Category Archives: Zachary Jernigan

Worldcon Report, Part 1

This is going to be the written report, mostly without pictures because I haven’t had time to sort through the ones I took and see what I want to post.  It’s been one of those weeks at work and it started on the way down to San Antonio.  I spent more time than I would have liked dealing with a couple of problems that waited until I was on the road to arise.  I post some pictures in the next few days.


James Gunn at his reception.

I had to teach class Thursday morning, so by the time I got to San Antonio, checked into the hotel and hoofed it over to the convention center to register, I just made it before registration closed.  I wandered the dealer’s room and familiarized myself with the layout before grabbing a bite.  At least I intended to.  I ran into Adrian Simmons, editor of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and ended up accompanying him to a private, invitation-only reception for James Gunn.  Adrian had been invited, and I went along as his guest.  It was a great event, and I took advantage of the opportunity to speak with him.  He’s 90, and critics are calling his new novel his best.  I picked up a signed copy before the weekend was over.  There’ll be a review going up at Futures Past and Present sometime in the next few months.  Learning of Fred Poh’s death made me extra glad I grabbed a signed copy, in spite of being a little overbudget.


What would you eat for a book?

Later I attended the Bookswarm party, which was packed.  I got a chance to talk to Martha Wells for a few minutes, and I walked away with two free books.  The theme of the party was Eat a Bug, Get a Book.  The bugs were sanitized and freeze dried.  (I ate a mole circket and a dung beetle and got The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreadis and Exile by Betsy Dornbush.)  The highlight of the party was getting to meet Brad Beaulieu, Douglas Hulett, Courtney Schafer, and Zachary Jernigan.  If you haven’t read them, you should.  Other than a glimpse of Jernigan from across the street, the only one of that group that I saw after that night was Courtney Schafer.

The next day was one of those where there was about twelve hours of programming I wanted to attend, all of it in a three hour block.  I went to most of the Robert E. Howard panels, of which there were many.  Most of the hanging out I did with friends was with members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation or chatting with folks at parties.  Saturday was much the same, but Sunday was a little more relaxed.  Among the non-Howard panels I attended were a discussion of C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, the history of firearms in the 1800s, a discussion on writing that included Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly, a panel of Texas writers who have passed on, and readings by Jack McDevitt and Howard Waldrop.  I only caught part of the panel on sword and sorcery since it was up against one of the more interesting Robert E. Howard panels.  The autographing lines were either nonexistent or ridiculously long, so I only got a few signatures.


Sword and Sorcery Panel: (l. to r.) Stina Leitch, Lou Anders, Sam Sykes, Saladin Ahmed, Chris Willrich

I went to the Alamo Saturday morning with Bill Cavalier, editor of REHupa.  He hadn’t seen it, and it had been a while since I had paid my respects.  Next to the Alamo is the Menger Hotel.  Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders in the bar, and it’s something of a mini-museum.  I’ll do a write-up of it on Dispatches From the Lone Star Front over the weekend.

I didn’t try to attend the Hugos.  I wasn’t impressed with the slate of nominees for the most part.  But it’s a popularity contest, and currently my tastes and those of the field are in a state of moderate divergence.  The Legacy Circle of the REH Foundation went to dinner Saturday night.

There were some free books, including NESFA’s three volume Chad Oliver set.  I found the first two of the Heinlein juveniles I was missing, and picked up an extra copy of Glory Road.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of that novel.  I read it when I was about 14, and it’s about time for a reread.


It’s good to be the king.

Some overall thoughts.  First, this was the first time I’ve been able to attend a Worldcon.  It wasn’t quite what I expected.  I’ve attended World Fantasy twice, and the density of pros in that venue is high, but then that’s a convention that’s aimed at pros.  Worldcon is more geared for fans.  I never saw some of the bigger names, although I know they were there.  Most of the ones I did see, I only saw once or twice.  The convention center is a bit too spread out for this sort of event.

I was surprised at crowded it wasn’t.  I was also a little surprised with how old the average attendee seemed to be.  While people seemed to be having a good time, I didn’t detect a great deal of excitement.  Maybe that’s because I’m getting older, but everything seemed more laid back than I was expecting.

I’d certainly attend another Worldcon, but only if it wasn’t at the same time classes started.  And only if it wasn’t too far away.  While I enjoyed it and am glad I went, I wouldn’t travel halfway around the world, or even the country, to repeat the experience.

I’ll post some more photos later in the week.

A Look at Zachary Jernigan’s No Return

No Return
Zachary Jernigan
Night Shade Books
hardcover $26.99
ebook $12.99 Kindle $14.84 Nook

It was a Friday night in early April, and I was up late reading when I got a beep from my phone indicating an email.  The subject line was something about a request for a review.  My initial knee jerk reaction was to decline on the grounds of I had committed to a number of titles and was behind.  So I went to the computer to reply, not feeling like replying on my phone.  I had to open the email to do this.  In the process I read the first couple of sentences and immediately I changed my mind.  “Of course I’ll review your book.”  I may have even said it out loud.

The author was Zachary Jernigan, and the book, No Return.  It’s Mr. Jernigan’s first novel.  It was published by Night Shade in March, just a couple of weeks before Night Shade shut down operations.  (To put things in context, a few days prior to my receiving this email, Night Shade announced that it was selling its inventory, provided a certain number of their authors went along with the deal.)

As you might guess, Mr. Jernigan was nervous about how things were going to work out.  I have friends and acquaintances who are published by Night Shade, and I very much want things to work out for them.  I told him it would be sometime in May before I could work No Return in.  He said that would be fine.

Before being asked to do the review, I had seen the book, but with everything on my plate I’d decided to let it pass.  I’m glad I read it, and would like to thank Zachary Jernigan for providing the review copy.  I’d also like to thank Tom Doolan for recommending me to him.

This is one of those novels that’s marketed as fantasy but could be science fiction if you squint right.  It’s set on the planet Jeroun.  There is a god on this planet, or rather in orbit around the planet.  His name is Adrash.   He’s worshiped by about half the people on the planet, who think he will bring salvation to mankind.  The other half of the planet think he’s nothing but bad news and will eventually destroy the planet.  There’s much speculation regarding what his motives are.

There are five main characters.  Vedas, a member of a sect that opposes Adrash.  Berun, an artificial man whose body consists of a number of brass spheres.  Churls, a female fighter with a gambling problem.  These three are traveling across the only inhabited continent to attend a fighting tournament in which the matches are to the death.  Each member of the group has a motive for traveling, although it’s not necessarily the motive they’re publicly stating.

Elsewhere, in the Kingdom of Stol’s Academy of Applied Magics, two mages are engaged in academic politics of lethal proportions.  Ebn and Pol, female and male, are trying to physically reach Adrash, but not for the same reasons.  I say female and male rather than woman and man because these two aren’t human.  They’re half breeds, part human, part Elder.  The Elders are an extinct race.  There’s a thriving market in Elder corpses, and Elder sperm or egg is still fertile and can be used for breeding purposes.  Eldermen are one of the results of this breeding.  Ebn loves Pol, who couldn’t be less interested. Their relationship drives this portion of the plot to a large degree.  Their desire for power and the lengths they are willing to go to attain it drive it rest of their story arc.

The chapters alternate viewpoint characters, in the order I’ve listed them.  I found the chapters dealing with Vedas, Berun, and Churls the most enjoyable.  Ebn and Pol are both such vicious and unpleasant people that I didn’t particularly enjoy spending time with them.  That’s not necessarily a negative.  I view Ebn and Pol to be villains, and they’re not your typical stock villains.  Jernigan infuses them with understandable motives and a level of complexity that’s sadly lacking in most villains.

All of the principle characters are fully fleshed.  There’s a great deal of action in this book, but there’s even more character development.  Jernigan takes us deep inside these people’s heads and reveals what makes them tick.  They’re all highly flawed, but at least in the case of Vedas, Berun, and Churls, they try to do the right thing, even if they aren’t always sure what the right thing is or even agree about what’s right and wrong.

At the end of the book, I found the changes in the characters to be the most enjoyable part of the novel.  I’ve read works by authors with more books under their belts who don’t handle the character development was well as Jernigan does.

The prose is smooth and flowing.  Zachary Jernigan writes in a style that propels the reader along without ever getting in the way of the reading experience.  He’s not so impressed with his own turn of phrase or flowery metaphors that he forgets moving the story along is the most important thing.

The world Jernigan has created is fresh and original but not so bizarre I couldn’t easily relate to it.  It has a history going back 15 millennia. While a map would have been appreciated (and there may be one in the dead tree edition), the geography is described well enough that I had no trouble understanding where things were in relation to each other.  The cultures are  complex and not entirely uniform.  Jernigan gives us information about different sects and splinter groups, which adds a sense of depth to his world building.  For the most part, he balances the amount of information he gives us and avoids excessive infodumps.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you that No Return contains a great deal of graphic content, both violence and sex, occasionally in the same scene.  (I’m thinking of one particular scene near the end of the book.)  Enough so that if you’re squeamish, this might not be the book for you.  There’s more than one passage in which a character masturbates to a detailed sexual fantasy, and Ebn’s sexual tastes are…well, let’s just say innovative.  Injuries and death, defacing of corpses, and other acts of violence are detailed throughout the narrative.  There were passages that pushed my comfort zones.  Depending on your tastes and comfort zones, you might want to approach this one with caution.  Or not.  Your mileage will vary.

The previous paragraph aside, I found No Return to be one of the most original novels I’ve read in a while and quite enjoyable in spite of some uncomfortable passages.  Jernigan has left room for a sequel.  I’d definitely be interested in reading it. 

I wish Zachary Jernigan the best in his writing endeavors, and I sincerely hope the Night Shade situation doesn’t stall his career.  I used the world “stall” intentionally.  If everything he writes is this well done, he’ll carve out a name for himself sooner or later if he keeps writing.   I hope it’s the former rather than the latter.

New Acquisitions

Today a friend and I took my son hiking in Palo Duro Canyon while our wives stayed home doing whatever wives do when husbands are away.  (I don’t want to know; that it involves spending money is enough.)  This will tie into a Dispatches From the Lone Star Front post later in the week after another road trip. 

When I go home, there was a package waiting for me.  It contained a copy of Ari Marmell’s In Thunder Forged from Pyr Books.  Along with Wrath-Breaking Tree (James Enge) and Kindred and Wings (Philippa Ballantine) that came Thursday and Nebula Awards Showcase (Catherine Asaro, ed.), which arrived last week, that’s four from Pyr in about ten days.  The Marmell and Nebula Awards will be reviewed first since the former will be out in a couple of weeks, and the latter is out already.  That’s not to say some of the other review copies Pyr has sent me won’t end up in the queue in the next couple of weeks.

I’ve also got several titles from Angry Robot in my ereader:  The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig (which I’ve already started and am loving), iD by Madelaine Ashbury, and A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp.

Finally, I’m looking forward to diving into No Return by Zachary Jernigan.  He was kind enough to send me a copy of his first novel.  This one got some good advance buzz, and I love the cover.  It’s up Blue Blazes

Anyway, those are the novels from publishers and authors I’ve agreed to read and review.  I still plan to increase the amount of short fiction I review.  (Sooper Seekrit Project #2 requires me to do so.)  I’m also going to stick in some novels just because I want to read them.

Think all that will keep me busy?