Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Book Review: Z Boat

Z-BoatZ-Boat by Suzanne Robb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm always up for a good sea tale so I was looking forward to reading this. What I found was a mixed bag.
The plot of this book is basically "zombies on a dystopian submarine". That's not a spoiler because you find that out in the first page. The world is declining rapidly thanks to corporate greed, government corruption, and spreading pollution. While I love a good dystopian tale, I found parts of this hard to swallow. For example, global smog is so thick you can't see the Sun in the middle of the ocean, yet somehow life manages to survive on Earth. Also, even people with relatively decent jobs can't afford clean water. The submarine crew drinks a tainted brown gunk. Even my Boy Scout training taught me two ways to get rid of that--boiling through a retort or filtering. An industrial civilization could no doubt come up with many more techniques.
More curious details emerge within the submarine itself. It's a late 20th century model, now a floating antique, yet it doesn't sound like any known sub. Hallways are five feet wide, doors are large, none of the crew has first-aid training, and the sub's davit (a small crane for lifting cargo or lifeboats) lifts the sub out of drydock, over the other vessels, and into the water. Um, no. Robb needs to research submarines if she's going to write about them.
The lack of editorial oversight is apparent in the text too, with many awkward sentences, misused words, and confusion between "lie" and "lay". The slow middle needs to be tightened up, and Robb has an irritating habit of telling right after showing. I lost track of the number of times a long paragraph would clearly show what a bad situation the characters were in, and end with some banal statement like "It didn't look good."
And yet I kept reading. Robb is a master at bringing characters to life and making you care about them. The crew is a wonderful collection of misfits suitable for the Nostromo or the Serenity and their interactions, loves, and feuds makes this book. The gorefest fight scenes are fun too if you have a high splatter tolerance. The ending is a rollercoaster ride that leaves it way open for a series (which is in fact continuing).
All in all, the most frustrating thing I found about reading this is was watching a bad book smother a good one. Robb has heaps of potential, and with a bit more care for her craft, and a much firmer editorial hand, she could produce some astounding works of fiction.
2.5 stars out of 5.
(I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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Monday, 20 October 2014

What National Novel Writing Month Taught Me

National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner! Are you participating? If you're a writer--pro, amateur, or aspiring--it can be a great help. I did it for the first time last year and will be doing it again this year. Below is a reprint of a post I did after the 2013 NaNoWriMo talking about what I learned.

Like many fellow indie writers, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I managed to finish an entire post-apocalyptic novel of 71,000 words in the month of November. It's a post-apocalyptic thriller called Radio Hope.

OK, enough self-promotion. What did writing a novel in a single month teach me? Here are ten things I learned.

1. If you are mostly unemployed (I recently lost my travel blogging job when Gadling laid off all their regulars) your word count goes way up.

2. Keeping your word count up helps with your self-esteem when you're mostly unemployed.

3. Keeping your word count up after the challenge is over maintains your self-esteem. I'm working on the sequel right now. (Update: that's called Refugees from the Righteous Horde. It's now out. I'll be working on book three of the series this year).

4. You'll help your confidence if you get a jump on the game by writing a lot on the first day. November 1 was my most productive day, with 5,300 words.

5. Write every day, even if it's just 500 words (my worst day) because that forward momentum keeps you from getting stuck.

6. It's good to find a group to help you. I was down in Madrid on November 1 and got to hang out with other members of my old writers group. We took over the back room of a cafe and wrote like mad!

7. If you give the project sufficient focus, you will not have a drop in quality as you increase quantity.

8. You will, however, make more typos. A lot more. Really embarrassing ones.

9. The online community at the NaNo website is super supportive, helpful, and friendly, and disappears after November 30.

10. It's really, really fun!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Finished writing my next WWI action novel: Digging In!

This weekend I finished Digging In, the sequel to Trench Raiders, my WWI action novel. I'm going to give it another hard edit and then send it out to my uber-cool team of beta readers. This book has Company E trying to survive the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. Things do not go well for either side!

For the next two weeks I'm going to work on some short stories, including Christmas stories for my Trench Raiders and Toxic World series, and then I'm going to do National Novel Writing Month. My project will be We Had Flags, Book Three of my post-apocalyptic Toxic World series. The folks in New City are going to have some surprise guests whose appearance will open old wounds and get everyone talking about who was to blame for the fall of civilization. For those of you who have read the earlier books, you know that being found guilty of Blame gets you branded and exiled, but if everyone starts doing it. . .

Friday, 10 October 2014

Military History Photo Friday: German Trench Armor from World War One


This clunky looking thing is a handmade suit of armor used by a German soldier in 1916. Over at Black Gate, I blogged this week about Medieval Arms and Armor in World War One. Check it out for some more strange pics of primitive devices used in what is billed as the first technological war. I blog there every Wednesday about history, travel, and silent film.

I have another article out too, this time in Writing World. It's about writing what you don't know.

Have a great weekend! Mine's going to be filled with writing. I need to finish Digging In!

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Military History Photo Friday: Belgian Graves at the WWI Fort of Loncin, Namur

I've been doing a lot of research about World War One lately as background to my Trench Raiders series. I've managed to visit several fronts of the war--the Salonika Front, the Italian Front, even the Mesopotamian Front. It wasn't until late last year, though, that I got to visit the main event at the Western Front.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Book Review: Wars to End all Wars

Wars to End All WarsWars to End All Wars by G.L. Lathian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a student of World War One and love good historical speculative fiction, so I was eager to read this. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I'm a friend of one of the contributors. I make it a policy not to review friends' work so I won't be mentioning Andrew Leon Hudson's story "The Foundation" in this review. There's enough other material to make an overall assessment.
Things start badly with a poor introduction by editor N.E. White, who informs us "In the summer of 1914, war was declared between Germany and Russia, between Belgium and Italy, and between the Ottoman Empire and England." Not only does this statement leave out some of the major players (France? Austria-Hungary? Hello?) but it contains two historical errors. Italy did not join the war until 1915 and when it did, it was on the side of the Allies, not the Central Powers. Also, it should be "British Empire", not England.
Another editorial gaffe was White's decision to link each story to a related Wikipedia article. Even the most casual search on the Internet will find better source material, the Imperial War Museum's website or Trenches on the Web, for example.
Luckily, the stories are better than the introduction. Things get off to a strong start with an alternate history tale by Igor Ljubuncic called "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair." What if Gavrilo Princip chickened out at the last minute? We follow his life after pulling back from the fateful moment.
Lee Swift's "Wormhole" gives us simpler fare with a simple monster hunt that's good fun and captures the misery of trench life.
Wilson Geiger's "Jawohl" studies the life of a WWI veteran but appears to be set in WWII. I found it a bit disappointing with more than one cliche (like the protagonist's rage being reflected by a thunderstorm) but it was a decent effort nonetheless.
Elizabeth Moon's "Tradition" is the strongest piece in the collection, a straight-up naval adventure that tweaks history without resorting to any paranormal or futuristic elements.
"On the Cheap" by Dan Bieger has famous writers turned fairies turned WWI veterans reminiscing in an Irish pub. I found this to be an uneven effort that failed to live up to its puckish aspirations.
"One Man's War" by G.L. Lathian is a historical switcheroo between a common man and a famous historical figure that is predictable and fails to deliver any real impact.
In sum, this anthology is an uneven offering as most anthologies are. There's enough here to be worth the cover price but too many shots miss the mark for my liking.

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Friday, 26 September 2014

Old West Photo Friday: Prospectors in California

I love this shot. Even though you can't see too much detail of these grizzled old prospectors, you can see what they're up against. They're making their way along the Campo Trail in Devil's Canyon, California, in 1904.

While at this late date they wouldn't have had to worry about hostile Indians, there were still plenty of bandits, scorpions, and poisonous snakes around. Not to mention the rough terrain and merciless sun. I wonder whatever happened to these guys? Did they strike the Mother Lode or fade into obscurity, poor and worn out? There are no names attached to this photo so I guess we'll never know.


Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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