Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. This book is the first of a trilogy, but can be read as a standalone, which means the second two books are there for you should the first leave you wanting more (which it probably will).

I first discovered V.E. Schwab before I’d discovered her books. It may seem strange, but it’s not the first time it’s happened for me. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and see things differently or it’s because I’ve become serious about my own writing and have started quasi-networking. I don’t know, but this is not the first time I’ve discovered an author before reading their work.

Anyway, I discovered Victoria as a person and thought she was pretty cool and decided to read her book which I am now recommending to you. I’m also recommending you watch her delivery of the 6th Tolkien lecture titled “In Search of Doors” which took place two months ago. I’ll provide a link to that here: “In Search of Doors” because I thought it was brilliant, especially when she begins by stating she has never read Tolkien. Watch it and you’ll understand why I was initially drawn to her work because of her as a person.

Now onto the book itself. A Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM for short) centers around the character Kell. He is unique because he possesses a rare magic which lets him travel between Londons, of which there are four. Stay with me here. There are four Londons that are identical but are essentially within different dimensions for lack of a better word. The city is the only constant between the four worlds and each has varying degree of magic that flows through it. Kell is from Red London which is prosperous in magic. Grey London is where us commoners (or muggles if you prefer in this context) would hail from. White London is a power-hungry world. And Black London is a world that was consumed by magic. When Black London fell, the doors were shut between “dimensions” and each world was effectively lost to the others, except to those capable of traveling between them with their own magic.

That’s all the setup I’ll provide. After all, this is a recommendation, not a review, and I would hate to spoil anything for you. If you like reading about magic and the worlds that contain them, give this one a shot. I was in a pretty bad reading slump when I decided to read this one. I read it quickly and enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope you do too.

Happy Reading.

Mid-Year Update

Hi Everyone,

I realized I haven’t posted anything besides a story or book recommendation in three or four months. Well, I thought I’d give everyone an update about what’s been going on with me and a little behind-the-scenes on my writing progress.

First, and I think I may have mentioned this last time, is that I am getting married this year. I got engaged in February and will be getting married in September, so wedding planning has been keeping me busy. I also went on a vacation in May where me, my fiancee, my sister and brother-in-law all went to London then traveled around Ireland. It was a great time and can’t wait to do a bit more traveling, but I will be a married man next time I leave the country.

Life has been good. I still work full-time and stress too much about little things like money, and not getting any writing done (specifically for my book), which leads me to my writing. I first posted my aspirations regarding writing for this year. I am happy to say that I have kept up my weekly flash stories and weekly book recommendations, but I have only written and submitted a few flash stories for publication (none of which were picked-up). I do need to make more effort here, but I’ve been thinking of writing more short stories instead of flash stories for these submissions. I have increased my network of potential readers and still have regular readers, like you (thank you), who read my work. My book has gone neglected for most of the first half of this year. I had a few good writing sessions working on it after I got back from vacation, but hit another wall which I think I’ll be able to bust through fairly easily after I do some outlining.

With that, I’ve been keeping up with roughly 50% of my goals for this year. I still hope to finish the first draft of my book by the end of the year. I’m not sure if I’ll get many more stories submitted for publication, but we will see. I’ve already decided that I will be switching some things up for this blog next year. I’ll detail those changes at a later time when I know for sure what I’ll want to do.

Since I have been keeping up on my weekly flash stories, that means I’ve written 26 stories so far this year (not bad I’d say). With the other random micro-fiction stories, there are well over 50 stories in the Table of Contents for this blog. Here are a few of my personal favorites that I’ve written since I started:

Children of Changyang Mountain

Death of an Immortal

Elemental Cocktails

Mechanic

Nothing Lasts Forever

Phantom Queen

Prime Cognition

The Warmth of Snow

Variable Stars

Voyage Beyond Chains

And obviously my published story This is Your Life

 

I may expand upon a few of these and write full short stories or even novelettes or books based on the premises.

As always, I appreciate you stopping by and reading my work. I welcome all feedback and encourage any discussions had about the stories. You can comment on any of them. You can also contact me directly here if you wish to do so. I’ll respond as quickly as I can. Feel free to share my work with your friends. Any and all are welcome here.

I’m just writing for fun, and I hope you enjoy what I write. I appreciate your support and encourage you to pursue your dreams whatever they are.

Happy Reading,

Ryan

Breaking Free

They sat on a cloud and watched the city below. Each hugging their knees to their chests. Connie was thirteen. His body, however, was twenty-six with strong muscles, short but shaggy hair, and crystal blue eyes. Beneath the stained shirt and patch-worked jeans was deeply tanned skin littered with scars. He was born for labor in the metal factories and had been doing so for eleven years knowing nothing else. He met Brendan by chance.

Brendan was a year younger. Twelve years old, but biologically her body was twenty-two, and male. She had strong muscles made for heavy lifting. Her skin was pale due to working the night shift loading ships headed off-world. She first saw Connie by chance after her work day ended. She was exhausted and making her way back to her room when she was him heading toward the shipyards. He had just woken up, hair disheveled, and groggily walking through Lexington Park. His eyes were what caught her attention. They seemed sad, but also caring. She knew him in that moment to be someone who longed for a connection. Just as she had.

For the next three weeks, she would come to call him “the boy with blue eyes” because she was too afraid to approach him. She would linger in the park after her shifts see him. He always walked the same path and his hair always seemed to be disheveled in the same pattern. He would also have a burrito hanging out of his mouth most days. She almost believed him to be a machine like the rest of the population did. Bred for a purpose and treated like property. Not born but grown. But she knew his habits were his own despite being trained and regulated at every moment, because she was created his equal. She had her own habits outside of her parameters.

Her walk home had slowly changed course the previous weeks to coincide with his, albeit in reverse. Two men. One walking away from a hard day’s work, the other walking toward one.

“Hi,” she said in a voice she always hated. It was deep. Fitting for her body, but torture for her self.

“Hey,” Connie replied.

The interaction was brief as they quickly passed and headed toward their destinations. Brendan went home and thought about it the remainder of the night. Connie worked his ten-hour shift then went home to bed.

They repeated their hellos the remainder of the week. The next day started the weekend and the park had a few more citizens around in the morning when they passed each other yet again. Brendan’s body grew less exhausted as she saw Connie come into view.

“Hi,” she said, her voice a tad higher from her excitement.

“Hey,” Connie said. Then, just before they passed, he stopped. “What’s your name?”

Brendan almost continued but her surprise halted her stride. “Me?”

“Yeah, I’ve been seeing you a lot lately. Seems only right to know your name.”

“I’m Brendan,” she said. Her heart threatening to rise further into her throat and prevent further speech.

“Connie,” he said and extended a hand.

“Nice…nice to meet you.”


 

They’d perfected their routine within a few weeks. Every morning they could spend one hour together before their monitors warned them of breaking curfew. Connie would often have to sprint to work while Brendan wandered to her small cube. The room was the same as every other workers. Furnished with only a bed, a microwave, and a small screen in the ceiling. She hadn’t turned hers on since meeting Connie.

She would wake up a little early to meet up with Connie as he got off work. They would spend an hour together, just talking, before their monitors called them away. They tried not to talk about work, which was hard at first as it defined their lives, but they soon began asking more intimate questions. Learning each other’s quirks. The things that set them apart from the thousands of other workers that lived hidden in the city. Forced to their cubes when not working except for the trips in between.

They found the cloud a few days after they noticed the citizens eyeing them. During the week, the park was usually empty, but on weekends a handful citizens decided to enjoy the small patch of nature. The only one within one hundred miles of the coast. The cloud was an older installment meant to increase use of the park. It was a novelty that died quickly, but it became their safe haven. They would rise into the cloud and sit for their stolen hour before returning to the ground and parting ways.

They grew close. Shared secrets they didn’t know they had. Desires destined to go unfulfilled. Connie wanted to learn music. Brendan wanted to travel off world. Every night, she loaded ships with containers. Never knowing what was in them, but knowing it was something valued more than she was. Meant for people who lived lives above the labor she performed. She wanted to go out into the universe with what little time she had left. She contemplated hiding in a container but knew she would be found and returned if not retired.

“You could do it you know.”

“Do what?” she asked.

“Get off world. Find a life out there somewhere.”

“I’d be lucky to make it five minutes before getting caught.”

“But what if you weren’t?”

“You know how to get these off, smart guy?” she asked, lifting the monitor.

“I have a few ideas.” He said it jokingly, but a seriousness settled with the words.

“Real funny,” Brendan said. She tried to force a laugh but Connie’s face stopped her. “You’re serious?”

“I’ve been sneaking shards of metal from the yard-”

“You know what they’ll do if they catch you.”

“Just listen. There is more for us outside of these.” This time Connie lifted his monitor. “We may have been bred to work, but there is a life out there we could live. Even if they caught us in five years, ten, or even one, it would be better to than staying here until they throw us away. Any amount of time away from this life is worth it.”

Brendan agreed with everything Connie was saying, but she realized she valued his life too much when weighed against the risks.

“Think about it,” he continued, “We could build something for ourselves. We have to give ourselves this chance. You’re the only family I’ll ever have. You’re like a brother to me.”

He’d been holding these feelings back from her. Now that he had finally said them, he seemed more open about the idea and spoke freely as the weight lifted from him. She noticed how he grew more animated, but the weight he threw off had crushed her. Suppressed her own weight that she struggled with. Solidified the fears that prevented her from speaking her own feelings. From telling him her truth.

“What do you say?” he asked.

“I say…. it’s risky.”

He looked at her, waiting for an answer.

“But…” she finally added, “not impossible. We would need to plan it very carefully.”


 

Everything was in place. Connie would remove his monitor while in his cube where it would look like he was sleeping. Then he would meet Brendan as she finished her shift. She would have two containers ready with the necessary supplies to survive the deep space travel in the crates. He would remove her monitor and place it along her usual route home to reduce suspicion before they took off. Her monitor would get noticed once the two-hour time limit passed and she wasn’t back in her cube.

Connie arrived as planned and Brendan had him climb in the crate she’d placed out of sight of the other workers and foreman. She sealed it and carried it onto the ship. She loaded two more crates before grabbing her own. She stacked it on top of the field of supplies and hopped in during a brief moment when no one was looking. She sealed the crate as best she could from the inside and hoped no one noticed her absence.

A half hour passed before she heard the ship bay doors closing. The containers vibrated slightly as the engines came to life and an excitement flourished within her stomach and chest. She let it escape into a smile as she lay in the dark. She smiled despite the immense fear still gripping her. The fear that someone would open her crate and find her indiscretion. Find her trapped within the small space that was her entire life. She smiled through the fear at the life she was dreaming in that moment.

Former Strangers

The rattling faded away into nothing as Gerard finished his third drink. He’d never been fond of traveling, but he found the train entirely tolerable with a tumbler of whiskey. It helped him relax and let his worries fade away as well.

Gerard preferred to travel in solitude. He’d found an empty cabin and pulled out a book to distract him further. The luxury of his loneliness was lost when a woman entered his cabin. He was miffed she hadn’t asked his permission but didn’t want to invite conversation so remained silent. He stole glances from behind his book. She paid no attention to him and he began to resent silence.

“Who are you?” he finally asked, putting his book down.

She smiled. For better or worse, Gerard found himself smiling back. Silence was no longer an option, and he was surprised to find he preferred it that way.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. The title story of this collection was the inspiration for the movie Arrival, which came out two years ago in 2016. The movie was good and when I found out it was based on a written work, I went out and read it. I’ve discovered so many good books because of movies and have seen many movies because they were based on a book I’d previously read. It’s fun when a book you enjoy gets a screen adaptation. It’s also exciting to discover new authors because of screen adaptations, especially when the old adage “the book is always better” rings true.

As for this case, the movie was based on a short story. This means the movie had more room to create new or original content. When a movie is based on a book, it often has to cut out material while also changing things to make them exciting on screen. With a shorty story, there is usually little to cut for a full two-hour movie and there is actually room to add some content.

There are some excellent stories beyond the title story of this collection. The first page opens to “Tower of Babylon” which made me immediately become a fan of Ted Chiang’s ingenuity and style (I’m actually wanting to get a book of his and read it right now).

A great thing about a short story collection is that you can put it down and pick it back up whenever you like because each story is complete and you don’t need to remember what had happened previously as with a book. I went through and read every story in this collection is short time though. Another great thing is, due to their structure, you can read them quickly and in between the busy tasks of life.

If you liked the movie Arrival, read “Stories of Your Life” which inspired it. If you didn’t like it, then read the other stories in this collection because they are great. “Stories of Your Life” wasn’t my favorite honestly. I liked it, but I liked some of the “and Others” better. If you’ve never read Ted Chiang, I suggest trying at least one of his stories to see if his writing captures your interest. The world of stories is vast and wild. May this gem just be only one that you find along your way.

Happy Reading.