Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Guest Blog by Robert Brockway and Review of The Empty Ones

Please welcome Robert Brockway to The Qwillery. The Empty Ones, the 2nd novel in the Vicious Circuit trilogy, was published on August 30th by Tor Books.

Let's Get Metaphysical, Baby

The last time I was here, I arrogantly hinted that The Unnoticeables -- my stupid little horror/fantasy series about drunken punk rockers fighting cosmic monsters -- might actually contain the secret of life. In my defense, I never thought I would have to follow up on that statement, and I was also almost certainly high at the time. But now I’m releasing the sequel to that book, The Empty Ones (in fact, it’s the second book in a trilogy called the Vicious Circuit, so I might even have to answer for what I say here again next year) and it turns out the bastards at The Qwillery actually remembered my sky-high promises and called me out on them.

Fine, then.

Here’s how the Vicious Circuit trilogy is not just about punks and amateur stuntwomen fighting off extra-dimensional parasites that feed on human essence (as if that’s not enough?), but also a reflection on what life really is, and what it means to the universe:

First, I’m going to have to clarify how the villains in the series operate. There are a few different types of ‘monsters’ in the books, though they’re all byproducts from a single source: The Angels.

They’re not actually angels, but they manifest as brilliant, serene white balls of light that emanate a sound a little bit like music. You could be forgiven for mistaking them as heavenly. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll see sinister things churning inside the light. If you listen harder, you’ll notice that’s not singing -- it’s more like distant screaming. They’re uh… they’re not friendly.

The Angels don’t see the universe like we do. They see the code behind the universe. Everything can be represented mathematically. It may take forever, it may involve impossibly intricate algorithms, but even if you have to map out the exact location, status, and movement of every single atom, it can be done. The angels look at a thing and don’t just see the end result; they also see the functional code that makes it.

Ordinarily, this is fine: Rocks be rocks, code or not. But life – especially sentient life – is complicated. No two human beings are alike. In fact, no human being is even alike to themselves, just moments ago, or moments from now. We’re constantly changing, and not in a reasonable, predictable way dictated by scientific formula. We love this about ourselves. We think it makes us unique. The angels hate it. They think we’re a mess. They look at humanity, and all they see is sloppy code. Redundancies, contradictions, irrelevant tangents – we’re a programmer’s nightmare.

Humanity is a problem, mathematically speaking. An inefficiently expressed formula. And the Angels can solve us. They reach in and simplify our code, using triggers from our own life experiences to collapse inefficient notation into a neater form. If they do their job just right, a human being will disappear entirely, leaving behind base energy that the Angels can then use toward a better purpose. Preserving a mountain on Mars. Boosting the magnetosphere of a small moon. Fueling a dying star. You know, something meaningful -- to the universe at large.

But if they don’t do their jobs perfectly, the problem (that used to be a human being) leaves behind remainders. Waste products. Our baser, primal urges made manifest:

A Tar Man, a being of pure destruction with no thought, no drive, no larger goal other than to kill what’s in front of it.

And an Empty One: an immortal shell that still looks human, but lacks that lifetime of “irrelevant,” or “contradictory” human experiences. In short, they’re psychopaths. Morality, empathy, and compassion are meaningless terms to them.

These byproducts are just garbage to the Angels. An unfortunate side effect. But the side effects don’t know that: All they know is that an other-dimensional being appeared and transformed their whole being. And like all of us, they want to believe big things happen for a reason.

So the Empty Ones have faith in the Angels. Their way must be the right way. Humanity must be solved. And The Empty Ones try to help, as best they can: They corral and control the Tar Men, only unleashing them as a destructive force when it furthers the cause. The Empty Ones also find out they have a little remnant of the Angel’s power left within them. They, too, can simplify a human being. But they don’t have the awareness, so can’t solve anything. They can only take away. Striving to emulate their gods, the Empty Ones create Unnoticeables – human beings that have been partially emptied of their essence, but with no “angelic” touch. They’re not immortal, they have no powers; they don’t have much of anything at all, actually. If you look at them head on, your mind just glazes over their faces. You forget them even as you’re talking to them. It’s like they’re not even there. It helps to move amongst humanity in secret.

So you see, each monster isn’t just a scary enemy to be conquered; it’s also a question we desperately need an answer to:

Is sentience a gift, or a curse? Is thought and free will productive, if all we use it for is helping ourselves? What is the value of a life? Is a single human life worth, say, that mountain on Mars? That mountain is massive. It has stood for millions of years. A human being is small, and fleeting. How, exactly, is a human being more important? If we’re just a collection of experiences and reactions, does that leave room for something indefinably special, like a soul? What happens to us if we lose those experiences, those reactions? What do we become? Is there a god, or gods? What qualifies them as gods? And perhaps more worryingly, if there are gods, are we sure they define things the same way that we do? Does “good” mean “morally correct,” or does “good” mean “useful”? Does evil mean “a desire to cause harm,” or does it simply mean “without purpose”?

So anyway, I hope you can see how my stupid punk rock fantasy book about drunks and monsters is actually a meditation on the nature of life, and what it means to the universe.

Ha, eat it, Qwillery! You thought you had me, but you forgot one thing: I went to college for an English degree – I am literally a certified bullshitter.

The Empty Ones
Series:  Vicious Circuit 2
Publisher:  Tor Books, August 30, 2016
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages
List Price:  US$24.99 (print); US$11.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765379689 (print); 9781466869318 (eBook)

1977 was a bad year for Carey: The NYC summer was brutally hot, he barely made rent on his apartment, and most of his friends were butchered by a cult that worships the quantum angel he helped give birth to. He needs a vacation. You know where there’s supposed to be a killer punk scene? London. Oh, plus the leader of the aforementioned murderous cult is building an army there in an attempt to solve the world, once and for all. Time to mix business with pleasure. Along the way, maybe he’ll make some friends that won’t try to kill him, or even meet a nice girl who eats angels for supper and can kick a man in half. 1978 is looking better already…

2013 was a bad year for Kaitlyn, too: LA was distinctly unkind to her aspirations towards a career in stunt work, she hooked up with her childhood crush—a B-list celebrity heartthrob named Marco—and he turned out to be an immortal psychopath trying to devour her soul, and she accidentally killed the angel Marco and his bizarre cult worshipped. Now she’s on the run through the American Southwest. She heard Marco’s filming a new show in Mexico, though, so all she has to do is cross the border, navigate a sea of acidic sludge monsters, and find a way to kill an unkillable monster before he sacrifices her and her friends to his extra-dimensional god. Nobody said a career in the entertainment industry would be easy.

Following on the heels of his hilarious and horrifying novel The Unnoticeables, Robert Brockway’s The Empty Ones is like any good punk band: just when you think it can’t get any louder, they somehow turn it up a notch. It’s terrifying and hilarious, visceral and insane, chaotic and beautiful.

Qwill's Thoughts

The Empty Ones is the 2nd novel in the Vicious Circuit trilogy by Robert Brockway after The Unnoticeables. The Empty Ones follows Carey, Kaitlyn, Jackie, and Merryll from alternating points of view and several time periods and places (late 70s, mid 80s, late 90s, and 2013 in primarily London and Mexico). There are additional returning characters from the first novel as well.

Carey, who is for me, the most main character of the main characters is a tragi-comic anti-hero. He's alternatingly (depending on the era) deep in punk rock culture or an aging punk. He's an alcoholic as well. No matter when or where, his life has been changed by his knowledge of Tar Men, the Unnoticeables, the Empty Ones, and Angels (who are extremely nasty mathematicians in a way).  These otherworldly horrors have designs on humankind. Despite his many many many flaws, Carey has never shies away from trying to protect his friends and destroy the things hurting them. He's neither entirely likable nor entirely unlikable. That really depends on what he's doing.

Kaitlyn is a waitress and a sometime stuntwoman in L.A. She's seen an Angel before the events in The Unnoticeables (book 1) during which she meets Carey. After the events of the first novel Kaitlyn's life is still in danger. Carey, Kaitlyn and Kaitlyn's best friend Jackie are on the run. But Kaitlyn would rather run to a fight than from it.

Carey is a one-man crusade. Kaitlyn may be the person to save everyone. They make an interesting ever surprising pair. They are defending the world from the unspeakable. I am very, very worried.

Brockway lays out more of the history of the Unnoticeables, Empty Ones etc. in this novel in the form of Tub who Carey meets in London. It's a well thought out and engaging history and fleshes things out quite a bit.

There is a tremendous amount of violence and gore in The Empty Ones. This just serves to drive home the over the top brutality and lack of humaness of those Carey and Kaitlyn are up against. The Empty Ones is a fever dream of horror and fantasy infused with punk rock, blood and guts, and humor. Its atypical heroes will keep you enthralled, wincing and cheering.

Note:  Start with the first novel, The Unnoticeables.


The Unnoticeables
Vicious Circuit 1
Tor Books, June 21, 2016
Trade Paperback, 288 pages
Hardcover and eBook, July 7, 2015

From Robert Brockway, Sr. Editor and Columnist of comes The Unnoticeables, a funny and frightening urban fantasy.

There are angels, and they are not beneficent or loving. But they do watch over us. They watch our lives unfold, analyzing us for repeating patterns and redundancies. When they find them, the angels simplify those patterns and remove the redundancies, and the problem that is "you" gets solved.
Carey doesn't much like that idea. As a punk living in New York City, 1977, Carey is sick and tired of watching strange kids with unnoticeable faces abduct his friends. He doesn't care about the rumors of tar-monsters in the sewers or unkillable psychopaths invading the punk scene—all he wants is to drink cheap beer and dispense ass-kickings.

Kaitlyn isn't sure what she's doing with her life. She came to Hollywood in 2013 to be a stunt woman, but last night a former teen heartthrob tried to eat her, her best friend has just gone missing, and there's an angel outside her apartment. Whatever she plans on doing with her life, it should probably happen in the few remaining minutes she has left.

There are angels. There are demons. They are the same thing. It's up to Carey and Kaitlyn to stop them. The survival of the human race is in their hands.
We are, all of us, well and truly screwed.

About Robert

ROBERT BROCKWAY is the author of The Unnoticeables and The Empty Ones (books 1 and 2 of the Vicious Circuit) and is a Senior Editor and columnist for He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife Meagan and their two dogs, Detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. He has been known, on occasion, to have a beard. Visit him online at

Twitter @Brockway_LLC

Facebook  ~  Goodreads


The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a copy of the THE EMPTY ONES by Robert Brockway from the publisher. US / CANADA ONLY

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below. Note that comments are moderated.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on September 15, 2016. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Loved the first book, am super stoked to read this one! Punk rock never gets a fair go in today's modern world but this series scratches that itch for me. Keep up the good work man

  2. Thanks for this captivating and fascinating giveaway.

  3. The Unnoticeables sounds like a fantastic read!

  4. I commented twice already, but I guess they didn't work. Third time's a charm? I need more books like the Unnoticeables in my life!