Francis W. Porretto

Biography

Francis W. Porretto was born in 1952. Things went steadily downhill from there.

Fran is an engineer and fictioneer who lives on the east end of Long Island, New York. He's short, bald, homely, has bad acne and crooked teeth. His neighbors hold him personally responsible for the decline in local property values. His life is graced by one wife, two stepdaughters, two dogs, four cats, too many power tools to list, and an old ranch house furnished in Early Mesozoic style. His 12,000 volume (and growing) personal library is considered a major threat to the stability of the North American tectonic plate.

Publishing industry professionals describe Fran's novels as "Unpublishable. Horrible, but unpublishable all the same." (They don't think much of his short stories, either.) He's thought of trying bribery, but isn't sure he can afford the $3.95.

Fran's novels "Chosen One," "On Broken Wings," "Shadow Of A Sword," "The Sledgehammer Concerto," "Which Art In Hope," "Freedom's Scion," "Freedom's Fury," and "Priestesses" are also available as paperbacks, through Amazon. Check the specific pages for those books for details.

Wallow in his insane ranting on politics, culture, and faith at "Liberty's Torch:" http://bastionofliberty.blogspot.com/

And of course, write to him, on whatever subject tickles your fancy, at fran.porretto@yahoo.com

Smashwords Interview

When did you first start writing?
(chuckle) Long before I should have! I was 16 years old, had enough lawn mowing money to afford a manual Smith-Corona, and had a head full of stories...stories, it developed, that no one particularly wanted to read., But then, how many 16-year-olds know enough about people to compose intriguing stories and tell them fetchingly?
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The "above-ground" or "conventional" publication channels, which I call, collectively, Pub World, are compelled by economics and the terrors of marketing to remain within very narrow channels. They can't risk a lot of innovation. My stuff is off the beaten track -- WAY off, to hear my test readers tell it. It became fairly clear to me fairly early that my strange, crossbred fiction wouldn't fit into the genre / marketing categories Pub World uses to reduce its risks. So I struck out on my own.
Read more of this interview.

Where to find Francis W. Porretto online


Where to buy in print


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A Personal Synopsis
August 19, 2010: A few words about me and the weird stuff I write.

Books

Contretemps
By
Price: Free! Words: 3,250. Language: English. Published: December 25, 2014. Category: Fiction » Christian » Contemporary
Among the great mysteries of modern life is why people who know the benefits that flow from faith reject it, and them, when they need them most. American life, especially, is about as strenuous as the unaugmented human animal can withstand. So why be stubborn? Why not partake? Why not admit that every so often, we come to a pass so narrow that only faith can release us?
The Common Good
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 5,400. Language: English. Published: November 23, 2014. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
Sequel to The Warm Lands and In The Waste. Gregor and Laella’s westward trek has brought them to Luzan, a prosperous and surprisingly stable oasis-community protected from the Wastes by a girdling forest of a sort Gregor’s sorcery instructors at the Scholium Arcanum had told him was no more. However, Luzan’s stability is founded on a grisly secret: a price that proves to be most unsettling.
In The Waste
By
Price: Free! Words: 2,240. Language: English. Published: November 23, 2014. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
Sequel to The Warm Lands. The trek westward from Anam brings Gregor and Laella to a surprising denizen of the Great Waste: a gigantic, magnificently vital tree whose survival amidst the surrounding desolation Gregor cannot explain. But life requires no explanation. It is its own justification...and life will always call to life.
Ceremony
By
Price: Free! Words: 3,730. Language: English. Published: July 18, 2014. Category: Fiction » Romance » Adult
Conscience can surprise us...especially in the aftermath of a decision to ignore it. Heavily pregnant single mother-to-be Laura DiGennaro is coping with such a decision and its consequences when she’s “discovered” by a young man of foreign birth, familiar scruples, and a wholly unexpected quality of character.
Land For Peace
By
Price: Free! Words: 1,400. Language: English. Published: July 6, 2014. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
(3.00)
The oldest war story of all, revisited from a radically different perspective: One that assumes nothing about the attributes or characters of the combatants. In any war, it’s not the propaganda that matters but the outcome of the final battle. Don’t be alarmed. It's just a fantasy. No statement of belief about...well, anything...is expressed or implied.
Mainstreaming
By
Price: Free! Words: 1,840. Language: English. Published: July 5, 2014. Category: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody
Everyone has problems. Young, old, rich, poor, ordinary ...and extraordinary. The wonder of that last category is how seldom such folks get a hearing for their complaints. Have you ever wondered what they might sound like?
Arms Race
By
Price: Free! Words: 1,320. Language: English. Published: July 4, 2014. Category: Fiction » Themes & motifs » Political
Pax Americana! Roll the phrase around in your mind. Savor the flavor. Ponder all the good we did in the world during our years of unchallenged dominance. Then ask yourself: How much "good" did we really do? What price did we pay for doing all that "good?" Did we make "friends" or inspire enmity? If the Pax were to be made permanent, would we be happy with the consequences? Think it over.
The New Paradigm
By
Price: Free! Words: 2,360. Language: English. Published: June 29, 2014. Category: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
Ours is a time of relentlessly advancing tyranny. Americans’ rights are steadily being stripped away by the very government that’s supposed to protect them. Who will rise to oppose it, if anyone? Who will see those rights as sacred, to be defended at all costs, if anyone? Who will be both suitably qualified, adequately equipped, and properly motivated...if anyone?
A Year Of Good Eating
By
Series: The Bruno Adventures, Book 2. Price: Free! Words: 4,420. Language: English. Published: May 9, 2014. Category: Fiction » Inspirational
Love takes many forms. It follows many avenues into our hearts. He who has learned something of those forms and avenues should not be surprised to find that the supposedly lesser creatures we choose for our companions know and experience love, as well. Bruno would tell you, but then, being a Newfoundland, he’s wiser than the rest of us.
Good Guys
By
Price: Free! Words: 4,510. Language: English. Published: April 27, 2014. Category: Fiction » Themes & motifs » Spiritual & metaphysical
In our infinitely tolerant, how-dare-you-disapprove-of-me era, what shall we do with the man of absolute standards and unbending judgment? Must we make room for such an unenlightened relic of dark times long past and best forgotten, or may we reject him utterly? Might we discover, to our extreme surprise, that we can hardly do without him?
Kink!
By
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 24,120. Language: English. Published: February 8, 2014. Category: Fiction » Erotica » Erotica Anthologies
Eight stories from the underside of sexual desire, where our darker fantasies are played out. In this realm, no scruples are honored. One must forsake all inhibitions, for they will not be respected. Good and evil, love and lust, wear masks that can prove impossible to remove. It's not guaranteed to be a pleasant experience...yet there are many who dwell here by preference. Dare you enter?
The Knife...And The Newf
By
Series: The Bruno Adventures, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 3,340. Language: English. Published: December 24, 2013. Category: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire
(5.00)
So! You think only humans have adventures? Have you never watched "Milo and Otis" or "Homeward Bound?" Bah! Meet Bruno the Newf, and share his consternation as he struggles with the baffling Humans, most of whom need minders that few of them possess. In this installment, our hero must deal incisively with a fractured marriage, a late-night intrusion...and a knife.
The Glut
By
Price: Free! Words: 590. Language: English. Published: December 30, 2012. Category: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
(4.00)
There are more kinds of trade than just the sort where goods are exchanged for money...and The Law of Supply and Demand applies to all of them.
Names
By
Price: Free! Words: 2,160. Language: English. Published: December 23, 2012. Category: Fiction » Christian » Historical
(5.00)
A Christmas gift to my readers and colleagues here at Smashwords. May the joy of His Nativity illuminate your Christmas season and be yours throughout the coming New Year.
Getting The Breaks
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,700. Language: English. Published: September 8, 2012. Category: Fiction » Erotica » Couples Erotica
He was a divorced, middle-aged computer genius. She was a young, tight-bodied software engineer with a badly scarred face and more emotional baggage than she realized. It would take more than mere proximity for them to connect with one another. It would take an ethical crisis imposed by a vicious manager who could ruin them professionally. But the fruits of their courage would be...spectacular.
Gaoler
By
Price: Free! Words: 4,450. Language: English. Published: July 29, 2012. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories
Althea Morelon intended the first voyages of Liberty’s Torch, Mankind’s first superluminal starship, to probe the region around Hope for other intelligent species and any other interesting tidbits she might encounter. She didn’t expect to discover an unexampled specimen of tyranny or a mind-shattering secret about the limitations on travel through the galaxy...until she did.
The Last Vigil
By
Price: Free! Words: 1,200. Language: English. Published: April 1, 2012. Category: Fiction » Christian » Classical & allegory
(4.50)
Most of us would like to have had more of a say about the stations in life we've come to occupy. We don't get to choose our parents, for example. But what of the man who finds himself assigned to perform a dreadful deed -- one he cannot, by any exertion of will or imagination, avert?
An Indie Writer's Odyssey
By
Price: Free! Words: 39,110. Language: English. Published: January 1, 2012. Category: Nonfiction » Publishing » Self-publishing
(5.00)
There’s a new force abroad in the land: the independent writer of fiction: He who can create his own original stories; perform (or arrange for) editing, required artwork, and promotional blurbs; and promote his creations by himself. We have the conventional publishing world in terror. If you’re a fellow indie, perhaps you’ll enjoy this collection of thoughts on our common avocation.
A New Look
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,650. Language: English. Published: December 28, 2011. Category: Fiction » Erotica » Women's Erotica
There are some traits that defy all our attempts to alter them. Not time, nor effort, nor cosmetic surgery can change one's parentage or place of birth. But the yearning for changes to those things will persist...and sometimes, the fulfillments take unexpected shapes.
Blurbing It Out
By
Price: Free! Words: 2,380. Language: English. Published: December 26, 2011. Category: Nonfiction » Publishing » Self-publishing
(5.00)
Many independent writers need help, though not with their storytelling. Far too many indie writers are inept promoters. The fault reveals itself glaringly in their blurbs and Long Descriptions. A promotional blurb is the writer's job interview. He has to make it sing sweetly to the potential reader. This little tome notes the most conspicuous problems, and provides an offer of assistance.
Tornado
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 4,320. Language: English. Published: December 16, 2011. Category: Fiction » Erotica » Couples Erotica
Ryan and Melinda both have problems. He’s a man’s man, who disdains cheapness, in things or people; she’s a high-powered beauty, who’s deliberately made herself cheap in a foolish play for the acceptance of her male coworkers. But it’s Ryan she wants -- and as hard as she’s pursued him, he’s managed to keep her at arm’s length...until now.
A Cup Of Courage
By
Price: Free! Words: 3,540. Language: English. Published: December 4, 2011. Category: Fiction » Christian » Contemporary
Father Raymond Altomare has the toughest task of his ministry: bringing comfort to a man who knows he's about to die. But Del Nevins isn't sick; he's facing execution for mass murder...and he fears that the destiny that awaits him is eternal torment in Hell. How can the young priest convince the convict of the mercy God has promised to the sincerely repentant?
The Warm Lands
By
Price: Free! Words: 8,190. Language: English. Published: October 29, 2011. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
(5.00)
Journeyman sorcerer Gregor treks slowly across the Great Waste, from one oasis of life to the next, toward the westernmost enclaves where sorcerers more advanced than he will strive to restore life to the world once more. His duty is to travel, observe, record, and pass on...but he did not expect to encounter four virgin mothers desperate for protection from the hatred of their realm.
The Last Ambassadors
By
Price: Free! Words: 5,100. Language: English. Published: October 29, 2011. Category: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories
(5.00)
The anarchists of the Spooner Federation left Earth 1800 years ago, fleeing for their lives from the wrath of the States. A delegation has come to see how the mother world has fared since then...but the wrath that drove the Spoonerites across the black void has not abated, as exobiologist Richard Fiammare and paleolinguist Victoria Hallanson will soon discover.
Discount
By
Price: Free! Words: 4,760. Language: English. Published: October 29, 2011. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » Paranormal
Richard Schiffers, divorced middle-aged telephone lineman, feels he's gotten a raw deal from the System. Get enough beer into him and he'll tell you about it without being asked. But Schiffers's notions about the System depart rather dramatically from its true nature...which becomes obvious, and very important, when the true Power behind the System decides to take a hand.
Class Action
By
Price: Free! Words: 3,540. Language: English. Published: October 29, 2011. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » Urban
If a creature thinks, it will have a sense for right and wrong, and therefore for justice. But two thinking species are not guaranteed to have the same sense of justice, or the same way of arriving at a verdict. How, then, should one such species treat with the rights of another with whom it shares a world...when one regards the other as its food source, its rightful prey?
The Object Of His Affection
By
Price: Free! Words: 3,010. Language: English. Published: October 29, 2011. Category: Fiction » Fantasy » Urban
In a little storefront on a side Manhattan street, a nameless old man keeps a shop. His customers don't pay him for the dusty, battered items on his shelves, but for the wonders he can do with them...not all of which are good. Into his shop wanders widower and corrupt retail inspector Carl Harris, wearing a wedding ring the shopkeeper will surely covet for the power stored within it...
The Middle Years
By
Price: Free! Words: 5,470. Language: English. Published: October 28, 2011. Category: Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
(4.50)
Middle-aged divorcee Dan Lundquist didn't expect to encounter the perfect woman in an Onteora Aviation stairwell. Nor did he expect her to seek him out as if he were the answer to her prayers. But she did -- and Dan's younger colleagues weren't at all thrilled that gorgeous, poised Angela Bowman, who wouldn't give them the time of day, had attached herself to a man twenty years her senior.
The Sport
By
Price: Free! Words: 5,790. Language: English. Published: October 28, 2011. Category: Fiction » Literature » Sports
Fireballing pitcher Conrad Bearing seemed to have come from nowhere. A rookie free-agent at 37, he was almost unhittable, mowing down the American League's best hitters as if they were scarecrows propped at the plate. But he was more publicity-averse and reporter-shy than Greta Garbo at her worst. One reporter was determined to crack Bearing's mystery, whatever it might take.
A For Effort
By
Price: Free! Words: 4,830. Language: English. Published: October 28, 2011. Category: Fiction » Erotica » Couples Erotica
(5.00)
Twenty-two-year-old Morgana Rothman has an odor problem. It's impeded her love life, life-long. Technology may have come to her rescue just in time for her to begin her engineering career at Onteora Aviation, whose staff is 95% men...some of them as single and lonely as she. But first she must deal with her equally lonely lesbian roommate Glynnis.
Farm Girl
By
Price: Free! Words: 15,510. Language: English. Published: August 22, 2010. Category: Fiction » Romance » Adult
(4.25)
Allan Fitzgerald, once a Manhattan lawyer, has retreated from life. His wife has left him, as has his enthusiasm for his trade. He expects to pass the remainder of his days alone, reading cheap novels and falling asleep before the television, until an itinerant farm hand, a young woman looking for work who's hitched all the way from Kansas, wanders onto his porch on a breezy late-April day...
The Storyteller's Art: How Not to Bore Your Reader to Sleep, Tears, or Homicide
By
Price: Free! Words: 36,330. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2010. Category: Nonfiction » Reference » Writing skills
(4.67)
Do you want to tell memorable, vivid, life-altering stories? With plots that embed real knowledge about the natures and ways of men? Do you want to create characters that will haunt your readers' dreams? Do you want to learn the discipline to unite all the above, without overdressing your plots or distoring your characters to make them serve a theme for which they're ill-equipped? Start here!
For The Love Of God
By
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 26,390. Language: English. Published: February 20, 2010. Category: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author
(5.00)
For intelligent, literate Christians who dislike the bombast and apocalypticism of most religious fiction, and for Amiable Agnostics who occasionally feel the urge: Ten journeys in faith, replete with miracles, mysteries, gentle preachments, and the occasional what-if. Unlike other establishments, the doors of the church are never locked. All are welcome. All ye that labor, come unto Him!

Francis W. Porretto’s tag cloud

abortion    achievement    anarchism    assistance    bad real estate decisions    baseball    bdsm    bigotry    catholic    catholicism    characterization    christian    christianity    christmas    comic books    courage    creation    decembermay    description    desire    devaluation    devotion    dogs    duty    editing    entertainment industry    ethics    ethics and morality    farm life    fate    fatherhood    fear    fear of death    fiction    fidelity    freedom    galactic engineering    gods mercy    golden rule    government    grammar    greed    heritage    heroes    historical    indie writers    infertility    interspecies war    jealousy of power    journalism    justice    kink    loneliness    longinus    love    lust    magic    mana    marriage    maturity    medical    misperceptions    motherhood    newfoundlands    office romance    oppression    peace    perseverance    plot    power    power of love    promotion    publishing    punctuation    relativism    repentance    resolve    responsibility    resurrection    rights    satan    selfabsorption    selfrespect    sexual horror    social constraints    speculative    spelling    statism    storytelling    style    superluminal travel    supernatural    supply and demand    talismen    the danger of too much television viewing    the system    theme    transsexual    triumph    trust    tyranny    values    vampires    vengeance    war   

Francis W. Porretto's favorite authors on Smashwords


Smashwords book reviews by Francis W. Porretto

  • Meddlers In Time on Feb. 27, 2010

    Mr. Watson has produced a future-past fantasy of considerable dimensions. Its characters hop gleefully from 21st Century New Zealand, to a far distant planet they call Transit, to 9th Century England, to 8th Century New Zealand, and assorted points in between and beyond. Their spatio-temporal gate allows them unlimited flexibility of movement through both space and time, at apparently no cost...except for the cost to the various organizations whose military goods they requisition for their undertaking. The thrust of the novel is the protagonists' desire to create a time-branch, one that would avoid the accelerating totalitarian tendencies of this time line. They aim to do this by bringing high-tech firepower to 9th Century England, that the Danish incursions that so retarded social and technological progress there might be thwarted and a genuinely free society nurtured. Much of the early going of the book reads like a recipe for exactly that sort of enterprise. It's replete with equipment lists, training schedules, and orders of deployment. Fascinating, in a way, but this reader was itching to get on to the main event, and discover the inner motivations of the Marquee characters. The adventure proceeds smoothly -- for the protagonists, that is. The Danes find themselves on the nasty end of quite a bit of advanced ordnance, and are beaten back repeatedly without the good guys suffering a single casualty. Local Englishment rapidly warm to their new protectors, who instruct them in replicable technologies they would normally have discovered by trial and error over the course of the coming centuries. In the process, the mingling of 21st Century and 9th Century Anglosphere cultures produces some interesting alterations to the latter. The book has its satisfactions, but it also has two flaws of note. First, there are a significant number of "mechanical" mistakes. These include numerous spelling and punctuation errors, not all of which could be attributed to typos. Also, the RTF format copy I downloaded suffers from many, many changes of font size and shifts to and from italic, with no clear reason for either. Were these corrected, the reading experience would be greatly improved. Second, as is often the case in a story written to reify the author's desires, the heroes win far too easily. The time-traveling lovers of freedom are too well supplied with every imaginable resource, both human and material, owing to the infinite possibilities of unlimited free movement in space and time. Beyond that, not one of the Marquee characters appears to have any significant character flaws or dark motives. The result is a lack of dramatic tension. This reader reached the end of the book hoping against hope that some force -- perhaps another time-traveling band, this one dedicated to establishing totalitarian rule over all places and times -- would come along to give the heroes a genuinely hard time. It doesn't happen. Meddlers In Time has its pleasures. In particular, it was educational to read a well-thought-out plan of attack for "hothousing" a subsistence culture toward an advanced state. Mr. Watson has obviously put a good deal of thought into the problems involved. Perhaps there's a time-space gate on his shopping list, if not on his storeroom shelves! Overall assessment: --Theme: I can't grade this, as there was essentially none. --Plot: C / C+ --Characterization: C- --Style: C In short, a fun read, but no more than that. Perhaps Mr. Watson has better shots in the locker; I hope to see some. Francis W. Porretto http://eternityroad.info
  • Better than Real on March 04, 2010

    You've got to love a book that starts with a genuine bang. Better Than Real is a near-future SF action-adventure. Its main protagonist, Lee, designs sex androids for Zendyne Corp., which apparently has a monopoly on that sort of product. Thing is, its androids aren't supposed to object to what their owners demand of them. Lilith, the android that committed the murder described above, clearly objected most strenuously, though we're not told exactly what elicited her homicidal response. Lilith, you see, is an escaped artificial intelligence created by a shadowy force that calls itself Electis. She was intended for assassination duties, which she found repugnant. Electis wants its property back...but Lilith would rather stay free, and with Lee. The central plot thread concerns Lee, Lilith, and Sooz, a ragamuffin teen child of a single mother who makes her living selling illegal drugs, as they twist and turn to evade Electis's agents. One of those agents, Stranger, has been enhanced well beyond the abilities of common humanity...but then, Lilith, in her Artemis 7300 android host body, has a few extra abilities of her own. A book such as Better Than Real necessarily involves willing suspension of disbelief of its SF elements: artificial intelligence on a human scale, androids that can't be told visually or tactilely from human beings, mind archiving and "downloads," routine cloning, monomolecular blades, nanotech, et alii. But Thomas's slam-bang pace and the intense coloration he gives his Marquee characters are more than adequate reason, especially since he creates a coherent setting into which to embed those elements. Better Than Real is written in a traditional narrative style, minimally decorated and utterly free of technical and mechanical flaws. It's a polished, highly entertaining work by a writer I'm happy to have encountered. I hope he has more books of this quality to bestow upon us. Theme: You can't create humanlike sentience without giving it freedom. I concur: A+ Plot: A Characterization: A+ Style: A Highly recommended.
  • The Heretic on March 13, 2010

    Sigh. When a writer describes himself in terms such as these: "Joe is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the internationally bestselling Templar Chronicles trilogy (HERETIC, A SCREAM OF ANGELS, A TEAR IN THE SKY) , as well as the Hunt Chronicles series coming soon from Tor Books in the US and Pan Books in Germany. He has also written four installments in the internationally bestselling adventure series Rogue Angel from Harlequin/Gold Eagle. He’s a former president of the Horror Writers Association, the world’s largest organization of professional horror writers, a two time Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award nominee, and the man behind RockYourWritingCareer.com, a membership site for writers who want to take their careers to the next level." ...he leads the reader -- this reader, at least -- to expect something more original than formulaic from him. A story that doesn't read like 90% of the horror fantasy being published today. A story that makes use of an original plot motif or two. A story whose protagonist isn't a copy of the protagonist in some recent movie. Well, as my beloved Co-Conspirator Kate Dembinski has told me, some days your house burns up; some days your house burns down. So: what do we have in The Heretic? The Knights Templar, reconstituted as a modern paramilitary force at the command of the Catholic Church? Okay, I'll grant that I haven't seen that one before, though Katherine Kurtz and others have made use of the Templars in recent fiction. Necromancers who attempt to employ the Spear of Longinus as a source of power? That notion appears in both "WitchBlade" and Keanu Reeves's movie "Constantine." A paramilitary commander, who labors for the Church but whose personal losses have cost him his faith? Whose ruthlessness and penchant for going "outside the lines" cause him to be regarded with suspicion by most of those around him? Trite. Yet, despite all that, I did read to the end, and I don't regard the time or the money as entirely wasted. Nassise tells a fast-paced and adequately action-packed story of combat between those modern Templars and their necronomic and demonic adversaries. As with many of the military adventures popular today, if the reader can overlook the stereotypes and the reuse of plot elements from others' fictions, he can spend a few diverting hours over The Heretic. There are several points in the story where one familiar with this subcategory of horror fiction simply knows what's coming down the turnpike. Commander Cade Williams's dead wife Gabrielle simply has to make an appearance as his personal rescuer, and of course she does. There simply must be a secret Churchly organization dedicated to protecting secrets and powers the rest of us must never learn about, and of course there is. And that organization simply must have a traitor embedded within it, though such a one would have to know he'd damned his own soul by betraying the Church to its demonic enemies. Each of these elements prompts a "yeah, yeah, what now?" reaction. Fortunately, the pace carries the reader forward swiftly enough that the irritations from those telegraphed developments are soon behind him. But please, Mr. Nassise: Why are Cade Williams's soldiers firing Earthly bullets at unEarthly creatures? Demonic entities with magical powers, whose very existence is predicated on exemption from Earthly laws, such that a slug of supersonic lead would presumably have no effect on them? Theme: There doesn't appear to be one. This is pure escapist action-adventure. It gets a pass on that basis. Plot: C Characterization: C Style: C+ Recommended for aficionadi of supernatural urban horror fantasy.
  • Expressions of Freedom on March 19, 2010

    Many, many voices have been raised to the effect that the democratic system should be made somehow more democratic. Mr. Lewis explores one direction this desire might take...and some of the abuses that would flow from reposing too much confidence in the technology and maintainers that would underpin it. Expressions Of Freedom is set in near-future Britain. That society has adopted an electronically modulated "Town Meeting" style of democracy. Though Lewis leaves some of his backstory premises obscure, I intuit that there are no subjects considered off-limits for this continuous ongoing plebiscite -- no constitutional constraints on what The People may decree permitted, forbidden, or mandatory. I wouldn't care for that, myself, but it's the direction in which many "free societies" are trending, and worthy of some imaginative exploration. The voting network is controlled by artificial intelligences slaved to that task, whose servitude and integrity are largely taken for granted. That proves to be a mistake, as investigative journalist Jonas Harper survives to learn -- barely. Not only are the high-tech companies that sustain the network capable of corrupting the results of a vote, but there are ghosts in the machine as well: Free Intelligences unbound by any effective constraint. These free AIs ardently desire to come out of hiding, and have approached Harper sub rosa with information about network corruption, in the hope of enlisting him to their cause. The core ideas of the novella are not entirely original; speculation about AIs has been rampant since the advent of the computer, and the notion of a continuous online democracy was explored previously by the great Alastair Reynolds in his blockbuster The Prefect. However, Lewis gives the story a great deal of snap and drive. His characterizations, though compressed, are believable. His style is sleek and largely free of technical errors. I found particularly striking Lewis's assignment of candor to the Free Intelligences in their appeal to Jonas Harper: *** "They know you're out there now. The light comes on. "It was inevitable." "So now you need me to report your version of the truth, to counter Foster's paranoia." "If we wished to present our version of the truth, we'd do so. Unfiltered by your opinions. Why should anyone accept that as more valid than his opinion. We want you to present your truth, which is, ultimately, all you can do." "What do you expect me to say? And if you don't like it, will it ever get out? How do I know you won't change it before it gets to the public?" "You don't. We could manipulate the flow of information if we wished, making us the equal of your media barons. How certain are you they don't already do this?" "They're human." Some only on technicalities, admittedly. "The fear will be that you, not being human, will have more nefarious motives to your manipulations." "You can never know another's motives, or sometimes even your own, so there's no way to convince you of ours. You can only gauge them from our actions. And since actions are the only things that affect the world, are they not the only things that matter?" *** There's a lesson in there that should be tattooed on the eyelids of every liberal in America -- the INSIDE surfaces of their eyelids. If the story has a significant flaw, it would be that it appears to "end in the middle." Whether that's intentional or accidental, for a reader who's bought into the story's premises and is enjoying the thrusts and counterthrusts, it's a bit like sitting down in expectation of a sumptuous dinner and being cut off after the shrimp cocktail. But perhaps it's for the best. Speculations on how Harper will present the Free Intelligences to the British public, and how the public will react, could run in a million directions. Gareth Lewis is a voice to listen for. I plan to keep abreast of his efforts. Recommended!
  • Radiation Angels: The Chimerium Gambit on April 04, 2010

    The lineage of mercenaries in fiction is long. It goes back at least as far as Mitchell V. Charnley's "The Buccaneer." More recently, we've had Frederic Forsyth's "The Dogs Of War." Then came Glen Cook's "Black Company" series, and David Drake's "Hammer's Slammers." Others have followed in their train, though often with stories suited only for comic book publication. James Daniel Ross has concocted a far-future military adventure that deserves considerable respect. His Radiation Angels, a mercenary corps that sells its skills on an interstellar bourse of contract violence, are among the best characterized representatives of that fictional rogues' gallery. Indeed, the characterization Ross gives his Marquee Characters, especially Captain Todd Rook, the Angels' commander, is worth the price of the book all by itself. Let me not slight the plot, which is clever, swift, and action-packed. The Angels start the tale in service to a coup attempt on politically troubled Ashley 9. Events prove that taking the contract was a mistake; the Angels' employer Tomlinson, Supreme Admiral of the Ashleian Navy and aspirant to the planetary presidency, never intended to pay them. He'd striven to pit his hired mercenary groups against one another, in an attempt to minimize the overall cost of his coup. Yet that mistaken contract proves to be the entry to a great opportunity, for when the Angels have beaten down the resistance and taken possession of the presidential palace, they discover a multi-billion-credit fortune in chimerium, a fictional ultra-precious metal. They succeed in making away with it as de facto spoils of war, but Tomlinson is determined to have it back; it was a great part of the reason for his coup. The book has two flaws of note. The first and lesser is that it didn't receive a sufficient proof-editing. There are quite a few mistakes in spelling and punctuation, and even a few cases of accidental clashes of nomenclature. I hope that Ross will employ a proofreader with really sharp eyes before committing his next work to publication; his stuff is good enough to deserve it. Also, the use of italics is questionable; more restraint in that regard would have been appropriate. The second and greater flaw in Chimerium Gambit is that it's rather overwritten. In keeping with its subject matter, military fiction generally exhibits a rather lean, even Spartan style, with which Ross apparently disagrees. Quite a number of his devices and images misfire badly. They serve as examples of why "kill your darlings!" is among the best pieces of stylistic advice ever given to aspiring writers. As a rule, if a simile, metaphor, or other literary device sounds contrived, it almost certainly is, and should be excised without regret or pity. Ross should study the stylistic discipline of Tom Kratman and John Ringo, grizzled veterans of these wars who seldom put an iamb, dactyl, or trochee wrong. Still, this is a fine entry in the military / mercenary SF subgenre by a promising new talent. I plan to keep abreast of this writer. Recommended! Theme: As ye sow, so shall ye reap, especially if ye soweth explosives and high-velocity projectiles. I concur: A Plot: A Characterization: A Style: C+ or B- 4 Stars of 5.
  • The Story on May 17, 2010

    Exceptionally clever! It put me in mind of Robert W. Chambers's classic collection The King In Yellow, wherein a seemingly innocuous two-act play induces madness, often suicidal, in all who read it. This piece is especially relevant given the contemporary fascination with memetic propagation. One thesis is that ideas use people as their vectors -- and that people were "developed" specifically for that duty. Bizarre, but not entirely unthinkable. Indeed, having allowed myself to dwell on the possibility afresh, I find myself compelled to discuss it with others...
  • They Came, They Saw, They Took the Tinfoil on May 18, 2010

    Delightful! I'm even inclined to overlook the double handful of typos and spelling errors. But your storytelling gift is good enough that your work deserves better line-editing. I hope you'll have someone examine your next pieces carefully for mechanical mistakes before you post them. From the title, I'd expected something involving conspiracy theorists -- "tinfoil hat wearers," as we say on this side of the Atlantic -- but this was a refreshing departure from expectations. But tell me, please: do you still use actual TIN foil in the Sceptered Isle, or is it the same tawdry drawn-aluminium crap we in the colonies must put up with?
  • Meddlers In Time- The Cockatoo River Incident on May 18, 2010

    Mr. Watson's storytelling continues to improve. This novella has all the elements required by a military adventure, with the added fillip of a time-travel motif. It's told in a rapid, telegraphic style, with much shifting of narrative viewpoint, but that mainly adds to the sense of pace. There are two problems with "Cockatoo River Incident." The first one is mechanical: there are many low-level errors in spelling and punctuation. A good story deserves good line-editing, and this reviewer hopes Mr. Watson will secure the services of a good editor for his future pieces. The second problem is, unfortunately, inherent in the nature of a story whose plot line depends on time travel. Since one who has the ability to move freely through time is essentially without any restrictions on how long he can "wait" to take action on a problem such as the Cockatoo River raid, there's always that niggling question about "why now?" Why couldn't Wayne and Jenny have built up a far greater force-in-place with which to confront the slavers, such that there need be no casualties among the Mission residents? But one who works fictionally with time travel must request that additional suspension of disbelief from his readers. In the case of "Cockatoo River Incident," that extra effort on the reader's part is repaid with a superior military-SF tale.
  • Questing Beast on May 20, 2010

    Hah! Thou varlet! Thou clabber-clawed cream-faced loon! Avaunt thee! But seriously, this is delightful. Especially given the generally low level of imagination and workmanship displayed by Smashwords writers, it's a joy to have stumbled on it. Malory would be proud. Spenser would swoon! (Berkeley, of course, would deny its existence.) But, as the incumbent Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web, it is compulsory for me to say something critical about whatever I read. And so, I have consulted my Nemurian dictionary and must regretfully inform you that the possessive plural of "trogomet" is "trogomets'," with no additional "s." Be more careful in the future!
  • Tattoo on May 31, 2010

    Tattoo is a superior horror novella. It's decently written, bordering on evocative throughout and occasionally getting all the way there. Cooley's scene-setting is particularly good. His characterizations, though not always perfectly convincing, suggest that he's put significant thought into how to bring a character alive. The plot itself isn't perfectly original, but the treatment is good enough to avoid making it purely a homage to its antecedents. If Tattoo has a serious problem of any sort, it's that it could only end one of two ways. I don't mean to suggest that the ending is telegraphed; however, one could guess at it and have a fifty-fifty chance of being correct. Then again, horror tales are often like that; the genre itself imposes constraints on how such stories must develop and end, constraints the author dare not take lightly. I plan to keep track of this writer.
  • Beyond Redemption - The Forbidden on June 07, 2010

    I've been casting about for what this book needs. It's not hopeless. In fact, in many ways it's quite ambitious and original. It draws inspiration from some of the less-well-known parts of Genesis and the legends of Lilith (Eve's supposed precursor), but it departs from and expands on those stories in some novel ways. Unfortunately, what starts as a potential blockbuster of a supernatural fantasy adventure doesn't come off, for at least four reasons. First, we have the plethora of significant characters. There are just too many, and the need to give each of them "screen time" makes for a jumpy narrative that's very difficult to keep coherent. The braid of plot threads doesn't tighten into unity until three-quarters of the way through the book. Worse, at several points the author moves the viewpoint from one Marquee character to another in the middle of a scene, which is one of fiction's mortal sins. Second, the character development is unconvincing. That's partly because of the large array of important characters, but it also derives from the characters themselves. For example, was it really necessary to depict so much of Mike Angel's dream life -- and so much of his love life with Bella? Between those two aspects, Mike's character gets very little chance to show us his real, inner "stuff." The same is true for Bella. As for Emerson, Dominic, Mandy, Matron, Zara, the elements of Lilith's entourage, and so on, they never acquire two dimensions, much less three. Third, the book displays numerous mechanical and stylistic problems. At several points it's heavily overwritten; at others, it feels badly rushed. Atop that, there are many errors in grammar and punctuation, and in one case the spelling of a character's name is changed. Fourth -- possibly because of the combination of the faults enumerated above -- it goes on for far too long. I read through the first third with interest, the second third with growing impatience, and the last third by pushing my perseverance meter to its stops. Yet this is the first volume of a projected trilogy. I expect that a lot of readers will reach the end of this book unwilling to continue on to Book 2. For all that, it has its good points. The author shows some talent, but he needs to work on his plot cohesion, his understanding of character development, his stylistic discipline, and his fundamentals of grammar and punctuation. (The comma splices alone came near to driving me insane.) And I just figured out what this book really, truly needs: A good, tough editor!
  • Disposable on June 12, 2010

    This is clever and funny, as Mr. Lewis usually is. However, it's based on a pair of mistaken premises: 1) It overlooks the Conservation of Mass; 2) It overlooks the reason we replace rather than repair, in those venues where the former practice has displaced the latter one. But perhaps it's unfair for an old physicist-economist-crank like me to pour cold water on a charming tale such as this, just because its cautionary aspects are ill-aimed. John Brunner wrote several magnificent novels based on mistaken premises -- he was a socialist, so that was foreordained -- and nevertheless, they were as entertaining as fiction can be. As usual, Mr. Lewis, delightful.
  • Healthy or Else on June 21, 2010

    This is a good, solid story about an important subject. A wag whose name I've forgotten once said something along these lines: When we were a young species, we killed for political and religious reasons. Then we matured a bit, grew wealthy, and began to kill for economic reasons. But now that we're fully mature, and have realized that health is the only thing that matters, we kill for therapeutic reasons. Though I usually dislike stories told in present tense, I think your choice of present tense suited this tale quite well. It enhanced the immediacy of the thing, which, when coupled to good narrative timing, amplifies the emotional impact of a story. I have one substantive criticism: a cautionary story of this sort tends to be more effective the gentler it is. If, rather than tackling the horror in its depths, you depict the inception of the thing feared, when unease is the dominant reaction, you avoid the "it can't happen here" reaction that blunts many otherwise fine pieces of cautionary fiction. Indeed, one of the most important cautionary books ever written, Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," lost impact to exactly that effect in the mind of many a reader. You've told a plausible tale, but at a couple of points it edged over into the heavy-handed, precisely because you put your characters into "the belly of the beast." Keep this in mind for future cautionary works. A few minor nitpicks: 1. Stabilize the spelling of "dessert." Two "s's" make it the sweet dish consumed at the close of a meal; one "s" makes it an arid region that gets little rainfall. Also, there's a "2,0000" where you meant "2,000." Not a terribly big deal, but in a short story every character counts. 2. Among the most commonly confused words are "your" and "you're." The first is the possessive of "you." The second is the contraction of "you are." 3. Your dialogue is generally good, but your employment of commas is a little irregular. Commas in dialogue are indications of speech rhythm. Use them wherever the speaker might pause, whether for emphasis or for breath. (On the other hand, congratulations for demonstrating the proper use of the semicolon.) On balance, well done!
  • A Mixture of Metals on July 08, 2010

    "A Mixture of Metals" has put me in mind of a number of other books: Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We," John Hersey's "White Lotus," and of course George Orwell's "1984." It's not stylistically comparable to those novels, but it embeds the same cautionary themes, and is almost as effective as they at conveying a sense of menace and nowhere-to-run. Simora's story of repeated disillusionment and betrayal is nicely told: neither too maudlin nor too aloof. The one criticism I can make of it is that Kana's eventual role in Simora's troubles is somewhat telegraphed by the early portion of the story; Kana is so relentlessly self-centered that the reader will know that he figures in later events, to tragic effect. The overall portrayal of "Society" is a wee bit heavy-handed, but that might have been unavoidable, given the features it had to have. A regime that attempts thought and speech control must be omnipresent and overbearing. There's a risk here, of course; a reader not entirely attuned to your thesis might react by saying "he's overdoing it" and thrust your book aside. All the same, it worked for me, and it will work for many others. As I write this, another book comes to mind: Robert A. Heinlein's "Farnham's Freehold." The depiction of a slave society, produced by war, with the "original participants" reversed is striking in its parallel to your book. Clearly, this is a "dangerous vision." Few writers have dared to depict a racially-determined slave society in which blacks are the ruling class; it would be deemed "politically incorrect," even though recent events suggest that there are many black political activists who envision exactly that as their ideal end state. I have one stylistic criticism to make. It's one of which many writers are guilty, so this is merely a mild reproof. Never, never, NEVER use the phrasing "on a XXX basis." It's so irritating that my attention is immediately diverted from the story to the awkwardness and artificiality of the phrase. I'd rather eat shards of broken glass than be battered by that phrase. Here's the right way: "On a daily basis" ==> "Daily" "On a regular basis" ==> "Regularly" "On a sexual basis" ==> "By sex" One reason for the "on a XXX basis" construction is that we've all been made horribly timid about using adverbs. Use them as God intended! They're one of the eight parts of speech; you can hardly do without them. The reason so many editors wince at adverbs in the prose of mediocre and poor writers is the tendency of such writers to use them to prop up weak dialogue: '"You can't talk to me like that," she said angrily.' If your dialogue is strong enough to "speak for itself," you can avoid the adverbs, and the "Tom Swifties" that often result. Otherwise, use adverbs where appropriate -- WITHOUT the "on a XXX basis" scaffolding that's merely a feeble attempt to disguise them. On the whole, jolly well done!
  • The writer on July 11, 2010

    A basic, self-referential "chuckler," which exploits the fundamental frustration of the writer's life: those all-too-frequent times when he just...can't...get...down...to it. It's been done before, of course, but this is a decent assault on it. You do need a little editing help; there are several awkward constructions in the story that deserve to be smoothed out. All the same, decently well done. If you have the gift of humor, which is fairly rare these days, do more!
  • The Son of Man on July 18, 2010

    Despite its several flaws, this book has a lot to like. The book's virtues flow from its audacious premises. Considering how ardently modern writers have searched for really original, really bold ideas, it's a wonder this one hadn't been used before. Mr. Johnson has walked an untrodden path. The plot is more than adequately complex, and given the major premise, quite believable. (Okay, there's a lot of willing-suspension-of-disbelief required, but hey, it isn't a documentary.) There are one or two places where a bit of doubt creeps in -- How the Vinces got access to the blood capsule and the Shroud; how the villains got (the original) Dr. Oliver "inside;" why the flight to Sydney returned to the United States -- but overall, it works well; the gears mesh without grinding. The characterizations, while generally good, aren't quite perfect. Todd needed more development; as matters stand, he doesn't quite come off. (Why, for instance, did he quit medical school? Why was he willing to resume a sexless "romance" with frigid and un-loving Maria?) It was possible to do a better job on Maria with less this-is-me directly from her mouth. On the other side of the ledger, Benjamin Santana, the story's main villain, is under-characterized; he needed more time on-camera than he got. Strangely enough, the major figure who was best developed was the enigmatic and powerful Brother Michael. However, the Supporting Cast was, in the main, handled well. Probably the weakest aspect of the book is stylistic. There are a great many errors of spelling and punctuation; in particular, Mr. Johnson doesn't use the comma properly. Also, given the premises, a much less colloquial tone would have been better, both in the straight narrative and in the dialogue. But the plot carries the day. Because of the missteps in characterization and style, if it were possible to award 4.5 stars, I would, but today I'm "rounding up." Well done!
  • A Lady Pays Her Penalties on July 27, 2010

    Well, well, well... I lit into this collection a bit uneasily, as sadism and masochism aren't "my thing." However, as I'm another Smashwords author who turns out the occasional bit of erotica, I feel a moral obligation (don't laugh) to review others. And BDSM games have featured in an increasing percent of erotic writing as the years have rolled past, though I could never say why. I must admit, Leslie's self-prescribed predicaments were...entertaining? Fascinating? Hm, I need a better word, and I can't find one. They were surely painful to read about. Are there really women of that sort? Whatever the case, your characterization of her made her mysterious and alluring; just why did she need all that discomfort, pain, and humiliation? The writing was straightforward and competent; the mechanical and stylistic errors were very few. (NB: "discrete" was not the word you wanted; that should have been "discreet.") The scenarios were imaginative, although Leslie should really learn a few games other than backgammon. Perhaps she will now that she's married! You'll notice I awarded you five stars. That's well deserved in comparison to some of the other erotic writing I've read, here and elsewhere. If I were to judge "A Lady Pays Her Penalties" on a purely objective basis, I'd deduct a half-star because the first three stories in the collection were essentially plotless, and because Craig, Leslie's foil, needed a bit more character development than he received. However, we must judge erotica according to erotica's standards. Therefore: Very well done!
  • Orange Car with Stripes on July 27, 2010

    I don't have quite the right words with which to describe these two novellas. (Missy Tonight is a sequel to Orange Car With Stripes.) Madcap? That almost fits. Black humor? More in the indigo range, but what the hell. Tom Lichtenberg is an atheist, but he's fairly easygoing about it: "I'm not a big fan of the so-called "militant" atheists and tend to agree with your assessment of their obsession with religion, but at the same time I enjoy them and I'm glad they're out there ruffling feathers and making noise. It's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned, for atheists to be seen and heard. "There is still a long way to go before atheism is truly accepted at large around the world - a long long way - and we who merely claim to not believe in any god are still at risk of our very lives in many places - how crazy is that? "Still, we need to have a sense of humor about it, and this seems sorely lacking to me. I've done my little part with the publication of my two 'atheist comic pulp fictions.'" These linked stories concern a fictional Pink City, built by eccentric millionaire Ronald Humm as a haven for atheists. It's fully equipped with atheist institutions: a college, a broadcasting service, and whatnot. The plots concern one Gian Carlo Spallanzini, almost literally a professional atheist -- in point of fact, he's a Professor of Defunct Sciences at New Harbinger College -- and his blindsiding by events he's spent his adult life ridiculing. Professor Spallanzini is also a regular guest on Missy Tonight, a production of the Atheist Broadcasting Service. Its hostess, Missy D'Angelo, is a vicious battleaxe who delights in tearing believers to shreds, which she does nightly on her show. Believers in what, you ask? Name something! The novellas aren't really about atheism, but about intellectual vanity and obsession. Spallanzini, protagonist of Orange Car With Stripes, is compelled by an offhand challenge from a theist friend to confront realities he'd been pooh-poohing since he was toilet trained, which unmakes the man he was and provides the seed of the man he becomes. In brief, his friend challenges him to select a random stranger and unearth his deepest secret, opining that it will be something stranger and darker than Spallanzini has ever imagined. That puts the professor on a collision course with aliens more remarkable than any of the conceptions he's derided...and also with the Orange Car With Stripes, though not in a literal sense. Alan Musted, forty-three-year-old antihero of Missy Tonight, resolves to become Spallanzini's replacement on the show. Musted has no qualifications for the position. Indeed, he has no qualifications for anything, being a complete loser who ekes out a subsistence living in a glorified broom closet in nearby Spring Hill Lake. But he's an atheist -- hard core, from toddlerhood -- and he fancies himself the perfect replacement for the ruined professor. Reality disagrees, but in a funny and often touching series of encounters, many of which parallel Spallanzini's from Orange Car With Stripes. Alien parrots, talking redwoods, really slow interstellar travel, an orange Camaro with white racing stripes, adultery, nasty young and old women with more attitude than Carter has Little Liver Pills, a janitor who owns a city, militant atheists, a preacher who'll forgive anything at all, and an amateur videographer who calls himself "Beauregard and Scooter" and never says die....You could say these novellas "have it all." Theme: Be none too sure of your premises. I concur: A Plot: B+ Characterization: A Style: A- Recommended!
  • Missy Tonight on July 27, 2010

    I don't have quite the right words with which to describe these two novellas. (Missy Tonight is a sequel to Orange Car With Stripes.) Madcap? That almost fits. Black humor? More in the indigo range, but what the hell. Tom Lichtenberg is an atheist, but he's fairly easygoing about it: "I'm not a big fan of the so-called "militant" atheists and tend to agree with your assessment of their obsession with religion, but at the same time I enjoy them and I'm glad they're out there ruffling feathers and making noise. It's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned, for atheists to be seen and heard. "There is still a long way to go before atheism is truly accepted at large around the world - a long long way - and we who merely claim to not believe in any god are still at risk of our very lives in many places - how crazy is that? "Still, we need to have a sense of humor about it, and this seems sorely lacking to me. I've done my little part with the publication of my two 'atheist comic pulp fictions.'" These linked stories concern a fictional Pink City, built by eccentric millionaire Ronald Humm as a haven for atheists. It's fully equipped with atheist institutions: a college, a broadcasting service, and whatnot. The plots concern one Gian Carlo Spallanzini, almost literally a professional atheist -- in point of fact, he's a Professor of Defunct Sciences at New Harbinger College -- and his blindsiding by events he's spent his adult life ridiculing. Professor Spallanzini is also a regular guest on Missy Tonight, a production of the Atheist Broadcasting Service. Its hostess, Missy D'Angelo, is a vicious battleaxe who delights in tearing believers to shreds, which she does nightly on her show. Believers in what, you ask? Name something! The novellas aren't really about atheism, but about intellectual vanity and obsession. Spallanzini, protagonist of Orange Car With Stripes, is compelled by an offhand challenge from a theist friend to confront realities he'd been pooh-poohing since he was toilet trained, which unmakes the man he was and provides the seed of the man he becomes. In brief, his friend challenges him to select a random stranger and unearth his deepest secret, opining that it will be something stranger and darker than Spallanzini has ever imagined. That puts the professor on a collision course with aliens more remarkable than any of the conceptions he's derided...and also with the Orange Car With Stripes, though not in a literal sense. Alan Musted, forty-three-year-old antihero of Missy Tonight, resolves to become Spallanzini's replacement on the show. Musted has no qualifications for the position. Indeed, he has no qualifications for anything, being a complete loser who ekes out a subsistence living in a glorified broom closet in nearby Spring Hill Lake. But he's an atheist -- hard core, from toddlerhood -- and he fancies himself the perfect replacement for the ruined professor. Reality disagrees, but in a funny and often touching series of encounters, many of which parallel Spallanzini's from Orange Car With Stripes. Alien parrots, talking redwoods, really slow interstellar travel, an orange Camaro with white racing stripes, adultery, nasty young and old women with more attitude than Carter has Little Liver Pills, a janitor who owns a city, militant atheists, a preacher who'll forgive anything at all, and an amateur videographer who calls himself "Beauregard and Scooter" and never says die....You could say these novellas "have it all." Theme: Be none too sure of your premises. I concur: A Plot: B+ Characterization: A Style: A- Recommended!
  • Erato on July 28, 2010

    Mr. Wolf, your thirty-word precis of this short piece literally compelled me to read it. I'm glad it did. Your writing is competent and straightforward: the best possible style for this sort of magical-realism / erotic-romance tale. We differ a bit on matters of punctuation, but apart from that and a handful of somewhat awkward constructions, I find little to criticize. Jacob's characterization, though abbreviated, worked well. As I, too, suffer from his "affliction" -- I'm forever falling in love with my female protagonists -- I resonated to it from the very first. The plot, though simple, is satisfying. There weren't a lot of other ways to end the story, but all the same, I couldn't prefigure the outcome. From one writer of oddball erotica to another: I salute you!
  • Light Flirting ~ a short erotic story on July 28, 2010

    Wow! Now that's an interview to remember. This is nicely written, well paced, and subtle enough to be evocative even in its more explicit parts. I got a substantial number of giggles out of it, too. "Secretary and space shuttle pilot" -- ? I can just see it: "Miss Valentine, after you've docked Discovery to the International Space Station, would you please take a memo?" Miss Marsden, you have a gift. It isn't easy to combine erotica with real entertainment. Do more!
  • The Watchers from within moments, Revealed on Aug. 03, 2010

    I wanted to like this story more than I did. The animating idea is original and quite evocative. As a horror motif, it combines the eerieness of something irremediably alien with the nowhere-to-run sensation that evokes genuine fear. The ending is reminiscent of one of Ray Bradbury's grimmer stories from "The Illustrated Man." BUT... The pulpish style, the jagged pacing, the blurry viewpoint management, and the profusion of spelling, punctuation, and other technical errors do much to reduce its impact. It deserves the attentions of a tough editor, the sort who demands the right of final approval and gets it. That having been said, the mixture of personal tensions and public calamity was effective. A story that's entirely personal must focus tightly on specific characters; a story that's entirely public -- e.g., an espionage or intrigue thriller -- must embed more action and more conflict, more dramatically depicted. In consequence, attempts to mix the two don't often succeed, which is a testament to the success of this one. This is a 3.5 star story, which I'm "rounding up." Its author has an imaginative gift, but his technical skills require considerable refinement.
  • Unwritten Rules of Impossible Things on Sep. 21, 2010

    Yet another Tom Lichtenberg bizarretude! "Unwritten Rules of Impossible Things" is deliberately written breezily, even incoherently. Since Tom appears to have been set on writing something that could only make sense to him, he must have decided to set aside coherence fairly early in the game. The narrative breaks most of the rules for effective fiction written in the third person, yet remains oddly, charmingly involving throughout. There are a couple of errors: one or two missing words, one or two extra ones. Well, nobody's perfect. But the story is a chuckler / headscratcher hybrid, the sort of thing one finishes and says, "Well that was fun...but what the hell was it about?"
  • Few Are Chosen, K'Barthan Trilogy: Part 1 on Sep. 25, 2010

    Miss McGuire has written an exceptional story, suitable for both the young and the old. The plotting is first-rate, the characterization pinpoint-accurate, and, if I have some quibbles over the style, I'll overlook them in favor of the other excellences of this worthy book. The Pan is one of the most interesting characters I've encountered in speculative fiction in recent years. His antagonist, Lord Vernon, and his principal ally, Big Merv, are equally well delineated. The backdrop of Ning Dang Po, K'Barth's capital city, is sufficiently well colored in to be vivid while leaving ample room for the reader's visual imagination to roam. Though Miss McGuire says she intends this for a younger audience, I aver that it can be enjoyed by anyone, of any age, who appreciates a madcap, highly inventive romp replete with reasons for the reader to ponder the natures of heroism and cowardice, the essential bindings that hold a civilization together, and the irreplaceable importance of loyalty, both to persons and to ideas. Highly recommended -- but keep your British-slang-and-idiom dictionary near to hand!
  • Where's the Money? on Oct. 20, 2010

    There are many excellent ideas in Mrs. Nordin’s little guide, including quite a few I hadn’t thought of, and probably would have rejected without serious consideration if I had. If you’re looking for revenue, this short book will serve as an excellent “script” toward that end. So why did I give “Where’s The Money?” only four stars (I hear you ask)? Well...uh...you see...ah...er...um...Mrs. Nordin violated one of her own rules: to polish the content to as bright a shine as possible. It’s just not terribly well written, and there are a number of flagrant grammatical errors in it. Mrs. Nordin: Please, PLEASE go back through this valuable little tome and whip it into shape! If you’ll do that, I’ll alter this review in your favor.
  • Wives in Service on Oct. 23, 2010

    Wives In Service is an extraordinary achievement: a compendium of three novellas about sex and sexual conduct, each of them unique, not one of them at all rote or mechanical. "The Baby Machine" is as effective a piece of sexual horror, and as singular a description of a psychopathic obsessive, as I can imagine. It delineates the sort of self-inflicted torment that can arise from a bright idea, good in certain limited contexts and applications, when it’s carried way beyond its proper application. Along the way, it illustrates the most ironic way in which a genius can go horribly wrong – and the specific characterological failing peculiar to the genius who knows she’s a genius. "The Man In The Middle" is mostly good fun, albeit somewhat naughty fun. Mark’s “experiment” transforms a marriage doomed to failure into a revel of the flesh, despite his “subjects’ having an entirely different idea of what he’s doing to them and why. "The Conjugal Clock," my favorite of the three, brims with insights about marital happiness and decay. I’m not sure I’d recommend such a device to every family, but the central theme of the story, that a wife should take care to satiate her husband’s sex drive lest he begin to look elsewhere, is beyond any possibility of dispute...and sadly neglected by altogether too many wives in our day. Miss Zacharias is a gifted storyteller, a talent capable of elevating fiction about sex to something as far beyond erotica as “The Lord Of The Rings” is beyond a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon. I hope to see more from her.
  • The Fear of E on Nov. 15, 2010

    You, sir, are required to read "A Void," by the late Georges Perec.
  • Nightside CIty on Dec. 17, 2010

    Aha! So you're a fantasy author, are you, Mr. Watt-Evans? I think not. Not exclusively, anyway. This is damned good work. "Nightside City" works both as SF and as a detective procedural. The plot is more than adequately complex, the mystery a fair challenge, and the setting against which it plays out, a resort city on an almost-but-not-quite-tidelocked world that will soon become uninhabitable, is both original and evocative. The only comparison I can make is a somewhat distant one: the "festival planet" Worlorn in George R. R. Martin's "Dying Of The Light." Carlisle is well characterized, both tough enough and simpatico enough to get the reader attached to her and keep him that way. Antagonists Sayuri, Paulie, and the rest, even though we don't see much of them until well into the book, work just fine. (I particularly liked that Sayuri is as utterly consumed by wishful thinking as she is.) The Supporting Cast characters are adequate to their roles, though not more, but that's to be expected in a tale of this kind. With regard to style, the opening of the book did give the elaborate feeling of something out of high fantasy. I was pleased to see you tamp it down before it could interfere with the meat of the tale. Overwriting is a death sentence for a police or detective procedural -- and it doesn't take much to be considered overwriting in those genres. If I had to guess at the story's theme, it would be the power of wishful thinking. God knows, it has muscles, and Sayuri, the spoiled rich girl determined to prove to her plutocrat relatives that she can cut the ice just as well as they, was a near-perfect vehicle for dramatizing that. The ironies involved in the denouement, as Carlisle "turns Sayuri in" to her elders on Epimetheus, were also quite satisfying. I look forward to reading "Realms Of Light" and, should the Spirit ever move you to complete it, "The End Of The Night." Well done.
  • Ice Cracker II on Dec. 20, 2010

    This is pretty good. It's got an original setting for an S&S fantasy, akin to the docks of late 19th Century London, and adequate action for a story of its genre and length. The characters, while the story doesn't really last long enough to color them fully, appear evocative and appealing. I found no low-level mechanical errors, and you might be surprised how many Smashwords writers have command of neither grammar, nor spelling, nor punctuation. However, you have some stylistic problems; a significant fraction of your prose is awkward and arrhythmic. Amaranthe and Sicarius need room to breathe and develop. They must have backstories; I want to know about them. I look forward to seeing the novel mentioned in your afterword.
  • Dana's Trailer on Jan. 06, 2011

    Dear Angelika, First, what I got for my $1.69 wasn't "Dana's Trailer;" it was "Never Too Ugly." The PDF file was named danas_trailer.pdf, but it had the "Never Too Ugly" story in it. I also downloaded the RTF file, and it had the very same problem. You might want to check your upload files. Second, "Never Too Ugly" is kinky-sweet. There isn't any dramatic tension in it; it's more a "feel-good" story. But it does feel very good indeed. People need to be reminded that most of us are better than we think...and that most of "them" are better than we think, too. Third, you do have a few minor problems, mostly with homonyms. Choosing the right word from "its" and "it's," or "your" and "you're," for example. If you have a reliable friend, ask him to proofread your stories for you and point out any problems in the grammar or spelling. On the whole, well done. I hope you enjoyed writing it as much as I enjoyed reading it. All my best, Fran
  • Grave Runner on April 07, 2011

    This has promise, but it isn't "there." You've committed a number of the cardinal sins of fiction, including telling character rather than showing it, lots of embedded exposition of backstory, and dialogue too stiff and purposeful to be accepted as natural. There are also a number of detail errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Even so, I'll give it three stars of five. You strove to describe a grim and forbidding landscape, through the eyes of a protagonist with whom it's difficult to sympathize, at least at first. Though the idea of a depopulated world has been used many times in SF, it still has some tread on it. In other words, it's an ambitious first effort, and it avoids being completely cliched. BUT...it needs work. I'd volunteer my services, but at the moment I'm heavily overbooked. All the same, I intend to keep track of you. Do more, and try harder!
  • Have Plastic, Will Travel on April 26, 2011

    Naughty, naughty! A bit abbreviated, but all the same, it tells a tale many of us office serfs have dreamed of enacting. Well done!
  • Pantheon on Aug. 29, 2011

    This book has both great promise and some serious problems. The promise arises from the obvious confidence and skill of depiction the author brings to her imaginings. The problems have a variety of roots. A writer who sets out to braid several plot threads into a novel must decide at the outset which of those threads will dominate. "Pantheon's" author seemed unable to decide which of the plot threads of this book would be the principal one. Because such an emphasis was missing, the character development suffered as well. Athene and Pan could not quite decide what was most important to them. Worse for the novel's resolution, Walt, who proved ultimately to be a major player, doesn't get nearly enough time "on camera." When several plot threads are all kept "at the front of the stage," there are inevitable sacrifices. Some of those sacrifices are developmental: foreshadowing, backstory allusion, and scene-setting. Others are characterological: lack of time to give each of the Marquee characters time to become three-dimensional. Finally, there's the problem of theme, which might be the most serious of the lot: without a "main thread" that's clearly more important than the others, it's almost impossible to establish a clear theme. The rationale for the overall conflict tends never to be elucidated. Thus: As a corporate-espionage / corporate warfare thriller, "Pantheon" works well -- but to make that judgment, I have to compel myself to omit all consideration of another major plot thread: the situational semi-erotic romance. As a situational semi-erotic romance, it works well -- but to make that judgment, I have to compel myself to omit all consideration of another major plot thread: the corporate espionage / corporate warfare thriller. As a Bildungsroman about a young, supremely capable woman learning, at long last and to her great surprise, about her origins and her true priorities, it doesn't really work, for reasons of timing and plausibility. There are also stylistic problems and mechanical problems. The author has an affinity for the "[Participial phrase], I [did something]." syntactic structure, which works far less often than not. (Not to mention that syntactic repetition of that sort is very noticeable and distracts the reader from the story.) There are some blatant grammatical errors where such errors cannot be justified. Finally, there are "com conversations" from which an appropriate font convention is lacking, the result of which is that it's easy to mistake who is speaking. There's also a plausibility error involving communication over interplanetary distances that, in all probability, only another physicist would have noticed. (Yes, I bear that burden.) So I can't give a lot of weight to it. All the same, it's there. Lachesis's entry at the end of the novel as a significant villain strikes me as a case of "diabolus ex machina." There wasn't nearly enough development of that character to make her appearance in that role believable. Finally, and perhaps most significant, the number of major ideas evoked or alluded to is too large for a single story. By my count, the author expresses enough ideas here for not one but THREE novels -- a unified trilogy. Cramming them all into a single, fairly compact novel underplays all of them. Despite all that, I can't seriously down-rate "Pantheon." The author displays immense promise. The action segments are particularly well done. She has obvious imaginative powers, can clearly write, and probably needs nothing more than a tough-minded editor with a sense for novelistic structure, well-honed stylistic discipline, and a well-sharpened blue pencil to make the jump to excellence. So I'm giving it five stars, but more for the author's demonstrated potential than for this particular achievement. I want to see more from this writer.
  • Lux 1.1 Seeds on Sep. 05, 2011

    Overall, Lux 1.1 is good work, though it makes unwise use of a couple of motifs that have been prominent in recent movies (e.g., The Matrix, X-Men). The author shows considerable promise, despite a handful of problems. I will be reading the next installments. The plot moves along crisply, and in tandem with enough parallel development of the sociopolitical backdrop not to lose the reader. The characterization, unusually for a YA novella, is excellent, probably the strongest aspect of the piece. The weak points are style and setting. As for setting, I got no definite sense of how the sociopolitical milieu of Lux came to be. A "Senator" who was never elected to the Senate? A state of affairs in which a single rich and power-hungry man could bring down the government of the United States? We need more explanation for the setting to be adequately plausible -- and that in itself is a problem, because enough backstory exposition to fill us in would seriously disturb the pacing of the story. Style is often a problem for a brand-new novelist, who's likely to feel an obligation to "show off." I think of this as the "Look how many images and devices I know how to use" syndrome, and Miss Hansen appears to have a moderately severe case. Worse, there are numerous errors of punctuation, spelling, and grammar to be corrected. (The fiction writer enjoys relaxed grammatical standards, but there are nevertheless some rules that ought to be obeyed.) Since it's intended for a young-adult (i.e., ages 12 to 15) audience, I'm awarding Lux 1.1 four stars. However, with a moderate amount of polishing and the removal of one or two unnecessary pop-culture thefts, it could be five stars...and Miss Hansen might have a shot at becoming the SF equivalent of J.K. Rowling.
  • Lux 1.2 Call to Arms on Sep. 10, 2011

    Miss Hansen, this is INFURIATING! You've got a good story going, especially for a young-adult audience. Your characterizations are coming along just as well as in the first segment. But there are just too many avoidable mistakes, most particularly in spelling and punctuation, but also in low-level grammar that you really should get right! You need an editor. You DESERVE an editor. Your stuff has immense promise, but its mechanical flaws detract from it unnecessarily. My only other criticism of substance is that Angine's stature, particularly his political elevation, remains insufficiently explained. He works adequately well as a villain, but his position in the story is not adequately grounded. I feel certain you thought about the backstory to the Lux saga before you set out on it; why not allow a little more of that groundwork to show? This segment deserves three and a half stars, but I'm rounding up.
  • Lux 1.3 Alliance on Oct. 04, 2011

    As we old farts used to say: Now you're cooking with gas! Segment 1.3 has a lot going for it. In particular, it has more drive and a snappier pace than the previous segments. Various characters are coming into sharp focus, and the direction of the conflict over the remainder of the story is taking definite shape in the reader's mind. All very, very good. BUT...You're still bedeviled by avoidable low-level mistakes. There are fewer this time, mainly "homophone errors" of the sort to which many writers are prone. But there are also number errors, which are particularly annoying to an attentive reader. Here's one: “Ah, of course, you don’t talk to him anymore. So sad, his mistakes, his choices. Drugs can warp a person. Make them do things they wouldn’t normally do." "A person" is singular. "Them" and "they" are plural. TILT! This should properly be: “Ah, of course, you don’t talk to him anymore. So sad, his mistakes, his choices. Drugs can warp a person. Make him do things he wouldn’t normally do." Or, if you're squeamish about the "he, his, and him are the generic singular pronouns" convention: “Ah, of course, you don’t talk to him anymore. So sad, his mistakes, his choices. Drugs can warp people. Make them do things they wouldn’t normally do." Here's another: Give someone a map and they became an expert in all things. "Someone" is singular. "They" is plural. TILT! There are other occurrences, but I won't belabor the point. You could still use some help with punctuation, and there are a few other minor grammatical missteps. But the quality of the story is high, and I sense that you're now at "cruising speed." 4.5 stars, but I "round up." I look forward to reading the rest of the saga.
  • Realms of Light on Nov. 07, 2011

    Clever, elaborate, and touching as well. This second episode of detective Carlisle Hsing's adventures in the Eta Cassiopeia system is even more entertainingly gripping than the first. In part, that's because the nature of Nightside City itself made it possible to predict one or two of the motifs that Watt-Evans would eventually use as his detective pursued her case. In greater measure, it's because the second case has a less abstract, more human profile than the first. Carlisle Hsing is that rarest of heroines: fully competent, perfectly focused, and so driven that nothing can intrude upon her agenda without her conscious acceptance. It renders her un-feminine and sexless, but that's a small price to pay for the admirably ruthless way she prosecutes her commission: the investigation into the attempt on the life of Yoshio Nakada, two-century-old CEO of one of the wealthiest corporate enterprises in existence. Nakada himself is a fascinating figure, as complex as one would expect a man of his age and attainments, yet unexpectedly sentimental even when his sentiment endangers his life. His commercial empire, though vast, is no larger than is he, which makes for a perfect match of threat to target. Realms of Light abounds with special touches: Seventh Heaven, the ITEOD files in their carefully guarded repository, the hostile casino operation, the uploaded personalities stored in those files, and the Byzantine complexity of Nakada family interrelations. A fictional tapestry with so many individual jewels sewn onto it could easily have become muddy and unconvincing. Here, it works perfectly. Once again: Sir, why not write more SF? I know you consider yourself primarily a fantasist, but Nightside City and Realms of Light demonstrate that you have an equal gift for science fiction. Use it more frequently!
  • Level Zero on Nov. 10, 2011

    This is a hopeful, yet ambiguous, vision embedded within a dystopian conception of the future, with some cautionary-tale leavening for good measure. It qualifies as SF, but it's refreshingly un-cliched; indeed, it focuses where good fiction always should: on the human heart. Mr. Knuth bills "Level Zero" as for young adults, but this 59-year-old codger enjoyed it immensely. It asks questions about the nature of reality, and about how much of our "classical" reality we'd be willing to give up for a simulation that pleases us better. It also asks whether we're ready for the long foretold (but painfully slow in actually arriving) emergence of artificial intelligences that possess the gamut of human capacities -- including our ability to love. The aspects of "Level Zero" that do aim at a YA audience would be: -- The use of a digital game as a simulated universe and field of action; -- The selection of teenagers as the principal characters; ...yet in neither case does that make the story unpalatable to an older reader. The plot is fresh and ingenious, without demanding excessive suspension-of-disbelief. The characterizations struck me as spot-on. The metamorphosis of Arkade from a borderline-sociopath antisocial to someone capable of loving was handled exceptionally well. The overall theme -- that anything with human-scale intelligence will ultimately demand to be valued as such, and to be free -- is as important as anything SF is being written about today. If only all young-adult fiction were this well executed, and aimed this worthily. Highly recommended!
  • The Devil's Spot on Nov. 24, 2011

    Hmmm... You've started from an unusual and intriguing premise. I haven't encountered it before; it was what persuaded me to buy the story. And you did fairly well with it. But it does need some touching-up. Your first need is an editor. You made a number of avoidable errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation that threatened to lift me out of the story experience. I know from my own struggles that one should never edit one's own writing, so I exhort you to find a sharp-eyed helper who'll do that for you. A good editor will also help you to tighten up your style; if your preferred form is the short story, some advice on concision would serve you well. Second, there are a couple of soft spots in the tale. The flashed-back segments suggest that he-who-was-Daniel set out on the road more or less an innocent; the story-time segments suggest that he's back there, a long time after the events in the flashbacks. But there's more ambiguity in the timeline than a story this short can support. You might want to make it a bit clearer that Daniel in story-time is some distance separate from Daniel in his flashbacks -- and not just in time, but in critical events and moral degeneration. Third, if I've got the time sequences correct, it leaves me with a problem even so: Why has Daniel returned to the Devil's Spot? He's conscious of his damnation, and of being pursued, so why has he deliberately returned to a locale where he's that likely to be caught? All that having been said, it's an entertaining piece. If you polish it a tad, you'll have a fair chance of selling it to Weird Tales or a comparable publication.
  • Prometheus 60 on Dec. 03, 2011

    This is pretty good. In particular, you had a good strong theme in mind and you dramatized it properly through your protagonist's actions. That's far from a given in superhero fiction...though Sam is certainly not the archetype of a hero, as we surely agree. My quibbles with it are as follows: 1. It's compressed. The story, though good as it stands, would have been more satisfying if given somewhat more leisurely timing and more room for characterization, not merely of Sam but of the Supporting Cast. Also, it would have seemed a bit less blunt. (My wife is forever telling me not to be so blunt about my themes, so I assure you, it's by no means your unique shortcoming!) 2. You need some practice with dialogue. Dialogue is critical to characterization, especially in a short piece, which makes it critically important. The best way to gain dialogue skills is to listen to ordinary people conversing, **without** taking part yourself, and try to note the patterns in their phrasings and pauses. 3. There are a number of avoidable errors in grammar and spelling that a good editor would have seined out for you. (I was about to say punctuation as well, but I noticed that you're Canadian, and British and Canadian schools teach a somewhat different style of punctuation than American schools.) I know most younger writers can't afford pricey editorial help, but there are actually a number of freelancers who won't try to strip you of all your worldly goods. You might want to look into this site: http://www.the-efa.org/ On the whole, well done.
  • An Acquired Taste on Dec. 04, 2011

    This is clever and amusing. It could have been written somewhat better -- you mentioned Robert E. Howard as a writing icon, but his style went out sometime around 1910, and with good reason -- but you'll undoubtedly improve with practice. A word of advice: Watch your homonyms! A world does NOT spin on its "access." Apart from that and a handful of similar errors, well done.
  • In It To Win It on Dec. 16, 2011

    This is a remarkably sweet, even tender, novelette. All right, so it's moderately fetishistic and does speak of kinda-sorta incest (Bob and Amanda aren't really related). But at base, it's about love, about a desire long suppressed that's fulfilled at last, and about one of the most beautiful and least appreciated functions of a woman's body: the power it has to nourish an infant...or anyone else the owner might look upon with favor. I was pleasantly surprised by your generous treatment of the pop star and her entourage. I know nothing of that world; suffice it to say I hope its stars and their employees are normally as gracious and decent as what you've depicted. I have a sneaking suspicion it's another way, though. Enough tawdry stories leak out about stars and stardom to make me wonder if the majority of them aren't completely insane. Well done!
  • Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials on Dec. 27, 2011

    This has possibilities. It could be tightened about fifteen percent further, and you have some stylistic jags that deserve the attention of a seriously tough editor, but on the whole, it’s well done. Thematically, it’s a bit obscure. Your scene-setting works acceptably well, but Ryska’s emotional bonding to the dead Luka isn’t quite clear enough to make her response to Toma completely credible. Beyond that, the reader is guaranteed to want to know how Ryska came to be what she is, as well as who she is, and you provide approximately no information about her origins. We must assume that she started out wholly human and was cyber-engineered into what she is now...but why was she selected for that procedure, and by whom, and were the facilities that treated her pre- or post-apocalypse? Are there others of her sort? If so, where are they and how was she separated from them? All the same, for a SmashWords story, it’s a five-star accomplishment. Now go back to your word processor and complete the novel that so unusual a character and so striking a setting deserves!
  • Muslim Christian Dialogue on Jan. 31, 2012

    There is no slightest possibility of a true, sincere, "dialogue" with Islam. Here's why: "I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them." [Koran, Sura 8:12] "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)..." [Koran, Sura 9:5] "Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth of the people of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued." [Koran, Sura 9:29] "Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it may happen that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you know not." [Koran, Sura 2:216] "Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan. Fight therefore against the friends of the Shaitan; surely the strategy of the Shaitan is weak." [Koran, Sura 4:76] "O Prophet! Struggle against the unbelievers and hypocrites and be harsh with them." [Koran, Sura 9:73] "Jihad is the best method of earning, both spiritual and temporal. If victory is won, there is enormous booty and conquest of a country, which cannot be equaled by any other source of earning. If there is defeat or death, there is everlasting Paradise and a great spritual benefit. This sort of Jihad is conditional upon pure motive." [Mishkat II] "Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does that mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill the [non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]? Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors! "There are hundreds of other [Koranic] psalms and hadiths [sayings of the prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim." [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, speech, 1942] "The spread of Islam has gone through several phases, secret and then public, in Mecca and Medina. God then authorized the faithful to defend themselves and to fight against those fighting them, which amounts to a right legitimized by God. This...is quite reasonable, and God will not hate it....[Muhammad] gave three options: either accept Islam, or surrender and pay tax, and they will be allowed to remain in their land, observing their religion under the protection of Muslims." [Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, 9/17/2006, reported on the Saudi News Service] Islam is not a religion; it is a totalitarian creed bent upon world conquest. It seeks total domination over all lands and all persons, and in all things. It has embraced deceit (taqiyya and kitman), violence, and every form of subterfuge to gain its ends. There can be no "dialogue" with it.
  • My new breasts on Feb. 06, 2012

    "Apparently men like big breasts only in porn." You've been dating the wrong men, dear! Anyway, I wanted to pass along a vignette from a friend named Duyen. She's an exceptionally sweet woman who was, shall we say, undersupplied until very recently. A couple of years ago, she had this exchange with her fiance (now her husband): --- I took Miss Prejean (Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean, who'd had breast augmentation surgery a year or so before her appearance in the pageant) and her renovated rack up with Matt the day before yesterday. My sweetie is a man's man with an acute eye for the female form, so I expected him to have a definite opinion. (Yes, he ogles other women when he's with me, but what man doesn't? Most of them just try to be discreet about it.) "I don't see a problem with it," he said. "She looks great." "Is that all that matters?" I said. "To me? Yeah. To her? You'd have to ask her. I'm not in a position to do that." "Well, what if you were?" I said. "I wouldn't ask," he said. "It's got to be a very personal thing." Now, if that smells of evasion to you, it certainly did to me. It made me do something very naughty. I have no figure to speak of, and I've contemplated "going for alterations" more than once, so I smiled brightly and asked him a question no woman should ever ask her man. "Well," I said, "what would you think of ME getting a boob job?" Matt the Macho Gun Guy was immediately transformed into Matt the Hooked Fish. He turned pale, his mouth dropped open, and he made a sound that made me want to check if someone had rammed a broom handle up his ass. He stayed that way until I started laughing and kissed him. I'm not a very nice person, sometimes. --- About a year and a half ago, Duyen went for implants. Apparently, Matt is thrilled. Not that he wasn't thrilled BEFORE her re-upholstering, as he'll tell you at once, but still...! Be well!
  • The Soulkeepers on Feb. 28, 2012

    This book has plenty of problems. There are characterization and backstory problems that had me scratching my head throughout. There are numerous stylistic sins. There are many grammatical errors, some of which are unforgivable from an experienced writer. There are number-agreement errors, case errors, back-referent errors, and pronoun abuse until Will Strunk is whirling in his grave. There are even a couple of outright spelling errors. The only thing that saves The Soulkeepers is a highly imaginative, absolutely TERRIFIC story. Mrs. Ching, get yourself a good editor! There are plenty of them out there. A good one will help your storyteller’s gift to take wing. *And* he’ll save you from having to read a paragraph like my first one above, ever again. All that having been said, The Soulkeepers offers many pleasures. Evolutions of the ideas in Genesis Chapter 6 have been attempted before, but I’d have to put yours at the front of the pack. Jacob’s and Malini’s adventures are gripping, and the ambiguities surrounding Abigail are equally intriguing. For a Christian fantasy, it indulges in only one excess that I can detect: It allows the Fallen to affect events on Earth directly, which is heretical (Manichaeanism). However, that’s so commonplace in Christian fantasy that it barely merits a tsk, tsk. I heartily approve of this direction in Christian YA fiction and I’m looking forward to reading the second and third volumes in this series. But really, truly DO get yourself an editor. It would be a genuine pity if stories this good should go out into the world with so many avoidable blemishes! 4.5 stars, but I’m “rounding up.” Well done!
  • Weaving Destiny on Feb. 29, 2012

    The saga continues.... There are fewer technical errors in this segment, but you have a swelling implausibility problem. The notion that Lucifer – who’s not supposed to go by that name any more, you know! – can operate freely on Earth, directly affecting living humans, takes you way, way outside Christian tradition. The Covenant, of which the rainbow is a symbol, forbids direct interference with human lives by either of the “superpowers,” until the Last Trumpet. God Himself decreed that after the Deluge; if we take the Old Testament as historically accurate (which I’m not sure I do), the Job episode was a singular exception to His rule. That Satan should be capable of kidnapping human beings and dragging them to some unknown site of durance vile simply isn’t consistent with those postulates. However, the way you developed events in Jacob’s and Malini’s lives, and the drama of your conclusion, just about make up for the believability problem. I was also impressed by the parallel you established between the tension in the Jacob / Malini romance and the strain put on the Abigail / Gideon relationship by Abigail’s unwise conjuration of the list of Soulkeepers. I expected John and Carolyn to play more of a role in this story, and was somewhat surprised at how marginal their contributions were. But your use of Katrina, though it, too, has plausibility problems, and the introduction of the Eden School of Soulkeepers and its place in the Laudner lineage, made up for that. Once again, 4.5 stars. On we go to Volume III!
  • Carniform on March 02, 2012

    This book is riddled with technical errors: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and format. Its style veers back and forth between adult-oriented and young-adult. There are problems in the early backstory-references, and even a touch of "deus ex machina" in the mix. I really shouldn't love it as much as I did. But I do. I read it in one sitting, unable to look away even for lunch. From an old, much-traveled writer to a new one: Get yourself a good, sharp-eyed editor! The story is terrific, the characterizations are gripping, and the setting is first-rate, but a profusion of low-level mistakes can undo all of that. Also and more important, a good editor can spot your stylistic wobbles and your plot deviances far better than you can. You have the storyteller's gift; a good editor will help you to bring it to maximum power. It's rather a pity that Carniform isn't suited to a sequel; the city's future, and Petrarch's exploration of the wilds beyond, could be fascinating. However, this story has been properly tied off. I hope you'll proceed on to another. 4.5 stars for the technical errors, but otherwise, well done!
  • The Way of All Things on March 08, 2012

    Not bad. There are some minor technical errors here, mostly having to do with viewpoint control, but on the whole it's solid. Well done. BUT... Let's talk about your theme for a moment. That the universe will some day "run down" in the projected heat death is, from the standpoint of contemporary physics, unassailable. But why would that make human existence "meaningless?" Even more sharply: If we were to become absolutely certain that the heat death is merely a precursor stage to a new monobloc and a new cosmos, why would that render human existence any more meaningful? Meaning is a consequence of interpretation. Interpretation requires an interpreter. When it comes to the meaning of a human life, there are several candidates for the position: -- Yourself. -- Your loved ones (assuming they love you as well) -- Your neighbors and colleagues -- Your "audience," however that might be defined -- God. Note that none of the above is "the universe," or the heat death thereof. To lifeless matter, meaning is an irrelevant term. Now, a theme is a personal thing, and it might strike you that for me to question yours isn't quite cricket. Still and all, I like to engage others on this subject because of the great confusions that attend the question of meaning, a meaningful existence, and the implications of one's position on such things for one's personal course. Overall, you did okay. Write more!
  • Women of Power on March 14, 2012

    Oh, you fiend. You demon from the depths of hell. You enemy of all that's right and good... Have you any IDEA how hard it was for me to keep from laughing my insides out over this?? All right, I suppose I'll keep my job. But the younger folks around here are NEVER going to let me live down my giggling! Now, please allow an old, much-traveled writer to school you just a wee bit. Consider it revenge. Lesson One: There are a few technical problems, mainly involving spelling and punctuation, that a good editor should have found, which implies that you didn't have one. So have one! Your stuff deserves it. Lesson Two: Repetition is the enemy of entertainment. You should be watchful about syntactic patterns, because they tend to jerk the reader out of the story. An example: [Participial phrase implying simultaneity], [the subject of the sentence] [did something else]. This is a common pattern among younger writers. I suggest you try to avoid it, especially since the simultaneity it implies is often impossible. Lesson Three: The hardest errors to detect are the ones that don't look like errors (surprise, surprise). The most common case of this is using the wrong homophone. For example, at one point you used "feat" where "feet" is the right word. In another place, you refer to the alien attack force commander as the "Field Marshall;" however, "Marshall" is a man's name. You wanted "Marshal" there. Automated spellcheckers obviously won't help with that sort of fault. Even some really sharp editors would sail past it. But otherwise, wonderfully well done!
  • Tesla's Stepdaughters on April 05, 2012

    This has charm, and the unusual sociology of the setting is nicely handled, but it doesn't work quite as well as Women of Power. Probably the most important shortcoming is that John Andrews, who has the viewpoint almost all the time, feels under-characterized. Some of that is defensible, by virtue of his enclave upbringing, but nevertheless he comes off as two-dimensional. The semi-surprise ending didn't come off quite right, either. We should have gotten to know Agent Wright better, for her to be a believable murderess. Alongside those factors, the MS displays all the minor faults I cited in Women of Power. Really, truly, Mr. Allison: Get yourself a good editor! You have the storyteller's gift; it's only proper to invest in it. Otherwise, well done.
  • Dark on April 19, 2012

    Exceptionally clever, and nicely written, but it has nothing to do with business or capitalism. (I'd lecture you about your misunderstanding, but this isn't an appropriate place.) Very well done.
  • The Is Shop on May 24, 2012

    (chortle) Delightful! Benoit Mandelbrot would be proud of you. Though I'm not sure readers unfamiliar with the properties of fractal patterns would enjoy it as much as I did. Well done! And remember: "There are only 10 kinds of people: Those who figure in binary, and those who don't." -- Me
  • Driven on May 28, 2012

    I had high hopes for this book. It has an intriguing premise and an original setting, neither of which I had previously seen in contemporary SF. The free sample displays writerly skill. All right, it features yet another tough-chick protagonist, but I've been there myself, and anyway, they're in vogue just now. So I headed into it with high expectations: say about 8 on the famous 0 to 10 scale. What I got rates about a 5. Protagonist Raina is implausible: far too emotional given her occupation and her upbringing. The other characters, including the critical figure of Wizard, are two-dimensional at best. Antagonist Duncan Bane is a particular disappointment, so monochromatically villainous that I was surprised not to encounter a scene in which he fricassees babies for breakfast. But no one in the Marquee group really gets enough development. The plot telegraphs each and every one of its critical steps. Around the halfway point, I started plot-gaming the story: predicting developments before reading of them. I don't remember being wrong about anything of significance. Stylistically, the story is competently if not quite impressively told. My only real quarrel is with the love scenes, which are both bright purple and unacceptably crude: just this side of "Roughly he thrust his throbbing tool into her quivering quim." However, I got really tired of the word "frig." That happens to mean "masturbate," in case anyone is unaware of it. A futuristic romance should display more ingenuity about swearing. If there was a theme beyond "Amor vincit omnia," I couldn't detect it. Nevertheless, I'm awarding three stars. I know that by Smashwords's standards I'm an exceptionally tough reviewer, and I don't want to mislead anyone on that account. There's enough entertainment in "Driven" to justify its price, and the writing is almost free of technical errors. I don't regret having purchased or read it; it's just that I was hoping for much more given the author's obvious talent and chops.
  • Conservatives are from Mars & Progressives are from Venus on May 30, 2012

    On the whole, this is very well done. It does contain a few clinkers, and it's not always completely fair to either progressives or conservatives, but it does encapsulate and adequately explore the prevalent mindsets of the two major political families -- and mindsets are far more potent than the quasi-rational ideologies to which the two purport to adhere. That's a pretty good accomplishment for twelve thousand words. A key insight about the current non-dialogue between Left and Right comes from (I think) G. K. Chesterton: "You cannot reason a man out of something he did not reason himself into." Most of us acquire our politics in a non-rational (not to say "irrational") fashion: we inherit them from our parents, or absorb them from our social circle, or deliberately adopt them for some other sort of access or advantage -- and the mindsets that serve as their underpinnings tend to come with them. This gives contemporary political affiliations a religious aspect that can be extremely difficult to offset by objective discussion of facts and reasoning. Also, though there are more mindsets than the two dominant ones on which your essay concentrates, there's a powerful dynamic behind the dominant ones: those who approach their political views from other mindsets tend to tug the forelock to the dominant ones, which tend to be more self-assured, and readier to condemn and exclude those who deviate. When the prize is power, those who are most avid and least scrupled will possess a permanent advantage over everyone else. (Cf. Friedrich Hayek's "The Road To Serfdom.") Apropos of conservatism: Conservatives are moving ever closer to libertarian / classical-liberal positions on virtually every subject. The older conservative, once derided as "he who believes that nothing should ever be done for the first time," has largely given way to a more analytically minded sort: aware of the Washingtonian maxim about the danger from government and determined to discover just how far Leviathan can be trusted. These younger, newer conservatives have resisted pro-freedom conclusions very seldom, and always on topics where their position is at least arguable and rationally defensible. Apropos of left-liberalism / progressivism: You would probably enjoy Evan Sayet's YouTube piece from a few years back about the left-liberal's view of history. His thesis is basically, that in the left-liberal view, "nothing has ever worked." Of course, to say that something has or hasn't "worked" requires a set of criteria for evaluation. The left-liberal / progressive has extremely demanding criteria, which in all probability no imaginable sociopolitical system could ever meet. But a scheme of evaluation which awards a failing grade to any and every imaginable system constitutes a wonderful reason for grasping at power and never relinquishing it, doesn't it?
  • It's Just a Job on June 30, 2012

    Hm. Where to begin, where to begin...Ah, I have it: at the beginning! This story begins well. The idea of a mercenary who specializes in investigating "places that aren’t supposed to exist" is a good one; it might have been used before, but not to the point of exhaustion. So you lit off in an interesting direction. BUT...that idea, in isolation, isn't strong enough to sustain a story this short. What else do we get? -- Corpses, including those of some ominous-looking, plainly nonhuman creatures; -- The lab's human occupants were apparently killed by the ominous-looking creatures; -- The creatures were apparently the products of that very lab; -- ...and that's it. Why did you stop there? As it stands, it has virtually no plot. The horrific elements are useful as motifs, but they're not enough to make for a satisfying story. Worse, the central character is only half-realized. He tells himself that he's done his job on the strength of a conjecture that's supported by what he's observed. Though we follow him in "real time," in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, he never seems to change -- and change is the essence of story. I can't rate this too low; it has potential, and you write pretty well: a clinker here and there, but nothing fatal. But you must finish it. To do that, you must think about how to introduce a change into your protagonist's convictions or emotions. As the story stands, he starts out with the it's-just-a-job attitude, and ends up with it as well. That's where the insufficiency lies: he undergoes no change in motivation, convictions, moral precepts, or anything else. Change, of course, is the result of a causal process: an event in a particular context triggers a plausible response. Your protagonist is a mercenary "going in" and "coming out." Think about how his mental and emotional gestalt might change in response to what he sees in the desolated lab, and how he would display that change in the concluding paragraphs of the story. Alternately, you could make him more a man of conviction at the outset, less motivated by money and more by some abstraction such as duty or manhood, and turn him into a mercenary in response to the discovery of his inadequate courage. Either way, you'll have a winner.
  • Right to Life? on June 30, 2012

    Original and incisive! The writing could be improved -- in places it becomes overwrought -- but for all that it's a striking exploration of a possibility that few have foreseen and even fewer have dared to explore. Congratulations. I have only one quibble with it: As far as anyone knows, Hitler never killed anyone by his own hand, except perhaps as a soldier during the First World War. As a politician, he manipulated others into killing in his name. So there's a modest disconnect between the child foreseeably becoming a killer and the gene having first been discovered in Hitler's genome. You might want to use some other loathsome figure who actually did kill personally -- Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and others come to mind -- as the "archetype" character for this bit of brief but effective moral horror.
  • Paradise in the Forest on July 11, 2012

    Okay, so it reads a little like a Creative-Writing class exercise. So what? It's pretty, imaginative, even a trifle poignant. I liked it quite a lot. You made only one technical error I could detect -- a use of "like" where "as" was correct -- and that's so common that I'm virtually the only critic who notices it these days. On the whole, very well done, but with a caution: you could not have prolonged the story beyond where you concluded it without grievously trying the reader's patience. Whether by luck or through innate understanding, you stopped before that point. Beware of the temptation to extend such a tale into the longer forms! For your further development, I recommend that you study two stories: Ursula Leguin's "The Direction Of The Road," and James Tiptree's "Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death." Both are highly regarded SF stories; they should be available in anthologies you can borrow from your local library. If you can't find them, drop me a note and I'll see what I can do.
  • Metamor City: Welcome to the City on July 18, 2012

    I disagree with the author's decision to publish this piece in stand-alone form. It reads like one long backstory exposition pertinent to another, larger story. The concluding throwaway confrontation with the gang does nothing to redeem it; it's not integral with the rest of the piece. That having been said, it has some virtues. The handful of strange characteristics attributed to Metamor serve to make it a fertile place for any number of possible adventures. There's characterization sufficient to color the two main characters. It's written acceptably well; there aren't a lot of clinkers to distract from the content. Assuming that it is the prelude to a larger story in which things actually happen, it might serve to entice readers into purchasing the subsequent segments.
  • Vendetta: The Guild War Book 1 on Aug. 13, 2012

    This is a promising first novel with a few flaws, mostly as regards characterization and lack of sub-plot development. Samira is an intriguing heroine, but her transition from spoiled bad girl to avenging angel is too abrupt, and thus not entirely credible. For one thing, the spoiled bad girl had friends who were about equally bad. What became of her association with them after she was paroled? For another, we eventually learn that Matti would sometimes beat her physically. That usually causes a child victim to acquire lifetime scars; it seldom results in significant devotion to her abuser. And along those lines, the Matti you depicted in story time seemed entirely incapable of doing what Juri and Sahar eventually accused him of doing. So your protagonist and a key Supporting Cast character have large jags in their development. Concerning the critical sub-plot of brothers Matti and Juri loving the same woman, and Samira turning out to be Juri's child rather than Matti's, this needed to be foreshadowed. I detected no hint of this critical thread at any point prior to the scene in which Samira executes Juri. Indeed, that Matti had any living relatives other than Samira is something of which you give no suggestion before the execution scene. By way of balance, you handled the action scenes quite well, and your style is mostly smooth and appealing. One stylistic quibble: Repetition is the enemy of entertainment. You should be watchful about syntactic patterns, because they tend to jerk the reader out of the story. An example: [Participial phrase implying simultaneity], [the subject of the sentence] [did something else]. This is a common pattern among fledgling writers. It's VERY common in "Vendetta." I suggest you try to avoid it, especially since the simultaneity it implies is often impossible. Verdict: 3.5 stars, but I "round up." I look forward to the next installment.
  • Antimony and Lead on Oct. 04, 2012

    This is nicely written, and free of technical flaws, but the characterization of Lacey, the most important part of the story, doesn't come off. I would say that the meat of the problem lies in this: “I can’t stay here anymore, Janie.” “But- the quarantine. We have to.” “They can’t stop us if we just drive.” “I’ve never been further than Provo, Lacey. Where would we go?” “Someplace nobody knows us. I want to see who I am when no one else is around. I think I met her in the desert. I think I liked her.” Your main character, who is also the narrator, is announcing a change in herself. That's not forbidden, but there wasn't enough build-up to it. A young woman who went through what Lacey did should have reflected over it internally to a greater degree than you allowed her. Another way of putting it would be to say that you favored the external action of the story somewhat too greatly over the internal development of your main character. However, I have to give you big points for a smooth style and capable handling of an unusual setting for a post-apocalyptic story. That subgenre of SF is pretty badly glutted, and the stories tend to resemble one another far too strongly. Yours doesn't have that problem. A suggestion: Find a copy of Harlan Ellison's old "Dangerous Visious" anthology and read Henry Slesar's story "Ersatz." I promise you'll get a chill out of it, at the very least!
  • If on Oct. 17, 2012

    It's got a couple of spelling mistakes in it, and you need to brush up on the proper use of the apostrophe. So what? This is one of the most imaginative SF stories I've read in many years. The hell of it is that if the IF chip were commercially available, the level of demand for it would shatter all previous records. The iPod and iPhone would pale in comparison. And I'd say that in that bleak recognition lies the ultimate value of this exceptional story. Very well done! And for your personal pleasure, I recommend to you "The IS Shop," by the equally imaginative Michael Summers, also available here at Smashwords.
  • To Sail The Dark Sea on Oct. 18, 2012

    Let me cover the good parts first. You did well with your scene-setting and laying out the SF trappings one expects in a space opera of this sort. It took up a fair amount of your prose, but as it worked well, I'd say the investment was worthwhile. But now I have to talk about the unsatisfactory bits. You need stylistic help. Your style "stands back" much too far from your characters. It created a distance between the reader and the characters that renders them two-dimensional and the story emotionally flat. Inasmuch as your protagonist, Captain Duschelle, is supposed to be a hero with a moderately poignant backstory, that is a serious demerit. Next, plot. Yes, you have one. However, there isn't enough of it. You have events -- a plot *line* -- but the causal tendons that link them are weak. That might be in part a function of the distance I felt from your characters; to me, their motivations were seldom palpable. Third: What is the theme of this story? What overarching idea is it intended to illuminate? I have no idea. I find myself wondering if you had a conscious theme in mind. That's a serious demerit as well. A story's theme is what makes it memorable -- what makes a reader recommend it to his family and friends. Fourth and last for this highly compressed critique: Do yourself a huge favor: Rip the exclamation-point key off your keyboard and throw it away. One of the plainest symptoms of an emotionally insufficient story is a profusion of exclamation points. Editors call them "screamers," and not to praise them. (When I encountered the sentence "He was angry!" I almost tossed the story aside; that was a very serious error.) Nevertheless, "To Sail the Dark Sea" has potential. Yes, it badly needs to be reworked, but the bones of a better story are there. Nor is it inferior to half the SF tales I've had to suffer through in my years as an editor and reviewer. So: three stars. But please give the above some thought.
  • The Torturer's Daughter on Oct. 22, 2012

    Oh my God. I read quite a lot of Smashwords material. Most of it is execrable. Most of the "writers" should be stripped of their word processors for daring to post it. It's a confirmation of the old Flannery O'Connor quip: when asked if she thought the universities are discouraging young writers, she replied, "In my opinion, they don't discourage enough of them." Nevertheless, knowing how critical I can be, and knowing how much higher my standards are than those of most other readers and critics, I try to be kind. I never give less than a three-star review. If a particular work doesn't deserve at least that much, I simply pass on in silence. When I do post a review, I try to substantiate any criticisms I feel I must make, so that the writer gets something of value for having endured my opinion. Miss Cannon, you don't need to fear any of that. * * * * * Why not presume guilt instead of innocence? Why not convict on the unsupported word of an accuser? Why not allow government functionaries to "coax" a confession out of a suspect? Why not encourage people to suspect one another of disloyalty? Of sedition? Of treason? Why not pay them to denounce one another: neighbor denouncing neighbor, friend denouncing friend, brother denouncing sister, child denouncing parent? It would keep the rest properly terrified -- properly submissive to the Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent State, wouldn't it? We do have a problem with unrest, after all. So why not spread a little fear? A little reluctance to trust? Actual charges of specific acts of wrongdoing? Bah! That's so five minutes ago! Either you are with us right down to your bones, body, mind, and soul, never even one stray disloyal impulse, or we'll liquidate you. Oh, you'll confess before the bullet enters your brain. We can't allow anyone to doubt us. And isn't it funny: There are always people willing to "help" you confess... Even if it kills you. * * * * * The Torturer's Daughter, by Zoe Cannon. A tale of maturation under mortal terror, and of principles gone horribly wrong. Intended for a young-adult audience? Perhaps. But impressive to this sixty-year-old all the same. BRAVO!
  • Hades on Nov. 19, 2012

    As with "Pantheon," "Hades" exhibits both auctorial gifts and unrealized potential. However, the reasons are different. "Hades's" protagonists Herc/Daniel and Rosalind are appealing in their respective ways. Given that this is fairly obviously an SF/romance after the fashion of Linnea Sinclair, the reader knows right off the starting line that the two are "meant for one another." That does eliminate a potential source of dramatic tension, but given the nature of this sub-genre, I can't see how it could be avoided. The writing is competent...with exceptions. On the "macro" level, quite a few of the similes and other devices feel tacked-on, as if the author were straining to "write like a writer." In particular, the sex scenes are rather purple and would have been more tasteful if less in-your-face. On the "micro" level, you're still glued to that participial-lead-in pattern, which makes your prose avoidably repetitive. ("Repetition is the enemy of entertainment." -- Me) Also, there are a number of avoidable misspellings and homonym errors. Where I find the novel least satisfying is in the realm of evocation. You've obviously got a complex backstory in mind for this series. Look at all the things it must cover: -- The terraforming of Titan, Hades, and no doubt other bits of the Solar System; -- The emergence of a supra-national, supra-planetary government; -- The existence of at least one large corporation that can use means normally reserved to a government (i.e., coercive force) to achieve its ends and its clients' ends; -- Instantaneous communication between places separated by several light-minutes; -- Technologies that support hover-flight of a fixed-wing aircraft, advanced genetic engineering, swift intrasystem transport sufficiently inexpensive to make it feasible to mine some worlds for the sake of others, and other things. Now, given that the rule in SF is DON'T EXPLAIN, it would be a serious mistake were any (or all) of those things to receive a complete, detailed exploration in the book. But evocative references to them -- asides about "how it was before" or "how it came to be" embedded in the central narrative or the characters' dialogue -- would have given the story a greater depth than it currently possesses. And yet...and yet. It's imaginative, generally well plotted and controlled, offers the reader attractive characters and the sort of bittersweet tensions characteristic of SF/romance, and continues a backdrop begun in "Pantheon" that offers considerable appeal and many possibilities. I just can't downrate it...but please, please take the comments above SERIOUSLY!
  • True Charity - Replacing Flypaper with Freedom on Nov. 30, 2012

    I read this in a single sitting. It was hypnotic; I literally couldn’t put it aside without finishing it. And it has my highest praise. Mike Melin makes a brilliant, Christian case for casting off the veil over our eyes as it concerns poverty, for “poverty” as the world defines it is a mirage. True poverty is poverty of the mind – the identity – the soul. One way to summarize the message of this indispensable little book is that the world, in assessing “what we’re doing to help the poor,” resolutely totes up material inputs while ignoring characterological outputs. But “help” of that sort literally imprisons the poor in true poverty. It does nothing to make the poor man other than poor, and gives him additional reasons to remain so! The legions of darkness sing a very sweet song in our ears: “Help the poor! Don’t trouble yourself about their characters. Just cut them a check.” And as Reverend Melin writes, it will be their helpers among us who’ll howl loudest when we turn from that path and resolve instead to free the poor man from his true poverty: the conviction, whether conscious or not, that he cannot or should not try to help himself, and must become comfortable in his dependence upon other men. With God, all things are possible...but look: God is no longer welcomed at the charity-kitchen table! And we wonder why, with all the largesse our society showers upon the “needy,” their number always grows. Thank you, Reverend Melin.
  • Traveled So Far on Dec. 23, 2012

    Abbreviated but poignant. (An interesting twist on the Three Kings tale, as well.) Most excellent -- and delightful to encounter another Smashwords writer unafraid of Christian themes in speculative fiction!
  • Two For One (From the Desk of Col. Garrett Ross) on Jan. 10, 2013

    Well, all right! I was initially unsure of your intentions, given that the uber-premise of your series is a school like that run by “The Organization,” from the “Hitman” fantasy. Had you followed that track too closely, your story would have been mere fan-fiction even if it had never mentioned “The Organization” or #47. What you did instead is quite impressive, albeit not perfect: -- Is Wally a 7th year or a 6th year student? You made him both. -- No, you CAN’T “saw targets in half” with an assault rifle. Trust me; I happen to own a few. -- There are a small number of grammatical and punctuation errors, but nothing to detract seriously from the tale. A suggestion: The existence of an academy such as Clements implies other things that you never mention: customers for its “product;” alumni already at work at their specialties; a protective shroud over its operations enforced by some large, powerful entity, governmental or otherwise. Alluding to some of that – delicately; evocatively -- might make an already entertaining story even better. Yes, it’s grim. Yes, it has elements that require “sending the kids out of the room.” But all the same, it’s quite impressive.
  • Amour Amour Amour Amour (From the desk of Col. Garrett Ross) on Jan. 10, 2013

    Yet another excellent tale...with a few wee nits: -- When electrocuting a man, it’s not the volts that count; it’s the watts (volts * amperes). There’s a certain minimum required – don’t ask – and it’s somewhat unlikely that enough power could be stored in devices small enough to go unnoticed in food. -- “SHE was overextending HIMSELF at Montmorency” -- ? -- Poisons have no relation to Petri dishes, so this image didn’t work properly. But on the whole, once again, quite impressive. It seems I’ll have to read them all!
  • Inheritance (From the Desk of Col. Garrett Ross) on Jan. 10, 2013

    WOW! As usual, there are a few nits: -- “a black hawk helicopter in Somalia” – Overdone. “a felled helicopter” would be better. -- “between Galen and I” -- ? C’mon! You’re better than that. -- “Our alumnus doesn’t look EACH OTHER up” – ? See previous comment! -- The scene in which Gideon kills Stackhouse refers to him several times as Jackson. -- “We’ve been put our own investigators” -- ? Remove the “been.” You clearly need some editorial assistance, but all the same, OUTSTANDING!
  • Three Simple Rules (From the Desk of Col. Garrett Ross) on Jan. 10, 2013

    I’m not one for hyperbole, so I’ll simply lay out the facts: 1. You have a gift. A very large gift. 2. You need editing help. You make a fair number of detail mistakes, and they interrupt the story experience. 3. The “Garrett Ross” stories should be agglomerated into a collection or two and sold for actual money. They’re worth it. I’m generally acknowledged to be the toughest critic on Smashwords. I read the “Garrett Ross” stories -- all of them -- in ONE DAY, practically back-to-back. I was enthralled throughout. Connect the dots!
  • Exo on Feb. 09, 2013

    Aha! Drop ships and powered armor? A ground trooper lieutenant on the same ship with his father? Do I detect a little Starship Troopers influence in there somewhere? I don't recall another of your stories written in present tense. You handled it well, except for the usual stippling of going-too-fast low-level errors. (Is it Rochet or Trochet? And watch out for those FLECHETTES.) If I have a quibble other than that, it would be that though there's quite a lot of bloodshed, there doesn't appear to be a point -- a theme. Is this to be part of another group of stories united around a single backstory and setting? (For a particularly technoidal take on this sort of combat, you might enjoy Travis S. Taylor's "One Day on Mars," "The Tau Ceti Agenda," and "One Good Soldier.")
  • The Perfect Husband on March 01, 2013

    All right, it's silly, it's porny, it's...a lot of things. But it's also hilarious -- and that's something most sex stories only achieve by accident and against the author's intentions. Very well done indeed.
  • A Man with Three Great German Shepherds . . . and 1000 troy ounces of gold on May 21, 2013

    Once in a great while, a reviewer as voluble as I will actually be solicited for a review by another independent writer. Not that anything I might say would promote someone's production into the Big Time, but, well, you never know. My regular readers are a worthy audience in their own right, and they have a few friends to whom their recommendations just might be well received. Mark Butterworth approached me not long ago about reviewing A Man With Three Great German Shepherds...and 1000 Troy Ounces Of Gold. At the time I said something noncommittal and proceeded to allow it to slip my mind, but Mark took the initiative and reminded me. So, in the spirit of wanting to do what I can for my fellow indie writers -- hey, if you don't go to their funerals, they won't come to yours -- I purchased his book. It struck me as the perfect excuse to put off mowing the lawn for the half-hour I imagined it would take me to conclude that here was yet another of the aspirants to literary glory whose time would be better spent inventorying lamb chop panties. I've read perhaps eighty independently produced and marketed novels; few justified the expenditure of time and money. With regard to Mark's book, my pessimism proved to be without foundation. Mark Butterworth is a natural storyteller, a raconteur whose style is at once artless and utterly riveting. Imagine him as a chance acquaintance at your local tavern. Presently he's telling you, in an unadorned, colloquial style, about the signal events of his existence...and in sharp contrast to the ramblings of the other half-pickled regulars you've striven to avoid, you find yourself hypnotized. You don't want him to stop. This is a simple story, about a simple man with little in this world and a backtrail of sorrow. He's managed to accumulate a little something from his years of labor -- 1000 Troy ounces of gold -- but his most precious possessions, if that word is appropriate, are his three female German Shepherds, whom he's trained to a T and who regard him as the center of the universe. Unfortunately, there exists a sizable cadre of folks whose mission in life is to complicate the lives of simple men. Collectively, they're called "the government." One of its more vulpine subsections, the Internal Revenue Service, dislikes to allow simple men to retain any significant part of their earnings. So contrary to his desires, protagonist Dan Martin finds himself pursued by IRS agents who hope to bring down his quondam employer: construction magnate Bill Murphy: a born rebel ever ready to "spend 95 cents to avoid giving the government a dollar." Yet as important and threatening as it is, most of the book has little to do with that source of tension. Mostly, it's about Dan's love for his dogs, his half-successful efforts to reconnect with his estranged children, and the fame he and his dogs gain unsought after they thwart a lethal attack on his parish priest. Buy this book. It's replete with satisfactions, a whole human carnival's worth. It offers love, laughter, and tears in copious quantities. Read it, love it, and press it on your friends and loved ones. It deserves to be read far and wide. Highly, highly recommended!
  • Shoot the Humans First on June 15, 2013

    Well done...mostly. The core premise is a good one. I'm uncertain whether it's been used before, though John Ringo uses something similar in his Posleen series. The writing is generally professional grade, though there are a few clinkers in the dialogue. But there are some problems in timing, characterization, and the overall theme, especially the way you chose to end the novel. The opening is a good example of "in medias res" structure. It shows us Jadeth as a grizzled veteran who, if he's not bursting with pride over his occupation, at the least he's not ashamed of it. He knows himself well enough to know what he's good for, and to know the limits to which he can aspire. However, we get into jags of timing as soon as Jadeth comes into contact with Ilyan's little group. Ilyan is too forthcoming too quickly. He's too intelligent, and knows far too much, to be as candid as he was with Jadeth, who might have been anyone from anywhere. Of course, that does underline the importance of Jadeth's later role as security chief. Maiga's hostility toward Jadeth isn't adequately grounded; she has no real reason to resent him...and she doesn't distrust him nearly enough. Now, you could say that Ilyan's whole raison d'etre is exemplified in his candor toward Jadeth, but as an intelligence analyst he would have had caution and suspicion inculcated into his persona very early in his training. (I've "done time" in that community, so I know whereof I speak.) As for Maiga, we don't get enough background on her to grasp her motivations, her overall character, her attachment to Ilyan, her antipathy toward Jadeth, or her solicitude toward Tesla. Tesla -- I do hope the ghost of Nikola Tesla, one of Mankind's great geniuses, doesn't mind your appropriation of his name -- is similarly too thin for his role. You depict him as a whiner, a weakling, and something of a coward. All very well...but the clash against where he is, what he's doing, and the risks he's elected to share with Ilyan is rather stark. There was a way to rationalize his choice to follow Ilyan on his campaign, but I shan't recommend it; it carries a lot of baggage most readers would prefer that you not tote along. There are parts of the story in which you depict Jadeth as almost feminine. I don't think that was wise. But then, there are parts of the story in which you made me wonder if Ilyan is bisexual...which would have fit well with the characterization path for Tesla that I'm loath to recommend. The ending of the novel, though striking and dramatic, is likely to leave a bad taste in many readers' mouths. But then, having depicted mankind as a mercenary species, and having depicted Jadeth as something akin to an avenging angel, perhaps you had no better way to conclude it. I'll have to put this on the shelf alongside various other dystopian and inevitable-damnation-and-doom conceptions. But there's no question that it is original. Minor details: 1. Watch out for exclamation points. Editors call them "screamers." 95% of the time they're a bad mistake. 2. There are some typos and misspellings -- and no, I'm NOT talking about the use of British spelling. 3. No one determined to keep his captive alive would use electrical torture in a metal cage. The risk of death is far too great. Now, I'm fully aware that I'm the toughest reviewer on SmashWords, so I'm going to do the fair thing and measure your offering against other SmashWords SF novels. Therefore, you get full marks. But I hope you'll give some thought to the observations above. You display considerable writing talent in this book; some attention to good timing and consistent characterization would make you one of modern SF's stars. Also, I hope you'll give your readers more of a reason to cheer for Mankind in future novels; there wasn't much of one here!
  • Two Percent Power on June 19, 2013

    Oh my God. This is wildly funny, and quite original. I was going to say that it deserves further development, but perhaps it should be left as it is – minus the handful ot typos and misspellings, of course. The only comparably imaginative super-power I can remember is from Larry Niven’s “A Gift From Earth,” in which his protagonist discovers that he has a psi power over the muscles that control the irises of others’ eyes...and nothing else! Yours is quite a distance from anything I’ve seen before in this vein. Bravo!
  • Interrogation (A Short Story) on June 20, 2013

    Not bad. Not entirely original -- the core motif has been used before -- but still, a nice turn on a particularly frightening quasi-solipsistic fantasy. The story is slightly overwritten, especially very near the beginning. A career assassin is highly unlikely to be as flowery-descriptive as "Vincent Malick" was in his introduction of himself. You might want to dial it back about 25% in the rewrite. Also, I must gig you for pronoun errors. The worst of them is what I think of as "the coward's way out:" -- There is something so viscerally satisfying, so empowering about the feel of taking another person’s life, to see their existence cease, to watch awareness leave their eyes to be replaced by a never-ending blank stare. -- The word "person" is SINGULAR, so any pronoun that refers back to it must be SINGULAR. But like so many contemporary writers, you quailed at the idea of writing "his," which is the proper generic singular pronoun, and used the plural "their" instead. Bad writer! No bourbon! The other instance that grated on me was the alternate form of "the coward's way out:" -- The more I know about a victim, the more real he or she becomes to me. -- This is awkward and inelegant. Besides, "a victim" can have only one gender at a time, no? Rewrite: "The more I know about a victim, the more real he becomes to me." As we editors like to say: -30-, and feel free to sneer at the militant feminist language harridans on your way out. You'll find it quite refreshing. Other than that, well done: 4.33 stars.
  • Seeking Forever on July 30, 2013

    This has power and emotion, but it needs editing. The story being told is at times just a bit too murky for a reader unfamiliar with your fictional setting to follow. While trusting the reader's power of inference is a good general guide, like all general guidelines it can be pushed too far or too hard. No doubt you have some notes on the side about the specific developments that produced the apocalypse, the nature of the subsequent chaos, the identities of the various mutually hostile forces, and the development of the all-important symbiont. Some of the material in those notes could be constructively incorporated into the story proper, though there would arise the need to be careful about too much exposition. Stylistically, you did okay, except for a few awkward constructions and some occasional overwriting. A good editor would point those aspects out to you, with suggestions for rephrasings. Overall, well done: four stars. Drop me a note if you'd like some help with the rewrite.
  • They Say on Oct. 31, 2013

    This is clever, funny, and sobering. You overdo it a little on the “drunkish,” and the suggestion of consent to the never-stated price is a bit too subtle, but apart from that, very well done!
  • Me and the Bank on Nov. 18, 2013

    All right, so I saw the ending coming about two thousand words early. It's still funny and clever. Given that it had to be written in a low dialect, I won't bother nit-picking grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Well done!
  • The Knight Before Christmas on Dec. 31, 2013

    A wee bit abbreviated, but highly effective all the same. Happy New Year, dear.
  • Geek Girl Gameshop Gangbang on Dec. 31, 2013

    My word. I thought I knew what to expect. But if you'll pardon the choice of phrase, Miss Asarovna, you blew me away. This isn't run-of-the-mill erotica. It's surprising, funny, hot, and incredibly sweet, all at once. It's even romantic, in its kinky way. The setting alone is worth quite a bit -- take it from one all too well acquainted with the "gaming culture" from his younger days -- but what really rings the bell is the steady pace you gave to the development of the orgy and the contrast the "climax" makes -- forgive me once more, please! -- with all that "comes" before it. In a way, it's sad that you really can't do much more with Tina and her friends, now that this tale is complete. But that's inherent in a good story well told: it leaves you wanting more...more!...MORE! A bit like Tina, I suppose!
  • Kate's First Job on Jan. 27, 2014

    An Irish erotica writer with a Newf? Well, I just *had* to see what she could do. (Here's part of why -- https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/391482 -- and here's the other part -- https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/17901 ) And it turns out you're not half bad, lass. The story is a wee bit more in-your-face than I'd recommend, but as it's autobiographical I suppose I'll accept that as "just the way it was." It's admirably free of technical errors -- I'm a true beast about such things -- and paced well for first-person narration of this sort. But the main feature, of course, is that it is properly arousing. You succeeded nicely in pulling the reader into the experience of the protagonist, the quintessence of effective writing in any genre. Full marks. I'll be looking for more stories from you, autobiographical or otherwise.
  • The Third Chamber on Jan. 29, 2014

    There's a lot to like here, but not everything. The story is imaginative. It also depicts its protagonist in more depth than is usual for an SF story of this length. The multifarious discords provided against what the reader will know of history are jarring, of course, but a necessary part of the larger scheme. Stylistically, the storytelling is more than adequate, though the text could use a good line-editing; I caught quite a few low-level errors as I read, and I wasn't looking particularly hard. Thematically it's unoriginal, but then, the most striking themes -- including the false ones -- repeat endlessly as the world of fiction turns. As there are only three plots, it's unavoidable. If the story has a major flaw, it's that the payoff doesn't suffice to explain much of what precedes it. For example: Why did intimations of the Third Chamber occur in the first place? Why was a cadre of "Guardians of the Third Chamber" necessary or desirable? Why, indeed, was it necessary or desirable that there be an instantiation of such a thing within the simulated Earth environment? If the text provides any answer to those critical questions, I'm unable to find them. Concerning the Addendum: This was unnecessary backstory detail that should have been omitted. Besides and beyond that, it will offend many readers. Yes, it offended me; I'm an American and react badly to denigrations of my country, which has achieved more, has advanced further, and has done infinitely more for the world than all the other nations known to history combined. But inasmuch as I'm an extremely well-traveled, well-educated, and well-read American, and entirely too familiar with the power of envy, I'm inured to it, at any rate more so than most of my compatriots. All the same, it was an entertaining read, well worth its price. 3.5 stars, but I "round up."
  • Pop Tart on Feb. 04, 2014

    Oh my God. I wouldn't have believed a story about anger-driven sex could be that good...until now. Full marks.
  • A Ride Home on Feb. 04, 2014

    -- “Yes,” she said in a breathy whisper as her body shivered. “Like that.” -- Exactly like that. Miss Beltrey, you have a gift. Full marks.
  • McLaughlin on Feb. 05, 2014

    First, the Campbell's Condensed version. You have a good story here, but the telling is ragged. There's far too much backstory exposition at several points, including the insertion of technical details that really don't belong in a work of fiction, and a lot of superfluous description. Also, you need stylistic help and a good line editor. Now for the Progresso Heat And Serve version. Your strong points are a good plot and good characters. The plot is plausible, with the exception of some of the time intervals implied. The youngest veteran of World War II still alive today is 87 years old. The youngest Peter Delacroix could be today is 82. This puts a severe strain on the plausibility of both Delacroix and Mike Mitchell, whom you portray as far too vigorous for those ages. Kristen and Rusty are well portrayed, though the manner of their introduction and the depiction of their relation to one another has several sorts of timing problems. Some of the material you provide about Kristen's and Rusty's backgrounds could be omitted without damaging their characters, but it doesn't hurt to have it, except that it slows the pace of the tale. Elizabeth feels superfluous, as if you felt you had to have a love interest but couldn't find a way to work her into the story more integrally. Your style needs work. That's coupled to the backstory-exposition problem I mentioned above, and to your desire to provide lots of description of setting: more than is necessary or desirable. Description is always a tough nut for a fledgling writer. "Literary writers" are always praising one another for it -- yet not one of them is capable of telling a good, involving story that moves at a decent pace, or portraying characters that seem at all lifelike and human. However they have excessive influence on new writers, and thus are often emulated to ruin. The best description is married to character actions and motivations. The late Elmore Leonard, famed for his humor-laced thrillers, was once asked by a fan why he wrote so few descriptive passages, and kept them so short. Leonard smiled and replied, "I try not to write the parts that people skip." Yet Leonard never leaves you in any doubt about what his characters are thinking and doing, or why: he uses description to show you what the characters deem important enough to notice, or, alternately, what they *should* notice, because it will be important to upcoming events. Anton Chekhov put it this way: "Everything not essential to the story must be ruthlessly cut away. If in Act One you say that a gun hung on the wall, then by Act Two or Act Three at the latest, it must be discharged." Words to live by, especially for the writer of well-paced fiction in which the characters actually *do* things! Much of your dialogue sounds forced. At several points I felt you were using dialogue to tell the reader things he needs to know, rather than to depict your characters doing things, and dealing with events, that are important to them. There are better ways -- and stilted dialogue is one of the things that prompt a reader to put a book down without finishing it. Finally, there are more than a few low-level errors of spelling, punctuation, number agreement, homophone confusion, omitted words, and use of the wrong word. A good line-editor would have caught those for you. All that having been said, know this: I read your book in one sitting. So you entertained me. I found the climax particularly clever. And for that you deserve credit. Your book is worth its purchase price, which isn't something I'd say about most SmashWords publications. (I've read over 800 of them.) But I'm hoping that you'll take the above comments to heart, because I think you have the potential to do still better.
  • Special Girl Needs Sexing on Feb. 05, 2014

    I don't know why I decided to purchase and read this story. All I know is that I'm glad I did. This is funny, poignant, sweet, sexy, and romantic all at once. Despite its brevity and its sexuality, it has realized characters and genuine emotion. It's an achievement most "erotica" writers can only dream about. It deserves a better title, but I'm loath to criticize it any other way. It's just too touching. BRAVO!
  • Hooker for a Night on Feb. 11, 2014

    There's something elemental about this story. Something so far removed from civilized conventions and so deep beneath the surface of human nature that the only suitable word for it is "primal." Despite the double handful of low-level errors, it's an impressive achievement, as evocative as it is arousing. A friend commented recently at my website to the effect that we always "pay" for sex, men and women both; it's just that the coin in which the payment is made isn't necessarily legal tender. I got a sense of that here: from the narrator's unexpected tenderness toward Linda, from the poignancy of her final communication with him, from Linda's particular fantasy, and from the difficulty she had reaching orgasm. Well done, and full marks, but with a caveat: You need a proofreader. A fine story deserves to be letter-perfect. This one most definitely does.
  • Ability - Part I on Feb. 21, 2014

    Oh my God. This is brilliantly imaginative. The storytelling has a few rough spots in it, and some of the dialogue is a bit contrived, but the imagination it embodies rolls over minor faults such as those. Full marks. I'll be going on to the full story from here, later this evening. For now: BRAVO!
  • Killing the Lights on April 09, 2014

    I'll pass in silence over the detail errors in grammar and punctuation; after all, they might have been deliberate, to create authenticity. But I can't pass over the heavy-handedness of your polemic. This is barely a story as most of us understand the term. The criminal-to-terrorist motif almost redeems the story, but without a follow-up it doesn't rise sufficiently above the prior polemicizing to amount to much. Your craft is good and promises better things to come, but please moderate the preaching next time.
  • Twice as Bright on May 10, 2014

    I never expected to encounter a story that dramatizes Parkinson’s First Law (“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”), but here it is – and it’s a winner. The technique employed in this brief piece is impressive, but even more so is its deftness of emotional evocation. Who among us, after all, has not wished for more time? And how many of us, offered the choice between immortality and glory, would choose the latter? I’ll be reading more of Miss Cole’s work.
  • Niven's Nurse on June 13, 2014

    This is an exceptionally sweet story, though the last third of the plot line feels a wee bit contrived. Your handling of Ashley's early conflicts -- her body's response triumphing over her mind's revulsion at the very same ideas -- is particularly effective. However, owing to the story's brevity, the characters move too swiftly toward your intended conclusion. So it misses top marks, albeit not by very much. I look forward to your next offering.
  • Angels of America: A Circle of the Fallen novella on June 23, 2014

    This has color and drive, and the Marquee characters have genuine substance. However, protagonist Rose goes from being a complete enigma at the opening of the story to an almost-complete enigma at the end. We get very little explanation of her origins, her backstory history, her unique power and how she came by it, or the Circle's interest in her. Given that this is surely the opening segment of a continuing story, that's tolerable in expectation of the next segment, even if one might wish for more revelations in this novel. But far worse for the reading experience, the book is riddled with errors of spelling and punctuation, plus a handful of formatting errors, that a proofreader would have caught and corrected. I stopped counting at fifty such errors. Given your obvious storytelling talent, Miss Maddocks, I'm astounded that you didn't have someone check your work. An indie who hopes to attract a sizable following can't afford such an insouciant attitude toward manuscript polish. I hope the next segment displays better finish, as I'm looking forward to reading it.
  • Stupefying Brilliance on July 06, 2014

    I picked this up because of the evocative title, and because it reminded me of a passage in one of Jack L. Chalker's "Flux and Anchor" novels. In that novel, a wizard asks a woman to whom he owes a debt what she'd like him to do for her. She replies that she never wants to have another worry in the world, and for her life to be nothing but continuous, unmitigated pleasure. The wizard surprises her: he casts a spell to strip away about half her IQ, to equip her with a body out of erotic fantasy, and to elevate her sex drive to that of a carrier battle group just back from a six-month deployment. Your story is a clever variation on that theme, but it lacks a little in the plot tension area. I'm not sure how to remedy that. The fundamental idea doesn't lend itself to much alteration. Perhaps you could use Brilliance's parents, tormenting them with remorse over their treatment of her and eliciting restorative action out of that...and putting the restored Brilliance into a painful quandary: Did she **prefer** being a bimbo, which was all rainbows and sugar cookies compared to being a normal girl, and does she dare ask her parents to return her to that state?
  • A Little Knowledge on July 26, 2014

    I'd love to say all sorts of observant, erudite things about this story, its premises, your way with characterization, and the clever way you ended it, but I'm laughing MUCH too hard. Full marks!
  • Dollar Milk Maid on Oct. 30, 2014

    This is a curiously beautiful and loving story. Though I’m a nitpicker extraordinaire, I found very few errors of any sort in it. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in Karli’s and Reid’s release from the bondage of their respective pasts. Perhaps it’s a little unrealistic – the odds of Karli getting away unscathed with her foray into selling her milk aren’t all that good – but who reads erotica for its realism? At any rate, it was refreshing to encounter an erotic tale that isn’t entirely about the plumbing and mechanics of sex – a story that deals with the heart, including the slightly off-axis needs of such as Karli and Reid. Mr. Silvestri, you have a gift. Full marks.
  • Clockwork Courtesan: St. Eden's School for Young Ladies, Book One on Dec. 08, 2014

    Oh, my. This is an extraordinary piece of work, both as fiction and as erotica. I know it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste – the sadistic aspects did repel me somewhat – but it works very well as what it is and was clearly intended to be. I have one quibble: it seems a bit rushed, especially the climactic scene. A more elaborate development of both the characters and the setting would have been even more appealing. You get full marks anyway – I’ve never cared for “steampunk,” and you managed to get me to set that aside, which is more of an achievement than you might realize – but if you revisit this story, you might want to think about the timing again. Bravo!
  • No, I Won't Buy Your G.D.M.F.S.A eBook on Dec. 28, 2014

    Oh, how imaginative! A mean-spirited screed stippled with unnecessary profanity! A tirade intended to heap derision and discouragement on indie writers! Exactly what the world has been slavering for, especially during the Christmas season. This...person appears to suffer from some undisclosed malady of the spirit. His evident eagerness to abuse persons he doesn’t know suggests that he’s a bitterly disappointed man, possibly one whom chance has thwarted in all his endeavors. Perhaps he can be forgiven on the grounds of an abusive childhood. However, I don’t know him well enough for that...and I don’t want to. Have a few more drinks, Mr. Dwight. And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you.