Category Archives: Speculative Fiction

A Month Later, It Still Doesn’t Wash

It’s been a month since my relatively new Whirlpool washing machine broke. And, because it was still under warranty, it’s still broken. You see, if it was only about a week older, the one-year warranty would have been expired, so I’d have grumbled and bought a new washer, although obviously not one with a Whirlpool brand name on it. I could have had it delivered the next day. But, since the warranty was still in effect, I called the manufacturer, who agreed to fix it, which, so far, they have not.

I’ve chronicled all this previously in earlier blog posts, so I won’t repeat it, but I’m not having a very good “Whirlpool Customer Experience.” First, they sold me an unreliable machine, and then they proved incompetent at scheduling a maintenance call, and once a service technician did eventually show up (11 days after I called), they could not promptly fix the thing or even predict when the needed parts might be available.

I know this isn’t a big issue. Millions of people endure much worse things every day, but in the category of Everyday Annoyances, being without a washer for a month is more of an inconvenience than you might expect.

I am looking forward to Tuesday, though. The service company said I could ask for an update on parts availability 21 days after their service call. That day will be Tuesday, May 10. I have it marked on my calendar. It will also be 33 days since I’ve had a working washer, but apparently that doesn’t matter. Whirlpool is in the business of selling washing machines. It seems they don’t much care if their customers can still wash their clothes a year after buying one.

Rocket Display on the 6th of May

I was out for a walk early this morning when I saw my neighbor looking up at the sky.

“I’m out for the rocket launch,” he said.

I didn’t know about a launch. If I had seen a report on it, I had not made a mental note of it. I sometimes do for major ones because I live within viewing distance of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (about 60 miles, depending on the weather and time of the launch). This one, I discovered later, was a Space X launch of 53 Starlink satellites. In any event, I looked up and saw a moving red dot. Then, things got a bit weird. I’d never seen a show like this before.

Space X rocket launch 6 May 2022

I kept watching. It got weirder. The moving dot seemed to dip down, although this probably was just how it appeared from my perspective as it was heading away from me.

Although the rocket itself must have disappeared over the horizon, the show wasn’t over. Suddenly, the sky began to glow. It was really pretty cool, like something out of mythology.

Impressive, I thought, as I continued my walk, keeping an eye on the sky to see if there was more to come. There was.

This last image was taken about 15 or 20 minutes later. It shows the vapor trail from an airplane bisecting what’s left of the trail from the rocket. (My house is also about a half-hour drive from Orlando International Airport.)

Also, petty cool. So, that’s what happened on my walk this morning. Normally, they’re not so noteworthy.

The Faceless Ones (Skulduggery Pleasant #3)

The chronicle of my retirement life continues with a short review of The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Teleporters are being murdered. (These are people who can do what a Star Trek transporter does but without the transporter.) Who is killing them and why are the questions skeletal detective Skullduggery Pleasant and his teenage assistant Valkyrie Cain tackle in this third full length novel in the series. Given the title, I don’t suppose it’s a spoiler to say it all has to do with bringing about the return of the Faceless Ones.
This, like the others I’ve read so far, is an enjoyable adventure. It has lots of witty banter and loads of “action” (i.e. superpower hand-to-hand fighting). The characters are distinct and pleasantly quirky, and the plot makes about as much sense as any other fantasy story. It’s a good, quick read. I quite enjoyed it. So, on to the next book in the series….

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Playing With Fire (Skullduggery Pleasant #2)

I spend a lot of my retirement reading, so, it’s time for another book review. My copy of this one is part of a 9-book boxed set that I bought recently. I think I got a very good deal. It originally sold for £71.91, which equates to about $90.00 US. I paid $58.83. I’m not sure why I’m sharing that, but I do love a bargain. (It’s probably not healthy, but I base a fair amount of my diet around what’s on BOGO sale (buy one get one free) at the supermarket.)

Playing with Fire by Derek Landy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The skeleton detective and his teenage apprentice are back for their second adventure together. This time, they need to stop a sorcerer from bringing back the Faceless Ones (like a bunch of evil gods). Unfortunately, he has minions, magic armor, and possibly an ally (or at least an informant) in the local magical law enforcement organization. The good guys are fun. The bad guys are thoroughly despicable. There’s lots nasty villainous types, loads of witty banter, and several (sometimes too prolonged) superpower fight scenes. This series doesn’t pretend to be great literature. Actually, it doesn’t take itself very seriously at all, which I quite appreciate. My taste in fantasy leans heavily to the light side. This doesn’t have the kinds of insights or real world relevance you often find in a Terry Pratchett novel (for example), but it’s still a quite enjoyable read.

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Three Weeks Without a Washer

Last week I blogged about how my slightly less than one-year-old washing machine broke and the troubles I’ve had trying to have it either fixed or replaced. Here’s a short recap.

  • My washer breaks.
  • I call the manufacturer to have someone fix it.
  • The scheduled repairman doesn’t arrive.
  • I call the service company.
  • They say Whirlpool never sent them a work order.
  • I call Whirlpool.
  • They apologize for screwing up and schedule a new appointment.
  • This time (now two weeks without a washer), a repairman arrives.
  • The repair guy says the needed part is ‘special order.’
  • He also says he accidentally broke another part, so it will need one of those, too. Then, he leaves.
  • I check the online Whirlpool parts store for price and availability of both parts. Even if they were in stock (which they aren’t), they cost more than I paid for the washer.
  • I contact Whirlpool (three times over a few days), trying to convince them that it would save time and money to simply replace the broken machine.
  • They refuse. They say the warranty is for repair, not replacement.
  • A few days later, I check the online Whirlpool parts store again, hoping there’s an update. There is.
    • The part that originally broke is now in stock.
    • The part the repairman broke has been discontinued and is no longer available.

It has now been three weeks since I’ve had a working washing machine. I went back to the online Whirlpool parts store ( and found that the control board that originally was the problem (part number W11417466, which was briefly available according to the website), is now showing as “special order” again. The other needed part, the tub that the repairman broke (part number W11219115, which showed as “discontinued without replacement” last week), is now posting as “in stock.” It’s as if you can get one part or the other but not both at any one time. Does Whirlpool really run such an inconsistent supply system or is the universe messing with me?

I emailed the service company, hoping they could provide an encouraging update. Meanwhile, my wife is leaving this morning to visit relatives for a couple days. She is bringing several loads of laundry with her.

My Whirlpool Customer Experience

I bought a new washing machine a year ago, April 12, 2021 to be exact. It was delivered the next day. That’s a picture of it to the left. It wasn’t cheap at $749.00. Counting the new hoses (which the store said I had to have in order to ensure there were no warranty issues), the cost to haul the old one away, and sales tax, it cost me well over $800. That’s a lot of money for most of us, but I could justify this extravagance because it would ensure that I could have clean clothes for several years to come, or so I hoped.

A week short of a year later, that washing machine broke. It was as if it had lost its tiny electronic mind. No matter what setting you selected, indicator lights would come on to show it was making an effort, but all the machine seemed to be able to do was drain and make grindy noises that sounded a bit like a love sick moose. (Really. Look up Moose mating call. That’s what it sounded like.) What that washer most definitely could not do was wash clothes.

So, I tried the trick of unplugging it, hoping that this might clear its confused memory or its cache or whatever it had. I’ve found that often works for electronic things. I gave it a full day with no possible source of power to be on the safe side.

The next morning, I plugged it back in. Lights. Moose noises. No sign of that it might be able to wash the small load of towels I had brought with me out of a misplaced sense of optimism. Annoying, but I figured I was fortunate in that the washer had a one-year guarantee, and since I hadn’t had it quite a full year, I called the Whirlpool customer service number that was on the warranty. (I had a copy in my files because I tend to keep things like that.) My call was immediately answered by a recorded voice that welcomed me to the “Whirlpool Customer Experience.” (I did not make that up.) The upbeat tone suggested that this “experience” might be pleasurable, but I had my doubts.

I was led through a series of menu options, which happily invited me to identify myself and the product I was calling about, verify my account, and various other things, before placing me on hold. The resulting twenty-minute wait was made more tedious by a short, repeating tune (that was more like an annoying ring tone than music) and occasional unhelpful tips about major appliance care.

When I was finally connected to a person, they said all the right things. They were sorry I was having trouble with one of their appliances. Of course they could have someone come out and look at it “as soon as possible.” A service appointment was made. I was given the name of the service company and their phone number and told to expect someone to come by five days later, on the 13th of April between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm.

Wednesday the 13th arrived. By noon, I was wondering when the serviceman (or woman) would arrive. I called the service company. They asked many of the same questions Whirlpool had asked. Who was I and what appliance I was calling about? There was a prolonged pause. I was already getting an uncomfortable feeling about all of this when they guy at the other end of the phone said something like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t see an order for you in our system. Are you sure Whirlpool called it in?” Well, no, I wasn’t sure. I trusted them to, but then I had also trusted them to sell me an expensive washing machine that would wash clothes adequately for more than a year.

I was understandably peeved when I called Whirlpool ten minutes later. Again, the same recorded voice, the tedious menu options, and a bit longer on hold until I was connected with a real person (who seemed quite nice, actually). She checked, found the record of my initial call right away and seemed confused that somehow the job order had never been forwarded to the service company. She apologized. I didn’t blame her. It wasn’t her fault, but Whirlpool might have some procedural problems. She made another service appointment for me for six days later, the 19th of April. This time I asked for and received a confirmation email.

Tuesday the 19th dawns and I’m looking forward to having a working washer again. It had been twelve days since it broke, and my laundry basket is getting full. I’m not quite out of clean clothes yet, but I’m down to wearing my least favorite undies. When the service guy calls to tell me that he’ll arrive withing 20 minutes, I’m overjoyed.

Doug the service guy arrives and I show him the washer. He gets right to it. The laundry room is quite small, so I leave. I know I don’t like someone crowding me when I’m working.

Half an hour or so later, I go in to check just to make sure the washer didn’t turn on him. He says that the machine is indeed broken and that the part it needs is an electronic control board, which is “special order,” so it could take a while to obtain. He also said he had a bit of a whoopsie and broke the hose connector to the tub while he was figuring out what was wrong, so it would need a new tub as well. His company would call me when they had the parts. Then he left. My washing machine remained broken, but the service company kindly sent me a list that showed what parts were needed.

I didn’t look forward to more time without a washer, so I called Whirlpool yet again. Identity confirmation, menu options, and half an hour on hold later, I asked a real live person if Whirlpool could simply replace the machine. That person politely said no. That’s not how they do things. By this time, I was getting a pretty good idea of how they did things.

Two days later, being the curious and moderately impatient type, I went to the online Whirlpool parts store to check to see if I could anticipate when the needed parts might be available. The control board was indeed listed as “special order,” and it cost $541.43. The tub was priced at $396.15. Those costs made me wonder again why Whirlpool simply wouldn’t replace the washer. The parts alone together cost $937.58, and then there was the unknown cost of the repair service on top of that. The whole washer only cost me $749. Ah, I thought. This will convince them.

So, I found a form online and emailed the Whirlpool customer disservice office. I did not want to go through the telephone experience again. In “500 words or less,” I explained how not only were one of the two needed parts not readily available, both together would cost Whirlpool more than a new washer. Why just not replace it? It would save them money. Tomorrow, if possible, please.

Surprisingly, they emailed me back the next day, on the 22nd. They reasserted that their warranty is for repair, not replacement. Apparently cost and customer satisfaction play no parts in this at all. Okay, fine. I’ll wait. I went to the department store and bought more underwear.

Unfortunately, I’m really not very good at waiting for others to do their jobs properly, so I went to the online parts store again to see if I could find an update on availability. I did. As of yesterday, the control board is “in stock,” and the price has dropped to $440.12. The tub, on the other hand, is no longer available and there is no replacement for it. I wonder if I should call Whirlpool again to explain that without this part, the machine is no longer repairable. I don’t know. Maybe the service company can find one somewhere. I’ve got enough new underwear for a few more days.

The Library of the Unwritten

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s been said that everyone has a book in them, a story only they can write, and although the vast majority of these remain unwritten, all are shelved in a library in Hell. Claire is spending her afterlife as its librarian, presumably for her sins. It’s become something of a routine job for her until an unwritten book escapes and she goes to Earth to retrieve it, and she is then confronted by a fallen angel who mistakenly assumes she’s there for something else entirely, which turns out to be true, although she didn’t know it at the time.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable tale. It reminds me of Pratchett and Gaiman’s Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch in that it’s fairly witty, imaginative, has a certain charm, and features mythological characters from the Abrahamic religions and gives them a bit of personality. I found it to be a very good read.

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Until the Last of Me

Until the Last of Me by Sylvain Neuvel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I like to succinctly summarize the main plot of a story for these short reviews, but this one is a bit tough. Anyway, for what it’s worth….
There are two hereditary lines of alien beings of the same species living on Earth. Each is represented by only one “family.” They’ve been here for about 3,000 years. One is male and wants to bring the aliens to Earth, and the other is female and wants to prevent that in order to save humans. (I think it’s actually about human nature and gender and such, but I don’t want to presume or analyze. That can take all the fun out of a story.) Some chapters are from the male perspective, and focus on dark and destructive instincts. They think the female line has some kind of transmitter that will call the rest of their alien species to come here and invade the planet, and they really want to get their hands on it. The female line stresses protection and progress. The female goal is to “take them to the stars,” meaning that they are subtly attempting to get humans to understand and venture out into the wider universe. How this might prevent an alien invasion wasn’t clear to me, and I had other questions, but all in all, I really like this book. Mainly this is because of the underlying hope in human potential that resonates with it but also because of all the embedded history of science type stories it includes. Actually, I think my favorite chapter was the nonfiction “Further Reading” bit at the end. If you’re a fan of stories about human progress and the history of science, you may really like this series.

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A Stainless Steel Trio

A Stainless Steel Trio by Harry Harrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An exceptionally bright young man with an understandable distrust of authority has few career options. His ethical sensibilities, while arguably laudable, are a bit outside the norm, which makes him unsuitable for most “normal” vocations. So, he turns to a life of crime. Adventure ensues….
This edition contains the first three Stainless Steel Rat stories: A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted, and The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues. Set 32,000 years into the future, in which humans have spread throughout the galaxy and Earth has been forgotten, these read like traditional space operas. They may be a bit dated in that it’s sometimes hard to imagine space faring societies without something like cell phones, or people still using physical coins for money, but many of the planets in this vision of the future suffered cultural and technological collapse, so maybe they never reinvented much digital tech. But, regardless of all that, I found this book a very enjoyable read. Maybe I was just in the mood for something like this, but it sure hit the spot. It’s witty, clever, and sometimes even wise. It’s doesn’t quite have the charm of a Pratchett book, but I can recommend it to Pratchett readers.

I’m sure I’ve read these books before, but I only vaguely recalled them. I grabbed this collection from my local library. Sadly, they have no others in the series. I may have to see if I can find them elsewhere.

The only negative thing I have to say is that the cover really doesn’t reflect the stories, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.

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Nation – by Terry Pratchett

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Nation by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, like many by Sir Terry, is truly wonderful, which is why I just reread it for at least the third time. I’m not really sure. I’ve reread most of his books at least a few times. But when I went to add a “read date” on Goodreads for this one, I noticed I never wrote a review or made note of when I’d read it the first time. That would have been soon after it was released in 2008. Since around 1999 or 2000, I’d always bought hardback editions of Pratchett’s books the day they came out and read them right away. The price sticker is still on this one: $16.99 at Borders Books (which sadly no longer exists).

But, as for a review, well, this is one of the few of Sir Terry’s masterpieces not set on Discworld. It takes place mostly on a parallel version of (a regular round) Earth around 1870 or so (my best estimate). A deadly disease has killed many in England, including the king and the first hundred or so heirs to the throne. Meanwhile, a tsunami has wiped out several small island nations in the alternate world’s version of the South Pacific. The next in line for the throne of England was not in England to catch the disease, and needs to be found quickly so that he can be informed of his new job as king and have the burden of the crown legitimately placed upon his head. His daughter is on her way to join him when the ship she is on is caught by the big wave and wrecked on an island that hours before supported a small but happy nation. None are left except one young man who returns to find everything and everyone he ever knew gone. By default, he’s now the king of his one person nation.
The boy king and the girl (who does not yet know she’s a princess) meet. But this isn’t a story of young love. Sir Terry (thankfully) did not write those kinds of books. This is a story about survival, about imperialism, about racism, about philosophy and science and religion. Like most of Sir Terry’s books, it’s about us, but in metaphorical fable form. It’s wonderful, but I believe I’ve already said that.

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A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The ambassador of a small space station nation is sent to the capital of a powerful interstellar empire. There, she attempts to 1) discover how and why her predecessor was killed and who killed him, and 2) keep her little space based city state independent. It’s a well written space saga, and the work that went into writing it is obvious, but….

There were two things that kept me from loving this. The first is common with much of science fiction and fantasy, the effort to make it seem otherworldly by using unpronounceable names and titles. I can appreciate the extra effort authors go through to do this, but, quite honestly, I don’t think it adds much to the stories. In fact, I think it detracts. I doubt I’m the only reader who, when they come across a name like Teixcalaan (the aforementioned empire), they just read it as something like “Tex-whatever,” and keep going.

The second thing that made it a less than a fully enjoyable read for me was that it is loaded with politics. That can be interesting, and, again, a lot of work to create, but, quite frankly, I am so weary of politics in the real world at this point that I have little interest in putting any effort into trying to understand the politics of someplace imaginary. That said, I’ll probably read the next in the series because there’s a rather large loose end left dangling at the end of this one.

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My Books are Free

This is a quick note to let you know that digital editions of all of my books are free from Smashwords from today (Wednesday, 1 July 2020) to Monday, 13 July. You can get copies here:

New Book Release – Troubled Space

Troubled Space ~ The Interstellar Adventures of an Unknown Indie Writer

After a prolonged delay to allow editors and agents to properly ignore the manuscript, the first ebook and paperback editions of this lighthearted space opera will be released on Friday, 15 May, 2020.

TS ebook cover 2020aTed Lester writes stories no one reads. Agents reject him. Editors ignore him. Frustrated, he self-publishes, hoping the world will find value in his books. Then, early one morning, as he is yet again attempting to compose prose that might attract the attention of…well, anyone, something remarkable happens. He gets an unexpected visit from an agent, but not one he has ever queried. This agent is from outer space, and it tells Ted that one of his books has become popular throughout the galaxy, and that he, as the author, can have everything he ever wanted: fame, fortune, and above all, fans. All Ted has to do is agree to go on an interstellar book tour.

Unfortunately, not all his galactic readers are admirers. Some want to kill him.


Digital editions are now available for preorder for only 99¢:
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How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse (The Thorne Chronicles, #1)How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A bunch of fairies bestow magical gifts upon a baby princess—in a sci-fi universe with aliens and space stations. Sixteen years later, Rory, the androgynously named aforesaid princess, has grown into a spunky girl, trained in both physical self defense and arithmancy (what other universes might call ‘magic’), and she is not at all pleased when she is called upon to marry a foreign prince as a way to end an interstellar war. She’s all for stopping the war, of course, but the prince was something of dud the one time she had met him. That was when they were both young children; it was the same day a suicide assassin blew up their respective fathers.

It’s difficult to mix humor, fantasy, science fiction, and cultural commentary into a seamless story (I know this first hand), but this book does. The plot makes sense. So do the characters. The protagonist is likeable and relatable. The antagonist is fairly loathsome. It’s not exactly funny, but it is fun. I loved it and hereby endow it with five subjective stars.

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The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the NightThe City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

January is a tidally locked planet, habitable only along a strip of land running north and south, with frigid cold and perpetual darkness on one side, and endless light and searing heat on the other. Sophie, the protagonist of this story, is a student in one of two major cities in this zone. She makes a life-changing (and story-starting) decision when she takes the blame for a theft committed by a friend. The punishment for someone of her disfavored ethnicity is death, and she is hurled into the freezing dark and certain doom. Except it’s not. Certain, that is, due to the intervention of native monsters who may not be quite as monstrous as people believe.

The chapters in which Sophie provides the point of view are narrated in first person, present tense. The others are in third person, past tense. This felt awkward to me, but not jarring. It was the depressing setting, the oppressive culture, and the essentially unlikable characters that prevented me from actually enjoying the time I spent reading this. Dark stories can still be compelling, but this one was not. I never became emotionally invested in the place, the people, their politics, or even in the aliens, although the latter were interestingly, well alien. The ending, well, can’t give that away, but I can say that I found it less than satisfying.

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The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni, #1)The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Bedouin girl comes down with a mysterious malady, and her father brings her to an unscrupulous magic maker with hope of buying a cure. Centuries later, an unlikable man wants a wife, so he goes to an unscrupulous magic maker to have one made out of clay. . . . Although not necessarily in that order. These events, relayed in flashbacks, provide the backstory of a meeting between a golem bride and a jinni in New York City around 1900. The jinni has no memory of how he got there, or of anything else for the last thousand years. The golem was born only a few days ago. Each is trying to find their place in this strange new world when a chance encounter evolves into a strange friendship between them.
The golem’s plight is especially engaging. She essentially has to invent what she is on her own, figure out if and how to interact with others, and decide on a course for her future. I found the jinni character less interesting overall, but he has his moments. I’m not a fan of flashbacks, and there are a lot in this book, but they’re handled well, providing essential background without confusing or disrupting the flow of the main story (much). Pacing is good, for the most part, although it bogs down a bit in the middle with more emotional turmoil and soap opera angst than seemed necessary. All in all, a good story.

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Prudence (The Custard Protocol, #1)Prudence by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In an alternate Victorian British Empire, werewolves, vampires, and mundane humans coexist in staid civility. And then there is Prudence. She has the rare ability/gift/curse of stealing another supernatural person’s form simply by touching them. If she touches a werewolf, she becomes a werewolf, and the person she touches becomes a mortal human for as long as they stay in reasonably close proximity with one another. Although she is said to be something of a scandal to her family (including both of her fathers and her mother), this is a relative assessment. Within the section of privileged society in which she travels, the main concerns are fashion, reputation, propriety, etiquette, convention, manners, and tea. This isn’t quite as funny as it might be because Prudence apparently shares these fatuous values, and it’s difficult to care much about her or any of the other characters presented in the first 200 pages of the story. And when she is sent on an adventure to India in a private, state of the art dirigible to secure a new type of tea…. Well, it’s really not all that interesting. But on her journey, mysteries begin to appear, her character begins to evolve, and by the time her airship arrives, there are signs of a respectable plot emerging. Since revealing what that is would be a spoiler, I won’t. You’ll have to go through the slow buildup to it yourself if you read this. All I will say is that the last third of the book is fairly interesting.

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Query Status ~ Week 5

There hasn’t been much action on my queries for Troubled Space this week. I only received one more reply, and it was to inform me that the agent I queried has left the business. I resubmitted to a different agent at the same agency, although she doesn’t seem as good of a fit for the kind of Hitchhiker’s-Guide-type space opera I have on offer. Still, you never know.

I spent most of my writing time this week on revising my Warden novels. Two with updated text and covers are now available in digital editions. (You can see the new covers in the sidebar of my website.) The revisions on the third Warden book are done, and I uploaded it to the publishers earlier today. (The revised Trade paperbacks aren’t yet available.) I’ve also added a page on my author’s website for Troubled Space, the yet unpublished book I’m currently querying (the cover is just a rough draft). I’m kind of rushing all of this because I recently learned that I’m “a heart attack waiting to happen,” according to my doctors. It looks like a quadruple bypass is in store for me. I doubt I’ll feel up to doing much for a while after that. Oh well, we do what we can with the time we have.

Brane of the Space Pirates reduced to 99¢

Digital editions of The Brane of the Space Pirates, the third book of the Brane Child trilogy, has been reduced to 99¢.

You can get a copy of this book from any of these fine online retailers:

Searching for an Agent

I post reviews of books I’ve read to Goodreads every week, but it’s been a while since I posted anything to this site about my own writing. It’s time to correct that.

The manuscript I’ve been working on for the last year is complete. That is, I’ve written the whole story and made it as good as I can. It’s probably not yet in its final form. The nice lady who edited my last few books has also volunteered to take a look at this one. She’s very good at spotting my typos or places where the prose doesn’t quite work. I appreciate her input immensely.

I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to find an agent before, but I’ve never pursued it with much vigor. I was content being an indie writer because writing isn’t my career. It’s a hobby, and I feared getting professional about the whole thing would turn it into a job. Those aren’t as much fun. My decision to seriously look for an agent for this book is proving that.

I’ve spent the best part of the last two weeks researching agents, putting together a list, drafting a short synopsis, and writing and rewriting query letters. It feels far too much like work, and I haven’t even sent out anything yet. I’d much rather be writing my next book. (Okay, to be honest, I’m doing that too, but it’s not getting the attention it should.)

So, what have I discovered about looking for an agent other than that it’s not fun?

  • There aren’t as many agents looking for the kind of speculative fiction I write as I hoped. Only eight agencies made it to the top of my list to query first. These all seem reputable, well-staffed, and (importantly) open to submissions. There are about a dozen other agencies I might go to if I don’t hear back from these. After that, nothing. I’ve got, at best, twenty to twenty-five shots at snagging an agent’s interest.
  • Different agents want to see different things. Most want a query letter. Some also want a synopsis. Some want to see the first five pages of the manuscript, Others want to see the first fifty. Even within the same agency, requirements can differ. You have to research carefully. There is no such thing as a standard query, although some places will tell you there is. Each query needs to be tailored.
  • Word for word, this stuff is far more difficult than actually writing a novel. The query letter itself is a business letter, so it has to sound, well, businesslike. But within that letter, you have to describe a creative and interesting novel. That part, a couple short paragraphs, can’t sound like boring old business. The synopsis is even harder. In my case, I’m trying to summarize a 90,000 word book into, at most, about 800 words that provide an accurate and interesting account of the entire story–beginning, middle, and end. Obviously, this leaves out a lot of great stuff about the characters and setting, which I worked hard to make interesting. Then there’s the subplot, which is important to the novel, but the synopsis has no room for it.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. Rowan (the nice lady mentioned above) is looking at the first five chapters now. That’s the most any agent seems to want to see as part of a query.  She’s already provided feedback on the first two. Once she’s done and I’ve made all the necessary edits, I’ll start sending queries. Expected response times, for those who actually respond as a matter of policy, are measured in months. Many agents only respond if interested.

For now, I’m still polishing those query letters. With luck, I’ll be sending them out next month. If an agent agrees to represent me sometime later this year (or even early next year), I’ll announce it. Obviously, I’m hoping one will, but I’m not just going to wait around. I have another book to write. Once those letters are out, I’ll get back to that.


A unique concept & great delivery: Adventures of The Brane Child Series – Tahlia Newland

The Brane Child Series is a unique blend of fantasy, science fiction and parody set in a well-conceived alternate world populated with endearing characters.

Source: A unique concept & great delivery: Adventures of The Brane Child Series – Tahlia Newland

A new book, an older book, and one not yet written

The Brane of the Space Pirates - digital coverAs you probably already know, my latest book, The Brane of the Space Pirates, was released last month. It’s had a few sales and already has one review on Amazon (5 stars! Thanks, Adrian). For an indie book by an unknown author who really doesn’t do much by way of marketing, I don’t think that’s too bad.

DogTaleseBook11-13aThe big activity, however, has been on Wattpad, an online community that offers readers free access to stories on their computers or mobile devices. I’d never heard of Wattpad until the nice lady who volunteered to edit several of my books suggested I give it a try (Thanks, Rowan). I figured another outlet to get my books noticed can’t be bad. I chose to upload An Android Dog’s Tale mainly because the book is organized as a chronological series of short stories, all featuring the same main character (an artificial dog). I thought this would make it especially suitable to read on smart phones and tablets. Wattpad made it one of their featured science fiction offerings last month, and it has had over 3,000 reads and almost 200 ‘votes’ since! I’m quite pleased by this, although I can’t honestly say what it signifies or if will lead to more readers for the rest of my books.

As for my next project, I have a novel in very early planning stages, which means I have notes on setting, characters, and plot, but I haven’t fleshed any of them out as of yet. In the meantime, I’m working on a series of short stories. I’ve completed one, a second just needs some editing and prose-polishing, and am working on a draft of a third, with plans for a few more. I haven’t quite decided what to do with these, but I have to be writing something.

An Automotive Haiku

CrackDriving on I-4
A short, sharp pop!
A windshield crack grows.

Okay, maybe not a haiku, exactly, but it happened, and the car needs a new windshield before it’s had its first oil change.

The final adventure of the Brane Child

My next book, The Brane of the Space Pirates, will be released on 16 May 2016. This is the third and final book of the Brane Child trilogy. I hope you find it a satisfying conclusion. It was fun writing these, although it proved to be far more work and required more research than I expected.

I normally price the eBook editions of my books as low as possible. As an indie author, I have a fair amount of control over this (although not so much for the paperbacks). I have, however, been told by a few readers that a 99¢ price may be sending the wrong message. It may suggest that this is all the books are worth. I hesitate to ask the relatively standard $2.99 that many charge, let alone more. I’ve seen indie eBooks priced at $4.99, even $6.99. Yes, I think my books are worth that, but as I said in a previous post, I don’t write them to make money. I write because I like writing, and I want my books to be read and enjoyed. Charging people to read them seems, well, kind of selfish. Still, I understand that this may discourage readers from trying them, so I’ve priced this one at $1.75 for the release. If you think that’s too much, let me know.

Anyway, about the book. The first two in this series were fantasy parodies: the first of fantasy role-playing games, and the second of fairy tales. The Brane of the Space Pirates is more of a traditional space opera. Like all of my stuff, it contains cultural and philosophical satire (of a sort). This one contrasts Stoic notions about predestined fate with the Epicurean position that people make their own. (Yeah, I’ve been reading Greek philosophy…again.) It also explores what might happen in a society in which automation has replaced most human labor and Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is given free rein. This may make the book sound a bit ‘heavy’, but I think it’s still an easy, lighthearted read. It’s difficult if not impossible for a writer to evaluate his own stuff, though, so I’d love to hear your opinions.


The following announcement is from the Fuzzy Android site:

The final adventure of the Brane Child will launch on 16 May, 2016. We’ll be doing a countdown on weekdays starting Monday, 18 April. Each day will present a ‘meme’ with a quote f…

Source: The final adventure of the Brane Child

The Invention of Science

Invention-of-ScienceThe Invention of Science: The Scientific Revolution from 1500 to 1750
by David Wootton
Hardback first edition Published by Harper Collins 2015

Wootton claims there are two major philosophical camps among those who write about the history of science. He calls them the ‘realists’ and the ‘relativists’. The realists regard science as essentially a formalized application of human common sense. To them, science is a systematic method of asking questions about the natural world, which leads to reasonably accurate answers. As these answers build upon one another, collective human understanding grows. It’s almost inevitable. Relativists, on the other hand, see science as an aspect of human culture. Both the questions it asks and the answers it finds are culturally dependent, so it never obtains any objective knowledge and consequently cannot progress in the sense that it gets us closer to a true understanding of what the world actually is or how it works. Instead, it creates stories about the world that work for a particular culture at a particular time. Relativism, he claims, “has been the dominant position in the history of science” for some time (Pg. 117). (This seems odd to me since, of the two extremes, relativism seems the most absurd, but that’s what he says. Since he’s the expert and I’m not, I’m sadly willing to entertain the idea that he may be right about this.)

Wootton sees some merit in both of these perspectives, and this book is his attempt to reconcile them. His self-appointed task can be summarized in these quotes that appear near the end of the book:

The task, in other words, is to understand how reliable knowledge and scientific progress can and do result from a flawed, profoundly contingent, culturally relative, all-too-human process. (pg. 541)
Hence the need for an historical epistemology which allows us to make sense of the ways in which we interact with the physical world (and each other) in the pursuit of knowledge. The central task of such an epistemology is not to explain why we have been successful in our pursuit of scientific knowledge; there is no good answer to that question. Rather it is to track the evolutionary process by which success has been built upon success; that way we can come to understand that science works, and how it works. (Pg. 543)

And this is what he does in an extensively researched and exhaustively documented account of the development and evolution of science. The way of thinking, which we now call science, truly was new and revolutionary. It emerged primarily in Western Europe between the times of Columbus and Newton. Wootton doesn’t claim a single igniting spark, but he gives Columbus’s voyage in 1492 credit for providing a powerful challenge to the prevailing belief that the ancients had known everything worth knowing. Although Columbus himself never accepted that the land he found by traveling west from Spain was a previously unknown continent, others soon came to this realization, and it showed that the authority of Ptolemy, Aristotle, and Holy Scripture were not as absolute as people believed. Here was an entirely new world, with strange animals, plants, and people, which the respected and authoritative ancients had known nothing about. Possibly just as significant was that the existence of these two huge continents was not found through philosophical reflection or by divine revelation. This new land was ‘discovered’ by a bunch of scruffy sailors—commoners!

From here, he explains that these emerging ideas added new words and new (and modern) definitions to old words, such as ‘discovery’, ‘fact’, ‘experiment’, ‘objectivity’, and ‘evidence’. These all have their current meanings because of the scientific way of viewing the world that emerged between the 16th and 18th centuries. (Personally, I think his discussion of the word ‘evidence’ goes into more detail and greater length than needed to make his point, but for those in academia, it may be helpful).

He also shows how culture influenced the development of scientific thinking. More often than not, the culture of this time hindered rather than helped. Prior to the scientific revolution, philosophical disputes were decided through clever rhetoric, creative verbal arguments, and appeals to tradition and authority. Because of this, early practitioners of science felt it necessary to justify themselves by citing the works of long-dead philosophers like Epicurus, Democritus, and Lucretius. Although none had the authority of Aristotle, they were ancient, which implied a certain respectability. The new scientific way of thinking, on the other hand, “sought to resolve intellectual disputes through experimentation.” (pg. 562)

I am more of an interested observer of science than I am a practitioner, but I have to admit that the realist view seems far closer to the truth to me than does the relativist concept. It is undeniable that science is done by scientists, that scientists are people, and that people are shaped by the cultures in which they live. But modern science originally began by challenging the assumptions of the culture in which it first emerged, and it retains that aspect of cultural skepticism to this day. I suspect that many current scientists are motivated, at least in part, by the dream of possibly overturning a prevailing theory or showing that it is somehow flawed or incomplete. In the 17th century, challenging cultural assumptions could bring a long, uncomfortable visit with inquisitors followed by a short, hot time tied to a stake. Today, it can bring a scientist fame and fortune.

Scientific progress isn’t inevitable, but it can and does reveal culturally independent facts. Scientists are products of their cultures, but the process of science intentionally strives to put those cultural assumptions aside. It may be the only human activity that does so.

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