Book Review: The Timekeepers’ War

81C6jQyqOVL._SL1500_The Timekeepers War is the debut novel of Saskatchewan based writer, S.C. Jensen, but you wouldn’t know it. Skillfully written and edited, there is no hint that this book is written by anyone other than an author at the top of their game.

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We are taken to a disconnected and post apocalyptic world, some hundreds of years into the future. There, people like the protagonist, Ghost, scrabble a hand-to-mouth existence amongst the ruins of the City, living in fear of one another, and of the burning rays of the Sun. Some have moved underground entirely, and these scenes did have resonances with Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ for me.

Unknown to many of the City’s inhabitants, others, considering themselves an elite, moved up, into a guarded luxury undreamt of by those below. This is the Elysian Empire: a dictatorship, run by the tyrannical Ursaar.
The Elysian Empire is a skilful and nightmarish blend of the worst of all worlds – think of Nero’s Rome with unbridled genetic engineering, and you’ll have something of the flavour of it. Psychologists would delight in picking apart the various conditions of the Ursaar, who is plagued by paranoia, megalomania, and best of all, a substitute Oedipal complex.

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It is hard to write about this book without including too many spoilers, but I can say that Jensen has created a believable and complex world, peopled by strong characters. Many of them are not beauties, either physically or morally, just as most of us are not in real life. One thing I did love was the way that the book avoided painting anyone as entirely black or white – no-one is an angel, and motivations are mixed and sometimes obscure, again, truly reflecting society. Written as the first part of a series of books, you are often left wondering what people’s real aims are, and I’m sure that will provide ample fodder for the next books.

In the same vein, it was refreshing to have a kick-ass heroine who is strong, and can look after herself, and yet acknowledge that she has doubts and fears just like everyone else. Ghost is no superhero, but perhaps a woman steeled by the hardships of her existence.

There is plenty of action, guerrilla warfare, and even spirituality in The Timekeepers War, which will lead you through a rich world of secret societies, secret passages, steamy townships and impossibly rich gilded imperial gardens. A lengthy but necessary section of explanation and back story in the middle of the book is kept flowing well with intrigues and a deepening of the relationship between the main characters, Ghost and the mysterious Lynch.

Overall, The Timekeepers War is a highly accessible book, which deserved to be widely read. It would make a fine film, and I look forward eagerly to the sequel.

Five stars from me.

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I received a free ebook of The Timekeepers War, in return for an honest review.

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Chinese space

Returning to the subset of science / sci-fi focussed posts on Writer’s Block, I came across these wonderful Chinese posters, glorifying the Chinese Space program. I understand that the program started in earnest after a satellite was successfully launched in 1970, which continuously broadcast Dongfang hong (东方红, The East is Red), one of the best known Chinese tunes, which eulogizes Mao Zedong. The program stalled during the 1970’s with the Cultural Revolution, and these posters date to that time and the early 80’s.

Rather like traveling, they give you a bewildering glimpse into a different culture, don’t they? I can’t help but wonder if they would have been received more cynically in the West, although of course I don’t know what the reception was within China either. I do love the colour palettes used. Can’t miss the appeal of socks and sandals teamed with a space helmet though! 😉

My thanks to http://www.chineseposters.net for this information.

Dinosaur unearthed, inspiration refreshed

New species of giant dinosaur unearthed

I realise that this is perhaps a little off-topic for my blog of late, but I just had to share this wonderful new discovery. They have found a new dinosaur which they have called Dreadnoughtus schrani, and it’s a seriously big beast. As the scientist in the video says – “It had a really big butt.” 😉

New species of giant dinosaur unearthed.

What I love about this is that even now, when we think we know so much about the world, there is still something as gigantic as this to discover. Writing fantasy or sci-fi is really about imagining new worlds for me, and if we start to think that there is nothing left to explore and discover, inspiration can evaporate.

Knowing that there are still 26m long dinosaurs out there to find is a truly wonderful thing. 🙂

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour

To break from the tradition of the last few posts, and back to my love of science and science fiction…

In news recently released, it turns out that scientists have observed two plumes of water vapour on Ceres – a moon in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

You can find out more here:

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour.

Ceres asteroid vents water vapour

Article in ‘Nature’

I find the possibilities of this pretty exciting. As the search for life seems to centre around a search for water – perhaps because we find to too hard to imagine life forms which aren’t carbon-based and organic – then this discovery has fascinating implications.

Not only does this add to the argument that water and life arrived on Earth via some sort of asteroid impact, but also raises the possibility of alien life really quite close to our own.

I’m sure there is a fascinating story just waiting to be written about it, once we consider all the implications of being in the asteroid belt, that far from our Sun….

Author interview: Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

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The latest in this series of Author Profiles is Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, who is also one of the wonderful women who have contributed their thoughts and feelings about motherhood to the newly released ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’, with a letter written to her 21 year old son. As you’ll read below, she is a fascinating person….

I love the way that you must blow away people’s stereotype of a Muslim woman. What is your take on this? Is the stereotype annoying, baseless, or just a lazy and convenient way of putting people into boxes?

 Yes to all of the above, especially the lazy part. It is easy for people to stereotype because it frees them from having to engage, and learn, and overcome their own insecurities and fears. Overcoming stereotypes requires effort… or someone like me who is more than willing to kick down the door of stereotypes for you.
But seriously, as much as I would like to say that I purposefully work to deconstruct stereotypes, the fact is I don’t. I’m just me. It just so happens that the me that I am won’t fit into a box.
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You have a very varied and exotic list of interests, including zombies, video games, sewing and maintaining an organic garden. Two questions: how did you develop such a diverse range of passions, and how do you find time to indulge them?
 
I’ll answer the question about time first.I work full time and I have a family. I don’t have a lot of time but I do believe in putting that time to the best use that I can. I make conscious choices about what I’m willing to give my time to. I try to spend every free moment doing the things I love. So, I’m not doing all of those things all of the time, but I get around to all of them in time.
As for how I developed such a range that is more difficult to answer. I started sewing years ago because I couldn’t afford to by the kinds of clothes that I wanted to wear. So I learned to make them cheaply. I spend a lot of time with my children and I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. I developed an interest in video games late in life from watching my kids play them. They’re now ages 22, 20, and 12 and they still play video games. I play right along with them and we have a blast. Zombies are the only horror trope that gives me pause. A little. Most other horror bores me to tears. I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, so when I moved into my home seven years ago, I decided to give it a go. I’m not always successful, but I always try.
I don’t want to be the type of person who in later years says “I wish I would have…” so if something interests me, and it isn’t harmful, I see no reason not to indulge, right now. Life is but the blink of an eye.
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I understand that you work as an oncology nurse, and have spoken at seminars about this subject. Does working with cancer patients change your outlook on life? I’m particularly wondering if it makes you reassess your priorities for life, rather than just drifting along as many of us do?
 
I think that in many ways I have become a bit desensitized. I often see death in a very compartmentalized way. It’s one stop on the continuum of life. It is the thing that happens to other people. The times when I reassess my life is when I meet that one patient who having faced their own mortality has accepted their fate. Notice I that didn’t say that they had given up hope or faith. That’s different. Accepting the inevitable, facing that frightening fate is a miracle and not an easy place to journey to. When a patient reaches that place, they have given up their anger and disbelief and have resolved to live their last days with peace and grace. Seeing a person make that journey is soul warming and a lesson for me that my petty concerns really aren’t worth the effort it takes to give them thought.
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When did you start writing? Did you have to take a break while your children were small?
 
I’ve always written. But there was a time in my early to mid 20s that I forgot about writing. At the time I was trying on new selves. I was learning who I was and deciding who I wanted to be. That took about seven or eight years. Then in my late 20s (about 1998), when my children were still small I started to write An Unproductive Woman. It took me about two years. AUW sat in a box in the closet or garage for the next several years while I went to nursing school and started working. I decided to publish AUW in 2008 and I’ve been writing in some capacity since then.
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Your novel ‘An Unproductive Woman’, has very different subject matter to the field in which I first found you, where you were involved with the Yuva science fiction anthology. Do you write across many genres? Do you find that a challenge as an indie author?
 
ImageI wrote An Unproductive Woman a lifetime ago. I was a different woman then. Since then, my tastes and self-confidence have grown exponentially. In short, I write the types of stories I would like to read. At the moment that falls in the range of SFF, dystopian/utopian fiction. It may change later, and if and when that happens, my writing will reflect likely that.
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Tell me about the Yuva anthology. How did it start? How are things progressing?
 
The Yuva anthology started with a comment I made on Matthew Williams’ site (http://storiesbywilliams.com/) wherein I mentioned how I’d always dreamed my son would become an astronaut and go to space. Matt responded by saying how inspired he was. I challenged him, if memory serves, to organize a group and do an anthology about space and space travel. He met that challenge and that is where you found us. Since then there have been several contributions to the anthology but we still need more people to come forward and contribute, so we’re in a holding pattern.
If you know anyone who might be interested…
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Forgive me for being nosy, but I’m fascinated to know if you ever find philosophical contradictions between your faith and science fiction?
 
Yes, and no. On the most basic level, my faith validates science and science validates my faith. There is no contradiction for me between science and my faith. Science fiction can be stickier. For me, the contradictions present themselves when science fiction works to debunk God, or reinvent God, or ignore his presence. It is usually the latter and I question this often. Science fiction tends to be more comfortable with fictional faith. I’m not certain why that is.
My current project meets matters of religion and faith head on, which I think can be difficult to do without scaring people away or making them feel as if they’re being preached at. I think I was able to do that with An Unproductive Woman though. Most of my readers have been non-Muslim, and most of them loved the story regardless, if my 4+ stars is any indication.
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Thank you for this opportunity Kasia!
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You can find Khaalidah on Facebook, and at her Blog.

Are we aliens?

alien-life-1Are we aliens?

If you’re looking for something to change your perspective on things, take the time to read this article. Not only have they found organic life in space, they think that all life on Earth may have originated from space. Curiously, I wrote a short story on this basis a while ago, but now it looks like it might be true after all.

We’re aliens after all. Great thought for a Friday. 🙂

Avid Reader’s Cafe

PrintJust a quick note to let you know that my novel ‘The Artemis Effect’ is being featured over at Avid Reader’s Cafe at the moment.

The cafe is part of an initiative by the Independent Author’s Network, which I’ve finally joined after all this time. I’m not sure how many people find their books here, but fingers crossed someone will find and enjoy mine!

It’s really rather daunting the huge number of books out there, and many of them are genuinely worth reading. I wonder sometimes, whether the huge explosion in published books will be looked back on as a time of Renaissance – a flourishing of ideas? Will the best ones really rise to the surface, or will only the ones with the best marketing make it? Did Leonardo just have a great agent?

Golden Flash

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I weep for my race. Mute, ancient, unseen, we are slowly plucked from the earth. A tortuous, babbling end to fine minds.

Through an eternity we have watched the stars turn, traced the perfection of their mathematical arcs, wondered at creation. We had all the time in and of the Universe to think – we thought.

Being our planet, lodged and rooted in the rocks, we are a geological race; our synapses golden, nerves of bright copper. Blind to one another, we are yet vibrantly aware of our companions. Slow discussions through the ages: philosophy, poetry and sweet pure mathematics.

Now all that is changed, in a flicker of men faster than the flash of a super-nova. No more than a prickle at first, an itch on our skin, they scampered about in their frenetic, pitiful way, and we paid them no mind.

Then one of our minds started to fade, its golden neurons thoughtlessly mined away, descending into nonsense and confusion. We weep for that mind, and yet cannot assist, cannot prevent the erosion of our people.

The scars of men’s building and digging spread unchecked across our face, myopically delighting in their unfound riches.

If they slow their scrabbling and scratching long enough to consider the current of our pulsed and electric thoughts, will compassion outweigh greed?

Selling the Man (or Woman)

I read an interesting article in ‘The Age’ recently about the strange cult of celebrity which has risen up around writers. You can have a squizz at it here.

You could argue that there is a strange cult of celebrity around practically anyone (with a large enough voice and publicity machine) for no very good reasons, but in this case I’m fascinated by two ideas: firstly that people are genuinely interested in writers as people; and secondly that part of this interest seems to focus around the writing process itself.

I don’t know about you, but what interests me about my favourite authors are the things they write, rather than the people behind the stories. I’m happy to hear a tidbit of two if there is something genuinely fascinating about them, but if they are normal, middle class people, with a normal family and a nine to five job, well, that’s fine, but I’m much more interested in the strange and exotic fruits of their imagination. Frankly, even if they live in a commune, work as a bear trapper and moonlight as bellydancers, I’m still only going to be impressed by their writing if it strikes a chord with me. That said, I suppose one of the reasons many writers blog is presumably to feed the thirst for more information. 🙂

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The second issue, that of trying to find out what “is the mysterious alchemy that transforms a hazy idea into 300 pages of gripping prose,” seems to be grasping at straws a little. It’s a kind of magic, and the best part about it is that it is a magic that’s unique to every individual. I understand that Thomas Wolfe wrote his work standing up, leaning his paper on the top of the fridge, but funnily enough, that’s not going to work for everyone. The wonderful thing about writing is that it is something wrestled from your own subconscious, and we need to find ways to make that wrestling as productive as we can.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. Are you curious about the people behind story? Does knowing more about them make you more likely to read their work? And have you found inspiration in hearing how others go about it?