Micro-reviews (March 2019)

March 11, 2019
Show Them What They Won, The Book of Strange New Things, The Sparrow

Show Them What They Won by Sean Boling

Ever wondered how many people have to die before gun-enthusiasts in the States start to question whether the easy availability and widespread ownership of fire-arms in their country might be part of the problem?  Somehow though, the latest mass shooter incident always seems to get turned on its head, with the gun lobby managing to deflect blame by deploying absurd arguments about how the incident could’ve been prevented if only all the people that got shot had had guns themselves (so they could have fired back and taken out the bad guy  – because clearly, in this Hollywood action movie view of the world, no one innocent would ever be killed in the crossfire or anything bad like that).   But what if someone got so frustrated with this state of affairs that he decided to give the gun community a taste of their own medicine?  And what if that someone were a retired police officer, so he knew not only how to handle guns but also how to cover his tracks?   

This is what Sean Boling imagines in this gripping and highly provocative self-published novel.  His protagonist, Hart, has retired early – but it’s difficult to feel 100% positive about enjoying your retirement when your daughter’s child was killed in a high school shooting and all the world can do is shake its head sadly (and then move swiftly on to the next news story).   You can probably guess where this is leading – but the author makes Hart sufficiently sympathetic that you are rooting for him even when you know that morally, he has almost certainly taken a serious diversion from the path of righteousness.   Another excellent and very thoughtful book from this author (see also my reviews of Abraham the Anchor Baby Terrorist and Pigs and Other Living Things).  And what’s more, it’s currently free to download on Smashwords.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

This is (in the main) a literary novel about a Christian missionary sent to the planet Oasis to minister to the natives there.  Much of the book consists of a rather anguished email correspondence (instantaneous face-to-face communication is not possible) with his beloved wife back on Earth, where various rather ill-defined crises appear to be causing civil society to fray at the edges.  So the basic premise feels like a slightly weird genre mash-up, with a scenario and an epistolary format that would be more at home in a historical novel set in the 1700s or 1800s, but where both have been given a dystopian sci-fi makeover.  I had high hopes for it at first and was intrigued by the religious aspect – but I don’t think sci-fi is Faber’s natural milieu and wasn’t convinced that the genre mash-up was entirely successful either.  That said, it kept my interest sufficiently for me to read to the end (despite being overlong).  But overall, I found it a curiously unsatisfying read.   Given the sci-fi element, I had expected more in the way of “big ideas” or writing that makes you view things in a different way - but I didn’t feel that it ever really delivered on that front.  And given the sheer length of it, I also felt a bit short-changed at being left with so many unanswered questions, both about Oasis and what was going on back on Earth (and why).  It’s a pity because I enjoyed the other books I have read by this author (The Fire Gospel and Under the Skin, especially the former).

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I hadn’t heard of this novel before but decided to take a look after it was referred to in a review on Amazon of the Michel Faber book above.  That review suggested that The Sparrow was a more interesting exploration of the themes of religion and contact with aliens and having read it, I’m inclined to agree.  The plot involves a Jesuit-led mission to investigate a mysterious radio signal from a planet orbiting Earth’s nearest star, Alpha Centauri – a signal that sounds very much like some form of extraterrestrial singing.  Yes, I know, are we really expected to believe that as well as living in the woods, the Pope builds spaceships?  But set aside whatever scepticism you might have about that because the author does a good job of constructing a reasonably plausible scenario for how the expedition comes about.  It’s a long book but the author uses that length effectively to develop her human characters and their relationships to a degree that is unusual in sci-fi.  Whilst the aliens are not as alien as say, the ones in a Stanislaw Lem novel (I am thinking of Fiasco, Solaris, Eden or The Invincible), they are a lot more interesting and original in conception than the Oasans (see review of Michel Faber novel above).  And staying with Lem, the message – about the risks of imposing human expectations on alien races – certainly chimes with many of the former’s books (but this is quite a different treatment of that theme - and unlike Lem, whose books tend to be pretty male-dominated affairs, there are some strong female characters in the novel).

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Micro-reviews (December 2018)

December 24, 2018
The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks against the United States, Standard Deviation and Perfidious Albion

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks against the United States by Jeffrey Lewis

Christmas 2018 is almost upon us – and what better way to get into the festive mood than by pondering the chances of North Korea actually using its nuclear weapons?  Jeffrey Lewis is an expert on North Korea’s nuclear programme and this novel starts off in ...

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Tragedy or farce?

November 24, 2018

I recently read “Adults in the Room” by Yanis Varoufakis – the former Greek Finance Minister’s account of his experiences trying to negotiate with the EU over the Greek bailout after the financial crisis.  Based on his media profile, I had tended to view Varoufakis as a bit, well, full of himself.  And it’s certainly true that, as the computer-programmed match commentary on my son’s FIFA Xbox football game was almost guaranteed to say if you dribbled the ball around an awful lot w...

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The Prancing Jacana

November 9, 2018

The Prancing Jacana by Steven John Halasz is (for me at any rate) what Graham Greene liked to call “an entertainment”:  it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it has an intriguing thriller-style plot that ticks along at a nice pace, but it’s also written with a literary sensibility and manages to deal with some serious issues along the way.

Caroline Parker, a best-selling American author of crime fiction, has set her latest novel in Senegal – where it has just been banned, having offe...

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Self-publishing: a review of Amazon KDP

October 3, 2018

So, I have finally got around to putting my novel up on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) - having previously only made it available on sites that would let me offer it for free (such as Smashwords).   I am hoping I can persuade Amazon to make it free for at least some of the time by pointing out that they are being undersold by numerous other sites, where it is free.  

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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 mobi...

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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

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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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