The Ragnarok Backlist – John Golden: Freelance Debugger by Django Wexler

Disclaimer: I do some work for Ragnarok Publications on an occasional basis and have a vested interest in the success of the company and the authors they publish. When I began doing work for Ragnarok Publications I stopped reviewing Ragnarok books on Fantasy Book Review (I had already reviewed a handful of Ragnarok books on FBR by this stage) as the question of my likely bias might have impacted the site negatively. But, on my personal blog, I do what I want. Even though I’m stating a bias up front, I feel like these reviews will still provide a fair appraisal so you can make a decision for yourself.

This review was first published on Fantasy Book Review

 John Golden: Freelance Debugger is a short urban fantasy novella by Django Wexler, published by Ragnarok Publishing, and the first book in what I hope is a lengthy new series. It is a very different beast compared to his epic fantasy, The Thousand Names, but it is no less accomplished, and I can’t wait to read more.

John Golden works in IT, he is a debugger, and his job is to delve into computer networks and eliminate fairy infestations. When I say he delves into computer networks, I mean that he can move himself into a different dimension called a burrow where the network and the fairy infestation are manifested as a sword and sorcery medieval world, and once inside the burrow he can get to work exterminating the fairy presence. It’s kind of like The Matrix meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this book, John has been hired by an IT security company to sort out a particularly nasty burrow that somehow got past their firewall. It is an unusual case for Golden right from the start, and as things start to get weirder, they also start to get a lot more dangerous.

This book is full of lots of geeky / nerdy / pop-culture references and plays on words (like when John Golden learned how to program in KOBOLD). The humour is quite dry and understated, constructed from observations of how IT support is largely treated. This book has also been written in a unique way with the main character’s sister providing something similar to director’s commentary as small footnotes that pop-up from time to time as the story progresses. Kind of like the footnotes that Terry Pratchett uses in his Discworld books. I feel like the footnotes are a little too frequent and slightly jarring at the start of the book, but after reaching the first quarter mark they started to feel much more like a natural extension of the story.

John Golden: Freelance Debugger is a fast read with a great style and a unique spin on incorporating the fairy realm into our own. If you have ever worked in IT or if you enjoy watching The IT Crowd, then I think you will really get a kick out of this book.

Goodreads Link

Amazon Link


Books of 2015

I wasn’t able to read as much as I would have liked last year. 30 books seems like a good tally, but a number of these books were very short, and I don’t think I tackled any books bigger than around 400 pages. Rather than go for the traditional ranked list, the books listed below are notable / memorable to me for some reason.

Best Audio Experience – The Vagrant by Peter Newman. Narrated by Jot Davies.
If not for the excellent performance by Jot Davies, I would have given up on this book about a third of the way in. The start of The Vagrant is slow and a little confusing with a steep learning curve, a problem that seems to always be exacerbated in the audio format. Jot Davies allowed me to overcome these obstacles, and by the end I couldn’t believe just how much I enjoyed the story crafted by Peter Newman. The Vagrant is a simple story on the surface, a mute man with a baby and a goat trying to outrun a demon horde and reach sanctuary in the north, but look a little closer and you can see just how deep and complex this book actually is.

Best Young Adult Book – Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This book is marketed as Young Adult but could easily slot into many marketing labels such as straight up fantasy or maybe even “Grim Dark”. It is a heist story set in a world based upon Northern European / Scandinavian / Russian countries, full of magic, humour, adventure, torture, romance, and cunning, where the stakes are high but the rewards are worth it. I’m not really a fan of Bardugo’s previous trilogy, a friend of mine describes it as Russian Twilight, but I could barely put this book down.

Best Non-Fiction Book – Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

This biography of the enigma that is Elon Musk is equal parts inspiring and revealing. It’s hard not to be swept away by the romanticism surrounding Musk and his vision for the future, hard not to be inspired by his work ethic and his single-minded drive to make things happen that others would say is impossible. But as Vance peels back the layers, you get to see that Musk is a damaged person, a man incapable of empathising with people, a man whose inability to rein in his arrogance results in continual undermining of his vision and work as foolish and insincere. Regardless of what you think about Elon Musk, there is no doubting his drive to reshape the world.

Most Painful Book To Read – Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea by Adam Roberts

I like the way Adam Roberts writes. I like his big ideas and his bold execution. I did not like this story. An obvious homage to the Jules Verne classic, this book is designed for scholars of Verne and those literary classics, and offers very little to those who have not studied the classics. That’s fine, it doesn’t make this book a bad book, it just means most of the story went over my head.

Biggest Disappointment – The Heartland Trilogy by Chuck Wendig

The Heartland Trilogy was Wendig’s first attempt at writing stories targeting the Young Adult market. That’s not a bad thing, and that wasn’t the problem with this book. Or maybe it was. The problem with this trilogy was the weak plot, shitty characters, and the fact that my enjoyment would go from bottom of the basement to soaring then back to bottom of the basement again. I’ll keep reading Wendig because he has great style with his prose, but I’ve been burned, and will now be forever cautious.

Biggest Shoutout – Aftermath by Tim Marquitz

I find it difficult to put things on a list that are either by Ragnarok Publications (given my associations with them) or by my good friend Tim Marquitz (because I act as a sounding board for all the crazy ideas he wants to fit into his books). I’m aware that I have an inherent bias when it comes to Ragnarok and Tim. But fuck it, Tim’s books are awesome and Aftermath, the ninth book in his Demon Squad series, shows just how far he has come in such a short amount of time. I cannot speak highly enough of the series or the author, you just have to trust me on this.

Best Character – Darrow from Red Rising by Pierce Brown

People like to have a whinge about “Mary-Sue / Gary-Stu” types of characters (those characters that are good at everything). They whinge about Kvothe in The Kingkiller Chronicles, the whinge about Rey in The Force Awakens. I pity those people and their inability to find joy in awesome people doing awesome things. Darrow is a Gary-Stu, born in the Red caste on the planet Mars, forced into a life of servitude in the Martian mines, Darrow is chosen to become the leader of the uprising, to have his modify physically modified so that he can pass as one of the Gold caste. Oh damn he is one competent dude, oh boy does he fuck some people up, and oh my how glorious it is to read about.

Best Cover – Residue by Steve Diamond – Cover design by Shawn King

The best thing about my association with Ragnarok Publications is seeing all the covers that Shawn and Joe Martin have put together and keep putting together. The evolution of their work has been amazing. I’m not talking about the art they commission, which is also awesome, I’m talking about how they come up with a design for the cover, how they decide on colour schemes, how they put together lettering that makes sense. The art belongs to the artist, but the cover belongs to the person who conceptualised what it should look like, and Shawn deserves as much praise as can be handed to him. Residue is my favourite cover by Shawn that is out there for everyone to see. There are some covers that will be revealed this year that blow Residue out of the water, and that’s saying something.

Most Memorable Sex Scene – The Barrow by Mark Smylie

The sex scene involves two women in the middle of a brothel, a ribbon harness suspended from the roof, and a strap-on unicorn horn. Let your imagination do the rest…

Most Gruesome Scene – Andersonville by Edward M. Erdelac

Men are digging an escape tunnel from the civil war prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Our main character is being pursued by a demonic entity. The demonic entity decides to flood the tunnels with human blood. It’s messy, and made me want to read more.

Best Book – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Looking back on 2015, I could not split these two books. Harry August was an alternate history novel with fantasy twist unlike any I had read before. Station Eleven on the other hand was a far future post apocalyptic novel that focused on an idea that is often skipped over in these post-apocalyptic stories – once you get past the survival stage, how to do you actually go about living a normal life? Both books were published in 2014, but I only found out about them in 2015 because they both nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award. All I can do is recommend that you read both books, because both of these books have so much to offer, will make you think about things from a different perspective, and might help you to appreciate the little things just a little more.

Beyond: Two Souls – It’s All About The Experience

Beyond: Two Souls

Beyond: Two Souls is the latest game from David Cage and the team at Quantic Dream. I really enjoyed Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain (I never played The Nomad Soul) so my expectations were reasonably high for this game, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. Before I go any further I will say that Beyond: Two Souls, like its predecessors, is a title that challenges the standard definition of “game” by prioritizing the in-depth connective experience first, and adding “gameplay” after that. This is not a game that rewards skilful play-throughs, it is a game that rewards you with depth of character and layered story telling where your choices matter. You get out what you put in.

Okay, so I picked up this game on Saturday night and finished it before lunch on Sunday. That may not seem like a particularly lengthy game (which many critics have picked up on), but what you may not appreciate is that you are continuously moving forward in this game. You dont get bogged down in repetitive fire fights, you dont have to worry about dying and retrying each level again and again, you just keep moving forward and the story adapts depending on your choices and to a small extent how well / poorly you perform. Not a single minute is wasted in this game, and I think they got the length exactly right.

Young Jodie

But what exactly is Beyond: Two Souls about? You play as Jodie, a young girl who is different to everyone else she knows. Jodie is connected umbilically to a spiritual entity called Aidan – he’s been there since Jodie was born, the only constant Jodie can cling to in what has been a tumultuous life. Aidan resembles your typical poltergeist – he can pass through walls, he can possess objects and people, he can relay information back to Jodie, and he can defend Jodie from other dangerous spirits that pass through the veil. When the CIA find out about Jodie’s “condition” they take custody of her and start conducting experiments, with one eye on the pursuit of knowledge, and the other eye on potentially militarising their game-changing asset. You play as Jodie from young child to young adult. You get to influence her life choices as she progresses through the most formative stages of life. You also get to play as Aidan and do some cool poltergeist stuff, but this is Jodie’s story, Jodie’s life, and while Aidan is there Jodie cannot truly live.

In terms of gameplay, the one thing I want to discuss is the removal of the skill level barrier. I could talk about things like how the movement controls are very clumsy, or that the gameplay is almost entirely quick-time events, but removing the skill level barrier is, in my opinion, the biggest element that challenges conventional gaming. There are no try-fail cycles, there are no resets, there are no do-over opportunities. What you do and how you perform, in the moment, determines how your story plays out. This may sound like a bad idea, but what makes this work (for me) is that the outcome is not better or worse depending on how you perform – it is just different. I think this is the point that turns off many gamers, that you are not explicitly rewarded for beating up all those enemies without taking a single hit. It is not why they play games, they expect to get a quantifiably better experience as their mastery of the game increases. And that’s fine, but for me, I was so deeply immersed in the story that the only thing I cared about was how the gameplay worked together with the choices I had to make when progressing the story.


Beyond: Two Souls is a story driven game, and David Cage succeeded in making it one of the most expansive yet engaging stories that I’ve ever played through. The story is told in a series of non-linear scenes, jumping back and forth through different moments of Jodie’s life, providing you the information you need when you need it. While loading each scene the game displays a timeline to provide a frame of reference for when each scene takes place. It is very handy, and makes the story much easier to follow during the early stages. The story explores a number of heavy themes, the most prominent of which is the duality between life and death, and how different people react when a loved one passes from life into death. The story also explores the duality between ethical and unethical experimentation, blurring what should be a very clear line by introducing dangerous situations that demand the unethical solution for the “greater good”. The recruitment of child soldiers to help take out a Somalian warlord is one, the raising of an abandoned child in a laboratory to see if they can militarise her paranormal abilities is another. David Cage doesn’t shy away from the hard hitting moments either – in my playthrough there was a scene where Jodie was sexually assaulted at a bar after her friends failed to show up, and another scene where Jodie reaches the lowest point of her life and upon finding a knife the player is given the option of dragging that knife across her wrists. It is not to say that this is a story without hope, because there are plenty of hopeful, uplifting, and redemptive moments in this story, but these hard hitting moments are the ones that impacted me the most and had the greatest influence of the choices I made when playing the game.


Beyond: Two Souls is one of the best games I have ever played. Is it the future of gaming? No. Has it impacted the future of gaming? Undeniably. Beyond: Two Souls has pushed the boundaries of gaming, changed how we define games, and demonstrated that you can successfully implement a story driven experience that does not require point scoring or levels. Oh and there is also those little things like how amazing this game looks, and how great the acting was from stars like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. Play this game to experience it, not to beat it.

Excerpt: Light Save Us

Below is an excerpt from Light Save Us, my story in the Fading Light Anthology. It’s a short excerpt, but I don’t want to give away too much of the story. I’ll probably post the story in full some time in the not too distant future.


If you’re looking for a scary Halloween read, then the Fading Light Anthology has you covered.You can order from most online retailers including Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.



My breaths come fast and shallow, my sense of direction disoriented by the sudden lack of light. My hands fumble along the barrel of the shotgun as I reach for the torch attachment, fingertips trembling as I depress the switch. Looking up for the first time, I can see a number of beams emerging from the darkness, scanning the walls for any sign of breach.

“Over there,” I yell with a shrill voice, waking the crowd from their stunned silence. Shouts turn to screams and people cry out for help, fear of the darkness fuelling their need to possess the precious torchlight.

The creatures are scaling the wall now, panting and growling as they close in on their prey. The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as multiple thumps strike the ground from all directions. They are surrounding us.

“They’re coming,” I call out, desperation creeping into my voice. “Run!”

I turn towards the power station and try to sprint, but the searing pain at my side is too much. Glimpses of a shadowy form dodge in and out of my torchlight, coming straight at me. It strikes me just above my pelvis, lifting me off the ground and slamming me onto my back. Its weight drops onto the shotgun and crushes the remaining wind from my chest. My ribs scream in agony.

An acidic spray burns my skin and furious talons catch on the shotgun as they try to tear me open. I can feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins, telling me to fight back, telling me to survive. I kick upwards with all my strength. My boot meets solid flesh, flinging the monstrous body through the air and freeing my arms from its deadly embrace. In a motion more fluid than I thought possible, I draw the shotgun into my shoulder and level it at the roaring beast. Finger on the trigger, I squeeze.

The blast is deafening, and the shadowy being is no more. My body aches as I force myself to stand, my ringing ears drowning out the sound of people being massacred around me. I have to find Gray.

A crumpled form lies in front of me, bloody entrails and a God awful stench leaking from what might have been its stomach. The whole scene is repulsive, and yet I am intoxicated by the thought of doing this to someone else. I lick my lips. What would Dan’s entrails smell like?

“Come on, Ted, hurry up.”

Gray. I whip around and shine torchlight at the sound of his voice. He has a pistol in one hand and the gas can in the other. His bloodstained body seems to glisten. He has never looked sexier.

Contributing To The World Around Me

It seems that when I’m not working at work, I’m working at home. Hobbies have taken over my life to the extent where I’m almost spending more time on them than I am at work. But it’s good right? No. It’s supposed to keep me active or something like that. I haven’t played a video game in nearly three weeks and that depresses me.

All these hobbies that have been piling up is the reason why I have been neglecting this blog. I could promise that I will post more often but I’m pretty sure I have made that promise quite a few times in the past. I am still contributing to the world around me, so I thought I would share with you the things I am doing:

Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous

Publication date is approaching rather quickly on this, and thus the publication wagon has taken off. Here are a few notable links:

Synopsis –

Excerpt from my short story –

Multi-Author Interview With Lincoln Crisler Part 1 –

Multi-Author Interview With Lincoln Crisler Part 2 –

Multi-Author Interview With Lincoln Crisler Part 3 –

Multi-Author Interview With The Nocturnal Library Part 1 –

Multi-Author Interview With The Nocturnal Library Part 2 –

There is more stuff to come at Bastard Books and on Fantasy Book Review leading up to the September 1st release.


As part of the Novastream relaunch, I became the new administrator of Novastream Movies with Esther Savage where I have been doing a lot of posts and site clean-up over the past few weeks. I am also involved with all the technical site design for Novastream Movies and Novastream Games, and I am a regular guest on the Novastream Podcast.

FBR Blog

Finally, I am now an administrator of the FBR Blog with fellow FBR reviewer Joshua S. Hill. Josh has designed the site pretty much from scratch and we are hard at work securing people to write for our site. Josh and I also host the FBR Podcast which I am currently in the middle of getting transferred to a new host.

The Rest

I’ve also been reading a bunch of books in this time, and putting together some new short stories for some upcoming anthologies. I’ll give you more details on that as they come to hand.

Ok that’s it for now. I plan on doing more regular posts here in the near future, especially once I get our American Bucket List put together.


Ryan and Nicole’s USA Bucket List

I have really been neglecting my blog as of late. Everytime I go to write a post, something more important always seems to pop up. Well not this time… take that world.

So for those who don’t know, Nicole and I are packing up our stuff again and moving… to Daytona Beach, Florida! It’s a whole ‘nuther country, can’t get there by bus. Nicole and I have been thinking about all the things we would like to do while we are over there, things like:

  • Spew on every ride at Disney World
  • Spew on every ride at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Spew on every ride at Universal Studios
  • Collect a tooth from an ice hockey game
  • Catch a ‘gator in Louisiana
  • Heckle some rednecks at the NASCAR Daytona 500
  •  etc, etc, etc.

Then it hit us – how about we create a USA Bucket List based on all the comments by you the reader. That’s right, you tell us what we should be doing during our year abroad and we will write a blog post everytime we tick something off the list. Sound like a good plan? I love it when a plan comes together.

Free Writing – Give It A Try

Ok so for the past few weeks I have been trialling the concept of free writing. That wacky concept where you just write whatever is in your head with no filtering whatsoever and the only rule is that you cannot stop the pen from moving. Or in my case cannot stop the keys from clicking because using pens is for chumps. And you know what… I like it. It is a really handy tool for getting the creative juices flowing, for getting all of your thoughts down onto paper so you can sift through them for anything that may or may not work, and for just cleansing your mind.

I’ve heard of this technique before, but I only started looking at it seriously as a writing tool in the last few weeks after watching a video of Tim Schafer demonstrating how some of his best ideas have come from free writing. I would link the video but it is exclusive content for those who backed the new Double Fine game. If you want to see the video, you can become a slacker backer and register here:

So how has the trial been going? Well this is an early morning thing for me. I set my timer for 30 minutes and I just start typing, usually starting with a few lines about how I’m feeling, what my sleep was like last night, how excited or unexcited I am for the rest of the day. I then think about a goal – where do I want to start steering my mind? Sometimes I think about one of my works in progress, sometimes I think about an assignment I have due, and sometimes I cant think of anything so I keep writing “blank, blank, blank” over and over until some weird thought enters my mind. The goal, if you are typing, is to keep your fingers moving, so for a 30 minute session you are going to aim for a target word count anywhere between 1500 – 1800 words, or 50-60 words per minute. If you are a slow typist then you should use this as an opportunity to improve. If you can type faster than 60 words per minute and wish to point that out well good for you, go collect your medal as the winner of everything.

I guess the most important thing to note is that it’s ok to ramble, it’s ok to keep repeating yourself, it’s ok to be rude, vulgar, illiterate, or childish. The only rule is don’t stop writing, not for a second. It gets easier as you do it. The words start coming quicker and quicker, your fingers struggle to keep up with how fast your brain is going, and you find that 30 minutes really isn’t enough time to get down all those crazy thoughts that have been pent up in your brain for months and months.  Below is a sample of my free writing from today, just to give you an idea of how my brain skips around:

I am writing a lot of words at the moment I mean look at this document, has it seen an improvement in my touch typing skills… well not this morning. Probably because of the lack of banana, water, and breakfast in general. The coffee was good but it is not enough to sustain the creative side of my brain. I need a muffin, a choc chip muffin, just something to keep me going at the moment. I’m thinking about writing some fiction that is not fantasy, maybe something based on my life, the problem is my life is not all that interesting, I don’t have a lot of conflict, everything seems to work out. Maybe I just need to introduce some drama into my life, maybe that way I can get some conflict, maybe I can tell a story about a guy who is running out of ideas to write about so he creates drama in his own life and it backfires big time. That might be a good thing to write about, that might be a great thing to write about, who knows?  I am just observant, people think its weird to stalk people on facebook and twitter, but no I don’t think so, maybe I could write a story about the facebook stalker, someone who gets off on finding a profile that has not been set to private, look at this girl, she is hot, and she is putting these pictures up of herself, wow, so it looks like she has done some part time modelling, she loves vampire books, werewolf books, supernatural books. From the looks of her 4square check ins she gets a coffee at the same place, almost the same time every day, im going to start going there and watching her, maybe I’ll get the chance to meet her, maybe we can go out some time, I could be interested in all the things she is interested in, I look at all the stuff she watches, she likes to watch all these TV shows on Get Glue, she likes to do a bunch of different things.

I find that it has helped to tighten up my typing skills and that it makes me far more productive at work and in my writing projects. So give it a try. You never know, you might find you like it.

Fifty Shades of Jealousy

Love them or hate them, the “Fifty Shades” books are bestsellers. Everyone is reading them and, of course, everyone has an opinion about them. And that’s fine, because of free speech and suchlike.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

The thing is, people have long memories. There is a time and a place to voice your opinions, and when it comes to opinions about the industry you work in, you should probably think twice before you click that submit button. This is particularly important for genre authors because book publishing is a rather small and tight knit industry, and that comment you just submitted will be forever associated with your name.  That comment may stop you from ever getting a deal. The following is a quote from an author on what they think about Fifty Shades of Grey:

Why did you buy this book? Your review isn’t anything we don’t already know about this book. It is crap, “Oh my, did I say Crap?”

I write much better than crap and I can’t get a soul to even blink at my novel, BUT every wanna-be reviewer has something to say about this turd.

I didn’t buy this book– here is my review. “It Sucks. Quit buying it.” 

Now I know this author, he is a nice guy and he can write quite well, but a comment like this shows an alarming about of jealousy and ignorance. This “turd” is the #1 bestseller in many countries around the world. It must be doing something right. And maybe, just maybe, it would be worth some effort figuring out what it is doing right and you might be able to apply it to your own writing.

How Time Flies – The Offspring

I was not a big music lover when I was young. I was happy with whatever I heard on the radio. Then came The Offspring with their most iconic song – Pretty Fly For a White Guy.

This song was awesome, amazing, and any number of complimentary superlatives. Americana was the first music album I ever bought, and it was all because of that song. That was fourteen years ago. To find their debut single, you have look back twenty three years to find I’ll Be Waiting, a track from their first album The Offspring which was originally produced on a vinyl record. Yeah, they have been making music since before CD’s.

And these guys are still making music, and it’s still awesome. Below is their latest single Cruising Californina, and dang it’s got a catchy tune / lyrics.

Time really does fly, like a white guy (oh yeah, I went there).

How Time Flies – Linkin Park

There are only a handful of bands where I know the lyrics to every song on every album. Linkin Park is one of them, and coming soon is their latest studio album with the new single Burn It Down. I love this song, and the video clip (below) is awesome:

For me, it is amazing to see just how much these guys have changed over the years, and how much these changes have paralleled my own life. From angsty teenagers with angsty music to somewhat mature adults with somewhat mature tastes. Below is the video for the first single off their debut album – One Step Closer (2000). So much has changed in twelve years, so its great to see where it all started.

What do you think of the differences? What is your favourite Linkin Park song? Let me know or post some YouTube links in the comments below.

Next post I will look at The Offspring