Image

Sneak Peek: My new novel, Nightcrafters

At last, I can reveal what I’ve been working on for over a year. My latest sci-fi/fantasy novel is Nightcrafters, and you’ll be able to read it soon.

Synopsis:

Kal Kai was once a nightcrafter-in-training until he learned the cruel truth of the craft. Every time someone uses magic, they lure dangerous creatures into our world. After his mentor expels him from the nightcrafter ranks, Kal meets a high-ranking government official and a flirtatious scientist with a modern theory of magic. Together, they have all the skills needed to stop the nightcrafters for good. But Kal’s greatest opponent will be the same man who taught him everything he knows.

Nightcrafters- fantasy and science fiction by Ramsey Isler

A Latent Dark - Book Cover
Image

Book Review: A Latent Dark

I like it when writers blend fantasy and science into work that crosses genres. It’s a theme I incorporate in many of my own books. The premise of A Latent Dark had me ready to love the book, and initially I was intrigued by its vaguely future world where the Catholic Church has established dominance across much of the globe. I liked the steampunk-ish elements of the story too. But there were a few elements that disappointed me.

Firstly, the early pacing of the book didn’t quite grab me. I primarily read this book on subway rides where I had free time and no Internet connection, and didn’t find myself compelled to pick it up at other points in the day. I won’t say the first third of the book is boring because there’s plenty of stuff that happens, but I was always left with a sense that the things that were happening weren’t that intriguing. One of the greatest compliments a book can get is “unputdownable”, but I found myself laying this one to the side often without feeling like I was missing anything.

Then there’s our main villain, the Reverend Inspector Lyle Summers. He’s sufficiently evil in sufficiently creepy ways, but he’s also one-dimensional and a bit too cliche for my tastes. He does serve as a good example of religious extremism and pious hypocrisy, but beyond that he’s not going to be winning any villain Hall of Fame votes.

Finally, I didn’t like the final 20% of the book. As I said, I like it when fantasy and science combine, but there’s a plot twist near the end that totally jumped the shark for me and the story descended into metaphysical mumbo jumbo. I do appreciate the creativity here because it is a unique idea, but it didn’t work for me.

With all that said, reading a book isn’t necessarily about having a thrilling journey to an exciting destination. It can be a nice leisurely walk to a dead end too. I still did enjoy many of the side characters and the setting is fantastically developed. If you want something with new ideas on magic, the afterlife, and a good amount of real science thrown in for flavor, the book is definitely worth checking out at least.

Image

Book Review: The Giver

The Giver is one of those books I really, really should have read a long time but never got around to it. When it was released in 1993 I was already a teenager and there was no way in hell my school district was going to put it on the reading list so, unlike many fans of the work, I wasn’t aware of the story as a child. But it’s never too late to read a classic, and I have to say I enjoyed the book even though I’m far beyond the age of the target audience.

The book exposes us to the future world of Jonas, a soon-to-be twelve-year-old boy in a community that seems perfect at first. Everyone gets along. There are no wars, no crime, no fights, no unemployment. Everyone is fed, children have loving homes, and the elderly are respected and taken care of. But it all comes at a terrible cost, as the “Sameness” that brought this peace also drains the community of what we consider the joys of life, and love.

I won’t call this a dystopian novel, because the world it portrays isn’t necessarily a horrible one. It’s just very different. Jonas is not genetically related to his parents and sister; he was given to his parents after he was birthed by a designated birth mother, as all children in the Community are. His parents don’t even have sex. No one in the Community does. It is a culture marked by sterilization and predictability. But, initially, this doesn’t seem particularly insidious. There are actually some ideas that seem great on the surface. Family units (that’s actually what they’re called) in the community talk about their feelings to each other. It creates an environment where things are shared openly. Young children in the Community wear jackets that button up in the back so that others must help them dress; this creates a sense of community interdependence, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s only when you learn that these things are required by the powers that be, and adherence to The Rules is closely monitored, that these ideas become dark and foreboding. You can easily see how these concepts might have started with the best intentions but evolved into a system that snuffed out personal freedom. But, for the most part, the people in the community live safely and soundly, and since we’re not given a complete view of the world outside, it’s hard to say that The Community setup wasn’t borne out of necessity in a world that was going mad.

The other element that adds a sense of wrongness to the world is the concept of “release” from the community, which usually happens when people reach advanced age, but rarely is used as punishment and even more rarely used when infants don’t develop as healthy as The Community dictates is required. For the sake of a spoiler-free review, I won’t go into detail here. But when reading the book, I think most adult readers could easily come to a conclusion about what was really going on. There are no real plot twists in this book, but if you read it as a kid you might have been surprised, just as Jonas was. And that’s the beauty of the book, really; the end of childish naivete through knowledge. This theme kicks into full gear when Jonas meets The Giver, the only caretaker of memories from the past world, before The Community system whitewashed everything in the pursuit of perfection.

Still, the young age of the protagonist was a key factor in what made the story’s themes so powerful. Jonas just turned 12, yet The Community deems that to be the age where all citizens enter adulthood and assigned the careers they’ll have for the rest of their lives. This concept works because on one hand, it does make a bit of sense, but on the other hand it completely disregards the maturation process between the teenage years and adulthood. It’s a concept that seems alien and wrong, but for The Community it is normalcy.

That’s why I was disappointed to learn that the upcoming movie version of The Giver increased the ages of Jonas and his friends from 11/12, to 16. There’s a world of difference between those pre-teen years and mid-teens, and it seems like the entire tone of the story would change and lose much of its magic. But I will refrain from judging until the movie comes out, and with Oscar award winning cast members like Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges there’s a chance the movie will still be good (although the movie also has Taylor Swift cast, which should be…interesting).

I’m sure there will soon be much media attention given to this story because of the film, but I encourage everyone to read the book first (and it’s a short, easy read). The Giver is a well-crafted book that took a bold approach of introducing difficult and challenging societal concepts to kids. It’s the kind of thought-provoking modern literature that teaches lessons relevant to today’s world. It’s meant for kids, but adults can certainly get something out of it as well.

Book Launch! Ghosts of ARCADIA is now on Kindle

Great news! After years of development, Ghosts of ARCADIA is now available in a “soft launch” exclusive to Amazon Kindle. You can buy Ghosts of ARCADIA on Amazon

Ghosts of ARCADIA is a sci-fi novella that combines video games, brain-scanning technology, and a heist mystery all into one easy-to-read story that’s all killer and no filler. This is my first time writing a novella (the book is just a tiny bit short of the 50,000 minimum word length I’d consider for a novel), but this shorter format was perfect for this story. I hope you enjoy it.

Ghosts of ARCADIA cover

Book Review: Fringe – The Zodiac Paradox

As a Fringe book, and a “prequel” version of a TV series that’s no longer on-air, this story works pretty well and gives fans what they want. But as a novel taken on its own merits it’s fairly average.

If you’re a fan of the show (and you’d have to be to have any interest in this book at all), the main thing you’ll be interested in is the portrayal of Walter Bishop. I can say for certain that Faust’s characterization of Walter is very much in line with what you saw in the TV series. This is understandable, given the nature of this novel and its intended audience; the directive was probably not to mess with the formula too much. But part of me wishes that the author took more liberties with Walter’s youth. Everyone changes as they mature, but in this book Walter in his late twenties is pretty much exactly the same as Walter in his sixties (even the way he dresses).

William Bell and Nina Sharp also figure prominently in the story. Bell’s characterization is fairly unremarkable and straightforward, and he lacks the deviousness and outside-the-box thinking we came to associate with the founder of Massive Dynamic. Again, there was opportunity to break fascinating new ground with these characters, but the story plays it safe in that regard. Nina actually comes out as the most interesting character of the bunch. She’s young and feisty and much more daring and clever than either Bell or Walter. Nina was the main aspect of the story that kept me reading.

As the book title suggests, the story follows our intrepid trio of Sharp, Bell, and Bishop as they hunt the famed Zodiac Killer in the midst of his reign of terror. But there’s a Fringe-y twist: the Zodiac is actually from the parallel universe, and he was brought here by Walter and Bell during a trial of a special blend of LSD that would eventually become cortexiphan. There are many subtle and not-so-subtle references to both major and obscure aspects of the TV show. The story does often feel like an overlong standalone episode of the series (in both good ways and bad). It’s a good concept, and one that fits into the Fringe lore.

But a great concept needs great execution, and this book has a few issues. These supposedly genius-level characters often do fairly stupid things, and although Nina comes off as the “sharpest” of the bunch, she and William Bell are still lacking the cunning minds we came to know in the series. Also, the author does a little too much description for my tastes. She often delves into long descriptions of minutiae about side characters who barely appear for a few pages, and places that are just briefly visited. I’m don’t mind descriptive, rich world-building, but sometimes it should be done with a light touch so the main story can flow. Far too often, the descriptions got in the way of the story and I found myself fighting the urge to skip over paragraphs. But, I’ll readily admit this is a matter of reading taste and others may find this style to their liking.

If you really, really liked Fringe and you felt the series ended too soon, this book will definitely give you your fix. If you were a more of a casual fan, you might not like this as much.

disclosure: I received a free ARC copy from the publisher

Starfish Novel Cover
Image

Book Review: Starfish by Peter Watts

If you like your sci-fi hard and your main characters psychologically disturbed, this is the book for you. Peter Watts takes a mission on the floor of the ocean and turns it into a crucible where some mad beings are formed. But, as Dickinson once said, much madness is divinest sense. The crazies aboard deep-sea station Beebe are smarter than their masters on the surface think they are, and they uncover a government plot with mistakes that would be comical if the circumstances weren’t so dire.

The first thing that struck me about this story is how detailed the science is. Peter Watts went through a lot of effort to recruit the help of scientists and military experts to get all the details as close to right as possible. Much of the science is speculative (and still is 14 years after the book was first published) but it’s all based on actual research and Watts is nice enough to include the names of the journals he referenced in the acknowledgments.

But what drives this story isn’t the science, nor the events, nor the odd setting of the bottom of the Pacific, where bioluminescent creatures roam with giant scary fish. The real engine of this story is the cast of characters, each with their own flavor of psychosis and history of abuse. The rigors of life on the deep-sea station Beebe would drive you mad, so it helps if you were already pretty crazy when you got there.

The first three quarters of the novel were riveting, but the ending leaves you hanging. That’s not a major issue since this is the first of a series, but if you like your stories to have endings with everything neatly tied up, or you don’t have the patience to read the whole series, the ending might disappoint. But if you’re looking for a different kind of sci-fi series with absolutely fascinating characters, Starfish is a good place to start.

Buy Starfish by Peter Watts on Amazon

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Star Trek fans will immediately recognize the tropes this hilarious book lampoons. But Scalzi, who worked as a consultant on another sci-fi show, performs the clever trick of combining parody with homage to the genre that has inspired so many authors and readers even through plot holes, questionable scientific basis, and cliché.

It was a treat to uncover the very “meta” nature of this sci-fi universe that borrows heavily from a few space-faring military TV shows. It all starts out as standard spaceship fare, but around the middle of the book the plot takes a very odd turn and we learn that this universe isn’t as real as the characters thought it was. The characters are likable and they regularly provide the kind of punchy dialogue Scalzi is known for, and they go on a weird adventure that eventually leads them to confront their “creator” and take control of their own fates.

Just when I was thinking that humorous parody was all this book had to offer, the final chapters surprised me with a stark change in tone. The book shifts to examine how the events of the main plot affected some seemingly insignificant characters and the results are poignant, dramatic, and even a little somber. The book’s final chapters solidify the book’s central theme: the “throwaway” characters can have rich and touching stories of their own in the hands of a resourceful writer.

Buy Redshirts on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0765334798

Short film: the future of Augmented Reality?

Some students have made a great short film that might portend the scary-but-awesome future of augmented reality tech.

Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo, graduate students at the Bezaleal Academy of Arts in Jeruselem, created a spectacular sci-fi short film with high production values and visionary concepts that extrapolate current tech trends and ponders how technology could become so pervasive it would virtually replace ordinary human vision. The film is appropriately called “Sight”.

Watch the short film “Sight” below:

Augmented Reality technology is one of those things that make science fiction not so much like fiction. The Google Glass project could potentially give us a huge step forward in the AR arena, but the technology in this video takes things to a whole new level. Imagine a world we all have Internet-connected contact lenses that overlay context-sensitive information on our field of vision. You’d no longer need a TV – just use your eyes to open your streaming video program, stare at a blank wall, and the video plays right there. Look at a building and instantly see information about its history and the businesses inside it. It’s crazy to think of the applications of AR in the future and this little movie showcases what we might be dealing with in 20 years or so, and the film does it with the panache and creepiness of a well-directed sci-fi movie. One aspect I really find interesting is how the directors focused on the “gamification” of everyday activities, including chopping vegetables.

For me, being a geek, engineer, and pedantic bastard – the video raises a number of technical questions about the advances we’ll have to make in order to make this kind of stuff a reality. For example:

  • Those contact lenses must have some kind of wireless Internet connection, but where would it come from? We’ve gotten really good at miniaturizing wireless chipsets, but what we see here would require some major advances. Perhaps the lenses speak (via BlueTooth or something similar) to another device, like a smartphone, which in turn does all the heavy Internet stuff.
  • All this intensive display and analysis is bound to generate some kind of heat. How would we keep our eyeballs from frying?
  • How does the system handle audio? Are there tiny headphones we’re not seeing here, or would we have to develop some freaky technology that translates tiny vibrations in our eyes into sound we can recognize?

“Sight” is an intriguing (and creepy) look into what our future might be. Like all good sci-fi, it throws down some inspiring challenges for the technologists who will build the next big thing, but it also provides some warnings of what might happen if our society isn’t quite ready for these innovations.