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Christian fiction review: My Life As a Superhero series by R. M. Strong

My Life as a SuperheroThis is a very good series. I’m pleased Rikki gave me review copies.

Those of you who know me recognize I do not pull my punches. These books surprised me in a good way. Though it is targeted at teenage and YA girls (I think), this ol’ curmudgeon enjoyed the series a lot also. The main characters begin as teenagers and grow to adulthood throughout the three books. They go through many trials simply because they are so young and immature. Through much of the beginning of Karis, I simply wanted to smack one character or another ’long side the head. But those tribulations are part and parcel of those years in all of our development into adults (assuming we ever arrive at that level of maturity).

I came to know the characters well and enter into an empathetic relationship with them. This is superhero stuff, comic books, and all the rest of the silliness. But it’s not a silly story. The tale has worth because of the spiritual content. The characters grow in meaningful ways. There are plenty of twists.

The cover designs need some work, I think

I’d be surprised if they were very attractive to their target audience. They are professionally produced, and very functional, but the excitement, danger, and joy of life which pervades the story is not shown in the covers.

Karis, the 15 year old becomes an orphan

Shockingly orphaned at 15, here’s the blurb:

Tamara finally got what she’d always wanted, all it took was the complete disintegration of her life. Putting her life back together would take her places she never thought possible. 

After witnessing the brutal murder of her family, 15-year-old Kingston native Tamara Weatherby is adopted by her father’s long-time friend, multibillionaire Paul Waterford–who just happens to moonlight as Krino, Kingston’s vigilante hero. Tamara quickly earns a role at Krino’s side, but she soon learns that her new occupational hazards are the least of her challenges; she must deal with now-envious friends, constant media attention, and the persistence of the man who took her family away. Over the years, Tamara meets and befriends all kinds of colorful superheroes and battles those who use their intellect or abilities–or their social standing–to harm others. 

Through her weaknesses and struggles, Tamara finds strength, courage, and confidence that she never knew she had. But can she find the will to forgive her family’s killer? 

**Content advisement: Though this is a book with strong, Christian values, there is, in an effort to keep characters authentic, some mild cussing. (Light PG-13).**

So this is a Christian Batman with Robin and Batgirl? No. First of all it’s not camp or comedic, though it is quite funny in places. This is a tale told as if it were real. About the content advisement: Personally, I wouldn’t call them strong, Christian values—but Tamera is a believer and it rubs off—eventually. For a Bible-thumping charismatic, like myself, the Christianity is quite tame. There’s no spiritual warfare, for example. However, the lives lived by Tamera and the rest are real. That’s what matters. The people who are believers take it seriously, and that’s a rare joy these days. I guess I’m too old and jaded. I can’t remember any of the cussin’ but maybe that simply shows how well the reality of the book shows through.

Flash, Tamera goes to college

As she grows up and goes away to school, here again is the blurb:

“Tamara is all grown up and moved out. Her archenemy has truly rehabilitated and they now enjoy a cordial relationship. With Kristin filling Karis’ boots in Kingston, Tamara enjoyed an uneventful first semester of college. But moving to St. Lawrence comes with a new identity and a new cast of villains to upset her semi-normal life: Adish, a mutant who can control fire; Apoctopus, a radioactive octopus; and David Fox, a man looking for revenge.

While her life as a superhero goes smoothly, Tamara’s personal life spins into turmoil. Her reputation is in constant danger and, for the first time since she witnessed her family murdered, she finds herself facing problems she cannot fight her way out of. The biggest wrench in her far-from-normal life, however, comes from her very best friend.”

This story is a lot more complex. As Tamera grows up, so do her problems. This book is a bit more far-fetched, but it’s still a great ride.

Erimentha, smacked down, Tamera’s life seems to continue to unravel

Now she’s married and pregnant, plus!+!+! This book is a fitting climax to a fun voyage of the mind. The blurb:

‘ “I miss it. I miss her. Putting the suit on again… Daniel, I miss Karis, so much,” I said quietly.  
 
“What gets me the most, though, what I finally just realized is that nothing is falling apart without me out there with you and the rest of the team. Was I really that disposable? Did all that hard work and all those sleepless nights really mean nothing if no one notices that I’m even gone? Why hasn’t the NCFA begged me to suit back up and save the world? I’m supposed to be indispensable. I put in so much time, and effort, and blood, sweat, and tears. I should be indispensable. Why am I not” ‘

I want to be very careful not to spoil anything. I couldn’t put it down. The characters I’ve come to know so well move to a strong conclusion.

 

 

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David

David Bergsland
Typographer, author, font designer

This blog contains the musings of a long-time artist, writer, & believer who’s been around far too long and knows less than he did forty years ago when he was sure he knew everything. He believes the Lord has called him to write, so he does it—trying to be obedient. Where it will lead is unknown except to the Lord Jesus. It is all Him—as I am finally convinced that what I do without the Lord is a waste of time at best.

Here’s a little history

As a hippie in the late 1960s, and a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BFA in Printmaking in 1971, I have been an artist and designer since 1967 (as far as I can recall in that distant past).

I actually started my design career immediately working as an illustrator for an occult publisher in St. Paul. I also spent several wasted years as an ego-maniacal heathen fine artist until I found my true calling as a creative called by God to design and write. I didn’t meet the Lord until 1974, but that’s another story for another time. Anything beautiful and truthful I have done came from the Holy Spirit, by grace.

Graphic Designer since 1979

I began in West Virginia under an art director named Pik who is still an inspiration. The man could draw marker roughs that were accurate enough to spec type and take measurements—and draw them as fast as I can write. This is where I began falling in love with type and typography.

After three years freelancing in Albuquerque I became the art director for Albuquerque Printing, one of the largest commercial printers in the city. Here my love of typography really flourished with an immense library of press type and a top-notch graphic art copy camera.

Teacher since 1991

After nearly 8 years as art director, I was given the opportunity to teach commercial printing at a large community college, Albuquerque TVI. I taught all aspects of printing from art to stripping, platemaking, printing, and bindery. It quickly developed into one of the first all digital printing/publishing degrees in the country with an all PDF workflow by 1993 or 4.

Writer since 1994

After four years of developing digital publishing course materials, Delmar Publishing, out of Thomson Learning now Cengage, asked me to write Printing in a Digital World. This was the first textbook on the all digital workflow [AFAIK]. I wrote six books for them on digital printing, FreeHand, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and typography.

Font designer since 1994

As a new owner of Fontographer, frustrated with the fonts available, I designed all the fonts used in Printing in a Digital World. First Makambo, then MyFonts asked to sell my fonts. Monotype began selling them on all of its sites a few years later. I’m now selling over a hundred fonts in several dozen families.

On-Demand Publisher since 2002

I started releasing my new unpublished course materials through Lulu in late 2002 or early 2003. Until then I had been distributing them to my students as PDFs. My publishing house, Radiqx Press, went full-time in 2009. I am currently writing font design books using FontLab and Fontographer, on-demand publishing books, books about using InDesign as the center of your writing & publishing work, and various Christian books—both fiction and non-fiction.

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World building: Baron’s Ring by Mary C. Findley

This book surprised me

From the cover I expected a little historical romance, and I don’t like them. It’s actually a very good fantasy with a compelling world and an excellent story. It provides a believable location for Mary to share profound truths with her readers.

It all Revolves Around a Ring – World-Building in the Realmlands of the Baron’s Ring

Baron's RingIn Parangor the king rules from the capitol, Kenborana, in a limited monarchy checked by the Council of Justices. They can discipline or even remove a king. Royal family members wear a bronze ring with a silver badger in a gold wheatfield. It symbolizes industry, tenacity, and fruitfulness.

The Realmlands engage in trade and sometimes cooperate in political and military alliances. Three countries – Parangor, Tarraskida, and the South Crescentlands (of which Kolt’Kutan is the capital), figure in this book.

Tristan is the main character of the story, younger brother to Dunstan, heir to the throne. Dunstan forces Tristan to cover for his lack of learning through beatings and manipulation. He cannot do the job of being king without Tristan’s help. Tristan sees disaster for his kingdom under Dunstan’s reign. He also sees idolatry overtaking true worship in Dunstan’s attempt to create a River God Cult to consolidate his power. But Tristan’s lifelong conflict-avoidance has left him able only to pledge to work himself to death to try to soften Dunstan’s rule.

Following is a quote from the story explaining how isolated Larcondale, where a large part of the story takes place, is.

“Larcondale is part of Tarraskida, the country that’s Parangor’s southern neighbor,” Thomas explained as Tristan gazed around at the swelling mountains to the south and the dense forest to the north. The mountains trailed away east and west as far as he could see, lesser or greater. The forest, too, seemed to go on unendingly.

“This valley’s almost completely cut off from every other settlement by the forest, which is here called Kinran, and that mountain range, called the Neskiras. In the forest is a river – You called it the Brenget, I believe, and here we’ve named it the Lahina. It’s true that it’d probably be less than a hundred miles between here and Kenborana if you could travel in or along the river. As far as I know it’s utterly impassable and unnavigable. And since it doesn’t emerge from the forest for another hundred miles westward, where it dumps into the West Nilsan Sea, it isn’t used by anyone here as a means of transit to Parangor.

“If you wished to go to Parangor, you would probably head west perhaps a hundred and fifty miles. I’m told there’s a road that skirts the edge of the forest. In a month or two it should be relatively free of mud. But at that point you’ll discover that a large part of that region suffered a massive flood about two years ago. There were once productive salt mines out there, but the water filled the caverns and then spilled over the countryside. The place is a salt flat and wasteland and there’s hardly any way to pass through there now. If you were able to do so by the most direct route it’s perhaps another hundred miles to get to Parangor, and I honestly do not know how much farther to the capital city.”

“Three days before those people found me I was in Kenborana,” Tristan exclaimed.

“You came by a route no sane man would travel,” Thomas replied with a wry smile. “There’s no road to the river, the woods are thick, boggy, choked with briers. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this. You came through it.”

Lords have absolute power over their territories. Gregor, the Baron of Larcondale, provides rich tax revenues to the kingdom through his vineyards. Gregor takes what he wants – workers, land, resources, and gives nothing back. The clergy can have a good deal of power or none at all depending on the rulers’ whims. People with skills and training can make a living, often by barter. Apprentices become the virtual property of their masters.

People can be enslaved for debt but can work it off or gain the master’s favor. Vancus gains favor because of his skills in managing the vineyard and eventually wins his family’s freedom. Tristan runs a school to educate both sexes with the blessing of the local minister, since education takes place through the churches. Vancus’ wife, Josena, grew up in Parangor and received physician training.

But other Realmlands kingdoms are not so progressive about women’s education. Gregor’s new wife comes from the South Crescentlands, a people highly advanced technologically but governed by mysticism and occult practices. Women wear veils and have no rights or freedoms except by rare family indulgence or powerful marriages. The men are equally skilled in economics, warcraft, and engineering.

People have universal, sometimes superstitious, respect for nobility, even that of foreigners. Tristan loses his ring but is still capable of demonstrating the qualities the ring symbolizes and proving himself worthy of honor and respect. But he is only able to accomplish some of his work by convincing other nobles of who he really is.

Women commonly get power only through marriage. Mayra and Shneea are foils in the story. Both of them demonstrate, that a woman can have enormous influence, for good or evil, through a husband.

Rulers can demand that wrongdoers be extradited to face charges. Fickle nobles can change their minds about prosecuting wrongdoers but make it impossible for the accused to just go free. Tristan finds himself in a power play for the control of Parangor that becomes a deadly battle of wits.

Foreigners can come into positions of power, as both Tristan and Catarain do in the story. But someone calls Tristan’s identity, his loyalty, and his fitness to return to Parangor into question because he does not have his ring. He is accused of disloyalty and deceptions practiced against the whole kingdom. He must prove who he really is or lose the kingdom he never thought he wanted to win.

 

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Christian Science fiction review: Firebird by Kathy Tyers

FirebirdThis is supposed to be the classic Christian sci-fi. I’m at 4-stars or a bit less. I know, “How can I say that?”

The cover I’d give 2.5 stars: poor typography, top half of book is white so the thumbnail disappears, the girl is not nearly as pretty as the image in my mind as I read the book, bad color, the graphic is meaningless, and so much more.

Is it Christian?

I think so. I think there’s a savior. But it’s a God without much power who doesn’t seem to have a relationship with His people outside Master/servant. Creator, yes. Almighty, yes. Savior, maybe in the second book. Friend, no. Empowering, no.

In fact, one of my main issues with the book is that the Sentinels seem to have more power in the world than their God has. My relationship with the Lord is more similar to a relationship with a Sentinel than it is to the Master Singer of this book. The active presence of the Lord in the book is largely missing.

It is a wonderful bit of sci-fi

It approaches the best of the space opera’s. It may well be that books 2 & 3 in the trilogy solve the spiritual questions just raised. In fact, there are several indicators that this is true, in Firebird.

The characters and relationships are wonderfully drawn

Firebird is an exceptional young woman, horribly abused emotionally and spiritually. Her strength of character is extremely attractive. There’s no way she’s the vacant-eyed waif on the cover. Brennen is what you hope a fine righteous young man should be. But all of the other characters, good and bad, are written with depth and discernment.

The world-building is exceptional

The geo-political construct is fascinating and well-done. The technological-scientific realities are very believable. The cultural vision is very rich. We see that some of the issues with political correctness and the fear of offending are very serious.

Though I think the Federation is supposed to be the good guys, they can’t be trusted. The Nataian culture is fascinating giving us the voyeurism of the reality shows as we watch it implode.

The titillation of telepathy

First of all, I must say this level of communication is one of my deepest hopes and desires. Of course, if I had any sense I’d be deeply afraid of the exposure—but I rarely do (consciously). I am certain this level of communication will be the norm in Heaven—for we will know as we are known.

However, placing this telepathic, empathic power in the hands of humans is terrifying for many, fraught with danger, and gets us focused on the creature rather than the creator. That level of oneness is immensely attractive, stimulating, and exciting. But it’s a counterfeit of the real thing. We are supposed to get this from the Lord through the Holy Spirit. It’s wonderful when it happens, but it’s not under our control—for good reason. So for non-believers it’s incredibly attractive. For believers, it is sadly less than real.

Nevertheless, this is a very good book. I hope my issues with book one will be resolved by reading books 2 and three of the trilogy.

 

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Christian science fiction: DarkStar Running, Book 2 of Living on the Run by Ben Patterson

Darkstar RunningNow the series gets really fun.

We meet the Honorable Ancestors: Stan and Lilia Archer. Here’s the blurb:

I’m a killer living on the run. I don’t remember every face of every victim, but I remember this: that look in the eyes of someone facing their end, the mixture of fear, resentment, resignation. It was my job, just my job. I stole lives. Now they steal my sleep, my peace of mind, my soul. The men, the women and, God help me, the children. I am a haunted man. 
This government asked too much from its soldiers. It asked too much from its citizens. It asks too much from me. 
Now, I’m asking for something. To get my soul back. 
There are as many ways to disappear as there are people, but no one could have predicted this. 
Fire up her engines. Let’s get DarkStar Running.”

Stan, the Confederation Enforcer, is a piece of work

He’s Stasi from an even nastier empire, the Confederacy. These Enforcers make the Cold War seem pretty calm and kind. Stan’s primary task is to kill all the Trogs. As we find out quite a bit later, these are the believers—persecuted Christians hated and killed by the Confederacy, expelled by Providence, Christians who have become hated or laughed at by all. Stan intends to do his part and wipe them out. But then he’s ordered to take out a cruise liner with thousands aboard…

Lilia is a waitress

She’s also a Trog, and Stan gets a little reality orientation. Stan grabs her and escapes with her as a hostage. But what a lady she is!

Then God moves technologically!

This is not as strange as it sounds. Many of our technological advances, like vulcanization, came to us through believers who were inspired—in spirito, in the Spirit. In fact, my father tried to chase this down many years ago. He found that virtually every great scientific or technological breakthrough came out of nowhere by inspiration.

In 20 years of teaching digital publishing at the college level with my own lab, we went through more than a hundred Mac computers, printers, presses, scanners and all the rest—and I never had to call tech support except for one computer where the power supply blew up the first month. Apple sent out a man to my lab and fixed it in house for free the next morning. Is this because Macs are great (have no idea really), or that God blessed the tools I needed to do what He called me to do?

In addition, upon many occasions I have been absolutely stymied about why the software would not work, was locked up, or whatever. I was the expert to call, so it was just me and the Lord. A simple request to the Lord fixed the problem miraculously—without a touch of the mouse or keyboard. Occasionally I had to break a hand of the enemy to free up the computer. Certainly after the mind, a CPU is child’s play or much less. So, what I am trying to say is that what the Lord does with DarkStar is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Spiritually, this book is strong mainline or better. It is not lowered to evangelical stereotypes. This is just lives of faith lived out before us within a excellent tale of the future.

This is science fiction at its best!

Wonderful concepts, outrageous technology, compelling characters, evil bad guys, and all the rest. You should read this book!

 

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Guest post: Ben Patterson on writing, connecting with non-Christians, human to human

Planet stories cliche coverRecently I’ve spent time reading and rereading Ben Patterson’s wonderful space opera. It has little or nothing to do with type of trash seen in the image. It’s what I look forward to in a tale like this. His writing shows us compelling relationships, wonderful technology, great characters, horrible villains, nasty corrupt governments, life and death stakes for the good guys whose entire culture is at stake. I wanted to see what makes Ben tick, so I asked. Here’s his response. As I expected, it’s well said. This is an author you should be reading.


 

What God has called me to do with my writing?

Tough topic. It’s hard to separate my writing from any other aspect of my life, but here goes …

God has called me to be, of all things, me; a flawed man. I am His project still under construction.

Firstly, let me say that I believe Christians have been given a bad rap. On some subconscious level, folks expect us to be perfect. When we are found to be less than perfect, they criticize, reject, and attack, and leave us reeling. But still, the world at large needs exposure to who Christians truly are, flaws and all. If we are to represent Christ, I do not see us as a people who are good, but as human beings in need of a Savior. Despite my flaws and faults, Jesus has accepted and forgiven me. Despite your faults, oh unbeliever, He accepts you as well.

This is the message I want others, non-Christians, to know. Because of Jesus, even non-Christians have direct access to God; direct access to forgiveness, to acceptance, to Grace. I am not a Christian because I’m good, but rather because I’m bad. That is the message I bring to the world in my stories.

As far as my writing is concerned, truth be told, I’m lazy. I write Sci-fi because I hate research. Sci-fi allows me to make up stuff when it comes to setting. To me, the human condition is far more important than setting anyway. I could write about perfect people in a perfect world, folks who are wise beyond their years, but I’d rather paint word-pictures of average, everyday folks struggling to hear God. Even when we hear God’s voice, we have to remember that that Word is filtered through us, and as such is, well, filtered, watered down, or twisted, even if only a little. Oh, that God’s voice came through loud and clear, but all too often, it doesn’t. Understandable given my heart’s condition.

To sum up:

I want to connect with non-Christians, human to human.

Nothing more. Nothing less. And leave the saving to the Savior.

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Christian science fiction: Living In Freefall, Book 1 of Living on the Run by Ben Patterson

In this, book one of the Living on the Run series, we follow the blossoming of Ericca Archer and her brother, Riley, as they try to survive in a corner of the universe which wants to see them dead. Here’s the official blurb:

Orphaned at fourteen, Ericca Archer and Riley, her eleven-year-old brother, found the universe a hostile place. Sold into slavery, never in one place long, they learned to survive. But Errica’s dream of a peaceful world and a free life drives her to escape captivity. Now, she and he are freelance security agents for a team of scientists who need them to protect their plans and equipment. With part of that technology—plans to what may be the most dangerous weapon ever created—in the wrong hands, she must infiltrate the weapon itself and sabotage key components. To get the job done, Ericca must elude ship’s security and escape detection, even as the forces of several governments align against her. Coming out of this alive will require the help of her brother’s guns, and every bit of luck she’s never had. But there’s no choice. If she’s ever going to have a peaceful place to call home, she first has to keep the universe from blowing up.


 

Living in FreefallA great piece of classic science fiction

This book starts in the middle of the saga, and this is epic science fiction. This week Ben released a short story about Ericca and her life just before this story begins. This is a wonderful space opera written as what Hartwell and Cramer defined in 2006 as “colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes.”

The heroic character, Ericca, is wonderful and compelling. Her brother, Riley, is as well written, but he’s not a leader. But extraordinary people abound in this saga—both good and bad. Some are even evil.

The Confederacy has dedicated itself to killing the Trogs—those despicable people who have no fear of the Confederacy. The Confederacy’s only goal is power and domination. They have no consideration at all for anyone else. They rule by fear and ruthless violence.

The pirates are bad and nasty, but nearly a “Pirates of the Caribbean” group with kings, planets, and incredible wealth for the leadership. These are classic bad guys—raping, looting, and pillaging. As this book begins, Ericca and Riley have just escaped an evil pirate king—barely. Actually it’s more than barely, it’s miraculous—but we only see that in hindsight, well into the book.

Providence, the good empire, has degenerated into mere religion, for the most part. They are (or were) the immensely powerful good guys. They remind me a lot of a country I live in. They are technologically-driven with immensely powerful weapons of war to protect their exceeding hedonistic way of life. But we don’t hear too much about that.

The Raiders, occasionally known as Trogs,  are the real good guys. But no one knows much about them, where they come from, or where they’re hidden.

I had a hard time getting into it

First of all, I had no idea this was YA. All the teenage angst and nastiness got to me for a while. Plus, we are tossed into this part of the universe with no preparation and a huge amount of back story. But even with all these problems, the story of Ericca and Riley is irresistibly compelling. It rapidly became a book I could not put down. But I never could quite understand what was going on politically and governmentally. THEN I discovered that Books Two and Three are epic prequels…more on that in a bit.

The spiritual realities of this book are relatively hidden.

Ericca and Riley are immensely talented and capable children thrust into this conflict, just trying to stay alive. They have no faith except in themselves. They see themselves as alone in the universe in a near constant battle for survival, which they see as a lark and great fun. These are teenagers with weapons, spaceships, and technology which would enable them to conquer Earth with ease. The technology is wonderful fun. The people, good and bad, are written large and compelling. The battles are epic, for the salvation of mankind.

Dealing with the Living on the Run series

I originally found myself quite irritated because Ben chose to start the story in the middle, as it were. I talked with him about it a bit and his response to that question is, DarkStar and Pierce are the prequels to Living. I wanted to capture the secular audience first before introducing them to Christ. Book four, not yet written, will be a redemption story that follows Living.”  Book 2, Darkstar Running, and Book 3, Pierce the Darkening Sky, are wonderful. Now I understand Ben’s reasoning and increasingly agree with it.

This is science fiction as I remember it when I couldn’t get enough of Heinlein, Asimov, Pohl, Clarke, Herbert, and Niven. I’ll never forget the wonder of Ringworld and Dune. These books are at that level. You can see it in Ben’s off-hand comment:

Christians tend to do things subpar. Our movies aren’t made as well, our books aren’t “covered” as well, our subject matter isn’t presented as well. That has to change. I read Game of Thrones, and Hunger Games simply to better my writing. I do not believe my writing, my ability to paint such clear word-pictures as they do is up to the crossbar they’ve set, and it needs to be. I believe, however, that with time and with proper feedback, that is attainable. I like that ebooks aren’t written in stone. The fact that they can be modified after their initial publishing should be a boon to out getting them where they need to be.

This is a great series, and I can’t wait for book 4. Ben’s humility is refreshing. I hate to break it to him, but his writing is already at that level. Hurry it up, Ben! I know you’re still editing and polishing these three—BUT I WANT BOOK FOUR!!!

 

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A freebie intro to “Living In Freefall” by Ben Patterson

Here’s a little treat. Ben’s written a short story intro to book 1 of his Living on the Run series.


 

Living on the Run

by Ben Patterson • Copyright 2014 Ben Patterson

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Printed in the United States of America.

Summery

“What do you want, Ericca Archer? The palace isn’t the worst place to be a slave. You have fine clothes, three squares, a comfy bed, and, if you want, a pretty girl like you, plenty of . . . very expensive baubles to grace your lovely neck. What more could you ask for?”

Her laugh, tittering and uncertain, betrayed her incredulity before she could restrain it. “And imagine, Lord Tyson, all I have to be is your plaything. That’s a price I’m not willing to pay, sir. Do you really think so little of me?”

Surprised, he smiled. “Actually, my dear Ericca Archer, my opinion of you has just risen considerably.”

Chapter One

Ericca’s heart raced as she leaned over her new purchase and spread the tarp to hide it.

“Whatcha got there?” a voice said behind her.

She stiffened. Being discovered now was the last thing she wanted. Pushing all emotion from her face, she straitened upright before turning to her twelve-year-old brother, then forced a smile hoping to look more mature than her fifteen years. “This has to be our secret, kay, little brother?”

To make sure they were alone, Riley stepped back and glanced up and down the stables before stepping back into the stall. His face and clothes were smudged with dirt and grime. Like Ericca, a week of Sundays had come and gone since his last bath. Only one strap held up his coveralls, the other, broken, hung loose behind him. “What is that?” he said, fixing his eyes on the tarp.

Ericca forced a reluctant grin. “It’s a spaceship.”

“That little thing? Nooo waaay.”

“Yes, way. I mean, it’s not a spaceship now, but it will be. You want to help me with it?”

Riley stepped closer and Ericca tugged the tarp which slid off the small craft.

“You’re kidding, right?” Riley said. The disappointment written in his face came with a slow, slight shake of his head.

The ship was old, well weathered, and hadn’t had air under its belly in ages, but the craft had potential. A little paint, some sealant, a bit of rewiring . . .

Ericca’s hopes deflated. “You’re right. This thing’ll never fly. What was I thinking?”

Riley shrugged and raised his eyes to hers and the apples of his cheeks rose, bringing with them the corners of his mouth. “If you want it in the air tomorrow, no, it isn’t going to happen. But if we can find a better place to hide it, work on it in our spare time, search dismantlers for the parts we need . . .”

That was Riley. Ever since he was able to walk he was a joy to be with. Ever and always the optimist, the level head, the encourager. She wanted to cry. She wanted to break down then and there and let go of her anger, let go of the pretense of always being the strong one. With their parents gone, keeping the family together fell to her. But she was only fifteen. No longer a little girl. But not quite a woman grown either. Keeping that stiff upper lip was wearing thin, and she didn’t know how much longer she could do it.

“What’s going on here?” boomed Scupper’s voice from the doorway.

Ericca spun to cover the ship but realized even as she replaced the tarp that it was hopeless. Letting the canvas fall, she turn to the big Swede.

His face was stern. “Let Scuppers see, Little one.”

Ericca stepped aside, glanced at the small craft, then drew her eyes back to the stable foreman who was stroking his stubbled chin thoughtfully.

“This is spaceship,” he said flatly. His English wasn’t quite where he wanted it, but he always made himself understood. “You use to escape this world perhaps?”

“Scuppers, I can explain. I—”

He stopped her with a raised hand. “You can no own. Rules. You can no fix for you. This is King Saundler rule. Forty, no fifty lashes Saundler know about this for you. You want lashes with whip?”

“Please, Scuppers, I—”

Again he raised his hand to cut her off. “I’m tell Saundler. Is best.”

“No, Scuppers. Please, let me explain.”

His stern face and glower told the two youths her words fell on deaf ears.

Scuppers turned to Riley. “You go. Get King Blackhart.”

With a saddened face, Riley nodded, and headed for the door, but Scuppers caught his shoulder as he passed. “Is not urgent. Only if Saundler is free. Now go.”

With that, Riley headed out. Scuppers turned to the girl, and gestured to the tarp. “Come. I help you fold.”

Ericca handed one end to the big foreman and they folded the tarp in silence, all the while, Scuppers studied her face. She had never seen the gentle giant angry before. Usually the man took everything in stride. Trying to provoke him was like trying to provoke a koala. Before now, Ericca didn’t believe it was possible.

They folded the second tarp and Ericca carried them up to the loft. This, a plank floor covered in straw, was where she and Riley slept. That was fine in the summer and warmer months, but she and he had to sleep in the bunkhouse when it got cold. Everyone had a bed there but them. She and Riley had to make do with blankets laid on the floor in the corner of the main room. A few of the men offered to share their bed with her, a few others with Riley, but that wasn’t going to happen if she could help it. Scuppers made clear that the two were off limits to all but that man who wanted his head split. Still, the offers didn’t quit.

Chapter Two

In a few moments King Saundler came into the stall with Prince Tyson a step behind him. Riley followed, and the few guards took posts outside the room. Ericca was in the loft and watched the happenings through a slit between planks.

“What’s this about?” Saundler said.

Scuppers dipped his head in salute, then gestured to the small craft. “Your Grace, I’m want to fix. I’m think I need eh, umm, small . . .” he waved a finger to indicate the sky, “I’m fly. I’m looking, I’m looking,” he postured as if he were looking down on the world below, “Ah, there is it what I’m looking for. Is good, no?”

Saunder stepped to the small crafted and tugged at a few of the parts and prodded the ripped and worn seat. “Looks like a lost cause, Scuppers. If you need a hovercraft, I think we can arrange something. Yes, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll buy new.” He turned to head out but Scuppers blocked his way.

The hulking foreman’s smile was big and friendly. He pulled Riley to his side. “Excuse please, My King. I’m want Riley is learn. Is mechanic for me. I’m train. He is one day mechanic for you. This, I’m think, is good for me, is good for you, is good for boy. Yes?”

Saundler smiled and patted Scuppers shoulder. “Fine. Whatever you want. I’ll tell the accountant you’ll be seeing him for funds.”

“Funds?”

“Money, Scuppers; tools, parts, whatever you need.”

“Ah, thank you, thank you, My King. For you, I’m do good working. Always.” He stepped aside and bowed deeply. Pressing on Riley’s back, he forced him to bow as well.

The king stepped from the room and Ericca rolled onto her back to breathe a sigh of relief. Scuppers. What a champ. He came through for her in spades. Now, she and Riley could work openly on the spaceship without having to spend all their meager funds on parts. Sitting up, she spun around to drop her legs over the side. Below, Skupper, Riley, and Prince Tyson looked up at her.

The prince, dressed in riding leathers, didn’t look surprised to find her. “You two stink.” There was no emotion written in his face.

“Sir?”

“Why aren’t you bathing?”

“Pardon me, sire. Riley and I—”

“I’m not accustomed to people speaking down to me from a perch, young lady. Come down here.”

Realizing her blunder, Ericca hurried down the wooden ladder, turned to her Lord Tyson, and dropped her eyes to his feet. “I beg your pardon, sire.”

“Well? Explain yourself. Why aren’t you bathing?”

“Riley and I work hard all day, sire. At the end of the day we have just enough energy to collapse into our blankets.”

He raised his eyes to Scuppers. “Is this true.”

Ericca glanced back.

Scuppers dipped his head. “No one, absolutely no one, works harder for me. I’m say do this,” he smacked his hands together, “they do this. Is not quit until job is done.”

Tyson laughed, and bounced his eyes from teen to teen before letting them stop on Ericca. “Haven’t you heard? There is always tomorrow.”

“We don’t like to leave loose ends, sire,” Riley said.

Tyson laughed again. “Ryley, personal hygiene is just as important as getting a job done. When you smell like that, you only find yourself working alone. Scuppers, see that this boy takes better care of himself.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

Tyson’s face sobered. “Now, about this ship. Do you take me for a fool?”

“Sire?” Ericca said.

He lifted her chin with a finger to meet her eye to eye. “That is your ship. Isn’t it!?”

She offered a meager nod. Now he knew and there was no getting around that. So much for her shot at escape.

“Bring her to the mansion, Scuppers; side entrance.”

Chapter Three

When they reached the side entrance, Scuppers rapped on the door’s glass.

A fortyish maid opened it to them. As Scuppers turned and headed away, Ericca entered. In this alien environment, and without Riley at her side, Ericca felt lost. She was lost. But was she in trouble? Given what Tyson Blackhart knew, how could she not be?

The maid led her up a narrow spiral staircase at the back of the kitchen that went up to the servants’ quarters. From there, she led Ericca to the servants’ communal bathroom at the end of a long hallway. A girl near Riley’s age stood by the bathtub at the room’s center. “This bath has been drawn for you, Ericca,” the girl said. “Well, strip and climb in. Don’t be slow.”

The older maid, with a soured face, gave Ericca a contemptuous look, then spun on her heal and left the two girls alone.

“I can bathe myself,” Ericca said. “You needn’t stay.”

“You’ll strip and climb in,” the girl insisted without losing her smile. “I promise I’ll scrub only your back and leave the rest to you. That touchpad mounted on the wall there is our intercom. Touch it, say my name, which is Darsea by the way, and tell me you’re ready. I’ll be back to take you to your room.”

“My room?”

The girl beamed. “This is where you’ll be living. You’ll share a room with Hildy, Cami, and me.”

“Hildy? Cami?”

“Hildegard Swain, and Camille Bartilo. They’re nice. You’ll like’em.”

After an awkward moment Ericca realized Darsea was going nowhere. She began to strip.

Darsea grinned, shook her head, and turned away to offer Ericca a modicum of privacy.

Ericca stripped off her last garment, stepped into the warm water, and lowered into it. Not surprising, it was like immersing herself in pure heaven. It had been so long since she’d indulged in such a simple thing as a bath that she had almost forgotten what it was like.

Darsea gathered up her clothes and, doing her best to keep them at arm’s length, dropped them down the wrong shoot; one marked ‘Incinerator.’ The one next to it was marked ‘Laundry.’

“Wait! I wanted those washed?”

“I don’t believe you did. Certainly not. Those rags belonged in the incinerator.”

Ericca dropped below the clear water and covered herself with her hands. “I can bath myself. Please leave.”

“Sorry. Here we wash each other’s backs. The rest I’ll leave to you.” With that the girl dipped a soft scrub-cloth into the water and buried a bar of soap into it to work up a good lather. Then she pushed Ericca’s shoulder from behind. “Sit up. Lean forward. Come on.”

Ericca did as instructed and Darsea scrubbed firmly but not enough to take off skin. “With that she said, “I’ll be right back. Go ahead and take care of the rest.”

Before long, Darsea returned with clean clothes, a dress Ericca considered both practical and pretty, and comfortable shoes that made sense for long hours of being on one’s feet. Darsea gathered Ericca’s long, black hair to one side and made a single braid of which fell in front of her shoulder clear to her waist.

Chapter-Four

Later that hour Prince Tyson found Ericca in the library polishing gold trimmed mahogany. “Hey,” he said, catching her hand to stop her, then just as quickly released her. He folded his arms, and smiled. “So, Ericca, like your new job?”

“I do, Sire. Thank you.” She stepped off her stepstool to face him. “This place seems so much bigger on the inside.”

His face became serious. “Ericca, I want you to stay within certain, designated areas of the mansion. Study the floor plan, memorize it, and don’t wander out of those areas. Understood?”

“Mmm, yessir. May I ask why?”

“You may not. Just do as you’re told,”

“As you wish, Sire.”

At lunch time, a heavyset girl nearly eighteen came in to fetch her. “Hi, roomy,” she said with an overstated but honest smile. “Ericca, is it? I’m Cami. Come, let’s grab a bite.”

In the kitchen they found another girl waiting for them. Cook had prepared sandwiches and juice. Hildy, a twenty-year-old, her face and neck badly scarred from a fire, was shy and quiet. Cami, nearing thirty, was outgoing. She was opinionated to a fault, understood nothing about personal boundaries, and needed to bridle her tongue. Her mouth was always running, always lowbrow, and her language was always bluer than a macaw. But she was funny and, overlooking her more off-colored words, kept both girls in stitches.

Eleven-year-old Darsea, who was quick with the comebacks though painfully civil, joined them.

“So, first time in the big house, hmm?” Camille said to Ericca. “The prince is a prince sure enough, but the king is a royal—”

“Whoah!” Darsea cut her off. “Walls have ears, and all.”

Cami turned to Hildy and gingerly brush back her hair to expose the girl’s ear to Ericca. The fire had burned it off.

“The king’s doing?” Ericca said.

Hildy brushed away Cami’s hand and dropped her eyes.

“All that, for what?” Darsea asked.

Cami shrugged. “Girl’s got to defend what’s hers. King Saundler wanted t’ learn her she wasn’t her own to defend. Not against him anyway.”

“Been worse if not for the prince,” Hildegard said, her voice little more than a whisper.

“You let a man have a little without raising a fuss, he might jus’ think he’s entitled to more. King thinks they ain’t no boundaries to his wants no how. He jus’ takes and takes.”

“Why didn’t you run away?” Ericca asked, incensed someone, anyone, would demand so much from an employee.

Cami laughed. “Jus’ what do you think you’re doing her, girl? You is pro-per-ty,” she said emphasizing each syllable. “Property don’t run away, it jus’ gets used up.”

“I’m no one’s property.”

Darsea patted her hand. “You’re Tyson Blackhart’s property, Ericca. I thought you knew.”

Chapter Five

The girl’s returned to their assigned tasks, Ericca went back to the library where Tyson sat in a high-backed chair, reading.

The idea of being someone’s plaything didn’t set well with Ericca. She thought, well she thought, “You own me?” she blurted, glaring at the prince.

He sighed, carefully bookmarked his page, and set aside his book, then raised his eyes to her. “In a kingdom, everything and everybody is owned by the king.” He narrowed his eyes on her. “Does this really come as a surprise to you?”

Ericca’s heart suddenly felt heavy in her chest. “I . . . I didn’t know . . .”

“What? That you were mine to do with as I please?”

Her jaw slacked. Now Hildegard’s scars made perfect sense. Ericca could tell the girl had been very pretty once, but she made the mistake of refusing the king. She was Saundler’s example to the others. Stunned, she didn’t know what to say. She suddenly felt cowed. The feeling was new and awful.

“What do you want, Ericca Archer? The palace isn’t the worst place to be a slave. You have fine clothes, three squares, a comfy bed, and, if you want, a pretty girl like you, plenty of . . . very expensive baubles to grace your lovely neck. What more could you ask for?”

Her laugh, tittering and uncertain, betrayed her incredulity before she could restrain it. “And imagine, Lord Tyson, all I have to be is your plaything. That’s a price I’m not willing to pay, sir. Do you really think so little of me?”

Surprised, he smiled. “Actually, my dear Ericca Archer, my opinion of you has just risen considerably.”

 

To read more about the life and adventures of Ericca Archer, find “Living in Freefall” on KDP Select.

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Christian fantasy review: Orphan’s Song by Gillian Bronte Adams

Orphan's SongBook #1 of The Songkeeper Chronicles is out to acclamation by the readers of her blog. She is a polished, online, social communicator who obviously loves to write and is very good at it. Her debut novel (after a few short stories) is very well written. She has all the pieces, and she’ll probably be quite popular. If you like fantasy, you should buy a copy of this book and read it. However, there are some issues for me.

It’s a depressing book

Book 1 is just one disaster after another. There is momentary relief, but nothing really positive. It’s all angst and no joy. The characters are intriguing and well-developed. I should like some of them. But to be honest, I’m still reeling from all the disasters. Plus, nothing is resolved, at all, in this first book of the Songkeeper Chronicles.

Birdie, believe it or not, is the heroine’s name. She’s an orphan, saved as a baby by a griffin who dropped her from a great height during an attempted rescue. She was picked up (uninjured I think) on an unknown road in a country without a map by a man. He brought her back to the inn run by he and his wife where Birdie is introduced as a very badly treated, very young slave and the book begins. The cover image shows her about as happy as she gets in book one. Here’s the official blurb:

Who Will Keep the Song Alive? 
Every generation has a Songkeeper – one chosen to keep the memory of the Song alive. And in every generation, there are those who seek to destroy the chosen one. 
When Birdie’s song draws the attention of a dangerous Khelari soldier, she is kidnapped and thrust into a world of ancient secrets and betrayals. Rescued by her old friend, traveling peddler Amos McElhenny, Birdie flees the clutches of her enemies in pursuit of the truth behind the Song’s power. 
Ky is a street-wise thief and a member of the Underground—a group of orphans banded together to survive . . . and to fight the Khelari. Haunted by a tragic raid, Ky joins Birdie and Amos in hopes of a new life beyond the reach of the soldiers. But the enemy is closing in, and when Amos’ shadowed past threatens to undo them all, Birdie is forced to face the destiny that awaits her as the Songkeeper of Leira.

Now you know as much as I do, and I just finished the book. I really can’t tell you more without spoiling something. But I actually do not know much more now than I did when I started the book. I still don’t know who the Khelari are except they are nasty and probably evil. Their master is certainly evil, by the end of book one I know little more than that about him. We get a few quick glimpses of some good guys, but their path veers off and we see them no more in book one.

Amos is a good guy, I think, but I’m not sure about that either. He is certainly much more than a peddler. Ky should be a compelling figure, but I don’t really have a handle on him either other than the obvious: he’s yet another orphan thief. Birdie, Amos, and Ky are drawn together against the forces of evil, I think—but that’s not clear either. Actually, they are placed together and struggle to stay together, but there is really no compelling reason for any of them. Amos is the the only person Birdie trusts, but that trust is on real rocky footing. Ky feels like he should, but that’s about as strong as it gets.

Spiritually, there’s nothing real or compelling

Gillian says she’s a Christian and I believe her. In the well-hidden background, there seems to be a god. But there’s no evidence of a savior, so this cannot be considered a Christian book. The songkeeper is overwhelmed by a force of great power from outside her, but we are given no idea where it comes from—other than we can guess that its source is what might be god. But, he’s not talked about at all in book one. His name is only mentioned a few times, and to be honest I can’t even remember what it is. It’s really not relevant to book one.

So, should you get a copy for your children?

Only if you read it first and make sure you get your children involved in a discussion about it. This is a clean read. The cursing is wonderfully inventive, but not foul. There’s a fair amount of physical violence and a lot of emotional damage. There is really no spiritual help for anyone—though there is hope that we’ll see something like that in book two. Book one is a dark book which ends on a vaguely hopeful note. I truly expect to be much more enthusiastic after book two. But that’s really the best I can give you.

Enclave gave me a free review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Christian fiction review: The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

PatmosDeception

The official blurb…

An Ancient Island Holds an Ancient Secret . . .

Nick Hennessy, a young Texas journalist yearning for his big break, finds himself in Europe–his assignment, to investigate the alarming disappearance of invaluable Grecian antiquities. Nick has the credentials–and cover ID–to unearth the truth. And he knows just the researcher to help him…

Carey Mathers, fresh from her studies in forensic archeology, has accepted a job with the prestigious Athens Institute for Antiquities–a dream come true, really, particularly when the Greek isle of Patmos, where the Apostle John received his vision of the Apocalypse, was a particular focus of her research.

Dimitri Rubinos, for whom the Greek islands represent his life, holds on by his fingernails to the family charter boat business. But his country’s economic chaos isn’t the only thing that has turned his world on its head…

 


 

Here we have a high quality example demonstrating my main concern about traditionally published Christian fiction.

The story is more than competently done. Davis Bunn is one of the true professionals in our industry. He knows all the nuts and bolts using them to craft an excellent story. The problem with the tale is the lack of spiritual power. It’s not a Christian story.

English: The Port (Skala) of Patmos Island, Gr...

English: The Port (Skala) of Patmos Island, Greece (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has all the pieces. It takes place on the Isle of Patmos. The historical explanations as well as the current culture are very interesting. The characters are very well described with depth. The relationships are compelling and intriguing. Some of the characters are obviously believers. But there is nothing of true spiritual power, merely religious emotion. God is not made real, because He is not really part of the story. This is about religion, not relationship.

The tale is told cleanly and up to Christian Bookseller standards. But it is all so boring—because the Lord never shows up and the Holy Spirit never reveals His presence in any way. I guess I need to coin a possibly new phrase. Instead of PC for politically correct, this book is RC for religiously correct–designed to offend no denomination. It reduces the story to pablum and I grew up into a need for meat and substance a long time ago. Baby food no longer satisfies. Solid food is all self-published these days because of RC realities.

As a result, the story is mere entertainment—very well-done entertainment. But by next week, I will have probably forgotten this pretty trifle. Because there’s really nothing here other than momentary diversion. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it could have been so much more.

I was given a review copy by Bethany in exchange for an honest review.