Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: Rogue Protocol

book cover for Rogue ProtocolMurderbot learns from the newsfeeds that the case against the nefarious GrayCris Corporation is floundering. It decides to help out Dr. Mensah from afar by digging up more dirt on GrayCris at an abandoned terraforming project. Once there, it encounters a team from GoodNightLander Independent (GNL) trying to salvage the terraforming station before it crashes into the planet. Unfortunately, GrayCris doesn't want that to happen.

Murderbot encounters a child-like bot named Miki who works with a bunch of humans that actually seem to care about it. Too used to humans that treat anything synthetic as disposable, Murderbot isn't so much conflicted as nauseated. Oh sure, Murderbot can't help its programming: It needs to save humans, at least the ones who aren't murderous jerks, but the lovefest between Miki and its humans is too saccharin for Murderbot.

There's plenty of action and tension as Murderbot works with Miki's group to deal with the surprises that GrayCris left behind. The security team hired by GNL to protect Miki's group don't trust Murderbot, but the feeling is mutual. The security team recognize that Murderbot is a SecUnit, a very effective killing machine. Not wishing to have its independence discovered, Murderbot fakes being an additional security hire from GNL and has to rely on Miki to convince its owner to trust Murderbot. A bit like hoping the dog you've befriended can convince its owner, the guy with the shotgun, that you're ok.

One thing that I've noticed in this series is women have been given leadership roles in every book up to this point. And it's not like the women leaders are the "good guys" and men are the "bad guys." Women have been given all the leading human roles. Even the hired security in this story is a two-woman team. It's refreshing.

I enjoyed this one. It had the right blend of Murderbot snark, humans in peril, and action. Murderbot may have even learned a thing or two about human-bot interaction.

4.5 stars.

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DED

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Book Review: Jar City

book cover for Jar CityWhen a lonely old man is found dead in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl's grave. Inspector Erlendur discovers that many years ago the victim was accused, but not convicted, of an unsolved crime, a rape. Did the old man's past come back to haunt him? As Erlendur reopens this very cold case, he follows a trail of unusual forensic evidence, uncovering secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man.

I bought this book as a gift for my wife. We'd visited Iceland to celebrate our 20th anniversary, and I thought that it might be cool to read a murder mystery that takes place there. She enjoyed it and, although I'm not much of a mystery reader, suggested that I give it a try. While the names of places—not to mention the bloody weather—stirred up fond memories, it didn't veer off into nostalgia porn.

Originally published in 2000, it was a bit weird encountering police detectives who were new to the Internet and all that it had to offer back then. By contrast, the whole gene sequencing angle still felt fresh.

Unfortunately, too much of the story was "told" rather than "shown." For those of you unfamiliar with the "show, don't tell" advice given to writers, it's a bit like the difference between attending a concert and having someone tell you about it because you couldn't go. I wanted the author to bring me into certain scenes so I could experience what was going on between the characters rather than being given a summary of what happened. And these were interesting characters! I really wanted to get to know them and their relationships with each other, but Indriðason kept me at a distance too often. It left me feeling a bit disengaged from the story.

3 stars.

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DED

Friday, April 24, 2020

Revised Armistice Day now Available on Nook and Others

New book cover for Armistice DayThe revised version of Armistice Day is now available on the Nook and other devices. Smashwords has a large number of those formats including: epub, pdf, rtf, lrf (older Sony ereaders), and pdb (Palm OS readers). I'm told that it is, or will soon be, available at Kobo, Apple, Scribd, OverDrive, and other platforms that I'm too unsure of to mention. It might even be available at your library. [shrug] Who knows? I saw the old cover on a couple of those sites this morning, so clearly eBook distribution isn't as fast in some corners of the internet as others.

The Smashwords Meatgrinder seems to be ok this time around. With any luck, all of the changes that I made to the kindle copy were ported over. If you spot a mistake, please let me know in the comments.

My cover designer is on vacation right now (he had Covid-19 so I think he deserves the time to recuperate), but when he gets back, I'll be talking to him about the print cover.

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DED

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Revised Armistice Day now on Kindle

New book cover for Armistice DayI'd forgotten how much I hate formatting a manuscript for publication. Nevertheless, the new version of Armistice Day is now available on the Kindle.

How much has changed? The cover is the major difference. A couple of paragraphs changed, but there was some capitalization issues with the phrase "my lord" that I finally got figured out. There were some layout issues encountered when I re-uploaded the manuscript. I don't know if they existed before.

Other eBook versions are in the process of being made. Once they're set, I'll be commissioning the print copy of the cover.

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DED

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Book Review: The Pluto Files

book cover for The Pluto FilesBasically, this book explores the history of humanity's relationship with Pluto. From discovery, to Disney's hopping on the new planet (at the time) bandwagon, to the AMNH's scandalous reclassification in its exhibits, and eventual demotion to dwarf planet. Offers a look into how people can get let emotion get the better of them on even such mundane matters as the scientific definition of celestial bodies.

As this book was written and published several years before New Horizons' encounter with Pluto, you won't get any of the really cool photos that probe produced nor speculation as to what it all means.

This is the first book by Tyson that I've read despite my enjoyment for how he talks about science. His normally prolific enthusiasm seen during interviews is tempered here, though you can catch glimpses of it from time-to-time, including the essay he wrote defending the AMNH move that landed him in hot water with Plutophiles. The addition of the satirical cartoons was a good move.

3 stars

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DED

Friday, April 17, 2020

New Cover for Armistice Day

Hi all,

I hope everyone is healthy and safe.

Here's the new cover for Armistice Day!

forthcoming book cover for Armistice Day
It was designed by the good people over at Goonwrite.com. It's a legal adaptation of a work done by the fabulous artist Tithi Luadthong.

Next week I hope to get the cover uploaded for all of the ebook formats so that all new ebooks will have this cover. After that, I'll pony up the dough for the dead tree version.

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DED

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Book Review: Artificial Condition

book cover for Artificial ConditionIt has a dark past—one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…


Artificial Condition picks up right where All Systems Red left off. Murderbot has a need to know what happened that fateful day on RaviHyral when it dubbed itself with that moniker. It hops from one transport to another until it encounters ART, a transport AI who sees through Murderbot's thin disguise. The two are initially suspicious of each other's motives. Their back and forth quips and probings takes up a good chunk of the beginning of the story.

Murderbot needs a pretense and a better disguise to get to the surface of RaviHyral as the news is filled with reports of a "SecUnit gone missing." It answers an ad for a group of researches in need of a security consultant/bodyguard as they're dealing with a local corporation that's stolen their data from a parallel project and bilked them out of their pay. We know that Murderbot is a softie for naïve humans who are in grave peril and can't help but take the job to make sure they don't get slaughtered.

Unlike All Systems Red, which hits the reader from the start, the pace starts slow and doesn't really get going until Murderbot reaches RaviHyral. Once there, the pace picks up as Murderbot has to simultaneously conduct its investigations into its murky past and keep its clients from walking into traps.

There's an interesting peek into the hierarchy of individual freedom based on levels of physical augmentation or processing power. SecUnits (murderbots) and ComfortUnits (sexbots) are at the bottom of that list, not really more than property. Even an emancipated bot like our protagonist doesn't truly enjoy freedom the same way that heavily augmented humans have. Even AIs, with vastly more processing power than shuttle pilots (a task handled by computers not humans), are constrained to an extent by their programming. For example, while ART is free to interact with Murderbot and others through the feed and is entirely capable of many things, being a transport ship for humans is still its raison d'être.

The interactions between Murderbot and other machines (a lump all term I'm using here for anything not mostly human) is notably different than the first story. Every computer or machine in All Systems Red were things for it to hack, which it did with ease. Other SecUnits had to be defeated in combat. In Artificial Condition, Murderbot has to actually converse with other machines. Murderbot needs to know why the sexbot is following it. What does it know? And ART is way too powerful for Murderbot to attempt any violent act. It has to negotiate from a position of relative weakness, albeit a bit sullenly. It was refreshing to see that Murderbot could have complex, non-violent encounters with other machines.

While this one didn't have the feels of the first, it was still a highly enjoyable story.

4 stars.

\_/
DED

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Facelift

I confess that the cover for my 2010 novel, Armistice Day, looks dated. It was the best cover I could commission back then. I have no regrets about it (My regrets only pertain to my lack of publishing, but that's another matter).

These days, one's dollar goes so much farther as accessibility to high quality pre-made covers has greatly improved and the price for commissioned book covers has come down. Yes, there's still garbage out there, but the market has improved by so much.

In the days ahead, I'll be posting the new look for Armistice Day.

In other news, I've now launched a Facebook page for my writing news. Marketing, cross promotion, yadda yadda yadda. But if you already read this blog, there really won't be anything there that isn't posted here. I have plenty of complaints about Facebook's content, but I'm also not a fan of the layout/interface. But that's where everyone is so what choice do I have?

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DED

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Book Review - Great Sky River

book cover for Great Sky RiverGalactic Center series book #3.

According to the timeline in the back of my copy of the book, 35,000 years have passed since the events in Across the Sea of Suns. The survivors of that book were joined by expeditions from Earth in the central region of the Milky Way. Humanity enjoyed a second Renaissance that lasted thousands of years, but it ultimately caught the attention of the Mechanicals, who proceeded to methodically fight a war of attrition against them. Six years ago on the planet Snowglade, where this story takes place, the Mechanicals overwhelmed the Citadels and forced the survivors into a nomadic lifestyle, feeding off the scraps of the fringes of Mechanicals' civilization.

The humans on Snowglade are augmented, their bodies implanted with and connected to so many cybernetic parts that they're vulnerable to electromagnetic attacks and computer virus infections. To compound the problem, the humans on Snowglade have been regressing over the centuries. They've become so dependent on their technology to do everything for them that they no longer possess the knowledge to create anything new. Sure, they can fix some things, but they typically don't seem to be much more than cybernetic cavemen. They can't even understand the information that appears in their HUDs. Distant dead ancestors were digitized, and its every adult survivor's responsibility to carry their share of these personalities around with them in their personal computer memory. But rather than make the most of the knowledge that these digital ancestors still retain, they're often brushed aside because they're annoying.

The story is told from the POV of Killeen, a member of the Bishop family (tribe). His father and wife died when their citadel was destroyed. His son, Toby, is all he cares about now. We witness the raids on Mechanicals' manufacturing outposts and attacks on the family by Marauder machines through his eyes. He comes to realize that the nature of the attacks is changing. There's a machine out there that possesses a cunning, ruthless intelligence that is unlike any Marauder. He names it the Mantis.

The Mantis has taken a perverse interest in humanity, and it is up to Killeen and his tribe to figure out its motives.

Benford has made some dramatic improvements in this series. First off, the arrogant protagonist of the first two novels, Nigel Walmsley, has been pushed into the historical record. Secondly, but no less important, female characters are finally treated as equals. Fanny is the captain of the Bishop tribe at the onset of the story, and Killeen greatly respects her leadership. Shibo is a survivor from another tribe who impresses Killeen with her knowledge and skill. No damsel in distress here.

The dialogue took some getting used to. Benford grants the Snowglade denizens a dialect that comprises several slang words and new terms ("yeasay", "suredead", "mechtalk", etc.) and modifies their grammar to help craft an image of them as hillbillies. That's not meant to be an insult.

There are some scenes in the lair of the Mantis that appear to be inspired by H.R. Giger. In many of his works, Giger blended humans and animals with machines to create disturbing biomechanoid images (the creature in the movie Alien being his most famous work). Benford puts his own spin on the concept. Whether or not the descriptions will disturb the reader is up to said reader's ability to visualize what Benford writes. I give him points for the effort.

While not a reboot of the series, Benford in effect wipes the proverbial slate clean. With a new protagonist and solid supporting cast of characters, the Galactic Center saga takes on a fresh new look.

3.5 stars.

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DED

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Book Review - Woken Furies

book cover for Woken FuriesIn a world where real and virtual are one and the same and the dead can come back to life, Takeshi Kovacs was once a galaxy-hopping Envoy. Now he battles against biomachines gone wild, searches for a centuries-old missing weapons system, and endures the betrayal of people he once trusted. But when his relationship with an imperiled woman pits him against an enemy specially designed to destroy him, he knows it's time to be afraid. After all, the guy sent to kill him is himself: only younger, stronger, and straight out of hell.

When we reunite with Kovacs, we find him back on Harlan's World, the place of his birth. He's hunting priests of a local patriarchal religion—Knights of the New Revelation—in a damaged synthetic sleeve, but we don't know why. After the events in Broken Angels, it seemed like Kovacs was done with the mercenary life. But things spiral out of control pretty fast. Soon Kovacs is so hot from pissing off the New Revelation crowd and the Yakuza that he's in the outback fighting rogue biomachines with a local mercenary outfit. That's his way of laying low.

After re-sleeving, he learns that a centuries-old backup version of himself has been illegally acquired by the planet's ruling family and is on the hunt for him and Sylvie, the tech-head leader of the mercenary group. She apparently caught a computer virus and has been steadily getting worse. They split off from her merc band and hide somewhere else. That doesn't go well either, and now Kovacs is hanging out with some surfers looking to get the revolutionary band back together again.

There's also stuff dealing with the Envoys, the lethal Martian orbital stations, and Quellcrist Falconer—the long dead philosopher leader of a rebellion three centuries ago. Confused? Yeah, I was too. However, I can assure you that by the end of the book, the convoluted plot and storylines all make sense. The pieces start to come together midway through when Kovacs finally explains why he's hunting down priests. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but I'll give you a hint: It's not business; it's personal.

Kovacs has learned the hard way that you can't go home again. He's been gone too long. Places are familiar, yet different. People change; friendships falter. As for ideologies: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Kovacs is angry at everyone and everything, especially himself. The internal dialogues with himself reveal a level of inner conflict that wasn't present in the previous two novels. A particularly cathartic moment comes when he's forced to fight the younger version of himself. The younger Kovacs is highly critical of the choices that the elder Kovacs has made in his life. Nearing exhaustion from all of the mental and physical battles, he responds, "You know what, let's see you do it better."

But before we get there, we have to endure a whole lot of aimless wandering, a lot of misplaced anger, too many disposable minor characters, questionable sexual choices (and graphic sex scenes that neither reveal hidden plot clues nor develop character), and one betrayal after another (What happened to all that Envoy intuition?). There was little in the way of rewards along this journey, and the end payoff was a bit lacking. With the success of the Netflix adaptation of Altered Carbon, Morgan has hinted that he's thinking about revisiting Kovacs. If it means a better send off for the character, I hope so.

3.5 stars

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DED

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Book Review: Black Dog - The Dreams of Paul Nash

book cover for Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul NashI confess to not knowing who Paul Nash was. However, I know Dave McKean from his artwork on Sandman and various album covers and consider myself a fan. The book jacket informed me that Nash was surrealist painter that served in World War 1. As I'd recently seen 1917, I was intrigued.

Nash made notes of his dreams, which are included in the text, and are arranged in a mostly chronological fashion among the events that shaped his life. Even before experiencing the horrors of war, Nash grew up having to cope with his mother's mental illness. And boarding school with its sadistic and liberal application of physical discipline for failure only made matters worse. Of it, he wrote that it:
"...was ideal training for an infantryman's life in the trenches. It taught me nothing worth speaking of, it answered none of my questions, it required only a kind of desperate obedience, and a stoic acceptance of the constant threat of sudden and terrible violence."
The book is heavy on observation, interpretation, and introspection. One passage that really resonated with me was this:
Peel away the layers
Strip away the nerves and the synapses and senses
Cut away the skin and these paper-thin defenses
Underneath the son is the father
I'm defined by him
And in opposition to him.
I've tried to make judicious changes
Cut down the anger, add a little patience
I've tried to wash some colour through his pages
Swimming against his genes
His influence in my bloodstream.
The artwork is fantastic. Comparing McKean's previous work to Nash's, I can see the influence. In this collection, McKean pays homage to Nash's work, but takes on a darker tone as befitting the subject matter. The sketches range from hyper-real to abstract to surrealistic. Most of the color palette is dominated by earth tones, both dark and bright, to convey scenes ranging from ominous dread to natural tranquility. McKean saves sharp color contrast—most notably his use of red—to draw the eye in to evoke heightened emotional response to danger, violence, and horror.

Recommended for McKean fans and introspective types.

5 stars

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DED

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Book Review: Transmetropolitan, Vol. 4 - The New Scum

book cover for Transmetropolitan volume 4It's the last two weeks before the election. Spider Jerusalem is still coping with Vita's death and disgusted by how her death has been used by Senator Callahan to rise in the polls. He interviews both the senator and the President. The latter being a chance for Robertson to vent at some past politician, but the vitriol seems quite relevant for the current occupier of the White House, though the two men are vastly different in their respective outlooks.

In the other storyline, Channon discovers that Yelena had drunken sex with Spider and won't let it go. Yelena hates herself for doing the deed and Channon for constantly being on her case about it.

It reads very much like an interim chapter in the overall storyline. No big revelations to see. What it does it set the stage for what's to come. Good to read if you're looking for Spider's one-on-one with the candidates.

Bonus issues: "Edgy Winter" and "Next Winters." Both of these stories are standalone and show Spider in full rant. The former shows Spider in a rare moment of regret. The latter provides some background on how the world of Transmetropolitan functions.

3 stars.

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DED

Friday, January 17, 2020

Book Review: The Difference Engine

book cover for The Difference Engine1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history—and the future: Sybil Gerard—dishonored woman and daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward "Leviathan" Mallory—explorer and paleontologist; Laurence Oliphant—diplomat and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for...

TL;DR version: Gibson and Sterling combined their skills to craft an exquisitely detailed world, but failed to come up with a story worthy of the setting.

Ugh! What a disappointment! I should've just abandoned this early on. I kept going with it, hoping that somewhere along the way it would improve, but it didn't. I can't believe that these two put all this effort into creating this world—every, and I do mean every, single detail gets some kind of mention even if it's a list of items on a table or how each and every single person is dressed—but forgot to write a cohesive storyline. The world itself requires some suspension of disbelief, but that isn't the problem here. The storytelling is the problem.

The blurb informs us that we have three main characters in this book. But don't assume that their stories are told co-currently or are entwined in such a way as to reach a dramatic climax. Their stories are told one at a time, but they don't flow into one another. In fact, they seem like they could've been three different ideas for how this novel could've been approached. Rather than picking one or finding a way to tie them together, they're just carelessly pasted into the manuscript.

Sybil is up first. He story slowly builds up to a dramatic conflict and then she fades off the stage, with only a fleeting encounter with the McGuffin (the box of punched Engine cards), and we're told that she spends her days from here out in Paris.

Mallory is up next. Early on, he stumbles into the McGuffin after a brief altercation with a thug at the racetrack. Said thug turns out to be Mallory's antagonist and later develops offstage into some kind of Moriarty-type villain. Meanwhile, Mallory puts the McGuffin somewhere safe and we don't hear of it again. We're introduced to Oliphant, whose purpose seems to be to warn Mallory that he's messing with some serious people, but Mallory...I don't know where his head is. He seems to be incredulous all the time that these things are happening. His story climaxes during the "Great Stink," a real eco-disaster. Then Mallory's story is done and we're told how he dies decades hence.

Finally, Oliphant takes control of the narrative. He's investigating something and lets it be known that Mallory is over in China digging up fossils. We kinda learn the fate of the McGuffin and Oliphant is off to Paris to recruit Sybil into taking down a politically dangerous man whom she has a personal vendetta against. And then that's it; Oliphant's story is done. The story ends with a whimper.

The last thirty pages of the book are a collection of narrative chunks of various topics that amount to nothing more than discarded bits of backstory, character development, and storyline. Did they not know how to weave this into the story, or is it filler to bump up the page count?

All-in-all, a complete waste of time, unless you're researching a steampunk setting and need help with the details.

1.5 stars

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DED