Deadly Lover by Charlee Allden (2015)

(Sci-Fi, Romance, Mystery, Paranormal)

deadlylovermycoverGrade: 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.

 In Brief:

Deadly Love by Charlee Allden is a great read for anyone who likes Sci Fi, Mysteries and/or Romance. It is fascinating tale of dangerous relationships with a solid who-done-it at its core that left me guessing until the end of the book. If you’ve ever been interested in dipping your toe into Sci-Fi Romance, this is a great book to do it with. The mystery aspect in particular makes for a great plot and the story line following a culture of refugees inside another land. It is very well thought out and compelling, and for me proved the major pull through the tale. If, however, you dislike either mysteries or romance, particularly one with a cross-humanoid relationship aspect, then you may want to give this book a pass. Personally, however, I think it is well worth a look if you have any interest in crossing over to other genres.


A near future America in which a population of non-human refugees called the Ormney has immigrated to earth via a trans-dimensional shift.  This has led to the existence of segregated populations within major cities where the Ormney live according to their own cultural traditions in an uneasy relationship with the surrounding human populations.  This makes for a very interesting, and timely commentary on displaced and refugee populations in the world.

The Ormney ability to slip is innate to any member of the species, but most can only perform small scale transitions, enough to effectively jump or teleport a short distance.  Some greater masters of the skill, however, can slip over greater distances, and the best are those who used the ability to guide the others from their own alien realm to this one.

The Ormney look almost human, though they have stronger physiques, stripes, eyes that are feral, and most importantly, they have poisonous razor sharp claws.  They live among us, and by live by our laws, but maintain their own cultural practices, and have their own legal system of Law Keepers that co-exists with our own.  The Law Keeper’s primary function is to keep their people and traditions alive, though they work with closely with local law enforcement.

As with any forced migrant populations living apart but within a society, there are bigotries within both human and Ormney populations.  This is exasperated by the fact the Ormney are large, physically powerful, and have deadly poisonous claws.

deadlylovercartoonIn Depth:

This Sci-Fi Mystery Romance is a gripping forbidden love story wrapped around a classic murder-conspiracy tale.  At its core is a cross-species romance between the tough, human investigator Lily Rowan and the Ormney Law Keeper Jolaj – a mostly human looking alien with deadly poisonous claws (as well as a strong, handsome almost human build – see below) and the ability to slip from one world to another and back in a different location (effectively teleporting).  The three genres of the story (Sci Fi, Mystery and Romance) blend extremely well in the book, and the flow of language and strong characterizations merge to make an exciting mystery with erotic scenes that build the central relationship of the story.  What grabbed me the most about this book, however, were the central concepts of the relationship between the two protagonists, Lily and Jolaj, and how those reflect upon refugees and modern society… but more about that later.

The central plot of the tale revolves around a series of brutal attacks by Ormney men on their human lovers.  Such cross species affairs are forbidden in Ormney society, and sneered at by humans. Even so, the physical similarities between the two groups leads to such attraction, social taboos or not.  At least until some Ormney men start going berserk and shredding their human lovers with their razor sharp, poisonous claws.  The question of why these attacks suddenly start happening is the focus of the tale and what brings our two protagonists together.

Lily, central point of view character of the book, is the human side of the equation. Coming from a long line of police, she took a different route and became a hard-as-nails agent-investigator for a megacorporation. While engaged in testing tactics intended to let the two species work better together, she was partnered with an Ormney partner who became her close friend. This made things all the worse when one day, her partner went berserk and turned an uncontrollable fury on her.  Only her skills and her experience working with him saved her life, but she was forced to kill him just to survive. The attack, however, left her horribly scarred inside and out.

The story opens while Lily is still trying overcome the natural fear and sorrow that resulted from the event.  Yet before she has even gained healing, she runs across a similar attack in process.  An Ormney man is attacking his forbidden human lover when Lily arrives in time to stop the vicious onslaught.  Sadly, the woman has already been attacked, and claw toxin introduced to her system.  This attack, gives fuel to those who look for another to hate the Ormney, but Lily knows better and begins to investigate, forcing herself all the time to fight the PTSD that is triggered by the presence of the other race.

Due in part to her Police family connections, she is introduced to the other point-of-view character, Jolaj. He is an Ormney Law Keeper with whom she soon finds herself investigating the crime. Through him, we slowly learn about Ormney culture, and gain a wonderful window of the life of an alien population forced to live among humans.  Indeed, my only real complaint about the book is I would have liked to have spent less time examining the dynamics of Lily’s family and more looking into the Ormney.  Of course, I’m an anthropologist by inclination and training, so no big surprise there.

To tell more would be a spoiler, but leave it to say that the story follows the twists and turns of the mystery while delving into the meaning behind a cross-species relationship.  Soon the pair find themselves investigating leads into connections between the crimes and uncovering an ever growing number of reasonable suspects.  There are a myriad of personal relations in the story that tie together neatly in both the romance and mystery side of the tale, and that make for a very satisfying ending.

deadlylovernew450Yet more than the mystery element, this book does a very good job of examining the appeal, repulsion and consequences of breaking the cultural taboos against who we love.  This is perhaps best symbolized in the story by the actual physical dangers posed by the Ormney lovers in the tale, where the nature of fire being played with has threats that go beyond the fears of social ostracizing.

Allden does a brilliant job of making the socio-psychological appeal into a physically erotic one.  In this Allden greatly exceeds my expectations of the genre, and weaves a tale that combines intellectual intrigue with emotional interplay.  By creating sympathetic and realistic characters with complex family and social backgrounds, Allden really does make there be more at stake than romance or an abstract mystery.

To this end, I would highly recommend this story to anyone who likes romance or mysteries.  As for the sci-fi element, it is definitely there and central to the tale, but if you’re looking for hard-science fiction, I suspect this is not the tale for you.  It’s not a story or technology or biology, it is a story of people and cultures in conflict.

To that end, it might be the perfect tale to dip your toe into if you’re at all intrigued to the appeal of sci-fi romance or mystery genre.  It certainly kept me guessing who did it and why, and pulled me into the complex world of how others live among us.  This last point in particular has a great deal of timeliness. Headlines are frequently dominated by fears of migrants and refugees and the dangers they may, or may not pose. This story of murder and love examines how people face such threats, both real and imagined.  It examines how one can find respect, friendship and even love with those of  who represent the other, and how both cultures might find ways to keep their identities while still building a future together.

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Game of Thrones Season Six: Ruminations in the Absence of an Actual Book…

Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Television, Post Modern

Game-of-Thrones-Season-6-HEADERThough I normally don’t review TV shows or movies on this site, in the great desert between the release of volumes of the Song of Ice and Fire, I feel there is a space to examine the latest season of HBO’s televised version of the saga.  This seemed appropriate because it was, of course, the first season of the series to be written and air without a pre-existing book to guide it. Now, having time to have digest it, I feel that this somewhat shows.

3053129-game-thrones-season-6-pictures+(1).jpgIn general, I have been a fan of the TV adaptations of George RR Martin’s epic tale.  While the TV show has cut out a great deal of the beautiful and daring detail and tapestry of the novels, it has also cut down on some of the self-indulgent meandering the books seem to get into.  Many viewers of the show have complained that season five seemed to waffle without much forward progress in the story lines.  Woe to those who feel so, for one of the great achievements of the TV series is that they managed to compile two enormous meandering volumes (Books Four and Five) whose total length exceeded the entirety of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit (and indeed almost the Silimarillion as well) into ten episodes without seeming to lose any salient points.  So it was that I was eager to see how they did with Season Six, their first ‘solo outing’ as it were (though they did have the outlines of Martin himself).

gameofthronez3In some senses the show managed to exceed my expectations.  There were some epic battle scenes, and we saw the brilliant playing out of aspects of the books that have long lay in the background.  They worked in historic reveals in a manner that played very well on the screen, and they brought some real emotional fruition to character arcs we have been reading and watching for a long time.  Oh, did I mention there were some epic battle scenes?  No really, they played out very well.[1]  Not just from their excitement, but from the emotional payoffs for viewers/readers who have followed characters through five or six grim season/volume installments of the saga.[2]

Cersei-game-of-thrones-season-6.jpgYet, having said all this, and while I did enjoy Season 6, I cannot say I was as enthralled with this season as I expected to be. Now, this could be due to the fact that for the first time I actually watched the show on a weekly basis as it was released.  Previously, I had binge watched whole seasons, but as that I wanted to avoid spoilers, my wife and I chose to actually watch it ‘real-time,’ and weeklong gaps always reduce the enthrallment. Yet I feel it was more than that.

It was good, no mistake about it, and we enjoyed it, but – but….


Okay… this scene had heart…

I cannot help but feel it lacked a little heart.  It just didn’t have quite the magic of previous seasons.  Whether this was due to the gaps in presentation or the distance between Martin’s vision and this work, I cannot say, but I cannot help but wonder what the effect will be on the last installment of the series.  Will the conclusion meet, exceed or fail short of the epic journey that has taken us there?  Who knows? What I do know is that even if it does fulfill my love of the series, I will read the books to see how the author himself manages to complete the trip he began us on so long ago.  His books, for all the delays between volumes and the endless and self-indulgent meanderings of the last two volumes, has heart.  There is a soul bound into Martin’s prose and vision that captures the imagination. No matter how well or terribly HBO manages to end the series, I suspect that Martin’s final chapters will exceed that.


[1] Well, ok there is one battle towards the end of the season that got a bit silly in its portrayal of the metaphor ‘mountains of the dead’ but beyond that… pretty good stuff.

[2] I would like to remind you that, for those of us who have been reading the books, we’re talking twenty years. Over half of that time has been spent waiting on two books.  Now, this is something I have a new appreciation of, as that there is a growing gap in publication between my own works, but it does seem a long wait to have between cliff hanger endings.

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Cataclysm: The Myst Clipper Shicaine, Kerry Forrestal and John Fracchia (Bedlam Boys Publishing, 2016)

Science Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fantasy


This month we are interviewing the authors of a newly released novel that pushes the cataclysm ebook.jpgboundaries of fantasy and science fiction, combining them into a fascinating and unique mélange of Science Fantasy that, for me, sparks the imagination.  To that end, I thought rather than perform an outright review of the book, I would interview the authors to investigate how the book developed and why.

Cataclysm: The Myst Clipper Shicaine is the debut novel by Kerry Forrestal and John Fracchia. It is one part science fantasy, one part horror and heavily spiced with an air of sail-punk, which when blended together spells a novel that is sure to capture the attention of sci-fi and sailing junkies like me. It stands out for me because where more Science Fantasy Novels sit primarily in one camp or the other (Star Wars – Science Fiction with heavy Fantasy elements, Krull – Fantasy with heavy Science Fiction Elements), this novel truly is a blend of the two.

The Myst Clipper Shicaine is gripping tale of a high tech world that was ravished by an unnamed cataclysm centuries before. Most of the world consists of badlands covered by strange and caustic mysts that burn and destroy all that they touch.  Only a handful of far flung cultures have managed to survive this apocalypse.  Kept safe behind their domes, these surviving peoples maintain an uneasy peace, with contact primarily maintained through the use of the great myst-clippers. Using every form of technology they can muster, these vessels sail over the mysts, and in so doing, recall some of the best elements of both sail and steam aged navigation.

Among these clippers one ship stands above the rest: the Shicaine.  Once part of an underground railroad for sentient machines, her crew was betrayed and scattered. Five years later, they’re being killed one by one, and it is up to their former captain, Nathaniel Gedrick to save them.


 I’d like to begin by welcoming the authors, Kerry Forrestal and John Fracchia to The Archaeologist’s Guide to the Galaxy.

 Both:  Thanks, it’s good to be here.

What was the genesis for Cataclysm: The Myst Clipper Shicaine?  How did you come up with it, and how did you come to write it?

 Kerry:  While I was waiting to get into medical school I had some time to kill and as a gamer started tinkering with an idea for a multi-user game (MUG/MUD) or what people now know as MMORPG.  Back then there wasn’t the amazing computing power we have now to render whole worlds so I broke it up into zones to allow for easier loading.  Each Zone needed to have it’s own character and the idea for T’Amorach grew.

The name for the world was the result of a conversation with my father.  He’s Irish so I asked him for the Gaelic for “tomorrow”(Which embodied the hope of all the inhabitants of our world that they worked for a better tomorrow) which is Amárach. Unfortunately, everyone took that for a thinly disguised “America”.  By craftily using a writer’s tool called a letter, we put a T in front of it and the result was T’amorach.

While it’s a pretty cool environment for a game, it became clear that this was a world that I wanted to write in.

I discussed the project with John and he mentioned that he was working on something that might fit in well with the over all theme.  My best description of the experience is working on a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle and having some of the borders done and a few areas when someone comes alone and drops a few hundred piece section all completed into the middle and it fits perfectly.  Then by bringing the rest of the work up to match it and be supported by it, you realize you had a 10,000 piece puzzle all along.

John:  That’s right. When Kerry pulled me in, he and I had just finished writing a play called, Club Hell, and were having a discussion about writing.  We’re both big fans of science fiction and fantasy and he started to tell me about this idea he had for a book that revolved around the concept of a world where a toxic environment had forced the surviving cultures into protected areas.  The cultures were very different and maintained a tenuous peace.  As it turned out, I had been sketching out ideas for a book about a theocratic culture centered around a female messianic figure.  As we talked, we started to realize that the ideas meshed really well and started to develop the story together.

TAmorachFinalMapThe world that the story is set in, T’Amorach, is quite unique.  It combines elements of gothic fantasy with Science Fiction while adding a heavy dose of Tall Ship sailing adventure.  Why did you decide to break the archetypes and set it in such an unusual universe? How did you come up with this vivid and fascinating world?

Kerry:  ADHD?

Both Laugh.

John: It’s a fair cop.

Kerry: Seriously, both John and I are lovers of diversity.  We created a living thriving world filled with different types of people because it’s what worlds really are.  Each of our characters were intended to be the heroes of their own stories, there is no cannon fodder.

We’ve come to find that some of our “Bad guys” are pretty well justified in their actions, even though they oppose our central characters.

As an example, Kragen, the Prelate elevated to the supreme position in the religious zone, started out a cardboard bad guy, but as we wrote we realized that, though ambitious and a bit slanted in his views, he really sacrifices a lot to do what he thinks is right for the home he loves.

John:  That’s right, but I feel there’s something else there. Kerry and I are what I would call connectors.

In our lives we tend to operate across traditional boundaries and hook up things that feel as though they naturally go together.  So when we started to write, we weren’t consciously thinking that the book should be sci-fi, or fantasy.  We let our idea for the story drive where it went and it ended up as a bit of a mash-up.  But I’m glad that we approached it that way, because it gave us the freedom to take the world wherever it felt like it made sense to go.

That actually raises another question, collaboration on a novel is often difficult. There are different visions and interpretation of vision that often come into play.  How did you manage your collaboration? 

Kerry:  Beer mostly. And distance.  The “Mute” button helps.

John:  And fisticuffs. Occasionally blunderbusses at 10 paces were called for depending on the disagreement.

But seriously, for us it actually wasn’t as difficult as you might think.  Kerry and I have been friends for 32 years and have collaborated on so many things that we’ve learned how to navigate disagreement.

In the framework of writing, I think it’s best explained by an experience we had while writing Club Hell.  The play is about two sleazy marketers who die in a car wreck and wake up in hell.  They decide that their best ticket out is to convince the devil that hell needs a makeover by recreating it as a resort.  In order to do it, they need to make a big pitch and Kerry envisioned it as a religious revival scene.  When he described it to me my immediate gut reaction was a resounding no.  I thought it was too over the top and it made me think of fundamentalism.  But in our script for months we had this placeholder sentence that simply said: “Insert revival scene here.”  One night we were debating the scene and he finally said to me, “Look, what’s the harm in trying it?  Let me write it and if it’s not good, we won’t use it.”  I realized that he was absolutely right and he brought one of my favorite parts to the play.  So when we have one of those moments where one of us is digging in our heels, all the other has to say is: Insert revival scene here. It’s become our cue to back off and give ourselves permission to develop an idea.

Kerry:  Yes, it really helps to have developed a framework a long time ago.  But there is a bit more.  Every so often you meet a person who you will know your whole life.  That’s John for me.  He has great ideas and he’s pretty good at telling me when something sucks, which often it does.  I have a bit of an advantage in that medical training gets you pretty hardened against taking the “that’s the worst idea I’ve heard in a while” personally.

I’ve come to find that John is generally right (excepting the revival scene in Club Hell) and by being told something sucks, by someone I trust, I can move onto the next idea faster.

That I can see.  It’s never easy to take criticism of one’s writing, but a long developed partnership is key, and you guys have known each other for a long time.

Kerry:  You could say that.  We met in college back in 1984.  I was teaching a first aid class and John was taking it.  We formed those bonds that you form in college over beer, broken hearts, aspirations and the struggle to become something more than what we are.

John:  Imagine Binghamton University in 1984….

You mean SUNY Binghamton?

 Kerry:  It’s called Binghamton University now… [1]

By heretics.

 John:  Binghamton University has a campus ambulance squad called Harpur’s Ferry and I signed up to take an Advanced First Aid course. Kerry was the instructor.  After that, we were loose friends throughout undergrad, but ended up in the same grad program and the friendship really developed there.  In fact, it led us to start a business after graduation, which we did for a couple of years before deciding to pursue other career passions.

For me those passions led to a career in higher education. Now I work at Ithaca College as the Associate Director of Career Services. It’s a career that allows me to help feed the passions students develop in college into careers.

Kerry:  For me it led to medicine.  I’m a physician in Emergency Medicine, though I also teach as often as I can, and to reaching out and collaborating with others to share ideas and methods.  In fact, I’m presently working as the Ambassador to Ireland for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

John: Yeah, I think that we’re both pretty wired to try anything that we think might be interesting to do and that has led us to very full lives.  I’m very passionate about service to one’s community so am a councilmember in my town (Caroline, NY) and involved as a board member of a number of non-profit organizations including Twin Tiers Honor Flight, One World Market (a fair trade store) and the National Dance Society.  The arts are really important to me and in addition to writing, I’m also a musican/songwriter, experimental filmmaker, DJ on a non-profit radio station (WVBR) and member of a performing improv troupe (ComedyFLOPs).  Somehow I still find time to spend with my wife Nancy and our six kitties.

KerrysHouseKerry:  I work a little less directly with the arts, but I did recently built a tree house for my daughters and am getting less than dangerous with power tools.

Of course, I also love computers and gaming, which as I think we mentioned is tied to the origin of this book.

Well clearly passion and drive is a defining element of both of you.  Did that come into play during writing.  Did it help bring any one part of the novel under one writer or the other’s domain?

Kerry:  Nope. We broke it down evenly.  I write the even words, John writes the “odd” ones.

John:  I think we each have elements of the story that are special to each of us.  For Kerry I think it’s the Shicaine because he grew up in an area that has a rich maritime tradition.  For me, it’s Kwyne, because I’ve always had an interest in religious history and an abhorrence of religious fundamentalism.  But ultimately, every bit of the book was developed, written and re-written by both of us.  People have told us that it is not obvious in the writing that two people worked on it and I think that’s why.

Could you each tell me about your favorite sci-fi works and how they influence your novel?

Kerry:  I loved the craftiness of the traders in Asimov’s Foundation and the clipper ship captains are heavily influenced by that writing.  Piers Anthony and the Adept series.  The Thomas Covenant series was awesome.  So was Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange land, and the intrigue and scale of Herbert’s Dune.  I’d like to think that Hemmingway would thrive in Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhikers” series.  Neuromancer is of course evident in the Net-rogues.  Clarke’s moralism is always with the work.  Obligate Tolkien reference.

In other media- Star: Gate(SG1, SGA), Wars, Trek.  Firefly. V. Dr. Who (Recently visited Cardiff), Quantum Leap, Blade Runner, and New BSG before the last season. (Please note the visual media part was added after reading John’s answer.  OOOOOO, I hate it when he gets a better answer than me. HOWEVER- I referenced Firefly so I win)

John:  I think that my influences are as much or more in fantasy than they are in straight sci-fi.  Tolkien was the first author who really impressed upon me the power of creating a completely unique world as well as the importance of world building.  I think he was a big influence for us, though our worlds are very different.  I also like Arthur C. Clarke and Piers Anthony, particularly his Bio Of A Space Tyrant series and the first three books of the Apprentice Adept series.  We love Elizabeth Haydon’s Rhapsody series as well and she’s been an incredible mentor to us. Kerry and I like to infuse humor into our works so there are likely undertones of Monty Python and Douglas Adams.  Hitchhiker’s is definitely one of my favorites.  For me, visual media is also very influential and I’d cite Blade Runner, Brazil, Star Trek, Star Wars, Quantum Leap, Doctor Who and THX-1138 as influences.  I like them because they are all story driven works and while they do sometimes utilize incredible effects, the engine is always a great story.

Given the setting of Cataclysm: The Myst Clipper Shicaine, have sailing ships and mercantile clippers always interested you?

Kerry:  For myself, they definitely have.  Cutty Sark, Sea Witch, Flying Cloud, so many of the great clippers ships.  Fast and maneuverable, they capture the imagination as no other ship of the time really could.

But more than that, I was intrigued by the period of time where sail was giving way to powered sail.  Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance was also fascinating to me.  Having both power and sail on the Shicaine and other Myst clippers was a natural fit due to the power requirements of sailing above a cloud that would dissolve your cargo, your ship and you if you ever happened to settle down into it.

Now purists will say that an engine would never be installed in a clipper ship, it would go against it’s purpose of being light, fast and maneuverable and they’d be right.  Shackleton’s ship was not a clipper but rather a Barquentine designed for polar work.  She was sturdy and heavy.

BUT, in our world- it’s doable.

John:  For me, not so much though I also grew up on the ocean, but I loved the idea of using ships as a method of conducting sentients through an underground railroad. It also provides an excellent environment for character development.

Why did you choose to published Cataclysm: The Myst Clipper Shicaine via e-book and print-on-demand?

Kerry:  The current pattern of “Traditional” publishing is a very economically demanding one.  Publishers may deal in the arts, but they are not creating “art for art’s sake.”  They have to try to gauge the market (which they’re generally good at), invest in making the product, marketing it, place it in stores and if it doesn’t sell- they buy the product back.

That’s pretty hard to make a profit doing so they really need proven winners.  Big names who will draw sales.  It’s increasingly rare that a publishing house will take a gamble on a new author without some sort of publishing record.  The same is true of Hollywood, hence the number of sequels and reboots.  A friend in the publishing business tells me that they DO sign debut authors at her house, so my knowledge in this area may be lacking.

E-publishing is democratizing writing in that anyone can access to having their work read.  If it sucks, it dies.  If it’s worth something word spreads.

John:  Two reasons.  The first is that so much of the industry is now geared towards the delivery of electronic content and it allows us to put the work in someone’s hands immediately. The second is that printing physical copies is expensive and requires a fair amount of storage space, so digital works better from that point of view.  But, we both love physical books because they’re tangible and tactile, and we believe that others do as well.  In fact, I think this is part of the reason for the resurgence of vinyl record albums.  We long to engage works with multiple senses.  So, print-on-demand was a way for us to have the best of both worlds.

Now that your novel is out, are their things you would have done differently?

Kerry:  We’re storytellers not really writers (though Elizabeth Haydon still holds out hope that we may become so somewhere in the far off future).  I’d say better planning and more efficient writing.  That said, with two people writing whatever came into their heads and then trying to get it all to mesh created a lot of depth and complexity.  In some cases we’ve had to create whole subplots to bridge gaps.

John:  You mean besides take fifteen years to write it?  Not really, because as first time novelists, we needed to develop and understand our process.  We both tend to be experiential learners, so jumping in and trying was an important part of our education.  But, there are things we did in the first book that we will not do in subsequent books. We have a better understanding of how to approach the writing process and we think that our readers would like to find out what happens to the Shicaine before we’re dead.

Speaking of the Shicaine, I very much enjoyed the feel of the merchant sailing ships that you pull off in the scenes set on the Shicaine herself.  Did you need a lot of research to get that sense?

Kerry:  I was out on the water from birth and was sailing from the time I was 12, though I’ve not had much opportunity since med school and fatherhood to do so.  Screaming along the water propelled by wind is one of the great experiences in life.  I think where we needed quite a bit of help was in nautical terminology.  We also had to hit the sweet spot between using proper terminology and not getting so lost in it that the reader couldn’t make out what we were saying.

John:  There is a certain knowledge base that you need in order to authentically represent the ship environment, particularly for readers who love this niche.  We are fortunate to have people in our lives with a great deal of knowledge and experience with ships, so we consulted with them on things like terminology and ship layout. We also worked on the premise that close quarters facilitate close relationships and in order for those to exist, we needed to invest in character development.  It was important to us that crewmembers have a history, shared values, and genuine regard for one another.  For those things I think we drew on our own relationship and that’s why the crewmembers approach each other with care, respect and humor.

Now, this book is told from multiple perspectives, and a lot of them at that.  Which characters do you really feel are the most central?  Which pull the story along the best or have hidden details within their story arcs?

Kerry: Derring is an embodiment of an idea that sometimes the most devout people in a religion are not the obvious ones.  In 37 years of dealing with people’s medical secrets I’ve found a fair number of devout people to be utter frauds.  Derring is an outcast among the devout, yet has done more to keep her faith intact than many others.  I find this a compelling situation.

Another is Gedrick.  He’s the quintessential amalgam. He is, for me, the embodiment of strength through diversity. By embracing all the world has to offer without prejudice he has become the strongest of the strong.  He carries with him enormous strengths born of diversity both within and without.  His crew are culled from the best of every zone and he carries gifts within himself from all the cultures.

I love that Derring and Gedrick have this epic love affair that can never be consummated.  They love each other, but in our lore when Lokaryn become aroused, they kill.  They would die for one another, they would sacrifice all for one another, but can never be together.

Of course the romantic in me can not let that stand and perhaps I have found a solution. . . .

John: For me Kell is a driving force. The idea of a vampyric character with multiple personality disorder just opened up so many interesting possibilities.  In spite of the obvious driven evil within the character, there is also a certain innocence and vulnerability because she is the victim and by-product of a fundamentalist worldview.  I also like that she allowed us to explore the concept of lokaryns and blood alcohol content.  That particular chapter still makes me laugh aloud.

I can really see how each of those work, and how they drive the story forward both as individuals and across the whole arc of the tale.  And that tale is kind of unique.  It is something I’ve noticed more and more recently with Indie books, some of the best ones really push the genres, and Cataclysm: The Myst Clipper Shicaine certainly does that. 

I look forward to other books set in this world.  Thanks you both for joining us.

Cataclysm: The Myst Clipper Shicaine is now available from Amazon and other book sellers in  hardback, paperback and ebook format.  You can by them by following clicking on the appropriate format above, or ordering them through a bookstore near you.


[1] I should note that, as it turns out, all three of us are graduates of The State University of New York, Center at Binghamton, which changed its public name from SUNY Binghamton to Binghamton University back in the late 80s.  Only a handful of crusty old timers still have any objection to this.  This common bond between us led to a quick camaraderie and many jokes and conversations not included in this interview…. Some unfit for publication anywhere….

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The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, Vol. 1, David Drake (Baen Books, 2009)

(Military Science Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera)


Grade: Γ — Good book within the genre.  Solid story, good characters, if you like this genre, read this book.

In brief:

This is the first volume of the definitive collection of David Drakes’ classic military science fiction stories featuring the armored mercenary unit, Hammer’s Slammers. Like any short story collection, it is a mixed bag, but includes some of the best of Drake’s work and has no real stinkers. If you’re a fan of MilFic and haven’t read them, or if you are interested in trying out military science fiction but don’t want to expend too much effort trying to see what the genre is about, this is a must read.


Set in the late 3rd Millienium, Hammer’s Slammers uses a classic far future Space Opera setting, with faster-than-light travel, and a selection of multiple independent governments whose sphere of control range from planetary continental to multiple star systems.  The stories focus on an exceptionally well fitted out armored mercenary unit and the remarkable hover tanks and hover cars that they use.  The adventures take place on a variety of planets, and as one might expect in a story about tankers, there are no space born adventures or starship battles.  This is a story about tanks, armored cars and above and beyond all else, the men and women who man them.

hammer__s_slammers_commission_by_shimmering_sword-d43xy2vIn Depth:

This is a classic collection.  David Drake helped pave the way for what is now the staple of military science fiction with this series of short stories about an elite mercenary corps armed with fusion powered hover tanks.  Beginning with the grim tale, “Under the Hammer,” the first story in this selection, Drake helped to define the morally ambiguous heroism that is central to the best Military Science Fiction works. \

Unlike either Starship Troopers (Heinlein, 1959), which paints a heroic picture of the sci-fi military life,[1] or The Forever War (Haldeman, 1974), which paints a particularly grim, dark and critical view of the military, Hammer’s Slammers shows both sides of the coin. He paints a multifaceted interpretation of soldiers and military life, and as such realistically portrays of the complexities of war and avoids any definitive judgment. It is a series where the soldiers are neither spotless heroes nor evil monsters; a reality where the service is neither a bastion of all that is good, nor a Machiavellian bureaucracy hell bent of war for war’s sake. To that end, it helped cement a path that has made for the best subsequent military science fiction, a world of grays where both systems and individuals can be wrong and right at the same time.

HammersSlammersCharactersDrake based these tales on his own experiences as a loader in Viet Nam and Cambodia.  According to the forward in this volume, much of what he wrote was done as a way of working through the horrors of what he witness, and it shows. Many of the stories depict horrific scenes of war, including some terrible actions by the mercenary protagonists of the series. Yet this is beautifully balanced by equally heroic and moral actions. Yet he never lets any choice appear easy, natural or foregone. They are choices, hard choices, and that is what makes the stories so appealing.

Literarily speaking, Drake uses the short story structure beautifully, allowing characters to live, die, prosper and fail appropriately depending on individual story arcs.  Yet there are characters, situations, and of course equipment that carry over across the stories, providing a solid pull from tale to tale.  Thus the collection continues even when specific characters don’t.

hammerhovercarcontrailerCentral to the collection is the eponymous Colonel Alois Hammer, the commander of the mercenary tank regiment that bears his name.  A brilliant military leader who is also skilled in political maneuvering, Hammer is a wonderfully flawed yet admirable leader who formed the mercenary unit to fill the niche needs of his home world.  To say too much more is to give away some of the adventure, but it is important to note that Hammer is not the main character of most of these stories.  Indeed, while he is a presence in most of them, the vast majority of tales focus on other characters, many of them making one off appearances even though they serve as the point-of-view character for the tale they are in.  Indeed, to that end, Hammer’s prime purpose in most of the book is almost setting, a backdrop against whom we grow to understand the POV characters in each tale. What works so well about this is that when we do see him as a main character, we see his flaws and strengths all the more vividly.

Just as significant a presence in the stories are the tanks and other vehicles that the unit uses.  True to any classic tale of Military Science Fiction, the gear has a central place in the series, so much so that there are chapters spliced between the stories that are dedicated to the equipment.  There are also tables of organization, logistics and general ‘future historic’ settings of the world itself. While it is possible for such explanatory chapters to break up the flow of a book, here they add to the stories, giving us insight and depth.

Hammer_M2_Ursa_Hovertank.jpgTo that end, the Supertanks are central to the book, almost serving as characters in and to themselves.  High computerized with an impressive array of firepower and informational displays, the tanks are one part tank and one part hovercraft.  Using almost limitless power from fusion engines, they have heavily armored lift-fans and ‘skirts’ to create a cushion of air on which they float. This makes for a  fast and powerful armored presence on the battlefield.  While there are times where this approach pushes the limits of my ability to suspend disbelief (due to the innate vulnerabilities of hovercrafts), the far future aspect of the setting allows me to push those aside.

Second to the tanks are the hovercraft combat cars that feature in many of the tales.  Fascinating and exciting, these faster, more versatile but infinitely less deadly vehicles are described with no less detail and appear in the series long before the tanks themselves.  Other equipment such as powerguns and the like are outlined in the book, building an interesting and believable world into which one can immerse oneself.

HammersSlammershovercars.jpgAs for the stories themselves, as with all such collections, some of the tales are better than others, yet there are no real failures. It begins with the first short story of the series, “Under The Hammer” which sets the feel for the volume as a whole.  It focuses on the first encounter of a young recruit to the armored mercenary unit that gives the book its name.  While its heavy use of jargon may prove a bit of a turn off to some readers, it remains one of the best military science fiction stories ever told.  After this installment, subsequent stories are a bit less jargon heavy, and the writing flows far better, yet of all the tales it is the first and the last in this book that stand out most strongly in my memory.

With twenty-one chapters/stand (mostly) alone stories in this volume alone, I obviously cannot go through the whole book. I will note, however, that certain thread tales throughout the book are brought to a remarkable end with the last short story in this volume.  To that end, this collection does something that very few manage – not only does it have a solid arch through its wide range of short stories, it also allows one to feel a sense of completion at the end of the volume despite the fact that there are subsequent volumes and novels in the collection as a whole.  To that end, it stands out as a fantastic read and could serve as a good place to begin one’s exploration of military science fiction.

[1] Though this interpretation is open to debate, and in my view, Heinlein’s classic MilFic tale is more subtle than it first appears.  See _LINK_

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