Sunday, December 24, 2017

Best Christmas Music

I was lucky to grow up in a family with great musical tastes. I'm not certain whether it was my mother or step-father (or both) who brought in the great albums of my early life, from Led Zeppelin IV to Fleetwood Mac to Simon & Garfunkel and many more. So I was also lucky that this great musical taste meant that I grew up listening to the best Christmas music. I say this because invariably when I hear Christmas music played in public places or in other peoples' homes, I often shake my head and wonder how they can stand listening to the music they are playing. Tastes vary, of course, but some music is just atrocious.
I think these are the best two Christmas albums of all time: The Carpenters, Christmas Portrait, and John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together. Absolutely gorgeous music, and a blend of brilliantly done classics along with some songs I never hear anywhere else, such as the wonderful Merry Christmas Darling by the Carpenters, and several unique songs by John Denver. The voices of John Denver and Karen Carpenter are perfect for Christmas music.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Nothing New in the World

So I started reading a new book the other day. And it's a really well written, fun read. I highly recommend it. It's called Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh. The prose is much cooler than mine, much more edgy in style.

It's a near future thriller set in a New York decimated by a dirty bomb, where about the only sci-fi element is how people spend their time addicted to being in an online virtual reality. And that's the part that struck me funny, because though the author names it something different, this aspect of the story is pretty much the same as in my own book that was published the same year, 2014. I call the online virtual reality addiction 'meshing'.

In both of our stories, people buy souped up beds that feed and take care of them so they can 'live' in their virtual reality for long periods of time without the need to come back to the real world. All throughout the book I keep seeing aspects of this that remind me of what I was doing in my book.

 I'm definitely not saying the author stole my idea (though it is possible, given that I began writing my book in 2009 and posted each chapter online as I wrote it--first on the Authonomy writers website and later on Wattpad). I just think we actually and truly had the same basic idea at around the same time. It's like that when you are extrapolating things you see happening today into the future.

And hey, it's like our two novels are set in the same story 'universe'! I like the book, so give it a try.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Class Differences in Writing

I read an interesting article today that got me thinking about various writing relating topics. One of them was the idea of class pervading literature in ways we often don't even consider. I had thought of class in literature, especially when thinking about major prizes, which almost always overlook all genre fiction. But what about within genre fiction itself? Is there still a class divide?

If there is it must be subtle, but I do think it may be there to a degree. The huge successes of writers who grew up poor or middle class, say Stephen King or JK Rowling, can make it seem absurd to even consider a class divide in genre fiction.

But I was struck in the article by the author's points about not relating to characters in what he had been reading. I feel that way very often in the genre fiction I read (though admittedly not in King or Rowling). Too often the characters are nobles or some form of warrior who is about the best in the world at what they do. What I always wanted to read about were people like me stuck in extraordinary circumstances and forced to sink or swim.

So that's what I write. My characters are ordinary people. They are an ugly sixty-something mute, or a fisherman's son who got lucky enough to marry a nobleman's daughter but is looked down upon for rising above his station. One is a hard working young Russian woman just trying to get by in a crumbling world. Another is an ex-addict with low self-esteem despairing of the world and only doing something because his dead father is egging him on. I realize when I write such characters that I may lose out on the entire readership that enjoys the higher level characters of princes and superheroes, but I can't help but want to write about what feels real to me. I want ordinary people who have to fight and claw their way to survival.
Anyway, I am so looking forward to seeing the new Blade Runner movie this weekend. I consider the original to be the best movie ever made (especially the Final Cut version). Anyone else going to see it this weekend?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Do You Like Podcasts?

I'm part of a trio of fantasy and science fiction authors here in Nassau, Bahamas. I think all three of us are pretty decent writers. Now we have been working on a new podcast, basically a science fiction and fantasy book club. We read a new book each month and then do a two part podcast about it. We've been doing them all summer, so we now have about five books done, though we had some technical troubles on two of them which we are trying to work out.

If you like podcasts, please 'Like' our Facebook page and share it with your friends! We'd love to have people read along on the next book we are doing and join us for live podcasts where you can join in. Here is the link to the page, where each podcast will be listed.

Friday, June 30, 2017


Authors draw inspiration from other books all the time. My second novel, The Immortality Game, had two primary sources. First it was the background story for the wizard Xax in my first novel The Shard (Xax from the fantasy novel is the Russian scientist Tyoma in The Immortality Game and there is a short story called 'Arrival' in my book of short stories Lord Fish that ties the two books together).
Second was the inspiration I drew from the spectacular cyberpunk novels of Richard K Morgan, starting with Altered Carbon. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves great sci-fi. I loved them even more the second time I read them.
In these books Morgan uses a version of digital immortality he calls cortical stacks. He didn't invent the idea of digital immortality by any means, but he uses the idea brilliantly, wrapped in an amazing set of stories. The cortical stack is a ball of something like steel that is implanted in the spine near the skull, where it collects everything from the mind as it happens. If the person is killed or dies, as long as the cortical stack wasn't damaged, the person can be 'resleeved' into a cloned body and essentially live again. 

I was intrigued by this idea, mainly because the story treats the characters as if they are the same person no matter how many times they are resleeved, though of course each is just a copy of the person. You can't call it immortality, because the original person dies, and no matter how real the copy is, it isn't the original and thus it isn't real immortality. I started wondering what the technology of cortical stacks might have been like when it was first being developed, and that set off the story-line that grew into The Immortality Game.

I have found it odd that almost no one seems to buy both The Immortality Game and The Shard. I understand that they seem very different, with one being a technothriller and the other an epic fantasy, but they are set in the same 'universe' and share characters, despite not being a traditional series.

What books have served to inspire you in writing your stories?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Chris Cornell's Best Songs

I've had a couple of weeks now to get over the heartbreak of Chris Cornell's untimely demise. I'll never stop being sad about it, especially for his family and friends, and for all the tremendous future music we lost.

When I last saw Cornell live a month ago, I was not particularly happy, as you'd tell by reading my original post about it. It wasn't that it was bad by any means, but rather that the group chose songs that mostly didn't thrill me, especially since Soundgarden has so many great songs to choose from. I realized that the reason they chose the songs they did was probably to appeal to the average fan or to those who didn't know Soundgarden very well. The songs they released as singles and ended up getting lots of airplay were usually not their best songs. Ones like Black Hole Sun or Spoonman or My Wave are decent, but they aren't ones I choose to listen to when I'm in the mood for Soundgarden.

So with the hope of introducing some people to great Chris Cornell songs that people may not have heard of, I decided to post my favorites. These are the songs that I listen to when I want to hear Cornell's music. The order isn't exact, but rather reflects how often I am listening to each particular song these days. For anyone who cares about great rock music, I recommend spending some time getting to know all of these songs. It's well worth it.

1. Bones of Birds -- The best song off their latest album.

2. Searching With My Good Eye Closed -- I absolutely love this song, and it was the first Soundgarden song I ever heard when they opened with it during their 1992 concert. I edit out the long intro for my own personal version, as I think it's a better song when it comes in with the intro guitar part.
3. Boot Camp -- A lovely little song that unfortunately almost no one seems to know.

4. 4th of July -- A dirge-like song that for some reason really appeals to me. I don't think it's technically one of their best, yet I find myself listening to it more often than many other songs.
5. Beyond the Wheel -- The live version from Letterman, in which Chris sounded unbelievable.
6. Pretty Noose -- Love the wah wah pedal guitar riff.
7. Blow Up the Outside World -- So many of the songs from Soundgarden's best album Down on the Upside were terrific.
8. Burden in My Hand -- See 7
9. Switch Opens -- Ibid
10. Zero Chance -- Ibid
11. Overfloater -- Ibid
12. Karaoke -- An unusual and rare track that sounds so raw and almost angry, but is also really cool.

13. Blood on the Valley Floor -- Another great track from their last album.
14. Worse Dreams -- See 13
15. By Crooked Steps -- Ibid
16. Seasons -- Gorgeous acoustic song

After these 'best' songs comes a slew of other really good ones:

Nothing to Say
Jesus Christ Pose
Mind Riot
Like Suicide (both versions, even though the acoustic has a bad skip in it at one point)
Call Me a Dog -- My favorite from Temple of the Dog
Gasoline -- My favorite from Audioslave
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Hunger Strike
All Night Thing
Your Savior
Four Walled World
Times of Trouble
Drawing Flies
Holy Water
New Damage
Rusty Cage
Flutter Girl
Follow My Way
Preaching the End of the World
Hands All Over
Bleed Together
Live to Rise
Earache My Eye
Black Hole Sun
The Day I Tried to Live
An Unkind

Monday, May 22, 2017

Alien Covenant Had Same Problem as Star Wars Rogue One

Went to see Alien Covenant yesterday and came away feeling very middling about it. It wasn't bad, and it certainly had a few memorable moments in it. I didn't come close to having the instant love that I felt when I watched Aliens in the theater when it came out. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that there are striking parallels to the Star Wars movies in what they initially did right and what they now did wrong, and it all comes down to character development.
When I watched Alien, Aliens, and Star Wars (the original), in all cases they spent a good amount of time letting us really get to know the characters in depth. I came out of Star Wars knowing almost all major names from Luke to Ben to Leia to C-3PO and more. With Alien I didn't feel invested in only Ripley--I also loved the captain and the two constantly complaining engineers.
When I watched Rogue One, I came out of the movie having enjoyed it to a certain degree...but I couldn't name a single character. I wasn't really invested in them. The same thing happened with Alien Covenant. I can't tell you any names besides 'Tennessee' and 'David'. They did spend quite a lot of movie time prior to arriving at the alien planet, but they didn't use that time wisely enough in developing the depths of character necessary. I recall seeing some characters get killed by the alien and I had no real idea who they were. With no investment in the characters, action is just action and death is sort of distant.

There was a similar experience with the first Lord of the Rings movie. When I saw the Fellowship of the Ring theatrical version, I wasn't thrilled by it. Later, though, I saw the extended edition and totally loved it. They had put back in all the character development that had been cut from the theatrical version. I wish studios and directors would learn the lessons about how necessary character development is.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Blow to our Generation

I am crushed this morning. Chris Cornell died at age 52. He was one of the two greatest singer-songwriters of my generation, and he was so deeply a part of my everyday musical life. For any who don't know, he was the front man for Soundgarden, along with Audioslave and Temple of the Dog.

When my first son was born, the very first piece of music that I started playing for him was my favorite Soundgarden song, Searching With My Good Eye Closed. So my kids are brainwashed with Chris's music, and they also will be very upset at this news.
I had never heard of Soundgarden back in 1992 when I went with my brother Peter to see Guns N Roses in concert at a huge outdoor venue between Phoenix and Tucson. We were blown away by the opening band, Soundgarden. So much so that I went out the next day and bought their latest album and never looked back. 

Just two weeks ago my family flew to Jacksonville, Florida to see Soundgarden live in concert at the Rockville Festival. Chris seemed angry that night, three times during different songs he ranted at the crowd about their albums being available free. I assumed he was upset at how artists no longer make much money off of albums due to everyone stealing their stuff via file sharing. But now I wonder if he wasn't feeling healthy--if that somehow contributed to the anger that seemed to pervade that show.
I don't recall tearing up at any of the other major deaths over the past few years, no matter how much I liked the artist, but this one devastates me. Chris was working on a new Soundgarden album, which we will now not get to hear, and they were talking about doing another Temple of the Dog album as well. At 52, he should have had so much more to create.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Swam With a Shark Today

We had a lovely day today. Some friends took us out on their boat to a spot near a reef where lots of colorful fish abound. We swam with huge schools of fish of all types, feeding them bits of orange. Once I was floating face down in the water to observe all the fish, when further down, perhaps twenty feet below me, a large shark swam lazily by.
I can't be sure which type of shark it was. I looked up sharks that frequent the Bahamas and tried to find top down views. The only ones I found that looked close to my vague memory are either a tiger shark or a nurse shark. It had no interest in us anyway. It's much more interesting when you are in the water near a shark rather than just seeing them in an aquarium!
feeding bits of orange to colorful fish

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Live in Concert

This post may be more for myself than for anyone else. I was trying to remember every concert I had seen, and I realized how difficult it is to recall them all, so I decided why not put up a post so I can more easily keep track! I'm told that I saw Fleetwood Mac when I was very young, but I don't have any recollection of that, so I don't count it. So the first real concert I went to was U2 in Tucson for the Joshua Tree tour in 1987. They were simply incredible. Still one of the best concerts I ever saw in my life.
Next I saw U2 again for the final concert of that tour, one which they filmed for the movie Rattle & Hum. This was on 12/20/1987 in Tempe, Arizona. BB King opened and also played with U2 on Love Comes to Town.

The next concert I saw was an odd one--Dread Zeppelin at the University of Arizona on January 20, 1991. They were very good, though the music was odd, being Led Zeppelin music played reggae style with an Elvis impersonator lead singer.

Then I saw the Black Crowes in Tucson, 6/13/1991. First time I went to a concert as a date. We got very close to the stage, so it got a bit iffy at times with some members of the crowd, but the music was quite good.

Next was ZZ Top on August 12, 1991 in Tucson. Good, but I didn't like how many recorded sounds they used, since it took away a bit of the live feel.

A buddy talked me into going to see Van Halen on May 17, 1992. We didn't have tickets, so we went to the parking lot at McHale Center in Tucson as the opening band (Extreme) was already playing. A desperate scalper gave us tickets at face value that were about row ten right in front of Eddie Van Halen. It was amazing just to watch the ease with which Eddie played!
Chris Cornell of Soundgarden
Then came an awesome experience, because it was so unexpected. I went with one of my brothers to see Guns n Roses on February 1, 1992. I thought that would be okay, and it was, but what really rocked was the opening band, Soundgarden. I hadn't heard of them before, but they were electric. Definitely much better than Guns n Roses. I went out and bought their latest album right away and they've been a favorite ever since.

I saw U2 for a third time in Tempe on October 24, 1992. I didn't like how commercial they looked this time, though of course they still sounded great.

Somewhere around this time, though I can't find dates, I saw Foghat at a country dance hall in Tucson, and Quiet Riot at the Wildcat House where I was working.

The last concert I saw before heading into my overseas life was Alice in Chains on April 15, 1993. They really rocked, though sadly on one of my favorite songs 'Would?' their bass player's instrument stopped working, and bass is the driving force of that song. I wish they had started it over.
Pink Floyd in London
Now things got really cool! From Moscow I flew with a friend to London to see Pink Floyd for their Division Bell tour in October 1994. It was filmed for their DVD 'Pulse', and it was probably the most amazing sounding concert I ever saw, as well as being the last official concert of Pink Floyd.

My friend and I got lucky and also caught a make-up date by Stone Temple Pilots on 10/26/1994 during that London trip. Wow, were they awesome! Two great concerts within a week of each other really made that first trip to London a memorable one.
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page
After returning to the US, my wife and I saw a Page & Plant concert on 9/24/1998. I just love Led Zeppelin, and that's all they played that night.

It was a long time before I went to any concerts again. My family flew to London from Baku to see two great bands. First we saw Pearl Jam at Hyde Park. What an experience that was. The next day I took the kids back to Hyde Park and we listened to Paul McCartney play, though we didn't have tickets to go inside. It was outdoors, so we could hear decently. Then to top it off we went to Wembley Stadium on 6/19/2010 to see Green Day. As we walked into the stadium we saw Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, whom we had no idea was the opening act. That was a treat, seeing 'I Love Rock and Roll' played live before 100,000 fans. Green Day was great, but I was disappointed that they played so few songs from 21st Century Breakdown, an album that I really liked.
Green Day at Wembley Stadium
My family took a train from Budapest to Prague on July 2, 2012 to again see Pearl Jam. You really can't go wrong with Pearl Jam, though the opening act 'X' wasn't so good.

We had a surprise treat at the end of our stay in Budapest. As a 20 year anniversary of the fall of communism in Hungary, they brought in the Scorpions to play a free concert on 6/16/2014. They were so great!
Rush saying goodbye
The next concert was one we went to because my oldest son is a huge fan of Rush. We had no idea that the concert on 8/1/2015 would be the last Rush concert. What pros these three musicians are. I'm not a huge Rush fan, but they were amazing.

Now just this past weekend we went to see three favorite bands, Soundgarden and A Perfect Circle on 4/29/2017, and Alter Bridge on 4/30/2017. For those who don't know, Alter Bridge is the band Creed but with a new singer. All three were very good, though I felt the song selection for Soundgarden wasn't the best, and their sound was a bit off. A Perfect Circle was simply amazing. Wish I could see them some more.
A Perfect Circle
I really wanted to get to the June concert in San Bernadino for Primus and Tool, as those are about the only bands left I love and haven't seen who are still active, but we couldn't make it work.

Update to say that on November 1, 2017 I saw A Perfect Circle again in Virginia. The opening act was The Beta Machine, which has the same drummer and bass player as APC. APC played more songs than the first time I saw them, since it was a full concert instead of a festival. They played all three of their new songs.

On November 7, 2022 I saw Porcupine Tree at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. A truly excellent show.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Rockville Festival

My family and I had a wonderful time this past weekend. We not only got to visit my beloved Aunt Jan (after 16 years!) and meet her fiance, but we attended a rock festival with three of our favorite bands.
A Perfect Circle
On day one we first saw A Perfect Circle, which is led by Maynard James Keenan, one of the greatest singer/songwriters alive. Their set was terrific, everything that I could have hoped for. They played most of my favorite songs, and the sound was amazing. My sons took a few photos and short video clips with their mobile phones, so naturally anything I put here won't be even close to how good it looked and sounded live, but I'll put some up just for flavoring.

Soundgarden was a tad off their game, in my opinion. I last saw them 26 years ago (!!) and they were incredible back then. The energy and sound quality hooked me right away when I had never heard of them before. I don't know if it was the venue, but this time the sound wasn't quite as perfect. Worse was their song selection--I felt they were trying to do their more commercial stuff rather than their best songs, and they hardly played any of the songs I love most.
Alter Bridge
Alter Bridge was on the second day, and they were as good as I expected. They have one of the best guitarists in the world in Mark Tremonti. They are basically the band Creed but with a different singer.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sci-Fi Sale

My techno-thriller The Immortality Game is on sale for just .99 on most sites. I have a Bookbub ad scheduled for Saturday the 8th, though for some reason they agreed only to run it in Australia, the UK, Canada, and India. I went ahead and put the book for on sale even in the US on Amazon and GooglePlus. In the aforementioned countries you can find it for sale on Amazon, GooglePlus, Kobo, and iTunes. If you know anyone who enjoys this type of story, please help spread the word. The sale will last through the 13th.
Artwork by Stephan Martiniere

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

1st Place in Nassau Cup Invitational Chess Championship 2017

What a fantastic result I had in chess these past two weeks! A new sponsor has taken interest in trying to strengthen Bahamian chess and organized the inaugural Nassau Cup Invitational Chess Championship at the beautiful Old Fort Bay Club on the west side of New Providence island. All the top players from the Bahamas were there, and to show just how tough the field played against each other, the national champion Kendrick Knowles finished in next to last place.
I started very well with three straight wins. I had a tough loss in the fourth round to FIDE master Cecil 'Carver' Moncur, where I should have drawn the endgame but played it too passively. Then I won the next game to finish the first weekend with four out of five points.
Beating Bahamas National Champion Knowles in round 3
I started the following weekend well, too, with a win over CM Elton Joseph to move to five out of six, but then I hit a slump by pushing too hard. I lost two games in a row where in each of them if I didn't push so hard I could have drawn. I was still in first place due to how hard everyone was battling, but now it was by only a half a point over FM Moncur. But in the next round I handily beat FM Moncur to nearly put it away, and I finished it off with a win in the final round to complete the event with seven out of ten and clear first place.
Beating FM Moncur in the penultimate round
On the final weekend, Cuban Grandmaster Renier Gonzalez  was a special guest and watched all the games and analyzed with the players between rounds.
Me with Grandmaster Renier Gonzalez of Cuba
Even former US Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady stopped by to watch for a bit! This was the biggest prize I have ever won before, and it was in a gorgeous setting. I couldn't be happier except if I had just not lost those three games.
Grandmaster Gonzalez, me, and the sponsor