Friday, July 28, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Reviews: The Martian, Artemis, and Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Reviews: The Martian, Artemis, and Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

by Karen S. Wiesner

After I watched The Martian movie with Matt Damon, I immediately bought and devoured the 2014 book from start to finish. I honestly believed the author must work for NASA. But, no, Any Weir was a computer programmer and software engineer before he made it big with his first title. He didn't even finish college, which doesn't really mean anything other than I'm pretty sure most people who work for NASA do. Not surprisingly, his parents were a physicist and an electrical engineer. His website describes him as "a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of such subjects as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight". Everything in Weir's first bestseller felt so authentic and believable to me.

The concept for this science fiction story is simple: A team of astronauts is on Mars exploring, mega bad weather hits, so the part of the team that's still alive bugs out and heads home. Turns out, though, that the guy they left for dead isn't, and he has to survive until NASA (and later, the Ares III team of astronauts he came with) can figure out how the heck to rescue him…if they even can.

The actor Damon's performance was so phenomenal as Dr. Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer, I couldn't help seeing the character that way while I read the book. Watney had a sense of humor at nearly all times and a brain that just wouldn't quit as he faced every seemingly insurmountable hurdle that could possibly be thrown his way. Resourceful is a mild word for this dude. He just kept going and going even when most people would have reached the point of defeat long ago.

I binge read this book each time I pull it down from my keeper shelf. The only downside of reading it is the swearing. The four-letter word that starts with an 'f" is used so often, I'm convinced it accounts for at least 20,000 words (or 40 pages) of the book. If the author had only done a search for that word and seen just how much it's overused, I think he might have cut out most of them. If he'd just started the first few chapters with the character using the word often, we would have gotten the hint that Watney didn't actually stop using it after that point--the author just stop beating us over the head with the word. But that is honestly the only negative.

Weir initially self-published the book as a free serial on his website, then, at the request of his fans, made it a Kindle book on Amazon, where it became a bestseller. After a literary agent approached him, the book was sold to Crown Publishing Group. Andy Weir, the bestselling author, became a household word.

Interesting tidbits: The authors of The Expanse Series (which I reviewed a few weeks back in this column) were so influenced by The Martian, they gave a nod to it in that series, where the Mark Watney is a long-haul freighter used as a colony transport. Additionally, a species of bush tomato from Australia was named after the fictional botanist. In October 2015, along with announcing its next steps for a real-world human journey to Mars, NASA presented a web tool that tracked Watney's fictional trek across the planet.


The Martian was so good, I knew I wouldn't be able to wait for the paperback before purchasing Weir's next release in hardcover, the 2017 published Artemis. This science fiction thriller novel is set in the 2080s-2090s on the moon's first city of Artemis, populated with some 2000 people comprised mainly of tourists but a good share of criminals as well. The heroine of the book is no exception. Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara is a porter who dabbles in smuggling to not only make ends meet but to pay back a debt she owes. When the biggest score of her life comes along, she can't turn it down, even when things turn ugly and what appeared to be a mere smuggling job becomes all-out war for control of the city.

Jazz is very similar to the character of Mark Watney. She's smart, resourceful, always fighting when life throws the worst it has at her, and none of it defeats her. Instead, it hones her, bringing out the best, most innovative aspects of her.

I wanted to dislike Artemis. Jazz makes one stupid decision after the other, not 'fessing up to her own initial crime that caused her to become a criminal in order to pay back the very personal and still tender "debt" she owes. When the truth is finally revealed, I couldn't help feeling for Jazz and even believing the best of her. I rooted for her to win and overcome the demons hounding her for bad choices in the past that led her where she ends up in this novel.

I read Artemis very fast, unable to put it down, just as I do each time I read The Martian. It's an irresistible story of a good girl in a bad situation that she brought about herself with poor choices. Though it's been optioned and reports of the script being written have cropped up, the movie prospects are a bit uncertain. It may be renamed Project Artemis and might star Scarlet Johansson and Chris Evans--yeah, you read that right. Black Widow and Captain space. Weird. No release date has been set.


The title of Weir's third science fiction, published in 2021, threw me for a loop. I couldn't imagine, based on the name, what it could be about, thought religious, spacy connotations were at the forefront. But, no, not at all. In fact, Project Hail Mary goes back to Weir's roots with The Martian.

Set in the near future, a global dimming event with the potential to bring about the extinction of the human race is what forces the world's first cooperative government to try to solve the problem. They make Ryland Grace, a high school teacher and former molecular biologist, into an astronaut and send him to study alien microbes that consume all forms of electromagnetic radiation, using radiant energy to move. Because it consumes energy from the sun and also feeds on Venus' carbon dioxide, this organism is named "Astrophage" (star eater). Astrophage has also infected and dimmed nearby stars. Only Tau Ceti, which is 12 lightyears from Earth, resists. Scientists figure out how to use Astrophage as rocket fuel, they build a starship, the Hail Mary, and send Grace off on a suicide mission to figure out why Tau Ceti is resistant so they can reproduce the effect. Unmanned mini ships will return his findings to Earth.

The book opens with Grace waking in the Hail Mary from a coma, initially afflicted with amnesia. As his memory comes back, all the intelligence and resourcefulness in the face of extreme challenges that motivated Weir's previous main characters Mark and Jazz are evident in Grace. His spaceship reaches Tau Ceti, where Grace meets "Rocky", an alien with a stone-like exoskeleton from 40 Eridani, a planet also plagued by the Astrophage infection. Rocky is a skilled engineer and the last survivor of his crew, sent for the same reason Grace was.

What follows in the story after that is a much more sophisticated and emotionally compelling version of Enemy Mine, best known from the 1985 sci-fi action drama featuring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. but originating from the Barry B. Longyear novella of the same name published in the September 1979 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

I was engrossed in Project Hail Mary until Rocky's introduction, at which point I became full-on, single-mindedly absorbed. Even as I saw the silly connections the book had with that sappy old movie Enemy Mine, I couldn't help falling for Rocky. Grace was a compellingly drawn character, but Rocky was the star of this show. I rooted for both of them in the face of absolutely impossible challenges. Two guys from separate planets had to design a language they could both understand before they could even communicate were somehow supposed to save the entire universe? Come on! But I desperately wanted them to succeed, and the thought that they might not (and, wow, did it look bleak and black right up until the final moment!) was devastating. I'd be hard-pressed to remember a time I wanted a happy ending more for both these main characters. For sci-fi fans, this one is a must-read. With Ryan Gosling signed on to star in and produce Project Hail Mary, it was announced in May 2023 that the film would begin production in early 2024. Fingers crossed the movie comes to fruition. Until such a time, if any, I'll just have to re-read the book.

Andy Weir has a lot of works available (which used to be available on his website but not currently even mentioned on it now, and I confess I haven't been as interested in the ones that aren't science fiction and aren't published by a major conglomerate like Crown Publishing. That could be a failure on my part, as well as short-sighted. Even the tie-prequel to The Martian, "Diary of an AssCan", has me hesitating in no small part by the title.

I will say that Weir found a winning type and stuck to it. It's very true that this trio of books stars very similar lead characters and they're all placed in impossible, no win situations. There's a theme that's haunting familiar from one book to the next. I don't doubt it. I doubt the author could refute the claim. But the bottom line is, it ain't broke and there's no need to fix this. So what if these stories are all variations on the same theme? I like that theme, and I want more of it.

I'll also add that all three of these bestselling science fiction novels would make my Top 50--maybe even 25--Favorite Books list, and I'm in good company with Bill Gates and Barack Obama over recommending them--along with the movie counterparts, if the latter two ever get their own adaptations. These are all read-in-one-sitting (if you can) novels, and they're definite keepers you'll want to re-read at least every couple years.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here: 

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Gray Goo Doomsday?

Could runaway nanobots take over the planet?

"Gray goo is a term used to describe a lifeless world completely occupied by self-replicating nanomaterials that have consumed the energy of all life forms due to uncontrolled replication."

The complete explanation:

Definition of Gray Goo

A longer, more technical treatment on Wikipedia:

Wikipedia: Gray Goo

I came across the term in a short piece in the BALTIMORE SUN this past Sunday. Discovering how long this idea has been around, I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before. Unrestrained nanobot proliferation is compared to runaway generative AI. The example given in the newspaper refers to ChatGPT trying to be funny. When asked to tell a joke, the program falls back on the same twenty-five jokes over and over, about 90% of the time. If this example is typical of the effect of artificial intelligence on communication, could ever-increasing dependence on AI lead to decreasing originality and creativity? The sidebar in the SUN is an excerpt from this essay:

If Generative AI Runs Rampant

While I don't necessarily think we're doomed yet, this hypothetical scenario about the long-term effects of overuse of AI in creative work does raise disturbingly plausible concerns. As far as the basic viewing-with-alarm "gray goo" scenario is concerned, there's an obvious counter-argument: Nanobots couldn't reproduce uncontrollably unless we first invent them and then release them into the wild without safeguards, similar to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. So we probably won't have to worry about getting smothered in goo anytime soon.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

AI When it's bad...

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association supports the National Writers Union's "Creators call for action on AI copyright exemptions", and shares the link to an article written by Edward Hasbrouck explaining the issues that copyright owners have (or may have) with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Also, there is an important joint statement which explains the position of creators whose work may have been "scraped" and used without permission.

To date, as of July 19th, more than 10,000 authors have signed the Authors Guild petition that calls on AI industry leaders to protect (that is, fairly compensate) authors.

There is still time to sign the petitions, or to spread the word.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation --of which I am no fan-- (which phrase is an example of Litotes, a rhetorical figure of speech using understatement) has posted a couple of interesting articles concerning surveillance. 

Credit for the lion's share of the writing is attributed to Nicholas Wilson.

That idiom goes back to the days when every schoolchild learned and understood the difference between a lion and a lioness, and of several hundred other interesting creatures and their offspring. Alas, nowadays there are word games --such as those offered by PEAK-- that will not allow the male name for a mature barnyard fowl... nor can one use the very normal short-form of the highwayman Richard Turpin's first name.

EFF's Hayley Tsukayama discusses surveillance of car drivers as a result of the technology in their vehicles, which technology is usually not optional.

Much earlier in the year,  legal blogger Jeremy Goldman of the law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz offers an analysis of a batch of lawsuits where AI generators are accused of infringing on copyrights.

Perhaps I have shared this example of bad AI previously, but it is worth revisiting, particulary if one rejoices in Schadenfreude. (Possibly, combining "rejoice" and "Schadenfreude" is tautologous.). It's an article by Paul Farhi about a news site that tried an AI shortcut. 

Futurism piles on at length, and one does not have to subscribe to read it all.

With regard to AI, I am reminded of the nursery poem, it might be a limerick, There Was A Little Girl by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. When it's good, it's very very good, but when it's bad, it's horrid.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry


EPIC Award winner, Friend of ePublishing



Well, this is embarrassing. Last week, I wrote ignorantly and speculatively about Mars. It turns out, per DISCOVER magazine, that Mars is thought to be very cold indeed, and the most similar place to Mars on Earth are the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica, where experiments have been conducted to see whether life is possible in such harsh, cold and dry conditions.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, July 21, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

by Karen S. Wiesner

In the 2021 Gothic romantic horror The Death of Jane Lawrence, Caitlin Starling presents an imaginary, dark-mirror world version of post-war England, approximate 1890s. Jane Shoringfield is a war orphan. Her parents were killed when "Ruzka" began gassing Camhurst, capital of Great Breltain. She was young and given into the care of the Cunninghams, who raised her. After attending Sharpton School for Girls until she was 15, she's been handling Mr. Cunningham's finances for the last six years. Jane is nothing if not practical. Being of a marriageable age and realizing her guardians will be moving to Camhurst within the month for Mr. Cunningham's new judgeship position, she's done her homework. Rather than engage in courtship that would require a level of foolishness she can't abide, she proposes to marry for convenience. Finding a partner who will merit from the practicality, if not the passion, of an arranged marriage becomes her goal.

The rumored reclusive Dr. Augustine Lawrence is ideal. This skilled surgeon could command a lucrative, lofty position anywhere, yet he's mysteriously chosen to set up a small-town family practice in Larrenton in the last several months. Jane submits to her potential fiancé a written business proposal that will benefit both of them.

The first chapter, with Jane meeting with Augustine for the first time to discuss the written marriage proposal she'd sent earlier, struck me as unrealistic, strange, and very nearly lost me. However, the Gothic setting with the mysterious hero who could equally qualify as the villain and the driven, practical Jane falling in love practically at first sight when she didn't expect to at all is what kept me reading. Whether initially against my will or voluntarily step by drudging step, I was drawn into this story from that point on and could hardly put it down.

At first, Augustine is taken aback by Jane's very unromantic proposal, but she quickly proves that her business acumen tempered with unfailing commonsense and her steady hand in the surgery are boons for any man who's avoided marriage as long as Augustine unfathomably has. The fact that the two of them are attracted to each other from the start disturbs both of them. But an agreement is quickly reached between them: Following their wedding, Jane will live in town at his practice while Augustine returns to his ancestral home, Lindridge Hall, alone each evening.

An unfortunate series of events forces the newlyweds to Lindridge Hall, where Jane has no choice about spending the night in the ruin and wreck of a house filled with ghosts and previously unimagined horrors. It's there that her brand new husband becomes transformed from the intelligent, compassionate man she'd assumed she was marrying into a agitated, broken figure with a tragic, dangerous, and even immoral past. The clues to Augustine's downfall begin to manifest with a padlocked basement, the red-eyed spirit of a betrayed lover, to the coven of doctors who dabble in black magic that show up on his doorstep.

One wonders if Jane's tenacity in attempting to fix the fractures that make up the man she rapidly falls for--despite her fear of him, his lies, and all he might have done to deserve the catastrophes he's brought upon himself--is wise or even warranted. Part of Jane's problem is that math rules her world just as the promise of magic once ruled her husband's. Instead of seeing math as magic, magic is seen as math in Jane's eyes, and this is an equation that she alone must balance--at all cost.

One of the most memorable scenes of The Death of Jane Lawrence came early on, and it was unknowingly a foreshadowing of all that was to come. When Augustine's patient dies, Jane, who has never before assisted in a surgery, blames herself for her inexperience and the way it distracted the doctor while he was trying to save a life. His reply captures the heart of this novel: "Jane, if the fault lies in anybody, it lies in me. I am the one with training and, more than that, I was the one in charge of the operating room. You cannot blame yourself. That shame is a path you cannot come back from, once you start down it…"

The author describes the difference between shame and guilt in this way (emphasis is mine): "Guilt is over something you have done; shame is over something that you are." In The Death of Jane Lawrence, shame is both a motivator and a horror that drives the pragmatic heroine to seek redemption for her beloved--even if he's a monster who may not deserve the forgiveness she seeks to procure for him, nor the happily ever after she wants for the two of them.

I admit, the end of the story became a frenzied, uncertain, blood-soaked mess in which I was never quite certain what was going on. I didn't believe for a second a joyful resolution was possible, yet strangely the author's love of "not happy endings" but "endings with potential" ultimately satisfied me.

Lovers of Gothic fiction complete with (if not loveable than nevertheless) likeable, compelling lead characters, and extreme amounts of horror and epic romance will enjoy this unconventional walk on the macabre side of love as much as I did.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Round and Flat Characters

Here's a very lucid essay from WRITER'S DIGEST about the differences between flat (two-dimensional) and round (three-dimensional) characters:

Flat vs. Round

It defines the two types with lists of the principal traits of each, followed by analyses of several well-known examples from literature.

This article brings up a few points I hadn't thought of before:

An archetype is often a flat character. Although the article doesn't say it in so many words, this type of character's larger-than-life traits lend themselves to the "flat" treatment.

A flat character can be a protagonist. "Generally, the main characters are round, and the supporting ones are flat—but you’ll soon see this isn’t always the case."

"Round" and "flat" are not identical to dynamic versus static. Not all rounded characters change over the course of the story.

Some points not explicitly discussed that are worth emphasizing: Flat characters aren't necessarily stereotypes or cliches. A flat character can still be a believable individual. Not all the people in a work of fiction have to be rounded; trying to accomplish that goal in a full-length novel would be not only exhausting for both author and reader but, in fact, unrealistic. Most of the people we meet daily in real life remain "flat" to us. One typical trait listed for flat characters is that their responses and actions are predictable, a premise I'm dubious about. Sydney Carton's self-sacrifice at the end of A TALE OF TWO CITIES, for example, would probably come as a surprising plot twist to a reader unfamiliar with the story. Also, the two types may be seen as falling on a continuum rather than fitting into a strict binary distinction. Sydney Carton, while "flatter" than Charles Darnay in that novel, is "rounder" than Madame Defarge. David Copperfield's great-aunt Betsey is less rounded than David but more so than Mr. Micawber or Uriah Heep.

One classic literary figure presented in the essay as an example of a flat character is Sherlock Holmes. As the central figure in his series, he's fascinating, but without the complexity and depth of a fully rounded character.

Can a character transform from one type to the other? It could be argued that Hannibal Lecter is mainly flat in RED DRAGON and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS but becomes a rounded character in HANNIBAL and HANNIBAL RISING (a shift many readers and critics consider a change for the worse).

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Monday, July 17, 2023



Hmmm. It's the sound of human thought expressed in writing, but could also denote humming. This week, I read ten compendia of the legal blogs and could not find anything inspiring. Of course, the Writers' and Actors' strike over the potential for AI to infringe their rights of personality and their copyrights is being widely discussed. 
There is even an article about resurrecting James Earl Jones's voice from past libraries of recordings in order to have the famous Darth Vader voice in new movies in DISCOVER magazine

On the other hand, if humming (but not hawing) is my theme, I've been watching a lot of BBC programming. The singing sands of Africa --according to one of David Atttenborough's documentaries-- make a sort of humming, or booming, when sand shifts.

Facinatingly, the BBC filmmakers showed time lapse film of a desert taken over a year-and-a-half. The dunes rolled like tidal waves. Apparently, a sea of sand in Africa is useful because the dust blows across the Atlantic and fertilizes the Amazon rain forest... which latter may not (IMHO) need as much fertilizer since so much of it has been logged.

Apparently, there are remains of petrified forests in the Sahara. That area was once lush forest, which makes me wonder about Mars (the planet).
The book-made-into-a-movie, The Martin is fiction, of course, but we know that humans want to go there to see if there is a chance of life there.

Which brings me to a question. Why would human masterminds consider a seven-month (approx) trip to Mars? Why wonder if Mars could be terraformed, or perhaps restored to a long ago condition that it might have been in, when no one has tried to restore the Sahara, or even a part of the Sahara (not counting the Sahel, about which I wrote a few weeks ago), to a condition it might have been in 6,000 years ago?

If tracts of the Sahara are not available for turning back time, there are surely places that are hot and dry and not home to precious, naturally-space-suited ants.

Or maybe not. The American deserts are not wastelands and cannot be compared to Mars.

While it is noteworthy that sewage can be purified until it is potable, what would be the effect of dumping quantities of it, not into the oceans, but onto baking desert sands? Would the result be mutant scorpions?

In The Martian, raw sewage is pretty much --if you will pardon the adjective-- what the hero used to grow his potatoes. Possibly there are other plants that grow faster.
David Attenborough discussed the resurrection plant. Others are interested in it for its anti-oxidant properties. More interesting than The Martian's potatoes, this plant seems to drop seeds within hours of its dessicated tumbleweed-like body rolling into a puddle, and after subsequently being rained on. Once heavy raindrops liberate seeds and knock them into wet ground, these seeds seem to sprout and grow very quickly. But are they edible?

Changing the environment under which a plant grows can change the properties of the plant, so much research is needed. Research into the resurrection plant indicates that, where environmental conditions are not harsh, the plant produces lesser quantities of anti-oxidant. For instance, with potatoes, everyone knows that one does not eat "the eyes" or the green parts, or the parts scarred from a spade, because potatoes have defense mechanisms, and some parts are poisonous. 
For many people who suffer from arthritis, if they just stopped eating potatoes for a few months, their pain and swelling and deformation should subside. Possibly, a lot of people would suffer a great deal less if they purchased and prepared their own potatoes from scratch. Potatoes are members of the deadly nightshade family. Other potential poisons are tomatoes, vegetable peppers, aubergines or egg plant, also insufficiently cooked lectins

The links are luke-warm on whether or not what I just wrote is accurate, but, bear in mind, arthritis is big business and palliatives that cost nothing at all are not helpful to "society".

I'm just a tree-hugger, a bit of a sponge for information, and inquisitive.

Presumably, missions to other planets would be based on the idea of living in geodesic domes, especially if there is no oxygen. I imagine it probably would be somewhat like living for years on a low-end cruise ship (with no shore excursions, no sunbathing, and no walks on the decks), run by an unelected dictator who is an employee of someone far far away.

All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Friday, July 14, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Expanse Series by James S. A. Corey

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Expanse Series by James S. A. Corey

by Karen S. Wiesner

I started reading The Expanse Series when I found the boxed set with the first three novels in Orbit Books newsletter. I love science fiction, especially when it's combined with horror, similar to the Ridley Scott Alien franchise, which, not surprisingly, was a major influence for this particular series. The short story, "Drive", is the prequel to the entire series, and James S. A. Corey (authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, using the joint pen name) offered a free download of it from their website, which I printed and read after I'd finished the first three novels. From that point on, I purchased each novel and short story/novella as it was released. In the years the authors actively worked on this series, I followed it, purchasing each book in hardcover, since that was the fastest way to get it ASAP after release.

The premise of The Expanse Series is that future humanity has colonized most of "The Solar System", but they don't yet have interstellar travel. Mankind has settled in the asteroid belt (Ceres and Eros), Mars and the moon with domed settlements; and some outer planets (several Jupiter moons including Ganymede and Europa; Saturn's Phoebe; and Uranus's Titania). In the time the series is set, tensions are rising. Earth's United Nations and Mars' Congressional Republic are the superpowers that exert their combined hegemony over Belters--those who populate the asteroid belt. Because of the low-gravity environments they live, their bodies tend to be longer and thinner than other humans. Belters (who use a form of modified Creole speech) are the blue collar workers of the galaxy, working to provide the system with the natural resources needed by all, and, as such, they're disrespected by other humans in the galaxy. In order to fight exploitation at the "Inners" hands, Belters have formed loose military groupings within the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA). The OPA is considered a terrorist organization by other humans.

In Leviathan Wakes, Book 1, readers are introduced to several of the core characters in this series. James "Jim" Holden, a former UN Navy officer from Earth, is XO of an ice hauling ship called Canterbury along with chief engineer Naomi Nagata, a Belter; pilot Alex Kamal, who's a Martian navy (MCRN) veteran; and engineer Amos Burton with a background that, let's just say, grows more interesting with each installment. These four become the original members of the Rocinate or Roci, a state of the art Martian frigate they claim as their own. A distress signal leads them to a derelict transport vessel, the Scopuli, and from there to Julie Mao, the rebellious daughter of a wealthy magnate.

At the same time, a washed-up detective named Josephus "Joe" Miller, a Belter from Ceres Station's Star Helix Security, is also searching for Julie Mao.

The investigation of Jim and his crew and Miller converges on Eros, where Julie is found…afflicted with an alien organic biohazard growth that quickly spreads across the entire station. Life as anyone knows it will change from this moment forward when humanity gains access to thousands of new worlds via the use of an artificially constructed ring network created by a long-dead race of aliens. The number of directions that this series goes as it explores all of this potential boggled my mind as the saga became bigger and bigger with each book.

While the characters mentioned above comprise the major players, there were so many fascinating, richly embellished, unique cast members. While Jim Holden always came across as a good, incorruptible man and, as such, was my favorite, so many of the characters were so complex, it was hard to pin short-sighted labels like "good" or "evil" on any of them. They were each completely human with all the moments of cringe-worthy regret and heroic larger-than-life altruism. Amos was another favorite who compelled me to think deeply as he evolved into the person he became at the end.

Some other intriguing players that make frequent appearances throughout the books are Bobbi Draper, a Martian gunnery sergeant in the MCRN; the foul-mouthed Chrisjen Avasarala, UN Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration on Earth; Fred Johnson, the leader of the OPA, who's a former UN marine (and the subject of the short story "The Butcher of Anderson Station"); Marco and Filip Inaros, father and son with Marco commanding a radical OPA branch called the Free Navy; Camina Drummer, chief security of Tycho Station; and Clarissa Moa, another daughter of the magnate that Amos calls Peaches.

The first installment in the series is the one that I binged-read in a matter of days because the biohazard aspect utterly fascinated me, as did pretty much anything Jim Holden did from start to finish in every story he was in. But several other stand-out offerings were "The Churn" novella and the eighth novel in the series, Tiamat's Wrath.

At the announcement of the last one, Leviathan Falls, I know I wasn't the only obsessed reader who felt we'd only touched the tip of the iceberg in exploring all the saga had to offer. The series left me wanting more while at the same time satisfying all my main requirements. I simply wasn't ready for it to end, though I suspect the main crew of the Roci might have, given what they went through in the countless years that encompass the whole of this exciting sequence.

As most probably already know because many sci-fi readers prefer a more visual medium over book format, The Expanse became a TV series that went through countless upheavals and ended far too soon, not covering as much ground as the book series did. The perfectly chosen cast gave it their all, and I applaud the show for how well they portrayed something so big, it was hard to contain it the way they had to. Both the novel and TV series are well-worth your time, and they've got a permanent place on my keeper shelves. Comic versions, board and roleplaying games are also available for the series.

One of the most defining factors about The Expanse was just how realistic it all seemed. I was sold completely on the premise, and I can easily imagine so many aspects of the "science" and politics to this series happening in the near future just as they're portrayed in this saga.

I do have to comment that the titles of the novels are annoying obscure and really have nothing whatsoever to do with the stories within them. Whenever I try to remember which story belonged in which novel, I'm completely lost--and that's a direct result of the fact that the titles that were saddled on the novels in the series seem arbitrary and not clearly defined. If there was a trick to understanding why they were named as they were, the authors should have given readers a clue what it was to prevent us from becoming lost and confused. That is the sum total of my complaint with this series. Incidentally, the shorts all had titles that made sense and described the stories contained within.

A quick word about the book order, which is a bit of an issue since short stories and novellas were published between the main novels that don't necessarily follow the main storyline chronologically. Frequently, the shorts covered past events as well as pivotal character backgrounds. The publisher suggests reading them in the order they were published since that way characters first introduced in the novels gain further background characterization through the shorts. With prior knowledge and familiarity, the novellas can be enjoyed and understood in context. Also, the shorts may contain spoilers to the novels, which could be a deal-breaker to some. That said, the suggested reading order is this:

1.     Leviathan Wakes, Book 1

2.     "The Butcher of Anderson Station" (set before Leviathan Wakes)

3.     Caliban's War, Book 2

4.     "Gods of Risk"

5.     "Drive" (set before Leviathan Wakes)

6.     Abaddon's Gate, Book 3

7.     "The Churn" (set before Leviathan Wakes)

8.     Cibola Burn, Book 4

9.     Nemesis Games, Book 5

10.  "The Vital Abyss" (set between Abaddon's Gate and Cibola Burn)

11.  Babylon's Ashes, Book 6

12.  "Strange Dogs"

13.  Persepolis Rising, Book 7

14.  Tiamat's Wrath, Book 8

15.  "The Last Flight of the Cassandra" (set during Leviathan Wakes)

16.  "Auberon" (set between Persepolis Rising and Tiamat's Wrath)

17.   Leviathan Falls, Book 9

Note that all of the shorts are all published in a compilation called Memory's Legion that's well worth investing in for collectors.


Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Predicting versus Contesting

Few, if any, readers and writers of science fiction believe it exists to predict the future. Strikingly on-target foretellings of future events and technology are occasional, serendipitous accidents. Rather, it speculates on the questions "What if...." and "If this goes on...." Cory Doctorow's latest LOCUS essay delivers a slightly different, more radical perspective on what science fiction does:

SF Doesn't Predict

This article consists of the text of a speech he gave in June 2023, when receiving an Honourary Doctor of Laws from York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies in Toronto. He begins with an anecdote from his educational career. At the age of seventeen, already professionally selling short science fiction, he inquired at York University's humanities department about getting into the creative writing program. He was turned down because, as he was told, "they only teach literature." I had a similar, although less blunt and final experience, as an undergraduate. After taking the introductory course in creative writing, I enrolled in an advanced, workshop-type fiction writing course. At the end of the first semester, the professor hesitated to let me into the second semester because I'd submitted only fantasy and horror. He reluctantly let me continue, and I dutifully wrote a slice-of-life story about a military wife coping with a toddler and a baby while her husband was deployed. Nobody could have asked for a more spot-on "write what you know" work. As far as I can recall, it was an okay story and certainly didn't lack vividness or realism. But that wasn't the path I wanted to follow; the marketplace abounds in writers of realistic fiction, and I knew I'd never measure up to most of them. While I sometimes enjoy reading about contemporary settings and characters with no trace of the fantastic, I have no interest in trying to write that genre. (Yes, even though it claims the status of "mainstream," it's a genre.)

Doctorow later rejoiced in belonging to a community, the tech realm, whose members didn't view his science-fiction output with disdain. Rather, he "was surrounded by people who thought that SF writing was literally the coolest thing in the world." The rest of this blog explains why he agrees.

He defines optimism and pessimism as "just fatalism in respectable suits. . . .Both deny human agency, that we can intervene to change things." He subsumes both under the category of "inevitabilism, the belief that nothing can change." This attitude, according to Doctorow, is "the opposite of SF," whose purpose is to imagine alternatives. What it contests is the assumption that there's no alternative to the status quo or the predicted future, that "resistance is futile." He lays out several examples, climaxing with his metaphor of a bus speeding toward the brink of a canyon--unless we take the risk of swerving. The essay concludes, "Hope begins with the ability to imagine alternatives. And there is always an alternative."

That affirmation reminds me of something that irritates me about the fantasy and SF shows I watch on the CW network. A continually recurring line of cliched dialogue laments, "We haven't got a choice!" (I've often wondered whether the same writers compose the scripts for all of those series.) I keep wanting to yell at the screen, "Yes, you featherbrain, you always have a choice."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Galaxy: 5 Stars For Sale?

Not for the first time, I wish to talk about dishonest reviews. It's not sour grapes on my part. It's relevant. 

If one solicits five-star reviews, and perhaps offers a meaningful incentive to the potential author of the review (with the explicit condition that the review must be for four or five stars in order to qualify for a rent rebate, a pearl necklace, a valuable --or not-- gift) one might be in legal jeopardy.

Authors do it. Student housing does it. 

They may think that no one will notice or care, but the FTC is cracking down. That's why I think it is worth summarizing --again-- what's new on the legal blogs on the matter.

See example #4 on page 6/84 of this:

It is about "repurposing reviews".

How many have taken the most favorable line or two from a prestigious review (even if the rest of the review might have been lukewarm about the work) and used it to promote ones book? Aparently, doing that could be deceptive.

Jeff Greenbaum, reliable authority and long time legal blogger for the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance, writes this on so-called fake reviews:

and also this:

The government's frowning interest is not confined to prose reviews. Even "likes" could potentially get one into trouble.

Rebecca B. Lederhouse of the law firm Baker McKenzie discusses endorsement advertising guides, influencers and "fake" reviews. While the general principles have not changed, much has now been clarified with specific examples. Grey areas are not so grey.

"The general considerations have not changed, namely, that endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser and that advertisers are subject to liability for misleading or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements or for failing to disclose unexpected material connections between themselves and their endorsers."

Lexology link: 
Original link (took up too many lines of pink text, so please click on the text link).
Finally, for my third source, legal blogger Daniel Kaufman of Baker Hostetler LLP and the AD-ttorneys
Law Blog writes a fast-paced summary of the steps that the FTC is taking to regulate online review practices.
He also mentions last year's Roomster case, and the sting involving an offer of a cat-friendly room in a three bedroom, downtown home.... in a US Postal Service address!

Daniel Kaufman offers particularly helpful explanations of the seven pitfalls, namely creating or buyign fake testimonials; repurposing reviews; giving conditioned incentives for persons to write good reviews; using insider-generated reviews; controlling a site for reviews of ones own product or service; suppressing negative reviews; and fake social media indicatiors. 
All the best,
Rowena Cherry

Friday, July 07, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore

by Karen S. Wiesner

I came into the character of Drizzt Do-Urden through a side door. I hadn't read the author R.A. Salvatore's first trilogy, Icewind Dale, featuring this dark elf (or drow), nor did I have the slightest experience with the world of Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms campaign setting, or the Underdark, one of its most popular locations. Nor had I ever played any of the videogames set within this realm. Apparently, arguably, Drizzt was the most famous and most influential dark elf within the fictional settings created for and by these mega popular games and books. Yet I knew absolutely nothing about him when I purchased a used, very old collector's edition of The Dark Elf Trilogy. By that time, the drow had already become a legend.

Salvatore says that the idea for this iconic character came to him in his office while he was at his day job. He'd been asked to write the second Forgotten Realms novel and the senior editor at that time wanted him to create a new sidekick for the character of Wulfgar, a young barbarian in the region of Icewind Dale, where Drizzt had settled. Salvatore said he'd get right on that…but the editor didn't have time to wait a week. She was heading into a meeting at that very moment and she needed to sell this proposal. On the spot and off the top of his head, Salvatore came up with a drow ranger named Drizzt Do-Urden of D'aermon N'achezbaeron, Ninth House of Menzoberranzan. The author intended him to be nothing more than a sidekick, like Robin to Batman. Instead, after writing the first chapter of The Crystal Shard, the first installment in The Icewind Dale Trilogy, Salvatore knew a star had been born.

I had no expectations for The Dark Elf Trilogy--a prequel to Icewind Dale that tells the origin story of Drizzt--when I opened the massive 805 page collector's edition which had all three novels inside it. I will admit that I tend to stick with the fantasy series I've known and loved most of my life--Tolkien's Middle Earth and Terry Brooks' Shannara and Landover series novels. While I've always found most fantasy novels to have some of the highest quality of writing, there's something about the sprawling, enormous tomes that intimidate me, and I think the culprit is that fantasy novels tend to be intricate and slow-moving with an almost oxymoronic amount of high action that seems totally at odds with just how plodding they tend to be in terms of their meticulous setting and character building. In fantasy stories, nearly everything has to be created from scratch--and that absolutely demands that readers have patience in allowing the development required to tell such a complicated tale.

The Dark Elf Trilogy is no exception to everything I said in the last paragraph. However, I was instantly sucked into the first story, Homeland, in no small part because the Underdark absolutely enthralled me. Imagine if you will a prodigious, connected subterranean network of labyrinthine caverns and tunnels that run beneath entire continents and form an underworld for places on the surface. The prelude of Homeland begins with a description of the setting:

Never does a star grace this land with a poet's light of twinkling mysteries, nor does the sun send to here its rays of warmth and life. This is the Underdark, the secret world beneath the bustling surface of the Forgotten Realms, whose sky is a ceiling of heartless stone and whose walls show the gray blandless of death in the torchlight of the foolish surface-dwellers that stumble here. This is not their world, not the world of light. Most of who come here uninvited do not return.

               Those who do escape to the safety of their surface homes return changed. Their eyes have seen the shadows and the gloom, the inevitable doom of the Underdark.

               Dark corridors meander throughout the dark realm of winding courses, connecting caverns great and small, with ceilings high and lower. Mounds of stone as pointed at the teeth of a sleeping dragon leer down in silent threat or rise up to block the way of intruders.

               There is a silence here, profound and foreboding, the crouched hush of a predator at work. Too often the only sound, the only reminder to travelers in the Underdark that they have not lost their sense of hearing altogether, is a distant and echoing drip of water, beating like the heart of a beast, slipping through the silent stones to the deep Underdark pools of chilled water. What lies beneath the still onyx surface of these pools one can only guess. What secrets await the brave, what horrors await the foolish, only the imagination can reveal--until the stillness is disturbed. This is the Underdark.

               There are pockets of life here, cities as great as many of those on the surface…

You can read more of an excerpt at any book distributor's website. This world and the city of Menzoberranzan are unlike anything I'd ever read before this point. But it wasn't just the gasping setting descriptions that drew me into this story. The drow who live in this place worship the Spider Queen Lolth. In this dark locale of cunning, scheming, unscrupulous politics, there is no room for concepts such as honor, love, or even friendship. Drizzt was born into this society and was fated to be a sacrifice to the Spider Queen at birth. When one of his brothers kills the other, Drizzt becomes the second son, sparing his life, which is already laid out before him. Disobedience is not an option. Yet Drizzt is nothing like the others that make up this arena of ruthless and senseless violence. He's strange to those around him, an almost cheerful little boy with purple eyes and an unfathomable compassion and defiance against the norm in his disturbing world. After he's given to his sister to raise, she sends him to the finest weapons master to be had--Zaknafein--his own father, who allows Drizzt the forbidden: To think for himself.

One of the biggest reasons I was so fascinated by this trilogy was that, in normal stories, good characters are in a place where basically good is done and expected by all. A villain enters and disrupts that equilibrium. But in The Dark Elf Trilogy, we have a good character surrounded by the worst kind of evil, in a location where all of society and its' mores is centered on cut-throat survival of the fittest. This trilogy turned the anticipated right on its head and made for compulsive reading from start to finish.

Homeland leads into Exile, Book 2, and Sojourn, Book 3 as Drizzt's innate moral code is tested, develops, and leads him inexorably to the light. The fascinating characters he meets along the way only added to the intrigue of this trilogy and all the many Drizzt stories that follow. Some favorite characters of mine are Zaknafein; Guenhwyvar, the magical panther "statuette" companion that Drizzt can summon; a blind human ranger named Montolio Debrouchee; the dwarven king Bruenor Battlehammer, and his adopted human daughter Catti-brie.

I went on to read many of the other Drizzt stories, and I'll include a list of those available below, but the Dark Elf Trilogy is the one that will always hold a special place on my keeper bookshelf.

Below are all the Legend of Drizzt books in chronological order:

The Dark Elf Trilogy

1. Homeland

2. Exile

3. Sojourn

The Icewind Dale Trilogy

4. The Crystal Shard

5. Streams of Silver

6. The Halfling's Gem

The Legacy of the Drow Series

7. The Legacy

8. Starless Night

9. Siege of Darkness

10. Passage to Dawn

The Paths of Darkness Series*

11. The Silent Blade

12. The Spine of the World

13. Servant of the Shard*

13. Sea of Swords

*Book #3 of this series, Servant of the Shard, was moved to the The Sellswords Trilogy written by R.A. Salvatore, which includes Servant of the Shard, Promise of the Witch-King, and Road of the Patriarch and focuses on main characters Artemis Entreri and the Basadoni Guild instead of on Drizzt or his usual companions.

The Hunter's Blades Trilogy

14. The Thousand Orcs

15. The Lone Drow

16. The Two Swords

The Transitions Series

17. The Orc King

18. The Pirate King

19. The Ghost King

The Neverwinter Saga

20. Gauntlgrym

21. Neverwinter

22. Charon's Claw

23. The Last Threshold

The Sundering

24. The Companions

The Companion's Codex

25. Night of the Hunter

26. Rise of the King

27. Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf

The Homecoming Series

28. Archmage

29. Maestro

30. Hero

The Generations Series

31. Timeless

32. Boundless

33. Relentless

The Way of the Drow Series

34. Starlight Enclave

35. Glacier's Edge

36. Lolth's Warrior

The Collected Stories: The Legend of Drizzt Anthology contains stories written by Salvatore related to the Legend of Drizzt setting.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here: