“Infection” is out! Another page-turner from Elle Klass

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If you were left gasping by the ending of “Premonition,” then you’ll want to grab your copy right away of its sequel, “Infection,” latest of Elle Klass’ thrillers in the “Zombie Girl” series. While I’m not particularly enamored by zombies, I do enjoy and appreciate a good story, which the author never fails to produce. As always, her characters come to life before your eyes, the plot’s believable yet full of surprises, and the imagery gripping, to say nothing of plenty of breath-taking action.

In this episode Maddie finally meets Bryce, face-to-face, their first encounter in a shared dream you can read about in “Premonition.” After that, she sees him at the hospital where recognition strikes them both. They marvel that they’ve shared the same dream about the coming apocalypse and ponder its meaning. Were they supposed to somehow prevent it? Before long they find out it’s too late, it has already begun. Having been prepared by their premonition, they gather Maddie’s parents and her friend, Sarah, and head for their boat, picking up the neighbor’s cat and a strange and somewhat unstable but non-zombified man named Jack along the way.

The group heads toward Italy in her father’s sailboat, Earnest Earl. Maddie’s father, who has been failing since leaving the hospital following his accident in “Premonition”, appears to be turning into a zombie. Unable to accept the reality and dispose of him, Maddie and her mother tie up his unconscious and seemingly dead body with pantyhose, hoping they’ll be able to help keep him alive with love, encouragement, and some gentle physical therapy.

They proceed across the Atlantic, Bryce and Jack taking turns at the helm. For a while they have TV and radio reception, but before long, that, too, is lost, just in time for them to face a nasty storm in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. They survive and eventually reach Italy, where even Mother Nature is rebelling, resulting in more page-turning hazards and adventures I won’t spoil by revealing.

The best part of this vividly portrayed story and what makes it so convincing are the familiar daily activities the characters engage in while they deal with this crisis, albeit with a fair amount of luck. Personality clashes, disagreements, and simply surviving in a world that is falling apart make the story memorable and thought-provoking. Everything they do is well-motivated and it’s easy to picture yourself in a similar position, sometimes agreeing with their decisions and others advising “No! Don’t do it!” Yet it has a somewhat fantastic “Super Girl” feel which is fun, even if some elements stretch credibility. Maddie definitely has all the makings of an everyday girl turned “super heroine.”

I see zombies as an adept analogy for the “walking dead” among us, i.e. those who are so stuck on their daily treadmill that they fail to notice either the little joys in life or the effect their attitude is having on the deteriorating world around them. Their negativity attempts to pull everyone down to their level, even as they feed on those who still know what life is all about. If only it were as easy to get rid of these real-life figurative “zombies” as their fictitious counterparts.

That may sound a bit heavy and beyond the comprehension of most who indulge in the YA genre, but sometimes I can’t help philosophizing. All that aside, this story as well as its precursor make excellent beach reads or a grand escape into a world that will make your own seem like Utopia. Don’t miss it!

You can pick-up your copy here.

A Detailed and Convincing Post-Apocalyptic Tale that Hits Close to Home

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Without belaboring how it got there, the author has developed a detailed and convincing post-apocalyptic world. Modern as far as the vehicles, weapons and computer technology are concerned, other elements have a medieval flavor including a feudal social structure and a bit of sword play. In this case the holdings of the elite are not so much land itself but what all need to survive–water. In other words, a few have gained control of the water supply with the different “houses” within “The Collective” system jockeying for positions within their own hierarchy while keeping the unfortunate masses at bay. The complexity of the political structure is well thought out and demonstrates a keen understanding of human nature as a relative handful of individuals struggle to maintain what they’ve acquired while also trying to advance through whatever means necessary.

Victor Xonox is the primary villain among many. He’s cruel and ruthless regarding everything and everyone save his beloved daughter, Pheona. He maintains his position with the proverbial iron fist enforced with lethal consequences. No one is allowed to obtain water except through his distribution channels. Anyone found having their own source such as a well is quickly dispatched. And thus we meet Abel, son of a former Army Ranger, whose family has their own covert water supply. Discovery results in the usual punishment except Abel escapes, bent on vengeance. As you would expect, Abel’s quest results in his meeting up with a variety of interesting characters. Each is well-developed with a detailed background and agenda of their own which brings them vividly to life.

While some action-oriented stories lack detail, that is not the case here. I measure fiction through a system I call IDEAS, an acronym which stands for Imagery, Dialog, Emotion, Action and Suspense. As a whole, a good story has an appropriate balance of them all. In this regard Hillard did an outstanding job. Visual, societal, weapons and character detail were outstanding, dialog convincing, enough emotion to make the characters human and provide motivation as well as plenty of action and suspense.

At times I felt as if there were too many named characters and I had trouble keeping track of them all with their exotic names. However, life itself is populated with legions and given the plot and situations, having so many people around contributed to the story’s convincing tone. So convincing, in fact, that its dark and gloomy essence was hard to bear at times since I’m not usually a fan of apocalyptic and dystopian tales, especially ones as vividly portrayed as this one.

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On a personal note, I have seen a modern version of this story play out, albeit less violently. I live in the second row from one of Central Texas’ largest reservoirs, Lake Buchanan. In the above picture you can see it as it appeared on 29 January 2011. Little did I know when I snapped that picture that I may not ever see the lake at that level again.  Ironically, at the time we considered it low!

This area has been in a severe drought for several years and during that time I’ve seen the lake drained at the behest of those in positions of power, putting the drinking water of millions at risk. In a long and complicated story which, if written, would undoubtedly be the length of an epic novel, since 2011 the lake has receded until it eventually fell as low as below one third capacity.  Note the boat ramp in both pictures is one and the same with the second picture taken exactly eight months later.  The lake view vista is now obstructed as well with an exposed strip of land to the left of the distant stand of trees which in normal years is inundated. The second picture below shows looking back from the waterline to the houses, where the lake level should reach their retaining walls.

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Thus, I have witnessed first-hand how water can spark a political battle until at long last a local leader rose to the occasion and led a fight for the rights of those whose local businesses and property values had been decimated for the good of corporate rice farmers downriver who sold their product mostly overseas.

Residents along other lakes in the Highland chain deemed “constant level” (which just happened to have multimillion dollar homes along their shores) were blissfully unaware there was a serious drought. Meanwhile, along Lake Buchanan property values plummeted while resort and business owners closed as the lake was no longer accessible. Furthermore, what was left was too hazardous to enjoy since the pecan orchards inundated with the lakes creation in the 1930s were now exposed, giving it the appearance of an eerie swamp. In some cases, those who were once waterfront could no longer even see the water, yet were still required to pay the excessive tax rate they were assessed for their supposed prime location.

So how did this come about? Our former governor (and aspiring presidential candidate, by the way) at one time was over the state’s Department of Agriculture. Thus, he had a close relationship with corporate rice farmers on the far end of the Colorado River near the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these farmers were thus his appointees on the governing board of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) who supposedly “managed” what are known as the Highland Lakes. In normal years, releasing water for the rice farmers to flood their fields, a practice related to controlling weeds, not the growth of the rice itself, was not a problem because winter and spring rains would replenish the supply.

This, however, was no longer the case with the drought. The usual release was made, nonetheless, which was further exacerbated by human error when someone failed to close the dam’s flood gates when they should have been. It was as if someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub and the lake fell to less than one third capacity, its precious waters eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. And thus it has remained for years.

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This spring Texas received a lot of rain, relieving much of the drought in some areas, but much of it missed our watershed. Lake Buchanan is now at 52% while the others in the Highland Lakes chain are at capacity. Hopefully it will eventually be full again but so far that is not the case.

Clearly a commodity needed for life itself can be a powerful tool and those who seek position and control for selfish reasons will never hesitate to exploit situations that advance their personal agendas without regard for the good of anyone or anything else that stands in their way. Unfortunately, we see this every day. Thus, the premise itself of “The Collective” is highly credible given that there will always be despots like Victor Xonox who build an empire on the backs of those less fortunate.

The plot exposes and investigates the character of those with no regard for the lives of their fellow human beings. It inspires hope in that a leader or coalition of those opposing their evil intent will eventually also arise in the form of heroes and a few antiheroes. While this story had a reasonably satisfying ending, the author also left it open for a sequel which is sure to come. Whether or not you’re a fan of dystopian tales, this one is exceptionally well-written and worth reading as a reminder of what can happen when a few power-hungry individuals assume control of an essential commodity. I have seen it happen with near-tragic consequences from my front porch.

You can purchase a copy of this story at the link below.  Don’t think it couldn’t happen where you live.

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The Nebulous Boundary Between Science Fiction and Science Fact

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One of the biggest challenges for science fiction authors is keeping up with the technology. For those of you who have read my books, specifically the 2nd one in the series (“A Dark of Endless Days”) and beyond, you’ll remember Laren’s c-com, short for cerebral companion. This clever little device, essentially a smart phone on steroids, linked directly to his brain via psi link so he could access virtually any information in the Universe and likewise download his own thoughts. It could do just about anything, but there was one caveat, i.e., he had to ask it to do what he wanted. It wouldn’t volunteer information, as he discovered in “Refractions of Frozen Time.” And that’s enough of that before I get into spoiler territory.

As “high tech” as the c-com is, it’s nonetheless a little too easy to imagine such a device in the real world. I just saw an article in R&D Magazine (http://www.rdmag.com/news/2015/04/phone-ultimate-macro-feature) that reported there is now a device that can turn any smart phone into a “DNA-scanning fluorescent microscope.”

Seriously?

Holy cow, I want one!

Not!

No, that’s not exactly on my Amazon wish list, but I’m sure for geneticists and CSI types it would be.

Clearly science and engineering is well on its way toward developing a c-com, taking it from science fiction to science fact. When I first started writing sci-fi my fictitious world had the internet, the equivalent of Craig’s List as well as a currency comparable to Bitcoin, all before their time. It’s been said that whatever man can perceive he can achieve and there’s no doubt that science fiction has been the inspiration for several of the technological marvels you see today. Undoubtedly you’ve seen that picture circulating on Facebook of an old Radio Shack advertisement from twenty or so years back hawking the electronics of the time. It included a television, radio, cameras (both still and video), tape recorder, stereo, a desktop computer, and of course, telephones, with the caption that everything on that entire page had been replaced by the smart phone.

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Charles Holland Duell (shown above), Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from 1898 to 1901, supposedly once said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” This has been debunked but what he did say was, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

That was in 1902. He died in 1920. What do you think he would say about what’s out there today?

Case in point, my mother was born in 1906, the time when the Wright brothers were developing their flying machine into the first fixed-wing aircraft. She lived long enough to not only see men walk on the Moon but her daughter (yours truly) eventually work for NASA. She marveled at the internet and I shudder to think what her final years in a rest home would have been like without cable television. And that was just the 20th century. What can we expect in the 21st? What will top 3D printers?

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You’ve probably heard of Moore’s Law which hypothesizes that technology doubles every two years. This statement originated back in 1965 with Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, whose original statement related to the complexity of integrated circuits but has applied remarkably well to technology in general which, of course, is largely driven by just that. The miniaturization of devices fits in there as well. This “law” has proven to be accurate enough that tech companies have used it for planning purposes.

Science fiction writers, including myself, would do well to bear that in mind. Technology doubles every two years! It can easily take longer than that to write a book! That’s an exponential rate that’s hard to grasp. We’re all quite aware of the present but have often forgotten much of the past. Can you remember what it was like before cell phones or the internet? How about computers? Were you even born yet???

Trying to imagine what will come next taxes your imagination, yet as sci-fi writers that’s our job, to not only keep up but surpass it! That, my friend, is easier said than done. And I certainly don’t mean to throw stones at my fellow writers, but when I read science fiction I thoroughly enjoy noting how different authors extrapolate technology to the future, especially the near-future, such as another fifty years. Gasoline fueled cars? Paper? Really? Ya think? When technology doubles every two years? I particularly enjoy reading about paper documents on planets equipped with interstellar vehicles. Uh huh. Right. I’m as guilty as anyone, hard as I may try. In my novels I had security devices I called “palm locks” to gain entry to a room. Science fiction is now science fact.

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But there’s one area that science fiction writers can always pursue and that’s where technology will take us. Will it eventually all come crashing down? Then what? Are we really better off with our smart phones than we were without them? Or on a path to humanity’s demise? After all, there are those who use smart phones to trigger bombs and incendiary devices. Furthermore, a massive solar flare could destroy the power grid and all those cell towers. Then what? What if our addiction to electronics was forced into cold-turkey withdrawal?

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No wonder dystopian stories are so popular these days. Such scenarios are easier to imagine. Which is scary as hell.

[Illustrations credit 123RF Stock Photos]

Chimera: A Dark, Suspenseful Tale Set Within an Original Sci-Fi Scenario

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“Chimera” is a well-written science fiction tale wrought with tension, suspense and believable characters. Its scenario is original and captivating, i.e. that of a habitable moon elsewhere in the galaxy which serves as a debtors’ prison for Earthlings unable to meet their obligations. These prisoner/colonists are provided with their basic needs via automated exchange ships which bring food and other necessities, then return to Earth with ecomire, a valuable mineral which colonists either mine or retrieve from “the rim.” As the seventh generation of colonists reach adolescence, their debt is considered paid. However, their release from bondage is complicated by the fact that no exchange ships have arrived for a long time, not only jeopardizing the colony’s survival but begging the question regarding what is going on back on Earth?

The richness of this story derives from a variety of original elements. For one thing, the ship which brought them there in the first place, the Chimera, is being renovated in the hopes of returning to Earth but this is complicated by the fact that she has an element of intelligence that no one so far has been able to access. Then there’s the matter of its original navigator, “Stephen,” who had connected with her and ultimately went insane while at the same time spawning some sort of weird religion with him at the core. These details bring the story to life by defining the culture which these exiled individuals developed and demonstrate a deep understanding of human nature on the part of its author, which is actually three individuals who collaborated in a very effective manner to bring this fascinating story to life. It definitely illustrates the concept that “two heads are better than one” when it comes to conceiving and developing a rich, compelling tale.

The adolescent characters come to life within this carefully fabricated world in a convincing and engaging manner. Each has a story of his or her own, an intriguing background that has contributed to who and what they are. In preparation for the return to Earth, “the selection” is in the process of choosing which members of this seventh generation of colonists will be chosen to be the Chimera’s crew, including someone who can awaken her. Personality conflicts, differing motivations and abilities, as well as dealing with a drill sergeant from hell are skillfully embedded in the overall tension of the story’s premise.

While the primary protagonist is a young man named Theo, the other characters’ importance is clear. Among other things, this episode is a coming of age story for Theo and the others as well, particularly Marcus whose seemingly sociopathic tendencies are ultimately at least partially explained and Selena, who has spent her life in a mining ship “on the rim” with her alcoholic father. The only one whom I didn’t connect with was Meghan who was superficial by comparison, perhaps because her background was not sufficiently challenging which left her bland and judgmental.

This is the first volume of an intended series which definitely drags you into the characters and plot with just enough questions left unanswered to make you anxious to get your hands on the next episode which is due sometime in the summer of 2015. The characters have strong, distinct personalities which have already established the promise of conflict when they crew the Chimera. I was provided a copy of this story in return for an honest review and was thoroughly enchanted by this well-crafted tale which holds tremendous promise.

Buy Link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SXOLP40/

More about Chimera & the team that comprises N.J. Tanger:

http://www.uebooks.com/