Sunday, February 23, 2014

Caged Without Walls - A Review of Anthony J. Langford's Poetry Collection.

Caged without Walls is such an appropriate name for this collection of poetry. The poems invite the reader to escape from their fears.

Anthony J Langford writes poems about people who have doubts, and who make mistakes and have regrets. They poems are for people who question their existence and want to achieve something rather than just survive.

Langford writes about life as he sees it. His honest words create poems with a real  authenticity. But he’s not one to try and pull at the heart strings. He’s more concerned with getting readers to examine their lives.  

His writing should evoke a response from most readers. Few of his poems are written with obscure meanings that only the most determined re-reader might eventually find. His poems are like having a conversation with him about what is really going on in your lives.   

Most of the poems have at least a few stanzas or phrases that will cause a reader to pause and marvel at Anthony’s use of language. Here’s an example:

Right Here But Not Right Now.

Don’t lose track
If you were ever on it.
And now that you’ve questioned yourself
You start to wonder…

I had a plan
I thought I was on the right path
But now I’m not so sure.
It’s not that I’m not trying
I am
I’m a determined person (I’m determined).

Yet somehow
The edges are rough
The confidence is off-centre
Something doesn’t feel right.

And the future has never seemed
Yet now,
Never so uncertain…

I’ve got a problem
And I don’t know what it is.

I’d ask someone
If I could trust them
How Can I?
When I can’t trust myself.

I’d ask the right questions
If I knew any
I’m tired of guessing
I’m bloated with doubt
And I’ve never felt
So unsure
Of myself.

They think I’m green
When I’m only feeling blue
I sometimes speak in tongues
But I can’t understand a word
So why do they think they do?

Is it they who are lying?
Or am I not telling the truth?

When it’s all over
I’m sure I’ll have barely begun
And it’s back to the start
When I’ve already reached the end.

A few other poems from Caged Without Walls are on Anthony J Langford’s blog, as well as some of his other work including video poems. Nearly every week Anthony has a new poem published on the web or in print somewhere in the world. He has also written an excellent novella, Bottomless River.

Caged without walls is an immersive collection of poems that will have readers examining their live as they welcome the news that they are not alone in their doubts and regrets.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sensory Book Vests

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have created a "wearable" book. 
MIT engineers have created a sensory vest that allows readers to feel what a book’s protagonist is experiencing. The vest contains a heartbeat and shiver stimulator, a body compression system, temperature controls and sound. It has some of the elements I imagine virtual reality suits will eventually have. 

“Changes in the protagonist's emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations," the engineers told the Guardian newspaper.

The Girl Who Was Plugged In.

The engineers seemed to have used a very appropriate book for their prototype in James Tiptree Jr's novella The Girl Who Was Plugged in. In that novella, the protagonist is deformed by pituitary dystrophy and experiences life through an avatar. The protagonist feels "both deep love and ultimate despair, the freedom of Barcelona sunshine and the captivity of a dark damp cellar", said the engineers.

I imagine the vest heats up when the protagonist is in the sunshine, and causes the wearer to shiver when the protagonist is in the cellar. The vest would probably increase the heart rate of the wearer when they are falling in love.

No to the Vest.

Some in the publishing industry are not impressed with the sensory vest. Science fiction author Adam Roberts told the Guardian that he found the “idea of ‘sensory” fiction ‘amazing’, but also ‘infantilising, like reverting to those sorts of books we buy for toddlers that have buttons in them to generate relevant sound effects.’”  

An editor on the NPR blog quipped that "If these device things are helping 'put you there,' it just means the writing won't have to be as good." A bit like 3D movies were some film makers seem to think the plot’s primarily function is to enable lots of opportunities for distracting objects to jump out from the screen, rather than tell a logical and compelling story.  

Just a Gimmick. 

Assuming a vest could be constructed that was easy to put on and comfortable to wear lying down or in a chair, would sensory book vests take off? Most probably the vests would  just be a gimmick from which people quickly tire, like many people have tired of 3D movies.
I can see the vests might have a market for use when watching television: they could increase your heart rate every time a commercial came on. And sensory elements like heart rate and temperature will most probably be a future aspect of virtual reality suits. But I don’t think adults will be wearing vests while reading in the future.

Reading is all about being immersed in a story created by your imagination’s reaction to the author’s words. Children might take to the vests when reading, but I suspect they will quickly turn to more immersive virtual reality. And who knows what limiting effects the vest might have on a child’s imagination and ability to feel. 

I don’t expect Amazon to be knocking on the door of the inventors of the sensory vest for books.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Analysis of the science fiction novels listed in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2013.

In my last post I analysed 13 science fiction books published in the US in January 2014. In this post I analyse the Goodreads Choice Awards for science fiction in 2013. I am interested to see what similarities there are between what is currently being published and what people are enjoying reading.

To create the Choice Awards, the Goodreads operators nominated 15 novels, based on the amount of positive reviews for those books on Goodreads. They also allowed Goodreads readers to add a further five novels to that list. Goodreads members then voted for their favourite from the 20 novels.

This is how they voted, with a quick analysis by me of the book after its title.

1. MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood (16,481 votes)

Concept: Survivors of a human made plague fight off each other and genetically engineered creatures.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, this is the third book in a trilogy
Debut novel: No
Nationality of Author: Canadian.

2. Dust, Hugh Howey (13,802)

Concept: The remnants of humanity live in underground silos, most of them unaware of their fate, except those who created the silos.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, this is the third book in a trilogy
Debut novel: No
Nationality of Author: American.

3. Earth Afire, Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (8159)

Concept: Earth is attacked by insect like aliens.
Sub-genre: Military
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, prequel to Ender’s Game
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Authors: Both are American.

4. Lexicon, Max Barry (4696)

Concept: Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and take control of other people’s thoughts.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Market: Adult
Series: No
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: Australian.

5. The Human Division, John Scalzi (4301)

Concept: The people of Earth have to decide whether to remain in the colonial union or join the aliens the union have been fighting.
Sub-genre: Military
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, it’s a sequel.
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author:  American.

6. The Humans, Matt Haig (3750)

Concept: An alien is set to Earth to kill the discoverer of a scientific breakthrough which threatens the alien’s world.
Sub-genre: First contact
Market: Adult
Series: No.
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: English.

7. Countdown City, Ben H. Winters (3482)

Concept: A policeman searches for a woman’s husband in a world about to be destroyed by an asteroid.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, it’s the second in a series
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: American.

8. Great North Road, Peter F. Hamilton (3387)

Concept:  A detective investigates the murder of a clone.
Sub-genre: Thriller
Market: Adult
Series: No
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: British.

9. Abaddons Gate, James S.A. Corey (3004)

Concept:  Scientists investigate an alien artefact which has built a massive gate in Uranus’ orbit. The gate leads to a starless dark.
Sub-genre: First contact
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, it’s number three in a series
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author:  James S.A. Corey is the penname of collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, both are American.

10. The Lives of Tao, Wesley Chu (2995)

Concept:  A man wakes up with an alien in his brain, an alien who has been on Earth for millions of year, and whose race has split into two warring factions.
Sub-genre: First contact
Market: Young Adult
Series: Yes, he has written a sequel
Debut Novel: It appears to be his debut novel.
Nationality of Author: Born in Taiwan and migrated to the US.

11. The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian, Jack Campbell (1473)

Concept: An alliance fleet travels into unexplored space, runs into an alien race and discovers an alien spacescraft that they endeavour to return home with while battling rebel forces.
Sub-genre: Military/first contact
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, this is part of a series
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: Jack Campbell is the pseudonym for American science fiction author John G. Hemry.

12. Darwin Elevator: Dire Earth Cycle 1, James M. Hough (1376)

Concept:  An alien plague has devastated the world and the survivors gather at a space elevator in Darwin.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, first in a series
Debut Novel: Yes, he started writing the novel in NaNoWriMo 2008
Nationality of Author: Even though the novel is set in Australia, he’s an American.

13. The Long War: Long Earth 2, Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter (1195)

Concept: Mankind’s thoughtless exploitation of a new Earth brings them into conflict with the local hive-minded humanoids.
Sub-genre: First contact
Market: Adult
Series: No
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Authors: British and American.

14. Shadow Freedom: Honor Harrington 14, David Weber (1137)

Concept: Intergalactic intrigue and rebellions (sounds a bit like Game of Thrones in space).
Sub-genre: Space opera
Market: Adult
Series: You bet, with 14 novels so far.
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author:  American.

15. Perdition: Dred Chronicles 1, Anne Agurrie (1052)

Concept: The Dred Queen fights to keep control of her territory on a huge prison spaceship.
Sub-genre: Dystopian
Market: Adult
Series: First in a series
Debut Novel: No, she has written many novels
Nationality of Author: American who lives in Mexico.

16. The Best of all Possible Worlds, Karen Lord (1038)

Concept: The survivors of an alien race try to adapt to life on a planet inhabited by a race of distant humanoid relatives.
Sub-genre: First contact
Market: Adult
Series: No
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: Barbadian.

17. Terms of Enlistment, Marko Kloos (921)

Concept: In 2106, a man enlists in the military to escape all-prevailing poverty, but finds military service a lot more dangerous than expected.
Sub-genre: Dystopian/military
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, the first in a series
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: Born in Germany, moved to the US.

18. Brilliance, Marcus Sakey (921)

Concept: In a world where one percent of the population are born with special powers, a detective searches for a terrorist.
Sub-genre: Thriller
Market: Adult
Series: No
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: American.

19. CyberStorm, Matthew Mather (569)

Concept: As the world and cyberworlds come crashing down, bending perception and reality, a monster snowstorm cuts New York off from the world, becoming a wintry tomb where no one can be trusted, and nothing is what it seems...
Sub-genre: Techno-thriller
Market: Adult
Series: No
Debut Novel: No
Nationality of Author: British.

20. Ancillary Justice: Imperial Radch 1, Anne Leckie (389)

Concept: On an isolated ice planet, a wronged soldier plots revenge against the Lord of the empire.
Sub-genre: Space opera
Market: Adult
Series: Yes, first in a series
Debut Novel: Yes
Nationality of Author: American.


From the descriptions, I classified the books into the following sub-genres:

Dystopian 6
First Contact 5
Military 2
Space Opera 2
Thriller 2
Military/First Contact 1
Dystopian/Military 1
Techno-Thriller 1

So according to the Goodreads poll, a third of the books readers really enjoyed reading in 2013 were dystopian. In reference to John Marsden in the previous blog post, readers do not seem to be tiring of dystopian science fiction. Indeed, three of the top four novels had dystopian elements. If I was a publisher, I would not be giving up publishing dystopian fiction yet.

Surprisingly, six of the voted on novels had major elements of first contact. This surprised and delighted me, as I enjoy first contact novels and the epic I just finished writing the first draft of is a first contact novel with space opera elements.

In my last post, I analysed some of the science fiction novels published by various publishers in January 2014, listed in a blog post on Tor. In that post, a third of the novels were dystopian, this matches what readers are enjoying reading. But publishers may want to consider publishing more first contact novels, as only one first contact novel was in that Tor blog post, as compared to six in Goodreads Choice


Only one of the books appears aimed at the young adult market, the rest appear to be adult. But in January, four of the 13 listed published novels were young adult. So are publishers publishing too much young adult fiction? Or do young adults have better things to do than join Goodreads, write reviews and vote in the choice awards?  


Eight of the novels are the continuation of a series. Five are the first book in a purported series, leaving only seven as standalone novels, some of which may end up with sequels.

Eight of the thirteen books published in January were also series. So get out there and write a series.

Debut Novel

Only three of the novels voted for were debut novels, which makes sense as eight of the novels were series. Debut novelists also have to build up a following before a lot of people will read and vote for them.

Nationality of Author

Note: a few of the novels were written by two authors. The authors were:

American: 14
British: 4
Australian: 1
Barbadian: 1
Canadian: 1
Taiwanese who migrated to the US: 1
German who migrated to the US:1
One of the Americans lives in Mexico.

So ideally a science fiction writer should be American.

Ideal Book to Write

So the ideal science fiction book to write appears to be a dystopian/first contact series. If you have made it to the end of this post, I hope I have helped inform you.