I am now a reviewer for The Future Fire

by on Aug.03, 2012, under Reviews

I am now doing reviews for the online review site The Future Fire. This site publishes reviews of books, films, and other weird and speculative publications or performances from indie and small presses. You can see my first two reviews here:

I reviewed Ferryman by Nigel Edward
and Cerulean Dreams by Dan O’Brien.

Yeah, you’ll notice I don’t pull my punches.

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Children of Another Star

by on Jul.12, 2012, under Publications

Children of Another Star is a story I first conceived of in late 2008, but got lost on just how it ended. It all came clear to me in July of 2009 while I was visiting a friend’s parents in Reno, and I stayed up until dawn writing it all down.

The story involves an irish settlement ship that arrives at their destination planet to find it has since been inhabited. The settlers have some unexpected cargo on their ship, and the story evolves as we learn more.

This story originally showed a lot of my early-writer mistakes, and has undergone a lot of revisions before I finished it. The success of my changes was borne out with an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest in Q1 2012.

I currently have the story submitted to a market. I’ll post more soon about where you can read it.

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How we cheat the reader

by on Jul.11, 2012, under Process

We as writers have a tendency at times to cheat the reader. We’re not intending to. But we use imagery that we think they’ll interpret, and save ourselves a bit of writing. Here’s an example from an upcoming story of mine:

Heinrich stood blocking the exit at the bottom of the access tube. He was covered from his head down in full military armor. He projected business. No wonder the crowd was afraid.

Yeah, that works. Most people will visualize what military armor might look like, probably grabbed from video game commercials. But did I really do my job as a writer?

There are lots of points of view on this topic, but for my own writing I say no. I was cheating the reader, making them do all the visualization work. Yes, the reader has to visualize but we can make this a lot easier for them. Here’s what I’ve revised that part to:

  Heinrich stood blocking the exit at the bottom of the access tube. He was covered in full military armor. The helmet was made of transparent ballistic plastics, giving him perfect visibility. His torso was covered in metallic armor emblazoned with the UDF logo. The interlocking segments of armor on his legs trailed down to large armored boots which likely had powerful magnetic clamps.

  The boots gave him another foot in height, so he towered over the crowd in the tube. A huge double-barreled automatic rifle swung from ball bearing mounts on his armor. His arms loosely held several control brackets, one of which was obviously controlling the weapon. A precision aiming device covered one eye. The gun was aimed directly at the crowd. No wonder they had stopped.

I think the reader has a much better image of what Heinrich is wearing, and exactly why the crowd was intimidated. I’m glad this part is better. I hope to avoid this mistake in the future and never cheat the reader.

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Twelve thousand words in three days.

by on Jun.26, 2012, under News

Okay, I think I’m finally back in the saddle again. I got in 12k words on a story which has been hanging around in my head for far, far too long. I had it pinned for about 6k words, but it’s an easy 13k now so right back in novelette territory like Children. I’m calling this one ‘Poe’ for the moment, but I’m hopeful to see this one sold quite quickly under its real name.

Tonight I’ll be doing some editing on Friends and Poe, and I’m going to try and implement a consistent schedule for work going forward.

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Why HR1981 is not SOPA, how it is a good for you, and what can be done to make it better.

by on Feb.02, 2012, under Observations

So I’ve gotten a few e-mails from Demand Progress and others claiming that HR 1981 is the new SOPA and asking us to fight this. Claims like “A direct assault on Internet users” have been made. So I went and took a look at this bill, and from what I can see there is no basis for this claim. In fact, from my years of experience working in the industry this legislation is badly needed, and will be greatly appreciated by nearly everyone. The claims being made by Demand Progress and the ACLU are completely off base.

Yes, SOPA was bad. SOPA had hundreds of unintended consequences. This bill isn’t SOPA. This bill doesn’t assault any legitimate Internet user. In fact, this bill is something we should be calling our representatives and asking them to support. And unlike these unsubstantiated claims, I’m going to show you in explicit detail why.
(continue reading…)

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Review: Endurance by Jay Lake

by on Dec.13, 2011, under Reviews

I have to admit I was looking forward to rejoining Green in the cold northern city of Copper Downs. As I said in my review of Green, I had found her story delightful and very real, very present to me. Endurance does not disappoint. In fact, the greatest risk you’d find in Endurance is what I found far too often this week: you’ll realize it was nearly dawn and you had better set it down and catch a few hours sleep.

Green is older now, and during this book she learns to handle problems with greater dexterity and even a little wisdom. But life is throwing challenges at her faster than anyone would wish, and the story is leisurely for only a few dozen pages before becoming a dashing, dodging twirl and flip of an entirely engaging and well-planned plot.

Did I say plot? Oh, no, there are dozens of plots. The plots of the reconstituted council in Copper Downs. Blackblood. The embassy from Kalimpura which has recently arrived. A rebellion. Magicians. Lily Blased. And oh hey, why not a few god killers too? Playing to win. Playing to Lose. Even Green learns to plan her steps forward, and adds strategy to her arsenal of deadly tools.

It’s a twisting mass of engagements, tricks, deception and triumph. But Jay does a wonderful job of leading the reader through it: he kept me shivering with anticipation, but never confusing me. It’s a brilliant display of craft to pull someone through deeply interwoven plots without confusing them, and Jay handled it brilliantly.

Can I recommend it? Absolutely. But I warn you, don’t take it bed unless you haven’t got anywhere to be in the morning.

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Where are the ebook gifting options?

by on Nov.16, 2011, under Observations

I was really hoping that this year we’d have really good options for ebook gifts.

I don’t want to receive physical books. I want to receive ebooks. But I simply can’t find any way to put ebooks on my wishlist and allow people to give them to me.

  • Apple allows you to purchase an iTunes Book for someone, but they receive it instantly. That’s not useful for christmas giving.
  • Amazon allows you to purchase an ebook for someone, but they receive it instantly. That’s not useful for christmas giving.
  • Barnes & Noble fails entirely by not allowing you to purchase an eBook for someone else — only gift cards. Barf.

As a matter of fact, the only large online retailer which seems to have any reasonable gift giving choices is Books a Million. You can download the eBook from their site and put it on a CD as a physical gift if you want, or e-mail it if you prefer an electronic delivery.

I believe that the ebook retailers are handicapping themselves. This is a great opportunity they shouldn’t be passing up for Christmas business.

Have you found any better ways to give eBooks as gifts?

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Why I review books (and other things)

by on Nov.15, 2011, under Observations

A few people have questioned why I have started publishing reviews of books. They point out that this appears to be a very busy field, and there’s no money to gain.

There are the obvious simple answers: I enjoy doing it, and others have expressed appreciation for my review style. But there is a much more important reason that I’d like to share: I don’t see many reviews done the way I appreciate, so I’m putting my mouth where my interests are.

Far too many reviewers (for my taste) do one or more of the following in their reviews:

  1. Summarize the story – A summary of a story provides no value to the reader. You can’t tell the difference between a well-written and a poorly written story from the summary. And fairly often it ruins the exploration a reader might do when they read the story.
  2. Use the review to advocate – This point of a review is not about the reviewer, it is about the thing being reviewed. I grow weary of seeing a reviewer use a review as a stick to chastise the creator because of a difference in beliefs or approaches.
  3. Forget to answer the question: why would I invest in this? – This is the primary question of a review — who might appreciate this thing? Why might you want to invest time or money in the object being reviewed?

This is what drives me most to do reviews. I want to let people know why they might enjoy or find useful something. And honestly, I’d like to see many more reviewers do the same for me. There’s some great stuff out there, let’s talk about it.

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Review: Welcome to the Greenhouse edited by Gorden Van Gelder

by on Nov.13, 2011, under Reviews

This book is not what you might guess it would be. No, this book is much better, and more enduring, than you can imagine.

From the title I expected to find a book filled with sci-fi imaginings of catastrophe and chaos. And yes, this book could easily be called “Sixteen different ways calamity found us.” But to do that would be to overlook something very essential and different about this anthology.

These stories are cast after the apocalypse, often far in the future. And they don’t lay claim to the scientific predictions, nor the destruction. There is fairly short thrift paid to disaster. This is an anthology about humanity’s soul. Who we are. Who we can be, and who we have become. This anthology doesn’t challenge you to imagine physical earth disasters – it challenges you to imagine how far humanity might climb, or how low we can fall, after today’s expectations are far enough in the past to have been forgotten.

Jeff Carlson presents the story of a miracle boy that wanders across the earth trying to heal it. Pat McEwen tell us the moral delimas of a public defender trying to reestablish justice in a newly wild west. Chris Lawson shows us the struggle involved in trying to reestablish lost species on the planet. Each of these and nine other stories focus on the people trying to survive, live and love in an environment that we can barely imagine in our comfort today.

Gordon van Gelder’s selections for this anthology don’t tell us what’s going to happen to this planet. Instead they challenge us to see what we are capable of, both good and bad, noble and otherwise. Who will you be? What are you capable of?

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Review: Green by Jay Lake

by on Nov.10, 2011, under Reviews

Why am I doing a review for Green more than 2 years after release? Because I found something remarkable and lovable about Green that I haven’t seen anyone else mention.

As I’m sure that you’ve read from other reviews or from the book itself, Green is a young child sold (or stolen) away from her farming father to a foreign prince. Over the course of the book she goes from rebellious child to well-trained assassin, in a story which spans regions and civilizations.

Yes, another competent female killer. But there is something truly wonderful about Green. The main character is not a spinning, kicking automaton with a god-given motive far beyond her years. The main character is… a young girl. A young girl with incredible skills which she spent years training to acquire. Whose skills do not transfer to the next thing she does magically, as if any competency is all competencies. The things she does are completely believable based on her story within the book.

Many reviewers harp on her immature response to going home and trying to reintegrate, or the way she gets pulled into things without a sense of direction. Honestly, this is exactly what makes the character Green real to me. When I watch the movies or read books about characters with an unnatural sense of what to do, it pushes me out – takes me away from believing in the character except as an expression of the author. Green acts as many young children have acted – she falls into things she may have known better. She acts against her own interests when rebelling against others. She is truly and completely human to me.

Green is a wonderfully real young lady. Reading her story brought me pleasure, and I gaze eagerly at the recently arrived hardback for her next journey — Endurance.

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