Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dirty Machines (Olson)

Dirty Machines, by David Matthew Olson, 2014

Dirty Machines is a story that puts forward a lot of ideas and doesn't develop any of them, which is a shame because some of them could have been good. Starting from the beginning where the main character's name is omitted and references to it are jarring to say the least. (Seriously, it's "[Del]" or "[Del]'s" or similar and it wasn't until much later that I realized that it was supposed to be a reference to the "Delete" key.) Not that it matters what his name is because he'll change it when he goes into the future.

The plot centers on the head of the world's only Time Travel company (which replaces the letter "T" with stylized crosses everywhere!) personally comes back a few decades to convince our nameless protagonist to journey into the future. Here's the hook: if he doesn't, history says he's about to die from a stray bullet while minding his own business. However, they can replace him with some poor shlub from the past who is genetically similar and dressed up in a matching outfit. The doomed man, who would've died alone in the past and never have been found, gets a quick death and spares a life. The catch: now that he knows, he can't avoid his fate because they can hit a magic Reset button and he'll be back on the subway before the offer was made with no memory of the meeting and blindly unaware that he'll be on his way to his death.

Naturally, he agrees after considering if this is some kind of gag. And smoking some weed. And whining and complaining about stuff.

Never answered is why Jim Doors (a reference to things hidden behind doors or to Jim Morrison of the Doors?) is so interested in the protagonist. Yes, a reason is given, but it isn't a satisfactory one, so you figure that there must be more to it. The most important, most powerful man in the world takes a special interest in some random pothead, stand-up comedian because he thinks he can write click-bait articles to get the world reading more? What?

The time travel at the center of the story is even more confusing. Everyone is free to travel back in time to visit important events as spectators, but no one may change The Course because that would be bad. But with all these people going into the past (there are mandatory trips), where are they? Only a handful are ever present at an event, such as a bus filled with witnesses to a major milestone in time travel history could be seen by the people of that Era and yet it's always the same bus. Does the trip get Reset? But then why is it there to be seen in the Past.

The title "dirty machines" refers to unauthorized time travel machines and isn't referenced until at least three-quarters of the way through the book. It could have been a separate plot in itself (and probably should have). And then there's the ending, which I won't mention, except to say that that scene should have taken place a hundred pages sooner with the story going on from there.

I could go on nitpicking some pretty sizable nits, and not just the massive numbers of typos. The narrative is disjointed, randomly switching point-of-view characters. There are no chapters, just breaks in the text. An entire section is crossed out -- I guess to symbolize that it didn't take place. Details of the future are sketchy and are poorly delivered. The main character is lost without his iPhone but hesitates to use Current tech to the point that others have to keep filling him in. The book touches real life with a flyer for Stephen Hawking's party for time travelers and circles back to it with time travelers having a party across the street and observing Hawking through his window all alone. Hawking could never know the "truth" of the matter. Ultimately, he got the better end of that deal.

Final note: the book suffered from not having an editor or a copy editor.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder (Mauritsen)

Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder, by Roy A. Mauritsen, 2012 I was first drawn to this story by a series of paintings hanging in the Art Room at Lunacon (a long-running Northeastern science fiction convention, usually held in Rye, NY), each with its own vignette, giving a new twist on each of the fairy tale characters that were more in line with the original interpretations than the 20th-century incarnations. The artist was Roy A. Mauritsen, and his book uses these characters.

His incarnations flow together very nicely with a few odd twists among them, most of which are enjoyable. (I have a couple of quibbles about how some of the characters, and their relationships to each other, but they work within the story.)

I don't want to give anything away -- I'd rather let the characters reveal themselves as the story progresses, even if you think you know who's coming next, as you get caught up in the tales of those grim days after the Beanstalk War when Cinderella has to ascend to the throne. Fairy magic is on the wane and with it the power of witches, but is there another source of power that can be tapped into?

My only complaint was that the subplot was actually the build-up to the sequel, which I now have to find. (Like I wasn't going to get it anyway!)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

365 Things I Learned the Hard Way (So You Don't Have To) (The Digital Writer, Jonathan Wondrusch)

365 Things I Learned the Hard Way (So You Don't Have To), by The Digital Writer (Jonathan Wondrusch), 2012

A free ebook on the writing business by a writer. Quick! What's he trying to sell me? Actually, he isn't selling me one thing -- he's selling me on a lifestyle, a workstyle, a way to make it all click, if that's what I want. And that should be what I want.

The Digital Writer puts together and presents information in a usable way, heavy on the discipline, easy on the hard sell. He recommends ways to establish your presence, your brand, online in social media, and the ways to monetize it. Because if you aren't monetizing, then what are you doing? He also tells you when to pay for others to do the work for you -- specifically, hiring an editor and paying for good cover design.

A good chunk of the book is dedicated to writing copy, which is a promising field to get into that pays well when jobs are available, as well as making ebooks starting with information that's readily available by consolidated so that the reader doesn't have to research it, and search engine optimization, because you want users to find you when you know that they aren't going to look at that second page on Google.

Ebooks, by the way, are a great source of steady income once you build a following. There's a good discussion on pricing, which has recently changed as Amazon has changed its terms.

The final part of the book is a Q & A from letters he received on his Digital Writer blog. They get a little repetitive with the rest of the book and with other questions, but it's definitely worth skimming. One thing that impressed me was that he recommends two great books to learn how to write copy -- and they aren't his. They're the ones that he learned from and he recommends them. You have to admire that. If nothing else, it definitely improves his brand.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The God in the Clear Rock (Randolph)

The God in the Clear Rock, by Lucian Randolph, 2011

I "purchased" The God in the Clear Rock as a free download after seeing it promoted on Reddit or, perhaps, some other site listing free ebooks. I'm glad I didn't waste any money on it, and I'm certainly not going to spend a dime on any of the sequels.

Full disclosure: I didn't get far beyond Chapter 1, but had I kept trying, I'd still be reading this book weeks later. I'm stunned by how poorly it's written. This isn't a case of misspellings and glaring typos. The prose itself, the descriptions, the dialogues, the analogies used in the exposition need serious work. The writing is terrible. The dialogue is terrible. The odd metaphors describing actions and objects are more distracting than helpful.

One of the dangers of self-publishing is that you try to do everything yourself and don't get good feedback. One piece of advice I've seen repeated is spend the money you need to on an editor and good cover art. The cover art is decent. The absence of an editor is obvious.

The writing was so distracting that I couldn't stay with it long enough to discover if the story (which the author states in the Foreward would be a cliffhanger in each part) was worth trying to follow. The other reviews I saw on sites such as GoodReads tell me that I made the correct choice.

The one bright side of this: I'm curious how many of these books his put out and what his sales are like. If this guy can make enough money on ebooks to write six novels, then anybody can.