Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Twitter: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

twitter_logoAs I write this, Twitter is dead. Not just down with the usual overusage whale or twittery bird, but completely dead as in their home page won't even come up.

This begs the question of how useful the service really is when it seems to spend so much time being down instead of up. Over on Men with Pens, there's a lengthy discussion going on about just that subject.

I've been using Twitter since my initial post about how I didn't get it. I like it well enough now. I don't use it all the time or even every day, but it was recently #2 on my list of driving traffic to my site (it only recently fell to #3 behind StumbleUpon), so in that respect it's been a boon. I also like the quick interaction it provides with others. However, when it's down, it's down, and not of much use to anyone.

One solution for when Twitter is down and you still want to twit is Twiddict. Think of Twiddict as an offline version of Twitter. Ahhh, maybe that's not the best way to describe it, but Twiddict queues your twits for you until the Twitter service comes back up. Then, when Twitter decides to come back up, it shoots them over. I've just tried using the service, so I can't attest to it's reliability, but it's a good idea and certainly interesting how niche apps crop up to fill gaps created by other applications or services.

Top 100 Favorite SF/Fantasy Authors, 50-100

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The latest issue of SFX features the "Top 100 Favorite SF and Fantasy authors of all time – voted for by SFX readers".

Approximately 185 people voted on the SFX Forum for the list. But more than 3,000 other votes were also counted for the list, which makes it far bigger than any of the other recent online polls.

The Wertzone lists them out for us non-subscribers starting with the bottom 50. The remaining fifty are to follow.

Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell posted a request for advanced readers for his upcoming science fiction novel, Sly Mongoose, and, of course, I took him up on it.

This is my first go-around with Buckell’s work, though I’ve had one of his other novels, Crystal Rain, on my radar for a long time. Sly Mongoose is and isn’t a continuation of the story told in Ragamuffin. While there are clear references to the story that unfolded in that previous book, at no time did I feel as if I was missing something by not having read it first. Needless to say, as I found Sly Mongoose to be a very enjoyable read, I intend to go back and read Ragamuffin. Now, on to the review…

Sly Mongoose is a fast-paced, enjoyable read. The .rtf version I previewed came in at 208 pages, so expect about the same in the hard cover or paperback versions. The book is scheduled for release about August.

Buckell wastes no time throwing us into the story: Pepper, our titular character, is free-falling from orbit through Chilo’s atmosphere with only a heatshield protecting him from the 2,000 degree, friction-induced heat. Pepper is no ordinary person, though. He’s a Mongoose Man, a cyborg-like, elite soldier whose primary duty is the preservation of the human race (kicking ass is his other priority).

Therein lies one of the main complexities of Pepper’s character. He’s extremely resourceful, intelligent, and experienced, having lived hundreds of years thanks to his cyborg implants, but he’s also pragmatic to the extreme, and not above sacrificing innocents if that’s what it takes for him to live to fight another day. If those less equipped to save themselves must be sacrificed, so be it. This dilemma lies at the heart of many conflicts for Pepper; it should go without saying that it also plays a part in the unfolding of events in Sly Mongoose.

In contrast to Pepper’s seemingly unlimited resourcefulness is Timas, a teenage resident of the floating city of Yatapek (which Pepper is falling to in the opening scene) on Chilo. Like Pepper, Timas belongs to an elite group, though not a military one. Timas is a xocoyotzin, a person specially chosen to service a mining machine that prowls Chilo’s surface looking for raw materials. Yatapek is not a wealthy city, and much of their technology has become outdated and fallen into disrepair. The environmental suits the xocoyotzin must wear to survive conditions on the surface are only large enough for younger people to wear, so that as one gets older eventually one becomes too big for the suit. For Timas, serving his city is a privilege and an honor, and so he fights to prolong his ability to serve in that role by ritually expunging himself of any food he eats. It’s a terrible burden to place on one so young; we learn a lot about Timas’s character and courage in those scenes alone.

There is more.

Pepper crash lands in Yatapek, and we soon learn exactly why he was de-orbiting with only a heatshield between him and certain death. You see, he was trying to get away from something, and it’s not long before that something follows him down. Other cities are alerted to the threat. One such city sends an emissary, a girl roughly Timas’s age named Katerina, who possesses an eye that all of her people are able to see through. Both her and Timas have pre-conceived notions of the other, notions that change as they gradually bond with one another. There is adventure, and action, and harrowing encounters… Like I noted above, no spoilers, but let’s just say that Pepper, Timas, and Katerina find the entire world of Chilo at risk and are thrust into the role of saviors.

Buckell draws from his Caribbean upbringing, so imagining a mech-warrior-like soldier with dreadlocks or distinctly futuristic, island-like cultures is not far from reality. I found this injection of originality refreshing, though I have to admit to some reluctance to embrace it at first if only because it’s not what I’m used to. I went with it, though, and Buckell makes it work. The author’s style is fast-paced: chapters are generally short and he wastes nearly zero time pontificating or throwing “info dumps” at the reader. His characters are engaging as well. I perhaps liked Pepper the best, but Timas is the true underdog here given his situation. I genuinely wanted to see him both fulfill his duty and save himself at the same time.

The only character I did not become engaged with was Katerina, who has sacrificed much of her individuality to serve as a speaker for her collected people. Perhaps it is that aspect of her make-up which has stolen part of her humanity and therefore disengages the reader from her. In any case, I think her role was greatly overshadowed by Pepper and Timas to the point of irrelevance at times. But that in itself takes nothing from the enjoyment of the story.

As an aside, I also received an advanced copy of Seeds of Change and guess who just happens to have contributed a story to that compilation but Tobias Buckell himself? The story features Buckell’s principal character Pepper, so I’m eager to jump in. Meanwhile, though, check out Sly Mongoose. It’s worth your time.

Tor Free E-book: In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker

baker-garden_of_iden Tor throws another one at us—this time their free e-book giveaway is In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Ms. Baker has had a varied list of careers: graphic artist, mural painter, “several lower clerical positions”, playwright, bit player, director, teacher of Elizabethan English for the stage, and, of course, author.

“In the Garden of Iden” is the author’s debut novel, though her web site lists a fair number of accomplishments since. In the author’s own words, “20 years of total immersion research in Elizabethan as well as other historical periods has paid off handsomely in a working knowledge of period speech and details”.

This book is as much a period piece as it is science fiction—time travel, immortal cyborgs, 16th century England. The basic premise is that 24th century members of a group called Dr. Zeus Inc. “rescue” orphans or people who are otherwise on the verge of dying from all over time and, with the promise of everlasting life, change them into cyborgs who then are transported back to key moments in history in order to preserve significant artifacts and species. The catch is that there is more to Dr. Zeus Inc. than they let on, and the greatest mystery of all seems that no one knows what happens after the year 2355. It is known simply as the Silence; time travel or any form of communication with people beyond 2355 is not possible.

Sounds intriguing. I’ve got my copy. Go get yours.

For a running list of all of Tor's free e-books, go here.

When To Stop Reading, Part 1: The Rules

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A multi-part series where I address the question, When to stop reading?

You just put down some hard-earned moo-la on a new book. The copy makes it sound fantastic. You rush home just so you can start reading. You get about twenty-five pages in and it’s not grabbing you. Not a biggie—you haven’t given it enough time. You read on to page fifty. You’re starting to feel a little frustrated. When is this book going to get going? Still, maybe fifty pages isn’t enough, and you did just spend the equivalent of a couple of gallons of gas (or more) on it, so you read on. Page one hundred, and it still ain’t doing it for you. Frustration is spilling over, cause now you’ve not only wasted your money but you’ve got some time invested, too. Because of the latter, you press on, giving it one more chance. You reach page one hundred and fifty, and that’s it.

This goose is cooked.

It’s hard to simply cut off a book at a set number of pages. Some books are short, others are epics. It might even be just one book of many in a series, so perhaps you expect some slowness as it builds momentum. In those cases, perhaps a percentage rule makes more sense, like the 33% Rule.

Another one, the Page 99 Test, is based on a quote from Ford Madox Ford:

"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

In any case, we all come to a point in a book that just isn’t doing it for us when we start thinking of putting it down. I used to never do such a thing. If I bought a book, I was going to finish it, no matter the cost. Now, however, I’m not above putting a book down when it fails to hold my interest, regardless of the investment. My own rule, however, isn’t so much based on page count as it is on the quality of the writing as well as where the story’s gone and where it might be going.

From a writer’s perspective, there’s an important lesson in all of this: Make sure you’re not only grabbing the reader’s attention but keeping it. Also, keep in mind that just because  an editor or agent requests the first three chapters doesn’t mean they’re going to make it even that far. Often, in those cases, you might have only a few pages to hook the reader.

So, how many pages do you give a book before putting it down?