Cibola Burn

I recently finished the 4th book in The Expanse series, Cibola Burn.

For the first time in the books, humanity has begun exploring the distant solar systems using the alien portal system. And, true to human form, people are going to fight over who gets the spoils… with not much thought as to why all of the planets are uninhabited.

As the character, Bobbie, opines in the very first page of the book, “how quickly humanity could go from ‘what unimaginable intelligence fashioned these soul-wrenching wonders’ to ‘Well, since they’re not here, can I have their stuff?”

One of the charming things with this series is how connected and cohesive the books are. The same jokes, themes and character quirks are carried through the series.

While the previous books have had only a couple of point-of-view characters, Cibola Burn expands the viewpoints. I also like (and have probably mentioned it before) how a minor character in a previous book becomes a major character in another book. That parallel-living adds to the depth and richness of the world. Sure, someone might be tangential to the current story, but they have their own life going on. There’s no such thing as a “bit character” in the real world 🙂

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “Amos will look after you.”
    “Great, Holden said, “I’ll land in the middle of the tensest situation in two solar systems, and instead of the smartest person I know, I’ll bring the guy most likely to get in a bar fight.”
  • [After being told to ‘pack a bag’…] A few minutes later he was on the airlock deck with Amos. The mechanic had laid out two suits of their Martian-made light combat armor, a number of rifles and shotguns, and stacks of ammunition and explosives.
    “What,” Holden said, “I meant, like underwear and toothbrushes.”
    “Captain,” Amos said, almost hiding his impatience. “They’re killing each other down there. Half a dozen RCE security vanished into thin air, and a heavy lift shuttle got blown up.”
    “Yes, and our job is not to escalate that. Put all this sh*t away. Sidearms only. Bring clothes and sundries for us, any spare medical supplies for the colony. But that’s it.”
    “Later,” Amos said, “when you’re wishing we had this stuff, I am going to be merciless in my mockery. And then we’ll die.”
  • “I know who you are,” Amos said. The big man had been so quiet that both Murtry and Holden started with surprise.
    “Who am I?” Murtry asked, playing along.
    “A killer,” Amos said. His face was expressionless, his tone light. “You’ve got a nifty excuse and the shiny badge to make you seem right, but that’s not what this is about. You got off on smoking that guy in front of everyone. You can’t wait to do it again.”
    “Is that right?” Murtry asked.
    “Yeah. So, one killer to another, you don’t want to try that sh*t with us.”
    “Amos, easy.” Holden warned but the other two men ignored him.
    “That sounded like a threat,” Murtry said.
    “Oh, it really was,” Amos replied with a grin. Holden realized both men had their hands below the table.
    “Hey, now.”
    “I think maybe one of us is going to end bloody,” Murtry said.
    “How about now?” Amos replied with a shrug. “I’m free now. We can just skip all the middle part.”
  • Amos stepped in front of Basia and punched the RCE man in the face. It sounded like a hammer hitting a side of beef. The security man fell to the ground, a puppet whose strings had been cut.
  • “Choosing to stand by while people kill each other is also an action,” she said. “We don’t do that here.”
  • “Then tomorrow I’m going to figure out how to get my first officer back from the RCE maniac holding her hostage, so that I can go find the scary alien bullet fragment embedded in the planet. Amos nodded as if that all made sense.
    “Nothing in the afternoon, then.”
  • He tried the idea on like a new outfit. Seeing if he could find a way to make it fit.
  • There were a lot of holes in that logic that he carefully avoided thinking about.
  • “Right,” Holden said. “No coffee. This is a terrible, terrible planet.”
  • “Last man standing,” Amos replied with another grin. “It’s in my job description.
  • “Hey Miller,” Holden said, watching the robot peel up a two-meter section of the tunnel’s metal flooring and rapidly cut it into tiny pieces. “We’re still friends, right?”
    “What? Ah, I see. When I’m a ghost, you yell at me, tell me to get lost, say you’ll find a way to kill me. Now I’m wearing the shell of an invincible wrecking machine you want to be buddies again?”
    “Yeah, pretty much,” Holden replied.

Exotic words that you may want to google to increase your word power: magnetosphere, agraphobia, avuncular, analogs, byplay, proteomes, abode, encysted, carapace, nacreous, chitinous, assays, polymerized, neocortex, axioms, transuranics, dissemble, mitotic, tetrodotoxin, chiral, diurnal, arcology, sepulcher, amorality, patois

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A Feast of Reading

I’ve had several weeks holiday recently and read a number of fiction books. In this post I’ll provide some of my thoughts on them – some touched on briefly, and others with more detail. This list includes Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey, The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly and Murder Mile by Linda La Plante.

I couldn’t help myself, there are some spoilers.

Continue reading

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Some time ago, the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I sat down to watch The Expanse on Netflix. Being a bit of a scifi fan, I’m always keen to try something new. I’ve probably mentioned it before, with new shows we have a three-episode rule. That is, a show has three episodes to prove itself to us. In my recollection, The Expanse didn’t get a fair hearing; Mrs Ezard opened the airlock and jettisoned the show part way through the first episode. Which of course doesn’t stop me from watching the show, but it does make it less likely (as I tend to do it when she’s not around).

When season 2 of The Expanse came out, I thought I’d give it another go. A show that makes it over the first season obviously has some chops. (As was my theory at the time, although now I think about it there are plenty of shows which I think are terrible and are multi-seasons. Like Lost… in which a whole host of people find themselves spending hundreds of hours of their life to watch a show which actually has very little in the way of coherent or honest-with-the-audience story).

So anyway, I digress. When season 2 came out I gave it another go, and this time really liked it. Perhaps at the time when we originally watched it we just weren’t in the right frame of mind.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the noir detective type characters. The underdog who ends up saving the day, and is a bit uncouth while doing it. One of my partial drafts sitting in my metaphorical manuscript drawer is a noir detective.

And then one day at work I was on a resupply run (coffee) and saw someone reading a book that mentioned The Expanse. She very helpfully explained that The Expanse was based on a series by James S. A. Corey and that in fact the books were better than the show. (FYI: James S. A. Corey is actually the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). Always on the lookout for a good series to sink my eyes into, I made a note of the name and said I’d come to it after I finished reading The Wheel Of Time series.

Then the time came and I bought the book and started reading it, devouring the book within a few days. Leviathan Wakes (which is obviously book 1 of the series) is an excellent read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would describe the book as a blend of space-based detective novel with a light-dusting of military scifi.

(Seems to how I’m recommending the book as a good read, I should add there is significant swearing. Fu: 89, Sh: 106 Bi: 13, Ba: 29. Perhaps it speaks to how engaging the book is, I didn’t really notice the swearing much as I was reading it. I’ve already read the second book and will be posting more about the language in that post).

I’m far from an astrophysicist, but the descriptions of gravity, space travel, space battles and the constraints placed on non-Earth colonies seemed good to me. There was enough detail that it sounded authentic, without me needing a science and maths degree to comprehend what they were saying. The conditions that the people lived in actually changed their lives. For example, the locals in ‘the belt’ had developed bodily-movements which replaced facial gestures (because when you’re in a space suit, facial gestures don’t work).

It was a real book-onion skin pages bound in what might have been actual leather. Miller had seen pictures of them before; the idea of that much weight or a single megabyte of data struck him as decadent.

It’s little things like differing behaviours and perspectives, which don’t actually effect the plot-line but do give the story depth.

I’ve previously written that I thought cliffhangers at the end of every chapter were a bad idea. This book has changed my position on that. Every single chapter ended with something that had me checking the time to see if I could squeeze in another chapter. A cliffhanger – or better described – something that makes me want to know what happens next is a good thing. (Also note the chapters are small ~normally a chapter was about 10 minutes reading time).

Speaking of chapters I noticed that the chapter titles follow a pattern e.g. “Chapter 1: Miller” will be from Miller’s point of view. However, even though the chapter title tells us who the Point Of View (POV) is, very often that is still re-iterated within the first sentence or two. Which I think is a good practice.

Interestingly, every chapter perfectly alternates between the two main POVs, the prologue and epilogue having a different POV. The same character never gets two chapters in a row.

Here are a few of my favourite highlights:

Descriptors:

  • Alex and Amos drank like sailors; a finger full in the bottom of the cup, tossed back all at once. Alex had a habit of saying “Hooboy!” after each shot. Amos just used a different profanity each time. He was up to his eleventh shot and so far had not repeated himself.
  • When Alex threw down the throttle and a roomful of elephants swan dived onto his chest.

Dialogue:

He hesitated for one second, then pressed the button to execute. The ship failed to vaporize.
“I guess Fred wants us alive, then” he said. Naomi slumped down with a noisy, extended exhale.
“See, this is why I can’t ever be in command,” she said.
“Don’t like making tough calls with incomplete information?”
”More I’m not suicidally irresponsible,” she replied.

And

“There’s a right thing to do,” Holden said.
“You don’t have a right thing, friend,” Miller said. ”You’ve got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong.

“He looks at his soul, sees the stains, and wants to be clean,” he said. “But you? You just shrug.”

And some interesting words:

  • iconography
  • quixotic
  • pogroms
  • microcephalic
  • annealing
  • penumbra
  • flagellum
  • sclera

Vengeance Will Come, First Review

Today I discovered that I had a review for my novel, Vengeance Will Come on Amazon. Further more, I’ve had the review since November and didn’t even know!

For some strange – and surely nonsensical – reason, it appears Amazon displays comments only on the Amazon site where the novel is purchased. I would have thought it’d make more sense to display all of the same-language reviews on every Amazon site that caters for that language… i.e. give your customers more feedback about a product (and not to mention, potentially help your authors).

The review is very generous:

An engaging story with a surprising twist at the end. The characters are very well developed and vivid. The story is told masterfully and I wish to congratulate the writer on such a well written book. I only wish that they make it into a movie! I look forward to Book 2.

Thanks so much “Amazon Customer” 🙂 Such a review is encouraging, and encouragement is a big help. You too can buy my novel at the Amazon US, UK, AU or other site of your choosing 🙂

I have heard before that every author (regardless of previous successes) doubts themselves and their writing ability. It’s nice not to be alone in that feeling. It just so happens Francine Rivers who is an incredible writer, recently wrote about her continuing doubts and how she overcomes the immensity of the goal.

Nerd-Author Fun v2: Text Analysis

I promised this week that my blog post would be about some of my C# coding, which also happens to dovetail in beautifully with my writing. I’ve taken my earlier work and begun the super-charging process. That being said: this is just the beginning. In the future I plan to make it available, far more powerful and with a few of the bugs ironed out.

The general premise behind the program is that it can load your story from a text file, and then allow you to analyse it. At the moment it is sans-UI – which means it doesn’t have pretty user windows, checkboxes and other controls. I’m calling it Text Analysis Command Line (TAC). As it’s a command line program you have to type commands in to operate it.

So what can it do?

Like any good program it contains help – typing ‘?’ will give you a list and basic description of the available commands; typing ‘<command> ?’ will give you detailed options on that particular command.

wordcount-1

When you see a pipe symbol ‘|’ it means or. Square brackets (‘[‘, ‘]’) mean optional.

Most commands can either display output on the screen or save the results to a file. If using a single greater-than symbol (‘>’) the file will be saved (unless it already exists). Using the double option ‘>>’ will save the file, overwriting it if necessary.

Below is a description of all of the currently available commands. The results are based on processing Vengeance Will Come, my scifi/fantasy adventure (available now):

wordcount. You can display the frequency of every word used. Earlier in the year I bought Scrivener (left). For the most part it’s a great program but I was disappointed there was no way to export (or even easily query) word count data. The image of TAC (right) shows a snippet of both the textual version (default) and the ‘basic mode’ (using -b option). The basic mode is valuable if opening the file in Excel to do pretty graphs.

wordcount can also provide wordcount-word lengththe number of words which begin with given letters (-f) or the length of words (-l).

Just in case you’re curious the longest word at 20 characters is ‘uncharacteristically’. The three 16’s are: ‘conspiratorially’, ‘incontrovertible’ and ‘responsibilities’.

For the purpose of completeness, I’ll briefly mention the data command. At the moment it’s limited, a means to interrogate the data. In order to do all of this (and future) processing I painstakingly categorise every character of text into a type. Using the -expseg option outputs this information.

datacmd-2
-expseg option

 

At this stage the only two other data commands are -sen (output sentence). For example outputting the sentence at segment 128 is:

At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion.

And -block (output block) at 128:

“I wish that I didn’t know the future; that I couldn’t see the prophecies unfold before me. At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion. Even in my fitful sleep they haunt me as wild animals stalk the scent of blood, turning what little rest I get into an extension of my waking nightmare. I cannot escape.

The find command is powerful and will be leveraged heavily in future updates.

find-1

Unsurprisingly, find locates the occurrences of a specified word. Importantly the before and after options allow displaying the word in a variable level of context (e.g. want to see 10 words preceding the word, or only 5?).

find can also locate every instance of a specified type of punctuation. Want to know how often I use exclamation marks? Typing ‘find -p’ brings up a list of punctuation options from which a selection can be made.

find-2

The answer is of course 45 (as displayed on the screenshot). However, now I know exactly where they are (and in what context).

find-3.PNG
The first use of ! occurs at the 660th character in my novel.

I’m a big believer in not over-using the exclamation mark, so a tool like this would let me easily see how often I’ve used it in a given book (and calculate the amount of text between each usage). More importantly, it can also let me track down when I’ve used a ” instead of a “ which seems to happen no matter how careful I am.

This brings me to the end of the tour of TAC v0.0.1, I hope you liked it.

Genre-Melding

lunar-landscape-1978303_1920Picture if you will a large planet named Fantasy. It’s home to an array of creatures, each with their own societies and cultures; some primitive and some advanced. The laws which govern the world are far different from the physics, chemistry and biology that we Earthlings are familiar with.

A neighboring celestial body, the planet Xi belongs to the Sci-Fi Federation of planets. Xi and it’s galactically renowned bazaar is home to an assortment of aliens and Artificial Intelligences. Some aliens are sentient and others are not, depending on whose definition of sentient you adhere to. Naturally the aliens, though sharing a planet, each come from different homeworlds and customs.

Each planet – or literary genre, if you will – has a gravity well and loyal fans orbiting, some within the ionosphere and others at the very edges. They are loyal to their own planet, but the thought of traveling between planets is foreign…

Perhaps it is my own biases, and I’d like to think it’s breaking down… but once upon a time a fantasy novel was constrained to a single planet? No planet-hopping allowed. And if dragons exist on the planet, for some reason the inhabitants can’t develop space-faring technology? Why can Jaja Binks exist, but a dragon cannot? (Because we all know which one we’d like more).

The professionals on the Writing Excuses podcast talk about the importance of knowing which genre you’re writing to, so you can maximise appeal to that audience. (This advice was back in Season 1, so quite some time ago…)

cover-1Personally, I don’t see why genre blending isn’t more acceptable. When I wrote Vengeance Will Come (available soon), I didn’t write it for a particular genre… I simply wrote a book that interested me. It has elements from both science fiction (aliens, space travel, forceshields) and fantasy (telekinesis and other mystical powers and tied into arcane prophesy). In some ways it’s also an adventure story (fast-paced) that just happens to have those other elements as part of the setting. I don’t see how fantasy and science fiction can’t co-exist more.

Admittedly it’s been too-long since I read the masterpiece Dune, (particularly the first 3 books) but that successfully straddles the line between the two genres: a lot of science, but also brushed with a touch of fantasy in the Bene Gesserit.

Do you think genre-blending is more accepted by the reading communities in recent years, or do the rules of orthodoxy still hold true?

When you don’t like your main character

She’s so perfect I just puked a little. I apologise for the grotesque (and cliché) expression.

But the cliché fits and it’s how I feel about Sue-Le, my main character in The Rebel Queen. And I don’t mean perfect in a good way. She’s idealistic and only wants the best for her people. And unlike modern politicians, she actually means it. Her only flaw is she’s  innocent to the point of naivety.

This doesn’t make her endearing to the reader, it makes her annoying. In summary: she’s trite, sickly sweet and ultimately annoying. (Is now a good time to ask for beta readers???)

But all is not lost. I’ll put her through the same tumble dry as I have my other characters. I started off with a cast of bland and cliché characters and have redesigned them into interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Sue-Le is going to take a tumble or two more.

I’ve twisted the characters a fair bit to make them interesting. Instead of having a paragraph or two of “who they are”, I now have a page or two. They are richer and deeper. This also makes them more challenging to write. It’s easy to say “write this from the perspective of an older woman”… it’s harder for me to do that as a young-ish male 🙂

After spending most of 2017 revising Vengeance Will Come I must admit I’d rather be writing a new story than revising still… There is also a temptation to say The Rebel Queen is written, and only doing a skin-deep revision. But I wrote earlier that I’m wanting to do a thorough revision, to improve the story as much as possible.

That means I’m re-writing entire scenes and I’m treating the plot as ‘branch A’ instead of a ‘blueprint’ of what must be.

On to writing… have a great day/evening.