More Short Flicks!

As far as short films go, this next one is pretty great. Intriguing storyline, amazing effects, and decent acting. This is one of those films I’d love to see turned into a full length feature!

Also, I started playing this game last night called Brain Wars, and I can already foresee that I’m going to become a hermit and play this obsessively. Well, actually… I’m already a hermit, but now it’s gonna get reaaaal hermity.

brain wards

It’s a free app and you can play against friends and strangers. I recommend you pick it up and then comment at the bottom with your friend code so we can play against each other!

Anthony

Advertisements

Writing Likable Characters

A good story needs at least one of two things: a good plot or good characters. Ideally you’d get both, but beggars can’t be choosers. Well, actually, they can…but they shouldn’t. For instance, if you’re panhandling outside Chipotle and I bring you a chicken burrito, I don’t want to hear any complaints about how you’re a vegetarian or gluten free.

beggars

Take my damned burrito and be thankful. Consequently, that is one of my more popular pick-up lines. It’s never worked, but it makes me giggle.

Anyways, we’re skidding out of control and getting dangerously off topic here, so let’s focus, yeah? Good, stop blowing bubbles with your spittle and listen up. We’ve talked previously about generating ideas for your stories (Don’t remember? Figures… click here), and I can’t comment on whether or not you’ll drudge up a great plot from that exercise, but you’ve got a start in the right direction so keep going and eventually you’ll stumble out of the wilderness.

Or atleast, that’s the hope.

So, let’s talk about writing good characters now and suss out what exactly that even means. The title of this post is “Writing Likable Characters” but that’s sort of misleading because characters don’t actually have to be likable. They can be despicable.

If we loathe them for all the right reasons. When done correctly, it sucks us into the story like we’re watching a train wreck of horrible, no hope of turning away. In this case, our characters is doing a good job, he’s a good character.

Some writers claim that there has to be something redeemable about your character, something the reader can latch onto, a source of similarity from which a sympathetic relationship can spawn. Those writers are absolutely….correct, to a point!

We’ll use Darth Vader here for a quick example. He starts off as this mass-murdering sociopath (a role he never really grows out of), but by the end of the original Star Wars trilogy we understand him a bit better, and ultimately we relate to him based on the sacrifice he makes to save Luke.

darth vader

Conversely, the Joker, from the Batman series, is a mass-murdering sociopath who we, as the reader, have a hard time understanding and commiserating with. He’s a terrifying villain for precisely the same reasons that the Alien from Aliens is, it’s because they’re so foreign to us. So unrelatable.

That makes them great for the role they play in the story, but ultimately we don’t really care what happens to them. We aren’t invested in their story, and truth be told, we’re just rooting against them the majority of the time.

A quick counterpoint to that would be Two-Face, Harvey Dent, from the Batman universe, who is a mass-murdering sociopath, but with a back story we can sympathize with. Given the correct circumstances, it’s not so hard imagining any one of us becoming the horrible monster that is Two-Face.

Eh, maybe he's got a point?

Eh, maybe he’s got a point?

And that’s what you’re looking for in a good villain. A terrifying persona that we can empathize with. Those are the ones that really get under our skin. Think back to Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker; the majority of Luke’s struggle in the second movie is an internal one as he fights against what he could so easily become.

We all have monsters lurking inside of us, and I think this is the launching off point for writing a good, likable character. Even the good-guys have inner demons they’re constantly fighting against. When those demons are rooted in the real world, when they are issues any of us could struggle against, then we have a sympathetic character.

That right there is a huge take-away; you’re character needs to be sympathetic. If they aren’t, then they are probably a caricature, possibly of evil (the Joker), or they are boring.

Readers don’t want boring.

hungry bored

One of the most despicable characters of any story I’ve ever read is Gully Foyle from The Stars My Destination by Alfred Besser. This guy murders, rapes, and pillages. In general, he’s a horrible human being. A dubious starting point for any main character. Even worst, he’s unrepentant. He doesn’t even feel bad about what he is.

the stars

He is so consumed by a perceived injustice against his person that he will literally stop at nothing to have his revenge. As a reader we understand his single-minded focus, perhaps from a slightly removed position that makes it hard to relate to his actions, but we get it.

Now, the thing about Gully is that eventually he realizes the horror of his ways, grows a conscience, and seeks to make amends. Which is probably the most important aspect of writing a good, likable character: they need to grow.

If by the end of a story the main character hasn’t changed, hasn’t learned from their actions, then the reader will be upset, and deservedly so.

A famous writers, who’s name I can’t recall, once said that the story you’re writing should be the most important event in the life of your main character up to that point. If it’s not, then you’re telling the wrong story. With that in mind, if you reach the end of your story and your character hasn’t changed, or grown, in an appreciable way, then you’ve done something wrong.

Life changes us. Ignoring that fact is a surefire way to write a lame character.

life changing event

How is your character growing as the story goes on? You need to ask yourself this question often, because in a lot of ways it’ll serve as an internal guide for your story.

Writing likable characters is not about them saying the right thing, or doing the right thing. As individuals we rarely say, or do, the right thing. But we try. And that’s an important takeaway, your character needs try. They try to do the right thing, and they fail. They try to do the wrong thing and they succeed. One way or another they are not static participants in the world you’ve created, pushed around by destiny’s broom.

They are active agents for change, which is what we as readers can relate too. We want to be agents of change in our own lives, but often that feels impossible. We’re stuck at our jobs, or tethered to the mistakes of our past, our families need us in a way that stifle our sense of self and individuality. These are real struggles we all encounter and can relate too.

So, take your characters and ground them in the familiar, root their struggles in the relatable, and then show how they resist. How they try to outgrow their circumstances.

Do they always succeed? No, that would be disingenuous. Sometimes they fail, and that can make for just as great of a story.

Alright, so get down to the comments and tell me, what are some of your favorite characters and why? Who are some of your least favorite characters and why?

Anthony

Fantastic Four Trailer!

I’ll be honest, the first couple Fantastic Four movies kind of sucked. That’s not helped by the fact that in the grand pantheon of Marvel Superhero’s the Fantastic Four are kind of lame, but hey, what can I say? I’m a sucker for a superhero movie (yes, I watched Daredevil with Ben Affleck multiple times, and yes, I still hate myself for it. Shame doesn’t wash off easy).

Anyways, here’s the trailer for the new Fantastic Four. A couple things right off the bat. I like that they went with a younger cast. From the looks of it, they tried to diversify, by which I mean they added a token black guy as The Thing. <– Sarcasm.

At some point Hollywood is gonna catch up with the rest of the world and realize adding a single minority character doesn’t make a story diverse. *sigh* Some day.

Also, if quizzed, I couldn’t possibly tell you what this particular film is about. Looks like an origin story, but beyond that? *shrug*

Duck and Cover! It’s Award Season!

Yep, it’s that time of the year again: Award Season. In the months to come, for those paying attention, there will be a truly impressive smattering of Awards swirling about. If you catch a Hugo or Oscar across your dome-piece, don’t act as if you weren’t given fair warning, ‘cause pretty soon it’s gonna be like an Awardmaggedon up in this piece.

Travel outside at your own peril.

i'm not going out there

Anyways, I’ve never been all that into Awards, writing or otherwise (especially in a medium as subjective as writing/art). In basketball or football, sure, with an army of statistics to back you up, one can make a compelling argument as to who was the most valuable player of the year, but how do you do that with writing?

Books and movies are interesting in so far as they are truly subjective. Case in point, The Southern Reach Trilogy, touted by many pundits as one of the best series of 2014, barely made a blip on my radar. Does that mean I have bad taste? Or maybe everybody else is wrong and the books just aren’t that good?

The answer lies somewhere in the middle, orbiting the always frustrating “both”. And this is where choosing the best books of 2014 gets really murky, ‘cause let’s be honest, of all the books to be nominated for all the various awards this year, how many of those have you actually read? How many have the judges actually read?

Has anybody read them all? Can anybody make an objective decision? No way. Impossible. Frustratingly so.

So, what happens? Well, it’s kind of the same old, same old. The authors who’ve gained a suitable following and are known within the community will consistently get nominated for awards, and within that fractional cross-cut of nominations certain authors will consistently win

Does that mean they are unworthy? Not at all. They got to where they are by being fantastic writers. I’m not trying to take anything away from them. But rather, I want to be honest that when we’re talking about the best books of 2014, we’re not really taking all the books, or even worthy books, into consideration.

To make the point, let’s take a look at the past decade or so of the Hugo’s (the grand poobah of awards within the Science Fiction/Fantasy realm).

hugo award

Michael Swanwick won the Hugo for best novelette in 2003 and 2004. The year before he won for best short story. Two years before that he also won for best short story. How about the year before that? Yeah, you guessed it… best short story. So, in ‘99, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004 Michael Swanwick consistently beat out thousands of other worthy rivals. That’s impressive, surely he must be the exception.

Or is he?

Neil Gaiman, (a fantastic writer), won for short story in 2004. Best Novella in 2003. Best Novel in 2002. Three years running, not shabby.

Now, Michael Swanwick and Neil Gaiman are deserving of every accolade they receive, no doubt. But how can two authors in a 5 year span, win 8 awards?

Are they truly that much better than all the rest? Well, let’s go a bit more recent and take a look at nominations that made it to the finals.

China Mieville was nominated for Best Novel in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2010, and 2012. 5 nominations in a decade.

John Scalzi was nominated in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2013. 4 nominations in 7 years.

Robert J. Sawyer 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2010. 6 nominations in 11 years. Wow! That must be a record.

Nope.

Charles Stross has been nominated and made it to finalist status for Best Novel in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, oh and again in 2014. 7 nominations in a decade, with 6 of those being in a row. No winners, yet.

Bummer.

Okay, okay, so the same guys get nominated every year, what of it? Should we just throw in the towel and hand them the award?

Not so quickly, ‘cause here’s another little stat that will blow your mind.

In 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010 (sort of), 2011, 2012, and 2014, the winner of Best Novel were writers who had NEVER made it to the finals before.

What? Take 2008 for instance. Charles Stross, John Scalzi, and Robert J. Sawyer (who between the three have a combined 17 nominations!) lost to Michael Chabon who had NEVER, ever, ever, made it to the finals.

So what do these wonky numbers tell us? Well, if you don’t win the Hugo’s on your first time in the finalist circle, then you’re probably not gonna win for quite sometime. But no fear, you’ll keep getting nominated indefinitely, you may just never win.

Sorry, Charles Stross.

Consequently, Michael Chabon hasn’t made it back into the finalist circle.

You win some, you lose some.

What’s the point of all this? Who cares?

Meh, I only care a little bit and even that is fairly forced. If somebody wants to give me an award, I’ll take it, but beyond that I can’t summon the strength to really get all that interested. So, instead, I’m gonna give my own awards.

Here ya go, the first annual “Lazy Robots”.

lazy robot

But since I think it’s really dumb choosing just one (and why should I even have to? Huh? Tell me, why?) I’m gonna give you the top ten books of 2014.

Consequently, the only stipulation for being eligible for a Lazy Robot is that the book had to have been written prior to 2015, and I read it sometime in 2014. Arbitrary? Yes, but they are my awards so suck it up.

Sorry, no time traveling books from 2097 trying to sneak into the 2014 Lazy Robot line-up. Time traveling is cheating.

And awesome.

But mostly cheating.

Okay. Here’s the top ten list of 2014. Every book on here I would unequivocally recommend for your reading enjoyment.

blackbirds

  BLACKBIRDS – Chuck Wendig

The Night Circus Ering Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Ering Morgenstern

Lies of Locke Lamora Scott Lynch

Lies of Locke Lamora
Scott Lynch

The Book Thief Marcus Zuzak

The Book Thief
Marcus Zuzak

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elantris Brandon Sanderson

Elantris
Brandon Sanderson

All You Need Is Kill Hirsoshi Sakurazaka

All You Need Is Kill
Hirsoshi Sakurazaka

The Martian Andy Weir

The Martian
Andy Weir

Red Rising Pierce Brown

Red Rising
Pierce Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neverwhere Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere
Neil Gaiman

The Name of the Wind Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There ya have it, one really long winded blog post, and ten book recommendations. Not a terrible ratio. What were some of your favorite books of 2014?

Anthony

Books of the Week 1/19-1/25

Now for the moment you’ve been anxiously awaiting all week: Books of the Week! Yaay! Let’s cut the shenanigans and get right down to business.

1) Authority – Jeff Vandermeer (For those wanting some moody science fiction)

authority

Authority is Book Two in the Southern Reach Trilogy. Now, for those of you with good memories, you’ll recall my thoughts on Annihilation (Book One) were all over the place. The writing is fantastic and sets one of the most depressive moods I’ve experienced in book form, but I had serious doubts about the story-line–namely, I was gripped by the fear that I would get to the end and none of the original questions raised in book one would be answered.

But, I’m persistent, and The Southern Reach trilogy is being hailed by alot of really smart folks as one of the best series of 2014 so I figured I owed it to myself to atleast complete the series.

Authority picks up right after Annihilation following an entirely new character who, just like in the first book, is sort of unlikable and…weird? I don’t know the best way to describe the character who chooses to refer to himself as ‘Control’.

Authority left me with a lot of the same feelings that Annihilation did. Very depressive as the mood sustained throughout the book is melancholy ladled in thick spoonfuls. Some questions were sort of answered, but more questions were raised than before. Weird questions that didn’t really matter, in my eyes.

Anyways, I stuck it out and gave the story 4 stars based on the writing alone, with the possibility that the series could be fantastic depending on how Vandermeer wraps it up in the third book….which brings us to the next book of the week.

2) Acceptance – Jeff Vandermeer (For those who liked Annihilation and Authority)

acceptance

This is it, the finale of the Southern Reach Trilogy and the book that I figured from the beginning the whole series would come down too. And?

Well, l hate it when my expectations are met, specifically when I expect the worst. Unfortunately Acceptance offered vague explanations that ultimately make very little sense. The writing is, again, fantastic. Very moody and visceral, so if you’re into atmospheric reads, this could be for you.

But if you’re looking for a story that wraps up with a pretty bow on top, look elsewhere. I’m no stranger to stories like this ending by leaving the reader to fill in somegaps, but I’m sorry, I won’t abide by a story that doesn’t answer the big questions raised in the first chapter of the first book.

I feel strung along, and sort of used. Those aren’t good feelings to come away from a book with, which I think is why the Southern Reach trilogy has such hot/cold reviews. It’s divisive and I think that’s great, I just wish I wasn’t on the negative side of that divide. Bummer, I had high hopes, but, again, if you remember from my Annihilation write-up, I knew this was coming.

3) The Cat Who Walks Through Walls – Robert Heinlein (for those who like witty dialogue, strong female leads, and weird gender relations)

the cat

If you’d asked me in the first fifteen chapters I would have told you I love this story! The dialogue is amazing, full of witty snark that I eat up like movie theater popcorn; the story was intriguing; the world was creative and well thought out; and the characters were both strong willed individuals moving through the world with agency. I love these types of stories.

So what’s the problem? Around halfway the book just took the hardest left turn I’ve ever suffered through. I gripped the oh-shit bar for dear life as this thing started swerving like a 14 year old driving for the first time after half a dozen Zima’s.

oh shit

Hang on, I don’t know where this is going!!!

The story that occurs in the second half of the story has nothing to do with the first half, which was the more intriguing half by far. In fact, at about 3/4 of the way I realized there wasn’t really a plot. There were just characters doing stuff that they claimed to be important but without any proof to support the supposition. Also, the witty dialogue continued throughout.

Which is cool, but here’s the thing about witty dialogue: snarky banter is fun, but it’s not enough to support an entire story. Sorry, it’s just not. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way so I figured I’d save you some time and just let you know upfront.

It’s a bummer, ’cause I LOVE Heinlein, but you should avoid this. Truly.

Sci-Fi Short Flick

Okay, so the CGI on this one is pretty awesome though the fight scenes, and music, are a bit too The Matrix inspired for me. There is a story buried in there somewhere, but it’s vague, or perhaps subtle would be a nicer way of putting it.

Also, this isn’t what I would consider cyberpunk, but hey, it’s worth a few minutes of your time.

E-Book Prices, Getting Less Than What You Paid For

I read a lot (well over 100 books a year), and I don’t have a strong preference for medium one way or the other. If it has an awesome cover, or something I might want to have on my shelf, I’ll buy the paperback. If I just want to read the story then I’ll get it on ebook.

It’s really that simple. Except for when it’s not. See, the other deciding factor, and admittedly, it’s a huge one, is price. Ebooks in general are significantly cheaper than paperbacks, or atleast they should be. This shouldn’t even be remotely surprising when you consider how much cheaper the production of an electronic file is by comparison to a paperback book which is to say nothing of the cost of distribution.

But, this concept seems to be missing the mark with a lot of popular books out there these days. Books that I happen to want to read, but am unnwilling to pay $10 for the equivalent of a digital file when I could splurge an extra two dollars and get the paperback.

See, big publishing houses have a hierarchy in what format they would prefer to sell.

First, they want to sell a butt-load (which is a scientific metric equivalent to “alot”) of hardcover books. They have the highest mark-up on these books and therefore make the most profit on the back-end. The problem is, I can’t tell you the last time I bought a hardcover, which is for a multitude of reasons not the least of which is they are inconvenient as hell (again, a scientific measure of comfort equivalent to “a bed of nails”) to read.

I like to read on my back, in bed, with my book or electronic device held over my head. I run the very real risk of crushage if I attempt to do that with a hardcover which dropped from any height, onto my head, has the destructive force of a brick. I’ll pass.

Second, the publishers want to sell paperbacks, again ’cause they have the highest mark-up.

Third, they want to sell E-Books, which is weird, ’cause you would think since ebooks are the cheapest option to produce they’d want to sell more, but remember that a publisher has a lot of mouths to feed, mouths that have a hard time getting fed if they are selling an ebook for $2. In the long run, they are betting on the paperback/hardback sales to carry the day.

So what do they do? They mark the ebook prices waaaay up to create an incentive to buy the paperback. Problem is if I pay $15 for every book I read in a year, I’m paying well over $1500 a year, just in books! Eek!

For instance, here are some books that I have on my list, but which I flat out refuse to buy on account of their abusive price points:

physics of the future

Amazon list the Kindle Price for Kaku’s Physics of the Future at a stiff, but manageable upper end price of $8.57. The paperback? $9.02. That’s right, for $.50 more you can get the actual physical copy. Now, I love Kaku and I’ve read all his stuff, but this is ridiculous case in point. Also, if you want to see something real amusing, check out Kaku’s Hyperspace listing on Amazon where the kindle price is around $38. Which I truly hope is a joke, or a mistake, or something.

golden son

Golden Son is a good example of an industry standard practice. For the first few months of a big release they only offer it in hardcover and Kindle. No paperback option. The reason? Because they gouge have the most revenue off hardcover prices. How do they drive sales towards the hardcovers? They don’t give a paperback alternative until the hardcover sales start showing decline, and they jack the kindle price way up so that the cost/benefit analysis is skewed in favor of spending a few extra dollars to get the hardcover. Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself how they justify selling the kindle version for $10.99 and the hardcover for $16.92. If you figure the paperback would be priced somewhere between the two, then that means you’d be spending somewhere between $1-3 for the paperback as opposed to the kindle, which again, at the moment, isn’t even an option.

Other quick examples?

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi: Kindle Price: $8.58 Paperback Price: $9.03

Defender by Will Mcintosh: Kindle Price: $8.89 Paperback Price: $12.18

Embassytown by China Mieville: Kindle Price: $9.99 Paperback Price: $12.87

Now, in these examples the point is that the Paperback prices are actually pretty good. About $10 is what I expect to pay for a paperback, but the ebooks, by comparison, are way OVERpriced for what you get.

I don’t want to seem that all publishers are being jerks with their ebook prices, because they aren’t. I think big publishers are starting to realize they can’t compete in the digital market with those sorts of prices. A quick example would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 which was a Nebula winner a few years back. Kindle Price: $6.99 Paperback Price: $8.60. These are good prices for a 500+ page book with award winning credentials.

What’s a reader to do? *shrug* Good question. I tend to buy books used ’cause they are significantly cheaper or wait for some sort of deal and snag the ebook for cheap. But it bums me out ’cause there are certainly a lot of authors I’d love to read, but who’s work is simply overpriced. Perhaps that’s my expectation of what a book should cost and I’m being spoiled, or maybe the big publishing houses need to hurry up and get competitive with their ebook prices. Who can say for certain?

Oh, wait.. this is my blog, I get to say for certain! muahaha. Don’t like it? Well, fine. Go start your own blog!

What’re your thoughts on the current pricing structure of books? Overpriced? Underpriced? perfectly priced? Do you prefer to read electronically? Paperback? Hardcover?

Okay, so it’s only fair since I spent this whole big blog post ranting about prices that I put my money where my mouth is. If you head over to Amazon, for the rest of the week you can pick up Time Heist for FREE. Currently it’s sitting #1 in Science Fiction Adventure and Cyberpunk and Genetic Engineering and blah blah blah. It’s doing well, I’m excited, but I’ll be even happier if you go and grab yourself a copy!

time heist

FREE until the end of the week… ’cause I like ya.

Books of the Week!

Before we get in up to our elbows worth of books I want to give ya’ll a heads-up that starting tomorrow Time Heist will be FREE on Amazon through the end of the week. So if you’ve been holding off on getting yourself a copy, or you have a frugally inclined friend looking for a new read, then this is the moment you’ve been waiting for!

Okay, so without further bush whacking, here are the Books of the Week, err…last week. Whatever. They are books from a week!

1) Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer (For those that want to read introspective, slow-paced horror.

annihilation

Annihilation is Book One in the Southern Reach Trilogy and good-golly miss molly I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a book having read so many mixed reviews. Seriously, on Amazon book has almost as many 1 and 2 stars as it does 3 stars. Then again, it has a plethora of 5 stars, so what’s that mean? Well, it means it ain’t gonna be for everybody.

My girlfriend tried reading it a couple months back (which is what got me interested in reading the book on account of it laying around and having a snazzy cover), but she only made it part-way through the book before giving up. I rarely give up on a book, which made me hesitant to even start Annihilation, but it’s a quick read so i figured, what the hell.

I still don’t really know how I feel about the book, to be honest. The writing is top-notch, the story is compelling, but there is something about the way it was written that really bothers me. Namely, it’s reminiscent of Lost (and that’s not even taking into consideration that they both revolve around a mysterious landscape). One of the things that made the first few seasons of Lost so amazing was that every episode threw a new twist into the world. A mystery that needed unwrapping. Which works, but only for awhile. At some point you got to start answering questions otherwise you’re just throwing your readers off a cliff and making them hang out on the prayer of a chance you might actually throw some clarity on the situation.

To me Lost went downhill, and quick, when it became apparent the writers didn’t really know where they were going. They’d thrown too much in there, and while at the time it seemed cool and mysterious, after awhile it simply became “no wonder that smoke monster is mysterious, it’s ’cause it doesn’t make any friggin sense”.

What’s that have to do with Annihilation? Well, throughout the entire book I got this nagging feeling that none of the mysteries were going to be explained. On the one hand, if they were, you’re looking at a fantastic read (which is what compelled me to continue reading the story), but if not? Then you’re looking at a pissed off, frustrated me. It’s part of the unspoken writer/reader relationship that the writer will not leave us hanging. She/he will answer any and all, or atleast most of the questions raised in the first few chapters. Does Annihilation do that? Ehh…. I don’t know?

I’ve started reading the second book in The Southern Reach trilogy, Authority, ’cause I want to see what he does with the rest of the series, but I’ve sort of accepted that I will be let down in the end.  But hey, the writing is beautiful, the introspection great, the atmosphere spooky, so what the hell. There are worse reasons to pick up a book.

2) The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi (For those who like light-hearted science fiction detective mysteries that hop around the galaxy a bit)

the androids dream

Okay, the premise of The Androids Dream is…weak, in my estimation. That doesn’t mean bad, it just means, sort of excessively goofy. However, the side-plots that develop around that central premise are fantastic.

In typical Scalzi fashion he delivers what I consider to be his funniest read yet. My primary complaint of Redshirts is that he would set up scenarios specifically to drop a groan worthy one liner at the end, and he does that in Android’s Dream as well, but for some reason the execution works better here. I found this to be a really entertaining read. The key is to get past the initial, goofy premise.

3) vN – Madeline Ashby (For those looking for a robot coming of age story)

vN

I like sentient robots. I like getting inside their heads and hearing their thoughts. But, I don’t like angsty teenagers. So, this tale kind of puts me at a weird crossroad. On the one hand we’re in a future world with some really awesome robots that implement some neato technology, on the other hand our viewpoint character is an angsty teenager making her way through the world today. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Just not my thing.

The story in vN is basically good, if not slightly convoluted. There are some details (big ones at that) that simply make zero sense. Not only do they make zero sense, they are entirely unexplained. For instance, our main character is captured by the humans and thrown into what amounts to a research lab where they take her apart to see what makes her tick on account of how dangerous she is. You would think a place like this would be heavily guarded, but you’d be wrong. In a weird scene that still leaves me scratching my head, the main character just sort of… walks away? I don’t know, maybe somebody can explain this to me.

By the end of this I was pushing through just to be done. The ending plopped too many more questions into my lap alongside a healthy dose of “what’s going on here?” vN wasn’t a bad book, but for how many awards it was nominated for when it was released, I, for the life of me, can’t figure out what all the hype was about.

4) We Are All Weird – Seth Godin (For those interested in mass-marketing and how the future of advertising/production will change in the years to come)

we are all weird

Seth Godin knows what he’s talking about. This is a great little read about consumerism in the current age. Godin approaches the idea of what it means to be normal as opposed to weird. Neither are commentaries on good and bad, but simply the differences between the two. As we move into a world where more and more people are rich (which is not defined as material possessions, but the ability to make decisions. Choice=wealth), marketers, consumers, productioneers (i made that word up) have to rethink how they will interact with the world around them.

The central idea is that mass-production, for years, focused on delivering a product to the average person. This worked because when treated as a bell-curve, the average person fell within a strictly defined set of parameters. But that’s changing. And changing quick. Want to see how? Read this book and you’ll see. Highly recommended.

5) Saturn’s Children – Charles Stross (Recommended for anybody who likes robots, sex, and outer-space).

saturns children

After having read Accelerando, I wanted to pick up one of Charles Stross’ more consumable pieces. Saturn’s Children was nominated for a Hugo a couple years back so that seemed a good place to start. Overall, I liked this story. The ideas were interested, the writing solid in that Charles Stross sort of way (thankfully this book was dumbed down a bit so I didn’t have to consult my dictionary so often!), and the world was compelling. But that’s not to say there weren’t any problems.

First, there was too much robot sex. I understand that our protagonist is a femme-bot built specifically for sex, but there was simply too much emphasis on this and at times it was like being beat over the head with a dildo. I get it, she likes sex, let’s move on to the more interesting aspects of this character.

Second, the plot gets a little too complex for its own good. Too many characters/siblings that share the same name and same body simply make for a convoluted plot. At times I would be reading along entirely unsure who’s perspective I was watching through, and what the hell they were doing. In those instances I kept going cause the writing was pretty, and I had the belief that the story would come back around and make sense eventually.

Did it? Sure. Sort of. Overall I really did like this story, and the writing, though I know it might not seem like that based off what I said up-above. I’m weird like that.

Okay, that’s enough book hullaballoo for one morning.

Anthony

Blogging Made Simple!

I was having a conversation with my buddy Rupert from http://paranorensics.com/  about getting noticed in that big ol’ blogosphere. It’s tough going, for certain, and I am by no means an expert. But I have had a few mildly successful blogs in the past, and while OneLazyRobot is only two months old it has nearly 700 followers, which isn’t exactly setting the world ablaze, but it is upward progress.

What follows are three keys to getting yourself out there in the blogosphere, (consequently, these three things are key to getting your books noticed as well).

1) Produce content consistently. Nobody will see the blog post you don’t write. Maybe nobody will see the blog post you DO write, but hey, you’re odds are better. If you go too long between posts, you’ll notice a sharp dive in your numbers. The more you have out there, the more likely people are to come across you. I find if I go much more than four days without a blog post that my numbers drop off pretty dramatically.

where'd everybody go

2) Produce content people want to read. There are a lot of shitty blogs out there because people are throwing up stuff nobody really cares about. Or, they are throwing up stuff people care about, but on such a variety of topics that they are scatter-shotting the entire audience. Find your niche and work within it. You don’t need to 10,000 fans that only care about a 1/5 of the things you say. You need 1,000 fans who care about EVERYTHING you say.

you are the product

With that said, when working within your niche, you’ve got to have a voice, an opinion. You can be an aggregate type website that compiles the latest trends and fashions, but if you don’t have an opinion (that you share) then people aren’t coming to see YOU, they’re coming to see the latest cat video you posted. I love cat videos as much as the next guy, but as a writer/entertainer YOU are the product people come to see/buy. Give them something worth buying/seeing.

3) You’ve got to interact with your fans and colleagues. I’m not saying you have to go out and grab beers, but when people write to you, you have to take the time to write back, and not something that just says “hey, thanks for the like.”

For instance, if I walk up to you on the street and say “Sweet shoes, I love galoshes!”, you would kill the conversation if you responded with “Thanks for the like.” or “Thanks for talking to me.” Both are weird and pretty much stop any sort of conversation in its tracks.

Likewise I don’t typically respond when somebody stops by my blog just to thank me for stopping by theirs. I know wordpress recommends that you do that, but seriously, you aren’t really engaging me in a conversation.

Engage me in conversation. Make me want to talk to you. That’s the trick (if there is one).

Oh, and be persistent.

And patient.

And did I mention cat videos? Yeah, those are key.

Anthony