Stories for the Masses

The mutterings of a half-mad Canuck who writes stuff

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Human 76 – Human X

Human X tells the story of Ael, a mysterious man who mysteriously survives a nasty disease and is mysteriously blind (these things are all related). This is the first story to take a decidedly supernatural turn, and I like it. The horror elements are more muted than they probably would have been if this book hadn’t been specifically meant for a YA audience, but they are there and strongly enough to do their job.

Human X is also the first story in the collection told in the first person. I feel pretty ‘meh’ about first person, it’s never really been my thing, but by the end of the story I could see the reason for it. It’s still not a voice I like reading, but it was necessary to tell this particular story, and Michelle Fox does it better than most.

One thing I’m having to remind myself of over and over again while reading this book is that the stories are stand alone items. I was thinking about how the evil creatures in this story were going to fit in down the road, but they don’t need to, do they? There are enough shared elements from story to story that it’s easy to forget they actually aren’t interconnected in any meaningful way.

I think that’s pretty neat.

The book is available at in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback only, e-book coming soon).

Human 76 – Hiero Worship

And so we move from the warm and squishy human side of this post-apocalyptic wonderland to the hard and shiny Promethean Alliance. As you could probably tell from my story, I hate them. I hate them lots. This story brings the bad guys into much, much sharper focus, and oh boy is Ghabrie in trouble.

Speaking of trouble, I had a bit of trouble getting into this story, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me. It has everything I like in a sci-fi romp; neat toys, cool science, and interesting new powers. The puns are groanable, and the protagonist is OP as fuck.

And that’s what was bugging me – that’s what I wasn’t liking. This guy is basically what the PA is trying to build – a god – and Ghabrie is going to have to figure out a way to take this dude down at some point, and I just don’t see how that’s possible.

I’ve decided, though, to have faith on my main lady and trust that she will find a way to feed the big bad augmented wolf his own eyeballs before the end of the book. Maybe the waif from my story will meet up with Ghabrie and make a milkshake of Hiero’s mind from the inside. Maybe Ghabrie will figure out how to do that on her own. Maybe his nanites will contract a virus. Maybe he’ll switch allegiance (I doubt it).

The only thing that still bugs me at this point is the idea that this guy would have full-body nano-armor and leave his nuts unprotected. Rookie move.

The book is available at in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback only, e-book coming soon). Jeff Hollars other books can be found here.

Human 76 – Behind These Walls

I may have mentioned before how much I love Alex Brightsmith’s writing. I have, in my possession, a short piece she wrote for an Anthology Club anthology that never made it out the door. That piece of writing still haunts my dreams. To the best of my knowledge, she’ s still not published it elsewhere, and I consider myself very lucky indeed to be among the few souls to have read it.

That other piece of writing was quite short, more sketch than full-fledged story, and yet still managed to evoke such a profound sense of melancholy and longing that it has stayed with me to this day. I thought that maybe it was the brevity of the other piece that lent it its poignancy  but here, in this longer and more fleshed out narrative, I felt the same feelings; loss, poignancy, wistful remembrance… I’m not sure exactly what to call it, but Alex is an absolute master at evoking those feelings.

It occurs to me, by the way, that I haven’t exactly been reviewing the stories in the traditional sense. I’ve not been giving much in the way of plot or character details. Partly this is because these are short stories and there are only so many details you can give before you’ve given the whole story away, and partly because I find it more interesting to talk about the feel of the story than the bones of it. But I feel like I should at least make a nod towards that sort of thing, so:

This story centers around Chrissy, an old acquaintance of Glint from the last story. The events of this story and the last happen at the same time and, in fact, the two stories share some of the same plot elements, albeit from different viewpoint characters. Chrissy is a blast survivor, and has kept herself apart from the new world as it has built itself back up. She is forced to confront the walls she’s built for herself to keep the world out (the walls in the title are metaphorical ones), and to question her wisdom in building them in the first place.

Oh, and a character dies.

The feeling I’m always left with after reading an Alex Brightsmith story is one of sadness. Pleasant sadness. Optimistic sadness. Bittersweet, contented sadness. The sadness of what might have been. She really is one of my favorite writers ever.

The book is available at in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback only, e-book coming soon).

Human 76 – Glint

First, let me say that Michael Wombat has a real gift for flavor.

This story gives us our first real glimpse of what civilization looks like after the end of civilization. I’m kicking myself a little bit for not thinking to give Ghabrie a Geiger counter… or a flipping bicycle. It seems so obvious in hindsight that bicycles would be the predominant form of long-distance transportation in a post-apocalyptic world, and yet it never occurred to me to include a single one in my own story.

Glint, Lauren, and David are all great characters; well defined, distinct, and sympathetic. Without getting too spoilery, I hope to see the ones who are still alive at the end of this story again in the book. That would make me happy.

I’d write more about this story, but the next one in the book was written by Alex Brightsmith, and I love her writing more than just about anything so I’m off to read it now. Suffice it to say that Wombat has written an exciting, adventurous story with compelling characters and a satisfying, oh-my-god-damn-you-for-killing-that-character kind of ending. No seriously, Wombat. Damn you.

The book is available at in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.

It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback only, e-book coming soon). I really think you should go get a copy.

Human 76 – Where the Wild Things Are

Ah, the plot thickens. Now we have factions pitted against each other. Nick Johns‘ story is fast paced and introduces us to a broader vision of Ghabrie’s world. I’m still not sure if Laura and Jake were human, animal, or one of each (I suspect the latter) but it seems the lines between the two groups are blurrier than they usually are. The hyper-intelligent monkey was an interesting twist, as well.

As a fellow contributor I knew the basic information we were all given about the Prometheans. I’m becoming more and more interested to see what my fellow conspirators have done with them. While reading Nick’s story I had to keep reminding myself, I suspect not for the last time, that he hadn’t read my story when he wrote his. The stories in this anthology were largely written in isolation from each other. I understand from what the other authors have said, however, that they fit together remarkably well given that fact. So far, that seems absolutely to be true.


The book is available at in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.

It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback only, e-book coming soon). I really think you should go get a copy.

Human 76 – Follow the Leader

This is number 2 in my series of reviews of the stories in Human 76.  What I aim to do is write a review of each story as I read it, one every 2 or 3 days. Of course this, the second story in the anthology, is the one that I wrote, so a review doesn’t make much sense. For this one I think I’ll just talk about the process of writing it and maybe share a snippet or two.

(Also, it has been more than 2 or 3 days since the last segment because… reasons.)

This anthology project came along at a critical time for me. I won’t get into specifics, but I was feeling overwhelmed by a few parts of my life. I was really struggling, and the process of completing the most recent Anthology Club project had made it crystal clear to me that my vision for that part of my life was seriously flawed.

Also, I wasn’t writing.

I had any number of ideas and numerous projects in various stages of development – 5 novels, 6 or 7 short stories, and a collection of four linked novellas, in fact – but I couldn’t seem to get anything written on them. Nothing really excited me, and I couldn’t get into putting words on pages. But when this idea started popping up in one of my writers’ groups, given how cool the concept was and who all was involved, I knew I had to get something written for this book.

And I did.


I got my story in two days after the third and final absolutely last deadline which, by the way, had already been extended a couple or three times by that point. Michael Wombat should have declined my story and told me to  buy a calendar, but thankfully he didn’t. Perhaps he sensed how important it was for me to get in on this book. Maybe he’s just a really swell and relaxed kinda guy. Probably both of those things.

(As an aside, in addition to being a group of great writers who write fantastic and entertaining stories, the other authors in this anthology are also some of the kindest, most compassionate and caring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. True story.)

At any rate, given my own personal struggles in following my writerly ambitions, and in writing this story, it’s no real surprise to me that my story for this anthology deals so much with themes of redemption, and tying off the past so as to move on with the future. I just hope I can be half the badass I’ve portrayed Ghabrie as being.

I said I’d include snippets, but there isn’t really one part of the story that stands out more than the others for me. This story seems to hang together more, is more tightly wrought than my other stories. Or maybe I’m still too close to the creation of it to pick out favorite bits.

There are a few lines that I quite like, that I pulled out as suggestions for T-shirts or posters or somesuch down the road, so I will include them here:

At the moment she felt like a pampered house cat who had just been caught marking a tiger’s territory.

It was time to face the demons of her past.

“I’m afraid you won’t have any time for experiments. You’ll be too busy being dead.”

“You can’t run from me. You aren’t nearly good enough to run from me. ”

“I don’t read the future. I make the future.”

“What is wrong with you people?”

You can never be completely free of your past, but you can certainly decide how much it affects your future.

My story for this book is tense, and a bit dark, but ultimately it’s about hope and redemption. It’s also about one seriously kick-ass young lady who is determined to make her own future.


The book is available at in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.

It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback only, e-book coming soon). I really think you should go get a copy.

Human 76 – Prologue and “Leaving the Nest”

Human 76 is a real thing in the world now, and as I mentioned in my last post, I have read early versions of a few of the stories, but haven’t read the final versions of any of them, and haven’t seen many of the stories at all. In light of that, what I propose to do is write a review of each story as I read it, one every 2 or 3 days.

We begin our adventure with a very short prologue, and the first story, called “Leaving the Nest” – both written by Lisa Shambrook. The prologue was new to me, but I had read an early version of “Leaving the Nest” at the beginning of the project.

Lisa had the unenviable task of setting the stage for the rest of us, and so her hands were somewhat tied in terms of the story she could tell. She didn’t let that slow her down or cramp her style, though. The prologue sets the tone, and it’s a dark, brusque, urgent opening that promises a wild, thrilling ride (Stephen King, Schmeevin King – I like my adjectives). “Leaving the Nest” delivers on that promise and adds a healthy portion of emotional heft.

“Quiet, you fool! You’re safe now!” Rough hands gripped Ghabrie.
A kestrel swooped but Ghabrie could not hear its call. She could hear only Nahria’s shriek. Ghabrie strained to glimpse her little sister through the mass of rebellion warriors and Prometheans. The two sides were withdrawing, both claiming their spoils and retreating. Ghabrie thrashed: kicking, biting, struggling against strong arms that restrained her.
“Nahria, I’ll come for you!”
The butt of a rifle thumped the side of her head as her words still echoed across the barren landscape. Ghabrie slipped into an oblivion brought by the hands of her liberators.
* * *
When she woke she swallowed her nausea, winced at her injuries, and wept at the loss of her reason to live. She vowed never to rest until Nahria was back at her side.

That’s the prologue, in its entirety. Sets the tone nicely, doesn’t it? One of the comments that several of the other authors have made at various times was how closely all the stories matched in their tone and treatment of Ghabrie. I suspect Lisa Shabrook’s deft handling of these elements here deserves much of the credit for that.

“Leaving the Nest” concerns itself with Ghabrie’s early life, as well as introducing the reader to the main characters and the world they inhabit. It takes the form of a series of recollections by Xanthe; mother of two, and adoptive mother of many more. Via her flashbacks we meet Ghabrie, find out how she met her bird, what happened to separate her from her sister, and how she began her quest. We also get a surprising amount of information about the Ghabrie’s world, her community, and the apocalypse that makes this collection of stories post-apocalyptic. I say surprising because you don’t notice you’re being given the information at the time. It’s woven so naturally into a very well-told and compelling tale that all of the world-building and backstory-ing seems to happen accidentally. That’s first-rate writing.

Here is an excerpt:

“So, you heard him last night, did you?” she asked the child behind the door. “Come on in, and let’s see if he wants a snack.”
The child, grubby and thin, slid round the door and wandered into Xanthe’s container. The shipping containers had quickly become homes. People had barely escaped with their lives, so the facilities at the shipping yard were luxurious and the Blast survivors had made the best of what they had found. For the first few months they had huddled in the caves dug out at the foot of the mountain, the huge, gaping storage depot. Then as they realised they had escaped to a pocket of land free from radiation at the foot of the huge Tinder Mountain range, they emerged to reclaim the shipping yard, its surrounding land and a compound they could protect and live in. The survivors had cleared debris, turned the hot, metal shipping containers into homes and built new homes with the timber, tin and breeze blocks salvaged from the warehouse. The stagnant lake protected the north edge. Nothing could traverse the lake and the ships still harboured there were lost as the sulphuric water corroded and ruined the iron. Xanthe had been able to see the rolling waves from the door as the young girl stepped closer to her bed.
“Do you want to see?” she asked the child.
The girl nodded and Xanthe beckoned. Soon the child was sat upon the bed and the baby bird, almost as skinny as the little girl, fed from her hand.

The final version of the story is much as I remember from the early one I read months ago – tweaked here and there, the prose tightened and polished but, for the most part, the same in form and feature. It excites me as much now as it did then, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book. Even my story, which is next.


The ebook is available in epub format for free here.

The paperback is currently available here with all proceeds going to Water is Life

Here’s What I’m Going to Do

Cover for Human 76There’s a funny thing about contributing to an anthology that I’ve never really considered much before now, perhaps mostly because this is the first time I’ve been a contributor without also being an editor. With Human 76, I was involved in discussions and conversations about the stories and the process, and I did read early drafts of a few of the stories. But I haven’t read most of the stories in the book at all and I haven’t read the final versions of any of them, save my own.

I have ordered my paperback copies, of course. One for me, one for my Dad, and a couple for the library of the school where I teach. I had them all shipped to my parent’s place in Canada, because we’ll be visiting there in a few weeks and it was drastically more expensive to have them shipped to China. I was planning to wait until  we got there to read the book, but… well, I don’t want to wait that long.

And that’s when I had the idea to do what I’m going to do.

I have grabbed a copy of the ebook, which is available for free right now through and soon through Amazon, and I am not going to wait. I’ll read and review each individual story here on the blog, one every other day.

It will be glorious!

Human 76 is Now a Thing

Cover for Human 76A large part of the reason I’ve been pushing myself to get the site re-design done over the last few days is because I knew this beautiful thing was going to be ready this week and I wanted to be able to tell people about it.

Human 76 started as a family photo shoot with a twist – you can read about the projects origins here – and quickly became another in a growing list of rewarding and fulfilling projects undertaken by one of the wonderfullest groups of people on the planet. Michael Wombat did a wonderful write-up on the development from “wouldn’t it be neat” to finished book, which is only fitting as he was (as usual) the driving force that got the whole thing done.

The book contains 15 stories from 14 authors (myself included) each of which connects to the others in ways none of us could have foreseen when we started. It’s a shared-world, linked-storied, post-apocalyptic anthology, about a young woman on a journey to find and rescue her sister. It’ s suitable for a PG-13 audience, and it is very, very good.

It will be a free e-book for a few weeks (I’ll post a link as soon as it goes up) and is available now as a luxurious, creamy-smooth, reasonably-priced luxury paperback through All monies from both versions will go to Water is Life, a charity whose mission speaks loudly to all of the people involved in making this book, and whose mission couldn’t be a better fit, thematically, for the stories we wrote.

I encourage everyone to get a copy, and to read it, and to tell me what you think.

And then read it again.

Welcome to the Umpteenth Version of This

I have to admit, this blog has been through so many versions in the past three years that I feel like I should refer to it as Version mumble-mumble. Like some not-as-old-as-the-character-she’s-portraying leading lady pretending to be coy about her age to Tom Hanks in a 1980s rom-com. Truth is I really don’t know how to count what iteration this is of this blog. I haven’t really been keeping track.

What I do know is that there comes a time in every blog’s life when everything that has gone before must be burned to the ground to make way for new growth. To outsiders this might seem like willful and senseless destruction. It may seem wasteful of all the work that went into it up to that point.

But it’s really not.

You see, the value of all that work was not in the result, but in the process. In creating and maintaining, and failing to maintain my previous blog, I learned a lot about how to do all that. I also got to figure out some things that worked well for me, and a lot of things that didn’t. I refined my ideas about what I want to do, what I don’t, and what (and who) this blog is for.

And once you’ve burned down the past, you can use the ashes to fertilize the future.

So… yeah. I deleted the old blog and started over again – this time with more fertilizer.

I don’t yet know how often I’ll be posting, or exactly what I’ll be posting about. One of the things I figured out in the last go-around was that I should probably be more organic.

I do want to focus more on my writing work, so I’ll be talking about projects I’m working on, and I’ll post snippets and flash fiction and so forth as it seems appropriate. I’ll also write about writing from time to time as I figure out what I’m doing and learn new things as a writer, but only if I think it would be interesting to people who read my fiction. Because that’s who this blog is for – the people who read, and enjoy, my writing.

Both of you.

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