Friday, March 30, 2012

Free Science Fiction eBook, "Vector" : Strong Writing Saves Hackneyed Plot Elements From Being Just Another Zombie Offering


Vector is one among a collection of science fiction short stories in THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL ANTHOLOGY by a group of writers calling themselves DANGEREYE. It's something of a miracle that I read Vector at all. That's because after reading one of the other selections in this anthology, I was appalled by the truly amateurish, low quality of the offering - and I shall not name that story or its author here.

Thus I was pleasantly surprised when I read Mark Aragona's piece which is a twist on the extremely pervasive zombie meme that is infecting so much of our entertainment culture today. Normally I would consider that a bad thing - yikes! yet another tale of the undead trying to eat the living! -- but Aragona is a strong writer with a good sense for the plot and pacing of a short story. The characterization is skillful, the action never drags, the imagery is vivid and this tale even has a theme and message.

I would say Vector is written as well as any story you might find in one of today's venerable science fiction magazines, such as Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction or Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The only reason I'm not giving it my top recommendation is that it lacks originality. As I said, it leverages the zombie element, something we have seen in movie after movie and book after book in recent years. While this story is well handled, armies of ravenous, stumbling undead is soooo hackneyed -- played! Worn-out! Done to death! (Pardon the pun).

The other reason I knock off points is for a certain lack of plausibility - such as the aliens taking great care to be immunized themselves against earth microorganisms that might be harmful to them - but somehow forgetting that their own germs and bacteria would infect the people of earth. That's a pretty ridiculous!

But still, this story is well done. Aragona is a talented writer, believe you me. Overall, Vector is entertaining, fun, punchy - definitely recommended.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Feral Species" by Charles Orange Offers A Fresh Ancient Astronaut Spin On The Origin Of The Human Race


Upon reading this fascinating book, FERAL SPECIES by CHARLES ORANGE, I couldn't help but think of the brilliant biologist Francis Crick, who won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA. Crick's work with complex proteins eventually led him to an uncomfortable conclusion: The amino acids and proteins leading to DNA could not have had their origin on earth. There just wasn't enough time for molecules that complex to evolve on an earth that was "only" 4 billion years old.

But now Crick had a problem. He was a hardcore atheist, and simply would not, could not, accept a God-based explanation for the development of DNA. So he punted: He suggested that amino acids and proteins must have been "seeded" on the earth by some extraterrestrial agency, perhaps even an alien intelligence.

I tell this story to remind all those who read this engaging book that its author is in good company. Similar to the great Francis Crick, he is proposing an extraterrestrial origin to explain the quality and make-up of the human race on Earth today.

Feral Species is a wonderful and compelling series of essays - written in a lucid and commanding style - which focuses on fundamental observations about humans - observations which, when probed deeper, seem to suggest that human development was facilitated by an advanced race of ancient extraterrestrials. For example, Orange asks: "Why do babies cry?" or "Why do we lust after gold?" and "Why are we so fascinated with the stars and space travel?"

Mr. Orange is one of those rare authors who can make us rethink the obvious, or re-examine what we take for granted. I like that. I'm reminded of what Einstein once said: "It takes a genius to see the obvious."

But the real question is: Is Charles Orange getting it right? Unfortunately, I don't think so. Well, at the very least, I can find argument with most of what he is proposing here, and I can suggest alternative explanations - if not flat out show that he is absolutely wrong in some of his arguments. I'll only take one, and briefly:

Mr. Orange proposes that it makes no natural evolutionary sense for human babies to cry, and cry loudly, for the reason that, thousands of years ago, this would have attracted every hungry predator in the neighborhood - packs of wolves, sabre tooth tigers, bears - who would have eaten our still non-technological and defenseless humans in rapid order. He says all other species of baby remain quiet after birth, which is an obvious advantage for survival.

But the reality about crying is almost certainly just the opposite: That ancient babies wailed loudly not only increased our chance for survival, it also helped us develop more rapidly toward innovation and technology.

Just think of that old adage: "The squeaky wheel gets the oil."

A crying baby is better at communicating to its mother that it needs close and careful attention - more food, warmth and comfort. He or she also gets left alone less often. So squawky baby gets more attention, and has a better individual chance for survival. (Incidentally, large primates are known to carry their infants constantly - and yes, they do cry if they are ever put down. It's likely, then, that early human carried their babies constantly, too, reducing crying to an absolute minimum).

But still, wouldn't crying endanger the whole clan by attracting predators, as Orange suggests? Sure, but take wolves, for example. You know how good their sense of smell is. They don't need sound to find prey. They don't even prefer it. They use their noses to sniff us out. What about large predatory birds which preyed on human children, as did the now extinct 40-pound New Zealand eagle? They didn't use sound either. They used extremely sharp eyesight and surprise attacks.

So all our enemies could find us anyway and in numerous ways - and yet we survived. The fact is, crying helped us adapt better and more swiftly - not less. Our ancestors took whatever countermeasures they had to. Crying forced them to take even more care. Sometimes they got eaten, but enough survived, and "TA-DA!" here we are today, still crying like babies.

I could easily counter many of Mr. Orange's other assertions - such as large brain size making birthing difficult (he fails to mention the reduction of human gestation periods to counter increased brain size) - still I freely admit that I haven't formulated a good counter explanation for all of his ancient alien theories -- yet.

But it doesn't matter - a great book is a great book - and this, yes, is a great book. I strongly urge absolutely everyone to buy this book, have all of your friends buy it -- then get together with some wine or a few beers and have a roaring discussion over what Feral Species is suggesting.

You'll have a great time.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Divine Misconception" by T.D. Kaschalk Starts Strong But Then Gets Abducted By Bizarre Alien Plot Devices


Of all the books I have reviewed this year, Divine Misconception comes out on top so far for something I call “Ken’s Biggest Book Meltdown Award.” The award is for a book that starts out strong, well-written, promising, interesting and headed for a rave review – then falters, derails, goes off track and crashes, burns and disintegrates into a catastrophic fictional fireball.

While I was reading the first five chapters of Divine Misconceptions, I was thinking things like: “This is great!” “Wonderful strong character!” “I’m in love with the protagonist!” “This is a wonderful story!” “Well-paced!” “So vivid and real!” “I wonder what is going to happen next!”

But then, Chapter Six and – KA-BLAM! – it takes an agonizing, crunching literary wrong turn, goes careening into a ditch, never to be towed back out again.

The central premise of the book is based on theories of the late writer Zecharia Sitchin, who published a number of popular books proposing that the origin of the human race was engineered by a race of ancient aliens called the Anunnaki. They came from a planet called Nibiru, and landed in ancient Sumer thousands of years ago. Sitchin contends that the Anunnaki biologically constructed the human race to work for them as slaves, but later freed them to go their own way – and thus the origin of all of us today! This is not fiction, mind you, but what Sitchin proposes as fact.

In the tradition of ancient astronaut theorist Erich von Däniken, Sitchin’s books found a wide audience and continue to sell extremely well. Author T.B KASCHALK credits Sitchin as her inspiration in the dedication of this book.

Hey, I’m all in favor of fringe theories. I’ve read and enjoyed Sitchin, von Däniken and others who have proposed ancient astronaut scenarios. It’s also a terrific idea for a book of fiction. The problem here is in the execution. In Chapter Six – ground-zero of the meltdown – Kaschalk introduces a new character, who proceeds to spend the entire chapter lecturing our hero – the sweet Native American school teacher Lisa Jenkins – on the ancient astronaut theory. Even Lisa herself is struggling not to fall asleep in the backseat of the car as he drones on and raves about the Anunnaki!

Then the downhill slide of the narrative really gains steam. The last six chapters are action-packed to be sure, but involves absurdity piled on top of absurdity. All sense of fictional plausibility completely flees the page. There is one ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous, situation after another. And I mean – really ridiculous – and not because of the fringy premise of the book – but because of the 100% unbelievable way the events are handled in their detail.

(The Vatican Secret Service employing a few Joe Six Pack blue-collar construction workers to find the only object on Earth that can save the entire planet from destruction? Come on! And with three days until the end of the world – they still dutifully take their lunch breaks? Yow!!!)

We all know that when reading science fiction/fantasy the reader agrees to “willingly suspend disbelief” so that he or she can enjoy the story. But there is a limit to what we can or should expect the reader to accept. Even when the tale is strange – it still must at least have that sense or aura of plausibility – and, I’m sorry, but this yarn has none.

I end with a heartfelt plea to the author: Please, please, please write another book bringing back this extraordinarily wonderful, real, vivid, highly sympathetic character, single-mom and small-town school teacher Lisa Jenkins! She’s wonderful! I fell in love with her! I’m serious! Put her into a new situation – it can even have a paranormal aspect – but make it much milder, more subtle and more grounded in reality and more plausible – perhaps a strange situation that maybe only haunts the background of Lisa’s life. You’ve really got something here! You’re a greater writer! Now go the extra mile!

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Friday, March 23, 2012

Free Astral Travel Book: "The Astral Plane" by C.W. Leadbeater Is Boring, Yet Informative -- Dated, But Possibly Useful


Let me begin with a couple statements made by the author of this book, The Astral Plane:

“… the majority of mankind make but very trifling and perfunctory efforts while on earth to rid themselves of the less elevated impulses of their nature, and consequently doom themselves … to a greatly prolonged sojourn in the astral plane …”


“The ordinary man, however, allows himself to be so pitiably enslaved by all sorts of base desires that a certain portion of his lower Manas becomes very closely interwoven with Kama …”

These quotes from the writing of C.W. LEADBEATER are interesting because Mr. Leadbeater was more than once accused of pederasty. At least one man, who was once an 11-year-old boy under his charge, accused Leadbeater of “misusing him.”

Leadbeater himself made no bones about the fact that he encouraged his young male student to masturbate – but his rationale was that this would actually help them stay sexually chaste, and avoid the “bad karma” that could result from sexual escapades. It was Leadbeater’s belief that “release through masturbation” was better than harboring pent up sexual frustrations, and thus would lead to a more disciplined and chaste lifestyle overall.

One should also note that this was the environment of Victorian England, when the bulk of “proper society” considered the "self-touching" of masturbation an abomination. Merely encouraging someone else to masturbate could generate tremendous scandal, and so Leadbeater suffered from this kind of thing to some extent. There is some indication that Leadbeater may have acted on his own “impulses” by touching boys inappropriately, but he was never charged with anything, although in one court case, a judge ruled that Leadbeater bore “immoral ideas.”

But, Leadbeater was a maverick in his field. He was a rabble-rouser and nonconformist. His ideas about sexuality might be compared to the free love era of the hippies of the 1960s, which many also thought "perverted" at the time. He began his career in 1879 after being ordained an Anglican priest. But his interests quickly turned to the occult, and so he effectively left his Anglican roots to spend the rest of his life developing the philosophies and structure of the Theosophical Society along with the famous Madam Blavatsky, Annie Besant and others.

He was a prolific writer, and also claimed a number of paranormal abilities, especially clairvoyance and the ability to leave the body via “astral travel.” Here again I should note that some of his clairvoyant vision later proved terribly off-base, such as his psychic detection of a population of humanoid beings living on Mars.

Anyway, those interested in the topic of astral travel, or out-of-body experiences will find much to ponder in this book, THE ASTRAL PLANE: IT'S SCENERY, INHABITANTS AND PHENOMENON.

It was published in 1895, and so it’s my guess that most readers today will find the style stilted, dense and perhaps even boring – also, since the resurgence of the New Age in the 1960s – many of the ideas presented in The Astral Plane will already be familiar to those who have read widely on the topic.

No doubt, many readers will also find some of the ideas presented here quaint, or smelling of the outrageous superstition of a simpler, less scientific time.

For example, Leadbeater says that real life incidents of “vampire” and even “werewolf” appearances can be explained by attributing these humanoid beasts to a kind of astral energy gone astray -- generated by dead people whose sins and failings somehow became corrupted in astral from, and become able to manifest as actual physical creatures on earth.

On the other hand, if portions of any thesis are false, it doesn’t necessarily follow that everything in that thesis is nonsense. Leadbeater’s ideas on astral travel are obviously heavily influenced by ancient Vedic and Hindu thought (he spent much time in India)– in fact, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of what emerged as the “New Thought” and the Theosophical movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was a rediscovery and reinterpretation of those precepts imbedded in those other cultures for millennia.

After all, spiritual adepts – swamis, yogis, Buddhist monks, holy men, holy women, shamans, and medicine men of a dazzling array of traditions have been dealing with the subject of astral travel since the beginning of written language, and in oral tradition before that. And let’s not forget the countless cults of the pagan religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, and the various Middle Eastern lands – and so on. Such is the nature of religion and philosophy in that what is old tends to become new again -- until it recedes into the background again.

So the bottom line: The Astral Plane is mostly a dismal, stilted and pedantic treatment plodding through the painstaking details of what one can expect to confront from an out-of-body experience, and in the astral world. The serious student of astral travel may learn something never before encountered – at the very least, this is an impressive attempt to describe the astral world in exacting detail.

Sure, a lot of it may be nonsense, but sometimes you find scraps of truth in the last and most obscure places you look for it. As the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick said: "Sometimes the best place to look for the truth is in the trash."

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Free History eBook: Military Genius and Military Madman, Pyrrhus of Epirus


Imagine a land where the king is absolute ruler but also a completely incompetent administrator of his realm. And now imagine this same king is the most brilliant military general ever to live– he can attack other nations at will, crush their defenses and plunder their cities. None can stand against him.

And yet, after he conquers another nation he quickly loses interest in governing it. The result is that his grip on what he has just taken over rapidly crumbles. So this mighty general-incompetent king always reacts in the same way: He just seeks out another land to conquer … and the next … and the next … always staying a step ahead of the last conquest-turned-debacle he leaves behind.

This is amazing and frustrating story of Pyrrhus, second cousin to Alexander the Great. Pyrrhus was King of Epirus and, for a time, Macedon. He was the man the great general Hannibal himself named as “the greatest commander the world had ever seen.”

To gain a true understanding of Pyrrhus, the reader must patiently take in a great deal of context and understand the complex relationships of the ancient world of circa 300 B.C. It was an era of nation states, where nations of Greek-speaking peoples dominated the world, and when Rome was still a developing power. The glory of Egypt and other Middle East empires, although still significant, had long since diminished from their heights.

Alexander the Great conquered the known world between 336 B.C. and 323 B.C., but as soon as the great man died, an immediate power vacuum gaped. Alexander’s many generals began vying against each other to ascend to the throne of the empire they had just helped carve out. But jealousy, rivalries, rebellious states that wanted to become “unconquered” and power-mad personalities soon threw the Mediterranean world into a boiling kind back-and-forth struggle for someone to emerge as supreme ruler of … of … well, as much as he could rule.

Into this milieu Pyrrhus was born, the son of Aeacides, who had ascended to the throne of Epirus upon the death of Alexander. His mother was Phthia, the daughter of a high-ranking Thessalian cavalry officer. By all accounts, Pyrrhus was handsome, charming, highly intelligent, physically powerful, gallant, a gentleman – but in possession of a ravenous appetite for war and conquest.

So in this free ebook written by the venerable 19th Century American educator JACOB. C ABBOTT, we get an extremely complete – and somewhat brief – view of the life and times of the great Pyrrhus. Abbott is among my favorite writers of short historical treatments of famous figures of history. Most of his MAKERS OF HISTORY series are written in a style that would seem designed to be accessible to the average high school student or young adult of the mid-to-later-1800s. At the same time, these works never bore or insult the intelligence of a reader of any age. Abbott's still read fresh today.

In this treatment of Pyrrhus, Mr. Abbott again works his patient magic, sifting through an enormously complex period of history, and providing us with just enough detail to not only understand the man, but the times he lived within. Reading one of Abbott’s “Makers of History” series is, without fail, an enriching experience.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Free eBook: The Life and Times of Sir William Herschel


Let me be the first to admit that a biography of Sir William Herschel published more than 130 years ago and written by a pedantic intellectual is not going to have a wide appeal among a general audience today. But if you are like me, a lifetime amateur astronomy wonk, then this free Kindle ebook will be a delicious treat.

The author, Edward Singleton Holden, was an American astronomer of some accomplishment. He served as director of Washburn Observatory in Madison, Wisconsin, and was also a professor of mathematics at the U.S. Naval Observatory. One of the things he is most famous for is announcing the discovery of a third Martian moon – which, alas, turned out not to exist.

But Holden was an extremely prolific writer, and not just in the field of astronomy. His LIST OF PUBLICATIONS is impressive and amazingly broad in scope. He was clearly a significant scholar of his day. He was born in 1846 and died in 1914.

In this short book, Holden all but gushes as he paints a portrait of Herschel that borders on worship – but this is hardly surprising since the majority of the documentation Holden draws from are the writings of Herschel’s beloved and slavishly devoted sister, Caroline, who held her brother on a stellar pedestal of Olympian proportions.

Still, Holden also supplies further documentation in the form of letters written by luminaries who knew Herschel, or who met him just briefly, only to be flabbergasted by his uncanny charm, enormous charisma and truly authentic modesty despite his world-wide renown and many stunning achievments.

Herschel was German-born, but spent most of his adult life in England. It was his brilliant talent as a musician –- both as composer and performer-- that quickly elevated him into the highest tiers of English society. He spent his early career in Bath, which as the time was a vibrant center of culture – a place where artists, intellectuals, high-society and super-well-connected aristocrats gathered to celebrate the pinnacle of British civilization. Herschel was also a master of languages. His native tongue was German, but he spoke perfect, accent-free English, as well as French, Italian, Latin and could at least read Greek.

But it was astronomy and stargazing that was Herschel's deepest passion -- his obsession. In his quest to constantly “see deeper into space than any other man,” Herschel became the indisputably finest maker of reflecting telescopes in the world, which he built by hand. He strove ever to construct larger and larger instruments, culminating in his 40-inch-reflector behemoth, which was the largest telescope on the planet for decades to come.

Today, Sir William Herschel is best known as the discoverer of Uranus – the first time in the history that another planet beyond Saturn came to be known. To say that this was a monumental accomplishment is a vast understatement. Since the beginning of science in ancient times, it was almost an article of established religion that there were, and could be, only six planets. It was the divine order. That there might be another planet – well – it is difficult for us to imagine today the paradigm shattering implications it had on the world of the late 1700s.

His accomplishments range far beyond the first man to discover a new planet, however. Herschel was more than an observer, but a formidable theoretician. His ideas on the distribution of stars and other objects, such as nebula and globular clusters, helped the scientific world envision a new model of the universe. His work with double stars and variable stars was ground-breaking.

The main thing I take away from Holden’s treatment of Herschel, however, is something I never knew about the great man before – that Sir William Herschel was flat out one of the nicest, sweetest, charming, most charismatic and beloved scientists ever to live.

Download this free ebook here: SIR WILLIAM HERSCHEL: HIS LIFE AND TIMES


Thursday, March 15, 2012

J.R. Tomlin's 'Freedom's Sword' Is Light-Weight Historical Fiction That Will Entertain and Retell a Much Told Story of Recent Years


FREEDOM'S SWORD is a novel based on a real figure of history, a Scottish knight who fought fiercely against the tyranny of the English crown in the closing years of the 13th Century. Sir Andrew de Moray was a contemporary of William Wallace of “Braveheart” fame; indeed, Wallace and Moray were co-commanders at the great battle of Stirling Bridge in which the Scots pulled off a stunning victory against a vastly superior English force.

Some historians contend that many of the exploits attributed to Wallace were actually the accomplishments of Andrew de Moray – although they were both pretty tough customers.

It may or may not be fair to say that if you have seen the movie Braveheart starring Mel Gibson, then you will have an idea of the exact flavor, tenor, tone, sentiment and rendering of this novel.

As a historical novel, this is accurate enough in terms of keeping to the historical record. The majority of readers will find this entertaining enough to be well worth what they paid for it, and the time they spend reading it.

However, I’m can’t give this book sky-high marks for a variety of reasons:

• As historical novels go, this is not a work of deep scholarship. For example, there is no way this book is in the same league as works such as “Lincoln” or “Julian” by Gore Vidal, or, say, “Poland” or “Hawaii” by James Michener. Rather, Freedom’s Sword leverages just as much of the historical record it needs to serve merely as a backdrop for a popular entertainment novel. (There's nothing wrong with that -- just sayin'). But the fact is, this book does not attempt to revisit a key historical period with depth of analysis and detail to really make us see the times in a new way, or in a way that makes us think deeply or about what was.

• The narrative is oddly disjointed and jarring at times. The author fails to weave together the individual lives and alternating events in a way that makes it flow smoothly throughout the novel.

• A few chapters involving de Moray’s courting, marriage and relationship with his wife shift abruptly in tone from the rest of the novel – it’s as if someone took three or four chapters from a bodice-ripping, blushing romance novel and inserted amid a historical war drama. Again, this demonstrates the disjointed nature of the book.

• The author, J.R. TOMLIN, rightfully informs us that her depiction of de Moray’s wife is 100% fictional since no records of the real Lady de Moray exist. That’s fine, except the character she creates is a standard cliché of the genre– a feisty, irrepressible Scottish lass with flaming red hair who can take down a deer with a bow while mastering her steed -- and who also eagerly sizzles with hot sexual passion under the embrace of her hero’s “rough, callused hands.”

• The book, this Kindle version at least, is poorly edited from first chapter through last.

Don't get me wrong -- not every historical novel should strive to be or needs to be a scholarly, weighty masterpiece involving years of deep research, personal interviews and combing through ancient, dusty museum records that are yellow, dusty and crackling with age -- some may leverage just enough information from common sources to create the background for a good yarn. This book does that.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

'Alien Blue' by DeAnna Knippling Will Go Down Smooth and Easy Like Lite Beer ... Er, I Mean Lite Literature


Science fiction, like all genres, has developed a number of sub-genres, and one of them is a humorous, farcical brand represented by books such as the Hitchhiker series by Douglas Adams, and the Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon offerings by Spider Robinson. This same sub-genre is popular in sci-fi movies, too; notably flicks such as Men In Black, Mars Attacks, and more obscure films, such as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

It’s science fiction only in the sense that it features weird and exotic intergalactic aliens as props for gags and creating situation comedy, dark comedy or melodrama. Another feature of the genre is that characters confronting the aliens tend to be down-to-earth, small-town folksy types -- bartenders, mail men, nurses, cops, farmers – and they all favor swilling a lot of alcohol, which in turn inclines them to be cheerful, witty and bristling with funny quips, puns, lightning-fast repartee and pithy observations.

But there is almost another sub-sub-genre of these humorous brands of science fiction involving bars. The Hitchhiker books start off in a pub, but also features another kind of bar, The Restaurant at the Edge of the Universe. There’s Callahan’s, of course, but we can find any number of other science fiction tales centered around bars, such as Tales from Gavagan's Bar by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt; the anthology, After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar and quite a few more. (Even Edgar Allan Poe as a bar story with a speculative edge!)

ALIEN BLUE is solidly of this realm, and those readers who enjoy these kind of works will certainly enjoy this novel by DEANNA KNIPPLING.It is competently written, and is at least as clever, and speeds along as quickly as anything by Adams or Robinson.

As for me, I’m not a fan of this brand of science fiction. I know, I know, I’m not with the in crowd on this one. I’m probably the only person I know who did not like the Hitchhiker books, and I especially did not like the Callahan stories by Robinson. I found them tedious in the extreme.

Part of what bugs me is this mythos of happy, cheerful, clever, witty people who are lubricated by alcohol as a persistent theme in literature and film. Think of the bums in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row, or the gang in the bar of the TV show Cheers. Then there’s the booze-soaked Arthur character of film, or how about the delightful sot, Elwood Dowd, and his giant invisible rabbit friend, Harvey? The more they all drink, the more cheerful, witty, clever and delightful they become. But in real life, we know that the more people drink, the more obnoxious, dull, depressive, angry, crude, dumb or even violent they become.

Yet, novelists, playwrights and film producers can’t resist this “delightful drunks” motif, and so we get a steady stream of this kind of thing. (Hey, I’m no teetotaler myself – even my dad was the owner of a Minnesota small-town bar, “Mike’s Tavern.”). But one could argue that it's just not all that much of an original concept for literature – on the other hand, one might just as fairly say that this is a popular model for a particular sub-genre. It depends on how you look at it.

As for Alien Blue, an unkind reviewer might say the book lacks originality in ways additional to the pervasive delightful drunk syndrome– the author professes herself an ardent fan of Spider Robinson (of Callahan’s Saloon fame) and Kurt Vonnegut. That she names her viewpoint character “Bill Trout” (who, incidentally, is from a small town in Minnesota like me) is certainly an homage to Vonnegut’s character, Kilgore Trout. However, the author should not be overly surprised, then, if other readers suggest her work is just a tad too derivative of the likes of Vonnegut and Robinson – but more so Robinson, in this case.

It’s not that I dislike science fiction humor. It’s just that I like mine bitter and black, like my coffee. Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and Sirens of Titan are two of the funniest books of all time – but, significantly, these works defy genre and are highly original. And Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugal’s Saga are so sublime (and so funny) as to be completely without peer – they’re masterpieces.

I mention these because I think Knippling is an author capable of writing a masterpiece – I'm not kidding, she’s really that good at rustling words. She’s proven she can skillfully write within sub-genres of genre novels (she’s also the author of a ZOMBIE BOOK) – and other works -- and, well, she's clearly a writer to keep an eye on.

Join Ken Korczak in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58

Friday, March 2, 2012

'Chupacabra' is a Free Science Fiction eBook That Reads Like A Script For A Made-For-TV B Horror Movie


You know the way sometimes you’re flipping channels and you get to the Science Fiction station and notice they’re running some obviously super low-budget made-for-TV movie with some ludicrous premise – and you settle in to enjoy watching an extremely bad movie?

It’s that well-known “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” phenomenon. A couple of years ago I happened upon a Sci-Fi Channel offering about a guy who turned into a giant mosquito! Ha, ha! Did you see that one? Boy, it was so screamingly dumb! But it’s fun to watch goofy crap like that occasionally because – well, I’ll just leave it to some psychologist to score a government grant to explain to all of us the why-we-like-bad-entertainment phenomenon.

But I mention this because I have just finished reading the short novel, CHUPACABRA, by DALLAS TANNER. I’ll come right out with a theory I have about this offering: I’m thinking that Mr. Tanner may have first attempted to write a script for a made-for-TV B movie, shopped it around, got no bites, and so decided to turn his script into a short novel.

As the title suggests, this is a yarn with the legendary CHUPACABRA– the goatsucker – of mostly Latin American legend, at the center of the premise. Chupacabra is a crypto-zoological beast with vampire-like tendencies that preys on farm animals. It sucks its victim dry of blood – but leaves the meat.

Unfortunately, reading a bad science fiction novel does not deliver the same pleasure as watching a bad movie. I think it’s because you have to work harder – you know, with the reading, and all. When you watch a terrible TV movie, you just sit back with a beer and a bag of Cheetos and let the dreck come to you. When you read a B-novel, there’s all that effort with the squinting at words and turning of pages, and such.

As fiction, Chupacabra makes every conceivable literary mistake a writer can make to ensure that this will be a truly terrible piece of writing – cliché-cardboard characters, blocks of exposition without action, absolutely no original concepts, and supremely poor editing.

Consider: One of the characters is a lovely Caribbean-born scientist who is something of an expert on the Chupacabra. She is alternately identified as: “an astronomer,” “an astrologer,” “an astronomist,” and “a technician.” I take pains to point this out to show you that I am not merely being purposefully mean and snarky in my review, but that I am only applying the unfortunate credit to where the unfortunate credit it due.

You might be surprised that I am going to say now that this author is almost certainly a far, far better writer than this novella suggests. I’ve been making my sole living as a freelance writer and editor for almost 30 years, and one develops an instinct for those who have “got it” and those who never will. Dallas Tanner has what it takes to be a genuinely fine writer, believe me -- I can just tell – but no one will be able to tell from reading this book.

Note: You can get Chupacabra free ebook here: FREE SCIENCE FICTION EBOOK

Join Ken Korczak in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Resurrection" Is An Expertly-Crafted Novel That Breaks No New Ground, But Delivers Light Years of Terrific Science Fiction Entertainment


I am so pleased to announce that science fiction is not dead. With RESURRECTION, ARWEN ELYS DAYTON proves that it’s still possible to cobble together a modern-day space opera yarn that is fresh and entertaining -- and does not insult one’s intelligence -- despite not reaching too hard to deliver cutting-edge breakthroughs within the genre.

Look, let’s face it, this is a book that plays it safe. Here we will find absolutely nothing new in terms of science fiction innovation. All the long-ago-developed, standard “furniture pieces” of the Golden Age of science fiction are here:

* Faster-than-light spaceships

* Sub-light speed spaceships

* Sleep/stasis tanks for star travelers to hibernate within during long space journeys

* Domed cities on a planet destroyed by an all-out nuclear war

* Ray guns and stun weapons!

* Aliens who are decidedly humanoid

* Artificially intelligent computers that run space ships and talk casually to humans

* Genetic engineering

* Psychic powers

* Rival planets at war with each other …

This is all stuff the long-time science fiction reader has been living with for decades. An unkind reviewer (or maybe one who is in a foul mood) may proclaim that all of the above have become hackneyed cliché’s of the genre, and that the author did little creative work – but rather -- plucked all the standard “sci-fi modules” off the dusty shelves and assembled them together in a new way to create an original book.

But, I’m not in a foul mood today, so rather, I am going to praise Resurrection as a well-crafted, well-paced, well-plotted science fiction offering with interesting characters whom the reader will care about as the heroes struggle to triumph over the mind-boggling challenges the Fates of the Science Fiction Universe have delivered to them.

I enjoyed Resurrection from first page to last. The problems presented are extreme, the conflicts bitter, the fighting/action scenes are skillfully handled, the futuristic background is well-conceived, the landscape of ancient Egypt is reincarnated believably -- there is no part of this book that is not expertly executed and well-paced. Dayton must work extremely hard because she makes writing look easy – this is a book that flows along so smoothly it almost appears to have written itself.

Resurrection is precisely the kind of science fiction novel that needs to be regularly infused into the market to keep the genre alive and viable, and to keep those of us with an unlimited appetite for great science fiction reading, buying books and happy.

Join Ken Korczak in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58