Here we are: December 23, only two days from the Feast of the Nativity, Christianity’s second-biggest holy day. But many Americans’ thoughts remain on entirely secular matters, especially the purchasing and wrapping of presents for others. As one of my parish priests put it, this is the time of year we go running around frantically, spending money we don’t have, on things we don’t want, for people we can’t stand. And sadly, it is so for too many people.
Well, here at the Fortress we don’t do that. We give presents when the spirit moves us. It doesn’t have to be any particular date. And we have found that liberating ourselves from the gift-giving rhythms that agitate the rest of the country to an exhausted bankruptcy – or should that be a bankrupt exhaustion? – has done a great deal to improve our experience of the Christmas season.
That having been said, I’m going to give some presents now. Recommendations of the fiction of several of my indie colleagues. Indies must support other indies; there’s no one else to do the job. So here we go.
First and foremost, I’ve just encountered a remarkable novel by a writer I’d known nothing about: Armond Boudreaux’s The Way Out. This is a book you’ll press onto everyone you know who has any ability to think, and here’s why:
A medical miracle is reshaping the world. The artificial womb ensures the perfect health and flawless development of every unborn child. Natural pregnancy is now unnecessary risk—and quickly criminalized as a danger to both mother and fetus.
As a reporter, Jessica Brantley makes new enemies on a daily basis covering both sides of the controversial new law. Now her search for the truth behind this world-changing technology will lead to an unimaginable discovery—the existence of children with terrifying telepathic powers.
This truth is no secret to former U.S. Marine Valerie Hara. Her illegally born eleven-year-old son can’t help but hear the thoughts of everyone around him. When government agents storm her home to take her child away, she’ll stop at nothing to protect her family.
Soon, these two fearless women will be branded as terrorists, hunted by the military, demonized by the media—and drawn into a desperate fight for the freedom of the human race.
This is near-future science fiction of the very best kind. Like my Futanari Saga, it addresses a looming “what if?” that could destabilize everything we know about our societies and ourselves…forerunners of which are already highly-charged issues that threaten to provoke mass bloodshed. If you read only one novel in 2022, make it this one.
Second on the carousel is a similarly affecting novel by a writer who, until a few months ago, was unknown to me: Philip S. Power. Power is remarkably prolific. Of course that means that not everything he writes will rise to the highest standard. However, he has one of the most potent imaginations I’ve encountered in a lifetime with the printed word. The first book of his “Infected” series, Proxy, strikes with the force of a tornado:
Brian Yi knew what it meant when he showed up with super-powers one day.
He was Infected.
Doomed to be hated and reviled for simply existing.
But Brian is special, a rare Infected person willing to fight for those that can’t, not uncontrolled or insane. In fact, thanks to his power of taking the place of those about to die and the bizarre overriding sense of self-sacrifice he suddenly develops, he doesn’t really get a choice in the matter.
Now he has to either fight for the IPB – a government organization designed to contain the Infected threat – or end up lobotomized, living the rest of his days in a psych ward.
In the end though, he knows there’s only one real option: save all he can.
Even if it kills him.
Because the world is about to change, and the only thing standing between the lives of millions and certain death, is one man with the unlikely power to take a victim’s place when there is no other hope left.
The combination of power, helplessness, and selflessness Power gives to his ultra-tragic hero is beyond anything else I’ve read — ever. Treat yourself.
Boudreaux and Power write in a straight, unadorned narrative style – my preferred style. But there’s a place in the world for the stylist, too, as long as he doesn’t permit his arabesques to detract from the story he tells. With that, we come to Ripley Harper.
Harper’s “Dark Dragon Chronicles” are in some ways conventional urban fantasy. However, she gives them a series of new twists throughout her four books to date – and each volume is gorgeously written…but not overwritten. They feature a single protagonist, Jess, whose circumstances are both unfortunate and fraught with possibility:
The problem is this: either I’m losing my mind, or I’m a psychopath with superpowers. But I’m pretty sure I’m not a psychopath, and even suspecting that I might have superpowers probably means I’m crazy. Which I know for a fact I’m not. Which means I must have superpowers. Which is crazy.
[From Ordinary Girl]
Here’s Jess’s first brush against her own powers:
The moment I saw the smoke, I screamed out a warning, but the music was so loud nobody heard me. And then the whole thing went up like a light—whoosh!—and within minutes the place had descended into chaos: smoke and flames and screams and the kind of hysteria you only get when a barn full of drunk people suddenly realize they’re about to be burned alive.
I was the only one who remained calm and not, I hasten to add, because I’m usually cool in a crisis. No, the reason I remained so calm was simply because I wasn’t afraid.
I thought the fire was beautiful.
I was hypnotized by its power. Thrilled by it. Elated. The feeling that came over me is difficult to describe. It was a bit like being in a dream, although not really, because even though my limbs felt weak and heavy, I knew I was awake. There was a deep sense of unreality to everything that happened but at the same time my brain was totally clear and my senses strangely heightened. Colors seemed brighter, smells sharper, and I could feel the energy of the fire pulsing in the air all around me. Time seemed to stretch and then stood still completely so that everything seemed weirdly precise: I could see every face in the most minute detail, clearly make out each individual voice.
For a while I watched the chaos around me with a delicious sense of detachment. Everyone was screaming and scrambling to get to the exit, but I sat completely still on the same rusty old fold-up chair I’d been on all evening.
The moment was pleasing to me.
Finally for today, we have Kfir Luzzatto’s “Tessa” novels. Luzzatto is also exceptionally prolific, though not quite to Philip Power’s level. His “Tessa” novels are standouts of the “psi powers” subcategory of near-future science fiction. Like Boudreaux and Power, his writing is straight narrative. What makes the “Tessa” books appealing is the variety and intensity of the scrapes his protagonist, a very powerful telepath, gets into: initially as a government agent; subsequently as a fugitive from the same government, an agency of which seeks to hunt down and exterminate all individuals with psi powers of any kind.
These won’t appeal to everyone. Tessa is in some ways too powerful for her role, but Luzzatto employs her abilities in unexpected ways. He also contrives an interesting supporting cast for her, some with powers of their own – and agendas of their own that aren’t necessarily consistent with Tessa’s objectives. Give the first novel a try. Like most indie fiction, it’s inexpensive and worth more than its price.
That’s all for today, Gentle Reader. Enjoy your Thursday – perhaps with the blessing of some fresh fiction reading; I could recommend a unique romance that might be to your taste – and I’ll see you tomorrow. Until then, be well.