Friday, June 29, 2012

REVIEW: Temporary Duty

Title: Temporary Duty
Author: Ric Locke
Genre: science fiction
Price: $2.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Some time back, I reviewed Nathan Lowell’s novel Quartershare.  Lowell’s book was of the “merchants in space” subgenre of SF, and so Amazon kept recommending that I buy Ric Locke’s novel Temporary Duty.  When I learnt that Ric Locke had terminal cancer and was soliciting donations for an oxygen machine, I decided to spend the three bucks and buy his book.  (I also kicked in a few bucks to the tip jar.)  Buying Locke’s book proved to be a great investment.

I’ve talked on my personal blog about how writing is more than having the same basic idea.  Two books, in this case Temporary Duty and Quartershare, can both be summarized as “enlisted men join merchant starship” but the execution of the idea leads to radically different stories.  The world of Quartershare is peaceful and alien-free, leading to a surprisingly calm book.  The world of Temporary Duty is rather the opposite.

The protagonist of Temporary Duty is John Peters, a Petty Officer Second Class in the US Navy of the mid-21st Century.  An alien spaceship arrives at Earth, making first contact with the aircraft carrier USS Barack H. Obama.  After some backstage maneuverings, the aliens agree to take two squadrons of US fighters onboard the ship for a two year trade mission.  Peters, by sheer luck, gets assigned in advance of the main US body to the alien ship.  In one of the more insightful parts of the book, this immersion into alien culture forces Peters to become a resident expert on the aliens, which proves continually useful.

The world of Temporary Duty is not at total war, but neither is it totally at peace.  As a result, our carrier wing (with planes converted to fly in space) sees some action, and Peters, as defacto alien expert, has a number of opportunities to advance personally, which he seizes.  Locke, the author, appears to have been ex-Navy himself, and uses that to good advantage. 

One of the things I like about the book is that Locke captures the peculiar dynamic between Navy aviators (officers) and enlisted.  I was an officer in the Navy, although not a pilot, and I noticed that pilots tended to have the most distant relationships to their enlisted subordinates of any officers in my experience.  This was due to a number of factors, the discussion of which is for another essay, but Locke captures that dynamic perfectly.

Temporary Duty is very action-packed, and quite a gripping read.  I stayed up way too late reading it!  There’s adult language and sex, (including inter-species) and some violence, but only the most sensitive readers should have an issue with that.  I did find the last couple of chapters a bit over the top, but that’s a quibble.  It’s not Space Opera, but fans of space operas, science fiction or just good storytelling should enjoy reading Temporary Duty.


Monday, June 25, 2012

My Story- Camille Matthews

Why did you choose self-publishing? 

I chose self-publishing because I wanted to have a strong influence on the illustrations and design of the Quincy the Horse books. I was new to the publishing process and attended a group sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. There I was coached that in traditional publishing the writer submits the manuscript and the publishing house takes it from there. I had an illustrator that did beautiful work and was supportive of self-publishing, so I decided to go with self-publishing.

 Why did you select your specific self-publishing company?
I chose the company from the internet because they offered a cafeteria of options that seemed competitively priced and met with them. I was very happy as things progressed on my first book with their design department, website set up, etc. Artistically they had a commitment to the quality I wanted and I was very satisfied with the printer they suggested. On my second book, there were some problems that caused delays and the company did not stand by mistakes they made due to lack of communication between their departments. The book had to be reprinted and this was both stressful and costly. I am no longer working with the company.

How is it going so far? Are you achieving your goals?
As far as the first goal of continuing to complete the Quincy the Horse series, I love the creative side of writing, book design and self-publishing and my connection with readers of the books. I have a good collaborator in illustrator, Michelle Black. The initial goal of bringing the series to life and getting it known has been very exciting. Of course there are always new readers to reach.
In terms of promotion and sales I would say that promoting a series is more of a marathon than a sprint. The first book was mainly promoted in the equestrian niche through attending equestrian events on the national, regional and local level. This has made the goal of building our brand reachable because Michelle and I are both life long equestrians. We do at least 50% of our sales at equestrian events.
The second book has been promoted to the traditional book trade and that has been a learning curve, especially since the traditional book trade is undergoing so much change. Getting the book out into bookstores has been more of a challenge than I expected even when they want to order it. I had never realized how much this process has been automated and how much of a roadblock that can be to small independent publishers.
 I am doing more and more direct to reader promotion through the internet, Amazon and social media like Facebook and Twitter. It all seemed a little overwhelming at first but we seem to be getting the word out about the books to more and more readers. I have come to really enjoy the social media and especially my blog, Pathfinder Pursuits. I have made a lot of wonderful contacts through my social media activities.
A special goal for me is to build a new generation of young horse lovers and I find it rewarding to meet so many people and organizations that share a love of horses and are interested in the well being of horses.  Horses are amazing animals and we need to raise awareness about exciting new things like equine assisted therapies and equine rescue that are good for humans and horses.

Tell us a bit about your latest release and what have you been doing to promote it?
We have a lot going on in terms of new release projects. Quincy Moves to the Desert was chosen for PW Select’s Spring Issue. That is the Independent Publishing publication of Publisher’s Weekly and I did a book signing at Book Expo America, June 6 at the Mom’s Choice Booth.
Our biggest promotion efforts for the summer are centered on the iBooks release of Quincy Moves to the Desert for iPad the end of June. Quincy Finds A New Home will be available for iPad as well. We have various ads coming up in national equestrian expo programs, a Facebook campaign to celebrate the iPad release and author events at national equestrian expos. 

What advice would you give a person who has completed their manuscript and is considering self-publishing?

Things are so changeable in the publishing and bookselling world that I have a hard time giving advice. Reviews are still important.  Even if it means a longer period before release, it is worth trying to obtain reviews ahead of time. Also the promotional programs offered by the Independent Book Publishers Association are invaluable and cost effective.

I have never regretted self-publishing but I see the options changing a lot. Big companies like Amazon and Apple getting involved and there are fewer small independent companies offering self-publishing services. Another development is that many people are publishing their work in eBook form first. I would advise people to be very careful of using the programs at Amazon and Apple because while it might seem like it will make things more simple, some of the agreements may limit your ability to take your work elsewhere once it is published. Check out companies that are independent and do not want involvement in rights to your work or distribution.

Contact Info for Camille Matthews

Thursday, June 21, 2012

REVIEW: Jimmy Stu Lives!

Title: Jimmy Stu Lives!
Author: Kent McDaniel
Genre: science fiction
Price: $2.99 (ebook) $9.95 (paperback)
Publisher: Penumbra Publishing
ISBN: 978-1935563839
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently joined the Chicago Writers Association.  I figured that, as a Chicago writer, I ought to give it a shot.  Somehow in the process of joining I came to the attention of Kent McDaniel, who notified me that his new novel Jimmy Stu Lives! was available as an ebook.  Since it was only $2.99, I decided to take a flyer.  On balance, I’m glad I did.

The title character, James Stuart Sloan AKA Jimmy Stu, is the minister at a large church / TV ministry operation in Nashville.  The book starts with him having a crisis of faith, said crisis being exceptionally ill-timed in that he needs to go on for a televised sermon in ten minutes.  He "resolves" the crisis and decides to tell his flock that God wants his body frozen so that, in the future, he can be revived to fulfill God’s undisclosed mission.

This being science fiction, that’s exactly what happens, and Jimmy Stu wakes up a good century in our future.  The first big wrinkle is that he’s being kidnapped by members of his now massive flock who want him to reform the church, which has now become a major political power in the mid-South.  From this point on, hijinks ensure.

Although the novel’s not especially billed as satire, I suspect that some of Kent’s worldbuilding is intended to put a satiric light on current events.  There’s more than a bit of “if this goes on…” in how the USA of the Future looks.  There’s also flying cars, which don’t actually seem to add much to the story.  Also not adding much to the story is where Stu falls in with a stereotypical hillbilly family. 

Having said that, I found Jimmy Stu an entertaining character, which makes the book worth reading.  This is definitely worth tossing in your bag to take to the beach.


Monday, June 18, 2012

NYT Bestsellers

The current New York Times bestseller list includes three self-published titles:

12) ON THE ISLAND, by Tracey Garvis-Graves--Recently signed by Penguin
20) BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, by Jamie McGuire
33) EASY, by Tammara Webber

Friday, June 15, 2012

What a POD Peep Reads: Redshirts

I, like apparently everybody else in SF-fandom, bought John Scalzi's latest book Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas. I took a break from reading the Hugo list to read the book. Herewith are some random thoughts:

1) The book is a short novel with three closely-related short stories attached. The whole thing probably clocks in at 80,000 words, which is short for Scalzi and about what I write. I found it refreshing to read something that wasn't of epic length.

2) The main novel is humorous, but not (at least for me) wet-your-pants funny. Scalzi (deliberately) kept his characters a bit generic (they are, after all, red-shirts) but in this case that worked.

3) I actually found the codas much more engaging than the novel. Each of the codas is written in a different point of view, and each provides a wrap-up for selected characters in the book. These were, I thought, universally very well done. They also provided needed emotional heft to what would otherwise be a lightweight story.

4) Redshirts, like much of Scalzi's work, would be an excellent gift for somebody new to SF, or especially for somebody who says they don't like the genre. It's a great gateway book.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Publish America News

From the ever-useful blog Writer Beware, I learn that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Publish America.  The lawsuit alleges that Publish America:

1) Does not promote the books it buys
2) Sells authors ineffective promotion packages which it does not actually provide
3) Provides poor editing services
4) Overprices books
5) Does not deliver book orders in a timely fashion

For more information on the lawsuit, please visit the link.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

REVIEW: The Infinite Knowledge of J. T. Badgley

Title: The Infinite Knowledge of J. T. Badgley
Author: Tiana Warner
Genre: science fiction
Price: $2.99 (ebook) $16.95 (paperback)
Publisher: Tiana Warner
ISBN: 978-0988003903
Point of Sale: Amazon / author's site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I have to confess that I was supposed to review Tiana Warner’s novel, her first, some time ago.  However, the book seemed to find its way to the bottom of my to-be-read list, so I didn’t get around to it until recently.  Ms. Warner, the author, is a very recent graduate of the University of British Columbia.  Following the time-honored if not hoary dictum of “write what you know,” Jacob Badgley, the title character, is also Canadian, and when the events of the novel start, he is waiting to take finals for his first year at school. 

After a prologue that only makes sense once one reads the whole book, we start with Jacob’s experiences during an end-of-session party at a nameless Canadian college.  Jacob has a bit too much fun, and ends up in an abandoned house with an unusual sphere in his hands.  The sphere sucks him through space and deposits him on the planet Zielararde, where he is held as a figurehead / mascot.  Zielaarde is having an unusual problem, namely “Loss of Gravity,” and Jacob’s public presence is intended to insure that the Government has things well in hand.  It’s probably not too much of a spoiler to suggest that the Government in fact does not have things in hand.  The novel is then the story of how Jacob tries to get back to Earth while not running afoul of his handlers. 

I found Infinite Knowledge an unusual book.  The “loss of gravity” problem bears more than a passing resemblance to our global warming issue.  I do have to say that the Zielaardians are not quite stereotypical aliens, although the alien leader could come straight out of Central Casting.  Jacob, the title character, is fairly-well realized, as is Sophie, the other main human in the book. 

Overall, I found the book competently written, but flat.  For most of the book, it felt like I was reading something I’d read a dozen times before, a basic alien abduction tale.  The discovery of how humans get home was a bit of a surprise, but there was no scientific support behind it.  In fact, the introduction of that way home contradicted some of the earlier themes and ideas of the book.  The Infinite Knowledge of J. T. Badgley was okay, but nothing to write home to Mom about.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Friday, June 01, 2012

REVIEW: I, The People

Title: I, The People: How Marvin Zindler Busted The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Author: Gary Taylor
Genre: Nonfiction
Price: $2.99 (ebook) / $9.95 (paperback)
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1468186620
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

You may have heard of the “Chicken Ranch,” AKA “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” from the musical or the movie of the later name. Well, Gary Taylor, intrepid Texan journalist and survivor of his own “fatal attraction” (chronicled in his book Luggage By Kroger) has the real story. Although not as dramatic as Luggage, his new book, I, The People, is very interesting.

Gary’s story starts in 1972, with the election of a reform-minded Texas Attorney General, John Hill. He took office in early 1973, determined to attack two Texas problems, organized crime and county law enforcement. In Texas, each county’s sheriff and district judge had the final say on what crimes were prosecuted (and not) in their jurisdiction. The Chicken Ranch, a bordello that had been running in La Grange, Texas since 1844, became the test target. It was the most open and well-known outpost of organized crime, and had been protected by generations of Fayette County judges and lawmen.

Hill’s initial assault ran afoul of Texas’ quirky system of law enforcement, in which the local sheriff could stop a state investigation. Enter Marvin Zindler, a character too real for fiction. Marvin was independently wealthy, thanks to his dad’s success as a clothing retailer. This freed Marvin up for a number of pursuits, including being a Houston cop and, when that dried up, becoming a TV reporter for Channel 13, the local ABC affiliate. Stymied by local resistance, Hill turned to Zindler’s PR hurricane to embarrass the Chicken Ranch into closing.

Gary Taylor was contracted to write a book about these events in 1981, about the time that the movie came out. His publisher went bankrupt, but Taylor saved a draft which became this book. It’s mostly a biography of Zindler, who really was the kind of person that, if you put him into a fictional book, people would laugh off as unbelievable. But then the Chicken Ranch was a bit unbelievable, in that uniformed and on-duty sheriff’s deputies routinely pulled duty directing traffic in the brothel’s parking lot.

Taylor has a wonderful eye for character, and the Chicken Ranch story is full of them. This book is a fascinating look at characters from an era when Texas transitioned itself from the Wild West to civilization. I highly recommend I The People.

Rating: 8/10