Category Archives: Past Months

Sci-Fi LGBT+ Novels that don’t Suck

It’s a sad thing to admit but there is a distinct lack of well-written sci-fi books featuring LGBT protagonists.  They do exist, but they seem too often lost in a sea of romance books masquerading as sci-fi.  If you are looking for romance, well then that’s all well and good, but if you really just want a true sci-fi book with all the techno-jargon, space travel, dystopian futures, and a diverse cast but without the constant angst and love scenes, you might have a difficult time finding one you like.  Worse yet, you may find yourself in the midst of the swamp of clichés, the graveyard of throw-away characters, or the pit of faux diversity.  Hopefully, we can alleviate some of that pain by slogging through the mediocre to bring you some true science fiction gems.

Warchild Series by Karin Lowachee

Superbly written sci-fi with a wide cast of characters, this space opera is well worth the read.  Lowachee is able to craft characters you care about in a world that feels deeply developed while still remaining character-focused.  The three current books delve into multiple issues, some quite dark, each from a different character’s perspective.  For the most part, they are light on the romance as well, although Cagebird brings it front and center.  The fourth book, The Warboy, is currently awaiting a release date.  

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin 


This classic was published in 1969 as part of the Hainish Cycle. However, each book can be read as a standalone.  It focuses on a human emissary to the alien planet of Winter, where the local alien species can shift their gender.  For its time, it was groundbreaking.  The romance is still downplayed, left to subtext for the most part but the characters are interesting, well-developed, and don’t stoop to clichés.  The world building, too, is what you would expect from LeGuin.  It has a wealth of details and depth, all presented from both an outsider’s point of view and from the perspective of an insider.  Despite its age, we highly recommend this book.


Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey


The synopsis of this book can seem a little misleading, making it seem like another played-out werewolf fic.  It is not, though, and more than worth a read.  It’s set in a not so distant future in which the US and Mexico are in an ongoing war, resulting in a DMZ along the border of Texas and Mexico.  The story takes place in the town of Santa Olivia within this demilitarized zone.  The setting is a gritty, realistic dystopia, but not so much one of overt malice and oppression but rather more like neglect.  The characters are all very well developed.  No one feels like a two-dimensional caricature, resulting in antagonists who are sympathetic and good guys with flaws. The lesbian romance is more central in this, but very well-written with a fully developed arc complete with both emotion and action.  If you like a bit of superhero flavor with your dystopian sci-fi, this is the one for you!

These are just a few we think break the mold and stand out as well-written and developed, with LGBT protagonists who are not simply clichés, throw-away, or there to fill a quota.  If you know of more LGBT Sci-Fi books, we’d love to hear about them! Post your favorite in the comments and

Post your favorite in the comments and Happy Pride Month!

Review: Passage to Shambhala – Book One of the Explorers Guild by Jon Baird, Kevin Costner, and Rick Ross (illustration)


“Behind the staid public rooms of an old world gentlemen’s club operates a more mysterious organization: The Explorers Guild, a clandestine group of adventurers who bravely journey to those places in which light gives way to shadow and reason is usurped by myth. The secrets they seek are hidden in mountain ranges and lost in deserts, buried in the ocean floor and lodged deep in polar ice. The aim of The Explorers Guild: to discover the mysteries that lie beyond the boundaries of the known world.” – Inside cover of The Explorers Guild

The Explorers Guild is a unique book that is both wonderfully archaic and inventively modern. It blends stylized writing that recalls the golden age of adventure books by Jules Verne and Rudyard Kipling with graphic novels like The Adventures of Tintin. This does not mean that this heavy tome is meant for children or to be undertaken by the faint of heart. The language used is old-fashioned and the style even more so. That is not to say that it is dull or boring, but for anyone looking for a light read on the bus home, this is likely not for them.

The story itself follows a few different perspectives, and while it is not always easy to tell at first when there is a perspective change, each character and story arch is unique. From the washed up pseudo-adventurer, to the leader of a fearsome mercenary band, to the young boy with a mysterious past, each character has something deep and meaningful to add to the journey to discover the fabled passage to Shambhala. While it is obvious that the most growth is experienced by the youngest character, Bertram, it is exciting to watch the story unfold around Major John Ogden and his rough-around-the-edges dragoons.

The blend of dense, traditional prose and beautifully rendered graphic novel sections make this an endearing, amusing romp through the golden age of Victorian style adventure stories. However, the length at over 700 pages and the archaic languages make this a “love it or hate it” kind of book. If you love adventure, mystery, and old-fashioned storytelling, and you don’t shy away from the more difficult reads, this book is for you!

A solid 4 out of 5 stars. Gorgeously rendered, beautifully written, and co-written by one of the best storytellers in modern film, Kevin Costner, this book is highly recommended.

Jules Verne: A Legacy of Adventure!

Jules Gabriel Verne was born on February 8th 1828 in Nantes, France. He is best known for being the Father of Science Fiction, but that is not how it started out. In 1863, at the age of 35, he wrote his first novel, “Five Weeks in a Balloon,” which started his writing career.

He soon went on to write many more books such as “Journey to the center of the earth”, “Around the world in 80 days”, and “20000 leagues under the sea.” He wrote them as adventure novels and not as Science Fiction. We call them that today because of the technology and theories he created in his books. In “20000 Leagues Under The Sea” he invented atomic energy and periscopes years before there was a physical prototype. In “Around the World in 80 Days” he showed just how far technology had come in the speed of travel. In “Robur the Conqueror” he invented a zeppelin type flying machine that is still to be matched.


Adventure Prompts

In honor of our Adventure month, here some open ended prompts to get your adrenaline pumping and your wanderlust burning! You can use as many of the Adventure themed prompts in any project you like, and we’d love to see what you come up with!

It was supposed to be a routine flight over the Himalayas. As looked over the wing I saw something that couldn’t possibly be what I thought it was; it looked like a white step pyramid, one even larger than the great pyramid of Giza. I didn’t get a good enough look at it, though, because as soon as I started flying in that direction my instruments went haywire, and I started going down. When I woke up the plane was a fiery wreck, I was the only survivor, and I was alone in a jungle. I had been nowhere near a jungle.

I should have known it was too good to be true. The government doesn’t just offer to buy out millions of dollars in debt to people like me. Now I’m stuck in a spaceship headed right into a black hole. They assured me it would be safe, and they only wanted to know what’s in a black hole, but the tether that is my lifeline is fraying and what I see on the other side… It can’t possibly be real.

I never believed the stories about mermaids and sea monsters, I always figured they were wind blown from old, bored sailors meant to entertain each other on long voyages. However, that changed when our ship wrecked on a misty cove off the edges of the map. It’s pretty hard to deny the existence of mermaids when one is staring you in the face.

I was commissioned to a freighter crew bound for Lagoon 4861, a gas cloud said to harbor huge creatures able to survive and maneuver in space. With our Solar Sails at full we set out at speed, and I finally met my captain. I thought his name sounded familiar, maybe from some old story I read when I was a kid, but couldn’t be sure. Then he told me of the white beast we were hunting.

I’ve dealt with many cursed objects before, it’s sort of unavoidable in my line of work. But when the golden scarab came across my desk, withering and rotting everything it touched, I knew this assignment was going to be a little more challenging.

The Underworld the ancients always talked about is very real. And if you’re clever enough, and know where to go, you can get there.

The Great War was upon us. In the midst of the roaring cannons, screaming horses, and gas filled trenches, something very strange shimmered over the battlefield. I was a courier trying to make my way to the next trench when an enemy soldier blocked my path. We didn’t have time to even aim our weapons at each other before the thing above us exploded in the brightest light I’d ever seen. When we came to, we were on some tundra surrounded by a herd of very agitated Wooly Mammoths.

Our airship went down over an unnamed, unmarked island in the North Pacific ocean. I had always thought the stories of Atlantis were just that, stories. But looking at the ruins on this island I’ve become a believer.

Interview: Amy Hopkins

Diannika Alyse Star: Thank you for agreeing to speak with us for Fantasy month!

To start with, could you tell us a little about your “Talented” series?

Amy Hopkins: Sure! Talented is an urban fantasy set in modern day London. It contains open-world magic – Fae and other magical creatures wander the streets in plain view, and magic is used openly.

Emma is our heroine. She’s a simple teashop owner, content to sell her enchanted tea with the help of Gibble (her boggart assistant) to the magical population. Until, that is, someone tries to kill her.

It’s not just a simple thriller. The books deal with themes of bigotry, and standing up to those who misuse power. Emma isn’t a super-strong, unbeatable magician. She’s a half-blood, weaker and with limitations on her power. She needs to learn to work with what she has to overcome not just the bad guys, but the prejudice against her kind

Star: I’d definitely agree it’s not just a thriller. What inspired you to write the series?

Hopkins: I’ve been working on bits of stories forever, but this one just seemed ‘right’. I’ve always adored fantastical worlds, and knew that anything I wrote would fall under the SFF banner. This one just kind of fell out of my head and onto the page, and each book makes me even more sure it was the right choice.

Star: Do you feel ‘spoiled’ by how easy it was, or have all your books been like that?

Hopkins: I’ve always found writing easy, in the first phase. However, I tend to run out of steam and really have to push myself through the end. Editing is also really tough for me, I find it utterly exhausting! It’s an interesting balance of absolute joy and really hard work.

Star: I’m sure plenty of aspiring authors reading this will be relieved to hear that they aren’t the only ones who don’t like editing;)

You have 3 published books so far, correct? I believe the most recent came out 2 days ago on kindle? (note to readers: This interview took place on 6/22/2016)

Hopkins: Yes, it did! I’m launching this one slowly, so I haven’t really publicized it yet.

Star: When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

Hopkins: I don’t remember there ever being a time I didn’t want to, I just never saw it as a viable career path. I thought writers were these highly educated, incredibly talented, big-city people that had done something I could never attain

Star: And when did that change?

Hopkins: Last year. I was running a blog and found out about self publishing. I decided to write a nonfiction book (on body positive health) and found out more about the process through that. Around the same time I decided to finally have a go at nanowrimo during a camp month, and took time off work, study and writing my non-fiction to start the first of the Talented series. I wrote about 25 thousand words that month, but never imagined it would turn into what it has. It was just a passion project to begin with.

Star: And you already have 3 of them out?! Now that IS inspiring, at least to me 🙂

Will there be more to the series after Truth Taker? I have to admit, My TBR list means I’ve only had a chance to read the first one so far :’(
Hopkins: It looks good because I managed it well! Dream Stalker was pretty much done by Christmas last year, except for applying beta reader feedback and last proofing. Barrow Fiend was my November nano project, and was partially through beta-feedback when the first book was released. I had a head start, but I plan to try and keep to a release schedule of at least one every three months.

Talented will be six to eight books long, and there will be at least one spin off series if it goes well. I also plant to write a SciFi series, and have that ready to launch by Christmas, and I’d like to fit in a steampunk serial next year as well.

Star: oooh I can’t wait! You certainly are ambitious 🙂

Do you think it will be difficult to move to scifi while also writing fantasy?

Hopkins: No – to me, they’re both about impossible worlds and new ideas. Science is just an explanation for how magic happens.

Star: Well, I have to admit, I hope you choose to write science fantasy at some point, with that way of thinking!

Who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?

Hopkins: Enid Blyton. She was the author who taught me the wonder of books, and of new worlds. She instilled a love of words and all things British into my young brain.

As an adult, I’d say a combination of Jacqueline Carey, who has a way with words that makes you fall in love with a phrase or description; and that cliquey group of fantasy writers who talk about their craft. Pat Rothfuss on the Story Board and Brandon Sanderson with Mary Robinette Kowal on Writing Excuses gave me a really solid grounding when I finally put pen to paper. I listened to their stuff for a long time before writing these books and I think it helped me to be a better writer.
On a personal level, fantasy author Katika Schneider has acted as my cheerleader, supporter and my incredibly helpful beta reader. I keep telling her my books wouldn’t be one-tenth as good without her feedback.

Star: I have one final question before I let you go.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Hopkins: Figure out why you’re doing this, and put the appropriate amount of resources into it. If you really, honestly want to make this your job, treat it like one. That means you have to *work*, every day. You have to do the hard stuff, take care of the business end, invest in it, learn the process – not just of writing, but of marketing, selling, getting your work out. You can’t wait for the muse, bounce around unfinished projects and make excuses. You need a plan, and you need to work *hard*. IF you can do that, if you can really, truly do the work even when it’s not fun, this is the best time ever to be an author. There are limitless opportunities and a voracious audience, if you create the work and help them find it.

Star: I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you today. Thank you for taking
the time for an interview.

Hopkins: Thanks for the opportunity!

You can find Amy Hopkins on Twitter and Instagram @spellscribe .

Interview: Katika Schneider

Diannika Alyse Star: Good evening! Thanks for agreeing to speak with us for Fantasy month!

To start us off, could you tell us a little about your book “Devotion”?

Katika Schneider: It’s my pleasure! Devotion is the first of my character-driven epic fantasy series, Tale of the Fallen. Its premise is a holy war against demons, set on an island nation whose god abandoned them. An immortal paladin is sent to try to restore faith to the nation and fend of the demonic threat. I like to think it has a little bit of everything in it – action, suspense, mystery, political intrigue, and a touch of romance.

Star: OOOH, That definitely sounds worth reading! What made you decide to write about that?

Schneider: Well, the series honestly began as a mistake. My freshman year of college, my then-boyfriend-now-husband asked me to create a character for an online RP he was part of. I said I’d only join if my character and his character could know each other, and he told me that was fine as long as I could figure out the logistics of how they met. That’s when I met my female lead, Nessix Teradhel, and she grabbed me by the hand, introduced me to her entire family, then dragged me along through her story. Before I knew it, the simple background for this character became an entire history, from birth until death, leaving me no real room for role playing. Having failed my objective, I told my husband what I’d done and he laughed and told me to scrap the RP idea and write the entire story. From there, I took a step back, fleshed out the history of the world of Abaeloth, created gods, killed gods, and created new gods. The entire beast has now gotten rather out of my control and after Tale of the Fallen is completed, I have at least two other series in The Afflicted Saga already underway.

Star: Wow. That is kinda awesome. 🙂 How many books do you anticipate in Tale of the Fallen?

Schneider: Assuming all of the rewrites stay on track, Tale of the Fallen will have five books. The entire series is already at least in first draft form, so mostly I have to make sure they clean up at the same pace which they came out. Once I have the entire series live, I’ll start on my male main character’s storyline, Legend of the Risen, and it’s currently at five rough drafts and not quite done.

Star: Was there a choice to finish a series before publishing, or did it just happen that way?

Schneider: When I first started writing what became Devotion and the subsequent books, I’d been determined to publish as soon as I could get them out. I’ve got a vicious inner editor, though, which kept me working on Devotion for the better part of 4 years. Once I finished Devotion, I set it aside to begin Deception, and in the first December of working on this book, I learned about NaNoWriMo (which I had barely missed). I was absolutely determined to participate in it the following year, so made finishing Deception my priority. Since then, November’s become a sacred month for me and I’ve churned out a fresh rough draft every year since 2007. Somehow, my publishing dreams kept getting shuffled aside – I’m going to blame how hectic life got on that one – but I’m actually very grateful for the delay I had. Let’s just say, it took me getting much deeper into other characters’ pasts for me to fully understand what I was working with, and it took me getting to experience a whole lot more in life to be able to do my characters justice. I’ve been in the world of Abaeloth since 2003 and it took until 2014 for me to feel as though I fully understood it enough to make things official. While part of me is disappointed for not making my original goal, there’s a much bigger part of me that is glad I took the time I needed. Having a massive backlog of first drafts is a happy accident and added bonus.

Star: So would you recommend those looking to publish a series in the future to wait until they had first drafts of all of it?

Schneider: It’s hard to say, since I’ve only experienced it this way and everyone has their own journey, but I definitely think it helps having the series already written out. For me, I feel as though it’s taken a lot of pressure off as far as trying to create a release schedule. Honestly, if I had it to do over again, I think I’d try to have the entire series at beta-level or better before releasing the first book, so it could all be seamless, but you live, you learn.

Star: I know I’ve heard people say that that definitely increases the overall quality and continuity of a series (As well as, of course, the publication rate lol)

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

Schneider: It first occurred to me in fourth grade. I’d had trouble getting interested in school until my fourth grade year. My teacher scheduled an hour of every day for Writing Workshop where all we did was learn about the different genres, different story telling devices and techniques, all that good stuff. Pretty much, it was an hour a day where we were allowed to be creative and express ourselves, with lessons in language arts hidden in there. I absolutely thrived on that hour and knew I had to keep writing in my life for the long haul. Not only did Writing Workshop secure my love for the written word, it also turned me around and got me caring about education as a whole. It’s one of the reasons why I think writing is such a beautiful part of our lives.

Star: Did you always write fantasy?

Schneider: To my recollection, I’ve only written one story that didn’t have some degree of fantasy element to it. I’ve always loved to read fantasy, but had been scared to write it for the longest time until I got my feet wet with a DragonLance fan fiction (before I knew what fanfic was) in junior high. I dabbled with a dystopian trilogy when I was in high school, but never made much of it. I’m a notorious rule breaker (or, at the very least, a rule stretcher) and there’s a certain degree of freedom that comes with writing in a completely unique world. Fantasy’s a good fit for me these days.

Star: Who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?

Schneider: As far as the authors that influenced me the most, it has to be Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. They’ve written three of my all-time favorite characters and really are the reason I thought maybe I could give fantasy writing a try. Outside of other authors, I credit where I’m at with my writing on my husband. He makes it a point to ensure that I can devote the time and energy needed for my writing and has so far funded all of the costs that go along with self publishing. I could not be where I am today without his support.

Star: It’s great that you have that kind of support!

One last question before we go, Do you have any advice for other writers?

Star: One more question to wrap things up.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Schneider: My advice to other writers is to write true to yourself, and take the time the story takes. Trying to write to suit other people and trying to rush a finished book are two of the most harmful things you can do to the integrity of your story. Don’t be afraid of letting it come out organically; that’s the best way to really let the story shine as it’s meant to.

Star: Thank you so much for doing this interview. It was great speaking with you!

Schneider: It was a pleasure! Thank you for having me.

Interview: J.R. Gershen-Siegel

Diannika Alyse Star: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us for Science Fiction month!

To start us off, could you tell us a little about your book Untrustworthy

JR Gershen-Siegel: Untrustworthy is an LGBT dystopian science fiction novel. It explores what happens when an oppressive society more or less eats itself.

Star: That sounds very interesting. What inspired you to write about that?

Gershen-Siegel: It was kind of an odd story. I had had some of the more science fiction elements just sort of come to me, but the idea of essentially an alien Kristallnacht came to me and it would not let go until it was written.

Star: That sounds rather intense. Do your story ideas usually come to you that way?


Interview: JR Gershen-Siegel


Diannika Alyse Star: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us for Science Fiction month!

To start us off, could you tell us a little about your book “Untrustworthy”
JR Gershen-Siegel: Untrustworthy is an LGBT dystopian science fiction novel. It explores what happens when an oppressive society more or less eats itself.

Star: That sounds very interesting. What inspired you to write about that?
Gershen-Siegel: It was kind of an odd story. I had had some of the more science fiction elements just sort of come to me, but the idea of essentially an alien Kristallnacht came to me and it would not let go until it was written.

Star: That sounds rather intense. Do your story ideas usually come to you that way?

Gershen-Siegel: This one came deceptively easily. It spoiled me! Now the ideas are different, but the process is similar. I get some sort of nagging concept and then want to expand on it because it becomes all-consuming. For last year’s NaNo, I wanted to comment on primitive societies and evolution. Year before, I wanted to comment on aliens and immigration. This year, the commentary will be on class and teamwork, most likely.

Star: Very cool! At least you’ll never be left wondering what to write!

(For readers who may be unaware, NaNo is short for NaNoWrMo, a writing event in November)

I know you have written for a few anthologies. Were those pieces Science Fiction as well?

Gershen-Siegel: One is sort of roundabout. It looks like science fiction (it was for The Longest Night Watch, which is a charity anthology benefiting Alzheimer’s research), but the reader begins to realize it’s just the ravings of a woman being affected by her illness. Hence she mentions aliens and space ships but it’s just the trappings of her nursing home (sorry, spoiler alert!).

This year, we are publishing a second Longest Night Watch Anthology, and for that one, the story is told from a dog’s point of view. Which I suppose is sort of science fiction, sort of not.

Star: Was Science Fiction a genre you planned to write in, or did it just kind of happen?

Gershen-Siegel: I love science fiction and I do try to write in it. Short stories can be in other genres (I have a few in the works which definitely are not), but sci-fi is, to me, the perfect genre because you can fit nearly anything into it.

Star: Very true, I think that’s one of the reasons it is such a prolific genre. Anything can happen!

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

Gershen-Siegel: I wrote when I was a kid but I didn’t really see it as a viable thing to do (and for actual, you know, money) until a lot later. But I was a five year old child drawing and writing little captions so I suppose I started off as a graphic novelist.

Star: Awww, that’s cute. 🙂

Who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?

Gershen-Siegel: Ray Bradbury. I love how short stories work so well. I also admire his work ethic tremendously. He wrote a book on writing and it makes a lot of sense, that you keep a jar of ideas on your desk. And I do! Even if I rarely open that jar, it helps a lot to know there is stuff in there.

Star: That definitely seems like it would be useful.

I know you entered a contest, and it led to you being published. Would you care to tell us a bit about that?

Gershen-Siegel: Sure thing.

I had casually mentioned to my mother back in 2013 that I had written a book in a month and she was intrigued and thought it was kind of amusing. So I got the dreaded question: are you going to try to get it published? I suppose I was in a mood to try, so I figured, why not?

I did some creative Googling and also checked Twitter and again this is such serendipity, but I stumbled across a contest being run by Riverdale Avenue Books. They wanted to publish a NaNoWriMo novel! The prize was a one-time publishing contract with them to get right of first refusal on my next work. I did some digging into them and discovered they were very LGBT-friendly, plus they were looking to expand their HSF imprint, which is horror, science fiction, and fantasy.
This helped tremendously as I fit the bill in terms of having a NaNo novel but also fit their mission and happened to fit well into the niche they wanted to promote. Timing helps a lot with these things. I have a friend who is a professional editor for textbooks, but she doesn’t normally handle novels. I gave her mine (e. g. I contracted with her to edit the piece) and she did so, and told me she thought I was going to win.

And here we are.

Star: Wow. Definitely a bit of good luck in that timing!

I know I’ve taken quite a bit of your time. One more question to wrap things up.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Gershen-Siegel: A few things. 1) Don’t stop. Even if you think what you’re writing is dumb. Just write. 2) Don’t delete wholesale and don’t throw things away. Save them, move them, repurpose them. Ideas are the ultimate recyclable goods. 3) Get an idea you can’t use immediately? Write it down, park it, and move on. You’ll want that bank of ideas when you’re stumped. You’d be surprised on how those ideas morph and work for you. And 4) Take risks! Step outside yourself and do something new. I never thought I would write LGBT and I really didn’t think I would be published.
You can do this. Yes, you.

Star: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

Gershen-Siegel: Thank you. I greatly appreciate your interest and support. May we all be creative!

Interview: After Sanity: Corporate Aspirations by Wes Kirk

Diannika Alyse Star: So, to start with, could you tell us a little about your book After Sanity: Corporate Aspirations?

Wes Kirk: That’s probably a bigger question than typical, believe it or not. It’s got quite a history behind it. But the actual story, takes place in an alternate timeline and after that timeline’s World War 3. Society is still trying to recover, and government is extinct. The rule of ‘law’ only extends as far as far as people who have the gumption to do something about it. On a high level, I’d say it’s a cross between Fallout 3 (the game) and The Punisher. Minus all of the advanced tech from the Fallout universe.


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