Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Self Published Science Fiction Contest


I am likely the least competitive fellow you’ll ever come across. For me, the agony of defeat far exceeds the thrill of victory. Competition produces losers, not winners. Unless you are talking about a one on one competition, competition produces far more losers than winners. Producing losers seems to me to be a rather unrewarding undertaking. Nevertheless, I recently entered a competition.

The competition is the Self Published Science Fiction Contest. Inspired by the fantasy writer Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, that he has run for the last seven years. The science fiction version of this is being run by Hugh Howey and Duncan Swan for the first time this year. Up to 300 self published science fiction writers can toss one of their books into the ring. These books are divided among 10 teams of readers from 10 blogs. Each team reads 20% or so of all 30 books that they are assigned to read, choosing their top ten to finish reading. From these ten they choose their top 3 books to pass along to all the rest of the readers. These 30 semi-finalist are given a score of 0 (DNF) to 10 by all the readers. The ten top rated books are reviewed on the participating blogs and Goodreads and the book with the highest rating overall wins the competition. The purpose of this contest is to gain some exposure for the authors and their books and hopefully with that, sales. On the fantasy side, several of the finalist have been picked up by traditional publishers. 

Avid readers of this blog may recall that in 8th grade I entered a piece of (bad) art in a contest and didn’t win a damn thing. This soured me for life on contests. Still, I think that after 55 years, I have perhaps, outgrown that humiliating defeat. In any event, I feel that any positive exposure this contest might generate is worth risking another such defeat. Free advertising is a shining city on the hill for me.

The question then was, which of my books should I enter? My most popular title is The Bright Black Sea, but seeing that it is 700+ pages long, I didn’t think a book that long would’ve been welcomed by the contest judges, so I eliminated that one, along with its sequel, since the rules require the entry to be the first book in a series or a stand alone book. Beneath the Lanterns is my one fantasy(ish) book, and I plan to enter it into the fantasy contest next year, since I missed the deadline this year, so that book is out. I like Sailing to Redoubt a lot, but its SF elements are rather minor, and Some Day Days contains my earliest work, and its not very SF-ee either. That left A Summer in Amber and The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon to choose from.

It was a hard choice. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better at writing as the years have gone along, so that Tzaritsa Moon should be a technically better written book than A Summer in Amber, which was my first published piece. However, Tzaritsa Moon is half the length of A Summer in Amber at just under 65,000 words, and while it was a fun piece to write, and hopefully a fun piece to read, I consider it light reading. While the word count is well within the novel range, I consider it more of “a story.” A Summer in Amber, on the other hand, is not only twice a long, but it has a lot more going on within the story. I consider it a novel. And I while I try not to pick my favorites among my books – that summer in Scotland is almost real to me. So I was left with a decision – should I chose a hopefully better written story or an older, but a richer novel?

I opted for the richer novel – A Summer in Amber. I think that it will stand out among the contestants, for better or worse, whereas The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon would’ve been just another short, self-published SF novel.

The blog that will be making the initial determination for my story is Fantasy Faction blog. As of this posting, A Summer in Amber sits in a quantum state – it can advance or be eliminated. If I’m lucky and it somehow avoids being cut early, I may not find out its fate for month. But its fate could be decided in only a few weeks. Stay tuned.                           


Friday, September 24, 2021


Right: The original plain white cover. Left: The cover of my first book fell off, so I made a new cover for it.

Last night I didn’t have anything prepared for this week’s blog post. My conversational fallback is to talk about the weather. Hoping to avoid a weather report, I came up with this essay. We’ll save the weather for another post.

It's funny the little things I remember, when as a general rule, I forget everything. For instance, I understand that I lived throughout the 1980’s – but I don’t think I've any authentic, first person memories of doing so. I can work out what I was doing during those ten years – sort of – and from that knowledge I can reconstruct some incidents from that era – as in I know I had to have done this or that. But I gather that most people are able to actually relive, in their minds, hours and hours of actual incidents from their past. I’ve never been able to do that for that reason. So it is remarkable when I do remember an incident at all. Indeed, I based one of my novels, Sailing to Redoubt, on a remembered dream from when I had to have been five to seven years old. Which brings me around to the subject of this post: Islandia.

I have a distinct memory of picking up and looking over the book pictured above (on the right): Austin Tappan Wright’s utopian/fantasy/make-believe world Islandia. I have no idea why I remember doing so. Though to be clear I remember doing it -- I can't recall the actual scene. The memory goes back to 1966 when this version was released. I know that it wasn’t in the usual card shop where I purchased most of my books back in those days, so it must have been a book shop --  Walden’s? or B Dalton?

As you can see, the cover is plain white (ala White Album?) with the title and the blurb “One of the great “underground” novels of the twentieth century.” It was a big thick book – 944 pages thick. The back cover, like the front cover had the title, some blurbs from the New Your Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and Orville Prescott, whoever he was. Plus a brief synopsis;

ISLANDIA has been an underground classic for over two decades. Signet’s republication of this great book brings before the public one of the most staggering feats of literary creation – a detailed history of an imagined country and a young American’s adventure there… among the people he met and the women he loved.

THE SPELL OF ISLANDIA IS POWERFUL. As Norman Cousins described the book’s power in The Saturday Review: “Islandia, like life, was real; Islandia was earnest. Little by little it became recognized for the miracle it was.”

I considered buying it, but in the end passed on it – it was probably in the science fiction section, or I would never have come across it, but it wasn’t science fiction enough for me to plunk down the $1.25 (when most paperbacks were $.50 - $.75) back then.

But, for some reason I never forgot it. And perhaps 12 years later, I'm vague on the date, but I know the place, I came across a copy of it in Oklahoma Street Library, pulled it off the shelf and started reading it. It wasn’t my local library so I couldn’t take it home, but once again, strangely enough I remembered the incident.

A few years later, likely in the early 1980’s I think that I found a copy of it at the annual Bethesda Fair rummage sale, and this time purchased it, though I’m not certain about that. All I actually remember is spending my evenings for at least a week traveling through Islandia with a bowl of popcorn at hand. It’s a little bit slow at the beginning, but it slowly draws you deeper and deeper into its world, more real than any other imaginary setting that I’ve ever read.

One of Wright's maps of the Karin Continent. Islandia is on the top, the dark black area in the small map, with the shaded areas showing areas of European influence and concessions.

Islandia was Wright’s imaginary world, a world that he had spent his life imagining. Islandia was a country at the northern end of an imaginary continent called Karin in the South Atlantic Ocean. He created its history, its language, is geography and geology. It was probably as real to him as his “real” life. In writing this account of a young American discovering his strange and wonderful land, he draws us into his all-but-real world. Perhaps because this was his private make believe world, not something he thought up for a book, there is an authenticity to it that you can feel. 

The book was only published after his death. The manuscript, of nearly 600,000 words that he had left behind, was edited down by about 1/3rd. As his daughter wrote in the introduction, “ father knew the exact lineaments of every scene John Lang saw down to its geological causes, and enjoyed describing such things.” He also wrote a 135,000 word history of Islandia., plus a large volume of appendices to the history, including a glossary of the Islandian language; a bibliography; several tables of population; a gazetteer of the provinces with a history of each; tables of viceroys, judges, premiers, etc., a complete historical peerage; notes on the calendar and climate; a few specimens of Islandian literature, 19 maps, and one geological map.

You can find a complete review of the book here: Islandia Review

A map of Islandia, though hard to read.

I believe that I’ve read the entire book twice. Maybe I’ll travel to Islandia again some day. But it’s a place I know I’ve visited, even if I can’t remember it all. However, I will say this; the book has, in my opinion, one flaw. As it says on the back cover “Islandia, like life, was real; Islandia was earnest.” I don’t recall one humorous scene in the entire 944 pages. It is an earnest book.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

My Top 10 Favorite SF Books of All Time

I recently watched a Media Death Cult video on the viewers' favorite books and I have to admit that haven’t read more than one or two of them. Still it got me to thinking about my favorite books of all time. So I racked my memory to come up with a list of my ten favorite SF books. This proved to be rather hard since I've forgotten 97% of them. On the flip side, it means that if I do remember them, and remember really enjoying them -- they're a candidate for the list.

Before I begin, I should note that “all time” is the trick words here. What I’ve done is try to recall what were my favorite books during my nearly sixty years of reading SF, in one era or another. They are not necessarily my favorite SF books today. Indeed, most of them would not even being the running today, since my tastes have evolved over my lifetime. Still, at one time, they were my favorite books and I still recall them fondly because of that.

All but two of the books come from my early years of reading SF in the 1960’s and early 1970’s when I was reading  50 to 100 books a year. This means that most of the books are classic SF. I'm not going to list them in any order, and I’ll save my recent favorite books for last. 

1. Starman Jones, Robert A Heinlein. This is my favorite of Heinlein book. Farm boy with a photographic memory inherits an astro-navigator's books and saves the day when the ship he is serving on gets lost. Or something like that. I think it is my favorite Heinlein because I liked his juveniles the best and this one has just a hint of romance in it that was quickly shut down. Heinlein didn’t do romance in his juveniles. The fact that I can still remember the basic plot of the story is telling since, I can’t say that for most of his juveniles. I reread it in my early 20’s and was surprised at how much of what I remembered wasn’t actually in the book. A testimonial to how much a young reader’s imagination adds to a story. Back in our day, at least, we spend our days making up stories while playing, and this skill lingered on into adolescence. From my records of the period, I can say that I rated it “E” for excellent together with Space Cadet, a book that I have no recollection of.

Credit:, Fair use,

2. The Star Conquers, Ben Bova. This book is a military SF, story with space battles, and an appealing young hero. Reading the Wikipedia description doesn’t bring back the story for me. I loaned this book to a friend 30 years ago to read to his son, and every time I see him he offers to return it, but since I know I'll not read it again, I tell him to keep it. Still it was a favorite of both of ours. I seem to recall that the sequel, Star Watchman wasn’t as good. I guess he wrote two more in the series years later. Who knew? I rated it a “E” back then.

3. Galactic Patrol, E E Smith. The best book, by far, of the Lensmen series. A space opera on a vast scale. I haven’t reread it, and would likely find it too grand and nonsensical for my tastes these days. I made a galactic wargame board game out of it, at the time. Still, its another “E” book in ‘65.

4.Ossian’s Ride, Fred Hoyle. An adventure set in Ireland. A recent graduate is recruited by British secret service as an amateur agent and sent to Ireland to discover the secret of a wildly successful company with amazing technology. It has a lot of hiking around Ireland, and, in a way, foreshadows my appreciation of the books like John Buchan’s 39 Steps which had his hero tramping around Scotland. I recently reread this book for the third time at least, and, indeed, I still enjoyed it. I first read it in 1966, but I wasn’t rating books that year, it seems.

5. Highways in Hiding, George O Smith. To begin with, the version I have has a wonderfully evocative cover by Roy G Krenkel, The story is a mystery story that centers around two opposing secret organization dealing with a deadly disease brought back from space. Road signs are modified by one group to lead people in the know to contact agents. This is another book of travel, thought this time it was road trips around the pre-interstate US. At the time there seemed something romantic about getting into a car and taking to the open roads which appealed to me back in the day. These days, an hour in a car is about all I can take. No contemporary rating for this book either.

6. Sands of Mars, Arthur C Clarke. I count this as the first adult SF novel I read. How could you not like a book about Mars – a Mars still unexplored by remote spacecraft when I read it. A Mars that anything could go? The hero was a middle aged SF writer visiting Mars that he wrote SF books about early in his career, which seems a strange hero for a young teen. Indeed I find in my records of the time that in 1965 I rated it only a “B” so I guess its memory must’ve aged well. The thing is that I remember it when 97% of the books from that period I have no recollection of at all, That must mean something. Plus, I know I reread it. On the other hand, another Clarke book, Dolphin Island I rated an “E” though I believe it was a juvenile. In any event, I have no recollection of the story.

7. A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs. One of my perennial favorites. But even with so much to love about it, there's still so much I wish was better – bigger, fuller, with deeper characters. I’ve reread this book probably four or five times. I read it to the kids at bedtime. In 1971 I rated it ***½, which is a little above average. But like Sands of Mars, it seems to has aged well, and I now consider it the best of ERB's books. Contrast that with his Venus series that I rated “E” back in ‘65, but never have had any interest in rereading. The first three books of Barsoom are one of my favorites for all their flaws.

8. The Witches of Karres, James H Schmitz. I’ve read this book several times -- indeed, after pulling it out of the bookshelf for this post, I'm rereading and enjoying it once again. I’m a sucker for stories set on spaceship, and worm weather was such a cool idea. So cool, in fact, that I sort of borrowed it for an episode in my Bright Black Sea. I must have acquired the book prior to 1968 as it is on my inventory for that year, but I have no record of when I read it or my original rating.

The last two entries on this list are recent books (relatively speaking) and are still very much in favor.

9.Johannes Cabal The Detective, Jonathan L Howard. This is one of my current favorite books. In fact, I just reread it. It is the second book in a series of five featuring the necromance Johannes Cabal, and is my favorite of the series, perhaps because it is a take on an old fashioned detective story and set in a mythical Balkan country, like A Prisoner of Zenda. Howard is one of those British authors with a clever, witty style that I really enjoy reading in my old age. Each book in the series is a little different, with a nod to Lovecraft, plus werewolves, vampires, and the devil himself. Normally these types of stories would not be my cup of tea, but his writing draws me in.

10, Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde. This is my all time favorite speculative fiction book. In part because of Fforde's writing – cleaver, witty, endlessly imaginative, all of which plays a large part in my enjoyment of the story. It can be read as satire or absurd fiction, which again wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but not only is the writing wonderful, but he still manages to make the narrator and other characters seem like real people in a very unusual world where there is a strict cast system based on the color that they can see. I’ve read this book maybe four times – and will pick it up and read it again. I guess it’s my “comfort read.” Unfortunately its sales did not justify continuing on with the planned trilogy so that, Painting by Numbers, and The Gordini Protocols were never written, leaving so many mysteries left mysteries. The only bright side is that it did not give Fforde the chance to screw it up. I’ve read almost all of his adult novels and while the last two novels written after Shades of Grey were witty and endlessly imaginative, I couldn’t help wishing I was reading the last two books of the series. Life can be cruel.

So those are my nine favorite books. However, as a bonus, while looking up my old ratings for these books in my papers from the era, I found my top 22 book list from the mid-1960's. Heinlein dominated it.

1 Starman Jones – Heinlein

2 Star Conquers – Bova

3 Tunnel in the Sky & The Stars are Ours! – Heinlein & Norton

4 Sixth Column – Heinlein

5 Galactic Patrol – EE Smith

6 Space Cadet & Farmer in the Sky – Heinlein

7 Dolphin Island & Islands in the Sky – Clarke

8 Time Traders – Norton

9 Crossroad of Time & Citizen of the Galaxy – Norton & Heinlein

10 Outside the Universe & Raiders from the Rings – Hamilton and Nourse

11 Sargasso of Space & Plague Ship – Norton

12 Space Viking – Piper

13 The Star Kings – Hamilton

14 Revolt on Alpha C – Silverberg

15 Robot Rocket – Rockwell

16 Venus Series – Burroughs

Friday, September 10, 2021

Sian / Molly, Mons, & Mars


As planned, I took most of the summer off from writing fiction. Summer is too fleeting to be stuck inside writing when it’s warm and daylight lingers. Once the weather gets cold and the days get short, I’ll be spending most of my time inside, and I can only play so many Microsoft solitaire games… Well, it’s September now, and while summer lingers on, it is time to ramp up writing.

As I may’ve mentioned in a previous post, I want to write a longer, more ambitious story than the last five of my stories, but alas, I haven’t come up with one yet. I tried. When I picture it, I see a vast white space – the story – with a little colorful dot – the characters and a locale. And that’s about it.

However, with the need to write, I’m going to start writing the sequel to Keiree as a stopgap project with the working title of Sian. Keiree was always intended to be the opening act of a novel length story, so I might as well get that project completed. Plus I need to get Gy Mons and Molly to a better place. I do have a story roughed in that takes them back to the locale of Gy’s birthplace – a throwback dissenting society (and now an independent nation) based on an ancient Asian culture  – where he hopes to find shelter from all the haunting memories of his all too recent life with Keiree and the familiar but eerily altered Mars that he finds himself in. I don’t know how long the story will turn out to be – it’s pretty vague in the middle – but even it ends up as a novella, when combined with Keiree it would make for a novel length book. A combined Keiree and Sian would be long enough to publish as an omnibus paper book, tentatively titled Molly, Mons, & Mars, which is my goal.

With nothing beyond Sian, I’m in no rush to finish this book. I’ll put in my time each day, but, as always, I have no daily word count target to meet – and it’s going slow. My vague target release date is, well, let’s say, first quarter 2022. We’ll see how it goes.

Friday, September 3, 2021

SF on Youtube


I’ve recently discovered a Youtube channel devoted to science fiction; Media Death Cult, hosted by Moid Moidelhoff, pictured above. There are quite a few channels on Youtube devoted to fantasy that sometimes talk about science fiction. But Moid’s channel is the only one of the few that I’ve come across that are devoted only to science fiction.

I’m not quite sure what’s with the props he uses – from the title to the shoulder holster he wears. I guess it's the "cult" thing. However, the show is quite lighthearted and funny. And what’s more, he also gives very thoughtful and entertaining reviews of books, as well as being a lover and collector of books.

I have to say that for the most part I’m about a familiar with the books he talks about as I am with the fantasy books the fantasy booktubers talk about. As I have noted in earlier post, my knowledge of SF books published after 1970 is pretty spotty, gained mostly by browsing the SF stacks of the local libraries.

Anyway, I think that if you are interested in SF, you might want to give Media Death Cult a look here:

Media Death Cult

Another SF orientated Youtube channel is  Book Odyssey by Darrel William Moore, another Britisher who is, the author of what I believe are two self-published books. He reviews books and talks about different tropes and SF subjects. You can find his channel here: Book Odyssey

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Writing as an Amateur


Long time readers of this blog may recall that I have posted an essay or two why I prefer to release my books for free whenever possible. Short answer -- I write for the fun of it, and don't need to be paid to do it. Also, I am able to publish my books for the cost of four or five paper books and postage to send out to my volunteer beta readers. I don't lose money in self-publishing my books thanks to Amazon's you have to charge something, we'll match free prices if we feel like it policy. 

However, if you are a new reader or are just interested in my latest manifesto on the many advantages of adopting the attitude of an amateur for writers of most self-published fiction, you can find it here: Amateur Writing  The essay is posted on  the Writers Supporting Writers website, a site devoted to discussing issues self-published authors face. Check it out, even if you are only interested in what we do, and what we face writing for you.