Title: Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World
Author: Dermot Davis
Publisher: Dermot Davis
First Published: 2013
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Humor
Daniel is an author of literary fiction, and his novels are award winners. Readers of classic literature love them, but these readers don’t represent a very large portion of the book-buying market. His agent is less than sympathetic with his plight. She agrees that his books are good, but she doesn’t need good books, she needs books that will sell, and she tells him his next two won’t. She won’t even try to find a publisher for them.
In order not to starve, he has to write something that will sell, but he can’t reduce himself to writing popular genre fiction, and besides, he’s not familiar enough with it to try. When he sees a line at a bookstore for a book signing by the author of a very popular self-help book, he has an inspiration. Satire is respectable, so he commits himself to writing (under a pen name) a satire about the popularity of current self-help books. He makes it so outrageous, even cranks, crazies, desperate seekers, and the extremely credulous will not be able to take it seriously, and it will point out just how silly the whole thing is. His new book gets published (despite the fact that his agent initially wants to reject it), and it surprisingly becomes a bestseller—not as satire, but as a ‘serious’ self-help book. Soon, it has a cult following, and Daniel is both relieved and dismayed.
I found several scenes hilarious, and the satire about the state of traditional publishing and the plight of authors rung all too true. Anyone who has suffered through a few of the more dreadful recent bestsellers will understand.
The story is wonderfully imaginative. The characters are believable. The prose, for the most part, is pretty good, although it could use another round of editing—not for typos but mainly for sentence structure and capitalization.
I recommend this one to all writers, especially those struggling with the choice between writing what they think is good and writing what they think will sell.
The similarities to Fahrenheit 451 are obvious. The Pickup Artist is set in a near future America in which art in all forms — music, literature, painting, movies — is being purged to alleviate the glut of such things and allow space for new creative endeavors. When a work, author, or artist is placed on the deletion list, all originals and copies of the applicable art forms are collected and destroyed.
The first-person narrator of this story is a pickup artist, a person working for the Bureau of Arts and Information who confiscates (normally with compensation) books, albums, tapes, CDs and the like from those who own them. One day, he collects a vinyl album by Hark Williams. It reminds him of his father, and he becomes obsessed with listening to it, but first he needs to locate a record player. His search for one brings him into contact with two factions of the Alexandrians, both of which have their roots in the movement that brought about the policy of cultural purging but now have diametrically opposed goals.
The first-person narrative is interspaced with short historical bits on how this policy of cultural deletion came about.
The premise almost works as a bit of cultural satire, but it is too absurd to have the impact of a cautionary tale like Fahrenheit 451.There are also elements such as the cloned Indians, talking dog, and mature baby that I assume were supposed to have some symbolic significance but, whatever that was, it eluded me.
The characters are believable enough to evoke some empathy, and the setting is not so bizarre that it prevents suspension of disbelief for the sake of the story. The book is different and interesting, but I can’t recommend it as a particularly enjoyable read.
Why I chose to read this: I picked this up at the library because it was near an older book by the same writer, which looked interesting.
Title: Used Aliens
Author: M. Sid Kelly
Publisher: M. Sid Kelly
First Published: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction/Humor
The story begins with Jimmy Fresneaux. He wants to be the star of a fishing show. Unfortunately, he’s not very good at catching fish. This matters not at all to the aliens that abduct him. They just need to gather a few specimens and conduct some tests as part of their evaluation of Earth for entry in the Galactic Pool. They’re supposed to throw him back when they’re done, but a mishap leaves Jimmy and two of the aliens (along with their sunken flying saucer) on Earth.
That’s part of the story. The rest has to do with why Earth is being evaluated.
It’s kind of political.
This is humorous science fiction romp with a fair amount of cultural satire. The human characters are funny in a buffoonish sort of way. Jimmy is believable as a mentally uncomplicated Cajun wannabe. Mike and Greg, two fossil hunting hobbyists, are a bit less believable. They are portrayed as having some serious scientific interests and knowledge but seem to be forcing themselves to sound more stupid and juvenile than they are, mainly by saying “man” and “dude” a lot. I don’t think they needed to be written this way. Jimmy is fine as a lone clown. Three stooges are not necessary. Mike and Greg might work better as supporting characters if they were written as nerdy straight men.
I loved the aliens. They are imaginative, and the ‘good’ ones are quite likeable. Dluhosh (an evolved squid), Dee (a hug-loving bear person), and Trukk-9 (a highly ethical filmmaker with a large number of eyes) are especially endearing. The ‘bad’ aliens are more dim and incompetent than they are evil. I liked that. They’re much easier to laugh at.
The story is written in third person with a shifting point of view. The prose is casual, complete with split infinitives and colloquialisms. The writing style reminds you that this story is not to be taken seriously. It’s meant to be fun, and it is.
I have found that ‘indie’ books often provide something that traditional publishers do not—well-written stories that don’t easily fit into established genres, that defy stereotypes, and that make no effort to follow the currently popular trends—in other words, stories that are truly fresh and different. This is a good example. On the surface, it is a science fiction farce with comic characters, but it also offers insightful satire, intelligent wit, an imaginative setting, unique aliens, and even a bit of real science. How many books like that have your read recently? If there were any, I’ll bet they were ‘indie.’
I found this quirky book enjoyable. I recommend it to humor fans with a scientific outlook. If you’ve read and enjoyed Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ stories, the ‘Red Dwarf’ books by Grant Naylor, the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ books by Harry Harrison, or Spider Robinson’s ‘Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon’ stories, you may also like ‘Used Aliens’ by M. Sid Kelly. It’s not quite like any of these, but there are a few similarities in places.
Albert Zim is a first line supervisor in one department of one section of the world-spanning Omega-Mart, which has improved the lives of everyone by providing great bargains — and everyone knows it. One day while attending a company motivational meeting, he finds himself raising his hand and asking a question.
“Since our customers are what’s most important, and our customers are also our employees, and our employees are part of our family, couldn’t we help them out every once in awhile? Like with emergencies or whatever? Couldn’t we pay to have someone’s teeth fixed?”
And this question dooms him. How can Omega-Mart continue to offer low prices if they provide something like health care to their employees? The very idea marks poor Albert as disloyal, subversive, a traitor to the very ideals of Omega-Mart. It also gets him fired — straight off the planet.
This is a well-written satire of consumerism, corporate power, and groupthink. It is humorous because it exaggerates the truth to point out how absurd some of the things we do and believe really are. It is also a cautionary tale that reminds us that things don’t need to be this way.
I enjoyed the book, but at 50,000 words, it is only about half the length of a typical novel. One part, I thought, should have been expanded. The whole visit to another planet thing makes little sense as it is written now. Yes, I know. This is a humorous satire and sense has little to do with it, but this one part required suspension of more disbelief than I personally could achieve comfortably, even for the sake of a good story. I was willing to go along with Albert being fired off the planet in a small room. I could accept that he entered a mysterious space-time rift that brought him to another planet, but even if his little escape pod could survive entry and landing, there is no way the technologically primitive people he finds there could launch it back into space. His experience could not be a hallucination because he was gone a year. A bit more about the aliens and better techno-babble for how he got there and, more importantly, how he got back was needed.
I suspect that Niccolo Grovinci is a pseudonym, but as for the author’s real name, I have no idea. From the writing, I assume the author is over 40, male, and American, but these are just guesses. This is a fun book regardless of who the author is. I would recommend it to readers who like cultural satire.
In a parallel dimension, creatures of myth and fantasy live their magical lives without care, or pain, or need of food. One day, a rift opens, and one of its inhabitants falls through into late Victorian England. It’s an angel. It’s not really much of an angel. Its only miraculous ability seems to be an unnatural talent for playing the violin, but it does have wings and other angelic features.
The local English vicar, Mr. Hilyer, hears rumors of sightings of a large, strange bird in the area, and, being an amateur ornithologist, he does what all good naturalists of the time would do. He grabs his gun and heads out to bag the beast to be catalogued, stuffed, and added to his collection. The scene in which Wells describes this particular series of events had me cracking up. (This is one area in which I think modern society has made some progress.) Of course, Hilyer ends up shooting the angel and injuring its wing. After that, what’s a Victorian vicar to do other than apologize politely and invite the mythological winged gentleman to be his houseguest while he recovers?
First published in 1895, Wells does here what he is well known for — satirical comment on Victorian society. The angel, coming from an alternate reality that knows nothing of human culture, provides an outside perspective from which to examine it. Wells allows him to do so, and Mr. Angel’s innocent and nonjudgmental observations can be quite charming. At one point he asks, insofar as people do not like pain, why is it that they keep inflicting it on one another. Good question, I thought.
Biases about race, gender, and social class are dragged out for dry ridicule, as are such things as clothing styles, beliefs, values and other attitudes. In one scene, Wells, as narrator, pops in briefly to apologize to the reader for making a servant appear too much like a real person and promises that he’ll make sure they’re portrayed more accurately as mindless stereotypes in some future story. This cracked me up, too, but I suppose I’m easily amused.
From an outside perspective, these Victorian conventions all seem somewhat arbitrary, if not silly, but perhaps no more so than our current ones. (I’m sure you can imagine a few examples.) The point Wells is trying to make, I think, is one that cannot be made too often. Question your assumptions. Question your values. Do they make sense? What do they say about you? This advice is as good today as it was in 1895.
I suppose I could pick on a few things to criticize about the book. It could have been funnier; the satire could have been sharper, but somehow I think Wells was intentionally trying to be, if not subtle, and least not blatantly offensive. His audience, after all, included people who held the attitudes he was holding up for ridicule, and you don’t want to upset your readers too much. They might stop buying your books.
Both the beginning and the ending leave questions unanswered. How did the rift between dimensions open? Suddenly the angel simply appears here with no understanding of how. It leaves, presumably returning, in the same way, possibly taking with it a human housemaid, which it was previously explained does not happen. No one new ever shows up in the angel universe. No one is born, no one dies, and no one visits. Except for this, we don’t know much about the parallel dimension that is home for angels and hippogriffs and magical beings of other types.
That’s about as critical as I’m prepared to be. I found this book humorous and charming. Insofar as it is readily available free as an e-book, it is well worth the cost. (I snagged a freebie Kindle version from Amazon.) It is also worth the time it takes to read. I highly recommend it.
The Second Volume of Defying Fate
His nation is headed for war, his father thinks he’s imagining things, and his mother still regards him as a child. How can Prince Donald convince the king that the real threat to his kingdom comes from his most trusted adviser? The young prince has only his wits, his courage, and his friends, including two ancient androids, one of which has four legs and barks.
The Warden War continues the quest begun by Prince Donald in The Warden Threat. His father, King Leonard of Westgrove, has been told that the neighboring kingdom of Gotrox has discovered a magical means to animate a mysterious and gigantic ancient stone warrior, the Warden of Mystic Defiance, which it plans to use it to spearhead an invasion of his country. Donald is convinced this is a hoax carefully crafted by his father’s chief adviser to bring about a war to gain control of Gotroxian resources. Donald is determined to thwart him. It will not be easy. Chief Adviser Horace Barter has resources, connections, influence, and the almost unquestioned trust of the king. Donald, sadly, has none of these.
He is not without some resources, though. Although he does not realize it, two of his friends, well, one of his friends and the dog that recently seems to have adopted him as its new master, are androids. They were left behind by an ancient commercial enterprise established on the planet centuries before and have now decided to assist humanity, starting with the prince. The best way to help, they believe, is to reactivate the almost omnipotent artificial intelligence that once ran the now defunct alien business project. This could be risky. One of the reasons it was shutdown two-thousand years ago was that it was quite insane, dangerously so.
Technically science fiction, the first two Warden novels are almost anti-fantasies, which poke a fair, or perhaps an unfair amount of good-natured fun at the serious tone and dependence on magic common to many epic fantasy adventure genre novels. Because they are loosely based on the U.S. buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, they include elements of political and cultural satire as well. With their charming and truly likeable characters, witty, intelligent humor, and prose style blending humorous science fiction and epic fantasy elements, they are a fun read. I believe they will appeal to readers of these genres who may be looking for something fresh and different.
I love to read but even with the exponential expansion of available fiction, I still have a hard time finding new books that really appeal to me. My tastes are apparently somewhat outside the norm.
I was reminded of this recently when I sent out a call for help on Twitter. This is what I said:
I’m looking for a good 99¢ indie ebook novel similar in tone and mood with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Any suggestions?
I sent a few other Tweets in the same vein over the next few hours. Eventually a kindly Tweeter responded with a recommendation for a book by an indie writer that he was offering for free on Smashwords. It was a promotion to gain readers for the other books in the series. Great! Maybe there was a whole series of new books I would like.
I downloaded it. Last night I opened it on my Kindle and began to read.
It opened with a war scene full of action and seemingly mindless violence. This is normally a big turnoff for me but the Tweeter recommended it so I continued to read. Well, I thought, maybe it would get better. The nonstop action continued. I scanned ahead and there seemed to be no end of blood and brutality and nothing that indicated the book would eventually appeal to me and none that it bore any similarity to the wonderful books by Sir Terry Pratchett. I closed it and opened up my copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol mainly because I hadn’t yet moved it from my Kindle to my computer hard drive. Today I made an emergency visit to the library.
Now I know there are many people who thrive on nonstop action and I’m sure they would have not been able to put a book like this down. I just don’t happen to be one of them. To explain why not can be the subject of a later post but the short answer is that it ultimately comes down to a matter of taste. I find action by itself dull and uninteresting. I need to know about the characters first and there has to be something I find admirable about them before they are put in peril in order for me to care about their fate. Otherwise they are no different than those they are in conflict with. This is actually the same reason I was never a sports fan. I could never find a good reason to care which team won. The action isn’t enough. The game for the game’s sake isn’t enough. I need a reason to not only prefer one side over the other but also something to admire about the chosen side; something which their opponent either lacks or is opposed to.
I know this is out of the ordinary but that’s my point. With all the new indie authors publishing now you’d think some would be writing books that are not modeled on currently popular mainstream fiction and that there would be some that appeal to whatever niche you might find yourself in. I’m sure there are some out there for mine. Finding them is the problem.
So that is why I am asking for your help. I want to find more books to read and enjoy and I’m hoping some of you might know of some that suite my particular reading preference niche.
The following list should provide some indication of my personal tastes. Breaking out your tastes and preferences in a similar fashion may help you define and find new books you will like.
- Genre – I prefer Science Fiction although Fantasy is a close second. Mysteries and “literary fiction” can also be good if they share several of the other traits listed here. The target audience can be either adults or young adults. I find that YA books are often the most enjoyable. Within these genres, books that include insightful cultural satire are the most appealing.
- Mood – The mood is the overall feeling you get from a book. If you feel an emotion when you finish a book, the author has effectively conveyed a mood. I prefer books with positive moods such as, fanciful, happy, hopeful, idealistic, intellectual, joyful, or optimistic. If a book provokes a smile from me in the first twenty pages, that is a big plus. (You can find out more on mood here if you wish: Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood)
- Tone – The way the mood is expressed by the attitude of the author is the tone. It can also be thought of as part of the author’s style or voice. Tone reflects the author’s attitude toward the story, the characters in it, as well as toward the reader. The books I prefer tend to carry a prevailing tone that is amused, cheerful, humorous, ironic, lighthearted, optimistic, playful, satirical, or witty. (You can find out more on tone at the same link as above.)
- Theme – I tend to especially like books with an implied message of personal and/or cultural progress and discovery.
- Characters – There should be something admirable about the protagonist and his, her or its allies. They should be ethically and philosophically superior examples of humanity, even if they don’t happen to be human. This could be because they are unbiased, kindhearted, caring, nurturing, empathetic, or several other positive traits. This is what makes me care about what happens to them and makes me sure that their goals deserve to prevail. It also helps if the main character is intellectually above the norm. Those who are bright, analytical, observant, inquisitive, insightful or skeptical are especially appealing.
- Fantastic Creatures – If the story is a fantasy and includes such things as vampires, zombies, ghosts, or other supernatural or mythical beings, I prefer a certain amount of humor and satire in how these creatures are portrayed. I can suspend disbelief for the sake of a story and pretend such things can exist but it is more enjoyable if the tone of the book conveys that I’m not expected to.
So now know more about my taste in books than you ever wanted to. Thanks for letting me share. I have one more favor to ask. If you know of books that you think meet my somewhat peculiar taste by authors I have not listed below, please let me know either as a comment here or on Twitter.
These are some of the writers I know of who have written books that met the minimum threshold of my exacting standards.
- Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
- Piers Anthony (Xanth Series – These are almost too silly but can be fun to read.)
- Robert Asprin (Myth and Phule Series)
- Kage Baker (Company Series – a bit too much romance but not bad.)
- Terry Brooks (Magic Kingdom of Landover Series)
- Lois McMaster Bujold (Miles Series)
- Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl Series)
- Peter David (Apropos of Nothing Series)
- L. Sprague de Camp (The Reluctant King)
- Gordon R. Dickson (The Dragon Knight Series and others)
- Jasper Fforde
- Cornelia Funke (Inkheart)
- Neil Gaiman
- Craig Shaw Gardner
- William Goldman (The Princess Bride – one of my favorites.)
- Tom Holt (Some of his are good, others I didn’t much care for.)
- Jim C. Hines (The Goblin Series was especially fun.)
- Fritz Leiber
- Gregory Maguire (Wicked was enjoyable. The others, not so much.)
- Lee Martinez (Usually his books are a hoot.)
- Jack McDevitt (Alex Benedict Series)
- Martin Millar (The Good Fairies of New York)
- K.E. Mills (A bit verbose but not bad.)
- John Moore
- Grant Naylor (Red Dwarf)
- Terry Pratchett (My favorite writer by far. Fortunately a prolific one.)
- Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials)
- Robert Rankin
- Rick Riordan
- Spider Robinson
- J. K. Rowling
- John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation)
- Martin Scott (Thraxas)
Thanks and happy reading.