Tag Archives: downloaded personality

Going to the Dark Side

IMG_0180Summer is a wonderful time of the year here in the Northwest. We have cooled off to high seventies in temperature, and other than gardening, I have time to read out on my shady deck under tall pines.

Lately, I have been restless, trying to find a good cutting-edge future science fiction tale. I dove into cyber punk with mixed results in Gibson’s The Peripheral and Charles Stross’s HaltinG StatE. (See previous blog for further comments).

Since I have been advertising my books on different websites, also with mixed results, I decided to download a few free and discounted books from Freebooksy and Sweetfreebooks. In my several marketing campaigns, Freebooksy and more recently the Midlist have given me the best results. The vaunted Fussy Librarian and Book Gorilla have cost me money while delivering poor sales. Having said that, other authors claim good results from them. Once again, various factors of timing, cover, taste, and reader who just wanted a time travel book at that moment, come into play.

Post HumanSo I chose the Post Human Series by David Simpson, Mirrored Time J.D. Faulkner and Star Wanderers by Joe Vasice. Why? The Post Human series had far future humans with transhumanism where humans are using technology and science to evolve past being human. Also, there was a suggestion of inter-dimensional realities that intrigued me. I’ll admit that so far the story is chock full of future science and action. The writing flows well with few grammar or punctuation errors.

The early episodes, however, are short and choppy, skipping over large spans of time. All that I could deal with, and did, until I got snagged on the changing point of views. Rapidly switching point of view with no warning or break is a new writer’s curse, and often the writer isn’t aware of what he’s doing until it’s pointed out to him. In this case, three pov jumps in one paragraph, and I put the book down. I may pick it back up later because of the interesting ideas and technology.Mirrored Times

Sometimes I’m not strong of will and cross over to the dark side. When the temperature hit over ninety last week, I reached for chocolate Haagen Daas to cool off my mouth and make my taste buds dance.

What diet?

At the same time, I reached for a fantasy in the form of Mark Lawrence’s The King of Thorns sitting soKing of Thorns seductively on my reading table. I had read his Prince of Fools and liked it. The reviews said King of Thorns was even better. I would be traveling into the realm of dark fantasy and knew it.

Now, there is also a Prince of Thorns that you should read first, but like chocolate Hagen Daas, I didn’t mind not having another flavor at the moment and confused the earlier book with Prince of Fools.

King of Thorns is a can’t-put-down book. And that’s just what I wanted. The writing is gorgeous with gasping wit, heart-pounding action, and tear-filled emotion. A bit gritty, but bearable.

You continue the life of Jorge Ancrath who at age nine has vowed to avenge his slaughtered mother and brother, and punish his father for not doing so. Now at age eighteen, Prince of thornshe is King of Renar, having taken the land through slaughter and death from his evil uncle. Jorge is not a delicate lad. He’s on a mission to rule the world and doesn’t play by the rules.

The story begins outside his castle where he is surrounded by thousands of the Prince of Arrow’s men. Orrin Oildan, Prince of Arrow, also hungers to be Emperor and sweeps kingdoms into his hand as he marches victoriously across the land until he reaches Jorge’s rough castle. Unlike Jorge, who is beset by sorcerers at every turn and considered mean and ruthless, Orrin is the fair-haired ruler whom everyone calls great and good. Every sorcerer and witch prophesies the triumph of the Prince of Arrows for the Emperor’s throne until Jorge is weary of hearing it. But it doesn’t slow him down a whit.

The book jumps back and forth in time, starting with Jorg’s wedding day, and then returning four years into the past. There he travels with his band of disreputable friends across the land from one wild adventure to another. Adventure and wedding flip back and forth moving closer in time as the book progresses.

Clever, haunted, and powerful, Jorge has the touch of necromancy in his fingers and carries a dangerous box of memories everywhere he goes. Trying to save a young fire Mage, he also learns to play with fire.

There are also hints of science fiction within the fantasy-flavored tale when Jorge refers to “the Builders” who seem to be great men from Earth’s past. He meets a holograph who is a downloaded personality of a past scientist. The holograph tends a forgotten machine deep under Jorge’s maternal uncle’s castle. Along the way, Jorge also accumulates artifacts from the past that become important to his survival.

My only complaint with the story is that in two critical instances, the author uses my own tricky plot twist to escape an almost impossible situation. One I use in Caught in Time when the bandits try to rob and rape Rowyna, and the other in A Dangerous Talent for Time when Brand de Fyre Elitas, like Jorg Ancrath, faces overwhelming odds in a battle.

Not fair!

Mark Lawrence will be remembered for the plot twist over me, I’m sure. Just like, since July 15, another author has come out with the title Caught in Time. The second one came out last year, well after my publication. (Sound of moaning and hair-pulling)

Oh well, I liked it when I wrote it, and I liked it again in Mark Lawrence’s story. In fact, I liked his whole story a lot. It made the chocolate ice cream go down so cool and sweet, as I slipped over to the dark side.

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Filed under Best selling science fiction, Book reviews, Cutting Edge Science ideas, downloaded personalities, ebook marketing, ebook science fiction, fantasy, fantasy series, genetic manipulation, Indie Publishing, Indie Science Fiction Authors, Marketing and selling novels, modifying humans, Noir Fantasy, science fiction, science fiction series, Transhumanism, Wizards and magic

Locus Award Winners

photoThank you to all the readers who took advantage of my limited free offering of Someone’s Clone on July 5 through 9th. It rose to #1 on Kindle> free> science fiction> time travel and #1 on Kindle> free> science fiction >genetic engineering.

Quite the heady experience. I hope you are enjoying the story and explore other stories in the Alysian Universe. (See right panel for summaries)

Saturday, July 18th, I will be offering Caught in Time for a limited time at a bargain $.99. I am exploring various marketing plans. I will advertise on the Midlist so it should be interesting to see how well it does. Recently, a fellow author commented that Indie authors are hurting their sales by offering these special deals. I want to explore that idea in an upcoming blog.

What do you think?

And NOW…

The winners of the science fiction/fantasy Locus Awards have been announced. I was intrigued that many of the winners were books that I selected to comment and review in my blogs. Can I pick them, or what?

You can find my blog on Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie who won the 2014 Hugo, and now her follow up, Ancillary Sword wins the 2015 Locus for science fiction.Ancillary Justice

I also recently recommended The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. (January 29 blog)

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

First Law TrilogyCurrently, I hold an advance copy of Half a World by Joe Abercrombie on my reading table. I recommended Joe’s First Law series and wrote a blog on it in 2014. Really liked the trilogy. I may have to start the series with his Half a King before I read Half a World. I like a series, but sometimes it’s a pain to have to go back and read the first book or sit around tapping your toes waiting for the next book.

You hear me, George R. R. Martin?

Last week, I mentioned William Gibson’s The Peripheral…having been quite a fan of his other novels, but so far, not so much this one. I haven’t finished it, however. I also mentioned Charles Stross’s HaltinG StatE, which ended up being quite good once I got into it. If you’re a gamer, you’ll like it. (P.s. That’s how he spelled the title)51wHalting State0l9FLDeL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

Nancy Kress is also a favorite author, and although I don’t often read short books, I may have to put her Yesterday’s Kin on my reading table.

Finally, I have read several of Jay Lake’s novels, and as he was a Portland author,  I had lunch with him before he died. His battle with cancer was heroic, and many local authors and fans miss him. Winning for Last Plane to Heaven is a fitting tribute.

LOCUS AWARD WINNERS
Winners for each category appear in bold.

SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Winner: Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)Ancillary Sword
The Peripheral, William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Tor)
Lock In, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

FANTASY NOVEL

Winner: The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway; Jo Fletcher)
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (Viking; Arrow 2015)
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot US)

YOUNG ADULT BOOK

Winner: Half a King, Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey; Voyager UK)
The Doubt Factory, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Waistcoats & Weaponry, Gail Carriger (Little, Brown; Atom)
Empress of the Sun, Ian McDonald (Jo Fletcher; Pyr)
Clariel, Garth Nix (Harper; Hot Key; Allen & Unwin)

FIRST NOVEL

Winner: The Memory Garden, Mary Rickert (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett (Aqueduct)
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias (Tor)
The Clockwork Dagger, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager)
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley (Tor; Tor UK)

NOVELLA

Winner: Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Man Who Sold the Moon,” Cory Doctorow (Hieroglyph)
We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
“The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
“The Lightning Tree,” Patrick Rothfuss (Rogues)

NOVELETTE

Winner: “Tough Times All Over,” Joe Abercrombie (Rogues)
“The Hand Is Quicker,” Elizabeth Bear (The Book of Silverberg)
“Memorials,” Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 1/14)
“The Jar of Water,” Ursula K. Le Guin (Tin House #62)
“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane,” Scott Lynch (Rogues)

SHORT STORY

Winner: “The Truth About Owls,” Amal El-Mohtar (Kaleidoscope)
“Covenant,” Elizabeth Bear (Hieroglyph)
“The Dust Queen,” Aliette de Bodard (Reach for Infinity)
“In Babelsberg,” Alastair Reynolds (Reach for Infinity)
“Ogres of East Africa,” Sofia Samatar (Long Hidden)

ANTHOLOGY

Winner: Rogues, George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, ed. (Bantam; Titan)
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-first Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin’s Press)
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Rose Fox & Daniel José Older, eds. (Crossed Genres)
Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Head of Zeus; Tor)

COLLECTION

Winner: Last Plane to Heaven, Jay Lake (Tor)
Questionable Practices, Eileen Gunn (Small Beer)
The Collected Short Fiction Volume One: The Man Who Made Models, R.A. Lafferty (Centipede)
Academic Exercises, K.J. Parker (Subterranean)
The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Nine: The Millennium Express, Robert Silverberg (Subterranean; Gateway)
MAGAZINE

Winner: Tor.com
Asimov’s
Clarkesworld
F&SF
Lightspeed

PUBLISHER

Winner: Tor
Angry Robot
Orbit
Small Beer
Subterranean

EDITOR

Winner: Ellen Datlow
John Joseph Adams
Gardner Dozois
Jonathan Strahan
Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

ARTIST

Winner: John Picacio
Jim Burns
Shaun Tan
Charles Vess
Michael Whelan

NON-FICTION

Winner: What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton (Tor; Corsair 2015)
Ray Bradbury Unbound, Jonathan Eller (University of Illinois Press)
Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!, Harry Harrison (Tor)
The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore (Knopf)
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better: 1948-1988, William H. Patterson, Jr. (Tor)

ART BOOK

Winner: Spectrum 21: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, John Fleskes, ed. (Flesk)
Jim Burns, The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal (Titan)
The Art of Neil Gaiman, Hayley Campbell (Harper Design)
Brian & Wendy Froud, Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Tales (Abrams)
The Art of Space: The History of Space Art, from the Earliest Visions to the Graphics of the Modern Era, Ron Miller (Zenith)

Enjoy the reads.

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Science Fiction Hugo Awards

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Excitement! The Hugo winners were announced this past Sunday. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie took the prize for best science fiction novel.

Made me happy. (See my March 12 blog that comments on the novel)

Ancillary Justice

Also, winner for best novelette is Mary Robinette Kowal for her “the Lady Astronaut of Mars.” Mary is formerly from the Northwest and keeps in touch. Recently, she was at Powell’s bookstore for a signing…and puppet show. Mary is an accomplished puppeteer also. She was reading from her recent novel, Without a Summer. Mary writes in the Jane Austen style and milieu, but adds steampunk magic to her stories. In fact there are rumors that she’s Jane Austen who has time traveled to the present day. Compare the photos of Jane and Mary at the end of the blog. Eerily alike?

But it’s only a rumor. *wink* I promised not to tell.

Charming and energetic, she was delightful company during a small dinner afterwards. She told us of plans that scheduled her to drive to a signing in Gresham the next day, and later that night she was meeting friends in Portland. It seems TOR authors do quite a bit of traveling. She is also the Vice President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Hmmm…

Shades of summerAs much as I like Mary and wish her well, I notice a strong presence of TOR, Orbit and Baen writers in the winning list once again. Is the Hugo a closed shop to big publishers only?

What about Hugh Howey, Ryk Brown or Christpher Nuttall? All with popular novels that are selling extremely well.

Is that a sniff of politics I smell? Collusion?

Either way, the Hugo awards have offered me a wonderful list of science fiction stories that I have read and enjoyed over the years…especially back in the day before the internet when word of mouth was the only other way you discovered good sci fi.

If anyone was talking.

Before this blog and others like it.

So here is the list for 2014. Check it out and enjoy all the great science fiction.Ancillary Sword

The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, Loncon 3, has announced the 2014 Hugo Award winners. 3587 valid ballots were received and counted in the final ballot.

BEST NOVEL

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)

BEST NOVELLA

“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)

BEST NOVELETTE

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com /Tor.com, 09-2013

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

BEST RELATED WORK

“We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

“Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM

Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films;Warner Bros.)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM

Game of Thrones “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM

Ellen Datlow

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM

Ginjer Buchanan

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

Julie Dillon

BEST SEMIPROZINE

Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki

BEST FANZINE

A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher

BEST FANCAST

SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester

BEST FAN WRITER

Kameron Hurley

BEST FAN ARTIST

Sarah Webb

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award)

Sofia Samatar

The 2014 Hugo Award winners were announced on Sunday evening, August 17, at the ExCel Converntion Centre in London, England. The ceremony was hosted by Justina Robson, Geoff Ryman. Text-based CoverItLive coverage of the ceremony was provided through the Hugo Awards web site. Video streaming coverage was provided by Ustream.

The 2014 Hugo trophy base was designed by Joy Alyssa Day

See the Final Ballot Details for a full breakdown of votes, subsequent placements, and nomination counts.

So, time traveler or not?  you decide.Jane-Austen-waxwork

Jane Austen/Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary_Robinette_Kowal_at_2008_Nebula_Awards

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Science Fiction Gender Bending

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Him, her, IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancillaries?

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

The DispossessedDizzy yet? Keep going.

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

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

Or being deliberately mislead.

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

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

Our narrator. Oh dear.

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

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

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

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

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Adrift in the Indie Sea

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

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

The public reader has become the slush pile.

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

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

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

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

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

His Imperialist father is not pleased.

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

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

or spy on each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is up to you…

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Innovation and Writing Trends in Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

Pretty standard plot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter one.

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

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

That’s what we want. Sometimes it happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, adverbs no longer are allowed. Banned.

Here are examples of each:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

Okay, enough style ranting.

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

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

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

Other Scalzi books I recommend:

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

Red Shirts

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

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Selling a Science Fiction Novel

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

I went.

It was John Scalzi.

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

He acted like it was a great favor.

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

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

I spent a lot of money that night.

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

BUT, John doesn’t just old school it.

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

I am.

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

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

Innovative.

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

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

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

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

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

Which gets me back to old school basics…

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

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

Then you will sell…

Quite a lot.

Ps. Next week I’ll review The Human Division

 

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Ebooks: What’s Going On?

IMG_0174Several interesting developments have happened to me recently in the world of Ebooks.

First, my science fiction book club selected Amped as the book to read this week. Dan Wilson also wrote Robopocalypse, which made the New York Times Best seller list. He’ll be coming out with  sequel, RoboGenesis, in 2014.

He’s a young writer with a promising future and came to talk personally to our group…old school marketing style. His credentials are strong as he has a Phd in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and consulted with several professors on how such a device would work. He said that Random House is his publisher and really got behind him with a strong marketing campaign to get his book out there.

I would say, it worked. Color me green.

AmpedThe book is about a device implanted in the brain that increases intelligence, motor function and overall performance. In Amped, the device is implanted into the handicapped and lower class person, setting up discrimination against those “Amped.”

Already, we have many devices implanted in the brain to augment deficits…cochlear implants being one, Parkinson aids, pacemakers, and others. I actually know people who have each of these right now. So, the idea is not too far future.

There is the flavor of Flowers for Algernon and a bit of Slan, except technology is used instead of chemicals or genetics to elevate performance.

Needless to say, a class war ensues and Wilson brings in some weighty questions as to who should be augmented and how the ordinary Joe will react to those chosen to be augmented into superior beings.

A lot of politics and back room maneuvering for power develops. Events turn nasty…and he starts with a suicide.

However, what I found interesting was that to get the book, I went online to my local library, and downloaded the story. Thrifty person that I am, it cost nothing, and I didn’t even leave my chair. I used an app called Overdrive that made it easy.Robopocaypse

Even for a techno idiot like me.

Then, last week I went to a seminar put on by Kobo, which is an ebook seller worldwide in over 150 countries. They are partnering with independent bookstores to put in  QRcards for ebooks.

Jan’s Paperbacks, an independent local bookstore, hosted the event and over eighteen area authors came to greet their readers and swirl carousels to distribute cards with their cover and a QR code on the back. The cards took you to Kobo where you could download the book for free. The idea is to offer a free book in order to get your name out there and entice readers into other books you have written.

However, some books cost…and I bought a card for DIY Publishing for $9.99 and went online to Dropcards.com to download it through an access code found on the back of the card. Worked quite well.

So we have both libraries and brick and mortar bookstores offering Ebooks, some free and some at a good price.

Interesting.

A final note to the awesome Peter at Powell’s Bookstore in Cedar Hills Crossing, Beaverton. The reading group just celebrated their tenth year, and Peter has worked with the group offering sample books, helping us pick out available authors and generally existing as a font of science fiction knowledge. Thanks for all your help. Ten years for a reading group to stay together is amazing.

Leah Day and John Bunnell are part of the reason why.

Leah has over 27,000 books in her home and contains an incredible knowledge of science fiction. John remembers esoteric details of all things science fiction and is also amazing.

Thanks to everyone for all your hard work in keeping this group going.

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Transhumanism in Military Science Fiction

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

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

We are already on the path to Transhumanism.

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

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

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

Think about that!

No wait! Don’t.

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

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

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

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

And then, there is the dark side.

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

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

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

Yeah, yeah. I go there occasionally.

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

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

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

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

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

And do. More than once.

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

And his enemies.

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

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

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

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

I did say gun.

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

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Summer Science Fiction

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Summer is here!

Life has interrupted all business activities of writing and reviewing as I have traveled across country, and family from across country have traveled to me.

For the past few weeks I have attended a wedding, the Nashville Factory  (craft and art venue), my book signing and presentation, the Nashville Repertoire’s “Look-In” on a developing play and hot, hot card games with relatives. (No, I had no chance of winning there)

(Deep breath)

I have been at the Portland Zoo, the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, Tiilamook Cheese factory, cycling on Canon Beach, flying kites on said beach, blueberry picking, outlet mall shopping, and wrangling four visiting kittens.

God, I love summer.

So, what kind of reading have I done?

Imager's IntrigueA lot of follow up reading in series where I loved the first book and wanted to continue more in the series. In some cases, I’m well into it as in the case of L. E. Modesitt’s third of his Imager series: Imager’s Intrigue.

As in most of Modesitt’s books, the action started off relaxed and slow. You soon fall into the flavor and rhythm of his style.

The main character, Rhennthyl is now married to Seliora and has a five year old child.There is a lot of detail concerning his daily activities and quite a lot of political proselytizing. His Imager powers have increased, and so have his enemies who fear him. He starts off as a Captain in one of the precincts where a new dangerous drug is spreading and causing concern. Random people are dying and Rhenn feels that the situation is being manipulated by more than just the drug lords, possibly an enemy country trying to destroy them from within.

Just when the reader is wondering if anything is going to happen, a surprise attack on the Collegium of Imagisle leaves Rhenn second in charge of the Imagers and the only one who can discover where the attack came from. The story becomes a detective story as different events and pieces of the puzzle come together through Rhenn’s efforts.

I enjoyed the story. Would give it four stars. Several critiques complained that Rhenn is thinly drawn with little emotion, but I quite liked him. The details Modesitt goes into about his everyday life drew me into the world that has the flavor of a French Renaissance period. He shows how people who have great power, or fame, often pay a large price in their personal life with loss of freedom and fear for their security.

Another series I’m reading is the Liaden Series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. However, the books on Amazon in this series are fairly expensive, (even Kindle version) and as I mentioned at the beginning, I have been so busy, that I haven’t had much time to read. So, I decided to try some of their novelettes that are $2.99 and run 50 to 70 pages.

ConstellationI consider it much like a tasty candy bar of summer reading rather than a full blown meal. I picked The Courier Run and will soon let you know what I think of this different way of reading. It got five stars from all eighteen reviewers; so here’s hoping.Courier Run

To that end, I have written two stories in my own Alysian Universe and may offer them as tasty tidbits around Christmas.

If you want the full meal, Constellation just came out in June, and Amazon is offering Trade Secret as a presale that will be available January 2014. Constellation is a series of shorter works, seventeen stories from Chapbooks this duo has written and is the first volume with 384 pages.

Trade SecretTrade Secret tells the story of human Jethro Gobelyn who is adopted by the Liaden clan after an ill directed bow that insults a major Liaden clan noble and jeopardizes the human’s life. Jethro wants to win his trader’s ring, but instead finds himself wrapped in interstellar intrigue and Second Board on a scout ship facing danger. He has to learn to balance his Terran heritage while learning Liaden rules of survival.

A final sad note on the passing of Iain Banks from a brain tumor. I had just started getting into his Culture Series and looked forward to many more of his books. Alas. We will miss this Hugo award winning author.

Savor summer and enjoy some good stories.

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