Tag Archives: scifi

Guest Post: Why Reader Reviews Matter by Gail Z. Martin

Ereader and Book Reviews

When you add a review on Goodreads or Amazon or mark off the number of stars you deem a recently-read book worthy to receive, you may not realize how important your rating is to your favorite author. And likewise, if you hurry on to the next book without bothering to leave a comment or mark the stars on a book you’ve just finished, it may not occur to you that you’ve done a slight–but important–disservice to an author whose work you’ve enjoyed and want to see more of.

Once upon a time, people bought books in bookstores and depended on either newspaper/magazine reviewers or knowledgeable booksellers for recommendations, as well as their friends and families. In today’s world, a large percentage of books are purchased online, without the opportunity for readers to ask a friendly bookstore worker for advice, and many people live far away from the friends and family members who share their reading tastes. Newspapers and magazines have drastically cut ‘lifestyle’ sections like book reviews. And while it’s true that citizen journalist reviewers have rushed in to fill the void, their work is less accessible than the reviews that were delivered with the morning or evening daily newspaper.

That means readers looking for a new book or a new author make spur-of-the-moment decisions based on the free online excerpt available on sites like Amazon, or decide whether a book will be helpful or to their taste from the reader comments, ratings and reviews either on Amazon and other bookselling sites, or on Goodreads.

Even established bestselling authors like to hear from readers who have enjoyed their work. I’m not sure that any author outgrows wanting to be told that someone liked their book. And even famous authors wince when at negative reviews, particularly if the language is unkind. (Yes, authors read reviews, even though everyone tells us not to. We celebrate the good ones and despair over any that are less than glowing.

But beyond sending a message to your favorite author, book ratings, reviews and stars are increasingly important as bookselling becomes an online transaction instead of an in-person interaction. With the shrinking number of physical bookstores, it’s difficult for readers to wander the isles searching for a cover or title that strikes their fancy. And since many of the existing stores have cut back on inventory, they’re less likely to stock as many specialty and special-interest books as before. Small press books rarely make it onto bookstore shelves unless the author is local or the subject is of local interest.

Add to these trends the reality that the big publishing houses have cut back on new books from many established authors who are well-regarded but not quite mega-bestsellers. These authors then bring out their new books with smaller publishers, and may have difficulty getting shelf space in stores. Advancements in digital printing and ebooks have dramatically increased the number of self-published and small press titles. Readers looking for a new book face clutter, confusion and a fragmented marketplace.

Reader reviews, stars and ratings, as well as citizen journalist book bloggers are the beacons in the storm, helping baffled readers find the books best suited to their interests.

If you like a particular author or enjoy a certain series, the best thing you can do (in addition to buying a copy of the book and encouraging your friends and local library to do the same) is to rate and review the books you enjoy. By helping your favorite books and authors rise above the crowd, you’re helping to ensure that their sales sustain the publisher’s interest in more books in that series or by that author.

Likewise, please think twice before down-rating a book for anything other than poor writing. Slow shipping, damaged covers, and other production mishaps are out of the author’s control. I’ve seen authors given a one-star review because the reader didn’t like the package Amazon used to ship the book! Trust me when I say that the author was not the one doing the shipping.

I’d argue that “I wish the book had done X instead of Y” is also not a reason for a poor review. The author wrote the book in the way he/she saw the story going. It’s his/her story, and that’s the author’s right. If you feel strongly that a different story would be better, write that different story with your own characters and settings. Many a career has started this way!

Ratings on Amazon factor into how often a book is suggested in the ‘if you liked this, you might like that’ bar. Amazon’s algorithm to suggest books, as well as the visibility boost that comes from being paired to a similar bestseller, is one of the most valuable things that can happen to a book. Your comments help the books you like to get the attention they deserve.

So if you like an author or a series and want to see more, use the power of your voice to give the ratings/reviews that will help more people discover the book!

Iron Blood Book CoverCheck out my new Steampunk novel Iron and Blood, co-written with Larry N. Martin, set in an alternative history Pittsburgh in 1898. In stores July 7!

The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 28 awesome partner sites around the globe. For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com.

Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.

Author Gail Z. Martin
Gail Z. Martin, Co-Author of Iron Blood
Author Larry N. Martin
Larry N. Martin, Co-Author of Iron Blood

Scifaiku – Drop

Scifaiku - Drop

Drop

shot from LaGrange Point
platinum package explodes sand
special delivery to Earth

*poem published in Far Horizons Magazine – June 2015

A Scifaiku by Wendy Van Camp
Illustrated by Wendy Van Camp

Scifaiku poem is based off the idea of mining the asteroids. It is science fiction now, but in the near future it will be science fact.

Luna Station Quarterly Features Book Review of A WRINKLE IN TIME

A Wrinkle in Time Book CoverI’ve been a regular contributor of book reviews to the online feminist magazine Luna Station Quarterly. It is a magazine that features up and coming female speculative fiction writers, and columns about all things related to science fiction and fantasy. The magazine debuted in 2011 and features a subscription-based magazine and free online columnists that write on subjects connected to speculative fiction. There is also an anthology of stories put out by Luna Station Quarterly that can be found on Amazon.

This June, Luna Station Quarterly has reprinted my book review of the vintage fantasy novel A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I hope you will stop by the magazine and read the offerings by columnists such as myself.

http://www.lunastationquarterly.com/book-review-a-wrinkle-in-time/

Scifaiku – Miners

Scifaiku - Miners

Miners

robot shovel grinds
inner metal wealth of the core
asteroid mining

*poem published in Far Horizons Magazine – June 2015

A Scifaiku by Wendy Van Camp
Illustrated by Wendy Van Camp

Scifaiku poem is based off the idea of mining the asteroids. It is science fiction now, but in the near future it will be science fact.

Book Review: Forty Thousand in Gehenna

Book Name: Forty Thousand in Gehenna
Author: C.J. Cherryh
First Published: 1983
Nominated for Locus Award (1984)

Author Carolyn Janice Cherry is better known by her pen name C. J. Cherryh. She is a Hugo Award winning science fiction and fantasy writer with 40 novels under her belt. Cherryh is pronounced “Cherry”. When she first began publishing her stories in the early 70s, Cherryh was asked to create a pen name by DAW editor Donald Wollheim. He felt that her real name more fit a romance writer instead of a science fiction writer. She also switched to using her initials to disguise that she was female. This was a common practice at the time since women authors were not as accepted in the genre as male authors were. Fortunately, that is no longer the norm in the genre.

C.J. Cherryh was born in 1942 and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma. In 1964, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin from the University of Oklahoma, and went on to gain a Master of Arts in classics from Johns Hopkins University. After graduation, Cherryh became a high school teacher of Latin, Ancient Greek and the classics

After graduation, Cherryh taught secondary school in the Oklahoma City public school district. While her job was teaching Latin, her passion was history. During her summers off, she would conduct student tours of ancient ruins in England, France, Spain, and Italy.

As busy as she was, Cherryh could not shake the writing bug. She had been writing stories since the age of ten and continued to write novels in her spare time. She did not follow the usual path of science fiction writers of the time, starting with publishing short stories in the national magazines of the day, but instead her focus was on writing novels. While Cherryh has written shorter works, she did not begin to do so until after she had published several of her novels first.

Her break came in 1975 when Donald Wollheim bought two manuscripts she submitted to DAW Books. She stated once in an interview on Amazing Stories, “It was the first time a book really found an ending and really worked, because I had made contact with Don Wollheim at DAW, found him interested, and was able to write for a specific editor whose body of work and type of story I knew. It was a good match. It was a set of characters I’d invented when I was, oh, about thirteen. So it was an old favorite of my untold stories, and ended up being the first in print.”

It was the start of a long and fruitful friendship. Cherryh has gone on to publish almost 40 novels, most of them with DAW, but not exclusively, and still continues to write more books today. She has won the Hugo Award for Best Novel twice, first for Downbelow Station and then again for Cyteen, novels that are part of the Alliance-Union Universe series that Forty Thousand in Gehenna is also part of.

Currently, Ms. Cherryh lives in Spokane, Washington, with her partner science fiction/fantasy author and artist Jane Fancher. She enjoys skating, traveling and is a regular guest at many science fiction conventions.

Culture is how biology responds and makes its living conditions better. – C. J. Cherryh

Forty Thousand in Gehenna is not a normal story about the colonization of a planet where an intrepid group of humans set up a foothold on a world and build. Instead, it is the story broken into two main sections with a few smaller vignettes bridging. The characters are born and die of old age as the centuries go by. The focus of the novel is about the interaction between humans, from Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe, and the Caliban, large lizard aliens that are not the unintelligent animals the colonists were led to believe when they first arrive.

Gehenna, which means “hell”, is an experimental colony set up by Union. It is made up of a small faction of “born men” and forty thousand “azi”. The azi live to the age of 40 and then their bodies fail. When they are cloned in the lab, each human azi is programmed psychologically so that he or she is subservient to the born men and happy in their place in society. They are the worker slaves of the Union civilization and outnumber their aristocratic masters a thousand to one. The azi are the key to how Union manages to take over worlds ahead of their competitors, the merchants of the Alliance, giving biological numbers to the leaders of Union to place where they will.

The first part of the novel is about the original colonists and follows a born-man named Gutierrez who comes aboard the colony disguised as an azi and a clone named Jin and his love interest Pia. Within a few years, it is realized that Union has abandoned Gehenna and no more supplies or the promised azi labs arrive as scheduled. The colony begins to fall apart as the machines break down. The azi begin to have children instead of reproducing via cloning techniques and teach their programming to their children as best they can. In the mix, the alien Caliban intrude as the settlers realize that the giant lizards are far more intelligent than first realized. The azi children imprint on the Caliban as well as their azi parents. This creates a entirely new culture that grows more different as the centuries go forward.

The middle of the book covers when Alliance discovers Gehenna and via a mix of reports and chapters from many different points of view, we see how the outside stellar civilization sees what is happening on the planet in the long view. Alliance meddles in the Gehenna culture with ill effects.

The final part of the novel covers a war between the descendants of Jin and Pia’s two children. The descendants have formed three cultures, one is aggressive and “male” the other is more passive and “female”. The third group are termed “weirds”. They are people that choose to live with the Caliban in their tunnels. All groups have formed a symbiosis relationship with the alien Calibans. While the Alliance watches and files reports, the cultures clash for domination of Gehenna.

40K in Gehenna Book CoverDiving into the Alliance-Union Universe can be confusing. There are a great many novels, some of which follow their own mini-series inside the series. This book can be considered the first of a trilogy, the final installment only being written a few years ago. The original cover of a girl riding a Caliban lizard into battle is what originally drew me to the book. It reminded me a great deal of McCaffery’s dragons of Pern, who also had a symbiotic relationship with their human partners. As it turns out, the Caliban are a more complex komodo dragon with a unique way of communication. You learn about it via submersion just as the colonists do in the story. Cherryh is a master at not only developing sweeping historical world views that explore intricate human cultures of her own devising, but she also is adapt at creating stunning alien cultures.

I am fascinated by the concept of the human clones known as azi. Here in Gehenna we get a good look at the Union’s tank-bred, hypnotic-tape-education workforce. The azi make up most of Union’s population and has allowed it to out-breed Sol and the Alliance in these stories, but at what cost? Cloning is a process that is starting in our day and age. The morals and ethics behind the technology have not been fully addressed. What was once science fiction may soon be science fact.

Finally, I enjoy that Cherryh does employ female protagonists in her stories. While in the first section she followed two male Azi, in the last section the protagonist was a girl named Elai who was certainly no wimp and proved to have the wit to fight for her community and people. The 1980s is known for introducing female characters who were independent and functional as full characters in their own right instead of always being the “love interest” for the men.

While Cyteen is the Hugo Award Winner, I feel that you should start with Forty Thousand in Gehenna since it precedes Cyteen chronologically in the series. The two books can be read independently of each other and be fully understandable, but it works better if you read the two together.

Unionside Series of the Alliance-Union Universe

Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983)
Cyteen (1988) – Hugo and Locus SF Award winner, British Science Fiction Award nominee, 1989
Regenesis (2009)