Friday, June 28, 2024

Of Proper Short Story Collection Assemblage or {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: Rogues Anthology Edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois by Karen S. Wiesner


Of Proper Short Story Collection Assemblage

or {Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Rogues Anthology

Edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

by Karen S. Wiesner



Rogues, published in 2014, is far from the first anthology George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have edited and assembled together. It's just one in a veritable showcase that doesn't skimp on a significant volume of diverse stories, as you can see from this listing: 

Ø    Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance (sci-fi and fantasy stories in tribute to this author's Dying Earth Series, published in 2009)

Ø    Warriors (cross-genre stories on the subjects of war and warriors, published in 2010)

Ø    Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love (cross-genre stories of romance in science fiction/fantasy settings published in 2010)

Ø    Down These Strange Streets (urban fantasy stories published in 2011)

Ø    Old Mars ("retro Mars science fiction"-themed stories published in 2013)

Ø    Dangerous Women (cross-genre stories published in 2013 "showcasing the supposedly weaker sex" "...if you want to tie these women to the railroad tracks, you'll find you have a real fight on your hands")

Ø    Old Venus ("retro Venus science fiction"-themed stories published in 2015)

With confidence, I'd have to say Martin is pretty much a household word at this point with his A Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO's Game of Thrones). I hadn't heard of Dozois, per se, before the Rogues anthology. He was a science fiction author and editor before he passed in 2018, the founding editor of The Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies (from 1984 through 2018) and editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine (1986–2004). He won many awards for both his writing and his editing. Not surprisingly given his contributions to literature, in 2011 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. 

Upfront I'll confess that I'm not fond of short story collections for the chief reason that so few short stories are or can be well written. The forced brevity inherent in a short story is the very reason they don't usually succeed in engaging my interest, let alone my favor. To be a great story, all the elements have to be there--in-depth, three-dimensional characterization, conflict development, and world building. The shorter a story is, the worse this gets because there isn't time or space to capture everything required to draw readers into a story and commit themselves to following it through to the end. Literally (pun intended), a single (well- or poorly-chosen) word might spell the difference between a story making or breaking it for the reader. In essence, a short story has to have all the hallmarks of a fully-fleshed out story that equals the impact a novel counterpart has more hope of providing for its readers. This is a hard, some might even say close to impossible, achievement. 

Full disclosure, although I'm determined to try short story collections if their subject matter appeals to me, I've found that, in general, I'm lucky if I actually like a single story in an anthology. This is the largest reason for why I review so few short story collections. It almost seems unfair to spotlight a single story, holding it up as worthy, while basically spitting out "Eeh" or "Yuck" concerning all the other tales in that anthology that just didn't do anything for me, or (again, very commonly) I outright disliked. Short stories seem to have two extremes--either good or bad, no in-between. Word constraints see to that inevitability. Add to this another detriment: Most collections of stories tend to be at least 80-100,000 words in length, so they're huge. In print format, the price is usually exorbitant. Even in ebook format, they tend to be too expensive, especially considering how few stories I know I'm probably going to end up liking. Bottom line, to find one story I like in the same collection is rare enough to be something of a miracle. That's why Rogues is one of the few anthologies I've ever taken the time to review. That I liked multiple stories in Rogues is almost unprecedented, so it warrants the distinction of being formally reviewed by someone who isn't completely sold on story collections. 

I'm no stranger to anthologies myself--filling roles as a contributing author along with commissioning, assembling, designing, formatting, and editing them. The very first collection I'd ever commissioned and assembled, Mistletoe Marriages, was a Frankfort Award nominee. I contributed a novella to that anthology as well as sharing the credit for editing the four stories included with the other three contributing authors before it was  published in 1999 (currently out of print). However, my main editing experience was within the promotional group of award-winning authors I created--Jewels of the Quill--in 2004. The group was spotlighted in the September 2003 issue of RT Book Reviews and eventually disbanded in 2014. From 2005 through 2011, we produced two group anthologies every year. I commissioned each of these, working directly with the contributing authors, the publisher, and their copyeditor. Additionally, I assembled each one and handled all the formatting and cover designs (one of which was nominated for a prestigious award). I also contributed my own story to all fourteen of these story collections. (While all the group anthologies are now OOP, my offerings have all been republished in my own series or story collections.) Additionally, I was the lead editor on them. All the group anthologies received countless rave reviews as well as award nominations and wins. So I'm very familiar with each of these processes, and I learned a lot about their construction while I was handling them. 

I'd like to go over the importance of each stage in putting together a short story collection before I review at least some of the 21 stories included in Rogues. A facet of multi-story collections that few editors truly understand is the arrangement of the included stories. An editor has to look past an author's name and credentials and judge a story solely on its worth, which isn't easy to do. Even editors get too caught up in the popularity contest. However, for the sake of discussion, let's talk about a short story collection scenario where all that matters is quality. 

Depending on how many stories are included in any given collection, it's imperative that the first and last stories included be the strongest of the entire showcase. The first has to capture readers' interest so completely, they'll want to continue. Once that's achieved, their enthusiasm must be kept high. For that reason, it's a good idea to ensure the second and maybe even the third story is nearly as good (or as good) as the first. The final story, of course, is the one that will leave a lasting impression on readers, and must have been worth the wait for it at the end, slogging through the middle stories that are generally not as good as the others. 

I hate to say that, but it's been my experience that middle stories tend to be simply filler, sometimes readable but nowhere as good as the first and last should be. Like it or not, when an editor has commissioned other authors to participate in an anthology, some of the stories he or she receives sometimes fall short of the mark but they're still decent enough to be included. Editors worth their salt will cull bad stories, even if they're from otherwise usually solid authors--something I've had to do and, believe me, it's never fun. One terrible story can bring down the whole collection, though, so it simply can't be tolerated. When I was editing Jewels of the Quill anthologies, I retained the right to reject a story if it didn't come up to standard. The authors were aware of this from the start, so having it be common knowledge from the get-go made it easier to handle. As much as possible, I tried to work with the author to bring a weak story up to spec, but that wasn't always possible and I did have to make some hard decisions. 

How the middle stories are arranged is absolutely crucial to the overall effectiveness of an anthology. Rogues, for instance, has 21 stories included. That's actually quite a lot and some of the stories are pretty long. Many collections have a tremendous amount of stories but none of them are more than a few pages long (with little space for fleshing out, so many very short or "flash fiction" stories are subpar). The Rogues stories were longer than most usually are in collections, so there was a bit more time to develop the core elements in them. In any case, the more stories, the riskier it is for the editor(s). Yes, there are more chances to engage with the readers, but there's equally a higher likelihood of disappointing them. It's a very fine balance. 

So let's go over an effective strategy of arranging the stories in a collection with 21 stories. As I said, first and last stories have to be the best of the entire group. First one engages readers; the second (and third, if possible) stories should have them fully committed. At that point, the editor can start introducing some of the weaker stories, interspersing them with stronger ones. So story numbers 4 through 10 should be alternated between average and strong stories. #11 should be an extremely strong story. With potentially five stories forming a weaker chain than the rest, readers might find themselves unsure whether they want to continue with the rest of the stories, so the dead-center middle story should be another killer one that recaptures any flagging interest. From #12-18, the editor should again alternate between average and strong stories. Like for the beginning stories in an anthology, the bracketing end ones all need to be strong (so #19, 20 and 21) in order to provide a good finish that will have lasting impact and repeat read value for the collection. 

How did Rogues stack up to this challenge? As I said, I found 10 of the 21 stories worthy of being reviewed. The best stories in the collection were numbers 1, 2, 3, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. Unfortunately, there was too much of a gap between #3 and #11.

Here's another way to look at it: Ideally, there will be at least 13 really strong stories in any collection with 21 stories included. This would allow the best stories to make appearances in this order (interspersed with weaker stories which I haven't included in the following sequence): 

#1 #2 #3 #6 #9 #11 #12 #16 #17 #18 #19 #20 #21 

Ideally, the 10 strongest stories in Rogues should have been arranged in this order: 

#1 #2 #5 #7 #9 #11 #15 #17 #19 #21 

All in all, Martin and Dozois didn't do a bad job arranging the stories at all, but I admit there were places my interest waned a bit too much because of back-to-back stories I just didn't find compelling enough in a prolonged gap.

Now, let's get to the reviewing. I won't be reviewing any of the stories I had bland or unfavorable reactions to after reading, only the ones I actually enjoyed. While it's true that opinions are subjective, most of the reviews I read for the Rogues collection agreed with my selections. Even in fiction, the cream rises to the top while rocks sink to the bottom. 

I will note quickly before I start the reviews that each story in this collection is prefaced by a fairly in-depth biography for the author. The last paragraph of that included a short introductory blurb for the story. I highly applaud the editors for setting it up this way. I do like to know upfront more about any author I'm reading. More than that, I simply don't like reading any story without having first read something of a summary of what I can expect from the story I'm about to read. So few short story collections include either of these, especially presented in this very appealing manner.                                                                   

1)              Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie (this was actually the very first story featured in the collection): In a city infested with rogues, thieves try to out-thieve each other to gain possessive of a certain, unnamed something. Point of view switches between each of these rogues in turn. This was just good, circular fun all the way around. This story was a nice opener for this collection--however, I'm not sure I would have put it first (or technically even second--I would have placed this one between #6 and #9 or #16-28.


2)              What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (technically was the very second story in the anthology): This story didn't know what it wanted to be in terms of genre. It was a mystery thriller, as many of Flynn's novels are, but included a paranormal twist. I can't begin to describe this escalating tale that I read with a dropped jaw pretty much from start to finish. By all rights, I should have been repelled by it. It starts (as the author usually does her stories) by setting up a thoroughly despicable character she can't possible expect most readers to root for. For the most part, I tend to full-on hate her characters and want to see the worst possible outcome possible for them--I actually feel dirty reading about such creeps, which tend to be the lead characters. Yet I was sucked into this story despite all this. Everything felt like it was coming out of left field, and it knocked me on my butt from the first sentence to the last. I was led on a merry chase through "corridors" intended to deceive and stun the senses. All my preconceptions and assumptions were like mocking funhouse mirrors, showing me time and time again where I'd gone wrong. No matter how many times I guessed right about where the author was going, she pulled the football out just as I was about to declare a goal (or whatever these sports ball outcomes are). She also twisted on the twist at the end and left me winded and disoriented. Bravo!


3)              The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (this was the third story included in the collection): A "small god" of luck falls into the hands of a thief when the devotee who was supposed to free the small god and return it to its full power is kidnapped by a band of cannibals. Clearly, this isn't a meal anyone who abstains from eating human flesh would want to attend…unless it means bargaining with the small god for a lifetime of good luck in exchange for the rescue of its only hope for escaping the cauldron. But once the thief has done what he and the small god have bargained for, the devotee (a hedge sorcerer that serves a powerful spell slinger) double crosses the thief and the small god. Now there's hell to pay. And, yes, this story was just as much fun as it sounds.


4)              The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham (technically this was the 11th story featured in the collection): This story was one I was looking forward to, as I'm a huge fan of The Expanse Series by James S. A. Corey (the joint pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). In a world where life is cheap and everyone is out for #1, love and friendship are rare and almost undefinable things. This story took most of its pages to develop, but the last of it went in a direction I didn't anticipate at all, making it seem a lot like two separate stories that were merged together, and I'm not entirely sure it was successful. I'm also not certain I understood what the point of it was. Disparate as it was, it was well-written and absolutely never boring or predictable.


5)              The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein (technically, this was the 12th story in the collection): A minstrel is convinced to join a traveling merchant caravan through a desert with evil spirits, mirages, and dangers he's never conceived of in his wildest imaginings. By all rights, I couldn't help thinking as I read this story that it shouldn't have been as compelling as it actually was. I think what really fascinated me was that this story was very similar to Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead (which I'll be reviewing later this year), but not quite the horror that tale is. True, the bard angle interested me just 'cause I've always found Old World bards intriguing. This particular minstrel has the unusual ability of being able to "fast travel" from one place to the other. Instead of doing that, he chooses to ride one of the caravan's camels. His motivation starts out being the means of crafting new song material but ultimately he finds himself immersed in the lives of his fellow travelers. Because he's come to care for them, he's no longer content with just completing the journey with a new song. He wishes for a happy ending, which may be impossible.


6)              The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle (actually the 17th story in the collection): Complete with a Sherlock Holmesian title, this 19th century detective story tells the very strange mystery of a woman both missing and dead--and neither! What a clever whodunit with all the wonderful twists and turns a reader could want, told from the point of view of a young, female Watson sidekick to a brilliant detective (with a few intriguing flaws). Together, they undertake a case that provides no monetary compensation, only the satisfaction of a good--if rather odd--deed done.


7)              How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman (the 18th story featured in the anthology): In this adventure set in London Below (first featured in Gaiman's Neverwhere novel) he who is one with the shadows has lost his one-of-a-kind coat with 30 pockets "11 of which were obvious, 19 of which were hidden, and four of which were more or less impossible to find…" Similar to Puss in his wondrous boots, "Marquis de Carabas" loves his coat and refuses to let it go at any cost. While I confess that I've tried to read many of Gaiman's works before, including Neverwhere, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book, I've never been able to get into them, though everything about them seems right up my alley and he's undeniably a talented author. This story is the one that captured my interest from the first, irresistible sentence. I read it straight through to the end. I'm sure Gaiman didn't intend it, but I couldn't help picturing the intrepid rogue as Disney's sweet, swashbuckling Zorro, Puss in Boots, casting about with his adorable, gigantic eyes. That visual just added more pizazz to an already great story. If anyone's wondering, I think this story is considered Book 1.5 that fits in the London Below series following the first installment, and coming before Book 2, The Seven Sisters. But you don't have to read anything but this story to know what's going on.


8)              Now Showing by Connie Willis (technically the 19th story in the collection): A night out at the movies for a college student nursing a broken heart over the scoundrel she still loves turns out to be infinitely more complicated than simply buying a ticket to the show. Set in a future time (based on references to movies with currently unmade--and very highly anticipated at least to me!--sequels, like Back to Back to the Future, The Return of Frodo, and Oceans 17), and punctuated throughout by rave movie reviews, this little romantic "ditty about Jack and" Lindsay is anything but predictable.


9)              The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss (the 20th offering in the anthology): This story apparently features a character from one of the author's Kingkiller Chronicles series. Bast is a mysterious "errand boy" who teaches his lessons and learns one or two of his own in the course of one very busy day. This tale blew me away. I'm not even sure why, considering how lazily it unfurled, almost as if absolutely nothing was actually happening to warrant a story being told. That said, the boy was (superficially) like a simple and clever Tom Sawyer yet he was a changeling--someone and something different--to everyone he encounters. I found him irresistible. Bast is a being that knows how to make the most of every single moment in his day--for work, play, and everything in-between. As soon as I finished the story, I started looking for other stories about Bast and found the author has written a series where this character is featured. In each of the novels of the trilogy, a single day is covered. (Note that there are also prequel, in-between, and companion stories, so there are technically more than three books in this series.) In any case, the series flows into each other day by day, so three books means three consecutive days in the chronicling. That means they probably shouldn't be read out of order. However, the author intended The Lightning Tree to be a story within that series, like an off-shoot, so reading this one before the others is a good way to get a taste of what's in store for the main series. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a A Song of Ice and Fire thing going on with this series. The author has been promising the final book that would "conclude Kvothe's story" and complete the current arc for years but the release has been delayed by decades (for many reasons). Because of that, I'm very wary about jumping into another series where I may never get the full story. When I start a series, I like to binge-read it all the way through. That's simply not possible here. Sigh! More writers should be adamant about writing the whole series from start to finish before the publication starts. It helps to prevent the author from becoming "paralyzed" in writing (fame, success, and expectation often clash head-on, causing burnout and/or writer's block) in mid-series. But enough of that. This leads us very appropriately, into the final story in this collection, the very one I bought the anthology for.


10)          The Rogue Prince, or, A King's Brother by George R. R. Martin (technically the 21st story in the collection): This is a prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire, the basis of House of the Dragon television series (Season 1 focused on this and other characters of his time period; we'll see what Season 2 holds). If we're going to get very specific, this story is just a very long excerpt from Martin's Fire & Blood, which is anything but a dry historical accounting of the Targaryen family (which I've read from cover to cover twice now). Daemon Targaryen is the king's brother, never destined to become king himself, though he'll be damned if he doesn't try. This means plunging the entire world into a war fueled by his obsessive desire. I'm actually amazed how Martin wrote such a compelling history that isn't presented as fiction at all. It's just deeply engrossing. I read his 700-page+ historical account cover to cover almost in one sitting both times I read it. This particular bit of that history is set 172 years before the events of A Song of Fire and Ice, during a period of time known as the "Dance of the Dragons". The devastating war of succession as House Targaryen declines is told. If you like this story, you'll love the TV series as much as I do.

This collection of stories far exceeded my expectations. I'm anticipating picking up more of these Martin/Dozois anthologies in the future. If others are worthy, I may also increase my reviews of story collections here on the Alien Romances Blog.

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

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Thursday, June 27, 2024

Language in Historical Fiction

I've just finished watching Season Four of THE CHOSEN, the streaming series about Jesus and his followers. (It seems likely the title refers to the latter.) I find it captivating, although naturally it's not perfect. In the first season, the Roman soldiers sometimes act like the Gestapo in a Nazi-occupied country, whereas from what I've read, the Roman occupation was more like the British Raj in India. The Pharisees are portrayed as if they wielded official authority, when in fact they were a self-appointed religious-political pressure group promoting strict observance of the Law. What the series brings to mind for me at the moment, though, are linguistic issues. How should characters in a historical novel or film talk in order to seem approachable by modern audiences yet also quasi-authentic or at least not blatantly anachronistic?

If a historical person's speech includes jarringly contemporary slang -- unless it's humorously meant as parody, of course -- it throws the reader or viewer out of the story. On the other hand, characters who speak "forsoothly" can feel emotionally distant rather than engaging. Worse, some writers have a tenuous grasp of archaic language and season their texts with random peppering of "thee," "-est," "-eth," etc., with no regard for the actual grammar of premodern English. Obsolete words can lend the narrative an authentic flavor but, if the meanings aren't obvious from context, may confuse the reader. I admire the way Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Count Saint-Germain novels refer to clothing and some other everyday items by the terms used in the respective historical periods rather than substituting modern approximations. But, then, Yarbro is an expert with many decades of experience, and even so, I'm not always certain what a particular article of clothing looks like; her skill, fortunately, always gives the reader enough to go on with.

Then there's the issue of narrative and dialogue meant to be understood as translating from a foreign language. Some old war movies show enemy soldiers speaking with German accents, as if they're foreigners to themselves. The new miniseries adaptation of SHOGUN makes the bold decision to have Japanese dialogue spoken in that language with English subtitles, immersively realistic but rather demanding on the audience. The filmmakers do give us a rest by letting the European characters talk to each other in English when they're presumably speaking Portuguese. In my opinion, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER made an excellent choice with scenes on the Russian submarine. For the first few minutes, the actors speak Russian with subtitles. Then we have a conversation when the captain (Sean Connery) is reading aloud from a book written in English. His spoken dialogue segues from Russian into English, and thereafter Russians talking among themselves do so in English "translation." When foreign languages in historical fiction are "translated" into English, as in most novels and movies, it seems appropriate to render casual speech from the supposed original language into colloquial modern English rather than making the characters talk in an unrealistically stilted, formal style. With one precaution -- the writer should take scrupulous care to avoid anachronistic references, such as metaphors based on technology that didn't exist in the particular past era, e.g., "like a broken record" before the 20th century. But how far should the dialogue go in the direction of informality to be accessible without the intrusion of jarringly modern slang?

I'm ambivalent about the way THE CHOSEN handles that question. Mostly I like the casual, colloquial dialogue, but sometimes the characters use trendy phrases that I think make them sound too much like contemporaries of our Gen-X children. I don't object to words such as "okay," though. That's been around since before the mid-19th century. As for accents, it puzzles me that the locals speak with what I guess is meant to be a Middle Eastern accent, again as if they're foreigners to themselves. Logically, the Jewish characters should speak unaccented English and the Romans, as the outsiders, should have an accent -- maybe a hint of Italian? I winced, by the way, when a Roman soldier stumbles over the name "Peter." It's Greek, the common language of the eastern Roman empire; of course he would know it means "rock"! (Furthermore, for maximum realism the disciples should address Peter by the Aramaic word for rock, Cephas.)

The regional and class issue should also be taken into account, in my opinion. Dorothy Sayers, in the introduction to her radio play cycle THE MAN BORN TO BE KING, discusses accents in this context. Should Jesus and his disciples speak more correctly than the working-class people around them, as if the disciples weren't part of the same population? Jesus and his mother need to share the same accent, but would it make sense to have them talk differently from his followers? Sayers also brings up and dismisses the complication of regional dialects. THE CHOSEN doesn't allow for that, either. I wish they'd taken into account the fact that Jesus, his mother, and several of the disciples come from Galilee. Since inhabitants of that area were considered uncouth by people from around Jerusalem, the dialogue should reflect that difference. I'd like Jesus, Peter, et al to have a distinct regional accent, maybe a tinge of Scottish or Irish, something I've never seen in any film version of the Gospel story. I wonder how THE CHOSEN will handle the moment during Peter's denial scene when a bystander recognizes him as a disciple by his Galilean accent?

Writers of fiction set in past eras or foreign cultures need to strike a delicate balance between annoying purists and baffling casual readers.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Quod Scripsi, Scripsi... But Is it Copyrightable?

 "What I have written, I have written," (and by implication, I will not revise it behind the scenes in order to please critics).

Earlier this week, I was reminded of what Pontius Pilate--incumbent of the least coveted diplomatic posting in the Roman Empire at the time-- said when some community leaders objected to the wording of a notice that he had posted.

In my case, as a volunteer, I'd written some Minutes for a small company, and someone --who had not been at the meeting in question-- asked for the .docx so she could revise my Minutes.

I responded with a slighly less disobliging version of "Quod scripsi, scripsi" and I did not have to get into the weeds of whether what I had written was copyright-protected.

For any reader interested in Board Minutes, here are some excellent links.

However, I did wonder about whether or not Board or Annual General Meeting minutes are in fact copyright-protected.

 "Work is factual: In contrast to use of a creative work, use of a factual work is more likely to be fair. Facts themselves are not copyrightable. Factual works that are on the fringe of copyright, such as meeting minutes, have thinner protection."
Thinly, apparently.

Laundry lists, shopping lists, recipes, personal letters may all be copyright-protected, depending on how creative they are, and how much unique expression goes into the sharing of non-copyrightable lists of factual information.

For writers who become famous, the letters they pen may one day be very valuable indeed. Remember that copyright belongs to the writer, not to the recipient of a letter. Therefore, in your estate planning, decide who should own the copyright of any letters you have written... just in case.

Had I been an employee, say of a Management Company, my Minutes would have been done in the course of my employment, as part of my job, and the Minutes would have been "work for hire."

Legal bloggers for Venable LLP (one of my favorite blogging law firms), Armand J. (AJ) Zottola and Benjamin J. Myers are writing in two parts "Understanding the Work Made For Hire Doctrine."

Read Part 1 (of Understanding Work Made For Hire) here:

Part 2 will focus on specially commissioned works, but Part 1 explains the doctrine and defines who is an employer, who is an employee, and why and when the copyright of works created by an employee in the course of employment belongs to the employer.

Of course, the "Work For Hire" doctrine does not just apply to the written word. If one were a designer working for a car company (drawings), or a coder working for a tech business, ones work product would also belong to the company.

Legal blogger Paul Matenaer of the Michael Best law firm discusses trouble within the entertainment industry (not a new topic, but always entertaining) when it comes to sequels and remakes, especially when the original author of a screenplay is not employed or compensated for the spin-off works, even when the original author (or the passage of time) might have terminated the original contract or grant of copyright.
Follow the link for the yet-to-be-resolved story. And, for any author whose book (or books) have been optioned, or may be optioned in the future, take a lesson from the current state of the law and the major players attempts to cut out original writers down the road... and don't cut corners on legal help with Hollywood or Amazon contracts!

All the best,

Friday, June 21, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson

by Karen S. Wiesner

As soon as I finished reading (and reviewing in last week's Friday post) The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, published in 1969, I moved directly into reading the sequel, The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson, published in 2019. In fact, the story within the sequel is set 50 years after the previous events. This publication also marks the 50th anniversary of the original release.

In the time following The Andromeda Strain, in which an extraterrestrial microbe nearly caused the catastrophic end of the world, Project Eternal Vigilance has waited and watched to ensure the mutating microbe doesn't reappear. With the project on the verge of being shut down for lack of activity, abruptly a Brazilian terrain-mapping drone detects the signature of the lethal microparticle. A team is assembled and sent to investigate, ultimately tasked with attempting to prevent another potential annihilation of all humankind from the latest Andromeda Evolution.

As the previous story did, this one is presented as a classified government report. While there are many characters, it's hard to really define any of them as the main character. The closest is James Stone, son of one of the team members who saved the world in the original book. In this way, the story is heavily plot focused. However, that doesn't mean readers weren't drawn into the lives and situations of the many players involved in this highly suspenseful, race to save the world tale. In particular, I was moved by the relationship between the native Amazonian boy Tupa and James Stone. Early on while reading this book, I wanted to see a character or two from the original cross into this story, and I was pleased to have my hope rewarded. Additionally, the author mirrored Crichton's ability to create such realism, I could easily believe this story was based on actual events.

One of the most interesting parts about reading these two books back to back was seeing the advances made in technology and space travel in the 50 years between them. In fact, the author has stated his intention while writing was to acknowledge "the travel and advances made in space exploration since the 1970s".

I read the last third of The Andromeda Evolution over the course of little more than two hours. I couldn't put it down until I discovered what would happen with the evolved microparticle spurred on by a deranged, short-sighted villain, as well as to the self-sacrificing people working to prevent it from spreading and destroying the Earth as we know it.

A movie adaption doesn't seem to be in the works, despite that the original was made into a miniseries in 2008 and the plot in The Andromeda Evolution could easily comprise a thrilling second season of it. The ending of the book made me long for yet another sequel to see where it would all go, since it concluded on a bit of an unresolved angle. Though there's no indication that it might ever happen, if a follow-up does make an appearance, I certainly hope it doesn't take another 50 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:

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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Do Spoilers Really Spoil?

The latest issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER includes an article exploring whether advance exposure to spoilers actually makes the experience of reading a book or viewing a movie (the author mainly discusses films) worse, neutral, or better:

Savoring Uncertainty

The author, Stuart Vyse, starts by analyzing the difference between stories that provide a "clear resolution" and those that end with ambiguities unresolved. He notes, "Given the chaos of everyday life, it’s understandable that people are drawn to stories that make sense and provide closure." He links this tendency to a wish to believe we live in a just universe, offering the TV series LAW AND ORDER as a typical example. There I think he's absolutely right. The traditional detective novel is the most moral of genres. It promises that problems will be solved, questions answered, justice served, and criminals punished. In rare cases when the criminal escapes the grasp of the law, it's because the detective has determined his or her crime was justified. Vyse contrasts the traditional formula with the "noir" subgenre, in which ambiguity reigns, morality comes in shades of gray, and justice is far from guaranteed.

He then discusses the connection, if any, between enjoyment of ambiguity and tolerance of spoilers. He also goes into the definition of a spoiler, which can vary according to the individual experiencing it -- e.g., someone who's naive about the particular genre, such as a small child -- and to what extent the information constitutes "common knowledge." We'd all probably agree that the prohibition on spoilers has run out for mentioning that Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play, for example. For a century or more, certainly since the first movie adaptations came out, everybody has known Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inhabit the same body. The phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" has become proverbial. When the novella was first published, however, that secret came as a shocking revelation near the end. Upon the original publication of DRACULA, readers who ignored reviews could have picked up the novel without suspecting the Count's true nature. Nowadays, even elementary-school kids know "Dracula" equals "vampire."

Vyse cites research on whether spoilers decrease appreciation for a work, increase it, or have no effect. Results of various studies yield different answers. I've noticed tolerance for spoilers ranges from the zero-tolerance of fans such as one of our children, who avoids even book cover blurbs if possible, to my own attitude, sympathetic to a comment I read somewhere that a story capable of being "spoiled" by knowledge of what happens isn't worth spoiling. I admit exceptions of course, such as knowing the killer before the big reveal in a murder mystery (on first reading, at least) or works in which the climactic twist is the whole point of the thing, such as THE SIXTH SENSE. I don't at all mind knowing in advance whether a major character will live or die; in fact, I sometimes sneak a peak at the end to relieve the stress of wondering. When the series finale of FOREVER KNIGHT aired, I was glad I'd read a summary before viewing the episode. When I actually saw the devastating final scene, having braced myself for the worst allowed me to feel it wasn't quite so bad as other fans had maintained. Having reread many of my favorite books over and over demonstrates that foreknowledge of the plot doesn't bother me. With that knowledge, I can relax into the pleasure of revisiting familiar characters.

In one of C. S. Lewis's works of literary criticism, he declares that the point of a startling twist in a book or any artistic medium isn't the surprise in itself. It's "a certain surprisingness." During subsequent exposures to the work, we have the fun of anticipating the upcoming surprise and enjoying how the creator prepares us for it. In a second or later reading of a mystery, for example, we can notice the clues the author has hidden in plain sight. We realize how we should have guessed the murderer and admire the author's skill at concealing the solution to while still playing fair with the reader. (Along that line, I was astonished to hear Nora Roberts remark at a convention that she doesn't plan her "In Death" novels written under the name "J. D. Robb" in advance. How can anyone compose a detective story without detailed plotting? She must have to do an awful lot of cleanup in revision.)

Learning the general plot of a novel or film prior to reading or viewing doesn't "spoil" it for me. I read or watch for the experience of sharing the characters' problems, dangers, and joys, discovering how they navigate the challenges of the story, and getting immersed in their emotional and interpersonal growth. Once the "narrative lust" (another phrase from Lewis, referring to the drive to rush through the narrative to find out what happens next) has been satisfied by the first reading or viewing, in future ones we can take a while to savor all the satisfying details we didn't fully appreciate the first time.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt

Saturday, June 15, 2024

On Your Face

Given the potential copyright issues if you use a photograph taken by someone else for your professional portrait, it's not a bad idea to take the shot yourself.

If someone else takes the photo that you use in the "back matter" of your books, and on your author websites, and on your social media pages, that's fine. You simply need an assignment of the photographer's copyright, in writing.

Here is a very good guide to the basics, provided by the US Copyright Attorneys of the Sanders Law Group.
For self-portrait-taking newbies, Box Brownie has a very helpful article explaining how to take your best head shot by yourself.

They also have a special offer of up to 4 free, professional photo retouching edits for new followers.

Talking of special offers, -which I consider a go-to site for creating coffee-table books and scrap-type books for limited publication- has a great sale going on until June 20th: 30% off sale using the code SUMMERDAY30.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

Friday, June 14, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner Oldies But Goodies {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Oldies But Goodies

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

by Karen S. Wiesner

The Andromeda Strain was the first book Michael Crichton wrote under his real name and one of the earliest techno-thrillers to become a bestseller when published in 1969. Wikipedia describes this genre as "a hybrid…drawing from science fiction, thrillers, spy fiction, action, and war novels. They include a disproportionate amount of technical details on their subject matter (typically military technology)... The inner workings of technology and the mechanics of various disciplines…are thoroughly explored, and the plot often turns on the particulars of that exploration." Crichton and Tom Clancey are considered the fathers of modern techno-thrillers.

With almost documentary-style precision, the crash of an unmanned research satellite is chronicled after it returns mysteriously to Earth and lands near the small town of Piedmont, Arizona. Every human being in Piedmont dies, save two--and old man riddled with health issues and an infant. From there, the world's first space-age biological crisis unfolds as the lethal contamination by an extraterrestrial microbe is investigated by leading scientists. In the initial acknowledgement that begins most of Crichton's novels and gives almost a "true story accounting", he says, "This book recounts the five-day history of a major American scientific crisis. As in most crises, the events surrounding the Andromeda Strain were a compound of foresight and foolishness, innocence and ignorance. Nearly everyone involved had moments of great brilliance, and moments of unaccountable stupidity." Well, so much for heroes! 

As usual, right from the beginning of this book I read more than a decade ago and recently re-read, Crichton made me believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that this work was based on real-life events. The author states that he got the idea for the story after reading the spy novel, The IPCRESS File (so named for the undesignated protagonist's personal report to the Minister of Defense) by Len Deighton. That story describes Cold War brainwashing, a United States atomic weapon test, as well as the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb. In The Andromeda Strain, Crichton attempted to "create an imaginary world using recogniseable techniques and real people".

The point of view characters in this story are varying scientists and military personal, but all are almost beside the point. From start to finish, the dispassionate, mutated Andromeda is the clear focus, neither protagonist nor villain--simply a lifeform striving for survival at all cost. I've always been drawn to fiction that contains extreme examples of verisimilitude such as this one, of alien creatures testing the bounds of what humans are capable of--both good and bad. It's difficult to imagine what those striving to save humankind from a threat beyond what any has ever experienced before go through in this effort. On one hand, they're forced to rethink everything we know as fact, to employ creativity and leaps of faith in the face of sheer ignorance and uncertainty, but also deal with the moral quandary of destroying something that may simply be acting and reacting in an attempt to survive, devoid of anything more than instinctive motivation and not actual evil. In that, an alien--virus, evolving microorganism, or something else altogether--is no different than any of us. How can we blame it for its existence and innate impulse to exist? But how also can we not fight back when we're threatened, as the entire world is in this novel, by Andromeda breaking free and destroying everything in its single-minded quest to endure?

This book was made into a movie in 1971 and a miniseries in 2008. An authorized sequel, The Andromeda Evolution, was written by Daniel H. Wilson in 2019, 50 years after the original release and eleven years after the author's death. This is definitely a golden oldie you might want to read or re-read.

Next week, I'll review another Oldie But Goodie you might find worth another read, too.

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:

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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Romance Genre Today

Here's an article about the evolution of the romance fiction market:

Romance Novels Have Changed

This discussion seems directed to people who don't regularly read romance and have stereotypical, outdated ideas about it. From my perspective of having picked up occasional category romances as far back as the era when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I'm amused by the frequent assumption that "romance" equals "smut." Sensual, steamy, and outright graphic romance novels are a relatively recent development. When I first started dipping into the genre, "closed bedroom doors" were the default. Kathleen Woodiwiss's 1972 historical novel THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, celebrated as the first popular romance to feature "onstage" sex scenes, was an iconoclastic sensation upon its release. And haven't any people outside the field heard of inspirational and "sweet" romance, still thriving subgenres today? Also, this article refers to the types of paperbacks that used to display Fabio on their covers as "erotica," whereas the steamy content they're talking about in no way rises to the level of erotic romance (much less pure "erotica") as defined by publishers and editors. Again, though, the essay does seem oriented toward a general readership.

From that angle, it offers a balanced, lucid explanation of recent trends in the field and how it's changed since the 1960s and even the 70s. As the author puts it, not only has the genre itself evolved, so has "the romance reading community . . . . being a romance reader now is all about fun -- even when the characters are morally gray." On the subject of "community," the article discusses online and in-person connections, including conventions, among authors, readers, and booksellers. Thanks to the internet, it's easier than ever to find exactly the type of book you want, even in very narrowly defined niche categories. Diversity in readership as well as fictional content and characters is celebrated. The article lists some subgenres or "microgenres" that have been around for decades as if they're fresh and surprising, but the relatively new emphasis on topics such as consent and "healthy relationships" is also highlighted. Time-honored tropes still appear in contemporary stories, but often with a twist. The question of distiguishing between romance novels and fiction in other genres with romantic elements is also explored. The trendy term "romantasy" comes up; I haven't yet seen a definition that describes it as anything other than paranormal romance renamed.

The essay is worth reading for a respectful and inclusive overview of the romance genre in its current state.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Mostly, Thou Shalt Not...

Ethics and the Internet have long parted ways.

Over the last decade, legal blogger Peter S. Vogel of  Foley & Lardner LLP  has written some fascinating blog articles about supercookies tracking cell phone users, the legitimate right of a court to subpoena gmail correspondence, worsening cyber crime, whether or not employers can prohibit employees from adding Biblical quotes to their sig files... and The Ten Commandments of internet ethics.

Here is a link to the latter. There are 8 "shallt nots" and 2 "shalls".
It probably boils down to, "First Do No Harm". There's an interesting blog about that, The Impossible Oath, by Spyros Retsas.
From the UK law firm of Brabners, and penned by solicitor Oskar Musial and property litigator Helena Davies,  there is an enviable discussion of whether or not drones can trespass over private property. By "enviable", I mean that I wish something similar were in the legal works where I live.

I like the judge's reasoning.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 


Friday, June 07, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner Oldies But Goodies {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: Alex Hunter Adventures - The Arcadian by Greig Beck

Oldies But Goodies

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Alex Hunter Adventures - The Arcadian by Greig Beck

by Karen S. Wiesner

The Alex Hunter Adventures includes some ten plus books and all feature Captain Alex Hunter, code named The Arcadian (modified to be something more than human--the ultimate super soldier), and his highly trained, elite team of commandos called HAWCS along with some ancient horror they're sent to investigate. I stumbled across this Australian author years ago while looking for my next horror fix, and this series has always delivered from one book to the next.


Beneath the Dark Ice, the first in this series, was Beck's first novel, and it was (and possibly one or two of the subsequent were) released in mass market paperback (2009) by a major publisher. I haven't always been able to find print editions of the later books in the series, published elsewhere, which is frustrating, and when they are available, they tend to be shockingly expensive. I'll add that the stories contained in them are worth the price, but only just. Books that aren't hardcovers shouldn't be so pricey, but that's the inevitable limitation of POD.

The characters in all the Alex Hunter stories are complex with internal conflicts that are just as richly weaved and spellbinding as the action-packed plots. There's a lot to love with hidden horrors and/or fascinating, labyrinthine locations submerged, unearthed, and set free. Without Alex's modifications, could anyone survive what the team is put through in each exciting installment? This is a series that's been around for a while, but it's only getting better. A new book was released in 2022 with another coming in 2024. Note that the publication order isn't the same as the chronological order, which is listed below:

Prequel (0.5), "Arcadian Genesis"

Book 1: Beneath the Dark Ice

Book 2: Dark Rising

Book 3: This Green Hell

Book 4: Black Mountain

Book 5: Gorgon

Book 5.5: "Hammer of God"

Book 6: Kraken Rising

Book 7: The Void

Book 8: From Hell

Book 9: The Dark Side

Book 10: The Well of Hell

Book 11: The Silurian Bridge (forthcoming)

Worth noting that Beck is the author of many series and standalones with a supernatural slant. His website at is well worth a serious gander if you're looking to satiate your own horror fix.

Next week, I'll review another Oldie But Goodie you might find worth another read, too.

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: