Tag Archives: book reviews

Book Review: Great Science Fiction Stories edited by Cordelia Titcomb Smith

Great SF StoriesWith few exceptions, most of my 2017 reading consisted of classic SF and speculative fiction primarily from Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke with a dash of Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, A.E. Van Vogt, and H.G. Wells.

It stands to reason that if you read enough vintage genre anthologies, some will overlap and offer one or two stories in common. Such was the case with Great Science Fiction Stories compiled by Cordelia Titcomb Smith.

In  this case, I had previously read “The Stolen Bacillus” by H.G. Wells (about an anarchist who pilfers a vial of cholera bacillus from a bacteriologist, initiating a frantic taxi chase through London) and “History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke (after an ice age has wiped out humanity, Venusians land on Earth and discover artifacts of our civilization, including a strip of film that they believe accurately depicts human culture).

It was a pleasure to finally read Isaac Asimov’s legendary short story, “Nightfall,” wherein a civilization that lives in constant daylight provided by three suns nervously anticipates an eclipse that will shroud their planet in complete darkness for the first time in 500 years… and possibly throw society into madness.

When the Martian crown jewels are stolen from a robotic space craft sent from Earth to Phobos, Inspector Gregg questions everyone involved. Before the case explodes into an interstellar scandal, Gregg travels to Mars to request the help of Martian’s famous private detective, Syaloch, in Poul Anderson’s “The Martian
Crown Jewels.”

In “The Sands of Time,” P. Schuyler Miller channels H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When a young man named Donovan presents a paleontologist with photographic and physical evidence of his
encounter with dinosaurs, the scientist rebuffs him—until Donovan asks for his help in launching his one-man time machine back to rescue an alien woman he encountered in a prehistoric age.

Money is no barrier when a wealthy businessman decides to be the first man in space. He hires engineers to construct a vessel, but they still require a propulsion system. The businessman takes out ads in
newspapers offering millions to anyone who can design and create a means of propelling the vessel beyond Earth’s atmosphere. After being presented with proposals from the ludicrous to the insane, the
businessman meets an unassuming young man who might just have the answer… but he wants more than money. We find out what that is in Nelson Bond’s “Vital Factor.”

In a future where city streets are massive conveyor belts that transport people and vehicles at varying speeds, the mechanics decide to strike under the leadership of Deputy Chief Engineer Van Kleeck. To emphasize their power and ensure their demands are met, they stop the machinery beneath one of the streets—with fatal consequences. It’s up to Chief Engineer Larry Gaines to negotiate with Van Kleeck, because as Robert Heinlein tell us, “The Roads Must Roll.”

A teacher rethinks her decision to quit the profession, but the only available position is in a one-room schoolhouse in a remote rural town called Bendo where the reclusive inhabitants have no sense of humor and no interest in music or art. It is not long before the teacher uncovers the astounding otherworldly secrets of Bendo and the dark history that forced them into seclusion in this beautifully crafted tale called “Pottage” by Zenna Henderson.

Jules Verne provides a brief glimpse into man’s first attempt to reach the moon as three men volunteer to venture “Into Space” inside a giant aluminum capsule shot from a 900-foot gun. Although they survive the shock of launch and enjoy a view of Earth from beyond the atmosphere, it’s unclear whether they survived
the journey—or how they plan to return.

A new star appears in the vicinity of Neptune, disrupting the planet’s orbit. As this new star’s light intensifies in the sky each day—blotting out the moon and rivaling the sun—it isn’t long before astronomers
realize that it’s on a direct course for Earth in “The Star” by H.G. Wells.

A 13-year-old student named Timothy is sent to school psychologist Dr. Welles. At first, it’s clear that Timothy is nervous,  uncommunicative, and possibly holding something back. As trust grows between the young man and his counselor, it becomes apparent that the boy is a prodigy… and he may not be alone in Wilmar H. Shiras’s “In Hiding.”

Overall, this was an entertaining anthology with tales from writers I had not heard of previously (Zenna Henderson, Wilmar Shiras, P. Schuyler Miller, and Nelson Bond). My favorites included “Nightfall,” “Pottage,” “The Martian Crown Jewels,” and “The Roads Must Roll.”

Writers: Stop Constantly Taking and Start Giving

This is a topic that has been on my mind for a few years, but one that I’ve been reluctant to discuss. Perhaps I was concerned about the reaction or that it might burn some bridges, in which case I won’t be the one holding the flamethrower. I’ll leave that to whomever I offend here, because if you take umbrage at what you’re about to read, that’s on you. Honestly, I don’t care anymore. I’ve had enough.

In the seven years since I entered the professional writing arena with the publication of my first novel, I have connected with hundreds of other writers through writers group meetings, writers conferences, book signings, and social media. This is very similar to my experience in science fiction fandom. Since I began attending conventions on a regular basis in the late 80s, I‘ve made an enormous number of friends. Many have gone, but others have remained to become my family.

I genuinely value these friendships and connections and I enjoy working with many of my fellow scribes on various projects.

However, there are some writers that seem to have developed a habit of asking and taking while never giving back. When they have an upcoming release, they blast out requests for promotional help and I’ve happily obliged, repeatedly.

Yet, there has been very little reciprocation. When I’ve had a new release, or asked for reviews on my books that I’ve given or traded with them, the response from these same writers is little more than a “Like” on Facebook, maybe the infrequent “Share,” or in some cases dead silence—until their next release and then it’s “Hey, Phil! Hope all is well with you. Can you help…”

Yeah, I can help you again—for the fourth time—but I won’t. So fuck off. Where were you when it was my turn?  Funny, unless you need help from me, I never hear from you. It’s as if I’m insignificant or irrelevant and not worth your time.  When I’m releasing a new book, you completely ignore me. So please explain why I should keep being your good little drone?

If you consistently request help from other writers, you should be willing to give back once in a while. Perhaps you feel that you’re too busy and don’t have time, or that your time is more valuable than that of your peers, or maybe you’re so arrogant you even think that you’re a better writer than your peers and as such, you expect them to take the time to read your “amazing” work, but you can’t be bothered reading their “drek.”

Newsflash: You’re full of shit. Everyone is busy. Everyone’s time is valuable and you are no goddamn better than anyone else. If I slap you in the face, it’s going to hurt and some of you need to be slapped. So climb down off that fucking pedestal you put yourself on. You want others to make time for you? Try making time for others.

Now, you might be asking, “OK, Phil, so when have YOU taken time to help other writers?” Well, let’s review:

Over the past five years, I’ve read about two dozen novels and novellas from various writers, by request, and left honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. In fact, I’ll be reading another one in the next few months. On some occasions, those reviews were accompanied three-star ratings, because those reviews were honest. I’m not handing out four and five-star reviews like candy just because you’re a friend. PERIOD. Fortunately, most of what I’ve been asked to read so far has ranged from good to excellent.

I created a speculative fiction anthology called the Middle of Eternity series for Firebringer Press. I also edit and manage each volume. The entire purpose of this series is to showcase the work of as-yet unpublished writers with a few stories from myself and one or two other established writers. Two volumes have been published, we’re working on volume three now.  They are my way of paying forward what was done for me by the various small presses that published my work. Aside from my own new releases, there is no better feeling for me than watching a new writer autograph a book for the first time.

Whenever an editor, writer, or conference organizer asks me to take postcards, rack cards, or bookmarks to other conferences or conventions, I am all to happy to place them on my autograph table or the flyer table that many conventions set aside for just that purpose.

As a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, I volunteered as conference chairman of their 2015 Write Stuff writers conference and this year, I volunteered as a content editor for the group’s annual anthology. I’ll probably volunteer as editor again. Conference chair? Not so much. I don’t recommend it if you have a high-stress full time job.

I also frequently agree to critique and proofread manuscripts as a favor to other writer friends (and they do the same for me).

I do these things because I enjoy helping people. Do any of these activities cut into my writing time? Of course they do. In fact, editing and project-managing the second Middle of Eternity anthology kept me so busy in 2016 (in addition to other responsibilities), that I put aside a SF novel-in-progress for eight months. Instead, I focused on writing several short stories in between everything else. My writing time was constantly disrupted and I knew my novel would only suffer as a result. Only in the last month have I returned to writing the novel—just in time to start editing my third and final volume in the Eternity series. This is a labor of love and I knew sacrifices would be needed.

Have I ever said “No?” On occasion, absolutely! I can’t do everything and I’m certainly not advocating that you should help everyone at the expense of your own writing time or sanity. Sometimes, you will need to turn people away, but at the same time, don’t just keep expecting other writers to do for you constantly without reciprocation. No one likes to be used or taken for granted. There are many nice people out there who can’t say “No.” They want to please everyone. Coming from an IT support background, I used to be one of them, but not anymore.

I realize that most writers are a self-obssessed, conceited lot. I get it, we’re all looking to advance our own careers, but all too often, we don the blinders and disregard our peers.

I’m not your promotional “go to guy.” I’m not just a cog in your marketing machine. I’m also a human being and a fellow writer deserving of the same respect I afford to you.

You want help? Be prepared to give it once in a while. Besides, that leads to good karma…




Reviewing Your Favorite Books, Even When You’re “Not Very Good At Writing”

While many of my readers take the time to leave reviews for my books, others often compliment me in person, via Facebook, or email, but when I ask these particular readers to leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon, they express reluctance, stating that they’re “not very good at writing” or they assure me that they will leave a review and never follow through. 
Remember, you do not need to purchase a book from Amazon to leave a review for the book there.  Also, for those unfamiliar with Goodreads, it is a social media site for book lovers where you can rate and review books, create an online library of books you currently own and would like to read, and join groups of like-minded readers to discuss your favorite books. Best of all, it’s free to join!
The screen capture below shows two Amazon reviews for Beach Nights, a collection of short stories from Cat and Mouse Press that contains my paranormal tale, “Tower Sixteen”.  The book was published in October 2016. 
Note the second review from Early LBI. It’s one brief sentence: “Great group of short stories.” Five words. That’s the perfect example of a brief review you can leave for any book that you enjoyed even if you’re “not very good at writing.”
Ratings and reviews help authors immensely. As our volume of reviews and ratings increases, new promotional and writing opportunities open for us, new readers notice our work, and most importantly, reader feedback encourages writers by letting us know that our work is reaching and touching people. 
Thank you so much for your support! We deeply appreciate it. 

Three Quick Ways to Support Your Favorite Writers – Without Spending a Dime

In an age where the gates to publishing have been thrown open, or possibly ripped from their hinges, discoverability for new writers is extremely challenging. According to statistics I’ve quickly researched online, there are approximately 300,000 new books published per year in the United States alone.¹

That’s a daunting number to new writers, especially those publishing through small presses or taking the DIY route. I envision writers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, pressed against one another, all holding their latest book over their heads hoping to be recognized by the reading community. A cacophony of voices, each one drowned by the other 299,999. Even the best writers can become discouraged and quit after a time. It has happened.

How do we stand out? Recommendations from readers are one significant way. We appreciate the fact that you spend your hard-earned money on our books. The best of us want to provide you with the highest quality reading experience, and if we succeed, we hope that you’ll spread the word through one or more methods, such as…

Leaving a review and rating on book sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc. Ratings and reviews are important to any writer’s career, but they are critical to burgeoning writers. A high number of reviews–especially positive ones–typically generate increased sales and lead to new opportunities.

I’ve had readers tell me that they are not good at writing and thus, are reticent about leaving reviews. Even one line would be adequate. On Goodreads, a reader recently left a four-star rating for my first novel, Testing the Prisoner. His review: “That was one hell of a read. Very intense.” That’s all you need! If you’re investing a day or a week to read a book, why not go the extra two minutes to voice your opinion, even if briefly?

Sharing the love on social media. For example, if you are friends with some or all of your favorite writers on Facebook, or you follow their author pages, you probably click LIKE to many of their updates and announcements about new releases. Why not take the extra few seconds to also SHARE their posts? Perhaps add a comment such as, “Enjoy this writer’s books. Highly recommend!” Ditto for Twitter, Google+, and other social media sites.

Spreading the word. Word of mouth still remains the best of all recommendations. If there are avid readers among your friends or family, mention your favorite writers’ books. If you happen to notice that the writer is holding a book signing or a library talk, boost the signal even if you can’t attend.

Speaking for myself, I deeply appreciate your support of small press and independent writers.

As a new writer myself, I occasionally give away free books to other writers, book reviewers, Goodreads giveaways, charity auctions, etc. I will be thrilled to send a free copy of my latestSomewhere in the Middle of Eternity release, Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity, to a random commenter here on my blog. This is an anthology of SF, fantasy, and paranormal stories written mostly by emerging fiction writers and edited by yours truly. Click here to read more about it. 

The second volume, Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity, will be released in July 2016.

Thank you!




¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_published_per_country_per_year and http://www.worldometers.info/books/