Author Archives: Mark Gardner

About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior.

Killshot, by Felix R. Savage

When the Spirit of Destiny crashed on the moon, Earth’s last hope of escaping alien conquest was lost. Pilot Jack Kildare and the battle-hardened crew of the SoD survived, but they are trapped in Earth’s ramshackle little moon colony, exposed to the constant threat of alien attack. On Earth, the alien behemoth Lightbringer lies in the African jungle, grounded but no less deadly. Its crew spread destruction across a planet racked by conflict. Former astronaut Hannah Ginsburg inherits a dangerous role as go-between for the aliens and humankind. As much as she struggles to rein in the spreading chaos, her complicity in the alien conquest grows, pushing her nearer to the breaking point. Meanwhile, on the moon, Jack is desperate to get back to Earth and rejoin the fight. But the moon colonists side with the aliens, forcing him to lie and steal just to survive. His chance for redemption comes unexpectedly, when shipmate Skyler Taft detects a horrific new threat to our solar system. Humanity and aliens, locked in a bitter war for our planet, will all perish together … unless Jack can achieve the impossible, and work together with his worst enemy to save Earth.

Killshot is an excellent conclusion to the “Earth’s Last Gambit” series. With any story by Felix R. Savage, I didn’t know what to expect – only that it would be good. I’m glad that the over-sexualized encounters between Hannah and her alien master were toned down in this book.

A few highlights in Killshot: The theme of alien invaders affecting global religion was present through out the series, but Killshot really drove it home. I don’t know if the author intended it, but it reminded me of the extremist religions through out the world. The theme of subservience and slavery was also front and center in Killshot. With slavery and human trafficking so prevalent today, it’s nice to see it tackled in a modern novel.

All in all, Killshot ramps up the tension between the various survivors of the first three books, and introduce a new threat. The book returns to the pace and action from books 1 & 2. The ending is satisfying, and leaves the possibility of another quartet or trilogy in the future. I would eagerly read another series in this universe.

Killshot is a five-star read. Be sure to read the entire series.

felix-r-savage

You might say Felix R. Savage has a long history associated with rebellion. He was born in the 1970s, a decade of American youth rebelling against the safe culture of their parents. He is married to a wonderful woman and they have a beautiful daughter. Together the three of them live in Tokyo serving their cat overlord and benevolent protector. Felix writes Science Fiction and Fantasy while not translating, delighting in his family, or catering to the whims of the family’s cat. He never stops watching out for any sign the lizard people have found him.

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13 Week Streak: 02

[500 Words]Thain in Vain teamed up with Drafty Devil to bring us the 13-Week Streak flash fiction challenge. Here’s the next challenge:

* * *

Timelines are just what you’d think they are: Destinies realized when our path diverges. The illusion of that choice has confounded philosophers through the centuries. How can I choose one path over another? What happens to the timeline in the discarded choice? Timelines collapse when I take the right fork over the left. There are those that believe that the unchosen path continues in an alternate universe. But, if these choices are realized in alternate versions of ourselves and timelines, then is choice even relevant? Still, some believe that destiny is self-correcting. If I choose left over right, and right was my destined fork, will fate conspire to bring me back to the right path?

It would be easy to make a decision if there were a map that indicated all the important decisions to be made in life. But even if there were such a map, would this decision even be on it? I think that in the grand scheme of destiny that this decision is inconsequential. Perhaps it is but whimsy of a fickle deity in an uncaring universe. After all, if this forked path is unimportant enough to be marked on a map, what value does it truly have on my reality?

But what is destiny? Is it the culmination of endless minor decisions? A lifetime of unmarked and unimportant forked paths is no life that I care to live. What would that mean to my life thus far? But then again, what about the multitudinal universe? What of all those unrealized decisions littered along the path I’ve trodden? If each path has been conquered, then all decisions are worthless.

Maybe I was a hero along a different forked path. But, if that’s true, then so should the opposite be true: I could’ve been a villain. But how do these unrealized realities affect this reality? If I could break through from one reality to another, what would I learn about myself? Would these new versions of myself even be me?

It’s easy to say that I’d still be me in the scope of a short path. Here, an hour from camp can only have a finite number of divergent paths. I think that those iterations of myself are me. But what about a forked path two hours ago? Two weeks ago? The exponential diversification of reality can’t be properly understood by a mere mortal. Would something I did a lifetime ago result in a different person?

“This is not one of those times,” an exasperated voice intones. I turn to see my companions waiting patiently for my decision.

I see her face beaming and shyly peeking over the wickered basket clutched to her breast. A basket patiently awaiting the fruits of our journey. Waiting for my decision. For her, I make these decisions without regret.

“I think the orchard is this way,” I declare with false confidence. We follow the right path, but a part of me begs to question what reality lurks down the unchosen path.


13 Week Streak: 01

[500 Words]Thain in Vain teamed up with Drafty Devil to bring us the 13-Week Streak flash fiction challenge. Here’s the first challenge:

* * *

“I feel like we’re not supposed to be doing this.”

Matt turned to Victoria with a mischievous grin. “We aren’t!”

“Aren’t?” Victoria inquired.

“Doing this,” Matt declared.

Victoria forced a smile. Her eyes darted to the proximity indicator. Matt and Eric “borrowed” the shuttle from Steven’s father’s yard. Steven called it a yard, but the six low-orbit shuttles that constituted “the fleet” were ramshackle at best. More patchwork than shuttle, and no one would miss this one. It would be sold for scrap after the long weekend. Eric was a wizard with all things transport, so the three youths fixed up the shuttle for their weekend getaway.

Matt took her silent musings for acceptance. “Besides,” he continued, “the ‘Captain’ thinks we’re still in dock around Europa.”

The proximity warning bellowed it presence into the tiny cockpit. The comms burst into life with Eric’s excited voice. “We’ve got a whale!”

Matt smiled, leaned over the control panel, and entered a sequence. The gray featureless walls quickly subsumed to transparent. Victoria looked over her shoulder and met Charlotte’s eyes. She snuggled closer to Steven, her eyes wide in anticipation. Eric and Stephanie’s chattering from the rear compartment droned on over the comms. The ‘captain’ sat dark and impotent, light reflecting off its smooth surface.

Victoria gripped the armrests of the navigation chair. They were less than an hour into their adventure and they were about to see their first whale. The weeks of planning for a trip that would last only a few hours had finally reached fruition.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Matt whispered next to her. “Too close!” His face paled as energy discharge danced along the hull.

“Protect the ‘captain’,” Steven’s excited voice sounded out over the comms.

Matt’s fingers danced over the beveled glass. Victoria felt the acceleration as he rotated their shuttle so that the pod, dubbed “the captain,” was rotated away from the breach.

“We’ve got another one!”

Eric’s voice was no longer lilted with excitement. Now it was a resigned dread.

The hues of blues and purples crackled at Victoria’s feet. When the whale burst from the portal, the leading edge materialized and sheered the captain from its moorings.

The quick trip to watch celestial phenomenon was looking more like a death sentence. Alarms and warnings shrieked and flashed with intensity that the situation required.

“We’re caught in their wake!”

Victoria thought that Eric’s voice was starting to grate on her nerves.

The shuttle tumbled end over end and as they cleared Jupiter’s atmosphere, Europa came into view. Jupiter, then Europa. It repeated again and again.

“Boaty McBoatface.” A new voice intoned over the comms. “Do you require assistance?”

Victoria slammed her hand on the panel in front of her. “Yes! We’ve lost our drive pod!”

“Understood, Boaty McBoatface.” The panels in the cockpit turned blue as their rescuer took control of their shuttle. Bursts of compressed gas righted their spin and they prepared for the trip back to Europa to face the consequences of their soirée.


Sovereign, by April Daniels

Only nine months after her debut as the fourth superhero to fight under the name Dreadnought, Danny Tozer is already a scarred veteran. Protecting a city the size of New Port is a team-sized job and she’s doing it alone. Between her newfound celebrity and her demanding cape duties, Dreadnought is stretched thin, and it’s only going to get worse. When she crosses a newly discovered supervillain, Dreadnought comes under attack from all quarters. From her troubled family life to her disintegrating friendship with Calamity, there’s no trick too dirty and no lever too cruel for this villain to use against her. She might be hard to kill, but there’s more than one way to destroy a hero. Before the war is over, Dreadnought will be forced to confront parts of herself she never wanted to acknowledge. And behind it all, an old enemy waits in the wings to unleash a plot that will scar the world forever.

It’s hard to talk about a great book like Sovereign, by April Daniels without spoiling it. The cover art is compelling, just like Dreadnought. We see the continuing adventures of Danny Tozer. The way that society reacts to her and her power continues from book one. While I feel that Sovereign is not quite as powerful as Dreadnought, they are superhero books above all others as far as I’m concerned. From a literary standpoint, Sovereign cranks up the tension and the stakes, not just with Danny Tozer, but also with the world as a whole. Danny has more to lose and more to cherish in book two, and I cannot wait for book three. Like its predecessor, Sovereign, by April Daniels is a five-star superhero read.

april-daniels

April Daniels graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in literature, and then promptly lost her job during the 2008 stock crash and recession. After she recovered from homelessness, she completed her first manuscript by scribbling a few sentences at a time between calls while working in the customer support department for a well-known video game console. She has a number of hobbies, most of which are boring and predictable. As nostalgia for the 1990s comes into its full bloom, she has become ever more convinced that she was born two or three years too late and missed all the good stuff the first time around. Early in her writing practice, April set her narrative defaults to “lots of lesbians” and never looked back.

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Escape Velocity, by Jason M. Hough

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Captains Skyler Luiken and Gloria Tsandi (and their respective crews) have smashed through the deadly Swarm Blockade, but now find themselves scattered around the planet Carthage and the space stations that she holds in her orbit. Their mission is now twofold: destroy the military compounds of the nefarious alien overlords and find a way back home to Earth.
Standing in their way are a race of horrifying aliens aided by incredible weapons and technology. Low on supplies and with intermittent communication, the surviving humans must rely on all of their cunning, strength, and plain old good luck to turn the tables and overcome their foes. 

The only expectation I had for Escape Velocity was that it was the conclusion to the Dire Earth Duology, and that it had a badass captain on the cover. If you read my review on Tuesday, you already know that I seriously liked Zero World, so I had high expectations for the Dire Earth Duology.

I think that book two is the better of the two books. The floundering that I had felt in book one was gone, replaced by familiarity. Some of the clunky surreal sequences I was left scratching my head in the first book reached fruition in book two.

The dangling plot from Injection Burn is wrapped up in Escape Velocity, and if Jason Hough decided to write more in the same universe, I’d be an eager reader. I’m probably going to read the Dire Earth Cycle, and I look forward to meeting Jason at the 2017 Phoenix Comicon this weekend. I’m giving Escape Velocity four and a half stars over Injection Burn’s four.

Jason M. Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dire Earth Cycle and the near-future spy thriller Zero World. In a former life he was a 3D artist, animator, and game designer (Metal Fatigue, Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction, and many others). He has also worked in the fields of high-performance cluster computing and machine learning.

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Injection Burn, by Jason M. Hough

Skyler Luiken and his ragtag crew of scavengers, scientists, and brawlers have a new mission: a long journey to a distant planet where a race of benevolent aliens are held captive behind a cloud of destructive ships known as the Swarm Blockade. No human ships have ever made it past this impenetrable wall, and Skyler knows not what to anticipate when they reach their destination. Safe to say that the last thing he expects to find there is a second human ship led by the tough-as-nails Captain Gloria Tsandi. These two crews and their respective captains initially clash, but they will have to learn to work together when their mutual foe closes in around them and begins the outright destruction of their vessels along with any hope of a return to Earth.”

I had no expectation when I saw Injection Burn on Netgalley, other than I knew I’d liked Zero World. I wasn’t aware that the Dire Earth duology was a companion series to the Dire Earth Cycle, but at no time reading Injection Burn did I feel like I was missing something.

The para-military vibe from the characters makes this a standard space opera. I kept waiting for the two distinct stories to merge, and I was not disappointed in the payout. There is a surreal plot in book one that I felt out of my element reading, but it pays off in book two.

I’ll give Injection burn four stars.

Jason M. Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dire Earth Cycle and the near-future spy thriller Zero World. In a former life he was a 3D artist, animator, and game designer (Metal Fatigue, Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction, and many others). He has also worked in the fields of high-performance cluster computing and machine learning.

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http://www.jasonhough.com/
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Your Depression Doesn’t Care

Being a writer in the information age has resulted in many micro-communities for writers. Personally, I prefer Wattpad & Writer’s Cafe. When one of our own, especially one of them young whippersnappers passes, it’s a reminder that we are all human. (Except for Felix R. Savage, I suspect he’s a sentient drinks machine.) We have the ability to connect with any other human on the planet instantly. That can take the form of a funny Facebook post. Re-tweeting that review that made our day. Doing whatever it is that people use Instagram for. We get to see art as it’s created.

Unfortunately, too many creatives end up taking their own lives. Each time it happens, it’s a sad reminder that many artists, including authors, battle mental health issues and that the act of writing is a solitary one. Many, many wonderful people have harmed themselves because they believe that they are the only one who suffers, and that they have to suffer alone. I wish that I could tell each and every one of them that they are most definitely not alone. My own battle with depression was one of the factors that led me to get my undergraduate degree in human behavior. Understanding depression has helped me a lot, but even with the knowledge, and the ability, once licensed, to practice as a mental health professional, I still suffer. I still have to fight against depression.

My depression doesn’t care.

I know, cerebrally, that depression is a thing. I know that I can be affected by what I eat, how much sleep I get, and how active I am throughout the day. I know that when the constant barrage of bad news on the television and on my Twitter feed gets me bummed out, I’ve gotta shut that noise down. I know that that dream last night about being a failure as a writer is just my insecurity going whack on my subconscious. I know I have many friends, family, and fans that for some reason adore me.

My depression doesn’t care.

I use the tools I’ve learned while getting my human behavior degree. I talk to other creatives, and we bolster each other with positive reinforcement. I joke about the pratfalls of being a hybrid author. (Except that I am totally going to self-publish a book of rejections once I have 300 pages worth.) I talk to those that sat next to me in class after class, and have moved on to their own mental health careers.

My depression doesn’t care.

See, that’s the thing with depression, and other mental health issues: It defies logic and experience. I’ve heard so many first-hand retellings of other author’s battles with mental health. We all deal with it. Some better than others. Some have networks to help them over the lows, and cheer the highs. But the take-away is that we all deal with it.

Your depression doesn’t care.

But I do. I care that there are people out there that suffer from mental health issues. If you’re suffering from depression, please remember that many have walked the path you see laid out before you. I have walked the path laid out before you. Amateurs, mid-listers, hybrid authors, and mega New York Times best sellers have all at one time walked the path laid out before you. Your demons are not that unique. The flavor might be different, but in the end, it’s very much the same.

Mark Gardner cares.

I would be some kind of nincompoop if I thought that I was the only one who cared. You have people who care about you and your well-being. Ignore that voice in the back of your head that tells you otherwise. If you’re suffering from depression, reach out to someone. If you subscribe to a particular religion, talk to your clergy. If you’re a veteran, utilize the many resources available to you. If you’re attending a college, university, or even a high school, find a guidance councilor. Cast away the shame of mental illness… That’s the depression going hog-wild on your psyche. There are numerous resources that allow you to remain anonymous. But get help.

Get. Help. Now.

National Suicide Prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Veterans: 1-800-273-8255
MentalHealth.gov: 1‑877‑726‑4727