Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Christopher Paolini

Cover of "To Sleep in a Sea of Stars" by Christopher Paolini.

To Sleep is a Sea of Stars is the science fiction debut of Christopher Paolini, formerly better known for his fantasy works, entitled “The Inheritance Cycle”: Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritance.

Paolini’s original four works were started when he was fifteen years old, and the reviews from these (I have not read the books) indicate readers were split between those who enjoyed the story, and those who couldn’t quite compensate for so young a writer’s voice.

Paolini has taken a significant, professional and well-researched step into the science fiction arena, and I would be surprised if there were not more from him in this genre in the coming years.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars came to my attention because I was collating various different lists of the “best science fiction of 2020” for my holiday reading, and Paolini’s new work came up in more than one of these. The book won the ‘Best Science Fiction’ Goodreads Choice 2020 Awards, voted on by readers, and has gathered generally positive reviews.

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Cover of Stormblood

Review: Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

After the fumbling, fraught and frustrating exercise of launching my own book, I really wanted to immerse myself in someone else’s work.

To find something to read, I did what I often do and turned to the Guardian Newspaper’s ‘Best Recent Science Fiction’ column. Flicking through the various months, I came upon Stormblood by Jeremy Szal.

I didn’t want anything too cerebral, and I wanted something with a bit of pace. I got what I asked for, but perhaps misjudged slightly what I actually wanted.

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Cover of Emily Voss Box Set - A woman's silhouette against the New York skyline

Emily Voss Volume 1 Released!

I’m proud to announce that Episodes 1, 2 and 3 of my Emily Voss series were released today on Amazon.

You can pick the book up here:

In case you’re unsure this style of writing is for you, and you’d like a little taste before you take the plunge, you can download a little side-story that provides some background from an earlier moment in my main character’s journey.

The story is called “A first time for everything” and you can download it by clicking here.

If you read the book, please review it. Reviews make the book visible to others and help readers decide if it’s something they’d enjoy. In a world of crowdsourced information, your opinion matters!

If you’re an established book reviewer, and can point to a collection of reviews on Amazon or your own platform, please get in touch. I have a number of digital copies I’m happy to give away for free.

ARC Readers Wanted (a.k.a. Free Book Available)

Cover of Emily Voss Box Set - A woman's silhouette against the New York skyline
Temporary Cover for the Emily Voss Box Set

I am approaching the launch of my Emily Voss novel, containing the first three stories, for a total of about 30,000 words. This makes it between half and two-thirds as long as a full-length novel.

The three stories are of approximately equal length, and if you’ve read the first story, which is free, you’ll know what to expect in terms of style and tone for the next two. Hopefully the story itself will still surprise you.

As part of the launch, there is an opportunity to get the entire novel for free.

This is not a giveaway or a competition, it’s known as as ARC, or advanced reader copy.

Basically, you get the novel for free, on the basis of a gentleman’s (gentle-person’s?) agreement that you’ll review it, particularly if you liked it.

Please note that the cover above, which is also on the ARC, is temporary as I await the final cover.

The ARC will be available to the general public until December 18th, 2020, by clicking here. For a short while afterwards, I will still be handing out “review copies” to people with a track record of reviewing the books they read, and an interest in, or focus on, urban fantasy. If that’s you, then get in touch.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

I’ve been considering recording some of my short stories as audiobooks.

I could go about this in two ways. I could either outsource the recording work to someone who is a professional voice artist, or I could read them myself with the equipment I have to hand.

A number of questions arise as a consequence of this idea:

I’m not an audiobook consumer myself, because I read extremely fast and I find listening to a story at the speed of natural language very frustrating. I’m therefore very biased against audiobooks. I find them boring, even when the story is excellent.

My first question is therefore: Do people who like my kind of writing like audiobooks?

I’ve no doubt there are many convoluted answers to this (“audiobook consumers can be people for whom reading is logistically challenging”, or “there are audiobook listeners in every genre”). While I’m sure all these have their merits, and are true in their own way, that’s not what I’m really asking. Underneath my question is : is it worth my time getting audiobooks prepared? Are there enough listeners to make it worthwhile?

Second, I wonder as to the process. Would I be better off getting a professional voice artist to narrate the book, or should I do it myself? Both answers exist in the world of blogs and YouTube. I’m quite capable of reading my own story clearly into a microphone. While I’m sure a professional could do it better, I could most likely do it well. But I have a very British accent, and that might put of the majority of my readership, which appears to be American and Canadian.

Voice actors are expensive. Just so you know. So the third question becomes: How much are people willing to pay for a short story in audiobook format? Can I realistically sell enough of those to make back (after royalties) the cost of producing the thing?

So many questions… let me know your thoughts in the comments, or through the form here, or by replying to one of my newsletters.

La Révolution: A Netflix Recommendation

When you first see the picture above, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a TV series about the French Revolution. It’s there in the title. There’s a woman wearing a mask, throwing a lit bottle of something flammable, the decor is in the process of being blown to pieces and there’s bits of very French looking architecture (Versailles, in case you’re curious), in the background.

This is not a TV series about the French Revolution.

It’s set at the beginning of the French Revolution. It’s a fantasy retelling of the events that led to the French Revolution. It uses the tropes, historical setting, nomenclature and vocabulary of the French Revolution, but that’s not what it’s about.

Here is the trailer:

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World of Skills 2: Anger’s Reflection

I’m happy to announce that the second instalment of World of Skills is now available to suscribers on my Patreon page.

The first instalment, Only the Wicked, is available to download free, also on Patreon.

There’s a dedicated page on the site for the series, which I hope will run to about 10-15 episodes, assuming there are enough readers to make it worthwhile.

What is World of Skills?

World of Skills is a fun little project based around a world identical to our own except for the emergence of “Skills”. Skills are unexplained abilities that manifest randomly in the general population.

My two protagonists are an insurance investigator and his associate, and their specialty is identifying when and how a Skills has been used in a crime.

To protect their employer – the insurance company – from having to pay out on claims in such cases, they try to recover stolen property or catch thieves or identify Skill-enabled fraud.

My protagonists are not un-Skilled themselves. The investigator, Darius, has a mysterious ability that frightens even the most powerful among the Skilled. Molly hides a secret even she doesn’t understand. But new differences give rise to new prejudices, and being Skilled can be more of a curse than a gift.

Why Patreon?

A lot of what I write, I give away for free. I’ve enjoyed doing this and I get a lot of satisfaction from it, especially when people reach out to let me know they liked something I wrote.

However, nothing I’ve written in the past has made me any money (a little side effect of giving almost everything away for free). As a consequence, I’m beginning to explore models where I might make a little bit of income from all the words I put down.

I’m trying to find a way of doing this which doesn’t offend or alienate any readers. While full-length novels or novellas might be sellable on Amazon, my preferred format is slightly shorter. Therefore: Patreon. It’s my hope that enough people who read this story will think it’s worth paying the price of a coffee each month to keep the series going.

I’m also putting additional content on Patreon such as short stories unrelated to World of Skills, information about the process of writing these stories, and occasional early warning when some of my writing goes on sale (or free) on Amazon.

If you choose to support me there, then you have my unending gratitude!

We Interrupt Your Regular Programming to Bring You… A Little Horror

I don’t write a lot of horror. The closest I’ve been was an unsettling story called “Eternal Child” that you can download from Amazon, or read about on Goodreads.

That said, sometimes I write a story and it crosses that line where it’s no longer ‘urban fantasy’. I don’t choose for this to happen. Stories sometimes take you places you don’t intend.

One reason my supernatural work ends up dark is my aversion to romance-supernatural themes that predominate since Twilight met with such amazing success. Werewolves, vampires, reanimated dead people, these things are horror tropes at the outset. While having a romance between a vampire and a human was interesting once, it feels overdone to me now. When such creatures make an appearance in my literature, they’re usually suitably dark and foreboding. They are ancient beings of incredible power, not lonely teenagers waiting an eternity for the hero/ine to relieve their terrible suffering by releasing a century of pent-up teenage angst.

Sorry… got a little carried away there.

Anyway, I wrote this story in response to a prompt I found somewhere. It strayed into supernatural territory and I started to wonder what a hidden society of supernatural beings would be like. How would they hide and live among us? Where? What sort of rules might govern their existence? I ended up with Rare Gifts, which is a glimpse at a hidden world, and the mysteries that inhabit it.

Cover of "Rare Gifts". Black and white image of a dark street with a person walking away.

Introducing “World of Skills”

I’m very proud to introduce you World of Skills. This is new series of stories I’ve been working on for a while.

The idea behind this effort is to provide some exclusive content to some people who support my work, by making it available to tier 2 and 3 subscribers on my Patreon page.

The first episode is available for free, by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.

What’s It About?

World of Skills is set in the present day, in a world where a few, random people have developed unexplainable skills that appear to defy the normal rules of nature.

Is this like X-Men? I hear you ask.

I suppose so, but while the idea of people obtaining unexplained abilities is not new, my little series has little in common with X-Men in terms of actual story.

My hero(es) are an insurance investigator and his assistant/sidekick, who are employed to get to the bottom of expensive heists that cost the company a lot of money. Occasionally, they also assist the police in investigations that have unexplained elements that suggest a Skilled person was involved.

Is this like Sherlock Holmes? I hear you ask.

I suppose so, in some ways, but it can’t by like Sherlock Holmes and like X-Men, so make your mind up!

The Format

Two-to-five thousand word short stories. Each a self-contained adventure, but with season-long plot and character development arcs.

I will be publishing an episode a month at least, until the ‘season’ has run its course.

I anticipate about 10-13 episodes but that is subject to change.

Where do I sign up?

I really wish you’d asked that question instead of my having to pretend you asked that question. I’m going to provide the answer just in case you’re curious.

If you like episode one enough to sign up for the rest, the remainder of the episodes will be available through my Patreon.

There are three tiers to my Patreon, “kitten”, “feline” and “lion”. “World of Skills” episodes will be available to the last two tiers. If you like the style of my writing but not this particular series, then exclusive short stories are also available through Patreon at the “kitten” level. Subscribing at this level will set you back a bit less than the cost of a coffee each a month.

Where’s the Free Download Already?

Right here:

Adopted Kitten!

A miniature feline was prowling around a part of my parents home, and one day got enough courage together to go looking for food inside the house itself.

It got caught, which let us get a closer look at her, and allowed us to determine that she’s really, really pretty.

Weeks of debate ensued.

A decision was finally taken.

The cat stays.