Multi-Genre Mega Giveaway—May 2017

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Movie Review—‘Arrival’

[Arrival Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Arrival’ (2016)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Paramount Pictures
PG-13
Log Line: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Boy, did I need to see this! 2016 was a tough year for many reasons, both generally and personally. It’s not often I watch a movie twice in a row, but after seeing ‘Arrival’ the first time the other night, I couldn’t wait to put it on again. I’ve always been a huge Amy Adams fan—two of my favorite movies of hers being ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Julie & Julia.’ She’s one of those rare actors who can exhibit both vulnerability and strength at the same time and break your heart in the process. And as a professor of linguistics trying to solve an impossible mystery, she is at the top of her game.

I won’t recount the story here—you can watch the trailer for that. But I will point out a few things I felt made this film—nominated for eight Academy Awards at the time of this writing—brilliant. First off, the writing. The story by Ted Chiang is filled with a profound sense of human longing—a longing to connect with something bigger. Many people interpret this as a search for God in our lives, and I happen to believe that. But I think, in general, people want to feel a part of something outside ourselves. Something that gives life meaning and us a purpose. The screenplay, based on that story, captures this feeling beautifully and reinforces it throughout so that by the time you arrive at the end, you can see.

The direction and cinematography were perfect for this kind of storytelling. Everything that happens is seen through Louise’s eyes, and we unravel the mystery with her. As if things weren’t difficult enough trying to decipher an alien language, she is always surrounded by strangers—army personnel and CIA operatives—whose purpose she can’t fathom and who seem to be in opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish. Inside the massive floating spacecraft, we lose our sense of direction. And the playing with time itself throughout is hypnotic.

Of course, any good movie has lots of conflict, which in this case is presented in the form of people’s paranoia about the aliens. The armies of the world all want to know what the aliens’ purpose is in coming here and, judging from their actions, they are all on a hair trigger. The director Denis Villeneuve captures this intense struggle with simplicity and clarity. And to balance things out—because not everyone in the military can be bad—we have the character of Colonel Weber, who is just trying to understand. Oh, and that soundtrack! Pay attention to the horns every time we see the aliens.

In the wrong hands, ‘Arrival’ could have turned into ‘Independence Day.’ Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed! No doubt, I will see it again.

You can find this review at IMDb. Now, check out this featurette.

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THE DARK DOZEN—Buy a Book, Save a Life!

I promise to be brief. A kind gentleman named Al Scarborough is in need of a new heart. When I was asked to participate in this project, I didn’t hesitate, though I’ve never actually met Al. So here’s the deal …

Twelve authors—including me—got together and contributed one short story each to a new horror and sci-fi collection called The Dark Dozen. All proceeds go to Al’s GoFundMe project. If you want to learn more about Al, you can read Maer Wilson’s blog post, “How My Chihuahua Almost Killed Al.”

You can find the book at Amazon. Just do it.

Book Blurb

[The Dark Dozen Cover]

This fund-raising anthology of Horror and Sci-Fi short stories was created to benefit Altoine Scarborough, a man in desperate need of a heart transplant. The stories, cover art, formatting, editing and compilation were all donated. Every penny of the royalties we receive will go to Al’s GOFUNDME project.

Vampires to ghosts to monsters—and futures we won’t want to see come true—fill this collection of dark stories that are sure to give you chills. This stellar, fan-favorite group, which includes award-winning and best-selling authors, brings a unique voice to some familiar and not-so-familiar creatures. Join Travis Luedke, C.N. Lesley, Danielle DeVor, Maer Wilson, Steven Ramirez, Jody A. Kessler, Louann Carroll, Ross G, Homer, M. Joseph Murphy, Robert P. Wills, Karenne Griffin, and Allan B. Anderson for a trip into the Darkness.

Available now at Amazon.

PLAYER PIANO—Long Live the Ghost Shirt Society!

I first read Player Piano in college, although I had been introduced to the world of Kurt Vonnegut in high school, courtesy of his hilarious sci-fi novel The Sirens of Titan. Player Piano was actually Vonnegut’s first novel, published in 1952 after he’d spent some three years working for GE in Public Relations. Apparently, it was there he learned how managers and engineers were held in such high regard, changing the world one machine at a time.

Vonnegut’s cautionary tale, filled with the dark comedy of a wise, plain-speaking jester from Indianapolis, was perfect for a postwar American audience moving inexorably toward an automated society. But reading it again now, I see a new relevance. We are in the midst of another transformation led by the Internet of Things and pricey wearables. And if you can believe the predictions of Ray Kurzweil, soon we will become the machines—a perfect blending of flesh and titanium.

Player Piano is brilliant and still relevant. If you haven’t read this book, I encourage you to give it a try. Sure, you’ll laugh, but watch out. The next time you are chatting up Siri, you’ll shudder. Long live the Ghost Shirt Society!

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Player Piano Cover]

Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel spins the chilling tale of engineer Paul Proteus, who must find a way to live in a world dominated by a supercomputer and run completely by machines. Paul’s rebellion is vintage Vonnegut—wildly funny, deadly serious, and terrifyingly close to reality.

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“The Laptev Virus”—A Worthy Successor to “The Andromeda Strain”

Okay, let’s get to the point. I thought The Laptev Virus is a great read. For me, this is a solid sci-fi story rooted in actual science. As an author, I like to come up with some pretty bizarre situations myself. And usually I find myself making everything up—taking care to at least make the premise believable so as not to lose the reader. But it’s refreshing to read a story written by a scientist. This author not only has a wonderful imagination, but she has the scientific chops to back up what she’s selling. And trust me, when it comes to megaviruses, it ain’t pretty, folks.

Michael Crichton, an author who was also a physician and had a wicked imagination, was great at combining real-world science with entertaining fiction. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed The Andromeda Strain so much—both the book and the movie. To me, the key to any memorable story is that it must be plausible. And like Crichton’s work, The Laptev Virus challenges the reader. There’s a lot of technical jargon in the book, but it serves a purpose. As an example, I am now terrified of cats!

So if you like sci-fi backed by solid research, then I can heartily recommend this book.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[The Laptev Virus Cover]

In this hard sci-fi techno thriller, scientists have recently discovered the existence of megaviruses: viruses up to a thousand times larger than any viruses that we have known before. What if one of these newly found viruses was a human pathogen? Christy Esmahan’s fourth novel, THE LAPTEV VIRUS, begins with the discovery of just such a virus in the Laptev Sea basin by a company drilling for oil. Investigators in Houston race against the ticking clock of the short Arctic summer to discover a way to protect workers from the virus before competitors drain the basin of its rich resources…and before anyone else dies from the hemorrhagic fever that the Laptev virus causes.

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“Tales to Count On”—Subtle Humor Flavored with Dread

I love this collection of stories! And I especially appreciate that the author is as comfortable in the past as she is in the present. Two of my favorites are “Him” and “The Map Room.” The writing is precise and well researched—two qualities that as both a writer and reader I value tremendously. And the tone … What to say about that? For me, the best way to describe this author’s voice is, subtle humor flavored with dread—a little like some of the best ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes. Reading each story is like finishing a nice cup of tea, only to discover something unsettling at the bottom. If you are looking for the fun and the unusual, I recommend this collection. Oh, and don’t forget the tea.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Tales to Count On Cover]

Curl up and enter the eclectic world of S. R. Mallery, where sad meets bizarre and deception meets humor; where history meets revenge and magic meets gothic. Whether it’s 500 words or 5,000, these TALES TO COUNT ON, which include a battered women’s shelter, childhood memories, Venetian love, magic photographs, PTDS fallout, sisters’ tricks, WWII spies, the French Revolution, evil vaudevillians, and celebrity woes, will remind you that in the end, nothing is ever what it seems.

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‘Lucy’—Asking the Wrong Question

Photo Courtesy of IMDb
[‘Lucy’ Poster]Lucy’ (2014)
Directed by Luc Besson
Screenplay by Luc Besson
Action | Sci-Fi
Stars Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi
Universal
Rated R
Log Line: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

I saw the much-anticipated ‘Lucy’ last weekend and, before going into my review, I’d like to make a few preliminary comments. First, I am a huge fan of Luc Besson. Ever since ‘La Femme Nikita,’ I was convinced this guy could do no wrong. Second, I am in love with Scarlett Johansson—don’t tell my wife. Third, I’m very aware that no matter what I say here, this movie will make a ton of money. So that said, what’s my take?

I was disappointed.

This Was Two Movies
Apparently, ‘Lucy’ couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. On the one hand, it is a smart, funny, bloody sci-fi thriller that doesn’t skimp on the action. On the other, it’s an vfx-laden treatise on the history of man and his ability to utilize the untapped potential of his brain. Judging by the official trailer, I was promised the former. And I was getting it in all its Luc Besson glory until Lucy finally meets Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman in Paris.

There was an upside to the mindy, spacey stuff that takes us from man’s beginnings with the original Lucy to the wonders of the universe. I enjoyed the visual effects—especially when Lucy stops Time with a wave of her hand. Sure, that’s cool. And the movie came in at ninety minutes, which meant we weren’t saddled with a slow-moving second act. But when the screenwriter stops caring that Lucy is on the lam and an evil Korean guy is after her, and opts instead to focus on her morphing into a frickin’ computer made of giant Nutella-like tendrils, that’s when you lose me.

Every Hero Needs an Arc
This is a basic tenet of screenwriting. As we’ve learned over the years, it’s the Hero’s Journey, people. The hero—or the protagonist—reluctantly sets off on a journey where a bunch of stuff happens. Whether it’s good or bad stuff doesn’t really matter. In the end it’s life changing. And there’s always a final battle, which the hero must win. Then he returns home changed and tells the others what he learned. The model may be old, going all the way back to Gilgamesh, but it works.

So what happened to Lucy? Well, she didn’t come back! Instead of an arc, we got a trajectory. She never gets to have the final battle with Mr. Jang—that’s left to the battle-weary French cop Pierre Del Rio. Once Lucy’s brain reaches a hundred percent utilization, she trips off somewhere beyond Time and Space, probably meeting up with an alternate universe version of herself, which is the OS from ‘Her.’ Seriously? What am I supposed to do with pure energy? I invested a lot of my emotions in this woman, and now she just disappears? And just like Professor Norman, I am left with nothing but a thumb drive with a bunch of ones and zeroes on it. Great. I guess I should start that backup now. Oh wait, she melted all the computers.

How Might This Have Worked?
The movie already has the elements of a great sci-fi action thriller—bad guys, experimental drugs, exotic locations and a woman who, though she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, starts out dumb as spit when it comes to choosing men. Speaking of bad guys, the only thing better than a Korean bad guy is pairing him with an English bad guy. Bravo, Luc!

As I said before, I was good with everything until the fateful meeting with Professor Norman. Previously, she had only spoken to him by phone or video screen. He was becoming her Alfred. But once she meets with the good professor and other scientists, we’re transported to the Science Channel as Lucy’s brain utilization increases and everyone discusses the nature of Time and Space. At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if everyone adjourned to a nice restaurant and spent the next five hours discussing Sartre or the symbolism behind clowns in horror movies.

Here’s my idea for a third act. When Mr. Jang and his army arrive at the university to kill Lucy, she is already starting to lose her powers because the drug is wearing off. That, coupled with a blinding headache and other side effects from the drug, it’s a question of whether she can still take out the bad guys before they can kill her. A massive final battle ensues where everything—the university, everything—is destroyed as Lucy battles with Mr. Jang and his men while becoming weaker and weaker.

At a critical moment, Mr. Jang shoots Lucy. Weak and bloody she still manages to send him to hell. Then she collapses as the professor makes his way to her. As the professor examines her, he realizes that she is once again human. How? Well, her irises appear normal. Working fast, he and Del Rio get her to the hospital, where surgeons operate on her and she recovers.

Epilogue. Lucy is standing outside the airport with Del Rio. She’s going home to see her parents. He says, “I guess we’ll never know what would have happened had you hit a hundred percent.” Just then, a toddler drifts into the path of an oncoming taxi, his mother running after him and screaming in French. Suddenly, the taxi stops completely, as if Time itself had stopped. The crying mother retrieves her child as Del Rio stares at Lucy in amazement. “What?” she says, smiling. Then she kisses the cop on the cheek and walks into the terminal. Setup for a sequel? You bet.

The Wrong Question
Every great movie asks a question at the beginning that must be answered at the end. In ‘Lucy,’ the question appears to be “what would happen if we could access our whole brain instead of just ten percent?” To me, that’s the wrong question. It has nothing to do with a hero’s life. What happened to Lucy could have happened to anyone—the conniving boyfriend, the French cop or Professor Norman.

I think a better question is, “Will Lucy become the person she is meant to be?” With my ending, I think the movie would have answered that. It still would have been a kick-ass story and we would have left the theatre satisfied that Lucy completed the hero’s journey.

It’s Spring—Time to Kill Some Zombies!

[TMWID Axe Detail]Wow, I thought this day would never come! Sorry, it’s just that I’ve been slaving away since last fall, trying to cook up a killer sequel to my zombie novel, Tell Me When I’m Dead. When I started on this journey over a year ago, along with Dave, Holly, Warnick and the others, I imagined that a story about an antihero forced to confront a plague of flesh-eating “draggers” in his little town of Tres Marias would essentially be a one-off—a roller coaster to hell that would explode into a fireball. Let the poor guy suffer, save his wife, kill the bad guys who, in the midst of the terror and the mayhem, want to take over the world. Then send him home.

The problem was, once I got through the craziness of twenty-seven chapters of running, fighting and killing, I realized that there was still so much to tell. How did the outbreak begin? Would those responsible ever be brought to justice? I just had to start a second book. Well, now that it’s finished, I can assure you, it’s going to be even darker and more hellish.

In the meantime, I wanted to give you the chance to read the first book—and save money, too. So from May 2nd through 6th, I am offering Tell Me When I’m Dead for 99 cents. (The normal price is $3.99.) So far, the book has received many four- and five-star reviews. Go ahead, have a look.

[Tell Me When I’m Dead Book Cover]

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Amazon Reviews
“There’s a difference between reading a book and watching a movie. I can get scared with either, but there are scenes in books that I can picture vividly for a long long time afterward, and this book has plenty of those.”

“Holy cow, what a great page turner this was. I thoroughly enjoyed a hero that had issues, and was working through problems—definitely someone I could relate to. All the other character in the book- well written and also fun to read and learn about. Until you lost one. Then it’s “NO!! NOT HIM!” I tell you, Steven Ramirez kills more people than all the Whedon brothers combined!!”

“This is one helluva zombie book! Steven Ramirez takes us on a bloody, terrifying ride through this hell on Earth he’s created, giving us plenty of backstory to skillfully develop his awesome characters.”

“One word of advice: I don’t often yell at my eReader but I did after reading the last line of this book. I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t read this yet but I will tell you it left me a hot, angry mess. Why, oh why, isn’t there a sequel yet? Get on that, would you, Steven!”

“So fasten your seatbelts and take a wild slay ride into hell in North California where if you are lucky dinner will not be served on a splatter. A FIVE STAR gorefest and a must read for all zombie fans looking for something fresh and still warm.”

Blurb
If the zombies don’t kill you, people will.

Lucky to have made it to his early twenties, Dave Pulaski wandered through life lost and drunk with his best friend Jim. Then came Holly. She made it her mission to clean him up. And he finally did it. Two years sober, Dave has plans for a family, a steady job and college.

One night Jim disappears, leaving a grisly trail of animal carcasses and murdered bodies. Now Missy, the woman Dave cheated with, threatens to destroy not only his marriage but his sobriety. Between Missy’s jealous demands for attention and the police investigation focused on Jim’s disappearance, Dave’s neatly ordered world quickly spirals out of control.

Amid the wreckage of Dave’s personal life, a contagion brings chaos to his hometown of Tres Marias. The condition, known as “the jimmies,” infects hundreds and kills quickly. But the dead find no rest. They rise as ravenous flesh-eaters.

Dave soon learns that “not all draggers want to eat your flesh, some want revenge.” And Jim and Missy, both infected, each want something from Dave.

The quarantine of Tres Marias creates hell on Earth. Badly outnumbered security forces are no match for the growing hordes of undead.

Follow Dave, Holly and a small band of heavily armed soldiers and civilians as they fight to survive looters, paramilitary nut jobs and the zombie apocalypse.

If the zombies don’t kill them, the wackos surely will. Nowhere is safe.

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Is Teen Fiction Loyal to Teens?

By Travis Luedke

[Travis Luedke]As an author, I write both teen and adult fiction. Though there are many similarities between the two styles and novels, there is one major difference that seems to be missing from some of today’s teen fiction: teenage life and issues.

Teens live in a world dominated by school, peer pressure, raging hormonal drives, bossy adults (parents?) and on many occasions, a highly dysfunctional family setting. Teens are mostly dependent on these family members who may not be very trustworthy or dependable. Teens have all the thoughts, feelings and urges of adults, but they haven’t quite adjusted to that world yet.

Their existence is a purgatory floating between childish carefree abandon and the weight of responsibility and freedoms of adulthood.

These young adults are told to behave, as though children, and yet, at the same time, they are expected to tackle adult tasks like college applications, job hunting, dating, driving, and all the pressures of the real world. It’s no wonder they seem schizophrenic at times. The constant mixed signals are enough to confuse anyone.

Do we expect them to act like adults while treating them as children? Yes, we do.

In the world of teen fiction, there are many novels today that seem to have forgotten what it means to be a teenager.

So, as you scour the shelves for YA/teen novels, ask yourself, how many books have you found that are loyal to teens and the challenges they face? Many of these books are simply a platform for some adult to talk down to teenagers in an attempt to preach adult values and morals.

In writing for teens, please remember that acne-ridden, awkward, voice-breaking, hair-growing time in life when very little made sense, especially if it was coming from a math teacher, but somehow, someway, we survived to adulthood. Remember how it felt when some adult started preaching about making choices and taking on responsibilities, and growing up, and then proceeded to tell you that you cannot have the shoes you want, and you cannot go out past 10:00 p.m., and if your hands ever touch that girl’s ass again, they will be hacked off with a blunt instrument.

In writing my first ever YA novel, I endeavored to craft a story about teens, for teens, a snapshot of that insane, difficult time in our lives when nothing makes sense, but we are expected to understand it all anyway.

About The Shepherd
“Skate punks, kleptomaniacs, clairvoyant visions and reincarnation…”

“…THE SHEPHERD is unlike any other Young Adult novel you have ever read.”

Mike Evans here. Sixteen year old skate punk squatting in a white-trash trailer park with my loser drunk Dad. Seems I lost most of my friends when Dad lost our home in foreclosure. Only Anita stuck by me. Worse, I keep having strange clairvoyant visions of things that always come true.

Then I almost ran over Nadia in my Geo. A passing truck finished the job – left a crumpled heap of skin and bone on the road. I fixed her. Me.

Now this fourteen year old girl won’t leave me alone. I sorta let her sneak in my window when she needs a place to crash.

I have a double life: daytime at school, Anita, skating, and then my nights with Nadia. She’s my secret friend, gives me money and listens to my problems when nobody else will.

My world is spinning out of control. Old friends have turned enemy, my grisly visions of death won’t quit, and Anita’s intentions make my head spin. Even with all that, I’ve got bigger stuff to worry about.

Nadia’s hiding something.

[The Shepherd Cover]

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About the Author
Travis Luedke is a husband, father, and author of Urban Fantasy Thriller, Paranormal Romance, Contemporary Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, and Sci-fi. He is currently catching a 3rd degree sunburn in San Antonio, Texas, and loving every minute of it.

As the author of the Nightlife Series novels, Travis lives very vicariously through his writings. He invites you to enjoy his macabre flights of fancy, but be warned: The Nightlife Series is violent, sexy, and occasionally violently sexy.

You can find Travis at www.twluedke.com, on Facebook, on Goodreads and on Twitter.

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