Recommended For Positive Science Fiction Fans: A Review of ‘About Time’ by Michael Murphey

About Time by Michael Murphey

Global Research Consortium is a super-secret, secure facility experimenting with time travel. Its carefully selected staff, sequestered on site, is committed to a five-year mission. No unauthorized visitors are allowed, and no permanent staff members are permitted to leave the campus—at least not in the conventional sense. After all, time travel information in the wrong hands, that is, hands that did not pay for access, would be a terrible thing. The place is also full of spies, insinuated into the program by its various government and corporate sponsors, there presumably to make sure that they have as much access to discoveries as their competitors and allies.

Despite its investors’ hopes, and their considerable financial contributions, time travel may not be the road to riches they had hoped. There are complications. First, the procedure can only translate living matter, which means the Travelers must go naked. All attempts to include clothing, implants, or carried items have fatal side effects. Second, people are not physically sent into the past. Their present (future) selves wind up cohabitating the same body as their past selves, meaning that Travelers can’t be sent back to a time before they were born, and when they return, their memories of the experience quickly diminish. And thirdly, it is not THE past to which they travel. It is the past of one of an infinite number of parallel dimensions, many of which are largely indistinguishable from ours. This of course means that any changes made in those pasts may not affect OUR past.

That’s essentially the near future (2040s) setting for this unique take on time travel. It is a lighthearted tale with moments of humor. It also contains a bit of real science—not just whizz-bang technology but an attempt to provide a theoretical basis for it. The digressions into physics are fairly accurate when delving into commonly known details of current scientific theories. Someone who is not superficially aware of special relativity might learn something here.

The main characters are well conceived, believable, and likeable. The minor characters also make sense and add to the story. The prose and editing are professional. With the exception of diversions, exposition, and author intrusion, the pacing of the main story is also good. The reader wants to read on to find out what happens next.

Which brings me to the first detractor. The book is structured as a frame story, told by an outside narrator, who occasionally digresses into explanations of the applicable science, history, and setting. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it does help to explain some of the background the reader needs to understand what is going on, but it also interrupts the flow of the main story.

Some of the humor seemed forced and juvenile. Two things stood out. The first was a running gag about one of the main character’s…natural endowments. Let’s just say that he has equipment of unusual size. As they all must enter the time travel portal in a state of nature, his nature responds naturally to the natural state of his two female companions. This was funny once or twice, but the same gag, repeated several times throughout the first half of the book, went on way too long (no pun intended) and became an annoyance. By the same token, scenes of wanton bone-jumping, sometimes more graphic than required for the story, seemed to be included simply to appeal to adolescent readers who expect that kind of thing in a book that isn’t classified as ‘Young Adult’. Another gag that was clever but also belabored was associated with a minor character called Dr. Hu (pronounced ‘who’). That this is a time travel story, the name is brilliant, but versions of the Abbott and Costello ‘Who’s on First’ shtick got old after the third time.

By the middle of the book, most of these have run their course. There are fewer author intrusions and not as many scenes belaboring the finer points of external human anatomy. But the ending comes on abruptly, with the narrator making a final summation of what happened with the project. Perhaps this is to make room for a sequel, but it felt anticlimactic.

That said, overall this is a far more intelligent story than many I have seen. I especially appreciated the inclusion of real science in this otherwise soft science fiction story. The prose, editing, and character development are all above average. Despite an inexplicable inability to overcome their teenage hormones, the main characters are admirable adults with laudable goals.

I can recommend this one to positive science fiction fans. 4 Stars.

Buy About Time on Amazon now! 

Full Disclosure: I obtained a promotional digital edition of this book from Awesome Indies. I received no other compensation in exchange for reading or reviewing it.

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Bizarre, Funny & Telling: A Review of ‘After The Dog Died’ by mbpardy

After the Dog Died by mbpardy

Jim and Candy are the unlikely criminal masterminds in this bizarre comedic literature novel hybrid thingamabob by MB Pardy. After running over a dog on his way to get fired, Jim discovers that Candy has, somehow, managed to photocopy an Aussie $20 bill, and it’s taken by the change machine at his new job, the car wash. Not one to resist the temptation (after all, he’s in debt $3000 to the dog’s owner, and he owes on the bills at his cheating girlfriend’s apartment), Jim agrees to step it up. They team up with Choco, the government field agent, in an attempt to loot tens of thousands of dollars in coins from the city.

This book rolls cheerfully on through some of the dreariest of literature pit traps: the I’m-pregnant-and-let’s-break-up, the sleeping-in-the-car, the slowly-losing-lust-for-life-and-having-my-ambition-crushed, and the hating-the-everyday-drudgery-that-is-life. Through a strange narrative style, the author paints an oddly jovial picture of being broke, in debt, jobless, and heading towards hopeless in modern day Australia.

Characters are interesting and fully fleshed out. Jim, Choco, Renee, Renee’s mom, Candy, Emma, and even the bit characters like Jock and Sauvage are compelling, real, and quirky.

Why?

The book’s charm is mostly in the bizarre, idiosyncratic quirks and ticks every single character, every single scene, and every single object in the book seems to be packed with. Choco’s car has a faulty window. On character logs into his government job as a field agent by reciting a bank account number backwards. Other characters are contestants into a strange reality show. Jim is forced into a pub to have an awkward discussion with someone he thinks may be the cops, because he forgot to put on flip-flops and the concrete’s too hot. There are so many odd little idiosyncrasies, and so many strange happenstance scenes that the book reminded me of Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, without the violence.

Throughout most of this, the book breaks from convention in an interesting way: by showing character emotion extremely minimally. The audience is left to often wonder just what the heck was meant when Jim or Candy said this or that, or how Renee felt when that one scene concluded. This leaves the book full of short, to-the-point sentences, and the reader gets to do some of the work in deducing how to react.

This, combined with the quirky style of events and characters, meant that I was constantly left guessing.

Lastly, this book has quite a lot to say, between the lines, about the situation of the lives, hopes, dreams, and ambitions of young people in Australia, about the operation of bureaucracy in Australian society.

I give this book two enthusiastic thumbs up, though I’m left to wonder what the book cover has to do with the actual novel itself. Regardless, 5 deserving stars.

Buy After The Dog Died on Amazon now!

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Feel Like Taking a Trip to Old Detroit? – Olivia Series Discounted This Week!

The first two books of the Olivia series – which take place in Pennsylvania and Michigan in the early 1840s – will be discounted as Kindle Countdown deals from April 15 – 21.

What is this series about?

Olivia Killion’s father bequeathed a farm in Michigan to whichever of his offspring would put in a crop and stake a claim to it. As Olivia insists, “I’m sprung off him just as much as Avis or Tobey.”
The problem: she’s seventeen, female, and it’s 1841.
She has a friend who would make a perfect partner for this endeavor. Mourning Free knows how to run a farm and Olivia has complete trust in him.
The problem: Mourning is black, the orphaned son of runaway slaves, and reluctant to travel and work with a white girl. He especially fears the private agents from the south who patrol the free states, hunting fugitive slaves.

What are people saying about these books?

  • Olivia, Mourning – Book 1
    233 Five-Star reviews, 77 Four-Star Reviews
    Midwest Book Review: “Historical fiction at its best.”
    Carol Kean, Amazon Vine Reviewer: “The prose is gorgeous, the historical setting is vividly reproduced with painstaking detail, and the characters are so real, it’s hard to believe they really are fictional.”
    Christophe Fischer, Amazon Top 500 Reviewer and author of the Three Nations Trilogy: “A remarkably well-researched piece of historical fiction … An impressive novel.”
  • The Way the World Is – Book 2
    138 Five-Star reviews, 17 Four-Star Reviews
    Midwest Book Review: “Fans of Olivia, Mourning will find this sequel no less engrossing covers a variety of themes: personal growth, change, destiny, responsibility and, ultimately, the costs of love … Together, the two books offer a powerful saga that makes for thoroughly engrossing, compelling historical fiction at its best.”
    Catherine Cavendish, author and blogger: “Yael Politis has become one of my favourite authors. She first hooked me with her amazing story of struggle, hope and tragedy in the Middle East during the Palestinian Mandate – ‘The Lonely Tree’. For this new series, she has returned to her Michigan roots and turned out a wonderfully atmospheric ongoing story of a remarkable woman, battling prejudice, bigotry, fear and discrimination in 19th century America. I eagerly await Book Three.”
    esldonna, Amazon customer: “I love to read, and have read dozens of books this past month, but Olivia, Mourning was my favorite of this year. The Way the World Is, came in at number 2, and I’m anxiously awaiting the final story.”

How Much Can You Save?

The prices for both books will be as follows: (all changes are effective 8:00 am PST)

  • April 15 – $ 0.99
  • April 16 – $ 1.99
  • April 18 – $ 2.99
  • April 19 – $ 3.99
  • April 21 – $ 5.99 (regular list price)
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Really a Slam-Dunk if You Work or Study in a Zoological Field: A Review of ‘An Animal Life: The Beginning’ by Howard Krum

An Animal Life by Howard Krum

An Animal Life: The Beginning is a combination medical mystery/romance comedy about the students and faculty of a veterinary college. We follow our young characters through orientations, initiations, parties, classes and even a talent show. The descriptions of a mostly-carefree college experience are suddenly upended when a medical mystery that threatens both animals and humans demands our protagonists’ attention. With a heavy dose of humor and gruesome veterinary surgery, An Animal Life is really a slam-dunk if you work or study in a zoological field.

The book is well edited, with few errors. It is substantive, and if the veterinary world that the authors have crafted for you is a place you want to spend a lot of time in, there is plenty here and more coming in the following books. As a medical mystery and a romance novel, it mostly succeeds, and there are a number of funny, well-written and quotable passages. The book also gives solid college advice, like study your teachers and the way they test and grade versus the material itself. While I’m normally not a fan of images in prose, the diagrams and lab notes provided are interesting and in some instances help paint a better picture of the characters.

An Animal Life is like a cross between a Brett Easton Ellis novel (there are a lot of pop-culture references to go along with the dissections) and a veterinary college primer. Oddly, this is not a bad combination. Where the book suffers is in relating information to the reader in a succinct and easily understandable way. If you’re like me and want to really understand the world of the book you’re reading, you’ll often stop to look up things you don’t know. While a veterinarian might laugh hysterically over an interaction between two of the characters, it will often be mired in so much clinical jargon that readers of even above-average intelligence will be left scratching their heads, looking to Google, or checking the glossary in the back of the book for answers. When the author does cater to the uninitiated reader, such as in an excellent description of formalin, you feel like you’re looking in on an interesting world. I wish there was more of that.

Unfortunately, the sheer volume of medical references will almost certainly take the reader out of the story if they haven’t studied (or are interested in) the zoological field. With that said, I would recommend to the authors that they shop this to veterinary colleges and get it made part of a curriculum somewhere. I could easily see this book being part of the reading requirements for a first-year vet student. For those knowledgeable on and interested in the science of animals, this is easily a hands-down 5-star book. For the average reader looking for a medical mystery/romance, they will find an at times confusing but overall well-written 4-star book here.

Buy An Animal Life: The Beginning on Amazon now!

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Are Self-Published Books Inferior? Some Figures.

This is the question people have been asking and arguing about ever since the new wave of self-publishing hit with the event of ebooks. No one has been able to give a definitive answer, not just because there is clearly a range of quality and, therefore, one can’t really make a blanket generalisation, but also because people only have personal experience with which to gauge quality, and they are unlikely to have taken any actual figures of books that have and haven’t met their personal standards, or, at least, not over a large number of books and a wide range of genres.

Now the Awesome Indies has figures with some degree of relevance in this debate. Prior to centralising our review requests, we took figures from our most prolific reviewers and discovered that on average they only recommended 40% of books they reviewed for the Awesome Indies. Since meeting our criteria is equated with meeting the same standards as mainstream books, that meant that according to our criteria, 60% of self-published books were inferior to mainstream books.

Since centralising our review requests, we have taken more detailed and precise data. We also made it very clear on our request page that we would give low rated reviews where warranted, something that would scare off a lot of authors, so we need to consider that these new figures are most likely only taken from authors who, due to a measure of positive reviews, are already fairly confident of the quality of their books, or, as is possible if the book has only recently been published, completely ignorant.

Out of 68 books submitted for review. 28 were not admitted to the site. 28 gained immediate approval, and 12 gained approval after reworking and re-submitting the book, usually after fixing copy errors and line-editing issues. In total, 40 books gained approval, and 10 of them received the Seal of Excellence.

In rough percentage terms, of those books submitted for review:

41% were rejected because we considered them of a lower standard than books published by the mainstream.

41% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream.

17% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream after the author attended to a small degree of copy edit and line editing issues.

14% gained a Seal of Excellence. These are the books that might actually have had a chance of picking up a mainstream publisher. Most of these either had agents before the author decided to self-publish or were written by authors who had previously published books with a mainstream publisher or had formal writing qualifications.

In total, 59% were approved for addition to the site, but BEFORE reworking and resubmitting only 41% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream. That validates our original figures that suggest that the majority (around 60%) of self-published books in the marketplace are indeed inferior.

The figures are, as yet, based on low numbers, so cannot be considered definitive, but considering that it is likely that our review requests are coming from those who are both concerned about quality and have done their best to achieve it, I’d say that the figures are likely to be fairly optimistic. At the same time, we rarely get requests to review books from established indie authors whose books consistently receive large number of reviews over 4 stars, so if those books are of a quality to warrant those reviews, then the lack of such books in our data would balance out the lack of books submitted from authors not so concerned or confident about their quality.

The only way for readers to be sure that they are getting quality indie books is to only buy those that have some form of approval from a valid source.  Due to lack of honesty, lack of education, and in some instances unethical behaviour by authors, public review ratings are unfortunately not a reliable system of evaluation. Personally, I would stick to indie books that either have some kind of award, or stamp of approval from a trusted source, or are produced by an indie publisher who I know from experience consistently publishes books of a high standard.

But rather than haggling over blanket statements about the quality of self-published books, the question we should be asking and answering is where do we find the good ones?

Obviously one of the answers is: here at the Awesome Indies.

How do you ensure that the indie books you buy are good quality?

Posted in About Indie books, About Indie publishing | Tagged , , | 7 Comments