Mom and Pop Books

I’m a capitalist. As such, I believe that ultimate power resides in the consumer and their ability to choose voluntarily where to spend their money. I tend to spend it on local, ‘mom and pop’ businesses and restaurants over chains. Often it costs a little more but you get more personalized service and there’s a straight line between you and the decision maker. Sometimes it lacks a little polish and professionalism, but usually they make up for it with their own unique charms. This year at Worldcon I decided to spend my money on ‘Mom and Pop Books’. I avoided some of the big names and picked up books by various indies that caught my eye. I expect that they’re going to be a little weird, a little bit lacking in the fine polish of the big names. Hopefully each will give me an entertaining journey into an interesting world.

AlexTwice

First up is TL Walker’s “Alex Twice Abducted”

Coming into Worldcon right in the registration area was this guy shouting, “Free books!” and getting few bites. Something about this hit me. Here’s a guy who comes all the way to Worldcon, offers up his books free of charge just to get some readers or some interest or something going, and still people just walk right by him.

The book is the shortest I picked up.  I’m guessing its more of a YA  story? It involves alien abduction and a boy named Alex dying from an undiagnosed disease. Apparently he and other ‘earthlings’ are trained by the aliens to save earth. There’s a dolphin on the cover, is that an alien, or one of the savior ‘earthlings’? Hard to say! I’m not sure which I prefer. A butt kicking dolphin super soldier sounds pretty cool. I’ll find out soon.

My wife pointed out the next author and I said, “Oh! Its the video guy!” Jay Swanson is the Video Guy in question, and did us a huge favor by making a video of some of the best spots in Spokane near the Convention Center. My stomach owes Jay a debt of gratitude. Nanten

Jay’s book, “Into the Nanten” shocked me within moments, and that shock has only increased as I’ve looked into him and his website and business. The production values are better than most traditionally published books. The art, provided by Nimit Malavia, is incredible and alluring. Its a bit of a ‘gimmick’ book, a 654 page (!) compilation of Jay’s real time fantasy blog about an exile’s journey within a jungle so deadly, its considered suicide to even set foot there. We’ll see if the writing compares with the rest of the packaging. They do say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but the cover and marketing package is damned impressive. I’d say this is the slickest, most professional looking indie title I’ve ever seen. As someone with a  marketing and graphics design background, this has my attention. Let’s see if Jay can hold it.

The next book, “Double Life” is by S. Usher Evans. Its Book 1 of the Razia Series.

Double

I bought this book because S. or Usher or… Evans. We’ll call her Evans. Evans hustled. She called out to me as my little group was passing and said something about girl space pirates. I’m fond of all three of those words, separately or together, so I stopped and had a look.

I’ve been in her position trying to get someone to stop and give a book a try. Smiling, being positive and engaging with the customers does wonders, writers. Don’t be afraid to make some conversation.

So what’s this book about? Razia is the name of a space pirate bounty hunter girl, and apparently she collects bounties on other pirates. Razia languishes on probation though and can’t get any bounty assignments from her pirate bosses above purse snatchers and the like. The titular double life involves her space ‘day job’ of collecting and selling planetary data. Evans’ author bio lists her as a ‘witty banter afficionado’. Skimming the book for about twenty seconds in front of her booth, this seems to be true. There was indeed some witty banter on the random pages I landed on, enough that I was sold on a fun, engaging and dare I say witty writing style. Also the book cover is purple and that’s my favorite color. So what the hell. Double Life.

Last but certainly not least is The Quest by Dani Hoots, book one of the Sanshlian series. Quest

I bought this book because of the cover by Marcy Rachel. She’s one of those cover designer people, so… money well spent Dani! This worked on me. Looking up Marcy Rachel leads to a lot of dead ends and expired websites. Hopefully all is well with her. I do wonder if this is one of those premade covers, or if it was made for the book. I’ve thought of buying a cool looking premade cover and then writing a story based around it.

Anyway, The Quest! We’re looking at a sci fi book involving multiple planets. Space Opera? Not sure. The main character is Arcadia, and she was taken from her family, put into something called the Kamps, and then trained as a killing machine. She became the Emperor’s Shadow, so she must have done well in that training! She becomes fanatically loyal to the Emperor, until she’s kidnapped by her brother and taken on a Quest (get it? Get it! okay I’ll shut up) to find the planet Sanshli, which has unusual properties which will help to topple the Emperor. The back of the book talks about her divided loyalty, and how she slowly begins to realize the Emperor has been deceiving her. Immediately I’m hoping this Emperor dude has some good points, and is not a two dimensional villain. The last lines are, ‘But I can’t turn my back on him, or can I?’ I find myself wishing for a scene where she actually sticks with the Emperor and throws a jerkwad brother down a mine shaft or something. A more realistic hope is that she struggles with the decision and the Emperor has some kind of good argument in there somewhere. We’ll see. Skimming the book, I didn’t get a good read on Dani’s writing style, but nothing leaped out at me as bad. She has a lot of books under her belt, a lot more than me certainly, so we’ll see what the Quest has in store for us!

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Burning Down The House

So how about those Hugo Awards huh? I don’t want to delve into the fireworks inside the halls, except to say that swords were everywhere, and not an olive branch was in sight. No, this post is talking about the fires that were outside the hall. So, the satellite picture looks pretty awful.

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Yeah. Look at that huh! So what does it look like in that blue dot over Spokane? Well the Spokane Convention Center looked like this:

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The smell of smoke was everywhere, the light was orange, and the oddest thing, the sun was Red. And you could look at it without it hurting your eyes. Weird. Getting away from the convention center didn’t improve things. Spokane itself looked like this:

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Our hotel room actually smelled of smoke! We had to head out early so we drove through most of that fire. About midway through, the highway was still quite smoke clogged:

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Finally though, we broke through the smoke and ash, and reached a bright sunlit sky:

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Hopefully this is a metaphor for the SFF community. We’ll see if anyone goes for those dusty and cobweb-lined olive branches any time soon.

Hello Sasquan!

Greetings Sasquan Attendees and other assorted passersby!

Its been an honor attending Worldcon this year and meeting so many of this community. I have a few postcards and bookmarks in the Worldcon freebie area there so I thought I’d introduce myself and my work to anyone who graciously followed those links or found their way here through other means.

I’m Thomas Alexander, a fantasy author with one book under my belt, Mistress of the Dancing Bones. The sequel, Mistress of the Midnight Sky, is coming out soon. These are the first two novels in the Sang Noir series set in the world of Avenesse. I have plans for another Sang Noir book and if all goes well, other series and standalone novels that expand the Avenesse setting and characters in bold new directions!

I wrote a pitch for Dancing Bones just for Sasquan that I’d like to share with you here:

Mistress of the Dancing Bones is the story of Ashia, a young woman with necromantic powers in an empire ruled by vampires. That empire borders the Deathlands, ruled by even worse undead that don’t just want to drink mortals’ blood, but to exterminate them. Ashia’s father is the vampire lord who protects the Empire and its mortals from the Deathlords. With the help of a gunslinging witch hunter, his mischievous changeling familiar and a laconic demon horse, Ashia must uncover the secrets of a deadly conspiracy that threatens the fragile peace between mortal and vampire. In this land, blood is currency, and Ashia’s is more valuable and dangerous than any.

You can read an excerpt here.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get some positive reviews, most notably from Black Gate’s Donald Crankshaw.

Readers have been very generous with their praise, which I appreciate, scan the amazon reviews.

I did some pinterest boards with images and brickabrack that reminds me of my books and characters.

As for me I’m a lifelong geek. I served as a Nuke in the Navy, I started game mastering DnD at 7 years old, mostly because my older brother forced me. I play video games, I write stories, I go to conventions, and I get to be unironically enthustiastic about stuff. Please take a moment to poke around this blog and check out some of the stuff and stories I love. With any luck, you’ll find something to love here too. Enjoy.

Car Games: Red Dragon Inn

Magic: the Gathering: the Drinking Game

Red Dragon Inn is a game about fantasy heroes getting drunk and thrown out of bars. In this case it’s one specific bar called the Red Dragon. You already slew the dragon, took its gold, and now you’re in town with a beltpouch full of gold coins. You want some ale, perhaps a game of chance, some quality time with the Wench, and some good times with friends.  That’s the high concept, and what a high concept it is! The game delivers on this great concept with some truly funny humor and adorable artwork (am I allowed to use that word? To hell with it, it really is adorable). You play one of a surprisingly large range of heroes over four main boxes and a lot of little expansion packs. It starts with the usual, a wizard, a warrior, a rogue and healer. By the fourth box, things get pretty weird.

RDI-Boards

There are a lot of Red Dragon Inn products. I own three; the third boxed set, and the Pooky and Natyli Allies sets. The third box gives you four characters: Wizgille, a gnome tinkerer, Phrenk, a troll brewmaster, Kaylin, a pixie enchantress, and Serena, an orc  paladin. Yeah. They’re recognizable fantasy tropes, but getting at least a little on the odd side.

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In the Allied sets, Pooky is the rabbit familiar of Zot, the wizard in the first boxed set who stayed up after his master went on to bed. Natyli is a Troll witchdoctor and Phrenk’s niece. Does it really matter which particular character you play? Yes it definitely does, but not so much that you’re going to feel gimped by a bad choice. Everyone can do the same core moves and actions, but have their own specialties. This is just enough to be more than flavor and actually have some impact on gameplay. As you can see, RDI is also a game with a lot more female characters than ‘the girl’, ‘the princess’ and ‘totally not Xena’. It’s a game where women of all shapes, sizes and characters can murder people, take their cash and spend it getting hammered in a tavern full of weirdos.

Natyli-Pooky

Concept is fine, but how’s the gameplay? Let’s get this out of the way. Red Dragon Inn is a fighting game, like Magic: the Gathering, or one of those customizable deck games. It doesn’t even try all that hard to disguise it! Instead of Health you have Fortitude. Instead of Wounds you have Alcohol Level. When the two meet you don’t die, you pass out blind stinking drunk. The other resource is gold. When you run out of money, they kick you out of the bar. You can’t customize your deck, but you do have at least… twenty characters to choose from depending on what sets and decks you buy. There’s a fair amount of variety in how the different characters play and how they perform the various actions. Most have their own special rules, allowing a surprising amount of strategy for such a simple base game.

You start with your own little board which measures how drunk you are, and you start with some gold. You lose if your Alcohol Level and Fortitude levels meet. You also lose if you run out of gold. You start with a hand of seven cards, and each player goes through four phases: Discard and Draw, Action, Buy Drinks, Drink. If you get too plastered to remember this order, don’t worry! Its printed right on your play board! Hurray! First you discard and draw back up to seven cards. Got some deader cards, just discard them when its your turn again and draw up to four. Next, play an action card. These can be quite a few things, from giving you fortitude or gold, hurting other players or even stranger things. Most are relatively straightforward.

RDI-Action

Next, you buy drinks, typically just one and put it on the Drink Me! spot on another player’s board. Finally, you draw the top card of YOUR Drink Me! pile, and deal with whatever it is! Most, of course, are going to be drinks, ranging for Light Ales that give only one Alcohol to the dreaded Dragon Breath Ale which gives a whopping 4 Alcohol. Some get weird, some have special rules, and some are drinking contests that drag everyone into your drunken spree.

RDI-Drinks

Now there are other cards that shake all this up. You have Sometimes cards, that generally counteract something or act as a surprise if their condition happens, and then Anytime cards that you can whip out at will. These are pretty standard fare for anyone familiar with Magic or its many clones, but they all capture the spirit of the game well.

RDI-Anytime

Given that the main boxes for RDI are 10.5” square, you might be wondering how this can possibly qualify as a Car Game. These boxes are too big to fit in a glove box, and way too big to fit inconspicuously in your purse. This is where the RDI allies packs come in. They’re about 4” x 5.5” or so and contain one character deck, and a small size board and tokens for play. Just get one of the big sets for the drink deck, a second Allies pack, and you are good to go for playing Red Dragon Inn at the bar of your choice for some truly meta play. See if you or your character gets kicked out of your bar first!

My Recommendation:

I love this game. I wouldn’t have spent so much time writing this up if I hated it now would I? It is what it is, a very very light easy version of magic with lots of booze, gambling and wenches. If you’re a hardcore gamer this is probably not for you, but its just right for a Car Game, something light you can pop out and play in a coffee shop, a bar, a restaurant after dinner. You can share this with your borderline gamer or non gamer friends and trust they’ll pick up the gist by the second time round the table. I actually think RDI is a good stepping stone game for someone you’re trying to get into those customizable games. If you love those games, but the people you play with are too filthy casual for stuff like that, give this a try. Who doesn’t want to play a game with a drunken wizard teleporting his drinks around?

Midnight Sky Nears

Midnight-Sky-Cover

I’d like to offer an update on the second novel in the Avenesse series, Mistress of the Midnight Sky. Its in the hands of my amazingly talented editor, Casondra Brewster, and should be back in my hands in the near future. Look for its release sometime in the next few months!

I have about 82k words done on the still nameless book three. This was originally supposed to be the second book before I realized the outline needed a bit of a revamp which resulted in book two. I hope you all enjoy it.

Review Roundup

First a few updates. I’ve been silent for a little while working feverishly on a few things. I’ve revised Mistress of the Dancing Bones and I’ve completed the rough draft of its sequel, Mistress of the Midnight Sky. In the meantime, Dancing Bones has picked up a few pleasant reviews here and there, and I’d like to share them with you.

First up, blogger, educator and fellow Human Wave enthusiast Stephanie A Souders reviewed the book as part of her series on Human Wave authors. She’s tough but fair, a sort of sci fi fantasy Simon Cowell, so I was quite nervous to read it. All in all I think it’s a very positive review.

Alexander’s premise is uncomfortable — but in a good way. Essentially, several centuries before the start of Mistress, the human race entered into a compact with vampires who dub themselves the nephilim: military defense against the monstrous creatures who walk the Deathlands in exchange for mortal blood. As revealed in Mistress, the society that grew from this compact is quite exploitative if seen from mortal eyes. Leaving aside the worst of the nephilim aristocracy – who treat the humans in their midst as either sexual playthings or cattle – even the main character’s father must accept human sacrifices to feed his hungry forces. It’s a cruel universe — but also a fascinating one worth exploring.

Read the full review here. Next, fantasy author Sheri J Kennedy gave a very gracious and generous review.

From the instant I began reading, Ashia, our heroine was captivating and her situation compelling. Her intensity and that of her world grew throughout the story keeping me engaged. I was rooted to the page withstanding disgust, terror and horror to see her stand strong. Alexander is masterful in the integration of the intricately built fantasy world with this powerful coming of age story. Magic is in her blood and the politics of her world are her inheritance—she must come to terms with them to know herself, and she embraces them fully in an unexpected and oddly triumphant way. At first I wished the novel carried more inner dialogue so I could know the character’s better. But when I was done reading, I found I missed them and had come to know them well, especially the unquenchable Ashia. I’m so glad the next in the series will be coming soon!

Thank you Sheri and Stephanie for your reviews!