Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Talent Sinistral -- L.F. Patten

The Talent Sinistral is Patten's first book, and I hope it's the first of a series. That's how much I enjoyed these characters and the world the author has created for them.

Kier is a captain in the armed forces of Alcor -- a high rank indeed for someone with his mixed bloodline. He's the bastard son of a Tiernai noble, and his mother was Dynian, the race the Tiernai conquered upon their arrival in the Ten Kingdoms. Many Dynian have some magical abilities, and Kier is one of them. He trained with a Fithlon monk before assuming his military duties, and even now Gwythion contacts him on occasion.

And so it is as the novel opens. Kier, who is stationed abroad, is mulling over his latest message from Gwythion when he is set upon in the dark. His life is saved by a man who appears to be a Dynian adventurer -- but, surprise, JonMarc is a slave who believes he has never set foot in Alcor. Before long, Kier discovers the attack was not at all random, and in fact, it's related to the reason for Gwythion's summons.

Kier learns his father is near death, and begins the journey home to Alcor -- accompanied, at Gwythion's insistence, by JonMarc. This is epic fantasy, so of course a prophecy is involved, and the future of both the Tiernai and Dynian races hangs in the balance.

I enjoyed The Talent Sinistral. It's well-written and well-edited. If you're a fan of epic fantasy, I recommend it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur - Guy Kawasaki & Shawn Welch

The subtitle for APE is How to Publish a Book, and Kawasaki (and Welch, who is referred to in the third person throughout Kawasaki's first-person narration) do a pretty good job of delivering on it.

I've now read a few of these "how-to" books, and this one stands out for a couple of reasons. First, the authors are clear that you shouldn't be publishing just any old crap. A lot of books of this ilk recommend writing your "book" in a weekend, giving it a once-over, and slapping it up on Amazon -- often as a marketing adjunct to your other line of work. Kawasaki and Welch, to their credit, think even this type of would-be author should take the craft of writing more seriously than that. They advocate taking your time in the writing phase -- both in choosing your topic or story and in polishing your prose. They also urge the use of both beta readers and an editor. And they tell you to hire a cover designer. All good so far.

They also advocate striving for excellence in publishing your book. I love the term they've coined -- "artisanal publishing" -- and if I ever start my own publishing house, you can bet I'm going to steal it. Interestingly, they don't flat-out diss Smashwords, but it's certainly not one of their recommended publishing platforms; instead, they advocate uploading directly to the big players: Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. (Apple's not a problem for them; as a tech guy, of course Welch has a Mac. Publishing straight to iBooks is trickier for the PC-bound, which is not a wrinkle the authors give much attention to.)

It's in talking about the entrepreneur leg that the book falters a bit for the average indie. If you've already got a following and/or you're rolling in dough, you'll have no trouble using their suggestions to send ARCs to hundreds of your closest friends and betas and/or crowdsource buzz on NetGalley at $399 per book. The rest of us will have to continue muddling along, building our platform one fan at a time.

I also wish the authors had spoken out against vanity publishing. Kawasaki and Welch lump the Author Solutions companies together with CreateSpace and Lulu as "author services companies." True, CreateSpace and Lulu offer a fee-for-service option to indies who don't feel capable of going it alone, or who simply don't want to take the time to learn. But they also offer do-it-yourself options for a whole lot less money, including -- hello! -- free. That's anathema to the business model of predatory vanity publishers like Author Solutions. For serious, guys, a real publisher pays you for the privilege of publishing your work -- not the other way around. Even if all you want to do is make Great-aunt Kate's recipes into a book for Christmas gifts for the family, I would never send you to Author Solutions or Publish America (which is now calling itself America Star Books). Your chances of getting ripped off are just too great.

I'll get down off my soapbox now. APE features some good advice and some innovative ideas. Like most books in this genre, readers should take what they need and leave the rest.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

VOKHTAH (The Suns of Vokhtah) - A.C. Flory

Vokhtah is a fascinating look into an alien culture -- and unusual because there's not a human character in the whole novel. This is no "first contact" kind of book, like much of classical sci-fi. Instead, it's a full-on immersion into life on another planet, where the dominant life forms are not at all humanoid.

The sentient species are of two types -- the Vohk, who rule the planet's day-to-day life, and the smaller iVokh, or healers. But the iVokh also act as a shadowy sort of check-and-balance on the Vokh: the iVokh's ruling council can decide that a particular Vokh is an abomination and arrange for its death. Yes, it; both the Vokh and the iVokh are hermaphrodites. Mating requires a fight for dominance -- which has obvious implications when a Vokh ruler decides to take over a territory adjoining its own.

As the book opens, the Blue -- a member of the iVokh ruling council -- is so troubled by a decision by the council to assassinate one of the Vokh that it abandons its seat on the council and goes undercover as a Messenger to try to put things right. This involves a dangerous journey with a group of Traders across mountains and desert -- one that taxes the Messenger to its physical limits -- as it races against time to beat the council's orders to their destination. It falls to one of the Traders -- a small but mysteriously powerful Vokh called the Apprentice -- to decide whether to help the Messenger survive.

It took me a little bit to get into Vokhtah. The reader is dropped into the world without the usual sci-fi trope of a human observer describing the new race, and so physical descriptions and explanations of the culture are left for the reader to discover during the course of the novel. But the characters' motivations are clearly explained and the book is well paced. There's even some humor.

If you don't mind a little bit of strangeness in your sci-fi -- and why are you reading sci-fi if you don't? -- then give Vokhtah a try.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Daimones (Daimones Trilogy #1) - Massimo Marino

This book has a number of problems.

First, a quick synopsis: Daimones is set in and around Geneva, Switzerland. Dan works for a firm in Geneva, but he, his wife and his daughter live in a sort of exurb across the border in France. One day, he's fired from his job and goes home. A day or two later, there's some kind of weird windstorm that wakes him and his wife in the middle of the night; the next morning, they discover every other human in the world is dead. Or, to be more precise, nearly every other human -- there are survivors, but they are far-flung around the globe. Eventually, Dan figures out who caused this apocalypse, and how it ties into an incident from his childhood.

Now, the problems. The biggest one is the pacing. Marino spends the whole first half of the book describing, in too much detail, the family's efforts to stockpile supplies and arm themselves. It's only at the midpoint that Dan and his family learn of another survivor in Geneva. And contact with the aliens behind the apocalypse kind of comes out of the blue; it should have been foreshadowed much earlier in the story, especially since it turns out Dan has had contact with them before.

I also think Marino missed an opportunity with Dan's dismissal from work; it could have been much more than a plot device that allows him to be home when the apocalypse occurs. Dan never makes the connection that he was singled out at work for dismissal in the same way he's been singled out by the aliens for survival.

But also, he never goes through the typical emotional responses of someone who's been let go: anger that he was misunderstood, confusion about what happens next, concern about how to support his family, and, in Dan's case, a sick feeling of justification when he survives the culling and the morons who fired him don't. Numbness and depression are also common reactions to being fired. But Dan doesn't think about any of that, and his actions don't belie that he's feeling any of it, either; his biggest concern is the timing for telling his daughter.

Finally, I wish Marino had used someone whose first language is English to go over his prose. His English is good, but I ran across numerous instances where his word choice, while accurate in terms of definition, is not what a native English speaker would have used. The one that sticks out for me is "corpse." It's technically correct, but most people would say "body" or "dead body" instead. 

In summary, I'd say Daimones is a science fiction novel with an interesting premise, but some problems in its execution.