Curated by Jefferson Smith
The premise of the ImmerseOrDie challenge is simple. Every morning, I get on my treadmill, open a new indie fantasy or science fiction ebook, and start my morning walk. Any book that can hold my attention for the duration of that forty minute stroll gets labeled a survivor. But getting there is not easy. Every time I read something that breaks my immersion in the story—bad grammar, inconsistent worldbuilding, illogical character behaviors, etc.—the book earns a red flag, called a WTF. If I find three WTFs before I finish my walk, the clock stops, the book closes, and I ruminate on what went wrong. Whether it survives or not though, I write up a report about my reading experience and about what sorts of things I might have learned from it, and then share that with all the folks who follow my stream. (You can read more about the IOD and see all the archived reports here.)
How has that worked out so far? Well, as anyone who has tried to sample the firehose of indie publishing can confirm, few of the titles being released these days meet even basic professional production standards. So it should come as no surprise that by the time I was ready to submit this collection, I had read 114 titles, of which only 13 had survived that basic probe.
But this StoryBundle is not just about being clean enough to squeak past my forty-minute guard dogs. After surviving the first round, those thirteen survivors were then run through a second gauntlet as well. To survive that round, they had to do more than simply avoid WTF triggers. They had to grab my attention and hold it, and then deliver a complete and satisfying story. Not just clean production, but an entertaining read. And not just for forty minutes either, but for the entire book.
What I was left with at the end of that second round was the collection of eight books you see here today, snatched right out of the fury of that indie firehose. These were not written by established writers who are diversifying their revenue streams, but by truly unknown writers who happen to have game. In my view, these are the writers waiting in the wings for their big breaks. And I'm hoping this StoryBundle just might be the break they've been waiting for.
So after all that, it is now my great pleasure to introduce the champions. But rather than just regurgitate the usual marketing blurbs to describe them, I'd like to tell you what it was in those first forty minutes that pulled me in.
Century of Sand, by Christopher Ruz (Fantasy)
For Century, it was the setting. I was intrigued enough by the premise of an old warrior on the run with an uncooperative girl-mute in tow, but it was the oppressive landscape that captivated me. The heat and sand and dehydration were almost palpable—enough to make the drama of the army that pursued them almost secondary. (Read the full IOD Report.)
Crimson Son, by Russ Linton (SF)
Here it began with the premise. Lots of people have tackled superhero fiction before, but taking the POV of an un-super child in a dysfunctional super-family had me hooked from the beginning. What's not to love when you first realize that the teen protagonist is being held prisoner—not by some archvillain, but by his own super-father, who has trapped him in the family fortress of solitude? But it takes more than just premise, and I was ultimately sold by Linton's empathetic handling of the opening situation. Rather than focusing on heroics, this starts out in a very relatable way, hooking us with hints of the fraying family dynamic before anything super-powered even gets onto the stage. (Read the full IOD Report.)
The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl, by Bryce Anderson (SF)
Most AI stories make what I think is a mistake, having scientists set out to create something sentient that later gets away from them. As a computer scientist myself, however, I have never been able to buy that whole "sentience by intentional design" gambit. If we don't understand how human consciousness works, how can we ever expect to build an artificial one on purpose? But Anderson's approach seemed at once so brilliant and so obvious that I was immediately hooked. Why hadn't anybody ever taken this angle before? I don't want to ruin the story for you, so let me just say that the AI in Singularity Girl doesn't begin with some hyper-clever act of scientific creation—it begins with a simple suicide. (Read the full IOD Report.)
The Journeyman, by Michael Alan Peck (Fantasy)
The first appeal for me with Journeyman was the absolute economy of scenes, and how brilliantly they supported each other to introduce a rich and believable cast of characters. As a result, Peck was able to get to the main crisis very quickly, but at no time did I ever feel that he was rushing. The second appeal was the premise. Lots of writers have tackled the "life after death" story, but this was something fresh. Not just a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, which Evil appears to be winning, but one in which Good doesn't even seem to give a damn? Count me in. (Read the full IOD Report.)
Mad Tinker's Daughter, by JS Morin (Fantasy)
Tinker is built on an unusual twist. I understood right from the outset that something odd was going on. Pairs of characters seemed to be "twinned" in some fashion, but the nature of how that worked was doled out slowly, and that worked as a lure that kept pulling me further and further into the adventure. It's a delicate balancing act for an author to try keeping something as fundamental as "how reality works" as a mystery from the reader, and still not alienate them from the story, but Morin manages to do just that. And by the time things had slowly unfolded into not one, but two steampunk worlds, each with a rich and well-lived-in feel to it, I was hooked. (Read the full IOD Report.)
Pay Me, Bug!, by Christopher Wright (SF)
One of the harder things to put into a story is a believable sense of history between the characters, but Wright makes it seem easy. I was immediately drawn to the sense of camaraderie between the captain and his crew in this rollicking space adventure. At once easy and familiar with each other, but also professional and competent at their jobs, I instantly wanted to be a part of the good natured banter that passed among these freelance rogues. Beginning on page one, I felt like I was back on board the Serenity, and that feeling never went away. (Read the full IOD Report.)
Strictly Analog, by Richard Levesque (SF)
The 1st person POV is something that I see over and over again on my treadmill, but it almost always ends up with a bad case of what I call "Galloping 'I' disease"—those interminable paragraphs full of "I did this," "I did that," "I went here," and "I went there." When every fifth word is "I," it can be hard to hear the story for all the echoing that's going on in your head. But not so here. Levesque skillfully avoided that "I"-trap. He then sold me completely on the reality of his future LA when it was revealed that he and all his neighbors lived in illegally converted We-Store storage lockers, putting a totally unexpected spin on the notion of the self-storage industry. Details like this are what raise an SF story up out of the usual mire of recycled tropes and convince me that the author has something new to offer. And when I got all that in the first five pages, I couldn't wait to see what else was in store. (Read the full IOD Report.)
Untimed, by Andy Gavin (SF)
Some rare books can hook you with the very first line. Not just intrigue you, but hook you—convince you not only that the story will be interesting, but that the writer knows what he's doing and that your precious spare time is in good hands. And that's what happened for me here.
My mother loves me and all, it's just that she can't remember my name.
As soon as I read that one sentence, I knew this was going to be a good story. I didn't know yet if it would be well edited, but story-wise, this was a writer's opening, with an entire novella hiding behind it. So when the protagonist went on to reveal that his entire family was somehow "unstuck in time," I was on board with both feet and my steamer trunk already packed for the journey.(Read the full IOD Report.)
That brings us to the end of the ImmerseOrDie survivors, but as a bonus ninth book, the guys at StoryBundle convinced me to contribute one of my own. It has not been subjected to my treadmill of doom, but it does comes from the guy who runs the treadmill, so I like to think it would have passed. :-)
Brotherhood of Delinquents, by Jefferson Smith (Fantasy)
For me as a writer, premise is everything. If I can't find an interesting situation to explore, I can't stay interested in the project long enough to write it. But for Brotherhood, I wanted to do more than just tackle an intriguing premise. I also wanted to tackle a challenging audience—one that most authors have given up on as a focus: teenage boys.
When I was really young, I read things like The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Danny Dunn, and The Three Investigators. But once I'd reached my teens, it seemed that those sorts of buddy-based adventure stories had all dried up. There certainly weren't any in the fantasy genre. What had happened to the stories full of mystery and sleuthing, secret tunnels, codes, and boys being smarter than the adults around them? Those had been the hallmarks of boyish fascination that had made a die-hard reader of me, but as a teen I couldn't find them anywhere. Eventually I moved on to more grown-up stories, but in the back of my mind, that vacuum has always stood out as a beacon to me. Fantasy adventure buddy-fiction for teen boys. All I had to do was find a way to take all the stuff I'd loved as a kid, put it all together, and then flip the conventions upside down.
Thus was born the premise for Brotherhood of Delinquents. Take a group of boys who don't know or like each other, and who are generally perceived as useless wastrels by the adults around them, and put them in the middle of a mystery that the adults aren't even aware of yet. Add in a dash of secret clubs, hidden passages, and a sense of swash-buckling adventure, and we're off to the races.
I can't point you at what other people have said about it yet, because Brotherhood is making its publishing debut in this StoryBundle. But all the fancy punditry in the world means little to me on this one. If there's a boy in your life who hasn't been able to find books that hold his interest, show him Brotherhood of Delinquents. I'll be happy to stand by his judgment. After all, I wrote it for him. – Jefferson Smith
The initial titles in the bundle (minimum $3 to purchase) are:
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $12, you'll get another four titles:
The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!
It's also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.
Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.
StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.