Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review::The Madmen's City by Cady Vance

The Madmen's CityThe Madmen's City by Cady Vance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Madmen's City by Cady Vance

This novel helps fill out the growing number of super hero novels I've been reading lately. It's a tough job without all the panels of drawings; but when done right they read quite well. This one is definitely going into the well done pile. This novel is more about vigilante than super powered heroes; but that's what Batman started out as. And this novel fits well with that in that it is drawn in a dystopic world that has the noir mood and images that go along with crime bosses and thugs and suspicious authority who don’t know what to do about the vigilantes.

Silas Snow is the rougher side of vigilantism. The story opens up after his having cleaned one more soldier from the Nerozzi crime family off the streets. Disguised as the faceless Ethos he's cleaning up the Coil; in part because he's the son of a crime boss that is in prison and he'd love to see a few more of the crime bosses sent away. Tonight while disposing of the body he is confronted by Phantom, Damian Kane, who is more like the morally correct super hero in the story. Phantom asks Ethos to vacate this particular area of the Coil: while Phantom is busy with some unknown project. Instead of vacating Ethos sticks around to find that Phantom is training his daughter to become a vigilante. At the same time some of the Nerozzi thugs show up threatening Phantom and his daughter; and Phantom is forced to leave with them to save his daughter; who ends up still in danger, but Ethos helps her get away in time for them both to see her father, Phantom, being arrested and placed in a police cruiser. Gwen Kane, Lady Hood, would rather not have had to rely on the seedy Ethos to get away, but she has no choice.

As it turns out Gwen's father is charged with the murder committed by Ethos, which fact Gwen does not yet know. Gwen also, in super hero irony, is not aware that her friend Silas Snow (she befriended him after the trial that sent his mother to prison) is really Ethos. Ethos is quickly placed in a tough situation with her father taking the blame for his crime. There's a long dance of the secret identities where Ethos helps Gwen and her friends try to get to the bottom of things. Once the cat is out of the bag and Ethos is unmasked, Silas decides to turn himself in; except other people have other plans; and Gwen might have to now return the favor and save Ethos, before they can clear her father's name.

The story is an interesting if frequently used storyline in this genre. The Phantom's vigilante justice is righteous and clean, but is falling short of effective. Ethos is brutal and exacting and perhaps has wakened the crime community to a point of wanting to pull his plug. Gwen, Lady Hood, must learn to walk the line between the two types of justice in order to help her father and she'll have to see how far she might go to compromise everything her father has stood for and taught her.

This is a well written evenly paced story with interesting characters in a typical situation for the realm of noir vigilante justice. A great read for fans of the Graphic Noir (Suspense and Mystery) novels minus the graphics and a pretty good read for YA and even some SFF fans.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Colors of Space by Marion Eleanor Zimmer Bradley (June 3, 1930 – September 25, 1999)

The Colors of Space
The Colors of Space by Marion Zimmer Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Colors of Space by Marion Eleanor Zimmer Bradley (June 3, 1930 – September 25, 1999)
The Colors of Space

The Colors of Space

I remember reading this a long time ago. Many times. Some time after the 1963 edition was published. I decided to read it again and see if it still stood well against time.

Bart Steele is a young Vegan who has come to Earth to study at the academy. He's a product of a human and Mentorian pair, although he lost his mother, the Mentorian, early in his life. His father, a Terran, owns a space shipping business that struggles as it must against the monopoly that the Lhari race has over interstellar flight. The Lhari have made it clear that only Lhari can survive while the warp-drive is active and that all other races must go into cold-sleep.

This monopoly causes Bart and many others to have a prejudice against the Lhari.

Upon graduation Bart is to meet his father at the Lhari spaceport where he will leave Earth and return home. But Bart will never see his father again and will be catapulted into a universe of danger and intrigue. He discovers his father and several others have died while trying to obtain the secrets of the Lhari and of the warp-drive. Bart is thrust into his father's world while he's become a fugitive from Lhari authorities.

An important plot point is that the Lhari are not able to perceive colors the way humans and Mentorians do; and this becomes a major plot device or I should say part of several plot devices. This is the only part that my more mature insight has quibbles about during this read. There are some big things that are hinged on this color disability that might not work quite as well as I once believed. One major one is that the Lhari could not tell something was red hot because they couldn't see the red. Since often survival hinges on such things there would likely have been another way for them to discern that a surface they were working on, in their ship, might be hot.

Most everything else in the story seems to stand the test of time and still seems to work quite well to move the plot along. Since not enough is revealed about how a specific disguise is worked out, it might seem a bit thin but it still works here.

The story itself beyond being science fiction seems to contain a mix of moral elements as regards prejudices and race hate. It becomes a story of a young mans journey to grow to maturity and whether he can alter his thinking and his beliefs when the time comes; or if he'll let the rage building inside to overflow and color his own sense of justice.

Even after all these years this is not only an great Classic; but it stands as a story that SFF fans should love and would stand well with other YA novels today.


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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Self-Publishing: Shooting Feet: Farwell to old friends

Self-Publish:shoot foot:farwell
Self-Publishing: Shooting Feet: Farwell to old friends

My coffee is lukewarm: the smell of tobacco and beer fall upon us like a familiar overcoat. The warm face sitting across from me has harsh disparaging eyes. He turns away; because he knows I know him all too well. The best of friends, even when he's being a troll. His beer goes down with a resounding thunk, so he can fold his beard with the thumb and forefingers of each hand: he points his head toward me. He says, "I know I said I didn't want to hear your lame ass justifications, but tell me again. The last time I wasn't listening."

I lean onto the table lowering my lids a bit and watch him just a moment longer. Still looking my way; that says something. It's probably safe to go on.

My hands splay out on the table palms down; I try to give the appearance of saying a small prayer, not for him to be enlightened, but for me to have patience. "Well, it starts back when I went to a blog where it was clearly explained that there are thousands of submissions every year for new books from new authors. There were a series of daunting hoops to go through just to be sure your i's are dotted and t's crossed. Those were not insurmountable. In fact they're instructive. With the insight offered, I could ensure that I'd not fall into some of the usual pratfalls of the average new author. And it isn't that I can't finish the work. It's finished. I have another on the way. And I have an infinite supply up here." One hand leaves the table for a quick gesture.

Shaking my head, it lists slowly as though it's over heavy, I wait and watch. There should be more comment from the peanut gallery any second. When only silence reigns I clear my throat. "None of that poses a problem. It's those blasted statistics. One in several thousand chances that an agent or publisher will spend more than a passing glance on my work: even when it's presented properly. It's like a slow death march. I'm sending out clones of my manuscript on one way trips with such a small chance that they will survive the purges. That alone would not be so bad, but it's not knowing what I'm sending them into. Rejection notes vary but the common theme is to just say keep trying. Not much in the line of battle reports to tell intelligence what we're up against. God, it would be at least something if they just said that they'd decided to burn the remaining 1000 manuscripts to make room for the next invasion. Seriously though; some constructive criticism would be nice. It would dispel any vision that there are a whole circle of agents and publishers with a large hat just pulling submissions until they reach the quota.

"This same blog-site had a link.

"It has statistics related to authors in print and their experience with getting published by major publishing houses. It was in part done to help highlight the importance of doing short stories to build your reputation and credibility as an author. It had statistics showing the difference between published authors who first did short stories and then published a novel as opposed to those who were fortunate enough to go straight to a first novel. It also included the success rate of both sides of that coin. Showing that building a reputation with short stories has a higher probability of delivering success in maintaining a consistent flow of novel work. This was all instructive in painting a clear picture of what needs to be done.

"Still, a daunting part, the submissions and rejections, remain to hang my manuscript over a fire.

"Then, light at the end of the tunnel. The author of this post painted this horrible picture of self publishing. For some reason he'd deemed it necessary to include statistics on the number of self publishers who might be noticed by an agent or publisher. His indication was that it was a sad 1 out of 256 chance. I looked at this and realize 1 out of 256 as opposed to 1 out of thousands. And, there was my solution to my dilemma."

My companion looks only slightly baffled. Eyebrows furrowed above thin slits behind the dark reflective spectacles. This is good; I expect he's forgotten previous rounds of discussions about my book. I say, "Remember, you indicated that you didn't want to read my book to review it. You wanted the hard evidence in your hand so you could browse page by page in one night the efforts of all my years. And, there it is, chance is more in my favor with self publishing. All I have to do is sacrifice my first born. And it's not really that much of a sacrifice, when I can place a copy in those fleshy maws of yours. To say nothing of the fact that it would cost the same or less than a custom made furry costume."

As is his characteristic response to such revelation he sits back in his chair and forms an O with his mouth. Then his eyes light and he smiles and chuckles, nearly sloshing the beer from his mug. His throat adds its own reverberation to his chortle. The wind comes up swiftly to whip the smoke up and away. The smell of beer washes away from us like the evening tide. I lift my eyes to watch the smoke become a part of the clouds. Then I force them to come back to the empty chair across from me.

Taking the book from my bag I set it on the table.

It's a shame you couldn't stick around long enough to see this. I can only hope that as I sit and read you will be reading over my shoulder. Farewell my friend and have a good rest.

Copyright 2012 J.L. Dobias

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review::After Doomsday by Poul Anderson

After DoomsdayAfter Doomsday by Poul Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Doomsday by Poul Anderson

This is a book I read so many times I wore the glue off the back and had a copy with a rubber band holding it together for a number of years; until I finally replaced it with a used copy. I've read this at least half a dozen times maybe more. If there are any books that stand the test of time it is those by Poul Anderson. Sometimes the secret is to keep the description of some devices vague while injecting good science to back up what they are supposed to do.

Carl Donnan is one of several hundreds of men aboard the starship Franklin when they return to Earth to find it has been decimated of all life. Carl doesn't consider himself a leader; but finds himself in an awkward position when Captain Strathey seems too shocked to maintain control of the ship. There are anti-ship missiles hunting them down; weapons they assume were left by whoever of the advanced races did this. The missiles are Kandamirian; so it's not much thought to placing blame. Even so with the tension abounding it is difficult for Carl to keep the alien adviser aboard safe from harm though he is a Monwaing. The Monwaing are the ones who helped bring Earth into space. With tension high, though, every other space faring race is under a cloud of suspicion. Eventually Carl will reluctantly have to take charge of all the humans.

After escaping they seek sanctuary while waiting to find out if there were other ships with more humans out in space. There are, and right from the beginning we get a dual story told from the POV of the Franklin and crew and then the Europa and crew. Europa, thankfully, is a ship with a hundred females. Though neither knows of the other, the reader knows; so the story seems mostly to be about searching for clues to who murdered Earth. Even as the case becomes stronger against the Kandamirian and the men of Franklin begin to seek revenge; there is enough doubt that Donnan continues to search, because he wants to be certain he gets revenge on the correct aliens.

The task is difficult and things are never that clear and with Poul Anderson there is often a bit of a twist at the end: this one is no exception to that rule.

If I had one caveat in this all: I would say that it was pertaining to the bit of conceit in having the Franklin crew come up with such unique ideas to alter alien technology that help them develop some new and highly effective war hardware. Yes they do think differently, so perhaps there is that. Yet there are so many races already out in space using this technology that they’ve improve, you would think that one or more might just think close enough to have developed these seeming remarkable advancements.

Still all the raw emotion and the mystery and intrigue carry this story to keep it at a satisfying level that the suspension of disbelief remains intact despite the age of the novel.

This is an excellent Classic by one of the best in his field. I recommend this for all SFF fans.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review::When You Went Away by Michael Baron

When You Went AwayWhen You Went Away by Michael Baron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When You Went Away by Michael Baron

Taking another break from my usual SF fare and my target has been sitting quietly in my kindle for two years. One more time I looked and asked myself what this one was doing here. So of course I started reading it; and kept right on reading it to the end.

I don't mind Nicholas Sparks and I've recently read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. But this book nailed some of the feeling of hopelessness and despair, midst the driving pressure to keep sane while trying to raise a child alone. Add to this that his teen aged daughter had run away, just prior to the babies arrival and his wife’s death, and you've go someone who has little time and less inclination to be out looking for companionship.

This book adds an interesting touch in that his wife’s sister visits a lot. She looks just like her sister, his wife, and that can't be helpful. After taking time off to try to put the remains of his life back together, we find Gerry having a difficult time letting go enough to find a reasonable babysitter. But he knows he must get back to work; and he's buried himself for such a long time raising his infant son Reese that he may not have allowed himself enough time to grieve.

To add to this, when Gerry returns to work, he finds himself attracted to someone who seems so perfect; her only fault is that she's not his deceased wife and it's too early for him to start dating. Neither being too stoic nor to soppy his ruminations seem quite genuine as he tries to sort through his life. The only oasis he has is his son who remains forever his reason for continuing on. His daughter’s occasional emails, to let him know she is alright, have a dual effect: especially since she uses a forwarding agent that prevents him from locating her. He tries to sort through his life to figure out why she ran off with a boy three years older than her and vowed never to return. He blames himself.

Anger over his daughters estrangement and guilt over having feelings for someone else so soon and fear of forging ahead in life without his one true love; he's a powder keg waiting to be sparked to life. When something happens to his one anchor in life, Reese, blind rage might undo the work he started when he chose to return to his life.

There are a lot of things I can relate to in this book and it's well done and quite a compelling read for someone who expects different fiction and conflict.

Excellent Dramatic Romance, for someone taking a break from the usual; and just as great for someone who loves a good Romance.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Review::The Refugee Sentinel by Harrison Hayes

The Refugee SentinelThe Refugee Sentinel by Harrison Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Refugee Sentinel by Harrison Hayes

The year is 2052 population has outgrown the earth the polar caps are melting and the people who are considered to be High-Potentials are the only people deemed of any value to the future. When world governments come up with a lottery like system to reduce the population things begin to happen in the background that are subtle nudges toward trying to affect at least one of the High-Potentials. This novel has a lot going for it; but it will be taking you out of your comfort zone, which is never a bad thing. This time though this one takes the reader into the strange world of the antagonist (hit woman); and had there been any reason for us to even remotely want to have compassion for that character it might have been compelling. Unfortunately in this story there is little reason to feel anything for the trained hit person and I'm confused as to why we need to see so much of their training; since that entire thread distracts the reader from the real story: I think.

This is a well written story; but one of those that likes to time travel through back-story to get us to the day of greatest interest. Li-Mei, the hit woman, has a horrible past. Taken from her parents at a young age and trained to be an instrument of death. Now she is out in the world meting out death and destruction one step ahead of the lottery. She's been trained to be a heartless killer.

Colton Parker is a loser. The estranged husband of a High-Potential, Sarah, and father to an eight year old girl named Yana; Colton is going to find himself the center of attention from two directions. Each agency focused on him wants to see him dead.

This is the year that everyone must earmark each other for death. They can't earmark High-Potentials, so Sarah is safe; but some faceless person presumably working for a government wants to disrupt Sarah's life and earmarks her daughter Yana. The law says that someone might volunteer to take the death sentence from Yana and Sarah is hoping her estranged husband can be shamed into doing that.

For the mysterious evil plan to succeed the unknown agency must make sure that Colton Parker does not live long enough to save his daughter.

There is a reason behind his whole plan; and the entire concept of the lottery to reduce the population and having it go awry is enough to keep the reader in the story. The description of what Li-Mei goes through for her training is a bit disturbing and for me added little to the story. Perhaps if she could have been portrayed as some sort of hero, having to make a sacrifice at the end, it may have justified a need to show her back-story. As it is accomplishing her mission never really took much more from her than to be of cold-blooded murderous intent. Since the trail of bodies she was leaving showed that well enough, I didn't feel I needed to know much more than that she was a contract killer. Perhaps for me it didn't delve enough into her emotionally. I have enjoyed books such a those written by Trevanian where the protagonist might be a hit man for hire who has a set value system that's being challenged by the more egregious elements of the business and must decide how much they need to sacrifice and how far they will be pushed before they push back. I didn't see that here.

Perhaps, as often is the case, that's just me. There might be a lot of people who love to understand what made the cold-blooded killer the way they are. I felt it distracted from the purpose of this story; if the story was to be mostly about Colton Parker's willingness and capability of making a sacrifice. That back-story is well told and demonstrates the challenge behind that decision.

This is a Mystery Suspense Thriller Dystopia that should hold the interest of Thriller fans and maybe even those who like to dwell in the mind of the cold-blooded person who dogs the multi-flawed protagonist.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bad Book Covers: Gypsies: Self-Publishing: A modern fable

Bad Book Covers: Gypsies: Self-Publishing: A modern fable
Bad covers gypsiesSelf-Publishing modern fable

It was just a book. It had, no flashy cover; no jacket at all and was somewhere between hard and soft bound. The one thing it had going for it was it had the sweet smell of leather, though I wasn't all that certain what animal hide was stretched over it. And the cover was not black; maybe grey, with dark lettering that was almost discernible. It was a bit worn. I had no idea why I kept it; but it was one of those small books, like the New Testament ones, some of those churches handed out. I'd pulled it out again, never really tempted to open it.

Once again I'd let my eyes focus and then go bleary; if I did this enough I could just read the lettering; the evening dusk wasn't helping. It said, 'Don't Mind Me'. And just below 'Anon', well it looked more like Anun: in it's worn condition. I'd never thought it was really A nun. I'd stifled the laugh and ended up chortling. I ran my finger along the binding and then in the channel between covers to feel the paper. The book was small and the pages looked a bit like onion paper, so it could still have the reality of a lengthy tome.

With it in my palm I'd slipped my thumb away from one of the covers and the softness had made the thing buckle just a bit and enough to flip the pages. It had opened to the title page which read, 'Don't Mind Me: I'm just your life'. It made me laugh, out loud.

I'd gotten the book from a gypsy palm reader at the traveling show; after she'd tried to read my lifeline on my palm and had gone to sleep. I should have known something was up, but I was waiting for her to say something; and when the big fellow from outside barged in, it had startled her awake: but the damage was done. Apparently something was way off, if my lifeline could put her to sleep; but no one was talking, they just wanted me to travel as far from their show as I could get.

It was while I ducked back through the beads and lace to relieve the line of customers that the gypsy pawned the book off to me. "Here kid you need this." I asked her what it was and she said, "A blessing and a curse." I told her she could keep her blessing and she shook her head. "You need the curse." That was the first time I'd looked at the book and I'd squinted the title into existence, before I'd stuffed it in my pocket.

What was that old saying about curses and making life interesting?

Well, if my lifeline had made her fall to sleep, I guess I could use some interesting in there. As I walked away with the large man stalking behind, I guessed he was there to make certain I followed their advice, I'd kept pulling the book out of my pocket: maybe to smell the leather.

Thoughts about my life; and the truth behind it all being quite boring, had given me pause as I reflected on the book and mused over the thought that I need a new author. I flipped more pages, each consecutive one was blank. I looked up to scan the outline of tents under a fog of colorful glowing lights and tried to ignore the presence of my watchdog.

I smiled: folded and stuffed the book back in my pocket: looked as though I'd get to write my own story: now.

J.L. Dobias - May 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review::Atlantida by Pierre Benoît

AtlantidaAtlantida by Pierre Benoît

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atlantida by Pierre Benoît

Even though this is a bit average in a classic; I enjoyed reading it.

It reminded me of those old Tarzan movies.

What it is though; is more of an example of the old Trope about the beautiful, seductive, feminine character whom the protagonists all fall in love with (sometimes inexplicably).

It seems there was some argument that Pierre plagiarized this from H.R. Haggard's SHE.

Though it does use a similar template of lost world and has Africa as a setting and the lovely irresistible woman as the centerpiece; the similarities end there.

Where She's Alesha, the centerpiece of H.R. Haggards story, is an almost tragic woman trapped in her own tragic love story; the centerpiece of Alantida, Antinea, is more of a sinister siren that would be almost a complete opposite to Alesha.

Alantida seems to lack the examination of morals and ethics that She has.

It's still an interesting read that once again gives the reader an examination of the views of woman and the affect on literature. But as I mentioned, it reads, to me, more like some of the movies I've seen from that time where the male characters are paralyzed under the influence of a hideously though beautiful and seductive evil.

I recommend this to anyone who has read SHE for the contrast and to those who have read this I'd recommend SHE for something with just a bit more substance.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yes Virginia: Pure Science Fiction Can Entertain

Yes Virginia: Pure Science Fiction Can Entertain
Rock paper kindle

I recently read a rant about how Science Fiction shouldn't have or need the Gee Wiz science that pervade the modern era of such writing. The author bemoaned that it appeared today's readers prefer the Wiz Bang to real science. They stated: those who write Science Fiction with real science are writing to an elite audience of readers. I have doubts about this.

It was a comment meant to make me think. It did just that. I look into what is being proposed and tried to match that with what I look for myself and I saw some patterns; but not the ones being touted. It seems more a matter of one being more entertaining than the other and there is no good reason that they both shouldn't entertain the reader.

We as authors can take all of the stuff of science today and fill the stories with only that, which fulfills the notion of writing what we know. That would truly be Science and Fiction or maybe even Fact - depending on whether we depict fictional characters or real people and historically recognizable stories. Science - recognizable today (with physics as we understand it today) - turned to Fiction with the what if- that is common to Science Fiction - adding fictional and believable characters into the what if of speculation.

This reminds me of the old discussion about Sci-Fi not being Science Fiction and perhaps the above would be one of the delineating elements. In the article I read this was one distinction the writer was trying to make, though he called Sci-Fi Skiffy, because of a bad connotation put upon Skiffy as they call it. I actually hate that word Skiffy; so I’ll use Sci-Fi for the remainder of this article.

The issue I take is that for a reader it’s difficult to find and for the writer to write an as if without extrapolating the Science to some itchy limit, which runs the author head on into a bucket load of Sci-Fi. I'm not saying that that is bad or even wrong because some of the things Jules Verne wrote about seemed pretty fantastic at the time he wrote them, yet today there are parallels to the technology he imagined and what we have. What is interesting with an old classic such as that is that Jules Verne put some well defined characters into the story with all that fantastical science.

I look at what I like to read in both Science Fiction and Fantasy and try to discern what works and what doesn't: for me. I look at what is strict science and what looks like Gee Wiz or Wiz Bang; and I rediscover something that rises above the discussion about science and physics that we know.

That would be simple good story telling.

When objecting to all the special effects and strange (over- extrapolated) notions that appear to go too far (which all may ring true), is the focus so narrow that the narrative that surrounds it escapes us in our frustration? What I mean by that is that we sometimes labor under the misconception that the fantastic what if and derivative science we extrapolate from present understanding is the only element of the story that is important enough to define its quality, while overlooking skill in narrative and the well crafted stories with strong character development. The error lies in the belief that the science is the story and it doesn't matter how well we write or who we put into the story as long as the science is stunningly accurate and sounds plausible. So when people buy the story with inexplicable science, some camps are baffled that these readers can rave about the whole thing. We dismiss the idea that a well written story with strong believable characters the reader can relate to might be enough for many readers.

This is not to say we can't have both, but it also doesn't say that the stories with Simon Pure science fiction always naturally contains the elements of good fiction writing.

What I like in my fiction is stories driven about characters.(I look at the cover-read the blurb in back-if possible I read the first chapter or ten pages- then I decide if I’ll like it.) For me: if there are no stunning characters then the science must fill that void with science that becomes the missing element of character. Then we might have something like Anne McCaffrey's Ship Who Sang or perhaps Clark's Hal from 2001 Space Odyssey. And we are still very far away from those types of Artificial Intelligence that they could both be considered extrapolations that stretch the readers suspension of disbelief too far.

Any author who has mastered the ability to place a believable, likable character into whatever situation will get my full attention every time. For me good solid science becomes added value. The science becomes less necessary for me to enjoy and relate to the characters. Too often I've found novels that are mired in the science while they are peopled with one dimensional characters who could be interchanged with anyone and not change the story.

This underlines the most difficult problem encountered by new authors when they get caught up in the notion that they have the greatest new idea for a plot and they try to run with that, keeping it secret so that no one else will steal the idea, and then end up wondering how their idea can't catch on when they finish the piece. They don't recognize that their 'story' is not that great science woven into some fantastic notion that may in many cases turn out to be some combination of old tried and true plots such as blending Frankenstein with Sherlock Holmes and mixing them with Victorian fashion in a novel driven by the wonders of Steampunk with a mix of vampires and werewolves.Well that might be pure fantasy. But the point is that the reader has to see the human element in all of this and understand what drives the main character's story as it intersects with the myriad of ideas sprouting out of the authors mind.

For me plot's and themes and gadgets and fantastic scenes don't drive the story. The plots and themes keep it under control and help shape the story. The lands and technology are a backdrop to help keep the characters from becoming talking heads; but they still are nothing more than the props. Though I will grant that sometimes they are well crafted props.

Characters are what drive the type of fiction that I like. Believable people the reader can relate to and become sympathetic with. Their struggle or conflict and all the pitfalls and obstacles put in their path and how they deal with all of that while growing or maturing right there on the page. How they deal with and react to the science. This often rubs shoulders with what some define as the soft science fiction; the stories dealing with social, political or psychological sciences. It is when the Simon Purist try to avoid those three that they run afoul; because that distancing caused by the avoidance often rips at the heart of the story that I'm looking for.

Both the Pure and the Sci-Fi with Wiz Bang have to be balanced with good writing that engages the reader and if the author becomes enamored with the science or the special effects to the detriment of good character development then the story is lost. When the reader puts down one to pick up the other it is not a deficiency in the reader it is rather a disconnect of the story from the reader. They may not be abandoning the Wiz Bang in favor of real science or vice versa; but they are abandoning poor writing for something that is well crafted that grabs their attention and keeps them riveted to their seat while pages flow by. And it just might happen that those well crafted characters are surrounded by gardens of Wiz Bang.

There is no doubt that Pure Science can enhance a story as do a new and fresh plot or scene. But these cannot replace a well crafted story; they are the icing on the cake. They are the gift wrap under which awaits the surprise that is the author's skill at his craft of telling the story.

J.L. Dobias

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review::She by H. Rider Haggard

SheShe by H. Rider Haggard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

She By Henry Rider Haggard.

I suppose, were I a scholar of those languages, the formatting might be a problem.

This is a great novel and a tremendous classic; but if I understood even a shred of Egyptian; Greek; or Latin, I might be as incensed as some others about the butchery of those parts of the book.(And once again we are looking at the e-book edition so one has to keep that in mind. As usual I would advise looking for a printed edition.)

As it is I thoroughly enjoyed the story and hope that there are not any plot points buried in the hashed up gobble-de-gook of old language. The standard form of prose from that era sometimes is enough struggle without having to consider the extra special effects.

I read She, in part, as a result of having had read Atlantida by Pierre Benoit; which someone had claimed was a major rip from She.

I find that argument to be quite thin upon examining both. To begin: I would like to say that Atlantida doesn't come anywhere close to being the intense classic that She is and such a claim might denigrate the work of Henry Ride Haggard. Atlantida differs considerably, so much so that such claims deserve only a shrug.

She, Ayesha, is liken to old Tropes in history and mythology and literature: amongst such greats as Aphrodite; Helen of Troy; Cleopatra; and Nefertiti-She finds her place. Women known for great beauty and seductive nature whom men will throw down kingdoms and fortunes to their very deaths, to stand beside. They have that certain something that draw men like moths to flame and probably today these types do not do so much in favor of helping the image of women. Yet it remains that these images are an excellent snapshot into the time from which they are drawn.

It would seem many key elements or threads that find their place in H.R.Haggard's She, later became the template for further lost world sub-genre and some of those elements end up in the dying earth or dying planet's genre of such greats as Edgar Rice Burroughs. So it might come as no surprise that Pierre Benoit may have borrowed elements when he wrote his Atlantida. It may even be argued that H.R. Haggard borrowed heavily from similar and more ancient tropes.

One point of interesting about She, is that there are mountains of exposition from one central character, Ayesha, that not only tell the backstory of her long life, but give insight into her philosophy and ideals about religion. Her arguments twist and sway the narrator who is also enthralled with her beauty and her very presence: often loosing a portion of his ability to argue rationally.

The narrator, Holly, is not a handsome man. He in fact is liken to a Baboon. But the orphan whom he has raised from childhood, Leo, perhaps has a handsomeness that could almost rival the beauty of She.

Of course this wouldn't be a story without the back-story of the family line of Leo. A back-story that may fatefully link Leo to Ayesha.

The story is written in that favored high and almost florid manner of prose of it's time; and might weigh heavy on the readers of this age, but I think it still stands well through time with a multilevel examination of several moral and ethical dilemma. Though it often seems that the narrator goes purple, the writing is strong and the story does not suffer.

Great Classic SFF that helps forge the way for further such adventure novels.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review::Vortex Travelers:Sovereigns and Unwed Sailors by J.L. Holtz

Vortex Travelers: Sovereigns and Unwed SailorsVortex Travelers: Sovereigns and Unwed Sailors by J.L. Holtz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Vortex Travelers: Sovereigns and Unwed Sailors by J.L. Holtz

This is definitely one of those novels that will fall in the love/hate category. I can see a quick division delineating those who forge on to finish the novel and those who fall quickly away from it. The stars could easily be well balance on this one and to that end I chose to place my two cents in the center as the fulcrum to the see-saw of reviews to follow. There are many things I love about this: one being the whole concept behind the plot; another is the sassy main character; and then there is the very fact I had to work to come to love it, which included having to finish it. There are some drawbacks and those tend to be the niggling bits that stand in the way toward possibly having someone throw the whole book down.(Which in this case is self defeating because it damages the kindle.)

The author is up front,
In her early explanations,
That her novel is written with a certain artistic flare: which makes it like a graphic novel; or a movie; or a piece of music. And it might well be that it often looks poetic, though there are certain elements rather lacking in the whole. Though if you look at what I did with this paragraph, you might have a small window into what to expect from what's inside this novel.

Add to that the interesting fact there are somewhere beyond six hundred colons used within and they outnumber the semi-colons but are dwarfed by the hyphens and dashes that are spread throughout. So with that in mind I think that it becomes clear, at least to me, why there might be some people putting this down after a sampling of pages proves that this condition is going to exist throughout. I wouldn't be surprised if some might suggest that this work needed a colon dash hyphen-ectomy.

But if you can get past that and the numerous grammatical problems, some of which one could wonder if they were errors or deliberate, then once settling down to where you know what to expect you have a better chance for enjoying the whole. The next hurdle for me was to sort out what was happening because of the next style choice, which seemed to me to be stream of consciousness writing. And this is not just from one character but primarily from two characters.

The story is part stream and part standard first person narration and the stream of consciousness is mostly present tense though there were some itchy moments in that that felt otherwise; and at first I had thought that the whole was going to be stream with present tense and standard first person narration in past tense; yet the whole thing started crossing boundaries (sometimes with good reason; other times not so much). Still as a whole this assessment might only be from out of my own perception; and I'd suggest when you read it you make your own judgment while possibly being ready for it; and then try to tough it out because the whole piece makes for an interesting literary attempt that poses as Science Fiction.

I do think that, with the right amount of editing, this could become good literary fiction. The problem with that might be that it would drive some editors mad until they began to find the pattern in the prose. For me though, this caused my reading comprehension to become very difficult and I was forced to slow my pace which always made the perceived errors stick out a bit more. But I forged on through and found that once I ignored the majority of the punctuation and the few other oddities I was able to focus on the story itself and though the science mixed with myth within the streams of conscious flowing off the page was often daunting: it often add; more than detracted from the story.

And though the story seems to be one of a teen named Lulu Wu and her struggle to focus while strange things start occurring around her and then moves into a potential for a love story with time travel and dimensional shifting. The real plot seems to be one more of the Universe trying to figure itself out. A universe formed from a big bang, which occurred when a godlike being was killed. And now the present universe faces destruction by a similar means which won't wait for this universe to find itself.

My stars on this one are meaningless-because I really loved most of the novel. But I think that the reader should be warned that it's not the usual novel and anyone wanting to read it should read the sample before purchasing it. I did that and still picked it up and there were moments I felt like putting the whole thing down. In the final analysis I'm glad I didn't.

And though some of the errors I found might be a part of the artsy-ness of the whole, I think there are a justified number of problems evident that this could use at least one good edit to pull it up and into the class of literary fiction where it belongs. There’s a lot of promise here in the future of this author.

I recommend this to all SFF fans (with caveats) and anyone who likes to delve in the literary end of the genre. A challenging read.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Navel Oranges, Granny Smith and other Genre Beasts

Navel Oranges, Granny Smith and other Genre Beasts

I recently was in a conversation about genre because a book, I had reviewed, was criticized for having claimed to be hard science fiction: although it clearly wasn't. That latter is not my statement although I would agree that there are elements that would cause me to think it leans away from most people's view of what hard science fiction is.

The problem came when someone tried to compare the ease of identifying hard science fiction with how someone might identify a sonnet, which struck me as a somewhat inaccurate comparison as it seemed to be comparing apples to oranges. The reason I say this is that a sonnet might better be compared to perhaps determining if something is a novel or novella or short story; because it's a matter of specifics that must occur to be named such, with some small wiggle room for style as perhaps regarding the scheme of the rhyme in a sonnet, of which it is interesting to note when translating from Italian to English becomes an effort in futility to retain the rhyme scheme.

Whereas: Genre are a bit slipperier than all of that in that there really is yet no industry standard. This means that even within the industry there are differences of opinion as to what constitutes a specific genre and even all the way to identifying the elements of style and content. I would guess that the only real need for specific guidelines beyond this would come to those organizations giving out prestigious awards to authors: they certainly should define the scope as well as possible: to make the judge's job easier. The problem comes when those in contact with such organizations try to turn back upon the system and impose those ideals into a system that has not yet shown a desire to standardized itself.

The lack of standardization means that the publishers definitions might not be the same as the book sellers or librarians. And that from country to country there may be some wide differences. This is likely the source of the fuel to the fire of controversy over what should be hard science fiction. Going into a bookstore I would usually find all of science fiction under the heading of science fiction and sometimes included under the heading of science fiction fantasy which mean that all the sub-genre are mixed willy nilly and the reader has to sort through to discern which is what.

In the discussion mentioned above one complaint was that a self publisher should regulate themselves to be able to discern that they are not hard science fiction thus not proclaiming such and yet in the same breath this person suggested this responsibility to discern might easily be overlooked or not apply to a traditional publisher, which was so many ways wrong and backwards.

The next suggestion I was given was that Hard science fiction would be fiction that limits itself to the law of physics. To this I would have to have added :as we know it, if I were to agree. I don't agree because that is too narrow and again that is why we have the controversy. One problem even with physics is such things as the controversy of quantum entanglement as regards to the possibility of violating the speed of light limitations. The suggestion here is that we lack some understanding of physics to fully explain some observable phenomenon- where do we put such things in our view of hard science fiction, if we dare extrapolate?

If what we have today were actually the sum of all knowledge what physics has to offer I would guess that we'd live in a much different world.

But hard science fiction is not just physics its technology and economy and politics which in some way seems to fly in the face of reason because of the want to put those three into something called soft science fiction.

We have made it to the moon, a fact: unless you subscribe to a fringe element. We haven't gone back recently because of economic factors regarding the cost of current technology to get us there and the political and economic barriers of obtaining the funds: problems which are now being remedied by private concerns finally taking a step into the arena. So, even if a person were to take only what we have now and were to write about a universe where we were in constant motion between here and the moon there would have to be plausible explanations of all the factors to get us there or it would likely fail the test of some definitions of hard science fiction.

Let's consider the work of Arthur C. Clarke whom I always thought of as a hard science fiction writer if any would be. Yet when we look closely at 2001 Space Odyssey we see elements of the monolith and the race that made them and the ending of the book and we see some departure from what many claim hard science fiction must be. Not withstanding the disappointment; that we have a far reach yet to obtain the level of intelligence in AI's that HAL possessed.

Even other favorites such as Issac Asimov and his Foundation series do not fully qualify to some high standards of hard science fiction and it grieves me so.

I recently read a novel that might have taken a lot of its science elements and acronyms right from such accounts as Apollo 13's fateful voyage. The author added some inexplicable parallel universe device creating a novel to which we could always say is of a new genre to avoid the controversy of hard science fiction: since all we do need is a few more sub-genre to place on the steaming heap.

The bottom line seems to be that genre are meant as a means of creating a listing to assist the readers in locating the type of books that they enjoy. Unless or until they standardize, the practice will at best have limited success, but it should serve the purpose it was intended for , which is to get the book placed before the most likely readers of that type of book, or you would expect the industry leaders would have already moved to standardize.

If a writer intends to win an award, though, he may want to begin to consider obsessing about reaching those somewhat elusive standards for hard science fiction. This will likely lead to a lot of sweating of bullets and probably hinder the creative process and I would wish them a lot of luck.

Hard Science Fiction is at best a slippery beast that often gets relegated below Science Fiction which usually contains all of the myriad SF sub-genre if the venue allows. Sometimes I have found SF under Speculative Fiction and sometimes it has its own slot. Sometimes it is mixed not just with fantasy but paranormal, horror, and even suspense thrillers. It all depends on the shelf space and rightly so since the retail usage of genre is meant to exist as a marketing tool.

Perhaps on the day that I discover all those navel oranges in with my Granny Smiths and count them all as one in the same, I will say ah ha and I will have learned what hard science fiction really is.

J.L. Dobias

As a matter of interest I've included these links on the subject. This is not an endorsement, agreement, or refutation: Just a random selection of sources.

Genre Fiction Rules
Genre categories agent query
Genre categories
Genre fiction categories WD
Library of Congress Genre Term List
Genre Category List
Dummies guide to genre lists
Big fat fiction genre lists
Hard vs Soft SF
Hard vs Soft SF@
Hard sf on wiki
Genre fiction on wiki
Genre fiction vs literature

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review::Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss

A Columbus of Space (Annotated)A Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss

This is an interesting piece that seems to have been written before Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adebert Kline wrote their famous Venus series. This is a trip to Venus on a craft that can travel a tremendous speed and is powered by something that sounds possibly nuclear. Another interesting thing, since this is written after H. Rider Haggard's She, is that the main female character is described as having a presence that reminds me of Ayesha from She. And though she is not quite as dangerous as Ayesha, Edmunds fixation on Ala and the wonders of Venus might lead the expedition into danger.

Edmund has come up with a process that taps what he calls inter-atomic energy and he applies it to a special car shaped like a boiler, that he has created to take him into space. In a fit of anger at their remarks about his work he takes his friends with him without their consent. It takes about two weeks to get to Venus and there's some neat calculations behind it all though the ship itself has some potential design flaws.

Because of the peculiar rotational aspects of Venus Edmund chooses to land on the darker side where he figures there should be no one living, since it would be too cold. But they find a race of somewhat intelligent ape like hominids whom Edmund is able to communicate with through Telepathy. Because of dense atmosphere speech on the planet is amplified and though the beings do speak, they only do so on rare occasions. Learning about these creatures or people, creates some tension; but the real adventure comes when they traverse to the warmer sunny side of Venus.

On the warmer side there are more human-like hominids who also communicate through telepathy much the same as the apelike beings, though Edmund theorizes these people have tapped some other aspects of the difference in atmospheric pressure and possibly have a strange sensitivity to color and sound that is pretty interesting. Eventually he creates a device that helps them hear as the Venusian's do and they explore the wonderful strange way the Venusian's commune with nature. Here they meet the friendly, intelligent and beautiful Ala; and Ingra, Ala's jealous and dangerous fiance.

Edmund knows that they are in constant danger and they should leave soon, but he puts it off both because of his desire to explore Venus and that he enjoys teaching Ala; who seems to have an insatiable curiosity.

But there is some other portending catastrophe ahead that he ignores.

If I have any qualms about the story it's that of the other characters traveling with Edmund, only Jack and the narrator, Peter, seem to really get involved while Henry seems to mostly be going along for the ride, though every so often he votes they should go home or at least try doing some less dangerous things.

As it turns out this is another Dying World novel and this fact could get our heroes killed. But beyond that there are plenty of other dangers from the inhabitants and our heroes own miss-understanding of customs.

This is once again an interesting Classic in SFF and though the author has credentials that would support his knowledge of the science, there are still some things that might have been questionable back when he wrote this and certainly have a rough time surviving even the most rigorous of suspension of disbelief. Still for those who like to examine the roots of the craft of writing SFF, this is one more steppingstone to add to the genre.

Though I didn't quite get as much enjoyment from this as I have from Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline. there's still enough excitement to get me straight through to the end; and now I wonder if those other authors read any of Garrett Putman Serviss's work before they ventured onto Venus.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review::The Outlaws of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline

The Outlaws of MarsThe Outlaws of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I could put Kline in a bottle.

The Outlaws of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline

Once more this is a book I read way back in my teens; and about the time that I was reading Edgar Rice Burroughs. An interesting story about these is that after Kline wrote his Venus stories, Edgar thought they were imitations of his Mars series and then Edgar wrote his own Venus series and then in retaliation Kline wrote two Mars stories. I'm not sure about that because the timeline of publication looks like Kline wrote his Mars books before Edgar wrote his Venus books. But it still makes for some lively discussion.

Where Burroughs wrote his early mars series in first person Kline chose to use a third person narrator to tell his stories. The stories back then are around 50K to 70K words so they are not long reads. The science once more is a bit dicey and even back when I read it the first time it required a bit of suspension if disbelief. And once again there is this striking love at first sight thing going. But the novel is relatively short and there just isn't the time for those long protracted slow brewing love stories. And the love is integral to these stories. This book is the second of the authors Mars series.

Jerry Morgan is at a crossroad in his life and is out to visit his uncle, Richard Morgan. Back then there were no cell phones and even landlines could be rare so Jerry expects that his visit will be a surprise. What he's not planning on is that he's the one that will be surprised. It doesn't appear that his uncle lives in the house he arrives at. When his uncle finally does arrive it seems as though he doesn't need cell phones because he might be telepathic. This is not too surprising when we later find that the ship that will take Jerry to Mars is powered be telekinetic power. Not only that but somehow it will take Jerry to a Mars of the past.

Jerry doesn't take much convincing, perhaps uncle Richard is taking advantage of his vulnerable condition, and within a short time they are preparing to send Jerry on an expedition to a far away place and time. It's all quite well planed out and the voyage doesn't seem to take much time, but there's a wrinkle when Jerry arrives and the expected person who will meet him is not there.

Jerry manages to stumble into a garden. Gardens are grown on rooftops of palace buildings. He meets the pretty young Martian woman and saves her from the jaws of a vicious beast. When he's taken prisoner for having murdered the Princess Junia's pet that begins the series of blunders he'll manage before his appointed tutor can teach him the language and customs. He takes well to the language, but customs are going to take some getting used to.

When someone tries to poison Jerry, he begins to believe it is Junia's cousin Thoor Novil who has displayed a dislike of him. Thoor's sister Nisha has a different yet still unhealthy interest in Jerry, who by now has fallen deeply in love with Junia and can’t be tempted. And when it is believed that Junia's hot headed brother has been murdered, Jerry becomes a prime suspect. Though Jerry knows who the real killer is he also knows that the knowledge could cause war between the Martians and chooses to keep it to himself. To save himself and keep the secret, he has to go on the run, where he will be taken by the outlaws of Mars and begin the rough road to self preservation and redemption in order to win the heart of Junia, who now believes Jerry killed her brother.

And once again the main plot seems to be that the hero, Jerry, will do anything to win the heart of the woman he's fallen in love with. And though the story could almost be called the Lawrence of Arabia of Mars; this element of a romance between people of diverse cultures driving the story changes the character inner motives enough to make that analogy very thin to nonexistent.

Though I admit I have not revisited this novel as much as all the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars novels there are some elements of the story that have stuck with me enough that I always have fond memories of the story and when I do reread it I find it just as enjoyable as it was back in the Sixties.

While John Carter of Mars seems often to be a larger than life character, Jerry Morgan seems easier to identify with though if we broke them down further we'd probably see that the two are very much the same based on the final analysis about their motives within the stories.

This is one more of the great Classic SFF with that small window through which we can examine some of the strange cultural notions that were prevalent in the early nineteen hundreds into the first quarter of that century.

Though this time I read this in e-book form I once again recommend those sensitive to grammar and spelling problems should stick to the older hard copies. The e-books seem to be derived from an ocr version that has flaws and any latter attempts to clean erroneous scan problems were ineffective.

Recommended for those SFF fans interested in getting a glimpse of where some of it all started.

J.L. Dobias

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Review::Shockball by S.L. Viehl

Shockball (Stardoc, #4)Shockball by S.L. Viehl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shockball(A Stardoc Novel)by S.L. Viehl

Shockball is the forth in the series and has the most reveals for the ongoing threads. There still seem to be some loose threads and I haven't gotten far enough through the series to say yes or no to the rest being solved. This novel deals with Cherijo's dysfunctional family and probably the reason she has such a strange way of handling her relationships.

In this one; while trying to stay away from her father Duncan and Cherijo end up using the ship that was gifted to them by her father and it, of course, turns out to be a trap. But this is not before Cherijo apparently loses their baby because her body's strange chemistry rejects it. She's made a decision as regards the future of children and tries, throughout the whole book, to keep it a secret from Duncan.

Duncan and Cherijo are brought to Earth where her father tells her his insidious and somewhat creepy incestous plan. Duncan's future is being used as an inducement. But there is a secret underworld (like way underground) movement that breaks into her father's lab and generously help Cherijo and Duncan escape. It comes at a price when they are trapped below the ground and Cherijo becomes doctor to a bunch of hybrid Shockball players; while Duncan is enlisted on the team and continues as the inducement for Cherijo to stay there as a prisoner doing what the leader of these people wants.

Cherijo finds out that there were more children in her family; though most of them were destroyed by her father, as failures. There might be one still alive.

Each of these novels has come out in a similar format. They are all approximately 150k words and almost four hundred pages. I would almost guess that the others in the series might come out the same because it's beginning to look like some sort of pattern.

This novel is a great place to read to get most of the answers to all the burning questions and even a bit more information than one might want, about some few other things. A lot gets resolved and finally leaves the main characters in a better place. Even if there are still some warm questions hanging in the wings.

SSF for fans of the Sci-Fi type and those that like Romance and perhaps a bit twisted family stories.

I'm taking a slight break from them for now; though I do have Blade Dancer, which takes place in the same universe. These are excellent books for someone with a voracious appetite for reading SFF.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review:: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I recall this book as being one of the most read books on my shelf, when I was a teen. Since then I’ve gotten it out every few years to further enjoy it. I've never really sat down to try to understand what it was that I like so much about the book ,or for that matter the whole series of books; so here I am again reading it just to see if I can uncover its secret and ultimately to enjoy it once more.

I have to say that reading Edgar Rice Burroughs is simply something I do for the pleasure of the read. The writing is simple and engaging and the main characters are always the chivalrous gentlemen and though there are some elements of the female characters that display strength; they generally are treated as secondary characters that must be protected by the main character.

These novels are written in that style of writing from way back when there had to be some new peril waiting for the hero: just around the corner. And truthfully that hasn't changed much. Told from an engaging first person point of view A Princess of Mars tells the story of a Virginian gentleman who, after serving in wartime, has tried to make his fortune looking for gold. This story takes place back in the old west in a time when there are still savages about; and when some of those overtake his partner, he comes too late to the rescue but has to do the honorable thing and retrieve his friends body and this leads to his discovery of a cave that contains some mystery.

It's this mystery that transfers him from Earth to Mars where there are fighting men, men of honor, mad men and all types of beasts but most of all there is the one woman in the universe that John Carter might fall in love with; almost at first sight.

The story starts with a prologue that might not work well in today’s market,; though I only say that because you don't see them like this these days. It does serve its purpose even if it starts a bit slow; in that it builds up a sense of mystery about this man John or Jack Carter. He’s a solitary brooding sort. A man: who, in some time past, was known to enjoy the playful company of children and had a playful spirit of his own.

And so one has to wonder at the story of what has changed him so.

The meat of the story is an engaging tale that John tells of his adventures in prospecting that led to his greatest adventure of all and to a place that would forever be stamped upon his heart as his home. John is constantly trying to paint himself as a normal man; yet throughout even the episode of the capture and death of his partner in mining, the reader gets the building impression of a man who doesn't turn from danger when there are other obligations. Regardless of his own admission to usually have the common sense to avoid danger when there is nothing at stake; we always see him as a man of action and honor. These are two things that he will need for his future.

In a way the world of Mars or Barsoom was made for a man like him. He arrives amongst the Tharks and though he is clearly not a red man of mars he otherwise looks like them and the Tharks take him prisoner. In the odd culture they have, though he's a prisoner, his ability to act is not so limited and this will be to his benefit later when the red Barsoomian Princess Dejah Thoris is taken prisoner and he comes to her defense without thought about consequences. But all of this is part of the world building as we will see since John must move up in rank while a prisoner of the Tharks, so that he may earn the respect of Sola, his keeper, and the cheiftain Tars Tarkas, one of the Tharks who captured him. Ultimately these twoTharks are destined to be his friends.

One qualm I might have with the story is the love at first sight between John and Dejah. Well maybe when I was a teen I might have accepted this as a given. But it moves the story along because the primary goal for John is to keep his beloved safe from all the peril around them. The love story does not go without several hitches, often caused by a lack of understanding of customs among the Martian peoples. But even as he blunders through those, John continues to make friends of even some who might be enemies of his friends and this is important to the story because he will use all of this to bring those close to him together in a diplomatic way that might never have occurred without his presence.

At every turn there is more peril and more to push a distance between him and the one he loves while sending him on further adventures that will ultimately lead to his final settlement of everything. Throughout all of this, despite what he does achieve, he makes it clear that his goal has been somewhat selfish, in that it is all designed to break down all barriers that might keep him and Dejah Thoris apart.

Yet in a certain form of creative irony the story moves forward best when Edgar Rice Burroughs thinks of the worst perils and stumbling blocks to place in Johns way, as he goes through the story, and though there are the quiet periods those are always punctuated by bursts of the fervent activity of fighting an uphill battle just to be together. And that is what happens for the first several novels in this series. One comes to feel great empathy for these two lovers and their plight to have a life together.

Overall this still is mostly a novel I read for the entertainment and that is helpful since the science has never been quite the king from the very start. Though there are some interesting concepts; such as the anti-gravity that keep the massive ships floating in air and the notion of a dying Mars whose atmosphere is being produced by a chemical and mechanical apparatus that is subject easily to any form of vandalism or catastrophe, leaving all the races to a slow death through hypoxia.

A Dystopic Dying Earth type of tale that is lightly veiled in a Science Fiction Fantasy adventure that is contemporary to many other such marvelous tales.

A recommended reading both for the pleasure and some nostalgic value with a slight window once again into the thoughts and attitudes of the early 1900s.

Another Classic SFF from one of my all time favorites.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review::Darkness and Dawn by George Allan England

Darkness and DawnDarkness and Dawn by George Allan England

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Darkness and Dawn by George Allan England(1877 – 1937)

Darkness and Dawn is a compellation of three novella by G. A. England, written from 1912 to 1914 and tells the story of two survivors of a Dying Earth type event that takes place around 1920 or somewhat eight to six years in the future of their publication. It's a well written story from its time and has the disadvantage of reflecting views and beliefs of that time; but sometimes I think opinion about that tends to be colored by overactive expectation. What I mean by that is there are accusations of it being specifically racist-(which it could well be)-based sometimes on erroneous interpretation (though I too could be erroneously interpreting things myself).

The problem stems from something that might be considered a spoiler; so there's the warning, though I don't think it will spoil the plot itself: only expectations. There are a number of questions that crop up in the story that get bandied about and never really get solved: from the readers point of view.

I love the way the story starts. Beatrice Kendrick, a young woman at work, awakes to find herself within the decimated ruins of her office. The story goes on to explain how even her typewriter has had the keys dissolve to dust. And this beginning almost gets the readers hope up, in that perhaps this is going to be about a strong female character. Don't get me wrong she does often come on strong, but once Allan Stern, her boss, enters the picture it seems to become his story. The point here though is that several mysteries are presented. One is that something catastrophic has happened and everyone else is gone and a long time has passed and somehow these two not only survive the disaster, but have slept through over a thousand years without aging. After this there are more mysteries such as the Horde which are some sort of Hominid aberration. And here is the spoiler: don't expect these mysteries to be solved. They are greatly speculated about by the characters, but the final answers are not really there: unless you want to subscribe to speculation.

The Horde is what often get mislabeled as the Racist part. And in part this is from the constant speculation going on from the admittedly uninformed Allan; at first referring to them as dark and upright walking like men. Later they are referred to as Hominids that, from description, sound closer related to apes with less fur and skin that is bluish gray. The parts I noticed that did seem racist don't get mentioned as often if at all by those reviews; but they are when Allan and the narrator voice keep referring to civilized man as being white. That declaration occurs far too many times to the annoying point of trying to drive something home; though I'm baffled as to what.(Perhaps just helping us get a grasp of the thinking of people in the early nineteen hundreds.)

As to the plot of the story; that seems to hover mostly in the area of the genre of dying earth stories. For me my earliest ventures in that genre might be H.G.Wells Time Machine. And in a way the Horde seem a lot like the Morlocks. But I could go back further to Le Dernier Homme (English: The Last Man) by Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville and even The Last Man by Mary Shelley. We could jump forward to Philip Francis Nowlan and his Armageddon 2419 AD. It seems in all of these there is some catastrophe that ends most of life or at least civilization as we know it. This in a way seems a bit of a conceit in a couple of ways one of those being that we obliterate civilization and then find that it’s a man from the past who can help bring us forward again. Or that somehow the future generations are unable to survive the catastrophe and either all men die or they lose knowledge.

In this story the first novella, at the onset, I'm led to believe that all men have died and been replaced by the aberration that is the Horde; and the only hope for the future of mankind are these two inexplicable survivors. And still, there more mysteries. The Earth has rotated on its axis and there is a second object in the heavens besides the moon that is much closer to the earth and is always describe as being dark. These will be explained to some extent (As in somehow a chunk of the Earth blew into space and is now a satellite while the Earth shifted because of the catastrophe) but how they occur is never more than speculated upon by the survivors. Eventually more people are found; but they have devolved to somewhat primitive warring factions.(Well the technology has devolved.)

It falls upon our two Main Characters to bring civilization back to the Earth; though all things considered coming out of Allan's and the Narrator voice it seems that that civilization can only come out greatly flawed in ways that might be beyond Allan's comprehension. And though both Allan and Beatrice seem to be of high intelligence, they seem to stumble in and out of trouble because of overconfidence and carelessness.

The high adventure in the story is written much similar to the style of Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars and Barsoomian novels that run contemporary to these novels. And I could even put those novels in the same genre though technically they are Dying Mars (maybe Dying Planet).

Another Great SFF Classic in the Dying Earth tradition, just be mindful that many of the most intriguing questions are left up for the reader to decide which interpretation or speculation might apply: if any.

George Allan England seems to love long sentences. I'm quite fond of them also; so that's a good thing.

In the first novel he has this one:
For of the room which she remembered, which had been her last sight when (so long, so very long, ago) her eyes had closed with that sudden and unconquerable drowsiness, of that room, I say, remained only walls, ceiling, floor of rust-red steel and crumbling cement.

England, George Allan (2012-05-17). Darkness and Dawn (Kindle Locations 44-46). . Kindle Edition.

:And this does an adequate job of describing conditions

But in the next two there are these at the very beginning:

A thousand years of darkness and decay! A thousand years of blight, brutality, and atavism; of Nature overwhelming all man's work, of crumbling cities and of forgotten civilization, of stupefaction, of death! A thousand years of night!

England, George Allan (2012-05-17). Darkness and Dawn (Kindle Locations 1842-1843). . Kindle Edition

Life! Life again, and light, the sun and the fresh winds of heaven, the perfect azure of a June sky, the perfume of the passionate red blooms along the lips of the chasm, the full-throated song of hidden birds within the wood to eastward--life, beauty, love--such, the sunrise hour when Allan and the girl once more stood side by side in the outer world, delivered from the perils of the black Abyss.

England, George Allan (2012-05-17). Darkness and Dawn (Kindle Locations 4965-4968). . Kindle Edition

:Both are quite flowery, but the first (for the second novella) I found quite compelling; whereas the second (for novella three) seemed almost over the top. And he has many more of these gems.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review::People Of The Tiger (The Rational Future Series) by Wayne Edward Clarke

People Of The Tiger: USA Edition - Book One of The Rational Future TrilogyPeople Of The Tiger: USA Edition - Book One of The Rational Future Trilogy by Wayne Edward Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

People Of The Tiger (The Rational Future Series) by Wayne Edward Clarke

I wanted to revisit this work after reading three classic SFF dealing with the Ubermensch and because this book has a very similar theme within it I got to thinking about how I managed to under rate it because of what I felt could well be offensive content. It is not so much that I have changed my mind; but rather I have opened it to the notion that someone of the Ubermensh might not be easily compared to a normal 6 or 8 year old.

Yet some of what I said back then should stand as a warning.

That much said we should address some simple issues.

This book contains erotica, and I have the modified version that might contain less. It's not chock full of erotica, but the erotica seems to puddle in places rather than being strung out. It's not particularly the best erotica I've seen, but perhaps that's because it's been altered because of complaints. On the other hand it is the closest to illegal that I've ever encountered. By illegal I mean that it contains the presence of children within the context and if this were to ever be made into a film it would violate some stringent rules.

To address this issue I'll give the author this much. The premise of the story is that we are in the future where Rationalists have dominated and created a new order. I'm of the impression this new order pervades the globe. In the story we seem to be in India-primarily. These rationalist are apparently not an outgrowth of Rationalism as much as they are perhaps a mix of Pot smoking free love hippies with aboriginal tenancies. Unlike most distopia novels these people seem to be an outgrowth of the former technological society that never lost the advances but have chosen to segment peoples into various classes all of whom have access to the technology but some who eschew it more than others. Hence, the various peoples with names of animals as their tribal designation. The green people, the naturalists have all gone back to nature.

The story begins with Tika and her mother Tira. It is Tika's sixth birthday and she moves from Infant to Training Child. It seems that Infants are brought up to whatever level they might endure in fighting and hunting arts but only become Training Child when they are ready to accept responsibility. Tika is not your average child nor are most of the children of the People of the Tiger. This is never made clear and it weakens much of premise for how the author treats them. My best guess is that at this age they are equal to someone who is roughly thirteen through seventeen in our society. That does not even cover the notion that Tika is genetically above the rest. This seems to be the reason the author wants to treat these children like young adults.

If they were all genetically engineered to be more mature then this would hold well in this story. Unfortunately another premise in this book states that they eschew genetic engineering and whatever was done to Tika is, in fact, considered illegal. These two notions create a moral conflict for at least this reader when the highly explicit sexual situations are brought into the story right into the face of these children. There is a play by play description and narration by an Elder while the scene itself plays out. Though the author attempts to keep it in an almost clinical sense, its this detached sense that is part of what destroys those scenes.(Too mechanical)

The author cleverly tries to tie the erotica into the whole book by way of explaining the rape that led to the birth of Tika, which is revealed in front of the children and then perhaps, trying to diffuse the emotional impact, by giving the children a contrast to the rape through other intimacy.(I'd say true intimacy but there's a problem here.)

There is no real intimacy involved in the erotic scenes,(well I wasn't feeling it) which is detrimental to the character development and the believable nature of the love part of the free love aspect. This all contrasts also to the gruesome nature of these people who will seem so intimate and yet in a similar clinical sense will do great bodily damage to each other in their fighting arena. (These people are the master of the disconnect.)

I loved the story of Tika and where she came from(the mystery) and the en-devour of her friends to find the answer to that question. For me the story and the conflict was the notion that until we know what happened to Tika's father we don't know what will happen to Tika. Tika is the strongest character draw in this novel she is the central character.

The first part of this novel does have some distracting philosophical notions.
but enough that over millions of years all people will become a little better because a few fools were killed by their own stupidity before they could breed.

Because we hunt for a living rather than for sport, we tend to make our work easier by hunting the weak and the slow, as other predators do, leaving the swift and the mighty to improve their breed.

and we also allow the tiny chance that the weak and the slow and the stupid among us will be hunted by predators.[/QUOTE]

Clarke, Wayne Edward (2012-02-02). People Of The Tiger - Metric Pro. Edition (The Rational Future Series) (Kindle Locations 259-260). Wayne Edward Clarke Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I don't particularly agree with these but it's primary to the novel that the characters do.

It espouses the back to nature part, but it fails to truly justify the running around naked in the forest full of dangers and predators. Most distopia novels at least try to pretend we lost some civilization and just don't know better.

The book spends a lot of time developing the tier system for honors for the people and basically coming up with the reason that they have to constantly challenge each other to duels.

I had a few troubles with the whole concept of going so backwards in time that they were challenging each other for their land, which technically didn't belong to anyone anyway. There is a portion where our hero and her family displace people for their own selfish purpose and that even leads to the death of a neighbor who eventually we try to justify by painting them in a pale light while they are supposedly expected to honor them.

There's a lot of emphasis on honor and it constantly runs contrary to the need to be truthful and the need to display pride publicly. The characters run through these like they might run through water and I can only think they need a therapist.

All this is building to the lengthy overdrawn out knife and claw and hand to hand fighting that goes with their Olympic like challenges. Again it would work better if these people were genetically altered to be better because no matter how close we bring the medical staff to the fight, these people do serious damage and should be killing each other.

I enjoyed more the pursuit of Tika's past and the building of the potential for some sort of faster than light travel which will possibly help Tika in her search for the truth.

If you like Sci-Fi and Fantasy and don't mind delving into odd sociological restructuring, you might be tempted to test drive this one to decide if you want to purchase the next in the series.

Despite some of my own misgivings in regards to what I felt were shortcomings, I found enough to enjoy with this that I read it completely.

I like a challenge and I don't mind leaving my comfort zone for a minute. So this has offered me some room for thought with People of the Tiger as I try to look at the way all these elements are woven together and decide how much seemed totally necessary to the story.

A person needs to read this to make a proper judgement and this would make a hot topic for someones reading group.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Review::Odd John by Olaf Stapledon

Odd JohnOdd John by Olaf Stapledon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Odd John by Olaf Stapledon

This is my third offering in super human or Ubermensch. These three seem to point to a theme that’s a keystones to later works. The first was The Hampdenshire Wonder by J.D. Beresford and this is actually the second chronologically and the third was Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human. All three stick with me as three that I encountered in my early reading history. If I were to add more to this I'd add Mary Shelly's Frankenstein which might at least account for a trend that the other three books take.

I read all three when I was in my teens and I think that the negative outlook of Odd John and The Wonder left me at a place where I avoided rereading them. More Than Human has the benefit of some small amount of hope that the Ubermensch might survive. All three still hold the tone set by Frankenstein; in that the super human would look much like a monster to us. To this end there is always some bit of mutation to the physical appearance and some lack of morality in the sense that whatever they might use for morality is something we can't understand.

J.D. Beresford's Wonder was someone who had no peer at the end of his life and he had a lack of a sense of wonder along with his own strange morality. In Odd John we see this at the beginning but John has a longer life and a better chance at coming to terms and perhaps at staving off the sense that there is nothing left to marvel at or be in awe of.

John's physical difficulties are mostly his slow aging process. And we all say, ‘How can that be bad?’ But John is born with an intellect that goes for beyond his age and with the slow growth easily out strips his physical appearance which is doomed to always be well behind his chronological age. At an early age he takes an interest in everything; but specifically politics, and its power and wealth. His physical problems may account for his interest in medicine. And of course he studies theology, philosophy and the sciences.

He eventually saturates and become disenchanted with everything he takes an interest in. He also is becoming aware that there is nothing in modern theology, philosophy and the science that helps explain what he is. Throughout all of this his one anchor is his mother who seems to have some telepathic connection to him and displays some level of understanding of him and his plight.

His eventual conclusion that he'd have to make his own search for others like himself and in turn uncover more about why he exists lead him down a dark path that begins to show the skewed moral sense that he was forming for himself. Once again being the super human with no peer to study and to guide him, John creates his own moral standard based somewhat on the simplest survival characteristics that all humans have. This comes to the forefront while in his teens, when he takes up with a police official named Smithson. He and Smithson become friends and through his usual precocious inquisitiveness John learns much about breaking the law. His intent is to rob from the rich and fund his quest. This works well until Smithson finds him in the act and John has to make a snap decision resulting in the death of his 'friend' Smithson at Johns hand: and knife.

Because the story is told from another friends Point of View this part is told in a frame story from some future time when John finally decides to confide in the narrator as to what was going on at that time in his life. It might not have come up had that friend not thought to mention he had noticed a peculiar change in John at that time. The moral dilemma in this is that John admits that this was mostly a choice of his survival so that he could continue his plan to bring together others like himself in a community that would work for their own betterment. John had at some point given up any notion that they would be able to help present mankind whom he considered to be on the level of an animal such as a pet. This also is a common thread that runs through these types of stories.

This, when compared with the other stories of this nature, might leave the reader wondering if there were not some ingrained fear in man that, given evolution, there would eventually be a higher form of intelligence that might make present man look like a common animal. It seems ironic from there; that the fear is that the higher one would treat us like we treat our pets and then that that carried over to the notion of having a different moral sense that allows them to kill a man under the right circumstances. I had to stop and think about that; is this how we do treat or pets?

Where J.D. Beresford's wonder, Victor Stott, was doomed to be alone and in fact was plagued by another child who looked similar to him but did not have his gift; John has the power of telepathy and through it he finds others like himself and it becomes his life’s ambition to assemble them and found an island colony. Throughout he uses the narrator as his front man for inventions he creates and sells and makes both of them rich. This gives him a great power over the narrator and sometimes it sounds like John abuses him; while at the same time he values the man enough to know that he needs to let him live a somewhat normal life. This probably gives the reader a better picture of John than we have of Victor and the Gestalt of characters in More Than Human.

I think that the Ubermensch in this novel have something that is better than that of J.D. Beresford's Wonder and that is that they never lose that sense of wonder. Yet what makes this particularly dissatisfying is that once again there is no room for both normal man and the super man and a decision has to be made. It's interesting what that decision finally is.

If I have any qualms about this novel it would be the large sections of expository writing that begins to dominate as soon as John reaches that age and stage where he is giving up on mankind. I'd be inclined to believe that he was beginning to reflect the views of Olaf Stapledon; what with the long-windedness of the dissertations.

If you are interested in reading this I'd suggest finding a paper copy. My paper copy from long ago wandered off -long ago; so I used the online e-book, which I think comes from the same source as some gutenburg text that probably was scanned in and only lightly edited. There are numerous obvious problems and some not so obvious that come of that and unless you are a forgiving reader I'd suggest again, find a paper edition.

Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human comes long after this; yet he uses the same notion of telepathy and a few other evident powers shown in this book. He continues the discussion on morality and how that might differ for the super human. What he does differently in the community of the superior’s, is that he makes them dependent upon each other to form an entire gestalt being.(The lesser parts are not so superior.)

This is a great SFF Classic that still stands well when considering the time it was written and is a novel that should be of great interest to those continuing the conversation about Homo Superior and what that looks like and how they might change or endanger the course of mankind.

J.L. Dobias

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