Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

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?

Tor Free E-book: A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham

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I flipped through A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham, which just so happens to be this week's Tor Free E-book Giveaway, and was immediately taken with the author's dedication:

To Fred Saberhagen,
the first of my many teachers

The name Fred Saberhagen sure brings back some memories. I absolutely devoured his Swords books when I was younger. The fact that Mr. Abraham so notes his own appreciation of Saberhagen has me stoked to see what A Shadow in Summer is all about.

I snagged this synopsis fragment from Bookmarks Magazine:

Debut novelist Daniel Abraham bolts out of the gate with an enthusiastic recommendation from SF guru George R. R. Martin. The critics agree with Martin's appraisal, and reviewers welcome Abraham's rich characterization, deft plotting, and the particularly ambitious central conceit that ideas can be made flesh—and controlled by poets, no less.

This, too:

The Empire hangs on, literally, by a thread; the cloth industry depends on the ability of andat Seedless to magically remove seeds from cotton plants to keep commerce flowing and the barbarians in check.

Sounds intriguing. Anytime you find a real economic system put into a fantasy setting you have some great potential for realism and world-building.

I did a little digging on the author: Mr. Abraham's web site is sorely outdated, the last bits of news having been posted in May of 2007. He does, however, have a blog which at least shows some activity as recently as last month. He has an impressive list of short fiction and a handful of novels, A Shadow in Summer being his first. It is, in fact, the first book of the "Long Price Quartet", so if you like this first installment you have some more of his writing to experience in the same world.

I also noticed as I was searching around that you can view the entire book on Google Book Search. Or, of course, sign up for Tor.com's newsletter and get it as a free download.

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

Recommended Reference - The Synonym Finder

The Synonym Finder

I'm starting a new blogging series to focus on reference sources I find useful on a day-to-day basis as I'm writing, editing, and proofing. Think of it as a recommended reading list, though it may encompass other blogs that focus on the craft of writing or even web sites. Really anything of value to the mechanics, style, or general process of writing.

This, then, is Part 1, to focus on my 'go to' thesaurus of choice, The Synonym Finder, edited by J.I. Rodale. I've got a copy of Roget's International Thesaurus (Fifth Edition), but it became a secondary reference source not too long after I bought The Synonym Finder.

This begs the question: How is The Synonym Finder different from any other thesaurus? I'll use Roget's (Fifth Edition) since that's the other thesaurus I own as comparison.

The Synonym Finder reads like a dictionary, except instead of word definitions it's chock full of synonyms. To find a synonym, you simply flip open the book, find your keyword alphabetically, and you're presented with a listing of synonyms. Straightforward and simple.

Roget's, on the other hand, has an index at the back of the book. You start by looking up your keyword, which in turn either has a page number next to it or, alternatively, a short listing of words or phrases which might be synonyms or might simply be words you might be looking for. Each of those words or phrases has a page number next to it. Once you've decided on a word, you go that page number where you are presented with a listing of synonyms. If you're unsatisfied with the results or simply chose the wrong 'similar' word or phrase, then it's back to the index where you need to repeat the process.

To explain better, let's run through an example. This will also serve to demonstrate which reference book provides better results. This may be a wash, but let's give it a try.

I'll randomly flip open to the index of Roget's and select a word. I've got "noodle". Roget's quirky index shows:

noodle
n member 2.7
head 198.6
brain 918.6
v think over 930.13

Let's say I'm really looking for synonyms of the second entry. I'll go to 198.6 as it suggests. It shows:

198.6 head, headpiece, pate, poll, crown, scone, noggin, brow, ridge

Not bad. But I don't like that I had to flip to an index, figure out what word I really want, then I have to flip again to find the synonyms.

Let's see what The Synonym Finder has to say. I flip to "noodle" (it's easy since everything is alphabetical) and immediately see a block of entries--easily more than what Roget's has listed. We have:

head, skull, cranium, cerphalon, brainpan, poll, pate, sconce, mazard, costard, think tank, thinker, upstairs, upper story, belfry, noggin, dome, bean, nut, nob, crumpet, gourd, conk

The Synonym Finder comes up with 23 possible synonyms for "noodle". Roget's? 9. Seems as if, in this case anyway, The Synonym Finder wins by offering me more than twice the number of possible synonyms.

Granted, this was only one word, but there's a reason I keep The Synonym Finder nearby whenever I'm writing or editing. Nothing beats its ease-of-use and it gives me results fast.

No wonder The Synonym Finder is the first book I look to when I need a synonym.

Free Tor E-book: Touch of Evil by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp

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Tor is giving away Touch of Evil by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp this week. It's a "paranormal romance". Ugh. I don't like romances.

This one has vampires in it. Werewolves, too. Sounds like Underworld. But without Kate Beckinsale and her guns.

From the synopsis:

Eschewing recent trends, the vampires in this series are not sexy or funny, and this form of vampirism is spread by a parasite in saliva causing those bitten to become part of the herd, or "Thrall," a hive entity led by queens.

Now it's got me thinking of the Borg meets I Am Legend.

To be fair, I'll put aside my preconceived notions and completely misplaced dislike of romances since I've never actually read one and dig a little deeper.

Turns out 'vampires' here are not of the undead variety. Neither are werewolves. Vampires are actually host bodies taken over by a Thrall, a parasitic life-form that hatches within the host then latches onto the host's brain and takes control (think Goa'uld). That sounds kinda cool.

Alright, I'm intrigued and, given that the book is free, I have nothing to lose by reading the first fifty pages to see if I'll like it.

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