Posts Tagged ‘books’

Once upon a time, an English professor… No, let me start again. Once upon a time, a geology professor that someone had put in charge of an English class on science fiction (probably because he was the only faculty member who would admit to reading the stuff), lectured that you knew Robert Heinlein was a libertarian because of his book, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (which had been assigned in class). Since MHM was libertarian in outlook (and is, in fact, considered a classic in that field, to my understanding), Heinlein must perforce have been a libertarian himself. This view also found expression in the final exam.

A certain student, naive in his outlook and seeking to better his education by exercising free will (ironically, a libertarian ideal), argued that this was, in literary and learned terms, BS. You can’t judge an author by his work. He supported his thesis by offering two other Heinlein works, The Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers, which are by no means libertarian. Both, in fact, feature governments that are willing to do whatever it takes to defend themselves, personal choices taking a back seat.

As you may have predicted if you have any education at all, the student lost that argument. And as you will already have deduced, that student was me. I consider that class to have been the second-worst adventure of my university career, right behind the career-ending catastrophe that was calculus. (See how I used alliteration there? It just proves I should have been an English major all along.)

Unlike calculus, however, my poor showing on that final exam was not my fault. You cannot judge an author from his work. There’s been a lot of controversy lately about authors being banned, or disinvited, from conventions. In some cases it has been based on prior actions, in others on “personal views” which the convention apparently did not want to promote/entertain/risk. How you choose guests is your business, and you may base that decision on the author himself, or on his work. If either does not fit your philosophy of your con, then don’t invite that author. But please don’t make the mistake of characterizing an author on the basis of his work, whether you’re planning a convention or simply reading books. It’s certainly true that many books are a mirror of their creators, but it isn’t a direct correlation. Authors can take completely opposing views in different books if that’s what it takes to tell those stories.

After all, a lot of famous authors got their start by writing porn. If you meet one at a con, ask him if those books are an accurate reflection of his sex life. Go ahead; I’m sure the answer will tell you a lot about that author as a person.




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So I’ve finished The Killing Scar… That’s the third in my renamed “Nemesis” series. I have one more planned, Marauders from the Moon, then I will stop and assess and see where I want to go from there. I’d like to continue the series; it’s fun to write, and I’m really starting to get a feel for the characters (some of whom demonstrate an alarming degree of independence).

After the lightning round that was drafting The Scent of Death (57 days), I had hoped to make equivalent speed with this one and finish by the end of November. But that didn’t happen, and then with the holidays, things dragged. I blame myself, but I won’t schedule another book to end in the fourth quarter, I think.

I have the cover for Scar on order, and the plan is to publish at the end of February. But it needs editing, and proofreading, and I need to start outlining Marauders if I’m to publish that this summer… That would make three books in one year. Life was a lot simpler when it took a year to write one book.

But who ever said simple was fun?


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My wife is into a particular series of books that has an active fan group, particularly on line. Lately she has developed a new pet peeve, one with which I whole-heartedly agreed as soon as I heard it. It is as follows:

A great many people seem to want spoilers. They cannot abide not knowing what will happen in the future, even though there may be several more books in the series already published and the answers are there to find. Now, however, she is running into people who want spoilers for events that not only occur in the next book, but the same book, or even in the same chapter.


Are they that lazy? And forget about being lazy, if they hate the writing so much, why are they reading the book?

Notice I didn’t ask if they hate the story. I’m talking about the writing. Writers spend anywhere from a few minutes to a few months (some spend years) picking and choosing exactly the correct turn or phrase for their masterpieces. (I tend toward the “minutes” end of the spectrum, but still, I do try.) And they spend even longer plotting the story, laying out clues and foreshadowing so that they can lead you down a path that ends in a huge surprise. That’s why we do it. If it wasn’t meant to be a surprise, we wouldn’t bother.

Seriously, we spend far more time writing this stuff than anyone ever will reading it. All we ask is that you invest the time to realize the experience as we have laid it out for you. It’s not like you have to do a lot of work. In fact, it’s supposed to be fun.

I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon here (okay, I am), but trust me, it would be much easier and faster simply to publish a synopsis or an outline, if that’s all anyone wants. But we write stories and books because we love them, and we want you to love them, too. We want you to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into them. Reading until you get to an interesting point and then running to the Internet to get a spoiler is like buying a holiday mocha, sucking off the sprinkles and whipped cream, and throwing the coffee away. I mean, would you watch the first half of Designated Survivor and then call a friend in an earlier time zone to find out what happens after the commercial?

I guess one could wait for the books to be turned into mini-series. But beware, there are no commercials on cable. You’ll just have to enjoy the whole thing the way the author intended.


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Last weekend was Los Angeles’ annual “Who Says We Don’t Read?” gathering. Every year 150,000 people gather at the USC campus over a weekend to “celebrate the written word.” And this year, despite an unseasonably warm Saturday and the March for Science, they did it again. If you care at all about books and you’re anywhere within 500 miles, you should come to this.

My wife and I volunteered (both days!) as author escorts, leading groups of authors (and entourages) to their panel discussions, and signing areas for autographs. This involves, naturally, a certain sense of longing, since for once I’d rather be led than leading, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. We’re performing a service for the speakers and the attendees, we get a reserved front-row seat, and it’s not arduous work–except…

Hmm. How do I say this? I’m an author, and I’d like to be on one of those panels some day, so I don’t want to speak ill of the team…I guess it’s just that authors are not used to being the center of attention. I’m not saying they’re treated like rock stars at this thing, but they do get a lot of attention. And sometimes when we need them to do one thing, they’re busy doing another, which is Being Admired. That’s when we have to find a diplomatic way to separate author from fan without offending either and get the author to where he needs to be because fifty other fans are waiting for him. (Yes, him. It’s usually the men, for some reason.)

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at this, and as far as I know, I’ve never caused offense. But every time it happens, I have to ask myself: Is that Me? Will that, if the opportunity ever arises, be Me? I certainly hope not.

But then again, if the opportunity ever does arise, I’m not going to waste it either. So to that hypothetical author escort at that hypothetical Festival of Books where I’m a guest author, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I’m making your life difficult. Believe me, I’ve been there.

But I’ve never been here before. And damned if it doesn’t feel good.


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Here it is–the cover of my latest book, the third book in the Stolen Future trilogy, The Cosmic City. Just as Keryl Clee thought that he could settle down to life in the far-distant future that is now his home, a stranger brings him news of a calamity of such staggering proportions that if he cannot unite this fractured world, he will soon witness its utter destruction…

The Cosmic City goes on sale March 1. Vols. 1 and 2, The Invisible City and The Secret City, are available on Amazon and Smashwords.


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The Helsinki Worldcon has just announced that it will present, on a trial basis, a Hugo award for “Best Series,” in 2017. Personally, I would just as soon see the award stay in Finland and never get a visa, as it were.

Without going into the guidelines, what I see is an annual “Best Novel” Hugo not going to the best novel. In other words, series will be nominated either because their partisans just love it to pieces (and good for them) or because the latest installment sits head and shoulders above the standard previously set for that series. In the first case, you’re nominating a series that no one who hasn’t read it already is going to read before voting. Voting in the “Best Novel” category is already hard enough (no time, expensive hardcovers). This category will have a small voting pool. In the second case, well, there’s already a “Best Novel” Hugo.

It has been suggested (and I suspect the suggestion will prove popular), to limit each series to one win. On the surface, I agree. But there are only so many great series out there, and I fear we would quickly read the state of “American Idol disease,” where once the deserved winners are burned off, the selection becomes less about quality and more about filling slots.

If this must continue (as I predict it will), I would be less opposed if a negotiated settlement could be reached. How about we eliminate a category, like “Best Professional Editor-Long Form”? I appreciate the work that goes into editing books, but I don’t have the faintest notion how to vote that category. I’m sorry, but who pays attention to the editor? How do you even know? At the very least, change it to “Best Professional Publisher-Long Form” so all we have to do is check the imprint.

By the way, in the interests of full disclosure, I hope to finish my trilogy by the end of the year. It would be eligible. But since it would be disingenuous to seek nominations, I won’t. Really, don’t nominate me. I wasn’t even planning to go. Oh, all right, if you must…


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I was wandering the halls of the internet a while back, and came upon a discussion of some of the classic (as in old) novels that formed the foundation of the “planetary romance” genre, the genre my Stolen Future trilogy belongs to. Some I’d heard of, some I hadn’t, but it was fun to see just how far back the antecedents of what I’ve been working on go. Turns out they go back to at least 1905, in the person of Edwin L Arnold‘s Lieut. Gulliver Jones (later reprinted as Gulliver of Mars), published in England seven years before Edgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars, which is usually considered the seminal work in the field.

Well, that’s nice, right? In one eye and out the other. Nothing special about it–until the other day when I wandered into Fahrenheit 451 Books in Carlsbad, California, reached the SF section, and there, staring at me from its own little shelf on the wall was… Gulliver of Mars. Hey! went my brain. That’s that book! So of course I had to buy it and now I’m reading it. So far, it’s…quaint.

The point of this rumination, however, is that you don’t make these kinds of serendipitous discoveries on Amazon. You don’t sit down in front of your computer, type in a URL, and inhale the subtle aroma of old paper. You don’t wander past high wooden shelves and glance through their offerings, and come away with a book you didn’t even know existed, in a genre you weren’t looking for. (As I did. In fact, the book was so obscure the owner didn’t remember having stocked it.) Only in a bookstore can this happen.

I am a book person. Not an e-book person. Amazon is for readers, but bookstores are for book people. And for book people to survive, there must be bookstores. Only in a bookstore can book people know true love. Amazon has its uses, such as when you know exactly what you want and you can’t find it locally but you have to have it now because someone’s birthday is coming. Amazon is like the 7-11 of books; it’s okay in an emergency, but you really shouldn’t do your weekly grocery shopping there.*

Many will disagree with me. Many will espouse convenience, and choice, and price. And for them, they may be right. But I’ve shopped Amazon, and I’ve shopped bookstores, and you readers who only want convenience?

You’ll never know true love.

*Yes, my books are only available on-line. I appreciate the irony.


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