Micro-reviews (August 2018)

August 29, 2018
The Speed of Sound, The Bees and The Three Body Problem

The Speed of Sound by Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby has had an unusual career – he had some success in the eighties as a solo artist, a film music composer and a producer of other artists (e.g. Prefab Sprout and – rather less successfully, as he freely admits - Joni Mitchell).  But he became increasingly disillusioned with the music industry and switched to being a tech entrepreneur, eventually coming up with the software that enabled mobile phones to play polyphonic ring tones, instead of single note bleeps (yes, all those versions of the Nokia waltz are HIS fault).  As a writer, he has some interesting things to say about music and technology but what really makes this a good read is his keen sense of what makes for a good anecdote.  Many of these revolve less around him and more around other people, ranging from Dr Magnus Pyke (seen cavorting around in this video) through to Ken Russell, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Paul Allen and Bill Gates.  This, coupled with with a generous dose of self-deprecating humour, ensures that the book avoids becoming a self-indulgent “Wow, aren’t I great?” exercise.   He’s also honest enough to admit that in both his music and tech careers, it wasn’t enough just to have talent or a good idea - a fair dose of good fortune was also required, together with an ability to cope with being knocked back quite a few times.  I got the audiobook version, which he reads himself – and can report that he’s a rather good mimic and raconteur too.  

The Bees by Laline Paull

“Watership Down” but with insects.  Actually, it probably deserves something better than that rather lazy and dismissive 5 word attempt at a review.  I just haven’t got over my disappointment at the bees being quite so extensively anthropomorphised.  I really wanted something more alien, but maybe that would’ve been totally unrelatable – whereas this was a perfectly readable story, it just wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Talking of aliens, this is an interesting hard sci-fi take on the whole alien invasion thing, as recommended by Barack Obama, no less.  It starts off with scenes of some brutality during the Cultural Revolution.  Traumatised by those episodes, one of the main characters comes to feel that humans can’t be trusted to treat each other in a civilized way.  She eventually uses her position at a secret Chinese research station to broadcast a signal into space, calling upon aliens to come and put the world to rights.  Unfortunately for humanity, those aliens have evolved in an environment considerably more challenging and brutal than our own, with three suns (the three body problem of the title).  Their unpredictable orbits mean that “stable eras” when civilisation can progress are subject to abrupt curtailment when one of the suns gets too close to the planet, whereupon everyone suddenly gets frazzled (although the aliens have developed an ability to “dessicate” themselves in order to survive these unstable periods).  Not surprisingly, they are delighted to find a planet in stable orbit around a single sun asking them to come and take over.

Some of the characterisation leaves a bit to be desired and some people may find the science content a bit much, but you can’t fault the book for its ambition and imaginative approach (this is the first in a trilogy).  It reminded me of some of Stanislaw Lem’s work, notably “Fiasco”, which is another cautionary tale about humanity’s yearning for contact with aliens (although in Lem’s novel, aggression on the part of the aliens seems to be more because they are so very unlike us that they actively don’t want contact – and quite right too, as it turns out).


Micro-reviews (June 2018)

June 22, 2018

Station Eleven
, The 7th Function of Language and Night Heron

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The central premise of this novel is not especially new – a virus wipes out most of human race and civilization as we know it collapses. However, the approach is a bit different from most treatments of this scenario.  These tend to focus on either the event itself and its immediate aftermath, or a point in time when it’s become something of a dim and distant memory and a new post-apocalyptic ...

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Publishing: the hedge fund approach

June 3, 2018

A hedge fund (De Montfort Capital) is offering new writers a salary of £24K a year and support to develop their careers.  Part of me thinks this approach to publishing is quite laudable - but part of me thinks it's slightly mad.  The bits I liked were the upfront commitment, the 50% royalty on sales and the support  - which is a striking contrast to most publishers, whose usual model involves a paltry royalty rate, limited help with editing, promotion etc and only committing themselves once ...
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Obooko revamped

May 28, 2018

Free ebooks platform Obooko has just undergone a (much delayed) revamp, with a much cleaner look and some improvements to the way you can browse/filter titles.  My experience with Obooko has been good in terms of the upload process etc, but less so in terms of downloads (click here for more details, including tips on how to create different types of ebook files for uploading to Obooko).  I've been on there since 2013 but my downloads remain stuck in the low hundreds - although others have don...
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Micro-reviews (May 2018)

May 14, 2018
Theory of Bastards, Munich and The People's House

I've tended to write longish reviews on this blog and I'll probably carry on with that for some books - especially self-published ones.  But I thought I'd have a go at doing some shorter reviews alongside these.  Let's see if I manage to keep it up.  At any rate, it's got to be better than just feeding star ratings into the hungry maw of Big Data (aka Goodreads/Amazon in this case).  Here goes:

Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman

Set a few year...

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Bad Faith by Jesse Tandler

April 30, 2018

We seem to be living through an age that puts an unhealthy premium on “authenticity”.  Politicians who are said to have this characteristic are excused any number of glaring faults - just look at Donald Trump or, closer to home, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and (at the opposite end of the spectrum) Jeremy Corbyn. They can say or do things that would be career-ending for other politicians – but they are tolerated, even praised for this, because they are regarded as being “true to themse...

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Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart

March 12, 2018

"Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart" by Amelia Slocombe is chick lit, which is not usually my genre of choice - but it caught my eye because one of the characters is a lawyer in a London law firm, which happens to be what I do for a living too.  I have also made a bit of a thing of trying to be a bit more open-minded when it comes to books which I have a tendency to dismiss as "not my thing", especially when it comes to free fiction by self-published authors (as in this case).

Having said that...
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To Kill the President: a (non) review

January 14, 2018

Just finished "To Kill the President" by Sam Bourne.  It wasn't bad - and although we never meet the President, I'm fairly sure I know who the author had in mind.  But who cares what I thought about it?  Here's what the Leader of the Free World made of it (allegedly), when it was drawn to his attention:

@realDonaldTrump tweeted:

Sam Bourne is a total loser and hater who made up a story to write this really boring and untruthful novel. More FAKE NEWS!

@realDonaldTrump tweeted:

Great reporting from...

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Jon Evans and the techno-travelogue thriller

December 4, 2017

Jon Evans is that rare beast – an author who has had a fair amount of commercial success but appears to be entirely happy to make most of his work available for free online.  Many of his novels have been conventionally published in a number of territories and have attracted impressive reviews from the likes of The Times, The Economist and The Washington Post (although as will be apparent from this timeline, his path to publication was far from smooth and resulted in the usu...

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Copyright registration: is it worth it?

September 2, 2017

On author sites like youwriteon.com (which I reviewed here), you sometimes see adverts for services like this one:

These companies typically charge a fee for "registering" your copyright for a period of years.  Some of the sites even look a bit like official agencies (they are not - they are businesses who are in it for a profit).

So is there any value in registering your copyright with them?  I dare say some authors are tempted to part with their hard ...
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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