Tag Archives: blogging

Highlights from a Columnist’s Comment Thread

9 Jun

Yesterday, my inaugural book review column went to print in the University of Alabama campus newspaper.  Since then, it’s garnered 62 shares on Facebook, 8 retweets, and 7 comments.  Egads!  Objectively speaking, that’s not much of a reaction I suppose, but for a girl who publishes a modest indie science fiction blog, it’s mind-blowing.  And, strangely, my choice to write about Ayn Rand has met with some hostility.  What?  No!  Really?

Yes.  Yes really.  It has.

And now I have the great pleasure of sharing with you, my slightly less malicious readers, some of the highlights from the comment thread, as well as my responses.  Because I just couldn’t help myself.

Here’s the hands-down winner:

Also:

I also had some really nice, thoughtful ones, like this one from lorq:

This is, obviously, an astonishingly self-indulgent post, but like I said, I couldn’t help myself.  Ĝis revido!

More Miscorrection! (Panacea final verdict)

30 Apr

I’ve been a fan of B.C. Young’s LOST-esque Miscorrection series for some time now, and was thrilled to be able to read a copy of episode 4, Panacea, before it’s released.  So here’s what’s what:

Recommendation: When episode 3 (Felix Culpa) aired on the Kindle, I said that it was the most sophisticated installment yet.  But happy day, Panacea has surpassed it.  Young’s style is ever more self-assured and innovative.  Use of flashbacks gives the story depth, and builds up suspense as the main plotline moves forward.  Subtle twists enter the tale in Panacea, along with a couple great “aha!” moments.  But of course, as was both the best and most frustrating thing about LOST, for every answer we get there’s another question.  This is science fiction most certainly, but after reading Panacea I’m going to add “mystery” and “adventure” to the genre tally.

B.C. Young’s Miscorrection series has, as always, the Scattering’s full cyber-stamp of approval, and remains my favorite short story series to date.  You can’t buy this kind of entertainment for $0.99.  Oh wait, yes you can.

Reading Time: At roughly 1200 locations on the Kindle, Panacea is weekly tv drama length, meaning a read-through will take between 45 minutes and an hour.  Longer for me, because I went back to reread Felix Culpa first and see if I could pick up any clues.

Availability: The book’s not out quite yet, but the author is kind enough to give all of us Internet denizens a free peek on The Time Capsule: Miscorrection: Panacea Excerpt

The book will be available for the Kindle, the Nook (eww, gross), and on Smashwords in very early May (meaning, before May 3rd at the latest).

Make sure to check out the first 3 episodes of Miscorrection on Kindle TV before you jump into this one.  It’s like my grandfather once said: “I tried to watch that Lost show you like last night, but I didn’t know what was going on.  They were in a church talking about time travel.  Is that right?”

And if you care what I think, here are my previous reviews:

Kindle TV (Sunrise, Arrogation)

Happy Mistakes (Felix Culpa)

We’re All Cyborgs Now

28 Apr

I have no idea if we’re news or not, but Tuscaloosa (my sweet home University of Alabama) was hit by a devestating tornado yesterday evening.

University operations have been suspended indefinitely, and final exams next week have been cancelled.  It’s like a scene from a disaster movie (and the city looks like it).  Someone–either an illiterate fundamentalist (I’m sure we have our share of those) or an ironic hipster (and those)–chalked “Revelator” and “Is this God’s punish?” on the plaza this morning.  While the campus (all but a chink of Bryant Denny Stadium) is intact, off-campus student housing was hit hard, displaced students are camping in the Rec Center, and My Dear Charlie’s out volunteering to clean up the city.  Meanwhile, I’m camping at one of my awesome prof’s house with a bunch of classmates, hitching on his power and wireless.

But this is a science fiction blog, so the point is this: when the electricity and Internet went out on campus at 5:30-ish yesterday afternoon, we college students loss half of our brains.

I realize it’s not the Singularity yet, but we kind of are living in a world of augmented reality.  You know, the definition of “Cyborg” is actually looser than one might expect:

It ain’t fiction no more now, kids.

Anyone who uses the Internet on a regular basis–for communication, socialization, entertainment, work or study–has extended their biological capacities using technology.  My memory is on my hard drive and in the cloud; all the research I’ve done, a whole lot of the things I’ve said to friends, the plans I’ve made are embedded in the cyber-infrastructure of the webmind.  It’s both terrifying and friggin awesome.

I’m fortunate to be uninjured and unscathed, along with my friends and family, but what little loss we’re suffering on campus (power, Internet) makes me think about how much of ourselves we’ve put into our technology.  You know me better than to think I’m going to go on some “back to nature!” rant, and I’m totally not even hinting at that.  All I’m saying is that it just struck me yesterday: we’re all cyborgs now.

Review Calendar! 2011 (and this one’s for real, you guys)

15 Apr

Well, maybe.

"Dishevelled Saint Among Severed Heads," by Brian Kershisnik. THIS IS MY LIFE. Metaphorically.

So here you are, once agan, glancing skeptically at this so-well-intentioned blog post in which I’m going to lay out all the books I plan to read and review over the next few months.  You are, of course, right to be skeptical.  I got a little (and by a little, I mean a full month) off-schedule this spring, but I did warn you, you know.  You raise an eyebrow, thinking to yourself: is she naive, disorganized, or just incredibly deceitful to make all these promises and never keep them? 

I could tell you that I’ve been doing award-winning historical research and kicking ass at undergraduate conferences, but I won’t tell you that, because this is a book review blog, and you probably don’t care.  Fair enough.  But, if you don’t mind, I’m going to stop writing in the second person present tense now, because it’s starting to sound ridiculous.  This isn’t a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, for the love of–

Oh, whatever.

Here’s the old list from Spring 2011, plus the new books I have added thanks to all of your wonderful suggestions.  And one more thing, the old disclaimer still holds:

The reviewer reserves the right to be dishonest, off-task, irresponsible, untrustworthy, unscrupulous, untruthful, mendacious, perfidious, snarky and sarcastic at any time.  Also to read short stories ahead of other novels when she’s feeling lazy.  Advance apologies to all the wonderful authors who sent review copies attached to emails with such perfect netiquette.

Forward the Future!

Isabela Morales

As you’ll shortly see, this list will take me up to the end of the year.  That’s right.  Straight on through 2011.  And since we’re all going to die anyway, there’s really no need to solicit books for beyond December.  I’m sure you understand.

April

Beneath the Surface of Things, by Kevin Wallace

Joe is Online, by Chris Wimpress

A Dime for My Thoughts, by Noriko Tasaki

May

Space Punk, by C.E. Lange

Heroes Die Young, by T. M. Hunter

The Eye of the Storm, by William L. K.

Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum, by Stephen Prosapio

June

Alpha One: The Jump Pilot, by Chris Burton

Shard Mountain, by Joe Mitchell

Velocity^2, by Lee Frey

July

The Venom of Vipers, by K. C. May

Ultimate Duty, by Marva Dasef

Mirai: A Promise for Tomorrow, by Scott Kinkade

The Far Horizon, by Patty Jansen

August

Outies, by Jennifer Pournelle

The Crystal Facade, by Debra L. Martin and David W. Small

Encrypted, by Lindsay Buroker

Exchange, by Dale Cozort

September

Welcome to Gehenna, by Darren Scothern

Elysium Burning, by DDD Bryenton

Falling Star, by Phillip Chen

Take the All-Mart, by J. L. Greco

October

Realm Hunter: Pursuit of the Silver Dirk, by Bob Greenwade

Two-Fisted Tweets, by James Hutchings

The Valkyrie Project, by Nels Wadycki

November

Rebellion, by Rachel Cotteril

Quest of the Demon, by M. L. Sawyer

Gods and Galaxies, by Aaron Smith

December

Keepers of the Rose, by D. J. Dalasta

Divine City: Bangkok Fantasies, by Scott B. Robinson

Reich TV, by Jeff Pearce

Zero Sight, by B. Justin Shier

January 2012 (recovering from the Apocalypse)

February

Peace Army, by Steven L. Hawk

Deja Vu, by Ian Hocking

In the Dunes, by John Leahy

March 2012

Stockholm, by Kian Kaul

Slave, by VS Williams

Dead Men Don’t Cry, by Nancy Fulda

April 2012

Lucifer’s Odyssey, by Rex Jameson

Wanted: Undead or Alive (SF review The Doom Guardian)

15 Apr

On the Kindle, it’s hard to judge a book by its cover.  Sometimes, though, when an author is particularly attentive to detail, you can judge a book by its epigraph.  Julie Ann Dawson is one of those authors, and her novel The Doom Guardian is a book packed with such detail that a re-read may be in order.  But first things first–turn to the first page after the copyright and you’ll find this:

This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or undead is coincidental, and, truthfully, quite odd.

Now I don’t mention this because it’s central to the plot–if you remember that blurb I posted a really long time ago promising to get this review up a really long time ago (right…sorry about that), you’ll know that this first book in the Chronicles of Cambrea series is populated by a whole host of humans, vampires, human-vampire hybrids called dhampirs, dwarves, elves, necromancers, spell-casters, capricious deities and the calculating priests who serve them.  What the little disclaimer does do is hint at the author’s sense of humor and exception attention to detail–two things that can never hurt in speculative fiction.

After that eerie little message to the reader, Dawson jumps right into the story: describing in gory detail a hideous birth scene in which our heroine Nadia dreams of a woman “tied down to the massive stone altar, screaming the scream of a woman about to give birth to some hell spawn from the deepest pits of the lower planes.”  On first read, I thought that was some sort of really elaborate simile, but I guess I didn’t read the blurb closely enough myself, because our author means it literally.

Dawson doesn’t mess around: her description is rich and, at times, gruesomely vivid, but with a plotline as twisted (and I mean that in every way) as The Doom Guardian‘s, there’s no room for extended metaphors.  Step aside, English majors–we have a real storyteller in town.

What particularly interested me about the novel is its aspects of fantastical polytheism–Dawson does an excellent job drawing a society of many religions, where the gods actually answer your prayers (not often in the way you’d like–just ask the dwarf trapped in a stalagmite cage), and priests mediate between necromancers and cults of assassins.  When it comes to our heroine Nadia, I get a sort of Constantine and The Lies of Locke Lamora (see Scott Lynch) vibe–some exorcisms, plus some corpses, plus some shadowy cults.  And that’s just fine with me.

Final Verdict:

D&D fans attention!  Be not thrown off by the entrance of “chaos diamonds” into the story.  In The Doom Guardian, Dawson fills a fully engaging society with an interesting cast of all the fantasy creatures of myth, legend, and nightmare.  When it comes to pinning this story down to a genre, science fiction certainly isn’t it (if you want your “magic” founded in quantum mechanics, look elsewhere).  The Doom Guardian is closer to fantasy than anything else, with a little horror tucked in for good measure.

Reading Time: One month, for a college student between research conferences.

Availability: $4.99 in the Kindle store is, in my book (err, blog, I guess) still a little steep.  I’d suggest sending yourself a sample and seeing how you like the first 500 locations before handing over your crisp green Lincolns.

The Doom Guardian ebook on Amazon

Rasputin Wants YOU! to read Whom God Would Destroy

12 Apr

Bless you, Alexis, and be cured of your haemophilia!

Or maybe that’s just my interpretation of this absolutely bizarre book trailer–and who better to have made it than the mysterious, mystical, highly heterodox Commander Pants?

The good Commander, you might recall, is the author of a delightfully blasphemous book, Whom God Would Destroy–which, as you might also recall, I reviewed a couple months ago.  If you don’t recall, you can read about the winner of the Spring 2011 Heretic Badge of Honor right here.

In any case, here’s the book trailer.  Watch and enjoy–unless you’re a person particularly susceptible to hypnosis, subliminal messages, and/or the piercing eyes of a really messed-up Russian mystic.  If you have any of the above weaknesses, you might want to click on another hyperlink, any other hyperlink, and get far away from here while you still can.  Just some friendly advice.

Bonus points to the first person to spot Rasputin.  And when I say bonus points, I mean it in the Whose Line way.

History of Science Fiction by a Really Meticulous Artist

10 Mar

This may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen–even if it wipes the table with my rag of a blog.  Ward Shelley must be brilliant, crazy well-read, and a bit of a digital humanist to make this:

Click here for the complete version. Also, someone let me know if this is for sale as a print.

Branching from the Gothic novel’s fine, but personally, I’m not sure that Gormenghast belongs so very close to “Sword and Sorcery” tales.  Anyway, see Flowing Data for more really intense data visualization projects.

Update: This has been the 185th post of the Scattering.  There will be more, soon–it’s Spring Break!  And because I’m kind of ridiculous, I’ll be spending it reading SF.  Up next: The Doom Guardian, by Julie Ann Dawson.

Get LOST in the Miscorrection series

28 Feb

I’ve twice reviewed B.C. Young’s fantastic science fiction serial Miscorrection–so far three installments (or as I like to say, three “episodes”) have been aired, er, published.  Young’s stories are pieces in a larger dramatic arc, one that’s beginning to take shape after the latest story, Miscorrection: Felix Culpa.

As a promotion for the series, Young announced on his blog that on March 1st only, he’ll be giving away Miscorrection: Arrogation (second episode)  free to any reader who can solve a puzzle–and considering the clues he’s already given, it should be easy as boar hunting for anyone who can count from 4 to 42:

At midnight on March 1, 2011, I will post details on how you can win a coupon code to download Arrogation free from Smashwords. But I don’t want to just give away the code. Let’s make this fun!

If you are reading this now, there’s only one thing I ask. Spread the word! Tell your friends and family about the free offer and the puzzle they will need to solve. Redirect them to this post here so that they have the details. Tweet it, Facebook it, text it, email it, talk about it, StumbleUpon it, Diggit, and well, I think you get the picture. I want as many people as possible to take part in this, and as many as possible to benefit. I’m opening the hatch on this so that everybody wins!

This promotion will last only one day. It begins at 12:00 a.m. March 1, 2011 and ends at 11:59 p.m. March 1, 2011. If you play the numbers correctly, you can’t lose, and they will not bring you bad luck.

Let’s see how many people we can tell about this. I don’t want anyone to be lost in this.

Considering how subtle the subtext isn’t, read this is an opportunity for a free book.  It’s the second in the series, but if you haven’t read Miscorrection: Sunrise yet, don’t sweat it: if you like Arrogation, you won’t lose out by going back.  It wasn’t until about season 4, after all, that LOST started getting completely incomprehensible.

So check out The Time Capsule for the puzzle before Ben Linus strangles you, or something.

What is Mark Twain doing on a SF review site?

9 Feb

Besides the fact that I think he would have been an awesome blogger, and has won a posthumous Heretic Badge of Honor from the Scattering, whatever that means.

I’ve been noticing a trend in stats for the Scattering, namely: an essay I wrote last year on Mark Twain’s scathing satire of religion is consistently one of my most popular posts.  I’m not complaining–if you’ve read anything here you’ll quickly realize that this blogger is an atheist who doesn’t suffer (divine) fools gladly (hear that Erasmus!?).

the Scattering is less scattered now, but previously this was also the online home of some of my academic assignments I thought might be useful to other students trolling the web looking to plagiarize (joking! there’s a special circle of Hell for plagiarists).  The actual home for those posts, however, is now my other blog, Narricide.  I, tragically, don’t update very often over there, but the oldies are goodies.

The Mark Twain essays, for future reference, are here, here, and here:

Letters from Hell: Mark Twain and Satan (1 of 3)

Letters from Hell: Mark Twain and Satan (2 of 3)

Letters from hell: Mark Twain and Satan (3 of 3)

“A real hard-core Sci-Fi junkie”

1 Feb

the Scattering recently got an extended shout-out in the form of an “IndieView,” an interview on SF author Simon Royle’s blog.  Royle has interviewed numerous indie SF authors, as well as some prolific review bloggers, and I, Isabela Morales, am thrilled to be on that list.

Or rather, my friend Isabella Morales is.  She’s the alternate universe iteration of me who spells her name with two Ls.

Today’s IndieView is with Isabella Morales of The Scattering. I met Isabella through her forum on Amazon and later tracked her down to her website. Reading the reviews I realized I had stumbled across a real hard core Sci-Fi junkie – Great! This interview is really good, funny, insightful, and just downright interesting.

You can read the whole interview on Royle’s blog. Or, alternately, read a few of Isabella’s best answers (she’s the funny and insightful one, not me):

What are you looking for?

I’m an eclectic reader—hard SF, soft SF, social science SF, military SF, thrillers, horror, paranormal romances, cyberpunk, steampunk, insert-punk-here.  I’m the same way about television: I watch an extraordinary amount of television, from Fringe to Boardwalk Empire to multiple permutations of the Real Housewives.  I just want a good story and memorable characters.  Mostly the characters drive narratives for me.  As a history student, I’m fascinated by people, and when an author gives me a range of dramatis personae I can either love or hate, I’m hooked.

If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?

I’m the sort of person who will like a friend’s Facebook comment purely because its author cleverly sidestepped a comma splice, or made admirable use of the subjunctive.  Good grammar is just aesthetically pleasing—and it’s something any author of any experience level can get perfect.  Plot twists and characterization are qualitative, but (unless you’re really postmodernist, or Emily Dickinson) grammar and mechanics are objective.  Enough said.

How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?

If my math is correct—and it probably isn’t—at 250 or so words a page an 80,000-word book would be a little over 300 pages, right?  I don’t mean to brag (actually, I do), but I’m a history student, and history is one of the most reading-heavy fields of study, period.  I’ll read 200-plus pages a day for class, not even counting the archival materials (digitized or no) I go through for my own research projects.  And then I come home and read to relax.

I’ll have to get in touch with Freud on this, but I think I’m compensating for those two terrible years when my older sister was in primary school learning how to read and I wasn’t.  I remember very clearly what it was like not knowing how to read—and wanting to so badly.  I had a small pink diary that I would “write” in, fully understanding that my squiggles had no internal structure and wouldn’t mean anything if I tried to “read” them again.  Now, my optometrist tells me I’m literally going blind from reading too much.  Okay, not blind—but definitely more myopic by the month.

Oh yes, the question: I’d say two days.

About Reading

We talk a lot about writing here on the blog, and possibly enough about reading, which is after all why we’re all here. Why do you think people love reading. We’re seeing lots of statistics that say reading as a past-time is dying – do you think that’s the case?

You know what they say about statistics—83.59 percent of them are made up on the spot.  But in all seriousness, reading isn’t going anywhere.  Language, and in particular written language, is the greatest invention of homo sapiens, and the reason for that as I see it is because people have always and will always want to communicate with each other.  That means thoughts, feelings, business proposals, and plain good stories.

About Writing

What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?

Besides comma splices?  My biggest pet peeve is excessive exposition.  When the setting is a future world, or an alien planet, or something that would be unfamiliar to readers, the tendency is to think oh my gosh, I need to explain this in a dense, technical introductory chapter! Have confidence in your readers: we’re smarter than we look.  The greatest pleasure in reading about the unfamiliar is the element of unfolding revelations—the best science fiction writers work the strange setting, the new technology, the fantastic innovations into the plot and dialogue without huge breaks for detailed description.  I have no doubt that sort of seamless integration is crazy hard; and I’m not a fiction writer so I always feel a little awkward giving advice; but as an avid reader, that is the most noticeable difference between excellent and just passable writing.

We’re told that the first page, paragraph, chapter, is absolutely key in making or breaking a book. Agents typically request only the first five pages of a novel, what do you think about that; if a book hasn’t grabbed you by the first five pages, do you put it down?

No.  Are you kidding?  No one walks out of a movie because the opening credits are boring, and it’s pretty common for a tv show to need a season or more to warm up.  For me, the cut-off point for making or breaking a book is halfway to halfway in—the 25% mark.  By then, the reader should have a feel for the characters and where the story is heading.

About Publishing

What do you think of the oft quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?

Oh, pish-posh.  I have neither time nor patience for elitism of any kind.  I’m a bit of a populist at heart, and the Internet is all about democratization of information—while that does mean that there’s junk to wade through, it’s made the good, the interesting, and the creative more accessible as well.  Many of the books I review are written by individuals who don’t make their living selling science fiction novels.  They have day jobs, and write for pleasure just as people like me read for pleasure.  A decade ago, these authors may never have become authors—their manuscripts would be gather dust on top of the refrigerator, if they ever were written at all.  But now, thanks to the Internet, they have a global readership accessible at a single click—which benefits authors, obviously, but readers as well.  The amount and diversity of material to peruse out there on the Internet is virtually infinite, and doesn’t take a library card to check out.  It’s a reader’s dream.

Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to Indie or self-published titles?

My attitude certainly has.  I remember reading the first indie book I ever reviewed for the Scattering, and then setting my Kindle down once I’d finished to exclaim: “It’s just like a real book!”  I think a lot of people probably share that idea—that a “real” book is one with that big-name publishing house’s stamp of approval on the spine.  I recommend the books I review to friends all the time—it just takes one good experience with a self-published author’s work to turn that mindset upside-down.

Is there anything you will not review?

Vampires.  If there are vampires in your book, do not send it to me.

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