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?

Last Call for Pre-Orders! Get your copy of Bubbles in Space #3 Pop ‘Em Up Today!

Phew!

The hardest part of being an indie writer is keeping track of all the promotional and marketing things around new releases…

So here’s trying!

The story thus far…

Sales of Bubbles in Space #1 Tropical Punch, and #2 Chew ‘Em Up, have been going strong with both books staying in the Top 100 of Amazon’s Crime and Mystery Science Fiction category since the last release.

It’s a small but mighty category and I’m proud to be well placed in it!

Tropical Punch has gathered nearly 100 reviews–95 at the time of posting– which is mind-boggling to me. My previous best was 34, lol

Only Three Weeks Until Launch Day!

Bubbles in Space #3 Pop ‘Em One is complete and with my editor for its final revisions. It’s already more than 25% longer than the first two books.

I’m really digging into Bubbles’ character arc in this book. Her development extends over the whole series, and with Book 3 being the centerpiece of the 5 book story arc, it was an emotionally intense book to write!

When I did the first re-read, still high on completion, I really felt like it was the best book I’ve ever written. You know, I might be slightly biased. Still, I was feeling pretty good.

And then, early reviewers have said the same thing!!

Now, I just can’t wait for it to land in your hot little hands…

If you’re as excited about it as I am (impossible!) I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering a copy so that the mysterious algorithms maybe be appeased and Amazon doesn’t throw me off the mythical cliff of obscurity…

I don’t know if that’s a thing. But I’ve heard stories.

What I do know is that I need 25 more pre-orders to meet my completely arbitrary personal goal for this release!

You have the power to set my happy little author heart a-fire!

Click here to go to your regional Amazon store!

I will update again with details on the launch when I have them.

Thank you so much for your support!

Innate Inclusion: Creating Realistic Diversity in Fiction

This weekend I had the pleasure of taking Indie It Press‘s course “Innate Inclusion: Creating Realistic Diversity in Fiction” taught by the wonderful SF&F author, W.A. Ford.

She’s the author of The Fadian Experiment, which I’ve reviewed here, and The Fadian Escape, which comes out next month!

I have always strived to create worlds full of interesting and diverse characters, representative of real people (even in fantastical fiction!). But it can be really difficult to write characters that are very different from ourselves, whether that means something as simple as writing male characters as a woman, or writing a Catholic character when as an agnostic.

It gets increasingly more difficult the farther out of our comfort zone that we get, such as writing a character who comes from a country you’ve never even visited, or who suffers from a disease that you don’t have first hand experience with, or who belongs to a persecuted group.

I think a lot of writers and artists bristle at the idea of “forcing” diversity into their works. And I get it. We want to create our worlds the way that feels natural, and diversity for diversity’s sake often results in flat, stereotypical characters who lack the depth of real human beings.

We’ve all read action books (and watched movies) where the heroine is essentially a cookie cutter of the usual badass male action heroes, just with tighter clothes and bigger boobs, and probably a gratuitous shower scene thrown in for good measure.

The stereotypical male action hero types are enough of a stretch, but to transplant a woman into the same role without acknowledging any of the ways in which her experience in the world would be different than a man’s just rings a bit hollow. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and little touches here and there can go a long way in adding depth to the reader’s experience.

Is Diversity Just a Trend?

In the course, Ford talks about the history of attempts at inclusion, from Affirmative Action in the ’60s and ’70s, to the Diversity trend in the ’80s and ’90s, and now the idea of Innate Inclusion.

Some folks will argue that this is “just a trend,” and that we should continue to write what we want to write how we want to write it.

Sure. I think we should, too.

I, personally, want to write in a way that represents as many kinds of people as I can!

I know from experience that seeing yourself in the books and movies that you consume is a very powerful thing.

But it is more difficult to do well than to just write characters who look and think like us, so it can be a challenge to get out of our comfort zone and explore writing different kinds of people.

The move toward inclusion is not a here-today-gone-tomorrow trend like fanny packs or bell bottom jeans, something that flares up every once in a while and then disappears, like an allergic reaction (I am allergic to fanny packs, just seeing them breaks me out in hives).

Western cultures have been in a steady state of slow evolution toward innate inclusion, from the suffrage movement to the abolition of slavery to multi-culturalism to gay pride etc.

Globalism has changed the face of our countries, provinces/states, cities, and neighbourhoods. Acknowledging these cultural differences has forced us to acknowledge other, less visible differences between us and our friends and neighbours.

These things include spiritual beliefs, invisible illnesses, non-binary gender and sexuality, and trauma.

And as we learn about and appreciate all the different ways to be a human, it only makes sense to represent these difference facets in our fictional worlds as well.

What is Innate Inclusion?

If you look at books and movies from the ’80s and ’90s, you can see early attempts at inclusion at work. There was a bigger effort to have women in lead roles, more non-white characters in supporting roles, and occasionally even gay characters (usually relegated to comic relief.)

Unfortunately, early “diversity” was often superficial. Characters ran the gamut between offensive stereotypes (how many 80s movies can you name that have “the fat kid” or “the Asian immigrant” or “the black friend” caricatures?), tokenism, and colour-coded paper cutouts.

I have re-watched a lot of my favourite kid’s movies with my own kids and have been amazed at how different they are from today’s films.

At best, there is a cast of characters who each represent a personality trait (the smart kid, the bully, the athlete, the angry loner, etc) but who are otherwise interchangeable. Sometimes, these characters would be made female, or gay, or black, but that detail never seemed to have any impact on the story or the character’s experience.

Arguably its better to have flat characters that, at least superficially, represent a diverse group of people rather than having an entirely homogenous cast.

But why not take it a step further and turn these paper cutouts into real people?

That’s what Innate Inclusion is all about.

What Kind of Characters Should I Include?

Today we are very aware, and we’re becoming more comfortable talking about, a lot of personal experiences that we once would have felt pressured to hide.

Debt, depression, mental illness, addiction, and abuse, for example.

These can be heavy topics.

So can discrimination and persecution.

Anyone who is different from the majority of people in their community, who is different from “the norm,” will at some point experience resistance, hostility, and othering.

To ignore this is a failure to fully explore a character’s potential. How a character reacts to challenges in their life tells us about who they are. We are shaped by both the positive and negative events of our lives, and to turn away from one or the other is to give an incomplete picture.

If you are writing a contemporary fiction story and include an Asian character, don’t just leave it at the physical description. Think about who that character is. How many generations has their family been in the country of the novel’s setting? Where are their ancestors from? How closely tied are they to their community? What is their family like? What are their interests and goals?

You could have an Asian character who is a first generation Canadian, whoseparents came from Vietnam, who watched her parents grinding away in the restaurant industry to give her a better life, and who is now estranged from her family because she rejected the idea of working her life away and followed her passion to become a rock musician.

You could have an Asian character who is a young man whose family came to the US from China in the 1800s but who no longer has any connection to his Chinese heritage because it was safer for his ancestor to assimilate, and who is now exploring that part of his history.

It is not enough to just say a character is Asian. You need to get specific about who that character is, their back story, how the world has shaped them.

A gay character whose family has accepted and supported them will be completely different from a gay character whose family sent them to conversion therapy. Explore your characters as deeply as you can!

Where Do I Start?

One of the easiest ways to explore diversity is to dig into the things that make you different.

Yes, it’s scary.

You will feel vulnerable.

For me, that means writing about alcohol abuse, recovery, depression, and anxiety. My books aren’t about these things, but my characters often experience these events and emotions. They react to them in ways that I did (and if they’re lucky, the ways I wish I had, haha)

Do you have first hand experience with disease or disability? With religious persecution? With discrimination?

Look to your friends and family next.

You will be more comfortable including characters who are similar to people you know well in real life.

Once you’ve practiced this, and hopefully added some depth to your characters, you can start exploring outside your inner circles.

The most important thing when writing about a person who is different from you is to research your character. Read first hand accounts from people with lived experience with the facets you will be exploring. What is it like to have breast cancer? Or to watch someone you love battle breast cancer? There is no one right answer to this, but I guarantee that reading about people’s experiences will both confirm your assumption and surprise you. Research will give you little details that add authenticity to your character’s experience that imagination on its own will never provide.

Why Does it Matter?

When there is something about us that makes us feel “different,” it can be incredibly validating to read a character who seems to represent our personal struggles.

When I read a sober character, it is so refreshing!

You don’t realize how casually alcohol is used in books and movies until you quit drinking. Reading can become a head game where you have to constantly remind yourself that this glamourized, fun party experience is not real. That you aren’t missing out. That not drinking is still the right choice for you.

Drinkers and life-long teetotalers experience this differently from recovering alcohol abusers.

So to find a character who just doesn’t drink, or who has quit drinking, really makes me feel like I’m not alone.

Many people have reached out to me to say that they appreciate this in my books, too.

An autistic character in a romance novel is a big deal for autistic people in real life. My writer friend Felicia Blaedel has done this in her book All The Wrong Shelves.

W.A. Ford–the instructor of the course I just completed–writes strong, Black female leads in her science fantasy novels.

N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Octavia E. Butler, and Nalo Hopkinson have shaken up the traditional publishing industries assumptions about what Science Fiction readers want to read with their Black female leads.

In the past, the safest way to sell books or have a box-office hit in North America, was to appeal to the financial majority (white Americans, for the most part.)

However, recent books and movies have shown that audiences are far less fickle than we used to assume. We want great stories, first and foremost. And a great story with a wide range of realistic characters is even better. The more people your story appeals to, the better chance it has of succeding.

Discussion

Which books or movies do you feel have done a great job of innate inclusion? Which tried, but didn’t quite hit the mark? What can we learn from them?

Let me know what you think!

Free Summer Reads!

If you’re looking to load up your e-reader with action-packed Sci-Fi this summer, check out the FREE Book Bonanza for all your summer reading needs!

It’s Launch Day! Bubbles in Space #2 Chew ‘Em Up is LIVE!

Up, Up, and Away!

Goals are fun.

They can be infuriatingly stressful and they can push us to out-perform our past limitations.

I have always performed best under pressure. Without a deadline looming over my head I’m prone to distraction and procrastination.

I could be a professional dilly dallier.

However, what I am is a professional writer.

Deadlines keep me in check with my business writing, and I knew that this is what I needed to kick my fiction writing into high gear, too.

So in January, I drew some hard lines on my calendar.

I put non-refundable deposits on contracts with my cover designer and editors, and set up my pre-orders on Amazon. If I failed to make my deadlines, I would be out some serious moolah, and be locked down on Amazon’s naughty list (and unable to set up future pre-orders) for a year.

I set myself a very aggressive release schedule for my new Bubbles in Space series. Five books in one year, with each book coming 9 weeks after the last. I have plans to release 3-4 novellas in that time, too, but they are bonus projects without the strict deadlines.

I had no idea if I could do it or not, but I knew other people could do it and that if they could find a way to make it work there was a good chance I could too.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of writing, editing, and business-learning as I dove headfirst into launching Bubbles in Space.

And I don’t want to jinx myself, but things are looking good so far! Today is release day for Book #2 Chew ‘Em Up and I couldn’t be happier with the results!

Both Tropical Punch and Chew ‘Em Up are sitting in the Top 100 of Crime and Mystery Science Fiction, which isn’t a huge category, but it’s chockablock full of heavy hitters in the genre like Dean Koontz, Martha Wells, Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and Neal Stephenson. As an indie author, there is nothing quite like the feeling of leapfrogging one of your traditionally published idols on the charts, even if it’s only for a few days!

If you’d like to check it out and see what all the fuss is about, grab your copy today! As a special Launch week promo, both books are on sale for only $2.99 until Sunday June 6, 2021. And if you’re really keen you can pre-order #3 Pop ‘Em One for the earlybird price, too.

Click through to your regional Amazon store! books2read.com/u/bQJ9X7

The Journey So Far…

Lots of other indie Sci-Fi authors have asked about my launch strategies and how effective they’ve been. If you’re curious, here’s some of what I’ve been doing:

Last month I ran a free promo on my first book, Tropical Punch, and more than 5500 copies were claimed!

I know, I know. Giving away books for free is a poor way to make money as an author.

However, I had some ulterior motives…

Why give away my book for free?

By getting Book #1 in my series into as many hands as possible, I hoped to garner some more reviews and to start collecting pre-orders on the next books in the series. Also, and possibly most important, I wanted to teach Amazon’s algorithms which kind of people are interested in my books, and get more relevant “also bought” books showing on my page.

Was it a success?

Yup. Yup. Yup.

That’s a big yes on all counts!

I went from 14 to 45 reviews in less than two weeks. Yes, some of those were 1 and 2 star ratings from disgruntled freebie seekers. The risk in giving away books is that people sometimes take chances on books that aren’t really their thing, and some of them aren’t shy about telling the world about it. However, the vast majority of the reviews that came in are 4 and 5 star ratings, which lead to…

Pre-orders for books 2 and 3 started rolling in!

On Tropical Punch, I managed to get 19 pre-orders from my mailing list and folks who follow me on social media. That was so fantastic, as I really didn’t expect to get more than a handful. At the time of my free book promo, I only had 14 pre-orders on Chew ‘Em Up and 3 on Pop ‘Em One. But by launch day, I had 31 for Chew ‘Em Up and 15 for Pop ‘Em One!

I know, these numbers aren’t going to launch me to the top of the Amazon store, but it’s more than enough give me a boost in my little niche categories and keep the visibility on Bubbles in Space up where it needs to be for more organic discovery (For someone who typically sells only 0-5 books a day, organic reach is a beautiful thing!)

The “also bought” feature is in alignment, and hopefully this will translate into smarter ads in the AMS dashboard! Though this takes a few weeks to show up, so I’ll keep you posted.

The Biggest Success?

I’m not going to become an overnight bestseller. I knew that from the beginning. Publishing is a competitive industry whether you are traditionally published or indie.

But whether or not I ever become a bestseller is kind of a secondary dream to THE BIG DREAM.

The biggest success so far has been finding a group of readers who are as excited about this series as I am! Every day, new reviews roll in and they have been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. These are reviews I didn’t solicit, from people who are just genuinely thrilled with the story.

Knowing that my book is out there, in the wild, and finding its people is the coolest thing.

Tropical Punch sold an average of 2 books a day in the last 6o days. With Chew ‘Em Up out, maybe that will jump up to 4 books a day! By the time the series is complete, it could be 10+ books a day!

Well, I won’t be retiring any time soon, but I should break even this year!

And in 5 years, anything is possible…

Thank You for Your Support!

Indie Feature Friday: Behind Blue Eyes by Anna Mocikat

I’ve gone and lost track of days again, so let’s just start out by pretending it’s still Friday!

In the last few weeks I’ve been working my way through my collection of Indie Cyberpunk Novels and I have been so pleasantly surprised by all the great work in this genre.

First was Grinders by C.S. Boyack, which is the perfect blend of cyberpunk and detective tropes. I was instantly hooked by the glittery high-tech world and the perfectly balanced dynamic between Jimi Cabot and her partner on the police force. I couldn’t put it down. Although it is different in tone, Grinders is the novel that inspired me to write my own cybernoir detective series, and is directly responsible for the birth of Bubbles in Space. I cannot recommend it enough!

Next I read Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin, which is a quick, easy read with great world building and a diverse cast of characters. It’s the kind of book you can pick up and devour in a single sitting when you just want some fun, action packed entertainment. Sci-Fi flavoured candy at its best!

And now we have something a little bit different again.

This one is a serious page-turner…

Behind Blue Eyes by Anna Mocikat

The Plot

In a future world ruled by warring mega-corporations, cyborg Nephilim believed she was fighting a righteous cause.

As a powerful, genetically and cybernetically enhanced elite soldier her brutal and violent life is not truly her own – until one day, a simple glitch separates her from the grid.

For the first time in her young life, she is free…and she has doubts. Doubts that bury deeper into her psyche when she meets Jake, a mysterious, 100% bio-human.

He opens her neon-blue eyes to the lies she had been exposed to all her life. Questioning everything she has ever known, Nephilim resolves to take a stand. To hold on to this freedom, she has miraculously discovered. But can one person, no matter how strong, beat an all-powerful system of oppression? Soon, Nephilim finds herself hunted by her own people in a deadly game of survival…

For fans of Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and Altered Carbon!

My Review

This book has been on my radar for a while, as I follow Anna Mocikat on Instagram and Twitter. Behind Blue Eyes has been consistently well placed in the Cyberpunk charts and fans literally RAVE about it at every opportunity.

So, I admit, my expectations were pretty high going in.

Mocikat does not disappoint!

Behind Blue Eyes is fantastic. It manages to hit all of the major genre themes, and still to be completely different from the last two indie cyberpunk novels I have reviewed. It is dark, gritty, and violent with a strong sexual undertones. A very different mood than Grinders or Into Neon.

There is quite a bit of world-building at the beginning of the novel and it took me a few chapters to get into the flow of the story, but once I did it was like being caught in a riptide.

Mocikat is a masterful plotter working in an intricate world with complex characters.

One of my favourite things about Behind Blue Eyes is the evolution of Nephilim’s character as the secrets of her world are revealed. She is a seriously badass cyborg warrior, and this could easily have turned into a Mary-Sue type character who just can’t seem to do anything wrong. But Mocikat manages to bring Niphilim’s humanity front and centre, and the plot focusses on her vulnerabilities rather than her physical invincibility, so that even though she’s literally built for world domination, she is constantly coming up against conflicts she isn’t prepared to handle.

I also really appreciate that, although there is a romantic subplot, and there are a lot of sexy themes being explored, Mocikat never delves into “steamy romance” territory. Full disclosure: I am not a romance fan. Really detailed sex scenes always make me cringe, and books with too many of them usually end up in my DNF pile. Mocikat handles it very well, and I think the sexual themes were all the more titillating because they were hinted at rather than being shoved in your face. I mean, sex is everywhere in the book, and the blasé attitudes of the characters toward it was refreshing in itself. But Mocikat leaves the actual squidgy parts up to our imaginations (thank you!)

In Nephilim’s exploration of her humanity (as a genetically engineered cyborg) Mocikat really digs into one of the most interesting themes in cyberpunk literature: where do we draw the link between (wo)man and machine? What makes any of us human? This really added a layer of emotional satisfaction to Nephilim’s character arc, and I will absolutely be diving into the next book, Fallen Angels.

If you love books and don’t have time to read these days, Mocikat has just dropped the audiobook for Behind Blue Eyes on Amazon’s Audible, and it’s been getting awesome reviews as well.

Discussion

Have you read Behind Blue Eyes? What did you think? Is this one you’ll be adding to your TBR list? If you have a favourite cyberpunk novel, please share it in the comments!