My Best Books of 2016

Here it is! The year-in-review. I read 42 books in print and listened to 50 books via audio. Here were my favorites (and as usual, links go to Amazon):


I joined the realm of Stirlingite Fandom back in 2014, having heard her music before, but not having really appreciated it until then. Once aboard, I was all-in. I picked up this book when it came out in January, and listened to the audio version whilst at work. I’m glad Stirling read it herself, as it’s such a personal story that her own voice was the only one that could tell it and have it hit you right in the heart like it should. Very inspiring, and I found it was great fuel for my own dreams of creative success.

A NIGHT DIVIDED by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I was reading this one as I wrote 2015’s best-of list, and since I hadn’t finished it, I didn’t include it, but this definitely crosses the threshold. Nielsen is a fantastic middle grade writer, and she brings all her talents to the table in this book about a family that was on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall as it went up, and how they tried to get back together.


I’d heard of this but hadn’t read it. Glad I finally did, and I want to keep up with the rest of the series. It’s a great graphic novel bursting with color, fun characters, and an exciting story. I really got into it.

MORNING STAR by Pierce Brown

This is the third installment in the Red Rising sci-fi trilogy, about a Roman-esque empire 700 years in the future, which has terraformed and colonized most of the planets in our solar system. When I first read RED RISING, I didn’t get all crazy about it the way everyone else had, but I decided to give GOLDEN SON (book 2) a chance, and it was a big improvement. When book 3 came around, I couldn’t stop listening to it, so much so that I re-listened to 1 and 2 afterword, and both were amazing. So much so that I’m not sure why I didn’t love RR in the first place. Nevertheless, the error has been rectified 🙂

Content warning on this one, there’s a lot of violence, a fair amount of language (F-bombs pop up in book 3) and sexually suggestive stuff in it. (Like I said, space Romans.)

EX-ISLE by Peter Clines

The fifth in his Ex-Heroes series, which is about superheroes during a zombie apocalypse. I won’t link to all of the previous installments, this was just another great book in a highly entertaining series. (Content warning here, similar to the content of the Red Rising books.)

LADY MECHANIKA by Joe Benitez, and contributors

Wow. I hadn’t heard of this comic until I was looking up steampunk clothing pictures for my Engines of Liberty trilogy. A picture popped up of some woman cosplaying as ‘Lady Mechanika’. Naturally curious, I followed the link and discovered Benitez’s work, and was floored at the greatness of it. Lady Mechanika is an amnesiac steampunk woman who’s equal parts special forces/secret agent, like a Victorian Jane Bond. Or maybe Jason-ette Bourne. Either way, the stories are great, the science is interesting, and the artwork is superb. Both omnibus editions made the list this year.


I wanted to work more non-fiction reading into my annual consumption, and I had this one on the shelf from my brother, so I lugged it around to work. It touched on a ton of stuff that was taught wrong in public school, and included a bibliography of sources that I’ll want to look into in order to expand my understanding. As I said on my Goodreads review, I wouldn’t suggest that it be a forced replacement for any history class, but rather a complement to it, because public school textbooks do not get it right, on purpose.


Cole is an author whose book was actually, literally banned by a publisher (as opposed to the sensationalist marketing tactic of calling something “banned” because it didn’t get published.) Naturally this piqued my curiosity, so I read up on it to learn why, and decided to try the  book out. It’s a prequel to his already-established post-apocalypse novels, so you don’t need to know anything going in. The hook of the story is about how an AI monitors human behavior, sees how a slightly-ahead-of-us human generation is so obsessed with a reality TV show that it becomes, in effect, the world religion, and when a character on the show opts to have a convenience abortion, the AI learns that it’s okay to end a life if it’s an inconvenient obstacle to your own plans. Chaos ensues. Entertaining, well-written chaos. (And a mild content warning for the prologue: it’s delicate in its descriptions, but nevertheless deals with sex on a reality TV show, so yeah.)


Another excellent comic, not unlike LADY MECHANIKA, about a faerie woman who is inducted into a secret society that keeps paranormal stuff under wraps around the world. Delicious, superb artwork, and a really intriguing story. I hope Johnson writes more.

THE REVENANT by Michael Punke

Eventually I’ll see the movie, but I wanted to read the book first. Just wonderful. I thought it might do what many literary books do, and drag on and on about the boring parts, but this thing moves, like Elmore Leonard or a good Louis L’Amour. (L’Amour drags on in some of his books, but not all of them.) Anyway, I really want to see the flick, about a mountain man left for dead after getting mauled by a bear, only to survive, heal, and go on a revenge bender.


I’ll be here all day if I gush about this hilarious, HILARIOUS graphic novel series. The cartoonish art is perfect, the humor is unique and original, and the dialogue is just ace. It’s a fearless, mind-bending series that isn’t afraid to be weird, and is smart enough to be good at the same time. This one was simply the final collection in the series.

MEDITATIONS by Marcus Aurelius

With the electoral climate being what it was in the USA all throughout the year, I wondered what kind of philosophy would be prudent for all Americans to embrace regardless of political values. Plenty of people suggested Stoicism, so I looked into it, starting with Aurelius’ MEDITATIONS. I grabbed a free edition off of (free public domain ebooks) and loved it. Some of the stuff grated with my own beliefs, but was presented in such a way as to be approachable in a discussion. America really needs this book, these writings. As a side note, I recommend THE DAILY STOIC by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, which also incorporates the writings of Seneca and Epictetus, who were Stoics like Aurelius.

THE CREEPING SHADOW by Jonathan Stroud

Another flawless installment in the Lockwood & Co series, about teenaged ghost-hunters in modern day London. Every fall, Stroud releases one of these books, and I devour them in their perfection.


On the religious front, I picked up Lund’s piece on revelation. After having heard him give a conference on the subject in February of 2005, I was interested in reading more, and this book goes into great detail about how revelation works, how it doesn’t work, and how we can recognize when God is communicating with us. I found it very enriching.

GLITTER by Aprilynne Pike

Up-front confession: Aprilynne is a friend of mine. That said, I’m friends with a lot of writers, and they publish once or twice a year, and after a quick scroll-up through this list, only one other had a book that made it, and that’s Jennifer Nielsen. Books make this list because they deserve it, and GLITTER is no exception. Branded as a mashup of Marie Antoinette and Breaking Bad, it’s set in a futuristic France, where the Palace of Versailles is equal parts historical landmark and corporate headquarters. In an act of corporate hostility/palace intrigue, our heroine Danica is suddenly engaged to the young King, and desperately wants a way out, so she starts dealing designer drugs mixed with makeup. Aside from knowing that this can only go horribly wrong, the story is pretty unpredictable from there (at least it was for me, I don’t watch Breaking Bad). This book did what I want books to do: it pulled me in and made me want to keep reading, so I did, and you should too. (Minor content warning, there are a few PG-13 words in the book, and part of the intrigue centers on non-explicit sexual blackmail.)


Available in audio only, narrated by Adam Baldwin (aka Jayne Cobb, from Firefly.) If you’re familiar with Larry’s blog, you’ll get a lot of the inside jokes in this wacky, wacky, wacked out wacky story. If you’re not familiar with the blog, you’ll still laugh at this crazy funny tale, which wraps up at just the right point in its wacky progression. I hope more writers do funny crazy stuff like this as a palate cleanser, because Larry scratches an itch with it.


“Spectral” on Netflix is an amazing three-star effort.

All the way back in 2012, I heard of a movie in development with the working title of Spectral. The premise–a militarized anti-ghost squad battles a sudden swarm of ectoplasmic visitors–sounded an awful lot like my then-work-in-progress, Specter Cell. I even emailed my then-agent in a fit, screaming that once again the frigging Idea Gnomes had broken into my house while I slept, and that it was time to start sleeping with tin foil nightcaps again.

With all of her trademark good judgment, Joan told me not to worry about it, so I got back to work. Specter Cell never got picked up by any of the fifteen publishers that looked at it, and Spectral got booted back from its 2013, 2014, and 2015 release dates.

Then, last month, a trailer finally surfaced, along with an announcement declaring that Spectral would be a Netflix-only release, and I soon saw why. Plotwise, it didn’t look all that more complex than something you’d see on SyFy at 2AM, and the leading cast members weren’t exactly A-listers. An IMDB search reveals that James Badge Dale’s biggest role was as Right Hand Man Henchman #1 in Iron Man 3. Max Martini, the rugged military character, was best known for his semi-side role as Hercules Hanson in Pacific Rim (as well as just about every TV show ever.) Emily Mortimer, the female lead, was in Shutter Island in 2010.

None of these actors are bad, they’re just never top-billed material, nor are they near the top. That said, they all put on solid performances for their characters, especially Dale, who was the Science McGyver of the flick.

The premise is simple: Dale plays a scientist who developed some high-tech specs for the military. When an Eastern European battle zone starts running a high casualty rate, the military geeks notice strange apparitions on the recordings from the soldiers’ specs, and they call in Dale to analyze. Soon they realize that the battlezone is overrun with ghosts, phantoms that can kill you just with a touch, and none of the military’s weapons can touch them.

So in true sci-fi/horror flick fashion, it’s a race against the clock to figure out what the monster is, figure out how to kill it, make something that can kill it, and then kill it.

That said, I’m pleased and surprised to report that the science-babble and methodology behind the ghosts (what they were, how they worked, why they were there) was interesting and even somewhat sensical, beyond “ooooh it’s paranormal magic, so whatevs.” There were pieces of dialogue all throughout the movie that reminded you just what you were watching, interspersed with dialogue and moments that slightly elevated it above what it truly was.

If you’re not all that jazzed about what’s on your Netflix watchlist, I’d suggest sitting down one night with Spectral and giving it a try. I think it’s cool that the studio not only finished their project, but admitted to themselves what they had, and released it via a channel that would be good for them, good for the platform, and good for the product.

There certainly are worse “kill ghosts with high-tech laser weapons” movies that hit the screen this year.

“The Darkest Friday”, a short story

The Darkest Friday


They hire me for the savings. I do it for the money.

I never wanted to be one of these people. Hard not to feel like a trained circus monkey, poised on the balls of my feet, looking skyward at that cookie that’s dangled just out of reach, and there’s only one cookie, but I’m in a box surrounded by other monkeys that see it too, and here we are, armed to the teeth, ready to jump the moment the master of ceremonies says “GO!”

You know what the sad thing is? Out of a hundred people, I bet only two or three of us is really cold-blooded enough to go through this process based on initiative. Not that many people are sick enough in the head to elbow a stranger in the teeth so that they can save fifty bucks on a plasma screen. That’s how humans are, though. Oh look, I see a few people over there! They’re fighting! What for? I don’t know, let’s check it out. Ooooh, a sale? Well, they’re fighting, so it must be worth it. I’d better join in or I’ll miss out!

Monkey see, monkey do.

That’s the sentiment that’s at the core of all this. That’s why I’m standing in front of DigiLoad at two in the morning on a Friday, the Friday, the most notorious and feared Friday on the calendar. It’s why I’m armed Matrix-style under two layers of sweaters and trench coats, with enough automatic weaponry to bring down a federal bank building.

The fact that it’s twenty below gives me a good excuse to bundle up. Let the layers conceal my toys. I know there are others in the crowd who are packing like I am. I’m counting on it. So are my sponsors.

I sigh, letting the mist cloud up in front of my face. Last year I had to do this with riot gear on, and breathing heavily just fogged up the mask. Fifteen, maybe twenty guys in the crowd are rocking those masks right now. I don’t feel bad for them. I was in their shoes a year ago because I was stupid and thought I needed the money. I don’t pity the stupid.

That stupidity is what made me the star of the feeds. I had sponsors pouring offers in all December long, trying to get me aboard for this year. Initially I told them all to get bent. Said I wasn’t doing Black Fridays anymore. But in the end, I took the money. We always do. That’s how it is with Friday Fighters: you get desperate enough to try, and you either die, end up in the hospital with bills stacked to the moon, or worst of all, you succeed, and well, there’s no such thing as just one, is there? The money’s too good.

And besides, my stupid uncle needs help. He’s got medical bills to the moon.

A commotion ripples through the crowd like the first wave of an incoming tide breaking across the soft sand of a flat beach. I saw a nature doc on the streams once, said that humans still pick up on changes in their surroundings like prey do on the African savannahs. I can’t speak for the prey. Can’t afford to think like them.

I’m the predator in this environment.

The commotion is due to the lights flickering on inside DigiLoad. Green-shirted employees scramble to get in place; they’ve been prepping their joint all night long, ten acres of the newest digital gadgets and gizmos that have been the stuff of ad campaigns since June. “Hottest” this and “gotta-have” that. Bah. It’ll all be outmoded in two months, but there are still enough rich folk out there with spoiled grandkids that they have to please.

I take a final sip of coffee, drain the Styrofoam cup, crush it, and toss it onto the frozen parking lot surface. Law says the companies only have to salt the pavement ten feet from the door. Guess it makes the spectacle more interesting for the streams. I look up at the lampposts and pretend I can see the micro-cams watching us, see the invisible streams broadcasting to the towers all through town, up into the satellites in space, then back down into the pay-per-view boxes of homes all across America.

It’s sick. But it’s legal. You get enough money in the right criminal senator’s pocket, and it’s all legal. Black Friday’s critical to Q4 GDP stats, and previous attempts to legally curb the violence ended up hurting those stats in an election year a few cycles back. An incumbent president lost when he should have won. I mean, that’s not the only reason, but it don’t gotta be true for people to fall for it. The dumb ones called their congressmen, the laws were passed, and well, here we are. It’s Black Friday. Anything goes, including televising the mayhem, so long as there’s a price, and a fee, and a tax. Sure, there’s piracy, and they factor that into the taxes on the streamers, who then factor that into the low prices of their goods. Rumors go out into the darknet, hyping up the prospects of this store and that store. Imagine the 1849 Gold Rush, only everyone knows where the gold is, and everyone’s got guns with motors on them, bullets with uranium tips on them, and operators with no morals on them.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

The doors open. The greenshirts jump back clumsily, dressed in little more than baseball pads, like fat catchers with boxing gloves on. There’s no law dictating their apparel, but no big-box store would allow its employees to come to work armed on Black Friday. Defensive gear only. Yeah, they get hazard pay. That’s why they’re here. I’m here because I get paid to make the hazard, and because the folks with money gotta have their stuff, they just don’t want to stick their necks out to get it.

Time to please the bosses.

I tear off my outer trench coat. It snaps apart perfectly along the breakaway seams, revealing the first layer of my arsenal. A slap on my chest activates my personal force-field, and a click of my heels sends my Zero-G boots into high gear. The first three seconds are what separate the men from the boys.

I vault up into the air, six, eight, ten feet, clearing the heads of the crowd by a solid yard, and land right at the edge of the crust of salt, rolling perfectly to lessen the impact as I come to my feet. The force-field keeps me from getting covered in that nasty blue salt, and conveniently burns a path through it for the crowd behind me. I notice four other shoppers who are similarly outfitted, but they land half a second after I do. We’re the first five through the door.

I shut off the shield and yank my goggles down into place. A remote sits in my mouth between my back molars and I chomp down on it to activate my shopping list, which pops up on my HUD in full color.

First item is a set of haptic gloves with a neural headband that beams video games directly into the wearer’s mind. I remember hearing about these—the first several tests killed their subjects, miked their brains right out of their heads. The second generation only gave the subjects chronic nosebleeds. Third gen worked, but were hackable, and well, some embarrassing stuff happened to those subs. These are fourth gen, supposedly the bugs are worked out. Not my problem. I just know they’ll fetch me eighty large a pair, and the boss man wants six of them.

Two more hops, and I’m in the right section of the store. There’s a table stacked with the gaming system, all boxed up, but there are only ten of them. Idiots. But at least I’m first. I touch down next to the table, shove four into my bag, and am reaching for the other two when a blast of kinetic energy upends the table and sends them all flying out of my reach.

One of the other shoppers drops down next to me, wearing the same pair of ZG boots, but a flash-scan from my HUD tells me he’s not wearing a force-field. I trigger mine back on and in an instant I’ve got a full-auto machine pistol popping rounds into his chest armor, throwing him back across the tile. Before the clip runs dry I put four into his left boot, hoping I hit something critical. I can’t afford to give him any more attention than that—scruffier shoppers are showing up to grab the gaming system and I’m still two short. I ditch him, hop over to the scattered boxes, and pick up the last two, then chomp on the remote.

Second item is this year’s model of an AI for a self-driving car. It includes a holo-projector that plays movies in the cab of the vehicle. I’ve never used one, mainly because I don’t own a car and I’m not rich. I’m just a guy who fights people for toys, for money. This gizmo isn’t where the HUD said it was supposed to be, and as the plebs start to fill the ten-acre store, I’m getting a little frustrated. I keep having to jump high, rapid-scan the bar codes on several shelves with my HUD, and then hop into a throng of consumer zombies who only clear a path when I bludgeon them with my ForceFist 290s.

Hey, not every problem needs an AK-47 solution.

Finally I spot the shelf where the AIs are stored…behind a locked case. As I fall toward it, I test the glass with my machine pistol, and yeah, it’s bulletproof. I stow the gun and draw my vibro-knife, thumbing the trigger as I press the edge of the fat blade against the glass. It takes a second to heat up, but then it cuts like butter.

I don’t waste time slashing the whole thing out like the apes in the movies; instead I cut a half-moon around the latch and rip the glass aside. I’m reaching in with my other hand when four guys run past my aisle, see the case open, and charge toward me, anxious to get what I’ve opened up for them.

Part of me wants to shoot them. A larger part of me wants to finish the list and get out of here.

I drop a foam grenade, grab two AIs—Boss Man only needs one, but I’ll need the distraction in a minute—and bounce into the sky, kicking the ZG boots into overdrive so that I can hover a minute while I get it all stored away. My fellow high-tech competitors are all over the place, like ninja grasshoppers, picking the best things for their sponsors. I have a few generic things on the list, but I bump them down to the bottom—I can always take them from someone in line, and the plebs are gathering up the easy stuff like chumps. The final big-ticket item is actually a newer model of the ZG boots I’m wearing, but they come with a belt, bracers, and a vest, plus a substantially longer battery life. The tech isn’t the main appeal of this year’s Hot Item, but rather the fact that it flaunts its defiance of the FAA’s anti-personal-aviation laws, allowing the wearer to travel up to a hundred miles on a single charge. From my vantage point in the air, I scan the floor and spot the ZG Suit in the center of the store. There are three of them.

And each one is locked in its own safe. A big safe. A safe big enough to fit me inside it.

I chomp three times on the remote. My earpiece chirps, and the Boss Man comes on the line.

“What is this?” I demand. “Why are they locked up?”

“Streams are on. Make it a good show,” he says flatly.

“You gave me a vibro-knife, not a laser-blade! I’ll never cut those open.”

“I didn’t hire you so you could make excuses, Harvester,” he says, using my radio-safe call sign. “There are excuses and there are facts.”

“Look at this man,” says Boss Man. New info pops up on my HUD, tagging one of the other four high-tech shoppers. The tag identifies him as ‘Jester’. I narrow my eyes, and I can practically hear Boss Man grinning in my ear.

“You knew he’d be here,” I hiss.

“Heard it from a friend of a friend. There’s an extra five hundred large in it if you take him down, and make it worth watching. I have it on good authority that the combo to the safe is the same as the serial number on his force-field belt. Get to it.” The line goes dead in my ear.

I drop, bounce, and shoot all the way to the ceiling, where I tie my loot bag to the rafters, arming it with a pressure-sensitive grenade. Of the remaining three high-tech shoppers who could reach it in the next few minutes, one will be too busy fighting me, and the other two will be too busy shopping. The loot’s not worth their lives.

I hope.

I drop down just as Jester reaches the safe in the middle of the room, riding a wave of gunfire and broken bones. He could easily hop over the crowd, but it’s not his style. He doesn’t just sell his services as a shopper; he sells the spectacle of his style. People pay good money to watch him inflict real pain on other people for their greed.

He’s looking down when I land behind him, reading the serial number on the back of his belt buckle as he spins the dial on the safe. I don’t wait for him to turn around before I draw my machine pistol and my AK, level them at him, and squeeze the triggers until they run dry.

Naturally he’s got his force-field up when he’s on his feet, but the force of the bullets shoves him against the front of the safe. More importantly, it wears down the power of his shields, and they’ll take precious time to regenerate. I discard my guns and reach behind my back to grab the handle of my Beating Stick.

Jester turns around and does a move I’ve seen him perform a hundred times on archival footage of Black Fridays immemorial: he throws a spider-mine at me, but I bat it away with the force of my Beating Stick. It soars up and away before it explodes in a tangle of electrical bolts, designed to fry whomever it lands on. Then I’m closing in on him with the Beating Stick, coming down on him with the force of a rockslide with every blow, wearing down the integrity of his shields. Unfortunately the effort of repeatedly swinging tires me out, even though I’m in good shape, and after a half-second lull in between swings, he plants one ZG boot in my stomach and fires it off. He’s up against the safe, which is bolted to the floor, so he’s not going anywhere. The force throws me backward, and I activate my own shield as I fly back, smashing into merchandise and greedy shoppers all the way.

“Harvester, huh? I knew a man with that tag once. I retired him, by force. You’re tough, but you’re no Harvester,” he says, his voice the same gravelly growl that it’s been for years on the archive footage.

“Oh, he’s retired all right. Still suffers from the bio-chem sauce you doused in his eyes. Has night terrors at random times of the day. Doctor says his liver is slowly melting away, too,” I say.

“I don’t care. I needed that holoscreen,” Jester says, all haste gone. He’s circling me. He’s allowing his shields to recharge.

A crowd has gathered around us, giving us space, but wanting to watch. Rookies. Anyone with more than one Black Friday under their belt doesn’t hesitate. Grab stuff, grab stuff, grab stuff. That’s the first rule of Black Friday.

“So you’re family of his, I take it?” Jester asks.

“Nephew. But he’s like a father to me, since mine’s dead,” I spit.

Jester taps his chin in thought. “Harvester had a partner, that’s right. I never learned his handle. Funny you didn’t take it.”

“He never had one. It was his first Black Friday, and you killed him.”

“Ask me if I feel bad, kid. It’s just a job.”

“You got that right.” With my left hand I punch a button on the back of my right wrist. Jump-jets explode on my shoulders, launching me suddenly forward at a hundred and fifty miles per hour. Boss Man calls this toy the “gate crasher.” There’s no crowd in the world that can hold you back when you engage this beast. Jester’s good, the veteran of twenty Black Fridays, but he’s not invincible, and his shields aren’t even back up to thirty percent. I smash him up against the safe at full power. The jets die out seven seconds later. He’s not dead, but I hope I broke his ribs. Then I back off and twirl the baseball bat-sized Beating Stick in my right hand, and draw the Vibro-Knife with my left.

“I’ll make you an offer, Jester: you tell me the serial number on your belt, and I’ll only paralyze you from the waist down. You’ll live to watch many more Fridays from your wheelchair until you die, but at least you’ll live,” I say.

At this, the veteran shopper pauses. “Sounds like there’s a leak in my employer’s organization. He won’t like that.”

“Better hurry, this offer is good for Friday morning only, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” I say, imitating the old adverts.

“Pass,” Jester says coolly. “You’re not on my shopping list.” He draws a ray gun from behind his back.

I throw the Vibro-Knife. I know I won’t hit the ray gun. It’s not a throwing knife and I’d be no good with it if it was.

But I know I broke his free hand with the Beating Stick. And what’s the first rule of Black Friday?

Jester, by reflex, drops the ray gun and snatches the knife by the hilt, realizing too late his error. I’ve already thrown the Beating Stick right at his torso, and it’s too big to miss. Just as he lashes out to kick the ray gun away, the fully-charged Stick catches him in the groin, and even with his shields on, he’s folded in half and thrown backward half a meter. I somersault forward for the second time this morning, snatch up the ray gun, and rise to my feet, pointing the weapon at Jester’s face.

“For the record,” I say, “Dad’s name was Jim. Better than any handle he might have taken.”

“For the record,” echoes Jester, gasping as he clutches at his ruined groin with his broken hand, “I did regret ending him. I’ve never enjoyed taking a life. It’s just…part of…the job.”

Those end up being his last words. When it’s done, I discard the ray gun, take his belt, and retrieve my cargo from the safe.

This is what Black Friday makes us. As I grab my loot bag from the ceiling and battle my way to the checkout stand, part of me agrees with the late Jester, as I too don’t enjoy taking a life. I have plenty of time to mull that over on my walk through the parking lot, back to the car, back to the rendezvous point with Boss Man. I hand over the goods, take my pay in digital credit, and return the gear he lent me for the job.

“Keep it. Most of it will be good for next year. I’ll send you the latest models in the summer,” he says.

“No. I’m out,” I say.

“Excuse me? You don’t have that option.”

“Legally, I do. In fact it’s the only law in all of this that’s still ironclad. See, the lawmakers thought this whole thing had to make some kind of sense, have some kind of rules, so they put in the Impulse Purchase Clause when they drafted the Black Friday Establishment Act. I’m sure a smart man like you recalls the details,” I tell him.

Boss Man snarls, but knows he’s beaten. “Jester wasn’t on your shopping list.”

“And you made money off of my fight with him. That makes him an impulse buy. Whole world saw it. So I’m out. Don’t call me again, and have a Merry Christmas.” I get back into my car without awaiting a reply. As I start the engine, he calls out to me.

“Believe it or not, it was a pleasure doing business with you, Jim,” he says.

“It’s James,” I say. “Jim was my father’s name.”

And that was the last time I ever took part in Black Friday.



Copyright 2016 by Graham Bradley, DreadPennies USA, All Rights Reserved

Engines of Liberty Kindle Trilogy Free through 11/29/16

Hi everyone–

I decided to put the Engines of Liberty trilogy up for grabs for the weekend. If you have a Kindle or a device that lets you read Kindle books, you can get each book at their respective link below. I hope that you’ll pick them up and share this with your friends. I put a ton of work into these over the last three years. They’re fully illustrated, with magic, dieselpunk technology, black powder weapons, and a cast of diverse characters.


Enjoy! And have a great weekend.

Rebel Heart (Engines of Liberty Book 1) by [Bradley, Graham]


Suicide Run (Engines of Liberty Book 2) by [Bradley, Graham]



Halloween Reads

I do love to read good seasonal books in the final stretch of every year. I just started re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the third time. It’s not a Halloween book, but the first few months of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts are thoroughly done, and really capture the feel of the changing seasons.

Anyway, here are some reads I’ve recommended in the past elsewhere, compiled here for your ease. All links lead to Amazon.


RULES FOR GHOSTING by AJ Paquette. A girl who died in an old house suddenly finds herself dealing with the new tenants, as well as a local ghostbuster who wants to capture her.

SPELL CHECK by Julie Wright. (Admittedly I prefer the old cover to this one.) A girl finds out she’s descended from witches, etc etc…things go awry when she accidentally, and then deliberately, starts using her powers to get revenge on her enemies, as well as trying to get her parents back together.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. Think The Jungle Book only it takes place in a graveyard, and our Mowgli character, Nobody Owens, is raised by ghosts. A charming tale. Gaiman narrates the audiobook.

THE HALLOWEEN TREE by Ray Bradbury. I mean come on. This book is basically a love letter to Halloween, and a celebration of similar holidays in different cultures the world over.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Greentown Book 2) by [Bradbury, Ray]

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES also by Ray Bradbury. The quintessential “an evil carnival comes to town” novel, and a monumental classic.

Lockwood & Co.:  The Screaming Staircase by [Stroud, Jonathan]        Lockwood & Co., Book 2:  The Whispering Skull by [Stroud, Jonathan]      Lockwood & Co. Book Three: The Hollow Boy by [Stroud, Jonathan]          Lockwood & Co.: The Creeping Shadow by [Stroud, Jonathan]

LOCKWOOD & CO, a series by Jonathan Stroud. Includes The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boyand The Creeping ShadowA delicious series of well-rounded tales from our superb heroine Lucy Carlisle, who’s a teenaged ghost hunter in London. Ghosts have been popping up and causing mayhem for decades in Britain’s capital, and two things are ironclad: there seems to be no final solution, and only children and teens are able to see them outright. (Adults still know they’re there, they just don’t have the talents to hunt them.) I look forward to each installment in this series almost religiously. I hope he does more than just another one.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Illustrated) by [Irving, Washington]

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW by Washington Irving. Couldn’t possibly overlook this one. Flawless in its magic.


Those should keep you busy over the next thirty days. Lamentably there aren’t as many Thanksgiving novels out there, but I’ll have something to mention at least. Happy reading!


A DreadPennies Comic

Hi guy and gals.

The loading bar of my life is currently at 32%. (I mean to live to 100.) I have been working toward a career as a full-time writer (and artist!) for over a decade now, with varied levels of intensity and focus. I think that’s plenty of time to kick my work into a higher gear.

In 2013 I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer for someone else to make that dream come true, so I got to work on my Engines of Liberty trilogy. I’m so lucky to live in a time when self-pub has never been easier, and that I can connect with artists and editors who can make my work better. But Engines was just the starting point. I have so many other stories to share with you.

Granted, I am still self-publishing. I am also still querying agents. And when I feel like I can do it well, I am doing art on the side.

Some of it will be commissions, other stuff will be for books, and some will be for this site. As to the methodology of it, and the approach I’m taking, well, see below 🙂

And thank you for reading. I have to get back to building the dream.





(Howard Tayler:

(Matthew Inman:

You should read the “Matt Cruse” novels, by Kenneth Oppel

It’s a trilogy, set in Canada, somewhere in the early 1900s. Some of the history has been tweaked and fictionalized–airships abound, as do unnatural creatures. That being said, in each of these books, Oppel manages not to do what you think he’ll do.

These are stories that set the table quickly, serve up a few different dishes, and then pass the plates around so that you get a little bite of everything, enough to make you want all of it.

They are written very smoothly, they read very easily, and the characters just pop to life on the page. Each of them has a clear and unique motivation, and these motivations clash and drive everyone in adventurous–yet believable–directions.

You’re not just reading airship fantasy. You’re reading a fine tale of young love, rampant imagination, swashbuckling villains, impossible creatures, and fascinating science, all put together in a way that makes it seem so normal and real.

Frankly, I don’t know why they aren’t more popular.

And I recommend the audiobooks of each, because they are narrated by a full cast that adds to the immersive quality of the storytelling.

One final bit of praise: while this is definitely a trilogy, each book is remarkably self-contained. No cliffhangers, no “tune in next week!!”, none of that. Each volume is thorough and satisfying. I think I should like to read them again.

Try them out! Start with Airborn, then Skybreaker, then Starclimber.



What Have I Been Up To?

Hi guys and gals. A few notes here:

  1. Charity Auction Results
  2. Drawings
  3. Forthcoming books


A few weeks ago, my friend Lisa Mangum (the chief poo-bah editrix over at Shadow Mountain) invited me to chip in for a charity auction on her brother’s behalf. I say “invited” instead of “asked to” because while I now have to provide some free swag to the winners, participating was really a privilege. Tons of other writers, agents, and editors contributed, and the winners raised over five grand for the family.

If it’s true that Mormons “take care of their own,” it’s especially true of the LDS writing community out here in the Mountain West. Most of us believe in rugged individualism, but we also believe in giving someone a hand when their boat is sinking.

It’s really cool that Charity Auctions Today put together a great website, and that Lisa reached out to so many of us. I personally could not have afforded to donate $200, but the items I put in ended up selling for that amount, which still surprises me.

Hats off to the bidders and contributors. What a great two weeks that was. I love you all!


One of the auction items I put up was a 24×18 commissioned piece, and I’ve been going over the details with the winner. It’ll be a unique piece, as well as a challenging one, and I want to do it really well. It’s meant to be a birthday gift for an octogenarian.

I’ve also been commissioned to do a Star Wars family portrait, which I’ll have to do right after the aforementioned piece is done. I expect each one will take about two weeks, given how life has gone lately.

After that I have a third commission on deck, but it’s small. And somewhere in there, I have a piece of digital art to render. Also small, but time-consuming nonetheless. If you follow me on Instagram (@grahamberad), I posted some work-in-progress shots of a comic I was drawing, and that will get finished soon, I just don’t know when.


My next releases! Currently I have one book out on submission to agents. It has been rejected 11 times. I’m aiming for 100 submissions. If I get 100 rejections…I’ll buy myself something really cool, I guess.

I’ve finished a draft of a sci-fi novella, and I have set it aside to write a fantasy novella, which was part of the charity auction: the winner purchased naming rights to a side character, and I’m trying to do justice to the whole concept. Both of these novellas should be out by January of next year.

And that’s about it, really. It’s nice to be busy, and nicer to have fans. Thanks to those of you who read this, who have read my books, and who have supported my work. Thank you!

Now get back to it.

I Finished A Trilogy

Hi guys,

If you follow me on FB, IG, or Twitter, you’ve probably been bombarded enough, so I’ll keep it short:

My third published novel launched today. Here are Amazon links to the first two, REBEL HEART and SUICIDE RUN. Today’s book is PATRIOT’S GAME, intentionally released on the Fourth of July.

I hope you’ll give them a read! I priced them as low as I could (ebooks are cheaper than print) and if you follow this link, you can enter to win a copy of REBEL HEART.

Thank you, and have a great Fourth! Hopefully we’ll take better care of what was left to us by our predecessors.





My First Ever Local Political Endorsement


The short version: I recommend that you vote for Richard Vaughan for Clark County School District Trustee, District A.

The long version: we step into my time machine and go back to 1991. I’m a 2nd grader at Gibson Elementary. For PE that year I have two coaches, a man and a woman. The man is a portly fellow with a warm smile on his face, like a desert-dwelling Santa Claus. Throughout the year he’s positive and encouraging, even when scrawny little 7 year-old me can’t do a single pull-up. One of the activities in the spring was to learn how to jump rope a bunch of different ways. At one part, the coaches wanted us to jump backward. I couldn’t figure out how, until Coach Vaughan pulled a few of us aside and taught us the trick: you had to jump when you heard the rope click against the asphalt behind you.

It was a simple thing, but the fact that he took the time and effort to teach me (and one other kid) something so inconsequential left an impression. I knew that he wanted us to learn.

Back in the time machine. Fast forward ten years, and we disembark in 2001 at Foothill High School. I walk into my senior year government class, and there’s something familiar about the even more Santa-esque man at the front of the room, especially now that his hair is whiter and he probably hasn’t jumped rope in a while.

“Hey! You’re Coach Vaughan! You taught me how to jump rope backward!”

He got a kick out of the fact that I remembered, and he indeed remembered me. (Good or bad, I do tend to leave an impression on people).

Although Government Honors was not 2nd grade PE, Mr. Vaughan’s zeal for teaching was the same. But it’s not just his zeal that qualifies him for the office he now seeks. A number of anecdotes should illustrate this:

Our education system sucks. It’s expensive and inefficient. The good teachers don’t last long and the bad ones don’t seem to go away. It is in this environment that the excellent ones stand out. Mr Vaughan told us on Day One that he was a Democrat, but that his wife often said he’s the most conservative Democrat she knows. I, a lifelong Republican from a conservative family, wondered what that might mean for the direction of the class. Was I on track for nine months of bias and indoctrination?

I soon learned that I had no reason to worry. Mr Vaughan wasn’t declaring his bias by declaring his party. On the contrary, he was fair all throughout the year when it came to explaining the flaws and virtues of both major parties and their ideologies. He started the year by giving us a multiple-choice test on a number of then-important national issues, the results of which would broadly classify us as Republican, Democrat, or Independent (just to give each student a barometer on where they stood.)
On the open house night, he made his case to our parents, saying that his goal for the class was to have every student develop their values by year’s end–and if they already had values, then to develop underlying reasons for them. I think his lack of bias was never clearer than when he introduced the class to a number of prominent media figures, one of whom was Rush Limbaugh. He played a few clips and segments from Limbaugh’s defunct television program, demonstrating Limbaugh’s ideologies and his unique method of delivery to an audience. When the clip ended, Mr. Vaughan simply told us that Limbaugh had a lot of sway as a non-conventional media source…and that we should make up our own minds about him.

That’s not the kind of objectivity we often hear of from teachers lately. Mr. Vaughan understood the influence that he held as a teacher, and the responsibilities that came with it. He encouraged us, all of us, to come to our own conclusions. (At the time I was a big fan of Limbaugh, though this is not the case anymore. I can tell you this much: were I in Mr. Vaughan’s place, I know I wouldn’t have dealt so fairly with some of my ideological opposites.)

Mr Vaughan’s principles and objectivity were on full display throughout the rest of that year. He took time to explain the purpose of government, starting all the way back at Hammurabi and Mesopotamia, then going on to Persia, the Greeks, the Romans, the British, and finally, our present-day system. He helped us understand the important context of our democracy and our Republic. By year’s end, he even had us group up and form our own fictional countries, developing a legal system and analyzing the outcome of it.

Richard Vaughan understands why we need government, and how a great school system is key to preserving it. He knows that it ought to be prudent, frugal, and functional. I know he has a love for education. He spent over two decades in the trenches of it, working with hundreds of students, feeding their minds and preparing them for the world. I am one of them. Without casting any aspersions on the other candidates for this office, I can tell you this: he is the right person for the job, and if we want to get on the right path to improving Nevada’s education system (we’re 50th, people!) we need to start with Richard Vaughan.

Voting Day is June 14, 2016. Look up your polling place and vote for Richard Vaughan for School District Trustee!