Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, April 29, 2022

Two Mini Reviews - Children of Earth and Sky & Embers of War


Two mini-reviews this week of two books I hopefully downloaded from the library and, alas, did not finish, both for the same reason.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay DNF (9%)

To begin with, this is a fantasy story, which is not my usual forte, I have read good things about Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing, so I decided to give it a try. Kay is indeed a good wordsmith. The story is set in a world similar to the 14th century Mediterranean Sea area, with a focus on an alternative Venice. The story begins with the musings of a new Venetian ambassador to the court of, well, let’s say alternate Constantinople as he waits to be presented to the ruler of this alternate Constantinople. These musings serve to start the world building for the story. From this point of view we slide to a young ship owner of Venice, a want-to-be girl pirate some months later who has her dead grandfather’s spirit some how living in her head. She sets out in a boat ambush a Venetian raiding party that is blockading her city, but before she begins, we cut to a meeting of the ruling body of Venice discussing her success sometime later… This is the first 9% of the story. I don’t like multiple points of view stories to begin with, though no doubt Kay will draw all these threads together at some point. However, I found none of the characters engaging enough to care or continue reading about.

Embers of War by Gareth L Powell DNF (11%)

Powell is a British science fiction writer of, I gather space operas. At least this story is a space opera. It opens with a prologue of a war where the commander decides to nuke an entire world. We then jump three years forward to the first person narrative of the captain of a crew of 4 who man a sentient ship, one of the warships from the side that nuked the planet that has been decommissioned, and which is now used for search and rescue missions. Their current mission is saving what they can of a space ship’s crew that mysteriously crashed into an ocean. While doing so, one of the team is snatched away by a sea creature. We then skip to the first person point of view of a veteran of that war who is now a famous poet on a space liner that is going to inspect some strange alien artifacts. The space liner comes under attack by forces unknown. And then we are back to the captain on the water planet. As they leave, one crew member short, they are requested to go to the aid of any survivors of that attack on a space liner. With this we switch to the first person view of the sentient ship which, as a warship used to have a crew of 300 people, and who now has a crew of 3. (What with one redshirt getting dragged down to the depths by a tentacled monster.) The ship then tells us a little abut itself, and then how it moves through space… which covers the first 11% of the story. At this point I gave up.

In this case it wasn’t just the multiple points of view, but the, in my opinion, over the top effort of Powell to make this an exciting story. I tend to like understated things, and this story was so pulpish in its frantic effort to create what? Mystery, danger, interest? I don't know, save that it completely turned me off. That and the whole improbability of the premise – a sentient ship with a crew of 4 humans, all of which were off ship standing on a sinking wreck cutting through the hull to get at any survivors in the waterlogged wreck. Really? Not to mention a dedicated rescue space ship that takes days to get to the scene of the wreck. And this is a traditionally published book? Still, I guess this is the stuff readers like. Oh, well.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Balance of Trade by Lee & Miller Review


Balance of Trade by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller – C

This is one of 28 novels and many short stories set in their “Liaden Universe.” a collection of novels and short stories that share a common setting. This is the first novel I have read in the collection, and is the fist of three novels featuring the trader Jethri Gobelyn. 

Its premise is that family owned and manned interstellar ships buy and sell goods on their own account and have specialists traders to do so profitably. Jethri is a 17 year old aboard one such ship, learning the trade. After his father’s death, his mother, the ship’s captain has no use for him, and through something of a misadventure he is given the opportunity to become the trader apprentice of a Liaden trader. The Liadens are humans, but who look on the Terrans as more or less barbarians. Jethri must learn the ornate customs of the Liadens to succeed. This was the story I was invested in, and if it was the only focus of the novel, it probably would have ranked as a B grade story.

However, the authors wanted to tell a wider story involving ancient technology, and so even after Jethri leaves the ship, we still have a storyline that follows events on the ship and this ancient super-technology which jumps in and out of the Jethri story – sometimes without any indication of the jump at all! ( Though perhaps that is the fault of the ebook formatting. Who knows?) In any event, I found not only that I didn’t care about that storyline at all, but it became annoying. I soon began to skim and eventually simply ignore it, figuring, correctly, that it would circle back around for the book’s climax. Which it did. The book lost points because of its dual focus, for me.

The second thing that took points away from this story, was the inclusion of human characters with telepathic powers. I found that jarring, out of character with the story’s universe – though it may well  play a role on other stories in this universe. Nevertheless, I felt that it was it out of place, and just too 1950’s 60’s SF-y for my tastes today. It also had little to do with the story in this book, though perhaps it is just setting things up for the next book in the series. 

And lastly, to be honest, the quality of the Jethri story tapered off as his storyline went on. It seemed as if the authors lost interest in his story of adjusting to this new life, as they steered the story back to converge with the second story arc, in what turned out to be a rather lame ending, I thought. Just to take one example, since Jethri lived all his life inside a space ship, he was frightened by the openness of living on a planet, when he had to do so. This is illustrated at the beginning of his stay on a planet, but is never mentioned again. I guess we're to assume that he got used to it quickly. But it was things like this -- big issues that are quickly dropped -- that disappointed me.

The problem with this book for me is, that this would not be how I would’ve written the story. Both as a reader and as a writer I hate multi-points of view, and the two dissimilar storylines did not work for me. Essentially they were two stories folded in together, which I found distracting, and as I said annoying. Lee and Miller can write their story however they want to write it, but I think that they watered down and hurried through the more interesting story to write one that, all in all, seemed rather lame.  Perhaps it was all part of a larger plan and to set up the next two stories in the series. I have my doubts that I will ever find out.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Cover Tease


Talk about putting the horse before the cart. Well, I have, after spending several hours this past week working on the cover for my next novel, even though I am just over halfway through writing the first draft of it. I still have months of work ahead before I would ever need any sort of cover. At best. And since I am planning to shop this story around to agents and traditional publishers, the published version of the story will no doubt have a professionally designed cover, assuming I'm successful. (“That’s a joke, son.”) Still, I was thinking about  how I wanted to approach this cover, and came up with some ideas that I simply could not wait to try and see what it would look like.

I do all my own covers, not because I’m good at it, but because I’m cheap. And when you don’t usually charge for your books, cheap is good. Besides, a professionally made cover in the mainstream style isn’t going to change the contents of the book, and so, would probably be misleading, since I don’t write mainstream types of stories.

As I see it, there are several approaches you can take for your covers. You can illustrate an important scene from the story. Or you can back off a bit, and illustrate a non-specific scene to create either a sense of the story, or suggest its mood. Or you can simply toss the story aside and do a cover that you think will sell the book, either with a fictional scene of the fictional story, or using some eye catching graphic design. Being a mostly impressionist painter, I generally  have striven to create a cover that suggests the mood of the story with a scene as close to an actual scene in the book as I can, that being the limit of my talent.

This time around, I decided to avoid painting a cover altogether – as that has gotten to be quite a chore for me these days – and instead make a cover that gives a sense of the book by using a sort of collage effect on the cover. More  of a graphic approach to the cover this time around. This effort involved using a 1913 copy of A Satchel Guide For the Vacation Tourist in Europe, (with its red cover changed to blue) from my bookshelves, along with its included rail map of Central Europe, a photo of a ship's anti-aircraft gun that I took when, at the age of 9, I got to go aboard a cruiser off the coast of Milwaukee as part of some sort of naval showcase event, a photo of my late father-in-law at the age of 31, along with a detail from a photo I found of a family photo of a Russian aristocratic family in the 19th century that I came across in researching my story. I then used these in creating several items for the collage in Gimp – ID cards and a newspaper clipping. The result is below.

Of course everything about this cover is tentative, including the name of the novel. Basically it is a proof of concept. All the items in the composition are on separate layers so that they can be shifted around as I please at a later date. But in any event, now you know what the story is all about, right?

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Looking Back & Forward


The 27th of April 2022 will mark the end of my seventh year in self-publishing. I will, as usual, be reporting how my publishing efforts fared during the past year and post the sales numbers for the year and lifetime figures early in May. I usually speculate on what the next year will bring in that post as well. While I may do that as well, I’ve already been already thinking about my future adventures in self publishing, and I thought I might share some of my thoughts early.

The truth is that I’m feeling a bit restless when it comes to self publishing. I set out to see if I could find a readership for my work -- without putting either my money or much effort into doing so. I opted to rely on the frictionless nature of “free” to tempt potential readers into giving my work a try. I’m thinking that seven years is a sufficient amount of time to judge how well my plan worked, or didn’t.

I have reached a fair number of readers, though I can’t put any solid number to it. My best selling work has been downloaded over 14,000 times. But most other titles sales numbers run in the 4,000 to 1,000 range, Clearly a only few thousand people at most read all of my books. But that is fair enough, since I try to make each book different so as to perhaps appeal to different people. Given my very modest efforts at promoting my work, I am quite happy with the number of people I have entertained. It is a good number, but not so many that I’m feeling any pressure to produce more work. Though I am. The big upside, as far as I am concerned, is that I did it my way. And though I could’ve afforded to spend money promoting my work, I am convinced that it would not have made much of a difference, since I am not writing mainstream Amazon ebooks. So in that respect I am not only happy, and richer as well.

While I think my approach worked initially, but as time has gone by, it no longer works all that well, due to the way the ebook market has evolved over these last seven years. The free price that brought me several thousand readers does not work as well as it once did on Amazon because no one is likely find non-promoted books on that site. Not spending a dime to promote my work will not work today for the same reason. And if I really want lots of readers, not only would I have to spend folding money to promote them, but I would have to write the type of books that most Amazon ebook readers want to read in their genre. So, what can I do?

The first thing I am going to do differently, is to shop around my next novel around to agents and publishers instead of self publishing it out of the gate. I expect to allocate six months after I finish it for this project. If, by ill chance, it should not happen to sell, then… Well, then I don’t know. I might look into launching it on kickstarter. I hear you can make millions doing that. Or I could self publish it, though this time, with little to lose, I am leaning towards putting a price on it right from the start. However if I went this route, I would still offer a limited number of free ARC (advanced readers’ copies) to my loyal fans via this blog site. But that is likely a year in the future, so nothing is set in stone.

I’m also thinking of trying to get my paper books into select SF bookshops, perhaps with a free $100 worth of books to prime the pump, and selling additional copies at my printing cost afterwards. There are a lot of SF stores that I could approach with this offer. However, I will wait until the Draft2Digital merger is complete and use their print on demand service, rather than Amazon's, for this project, should I decide to go down this road.

As I said, I’m restless. I’m willing to explore new options. That said, being an old dog, learning new tricks might prove to be either too hard, or too much trouble. So who knows? I don’t expect anything to change anytime too soon. But things might change someday.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Old Habits


Old habits die hard. For the past six months or more I’ve been enjoying watching several different science fiction booktube channels on You Tube. My three favorite are:

Media Death Cult

Book Odyssey

Outlaw Bookseller 

However, the fact is that not only have I not read almost all of the books that they discuss and review, I don’t I have any desire to do so, even after watching their glowing reviews. Oh, I’ve sampled some of the authors and books, but haven’t liked any of them. This should be clear if you’ve read any of my mini-reviews of the books I’ve attempted to read over the last six months. In short, I’m not telling you anything here that you don’t already know.

This fascination with science fiction, without actually liking it all that much, is not a new phenomena. Way back in 2018 I wrote that I no longer considered myself a card carrying science fiction fan. You can read the post here. Back then I was just reading some websites rather than watching booktubers on YouTube.

So what keeps me watching these booktubers and reading SF sites? As I said at the start, old habits – the habits of a lifetime – die hard. As much as I have fond memories of the SF of my youth, these days it mostly disappoints me. And yet, I still enjoy learning about the SF books that I personally have no actual interest in reading. The way I look at it, watching or reading reviews of SF books saves me the trouble of reading them, while at the same time, I painlessly, and often entertainingly, learn something about them and their authors.

I had intended to say a lot more about why I don’t like most science fiction – both the modern stuff and all the classics that I missed from the 1970’s onward. But, on reflection, why bother? It is just a matter of personal taste, which applies only to me. So I’ll save your from another old man yelling at the clouds. There are many ways and many reasons to write a story, and just as many ways and reasons to enjoy reading a story. All have value. This flexibility is what makes reading so appealing – to those of us who still read. These YouTube booktubers, and the authortubers whose videos I watch as well, are all celebrating reading. More power to them.