The book of the year?

The price we pay book cover
Lots of books are published each year, and I can only read a few of them. But, when a really important general interest book comes along, I often put it on the top of my “to be read” pile. In September, Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon associated with Johns Hopkins, released a book entitled The Price We Pay: What Book American Healthcare—And How to Fix ItSince most people in America eventually get sick or have an accident, and only a few of us are fifty rich, this is the ultimate general interest book.

In Part I, entitled “Gold Rush” Makary doesn’t have to travel far—he visits “health fairs” at local churches, where salespeople disguised as medical professionals do screening tests and scare participants, mostly those on Medicare, into unnecessary and rather expensive procedures, such as placing stents into leg veins. In the second chapter, he discusses the lack of transparency in hospital pricing, as well as the astronomical rise in common procedures. For instance, a medical center in New Jersey offers joint replacement surgery for $135,400.00, which rose a mere 76.8% in a single year. BTW, Medicare only pays 13K for that procedure. For his third chapter, Makary travels to Carlsbad, NM, where the medical center seems to have overcharged and then sued almost everyone in town. Back in Virginia, Makary visits the courthouse to learn more about similar shenanigans at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. Sadly, this hospital is supposed to be a “not for profit” hospital, and thus receives favored tax status, too. Also in this section, Makary provides an analysis of the proliferation of for profit helicopter ambulance services, which charge somewhere between $40K and $60K for a ride that I could make in an hour in my Toyota.

In the second portion of the book, Makary delves into some medical practices that can be improved by focusing on individual physicians. One OB doctor in Florida had a reasonable rate of C-sections, until figuring in Fridays, when the rate rose 80%. Why? The good doctor didn’t want to be bothered on the weekend, so moms who were in labor on Friday got the surgery. This section of the book also discusses the opioid crisis, and Makary admits that he had to learn to write fewer prescriptions for pain pills, after learning about the misuse of all those pills.

Part III of the book is about “Redesigning Healthcare” and it does offer several solutions to problems, but one chapter in this section explains how drug prices are affected by middle men (pharmacy benefits managers) who don’t supply anything other than a big bill for their services. Here’s an example: A pharmacy is paid $34.94 for 90 40mg doses of Zocor, but the employer is charged $442.85–and the PBM gets over $400 on that one transaction. Another chapter discusses problems in health insurance, which less and less helpful except in catastrophic circumstances, and there is even a chapter on “wellness” and how those well meaning programs are far too costly, especially as they often mean an invasion of privacy, or worse, over-treatment for minor issues.

Makary doesn’t make the mistake of only discussing problems without discussing solutions. Several positive programs are mentioned throughout the text, including websites such as ImprovingWisely.com, and the last chapter is a bit of a call to arms. In short, legislators and employers need to be educated on these matters, and healthcare consumers should do everything possible to demand transparent pricing for upcoming procedures.

The Price We Pay is a very important book. This should be the topic of your next book club, a gift for your friends and/or family, or even a holiday gift for your doctor or your legislator. Please buy this book, read it, and pass it on. Knowledge is power, and as this text has lots of information for Americans, this may well be the most important book you will read this year.

My video is reaching students!

NASA nebula

A still shot from NASA

Way back I took classes in “podcasting” and “movie-maker.” Afterward, I came home and practiced what we’d learned in class. I made three videos, which are a lot closer to Powerpoint presentations, if the truth be told. Anyway, one of them has had a bit of success—”A Brief History of Science Fiction.” This video was designed with a few still images, mostly screen shots from NASA such as the one I featured on this post, and two audio tracks. We’d been warned in class about using commercial music, so I downloaded a freebie track that I thought sounded dramatic. The second audio track is my voice, reading story boards, in my rather strong Southern U.S. accent. I did write the story boards, based upon my study of the science fiction genre, my training in English literature, and what of that matched up with the still images that I managed to acquire at the time.

Science fiction is an ever changing literary and film genre (with more than a dash of animation) so my video is already a bit dated. Still, I was most gratified when reading a very valid complaint about the loud musical soundtrack. The complainant stated that my little YouTube video was required for class. Gosh darn! My Brief History of Science Fiction is required by a teacher (somewhere?) for a class (in something?) I’m flattered. Really.

If you don’t mind hearing that awful musical track, head over to YouTube and see A Brief History of Science Fiction. While you are there, the link to my “book trailer” for The Gift Horse is still live also.

Born with Teeth—A Memoir; review and commentary

Born Mulgrew

Kate Mulgrew’s Memoir

My guess is the first I heard of Kate Mulgrew was when she starred in Mrs. Columbo, but that’s not a certainty. Like many fans of all things Star Trek, I was both thrilled and a bit concerned when Mulgrew was very publicly named the newest captain in the fourth iteration of that television franchise, Star Trek Voyager. And, I was rather amazed to by her character in Orange is the New Black, in a role that is far from her roots as a distinctive and attractive leading lady.

Regardless of when one first noticed Kate Mulgrew, she is a force on the screen. Recently, I read her memoir, which has the curious title Born with Teeth. Apparently, she was indeed born with teeth, which were extracted so she could feed properly. For Mulgrew’s fans , there may not be all that much new information, but the style of her prose does illuminate readers on her perspective in regards to matters that matter most. The narrative is mostly linear, although she skips a lot of years and events. First, the reader learns just how dedicated she is to her craft and how much work it has been. Second, readers will become better acquainted with Kate’s large family, and see how they have influenced her. One of my favorite passages is when, as a schoolgirl, Kate invited her artist mother to hear her recitation of poems she had written. Upon learning about the program, Kate’s mom, Joan, gives her a copy of a poem (The White Cliffs of Dover) to read, and during the school program young Kate not only read her poems, but she read the classic poem so well that her audience was almost in tears. Afterward, Kate’s mom told her that she could either be a bad poet or a great actress. Apparently, Kate took those words to heart, because from that early age, she put all of her effort into becoming an actress.

Fans of Ryan’s Hope (a soap opera that was Kate’s first big break in television) or Star Trek Voyager (perhaps her most influential role) will find a few gems, but she doesn’t concentrate on those stints. Instead, what Mulgrew writes about is relationships. While filming Ryan’s Hope, Kate became pregnant, and as she was not married and quite young, she assumed she’s have to leave her job. Instead, the pregnancy was written into the show, and her character gave birth a few days after Kate did it in real life. The Mary Ryan character kept her baby, but Kate gave up her daughter for adoption. Later, she expends both time and money in an attempt to find her biological daughter, and that search is a focal point of the memoir.

Certainly, Mulgrew has experienced quite a lot of grief, as one of her sister’s died of a brain tumor and another succumbed to pneumonia. Romance has not always been easy, either. Mulgrew also writes of her loves—her first husband, Robert Egan, and the sons that he fathered, and how divorce affected her and the boys. Later, she reveals how her love for her second husband, Tim Hagan, endured a rather on again then off again period. The memoir ends as she meets her daughter and her relationship with Hagan finally settles into marriage.

I’m a science fiction fan (and writer) so I was just a tad disappointed in this memoir. I’d love it if Kate would do as Shatner has done and publish a book about her time portraying Captain Janeway. Perhaps she will, when she has more time, for she does seem to be one busy lady.

Trinity is Free for Three (days)

Beginning at midnight on July 14, the giant-sized internet seller of books and other sundries will be offering the eBook version of my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, for free! I’ve seldom used this option, but as their Prime Day promotions will be going on, I thought I might get a few people to download it. If I’m really lucky, I might get another positive review, too. Anyway, here’s the book cover; just click for a link to the sale.

ToT_cover_final_webLG

Here’s an excerpt of my favorite review of the novel:

TRINITY ON TYLOS… is instead a thought-provoking book that will challenge one’s beliefs about the importance of motherhood, duty, and sacrifice. At times, the choices made by Venice and even Allie are ones the reader will disagree with and perhaps even be angered by them. However, one of the trademarks of a well-written novel is its ability to inspire others to debate. TRINITY ON TYLOS accomplishes this and so much more. Pamela J. Dodd has truly demonstrated her gift as a writer with this stunning book.” —

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher— brief review and commentary

DiaristI’ve met a few people who have never seen Star Wars or any of its prequels and sequels. Weird, huh? For me, when it premiered in 1977, it was the best science fiction film I’d ever seen, and to this day, it ranks among my favorites. The characters leapt off the screen and into the pop culture of the United States. Even those unfortunate folk who mistakenly believe the film has nothing for them are probably familiar with some of its tag lines, such as, “May the Force be with you.” Literary critics sometimes opine that writers can tap into themes that go far beyond what they, as writers, envisioned, and I do believe that George Lucas managed that with Star Wars. Much has been published about his source material, from Saturday morning serials to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Yes, the film has some flaws, but it gets a lot of things right, including setting, plot, and especially character. Casting a young Harrison Ford as the scoundrel Han Solo was a great choice, as was Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-wan Kenobi, and Mark Hamill certainly looks the part of a young man on a heroic quest. Perhaps the most controversial choice would be casting the very young Carrie Fisher as a princess, but who else could have blended innocence, sass, and strength the way Fisher did?

For some forty years, Fisher was both herself and Princess Leia. Video of interviews and even stage performances document how much the role influenced her career and her life. But, Fisher was also an able writer; indeed, she wrote multiple books and was often called upon to assist screen writers as a “script doctor.” Her last book, published shortly after her death, is a witty and poignant recollection of the filming of Star Wars, a three month interval that she documented via journaling.

The Princess Diarest includes both journal entries and some poetry, mostly about Fisher’s affair with co-star Harrison Ford. The framework, that is her introduction and conclusion, are far more interesting to me, as they benefit from the wisdom and perspective of those forty years after the filming of Star Wars. While the diary entries can be interesting, mostly they reflect the infatuation of youth. The framework, however, was fascinating, just like the author.

Some people never saw her performance in Star Wars, but it’s likely that they heard her voice, as she did quite a bit of voice work, or saw her in other roles. The world lost an icon when Fisher died in 2017. Her talents were many, but some roles can’t be left behind, and Princess Leia Organa was such a role.

A romance from the grave

Texas FreeRecently, I updated my credentials to virtually check out books from my local library. Free is a good price, right? Unfortunately, apparently, there is little demand for science fiction at my library, so I looked at titles in the romance genre.

When I first read romance novels, I had a list of authors who were my “go to” writers. One of them was Janet Dailey. Generally, she did a good job of integrating setting, plot, and character, and that’s no easy task, because romance writers are under a lot of pressure to produce, produce, produce. Romance readers seem to be perpetually thirsty for new novels, and I saw a new series by Janet Dailey, so I checked out Texas Free,  copyright 2018.

The opening states that the events happened in 1985, which would have been at Dailey’s peak, in terms of both popularity and proliferation. The story is actually a good one, if a bit formulaic. Rose Landro returns to her childhood home in Texas, on the run from a Mexican drug cartel. Unsure of her welcome, but desperate, she stakes her claim on land that should have been hers, as it belonged to her grandfather who had intended to deed it to her before his untimely demise. As the land is an access point to water for cattle, her stake is controversial, and the reader follows the twists and turns of the plot, wondering if Rose will succeed in establishing a homestead, and if any of her neighbors will assist her in her quest.

Janet Dailey has penned a great many books, but the copyright page indicates that this one belongs to a “Revocable Trust” created by some folks who share the same last name. So, is this “Tylers of Texas” series a repackaged group of novels from earlier, or are her heirs using a ghost writer? I suspect the latter, as Janet Dailey died in 2013.

Ghost writing has been around a long time, and there are sometimes very good reasons for using the process. Celebrities who are good at something else often write books, but the more honest ones have a “with so and so” under the author line. Both Tom Clancy’s and Robert Ludlum’s publishing careers have gone on without the author as other, named writers, do the work, but these ghost writers are a least named in the fine print. As I have the eBook version of Texas Free checked out, I might not be seeing it, but if there is an acknowledged ghost writer I didn’t find it. On the other hand, authors I know have reprinted their books with new titles to “up date” them. I kinda think that is cheating a bit, but reputable writers do it.

As I have a back list title that I republished as an eBook (Trinity on Tylos) I am not complaining about republishing, but unless there is a dusty old manuscript, or computer file somewhere, a back list title should be just that. A novel written by someone other than the named author breaks the contract between a publisher and the reader. If I see an author’s name, I expect that the author wrote the book, and I doubt that I am alone in that expectation.

The entire Tylers of Texas series has publication dates after 2013. FYI.

The Apocalypse Troll by David Weber

TrollI’ve been re-reading some titles that I have in my “Nook” library, as I am unsure of what will happen with that since Barnes and Noble has sold out. One of my all time favorite science fiction authors is David Weber, who is best known for his series writing, especially the books about Honor Harrington. However, early in his career he wrote a few stand alone books, including The Apocalypse Troll. It’s a thrilling story, well told, and very much showcases Weber’s knowledge of military tactics and the geography of North Carolina.

As the story opens, Colonel Ludmilla Leonova is assigned the task of attacking an instrument of the dreaded “Kangas” a Troll, slang for a human brain in a mechanized body. This brain, conditioned to fight and kill humans, is not quite indestructible, but very close. Leonova is both brave and determined, however. She’ll seek and destroy this enemy of humanity, through space and time itself.

Thus, Leonova ends up on earth in the year 2007, and as this book was released in 1999, a near future story when it was written. After her fighter crashes, she is rescued by Captain Dick Ashton, who is incredulous, but convinced by her steady demeanor and the advanced tech of her space suit and weapon that she had indeed traveled back in time in pursuit of a malevolent enemy. This sounds as if it very much strains the concept of suspended disbelief, but the captain also convinces the upper echaleons of United States military and the President himself that Leonova is who she says she is, and that the Troll is somewhere on the planet, ready to wreak havoc on humanity. Weber does this quite skillfully, introducing a panoply of characters, one of his trademarks.

All sorts of military hardware and personnel are put into play as the Troll uses a less than honorable religious leader to whip susceptible citizens of the southeastern U.S. into angry mobs, and western North Carolina becomes the battleground.

Weber’s story is a good one, and the reader isn’t left with that sense of “what next?” that accompanies series books. For fans of David Weber, this story is a treat, and for readers who haven’t yet read any of his military fiction, it is a good introduction. The book is still available used and an an eBook from the publisher, as well as other sources.

iBooks and eBay—a winning combo

liver-rescue-apples

Apples and Apple, Inc.

As a reader of eBooks, I’ve been exploring new ways (and revisiting old ones) to view content. Recently, I saw a title touted on Facebook, and a quick look at eBay revealed several purchase options, including an eBook which was offered as a pdf file. I paid a golly whopping .99, and it arrived via email. Not quite as quick as Big A, but the seller offered pretty quick service. I tried reading the file via my email app, but that didn’t save my place, so I downloaded the file to iBooks. Winner, winner, but no chicken dinner. However, the iBooks app is a very good way to read a pdf file, and the app is easy to use, just like other, more well known ways to view eBook content. Certainly, the price was right, too.

When Big A (the relentless internet seller) decided to give me the old “heave, ho” I was a bit concerned about when and where I’d get new books to read, as I am not buying from them at the moment, but that fear has been allayed by the eBay and iBooks combination. The title I purchased is “Liver Rescue” which I won’t review, as I sincerely hope my readers don’t need it, but I’ll let you know that one way to help the liver is to eat lots of apples. Actually, I am very pleased to get a 500+ text for a buck, and the advice to eat a fruit I really like is welcome, also. Thanks eBay! And thanks to Apple, for making such an intuitive app for the iPad. Reading about apples on an Apple product is quite appropriate, isn’t it?

Nook—a second look at the eBook app

NOOK-feature-300

Nook is an app and a device!

Since big A decided to fire me as one of their “Associates” I have set aside my K—  library for the moment, and am re-reading some older titles via the Nook app on my iPad. For readers who aren’t familiar with this, it is basically the eBook platform used by Barnes and Noble. While I have not purchased many books via B & N, I was once a very loyal customer at Fictionwise. When B & N bought out Fictionwise in 2009, I was able to keep some, alas not all, of the content I had purchased, by adding the Nook app, so those books became part of my Nook library. And, as there are quite a few titles there, I am looking through the library, seeing if anything is worth a second read. One of the best aspects of eBooks is that the “keeper shelf” takes up no room in my house!

The Nook app works like other eBook apps; the raw file format is ePub. In their review of eBook apps, CNET judged it as #3, and it is quite good. I find the animation associated with page changes very pleasing; it looks just like flipping a physical page! I also like having basic info at the top of the screen (date, time, % of battery are all available) as well as the typical (in print format) of two facing pages, with the title on one side and the author name on the other. Apart from a page number, which is not possible as the file must adapt to the reader’s screen size, the interface is very book-like, and I mean that as a compliment. As an app, it is a bit quirky, however. For instance, getting back to the library can be a bit of a chore, as one must first get a more info screen, and then the option to move around a bit becomes available.

There is a library screen, a bookstore screen, a quick link back to the current book being read, and something called “Readouts” which is a bit of sales pitch mixed with freebies and information. The library screen shows “Recent Reads” and “Recent Purchases” as defaults, and there are tabs with “All titles” and “Shelves” which are, of course, organizing tools. Unfortunately for me, the only way I can find some of the oldies is via the “search” feature, but it works quite well. For instance, I didn’t finish my last name before both of my titles popped right up!

I use my iPad (mostly) for reading, so I’m using the free app, but Barnes and Noble is currently offering a 7 inch screen Nook for about $50, and a big screen (10 inch) for $130. When eBooks were new to the market, most were priced substantially lower than their print counterparts, and sometimes that is still true. Lots of classics are free, of course, but lower priced options can be, well, garbage. Overall, the prices at B & N are a bit higher than their ginormous internet competitor, but the store’s interface is elegant. Also, the content is a bit more “curated” than the content over at Big A, where just about anyone can sell anything, regardless of quality.

Since I’ve been reading via the Nook app, I have begun researching the possibility of pulling Trinity on Tylos out of the K— exclusive program and publishing it via ePub to other bookstores. Perhaps Barnes and Noble readers would buy a few digital copies. Stay tuned….

Claimed by the Warlord— a quick review

WarlordRecently, I read a science-fiction/fantasy romance by Maddie Taylor. Overall, this novel was a good read, but some reviewers gave it a thumbs down due to the “discipline” used on the heroine. And, I totally get that, as the character didn’t really do much to warrant that behavior on the part of the alpha male. On the other hand, I read (some years ago) the science fiction series by Sharon Green wherein there is one heck of a lot of love/abuse in the tumultuous relationship between the heroine and her lover. I’d call this one “Sharon Green lite” in terms of spanking. There’s not much else for the “me, too” set to object to. However, this novel does have other, somewhat graphic, scenes associated with the precarious situation that sets the action of the novel in motion. Indeed, the author’s ability to describe the effects of terror inducing situations upon Princess Aurelia is the best part of the novel.

As many stories do, this one begins in medias res, where the Princess has been captured, auctioned to the highest bidder, and awaits her fate at his hands. There is intrigue and treachery aplenty, and the plot does have some twists and turns. Although this is more romance than science fiction or fantasy, it has enough suspense to keep readers swiping the electronic pages. The author does have a way of making the cold seem colder, the hot seem hotter, and the terror seem, well…I’m sure you get the picture.

For readers who like a blend of steamy hot romance, a dash of space opera, a good sprinkling of fantasy, and some scenes that are not necessarily comfortable (but totally fictional) then Claimed by the Warlord is a good read. For readers who are made of sterner stuff, Sharon Green’s Terrilian series is now available in eBook form, as well as in  vintage paperback.