Book Review: Jiao Tu's Endeavor, ep.1


The blurb:

On a multigenerational colony ship five hundred years off course, a lagomorph warrior must survive using only his wits and his sword.

Jiao Tu has been hired to rescue a young kidnapped mousling. A tip leads him to the Below, home to the engines that keep the world in motion. His mission has hardly begun when an encounter with a monstrous being plunges him into the midst of a struggle not only for control of the Below but for the world itself.

Teamed with an untested ratling warrior and the ratling leader of a gang of thugs, Jiao Tu must stop the monster and save the mousling—and the world—before it is too late.

Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Leigh Brackett’s planetary romances, Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Long Sun, Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories, Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, and the wuxia tradition starting with Water Margins and Journey to the West, Uitvlugt has created a world all his own that promises a far-future adventure unlike any other.

The second entry in Periapsis Press’s Summer Indie Spotlight!

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt’s bodyguard bunny channels a lot of classic wandering hero/ronin energy into a setting that is intriguing, mysterious, full of danger and sometimes weird.

This is more than capable prose with great characters and action, in a fresh voice with an tinge of the old school.


What a great example of a story whose plot is driven by the characters and factions, while still being tied to the fate of the world at large. It feels close and personal, and yet the threat of possibly world-changing danger looms. Are our heroes destined and able to affect the fate of their seedship, or is their mere survival the best we can hope for, as the world around them runs its course?

In part because Uitvlugt wrote this in bite-sized serial chunks, the pace is fast and the plot is tight enough to shut out the endless cold of space. It’s an effortless read that maintains depth while getting straight to the point.


Jiao Tu is an immediately likeable wandering hero. His martial competence is unquestionable, yet many situations can’t be solved with mere violence and so his honor, integrity and social skills come into play as well. I’m intrigued to learn more about his past, his relationship to the sentient sword Black Fang (collectible replica please?), and the history of the wayward colony ship that resulted in the creation of all these colorful characters.

The supporting cast is varied and everyone has their own believable motivations. No one is relegated to two dimensions or upstaged by their fellows. Everyone plays their own part.

Of particular interest is the relationship between Jiao Tu and Farrah going forward, connected as they are by some various mysteries.


Again, excellent prose in a bit of a heightened voice that recalls classic hero tales without being archaic. Structure is on point and greatly benefitted from the serial mode, in my opinion.

Try as I might, I simply couldn’t think of the obligatory minor flaw to comment on. I suppose for my own tastes the inter-factional dramas are not the greatest points of interest, but they’re so entangled with the world-building - and I sense the series arc - that obviously it’s not something that could be changed. In other words this is a shining example of the kind of story it is.

Grab your copy today, comment on Periapsis Press’s review for a chance to win a print copy, and test your lagomorph mettle against the denizens of the Below!

Summer Indie Spotlight - Excerpt from Dawn of the Broken Sword!


The Summer Indie Spotlight continues at Periapsis Press!

Check this excerpt from Kit Sun Cheah's new cyberpunk/cultivation novel and treat yourself to a copy today. It's really good and I reviewed it on all my sites. Enjoy!

Author Tools - AI cover art - state of the tech

 Cover art is one of the biggest barriers to entry in the indie author space. It runs from cheap to unobtainably expensive, from terrible to transcendent. Everyone has different tastes and visions, and opinions on style run the gamut.

But everyone agrees on one thing - it matters and it has to be good.

One of my biggest challenges and points of growth has been to understand and accept that covers that get a response on the market may not be what I prefer to see. At least in the affordable space.

Thus, when I saw indications that art AIs had ‘leveled up’ since the last time I played with one, I deemed it time to run some experiments.

I’ll start with a summary of my personal preference. I like illustrated art that depicts a scene from the book, or something close to one. The prime example of this is Michael Whelan’s cover for Sanderson’s Way of Kings. This is a book I bought because of the cover, when the blurb may not have been enough to convince me and I did not yet know the author.

Obviously this quality of art is out of reach for a beginner author, and I am not the only indie who has attempted to access the illustrated style by getting the best I could afford.

I spent the third most amount on this illustration of all my books, and it’s the best of the bunch overall, so far. It also had the greatest reception of all my illustrated covers. Nevertheless you can see (or at least I can see) a few issues. The pyramid ship is incorrectly scaled, and the Krashmobile is far too small compared to its description in book. Still, the picture gets the point across, and the colors are engaging. Could I have fixed my issues with it, or added more characters to the scene? Sure, but I couldn’t increase the budget.

General wisdom is, if you can’t afford an illustrated cover where one would be appropriate, get a photo real composite. Some indies approximate this by using 3D renders. In general, I dislike both and they do not draw me in.

While these are decent quality examples of both styles, something about them just turns me off. Would not click. That said, someone would, and people do. Thus, authors like myself must figure out how to meet our prospective readers where they are. For me, this has meant practicing my design skills and deciding how to source affordable images.

Enter AI.

Roughly two years ago I played some with Artbreeder, before they locked it down and started pushing their pricing tiers a little harder. In general, it did not produce art I found suitable for covers. But I did get a small set of abstract sci-fi pieces that I was willing to use if it came to it.

I’d say these are somewhere between old school and obviously indie, and frankly don’t leave too much to be desired other than giving off a more chill vibe than the books actually possess. So far as I saw, this is the best Artbreeder could do for our purposes. A pattern begins to emerge, however - the colors and overall vibe are spectacular.

Having left AI alone for some time, I was pleased to see recent posts by people using things like Midjourney and Dall-E 2. I also came across DiscoDiffusion, which can be accessed for free but takes some fiddling.

Without access to Dall-E 2, I’ve only been able to test the others.

Here are some tests with Disco Diffusion. Two are attempts at a photo real but stylized Bloodbane cover, with Castlevania art as an init. There’s one where I tried to get it to isolate a cyberpunk building for game art purposes, and then a general cyborg concept.

You can see the big weakness here is humanoids. Proportions, faces, angles. Everything is off. You can get the AI to do decent portraits, but generally we won’t find those useful for cover art.

Disco just couldn’t figure out how to portray my lumberjack warrior, nor could it really grasp where the axe should be incorporated. That’s to say nothing of trying to get it to render him using a polesaw as a weapon. On that the AI was just clueless, since there is no precedent for that in its trained images.

Once again, the color palette and vibes are beyond excellent. If the covers didn’t need to be coherent, these would be very close to serving their purpose.

Which brings us to Midjourney, which you may have seen me playing with on Twitter.

For reference, here are my two illustrated Hero’s Metal covers, which I love very much for what they are.

But I have to be honest - they do not fit in with what else is on the market. Would I click them? Absolutely. But not enough other people are. In the absence of an $800+ illustration, we need something photo real.

Now we’re talking. Abstractness remains, but the machine’s ability to generate realism while also stylizing has come a long way. You can see the emblem style is the most focused, while the landscape is the most beautiful.

As usual, colors and vibe are the best elements. But the AI’s sense of lighting has greatly improved, we made use of style matching, and the sense of photo realism has greatly improved. Book 4 in particular is still in iteration, but I wanted to include it as an example of what we can do with multiple generations and compositing, for posterity.

Here are two more pieces I generated, for stories I concepted in tandem with the prompts:

I consider this level of art more than usable, and in fact have updated Hero’s Metal 1 and 2 on Amazon. We will see if they generate more clicks/buys. In any case, the reception on Twitter was great, so I’m taking that as a good sign.

I’ve signed up for the Dall-E 2 access, and will report if and when I can. I will also follow up with tips for prompting such AI, should there prove sufficient interest.

The verdict then, for now, is that emblems, landscapes, and somewhat abstract pieces are generate-able and usable. Be aware that it takes some playing with the AI, which means subscribing to one, which means paying out. But I’ve got at least 4 covers here for a much more than reasonable price.

While we would all much prefer to pay talented, working artists in our circles for amazing and beautiful cover illustrations, I think this route for our cover art is not something we can easily ignore.

Questions? Critique? Hit me up!

And click on those beautiful covers above to buy Hero’s Metal and all my other fantasy adventures.

The Mythos Project, or Conservative Retellings

  With the rise of big tech censorship and open calls to silence voices that do not agree with the zeitgeist, I’ve been slowly coming to a p...