Review: Dawn, by Octavia Butler

My rating: **** out of 5 stars.

It’s difficult to decide on a numerical rating for a book when you aren’t certain what you were supposed to feel about it. Have no doubt, Octavia Butler’s Dawn, the first volume of the re-titled Lilith’s Brood trilogy is a well-written piece of science fiction. Most who have read it would place it among the classics of sci-fi, and I wouldn’t argue with them based on how it was plotted and crafted. My problem is with the main characters.

You see, I hated all of them.

That by itself would normally send me permanently out of the book, were I not trying to learn something specific from the author. In this case, however, I suspect that maybe I was supposed to hate them all. Without spoiling the plot for those who haven’t read the books, Lilith, the protagonist, is among the few remaining humans who have been captured (they would say rescued) by the alien Oankali following a devastating nuclear war. Earth is effectively incapable of sustaining life, but the Oankali have decided to save the remaining human population. The catch is that the aliens only deal in what they call a trade: they will repopulate the Earth, but only doing so via a merging of their tentacle-creature DNA with humans.

The Oankali are immediately grotesque to Lilith, which is made clear via a bit of exaggerated prose showing the human’s fear and loathing. Eventually, however, she comes to trust at least one of them, Nikanj, with whom she forms a bond that includes what we are told is the alien’s form of sex. The problem is that Nikanj is never remotely likeable. His and his kind’s form of bonding is essentially chemical coercion combined with the humans’ having developed Stockholm Syndrome. Lilith is complicit and though the book reads as though we are supposed to be rooting for her and not those who oppose or want to harm her, I found myself agreeing with them at every point.

Now, were I to stop there, I would call this masterful. We see the story from her perspective, and though we try, we can’t love or agree with her. We are given the others’ viewpoints and embrace them. Except the others are horrid. One tries to rape Lilith. Others try to rape other females. So, I hate them even more than I hate her, but less than I hate the Oankali.

This is a book with no one to root for. I finished it and admired her ability to tell the story, but in this case, the kindly (slave Massa) Nikanj is odious, and Lilith, playing Uncle Tom with no Cabin, is just as odious. Given the author’s cleverness, I have to assume that is what we are meant to leave with–that survival requires us to make bedfellows that leave no heroes in the end.

It is a clever device, I suppose. However, I knew well that lesson before I began the book. And make no mistake; I didn’t like the book, not one little bit. I hated all of the characters, and though I started book 2, I hated those characters even more. I gave up on it. Perhaps I’ll try book 3.

Maybe I wouldn’t have liked Ms. Butler in person. Maybe too much of the author is in the book. Or, maybe she was a bloody genius, and I was supposed to feel exactly what she made me feel.

With that expectation in hand, I gave the book 4.0 stars. But I don’t have to like it.

4.0 out of 5.0 stars, but not a book I’d recommend to non-pessimists.

Looking for a Few Honest Reviewers

Do you read a lot? Comfortable with eBook formats? Like mysteries and/or literary fiction? Then, I’m looking for you. I’m looking for a few folks to generate honest reviews on for my newly released books. In consideration of your time, I’ll send you free copies of the eBooks in whatever format you prefer. Again, I’m not looking for fake “likes” or anything that would violate Amazon’s rules (or basic human decency).

A very few New York Times best sellers were discovered to have had their publishers buy up their first print run to get on the NYT Best Sellers list and even to pay for great reviews. It tarnished the industry and along with fake reviews by a few indie publishers, effectively slowed books sales to a crawl. I would rather stay unknown than cheat, but still, no one buys books they think no one’s read yet. Not sure why–it’s just a fact.

If you have the time and inclination, drop me a comment here or DM me on Twitter via the link below. I look forward to hearing from you.

¡Muchas gracias!

Lucy (2014) in the Sky with F***ING BRAIN DAMAGE!

This will be a short post (rant). I was flying to the UK in either December or February, when I was met by a promising movie, Lucy (2014) starring the great wooden cigar-store Indian actress Scarlett Johansson. I was a bit excited, as it promised to be Sci-fi, looked bad, and I’d heard nothing of it. Sadly, I couldn’t enjoy the biting cynicism of superiority that usually marks my watching poorly written Sci-fi. In fact, despite having Morgan Freeman playing Easy Reader a leading scientist on brain science, the movie crashed for me in the opening minutes. It was the premise, you see.

For Lucy, the entire movie revolved around the “FACT” that humans use only 10% of our brains. What would happen, it speculates, if we actually used 100%? What would that do to our dear, sweet mannequin Lucy?

Well, she’d not be as dumb as monkey shit, for one thing. Perhaps no one would be hired full time to scrape the drool from her face and change her diapers. Maybe she might not even die inside the freaking womb!

HUMANS USE 100% OF OUR BRAINS! That’s why your damned head is so big. If you only needed 10%, you’d have 10% of a head.


Inefficient Design
Inefficient Design

For fuck’s sake, people, if you’re gonna write a goddamned science fiction movie, open a bloody science book! I know, I know, we call it science fiction, so it shouldn’t have to exactly true. I get that, except Science Fiction means “fictionalized science.” It doesn’t mean “dumb as monkey balls.” If you want to write movies based on a complete lack of science knowledge, that would be called “Non-Science Fiction” (or maybe “Monkey Balls Fiction”).

I could get past Freeman doing bad movies for money. I happen to have a long-term relationship with money myself. Get yours, my brother! But damn, hearing him do these lines with a straight face was akin to seeing him play God in Bruce Almighty if he’d done so speaking in tongues while wearing Moose Antlers – nothing he said made any sense, so why even bother?

Not only is the concept of the 10% of brain bogus, no one with any scientific knowledge can even figure out what dumbass started the lie in the first place. Here’s a quote from Eric Chudler, Phd., on the faculty of the University of Washington:

“So next time you hear someone say that they only use 10% of their brain, you can set them straight. Tell them: ‘We use 100% of our brains.’”

See? Science isn’t hard.

Dr. Chudler sites these further sources in case his being way the hell more educated than you isn’t enough to bow your tiny brain into submission.

  1. Ten Percent and Counting –
  2. The Ten-Percent Myth from the Skeptical Inquirer
  3. The Ten-Percent Myth
  4. Do People Use 10 Percent of Their Brains? – Scientific American
  5. Humans use 100 percent of their brains–despite the popular myth – Ask a Scientist
  6. Higbee, K.L. and Clay, S.L., College students’ beliefs in the ten-percent myth, Journal of Psychology, 132:469-476, 1998.
  7. B.L. Beyerstein, Whence Cometh the Myth that We Only Use 10% of Our Brains? in Mind Myths. Exploring Popular Assumptions about the Mind and Brain edited by S. Della Sala, Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, pages 3-24, 1999. This chapter is required reading for anyone who wants more information on the 10% myth.

If you’re going to write science fiction, do it the right way—avoid monkey balls. If you quote the 10% thing again, however, I will find you and scoop out 90% of your head pudding. Let’s see if you can still formulate a coherent sentence to tell the cops.

Oh, and another thing, WE DO NOT LOSE 90% of heat through our HEADS EITHER!! Heads are little things. You lose about 10% or less of heat (maybe a bit more if 90% of your brain has already been scooped out).

And Scarlett Johansson can’t act. Just saying.

Love, Bill.


Another 5-star Review for Hard as Roxx

Yay! (I stole this from Shhhh! Don’t tell them. 🙂 Thanks to Ann L. Newman for buying the paperback, reading the book, and leaving such a kind review.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing futuristic world, October 5, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase
This review is from: Hard as Roxx (Paperback)

What I love best about this novel is the creative way this author has developed the societies of the future including the way that robots have impacted it, as well as effect of genetic engineering on the human species. Of course as a woman, I loved the topic of a young female with two children fleeing from a powerful man – one who has a position enabling him to kill her and her children with ease. There is a romance between the main character and another female which is very romantic and a direct result of the changes that society has undergone to that point. I would recommend this novel to lovers of science fiction,suspense, and novels with strong female characters.

The Thin Ending

The Thin ManThe Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh. I can’t describe what I didn’t like without a major spoiler. Suffice it to say the writing flowed easily and the main characters were likable enough, but the detective work began to get tedious. Hammett was a former Pinkerton detective, and I think he knew too much of the process. While the flow of investigative work was realistic enough, the repetition was tiresome. The ending kind of jumped out of the closet, so to speak, with few clues scattered about that would have led one to it.

So, although I enjoyed Hammett’s writing style tremendously, and his basic characterization, the “not very neat” ending, to paraphrase Nora Charles, left me unsatisfied. Yes, he tied up the case, but, meh.

Bottom line: If you like old detective stories, as I do, you’ll probably like this one; however, like me, you may be ready for it to be over by the end of the book.

P.S. The book and the movie are very different. The movie is wittier and more urbane, mostly due to William Powell and Myrna Loy. In addition, the way they staged the crime and the solution followed Hollywood traditions. The book does not. Finally, in the movie, Dorothy, played by Maureen O’Hara, is engaged and charming. In the book, she’s kind of a semi-slutty ditz. Don’t read the book looking for the movie. Conversely, since I read the book first, I turned the movie off after 30 minutes – the changes bugged me (plus, I found it free online).

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A 1st Review! Liked the Book. Doesn’t Like Lesbians. So, Now I’m Pissed.

I received a first review of Hard as Roxx, and I can’t stop laughing. No, it wasn’t a great review. In fact, the reviewer “deducted a star” because I didn’t give away in the 1st two chapters or the blurb that one of the two main characters was lesbian and the other bisexual. Still, he gave me 3 stars, so I guess that makes this a 4-star, non-queer equivalent.

Whatever, dude. Sorry, I’m honestly laughing again.

So, one of the many inspirations behind the book (along with “The Outlaw Josie Wales,” “Mad Max,” and “Way of the Dragon”) was the Gaea Trilogy by John Varley. It too starred a tall female lead (Cirocco Jones) and female partner (Gaby Plauget), who turned out to be an on-again, off-again lover. Heavens to Betsy.

What the review made me think of, however (other than his particular hatred of books with homosexuality and/or “erotica” which showed up in most of his reviews) is the difference between expectation and reality. In this person’s mind, who was likely looking for hard sci fi crossed with dystopian sci fi, I clearly missed the mark. However, I didn’t market it as either hard or soft sci fi, because it’s neither. It does involve genetic engineering to a large extent, and a great deal of (some say too much) discussion about technology ( which I know A LOT about), but it’s still more romantic epic than not.

But in a reader’s mind, the book is “mostly” about lesbian sensuality. Okay, an important viewpoint, that. However, the main character, Roxx, meets her partner, Trint, whilst in the midst of killing 7 men who were trying to kidnap her daughter into child slavery. I didn’t do a final body count, but I’d guess it was over 3 dozen, not including robots.

Now I can see griping that the book is too violent, or that it averages around 1.1 curse words per page (if you include “bloody”), or even that it’s not nearly dreary enough to qualify as dystopian, but is a book really about romance if the 1st sex happens in chapter 13? Should we writers worry about reviews when it is obvious that the readers are reviewing how well we meet their expectations or prejudices?

I would say, “No.” I am lucky in that I have people whom I trust who tell me when a work is good or mediocre. (They won’t say “bad.”) So, I really couldn’t give two shits about the opinions of strangers. Shocking, right? But I do hope that others who read reviews, good or bad, understand they are reviewing how well a book meets their wants, and not the book itself.

Roxx isn’t perfect. It probably starts too slowly. Like all my stories, at its core, it’s a love story. It’s violent. She says “bloody” too much and she has a penchant for decapitating enemies when killing them is enough. And, she has an irrational (though well-deserved) fear of being raped to death.

She also likes sex with men and women, though she’s only willingly had sex with 2 each of either gender.

Hate Roxx because she bores you. But don’t take a story, read all 360 pages, like it, but then slap lesbians in the face for existing, by virtue of my book. I didn’t market my book as “lesbian lit” because it isn’t. And, ranting dumbasses aside, there are approximately 452 science fiction works that include LGBT characters. There are over 100 that include them as lead characters. I am proud to say, my book adds to that list (and kicks serious ass in the process.)

I’m really shocked he never mentioned the gay robot. He’s the best character in the book. And Jasper would love that he was being hated.

So, I guess the bottom line is I expected this, just not right away. But that means they’re reading it, which is cool. I’ve written about black characters, white, biracial, Hispanic, Native American, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Africans. I’ve written straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered. I’ve written 1st-person as a woman and 3rd-person as myself. And they all have one thing in common. That some people will never figure out what that is, is not my concern. My concern, as a writer, is to stretch the genres to include the things they always should have included.

If, in the process, I step on your toes, move your fucking feet out my goddamn way.

Peace, babies.

Review: Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg

Dying InsideDying Inside by Robert Silverberg5stars

My rating:  5 out of 5 Stars

If you are a writer, there is a sadness in completing a masterful work. It is that surety, the cold knowledge that you will never write anything so important, or so simply. That is my unfiltered reaction to having completed Dying Inside. Silverberg filled his book with an absolutely miserable, self-pitying, abhorrent human being. He did little but wander through his current and dim past life, showing us his wallowing failures at holding normal relationships with people.

He has a “gift,” does David Selig, one that makes him — as he considers himself to be — a Superman. However, as we watch his life, and especially as his gift begins to fail him, and disappear, we become aware, as he never does, that it is not a gift. He can read minds, as only a few others can. But it does him no good. He squanders the gift, which oddly, isolates him from society. He doesn’t need to interact, he can “learn” them without their input. There are one or two others with the gift, and they fare slightly better, but it is still pointless.

So, I read about David, the whiny, wheedling, racist, protagonist, and secretly rooted for him to die. He does not, and I’m not certain he ever becomes likable, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the book. Silverberg’s prose is a masterful mix of simplicity and lyricism. And though we don’t like David or anyone in his world — there isn’t a single likable character in the book — we are drawn in by Silverberg’s storytelling enough not to care.

We read the book, not because we care about the character, but because we care about the book. And that, my friends, is a masterwork.

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If You Read, Your Voice Matters

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 6.52.14 PM

For a long time, there was debate regarding whether reviews lead to sales of movies and books. However, recently,it has become more apparent that is the case. In fact, in one empirical study, “Do online reviews matter? — An empirical investigation of panel data,” by Wenjing Duana,Bin Gu, and Andrew B. Whinston, researchers found that the presence of reviews is influential in driving sales of movies. In fact, early reviews were important in generating buzz, which drives sales.

Put plainly, not only do online reviews matter, they are critical in helping to generate interest in entertainment products. Now, while this was an empirical study of movie reviews, online book reviews have been found to be as important. Interestingly, although there has been some press of late regarding (assholes) who pay for fake reviews, the overall rating of the review isn’t what matters to consumers.

The study summarized it well: “… Consumers do not blindly follow the ratings posted by other users. Instead, they are more likely to read the review and make an independent judgment about the true quality of the movie. However, we find that the number of reviews plays an important role in influencing sales.”

In other words, if you read a book, and write, however briefly, how you feel about it, others will read the review and use it to decide whether they might like it. Simply put, a mediocre review is better than no review, as readers have no information to gauge a book, especially from a new author.

So, does your opinion matter? The answer is, increasingly, yes. While professional reviewers still have a place in art, increasingly, it is the cumulative opinion of ordinary people that drive sales. In my study of the Top 100 authors of all time, it was critical to note that the list of critically acclaimed authors is almost wholly different from the list of best-selling ones. As the Hampton Roads, Virginia, “Daily Press” stated, “Critics of critics say professional reviewers have snooty tastes, applying the same criteria to an Eddie Murphy comedy or Vin Diesel bust-’em-up as they would to a Kurosawa or Fellini film.”


In my study, I found the same trend with books. In fact, in reading Sci Fi, as I’ve done for my entire life, I’ve been amused that the most critically heralded books are the ones wherein almost nothing interesting happens, or where all the characters are odious. What critics like has little to do with why people read books. This is probably why, for Blockbusters, film goers don’t care about movie reviews. Bad Blockbusters still make money. Similarly, heralded books, like 50 Shades of Suck, sell in the jillions, despite horrendous reviews.

Where reviews matter is for the small books (and films) that depend on word of mouth.

Therefore, for an Indie Publisher, like me, the reviews of readers is tantamount to our life’s blood. If you read the book, but don’t review it, or tell anyone about it, there’s a great chance no one else will buy it. My books are not selling well, for instance, despite the fact that I’ve gotten exactly 1 bad review, from a guy who didn’t read the whole book.

If you’ve read a book from an Independent Publisher and liked it, or sort of liked it, or thought it sucked, take 5 minutes and write about it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Studies have shown it’s the number of (hopefully honest) reviews that matter. You matter. If you’ve read Discovery, Awakening, Emprise, or The Juice and Other Stories, how about giving me a review?

I actually care what you think. Reviews not only drive sales, and word of mouth, they tell me what to keep doing and what to improve upon. Where else can you be as important?

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A New Review for Discovery (The Stream, Book 1)

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable YA Fantasy, July 9, 2013
This review is from: The Stream: Discovery (Paperback)

Charlie is a lucid dreamer in a way that is beyond what most people can do – he finds out what happens in his dreams has an effect on the world around him. And he finds out that someone else has this ability – his beloved great-grandfather, G’pa Joe. The problem is, Joe’s in a nursing home, and he’s suddenly taken a turn for the worse – is it Alzheimer’s? Or something else, even more insidious?

Robin and her mother move from New Mexico to get a new start in life after Robin’s older sister dies in an accident. Robin finds out that Charlie has the same ability she does – to do ‘real things’ in dreams. Not only that, they find out they can interact with each other’s dreams. And it isn’t just them, some of their classmates also have this ability. Unfortunately, the dreams aren’t always good – and there’s something out there in the dreams, known as Siri, who has an interest in Joe, and Charlie, and not in a good way.

Can Charlie figure a way to bring Joe back to the land of the living? Will Robin heal completely from her sister’s death? Will they be able to face up to Siri, and figure out its plans for the dream world?

This is the first book of a trilogy, and very interesting. While Charlie and Robin are pre-teens (twelve years old), they seem older (not necessarily a bad thing). An enjoyable read.

Discovery – Available in Kindle format and Paperback from


Review: The Fault in Our Stars


 — 5 out of 5 Stars

“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.” — from The Fault in Our Stars

The plot of the book is quite simple: Hazel is a girl with terminal cancer. She has been terminal for years, living with cancer-damaged lungs courtesy a miracle drug that has extended her life into her sixteenth year. In the “Literal Heart of Jesus,” a church basement where her teen support group meets, she encounters Augustus, a boy who will change the course of her life.

“The Fault” is a book about living with cancer, dying from cancer, hating cancer. It is a story that others have tackled, but none so well. It is poignant without being maudlin. It is sad, in places, with no artificial hand-wringing or attempts to wrestle gulping tears from its readers. But neither is it cold or distant, having been told in the likable first-person voice of its central character, Hazel.

She and Gus struggle, trying to find bits of normalcy, amidst the unfairness, the strangers’ stares, and the Cancer Perks. I rooted for them, was moved by them, but more importantly, believed them. The beauty of the book is John Green’s ability to write real characters. Hazel is a real girl, Gus is a real, though charismatic, boy, and I cared about them. There was a point in the book where it slowed, but not to the point of boredom, rather to the point of reality. Others call it a comedy, but it’s funny in the way that life is funny — not through situations, but via people who make it worthwhile.

If you’re looking for something to weep over, there are other books for that. Both Hazel and Gus would roll their eyes at you if you did. But if you want to understand what it’s like to try and live — and fall in love — while your body is insistent on betraying you, try this one.

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