Brutal PIXELS Review (NSFW)

I’m stuck at the dentist’s office, waiting for my gums to stop spurting gouts of blood long enough for the dentist to get back in there with her scalpal-ice-pick toothbrush thingee and finish the job. In the meantime, enjoy this absolutely scathing review of Adam Sandler’s new movie, PIXELS.

To be fair, I haven’t seen the movie (nor do I have any intention to), so I can’t judge whether this review is on base or not. But that hardly matters, because this is one of the funniest–though admittedly raunchy and vicious–reviews I’ve heard in a long time. Typically I’m against one star reviews, but hey, when the writer puts in as much effort as this guy clearly did, I’m gonna make some exceptions.

*Warning: Not Suitable For Small Children, Big Children, Small Adults, or even Big Adults. Not Really Suitable For Anybody Of Any Age Or Size. You’ve Been Warned.*

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Time Heist and Parallel Get Reviewed!

I don’t like using the One Lazy Robot blog to tout my own books too much, but every now and then I get a review that makes me smile and I have the irresistible urge to share with ya’ll. This week I had two such reviews.

First came a review for Parallel from loyal reader, and author of the Agatha Christie’esque murder mystery, Death in a Red Canvas Chair, Noelle Granger. Noelle is one of my most favoritest (that’s totally a word) people to interact with on OneLazyRobot. Go check out her review and you’ll see why. (Hint: it’s because she’s awesome.)

Parallel - High Resolution

Click the Pic!

The other review came from Ted Cross, author of one of my favoritest (see, told you that’s a word. I wouldn’t use it twice if it wasn’t.) debut novels of 2014, The Immortality Game. Way back in December I did a review of TIG and Convergence from Michael Patrick Hicks. CLICK HERE to see why you should pick up these books. (Hint: it’s because they’re awesome).

Anyways, Ted reviewed Time Heist which is incredibly similar to his own book. If you like one, you’ll probably dig the other. Might as well do yourself a favor and pick both of them up. But don’t take my word for it, check out Ted’s review.

Time Heist

Psst.. also, did you know for a limited time only you can pick up your very own copy of Time Heist or Parallel for the low, low price of FREE? It’s truth. Pop on over to Barnes and Noble or Kobo and grab a copy.

Parallel Barnes and Noble Link!

Parallel Kobo Link!

Time Heist Kobo Link!

Time Heist is actually $.99 on Barnes and Noble ’cause they are slow to price match, but here’s that link anyways. LINK

Saga Volume 1 Review

There’s not much I can say about Saga that hasn’t already been said by people with significantly sexier accents than me, but I’ll try.

First thing you should know about Saga is that the writer, Brian K. Vaughan, is the same pen wielding fella that wrote Y: The Last Man. I can’t remember if I’ve done a review for Y: The Last Man on here but here’s the real quick, smack you in the face and leave you writhing on the ground whimpering like a baby, version: It’s really good. I have some problems with Y: The Last Man, but on the whole, it’s a great series. There’s an interesting story line with some of the best dialogue I’ve ever seen.

ubilical

Well, best dialogue I’ve ever seen until…Saga. For those of you unfamiliar with writing, dialogue is a tricky turnip to do right, to do it well means the capricious writing gods were probably distracted and looking elsewhere whilst you scribbled your words, and to do great dialogue means you likely exchanged sexual favors with the devil at some point.

hades gif

Now, before you get all up in a tizzy, I am not saying Brian Vaughan slept with the devil…er.. okay, well, actually that’s precisely what I’m saying. Deal with it.

As far as deals with the devil go, this one was a good one, for fans of graphic novels, anyhow. What you get with Saga is a fast paced space opera sci-fi/fantasy mashup weirdness. There are disemboweled ghost nannies, royalty robots, a sort of sexy spider woman assassin thing, and a cat that can detect when you’re lying…and that’s not even mentioning our two main characters.

Marko and Alana are soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war, they fall in love (as ram-horned dudes and moth-winged ladies are wont to do) and have an inter-species child. They just want to get away from the fighting and start a life together, but nothing is ever that simple, ’cause now, if being first-time parents isn’t hard enough, everybody in the galaxy pretty much wants them dead.

The thing I really enjoyed about this story, besides the dialogue, was the expansive scope of the world-building. There are at least half a dozen story threads woven into this single volume, and throughout the tale you can’t shake the feeling that Vaughan was actually holding back a little. That’s a good thing because rather than bogging us down with world-building minutiae, Saga Volume 1 leaves you hungry for more.

And that in a nutshell is the beauty of space opera. Crazy, absurd adventures taking place on an epic, intergalactic scale. If that’s your sort of thing, then you can do no wrong with Saga.

Let’s chat about the art real quick, because, ya know, this is a graphic novel and there are pictures on every page so it’s sort of important. Fiona Staples has a really stylistic touch in Saga. None of the pictures are overly impressive–that is to say none of them really stop you dead in your tracks with your mouth hanging off its hinges. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, ’cause Fiona’s style revolves around her characterization.

saga volume 1.1

Forget everything you’ve learned from a Michael Bay movie, you don’t need bright, flashing lights and big explosions to sell your piece. You need good characterization. That’s precisely what Staples brings to the mix. Whether we’re talking about Alana or Marko (our main characters) or some of the lesser characters, she does an amazing job of making their emotions pop off the page. Her work is a beautiful compliment to Vaughan’s story, the two creating a synergistic effect that makes Saga into something truly beautiful.

Oh, god… I’m gushing. Give me a second, let me grab a clean pair of underoos. No, no, nevermind. We’re almost done. I’ll just wallow a bit longer.

So, if you’re into graphic novels and haven’t read Saga yet, well, that’s pretty unforgivable. Go do it, right now. Go on, I’ll wait.

*waiting*

still waiiting

The Future of the Mind

Hello, hello, hello, and welcome! Ok, settle down, you yahoos.

Before we hop into today’s review of Michio Kaku’s new book, The Future of the Mind, I want to let you guys know that next month I’ll be opening up the One Lazy Robot Blog space to… you.

Yes, you read that correctly. For those of you wily bloggers out there interested in trying your hand at this, I’m going to be accepting some guest posts. Think you’ve got what it takes to woman the controls of the One Lazy Robot? Well, give it a shot. Write up a blog post, length is optional, though I’d try and keep it under 3,000 words. As for topics, you know, let the winds of destiny carry you where they may.

Want to write about robots in sci-fi? Word.

Want to write about the best book you’ve read this week, month, year? Double word.

Want to write about unicorns and how they’re better than minotaurs? Triple word.

You do you.

Seriously, the sky’s the limit, so put on those creativity helmets and get to work. I’ll be accepting submission’s until the end of April, so you’ve got a few weeks to get something down.

Now, quick obligatory disclaimer that should go without saying, don’t write anything overtly hateful. If you do, just remember that I retain the right not to publish whatever it is you decide to submit.

Alright, enough of that, now let’s chat about Michio Kaku’s new book, The Future of the Mind.

Kaku is hands down my favorite theoretical physicists, which, really, isn’t all that impressive, but it’s something. Who else is on my top 3 list? Funny you should ask…

kaku

Yeah, you’re number one, stop showing off.

hawking

Keep it up Kaku, Hawking’s right on your tail

sheldon-cooper

Bazinga!

But no, really, I hate the Big Bang Theory. OR do I? Dun dun dun… I’m mysterious!

He’s most well-known for his work on super-string theory and his litany of books that makes physics (and science in general) accessible to the masses.

He’s written a bunch of other books ranging from the Physics of the Future, Physics of the Impossible, and Hyperdrive, just to name a few. I’ve read them all and more or less enjoy all of them equally.

creativity engine

400 Horse Power of VROOM!

The Future of the Mind tills some interesting soil for me.The brain is extraordinarily complex. The technologies developed to study it, and harness its powers, are no less humbling. Kaku takes us on a tour-de-force of possibilities where cognitive science is concerned. If nothing else this book provided me with hours of daydreaming fodder. So many concepts to turn over in the old creativity engine.

Kaku covers a lot of ground but my two favorite sections dealt with telepathy/telekinesis, and surrogates. On the telepathy/telekinesis front, I think what’s most interesting is that the technology for these concepts already exists and is being used by patients who’ve suffered massive trauma in one form or another and no longer have full functionality of their bodies.

People who are bed-ridden, paralyzed from the neck down, are able to control computers remotely with just their thoughts. Sure, I’ve effectively distilled an incredibly complex process into only a few words, but that’s what I do. I’m like the Reverse Hyperbolist (a really peculiar super-villain if ever there were one).

These technologies are fascinating because as research advances and cost of production drops, we will soon see many of these gadgets in the homestead.

Introducing Muse: Changing The Way The World Thinks from InteraXon on Vimeo.

As you can probably tell from the video (which came out last year) we’re still a ways off from having this tech readily available at the consumer level, but not sooo far off. I think within the next decade or so we’re going to see this tech implemented on a day to day level in the same way smart phones have stormed into our lives like a hungry yeti.

There is no fighting it, just let the yeti have its way with you.

Oh, you poor, poor Yeti snack.

Anyways, surrogates were the other section of the book I found fascinating. The general idea is that in the future we’ll be able to control surrogate robotic bodies with just our thoughts. The possibilities this opens up are truly staggering. This single idea has been a sci-fi trope for decades, but most recently it was probably handled best by John Scaliz in Lock In.

Whether we’re talking about surrogates aiding in military operations, assisted living scenarios, or just handling the jobs too dangerous to send humans to do (shutting down post-critical nuclear reactors *cough cough Fukishima cough cough*), this single technological advancement has huge implications.

Okay, now the negatives. Often times Kaku talks about technologies which are “theoretically” possible, and in his enthusiasm forgets that all sorts of things are theoretically possible while still remaining for all practical purposes, impossible.

data

Often times he says that we have the math and technology for such and such, but now it’s simply a matter of engineering. Sure, that might be true, but that doesn’t really get us any closer to possible. In the end, Kaku glosses over very crippling engineering hurdles as though they were merely a speed bump. In some instances I think he is correct, given enough time and funding, we will unlock some of the technologies he references in the book. Others, however, I’m afraid will forever remain outside of our grasp.

But hey, that could just be me being cynical and short-sighted. I wouldn’t be the first person accused of such a crime. Then again, I’m a science fiction writer, so that pesky nuance of “engineering” doesn’t really matter to me. As long as the science is sound, I can run circles around those engineering fools, creating all sorts of new materials that allow my stories nearly magical abilities. Right? Right?!

Ok, fine. Nevermind. *grumble grumble.*

Perdido Street Station Review

I’m like the Grinch when it comes to giving out five star reviews. I’m stingy, but it’s for a reason. I reserve those magical five stars for books that are truly transcendent (whatever the hell that means). Typically this means the story has got to be on point, no dragging, no off-putting tangents that ultimately feel like literary weed-whacking.

weed whacker

Not to mention the prose has to be fresh.

Perdido Street Station is a highly acclaimed piece of speculative literature from China Mieville. Mieville, for those unfamiliar with his work, writes what he calls Weird Fic, and it shows in PSS. It defies categorization, what with its seamless blending of fantasy, steampunk, and straight sci-fi. PSS was my first experience with Mieville and (as I suspected from a guy who is consistently nominated for every award being thrown around these days) I wasn’t disappointed.

Well, let me amend that: I was only slightly disappointed.

This might very well be the first book I’ve ever given five stars to where I believed the story could have been improved. Usually when I give five stars, it’s to a book which is more or less perfect. Unfortunately, PSS isn’t perfect, but damn if it isn’t really good.

Let’s do a pro/con list lightning round style.

Pro: The language is beautiful and descriptive. China reminds me of Patrick Rothfuss with his haunting prose. He paints such vivid scenes that it’ll make your head spin.

Con: The prose is dense, with a weight that makes you feel sleepy and mentally exhausted after only a few pages. Over the course of a 600+ page book this becomes overwhelming. You might very well get crushed beneath those hefty prose. Read at your own risk.

i got this

Alright. If you say so.

no i dont

Yeah, that’s what I figured.

Pro: The worldbuilding is second to none. Seriously, I haven’t experienced such robust world building since the likes of Brandon Sanderson. That’s high praise in my book. China creates an interesting, weird world that is unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced, while grounding it in this earthiness/grunginess that ultimately makes it entirely relatable.

Con: There is such a thing as too much worldbuilding. That particular line in the sand is drawn somewhere near the end of Act 2 where the reader no longer needs in-depth, multi-page historical lectures. What they need is action. This is one of PSS greatest faults, in my eyes. China frequently drops the rising action he’s worked so hard to build by taking a sideways step every so often and launching into descriptive worldbuilding. PSS could easily have been 150 pages shorter, with a tighter story, had he removed the unnecessary details.

Pro: The story line isn’t half bad.

Con: Then again, the story line isn’t entirely good either. Well, no, wait. That’s not really fair. What I mean to say is the story line often gets lost beneath the crushing weight of heavy words and dense worldbuilding.

Pro: This book is straight up creative in a way I haven’t experienced recently. China really doesn’t pull out any of the stops!

Con: With that said, China might have benefited from pulling out maybe one, or even two, stops. Sometimes too much is…too much. <– Anthony’s crunchy wisdom nugget for the day.

too much

Overall, PSS is amazing. I loved it. And yet, I hated certain things about it. I think that’s the sign of a good book, though. That dichotomy of emotions pulls you deeper. At least it does for masochists like myself.

Sure, there are some things I would have changed about this book, but then you have to wonder if it would be the same story at all. *shrug* Hard to say. Regardless, this book is on my top 5 list for the year so far. If you’ve never read a Mieville story, I would highly recommend this story. Be prepared for a heavy, long read, however. You’re unlikely to fly through this book.

Also, as a public service announcement I’ll say this: China Mieville is one of those authors who will polarize readers based on his style. If you like the pros I’ve listed above, then you might really love China. If you lean more towards my views on the cons, then you might be in for a rough slog. Be warned, not everybody will like PSS.

But hey, risk not, win not. Or something. Pick up a copy and let me know what you think. Or, if you’ve already read it, get down to the comments and share your thoughts on Perdido Street Station. Love it or hate it, I want to hear from you!

The Dispossessed

I hate giving bad reviews. There’s probably some troll out there who gets off on savaging other people’s work, but I’m not one of them. Atleast, I try not to be. Sometimes I fail. And even if I don’t fail, it’s easy to come out the backside of a bad review feeling like a Grade-A Asshole–which is top of the line Asshole for the discerning connoisseur.

The other day I roughed up Roche Limit a bit. I took it to the back-alley and smacked it around like a cheap pinata. I hate doing it, but as a reviewer I think it’s more important to be honest and mean than disingenuous just for the sake of saving feelings. In the end that’s how you gain the trust of your readership, by remaining consistent and honest. Doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally feel bad for it, though.

With that said, I decided to cherry pick today’s review by going with a book I really liked. I figure too many pessimistic, mean-spirited reviews in a row and you all will rightly decide I’m just a hard to please jerk-wad. In point of fact I *am* a hard to please jerk-wad, but you’re not supposed to know that.

Shhhh!

secret

The Dispossessed is from the perennial masteress of sci-fi, Ursula K. LeGuin. This is a woman I would love to meet, so, you know, if you’ve got her contact information, send it over. I’d like to shoot her a couple late night texts telling her I think she’s really cool.

The Dispossessed is book five of the Hainish Cycle although it serves as a bit of a prequel chronologically speaking. We experience the world through the eyes of an Odonian scientist named Shevek who is busy unraveling the theories of physics which will eventually lead to the creation of the Ansible.

Ansible, you say? What’s that? Well, you hardened sci-fi readers will be familiar with the ansible because it’s become a staple of modern sci-fi in much the same way that faster than light spaceships, light saber, and robots have become infused in our daily lexicon.

The ansible is a neat little machine that transports information across vast distances instantaneously (effectively working around that pesky speed of light restriction that the physics police keep trying to enforce). If you’ve read Ender’s Game, you’ll be familiarized with the importance of such a device.

Now, it’s just mind-blowing, and often overlooked, how much LeGuin contributed to science fiction in the way we understand it today. It’s astounding the impact she made on such a male dominated genre as far back as the 1970’s. A true luminary who showed that sci-fi is not just a boys only game.

The Dispossessed at it’s heart is a story about Utopian societies and what those might look like. The Odonians left their lush, capitalistic home world hundreds of years before the story picks up. They did the old–

peace out

–and then migrated to a grungy, dust covered sack of marbles barely passing for a livable planet. Once there, they set up the purest interpretation of a communistic society they could muster.

Despite their ideals, however, the power structures they so adamantly oppose start to seep into their day to day lives. Small justifications stack atop one another until nobody even notices the hypocrisy surrounding them. I liken this to eating an entire bag of popcorn, in the dark, while watching your favorite movie on the big-screen. If you’re anything like me, once those lights come back on, you quickly realize that nearly half of said popcorn missed your mouth. Which is cool, ’cause now from the nipples down you’ll have a thin veneer of rogue popcorn.

Yum.

Anyways, somebody smarter than me has pointed out that communism looks great on paper, but not so much in execution. I don’t spend much of my life considering the relative merits of communism versus capitalism (or any societal construct, really. I spend alot of time thinking about food, to be honest), but I think it’s safe to say that neither works particularly well in a vacuum.

As is the case with most things in life, the balance lies somewhere in the middle. And ultimately that’s what we find in The Dispossessed. Shevek starts noticing the hypocrisy inherit in the behaviors of his society and sets out to tear down the self imposed rules and walls they’ve surrounded themselves with. How he goes about this is both interesting and heart breaking.

The Utopian genre has pretty much died out in the past decade or so. Dystopian is much more en vogue these days. In the end I think it’s easier to think about all the ways society will fail, rather than trying to dream up the perfect world. I don’t think this is a good or bad thing, merely different. Times change, tastes ebb and flow, politics wish-wash, but despite that, The Dispossessed remains a really good story.

If you’ve never read anything by LeGuin then you’ve done yourself a disservice. Go pick up one of her books and then stop back and thank me later. I’ll be available between 6am-10pm, Monday thru Friday, to receive your praise and worship. I typically take the weekends off, but if your praise absolutely can’t wait, then go ahead and shoot me an email, I’ll understand.

Roche Limit

Oof, it’s been a couple weeks since I did a book review. Let’s see if I can remember how to these things are supposed to go. *fiddles with the magic box inside of which I keep all my reviewing super-powers*

Uh… hrm… Who put a dead cricket inside my magic reviewing super-powers box? Oh, wait. Nope, wrong box. Forget you ever heard anything about the cricket.

Alright, here we go. It’s been a couple months since I read a good ol’ graphic novel and I admit that despite all the bad press the Hugos have been getting this year, the nominees for this particular category actually looked pretty good. If you’ve read my previous post you know how I feel about the Hugos and all the drama surrounding that particular sideshow, but there are two graphic novels (Saga Volume 4 and Sex Criminals Volume 1) that I’ve been interested in reading for quite sometime. The fact that they got nominated only reinforced my desire to go out and pick them up.

saga foursex criminals

So I did. Or, atleast, I tried to. I went to my local comic bookshop which typically has a pretty good selection, but lo and behold, they had neither of these two books. What? How is such a thing possible?

I couldn’t bring myself to walk out empty handed so I snagged a copy of Roche Limit Volume 1. It had a snazzy cover from a publishing house I typically like, with a story that sounded right up my alley. I was geeked and had totally forgotten about my failed mission to procure either Sex Criminals or Saga by the time I sashayed out of there.

A’ight, so let’s give ya’ll a synopsis 8th grade book report style:

Roche Limit is a book about space. People fly far away to a different galaxy. A billionaire pays for this. He builds a death-star type colony next to a black hole.

Ugh, this is dreck. Quick aside, why do schools make writing book reports (or writing in general) a painfully horrific exercise in futility? Seriously, writing is fun, but thinking back on my middle and high school years and the writing exercises inflicted upon our poor innocent minds. I dunno, it’s almost as though we were prisoners of war being punished preemptively for atrocities yet to be committed. I mean, they weren’t entirely wrong. Text messaging pretty much ushered in an alphabet genocide.

But still, I’d rather take a forest’s worth of bamboo shoots up the fingernails than go back to 8th grade English.

Anyways, that’s my baggage. Back to Roche Limit. Here’s the skinny, (or the chubby, depending on your preference. I don’t discriminate. I’m like Burger King, have it your way.)

mcdonalds

Shut up, Ronald. Yes, I can! This is my blog!

Anyhoo, we got ourselves an enigmatic billionaire who dreams of exploring the cosmos.

So what’s he do?

Oh, you know. He goes out into space, locates himself what the smart folks back home refer to as a “mysterious energy anomaly” (no shit, this is what the back-cover says), and sets up a colony. They call this colony Roche Limit which is the distance a moon must be from its planet so as not to get guzzled down said planet’s gravitational well. Honestly, the name really has nothing to do with anything occurring in the story.

This colony is built on the cusp of this “mysterious energy anomaly”, which is their way of saying “a black hole that doesn’t behave like a black hole”. Nobody knows what the hell this thing is, but that doesn’t stop them from setting up shop right next to it. And, also, let’s not forget that this is clear across the galaxy so getting there isn’t exactly a leisurely jaunt.

use the force

Now Roche Limit has issues right off the back, mostly on account of the fact that there are no police and the company who built the colony decided to hire exclusively ex-convicts to work the station. Okay, now this is some more of “my” baggage, but it really bothers me when writers use “ex-convicts” for an easy out. I readily acknowledge the fact that there is a high re-offending (Now I know how those Storm Troopers felt in Star Trek Gate ’cause I’m not entirely sure this is the word, or droids, I’m looking for) rate but that doesn’t mean they should be the automatic scapegoat for “oh shit, this society over here collapsed in on itself and itr’s all because those ex-convicts are falling back on their well-established patterns of behavior!”

Okay, come to think of it, maybe I don’t have much leg to stand on here, but it still bugs me. Not nearly as much as the fact that this company investing billions of dollars in interstellar travel and cross-galaxy colonization is manning these stations with convicts. Who’s dumb-ass idea is that anyhow?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t give the con’s a chance, but, I don’t know, maybe a couple people with technical skills would be useful?

Let’s forget about the convict slathered colony for a moment and focus on one of the main driving points of the story. A girl has gone missing so her sister has flown out from Earth to find her. We discover along the way that Roche Limit has devolved into a cesspool of crime. It’s being run by the slumlords and you’ll pretty much get shived with a toothbrush the moment you step off your shuttle.

Moral of the story? Don’t go to Roche Limit. If you do, maybe consider wearing some stab proof clothing.

We’ve got ourselves a real lawless state of affairs over here and nobody really cares, until we discover that more than one girl has gone missing and now, you know what, one of our crime lords simply finds that unacceptable. She’s got one eye and a heart of gold.

Oh, and also there is this other guy who was dating the sister who disappeared, so he’s helping to find her ’cause he’s not your stereotypical quick wit, hard to love, easy to hate rogueish good guy who pretends he’s badass but secretly deep down he’s got a soft nougat center. Nope, he’s not that at all. He’s a genuinely original character. Promise.

I literally could have put any male character written in the past decade here, but Nathan Fillion is beautiful and Firefly is Da Bomb. Also, I rarely use the phrase "Da Bomb", so you know it must be true.

I literally could have put any male character written in the past decade here, but Nathan Fillion is beautiful and Firefly is Da Bomb. Also, I rarely use the phrase “Da Bomb”, so you know it must be true.

Ha! Just kidding, I totally lied! He’s a walking cliche.

Ya know, I’m getting carried away, and for that I apologize. There is more to the plot, but I don’t really feel like talking about it anymore ’cause the whole damned thing is so disjointed. It bops all over the place with no rhyme or reason, dropping you in and out of situations with characters you’ve never met and have hardly any sympathy for killing them off, or they go into some monologuish diatribe about their life and motivations.

And that might be the thing that bothered me the most about Roche Limit. The dialogue (which, excluding the artwork, is the most important part of a graphic novel) was just horrendous. Everybody spoke in these long drawn out speeches about life and death and space and exploration and dreams and chasing dreams and butterflies and what happens when you stop chasing dreams and misguided desires and what it means to be human and blah blah friggin’ blah.

Jesus, just hold up a skull and give us a breathy soliloquy while you're at it!

Jesus, just hold up a skull and give us a breathy soliloquy while you’re at it!

In the end the story fell flat for me. The artwork was passable, but not nearly good enough to pull its weight and that lame-sauce storyline.

Save yourself the trouble. Stay away from Roche Limit.

Books of the Week 3/2-3/8

I apologize, the last few posts have been shamelessly plugging my own book, but I promise, that’s behind us….for now. Let’s get back to the basics and review a couple books I read last week.

But wait, hold up, before we do, I’ve got a little proposition for you. So, uh… why don’t you shuffle on over here. A little closer.

Right this way. Yes, that’s correct, into the dark alleyway.

alley way

Perfect.

You’re a brave, foolish, slightly unhinged soul for following strange men into darkened cyber-alleyways, but I would have it no other way. Now, the reason I beckoned you in here with my ululating siren’s call is ’cause I’d like your help in brainstorming some upcoming blog topics.

I’ve done a couple posts now on writing related topics such as pacing, and creating likable characters, and as a whole these posts have been very popular amongst the Lazy Robot crowd. Now, my question to you, dear reader, is what would you like to hear about next? I can ramble indefinitely on any old topic you throw my way, but hey, if we can make it educational, then all the better, right?

So, what sorts of things do you struggle with in your own writing process? This is your chance to voice yourself and I’ll do my darndest to help you. Though, fair warning, I personally would not take my own advice, so there’s that…

advice

Anyways, get down to the comments and let me know your ideas. I’d love to hear them!

Now, to the reviews!

Ubik – Philip K. Dick (For those who like mind-bendy, pseudo-time-travel stories)

ubik

You absolutely cannot discuss anything from PKD without using the word mind-bendy. It’s an inalienable right of the universe, or something. Seriously, try it.

See, told you so. *Obnoxiously sticks out tongue and waggles it suggestively* No, I’m sorry. Things got weird, and that’s not PKD’s fault. I apologize.

Anyways, Ubik is one of PKD’s most critically acclaimed novels and voted by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 novels ever written in the English language. Damn, if that isn’t high praise, then I don’t know what is.

I’ve read a fair amount of PKD, though I fully admit to having a long ways to go before completing his entire catalog (the dude wrote a ton of words, and I mean that as in a literal metric ton. You lay out all his words and I bet they weigh the same as an old school Volkswagon Beetle. But don’t hold me to that, ’cause I’m an American and haven’t a clue what a metric ton actually is).

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Now, in the grand pantheon of weighty PKD words, Ubik is surprisingly accessible to all sorts of science fiction readers whether they be greenhorns or seasoned comic-con pro’s. That’s not to say that it’s a simple read, however. True to PKD form the concepts in Ubik are out there and strength the elasticity of your mind. But that’s a good thing.

Your brain needs to step out of its comfort zone every now and then. If you don’t do an ample amount of stretching before hand, then a typical PKD novel can lead to a couple mental strains along the way. Ubik is sort of an exception.

The characters are interesting. The concept is simultaneously simple, and intriguing, from the get-go. And the world-building is robust.

I think the reason Ubik is a fairly easy PKD read is because it waits until about halfway through the novel to really snowball into full-fledged what-the-fuckery.

fuckery

BUT, by the time it does, you’re sort of ready for it.

Is this one of the best novels ever written in the English language? Pshaww… How can such a list even exist? Seems a silly subjective game, but if you ask me, when compared to other PKD novels such as A Scanner Darkly, The Man in the High Castle, Minority Report, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this doesn’t even rank.

Which shouldn’t reflect poorly on Ubik (a great, fun little read) but rather should point out what a brilliant writer PKD was (when he managed to keep his prose lucid enough for mass consumption.

Should you read Ubik? Yes, absolutely. Should it be your first PKD novel? Nah. Do yourself a favor and get Do Androids Dream… or the Man In the High Castle. But somewhere along the way you should definitely do yourself a favor and pick up Ubik if for no other reason than to tick it off your 100 Top English Novel’s Ever Written List. Don’t even pretend like you aren’t keeping track of them all.

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett (For those who want to read a dated hardboiled detective mystery)

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon was sort of the beginning of hardboiled detective mysteries. I’m not sure why I’d never read it before (I’m almost certain it was required reading in High School, but that just goes to show I don’t want to read anything ’cause I have to (what can I say, I’m a rebel)).

Anyways, I finally got around to it because a bunch of reviews for Time Heist kept mentioning my writing style having that dark, gritty noir’ish feel reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett. I couldn’t be sure if that was a compliment or not until I’d read the book, so I went ahead and picked it up a decade and a half after it was assigned to me in my Sophomore year English Class.

Consequently I wonder if this review could count towards the poor grade I most likely received in that class. Hm…might just get my GED after-all! Huzzah!

I like detective mysteries as much as the next guy and that’s what you get through and through with The Maltese Falcon. The writing is overall good, but it’s a product of its time (1929). Hammett obviously can’t be faulted for that because like it or not, we’re all products of our time, and I’m sure a century from now we’re all gonna look quaint and outdated, too.

back in my day

But that’s the problem with The Maltese Falcon–it’s really out of date. The stakes, which pretty much boil down to a golden bird, aren’t really all that high by today’s standards. Unfortunately this makes it difficult to care much about what’s happening in the story. It’s just not gripping.

Though, let me hop on the other side of the argument real quick and say that’s a lousy reason to judge a book. So, with that in mind, I’m gonna go ahead and say that this was actually a pretty good book. A  bit boring at times, which is purely a reflection of the times and not on the story itself.

If you’ve never read it, and you’re a fan of detective mysteries, then you should probably go ahead and pick it up for no other reason than it’s a classic. That’s not always a good reason for doing something. *Lord knows when The Maltese Falcon was handed to me in High School it certainly wasn’t a good enough reason*. But it’s the only one I can offer.

Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan (For those who like bad-ass science fiction with compelling world building, gritty writing, and a compelling storyline)

altered carbon

Altered Carbon was Richard K. Morgan’s debut novel back in 2002 and holy-butter-slathered-batman, IT IS AMAZING! I loved this book in a way I haven’t loved many books recently (no, not like that, you perv. Get your mind out of the gutter.)

What you get in Altered Carbon is a fascinating glimpse of the future where humans have settled the outer reaches of space and, along the way, implanted themselves with chips that save and load their consciousness so that when they *die* they can be reloaded into a new body, or what they affectionately refer to as sleeves.

There are some pretty neat cultural ramifications on this account because with enough money you can live forever, hopping from sleeve to sleeve. If you’re poor, well, you go on the stack until somebody with money buys you out, or they rent your body.

this space for rent

Our protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, was an Envoy (a super-soldier with some gnarly psychological damage that makes him a severely loose cannon). He’s no longer an Envoy (ya know, cause you can only play the loose cannon so long before you blow up something, or somebody, very important). So now, Takeshi is in prison, which means his mind is put into a virtual environment until he either works off his prison sentence, or until somebody buys his freedom in exchange for his services.

Back on Earth, that’s precisely what happens. Somebody, a rich old dude, needs Takeshi to investigate his murder which the police have dubbed a suicide. Now, this an interesting launching point because this rich dude’s mind has already been uploaded into a new body, but he doesn’t remember the events surrounding his death. Did he kill himself? Or was he murdered?

That’s the central question of the story and it gets Takeshi into all sorts of hijinks which he solves with no shortage of action in the way of high tech weaponry.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for gritty cyberpunk action adventure. But there is so much more to Altered Carbon, because the world building goes deep and deals with all the ramifications of these technologies on the resulting society. When done right, that’s science fiction at it’s best. How will the technologies of tomorrow shape the society of tomorrow?

If your science fiction story doesn’t bother with that question, then you’re doing it wrong.

you're doing it wrong

But Altered Carbon is doing it so right it hurts. Lucky for me, Altered Carbon is only book one in a series of three following Takeshi Kovacs. I’ll report back on the rest of the series, but let me just say, if this is a genre you tend to you enjoy, you will *love* Altered Carbon.

If you don’t, then there is something very wrong with you. No, I’m just kidding. You’re perfect and you smell very nice.

Okay, that’s a wrap. Remember our conversation at the beginning of this blog post where I solicited you for topic ideas? Good, now get down to the comments and give me all your creativity.

Annual Book Review; Time Heist

Thanks to Dr. Rupert Harker for taking the time to read and review Time Heist!

Also, there’s a better than 12 percent chance that I am indeed Morgan from Chuck. Just saying.

Paranorensics - where forensics goes bump in the night

Time HeistI tend to go through phases of reading, but over the last year or so, my interest in reading has waned dramatically. It was therefore something of an impulse purchase for me to download Time Heist by Anthony Vicino from Amazon;

Click on the book cover to go to the amazon.co.uk link—–>

I bought this book for three reasons.

1 I like the title. “Time Heist” conjures up images of masked robbers with plasma rifles kicking in the doors of some futuristic bank vault.

Anthony Vicino2 I like the cover – simple, but evocative. Everything I have read about self-publishing says that readers do judge a book by its cover, and I’m no exception.

3 Anthony’s avatar reminds me of Morgan Grimes from the TV series, “Chuck.”

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Reviewing Made Easy!

I was having a conversation with Ana, a fellow reviewer with a blog HERE! about the nature of reviewing. Recently I’ve been getting a blush worthy amount of attention for my reviews, which is fantastic, but as I was telling my lady-friend, Katherine, I never set out to be a reviewer. The intention behind this blog was to create a conduit through which I could interact with my readers. That my reviews have garnered more attention than my published works is ironic, but hey, you gotta start somewhere!

Anyways, my conversation with Ana got me thinking about reviewing in a broader sense and what it means to write good reviews. I have a bathrobe and a pointy hat, but I’m not a wizard, so I can’t provide any magic answers. Or am I?

wizard

Are you sure? I have a pointy hat.

What I can do, however, is provide some little tips and tricks into my reviewing process. Some of these are really obvious, some of them maybe not so much. Will these work for you? Boy howdy, I don’t know. Reviewing is like writing a story, there is no right way, just the way that works for you.

So here’s some food for thought when you’re writing your next review, blog post, short story, love letter, or eviction notice.

1) Make your words do more.

I can be notoriously long winded. I type as fast as I speak, so if I’m not careful I end up with a deluge of words on the page. This is actually a common problem for most authors. A good rule of thumb is that the difference between your first draft and final draft should be -10%. Meaning cut out 10% of the unnecessary words. This gets rid of fluff and filler which have no nutritional value anyhow. They’re the literary version of popcorn: eating more doesn’t necessarily make you feel fuller, so cut them out.

What do I mean by this? Well, I went to my WordPress Reader, found a new blog post at random and took the first two sentences which read:

“I realize this topic is as incredibly deep and complex as it is general. I will start this by stating that I am not in robotics nor do I work with artificial intelligence.”

After a little jazzercising, here’s the passage minus the fluff:

This topic is as incredibly deep and complex as it is general. Now, I don’t work with robots or artificial intelligences, but…”

The first passage has 33 words. The second only has 22. That’s cutting well more than 10%, but hey, I like using my Fiskers! The substance of the draft remains, but it’s punchier and more succinct. Is it better? Hell if I know, but the point is it’s less likely to create ‘Reader Fatigue’ (a new disease I just invented). Reader Fatigue occurs when Mrs. Reader is subjected to too many unnecessary words and starts cognitively shutting down. Soon, she’ll start skimming, and all those hard fought words you bled to get on the page will be worthless.

hemingway

Side-note: Your blood is important, keep it inside you.

Another snazzy way to make your lazy words do more is to make them self-referential. Simple things like referencing earlier portions of a work give the reader a nostalgic sensation. It makes them feel as though they are on the inside of an inside joke.

This doesn’t mean be heavy-handed with your references: subtlety goes a long way. Then again I’m just a guy wearing a bathrobe and a pointy hat, so what do I know?

gandalf1

Yes?

2) Review The Stuff You Hate

It will happen, guaranteed that you will come across a work that you simply despise. As a reviewer you got some choices to make. On the one hand, nobody is holding a pair of safety scissors to your hair and forcing you to write a review. Momma always said, “If you aint got nothing nice to say, don’t not say nuttin’ at all.” Momma, with all her double and triple negatives, was a hard woman to understand.

But that doesn’t work for me. It’s a cop out. If you’re doing it right, people come to read your reviews to get your opinion, your likes and dislikes. If you only review the works you like, then the reader only gets half the story, half your opinion. Your short-changing them.

Some of the most valuable feedback is negative. Constructive negativity is a formidable force for good.

3) But Don’t Be A Dick!

Dissecting other people’s work makes you feel like a real jerk, especially when you have nothing positive to say. But hey, as a Reviewer that’s your job. As an Author it’s your job to take the criticism as best you can and keep trucking.

Reviewer and Author are not enemies. Don’t go out of your way to make somebody feel bad for their word-baby, that just makes you a bully.

Here’s a couple things I do to blunt the edge on my words when I don’t want to appear ‘ranty’.

First, use a compliment sandwich. The idea is that you lead with something nice, then say something mean, and finish with something nice again.

For instance, in my recent Jupiter Ascending review the general structure looked something like this:

I was really looking forward to the movie based on the trailer. It looked fantastic and I was very excited. Unfortunately, it sucked. Here’s why. But ya know what, that’s okay, ’cause the visual effects were cool with some neat action sequences so it wasn’t a complete waste of my money. I just recommend not wasting any of your own money.

That’s the watered down version, but you get the idea. This softens the blow by displaying a certain amount of objectivity. If you simply eviscerate a book or movie, then people are likely to think you are just bitter. If you want them to take you seriously, you have to soften the blow, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still throw the punch.

The second technique I use, and this doesn’t work for everybody, is to throw in a fair amount of self-deprecating humor. Making fun of yourself does a number of things: it invites the audience to not take you so seriously, while also diffusing any tension accumulated over the course of a particularly scathing review.

Self-Deprecating humor is tricky, though. If done incorrectly it comes off obnoxious and self-serving. Almost as if the writer is begging for somebody to come and say, “Oh no, that’s not true. That’s a lovely robe, and that pointy hat is very wizardly.”

not a wizard

yes i am

This won’t work for everybody, but it works for me because it stays true to my internal voice. I’m not putting on an ‘act’ so to speak, but I am making a conscious effort to highlight parts of my personality I want the reader to engage with.

4) Stay True To You

Whether you are a reviewer, or author, if done correctly, people are coming to hear *your* opinion or story or voice. People don’t pick up Stephen King books anymore, read the blurb, and then debate whether or not they think they will like the story. If they like King, they are probably going to like the story regardless of what its about.

This happens because King has a distinctive voice that the reader knows they’ll like. It’s the same with reviewing. People are coming to hear *you*, so don’t be something you’re not. Don’t try and emulate King. Nobody wants a King copy-cat. If they want to read a King’esque story, they’ll read King.

Give the audience something only you can provide. Your personality, marred and scarred with all sorts of quirks and foibles, is unique. So use it. This will take some thought on your part as you consider what side of yourself you want to present. Do you want to be ultra-serious with laser like directness, or more loosey-goosey with only cursory attention to detail?

jack black

That’s your choice and nobody can make it for you.

But here’s something to consider: Don’t try and be something you’re not. Besides being exhausting and impractical in the long run, readers will see through it. Use your natural strengths and weaknesses as an asset because only you, dear reader, have the peculiar mix of characteristics that makes you so gosh-darn irresistibly weird.

Anthony