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.*

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

Joining The Future Chronicles!

Here’s some news: I’m writing a Time Travel short story for The Future Chronicles, and if I were any more excited I’d need to take a potty training refresher course.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Chronicles, they are curated by none other than Samuel Peralta himself, and explore the truly mind bogglingly (Yes, bogglingly is now a word. As a bonus, it’s also super fun to say, give it a try) vast spectrum of sci-fi themes in a short-story format. Past editions have explored the ideas of AI, robots, telepaths, aliens, dragons. You name it and they’ve probably either already done it, or will soon do it.

I got tapped on the shoulder yesterday to fill a spot left vacant for the upcoming Time Travel anthology. I’ve only got 13 days to get this story up and running so I’ve put a couple other projects on the back burner for now, but I’m pretty darn excited to share this one with ya’ll. I’ve only ever done one other time travel story (Which was about a time-traveling vampire, and oddly enough one of my dad’s favorite stories. But he’s not biased, he just really likes sparkly vampires), so this particular theme is wide open to me creativity wise. Trust that I’m running rampant like a rabid rabbit high on alliteration (Is that a good thing? Hopefully?)

If you haven’t read anything of The Future Chronicles I recommend checking out the links below and giving them a shot. Each edition has a truly impressive stable of high caliber writers, you won’t be disappointed.

telepath the alien chronicles ai chronicles

Lucifer Trailer

In an ironic twist, this trailer just blipped across my radar because the group One Million Moms is petitioning Fox to drop it. Lucifer is based on a fairly popular comic series, and I’m sure–true to Fox form–they’ll ruin this show, but I got to admit, I really want to see this. Partly because the trailer looks interesting and partly because I hate the uptight types who think they can ban art simply because it doesn’t agree with their worldview.

What’re your thoughts? Should the devil be banned from network television? I mean, hell, it can’t be any worse than The Kardashians, right?

Three Most Awesome Books of May

This was an interesting month of reading for me. There was the usual mixing pot of novels mixed with graphic novels (Y-The Last Man Volume 2, Saga Volume 1), some authors I’ve done more than a couple laps around the block with (Stross, Sanderson, Scalzi) and others whose words I’d never had the pleasure of visually molesting (Kloos, Bennett, Wong, Yu, Bale, and maybe most embarrassingly Pratchett–yeah, I know, I know. I’m way behind the times and should have read Pratchett a decade ago). There were a couple of books that, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into, and others who simply knocked my tube socks off.

We’re gonna talk about those sock thieves today. So let’s jump straight into that vat of butter and literary goodness. Listed in no particular order are the three best books I read this last month.

1) City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

city of stairs

Okay, I know I said I’m listing these in no particular order, but I lied; I’m putting this at number 1 because it deserves to be. Simply put, this wasn’t just one of the best books I read last month; this was one of the best books I’ve read all year. I’m gonna try not gushing like Old Faithful over here, but I can’t really help it.

City of Stairs is sort of an alternate world political thriller where gods are real (and have subsequently been overthrown). Worshipping–hell, even acknowledging–the divine has been strictly verboten by the now ruling government which was responsible for the godly overthrow in the first place.

This story is too complex to give a simple synopsis. Any attempt I make to do so will only fall short and disappoint, so I’m gonna take the lazy route and just sidestep the matter. Here’s why you should read this book:

– Strong Female Leads. Seriously, they are everywhere. What I love about these characters in particular is that all of the characters are informed by their gender, but not defined by it. I hate books that have female leads running around doing stuff in gender neutral ways, meaning, you could just replace that character with Hugh Jackman wearing a dress and nobody would be the wiser.

Writing strong female leads is not the same as writing strong male leads. If you want a master class on this, read City of Stairs.

– The worldbuilding in City of Stairs is some of coolest I’ve seen in a long time. It’s oceanic in its depth. I have the feeling that Bennett could easily pump out 20 books in this world without even breaking a sweat. Whether were talking about the culture clashes stemming from the interactions between the ruling (we hate gods) class and the now overthrown and bitter (we miss our gods) class, or whether were talking about the familial drama that plays out between strong willed members of a similar household, there is always something interesting and compelling taking place on screen. It sucks you in like a giant Hoover vacuum cleaner–in a good way.

– The way Bennett deals with the divine in City of Stairs is fantastic. You can tell he put a lot of time thinking about his divine pantheon, and it plays huge dividends in the story. He gives you just enough to keep you alive and begging for more, without divulging too much and simply exposing the mystery. A storytelling skill (and patience) that is amazing for a debut author.

If I’m not mistaken, City of Stairs is Robert Jackson Bennett’s debut novel, so it’s fair to say he’s only gonna get better. A startling fact considering how solid this book is already. The sequel, City of Blades, I believe is slated for release this Fall, so keep your ears to the ground on that one.

On a completely tangential note, after having read through the Hugo nominees for this year I can say unequivocally that City of Stairs should have been on the ballot. Bummer that such an amazing story got bumped, but what can ya do? Well, for starters, you could go pick up a copy of City of Stairs. Boom, look at that. Problem solving! Sort of.

2) John Dies At The End – David Wong

JohnDiesAtTheEnd-001

If City of Stairs tops the list for its storytelling excellence, then John Dies At The End comes next on the list simply because of its storytelling weirdness. This is not a book for everybody. In fact, I reckon that most people picking this up are likely to throw it against the wall with mild disgust plastered to their cheeks.

John Dies At The End is a comedic horror story (a peculiar slurry of a genre if ever there were one). Again, I’m not even gonna bother with a synopsis because (unlike City of Stairs which has a very complicated storyline) John Dies At the End is very weird.

So maybe at this point you’re wondering why I would even recommend this since thus far I’ve only called it weird. Well, weird can be good–if you’re in the right head space for it. If you;’re looking for something incredibly funny, at times stupendously stupid, and always a bit weird, then this would be the book for you. Pick it up and keep an open mind. You’re bound to have a few good chuckles along the way.

This thing is stream of consciousness word-salad, dribbling from the lips of a crack-fiend on a bad acid trip. If that doesn’t get your hackles up, nothing will. Feeling adventurous? Give it a go.

3) How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe – Charles Yu

how to live safely

Ya know, I think this one actually deserves to be number 2 on the list, but it’s all arbitrary anyhow and I’m too lazy to go back and fix it. So, use your imagination. You’re gonna need it when you read How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe because on the grand literary spectrum this thing falls much closer to John Dies At The End than it does City of Stairs, but that’s okay.

There is a lot of fancy sci-fi time travel hand-waving type stuff going on here, but at its core, How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe is about a guy trying to find his father trapped somewhere in time. I think you’re going to get the most out of this story if you ignore the science fiction stuff happening in the background and simply focus on the heartbreaking story of what happens when we all grow up and realize our parents are not infallible, that they do not have all the answers, and more so, that they are people with their own hopes, dreams, heartbreaks and failures.

This is a very introspective story gift wrapped in some wonky paper. It’s worth it though, truly. I can’t remember the last story I read which affected my emotional state more than this. Perhaps that’s because I can see part of myself reflected in the story. Perhaps it won’t mean quite as much for you as it did me. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. We’ll never know unless you pick up a copy and then come back and let me know.

So what’re your thoughts? Have you read any of these tales? What did you think of them? Agree or disagree with me?

What did you read this month? Anything good? Anything to recommend? Get down to the comments and fill my orbital sockets with your words. NOW! (or later, it doesn’t really matter when)

Writing Workshop: Worldbuilding (Avoiding The Dump)

Worldbuilding is hard. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult aspects of good storytelling. So many pitfalls, so many opportunities to wander off into that scary word-forest only to come back out the other side covered in ticks, mud, and other smelly sorts of dreck.

Then again, worldbuilding is one of the most rewarding aspects of storytelling, so it’s sort of worth the journey into that quagmire of suck.

So what is it? What is worldbuilding? Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory: it’s the world your story is set in and it covers absolutely everything (even the things you as the creator haven’t quite worked out yet).

This includes (but is not limited to) religion, government, economics, entertainment, environment (both man-made and natural).

We could even zoom into your characters unique set of circumstances and explore their personal history ranging from past lovers, present employer, children, brothers and sisters, old uncle Leroy and the way he used to take your character to the ballpark to grab a slice of ‘za and toss the old pig-epidermis around. Whatever. It’s all fair game.

Worldbuilding is one of the main reasons I like writing science fiction and fantasy. Because as the story creator, I’m sort of like a pimply faced deity abusing my powers of omnibadassery. If I want my story set on a farm hugging the darkside of an asteroid as it careens through one interstellar neighborhood after another, great! I can do that. If I want the primary form of currency to be milk caps, poof! It’s done. If I want my characters to worship the mighty Brown Paper Bag in the sky, well, alright. I can make that happen too.

The sky is the limit (but only if I want it to be. Shit, it’s my world. I can use the sky for a carpet if I want to).

sky limit

These are the things that make writing SFF really fun (in my opinion), and seems to be the way that most first time authors get their story ideas. They don’t start with characters (though the character must eventually become the focus of the story otherwise you just have worldbuilding wankery), they start with an idea for a new world and expand from there.

The difficulty inevitably comes when we try writing about that world. We want it to seem authentic and grounded in reality and so we have this impulse to drop steaming paragraph shaped piles of words in our stories with the hopes of getting our readers up to speed, or to just give them a deeper understanding of this neatorific world we’ve conjured up during our last spirit quest to Wal-Mart.

But this is wrong, and we’re all guilty of it. It’s called the Infodump, and it needs to be avoided at all costs. Why? First, because it’s lazy. And second, because nothing bores a reader faster.

You know when you’re being infodumped because the story just stops and it suddenly feels as though you’re reading an encyclopedia entry. Let’s do an example, but first let’s lay the scene: In the paragraph before this we have an autistic child who’s consciousness has been transferred into a giant killer robot, and who is now going on a bit of a rampage. We have action and things are exploding and tension and drama and OMG a giant rampaging robot, we need to do something! What should we do?

How about this?

“Autistics are often taught to communicate their wants and feelings through an intervention protocol called PECS–Picture Exchange Communication System. PECS is a natural way for non-verbal autistic children to “talk” with their caregivers. The system is simple: it consists of a board and a set of pictures, and each picture has Velcro on the back so that it can be–“

Wait.. what? where’s the giant killer robot? Why do I feel like I’ve been transported to wikipedia suddenly?

“–adhered to the board. But for the non-verbal autistic child, the system is a powerful tool: it provides a way for the child to express his needs. For instance, if he wants to go outside with his brother, he can place a picture of himself on the board, then one of his brother, then one of a tree. “I want to go outside with my brother.””

Seriously, where is the rampaging robot? Is he still rampaging? Has he taken a nap? What does any of this have to do with not getting ripped limb from limb by a warbot?

By starting with single-picture messages and gradually moving toward more advanced structures, the child begins to understand that there is a way to get the things he wants or needs. The frustration of not being able to communicate is mitigated.”

Oh, cool. That was uh… informative (if not a bit dry and tangential when considering the life-threatening robot we’ve now lost track of).

he went those

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with infodumping. You rip the reader straight out of the scene to hold their hands and explain something to them as though they were sitting through a lecture.

So how do we avoid the infodump? Not easily, unfortunately, but here are a few tricks to help you navigate that sticky-wicket of a dump.

Cut, Prune, Shave

I know you’ve put in a lot of time thinking about how the folk music of the hill people informs their perspective on life and death, but unless it is entirely relevant to the story you’re telling, it doesn’t need to be there. We also don’t need to know the conversion rate between Twinklaberries and the American Dollar (or whatever makes your fictional economy go). That is, unless that particular detail is important to the story you’re telling. Which, let’s face it, it’s probably not.

“But the way young suitors intricately braid their hair and toss it over their left shoulder to indicate…”

Doesn’t matter. Seriously. Well, unless it does. You decide.

And that’s the real problem, ’cause as the creator it’s really hard being unbiased about what needs to be in the story versus what you just want in the story because it’s cool. This is why you need beta readers and editors going through your stuff. They’ll pick up on the extraneous stuff real quick. Usually.

Good rule of thumb is you’re better off under-explaining and leaving it to mystery and the readers imagination than boring them into submission.

So what about those shish kebaby parts of your world that you really need to have in the story. How do we share those tasty tidbits without blatantly thrusting our little skewers in the reader’s face?

Use Dialogue

Having characters interact on screen is always more engaging than simply listening to a monologue. A good writer will impart a huge amount of worldbuilding information via dialogue without the reader ever really noticing.

But here’s the key: the reader cannot notice.

notice

If they do, you’re sunk.

Nothing comes off as more false than characters on screen doing the old “As you know…” bit. For example:

“I’m so glad our southernly neighbors from Radishville have stopped warring with Beetsville. Sure, they are our sworn enemies, but what with Princess PompPomp coming to town to pick a sire–of which I sure am rooting for Duke HumptyLumps–it will be nice not having to worry about any raiding bands of mutinous soldiers upsetting the Winter Festival–which as you know is tomorrow.”

“For Lairnea’s sake, Dwillard, we’re hanging garlands of garlic outside Mr. Coffeepot’s tavern. Why the hell are you telling me all this?”

“Oh, just wanted to remind you, is all.”

You pull that shit and I won’t just put your book down, I will find you and throw it at your head when you’re not looking. Probably while you’re doing something really important, too. Like driving a car or drinking a hot cup of coffee. You’ve been warned.

book to the forehead

Wrapping your infodump with quotation marks does not make it any more appealing. So think real hard about how you’re using your dialogue to impart details of your world. Do it in a way that is natural to your characters and the way they would speak otherwise it’s going to stick out like a red flag.

For instance:

“What’s that jackdaw doing here dressed like that?” Dwillard said, balancing on one foot and leaning dangerously off the side of the ladder to nail another bulb of garlic to the tavern wall.

Streich turned to see the “jackdaw” in question; there, across the street and hiding away from the flakes of snow falling from the sky, was a fully armored Raddisher. “Maybe he’s here for the Festival?”

“Not dressed like that he ain’t,” Dwillard said. “Likely to get his arse kicked is what I say. Not that the Beeter’s didn’t do a good ’nuff job for us all on that account. Boy, I wish i could’ve been there to see that.”

“Might get your chance, Dwill. From what I hear, Duke Bigsocks is coming for Princess PompPomp’s speed dating extravaganza.”

Dwillard almost toppled off the ladder in shock. “You’ve got to be kidding. No chance she’ll choose a filthy Radisher over the likes of Prince HumptyLumps, mark my words.”

End Scene, thank god. Okay, I apologize for subjecting you to that. It was to prove a point, but that point has long since sailed away so now we’re hopelessly adrift in a sea of wonky worldbuilding.

Something you’ll notice from that second scene (besides the fact that it’s not any good) is that a lot of information is being conveyed fairly naturally. Two grunts are working and sharing some gossip. Through this sort of typical interaction we are getting a lot of details about the world they inhabit. No, we don’t necessarily know what the hell a Radisher or a Beeter are, but we can infer it. Later, as the story progresses, we can fill in some of these details, but throwing too much wood on the fire too soon only smothers it.

Stoke it with a little tinder and hot air along the way. That’s the key to good worldbuilding.

tinder

Wrong Tind… oh, nevermind. You win this round, Immature Anthony.

Before we move on, let’s draw attention to the fact that worldbuilding of the sort we did in that second scene takes up a lot more space than in the first scene. Sometimes this is a tempting reason to simply infodump. Like I said earlier, we all infodump; sometimes it’s for the sake of expediency and sometimes it’s out of laziness.

Expediency is important in certain situations. With the example I mentioned earlier–in the middle of a giant robot fight scene–you should probably aim to be on the side of quick and to the point. Whatever worldbuilding detail is so important that it interrupts the drama on scene, you better make it fast.

Now, let’s reverse for a moment and chat about old Dwillard and Streich up above. For this scene they are the POV characters, which makes sense if they are the main characters in whatever story we are telling, but if they aren’t? Well… why are we in their heads at all? Is it simply because we needed two guys having a conversation about what was going on in the wider world?

If we’re leaving those characters and never seeing them again, then I argue that that second reason is pretty piss poor. If that’s the case, they are merely a plot device and that’s stupid.

BUT! BUT! BUT! What if later on in the story our Prince HumptyLumps and Duke Bigsocks get into a fight outside the tavern. HumptyLumps slams into the wall and dislodges one of the bulbs of garlic old Dwillard nailed up there earlier in the story. And then what if Bigsocks is deathly allergic to garlic, a weakness HumptyLumps exploits to murder the visiting dignitary.

Granted, we’d probably want to know “Why garlic?” and it’d be good to know Bigsocks was allergic to the stuff before that climactic scene, otherwise that twist comes clear out of the blue and sideswipes us like a Ford Taurus on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon.

So, we’re in a really weird, foreign world dreamed up during our last opium binge, and we want to share details about that world and how awesome it is, without being utterly transparent in the process. How do we do that?

Easy.

Introduce A Watson

emma watson

What the… No, no, no! Wrong Watson goddammit!

A Watson character is a foreigner to your world. He needs things explained to him because he simply doesn’t know how everything works. As he learns, so too does your reader. This is a great little tool in our writing quiver if used correctly.

For a great example on how to use this effectively go watch Sherlock.

Now, a little caveat here: your Watson needs to do more than just idly sit back asking questions and generally acting as a question repository. If that’s the only purpose he serves in your story, well, that’s a weak character and you’re gonna have other problems. Remember, characters are multi-sided beasts; play with all their different nooks and crannies. If you don’t, then they quickly turn into one dimensional, cardboard cutouts.

Okay, so, the important takeaway from all this is that your reader deserves better than a simple infodump. Your worldbuilding needs to be sprinkled in like a spice. Too little and it’s bland, but too much and we choke and die.

Nobody wants to read a story that’s going to kill them.

Science Fiction Has Gotten A Little…Gay.

This is going to be another touchy subject so let’s all promise to be on our best behavior right out of the gate? If not, I’m prepared to throw down, if you know what I mean.

*smacks a riding crop menacingly into the palm of his hand*

Good. Now that we’re all reading the same book, let’s get on the same page by giving you a bit of my own background. I’ve lived in Oakland, CA for the past four years. Before that I lived in Minneapolis, MN. This is important because these two cities (If you include San Francisco into the conversation alongside Oakland) are like two super LGBT capitols of the world. So I come from a microcosmic world of LGBT acceptance.

This skews my perspective.

In addition, one of my sisters is dating another woman (Huzzah! I like women too, welcome to the club dear sister). I don’t really know if that makes her gay, or bi, or what… and honestly I don’t really care to define it. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy. Not everything needs a label.

I certainly don’t. I don’t want to be known as Anthony the straight guy. That’s so…restrictive and disingenuous and trying to fit me nice and neat into a box that most certainly cannot accommodate my girthy hips.

Sexuality falls along a spectrum. We’re all a little gay and we’re all a little straight. Accept that. Does that make you uncomfortable? Well, too bad. That’s your baggage, not mine.

Never thought I'd agree  on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

Never thought I’d agree on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

But I will say this: If that previous assertion does make you a little uncomfortable, you should probably do some soul searching and figure out why that is because the world of tomorrow is coming and you’re falling behind the times. The rest of us aren’t gonna slow down and wait for you either.

So, in light of everything I just said, here’s what’s bothering me: Locus Magazine recently announced the shortlist for Best Sci-Fi and Best Fantasy book of 2014.

Best Sci-Fi

The Peripheral – William Gibson

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Lock In – John Scalzi

The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

Best Fantasy

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Steles of the Sky – Elizabeth Bear

City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

I don’t know how many of these, if any, you’ve read, but I’ve read 8 of the 10 books (Excluding The Magician’s Land–cause I didn’t really enjoy the first book in this series–and Steles of the Sky) and I noticed something really interesting: they all have a gay character.

I’ll get to why that stuck out to me as being odd a little bit later, but I want to draw attention to some of the praise these books received:

“They fell in love at a university in Saypur, but Vo turned out to be gay (Shara suspects he liked her boyish figure.”City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

Annihilation has an Asian lead character, Authority a Latino and Acceptance has a gay man as protagonist. Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Those aren’t the reasons I’m falling so hard for this book. A big part of the reason is this: there are two characters, Jim Buchold and Rick Wisson, who are MARRIED. Yep. You got it. Two guys, married.Lock In – John Scalzi

This is also, it’s worth noting, a book as queer as the Bel Dame Apocrypha, if not queerer. The Mirror Empire‘s cultures all have multiple genders – three or five; and bisexuality is completely normalised and expected. The Dhai are a polyamorous society, where multiple-person marriages with all sorts of configurations of gender are shown without comment, and the men of Saiduan seem to be shared at their owner’s whims. Hurley has also included theOrlandoesque character of Taigan, who changes gender with the seasons; we see Taigan as both male and as an intersex individual in the novel, but presumably in future installments we’ll see her become female too.The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

“One of the main characters is gay. You don’t see a whole lot of homosexuality in fantasy, and you should …. One of them is sexually promiscuous. One of them is depressed. There’s a kind of range of psychological personalities that is a little bit broader than what you see in standard fantasy.” The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

This is what bugs me. We are still acting, as a community, as though the inclusion of gay characters in popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy is somehow…cutting edge. I don’t know if Steles of the Sky has any gay characters, but every other book on the list does. That’s 9 out of 10, which is like…90 percent or something.

crunched the numbers

Those are insanely high numbers. Now, you may be thinking that I’m somehow upset by this fact, but hey, I have gay characters in my own Firstborn Saga so it’s not like I’m petitioning for them to be removed.

Actually, I’m not sure what I’m petitioning for, because on the one hand I think it’s fantastic that the LGBT community is getting the inclusion they deserve–they are getting stories where, FINALLY, they get to be the hero–but the paradigm is shifting in a weird, unexpected way in that the LGBT community is now being…over-represented.

Huh? You all grunt as a collective.

Alright, don’t burn me at the stake quite yet, hear me out.

The National Center for Health Statistics does an annual National Health Interview Study and recently they began surveying Americans’ sexual orientation and what they found is that about 3.8 percent of American’s identify as gay/lesbian/bi/transgender. I’ll be the first to point out that there are some significant methodological issues with this survey.

– A lot of people don’t feel comfortable reporting one way or the other.

– A lot of people who participate in same-sex relations don’t identify themselves as gay, ie: “I sleep with men, but I’m not gay.” Huh? That… that is confusing. I agree, but remember, sexuality is a spectrum.

Anyways, I’m willing to grant that 3.8 percent is probably on the low end, so let’s round up to a solid 10%. Okay, so that means 10% of the population is represented in 90% of the Locus Award Eligible Novels for Sci Fi and Fantasy.

That’s INSANE (in both a good and a bad way). It’s good because I think gay rights is a super hot button topic right now. It’s good that writers are bringing awareness to this and being inclusive in their writing.

The bad side of the equation is that now, to write an award winning book, it almost feels like you have to include a gay character. As a result, everything is feeling a little.. same. A little.. forced.

Here’s an example of something else that affects ten percent of the population: Diabetes (which incidentally is the seventh leading cause of death in America). Now, imagine that 9 out of those 10 books all had a character suffering from Diabetes, and that a percentage of them even died from said disorder.

That’d be a little weird, right?

diabetes

How about mental disorders? Hell, we could focus entirely on Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder which together affect over 10 percent of the population. Include all mental disorders and you’re looking at closer to 25 percent of the population.

Okay, I guess if I had to state my gripe, it would be this: We’ve thrown open the doors of inclusivity, but by doing so we’ve pigeonholed ourselves to the singular character trait expressed in terms of sexuality.

I am not defined by my sexuality any more than my sister is. If the character in the book your reading is, then we’ve got a problem. We’re doing something wrong.

There is a caveat to this and it was mentioned in one of those reviews up above. Let me scamper up there and grab that real quick… hold tight.

*puts on some elevator music*

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

When introducing a character and making a point of their sexuality, it has got to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, then your character is a blatant attempt at ticking boxes on your Diversity and Demographics checklist.

Let’s leave off with this:

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

The long, drawn out point I’m trying to make is this: the inclusion of gay characters, in and of itself, is no longer remarkable. It just isn’t.

Or is it?

*shrug*

Honestly, I just thought it was really cool how many awesome books are including gay characters these days and wanted to push your buttons to draw attention to that fact. Sucker! You’ve been had!

Time For Another Free Book!

Howdy kiddos and grownos (<– I’m making that into a word, so deal with it) last week I was giving away free copies of Standing Kill Orderlies. If you missed the boat, no worries, I’m back again this week with another free offer. Click the pic to be magically transported to Amazon where you can get a copy of Parallel for FREE!!!!!!! WEEEEE!! EEEEH! AHHHH!!! (are we done? yeah, we’re done.)

If you’re feeling real outgoing, maybe think about leaving a review or a flaming pile of dog poo wrapped in a brown paper bag on my porch. Either way, I’ll be psyched! Yaay for free paper brown bags!

Parallel - High Resolution

Why Ratings and Reviews Don’t Matter Anymore! (sort of)

This post might ruffle some feathers so I’m gonna be on my best behavior so as not to piss off the jury of my peers.

Here’s my observation: the ratings/reviews on Amazon are absolutely irrelevant. I see you over there eyeing me suspiciously and whittling a piece of driftwood to resemble a pretty spectacular shiv while mumbling, “Tread carefully, Princess Buttercup.”

As a quick aside, yes, I do respond to Buttercup. No, I won’t tell you why.

as you wish

We hear this all the time: “If you want to help my new book get off the ground, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.” Shit, I do the same thing because to a certain degree (here I’m already going to contradict my earlier thesis, they don’t call me Flip-Flop Buttercup for no reason–but no, I’m still not going to tell you the reason. Stop asking.) reviews lend a degree of social proof. They are that friendly recommendation that says, “This thing right here? Yeah, it’s the shit.” And if that opinion is coming from somebody you trust, Huzzah! You’re likely to pick up the book and give it a shot.

But what if it’s from an untrustworthy source such as… a person on the internet who you’ve never ever even met? Does that opinion matter? Does it carry any weight?

Sure, to an extent. If it’s a well thought out, unbiased critique of the work in question, then absolutely the review can be helpful. If it’s a simple gush-fest of–

“OH MY GOD, I ADORE THIS AND I WANT TO SNEAK INTO THE AUTHOR’S BEDROOM AT NIGHT AND STEAL HIS/HER PILLOW JUST SO I CAN FALL ASLEEP WITH THEIR SWEET MUSK FILLING MY NOSTRILS!”

–Then not so much.

So here’s the problem, I’m cruising around Amazon looking for some sicky gnar gnar new books to check out and give a thorough eye molestation to, and the ratings are so lopsided that they actually impart a negative amount of information.

*This is the part where I’m probably gonna piss off a few people*

pissing off

In particular, the books with the most lopsided ratings tend to be from self-published authors. What do I mean by this? Well, self-published authors, whether they be fairly popular, or not, tend to have significantly higher ratings than their traditionally published brethren.

Before we get into the why and the how, I want to substantiate this claim with some examples. I spent a little bit of time this morning compiling some datas that I now want to throw in your face. Incoming!

First, I googled top 100 science fiction books of all time. What pops up reads as a who’s who of sci-fi literary mastery. So I just went down the list, took the top 12 titles and searched their Amazon rating to get a baseline. Here we go:

Fahrenheit 451 – 4.2 stars

Ender’s Game – 4.5

Dune – 4.5

1984 – 4.5

Neuromancer – 4.0

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – 4.2

Brave New World – 4.2

War of the Worlds – 4.3

Stranger in a Strange Land – 4.0

Starship Storm Troopers – 4.4

Snow Crash – 4.1

The Left Hand of Darkness – 4.4

Average Rating 4.2

Okay, so pinnacles of the genre have an average rating of 4.2. That’s not so bad, but there is room for improvement.

Next, I went and took the Hugo winners for Best Novel in the past six years. Take a gander below.

Ancillary Justice – 4.2

Equoid – 4.3

Red Shirts – 3.8

Among Others – 3.7

Black Out/All Clear – 3.3

The City & The City – 3.8

The Windup Girl – 3.9

Average Rating – 3.8

Holy 3 star, Batman. This seems low, doesn’t it? Well, no… actually not so much. These books on average score a half-star less than their all-time perennial classic cousins. Which isn’t so terribly far away all things considered.

Now, does it matter that these books are scoring a full star below the holy grail of 5? Nah, not really, because there is an internal consistency among them. Based on these numbers we would expect to see the average “good, perhaps even great” book to rate about 3.2 stars.

But now, let’s introduce some self-publishers into the mix and see how things get all wonkified. Now, I just grabbed some big named self-publishers off the top of my head and went to their author page on Amazon and simply scrolled through the ratings of their most popular books. On average, these books have very solid ratings with over 100 reviewers, but there are certainly some outliers with less. We’ll talk about this later and why it matters.

So, if you’ve been around the self-publishing world for any length of time you’ve probably heard of Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt (and David Wright who I think might be my all-time favorite curmudgeon). They host a self-publishing podcast that is incredibly popular and jam packed full of actionable advice. If you’re serious about self-publishing you should probably go give them a listen.

spp

Anyways, here are the numbers for their 8 most popular books:

Invasion – 4.4

Contact – 4.6

Robot Proletariat – 4.8

The Beam Season 1 – 4.8

The Beam Season 2 – 4.9

Dream Engine – 4.8

Axis of Aaron – 4.6

Namaste – 4.8

Average Rating: 4.6

Yikes! These guys are consistently scoring a half-star higher than the All-Time Best of the Best Books of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Genre, and nearly a full star higher than the Hugo awards (which the argument could be made are to be considered some of the best books of their respective years).

Of these books I’ve read The Beam Season One and Robot Proletariat, and you know what, they were both pretty good. They were well written with an engaging story line. I enjoyed them, but you’ll never convince me they are a half-star better than Neuromancer, or Snow Crash, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

You can try, but I’m just gonna jam my fingers in my ears and start singing lalalalalala, I can’t hear you. What can I say, I’m a childish debater.

otter

Let’s move onto the next huge Indie name, Dannika Dark. Dannika writes YA and she’s so uber-popular it sickens me. But that’s just the jealousy talking, I’m sure she’s actually very talented.

*Whoosh, ziff, bang!*

Future Anthony here to clean up Past Anthony’s stupid messes! Turns out a wee-bit more research would’ve revealed that Dannika does NOT write YA. In fact, her website explicitly says as much. That’s what I get for skimming! Anyhow, my point still stands. Dannika has a crazy awesome average rating. Thanks to Dannika herself for setting me straight!

*back to the regularly scheduled program*

Let’s take a look at the ratings for her most popular series.

Seven Years – 4.4

Sterling – 4.1

Four Days – 4.9

Three Hours – 4.9

Twist – 4.7

Shine – 4.9

Average Rating: 4.65

Not as good as Johnny and Sean, but still significantly higher than the Hugo Award winners and the All-Time Bestselling SFF. Then again, this is YA, so perhaps it would be more fair to rank it against its genre peers?

For the sake of fairness, let’s compare it against The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games – 4.6

Catching Fire – 4.7

Mocking Jay – 4.3

Average Rating – 4.5

Boom, take that Suzanne Collins you wanna-be hack. Dannika’s got your number–somebody get Ms. Dark a seven figure movie contract, STAT! Then again, that’s only pulling from a sample size of three, which isn’t terribly significant. Hm… okay, let’s see how Dannika stacks up against another little known lady…

J.K. Rowling and the Hairy Clay Potter.

Sorceror’s Stone – 4.8

Chamber of Secrets – 4.7

Goblet of Fire – 4.8

Order of Phoenix – 4.8

Azkabhan – 4.7

Half Blood Prince – 4.4

Deathly Hallows – 4.7

Average Rating – 4.7

Which is pretty much what you would expect for the best selling book about a hairy gardener ever! But, geez, even then it was actually a pretty close match. Rowling only edged out Dark by .05. That’s a slim margin no matter how you slice it.

Is Dark’s series really as good as The Hunger Games? Possibly. Is it almost as good as Harry Potter? Eh.. possibly, but boy I would be surprised.

So, what the hell is going on here? How are self-published authors pulling in such ginormous numbers? Are they cheating? Did they sell their bodies to the Rating Gods in exchange for all those spiky five star reviews?

Maybe? But I think it’s something a little less sinister then that.

There’s a couple things happening here. First, self-published authors recognize the value of good reviews and go waaaay out of their way to field willing reviewers, often reaching out personally to said people. By comparison, when was the last time you got an email from J.K Rowling asking you to review her upcoming book?

Unless you’re secretly a big named newspaper or literary journal simply pretending to be a human in an attempt to infiltrate my blog, then you’ve probably never received jack squat from J.K. And this is important because we have a hard time saying “no” to people we know.

koala

An even harder time saying bad things to, or about, them.

I’ve struggled with the same thing. An author asks me to review their book and because they’ve personally reached out to me, I feel this subconscious pressure to pull my punches and give a slightly better review/rating than I normally would.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume I’m not the only one doing this. So that’s one part of the rating inflation, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

Self-published authors have learned they need to be their own marketing team and they’ve figured out some great ways of doing this starting with email lists/newsletters. This is an awesome way of corralling the people who really love your writing and opening an avenue of communication with them. With the email list an author can send out notifications whenever their next book is dropping. They can send free deals, and short stories, and puppies, and pretty much whatever you can fit into a digital inbox.

This personal connection with the reader goes a long, long ways and we see the effects of it in the startlingly high ratings these authors are pulling in. Let me throw out an example of a book I saw go live the other day and how the author used his preexisting fan base to astounding effect.

Michael Bunker released his book Brother, Frankenstein just a couple days ago. It already has 99 reviews. I think it ended it’s first day with 97 or 98 reviews. How many of those are 5 stars? 88. Fresh out of the gates, less than a week old, and Brother, Frankenstein has nearly a hundred reviews and a 4.9 average.

Whoa. Let that sink in. Michael Bunker used his readership base to do something absolutely impressive.

Now, please don’t interpret me pointing this out as any sort of hate against these other authors (in fact, I picked up a copy of Brother, Frankenstein ’cause I think Bunker is a talented writer and a good storyteller. I’m intrigued to see what all the hype is about!). The indie publishing landscape is brutal. You’ve got to play the cards your dealt and maximize your chances of getting a winner.

Truant, Dark, and Bunker are definitely playing for keeps. Props to them. But the thing is, everybody is doing this and it’s saturating the rating system. It’s hard to find anybody saying a bad thing about Truant or Platt’s work in their reviews. Same with Dark and Bunker. Everything is “THIS IS SO AMAZING I HAVE TO USE CAPS LOCK TO EXPRESS MY ENTHUSIASM!”

caps lock

That’s not particularly useful to me when I’m searching for a book to read. I’m guessing it’s not very useful for you either, but hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Typically I find the most value in the three star reviews because that seems to be where people are most even-handed in their praise and critique. But shit, some of the books mentioned above don’t even have a single three star, so I’m left in the lurch on that one.

Why’s this a problem?

Oh, I don’t know. I’m probably making something out of nothing. Ultimately we’re all playing for internet points, so does it really matter? Well, yeah, actually. Careers are on the line, after-all.

But here’s the thing: all those five star reviews don’t make me anymore likely to pick up a book. Especially if they are not balanced by a healthy amount of low stars. Look at that All Time SFF list again. Peruse the reviews and you’ll see a substantial portion of readers absolutely hated said books. Does that make them bad? Not at all.

Here’s something we need to realize: A low rating does not mean a book is bad.

Well, to a degree. If it’s significantly below 3 stars, then maybe it is a bad book. But for the most part, a low rating simply means there is something about the book that is polarizing. And that is a good thing. Knowing what people disliked about the book is beneficial and revealing.

I’ll tell you this, I’ve picked up more books (and loved them!) based off a 2 star review trashing said book, than I ever have by a 5 star gush-fest.

What’s the point of all this? Meh, I’ve lost the thread. You tell me. Get down to the comments and tell me what you think!

Standing Kill Orderlies Free!

Psst. Hey you, do you like free stuff? Of course you do, you’re a frugally minded individual, why wouldn’t you love free?

Okay, fair point, sometimes free equals shoddy workmanship. Also, just to play devil’s advocate, sometimes free = bed-bugs. You wouldn’t take a free mattress off the side of the road would you?

Wait, you would? And you’d sleep on it? Yuckers. You’re a particularly devout brand of frugal, aren’t you?

Anyways, I’ve got something for you and I promise it’s not shoddy or covered in bedbugs. For the next five days you can get my short story Standing Kill Orderlies (along with the bonus short Infidelity) for FREE from that little old marketplace called Amazon.

Seriously, all you’ve got to do is click on the picture below and you’ll be magically transported to that digital farmer’s market. If you want to earn extra brownie points, do me a favor and tell all your friends and families and neighborhood hobos with electronic reading devices so they can get their own copy!

Free is good. Very good.

Free is good. Very good.

Want to earn quadruple brownie points? Of course you do, brownies are delicious. Please consider leaving a review, whether that be on Goodreads or Amazon. It’ll make my day and I’ll throw brownies at your face-eating hole, what’s not to love?