THIS MORNING I WOKE UP GIDDY because I got to write about a future society wherein nanobots, biological enhancement, and artificial intelligence haven’t stopped people from being petty, power-hungry assholes.
A few weeks before that, I was waking up giddy to write a horror story about a man who’s cursed to forever struggle against the monster inside himself. The narrative is super dark, but that doesn’t stop writing it from being a real trip.
Perhaps my favorite mornings so far were those when I woke up giddy to write about a gunslinger whose pistols belch pink smoke… and whose partner is a talking unicorn with an attitude problem.
Some people might say that Realm & Sands is all over the place or that we suffer the writers’ equivalent of A.D.D. It’s not hard to see why, and we understand why at first glance, our lineup might seem scattershot. We write all over the map — from political sci-fi to horror to westerns to straight-up comedy. We’ve written action and supernatural tales. We try to make our readers guffaw with some stories, and cringe or perhaps cry with others.
We prefer to see our multifaceted catalogue from a slightly different angle. We write stories with one thing in common: they’re fun to write.
Based on reader emails, reviews, and the comments we get on social media, they also have a second thing in common. They’re also FUN TO READ.
If you like good, gripping stories that you’ll enjoy reading from first page to last, Realm & Sands has you in good hands.
But hey, in the spirit of helping you to navigate our sometimes-scattered unreal landscapes, let’s see if we can narrow the choice about your first Realm & Sands experience. You’re probably here because you’ve just received the Realm & Sands Starter . With eight books in that collection, you may be wondering where to begin.
The answer depends on you. What type of Realm & Sands reader are you?
We’d like to run through each of the titles in our Starter Library in order to welcome you to the family. We’ll let you know what the book is about and what kind of reader is most inclined to enjoy that particular title. Read on, and see if you recognize yourself in what follows.
Let’s begin at the beginning, with the very first story Realm & Sands ever created.
Unicorn Western (Epic Mash-Up)
If you have any doubt about whether or not we have fun with our stories, listen to this. It’s the short, safe-for work version of the time on our Better Off Undead podcast when co-host David Wright made the mistake of saying that Sean couldn’t write a western without doing a ton of research. I suggested that if you put a unicorn in your western, you could get away with anything, and the seed that became Unicorn Western was born.
Unicorn Western has a gonzo premise — a deadpan, Clint Eastwood style gunslinger from a magical land who rides a jerk of a unicorn, named Edward. In tribute to Dave’s qualms about Sean not knowing the color of gunsmoke per the above audio clip, Clint’s guns (yes, we named him “Clint”) use a magic powder that produces a dull red plume. That’s our fancy way of saying his gunsmoke is pink.
But despite the gonzo premise, Unicorn Western is played straight. It’s a western first, fantasy second, and funny third. The wireframe plot models the classic Gary Cooper western High Noon, and if you continue through the Unicorn Western books, you’ll see every book in the series follows the basic plot of a classic western as homage.
You’ll enjoy Unicorn Western if you don’t mind chocolate getting into your peanut butter (or unicorns into your westerns), if you have a playful spirit as a reader, and if you enjoy epics. Because as ridiculous as the book’s first premise was, the series quickly became very exciting and very deep. It’s fun in places, moving in places, and get-on-your-horse-and-ride-action in other places. We call Unicorn Western a “spiritual epic,” and we think it lives up to its name.
Unicorn Western is also the only book in the Starter Library that we feel is entirely appropriate for children, all the way from the beginning of book one through to the end of book nine, through the prequels and upcoming sequels. There is no profanity, only stylized western-type violence, and no sex. Our kids were 9, 9, and 11 when they first read it (or had it read to them), and they all absolutely love the series.
The Beam, Episode One (Epic Science Fiction, Thriller)
The Beam is, like Robot Proletariat, written in a serial format that you’ll understand if you’ve ever watched TV. Each “season” comprises six “episodes,” and there are a lot of open loops and cliffhangers. If the idea of finishing an episode or a full season and being left hanging bothers you, you won’t want to read any of our serials.
But we definitely, definitely hope you don’t give up that easy. The Beam — a hard sci-fi series set in 2097 that is rich with politics and deceit and mystery — is our largest story world to date. There are already two full seasons, plus a family of fiction-as-nonfiction books written by a fictional future author and a growing number of outside-the-canon series. It may be the story world we’re most proud of.
The Beam is in many ways the opposite of Unicorn Western. The premise was never gonzo and hilarious, and was born through acres of research and written outlines. Although there are some funny moments, the series is dead serious. It’s rich with philosophical themes (“If we can do something, does that mean we should?” “Are we too connected as a society” “What is the nature of mind and consciousness?”) but not overly heavy. It’s also not too techy. In fact, although reviewers have (very flatteringly) compared The Beam to classics like Ender’s Game and the works of Gibson, Asimov, and Stephenson, we’ve also been told that it’s “sci-fi for people who don’t think they like sci-fi.” Neither of us are hardcore sci-fi-heads ourselves. And although there’s a lot of gadgetry in this series, the story’s focus is on the people… and how some people never change, even if their immortal biology would allow them to.
You’ll like The Beam if you like exciting fiction, science and gadgets, mystery, plots and schemes, and big questions. You’ll also like it if you enjoy thrillers, politics, or political thrillers.
Cursed is without question the Starter Library’s darkest tale. It’s straight horror, about a man perpetually running, not only from the pursuer who has been seeking him for over 100 years, but also from the deadly monster inside himself.
If you like terror, blood and dark themes that might keep you up at night (and might make you wonder what monsters you may have inside yourself), Cursed is your book.
Robot Proletariat, Episode One (Philosophical Sci-Fi)
We sometimes describe Robot Proletariat — also written in serial format, like The Beam — as “Downton Abbey with robots,” but we wouldn’t want you to misunderstand and think that means it’s a flippant, gonzo series. While there are elements of Robot Proletariat that are deliberately absurd in service of humor (sexbots), the series as a whole is thoughtful and human … despite most of the book’s heroes not being human at all.
The Beam and Robot Proletariat are both science fiction, but with very different flavors. If The Beam is hard sci-fi, we’d probably think of this one as much softer. It’s about a wealthy family’s servants and the way they choose to face the threat of obsolescence — and the threat that the humans, who value organic life over artificial life, might one day simply dispose of their increasingly conscious souls.
Robot Proletariat has action, plots, and duplicity, but also heart and humor. If you don’t usually consider yourself a sci-fi person but enjoyed films like Gattaca or Her, this one might be for you.
(But we totally think traditional sci-fi readers will like it too.)
Vengeance is the most action-driven and violent story we’ve written to date. It’s kung-fu speed with razor edges. It’s a trippy thrill ride through a day in the life of a man who has finally broken … who has turned from his highly trained but mostly peaceful life among a warrior order of Shadow Monks to exact an unstoppable spree of bloody revenge.
Vengeance is told in reverse chronological order, like Memento. You’ll watch as the reasons for Amit’s bloody rampage become clear, and follow him as he charges one-by-one through his enemies with his hands up and the occasional blade out.
We think you’ll like Vengeance if you enjoy action and don’t mind it getting messy. (And paradoxically, we also think you’ll fall in love with our monk Amit as he goes on his deadly rounds. We gave him the hands of an assassin, and the Dalai Lama affable demeanor.)
Everyone Gets Divorced, Episode One (Relationship-Based Comedy)
The designation “episode” in this one’s title may lead you to believe that this is a serial like Robot Proletariat and The Beam, but in reality Everyone Gets Divorced and the two comedies to follow are much more like “sitcoms” than serials. With a true serial, you really should never miss an episode lest you miss something important. But with sitcoms, order matters far, far less. You’re just here for the LOLs, and while there is an overarching narrative, it matters far less than that week’s lulz.
Everyone Gets Divorced has been described as How I Met Your Mother meets It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. It’s raunchy and wrong at the same time as it’s sweet and friendly. If you liked either of the sitcoms just listed (or Friends, or New Girl, or any other sitcom where relationships and friendships clash), you’ll enjoy watching as our hero Archer’s marriage is slowly ruined by his well-meaning group of friends who can’t help being the total assholes they are.
Space Shuttle, Episode One (Nerd Comedy)
Space Shuttle is a “written sitcom” series just like EGD above, but its style of humor is different. We’d very (very) affectionately refer to it as “nerd comedy” or “geek comedy” or any other type of comedy wherein readers/viewers/listeners aren’t at all ashamed of how esoteric the work’s pop culture in-jokes are.
Space Shuttle tells the story of Sloan, a do-nothing human who gets stranded on a planetoid in deep space known for its gambling and prostitution. The setup basically gives us an excuse (being nerds ourselves) to toss all kinds of copyrighted-but-obscured pop culture space references into the mix. But despite this, we and our lawyers emphatically deny that the characters who appear in Space Shuttle have anything to do with Jabba the Hut, Han Solo, the xenomorph from Alien, General Zod, the predator from Predator, E.T., the ack-ack aliens from Mars Attacks, or anything else that might get us sued.
You’ll like Space Shuttle if you’re a pop culture dork who’s always wondered what would happen if Jean-Luc Picard ever ran into Yoda. (Not that either of them appear in the story, of course.)
Greens follows the staff of a Greens supermarket — a high-end organic shop that opened where it is before the neighborhood went bad — as they go about their inappropriate businesses. Primarily, the action centers on Dylan — an entrepreneurially minded checker who decides that the best way to make some extra cash would be to sell weed … but who doesn’t actually want to do anything illegal. So, knowing that 90 percent of marketing is about perception, Dylan makes his own non-narcotic pot substitute from scraps he finds around the store, tries to sell it … and soon finds himself with a hit on his hands, much to the chagrin of the local drug gangs.
We let ourselves go with Greens, shoving in every stupid thing we can think of. If anything in our catalog proves that we are secretly horrible people, this is it. It also proves most directly that, given his druthers, Sean would simply write about weed all day long. You’ll enjoy Greens if you’re as disrespectful and inappropriate as we’re apparently capable of being.
So that’s it! Your introductory tour of the Realm & Sands Starter Library. Every one of the books above is fun, and if you’re the right type of person for a given title, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll enjoy it. We know there’s a fair chance you won’t enjoy everything. That’s okay. You have options.
Happy reading. We’re glad to have you as a Realm & Sands Outlaw!