Tag Archives: Edward W Robertson

Books, books and more books…

Whoa, it's been almost a month since I posted anything here. I've been writing a little, trying to get my ducks in a row for some sort of concerted effort to release four novellas/novels within a short time.  Working on my post-apocalyptic novel, which is part The Stand and part Wool.  (There are three ways to survive this apocalypse.  1.  Build a shelter.  2.  Be immune to this virus.  3.  Be invited.)    Reworking blurbs for those three novellas and one novel. But I've been reading. A short time ago, I posted that I'd read, and was impressed with, Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One.    I finished his second novel, a mashup of alien movie themes and stories, titled Armada.    I enjoyed it, not quite as much as the debut, but it was still a lot of fun.  Aliens are coming to destroy us, but we've known about it for the last forty years and have been preparing for the invasion.  And guess what?  We train our drone pilots by having them play video games.  Does that sound familiar?  Maybe something like The Last Starfighter?  It borrows, or pays homage, to that film along with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact and others.  It kept me (and my son) reading once we got into it. I also picked up another book, one I've had sitting on the bookshelves since before Borders closed its doors (it still had the Borders sticker on it) called WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer.  I've always enjoyed Sawyer's works, and this one ended up being really good.  A blind girl with a very specific and rare type of blindness gets an implant which allows the visual signals to be altered and transmitted through the optic nerve, and it also allows her to "see" the World Wide Web.  Through her enhanced awareness of the Web, she becomes aware of something - some entity - lurking in the background of that network, and whatever it is, it's learning and becoming more aware of itself.  Interesting premise, well-executed, with good characters and a setup for future books.  I may read in in the three book series at some point. My ebook reading included Fatally Bound by Roger Stelljes, a thriller featuring a couple of too-good-to-be-true sleuths/agents.  I liked it, and it worked on a number of levels as they work the investigation alongside an FBI task force to locate a serial killer who is targeting various women who seem to have no common features or connections between them.  Also I read another installment in Boyd Craven's The World Burns serial, this the seventh story, titled The World Cowers.  I have come to know and care about his characters and I want to find out where he's ultimately going with the tale.  Also finished Sleep Tight by Anne Frasier, another serial killer thriller, and also a pretty good read.  And I read Edward W. Robertson's third Rebel Stars book, titled Ronin.   Enjoyed it quite a bit.  Good space opera. There are others, but that's a good summary of some of the books I've been reading. *****

Pessimism in Science Fiction

I've been interested in the Walt Disney Corporation for some time now.  The whole history of the company and its genesis and growth to finally become the behemoth it is today fascinates me. I've gone to visit the parks several times as a adult (and parent) and enjoyed it every time, especially Epcot. I read a book called DISNEY WAR by James B. Stewart, and was doing some internet searches when I happened upon a blog called Re-Imagineering, which seems to mostly be a series of short essays about the problems with Disney as it exists today and what could be done to solve some of them.  The blog is basically dark today; it hasn't had new content posted in years. One of the old discussions (about Epcot) was talking about exhibits people would like to see, and what sorts of things they might try to freshen it up, make it less corporate in feel. It was also talking about Tomorrowland and its original optimism about our future. But that discussion shifted to some comments about the science fiction, especially in film, of today.  As an avid reader of SF and as an author, the discussion interested me enough to write this blog post about the topic. It seems that most of today's SF is dystopian, and that most of the film projects outside of stuff like STAR TREK and STAR WARS (not really SF in any classic sense) are very dark visions of the future. They named Blade Runner, Minority Report, AI, and The Matrix. (I'd say that Vanilla Sky, Dark City, and I, Robot are also fairly dystopian, along with stuff like Final Fantasy, Waterworld, all of the Terminators, The Postman, Battlefield Earth, and maybe even The Day After Tomorrow (though the last is not far in the future at all).)  There's a bunch more SF films that I haven't seen recently because I just don't have the time to get to the movies or even watch them on TV. As I think about the SF I've read in the not-too-distant past, first, there isn't a whole lot of it. ALTERED CARBON was a good book but pretty dark. Dan Simmons' HYPERION series and his latest pair, ILIUM and OLYMPOS, are not exactly happy fantasies of the future. I haven't read much else in the field recently, sticking mostly to mysteries with some horror tossed in here and there. Indie fiction introduces more variety, and more optimism, into its vision.  But even there, the story comes from the "negative."  I'm thinking of Steven M. Moore's THE CHAOS CHRONICLES and Edward W. Robertson's REBEL STARS series.  There's also Hugh Howey's WOOL series, which is pretty darned negative for most of the series, right up until the very end. As I think about it, my question is, is there a story in a utopian future? Is it a story I want to read about? Novels are about resolving problems. In some ways it seems to me that any story is essentially a mystery. If there is a mystery, there is a problem to be discovered and sorted through. If there are no problems to resolve, if everything is hunky dory, it might make for a nice pretty painting but is there any story? I don't know. I was thinking about something like Asimov's Empire series, and while there is a lot of optimism there with the direction of humanity, when the story takes place, things are not so good. Heinlein's juveniles are more adventure story set in a fairly positively imagined future, but some of his adult works are a lot darker. I see where they're coming from with respect to Tomorrowland, they don't want pessimism at Disney World, nor does it have a place. But I don't see a story in a future where everyone is happy as clams. Those Morlocks in HG Wells' novel weren't all that happy, and the surface beings couldn't have been thrilled with the status quo either. But THE TIME MACHINE wouldn't make for a very good Disney ride. *****

Independent Fiction

I was looking at the books I've downloaded on my Kindle and they are probably 95% by indie authors.  That's pretty amazing, really, considering that a few years ago I didn't know anything about the field. I remember how I started downloading books by indie authors.  The first one I did was a book called BONE SHOP by Tim "TA" Pratt.  It is an urban fantasy, the fifth book in a series that had previously been published by a BPH imprint but was dropped after the fourth book.  Why, I don't exactly know.  Was it not selling?  I bought the first four at Barnes and Noble bookstores, where they had exactly one copy on the shelf.  I always looked when I'd go back in to see if they had anything else by Pratt, and once I bought the single copy of whichever they had, well, that was it. I was following a blog of editor Annetta Ribken on Journalscape back in the day, before she was an editor.  She had a very entertaining blog, and she was working on a novel, which was released as ATHENA'S PROMISE.  She decided to release it indie via Kindle and Createspace, and I bought the ebook of that one as well.  Both of those ebooks costed $4.99, which, at the time, I considered a bargain.  Now I consider it a premium that I'm willing to pay for authors I like.  Even then, I think twice about it.  "Just how much do I want to read this book right now?" I started thinking that if Annetta could do it that way, so could I.  Another author-friend who I met at Chicago's Printer's Row Festival, Sean Hayden, was working with a small press, editing and writing his own fiction.  He and his significant other, Jen Wylie, opened their own small press called Untold Press, and began publishing their own fiction as well as a few other authors.  Yeah, it's technically a small press, but it started as a way of indie publishing their own works. Connecting the dots, I found the blogs of Dean Wesley Smith and J.A. Konrath, and then I found Hugh Howey.  WOOL was, for me, a revelation.  It was engrossing -- I couldn't hardly put it down when I purchased it as an ebook.  Howey's story was almost as engrossing.  He put the book out in shorter installments, five of them, at $0.99 each, then compiled them into the single edition at $4.99.  And Hugh was making a killing financially, or so it seems. I found "The Passive Voice" and answered a submissions call for a SF anthology called QUANTUM ZOO, and lo and behold, mine was one of the twelve stories accepted for publication in the volume.  If nothing else, it validated me in my own eyes as a writer. From Konrath's blog, I read a comment by author Steven M. Moore, and somehow realized that he wrote SF and thrillers, and I followed the link to his blog, and now I've read everything he's written save (I think) two books.  (I'll correct that oversight this year.)  I also found horror novels by Bryan Smith and by William Malmborg, which led me again to other horror novelists. Now I'm reading one indie work after another, generally.  (I am trying to get a good run into Robert Crais' third Joe Pike novel, called THE SENTRY, but haven't found the time to get into it much.)  I am in the midst of a series (starting with E) by Kate Wrath.  I'm reading Mit Sandru's novels.  I read Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, John Ellsworth, Bobby Adair, and Edward W. Robertson. I've found tons of the fiction I want to read, and I haven't broken the bank buying all these books. Not to mention, I've become an indie author myself, with a bunch of short stories and collections out as well as two novellas. Buy indie.  Cut out that middle man! *****  

More Mini-reviews…

Finished up three books last week.  Two were ebooks by Edward W. Robertson, who writes the BREAKERS series.  The first was BLACKOUT, the final book of the eight-book BREAKERS series.  If you're not familiar with the Breakers world, it is a post-apocalyptic tale where two things happen to end civilization as we know it:  a viral disease that claims around 99% of all people (like in King's THE STAND, which Robertson admits to using as his inspiration in this series) and then an alien invasion.  Turns out, the aliens, huge crab-like beings, sent the viral plague to Earth, and they figured they'd wipe out all of humanity with it, but when they come to claim the empty planet, they find plenty of humans willing to fight them and their advanced technology.  BLACKOUT, as the final book, occurs as people are trying to rebuild some sort of civilization and society, only to discover that a second "mother ship' of alien "Swimmers" has arrived. I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to the series and one that followed logically from everything that happened before.  The people who I've gotten to know over seven books all seem consistent with the character that they've exhibited throughout the saga.  The aliens became a bit more knowable, and it set up another series in the same universe, but set many years in the future.  The other series is called the REBEL STARS series, and the first book of this saga, titled REBEL, is the other ebook I read. I grabbed REBEL as part of a promotional "box set" with ten "galactic tales", titled STARS AND EMPIRE.  (None of the other titles have really grabbed me much, so REBEL is the only one I've read, and it may continue to be the only one...)  So anyway, in REBEL, a crew of space asteroid miners is working on an asteroid when they make a discovery -- an ice-bound alien ship.  Seems that this is a Swimmer spaceship, and these humans are the descendants of those people who dealt with the Swimmers when they first attacked Earth.  As they excavate the vessel, they are attacked and everyone except for one is killed.  Their discovery, which they had tried to keep secret, is stolen...and when someone gives the survivor a chance to recover it and also to get revenge on the murderers of her crewmates, she jumps at it. It was a solid SF tale that made me want to read further in the series.  I think Edward W. Robertson is an excellent storyteller, and even if one didn't care for post-apocalyptic tales, this REBEL STARS entry can be enjoyed as a straightforward SF novel.  (As an aside, I read another book by Robertson called THE ROAR OF THE SPHERES . which also dealt with colonization of our solar system, though that one was more focused on AI's. The book has been renamed and re-edited, but I'm not sure what the new one is called.  (ETA:  The author informed me that the book is now called TITANS.)  It was also a very good SF book.) And, speaking of Stephen King, I tackled REVIVAL, which is his second newest (FINDERS KEEPERS is his newest at the moment) novel.  I hadn't heard great things about this novel, but I have to say I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. It's a bit of a slow starter.  When our hero, Jamie Morton, meets his "fifth business", pastor Charles Jacobs, he's only six.  And there's a lot of backstory that King gives us in his usual colloquial style, about Reverend Jacobs' fascination with electricity (the "secret" electricity, he calls it) and then the death of his lovely wife and young child and his subsequent loss of faith.  And of course, there's Jamie's backstory, his youth, his high school years, his discovery of the guitar and of rock and roll music, the love of his young life, Astrid, and his subsequent loss of his own faith and his separation from Astrid as they graduate from high school. Jump forward a bunch of years and Jamie is a lifer in the music industry, being good enough to play professionally but not really quite good enough to be a star or in an A-list band.  He's tooling around playing gigs at small venues, roadhouses and state fairs, and he's doing a lot of drugs.  Mainlining heroin, in fact.  He's reached bottom when he encounters Reverend Jacobs at the Oklahoma State Fair, where the former religious man is using his electrical inventions to take people's photographs and do something ... interesting ... with them.  He takes Jamie in and uses his electricity to cure Jamie of his addictions.  He also hooks Jamie up with a job in Colorado, as a studio musician and recording engineer.  Jamie owes him big-time. A third encounter with Pastor Danny (as Jacobs is now calling himself) occurs, as he and his boss (who also owes Jacobs) go to a tent-revival where he is performing genuine healings using the electricity, although he covers it in religious jargon and is clearly making a lot of coin doing so. King masterfully weaves everything together at the end, and I didn't care how implausible it was by then, because I just wanted to know how Jamie ended up.  I was satisfied with the conclusion; like Robertson's Breakers series I described above, it seemed fair and logical with what happened in the book up until then.  King tends to be a bit wordy, but I like the way he uses language to bring characters and setting to life, and allows one to glimpse the inner workings of his characters' brains.  The ending was about what I expected once I got past the steampunk vibe the book was putting out (with electricity being the main focus), but the journey, for me, was worth it, as it usually is with King's books. I'm onto Hugh Howey's THE HURRICANE and King's FINDERS KEEPERS (ebook and hardcover), and will probably post something on both of them when I finish them. ***** Update on THE INN:  I decided that I'd better not use the cover image I was going to use because I'm not sure about the rights and permissions of it, so that is what's holding up the release at this moment.  I made a different cover, but I'm not sure about it either.  So...I'll post something when I finalize the new cover. *****

Dystopian vs. Post-apocalyptic

Ran across the internet site The Short List, who posted this list of "dystopian novels."  The list was controversial, omitting plenty of good novels and listing some that were arguable, like THE HUNGER GAMES and ARTICLE 5.  Also it mixed "dystopian" with "post-apocalyptic" novels as if there were no difference. I think it's likely that both dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories attract many of the same readers.  I know I am attracted to both.  But is there a difference?  In many comments, it is argued that post-apocalyptic novels are a subset of dystopian fiction, while others argue that the two are separate, closely related perhaps, but both branches occupy the same level of whatever tree one might be making to categorize science fiction. I have my own "End of the World" list of both types of novels on Amazon on which I tried to stick with "post-apocalyptic" types of novels.  I did not include classic dystopian stories like Orwell's 1984 or P.K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because they don't paint a picture of a society that's been wiped out by some catastrophe (hence, the "apocalyptic" part of the genre tag).  I stick to stories describing the world after something decimates (not literally; "decimate" means eliminate one of every ten people, I think) human society.  In The Stand, it is disease.  Likewise in Edward W. Robertson's Breakers novels.  In Hugh Howey's Wool, it is another form of disease brought on by nano-bots.  In Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle, it is an asteroid hitting the Earth.  In Stephen Baxter's Ark and Flood, it is a flood of super-biblical proportions that destroys the environment as we know it.  In Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, it's Ice-9.  (Read the book!  It's lots of fun!)  In David Brin's The Postman, it's nuclear war.  In a bunch of books, it's zombies!  How do the zombies get created out of your friends and neighbors?  Disease, usually. I see "dystopian" as being something different.  I see it as a society that's gone "off track".  Orwell's vision is the classic example.  Suzanne Collins paints a dystopian society in her Hunger Games trilogy, and so does Veronica Roth in her Divergent novels.  (Apparently, The Hunger Games is a blatant rip-off of another earlier novel, possibly of Japanese origin, which I'd never heard of...but the knowledgeable commenters knew all about it.)  Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged paints a dystopia of sorts, and apparently so does her novel Anthem.  (I've read the first, not the second, and I remain unimpressed with the "philosophy" found in Atlas Shrugged, but that's just me.)  A lot of current young adult fiction can be categorized as dystopian, especially The Giver.  How about The Maze Runner?  Dystopian, and possibly post-apocalyptic (I haven't read the follow-ups yet.)  (Oh, and I know The Giver isn't really current, but my kids were both assigned it for school reading recently, so for me it's current...) Anyway, lots of good suggestions for reading were given in the comments, and I plan on checking out a few of them.  There's something about the current crop of dystopian novels, especially the YA stuff, that grabs me - maybe it's the attention to social orders as we see them today, and the way that kids relate to one another.  Maybe it's just that it's more accessible, with a more modern style of writing.  I don't know.  But I know for me, it's sometimes hard to get to the excellent story, because of the style in which an older novel was written.  Earth Abides and On The Beach are both like that for me; so is Brave New World.  Great, if frightening visions of the future, but stylistically, they seem to take more concentration or something, and seem harder to get into, for me at least. If you have comments about any of this, I'd love to hear them.  (And I really don't need to hear from the Vuitton Bags or Nike whatever spammers anymore...everything gets caught in the spam filter and I delete it all because I simply don't have time to check four or five hundred posts...) *****

The End of the World!

I've always been a big fan of end-of-the-world stories.  I don't know why.  Something about them just tickles my imagination.  Maybe it's my own buried desire to test myself against such circumstances to see if I would come out on top.  Maybe it's just that the stories that come out of such situations, the good versus the evil, intelligence versus stupidity, the luck versus the well-planned action, the way the characters react to the changed circumstances and to each other -- all of that grabs me and pulls me in Stephen King, author of what I consider to be the gold standard for post-apocalyptic fiction, once said in an interview, "The Stand was particularly fulfilling, because there I got a chance to scrub the whole human race, and man, it was fun! ... Much of the compulsive, driven feeling I had while I worked on The Stand came from the vicarious thrill of imagining an entire entrenched social order destroyed in one stroke." Maybe that explains it for me.  It's just fun! I've tried to write some post-apocalyptic fiction; so far I've been unsuccessful.  I think it's because I put myself into the stories too much.  I've tried writing main characters that I can't really identify with too much, but that's hard too.  I don't know if others have the same problem, but I like to sort of "be" the main character.  Not me, obviously, but with enough of "me" in him (or even in her).  It's hard with post-apocalyptic stories because I tend to think of how I'd react in the same situation and write my character that way.  And I'm a conflict-avoidance type, and you can't really have a good story without a lot of conflict, or so it seems to me. I already mentioned that I see The Stand as the gold standard.  That's my personal opinion, but I have my reasons.  It's a classic good versus evil story, and I really like the way that the survivors of the superflu separate.  People's basic nature makes them lean one way or another, but yet there are shades of grey in the good and the bad.  It doesn't hurt that King wrote some great characters.  Nick Andros, Larry Underwood, Stu Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, even Harold Lauder are all characters that open themselves to exploration and contemplation.  They are all complex with complex motivations. My second favorite story is Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  It's a very different story.  There are no supernatural elements in this one.  It's all about people.  And it's probably the type of story I prefer, generally speaking.  In this story, a comet is streaking toward Earth on a near-collision course, and it is first noticed by a couple of amateur astronomers.  The tale follows several different characters whose paths converge on a Senator's ranch in the mountains.  One of the main characters is a TV reporter who decides to do a story on how to prepare for a possible disaster.  I found his preparations to be a very interesting part of the story.  In the end, it's a story with a hopeful vision for humanity -- the Senator (a good guy; could a story like this be written today?) says with his dying breath, "Give my people the stars."   Science and technology win out, and I like this vision.  It's almost opposite of King's version:  in The Stand technology is depicted as being sought by the forces of evil, even if its purpose is turned to good in the end. So what prompted me to write about this stuff today?  It was my weekend reading of Bobby Adair's Slow Burn books.  There are four in all, and I'm about half-way through the third.  It's sort of a zombie apocalypse.  Take King's plague and put it with Night of the Living Dead but throw in the self-reliance message from Niven and Pournelle and you have Adair's vision of the future.  I've read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, and I have enjoyed most of the sub-genre coming out of indie fiction (especially Edward Robertson's Breakers series and of course, Hugh Howey's Wool series), but I'm not a huge fan of the zombie versions.  They're okay.  I've read several of them.  They just aren't my favorite ways to approach this sub-genre.  they aren't what I'd choose to write. But this one is grabbing me more than any of the others I've read, including ones by Amanda Hocking, Dan DeWitt, Brett Battles, Scott Nicholson, and others.  Why?  I think it's the characters.  I really like the main character, Zed.  He reacts like I think I might react (not that I'd get the gun stuff) but the way he latches onto the other characters and hangs on for dear life.  I like Murphy too.  They make a great pair. But it's also the situations he finds himself in.  Setting the story in the locations Adair sets it in works for me as well.  Having Zed work his way around the college and then around the suburban homes and such captures my imagination also. I have a list of "End of the World" stories on Amazon and I think these stories are going to get added to it as worthwhile post-apocalyptic fiction very soon. *****