Tag Archives: lowell

The Tanyth Fairport Adventures (Books) – Review

I’ve long been a fan of Nathan Lowell. His fiction is characterized in my opinion by the incredible reality of his characters and situations. He takes the time to build characters and their worlds in your mind one brick at a time. This makes for a bit of a slower pace and the inside joke on his Solar Clipper series is that “nothing happens”. “Nothing” has never been so interesting.

In any case, this review is of his foray into fantasy, specifically he second book in the Tanyth Fairport series of adventures. I scoured the intertubes for a review of the first one. Apparently I didn’t do one (though there is this blog post). Suffice to say that this review will serve for both books.

The books follow Tanyth as she journey’s throughout the countryside, seeking wisdom and knowledge from women who serve as herbalists and healers. Most of these woman would serve as crones, witches, or hermits in other worlds or stories. Here we get to see them from the other side. We also get to see Tanyth as she moves from a wife who’s been abused by her husband to the role of wise woman and a reluctant priestess to the All Mother. Ravenwoodravenwood is the first step that we get to see in this journey.

By this time she’s been on the road for twenty years and has learned much about herself and her world. She’s survived attacks and deprivations that we get allusions to. All of this has made her a sharp, tough “old boot”. She happens on a small settlement that lacks a name or direction. They convince her to stay and replace their healer, if only to teach them how to do it on their own. In the process the settlement encounters bandits and Tanyth begins to have odd dreams that she sees through the eyes of a raven. These visions prove useful more than once. Tanyth also begins to show a connection to the powers of the world and she channels that power through shamanistic prayers.

There’s a lot of “slice of life” that goes on in these books. In Ravenwood, Nathan has the challenge of showing us how a women might not only survive but grow in a society that views women as servants to their husbands and family. Her daily life on the road is vital to that end, as is seeing how she handles life in a new village. There’s also a bit of action and what I would call low fantasy magic. I really found no fault with anything in this book, other than the fact that it ended. When I first listened to it (three years ago?) I couldn’t wait for a sequel and I think that these books are actually better than the Solar Clipper series.

SPOILERS!!! (For those who haven’t finished Ravenwood)

ZyphyeriasCall_Ebook My wish was granted when I found out that he was writing the follow-up. I grabbed Zypheria’s Call from Amazon recently and sat down to read it over the last few days. Tanyth reluctantly moves on at the close of the winter. She doesn’t want to leave her friends or the life she’s started to make there, but she knows that her opportunity to see the hermit of Lammas Wood may close if she doesn’t move soon. Neither Tanyth, nor the hermit are getting any younger. To that end, she goes with the first shipment to Kleesport with her beau Frank and Rebecca who will prove to be her travelling companion.

The journey to the port city and their stay while waiting for the ice to break tell us quite a bit about the world Nathan has built. Again, life as an older, single woman is hard and she runs up against a number of challenges. She overcomes them with dry wit and a ruggedness that’s endearing. All of this just sets the stage for the meat of the story, the journey aboard Zyphyeria’s Call.

Nathan has experience at sea (though I don’t think that it was on a wooden sailing ship, in spite of his state of maturity). I don’t know if it was my knowledge of that or if it’s the actual experience, but in any case I loved the picture he painted of life on such a ship. I can see, based on this, how much his experience in the Coast Guard influenced his science fiction and how he views life on a space ship. Once on board, Tanyth has to get her sea legs and she needs to find a way to pass the time and make herself useful. She does this in ways that will make Nathan Lowell fans more than happy; by helping the ship’s Cook. The description of breakfasts and dinners had me drool more than once.

Appetizers aside (how many food references will this review have?), the fantasy elements are just as important here as the gustatory and social ones. While Tanyth’s abilities are less cinematic than your typical fantasy tale, they are no less important or interesting. The one issue I had with the story that jolted me a bit was the lack of apparent superstition on the part of the ship’s crew. She did some amazing things that I thought would have been met with suspicion or fear. It could have made for some interesting tension. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I strongly recommend that you check out both books. They’re both available as ebooks from Amazon. I count myself fortunate to have the paperback of Ravenwood. Ravenwood’s also available from Smashwords and as a free podcast. I understand that he’s working on the audio for Zypheria’s Call. Listen to the podcast or read the samples and I think you’ll be hooked!

Lovable Dumbasses

My brain was meandering as I drove into work this morning (never fear, my driving hand is rock steady), and my thoughts ran to Nathan Lowell’s fiction. This is nothing new. The man’s an ace story teller and I count myself an admirer, a fan, and a friend. He’s known to many because of the podcast series, now available in print, the Solar Clipper. The protagonist, Ishmael Horatio Wang, is one of those characters that I would call a lovable dumbass.

Why is that? I mean he’s a smart guy when it comes to books and tests. The thing is, throughout the books he does things that make me wince. When it comes to relationships and a host of other things, he definitely falls into the dumbass category. The thing is, he wins! And you want him to keep on winning, but that wincing is fun. I think in some way Nathan set out to do this. He wanted to write a science fiction story where there was “nothing special” about the main character. That is to say, he’s not a prince or a cyborg, or a seven foot tall bad ass. He’s just this guy, you know?

To me, and this is me spitballing as it didn’t occur to me until I was noodling in my car, that’s part of the fun of these sorts of stories. If a “sludge monkey” like Ish can succeed (with no small amount of hard work mind you) in spite of his screw ups, then that means a dumbass like me has a shot. So this brings me around to books like the Harry Potter universe or the Twilight books. You have these people that are complete rejects or screw ups. Throughout their books they make big mistakes. You want to shout at Harry and Bella whenever they are doing something that you as the reader would “never do”.

Of course we as a reader have a ton of benefits. We know things that are going on in the story that they don’t. We often have the benefit of maturity. Of course in some cases, like Twilight and Harry Potter, the target audience is on the same level maturity-wise. Still, it allows us a sense of hope for ourselves. The challenge is to make that “dumbass” is lovable. Nate succeeds for me and a host of others. Ish cares about people and about getting the job done. He also has the stones to wear a belt that proclaims him to be a “BOY TOY”. Harry cares deeply for his friends, and you want him to make it out from under his evil step parents. I still can’t explain Bella (I have read most of the first book), but I understand there are qualities in her that resonate with her audience personally.

That’s a key too, I suppose. Identifying on some level with LD is vital. Otherwise, you won’t get that sense of “I can succeed too!”. I’ve been the lost geek looking for a sense of purpose. I’m probably considered an LD by some of my friends and family.

So who’s your favorite LD? What pushes a character over the dumbass line to just plain dumb and can that kill it (Homer Simpson)? Am I way off base here? Sound off in the comments.

Balticon Day Zero

I had a great time at Balticon. I recorded an update each day, but was unable to edit/upload them. I figure I’d share them anyway.

Day_Zero_Update, Thursday May 26th. Apologies for the pops. I hope future updates won’t have them.

SiglerFest – A mini con for and by horror/sci-fi author Scott Sigler
Ravenwood – An excellent podcast by Nathan Lowell
Paul Cooley
J.C. Hutchins
Mur Lafferty
Cooley’s New App! – Video coming soon!!!
Jim aka Synaptic Jam

Owning My Podcatcher

One of the wonderful things about this podcasting thing I’ve been a part of for around three years now is discovering “new” authors. Granted most of them are hardly new at the game. They’re just new to me. One of the writers in question owns my iPod whenever something new of his comes out. That would be Nathan Lowell.

I’ve tweeted and blogged about his works before, but I just thought I’d join the ranks of some of my fellow bloggers/podcasters in thanking him for his Share series. He’s finished the series up with Owners Share and I’m in the midst of listening to it. If you’ve been waiting for this to start listening, go ahead! If you’ve never listened to any podcast novel before now, start with this one!

I’ll do a proper review down the road, but for now I just want to take a minute to thank Nathan, not just for his writing, but for all the things he’s done for me personally and the community at large.


I’ve been charged by my buddies at Flying Island Press to participate in defining sci-fi and fantasy. That’s a mighty big elephant to eat. My response on Twitter was “As far as what SF/F is or is not, in my case I sort of know it when I see it. Which is why I like the umbrella term speculative fiction.”

That was kind of a cop out, but defining things in 140 characters or less is a bit more than I’m up to before lunch. Now in a blog post I think I can take a stab.

Science fiction is incredibly broad as a genre. You’ve got everything from Jurassic Park to Ender’s Game. It can be gritty and “hard” where science is king and every jot and tittle needs to be explained and “realistic”. Or it can be soft and take place in such a far flung future that the science almost takes a back seat. Almost. I think that science needs to be an integral part though. There needs to be some aspect of technology or a rational explanation of the universe and its hard core mechanics that forms a significant part of the story.

For me character always comes first and the science might be a part of that character. A good example of that would be PC Haring’s Cybrosis. The main character is a cyborg and her tech is fully integrated into the plot of the novel as well. That’s not to say that the science necessarily needs to be completely accurate. When you’re supposing what the world might by like in a hundred or a thousand years the details are by necessity fuzzy. Most writers are no more scientists than they are wizards and research can only take you so far. Still it should be sound. Master that technobabble!

As big as science fiction is as a genre, I’d argue that fantasy is even larger. In SF, the distinctive element is, well, science. In Fantasy I’d say it’s the numinous. Most, if not all, fantasy has something of the spiritual about it. That’s not to say that it has to be religious (though I’d argue that most Christian fiction falls into the Fantasy realm), but it often speaks to things that can’t be observed or measured. The more important elements in the story, be they plot, mechanics, or character, should focus on the mystical or the transcendent.

A good example of that would be South Coast by Nathan Lowell. And that’s an interesting one too, since it takes place in a far flung future with space ships and the like. It has that in common with Star Wars. Both are Fantasy pieces since, imo, both have a stronger connection to the mystic than the motor.

The wonderful thing about these genres is that they lend themselves well to being crossed over/blended/mashed/folded/spindled. After all, the Dune series has elements of both. The Dragon Riders of Pern does as well. Science Fiction and Fantasy can easily be just like a Reese’s Cup, though that’s not everyone’s favorite candy bar.

So that’s my stab at a definition. Look for a post later today over at Flying Island Press to get more on the ins and outs of defining these genres.

Balticon Recap

I had the privilege of attending Balticon 44, a science fiction/fantasy writer’s convention in Baltimore, MD, on Memorial Day weekend. This was my second outing and I’ll continue to attend annually as scheduling and finances allow. Why’s that?

Well it seems to be the place to go for writers who also podcast. The first year I went I got to meet very nearly all of the podcasting authors whose works I appreciate. There are a number of excellent panels every year on everything from sound production to writing and the sheer number of live readings and live shows scheduled is staggering. There just isn’t enough time over the weekend to do everything.

That’s not the main reason I go though. It has become something of a family reunion for me. Now don’t mistake me, I don’t know a tenth of the people I see as well as I’d like and I don’t want to cheapen the notion of friendship or family, but really that’s the way it feels to me. Whether meeting someone in person for the first time or reconnecting with someone I saw last year, there was an instant bond. Part of that is assisted by mutual passions and of course most of us keep in touch through the magic of Twitter. So it’s “instant” only in the same sense that folks like Scott Sigler are an “overnight” success.

In any event, sociology aside, the people are the major reason I go. Sadly I have yet to spend any real time talking to Chris Lester either year. I also missed some excellent panels and readings. Rather than focusing on missed opportunities though, I’d rather touch on the highlights.

I got to meet and share drinks with some awesome producers and fans (in some case the same folks). Sharing mojitos with Paul Cooley, Laura Frechette, Dave Sobkowiak, and Kate Sherrod was EPIC!

I had taken a wingman with me in the form and shape of co-producer Shawn Murphy aka SidFaiwu, but when he was off doing his own thing I had the good fortune of meeting Mike Plested in person and spending a lot of time talking to him. Mike’s a great guy. He put up with my digs at Canada and took a number of the pics you’ll see on Flickr of the event. He also interviewed Zach Ricks and I about Flying Island Press and our launch of Flagship.

I took some of my homebrew and shared it with Thomas Gideon and John Williams. They’re PASSIONATE home brewers in their own rights and we hope to have a home brew panel at next year’s Balticon.

I also met, hugged, and exchanged a word or two with Dan Sawyer. He and I have traded plenty of emails and blog comments. I’m also a big fan of his writing style and appreciate the wealth of knowledge he has on audio and a number of other topics. If you’re a new media person then you should REALLY check out the ANMAP Foundation that he’s set up with some other creatives.

There were plenty of larger form geek social gatherings (not an oxymoron) like the Geek Prom (with awesome food thanks to Viv!), room parties galore, and a concert or three. I got to see Book launches by Patrick McLean, PG Holyfield, and Nathan Lowell. I got to buy Tumbler, a most excellent YA sci-fi novel by Brand Gamblin. Jared Axelrod launched Fables of the Flying City (unaffiliated with the Flying Island).

There was just too much going on to get it all in or even to mention it all in one blog post. At least not without boring you to tears. I wasn’t on any panels this year (though if you listen to Mur Lafferty’s live I Should Be Writing, I think you’ll hear me towards the end). Perhaps next year I’ll be on one or two. In any case I hope that if you haven’t been to one and any of this sounds cool to you that you’ll go next year and good Lord willing I’ll be there!

May You Live in Interesting Times

Ordinarily this is called the “Chinese Curse” and is looked on as a bad thing. As artists we do indeed live in interesting times and I suppose it can be good or bad. Let me ‘splain.

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

On the writing side of the house royalties are going down as are advances. Slush piles are going up, up, up. It can be difficult to cut through all the noise and make yourself heard. I can only assume based on what I’m hearing that the same is true in the other disciplines. So it may be tempting to say that it’s more difficult to “make it”, all of course depending on what you mean by that.

However, interesting times such as these often separate the adults from the children (to update the adage). I can point to a few people in my sphere that are coming down squarely on the former side of the knife.

Ed Talbot – He had joined the growing number of folks using Smashwords to publish some of his content. To that end he had a “Mayday” promotion (that I missed participating in) to launch two collections of short stories. While using Smashwords isn’t particularly new, he’s the first author I’m aware of to promote publishing there in the way he did. I’ve read a few of those stories and can highly recommend dropping at least $.99 on one or the other if not both.

Jennifer Hudock – Jenny is another author I’m aware of using Smashwords to get her stuff out there. She’s building a short story collection there called Dark Journeys. She’s also putting together an anthology called The Dark Side, releasing a podcast novel called Goblin Market and she and future hubby James Melzer (no stranger to self publishing and soon to be published by Simon and Schuster) have put together The Creative Alliance.

Zach Ricks – The Mad Poet himself has self published his Mad Poet Files short stories through the Amazon Kindle store. This collection is certainly one for you to buy. It’s got great science fiction and fantasy stories and while I haven’t read them all, I can say that “Blood Red Sand” is my favorite Martian short since Bradbury’s Chronicles and that plus a fantasy story where the main characters are inspired by the A-Team earns my seal of approval. He and a few other forward thinkers are also jawing about a new way of delivering content that, if it all works out, will blow your doors off.

Seth Harwood – While I haven’t waxed poetic about him here, Seth’s crime novel Young Junius is coming to print very soon. Taking an idea from the FDO himself, Seth is releasing the novel in a beautiful, limited edition print, which he and his publisher will then use to kick off a standard full scale print run in the Fall.

Phil Rossi – On the music side of the house, author and musician Phil Rossi is in the midst of pre-selling an EP called Radio Silence. I’ve pre-ordered it and I think you should too.

Brand Gamblin – A vidcaster, podcaster, and author, Brand has done just about everything with his young adult, science fiction novel Tumbler that I can think of. He’s used CreateSpace to put it in print. He podcast it. He’s got it in a variety of e-book formats. You can get it now on Amazon, but if you love him you’ll get it here. Or if you’re gonna be at Balticon in two weeks (W00T!!!!!!!) you can buy a signed copy there.

And just in case you missed it, there are two authors whose work I respect and admire that have used social media/podcasting to get their books published and they will be available in the near future.

Honorary Admiral (in my mind and that of many others) Nathan Lowell is getting published by Ridan Publishing. Apparently they, unlike many publishers, work very well and very closely with their authors to find the most mutually beneficial path and according to Nathan cooperating with them has been beautiful.

P.G. Holyfield, whom I consider to be a good friend, will be launching Murder at Avedon Hill THIS WEEKEND!!! It’s being published by podcaster friendly Dragon Moon Press and all I can say is it’s about time!!

So these are just a FEW people who have used, are using, and I hope will continue to use the interesting times afoot to really break the boundaries of traditional publishing and are redefining what it means to “make it”. Sure, self publishing is nothing new, but all things considered I believe that it is gaining a certain amount of ground and losing the stigma long attached to it by many. I hope this is a launch pad to great things for them all and I hope that I’ve dropped some new names on your plate and that you will check them all out.

Podcast Pimpage

It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve done this so here goes.

There are these things called podcasts that you should really really really look into. They’re free serialized audio files that you can play on your computer or download to your MP3 player. They run the gamut from audio books and audio dramas to self help and inspirational. I listen to a lot of them and am going to try and give you a run down of the best ones. So buckle up buttercup, this may take a while and if you subscribe to even one it will be a fun ride.

Fiction I’m Currently Listening To-

7th Son – This is by no means a new one. JC Hutchins podcast this bad boy for the first time back in 2007. Getting the word out now is particularly important because JC has a print deal with a major publisher and this goes live in its print version later this month. I will definitely be dropping more information on the blog when it happens. This is a sci-fi thriller that is hands down the best in that genre that I have had the pleasure of experiencing in some time. The basic premise is covered in this trailer. If that doesn’t make you strap in the earbuds I recommend you have someone check your pulse. If you listened, then you heard that right. Even if you don’t “do” podcasts he is giving away serialized PDFs/Blogtext versions of the book through other websites. No reason for you not to at least give it a look (unless pulse pounding, edge of your seat fiction isn’t your bag).

Fetidus – This is a dark trip through the slimy underground of Washington DC, but not just any Washington DC. In this universe there has been an apocalypse. Zombies, ghosts, and who knows what else have been unleashed on the world. And just like in the real world they have their own Political Action Committee. FETIDUS is the Foundation for the Ethical Treatment of the Innocently Damned, Undead, and Supernatural responsible for making sure that they are treated fairly. James Durham; author, musician, and producer is responsible along with a full voice cast, for for bringing us in to that world and fleshing it out and flesh it out he does. This work is one that you don’t listen to so much as you experience. He won two awards for it and is muchly deserving. I will warn you that this world is a dark place and not for the squeamish. Well worth your time.

The Gearheart – The tagline for this podcast is “Magic, Adventure, and Gunfights” and it delivers on all points. Alex White brings us the story of a secret society of wizards called the Seekers of the Arcane Unknown. They are charged with keeping the knowledge of magic from the populace at large while combating threats to their world and to the political powers they are in league with. A great mix of mystery, political intrigue, action, and suspense this story has been a lot of fun so far.

Great Hites – This is a short fiction anthology podcast and the truly cool thing about it is that anyone is welcome and encouraged to participate. Write your story according to the prompt and send it in. Can’t record? Now problem, they’ll do it for you. Right now Jeff Hite is asking for submissions for 10K word creation stories. Got an idea along those lines? Send them in.

Harvey – Is author Phil Rossi’s latest novella. This dark tale takes place in a little town of the same name. Harvey has some dark secrets and musician Calvin Hubbard, who only wants to make a little music and have a little fun, gets mixed up in the middle of it all.

How to Succeed in Evil – An efficiency expert for super villains is at the heart of this story. He gets tired of the latest crop of villains’ inefficiency and inability to listen to his stellar advice and takes matters into his own hands. This thing is absolutely LACED with humor, at times dark, but ever present. Patrick McLean is working on getting this published and I highly recommend that you give it a listen if you’re into seeing genres flipped on their head. Seeing a comic book world through the eyes of a smart and ruthless villain, that becomes likable through McLean’s excellent craft, is a trip worth taking.

Tumbler – Brand Gamblin is writing the sort of science fiction that I am rapidly becoming very fond of. It takes characters that seem as real as my next door neighbors and puts them in a futuristic world that’s less about ray guns and aliens and more about life on the frontier of space. Libby Carter lost everything that means anything to her, so she hitches a ride on a rocket in an effort to become an asteroid miner. Things don’t go quite as expected and she has to make the best of it. Can she survive? Tune in and see.

A Traders Diary – This is another one of those sorts of science fiction stories I’d like to here more of. Nathan Lowell tells the story of Ishmael Wang over the course of five books (so far). His mother, a university professor and his only family, dies and with her any chances he might have at a future. Or so he thinks. In desperation he joins the space fairing equivalent of the Merchant Marine. Starting out as nothing more than a mess mate on a trading vessel that sails the stars, isn’t his first choice, but it’s his only shot. He’s a “land rat”, one unwise in the ways of space, and no one else will take him. These stories are all about how far hard work, perseverance, and a little bit of luck will take you.

Well this post grows long and there are a lot more fiction casts I’ve wither listened to or will be listening to in the days/weeks/months to come, not to mention the non-fiction. More on the latter in a future post. Meanwhile if you’ve already listened to all of these you should also check out Metamor City, Murder at Avedon Hill, V & A Shipping, and anything Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, or Tee Morris puts out. You should also take a gander at Podiobooks. They have over 300 titles.