Network Effect – The Murderbot Diaries #5

Network Effect

At first, I was taken aback by how short the stories were and they were priced like a novel. I was slightly miffed, but once I started listening to All Systems Red, I forgot about the cost and fell in like with Murderbot. The series is fun, and action packed, and Murderbot is a sarcastic crankypants filled with anxiety and social awkwardness, and I can’t get enough of it. I raced through the entire catalog in a matter of days and was excited to see the first novel length story was about to come out. The first story won the Hugo in the novella category this past year and it’s well deserved.

This from Martha Wells’ Newsweek interview:

Murderbot is a science fiction series, set in the very far future. The Murderbot character is a person who is called a construct—part robot, part human-cloned tissue. They’re called SecUnits and they were designed to be security, to protect people and be able to do the kind of dirty jobs people don’t want to do anymore.

This from the publisher:

Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

SecUnit, as it is referred to by its handlers, is an introvert of the highest order. It goes out of its way to avoid human contact, especially face-to-face interaction. It has a hard time dealing with the pressure of eye contact. It refers to itself as Murderbot, originally designed to work as a security robot to protect humans, but really it has a soft mushy center that cares, but has trouble admitting it.

It has managed to hack its governor module, and now operates on its own volition, trying to navigate its way through human society, protecting its clients, while at the same time avoiding them and not letting on that it is controlling its own destiny. What it would rather be doing is watching serial vids, but things just keep getting in the way. Its clients keep getting into life-threatening trouble and despite itself it goes to the rescue.

In Network Effect we revisit one of Murderbots associates, it wouldn’t say friends, it would say mutual administrative assistance, a ship AI it calls ART, Asshole Research Transport. ART is also snarky as hell and the banter between them is priceless. They are more human than some people I know. I was very happy to spend more time with Murderbot in a longer story, that gave Wells a chance to really get into the head of the lovable killing machine. Wells is an anthropologist and it shows in the character development. The story moves at a fast clip for most of these, and the tech is always surprisingly believable. The fight scenes are all amazing and tight. But the best thing about these stories is simply spending time with the antisocial bot.

Kevin R. Free reads for Audible and he kills it. His pacing an intonation are on the money. He embodies Murderbot perfectly.

I can’t wait for the next one in the series.

Buy Network Effect here

Upload is the best thing streaming right now!

 

 

The writing on this show is fantastic. It is seriously funny, perfectly cast and really hits the feels in just the right way.

In the near future you can upload your consciousness to a virtual reality that is still interactive with the living to some degree. But it ain’t free. And our protagonist is in for a ride when his wealthy fiance funds his account. I can’t wait for season two!

The Secrets of Harrowgate Valley

harrowgate 5Dive into the world of Harrowgate Valley University, where not everything is as it seems on the surface. This shared world anthology features eight tales of secrets, scholarship, and the paranormal.

The Secrets of Harrowgate Valley: A Shared World Anthology

It’s my first published work. My story opens the anthology. Tom Babbage is the newest faculty member at Harrowgate Valley University and a visit from an FBI agent starts him on a path to uncover mysterious happenings on the campus and the disappearance of his mother, the Dean of the English Department.

The other writers are all friends of mine and are all exceptional writers. Here are links to their websites:

Sheri Queen – Author of the Sleepy Hollow Hunter series

Traci Douglass – USA Today Best-selling Author 

Carrie Gessner – Editor of the Anthology and Author of the Heartfriends Trilogy

K.W. Taylor – Multi-genre Author of Sam Brody series and Jonson’s Exotic Travel Series

I hope you will take a look.

 

Submission Anxiety

This is not a new thing. I’ve been through this twice before and was entirely unsuccessful. So, it’s created a cringy moment for me every time I see that I have mail in “that” inbox. I expect a “no thanks” and it is kind of crazy that it is giving me so much anxiety. To be fair “so much anxiety” for me is just a little more than your everyday getting through a humdrum day level of anxiety. My wife and kids suffer from anxiety disorder, so they know it much more intimately than I do, but nonetheless it is surprising.

My son tells me he is that way for any email. Even though he knows he may have important info in there he hates getting that ping.

I remember back in the old days of America Online and that little voice that told you, “You have mail.” It was a cool thing. Subbing has kind of ruined that feeling for me.

I have it out to a dozen agents and one publisher and have already got “no thanks” from two, which, good for them, it was super fast. I appreciate that.

I know how things are. I know I have to level up my game, and I have. I expect to get a yes this time, but even saying that I still cringe every time I see that I have a response. I want it, but my track record thus far has ingrained in me an expectation of rejection.

My mentor from my MFA program told me to sub each manuscript until I got a hundred rejections. The problem I personally have is finding that many agents that represent science fiction. I have around 90 on my list. I keep looking and hoping. I know it only takes one, “Yes.”

I would love to hear your submissions stories.

The Last Emperox -Scalzi is on Fire!

The Last EmperoxI’ve read a lot of John Scalzi’s books, but of the one’s I’ve read this is by far the best. I absolutely loved this book. The characters are amazingly well defined and well portrayed, and straight up fun. I love old guy that is now a ship, Chenevert, a long-dead king from another Flow system, the foul mouthed Kiva Lagos, who is a contemporary of both the Emperox and the brilliant but evil Nadashe Nohamapeton, constantly scheming to kill the Emperox. I love the leader of this advanced society, Cardenia Wu Patrick also known as Emperox Grayland II, and her boyfriend and flow physicist Marce Claremont. I love the concept and even the names he uses for the characters. It is a showcase of his growing talent as a writer.

The story twists and turns and the action hardly slows down. When it does the snappy dialogue is a joy to behold. Scalzi’s sense of humor is on full display here. Better than his Hugo winning Red Shirts by a mile.

I listened to the first two on Audible and this one as well. Wil Wheaton does a spectacular job reading all three, this one especially. He knocks it out of the park with this one.

This is the last book in a trilogy set in the far future where mankind travels through space using flow streams. But the Streams are collapsing and without them the Interdependency is in great jeopardy. The society was set up 1500 years before to save humanity from civil war that was destroying everything, an now, because of the way it was set up with all the major houses dependent on each other, society will fall into revolt.

Scalzi weaves everything together perfectly but doesn’t betray the ending, leaving us with an unexpected but ultimately satisfying ending. It’s also an ending the leaves open the possibility of another series to follow this one, if Claremont takes the path that has been laid out for him. I sure hope Scalzi writes that series.

The only thing that disappoints in this trilogy is the length. It’s short by most novel standards, with the third book being shortest of all. That is not to say that it feels incomplete, because it doesn’t and ties all the threads together remarkably well. I’m just sad I finished it so quickly. I was torn because I knew it was going to end but I couldn’t stop listening to it. The entire trilogy gets my highest recommendation. If you like space opera it should be right in your wheelhouse.

A Perfect Film to Watch During This Pandemic

The_Guernsey_Literary_and_Potato_Peel_Pie_Society
Theatrical Release Poster

My wife had heard about the film, actually has the book, and had read part of it. It got great reviews and is playing currently on Netflix. It’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I know the title sounds pretentious, but I had a visceral reaction to the story, as a writer, and as a person going through the pandemic with the rest of the world. The story really puts things in perspective. When considering what the people of Guernsey, and much of the rest of Europe, went through, having to live with the Nazi occupation and seeing loved ones killed with little regard for life, it made sitting on my couch, eating too much as I quarantine, or having to wear a mask in public seem like very little to ask.

The story takes place mainly in 1947 in the aftermath of WWII. A successful British writer, Juliet Ashton, played by Lily James, gets a letter from a man in Guernsey, Dawsey Adams, played by Michiel Huisman of Game of Thrones fame, because he found her address in one of the books their literary club had read. The club itself emerged from a confrontation with Nazi night watch when they were returning from a get together to eat forbidden pork and drink homemade gin. Drunk and terrified, the name of their club came out of desperation to cover their tardiness in getting home under curfew. They literally lied to save their lives, but as a result the literary club was registered and had to be continued with a Nazi chaperon. At least for a short time, until he gets bored with their meetings, where they read and dissected literary works.

The Juliet is intrigued by the notion of their club and decides to invite herself down for a visit. There she meets the member of the club, minus one, the instigator of the club, Elizabeth McKenna, played by Jessica Brown Findlay, had been arrested a few years before hand and nobody has heard anything about her since. Juliet wants to write a piece for the London Times about the group, but they are extremely reticent, and it starts her down a path to find out why. There are several side stories that add conflict, including her engagement back in London to a Major in the US Army, and a young girl, being raised by Dawsey, that is the daughter of the missing Elizabeth. The story is wonderfully written and really sucked me in from start to finish. I am a sucker for a good love story and ultimately that is what this is. A love story wrapped in a mystery, with all the bells and whistles that would make a writer absolutely love this tale.

The four of the actors are veterans of Downtown Abbey, the two female leads and the motherly figure of the group, and Juliet’s literary agent, played by Mathew Goode, who is incredible in everything he does. The entire cast is wonderful. My wife and I really connected with the story on many levels and things like this just refresh our love for each other, as pithy as that might sound.

I cannot express enough how perfect this film is to watch right now.

What is the Flavor of Your Antagonist?

17386423269_a7e805ab14_nIt’s not like I haven’t heard the advice to create a strong antagonist to make for a strong contrast and conflict for your protagonist. But so far, my first four novels haven’t had much of an active antagonist. They have been more of an agency or an off-screen mover behind the scenes, or simply the situation itself. I can see where that might be part of my issue with trying to sell the stories. I have yet to develop a story with a classic antagonist.

I have even made plans for a mystery series, and don’t have any ideas about antagonists for that really, other than the overarching plotline, but even that one is off-screen for the entire series of books.

I’m trying to beef up the antagonist in my current WIP, and he continues to get stronger. I think this story is very close to finished and it has been a long haul getting here. Three major rewrites, multiple POV changes, from third to first and back to third, a gender swap for nearly every character. All these things informed the story and made it better.

But it seems my mind tends to find stories that don’t have a classical bad guy. Most of the ideas I get are hero vs environment. I’m not sure why that is.

How do you start your stories? Do you outline? Doing this intentionally by plotting it out in advance is probably easier. What do you think?

I Will Never Be William Gibson – A Review of Distrust That Particular Flavor

distrustI just finished reading Distrust That Particular Flavor, and I realize that I will never be William Gibson. It is almost ironic that he is known as a futurist, when what he really is, is a historian. He is a global hunter of esoterica. A purveyor of the detritus of sociology. He takes pleasure in the suburbia of human existence, no, just the fringes of society, or more, the artistic side streets of our past. He is well-traveled and knows a lot of famous people in a wide array of fields, musicians, artists, photographers, writers and collectors among the many. He claims not to be an expert in any of these endeavors or devices, whether it be old typewriters or mechanical watches or film-making, or any of a plethora of other human enterprises. Definitely not the internet. Although, he appears to be slowly embracing it.

He wrote this book in 2013, so a lot could have changed since then.

The one way we are similar is that we seem to glam onto one particular thing at a time and spend a lot of energy getting familiar enough with it to speak the lingo, but not to really have any serious depth of understanding. I could be completely wrong about that. He strikes me as a keenly intelligent man with a gift for noticing the oddities and accouterments of our society.

He is fascinated by Japanese culture and the way they have embraced change and live on the bleeding edge of our now, leaning as far into the future as humanly possible and but still living in this current time-frame, and you can see that in a lot of his fiction. He likes haunting photography and movies, old and new, the fringier the better. At least these are my impressions after reading this book.

It is a series of non-fiction pieces he had written for different forums over the course of twenty-one years from 1989 to 2010. Essays and critical observations and speeches. Every observation is fascinating and insightful and showcases his incredible grasp of the English language in a way his fiction only hints at. The way he describes things strikes some deep chord in my soul. If you have any interest in Gibson, I highly recommend this book.

No, I will never be William Gibson, but as my wife said to me, we already have one.

Stealing Worlds by Karl Schroeder Reviewed

Times being what they are, with the coronavirus attacking the world, and so many ofStealing Worlds us being affected in so many ways, it was a bit surreal listening to this book on Audible. I wouldn’t call this dystopian, although it is set in a world where global warming has devastated the Earth, and the promise of capitalism is shown to be an empty vessel. Aside from using an eff bomb repeatedly as a character contrivance, Stealing Worlds is an absolutely spectacular novel. Virtual and Mixed Reality, Live Action Role Playing (LARP), block-chain technology, politics, and revolution all have a place in this thriller by Karl Schroeder.

Sura Neelin is on the run after her father is murdered and she doesn’t even know who she is running from. The society has evolved into one of complete and constant surveillance, but she might have a chance in the virtual game world, using smart glasses and block-chain tech. His characters are distinctive and well-drawn, and as the plot moves along, I liked Sura more and more. Her first mentor, Compass, turns out to be a broken, but gifted young woman, and Nancy Wu, who is the reader for this audiobook, brings Compass to life. The evolution of the game world economy and the smart tech of the world, with its ” Internet of Things,” is brilliantly conceived and makes for a mind-stretching read.

With all of the political gyrations I wondered how he would pull off the grandiose plot, but he stuck the landing, very satisfying. This is my first Karl Schroeder book, even though I’ve had some of his books on TBR pile for several years. It definitely won’t be the last.

Highly recommended!

It’s a Weird Weird Weird World Right Now

This is a strange time to be listening to audiobooks about apocalyptic futures. But I was doing just that, juxtaposed against a world outside my car that looked the same, calm and normal, but it all feels quite surreal.

A Surreality.

It’s hard to wrap your head around THE ENTIRE WORLD being under attack from a virus and it is still escalating. It runs through my mind that I need to hold onto this moment, because next week might look entirely different.

The CDC put forth the postulation that the number of infected would double every four days. Here in the United States it is now doubling every third day. By the end of the weekend we will be approaching 30,000 infected and by the end of next week 100,000. At what point do we stop doing half-measures?

I’ll admit that when I first heard of this pandemic I was one of those who thought the hype was overblown. I WAS WRONG.

Please take this seriously. It may not kill you, but it might kill someone close to you if you get infected. I worry about my family, some of which have  asthma and might not cope well. I would love to stay home, but I am still being directed to work, and I don’t have enough vacation time to stop. I know how lucky I am to still have a paying job, and I don’t take it lightly. I’m praying for all of us. Please wash your hands a lot, and stay home if you can. I anticipate all of us being directed to stay home with a national curfew before the end of the month.