Monday, August 29, 2016

100 by 100: Stories in 100 Words by M.L. Kennedy

Book cover for 100 by 100100 by 100 is a collection of 100 stories that are each 100 words long. Mathematically, that makes each worth 1/10 of a picture. Some of these 0.1 pictures are scary, some are funny, some are funny and scary, while others are just odd.

Reading this book reminds me of beer (or wine) tastings. When you finish sampling one and wish to try another, it is recommended that you cleanse your palate with some water. Your resetting your taste buds so that your new taste experience won't be unduly influenced by the previous sample. This book is like that. When switching from one novel to another, this book would serve as a great literary palate cleanser. It's refreshes your brain and has the bonus side effect of entertaining it as well.

Most of the stories have a twist at the end. But as I think about it, how else can one neatly wrap up a story that's only one hundred words long? The author quickly sets up the premise and then (bam!) there's the ending. I found that 93% of the stories worked (I kept track), and most of them relied on that format. It didn't matter if the twist was spooky, ironic, or humorous. That's what worked. Those that didn't just trailed off.

The stories cover the gamut from quirky sci-fi, suspense & horror, bizarre fantasy, and conversational satire. Santa Claus, vampires, clowns, ghosts, interdimensional travel, and alien invasions all make appearances. With a few exceptions, the stories remain light-hearted.

If you've just finished some 500-page behemoth and you're not ready to start the next one, but you need to read something, then consider 100 by 100. It's light and refreshing, and you'll be done with it in no time.

To learn more about 100 by 100 or M.L. Kennedy, please visit his website.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Madam Tulip by David Ahern

“All the world’s a stage” would be an apt subtitle for David Ahern’s madcap thriller/mystery novel Madam Tulip. Several characters are struggling actors, but even the non-thespians engage in performances of varying degrees of desperation. They include a steely businessman trying to disguise shady dealings, undercover police posing as wealthy socialites, and a murderous international criminal who assumes a more mundane persona to avoid detection.

Into this unfolding intrigue inadvertently stumbles 27-year-old out-of-work Dublin actor Derry O’Donnell. Prompted by her chronically poor finances, she decides to capitalize on the psychic abilities that run in her family by setting herself up as a fortune teller under the moniker “Madam Tulip.” She lands a gig at a glamorous charity event hosted by supermodel Marlene Doyle, wife of Peter Doyle, the aforementioned shady businessman. As Derry plies her new trade amidst the beautiful, the famous, the wealthy, and the venal, a promising pop star in attendance dies suddenly. Derry, by dint of information gleaned during fortune-telling sessions, begins piecing together the tragedy’s antecedents.  The well-meaning Derry also fears for Marlene’s safety, and in trying to avert another tragedy, she becomes drawn into an increasingly dangerous mystery.

Madam Tulip sets off at a brisk pace that accelerates as the book progresses. In the early chapters, Ahern deftly sets to the stage for the mayhem to come by hinting at secrets and questionable motives. On meeting Marlene and Peter Doyle at a racetrack, Derry’s immediately detects that they are not what they seem.
Doyle is an actor, thought Derry. He’s playing the rich and successful host, a man in control. He’s having an off-day for some reason, but he doesn’t forget his lines, and he stays in character no matter what.
Very quickly, Derry’s relatively uneventful life is upended. Following the death of the pop star Mojo, Derry’s friend Bella is unjustly detained by the police, collateral damage from the plot that Derry is investigating. Derry herself becomes a target. With the help of her friend Bruce, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, she embarks on a series of maneuvers to unmask a deadly conspiracy. Like many characters who are suddenly catapulted into an adventure for which they are ill prepared, Derry faces strange and sometimes comical dilemmas, such trying to figure out how to dispose of planted drug money without leaving forensic traces.
…Derry hadn’t got a shredder.
How do you get rid of money? Never in her life had Derry imagined she’d be asking herself that question. “I know,” she said, jumping up and rooting in a kitchen cupboard. She pulled out a blender, plugged it into the socket and poured in a little water from the tap.
“I guess if it’ll turn cabbage into a smoothie it can do it to twenties.”
Derry proves to be a perceptive observer, and her impressions effectively draw the reader into the story.  She quickly spots incongruities in the behavior of the Doyles’ chauffeur Paulo.  On one occasion when Peter summons Paulo, his response to his employer is unusual.
The chauffeur of a rich man might have been expected to jump to attention and follow his master meekly across the lobby. To Derry’s surprise, Paulo did nothing of the kind. He put his hands in his pockets, walked backwards towards the door and, as he had done once before, blew Derry a kiss.
Her instincts are unerring. Several times in the book, she must decide whom to trust without having all the facts. Her training as an actor stands her in good stead in these situations, enabling her to identify subterfuge and sincerity. After the pop singer Mojo’s death, suspicion falls on his girlfriend Sonya, but Derry is confident that she is innocent.
She couldn’t even begin to imagine Sonya killing Mojo. Nobody, not even the best actress in the world, could fake the feelings Sonya had shown.
Madam Tulip’s overall tone is light-hearted, with comic relief provided by a feud between Derry’s divorced parents – her mother Vanessa, a flamboyant art dealer, and her father Jacko, a raffish painter perpetually one step ahead of trouble of his own making. Ahern’s wry observations like the following also contribute to the book’s wittiness.
The phalanx of policemen now fanned out around the offending car as though the driver inside were a terrorist or a wanted gangster. Meanwhile, the helmeted motorcyclists tried to disperse the watching crowd, shouting, “Nothing to see here, nothing to see! Move on!”
No crowd of Dubliners promised the delightful spectacle of raised voices, shouted obscenities and discommoded policemen will willingly accept an instruction to disperse, especially if accompanied by the ludicrous statement that there is nothing to see. Plainly, there was lots to see. The mood was turning ugly.
The novel has a couple of minor weaknesses. One subplot explores Derry’s potential rekindling of a past romance; however, the interactions between Derry and her former boyfriend lack any spark, and his character is woodenly unappealing. Another flaw, in light of the fact that this is the first in a planned series, is that Madam Tulip does not introduce any compelling character or story arcs that would span multiple installments. Because the novel is very competently written and succeeds on many levels, this is not strictly necessary. But to keep readers strongly engaged with a series, a novel should leave interesting questions and conflicts unresolved.

On the whole, though, Madam Tulip is pure entertainment, striking an ideal balance of comedy and suspense, with a cast of delightful eccentrics flailing their way through a gripping adventure that culminates in a satisfyingly cataclysmic conclusion.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Guns, Gods & Robots by Brady Koch

Book cover for Guns, Gods, and RobotsBrady Koch's Guns, Gods & Robots is a short story collection whose tales fall into one of those three categories. Three out of the seven stories had been released as standalones, but now they've been combined into one collection.

The collection opens with "Numbers 16:32", which was originally released as a standalone story, and I reviewed it here. The original blurb: Joseph's Sunday morning routine of church, beer and solitude is interrupted by a ragged screaming coming from the far side of his farm land. What he finds there will challenge his resolve in ways he hasn't faced since losing his wife or facing the horrors of the Korean War. I re-read the story and discovered that it had been slightly re-worked and edited. There was a definite improvement which increased my enjoyment of the tale. It makes for a solid opening to the collection.

"X-mas for a Half-Life": The story starts off with a typical "Dear Santa" letter, but the kicker is that it was written by a little girl living in an underground bunker after a nuclear war. So how do you make a child's Christmas wish come true what day-to-day survival is a struggle? A charming story in the face of grim circumstances.

"Popular Mechanics for Young Widows": A dying engineer builds a robot butler for his wife. Years later, she struggles to cope with his death and what the robot represents. I wasn't sure where this one was headed, but I suspected it would end tragically. Koch deftly resolves the situation.

"Fighting Weight": A son reflects upon the ritual of his mother cutting his hair. That doesn't sound like much of a story, but it actually provides a window into a destructive co-dependent relationship. I was so focused on the obvious developments that Koch presented that I didn't see the end coming.

"Sangrimal": A girl’s birthday wish comes true when she gets to spend an afternoon on a manhunt with her lawman father. I found this one to be the weakest in the group. The story is told from Katie's POV, so when events transpired, I didn't understand why. I don't recall there being any clues that the reader should've picked up on that Katie wouldn't because of her age.

"Timothy": In a world beset by a plague, human missionaries of all faiths have been replaced by robots. Something goes wrong with a robot named Timothy, and it is up to a pair of human engineers to figure it out before its malady spreads to the other robots. It's a story that explores faith in an interesting way. Tied with "X-mas for a Half-Life" for favorite story in this collection.

"3rd Flight": A marathon runner sets out for the third run of his life—tradition says it will be last. To say anything more would give too much away.

There's a Bradbury current running through the sci-fi stories. I don't know if the author is a fan, but I sense the vibe in his writing, enough to say there's an influence. The horror feels a bit more like King (short story King, not bloated novel King). He lacks Bradbury's poetic flourish, but Koch definitely has his own voice, which I imagine will grow stronger over time. But it's how everyday people deal with extraordinary circumstances, be they wonderful or horrific.

Unfortunately, I found a bunch of typos. I didn't let them distract me from my enjoyment of the stories, but they could've easily been caught by a proofreader. Other than that, the composition of the stories was sound.

Guns, Gods & Robots is a delightful collection of short stories by an author who's truly emerging in his own right. Any of these stories could've been sold to a zine for publication (after some tweaking for length). If you appreciate older sci-fi (and horror) that focuses on upheavals in the lives of everyday people (rather than grand galactic sagas or dystopian dramas), then check out Guns, Gods & Robots.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Union of Souls by Scott Rhine

Book cover for Union of SoulsReuben Black Ram has been a hacker for Special Forces, a DJ for pirate radio, and a real pirate who hotwires spaceships. The richest Goat in the galaxy, he is being asked to give up everything to save a race of alien mimics and his Human girlfriend. To accomplish this, he must cross Union space to reach the Convocation of Souls. The space battles, spies, and dangerously experimental tech don’t bother him as much as what MI-23 expects of him—to grow up and become a world leader. Reuben still has a few tricks up his bulletproof sleeves, including a psi talent that up until now has only made him an object of ridicule.

Before I get into the review, I'd like to comment on the cover. Each of the books in this series has been told from the POV of a different character. In the first two books, that character was human and featured on the cover. Not this one. The main character is a "goat"—humans have applied Terran animal nicknames to many of the alien races they've encountered—but we don't get to see him on this cover. I was disappointed by that decision. And the spaceships on the cover don't look like the one the heroes fly around in. It's just a generic sci-fi cover. Don't get me wrong; it's a competent cover. I was just hoping that the main-character-on-the-cover trend was going to continue.

I've enjoyed watching Reuben evolve over the three books in the series. In Void Contract, he meant well, but was a screw-up. Max saw potential in him, especially considering his lineage, and made him his pupil. By the time we're knee deep in Supergiant, Reuben has matured into a responsible member of the crew, though one that wears his heart on his sleeve.

Early on in this book, Reuben is forced to come to terms with the events that came at the end of Supergiant. While he's still young and emotionally malleable enough to adapt and prepare for his destiny, Reuben faces many challenges along the way. There are many temptations, and he knows he has to resist them, well, most of them anyway. He longs for what he's lost and on come the temptations of sex and booze. He feels a burning need to right the wrongs that were inflicted upon his people by Phibs and Bankers and on comes the temptation to misuse the power of government to exact revenge. Rhine deftly steers Reuben through these challenges in believable ways.

Whereas Void Contract was primarily about the assembling the cast of characters, the series' plot lines were introduced, though Rhine barely scratched the surface. Supergiant went into detail about those plot lines and their implications. The stakes were raised, and the urgency of our heroes' mission was understood. Those plot lines are (mostly) resolved in Union of Souls, and it is Reuben who is the key to accomplishing this. So it totally makes sense for Union of Souls to be told from his perspective. Unlike Supergiant, which was told from Roz's perspective and where many action scenes took place "off camera", Reuben is in the thick of it. The reader doesn't miss out on anything.

Rhine's writing continues to be efficient. There are no wandering tangents or paragraphs of purple prose. Dialogue, internal and external, serves to advance the story or provide insight into the characters. The same goes for the action scenes.

The manuscript has been meticulously edited and is of professional quality.

Union of Souls is the best book in what has already been a great series. Reuben is an immensely likeable character due to his relatability. He has flaws like everyone else, but is thrust into a situation of great political power with debauchery and corruption tempting him all the time. Rhine does an excellent job resolving the plot lines he introduced in the first book. Switching the narrative character POV with each book has been a smart move as it enables the reader to be in on events as they unfold. It will be interesting to see who narrates the story in the next book in the series, Glory Point.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

UPDATE 7/27/16: The author informs me that he and his cover illustrator tried to come up with a proper sketch for Reuben, but they were unable to make one that did him justice. The cover is actually a scene from the huge convocation at Giragog that takes place at the climax of the story.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Colony by RM Gilmour

Cover image (Goodreads)
When Lydia is pulled through spacetime into Jordan’s plane of existence, she finds herself immersed in a world controlled by the Guardian, an artificial intelligence. The Guardian’s sole purpose is to protect the power source that runs the planet; but it does so at the cost of all who live outside of its city.

Sheltered in the Colony, beyond the city’s borders, Lydia is befriended by an advanced race of hunters and warriors, who do all they can to protect her and themselves from the Guardian. To survive in this new world, she must find courage and strength, and learn to face her fears. But to save her soulmate and the colonists from the Guardian, she must overcome those fears and embrace her inner strength.

I was drawn to The Colony by reading an extract online—not a very long extract, but it convinced me that here was an interesting main character, dropped into a challenging situation. I was hooked.

RM Gilmour's story begins in a familiar Earth, but quite rapidly shifts to a wider focus. "Our" Earth is only one among a small set of alternate parallel worlds. The inhabitants are recognisable, but each has pursued a slightly different line of development, both biological and technological. There is a complementarity about the various groups; like any other kind of diversity, this has the potential to go well for the separate groups, or to go really badly. There are a lot of echoes of today's world, as a diverse group of people plucked from their own context tries to establish a kind of refugee existence.

The central character, Lydia, would be interesting in any story, but her complex and painful back story fits particularly well in this setting. She is constantly having to reassess who can be trusted and why, and whether she can rely on her own perceptions of the situation. Her personal history does not predispose her to depend on others, nor to feel that she herself is anything other than a destructive influence. Ironically, this very capacity for destruction proves to be crucial for the plot, once properly directed.

The story takes many twists and turns—it is at times a love story, an abduction, a rebellion, or a desperate defence against unthinking aggressors. It is to the author's credit that she has handled these possibilities without the story becoming bogged down and confusing. Since we follow Lydia throughout, these changes seem natural developments as her own awareness grows.

The book provokes thought about important personal issues. The one I grappled with most was what draws two people together. The book proposes that it is our similarities which make for compatibility and love. I feel it is more to do with complementarity and difference, but I appreciated the fact that the book tackled the question head on.

In terms of editing, there were a few more slips than I had expected, chiefly around homonym words such as your / you're. A few of them had me puzzled for a moment, but none of them interfered with my great enjoyment of the book.

The Colony ends with the defeat of the enemy, once its identity has been finally clarified. However, the closing words suggest that the victory has brought new risks, almost before the dust settles, which I am sure will be explored in a second story.

In short, The Colony is an engaging and stimulating book, providing a new twist on the theme of parallel worlds. Well worth reading.

The author's website can be found here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Welcoming Our New Reviewer

Richard AbbottI'm pleased to announce that author Richard Abbott has joined the ranks of the New Podler Staff. Richard is the author of Far from the Spaceports, which I reviewed earlier this month. Besides science fiction, Richard also writes historical fiction. His other novels include The Flame Before Us, Scenes from a Life, In a Milk and Honeyed Land.

Richard will be joining us as a reviewer. He hopes to discover some science and speculative fiction that offers optimistic, rather than pessimistic, outlooks with good characters and prose to boot.

Welcome aboard, Richard!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Far from the Spaceports by Richard Abbott

Book cover for Far from the SpaceportsQuick wits and loyalty confront high-tech crime in space.

Welcome to the Scilly Isles, a handful of asteroids bunched together in space, well beyond the orbit of Mars. This remote and isolated habitat is home to a diverse group of human settlers, and a whole flock of parakeets. But earth-based financial regulator ECRB suspects that it’s also home to serious large scale fraud, and the reputation of the islands comes under threat.

Enter Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate, sent out from Earth to investigate. Their ECRB colleagues are several weeks away at their ship’s best speed, and even message signals take an hour for the round trip. Slate and Mitnash are on their own, until they can work out who on Scilly to trust. How will they cope when the threat gets personal?

While the story got off to a slow start, it certainly wasn't dull. Abbott introduces us to Mitnash and does just enough world-building to hook the reader with an intriguing future. Humanity has colonized a good chunk of the solar system, and artificial intelligence (AI) has come to fruition. It's something that the technorati would approve of. And while space travel has improved, it still takes weeks to travel from Earth to the asteroid belt. This remoteness allows for a bit of self-governance that libertarians could find comfort in—it isn't anarchy or the Wild West. It does mean that there will be no cavalry coming to Mitnash's rescue should he get into trouble with the locals. He is very much alone, surviving by his wits.

The AI entities work alongside humans and have personalities that are indistinguishable from them. In this age of never ending Terminator films and Kurzweilian singularity worship, it's actually refreshing. One drawback is that Mitnash relies heavily on Slate to do the heavy lifting. While that comes in handy for number crunching, "she" executes some of the best action, leaving Mitnash as spectator too often. The story is told from his point of view so the reader misses out on Slate's version of events. Mitnash does get in a bit of peril when he finds himself unable to rely on her, and this winds up being the most tense scene in the book. I think I would've liked a bit more of that. They're a team, for sure, but it seemed to me that Mitnash needed Slate more than she needed him.

There's a tremendous attention to detail, which threatens to be too much for the casual reader, but Abbott stops short of going too far. It plays into his world-building. While it isn't all essential to the story, it does help the reader get the feel of the place. I never got a proper understanding of the local gravity—one-fiftieth that of Earth—but I'll chalk that up to my being stuck on Earth my whole life.

Only found a handful of typos, so the editing gets a thumbs up from me.

Far from the Spaceports is a delightful read. Abbott's characters are very personable and make for good companions as he carries us to a promising future. There's no dystopia here; man and machine work together to fight crime through skill and wit rather than heavy-handed government oversight or firearms. David Brin would approve.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Muses of Roma by Rob Steiner

Reviewed by Erin Eymard.

book cover for Muses of RomaMarcus Antonius Primus began a golden age for humanity when he liberated Roma from Octavian Caesar and became sole Consul. With wisdom from the gods, future Antonii Consuls conquered the world and spawned an interstellar civilization.

Three weeks before the millennial anniversary of the Antonii Ascension, star freighter captain Kaeso Aemelius, a blacklisted security agent from Roman rival world Libertus, is asked by his former commanders to help a high-ranking Roman official defect. Kaeso misses his lone wolf espionage days—and its freedom from responsibility for a crew—so he sees the mission as a way back into the spy business. Kaeso sells it to his crew of outcasts as a quick, lucrative contract…without explaining his plan to abandon them for his old job.

But Kaeso soon learns the defector’s terrifying secret, one that proves the last thousand years of history was built on a lie.

Can Kaeso protect his crew from Roman and Liberti forces, who would lay waste to entire worlds to stop them from revealing the civilization-shattering truth?

Rob Steiner's Muses of Roma is unlike any alternate history novel I've ever read. The premise of the novel is simple: Imagine that Rome never fell and is now bent on conquering the stars.

Steiner seamlessly blends historical fact into his story, slightly altering bits, but pulls no punches in this process. This is first evident with the quote preceding the prologue: "I found Roma a city of marble and left it a city of steel" - Marcus Antonius Primus. This is a play on Augustus Caesar's quote "I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble" (marmoream relinquo, quam latericiam accepi). The book is peppered with enough Latin phrases and tidbits to make the Romanophile in me giddy.

The prologue starts with Marcus Antonius taking the eternal city aided by cannons and muskets. His march through Rome amidst gunfire and smoke is a surreal scene. Steiner goes on to explain that deep in the deserts of Egypt, Marcus Antonius is bestowed upon "by the gods" the secrets of advanced technologies.

One of my favorite lines from the prologue is:
He passed the Circus Maximus on his left; its large walls were pockmarked with musket shots.
I found myself trying to imagine what the people of the city would have been thinking as a man leading an army with the power of the gods marched to take the city from a man they worshiped as a god.

The shock of the prologue (especially after the author deftly explains the rapid technological advancement) serves as a warning to the reader that this is going to be a wild ride.

Fast forward 1,000 years and we are on the streets of Roma. The city has all the feel of ancient Rome even after the characters catch a bus. A young woman, Ocella, is trying to smuggle a boy, Cordus, off planet, which is where the true sci-fi aspect of the book takes hold.

We meet Kaeso, former Umbra (secret agent) and captain of the Caduceus, as he is trying to keep his spaceship flying. His crew is a hodgepodge of people running from their pasts all with their own secrets. Kaeso’s own secrets could put the lives of his crew in jeopardy. The interaction between the crew is not unlike the Malcolm Reynolds' crew in Firefly. They fight like a family and would give their lives for their crewmates.

After a disastrous job and an injury to a crew member, Kaeso’s past catches up to him and he is tasked with returning to the eternal city to retrieve Ocella and Cordus. In the process, they discover a millennium's old secret that could change the course of humanity.

I have never gotten so wrapped up in a book. I will be purchasing the remaining books in the series but only once I have time to devote myself to being locked in a room and do nothing but read this. This is not a series that one reads in small spurts. Steiner constantly pulled me in and held me captive for hours on end.

For more information, please visit the author's website and read this interview.
The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. A review was not solicited.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cloud Country by Andy Futuro

Book cover for Cloud CountryWell, that could’ve gone better. Saru had found the blue-eyed girl alright, but she’d blown up half of Philadelphia in the process. Whoops. Now she was a fugitive, robbed of her implants, relying on her "wits," hunted by aliens, Gods, and the monstrous spawn of fornicating universes. It was a crap deal, but it wasn’t all bad. She’d stolen a plane, a luxury model with a fully stocked minibar. And she had company, a rogue Gaesporan named John. And there was something strangely liberating about having screwed up so badly you couldn’t really do worse.

Cloud Country is the sequel to No Dogs in Philly and picks up within hours of its end. The story reads a bit like a bad acid trip version of Alice in Wonderland—I don't mean that as a complement. It's all about Saru wandering around aimlessly in real and imagined landscapes, encountering people, aliens, and monsters who want to do her harm. It isn't until about three-quarters of the way through that the point of it all was made clear. And that's far too long. If the first book hadn't been so good, I wouldn't have finished this one.

Saru remains an unlikable character. I like strong female characters, but I don't want them to be petulant brats. In the first book, I rooted for her. In this book, I was rooting against her. Self-confidence is sexy, but self-absorption is a turn off. I wanted her to fail so that maybe a shred of humility would creep into her consciousness and make her aware of how much of a jerk she is. I felt sorry for (almost) every other character that had to deal with her. Again, it was at that three-quarters point that we see any glimmer of hope that she realizes that it's not all about her. She actually cares about her native city of Philadelphia, though I'm not sure why. At the climax of the story, she finally shows some compassion, but I don't know if it made a lasting impression on her soul.

Unfortunately, the editing in this book is terrible. My experience was marred by comma problems (missing or too many), capitalization issues (gods not Gods), a lack of transition from narrator's voice to Saru's thoughts, scene inconsistencies, and run-on sentences. Sometimes Futuro tried to cram as many adjectives and phrases into his sentences as possible. It was like he was having a Special K power trip and was feverishly writing everything down that came to him. Here are a few examples:
She howled and leapt from her crouch at the nearest doctor, and the pain raced up to her brain, where it echoed like a tolling bell and grew and grew, so that her vision shook with its vibrations, and her legs spasmed like skewered insects, and the blackness filled her head again, her few seconds of consciousness swallowed by pain.
There was a whoosh and skitter, and tentacles wrapped around her body, ankles, shins, thighs, navel, breasts, arms, neck, wrapping tight, barbs digging into her skin with hornet-sting pain.
She took deep breaths, the stench bursting the vessels of her nose to gush blood, the air cutting her throat and jabbing acid holes in her seared lungs, lips burned and curled away, eyelids burned, the eyes steaming and boiling in their sockets.
She remembered this, this conversation, the two of them huddled in their makeshift sleeping bags in the tree fort back in the woods, the secret fort to get away, to hide, clinging to each other to stay warm, ears pricked, hearts pounding at every snapping twig and scuffling squirrel, alert, alert, alert, waiting afraid.
If the editing in No Dogs in Philly didn't bother you, then it won't here either.

In summary, Cloud Country is a disappointing sequel to No Dogs in Philly. The hard-boiled cyberpunk Lovecraftian vibe is gone, replaced with a bizarro fantasy that wanders aimlessly for far too long before getting to the point. This is reflected in the author's tendency to make sentences as long as possible through the use of commas and conjunctions. There's the kernel of a decent story here—you can see it in the imagery the author evokes—but the manuscript needs to be sent to an editor to bring it out in some coherent fashion.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

How NOT to Take a Rejection from Us

While stumbling around the internet today, I came across this. In essence, it was an author bemoaning a rejection letter he received from us. He was having a bad day and chose to rant on his blog about it. I've copied the pertinent part below, but you can click on that link to read the whole thing and verify that I'm not misquoting him.

My magnum opus received a rejection today, not for publication, but rather, that it was not qualified for a review by any “reviewers” on the website “The New Podler Review of Books: Small Press and self-published books worth reading”. Now I don’t remember ever submitting a review request to this site, although it’s possible. I don’t normally ask for reviews except when I am just putting a book out there and need a few ARC reviews posted so that the almighty ad sites will consider my money worth spending (and then I normally impose shamelessly on fellow authors).

Now the facts that the aforementioned review site is built on the most hideous of the free backdrops on the free “” and that my rejection came from a (free) Gmail address notwithstanding, their subtitle would suggest that my self-published book is “[not] worth reading”. Now had the site just said “Podler Reviews” I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance. Okay, that AND if the current book under review didn’t have a cover (and writing) quality equivalent to that of a sixth-grader (no, that’s not true—not true at all. Such a commentary insults the sixth-grader).

I know, we’re supposed to have thick skin. And I usually do. Or pretend I do. But just as each time a reader enjoys my work it makes my day, not matter how many books I ever sell or have reviewed, it also stings when someone takes time out of their day to reject you. Doesn’t it? Or am I alone here, wandering in the literary desert of criticism with eyes gouged out and a bloody wrap around my head? It’s a bummer when people that consider dog poop as literature reject you as unreadable. I know, I know, it actually defies logic, but what can I say?

Now while this post was made three years ago, I couldn't help but reply. Things posted to the internet live forever or, at least, until they're taken down. As I write this, my comment is awaiting moderation. So here it is just in case it's rejected:
Ha! This is wonderful. I’ve only just now stumbled upon this post, so I shall respond on behalf of the New Podler Review of Books.

Your scathing criticism of our usage of free stuff is spot on and accepted. But we’re hardly alone in this.

We have changed the motto since you visited us. It was there from the beginning and was established by the site’s founder, who is no longer with us. I never thought that it was intended to alienate authors whose work was rejected by us. More like, “Here are some indie books that we came across that are good. Obviously, there are more, but [insert lame reason here].” We didn’t get to read The Martian or Wool when they were indies. Doesn’t mean they sucked.

I won’t apologize for the lame covers of some of the books on the site. Indie publishing has been plagued with that from the start. Instead, we’ve had a page dedicated to sites where indie authors can find affordable book cover designers.

Yeah, Blood Land was submitted to us via MailChimp, that mass mailing service. I don’t know if you used them or someone did it on your behalf. Regardless, it means that someone didn’t read our submission guidelines. Mystery/Thrillers really aren’t our thing. Maybe one of the available reviewers at the time was into it, but he/she took a pass for whatever reason.

If you had read our submissions page, at the bottom you would’ve seen this:

“We reject over 95% of the submissions we receive, and that includes the very good along with the not so good. If you’re rejected, you’re in good company. One author we reviewed posted that he only received five reviews out of 144 submissions to book bloggers. Keep trying!”

We send out form rejections because it consumes less time, and when managing a slush pile, I like to take the easy route. Kind of like using MailChimp to send out a bunch of submissions to prospective reviewers.

I’m sorry if the rejection letter that was sent to you hurt your feelings. It wasn’t meant to do that. It was sent to provide closure. Some authors like to have that. Also, I’m sorry that you felt that rejecting your work meant that we thought it was crap. That was not the case. Yeah, the book cover on the site at the time was amateurish, but the writing was not. Judging books by covers…yeah, I know.

Anyway, I’m sure that you’ve moved on. I hope that this reply clears things up for you. I also hope that when you get rejected, you shrug and move on.

It just goes to show that you can't please everyone. Oh, and the book currently reviewed at the time was Embustero. I guess sci-fi isn't his thing.