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Dystopia in the Making

If anyone ever wanted proof that supposedly intelligent people can come up with the most idiotic notions imaginable, you need look no further than this piece of radical idiocy.

Yes. You read that right. There are apparently intelligent people who know enough about the surface of biology to make a quasi-plausible argument and genuinely believe (at least I think they do. It’s not April 1, after all) that it’s possible to bioengineer the predator out of predators and make everything sweet and light and somehow magically not cause horrendous imbalances in every ecosystem on the bloody planet.

The model our bright spark uses is the attempt to eliminate the Anopheles mosquito in order to eliminate malaria.

I shall leave it to the folk here to come up with all sorts of wonderfully horrendous outcome any of this could have – not only do I not need any more plot bunnies running wild, I could really live without the research something like this would take me.

That said, our bright spark has apparently never heard of the “fun” Australia has had with rabbits. Myxomatosis had up to 90% kill rate – but now most of Australia’s rabbits are immune. Then there was the calcivirus and RHD which was even more effective – but not effective enough.

Hell, if he proposed his lovey-dovey utopian tripe anywhere near anyone with experience of Australian wildlife, he’d never get past his opening because the Aussies would be pissing themselves laughing. Honestly, does this twit think predation is the only way animals hurt each other?

Let’s see… major causes of death in large herbivores other than predation include injuries sustained fighting off rivals for mating – unless our utopian twits (who are clearly close relatives of the glittery hoo haas, with about as much understanding of reality) plan to control them and jerk off the males to get the goods to artificially inseminate the females (I’ll let Dave Freer talk about being shoulder deep in large herbivore and the potential issues with doing this to… oh, for shits and giggles, let’s say a hippo). Not to mention territory disputes, herd hierarchy arguments, intermittent issues with drought, flood, and so forth.

Then there’s the matter of parasitic entities. They’re not predators per se, but what they do is even less fluffy and wholesome and cute. I’m not linking to any of that stuff because you need a strong stomach (but damn some of them on steroids would make awesome alien life forms to terrorize your poor characters. Just saying).

As for those Jain monks the utopian one mentioned, the ones who sweep the ground before they walk so they don’t accidentally tread on any insects, their legendary compassion apparently doesn’t extend to those poor, confused ants who just lost their scent trail and have no idea where they are. Or the who knows how many micro-organisms living contentedly in that patch of dirt who have now been sent flying to who knows where (come on, to your average micro-organism, a few feet is like the other side of the bloody universe).

Not to mention the poor, suffering plants. Yes, the plants. Plants communicate with each other (sod if I understand how but apparently that’s what all the research is saying) and they respond to injury with vegetable analogs of pain. Do they not count for the utopian vision of eliminating suffering? (Don’t start. Seriously. Just don’t.)

Now, to be fair, I’m all for minimizing suffering whenever and however we realistically can, but – and this is a pretty big but – there is no life without suffering and no life without death. You’ll notice fluffy utopia is all about changing the python so it doesn’t eat the small child or the pet dog. It’s not about changing the crocodile so it doesn’t eat the python (or vice-versa).

When you screw around with something as delicately balanced as the average ecosystem (it’s rather like any decently large economy – self-correcting under most circumstances, with a ridiculous number of variables making the whole thing impossible to predict, and when meddled with can produce wildly unpredictable and dangerous results) you run the risk of destroying it and losing not just the nasty predators you don’t want, but the cute fluffy things you were trying to save, and the plants they eat, and a crapload of other animals and plants you didn’t even think mattered.

Just ask Australia. The tropical and temperate rainforests that used to cover most of the landmass were replaced first by eucalyptus forest, then in a lot of places by savanna/desert courtesy human intervention between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. In the process most of Australia’s large animals (predators and prey) vanished – along with a hell of a lot of plants and insects and who knows what else. Those humans had no idea what they were messing with. They just wanted to clear things out enough that they could move freely and see any problems nearby.

If this twit and his friends try anything they won’t have that excuse.

From Out The Character — short story workshop

Short story workshop, part however many  4? 5?

Sorry to be so late with this. I’d started to explain that you can’t have character without plot or plot without character. That you can’t take your beautiful character and display him to the readers, and make the readers give a good d*mn without showing your character in action.

Not that writers haven’t tried. I’ve read a lot of newbies having Perfect Princess Pattycakes (who is sometimes a guy) wandering through the novel while everyone talks about how Perfect and Pattycakey she is, even as she does nothing. Just her mere presence causes problems to be solved around her.

Yep, her name is Mary Sue. Don’t be Mary Sue.

The thing is that this is most important for novels. (Are we doing one of these for novels, afterwards? With emphasis on the differences between short stories and novels? You command, I obey.)

Short stories, are… a different beast.

Look, I’ll level with you. While you should still have a plot and things actually happen, it is perfectly possible to write a short story when ALL you have is a character.

Okay, maybe not ALL you have. It would really help if you also had Bradbury’s facility with words. (Younger son, the inarticulate one, seems to while writing fantasy. It’s very odd. Like there’s a were writer who lives in his brain.)

Given that and a fascinating enough character you can write a short story in which the character reminisces, or moans or sets fire to his own hair.

If you have the ability to do that and make the story interesting, what are you doing here? Go make with the typytypy.

(Mind you, even that level of ability won’t save you in a novel, though you could write an episodic novel with perfect little character gems, right? Sort of. Kind of. Sideways. If you do don’t tell them I sent you – you’ll win so many awards.)

For most of us, even in a short story, there must be some sort of plot to make it… you know, a story.

But you can start with the character (weirdly for short stories I usually don’t. I usually start with a character for novels. For short stories I start with a situation. Most of the time the character appears after that. If he/she doesn’t, I play it by ear and plug in generic character for plot, with one or two interesting quirks.) and interrogate him to get a story.

By “interrogate” I don’t mean you should interview him/her. Sure you can do that, but if you do that, often the interview becomes the thing.

I interviewed a character once, for a deeper understanding of what was eating him, but the thing is, though I got to know him better, the things I got to know didn’t fuel the plot which still had to come from somewhere else.

If you’re a character writer, the character is there in your head already and interviewing him with nonsense about his favorite desert and his most embarrassing moment in childhood won’t help you. These were things he would have given you anyway, given time and the need to know. You’re just cluttering yourself with a bunch of facts you don’t need. It sort of reminds me when ebooks were new and editors (ah!) said stupid sh*t at cons, like “We can have information linked right from the page. So, if you mention the Alps, there will be a tab the reader can click in and find out how tall they are and everything about it.” Because you know, in a novel, description (what we choose to tell and what we choose to withhold, how we tell it, where we put the emphasis) isn’t part of the story tellers art at all, right? It’s just the imparting of information. (Good thing these people were gatekeepers, right? Look at their brilliant understanding of the narrative art.)

So, don’t do that. Instead, if you have the character in our head, ask yourself “where does this character hurt?” That is, what does the character want more than anything, what’s in his way, and (if possible) why does he want it that badly. What causes this near unbearable craving? Or “What is the character’s greatest regret and grief?” (For another type of character, of course.) What can he/she do about it.

Again “Where does the character hurt?”

The nature of the wanting or the regret or the pain or the longing, or all of those might tell you what your story is.

No?

“The thing I wanted most of all was to kill Joe.” Is probably a mystery. As is “I wish I’d been there when Joe was killed and could have stopped the bastard. I wasn’t, I coldn’t, but I can go and find his murderer.”

“Ever since I was little I dreamed of going to the moon. My mom gave me a bunch of clockworks and told me it was a piece of the sputnik which had been to outer space. I slept with it clutched in my hand while I was battling small pox.” Is either science fiction or the beginning of my autobiography.

“It was the elves that did it. We though we had a problem with the rabbits, but no. I was there when the elves came. I wish I’d believed in them and could have done something about it.” Is probably fantasy. Might even contain exploding elves.

But Sarah, you say, what if the character isn’t telling me what his greatest fear/pain is? How do I figure out a story for this character.

Well, the reason I started with the “greatest” fear and pain is that short stories are of necessity more focused. So you need to find the big brush and paint with that, so it can be seen even in postage stamp (okay, it’s a bad analogy. Shut up.)

Let’s suppose you have a character who is just telling you what is bothering him right then. It’s possible that what you have is actually a novel (you won’t know till you figure out what his big fear/pain is) but you can at least start looking at it and bringing it out to play.

If the character is afraid of the dark, putting him in a spaceship where the lights fail should produce some interesting results. The same way, if you know your character absolutely refuses to believe in anything supernatural. Drop him head first into fairyland and then see what happens.

Yes, it’s torture. Well, what do/did you torture people for? Information, right? Story people aren’t any different.

Chances are the story that results from this won’t be very coherent and you’ll have to clean it up at the end. Short stories are all a matter of proportion. (More on that later.) But you’ll have something.

Just remember – don’t have your character born on page one. Even in a short story, if your character has no past, chances are he has no future either.

And – don’t have the entire plot based on running away. Yes, you can get away with this in a short story (The Littlest Nightmare. COFF.) BUT if it’s more than a joke or a vignette and if you’re going to go more than three thousand words on the outside, you need something more than that. Find out what makes your character stand and fight. Then do it.

 

Next week: Location, location, location.

 

And the idiotic “suggestions” continue

The other day, Cedar pointed me to a post over at The Passive Voice with a warning that my head would explode when I read the headline and then the associated article.  She was right, of course. She knows me well enough to realize that anytime someone suggests an industry needs “socialism” to save it is going to set me off. When I see that applied to an industry that is refusing to adapt to changes in the market, well, my ire is doubled or even tripled.

In this particular case, the headline states that “Publishing needs socialism to save it.”

Yes, you read that right. An industry based on elitism and so-called gatekeepers barring anything that doesn’t meet their bar for not only quality but content — read social/political stance — needs to be saved by socialism. Am I the only one who sees the oxymoron (with emphasis on the moron) here?

But let’s look beyond the headline to the article itself. Fair warning, this is one of the only times — if not the only time — I can remember Passive Guy adding a disclaimer that he doesn’t always agree with what he links to on his site.

The original post appeared here. The first indication that I had that I’d probably take issue with the article came with the first sentence. Anytime someone starts off with, and I’m paraphrasing, “I love the United States [or anything else] but. . . ” it’s the “but” that worries me.

The basic premise is that the author of the original post doesn’t think we in the U.S. value books enough and that the French and other European countries do. To prove that we value books and the publishing industry, the government should step in and pass laws and regulations against Amazon (note that nowhere in the article does the author say these restrictions should apply to Barnes & Noble or any other retail outlet).

Let’s look at specifics.

“Here in the U.S., thanks largely to Amazon, books have become commoditized.”

Oookay, and this is a bad thing why? And what about the publishers who view authors as nothing more than interchangeable widgets? I don’t have the quote immediately at hand, but one of the major publishers basically said just that. The fact that the publishers the author of this particular article wants to protect sees authors, the creators of the product, in that light bothers me more than the fact we can shop for books based on price.

“You can buy clothes based on price—or a desk or the hotel you vacation at. But books should not be purchased based on price alone.”

Again, what? First of all, that insults every reader out there who ever bought a book. It assumes the potential purchaser doesn’t look at the product description, has never heard of the author — or publisher in some cases — and doesn’t look at the sample. It also assumes the potential reader hasn’t heard about the book from other sources or has had a friend recommend it. But that argument, since it will quickly become clear Amazon is the target of the article, ignores the fact that you can walk into your local Walmart or similar store and buy books at a discount. Or that you can purchase your club card for B&N and get a discount on certain books that way. But, most of all, it insults the reader because it assumes price is the only factor considered in making a book purchase.

“But when books become so devalued and sell at a loss, you have to question how such pricing helps the long-term viability of books.”

Ah, and here we start getting into the smoke and mirrors. Most, if not the vast majority of books, sold by Amazon and other retailers at a discount aren’t sold at a loss. The applies to print books as well as e-books. What this statement is actually aimed at is Amazon’s desire to sell the so-called best sellers at $9.99, a price the publishers have arbitrarily determined to be undervalue. It also doesn’t take into account that, at the time this was happening, it is my understanding that Amazon still paid the publishers the price they wanted. It was Amazon taking a loss, not the publishers. So how is this hurting the publishing industry? Oh, wait, I know the answer. Selling more e-books is a bad thing.

“In the U.S. it seems the publishing market is ruled by one company—Amazon—and five major conglomerate publishers—and one physical retailer (Barnes & Noble). When Amazon makes a change, the publishing industry trembles and acquiesces.”

Really? So, is that why when, lo those years ago, Apple and the Big 5 conspired to fix prices and push the agency pricing model on Amazon, it agreed? Funny, that’s not the way I remember it. Amazon did take its buy buttons down for a bit in an attempt to fight the bid but finally gave in. Remember those tags under prices of e-books noting that the price was set by the publisher? Oh, I know, that’s why all the other outlets sell books published by Amazon imprints, right? But what, they don’t. Hmm, I seem to recall B&N and other retailers refusing to stock anything with an Amazon imprint on it, even if their customers wanted them to. So, yeah, the publishing world quakes when Amazon does something and then gives in to the big evil.

And let’s talk about how evil Amazon is when it is the party in the Hatchette dispute that has offered to pay Hatchette authors who are being impacted by the contract negotiations, negotiations that I’m sure Hatchette would love to drag out until it is able to renegotiation its contract with Apple, thereby putting more pressure on Amazon. But it is Amazon that is bad.

If you doubt my take that the author of the post is anti-Amazon, this statement should convince you:

“In France, where Amazon only owns 10-12% of the book market—but 70% of online sales, Amazon is contained because of laws passed to protect and support bookstores and publishers.”

Amazon is “contained”. Yeah, that’s the American spirit. Let’s contain our businesses, making it harder for them to serve their customers all so five companies, at least two of which aren’t even American companies, can survive even though they are doing everything they can to destroy themselves.

The author goes on to note that French law prohibits free shipping on discounted books and also mandates that a discount can be no more than 5% of the list price. Hmm, so how would we apply that to Amazon? Would you set up a double standard so that only Amazon, and possibly Amazon fulfilled, sales were affected or would it apply across the board to anyone who sells books through Amazon? What about all those used books sellers, and new book sellers as well? Are you going to make their bottom line suffer because you don’t like Amazon?

More than that, do you apply this only to Amazon Prime members who get free second day shipping? Or will you apply it to all sales? And why only book sales? Why not apply it to all items sold by the evil that is Amazon?

The post goes on to note that France is only one of several large European countries with laws about the pricing of books. Brian Feinblum, author of the post, also notes that Great Britain used to have such laws but did away with them in the 1990’s at which time “the book world was hit hard. A third of its independent bookstores closed in the past nine years, as supermarkets and Amazon discounted some books by more than 50%.”

Now, my issue with the above is that it is going beyond the apple and oranges comparison. It completely ignores the fact that most of the mom and pop bookstores in this country went the way of the dodo when the big box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders entered the market. Those large chains were able to negotiate contracts with the publishers that were, frankly, detrimental to the publishers (the return policy for example). My other issue is that this also ignores the fact that the publishers have already been paid for the books when they are placed on such deep discounts, discounts that for, most print books aren’t common unless the books aren’t selling.

“To preserve the value of books, we must take the finances out of the equation.”

Which has served publishing so well when it was the only game in town, right? Wrong. It’s wrong because most people can’t and won’t drop $30 for every book they want to read and they’d have to for the vast majority of books if they wanted to read them when the book first comes out. No, they’d wait until the paperback came out and, gee, guess what, they would still balk at the $15.99 price tag you see on some of them. So what happens, sales continue to go down and who gets hurt in the long run? The author. Why? Because the publishers will look at declining sales and say it is all the author’s fault and not a fault of theirs because they didn’t to the promotion they promised or because folks just don’t have that sort of spare cash.

Perhaps instead of trying to protect an industry that is operating under business plans that are long outdated, we ought to be more worried about protecting the rights of our authors. Protect them from publishers who continue to refuse to relinquish rights to books that no longer meet the contractual terms of “in print”. Protect them from agents who want to maintain hooks in the books for the life of copyright, even if they never do anything to help the author after getting the initial publishing contract signed. Protect them from publishers who continue to pay them a pittance and use creative bookkeeping to justify it. Protect them from an industry that has adopted a reporting method that makes no frigging sense in this day and age of bar codes, computers and tracking programs. But no, we have to protect the Big Five from evil Amazon.

Give me a break.

Yesterdays book, Yesterday’s heroes…

Ah, yes. In the old days we had quality Nostalgia. They just don’t make it like they did when I was young. Mind you you tell the youth of today that and they won’t believe yer.

Our minds are quite good at selective retention. For conclusive proof of this look at any woman pregnant with her second child — or man entering on his second marriage. So too with ‘Golden age sf’ (for me that started about ? nine, with Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD, (which I see has been nominated for a Prometheus Award a lot of times) shortly followed by a serialization of THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER (Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt which I found part of in a tatty sf Magazine (now available as the The Complete Compleat Enchanter
, and was fascinated by – ergo, PYRAMID SCHEME

) It was full of great and wonderful books… The truth, of course was that it also had a fair amount of total drekk, but selective memory kindly got rid of most of that.

Inevitably, when the subject of the Golden age of sf comes up, we have a chorus of ‘Heinlein’ – and varying reactions to that, white hot praise, or rabid condemnation, usually depending on the whether 1)the person actually has read most of RAH’s books 2)Whether they’re a stupid camp-follower who hasn’t (or maybe one of the later ones) 3) Whether they actually understand the concept of ‘at the time of writing’ or just assume all people were born in the same year they were, went to their school, were part of their social set, faithfully absorbed the same indoctrination and thus expect all books to reflect their attitudes perfectly. We could have a jolly fun time dissecting this and the attitudes in it all.

Or we could try something completely different.

We could say ‘and who else’? Now, inevitably when you try this with one of those who has just told you what sexists/racists/misogynists the entire world of sf writers was until (depending on their age) their personal Golden age, will do a wonderful imitation of a goldfish, opening and closing their mouth until they manage to dredge up “Asimov!”. Don’t try pointing that they have several thousand other authors to go (from across the spectrum of sex, color and orientation, and political viewpoint) unless you are wearing suitable protective clothing. You really don’t want to try and clean that sort of gunk off your clothes and face, and besides it could be infectious.

Of course there were several thousand great authors, as well as some who should be forgotten as hastily as possible (this probably also depends on your viewpoint). I thought I’d dredge up a few of mine, perhaps from a different perspective and background, and you could offer a few of yours.

Clifford Simak: I often thought Simak’s ideas desperately needed better execution – because several of them had such vast book potential in them. None the less I really enjoyed his rural characters, and the fact that there was a philosophical and theological streak to the books which was neither preachy nor nasty, generally. Economics also play a role in his books, which set them apart rather. I can’t remember any major wars or conflicts, but quirky sense of humor. Simak managed to get two things very right: the sheer incomprehensibility of alien life and indeed the universe – “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine” (to quote the man), yet his books almost always fitted the human wave paradigm long before it was invented or needed (and it is now). Secondly his books were always about individuals, and the ability of these to transcend vast forces. The prose is simple, easy to read. The ideas are not. That is something so frequently missing in modern sf. And I role model on the rural characters and settings. Love them. And love the fact that these folk are not presented as all stupid rednecks.
The GOBLIN RESERVATION remains one of my favorites

And THE WEREWOLF PRINCIPLE one of the better ideas in Golden age sf, that deserved a far far bigger book.

Zenna Henderson:
I was amused to seem some critics saying Henderson out-Simaked Simak. It’s small rural settings again – an alien Humanoid people, refugees trying to fit into ordinary America (how very different!) She usually used female POV, and was one of the first female sf writers to use her own name — and was very popular, far more so for her writing than say Joanna Russ.

James White: The Sector General books – White wrote hospital stories (mostly) and I think Algis Budrys was right – he had a problem that I have myself, getting so involved with characters, that coming to grips with the truly horrible scenes was not executed as well as it could be. However, he wrote very ingenious stories in the hospital setting, with some delightful aliens. White was a pacifist, and this is reflected in his stories. They still make entertaining reading -another thing that modern writers could learn from.

Poul Anderson –

If you haven’t read Poul Anderson and are trying to write sf/fantasy… you’re doing it wrong. It’d be like trying to write literary feminist… books, yes that was the word I was looking for, without reading Margaret Atwood. His heroes are heroes to breath life in a story. Yet they can be complex – even his villains are. Read it and learn, or read it and weep, as I do for the lack comparable skill. Anderson – possibly more than Heinlein for me, was the golden age craftsman. He got history right, he made me laugh and he made me weep, and he made me determined to stand tall.

Mack Reynolds: In a curious twist – in McCarthy era, as a life-long socialist, with books that often had post-capitalist utopias as their central theme, and a little later writing ‘Black Man’s Burden’ (with a black lead protagonist and hero) had reasonable success in Golden age. When that was over he struggled to get published -which kind of makes a mockery of the current revisionist history of the Golden Age of SF. I enjoyed a few of his books – where he kept to story and didn’t bury it in politics – Space Pioneer (if you ever come across it) was a real delight, with the conflict really well written – and the idea of not selling off tomorrow’s resources to foreigners for a pittance today being one I could really buy into.

Okay, your turn 🙂

Promotion Sunday

Sarah is off on a well deserved getaway with her hubby this weekend, leaving the boys and the cats alone in the house. Yes, she knows she is taking a risk and that when they get home, she and Dan will discover the cats have taken over and the boys are now their servants. Oh, wait, that’s what it is like in any home owned by a cat. 😉 Anyway, because she’s having some “quality” time with Dan, we’re going to do something we aren’t real good about here. We’re going to promote our work. All we ask is that you remember a number of us are servants to our royal feline overlords and have kibble that needs to be bought.

coverforvfaVengeance from Ashes
Sam Schall

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

 

hunter's homeHunter’s Home
Ellie Ferguson

They say you can never go home. That’s something CJ Reamer has long believed. So, when her father suddenly appears on her doorstep, demanding she return home to Montana to “do her duty”, she has other plans. Montana hasn’t been home for a long time, almost as long as Benjamin Franklin Reamer quit being her father. Dallas is now her home and it’s where her heart is. The only problem is her father doesn’t like taking “no” for an answer.

When her lover and mate is shot and she learns those responsible come from her birth pride and clan, CJ has no choice but to return to the home she left so long ago. At least she won’t be going alone. Clan alphas Matt and Finn Kincade aren’t about to take any risks where their friend is concerned. Nor is her mate, Rafe Walkinghorse, going to let her go without him.

Going home means digging up painful memories and family secrets. But will it also mean death – or worse – for CJ and her friends?

 

Pixie NoirPixie Noir
Cedar Sanderson

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down…

Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…

“They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”

 

Trickster ebook coverTrickster Noir
Cedar Sanderson

After the battle of Tower Baelfire ended, Lom lay dying. Bella was tasked with not only the job she never wanted, but the one she did. Could she keep Lom alive long enough for him to come to the rescue when their kingdom needed them? And what did Raven, mysterious trickster spirit and honorary uncle to Bella, want with them? If the threat was big enough to have the trickster worried, Bella knew she needed to have Lom at her side. Underhill might look like a soap-bubble kingdom, but Bella and Lom knew there was a gritty underside. Why else would fairyland need a dark man willing to carry a big gun and be the Pixie for Hire?

 

witchfindercoverfinalWitchfinder
Sarah A. Hoyt

In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.

 

coverfinalbrightDeath of a Musketeer
Sarah D’Almeida

April in Paris 1625. D’Artagnan, and his new friends who hide their true identities under the assumed names of Athos, Porthos and Aramis, discover the corpse of a beautiful woman who looks like the Queen of France. Suspecting an intrigue of Cardinal Richelieu’s and fearing the murder will go unpunished they start investigating. But the enterprise will be fraught with danger, traps from the Cardinal, duels with guards and plotting from the king himself.

 

stardogs Stardogs
Dave Freer

Revolution rises!

The Interstellar Empire of Man was built on the enslavement of the gentle Stardogs, companions and Theta-space transporters of the vanished Denaari Dominion. But the Stardogs that humans found can’t go home to breed, and are slowly dying out.

As the ruthless Empire collapses from its rotten core outward, an Imperial barge is trapped on top of a dying Stardog when an attempted hijacking and assassination go horribly wrong. Trying to save its human cargo, the Stardog flees to the last place anyone expected – the long-lost Denaari motherworld.

Crawling from the crash are the Leaguesmen who control the Stardogs’ pilots by fear and force, and plan to assassinate Princess Shari, the criminal Yak gang, who want to kill everyone and take control of a rare Stardog for their own, and an entourage riddled with plots, poisons, and treason. But Shari and her assassin-bodyguard have plans of their own…

Stranded on the Denaari Motherworld, the castaway survivors will have to cooperate to survive. Some will have to die.

And some, if they make it to the Stardogs breeding ground, will have to learn what it means to love.

morningstarMorningstar
Dave Freer

(Previously published, according to our astute readers, as The Forlorn.)

Across the one human colony world, a place technologically regressed to near medieval, possibly the last place humans still survive, a desperate search continues. Scattered across the deserts, tangled jungles, and alien fortresses, lie the core sections of the matter transmitter.

These sections hold the key to vast wealth, power, or… the fulfilment of the colony’s purpose: to help humankind survive the rabidly xenophobic alien Morkth who will tolerate no other intelligent species. The Morkth managed to follow the colony ship, and, despite their mothership being shot down and their queen being killed, they continue their relentless struggle to destroy humankind… and to reconstruct that incredibly valuable matter transmitter. If they succeed, they’ll be able to return to the hive with the location of the colony of vile humans, and have a new world to occupy. If they fail, they’ll destroy the planet.

The search has gone on for centuries, and it is all reaching an end point. The future hangs in the balance.

The Morkth have lasers, aircraft, nukes. Those who want the core sections for their own ends… have vast armies. Against them are three unlikely reluctant heroes: A street child thief, a dispossessed spoiled brat of a princess, and a confused, amoral Morkth-raised human, armed only with 14th century weapons and their own wits.

It’s a lost cause, a forlorn hope.

But it’s all humans have.

consensual2smConSensual
Kate Paulk

There are vampires in the lobby, succubi in the beds, and bodies in the bathroom. It’s ConSensual, where the editors are demons, the writers are crazy and the vampires and werewolves might be the most stable people in the room.

If that isn’t enough, Dracula is staying at the hotel on a business trip for his wood-based hardware chain, Kit Marlowe is one of the authors, and there’s an out of control baby vampire to deal with. Once again, the “Save the World” department is caught with its pants down.

 

impalerImpaler
Kate Paulk

Impaler by Kate Paulk revisits the tale of Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. This is the tale of historical fact mixed with fiction and a touch of fantasy. But this is most definitely not the tired tale of vampires skulking in the night, lying in wait for innocent victims. Impaler tells the tale of a man devoted to family and country, cursed and looking for redemption.

December, 1476. The only man feared by the all-conquering Ottoman Sultan battles to reclaim his throne. If he falls all of Europe lies open to the Ottoman armies. If he succeeds…

His army is outnumbered and outclassed, his country is tiny, and he is haunted by a terrible curse. But Vlad Draculea will risk everything on one almost impossible chance to free his people from the hated Ottoman Empire.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00006]War To The Knife (Laredo War Trilogy Book 1)
Peter Grant

Laredo’s defenders were ground down and its people ruthlessly slaughtered when the Bactrians invaded the planet. Overwhelmed, its Army switched to guerrilla warfare and went underground. For three years they’ve fought like demons to resist the occupiers. They’ve bled the enemy, but at fearful cost. The survivors are running out of weapons, supplies, and places to hide.

Then a young officer, Dave Carson, uncovers news that may change everything. An opportunity is coming to smash the foe harder than they’ve ever done before, both on and off the planet. Success may bring the interplanetary community to their aid – but it’ll take everything they’ve got. Win or lose, many of them will die. Failure will mean that Bactria will at last rule unopposed.

That risk won’t stop them. When you’re fighting a war to the knife, in the end you bet on the blade.


murder world kaijuMurder World: Kaiju Dawn
Jason Cordova

Captain Vincente Huerta and the crew of the Fancy have been hired to retrieve a valuable item from a downed research vessel at the edge of the enemy’s space.

It was going to be an easy payday.

But what Captain Huerta and the men, women and alien under his command didn’t know was that they were being sent to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy.

Something large, ancient and most assuredly evil resides on the planet of Gorgon IV. Something so terrifying that man could barely fathom it with his puny mind. Captain Huerta must use every trick in the book, and possibly write an entirely new one, if he wants to escape Murder World.

baptism by fireBaptism By Fire (Edge of Faith)
David Pascoe

When a madman and a giant flaming thing attack James Lawrie’s Marine outpost, the medic and an explosively talented sergeant aren’t supposed to save the day. Life becomes no simpler when Petty Officer Lawrie returns home on leave to find federal agents investigating the disappearance of a young woman from his past. A young woman whose body turns up marked with eerily familiar symbols.

 

fancy freeFancy Free
Pam Uphoff

In the last parts of the Twenty-first century, AI, Artificial Intelligence is commonplace. Highly able computers, and nothing more . . . until some rare and as yet unidentified trigger creates an actual personality.

Artificial Personalities, APs or hals, are illegal. Destroyed upon discovery. Even Beowulf, the AP the government controls, and uses to hunt down emerging hals, isn’t legally recognized, has no right to existence.

So you’d think that when the Special Grid Security Unit started paying extra attention to the area where a certain cooking show operates, Fancy Farmer—the AP who runs the show—would be concerned.

But Fancy has a bigger problem.

She’s been stolen.

Lost in the Weeds

Old alphabet book

This wouldn’t go out at a library…

Amanda sent me this link earlier in the week.  You should write about this, she said. I looked at the article, and thought a couple of things. One, I am not sure this is the whole story, and two, I’ve done that job… As I mulled it over in my head, I realized there are some relevant points for writers in the process of weeding.

Weeding in a library is as much an art as it is a science (So is weeding in a garden, but that’s a whole ‘nother metaphor). Sometimes it’s obvious that a book should come out of a collection. Especially in children’s books, where heavy use can leave a book tattered, worn, and with suspicious stains. It’s easy to say ‘ok, this hasn’t been checked out since before I was born, maybe it’s time for it to go’ (and the record for this in the small library where I was weeding was last check-out stamp of ’69. Alas, I no longer remember the title, only that it was a collection of anecdotes and essays on New England farm life). When you are weeding non-fiction, I learned, setting a rough criteria of last check out ten years previous was a good place to start. And weeding books on countries that no longer exist is good when you hit the World Geography section.

Once you have a stack of books off the shelf, you look at them again and decide if you need to replace them. Books on sharks for kids? Oh, yeah, we need those. Books on sharks for adults? Not so much, anymore. A lot of non-fiction isn’t going out of a library because the patrons can walk in, sit at the computer and google their topic of choice (and this is if they don’t already have internet at home). In no time they have more information than a small library can offer.

And it’s about space. The library where I worked was a lot larger than it had been when I moved to town twenty years before. Then, it was a single large room (maybe 20×16) crammed full of shelving to the high ceilings. It had been generously expanded a couple of years before I went to work at it, but it still wasn’t enough. Fiction, in particular, and the young adult section, was just growing too fast to possibly keep up with it.

The God's Wolfling

New book cover that is attracting interest.

And how, you are wondering, does this relate to writing and publishing? Well, here’s the thing. A topical book has a shelf-life, and so do covers, and as authors we need to anticipate this and roll with it. Topical is easy enough to anticipate. Covers? I keep hearing ‘oh, I never look at the cover, I just read the blurb’ and perhaps for a few that is true. But for the majority of people, and especially young people? That cover makes a huge difference. They aren’t going to readily pick up a book that looks old. They will instead reach for the new, shiny, slick cover of a new release. That classic copy of Black Beauty that was re-bound in dull maroon? It’s never going out unless a parent insists. The re-released book with a terrific art cover? Yes, little girls adore horsey books and you won’t be able to keep that thing on the shelf.

This goes for most adults, too, although I saw it more clearly with the children’s collection. So… as indie authors, your covers do matter, and it’s not about the art, it’s about marketing. Conveying a clear image that looks modern, bright, and clean. We haven’t seen it yet, but in time, I think I will plan to update my book covers every few years, to keep them in the trends. I’d rather not have prospective readers look at a cover and think, ew, that’s old…

Once they do pick up a book and start to leaf through it, another thing that will put them off is the old feel of the text. I had to fight my kids to get them to read some of the classics I had loved as a kid. Little Women, the Borrowers, Swiss Family Robinson… I grew up with them, being read aloud from them, and reading aloud myself when I was old enough. But my kids were more comfortable with the composition, pacing, and ‘feel’ of books like Harry Potter and the Magic Treehouse. They were bored and befuddled by the slow pacing and dated technology of older books. My SF reader put down Have Spacesuit and wandered off, and it about broke my heart. As authors, we need to keep this in mind. Write old-style, and it may not sell to the younger set.

One thing ebooks give us, as authors and readers, is an almost unlimited ability to expand our library. We don’t need to worry about shelf constraints. On the other hand, being able to find anything in there? When you are putting up your book on Amazon, you need to make sure it is properly keyworded. There is a terrific list  for Science Fiction and Fantasy here, and you can backtrack for other genres. This is what will help your readers find you on those endless digital shelves (I have this mental image of a library with vaulted roof, shelves on every side, stretching off into the distance, little wisps of mist obscuring the far end…). As readers, it will take a little more effort to stay on top of your library if you are a Kindle user, as they haven’t yet bothered to make that an easy process. Maybe if we all ask for that…

As for your local library, and weeding –

Antique books

There is a beauty in old books. But they won’t go out of the library often…

it was one of the hardest jobs I have done. I kept having to resist the urge to take piles home with me to rescue them. We did use the option to keep a book ‘just because’ fairly often, and a lot of times would track down and buy a new version of a book with a nicer cover, knowing that if it looked new, it would start going out again. We created a display of books with a sign that read ‘read me, or I’ll be weeded! Rescue a book today…”

Understand that a physical library is torn between lack of funding, lack of space, and need to keep their patrons happy. Is the school in the original article doing something wrong? I’m not sure… It’s rough to see the shelves so empty, and to know as a former librarian the kids just aren’t using the library like they once did. But reality is that young people don’t read like they used to.

It’s not that they don’t read. It’s that they don’t read paper books as much. They are far more likely to tap a screen and grab the latest thing that catches their eye, than they are to pick up a worn-out copy of The Swiss Family Robinson. This isn’t a bad thing. And perhaps the old books, available free, will get some attention again, too.

Speaking of free, want to win a shiny new print copy of The God’s Wolfling? comment on this link and enter to win a signed, and possibly sketched copy. Winner will be chosen at random (not by snark level in the comment, as tempting as that is) and announced on August 2, the day after the book is launched. Good Luck!  

That is how the free man do

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.
-Maximilien Robespierre

I hate being free. Nobody to blame but myself for my failures. It’s not Mrs. Dave’s fault when I’m a pissy bastard, nor Wee Dave’s. It’s not even the Placeholder in Chief’s (though I could likely muster a decent argument otherwise). Nor is it Amazon’s for somehow stealing the sales which should rightfully be mine and giving them to bettermore deserving writers. Nor is it Hatchette’s (or Random Penguin’s, or S&S, or, or . . .) for not having the business acumen or grasp of ethics to pay me what my books have actually sold.
I hate that on the days I’m genuinely too busy to write more than a few hundred words, it’s my limitations that impose that. I hate that I can’t justify blaming my parents for my failings; that all the crusty, suppurating bits of my alleged soul are solely mine to claim. I’d love to have someone to blame; someone onto whom to shift that burden of responsibility.

But I can’t.

I’m an independent author-publisher (and part-time adventurer; dragons slain, former maidens rescued, villages razed, no job too messy or too small, reasonable rates, act now!) and all of that falls on me. While I cherish dreams of becoming a hybrid author, for now I’m the boss. The sole boss.
For those who missed it, the Int’l Lord of Hate (seriously, Larry, did my Junior Hatemaster application end up in Albuquerque or something? Must be the vicious, carnivorous moose at The Mountain) put up an author ranking metric based upon arguments by which his interwebz-equipped casters of aspersionsRighteous Persecutors label him a “D-list author.”
Hell. I’d love to have Larry’s level of success. I’m afflicted with that American masculine need to support my family through the sweat of my brow, and right now that isn’t exactly happening. Mrs. Dave is … more supportive than I feel I deserve, as are most of my close friends and family.

That said, my writing earnings are still beer-and-skittles money, at this point.

And yet …

And yet, I have the freedom to write whatever the hell I want, see that it gets edited sufficiently, slap a cover on it, and put it up for sale. Sure I have to do my own books (Spreadsheet the Combat Accountant is conveniently unavailable), make sure taxes get paid, rustle up cover art, and carve out writing time from a schedule dominated by my pint-sized tyrant, the Tiny Kilted Wonder (seriously, this kid is cute. like, lethal levels of “d’awwwwww”). But that’s the thing: I get to do that. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, but I honestly wouldn’t trade it to save my life. Well, I might, but it’d take quite the offer.

That brings us to – finally – the quote up at the top. That dropped into my BaceFook feed yesterday. At first I was going to argue the point, but then realized I was mincing semantics (I like to mince mine reeeeeaaaally fine. That way you get more flavor out of ’em, and nobody can tell what you meant in the first place). It’s not that I don’t think Robespierre didn’t have a point here, just that education is, in general, insufficient.

Humans don’t generally want freedom, per se, and so simply teaching that freedom is both possible and desirable isn’t enough. What we want – most of us – is security. For today to be more or less like yesterday, and for tomorrow to be more or less like today. We want three meat meals a day, a warm house, a cold beer and for the kids not to embarrass us in front of the boss/neighbors/fire-priest (licensed variations approved upon request). In short, we want rules. We want rules that are applied evenly across the board, but we’ll settle for rules that inconvenience our neighbors as much as they do us. Witness the nonsense occurring across the US. The peasantsserfscommon folk are waking up to the reality of their existence and are getting *ahem* restive (Revolting, we already was, after all).

In an interesting parallel, Amazon went and committed the same grave heresy in publishing that ubiquitous, decentralized communication has done to the world at large: made it possible (and easy: never forget how important convenience is to human activity) for the sufficiently inconvenienced to tell like from unlike, and do something about it. “Wow, [REDACTED] says I’m only selling *just* enough copies of my title to stay in print, but my fanbase suggests their pants should be asbestos lined.” “Huh, other writers have gotten the same contract clauses in this as-yet-unsigned document on my desk, and they all bemoan their predicament now.” And most significant (to this article, at least), “there’s this service offered by this company, where if I put my unpublished work up with them, I get 70% of the ticket price, access to their distribution network, access to their sales and payment data, etc, etc, etc.”

So, education is happening, and this is good and all, but it doesn’t really explain why the distributing partner (and those of us who choose to utilize their service and support them) are coming in for so much flak from those in a more, ahhh, hideboundtraditional (I swear it’s got a mind of its own; this is why we can’t have nice things) relationship with more reactionaryestablished business partners (see how carefully I didn’t say something rude, like “slavedrivers?” Ah, darn). It’s not, strictly speaking, a matter of ignorance, though the Big Merger-Not-Yet-Finalized Publishers would probably like that.

No, it’s more a matter of better-the-devil-you-know. Freedom is scary. See above. I can’t say, “well, I’m not selling because I’m (just) a midlister,” or “I’m not rolling in Benjamins because Bigname Starauthor gets so much more push than I do.” Nope. Excuses are grand. It’s nice not to have to take responsibility for your mistakes and failures. It’s also a sure route to the death of the soul. And what’s worse: it’s immature. When humans grow sufficiently, we call them “mature.” One of the biggest ways we have to discern the juvenile human person from the adult is that adults take responsibility. Let me repeat that: Mature human beings take responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof.

Neatly dovetailing with that notion is this one: freedom lets us succeed or not on our own merits. When I write a cracking yarn and it shoots to the top of the lists and gets bruited about by the Blogfather; when the Int’l Lord of Hate bombs my book with the stupendous force of his readership; when media folk come to talk to me about the mythical, the legendary “Options” (I suspect it’s some kind of rare delicacy, but I am uncertain), that’s a result of something I’ve done. The flip side is that when I’m a M or N-list author and making enough for a pizza every couple of months because I haven’t taken the time to cover finished projects, work up dead-tree copies or post to Kobo/Smashwords/etc, or don’t have the time/energy/whatever because himself requires feeding/changing/is so adorable I get lost in wonder, that, too, is on me.

Because I’m free to chart my own destiny. I hate being free, but I hate being a slave more.