Writing Update- August 2019

I received some excellent news a couple months ago. My Sci-fi short story, “Cephi” was purchased by The Colored Lens. This story is set in the same universe as “Feldspar,” but instead of a Mars Rover, it’s a 3D printing submersible off the west coast. The story follows Jerry, a window-washer in LA. When he finally meets one of the people he’s glimpsed through a high-rise’s window over the years, she has a request that is impossible to ignore. The dirt and rock about to be dumped into the ocean as part of a city expansion project will destroy the fragile ecosystem she and other Terraform Game submersibles have built off the coast. And she thinks he alone can save it.

You can read a preview of the story by clicking “look inside” on the Amazon page (click link below). Since mine is the first story, most of it is visible for anyone to read. If you want to see how it ends, however, you’ll have to buy it.

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If you need further convincing, this was a story I submitted to the N3F contest under the name “Nautilus” in 2017. It was a finalist, and the judge had this to say about it:

“Great story!  Exquisite pacing, excellent construction, a beautiful dramatic build-up to the climax, a strong and active climax, flawless narration, and good dialogue.”

With this story published, it marks the last of my short stories to find a home. Sadly, I think I will be taking a break from short story writing for a while. I need to finish up edits on my novel. Stay tuned for updates on this in the next few months. I will need to line up more beta-readers soon.

Overall, it was a very eventful summer. Before this most recent publication, “Icarus Drowned” was published in Final Frontier in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. The Got Scifi Group and I are currently looking for reviewers for Final Frontier. Let me know if you are interested. Review copies available in ePub, Mobi, or PDF.

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Finally, I plan to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year. To see how I did last year, click here to view my previous post. This year will prove to be more difficult than the last, I expect. Last year, I lived by myself in a small apartment, had minimal distractions, and my work was only a short commute away. Now, the opposite is true. I no longer live alone, my house is about 2000 sqft with a half-acre yard, and my commute to work is now 45 minutes. As if the constant chores, long commute, and the lovely company weren’t enough of a distraction, we now have a new dog. He is a 3 month old puppy, full of energy, and has a penchant for chewing anything made of wood.

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All that said, I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage the 1,667 words a day required to complete NaNoWriMo, but I’m eager to give it a shot. On the bright side, I have a new study area and am desperate to spend some time writing in it. It even has its own mini-bar!

That concludes my update. I hope to get back to more regular posts in the near future.

Until then, Write Well and Science Hard.

Writing Update- March 2019

It’s been a productive last few months, and I have some big news to share.

New Anthology Coming Soon.

The first piece of news is that I’ve just had a sci-fi short story accepted in a reprint anthology titled Final Frontier. The editor, C. Stuart Hardwick, reached out to me a while back to see if I had something to contribute. The anthology will be released in time for the 50 year Anniversary of Apollo 11, and Stuart requested I submit a story that “celebrated the indomitable spirit that carried mankind to the Moon.”

I did have just such a story in mind, one featuring a test pilot, a new kind of space craft, lots of danger and excitement, and lots and lots of science. I submitted “Icarus Drowned,” a short story published previously on this site.

The anthology will feature short stories and other works by award-winning authors including Mike Barretta, Marianne J. Dyson, Sean Monaghan, K. B. Rylander, Matthew S. Rotundo, Ronald D. Ferguson, Martin L. Shoemaker, Nancy Fulda, David D. Levine, Patrick Lundrigan, David Walton, C. Stuart Hardwick, and lastly, Spider Robinson, a winner of Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, and Heinlein Awards among others. If that wasn’t an impressive collection of authors already, the Forward will be written by Astronaut Stanley G. Love.

I will be sure to post another update as soon as the book is published. The expected release date is Friday, April 19th, 2019.

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Completion of my new Science Fiction book.

For my second piece of news, I’ve recently completed my latest science fiction novel! The working title is Grounded, and it rounds down to about 100k words. I’ve still got quite a lot of editing and proofing to do before I send it out to agents or publishers, but I’m very pleased with it so far. If you are interested in becoming a beta-reader, feel free to reach out to me. See the Beta-reader edition cover image and book blurb below (Note: This is a working cover just for the Beta-reader Edition. The final, published version will be much more professional, i.e. not put together in less than an hour.)

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Working title and cover for the Beta-reader edition

back cover

Working back cover and blurb for the Beta-reader edition

Blurb:

Hundreds of lives were lost to the sky during the Fracture, the result of an experiment gone wrong. In seconds, everything and everyone within a mile of the research facility became completely and irreversibly weightless.

In the aftermath, Kyle and the other survivors are given the chance to join a new space program. With New Heights, they will embark on an expedition to the sky and beyond without gravity to hold them back.

But to make it through training, Kyle must contend with a diverse and inexperienced crew, some of whom want nothing more than to see him fail.

 

I’ve planned for this to be the first book in a series, with subsequent books taking Kyle and the crew of New Heights to Earth’s upper atmosphere, the Moon, Mars, and even to float on the clouds of Jupiter and Venus. I mean, why not? If you no longer felt the pull of gravity, where would you go?

Until next time, Write Well and Science Hard.

My 2018 Reads – The year of LitRPG

2018 was by far my biggest reading year. Based off my Audible and Goodreads account, I believe I read around 90 books. That’s an average of nearly two books a week. So if the average audiobook is 10-14 hours, that means I spent about 3 hours a day listening to an audiobook, or nearly 20 percent of my waking hours.

I might have an addiction.

Here’s the breakdown of the genres:

pie chart reads

47.8% LitRPG
22.8% General Science Fiction
19.5% Military Science Fiction
4.3% Science Fiction- Comedy
3.2% General Fiction
1.1% Post-Apocalyptic
1.1% Fantasy

 

The LitRPG Genre.

Before 2018, I hadn’t read more than a handful of LitRPG books, but this year, I read over 40. Something about this genre really hooked me. If you are unfamiliar with the genre, that’s not a surprise. It’s relatively new to the publishing scene.

These books are usually a strange combination of fantasy and science fiction wherein the protagonist enters a virtual world by some means and needs to level up their character, learn skills, and improve their stats, before they ultimately face the antagonist. I’ve never been a huge gamer, which proves you don’t have to be in order to pick up this genre.

These books take character development to a whole new level. Their skills are defined and upgradable as are their physical and mental stats. Each can be improved predictably by practicing, completing quests, or by killing a few beasts (mobs). The same goes for items. Characters can know exactly how much damage a sword will do, what it’s made of, and if it has any special modifications or attributes just by picking it up and examining it. The typical loot system, wherein items or coins drop with every monster killed, also provides a sense of immediate gratification following conflict.

Of course, like any other genre, some of the books I’ve stumbled across were pretty bad or amateurish. To save you the trouble of having to sort the good from the bad, I’ve listed my top ten favorite LitRPG series, ranked from my favorite (#1) to my least favorite but still recommended (#10):

#1- The Land Series by Aleron Kong

A man is sucked into a fantasy world of pixies, sprites, dwarves, and other races. He learns that game mechanics are an actual law of the land, and so he plays it like he would any other game, often getting in over his head as he levels, gains skills, riches, and tries to build a settlement in the middle of the forest. These books are well written and fun, but the main character moves from one quest to another so quickly and often fails to complete them, it can be a bit annoying. Additionally, the main character can sometimes come across as sexist and overly macho.

#2- The Ritualist and Regicide by Dakota Krout

This series is very typical of the genre. It has a rough start, but gets better when the main character finally enters the virtual world. He picks up a very uncommon magical ability that sets him apart from the other mages, which they don’t take well. Uncovering conspiracies and overthrowing powerful people are just a prelude to a bigger quest, to save the entire human race.

#3- The Divine Dungeon Series by Dakota Krout

This is a very unique spin on the genre, told from the perspective of a living dungeon. It must evolve, create creatures, and drop loot, all in an effort to draw more adventurers in. Because if they die in him, he gets their power. You soon learn, however, that he is a unique dungeon, and forges cautious alliances with humans in order to combat greater threats.

#4- Threadbare Series by Andrew Seiple

When an animator creates a new type of golem, he is disappointed in the results. Thinking he’s just created another stupid, living toy, he gives it to a girl as a gift, who soon discovers this stuffed teddy bear, is anything but stupid. It is now sentient, and can level and grow in skill just like a human can. She helps him grown until she is taken from him. Now it’s up to a teddy bear to save her, and while he’s at it, he might as well save the rest of the realm too.

#5- Eden’s Gate Series by Edward Brody

Logging in to a game for the first time, the main character finds that he has been trapped there, along with everyone else. Death would prove fatal, so he has to increase his strength and make allies to stay alive.

#6- Life Reset by Shemer Kuznits

When the main character is transformed into a level 1 goblin by a magic scroll, he vows to raise a goblin army and take revenge. Except keeping his goblin character could prove fatal to him in real life. With the help of one of the games AIs he has to speed level as quickly as possible to avoid that fate.

#7- The Dark Herbalist Series by Michael Atamanov

Beta testing a new game for a little bit of pay, the main character is forced to become a goblin herbalist. Except he’s inherited a few attributes no other players have, and he uses them to make himself one of the top players in the game, securing wealth so that he and his sister can have a better life in the real world.

#8- Awaken Online Series by Travis Bagwell

The main character doesn’t have a great life, all things considered, and soon he finds himself kicked out of school and with loads of free time to play a new game. He soon discovers that real life has a way of catching up to him in game, especial since he’s gone and made a name for himself. Not as a hero, but as a villain.

#9- Ascend Online by Luke Chmilenko

Able to enter the virtual world for days at a time, a group of friends decides to login together and start a guild. Except the main character didn’t appear where he was supposed to. When his friends come to find him, they see he’s found the ideal place to set up their guild, so long as they can defend it from everyone else.

#10- Viridian Gate Series by James A Hunter

An asteroid is headed to Earth, and the only escape, for those who can afford it, is to download their consciousness into a virtual world. Except this virtual reality is run by those who paid to play, and their wealth gives them a huge advantage over everyone else. The main character doesn’t want to live under their rule, so he decided to revolt, but he’s got very little resources to work with.

 

The other great books I read last year.

All-in-all, the LitRPG genre was a fun diversion from my usual reads, but the genre might not be for everyone. That said, here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the other books (non-LitRPG) I read last year that I really enjoyed:

Terms of Enlistment: Frontlines, Book 1 by Marko Kloos

Lines of Departure: Frontlines, Book 2 by Marko Kloos

Angles of Attack: Frontlines, Book 3 by Marko Kloos

Chains of Command: Frontlines, Book 4 by Marko Kloos

Fields of Fire: Frontlines, Book 5 by Marko Kloos

Points of Impact: Frontlines, Book 6 by Marko Kloos

A Gift of Time by Jerry Merritt

Semiosis: A Novel by Sue Burke

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw

The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor

Saturn Run by John Sandford Ctein

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Sea of Rust: A Novel by C. Robert Cargill

The Reluctant Adventures of Fletcher Connolly on the Interstellar Railroad by Felix R. Savage

Not Alone by Craig A. Falconer

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Level Five by William Ledbetter

Influx by Daniel Suarez

The Naturalist: The Naturalist, Book 1 by Andrew Mayne

Planetside by Michael Mammay

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson

Quarter Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 1 by Nathan Lowell

Half Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 2 by Nathan Lowell

Full Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 3 by Nathan Lowell

Double Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 4 by Nathan Lowell

Captain’s Share: A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 5 by Nathan Lowell

Owner’s Share: Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 6 by Nathan Lowell

In Ashes Born: A Seeker’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 1 by Nathan Lowell

To Fire Called: A Seeker’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, Book 2 by Nathan Lowell

The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel

Rookie Privateer: Privateer Tales, Book 1 by Jamie McFarlane

You’re Going to Mars! by Rob Dircks

Where the Hell is Tesla?: A Novel by Rob Dircks

 

Please feel free to leave your own recommendations. I’ll need all I can get if I hope to read just as many books in 2019.

 

green beakerblue beakerred beaker  Happy New Year! green beakerblue beakerred beaker

Enclosed Ecosystem Writing Prompts and More: PSIF and NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, which means all around the world, writers are scouring the internet for inspiring writing prompts. Many of them will bite off more than they can chew in an attempt to turn those prompts into realistic and scientifically-plausible stories.

Well you’ve come to the right place. I have prepared a few writing prompts with a list of scientific problems you might need to consider as you write. If you lack the scientific training, never fear, expert advice on writing with authenticity is available in the new book, Putting the Science in Fiction. My own article in the book will talk you through creating realistic Enclosed Ecosystems and Life-support systems, and the following prompts will have the same theme.

Gone rogue

Prompt 1: Gone Rogue

  • An object with a powerful gravitational attraction passes through our solar system. By all calculations, the perturbation will eject Earth from the solar system, making it a rogue planet, destined to drift through the emptiness of space for the foreseeable future. How much time does humanity have to prepare before the great freeze sets in? Would your characters hunker down and try to survive, or leave the Earth behind? Either way, you would need a habitat capable of sustaining human life indefinitely.

Considerations:

  • On a frozen planet far from the sun, the atmosphere would soon freeze and fall out of the sky, and all flowing water will solidify, making solar, wind, and hydroelectric power useless. About the only source of power and heat will be from natural gases and fuels, fission or fusion, and geothermal power.
  • With the freezing temperatures and plummeting atmospheric pressure, your enclosed ecosystem will need to be insulated and shielded from the cold vacuum by thick walls or built far underground.
  • The larger the enclosed ecosystem, the less likely it is to collapse. This will require a variety of animals, plants, and microorganisms to sustain the atmosphere, provide food and nutrition, and recycle wastes.
  • On the plus side, all of Earth’s resources have been cryogenically preserved. A scavenger in a hardy enough space suit might just be able to find edible food and usable supplies, assuming they aren’t all covered by meters of oxygen and nitrogen snow or rendered useless due to thermal stresses.

Lock Down

Prompt 2: Lock Down

  • Your characters are stranded in a large fallout shelter as nuclear war rages outside. How many people can it support and for how long? What will they need to survive?

Considerations:

  • The facility will need some way to remove the radioactive fallout from the air if it is vented in from outside, or a means to recycle the carbon dioxide within the facility and replenish oxygen. Plants under grow lights can help with this.
  • Water vapor might quickly wick away into the porous concrete of the shelter. Putting up plastic sheeting and having a condenser of some kind will keep this valuable resource from being lost. Alternatively, people in radiation suits can go in search of food and water, but only sealed containers can be trusted not to have been contaminated by nuclear fallout. Read my previous post “The Science of Killing your Characters,” for some background on radiation poisoning.
  • The power source will need to be self-sustaining, but the sun might not reliably penetrate the now-pervasive clouds of ash. Wind, hydroelectric, or nuclear power may be your only viable sources or electricity. Gasoline for generators would need to be scavenged on a regular basis.
  • People forced into close quarters can do unexpected and terrible things, especially after the trauma of the apocalypse. An established leadership, laws, and consequences will help limit keep chaos at bay. Conversely, love and relationships will blossom in time, but they can bring their own complications.

Mass Balance

Prompt 3: Mass Balance

  • Rather than a costly endeavor of launching building materials into space, your characters plan to build a space station by send a single, small rocket with a few crew to intercept an asteroid. There, your character will mine the raw materials to build a much larger and sustainable space station. What type of asteroid will they need, and what can they build with its components. How will they convert it to a usable form? What is their overall goal?

Considerations:

  • To sustain a large space station, mass balance needs to be preserved, meaning your characters can’t just throw things out the airlock without a means of replacing it. Otherwise they will run out of materials quickly. Luckily, they have an asteroid to pick apart, supplying water and thus liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel, as well as all kinds of common and rare metals. Things like plastics and some specialized components must be strictly recycled.
  • The type of asteroid is important. A C-type asteroid has a relative abundance of water and carbonaceous minerals, but has a scarcity of metals. Carbonaceous minerals aren’t all bad, especially if it can be used to synthesize carbon nanotubes, graphene sheets, or used as a component of soil or fertilizer. S and M-type asteroids have more stone and metals, respectively, but less water.
  • An enterprise like this one will require a lot of power, especially if there is smelting to be done, water to convert to fuel, or high-tech computers to manage it all. For a power source, they will need something sustainable and replaceable. Solar arrays are a likely candidate, but it will provide less power the further away from the sun the space-station gets.
  • Heat can accumulate in an enclosed ecosystem, even in the cold of space, especially if there are all kinds of heat generating people and equipment around. A radiator system can help collect the heat inside the station and release it as thermal radiation out into space.
  • Air circulation and filtration will be required to filter out floating debris and contaminates, capture water vapor, and prevent stagnation in micro-gravity.
  • Lastly, some type of artificial gravity may be required to prevent the long-term health effects of micro-gravity. See fellow PSIF contributor, Jamie Krakover’s post, as well as my previous post on “The Science of Gravity.”

Putting the Science in Fiction

Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

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Putting the Science in Fiction brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:

  • Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
  • Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
  • Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
  • Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, PSIF will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction. Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

Much of these scientific considerations in this post apply to all sorts of unique and interesting scenarios, like a sudden ice age, a super volcano eruption, an expanding sun, or settings like Arctic research facilities, Mars, or the rings of Saturn, to name a few. I encourage you to come up with your own and share it with the rest of us. Leave comments, ask questions, and let us know of some scientific considerations I may have missed. If these prompts weren’t quite what you were looking for, check out #PSIF on Twitter or click here throughout the month for more prompts by PSIF contributors.

Additionally, you can now enter to win a copy of Putting the Science in Fiction from Writers Digest. Enter the giveaway below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

While it’s easy enough to write a compelling story without doing your research, it will always lack something. Hard science fiction adds an element of awe, the knowledge that such astounding, beautiful, and seemingly magical things might actually be possible. It inspires scientists and readers alike to put their imaginations to use in the real world, to bring what was once science fiction one step closer to reality.

So until next time, Write Well and Science Hard.

Release Day- The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle (free preview)

seattle TPATG

Today is release day for The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle. It is the sixth Episode of TPATG Series 1. Even though it is classified as a Novelette, it is just a few hundred words shy of being a Novella. To read more about the work that went into writing it, see my previous blog post.

This book is dedicated to my brothers, Ben, Tim, and Greg, for introducing me to Seattle. They made sure I stayed hydrated, well fed, and was given all the tours I could ever want. Thanks to them, my life in Seattle has been positively pre-apocalyptic.

My thanks to all those who pre-ordered. It is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Click the cover image below to be directed to the Amazon purchase page.

TPATG_Seattle_cover

Link to Amazon purchase page

Remember to check out the other books in the series, all of which were written by award-winning authors!

 

The Episode Blurb:

When the alien invasion ended, humanity strove to mend their broken world… until they remembered how much they enjoyed war. In Seattle, rival clans fight over territory and resources. Resh, the headsman of the Five Clan, has the power to conquer the entire city, but he has other ideas. He runs. Outside the city, far from responsibility and the risk of assassination, Resh comes across an abandoned hospital. Inside, he finds a young man climbing into a wheelchair. Suffering from a mysterious illness, the traveler makes him a deal he can’t refuse. But Resh takes on more than he bargained for. To help the traveler find the cure he’s after, Resh must return to a city filled with scheming and betrayal, and confront an organization with a terrifying agenda.

 

Free Preview:

 

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle

By Philip A Kramer

 

The building was abandoned. Trees and foliage grew unchecked along its perimeter, making it nearly impossible to see from the road.

Resh recognized the series of letters still visible on the partially collapsed awning. This was a Hospital. In Seattle, the W Clan made their home in one. It was a large network of buildings with hallways that stretched between them. This building was far smaller, rising just above the surrounding trees. Before the invasion, it might have looked welcoming. Now it could easily be a wolf’s den.

Resh looked back the way he had come. Night had already fallen, and he could make out a dim glow to the sky to the north, where thousands of Seattleites sat around their campfires. The city had been his home his entire life, but he was never going back. For weeks he’d been possessed by a singular urge to explore, to learn more of the world outside the city. The urge had become so strong; he had walked away from everything.

The same urge compelled him to carry on, to leave this building behind like all the others, but the needs of his body prevailed. He had walked until blisters formed on his feet, and continued to walk until those blisters burst. The muscles of his legs were knotted tight, and sharp stabs of pain radiated up his bones with every step.

If this Hospital was anything like the W Clan’s, it would have some beds inside.

Resh ducked under the sagging awning and through the shattered glass door of the building. He fished his lighter from his pack and flipped it open. By the meager light of its flame, he entered.

Most of the building had been picked clean of metal, but he found a few mattresses uninhabited by mice within a closet on the second floor. He collected branches from a tree sticking in through a shattered window and built a small fire one the ceramic tiles of a small shower in a bathroom. He stacked the small, thin mattresses on the floor beside the fire and fell asleep in moments.

He dreamed of familiar faces around familiar fires, until an unfamiliar sound woke him. He grappled in the dark for his knife, and his stiff muscles protested as he came to his feet.

The sound that had woken him repeated, a soft shuffling, the sound of disturbed leaves.

Resh rubbed the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes and brought out his lighter, sparking it into life.

The room beyond was quiet and empty, and Resh inched out into the hallway. The dim flame illuminated the dirty vinyl flooring at his feet, but the darkness thickened further down the hallway. The coating of dust and leaves that had covered the floor earlier was disturbed, brushed aside by something dragged across them. A long smear of blood confirmed what he suspected. This was a wolf’s den. A lone wolf he could deal with, and a new pelt and a week’s worth of meat would see him to the next settlement.

He held the knife out before him as he followed the faint sounds. When he rounded the corner at the end of the hallway, he saw a doorway that hadn’t been open before.

Placing his feet furtively, deliberately with every step, Resh entered the room. It was a supply closet, one he had given a cursory examination last night only to find nothing of use.

Unlike the night before, someone was in the room. It was not a wolf, but a man with shaggy, filthy hair and tattered clothes. Every inch of his exposed skin was red from excessive sun. His arms shook as he attempted to pull himself into one of the wheelchairs stored in the room. His legs did little to assist in this goal, dragging behind him like useless chunks of meat. He looked defenseless, with nothing more than a small pack on his back. It was a sad sight, one Resh did not care to watch.

Resh sheathed his knife, preparing to turn away, when a horrible possibility struck him. Could this man have been injured by something to the south? Resh did not want to end up like him, mauled by one of the mutated beasts rumored to roam the land outside the city. He could exchange a few words, learn of any troubles ahead, or even discover the best route down the coast.

The man finally pulled himself into the wheelchair and faced him. Behind the mop of disheveled hair, his eyes reflecting the flame of the lighter with a savage intensity. He didn’t look surprised to see him. Perhaps he was used to expecting the unexpected.

“It looks like you’ve seen better days,” Resh said, thinking some levity would ease the palpable tension.

The stolid features of the traveler transformed with a grin.

“Better days?” he asked with a grunt. His voice placed him as a young man, but his appearance suggested he’d fought hard for every single year. “I barely remember what those are.”

A moment later, the man’s face scrunched up in pain, as if he had only just become aware of his injuries. He lifted his hands from the armrests of the chair and looked at them. Blood oozed from ragged gashes along the flats of his palms to his elbows. His knees were large splotches of red beneath tattered jeans.

Resh had seen hundreds of men die in his thirty-six years, he’d had a hand in killing many of them, and he could tell when a man was near death. This man should have been dead already.

“Anything I should avoid down the road?” Resh gave the man’s wasted and bloodied frame a significant look. “Like whatever you got into?”

“My kind of trouble is…unique,” he said, his eyes looking distant, sad. “And mostly of my own making.”

It was a shame, Resh thought. Knowing what lay ahead might give him some sense of direction. It would be better than following this blind urge to walk into the unknown.

“Any information you have would be more than I’ve got. In exchange, I might have some water and a few bandages I can spare.”

The man dipped his head in agreement, with no small amount of gratitude in his eyes. He then lowered his hands to the wheels of the wheelchair, and winced as his hands encountered the metal bars.

Resh waited a few more seconds, frowning. The traveler tensed as Resh came forward and then moved out of sight behind him. Resh grabbed the handles of the wheel chair and pushed the man out of the room and back to the bathroom in which he had slept.

The traveler looked from one end of the small room to the other, taking in Resh’s scattered belongings. Resh had never been tidy, and even a night spent in the room made it look like he’d been there for years. In Seattle, he’d had someone to clean up for him, to arrange his things, and to cook him food. That was over now.

The traveler’s eyes strayed to the small tin pot of water Resh had set over the fire to sterilize. The water was cold now, the fire little more than ash and embers. The man’s dry, cracked lips parted as he accepted the small can from Resh, and guzzled it down.

When he spoke again, his voice had lost its raspy edge.

“Where are we? How far to Seattle?”

“Just a day by foot. Maybe two or three in the shape you’re in.” Resh sat on the toilet seat and reached into his pack for a spare shirt. “Where you coming from?”

The traveler watched warily as Resh took out his knife and proceeded to cut the shirt into strips.

“The east, from a place you’ve never heard of.”

“Any better out there?”

The traveler smiled wistfully.

“There are still barbarians and cannibals if that’s what you’re asking. But it was better in its own way. It was home.”

His hands paused in their task as he regarded the stranger. Resh had been a barbarian once, but he refrained from saying so. He’d left that life behind him. He no longer had a home, and he preferred it that way. Now the thought of home carried with it a sense of restlessness and revulsion. How could anyone stand to stay in one place for so long?

The man squinted at him.

“Well?”

Resh realized he’d been staring.

“Well what?”

“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’ve come all this way? That seems to be everyone’s first question, usual right before they try to slit my throat and eat me or feed me to their pigs.”

Resh shrugged a shoulder.

“I won’t do any of those things,” Resh said. Unless you give me a reason to, he thought. “It’s none of my business, just as mine is none of yours.”

The man dipped his head in acquiescence.

Resh motioned for the man to lift his hands, and he complied hesitantly. He took his wrist and turned his hand palm up. He proceeded to rinse the wounds with water from his canteen and bandage them, ignoring the man’s curses and grunts of pain. He was not the charitable sort, but this man had information he wanted. If there was one thing he’d learned from his old life, it was the currency of favors.

Once he had both hands cleaned and bandaged, he turned his attention to his other injuries. Exposed bone jutted out from beneath the dirty mop of cloth and strips of skin of his knees.

“I don’t see any breaks.”

The traveler looked down at his legs and frowned.

“They aren’t broken. I can’t even feel them to be honest. They gave out yesterday.” He must have seen Resh’s look of confusion, for he added, “It’s a sickness, not contagious,” he clarified. “Still, I knew it would happen eventually.”

Resh was not reassured. He finished bandaging the man with the remaining cloth, and washed the blood from his hands with the last of the water.

“So why did you come here?”

“What happened to that being none of your business?”

“Guess I’m curious now. If you knew it would happen, shouldn’t you be at home, living out your days in peace or in the arms of a beautiful woman?”

The man looked to the ground as if he wished for nothing else, then he leaned back in the wheelchair and withdrew a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. Resh took the proffered slip and unfolded it. Printed in neat, tiny letters, like the kind he’d seen on signs and in books, was a message, and a logo: a shield with some kind of slender tree on it. Above that, there were three S’s, one of the few letters he recognized.

“I can’t read. What does it say?”

“In short? You’re infected with a disease that will eventually kill you. For a cure, come to Seattle. Good luck.”

“Who’s it from?”

“Synapse Sentries of Seattle,” he said, the S’s coming out as disdainful hisses.

“Never heard of it.”

He sighed.

“No I suppose that would have been too much to hope for.”

“I suppose there isn’t immediate danger down the road then?”

“Oh there’s plenty of that,” he said, chuckling. He pulled his pack out from behind him and took out a worn leather book like the kind he’d seen in the old libraries. Most of those had been used for kindling.

“What’s that?”

“A journal of sorts. A travelogue.”

“A guide?”

“Sort of. A recounting of my journey and the things I’ve learned along the way: People I’ve talked to, some history, and a lot of the troubles I’ve managed to live through. I’ve documented everything I’ve encountered since Louisville. I’d read some of it to you if you like, but there’s a lot.”

He flipped open the book to reveal a page with long squiggling lines. Resh squinted down at them. They were letters unlike anything he’d ever seen, not nearly as neat and small like those in books, but more elaborate and beautiful.

Resh had to have it. The man was incapable of putting up much of a fight. He could take the book by force, but what good would it be to him? He couldn’t read the words.

The man must have seen the desire in his gaze, for he closed the book and wagged it back and forth.

“If you help me find what I’m after. This cure. The book will be yours. You want to know the best places to visit? Avoid dangerous roads? This will tell you how. Get me what I need, and it is yours. It’s even worth something to the man who commissioned it if you return it to him.”

“I said I can’t read.”

“I will teach you. It could be days before we find it. That should be enough time. You’re not the first I’ve taught.”

Resh shifted uneasily. He had every reason to avoid returning to Seattle. Many of his former clansmen would like to see him dead, and that was the last thing that bothered him. Going back meant going in the wrong direction and losing several days. But if what this man said was true, it was a small sacrifice. Knowing where to go and what to avoid could save him weeks on the road and could save his life.

The decision was made, and a bargain was struck.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the free preview. For more, click here to purchase the book on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

 

sss

 

 

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle

I’m excited to share the news. I’ve just completed a new project, and it is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Let me give you a rundown.

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide Series.

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I met Stephen Lawson back in May at the International Space Development Conference. If you recall, he was the runner-up for the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award. A couple of months later, he reached out to me with an idea for a project. He came up with The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide, a series following a young man, Thursday Forrester, as he treks across a post-apocalyptic United States in search of a cure that will save his life.
Stephen’s idea was straightforward. He would introduce the character, the setting, and the stakes in his first installment of the series. As Thursday traveled, other authors would be in charge of moving Thursday through their own cities, progressing the plot, and moving him closer to his final destination. Stephen has a lot of author contacts and managed to recruit the following authors for the 1st series:
Episode 1- Louisville- Stephen Lawson
Episode 2- St. Louis- David VonAllmen
Episode 3- Utah’s Deserts- Dustin Steinacker
Episode 4- The Mojave Desert- Sean Hazlett
Episode 5- Los Angeles- Jake Marley
Episode 6- Seattle- Philip Kramer
That’s right, Seattle is the location of the cure to Thursday’s mysterious illness, and so I had the honor of wrapping up the series. It’s been a blast planning and coordinating with the other authors. We’ve had to communicate regularly to brainstorm and to avoid inconsistencies and plot holes. They are all award-winning authors and have written great stories. Click the links above to purchase their episodes.
Stephen also reached out to the award-winning illustrator Preston Stone for the original cover art and logo.

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Cover by Preston Stone. ©Stephen Lawson 2017. Click image to be directed to purchase page.

The Series Blurb.

They descended from the infinite void of space, annihilating cities and destroying the foundations of modern civilization. Black nanoswarms fed like a locust plague on anything with an electromagnetic signal, wreaking havoc on the lifeblood of human industry. Then, as quickly as they came, the invaders mysteriously died, leaving humanity with nothing but savagery, starvation, pestilence, and death in their wake. Spurred by a life-threatening illness, a young man named Thursday Forrester chronicles his harrowing journey through a land riven by violence and superstition.

Episode 6 Blurb.

When the alien invasion ended, humanity strove to mend their broken world… until they remembered how much they enjoyed war. In Seattle, rival clans fight over territory and resources. Resh, the headsman of the Five Clan, has the power to conquer the entire city, but he has other ideas. He runs. Outside the city, far from responsibility and the risk of assassination, Resh comes across an abandoned hospital. Inside, he finds a young man climbing into a wheelchair. Suffering from a mysterious illness, the traveler makes him a deal he can’t refuse. But Resh takes on more than he bargained for. To help the traveler find the cure he’s after, Resh must return to a city filled with scheming and betrayal, and confront an organization with a terrifying agenda.

Visit www.tpatg.com to learn more about the other episodes!

How to buy.

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide is a six episode series. Episodes will be released on Kindle beginning November 1st, and every two weeks thereafter. Episode 6 of Series 1 — The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle — will launch on January 10th, 2018. Pre-order here!

Location Scouting.

While I’ve seen quite a lot of Seattle in the past, mostly thanks to my brother, a captain in a local tour boat company, I needed to do more research before writing my episode. Here are a few of the pictures I’ve taken while scouting locations for the story:

 

I hope you enjoy reading the story and please don’t forget to purchase the other episodes in the series.

 

Books I read in 2016

For those of you who haven’t found your way over to my Reviews page, I decided to post the content here now that 2016 is over. Overall it was an average year for me. I estimate that I read about 25 books. Unfortunately, I’ve only had time to write reviews for a small number of those. I will post more reviews throughout 2017.

In keeping with the theme of this site, these reviews will focus on the plot and the accuracy of the science. I graded these books with a POINTS system I invented for this purpose (Plot, Organization, Intelligibility, Novelty, Technology, and Science). Each will be given a grade out of 5 with a highest possible score of 30. This score has little to do with my enjoyment of the novel, but how I rate the individual parameters. I will try not to give too many details or spoilers, but it might be necessary on occasion.

*Cover images taken from listings on Amazon.com.

Here they are:


51ax82bt2b4ylColumbus Day: Expeditionary Force, Book 1 by Craig Alanson (POINTS= 25/30)

Plus POINTS: This first book in the series follows the POV of a young soldier home from a stint in Nigeria. He is surprised to see an alien ship crash land in a field near his hometown. The aliens immediately start destroying things. He rounds up some people and fights back. This is only the beginning of the story. More aliens arrive, but these are helping them, and eventually drive the hamster-like aliens away.  The young soldier is shipped away to an alien planet where he must keep the peace. It is there that he discovers that their friends, the lizard-like aliens, are not so much their saviors as their overlords, and the ones they should be fighting. He teams up with fellow soldiers and an artificial intelligence to take back humanity’s freedom. Science and technology wise, it is hard to say what is and isn’t possible when advanced alien technologies are thrown into the mix. At least they didn’t all speak the same language and instead they were given devices that could interpret everything that’s said. Overall, this is one of the more humorous books I’ve read. There are some slow parts but it is nicely paced and full of action.

Minus POINTS: Alanson didn’t write the most original story, but he definitely put a new twist on the average military scifi. The science is probably the lowest scoring in the POINTS system. The thing that I have the hardest time coming to terms with is the appearance of the aliens. They are described to be very similar looking to hamsters, with another species very similar to lizards. It is very unlikely that an independently evolving species on a separate planet with an entirely different climate would look remotely like anything we have on earth. Even more unlikely, is that they would all breath similar air compositions. I think adding in some breathing apparatus for the aliens or humans on a foreign world wouldn’t have detracted from the story. Also, Alanson states that the insects, animals, and microorganisms on these foreign worlds wouldn’t effect them, which may be true when it comes to ingesting unknowns compounds, proteins, or being exposed to a venom, but it is more likely that an organism would have found the organic molecules that makeup the human body very pleasing, and the human immune system would have no way to fend it off. Artificial wormholes and faster-than-light travel is also mentioned, but with no explanation as to how such things were made or how FTL drives don’t affect causality and mess with… pretty much all of Einstein’s theories. A long-vanished race of aliens left behind the wormholes as well as an artificial intelligence. Providing comic relief is not the only thing the AI can do, it can also bend space-time, hack every encryption code, interface with every technology, and exist in multiple dimensions. Despite all of this, it still uses helium 3 as a fuel source. Overall, I would recommend this book as a great, entertaining read, so long as you aren’t expecting hard-scifi.


41t82bdrhohlThe Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey (POINTS= 27/30)

Plus POINTS: This isn’t your typical zombie story. I was actually very surprised to find out that it was a zombie story. The story follows Melanie, a very nice and bright little girl, except she is treated like a dangerous monster by the people who take her from her cell and deposit her in class every day. Her diet consists of the occasional grub. Carey has cleverly used a well know fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, that causes zombie-like behavior in ants, as the zombie pathogen of choice. Zombies that have been turned long ago, end up with fungal coatings and even sprout mycelium. One of the doctors doing the research actually goes into detail how they think the fungus is hijacking the brain, and why kids like Melanie are so special. She introduces some actual research tools and techniques as well. In order to prevent Melanie from smelling human’s and feeling the impulse to eat, they have to constantly douse themselves in chemicals. When the facility that’s holding her gets overrun, she and the humans that fear her must band together to get her to another facility where they can continue to perform research on her. Melanie has to overcome many zombie-ish impulses along the way. POINTS across the board.

Minus POINTS: While it is impossible to say how the cordyceps fungus has been manipulated or mutated to create zombies, it is never likely to have such a devastating role on humanity. For one, most fungal infections grow very slowly, and the immune system slow it even more. Also, the fungus would have to somehow penetrate the blood-brain-barrier, which is difficult for even the smallest of pathogens. There is also a scene where a huge wall of fungal mycelium stretches into the sky, sprouted from thousands of zombies. There is nowhere near enough biomass available to support that type of growth, especially when it would have to compete with other microorganisms. It’s difficult to believe that it could withstand the wind or even a single storm.  There is also a scene where they arrive a huge mobile-tank of a laboratory. I can’t believe that anybody would have designed or constructed such a laboratory. There is no logical purpose. Overall, the story started strong but became more and more improbable as it went along.


611ezqeptpl-_aa300_The Mountain Man Omnibus (Books 1-3) by Keith C. Blackmore  (POINTS= 23/30)

Plus POINTS: The mountain man is Gus. He lives on a hill outside a small city in Nova Scotia. He is constantly drinking and lonely. You can’t really blame him; zombies have taken over the known world. These books were a great read. It was a story of survival, friendship, and the fragility of the human mind and morality. When you have to fear the living more than the dead, it really paints a grisly picture of mankind. He does make one friend though, Scott, who leaves the picture a little too soon in order to chase down a killer. There is some serious ingenuity and resourcefulness on the the part of Gus and Scott. The story gets many plus POINTS for plot, intelligibility, and organization.

Minus POINTS: As for novelty, technology, and science, I have to deduct some POINTS. I’m tempted to give very little points for science and technology, especially since this is a zombie novel, but on multiple occasions, Blackmore addressed that they didn’t know how the virus worked, but that it slowed decay, and could even jump species. No detail is better than the wrong detail. There was at least one occasion where the author described the ‘smell of cordite’ after guns were fired. This is a common description which is completely inaccurate. Cordite has not been used in ammunition since the end of WWII… and this book is set in the near future.For the most part, every character had a purpose all the way up to the third book. Personally, I saw little point to the Norsemen except as a tool to show how savage humanity can be. Also, Gus spends years scavenging for supplies, but doesn’t ever try to find seeds and grow his own food. This seems very short-sighted.


511dbkz7gulSpaceMan by Tom Abrahams  (POINTS= 26/30)

Plus POINTS: This is a great post-apocalyptic novel that isn’t afraid to throw some science and technology into the mix. An astronaut, Clayton, becomes stranded on the ISS, when a massive Coronal Mass Ejection strikes the earth. He recovers his dead colleagues who were out on a space walk, and then tries to find a way back to earth, to his family. The other POV in the story is Clayton’s family and a family friend. When the CME hits, power goes out, and many devices are shorted. A short time later, planes come crashing to the ground. All-in-all, this story was successful in integrating accurate science and terminology with life or death situations that hook the reader’s interest as well as educate.  I see too many books getting the facts of solar flares wrong, but Abrahams accurately demonstrated how fast CMEs move (pretty slow compared to the light from the flare), the radiation they carry (protons), and the devastating effects of the EMP on electronics. It was apparent that the author did his research. Many plus POINTS for Science and Technology, novelty, and intelligibility.

Minus POINTS: The book was short and the author really should have included the sequel as a part of book 1 because very little of the conflict is actually resolved. While Abrahams does a decent job of switching between POVs, I thought the novelty of the book was the astronaut stuck on the ISS, but he seems to spend more time following the people on the ground, making this feel more like an average post-apocalyptic story. In fact, it seems like the space adventure ends too soon. While it is hard to say what people would do in the event of the apocalypse, I think chaos and disorder happened a bit too quickly, with gangs, thugs, and religious cults taking to the streets within a day or two.


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Leviathan Wakes (Expanse series #1) by James S. A. Corey (POINTS= 27/30)

Plus POINTS: Despite being categorized as a space opera, I see very little resemblance. This is a book with a lot of political and interpersonal conflicts, but it really gives us a snapshot of what might actually happen when humanity begins to colonize the solar system. With large corporations and governments fighting for resources, and the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter being a source of much of it, tensions are high. The story is a mystery suspense that focuses on the disappearance of a woman and the seemingly pointless destruction of an ice freighter. It follows the perspective of a detective on the Ceres station on the belt, and a small surviving crew of the destroyed ice freighter. They uncover conspiracies that can change the way the humanity views their place in the universe. The pace was great, the writing gripping, and the science as spot on as it could be for such a large leap into a possible future. Corey (pen name for two authors) accurately depicts G forces, types of ‘artificial gravity’ (thrust or rotation), and the health effects and physiological changes of people that aren’t living in a ‘gravity well’. He knows what he is talking about.

Minus POINTS: There isn’t much negative to say about this first book in the series. I felt a bit more info could have been provided on the Epstein drive, which is a fusion reactor capable of providing continuous thrust. The crash couches and other seats meant to cushion the crew during high G maneuvers and accelerations are interesting, but the explanation of the ‘juice’ pumped into them to sustain consciousness and mobility during such event doesn’t quite satisfy me. Also unexplained is how a particular entity (protomolecule) can control many EM fields, take over organic matter, and change direction or speed up with seemingly no change in inertia. While it does break a couple of Newton’s laws, Corey does salvage his credibility by bringing up this fact and having the character’s baffled by how it could be done. They are, after-all, face to face with a strange entity that may have technology far beyond our own. It is also a bit improbable that humanity would have developed so far as to begin colonizing some of Jupiter’s moons and build massive ships, but not improved on standard projectile weapons, nukes, etc. Everyone knows that developing weapons is the first technological leap in most societies. Humans love killing each other.


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Hell Divers (The Hell Divers Trilogy Book 1) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith (POINTS= 23/30)

Plus POINTS: When the rest of humanity lives on floating airships above a radioactive earth, how can they survive? By sending divers down to the surface to scavenge for any fuel cells and supplies they need, that’s how. This book had a very unique concept and was full of action from start to finish. The overall scientific concepts are sound, though Smith does not talk about the science the much. I can’t even guess if severe electrical storms would be caused by massive amounts of radiation on the surface of the planet, but it makes sense that many, many ions and radicals would form under the radioactive onslaught, leading to severe electrical discharges. Smith also does due diligence in describing the harm such radiation inflicts on the human body, whether it be an acute exposure or a chronic one. Overall, it was a very interesting read and kept me entertained throughout.

Minus POINTS: Given the fairly short length of the novel, I would have preferred one or two fewer points of view. There were some 5 or so in total, and it really prevented me from getting attached to any one character. Alternatively, the book length could have been increased to help flesh out some of the underdeveloped sections. For example, there was one conflict where militant crewmen seize control of a section of the ship and make demands. It almost ends in catastrophe, and was definitely suspenseful, but I felt like nothing much came from it and we never had a lot of closure. Drawing out the suspense and fleshing out the resolution would have made a much more satisfying read. The organization was a bit awkward as well. I felt like he worked the tension up a bit for each dive, but none of them lasted that long. He could have had fewer dives and drawn out the suspense a bit more for each one. Smith compensated for this a little bit by having one POV on the surface most of the time. And unless I missed it, I imagine that solar energy would be a better energy source for an airship, but instead they rely on nuclear power. Perhaps, for whatever reason, they can not rise above the omnipresent cloud cover. Such cloud cover, however, would have caused the earth to cool. While Smith mentions quite a lot of snow on the surface, it isn’t clear if this is due to the location of the city or if it is the general state of the planet. But these are very minor points. The major minus points to the science was the use of super mutant monsters. Yes, perhaps two centuries had passed since the war occurred that irradiated the planet, but that is way too short a time for humanoid creatures with hard skin, barbs, wings, and no eyes to have evolved. Yes radiation can speed mutation, but it is more likely to cause death to the creature that is being irradiated, thus preventing evolution. Also, the radiation would have been much worse centuries ago when the war started, and these creatures would not have had their thick skins to protect them from it. Earth would be sterile. It is also not clear how the monsters are detecting electrical and radioactive energy or feeding off of it.


41ck5inzmjl-_sx311_bo1204203200_Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey (POINTS= 22/30)

Plus POINTS: This was a highly original and engaging novel which really got my imagination going. Like Wool, much if the story takes place underground as it follows a family of sand divers as they explore the remains of forgotten and lost cities that have been buried under the sand for a long time. It is not just a tale of survival under the sands, but above it, as more and more people compete for the loot as well as chase after the most valuable loot of all, something that can make obstacles, and people, vanish in the blink of an eye. This story has a lot of political and survival elements that really amp up the suspense.

Minus POINTS: Vibrations seem like the most likely way to penetrate into sand, however, the notion that vibrations can be controlled so well as to extend from a suit and several feet away into the sand to harden sand or soften it, is a bit ridiculous. Yes, they character’s use little headsets that read their intentions, but the technology feels more like telekinesis than real technology. Soften the sand all you want, it would still exfoliate your face off and tear through any type of fabric or metal with enough time (the same principle as sandpaper), but this seems to have been left out by Howey. The worst part for me was the ending. The hero goes off with a mission, rather than show that hero doing their exciting mission, we are instead give the POV of the concerned family as they sit around a camp, bored as they watch the horizon for proof of the hero’s success. Showing people being bored is a sure way to make the audience bored. The climax of the story, while interesting, wasn’t all that intense either. And with a lack of a satisfactory resolution, the story really suffered in the last half.


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Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo series) (POINTS= 28/30)

Plus POINTS: I thoroughly enjoyed this series and I was surprised it had taken me so long to pick it up. Hugh Howey has crafted a fascinating world for us, an underground world. The residents of a large underground silo have been living for generations below the toxic atmosphere, believing that nothing and nobody was capable of living above the surface. Their only connection to the world outside the silo is a camera that shows them the toxic wasteland above. Occasionally men and woman are sentenced to death (or volunteer in some cases) to clean the surface of the cameras with a bit of wool. They always clean, even when they say they wont, and they all die before they can climb the hill and out of view, their suits deteriorating in the toxic environment. It has become taboo to speak of the outside, and in fact, it is a death sentence to express any interest in leaving. But everyone thinks about it. When the sheriff of the silo expresses an interest to leave, everyone is shocked. The send him out to clean and then go on with their lives, growing plants, recycling everything, mining, in the hopes of keeping the silo running for their life times and their children’s. When a new sheriff is recruited from the lower floors, mechanical, she begins to research why the previous sheriff wanted to go outside, and uncovers some large conspiracies that upend all they know about the world above and the purpose of the silo. The science and technology presented in this book appeared very thought out and well conceived and very realistic. I couldn’t think of many things he could have added to improve on the silos. The plot was full of suspense throughout, and I had a hard time putting it down. The culture and mindset of the silo seem very logical, with religions, taboos, and other things like their concept of distance and open spaces, the scarcity and price of paper, or the mythological view of animals that may have once walked the surface.

Minus POINTS: The only minus points here are due to the ending and a bit of the science. There were several points were I thought the motivation of the characters was a bit lacking or underdeveloped, thus resulting in actions that seemed very unlikely, or that they were overlooking some obvious problems and then became surprised by the consequences. The ending was a bit underwhelming and I never got the sense that I experienced a true climax of the tension. My only issue with the science were a few unlikely events where someone survived what would have been some extreme pressure, and the seeming lack of exhaustion for some people as they climbed a bunch of stairs. Also, there is apparently some room for people to fall or drop things over the edge of the stair well, if that is the case, why didn’t they create a lift or pulley system to help transport supplies or people? Technology wise, everything seemed a little dated and unsophisticated, but you learn that much of this was intentional.

Note: I chose not to review Shift (POINTS=19/30) or Dust (21/30) by Hugh Howey because I felt like I didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about them. Neither ended very satisfactorily, had way too much background, alternate POVs, unrelatable motivations, and info I thought distracted from the story, and were kind of boring. Dust wasn’t too bad, though. I think he could have left out Shift and continued with Dust, and made the whole series much better.


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The Martian by Andy Weir (POINTS= 29/30)

Plus POINTS: As far as the POINTS system goes, The Martian is currently the standard by which all books are judged. The story of a man deserted on a barren planet, trying to survive until rescue, is about as hopeless and grim as you can get, but Weir manages to inject humor, action, intrigue, and most importantly, science. From orbital dynamics, to pressure regulation, and oxygen and water reclaiming systems, he is pretty spot on, with in depth descriptions which are intelligibly and cleverly delivered (which the movie does a really poor job of replicating). I thought he started the story in just the right moment, not too early or too late. While it may not be targeting the softer side of the sci-fi readership, for us hard sci-fi fans, it’s just what we’ve been asking for. I confess that I did not read this recently, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten many details… I’ve read the book 5 times now!

Minus POINTS: Its really no one particular thing. If I could take away a third of a point from the intelligibility, science, and plot categories, I would. It is pretty heavy on the science and terminology, so readers need to pay attention to avoid missing anything vital to their understanding. Scientifically, there is a minor point with the inciting incident, where Mark gets impaled by an antennae and the MAV almost tips. With atmospheric pressure so low on the planet, it would have been impossible for the wind to push over much of anything. The only part I found lacking in the Plot was the seeming disappearance of a secondary character, Mindy Park, who was in charge of monitoring Mark on the surface of Mars with orbiting satellites. I would have liked to see her jump in and save the day at the end, perhaps having a satellite diverted to help with a lost communications issue or something. And perhaps have Mark establish some sort of relationship with her in the end. They both seemed pretty lonely. Oh well, can’t have everything.


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Red Rising by Pierce Brown (POINTS= 22/30)

Plus POINTS: This is an emotionally charged and gripping story about a young Red man in a caste-based society, who must become a Gold in order to “break the chains” they use to enslave his color. It has a more futuristic Hunger Games vibe, but the purpose of this competition is to train Golds how to become ‘peerless,’ to separate the grain from the chaff. I would classify this novel as a dystopian space-opera. Though it is not hard sci-fi, it was evident that Brown did his research and took his time constructing the elaborate and rich story line.

Minus POINTS: The story opens with the main character harvesting helium 3, an essential part of fusion reactions, from beneath the surface of mars, though this process and fusion reactors in general are not discussed. Also unaddressed by the author is how this isotope of helium can build up below the surface of a planet with minimal geological activity. Solar wind is the primary source of this particle in the solar system, so I have a hard time believing it would occur anywhere but the surface. There are elements of genetic manipulation, complex physiological alterations (‘carving’) and power over laws of physics. Cleverly, Brown uses the main character’s ignorance and perhaps lack-of-interest in these processes as a way to avoid explaining them in detail. Grav boots, for example, are a contraption that allow their wearers to zip around wheresoever they please, while ghost cloaks make the wearer become invisible. Many other such technologies exist that can somehow prevent the local vibration of air molecules to suppress sound, and make swords infinitely sharp and capable of cauterizing flesh.


51pg95d6dvlGolden Son by Pierce Brown (POINTS= 23/30)

Plus POINTS: As the second installment of the Red Rising Trilogy,  Darrow continues on his ongoing mission to overthrow the Gold overlords of society. To do this, he has become one of them, made a name for himself, and schemed his way into a position of power where he gets the Golds to war amongst themselves. His inner turmoil grows as his mission clashes with his burgeoning love and friendships. Breaking away from the setting of Mars, the setting of this story take place on the moon, in space, and a few other places around the solar system. There were no obvious plot holes that I could see and it was a very enjoyable read, with intriguing characters, exciting space battles, and political drama.

Minus POINTS: My main scientific objection to this story was the creation of Earth-like atmospheres and climates on the moon (and many of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons). Not only is the moon able to hold atmosphere, but it still has a low gravity? Unless I missed it, this was never explained. While I find it plausible that ‘artificial gravity’ might be created one day, and could possibly help hold an atmosphere to the moon’s surface, it is obvious that this was not the method Brown used. And how do they protect themselves and prevent the atmosphere from being stripped away from cosmic rays? We will never know. The razors, incredibly sharp whips that can become sturdy swords with a “chemical impulse” also defy reason, but they are an interesting concept, nonetheless. The characters also seem capable of recovering from almost any injury, and can have severed limbs and eyes replaced within the span of a few chapters.


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Golden Son by Pierce Brown (POINTS= 22/30)

Plus POINTS: The ruse is over, Darrow can no longer pretend to be a Gold. In this book, he must discover who is ally and who is enemy as he seeks to overthrow the Gold overlords. There are many fronts to this war and Darrow must choose one to fight first as well as amass an army to accomplish the impossible task. This story is packed with interesting characters, fascinating plot twists, and non-stop action.

Minus POINTS: The organization and plot take a bit of a hit here. While it was easy to follow, the author relied a bit too much on the ‘all hope is lost’ mentality for the reader, allowing us to believe that all of the plans have gone horribly wrong. Yet still Darrow and his friends still accomplish the impossible at every turn. It is sometimes difficult to understand his motive during these events. For example, rather than fight the Jackal or Sovereign, he decides to go take on a large fleet outside of Jupiter instead. His plan to gain the moon lords allegiance and take out the huge fleet seems rather flimsy, indeed, it almost ends terribly for him and the cause he fights for, but as always, just when things start going horribly wrong, he succeeds and even accomplished more than he intended to. As is typical with this series, the technology and science bring the score down a bit. While these aspects of the book are interesting, they don’t have much of a connection to reality. Medically, you can’t just stand up and be alright after being ejected into the vacuum of space for several minutes or being locked in a small box for 9 months, even if given an injection of some secret stimulant in the heart. Also stab wounds are probably going to cut vital organs or at least cut through some muscle and bleed a lot, so it’s unlikely that you can just carry on fighting without being slowed much. Wounds also seem to disappear with a couple chapters or so, and amputated limbs are somehow found and reconnected.

The science of the presentation

presentationI am posting much later in the week than usual. It was a busy week. Most of my time was dedicated to analyzing data and preparing a research presentation for a group at the university. It was in preparing the presentation that I came up with the topic for this blog post. I realized that the mechanics of giving a presentation were very similar to the mechanics of writing a book. The goal is to make it sell.

I was lucky enough to be trained in how to give presentations by my first mentor, who was passionate about the mechanics of delivering presentations (he even gave a yearly presentation on how to give presentations). These were some of the main points he stressed:

Control the flow of information-

Don’t give any more background than the audience needs to be able to understand and appreciate the rest of the presentation. This is especially important when it comes to the content of individual slides. If you overload the audience with too much information at one time, they will become distracted from the heart of your message. Begin a presentation with a complicated scheme or figure and the audience’s eyes will wander to every part of it except for the area you want them to focus on. Worse, the audiences’ eyes might glaze over entirely when confronted with what appears to be a lecture. In a book, they call this an info dump, and it is a sure way to slow down a story and make people lose interest. In short, deliver the information only when they need it, and never more information than they need.

It is also important to deliver the information in a direct and logical fashion. If you are too vague and ramble, your audience won’t have gained anything in the time they spent listening. You want to anticipate their thoughts, giving them an answer right before they realized they had a question. This will keep them interested and give them confidence that you are an expert in the subject on which you are presenting. It follows that you should never bring up something you will not address or hope people won’t ask about. If you have a curious artifact in a piece of data, don’t draw attention to it, especially if you have no idea why it’s there or what could be causing it. You will be asked questions you can’t answer and the audience will get the impression you are ignoring something important, or just too dense to figure it out.

It is best to assume your audience is intelligent. Having a slide titled What is DNA? will be sure to offend all the geneticists in the room. By the same token, your sci-fi readers will not be pleased with a detailed description of why earth orbits the sun.

Which brings us to our next point.

Know your audience-

Delivering a presentation on muscle physiology and contraction kinetics to a group of geneticists is difficult. Trust me. So it’s important to deliver the information in a way that makes sense to them and gives them a bit of what they are expecting. You can judge your audiences’ reaction to a presentation by how many have fallen asleep in their chairs. On amazon, you can get an idea of your book’s success by number of reviews. At this point, it is too late to go back and fix things. Running these things past your lab or beta-readers will help you narrow down your audience.

If you are struggling to find a way to make your product (research or novel) interesting to the audience, it’s probably not your target audience, and you should not spend your time and effort on them. Selling a horror novel at a Romance Readers Conference is the definition of futile.

Be enthusiastic and confident-

Projecting enthusiasm and confidence is the best way to draw your audience in. But like all things, it is best in moderation. You can litter your presentation with animations and colors and media, just as thoroughly as you can fill your novel with flowery language, imagery, and description. But too much of it will be distracting and off-putting, and make it seem like you’re trying too hard, or compensating for a poorly plotted story or lack of data. Keeping things too colorless and dry, however, will come across as boring. If you sound bored, your audience will be bored too.

It’s okay to be a little nervous. When we put our stuff out there, whether it is in front of a lecture hall or on the virtual bookshelves of Amazon, anxiety is to be expected. I find that I am far more confident in my presentation if I have done a lot of preparation. This includes significant edits and revisions of my slides, and many practice runs with people willing to give me critiques. It is the same with my writing. I am far less nervous about my audience’s impression of my work if I know it is well thought-out and heavily edited for grammar, style, and structure.

 

Research presentations are a lot like books. The major difference is that your data shouldn’t be fiction (theorizing that your data is the result of ‘magic’ is frowned upon in most scientific circles). But no matter how much you prepare and polish, there will always be those who don’t care for your work and will criticize it. Don’t lose heart. You can’t please everyone… unless there’s free food involved. Nobody complains about free food.

My publications (so far)

It wasn’t until midway through my first novel that I began to think about publication. I was in my early twenties, and didn’t know anything about it. Like most writers, I slowly began to educate myself on the different types of publications and the process of becoming published. After nearly ten years, I still have a lot to learn, but I am happy to say that since I began taking writing seriously, I have gained a bit of practical experience in publishing.

Publishing my own words and ideas is a very fulfilling process. It isn’t the same as relating your day-to-day experiences to friends on Facebook. Face it, nobody really cares what you ate for breakfast. This fulfillment comes from communicating an idea, an emotion, a complicated theory, a story, or some other form of insight about the world that few people would have readily come to on their own. While writing is fun, I am not one of those writers who claim to write for themselves. Words were made to communicate, and communicating with yourself seems a little pointless to me.

Ideas are like viruses and words are their genetic code. When someone is exposed to an idea, it sometimes takes hold, and that person becomes a carrier, propagating that idea to other hosts. I want my ideas to reach people, to spread, to replicate like a virus. Not all ideas are dangerous, and some can change peoples’ lives for the better.

Here are a couple of the ideas and stories I have already released into the world. Many of them will not spread, but I hope they will affect (infect?) some people eventually.

My stories.

Speaking of viruses, the latest of my published stories was about a virus that destroyed people’s self-control and drove them to violently seize anything they desired. The possessive irrationality would not leave them until they had what they wanted and hid it away in a secret hoard. The young protagonist must fight to survive among the Hoarders, but even the uninfected are not to be trusted. This short story is called Want, and I published it with my writers group, Alabards, as a part of a horror anthology.

In the first book of our anthology series, I published a short story called Blue and Green Horizons. This story is about a man who had become a paraplegic in the past year due to a sky-diving accident. He has very little memory of the incident, recalling only the blue and green horizon as he leapt from the plane. He still has no idea why he deployed his parachute so late. The story takes place on a trip to a friend’s wedding. They are taking the train because he doesn’t feel comfortable on planes. When the train derails within a tunnel, he is the only one who can save the other passengers, but first he must fight his own insecurities and come to terms with his disability.

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Off-kilter and Off-kilter2 available on Amazon

This isn’t my only experience in the area of self-publishing. For the past few years I have been printing beta-reader novels through Lulu. The only difference is that I chose not to assign it a ISBN or make it available to anyone else but me (technically it’s never published). I highly recommend this method for beta-reading as it allows the readers to see the book in their hand and in a professional format. If you choose to self-publish (I haven’t decided yet), then it will also allow the readers to comment on format and cover design. I also suggest inserting a couple of questions at the end of each chapter in the beta-reader version. This will allow the reader to jot down their impression for each chapter rather than try to recall everything at the end. I am currently preparing my novel Quotidian this way. It will be ready for beta-readers early next year. Please contact me if you wish to be a beta-reader.

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The working cover and title for my latest book. Seeking beta readers.

My laboratory notebook.

A couple years ago, I was in my last year of graduate school and I got fed up with the laboratory notebooks currently available. I liked to outline my experiments by making a flow-chart first, then I would write down the protocol, and then I could record and paste the results. No one laboratory notebook was organized in such a way and nor did they have dedicated spaces for a table of contents, title, dates, signatures, etc. So I decided to make my own.

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The back and front of each page. Available on Amazon and Lulu

After designing the lab notebook and ordering several for my lab, I reached out to the founder of several private schools in Atlanta. Her science lab needed just such a lab notebook. I made a few changes to the format and added her school’s logo to the cover (a cover that can easily be personalized and decorated), and so far they have ordered hundreds of copies for their kids. “They are a staple to the program now,” she says.

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The lab notebooks I made for the Midtown International School in Atlanta, GA separated by class and filled with the kids’ science experiments.

I would encourage all writers with some knowledge of self-publishing and book formatting to put that knowledge to work. You can make calendars, planners, cook books, etc, for your own personal use or to sell. There is no reason why anyone should be confined to publishing novels when they have all the skills necessary to dabble in other publishing formats.

My research.

I was surprised to discover that my day job also provided me with practical publishing experience. Throughout grad school and my post-doc, I have been constantly constructing, writing, editing, and then publishing research papers. Science writing is very different from fiction writing in both style, tone, and wordage, but it still requires extensive planning, editing, and communication with editors and publishers.

My largest published work is my dissertation. Anyone who has ever written one will agree that the formatting is almost as tasking as the writing.img_20160927_131022192
While my 20ish articles and reviews are something many will likely never read, they are at least reaching other researchers who can build off my research findings and theories to help probe a little deeper into the mysteries of biology and disease. According to ResearchGate, my publications have been cited nearly 200 times in other publications since 2013.

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Take home message.

With that, I will leave you with one last consideration. Building your publishing presence is just as much about quality as quantity. Just because you have written something doesn’t mean that it is ready to be released into the world. I am proud of each and every one of my publications, but I still see a lot of room for improvement. Many of my readers will see it too. So unless you are confident that you know how to format a book, design a cover, and edit a story until it gleams, I suggest you take the time to learn how or to consult with professionals. Otherwise your reputation as an author will be marred by your haste to release your stories and ideas into the world. For example, I never could have created the amazing covers that grace the front of our short story anthologies, so I reached out to an old friend and graphic designer who had the skills and eagerness to take on the project. Thank you, Matt.

There is a common mentality among authors and artists to keep everyone ignorant of the project until it is ready to be released. Perhaps it is a fear that other people’s opinions or meddling hands will corrupt it in some way. These works most often fail because nobody has any stake, interest, or investment in the project. Getting beta-readers, cover designers, editors, and other writers involved in the project, even to a small degree, will link them to the project. These people will be the ones to help market the book once it is published because they can proudly say they read it before anyone else, helped edit it, etc. It can only benefit the author to bring others into the fold, especially if it means a more polished and marketable product.

Finding that novel novel idea

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“That sounds like a book I once read.” You’ve all heard it and it puts a damper on any enthusiasm you’ve grown for your literary creation. It might be gratifying if they speak of style and execution, but who gets flattered by being told their work is unoriginal?

Cynics often say that everything has been written before, that no idea is a new idea. But with 26 characters in the English language, over 250,000 distinct words, not to mention all the subtle changes in context or meaning, and a near infinite way to arrange them, there are more possible ways to write a book than there are atoms in the known universe. So why are so many stories similar? The short answer, if you want your story to make sense and be relatable and captivating, you have to write what people like to read. And unlike the universe, the human mind has a lot less empty space (for most people anyway). The brain is a large jumble of connections, turn on the right set and immediately memory of another story will stir and come to mind. You want your work to connect as many neurons as possible so that your reader will think of your book often and mention you to others.

That being said, novelty serves to make a story exciting and memorable. How many of you remember the drive to work each morning? Now what about that time you had to detour through an unknown section of town because of some unparalleled traffic accident? Your mind is excellent at discarding experiences if they are very similar to the ones already stored in your memory. Memorable is what sells a story for years. If your book doesn’t fit with the current popular trend, no problem, book markets are always in a state of change, adopting one trend and discarding another. If you write for the current market, your book will be that experience that is forgotten among all the similar ones of its kind. You probably have no chance of starting a trend of your own, instead, write something that will always be interesting and original and eventually the tides will change and your book will be swept up with it.

Originality is not in a story’s conflict, it is in the unique parts that collide to create it. These parts are the characters and setting. Strip away the setting and character from any book you’ve read and you will find that most stories look the same when so bared. The shape they take is the story arc. Clothing your story arc in an original fashion is accomplished in two steps: creating a unique setting in which the story will occur and creating the character that will stand out in it.

You should begin with either the setting or the character in mind, but preferably not both. The reason for this is simple. If you want your protagonist to be aggressive and psychologically damaged by some trauma or another and then you decide your setting should be a post-apocalyptic earth where zombies endlessly chase humans (not a very original setting FYI). You will soon find that all of your characters will need to be aggressive and psychologically damaged. How then will your character stand out? Instead, imagine the setting and then figure out how this setting will affect the lives of those in it, and then make your character different in some subtle yet memorable way. Conversely, mold a setting to accentuate your character’s strengths and weaknesses. No matter your approach, the reader expects conflict and has likely seen it all before, but insert an original setting or unique character motives and you will give them an exciting new way to experience the same story arc.

The character you make should stand out from others in one key way, their drive. This drive, or character element, should be a part of the human psyche that is both underappreciated/under-recognized and yet critical to who we are as human beings. Sound conspicuously like a theme? Good, it should. The theme should be the vehicle your character drives across the story arc, the thing that moves them, gives them strength, and protects them from buffeting wind and rain. Before they’ve even started the book, your reader has decided to join consciousness with your main character, to try to think what they think. Turn that into a memorable relationship by giving them a theme to agree with and a cause to stand behind. Straying away from the most common drives like anger, love, and greed will help grant originality. Examples of these uncommon themes are a desire for change when everyone else is rooted in acceptance, a desire for emotion when they are surrounded by apathy, conquering of fear when everyone else is cowed by it, and a desire for knowledge when everyone else enjoys ignorance. This character element provides the motive, the fuel to carry the character as well as the reader over the story arc. Be wary though, a weak drive, such as the desire for a funnel cake at the City Fair, will peter out and die the moment your character realizes it is not worth the trouble.

The setting has to be more than just a forest in Maine for you to have any chance of making something original and memorable. While your character element gives forward motion to a story, your setting should provide friction, obstacles, and other characters that seek to stop your character from proceeding forward. The setting sets the mood of the story. That seems like a lot for just one aspect of the novel, but it is this by which everyone will remember and describe your book. What good is a character’s desire to experience freedom when taken outside of the context of slavery or a prisoner of war? Again, stray away from the most common settings or at least give them unique characteristics. Instead of an alien planet, why not a rogue planet taken up by our sun’s gravitational pull? Maybe its thawing inhabitants want war. What’s more, make every aspect of your setting matter. If the power goes out in the apartment building, make it mean something; make the darkness or the inability to heat a Hot Pocket essential to the story in some way. If it doesn’t matter to the story or help set the mood, it will be forgotten.

A big mistake people make when chasing an original story is following it off the map, creating a world that is so full of original ideas that it borders on the unrecognizable, or characters with such unique strengths, weaknesses, or personalities that they become unrelatable. This is why genres exist, to categorize books for different audiences. Know the genre in which you intend to write and strive to make it original within the confines of what is expected and enjoyed. There is at least a small corner in each genre’s box that has yet to be filled.

 

~originally posted here