Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant— a brief review

Okay, I am a sucker for a good title, and this book has a good title and a good cover. Win-win! And it is about Star Trek, which I like quite a lot. But it is rather deep at times, so I wouldn’t rate it five stars, but fans of Trek who have some knowledge of philosophy might award it a solid four, perhaps.

What is between the covers is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. These essays use Star Trek’s various television shows and movies to explore philosophical issues, and it helps quite a lot if the reader is familiar with all forms of Trek. Since I never watched all of DS9 or Enterprise, I was sometimes a bit lost.

The first essay is a nifty one, as it is based upon a Next Generation episode, “Darmok.” Both the essay and the episode dealt with the difficulty of translating a totally alien language. Throughout most of the Trek episodes there was a “universal translator” which was a bit like Google Translate, but it depended upon languages having some commonalities. Of course, communication via such means can go astray quite easily, but what about an alien species that doesn’t communicate the way we do? The issues would be far beyond going from English to Chinese, and I understand that can be difficult.

As the essays in this book are by different authors, the tone and topics vary quite a lot. For me, it was a book to nibble at, but not a cover to cover read. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as more intellectual than Star Wars, but this book takes it to an even higher plane. For fans of all things Trek, there are some really delicious ideas to examine in this collection, so if that describes you, go for it!

Unbroken– the book (review and commentary)

Unbroken coverWhen I was younger, one of the genres of movies and television that was quite popular was stories from World War II. While I wasn’t alive for it, of course, many in my parents’ generation had fought or knew those who had. Indeed, on a wall in my house is a framed picture of my uncle, A.L. Dodd, Junior, who was killed a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe; he was in Germany, in the Ruhr valley, when he was shot by a German machine gunner. So, the war was quite real to us. We enjoyed the stories, because they were entertainment, but knew that the war had affected most everyone in America.

After seeing the film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, I was telling my sister about it, and she said, “Clearly, you don’t know the whole story. Read the book.” And, with lots of other reading and a bit of teaching, it was almost six months after hearing that advice before I got around to reading the book by Laura Hillenbrand. OMG, why did I wait so long? The movie is very good, but the book is great. Maybe I waited, in part, because I don’t usually like biographies.

As told by Hillenbrand, Louis Zamperini was quite a character, from his earliest days. His parents didn’t quite know what to do with him, and he might be described as a juvenile delinquent. His brother convinced the school authorities to allow Louie to get involved in sports, and Louie was gifted in running. So gifted, in fact, that he became an Olympic runner, and a very good one. He might have known even more fame as a track star, but World War II got in the way. After his plane crashes in the Pacific, Louie and two other Army Air Force survivors were adrift for a very long time. Then, on the brink of death, they were captured by the Japanese. Yes, Louie was still alive, but he faced incredible brutality.

One of my elderly friends is a survivor of a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. She was interned there as a child, one of several children of a missionary who fled there from China, because the parents thought that being in a U.S. territory was safer for their children. The treatment she and other family members endured was brutal, and toward the end of the war, the prisoners were scheduled to be executed before the Japanese withdrew. She was saved because some American volunteers broke down the fence and escorted the POWs to safety. My friend, to this day, cannot understand Americans can embrace Japan as our friends and allies. To her, they were a barbaric enemy, who starved her family and killed far too many non-combatants.

Hillenbrand does explain the brutality, through Louie’s account, and accounts by other prisoners. But she reinforces the brutal nature of the Japanese POW camps with survival statistics. According to Hillenbrand, only 1% of American POWs held by the Germans or Italians (the European theater) died, but in Japan 37% died. She also goes into the cultural differences which led to the cruelty, not as an excuse, but to let readers know more about the “why” which must come to the mind of her readers.

(spoilers)

The film, Unbroken, closes with the end of the war. That is a good stopping point for a Hollywood film; the audience can go home knowing Louie made it out alive and was welcomed home by his loving family. But, as my sister noted, there is more to the story. The book has a subtitle Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and it is appropriate. While I do not fault Jolie for leaving out the “redemption” part, the story is incomplete without Louie’s problems adjusting to “normal” life after the horrific experiences he had in Japan and how finding religion gave him the peace he desperately needed. The author continues to cover multiple story lines, including “Phil” the pilot to “the Bird” who was the most sadistic of the Japanese prison guards.

The entire story is important, and those who watch the movie get only the middle, so I encourage readers to tackle the book by Laura Hillenbrand. While it isn’t a quick read, it is certainly worth your time.

Bertrice Small’s The Kadin

Author Bertrice Small’s obituary in the New York Times piqued my interest in her writing. I’m not sure if I read any of her books back when I read historical romance, but somewhere in a stack of books that a friend passed along to me is her Skye O’Malley. Quite honestly, it is on a shelf downstairs, with a lot of other books that I may never get around to reading. However, a brief look at Small’s book list led me to begin with her debut novel, a “harem” romance called The Kadin. I downloaded it from the Kindle store, and there are a few rough spots where the file didn’t translate too well, but over all, it was in good shape.

I was prepared to not like the novel. The reviews on Goodreads (something like 1900 plus) were mostly good, but there were any number of bad ones. Actually, the reasons for the bad reviews are some of the aspects that I liked best. Instead of being a slice of life, The Kadin is the whole life of Lady Janet Leslie; at least from the age of four, when her father legitimizes her, the offspring of an affair with a local peasant; until her death. Thus, it is far more than a romance. When our main character is a young teenager, her father is appointed ambassador to some obscure Middle Eastern nation and while there she is abducted and sold as a slave. Her purchaser is the chief eunuch of a harem, and young Janet, renamed Cyra, is groomed to be the young sultan’s favorite. For the most part, the eunuch’s plan goes well, but there is sufficient political intrigue between Cyra and her Selim, as well as Cyra and the other harem inhabitants that the plot never really drags, and the novel is some 400 plus pages.

Bertrice Small has the reputation of writing rather sexual romances, but The Kadin precedes that aspect of her writing. While her main character is very strong, she is swept away into the role of harem slave and never really protests that. Modern readers often bring modern mores into their analysis of fiction. Some of those one and two star reviewers seem to expect Janet/Cyra to rebel and somehow turn the sixteenth century into the twentieth at least, which amuses me. Others believe Small’s portrait of harem life, while quite fictional, has too many details. Who cares what they ate or wore? Well, actually, I care. Details help readers get into the story, and I really enjoyed getting into this novel. If it reminded me of anything, it has a lot in common with Angelique in Barbary, but that’s an even older story and is the best “harem slave” story I have ever read.

The Kadin is more than a romance and is almost diametrically opposed to modern chick lit. My time with it was a bit like watching great old movie that I had somehow missed seeing the first time around. I enjoyed it, and while it isn’t a great book, it is a really, really good one.

Fatal Boarding— a review

Cover, Fatal Boarding

Fatal Boarding is better than the cover would suggest.

Recently, I read E.R. Mason’s science fiction novel, Fatal Boarding, via the Kindle app. As of this writing, it is a bargain because it is free. And, normally, if I don’t particularly like a freebie, I do not review it. I did review this one, on Amazon, and I am going to do so in a more elaborate manner here, because I did like it, but with reservations.

Why did I “buy” it in the first place? The cover is pretty bad, I think, but the number of reviews and stars is impressive. Also, you can’t beat free. So, I added it to my Kindle library, and I did manage to finish it, although I thought of abandoning the effort more than once. The main character isn’t likable, at least not a first, but he did grow on me. The situation is interesting, and the author does a good job of putting in details to help the reader visualize both settings and characters. Actually, the plot line isn’t all that fresh. However, just about every story has been told by now, so all we readers (and writers) have left is theme and variation.

Adrian Tarn, main character, is an experienced spacer, currently serving as security officer on a ship that has a boring task, mapping. He signed on because he lost too much money gambling, and at least a portion of his grumbling is probably intended as foreshadowing. Anyway, his rather boring job is interrupted when his ship goes a tad off course to investigate a derelict alien vessel. The reason this other ship is abandoned is a bit of a mystery, and solving this mystery becomes imperative when Adrian’s ship has malfunction heaped upon malfunction, apparently all due to the close proximity of the mystery ship. Then, folks start dying, as the title indicates. So, this is a space mystery, which evolves along expected lines, as Adrian and his fellows begin to figure out how and why both vessels are dead in space.

Overall, I did enjoy the story, but the most troubling aspect is the lack of proper grammar, spelling, and/or editing. As a writer, I know it is hard to catch every little thing, especially when working on one’s own manuscript. But, Fatal Boarding suffers myriad problems, making this a distracting book to read. The author confuses “loose” and “lose” several times, and there are missing quotation marks, missing commas, odd paragraphing, and other issues. At times, I had to back up to be certain what was happening or who was speaking.

Yet, 145 reviewers have rated this effort 5 stars, and another 87 give it 4 stars. That’s 228 more reviews than my space story, Trinity on Tylos, has garnered during 8 years of publication.

I’m doing something wrong….

More Reviews in 2015?

Trinity on Tylos as a Kindle Countdown deal


Trinity on Tylos is buried on page nine of sixteen pages of countdown deals in science fiction.

For the beginning of 2015, Amazon is offering Trinity on Tylos as one of their “countdown deals.” For the first half of the scheduled time (80 hours, I think) it is only 99 cents, then it moves to $1.99. Thus far, all of the reviews have been either 4 or 5 stars, and I hope there are new ones, but I obviously hope any new readers and/or reviewers enjoy it well enough to leave positive reviews.

As a reader and customer, I really like Kindle Countdown deals, and I look at the offerings regularly. Usually, these deals last less than a week, so act quickly if you want to take advantage of the reduced price. Hopefully, fans of science fiction will take decide to begin their new year by reading Trinity on Tylos.

Trinity on Tylos has sufficient world building and character development to be the basis for a series, but to put forth the time and energy to write those, I’d like some confidence, and reviews (and sales) are the best ways to vote for more writing from Pamela J. Dodd.

Tales of Honor— Volume 1 “On Basilisk Station”

Tales of Honor IAs a fan of David Weber, I have been most interested in the new venture he has with Evergreen Studios to turn the adventures of his flagship character, Honor Harrington, into a series of comic books, a video game, and eventually, a movie series. I seldom play video games, so I won’t comment on that aspect, but re-imagining the characters in a semi-manga set of comics is an interesting approach to creating a wider audience for Weber’s work.

I purchased the actual book (a larger paperback) rather than the eBook, because I wanted to examine the work closely and perhaps share it. I’ve read (and re-read) the books, so I am not the intended audience. Fans of Weber’s prose are probably going to be disappointed, because there are not many words in these books. Comics (graphic novels?) are quite different from prose, and Weber uses lots of words. However to bring Honor off the page and onto film will require story boards, so I am viewing this book, and those that hopefully will come later, as elaborate story boards. Weber has a full page introduction in this book wherein he asks fans to be open-minded about the new approach to his work.

On Basilisk Station has a good bit of exposition, and while interesting, it isn’t as tense as some of the later novels, so I found it interesting that Tales of Honor, Volume I begins “in medias res” with the situation at the end of book seven (In Enemy Hands) as the framework for book one. Certainly this approach ramps up the suspense, as Honor faces torture and execution, and remembers these earlier events, because her previous exploits are what led to her capture by the Havenites.

A few posts back, I included some art by a cover artist who really captures the Honor Harrington of my imagination, and this Top Cow/Evergreen Studios version is quite a bit different. Still, art conveys meaning in a different manner than words, and just having visuals of Honor and her universe may alienate some fans, but will hopefully attract others.

Do I like this book? Well, not really. I very much prefer the original. But is it bad? Nope, it isn’t. Honestly, the comic novel manages to get across quite a bit of the original, in very few pages. The pictures are not cartoons, but have quite a bit of detail. Especially interesting are the panels which explain how propulsion and weapons work in Honorverse. Weber always mentions the devastation of warfare, but the visuals here are more dramatic than words alone. My main problem with Tales of Honor is the problem that fans often have with films—a disconnect between what I previously imagined and what I am seeing. This version of Honor is less beautiful, more menacing, and less subtly nuanced than the one in my imagination. And, the Nimitz in this book is unrecognizable. Really. Are these problems created by the artists, or by my lack of an open mind?

As of this writing there is only a one-star review on Amazon, written by a disgruntled fan who is also experiencing this closed-minded disconnect. Hopefully, that will change, because for Honor to become a film heroine, the comic books will need to find more receptive audience. And, I believe Honor’s exploits would make one heck of a good series of movies, so I am gonna hop over to Amazon and leave a review.

How to write a bad book review

DIYYep, that title was carefully phrased to have dual meanings. I’ve been a book reviewer and an author. Sometimes, as a book reviewer, I just didn’t like a book. That’s tough. Sometimes, as an author, readers don’t like what I have written, and that is tougher, because a one star review can cause book sales to plummet. Well, unless the reviewer is an obvious nut-case, and in that instance…it still hurts.

First, let’s deal with how to review a book that isn’t just want the reviewer/reader wanted. If writing for a site or magazine, the best thing is for the reviewer to just pass on it. Let’s face it, not everyone likes every book. Really. I’ve read classics and wondered, how the heck did this book even get published, much less remain after its fellows all ended up in the landfill? So, it really is best to pass it to another reviewer who might be more amenable to the book. But, if it is absolutely necessary to review it, begin with what isn’t wrong with it. Surely there is something— good prose, interesting setting, an absence of poor spelling and/or grammar. Find something good. Then, state the objection(s) clearly, and then explain the obvious— that others might not agree. If five stars are available, then rate accordingly, and there really should be more than one star clicked. Because whatever the reviewer found that was good probably warrants a second or even a third star.

A really, really bad book is going to be rife with problems— spelling, grammar, formatting; or lackluster characters, a plot that moves more slowly than molasses on a cold winter’s day; or even inconsistencies (such as a character with blue eyes in chapter 1 and brown ones in chapter 8). In such cases there is no need for the reviewer to get emotional and resort to “I”, “me”, or “my” because the author burdens the work with too much evidence that the book is indeed bad. There, and only there, might those one and two star reviews be warranted.

If the book is an eBook, and the reader purchased it from Amazon, there is a return feature. Did you know that? I didn’t, until recently. Anyway, the other day I returned a highly rated sci-fi novel. I did not write a bad review, because I wasn’t about to waste enough time to read it and then review it. Those who slog all the way through a Kindle title only to write a one star review must have intense masochistic tendencies.

Finally, I’ll deal with the second interpretation of my title. Sometimes readers do write really bad reviews. Readers (hopefully not reviewers) who write bad reviews seem to have a tantrum while sitting at the keyboard. The most prominent word in the review is probably a first person pronoun, such as “I” or “my” or “me” because such reviews are not written for other readers, but to express the emotions of the reviewer. In short, bad reviews begin with a lack of objectivity. Then the bad reviewer indulges in emotion, from boredom to revulsion, but the writer of the bad review seldom mentions any positive(s) in the book. Finally, writers of bad reviews usually need a reason for the hissy fit, so the review ends with a warning, guised as altruism to save potential buyers from a book that took months (or even years) to write and costs less than a Quarter Pounder with cheese.

Do it yourself book reviews are just as much a part of modern life as kids who commit suicide because they can’t handle what their mean peers write about them online. Authors just have to be tough.

Old News

Since the “new” version of my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, has been repackaged for Kindle readers, I went looking for reviews from when it was first published— not the ones on Amazon, but the other ones. At that time, I sent out a lot of digital files, as well as a few print books, in hopes of getting some reviews. Here are some excerpts with links to the original posts:

Rob Preece of Books for a Buck stated: “Author Pamela J. Dodd builds on the conventions of old-time space opera (e.g., aliens wanting human women), creating a thoughtful vision of alien contact, of the Stockholm Syndrome, and of the both heroic and horrible attempt of one being to perpetuate his species, no matter what the cost. Dodd addresses these issues mostly in terms of relationships–especially the three way conflict between Venice, her human-husband Steve Dylenski, and Captain Azareel.”

Anita at The Romance Studio says in her review:The storyline is creative and filled with exciting action as one race fights another for their survival. Trinity of Tylos is a fascinating emotionally stirring space adventure that shows how far someone will go for someone they love.”

Jean at Fallen Angel Reviews was not only the first person to review the original novel, but she also gave it a “recommended read” accolade: “This is a great book for fans of science fiction and futuristic romance. I’m giving this story 5 angels and a Recommended Read, because it is so well written that it grabbed me at the beginning and kept me enthralled until the very last page.”

ToT_cover_final_webLG

Trinity on Tylos in the Kindle Store

ToT_cover_final_webLGAfter six years, Trinity on Tylos is going to be available as a Kindle book, and I’ve priced it at $2.99, the same price as my debut novel, The Gift Horse. For this new version, I went through a copy of the eBook and made every effort to eliminate some of the errors in the original. However, there are no substantial changes, as I was fairly content with it, apart from the proofreading, which was a problem with the original publisher.

The new cover was designed by Dawn Seewer, who did the cover for The Gift Horse. The background depicts the landscape of Tylos IV, with the ships in the sky. The models in the foreground are Venice and Azareel, and I think the artist did a good job. A few of the readers of the original printed novel told me that the cover didn’t really convey the serious nature of the novel, so I hope that this new cover touches the bases.

For those who haven’t read it, here is the original synopsis that I used when shopping the manuscript:

What sacrifices must an officer make to save her shipmates from certain doom? Venice Dylenski, the young security chief of the colonizing ship, Excalibur, is faced with this dilemma after her captain makes a critical error in judgement in an encounter with an alien with superior fire power and a hidden agenda.

Trinity on Tylos begins as Venice experiences an embarrassing moment on a survey mission, one which rules out yet another planet as a hospitable home for their colony. While continuing its search, the Excalibur encounters the Archeons, an alien race characterized by gray-blue skin and a facility for language. The interchange results in Venice and a crewmate, Alathea Duke, being taken captive by the mysterious Archeon captain, Azareel. In short order, he informs them that they will play a critical role in revitalizing his dying race, that of surrogate mothers to genetically engineered Archeon offspring.

Venice, reluctant “to be the next Archeon soccer mom,” strives to escape, but her companion seems all too willing to cooperate with their captor. Thus the stage is set for multiple conflicts between human and Archeon, human and human, and humanoids verses the hostile environment of their new planetary home in the Tylos star system.

Trinity on Tylos has the elements of a good space opera: complex characters faced with myriad problems to solve, set in a future where man may have escaped the bounds of his solar system, but not the bonds of human emotions.

 

 

Rich Man’s War— a review

Rich Man's War cvrA couple of entries back I reviewed Poor Man’s Fight by Elliot Kay, and I really did like that book. Okay, in part, I liked it because it is in one of my favorite sub-sub-genres— a coming of age military science fiction story. But, that book was well-written and highly entertaining, and such books are sometimes too formulaic. Rich Man’s War is the sequel, and it does take up shortly after the events of the first novel in this series. The action, once it really gets going, is almost non-stop in PMF, but RMW is a more complex story, so it doesn’t move with the vim and vigor of the first one. Worse, it is quite easy to get bogged down in the “who is this part about, friend or foe” because the battles are large scale, so the cast of characters has grown exponentially.

Still, I am glad for the sequel to PMF. Somehow, readers just knew that Tanner Malone had a career ahead of him, and there is a natural desire to see the character evolve. Both Tanner and some subordinate characters from the first novel are important characters here, but in this entry, the corporations which have pretty much made Archangel inhabitants into economic slaves are the enemy. The plot development is organic, that is, what happens in this novel often has roots in the first one. I do not believe that RMW stands alone particularly well, so do read the first book first.

That said, I did enjoy the further adventures of highly decorated war hero Tanner Malone, and it is a good read if not a great one.