New review of Strings on a Shadow Puppet

I am delighted to report a new review of Strings on a Shadow Puppet is up, and on the SF Site, no less. Reviewer, Sandra Scholes wrote a very insightful review of my novel, which can be found at:

It gives a solid review, outlining key parts of the plot, while totally managing to avoid spoilers. I wish I could do so well in such few words.

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Goodbye Jay Lake….

I am very sorry to say that the ubiquitous Jay Lake died yesterday.  I didn’t know him well, but I liked him well… as both an author and a person.

He was a member of the workshop I belong to, and though I joined in the latter days of his attendance, I did overlap with him enough to call him a friend, and to share laughs.

me next to jay lake at wordos


I will miss him, and really have nothing to say on this topic other than my heart and hopes go to his family… particularly the Child…

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Spells and Bullets Together: The Modern Soldier-Mage’s Guide to Warfare

by Tom Doyle

American Craftsmen coverTor Books has just published American Craftsmen, my first novel in a three-book modern-day fantasy series. The “craftsmen” in the title are the magician soldiers and psychic spies who’ve been secretly serving their country since colonial times. But American Craftsmen is not an alternate history; I have not changed the outcomes of any battles or wars, and the surface truths of current events remain the same. How then does a relatively small group of preternaturally powerful individuals effectively operate within the context of modern military tactics and yet remain covert, as they have for hundreds of years?

First, I chose abilities for my soldier-mages that relate to uncanny occurrences in military history. The primary power of my protagonist, Captain Dale Morton, the thing that makes him the most valuable solider-mage in the world, is his ability to change the local weather and make it better or worse. Early on in American Craftsmen, Dale uses this power to pursue a hostile sorcerer through a sandstorm. I took the idea for this magic from the number of times that the weather has altered the outcome of American battles. For instance, bad weather saved George Washington’s army at Brooklyn Heights, while an improvement in otherwise terrible weather allowed for the success of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

tomdoyleBut the most dangerous and readily available power that a craftsman has is over his opponent’s mind. I drew this power from those instances in war where confusion scatters an army or, as in the killing of Stonewall Jackson, causes death by friendly fire. My present-day craftspeople carry precautions against such psychic warfare, but these don’t save Dale Morton from an opponent’s curse, a curse that will by twists and turns lead him to the demonic horrors corrupting the heart of American magic.

In contrast to this power of confusion or subornation, sometimes a military leader seems to possess a preternatural charisma to rally troops or exercise authority. So one of my characters, Colonel Hutchinson, has the ability to steady the nerves of combatants, while another, Major Endicott, has an extraordinary power of command.

Finally, to be the elites among other elite operatives, my magician soldiers need powers that enhance their combat skill and strength. They aren’t superheroes, but they can endure a bit more, heal a bit quicker, and shoot a bit better than normal soldiers. When fighting, craftspeople often enter an acceleration mode that I based on the sense that some soldiers have of time stretching out during combat.

American Craftsmen Button 1Such abilities come with limitations. My magical system is not just a binary of infinite power with a fatal flaw, à la Superman versus kryptonite and other comic book superheroes. For my characters, magic is more like a normal physical ability. A soldier’s craft improves with practice, much the same as her mundane shooting skill. A well-rested and healthy craftsperson will have more power than one who hasn’t slept or is wounded. Craftspeople in all-out combat will exhaust themselves within an hour at most.

Why do my magical soldiers bother with rifles? First, a variation on the magical Law of Return or karmic retribution makes killing by spell more dangerous to the practitioner than simply shooting someone. Furthermore, the laws of physics aren’t suspended by magic, just skewed, and it takes a great deal of magical energy to replicate the physical damage a soldier can do by just pulling a trigger. That magical energy might not be readily available, for like other armaments, magic has logistical issues. Craftspeople find it easier to recharge their power on home ground.

Some of my magic system runs at cross purposes to normal modern military tactics. I have too few practitioners for purely magical units, so craftspeople often serve with mundane soldiers. But to preserve their secrecy, craftspeople don’t serve for extended times with mundane units, so they don’t become integrated with them either. This situation creates numerous inefficiencies and can in some instances contribute to disasters, such as what happens to Dale Morton at the opening of the novel.

Still, even with such limitations, why don’t these elite magical troops completely dominate the action of battles throughout history and thus reveal themselves to all? This is similar to a common question about superheroes during the Second World War, and the answer is similar as well: in combat, craftspeople often engage the enemy’s practitioners, and the winner in that part of the fight will perhaps only be left with a slight but potentially decisive edge in the battle at large.

To conclude, I’d like to thank Thomas Evans and the Archaeologist’s Guide to the Galaxy for this opportunity to describe the military magic of American Craftsmen. If you’d like to read or listen to other stories of mine, please go to

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About Tom Doyle:

The Internet Review of Science Fiction has hailed TOM DOYLE’s writing as “beautiful & brilliant.” Locus Magazine has called his stories “fascinating,” “transgressive,” “witty,” “moving,” and “intelligent and creepy.” A graduate of the Clarion Writing Workshop, Doyle has won the WSFA Small Press Award and third prize in the Writers of the Future contest.

Posted in Alternate History, Military Science Fiction, Opinion Piece, Paranormal Military Fiction, Paranormal Mystery, paranormal or otherwise unexplained (possibly alien or magic) object, Ripping Yarn, Series, Thriller, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Urban Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Apologies for Missing April

Apologies are owed to my loyal readers for failing to post even one article over the past month.  The reason is simple, I was in South America and while I did attempt to upload two articles (one on the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez), they don’t seem to have gone up on the site.

As an act of contrition, I am happy to announce that tomorrow there will be a guest writer: Tom Doyle, whose book American Craftsmen, has just been released by TOR books.  A new, cross-genre book, American Craftsmen is what one might call a “Paranormal Mil Fic” book… combining spells with Special Ops in a modern day setting.  Tomorrow, Tom’s article will cover how he blends magic and bullets in this exciting new novel.  Personally, I am very much looking forward to reading it.

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The Hunger Games – Catching Fire (A Movie Review)

Β (Beta) Fantastic movie within the genre

catchingfireAlright, I’m off and traveling, so I thought I’d do a quickie review of The Hunger Games – Catching Fire.  In essence, I can sum it up by saying I loved it and that the movie version of the book kept all the parts I liked, and dumped the bits that I felt didn’t work.

In particular, it treated the viewers with a bit more respect than the novel treated the readers.  It dropped clues at important places, but unlike the book, didn’t hit you over the head with them. In fact, I almost feared the plot bits were too subtle, but my wife (who hasn’t read the books) picked up on them with no trouble… but only after the reveal at the end.

hunger-games-2-catching-fire (3)Now, I should say, I did like the book (see my review), but thought it was by far the weakest of the three novels in the series.  In contrast, the movie version was a significant improvement on the first film (which I loved). Indeed, I almost thought it was an alpha, but… not quite.

ICatching-Fire-capitol-portrait_Haymitch-610x903n addition to a brilliantly adapted script and excellent directing, one cannot help admire the acting that was demonstrated in this movie.  Everyone… I mean everyone – even the bit players – did a wonderful job bringing their characters to life.

So… in short?  I loved it.  It is one of the few movies that is better than the original, and one of the even fewer movies that improves the book.  Considering it was a good book….

jennaI can’t wait to see Mocking Jay. It was my favorite of the novels and done right, might even improve on a fantastic book.  Fingers crossed!

Posted in Chronicle, Coming of Age tale, Conspiracy, Cycle, Dystopian, Near Future fic, Political Drama, Ripping Yarn, Romance, Saga, Science Fiction, Serial, Series, Spy Thriller, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Thriller, Trilogy, Uncategorized, World, YA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Storm of Swords: Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), George R. R, Martin (HarpurCollins, 2000){Random House Audio, Narrator: Roy Doltrice)

(Game of Thrones, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Politics, post-modern)

978000224586920140315-21968-120jkyhGrade: Γ — (Gamma) A good or even fantastic book within the genre, possibly worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that is likely to be unappealing to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. This is the highest grade that many very good books that are part of a series can receive, since series require an investment in reading that normally only appeals to fans of that genre. 

In brief:

A Storm of Swords is the second volume in George R.R. Martins’ Song of Ice and Fire series (also known as Game of Throne Series), which continues the epic saga of political intrigue that turns the Fantasy genre on it’s head by adding bitter realism to heroic tales. This dark and yet ‘can’t put it down,’ book added hugely to the saga, building my engagement in the series.  It is my favorite volume to date, however, its cliff-hanger end and the six years it took until the next volume also created the greatest problem with the series as a whole.


Set in a High Fantasy world with a magic system that does not include D&D style spell casters (i.e. wizards who throw fireballs) or Tolkienesque non-humans (i.e. no elves, dwarves, orcs or other demi-human creatures), but does include dragons, the undead and hints of more fae-like creatures.  The story follows the political complexities between the multiple power factions that exist in a medievalesque kingdom that very vaguely resembles the geography of the UK (in that it is divided into three sections: The South, the North and Scotland… er… sorry: Beyond the Wall).  The personal and nasty actions of some characters set in motion a series of events that result in a very violent civil war and an epic story.

Wing as I do about George R. R. Martin from time to time, his internal world logic is superb.

Wing as I do about George R. R. Martin from time to time, his internal world logic is superb.

Also of great importance are the seasons of the world, for while every year has four seasons, there are also great seasons that last for years at a time, suggesting the planet has an irregular elliptical orbit.  In this, the first book of the series, there has been an unusually long Great Summer, and no Great Winter… but as the Stark family motto decrees, it is clear that Winter is Coming.

In Depth:

a-storm-of-swords-blood-and-gold-book-3-part-2-of-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-400x400-imad9agyth2mhbunI have a real love-hate relationship with Storm of Swords, one that is shared by many of Martin’s readers.  For me, it is not the dark and bitter nature of the story, nor the loss of so many hard earned victories. That is the nature of a war and Martin’s ability to portray them engagingly and his bravery in introducing such things to fantasy is what helps set him apart as an author. Neither is it his brutal method of killing off characters that one comes to like; while many readers grew to dislike him because of that, for me that is again one of the great strengths of this novel.[1] No, it is here that the serial nature of the tale begins to really take its toll on me.[2] Even so, what Martin manages to unfold in this volume makes for a brilliant tale.

2142795-book_3_a_storm_of_swordsAs with the previous installment, Martin continues to add depth to his world and particularly to the characters within it. One learns to sympathize with some of the most reprehensible characters of the first volume (like Jaime) and really begin to become annoyed and even dislike some of the most sympathetic characters of the previous volumes (like Caitlyn and to one degree or another, even Jon Snow).[3]  Added to that is the development of point of view characters who give additional insights to more central characters and to the world.

Standing out from these is Brienne of Tarth, whose perspective helps add depth to Jaime while simultaneously creating a break from the stereotype of women in Fantasy literature.  Brienne is a warrior knight who, unlike most women warriors in fantasy, is not attractive.  She is large and strong, and really quite plain of features.  She is far from eloquent and in a sense is a bit of a brute, but she is also noble and kind without being (at all) soft.  As we get to know her, we see she is feminine in her own way, yet unlike most ‘maverick’ style women warriors in the Fantasy genre, she is hard and tough with little sense of humor; in short she is about as uncharismatic as any character I’ve run across. Yet even so, she is in one sense as much of a romantic as Sansa, and one cannot help but love her – which doesn’t bode well for her long term prospects in Martin’s world.

I f you like Game of Thrones.... you may enjoy the political intrigue, character driven plots, shades of grey, action and high adventure of Strings on a Shadow Puppet... available at

I f you like Game of Thrones you may enjoy the political intrigue, character driven plots, shades of grey, action and high adventure of the science fiction espionage thriller Strings on a Shadow Puppet… available at

As for the plot, as with any series, it grows harder and harder to discuss it in any detail without giving spoilers but in essence it is a War story – not a Military Fiction tale – but a story about war in all its horrors.  We see the personal and family lives[4] of the politically strong interfere and potentially derail the greater political and moral goals, we see the lives of those without power trampled by the war, and we see the really important issues (like the undead and Others from Scotland… errrr….Beyond the Wall) ignored as the comparatively unimportant War of the Five Kings drags on.

Theme-wise, character-wise, plot-wise, A Storm of Swords is a masterpiece.  Indeed, the very mixed reaction that it inspires in readers demonstrates this.  Yet, here also we see Martin setting the trap that his next two volumes fall into.  He has painted a picture so vivid and complex that he has had (and continues to have) a difficult time completing it.  As stated in my reviews of A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, the next two volumes are less a dragon of a tale as they drag on as tales.

AStormOfSwordsHopefully, in The Winds of Winter he will begin to cull his story and A Dream of Spring he will end it, but one can never tell.  To that end, while I highly recommend this book to anyone who has read the others in the series, I would also suggest holding off buying the series until it is actually all in publication.

Notes about the Audio Edition:

There comes a point in reviewing a series of audiobooks where it almost becomes pointless to keep writing reviews of them – particularly when they remain at the remarkably high level of the Random House Audio versions of A Song of Ice and Fire. This is even more the case when you have a veteran actor like Roy Dotrice continuing to excel in his narration. Indeed, his plumby, highly educated English accent remains the perfect choice for the reading of this book, and his regional accents are pretty much spot on (well… totally spot on to my ear).  While some of his choices for voices don’t quite match that I imagined for characters when I read the books, they are still solid choices that he delivers with such skill that in some cases they have replaced my own interpretations quite nicely.  In short, a brilliant read for a brilliant listen and I highly recommend it.

A Game of Thrones Series 3, the Television Series:

game-of-thrones-jon-snow-danyGrade: Α – (Alpha) Great book, must read regardless of what Genres you enjoy.  Makes you think of things beyond the scope of the book

In this season of the brilliant television adaptation of Martin’s books, we begin to see additional areas of divergence from the novels.  For the most part, they are minor, but even when they are written large (like the entire Gendry plotline that appears in this series), they make sense and add to the story telling rather than detract from it.  Indeed, they tend to tighten the narrative which, if you’ve been reading my reviews, is not a bad thing.

joffrey_bearAdditionally, the acting really continues to shine.  Rose Leselie continues to bring Ygrette to life in a manner that far exceeds what Martin tried to do in the books, but matches what I feel he was trying to do.  Similarly Oona Chaplin portrays Robb’s wife Talisa Maegyr in the TV series and together with the writers creates a far more engaging character than Robb’s wife in the books – Jeyne Westerling.  To that end, Richard Madden’s portrayal of Robb gives depth to a character who is never a Point of View character in the books.  Indeed, he comes across as far more sympathetic to me, though that could be simply because we see his point of view.  Indeed, every actor in the series shines in some way or another…

Game-of-Thrones-S3-PicThere are, of course, story changes in the TV version, and this continues to increase, but they don’t actually seem to change the plot nor detract from the tale. Indeed, many of these are done to keep the cast of characters under a bit better control, and here they succeed.  I must admit that in the books even I get confused sometimes when we get introduced to yet another new character or one who has been mentioned but never seen.  Particularly as that there tends to be half-a-decade or more between publication dates.

To that end, I feel the TV version continue to shine – making a brilliant adaptation of Martin’s books… what ever will happen when they catch up?

[1] Though, I will admit, there are times where I have wondered if he just kills off characters because he wants to get a rise out of the readers.  Some people think that is the case, but personally I think it has been part of his plan from the start, and part of a commentary on High Fantasy literature.  Let’s face it, as much as we love the heroic nature of Aragorn and other classic heroes of Fantasy, in the real world of medieval politics they probably wouldn’t have lasted all that long. In A Song of Ice and Fire it is the cunning that succeed, not necessarily those whose hearts are pure…

[2] This novel left many of the storylines hanging at its conclusion. Up to the date of this book, there was a reasonable gap between the different release dates: 1996, 1998 and this volume in 2000.  While waiting three years between publications of a serialized story was painful, it was okay.  After this book, however, it took until 2005 for the next installment to come out, and to be honest, I felt that one was a bit disappointing… which you can read all about on my review of Feast For Crows.

[3] Disagree with me?  Well, “You know nothing Jon Snow.”

[4] Indeed, there is a theme throughout this volume about the importance of family, family loyalties and individual needs played out within a family context. Some characters put the needs of the family before their own, others seem to follow selfish paths using family as an excuse for their own ends, while still others put the welfare of everything else in jeopardy in the name of their families.  Who is selfish and who is selfless and how the role of family plays in that is very heavy and deftly addressed in this book.

Posted in Chronicle, Cycle, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Political Drama, Post Modern, Ripping Yarn, Saga, Serial, Series, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Thriller, Uncategorized, Unique or Imaginative World, World | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Clean, Alex Hughes (ROC, 2012)

(Science Fiction, Mystery)

cleanGrade: Γ — (Gamma) A good or even fantastic book within the genre, possibly worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that is likely to be unappealing to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. This is the highest grade that many very good books that are part of a series can receive, since series require an investment in reading that normally only appeals to fans of that genre. 

In brief:

Clean is a near future science fiction mystery thriller about a psychic detective working with the police to find ruthless killer with mental powers of his own. Set in a world where a powerful psionic guild controls most people with psychic powers, we are quickly drawn into a web of suspicions, where suspicions of conspiracies lurk in the shadows… and deadly killer is on the streets.


Near future, gritty America (mostly Atlanta), where people with psionics are licensed by the powerful Guild, living as a minority among the public and viewed with considerable suspicion.  A Tech War has occurred in the remembered past that stripped a great number of resources from the public, and kept technological development somewhat limited out of fears (both legitimate and superstitious in nature).

Hughes_authorphoto_verysmall-199x300In Depth:

Set in the near-future, Clean by Alex Hughes is a gritty detective tale that takes place in world where psionics live more-or-less openly among us, but are strictly monitored by the Guild.  The story centers on a once great telepath with whose drug addiction has ruined his life.  Once a promising young genius inside the Guild, our hero was cast out and now serves as a consultant and interrogator for the Atlanta Police as he struggles and stumbles on his road to recovery.  This road becomes even more rocky when he is brought in on an investigation that has all the ear marks of a Guild conspiracy.

This is the first of a series of compelling stand-alone novels that manage to give a full sense of completion at the conclusion of each volume.  There are no cliff-hanger or unanswered questions here, though Hughes has created a world and set of characters that have plenty of possibilities for great future stories. Indeed, the setting has potential for all sorts of interesting twists centered on a deep examination of life in a world with logical and limited psychic powers.  Telepaths, telekentics, teleporters, clairvoyants, precognitives and other psionics are explored against a backdrop of murder mysteries – is it any wonder I loved this book?

Yet Clean is not just a single gimmick novel.  The story does not rely on psychic powers to make it work.  There is an interesting murder mystery at the heart of this tale that introduces us to the history of the protagonist, the world in which the Mindscape Investigation series takes place, and serves as a fully legitimate mystery in its own right. Told from the first person POV, we know everything our hero knows and so we are left to guess what is happening right along side our protagonists.  Never once did I notice Hughes hiding any information from us (which follows of this blog know is one of the surest ways to tick me off). Oh don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Red Herrings, but while the telepathic nature of the story could have allowed Hughes to hide things from the audience, she instead relies on good old fashioned story telling to let the mystery unwind as we discover clues along side our hero.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat is more, not only Clean build a fascinating world, introduce us to flawed but sympathetic characters and tell a good mystery, it also showcases some very fine writing as well.  I cannot go into it without possibly providing spoilers, but suffice it to say that Hughes manages to use language and story telling to her advantage, managing to pull off some rather sophisticated story elements – particularly related to character development – without drawing attention to what she is doing.

Indeed, some aspects of this book made me initially want to give this an Alpha or Beta rating, but good sense won out.  This is a mixed genre novel that is deep its use of associated writing archetypes.  If you don’t like mysteries, this is a mystery first and foremost.  If you don’t like science fiction – this story revolves around a world in which psionic powers exist (though they are limited and have a clearly thought out and consistent logic structure).  Even so, both genres sit easily side-by-side in this novel, and if you don’t mind either one, I suspect you will like this book.  If you like one, I suspect the way they are blended together will let you enjoy it very much.

If you like both of them, as I do, this is a must read.  I look forward to picking up the next installment.

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