The Apocalypse Troll and other stories

I really like David Weber’s military science fiction. A few thousand fans of this sub-genre seem to like it as well; his books, even the ones which are ridiculously swollen with unnecessary and/or undesirable content, sell well. He has also partnered with other authors, including Eric Flint and Steve White, which helps lengthen his list of published novels.

My introduction to his work was a rough go, however. The science fiction book club was touting his In Enemy Hands, which is fairly far into the Honor Harrington series, but I began with that one, not realizing that I had to catch up. There were several times I nearly abandoned it; but about three quarters of the way in, I realized this was indeed a fascinating tale; albeit one which could have been told without quite so much detail. Intrigued, I read a couple of his stand-alone novels, The Path of the Fury and The Apocalypse Troll. While featuring hardware and propulsion concepts, more than characterization, these yarns did not require any backstory, and that helped. After I finished those, I read the Honor Harrington series, from the beginning. The first book is not particularly interesting, being mostly a set up for the series, but the series hits a good stride with books two through six. The seventh book, Echos of Honor also has its moments, but the page counts grow and the synopsis gets shorter with each successive installment. I read most of the series, but I think I have been reading on At All Costs, which may or may not be book twelve, for a couple of years and I have yet to finish it. Instead, I go back and re-read earlier titles.

Some of Baen’s earlier Weber titles, including The Apocalypse Troll, are available as eBooks, and I have been re-reading it. Yes, it is perhaps less polished than some of his more recent offerings, but it is also far less bulky than his newer work. No, he still doesn’t really write many multi-dimensional characters. Still, I enjoyed it. No one else seems to have the ability to write large scale battle scenes, but Weber does. He also has a firm grasp of the problems and possibilities of technologically driven warfare. Too many writers of space opera write about conflict one-on-one, because that is easier. In Star Wars, there may have been a lot of blasts, but the camera follows Luke and Han, and everything else is a backdrop. That is both cheaper and easier. However, any civilization which moves to the stars will have multiple ships, weapons, and drive mechanisms. Weber writes about those situations, and when Weber is finished with a battle, the casualties are in the thousands. That is what real war is, and it will be in the future.

So, the bottom line is that fans of futuristic writing may or may not like Weber, but most fans of military science fiction do, because he delivers large scale entertainment. Readers should sample the early stories, like The Apocalypse Troll or Path of the Fury, or at the beginning of one of his many series, rather than diving in the middle, however.

Troll is the story of a twenty-fifth century monster unleashed on our current earth, with only one surviving warrior from the future to tackle it. When researching the published reviews, I read that this novel was the first David Weber wrote, but it was published long after he had become established as a writer. So, while still Weber, the complexity is not so vast, and there are not so many references to politics, which is a major flaw in some his Honorverse works. But not everyone agrees that The Apocalypse Troll is a winner, so here is a link to a differing opinion of this novel over at RPG.net.

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Online, Typos Never Die

I’ve been an English teacher for more than thirty years. That’s scary. And, during most of those years, I have tried to help students make their writing better. Or, as my current supervisor says of her own career, “For years I thought I was combating ignorance; then I realized I was just documenting it.” Yes, we English teachers spend a great deal of time looking for mistakes.

Whenever I do web design, one of the wonderful things about it is that electrons are ephemeral. I can correct mistakes and the problems go to some cyber-heaven. However, once words are online, other entities copy those words, usually without credit or permission, and typos just keep on turning up.

Periodically, I use a search engine to keep me abreast of online use of my novel titles. Seldom does any reference to “The Gift Horse” have anything to do with me, since the phrase is widely used. “Trinity on Tylos” seems to be unique, however, so any use of those three words in that order should refer back to my science fiction novel. Recently, a Google search for “Trinity on Tylos” led me to a site called Vampire Raves. Someone posted my novel’s back cover blurb on the site, but the source was apparently Amazon, rather than the book itself. How do I know that? Here’s the story—

When the publisher’s printing partner, Paw Prints POD, first posted it on Amazon, the title was Trinity on Trylos. It took me quite a while to correct that. But the description, which is that back cover blurb, misspells the main character’s name. One of my teacher friends from long ago often mentioned a colleague, Venice. I wanted an exotic, yet human name for my futuristic character, so I swiped it. Quite frankly, I stole the last name from the social pages of the Athens, Georgia newspaper, so the main character is Venice Dylenski. However, Amazon’s page, which was created in part by someone from PawPrints, called the character Benice Dylenski.

Indeed, a search for that name yielded ten results, and none of them are Vampire Raves, so there are undoubtedly other sites which have this same error. Just how many sites have posted this incorrect copy from Amazon? I have no idea, but it does illustrate that one mistake can go a very long way online.

There is something even more scary about that.

Where are all the science fiction readers?

I recently read a post on SFReader/SFWatcher stating that there are only 20,000 regular readers of science fiction. That’s fewer folks than live in my home county here in Georgia, making this a really astonishing statistic. The webmaster at SFR/SFW is now paying for movie reviews, in hopes of growing the website. No compensation is offered to reviewers of novels, of course.

When I was taking Mythology in Literature during grad school, one of our texts was by Joseph Campbell, who says that science fiction is mythology for modern people. If science fiction is so important culturally, why aren’t more people reading it, and what might attract a larger readership?

In 2004, Business Week ran an article entitled ScFi: Novel Inspiration which lists four valid reasons for reading science fiction. They include looking for new inventions, understanding the social consequences of invention, learning the lexicon of the future, and inspiring young minds. As America stagnates, and it really is doing just that, I wonder if our lack of wonder is at fault.

While science fiction does more than explore invention, that is one important aspect of it. A website called Technovelgy.com lists almost two thousand ideas which began within the pages of science fiction. Most people know that Captain Nemo’s ship beneath the sea predates the submarine, but how many folks know that Verne also predicted live news conferences, retro-rockets, and was the first to postulate that space travelers would have to deal with being weightless?

One of my favorite SF authors, Robert A. Heinlein, employs 3-D television, exoskeletons for the military, and smart lanes on the highway. All of these are in the later stages of development, and will be as much a part of our future as the “pocket phone” (which he used in “Assignment in Eternity” in 1953) is today.

Recently Fortune magazine published an article about the dearth of math and science students in the United States. Of the 8,000 students who graduated from U. S. colleges with a Ph.D in engineering  this spring, two-thirds were foreign nationals. Just a few years ago, most of those students might have stayed in America, but today, the majority will return to their home countries, because the opportunities to use the skills they just learned are there, and not here.

The fastest-growing college majors in America as of 2007, says the U.S. Education Department, were parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies, as well as security and protective services.” (Fortune, July 29, 2010) As Americans turn their collective backs on science (and science fiction) our nation will continue down the road to economic ruin.

In my research on why readers don’t enjoy science fiction, a number of reasons were mentioned, including:

“It’s too hard to read.” 

“The future in science fiction literature is too dark.”

“The science is bad.”

All of those reasons might have some merit, but there is a reason, which should have no merit, that I encountered while promoting Trinity on Tylos: There is a social stigma associated with reading science fiction. Ouch!

Oddly, people who see movies such as AvatarThe Dark Knight, or Jurassic Park don’t seem to feel that society is shunning them when they view science fiction on the big screen. In fact, many of the top grossing films of all time are either science fiction, fantasy, or have some ties to speculative literature. Now, the question is, how do we get those youngsters to make the leap from looking, to reading, and on to inventing?

That question is far more important than expanding market share for science fiction, which is stuck at a mere six percent of book sales. What America must accomplish, to expand the job market and our economy, is to expand the minds of our younger citizens. Science fiction should have a role in that, but someone, somewhere, must introduce it to them, and the earlier, the better.

Review of Savage Survival

When many people view an author as just fabulous, that writer sells boatloads of books. Remember when everyone was reading the latest Stephen King? Other authors write memorable books, but they only do it once— Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee come to mind. Some writers are prolific, but it seems impossible to remember the plot of any specific book. Numerous such authors are still writing, but I am reluctant to name a living one, since I really don’t want to make my readers angry. So, I will list a prolific author who probably won’t complain, since she is no longer writing— Barbara Cartland. She wrote over six hundred novels, but I can’t recall any standouts.

Then there are some obscure writers who ought to be less so, and Darrell Bain is one of them. I’ve read several of his yarns, and they are invariably memorable. Savage Survival is typical Bain— something extraordinary interrupts ordinary, and characters rise to the occasion, or they don’t. I’ve seen grace under pressure— my mother was almost always cool and competent, regardless of her circumstances. My husband has that same quality— he manages the most difficult of situations without unnecessary drama. Such people have character, and I greatly admire that quality.

In Savage Survival, the main character, Lyda Brightner, is eleven years old. Yes, she comes of age, rather quickly, but she remains vulnerable enough for readers to be empathetic to her. Various adults interact with Lyda as the story unfolds, but the focus is always on her. Not since Oliver Twist have I followed a youngster through so many trials. Like Dickens’ classic tale of social inequality, Bain’s story is about the crucible of humanity under extreme pressure, but it is also about how people can either make bad times better or worse. There is something distinctly old-fashioned in Bain’s themes, and I don’t intend that as a criticism. In Bain’s books, he tells you who is good and who is bad, and those who are evil suffer for their wrongs, usually at the hands of the hero. Pretense, which is an integral part of modern life, is quickly exposed in Bain’s pressure cooker, and Lyda has no qualms about dispensing justice. Such authenticity is only found in fiction these days, which is ironic, isn’t it?

The story is science fiction, but it is soft-scifi, because Bain never bothers explaining how anything works. Instead, he spends most of the novel showing how people react to it. With my fairly busy schedule,  I often begin a book and I’m still working on it a week later. Others are more compelling. Savage Survival took me about 24 hours, and that is only because I do have to sleep sometime. Lyda Brightner got under my skin in such a way that I just had to know how it was all going to play out.

I read the eBook version, but I believe the publisher, Double Dragon, also put a few hundred into print. Whether you choose electrons or ink and paper, I highly recommend Bain’s books, and this particular title is quite worthy.

Girl Gone Nova— Review

Since I read Pauline Baird Jones’ The Key, I have been waiting for this book. One reason I read eBooks is that I enjoy stories which are more “novel” than the novels published by the big guys. I happened upon The Key when it was atop the list of science fiction books at Fictionwise, and I read it and re-read it. One of the more charming aspects of The Key is the POV character, Sara Donovan, a “kick their trash” fighter pilot.

While set in the same universe, Girl Gone Nova is not exactly a sequel. Instead, we have another main POV character who interacts with some of the supporting cast from The Key. Delilah Oliver Clementyne (Doc) is indeed a doctor. But she is also a military troubleshooter who specializes in doing the impossible. A couple of years or so after Donovan returns to earth, things are in such a mess that Doc is despatched to do her version of Mission Now Possible. Her outlook is a bit darker than Donovan’s, but she is quite entertaining, nevertheless. The plot involves political intrigue, first contact with aliens, and multiple timelines. Jones bills this book as fantasy, and since it is intended to be contemporary, but all of a sudden we have interstellar propulsion, I guess that qualifies as fantasy. There aren’t any trolls or sparkly vampires, but for me, that’s a plus. I’d much rather have spaceships, aliens, and nanotechnology, and this series has all three.

Girl Gone Nova is available in print and eBook form, and it is a fun yarn for light summer reading.

eReader update

Some years back, I purchased a Palm device as an eBook reader. Oh, I might not have chosen it if the only thing it could do was display books, but it does more than act as a reading device. For half a decade, I have read scores of eBooks and used the Palm for my calendar, quick notes, and as a portable phone/address book. At the time, I thought spending a hundred and fifty bucks was a bit much for it, but in the long run, I have enjoyed cheaper books, being able to read at night, and less junk in my purse. Nowadays, it will die after just a couple of hours of reading, and battery life has always been a problem. In the past few months, the cover has worn out, the charger won’t work so I have to use the USB port to recharge it, and when I pull it out, folks look at it the way folks in the eighties would look at an eight-track tape deck. Like other fans of eBooks, I am looking for a replacement reading device.

 

Being an Apple aficionado, I view the iPhone as a good candidate. Like the Palm, an iPhone would serve multiple purposes. But, that small screen won’t be much better than what I have now, and newer should be markedly better, don’t you think?  No doubt, well-heeled eBook readers who like Apple products will probably opt for the iPad, and that is the most appealing alternative. But, it won’t fit in my purse, and while it is a real computer, it won’t really replace my Macbook, so I can’t see spending the bucks for one of those.

 

Amazon has been perfecting, and dropping the price of the Kindle. The second generation device isn’t as butt-ugly as the first one, but I am not ready to buy one just yet. Amazon’s content is probably better than most, which is a better selling point than the reader itself. If I were a student again, having to read large textbooks, the oversized version would catch my attention, but black and white magazine content is so retro.

 

I considered the eBookman, marketed by Fictionwise, five years ago, and there are a few of those still around. But its successor is the Nook, a WiFi capable dedicated eBook reader sold by Barnes and Noble. The price of this device is currently $149. Since Fictionwise, my favorite eBook vendor, is now a BN.com subsidiary, moving my pre-purchased content should be easier if I decide on the Nook. Barnes and Noble has my sophomore novel, Trinity on Tylos, on sale for under three bucks. That’s a deal, folks! If other small press books are priced similarly, that would put new books into used book price range. Quite frankly, when just purchasing the content, and not the paper and cover, I think that a new eBook really should be less expensive than a new print copy, so plenty of low priced content is absolutely necessary. And, of the eBook readers available now, apart from Apple’s elegant designs, the Nook has the best form factor, too.