Spec Fic Comic Book Reviews: Monstress, Volume 1

In our first installment of spec fic comic book reviews, we discussed Folklords issues 1-5. It was light, fun, and colorful.

Monstress is the antithesis of Folklords. It’s dark, grim, and the pages are splattered with blood.

Now, if you’re a comic book fan, or even a fan of speculative fiction in general, you might have heard of Monstress. It’s highly acclaimed and the first volume, Awakening, has been out since 2015.

Some Background

The first volume of Monstress was written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda.

Liu is well known in the spec fic community as well as the comic book scene. She wrote a few series of paranormal romance/urban fantasy novels, including the Dirk & Steele series and the Hunter Kiss series.

In terms of comic books, she sits up there with some of the most popular authors. She’s worked on Dark Wolverine, Black Widow, Star Wars: Han Solo, and a number of X-Men comics.

Takeda is also a well-known name in the comic book community. She’s worked on X-Men comics, Venom, Civil War II, and Ms. Marvel.

Monstress wasn’t the pair’s first collaboration, but it’s definitely the best received. Monstress has won numerous awards, including the Eisner Award, British Fantasy Award, as well as multiple Hugo Awards.

All of that to say, you’re in for a treat.

spec fic comic book reviews monstress

Pinpointing a Style

Monstress has a unique style, to say the least.

The Known World where Monstress is set is an interesting combination of Art Deco steampunk and deep arcane magic. The garb, weapons, and architecture seem to come straight out of a decadent Victorian steampunk world, while the dark magic has roots in Ancient Egyptian imagery.

While the combination might seem odd, it is executed masterfully. The art alternates between scenes of dark horror and grand, bright forests and temples. It makes for a unique experience.

The inhabitants of Monstress come in a few forms:

  • Humans – run of the mill humans, some of which are privy to magic powers
  • The Ancients – A race of master beasts. Some are angels, others are powerful animal archons
  • The Arcanics – A mixed race of human and Ancients, often with a mix of animal and human physiology
  • The Cats – Multi-tailed warrior poets (my personal favorite)

The Story

Monstress follows a seventeen-year-old girl, Maika Halfwolf. As she rises out of slavery, she seeks answers surrounding her mother’s death and the Old Gods she was hunting.

While reading the story, I never felt there were slow points. Every scene seemed balanced and the progression of plot was consistent.

From the very beginning, we’re thrust into the conflict, as Maika raises one of the most revered human cities with her bare hands.

That exhilaration carries on throughout the rest of the comic, and there is never a low point.

The chapters are punctuated by brief interludes where the four-tailed cat Tam Tam does some heavy-lifting in terms of worldbuilding. It does a lot to clarify elements from previous chapters and gives some insight into what’s about to go down.

Overall, I felt that the story was very well-paced, and that the art—altering between dark and light—really adds to the tone of the story.

Monstress Comic Book Review Conclusion

I’m definitely a fan of this dark, steampunky fantasy. Something about unexplainable arcane magic tickles my interest, and I’m going to keep reading. As of writing this, there are 6 books in the series, and it’s still ongoing.

I’m interested to see if the plot stands up over the course of so many books, but I have faith that it will.

I’ve had no complaints about Monstress volume 1, and it might be the first time I give something a 10/10.

If you have a comic or graphic novel you’d like us to check out, leave it in the comments! Spec Fic Comic Book Reviews is an ongoing series here at Signals, and we’re always looking for our next favorite book!

Cool Indie Games For a Laid-Back Weekend

A topic we haven’t delved into very much on Signals is video games. Everyone has their own preference for what kind of video games they enjoy playing. Some people, myself included, love first person shooter games because they can get right into the action.

But, there’s something to be said about laid-back, simple video games that you can sit back and play with a cup of hot chocolate.

And there are certainly many cool indie games out there that fit the bill as relaxing while still being entertaining.

Best Indie Games to Chill Out With

When I’m looking for a new video game that I can play on a weekend morning or Friday evening after work, I tend to deviate toward games without a plot or story involved. As such, these games need refined gameplay and a simple premise to hold up their end of the deal.

Landscape-building and town-building games are particularly special, and happen to be some of the best indie video games out there.

There are a couple that made this list, which is as follows:

  • Dorfromantik
  • Islanders
  • Gris
  • Luna’s Fishing Garden
  • Bad North

Dorfromantik by Toukana Interactive

This is a delightful little game based around fitting hexagonal tiles together to form a vast landscape.

In German, Dorfromantik means “Village Romanticization”, and the game certainly stays true to that theme. Your goal is to create the most expansive landscape possible, connecting fields, forests, villages, rivers, and railways.

You’ll never play two similar games of Dorfromantik. All the tiles are randomly generated, so you can start fresh every game.

best of indie games

This game isn’t without its goals, but they are simple. Certain tiles have challenges associated with them, like pairing up 50 houses in one cluster. There’s a strategy element to it, but nothing overly complex.

Players are rewarded for completing challenges with more tiles to keep the game going. I find myself playing this game for hours at a time, completing quests and aiming for a high score.

Dorfromantik is a must for anyone looking for a cool indie game about building countryside vistas.

Islanders by GrizzlyGames

Islanders is similar to Dorfromantik, but instead of tiles, players are given buildings and farm pieces to place on a randomly generated island.

All the islands are different, and in my five hours of playing it, I don’t think I’ve seen the same island twice.

The goal is to rack up points by placing buildings and farms close to each other. The more points you have, the more buildings you can unlock.

cool indie games islanders

Once you’ve completed fleshing out one island, a new island will appear and you can build that one up from scratch too.

Unlike Dorfromantik, there aren’t any specific quests to complete. The goal is to complete as many islands until you can’t unlock any new buildings.

Islanders is fun, pithy, and something I play after a stressful day.

Gris by Nomada Studio

Gris deviates from the theme a bit because it does have a story. Well, a bit of a story. There isn’t any dialogue, and the minimal plot advances every time the player completes a level.

What I love about this game is its dedication to color. Each time you unlock a new level, the color scheme changes to reflect the character’s emotions.

gris cool indie games

Gris is short, I think I finished it in about 5 hours. But it’s one of those games you can play again and again, and you can go back after you’ve finished to find all the little trinkets hidden across the map.

Gris has won multiple awards, including Best Indie Game at the Italian Video Game Awards, and Best Art at the Titanium Awards.

For those of you looking for a simple game with a bit of a story, Gris is for you.

Luna’s Fishing Garden by Coldwild Games

Luna’s Fishing Garden pairs the relaxing nature of Islanders and Dorfromantik with a bit more structured gameplay.

You play as a young girl, who was lost in a storm and washed up on an archipelago full of fantastic creatures and characters. The goal of the game is to help rebuild the archipelago by planting coconut trees, cattail reeds, and other plants while also uncovering the mysteries of the archipelago’s inhabitants.

cool indie games lunas fishing garden

It’s a fun little game with more story than traditional fishing games. This game is great, as is another Coldwild game, Merchant of the Skies.

Bad North by Plausible Concept and Oskar Stalberg

For people interested in cool indie games with an element of combat, Bad North provides! This game is about protecting multiple different islands against Viking invaders.

It’s not super in-depth, more so about leveling up your generals with ancient artifacts and placing them strategically on the island.

bad north coole indie games

If you’re going to play Bad North, I suggest purchasing the Jotunn Edition. This edition gives you the ability to set skills for your characters before you start playing, and it adds fun names and themes for each of your generals.

At times, Bad North can get kind of intense, but visually it’s pleasing and a game I play all the time.

At the end of the day, you can play these indie games however you want. Play them to de-stress or play them with friends! For me, at least, gaming is all about having fun, and I won’t play a game if I’m not going to have fun doing it.

What cool indie games do you like to play? Let us know in the comments down below.

And if you liked this article, check out some of our other blog posts!

Is The Wheel of Time Worth Watching?

You might have seen people talking online about the new Wheel of Time show on Amazon Prime. From what I’ve seen, it’s received mixed reviews.

Diehard fans of the books are prone to nitpicking inconsistencies, while the more open-minded fans are just glad to see the series come to the big screen.

So, is The Wheel of Time worth watching?

What Is The Wheel of Time?

The Wheel of Time is a 14 book series (15 if you count the prequel novel) by Robert Jordan. Unfortunately, Jordan passed away near the tail end of the series, so Brandon Sanderson, another fantasy author, was commissioned to finish the last few books using Jordan’s extensive notes.

Compared to other works of epic fantasy, like The Song of Ice and Fire or The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time is massive.

By the end of the series, Jordan and Sanderson wrote over 4.5 million words, making it the longest fantasy series of all time. (ASOIAF and Discworld are runners up.)

There’s been a lot of push for WoT to be made into a TV series, and there was even a pilot episode in 2015 from Red Eagle Entertainment as a last-ditch effort to keep the rights to the show.

However, the episode was a flop, and in 2018, Amazon got the rights and ordered a show.

The first three episodes aired on Amazon Prime on November 19th, 2021, and the Internet has been abuzz with reviews, comparisons, and criticism.

wheel of time moirainne
Moirainne in the Two Rivers

Should You Watch The Wheel of Time?

As a long-time fan of the books, I was skeptical about how Amazon would take a series of such epic proportions and adapt it for television. I knew that a lot of the elements I loved about the books—the prolonged journey sequences of The Eye of the World, the numerous poems and songs, and the rich lore—would probably be glossed over for the same of brevity.

And after watching the first three episodes, I still have my doubts. The show has already changed some things about the story that were completely unnecessary (for example, Perrin never had a wife in the books).

But the acting is fantastic, and the set design is of a grand scale. Visually, the show is excellent. The show captures the small-town vibe of the Two Rivers, and the majesty of the White Tower. And the trollocs (WoT’s equivalent of orcs) are terrifying.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Wheel of Time, the show does a lot to get viewers up to speed with the lore. Plus, Amazon produced an animated side-series that helps explain what’s going on in each episode from a lore perspective. This feature is kind of hidden, though, so I guarantee not everyone will find it.

To access the side series, you have to pause the episode and click on bonus content. From there, you can watch the animated series.

And for fans of the books, people who have been reading them since the 90s, there’s a lot to complain about, sure, but at the end of the day, I think so far the show has stayed fairly true to the story.

The Opening Scene

I’ve already decided that I can find no fault with the production design. The characters were expertly cast, the costumes echo the paintings of Darrell Sweet (the cover artist for the book series), and the music is both pulse-pounding and calming.

the wheel of time cover art
The cover art for The Eye of the World by Darrell Sweet

However, I can nit-pick a little bit with the creative liberties the team took with the opening scenes and the timeline.

The prologue of The Eye of the World focuses on Lews Therin Telamon, the previous Dragon. He’s overcome with madness from channeling the One Power, and he comes face to face with Ishamael, a servant of the Dark One. Lews Therin realizes that in his madness, he’s killed his whole family, and he weeps for his misdeeds.

Ishamael assures Lews Therin that they’ll meet again, and Lews Therin consumes so much of the One Power that he is atomized, leaving a massive volcano in his wake.

This scene is so full of emotion and foreshadowing, not only for the Dragon Reborn, but for the servants of the Dark One. I really feel like Amazon made a bad choice when they cut this scene, because it’s an iconic introduction to the series. The book series, at least.

And I’m interested to see how the show handles the timeline. We’ve already seen male channelers be gentled by the hands of the Red Ajah, and Logain’s already in chains, which happens fairly late in the book. As more episodes come out, it’ll give us a better glimpse as to what the timeline will be like.

We know that the last episode of the 8-part first season is title “The Eye of the World”, which happens at the very end of the first novel. So, I doubt the show will delve into the second book’s material at all in the first season.

Yes, Watch The Wheel of Time

If you’re a fan of epic fantasy series full of diverse characters, world-building, and magic, you should watch The Wheel of Time.

The tone of the show is a bit more serious than the books, but so far, we haven’t seen anything that’s been entirely unfaithful (with the exception of Perrin’s wife).

This is definitely a show I’ll be paying close attention to, and I’ll probably have to brush up on my WoT lore, which is always a treat!

If you liked this post, consider checking out some of our other content:

The Best Science Fiction Novellas Money Can Buy

Now, I love short stories. I love reading them, I love writing them, and finding a short story I really enjoy gives me a feeling I can only describe as ecstatic.

But, sometimes, a short story isn’t enough. Sometimes I need more, but not too much more, to flip that satisfaction-switch in my brain.

And that’s when I turn to science fiction novellas.

These long-short stories tack on a few thousand words and can often be read in one sitting, but they have more substance than short stories.

Here are my favorite science fiction novellas!

What Are Science Fiction Novellas?

Before we jump headlong into the best of the best, I want to clear up some things. There are many warring sects of the Internet that claim novellas have to be a certain length, while other corners of the web will vehemently debate you over one or two thousand words.

In this debate, I tend to follow this principle:

Novellas are between 20,000 and 40,000 words. The higher end of that spectrum is usually where I see markets like Tor.com cap their submission guidelines. And they would know, with the exorbitant amount of quality novellas they put out.

And within the novella definition, there’s the novelette, which is anywhere from 10,000 to 17,000 words.

That being said, some novellas fall into a grey area. When trying to publish my cyberpunk naturalist novella, TechnoRonin, I found that 24k words was a weird limbo. Not long enough to justify printing, too long to publish in a magazine.

So, I guess here we are, back to square one.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

ISBN: 9780765397539

Publish Date: 2017

all systems red science fiction novella

Speaking of Tor.com, no science fiction novella list would be complete without All Systems Red.

The story follows a Murderbot who would rather spend its days watching romance sitcoms than killing. But as disaster strikes in the little expedition outpost, Murderbot is forced to kill or be killed.

It’s a pithy, fun novella, and a quick read. It’s the first book in Martha Well’s Murderbot Diaries, of which there are now six books.

Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany

ISBN: 9780553234251

Publication Date: 1966

science fiction novella empire star

I think I’ve mentioned Empire Star before, but it’s too good not to talk about it again.

Samuel R. Delany, one of the giants of science fiction, brings a unique take to the space opera genre. In Empire Star, a young simplex, Comet Jo, starts on a journey to bring a message to Empire Star. Throughout the story, we see Jo’s cognitive development framed against the every-growing conflicts around him.

Delany plays a lot with chronological storytelling in this novella, starting off in a linear fashion, and eventually moving to a less linear structure.

For that reason, Empire Star can be kind of difficult to read, but it’s well worth it in the end.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

ISBN: 9780765387868

Publication Date: 2016

the ballad of black tom science fiction novellas

While this one isn’t a science fiction novella in the strictest sense of the term, it’s definitely a story you’ll want to read if you’re a fan of weird horror.

The Ballad of Black Tom is loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Horror at Red Hook,” but written with a modern voice.

The story follows Tommy Tester, a thief disguised as a musician. He gets roped into an ancient ritual involving blood, Lovecraftian horrors, and arcane tools.

The books puts a good spin on the classic Lovecraft story, but from the perspective of a young black man in Harlem.

A good read, for sure, but make sure your lights are on.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

ISBN: 09781596063174

Publication Date: 2010

the lifecycle of software objects science fiction novellas

This novella was Ted Chang’s first hardcover novella, but it’s still a work of art.

As the name suggests, it follows a fledgling artificial intelligence as it grows into a “digital pet”. Ana, the main character, raises the AI as her own over the course of 20 years.

The story plucks at our moral heartstrings, as it debates the questions surrounding AI: Are they human? Should we treat them as human?

Definitely a must read for anyone interested in advanced intelligence science fiction.

War Cry by Brian McClellan

ISBN: 9781250170163

Publication Date: 2018

war cry science fiction novellas

If you’re a fan of sci fi war stories, this one is for you. McClellan takes dieselpunk themes with tanks, bolt-action rifles, and airplanes and pairs it with shapeshifting wizards.

The story follows Teado and his small group of comrades as they attempt a risky resupply run, only to discover a magical secret that could change the war.

This science fiction novella is short, but it packs a great punch. Planes and monsters make a perfect pair.

And that’s a wrap! There are plenty of other science fiction novellas out there, and many speculative novellas beyond that. I personally really enjoyed Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey and Inside Job by Connie Willis.

What sci fi novellas do you love? Let us know in the comments below.

Chatting with Sebastien de Castell, Author of Way of the Argosi

Here at Signals from the Edge we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about sci fi subgenres and the best science fiction shows on TV. But, sometimes it’s important to branch out and explore other speculative fiction.

That’s why we met up with Sebastien de Castell, the renowned fantasy author of Traitor’s Blade to discuss his latest novel, Way of the Argosi.

author interview Traitor's Blade

Isaac Payne: How did you get started writing?

Sebastien de Castell: I’m one of those terribly disingenuous writers who barely wrote a thing in their youth and yet always wanted to see a book on a shelf with my name on it. But I didn’t start writing seriously until I was about twenty-seven. I was making my living playing in a rock & roll band, performing songs like “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Mustang Sally” three times a week. We weren’t making a lot of money; we were surviving. The band started falling apart, I was feeling creatively stifled, so I did what I always do in those situations: I went to the library.

Libraries are like cathedrals to me. There’s no particular god to pray to, but you can always find wisdom there and a path forward. In my case, I found this cardboard box of twelve book tapes by Ralph McInerny, who was quite a renowned mystery author. The cassette tapes were part of a course called Let’s Write a Mystery. It was really bizarre; he speaks like a 1960s science professor while he’s writing a mystery novel alongside you, and yet, somehow, it worked.

I’m one of those people who struggles to follow through on things they start, but Ralph’s patient, plodding voice kept me going. Within a few months I’d written a mystery novel called Skeletons in the Cloister. It was terrible.

But writing that novel was revolutionary for me. It changed the way my brain worked. People seldom talk about the benefits of writing a novel—any novel—regardless of how it turns out. Part of the reason is that we live in the world of self-publishing and so it feels like everyone’s publishing books and therefore the accomplishment seems less notable.

But what I talk about to new writers is that when you struggle through drafting your first book, it changes your brain in the same way that training to run a marathon changes your body. You don’t run a marathon to win your first time, you run a marathon because doing so changes your body into one that can run marathons. It’s incredible.

And writing a novel does the same thing. That process alters your brain into one that can envision and create entire novels. Nothing ever feels quite so difficult after that first book. I honestly thing one of the best ways to advance in your career—whether it’s as a writer, a teacher, tax accountant, or just about anything else—is to write your first novel. Big, complicated problems become far more manageable to a brain that’s adapted itself to writing an entire book.

So, after that first novel I wrote, I was intrigued. Years later, I participated in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest, and for three days straight I wrote a novel. And, I still had time to live my life; I slept great, I played a gig, I went for a run. And in those three days I wrote 44k words of what would later become Traitor’s Blade and launch my career as a full-time novelist.

IP: That’s such a great story. You know a lot of writers say “Oh, I started writing when I was fifteen and never stopped” but it seems like you kind of had a late start. When did you reach that point after writing your first one or two novels that you realized your dreams of having a book on the shelf was a realistic goal?

SC: I had a strange upbringing because my mother was a bit on the crazy side. When I was 9-years old, right after my father had passed away, my mother brought my brother and I together. She said that our father’s pension wasn’t enough to live on and that she was going to do the easiest thing she could think of to make money, and that was to write romance novels.

It’s a preposterous statement by any measure.

My mother’s sense of romance, as a staunchly British woman who lived through World War II, was that above all else, romance should be sensible. She wrote a couple of books and nobody published them. But somehow, my nine-year-old brain persisted and I always had the principle of “you can do this, it’s just a function of work”.

The greatest unfairness in publishing is that if you’ve been trained by society to think that you don’t fit or that you don’t have anything important to say, you’ll forever be at a disadvantage. In a lot of ways, it’s game of bluster.

When you’re trying to get someone to read your book, you have to have a degree of overconfidence about you. I see people at writing conventions who meet an agent and are terrified to pitch their book. I understand why, but they’re at a huge disadvantage when compared to all the arrogant people who aren’t afraid to take advantage of every opportunity.

You only really get better as you go because you have more life experiences, but you have to have confidence to give yourself permission to take those first steps.

I go through writers’ block a lot and points where I think “I don’t know if this book’s good enough, how did I write this book, it feels like someone else wrote it”. But if you accept that it’s a function of work and keep trying, anyone can write a novel.

When someone says to me, “I’d love to write a novel, but I don’t have the talent”, I ask them, “Can you write a good opening sentence?” I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t write a compelling opening sentence; it just comes down to how many tries you need to get there. The great thing about being a writer is that you can have all the tries you want to get to something beautiful.

You get the opening line, you can write the next line, and then you can write a scene. If you can write a scene, you can write a book.

IP: I saw on your website that you’re pretty involved as a musician, does that love of music inspire your writing of fiction?

SC: Music plays a strong role for me. I’ve been trying to understand myself better, what makes me tick, and I’ve found that music has a profound impact on my mood. As someone who has a tendency for drifting off into daydreaming, music is a potent focusing drug that pushes me towards coming up with actual scenes or characters.

Music is a great way to build up a character in your mind. It’s perilously easy to unintentionally plagiarize characters from books or movies or video games, but songs inspire me to construct characters not just out of the lyrics, but from the performance itself. The melody and rhythms can propel you into imagining a character in a setting that has nothing to do with the literal meaning of the song, and so becomes something new and fresh.

Alternately, a song’s influence on me can be extremely direct. For example, in Traitor’s Blade there’s a thing called the Blood Week, which people tell me is like The Purge even though I’ve never seen that movie. Anyways, Falcio, who is this swashbuckling magistrate, is protecting a young girl who is the target of the killers. He’s forced to stand there while the time ticks down because nobody can do anything until sundown. He’s just preparing for this incredibly difficult fight.

There was this song titled “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell, and it was the theme for Casino Royale. The song feels like . . . like this swordfight that could unleash at any moment. At one point, before the fight breaks out, Falcio even uses the line, “You know my name.”

So, music has always been both a direct and an indirect influence for me. When I’m really lost in terms of how to make a story work, I’ll go looking for a song to trigger the emotional state I need for inspiration. As a writer you’re always looking for those things that lets you engage with a different state of consciousness. For me music is that method.

IP: For whatever reason while reading your most recent book, Way of Argosi, I got flashbacks to reading David Eddings, specifically The Belgariad. Are you familiar with his work?

SC: I am! I read The Belgariad as a kid and really enjoyed it, though it never turned the way I wanted it to. I was more prone to grudges than Garion was. I remember then he figures out that Polgara, his aunt, has been lying to him about something, and I was so mad. He forgives her two chapters later and I shouted “no way!”.

But that’s interesting, I hadn’t seen parallels between Way of Argosi and The Belgariad, but you’re probably right, because Eddings’ work was one of the few fantasy series I read as a kid.  

IP: What does your writing process look like? Are you a one draft and done kind of guy, or do you take multiple drafts to get it the way you want it?

SC: I have the most unsatisfying answer in the world, which is that every book follows a different process.

When I say that, I sound like I’m devising the most perfect process for each book, but it’s the exact opposite: picture a guy who doesn’t know how to go about writing his next book and is waiting for the right plan to appear by process of elimination, having failed all other ways to write it.

Sometimes a book will take me 2-3 years, and I’ll write 8 other books while working on that one. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

I once wrote a book in a month. It was what I call a “for me” novel. Actually, it has a much less polite name, but let’s stick with “for me” to avoid offending anyone.

In a relatively short career, I’ve had 12 books published and been translated into fourteen languages. I’m incredibly fortunate to be earning a living as a novelist. But as time goes by, you start to get a lot of voices in your head you might not want there: the voice of your agent who is trying to help you on your career; the voice of editors, who in recent years have become increasingly more afraid of publishing anything that might offend anyone for any possible reason. It’s not even about political correctness, it’s more about how words or scenes might be misinterpreted or projected on a current societal problem and viewed as a “response”. And there’s the voices of readers who adore certain characters or hate others or wish you’d write this book instead of that and . . . it all becomes overwhelming.

These voices are usually from people who love your work and want to help you succeed in your career, but it can become very inhibiting. A better novelist than I would ignore it all, but the only way I know how to deal with getting these voices out of my head is to occasionally sit down and write a “for me” novel.

The For Me novel is my way of saying, “I going to write whatever the hell I want”. I allow myself all the tropes, clichés I feel like employing. I don’t give a damn if a scene might be misinterpreted or deemed problematic. It’s my novel, after all, and if I spend the whole time worrying about who will or won’t like it, I’m really writing somebody else’s novel, and that’s just not satisfying.

I meet new writers who get stalled because they’re constantly inundated with declarative statements about what’s cliché, who can write what, who can say or think what. It’s not about where someone sits on the political spectrum, because everyone is being inundated with opinions about what fiction should look like. Maybe some of that is even a good thing to keep us thinking about the effect of our books. But for me, I need a way to reconnect with who I am as a writer, and the way to do that is to write something that has no regard for what’s popular or even acceptable and probably isn’t—and here’s the important part—publishable.

And it’s helpful! For newer writers, the worst thing about trying to write your first novel now, you’re constantly facing these kinds of opinions and statements. If you love Twilight, you’re constantly being told Twilight sucks. But if you love sparkly vampires but Twitter is making you think, “I better not write about that,” then you’re allowing other people’s opinions to deny your creative impulses.

So, whenever I’m asked what my one piece of writing advice is, I tell people to write the book you most want to read, but do it as boldly as you can possibly imagine. Don’t back away from the things you most care about, because if you do, you’ll end up writing a lukewarm novel that doesn’t offend anyone and nobody wants to read.

IP: For new readers who might not have picked up one of your books before, where would you suggest they start with your work?

SC: If you’re an adult reader into swashbuckling fantasy with a dark edge, Traitor’s Blade is a great place to start. It’s a four-book series, with a new series coming out next year.

If you’re more into magic or young adult, start with Spellslinger. It’s a magical fantasy adventure full of trickery, intrigue, and it even has a murderous, thieving, talking squirrel cat.

Way of Argosi is also a good place to start if you’re looking for a one-off book to test the waters. When I finished the manuscript, I was surprised to find it turned out as a sort of YA fantasy Dickens novel.

If you’re into audiobooks, all my books are in audiobook format. I’ve been blessed to have two of the best narrators in the business: Joe Jameson and Kristin Atherton. I literally cried when I hear Kristin’s reading of Way of Argosi.

author interview, spellslinger

IP: What kind of projects are you currently working on? And can readers expect to see more stories from the Greatcoats or Spellslinger universes?

SC: The Court of Shadows is a new series set in the Greatcoats universe, it takes place right after the events of the first Greatcoats quartet. It delves a bit more into magic than we’ve seen in Greatcoats, and a bit more intrigue as well.

When I was talking with my editor about this series, I said let’s do something that’s like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where you can watch it in any order you want. I hadn’t really seen that done in a fantasy series, (though it probably has been and I just haven’t come across it), but I wanted to explore that dynamic.

You’ll be able to read the first four books in any order. You meet these characters on their individual journeys and see them come together in the final, team book. Or, conversely, you can read the team book first and then go back to see each character’s origins. Sort of like watching the Avengers movie and then going to watch the previous films.  

IP: So, Our Lady of Blades is the first book coming out in this new series?

SC: Yes, Our Lady of Blades is coming out in September, 2022. Originally, Play of Shadows was supposed to come out first, it’s already done, but then we decided it made more sense for Our Lady of Blades to be the first book we release.

Our Lady of Blades is an unusual book for me. Usually my main characters are reacting to someone else’s schemes, but this one features a mysterious duelist who comes into the story and sets her own plan into motion. As the story progresses, we learn more about her origins and the larger conspiracy that’s threatening one of the duchies in the world of the Greatcoats.

Thanks so much to Sebastien for taking the time to talk with us! You can find out more about his work and purchase his books on his website. He loves to hear from readers, so if you have a burning question, hop on over to his website or social media and let him know what you think!

If you liked this interview, check out some of the other interviews on Signals from the Edge:

Sci Fi Subgenres: Fired Up On Dieselpunk

Of all the sci fi subgenres we’ve talked about here on Signals from the Edge, dieselpunk has to be one of the most fascinating.

It’s what many might call an in-between genre, seeing as how it falls right in the middle of steampunk and cyberpunk.

Where steampunk has a focus on Victorian and early industrialism technology, and cyberpunk is in a world of technological degradation and societal collapse, dieselpunk revels in the in-between space of prosperity and unrivaled growth.

What Is Dieselpunk?

The term Dieselpunk was first used in 2001 by game designer Lewis Pollack, who was describing his tabletop RPG game, Children of the Sun.

The aesthetics of dieselpunk were closely tied to those of steampunk, so many people that were fascinated with the era largely used that term.

However, as time went on, it became clear that the aesthetics and ideas of this sci fi subgenre were distinctly different from steampunk.

To summarize, Dieselpunk describes the time between World War I and the early 1950s. Historically, this period was filled with unprecedented economic failure, but it was also a time of surprising technological advancement, specifically with the development of diesel-powered vehicles.

Much of this technology can be accredited to the build-up to WWII, but dieselpunk takes these designs and ideas and puts a modern spin on them. Dieselpunk is also influenced heavily by jazz music and the Art Deco era.

Dieselpunk Derivatives

There are certain deviations on a theme within the Dieselpunk genre, and they are largely opposites.

The first distinction is what’s known as Ottensian dieselpunk, based of the ideas of Nick Ottens, a prominent author and ideologist within the genre.

Ottensian dieselpunk focuses on the post-WWI era. The aesthetics of the Roaring Twenties are paired with unbridled enthusiasm for a bright future. This kind of dieselpunk is hopeful and grand, heavily inspired by the Art Deco movement. Literature in this area of dieselpunk explores worlds that aren’t punctuated by the economic failure of 1929 or the subsequent Depression/War eras.

This contrasts severely with the dark, drab themes of Piecraftian dieselpunk, which is situated firmly in wartime eras. Piecraftian dieselpunk places a heavy focus on war-time technology, and speculates how humanity evolves—or ceases to evolve—if the world was locked in perpetual WWII-style conflict.

Many of the sentiments of the Dieselpunk genre might be seen as counterparts (or influenced by) the Lost Generation.

The Lost Generation and Dieselpunk

The Lost Generation refers to the group of young adults who were thrust into the first World War and emerged battered and disillusioned. Think Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, T.S. Elliot, etc.

Many of these writers exhibit what might be classified as Piecraftian sentiments. Even though their writing was primarily focused on the aftermath of worldwide conflict—and Piecraftian dieselpunk thrives on conflict—their ideas are connected.

the waste land dieselpunk

Thinking about T.S. Elliot’s poem “The Wasteland”, the landscape of mass destruction matches the idea of a continuous war that impedes technological or societal growth. Even though a lot of “The Wasteland” can come off as bizarre to an untrained reader, the themes are clearly in line with the Piecraftian side of dieselpunk.

Dieselpunk In Literature, Art, and Gaming

While many other sci-fi subgenres appear in various mediums, none do so to the degree of dieselpunk (with the exception of cyberpunk, perhaps). Dieselpunk imagery and themes appear in art, cosplay, tabletop and video games as well as in films and novels.

Alternative history novels play a large role in establishing the dieselpunk genre. Think books like:

  • The War That Came Early by Harry Turtledove
  • SS-GB by Len Deighton
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
  • Fatherland by Robert Harris

Newer books that take the themes of dieselpunk and run with them sometimes include fantastical elements or magic, things that contrast starkly with the grim, material nature of dieselpunk. Some of these books include:

  • Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
  • Lobster Johnson by Mike Mignola
  • Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

Dieselpunk takes a special place in the hearts of game developers, as the genre is vast playground for mechs, robots, tanks, and airplanes.

Games like Scythe and Crimson Skies bring dieselpunk to life on the tabletop. Video games too play a large role in this sci fi subgenre, with a long list of big titles falling on the aesthetics. These include:

  • The Wolfenstein series
  • Iron Harvest
  • The Fallout series
  • The Bioshock series
wolfenstein dieselpunk sci fi subgenre

And of course, there is no lack of dieselpunk films/shows either. Popular titles include:

  • The Man In The High Castle (series on Amazon Prime based on the books by Philip K. Dick)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Iron Sky

Some shows and movies operate on the fringes of dieselpunk. The Hunters show follows a similar vein as The Man In The High Castle, were the characters are hunting Nazis that escaped to America after WWII. And Indiana Jones is often said to have dieselpunk themes.

Wrapping Up This Sci Fi Subgenre Deep Dive…

Dieselpunk is certainly a rich and wide genre that continues to impress. Noir themes paired with post-war technology makes for an interesting and unique experience.

It’s worth noting that in deep corners of the internet, dieselpunk has a different following. Fashwave, a derivative of dieselpunk, has heavy anti-Semitic tones, and often punctuates dieselpunk imagery with fascist themes.

But, much of this doesn’t make it to the mainstream, and for now, dieselpunk remains a beloved genre amongst sci-fi enthusiasts.  

If you liked this blog post, consider checking out some of our other content. At Signals from the Edge, we review new and old sci fi alike, interview authors, and explore the many themes and implications of all sci-fi subgenres.

The Mandela Effect: Best Sci-Fi on Amazon Prime

In my free time, I enjoy scouring streaming services in an attempt to find great sci fi movies. I found Prospect on Netflix earlier this year, which was a good space westernish sci fi film.

But after that, I went on the hunt again, this time turning to Amazon Prime Video. Prime Video is home to a lot of interesting speculative fiction movies and shows, including the upcoming Wheel of Time series.

In my search for the best sci fi on Amazon Prime, I found The Mandela Effect, a 2019 film that saw limited release in theaters.

The Details

The Mandela Effect was first showed at the Other Worlds Film Festival in the later half of 2019, and then it moved onto various streaming services, including Amazon Prime.

The film was written and directed by David Guy Levy, whose other work includes the horror film Would You Rather and the 2011 film, A Love Affair Of Sorts.

The Mandela Effect stars Charlie Hofheimer, Aleksa Palladino, and Robin Lord Taylor. Despite high hopes for the film, it received harsh reviews from critics, scoring a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Premise

The story follows a game developer, Brendan, as he and his wife grieve the loss of their young daughter, Sam. After Sam’s unfortunate passing, Brendan starts to notice irregularities in his day to day.

He clearly remembers a children’s book series as The Berenstein Bears, but later finds out it’s actually called The Berenstain Bears. A series of other events lead him to begin researching the Mandela Effect, a theory about clear memories of things that never happened. The effect is so named because people vividly remember South African president Nelson Mandela’s death in the 1980s, but in reality, he died in 2013.

Brendan continues to explore the world of alternate realities and parallel universe in hopes of bringing back his daughter, but when he begins to tamper with reality, the world starts to change around him.

Even though this film received scathing reviews, I think it’s underappreciated, and arguably one of the top sci fi movies on Amazon Prime, and here’s why:

Signals Sci Fi Movie Review

The Mandela Effect takes a well-known theory and runs with it. The examples provided in the film of the effect are real-life examples, and it really got me thinking about our reality.

But the film does more than just raise questions. It sparks emotion.

Watching Brendan obsess over the idea of alternate realities and life as a simulation, all the while grieving for his daughter, instilled in me a keen sense of sympathy for him.

The pain he felt after Sam’s death was palpable, and the tension throughout the rest of the film as he teeters on the brink of sanity made it hard to step away from.

What started as a seemingly normal film gradually built into a deeply unsettling sci fi horror flick that had me thinking long after the credits rolled.

That’s what good films do for me, especially the best sci fi movies. They make you wildly uncertain of your spot in the universe, and they spark new ideas to help you think outside the box. In this instance, outside the simulation.

The Verdict

I do think the film stumbled over itself a bit when it came to the scientific aspects. I’m neither a game designer nor a quantum physicist, but I could tell some of the technical stuff was watered down for the audience.

The movie does play into the trope of the hacker man, where he’s holed up in his basement surrounded by screens that run with code. These types of scenes always irk me a little, and compared to the fleshed out technical jargon of, say, Mr. Robot, The Mandela Effect’s computer science falls short.

However, visually the film was well-refined. Scenes contrast from dark to light to dark again, which reaches a neat, critical point near the end. The musical choices varied, but overall, nothing felt out of place, and it added to the horror aspects.

Overall, the film was a good watch, and certainly a high point for David Guy Levy’s career.

While The Mandela Effect isn’t the best sci fi movie on Amazon Prime, it is certainly one of the best.

I give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Science Fiction Anthologies & Our Homes: Triangulation: Habitats

Short stories have always held a special place in my heart. I think that short fiction, specifically short science fiction, is an excellent medium for societal change, whether it’s political, environmental, or humanitarian.

Science fiction anthologies represent a culmination of mini-world-changing stories, collecting all their power into one place.

And Triangulation: Habitats, a new anthology from Parsec Ink, brings stories and poems about sustainable housing under one roof (or cover, in this instance).

I want to share my experience with this science fiction anthology with you, as well as the conversation I had with two of the editors, Diane Turnshek and John Thompson.

What’s Inside Triangulation: Habitats?

Triangulation is an annual anthology series from Parsec Ink, a Pittsburgh-based speculative fiction writing community.

For the past few years, Triangulation has had an eco-friendly focus, trying to bring awareness to issues like light pollution and the Earth’s diminishing biodiversity.

With the 2021 issue, the editors set the theme as Habitats with the goal of supporting sustainable living practices and housing, be it tiny homes or hobbit holes.

I was impressed with the selection of work in Habitats. The anthology featured over 30 original short stories and poems from new and published authors alike, as well as a reprint of Theodore Sturgeon’s “Pruzy’s Pot”.

I really liked the story “Metamorphosis” by Octavia Cade, which puts a spin on the traditional big-bug story from Franz Kafka, but with a sustainable habitat touch.

Jennifer Hudak’s “A Gardener Teaches His Son to Enrich the Soil and Plan for the Future” tackles sustainable agriculture during a zombie apocalypse. And the poem “The Hoyle-Wickramasinghe Rose” by Oliver Smith characterizes the theory of DNA/RNA survival in space in a plucky, fun way.

Overall, I found the contents of Triangulation: Habitats to be joyfully fulfilling, and I learned a thing or two about sustainable housing while I was at it! And wasn’t that the goal?

science fiction anthologies triangulation habitats

Talking With the Editors

I had the pleasure of talking with two of the editors, John Thompson and Diane Turnshek, and I asked them a few questions about the process of making Triangulation: Habitats, and what was next in the Parsec Ink lineup.

Isaac Payne: How did you come about deciding on the theme for the 2021 issue of Triangulation?

Diane Turnshek: A couple of years ago, I moved into a tiny house on 8 acres of woods in Pittsburgh. I found that people were so interested, and I turned that interest into a teaching opportunity about sustainable housing.

For example, my house is covered in glass on the south side for passive solar. It has a water reclamation butterfly roof that flows into a cistern that’s then filtered multiple times and pumped into the house. I have a thermal Earth tube that brings cool air from deep underground to keep my house cool in the summer.

I have a rain garden shaped like a dinosaur footprint, hügelkultur mounds, and all the state-of-the-art appliances.

Everything in the house is carefully curated to help the environment, from the compost bins to the materials in the walls. So, I thought all of this could be a teaching mechanism for people, and that’s where the theme for the anthology came from.

IP: What was it like pairing prose and poetry in this issue, and is that something you’ll continue to do in future issues?

DT: I think poetry really adds to the anthology, I love all the poetry we bought. Mary Soon Lee explained to us that science poetry is considered science fiction. So, a lot of the poetry we took was just strictly science, not necessarily fantasy or horror. I love it.

JT: As for the second part of that question, we decided that unlike this year, we won’t have a dedicated poetry editor. But, if good poetry is submitted, we’ll accept it. Herb taught us a lot about science fiction poetry. I very rarely read poetry, so Herb was able to help evaluate what which poetry was original or not.

IP: What’s in the future for Triangulation?

JT: The future theme is sustainable energy, and I’m very excited about it. We kind of struggled with Habitats, because the definition is kind of fuzzy at first glance. But this theme is much clearer and more direct.

I hope we get a lot of stories about power sources no one has thought of yet, that would be very cool. Who knows, we may inspire a whole new field of physics!

The 2022 Triangulation anthology, as John said, will be focusing on the theme of sustainable energy. Both he and Storm Walden, an associate editor for the 2021 issue, will be leading the charge with the next anthology. Submissions are set up open December 1st, 2021.

Thanks so much to John and Diane for shedding a bit of light on this exciting anthology! To purchase Triangulation: Habitats, please visit Parsec Ink’s Amazon page.

And if you liked this blog post, please consider subscribing to Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, where we bring you great science fiction stories from your favorite authors, and ones you’ve never heard of! Plus, interviews with big names in the industry as well as book reviews and recommendations.