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Echoes from “Troll Valley”

21st February 2012 by Darwin 1 Comment

Brief disclaimer: Lars Walker is a friend and fellow author whose works I have admired for a long time, especially his Father Ailil stories set during the late Viking era. That said, I do my best to not be biased in representing my take on his efforts.

Troll Valley is the latest novel available from the keenly sharpened pen of author Lars Walker. I finished it last week and the impact of the narrative was such that I immediately felt like I wanted to write about it. However, the realization hit me that I needed to process the story a bit to actually speak properly to the scale of the work.

And so, here I am a two weeks later and I’m still processing. However, I think I can now place into words a pale reflection of how the story spoke to me.

Troll Valley comes with a tag-line of, “The fairy tale your grandparents never told you.” There is a fundamental truth in that. This is a fairy tale of the old, dark, original Grimm’s variety. Fairy is strange and dangerous and subtle – except when it’s not, but by then you’re already doomed so it doesn’t matter.

The story evolves from an initial scene of emergency intervention being conducted in the life of a young man of privilege: Shane Anderson. Shane wakes from his most recent bender in an upper room of the family’s mansion, securely strapped into a hospital bed and watched over by a detox specialist named Robert Swallowtail. During the course of their first conversation, Mr. Swallowtail presents the two main tools he plans on using to help Shane get his life back together: a bible and a stack of yellowed writing paper with a cover sheet that reads “Troll Valley: The Memoirs of Christian Anderson of Epsom, Minnesota”.

And that’s where the core of the story hits. The real main character of the novel is Christian Anderson – “Chris” to his family and friends. Through his words and impressions, we are introduced to rural farm life in Minnesota around the pivot of centuries between the 19th and 20th. Steam-powered threshing machines are high-tech with plenty of room for improvement. Horses are still prevalent and utilitarian as opposed to luxurious toys for people with disposable incomes. Cows are milked and wood is chopped by hand and life is lived close to the bone in terms of making it between fall and spring no matter whether you’re ahead or behind of your profit-loss curve.

And a young man born with withered arm has to face the fact that he’ll never be as whole or useful as his perfectly proportioned twin brother.

That malformed arm, however, is not the only trouble that dogs young Chris Anderson’s life. In an odd twist of fate, he is also beset with a strange sort of second sight that manifests whenever he is fearful or angry. At those times, the distinctive pointy scarlet hats of the traditional Norse red caps. I suppose we’d call them “gnomes” and picture cherubic cheeked little old men with pot bellies and long white beards given the things that have been marketed here in the States. However, the red caps that Chris sees are inherently and implicitly dangerous and he knows that instinctively. Thus he has learned from an early age to suppress his fear and anger to make the red caps go away. That suppression and his arm are the chief metal that go into the forge to make up the person that Chris Anderson starts out as and progresses to be during the story.

Thus, Troll Valley is both period piece and subtle dark fantasy. The biggest thing that this story is, though, is compelling. For me, the fact that the presentation of the characters and imagery rang so very true kept me well engrossed. Chris is no cardboard paragon. His voice via the memoirs reads with the full conflict of a young man attempting to deal with an increasingly sour home life as the story progresses. Nor does he live and grow in a vacuum. Lars’ knowledge and research of both Minnesota and the Norwegian immigrants who called it home has created a vibrant picture of how people lived and interacted during those early years of the 20th century.

One aspect of that time frame that needs special consideration is the power and presence of church life in a farming community. One thing that I have noted with disgust as I’ve wandered through the world of speculative fiction is how most authors actively seek to demean and marginalize any presentation of Christian life or values. In the minds of many of the self-appointed urban literary select, any kind of non-derogatory presentation of a church or the people within it is immediately dismissed as “Christian Fiction” that should never be seen outside of religious gift shops or allowed in public libraries.

Yet, Troll Valley could not be told without confronting such shallow bias head-on. The presence of the church, the attitudes of the people who support it, and the frailties and foibles of the humans who allow their hubris and hypocrisy to pollute their hearts have a direct affect on Chris Anderson’s choices. This book is not a poorly veiled sermon masquerading as a novel. It is a novel with compelling characters where the real, human affect of people who wrap themselves up with a righteous cloak called “The Church” end up causing all sorts of harm that Christ would never have wanted to see.

And, frankly, the “church” aspect is only one of many within the story. Lars’ uses Chris’ mother’s various obsessions with both prohibition and women’s suffrage to paint various shades of meaning into the world within the story. In fact, Sygne Anderson’s unhealthily self-righteous and busybody approach to these issues among others can easily be seen as an early precursor to the mania that drives the hedonism and amoral socialist tendencies of today’s Leftists. That inherent desire to force others to heave to an arbitrary humanist morality remains one of the greatest threats free societies face on an ongoing basis – and it only gets worse with time.

I have burned a lot of words trying to capture some of what makes Troll Valley such a great read. The truth is that my meager and shallow discussion of a few aspects of the story do little to capture the depth and traction the story holds. There are no glowing, glorious heroics in this story.  Instead, we have flawed and fragile men and women who are doing their best to move forward in a hostile world. Mistakes are made – grim ones – and the people who can see more clearly than others become key to bringing back hope to a world that would otherwise have ended up washed in lifeless gray despair. So, rather than some rollicking fantasy adventure, Troll Valley is a journey through the hearts of two torn and desperate young men – and in its telling and conclusion dwell all sorts of questions you might want to ask yourself.

Well, dangit. All slush released.

15th January 2012 by Darwin 3 Comments

Hate to be the bearer of sad tidings, but I need to get this out for everyone asap.

Due to the fact that I have no extra funds available for acquiring additional story rights and do not foresee having any such funds available until I get the works I have already offered on published in anthology form, all stories that are currently in the Darwin’s Evolutions slush pile are officially released. This means I’m deleting them all from my files, unread and without comment.

I apologize for the delay in this action. I have been attempting to acquire additional funding (i.e. find a new a day job) so that I’d be able to keep rolling forward with filling the pipeline in addition to bringing all contracted stories and art to publication. Sadly, my attempts to gain that elusive source of sustaining employment have failed. At this time, I am focusing all that I can scrape together into bringing the previously contracted stories forward to successful publication. If those efforts bear sufficient fruit, I will re-open the slush pile.

Again, my apologies to all who submitted and have so patiently waited. I wish the news could have been better.

Slush Closed for a Bit

9th September 2011 by Darwin No Comments

Just a post to let everyone know that I’m closing the slush pile for a bit.

I’m working on getting editing done on stories for the antho releases in September and juggling another revenue producing effort on the side, ergo, my time to read the submissions has been curtailed severely.

I’ll do my best to get things back up and open again here shortly. Must get the product I have out the door before purchasing new stock, after all.

Release Day: The Temple of Taak-Resh by Nyki Blatchley

1st August 2011 by Darwin 2 Comments

This week’s release features the fantasy adventure of a pair of young lovers as they try to make their name in the world. Unfortunately, timing is everything and theirs just plain sucks…or does it? In the midst of conflict lies opportunity, if you can survive long enough to grasp it. Please enjoy this fun novelette by gifted storyteller Nyki Blatchley:


“So this is Hannor.”

Failiu looked around the port’s bustle. Passengers in garish clothes disembarked, grimy dockers loaded and unloaded vessels, sailors swaggered off to spend their pay, and the usual tide-line of peddlers, food-sellers and whores hovered ready to take it.

“Yes.” Karaghr’s infectious smile was eager as his glowing eyes surveyed the scene, oblivious to the doubt in her voice. “The greatest port of the Thaal lands. There’s a fortune to be made here.”

“Oh?” Failiu put into the question all the sophisticated irony she felt appropriate, now that she was nearly seventeen. “By anyone in particular?”

“By us, of course. Don’t be silly, Fai.”

She sighed at the waste of her urbanity, running a hand through the dirty tangles of her black hair. Kari insisted she looked beautiful even filthy and unkempt, but she wasn’t convinced. He looked gorgeous, as always – the gleam in his eyes and the dark hair blowing out rakishly gave him the air of a romantic pirate captain. A very young one.

“Fine, but how are we going to live until we make this fortune, Kari? Remember, you blew the last of our money.”

“That’s hardly fair. We both agreed it was worth getting passage on the ship.”

She cast a grimace back at the battered, leaky merchantman they’d just left. Kari’s wounded innocence had her temper threatening to bubble up. “That wasn’t our last money. Our last money was what you lost on that stupid bet.”

“Well. . .yes.” His face took on such a sweet, woeful expression that some of her anger drained away. “I said I was sorry. I’m sure that man cheated me.”

A burly sailor, reeking of salt and cheap wine, shouldered her aside. Failiu instinctively checked her purse, before remembering it was empty.

“Oh well, it’s done now. The fact remains, we can’t afford anything to eat or anywhere to stay. What are we going to do? Sleep in alleyways?”

“We could.” He shrugged. “That’s how you lived in Errish, after all, before the temple took you in.”

“Thanks for that.” How could he not realise that it hurt when he brought up her childhood? It was all very well for him, growing up in a secure village where the worst problem was boredom, by his own account. He could be so immature at times, for all that he was a year older than her. “And that’s why I know I don’t want to do it again. And I want to eat. And I want to get some new clothes.”

Failiu glanced down resentfully at the knee-length tunic, dirty and threadbare, that she’d been wearing for at least two months. She was sure there were things other than her living in it.

“Don’t worry.” The eagerness was back on Karaghr’s face. “It’ll be easy to sell our sorcery. Remember, they say everyone in Hannor employs sorcerers.”

“Well…yes.” Failiu had heard this, but how useful would it be? “That means there’ll be plenty of them already. Maybe…I don’t know…maybe they have some kind of guild, and they won’t let outsiders in.”


The rest of The Temple of Taak-Resh is available on:

  1. Amazon Kindle
  2. Amazon Kindle U.K.
  3. Barnes and Noble Nook
  4. All-format Zip Bundle Direct from DE

Cover illustration by Jesus Garcia Lopez.

See our other fine offerings in The Library Store.

Review: Dreadnaught by Jack Campbell

18th July 2011 by Darwin No Comments
Cover for the Jack Campbell book, Dreadnaught

Cool cover that has nothing whatsoever to do with story.

So, once upon a time there was this middle-aged writer/author/editor kind of schmuck who had just received his Kindle. After fiddle farting around a bit and converting some stories of his own into MOBI form just so he could see how the devil device worked, he thought to himself, “I wonder how this ‘instant download’ bull pockey works?”

Thus our protagonist began sifting through the “browse” feature of said Kindle interface, looking for something that wouldn’t either bore him to tears or make him vomit blood. Since he liked space opera, he fastened onto the blurbs for a series that he’d also seen in real life on shelves at the bookstore but never worked up any enthusiasm for parting with his money for: The Lost Fleet series by someone named “Jack Campbell”. Since the Kindle-y versions were, in fact and as is moot and right cheaper than the dead tree versions, our intrepid writer/author/editor hero plunked down a debit against his credit card to purchase one of the books on speculation (which turned out to be right smack dab in the middle of the series) as a test file.

And thus did I end up entrapped in the trials and tribulations of The Lost Fleet and the excellent narrative voice and pacing of “Jack Campbell”, the pseudonym of author John G. Hemry, who is a navy veteran among other things.

Dreadnaught is actually the first book in a follow-on series to the original Lost Fleet saga. In the first go-round, the hero of the tales, Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, is revived from a long suspended animation in a damaged escape capsule to discover that he has been elevated to “heroic” legend by a government desperate to keep up the population’s morale at the tail end of a century-long war. Over the course of six books (Dauntless, Fearless, Courageous, Valiant, Relentless, Victorious), Captain Geary takes the survivors of a truly stupid attempt to achieve final victory from flight for survival to resurgent conquerors and inadvertently cements his “legendary” status by example.

In Dreadnaught, our pseudonyminous author – Mr. Campbell – returns to the universe he has created to deal with the complete and utter mess his main character has made of things between shattering the pseudo-empire that had been his enemy for so long and smiting the nose of a rather screwed-up race of violently introverted aliens who attempted to sneak solar-system killing mines into most of humanity’s safeholds.

That’ll do for an overview. Basically, this entire series is military space opera, naval focus, without any kind of bizarre diddling of physics to make the ships behave like Napoleonic-era men-of-war. There’s hand-waving for the interstellar travel bit and then something of a solid and quasi-rational approach to the almost-reality of Newtonian physics within which we all have to live normally. That makes the whole set-up a lot easier to swallow from a reading standpoint.  There’s only a couple of “gimme”s and you can then get on with the story.

And telling a gripping story is where Mr. Emry’s talents lay. The characters are empathetic, the plots and subplots appear straightforward but rarely are, human behaviors affect outcomes, pro and con, and it’s easy to cheer for the “good guys”, even though they have issues. Best of all, there’s none of that half-rotten squishy leftist politically correct navel gazing stupidity that inundates much of the current fare of fiction in the world.

Is it a little shallow in places?  Well, yeah. He doesn’t do many scene settings. You won’t get great sweeping vistas of alien worlds from the ground level, just orbital views as things are targeted for destruction. There’s a few places the characters go aboard ship, and that’s about it. And, let’s be honest, some of the “bad” guys are totally stupid-shallow. Sorry. There. I said it.

Regardless, the books entrap a reader into flipping on to the next page as fast you can take in the words. The main elements are there in terms of empathetic characterization, engaging plot, very accessible prose, and the author’s innate ability to keep you reading to Find Out What Happens Next. That’s what I like in my entertainment fiction and that’s what Mr. Hemry aka Jack Campbell delivers in spades.

 

Legacy Project Release: Fatecraft by Lindsey Duncan

10th July 2011 by Darwin 1 Comment

I am very pleased to present today’s release by Lindsey Duncan. Fatecraft introduces her character Pazia Ke’Lieren, a daserii (dice maker) with a special touch and a knack for finding trouble. Lindsey’s style is clear, clean, and easy to immerse yourself in. I hope you will all enjoy this tale as much as I have over the years.


Pazia Ke’Lieren awoke flailing and shouting, nightmare recollections of broken locks and the thugs who had grabbed her hot on her mind. With no clear target in the semi-dark, she felt her foot connect with something soft even as she fell forward and landed hard on the planking of an inordinately fussy carriage. The quiet washed over her: no pounding hooves, no hissing of weather.

Jolted into common sense, she squinted at the pair who reclined on the seats. The man had a flat face, smooth as a river-rock, his frame stone thick. The woman was spindly, long-limbed and gold-complected, accompanied by a touch of stale perfume. They were dressed in tapestried velvet with silk blackwork and discreet jet jewelry, but the fabrics were frayed, a little too old, a little – to the eyes of a mercer’s daughter – out of style. The rest of the carriage matched: the curtains had been repaired past their prime, several layers of paint almost disguised the aging of the wood, and…

A foot to her stomach interrupted her assessment. She tried to curse at the guard who loomed over her, but the sound came out as an airless squeak. Outside, the horizon slid past in a blur of grey, stretched thin and level. Pazia had never seen anything like it before, but she pulled together scattered facts and guessed they traveled at ghostglide, a magical means of transportation invisible to the eye – too imprecise for breaking and entering, but impossible to track. It explained why there was no bump or shudder from the horses, only endless motion.

“You have strong lungs, daserii,” the nobleman said, his voice as rough as his appearance was polished. “I didn’t realize crafting dice was such athletic work.”

“I’d be happy to tell you anything you want to know about the art,” Pazia replied, ekeing the words out with her precious remaining air, “if you’ll let me up and pull the carriage over.” Her hand snuck down and clutched the pouch at her side. The point of a pyramidal die poked her in the palm. As if she needed it to tell her that she was in trouble.

A dark and sultry chuckle from the woman, jewel-like fingers toying with a ring on her right hand. “Let her breathe.”

The guard stepped off her, but dropped his hand on the hilt of his sword for warning as he did. Pazia sucked in a lungful of air, not caring how it looked, and scrambled onto the seat opposite. The dice clattered in her pouch. “If this is about a set of dice I might have sold your noblenesses or one of your gambling partners,” she began, “I’ve never, nor would I ever, make a crooked pair of dice. It would be disrespectful to them.”

“Disrespectful to the dice?” Up went a skeptical eyebrow, yet his expression was thoughtful. “Be that as it may, this is not about business gone wrong. My wife Kadret and I…” a flitting smile of sudden tenderness for his companion, and a coy flick of lashes from her in answer “…wish you to carve something for us. We understand you can work with gemstone and have a particular instinct for dice.”


The rest of Fatecraft is available on:

  1. Amazon Kindle
  2. Amazon Kindle U.K.
  3. Barnes & Noble Nook
  4. All-format Zip Bundle Direct from DE

Cover art by R.L. Carter

Insert Witty and Insightful Post Here:

4th July 2011 by Darwin No Comments

Which is what I would have done had I managed to dodge the July 4 holiday. Sadly, this did not come to pass.

My intention was to opine on something interesting and of immediate interest to the rising e-book crowd. With that plan thoroughly scuttled, I shall now do the minimum necessary to coast through the week.

To whit: No new e-book releases this week.

The combination of the July 4 holiday, a trip to the Kentucky Horse Park in the middle of this week, a hiccup of my last attempted release in the B&N system, and a much-needed cleaning of my contractual bookkeeping has resulted in me being out of time to properly edit the new releases this week.  Ergo, I’ll deal with it on the road and over the upcoming end-of-week/weekend.

New Release Wednesday: The Bight by A.L. Sirois

29th June 2011 by Darwin 1 Comment

Today’s release is by author and artist, A.L. Sirois.  The tale he shares with us today is set in a future some decades ahead of now where a warmer planet and rising seas have resulted in a tropical New York full of interesting and dangerous creatures, both wild and human. It’s a fast-paced race through an infested Gotham as a doctor searches both for a medical breakthrough and for a way to hook back up with his son.

The Bight

by A.L. Sirois

Michael Gradowitz flattened himself against the wet, gritty wall as two scumboys – one black, the other Asian – stalked across the opening of the alley in the drizzling rain, twenty-odd feet away. He was ten hours into the worst assignment of his career, sporting a spiky green topknot along with a dozen studs in his ears and several cosmetic scars, and already wishing he’d never agreed to take the job in the first place. He slapped at a mosquito and shrank into the shadows.

When he drew back his hand, he unintentionally touched the crucifix hidden under his sweaty black T-shirt. Its presence didn’t reassure him in any way. He would have gladly traded it for his iBand in an instant, but none of the denizens of what had been Manhattan wore an iBand. Without his, he felt cut off and defenseless.

Om Burmek didn’t wear an iBand, either. Then again, Om had muscles and Zen awareness, so he didn’t need one. Gradowitz’s son Eli, along with millions of other twelve-year-olds, followed Om’s online adventures. The combat android, samurai-like hero of Eli’s favorite stream showed his wisdom and bravery thrice weekly for his adoring young fans as he went up against brigands and monsters along the lawless Japanese coastline as the islands settled into the tepid sea.

His son wasn’t impressed by Gradowitz’s dedication to medicine. Nothing much about his father had impressed him since his mother had thrown Gradowitz out following his affair with a young hospital aide. Gradowitz saw his son every weekend, but the boy remained distant, behind his own iBand, playing online games or watching online heroes like Om Burmek.

So here he was, competing with a non-existent hero for Eli’s admiration. Never mind that, as a doctor, he could have been healing and bringing comfort to the sick, rather than vanquishing evil-doers.

Some warrior, he thought. Maybe if I had my iBand, I could look up some martial arts moves.

More importantly, he could research the weird encrustations and fungi draping the buildings. He couldn’t begin to judge which ones were dangerous – or beneficial. Even the most basic on-site investigations required carting specimens back to his lab van in Fort Lee. He was willing to hazard the journey, staying up all night running sequences and getting back downtown before dawn, but Manhattan was quarantined and he was embedded for a month – maybe even longer.

He wiped rainwater from his eyes, tabling the self pity. The scumboys, each wearing animated LED gang tats, moved on.

Gradowitz sighed in relief and slunk to the mouth of the alley to peer out. Om Burmek would have attacked the punks at once. “Screw Om,” Gradowitz muttered. He’d have ridden into town on a horse, too, whereas Gradowitz had hiked in across the George Washington Bridge, passing checkpoints there and at the Intrepid on 12th, then down Riverside Drive past the ruins of the Javits Convention Center. There were few, if any, inhabitants that far uptown, which made it ideal for insertions. So he’d had to hoof it from there.


The rest of The Bight is available on:

  1. Amazon Kindle
  2. Amazon Kindle U.K.
  3. Barnes & Noble Nook
  4. All-format Zip Bundle Direct from DE

Cover art created by the author.

See our other fine fiction offerings in The Library Store.

Note About E-Book Availability

23rd June 2011 by Darwin No Comments

I am happy to announce that I have successfully set up a shopping cart that allows our readers another way to enjoy our stories.

You now have the option of obtaining your e-books via Amazon, Amazon U.K., Barnes & Noble, or of downloading a Zip archive directly from Darwin’s Evolutions that includes the MOBI, EPUB, and PDF forms of the story in one handy bundle for direct loading on your e-reader.

I have added the links to all posts and to the Library Store listings for your convenience.

Release Day: Year of the Mountain Lion by Maria E. Schneider

22nd June 2011 by Darwin 2 Comments

Today’s release is courtesy of Maria Schneider, who has been a font of knowledge that I have leaned on during the restart of Evolutions. Aside from being a talented author with a gift for empathetic characters and gripping plots, she is also an experienced hand with the ins and outs of e-book publishing. A great deal of the efforts being undertaken to expand our reach to readers is being done with her reassurance and guidance.

The story she shares with us today, though, is a classic Darwin’s Evolutions style adventure.  An alternate American southwest wherein legends are both real and unreal, curses true and false, and a young woman betrayed finds herself the object of a hunt by the very tribe who cast her out into the desert to die. Prepare yourselves for the challenges and triumphs of the Year of the Mountain Lion.

Year of the Mountain Lion

by Maria E. Schneider

Jolan ran across the sand and stopped near the top of a gully, crouching. She glanced backwards, scanning the dry, gritty landscape. There wasn’t much time. They were very close now, and if she didn’t lose them soon, their arrows would have her heart.

She jumped and rolled, not away into the sandy center of the gully, but up against the base. From there, she used her agave swish to brush the sand where she had landed. The rolling marks barely showed, and she left them because there wasn’t time. The hunters might easily mistake the slight markings as those made by an animal anyway.

Her clan didn’t know the desert like she did. When they had abandoned her in the cliffs, blaming the lack of rain on her curse, she had learned to live on the scant water that trickled occasionally in the last, drying stream beds. She had learned to move deeper into the desert in the winter, living on even less water, finding it with the same curse that had gotten her cast out from her clan.

Keeping close to the crumbling sidewalls, Jolan headed for the red rock overhang. The harder ledges would give her some cover and the ability to run full out.

This was the third time her tribe had hunted her. Two seasons ago, her comfortable existence had been shattered when she looked down at a curious pattern in the sand. Jagged sticks formed a lightning bolt. Animal hide, representing thunder, was held down with pebbles. It took all her discipline to keep from scattering the pieces into the wind.

“Wat—”  Out of habit, she had started to mutter the name of her people, but her voice was so disused, she uttered only a croaking whisper.

Could it be an enemy of the Watahal who chased her and not a tribe member?

No. Only someone from her clan would know that the lightning bolt with clouds was her old name: Taima, Thunder.

Each time she found the sign, she trembled. Each time she took the old, worn piece of hide, torn from…she could not tell. Whoever followed left only rotted hide, likely desperate, likely out of water.

Leaving a few false trails and wandering in random circles, she had led the enemy away from water until they gave up the chase. Finding water was her forte and traveling her life. If she didn’t stay too long in any one place, her curse didn’t steal the rains for too long.

But the enemy got smarter. She had found the signs again this fall, including a few parched oak twigs from the valley, twigs that signified her new name, Jolan: Dead-Oaks. Part of the wood had been burned, a way of cursing her.

Over the seasons, the clan learned where she roamed: the plains, the mountains or the low hills. And they were close this time.

Her breath came hard as she ran under the protective rock outcrop and then out into the open, sun flashing into her eyes before steady steps took her under the next overhang.

She didn’t slow, even as she tossed her swish into a bundle of fallen rocks. It was nothing there, only a dried branch.

Better they chased her now, rather than in the northern mountains where she stayed after the spring melt.  The heat of the desert would discourage them from hunting her for very long.

Get the rest of the story for your e-reader at:

See our other fine fiction offerings in The Library Store.

Illustration courtesy of John Dotegowski.