Category Archives: Speculative Fiction

Critter Pics

I can barely use my smart phone, but I managed to get some (bad) pictures of critters roaming my neighborhood this week.

This one is of two baby raccoons. They were hiding under a parked truck, and then walked side by side, always touching, into a neighbor’s yard, and disappeared into the landscaping.

This one is of a baby possum I saw the next morning. It didn’t seem to mind at all having its picture taken.

And this last one is of an owl, although it may not seem obvious. (It’s on top of the street sign.)

New Orville, New Trek, Three Books, and a Broken Washer

Last week was an especially eventful one as far as weeks in the life of an old retired guy go. This was mainly because of new TV shows that I found interesting enough to expend a few of my remaining hours watching.

Most of my TV-viewing hours were spent on the eight new episodes of Stranger Things 4 (on Netflix). Like the previous seasons, it’s basically about a bunch of kids saving the world from monsters from a parallel dimension. What I like most about this show is the kids playing D&D, which I can relate to, having played for several years when I was younger and began playing again a couple years ago – but that is beside the point, for now. I found out later that the Dio vest being worn by the kid who plays the DM in this season once belonged to Ronnie James Dio himself, which is also cool because I’ve always been fond of Dio’s music.

I also watched episode 5 of Star Trek Strange New Worlds (on Paramount+). This episode explored identity and empathy and seeing other people’s points of view. It also had a few funny bits. I continue to be impressed by this show especially because of how unimpressed I’ve been with most of the other new Trek Paramount has produced. Although I’ve been something of a Trekker since the original series first aired, I truly hated Discovery. The crew of that ship just did not seem like Starfleet to me. And why did they turn Klingons into orcs? With Strange New Worlds, it’s beginning to look like Paramount is finally getting Trek right.

And then there was the long awaited new episode of The Orville. I’ve enjoyed this show from the beginning, too. It’s always seemed like a homage to the original Star Trek, and Season 3 continues that. It opens shortly after the first Kaylon offensive has been repulsed. This first episode explores guilt, forgiveness, and dealing with trauma as crew members sort out how they feel about Isaac, who, as a Kaylon, bears some responsibility for a great many deaths, but who is also one of the reasons the Kaylon did not succeed. It’s a good start to the new season.

I also read a few books, two fiction and one nonfiction. The two fiction books were uncommonly enjoyable, the nonfiction one, not so much.

Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Within the magical community, there are those who believe that magic users should rule the world because they are “better” than ordinary, non-magical people. Others believe that magic-users should remain separate and largely apart from regular human affairs. The polarization between these two camps erupts into a magical civil war in the 8th book in this highly entertaining series. The characters remain interesting, the plot is intriguing, and the pacing (as always) keeps you turning pages. This is very well written.

Mickey7 by Edward Ashton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Colonizing planets is a dangerous business, but colony ships never seem to have trouble attracting highly qualified crew… at least not for most positions. Some of these people might be called brave, some foolish, and some are arguably insane, but only the truly desperate apply for the position of Expendable. Mickey is pretty desperate. Staying on the planet of his birth would mean daily torture until he pays off a substantial gambling debt. This seems to him like a fate worse than dying, even worse than the possibility of dying repeatedly, which is an Expendable’s job. So, he applies for a berth on an outgoing colony ship. Expendable is the only slot open, and he’s the only applicant.

This is a fun science fiction story with a likeable protagonist. It has lots of sciency stuff, not unlike The Martian and other books by Andy Weir, and it also ponders the philosophical question of what makes you you. If you die, and a clone is made and loaded with your memories and personality, is it now you? Even if you feel like yourself, how do others see you? Are you really a person in their eyes?

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The basic premise of this book, that some jobs are pretty much pointless and that the world wouldn’t skip a beat if they disappeared, is incontestable. But I think the author goes too far on too little evidence. He presents plenty of anecdotal quotes from people who believe their own jobs fall into the bullshit category, but no real assessment of whether or not these job holders are right. Not knowing what the benefit of your work might be doesn’t necessarily mean there is none.

If you’re interested, you can see my full review of this one either on Goodreads on on The Avery Slom Philosophical Laboratory web sites.

Last, and possibly least, there’s the ongoing issue I’m having with Whirlpool and a washing machine that broke down before it was a year old. Today is the 60th day I’ve been without a working washer, but someone is supposed to come next Friday (10 June) to try yet again to fix it. So, to add to the ongoing bullet list….

  • DAY 54 – (May 30th) I send another email to Whirlpool ( with cc to Joseph Carrita, Customer Relations Manager ( asking how many repair attempts are required, what the cost of repair must be, and how long they believe it is acceptable to make a customer wait before they deem one of their appliances “non-repairable.”
  • DAY 56 (June 1) I receive a DM Tweet from Whirlpool asking for my specific address and phone number. I provide them.
  • DAY 57 (June 2nd) Whirlpool’s Twitter people call and leave me on hold while they call the service provider. Eventually, they say the service people are still waiting on two parts but will call as soon as they arrive. I ask again why Whirlpool would spend $2,000 in parts and make a customer wait two months rather than replace an $800 machine. The poor unfortunate customer liaison lady refuses to address cost at all and simply repeats that Whirlpool only repairs things under warranty. It does not replace them.
  • DAY 58 (June 3rd) The service company calls to let me know that all the parts have been processed in, but the next available appointment to repair my washer is seven days away because of the need to dedicate an otherwise empty truck to all the parts needed, one of which is quite large, to ensure it is not damaged in transit. (This adds transportability and packaging to the list of Whirlpool’s logistic design flaws.) I am told this will be a three-hour job.

I sure hope they manage to fix it, this time.

New TV shows, a book, and a washing machine

I spend a lot of the free time afforded by retirement reading, but I only finished one new (to me) book last week. It was the seventh in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, and quite a fun read.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Derek Landy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It has been said that power corrupts. When a group of average teenage mortals suddenly develop incredible magical abilities, that hypothesis is put to the test. Can humans accept magic and bring about a new age of peace and cooperation, or will they use their power selfishly to exert dominance over others? It’s an interesting experiment, but the cynical skeleton detective is fairly sure he knows how it will turn out.

This is yet another fine episode in the continuing adventures of Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain. It’s considered a YA book because one of the two main characters is ostensibly a teenager, but there is nothing juvenile about it. The characters have some depth, the world building is solid, and the plot makes sense (given the existence of magic). It’s also a bit dark. There’s no actual sex, but there is extreme violence, a bit too much, actually, for my sensitive, old man tastes.
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I spent more time than usual watching streaming video last week because of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+, Stranger Things 4 on Netflix, and Star Trek Strange New Worlds on Paramount+. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far of all three of these new shows well enough to keep watching them, but only one really stands out for me. That’s Strange New Worlds, which continues to be surprisingly good. I say “surprisingly” because I have been less than impressed with what Paramount has done with Trek up to this point. Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy, ranged from truly awful (Discovery) to okay (Prodigy). Despite being a Trekker for the last half century, I found Discovery and Lower Decks literally unwatchable.

I also spent more time than usual not doing laundry since Whirlpool has still not fixed my washer. I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s now been out of service for over seven weeks. Developments since last week are:

  • DAY 47 – (May 23rd) I sent an email to Whirlpool ( asking for clarification on what they consider “non-repairable” and reminding them that my washer has been out of service for over six weeks and would cost more to repair than it cost me new.
  • DAY 49 – (May 25th) Whirlpool responded to my email, telling me that parts being on backorder for an extended time does not equate to an appliance being deemed “non-repairable.” Apparently, their warranty has no limit on how long it takes them to fix something. The cost of those parts was not mentioned, suggesting that either their prices for parts are highly inflated or that their contract with the service company shifts some of that cost to them.
  • DAY 51 – (May 27th) Whirlpool (@WhirlpoolCare) sent me a Tweet offering to help if I sent my name, address, and info on my washer via a DM. I did.

I plan on writing another email to them later this week asking for further clarification on the criteria they use to determine if an appliance is repairable because it really seems that the one I have isn’t.

A Displeased Whirlpool Customer, a Logistics Lesson, and a Warranty

Here is a brief recap of my continuing Whirlpool Customer Experience (so far):

  • DAY 1 – (April 4th) Our washing machine stops working properly. I unplug it and leave it a day, hoping this might reset it.
  • DAY 2 – (April 5th) I plug it back in. It still doesn’t work right. It’s less than a year old, so I call Whirlpool to honor their 1-year warranty. They say they’ll send someone ASAP, which will be in five days.
  • DAY 7 – (April 13th) The promised repair technician fails to arrive. I call the service company. They say Whirlpool never contacted them. I call Whirlpool to ask WTF is going on. They apologize and again tell me they’ll send someone ASAP, which will be in another six days. This time, they send a confirmation email.
  • DAY 13 – (April 19th) A repair technician arrives and identifies the faulty component. It’s a control board. These are “special order,” so he cannot say when they can get the part. He accidentally broke another part when diagnosing the original problem, so this will need to be replaced, too. He say’s they’ll call when they get the parts.
  • DAY 15 – (April 21st) I email Whirlpool asking if they can replace the washer rather than repair it.
  • DAY 16 – (April 22nd) Whirlpool sends an email reply that says, “Our warranty is for repair rather than replacement.”
  • DAY 22 – (April 28th) I email the service company for an update on parts availability. They email back, saying they cannot ask Whirlpool for an update until the order is 21 days old.
  • DAY 34 – (May 10th) I email the service company again since it’s now been 21 days since their service guy was here. They email back to say they’re still waiting for the tub (which is the part the technician broke while figuring out the control board needed replacement).
  • DAY 37 – (May 13th) The service company emails me to let me know the parts have arrived! I call them and schedule another service appointment. The next one available is in a week.
  • DAY 43 – (May 19th) A service technician arrives with the needed parts, but he cannot install the tub because a part needed to remove the old one won’t come loose. He’ll need to break it to get it off, which means he’ll need to replace it. They don’t have one on hand, so it and a few more parts will need to be ordered. He can’t estimate when they might arrive, but they’ll contact me when they get them.

It is now DAY 45, and we still don’t have a working washer. What is especially irksome about all this is that it makes no sense. According the Whirlpool parts website, the things now needed to fix my machine cost around $2,000, which is about $1,200 more than I paid for the new washer a year ago. Why is Whirlpool willing to spend more than the appliance is worth and inconvenience their customers this way? The only thing I can think of is that they want to discourage people from fixing their broken appliances. They want to offer the warranty as an incentive to buy their products, but it’s clear that they didn’t design my washer to be repairable.

There a couple concepts in logistics engineering (a field I worked in before retiring) that apply to this. The military calls the first one MEL, for Maintenance Expenditure Limit. Basically, the idea is that you don’t spend more to fix something than it’s worth. Normally, the MEL for an item is based on its replacement cost and goes down as the thing ages, so that something with a life expectancy of 10 years will have a MEL of 90% of the replacement cost during its first year in service, 80% during its second, and so on. The MEL is what you can spend to fix something. If the cost of repair exceeds the MEL, you replace it. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it gets the point across.

The second logistics concept pertaining to this is called RAM for Reliability, Availability, Maintainability, and it is why I place the primary blame on my washer problem with Whirlpool and not with the service technicians. Yes, the first technician made the problem worse by breaking a second part, but he did not design the machine. The people who did should have applied basic RAM principles to ensure that the thing was maintainable, that it could be repaired easily with as few steps and as few tools are possible. Obviously, they failed at this. The machine clearly was not reliable, replacement parts were not readily available, and judging by how a trained service technician could accidentally break something while doing a routine diagnostic procedure, it certainly was not maintainable. This points to a flaw in the washer’s design, and the responsibility for that lies solely with Whirlpool.

This raises a second question. Is the poor design of my washer an anomaly, or could the design flaws be intentional? Now, at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy nut, I’m going to speculate they may be intentional. Not just the basic design (which makes access to and removal of components difficult), but also the lack of parts availability and their slowness in responding to a warranty claim, may all be ways to discourage customers from repairing their old appliances and to instead buy new ones. If that is the case, the one-year warranty is a marketing strategy. Its main intent is to make buyers believe that Whirlpool has more confidence in the reliability of their appliances than is warranted (no pun intended).

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

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