The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III and Call for Beta Readers

Attention, fans of Niemeierian fiction:

The first draft of The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is now complete at 125,000 words!

You can check out a preview of SK here. Note that the preview poses a moderate spoiler risk if you haven't read Nethereal.

Having draft one of the third book in the can has given me a better perspective on the Soul Cycle series as a whole. Even though I'm the author, publishing these books has been something of a journey of artistic self-discovery, especially in light of how each book has its own feel derived from its particular influences.

Nethereal has been described as what you'd get if A. Merritt had been contracted to write a novel in Dune's Known Universe after binge-watching two-cor anime series from Studio Deen. It bucks the rigid genre conventions imposed by editors trying to suck up to the New York literati and the chain book stores after WWII by mixing pirate stories with 70s-style weird fiction.

Souldancer continues the genre-bashing but draws inspiration from Japanese RP video games of the 16 and 32-bit console eras. SD is an adventure tale at heart but actually increases the horror quotient compared to its predecessor. The story itself is far more intimate than the first book's, and one of the main narrative threads fits the industry standard definition of a romance plot: "Boy meets girl and they live happily ever after (or happily for now)".

How does The Secret Kings measure up? Though still in an unfinished state, SK already bears the hallmarks of an epic space opera. The first seventy percent of the book follows the main characters as they voyage between multiple Middle Stratum spheres (that's "planets in space" for the uninitiated).

There are more space battles than in either previous book. In fact, the overall action has been cranked up several notches. Considering that more than one reviewer described the action in Nethereal as "non-stop" and the basic structure of Souldancer as "an escalating series of fight scenes", I may have gone too far this time.

And of course, no Soul Cycle installment would be complete without at least one battle that rages between planes of existence.

SK, on the whole, is the story where the journeys that many characters in Nethereal and SD began get tied together. I'm eager to see readers' reactions.

Which leads us to...

Calling all beta readers

My goal is to have the second draft of SK finished in 2-3 weeks from the date of this writing. The second draft will be made available for immediate release to all SK beta readers. The beta readers will have exactly two weeks to read the manuscript and report back to me. Beta readers will be charged with two, and only two, primary responsibilities:
  1. Identifying parts of the MS that confused them.
  2. Identifying parts of the MS that bored them.
It's as simple as that.

Just as important, here's what beta readers will not be responsible for:
  • Pointing out spelling/grammar errors. I line edit at a pro level anyway, and any typos I miss can be fixed in post as readers find them.
  • Suggesting ways to fix plot/structural/character problems. That's Jagi's job.
  • Anything other than pointing out parts that are confusing and/or dull.
Note: you will find the above problems in the second draft of any book. Since we're trying to hit a Christmas release, don't let minutiae bog you down. Skimming the text for punctuation errors isn't helpful at this stage. We need readers who can commit to and focus on the text so they can accurately report on content issues that inhibited their enjoyment of the story.

I hate typos as much as any of you, but bigger indie authors than me have conducted experiments proving that the vast majority of readers don't care about misspellings, erroneous punctuation, or grammatical mistakes. Remember: story comes first!

With the necessaries out of the way, among the benefits that my beta readers will enjoy are first access to the latest book in an award-winning series, the chance to make a positive impact on the finished version of that book, and a complimentary eBook copy of The Secret Kings prior to the book's official release.

If you're interested in becoming an SK beta reader, I strongly advise reading the first two books in the Soul Cycle before signing up.

The call for beta readers will be open for two weeks, starting today. To sign up, contact me via the "Send Me an Email" button in the upper left sidebar or copy and paste the following email address: soulcyclebooks@gmail.com


Infogalactic, Planetary

Infogalactic Logo

Infogalactic, the major fork of Wikipedia which, unlike its predecessor, is dedicated to cultivating objective fact instead of suppressing it, had my support from day one. Writing professional grade SFF takes more and broader research than you might expect, and it's become readily apparent to anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty that Wikipedia is sorely lacking in that regard.

Just randomly browse some of their articles on politics, celebrities, any pre-20th century historical event, religion, or pretty much any humanities subject. We've reached the point where Wikipedia is effectively useless for anything other than superficial hard science research.

The creators of Infogalactic envision an alternative knowledge base that doesn't just compete with Wikipedia but renders it obsolete.

From Infogalactic's press release:

INFOGALACTIC: an online encyclopedia without bias or thought police

Z├╝rich, Switzerland. All around the world, thousands of users are accessing and editing the new online encyclopedia for the 21st Century, Infogalactic, which styles itself the Planetary Knowledge Core™. Conceived as a next-generation replacement for Wikipedia, the troubled online encyclopedia, Infogalactic is a dynamic fork of Wikipedia that is designed to supplant its predecessor by addressing the problems of bias, vandalism, harassment, abuse, and inaccuracy that have plagued the Wikimedia Foundation’s flagship project for years.
“Every notable public figure who has a page devoted to them knows very well what an inaccurate nightmare Wikipedia is,” said Vox Day, Lead Designer of Infogalactic, a computer game designer and bestselling philosopher. “The page about me there has had everything from my place of birth to the number of times I’ve been married wrong. And that’s not even counting the outright abuse, such as when Wikipedians replaced the entire page with a definition of a sexually-transmitted disease or with a string of obscenities.”
Infogalactic plans to solve the structural problems of a community-edited online encyclopedia through objectivity, proven game design principles, and a sophisticated series of algorithms. Currently in an operational Phase One, the Planetary Knowledge Core has a five-phase Roadmap that its founders claim will eliminate edit warring, significantly improve accuracy, neutralize vandalism and other forms of griefing, and render all forms of political bias on the part of administrators and editors irrelevant.
The elimination of thought-policing is a cause in which I have a particular interest, as anyone who's familiar with my ongoing Twitter troubles can attest.

Lo and behold, what hath Infogalactic wrought?

Infogalactic Twitter shadowban list
Quite a colorful bunch of characters
The article is linked from IG's blog, which, like this one, recently tackled Twitter censorship.

They were even gracious enough to give me my own page.

But how does Infogalactic plan to solve the bias problem that no one else has been able to crack? Read on.
“The primary challenge facing any online wiki is the individual editor’s incentive to impose his perspective on everyone else,” said Renegade, the Operations Director of Infogalactic, who, as per the organization’s pro-anonymity policy is known only by his handle. “Most people who contribute to an online knowledge base do so because they want to have their say, but in the end there can be only one perspective that is enforced by the site’s administrators. Infogalactic has solved that problem by embracing true objectivity and eliminating the enforcement incentive by moving from a centralized, vertically-stacked orientation to a decentralized, horizontally-distributed model.”
Infogalactic’s anti-bias architecture will permit users to select their preferred perspective and automatically see the version of the subject page that is closest to it based on a series of algorithms utilizing three variables, Relativity, Reliability, and Notability. This means a supporter of Hillary Clinton will see a different version of the current Donald Trump page than a Donald Trump supporter will, as both users will see the version of the page that was most recently edited by editors with perspective ratings similar to his own.
“The single biggest problem with Wikipedia isn’t Jimmy Wales or its outmoded 1995 technology, but the fact that it is patrolled by 532 left-wing thought police who aggressively force their biased perspective on the rest of the world,” Vox Day, aka “Fenris” on Infogalactic, added. “This isn’t Conservapedia 2.0 and we aren’t replacing Wikipedia’s admins with their conservative equivalent, we are making the function of thought police irrelevant through technology. Our design philosophy is based on the idea that only the user has the right to define what his reality is.”
How are they doing so far? According to its lead designer, Infogalactic already has a comparable number of active admins and more than twice as many English language pages as Wikipedia. And that was last week.

Putting on my independent publisher hat, what I think will put Infogalactic over the top is its business-friendliness.
The Planetary Knowledge Core is also distinguishing itself from its predecessors by its corporate-friendly policies. Corporations, large and small, are welcome to participate on the site, advertising by page and by category is permitted, and a number of strategic partners have been established, including Gab, the popular new Twitter alternative that already has over one hundred thousand active users.
Not only is there a strong demand for global access to objective information, there's a critical need for it. If you build it, they will come. Infogalactic has already plowed under Wikipedia's cornfield and is hard at work pursuing its vision of information free from the interference of the thought police. You can help usher in a bright future of objective worldwide knowledge access by donating to Infogalactic or picking up some of their handsome swag.

If you're inclined to supporting independent creators opposed to censorship, you can also throw a little support my way via my critically and commercially successful books.


Twitter and New Novel Update

Twitter Dead

Wrestling Twitter

Regular readers will know that I've been having problems with Twitter since the beginning of August, culminating in what is playfully called a shadowban.

Based on reports from my followers, what the shadowban has done is secretly force their accounts to treat mine as if they've blocked it. My tweets disappear from conversations, and the only way to see them is by going to my Twitter homepage and reading the timeline.

Then, about two weeks ago, my account lost the ability to retweet or follow anyone. All I could do was post new tweets of my own and like others' tweets.

For a professional author who relies heavily on social media to build and maintain my brand, Twitter's shadowban presents a costly marketing obstacle. Luckily Twitter's attempt to censor me has blown up in their faces so far, thanks to the wonderful readers who rallied to oppose the floundering social network's thought policing.

However, I'm getting ready to launch a new book (more on that in a moment), and it would be really great if one of my main advertising channels actually, you know, worked the way it's supposed to.

My research turned up a possible method for fixing shadowbans--which Twitter's notoriously awful customer service can't help with because they don't officially acknowledge that shadowbans even exist.

The suggested method is to deactivate your Twitter account and then reactivate it after a week or two. Doing this reportedly returns an affected account's settings to normal.

On Saturday, October 8th I deactivated my Twitter account. It sucked not being able to interact with my followers, even in my shadowban-hobbled account's limited capacity, but with a little patience and discipline I made it a whole week.

This past Saturday, I reactivated my account.

And found that all of my 1400+ followers were gone. Adding insult to injury, my account had auto-unfollowed everyone I'd been following.

But at least the shadowban is over, right?

Still Shadowbanned 1

Still Shadowbanned 2

Not according to one of the fine folks who's refollowed me since Saturday.

Oh, and heads up, before anyone in the comments suggests that I join Gab, let me save you some time.

Gab Referrals

This is just a sampling of the many messages advising me to take my business from Twitter to Gab. The outpouring of Gab recommendations tells me two things.
  1. Gab is upholding its commitment to free speech for all its users.
  2. Twitter has really alienated a LOT of people.
All of the folks who have helpfully suggested that I join Gab can rest assured that I plan to get in line soon. Currently the waiting list resembles the line at a hot new nightclub that stretches around the block, and the bouncer is choosing who to let in at random. Right now I'm waiting for the admissions process to get a bit more normalized before queuing up.

In the meantime, I'm slowly rebuilding my my original Twitter account. It might be a lost cause, as I've just been informed that the accounts of people who my account says no longer follow me are showing them that they are still following me. As Declan Finn shows, this is not the case.

A Pius Man Twitter
How Declan's Twitter page looks to me. NB: I was following him before 10/08.
If you followed me prior to Saturday, I ask that you try unfollowing and refollowing my account, even if your account shows that you're still following mine.

I also have an alternate Twitter account that I'll most likely be moving to (in addition to joining Gab) if the problems with my main account don't get resolved. You can follow my backup account here.

Though I'll try to stay as active as possible on social media in the coming days, writing has taken up most of my time lately. I'm currently under deadlines for two books, one of which is...

The Secret Kings

You may have seen the updates I've been posting on Facebook (you're less likely to have seen the ones I've tweeted). As you can probably tell, I've been busily working on Soul Cycle Book III. It's been a little while since the last progress update reported the first draft as being 95% done, so you're probably wondering where the project stands now.

Here's the deal: the percentages cited in those progress reports were based on some back of the envelope calculations of the first draft's final length based on my current outline and those of the previous two books. Since writing isn't an exact science--or a science at all, actually--my initial estimate was a little short.

A of this writing, The Secret Kings stands at 108% of its first draft's original expected length. What's happened is that the last four pages of my outline are now approaching 100 manuscript pages' worth of actual prose text--far more than the preceding outline sections.

The perfectly reasonable explanation for this expansion is that those last four pages outline the book's climax, where I not only have to tie up all of the loose ends in the current book, but several that were carried over from Souldancer and even Nethereal.

I'm making good progress, though. You may also have seen the 2, 3, and even 4k word counts I've been posting (unless, of course, you're on Twitter). After pulling double shifts for the past week, I'm finally into the home stretch. Keep your eyes peeled for my announcement that the first draft of Soul Cycle Book III: The Secret Kings is complete. With Marcelo already working on the cover and Jagi's editing services reserved for November, there should still be plenty of time to make my planned Christmas season launch.

By the way, not only is the writing going quickly, it's going rather well in my admittedly biased opinion. I've made this prediction elsewhere, but I'll restate my expectation that when all is said and done, Soul Cycle fans will place themselves into one of two camps: those whose favorite book in the series is Souldancer, and those who prefer The Secret Kings.

Yes, I'm making that statement knowing that SD won the Dragon Award. SK is already shaping up to be at least as good, and it's a whole different animal than its predecessor. Book II is a JRPG-influenced adventure story with a strong horror element. Book III comes closest to staying within a single genre as any book I've written so far, being almost pure space opera (with possibly a little too much action at this point). That's why I foresee fans gravitating to one book or the other based on genre preferences.

While we're on that subject, SK will probably be the closest that a Soul Cycle novel gets to being a pure genre book. But it won't be the only book I write in a classic genre.

Buy the first two books in the highly acclaimed Soul Cycle now, and be ready for Book III this Christmas.


Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted

By way of welcoming me to the Castalia House family, Lead Editor Vox Day recently gifted me a copy of Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted, his military science fiction/noir techno-thriller co-authored with Steve Rzasa.


The novel's protagonist is Chief Warrant Officer Graven Tower of the Military Crimes Investigation Division on Rhysalan--a sanctuary planet hosting over 1,400 alien governments in exile.

Psychologically unbalanced, armed to the teeth, and legally empowered with far more license to use deadly force than the civilian cops, Tower gets involved--mostly due to his attraction to the detective in charge--in a local police investigation into the possible assassination of an alien VIP.

With the help of his military grade augment/partner Baby, an AI, hacking virtuoso, and devout Christian; Tower delves into a labyrinth of murder, espionage, and political intrigue to defuse growing tensions that threaten to tear his planet apart. But besides hostile alien warriors, bloodthirsty academics, and scheming bureaucrats, Tower's deadliest opposition may come from his own compromised sanity.

Vox Day - on pointe
Vox Day
Co-authors Vox Day and Steve Rzasa weave a compelling sci-fi murder mystery that will keep you turning pages; not just to see the titular crime solved, but to more deeply immerse yourself in the lives of the vivid characters and the thoughtfully designed world they inhabit.

Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted defies easy classification, which is one of the book's strengths, in my opinion. Here we find hallmarks of the mil SF, hard SF, noir detective, police procedural, techno-thriller, and cyberpunk genres, just to name a few. Perhaps the authors' most impressive achievement in regard to this book is how they seamlessly blended this disparate elements into a coherent whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Due credit must be given for the world building, which speculates on technology, politics, religion, and more with such great depth and breadth that the world feels not only plausible, but genuinely lived in.

A note on action: QM: AMD takes a measured approach to the pacing and frequency of its action scenes, which are well executed but often quite graphic in terms of violence. Personally I had no problem with the elaborate, sometimes almost clinical descriptions of carnage, but the faint of heart should know what they're getting into.

My only nitpicks with the book were the occasional digressions into weapon specs and the dialogue's salting with military jargon. Then again, I'm not a big mil-SF reader, so weigh that criticism accordingly.

In summation, Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted is a clever, intricately thought-out thriller deftly combining tropes from multiple spec fic genres. Recommended for fans of military fiction, noir, cyberpunk, and political intrigue.


Vox has stated that part of his vision for Castalia House is for him to be the worst author they publish. QM:AMD sets the bar quite high, so it's impressive that they've managed to meet that standard so far with authors like Peter Grant, John C. Wright, Owen Stanley, and more. With such a distinguished stable of talent, it's easy to picture CH becoming the #1 SFF publisher in the near future.

And if you find Castalia House's books a refreshing alternative to the bodice rippers in space and civics lectures packaged as SF peddled by the dying Big 5 publishers, you'll definitely appreciate Infogalactic, the planetary knowledge core designed to fork and replace Wikipedia's outmoded technology, thought policing, and editorial pissing contests.

With more than twice as many pages as the English-language version of Wikipedia, Infogalactic has already become my go-to web resource for research or simple fun with daisy-chaining article links. I can overlook the site's occasional slowness this soon after launch since this is only Phase 1 and their capabilities are set to grow exponentially.

Although I'm not officially a Castalia House author yet, my Soul Cycle books were deemed good enough to qualify me for a shot at the big time. Book III is coming soon--with the plan being to follow it up with my first CH book--so if you haven't read Nethereal and Souldancer yet, now's the perfect time.