Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The Adjacent" by Christopher Priest [Review]

The AdjacentThe Adjacent by Christopher Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to review, because I imagine it would be very polarizing. Some people would love it, and some people would hate it. I personally fell on the side of loving it. But I admit, it's unconventional.

"The Adjacent" is one of the most unusual books I've ever read. It's not that the story is confusing. It's not that the story is mysterious. It's not that the story defies definition. It's not that the ending is shocking. It's that the novel is all of these and more. It's more like a series of short stories than an actual novel. However, the stories are all interconnected in terms of sharing common characters and themes. But at the same time, some of the stories place characters in different locations and times, and even contradict each other.

Most of the story takes place in the future, where the world is in the grip of mysterious terrorist attacks. A powerful beam of light strikes a perfectly triangular area and incinerates everything within it. One attack took the life of the wife of Tibor Tarent, a photojournalist. He's on a journey through a dystopian Britain, controlled by an Islamic government, to be debriefed about the attack while mourning his wife. At the same time, we meet Tommy Trent, a magician in World War One. He's been recruited by the British Air Force to find a way to make planes invisible. While he enjoys the prestige and getting to meet his hero H.G. Wells, he struggles to perform a magic trick that could save or cost lives. And if that's not enough, we also jump to World War II, where an RAF technician falls in love with a beautiful pilot, who's seeking out her lost lover. Oh, and we also go to the Dream Archipelago, a fictional island where a young man dares to become a magician, in a city where such abstract performances are frowned upon.

If the story lines seem entirely unconnected, then you see the genius of Priest. The stories start out feeling like a series of discordant short stories, but common themes begin emerging. Like all the main characters have names that start with the letter "T." As the novel goes on, we see more and more connections. Events in one story are referenced in another. Characters from one appear in the others. But just when you think you've figured out the connection, things start changing. And then Priest throws in parallel universes. I don't want to say too much, but I will say the novel is mind-blowing at times. In a good way.

At times, the novel is hard to follow. But what I loved about the book is that Priest makes no apologies. He could have chosen to turn any one of the storylines into its own novel, but combines them together in ways that are surprising and entertaining. He's making a statement about the interconnectedness of time, space, and life itself. I could see how some readers might be frustrated, but I liked that Priest allowed the story to challenge. Especially towards the end, when things get downright bizarre.

My only real complaint is that the novel doesn't really end in a simple way. There's no attempt by Priest to explain everything that happened. For example, he never explained why the future Britain is depicted as an Islamic state. Some of the storylines also end without their own sense of closure. And the final pages are completely disorienting without any easy answers.

But that's what I loved. I enjoy stories that make me think, and this novel made me think a lot. It's also beautifully written with wonderful characters. It's definitely one of the more extraordinary sci-fi novels I've ever read.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Excerpt From "Little Green Men": Employment Agency

One of my current works-in-progress is Little Green Men, a sequel to my previous comedy/sci-fi work, Flying Saucers. In Flying Saucers, Jeffrey Foster was a simple convenience store clerk who helped stop an alien invasion of Earth. In the end, he left Earth to seek out a new life in outer space. But in Little Green Men, he discovers that the Xenon Empire is planning revenge against Earth for its resistance, and he must become the hero he never wanted to be. But before that, he tries to adjust to life in the Galaxy. In this scene, he tries to get a job on the planet Mallow, the safest and most boring planet in the Universe. 

Jeffrey tried not to stare at the Mallowite on the other side of the desk. The alien's head bobbed slightly from the breeze of an air conditioning vent as it looked over some papers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The DNA of a Successful Book [Infographic]

There's no formula for writing a bestselling novel. That said, here's the formula for a bestselling novel. Just kidding. There are exceptions to every rule, but this infographic by HipType does a nice job of breaking down some common trends in popular books. Of course, this leaves out the number one rule to being a successful author: writing well. But it couldn't hurt to make your protagonist a woman.
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Reviews Are For Readers, Not for Authors

"Authors, reviews are not for you. They are not for you." ― Stacia Kane

I start with this quote, because it's the essence of what I'm going to talk about today. There's been a lot of talk on blogs and even industry articles on book reviews. Some authors like mystery writer RJ Ellory have been caught giving negative reviews to other books in hopes of damaging the reputation of their peers. Other authors like thriller writer John Locke have been caught buying reviews for their books to try to get more publicity and sales. Every author knows reviews are important to any success in publishing. But what's getting lost in the shuffle is the true purpose of book reviews.

Book reviews are for readers. Period.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

3 Helpful Machines Or Tools (That Turn Out To Be Completely Useless)

This is a guest post from Briane Pagel...

“This, my son, is the one thing you need to complete your quest. Treasure it. Take care. Do not let Ultrax The Verminous know you have it.”

“What is it?”

“It is the XRFHTIG.”

“What does it do?”

“You will have to discover that for yourself. NOW OFF WITH YOU THERE’S NO TIME.”

Literally every fantasy or science fiction story ever.

As I make the rounds promoting my new book, Codes, published by Golden Fleece Press (see below for links where to buy), I am also doing a lot of reading of sci-fi, and a little of fantasy, and I've started to more and more notice something author Andrew Leon pointed out a while back: most of the ‘heroes’ of these stories get very little in the way of help. Mentors give cryptic clues, artifacts have to be figured out by someone who’s only just learned all this stuff even exists, and even the things that are specifically designed to be helpful are, ultimately, not.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Why Old and New Books Smell Good

I think it's safe to say anyone who's a book lover loves the smell of books. Just walking into a bookstore or library and breathing in that distinctive odor is enough to make me feel comforted. With the new world of digital books, the smell of paper books is even more precious. But did you ever wonder why books smell the way they do? Neither did I until I found this fascinating infographic on the chemical composition of books. Compound Interest breaks down the lovely odor with this detailed guide. Mmm, vanilla...

[Via Fastcoexist via Compound Interest]

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

SFWA vs. Women, and the Role of SF Romance

My recent failed experiment with writing a romance novel has brought me both new respect for the genre and a desire to put romance subplots into my future work. It also made me more aware of the importance of putting realistic and well-rounded female characters into my work, since you simply can't write a romance novel from a solely male perspective and expect it to sell well. But this article by Angela Highland brought it all home from a different perspective.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

5 Other Parodies of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a global sensation, the start of a bestselling trilogy of thrillers. Naturally, like everything that's really popular, people have been lining up to make fun of it. I threw my hat in the ring with The Girl Who Played With the Dragon Tattoo's Nest. Here are five other parodies I found.

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Dune" by Frank Herbert [Review]

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a stunning achievement in world-building. Frank Herbert successfully created an alien world with a complex ecology, a future political system, and even religions with detailed rituals and tradition. But more than that, he took out of that rich world a compelling and brilliant story.

In the distant future, powerful families known as Houses are locked in a complex jostling for power in the galaxy. Most of the conflict revolves around Arrakis, a desert planet that is the source of melange. Melange is a drug essential for extending life, enhancing the mind, and faster-than-light travel. When Paul Atreides and his family become heirs to Arrakis, the rival Baron Harkonnen stages a brutal attack and forces Paul and his mother to flee to the desert. There, they are taken in by a mysterious band of desert dwellers known as the Fremen. Paul learns their ways and ultimately becomes the planet's savior, seeking revenge on the Harkonnen.

That simple summary only scratches the surface of an incredible story rich in detail and complexity. It captures many of the familiar tropes of science fiction space opera, like spaceships, exotic weapons, messianic figures, and rebellion, but puts a unique spin on all of them. More than anything, the world of "Dune" feels completely real. Whole novels could have been written just about the Fremen, the mystical Bene-Jesserit, and the powerful CHOAM Corporation, but these are all treated as background material for the overall story. It's as if Herbert was writing his story for people of his fictional world, not us.

But the brilliance of "Dune" is not that he created such a wonderful world. It's that he's able to tell a great story within it without being boring or showing off. Most authors who create their own worlds can't help spending pages on their background material, essentially saying, "Isn't this cool? Look what I came up with!" Herbert doesn't do that. He only includes the details you need to know to understand the story, and focuses on giving us rich characters and jaw-dropping plot twists. His work is shown by the extensive appendixes in the back of the novel, which aren't necessary to read for the story, but which I found fascinating.

To me, "Dune" is one of the all-time greatest science fiction novels, what the genre should be.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bizarre Books: "The Pop Up Book of Phobias"

This book by Gary Greenberg and Matthew Reinhart is a work of demented genius. It's exactly what it says on the tin: a pop-up book, where every page not only describes a phobia, but jumps out to put you into your greatest fear. Afraid of clowns? Open the page and watch two hideous clowns with moving eyes and smiles offer you a lollipop. Afraid of heights? Open the page and watch a building rooftop unfold so you can look down at the street far below. The best part is almost everyone is going to be afraid of something in this book. My brother Maurice had a copy, and used to have endless fun showing it to people and watching their delight turn to horror as they reach the page of their particular phobia. For me, the page on the fear of spiders was unseeable. Check out this video and see what it was like to scroll through the pages.


 Or you can check out this album of still shots to get a better look at them.
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