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The Bear Returns

In collaboration with DALL.E

Martin leant against an arch, lit up, and inhaled, a move he’d learned from Fred Astaire, though nobody could match Fred’s elegance. Amazing the video game designers preferred that vile and outrageously caffeinated, cherry-flavoured “energy drink” over a smoke. Young people these days, no style whatsoever. Doctor Balthus’s gentle nagging about cigarettes “maintaining a cycle of addiction” played in the background, as he sketched out the ogre boss’s theme music. 

He’d settled on a bombastic military style: Holst meets gangsta rap, when a bear strolled out of the Franciscan garden and stopped to ponder a tourist map. The sizeable beast wore a handsome, yet redundant, brown coat and a classic homburg hat, befitting the weather. The bear he’d met in Finland favoured much snappier attire. Still, fully clothed, bipedal bears were rare. Could this be his old acquaintance? 

A gust of wind rattled leaves across the courtyard and rifled the pages of the bear’s map. He glanced up, then straight into Martin’s eyes. A flash of recognition, and he waved, erasing all doubt. Here was the bear, his bear! Martin joined him, and the bear shook his hand, his paw shake still firm but not unbearable. They exchanged pleasantries. Up close, a grizzled muzzle attested to the passage of years. To be fair, Martin looked older too—occasionally, when exhausted or stressed. Desiring a comfortable conversation, they took a table at a nearby café, a cosy place with cheery red walls hung with the work of local artists. A vase holding a holly sprig sat on the table, the berries matching the walls. 

The bear ordered coffee and a brioche. Martin ordered the same, just to be polite. Rather late in the day for coffee, and the game designer’s lunch had been generous. He asked after the bear’s wife, only to learn she’d passed away. But they’d enjoyed many years together. After escaping Finland, they’d trekked back into Russia, keeping a low profile because the Politburo was eliminating those who’d campaigned for ursine rights. They followed the artic forest into China, where his wife had family. There, they’d opened a modest but high-quality restaurant. Then bile poachers had targeted their village.

“Bile poachers?”

“Dah, local humans think bear bile make wonderful medicine . Maybe true, but I keep bile for myself.”

The bile-poaching story continued, but Martin couldn’t ignore a growing sense of the surreal. After all, most would consider conversing with a bear extraordinary. And this bear was a Ruskie, though his nationality wasn’t supposed to matter now that the wall had fallen. Doctor Balthus encouraged him to notice singular circumstances, because taking the peculiar in stride had repeatedly led him down rabbit holes. And some of those rabbit holes had nearly killed him, case in point, his last exchange with this bear. And yet, none of the café’s other patrons, whether chatting, sipping coffee, or bent over a newspaper, appeared taken aback by his woodland companion.

He cleared his throat and prepared oblique inquiries. “Do you have many human acquaintances?”

“Of course. I am cosmopolitan bear.”

“Oddly, you’re the only bear I’ve ever spoken to.”

“Well. You funny man, ping in and out.” The bear clapped his paws and added, “Pouf.”

“Ping? Pouf?”

“Yes. One moment here, next moment gone. Hard to make friends when you don’t stay in place.”

“I could say the same of you. Do you recall our Finnish adventure? One minute we’re discussing a clever prison break, the next, you’re naked—except for the fur—growling maniacally and lunging for my jugular vein. I was terrified and couldn’t understand your dramatic mood shift.”

The bear chuckled as he stirred yet another spoonful of sugar into his coffee; Russian bears must enjoy their sweets. “I remember different. You return to cage and open door like promise. But escape plan is crazy. I wear tutu, ride unicycle, and pretend to be circus bear. I say to you, ‘Medvedslav Bazarevich is no play-actor, but thank you.’ Then, I run.”

“That wasn’t me! I never take a unicycle on tour.” Those spinning spokes pinch fingers, not to mention the grease…and the balancing.

The bear, who’s given name was far too long, sipped his coffee, then settled his cup into its saucer. “Maybe I meet different you while you meet different me.”

“As in parallel universes? I don’t recall a portal, transporter, or rip in space-time. One would notice such things, wouldn’t one?”

“Funny guy. How ‘bout you check universe now? Does city look like Prague?”

The bear gestured with his substantial snout to the café’s window. Outside cars queued. Nothing unusual about red lights or heavy traffic. A woman walked past with a parrot perched on her arm. Nothing unusual about pets…but…this parrot wore spectacles and clutched a miniature book in one claw!

In collaboration with DALL.E

The bird wanted explaining. Couldn’t blame drugs anymore; his chemical romance had ended years ago. A hallucination, perhaps? He still required psychotherapy, all these years on, but seemed he was a tough case. Regardless, Doctor Balthus never used the word psychotic when describing his symptoms. Maybe alternate universe was the best excuse for that ridiculous parrot.

“Well, now that you mention…” He turned toward the bear. 

But the bear had vanished. In his place, a moustachioed gent with outrageous eyebrows perused an outdoorsy magazine. A round, brown fur hat, complete with ear flaps, hung over a corner of his chairback.

Oh, god. No!

“That hat…it’s not bear fur; is it?”

Splinter Town! A Review.

(Or, so this kind of cross-genre illustrates why we need indie authors)

Splinter Town, an autonomous island nation off the coast of Wales, must fend off an English incursion! Will the ingenuity of the town’s people, their spies, and the efforts of a rogue assassin be enough to to preserve the town’s independence? And what evil propels the corrupt prime minister and his allies?
This genre defying book is a fun read. Highly atmospheric with rust and brine aplenty, and full of unexpected twists and turns, this novel is a complete story set in a highly alternate 1920s. Those of you who enjoyed The Hammond Conjecture will also enjoy Splinter Town.

And now there’s more! Peter Maloy continues the Splinter Town saga in Splinter Town Fall. The Splintertonians are negotiating a new treaty with England, but England’s up to no good again, and the town and its secret operatives are put in great peril. But unbeknownst to the good people of Splinter Town, they’ve made friends in the oddest of places. Meanwhile, Splinter Town’s airship crew explores the American continent, hoping to find a new population of their aquatic allies.

Splinter Town Fall
continues this deeply imaginative series and kept me on the edge of my seat! I’m still worried about Splinter Town, its citizens, and operatives. Fortunately, as the cliffhanger suggests, more’s to come.

The Journeyman – A fantasy/horror adventure.

Three people board a doomed bus: a wayward teen, a disabled vet, and an autistic child. But their problems don’t end after a snowy crash ends their lives.

A brutal despot rules purgatory. Instead of helping souls move on, he drains souls and harvests their energy. Purgatory has devolved into a nightmarish decrepit America rife with bandits and the insane.

Will a trio of unlikely heroes and their bizarre found family overcome the odds and save eternity? This richly imagined contemporary fantasy/horror adventure works as an adult or young adult fiction. Recommended!

A Queen Among Crows by M.S. Linsenmayer, A Review

Steampunk-Alternate History-Magical Fantasy and Talking Crows!

1908-Russia: A scrappy intelligence officer from war torn North America hires herself out as a mercenary in the service of Catherine the Great. Both women are “Queens,” descendants of the Gods possessing certain powers. Eryma communes with crows, and her birds provide reconnaissance and protection. Though bashed, battered and covered in tread marks, she plans to help recover a crash-landed asteroid in exchange for eternal youth. But both Catherine’s court and Eryma’s plans are suffused with intrigue. 

A complex series of events ensues laced with historical distortions, magic, monsters, blood, gore, and a steam punk feel. The plot unfolds gradually, and Eryma’s intentions and history are delivered in bits and pieces, leaving room for reveals and plot twists. And the novel excels in characterization, including Eryma who’s battered but tough and resolute with a goofy sense of humor.

“Other women may have had beauty, class and romance; I had wit, experience, and explosives. The latter, in my experience, solves more problems than romance does.”

Grim, hard-living, violent, and lusty Dame July provides a frenemy-romance, and several acts of savagery. And Eryma’s crow community includes both a corvid genius and a comedian. 

     “So, if I am dead, which religion was correct?” I mused aloud.

“Yog-Slaggoth,” Lois stuck her head through the drapes “The Elder tentacled on is coming to dine on us later. Please be properly shaved, greased, and seasoned by five.”

If you’re after diversity, banter, wordplay, action, and strong female characters, A Queen Among Crows is your book. However, please observe the CLIFF HANGER WARNING sign and don’t tumble off at the end of the novel. Stand alone readers may be disappointed. On the bright side, several additional volumes of this series are already out and available.

  1. Genres: LGBTQ+ Science Fiction, Steampunk Fiction, Alternate History, Fantasy.
  2. Humor: Interlaced
  3. Violence: High
  4. Diversity: High
  5. Sex: Closed Door
  6. Warnings: CLIFF HANGER (but series completed)

Troll: A Love Story, by Johanna Sinisalo

In the alternate Finland of Troll: A Love Story, Angel returns to his apartment after a night of drink and thwarted love to find a group of teens tormenting a juvenile troll. Trolls, an accepted denizen of Finland’s forest don’t usually stray into the city. They’re a sort of wild animals, falling somewhere between a cat and a primate on the evolutionary tree. But Angel, falls in love with the fragile beast at first glance, and brings him home, believing he’s rescuing a baby animal. Or is something very different going on?

Troll asks what happens when urban loneliness encounters nature: tooth, claw, and pheromones.

This short novel also explores loneliness, isolation, and transactional sexual maneuvering. The inventive text includes multiple points of view, snippets of poetry and folklore, and excerpts from “scientific articles” about Felipithecus trollius, making for an interesting read. Judging by the beautiful prose, the translation is excellent. Here’s Angel’s description of an unavailable lover:

His eyes are computer icons, expressionless diagrams, with infinite wonders behind them, but only for the elect, those able to log on.

The juxtaposition of myth, science, and modern society, and the tale’s ending twist makes Troll contemporary fantasy at its finest.

Available Now!

The band won’t make any money in remote Finland. But Pam insists on including the tiny country in their Scandinavian tour. “What could go wrong,” she says. Well. Plenty, when one is cursed, sent off on a quest, and especially when one’s mum turns up and starts flirting with the tour manager. Can Martin fulfil his quest, survive the supernatural denizens of Finland, and withstand his mother?

Quest for Harmony is a short read which bridges the gap between Harmony Lost and the band’s next adventure (coming soon).

Expect humour, folklore gone amuck, and bad behaviour on the part of Martin Davis, rock-star. If you enjoy the story, please add a review in GoodReads.

The Great Contagion by Jeff Chapman, A Review

The Great Contagion: A Merliss Tale (The Merliss Tales Book 1) by [Jeff Chapman]Pros: Gripping plot. Professional prose, production and editing.
Possible Cons: Loner, emotionally isolated main character. Many unpleasant supporting characters.

Jeff Chapman’s medieval fantasy, The Great Contagion, lies somewhat outside my usual reading preferences. However, possession is one of my literary interests, and the novel covers a distinct possession, the well-known human into animal transfer. Hate it when that happens.

The novel’s main character is Merliss, the soul of a shaman-in-training possessing the body of a cat. She’s lived in the cat for centuries, assisting healers and training their apprentices, so she wears her possession comfortably, like an old shoe. And she’s seen plenty of drama in her long life, but nothing like The Great Contagion.

A plague descends upon the humans; they die in droves and/or behave rather badly. Concurrently, Merliss’s second home, the magical forest, faces unprecedented challenges. Attempting to help her animal, magical and human friends divides Merliss’s loyalties.

Liking Merliss was difficult at first. She read as a grumpy old lady. The initial chapter, a walk through the woods with an annoying young man almost lost me.

But how you travel is more important than your destination.

But the lovely prose kept me reading, then Merliss’s loyalty and bravery shone through her grousing, and the story grabbed me. In fact, I finished the book in two sittings, one lasting until one in the morning, an easy read given the book’s flawless editing and production, and high-grade prose.

My only quibbles are with the first chapter, as mentioned above, and the humans, who are, as in much Medieval fantasy, an uninspiring bunch. And she felt loosely bonded to her coworkers, the healer and his apprentice. The author lays out Merliss’s loyalties to the humans. But I still wondered why she bothered with them. In addition, most of her forest friends are ambivalent characters, mostly frenemies, but I suppose that’s a cat’s life.

An honest soul takes time to mature. More time than most have. They are difficult to find in the mortal world.

The book’s Wind in the Willows’ vibe should appeal to readers of animal based fantasy, such as the Redwall series and possibly Hollow Kingdom.

The Portable Door by Tom Holt, A Review.

Pros: Very funny, priceless witticisms.

Possible Cons:  Only for those ready to suspend disbelief from a flagpole.

Valuable Lesson: Don’t stress too much over cover art.

Finding comparable works to Harmony Lost was no easy task; the tale is a mixture: a dash of Sci Fi, alternate reality, an atypical romance, a struggle to the top. Perusing Amazon’s fiction categories didn’t reveal a perfect fit.

Amusing exchanges occur in Harmony Lost, but I wasn’t thinking humor when I wrote it. So imagine my surprise when several beta readers suggested a humor category. One reader recommended Tom Holt as an author with a comparable tone. Continue reading The Portable Door by Tom Holt, A Review.