The Elsewhere Gate is the story of two students from modern America who are plunged into a strange world with unknown creatures, airships, and money based on magic — a place where almost everyone has magic but few have much money. Here, they are pursued by a covetous moneylender who believes they hold the key that will open new worlds for him to exploit.
This book will be released worldwide 1 August 2018.
You can preorder digital editions for 99¢ from:
I like the idea of this book — a YA story premised on science rather than magic, with smart, young adult heroes, passionate about learning and discovery who find themselves in an environment where they can pursue their interests. It reminded me a bit of another book I read and reviewed not long ago, Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. There should be more stories in settings like this.
The plot of this one is the classic ‘good guys versus bad guys bent on taking over the world.’ The pacing is good, with discoveries and events leading incrementally to a satisfying and logical conclusion.
I was less taken with the characters.
The star of the story, Sophia “Soap” Lazarcheck, is a 16-year-old science geek, brilliant but socially awkward. Her ability to invent and build truly amazing gizmos is offset by a lack of appreciation for how these inventions might go wrong. Explosions and fires tend to be the result. For the most part, I found her an endearing character, but my ability to suspend disbelief was breached in her first encounter with the antagonist. She was far too trusting of this mysterious and clearly untrustworthy voice on the phone, and I could not accept how easily she sold him the key code for her new, and otherwise impregnable, school.
Her cousin, Dean, is the character that most failed for me. He plays the part of the well-muscled and well-intentioned but intellectually uncomplicated knight in shining armor. He’s not quite dimwitted enough to be a comic character, but I found him far too simple to be either likeable or believable in his role in this story.
The mysterious antagonist, always in the background and pulling the strings of his minions, is a recognizable James Bond type villain. The biker gang that serves as his muscle is a group of unwashed, uneducated, and thoroughly unpleasant individuals. They were not inept enough to be funny but too (unjustly) stereotypical to be believable. (I’ve known a few bikers, and most were nice people.)
The chapters with Soap providing the point of view are written in first person. The other chapters are written in third. This can be a bit jarring when you’re reading. I would have preferred third person throughout, with chapter or scene breaks for changes in POV. Otherwise, the book is well written, although I did spot a few typos. The ending is set up for a sequel.
The book is an enjoyable departure from more common magical or mystical YA stories, and I can recommend it as a quick, light read.
(Loosely) Related Post: Book Review – Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
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.
I’ve picked up several free e-books from Amazon since I first got my Kindle two years ago. This was one. Most of the others were ‘indie’ or self-published and most were surprisingly well written and enjoyable. This was neither.
When I saw this on the list of Amazon freebies, I grabbed it because I know the series has something of a following. Scanning down the reviews that have been posted, I saw many have raved about this book. I can only wonder why. Perhaps the Kindle version I got was an unpolished draft. It certainly read like one.
This is a pulp sci-fi military space opera, and although these can be fun, this particular book has few redeeming qualities. There is a large cast of cardboard characters and enough techno-babble to choke a Vulcan, but, with a judicious amount of skimming, I found the story engaging enough for me to finish reading (almost). I couldn’t take any more by the end and skimmed the last few pages.
The poor writing style was obvious from the start. The prose is amateurish. The first ten to fifteen percent of the book is primarily backstory and exposition. If this were a self-published book, I would have stopped reading and concluded that the writer needed to develop his skills a bit more. But this book has a traditional publisher (Baen), and it has fans. I kept reading, thinking it must get better as it goes on.
I almost gave up again half way in because the setting and characters were beginning to strain my ability suspend disbelief. Perhaps the most implausible aspect was that Honor Harrington (the unbelievingly self-disciplined lead character) increasingly appears to be just about the only truly competent commanding officer in the Royal Manticoran (space) Navy. If this were a work of comedy or satire, this would be fine, but it’s not. We’re supposed to accept that this is plausible. Even under an archaic form of monarchy (more on this later), where commissions are handed out based on family as often as they are on achievement, I have trouble accepting that any military organization could accept, or operate with, such a high amount of incompetence. (There is also a dysfunctional political system operating largely behind the scenes, which is, sadly, plausible, although I also doubt such a system can endure long without getting its act together.)
About eighty percent in, I considered tossing it aside again. In the middle of a chase scene, in which Honor’s ship is pursuing a much larger and more heavily armed enemy ship (for which she has no real plan how to defeat), the narrative devolves into a long exposition on the history of the faster than light technology they use. If there is ever a time for something like this, a chase scene is not it.
The battle scenes, especially the naval battles, are competently drawn, although a bit graphically for my taste. The wholesale slaughter of Bronze Age aliens (by the ‘good’ guys) with little remorse or reflection gave me one of those WTF moments. The ‘glory of war’ aspect of these scenes predominates. The ‘tragedy of war’ aspect is largely limited to instances when the ‘good guys’ lose or take casualties. The concept of war, the ethical considerations, and alternatives to it are largely ignored. That kind of underlying message became clearer as the book progressed. If there is a theme to this story, it is something along the lines of ‘duty above all else,’ ‘violence is always a first and best response,’ ‘war is inevitable,’ or ‘might makes right.’
But there really are no ‘good guys’ in this story. No one has a clear claim to the moral high ground. Honor is a citizen of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, a hereditary monarchy with privileged, landed gentry, self-serving corporations, a multiparty political system that seems largely inept, and a culture that feels almost medieval. Their rivals are the People’s Republic of Haven, a star nation of military expansionists with a strained, socialist economy. The book provides little more insight than this into their respective cultures, but I doubt I would want to live in either. I saw insufficient reason to favor one side over the other in their squabbles despite Haven’s particularly nasty effort to foment something like the Boxer Rebellion by supplying drugs to the Bronze Age natives of Medusa. I got the impression that the Manticorans would have few ethical qualms about doing something similar if they found it expedient.
The formatting of the eBook was also poorly done. The text was double-spaced throughout, with forced line justification and missing scene breaks.
Maybe I’ve come to expect too much from a free eBook, but almost all of those I’ve seen had something going for them—a good story, interesting characters, a thought provoking theme, or even just proper formatting. This book fails in all regards.
If books were like TV, this one would be on par with Saturday morning cartoons or professional wrestling. I realize that many people enjoy that kind of stuff. That’s fine. Different people like different things. I, however, cannot recommend this, not even as a freebie. There are far better books available for the same cost.
Professor Wainwright, a brilliant scientist working for Ibridan Life Sciences, is engaged in a secret project to see if animal DNA can be manipulated to produce human-like intelligence. He discovers it can.
Doguar and Ruby may be smarter than your average dog, but they have led sheltered lives in the Professor’s (sic) lab as his ‘pets.’ They are not part of the official project for Ibridan, with which the Professor has grown disillusioned. He has come to believe Ibridan wants to create intelligent animals to become soldiers and slaves. After he goes to the media to reveal part of what is going on, the company sends its thugs to invade his lab and abduct him.
With the assistance of well-meaning but largely clueless animal rights advocates, his two genetically enhanced dogs escape. Later, they obtain assistance from the Professor’s sister and his Buddhist monk friend in order to find the secret lab where the Professor is being held in order to rescue him.
I found this an enjoyable story with simple prose suitable for MG readers. Doguar, the protagonist of this novel, is likable. It’s hard to go wrong with a talking dog. The human characters are not developed as much, but the good guys are good enough to cheer for, and the bad guys are bad enough for the reader to want them to fail. Underneath it all are good moral lessons about violence and respect for others — and one possible answer to the question, ‘Does a dog have Buddha nature?’
This is a fun light read. I recommend it for fans of MG Sci-Fi, talking dogs, and happy endings.
This novel starts with an interesting concept that has a lot of potential for a good pulp Sci-Fi comic adventure — A human abducted from earth finds that his combination of intelligence, strength, and dexterity make him almost like a superhero among the aliens he encounters. Unfortunately, this potential remains largely unrealized in this book.
Adam Cain, U.S. Navy Seal, is abducted from Afghanistan by aliens and put into stasis aboard their ship. This ship is subsequently attacked by space pirates and his abductors kill all the other humans onboard except him, apparently so that the pirates will not get them. Why Adam was singled out, we never learn. Then, a couple of aliens in a tramp cargo carrier trick the pirates into abandoning their booty, and they ‘rescue’ Adam.
I found the ‘good guy’ aliens that find him rather fun. I did not much care for Adam Cain, the protagonist of the story, on the other hand. He is shallow, not especially bright, and not very likeable, and as the story progresses, he gets worse, devolving into a kind of videogame ‘hero’ who shoots or punches every alien he encounters. The villains are one-dimensional, the prose is simple, and the plot is predictable.
I like books that have a bit more personality to their major characters, something that makes them funny, charming, or admirable. I also prefer a story that requires the protagonist to think a little about how to resolve his or her dilemma. They need to make personal and sometimes difficult choices rather than just shoot their way out of one situation and into the next. An especially good book also motivates the reader to think and reflect because it is saying something about his world as well as the one that provides the setting for the story. This book does not do that.
This is, of course, a matter of personal taste. As a simple action adventure, this story succeeds, and it might appeal to teenage boys fond of ‘action’ video games. Although I noticed several copy editing errors, they were not overly distracting.
I enjoyed the story well enough to finish reading it, but I cannot recommend it.
In the first post in this series, I defined a work of positive fiction as one that conveys a hopeful, optimistic, or other positive mood. In the second post, I argued that the positive image of humanity that supports this mood in science fiction is a realistic one. In this, the final post of the series (or the last one I’ve planned anyway), I will discuss why I think positive science fiction is especially appealing and why I think there should be more of it.
I struggled with how to present this case because there are several points that need to be made. Let me start out with this one, which may be a bit controversial. Speculative fiction is fundamentally a more intellectual genre than others. That may be something of a value call though so let me rephrase it. Speculative fiction, especially science fiction, causes us to step outside our current world and look back at it. In this way it is the most philosophical and scientific of fiction genres because it can question pretty much anything. Every belief, every assumption, every aspect of culture is open to scrutiny. Like other genres, speculative fiction begins with our real world but it isn’t set there. It wouldn’t be speculative if it was. Something must be different and I don’t mean just ray guns or flying cars. The addition of some high tech hardware or alien life does not make a work of fiction speculative by itself. I try to avoid the pejorative use of the term ‘sci-fi’ (sometimes pronounced skiffy) because I don’t necessarily agree that the distinction between sci-fi and SF is as clear as some seem to believe. But a novel with flying cars isn’t true science fiction if all other aspects of the setting are essentially the same as those where the reader lives. It may be ‘sci-fi’ but not SF or speculative fiction.
Science fiction posits a truly different world that would feel strange to us if we were dropped into it. It can have flying cars or ray guns or even ghosts, gremlins, or two-headed crocodile gods but these must have some plausible explanation, at least plausible enough for an intelligent reader to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. I hope this doesn’t sound elitist but some means of differentiation is needed.
Speculative fiction often begins by asking, “What if?” What if history unfolded differently? What if something happens tomorrow that challenges our current assumptions? What would we do? How would our world be changed? Many works of soft science fiction especially look at current human cultures and contrast them to what could be. They remind us that human society as it exists today is just one of an almost infinite number of conceivable possibilities, some of which may appear better and some worse.
This questioning of everything is the defining characteristic of speculative fiction and it is what sets it apart from other fiction genres. It is also what makes some people truly dislike it. This brings me to my next point.
People who read speculative fiction are especially bright. The intellectual challenge of being exposed to a different world where very little can be assumed excites them. They want to figure out what makes this fictional world different from their own and how it works. They are open minded and willing to entertain questions about their own beliefs and assumptions. They understand that they occupy a single point in space-time and that it is not a privileged position. Not everyone is comfortable with this. Some may not be capable of it. But speculative fiction readers thrive on such mind stretching questions.
In all speculative fiction something is different than it is in our world and science fiction stories show us how people are affected by those differences. In order to do this believingly, or entertainingly in the case of fiction that is humorous, satirical, or intentionally unbelievable (e.g. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), the author needs an understanding of humanity and how it might react to such differences, which brings us back to that underlying question about the fundamental nature of mankind. The one thing fictional stories must retain is a realistic image of humanity otherwise readers will not be able to identify or empathize with the characters.
The types of people who are drawn to speculative fiction are capable of asking big questions and they are capable of seeing the big picture. I believe that are also likely to understand that a species such as our own cannot go from flint knives to spaceships without having something going for it. Humanity has demonstrated that it can accomplish great things and readers of speculative fiction especially are likely to appreciate this either consciously or subconsciously. If a fictional story is based upon the mistaken premise that humanity as a whole is stupid, warlike, aggressive, cruel, and selfish then the story will seem contrived to them. They may have a hard time understanding exactly why but it will feel wrong.
For intelligent and insightful readers such as these, positive science fiction can provide a tonic to cure the misconceptions about humanity and its future that the news and mainstream fiction can convey. It can remind us that humanity has progressed and is likely to continue to progress, it can help us put current events into a more historical perspective so they can be seen more accurately, and it can reaffirm a sense of hope and optimism for our future.
Consider what is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of science fiction in the middle of the last century. The stories that mark this period were often a celebration of human achievement and they inspired not only a sense of wonder about the universe but a hopeful image of continued human exploration and discovery. Stories such as these are the true roots of science fiction. They were a different type of story for a different type of reader and I think part of their appeal was because they were based on a truer understanding of what humanity was and what it is capable of.
It may be something of a cliché but fiction really does shape our future. This is especially true for science fiction. I attended the 100 Year Starship Symposium sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was held the first weekend of October 2011 here in Orlando. This was a gathering of scientists, engineers, and even science fiction writers and philosophers to discuss the future of human space exploration. A point that was made in several talks was how much science fiction had inspired people. One speaker said that an impromptu survey he took of his engineering students revealed that over 80% of them listed Scotty from Star Trek as their primary motivation for going into that discipline. The works of Asimov, Heinlein, and others from the golden age of science fiction were also credited as being major inspirations for scientists and engineers.
Think about that and consider what current mainstream science fiction might be inspiring young people to become if anything. As writers it is our job to entertain, not shape the future but intentionally or not this is something that fiction can do. And I think we should ask ourselves if we are helping to create a bright future or a dismal one.
I would like to see science fiction return to its golden age roots. Other fiction genres can take the dark side but true science fiction should not. I suppose a subgenre distinction could be make between “mainstream” science fiction, which follows the tone and mood of other genres to appeal to wider audiences and “true” or “positive” science fiction, which carries a more hopeful (and truer) tone and mood but I can find no indication that this distinction is being widely made. Perhaps it should be.
Positive Science Fiction Part 1 – Emerging From The Dark
Positive Science Fiction Part 2 – Understanding Humanity
The 100 Year Starship Symposium (100YSS) – Resurgence of a Dream
On Digital Books And The Evolution Of Genre Fiction
Why Are Good Books So Hard To Find?
Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood
Beyond Genre – Novels And Emotional Needs