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Moorcock’s heir, Gregory D Little (review)

It’s an article of nerd faith that, before Peter Jackson filmed it with pretty people, the weird kids read The Lord of the Rings. I was a weird kid, to be sure, and I read it. Half. I bogged down at the Ents, skipped ahead to Shelob, and then straight to Mount Doom. None of the appendices.

Truth? Weird kids read Michael Moorcock. Cruel decadent gods, civilizations in decline, addictions, hallucinations, family betrayal, doomed passion – and, at best, a personal morality jerry-rigged from friendship, adventure, and the faint hope inside a calloused heart.

In my world of young adult novels with obviously good heroes fighting obviously evil totalitarians – from A Wrinkle in Time through Harry Potter to Hunger Games – someone needed to take up Moorcock’s heavy-metal mantle of trippy morally-conflicted fantasy, where no choices are good and the only victory comes with pain and loss. Someone still needs to write for the weird kids.

Thank the stars, then, for Gregory D. Little, whose new novel Ungrateful Souls has just been published.

In Little’s strange, mind-bending fantasy novels, humanity long ago won a ruinous victory in a war against its vicious gods, imprisoning them in the Pit, a great bubble built deep in the hot lava mantle of their planet. The Pit requires constant maintenance, by smiths who still use the gods’ horrid soul-technology of wrightings, iron and crystal devices powered by the trapped souls of the dead.

Yet the Pit is a privileged place, with clean clothing, cool gear, and a safe space for teen angst. On the surface, humans live a rough iron-age existence in stone and wood huts, their only cities the colonized carcasses of the gargantuan monsters the gods once bred to oppress them. Some humans are still Blazing, their glowing eyes marking them as descendants of the godly, earning them fear and resentment from the unmarked Dims. All live under the heel of the Polistraat, a police force charged with keeping secret worshippers from freeing the gods, but grown self-righteous and brutal after centuries of their paranoid work.

Ungrateful God continues the harrowing journey of Selestia “Ses” Lucani, the conflicted heroine of Little’s Unwilling Souls series. She began the first book as a conventional young-adult heroine, with awkwardness, a secret destiny and big girl-crushes. She ended in a vastly darker place, betrayed by both her undercover-Polistraat lover and her god-possessed father, but now empowered to free the souls trapped in wrightings, turning these incredible machines into sand and dust. Her unusual eyes, one Dim one Blazing, give her the power to see “demons,” humans like her father in secret thrall to a god.

In Ungrateful God we find her in humble circumstances, making her way with a small force of Artisan Guild rebels to the remote unpoliced city of Ocypode, built on the shell of a crab so enormous that its barnacles house hotels and taverns – and with its own gravity, so that one lives on it in all planes, like an Escher drawing or the game Monument Valley. In Ocypode, society is breaking down in an uncomfortably godly way; some disappear while many more suffer nightly blackouts, unable to explain why they wake in different places than they went to sleep. When Ses’s fellow Guilders disappear, she must navigate the treacherous city while avoiding both the Blazings and the demons. Her only uneasy allies are Lach, of the insular race of Pilots whose ships bring new souls to power the Pit, and Hadrian, a demon enthralled by a rival god to the one behind Ocypode’s problems.

A secondary plot involves Murien, Ses’s Polistraat-spy lover, now undercover as a Pit apprentice even as the Polistraat itself has put the Pit’s smiths under martial law. Still faithful to the goal of keeping the gods imprisoned, Murien can no longer gloss over the Polistraat’s brutality. His betrayal of Ses weighs on him, and his attraction to the lovely Brea opens him to questioning what exactly the Gnaeus, the nasty Polistraat commander, has in mind.

Little writes engagingly, full of sensory details and wry asides. Even as the settings and visuals grow grow ever more hallucinatory – and much larger in scale (I did say, gargantuan monsters) – he always keeps things grounded in the other senses of Ses’s rough existence: the clamor of taverns and markets, the feel of rough cloth, the smell of bad tavern food and unwashed bodies – especially, like any teenager, her own unwashed body. Even the magic of the soul-technology requires believable work to craft and use.

Little also keeps a tremendous number of plates spinning. It’s impressive to see how this complicated plot, so dependent on multiple histories, comes together into a clear yet phantasmagorical climax. Ses’s despairing awareness of humanity’s dependence on trapped souls offers a theme for today’s reader as complex as the real questions of climate change, without ever being didactic. Ses’s character develops believably, seemingly ever more sensitive to the world after each hardship. I’m not sure even she could say clearly who she fights for, but the reader knows her heart.

In contrast with the glories of Ocypode, the Pit scenes sometimes let me down. Murien’s anger clouds his judgement too conveniently, as does his devotion to the lovely Brea, who has sparks of intelligence but still seems unworthy of all the adoration she inspires.

Still, it’s always hard for the sheltered to seem interesting compared to the unsheltered, be they in Hogwarts or the Pit – and at the end of Ungrateful God, there is no shelter left, a greater storm to come, and Ses is not the only one who pays a painful, damaging price.

If you’re a weird kid, or you used to be, Ses Lucani is the heroine you’ve waited for. Looking for the heir to Michael Moorcock? Check out Gregory D. Little!

Ungrateful God is available on Amazon, as is the series’s first novel, Unwilling Souls.


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Demon release update – PhilCon and Writer’s Center

Thanks One More Page Books for hosting my first reading for DEMON last Wednesday – and to the many people, friends and strangers, who came out!

This weekend, Nov 18-20, I am paneling and signing at PhilCon!

My next reading in the Washington DC area is Thursday December 1, 7pm, at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.

*Free posters and trading cards* at both events!

Rather buy the ebook than paper? Show the ebook on your device (or a purchase receipt) and get a signed poster and a card!

See you in Philly and in Bethesda!


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Demon Events, Fall 2016 – with free stuff!

This fall, WordFire Press publishes The Demon in Business Class, an international modern-day fantasy by Anthony Dobranski.

Meet the author at these upcoming appearances and readings:

Sat Nov 5 – DC Library Author Festival, MLK Library, Washington DC
Fr-Su Nov 11-13 – Rhode Island Comic Con, Providence RI
Wed Nov 16, 7pm – Reading & SigningOne More Page Books, Arlington VA
Fr-Su Nov 18-20 – PhilCon Cherry Hill NJ
Thur Dec 1, 7pm – Reading & SigningThe Writer’s Center, Bethesda MD

*Each print copy of Demon sold during these appearances comes with a free  poster!*

poster13x19

**While they last, get a real Demon trading card, printed from the virtual set running on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.**

The nine Demon picture cards

For up-to-date news on events, visit More Demon! The Demon in Business Class info page


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AwesomeCon DC 2016 – this weekend!

AwesomeCon is a large fan convention in Washington DC this weekend, focused on visual media – this year especially, it’s a Whovians paradise. Are you going?

Saturday will just be splendid fun, but the Friday and Sunday sessions have several good panels for my booklife.

I’m hoping to see: Comics in WWII, Giant Robots, Strong Women Characters, Nanobots – which together cover my debut novel, my serial novel, and my crazy SF work-in-progress – and attend at least one of the marketing panels. Continue reading


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Big news – and some thanks

I am thrilled to announce I have signed a contract with WordFire Press to publish The Demon in Business Class, my first novel!

I am so excited about this! But it’s some months away, with a lot to do between now and then. I’ll talk about it much more as the book launch approaches, and I hope you can be part of it.

I’d like to thank Kevin J. Anderson, Vivian Trask and WordFire Press for the warm welcome and the hard work ahead.

This novel is years in the making, and I have pages of thanks. I here want to acknowledge the people who worked on this most recent stage, with the final draft manuscript and the marketing plan. Thanks to Jackie Dobranski, Kate Yonkers, Jessica Epperson-Lusty, Laila Sultan, Joshua Essoe, Jennifer Brinn, Melissa Cox, and Adrian Bryant for their invaluable help and feedback.

Thanks also to Wayland Smith for inspiring me to up my professional game.

I have written a beautiful book, of its time, for times ahead. I want to share it with you and the world. I’m pleased to have an excellent publisher to help me do that.


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Use your dreams in life and art

At a recent party with fellow writers, I mentioned my last story had come to me in a dream. People seemed surprised, which I found surprising. Dreams have been essential to me, both in art and in life, and to hear other writers don’t use them is like hearing they don’t use their legs.

Dreams are not messages from beyond or from some benevolence inside oneself. They are a cognitive filing act to help store and retrieve information. This is why dreams are hard to remember. They are not meant to be saved.

My personal belief is that they lay the groundwork of intuition and creativity — the mind connects what you just learned against what you already know and experience, creating associations that allow you cognitive leaps. An unprovable opinion, but it works well for me.

But, just as analyzing urine tells doctors what your organs cannot, dreams contain information you can use. For a writer of the fantastic especially, dream images and scenarios are a rich inspiration. Dreams help with living too. In dreams, you see things you wouldn’t let yourself see in waking life, without a fully functioning you to object to them, to deny them. For one example of many, a dream of a three-way with an ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend fully cured me of any resentment about the breakup. Not that it revealed repressed attractions — only that I had lost sight of the difference between loving, and winning. (And perhaps that there was no love on offer, for me or my successor. At least, that’s how it turned out.)

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The pre-apocalypse

My writing group noted that my new story, though a different setting, is also a post-apolcyalypse tale, or at least post-disaster. One colleague included my novel in that theme, even though in my novel things are good, but about to get worse. It’s pre-apocalyptic, she said.

Something in that. My faith is that humanity will persist, but a lot of bad things are going to happen. By the standards of the past they already have. Like my mentor Philip K Dick, I’m less pinpointing details of the great shift, just exploring scenes after upheaval, where people have adapted to far different norms of environment and behavior. I no doubt absorbed this from my family history, for my parents fled war and Soviet occupation, and my own late 20th century life, where we took on huge social changes, and where the rest of the world changed vastly more. I greatly admire writers like Jim Shepard and Harlan Ellison, who change up place and time each story yet keep consistent in their approach and style.

Perhaps I’ll be more sensitive to this strain of pre-apocalyptic. I hope it will give me a way to glide across genre. I would enjoy writing historical.  Continue reading