Monday, January 1, 2018

What I Read in 2017

At the end of each year I do a summary post of what I read throughout the year. I find it interesting to see my reading habits, and to make note of what the best books were each year. I read a lot less this year, unfortunately. I had been reading over fifty books a year, but this year only 35. I need to do better. I use a standard five star rating method with five stars meaning I loved the book so much I intend to re-read it throughout my life, so there are rarely any five star books.

1. Dictator by Robert Harris ****
2. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith ****
3. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith ****
4. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith ****
5. Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi ****
6. Finders Keepers by Stephen King **** and a half
7. American Pastoral by Philip Roth ***
8. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (reread) *****
9. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (reread) *****
10. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North ****
11. End of Watch by Stephen King ****
12. The Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss ***
13. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams **
14. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft **** and a half

15. The Quest by Nelson DeMille **
16. An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson ****
17. Impact - A Relative Invasion by Rosalind Minett **** and a half

18. Star Wars - Bloodline by Claudia Gray **
19. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance *** and a half
20. The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson *****
21. The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson *****
22. The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin **
23. The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem **
24. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr *****

25. Saturn Run by John Sandford ****
26. Heroes Die by Matthew Stover *** and a half
27. The Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi ***
28. The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi ***
29. Red Shirts by John Scalzi ** and a half
30. Anti-Soviet Activities by Jim Williams ****
31. Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey *****
32. Welcome to the Occupied States of America by Peter Cawdron ***
33. Armada by Ernest Cline ** and a half
34. Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh ****
35. Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page *** and a half

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Best Christmas Music

I was lucky to grow up in a family with great musical tastes. I'm not certain whether it was my mother or step-father (or both) who brought in the great albums of my early life, from Led Zeppelin IV to Fleetwood Mac to Simon & Garfunkel and many more. So I was also lucky that this great musical taste meant that I grew up listening to the best Christmas music. I say this because invariably when I hear Christmas music played in public places or in other peoples' homes, I often shake my head and wonder how they can stand listening to the music they are playing. Tastes vary, of course, but some music is just atrocious.
I think these are the best two Christmas albums of all time: The Carpenters, Christmas Portrait, and John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together. Absolutely gorgeous music, and a blend of brilliantly done classics along with some songs I never hear anywhere else, such as the wonderful Merry Christmas Darling by the Carpenters, and several unique songs by John Denver. The voices of John Denver and Karen Carpenter are perfect for Christmas music.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Nothing New in the World

So I started reading a new book the other day. And it's a really well written, fun read. I highly recommend it. It's called Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh. The prose is much cooler than mine, much more edgy in style.

It's a near future thriller set in a New York decimated by a dirty bomb, where about the only sci-fi element is how people spend their time addicted to being in an online virtual reality. And that's the part that struck me funny, because though the author names it something different, this aspect of the story is pretty much the same as in my own book that was published the same year, 2014. I call the online virtual reality addiction 'meshing'.

In both of our stories, people buy souped up beds that feed and take care of them so they can 'live' in their virtual reality for long periods of time without the need to come back to the real world. All throughout the book I keep seeing aspects of this that remind me of what I was doing in my book.

 I'm definitely not saying the author stole my idea (though it is possible, given that I began writing my book in 2009 and posted each chapter online as I wrote it--first on the Authonomy writers website and later on Wattpad). I just think we actually and truly had the same basic idea at around the same time. It's like that when you are extrapolating things you see happening today into the future.

And hey, it's like our two novels are set in the same story 'universe'! I like the book, so give it a try.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Class Differences in Writing

I read an interesting article today that got me thinking about various writing relating topics. One of them was the idea of class pervading literature in ways we often don't even consider. I had thought of class in literature, especially when thinking about major prizes, which almost always overlook all genre fiction. But what about within genre fiction itself? Is there still a class divide?

If there is it must be subtle, but I do think it may be there to a degree. The huge successes of writers who grew up poor or middle class, say Stephen King or JK Rowling, can make it seem absurd to even consider a class divide in genre fiction.

But I was struck in the article by the author's points about not relating to characters in what he had been reading. I feel that way very often in the genre fiction I read (though admittedly not in King or Rowling). Too often the characters are nobles or some form of warrior who is about the best in the world at what they do. What I always wanted to read about were people like me stuck in extraordinary circumstances and forced to sink or swim.

So that's what I write. My characters are ordinary people. They are an ugly sixty-something mute, or a fisherman's son who got lucky enough to marry a nobleman's daughter but is looked down upon for rising above his station. One is a hard working young Russian woman just trying to get by in a crumbling world. Another is an ex-addict with low self-esteem despairing of the world and only doing something because his dead father is egging him on. I realize when I write such characters that I may lose out on the entire readership that enjoys the higher level characters of princes and superheroes, but I can't help but want to write about what feels real to me. I want ordinary people who have to fight and claw their way to survival.
Anyway, I am so looking forward to seeing the new Blade Runner movie this weekend. I consider the original to be the best movie ever made (especially the Final Cut version). Anyone else going to see it this weekend?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Do You Like Podcasts?

I'm part of a trio of fantasy and science fiction authors here in Nassau, Bahamas. I think all three of us are pretty decent writers. Now we have been working on a new podcast, basically a science fiction and fantasy book club. We read a new book each month and then do a two part podcast about it. We've been doing them all summer, so we now have about five books done, though we had some technical troubles on two of them which we are trying to work out.

If you like podcasts, please 'Like' our Facebook page and share it with your friends! We'd love to have people read along on the next book we are doing and join us for live podcasts where you can join in. Here is the link to the page, where each podcast will be listed.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Inspiration

Authors draw inspiration from other books all the time. My second novel, The Immortality Game, had two primary sources. First it was the background story for the wizard Xax in my first novel The Shard (Xax from the fantasy novel is the Russian scientist Tyoma in The Immortality Game and there is a short story called 'Arrival' in my book of short stories Lord Fish that ties the two books together).
Second was the inspiration I drew from the spectacular cyberpunk novels of Richard K Morgan, starting with Altered Carbon. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves great sci-fi. I loved them even more the second time I read them.
In these books Morgan uses a version of digital immortality he calls cortical stacks. He didn't invent the idea of digital immortality by any means, but he uses the idea brilliantly, wrapped in an amazing set of stories. The cortical stack is a ball of something like steel that is implanted in the spine near the skull, where it collects everything from the mind as it happens. If the person is killed or dies, as long as the cortical stack wasn't damaged, the person can be 'resleeved' into a cloned body and essentially live again. 

I was intrigued by this idea, mainly because the story treats the characters as if they are the same person no matter how many times they are resleeved, though of course each is just a copy of the person. You can't call it immortality, because the original person dies, and no matter how real the copy is, it isn't the original and thus it isn't real immortality. I started wondering what the technology of cortical stacks might have been like when it was first being developed, and that set off the story-line that grew into The Immortality Game.

I have found it odd that almost no one seems to buy both The Immortality Game and The Shard. I understand that they seem very different, with one being a technothriller and the other an epic fantasy, but they are set in the same 'universe' and share characters, despite not being a traditional series.

What books have served to inspire you in writing your stories?


Monday, June 5, 2017

Chris Cornell's Best Songs

I've had a couple of weeks now to get over the heartbreak of Chris Cornell's untimely demise. I'll never stop being sad about it, especially for his family and friends, and for all the tremendous future music we lost.

When I last saw Cornell live a month ago, I was not particularly happy, as you'd tell by reading my original post about it. It wasn't that it was bad by any means, but rather that the group chose songs that mostly didn't thrill me, especially since Soundgarden has so many great songs to choose from. I realized that the reason they chose the songs they did was probably to appeal to the average fan or to those who didn't know Soundgarden very well. The songs they released as singles and ended up getting lots of airplay were usually not their best songs. Ones like Black Hole Sun or Spoonman or My Wave are decent, but they aren't ones I choose to listen to when I'm in the mood for Soundgarden.

So with the hope of introducing some people to great Chris Cornell songs that people may not have heard of, I decided to post my favorites. These are the songs that I listen to when I want to hear Cornell's music. The order isn't exact, but rather reflects how often I am listening to each particular song these days. For anyone who cares about great rock music, I recommend spending some time getting to know all of these songs. It's well worth it.

1. Bones of Birds -- The best song off their latest album.

2. Searching With My Good Eye Closed -- I absolutely love this song, and it was the first Soundgarden song I ever heard when they opened with it during their 1992 concert. I edit out the long intro for my own personal version, as I think it's a better song when it comes in with the intro guitar part.
3. Boot Camp -- A lovely little song that unfortunately almost no one seems to know.

4. 4th of July -- A dirge-like song that for some reason really appeals to me. I don't think it's technically one of their best, yet I find myself listening to it more often than many other songs.
5. Beyond the Wheel -- The live version from Letterman, in which Chris sounded unbelievable.
6. Pretty Noose -- Love the wah wah pedal guitar riff.
7. Blow Up the Outside World -- So many of the songs from Soundgarden's best album Down on the Upside were terrific.
8. Burden in My Hand -- See 7
9. Switch Opens -- Ibid
10. Zero Chance -- Ibid
11. Overfloater -- Ibid
12. Karaoke -- An unusual and rare track that sounds so raw and almost angry, but is also really cool.

13. Blood on the Valley Floor -- Another great track from their last album.
14. Worse Dreams -- See 13
15. By Crooked Steps -- Ibid
16. Seasons -- Gorgeous acoustic song

After these 'best' songs comes a slew of other really good ones:

Nothing to Say
Outshined
Jesus Christ Pose
Mind Riot
Like Suicide (both versions, even though the acoustic has a bad skip in it at one point)
Call Me a Dog -- My favorite from Temple of the Dog
Gasoline -- My favorite from Audioslave
Taree
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Hunger Strike
All Night Thing
Your Savior
Four Walled World
Times of Trouble
Drawing Flies
Holy Water
New Damage
Rusty Cage
Flutter Girl
Follow My Way
Preaching the End of the World
Hands All Over
Bleed Together
Live to Rise
Earache My Eye
Black Hole Sun
The Day I Tried to Live
Spoonman
An Unkind