All Covers Large

A while back, I heard about Jefferson Smith. He had this idea for his blog, where he would get on his treadmill and read a book by an indie author. The challenge for that book was to keep his interest for the length of his 40-minute workout. Anything that brought him out of the story, from bad grammar to nonsensical plot points, got counted as a strike, and if it got three strikes, it failed.

Most books failed.

His motto is “1 book. 40 minutes. 0 mercy.” He’s brutal. He posts his reviews with a time stamp of just how far he got through. As I look right now, the most recent TWELVE books have all fallen by the wayside, and only one made it past the 10-minute mark. That’s brutal.

Well, some books make it through that gauntlet. Last time I did the numbers, it was something like 8% or so. But that’s just the first 40 minutes. If a book makes it that far, Jefferson puts it into a proper TBR pile and finishes. Not every book survives a full reading.

But among these battered, treadmill-weary tomes, a few crossed the finish line with arms raised. Mad Tinker’s Daughter was one of these. Jefferson Smith extended an offer to a selection of these survivors, and brought their authors together to form this story bundle. Every one of these stories passed the test (though technically we’re assuming Jefferson’s own contribution would have survived his own trial-by-treadmill).

As you can see, it’s a lot of books that have survived together in a sort of Band of Brothers fashion. They’ve been through (treadmill) hell and back, and they’re battle tested. If Sturgeon’s Law holds true and 90% of everything is crap, then here’s the other 10%.

Check out and get yours while they last.

Here’s a listing of who is involved, as summarized by Jefferson Smith’s take on the first 40 minutes:

Century of Sand, by Christopher Ruz (Fantasy)

For Century, it was the setting. I was intrigued enough by the premise of an old warrior on the run with an uncooperative girl-mute in tow, but it was the oppressive landscape that captivated me. The heat and sand and dehydration were almost palpable—enough to make the drama of the army that pursued them almost secondary. (Read the full IOD Report.)

Crimson Son, by Russ Linton (SF)

Here it began with the premise. Lots of people have tackled superhero fiction before, but taking the POV of an un-super child in a dysfunctional super-family had me hooked from the beginning. What’s not to love when you first realize that the teen protagonist is being held prisoner—not by some archvillain, but by his own super-father, who has trapped him in the family fortress of solitude? But it takes more than just premise, and I was ultimately sold by Linton’s empathetic handling of the opening situation. Rather than focusing on heroics, this starts out in a very relatable way, hooking us with hints of the fraying family dynamic before anything super-powered even gets onto the stage. (Read the full IOD Report.)

The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl, by Bryce Anderson (SF)

Most AI stories make what I think is a mistake, having scientists set out to create something sentient that later gets away from them. As a computer scientist myself, however, I have never been able to buy that whole “sentience by intentional design” gambit. If we don’t understand how human consciousness works, how can we ever expect to build an artificial one on purpose? But Anderson’s approach seemed at once so brilliant and so obvious that I was immediately hooked. Why hadn’t anybody ever taken this angle before? I don’t want to ruin the story for you, so let me just say that the AI in Singularity Girl doesn’t begin with some hyper-clever act of scientific creation—it begins with a simple suicide. (Read the full IOD Report.)

The Journeyman, by Michael Alan Peck (Fantasy)

The first appeal for me with Journeyman was the absolute economy of scenes, and how brilliantly they supported each other to introduce a rich and believable cast of characters. As a result, Peck was able to get to the main crisis very quickly, but at no time did I ever feel that he was rushing. The second appeal was the premise. Lots of writers have tackled the “life after death” story, but this was something fresh. Not just a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, which Evil appears to be winning, but one in which Good doesn’t even seem to give a damn? Count me in. (Read the full IOD Report.)

Mad Tinker’s Daughter, by JS Morin (Fantasy) (my contribution)

Tinker is built on an unusual twist. I understood right from the outset that something odd was going on. Pairs of characters seemed to be “twinned” in some fashion, but the nature of how that worked was doled out slowly, and that worked as a lure that kept pulling me further and further into the adventure. It’s a delicate balancing act for an author to try keeping something as fundamental as “how reality works” as a mystery from the reader, and still not alienate them from the story, but Morin manages to do just that. And by the time things had slowly unfolded into not one, but two steampunk worlds, each with a rich and well-lived-in feel to it, I was hooked. (Read the full IOD Report.)

Pay Me, Bug!, by Christopher Wright (SF)

One of the harder things to put into a story is a believable sense of history between the characters, but Wright makes it seem easy. I was immediately drawn to the sense of camaraderie between the captain and his crew in this rollicking space adventure. At once easy and familiar with each other, but also professional and competent at their jobs, I instantly wanted to be a part of the good natured banter that passed among these freelance rogues. Beginning on page one, I felt like I was back on board the Serenity, and that feeling never went away. (Read the full IOD Report.)

Strictly Analog, by Richard Levesque (SF)

The 1st person POV is something that I see over and over again on my treadmill, but it almost always ends up with a bad case of what I call “Galloping ‘I’ disease”—those interminable paragraphs full of “I did this,” “I did that,” “I went here,” and “I went there.” When every fifth word is “I,” it can be hard to hear the story for all the echoing that’s going on in your head. But not so here. Levesque skillfully avoided that “I”-trap. He then sold me completely on the reality of his future LA when it was revealed that he and all his neighbors lived in illegally converted We-Store storage lockers, putting a totally unexpected spin on the notion of the self-storage industry. Details like this are what raise an SF story up out of the usual mire of recycled tropes and convince me that the author has something new to offer. And when I got all that in the first five pages, I couldn’t wait to see what else was in store. (Read the full IOD Report.)

Untimed, by Andy Gavin (SF)

Some rare books can hook you with the very first line. Not just intrigue you, but hook you—convince you not only that the story will be interesting, but that the writer knows what he’s doing and that your precious spare time is in good hands. And that’s what happened for me here.

My mother loves me and all, it’s just that she can’t remember my name.

As soon as I read that one sentence, I knew this was going to be a good story. I didn’t know yet if it would be well edited, but story-wise, this was a writer’s opening, with an entire novella hiding behind it. So when the protagonist went on to reveal that his entire family was somehow “unstuck in time,” I was on board with both feet and my steamer trunk already packed for the journey.(Read the full IOD Report.)

Oh, and there’s this last entry, too…

Brotherhood of Delinquents, by Jefferson Smith (Fantasy)

For me as a writer, premise is everything. If I can’t find an interesting situation to explore, I can’t stay interested in the project long enough to write it. But for Brotherhood, I wanted to do more than just tackle an intriguing premise. I also wanted to tackle a challenging audience—one that most authors have given up on as a focus: teenage boys.

When I was really young, I read things like The Hardy BoysTom SwiftDanny Dunn, and The Three Investigators. But once I’d reached my teens, it seemed that those sorts of buddy-based adventure stories had all dried up. There certainly weren’t any in the fantasy genre. What had happened to the stories full of mystery and sleuthing, secret tunnels, codes, and boys being smarter than the adults around them? Those had been the hallmarks of boyish fascination that had made a die-hard reader of me, but as a teen I couldn’t find them anywhere. Eventually I moved on to more grown-up stories, but in the back of my mind, that vacuum has always stood out as a beacon to me. Fantasy adventure buddy-fiction for teen boys. All I had to do was find a way to take all the stuff I’d loved as a kid, put it all together, and then flip the conventions upside down.

Thus was born the premise for Brotherhood of Delinquents. Take a group of boys who don’t know or like each other, and who are generally perceived as useless wastrels by the adults around them, and put them in the middle of a mystery that the adults aren’t even aware of yet. Add in a dash of secret clubs, hidden passages, and a sense of swash-buckling adventure, and we’re off to the races.

I can’t point you at what other people have said about it yet, because Brotherhood is making its publishing debut in this StoryBundle. But all the fancy punditry in the world means little to me on this one. If there’s a boy in your life who hasn’t been able to find books that hold his interest, show him Brotherhood of Delinquents. I’ll be happy to stand by his judgment. After all, I wrote it for him. – Jefferson Smith

Check out and get yours while they last.

Are you a Science Fiction / Fantasy blogger? I’ve got some promo codes available for people willing to help promote, or provide reviews on their blog before the bundle ends on May 7th.

Just contact me and tell me about your audience