Saturday, January 9, 2016

What I Read in 2015

At the end of each year I do a summary post of what I read throughout the year. I find it interesting to see my reading habits, and to make note of what the best books were each year. Last year's post shows that I read 52 books, and I did the same this year. I use a standard five star rating method with five stars meaning I loved the book so much I intend to re-read it throughout my life, so there are rarely any five star books. This year there were more five star books, but that was because I actually did reread a good number of books that I love.

1. So, Anyway by John Cleese ***
2. Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey *****
3. The World of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin *** and a half
4. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence ****
5. Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks *** and a half
6. Factoring Humanity by Robert Sawyer ***
7. The Martian by Andy Weir *****

8. Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card **
9. The Bloody Crown of Conan by Robert E. Howard *****
10. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard *****
11. The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld *****
12. The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld *****

13. Joyland by Stephen King ***
14. The Long Walk by Stephen King *** and a half
15. Defiance by Lucas Bale *** and a half
16. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie ****
17. The Magicians by Lev Grossman ** and a half
18. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge *****

19. World of Trouble by Ben Winters *** and a half
20. A Shroud of Night and Tears by Lucas Bale *** and a half
21. Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan *** and a half
22. Sins of the Father by Anthony Vicino *** and a half
23. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch ****
24. Joker One by Donovan Campbell **
25. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson *** and a half
26. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King ****
27. The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin Anderson *
28. Use of Weapons by Iain Banks **** and a half

29. Looking for Jake by China Mieville **
30. Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey *****
31. A Dark Matter by Peter Straub **
32. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles *****

33. Time Heist by Anthony Vicino ****
34. Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton ****
35. The Call of the Sword by Roger Taylor ****
36. The Fall of Fyorlund by Roger Taylor *** and a half
37. We Have Always Fought by Kameron Hurley **
38. The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard *****

39. Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton **** and a half
40. Bran Mak Morn: The Last King by Robert E. Howard ***
41. The Death Factory by Greg Iles ***
42. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin *** and a half
43. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin *****

44. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin **** and a half
45. The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin **** and a half
46. Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin *** and a half
47. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan *****
48. Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan *****
49. Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan *****

50. Bran Mak Morn: Legion From the Shadows by Karl Edward Wagner ** and a half
51. Half Way Home by Hugh Howey **
52. The Magic Kingdom of Landover: Volume 1 by Terry Brooks ****

Monday, December 21, 2015

Nitpicking Star Wars: The Force Awakens

****Spoiler Alert - don't continue reading if you don't want any details to be spoiled****

My family went to see the new Star Wars yesterday, along with just about everyone else, it seems. We enjoyed it. It was certainly better than the horrid prequels (episodes 1-3). But other than the special effects, it wasn't as good as the original three. 

I could go into great detail about what I enjoyed about the movie (my favorite was the battle detritus on the desert planet, the ATT Walker and Star Destroyer and other wreckage strewn around), but instead I want to nitpick the issues I had with the movie. Why do this? Because of some vain hope that JJ Abrams might here about the problems and actually agree with them and do something to fix them in the sequels!

So, in no particular order, here are the biggest flaws I saw in the movie:

  • If a trained swordsperson faces off against someone who has never held a sword in their life, it's going to be over in no time at all. It won't be a real fight. Yet, here we saw two such rookies hold their own to some degree and then one of them even beat the trained person, albeit with light sabers rather than swords, but it's the same principle. These fights should have been no contest, and having it actually go the way it did was absurd. The sad thing is, it could have been done realistically and still fit the story line well. Kylo Ren (the trained one) could have laughingly laid out Finn in a couple of seconds, merely wounding him and sneeringly leaving him alive while he then faced off with Rey. He then could have easily whipped Rey as well, but then her anger could have welled up in an enormous burst of pure Force rage (untrained, but it could have shown just how immense her talent with the Force is) and blasted Kylo. To me that would have worked better and actually felt realistic.
  • The Millennium Falcon just happening to be there on the desert planet with the supertalent Rey
  • The desert planet having to be exactly like Tatooine except with a different name
  • Han Solo just happening--in a whole wide galaxy--to be right there and find the Millennium Falcon. And if there was a tracking device on the ship, what kind of lousy tracker it must have been in such an advanced society to only work if the ship is powered on!
  • The whole fly down the trenches with tie fighters following you to blow up the death star-like ending. Why oh why did they have to go with a cliche here? There are so many cool things that can be done; you don't have to resort to doing the same things! Actually, this movie repeats all manner of elements of the original rather than try to actually be original itself.
  • Sucking up a star so nice and neatly? I don't think a star would behave so properly even if such a thing could be done
  • The planet-destroying superweapon blasts off four beams and they somehow destroy four planets or moons that just happen to be right near where the main characters are, and by the way all of these moons or planets are all visible right near each other and all are habitable. 
  • The Supreme Leader Snoke looks pretty ancient, so where the heck was he a few decades ago when the Emperor and Darth Vader were running things? I'd have bought this better if he were younger and could have been an up-and-comer rather than believe that such a talent with the Force went completely under the radar back then.
  • Probably the number one worst aspect within the movie was that it rushed each stage. The original trilogy did a great job of spending some time in each location, allowing us some character development and letting us really get to know each place. The settings themselves became characters in the films. Here each location was rushed through, cramming too many into one film and not allowing the locations to really come to life. I sure hope they come out with an extended version on Blu-Ray that adds in a lot of deleted scenes that would allow more development of each setting.
Hey, at least it was a much better movie than the prequels, and it gives hope that the sequels will become even better if they listen and learn from the mistakes they made with this one. One of my sons said, as we were leaving the theater, and the rest of us agreed with him, that it wasn't embarrassing to watch this one. That's so true. It was embarrassing to watch the prequels, because they felt so wrong on so many levels. This one shows the promise that the original trilogy gave us.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Perceptions Change

First off, there's a nice new interview with me over at The Leighgendarium!

I had a nice review of my sci-fi novel The Immortality Game recently that made me think more about how different perceptions can be in different time periods. The reviewer mentioned that it was hard to believe that the character Marcus could manage as much running as he does, given how out of shape he is.

This is a perfectly fair point to make. I did state a number of times throughout the novel that Marcus was overweight, had a belly, and otherwise looked down on himself for being out of shape, and I never did try to explain why this isn't necessarily true from our current perceptions. I wouldn't have explained it, because the book is written from the point of view of the characters, so it is only their own perceptions that come into play.
How can it be that characters can view Marcus as overweight and out of shape but he can run as far as he did in the story? The reason is that by modern day standards Marcus would be considered by most of us to be in quite good shape! That's right, he thinks he is 'fat' and has a big belly only because he is comparing himself to the standards of his time, not our time. In my future, nanotechnology has reached a point where billions of differently programmed nanobots flowing through your body help keep you in fantastic shape with minimal effort on your part. That means most people walk around looking like highly-toned athletes of today. Those who work hard not to stay in shape, like Marcus, can end up just a little flabby, so that in the view of people at that time he could be looked down upon, while people of today's world would tend to think that he is in great shape.

Have you written stories that used big differences in perception like this?

Friday, November 20, 2015

One Year of Being a Published Author

It was one year ago today that my first novel The Immortality Game was officially published. It feels so much longer. Normally time seems to fly by so quickly, especially as I age, but somehow when it comes to publishing the opposite is true. It feels about three years since I first published a book!
artwork © Stephan Martiniere
I suppose part of that is that I took all of what I had written over the past ten years and prepared it and published it in three separate books this year, as well as publishing two short stories in anthologies with other authors. I feel so busy all the time.

The drawback is that I haven't been able to write much over the past year. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I am going to be writing next, but that's the easiest part. I need to actually write it down, and that hasn't been happening. As an unknown indie writer, if I don't expend a lot of energy just in trying to let people know my books exist, then my books remain invisible and go nowhere.

So how has this first publishing year gone? Not great, but not so badly either. Here are some numbers:

Here is my first novel (published--I actually wrote The Shard first). It was published 'wide', meaning not exclusive to Amazon. I published the paperback through IngramSpark. The number of paperbacks sold in one year:

IngramSpark: 102 paperbacks

The ebook was sold via Amazon, B&N Nook, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Kobo.

Amazon US: 1672
Amazon UK: 35
Amazon France: 5
Amazon Germany: 13
Amazon Canada: 15
Amazon Australia: 6
Amazon Spain: 1
Amazon India: 1
Amazon Italy: 1
B&N: 260
iTunes: 71
GooglePlay: 30
Kobo: Site is down so I can't get numbers, but it was only around 30 or so

So that isn't too bad, but not what one dreams about selling. October was the best month for me due to a Bookbub ad that I ran. That landed The Immortality Game at #1 in Cyberpunk on Amazon for three straight days and #116 overall on Amazon.

My second release was The Shard in March. I sold it exclusively on Amazon via the Kindle Unlimited program, so I don't know all sales due to the fact that Amazon started telling authors about number of pages read via the KU program, and that isn't very helpful as far as tracking sales goes. Here are the numbers I do know about:

Paperbacks sold: 13
Amazon US: 78
Amazon UK: 6
Amazon India: 1
Amazon Australia: 3
Amazon Germany: 3
Amazon Canada: 2

I published Lord Fish, a collection of short stories, in August. Like The Shard, I made it exclusive to Amazon in the KU program, so I don't know about sales via KU.

I won't break this one out by country, since the number of sales hasn't been high enough to make it worthwhile. The number of sales also includes a Countdown Deal where it was free for one week. The number of sales in total has been 66. The price didn't seem to matter. I tried it at .99 and sold only one, so I raised it to 2.99 to see if it would give it a better profile, and sold a bit better.

The final result is that I'm fairly content with how The Immortality Game is doing, while the other two books remain invisible so far. Reviews of all books have been mainly very positive, and I really appreciate those who have taken the time to leave a review, as they are pure gold to indie writers. I'll end the post with links to the two anthologies that published stories by me during this past year. Please note that both of these stories are also published in Lord Fish.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Future Catches Up

A mind-blowing thing happened to me today. I saw a new review on Amazon, and it had a piece of information that simply amazed me.

Here is the review:

"Amazing debut! I would have given this book 6 stars but took one off because the author didn't seem to know that the Gsh-18 pistol does not have a safety. There are already several reviews which tell about the book and the story so I'll just mention one of the really stand-out qualities that sets this book apart from lesser efforts. The characters and their interactions are layered in ways that subtly hint at a very mature and developed sensibility on the part of the author. He doesn't beat you over the head with it but, I came to realize the depths of the characters about a third of the way through the book when I wondered what it was that kept drawing me in. This quality of recognizing relationships and histories in the characters and bringing them out without spelling them out was an amazing feat by the author. I'll be looking for more by Ted Cross."
Zoya, Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
Well, first of all it's really great to see someone view the development path of the characters the way I meant it to be. But it's the mention of the GSH-18 pistol that blew my mind. You may not know this, but I began writing the The Immortality Game quite a few years ago. When I reached the part where I needed to use a newer model of gun, I decided I wanted it to be 'old' from the perspective of the characters in the year 2138, but I also wanted it to be 'in the future' from our perspective. So I looked up some models of pistol and chose the GSH brand, and I then added some numbers to it so that it would be a 'future' model.

Now it is possible that the GSH-18 was already being mentioned at that time and I simply missed it. But as far as I recall, there was no GSH-18 when I wrote that part, and yet it now exists today. I didn't expect the future to come whipping by so fast!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Global Climate Change: The Coming Catastrophe

The United States has a very long history of refusing to deal with looming problems until the problems grow to a point where they can no longer be ignored. Naturally this means the resolution of such problems always costs us more money and results in heavier consequences than if we simply admitted the coming problems and dealt with them logically ahead of time in a calm and orderly fashion.
The biggest problem is that so far the US has gotten away with this attitude toward dealing with issues, because no issue has yet been so huge as to overwhelm us. But that is about to change over the next century with the looming catastrophe of rising ocean levels due to global climate change.

Take a look at what is happening to Europe right now with the refugees coming out of Syria. Europe is panicking over what is a very small crisis compared to the number of refugees we can expect to see from rising ocean levels over the next century. Magnify the number of refugees to a global level and numbers as much as hundreds of millions and then try to imagine what will likely happen. Folks living inland aren't likely to spread their arms in welcome to help those who knew they lived in the danger areas yet kept stubbornly living there anyhow.
America could do the right thing and actually start working on this problem now. We could create millions of new high-paying jobs for engineers, planners, electricians, carpenters, and so forth by laying out new cities inland and building them, and then offering growing incentives to start moving people away from the danger areas well ahead of time. Will we do that? History says no. History says we will do almost nothing and wait until it blows up into a crisis that may very well take down our country.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Final Tallies for My Advertising Push

My last post told you about my first use of Bookbub, the big ebook advertiser. Now I have the final totals of what The Immortality Game sold during the time-frame of my ad. Note that I was selling one to two copies per day even before the ad, but that is a small number so it is still interesting to see what I actually sold this past week. Also note that I wasn't selling much at all on any of the other sites, so the numbers for the non-Amazon sites are all due to the advertisement. Finally, there were bumps in sales for all of my other books during this time, but I'm not going to worry about those numbers here.

Amazon ebook: 1134
Paperback: 5

B&N Nook: 232

Kobo: 12

iTunes: 60

GooglePlay: 28

So it's easy to see that Kobo was the site that brought the fewest number of sales. B&N did better than I expected. I had only sold 2 copies total on iTunes before this sale, so 60 is a pretty good number for them. Likewise I had only sold 2 copies in total on GooglePlay prior to the ad.