A blog showcasing Indie and Small Press books and authors

The publishing world is changing and the boom in e-publishing has allowed both small press publishers and self-publishers to gain greater exposure than ever before.

The Roaring Mouse aims to bring you the best selection of those books as reviews, interviews and features. You don't have to look to the Big Six for quality literature, you can look towards the little guys.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Gods of the Machines by Gary Starta

This week's book feature is slightly atypical in the sense that the author is doing a guest post rather than answering my questions. Gary is blogging about artifical intelligence, the theme of his latest sci-fi novel, Gods in the Machines.

The novel is a futuristic thriller set on Ceres, Earth's first colony. It follows a detective, Sam Benson, on an assignment on the colony that quickly transforms from a mundane placement to a full-on murder investigation. Sam suspects an android is guilty, one who has shared engrams of a psychopath. The premise has the hooks of Philip K Dick and one reviewer on Amazon compared it to Jules Verne!

Gary is a former journalist who has penned seven novels, mixing sci-fi with fantasy and thrillers, and even an android-free thriller 'Murder by Association' in 2007. You can read about his work here.

So over to Gary:

My inspiration to write the novel, Gods of the Machines, basically comes down to one word of inspiration: sentient. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sentient as ‘feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception or thought.” The ability to feel defines our consciousness as humans. It is what distinguishes us from other devices capable of thought or calculation i.e. computers. And although that line of separation, the inability of your laptop to feel emotion, is pretty thick at the moment, there may come a time when that line will either be blurred or crossed. Maybe you are skeptical that robots or perhaps, androids – beings that resemble humans – will ever exist in the way we see them in movies such as I Robot. But there are signs that technology is advancing and that robotics is becoming more and integrated into our everyday life.

The latest cutting edge cell phone operating system is called Android or Droid for short. Although a phone is a long way from a walking, talking android, it seems to show the very idea of such technology is seeping into the consumer consciousness. In Japan, actual android/robots have been created! They have skin made of silicon, and sensors allow them to react. They appear to blink and even breathe! But what they don’t possess is sentience. And because they don’t, I believe these creations will be ripe for exploitation. Robots are already in use in battlefields. Androids such as the life-like creations in Japan may be used for servitude as well, perhaps as nursing aides.

So the idea of robots is really not that extreme or fantastical. For the most part, they are here. Will it be all right to use them for servitude? Most every science fiction story of the last half century portrays them in that manner. Think of Bicentennial Man. But in that movie, there is a difference because that robot evolves, so much, that it actually becomes human. Still, the robot is portrayed as a servant, although its owner treats it with respect.

Will humanity treat robots with respect once they grow in number? People who perceive them as mere machines such as a computer will probably dismiss the idea of expending emotion on objects. But others may feel compelled to interact with androids as if they were human, even if they don’t possess self awareness or are unable to feel genuine emotion.

In Gods of the Machines, the androids James Starkman and Juanita Lopez will find love. Each sympathetic to the other’s plight, neither find themselves totally accepted, and worse for Starkman, he is the prime suspect in a murder investigation. In this future, robots have yet to attain the full rights of humans. But as they inch closer to this goal, the idea that androids can love each other and that humans have had sexual relations with them almost makes it absurd that these beings aren’t considered humans. They are just another kind of human; instead of biological, they are artificial. But both can love.

Gods of the Machines is a sci fi novel for readers who don't normally read the genre, mixed with romance, mystery, crime and suspense, it is fiction on the fringe of genre. A top ten finalist in 2010's Preditors and Editors Poll for science fiction, the novel addresses artificial intelligence and the quest to categorize its place in society.

Find our more about Gary at http://www.garystarta.net/
To follow Gary's sci-fi fan page http://www.facebook.com/GaryStartaSciFiFanPage

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Oblivions Forge by Simon Williams

I first found Simon William’s Oblivions Forge whilst on CompletelyNovel, a self-publishing website which I had used when first printing Dreams of Darkness Rising. Simon had posted a teaser and within the first few pages I was hooked.

 Oblivion’s Forge is an intricate work of dark fantasy which follows three key characters in the world of Aona. An ancient force is returning from the void and this return is stimulating the restoration of Old magic in the world. Caught up in this we have Vornen, who has the ability to see the gates through which the forces arrive; Amethyst, who has been cursed to seek out a mysterious woman; and Jaana, a healer who finds her healing ability becoming ineffective in face of the forces stirring in the world. The three characters plot lines ultimately crash together in a superb finale and along the way we encounter a range of colourful characters- thieves, assassins, wizards and monsters.

There were a number of aspects to this book that appealed to me. First of all it is an intelligent work. You are dropped into the plot with little background and the details gradually unfold as we travel with the characters. I’ve always liked that aspects in a book- it stimulates you to read more. In that way I was reminded of Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, where you are ‘WTF’ for the first hundred pages, but by the end you feel satisfied about what’s going on.

The second big draw was the tortured characters that Simon has created. It is a skill to write fantasy and avoid the stereotypes of the genre, the most prominent of which must be 2-dimensional characterisations. The characters of Aona are detailed, realistic and interesting. Reading this book made me think about my own characterisation a great deal—and if a book makes you think, you know it’s worth the time you invest in it!

I threw a couple of questions at Simon about the Aona series and his writing:

Me: Your book mixes fairly dark fantasy with elements of sci-fi. I was reminded at times of Moorcock and Gene Wolfe. Who would you say are your biggest fantasy-SF influences?

Simon: Oddly enough, when I first started writing Oblivion’s Forge, it was much more “traditional” fantasy but it did gradually evolve a darker, “harder” work. I’d say my main influences have for many years been the likes of Tad Williams,George R R Martin, Cecilia Dart-Thornton and Ian Irvine, although I’m not sure how much those influences come through. I love the way Ian Irvine mixes a certain amount of tech into his gritty brand of fantasy, so perhaps his influence is the most visible.

When I was a kid I read a lot of Celtic and mythological fantasy, which actually inspired me to become a writer of the wider genre- I shall always be indebted to Alan Garner, Susan Cooper and C S Lewis for that reason.

Me: What drove your decision to self-publish rather than pursue traditional or small press routes?

Simon: I found myself quite disappointed with the attitude many writers’ agents displayed-I guess they get so many submissions that they can afford to have that attitude, but it was a little dispiriting! I guess I also decided at around the same time as I was sending out manuscripts, that I could instead be the master of my own destiny. Self-publishing has actually spurred me on to become a lot more productive- Oblivion’s Forge took around 13 years to complete, believe it or not, but it’s sequel, Secret Roads, has taken about a year, and the third book is also well underway already. Perhaps the fact that the first book is “out there” and there’s been an increasing level of interest in the series has helped give me the kick up the backside I needed!

Me: Unlike many self-pub authors your book is only     available in print. Are you planning an e-version?

I am. I’m hoping to have a Kindle version available in a month or so.

Me: Your characters are very diverse and intricate.Which is the one you identify with the most and which did you enjoy writing?

Simon: I guess in the first book I identified with Vornen the most in a way, although I think many people might see a part of themselves in his personality- he comes across as a bit of a dreamer or a no-hoper sometimes, and lurches from disaster to disaster- and we all feel as if we’re jinxed from time to time in our lives (thankfully few of us could be quite as jinxed as Vornen!). I also enjoyed writing about Iyoth and Kian, both of whom feature a fair bit more in Secret Roads.

I think that Nia, who you meet briefly in the first book, is my favourite character in the second. Without giving away any spoilers, Nia is “special”(unique, possibly) and a deeply troubled personality as well as a conniving woman who appears to have no morals whatsoever. In Oblivion’s Forge she does some quite reprehensible things, and she continues to do so in Secret Roads- but I try to point out her motivation, the reason why she is the way she is. She certainly isn’t a hero, but I want readers to try and understand her or at least see the human being beyond and behind the actions. I’ve actually grown quite attached her whilst writing the second book, and hope that happens to some of my readers too.

Me: The magic system seems quite intricate in your     book--is it elaborated further or is it a more major focus in your future books?

Simon: In the later books I definitely will be describing the witch / warlock / earthmagic side of things a lot more- it’s a major focus of the third book, The Endless Shore and in fact those characters who discover their innate powers in this area are absolutely pivotal to the whole concept of the Aona books. What I want to expand on a lot more is how dangerous the use of these powers is, for the wielder as much as anyone else. I want it to be seen as a “last resort” whose practitioners fear the possible effects of its use. I think that feeling of unpredictability is important.

At the same time I’ll be going into more detail about the mysterious Seven who rule in Luudhoq, and the quite different powers that they possess.

Me: Why do you think the anti-hero is so popular in fantasy and SF genres?

To put it simply, the anti-hero (or better yet, the random character who could have been anyone plucked from obscurity) tends to feel more real. They are much more interesting to write about and to read about. I stopped writing about the traditional idea of “heroes” many years ago because it just didn’t do it for me- I felt as if I was just embellishing a stereotype and I didn’t want to do that. I couldn’t identify with characters like that because they didn’t act in the way I or most other people would act in the given situation. I think the vast majority of people, placed in the situations you see in the Aona books, would be fearful, angry, suspicious, desperate a lot of the time- and their actions would inevitably be questionable or even abhorrent some of the time. It’s how they somehow work their way through these challenges (or not as the case may be!) that I find great to write about, whether they’re anti-heroes or simply non-heroes.

My Amazon review of Oblivions Forge is here.

Simon's book is available on Amazon or more simply ordered direct from the Completely Novel website via clicking here.

Simon's websites are the World of Aona website and his own author site at SimonWilliamsAuthor.com

Simon Williams is the author of the Aona series of dark fantasy books. The first book in the series, Oblivion’s Forge, was published in the summer of 2011 and the second, Secret Roads, is due out at the end of March 2012.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Brother Betrayed by Danielle Raver

Danielle Raver's debut novel was the one of the first books I downloaded this year when I came to the end of my Kindle must read list. What first caught my eye was the excellent cover which I only really appreciated in full colour when reading the book on my i-phone. There's something about fantasy books and painted covers I've always loved!

The novel tells the story of three brothers: the thoughtful and conscientious Syah; the wilder and impulsive Fasime; and the arrogant and conservative Oman. The three are princes of Arnith, a kingdom surrounded by wilder and more barbaric lands in which the nation is engaged in perpetual battles with. The three elect to take a covert excursion around Arnith, to scope out the lands that they’ll rule one day.

The trip inevitably runs into trouble and to elaborate further would be to spoil the book. Suffice to say that the events create a tension between the brothers which erupts on their eventual return.

The strength of the book, and indeed in any good book, is in the characters. Fantasy isn’t excluded from that core principle of literature- indeed fantasy and SF allow far greater examination of characters by pitting them into situations beyond our ‘real world’ experience. The dynamic between the three is wonderfully played out and is mercurial as the brothers grow and change throughout the book in a very believable (and tragic) fashion. We get a sense from the outset that Syah is the key character, not least as we have sections of his journal allowing us his point of view to resonate more than his siblings.

The conclusion of the book is moving and sets the scene very nicely for the sequels, which I am desperate to read. I was left with a sense of classic epic fantasy, reminiscent of Robin Hobb and Ursula le Guin. Danielle doesn’t overdo the fantasy element, in fact in places it feels more like historical fantasy. Having said that there’s some great dwarves featuring in it (with a very alternate realisation) and towards the end we get a dragon popping up.

I interviewed Danielle about the book and about her writing:

 Me: What is it that attracts you to write fantasy as a genre?

Dani: I attempted to write realistic fiction a few times and I was just too bored by it. I enjoy writing fantasy because I get to escape into the world of my characters. It's not as mundane as everyday life.

Me: Ok, so were there any authors who have particularly influenced your work?

Dani: Would it be crazy to say that I'm in love with Charles Dickens? The raw realness of his characters is fantastic. Cut out the whaling consortium from Moby Dick and that's another of my favorites. I also love the poetic style of Patricia McKillip and Tolkien.

 Me: I found the dwarves in your book very fresh and fascinating. Where did you draw inspiration for them?

Dani: Well, thank you. I did not want my elves or dwarves to be clich├ęd (yes, there's elves in the next book). The elves and dwarves are known as the "magical races" because they, unlike the humans, are still able to manipulate their world in magical ways. I think the dwarves in Brother Betrayed were moulded around the healer dwarf, who had to be mystical, powerful, and interesting.

Me: When you write would you describe yourself as very structured or do you write in a more free-form manner?

Dani: In the beginning it was very free-form. Many characters would sprout out of chapters, with me not having planned them. I have to limit myself strictly on allowing new characters into my books now. I also plan out a bit more, just so I know where the story will go. The meat of my writing, however, drives itself. If I'm stuck on a scene I will picture it in my head, live in that moment, and let the story unfold.

Me: Many indie and small-press writers also have jobs and occupations. How do you balance the demands of being an author against the 'day job?'

Dani: Excellent question. I write as a hobby, and I don't spend a lot of time watching TV. I do have a very busy "day life", and it takes me years to finish a novel. Even if I earned enough to support myself through writing, I couldn't stop working at a real job. Interacting with people gives me inspiration for my writing.

Thank you for featuring me on your blog. I'm glad you enjoyed Brother Betrayed!

My Amazon review of Brother Betrayed is here.

Brother Betrayed is available on Amazon Kindle as an e-book and also in print edition from Amazon or the Fantasy Island Book web-site.

If you want to find out more about Danielle Raver, these are the links for her author page :