Friday, 14 July 2017

Reading and reviewing soon

Read and haven't reviewed yet: Monkeyboy -The New Anki Legacies (which was good entertainment but all fantasy and only arguably sci-fi). I've also nearly finished Perihelion (a class act so far). Sorry for the delay writing this review but I'm having a meltdown and wondering what to do about this reviewing hobby now Amazon have screwed me over.

This is the rest of the review waiting list: Bernie and the Wizards, The Happy Chip, The Twisted Galaxy, The Wolfe Experiment, Special Agent Mauve (full novel version), J.O.E. Just an Ordinary Earthling, Inevitable Ascension, The Outlaws of Kratzenfels, Race the Red Horizon, Terraforming Earth, Perax Frontier, The Mirror in my Dorm Room. Shrugg, How to Remove a Brain, Temptation & Mozzarella, Matters Arising From the Identification of the Body, Lockheed Elite; and Disconnected.

I add reviews in these places, so come bookmark me or add a comment if you're passing:

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Fuck Amazon for deleting my reviews

Amazon have deleted 50 of my book reviews out of 53 posted this year, without any explanation. All of my reviews have been within their rules and I've left a range of star ratings, so this is misuse of power. Why upset authors who need ratings and end a free service to inform Amazon's customers?

I've asked Amazon to choose between reinstating the reviews or closing my account permanently (which is busy: 26 purchases in 6 months). Why do they want to close down book reviewers? Perhaps it's to force authors to use their new PAID reviewing service. Don't do it! Buy your books and gifts elsewhere, everyone! There are other shops.

Update: After seven days Amazon replied and said I had broken their rules (nothing specific), so they won't restore my book reviews, which represent a lot of work (equivalent word count to a novel). I have therefore deleted my Amazon account. Unfortunately, that's taken my Kindle content with it so some books will no longer be in my review queue. Anything anyone has emailed to me will still get read and reviewed here and everywhere else except Amazon.

Thank you!

I received these wonderful flowers today from Mr & Mrs Greg Schindler (grown in their garden) after my recent review of Greg's pirate book "The Last Voyage a the Vengeferth", which is now nesting on my shelves in my favourite pirate rowdy stuff section, right next to "Captain Slaughterboard and the Yellow Creature", which shaped my career choices. Thank QQQ for this kind thought!

Monday, 10 July 2017

A Moment in Sci-Fi, by Daniel Backer

I'm delighted to introduce Daniel Backer, novelist and film maker, who has written the following sci-fi short piece for your entertainment. For links to Daniel's book and comedy sci-fi TV show, read to the end. Take it away Daniel!

“You sure make a lot of noise,” said Tony, holding a creature from what he thought was the scruff of its neck. It had woken him up. He couldn’t tell what orifice the sounds were coming from.
There was no mouth to bleat out of or trunk to trumpet or exoskeletal washboard for stridulation. The thing appeared to be a huge exotic alien pile (HEAP) of fur that excreted slime out of its folds that dripped onto Tony’s porch and was absorbed into the thin layer of dust that had settled due to almost no foot-traffic. Today was the day Tony would put a nice set of footprints into the dust.
As he tried to leave, his fear of the outside stopped him in the doorway as if it were a solid sheet of glass, much to the HEAP’s dismay. It lurched outside, bringing Tony by the hand with it.  He got up, startled to be on the first steps of a new journey after being alone for so long, which reminded him… He straddled the unsightly body print in the dust and stepped a set of footprints on either side of it.
Over the course of the four-day walk, Tony found himself talking to the HEAP. The HEAP was all ears, even though it wouldn’t be easy to tell where they were. He told it about his life, his sister, his big accident and being alone. The HEAP gave him all the niceties of an audience, cooing at the right parts and even intoning “huh?” at a particularly dramatic pause that Tony took before revealing that he was excited to see his sister after so long.  Four days after he left, the HEAP made a sudden yelp, and startled, Tony dropped it. Blue feathers on a tranquilizer dart stuck out of the HEAP. She had always loved blue.
She screamed from behind him, “Did you speak to it?”
“Did you say anything to it?  Anything at all?”
Tony turned around and saw his sister towering above him with her gun strapped around her shoulder.  She was literally twice his height and it shocked him that she had managed to sneak up on him.
“Hearing words makes them stronger. They draw conclusions from our language until they achieve an intelligence that wants wipe out the human race… or what’s left of us after you nearly did that.”
“How many times do I have to apologize for that?”
“Only once, and you should continue to do so by going back to your house.”
“About that--”
“You’re certain you didn’t say anything to it?”
Tony looked out at the expanse around him.  He looked to his sister.  He looked to the HEAP. It was twisting his words into an intelligence that probably didn’t have a concept of inside and outside.  At this thought, he lied to his sister.
“I didn’t tell that HEAP a thing.”
They entered the compound and caught up for a little while.


YouAreAbraham, Daniel's novella with added film and music

Danny’s company have recently released a sci-fi comedy web series.  Here is the first episode:

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Bugs in the System, various authors - 2 Stars

It must be a great feeling to have a perfect understanding of what’s gone on before because that way nothing will ever, ever be stale again. I, for example am blessed with an infallible recollection of every moment in history I’ve ever read about, from the day the Japanese bombed Guernica to the crowds waving hands in the streets, and lighters by night, when the US signed the Paris Climate Accord. Pity about all the fossil fuel they were burning. Elephants may have short attention spans on the subject of sci-fi but not me. Learn from your mistakes? No need. The first lip plumping mask I tried recently did leave a weird polygon stain around my mouth (and naturally the doorbell rang when my face was glued in rubber cowpat) but do I remember that in the excited grip of buying another one (everyone knows a debit card isn’t real money), it said a different brand name on the box and therefore the contents could not possibly be the same or leave the same three day tidemark. I’ll let you know. If you’ve had the same experience, please watch the Youtube video here and consider joining the class action:
That's why I was overwhelmed to read the mould-breaking science fiction compilation Bugs in the System, companion to the role playing game “We Hunt Bugs”, for which I Googled and Oogled but can’t see on sale at the time of writing. Hard to get means good, right, like exclusive access or something. RPGs are a kind of entertainment where people dress up, play characters that will be in-theme with other characters around them and then re-enact or otherwise express themselves in words and then physically until they’re pretty shagged out, have a hazy recollection of what they did, find themselves banned from public parks and the experience is over. Five years later the same people will still be doing this but calling it dating.
The first story, Lost in Space, is about someone who likes to shoot bugs, how he thinks and why he does it. The second story, The 0.001 Percent, is about how almost no one would want to do the job of hunting bugs. I can’t remember much about the third story so I’ll gloss over that one. The Hunter and the Suit is the best of the lot, where a famous hunter is chased by a surprisingly capable debt collector. If you were writing a book to complement this RPG, it might have been more sensible to grow this individual short story component into a full length novel and wave away the others. It’s a hard recommendation but there it is. Not bad, as it had an interesting nucleus of plot as well as guns and bugs. The next story, MacDaddy, is about guns and bugs. The last, Blue Sands, Red Sun is about escaping a master-criminal, agent of chaos, sort of bug. One of the stories has a robot dog in it that generates the single unexpected twist in this compilation, so that was welcome.
There’s this smashing line where someone slices open an alien creature’s belly and says “I thought they smelled bad on the outside!” Now that’s a good piece of writing and I can imagine that they could even persuade a great sci-fi actor to say those words in a film, perhaps on some ice planet somewhere.
Bugs guns guns bugs bugs guns. This is a book about grunts splatting different kinds of lumpy space bugs in the innards of infested space ships with their soldier weapons. I don’t have allergies so it must be the guns bugs bugs guns repetition that makes me sneeze. Okay, so it is a collection of short stories based on a shoot-em-up game which is presumably inspired in turn by the story of the jerk jarhead soldiers who go to fight the bugs in the film Aliens and get removed from the gene pool and perhaps also the Starship Troopers films, where more bugs go splat to the delight of a similar crew-cutted brethren. There are arcade games that do this and very little else. Bug, bang. Bug, bang. Bug, bang.
Anyone who thinks war is some kind of sport would only have to listen to my local newsagent – and he fought in Iraq. It means being unable to talk to your family, not knowing what’s happening outside your unit, poor equipment and painful boots, no confidence in your own leaders, losing friends stupidly, lack of sleep, scrapping for food, weeks on the road, re-used field dressings, expired medicine, serious moral question marks over the treatment of prisoners, ratting out deserters in some shelled out hospital, having your position over-run, blood in the sand and getting extracted back to Blighty where they give you a hard time qualifying for your invalidity pension. He was a little vague about which side he was on.
There’s someone alive. There goes our salvage. Hmm. There’s also “The Company” behind everything, looming over all the expendable soldiers like Mt. Fuji’s parent company.
Then there’s an exciting scene where they discover a barely living body but just as they’re trying to help, a small creature explodes out of the belly and they have to spray the room with a flamethrower. Fancy that. The German name for this item is a flammenwerfer, which for some abstract reason I find to be more satisfying. “It werfs flammen”, in the words of the meme.
We hear in one of these stories that copper wire was invented by two company executives fighting over a penny, a joke that worked about forty years ago when Billy Connolly first told it and people really spent copper pennies but not ideal for a future presumably without coins, where it says they have electronic “seed” credits.
I thought there were no women at all in this book but within sight of the end one appears and gets called princess because that’s what women in space get called, isn’t it? In the 1950s it would have been doll and in the Australia of last century it would have been Sheila, but nothing else changes. Then, just to build a body of counter-evidence to demolish this observation, a Russian mercenary who says “Da”, the only word everyone knows, takes his helmet off and turns out to be a woman after all. Too many male characters? Easy to solve. Make one of them a woman. It’s just a name change, right? Classic. Pub, anyone?
The trouble is it’s all been done before. Without something new to write about, there’s a sensation of going through the motions without Ripley (who was also a bloke, let’s face it). Bug, splat, bug, splat.
“Confused, like a zib.” Now THAT is something new, hinting at a back history of zibs that the characters could explain to you but there’s no time to do that right now. It sounds small but there’s the little catch that swings a door to a whole new warehouse of detail that helps to fill out the world of this one. Just as Archimedes said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world”, give me a zib and an author can make you believe in a world.
The various well-meaning writers who contributed to this collection clearly wanted to have fun and create some stories around their favourite shoot-em-up game, of which this collection may be an unadulterated and accurate representation. They also love their sci-fi history and want to pay tribute to it. However, I’ve seen books to complement games which have been done so much better and have had original things they’ve added to the theme. This collection has been fun, included a lot of nervous bug-splatting moments but didn’t challenge perceptions or create enough originality for me. If you love the game though, this will surely feed your insatiable bug hunting appetite – go bang. There are also some Aliens and Star Wars stories in book form that you might want to check out though.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Last Voyage a the Vengeferth, by G.A. Schindler - 5 Stars

I’ll give you an assessment at the start, which isn’t normal on my blog except when I’ve found a hum-dinger: This book is the best possible present to give anyone for International Talk Like a Pirate Day (19th September each year) and it is for exceptional and unusual books like this that I want to continue reviewing indies. There you go. Stick it on the back.

“’tis a tale far more enjoyed in the telling than ’twas in the living through.”

I’m an independent reviewer and although sent an ebook for free to critique, by the time I had read to page one hundred I was into the story enough to go online and buy the paperback for my permanent collection. The only negative thing I can point to is the use of kilometres, not miles and yards. Oops? Although the km was invented in France in 1793, the rest of the world didn’t start using it until the middle of the next century, which I believe would be after the golden age of piracy. I could be wrong. Having got that oarless gripe out’a the channel, I have to say the rest deserves none of my usual sarcasm. Oh, and you do need to read it slowly because that’s really the only way to soak up the words of this coral tongue, so zippy speed readers shouldn’t touch this.

“Then very slowly a half vague, ghostly crow’s nest began poking up from the mist dead ahead… Soon Gorden’s sharp gaze read from her bow “Crazy Cousin” and we all fell about laughing.”

The subject? Well, if you can’t tell from the cover, it engages with every idiomatic aspect of the pirating experience in a neat little rowing boat of a book and all expressed in the authentic language of “Ah-Har Jimlad”. Super. A heaven full of parrots, rum and salty coves.

The “piratese” language is a tradition in itself, as used by Tom Baker as the mad ship’s captain (Blackadder, 1986), Spike Milligan in the Q Series (Long John Silver’s dialect becomes infectious and goes down a chorus line, c. 1970s), Jim Carrey (A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2004), Douglas Adams in his first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival (An Unpleasantness at Brodie’s Close, 1976), Graham Chapman and rest of the Monty Python team (Yellowbeard, 1983), plus of course in Moby Dick (1851) – but the most famous source is of course Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883). I wonder now whether this language in its entirety came from fiction first or whether it was genuinely how criminals at sea spoke and then one fictional character, Long John Silver, popularised it around the world? In other words, fiction owns it now, so we all love pirate talk and long may it prosper. This book deploys the language of the blue sea, burning sun and privateer freedom, which has already earned its wooden legged and eye-patched place in the history of entertainment. Is it a serious book though? Yes, but does it have to be?

“Though lightened, Vengeferth was no feather.”

There’s a quite brilliant conceit in which a small boat is “rescued” by a sinking ship full of trusting Christian missionary passengers who have no crew aboard. Having decided that the crew were unacceptable to them because they were swearing too much, they had packed them off with a lot of money to hire a new crew and send them back to the ship instead. They’ve been waiting for quite a while now but the new crew are sure to be along any time…

“The Captain’s condition worsened due to lack of alcohol.”

I liked the metaphors and the best of those is for “a wall” (rogue wave), which is described as God’s hand moving across the sea, brushing the crumbs off of the table. Equally, this book seems to be spilling off the top of a wave of independent publications that sometimes seems too large for readers to tackle alone and the fact that no independent reviewer at all has rated it on Goodreads yet is saddening as it could have gone completely unnoticed. Message in a bottle?

“So the party was on. We drank rum, swam, played runabout, ate meat, drank rum, sang, told stories, drank rum, sang, ate meat, played games, slept a spell an’ went back at it.”

Without giving the plot away, if you want to have your confidence restored in the mercurial bounty of indie writers and what they can come up with, you do need to add this book to your collection. If you read it and don’t agree with me, I’d be very surprised. If you don’t then think it would make the perfect entertainment present for your mates on Talk Like a Pirate Day, they deserve a lick’o-the-cat. Not literally. Cats taste awful, unless you’re stuck in a row boat fer forty days, in which case they look mighty pleasin’ t’ the eye. Jim lad.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Eye of Nefertiti, by Maria Luisa Lang - 3 Stars

Now I have to say that talking cats aren’t really my thing because I gravitate to explanations rather than magic. Don’t do it, says Lynn Truss in her oft’ quoted splurge in the ghastly Guardian “Top Ten Cats in Literature”

However, there are millions of cat lovers and only one of me, so I find myself outvoted and I have to admit that Paul Gallico (Jennie, Thomasina, The Silent Miow), Terry Pratchett (The Amazing Maurice), Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) and G.A. Henty (The Cat of Bubastes, 1889) know more about giving the public what they want than I will ever do. When you put Egyptology into the mix though, it reminds me more of the children’s film Treasure Buddies, with its talking Labrador puppies and Raiders of the Lost Ark imagery, which suggests to me that this sort of thing naturally fits into the children’s section.

This book, the second in a series, is intended for an audience slightly older than that initial assumption, so it’s perhaps young adult or beyond. It’s clearly written by and for an audience who like their cats and probably talk to them or imagine they have the re-incarnated souls of interesting beings from the past. Does that describe you? It’s fair to say that doesn’t describe everyone, so perhaps it shouldn’t have fallen to me to rate it.

The story involves time travel in a spinning boat, a magical gift bestowed by ancient divinities and takes Nefertiti beyond her regular context and lets her interact as a fictional dame. It isn’t just about explaining the missing wall eye from her famous bust (which is beautiful, by the way), it’s using her as a romantic character which interacts with a much longer span of history.

If you like the story of Akhenaten the sun-worshipping pharaoh, the short-lived monotheistic religion he founded to over-throw the old and the city named after him (now called Amarna), this might be the book for you. It’s a light-touch take on that failed revolution but shows it from the human angle, how disrespecting the old ways caused a rift that up with the priesthood would not put.

I thought the best thing about this from a non-cat owner’s perspective was the descriptive passages about ancient temples and their decorative influences. The book was like something that once was deep but today shouldn’t be taken too seriously, like walking around an old site with a well-informed tour guide for an hour or two and spinning your parasol on a sunny day.