Category Archives: Implanting humans

Ad Survey for Self Publishers

Happy Autumn!

As my blog readers know, I often talk about marketing. I do this not because I’m any marketing guru, but because I like to share information in the hopes it will help other authors out there. I occasionally use ad sites. When I don’t, sales slump, and when I do, sales do better…depending on the effectiveness of the site.

That’s why over the last two years, I have participated in Jason B. Ladd’s survey on results authors have found for various ad sites. Before I was buying blind on whether they were effective or not. Even though his samples are small, they do shed light on some of the sites and their effectiveness.

Of course, genre plays a role. Robin Reads appears to favor the romance writer whereas Book Barbarian is limited to science fiction and fantasy only. Bookbub is the clear winner for garnering most downloads and sales, but very expensive and practically impossible to get accepted unless you have a million five star reviews. Also, I notice lots of famous author’s backlists show up there, most likely supported by traditional publishers. Amy Tam has listed and Isaac Asimov, Gordon Dickson and others listed recently. I’m not in that league … yet.

So, Jason and helpers took all the results of ads sent in by self publishing authors and compiled the results to see if the promotions are worthwhile. He asked the question : Is spending money on ad sites worth it? Here’s a good look at how the ads broke down by genre and what you can expect to pay and what you can expect to receive in downloads and sales.

Here’s the link : http://www.jasonbladd.com/run-book-promotion-numbers-say-yes/

In addition, he has published a book on how to get reviews called Book Review Bonzai. I need reviews, but when I read the method, it looked like a lot of difficult work. It involves using software programs that scrapes the internet for reviewers, putting information on a spread sheet to keep track, and batch e-mailing them to ask for a review. It works, but sounded very time-consuming.

Besides, I’m a reviewer who likes to choose what I review rather than be hounded into writing one. Nonetheless, this may just be what you are searching for to pump up your reviews. Having a good number of reviews is important as often certain advertisers require a minimum number before accepting your novel. This could be the very tool you have been looking for to increase your reviews.

This week for my science fiction suggestion, I’m returning to a favorite author.

Catherine Asaro has just released the next in her Skolian Saga called The Bronze Skies. This is a stand alone in the story of Major Bhaajan who comes from the Under City of the City of Cries. She calls it book eight in the Skolian Empire series but it follows the more recent Undercity title published last year.

The story:

Born into the slums below the City of Cries on the planet Raylicon, the orphan Bhaajan broke free of her crushing poverty and joined the military. There she rose in rank to become a military officer with the Imperial Space Command. Now she is retired and offers her service as a private investigator. Undercity tells the story of her first investigation, which I reviewed last year.

The Bronze Skies continues her story, as she takes on solving an odd murder witnessed by the Ruby Pharoah.

The House of Majda rules the City of Cries and Cries rules the planet Raylicon. Three formidable sisters hold power in the house of Majda. The oldest, Vaj Majda, serves as the General in the Pharaoh’s Army which makes her joint Commander of the Imperial Space Command. The youngest, Colonel Lavinda Majda, is a high Commander in the military, and the third, Corejida Majda  runs the finances of the empire.

The Ruby Pharaoh, Dyhianna Selei (Skolia), is descended from the Ruby Empire, a far-flung civilization that at one time stretched across the stars. It collapsed, and now an elected Assembly rules. Dyhianna, as the Ruby Pharaoh, controls and monitors the interstellar meshes that tie humanity together. The meshes even extend into a different universe, Kyle space. You couldn’t visit the Kyle but you could transform your thoughts there if you were a trained operator with proper enhancements. This enables instant communication light years across interstellar civilization. The Ruby Pharaoh has to have a certain genetic lineage to give her this ability.

The murderer is Jagernaut Daltona Calaj who walks into the financial office at Selei City on the planet of Parthonia and shoots the aide Tavan Ganz. Jagernauts are thought to be unable to murder like that.

Major Bhaajan gets involved when the Ruby Pharoah claims to have witnessed the murder and suggests the AI node implanted in the jugernaut’s spine may have been corrupted. And now, the murderer, Calaj, is on Rayliccon and suspected of hiding out in the Under City—Bhaajan’s old stomping grounds where very few upper level humans can survive.

The Under City is a place of scavengers, of a hidden people who never see the sun and live a brutal existence. For ages, they have been ignored by the upper class citizens of Cries who live on the surface, and only recently recognized. Because she was born there and lived a brutal childhood there, Bhaajan knows the lingo, the culture, and the people. The crime boss of an illegal brothel and gambling house is her lover. So she is uniquely qualified to track down the illusive culprit who is said to be hiding there. Her search into the underground and where the trail leads makes the story more than a simple murder.

I found the story appealing on various levels. Bhaajan is an interesting character with conflicting emotions concerning her background and current status in a highly stratified society. This is an involved universe, so be prepared for clumps of background information to be dumped into the story to keep you up-to-date.

Bhaajan has an implanted, sentient AI that has formed a close bond and they have an ongoing conversation with each other, which I find delightful. Her body has been augmented, making her powerful physically. Her relationship with Jak, who grew up with her, is a sensual one and conflicted, although her one goal is to better the people of Undercity. This society is rich in culture and forms an intriguing storyline in and of itself.

But most interesting is the desert ruins outside of Cries, hinting of a long gone civilization and visitors from the stars that originally colonized the plant, and then mysteriously disappeared. Within these ruins, she discovers powerful AIs who are maintained by a mysterious cult of cloned telepaths…and one rogue AI that awakens from a crashed starship and is out to destroy all humans

At the center, is Dryhianna, whose mind grapples with the artificial intelligence within the mesh and Kyle space, and discovers this hidden and powerful AI that wants to wipe out all humans.

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Filed under artificial intelligence, artificial nature, award winning scifi, Best selling author, Best selling science fiction, Clones, downloaded personalities, genetic manipulation, Implanting humans, Marketing and selling novels, modifying humans, Nebula nominations, science fiction series, science fiction space opera, Transhumanism

E-Book Marketing

Image 1The holiday season is barreling down on us, and if you plan any book marketing, you might need to get it in place soon. Selecting how to market is like running through an obstacle course. Each site has different requirements. Most want at least five reviews, which sounds easy except for the new Amazon rules, and if the book is a new release, you may have very few. However, several sites will take a new release if you have other books with fifty strong reviews from Amazon.

Just when I found a book I would consider offering that meet all the criteria, I realized it had no more free KDP select days. I get better results offering one free, and then readers buy the others. Back to the drawing board.

Finally, I got it all in place. I have offered Someone’s Clone free on Cyber Monday November 28 through Booksends, but it will also be free through KDP from November 25 to 29 since I estimate a lot of people will be online looking for deals… And viola, there I’ll be.

Free, free, free.

At least that’s the rationale.

I have something set up for December after Christmas when the commotion has died down and new Kindle and tablets are wanting to be filled. Caught in Time will be free December 26, mainly because Fussy Librarian was filled the other days I wanted.

I’ll let you know how each one performed.

Kathryn Rush did an interesting blog with numbers and math that indicated retail sales across the board were down in October due to folks concentrating on the election. I know mine were. I wondered why. I thought it was because I didn’t do a promotion or much advertising because I was so busy launching A World Too Far.

She said relax. Low sales were not any authors’ fault. Data going back several other election years showed the same trend for October and November.

I feel better.

crosstalkThis week I’m mentioning Crosstalk by Connie Willis. Connie has won numerous Hugo Awards and Nebulas making her a top science fiction author and a favorite of mine. If you ever thought it would be a good idea to be able to read minds, this will change your opinion. If, like me, you feel you are being overtaken by technology, especially the new Alexa, Google, and other devices that are intruding into our homes, in addition to the ever present smart phone, iPad, etc., this will confirm that feeling.

Briddy Flanigan is a young thirtieth professional woman who works at a cell phone and communications company competing with Apple. She is constantly on her phone checking and getting texts, emails, and calls from everyone who knows her business before she even does. Trent, the hot VP at the company, and her obsessively career-minded boyfriend, has convinced her to get an EED. This is an implant that allows a couple to be aware of each other’s emotions and often gotten prior to marriage to bring two people closer together.

So, now everyone in the company is a buzz, thinking there’s an engagement coming… And Briddy is already overwhelmed by communication in her life that includes her intrusive family of a paranoid mother, a younger precocious sister, and a single desperate older sister who constantly falls for the wrong guys and runs to Briddy for consolation.crosstalk-paperback

The high profile doctor who will perform the implant assures her that nothing can go wrong. But this is a story by Connie Willis, so, of course, chaos breaks out.

The book is a biting social satire on what happens when there is too much human communication. Events spin out of control for our heroine, resulting in hilarious situations that proceed at a breathtaking speed. Bundled in all this shenanigans is a touching love story.

It’s a fast-paced, near future read, written with a light heart that asks some deep questions, and one you don’t want to start too late at night.

Also by Connie: Hugo award winner To Say Nothing of the Dog.dog

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Review of Dome City Blues: A science fiction murder mystery

Image 1How do you buy your books nowadays?

Do you saunter down to the local bookstore and browse the shelves, picking out twenty-five dollar hardback or fifteen dollar trade paperbacks?

Or do you open Amazon and check out the suggestions on the front page, then click on best seller and free lists by Indie publishers at $2.99 to $4.99 or free?

Or do you grab a cup of coffee and open your iPad email to see what books certain ad sites are offering for free or discounted ?

Or do you check out your books at the library?

I must admit that I do all the above. Lately, however, I have been picking up books off the ad sites more and more. Stashing books on my Kindle takes up little room, and they don’t degrade over time or have overdue fines.photo

I used to concentrate on the list from the Hugo and Nebula awards. I thought that a popular vote had to result in a good book. Often this was true. Now, I notice that the books presented mostly are from traditional houses with a strong marketing team…TOR, Orbit, etc. and seem to repeat certain authors.

Don’t get me started on how disappointed I have been lately with the Nebula offerings I have read.

Still, as you can tell from my blog, if I like a particular author, ( Bujold, Asaro, Lee and Miller, Lynch, Gibson etc.) I quickly pick up their next book in the series in any of the above ways.

Powell's booksAlso, word of mouth or blogs (similar to mine) still impact my choice. Powell’s has a dynamic science fiction and fantasy reading group, so I often ask fellow readers what they are reading and will buy several books after our lively meetings. Powell’s also offers special deals and pricing on various books, but are constricted by purchasing through the catalogue. (there are exceptions) I must admit, they support local authors and have a robust author signing schedule.

Jan’s bookstore also offers used books with good prices and partners with Kobe for ebooks. They are friendly and helpful, but I’m getting lazy and don’t often drive across town for a book as much as I used to.

A lot of fans attend conferences and conventions to discover or support authors. Portland has Orycon and the Willamette Writers Conference. I used to attend every year, but more as an author for the panels than as a place to suss out my next novel to read. Still, a lot of traditional authors sponsored by bigger publishers with a bigger budget than mine go that route with great success.

Studying how books are bought can help an author decide what marketing path works best for his or her situation. Putting a book in a bookstore hasn’t worked for me. Attending conferences can get expensive and exhausting. Orycon is getting insular with the same locals appearing on panels and no top selling names as in the past. There is a definite traditional publishing bias and a bit of snobbery against Indie publishing. So, I quit going. Things may have changed since I last went, but I’m skeptical.

Last time I went to Willamette Writers, there was little to no science fiction offered on the panels or by interviewing agents, and I paid over five hundred dollars to attend. (that didn’t include the dinner). Now, I’d rather spend that on a good cover and editing. What is working for me is publishing more books and ad sites. It’s a spiral both ways. The more books you sell, the more your name gets out, the more books you sell.

Of course, the critical factor is to write a really good book. It helps to have a good marketing team with a lot of money to splash around and get the word out at the launch. I don’t, so I have to build slowly. I doubled sales and income last year from the previous year, and am on track to double again. Right now, sales are great. But I need more reviews…especially if they’re good. (hint)

So remember, it’s a long game now, and persistence and patience often are a winning combination.

Dome City BluesLast week, I talked about the trend of blending genres. When the author no longer has to figure out what section of the bookstore to place his book, or abide by a publisher dictating genre rules, then he or she can write a story that mixes genres. Science fiction romance, science fiction murder mystery, etc.

So I took a sharp right turn from my usual fare and picked up a book from an ad site. The title Dome City Blues by Jeff Edwards caught my attention. The title says it all. Mike Hammer meets Blade Runner.

I was in the mood for it.

David Stalin is a retired detective and war veteran. He lives in a fun place controlled by an artificial intelligence (even gets his coffee) under a dome that is one of several that cover parts of Los Angeles. His world is badly polluted and humanity lives mostly in domed cities.

The story uses the gumshoe detective trope and decorates the action with futuristic trappings. A beautiful, distraught prostitute pleads for David to investigate her brother’s case and clear his name so she can receive compensation. It appears to be an open and shut murder with a video of him confessing to the crime of killing young girls and ripping out their hearts before he records himself blowing out his own brains.

At the moment, David is still grieving over his wife’s death where they were working a case together and she got killed, put on ice, and partially sold for parts. He has isolated himself from others, except for an old war buddy who was shot in the spine during a fight and David saved him by carrying him out. Now, this friend, John, can only walk encased in a robotic exoskeleton, but has an obsession to find a way to be whole again.Angel City Blues

David picks at the case and gets drawn in deeper. Hacking into police files uncovers a similar murder of a young girl and a public self-confession several years ago. David takes on the case, uncovering more dead young girls with missing hearts. Getting too close, he is drugged and set up to take the fall for the murder of his main suspect. With a prominent citizen dead and all evidence pointing at him, he becomes a man on the run from the police. A shadowy figure also puts out an underground contract on his head. So, all the punks and criminals are out to kill him and collect.

The case becomes more complex as an underground movement called, “the Convergence” becomes involved. They are fighting a war against the blending of man and machine. David connects with this underground resistance force that is trying to stop this next step in evolution.

While some reviewers criticized Edward’s technology, saying the convergence of man and machine will happen sooner than he predicts, I disagree. Technology is moving faster and faster, but only recently have we been able to get a robot to walk as well as a human. And many have been working a long time on the problem. We are complex creatures. Even though, we’ll have automated driving, it will also take awhile to get a complete infrastructure that supports hovercraft and self-driving cars. Considering this was written in 1992, I think Edwards did a good job of portraying a futuristic world.download (1)

Besides, not all famous authors accurately predict stuff. Right Bradbury? (Martian Chronicles) And how long has it been since we’ve had any manned flights? Forty, fifty years?

I just hope we aren’t as polluted fifty years from now as Edwards expects. Global warming aside, electric cars and environmental activism make me more optimistic than portrayed in the book.

There is a lot of dramatic action, especially toward the end, and a good dollop of emotion, both in the anger of a lost love and the terror of being hunted. Even though I got irritated at the constant smoking that the main character indulged in, I enjoyed the story.

If you like the Blade Runner style of writing, you might want to check this one out. I have no  affiliations with the author, but it is now available for $.99 and was a decent deal.

And if you like the science fiction murder mystery genre, check out my Someone’s Clone. It’s a bit of a genre blend also. (see at right). Murder, time travel and clones.

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Filed under artificial intelligence, Book reviews, Cutting Edge Science ideas, downloaded personalities, Dystopia Earth, ebook marketing, environmental issues in science fiction, Implanting humans, Marketing and selling novels, modifying humans, Robots in science fiction, Science Fiction Detective Story, Transhumanism

What Ad Sites Should You Market Your Book On?

photoMy horoscope said that I need to change things up in my daily life.

So, I changed my blog background from dark to light.

What do you think?

Radical, I know. But don’t go easy on me. Tell me what you really think.

This morning I did the analytics for my August sales and was pleasantly surprised.

Thank you, wonderful readers. I hope you are enjoying the series.

I’m currently finishing up edits for the eighth book, Time’s Equation and eagerly waiting to see what the cover is going to look like. Late October is my publication target…before the holidays.

So marketing in August: What worked? What didn’t?

Book Gorilla at $50 cost didn’t return a net profit. I was so excited to see how that campaign would turn out…and it didn’t. I posted the discount at $.99 at their suggestion, which means I would have to sell over 144 books to break even. I didn’t.

Timing? Genre? Promotion? Who knows why.

On the other hand, The Midlist at $20 cost, more than made up for it. Go figure.

This month I am using my profits and plowing them back into the business. I will offer Caught in Time, my first book, free through Robin Reads ($15) on September 19 and Freebooksy ($70) on September 21. Freebooksy is a favorite, and when I was setting up my marketing for September, I defaulted to it out of frustration. I saw too many venues with no way of knowing what would work.

What I needed at the time was Cheryl Bradford’s list of ad sites and Nicolas Rossis’s plan of attack…which I now provide for you because both are so awesome. Thank you, Cheryl and Nick.

http://nicholasrossis.me/2015/08/30/bookbub-insights-launch-a-new-book-thats-part-of-a-series/?c=22638#comment-22638

This will save you hours of research and make your marketing much more efficient.

full list of websites where you can advertise your ebook price promotion, courtesy of Cheryl Bradshaw.

You’re welcome.

So with September settled, I cast about for a story to recommend. After reading and discarding several options, I found Dark Space through a Freebooksy special. FREE! And very readable.

And guess what…as of right now…it’s still free. But I don’t know how long that will last. FYI.

Dark SpaceDark Space, book 1 by Jasper Scott, is a military space opera in a series.

Freelancer and ex-convict, Ethan Ortane, is deep in debt, hiding out with the rest of humanity in Dark Space. An alien race, the Synthians, invaded the human galaxy with one goal in mind… to wipe out humans. Now the last remains of humanity hide out in Dark Space behind a stargate guarded by the Valiant, a carrier ship of the Imperial Star System Fleet.Dark Space 2

But Ethan has gotten deep in debt to crime lord Alec Brondi, and his ship, and therefore his means of support, is badly damaged. His only way out is to comply with Bondi’s deal to infiltrate and sabotage the Valiant.

If that isn’t enough to make Ethane follow through with the plan, Brondi kidnaps Ethane’s beautiful crewmember and threatens torture if he doesn’t comply.

Ethane steps into a dead soldier’s persona, infiltrates the Valiant, and finds that things are not what he expected…Dark Space 3

which all makes for an interesting story and start to a fun series.

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Filed under ebook marketing, ebook science fiction, Implanting humans, Indie authors, Indie Publishing, Indie Science Fiction Authors, Marketing and selling novels, military science fiction, science fiction, science fiction series, Self-publishing, Space opera, space ship, space travel, Transhumanism

Indie and Legacy: A Reader’s Choice

IMG_0174Sound the trumpets, wave the banners…Someone’s Clone is now available in ebook form through Amazon. The paperback version will be out around Thanksgiving. Time travel, clones, mystery, a space station, main character with a computer in his brain, adventure, romance…it’s all there.

Writing a 350-page book has taken a year, mainly because I work with a writers group of five other authors that meet twice a month. We critique twenty pages at a go. So it takes time, but it’s well worth it. And then, I offer an advance copy to three or four Beta readers who make excellent suggestions on how to make that better. someones_clone_front-cover_v2_finalSometimes, I employ an independent editor, particularly if a certain section is in question, or I have extra funds sloshing around in my book account

As an incentive, I am offering Touching Crystal, the previous book (6), starting November 21 to the 28th through Amazon’s Countdown Deal. So the best price (.$99) is at the earliest date and goes up a dollar every few days. This can be read as a stand alone, as can Someone’s Clone, but both are richer if the reader is familiar with the earlier books. Needless to say, this is the first time ever I have discounted Touching Crystal…and it won’t last long. So mark your calendar. There’s a deadly comet in it.

touching-crystal-thumb-1I recently attended an Author’s Seminar at Jan’s Paperback in Aloha, Oregon. If you are in the area, and like to read from the physical book, just call Debbie or Jodie at 503 649 3444 and I’ll provide a signed copy of any in the series for you. (Give a bit of lead time).

I watched the broadcasts about the Rosetta Project and saw the Philae Lander successfully hop onto a speeding comet. Science fiction becomes science reality. It was exciting. (See previous blog for more)New Image of Comet ISON

This week I’m reading The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter Hamilton. Hamilton’s civilization has advanced far into the future where humans regenerate, clone themselves, have embedded technology that enables telepathy, and live practically forever. Space travel has wormhole technology, but there is a barrier separating a region in the universe known as the Void where the physics is different…time is different.

Bored humans become eager to risk their lives for new discoveries and unknown adventure. So several expeditions venture forth to Abyss Beyond Dreamspenetrate and explore this region.

Hamilton has established his credentials as a foremost science fiction writer with several other series and novels, which I have enjoyed. (see previous blogs) At over 600 pages, I am still reading this one, but the going is lumpy.

An action-packed start bogs down with detailed science and description. Laura Brandt is “tank yanked” when things go wrong on an expedition to the Void, which lies at the core of their galaxy.

For those scifi readers who like hard science, Hamilton’s description of physics is interesting, but I wanted to move on after a bit. The stories start with the mounting disasters faced by the shuttle scientists as they explore an alien formation of crystal “trees” circling a planet’s atmosphere in the Void. The trees carry “eggs” that soon attack the crew and attempt to absorb them. Interesting non-stop action runs for eighty-eight pages with no chapter breaks until book two.

Now, you’re in a different story, but the same universe. This story concerns a wealthy, powerful, and long-lived human, Nigel Sheldon, who clones himself and entangles his thoughts with his clone as he prepares to send his doppelgänger on an expedition. The book ends as the clone’s ship slips past the boundary and into the Void.

The next section or “book” begins in a military unit on a planet presumably inside the Void. This is full of action and an interesting alien that drops onto the planet in an egg shape, lures in humans with thoughts and emotions, manipulates, and devours them.

I plan to keep reading because Hamilton’s world building is intriguing. He challenges the reader with mind-bending concepts and offers a peek into a possible far future. He stretches the ideas of what humans may become and what they possibly could do. He throws in heavy science, but also includes some dramatic action.

Ark RoyalNext blog, I plan to talk about Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall. Christopher Nuttall writes an extensive military science fiction series that is getting noticed. This series was recommended to me by an avid military scifi enthusiast. So when Nuttall put the first book in the series at a nice discount, I snapped it up and slid it onto my Kindle shelf. Now, I plan to check it out for you and pass along my impressions.

I think a novel is selected because of the story, combined with other people’s recommendations, whether it be on a list or in person. I didn’t check the publisher first to see if I wanted to read either book. Peter Hamilton’s book is published by Del Ray, an imprint of Random House…one of the Big Five publishing houses and was on some list of “new books to read.”

Christopher Nuttall’s came as word of mouth and is published digitally by Amazon Digital Services and in print form by CreateSpace.

I think the readers of today select what they read from a variety of places. How nice to have both the tried and true authors from legacy publishers to choose from and, also, the new, exciting, emerging self publishing authors.

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Science Fiction Gender Bending

img_95182

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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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

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