Category Archives: YA science ficiton

Survival in science fiction

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This has been one of the snowiest winters I’ve ever experienced in the northwest
Which means I can stay in and read or write.

Yeah

The writing has slowed down as I’m trying to figure out how to get the the next series of events down on the page in an interesting fashion. Debates rage in writing circles on whether to be a pantser (writing by the seat your pants) or an outliner. For me, I do a broad outline and then charge ahead, putting myself in the head of my characters. Often they present surprising twists and turns in the action. I’m involved in one now and scrambling to see how my main characterIMG_0174 is going to get out of the pickle he’s got himself into.

It all makes writing fun.

I’ve been reading too. I usually put together a list of ten books to read throughout the new year, but this time I’m having difficulty coming up with an exciting list. I keep going back to authors that I have enjoyed in the past. I made a conscious effort to try new self published works last year and kept getting disappointed. Giving reviews became frustrating, particularly since I was not getting reviews myself.

I’m wondering what’s happening to book marketing. If you’re not tied to a large publisher with a big fan base, then book signings are not worth the time, expense or effort. I found add sites very effective for a while. Lately, not so much. As a reader, I’m not seeing exciting offerings and as an author, there are some I have used several times and my return on investment isn’t as rich as it used to be. It feels as if ebooks are becoming more and more devalued.

We probably brought it on ourselves with all the giveaways and promotions. But, hey, you have to get out there and offer something worthwhile to pique a reader’s interest. If you don’t put your name out, no one will know about you. I really feel these are great stories that readers will enjoy if they got to know about them.

As for other books… I still feel it is important to suggest good science fiction and, occasionally, fantasy. I want to keep a dialog going.

castaway-odysseyThis week, I read a book that caught my eye when I was library browsing. Publishers price new books expensively and often make them only available in hardcover for the first year. But, of course, those books are often found in the library for free. I picked a new book co-authored by Ryk Spoor and Eric Flint. Both are well known midlist science fiction authors. Their most recent book, Castaway Odyssey appears to be a later book in the Boundary Series, but I had no trouble with reading it first.

The story goes: Sergeant Samuel Morgan Campbell finds himself in a desperate situation when their starship the Outward Initiative shatters and disappears, leaving him and four boys on board a lifeboat during a practice drill. Outside on the hull, inspecting their actions for the drill, Ltd. Pearce Halley sustains life-threatening radiation exposure. Unexpectedly, the Sargeant and his untrained crew find themselves stranded in the depth of space, light years from any known colony, and with all electronics dead on the cramped lifeboat.

Boys ranging from Xander, recently graduated at the academy, to Francisco, who is an emotional nine years old, Sergeant Campbell has to calm and manage the occupants in this life-threatening situation.threshold

For fans of McGyver, this book is packed with interesting science written in an easy to understand manner as the novice crew has to repurpose equipment and find a way to survive far from any help. The second half of the story continues the survival theme once they discover and land on an unknown planet. Here, the reader gets a taste of the Swiss Family Robinson story as the crew now battles a dangerous alien planet that throws several lethal surprises at them.

I enjoyed the book as a light read with a YA flavor. It is always interesting to see what an author considers important in a survival situation in space. It does not have the detail and intensity of The Martian, but may appeal to that audience, nonetheless.

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Holiday Magic

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Christmas hornHappy Holidays

Holiday parties and holiday shopping are making it hard to wedge in any leisure reading.

In addition, checking over a final proof for Time’s Equation also kept me busy.
Beta readers got delayed by new jobs or new babies.
Meanwhile, there is a stampede to get a slot for holiday book advertising, but I decided to pass. I don’t think people have the time now to download ebooks. Maybe after Christmas when they are trying to fill up shiny new iPads or tablets.

What is your best month for sales? Tara Sparling, data hound extraordinaire, recently wrote a blog about this exact subject and highlighted May and December. Nick Rooney also added the following advice:

“Mood and market reception are really important. Certain books work better at various times of the year.

  • January – April: Romance, Self-help, Business books, Cookery
  • May – August: Adventure, Fantasy, Travel
  • Sept – Nov: Academic, Horror, Paranormal
  • Dec – Jan: Children, Cookery, Illustrated, Quiz, Dictionaries and quirky fun books.”

It’s a general guide. There are no hard and fast rules. Try and tie your book into an event or occasion when you want to promote it.

Christmas appears to be a great time for hardback books that make nice gifts. January and February appear great for ebooks when the weather invites an indoor snuggle with hot chocolate and a good read. Some of my best sales have been February and then May as people fill their Kindle libraries to prepare for summer vacation reading.

Shadows of SelfMy book for this blog is Brandon Sanderson’s Shadows of Self that continues years later in the Mistborn Series. I must admit I’m enjoying the action and the intriguing system of magic that uses metals. January 26 the next in the series, Bands of Mourning, will be coming out. Unfortunately, because it is a very popular series, TOR has decided to charge $14.99 for a Kindle edition. Why? Most likely because they can. Old line publishers are pushing up ebook prices, but as both an author and reader, I’m conflicted about the practice. As an author, I would like to make more money by charging more, but as a reader, I spend a lot already on books. Reminds me of the drug company pricing.

What the market can bear.Bands of Mourning

In Shadows of Self, Waxillium Ladrian is a Twinborn, able to use both Allomancy and Feruchemy, the dominant magical modes on Scradrial. He uses various metals as both weapons and protection. An example of this is the ability to fly through the air by shooting out steel to propel himself. His eccentric sidekick, Wayne, and a young constable, Marais, sister to his fiancee, help Wax untangle the conspiracy that threatens their city.

They chase a nonhuman kandran named Bleeder that can assume the shape of any animal or person it digests. Normally aides of the God Harmony, kandran act like angels, but this one has gone mad and is on a murder spree. High Lord and lawman combined, Wax pursues the paranormal enemy, uncovering corruption and rebellion within his city.

Because, Shadows of Self is set in a turn of the century time period, it has a steampunk flavor along with an intriguing magic system.

Brandon writes well. He has a worthwhile writing lecture series on uTube that is taped at Brigham Young University. 

http://brandonsanderson.com/writing-advice/

Exciting action, interesting characters, unique magic, and clear writing all add up to a book that I recommend. Good news is that it’s available at your local library if you’re willing to wait.

Image 4Happy Holidays to you and yours and may 2016 be the best ever year.Image

 

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How Readers Pick Books

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To select the first five books that I want to read for 2014, I followed Mark Coker’s study on how ebook buyers discover books.

http://blog.smashwords.com/2011/09/how-ebook-buyers-discover-books.html

Surprisingly, or maybe not…word of mouth is still the number one way readers select books.

So my first selection breaks my rules of only reading science fiction because Peter at Powell’s became wildly enthusiastic  telling me about The Lies of Locke Lamora by Stephen Lynch. Peter is the science fiction and fantasy expert and lives and breathes books at the number one bookstore in Beaverton. So, when I asked what would be his top pick for me to read….I listen…and listened…and finally  grabbed the book he was waving around out of his hand and bought it.The Lies of Locke Lamora

The second method of selecting what to read…is, of course, reading a new book by a favorite author. Often if I like one book in the series, I go on to read the whole series. But for my next choice, I just went with a favorite author who has a new book out.

The human DivisionSo, The Human Division by John Scalzi is my second choice.

Besides, I wanted to add military science fiction to the list as it’s a popular genre with my readers. Also, Scalzi has great humor and action. Every book I’ve read of his, I have enjoyed.

No brainer

Lists are a third way people often select what they read. So I went to Goodreads, Amazon and Google to look at what books are making the 2013 most popular science fiction lists.

Time bound by Rysa Walker struck my fancy because of the subject matter. Also, she won Amazon’s breakout novel award for 2013. Not a bad list to be on. Here is a new author, that is number four on Amazon’s science fiction best selling list and sounds like something I might like. Timebound

Getting onto a top selling list is crucial if an author wants to sell a lot of books. Unfortunately, it can be a matter of serendipity. Somehow the story gets the attention of a few readers in a sector, and then a few more, as the word spreads. Next thing that author jumps into a top one hundred list and that propels the book forward. The more lists, the more readers, the more sales. People do check what everyone else is reading. And people love to make lists and share what they like.

So that brings me to number four, which is reviews and story summaries. Once a reader decides he wants to find a book, he may gather several titles that pique his interest. In deciding how to narrow his choices down, he looks first at the cover and then, the story blurb. What is the story about? Does it sound interesting?

I found Reality Check on a list and also under “if you like this, then you’ll like…”Reality Check

I am not a YA reader, but I will cross that line if the story sounds compelling. So a compelling story blurb is important if you want to appeal to readers. Three young adults leaving Earth for various reasons and starting out on a new world appealed to me. So I read the reviews, which for the most part were very positive.

A word on reviews…

I don’t think there’s a book in existence that hasn’t had at least one troll give it a poor review. Even the Bible probably has a review that criticizes the continuity of plot, or lack of depth to certain characters. People have opinions and some give opinions when in a poor frame of mind. That’s life.

However, I do read reviews and consider the comments…and so do a lot of people when making their selections. Time and money is too precious to waste on an awful book and reviews give guidance by people sharing their opinions on what they liked and didn’t like. Taste does vary, but a really good book, one worth reading, often has a majority of readers that like it. So good reviews are important.

The Snow QueenAnd last for this group, The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge. I read this long ago and really liked it. I’m now working on my next novel, Someone’s Clone that uses the viewpoint of a clone. So, I want to revisit this book because of the subject matter.

And that is my fifth reason for selection. Subject matter. If you like time travel, you gravitate towards that. If you like military scifi, that’s where you head. You may wander off course occasionally to try new pastures, but usually the reader will return to his favorite subject matter, and for me that usually means science fiction.

Here are my first five for 2014. I’ll read others, too, as they come along. Sampling the new and grabbing up classics I may have missed.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Stephen Lynch

Reality Check by Christopher Nuttall

The Human Division by Scalzi. Goodreads list

Time bound by Rysa Walker

Snow Queen Joan DeVinge

For something new with classic science fiction themes, you might take a look at my series and see if one catches your fancy. Check out the right hand panel and get the New Year off to a fun start.

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Best Selling and Most Popular Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2013

IMG_9518With the end of the year approaching, the “best of 2013” lists are starting to come out. I am always curious as to what others consider the best science fiction or fantasy novels of the passing year.

If you check out the current list of Amazon’s top science fiction and fantasy titles, a lot of the titles are more fantasy than science fiction. This list evolves from hour to hour, but it was difficult to find my version of science fiction that contains aliens, spaceships, or transhuman protagonists. There appears to be more stories along the lines of the contemporary fantasy tale, or contemporary supernatural on this particular list.

And media has a heavy impact on the choices. Currently, number one is George Martin, number two, Orson Scott Card and number three Toiken….all have a movie now showing or an upcoming T.V. series… Game of Thrones, Enders Game, and The Hobbit. 

Some names on the list I recognize, while others appear new and interesting.

Ocean at the end of the lane kindleNumber five is Neil Gaimon and his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I was over number 100 on the library list for this one, but finally got it checked out and just finished reading it. I am amazed at the over 2,000 Amazon reviews, of which 1000 were five stars. However, eighty-five were only one star, and a large group gave him only three. Still, that’s awesome.

Just shows that we’re all individuals with individual tastes.

As for me, I didn’t know what to expect…and I was surprised. First off, the prose broke several rules for writing being handed around my current critique group. Gaimon is not afraid to use “was” or “had” and several of his paragraphs start with subject verb, many with “I” and a verb, even several paragraphs like that in a row. He uses flashback, first person viewpoint and never reveals the name of his narrator.

All that said, his writing flows and the story captivates.

The story is about a fiftyish year old man who returns to his hometown to attend a funeral and starts randomly driving around, but ends up at a neighbor’s farm near where he grew up.

A grandmother, mother and eleven year old girl lived there when he was a boy, befriending him, and as he shows up to visit, the grandmother warmly greets him, having not aged at all.

He asks to sit by their duckpond, which the young girl, Lettie, used to insist was an ocean. She has gone away and is not there, and he misses his childhood friend. There he reminisces over a pivotal event in his childhood where innocently he became a nexus and doorway for an evil creature bent on taking over their world. Through subtle hints and innuendo, Gaimon paints the three residents as immortals living here on Earth in order to protect humans from malevolent entities that try to invade and inhabit our world.

For some reason, the young narrator totally trusts Lettie, and doesn’t blink when she reveals supernatural powers or calmly shoos nightmare creatures that show up occasionally.

The narrator leads the reader to suspend his or her disbelief and become immersed in fantastical events that sometimes turn dark…especially when evil invades the boy’s family and tries to control them.Anansi boys

I am surprised at the overwhelming popularity of the book, but I did finish it and was intrigued by Gaimon’s world. He has a big fan base and uses social media, tweeting often. (I follow him, Scalzi and others) The story walks a fine line between adult and YA fantasy. If you consider the grandmother, mother and Lettie as aliens (and Gaimon does hint that) then it has a bit of a science fiction slant. If you see them as the crone, the mother and the child, then there’s more of a mythic/legend quality to it.

Meanwhile, I am developing my reading selections for 2014. Some I will select from various “best lists” while others will be requests by new science fiction writers that appear interesting to me. It will be strictly personal taste.

And maybe we’ll visit a few of “the best of 2013” lists of science fiction along the way and talk about the choices there.

And BTW wish me a happy birthday today. I came down the chimney in a sack, it seems.

A New Year approaches, a package of wonder to unwrap and enjoy. Hope yours is a good one.

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Superstar science fiction/fantasy Author

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In spite of the tsunami of new books, certain authors are managing to make quite a splash in the current world of fantasy and science fiction.

When I tried to think of who was creating a lot of buzz, the name Brandon Sanderson came to mind. His works range from a large first novel in an epic series to a short story series based on a video game.

So width and depth.

And recognition is coming…Elantris

A 2013 Hugo for his 168 page novella The Emperor’s Soul.

But I expect he is only just starting to gather momentum and awards.

He debuted in 2005 with Elantris and followed up in 2006 with his first book in the Mistborn Series: Mistborn: The Final Empire. This is an interesting series that I recommend, not only for a good story, but also for its complex rules of magic.

The series is set in an ash covered, mist-shrouded world ruled for over 1,000 years by the Dark Lord who reigns terror and pain on his subjects.

Mistborn by Brandon SandersonKelsier suffers in the deepest most hellish prison where he discovers allomancy or the power that comes from burning certain metals. Each metal offers different super powers and Kelsier finds he is able to burn up to ten. He organizes a ragtag group of rebels and begins to set in motion a plan to take down the dark lord.

Vin is a street urchin who trusts no one, and for good reasons, but she has undiscovered abilities as great as Kelsier’s. He trains her and uses her to infiltrate the great houses where at a ball she meets prince Elend Venture and a shy romance develops.

What follows is a story of the usual rough rebels against the awful oppressor, but with an interesting metallurgical twist…and a sweet romance between a street urchin with super powers and a philosophical prince.Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The series continues with The Well of Ascension, The Hero for Ages, and most recently, with new characters, and generations later, The Alloy of Law. (November 2011)

Memory of LightAt the death of Robert Jordan, and with the blessing of his estate, Brandon Sanderson  took over completing the wildly popular Wheel of Time fantasy series. Just as recently as April, 2013, Memory of Light:  book 14 was published by TOR.

In addition, he has several Young Adult books coming out. Steelheart in the newReckoners Series released September 2013. Also available is the short story series based on the video game Infinity Blade: Infinity Blade: Awakening (128 pages) September 2011 and Infinity Blade: Redemption just out September 2013. (147 pages).Steelheart

With the powerful publishing house TOR  behind him, Sanderson has recently brought out his own series, which he had been working on for many years called, The Stormlight Archives Series. The Way of Kings is book 1 and Words of Radiance is book 2  with a publication date of March 4, 2014.

Again Sanderson has created a unique complex world of hard rock, violent storms and intriguing magic. The thousand page novel…

Way of KingsYes, I said  a thousand pages…

…is told from several viewpoints. One is from the oppressed Kaladin who finds himself a branded slave, another is the struggling war hero, Brightlord Dalinar Kholin who has visions that many call madness. Also his sister Jasnah, a renown scholar takes on a troubled young student, Shallan who tells her story of sudden poverty and intrigue. The world is rich in characters, setting, magic and myth.

Remember The Lord of the Rings, The Name of the Wind, and other grand fantasy epics, and you’ll have a sense of this challenging and rich new series by an author that is hitting his stride and becoming a superstar in the world of fantasy and science fiction.

You’ll stay up way too late promising yourself, “Just one more chapter, and I’ll stop.”

…but you won’t.

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Does Science Fiction have a Gender Bias?

IMG_9503Is reader gender important in science fiction?

I’ve been led to believe that men and women read different types of stories.

In our writer’s group we have four women and two men. When we only had one male, the criticism was always…give more description and detail. What do the walls look like? What are they eating? Wearing? Facial features?

Then we added another guy.

Suddenly we were talking about action in the story!

Myths of the MirrorI put a lot of action in my stories, but our fantasy writer does eloquent description and engaging characters. Check out Myths of the Mirror by D. Peach. I have been learning a lot from her on how to paint details and characters into my story.

Now, suddenly, with another male voice in the mix, the comments have become…when are they going to DO something?

We don’t know what color his protagonist’s hair is, or if  eyes are blue or green…but Ted writes compelling military action stories.

Check out  http://www.perihelionsf.com/archives/blasche001.htm “To Dance With the Ladies from IO6” by Ted Blasche. When the women fussed at him, he said that he wants the reader to engage his own imagination to create the character…and plot and action drive his stories.

Both work.

Why am I blogging about this?

Because as a writer, I need to figure out my audience, and I’m not so sure science fiction is as male dominated as some might think. Or that women are all about pretty description and intense emotion in a story. I know I’m not. I like both.

I was brought up short when one of the female readers from my book group critiqued Rendezvous With Rama by commenting that she really liked how clean and straightforward the writing was. Several chimed in that David Weber just put in too much description.

Is such a thing possible?

I had thought Rendezvous With Rama dry and needing more description. I wanted to meet the aliens or have the ship on some dramatic mission, rather than have our solar system be just a fuel stop.Rendezvous with Rama

Plot, character and description is a three pronged stool and the writer needs to keep in mind the audience he, or she is aiming at while writing.

Thank goodness, science fiction is also malleable. It can be intellectual with lots of science like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, or laden with love and emotion like The Time Traveler’s Wife by Niffenger. It can be a mystery like Kathryn Rusch’s Retrieval series or military like Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

The fun is that you can write a variety of sub genres under the cloak of science fiction. Caught in Time is a basic time travel romance with a war thrown in for the guys. A Dangerous Talent for Time is more a quest story, almost young adult, as two main characters are in their late teens, early twenties. Then, Cosmic Entanglement has a murder mystery. Past the Event Horizon takes place on a starship and is very Star Trek with a space battle and emphasizes the science and physics of space . Space Song involves pieces of all elements: romance, military, mystery, science, young adult.space-song-cover-smashwords

So, today I’m wondering how to connect with my audience, and is there a gender bias there? Anyone know of any research along those lines?

Next week I’ll be in Nashville giving a talk on “Time Travel and all things science fiction,” and signing books. Also, a big wedding, and later, a hot card game with relatives. So, timing on when I get my blog out may be influenced by wild social activities. Fingers crossed.

Fair warning.

Next question is: Does science fiction have an age bias? What kind of science fiction is read by young, middle-aged and the mature audience? Is it different? Is there a preference that is determined by age? I know my twenty something daughter, who rarely reads science fiction, got caught up in The Hunger Games trilogy. Was it the plot or the characters? Maybe both.

And what group or subset is reading the most science fiction? Young kids? Old guys? Housewives?

Today, we ask questions of the universe. Tomorrow we seek answers.

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Steampunk: Yes and No.

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

See this link for an idea:

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

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

Glamour in Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wore me out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, I couldn’t put it down.

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