We’re thrilled to host Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine as our May Featured Authors. The couple penned the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series and both have long been a prolific social networkers and proponents of steampunk.

Morris began his writing career with his 2002 historical epic fantasy, MOREVI The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. He then appeared in Dragon Moon Press’ 2003 release, The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy. 2004 saw the releases of The Case of The Singing Sword: A Billibub Baddings Mystery and The Fantasy Writer’s Companion. It was in 2005 when his idea — podcasting a novel — established him as a pioneer in the Social Media movement, becoming the first author to podcast a book in its entirety. That experience led to the founding of Podiobooks.com (with Evo Terra and Chris Miller), the premier site for podcast literature.

Morris took his collaboration with Evo Terra to print in Podcasting for Dummies (featuring Chuck Tomasi in the Second Edition) and its follow-up, Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies (also with Ryan Williams). Along with those titles, he has penned and collaborated on Legacy of MOREVI: Book One of the Arathellean Wars, BenBella Books’s Farscape Forever: Sex, Drugs, and Killer Muppets, the podcast anthology VOICES: New Media Fiction (edited by Mur Lafferty), and in BenBella Books’ So Say We All: Collected Thoughts and Opinions of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

His other podcasts and blogposts can be found across the Internet and at imaginethatstudios.com and teemorris.com. His current projects include the podcast anthology Tales from the Archives; and The Shared Desk (www.theshareddesk.com), writerly musings alongside his wife, Pip.

Philippa Ballantine earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Political Science and then a Bachelor of Applied Science in Library and Information Science. She soon enough she found herself working in the magical world of libraries where she stayed for over a decade.

Her first professional sale was in 1997, and since then she has gone on to produce mostly novel length fiction. In 2006 she became New Zealand’s first podcast novelist, and she has voiced and produced Weaver’s Web, Chasing the Bard, Weather Child and Digital Magic as podiobooks. Her podcasts have been short listed for the Parsec Awards, and won a Sir Julius Vogel award.

Philippa is the author of the Books of the Order series with Ace- Geist and Spectyr out now, and Wrayth (2012) and Harbinger to follow. She is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with Tee Morris. Phoenix Rising debuted in May 2011 and The Janus Affair will be out in May 2012. She also has the Shifted World series with Pyr Books, with the first book Hunter and Fox coming in June 2012.

When not writing or podcasting, Philippa loves reading, gardening, and whenever possible traveling. With her husband Tee and her daughter, she is looked after by a mighty clowder of five cats.

First up for review is the beginning of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, Phoenix Rising. Thanks, Tee and Pip, for supporting LitStack!


Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
Harper Voyager
ISBN-10: 0062049763

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In a recent editorial in Clarkesworld Magazine, novelist Elizabeth Bear calls out a growing trend in science fiction and fantasy: a lack of humor and optimism. She’s not alone. My twitter feed has been buzzing of late with comments and articles in a similar vein. Many reference George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire as one of the earliest examples of this trend, though some claim these genres have been growing more darker and more cynical for decades. This flavor of fantasy works just fine for many, the dystopias and the despair like a shot of bourbon in your healing potion. But for some, enough is enough.

Enter Phoenix Rising, the first novel in Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. Though the premise of a covert intelligence agency operating out of a steampunked London is intriguing, it was the language itself that struck me the most about this book. From the opening pages there is a sense of whimsy to the writing, as though the authors were too caught up in the enjoyment of their creation to be weighed down with so much of the aforementioned existential angst and gritty modernism of current genre fiction. This is science fiction that flashes a big grin at the reader, turns a sly wink, and then goes right back to its narrative with vigor and joy.

Though the humor does strain one’s credulity at times, in particular the “the brains and the brawn” characters being named “Books and Braun” respectively, and the characterization does find itself a bit lacking in depth, overall the plot is well executed. The gadgets the two agents employ are clever and fit the logic of their world, and the scheme they must thwart is, without giving away too much of the game, both diabolical and engaging. I look forward to seeing the further adventures of this duo in their next novel, The Janus Affair.



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