Category Archives: downloaded personalities

Comets and Book Clubs

IMG_9503We are landing on a comet tonight! This is a momentous event. After ten years of chasing, using gravity assist, the Philae Lander, a robotic spacecraft, will catch up to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or 67P, and anchor itself there for hopefully a year long ride.

The Rosetta project, led by the European Space Agency with contributions from NASA and others, will be studying this comet in order to better understand the composition of comets, thought to bring water to primitive Earth, and possibly life itself. Eventually it will be within 180 million km of the sun and expelling water and gases because of intense heat.New Image of Comet ISON

Find more at: CNN.com: Rosetta Landing or www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta

This is the ESA’s official website, where you can find the latest news, images and animations on the spacecraft and its lander .

touching-crystal-thumb-1Why does this intrigue me? My sixth novel, Touching Crystal deals with the impact of a comet against Alysia’s moon, Thanos, and the resulting consequences to my world of Alysia.

Science will now explain what was once mystical, a harbinger or omen for humans. Although it took ten years to get close enough to land, the idea that we can interface with a moving comet offers hope that we may be able to divert any future threats to Earth from this type of cosmic threat.

Although, we certainly didn’t see the meteor that crashed into Russia last year and took us by surprise. We were too busy staring at a passing asteroid.

NeuromancerI am currently reading Snow Crash, as it is a selection of my Powell’s Book Club and we meet tonight. It is a Hugo winner classic from 1992 and is very different. Think William Gibson and his Hugo winning book, Neuromancer, which created the sub genre of Cyber-punk in the early 1990s and you have an idea of the story.Snow Crash

The Powell’s book club is a rowdy group of fifteen to twenty-five or so science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts who have been meeting for over ten years at the world famous bookstore of Powell’s in Beaverton. They are awesomely intelligent about science fiction and not shy about offering opinions.

Makes for lively discussions, so I need to be prepared.

Abyss Beyond DreamsI also plan on reading The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter Hamilton, and will report on that new offering in the next week or two.

someones_clone_front-cover_v2_finalBut first, I have my proof for Someone’s Clone in my hot hands and expect a November 20 publication date. Until then, I’ll be working feverishly to put the final touches on it and conquer the format and download monster.

Check out Amazon for this exciting new adventure, one of my best to date. A murder, a mystery, time travel, romance, aliens…this one has it all…so stay tuned.

 

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Science Fiction Gender Bending

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Him, her, IT!

In science fiction you can have both in the same body or alternating genders. Ask Northwest author Ursula LeGuinn or read her classic, The Left Hand of Darkness. In her novel, gender fluctuates due to monthly cycles called kemmer.Left Hand of Darkness

Currently in my work in progress, I have an angel like alien that is androgynous. There is a bit of a question about the gender, and the reaction in the humans over the uncertainty. The Enjelise can shift genders, but for most humans they remain genderless as there are only three now left on the planet. But, oh, the one still left is powerful. For me, it makes for an interesting character in my story. And fun to play with.

However, in Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie, gender goes through the wringer. Told in the first person narrative, the reader is informed that the speaker can’t recognize gender.

“Frozen, bloodied and bruised as she was, I knew her. She was Sievarden Vendaai, and a long time ago, she had been one of my officers, a young lieutenant, eventually promoted to her own command, her own ship. I had thought her a thousand years dead, but she was, undeniably, here.”

Ancillary JusticeAre you getting an image of this character in the snow? Tell me what it is. As a reader we fight to visualize the story in progress, to engage our imagination. But this character is face down in the snow with very little details given, and those at best are confusing.

And intriguing. You did see the thousand years dead part too?

And the narrator saying the person was one of his/her/its officers? What are you visualizing? Can you?

Then, as the narrator goes in a bar to get help for the injured human, rent a sled, get correctives that help heal…it explains, “I wasn’t a person, I was a piece of equipment, a part of the ship.”

Oh…Scramble, scramble. The reader is trying to get a visualization of the narrator now and with not much detail. We know the narrator has a human body at this point because of the reaction from the bar’s customers, thinking it’s a conquering Radchaai citizen, whom they hate. But…these characters are not fitting into the neat little boxes we are so used to. The narrator tries to explain while in the bar getting help.

“My own language doesn’t mark gender in any way. This language we were now speaking did, and I could make trouble for myself if I used the wrong forms.”Ancillary Sword

Okay, reader…you have been warned! Get ready for trouble…for you. But, I blithely read on, not realizing what I waded into.

The narrator admits near the end of the first chapter, “I knew Sievarden was male–that one was easy.”

No it isn’t! This little aside is surrounded by action, she referents, dialog and slipped right past me.

Then, “Nineteen years pretending to be human hadn’t taught me as much as I’d thought.”

Great! My narrator is not human, but a piece of ship equipment pretending to be human, has gender recognition problems and hints that a thousand years is nothing to it. I’m squinting trying to get a read on this person/once officer that my narrator has decided to save, nevermind the narrator himself/herself/itself.

 Chapter two explains what my narrator was originally. It was a ship…a troop carrier, the Justice of Torens, a two thousand year old troop carrier that nineteen years ago (give or take) had ancillaries connected to the A1 that ran the ship. A networked mind troop carrier aware of every muscle twitch and breath of its ancillaries. Awesome. A multi mind artificial A1.

Ancillaries?

Read on, oh reader. Ancillaries are humans from subjugated or “annexed” worlds defrosted at need, implanted with slave minds and used as soldiers for the conquering Radchaai who are led by a thousand bodied leader, Anaander Miandaai (me and Ai?) whose mind is networked among her/his cloned self.

The DispossessedDizzy yet? Keep going.

The second story line develops in Chapter two. The narrator goes back twenty years where it is now a twenty ancillary unit from Justice of Torens One Esk (Esk is a ship level of soldiers) that are dispatched with human Esk Decade Lieutenant Awn to complete the annexation of the world of Ors. There you get a full description of the subjugated world. Lots of jungle. A head priest. Yada, yada. Stolen weapons. Oops.

Now the author gets to mess with your mind even more because One Esk only uses female pronouns and you’re digging hard to figure out Lieutenant Awn’s gender. Gradually, you notice how deeply One Esk is devoted to Awn and admires the lieutenant even when there’s an affair with Lieutenant Skaait, another officer of a higher social rank and a free thinker. (stay tuned for him/her later) But which one is male; which one female? I need to visualize using the shortcut of gender with the subtext that goes along, and I’m not getting it. You’re forced to study behavioral clues. And not finding much.

Or being deliberately mislead.

Unfortunately, a main character (Remember Sievarden Vendaai from the snowbank?) that we know is male acts like a female at times, but with the constant use of the feminine gender when the narrator talks about Sievarden, I keep falling into a female box as I try to visualize this character. I still haven’t figured out what my narrator is now as far as gender. (Except maybe a toaster in human form)

Then, the reader meets the leader of this vast star flung empire of Radchaai who reveals that he/she/ it is battling with its many selves (over a thousand) for  power. And keeping secrets from her/his other selves and covertly dabbling with The Justice of Toren’s programming.

Our narrator. Oh dear.

How far can you push an A1 embedded into a human body, and influenced by human emotion until it does something unexpected? Like murder. Can a machine love more than a human? Feel as deeply as a human? Override its programming?

An act of betrayal destroys the ship and One Esk becomes splintered off from all components, surviving under the name Breq. One Esk, former ship, now named Breq tries to act human and more, plots to destroy the multi bodied leader and bring down the far flung Radchaai Empire by itself by recovering a hidden and dangerous weapon.

Already being suggested for a Nebula, this novel is challenging, convoluted. You’ll love it, hate it or think about it too much and the messages it sends on what it means to be human and gendered.

Sometimes being an author can be fun when we create unusual thought provoking societies, their worlds and the interesting characters that live in them.

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Adrift in the Indie Sea

IMG_0165More and more authors are offering quality low cost books to the public. The advent of e-books over the past few years and the increase of tablets and technology have brought a flood of new writers offering interesting and fresh stories at good prices. Also, a large number of older authors are pulling retired novels out of the closet, reclaiming rights and re-igniting interest in past work.

Now the problem becomes how the bewildered reader sorts through this mass of books to find a good read.

The public reader has become the slush pile.

Amazon has done a great job of helping authors market their books. Reviews are key and Amazon Select and Prime offer ways the reader can sample new authors without bankrupting the piggybank. They have a new program called Countdown where the author puts the book on a program that starts out with a deep discount and following a set plan, the price escalates over a period of days.

One of the goals of my blog is to suggest books that I think science fiction readers will like. Because I am also swimming in the Indie Sea, so to speak, from time to time I pluck out a book and suggest a new Indie author that I have enjoyed, and also hope you will sample my own offerings.

Strings on a Shadow PuppetToday I’m suggesting Strings on a Shadow Puppet by Thomas L. Evans, a debut novel.

Strings offers my two favorite genres: military science fiction and spy thriller. The writing is clear and well written. There are very few errors of writing, which is especially welcome in a new fiction author. The characters are compelling and the action, when it comes, exciting.

Lieutenant Commander Alex Fotheringday lives with the shame of a coverup over  an attack he instigated on a civilian merchant ship. Fortunately for him, a few years in a  backwater planet on duty and now he has negotiated to command of The Hunter so he can “put things to right” and find out who is behind a network of pirates and mercenaries roving the system. He has set up a deal with his father’s opposition, Admiral Lord Li Yu Benjamin Rippavitch in the highly decorated “Ripper’s Raiders” to command a stealth military ship and search out the leader of the insurgents.

His Imperialist father is not pleased.

The crew for the Hunter is an odd assortment from Able Technician Francis Maria Harpur, a “natural” with no tech implants to a plugged in techno junkie Chief Petty Officer Sinclair, known as Sinner, who is a Wirehead and cyborg. The XO is a gorgeous woman named Samantha Smith who works naval intelligence for the Ripper and his TOMO (Tactical Ops and Marine Officer) Leftenant Rascoine Lord D’Ascoine, also known as Razza Dazza, who is also an Imperial Hierarch of Alex’s vaunted social standing.

Several more round out the crew. The first ten chapters introduce the crew and take a lot of time explaining the political set up and detailing the ship. There is a lot of time spent training in simulations even after lift off, and a lot of time digging through research and mining data for patterns and information trying to uncover the enemy…

or spy on each other.

For the hard science geek, Evans sounds very knowledgeable about military hardware and future technology. A bit too much detail for my taste, but his descriptions lend an authentic feel to the story.

It isn’t until chapter ten that The Hunter finally takes off, tracking down leads and trying to ferret out who the mastermind of the pirate’s network is. However, once the action does start, it is engrossing.

Several alternating chapters reveal the activities of the Waylang terrorists who are following orders of the Dalang, who is the enemy Alex seeks. Part of the gang is comprised of alien shapeshifters and how they go about killing and stealing is interesting.

The plot takes twists and turns as everyone appears to be spying on everyone else and no one is who they say they are.

I enjoyed the story and recommend it for any reader who likes military scifi. My main complaint is that the cover and the title really don’t reflect the military aspect of the story. And most of the action is on board a ship or asteroid. I know that the author is a fan of the Japanese shadow puppetry, and there is a shadowy “puppet master” behind the scenes that Alex is trying to ferret out, but for the most part for me, it was a military mission. Unless you read the story, you don’t realize the odd shapes on the cover are the shape shifting aliens and that could put off the avid military scifi reader.

With that said, the series has just begun and I look forward to reading the next one.

As you can see, my blog’s main purpose is to present to the scifi and fantasy reader stories that I found exceptional in the hopes that you will not have to wade through a public slush pile of books to discover that sparking gem.

However, there are many great novels that never parade past my sight, and those I do recommend are purely personal opinion. You might not like them. I tell you how I chose what I do…

The rest is up to you…

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Innovation and Writing Trends in Science Fiction

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I put The Human Division by John Scalzi on my reading list, not realizing it offered the opportunity to discuss current writing trends.

The Human Division takes place in “The Old Man War” universe after Earth realizes it’s been used to supply soldiers and bodies to fight an alien filled universe for the Colonial Defense Force.

The Colonial Union, an association of dozens of planets with a population of billions, took old people from Earth who were ready to die, downloaded their brains into green heavily augmented bodies and inducted them into the military to fight enemy aliens. Upon agreeing to the procedure, the new recruit understands that he will never see Earth again. Everyone he ever knew will consider him dead.

The human DivisionBut now, in the Human Division this lie is revealed and Earth is mad about the deception and may sever all ties from the CDF. The third factor is the Conclave, an association of four hundred alien species once enemies, now formed into a single political unit that wants to dominate all worlds. The Colonial Union wants to prevent the spread of their power and dominance, but needs Earth to supply soldiers.

Pretty standard plot.

What is different here is that Scalzi first presented this novel in an electronic episodic format that he has now turned into a hardcover book.

The first episode/chapter begins with a planned secret meeting between an alien race, the Utche and a Colonial Union ship, the Polk, out in deep space for some clandestine back door negotiations. The Polk arrives three days early and surprises an unknown ship that is setting a trap to disrupt the supposedly secret meeting. The Polk gets fired upon and destroyed; everyone on board is killed, including an important Earth diplomat.

With sixteen hours before the jump plus four hours at the incident spot before the Utche are scheduled to arrive, the CDF calls in a “B” team to find the Polk’s black box and try to learn what happened.

Enter Harry Wilson, wisecracking hero and ex CDF, and Harte Schmidt, junior ambassador and sidekick. Their leader is the abrasive Earth female ambassador, Ode Abumwe. Eight are on the team to find the black box, learn what happened and conclude the negotiations successfully.Th Last Colony

Expectations are not high for a successful completion of the task. Black boxes are notoriously hard to locate in deep space…the black color, and well, Abumwe is not a smooth diplomat.

But the “B” team is the underdog, the misfits, who everyone roots for and how they accomplish their goal makes for an interesting and exciting story.

Chapter one.

The episodic format while interesting has its weaknesses. After the chapter or episode completes, the reader can easily put the book down. The next episode is a piece in the puzzle, but stands alone, often in another point of view or event somewhere else.

One of the techniques many writers often try to employ is to have your chapter ending leave the writer wanting to turn the page, desperate find out what happens next. We don’t want the reader putting down the book. We want the light on under the covers at midnight with an avid reader muttering that he or she has to get sleep while compelled to read on to see what happens next.

That’s what we want. Sometimes it happens.

So the episodic format jerked me around a bit. I easily could put down the book. But then, I would pick it back up because of Scalzi’s plot and characters.

The bantering dialog between Schmidt and Wilson was brilliant…except for the writing style. Whatever big name editor guided Scalzi to use “said” for most of the dialog tags was an idiot. It was very disruptive.

Here’s an example from the first chapter:The Ghost Brigades

“Let’s hope the rest of our people made it to the other escape pods,” Blair said.
“But Evans said–”
“Evans said what he needed to shut us up and get us off the Polk,” Blair said.
Several minutes later he said….”

Now, I was at more than one writing seminar at Willamette Writers a few years back when “professionals” encouraged writers to use “said” for all dialog tags. They claimed it disappears and the readers won’t notice.

Well, it doesn’t. It’s annoying if used too often. I got annoyed.

The current writing style mandates “show, don’t tell.” No one is supposed to even use dialog tags any more. It’s all behavioral clues.

While I agree with this to a certain extent, there are times when you have to tell and get on with the story.

Also, adverbs no longer are allowed. Banned.

Here are examples of each:

Tell:  Luke was angry.
Dialogue tag with adverb: “What did you do now?” Luke asked angrily.
Show: Luke stomped into the room, threw his coat on the sofa and yelled, “What did you do now?”

Okay, the energy is better with just behavioral clues, but notice the word count. Sometimes for the sake of the main plot and the mounting word count, you have to tell and move on. At other times, the action needs to be rich to engage the reader more and the writer should use behavioral clues and show in detail.

But current editors swoop onto any “tell” like an eagle to a mouse and start shaking a finger. A little leeway, please.

Another popular mandate of current editors is to use only the active verb and not anything passive.

“ing”, “was” “had” are a few of the culprits here. Scalzi has four or so “wases” per page and doesn’t flinch from using had or ing words. And Scalzi isn’t the only best selling author to do so.

I would not call his writing passive. It’s full of twists and turns, battles, witty dialog and strong human interaction and relationships.

Plus “ing” may be a participle verb that needs a “was.” If you are describing action in the past, you might need a “had”…otherwise your grammar is incorrect.

Example:

She was skipping home. (lots of action here)
She had skipped home as a young child, now she walked sedately.

Okay, enough style ranting.

In The Human Division each story isn’t of equal quality. On this necklace of a novel, some chapters are diamonds while others are quartz.

While each chapter contains a complete story, when I reached the end of the novel, I still didn’t know who, or what was trying to manipulate a war. I finished without a conclusion. That was not where I wanted my cliffhanger.

Now I’m clutching the edge, ready to fall and hoping he’ll get the next book out before life intervenes or I don’t care any more and fall off the cliff.

Other Scalzi books I recommend:

ps: Redshirts won a Hugo, Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale were nominated for Hugo

Red Shirts

51PGEMXGN8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

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Selling a Science Fiction Novel

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Marketing is in an upheaval for both big publishers and small self publishers.

What to do?

Take a look at the play book of John Scalzi who uses both something old and something new.

The something old is the juggernaut of science fiction publishing houses, TOR. Often I check out the Acknowledgments in a book. Since I am reading The Human Division for my 2014 book list, I looked at what John had to say there. John thanks TOR’s editor Patrick Neilsen Haydon for his support…and Irene Gallo for the art, Sona Vogel as head copyeditor, cover artist John Harris, book designer Heather Saunders, and TOR’s publicity TEAM. (numerous names here) He thanks fiction agents selling overseas and tv/movie agents who are involved in an “Old Man’s” movie project. He acknowledges the team at Audible who are  putting together an audible version. It’s a picture of wide distribution and an entourage of professional help with his book. The Acknowledgments run two and a half pages.

Whew! I could sell a few novels with that kind of support.

The human DivisionHe mentions a rigorous signing tour for Red Shirts during which he writes episodes of The Human Division. This brought up the memory of a year and some time ago when he came locally for a signing of Fuzzy Nation.

I went.

It was John Scalzi.

Running late, I slid into a seat in a packed section of Powell’s bookstore. The man next to me introduced himself and before I knew what was happening, he’d gone to grab a book for me, saying that they were running low. He handed me a $25 hardback edition of Fuzzy Nation. It had an ugly cover.

He acted like it was a great favor.

I couldn’t quite hand it back…but putting out expensive hardbacks and following up a year later with the cheaper paperback is so old school. And very traditional publishing.51CG59JWAeL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

Needless to say, Scalzi put on a great performance, both witty and informative. I figured that half the cost was for the live entertainment. And I got a personally signed book…for a crowded bookshelf. Of course, paperbacks of older works were also available, but the new one was only available in hardback for signing. So, being charming to your reading public when they’re holding your $25 novel is a good strategy.

I spent a lot of money that night.

The Human Division is now available only in expensive hardback at the bookstore, but fortunately we have Amazon and Kindle downloads for us high tech frugal folks…if you don’t mind foregoing the illegible signature.

BUT, John doesn’t just old school it.

If you are involved in the Twitterverse, you might be following Scalzi.

I am.

He tweets some of the more enjoyable snippets and is very funny. While others scream, “buy my book” or tell you what they’re eating for breakfast, John offers up humorous anecdotes in the life of a successful author and even makes humdrum daily events hilarious. He is a prolific tweeter.

In addition, John talked TOR into releasing The Human Division not only as a print book, but electronically in episodes.

Innovative.

Okay, okay…Charles Dickens did it through print newspapers a while ago, but electronically episodic is still a new path for most science fiction writers. Not too long ago, Hugh Howey used this form of marketing to break through with his Wool series and has become quite successful. Now he’s selling trade paperbacks in bookstores. (6″x9″ $15-$17)

John also has a very popular blog: www.whatever.Scalzi.com

He is plugged into the science fiction good old boys’ and girls’ network and lists a number of well known science fiction authors who helped him while he did “a staggering amount of travel.” He apologizes to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (premier science fiction association) for being distracted with publishing The Human Division during October and says, “it won’t happen again while I’m president.”

So, this shows me how important networking and interacting with fellow writers can be, and also that getting involved in prominent associations and conferences is also helpful in getting recognized, and boosting sales.

51PGEMXGN8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ The Human Division is also “in the universe” of the very popular novel, Old Man’s War, which was nominated for a Hugo…so winning awards, or even a nomination, and especially a Hugo, plumps up sales, and writing within a popular series helps sell any new book in that series.

Which gets me back to old school basics…

Write a great book…and they will come help you market everywhere.

And keep writing…as you tour, as you tweet, as you blog, as you serve on committees and attend cons.

Then you will sell…

Quite a lot.

Ps. Next week I’ll review The Human Division

 

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Cutting Edge Science fiction: Discovering a new Indie author

IMG_0174“Hacking the human brain” was a recent topic in the tv series “Through the Wormhole” moderated by Morgan Freeman. If you’re not familiar with the series, I recommend it to you.

The show covered several studies or experiments, but I was surprised to learn that a computer can “read” what the brain is thinking just by tracking blood flow. Thousands of test subjects were shown images and a “picture” was taken of the brain for each image or concept. It appears that these blood flow patterns can be categorized into words and concepts using a computer and then another human can be asked to think of certain subjects, I.e. a beach, a forest, friendship, the computer matches the blood flow patterns and puts out words that translates what the subject is thinking.28GRAYMATTER-articleLarge

So, using that computer program, you can read someone’s mind, or at least get an idea of what he/she is thinking.

That’s a little scary.

Another part of the show explained how false memories can be implanted into a human mind. Since our legal system uses witnesses and expert testimony to determine sentencing, this is also troubling.

A Brief History of TimeStephen Hawkings is an example of how the human brain can think of words and ideas and a computer translates them into both text and speech. By the way, his book A Brief History in Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes is a suggested non fiction read for anyone wanting to learn more about our universe.

This controlling of electronic devices through thought is the jumping off premise for a debut book of local Portland author Dan Marshall. His novel Lightcap explores this idea and takes it to the next step of controlling human behavior through a cap like device.

 

Adaptech made a fortune with its Mind Drive, a product enabling control of electronic devices through thought. Wildly popular, most citizens use it as a way to act more efficiently with everything from computers to coffee pots.

Now, Adaptect has come out with the Lightcap and Adam Redmon is promoted to lead a group of employees to test this new product. However, exactly what it’s function and side effects are is not fully disclosed.Lightcap

As the test goes on, blackouts and strange dreams, along with a mysterious death, lead Adam to discover the frightening function of the Lightcap. It controls the human brain and makes individuals open to suggestion. Suggestions like murdering a colleague who has turned against the experiment. Adam is not the only subject who becomes suspicious of the dark side of the device. Dej and Aria have realized the danger also and together the three try to fight the hold that Adaptech has on them and the corporation’s plans to control whole populations through distributing the Lightcap.

After watching the show on brain hacking, this novel’s premise intrigued me. Dan writes well, his sentences clear and grammatically correct. However, since it is written from Adam’s point of view, the reader is subjected to the influence of the Lightcap.

“Adam felt like a deer in the headlights until he blinked and broke the spell.”

I went for a cup of coffee to clear MY mind.

The first part of the book is woozy as Adam loses chunks of his life. His fear of losing his job if he complains or quits makes the reader want to shake him and yell, “Wakeup.”

After a colleague goes missing and two others in the test group reveal their concern for the effects of the cap, Adam starts to get suspicious and investigate.

From there the action picks up to the inevitable conclusion…and possible sequel.

If you like cutting edge science type stories and movies such as “The Bourne Identity”, then you might like Lightcap by Dan Marshall. Available most places online and local Indie bookstores.

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Transhumanism in Military Science Fiction

IMG_0165What if the next step in human evolution is not crafted by Mother Nature, but birthed from our own science labs?

If you follow Ray Kurzweil at all, you know there are amazing things happening in science around the world.

We are already on the path to Transhumanism.

My fellow blogger Veronica Sicoe recently did an amazing blog on this topic. She defined it as “Transhumanism is a movement that aims at upgrading humanity through technology and scientific advancements. The idea is to enhance the human body and mind, from the development of advanced life-like prosthetics to repair damaged functionality and the development of life-prolonging technologies, to customizing healthy body parts on demand and adding new functionality, and even merging humans and machines such as by uploading yourself into a computer or sharing your neurological hardware with an AI. Transhumanism means basically anything that would make humans faster, smarter, longer-lived and more versatile than nature could ever achieve within foreseeable time.”

http://www.veronicasicoe.com/blog/2013/07/transhumanism-superhuman-or-inhuman/

Science fiction provides a fertile ground for exploring this topic. War is horrible, but the many casualties returning to society have pushed science to develop more and more sophisticated medicine and technology. We now can control a prosthetic hand through thought.

Think about that!

No wait! Don’t.

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33701/title/Thoughts-Control-Robotic-Hand/

Also, no longer clunky metal apparatuses, prosthetic limbs often look and feel real.

What about an embedded computer in a human brain? Coming up in my next novel, I do this to a clone. Stretching to the future as my timeline extends, I am now writing about the next step in human development, evolution?, and it is exciting and challenging.

What can and will we do to extend our lives, our capabilities? And what are the moral and ethical questions that go along with altering what it means to be human. Science fiction often explores this question of, what is human? At what point do we say a downloaded brain into a computer interface is no longer human? Or do we call a cryo-frozen brain implanted into a cloned body, human? Is the identity of the original still legal? Or considered another identity entirely? How should society’s laws regulate what is acceptable or not? Should we rigidly determine what is acceptable or let science flow free to find its own limits?

And then, there is the dark side.

What uplifts us, can also destroy us. Embedded weapons can not only shoot at the enemy, they can be used for criminal activity. People can be cloned, or in desperate circumstances, donate body parts to black markets. Already many are on a list, waiting for a donated heart, liver, lung and would be willing to pay a lot to get one. Opportunity for criminal activity.

Death's Head Again, the military provides fertile ground to explore transhumanism, and I have found an undiscovered gem in David Gunn’s Deaths Head: Maximum Offense. 

I stumbled upon this  novel while searching through the new arrival shelf at my local library.

Yeah, yeah. I go there occasionally.

This is a part of a series, and I encourage you “balls to the wall” scifi military fans to check out the others too.Death's Head 1 If you are all posies and flowers fantasy, this isn’t for you. But if you like a badass protagonist who is 98.2%  human with enhanced healing ability, superior strength, unusual agility and sociopathic tendencies, well then, pull up a chair and check this one out.

It reminds me of Peter Hamilton’s Mindstar Rising, only a little more gritty.

Oh yes, he also has a lethal parasite that resides in his throat that bends time and space, and talks directly to AIs. Yet most of the beings he deals with consider him little more than a Neanderthal creature.

So there are aliens that are even more transhuman that try to manipulate him…oh heck, kill him.

The United Free are immortal, arrogant, and can bring back the dead…

And do. More than once.

The other end of the Galaxy’s Spiral is home to the Metalheads or a race of cyborgs who are very lethal and aggressive.

And his enemies.

The protagonist, Sven Tveskoeg (what is with strange scifi names?) is given an assignment to lead his ragtag unit called the Aux (auxiliaries) into the artificial world of Hekati and find a missing citizen of the United Free. What he finds is the StarFist, an enhanced military force, seriously mean inhabitants made up of abandoned miners, illegals and misfits, and a situation set up to kill him.

Day of the DamnedHis unit contains Haze, his intelligence officer, who’s brain is cybernetic and can control computers and machines. Rachel is his sniper with deadly skills, Neen, his first officer who wants his position and Shil.

Oh yes, and a seventeen year old greenhorn colonel, Colonel ViJay, is put in charge of the group who has no combat experience whatsoever. Sven has to follow his frustrating orders until partway through the mission he realizes that ViJay is the son of General Jaxx, one of the most powerful men of the Octovian society. The situation demands that ViJay learn quickly what it means to be a soldier, or die. And Sven gets to be responsible for him.

Worse than that, Sven’s gun is sentient, a free citizen that constantly backtalks at him using heavy sarcasm.

I did say gun.

All makes for an interesting, and riveting transhuman experience in the military genre.

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Future Forward: Notable Science Fiction

IMG_0174First off: Happy Fourth of July. As much as the news criticizes our government and claims we are as bad as Orwell’s 1984, I am still glad that I live in America and was born to my parents. I am lucky.

More than the government, I fear a relative or friend posting an awkward picture on Facebook, or quoting a tweet out of context. More than the municipal camera on a street corner are the millions of cameras in the average person’s smart phone ready to snap any local event or action. We resent government interference, but embrace everyone else… Amazon, Facebook, Linked-in, etc.

Nowadays we can’t hide from each other.

Nor do we seem to want to.

I just returned from Nashville where I attended a special wedding of my nephew and a book signing.

Text messaging enabled me to stay abreast of all activities and be where I needed to be. My whole dynamic of communication shifted.

I learned a few lessons about doing a book signing. Last time I came to this group, I contacted the organizer well ahead of time and she got me on the regular calendar. The room filled with over fifty people and was immensely successful. I sold every book I brought and then some.

This time I hesitated to contact the organization ahead for various reasons. My old contact had left and someone new ran the activities. I didn’t have her number, would they even want me to talk again? By the time we connected, the normal calendar had gone out. But, she was enthusiastic and we discussed an intriguing title.

Which didn’t get published.

Instead, I was billed as Sheron McCartha discusses her second career as an author, and a small flyer went out to a limited number of people. Needless to say, the attendance was not the same.

BUT…

There is nothing that beats face to face contact with a reader. Everyone in attendance bought a book and I made some wonderful friends and met some really nice people. I had a good time and would do it again.

The moral is to get out there, but make sure you’re well publicized first. Don’t be shy. People can be really nice.

As I was sitting on the plane traveling out, I remember gazing out the window and seeing the cotton white clouds, thinking of the settlers trudging westward over a hundred years ago. Did any one of them stare up into the sky and imagine large metal birds flying high overhead at incredible velocities packed with passengers of all types that stared at iPads and kindles, and paperbacks, passing the time sipping various drinks and eating peanuts? I took six hours to travel coast to coast where early settlers took many months, and most died in the attempt. I went in comfort and barely felt the heat outside. Did any one of those early settlers envision this future or even have the capacity to understand what it might be?

And a hundred years from now, how might my descendants be traveling, and what might they look like? Hopefully not baggy shorts and Nike t-shirts.

Spin StateIf you would like to imagine a far future where faster than light communication is enabled through Bose-Einstein relays that use special crystals that involve entanglement, and genetically designed and tanked beings, part human, part cyborg exist, then I recommend Chris Moriarty’s Spin State.

Spin State is a detective story with Catherine Li as an augmented investigator, born out of the mines of Compton’s world, where the precious crystals that enable worlds to connect are found. She escapes the crushing poverty of the mines, buys a new face, cutting tech augmentation, joins the military and becomes a hero, a major and finally a UN Peacekeeper.

Now she is sent back to her home world to investigate the death of a dead physicist, called Sharifi, who turns out to be her cloned twin. And what was called an accident is looking more and more like murder. But over thirty-seven faster than light jumps has erased most of Li’s memories and every corner she turns deep inside the mines of this alien world holds deadly secrets she must unravel. The critical crystal may be alive, but dying, and a missing data set could change the balance of power and bring about a war.

Li engages the help of a one of a kind artificial intelligence that is programmed with human emotions. Cohen is her strange lover who uses various human bodies and downloads into them as he helps Li solve her mystery. He can access places no human can go and process data in a blink of an eye…but can she trust him? His motivation is suspect as he also wants to find what Sharifi has discovered and use it for his own purposes. Secrets are everywhere. And the witch Bella, created and tanked by the Synthetic worlds who want to take over humankind, has her own reasons for finding out what Sharifi uncovered deep in a mine’s glory hole. For her, the crystals sing.

An intriguing mix of mystery, quantum physics, evolved humans and artificial intelligences, I found Spin State an engaging read and recommend it. This book is first in a series that I want to bring to your attention. Spin Control and Ghost Spin continue the tale of Catherine Li and the struggle between artificial intelligence and humans. I am looking forward to reading these also.Spin Control

Spin State received a nomination for the 2003 Philip K. Dick award and was the top ten editor’s pick for Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2003.

And made the time pass swiftly and enjoyably while I soared overhead.

Ghost Spin

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Changing Book Distribution

IMG_0174Distribution…getting your books into the hands of  readers. Or nowadays, not books so much as ebooks on a wide variety of platforms.

Kathryn Rusch had a fascinating blog on this topic. I’ve attached the link, but I want to comment.

kriswrites.com/2013/05/29/the-business-rusch-the-changing-playing-field

She compared what is happening in the publishing field to what happened in broadcasting several years back. There used to be just three main television broadcast networks and they got to choose what the viewers saw. So if “I Love Lucy,” “Sonny and Cher” and “The News Hour” were on at a certain time, millions would choose between those three shows. That’s because the market was large and the distribution small.

When we had just “The Big Six” publishing houses, what we bought to read was what they decided would sell. In some cases they were right, but our choices were controlled by what they decided they wanted to offer.However, now with the advent of cable, netflix, (streaming video) and hundreds of stations, not to mention computer shows and Utube, the choices are huge and the market spreads out, picking and choosing among a wide variety of offerings. In addition, more games, video content and programs are available with time shifting to take up the market’s limited leisure time.

I play Words with Friends (scrabble) with my sister…across the country. I’m in Portland and she’s in Nashville. I watch late night talk shows at 2 p.m. thanks to Tivo and the ablility to time shift television to when and what I want to watch. I can control more than ever what I want to read or see, and when I want to read or see it.

So it isn’t that less people are reading, as the big houses might have you believe, it’s that the choices are spread out across the board filling in unique niches. Readers are packing twenty, forty, fifty or more books onto an iPad or kindle to rest at their bedside, or taking them along easily when they travel. They’re downloading stories from author’s websites or co-op writers websites where the author or authors sell books through Square Space, Paypal or an Amazon link.

The mortar and brick stores are in trouble. When we were in Mexico and I wanted something to read, Amazon downloaded onto my Kindle the best seller “The Dragon Tattoo” within minutes for less than seven dollars.

I was out of the country!

And what I’m doing is nothing compared to how my my twenty something daughter organizes her life nowadays.

We’re in the middle of a revolution, my friends, and it should be interesting what it all looks like ten years from now.

That’s why I like science fiction….because it speculates about what might come next.

Use of WeaponsAnd if you want an interesting future novel or series to read, try Iain M. Banks’s Culture Series. I recently read Use of Weapons.

Iain Banks was just nominated for a 2013 Locus Award for The Hydrogen Sonata

I’d give it 4****The first scene starts out with two very drunk men, one a high ranking lord and the other a mercenary soldier who are being shelled by enemy fire at the local palace. The dialog is very funny and the scene enjoyable. We discover that the mercenary, Cheradenine Zakalwee, (yes that’s the name) takes on various specialty jobs  for a woman known as Diziet Sma who is constantly accompanied by a bodyguard drone named Skaffen-Amtiskaw. She is an alien from an ancient group called “The culture.”

The story then is the telling of these adventures strung like pearls along a narrative necklace…only the necklace jumps around in time much like the novel Slaughter House Five.

You jump from one experience to another, each time Zakalwee almost dies and the drone or woman arrives in her ship just in time to patch him up and send him back out on another assignment.

In between the telling of these experiences, Zakalwee relives a traumatic childhood. His father is a wealthy nobleman and Zakalwee grew up on a noble’s mansion with three other children, two sisters and another young male whose father is in prison for high level treason.

Often Zakalwee is in a half-conscious state while recovering between jobs, and as he relives his childhood, he adds in pieces of the puzzle of what happened ‘back then.”

Bank’s strength is his clever dialog and interesting events. His weakness is that the reader gets very confused about the line of the story. Some of that is done on purpose, but it makes for disruptive reading when you have to stop and piece together what timeframe you’re in and who are the players this time and what are their real motivations.

Banks covers all the action with an aura of mystery that is spiced with mercenary humor. Sma (the woman) bickers with her drone as she pushes Zakalwe from one job, saves him and throws him into another. Once or twice I thought he was supposed to stop a war, but she may have really expected him to advance it. This confusion sorts out to a satisfying or at least an understandable dramatic  ending.

The book was not what I expected. There is much more emotion and interesting relationships along with battle humor.

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Award Nominated Science Fiction

IMG_9512The Locus Award nominees are out.

http://www.geekexchange.com/2013-locus-award-nominees-58521.html

I find that certain awards contain a goldmine of good science fiction: the Hugo Award, The Nebula Award, The John Campbell Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Locus Awards.

However, be wary of just any award as sometimes they are scams and not handed out by qualified people. The other problem with even the well known and prestigious awards is that they are dominated by traditionally published authors. Self published authors often don’t have the contacts or the knowhow to get nominated that the big publishing houses do.

I certainly don’t have any of the committee members on speed dial.

I foresee that eventually the self published author will take a more prominent position in the awards programs, but right now I don’t think the big houses want that to happen. Sometimes that means the reader misses out on some good science fiction. The current self published author is still trying to figure out this marketing thing and how to get in touch with his/her readers. Hello.

Use of WeaponsOne of the top names on the nomination list for the Locus Award is Ian Banks. I read Matter and currently have Use of Weapons on my reading table. His winning a nomination has encouraged me to read that and look into his Culture Series. So stay tuned there.

I recently did a blog on detective science fiction and an associate from my book club e-mailed me to suggest The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. Reynolds has won the British Science fiction Award and been nominated three times for the Arthur Clarke Award and once put on the short list for a Hugo. He writes a hard science space opera story.

The kind I like.

He also has a PHD in Astronomy and has a day job as an astrophysicist for the European Space Agency.

So there’s hard science involved.

The PrefectThe Prefect takes place in the Revelation Space universe, but is a stand alone novel. Tom Dreyfus is a Prefect whose beat is the Glitter Band, a teeming swirl of habitats that orbit the planet Yellowstone. This is a multiverse of space habitats that cater to all and any quirk of human nature.

Some of them very strange.

Dreyfus’s deputies are Sparver, a hyperpig and Thalia, a human, who is daughter of a cop supposedly gone bad. Law enforcement officers carry a whiphound as a weapon of choice and deal with everything from downloaded personalities to genetically altered humans. Be prepared to encounter an evil entity that is an uploaded consciousness trying to destroy humans, a computerized and murderous being called the clockmaker, a top level lawmaker who is a mole for evil who makes him believe he is doing good, and various odd habitats including one for sadists. Thalia, his deputy, gets trapped in a habitat that has a robot uprising and has to fight her way out using her creativity.

All good science fiction stuff.

I found the novel intriguing for its fast paced action and futuristic setting and technology.

Meanwhile, I’m having fun working  in edit mode on my next scifi adventure–Touching Crystal. I plan this one to come out in November after it goes through the meat-grinder of my writers’ group.

I have already submitted it to an outstanding Beta tester and the Orycon Professional Workshop Critique. Using their comments, I am making it even better.

Whereas in Space Song Richard Steele uncovers a secret genetic human modification program, in Touching Crystal, he has to deal with the impact of the sentient crystal beings who augment certain humans, giving them extraordinary powers. Stay tuned.

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