The Author is Going to Regret This

Drink enough alcohol with me and I’ll let you know exactly how I feel about Goodreads Giveaways. How they cost too much. How they don’t result in reviews. How physical copies end up on Ebay the next week with the description brand new, never opened. It’s just not a good marketing strategy compared to everything else available to indie authors. Still, when you reach the end of the year with a surplus in your marketing budget, it’s easier to accept throwing money away on a giveaway. At least it pumps up those to-read numbers, right? Anyway, I listed a giveaway for Vise Manor.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Vise Manor by Daniel Verastiqui

Vise Manor

by Daniel Verastiqui

Giveaway ends January 09, 2023.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

It has been an interesting year since Vise Manor was published. Sales have been great, and feedback has been good, but reviews have been few and far between. There’s something about visiting my author page on Amazon and seeing the paltry numbers next to each book. What I wouldn’t give to see those numbers multiplied by a hundred or more. Speaking of reviews, here’s what Carl over at thought of Vise Manor

Daniel Verastiqui’s latest novel at once sticks with what he knows but then also strikes out in an interesting new direction.

Sure, we’re in the Vinestead Universe. Sure, there’s AI, hackers, and body modifications…but now we’re in a claustrophobic, classic locked manor house murder mystery – and the two genres blend together surprisingly well.

Verastiqui juggles multiple characters with apparent ease and keeps the pace moving through the set up, the shocking but inevitable violence, and then the desperate struggles each character has to survive to the end of the night (and the book).

Do I hate him for some of the things he put my favorites through? Yes, yes I do. And I can give no higher praise than that: I cared about these people. I wanted some to thrive and didn’t mind if the machinery of the story ground others to (metallic) dust.

If you like sci-fi, country house murder mysteries, or just want to care about authentic characters in near-constant peril, then I recommend this book.

Aside from the review, Carl sent me a private text with more thoughts on the book, which I really appreciated. While authors love a favorable public review, they always want to hear more in a more personal setting. I, myself, have a contact form you can use to tell me how you really feel about the Vinestead Universe books. All I want for Christmas is some feedback. And an Infiniti Q50 Red Sport.

There is no better Christmas treat than my mom’s pan de polvo

Anyway, I’ve got another book to write and diapers to change and chorin’ to do and Odins to murder and pan de polvo to binge eat. Oh, and my day job. I keep forgetting about that.

Review: Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

Well, that was weird. Awesome, but weird.

Have you heard of those movies that are originally standalone but are then reworked to be part of a series? Pretty sure they did it with a couple of Die Hard films. Anyway, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once feels like one of those movies that could have been reworked into a decent Matrix 4. It has all the right themes, all the right questions about identity and multiple versions of ourselves, probability, and above all: choice.

But, with the exception of a few homages, this isn’t a Matrix movie, which is fine because it easily stands on its own. It’s funny, weird, poignant, and… fresh. It’s not a Batman or Superman movie. There’s no cinematic universe. It’s downright novel in that way.

Michelle Yeoh, Short Round, Lo Pan, and Laurie Strode all shine in this movie, and I loved watching them play action and crazy and subtle one scene after the other. The only actress I was lukewarm on was Joy, but she came through in the end. I had even more appreciation for her after reading the trivia on IMDB that said Awkwafina was originally in line for the role.

More than anything, it was great to see Short Round / Data back on the screen again. He is definitely his own thing, and that thing is endearing. Even in 2022, his voice will take you right back to childhood.

There’s not much you can say about Everything, Everywhere, All at Once without spoiling the movie, so I’ll leave you with this: the hype leading up to the theatrical and home release was huge, my expectations were huge, and from the moment the movie began to the last second some forty-two hours later, it delivered.

Stream it on Amazon tonight for $20. It’s worth every penny.

Review: Project Hail Mary

I am not a fan of first person POV in the best of times, and the way Weir uses it is super choppy. I did this. I did that. Something happened. The closer I got to the end, the more I found myself skipping lines at a time.

That said… great book. Great premise along with an almost unbelievably intelligent and lucky protag. It follows the pattern set up in The Martian while also reminding me of Delta-V. Impossible mission with problem after problem solved by this super genius school teacher. Great stuff. And the ending was spot on. Probably not what you were expecting because, you know, reality has rules… but I enjoyed it.

Definitely recommend it for anyone into spaceships and space physics and space and feeling dumb. If you liked The Martian, Delta-V, or Providence, this book is for you.

Vise Manor: Review by Sarah Orren @ Reedsy Discovery

“Reminiscent of the movies Clue and House on Haunted Hill, Vise Manor is a clever sci-fi thriller that kept me up well into the night to see what happened next.”

This was my first year trying out Reedsy Discovery, and a week after the launch of Vise Manor, I’ll go ahead and give it a solid thumbs-up for ROI, both in sales and engagement. I was lucky enough to get my book picked up, and by release day, I had an insightful, well-written review I could bandy about the internet. Thus-reviewed, Vise Manor was then plugged into the larger Reedsy Discovery world, which sent a lot of clicks to this very website. So yeah, same time next year!

Here’s the full review from Sarah Orren:

“Reminiscent of the movies Clue and House on Haunted HillVise Manor is a clever sci-fi thriller that kept me up well into the night to see what happened next. Set in a far more technologically sophisticated world than our own, yet still in 2021, synthetics are all the rage. Though few companies have mastered the ability to craft completely human-like synthetic beings complete with intelligence, personality and mannerisms, Winston Vise is claiming to have produced the best synthetics out there. And he needs investors to continue on his path of success.

Vise is an almost unheard of tech billionaire, so when he invites eight carefully chosen members of relevant industries to his manor for dinner and an unveiling of his new products, they RSVP yes, if only to learn more about the elusive man. The disembodied synthetic hand that Vise sent with the invitation as proof of his advances certainly aided in their decision to attend.

But when the attendees show up to Vise Manor, they get more than they bargained for. Communications are jammed, Mother Nature is unleashing her fury, and not everyone is who they claim to be. Throw in a few unexpected brutal murders and the night quickly shifts into survival mode.

Though the story may not be entirely original, and a few parts were even a little predictable, Verastiqui does an amazing job of developing each and every character. I found myself rooting for Carter and Roma, Nancy and Misty (unexpectedly so), and actually shouted aloud during a pivotal character’s death just before sunrise. It became almost a game of trying to determine who would survive and who wouldn’t, and what paths each character would take along the way.

Once I got to the very end of the story and realized that it left open space for a sequel, I went to Verastiqui’s site and learned that this is actually a part of a 7-book anthology series. I will definitely be going back and reading these other stories. Overall, I loved it and recommend to any sci-fi readers interested in a book that walks the line between murder mystery and cyber thriller.”

Sarah Orren, Reedsy Discovery

Thanks for the awesome review, Sarah!

Review: Providence by Max Barry

It has been a month since I finished reading Providence by Max Barry, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. On the surface, it’s a relatively simple story that will take you back to the good ol’ days of Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, but it also throws in so many modern writing tricks that it feels like something completely new. The story moves fast, skipping past the extraneous to get to what people really want to see: big ships firing big guns.

Warp Speed Ahead

I don’t remember how I learned about Providence, but I think it was in one of Amazon’s Daily Kindle Deals emails. I recognized the name from one of his other books, Jennifer Government, which I thought had a great premise but that I just couldn’t get into. Providence has a simpler premise: a distant alien enemy needs to be destroyed, and the world is going to throw its combined resources against it (because that worked so well against COVID). The result is a fleet of starships that run pretty much on their own thanks to advanced (and somewhat nebulous) AI. Barry winds up this premise, drops it on the floor, and watches it go.

I couldn’t stop reading once I started. Much like Sara Gran’s Come Closer, this story grabbed me and didn’t let go until the final note by the author at the end of the book. A lot of it has to do with what Barry chooses to leave out, most of which can be categorized as “not conflict.” Some authors, including yours truly, often take a winding path from point A to point B. This book doesn’t do that, so once you get started, you find yourself dragged along to the epic, made-for-Hollywood conclusion.

When it comes to editing, it feels like Providence has been pared down to the bare essentials. It puts the action front and center and minimizes the time between.

What I Liked

Sometimes, I miss the old days when I read a story just for the story itself. These days, I can’t help but pick out the little things authors do to make their books more interesting. Here are some of the things I saw Barry doing, that I will now shamelessly copy in my books:

  • POV-hopping chapters – One of the reasons I write multi-POV is because it allows you to throw a veil over the inner thoughts of a main character when its dramatically appropriate. It seemed like every time I wanted to know what a character in Providence was thinking, the author switched POVs.
  • Dwindling dialogue tags – I came away with the sense that Barry didn’t use any dialogue tags, but that’s not true. What I think happened is that as the book progressed, and to show how quickly things were moving, he simply began to drop them. The latter half of the book is full of passages of just alternating lines of dialogue. No tags, no narration–just rapid fire speech.
  • Starship Troopers – As I mentioned before, reading about big ships firing big guns was right up my alley. Barry talks about giving the reader what they want at the end of the book, and he pulled it off well.
  • Ender’s Game – I enjoyed the mystery around the bugs: where they came from, how they reproduced, and what they wanted.
  • The Climax – The brightest spot in this book is the moment when all seems lost for one of the characters. I had no idea how they were going to overcome their situation, and then it happened. I saw the scene exactly how I would expect it to appear in a movie, complete with a triumphant swell of music.

What I Didn’t Like as Much

Providence, while a fine story totally worth your time, doesn’t break much new ground in terms of premise. Much of it seems like an homage to other Science Fiction books, right down to the characters named Anders and Beanfield. Here are some things I didn’t find quite as engaging:

  • It Feels Short – When you’re hopping from one battle to the next and trying to fill in those gaps, you can either pare down or go full stream of consciousness. Barry spares the reader from unrelated side plots and focuses only on the things that directly affect the ship. The meat of the story is there… there’s just not a lot of it.
  • 2nd Person POV – This was a strange choice to me, especially for a prologue. Someone picking up the book might be turned off by their involuntary inclusion in the story and wouldn’t keep reading (which would be a damn shame). I know the author needed a way to describe the first encounter, but this felt like a jarring way to do it. Maybe the discomfort was the point?
  • Leaving the Ship – Late in the book, the characters visit a planet. For some reason, once they left the ship, I felt my interest wane. If anything, the ship itself is a main character, and I didn’t like seeing it being pushed to the background.

Damage Report

Providence is an efficient novel that is so worth your time that I can’t believe you haven’t given up on this blog post and gone to read it yet. It took me less than 24 hours to go from cover to cover, and regardless of where this book lands on the hierarchical list of “good science fiction,” it’s no doubt engaging and a fun read.

Climb aboard and strap in. It’s a ride you won’t soon forget.

You and I, Arjuna, have lived many lives.

I remember them all, you do not remember.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

I was only nine or ten when I picked up Replay for the first time. In the decades since, I’ve read it over and over again in the hopes of becoming a better writer. It has taught me how to be direct with my language, how to be honest with the motivations and desires of my characters, and most importantly, it showed me (and continues to show me) that stories can be more than just entertainment; they can make your reader feel something.

Prior to reading my first big boy book, I was content to devour anything written by Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and Bruce Coville. If there was a finer book than My Teacher Fried My Brains, I hadn’t read it. I had always been aware of my parents’ bookshelf, but the titles had always seemed so imposing. ShogunThe Satanic Verses, IT. Okay, IT is not that imposing, but still. These books were dense and full of big words I didn’t understand.

Replay, though, seemed instantly accessible. I turned to the first page and there it was.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

It might have been the best and worst of times, and the clocks might have been striking thirteen, but I consider Replay’s opening line to be one of the best in literature. There is so much contained in this one little sentence, and it is as tragic as it is mundane. We join the story just as the main character dies. At ten years old, I had yet to read a book where anyone dies, let alone at the very beginning of the story.

Replay is the story of a middle-aged guy who dies and wakes up as his 18 year old self with all of his knowledge still intact. He has to relive his life knowing what will happen, not just to himself, but to the world. He tries to avoid the bad moments and recapture the good, but as he finds out, the future isn’t set. Just by having knowledge of it, of thinking he knows how it will go, he changes his replay in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He lives another life, only to die again of another heart attack.

Wash, rinse, and replay.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

Whenever I tell someone about Replay, I usually just parrot the synopsis and hope they find it interesting enough to purchase the book. However, to really tell you why this book is my favorite, we have to go beyond the sex, drugs, love, and loss of Jeff’s various replays. You see, on a superficial level, a man counting cards in Vegas or betting on the Preakness is just as entertaining as Peter trying to mail his little brother. There are a lot of books, and a lot of sci-fi, that are just pure entertainment. Just really cool things that happen to really cool people. And explosions.

Replay is different. I didn’t realize it until the very end of chapter seven. For the first third of the book, I was pretty entertained. Jeff gets into some crazy stuff (crazier if you’re a ten year old boy with no reckoning of the adult world), but it wasn’t until this moment that I realized something incredible: I was having an emotional response to a story. It was like a moment of sudden self-awareness. I saw beyond the narrator to Ken Grimwood sitting at his typewriter. I saw him crafting the story, moving pieces here and there, trying to elicit an emotional reaction.

After that moment, everything changed.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

I tell people I like to write love stories disguised as Science Fiction, and I owe that all to Replay. Though time travel is a common SF element, the emotional journey Jeff takes throughout his many lives seems to be unique. (I wouldn’t see it again until decades later in The Time Traveler’s Wife.) It’s all well and good to have virtual reality and robots and endotech, but there has to be an element that reaches out to the reader and squeezes their heart in their chest.

Transferring emotional content from the writer to the reader (or trying to, anyway) has shaped the content of my novels and will continue to forever. Xronixle would not be the same if X didn’t have a misguided love for CVeneer would have been all visuals if not for the misunderstood relationships between Deron and Rosalia, and Rosalia and Ilya. In Perion Synthetics, I wanted to focus on the relationships between humans and synthetics more than the novelty of anatomically correct sex robots.

Replay was the first book to show me that emotional transfer was possible through storytelling.

The possibilities, Jeff knew, were endless.

There is so much to learn from this book beyond what writing is about. So much of my personal style is derived from Grimwood’s that I often read this book, or just chapters, before I start writing something new, or when I’m stuck. If I can’t start a chapter, I’ll load up my Kindle and read a few from Replay, just so I can remember that yes, writing is easy, so long as you are direct and honest.

Here are some other things I’ve learned from Replay:

  • Flaws give a character depth
  • The narrator is as much a character as the characters
  • Sex is a natural part of human existence, no matter what the American Family Association says
  • Chapters should end with a smooth taper or powerful bang, never ambiguously
  • Respect the emotional connection between the reader and the characters
  • Write freely

All of this said, Replay is not just a book to inspire readers to be writers. It is entertaining and thoughtful, exciting and poignant. I tell everyone who hasn’t read it that they must read it now, which reminds me:

If you have not read this book, you must read it now.

Order the book from Amazon.

Read more about Ken Grimwood at Wikipedia.

If you’ve read the book, what was your favorite part?