Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category


Bandwidth by Eliot Peper(Bandwidth, by Eliot Peper. 47 North, 2018, 252 pp., $24.95)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(Warning: This review contains mild spoilers concerning the first two dozen or so pages of the book.)

In recent years, the beer mega corporations have been buying up independent small breweries. They’re continuing to use the small breweries’ names as marketing tools while avoiding disclosure of the relationship of the formerly independent breweries with the conglomerates. The list of fake craft brands includes Ballast Point, Breckenridge, Kona, Pyramid, Redhook. . . . . The list goes on.

Now this trend has reached the publishing industry in perhaps even worse form. Meet 47 North.

When I picked up Bandwidth and saw the 47 North logo and name, I said “Ah! another small press publishing science fiction! Haven’t seen this before!” Then, after I finished the book and was preparing to write this review, I looked at the fine print on the copyright page. It read in part, “Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47 North are trademarks of Amazon.com Inc. or its affiliates.”

So, we’ve now reached the point where we not only have fake craft breweries, but also fake small presses. (Yes, I know, traditional large publishing houses — almost all bought up in recent years by media conglomerates — have imprints, but Amazon is not a traditional publisher: it’s now vertically integrated in its bookselling/publishing arm, and seems to be attempting to achieve a monopoly in the bookselling trade. It’s already close, selling approximately 50% of all print books in the U.S. and 70% of e-books.)

As well, Amazon (following in the steps of the chain bookstores) has been largely responsible for the decimation of American independent bookstores over the last two decades, and has also been an absolute disaster for small presses. (The reasons for this are too complicated to go into in this review, however you can read more about the damage Amazon does to small publishers here and here.)

So, what to do about a book published by one of the tentacles of this octopus? To review or not to review? (Not coincidentally, U.S. independent bookstores almost across the board refuse to carry books published by Amazon.)

Unfortunately, I liked Bandwidth and don’t want to hold the publisher against the author, so . . . . .

Bandwidth is a near-future techno-thriller whose primary character, Dag Calhoun, is a highly placed lobbyist for sale to anyone with the money to buy. Those with the cash include fossil-fuels corporations engaged in climate-change denial, and The Feed, a world-spanning company that has subsumed Facebook, Google, and to a large extent the Internet itself, and to which almost all people are connected 24 hours a day.

While on a lobbying assignment in Mexico City, Dag meets a mysterious woman, and shortly after is shocked to find that someone has total access to his Feed and its archives, including information that could send him and his clients to prison.

From there, he goes on a quest to find the woman who he suspects is the one responsible for the data breach.

The remainder of the book revolves around Dag’s search, how Facebook-like entities can be used to shape perceptions and even personalities, the character transformation Dag undergoes — he’s initially very unlikable — while on his quest, climate change, climate-change denial, and especially whether the ends, no matter how high minded, ever justify the means.

Peper comes down on the right side of this question in Bandwidth, which makes his choice of a publisher highly ironic. It would have been hard for him to find a more evil means of conveying his message that the ends never justify the means. If he was conscious of the damage Amazon has done, and is continuing to do, to independent bookstores and small presses, his choice of Amazon as a publisher was quite hypocritical.

Authors, however, are often amazingly oblivious to the workings of the bookselling and book publishing industries, so it’s entirely possible that Peper wasn’t aware of how toxic Amazon is to the book trade, small publishers, and ultimately the authors those small presses publish.

Despite the clear contradiction between Bandwidth‘s noble message and its odious means of delivery, I do recommend the book.

 

 

 

 


John Grant, author of Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded), has a nice piece on why the Republicans and especially the Bush and Trump administrations have been so eager to ignore and misrepresent science, and at the same time pursue environmental policies that couldn’t be more obviously harmful to the public and to future generations.

John’s essay, “Donald Trump, Corporate Profits and the Cult of Tomorrow Morning,” appears in The Revelator (“An initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity“).


Corrupted Science front coverBloggers who review books and those readers who post book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, etc., should be aware of NetGalley. It’s a service that provides free e-books to those who actually review at least some of the free e-books they download. This differs greatly from the unrestricted book-giveaway sites. While anyone can create a NetGalley reader account, prior to okaying a book download publishers can check to see how many of the books a particular reviewer downloaded he or she reviewed. So, publishers are free to turn down “reviewers” who have downloaded say 20 or 30 books and haven’t reviewed any or almost any of them.

But if you like to read e-books and actually review at least some of them, it’s great. It couldn’t be easier to sign up for this free service at NetGalley’s web site.

We just signed up with them as a publisher and currently have five e-books available for download by reviewers:

  • Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded), by two-time Hugo Award winner John Grant. This brand new book (pub date June 15) covers the historical period from the days of Galileo to the present, and covers a very wide range of topics including fraud by scientists themselves, the vast array of corporate misuse and misrepresentation of science, and the misuse and misrepresentation of science by authoritarian regimes, notably Nazi Germany under Hitler, the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the USA under Trump, with a special focus on climate change denial under Trump.
  • Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber. This cyberpunk thriller deals with an even more overtly repressive near-future America and the struggle against that repression by a multicultural crew of hackers and political activists attempting to wake the USA from its “sleep state.” Sleep State Interrupt received a Compton Crook Award nomination in 2017 for Best First Science Fiction Novel and has received dozens of favorable reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.
  • Disbelief 101 front coverDisbelief 101: A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism, by S.C. Hitchcock. Not confined to atheism, this crash course in logical thinking covers the evils of childhood indoctrination, the incompatibility of rational thinking and religion, and the harm done by Christianity and Islam. The reviews were positive, with Booklist calling Disbelief 101 “Totally irreverent . . . cheeky and thought provoking” and The Moral Atheist saying, “We’ve read a library full of atheist books and this one ranks with the best. . . . Ignore the subtitle that says this book is for young people. It’s for everyone!”
  • The Watcher, by Nicholas P. Oakley. This far-future tale is a fine coming-of-age story brimming with social and political questions on technology, primitivism, ecology, and the uses and misuses of consensus process. Publishers Weekly noted: “Oakley provides a degree of complexity in what could very easily have been a one-sided didactic novel. This ambivalent examination of an idealist society and its less than ideal behavior offers the hope that Oakley will grow into a significant SF novelist.”
  • The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded), by Chaz Bufe, illustrated by J.R. Swanson. This is the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary and contains over 650 definitions and 60 illustrations, more than twice the number of each in the original edition. The book’s targets include the religious right, the “right to life” movement, capitalism, government, men, women, male-female relationships, and hypocrisy in all its multi-hued and multitudinous forms. As an appendix, The American Heretic’s Dictionary includes the best 200+ definitions from Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. The reviews have been overall quite positive, with the Mensa Bulletin commenting, “Such bitterness, such negativity, such unbridled humor, wit and sarcasm,” and Free Inquiry noting, “The quirky cartoons by J.R. Swanson nicely complement Bufe’s cruel wit. Recommended.” In contrast, we were pleased to see that Small Press deemed the book “sick and offensive” in that at least one reviewer seemed to recognize that there’s something to offend everyone in The Heretic’s Dictionary.

So, if you review books and any of these titles appeal to you, we’d suggest signing up with NetGalley now, as over the coming months we’ll be taking down these titles from NetGalley and replacing them with others.

Finally, just a reminder that book reviews are fun to write and that your reviews do matter and can be a tremendous help to small publishers.


Iain M. Banks

“‘. . . these crowds are, perversely, highly attractive to bombers.’

“‘Christians?’ Q’and says . . .

“‘Of course Christians, you idiot!’ . . . ‘The religion of zealotry,’ she informs him testily. ‘The religion that loves its martyrs, the religion of the doctrine of Original Sin, so that blowing even babies to smithereens is justifiable because they too are sinners.’ She jerks her head and makes a sort of dry spitting sound. ‘A religion made for terrorism.'”

–“Madame d’Ortolan” and “Q’and” in Iain M. Banks’ parallel-worlds novel, Transition


Sidelife, by Steve Toutonghi, front cover“. . . he picked up Sophie’s [the cat’s] food dish and began to rinse it in the sink, his finger burrowing into the remainder of Sophie’s previous meal,  a dried brown gunk. . . . he was mildly repulsed by a mental image of the cultivation of small animals, caged hens swelling like fat bacteria in a large damp petri dish of a factory before being rousted by numbed workers who shackled their feet so they’d hang upside down as they were dragged through a paralyzing electric bath, their throats cut, blood drained, bodies plucked, shredded and ground, passed on a belt through an oven, pressed and canned, the cans stacked on a pallet and shipped from one country to another, one state to another, to a central warehouse and then all the way to a local grocery; and from there in his car to this house where he would peel open the sealed band of metal and scoop out a gelatinous paté, a cream of chicken bodies, mash and stir it . . . so that Sophie could nourish herself on a small portion of it and leave the rest to dry into this cadaverous glue he was now rinsing into the garbage disposal.”

–Steve Toutonghi in Sidelife

In keeping with our no-euphemisms, no-bullshit policy, the above is an accurate portrayal of the horrors involved in the production of chicken-based wet cat food. If you have cats and choose to feed them this gross, expensive crap, literally based in industrial-strength cruelty, you are complicit in this appalling abuse.

(If you’re wondering, I had a cat — Spot Bob, my best buddy — for 15 years, and still miss him. I mostly fed him dry food [which is bad enough], but occasionally would give him wet food, including cans of chicken. Like almost all cat owners, I chose to be unaware of the miserable lives and deaths of the poor birds my pal, Spot Bob, was eating. As an aside, his rather odd name came from two places, the first obvious to most sci-fi fans; the second from a girlfriend I had at the time who grew up in a double-wide in a junkyard — her dad managed the place — and who insisted that the proper middle name of all males was “Bob,” as in Jim Bob, Joe Bob, and hence Spot Bob. But I digress . . . . .)

If you feel that you absolutely have to give your kitty wet food, please give them fish-based wet food. It consists mostly of “trash” fish caught by fishing fleets, and doesn’t involve the horrendous animal suffering inherent to chicken-based cat food. If your cat won’t eat fish-based wet food, he or she won’t die from lack of the worst form of canned cruelty.

Please think about it


I just read a self-indulgent, useless piece by an editor at another small press regarding a recently deceased prominent sci-fi author (Ursula Le Guin). The editor had nothing interesting to say — whatever; it’s what I expected — but what really irritated me was her use of the term “passed away” in place of “dead” or “deceased.”

If you’re trying to convey useful information, euphemisms — even the most commonly understood — are a lousy, inefficient way to do it. Let’s take this euphemism: “passed away” is a  term with two words, a dipthong, and three syllables. The slightly more polite but still accurate “deceased” is a single word with two syllables. “Dead” consists of a single word and a single syllable.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, nearly of 20 my friends have died (all younger than me). They’re dead; they didn’t “pass”; they didn’t “pass away”; they didn’t “go to a better place.” They’re dead. And I miss them.

There’s no way to sugar coat it, and trying to do so is obnoxious, condescending — taking the reader as a delicate flower who can’t handle the truth.

As Lemme put it, my friends are “stone dead, forever.”

Using euphemisms wastes time and makes honest discourse more cumbersome.

Stop it. Please stop it.


John Grant

A couple of days ago I asked two-time Hugo Award winner John Grant what advice he’d have for aspiring writers. His newest book is Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded). Here’s John’s advice:


Of all such pieces of advice, my favorite comes from Nora Roberts. As accurately as I can remember, it read simply: “Apply ass to chair. Write.”

Corrupted ScienceDecades ago, I got a similar message from Alec Waugh. He said essentially that the way to become a writer was to buy a ream of paper and a typewriter (told you this was decades ago!), then stick the first sheet of paper into the machine. By the time you got to the end of the ream you’d be a writer. If that failed, buy another ream and if necessary a fresh typewriter ribbon.

My late and still much mourned pal Iain Banks apparently wrote about six unpublished novels before the Waugh trick worked for him. The fact that he used the thinnest available paper and single-spaced his typing, forswearing such bourgeois desirables as margins (why waste good paper?), may also have had something to do with the delay in his being recognized as the extraordinary talent he was.

The best advice I ever got was from Colin Wilson, although he never exactly expressed it in words to me. One of my earliest books was a co-authorship with him. While working on it I noticed that (duh!) his bits were, y’know, better than mine. It eventually dawned on me that this was because Colin’s writing had all the immediacy of a conversation: he was essentially speaking onto the paper.

Although since then I’ve explored lots of other modes of writing, that remains my default style. One difficulty is that editors, especially for some reason American editors, sometimes crack down on what they perceive as my “sloppiness” — changing “won’t” into “will not,” sorta thing, or sticking in Oxford commas — but essentially that’s still the way I write: I hear what I want to write, then write the spoken words down.

So that’s the single piece of advice I’d pass along to you: don’t write, just speak onto the paper. You can always cut out the swearing and scatology later.