Monday, April 21, 2014

REVIEW: Invisible

Title: Invisible
Genre: writing commentary
Price: $2.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon / B & N / Smashwords
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A few months back, Alex Dally MacFarlane wrote an article suggesting that science fiction writers might want to include more than just Straight White Males in their stories.  What should have been as controversial as “you should bathe regularly” created an amazing swirl of controversy on the Internet.  Invisible is a response to that controversy.

Blogger, author and (full disclosure) personal friend Jim C. Hines is a Mark 1 Straight White Male.  However, he offered his blog to various people who wrote moving essays about being other than Straight White Male, and what it meant to them to read (or not read) of people who were more like them.  Jim then collected 13 of those essays into this slim ebook.

The essays are all exceptionally well-written, and speak powerfully to the experience of being Other, as well as the help one can get by reading the right book at the right age.  Writers varied from an albino (have you ever seen a not-evil albino in fiction) to people of various genders, orientations and races.

As an author, I want to entertain people.  I want to affect them in some positive way.  Reading the essays in Invisible helped me better understand how to do that.  As a businessman, (and all writers should be people of business) Invisible pointed out that non-Straight White Males have money and are interested in science fiction.  Providing them characters they can identify with can be profitable.  As an artist who happens to be a Straight White Male, part of being a good artist is an ability to populate your book with other than clones of yourself.  Invisible gave me some thoughts on how to do just that.

If you want to be a writer, you should do yourself a favor and read Invisible.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Author Solutions Lawsuit Brewing?

Foter / CC BY-SA 3.0
A surprising number of publishing companies have set up one of the vanity publisher that charge hundred or thousands of dollars for self-publishing packages.  These seem to be seen a profit centers for publishers, but they should also--perhaps--be seen as huge sources of liability.

Take for example the class action lawsuit that may be brewing against Penguin's Author Solutions. The argument being that the services that Author Solutions various faces (iUniverse, Xlibris etc) are deceptive and often massively overprices given their real value.

The lawyers, Giskan Solotaroff Anderson and Stewart LLP, seem to be signally a certain confidence in that they are taking clients on a contingency basis--so they are paid from any settlement they reach not via an upfront fee.

So... could this be the beginning of the end for the dark side of the self-publishing spectrum?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What a POD Peep Reads: Edison's Conquest of Mars

In looking for something else, I discovered there was a sequel to H. G. Well's book War of the Worlds! Well, kinda.

Back in 1898, when War of the Worlds came out, international copyright law was much like the Pirate's Code - more guidelines, really, than law. So, when War came out, various people rewrote it to their own liking, setting it wherever they felt it would be convenient. One of those (highly unauthorized) rewrites was Fighters from Mars, set in and around Boston.

This was such a commercial success that an American astronomer, Garrett P. Serviss, was engaged to write a sequel. The result was Edison's Conquest of Mars. (You can read it here for free or buy a dead-tree book here.)  The plot is that Thomas Edison, working on behalf of then-current world leaders, reverse engineers the Martian tech and leads a fleet, first to the Moon and then to Mars.

Herewith are some comments:

1) They wrote shorter in those days - the book is around 65,000 words - but they didn't skimp on story. This was accomplished in part by cutting out description. The Martian Emperor's palace is only described as "ornate in the Martian style." The only named character described is the human slavegirl Aina, and we're just told that she's "lovely." 

2) Serviss, the author, expropriates a number of famous scientists of his day. Edison, the protagonist and a man in nearly every scene, is used with permission. The rest, not so much.

3) It is a novel of its time. As Jo Walton said of another book, it was "written before women were invented." Queens and princesses are mentioned, but the only speaking part is that of the slavegirl, and when she goes on a raid with the men, she's "of course not in a combatant capacity." Also, all the foreign heads of state speak perfect English except the Chinese emperor - and he's the only one not to ride in Edison's electric airship.

Having said all of that, Edison's Conquest of Mars is a rip-roaring adventure, and quite entertaining. It's also clearly the precursor to Burrough's Barsoom series, among others.  In it's day, Conquest was a very popular book, and inspired a lot of people, including one Robert Goddard.

Monday, April 14, 2014

REVIEW: Non-Compliance: The Sector

Title: Non-Compliance
Author: Paige Daniels
Genre: SF
Price: $4.99 (ebook) $12.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Kristell Ink
ISBN: 978-1909845039
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Today’s victim book is Non-Compliance: The Sector by Paige Daniels.  It’s the first of a two-book series starring Shea Kelly.  The book is set in an America that rather narrowly won a war with undefined enemies.  The price of winning was that all Americans have to get government-issued chips implanted in them, which act like aircraft transponders.  Those that don’t are “non-compliant” and have to live in special sectors AKA ghettos set aside for them.  As suggested by the title, Shea Kelly is non-compliant.

She’s also a physically tough cookie and a computer geek, although not as good a geek as Wynne, her part-time stripper buddy.  The two of them are running a side gig to smuggle in good supplies to the sector, which brings them to the attention of the local criminal mastermind, the Boss, and his criminal rival, Danny Rose.  Problems ensue.

Although it seems like there’s a glut of dystopias on the SF market nowadays, I have to say I found Daniels’ take on a future America scared of its own shadow a tad too close to reality to dismiss.  We are, after all, living in a world in which we asked the NSA to please spy on us.  The idea of identity chips implanted for our own good seems possible.

Having found the world believable, I found Shea a realistic narrator.  Yes she’s tough, but she still also calls her dad (outside the Sector) at least every week.  She’s also not superhuman tough, and so occasionally loses a fight.  The other characters rang true, although hard-bitten, as one would expect of exiles.

Hard-bitten is pretty much the definition of much of the story, but Daniels also weaves in a budding romance between Shea and Quinn, the Boss’s main man.  The only thing I found disappointing in the book was the ending, which I felt was a dues ex machina.  Other than that minor issue, I enjoyed Non-Compliance: The Sector.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

REVIEW: The Red: First Light

Title: The Red: First Light
Author: Linda Nagata
Genre: science fiction
Price: $6.99 (ebook) / $14 (paperback)
Publisher: Mythic Island Press
Point of Sale: Amazon / Authors site (includes other venues)
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

According to Lieutenant James Shelley, USA, “there needs to be a war going on somewhere.”  Lt. Shelley is the main character in Linda Nagata’s Nebula-nominated novel The Red: First Light, and he leads a squad of electronically-linked soldiers fighting a brush war in Africa.  The war was started by DCs – defense contractors – in order to keep profits up, and since money isn’t worth dying for, Shelley’s chief goal is to keep his troops alive.

Unfortunately, war is inherently unpredictable, even to somebody with a flawless sense of imminent danger – as if God was whispering in his ear.  After the low-grade brush war Shelley is fighting gets hotter, his girlfriend suspects that “God” is really a machine – an AI loose in the Cloud of the Internet.  Alas, so does one of America’s “dragons” – the rich owner of a DC who has bought the Federal government.

In short, Lt. Shelley’s life is complicated and getting more so.  The Red: First Light is a roller-coaster ride from crisis to crisis, and Linda Nagata is our expert coaster operator.   One does not get on the Nebula short ballot by writing bad books, and as the first-ever self-published book in the final running The Red is far from bad. 

One of the problems in writing action fiction is making interesting and believable characters.  Nagata has made that problem look easy.  She’s also painted an all-too-realistic picture of a scary near-future world in which wealth controls governments and individuals.  In addition to all of that, Nagata takes on the problem of epistemic closure.  This is the concept that, because of the Internet, we all can talk and listen to only people who agree with us, leading us to think that we are a majority. 

In short, The Red: First Light is both a novel of action and ideas, and a worthy edition to anybody’s bookshelf.  Highly recommended.