Category Archives: Alternate Universe Stories

Publishing Wrap-up 2016 and Five Scifi Selections for 2017

IMG_0174January has certainly gotten off to a contentious start. How does that affect book sales? I would imagine that readers are turning on the television to get the latest incendiary news distortion or taking to the streets to loudly voice their opinions…

…rather than quietly reading.

Kristine Rusch has a lengthy blog that talks about Indie publishing as a business and some current trends. She discusses the fact that sales were down in 2016 and the reasons why. Publishers say there was no breakout novel. Election noise took away reading time. The ebook publishing business is leveling off.

My sales were good until November, and then, I also saw a downturn. I’m seeing it in January, but I’m blaming politics and a lack of marketing enthusiasm. I’m a bit burnt out on marketing at the moment. I need to catch up on my writing and fill up the piggy bank because having the necessary funds to see you over the down part only makes good business sense.

She mentions that also. Here’s the blog: http://kriswrites.com/2017/01/18/business-musings-2016-disappointments/

January is one of the most fun months of the year for my blog because I get to select books to read for the year. Sometimes a book doesn’t meet the publication date (Thorn of Emberlain ) and sometimes I decide the book isn’t up to my standards and don’t mention it. (Split Second) However, it’s a way to prime the pump and get enthusiastic about reading. I have found lately that good science fiction is hard to find. There’s a mishmash of books out there but very little in the “got to read” category.

Anyway here’s my next five:

all-the-birds-in-the-sky1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. I keep seeing this on recommended lists. I have avoided it because I really don’t like apocalyptic novels. They tend to be downers rather than contain interesting science. There’s always a struggle with the environment, and too often zombies show up. But this is about a young girl who is involved in magic. A long ago geek friend she knows from Middle School gets back with her. Also, it takes place in San Francisco, and I lived in the Bay area for eight years. So, it’s on the list.

2. The Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn: I’ve been waiting on this one. I’ve read the previous books in the series (Elementals) so I know I will like this. (Rubs hands together)the-last-year

unquiet-land3. The Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson. New release. Time travel. Amazon best list. Charles Wilson (Spin) I’m in.

4. The Traitor ‘s Blade by Sebastien De Castell: Peter who works in Powell’s at Cedar Crossing has been their science fiction expert for a long time. He’s the liason for our Science Fiction Book Club. He knows his stuff, and when I whined about wanting a good book, he stuck this in my hand. Of course, I bought it and put it on the list.traitors-blade

5. Night Without Stars by Peter Hamilton. A hardback library find. Well, I’d actually been seeing this on a few a-night-without-starsrecommended lists. I’ve read earlier novels in the series also. It’s a big book which means it will take a while to read, but this is a far future space opera, and I’m ready for that.

By the way…don’t forget the second season of the Expanse starts on television tomorrow night February 1, Syfy channel. Watch that rather than the political insanity. Or, maybe the politics of the future there will look frightening familiar, and you can get a two-for-one.

the-expanse-620x412

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A Science Fiction Time Travel Series

IMG_9503Discounting or offering your book free…does it work as a marketing strategy?

When casting about as to what book to suggest for this week’s blog, I wandered over to my Kindle app to see what I had stashed in my library there.

Lately, a number of websites have emerged that offer free or discounted books. Every day I get an e-mail from Bookbub, Sweetfreebooks, Ebook Daily Kindle Freebi , and now Bookdaily. I also receive a number of Indie books asking for reviews. I specify the genre science fiction and fastasy, and that’s what appears in the e-mails. If I find a book that looks intriguing, I put it on my Kindle “shelf” for future reading.

When I went to look for this week’s suggestion, I was surprised at the number of books that I had accumulated. I picked out a few that had interesting covers and blurbs and started to read. After several chapters, a few didn’t engage me; so I moved on.

I think a lot of readers are finding new authors this way. It’s also a great way to introduce an interesting series at a reasonable price. If you have an author you love and know you’ll like the story, then go ahead and go retail. Sometimes, you want that book now, and you have the funds to indulge yourself. After all, Starbucks coffee is over $4.00 for a fifteen minute drink, and no one thinks twice about that, it seems…at least in my family. Or if you like that paperback, hardback feel, then click on that cart icon and bring happiness into your life. But for those new books that you’re not sure of, this is a way to winnow out those that match your taste from those that don’t when you’re not sure. And discover something new.

Time Travels of the 1800 ClubSo, when my brother requested a recommendation on a time travel book, I sorted through the time travel books at Amazon and latched on to a few. Slipped them on my “kindle shelf.” I kept an eye out for books in my e-mails from the various specials that involved time travel. Those I set on my “reading shelf.” A few days ago, I selected a few, opened up several, and sampled them. After plowing through a number of eBooks, I found a series that I’m now enjoying and want to recommend.

Time Travel Adventures of the 1800 Club by Robert P. McAuley has a very H. G. Wells flavor to it. It’s 2011, but a group of people dress up periodically to attend a dinner party to pretend for a night that it’s 1800. The rules state that you must stay in character the whole evening. Those that don’t are soon asked to leave.

Bill Scott enjoys his evenings at the club and is a stickler for keeping the verisimilitude of the 1800s. Then, the organizer of the club asks Bill to stay after and over drinks reveals that the club is a recruiting mechanism for time travelers. Their purpose is to travel back in time and repair events that are threatening to stray off the true historical path.

Bill’s first adventure is to disguise himself as Abraham Lincoln and give the Gettysburg Address. Seems Lincoln’s depression and drinking made him unreliable, and history needed the impact of the speech. So, off he goes.Time Travels of the 1800 bk 2

I use a similar idea in my first book, Caught in Time when I send Rowyna back to the Medieval Ages in order to make sure that certain events take place and keep the future intact.

Time Travel Adventures continues episodically with various famous people and events helped by the 1800 club. Not only 2011 becomes involved, but future travelers from 2066 visit to assign certain tasks to the members. Soon enough, Bill Scott takes over the leadership role of the club and is surprised to meet a future relative who confides that his family runs the club from then on out.

Time Travel Adventures of the 1800 club bk3The first book is free at Amazon. Much like Hugh Howey, the stories range around 157 pages and the subsequent episodes cost $1.99. There are quite a slew of them if you become an avid fan, and the reviews are good.

McAuley does a nice job with the story, providing an entertaining series based around time travel. He writes in a clear clean style. If you want gut wrenching emotion, so far I haven’t experienced it, but the situations and events are interesting and for time travel enthusiasts, it’s worth a peek.

 

 

 

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Dimensional time in science fiction

Image 2 Serendipity. A copy of Keith Laumer’s Imperium came to hand just as a friend suggested him as a favorite science fiction author. I’d heard of him, but  never got around to reading him.

Now was a good time.

Many established authors, or their estate, are reviving their stories by bundling them together, adding on a bright new cover and reissuing their work. Imperium is a three story  collection.

Keith first published “Worlds of the Imperium” in the science fiction magazine, “Fantastic Stories” as a serial from February to April 1961. Many authors used short stories or serialized their fiction in magazines to build a fan base back in the day. (Some still do) In 1962, he released the novel in an Ace-Double Day edition.

The second story in this novel, “The Other Side of Time” was also serialized in “Fantastic”  in 1965, while “Assignment in Nowhere” was published by Berkley in 1968.

Interestingly, Baen books picked up his rights and put all three together and printed them in paperback in August 2012. Keith is no longer alive, but now his writing survives to a new generation of science fiction fans.

In Imperium, time travel and twisted reality deliver a fast-paced action thriller.

ImperiumUnited States diplomat Brion Baynard gets kidnapped. But it isn’t an ordinary kidnapping. He’s taken and transported to an alternate universe with a timeline similar to Earth, but just a shade different in its history. There he confronts the current leaders of the Imperium:  Hermann Goering, Manfred Rittmeister and Friherr von Richthofen. The Imperium comprises the major portion of the civilized world: North America, West Hemisphere, Australia, etc. This iteration of history has a Maxoni-Cocini field generator transporter that allows travel across timelines.

And each timeline is a little different. Turns out there are countless parallel Earths, each different, and more uninhabitable worlds, destroyed by the misuse of cross time travel…along with some inhabited by human variations.

Not all friendly..

Baynard soon learns the reason for his kidnapping…he looks identical to the enemy’s top evil dictator, also named Brion Baynard, and the plan is to insert him into this twin’s residence where he is tasked  to assassinate him and take his place.

The plan goes awry.

The target is out of town and Brion gets caught up with a subversive underground resistance causing the plot to thicken.

This is a good old fashioned science fiction action thriller, even though the reader might be able to figure out what happens, it does provide an exciting story with some surprises.

If that’s your type of science fiction, then I recommend it. I happen to like action packed science fiction about time travel. Not so much alternate universes. However, the science and complexity of the alternate worlds is well thought out.

The second story, “The Other Side of Time,” continues Brion Baynard’s life in the alternate universe of the Imperium, where the net is a continuum of alternate world lines, a matrix of simultaneous reality.

Baynard has his dinner interrupted by an urgent call to the palace where he goes through a puzzling interrogation. As he leaves, an odd smell and activity attract him and he investigates. He finds human Neanderthal types called the Hagroon, who have discovered the time hopping technology and have infiltrated the lower levels of the Imperium Palace and are planning an attack to destroy this world.

Of course, Baynard wants to stop them, and he tries to disable the multi car contraption, only to be taken back to their world and captured.

In prison there, he meets Field Agent Dzok, captured from another timeline and of an even more alien/human appearance.  The two plot an escape and end up on Dzok’s home world. From there it’s an adventure in traversing various worlds in attempt to get home in time to stop the attack by using time travel.

IMG_0174I would give Imperium four stars because of the interesting time travel and fast paced action. Character development, of all but Baynard, is traded off for the complicated  plot. The point of view is first person, so everything happens through Baynard’s eyes, and you don’t even get  a good idea of what he looks like.

Still, it’s fun to discover a popular classic, once and a while, and enjoy a good time travel novel.

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Steampunk: Yes and No.

IMG_9518One of the more popular genres, particularly here in the Northwest is Steampunk. This is a growing sub genre of science fiction that is getting a lot of attention. What actually is it? That’s subject for hot debate.

See this link for an idea:

http://etheremporium.pbworks.com/w/page/10454262/What%20is%20Steampunk

One of our own Northwestern writers is Mary Robinette Kowal whose series Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass and now her new novel, Without a Summer are considered in the Steampunk genre because of its Victorian flavor and scifi story.

Glamour in Glass

One of the main criteria for Steampunk is the Retro or Neo Victorian period of the novel. Usually there are factors of steam, (hence steam punk) or gears and levers in the technology. Many times dirigibles are used as travel and rebellion (hence punk) or a “grand adventure” is the plot.

The heroine or hero often is portrayed with leather helmet and round metallic glasses. Alternate history or time travel is used to arrive at the Victorian styled culture.

But what criteria makes a Steampunk novel is still being hotly debated.

AngelmakerEnter the novel Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway that I put on my list of to reads. An awesome cover with an intriguing title and the possibility of Steampunk drew me in. The writing started out rich and delicious. Joe Spork is a clockmaker in a Victorian styled world. He is happy fixing clocks in his lab tucked away in the city.

His father, Mathew Spork or “Tommy Gun,” now dead, was a notorious gangster and bits and pieces of the gang still linger about. One involves him in delivering an odd book that turns out to be a part of a doomsday device.

Also in the story is a retired international spy agent and spinster, Edie Banister.

The entire story is told in the third person present, which makes it sound like a manuscript for a screen play, i.e. “Joe Spork walks into the room and gazes about…”

Wore me out.

The initial dive into the novel was exhilarating, a quarter of a way through, I was  exhausted and put it down. The rich descriptions bogged down and the action struggled along. It had a cloud of Victorian haze over the story and I wasn’t sure what was going on…neither was Joe Spork.

If you are a Steampunk enthusiast, you may fair better. I was disappointed.

shipbreakerShip Breaker by Hugo and Nebula award winner Paolo Bacigalupi also skirts the boundaries of Steampunk. Often in Steampunk you find orphaned children and rebellion against the establishment. However, like his other novel, The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi also makes a strong comment on the environment. In this future, the seas have risen and drowned the coastal cities. Climate change has spawned “city killer” hurricanes.

The protagonist is Nailer, a teenage boy, who scavenges for copper amid the hulks of beached oil tankers. He struggles to meet his gang’s quota so that he can survive one more day. Off in the distance, he watches the clipper ships that use large high atmosphere balloons to pull them along at incredible speeds, and wishes that he could sail on them rather than scrounge in tight oily corridors of dead tankers.

One day he is reaching for a line of copper and falls into an oil pool and almost drowns. A teammate sees him, but abandons him, hoping to gather his “Lucky strike” for herself. This sets up the theme of loyalty in the face of adversity versus everyone for himself, let everyone else fall.

After a “killer hurricane” rips through the area, Nailer and his friend Pima comes across one of the beautiful clipper ships wrecked on coral from the storm. Excited at the rich find, Nailer also discovers a beautiful young daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate who is running from her father’s enemies and is badly hurt and trapped in the sailing ship. Nailer has to decide whether to let the daughter die and strip the ship of its luxuries, or save the “swank” girl and give up the claim to her as the rightful owner.

And even if he does that, he has to figure out how to keep it a secret from his drug addicted and brutal father who is definitely out for everything and anything he can get for himself.

Unbeknownst to him, there’s also an internal struggle within the powerful shipping company, and an assassin is out to kill or capture the young girl to protect other interests in the company.

ShipBreaker is a page turner and has several serious themes running through it.

Where it falls short is under the Young Adult category, so that while it has some violent action and important comments to make, you come away with the strong YA flavor to the novel.

Still, I couldn’t put it down.

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Past the Apocalypse

IMG_0165We made it! The world didn’t blow up. But in case you were eagerly awaiting the event, I thought to list a few science fiction novels that deal with the apocalypse.

That way if you’re disappointed, you can experience it and realize how lucky we are that it didn’t happen.

Whew! (wiping sweat from brow)

Next month, our science fiction readers group will be discussing The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I reviewed this post apocalyptic story back awhile and recommended it. You have to stick with it a bit at the beginning, but the final story will make you pause and think about what we are doing in the genetic world.51-7OEkk9nL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

And how dangerous fooling with mother nature can be if we’re not careful.

Another recent post apocalypse story is the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. This best selling science fiction trilogy takes place after worldwide disaster and deals with the lengths politicians will go to gain power and control. I have found that young women in their twenties to thirties are particularly avid about the story.  The twelve political districts are required each year to have a lottery to select two candidates (a boy and a girl) to enter the “games.” These candidates are pitted against each other and the survivor becomes a hero for the year. Makes for an interesting book on how twenty four people kill each other off.

On the BeachOn the Beach by Nevil Shute is a famous apocalyptic story that was made into a movie.

Here are few other well known disaster style novels that I have read and were recommended on several science fiction reading lists

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell

A Canticle for Leibowitz by George R. Stewart

Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt

I am Legend by Dean Koontz (also made into a movie)Lucifer's Hammer

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

The Last Light by Alex Scarrow

The Postman by David Brin (also a movie)The Postman

Happy Holidays to everyone. (today’s my birthday, so I’m going to run)

I’ll see you next week with a beginning list of science fiction books I plan to read for the New Year and an analysis of those I read this past year.

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Filed under Alternate Universe Stories, Alternate Universes, award winning scifi, Best selling science fiction, Classic science fiction, Disaster Fiction, Dystopia Earth, gene modification, genetic manipulation, Hugo winners, Hunger Games, modifying humans, Post Apocalyptic, Science Fiction book review

Crowdsourcing and Portal Fiction

IMG_0165Escaping into another dimension either through a looking glass, a wardrobe or a stargate is one way some authors present a unique world.

John Bunnel mentioned casually at our last science fiction book club a subgenre that I had never heard of:

Portal Fiction.

Immediately classic stories such as: Through the Looking Glass, Alice in Wonderland, The Witch, the Lion and the Wardrobe, and the Magician (which we were reading) sprung to mind.Alice in WonderlandThrough the Looking Glass

Then, I realized the stargate that is in Past the Event Horizon is a portal of sorts leading to an undiscovered world.

What else?

Stephen Donaldson in his The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever employs the portal fiction device using a white gold ring that takes a dying leper into a fantasy world where he becomes a powerful magician. The series became immensely popular back in the day, particularly the first three books. Check them out if you like big fantasy ala Lord of the Rings style.

Mirror of her DreamsHowever, it was his series, Mordant’s Need, with the first book being A Mirror of her Dreams and the final book, A Man Rides Through, that is the undiscovered surprise.A Man Rides Through

A mirror provides the portal for a young modern Manhattan girl to fall into a an exciting Medieval world where she pairs up with a faulty imager to try to defeat the evil wizard. Once again, the characters have issues, and once again, it’s hard to put the book down.

Against All Things EndingHis Into the Gap Series is also worth trying. The “last” in the Chronicle Series, was published fairly recently, called Against All Thing Ending. A warning that the reviews are mixed. I liked the first books best. But FYI.

Another tidbit that attracted my attention this past week is the startling different problem solving technique showcased on a recent Nova show of which I am fast becoming a fan. David Pogue is the narrator/guinea pig.

He recently talked about an addictive game called Foldit that was based on folding proteins. Hundred of thousands of individuals played the game and twittered each other through their computers to come up with some break through science in fighting disease through new protein configurations.crowds-1

htt://www.thesocialpath.com/2009/05/10-examples-of-crowdsourcing.html

The method is called crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a phenomenon that is getting some buzz and may provide a cure for Aids through game playing. Maybe. Possibly other diseases. Some are hopeful. See the above link for many other ways crowd sourcing is being used to: write a book, determine what music we hear, kickstart a project, map the cosmos, collect tips and advice and solve difficult science problems. Interesting…very interesting what they might use it for next.

Any ideas?

Maybe viral a blog?

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Filed under Alternate Universe Stories, Alternate Universes, Crowdsourcing, fantasy, Portal fiction

On science fiction book clubs

Sometimes I just have to get out and mingle with those who like the things I do.

Scary thought, I know.

Here I’m talking about book clubs…science fiction book clubs.

I found a congenial group at the famous Powell’s bookstore at Cedar Crossing outside of Portland, Oregon. Powells is very innovative and therefore appears to be thriving in this age of online book retailing, although they were selling books online even before Amazon was.

Immediately after Orycon, they set up a long table of local science fiction and fantasy authors who personally signed their books for any avid reader.

I was one.

It was a great event. The place was a buzz. Actually, it was mobbed.

Real life Star Wars characters showed up. Special deals were offered. A party atmosphere prevailed. Kids ran freely about laughing.

Now the thing about book clubs is that you have to read what the group picks. In the case of my mystery group, they picked Pashazade by Jon Grimwood and I discovered a great new author that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. It was science fiction, too.

Bonus.

Sometimes the choice is a book that you have already read. Last month we read Ready, Player One by Ernest Kline. (See my January blog) Luckily, I only had to skim over it and refresh my memory in order to add to the discussion.

This month the choice was The Magician by Lev Grossman. I saw the sequel, The Magician King, on Locus Online’s list of top fantasy books of 2011, so I was looking forward to reading the first in the series.

The story is about Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant but unhappy teenager. He is an odd duck with just a few friends. He becomes fascinated with a children’s fantasy series about a magical land called Fillory that makes his real life seem dull.

The first words in the book are, “Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.” In the beginning, Quentin is preparing for his college interview, but when he goes for the interview he unexpectedly ends up stumbling through unfamiliar woods onto the grounds of an elite secret college of magic. Rather like Harry Potter walking through the train station’s wall into another world and arriving at Hogwarts. After a rigorous testing and interview process among many other hopefuls, he does a magic trick that everyone does notice and he is one of very few admitted.

He feels that his dream has come true and Brakebill is where he was always meant to be. Quentin’s life at Brakebill College has a taste of Harry Potter and a touch of Narnia with a large dose of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. As Quentin learns all sorts of magic, he meets new friends and develops a romance with a talented young magician and student named Alice. (Yes, really) Eventually, he gets grouped with five other final grade student magicians called “the Physicals” because the do physical magic. Stuff happens.

After graduation, Quentin and Alice move in together and party dissolutely with the others Physicals back in “the real world” until one of Brakebill’s students, an on and off again friend of Quentin’s named Penny, burst in on them to announce that Fillory really does exists… in an alternate universe or on other plane of existence, and he has gone there. He wants to show them the way. The group from Brakebill decide to go, and after a few incidents, Quentin gets them to take off and plunge through the waters of the fountain to eagerly explore this exciting and wonderful land of his childhood fantasy stories.

But Fillory is no fairy world and is a  darker more dangerous place in real life than it was in the children’s fantasy books. The group meets several intriguing talking animal characters, giving the novel a touch of Narnia. They discover themselves in the middle of an ongoing war. The action amps up with a deadly showdown with evil inhabitants and Quentin almost dies. He searches out the Questing Beast at the end, with his final wish being to let him go home. And yet…being a financial adviser with shiny shoes looking out a high rise window isn’t what he wants either. So…

I leave you to find out what he chooses to do…for the sequel.

I enjoyed the story, but I expected more. So much more could have been done with the magic and Quentin seems to always be drifting through life, searching for something interesting to do.  While the writing had flashes of brilliance, I had to make myself read it to finish, rather than have the story sweep me along.

Still, sometimes you have to try something different and reach out to a new experience in order to live a richer life. Maybe that was what Quentin had in mind for himself in the end.

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