Blogger news

Short Fiction Friday: The Flames of Cyzicus

The Flames of Cyzicus by Nick Brown, Agent of Rome #1.5

Set between the events of 'The Siege' and 'The Imperial Banner', this compelling short story follows imperial agent Cassius Corbulo as he investigates a mysterious series of fires. 

Ever since having had the pleasure of reading The Siege, the first book in Nick's Brown Historical Fantasy series Agent of Rome, I have been hooked. Over the time with The Black Stone and The Far Shore I have only come to like this series more. When it comes to Historical Roman Fiction Nick Brown is definitely the author to follow. 

The two short stories so far that featured in this universe all focused on different characters, with The Flames of Cyzicus, Nick Brown puts the focus on Cassius Corbulo and how he became the man that we see in his books. Which is a big plus for me as the protagonist Cassius Corbulo is just spot and definitely one of my favorites.

The story of The Flames of Cyzicus picks up in between the events of The Siege and The Imperial Banner. In The Siege Cassius got a promotion, he has gained a lot of responsibilities. One day Cassius finds himself in the city of Cyzicus located in Anatolia (currently better known as Turkey). Here Cassius is charged with making sure everything is in tip top shape for when a Legion of Rome comes for a visit. Well just as when Cassius thought this would be an easy task, trouble comes knocking on his door. In the middle of the night several granaries go up in smoke, the losses though minor at the start become much more significant at the long run. If Cassius wants to have anything left he has to get into action as soon as possible. Luckily Cassius has been trained to be a frumentarii, Rome's secret service so he knows his way around such things. Cassius starts to ask the locals questions and with their cooperation he is able to get a lead, a lead linking to Vulcan the Roman god of fire. Now here the story takes a turn, up until now it was a lot of investigation and talk, but when Cassius meet the person who is responsible. WOW. I think this is how an such a person think about fires like: ‘They think the water will save them,’ hissed Lykourgos. ‘But the flames will always return, they will cover everything, they will-’. It's only great to see Cassius response, ending with mad bastard. 

Once again Nick Brown has delivered a great story, he clearly proves that you dont need 300+ pages to write a story but that he can deliver one with the same impact with only 30ish pages. Just in the first few paragraphs of the story I felt at home the city of Cyzicus, it felt authentic. I know the fifth book in the Agent of Rome series is published this summer but how I wished I had it waiting to be read at this moment. Nick Brown is definitely one of my favorite historical authors out there. If you haven't read one of his stories so far, be ashamed/  

Book Review: Flex

Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz

FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.

FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.

PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.

But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.


Some books deserves a, no need a direct sequel. Flex is one of them to be sure. Ferret Steinmetz has written a lot of short fiction to some big magazine, I think Flex is his first full length fiction book. As I always say Urban Fantasy is very popular genre and every author interprets it differently, I can safely say that I read some very diverse Urban Fantasy so to come with something that I haven't read before takes some creativity, and this is precisely what Ferrett Steinmetz brings to the table. A very unique magic system that is above many other things just pretty darn awesome to read. Lets hope this is just the start of a something fresh and exciting in the genre. 

The story of Flex centers around Paul Tsabo, a retired policeman who now finds himself working for the Samaritan Insurance company on a bureaucratic desk job, using his bureaumancer abilities daily. During his time at the force he had a run in with an illusiomancer and his foot got crushed and he now wears a titanium alloyed one. Since Paul is well familiar with mancers, having dealt with them on the force and being one himself he is the best appointed guy for the Samaritan Insurance company to deal with mancer related claims. Now you might wonder what is so bad about using a little magic? The whole of Europe got destroyed by use of this flex magic (I will get more into detail what flex magic is) and America has taken the necessary action to contain and control flex users... So you can imagine that Paul walks a very thin line... One day when Paul's daughter, Aliya, is at his place a terrorist mancer strike hits his appartment building teribbly wounding his daughter in the process. The big insurance company for which Paul works is refusing to cover the costs for her, she got burned terribly and need a lot of work down. You can imagine that Paul is pissed, first he wants to get revenge and secondely he need to find a way to help Aliya get back on her feet again. There isn't much left to do but follow the trail and get into the dark alleys where the dangerous Flex dealers dwell. Here he meets up with another mancer, a videomancer called Valentine who is able to take on the identity of videogame characters. They divise a plan to help Paul raise the money to help his daughter but when you start making Flex, you open a whole can of worm and before Paul knows it, he is up to his knees in trouble.

I really like the story that Ferrett Steinmetz put down in Flex, as I mentioned above this is precisely the type of story that I seek, authors that do something new and bring a refreshing air to fiction. The story is very cleverly put together it is not just a simple magic system its complex. Luckily the writing style of Ferret Steinmetz is clear and very good to understand, though in some points during the story I had to reread some paragraphs to make it be more understandable for me. Mainly because of the cool idea behind the book Flex magic, I was so drawn into the story that I just had to finish this book no matter the cost. 

Well I have been talking about Flex a few times already but what is Flex? Flex is the magic system, it is something that mancers (people who have the magic powers) can turn into Flex. Which other people in turn can use. Mancer themselves can use there powers without having to take in Flex. As the name implies, with Flex you can bend reality to your liking, you can do whatever you want. But with such a things comes a heavy price known as Flux. Since you are flexing reality, bending it, it is not natural and nature itself fights against it, so everytime you bend it, you get a backlash depending on what you wanted to heavy. Just to name an example of Flex powers, Paul is able, with his bureaucramancy to flex contracts one very cool ability that he has is that he can write something up in a contract and sign it (not even physically) and bam the contract works, think of conjuring a car through a DMV paper, or even so far as finding the person who signed the contract. It's very versatile and I think you will be amazed by what Ferrett Steinmetz will have in story for you. Next to the powers of Paul, there are I think unlimited mancer types, some others that are mentioned in the book are polkamancy, death metalmancy and illustromancers. All of these have there own strong and weak points. The great thing about Flex is, is that it is naturally balanced by the Flux, there is always a drawback and no one is ever powerful.

As for the characters, Paul get the most screen. I liked his character from the start. A divorced father who tries to make the best of his situation and cares dearly for his daughter. He and his ex-wife are still on ok footing but there are tensions. Just a few pages in I found that Ferrett Steinmetz did a very good job in showing real characters. Paul is flawed but he wants to make the best of his situation. Next to Paul, Aliya his daughter also get a nice highlight, she is young girl and doesn't know what her father is, I mean to say Paul being a mancer and all, but during the course of the story, things are changing... especially by the introduction of Valentine, a chubby girl but excellent mancer, who become good friends and from who Aliya can lend all the videogames she want during her recovery. Valentine was for em a complicated character and I think in the end it is best to say that Valentine doesn't really know what she wants. One thing that is always a plus for me is showing the bad guys, well there are plenty of them here, as Paul has to deal with a lot of scum who deal in Flex. Though I liked that Ferrett Steinmetz showed Gunza, I just wanted to have that part to have more to it, yes he is a basterd but it felt a bit to sudden in certain scenes. But overall Gunza perspective added a lot of flavour to the story and gave it a nice roundness. 

I am going to repeat myself. Flex needs a direct sequel! period. I am always on the look out for the next thing in fantasy and Ferrett Steinmetz' Flex completely lives up to this promise. It's fresh, it's exciting and it's a whole lot of fun to read. It could also be the pubilsher to be honest as the majority of the books that I read from Angry Robots fall into the category of genre pushing. In Flex Ferret Steinmetz introduces an flexable world (to a certain degree), some very well fleshed out characters and of course one of the coolest magical system that I have the pleasure of reading about. Highly recommended!

Book Review: Horns

Horns by Joe Hill

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with one hell of a hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned American musician, and the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more - he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.


Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone - raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances - with Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, Ig was and always would be guilty.


Now Ig is possessed with a terrible new power - with just a touch he can see peoples' darkest desires - to go with his terrible new look, and he means to use it to find the man who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It's time for a little revenge; it's time the devil had his due.


As some of you might know I am a big fan of Stephen King, just when I was looking up more information about Joe Hill did I find out that he is the son of the legend. Now I don't want to compare father and son because every writer should be judged one his own. But I do have to say that it is genetics. Joe Hill shows with Horns that he is a tremendous author, this is book was highly entertaining and thoroughly crept me out at night, not so much by the scenes but by the thought of what the Horns did to the people. This book messes with your mind. 

The story of Horns focuses around the young man Ignatius (shortened to Ig) Perrish, a boy who grew into a wealthy family, his father is a well known musician and his brother is a famous TV-star, and what is Ig? Well he is a bit of a mess, in his current state. He has turned into something of a rebel, all of this due to one horrific event. Once upon a time, or actually still, Ig loves Merrin, a girl he dated a few summers back, the feeling was mutual and they had big plans. Then this one night Merrin was brutally raped and murdered and all fingers pointed in the direction of Ig, the evidence wasn't substantial towards Ig and he was released of the charges but everyone still accuses Ig of murdering Merrin... Now back to the present as Ig wakes up one morning with something more than a hangover, when he wakes up after a long night of drinking he feels something sticking out of his head. He has grown horns overnight. Now as one person said with great power comes great responsibility, these horns aren't just for decorative purposes. They grant Ig power, a power he uncovers very soon. Horns, these types, are associated with a of course Satan himself, they are devils horns and Ig's powers are that he is able to compel other people to talk about their sins. He first learns about this unwittingly but quickly comes to understand that he could use his newly gained power to find out what happened to Merrin, last time Ig checked, it's quite a sin to murder and commit rape. Now his brother Terry mentions something to Ig when he is held in the horns "sway". Lee, more than a friend to Ig might be more involved than Ig first dared to have guessed. Now Ig wants to find out exactly what happened to Merrin, he wants answers, no demands them, no matter the cost... 

This above is only the current time of the story of Horns as Joe Hill also weaves the story of how Ig and Merrin first met in church and what set their relation off in the early days. How deeply they were in love. I really liked how many facets in this flashback story were linked to the current frame and how well it in the end all came together. This story had everything of what a young and first relation is about, discovering yourself and the other, and sadly for Ig something more...

The more I come to think of it the more I like the story of Horns, the interplay between the two stories and the depth and exposure that was given to the characters and background of everything really great an engaging read that I couldn't put down. Though one small thing: I knew that Daniel Radcliffe played Ig in the movie (haven't watched it though) but his face did come popping up everyonce in a while when I was reading about Ig. 

As I already said the focus on the story is all about Ig and him getting his justice. Ig's character in my opinion complex. In the beginning of the book reading that he was more than wasted and living with a terrible girlfriend made me think he was a bit of a deadbeat, but then I knew his parents were rich and his brother had a lot of success so I had to change that to perhaps the child that wanted or his parents forced him to much, the pressured kid basically. However Ig also had a good education and even an overseas job offer so he had chances but everything was ruined the day Merrin was murdered. His life got ruined. Several of these emotions resonate very nicely throughout Ig's journey in Horns. Now added to Ig there are several other characters that you follow through Ig's eyes. I already mentioned Lee, well he is a piece of work. He really is. I both loved and hated his character. Loved him in the beginning and near the end hated him, not how Joe Hill portrayed him but how a baster he proved to be. Just as these two characters Ig's brother and his girlfriend Merrin are all character that add a lot to the completeness of the story. 

One thing that I really liked about the book was the horns itself. How Joe Hill showed the power of it. It took me a while to see people confess the bad and nasty things they did to Ig when he was around. They completely enthrall people and then some. These really boardered on something psychotic, very cool. 

It does come down to the bottom line and that is Horns is pretty damn awesome. I have read my fair share of supernatural trhillers over the years but with Horns Joe Hill introduces something not seen before, it's not a complete embodient of the devil but holds in the lines. A perfect story that will creep you out and play with your emotions. And at the heart of it all yes a love story, gone wrong. 
 

Book Review: Sword of the North

Sword of the North by Luke Scull, The Grim Company #2

As Davarus Cole and his former companions were quick to discover, the White Lady’s victorious liberation of Dorminia has not resulted in the freedom they once imagined. Anyone perceived as a threat has been seized and imprisoned—or exiled to darker regions—leaving the White Lady’s rule unchallenged and absolute. But the White Lady would be wiser not to spurn her former supporters: Eremul the Halfmage has learned of a race of immortals known as the Fade, and if he cannot convince the White Lady of their existence, all of humanity will be in danger.

Far to the north, Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf continue their odyssey to the High Fangs only to find themselves caught in a war between a demon horde and their enemy of old, the Shaman. And in the wondrous city of Thelassa, Sasha must overcome demons of her own.

 
2013 was a year of some tremendous debuts, amongst other was the release of Luke Scull's The Grim Company. A hard hitting, grimdark in true dark colors Epic Fantasy story. It hit all the right snares and cam to show that Luke Scull's background in RPGs gave him a definite edge when it came to writing his debut. It was action packed and full of cool idea's. But then the day has to come to publish the sequel, I thought it was planned last year but it was postponed to March earlier this year. When I picked up Sword of the North I was full of expectations, to be honest, I missed the "click" personally that I had with the first book.

The story picks up with some events that took place in the past. About 40 years past with Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf. This marks one of the two storyline that you follow. The second storyline takes place in their current timeframe and revisits a lot of characters to whom we were introduced to in the first book. Brodar Kayne and his friend Jerek the Wolf, as well as, Davarus Cole, Eremul the Halfmage and Sasha.

In the past storyline the full focus is on Brodar and Jerek and how their earlier journeys went, I am always a big fan when a author implements such a thing in their book, devoting many chapters to great a very nice backstory to a main protagonist. Brodar Kayne is better known as The Sword of the North, and in this part of the story you learn just how he earned this title and what he is capable of. What for me was very striking was that Luke Scull doesn't at all portray all the main characters as immortals, yes they might have terrible powers, but on more than one occasion, Brodar was in a whole heap of trouble and should count himself blessed of getting out alive, yes alive and not unscathed! There are some great revelations packed in this storyline, some more that deadly character that are bound to have an impact in the third book. 

The current storyline is shown by many a perspective. To start with one: Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf, they are making their way back to where it all started for Brodar, making the long trek to the High Fangs. Brodar has grown old in the last years but he is still bound by his honor and feels he has one last mission in him. However as Brodar and Jerek come closer to their journey they have to battle hordes of demonic creatures (Luke Scull once again shows that he knows how to write some cool action scene, top stuff). Though this path is one of a lot of resistance, Brodar and Jerek don't give up, Brodar has set his mind on seeing Mhaira and the Shaman once again... 

Next up is the (in)famed Halfmage Eremul, yes he is literally in half, missing his legs. I really liked the part of Eremul, in the first book we knew that he was left in the mercy of the Mage Lord Salazar to live. There was a bit a change around him, for the better. Eremul resides in the city Dorminia and has stumbled upon something that will impact a lot. An immortal race known as the Fade who threaten the world and all of its existence. Something can still be done, but The White Lady, Eremul's current employer doesn't really take Eremul series. Introducing such a bigger aspect was really cool and does expand the promise of the story a lot. 

In Thelassa you have the story of the saboteur Sasha and her sister Ambryl. Sasha had a relation with Davarus Cole and now she misses him and seeks comfort in a very dangerous and addictive drug better known as hashka. So basically her story of grief is told with a lot of high a low moments, eventhough Davarus is said to be dead, Sasha holds on to that remaining bit of believe that Davarus is still alive. Ambryl is or was an assassin who due to events has to take on a different job function. But who is the wiser.. ? 

Davarus Cole, is recovering in the meantime from the events that happened in the first book. So I guess you can say Sasha was right. Everything has shattered around this big hero, Davarus is far from what he was once upon a time and has to find his right mindset back again. During Davarus adventure there are just as with Brodar's one some nice revelations and one that will mark Davarus as something definitely bigger was this intentional? A bigger question that remains to be answered is if Davarus is up to the task to be that person. 

This is the basic outline of the story of Sword of the North something that feels divided and perhaps this was a concious decision to spread the story and highlight different aspects of the bigger picture. For me it fetl in the end harder to connect with several characters. Now I am not saying that the story is bad, no not at all, it felt different in the end. I am also still very eager to see where Luke Scull will let this story end in the third volume, with all that we have seen so far the ending will be undoubtely a very, very big one. 

One thing in where Sword of the North excels in once again is the tight action. This is something where I have to give Luke Scull a lot of praise. The action scenes, be it the sword fights of Brodar and Jerek or the magic standoffs with the Mage Lords, are tight. Luke Scull captures in these brief scenes just what it means to get your reader strapped in for more of the same. The way that the action is described is done perfectly especially when you take into account the bigger picture of it all, when just for the battle the story seems to slow down and all of a sudden BAM, action takes place and it slowly winds down again. A perfect showing writing up an engaging story. Overall the whole story moves at a very nice pacing, not to fast and not to slow. 

Sword of the North is a solid continuation of the stellar debut The Grim Company that Luke Scull delivered to us in 2013. If you are into Epic Fantasy this series should be on your to read list. Luke Scull's background in RPG design has given him a definite edge when it comes to designing and executing his story. In the first book Luke Scull showed some memorable character which he highlights and develops on some fronts further as valuable players, all must have something to do with the third and final book of the story. And jsut lastly, the action in this series so far has been relentless, jsut the way I like to see it. Fast, brutal and a whole lot of cool. That thing with the mage circle - WOW - amazing stuff.

Book Review: The Mechanical

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, The Alchemy Wars #1

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to be by my human masters.

I am a clakker: a mechanical man, powered by alchemy. Armies of my kind have conquered the world - and made the Brasswork Throne the sole superpower.

I am a faithful servant. I am the ultimate fighting machine. I am endowed with great strength and boundless stamina.

But I am beholden to the wishes of my human masters.

I am a slave. But I shall be free.


I learned about this book last year during my LonCon3 visit, the premise sounded amazing and ever since having read Bitter Seeds and Something More Than Night I have been very taken by the way that Ian Tregillis devises his stories, they are great to start with but have much more working in their favor, they have big idea's, very creative and are to be honest in certain parts quite ruthless. The Mechanical is the lastest addition to the so far impressive line up of books that Ian Tregillis has written, and with it he has really out done his previous works. This is amazing stuff.

The story of The Mechanical picks up in an alternate version of The Netherlands in the early 1900s. The Netherlands had some very talented scientists in that day Antoine van Leeuwenhoek who invented the microscope and Christiaan Huygens who invented the pendulum clock. Now in the version that Ian Tregillis creates, Christiaan Huygens did something more, he fused alchemy and chemistry together and created a thinkable automaton, a mechanical being, a Clakker. However there is a catch though as these Clakkers are controlled by a geas in which they have to be obedient to their masters else the Clakkers will suffer a lot of pain. Clakkers made for extremely helpful servant, they don't tire easily but well they also helped in a different way. That of making the Dutch the superior power on Earth as no soldier could withstand the relentlessness of the Clakker Army. In the beginning of the story of The Mechanical you learn that the French still have spies in The Hague trying to learn about the secrets of the Clakkers in order to defeat them. Some spies have their cover blown and the result is public hanging. Here you meet Jax, a Clakker and servant the Schoonraad family. With Jax' introduction you get to see more and more about the Clakkers and what makes their cogs whir and spin, like the power of the geas. The Schoonraad family is on the brink of moving to New Amsterdam, (currently better known as New York). Here Jax is task by a reverent to relocate a microscope to his contact their. But along the journey something happens to Jax, of course for the better for his own persona but it does make his new journey in New Amsterdam that more perilous. One word: Free Will. Yes, it hits the fan with a lot of consequences... 

As with the other books that Ian Tregillis, this short summary above doesn't come near to do justice to the whole book. As I already said in the very beginning, Ian Tregillis knows how to spin a story and this book is a brilliant story. It highlights many facets of course we Dutch being evil harr! but also shows what we Dutch have brought to the world history, we might have been a small country but our contribution to science has been very large. Don't think that this is pure science story, it's it by far, granted the occasional mentioning of Clakker engineering is mentioned but this is a fusion product, which makes a very interesting air around it all. Now what makes for me the feeling of the story truly complete is the mentioning of Free Will, there is a high emphasis on this aspect, Ian Tregillis even goes so far as provoking me (i think you as well) as thinking about Free Will and what is actually is. Great to see it being used in this way, gives a nice emotional spin to the story. All these facets dress the alternate version really really well. 

Added to this come the vivid descriptions of the Dutch cities. Having visited these cities myself quite often I was taken by the depth of describing the surroundings that Ian Tregillis showed. The cities are alive, vibrant and have their own dark corners where the bad things happen. For me specifically is was cool to read the Dutch words when Ian Tregillis went to describe the scenery, it added a whole cartload of flavor to the story. The descriptions were just superb and when the scenes took place in the laboratory, I could just see the fumes and smoke coming out of the book, yes you are given a front row seat.

As for the characters. Here Ian Tregillis takes another great spin. You follow both humans and clakkers throughout the story, seeing the story from the point-of-view of the Dutch side, the French side and of course the Clakker side. By this you get to experience a well crafted story. For starters the Dutch side is of course represented by the Royal line, but also by a Pastor Luuk Visser, a Catholic priest, who sees things happening around him and finds that this world needs to change. However his plans and his course in life are about to be drastically changed. Remember Free Will? Remember that. The French side is represented by Vicomtesse Bernice de Laval, whose is lead of the French spies and who wants to find a new way to stop the Clakker, their epoxy bombs no longer work. But her journey just as that of Pastor Visser is a journey filled with twists and turns, but luckily her determination and perseverance is strong. As for the Clakker side this is of course represented by Jax, he is a mechanical men, or better phrased a slave. His masters orders put him in a geas that he has to complete, if not, or even if it takes longer than expected he get a pain, an undesirable burning pain, also a Clakker can't be asked to do two tasks at once, the geas will play a heavy price. I really liked that Ian Tregillis showed the mechanical side of the story, not just putting them secondary but puttig them right in the middle of it all. You know and you probably can guess that there is a twist, the synopsis doesn't say "But I shall be free" without a reason, and this latter part transforms the whole story. Now I will shut up before I spoil to much. 

Anyway, all this taken together make The Mechanical a book that you must, MUST have read this year, the better, the sooner. The Mechanical directly lived up to all my expectations and when I come to think of it, it went above and beyond it. The story is set up in a very intricate way, highlighting many different facets of the world, the characters, factions and their believes. I liked that he talked the many social aspects, Free Will and theology. There is a great blend of themes, steampunk, alternate history and some magic as well. Ian Tregillis is once again at the top of his game (is there ever a moment he isn't!?), make sure you ride this wave! 

Short Fiction Friday: When the Circus Lights Down

When the Circus Lights Down by Sarah Pinsker

[no synopsis supplied]

Just a few weeks ago I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and since I have been looking out for such stories, as a circus in my opinion holds a magical sway. So when I came across When the Circus Lights Down I had nothing other to do then to read it. I have read some thought provoking stories lately and with When the Circus Lights Down the streak is continued. Sarah Pinsker has written a very clever story.

The first sentence of the story is "The circus landed late October", it landed! Ok. It landed. This is just the first as the next descriptions as the tents fall like sattilites out of the sky. After the landing of the circus, the focus is placed on the protagonists of the story a young mother Haley and her daughter Annie,. This is the first time that Annie sees the circus, for her mother it has dropped down occasionally but each time with the same time frame. It also becomes notable that this circus isn't your ordinary one, as you might have guessed because for starters, which circus falls from the sky? An early reference says that people forget to do their jobs when the circus is in town. It holds a definite spell for the people, and not only people though, water and electricity are also influenced by the circus. So precautions have to be made. Annie in the meantime wants to desperately visit the circus as she has heard amazing stories about it. Haley over the years has come to realize what dangers the circus really also that is doesn't leave without a trace... The mother of Haley also knows this and together they try to resist the circus but it proves to be difficult. Will they be able to resist the circus or will they cave?

However the story intentions extend far than just a story about a circus and its creatures and other amazes, it's also a story about human emotion and how to go about with you feelings of doing the right thing, going along with the masses or sort of "fight the system". Haley lost a lot of people to the circus the parents and also her husband, she can't get her head around how people can just stand up and abandon everything without a moments notice and commit theirselves to the circus. For me Sarah Pinsker has really captured the emotion of Haley very nicely. 

don't miss out read the full story here

(p)review forecast April part 2

(p)review forecast April part 2

What will you be reading in the next weeks?

Cheers,
Jasper

1. The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, Orbit

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to be by my human masters.

I am a clakker: a mechanical man, powered by alchemy. Armies of my kind have conquered the world - and made the Brasswork Throne the sole superpower.

I am a faithful servant. I am the ultimate fighting machine. I am endowed with great strength and boundless stamina.

But I am beholden to the wishes of my human masters.

I am a slave. But I shall be free.


2. Horn by Joe Hill, Gollancz

At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more—he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

But Merrin's death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It's time for a little revenge. . . . It's time the devil had his due. . . 


3. Flex by Ferret Steinmetz, Angry Robot

FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.

FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.

PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.

But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.


4. Hexed by Michael Alan Nelson

Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, Lucifer for short, isn't your typical teenaged girl. She's a thief who survives by stealing bad things from bad people in the magical and mystical underworld hidden beneath our own. So when a policeman's daughter, Gina, is kidnapped by a force he can't explain, Lucifer is the only one who has a chance at getting his daughter back.

With the unsolicited help of Gina's friends, including Gina's boyfriend David, Lucifer's investigation leads to the unfortunate truth of the kidnapping. Gina was taken to an otherworldly dimension by a creature of unspeakable evil: one of the Seven Sisters of Witchdown. Against all odds, Lucifer must use every magical tool hidden in her trick bag to steal her way into the Shade and bring Gina back before the Sister sacrifices her for her own dark ends. But the closer Lucifer gets to Gina, the closer she gets to David. And David to her. Lucifer must risk her life by confronting demons, witches, and the cruel demigoddess controlling her destiny - all to save the one girl who stands in the way of Lucifer finally finding love.
 


5. The Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale

Imagine a world where the Roman Empire never fell... In AD 1218, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus, commander of the 33rd Legion, invades Nova Hesperia, a land inhabited by Powhatani, Iroqua and Cahokiani. In search of gold, he and his men find only death. Marcellinus is taken prisoner, but his life is spared. To survive he must re-evaluate his allegiances and find a new place in a strange land. 
   

Media Alert: London Book Fair 2015

  Media Alert: London Book Fair 2015

HEAR FROM INDUSTRY EXPERTS AT THE LONDON BOOK FAIR!
Dedicated Author HQ theatre and seminar programme
for established and aspiring writers
 
News for release, Monday 13 April 2015:  Industry experts will be on hand this week at The London Book Fair (LBF) at Author HQ, with Kindle Direct Publishing, LBF’s dedicated theatre for established and aspiring writers. Launched as a response to increasing interest from the self-publishing community, a fantastic line up of speakers - publishers, writers and agents - will be taking part in three day programme of seminars designed to provide the knowledge, tools and insight writers need to make informed decisions about getting their work published - in a world where conventional and self-publishing opportunities offer an ever expanding number of routes to market.
 
Representatives from Little, Brown; HarperCollins; Headline; The Orion Publishing Group; Quercus; Pan Macmillan; The Creative Penn; The Alliance of Independent Authors; The Agency Group; Canelo Digital Publishing; The Society of Authors and The Literary Consultancy, AM Heath and David Higham Associates,  to name but a few, will be on hand to share their secrets and expertise.
 
Each day of the Fair you will be able to hear about the writing and publishing experiences of some bestselling Kindle Direct Publishing authors and learn how they did it.  Mel Sherratt, Stephanie Hudson and Keith Houghton will be joined by Mark Dawson on Tuesday; by CJ Lyons on Wednesday and by Rachel Abbott on Thursday.   Seminar topics for 2015 include:
 
·        Introduction to Publishing - a quick fire publishing industry overview, looking at the roles of a publisher and literary agent
·        Know Your Rights - Legal and contracts - advice on how to navigate the legal issues of an evolving industry, from intellectual property rights in traditional and digital media, to contract negotiation
·        What we talk about when we discuss writing and reading in the digital era - the influence that internet has on the reading and writing habits that are shaping the cultural face of the new millennium is undeniable. But how beneficial is this influence?
·        The Principles of Successful Book and Book Cover Design - how important is the design and cover to a book’s success?  Given the number of formats a book can be published in, what are the golden rules of design?   A guide from industry experts involved in all stages of the process.  Top tips on brand, what works - and some of the things to avoid
 
 
·        Genre Spotlights seminars - two sessions will focus on crime and thrillers and contemporary fiction - what are audiences reading, and what, if any, are the trends within the genres?  What is the next big thing - and can you really predict it?  
·        Publishers and agents - how they are discovering new talent - what are they looking for, and what is the best way to pitch your ideas?
·        European Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst will be discussing her autobiography Being Conchita, published in May in a non-fiction Genre Spotlight
·        Crowdfunding - experts will share their knowledge and expertise on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, getting started, creating strong pitch materials and campaign collateral, ways to grow and connect with your community, campaign management - and what to do when your campaign reaches its end
·        How to sell your book - is the tide beginning to turn when it comes to retailers selling titles by self-published authors?  What do booksellers need to know when deciding on what to stock? An insight into the retail decision-making process, the market as it is today, and the ever-evolving role of the bookseller
·        How I Made It – Living the Dream - CJ Lyons, Amanda Prowse and Helena Coggan share their different experiences of how they launched their writing careers and their success to date
 
Programmed by Kobo Writing Life, three seminars will look at What it takes to get readers to turn the page - how difficult is it to take readers down to the end of the story you have written? The craft of writing takes the stage will askis it true that there are only seven stories in fiction and that all others are based on them? If so, how can authors keep their work fresh and new?  The rise of author collectives – is widely regarded to be the new “golden path” in self-publishing. Besides being an exciting social experience, are those co-operatives really capable of making a difference to a writer’s success?
 
With social media giving authors the power and ability to connect directly with their readers in a way that is fundamentally changing the way they buy books, a seminar on Successful Social Media Strategies will look at ways authors can make the best of the opportunity.   A separate seminar will cover Effective PR & Marketing and national and trade journalists will look at how books figure in the media, what book reviewers are looking for and how the review process works in a seminar billed Journalists - what are they looking for?
 
Back for another year, The Write Stuff, a Dragon’s Den-style panel event, will see ten authors pitch their books to a panel of literary agents on Thursday afternoon in front of an audience in Author HQ, for the chance to win a follow up meeting with an agent.
 
Launched as a response to increasing interest from the self-publishing community, Author HQ is now one of the most popular features of the Fair – and there will be plenty on offer for established and aspiring writers. 
 
The London Book Fair (14-16 April) has moved to its new venue for 2015 - Olympia, West London.  All Author HQ events are free-to-attend with the purchase of a three-day LBF pass.  Seminars are on a first come, first served, basis. Please visit www.londonbookfair.co.uk for booking information.  For further information on the seminar line up, please visit www.londonbookfair.co.uk/authors.

Book Review: Pacific Fire

Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout, Daniel Blackland #2

I'm Sam. I'm just this guy.

Okay, yeah, I'm a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of work, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can.

Daniel's the reason the Hierarch's gone and I'm still alive. He's also the reason I've lived my entire life on the run. Ten years of never, ever going back to Los Angeles. Daniel's determined to protect me. To teach me.

But it gets old. I've got nobody but Daniel. I'll never do anything normal. Like attend school. Or date a girl.

Now it's worse. Because things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction. Daniel seemed to think only he could stop them. Now Daniel's been hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. (Many of them. All named Emma. It's a long story.) They seem to be healing him, but he isn't going anyplace soon.

Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn't to prevent this firedrake from happening? I'm good at escaping from things. Now I've escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I'm on my way to LA.

This may be the worst idea I ever had.


Last year a really exciting book was published, California Bones, which was the first book in the Daniel Blackland series. I praised this book heavily for its creativity, it was something completely different. Luckily for me Greg van Eekhout doesn't only publish one new book in the series but two! Pacific Fire was published back in January already and the third book (finger crossed not the final one, Dragon Coast, will be published by Tor later in September this year). That is enough babble though, onto Pacific Fire. Is it any good? Yes it is! 

There is quite a cap between California Bones and Pacific Fire as the story picks up about 10 years of the events that happened in California Bones. The first book introduced Daniel Blackland as the main protagonist and his rather eventful past, and lets not forget his mission to take down the Hierarch of Southern California. In which he eventually succeeded. Well this time around the focus on the story is not necessarily on Daniel but on Sam. A golem that Daniel rescued from the Hierarch of Southern California. With adopting Sam, Daniel got himself in a precarious situation. As the golem of the former Hierarch, Sam has a lot of magical power, magical power that a lot of people want to use, well lets say abuse. It can fuel a lot of things, lets say also a Pacific Firedrake. An extinct being that Otis (do you remember this guy) would love to bring back, to bring peace in the form of him ruling Los Angeles (deposing all the other warring factions). Of course when Daniel finds out that Otis is after Sam, it gets serious. Daniel is sick and tired of constantely on the run and decides to go to Otis himself and making sure that his plans don;t succeed, because the power that a Pacific Firedrake holds is unimaginable... it is a weapon of mass destruction. Daniel, master thief and skilled planner, does stumble upon some unfortunate events where he gets incapacitated himself and which forces Sam to take the lead. Sam is unknown with many things yet... also the plans that people have with his power. Now the friends get seperated and a race is on for Daniel when he recovers, that of saving Sam who he holds dear and that of the fate of many because if Otis succeeds in unleashing the Pacific Firedrake is will not only end badly for L.A.... AND there is a major twist in the end.... (which I won't spoil other to say that some other relatives of Daniel aren't really gone or just "normal")...

I have to be honest and say that the tone of the story is quite something different that what I had read in California Bones. That first book in the series had something of Ocean's Eleven, something heisty. The events that happen in Pacific Fire, is more of a coming of age and coming to terms kind of story of Sam. I already mentioned that the focus is heavily on Sam, which also gives a compeltely new perspective to the story. I am totally not saying that it is a bad thing at all, I liked this change of pace and it soon became to show that Greg van Eekhout made a very interesting choice. I liked the storyline and the ending also left a nice introduction for a pick up of the third book. 

So far we have seen a various cast of human characters, Daniel and his friends were all human, some with osteomantic abilities but well considered normal. Sam on the contrary is something different. He is golem, constructed out of the magic of another person, however he is a complete being, thinking being with feelings. From the synopsis you can see that Sam wants to do things but he can't as he is on the run with Daniel just to stay alive. From the start I got the feeling that Sam wanted to be and do more but it was impossible. With Daniel getting incapacitated, Sam takes the lead. For the better of his character development. As he is now running free and has to take point making decisions, granted not always for the better but he learns. Sam also learns something much more striking. He gains power the longer he is separated from Daniel... Does this mean that Daniel only used him for his own strength? Sam is a powerful well... he comes to realize a lot. I really liked Sam's character and to be honest the naming a golem Sam, isn't making him dimwitted but it makes him innocent, and this is precisely the feeling I got from him. He just wants to play. 

As for some recurrent characters, Daniel makes takes a step back putting Sam in more of a spotlight position which is ok, Daniel still has an interesting development going on, he also comes to realize that he did something unwittingly... not for the better. Next to Daniel, you also see Moth and Cassandra who make an striking and impressive appearance. The same counts for Otis, though it is short but long lasting. Some other character that I actually don't want to mention are very cool to read about. Cauldron and Tooth. Very cool and very clever thought out. 

The Daniel Blackland series utilizes an awesome magic system. You ingest bones of animals or even mythical creatures and you gain their powers. How cool is that! It was a piece of attention in the first book. Now with the focusing shifting towards Sam, the magical golem, don't think you will see less of the osteomantic powers. Greg van Eekhout gives just as a fiery magic show as before!

With the second book in the Daniel Blackland series, Pacific Fire, Greg van Eekhout continues his amazing series. I loved Pacific Fire from the start just as with California Bones. The emphasis this time around isn't on Daniel but on the Hierarch's golem Sam, which is a very good thing, the story picks up with a different direction and Greg van Eekhout keeps moving very strongly in the right direction with it. There are a lot of itneresting developments going on and I really liked the emphasis on character development and the coming-of-age part of Sam. Don't get me wrong I like the heavy osteomantic displays as well, I praised the series for it, but with the focus on the characters, the story and world becomes much more diverse. A great development overall. I think there is something intentionally going on with the 10 year gap in between California Bones and Pacific Fire. The third book is published later this year, could a fourth be in the offing in between one and two?


Excerpt: The Affinities



Excerpt: The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

CHAPTER 1

I made the decision when I saw the blood in the mirror. The blood was what changed my mind.

I had thought about it, of course. I had clipped the ad out of the back pages of the local entertainment paper, checked out the website, memorized the address of the local test center. I had strolled past the building earlier that afternoon, lingering at the brass-and-frosted-glass door with what I tried to pass off (not least, to myself) as idle curiosity. I pictured myself stepping into the cool, dim lobby behind the InterAlia logo and maybe changing the course of my life forever, but in the end I shrugged and walked on—a failure of courage, the better part of valor, I honestly couldn’t say which.

Tempted as I was, opening that door would have seemed like a confession of my own inadequacy, a confession I wasn’t prepared to make.

The sight of my own bloody face changed my mind.

*   *   *

I walked south from the InterAlia building, on my way to meet my ex-roommate Dex at the ferry docks: we had made plans to ride over to the Toronto Islands for an open-air concert. What I didn’t know, because I had been too self-absorbed to pay attention to the news, was that a large-scale demo was going on in the city’s financial district, directly between me and the lakeshore.

The sound of it reached me first. It was like the sound you hear from an open-air sports stadium when there’s a game on: no discernible content, just the undulant buzz of massed human voices. A couple of blocks later, I thought: angry voices. Maybe a bullhorn or two in the mix. And then I turned a corner and saw it. A mass of protestors filling the street in either direction and about as easy to cross as a raging river. Bad news, because dithering at the door of the InterAlia office had already made me late.

The crowd appeared to be a mix of students and academics and labor union people, and according to their banners it was the new debt laws and a massive University of Toronto tuition hike that had brought them to the streets on a hot late-May evening. A block to the west, where the sky still smoldered with sunset, some kind of serious altercation had begun. Everyone was staring that way, and I guessed the sour tang in the air was a promissory drift of tear gas. But at that moment all I wanted was to get to the waterfront, where the air might be a degree or two cooler, and meet Dex, annoyed with me though he must already be. So I pushed east to the nearest intersection and tried to shoulder through the thick of the crowd at the crosswalk. Bad decision, and I knew it as soon as I was caught in the tidal bore of human flesh. Before I had made much progress, some new threat or obstruction forced everyone closer together.

By craning my head—I’m fairly tall—I caught a glimpse of police in riot gear advancing from the west, beating their sticks on their shields. Tear gas canisters arced into the crowd, trailing smoke, and a woman to the right of me pulled a bandanna over her nose and mouth. A yard from where I stood, a guy in a faded Propaghandi t-shirt climbed onto the roof of a parked car and tossed a Dasani bottle at the cops. I tried to turn back, but it had become impossible to make headway against the pressure of bodies.

A skirmish line of mounted police appeared at the adjoining intersection, and I began to realize it was actually possible that, worst case, I could be kettled into a mass arrest and carted off to a detention cell. (And who would I call, if that happened? My family in New York State would be shocked and angry that I had been arrested; my few friends in the city were hapless art-school types, in no position to post bail.) The crowd lurched eastward, and I tried to veer toward the nearest sidewalk. I took some elbows to the ribs but managed to reach the north side of the street. The building immediately in front of me was a café, locked and barred, but there was a set of concrete steps descending to a second storefront just below ground level—also barred, but I found a place to crouch in the overhang of the concrete stairwell.

I kept my eyes pressed shut against the drifting tear gas, so what little I saw, I saw in blurry glimpses: mostly moving legs at street level, once the face of a woman who had fallen, eyes wide and mouth in a panicked O, as she struggled to stand up. I covered my own mouth with my t-shirt and breathed in gulps as another round of tear gas drifted down from the street. The roar of voices gave way to random screams, the industrial stomp of the police line. Mounted cops passed the niche where I had hidden, a weird chorus line of horse legs.

I had begun to think I was safe when a cop in riot gear came down the steps and found me squatting in the shadows. His face was plainly visible behind the scuffed plastic faceguard of his helmet. A guy not much older than me, maybe one of the foot police who had been roughed up in the struggle. He looked almost as scared as the woman who had fallen a few minutes earlier: the same big, jittery eyes. But angry, too.

I held out my hands in a hey, wait gesture. “I’m not one of them,” I said.

I’m not one of them. It was possibly the most cowardly thing I could have said, though it was also perfectly true. It was practically my fucking mantra. I should have had it tattooed on my forehead.
The cop swung his club. Maybe all he intended was a motivating blow to my shoulder, but the club bounced up and hit the left side of my face across the ridge of the cheekbone. I felt the skin break. A hot numbness that bloomed into pain.

Even the cop seemed startled. “Get the fuck out of here,” he said. “Go!”

I stumbled up the stairs. The street was almost unrecognizable. I was behind the parade line of cops, who had encircled a body of protestors east of the intersection. The block where I stood was empty except for a litter of paper handouts, abandoned backpacks and banners, the still-sizzling husks of tear gas canisters, and the granular glass of broken windshields. A block to the west, someone’s car was on fire. Blood from my face had begun to decorate my shirt in rust-red paisleys. I held my hand against the cut, and blood like warm oil seeped through my fingers.

I turned the nearest corner. I passed another cop, a woman, not in riot gear, who gave me a concerned look and seemed about to ask whether I needed help—I waved her away. I took my phone out of my pocket and tried to call Dex, but he didn’t answer. I guessed he had written me off as a no-show. At University Avenue I stumbled into a subway entrance and caught a train, fending off expressions of concern from other passengers. All I wanted was to be alone in some sheltered place.

The bleeding had mostly stopped by the time I made it home. Home was a bachelor apartment on the third floor of a yellow brick low-rise with a parking lot view. Cheap parquet floors and a few crappy items of furniture. The most personal thing about it was the name on the call-board in the lobby: A. Fisk. A for Adam. The other A. Fisk in the family was my brother Aaron. Our mother had been a committed Bible reader with a taste for alliteration.

The bathroom mirror doubled as the door of the medicine cabinet. I fumbled out a bottle of Advil, closed the door, and stared at myself. I guessed I could get by without stitches. The cut had clotted, though it looked fairly gory. The bruise would be with me for days.
Blood on my face, my hands, my shirt. Blood pinking the water in the basin of the sink.

That was when I knew I was going to call InterAlia. What was there to lose? Book an appointment. 
Open that brass-and-glass door. And find what?

One more scam, most likely.

Or, just maybe, some new and different version of them. A them I could be one of.

*   *   *

They gave me an appointment for Tuesday after classes. I showed up ten minutes early.

Behind the door, past the tiled lobby of the remodeled two-story building, the local branch of InterAlia was a suite of cubicles divided by glass-brick walls. Cool air whispered from ceiling vents and a polarized window admitted amber-tinted sunlight. There was a steady in-and-out traffic of people, some in business clothes and some in street clothes. Nothing distinguished the employees from their clients but the embossed lapel badges they wore. A receptionist checked my name against an appointment list and directed me to cubicle nine: “Miriam will do your intake today.”
Miriam turned out to be a thirtyish woman with a ready smile and a faint Caribbean accent. She thanked me for my interest in InterAlia and asked me how much I knew about Affinity testing.

“I read the website pretty carefully,” I said. “And that article in The Atlantic a couple of months ago.”

“Then you probably know most of what I’m going to tell you, but it’s my job to make sure potential clients are aware of how we do placements and what’s expected of them. Some people come in with misconceptions, and we want to correct them up front. So bear with me, and I’ll try not to bore you.” Smile.

I smiled back and didn’t interrupt her monologue, which I figured was the verbal equivalent of those caveats in microprint at the bottom of pharmaceutical advertisements.

“First off,” she said, “you need to know we can’t guarantee you a placement. What we offer is a series of tests that will tell us whether you’re compatible with any of the twenty-two Affinity groups. We ask for a small deposit up front, which will be refunded if you don’t qualify. A little more than sixty percent of applicants ultimately do qualify, so your chances are better than even—but we still end up turning away four of every ten, so that’s a real possibility. Do you understand?”

I said I did.

“We also like to remind our clients that failing to qualify isn’t any kind of value judgment. We’re looking for certain clusters of complex social traits, but everyone is unique. There’s nothing wrong with you if you fall outside those parameters; all it means is that we’re unable to provide our 
particular service. All right?”
All right.

“You also need to be clear on what we’re offering if you do qualify. First off, we’re not a dating service. Many people have found partners through their Affinity, but that’s absolutely not a guaranteed outcome. Sometimes people come to us because they’re in trouble, socially or psychologically. Such people may or may not need therapeutic attention, but that’s also not the business we’re in.”

As she said this she glanced pointedly at the bandage I was wearing. I said, “This isn’t—I mean, I don’t go around getting into fights or anything. I just—”

“None of my business, Mr. Fisk. You’ll be evaluated by professionals, and the tests, both physical and psychological, are completely objective. No one is standing in judgment of you.”

“Right. Good.”

“Should you qualify, you’ll be placed in one of the twenty-two Affinities and offered an invitation to join a local group, called a tranche. Each Affinity has regional and local subdivisions—the regional groups are called sodalities, and the locals are called tranches. A tranche has a maximum of thirty members. As soon as one is filled, we initiate a new group. You might be assigned as a replacement to an existing group or as part of a new tranche—either way, there might be a waiting period before you’re placed. Currently the average is two or three weeks following assessment. Got it?”

Got it.

“Assuming you’re placed in a tranche, you’ll find yourself in the company of people we call polycompatible. Some clients come in with the misconception that they’ll be placed among people who are like themselves, but that’s not the case. As a group, your tranche will most likely be physically, racially, socially, and psychologically diverse. Our evaluations look beyond race, gender, sexual preference, age, or national origin. Affinity groups aren’t about excluding differences. They’re about compatibilities that run deeper than superficial similarity. Among people of the same Affinity as yourself, you are statistically more likely to trust others, to be trusted, to make friends, to find partners, in general to have successful social engagements. Within your Affinity you will be misunderstood less often and you’ll have an intuitive rapport with many of your tranchemates. Understood?”

Understood.

“Again, your deposit will be refunded in full if we fail to place you. But the testing requires a commitment of your time, which we can’t refund. You’ll have to attend five test sessions of at least two hours each, which we can book to suit your schedule—five consecutive evenings, once a week for five weeks, or any other sequence that suits you.” She turned to the monitor on her desk and tapped a few keys. “You’ve already filled out the online form, so that’s fine. What we need from you now, if you choose to proceed, is a valid credit or debit card and your signature on this consent form.” She took a single sheet from a drawer and slid it to me. “You’ll also need to show me a piece of government-issued photo ID. A nurse will take a blood sample before you leave.”

“Blood sample?”

“One now, so we can commence basic DNA sequencing, and one at each session for a drug assay. Apart from bloodwork, all our tests are non-invasive—but the results will be useless if you come in under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants, so we do have to test. Results are completely confidential, of course. Clients taking prescription medication need to make us aware of it at this point, but according to your application you don’t fall into that category.”
The only drugs I had been taking lately were over-the-counter painkillers, so I nodded.

“All right then. Take your time and read through the agreement carefully before you sign it. I’ll step out for a cup of coffee while you do that, if you’ll excuse me—would you like a cup?”

“Please,” I said.

The logo at the top of the agreement form—

INTERALIA

Finding Yourself Among Others
—was the most comprehensible part of it; all else was legal boilerplate, mostly above my pay grade. But I set myself to the task of reading it. I was about finished when Miriam came back. “Any questions?”

“Just one. It says that the result of my tests becomes the property of the corporation?”

“The result, yes, but only after your name and other identifiers have been stripped from it. That lets us use the data to evaluate our client base and maybe focus our research a little better. We don’t sell or share the information we collect.”

So she claimed. Also, the check is in the mail and I’ll pull out before I come. But I didn’t really care who saw my test result. “I guess that’s all right.”

Miriam pushed a pen across the desk. I signed and dated the document. She smiled again.

*   *   *

Dex called me later that night. I saw his number and thought about letting the call go to voice mail, but picked up instead.

“Adam!” he said. “What are you doing?”

“Watching TV.”

“What, like porn?”

“Some reality show.”

“Yeah, I bet it’s porn.”

“It’s a show with alligators in it. I don’t watch alligator porn.”

“Uh-huh. So what happened the other night?”

“I texted you about it.”

“That bullshit about a demo? I almost missed the ferry, waiting for you.”

“I’m lucky I didn’t end up in the emergency room.”

“You couldn’t just take the subway?”

“I was almost there, and I was already late, so—”

“You were already late—that says it all, doesn’t it?”

I had shared my apartment with Dex for six months last year. We took some of the same classes at Sheridan College. The roommate thing didn’t work out. When he moved, he left his bong and his cat behind. He eventually came back for the bong. I gave the cat to the retired librarian in the apartment down the hall—she seemed grateful. “Thank you for your compassion.”

“I could come over. We could watch a movie or something.”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Come on, Adam. You owe me an evening’s entertainment.”

“Yeah … no.”

“You can’t be a dick twice in one week.”

“I’m pretty sure I can,” I said.

*   *   *

Of course it wasn’t Dex’s fault that I was moody—not that Dex would ever admit that anything was his fault.

I figured I had a couple of good reasons for applying to the Affinities and a few bad ones. The fact that my social life revolved around a guy like Dex was one of the good ones. A bad one? The idea that I could buy a better life for a couple of hundred dollars and a battery of psych tests.
But I had done my research. I wasn’t totally naïve. I knew a few things about the Affinities.
I knew the service had been commercially available for four years now. I knew it had gained popularity in the last year, after The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and BoingBoing ran feature articles about it. I knew it was the brainchild of Meir Klein, an Israeli teleodynamicist who had ditched a successful academic career to work for the corporation. I knew there were twenty-two major and minor Affinity groups, each named after a letter of the Phoenician alphabet, the “big five” being Bet, Zai, Het, Semk, and Tau.

What I didn’t know was how the evaluation process actually worked, apart from the generalities I had read online.

Fortunately I had a talkative tester … who turned out to be Miriam, the woman who had done my initial intake. She grinned like an old friend when I showed up for the first session. I recognized the smile as customer relations, but I was still grateful for it. I wondered whether Miriam was a member of an Affinity.

She escorted me to a nurse’s station in the back hall of the InterAlia office, where I was relieved of another vial of blood, and then to a small evaluation room. The room was windowless and air-conditioned to a centigrade degree above chilly. It contained a teakwood desk and two chairs. On the desk was a fourteen-inch video monitor, a laptop computer, and a chunky leather headband with a couple of USB ports built into it. I said, “Do I wear that?”

“Yes. Tonight we’ll use it to do some baseline measurements. You can put it on now if you like.”
She helped me adjust it. The headband was heavy with electronics but surprisingly comfortable. Miriam plugged one end of a cable into the band, the other into the laptop. The monitor facing me wasn’t connected to the laptop. I couldn’t see whatever Miriam was looking at on the laptop’s screen.
“It’ll take a minute or two to initialize,” she said. “Most of the information we collect is analyzed later, but it takes some heavy-duty number-crunching just to acquire the data.”

I wondered if she was acquiring it now. Was our conversation part of the test? She seemed to anticipate the question: “The test hasn’t started yet. Today, it’s just you looking at a series of pictures on that monitor. Nothing complicated. Like I said, we’re establishing a baseline.”

“And the blood sample? That’s for drug testing, you said?”

“Drug testing plus an assay for a range of primary and secondary metabolites. I know this must seem scattershot, Mr. Fisk, but it’s all connected. That could be InterAlia’s slogan, if we needed another one: everything’s connected. A lot of modern science is concerned with understanding patterns of interaction. In heredity, that’s the genome. In how DNA is expressed, we talk about the proteinome. In brain science it’s what they call the connectome—how brain cells hook up and interact, singly or in groups. Meir Klein invented the word socionome, for the map of characteristic human interactions. But each affects the others, from DNA to protein, from protein to brain cells, from brain cells to how you react to the people you meet at work or school. To place you in an Affinity we need to look at where you are on all those different maps.”

I said I understood. She consulted her laptop once more. “Okay, so we’re good to go. I’ll leave the room, and the monitor will show you a series of photographs, like a slide show, five seconds per slide. Twenty minutes of that, a coffee break, then twenty minutes more. You don’t have to do anything but watch. Okay?”

And that was how it went. The pictures were hard to categorize. Most showed human beings, but a few were landscapes or photographs of inanimate objects, like an apple or a clock tower. The photographs of human beings were drawn from a broad cross section of cultures and ages and were gender-balanced. In most of them, people were doing undramatic things—chatting, fixing meals, working. I tried not to overanalyze either the pictures or my reaction to them.
And that was it: session one of five.

“We’ll see you again tomorrow evening,” Miriam said.

*   *   *

The next day’s test used the same headset but no photographs. Instead, the monitor prompted me with displays of single words in lowercase letters: when the word appeared, all I had to do was read it aloud. A few seconds later, another word would appear. And so on. It felt awkward at first, sitting alone in a room saying things like, “Animal. Approach. Conciliation. Underwater. Song. Guilt. Vista…”—but before long it just seemed like a job, fairly tedious and not particularly difficult.
Miriam came back for the midpoint break, carrying a cup of coffee. “I remembered how you liked it. One cream, one sugar, right? Or would you prefer a glass of water?”

“Coffee’s great. Thank you. Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Personal question?”

“Try me.”

“Do you belong to an Affinity? I mean, if you’re allowed to say.”

“Oh, I’m allowed. Employees can take the test for free. I did. I know my Affinity. But no, I never joined a tranche.”

“Why not?”

She held up her left hand, the ring finger circled by a modest gold band. “My husband was tested too, but he didn’t qualify. And I don’t want to commit to a social circle he can’t join. It’s not an insurmountable problem—tranches organize spouse-friendly auxiliary events. But he would have been shut out of official functions. And I didn’t want that. That’s why the existing Affinities are a little bit skewed toward young singles, divorcees, widowers. Over time, as people meet and mate inside their own Affinity groups, we expect the imbalance to even out. It’s trending that way already.”

“You ever regret not joining?”

“I regret not having what so many of our clients find so useful and empowering. Sure. But I made my decision when I married my husband, and I’m happy with it.”

“Which Affinity did you qualify for?”

“Now that’s a personal question. But I’m a Tau, for what it’s worth. And I take some comfort from knowing I have a place to go, if I ever need to call on people I can really trust. But let’s get on with business, okay?”

*   *   *

The next day I got a call from Jenny Symanski.

Some people thought of Jenny as my girlfriend. I wasn’t sure I was one of those people. That wasn’t a dig at Jenny. It was just that our relationship had a perpetually unsettled quality, and neither of us liked to name it.

“Hey,” she said. “Is this a good time?”

She was calling from Schuyler, my home town. Schuyler is in upstate New York, and all my family were there. I had left Schuyler two years ago for a diploma program in graphic design at Sheridan College, and since then I had seen Jenny only on occasional visits home. “Good a time as any,” I said.

“You sure? You sound kind of distracted.”

“I kind of am. I think I told you I’m up for an internship at a local ad agency, but I haven’t heard back. Classes this morning, but I’m home now, so…”

“I don’t want to be a nuisance when there’s so much else on your mind.”

She was being weirdly solicitous. “Don’t worry about it.”

“You seem to be dealing with the situation pretty well.”

“What situation? The internship? The job market sucks—what else is new?”

Long pause.

“Jenny?”

“Oh,” she said. “Shit. Aaron didn’t call you, did he?”

“No, why would Aaron call me?” Another silence. “Jen, what’s up?”

“Your grandmother’s in the hospital.”

I sank onto the sofa. Dex and I had snagged the sofa when a neighbor put it out for the trash. The cushions were compacted and threadbare, and no matter how you shifted around you could never get comfortable. But right then I felt anesthetized. You could have pierced me with a sword. “What happened?”

“Okay, no, she’s basically all right. Okay? Not dead. Not dying. Apparently she woke up in the night with pain in her chest, sweating, puking. Your dad called 911.”

“Jesus, Jen—a heart attack?”

I pictured Grammy Fisk in her raggedy old flannel nightgown, white with a pink flower pattern. She loved that nightgown, but she wouldn’t let any of us see her in it before nine at night or after six in the morning—and strangers never saw her in it. The prospect of paramedics invading her bedroom would have horrified her.

“That’s what everybody thought. But I was over at your dad’s house this morning and he said now the doctors are telling him it was her gallbladder.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded slightly less terrifying than a cardiac condition. “So what do they do, operate on her?”

“That’s not clear. She’s still in the hospital for tests, but they think she can come home tomorrow. There’s something about diet and medication, I don’t really remember…”

“I guess that’s good…”

“Under the circumstances.”

“Yeah, under the circumstances.”

“I’m really sorry to be the one to tell you.”

“No,” I said. “No, I appreciate it.”

And that was true. In some ways, it was better getting the bad news from Jenny than from Aaron. My brother didn’t entirely approve of me or Grammy Fisk. My father had underwritten Aaron’s MBA, and Aaron currently co-managed the family business. But the only one willing to pay for my graphic design courses had been Grammy Fisk, and she had done it over my father’s objections.
A question occurred to me. “How did you find out about it?”

“Well—Aaron told me.”

The Fisks and the Symanskis had been close for decades. Jenny and I had grown up together; she was always at the house. Still: “Aaron told you but not me?”

“I swear, he said he was going to call. Have you checked your phone for messages?”

I rarely had to check my phone for messages. I didn’t get a lot of calls or texts, outside of a few regulars. But I checked. Sure enough, two missed calls from a familiar number. Aaron had tried to get hold of me twice. Both attempts had been yesterday evening, when I had turned off my phone for my session at InterAlia.

*   *   *

I called Aaron and told him I’d heard the news from Jenny. I apologized for not getting back to him sooner.

“Well, turns out it’s not such an emergency after all. She’s home now.”

“Can I talk to her?”

“She’s sleeping, and she needs her rest, so better not.”

It was easy to picture Aaron standing at the ancient landline phone in the living room back home. It was hot in Toronto and probably just as hot in Schuyler. The front windows would be open, curtains dappled with the shade of the willow tree in the yard. The inside of the house would be sultry and still, because my father didn’t believe in air-conditioning before the first of June.
And Aaron himself: dressed the way he always dressed when he wasn’t doing business, black jeans, white shirt, no tie. Dabbing a bead of sweat from his forehead with the knuckle of his thumb.

“How are Dad and Mama Laura taking it?”

Mama Laura was our stepmother.

“Ah, you know Dad. Taking charge. He was practically giving orders to the EMT guys. But worried, of course. Mama Laura’s been in the kitchen most of the day. Neighbors keep coming by with food, like somebody died. It’s nice, but we’re up to our asses in lasagna and baked chicken.”

“What about Geddy?”

Geddy, our twelve-year-old stepbrother, Mama Laura’s gift to the family. “He seems to be dealing with it,” Aaron said, “but Geddy’s a puzzle.”

“Tell Grammy Fisk I’ll be there by tomorrow morning.” I would have to rent a car. But the drive was only five hours, if the border crossing didn’t slow me down.

“She says not.”

“Who says not?”

“Grammy Fisk. She said to tell you not to come.”

“Those were her words?”

“Her words were something like, You tell Adam not to mess up his schoolwork by running down here after me. And she’s right. She’s hardy as a hen. Wait till end of term, would be my advice.”
Maybe, but I would have to hear it directly from Grammy Fisk.

“You’ll be paying us a visit sometime in the next couple of months anyway, right?”

“Right. Absolutely.”

“All right then. I’ll put Dad on. He can fill you in on what the doctors are saying.”

*   *   *

My father spent ten minutes repeating everything he’d learned about the nature and function of the gallbladder, the sum-up being that Grammy Fisk’s condition was non-trivial but far from life-threatening. By that time she was awake and able to pick up the bedroom extension. She thanked me for my concern but urged me to stay put. “I don’t want you ruining the education I paid for, just because I had a bad night. Come see me when I’m feeling better. I mean that, Adam.”
I could hear the fatigue in her voice, but I could hear the determination, too.

“I’ll see you in a few weeks, no matter what.”

“And I look forward to it,” she said.

*   *   *

My third test session was the most uncomfortable. They strapped me under the dome of an MRI scanner for half an hour. Miriam said the scan would be combined with EEG data from my earlier sessions to help calibrate the results.

The next evening it was back to the headband, this time listening to recorded voices speak a series of bland, cryptic English sentences. If it rains, you can use my umbrella. We saw you at the store yesterday.

“In the end,” Miriam said, “the point of all this is to locate you on the grid of the human socionome.”
I took her word for it. The details were a well-kept secret. Meir Klein, who invented the test, had done basic research in social teleodynamics when he was teaching at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, outlining what it would take to construct a taxonomy of human social behavior. But the meat of his work had taken place after he was hired by InterAlia, and the details were locked behind airtight nondisclosure agreements. The process by which people were assorted into the twenty-two Affinities had never been fully described or peer-reviewed. The best anyone could say was that it seemed to work. And that was good enough for me.

I liked the idea of it. I wanted it to be true. We’re the most cooperative species on the planet—is there anything you own that you built entirely with your own hands, from materials you extracted from nature all by yourself? And without that network of cooperation we’re as vulnerable as three-legged antelopes in lion territory. But at the same time: what a talent we have for greed, for moral indifference, for wars of conquest on every scale from kindergarten to the U.N. Who hasn’t longed for a way out of that bind? It’s as if we were designed for life in some storybook family, in a house where the doors are never locked and never need to be. Every half-baked utopia is a dream of that house. We want it so badly we refuse to believe it doesn’t or can’t exist.

Had Meir Klein found a way into that storybook house? He never made that claim, at least not explicitly. But even if all he had found was the next best thing—well, hey, it was the next best thing.

*   *   *

The final test session was four hours in front of a monitor with my body hooked up to some serious telemetry. Miriam appeared during breaks, bearing gifts of coffee and oatmeal raisin cookies.
The program running on the monitor was a series of interactive tests, using photographs, symbols, text, video, and occasional spoken words. The computer correlated my test performance with my facial expressions, eye movements, posture, blood pressure, EEG readings, and the beating of my heart.

The tests themselves were pretty simple. There was a spatial-relations test that worked like a game of Tetris. There was an animated puzzle involving a runaway train full of passengers headed for certain destruction: do you throw a switch that causes the train to change tracks, saving all the passengers but killing a couple of pedestrians who happen to be in the way, or do you let the train roll on, dooming everyone aboard it? Some of the tests seemed to touch on identifiable themes (ethnicity, gender, religion), but the majority were pretty obscure. At the end of four hours it began to seem like what was really being tested was my patience.

Then the screen went blank and Miriam popped in, smiling. “That’s it!”

“That’s it?”

“All done, Mr. Fisk, except for the analysis! You should get your results within a couple of weeks, maybe sooner.”

She helped me peel off the headset and the telemetry patches. “Hard to believe it’s over,” I said.

“On the contrary,” she said. “With any luck, you’re just getting started.”

*   *   *

I stepped out of the building into a hot, humid night. The last of the business crowd had gone home, abandoning the neighborhood to speeding cabs and a couple of sparsely populated coffee shops. I walked to the College Street subway station, where a homeless guy was propped against a wall with a change cup in front of him. He gave me a look that was either imploring or contemptuous. I put a dollar coin in his cup. “Bless you,” he said. At least I think the word was “bless.”

By the time I got back to my apartment a drilling rain had begun to fall. The short walk from the subway left me drenched, but that didn’t seem like such a bad thing once I had a towel in my hand and a roof over my head. In the bathroom I looked at my cheek where the cop had clubbed me. The bruise was fading. All that was left of the gash was a pale pink line. But I dreamed of the incident that night, when the room was dark and the rain on the window sounded like the roar of massed voices.

*   *   *

Ten days passed.

Two interviews for a summer internship went nowhere. I finished an end-of-term project (a Flash video animation) and handed it in. I fretted about my future.

On the tenth day I opened an email from InterAlia Inc. My test results had been assessed, it said, and I had been placed in an Affinity. Not just any Affinity, but Tau, one of the big five. My test fees would be debited to my credit card, the email went on to say. And I would be hearing from a local tranche shortly.

*   *   *

I was headed to school when my phone burbled. I didn’t let it go to voice mail. I picked up like a good citizen.

It was Aaron. “Things took a turn for the worse,” he said. “Grammy Fisk’s back in the hospital. And this time you really need to come down and see her.”

Copyright © 2015 by Robert Charles Wilson