Leah Petersen Interview and Cascade Effect: 2013 Book #13

5 Questions with Leah Petersen, Author of Cascade Effect

JP: The Fighting Gravity and Cascade Effect universe are set in a future where homosexuality has reached complete acceptance. Currently, there’s a bit of turmoil around the issue, to say the least. Can you talk about the culture of your novel in context with the events of today?

LP: I didn’t write this universe to make any particular point, in fact I was well into writing it before I realized it was even going to have a homosexual character. But looking back, I can see how the issues of the day probably influenced me unconsciously. It was around 2008. I’d moved out of California a few years earlier, but I remembered feeling just stunned when California of all places banned homosexual marriage. I felt…betrayed somehow. And I’m straight.

I think that’s what made it so satisfying to write a world that didn’t just accept homosexuality, they didn’t even notice it as something to accept or not accept. Jake makes a lot of enemies, and has a lot of people who hate him for who he is, things he was born with and can’t change, but none of them ever notice or care about the gender of his sexual partners. The human race still had plenty of prejudices and issues, but that one was so far in the past no one even remembered to mind about it.

JP: Jake is endlessly frustrating as a character – unable to get out of his own way, yet remaining endearing at the same time. What kind of relationship do you have with your main character?

LP: I’ll forever have a weak spot for characters like Jake who you just want to strangle for being so damn sure they’re right and so damn stubborn, that they end up with twice the problems because they cause half of them all by themselves. This is another one that, looking back, I see a lot of the unconscious influence of my own life in his development. I was finally responding the the treatment that worked to control the bipolar disorder that had taken over the last few years of my life. I was intimately familiar with making stupid choices because you felt you HAD to, or that you couldn’t stop yourself, that made no sense to anyone else, or even you, later.

JP: Describe your relationship with writing.

LP: It started out as a way to dump emotion somewhere more productive and has developed into a passion. I always loved writing but felt I didn’t have time for it, or didn’t have good reason to spend my time that way. Once I realized that other people could enjoy my writing too, it became something I wanted to do and be, for myself and not anyone else.

JP: Tell me one thing nobody knows about you. (or, at least, something most people would never guess about you.)

LP: A lot of people who know my secret identity (real-life-Leah) know this one, but it’s not something that comes up in my author persona:

I breastfed both of my children until they were at least three years old. Yep, I’m one of THOSE moms. 😉

JP: What’s next for you?

LP: As far as writing goes, I’m working really hard on finishing up a second draft of a YA fantasy I’ve gotten obsessed with. After that, I’m writing the third in this trilogy, the conclusion of Jake’s story. I’ve got a good bit of that outlined, or written out in my head, and a little of that on paper. I have to give a story a lot of head time before I write. Once I start, it all pours out pretty fast. I’m hoping to see that one out next April.

Find out more about Leah Petersen at her website

4 out of 5 stars

Was super excited to get my hands on an early eBook of Leah’s sci-fi sequel, Cascade Effect – I’d read a version of it long, long ago before it got picked up by Dragon Moon Press, so I was curious to see what it’d turned into.

Petersen seems to be following a similar structure to cinematic comic book trilogies. The first tale (Fighting Gravity) is a pure origin story. Where our hero, Jake, came from, and the process of stepping into a role larger than anything he could have imagined. The second installment explores the consequences of his choice to marry the emperor of the universe.

In case you haven’t read my review of Fighting Gravity, both characters are men. And gay.

Odd that I’d be reading this as the Supreme Court hears cases on marriage equality – but Jake’s world and our world are years apart, both literally and figuratively. In Cascade Effect, the question of whether or not two men can be married isn’t even an issue. Instead, the conflict comes from Jake’s birth and upbringing in the lowest of the slums in Mexico, and the emperor’s high birth.

The strongest part of this book is Jake’s character. After the events of Fighting Gravity, he’s left with demons and secrets he can’t tell even his husband. And everything about his new life wants to reject him. It’s obvious throughout the entire book that Jake is out over his skis, with no idea how to maneuver the political whitewater around the emperor. Couple that with the fact that Jake is maddeningly dense in that he can’t get out of his own way. He’s trying to do the right thing, but he truly is his own worst enemy. In many books, this might lead to an unlikable, annoying character, but Petersen handles it masterfully. You want Jake to turn the corner and be happy, and you root for him, despite his flaws, the entire way.

The are moments of genuine tenderness in the book. Despite the interplanetary sci-fi themes, the political intrigue and the story being set far in the future – at its heard, Cascade Effect is the story of a relationship between Jake and Pete. It’s messy, it doesn’t always work, but it feels real. It’s huge and epic, yet intimate at the same time. Their journey in finding a way to have a child of their own is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, something that could have easily been lost in the less capable hands of other authors.

One thing I’m not sure I liked about the book was how much Jake seemed to lose who he was. I suppose that was part of what he was dealing with – in Fighting Gravity he was a brilliant scientific mind, one of the youngest in the universe. In Cascade Effect, he’s little more than the Emperor’s arm candy to many of those around him. I felt it as a reader, but it didn’t seem to come through in Jake’s internal battles. There were a few times when he tried to lose himself in research, but I didn’t feel like losing that aspect of his life was truly an issue for him. Even when one of his scientific endeavors goes horribly wrong, Jake doesn’t question his choices.

Any sci-fi fan would be well served to pick up Fighting Gravity and Cascade Effect. Personally, I can’t wait for the next installment.

Shop for Cascade Effect on Amazon

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius: 2013 Book #16

2 of 5 stars

Pretty typical of an anthology of short stories based around a theme – you get some good, some meh, and some downright boring.

Let’s start with the good. Of all the stories, I tended to like the ones with a more humorous bend to them. Specifically, “The Angel of Death has a Business Plan,” by Heather Lindsley and “Captain Justice Saves the Day,” by Genevieve Valentine. Probably not a coincidence that these both juxtaposed a realistic take on a character with the comic-book-like cartoon sketch of the mad scientist. That dichotomy worked best in these stories, particularly in the email exchanges between the technologically inept Dr. Mason and Brenda in the latter story.

There was a lot of “meh” in this collection for me, and consequently, I found myself growing tired of the same tropes after awhile. In fact, the longest story of the collection, “The Space Between,” I gave up on. There was a lot in this collection that was just plain uninteresting. Nearly every author painted the mad scientist as a caricature, the evil villain with some grand, dastardly plot and pitted against a typical superhero. I much preferred the few stories that explored the idea of a mad scientist in a unique way, like in “The Last Dignity of Man,” by Marjorie M. Liu. In it, a man who’s been given the name Alexander Luthor spends his whole life obsessed with living up to his namesake, in a world where there is no Superman. He is in a position to change the world, and has the power to. He wants to give the world a Superman, but he thinks the only way to do so is make himself the villain.

There are plenty of big name, award winning authors in this collection. Nearly everyone has at least one Hugo award under their belt. Many will probably enjoy it, but I would have preferred a more diverse representation of the subject.

Ready Player One: 2013 Book #15

I loved this book.

A couple people highly recommended it to me, and after reading the synopsis I could tell (unless the author’s style completely grated on me) that I’d love it. As a child of the 80s and a gamer both back then and today, the book was already tailored to appeal to me, and thematically it explored a lot of interesting issues beyond games, but with privacy, consumption and the relationship between our online personalities and our real selves.

The whole thing was pretty brilliant. Here and there, I found myself wishing the author would skip on some of the description and keep the story moving. While his knowledge of retro games and pop-culture is rock solid and obscure, at times Cline gets lost in geeking out on some of this stuff and it makes passages drag. It was definitely the exception rather than the rule, however. For the most part, it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment.

After reading this – I want to play in OASIS. I’ve dabbled in a couple MMOs, and that sense of immersion – of visiting other worlds, is one of the aspects that appeals to me most. I don’t play Lord of the Rings Online because the game mechanic is innovative or because I like grinding the same quests over and over. I play because the world of Middle Earth is beautifully rendered, and because there’s nothing quite like exploring a universe I’ve come to love and adore.

I missed the book when it first came out, but one of people who recommended this to me mentioned that Cline had hidden an Easter Egg in the book that led to an offline contest for a Delorean, which is a pretty sweet piece of book promotion and also goes hand in hand with the whole simulation within a simulation within a simulation theme in the book. Of course, the contest is long since over, the car long since won, but I hope that one day in my lifetime games reach this level of immersion. Of course, without all the dystopia and human suffering.

Midwestern Gothic Issue 9

There’s a new issue of Midwestern Gothic, and it’s a beaut.

Issue 9 (Spring 2013) of Midwestern Gothic marked a bit of a change for us – I’m not entirely sure what caused it – but our submissions doubled this time around. After a few days I thought it might be a fluke, but as they continued to roll in, it quickly became obvious we had a lot more to sift through than we usually did. The net result of that – we got a lot of good stuff. We had to turn down a lot of good stuff. I met one of the people we rejected at AWP this year, and she asked what she needed to do differently, and I said, “Nothing. Submit another story with that same aesthetic and energy – this time around we just got another story about a similar subject that we liked better.” Uff. A great problem to have, and we definitely ended up with a strong issue because of it.

Probably my favorite of the bunch was a story that meanders to the edge of what we usually take. If a story or poem has surreal elements or is too strongly genre, we’ll typically use that as a way of cutting down the submissions. “The Sting” by William Blomstedt, is very Kafka-esque, in that it deals with a man’s partial transformation. The gist of the story is, a sexually frustrated and inept beekeeper gets stung “down there” and suddenly has ever woman in the small town he lives in knocking on his door. There were quite a few chuckle-worthy moments in the story, and I loved watching the character go from uncertain loner to sexual dynamo in such a ridiculous manner. The danger with a story like this is that it becomes trite or too far-fetched, but Blomstedt struck an excellent balance, and the whole piece has a light-hearted clear voice that makes it a joy to read. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

Bees never seem to know what to do after they have stung someone. It is, after all, a unique event in their lives. A bee’s stinger is connected to the organs in her abdomen. The barbed stinger enters the victim’s skin and it gets wedged like an arrow in the dermal layer. When the bee pulls away from her victim, the stinger stays in the skin and the bee’s stomach and other vital organs are ripped out of the exoskeleton. This trait was evolutionarily selected because it allows the bee’s venom sac to continually pump poison into the predator after it has been separated. The bee dies with the honor of offering her life in the defense of her home and family. Jake always found this fascinating: hive mentality at its finest.

This bee on his arm was going through the confusing transformation from a working member of the hive to a martyr. With her fluttering wings and body spinning around in circles, she reminded Jake of a little, living tether ball. Jake watched the insect in curiosity and sadness. What, if anything, was going through that little bee’s mind? Was she satisfied that she had fulfilled her purpose in life, having done her best to drive this honey-stealing devil away? After a few seconds, her inner organs gave in to the struggle and she pulled her body free, leaving a small trail of yellow gunk along Jake’s arm. ‘What in the world does that feel like?’ Jake wondered as the bee walked a few steps and then stopped to clean her antennae.

This bee could live for another hour but would eventually stop flying and die alone in the grass. Ants or other small insects would dismember the body and eat it, or it would just decompose into a small, smelly mess. Jake decided to aid the process and flicked the bee, sending her flying out of the truck into the high grass. He pinched the stinger out of his arm, which had already started to turn red and form a welt. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘two stings on the day so far. Let’s see how many more it will be.’ Jake took his veil and gloves from the passenger seat and began to suit up, preparing for the ordeal ahead of him.

Buy a copy of Issue 9 and get acquainted with more emerging and established Midwestern writers.