Monday, March 28, 2016

Court Rules: Amazon is not a Publisher

An unfortunate couple found that their engagement photo had appeared, without permission, on the cover of a book suggestively entitled “A Gronking To Remember”. Recently a court ruled that they could not, as a result, sue Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords. The reason being that these websites are not publishers... they are shops. Which is a reminder that when we self-publish in these venues we alone take on all the liabilities of a publisher, and should be correspondingly careful abut the choices that we make.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

REVIEW: Ten Gentle Opportunities

Title: Ten Gentle Opportunities
Author: Jeff Duntemann
Genre: Fantasy / Science fiction
Price: $2.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Copperwood Press
ISBN: B01AQ1549E
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

So I’ve been a fan of Jeff Duntemann’s writing for some time.  This, his newest novel and first since 2006, was well-worth the wait.  The novel opens with one Bartholomew Stypek on the run from a magician in a fairly low-tech fantasy setting.  The chief difference between this world and the bog-standard Fantasyland is that magic can be bought and sold like salt, and worked at least in part by non-adepts.  Stypek’s on the run because he stole ten “Opportunities” (raw magic) from a magician, who wants them back.

Desperate to save his hide, Stypek throws himself at the mercy of the Continuum, and asks to be sent far away.  This is where things get interesting, because Stypek ends up in our immediate future (late 2020s’) in a small town advertising agency.  The ad agency has a prototype AI-built copier, and in our world magic maps to software.  Stypek has (or rather concocts) a Gomog as a traveling companion.  In our world, said Gomog is an AI, and gets loose in the Tooniverse, a virtual space where various AIs live.  Unfortunately for Stypek, the magician who’s after him can and will follow him to our world.  Mayhem, entertaining mayhem, ensues. 

A lot of the attraction of this book is the clever writing.  Several AIs of various levels are point-of-view characters, as are a number of humans.  Stypek keeps trying to map our world to his kings-and-magic one, and the humans and AIs keep trying to map Stypek’s magic to bits and bytes.  The conflict and confusion between these world-views is amusing and realistic. 

The interpersonal conflict and characterization is also well-done.  Two of the human characters are a divorced couple, forced by economics to work together, and then get sucked into Stypek’s life-or-death struggle.  One of the AIs learns to dance, which proves to be a critical skill.

There were two nits that bothered me in this story.  First, one of the AIs, Simple Simon, is in charge of running a robotic factory in which the parts and the finished products (copiers) are thrown in the air instead of moved via conveyor belts.  It felt a bit too convenient for the author.  The other nit was the AI dancing – I saw that coming a mile away.

Having said that, I was easily able to suspend my disbelief and take a rollicking ride with Jeff Duntemann and his Gentle Opportunities.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

REVIEW: Holding Fire

Title: Holding Fire
Editor: Scott Hughes
Genre: Anthology
Price: $4.99 (ebook) / $12.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Createspace
ISBN: 978-1508859284
Available via: OnlineBookClub
Reviewed by: Psyche Skinner
Holding Fire edited by Scott Hughes is an anthology of ten stories with the theme of the destructive effects of holding onto anger or rage. I have to admit that my first reaction to the theme, intriguing as it is, is that it sounds like a bit of a downer. Stories of nasty instant karma, no matter how clever, might be a little too depressing to be good entertainment.

What I was overlooking was that the stories are pretty evenly divided between the main character being the person cursed with destructive rage, being their victim, or being a third party to the events of the story. And in some cases the person being consumed by their anger is ultimately saved. So there is considerable variety in the stories inn themes of characters, genre, and outcomes—although murder is the instigating even or outcome (or both) in nine of the ten stories. Most of the stories were contemporary dramas, often bordering on melodramas.

They had a lot of high stakes and emotional energy and generally a plot that held together. However most of them also had a lingering amateur quality where the balance between character angst and plot plausibility was a little shaky. Villains were often cartoonishly evil, with the evil stepmother trope getting more than one un-ironic outing, along with the alcohol abusive parents, and cute high school boyfriend/girlfriend savior. One of the stories (“Life is a Great Teacher” by John Mallon also suffered from questionable editing with multiple speakers being mashed together into the same paragraph).

I think people nearer high school age might enjoy these stories more, as young adult themes like bullying, first love, difficult families, and choosing the kind of person you want to be (when you grow up) occur in a number of stories. From my rather-more-middle-aged perspective the story “Dog Eat Dog” (by Joy Meehan) about and vindictive executive getting \ her just deserts from an underling is more resonant. I also appreciated he characterization of the failed writer in “Ghostwriter” by Kristi Hudecek-Ashwill. I would give this anthology 6/10 for being an entertaining read but not providing any stories I am likely to want to revisit or ponder over.