Category Archives: genetic manipulation

Science Fiction Space Opera Selection: Peter Hamilton

IMG_9518I think as a country we are ready for Valentine’s Day…a day to focus on love and the appreciation of the special people in our lives rather than plot how to stab political enemies in the back.

Besides, all this politicking is distracting people from reading–be it a good science fiction or other genre. Stop trolling on Facebook and taking every slanted article in Flipboard, or other news, as fact. It’s sad that it’s getting hard to separate reality from what people claim is truth.

Step outside. Spring is coming. I saw the sun today and recently took this picture of a robin. A new wind is blowing and along with the fresh air, some debris is bound to shake loose. Deal with it in a mature and effective manner.20170211_162653

After reading various articles on marketing, I kept finding that successful authors recommend writing another book as the best strategy for success. They talk about building a body of work.

All righty then.

I have started a new series called the Terran Trilogy. The first book is a starship adventure (A World too Far), the second is about first contact, and the third will explore settling on an alien planet. Rather then aliens invading Earth, I have switched the viewpoint to Earthlings invading an alien planet. I may be forced to explore the concept of immigration from both the native’s point of view and the arriving stranger’s. Talk about topical!

The Terran Trilogy will eventually dovetail into the Alysian Universe Series. However, it is a stand alone and not a required read. But if one reads the earlier books, they will know a few delightful facts and events that the current characters do not. Sometimes, knowing situations and results that a character does not, is fun.

a-night-without-starsThis week I read Night Without Stars by Peter Hamilton. Be warned that it is a door stopper of 702 pages in the hardback version. Still, I wanted to escape.

There was a lot of snow outside with travel ban warnings. I wasn’t going anywhere.

But escape I did. This novel continues the story in The Abyss Beyond Dreams, from Hamilton’s popular Commonwealth series and provides fast-paced action, interesting aliens, and a well written plot.

Yeah, I know. Those kind of books still exist.

After centuries of being trapped inside a strange void, the planet Bienvenido is expelled into space millions of light years away from the Commonwealth that knows nothing of its existence.

Humans and Fallers fight for control of the planet with humans looking to lose. Fallers can shapeshift and have managed to infiltrate deep into the fabric of human society. There is a prediction of a Faller’s Apocalypse.

Then a routine space flight, jars loose a Commonwealth ship from an orbiting Faller Tree. The ship carries within it an unusual baby that must be hidden until it matures. The baby carries Commonwealth knowledge and grows at an abnormally fast rate. As the Fallers take over the planet, this fast developing human becomes humankind’s best hope for survival on the planet.

Sometimes science fiction suggests events or objects long before their existence. Recently I have become aware of mysterious black, empty areas in space the scientists are calling voids. Yet, Hamilton has written about a mysterious area in space that he called the Void for several years now.  http://www.space.com/33795-cosmic-voids-fill-in-blanks-universe-mysteries.html

Interesting.

Anyway, I enjoyed this fast-paced adventure and want to recommend it to those readers who like deep, complex, and exciting space opera stories.

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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.

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Counting Spaceship Colonists

IMG_9518Writing science fiction often takes you off into the weeds of future speculation. When I took on the Terran Series and started writing A World Too Far, I had to figure out how many people and ships would be traveling. I also had to state a reason for the mission.

I didn’t want the reason to be that the Earth was annihilated or destroyed. I hope that as time goes on we do things better and more efficiently. Stephen Hawking says that we need to expand out from Earth in order to survive long term. The “Not Everyone in the Same Basket” theory. I think we have enough people like Elon Musk that we don’t need a catastrophic event to push people out into space. So I made the reason for the expedition the fear that humans need to diversify to other planets in order to survive…and the plain old human drive of seeking adventure and new worlds.

Okay, how many then? Two names kept cropping up. One was John More who said 160 was enough. Local Portland University anthropologist Cameron Smith said 14,000 to 40,000.

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Wikipedia:

Estimates of the minimum reasonable population for a generation ship vary. Anthropologist John Moore has estimated that, even in the absence of cryonics or sperm banks, a population capacity of 160 people would allow normal family life (with the average
individual having ten potential marriage partners) throughout a 200-year space journey, with little loss of genetic diversity; social engineering can reduce this estimate to 80 people.[6] In 2013 anthropologist Cameron Smith reviewed existing literature and created a new computer model to estimate a minimum reasonable population in the tens of thousands. Smith’s numbers were much larger than previous estimates such as Moore’s, in part because Smith takes the risk of accidents and disease into consideration, and assumes at least one severe population catastrophe over the course of a 150-year journey.[7]

Cameron Smith in Acta Astronautica
April–May 2014, Vol.97:16–29, doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.12.013

Estimation of a genetically viable population for multigenerational interstellar voyaging: Review and data for project Hyperion

I find that previously proposed such populations, on the order of a few hundred individuals, are significantly too low to consider based on current understanding of vertebrate (including human) genetics and population dynamics. Population genetics theory, calculations and computer modeling determine that a properly screened and age- and sex-structured total founding population (Nc) of anywhere from roughly 14,000 to 44,000 people would be sufficient to survive such journeys in good health. A safe and well-considered Nc figure is 40,000, an Interstellar Migrant Population (IMP) composed of an Effective Population [Ne] of 23,400 reproductive males and females, the rest being pre- or post-reproductive individuals. This number would maintain good health over five generations despite (a) increased inbreeding resulting from a relatively small human population, (b) depressed genetic diversity due to the founder effect, (c) demographic change through time and (d) expectation of at least one severe population catastrophe over the 5-generation voyage.

That’s quite a range.
What to do?

I started with sixty ships with two hundred per ship that worked the ship and two hundred in cryo. But then as the ships approached the designated planet, a population campaign increased the live colonists to five hundred per ship, give or take. That put us in the range of thirty thousand along the lines of Cameron Smith’s estimate.

Besides, I liked Babylon Five, the TV series, and wanted several ships on the journey for diversity and interest.

When the target planet was found toxic, forty ships decided not to land and jumped away. Of course, problems started happening immediately and the population underwent a severe reduction.

I needed a more manageable number of characters. I was trying to read The Dark Between the Stars by Alan Dean Foster and too many main characters overwhelm a reader. I got overwhelmed and didn’t finish the book.

As ships sought ways to increase the population, space found ways to destroy ships.

Now as I’m writing the next stage that deals with survival on a space station and alien planet, numbers again play an important role. Only so many can fit on station, and those stranded on the orbiting ships create a nice tension to those on planet that don’t want a horde of aliens invading their home and try to keep them on the station or ships.

Readers often don’t realize how much science fiction authors need to balance science plausibility with attention-keeping fictional plots and often wander off into the weeds of research.

Or maybe they do. Maybe they require it.

fortunes-pawnThis week I read Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach as it is a Powell’s science fiction readers group selection. I really enjoyed it…so much so that I’m now reading the sequel Honor’s Knight.

It’s even better.

Devi Morris is a super gung-ho mercenary from the military planet Paradox where the king reigns supreme. The universe is full of inhabited planets and ships travel all over via jump technology.

However, there is an unknown dangerous threat lurking at the edges of the universe.

Devi’s favorite possessions are her battle armor, which she has named Lady Gray, and her weapons. (Also named). She polishes them and talks about them a lot. Being a merc, she has few friends. Being aggressive and battle smart… she has few friends.

In order to accelerate her career, she has taken a job in a beaten up trading ship called The Glorious Fool. The ship has a dangerous reputation but it’s rumored to be a fast track to the rank of Devastator, the name of the king ‘s elite guards, a rank Devi aspires to.honors-knight

On board, an interesting assortment of aliens form the crew. The navigator is a cranky aeon, a birdlike species; her doctor is from a race of crablike insects that are enemies of most humans, and the cook, Rupert, well, he’s incredibly handsome and nothing like he seems.

Nothing.

Actually, nothing is as it appears and soon Devi is wrapped up in secrets that are world heavens-queenshattering with the real possibility of not surviving her tour.

But she’s a stubborn, resourceful, and surprisingly capable mercenary who soon finds herself with a few deadly secrets of her own.

Fast page-turning action with a passionate love story makes this one of my favorites, and one I recommend.

Happy Halloween!pumpkin

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Science Fiction Thriller

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I was studying Data guy’s new report on author’s earnings to understand the influences on total book sales, both paperback and ebook.

http://authorearnings.com/report/october-2016/

The data suggests that ebook sales have declined recently. However, keep in mind that more and more Indie and self published authors are using ASIN numbers rather than the more reportable ISBN number.

Also, the report mentions the influences that heavyweight Bookbub has on sales. Traditional publishing houses are paying the large fee to drive up their ebook sales and squeezing out the smaller fry. While Bookbub protests that it is fair, it really isn’t. You need a lot of reviews to get accepted and the cost is high. It’s also a matter of the higher number of sales and reviews you get, the more likely you will get more in the future. As an independent publisher, I struggle to get reviews. Sales are good, but reviews are few.

Price as an issue is also discussed. The traditional and mid-sized houses are putting high price tags on ebooks and that drives down sales. Discounting paperbacks results in selling less ebooks and more paperbacks. The popularity of coloring books that are counted as paperbacks was also a factor in the paperback sales bump.

Version 2Also, I’m concerned about the increasing availability of free books. Bundling is also a new marketing ploy that enables a reader to get a number of books for a lowered price. However, as an author, when I offer my first in a series, I get a lot of follow-on sales, so offering one free is well worth it for me and part of my marketing strategy.

There is also mention of Amazon’s recent changing of algorithms. Scam artists have infiltrated Amazon to manipulate the page reads in the Kindle Unlimited program. A number of innocent authors have been hurt in the crossfire. Since Amazon doesn’t disclose how they count these pages, authors rely on Amazon numbers for how many pages are read…and these numbers have changed dramatically recently.

There’s a lot of data and graphs to look at and some interesting comments on the current state of the business. So, take a look and draw your own conclusions.

blended-humanThis week I’m talking about The Human Blend by Alan Dean Foster. This is part of a completed Trilogy (The Tipping Point Trilogy)  that deals with extreme genetic manipulation of humans. I picked this because it is near future science fiction that is different than my usual fare. Also, the book is by a well known author that I haven’t discussed before.

Whisper is a thug who has chosen to alter his body to extreme thinness. His partner in crime is Jiminey Cricket who has long legs and can jump far. They attack a supposed tourist in an alley to harvest his hand to sell. Whisper is attracted to a hidden shimmering silver thread that he pockets. Not long after, shadowy figures start hunting them.

The book is a chase through strange environments and even stranger people. At first, the two run, thinking it is the hand that their pursuers want. Then, after they split up to throw off their trackers, Jiminey disappears. Whisper calls forth everything and everyone he knows to evade whoever is after him. And some of the characters are pretty strange…such as alligator man.body-inc

After he is shot with tracker bullets, Whisper ends up at Dr. Ingrid Seastrom’s clinic, desperate to get the bullets removed where he shows her the thread. He hopes her advanced equipment will reveal what he carries so he will know its worth. Unlike Whisper, Ingrid is an attractive Harvard educated natural. Investigating the thread leads to a startling discovery, and it appears to be connected to a quantum entangled nanoscale implant she took out of a young girl’s brain recently. The silver thread is a data storage device made from an impossible bit of material not from Earth. Her scientific curiosity wants to know more about the strange material, so together they form a partnership.

the-sum-of-her-partsBut their pursuers appear to have a lot of clout and skilled assassins to call upon in order to retrieve the stolen thread. The result is a wild chase through a disturbing world where what it means to be human is a very blurry line indeed.

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More than Science Fiction Novels

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Science fiction is not always about books. I was watching Orphan Black, wondering what I would talk about in my next blog and suddenly realized that I was looking at it. While I’m finding it hard to dig out good hard science fiction or space opera novels, there appears to be a blossoming of science fiction on TV and in movies.

20160721_153915I recently attended David Levine’s signing at Powell’s in Beaverton where he read from, and sang about, his debut book Arabella of Mars. Arabella of MarsQuite the entertainer. David is a long time friend from when I used to be in a Portland Author’s lunch group with him. He said that he had a hard science fiction book about Mars that he was shopping around and the traditional publishers didn’t accept it, telling him that science fiction didn’t sell well.

What!

Definitely this was before the best seller The Martian...and, by the way, a well done mMartianovie with a powerhouse actor. (I did a blog on the book)
No wonder it’s hard to find science fiction out there. The gatekeepers have slammed closed the gate. So to keep a writing career, David offered a fun Steampunk novel, and got accepted. Now, however, I fear the Steampunk fad is fading. Still, I recommend Arabella as a fun read…but even David admits the science became fantasy when he had billowing sailing ships plowing the space lanes.

Meanwhile, TV and movies are flourishing. I want to just mention a few you may or may not know about and, in this day and age, with streaming video, you may still be able to access some earlier seasons if you have missed them.

Currently, I am following Kill Joys on the Syfy channel. This is space opera. Think Firefly. They are kickass mercenaries with attitude and shadowy world corporate figure after them. They are hired on for jobs that occasionally are not what they first seem to be. A tough bunch that gets it done across the universe.

Orphan BlackAnother series is Orphan Black on BBC. Clones, clones, and more clones all done by one amazing actress. They are being hunted and have a dreaded disease for which they are desperately trying to find a cure. One line is female, and there is an alternative line of males. A unique series.

The Expanse will be starting season II soon. This is a well done series based on James Corey’s (Abramson and Franck) novels in the Expanse Series. (See several previous blogs on the books) I recommend you read the books first or the TV series can be confusing. Still lots of interesting sets of space stations and star ships.Expanse Collection

Dark Matter is another TV series I’m enjoying. This has a collection of humans on the run from shadowy corporate bad guys. One is a cyborg with mysterious powers, the other an angry mercenary, a young girl with mysterious background, a downloaded holographic with personality…you get the idea. The mystery is who is after them and why.

Let’s not forget the fairly recent movies of Independence Day 2, Enders Game, Hunger Games series, X-men: Civil War, and other super hero movies that are currently very popular.

Okay, I know you have more you want to mention, but that’s a taste.
I want to save room here in order to mention two very important blogs that I’ve recently read.
The first continues  Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog on publisher contracts and what to watch out for. Critical information for any author, Indie or traditionally published, and especially, if you are submitting to publishers big or small.

http://kriswrites.com/2016/07/20/business-musings-other-evil-clauses-contractsdealbreakers/

The other is a blog by my friend Mary Rosenblum who works with self-published authors to help them launch and sell their books. It’s a scary account of how one of her clients got wrapped up in the Amazon effort to clean up reviews. In their enthusiasm to get reviews, authors need to be very careful of new rules and oversights by Amazon or they might find themselves out in the cold. Being booted out by Amazon can be a career killer.

http://www.newwritersinterface.com/amazon-bites-author

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On a more upbeat note, I’m now going to pop off to the local Ponzi vineyard for some wine sipping and a plate of cheese and crackers on the deck. My newlywed daughter will provide charming company and insights into Pokemon.

Pokemon2                          Oregon summers are a delight.                  pokemon

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Science Fiction Hugo Winning Series: Bujold’s newest

IMG_0165Keywords in marketing. Why can’t I just write a good book and be done with it?

Because readers aren’t telepathic. Nowadays most authors do a lot of their own marketing, and keywords play an important role in being found by readers looking for a good story.

Friend Mary Rosenblum explains the importance of keywords and categories for Amazon analytics and how you can make your book more discoverable. She describes how your title and blurb are important in pulling in readers who are searching for your kind of book, and also for getting you on important lists at Amazon.

Check out her informative blog. http://www.newwritersinterface.com/blog

Variety makes the world go round, and certainly there are science fiction readers of all kinds. That’s why I talk about different types of books. Last week I mentioned The Water Knife that dealt with the issue of declining water reserves, especially in the southwest. The book concentrated on the external environment, and was heavily political and brutal with graphic sex and nonstop action.

This week I want to talk about Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois Bujold.Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen

The two books couldn’t be more different.

While Bacigalupi’s characters are two young, strong-willed girls and a ruthless killer, Bujold’s characters are much older and face internal struggles of grief, choosing new life paths, and finding love, rather than dealing with much external physical conflict.

Cordelia Vorsigan returns to the planet Sergyar as their Vicereine where she met her beloved and powerful husband Aural Vorsigan. But an aneurysm killed him over three years ago, and she has kept a stiff upper lip, staying single as she carried on with her duties of ambassador and Countess of Barrayer.

Now she returns to contemplate retiring and begin defrosting the five female embryos she and Aural had secretly left on Sergyar. At a ripe old age, she wants to start a second family, and begin living a peaceful life after one filled with violence and death.

Commander Oliver Jole is the base Commander and secret one-time lover of her bisexual husband, Aural. Being Betan and open-minded, Cordelia approved of Jole’s emotional support and physical protection of her husband during a difficult period in Barrayaran politics. She brings Jole a fiftieth birthday present of zygotes from her husband that Jole can fertilize to create five male offspring if he decides to take them on.

Meeting again after several years apart, their affection for each other and shared grief for Aural, sparks romance. The two well-known figures have to evade public scrutiny as they attend important meetings and events. There also have to figure out how to tell Cordelia’s forty-year old son, Miles, who now has his own brood, and no clue about his father’s more private past. There is also King Gregory of Barrayar to inform who depends on both of them to help him rule wisely.

Bachelor Jole is torn by a plum career offer back on Barrayer and the prospect of staying on Sergyar to retire and raise five boys at a country manor.

Sex is covered with delicate manners, and violence is past history. Humor abounds through the awkward moments encountered by two aging people finding love again and contemplating starting all over as they sneak around hiding their affair. A birthday celebration for Jole begins to spin out of control, and time starts to run out for both of them to decide which lifepath they want to choose.

Mountains of MourningBarrayarMirror Dance

The Warrior Apprentice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bujold has won the Hugo award four times, matching Robert Heinlein’s record. The Mountains of Mourning in 1990 won both Hugo and Nebula, The Vor Game in 1991, Barrayar in 1992, Mirror Dance in 1995, and Paladin of Souls in 2004. She also has two other fantasy series: The Chalon Series and the Sharing Knife Series.

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Picks for 2016

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Dialogue. A great book often has witty dialogue…and Scott Lynch has witty dialogue in spades. His characters’ conversations reveal the bond of friendship that runs deep in spite of outrageous adventures. So, I’m looking forward to his next book, Thorn of Emberlain. This is an author who I have already read and loved.Thorn of Emberlain

Three Body ProblemThe number one reason a reader picks a certain book is usually word of mouth. A member in my Powell’s reading group shook my arm and insisted that I read The Three-Bodied Problem by Cixin Liu. After checking out strong reviews, I added it to my list.

The second reason most reader select a book is because they already like other books by that author. I’ve read and enjoyed  a number of Katherine Asaro other books. Many of her works have won awards, most notably The Quantum Rose, which won the Nebula in 2001. So, when I saw she had a new one out, I put The Veiled Web on my list. She’s good at science fiction romance with a heavy science emphasis since she has a PHD in Physics.

The Veiled WebRookie Privateer I found as a free book that piqued my interest. A lot of my bloggers like military science fiction, so, hey, this one is for you guys. Subject matter is a major reason to select a certain book.Rookie Privateer

They say a cover often sells a book, and in the case of A Child of Our Time, that’s what happened. This was also found on a free book website. I also liked the title and subject matter. However, it only had one review. Knowing how hard reviews are to come by,
I decided to take a chance, go wild and put it on the list. In this case, I have nothing to lose. It’s only 123 pages, however, but part of an ongoing series. I’ll sample this and see if I want to continue with the rest.

So here are the next five:A Child of Our Time

Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch
The Three Bodied Problem Cixin Liu
A Child of Our Time William Bowden
The Veiled Web Katherine Asaro
Rookie Privateer Jamie McFarlane

I know with the arrival of the new year, most readers and authors are organizing their calendar for 2016. To help you with some good advice, I found this website:

https://geediting.com/blog/the-120-best-websites-for-writers-2015/

The 120 best websites for writers. I have used several of these websites to help me in my writing one way or another. Maybe they can help you too.

So that’s the second half of my list of ten for 2016. I hope you have a wonderful year and read many great books.

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Filed under alien life forms, Alien worlds, artificial intelligence, award winning scifi, Best selling science fiction, ebook science fiction, fantasy, genetic manipulation, Indie Publishing, military science fiction, Robots in science fiction, science fiction, science fiction series, science fiction space opera, Self-publishing, Space opera