Occasionally I review movies or other author’s books on this blog and I’ve preserved those posts on this page, along with features about other authors. I did much more of this when I began this blog back in 2012, and one of my resolutions for 2017 is to review more books here.
I am interested reading speculative fiction of all sorts, including science fiction and fantasy. My protagonist in y1 is a gay male, and I will be predisposed to review stories that feature LGBT heroes, or others who find joy in life by being true to who they are in spite of obstacles.
I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, pure romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review erotica or books about vampires or zombies.
If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Zane (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.
A political kindred spirit: A review of Scott Haworth’s novel Abraham Lincoln’s Lie May 9, 2013
There are two reasons why I want to speak highly of this book, and it’s fair to tell you of them. First, this book has a strong political slant, and it turns out that I largely share the author’s views. More-over, his sort of moderate-liberal-progressive outlook, in my opinion, shows up too infrequently in political fiction specifically written to make a point, and I admit up front to wishing to encourage him.
Second, this is the first review I have written for a self-published complete stranger since I myself became a self-published author reviewed by complete strangers. I recognize how important reviews are and what an accomplishment it is to produce a coherent novel, much less one with only two typos. I am inclined to be gentle. That being said …..
This is a novel that covers about a forty year span after the USA breaks in two to form a red nation and a blue nation. The author wisely glosses over details, but focuses instead on following a few key families in each of the new countries. It’s a good format and he develops some compelling characters and covers issues from foreign policy to gun control.
The biggest problem with the book is that it can’t quite decide if it wants to be realistic, or satire. The smaller satire parts work well, like the number of things in the red nation named after Ronald Reagan and the conservative states getting corporate sponsors for their aircraft carriers. Funny stuff, although I personally would appreciate the humor more if some of the satire went both ways. Let’s face it, there is plenty to laugh about throughout the political spectrum.
At the other extreme, the human drama that is not satire works well also, such as the story of the two gay men who find their home is in the red nation, and are forced to flee to the blue with their adopted daughter. To me this was the most emotionally compelling story line and these were the most fully drawn of all the characters.
It’s the stuff in between the satire and realism that gave me pause. The blue states gradually turn into utopia, while having no problems with debt or high taxes. They get along famously with other countries, and somehow encourage innovation among the citizenry in spite of more government controls. Lazy or greedy people do not play a role, a fact that I find very hard to believe. In fact, after forty years the place is so perfect that I briefly thought I might have fallen into conservation satire that had been waiting to reveal itself.
Meanwhile, the red nation fares far worse. Citizens roam the countryside with legal automatic weapons. Criminals are tried and executed within days, with no appeals. Sex education has been abolished and science is barely taught. The nation is plagued with teen births, ignorant angry people and wars it cannot afford. Absolutely nothing works better here. As satire, one can do this of course. As a realistic novel, I’d have been more engaged if the red nation produced some sympathetic characters and occasional unique solutions of its own. In the real world, there are truly good people across the political spectrum. I know, I am related to many of them. Furthermore, real politics is a messy nuanced business and there are surprises.
Two things to this author’s defense. His main protagonist is the conservative politician who causes the split to begin with, and he does infuse this one character with warmth and humanity (and of course with mounds of regret for what he has done). Secondly, I skimmed through a little Ayn Rand before writing this review. I have not read her in decades and wondered in retrospect how balanced her world in Atlas Shrugged really was. Not very, so this author is at least in renowned company. Unfortunately, at this point his writing lacks the plot intricacy and the suspense that Ayn showed in her two most famous novels. We aren’t compelled to find out how this book is going to end, but rather have a pretty good idea much of the way through it.
His character’s motivations are sometimes unclear and their emotions sometimes range significantly from one sentence to the next. Author Scott Haworth also shows no skill at all in folding in either romance or sex, both of which do add to a book’s wider appeal. Lacking all this, his one-sidedness is more apparent than Ayn’s and will likely be more irritating to any reader that does not more or less agree with him already.
However, Ayn did write a first novel, called “Anthem”, and years ago I read it. I’m not going to bother to reread it now just for this review, but I remember it as a short, shrill and simplistic treatise in which she outlines ideas that she would later convey with far more power. I am a much more critical reader these days, and I feel certain that “Abraham Lincoln’s Lie” is a better first political book than “Anthem”.
I wavered between giving “Abraham Lincoln’s Lie” 3 stars or 4. I am rounding up in hopes that this is the first of several political novels we will see from Scott Haworth, and that one day soon his skills will grow enough to be able to powerfully convey the fictionally underrepresented ideal of a freedom-loving progressive nation. I am really looking forward to reading those future works.
Crime collides with speculative fiction at a fascinating new intersection Feb 4, 2013
I struggle with whether to call my novel y1 a crime novel or speculative fiction, and so I have developed a soft spot for other authors facing the same quandary. Recently I learned of S.J. Hunter, and her fascinating series of books that combines both genres. I’m very excited to interviewer her on this blog, but first I’ll let her describe her series to you in her own words.
Longevity Law Enforcement: In the 21st century molecular biology gives humanity some nifty gifts: perpetual youth, enhancements to intelligence and physical attributes, and extreme life extension. The trouble is, not everyone thinks they’re nifty, and even among those who do, not everyone can afford them. Most of all, no one really wants to be ruled by immortal superbeings if they can’t be one themselves. That’s not all that unreasonable. While much of the rest of the world descends into repressive oligarchy or anarchy, in the United States we establish Laws to govern the use of these gifts, and a special agency, Longevity Law Enforcement (LLE), to catch the lawbreakers.
About Longevity (Longevity Law Enforcement Book 1): The suspicious disappearance of a brilliant, evil doctor. A devious plan that threatens national stability. A near-future world where the U.S. clings to laws that have preserved it from the almost worldwide abyss of anarchy, where a man can be both 32 and 102, and where a perceptive and clever woman and a uniquely smart dog can be kick-ass rookie partners.
No longer solo, legendary detective Chris McGregor and his new partners, Livvy Hutchins and Louie, relentlessly search for the mastermind before he can complete his plan. Their opponent’s only option: kill them first. Available at Amazon here.
About The Burning Rivers (Longevity Law Enforcement Book 2): When LLE’s top team, Chris, Livvy, and Louie, Chris’ neuro-enhanced dog, investigates a brutal Syndicate of illegal labs trying to force its way into D.C., Louie finds key evidence that might help his partners crack the Syndicate’s power. If they can survive long enough. Available at Amazon here.
About The Dog on the Moon (Longevity Law Enforcement Book 3):LLE detective Chris McGregor is still learning to rely on his new partners, irrepressible Livvy Hutchins and Louie, a dog with phenomenally useful talents. Together they must find a way to battle a deadly conspiracy of corrupt politicians and industrialists without exposing them to the public. Their goal: to preserve the Moon for the rest of mankind. Available at Amazon here.
Sheila provides this biography: Although she grew up on a small family farm in Wisconsin, since then she’s worked as a veterinarian and a librarian and lived in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, California, Oregon, Florida and many places in-between, including twice in Washington D.C. The whole experience, meaning life so far, has taught her that it is essential to keep a sense of humor handy. Dogs and cats and people with infectious laughs help, too.
A short interview with author S.J. Hunter.
Me: You’ve lived a lot of places and done a lot of different things. Did any one location or occupation particularly influence your trilogy? Her: I worked as a veterinarian in D.C. – it was my first real veterinary job – and I’ve always loved the city. We lived there twice, about 6 years total. It has amazing character and opportunities, and constant reminders of our history, but access is very important, and in D.C. that means public transportation. The city plays a role in all three books; that makes sense because Chris, Livvy, and Louie work in the D.C. LLE office.
Me: It’s impressive to have written a entire series like this. Do find that each book has gotten easier or more difficult to write? Her: Each book got easier. I enjoy my characters, and since they are strong individuals, they started carrying the story forward for me. The books are case-based, so they easily stand alone, but there’s also an important thread from Chris’ history that’s woven through all three books.
Me: You have a genetically enhanced dog as one of your characters. Did a real life pet inspire this character? If not, what? Her: Okay, no surprise here: I’m a sucker for dogs and cats. No one pet inspired Louie, but I thought a lot about service dogs, and how lucky we are to have dogs in our lives as companions. There’s so much we don’t know about the way they think, but a lot we can conjecture and some of that conjecture can be great fun.
Me: Will there be more Longevity Law Enforcement books in the future or will you be moving on to another subject? Her: I tried to move on. In fact, I have another, very different book started, but about 20K words in I found I kept thinking about a case Chris had been involved in earlier in his career. So I found myself writing a prequel.
For more about S.J. Hunter and her books please visit her blog at http://sjhunter123.blogspot.com/.
Nick Wastnage and Playing Harry Oct.18, 2012
With the novel y1 I made a mild segue in to writing crime fiction, and in the process it was my pleasure to make the acquaintance of several more experienced crime writers. This includes Nick Wastnage, author of twelve novels and a writer with a grab you by the throat style that almost guarantees less sleep until you finish his book. His latest novel is Playing Harry.
Playing Harry: Harry, an investigative journalist with a top British national newspaper, discovers a mysterious, encrypted file on his late brother’s computer. He thinks it contains a cure for HIV and is linked to his brother and sister-in-law’s murders. Helped by Amie, his ex-girlfriend, he starts to search for the truth. He becomes immersed in a violent, disturbing international conspiracy, where two of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies resort to murder and corruption to secure their world dominance and the American and British security services are shown to have blood on their hands.
Nick took the time to answer a few questions just for this blog.
I wrote: Unlike many other prolific crime writers, it looks like you don’t have a single crime solver that you write about. Rather your books span all manner of characters, crimes and places. Why the eclectic approach? He answered: Well, it’s because I’ve never found a character I’ve wanted to continue writing about, but that’s all changed. In a recent blog post, http://firstname.lastname@example.org – called Why did I write Playing Harry? I’ve said that I’ve found in Harry Fingle, the main protagonist and crime-solver in Playing Harry, a character I want to take through to a few more books. He has his faults, but he’s basically a good guy, and I’m looking forward to finding new adventures for him and developing his character.
I wrote: Your latest book looks particularly interesting and I’ve added it to my “to read” list. I’d love to know, what is your personal favorite thing about “Playing Harry?” He answered: The way I’ve managed to weave a love story and the exploits of six troubled characters into the narrative of a crime novel. It’s an interstitial book and cross-genred.
I wrote: Are you willing share anything about what is in the works after “Playing Harry?” He answered: I think I’ve already given it away. I’m starting on a new Harry Fingle novel, part of The Harry Fingle Collection, within the next four weeks. Without giving any more away, his enemies come back to haunt him, and his ex-lover, Amie, who’s now married, is never too far away. It should be finished by the second part of next year. I wrote a short, Harry and His Unfinished Business, which sort of kicks the new book off. It’s available for free at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240287 or can be read on my blog.
About Nick Wastnage. Nick Wastnage calls himself a crime writer and an optimist. He writes about people involved in sinister deeds like murder, extortion, and retribution. He’s worked in a seaside arcade; as a record salesman, a decorator, a merchant banker, a marine, and a retailer. He was once shot by terrorists, winched from the jungle into a helicopter, and flown to hospital. He lives with his wife in Bucks.
Introducing y1’s kindred spirits and “The Cult of Me” Sept. 17, 2012
I’ve enjoyed interviewing fellow indie authors on my other blog for the novel x0, and have decided to try the same here. I will be featuring authors who are writing about any of the many themes touched upon in the novel y1. While my own novel focuses on the merits of appreciating ones uniqueness, please consider this intriguing tale about the darker side of that same theme.
The Cult of Me is a supernatural thriller about a man who has spent most of his life tormenting the people around him. He has a unique ability to enter their minds and bend them to his will. Over the years he grows tired of this game and decides to end it all in a final bloody stand. He surrenders himself and plots to gain control of the prison. But while he is there he discovers that he is not as unique as he once thought.
Author Michael Brookes says “although I am a new author I have enjoyed writing for many years. For most of that time I focused on short stories, only recently have I started with novels. Naturally I am an avid reader, mostly science fiction, but I do enjoy books of many genres. My favourite story of all time is Paradise Lost and my favourite novel is Excession by Ian M Banks. I work as an Executive Producer for one of the UK’s leading game developers.”
The Cult of Me is available from Amazon and a paperback version is coming soon!
Michael was kind enough to answer a few questions just for this blog:
1. The Cult of Me is your first book and part of a trilogy. Are you finding that it was harder to write the first novel, or it is harder to write the second one?
I’m finding the second book (Conversations in the Abyss) harder to write. I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly why. I’ve followed the same preparations – I’m a great believer in planning the book out in advance. I think I have learnt many things with writing the first book and I’m trying to avoid them now with the second.
2. There are a lot of different classifications for speculative fiction and the boundaries blur. I notice that you call your book “occult and supernatural”. What pushed it into this classification for you?
This for me is one of the frustrating elements of book classifications. The Cult of Me, like many books, does not fall easily into a single category. It has a supernatural theme, but also has techno thriller and horror aspects. In my reading I cover different different genres and I find they all have something to bring to the mix.
3. You work for a game developer. Has that background guided your writing and if so how?
Games are a young and developing way of telling a story. I’m looking forward to see how it matures. In my job I often have to provide punchy and interesting descriptions of the projects I run, this has helped me focus my writing, to make it tighter. I also have to be aware of the bigger picture and knowing how to plan things does come in useful.