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!

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?

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?

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?

Indie Feature Friday: Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin

You know those moments you just want a quick and easy read? Nothing too heady or heavy, just a book to kick back and relax with?

I have the book for you!

I’ve been working through my collection of Indie Cyberpunk Books and recently finished reading Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin.

It was such a breath of fresh air after reading Neuromancer! (Read my review of the classic cyberpunk novel here)

If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced read with great characters and a heist-style plot, you will not be disappointed by this book.

Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin

The Plot

When a corporate lackey has the rug pulled out from under his illusions, will his hidden fire flicker or ignite a rebellion?
Orphaned and alone, Moss is happy to have found a place in the world. But his humdrum working routines take a terrifying turn when a mysterious woman breaks into his apartment and hands him a data chip from his dead parents. Suddenly hearing messages revealing his benevolent employer has a far darker side, he braves the dangerous megacity streets in search of the truth.

Surrounded by outcasts and criminals and running on instinct, Moss stumbles onto a rebel group intent on exposing their corrupt oppressors. And though he fears for his life when his old boss has put a price on his head, the naïve man believes the key to taking down the enemy may lie inside the high-tech device… and his own cerebral cortex.

Will Moss’s attempt to fight the power cause him to terminally short circuit?

Into Neon is the electrode-laden first book in A Cyberpunk Saga science fiction series. If you like everyman heroes, futuristic tech, and immersive dystopian worlds, then you’ll love Matthew A. Goodwin’s mind-expanding epic.

My Review

I’ve been reading a lot of cyberpunk novels lately, and trying to mix up the classics and traditionally published fan favourites with my indie author brothers and sisters, and I have to say…

Indie is where it’s at.

Is it just me? Maybe my tastes have changed. My brain is admittedly more primed for fast-paced, bite sized, binge-worthy media.

I used to love reading epic SF&F tomes that transported me to another world for days on end. I loved that feeling of lifting my head after a long book or series was finished and feeling like I didn’t know how my life was going to go on without this world or these characters.

But my life has changed.

My husband and I run two businesses, I homeschool three kids, I write full time. There are never fewer than four people in my house and usually five or more. Not to mention the mountains of dishes and laundry created by having a full house 24/7…

I do not have peaceful, interruption free stretches of time anymore. I do not have the mental capacity to completely immerse myself in another world.

And I know it’s not just me. That was a rhetorical question. Most of us are dealing with similar situations these days.

You know who is serving this newly expanding market of easy escapism literature?

Indies.

Indie authors are hitting a note that traditional publishers are just missing out on these days.

Sometimes I just want to be entertained without needed to read and reread obtuse “literary” passages or search up scientific terminology to understand what the hell is going on.

I have a degree in English Literature and I specialized in Literary Criticism. I’m no lightweight when it comes to academic chest thumping.

But I can’t help but feel that traditional sci-fi is trying way too hard to impress me some days.

Sorry, boys. I’m not here for it.

Bring on the guilt-free entertainment. Bring on the pulp!

Bring on Into Neon!

I had so much fun with this book. It’s fun and easy to eat, Popcorn Lit!

Compared to something like the tech-heavy Neuromancer, Goodwin’s Into Neon is definitely more like cyberpunk lite. But I mean that in the best of ways.

Sometimes you want to explode your brain with mind-bogglingly intense science fiction and sometimes you just want to eat some sci-fi flavoured candy.

This is the candy.

Goodwin plays on lots of the standard cyberpunk tropes and has created a fascinating and frighteningly plausible future world, but you don’t need to have a dictionary handy in order to understand it.

Moss is a naïve, cog-in-the-machine type character who has no idea how his life is about to change. When the veil is lifted and Moss is thrown into a dark new world I couldn’t help being sucked into his story.

I’d classify Into Neon as geared toward an older Young Adult or New Adult audience, though it does have some strong language and mature themes.

The writing is simple and straightforward. The character development starts off quiet strong and is a little rushed near the end, but not so much that it interferes with the enjoyment of the plot. It’s really a coming of age novel with a cyberpunk back dropdrop.

Two things I think Goodwin does really well are:

  1. Maintaining the “punk” aspects of cyberpunk. This book’s main theme is rebellion against the government and corporate overlords. It’s about the underdog’s fight against oppressive power, which a lot of so-called cyberpunk these days seems to have forgotten.
  2. Great, inclusive characters. Goodwin uses characters of all backgrounds and fleshes them all out equally. There are no cookie cutter, tokenized characters, which I really appreciated.

So, if you are looking for a light, entertaining read with fabulous characters and an action-movie style plot, I highly recommend Into Neon! I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

Discussion

Have you read Into Neon yet? Do you have recommendations for other fun, entertaining, light sci-fi reading? Hit us up in the comments!

Cyberpunk Book Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Do you ever find weird gaps in your literary or pop culture knowledge?

You think you know what you’re talking about and then you get blindsided by some fact that is so obvious that people have stopped talking about it. But somehow you just didn’t know?

That was me this year.

I’ve loved cyberpunk books and movies for ages, but I never really dug into the genre until I decided I was going to start writing it and then… BAM!

Suddenly I’m looking into the gap… NAY! The wide, gaping chasm! of stuff I never knew I never knew.

Did you know that The Matrix movies are based on the classic cyberpunk Sprawl series by William Gibson? Probably. Everyone but me knew this, apparently.

Until a couple of months ago, I had never even read William Gibson, who is like the All Father of the cyberpunk genre.

My dad, who is THE LEAST cyberpunk person you could ever meet, has read Neuromancer.

This is just embarrassing.

So, uh… better late than never, I guess…

Here’s my review of William Gibson’s Sprawl #1 Neuromancer.

WOW!

That was my first impression as I started reading this classic cyberpunk novel. First the dry, gritty, cybernoir flavour of the writing. Then the intense complexity of the world Gibson imagined. Then the twisting turning plot.

This is a book I will read again, probably more than once. The first time was just to get acclimated. The second time will be to start piecing together all the bits I missed the first time around. There is a lot going on under the surface of this novel, and Gibson isn’t spoonfeeding any details. Modern audiences will be a bit adrift in this world, but all the answers are there. The reader just has to work for it.

I loved that.

But let’s talk a bit about the book.

Setting/Themes

Neuromancer came out in 1984.

It’s kind of interesting that Gibson wrote this book–which prophesizes many things that have come to pass, like the internet and virtual reality and advanced cybernetics–in the same year that George Orwell set his own classic dystopian science fiction novel in.

1984, which Orwell wrote in 1948, in turn had prophesized things like the large colour telescreens and facial recognition, speech to text software, and an all-observing government bodies.

And it’s the year I was born.

So we kinda nailed it. 1984 was a good year.

But it is strange to read books like 1984 and Neuromancer from the present day, or rather “the future that wasn’t, quite.” Many of the things that Gibson predicts with computer usage is eerily accurate. We use words like cyberspace because of Gibson, for example. The high-tech, low-life dichotomy imagined in Neuromancer is very much representative of the massive income/class divides we see between first world and developing nations, and even within our own societies. As Gibson has said, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

But some things, like the way Gibson’s imagined “grid” (does he even use that word, or is that just how I imagined it? now I have to check) is more like being inside a 1980s video game than the high-def 3D virtual reality we have now. When reading, I was picturing Tron more than The Matrix.

This doesn’t detract from the book at all, of course. The vivid settings and characters and the complex heist-style plot more than make up for any of the retrospective anachronisms. Chiba and the Sprawl have become iconic of the cyberpunk aesthetic–rainy nights and neon lights–which were echoed in the 1984 Blade Runner movie, based on Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I have read that when Gibson saw Blade Runner he was in a panic because he thought people would think his book, which he’d spent years writing, would be seen as a rip off of the movie. Fascinating that both Blade Runner and Neuromancer tapped into the same neon noir vibe at the same time.

But I’ve recently been reading Larry Niven’s Flatlander stories and I actually see a lot more of Niven in Blade Runner than Gibson, with the pyramidal cities and off-world colonization that shaped Ridley Scott’s interpretation of Dick’s fantastic novel.

The more I think about it, the more I realize all of my favourite books and movies have been circling the same themes for decades… I guess it’s no surprise that I started writing in this genre, too!

As far as themes go, the most prevalent in Neuromancer (and most cyberpunk) are: the struggle against a vast economic inequality, the way technology doesn’t make life better for everyone, and the inevitable corruption of governments and corporations that run the world.

Characters

Gibson’s character development, like that of PKD, is often subtle when it is there at all. Neuromancer is not a character driven novel. He writes fascinating, larger than life characters and throws them into intense situations, but don’t expect these characters to change.

I actually like this.

I love a good character arc, don’t get me wrong. But not all stories are about people growing and changing. Sometimes we just want some fast past action, intricately twisting plots, and mysteries to solve.

In this way, Neuromancer is very much like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Flatlander, as well as the hard-boiled noir writers who came before them, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

And there’s a kind of statement in writing a character like Case or Molly, that they can undergo something like this and come out unchanged. No everyone gets better. Not everyone breaks the cycles that keep them trapped in their own lives. I felt that way about Deckard at the end of DADOES, too. Was he changed in the end? I’m not convinced.

So, Case isn’t a very dynamic character. He’s more reactive than active. But that’s okay. It works.

Plot

I have to admit I lost the thread a few times while reading this book. It’s not the kind of novel you can pick up and read with half an ear on your kid’s latest tale of woe or excitement. Neuromancer demands your full attention. When I couldn’t give it that, I moved very slowly and had to go back and re-read.

Gibson leaves clues to what is going on throughout the book, but they are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention! So I will definitely have to go back and reread this one now that I know the big picture plot. I’d love to go back and dig into the details.

Conclusion

I gave this book 4 stars, which is kind of cheeky of me, since it’s clearly a classic. But, I mean, once a writer hits the kind of fame and critical acclaim that William Gibson has, I feel I can be a little harder on him than I might be on an up and coming or indie writer.

I might change my tune once I’ve re-read the book. But part of me feels like I shouldn’t have to read a book twice in order to get it. It’s a great story, but it’s a bit obtuse.

It could be the fault of me as the reader, too, in that I wasn’t always 100% committed to the page as I was reading. I don’t often get to read in peace and quiet without interruption.

So I will re-read it when the kids are visiting their grandma sometime and I will come back to this review.

Have you read Neuromancer? What did you think?

Other Reviews

Read more of my classic SF reviews here:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

Brave New World by Aldus Huxley

Indie Feature Friday: Top 10 Cyberpunk Novels by Independent Authors

These Indie authors are taking cyberpunk to the next level!

If you ask most SF geeks about their favourite cyberpunk novel, you’ll likely hear one of two answers. William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

I know this, because I’ve been asking! Genre research is something I take pretty seriously.

I’m halfway through Neuromancer right now, and loving it. Snow Crash is next in my traditionally published TBR pile.

But I have another TBR pile, too. One reserved for independent authors!

I try to read at least one traditional and one indie title in the genre I’m writing in every month. This keeps me up to date on both mainstream and marginal trends to make sure that I’m hitting the right tropes and also still offering readers something unique.

So, while I will be reviewing both the traditional and indie titles that I read while writing my new cybernoir detective series, Bubbles in Space, I’d like to give you a sneak peek at the indie writers in my TBR pile!

Note: When you buy a book using one of the following links, I may earn a small commission! This allows me to keep buying and reviewing books on the blog, and comes at no extra cost to you.

Find Your Next Cyberpunk Read Here!

Grinders by C.S. Boyack

Grinders by C.S. Boyack is the first cyberpunk novel I ever read! You can read my review here.

Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

Amazon.com

Liquid Cool by Austin Dragon

Liquid Cool by Austin Dragon is the highest rated (that I could find) indie cyberpunk novel on Amazon! So it had to be one of the first I started to read. It’s got some whacky twists on classic cyberpunk tropes, larger-than-life characters, and lots of action. If you like plot driven, action packed adventures, this is one for you!

Liquid Cool Book #1 is the FIRST-IN-SERIES action-packed (and funny) sci-fi detective series.

Meet a private eye with a cool hat, laser gun, and attitude. But don’t touch his red hovercar — or you could get shot!

Enter the high-tech, low-life world of Liquid Cool as Cruz faces off neon gangsters, sinister cyborgs, corporate samurai soldiers, and laser-gun shootouts while solving his cases in the rainy supercity of Metropolis. It’s more gritty action and dark humor than you can handle.

In the debut novel that started it all, author Austin Dragon shows why you never want to meet a cyborg in a dark alley.

Liquid Cool is cyberpunk reimagined. It’s cyber-noir. It’s science fiction meets the detective thriller in an ever-rainy world of mega-skyscrapers. Hovercars fly above in the dark, bustling skies and gray people walk below on the grimy, flashy streets of this “neon jungle.” Metropolis isn’t a bad place, but it isn’t a good one either. Uber-governments and megacorporations fight for control of the supercity, but so does crime.

It’s here we meet Cruz, our private eye (and unlikely hero), in this supercity with a million victims and perpetrators.

Sci-Fi Gets Cool…Liquid Cool!

So grab Liquid Cool today and begin your action-filled and funny sci-fi detective adventure with Cruz and company!

Amazon.com

Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin

I just started this one last night, and the first chapter has me hooked!

“Star Wars Meets Blade Runner In An Awesome Adventure!” -Amazon Review (5 Stars)

Moss’ life is going nowhere until a mysterious woman knocks on his door and leaves him with the key to take down one of the world’s largest corporations. When he discovers a familial connection to the stranger, Moss leaves the comfort of his home with his best friend for the sprawling megacity.

There, he joins a group of ruffians dedicated to freeing people from the yoke of the evil companies. Police-for-hire, motorcycle gangs and betrayal threaten them at every turn.

Can Moss help this small group of rebels fight the power before it’s too late? Find out in Into Neon: A Cyberpunk Saga.

Amazon.com

Cyberpunk City: The Machine Killer by D.L. Young

A notorious data thief thinks his life of cybercrime is behind him. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Forced by a powerful executive to steal a priceless dataset, Maddox uncovers the shocking truth of a secret war between AIs, raging inside the digital universe known as virtual space. Plunged headlong into the deadly conflict, he’ll have to use every trick he’s ever learned—and a few he’s never tried before—if he wants to survive.

Sprawling megacities, rogue AIs, black market tech, modded mercenaries, and a pulse-pounding story filled with unexpected twists. If you love gritty, hardcore cyberpunk, you won’t want to miss this series!

Amazon.com

Behind Blue Eyes by Anna Mocikat

Welcome to the year 2095. Killer cyborgs hunt down anyone who disagrees with the “utopian” society.

Nephilim is the best operator in these elite death squads. Genetically and cybernetically enhanced, she and her team strike terror wherever they go. Knowing nothing besides this lifestyle, Nephilim believes that she’s part of a righteous cause.

Then a system glitch changes everything. Separated from the grid, for the first time, Nephilim begins doubting the world she lives in. Things get even more complicated when she meets Jake, a 100% bio-human, who opens her neon-blue eyes to the lies she had been exposed to all her life.

Nephilim decides to take a stand against her creators. But in this brave new world, can one person beat an all-powerful system of oppression?

Soon, Nephilim finds herself hunted by her own people…

Corporate megacities, dystopian themes, cyborg assassins, badass heroines, charismatic villains – an adrenaline ride that never stops.

If you love action-driven cyberpunk full of unexpected plot-twists, you don’t want to miss this!

Amazon.com

The Blind Spot by Michael Robertson

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?

The Blind Spot: Neon Horizon book one is a fast-paced science fiction thriller. If you like dazzling neon dystopian landscapes, where entertainment, credits, and the latest street drugs are all worth more than human life, then you’ll love this hard-hitting grimy glimpse into the hyper-cities of the future.

Amazon.com

Centricity by Nathaniel Henderson

“This intricate, big-data blast delivers a thrilling ride for cyberpunk SF fans.” —Kirkus Reviews

Centuries after the Fold, civilization is fragile. Holding it together is Naion, a city on the brink…

Intelligence Officer Adasha Denali is adept at solving problems, words her weapons of choice. When a botched operation sparks a diplomatic crisis, the political hammer falls hard on her agency. But Adasha senses this is just the tip of a larger threat; one that could send the world tumbling back into chaos.

Digging through a network of deception, she runs headlong into corporate mercenaries, a disavowed spy, and Neon Nik, a washed-up hacker with a world-changing tech in his pocket.

Nik used to be a legend. And fearless. And gainfully employed.

Now he wades through life struggling to pay off circling loan sharks—until a family friend is murdered and he inherits a stolen prototype.

With a vortex of hired killers and government agents on his heels, Nik’s got a decision to make: sell out or risk everything to regain what he lost. And perhaps save his city in the process.

Enter a world of engineered spies and high-tech weaponry, where synthetic intelligences whisper revelations through brainware and reality is just another overlay.

Amazon.com

YLO by Nicholas Clare

In a world where everyone’s biometric profiles are on record, a young policewoman turns up the impossible: an unidentifiable corpse. Jen’s hands are full: small kid in tow, obnoxious partner and stepson, incessant office politics, her Yellow ranking to maintain, and a demanding search-and-rescue job. So the last thing ylo-Jen needs is a mystery murder victim. Worse, the case is linked to a flourishing drugs ring. And both the Priesthood and her own hierarchy are holding things back. No wonder she’s got issues…

This beautifully crafted novel in a dry and laconic style is a crossover between literary, sci-fi and thriller. The characters are realistic, flawed people struggling to cope with families, drugs, sexuality, religious beliefs, death and the Afterlife, and above all the rat-race… in a thoroughly unpleasant but all too believable far-future society (that yields some uncomfortable reflections on our own). Imagery and characters perhaps reminiscent of the Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror and The Bridge: the dystopian, the discomforting and the dysfunctional.

Amazon.com

Xenochrist by N.H. Weber

XENOCHRIST is a science-fiction/cyberpunk novel set in the year 2503 and follows tech industry giants Kravac Alntar and Wixspin Atlicke as they struggle with the apparent suicide of one of their closest friends and business partner at ProgKVW, Volz Shimmel. Was her suicide an accident? The duo are thrust into a massive conspiracy involving rebel operatives, closed-off countries as a result of the Unification War, the massive Earth Unified Nation contractor Svetlo-Zeme, and the entity known as Xenochrist.

Amazon.com

Tropical Punch by S.C. Jensen

Of course, if you are interested in any of the above books, I hope you’ll check out mine too! Tropical Punch is Book One in my new cyber noir detective series, Bubbles in Space. It’s a hilarious, action-packed spin on the classic detective novel and I know you’re going to love it.

Launch Day is March 29, 2021 and pre-orders are live!

Strippers, Drugs, and Headless Corpses…

All in a day’s work for Bubbles Marlowe, HoloCity’s only cyborg detective.

What do an anti-tech cult, a deadly new street drug, and the corrupt Chief of Police have in common?

It’s a question Bubbles can’t afford to ask. Last time she got curious it cost her job, a limb, and almost her life.

She vows to stay out of police business. But with a newly minted cybernetic enhancement, a semi-legal P.I. license, and a knack for asking the wrong kind of questions…

Vows are made to be broken, right?

But as the body count stacks up, Bubbles realizes she’s made a terrible mistake.

Can she figure out who is behind the murders before she loses her head?

Warning: Don’t read this book if you hate fun, glitter, sassy robotic pigs, or hard-boiled badassery. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are rolling in their graves, but this is all their fault.

Get Punched! Buy it now!

Amazon.com

Discussion

Do you have a favourite cyberpunk novel? Do any of the books on this list tickle your bionic funny bone? Let me know in the comments!

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!: Indie Edition

Some of the best SF&F books out there right now are written by indie authors.

Don’t believe me?

Try some!

Traditional publishing has a long and glorious history of taking the safest route possible into customers (that’s readers!) pockets. They don’t like to take chances, try new things, explore risque themes and ideas. They don’t like to support writers they deem as “too niche.”

Which means the traditional publishing industry pumps out a lot of same old, same old books. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.

You get the idea.

I am fortunate to know many fantastic indie authors, writing in every genre from non-fiction and memoir, to romance and history, to–my favourite–science fiction and fantasy.

So to wrap up my How Long ’til Black Future Month? series, I give you Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NO!: The Indie Edition!

Science Fiction

Jelani Wilson

SpaceWizards! The Ballad of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson

If you’re looking to spice up your reading list with something totally different and out of this worlds, be sure to check out The Ballade of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson.

This novella is an offshoot of Wilson’s upcoming SpaceWizards! novel, and this teaser does not disappoint! I love the irreverent blend of Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes, the vibrant characters, and magically intergalactic setting. The dialogue is smart and funny (I’ll be adding fuckmelon to my list of curse words), and all the little details make this snapshot of Wilson’s world building come to life.

Xenobia the Blue is a magic blade swinging Space Wizard trying to lay low by posing as a backup singer for the famous cyborg songstress, Tronix. But when her cover is blown, all hell breaks loose on the luxury spaceship she’s been hiding out on…

Because this is a novella and not a full length novel I can’t give away too much more than that without ruining the plot. However, if you love spaceships, magic, creative alien species, and high stakes espionage, you’re going to love this book!

Ballad of the Bladesinger has a kind of Fifth Element / Guardians of the Galaxy vibe that is fun, feisty, and action packed. I highly recommend checking it out.

Find Jelani Wilson Here:

Website: http://www.pageswithoutpaper.com
Instagram: @jelaninfinite

W.A. Ford

The Fadian Experiment sucked me in from the first page. It starts out tough and gritty, you jump into some high-stakes action right off the bat, and it really doesn’t let up the whole way through.

The main character, Kaleigha, is living a brutal life. After failing a childhood assessment that would have placed her in a job, she now wanders the streets looking for temp work or hustling as a fortune teller while dodging the unwanted advances and abuses of police and other citizens. As if that’s not bad enough, Kaleigha hears voices in her head. That’s why she failed her assessment, and it’s getting worse instead of better.

I loved the set up for this novel. The way Ford describes the world and city, I was reminded of N.K. Jemisin’s settings where the city is almost a character in its own right. There is nothing kind about this world, and Ford’s depictions of future class division are frighteningly realistic.

As we get deeper into the story, the plot spirals and everything we think we understand from the beginning of the book is turned upside down. The characters are intense, the pace is relentless, and the world is complex. You just have to keep reading to see what’s coming.

The Fadian Experiment blends science and magic, reality and fantasy, dreams and memory with so many twists and turns you never know what is going to happen next. At its core, though, this is the story about a poor young women who will do anything to help her city and improve the lives of her people.

Book Two in the trilogy, The Fadian Escape is coming soon, so be sure to follow W.A. Ford for updates!

Find W.A. Ford Here

Facebook Page: The Far BackRoom
Instagram @thefarbackroom

Natasha Oliver

If you love fast paced, urban fantasy with a Sci-Fi twist have I got a book for you!

In Awakening, Book One in the Evolved Ones trilogy we meet Rox.

Rox is on the run, desperate to escape the people chasing her and to find out who she really is. From the very first page, we are sucked into Rox’s quest to rescue herself from a personal hell. She is stuck in limbo, being used by everyone who promised to help her find her identity, and she doesn’t even know if there is anything to discover. The unknown threatens to destroy her.

I am a sucker for great characterization. Oliver takes this skill to the extreme. She handles a large cast of characters with in-depth, emotionally driven character arcs. Each of the characters is fully developed, with a unique personality, compelling backstory, and complex motivations. You’ll even love the unlikable ones!

This book grabs you, shakes you, and drags you along with it. Break-neck pacing, fever-pitched emotions, and non-stop action, Awakening has “Blockbuster Movie” written all over it.

This is an absolute must read for anyone who likes action-packed Sci-Fi with a heavy dose of raw emotion and character depth to go with it.

You can easily pick this book up and read it straight through. It is hard to put down, even if you know you have to wake up early. I might have had a rough morning or two because I was up reading after the kids went to bed!

Book Two: Sacrifice is available now!

Find Natasha Oliver Here:

Website: www.natashaoliver.com
Instagram: @natasha_oliver_author

Fantasy

M.J. McGriff

Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff

Are you looking for a rip-roaring adventure with magic, pirates on the high seas, snarky dialogue, and a little sexual tension?

That’s a stupid question. Of course you are.

Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff is the perfect beach read book or–if, like me, you are locked in an eternal winter–the perfect “wishing you were on a beach” read. Either way, this fast-paced YA pirate fantasy is going to spirit you away to a tropical paradise filled with white sand beaches, handsome rogues, badass heroines…

… and an evil magical serpent bent on destroying the world!

Trust me. You’re going to have fun.

McGriff’s characters are smart and sassy, make all kinds of hilarious bad decisions, and are simply a joy to go adventuring with.

And I was on the beta reading team for Book 2: The Secret Library and let me tell you… it only gets better!

If you’re looking to dip your toes into this world, check out M.J. McGriff’s website and sign up for her reading group via the popup to get a free copy of The Griffin, a fantasy novella set in the same world as these swashbuckling adventure stories.

Find M.J. McGriff Here:

Website: www.mmcgriff.com
Instagram: @mj_mcgriff

Sharon D. Ballentine

A Look Behind Lightning by Sharon D. Ballentine

Wow! This is quite a read. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth with this one at almost 500 pages.

A Look Behind Lightning is a spooky urban fantasy with a ton of wonderful characters. It slowly builds suspense as we follow Jocasta and her students through their daily lives, with things getting stranger and stranger as the book progresses. Tensions rise, monsters emerge, and everything comes crashing together in an epic climax!

Ballentine does a superb job of immersing us in her characters’ lives so that we really care about them and the supernatural events that threaten to take over their lives.

This is a long book simmering with slow-burn tension, and Ballentine really uses the length well. You will be fully immersed in these characters lives so that when the book finishes… you’ll be itching to start Book 2!

Find Sharon D. Ballentine Here:

Website: www.sdballentine.com
Instagram: @sdballentine

Further Reading

Do you have any favourite indie authors you’d like to share? I try to read at least one indie book a month, and I review all of my favourites. So drop a recommendations below and I’ll check it out!

More Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!

Celebrate Black History month by exploring Black Futures with some of my favourite SF&F writers of all time!

Part One: N.K. Jemisin

Part Two: Ocatvia E. Butler

Part Three: Nalo Hopkinson

Part Four: Nnedi Okorafor

Part Five: Indie Edition, 5 Black Indie SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW! Part 4: Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a writer that I stumbled upon completely by accident after a review I read called her YA trilogy, Akata Witch, the “Nigerian Harry Potter.”

I read and reviewed Akata Witch myself, here, and discussed the problem of minimizing the work of Black writers by comparing them to the (mostly white) literary canon as if all Black writing is derivative rather than existing in its own right. This experience really changed the way I think about literature in general, from comparing women’s writing to men’s, western writers to eastern, straight and queer, etc.

All of this is tangential to the fact that Nnedi Okorafor is a phenomenal writer. I loved the magic and friendship of Akata Witch. I loved the bravery and brilliance of Binti. I loved the raw power and energy of Who Fears Death. Okorafor’s writing just really clicks for me in a way I haven’t found with a lot of contemporary writers and I still struggle to define exactly what it is.

What I do know, is that she’s a writer that all SF&F fans need to read now! And there’s something for everyone, from YA to Adult, from novellas, to novels, to comics and graphic novels. Okorafor is a joy to read, even when she’s tearing your heart out (thanks, Who Fears Death…)

Here’s a little bit about the Author, and scroll down to see a selection of her most popular works.

About Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author of Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism for children and adults. Her works include WHO FEARS DEATH (in development at HBO into a TV series), the BINTI novella trilogyTHE BOOK OF PHOENIX, the AKATA books and LAGOON. She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and Lodestar Awards and her debut novel ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. Her next novel, IKENGA, [was released] in stores August 2020.

Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including BLACK PANTHER: LONG LIVE THE KING and WAKANDA FOREVER (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the SHURI series, an Africanfuturist comic series LAGUARDIA (from Dark Horse) and her short memoir BROKEN PLACES AND OUTER SPACES. Nnedi is also cowriter the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s WILD SEED with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois.

From https://nnedi.com/

The Books

Young Adult Novels

Akata Witch (2011) & Akata Warrior (2017)

Affectionately dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world. [Note: The publisher is still using this description!]

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Ursula K. Le Guin and John Green are Nnedi Okorafor fans. As soon as you start reading Akata Witch, you will be, too! 

Ikenga (2020)

Nnedi Okorafor’s acclaimed first novel for middle grade readers introduces a boy who can access super powers with the help of the magical Ikenga.

Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers?

Award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, acclaimed for her Akata novels, introduces a new and engaging hero in her first novel for middle grade readers set against a richly textured background of contemporary Nigeria.

Binti Novellas (2015, 2017, 2018)

Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

The Binti Series
Book 1: Binti
Book 2: Binti: Home
Book 3: Binti: The Night Masquerade

Adult Novels

Who Fears Death (2010)

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.

It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.


The Book of Phoenix (2015)

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.



Lagoon (2016)

It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between seventeen million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.

Remote Control (2021)

An alien artifact turns a young girl into Death’s adopted daughter in Remote Control, a thrilling sci-fi tale of community and female empowerment from Nebula and Hugo Award-winner Nnedi Okorafor

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

Discussion

Have you read any of Nnedi Okorafor’s work? Which has been your favourite? I just bought Ikenga when it came out and plan to read it with my kids before we jump into Akata Witch and Akata Warrior. It’s great that Okorafor is putting out middle grade and YA fiction as well as SF&F for adults. This is so important for ensuring that diverse science fiction and fantasy books are available to kids from a young age, and hopefully will nurture a life long love of the genre of the future!

I’m really excited for Lagoon and Remote Control, too…

Want more Black SF&F Writers?

Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part One, N.K. Jemesin

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Two, Octavia E. Butler

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Three, Nalo Hopkinson

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Four, Nnedi Okorafor

Part 5: Indie Edition: 5 Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read Now!