Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Answering Review Request: Terran Psychosis

Votey asked me to read his story "Terran Psychosis". It's about this guy who insists that he's an alien that transformed into a human so he could investigate human behavior, and the doctor that's trying to figure out what's wrong with him. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish, and then assign a grade.

PLOT

WARNING! SECOND CHAPTER INTRODUCES A PLOT TWIST. I WILL GO INTO THIS DURING THE SECOND PARAGRAPH OF THIS SECTION.

Gordon Johnson is locked up in a nut house because he's insists that he's an alien and that he came to earth to tell the human race about the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. The conflict is not his struggle to convince others that he is right, but rather his doctor to find the problem in his mind and cure him. The reason Doctor Kleen is so sure that there is indeed something wrong with him are SPOILER.

Tomato in the Mirror.

Gordon is telling the truth about his nature and his mission. The twist is that the story begins with him on a space ship and with other aliens rather than on Earth and in a mental hospital. It's more of a mystery/conspiracy story than the verbal cat and mouse that it initially appears to be. By the ending, it has branched out into a more straight-forward humans vs aliens thing with gray and gray morality.


CHARACTERS

It's a short story with four characters. There isn't much room for characterization. The characters are well constructed but they feel too much like pieces in a puzzle to be characters in their own right.
Doctor Kleen is a benevolent doctor
The Director is stern but reasonable. There's also a little bit of world building regarding her species. It's not relevant to the plot but it is an interesting aside.
Chorpash's Gordon persona is loud and colorful.

Evil Men in Black.

POLISH

In terms of grammar and spelling, I found two errors. In terms of writing style, it is engaging and flows well. Mr.Votey is equally skilled in 1st and 3rd person narration.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Terran Psychosis" a B+

Click here for the next book review (which was a request): Negative Thinking

Click here for the previous book review (which was also a request): Crimson Guard 1: The Apprentices

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Answering Review Request: The Apprentices-Crimson Guard Trilogy book 1

Andretta Shellinger requested that I read one of her client's books.  She is a co-owner of Wizards Keep Publishing and the client is Dana Journey. His book The Apprentices-Crimson Guard Trilogy was published in November and she contacted me to aid its exposure.  I will examine Plot, Character and Polish, and then assign a grade.


PLOT

The prologue is fantastic. It has this sense of epic battle while this wise old mage is doing something Last Resort like. A panicky boy runs in and underscores the master's calm. This master mage, Mantiloc, is more annoyed at this apprentice mage's lack of a spine than the invading army outside his doorstep. It's "the youth of today are pathetic" sort of grumbling that is stereotypical of grumpy old people. The context makes it humorous. Then Mantiloc initiates his Last Resort, thoroughly thwarting the invasion attempt, and thus leading the villain to shout We Will Meet Again. Reading this prologue in the Amazon preview is what convinced me to accept this review request.

The first chapter is also good. It starts out with Lyndon referencing Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" and how he doesn't like that road because he doesn't like change. Thus, Lyndon is quickly and excellently set up as a Reluctant Hero and a snarky one at that, which promises to be fun to read. The following two events (The Burning City Library and work as caravan guards) are similarly interesting and well set up. The first one even addresses an instance of Fridge Logic in a humorous fashion. They could be fleshed out more, polished a little better, but they're still good. It's the following arcs (about half the book) that have problems.

The general thrust of the plot is Lyndon gathering the titular "apprentices". They are the apprentices of four other apprentices of Mantiloc. There's a prophecy saying they are essential to ending a long and supernatural war. This is the connecting thread between all the adventures within this story. However, this is only a "rear view mirror" perspective on the plot. The way it is presented is much different.

Lyndon starts his journey without any objective; not to gather the apprentices, not to rescue/avenge Mantiloc, not For Great Justice, just to satisfy curiosity provoked by a stranger. The events that lead to each arc appear to be coincidence rather than character driven goals. It's less annoying than it could be because the prologue has Mantiloc talk about prophecies and afterward Lyndon monologues about destiny and how he feels it will drag him down a troublesome path because that's what his master talks about. Because Destiny Said So is a legitimate trope but here it lacks the development to fully distinguish itself from bad/lazy writing.

There's constant jumping around in terms of character perspective, which is made worse by the changes in narration. When Lyndon has the POV, the narration is first person; everyone else is third. It is confusing and jarring.

The fight against the Big Bad is not resolved in this book because it's not started. This book's conflict is basically a recruitment program and that is resolved but it is subtle. Mr. Journey is clearly going for a queuing up cliffhanger, but because nothing has been set up, there's nothing behind it and so the cliffhanger lacks force.

CHARACTERS

Lyndon is a Vanilla Protagonist. He's a first person narrator with little in the way of personality or driving goal. Initially he had this Didn't Want An Adventure thing but that disappeared quickly. Later in the book, he remarks that "all I wished for was excitement". Other people tell him where to go and what to do and his berserker side does the fighting for him, so he himself doesn't do much of anything. It makes me think he was deliberately created this way to show off the others. There are flashes to a personality, but for the most part it's bland.

There's only one way to explain why Juleen falls so quickly for him, why the other apprentices don't ditch him, and why an army volunteers to work for him despite the fact that the only payment he can provide is, by his own admission, "death on a distant battlefield". That explanation is "destiny". Again, this wouldn't be a bad thing if it were further developed. The Red String of Fate, for instance, is a time-honored justification for why two people quickly fall in love.

The other apprentices are all more interesting characters than Lyndon. Their backstories are more detailed, their personalities are more visible, and they take action based on motivations, because they have motivations. Jes has his friend loyalty and Lovable Rogue personality, Frey explicitly talks about destiny to explain himself and demonstrates compassion in a big way, Naomi has this fiery snarky thing and her introduction justifies why she stays with the group, and Talon has this Gentle Giant Atoner thing going for him.

This is highlighted during a scene where the party is captured and shackled: Jes picks his chain locks with rogue skills, Talon breaks his with his dragon strength, and Naomi melts her's with fire magic. Lyndon just sits there and narrates.

Redington is a case of Fridge Logic. He's implied to be the person who gives Lyndon the scroll that sets him off and then he leaves until the end of the story. At that point, he explains a bunch of stuff, including why the apprentices are important. Why does he wait? If the apprentices are so important, why doesn't he help?

POLISH

The book I initially received was an unedited rough draft. I read most of it before either I or Miss. Shellinger noticed this and so I saw a lot of grammar errors and other stylistic problems. After I received the fixed copy, I still noticed these things but to a lesser degree.

There are missing apostrophes for the possessive tense.

There is no distinction in text to show that someone is thinking. With Lyndon's POV, this is worse because it is difficult to distinguish his thoughts from his narration.

The prose is immature and clunky. The dialogue and narration often sounds artificial, like it's trying too hard to be elegant or poetic.

In the final part of the story, there are no paragraph breaks to separate two or more people talking. It's all one paragraph with whatever action they take. It's hard to read. It feels as though the editor didn't reach this part.

The book is "ALMOST" a good one. If it were truly bad, then this review would be easy to write and this book easy to grade. Instead, it is constantly on the verge of something great. It's just not quite there yet. There's nothing fundamentally flawed. It could shine with a lot more polish and organization.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Apprentices-Crimson Guard Trilogy book 1" a C
 


Click here for the next book review (which was a request): Terran Psychosis

Click here for the previous book review (which was not a request): Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rich Dad and Belligerent Author (book review)

This week is something different. Instead of a novel, I'm reviewing a self-help book. It's supposedly non-fiction but I have doubts about that.  My own dad (whom I consider both "educated" and "rich") recommended it to me years ago. It's only now that I've gotten around to reading it. My opinion of it is mixed.  Kiyosaki  certainly has good advice but it's buried in a bunch of junk.

A lot of the stuff here is simple stuff: keep expenses low, be careful when buying luxuries, always watch for opportunities, etc. Beyond simple it's obvious, but still stuff that should be taught and especially with young people, like teenagers. If they have a credit card and no income (whatever it may come from) then they're going to have problems settling their debt at the end of the month. This kind of advice is likely to be met with a "duh" from adults. It's good advice but it's also basic stuff.

I'd say the most useful and unique thing here is something espoused in an early chapter: he says that there's a difference between "being poor" and "being broke". The former is permanent because it's a state of mind and the later is temporary because it is not. "Being rich" is not possessing a great deal of money but is also a state of mind. It's a matter of intelligence, rebounding from failure, and thinking creatively. It's too bad he doesn't focus more on this aspect.

Kiyosaki writes in a engaging voice. It sounds like the author is talking through the page. Combined with his frame narrative and it becomes an easier read then you would think something like "financial literacy" would be. Personally, I think he wanted to write fiction but called it non-fiction in order to market it to adults.

The first two points, while good in and of themselves, contribute to the bad points. There is outrageous arrogance in this book. It's in both Kiyosaki'a narration and the scenes with his idolized "rich dad". Both of them go on and on about the above simple and basic advice like it's revolutionary and they're among a rare and elite handful that understand it. He repeats it over and over again, which sounds condescending. He also repeats how wealthy and successful he is due to these lessons, which could be bragging and/or pleading with the reader to continue reading.

There's also a matter of fictionalization. His "rich dad" is never identified, and I've read that he dedicated his earlier book to his "poor dad" which he holds in poor estimate here. The childhood scenes sound like a morality play with everything fitting into place to espouse some aspect of "rich dad's" unparalleled brilliance.

Despite the previous two paragraphs, there are occasions where Kiyosaki pulls back and plays down expectations. He gives the line about how most self-starters fail within five years and how stocks are risky investments and stuff like that. He outright states that "I don't recommend anything I do." This one line makes any business advice in his book worthless, because he doesn't think anyone else should try it. In other words, don't bother trying to copy his success in real estate.

If not for business advice, then the point of the book must be motivational, right? No, it's not. Kiyosaki is belligerent in his attitude. That's the bulk of the "engaging voice" I spoke of earlier; It's this high and mighty sense of superiority. Everybody is wrong; teachers all over the place do a horrible job educating kids,  accountants and bankers are bean counters (yes, he uses the term "bean counter") that should never be charge, and parents are well-meaning idiots that are setting up their kids for a life of financial struggle.  Anyone that disagrees with him is a "poor dad", who simply doesn't get it.

After all of this, he tells the reader that if you follow his instructions, you will fail and that you should learn from this failure (instead of his book). If you're looking for a motivational text, I'd look for something else, unless you want kick-in-the-pants motivation.

Finally, there's this cross promotion thing. From the first chapter and occasionally through the lessons, Kiyosaki talks about the game he created, "CASHFLOW". It sounds like part of the purpose of the book is to push this game onto the reader. There's also a sense that the book itself is one of his "assets" and he's stroking his ego in the process.

I'm not going to critique his business practices because I'm not in that field. I can't say for sure if he's right or wrong, but from the things I've heard his ideas are sketchy at best.

My bottom line: read the first two chapters and then put the book away, or don't buy it at all.

Click here for the next book review (which was not a request): The Apprentices-Crimson Guard
Click here for the previous book review (which was a review request): Dark Communion

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Two Cents on Kindle Unlimited

I've been reading about the Kindle Unlimited controversy in Clean Indie Reads over on Facebook and some other places. This is my two cents prespective for the publishing industry and the readers that feed it.

Personally, I don't see what all the hullablloo is about. I've been tracking my sales and burrows for months now, and if anything, both of them have gone up. I'm certainly getting more burrows than I used to but it's not as if my sales have been seriously negatively affected. The two of them are about the same; within five or so of each other in this second half of the year. (As of this post, my sales outnumbers burrows 3.5:1.) My royalties are also better than they were in the first half of the year. This dissonance causes me confusion so I thought it over.

My book is going for 99 cents on Amazon right now, so I suppose that could be part of the reason. At this price, my royalty deal is 33%. If I wanted the 70% deal, I'd have to price it higher, like 2.99. (I suppose my reasons for this are related to the discussion, but it's still a digression so I'll move on.) Even if the Kindle Unlimited deal for a single burrow is 1.33 dollars instead of 2, that's still siginficantly more than I'd get for a sale. I've seen people that set their ebook at 5, 10 and even 13 dollars. At the 70% royalty deal, then even the full two dollars would look small in comparison.

It stands to reason why Amazon doesn't pay full price for a burrow. Authors are paid when a Kindle Unlimited user reads 10% of the book. For a 100 page novel, that's 10 pages. That's basically an extended preview. Since the reader pays a flat rate for the Kindle Unlimited service, then depending on how many books they sample, that one book costs them nothing. They don't have to commit to the book and the author still gets paid. If Amazon paid 100% of the price for 10% of a book, then the company as a whole would make even less money than it does right now (zero).

As far as I've heard, there's something about Amazon giving Indie burrows part of a pot of money while paying big publishers a full commission. I haven't seen that on Amazon itself so I can't be certain. According to those same sources, the biggest publishers aren't in Kindle Unlimited anyway, so it's a moot point.

I think it's a control thing. Authors think they've lost control because Amazon uses a complex formula to determine Kindle Unlimited pay rates instead of allowing the authors to set it like for the sales section. This perception is an illusion. Kindle Unlimited is part of KPD Select, and authors can choose whether or not to have their books be part of this program. If you don't like it, you have the power and option not to do it. This then leads into another control thing: KPD Select means being exclusive with Amazon but, again, I don't see the problem.

As far as I've read, Amazon has the biggest slice of the ebook market. It's like 70 percent. Everyone else has to split 30 percent. Even if I have this wrong, it's still the basic picture. It's better to stick with the big kid on the block so they'll help you move more books then spreading yourself thin over a bunch, right? In order to keep an author's business to itself, Amazon provides other ways to move books, make money, and gain readers. It's a compliment because Amazon sees these authors as valuable and something it doesn't want its competitors to have.  "Do all your business with me, and I'll help you increase your business." I've heard some argue that it's the reading platform that's a problem; only Amazon means only Kindle. That's also not a problem because there's free conversion programs available out there, and also, traditional paperback. The bottom line is that Amazon does not demand exclusivity from every author publishing with it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Answering Review Request: The Dark Communion

Joey Ruff asked me to read his book "The Dark Communion". It's about an occult detective investigating a string of child abductions involving superhuman bums. I will examine plot, characters and polish before assigning a grade.

PLOT

On the whole the plot is good. There's an action prologue that shows precisely what this occult detective, Johnathon (Jono) Swyft can do and what he's like. This leads into and connects with the main plot of the child abductions. The Herald in this case is not a Femme Fatale with some mystery but a kid looking for his brother. Points for originality and all that.

There's this progression of events and investigation that leads to the unraveling of the mystery. It makes sense all the way and leads up to this kick ass final battle with a foe much cooler and tougher than a demonically possessed hobo. It's also well foreshadowed.

I also like the world building. It's interesting stuff; a mix of classical and original ideas about monsters, where they come from and how they interact with humans and the world. It's also skillfully woven into the story. For instance, Korrigan are vulnerable to Cold Iron (a classic trope) but there's no paragraph explaining this. You see it in action. The rule of thumb is Show Don't Tell. The only time there's "telling" is when Jono explains something to his daughter, who is on the verge of joining daddy in the field.
There are two things about this novel that I find to be weaknesses:
1. Agent Stone shows up everywhere Jono goes. It gives the impression that she's stalking him or it's some string of coincidences. Given the lack of real villains for most of the book, it feels like she's plopped into the scenes to provide cheap conflict.
2. There are lots of prolonged tangents into backstories. One time there was a whole chapter that was a flashback to a completely unrelated incident. It was basically filler. The Wendigo stuff involved with the story could have been delivered in a less bloated fashion.

I like the ending. It's climatic, it resolves the initial conflict (the job offer) but the larger part is still ongoing and there's an interesting turn in Jono's personal angst.

CHARACTERS

Jono, our protagonist, is an asshole. There's no getting around that. He fires off more F-bombs than bullets. He doesn't care about the pain of others, including or especially his clients, and (as his partner Ape said) he often makes them feel worse. He antagonizes an FBI agent that would love any excuse to put him behind bars. I'd like to see someone kick his teeth in if he hadn't suffered enough already.
Underneath all that crud and cynicism is a heroic heart, so he's what Tvtropes calls a Knight in Sour Armor. Despite all his talk about how he doesn't give a damn and makes a joke about everything, he's still in the monster hunting business, he raised Nadia so well she's more mature then he is, and he shows respect for his siren girlfriend.

Other main characters include Jono's partner, Ape/Terry Towers, and his adoptive daughter Nadia.
Ape is a good foil for our protagonist because he's a fist fighter/sword user to contrast Jono's coat full of guns, and he's more positively empathetic. He looks like a gorilla because he's big and hairy but is much more civilized than Jono.
Nadia is the daughter of Jono's late mentor, Huxley. She's a nice girl following in both of her father's footsteps. She's intelligent and gets along with everyone. She also has an interesting power based on controlling the inertia of objects.

There's a slew of law enforcement agents, from local detectives and cops to the FBI. One in particular is Agent Stone. Somehow she frequently turns up where-ever Jono is doing monster busting and yet she always misses the monster itself. She is just as much as hardass as Jono himself but lacks the same sympathetic POV.

Father Finnegan is an interesting character. I wish I'd seen more of him. He's an excellent foil for Jono and here's why. He's a current and devout priest in contrast to the former and disillusioned priest, and his skill with a gun is referred to as "Wild West Gunfighter" in contrast to Jono's walking armory of More Daka. Watching them interact was fun.

There's not much to say about the villain. He doesn't show up for a while and conflict is instead provided by discovering the threads of his organization and between the various anti-heroes fighting and getting in each other's way. The end result is that he's flat, generic and, to quote Jono himself "pathetic".

POLISH

Jono is a first person narrator and he has a clipped way of speaking. This makes it hard to determine what parts of narration have grammar problems and which are intentional. After all, no one speaks in perfect grammar, and especially not a coarse guy like Jono. The most ambiguous parts are towards the end. Overall, spelling and grammar are not a problem.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Dark Communion" a B

Click here for the next book review (which was not a request): Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Click here for the previous request (which was not a request either): Journey to the West