Friday, April 29, 2016

"Honor From Ashes" and drunken baggage handlers

I want this to be one of the best bits I've written. There's a bit more at stake here than there is with my usual book reviews. And that makes me flinch a little, because I don't believe life is fair, and yet I'm trying to MAKE a situation fair by writing about it. I'm hoping that in the execution of this blog, plus the accompanying Amazon review, I will even the scales for an author; just a bit.

Let me get the drunken baggage handlers out of the way first, shall I?

Unless all your travels have been by your personally owned vehicle, at some point you have handed over your luggage to someone else for safekeeping. Happens at airports, bus stations, train depots, and on the dock of a cruise ship. In exchange for your baggage, you get a little ticket, or a few little tickets, and then your bag goes away. You are no longer in control of what happens to it.

At the end of your journey, you go to claim your baggage. If all goes well, you are out of the station quickly, and off to the place you want to be, with everything you need. That's ONE possible outcome...

...and there are SO many other possibilities! Your luggage might be shipped to Ft. Wayne. Your luggage might be left back at your boarding point. Your luggage might have been diverted, broken open, and looted. It doesn't HAVE to be a function of human error or malice, so my reference to drunken baggage handlers in the title may be a bit over the top; however, if you are stuck in Frankfurt without any clean underwear, you don't really WHY it happened, do you? You just want your items returned.

Here's a parenthetical visual image for you, coming from my own experience: a mountain consisting of hundreds of identical olive-drab duffle bags, with the identification stenciled on in black ink, indistinguishable except at close range. Only had to go through that ONCE, on my deployment to Germany, but it's got to be experienced to be appreciated. I googled for a picture, but all I found were WWII pictures of the 10th Mountain Division returning, and they used light-colored chalk marker to ID those duffle bags easily. How is it that in the quarter century between their return to the States and my arrival at Rhein-Main, we lost the technology of a yellow piece of chalk?
Usually, there are bright and cheerful customer service representatives (depending on the hour) who will commiserate, hand you the forms to complete, and assure you that they will do everything they can to re-unite you with your lost possessions. And you have no alternative but to accept your copy of the form, and toddle off to your hotel/home/whatever, and dream of a fresh, clean, white t-shirt, which, in most cases, does arrive within a short time. (Not always. I have had the unpleasant experience of having my luggage looted, although all they got was my electric shaver.)

But: the customer service reps are not the people who handle yer luggage, bless their hearts. They are merely the people who are responsible for: 1) Keeping you from being so angry at the freight handling that you do economic damage to the company, and 2) Telling someone to find yer luggage and get it to you. They do not find yer luggage, they do not fly yer plane; nor yet do they plump yer pillow and put a bit of chocolate on it so you will have sweet dreams. They do Task #1 and THEN Task #2. They are called 'Customer Service Reps' because the job title 'Company Failure Apologists' didn't receive high numbers at a board meeting. But that's what they are.

So, what does this have to do with a book, specifically with the book "Honor From Ashes" by Sam Schall / Amanda Green?

Well, it's like this: 'Honor From Ashes' is the long awaited third installment in the 'Honor and Duty' series. It was available on pre-order, and I grabbed it up then, mostly because I wasn't paying attention, and was looking forward to it being available on April 18.

But a bad thing happened.

Instead of the third volume appearing when you clicked the icon, the SECOND volume appeared. And it didn't really seem to matter WHAT you did to get the third volume, nothing happened. For a day. Then two days. Then three days. That's not true, actually, because things WERE happening, it's just that the results weren't what they were supposed to be: the second installment kept appearing.

Finally, between a combination of the author writing a letter  to the owner of Amazon and various and sundry fans making a discovery or two, and posting their findings online, we found out the Earth was flat. And that if we deleted the file from our reader, then all of the operating software, reformatted the disc, reinstalled Windows 386 and subsequent upgrades, returned our systems to the store providing all original warranty information, and developed a carbon-neutral lifestyle, we would have tremendously over-reacted, because it just required we contact Amazon using the 'contact us' link, then entered chat mode, a helpful Company Failure Apologist would push the file through to us, and we could read installment three.

In the meantime, though...and, in this case, it turned out to be really MEAN time...there happened to be customers who were NOT happy with their luggage being lost. And they said mean things, prevention of which is the FIRST job of the  CSR/CFA. And, it likely had an impact on sales, a matter of small concern to Amazon, but great concern to Sam Schall/Amanda Green.

(And I'm ALMOST at the point of reviewing the book. I just need to fill in the last bit about why I'm blogging instead of just reviewing.)

Yes, there IS likely to be some economic impact due to the book being lost for a week. HOWEVER, an author cares more for the fans than as just revenue sources. Authors tend to fall in love with their fan base, and desire greatly not to disappoint them (it's a rather sick relationship, actually). And so, when due to circumstances beyond her control, a small element of her fans turned on her, however briefly, it was a bitter experience for Sam / Amanda. And thus, I write this, as a Customer Representative. Not a Customer SERVICE Representative, but as a representative of the customers. And it is my belief that as a group, we understand that our luggage was lost through no evil intent of the author, but that sometimes stuff happens. And that we will continue to fly the friendly skies of Sam Schall / Amanda Green / Ellie Ferguson / Bodacious Werewolf and are, in fact, looking forward to the next flight. Thus endeth the first part. What follows is the Amazon review.

"Honor From Ashes" is the third installment in the "Honor and Duty" series, and it's the payoff punch we have all been waiting for. I am DELIGHTED to say that there really isn't anything substantial left on the table, although there is room for the series to grow.

For reason of life, I did not go back and re-read the first two books in the series, but that really wasn't necessary for a couple of reasons. First of all, The essence of the story is quite vivid: A woman sits in a prison cell, clinging to the hope that she will be rescued and avenged; and then, it happens, and she is restored to command of the Space Marines she loves. That's a remarkable over-simplification, but it's enough for me to tie this third book into the right context. The second reason it wasn't necessary for me to go back is because the author did an excellent job of summarizing the pertinent events in the earlier works, and did so without giving over the first part of the book into a re-hash.

Marine Lt. Col. Ashlyn Shaw has been able to prove she was set up for false charges, and those who were primary agents in the deception are under guard and awaiting trial. Although none have confessed, there is sufficient evidence, coupled with Shaw's testimony, to make the outcome of the cases as sure a thing as it ever gets. However, two items are not resolved satisfactorily. First, the reason behind the frame job hasn't been revealed, and second, Shaw is required to be available as a witness in the trials, and therefore can't be leading her Devil Dogs in  combat.

Wonderful, wonderful character point: Ash HATES the restriction, but doesn't fight against it, because she knows it is her duty. I am SO fracken OVER the alleged hero who can't restrain a thirst for blood vengeance long enough to attend to the non-gory aspects of their job.

The enemies have their hands deep into Shaw's world, but once the head is lopped off, the tentacles are easy to kill. It's rather satisfying to see that happen: convoluted, long-established plots disintegrate, conspirators turn on one another, and the good guys win, and the bad guys lose. Part of the reason for that, frankly, is loyalty. In one system, duty is compelled through coercion; in Shaw's system, personal example and high expectations are linked, and the result is troops who devote themselves to getting the job done and supporting each other.

Top quality work; buy it now!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Offspring for sale on Amazon

After the last episode of family drama, here's something I've thought about: selling my offspring on Amazon. I don't know that it's legal to sell THEM on Amazon, but maybe I could write up a bio of each, include a picture, and sell that.
Then, once I had the product out there, I could review it. And maybe base their birthday present and Christmas gifts on how many stars they had earned.The product would, of course, be subject to updates, as they did more stupid things or more wonderful things, and I would include the updated narrative for no additional cost.
To get over the adult children getting a case of bad attitude because I outed them for doing something stupid, I'd give them a code name, like Jilly Back and Sary Mue.
Maybe I'll start a franchise: Review-Yer-Kids! Include a set of templates. Get Samuel L Jackson to be my Celebrity Spokesperson.
Thinking about ground rules for assigning review stars: as a default condition, GRAND children get a two-star advantage over CHILDREN in the rating. In egregious situations of course, that can be over-written. And with each additional generation, default is to add a star. So great-grands start with three, etc.
And each child gets a half-star for every grandchild. Unless YOU wind up raising the grandchild, in which case the child LOSES one whole star per grandchild.
Hmm. We could be getting into negative numbers...
I'd publish each bio as a pamphlet and sell it through KU. Profits to go to something like the pediatric burn unit at the hospital at UNC-CH or some other for-true children's cause. I guess there has to be a price tag, so say 0.99 per pamphlet.
Second thought, no, too clunky. I'll just lie about it to the kids....or I could invite others to play in my universe, and sell THEIR offspring.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Changeling's Island, revised

I wrote about  Dave Freer's book, Changeling's Island, when it was released as a Baen ARC back in January. It's now on Amazon, and is therefore eligible for review. So review it I did, again demonstrating the value of recycling and cut and paste. However, this blog post has additional original content, and is therefore MUST reading.

Part the first: The Review of the Book, in which I have made Few Changes

Tim Ryan is a nice young man who has had a string of bad luck.  Part of that luck is having parents who are much more interested in being nice to themselves than being parents.  Another part is that he has fallen under the influence of a glamour-girl of his own age, who uses her feminine wiles to persuade him to make all sorts of bad decisions, the most recent one being shoplifting (rotten little snip!).  However, unbeknownst to him, much of the bad luck he's having is due to the fact that he is being followed and "assisted" by mumble pixie mumble fairy mumble.

( I am not an expert on magical terminology;  I will therefore not attempt to recreate the names and titles and designations of all the magical figures.  I would get them wrong, and I'm simply NOT going to devote massive efforts to get it right. Sorry.)

Then we come to a sort of turning point.  Tim doesn't turn, at least not yet, but his circumstances, and therefore his luck, undergo a BIG change: he gets shipped off to live with his grandmother on Flinder's Island.  Important things happen immediately.  First, of course, he gets away from the combined rotten influence of his mother and the glamour-girl  (you can cheer at this point). The second thing that happens is that he meets a girl on the airplane who is not a rotten little snip, and he is nice to her, thereby winning her gratitude.

What follows is a wonderful, delightful, classical coming of age story.  Under the influence of his grandmother, a lot of hard work, and a non-toxic school situation, Tim gets a chance to express those good characteristics which were there all along.  Let me emphasize the " hard work" aspect of that prior sentence, because it is that, as much as anything else, which helped him make the transformation.  He has to learn everything: how to milk a cow,  fork potatoes, and herd sheep.  He falls into bed exhausted every night.  Early.  Frankly, it's not a lifestyle I would enjoy, but if I had gotten the opportunity at age 12, it likely would have been the making of me.

Supplementary material: Yesterday, on Mad Genius Club, Dave wrote a column which addressed some of the things he wanted to accomplish in writing the book. A troll from somewhere sailed in and did what trolls do, and was tiresome about it as well. You may find it to be interesting reading, IF you disregard the troll statements, and just read the points raised by Dave and others as counters.

Other thoughts:
1.  I'm going to go on a snarky rant about the cover.  You may want to change the channel now, because this is both trivial and snide.  It's also no reflection on Dave at all, because he has nothing to do with the cover.  It is, in fact, discussed elsewhere that the cover blurb has very little to do with the content of the story.  I do not know how these circumstances come about.  Stuff happens.  If I were running the publishing company, things would be much worse.  I get that.  Even so, I MUST point out that the cover art contains a prominent feature which does not exist in the story: a blond mermaid.  Now, there IS a female aquatic being, but she is neither blond, nor a mermaid.
I have friends who are artists, and they are… artistic.  They do wonderful, creative things which do not necessarily reflect the reality that we share, but instead are glorious features of their own internal reality.  It's a basic part of what makes them artists.  I have to accept that aspect of their art if I accept ANY aspect of their art.  And let me make this clear: it is excellent artwork on the cover.  It includes most of the significant elements of the story, and it's really well executed.

2. I grew up in an affluent, and non-farming society, and it almost killed me. At one point, during the Depression Years of the 1930s, my grandfather and grandmother provided housing for her mother and a sister and her kids, because nasty circumstances. My grandfather had a good job working for the railroad, and it kept everybody housed and fed. Their was a huge veggie garden and fruit trees on the property, including a scuppernong orchard, which the ladies used to make wine for their fruitcakes. However, this was not a farm. I know the difference; I've been on the two south Georgia farms which represented the old home place and that one of the sisters married onto. BUT! My maternal grandfather got away from the farm when he went off to fight Kaiser Bill, and he never returned. My paternal grandfather got away from the farm when it burned to the ground, and and he worked as a carpenter and as a truck driver. To the best of my knowledge, NONE of the next generation worked as a farmer, so I am at least two generations removed.
So, how did it almost kill me? Lack of purpose.
For that to make sense, you have to know that I was 16 years old in 1969, and that the communal movement was huge. Our shared fantasy was that we were all going to buy land and get away from the poison of the cities, raise our crops, smoke our dope, and share free love.
That didn't work out.
But what DID take hold was the idea that just participating as a cog in a soul-less machine was meaningless, and that's what it felt like was happening. I was living in a society with incredible wealth, so that i never had to apply muscle power to raise food, and I was never given a substitute for the daily desperate task of having to work all day if I was going to eat.
It's a tough problem. We HAVE to have a meaningful reason for getting out of bed, once the taskmasters who raised us, FORCING us to get out of bed, have booted us out.
Shall I tell you my solution?
No, not now. I think I'll take a nap, instead.