sometimes want to throw things at them, and in the end you will be satisfied. What more can you ask for in a book?

So, while I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same reading epiphany I had while reading Heroes Road, I do highly recommend it to all fantasy readers, especially to those who fear they might have outgrown the genre. This is epic fantasy done right. I can’t wait to read the next one, Heroes Road: II.

For you audiobook listeners, there is a dramatized series done by Graphic Audio based on these books, too!

If you’ve read HEROES ROAD I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If not, what are your recommendations for epic fantasy books that shake up the genre?

Indie Feature Friday Cyberpunk Book Review: Welcome to Autumnport by Norfy A.R.

Happy Friday the 13th! I have a story for you…

Once upon a time I was geeking out in a cyberpunk fan club on Facebook and I got into a conversation with the lovely Norfy who was halfway finished writing her very first cyberpunk story. As you know, I love connecting with other authors and especially cyberpunk authors, so I was thrilled when she asked me to beta read Welcome to Autumnport for her.

Spoiler Alert: I loved it!

Here are some reasons you might love it too:

  • Welcome to Autumnport just launched this week and has been solidly in the Top 100 of Amazon’s LGBTQ+ Science Fiction list ever since.
  • It’s equal parts sexy and nerdy, a difficult combination to pull off.
  • Norfy is a debut Canadian SF writer, and everyone loves Canadian SF writers.
  • Queer writers writing queer characters and supporting queer artists? Yes please!
  • Adorable artwork by illustrator Ieka 95 (<– check out her portfolio on Deviant Art!)

Curious? If you want to give something new and different a try, read on to see if this book is for you!

Welcome to Autumnport by Norfy A.R.

The Blurb:

“You will exist as my toy in perpetuity – and you will like it!”

Heartbroken and outcast as a mad scientist, Doctor Lance finds his only mercy in the form of Duchess, an infernal dominatrix offering a new lease on life. Then whisked away to the metropolis of Autumnport – a realm of corruption, perversion, and rampant technological growth – Lance is caught in an uncanny tango with cyborgs, dark elves, and captivating succubi while serving as Duchess’s favored champion. Meanwhile, rebellion simmers in the heart of the land.

Will Lance prosper in this brave new world of science and magic? Or will he rise against Duchess’s tyrannical rule and burn it all down? Find out in Act I of this cyber-augmented urban fantasy!

Features end-of-chapter artwork by the marvellously talented Ieka95.

**Content Warning** : While intended as a work of sci-fi ecchi, this is still an adult story dealing with suitably adult themes and subjects, some of which may be considered offensive or triggering. Use your discretion.

My Review

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t read romance/erotica. Really! I don’t.

And yet…

Here I am again.

It’s not my fault. I was seduced by a cyberfemme demoness with adorably geeky Facebook posts.

Okay, technically Welcome to Autumnport is not romance or erotica. It is, however, a delicious blend of cyberpunk and dark fantasy that happens to have some highly sexual themes and plenty of smutty scenes to match.

How does that work?

By definition a romance is a novel about a relationship between two or more people, in which the story arc is driven by the relationship. Character arcs and plot arcs are focused on the many ups and downs of the relationship, and end with an emotionally satisfying Happily Every After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN) finale. It’s all about the feels.

Erotica, on the other hand, is a novel where the story is driven by the sex. Often erotica is more literary in nature, in which case sex is catalyst for self-discovery and personal growth or change. If there is no character development or plot arc… then it’s porn. You’re just reading pure smut, you dirty little cyborg.

Don’t worry, though. I’ve got your back. Because you can read Welcome to Autumnport for all your smutty needs and tell people that you’re reading high-brow SF literature.

And you won’t even be lying.

(I’m done joking about smut now, I promise.)

Welcome to Autumnport is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s set in a cyberpunk-esque afterlife ruled by a hermaphroditic demon dominatrix named Duchess who uses the sexual energies of the souls she has trapped to power the scientific advancements of her kingdom. The narrative follows the only person in Autumnport to openly defy Duchess’s rule, the mad scientist Lance, who resents Duchess’s control over him and the people he cares about. Lance has to battle his own depression and ambivalence before he can act, though, and the Duchess knows just how to play him.

Norfy’s narrative voice is delightfully nerdy and full of wry cynicism that acts as a perfect balance to the ridiculously over-the-top sexuality of the setting. The effect is both fun and angsty with an undercurrent of dark and silly humour that I absolutely loved.

Then Norfy goes on to develop these seemingly silly characters into real, complex individuals and I even found myself rooting for the nefarious Duchess by the end of Act 1. Hidden beneath the surface of this strangely compelling setting are themes of love and friendship, gender and sexuality, and most importantly identity as Lance and Duchess work with one another and struggle against one another as if they are two parts of the same soul.

Is Welcome to Autumport a piece of steamy but silly sci-fi fun? Yes.

But it is also so much more, and I cannot wait to read the next installment of this series!

Bonus: Each chapter ends with an adorable illustration of one of the characters. I wish they were collectables so I could have them all…

About the Author

About Norfy A. R.

Norfy is an LGBT computer engineering student headquartered in the urban nightmare of British Columbia, Canada. She is doomed to a state of eternal grumpiness as she torments her characters with increasingly unlikely tribulations and scenarios. Her storytelling emphasizes the following axioms:

1. That queer fiction need not be politically in-your-face or alienating to a non-queer audience.

2. That clichés are to be cleverly embraced and subverted, rather than fervently avoided.

3. That ambitious queer villains are not only interesting, but empowering.

4. That scenes of intimacy are juiciest when backed up by plot and in-universe causality.

5. That waifus ought to have interesting lives outside of what they share with the harem-collecting MC

Discussion

Does this sound like something you might enjoy? If you check it out be sure to swing back here to tell me what you thought!

What’s the last book you read that completely defied your expectations?

Up, up, and away!

It’s launch day for Bubbles in Space #3, Pop ‘Em One!

To celebrate, I’m offering #1 Tropical Punch and #2 Chew ‘Em Up for only $0.99!

Make sure you grab your copies before August 9th, 2021 to take advantage of these prices!

Calling all reviewers!

If you’ve read any of the Bubbles in Space books, be sure to add your review to Amazon and Goodreads! Reviews are a great way to lift up your favourite authors and can make or break the indie publishing experience. Visibility is tough out there!

Thank you so much for your support!

Indie Feature Friday: DOUBLE FEATURE The Blind Spot by Michael Robertson and Ringer by D.T. Wilby

So many books, so little time…

I have been reading a lot this year! Even more than usual, because I’m doing a deep dive into the cyberpunk genre, beta reading for other authors, reading books on writing craft and book marketing, as well as pleasure reading in other genres (my go-tos are mysteries, thrillers, and horror) and reading to my kids.

My goal was to read 40 books this year, and I’ve already read 46 by my count (I don’t add the middle grade and young adult books I read with my kids to my goodreads shelf because it gets too messy)

That’s great!

But I haven’t been as on top of writing reviews as I’d like to be.

I’m going to kill two birds with one stone here and do a Cyberpunk Indie Feature Friday: Double Feature!

Fancy, right?

Here they are…

The Blind Spot by Michael Robertson

The Blurb:

COULD YOU BETRAY EVERYONE YOU CARE ABOUT TO PREVENT A WAR?

The Blind Spot exists in defiance of Scala City’s dystopian big brother regime. It occupies a small sector in the city, and those who live there believe in their right to privacy. Scala City believe if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. But the Blind Spot have hackers that could bring the larger city to its knees. This is why it’s never spilled over into all-out war. Until now …

A terrorist attack on Scala City’s main plaza has tipped the delicate balance. There is only one person who can halt the conflict before it begins …

Marcie Hugo, daughter of the Blind Spot’s leader, and the district’s best kept secret. Cybernetically enhanced, she’s faster, stronger, and smarter than most. But more importantly, she’s invisible. Protected and hidden away by her father for the majority of her life, she’s in the unique position to move between the Blind Spot and Scala City unnoticed.

With the best hacker in the city on her side, and while the rest of the Blind Spot prepares for a bloody war, Marcie gets to work …

To avoid total annihilation, she will have to betray everyone she loves, starting with her father …

And even then, her chances of success are slim …

Join Marcie in a race against time as she turns over every neon-lit inch of Scala City and The Blind Spot in a quest to discover who’s trying to destroy her home and why. And even if she is successful, with the number of ties she’s severed, how much of a life will she have left to return to?

My Review:

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you will know that I only review the indie books I really love. The Blind Spot stands out for the intricacy of its plot and the excellent use of a double POV framework.

The book is structured so that chapters alternate between two characters from opposite sides of a politically divided city.

Nick, an overweight and underloved office manager from Scala City, is addicted to a social media app that sends him “lifts,” recordings of the positive things that his friends and colleagues say about him through out the day. In fact, nearly everyone in Scala City is driven by this app, and much of their days are made up of sending and receiving lifts to others. At first glance it seems like a really sweet, wholesome use of technology. But when Nick is betrayed by someone close to him, he begins to question the validity of this constant stream of thoughtless praise…

Marcie, a typical teenager rebelling against her father’s attempts to get her to settle down, wants nothing more than to escape the Blind Spot, an enclosed area of Scala City that is completely free of government surveillance. An uneasy peace exists between the Blind Spot and Scala City, and when a terrorist attacks, tensions rise, putting Marcie’s dream of moving to the City on hold. But Marcie discovers a secret that could stop an all out war from breaking out. The trouble is, she will have to betray everyone in the Blind Spot in order to stop the war…

Robertson very skillfully builds up these characters with their completely separate lives and then slowly brings them together in a fast-paced thriller that deals with huge universal themes like love and betrayal, the abuse of social media, the abuse of people by the government and huge corporations, and technological inequality.

I’d felt the characters were very believable and well rounded, though I would have liked to see a little more development of the true villain of the story. The interpersonal conflicts between Nick and Marcie and their respective antagonists was spot on, though! The characters really drive the plot in this story, and I could barely put it down.

I look forward to the rest of the series!

Ringer by D.T. Wilby

The Blurb:

Will is not himself lately… but is someone else?

All he knows for sure is something is out there. It wants his home, his girlfriend, his life. And it wants him gone…

Years from now, Will is one of the many who have benefited from gene therapy and replacement organs that fit like a glove. Growing up a sickly child was tough, but now he is able to live the full life he could once only dream of from a hospital bed.

Life couldn’t be going much better for Will, until one night he awakes to disturb a break in. A glimpse of the intruder drives him to demand answers that he knows will turn his life upside down. Something just doesn’t add up and he can’t let it go. Is he losing his grip on reality? Or is there really something very sinister going on at New Horizons Bio-Tech?

By demanding the truth, he will only be hurting himself…

My Review:

Ringer is a real throwback to classic sci-fi horror like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This is a novella length tale with very slow burn tension that builds throughout the book and gets quite intense at the end.

Wilby’s language is very literary in style, another parallel with the classics. So if you aren’t used to that, you might find it a little difficult to get into. However, the prose is often beautiful and has moments of true poignancy that I feel are well worth the extra effort.

The main character, Will, walks a very fine line throughout the novella where we are not quite sure if he is going insane or if his experiences are actually happening to him. In the end, we are faced with another, even more unnerving reversal (no spoilers!) which really brings up some excellent thematic questions.

I feel this one would make a great book club book, but I don’t want to discuss it too in depth and give away the twist!

The dialogue was a bit stilted in places. Again, it reads in a similar way to classic stories where modern writers favour a bit more indirect conversational styles. But overall I don’t feel it detracted from my appreciation of the story.

It’s very difficult to weave a completely story into fewer than 100 pages and Wilby has done a superb job with the medium. I will be keeping my eye out for more of his work!

Discussion:

Have you read either of these books? What did you think? If not, do either of them strike your fancy? Robertson’s The Blind Spot is one of the original Top 10 Indie Cyberpunk Novels I set out to read and review this year. I’m slowly making my way through the list, but I keep getting sidetracked by new Cyberpunk books!

You can check out past reviews here:

As well as some classics:

I have a review of Into Neon by Austin Dragon coming up, as well as a non-cyberpunk review of Alexis vs. The Afterlife by Marcus Alexander Hart, a fantastic YA/NA Paranormal that had me laughing out loud repeatedly and is a great fit for the other Sci-Fi Humour lovers out there.

What else would you like to see me review?