Review: The Last Colony, by John Scalzi

This is the third book in the Old Man’s War series, and it unites the storylines of the first two books. John Perry has been returned to human form, and Jane Sagan has been made human as well. They married and settled down on a world named Huckleberry, adopting Zoe, the orphaned daughter of a brilliant traitor.

Everything was going fine, and then the Colonial Union asked them for a little favor.

So John, Jane, Zoe, and the rest of their household are off to form a new colony on Roanoke, except this is no ordinary colony. It’s a mix-mash of divergent cultures and almost seems designed to fail. And then they get the rug pulled out from under them when it turns out the Colonial Union has been… shall we say, less than truthful. From there it’s an engaging story of setting up a colony under less than ideal circumstances, hiding from aliens, and discovering the truth about what’s really going on.

This was probably my favorite of the series so far. It was all fresh material, and there were lots of problems to be solved, both practical and political. John, Jane, and Zoe all did humanity proud, even if it wasn’t always what the Colonial Union wanted. They also peeled the lid off of a static situation, and I’ll be interested to see where the story goes from here.

So, if you faltered during the Ghost Brigades, pick this one up and keep on marching.

Indie vs. Traditional Publishing

One of the nicest things to see on the internet is watching a pointless argument actually cool off instead of pouring on even more heat. It’s rare, but it does happen, just like it did for the ongoing argument between established authors who published through the traditional houses and the upstarts like me who went the indie or self-publishing route.

castleAt the start of 2012, about the time I made my own decision to go Indie, the two camps were digging trenches and sharpening spears. Those in the traditional camp stood high upon the walls of their New York castles, confident in their righteous gatekeepers, and looked out upon the raging barbarians and called them deluded fools. Meanwhile, the indie camp moved openly through the fields with confidence and shook their heads at the poor word-slaves held prisoner within those very same New York castles. Between them raged a war of words so vast and vehement that I can only imagine how many novels slipped off to next year because of the wasted effort.

But now things have cooled down. The two camps are hardly seeing eye to eye, but I’m seeing some grudging acceptance in both camps.

What happened to change their minds? Well, I’m sure that some of it was merely them running out of steam. Even the most strident partisans eventually wear themselves out. They might say there is no point in trying to educate their idiotic opposition or that they are merely taking a brief respite from the fight, but when you add it up across the ranks, the volume has been turned down from its once-epic volume.

nomoneyinhandBut there were also some reality checks on both sides. Thousands of indie authors tossed out their one and only book, pounded out the marketing, and inexplicably did NOT become millionaires. For that matter, most did not even make $1000. It became clear that we would not all be breakout successes like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and E. L. James. Just like in traditional publishing, those were going to be the rare exception. Many realized that one book will not give them a living wage and that they did not have the patience and stamina to keep at it for ten or fifteen books before seeing much success.

Meanwhile, cracks spread through the New York castle walls. One of the best-selling SF books in 2012 was Wool, self-published by its author Hugh Howey. Another best-seller was the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, another self-publishing breakout. Also, major authors started pulling their electronic rights back from the traditional publishers. Specifically, J. K. Rowling decided to publish the e-book versions of the Harry Potter series herself, and I have personally heard a number of older authors talk about putting up some of the backlist for sale themselves and “making more on it now than I ever did before.” Throw in a price-fixing lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice, a merger or two, and those castle walls are starting to look a lot less stable.

We’re also seeing some crossover with indie authors grabbing traditional contracts and traditionally published authors walking away to go indie. Some of those moving into the New York castles talk about finally seeing their books on a bookstore shelf, while those moving out into the open fields talk about having the kind of control they always wanted but never had. And after years of everyone saying the only path to publishing was to get an agent, we’re seeing several examples of New York publishers looking at successful indie books as their new slush pile.

While both sides are starting to question the certainty of their righteous cause, it’s important to note what is really coming out of all this. It’s not that one side is right and the other side wrong. It’s that traditional publishing is right for some people and some situations while indie publishing is right for other people and other situations.

The bottom line is that we should all be trying to make the decision that is right for ourselves. These will vary according to our goals, our personalities, and where we are on this particular journey. Am I making the right decision for myself? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I’m in a better position to know than anyone else, whether it’s some illiterate slob or the CEO of Random House.

Review: Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose

I tore through this one last weekend:

This is the book that HBO based their “Band of Brothers” mini-series on, and it was excellent. I had already seen the mini-series, which was also excellent, so I was in a position similar to times when you see the movie and then go read the book.

If you never saw it or have no idea what I’m talking about, this is the story of the men of Easy company, a group of 150 soldiers from the 101st Airborne division in World War II. It follows them from their training in the US through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and their defense of Bastogne, on into Germany, and their victory lap at Hitler’s very own Eagle’s Nest. For the most part, they were not career military men. They were merely citizens who went off to war.

As an aside, books get turned into movies all the time, and if you read the book first, you then decry how much they cut to squeeze it all into the 2-hour movie. If you see the movie first, the book is then filled with all this extra stuff like backstory, extra plot-lines, and character depth. But a book and a mini-series are a good fit.

HBO gave it ten hour-long episodes and managed to cover most of the book, so while I wasn’t coming across tons and tons of new material, there were still plenty of newfound gems. More than anything, it was like reading the director’s commentary of the DVD, except of course, it wasn’t the director. In many cases, it was direct quotes from many of the soldiers who had fought through the war. It also had a bit of surreal sense in that I felt like I already knew these people and had clear pictures of them in my mind. All in all, seeing the series before-hand made reading the book that much more enjoyable.

One section that was in the book that the mini-series only glossed over was what these remarkable soldiers did with their lives after the war. A large number of them went into teaching, and another big bunch of them went into construction. That was a nice turn, seeing them go from a world of destruction and violence to a life of building the future.

I’m going to quote one little bit from those later years that really made an impression on me. Private Ralph Stafford wrote, “In 1950, I went bird hunting with some guys from the fire department. I shot a bird and was remorseful as I looked down at it. The bird had done me no harm and couldn’t have. I went to the truck and stayed until the others returned, never to hunt again.” He had had enough of killing.

It looks like a number of these soldiers went on to write and publish their own memoirs of the war, but this is the place to start.

My only negative comment about the book was that the Kindle edition (which is what I read) was a terrible e-book conversion. There were some glitches that looked like lost words, bad text conversions like 2nd to 2d, and the index was a worthless list of topics not linked back to any location in the book. Bad Publisher – No Donut! So if you want to read this, get it in a dead-tree edition.