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Blog Tour Post – Book Review, “Dungeon Brain” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Dungeon Brain
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Dark sci-fi/Horror
Nightscape Press
October 30, 2012
$9.44 (Barnes & Noble)
Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of this book! Contest closes December 15, 2012
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Full Disclosure: I organized this blog tour for Benjamin Kane Ethridge and arranged the other blog tour stops.

Plot Description:

June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own. Stricken with amnesia and trapped in a room in an abandoned hospital, her caretaker, Nurse Maggie, wants her to remain captive forever. At night June hears creatures patrolling in and out of the hospital, and in time discovers Maggie has mental control over them. In planning her escape, June has an extensive catalogue of minds to probe for help, but dipping into the minds of her mental prisoners is often a practice in psychological endurance. Escape seems impossible until June discovers a rat hole in the wall– the starting point of her freedom.

But freedom in this war-torn world may be more dreadful than she ever imagined.

Dungeon Brain is a locked room mystery of the body and mind that expands across the realms of science fiction and horror.

The third novel from talented dark fantasy and horror scribe Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Dungeon Brain marks his first novel-length foray into science fiction.

We start things off with a woman, Bethany Haines, who says she remembers dying. She’s in a dingy hospital room, and doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror. She thinks she may have amnesia. Her memories are all of another woman. She insists that this woman who she sees is not her. This woman has a strong body, a taller more muscular frame, and is slim. Still, she knows enough to realize she’s in a hospital. She thinks she has been a prisoner at a colony for too long. She’s looking at soldiers in a firefight. She does remember a trial, being stripped of citizenship, and incarceration on the Tyrant CII colony, which has some pretty gruesome conditions. She recalls the day when a regulatory officer was murdered, and all the prisoners died. She thinks it might be because there was an invasion, remembers dying, and then realizes she may be being watched.

Bethany reveals she has a history of violence, mostly against men. She also has had an eye implant removed so she can’t watch any of her news or favourite shows. Unable to tell what’s going on outside with the explosions that continue, she retreats under the bed only to find a nurse who enters her room and at first seems helpful, saying “You’re Bethany today,” suggesting that this protagonist goes by multiple identities. The nurse, Maggie, soon reveals herself to be something of a cleverly put together psycho who goes from hot to cold in seconds, an irrational and insecure being who does not enjoy being lied to. And she’s in charge. :-S

The point of view then shifts to another person, Samantha Wright, who rejoices in being thin because she remembers being close to 300 pounds. Again, her reflection doesn’t match what she remembers of her looks, and she begins to think her mind has been transferred to another body. The point of view character realizes that there are hundreds of people trapped in her brain, which is when things switch over to the Woman. No matter who is in charge of her, the Woman has a deep fear of Nurse Maggie. It was particularly at this point that I started to see a parallel between Dungeon Brain and the short-lived Joss Whedon drama, “Dollhouse,” which features people who willingly allowed their brains to be programmed so they could become multiple people. The “files” in their brains made sure they maintained everything taken from the person they were emulating from the personal look to the emotions to the thought processes. In Dungeon Brain things get even more diabolical.

Nurse Maggie continues to torment the Woman with memories that are vague and blur together, so that the Woman can’t realize the real reasons behind why she’s here, how she got there, and why there are so many people in her head. Maggie reveals she and the Woman were childhood friends, but all the voices tell her to break out of the place she’s in and not to trust a word Maggie says.

We soon discover that the Woman, our protagonist, June Nilman, is a Dungeon Brain, a special kind of “extramental” who can not only suck other people into her head, but keep them there and become them. June finds herself “rescued” by a band of humans who are in the maze she is trying to navigate, which has caused her to hallucinate, among other things. One of them, Bobby, starts helping her fill in some of the blanks. Of course, it also helps that the psychotic Nurse Maggie stops pressing the reset button on her brain every day, and it emerges that Maggie is nicknamed the Dictator, and is an “extramental,” someone who controlled the minds of the Rotvique aliens who originally wanted to kill her and sent assassins against her, like June. It didn’t exactly turn out according to their plans, especially not when Maggie placed then under her control and influenced them to be obedient to her and obey her commands. June is a unique kind of extramental, a Dungeon Brain, who was originally supposed to kill Maggie, but failed, and awoke to receive amnesia in a bottle plus all the other people in her mind.

Another interesting figure, Dalton aka The Labyrinth Man, also comes into the narrative. He, too, tried to stop Maggie, but couldn’t. June learns that she can bring the minds of other creatures into her own, which is why the soldiers like Bobby wear desynth equipment so they can’t fall prey to her influence. Bobby elaborates on her Dungeon Brain abilities, saying “You can read the minds of people like books stored in your head.” There are four other Dungeon Brains in her head, and the only way she is going to make sense of anything, he advises, is to listen to them, and find out how they got there in the first place. When the truth comes out, it’s not pretty. June is disgusted to learn of the acts she committed to get those other people in her mind, and although at the time she seemed to be able to justify the decision, she struggles with it now.

The dissension in the soldier ranks helps keep things interesting, particularly the awkward love triangle between June, Bobby, and Peter, one of the other soldiers. Along with the tension established with Bobby’s enforcement of the rules of the facility they’re in, particularly the most important one, which is that only he can go into the Labyrinth Man’s room and talk to him, it makes for suspenseful tension. But beyond the Labyrinth Man, there is also the Never Nerve, the oldest extramental, to whom June learns she was completely and utterly devoted.

Of course, eventually Maggie gets wise to June’s hideout, and a full-scale battle ensues, and ultimately, everything comes to a head with a nerve-wracking but ultimately satisfying conclusion to what is a dynamic concept and a fantastic read. I’m not known for liking science fiction, with very few exceptions, and I tend not to like what’s commonly termed as “hard SF” which is science fiction that focuses more on the science aspect, the technicalities, etc, as opposed to “soft SF” which has sci-fi elements, but is ultimately a fantasy story, or it’s a drama that just happens to be set in space. Nurse Maggie more than fulfills her role as a memorable villain, one of those people you will truly love to hate, and June, the titular Dungeon Brain, has secrets of her own that will make you as the reader question whether you’re rooting for a good guy or just another villain with slightly different intentions than Maggie. So there you have it, readers. Even if you’re not the biggest sci-fi fan, but you’ve enjoyed Ethridge’s previous horror novels, you will definitely get a kick out of Dungeon Brain which is another finely crafted novel from the author’s thankfully ever-growing repertoire, something I can’t get enough of.

Be sure to follow Ben’s blog tour, which continues on November 1 and 3 with posts from Carl Alves. For a full list of the other blog tour stops, click here.

Interview: Jenny @ Supernatural Snark

Interview with Jenny @ Supernatural Snark

Greetings and Salutations, as Christian Slater once said ;-)

I doubt there’s anyone who hasn’t heard of the lovely Ms. Jenny from Supernatural Snark, but in case you haven’t, hurry on over to her blog for some fantastically in-depth insights into everything from YA to paranormal romance reviews, and her unforgettable “Cover Critique” feature, which is great. Jenny is fresh off a #4 ranking in the top 10 of Mindful Musings’ Reader’s Choice Awards. At just over a whopping 1,200 followers, Jenny has been blogging for about a year now and started the blog as a way to share her reading addiction and recommendations for readers. She’s gained massive popularity in the community, and I wanted to get some of her thoughts on the recent win as well as the Supernatural Snark blog in general.

Thanks to Jenny for her willingness to participate :-)

Jenny: First of all, thank you so much for having me on your blog! I’m thrilled to be here :-)

Q: So, Jenny, give us a sense of what led you to decision to create a book blog. What spurred your decision, beyond the desire to talk about books with other like-minded readers?

I had been devouring books like a crazy person for a while and when I read all the books by some of my favorite authors I got on the computer and found Goodreads. From there, I found my way to a lot of fabulous book blogs and spent several months reading them every day, getting recommendations, and figuring out which bloggers had similar tastes to mine. Once I’d been following several blogs for a while, I thought it might be fun to try my hand at blogging. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I figured it might be even more fun to give writing a try in a non-academic setting, so I got the blog up and running and then immediately hopped on Twitter to “meet” the people I’d been following for so long.

Q: Your blog has one of the cleanest designs ever, and I think that’s no mistake as you come from a graphic design background. As a result, did you find that setting up the graphics, widgets, etc, was simpler for you?

Thank you! I work primarily in print design, not web, so my knowledge of code and web layout certainly isn’t more in depth than anyone else’s necessarily. I will say it it’s probably a bit easier in terms of creating a header and any other little design elements on the blog because I just pull those together in Photoshop and then upload them instead of trying to fight with Blogger or code to create them for me.

Q: What sorts of things did you do to get the word out about Supernatural Snark both to other bloggers and to publishers? Beyond the usual stuff, like Friday Follows, memes, commenting on others’ sites, not spamming other sites (lol), what else did you do?

The very first thing I did was get on Twitter. If you have a blog but don’t have a Twitter account, consider setting one up, it’s a great place to talk to other bloggers, but also authors and publishers too as you can send them links to your reviews. A lot of times they will retweet your reviews to all of their followers as well so you get some cross promotion. Outside of that, commenting on other blogs (not spamming just like you said) has been the other really beneficial way to get my name out there. Leaving meaningful comments for people that shows you actually read their review and thought to write more than “great review, here’s a link to the review I posted today” type of thing goes a long way I think. I put a lot of time into my posts (I think we all do!), so I know I really appreciate it when someone leaves a nice comment about what they got out of my thoughts and I like to return the favor for them.

As far as publishers go, I still feel a little awkward emailing them to introduce myself or ask for advanced copies, so most of the time I email the various publicity departments and merely send them links to reviews for books I’ve bought or books I’ve received via a tour and a lot of times they’ve added me to their mailing lists as a result.

Q: To what do you attribute your vast follower count? Why do you think people keep coming back to Supernatural Snark?

Oh my gosh, I don’t really know! I’ve tried to write really honest reviews that go beyond merely summarizing the plot of the book and give a little more in depth analysis of what I liked and didn’t like about each book I’ve read, and I’m hoping readers are then able to get a good idea as to whether or not a particular book is for them. I try to keep the blog entertaining as well, so I do the cover critiques each week just for a laugh, I think it’s important for your personality to come through in your blog since there are so many book blogs out there, and that’s one way to really differentiate yours from the rest. If people feel like they know you as a person as well as a reviewer, I think they’re more likely to return to your blog and give your recommendations a try.

Q: Great blog name, btw. How’d you come up with it?

Thanks! I read paranormal books almost exclusively, I’ve just always been more interested in vamps, weres, the fae, etc. than in contemporary stories, so that’s where the supernatural part of the title came from. Then, I have a tendency to be a bit sarcastic at times, sometimes so often that my mouth gets me in trouble, so I tacked on the snark after supernatural.

Q: Do you think that as time goes on, publishers will increasingly devote more commitment to blogger outreach, especially in genre fiction where it’s all about word of mouth in the community?

I hope so! I think it’s a mutually beneficial relationship — bloggers get to read books ahead of schedule and publishers get reviews and general publicity for upcoming books. I think it’s really important that bloggers continue to respect the advanced copies we receive and realize that having a blog doesn’t guarantee us such gifts, we have to earn them by providing our honest opinions. By attempting to form a relationship with authors and publishers and not merely asking for books every other week, I think we stand a much better chance of showing them we are trustworthy and are interested in promoting the author and book, not just getting the book for free.

Q: How much on average would you say that you spend on books per month?

Uh oh. This could be a potentially very embarrassing question! It varies based on the month and what books are releasing, but I try (try being the operative word) to keep it to $50 a month. Some months it’s more (okay a lot more), but some months it’s a little less if I get a book for review or on a book tour. Getting a Kindle has been a hit to the bank account because it’s just so easy to order books on there!

Q: Holy Bazunga! :-p Some bloggers have a scheduled calendar that assists them with figuring out when to review stuff. How do you keep track of what to review and when?

Surprisingly, I’m not all that organized when it comes to the schedule. I base a lot of my posts on release dates, so if I’ve received an ARC, I like to post it the week or so before it releases, and then the other dates I just fill with books that have already released. I like to post reviews on Mondays and Thursdays, so since I only usually do 2 reviews a week it’s pretty easy to keep track of.

Q: When you’re reading, what makes a book really stand out for you more — characterization or originality of plot, or both? Or something else?

I’m huge on characters. Yes, a great plot is important, but if the characters don’t draw me in and get me emotionally involved in their story, the book usually doesn’t work for me. It’s the characters that always stay in my mind after the story is long gone, not the places or events, though their obviously vital to the character development.

Q: And finally, what are some of your big plans for Supernatural Snark in 2011?

I’ve only been blogging for about 7 months, so I’m still figuring my goals out, but I do hope to reach out more to authors this year and ask for interviews. I’m always nervous to write them and request an interview, but I’d love to have more authors stop by the blog so readers can get to know them better. I’m also going to Book Expo America this year which I’m really excited about, so I’m hoping to get to meet a lot of other bloggers in person and share my experiences on the blog. And of course, I plan to keep the cover critiques going, people seem to enjoy their ridiculousness :-)

Thanks so much for having me!

My pleasure :-)
Fascinating stuff! What do others like best about Supernatural Snark? For me, it’s the personality that shines through in the cover critiques as well as the in-depth analysis of the reviews. She doesn’t give a plot synopsis followed by three or four lines, and I think that makes a huge difference.

Have a great weekend, and don’t forget to participate in Parajunkee’s Friday Follow!

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