99¢ Promotion for Trinity on Tylos

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My science fiction novel will soon be on sale for just 99¢

I’m going to usher in spring by offering my science fiction novel at a mere 99¢ for four days, beginning on March 21. Although it has only had modest sales success, it has the best reviews of any of my novels (under Pamela J. Dodd or my other pen name) and I consider it to be a good read. One of the cooler aspects of writing science fiction is that unlike contemporary fiction, the story does not suffer as much from being “out of date.”

The current version has a few minor edits, but is close to the original, apart from the cover. No one liked the cartoonish cover designed by an artist working for Whiskey Creek Press, so I had a new one designed when I got the rights back. The cover depicts the main character, Venice, shortly after she is abducted by Azareel, the last living Archon. The Archon colony is in the background, as are the space going vessels of the Terrans and the Archons. His vision is to re-create his people, using the reluctant wombs of his human captives. And, as one professional reviewer stated, this is hardly a new plot line. But….I do not believe that life is black and white, and the good vs. evil in this novel is cast in shades of gray. Oh, Azareel is ruthless and sometimes just plain mean. Still, he has a reason for what he is doing. The best villains always do, of course.

In time, Venice comes to accept certain realities, and that’s when this novel grows up. Fans of science fiction, especially as it explores the human condition, should enjoy Trinity on Tylos.

Way back when it was released, this novel was a “recommended read” at Fallen Angels reviews, and it garnered several other positive reviews. There are newer reviews by customers on Amazon, too.

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Wes Moss’s “Starting from Scratch”

Wes Moss ScratchI’ve listened to Wes Moss for years now. He’s the host of “Money Matters” on a local radio station, and he seems to be an approachable, common-sense guy. That tone serves him well when he writes, too. Previously, I reviewed his book on “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think (Business Books),” and it is an excellent book on preparing for retirement. This is an earlier book, but the approach is similar in certain ways.

In this book on entrepreneurship, Moss discusses the best ways to begin a business, and he uses the acronym HUNT to explain the qualities and techniques used by successful business start ups. The H stands for “harness what you have” and the U stands for “underestimate obstacles.” Each of the sections of the book are grouped around a letter, so some of the stories illustrate the H, then some illustrate the U (but also rely on the H, of course.) Later stories deal with N “Notice your network” and finally T for “Take the first step.” Again, each of these is illustrated by several stories (21 or 22 in all, depending on when edition you read.)

The analysis of how to begin and nurture a business is just as common-sense as other Wes Moss’s writings, and the stories of each entrepreneur are short enough to allow quick reading, but in depth enough to realize that these people did what many want to do but can’t quite see the way forward. And, as the stats for success vs. failure in small business are a bit daunting, the stories are inspirational.

If you have ever wondered if you could begin a business, then this book should be a very welcome read. I quite enjoyed it, although I have many irons in the employment fire and no desire to begin yet another venture.

Killing Patton— a quick review and commentary

Killing Patton cover imageGeorge C. Scott’s portrait of World War II General George Patton was my introduction to the famous hero. And, that is a very good film, but the book Killing Patton has an even more narrow focus. Authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard begin at the end, Patton’s untimely death, then jump back a year or so, to meticulously trace Patton’s role (and that of the 3rd Army) in the successful final campaigns against Germany at the end of World War II. General Patton was quite a character, with his ivory handled pistols and flashy uniform, but he also was far more aggressive than other American generals, and actually lost fewer men because he didn’t mess around! Anyway, he did not always suck up to those in authority, spoke his mind on the dangers of the Soviets, thus he made both friends and enemies. The authors label him as the most “audacious” U. S. general, and that’s a good word. I’ve always admired Patton’s forthright approach to war and life. Rather than give away the suggested culprit in Killing Patton, let me say that O’ Reilly and Dugard offer multiple possible persons who might want Patton dead. These authors do seem to believe that one of them was behind several attempts on Patton’s life. Certainly, they make a good case that Patton’s death was not an accident. Killing Patton is a very good book, with plenty of history and just enough mystery to keep it entertaining, and I highly recommend it.

My interest in the book goes beyond my admiration for General George S. Patton. As this Veteran’s Day approaches, my mind has often turned to my uncle, A.L. Dodd, Junior, who was also in Europe. PFC Dodd served as an automatic rifleman in the 9th Army, 75th Division, which was somewhat north of Patton’s 3rd Army in their journey through Europe. My uncle, just nineteen years old, was killed in action in April of 1945, a few days before the German surrender. Of course, my uncle died long before my birth, but family members told me that he was in the Ruhr Valley, and he was shot by a German machine gunner. So, seventy years ago, he died, along with hundreds of thousands of others. This book, with its detailed accounts of the major players in the war, helped me understand what was happening in Europe (and in America) in 1945.

At the time, the United States was very much a singular nation, which rallied to do what was right. Neither Patton nor any of the other U.S. soldiers were perfect men, but many of them performed nearly miraculous feats of bravery— they were heroes.

Is last year’s best science fiction novel is this year’s best science fiction film?

movie poster image of The MartianI think so, but I certainly haven’t seen all of the science fiction films of 2015. However, last night, I saw Ridley Scott’s version of The Martian, and it is really, really good. The guys with me (hubby and our unmarried 22 year-old son) absolutely loved it, and they had not read the book. (I wrote about Weir’s originally self-published novel last year.)

No doubt there are any number of professional and amateur reviews of the film, so I will do a bit of compare and contrast with the book. First, the beginning and the ending are different. Not vastly so, but the visual medium requires a different approach. However, the spirit of the novel, as well as much of the plot, is intact. The film begins with the astronauts on the surface of Mars, taking care of exploring and introducing characters. The action begins quickly, as the storm sets in and the crew aborts the mission. In the book, the back story unfolds as stranded astronaut Mark Watney recovers from his wound, assesses options, and determines each course of action. Either way, the story soon slows a bit, as this modern take on “Robinson Crusoe” unfolds. In order to get the audience out in a timely manner, the events in the film are compressed a bit. However, some things, such as the mission commander’s affection for “disco” music actually work much better in the film, as 80’s hits make up much of the sound track.

The casting is excellent, and the amount of screen time for players other than the central character, Watney, reflect a slightly different approach to the story. In the novel, chapters go by before there is any mention of the characters back on earth, but that, too, is accelerated for the film version. Actually, I like the film’s approach better than the novel, as it ramps up the suspense a bit.

Some folks in my generation have been very, very disappointed in the choices our government has made regarding space exploration. (Or should I say, the lack of space exploration.) The Martian can certainly thrill audiences of many ages, as my son really loved it. But it will especially appeal to those of us who watched NASA missions in our youth, and dreamed of continued exploration. This isn’t space opera— it is fiction based on real science.

At the most basic level, The Martian is good entertainment. It’s not particularly violent, or sexy, but it has plenty of action. The conflicts here are mostly man vs. the environment, and the environment is very believable. Perhaps, however, the younger audience will also ask why our government is so concerned about minutia, such as providing everything from cell phones to farmer’s markets, rather than taking the lead on larger initiatives, such as exploring the solar system.

Mockingbird— a novel for children, but a good read for adults as well

Mockingbird by Kathryn ErskineMy local library doesn’t have an available copy of Harper Lee’s new/old Go Set a Watchman available just yet, so I chose a novel that I first learned about when taking a graduate level course in improving reading in secondary schools, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. The premise in this YA novel is that our narrator, Caitlyn, is a fifth-grader with Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a family member with a similar diagnosis, so this novel interests me on more than one level. Caitlyn had been quite dependent on an older brother, Devon, but he is not with her any longer. For anyone who does not know, the vast majority of symptoms of Asperger’s are associated with communications skills. Caitlyn exhibits many of the classic symptoms, but there is both humor and pathos in her approach to life. Her father seems to want to help her and connect with her, but he is suffering from a different malady. As the exposition unfolds, the reader learns that Devon was killed in a school shooting and their mother died of cancer a couple of years prior to the events of the novel. So the father is reeling emotionally, and Caitlyn is struggling with adjusting to these losses and with trying to develop empathy for other people. Other players in this novel include young Caitlyn’s teacher, counselor, and her fellow students. Try as she might, Caitlyn has trouble “getting” what others seem to understand with little trouble. This, too, is typical for Aspies.

Mockingbird derives its title from the many references to the movie/book To Kill a Mockingbird, and I do not believe that the novel would resonate nearly as well if the reader had not either seen TKAM or read it. But, with most readers knowing a bit about the famous story by Harper Lee, it is fairly safe to say that most readers will “get” the references.  Indeed, I really, really enjoyed the novel, but I did need some tissue toward the end— it is that kind of story.

Reading YA lit is more and more common these days, because big publishing is far more open to publishing those stories. Getting a contract is rather difficult for new writers of adult fiction, but YA sells well, so it is becoming a crowded field. I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers, but I do want to encourage fans of TKAM to read Mockingbird. Although it could be read by upper elementary on up, it is a touching story for readers of any age.

American Sniper— the book

American Sniper by Chris Kyle coverOkay, I admit, I have a tendency to do certain things backwards. Hubby laughs at this one: whenever I pick up a magazine, I thumb through and begin reading somewhere near the back. I sometimes do that with catalogues, too. Why? Because the snazzy pictures are in the front, and the words are in the back. I like words.

American Sniper, the movie, is in theaters in my area of the country as I write this, which means it is the perfect time for Pam to read the book! I ordered American Sniper (for the Kindle) and read it on my iPad, and I was impressed. Chris Kyle’s exploits are apparently quite controversial, based on the reaction to the film, but I did not find it so much controversial as conversational. After I finished, I felt like I has spent a while talking with this Texas cowboy turned Navy Seal, who loved guns and his country enough to go back into a war zone, over and over.

Why is Kyle’s career a controversy? There are those who feel that Americans were invaders in Iraq. Okay, I see that. A little bit, anyway. Any war on foreign soil will have that aspect. And there are those who feel that being a sniper, hiding behind a big rifle with a bigger scope, is a cowardly way to fight. That I don’t get, at all. Guerilla warfare is not new. And, in the war in Iraq, with insurgents attacking government installations and convoys, having a sniper on every tall rooftop made a lot of sense. As he often puts it in the book, Iraq was a “target rich” environment. His recorded number of “kills” is far above any other sniper, and he is matter of fact in explaining that his accomplishment was in part due to being in the thick of things for four deployments.

Kyle’s story, which begins during his childhood in Texas, is entertaining and quintessentially American. When he discusses the war, it is the voice of a military man, explaining what happened from his point of view. Also of interest are brief interludes where his wife, Taya, discusses what was happening from her perspective. This gives the story more depth because modern warfare can happen so far away that the combatant’s home country is isolated from the realities of war. The price paid by the family is made quite real through her observations.

If you haven’t read Kyle’s autobiography, you might want to give it a try. Although it becomes a bit repetitive, because what he did on a day-to-day basis didn’t change all that much, his voice is strong throughout the book, and Chris Kyle was a man’s man in a country that has, by and large, gone soft.

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….

Kindle books and the Kindle App— true love!

AmazonFebruary is known for its major holiday, Valentine’s Day. Yes, there is President’s Day, too, but who cares about that? No, it is Valentine’s Day that sells the chocolates and flowers, and lots of cards. Perhaps this is my Valentine’s Day card to Amazon’s Kindle program. Oh, Kindle, let me count the ways….

First, I love the Kindle app. I’ve never owned a Kindle, but the app that I have downloaded to my Apple devices (as of this writing, an iPad and iPhone) is the best eBook reading platform I have ever used. Over a decade back, I began reading eBooks on my Apple laptop. That evolved into reading on a Palm PDA, and then I moved my eBook collection to my iPad. So, I have used several platforms, including Nook, iBooks, and a few others. Nothing beats the Kindle app.

Second, I love the Kindle bookstore. My, oh my, there are so many books in there, and often, I find something for free! Admittedly, the freebies are usually inferior to paid content, but not always. As a part-time web designer, I have been helped quite a lot by such titles as these:

SEO for Bloggers

WordPress Made Super Simple

WordPress Mastery

And, I have reviewed a number of fiction titles in previous posts. Almost all of my reading these days is fueled by the Amazon Kindle Store. I get books for a fraction of what I used to pay, and they are on my device in seconds rather than my having to make a trip to a bookstore.

Third, I have published via the Kindle store. My science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, never paid me back for my promotional expenses when it was originally published by Whiskey Creek Press. And, it is still not selling many digital copies, but I have seen more in royalties via Amazon than I ever saw from the original publisher. If I were to publish again, I would seriously consider the straight to Kindle approach, and I would embrace social media marketing and skip fighting for a guest slot at science fiction conventions.

Anyway, as a consumer and as an author, I really love Amazon.

Terms of Enlistment

Cover art of Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Space Opera!

Okay, I’ve never “served” as military folks put it, but I really enjoy reading about the exploits of those who have done so. Perhaps due to watching the exploits of astronauts with military titles in my youth, I still believe that the military will play some role when (or if) mankind actually goes into space and establishes colonies on other worlds. In my own Trinity on Tylos my main character, Major Venice Dylenski, has a military background, but I viewed her as a bit like “Captain” Miles Standish might be viewed in American history. He’s a military guy who is there for security, and my character is the security chief, because someone ought to be in charge of that when landing on uncivilized planets.

In Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos, the military is far more than security; it is the force that keeps the homeworld (earth) and colonies safe. Andrew Grayson is the main character; he grew up in a welfare section of Boston. Desperate to leave the vicious cycle of generations on public assistance, he joins the military. Okay, that is hardly a new plot line, but as Kloos paints his picture of Grayson’s world, readers can easily believe this dystopian view of the “North American Commonwealth.” As a new NAC recruit, Grayson is under quite a lot of pressure. Failure in any area, from taking orders to passing tests, will cause him to “wash out” and go right back to eating welfare rations and watching his folks succuomb to treatable illnesses. Thus, there is an additional layer of suspense added to the usual risk/reward of enlistment. Once our hero gets through basic, he can expect a five-year hitch, then go back home with cash, and education, and a fresh start.

(spoiler alert)

However, once Grayson gets through basic, instead of being posted to a naval (spacegoing) vessel, he is placed into the TA (territorial army) and tasked with policing the very sorts of places that he sought to leave. However, as the yarn rolls along at its brisk pace, Grayson faces domestic enemies with courage and is able to use his heroism under fire to wangle a transfer to the space navy. Once there, he hopes to be set for his five year enlistment, but an alien species invades, and he has many more opportunities to be heroic, and less and less to return home to, as the government pours all of its resources into saving the colonies, leaving the homeworld to become barely habitable.

While it doesn’t break much new ground, Terms of Enlistment does an excellent job of entertaining the reader. The  main characters are more than stereotypes, and the world building is quite good. I’ve already re-upped for the second novel in the series (Lanes of Departure) and am enjoying it, too.

Terms of Enlistment is a bit like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but with less of Heinlein’s political agenda. Fans of space opera and/or military fiction would be wise to check out this well-written novel. Oh, and it is rather long, so for $3.99 it really is a bargain, too.