Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

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Four composite images from the post show eight “New Year Dragon” works of art, four each by featured fantasy artists Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, plus a total of eight book covers – four coloring books for adults by Rachael Mayo and four children’s books by Randal Spangler, all with a dragon theme.

My New Year Dragon Project

In February I devoted two blog posts and 16 different social media posts to a “New Year Dragon Project” display of dragon-themed artwork. When I discovered that this Chinese New Year’s animal was the Dragon, I immediately thought about all the amazing artists I know, who paint or sculpt – and indeed, specialize – in dragons. But for the sake of my sanity I settled on only four, whom I know well enough to anticipate they’d be willing to work with me on this project.

New Year Dragon Ladies

I decided to focus the first blog post of the Project on my two New Year Dragon Ladies I asked each to share four pieces and permission to reproduce them on social media and this blog post. All artwork is © by the artist, as noted on the imagery.

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in this article arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by Theresa Mather and Rachael Mayo.” Clockwise from top center the artworks are: “ “Chasing Wisdom,” “Celestial Dance,” “Heart of the Storm,” and “The Astronomer,” all by Mather. “Opal Paradigm, “Emerald Unity,” “Deep Rising 11,” and “Dragon Dance 6,” by Mayo.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Ladies” post. All artwork is © Theresa Mather or © Rachael Mayo, as noted on the individual compositions.

Practically the very first person I thought of for my New Year Dragon Project was Theresa Mather. I have rarely gone into a science fiction convention art show in the last two decades without a chance to see her latest work.

It also wasn’t hard to decide that Rachael Mayo would be my other featured New Year Dragon Lady. She may classify herself as an amateur at sf art shows, but she is an amateur in the most honorable sense of the word, a master who does the work for the love of it more than to make a living. She knows her craft through and through.

New Year Dragon Gentlemen

I conceived the two posts of the New Year Dragon Project to be a sort of “progressive art show.” The New Year Dragon Gentlemen post provided the second half. The “rest of the story,” if you will.

These posts were considerably longer on art than on words, but when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you’ll enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in Jan’s blog post arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by David Lee Pancake and Randal Spangler.” Clockwise from upper left, the artworks are: “Eldar’s Secret,” by Spangler; “S’mine” and “Scrapper,” by Pancake; “The Literate Dragon,” by Spangler; “Solstice,” by Pancake; “A Gathering of Dragons” and “Devouring a Good Book,” by Spangler; and “Stormwind,” by Pancake.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Gentlemen” post. All artwork is © David Lee Pancake or © Randal Spangler, as noted on the individual compositions.

I’ve enjoyed David Lee Pancake’s wonderful resin sculptures for more than a decade. I love his artistry, his originality (check out his Vent Dragons for one notable example!), and his willingness to “go there.” I’m pleased for a chance to bring some of his work more attention. I hope you’ll be intrigued, and explore his website more fully.

And there was never any universe in which Randal Spangler would not have been one of my choices for New Year Dragon Gentlemen. He’s one of my husband’s closest friends. And over the years he and I have not only been friends but also business partners on several ventures. He’s the next-best-thing to family. Give yourself a little while to peruse his extensive galleries, and I think you’ll find his completely different, far more playful take on dragons has an enduring appeal.

This square design shows the covers of Randal Spangler’s four books (current count in Feb. 2024) on a variegated background. Clockwise from upper left: “Counting With the Draglings,” the newest title; “The Draglings Coloring Book,” “The Draglings Bedtime Story,” and “D is for Draglings.” All artwork is © by Randal Spangler. Covers are courtesy of Spangler’s website and (in the case of the coloring book) Amazon.
Please reference the links in the text below for purchasing information.

Books by New Year Dragon Project Artists

We normally don’t think of artists as also being authors (yes, that’s me talking, the exception that illustrates the rule). Two of our New Year Dragon Project artists also push against that expectation, although in less “text-dense” ways.

As I note in the linked blog posts, both Rachael Mayo and Randal Spangler also have books to their name. Rachel has created four coloring books for adults, working with Kaleidoscopia. Randy has a coloring book, but also a growing line of children’s books. He just produced a third children’s title, which is now available through his website.

This square image shows the covers of Rachael Mayo’s four dragon and fantasy art coloring books, each featuring 52 images and designed to be used by people of all ages. They are: Top row L-R, “Dragon Adventure” and “Dragon Adventure 2.” Second row, L-R, “Dragon Adventures 3, Dragons and Friends,” and “Dragon Adventures 4, Fantasy Drawings to Color.” All were published by Kaleidoscopia Coloring books, and all are available on Amazon. All artwork © Rachael Mayo.
Rachael’s four (to date: 2/28/24) coloring books are full of her wonderful art. Follow the links from her Amazon Author Page to find links to more information of purchase.

What did you think of the New Year Dragon Project?

These two posts were considerably longer on art than on words. But when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

And please leave me comments.

Do you like this “progressive art show” idea? Would you like to see more artists profiled on my blog posts in this way, perhaps as a “curated just for Artdog Adventures” kind of group show?

About the Author

I’m Jan S. Gephardt, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, even though I’m now too busy to write lots of individual posts. I still plan to come around as often as I can to post new things and keep readers up-to-date with recent posts we’ve run on The Weird Blog for Weird Sisters Publishing. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do for now.

I’m also a novelist, as well as being a paper sculptor. I’m currently in final edits on Bone of Contention, the third novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live and solve crimes on a space station in a star system far, far away. It is scheduled for publication September 24, 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, who provided all the artwork used in this digest post, the two longer “Weird Blog” posts, and the social media posts that were coordinated with this project. All of the artwork in this post is © by the artist listed in each copyright notice. See links in the text above for the book cover sources.

Recent political-comment books

Politics in Science Fiction

Do you read science fiction as an escape? If you hoped the politics would die down after the election, and now you just want to get away from it all in a sci-fi world, I’ll try to break this gently. Politics in science fiction is pretty much baked-in.

No romance, no adventure story, no mystery, and no historical drama can completely evade society or politics, even when it’s not the focus. But most of these are based on actual events or places. If your romance is set in Tuscany, or if your historical novel takes place in Kublai Khan’s court, certain rules are already set.

But sf was kinda built for political or social comment. Science fiction can range from a simple town hall to a matrilineal nest-colony. But every sf story resides in a world that the author chose to create that way. For a reason.

Sometimes it’s just the wallpaper

Covers for Murderbot stories: “All Systems Red,” “Artificial Condition,” “Rogue Protocol,” “Exit Strategy,” “Network Effect,” and “Fugitive Telemetry.”
Jaime Jones illustrates the “Murderbot Stories” of Martha Wells, from Tor.com Publishing. Cover images courtesy of Martha Wells.

Would-be escapists take heart! Politics in science fiction novels isn’t always center-stage. Some sf authors choose the “background political system” more for plot-utility.

Martha Wells’ “Murderbot” stories take place in a system quite different from our own. What kind of place would allow such a cyborg to be made and exploited? We can believe this world would. It’s not obviously presented as a dystopia, but a writer with a different story purpose could actively portray it as one.

But maybe you’d rather take out your political frustrations in another way.

Dystopia

Maybe you’d like to see characters triumph over their politically- or socially-caused adversity. In that case, the politics in science fiction of certain kinds may be right up your alley. Perhaps counter-intuitively, some of the most inspirational science fiction unfolds in a dystopian world.

Writers use dystopian novels to critique some aspect of their current world. Suzanne Collins drew inspiration from both classical and contemporary sources for her “Hunger Games” books. Her critique focuses on social and economic inequalities, extreme versions of contemporary trends.

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale also makes an extremely relevant point about patriarchy taken to extremes. Women still struggle for the right to control their own bodies. Handmaid remains as relevant now as when it was published in 1985. Buzzfeed offers a list of 24 excellent dystopian novels you’d like to explore this subgenre.

Covers for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Ecotopia,” and “Brave New World,” as well as a boxed set of the Suzanne Collins “Hunger Games Trilogy” and the flag design for Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets.
Atwood book cover courtesy of Thriftbooks. Hunger Games boxed set photo courtesy of Goodreads. Ecotopia and Brave New World book covers courtesy of Bookshop. Star Trek United Federation of Planets flag by Shisma-Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Utopia

Ernest Callenbach’s novel Ecotopia gets pointed to a lot, as an example of a utopian novel—one set in a supposedly “perfect” society. Published in 1975, it influenced the dawn of the Green movement (so did fact-based books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962). See my 2016 post “How Science Fiction Impacts Environmental Awareness.”

Utopias are harder to find in fiction—especially influential utopias. How do you present an interesting story set in a perfect world? Conflict and problems are the soul of plot. This may be the primary reason the Solarpunk movement has been able to produce inspiring and beautiful visual art, but no “breakout” novel to date.

The background society of the Federation in the Star Trek universe has a utopian nature. But few stories in the franchise take place there. Most are set in a less-utopian corner of the Final Frontier.

When one person’s utopia becomes another’s dystopia in some way, we tend to find more stories. Aldous Huxley took that approach in Brave New World (that society’sinhabitants believed it to be a utopia).

Political and social commentary

Politics in science fiction and speculative fiction is alive and well. And has been, all the way back to the genre’s roots.

Many people consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) to be the “first science fiction novel.” It’s a cautionary tale against technological hubris ( see Victor Frankenstein’s dying admonition to “avoid ambition”).

H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine commented on his contemporary social class system. He employed Darwinian concepts to speculate in an oh, so Victorian way that the upper and lower classes would evolve separately over the millennia into separate sub-species of humans.

Covers for historic books “Frankenstein” and “The Time Machine,” contemporary novels “Ancillary Justice” and “A Memory Called Empire,” and XK9 books “The Other Side of Fear” and “What’s Bred in the Bone.”
Book covers for Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Ancillary Justice, and A Memory Called Empire are courtesy of Bookshop. Covers for the “XK9” novels courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. XK9 cover art is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk and © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

More recent examples

But the sf writers of the past have nothing on today’s works. Nnedi Okorafor, for one example, frequently tackles such topics as racial and gender inequality, environmental destruction, corruption, and genocide through the lens of her fantasy and science fiction.

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice takes a unique approach to gender (for one thing, the “default pronoun” is she, which leads us interesting places). Her long, hard look at what Genevieve Valentine calls “the disconnects of culture” opens more parallels to consider.

Arkady Martine‘s acclaimed debut novel A Memory Called Empire tackles political intrigue (she’s a Byzantine Empire historian), and the multiple facets of colonialism.

Politics in the world of the XK9s

My own science fiction isn’t overtly political. My focus in the XK9 books is trying to tell a good story. But I built Rana Station, the environment where most of the action takes place, on ideas garnered from decades of teaching, studying history, and observing our contemporary society.

What kind of environment would enable all of my students to reach their full potential? If a political and social structure made that its guiding question, how would the resulting society look?

I built the world of Rana Station on ideas I started gathering during my coursework. But I don’t believe in “perfect” worlds. In my next post I’ll go into more depth on how and why I created the system where my fictional characters live.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to all of the following: Jaime Jones, who illustrates the “Murderbot Stories” of Martha Wells, from Tor.com Publishing. Cover images courtesy of Martha Wells. Atwood book cover courtesy of Thriftbooks. Hunger Games boxed set photo courtesy of Goodreads. Ecotopia and Brave New World book covers courtesy of Bookshop. Star Trek United Federation of Planets flag by Shisma-Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0. Book covers for Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Ancillary Justice, and A Memory Called Empire came from Bookshop. Covers for the “XK9” novels courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. XK9 cover art is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk and © 2019 by Jody A. Lee.

This quote from Henry Ward Beecher reads, "A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life."

In celebration of Library Week

It’s once again time to do something in celebration of Library Week! Last year on Artdog AdventuresI posted a different library-related quote each day. The brilliant Simini Blocker illustrated all of them. Of course, The Weird Blog didn’t exist yet, this time last year.

This year, I’m no less grateful and delighted that we have libraries in our lives. I have a lot less time for blogging. But I owe it to libraries and their impact on my life to do something in celebration of Library Week!

This quote-image from Mari Barnes says, "Libraries are sacred time machines where knowledge flows and magic is eternal."
Many thanks to Shellie’s Quote Emporium on tumblr, for this quote from Mari Barnes.

Libraries are centers of knowledge

Of course, for any book lover, libraries are life and breath. They also have been a feature of civilization for about as long as civilizations have existed. You might consider libraries as one of  the characteristics that marks a given cultural flowering as a “civilization.” Unfortunately, in most civilizations, libraries weren’t open to the general public

Granted, the general public couldn’t read for most of human history. Also, the concept of a public library hadn’t occurred to anyone. One thing we citizens of the USA can be proud of is that free public libraries appear to be an American invention.

Libraries function as repositories of information, accumulated wisdom and insight. Sometimes poppycock mixes in there, too. But that’s often hard to discern till much later. In every age, they’re centers of knowledge. And you know what they say about knowledge.

This quote from an episode of the TV Show "Dr. Who" says, "You want weapons? We are in a Library! the best weapons in the world!"
Many thanks to ebook friendly for this Dr. Who quote.

Years ago, a wise person told me that reading material in the home often tells us who’ll be a greater success. A good-sized collection of books (in their field or more general) signals a more agile mind.

More than books alone

From the very beginning, libraries have always been more than just collections of books. Books are useless unless someone reads, thinks about and discusses them. For this reason, the ancient Library of Pergamum had four rooms: three for storing books (scrolls at that time), and one for meetings, conferences, and banquets.

In Colonial North America, Benjamin Franklin and a community of friends created the first “social library.” They each chipped in 40 shillings to buy a collection of books that all could use. Groups of scholars or a church might share other libraries of the time. 

Three different sites claim bragging rights as the “first” public library. But whichever was first, what we’d recognize as proto-modern, free public libraries arose in the early 1840s, in the eastern United States, in tandem with public schools. Both schools and libraries support the idea that only an educated citizenry can govern a democracy well. 

This quote-image from Henry Ward Beecher reads, "A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life."
Many thanks to MEME for the Henry Ward Beecher quote.


In Celebration of Library Week

There’s so much to love about libraries! They actually may make us better people

A 2014 Pew Research poll discovered that 2/3 of Americans say they have “high or medium engagement” with their local public libraries. Better still, library patrons are more involved in their communities. They’re also more likely to be engaged with friends and neighbors, and generally be more capable tech users.

Contemporary libraries provide a resource center for all kinds of information, materials, and computer/Internet access. They offer a haven of resources for lower-income information-seekers and those in need of services only available online. And they often serve as a port in the storm for some of our our homeless population.

In celebration of Library Week, I could have gone in many directions with this blog post. But I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of public library history. What would we do without our libraries? If you’re so inclined, please share your favorite aspects or experiences with libraries in the comments below.

This illustrated quote from author J. K. Rowling says, "When in doubt go to the library."
Many thanks to ebook friendly for this quote from J. K. Rowling.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Shellie’s Quote Emporium on tumblr, for the quote from Mari Barnes; to  ebook friendly for the Dr. Who quote.  Many thanks to MEME for the Henry Ward Beecher quote, and again to ebook friendly for this quote from J. K. Rowling.

This is the header for Capricon 40. Its bright, tropical colors and lettering reflect this year's theme "The Tropics of Capricon."

Detectives in the Wild

The Capricon Project – Detectives in the Wild

My first panel at Capricon  40 was one of the three I’m scheduled to moderate, “Detectives in the Wild.” In it we explored the many ways that mystery stories show up in speculative fiction.

"Detectives in the Wild" panelists, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre Murphy, Mark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn't share his name).
“Detectives in the Wild” panelists, L-R: Jan S. Gephardt (Moderator), Deirdre MurphyMark H. Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns. (photo by a kindly audience member who didn’t share his name).

Deirdre MurphyMark Huston, and Clifford Royal Johns joined me as co-panelists. All of us have written, or are writing, speculative fiction mysteries. Just between the four of us, we covered the mystery sub-categories of CoziesAmateur SleuthDetective, and Police Procedural.

L-R: Jan S. Gephardt's What's Bred in the Bone and soon-to-be-released The Other Side of Fear feature crime-solving, super-smart police dogs. Mark H. Huston's Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice takes an alternate-history look at Austen. And Clifford Royal Johns' Walking Shadow explores the implications of a memory-erasing procedure. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy's book, Murder and Sea Monsters, isn't out yet. (See below for full image credits for these covers).
L-R: Jan S. Gephardt‘s What’s Bred in the Bone and soon-to-be-released The Other Side of Fear feature crime-solving, super-smart police dogs. Mark H. Huston‘s Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice takes an alternate-history look at Austen. And Clifford Royal Johns‘ Walking Shadow explores the implications of a memory-erasing procedure. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy’s book, Murder and Sea Monsters, isn’t out yet. (See below for full image credits for these covers).

The panel’s description made it seem as if mysteries in the speculative genres that range outside of urban fantasy are hard to find. But between us and the audience, we came up with a bunch. We quickly found ourselves sub-categorizing them, too.

Alternate History 

“Detectives in the Wild” aren’t hard to find in the alternate history genre. It’s so flexible, it can encompass any number of co-genres. Our panel’s alternate history point-person Mark Huston gave us an excellent overview. 

Mark writes in Eric Flint’s 1632 Universe.  Here are just a few of the recommended alternative history mystery novels we came up with.

Randall Garrett, Georg Huff and Paula Goodlett, Julie McElwain, and Michael Chabon all have entries in this category. Garrett and McElwain each created a series after publishing their series-openers shown here. (See below for full image credits).
Randall GarrettGeorg Huff and Paula Goodlett, Julie McElwain, and Michael Chabon all have entries in this category. Garrett and McElwain each created a series after publishing their series-openers shown here. (See below for full image credits).

Noir 

No discussion of mysteries would be complete without the Noir Mystery category. For some people, it’s the first kind of mystery they think about when they hear “mystery fiction.” The Noir sub-genre has its own tropes and unique characteristics

These often extend into speculative fiction categories in distinctive ways. We included stories with the feel and general optics of traditional Noir, but which the authors have played for laughs or to make a different point. Here are some of the Noir-style novels we touched on.

Some panel- and audience-recommended recommended examples of Noir-style mysteries in speculative fiction. Authors are Richard K. Morgan, Jonathan Lethem, David Carrico, and Glen Cook. (See below for full credits).
Some panel- and audience-recommended recommended examples of Noir-style mysteries in speculative fiction. Authors are Richard K. MorganJonathan LethemDavid Carrico, and Glen Cook. (See below for full credits).

Paranormal

Yes, we know we weren’t supposed to get into urban fantasy. But the line between it and paranormal stories is blurry. We kept coming up with so many good ones! With our active, engaged audience, we shared ideas about books that are well worth reading. Many in this line-up are the first books in enduring and well-loved series.

Lee Killough's Garreth Mikaelian, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse, Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden all anchor satisfying series. These are covers for the first book in each. (See below for full credits).
Lee Killough’s Garreth MikaelianCharlaine Harris’Sookie StackhouseLaurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, and Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden all anchor satisfying series. These are covers for the first book in each. (See below for full credits).

Robots and AIs

Speculative fiction’s detectives aren’t always human. The unusual capabilities of extrapolated and imagined artificial intelligences–whether they’re in the form of androids, robots, or other things–have made these creations a favorite for speculative fiction writers, especially since Isaac Asimov’s classic team of R. Daneel Olivaw and Elijah Baley. Panelists and audience came up with several highly-recommended titles and series.

From left to right, these covers represent the Isaac Asimov classic The Caves of Steel, A. Lee Martinez's The Automatic Detective (with distinctly Noir-ish cover art to reflect the adventures of Mack Megaton, an investigative robot), Guy Haley's Reality 36 (a cyborg and an AI team up as investigators), and Donna Andrews' cozy mystery You've Got Murder, the debut outing for Turing Hopper ("a computer with the heart of Miss Marple"),
From left to right, these covers represent the Isaac Asimov classic The Caves of Steel, A. Lee Martinez‘s The Automatic Detective (with distinctly Noir-ish cover art to reflect the adventures of Mack Megaton, an investigative robot), Guy Haley’Reality 36 (a cyborg and an AI team up as investigators), and Donna Andrews‘ cozy mystery You’ve Got Murderthe debut outing for Turing Hopper (“a computer with the heart of Miss Marple”),

General Science Fiction

But not all science fiction mysteries fall into easy categories. That’s the nature of the genre–it’s grounded in the unexpected. We couldn’t complete our survey of “Detectives in the Wild” without talking about some that defy confinement in traditional mystery categories.

These covers represent some of the unique places science fiction can go with a mystery. Lee Killough's The Doppelgänger Gambit explores the nature of a "perfect alibi" in a world where one's digital privacy has reached a new dimension. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores questions of justice in a world where the presence of aliens changes the rules, in The Disappeared (first in the Retrieval Artist Series). Mur Lafferty's Six Wakes is the ultimate closed-room mystery in which seven crew members of a starship awaken to discover their previous bodies were murdered--by one of them. But they don't remember who is the murderer. And in Arkady Martine's "interstellar mystery" A Memory Called Empire, an ambassador must discover who killed her predecessor (everyone swears it was an accident) before she meets a similar fate.
These covers represent some of the unique places science fiction can go with a mystery. Lee Killough‘s The Doppelgänger Gambit explores the nature of a “perfect alibi” in a world where one’s digital privacy has reached a new dimension. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores questions of justice in a world where the presence of aliens changes the rules, in The Disappeared (first in the Retrieval Artist Series). Mur Lafferty‘s Six Wakes is the ultimate closed-room mystery in which seven crew members of a starship awaken to discover their previous bodies were murdered–by one of them. But they don’t remember who is the murderer. And in Arkady Martine‘s “interstellar mystery” A Memory Called Empirean ambassador must discover who killed her predecessor (everyone swears it was an accident) before she meets a similar fate.

I’m sorry I couldn’t transport all of my readers into the panel room itself. This little overview has only scratched the surface of our discussion. I have to give a lot of credit to the breadth and depth of our panelists’ knowledge–and also to our stellar audience. It took all of us to create what was for me a fun and informative panel. I hope they enjoyed “Detectives in the Wild” as much as I did.

IMAGE CREDITS:

First of all, many, many thanks to the kind gentleman from the audience who volunteered to take our picture for me. He didn’t identify himself, but he has my deep gratitude! 

The images of our book covers come from varied sources. The cover art for Jan S. Gephardt’s What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Cover art for Jan’s forthcoming novella The Other Side of Fear (watch for it in late March 2020!) is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk

The cover image for Mark H. Huston’s Up-Time Pride and Down-Time Prejudice is courtesy of Amazon. Many thanks to Goodreads for Clifford Royal Johns’ Walking Shadow cover image. Unfortunately, Deirdre Murphy’s Murder and Sea Monsters isn’t yet available online.

ALTERNATE HISTORY and NOIR Covers:

Many thanks to Goodreads, for the cover of Randall Garrett’s Murder and Magicthe first Lord Darcy book. I also wish to thank Ring of Fire Press for the cover image for A Holmes for the Czar. Many thanks to Goodreads again, for the cover image for Julie McElwain’s A Murder in TimeFinally, thank you to Abe Books, for Michael Chabon’s cover image from The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

I’m grateful to Book Depository, for the Altered Carbon cover art on Richard K. Morgan‘s book. Many thanks to Wikimedia for the first edition cover for Jonathan Lethem‘s Gun, with Occasional Music. Gratitude and thanks to Amazon for the Magdeburg Noir cover image, from David Carrico of Ring of Fire. NoteCarrico has showed up previously on Jan’s Artdog Adventures blog. Last but not least for the Noir section, I am indebted to Abe Books for a good image of cover art for Glen Cook‘s Sweet Silver Bluesfirst of the Garrett Files series.


PARANORMAL, ROBOT/AI and GENERAL SF Covers:

Many thanks to Amazon for the cover of Lee Killough‘s Blood Huntand to Goodreads for the cover images of Charlaine Harris‘s Dead Until DarkLaurel K. Hamilton‘s Guilty Pleasuresand Jim Butcher‘s Storm Front. 

I’m grateful to Amazon for the cover of Isaac Asimov‘s The Caves of Steel, and to Goodreads for cover images for A. Lee Martinez‘s The Automatic Detective, Guy Haley‘s Reality 36and Donna Andrews‘ You’ve got Murder

Finally, many thanks to Amazon, for the covers of Lee Killough‘s The Doppelgänger Gambitand Mur Lafferty‘s Six WakesI’m grateful to Goodreads for the cover of Kristine Kathryn Rusch‘s The Disappearedand to NPR (nice interview there, too!) for the cover of Arkady Martine‘s A Memory Called EmpireI literally couldn’t have created this post without y’all! Thank you!

Here are the covers for the four books I review in this post.

Stranger-than-usual territory

Recently I’ve wandered into stranger-than-usual territory in three urban fantasy books

Actually the third one may fall more into the speculative fiction category, but it mostly takes place in a city, and some elements come across to me much more as fantasy than as fiction that’s based in any science I’m aware of.

It’s been a while (June 2018) since I posted any book reviews on this blog, but today I’d like to share glimpses of the stranger-than-usual territory explored in Extreme Medical ServicesThe SparkleTits Chronicles, and Hollow Kingdom.

Extreme Medical Services

This photo shows the cover of the book "Extreme Medical Services."

By Jamie Davis

A paramedic’s life is never dull, but that goes exponential for rookie paramedic Dean Flynn when he’s assigned to Elk City’s Station U. That place is definitely is located in stranger-than-usual territory

Station U isn’t your standard paramedic station. And the population it serves doesn’t exactly fit into any standard class of human patients. That’s because Station U serves the “Unusuals” in town. 

The local vampires, were-folk, sirens, faeries, dryads, and many other people who quietly (and carefully) live among the rest of the humans, but are medically “different.” As Brynne, Dean’s supervising partner, puts it, “They’re mostly humans, but not.”

Both together and individually, they create a challenging medical specialty. And they offer some moments of delightful humor.

This is a take on myths and legends unlike anything I’ve previously encountered. Davis poses a series of logical problems most of us have probably never imagined. What complications arise when the diabetic CPA also happens to be a werewolf? Or when a vampire has an allergic reaction? Or when a naiad (water sprite) gets severely dehydrated?

"Extreme Medical Services" is the first of a series. This image shows the first book's full cover, overlapping covers of the second and third novels in the series, "The Paramedic's Angel" and "The Paramedic's Choice."

Notes on the Series

These problems and more confront Dean and his colleagues from Station U. Better yet, each patient also is a well-rounded character with a distinctive personality. Davis is a natural-born storyteller with a strong sense of the ironic.

Unfortunately, he’s not a trained storyteller. That means the dialogue is often clunky, the pace is ragged, and the plot is more instinctive than possessing a well-thought-out structure. 

The frequent use of medical jargon may be off-putting to readers who were expecting more standard fantasy tropes, but the science fiction nerd in me got a kick out of the juxtaposition.

This photo shows the inside of an ambulance, with all of the emergency medical equipment laid out ready to go.
You’ll feel as if you’re riding along in the ambulance with Dean and the gang from Station U (Photo courtesy of Parkway East Hospital in Singapore)

Extreme Medical Services is the first in an 8-book (if you count the prequel) series of short novels about Dean, his patients, colleagues, and others. Of course there’s trouble brewing in Elk City, and Dean is uniquely suited to help deal with it. 

Whenever the series sticks close to its core identity it shines. Humorous and ironic medical-fantasy situations with a strong subtext of standing up for the rights of a misunderstood minority population provide some marvelous moments.

But the clunky writer-craft annoyed me throughout the series. And when the stories ventures too far into epic fantasy and cosmic cataclysm, they fall flat for me. In my opinion, the first 2-3 books were the most entertaining.

The SparkleTits Chronicles

By Veronica R. Calisto

This photo shows Veronica R. Calisto, one of the authors I've reviewed today.
Veronica R. Calisto 
at Westercon 71.

Yes, I know this is technically two books, but in a number of ways it’s not. I normally would never have seen or heard of these books if I hadn’t gone to Westercon 71, in July 2018 in Denver. That’s where I met Veronica and became intrigued with her unique personality and sense of humor.

That wry sense of humor and askance view of the world comes across forcefully in her writing, too. This woman has a voice and a style all her own, and it’s a pleasure to read her work. 

When I want to give a full-throated endorsement, however, I’ve normally directed people to her Diary of a Mad Black Witch. That one’s a stand-alone novel that I could have sworn I’d already reviewed in this space–but I can’t find it, soI’ll have to remedy the oversight soon.

Meanwhile, what’s up with “SparkleTits”? 

For a while the title itself held me back. I half-feared it would turn out to be some kind of exploitation ploy. But I couldn’t imagine that the author of Diary of a Mad Black Witch would really go there. So I gave them a try. 

And I’ve got to tell you, they definitely take you into stranger-than-usual territory!

This image includes the book cover art for the two "SparkleTits" Chronicles novels, "Starfish and Coffee," and "Sins  and Barbecue."

Greer Ianto is struggling to deal with the death of her beloved mentor Gabe when we meet her on what turns out to be the Nearly-Worst Possible Day Ever.

Then she gets semi-literally star struck (as in struck by something that looks to others like a star), and lives to ask what the heck just happened. At this point we have well and truly ventured into far-stranger-than-usual territory.

From there we plunge through nearly-nonstop (mis)adventures in a reality where superheroes are real (but, officially, they’re all men). 

As a six-foot-tall black woman with an attitude, suddenly possessed of her own superpowers (that even work on the superhero men), Greer is guaranteed to rock their foundations. And I for one had a blast watching her do it.

Sins and Barbecue

Greer has a new and troublesome relationship going on in the second novel. She encounters a number of new bad guys. And she finds more clues about her mysterious origins and her late mentor Gabe, who wasn’t exactly what he seemed to be. 

This particular cycle-within-a-larger-story finishes, but it’s clear the larger story continues. I very much doubt that the SparkleTits Chronicles are meant to end here.

This photo of Denver, including the city park, part of the downtown skyline, and the Front Range with Mt. Evans, is By Hogs555.
The “SparkleTits” Chronicles are set in Denver, CO–but they definitely also take you into stranger-than-normal territory! (Photo By Hogs555 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

You knew there’d be a “however”

These books are a lot of fun. Except for the moments when they fall apart. 

Calisto’s writing is much better-crafted than Davis’s, but there still are places where she needed a line editor and/or a proofreader (different functions!). They could have saved her from confusing constructions, infelicitous turns of phrase, typos, editing artifacts, and more.

They also would probably have reminded her that not everyone who reads Book Two, Sins and Barbecuewill read it immediately after Starfish and Coffee, so the reader needs a reorientation about who everybody is and what happened in Book One

The other big problem with these books is the interior artwork. The covers are workmanlike enough to convey the idea (no artist is credited for any of the artwork). But the interior artwork is just plain embarrassing. Incomprehensible and horrendously-timed, it appears that it’s supposed to convey some of the climactic action. It doesn’t. Instead it stops the story dead in its tracks at arguably the worst possible moment.

So, no. I can’t offer anything like a full-throated endorsement. But I can tell you it’s an interesting-enough experiment that I bought and read the second book. Make of that what you will.

Hollow Kingdom

By Kira Jane Buxton

If we suddenly had a Zombie Apocalypse, what would happen to all the companion animals? That’s the question underlying this much-talked-about top-seller.

Hollow Kingdom is the only traditionally-published entry in this blog post’s collection. The others are Indies that probably would not have received a good reception from the gatekeepers

Is it a better book? Well, the craft is clearly better. Kira Jane Buxton writes well, and she’s been well-served by her editors at Grand Central Publishing. There are no amateurish issues to battle here. The publisher supported this book’s roll-out with strong advertising and review coverage.

You definitely should give it a look. The animal viewpoints deliver spot-on caricatures we all recognize. In addition to the protagonist, S.T. the genius-crow, we hear occasionally from other characters such as Genghis Cat and Winnie the Poodle. Their brief cameos illuminate and provide humor–even as they also are poignant. 

The animal-welfare angle

Readers not used to reading speculative fiction or thinking in animal viewpoints may find it mind-expanding. And anytime we can get people to think more fully about animals and their welfare, that’s a good thing. But personally, I found it more depressing than many reviewers.

I’ve been associated with animal rescue organizations for long enough to cherish no illusions about what happens to domesticated animals when their caregivers cease to care for them. 

In this photo, four feral cats sit or crouch beside a broken fence on a dirt path, with two pigeons in the background.
All fantasy aside, domesticated animals without human care, like these feral cats, lead short, cruel lives. (Photo courtesy of Pretty Litter)

Even cats, which many people think probably would thrive without people around, would inevitably suffer problems (note the dangerous lives of contemporary feral cats). Far more horrifying, animals trapped inside buildings, aquaria, zoo cages, barns and pastures without food and water would die agonized, lingering deaths.

Hollow Kingdom is a fantasy, firmly planted in stranger-than-usual territory. It provides poignant moments, funny moments, and a great many improbable situations. Maybe it’s better not to talk about the rest of the grimness, but I read this more as a slow-rolling horror story than as “hopeful.”

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Many thanks to Goodreads, for the Extreme Medical Services cover art, and to Amazon for the series-covers image. The photo of the inside of an ambulance is from Parkway East Hospital in Singapore. 

The photo of Veronica R. Calisto at Westercon 71 was taken with her knowledge and permission, and is © 2018 by Jan S. Gephardt, but you may re-post it or re-blog it with an attribution and a link back to this post. The photo of the two books in the SparkleTits Series is courtesy of Amazon. The photo of Denver, including the city park, part of the downtown skyline, and the Front Range with Mt. Evans, is By Hogs555 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikiepedia.

The photo of the Hollow Kingdom coveris courtesy of Goodreads. Many thanks to Pretty Litter for the photo of the feral cats.

A book can seem all-consuming in the homestretch for NaNoWriMo.

Into the homestretch for NaNoWriMo

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

We’re closing in on the end of November, and also the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month)All month I’ve posted things to encourage writers, whether or not they’re specifically participating. But for all who are participating, this week you go into the homestretch

The toll that project fatigue exacts

Against a background photo of steep mountains, this Dale Carnegie quote says, "Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment."

You’re so close! But sometimes, as we near the end of a long project, exhaustion sets in. Especially if you’ve been extending yourself to make your goals, you may be short of sleep or creaky from bending over your keyboard too long (Take time to stretch!).

Remember, the most important thing you’ll get out of NaNoWriMo or any sustained effort is not necessarily the draft you write (although acclaimed published works have originated from NaNoWriMo first-drafts). 

The most important thing

This quote from Octavia Butler reads, "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice."

No, the most important thing is developing the habit of persistence. And here in the homestretch is where it comes most fully into play.

More important than talent. More essential than a genius idea. More crucial than the classiest styleThe secret to writing success is persistence. Keep trying. You’ve come into the homestretch for NaNoWriMo. Last-minute brain glitch, and can’t think what to write? Write anyway.

This Philip Pullman quote says, "If you can't think what to write, tough luck; write anyway."

Formula for success

Create the habits that put your butt in the chair (or wherever you write) and your hands on the keyboard (or however you interface with your word processor) and the words being written.

Create and sustain those habits. Eventually, you’ll succeed. Going into the homestretch and beyond, you’ll have developed the most essential requirement for any successful writer. Simply don’t let anything stop you.

This quote from Timothy Zahn reads, "A lot of brilliant writing minds out there will never be heard from because they quit. Persistence is a major part of all of this."

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to BrainyQuotes, for the illustrated Dale Carnegie quote on fatigue. And my deepest gratitude to Early Bird Books and their feature “15 Inspiring Writing Quotes for NaNoWriMo.” Their article is my source for the quotes by Octavia Butler, Philip Pullman, and Timothy Zahn. Finally, many thanks to 123RF and “Bowie 15 for the featured image.

Fernie the labrador retriever and his person demonstrate he's a verbal virtuoso who can read and obey commands.

Dogs: verbal virtuosos?

Could our dogs be verbal virtuosos? Perhaps more than we may think!

This is the second post in a series about dog cognition. In case you missed the first one, click: “How much does your dog understand?” I’ve also written about working dogs on this blog. That post touched on dog cognition, but didn’t go into as much depth.

This series started when I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm,  a blog devoted to books and dogs (a great combo!). Their format, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to sources that I’d suggested. (Note: Booker T’s Farm also posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone).

Science doesn’t stand still, so there’s updated information to add. That (and the chance to share links to sources) is why I decided to expand on my August post with this series.

If only dogs could talk!

I am certainly not the only person who’s ever wished her dog could talk. They usually manage to express themselves clearly enough to tell us when they’re hungry or want to go out, but I sometimes would swear they’re just as frustrated as we are.

We need a for-real “Dr. Dolittle interface” of some sort! And it’s possible we may be getting closer to one, but more on that in a bit.

Dogs can’t (quite) speak our languages, but there’s growing scientific agreement that they understand what our words mean. We also now know that understanding is aided by the tone of our voice.

And it’s long been clear they can and do respond to our wishes, cued by words (sounds) we’ve taught them. (Scientists haven’t, as far as I know, done studies on “selective hearing” in dogs who choose not to respond. But perhaps that’s an indicator of intelligence, too).

All of these capabilities, plus dogs’ eagerness to interact with humans, place them on the road to becoming verbal virtuosos.

The (so far) unparalleled Chaser

Probably the most famous canine verbal virtuoso was Chaser, a border collie who belonged to a psychology professor named John Pilley.  Pilley and Chaser were able to demonstrate that she had a vocabulary of 1,022 different nouns (the names of toys), and that she could comprehend (by reacting appropriately to) sentences containing a prepositional object, a verb, and a direct object.

Pilley memorably showed her talents to the world on TV. There’s an episode of 60 Minutes in which she starred. It first aired in 2014, but it’s still available onlinePilley and Chaser also demonstrated her smarts to Neil DeGrasse Tyson on an episode of NOVA on PBS.

Yes, but could she also read?

Chaser understood more than 1,000 nouns and could correctly follow verbal commands using different verbs and objects, but I haven’t found any evidence online that she could respond to written symbols. That doesn’t mean, however that a dog can’t do that.

While it’s true that dogs can’t read the way humans can, it is possible to teach them to recognize individual written words (visual symbols) and respond to them as if they were spoken commands.

Several different dogs have been taught to do this, as an inspiration for elementary students just beginning to read. The largest “written vocabulary” I found online was four words, demonstrated by a Labrador Retriever in the UK, named Fernie.

Fernie the "reading dog" and his human a primary school headmaster named Nik Gardner, demonstrate two of the commands Fernie can read.
“Reading Dog” Fernie is a different kind of verbal virtuoso. He and his human, Winford Primary School Headmaster Nik Gardner, demonstrate two of the written commands Gardner has taught Fernie. (Photo by SWNS / David Hedges, via the Telegraph UK).

Mini-Aussie Mia and chocolate lab Fernie are both employed as inspirations for young human readers. They’re going “one better” on the many school-certified dogs around the world who help children improve their reading skills (and sometimes get helped in return).

Meet Stella, the world’s most recent dog star

Just this month, a new canine verbal virtuoso came onto my radar. Stella, a Catahoula / Blue Heeler mix, is the dog of speech pathologist Christina Hunger.

She wanted to teach her dog to communicate using sounds–and her professional background gave her the technology to try it. As News 18 described it, “Christina designed a Voice Output Communication Aid on cardboard. The device is normally used to help low or nonverbal people to communicate.”

Christina has documented Stella using two or more words in sequence, and notes her technique is improving all the time. In Christina’s latest post, Stella’s vocabulary had grown to 22 word-buttons, but a more recent video from Welfare of Dogs documents 29 words.

Stella and Christina’s use of adaptive technology brings other animal word-use experiments to mind. You may remember Koko the gorilla, who used American Sign Language and whose vocabulary surpassed that of the amazing Chaser.

There also was an experiment with teaching orangutans to use iPads for communicating information such as what they wanted for dinner. The program, from Orangutan Outreach, is called “Apps for Apes.” It was designed to draw attention to them, more than it was a serious effort to advance the science of communication with the animals. I reported on it in 2013 when the Kansas City Zoo adopted the program, but I haven’t been able to find information more recent than 2015.

We’re still not quite ready to swear in a K9 officer to testify . . . or are we?

The decision to give my fictional XK9s a vocalizer has its roots in both wish-fulfillment and the potential I see in contemporary adaptive and communication technology. But another inspiration was an overheard comment from a police commander that for well or ill a K9 can’t testify in court. No, we haven’t quite come that far.

Except maybe in Punta Gorda, Florida

In 2012, a defendant called a K9 as a witness for the defense. Deputy Franko, K9 Azor’s handler, had given defendant Rodney McGee a ticket. What happened next? Reporters who covered the story at the time explained.

No, K9 Azor didn’t have much to say, after all. But we can’t really know what he’d have said, if he’d been trained on a sound board like Stella’s. Imagine a K9 trained on one that said things such as “suspect,” “drugs,” or “explosives.”

Stay tuned. At the rate things are going, real-live XK9s may come sooner than we think!

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Many thanks to YouTube and Vines Motion for the “Funny Talking Dogs” video compilation, and to NOVA on PBS, for the video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Chaser. The photo montage of Fernie the “reading dog” is courtesy of SWNS / David Hedges, via the Telegraph UK.  I’m grateful to Christina Hunger’s Hungerforwords YouTube channel for the video of Stella using multiple words, and to The Leak Source on YouTube, for the report on K9 Azor’s trip to court. I appreciate you all!

One among the panels and readings at SpikeCon, this is a photo of the "Write what you don't know" panel.

Panels and readings at SpikeCon

Panels and readings are among my favorite things to do at science fiction conventions

This is a screen capture of the opening images from the SpikeCon website's homepage. It includes the list of four different conventions that came together in Layton Utah July 4-7, 2019, and shows photos 15 headliner guests, including authors, artists, editors, fans, and others. Many of them did both panels and readings.

Yes, I know this makes me “sercon” (oldstyle fan-speak for “too serious to be any fun”). But I’ve decided I’m just gonna have to “own it.” Diss me if you must, but I like going to panels and readings where I can get new ideas and listen to interesting stories more than I like going to parties where I can’t hear what anyone is saying and most of the people are drunk.

This is the "Editing vs. Beta Reading" panel at SpikeCon. Yes, there is a massive difference, and it was well explored by the panelists. They are, L-R: Multimedia author Dan Wells, Headliner Editor Susan Chang, freelance editor Melissa Meibos, author C.H. Hung, and author/freelance editor Joe Monson.
This is the “Editing vs. Beta Reading” panel at SpikeCon. Yes, there is a massive difference, and it was well explored by the panelists. They are, L-R: Multimedia author Dan WellsHeadliner Editor Susan Changfreelance editor Melissa Meibosauthor C.H. Hung, and author/freelance editor Joe Monson.

I’m happy to report that there were some excellent panels and readings at SpikeCon this year. As I sometimes do, I discovered that I kept bumping into some of the same interesting people over and over at this convention. Of course, that’s partially because many of us have similar interests, and partially because, although some 1,100 memberships were sold to SpikeCon, for a variety of reasons only about 850 people showed up.

The "Privilege and Passing in Genre Fiction" panel at SpikeCon provided a lively and informative discussion of the ways in which characters in our genres reflect (or sometimes misrepresent) issues faced by many people in real life. The knowledgeable and wise panelists are, L-R: Inez Aguilar R., Aften Brook Szymanski, Jayrod P. Garrett, C.H. Hung, and B. Daniel Blatt.
The “Privilege and Passing in Genre Fiction” panel at SpikeCon provided a lively and informative discussion of the ways in which characters in our genres reflect (or sometimes misrepresent) issues faced by many people in real life. The knowledgeable and wise panelists are, L-R: Inez Aguilar R.Aften Brook SzymanskiJayrod P. Garrett, C.H. Hung, and B. Daniel Blatt.

This explains why several of the people in some these pictures are the same people as the ones in other pictures! In fact, the identical same group was scheduled together for two different panels I attended. Lucky for their growing group of devoted followers, they had a range of different things to say each time.

Here's the "Write What You Don't Know" panel at SpikeCon, and no, your eyes do not deceive you. This is the exact same group of panelists from the picture above. Some of them traded seats just to mess with us. But they were every bit as wise and interesting when they talked about doing your research and seeking new understandings as they were on the previous panel. For the record, they are, L-R: Aften Brook Szymanski, C.H. Hung, Jayrod P. Garrett, Inez Aguilar R., and B. Daniel Blatt.
Here’s the “Write What You Don’t Know” panel at SpikeCon, and no, your eyes do not deceive you. This is the exact same group of panelists from the picture above. Some of them traded seats just to mess with us. But they were every bit as wise and interesting when they talked about doing your research and seeking new understandings as they were on the previous panel. For the record, they are, L-R: Aften Brook SzymanskiC.H. HungJayrod P. GarrettInez Aguilar R., and B. Daniel Blatt. 
This was possibly the most valuable panel I attended at SpikeCon."After the Action" discussed the trauma writers inflict on their characters in terms of realism in fiction and the effects of trauma on real people. The discussion also quickly ranged into the effect of our fiction on real people--our readers, who may themselves be trauma survivors or have loved ones or associates who are. The uniquely qualified panelists are: L-R: Amy White, an author, librarian, and puppeteer with a trauma survivor in her family; Retired Marine Col. Jonathan P. Brazee, prolific author of military sf; psychologists and social workers Cerin Takeuchi and Anna Marasco; and author and sworn law enforcement officer Griffin Barber.
This was possibly the most valuable panel I attended at SpikeCon.”After the Action” discussed the trauma writers inflict on their characters in terms of realism in fiction and the effects of trauma on real people. The discussion also quickly ranged into the effect of our fiction on real people–our readers, who may themselves be trauma survivors or have loved ones or associates who are. The uniquely qualified panelists are: L-R: Amy White, an author, librarian, and puppeteer with a trauma survivor in her family; Retired Marine Col. Jonathan P. Brazee, prolific author of military sf; psychologists and social workers Cerin Takeuchi and Anna Marasco; and author and sworn law enforcement officer Griffin Barber.

I was on several panels, myself, but you’ll notice they aren’t featured here. I don’t have pictures of panels I was on, or of my reading at SpikeCon (though it was gratifyingly well-attended! Thank you!!).

I may not have a picture from my own reading at SpikeCon, but I did get photos of the authors who read before and after me. Mike Substelny, L, read his as-yet-unpublished but wildly funny and satisfying time travel story, "Plan Madison."
At R, Erika Kuta Marler read a story from an anthology in the Eden's Outcast universe.
may not have a picture from my own reading at SpikeCon, but I did get photos of the authors who read before and after me. Mike Substelny, L, read his as-yet-unpublished but wildly funny and satisfying time travel story, “Plan Madison.”
At R, Erika Kuta Marler read a story from an anthology in the Eden’s Outcast universe.

This is largely because it’s hard to photograph oneself in such situationsTyrell Gephardt, my son and regular convention partner who usually photographs my events when possible, was almost invariably scheduled on his own panels at the same times. 

But trust me. They were brilliant. And there’s always a chance the topics of some of those panels and readings will turn up someday as the subjects of blog posts in the future.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to SpikeCon’s homepage for the graphic gestalt of when, where, and who were headliner guests. All other photos in this post were taken by me, Jan S. Gephardt, with the permission of their subjects. If you wish to re-post or use them, please include an attribution to me as the photographer, and if possible include a link back to this page. Thanks!

A cartoon-style rendering by Matt Frank of a person in fantasy armor, or possibly an anime-style mecha is part of the SoonerCon 28 header image used to promote the June 2019 science fiction convention.

Other readings at SoonerCon 28

Authors, Reading–Part Three

In the last two weeks I’ve published photos and information about readings I attended at SoonerCon 28.

Part One profiled science fiction, alternate history, and fantasy readings.

Part Two spotlighted two fantasy and two alternate history writers.

Today’s authors include one each who write fantasy, science fiction, and middle-grade whimsical “creepy stories.” Since each brought a physical copy of their book and was kind enough to hold it up for me, I did composites of each person.

In this composite photo, at right, fantasy author and Fantasy Writers Asylum imprint editor Julia S. Mandala shows the cover of her epic fantasy Blood Songs. At left, she reads an excerpt from it. Author Laura J. Underwood sits in the background and listens.
Fantasy author and Fantasy Writers Asylum imprint editor Julia S. Mandala shows the cover of her epic fantasy Blood Songs at right. At left, she reads an excerpt from it. Author Laura J. Underwood listens in the background.
In this two-part photo composite, at left author Lou Antonelli reads an excerpt from his novel "Another Girl, Another Planet," while David Carrico listens in the background. At right, Lou holds up his book to show the cover.
At left science fiction author Lou Antonelli reads an excerpt from his novel Another Girl, Another Planet, while David Carrico listens in the background. At right, Lou holds up his book to show the cover.
In this composite photo Middle-grade "creepy stories" writer Kim Ventrella shows off her latest book, "Bone Hollow." At left she reads an excerpt. At right she holds up the cover to the camera.
Middle-grade “creepy stories” writer Kim Ventrella shows off her latest book, Bone Hollow. At left she reads an excerpt from the beginning. At right she shows us the cover. Her earlier middle-grades book, Skeleton Tree, dealt with similar themes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this three-part “book tour” of Soonercon 28, via photos of some of the authors who did readings there.

Going to readings is a great way to learn about interesting new books you may never have heard of. It’s also a fantastic way to meet authors and interact with them in a small-group setting.

Next time you go to a science fiction convention, I strongly recommend that you try going to some of the readings!

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to SoonerCon 28, and artist Matt Frank, for the header image. All other photos were taken by me at SoonerCon 28, June 7-9, 2019, with the express permission of the persons being photographed.If you wish to reblog or use them, please include an attribution to Jan S. Gephardt as the photographer, and if possible provide a link back to this post. Thank you!

A cartoon-style rendering by Matt Frank of a person in fantasy armor, or possibly an anime-style mecha is part of the SoonerCon 28 header image used to promote the June 2019 science fiction convention.

Readings at SoonerCon 28

Authors, Reading–Part One

I’m apparently weird, but I enjoy going to readings. I attended a lot of them at SoonerCon 28, and thought you might enjoy seeing the photos I took of the authors. You may have heard of some or all of them.

SoonerCon 28tried to group their readings thematically–but sometimes the authors didn’t get the memo, so we had kind of a nice smorgasbord. I hope you enjoy this series of posts. Wherever I could, I’ve linked the authors’ names to their websites and/or books, so you can learn more about any who interest you.

Author Brian Trent poses with a copy of his book "Ten Thousand Thunders," before reading an excerpt for it.
Author Brian Trent poses with a copy of his science fiction book Ten Thousand Thunders, before reading an excerpt from it.
Marguerite Reed shares an excerpt from a new short story at her reading. Fellow author Brian Trent listens in the background.
Marguerite Reed, author of Archangel and many shorter works, shares an excerpt from a new short story at her reading. Fellow author Brian Trent listens in the background.
Susan P. Sinor reads from her alternate history novel, "The Hunt for the Red Cardinal," while her co-author-husband Bradley H. Sinor listens.
Susan P. Sinor reads from her alternate history novel, The Hunt for the Red Cardinal (associated with Eric Flint’s 1632 series), while her co-author-husband Bradley H. Sinor listens.
Author David Carrico reads his short story, "The Hair of the Dog", set in the alternate universe of Eric Flint's 1632 Series.
Author David Carrico reads his short story, “The Hair of the Dog”, set in the alternate universe of Eric Flint’s 1632 Series.
Dennis McDonald reads from his short fiction “Moon and Shadow,” from the magazine "Morpheus Tales."
Dennis McDonald reads from his short fiction “Moon and Shadow,” from the magazine Morpheus Tales.

These weren’t the only readings I attended at SoonerCon 28. I’ll profile more authors in future posts.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to SoonerCon 28, and artist Matt Frank, for the header image. All other photos were taken by me at SoonerCon 28, June 7-9, 2019, with the express permission of the persons being photographed. If you wish to reblog or use them, please include an attribution to Jan S. Gephardt as the photographer, and if possible provide a link back to this post. Thank you!

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