Artificial Absolutes – BBB

This time, because the sequel has recently been released, I’m posting two in one! So here’s the first:

Artificial Absolutes


Mary Fan

Artificial Absolutes

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Release Date: February 25, 2013

Genre: Science Fiction (Space Opera/Cyberpunk/New Adult)

I have been reading this for the past few months (I am a very slow reader, and haven’t had much chances to read). I’d hoped to be able to write a review of it, but I’m only about halfway through. So far, though, I am enjoying it. It’s far from the typical know-everything hero travelling the galaxy, and apart from anything else, this helps makes action scenes far more tense. She has no training to fall back on; no experience. I’m looking forward to continuing when I get the chance, and I already have the sequel, Synthetic Illusions, ready for when I do.


Jane Colt is just another recent college grad working as an Interstellar Confederation office drone—until the day she witnesses her best friend, Adam, kidnapped by a mysterious criminal. An extensive cover-up thwarts her efforts to report the crime, shaking her trust in the authorities. Only her older brother, Devin, believes her account.

Devin hopes to leave behind his violent past and find peace in a marriage to the woman he loves. That hope shatters when he discovers a shocking secret that causes him to be framed for murder.

With little more than a cocky attitude, Jane leaves everything she knows to flee with Devin, racing throughthe most lawless corners of the galaxy as she searches for Adam and proof of her brother’s innocence. Her journey uncovers truths about both of them, leading her to wonder just how much she doesn’t know about the people she loves.

Purchase Links:


Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble




Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble


“I’d have to say this book combines some of the best robotic AI, like Asimov… It is unlike anything I’ve read before on this subject.”
James M. Butler, author of the “New Dawn” sci-fi series

“…Engaging characters and a story with conflicts and struggles that are universal to all humans across time…”
BigAl, reviewer for BigAl’s Books and Pals

“A cracking tale of fights and escapes and conspiracies, set in a wonderfully and intricately evoked future world. The story rattles along at a fine pace, twisting and turning its way to and fro across the galaxy.”
Mark Roman, author of “The Ultimate Inferior Beings”

“One hell of a sci-fi ride… The mystery in this story was incredible and really kept me at the edge of my seat… It really goes beyond the some other sci-fi reads.”
Diana, reviewer for Offbeat Vagabond

“Artificial Absolutes is much more thanspaceships and robots… It is a timeless exploration of the complexity of family dynamics, the conflicts between faith and non-belief, and what truly defines a human being.”
Julie H. Hughs, reviewer for Random Musingsof a Curious Mind

Synthetic Illusions


Mary Fan

Illusion is the only reality.

Synthetic Illusions

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Release Date: January 4, 2014

Genre: Science Fiction (Space Opera/Cyberpunk/New Adult)


Jane’s new career as a composer is a dream come true, but her blossoming relationship with Adam is marred by his terrifying nightmares. When Jane receives a warning that a shadowy agency is targeting Adam’s seminary school, she rescues him in the nick of time, but the only way she can protect him from such a powerful enemy is to run.

In a shocking betrayal, her brother wasn’t the one who warned her about the attack on Adam. Instead, Devin was leading it. As Jane struggles to keep one step ahead of Devin, Adam’s exhaustion gives way to horror: His nightmares have begun to touch the real world.

Jane can’t abandon Adam to a fate worse than death, and far more than Adam’s life hangs in the balance. As Jane pushes further into the dark unknown, she must challenge everything she once believed in, and she faces the most wrenching decision of her life: choosing between the two people she loves most.

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK and US

Barnes & Noble


About the Author

Mary Fan

Mary Fan lives in New Jersey, where she is currently working in financial marketing. She has also resided in North Carolina, Hong Kong, and Beijing, China. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember and especially enjoys the infinite possibilities and out-of-this-world experiences of science fiction and fantasy.

Mary has a B.A. in Music, specializing in composition, from Princeton University and enjoys writing songs as much as writing stories. She also enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and exploring new things—she’ll try almost anything once.

Author Links:



Facebook (author page)

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Other Works From Mary Fan:

Flynn Nightsider and the Edge of Evil (Perhaps one of the best titles I’ve ever seen, and immediately screams ‘best seller’)

Publisher: Glass House Press

Release Date: Summer 2014

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Dystopia

Part dystopia and part high fantasy, Flynn Nightsider and the Edge of Evil is the first book in a YA series that follows a spirited teen’s efforts to overthrow an evil government while battling supernatural beasts.

Long ago, the evil Lord of the Underworld ravaged the Earth. The Enchanters, magical guardians of the Earth, defeated him, but his monsters lingered. Nearly a century later, the Enchanters have turned the former United States into the totalitarian Triumvirate, where non-magical humans, known as Norms, are treated as second class citizens.

Flynn, a Norm boy, was ten years old when he witnessed his mother’s death at the hands of an undead giant. No one would tell him where the giant had come from or what his mother had been doing that night. After six years of wondering, he finally finds a clue and is determined to uncover the truth – whatever the consequences. His journey takes an unexpected turn when he accidentally commits an act considered terrorism by the Triumvirate. He soon finds himself hunted not only by the government, but also by supernatural monsters and a man with power over the undead. Rescued by underground rebels, he is enticed by their vision of a better world and joins their revolution. But as he struggles to reconcile what he sees with what they tell him, he starts to realize that the rebellion is not everything it seems.

The Firedragon

Publisher: Glass House Press

Release Date: 2014

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Dystopia (Novella)

Before she fought the Triumvirate with Flynn, Aurelia “the Firedragon” Sun the star Cadet at the Academy of Supernatural Defense. This is her story.

Almost a hundred years ago, the Enchanters defeated the Lord of the Underworld in one of the most fearsome wars the world had ever seen. The public thinks that this victory means the people are safe. But they’re wrong. The supernatural beasts the Lord unleashed remain on the earth, multiplying and ravaging what’s left of civilization. As long as these monsters exist, mankind will be in danger. And though the government, ruled by the magic-wielding Enchanters, seeks to protect their people, they are too few in number. They need the Defenders – a special class of non-magical humans – to fight the monsters. The Defenders are an elite force, and mankind’s only hope against the horrors that live beyond their gates.

Fourteen-year-old Aurelia “the Firedragon” Sun has been training since she could walk to become a Defender, and her extraordinary combat skills have earned the attention of the powerful government. In fact, she’s been tapped to represent her nation in an international monster-fighting competition, which pits champions from across the globe against creatures of the Underworld in a violent spectacle. If she wins, she will become a full-fledged member of the Defender force.

But as Aurelia moves deeper into the competition, she realizes that all is not as it appears. There’s something sinister behind the competition, something that could change the way she sees everything … and the Enchanters, it seems, are not the heroes she thought. Aurelia begins to ask questions. But before she can discover the truth, she is pitted against the most dangerous monster in the competition – one that will take her life if it can.

The Binding – BBB

The Binding (Chronicles of Azaria #1)


Sam Dogra

What do you do when you can’t trust your heart?

The Binding

All seventeen year-old Eliza Bryant wants is to avoid a Binding — the ancient spell that forces couples into a lifelong bond. It cursed her sister, and for the last two years it’s tried to claim her, too. Her monthly hiding ritual worked brilliantly, until the night she ran into Ryan, a mysterious bounty-hunter. Now Bound to him, Eliza must spend every moment at his side, else she’ll transform into an Unbound; a lifeless husk without mind or soul.

Unfortunately, Ryan’s not looking to settle, and Eliza is dragged into his crazy life on the run. Still, she’s not going to take this lying down. Between grappling with the false feelings conjured by the spell and fleeing an unseen enemy, she plans to find a way to break her Binding; a feat nobody’s achieved in two thousand years. The key to her freedom lies closer than she thinks, and it’s deeply connected to Ryan’s past.


4.5 Stars. This exciting tale for New Adult/Older YA crosses genres making it difficult to categorise in any one area. Set in another world it has elements of sci-fi, fantasy and a just touch of steampunk. The characters are magnetic and quickly draw you into this exciting world where curses and magic become real. This passionate tale becomes unstoppable leaving you devastated that the second instalment is yet to be published – not a cliff-hanger, just totally addictive writing. – Tracie, Goodreads

Awesome! Can’t wait for the next one!!! – Molly Bonville, Goodreads

The Binding, by Sam Dogra, is an excellent read, with superb settings and characterisation. I really cared what happened to the main protagonist and the first person point of view, really helped me to become immersed in the story. Only one minor criticism.The, use of the word “to” instead of “at”. For example: “Ryan looked to the moon”, or “I looked to my lap”. This jarred me a little, but apart from this nitpick, this is an almost perfect story and one readers of all ages will enjoy. Highly recommended. – Kate Jack, Amazon


E-book UK and US

Paperback UK and US






About the Author:

Sam Dogra

Sam Dogra is a junior doctor working in the UK, and is currently training to become a General Practitioner. Between reviewing drug charts and X-rays, taking blood, saving lives and getting grilled by consultants, she also writes fantasy fiction and is a fantasy artist. She has co-written ‘Fated: A Timeless Series Companion Novel’ with author Lisa Wiedmeier, and has also published her first novel The Binding, and its sequel, The Parting, with a third book in progress.

She’s widely traveled, and has enjoyed her visits to France, Germany, Norway, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Rhodes, Turkey, Cyprus, Lesvos, India, Dubai, Australia, Canada and Idaho, Washington, New York, Seattle and Alaska, USA.Her other main interest is fantasy art.

In what little spare time she has, Sam also enjoys reading, baking, shopping, watching movies and anime, astrology, video games, collecting cuddly toy animals, and photography.

The Strong Female Controversy/International Crisis

Ok, I’m going to attempt to lure my thoughts out and onto digital paper. It may or may not work. And yes, it’s not quite a controversy, but it seems people here and there are trying to make it one.

WARNING: I have no particularly direction for the post, so I may very well wander off topic and start ranting about why I can’t save my car in GTA 5, or something.

The topic is the ‘Strong Female’ in fiction. I would like to broaden this to include film/TV and games as well. The argument is that while male protagonists get to be all sorts of assorted adjectives, female protagonists only get to be ‘strong’. That can sometimes be replaced with ‘feisty’ or something similar. I think, like anything, there’s something to say for both sides of this argument.

Firstly, what are we talking about? What genre? What medium? Who is the writer? Let’s take science fiction as our first example. Chances are, the first few sci fi works you think of will feature a male protagonist. Perhaps a female sidekick or love interest. And yes, chances are if that’s the case, that sidekick or love interest will be portrayed as feisty and ‘strong’, but will lack any real depth.

Princess Leia

If you are over a certain age, then it’s likely that Princess Leia will be the first sci fi female your mind’s eye lands on. She’s a good example. She’s ‘strong’, right? She’s feisty. She grabs Han’s blaster and takes control of the situation, basically taking command of her own rescue. She’s always quick with the sarcastic retorts and stinging insults. And…that’s about it. What else is she? What does she actually do? Granted, I haven’t watched the films for a while, but all I remember about her is standing like an idiot in the open, shooting at storm troopers. Shouting orders at men. Scathing remarks. Being incredibly annoying. I think perhaps the reason she is so annoying is that she is such a flat character. She is nothing more than strong.

Something similar can be said for what’sherface with the blue eyes in John Carter (admittedly, I refer to the film, as I haven’t read the graphic novels). Strong and feisty, but little else.

Firefly Zoe

But what about, say, Firefly? Zoe is a strong female. She’s also witty, intelligent, loyal, loving, unnervingly cold… In fact, put it this way. If you were to read a description of her character without seeing her name or the term ‘her/she’, you might automatically assume that you’re reading about a male character. The same goes for River. She’s far more complicated and deep than the typical Strong Female.

What about Hermione in Harry Potter? She’s a pretty strong female protagonist, especially for a child. She’s also intelligent, cunning, quirky and eccentric. She’s more than the typical Strong Female who’s there to make the thing more welcoming to female readers. Ah, but she was written by a woman! Is that the difference? Do we get flat, uncomplicated Strong Female characters because most of them seem to be created by men? And men don’t know how to write and develop females?


I can’t say from experience, as I’ve never read it, but I hear that the female lead in Fifty Shades of Gray is a pretty poor example of a realistic female. Conversely, Lee Child seems to be good at writing female characters. I’m only partway through the second book, but I know that the female FBI agent in that is strong, intelligent, selfless, professional, resolute/stubborn, resourceful…and that’s at page 220 of 560. She’s not the typical weak female who lies in captivity crying and waiting for her knight to come and rescue her. Nor is she the typical Strong Female, who sits there with a scowl and a scathing remark whenever her captor enters the room, waiting for some weak man to come and rescue her so she can berate him for being late and/or stupid. Terry Pratchett can write a woman as well as he can write any man. A good number of his books feature a female lead, and they’re no weaker than those with a male lead. Those characters are no less rounded and complicated than the male ones.

Granny Weatherwax

It would be a lie to say that for every flat, 2D Strong Female, a properly developed one could be named, but let’s not pretend that’s the only kind there is. While we’re at it, let’s not pretend that all male characters are complicated, deep, thoroughly developed things. They’re not.

In fact, let’s go back to Harry Potter. The titular character is more 2D than the female secondary lead. As is Ron. The more action-oriented the piece of fiction – be it a novel, a TV series, a film, or a game – the more flat the male leads are. And aren’t those types of things where we usually find mention of Strong Females? When was the last time someone described the romantic comedy they watched last night, and called the female character a Strong Female? Or a straight up comedy, or even a drama?

Arnold Schwarzenegger

So, then, are we saying that because they are women and not men, these characters should be more developed, more rounded, more complicated? Shouldn’t all our characters aspire to this, regardless of gender? Do we ask if a female character is ‘strong’, while assuming that a male one is, because it’s some kind of novelty for a female to be strong, or because female characters are far more versatile than their stereotyped, typecast male counterparts?

And what are we actually saying when we say ‘strong’? Are we saying that, like Trinity, she can beat the hell out of people? Or maybe she can pick up tanks with one hand? Or is she emotionally strong? Morally strong? Strong in her convictions and beliefs? Is she strong in her muscles, her skills and abilities, or strong in her character? Does it perhaps depend on who’s talking? I never use the term, but if I did, I’d be willing to bet I’d mean something slightly (or completely) different to you.

The general consensus is that most weak female characters (weak as a character, not weak IN character) are written by men. That’s understandable, I suppose, because after all, men don’t understand a thing about women, right? Unlike all the totally believable male characters we churn out, we simply don’t know how to write a realistic woman. Women, naturally, can write perfectly accurate males, though. Just flick through a romance novel or an erotic short and you’d swear it was a biography, wouldn’t you? After all, women are another species altogether.

Yes, women think slightly differently about things. They have different priorities. They take a lot longer to put on their combat armour. But that’s a sweeping generalisation and they’re not as different as society has taken to claiming. Although the whole talking in the middle of a film is simply inhuman.

James Bond

Let’s stick with the Strong Male character for a moment. Think about a book/film/game that’s hugely popular. Now, who is it popular with? If a man was to say to his wife, girlfriend or female friend, ‘Let’s go and see…’, would she sigh and try to think of an excuse not to? Most likely. It’s generally accepted that most women (sweeping generalisation) do not like action films or sci fi. Is that because they contain guns and/or aliens? Or is it because the characters aren’t complicated creatures with depth of character? How 3D a character is James Bond? Maybe men want to be him, but do women really want to be with him? I doubt it.

So, is the complaint really about Strong Females being nothing BUT strong? Or is the complaint that because they are women, they should be more than strong? Because I don’t recall ever reading the term Strong Male in a rant about such characters. Perhaps this is being used as an argument in female equality. Perhaps it’s vaguely analogous to all those who complain about scantily-clad women on, for example, someone’s Facebook timeline. …and then post a topless cowboy and tag all their friends to come and drool over it. Or, with a stack of romance novels beside them (have you ever seen the covers of such books? Imagine a romance novel cover with a woman wearing as little… Would people let that stand?), type an angry comment about how that image their male friend just posted of a bikini model is objectifying women and offensive.

Perhaps the issue is that female characters should be more like American sitcoms. They should be the Alpha Female. Bullying and abusive to their depressed and emasculated husband/male protagonist with no will of his own. They should be the intelligent leader to their brain dead, useless, selfish, sexist (ironically) male counterpart.

Or maybe…just maybe…we shouldn’t give a damn about whether a character is male or female. What we should care about is ‘Is this a good character?’.

The real problem with hearing the term Strong Female, is that it’s quite likely that the referenced character IS indeed Strong, but not a strong character. I’d like to think the difference is becoming more widely understood.


So that is more or less my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on the matter. There is arguably more depth to the issue, but I don’t personally think so. I think the real issue is that we need to stop caring so much about whether characters are male or female. The argument used to be that there weren’t enough black characters in films (at least, one’s that are there for more than being the first to get killed off). Now, established white characters are being recast as black (Perry White, Nick Fury, even Pegasus). It has now become the case that people want male characters recast as female, and those characters have to be more than Strong.

To me, the prevalence of female characters is a more important issue. I have found myself playing games and thinking how I’d like more female protagonists (though I’m not sure why). Not only does it give female readers/viewers/players more characters with whom to relate (although arguably, any character should be written well enough to be relatable, no matter the gender), but it offers a slightly wider range of character options and…whatnot. But that’s not really the point of this post.

Before I go back to my editing (WARNING: My next novel only has two female characters!), I’ll talk briefly about female characters in my own writing.

Firstly, the sparsity. Admittedly, in the first book (and the following numbers are entirely off the top of my head, so I may be wrong), I have one female character of note. Yes, there are background female pirates, receptionists (not sexism, shut up), soldiers, etc, but only Juni is of any importance. In the second book there are four or five. Hundreds if you count the army of female warriors. Kira contains a single female: Kira herself.

Why are there so few? I don’t know. I don’t consciously think, ‘I better put a token female in here now’. My characters are what they are, whatever that happens to be. Some things just don’t seem to fit a female character. For example, book three of my NEXUS series features a young Necurian boy who is disenchanted with Necurian ideals. His character simply doesn’t feel very female to me. So why the hell should I go and make him female just for the sake of it? That said, I have considered it, and I haven’t dismissed the idea.

It also depends on the situation/setting. For example, as I look up now, over my computer screen I see twenty men and one woman. If I walked on to a military base, what ratio of females to males would I see? Yes, my series is set in the future, and things have changed, but generally speaking, how many women are inclined to go and join the military, regardless of whether they are encouraged to or not? I imagine even in the future, there would be a lot more male soldiers and pirates and assassins and whatever else. So it depends. But mostly, I simply refuse to make a character female for the sake of it. If a character is female then it’s because she’s female, not because I thought ‘oops, I’d best change some of these to women’.


Secondly, strength. Juni (who is THE female character) is a strong female. But not a Strong Female. So far, she’s in one and a half novels. She’s a side character in book two. I’ve received one complaint that she was a strong character to begin with, but by the end she was weak. Personally, I don’t see a character beginning to show emotion as weakness. In fact, I see that as strengthening a character. Through most of the book, she is cold and hard as nails. She doesn’t allow anything more of her character to show. This may give the false impression of a Strong Female, with no more to her. But that IS her character – not allowing people to see deeper into her. By the end of the book, she is opening up. Unfortunately, the rush of the unfamiliar trust and liking causes her to open up too much, and by book two, she is shutting down again. This internal conflict will be explored and expanded going into the future.

So, I think I could maybe summarise my thoughts into: Who cares? No one complains about the Strong Male, so why is it all-important when it’s a female character? The important thing, surely, is to have good characters. Full stop.

What Is She…Besides Strong?

A few months ago, I read an article about strong female characters. The author gave an account of why she hates them. The gist of it is that male characters get to be all sorts of things, while female characters get to be ‘strong’. I don’t disagree, but I find myself unable for the moment to put together my own thoughts on the matter.

I recently did a character interview with Mary Fan. In that, my own female protagonist, Juni, is mentioned. It made me think about how I want to get back to those characters and build her character. To show more of what’s underneath her steel shell.

Juni is strong in all sorts of ways. But her strength also hides things. Things that take a lot of digging to get to. Her strength is not just in her physical skills. It’s the strength to survive the lonely existence she’s been given. It’s the strength to abandon the security of the only life she knows and follow the new and frightening feeling of trust. It’s her strength of character. On the surface, Juni may appear to be a typical Strong Female, added for sex appeal and token equal opportunity. She’s certainly strong and appealing, but she’s far from typical.

Juni Lien

Juni Lien, using her appearance to distract Travis Archer from the knife she may introduce him to

Who better to give an opinion on the subject than Travis Archer’s interviewer, Mary Fan? Author of space opera Artificial Absolutes, she has written a female protagonist who’s more than just a Strong Female.

What is she, besides a Strong Female?

The words “strong female protagonist” always bothered me. It took me a while to pinpoint why, and the simplest way to explain it is this: it lumps every female who isn’t a wilting weakling into one category. There are so many different kinds of strengths, so many quirks and nuances to each character, and yet they all get reduced to simply a Strong Female.

What’s more, most Strong Females these days—especially in sci-fi and fantasy—are incredibly bland, and as many stereotypes are thrust upon them as the wispy princesses of yesteryear. To be a Strong Female, it’s taken for granted that she knows how to fight, that she has a perpetually tough attitude, that she’s always collected. In other words, she’s perfect. Just like her pretty-girl predecessors, except in a different way. Take away the martial arts and one-liners, and what’s left?

When I was writing Artificial Absolutes, the first thing I decided was that my protagonist, Jane, wasn’t going to be a combat-trained superwoman who always knows how to deal with whatever situation she’s in. At the beginning of the novel, she’s just an office girl with dreams of being a composer, so when she finds herself in the kind of dangerous action scene familiar to sci-fi fans, she doesn’t suddenly transform into an unflappable military cadet. She panics and screams—like most people would—and, at one point, is absentminded enough to forget her weapon, which she barely knows how to use. She does put on a tough attitude, but she also gets scared and, when tragedy strikes, cries. In spite of her fears, she does her best to be brave when faced with situations her sheltered life never prepared her for. She ultimately wants to be strong, and she holds her own through the space battles and gun chases, but I wanted her anxieties, her fears, and her weaknesses to show as much as her dogged determination.

Jane Colt, protagonist of Artificial Absolutes

Jane Colt, protagonist of Artificial Absolutes

As for violence, well, the fighting sexpot has become a well-known cliché of the spec fic universe. Nothing wrong with being both attractive and combat-trained, but again, strip away the perfectly choreographed kung fu scenes, and who’s there? Not to mention, violence is often too glorified in action stories, where no one seems to care about all the bystanders in the building Superman knocked down. When it comes to Strong Females, it’s practically fetishized—she’s expected to fire two guns at once in a skin-tight outfit and needle-sharp heels. There is plenty of violence in Artificial Absolutes—it’s an action book, after all—but not just for the sake of pretty explosions. Most of Jane’s scenes of violence are against drones, where she’s unafraid to let the shots ring out because she knows she’s fighting a lifeless bot. There are a few moments when she gets physical against a person, but those are due to a blind rage she hasn’t yet learned to control. They’re more flaws, not assets.

I’ve gotten mixed reactions to this character, with all her flaws. Some people love that she’s a person first and a sci-fi heroine second. Others don’t enjoy her as much because she does act like most young people trying to figure out their lives, which means she argues and complains—although, to her credit, she always takes action to fix whatever’s bothering her. But love her or hate her, if you took away the space opera, she’d still be a human being, not an action figure.

Mary Fan

Mary Fan

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