Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blog-Bomb 3: Rhobin Courtright!

Hey, fellow castaways!

This week, I want to share with you one of my new favorite science fiction authors. For those who aren't familiar, a blog-bomb is just a surprise entry highlighting someone in particular, chosen strictly at my own caprice.

For BB3, I chose Rhobin L. Courtright, author of Crewkin. Okay, so maybe this is just as much about the book as it is about Ms. Courtright, which may make this more of a review than a true blog-bomb in the purest spirit of the blog-bomb intent. But I claim rights to trhe term, and I'll make it what I want. So there.

First, I have to say I'm a big fan of Robert A. Heinlein and his style. I'm not so much a fan of authors like Arthur C. Clarke et al. I enjoyed 2001, in spite of the fact that throughout most of the book, NOTHING HAPPENS! Heinlein had some "draggers" too, but most of his books were excellent examples of action in a science fiction universe.

Rhobin Courtright's Crewkin was one of the first electronic books I bought, and a finalist for the 2012 EPIC Award for Best Science Fiction novel. After reading it, I heaved a huge sigh of relief that I entered my own novel in a different category, because I'm not sure Becoming NADIA would have beaten out Crewkin for the sci-fi category.


Renna Markham 3 is the only survivor of a long-haul star freighter that died in an incident so horrific that the Markham Corporation (owners of the ship, de facto, Renna) and  doesn't even want to talk about it. "Podders" as Renna and her crewkin are called, are so ingrained and isolated from "normal" folks like us, they don't even know how to survive socially, and the standard practice in any ship failure is for the entire crew to "join" by committing suicide. But for some reason, Renna wants to continue leaving. Her first great act of defiance is to walk out of the company clinic. I cheered. Now, for me to get that attached to a character less than one page in takes some damned good dialogue and a situation I can identify, and Ms. C did that marvelously well. Frighteningly well.


 Her second act of defiance is to grow hair. I don't want to explain it, you'll just have to read it yourself.

The Story then becomes centered around Renna's struggles to assimilate into a human society, wandering from job to job on the in-system short-haul space freighters, only to be shunned by crew after crew for her strange habits and customs, accumulated from her life as a member of a Podder crew. I think many of us can understand what it's like to be on the outside looking in, and I felt that sting deeply, even after she finds herself in with yet one more short-haul crew. Only this bunch have problems of their own. Each one is another misfit in his or her own way. So take one dysfunctional short-haul crew, add a Podder and shake well. You get some interesting colors.

Then, the other subplots start appearing. The cargo they took on at their last port, the one they are depending on to keep the ship's owners from bankruptcy? There's something odd about that. 

And that's just the beginning of "interesting."

Now, in the middle, there's some Clarke-esque moments where I thought the pace could have been a little more "on-spot." But I'm not going to fault a chess master for setting up his pieces for a checkmate, either. And the pace picked up nicely toward the grand climax at the end, and a very satisfying conclusion was reached.

I closed the book very impressed with the way it all fell together, and you guys want to read it, if you haven't already.

Thanks for a great ride, Rhobin. I look forward to more.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Have you ever said goodbye to someone knowing it would probably be the very last time you saw them on this earth? I'm not talking about saying goodbye to someone who's dying. We all know that's a heartbreaking moment. But we also know and understand in our hearts that it's definitely the last time we will see them this side of The Veil of death.

This week, I'm talking about those who move through our lives as molecules of a fluid move around each other in a solution, touching, sometimes lingering, and then moving on, diffusing to the farthest corners of the Container. And as we encounter these people, we affect each other, even for just that briefest of golden moments. Sometimes that moment lasts, and that other molecule becomes an acquaintance, a friend, or even more intimate. And then, one day, everything changes.

I had a friend in kindergarten and first grade, named Pam. Pam and I hung out, we walked together to and from school, we played on the playground together, and we were best friends.


You might even say (though a six-year-old boy would never admit this) that she was my first love. One day, we were just strolling home from school, I lost in thought about some great adventure, she talking on about whatever occupied her at the moment, and I never noticed that somehow we'd walked right past her house, and she was already up the steps and gone. Oddly enough, that was the last time I saw her. She wasn't in school the next day, or the day after that. And when I went to her house, no one was home. Pam's shadow lingered in my heart for years afterward. I never got to say goodbye.

In High school, I had a group of friends. I call them friends because of the level of camaraderie we established as a group. It was one particular class, Stage Tech. I'd been a misfit through most of my school years, not finding any group with which I could identify. And in my junior year, failing Advanced Algebra, my counselor suggested Stage Tech class. We were the people responsible for every production at the school. We built sets for the musicals and dramas, set and ran lights and sound for the band and choir shows, learned makeup techniques (Curse you, Maybelline, for discontinuing Tan Number Two base!).

Anyway, I walk into the school auditorium, and there's this band of misfits like me. We weren't the lead actors (though eventually I did take a lead role in Teahouse of the August Moon), we were the "behind the scenes" people who nobody saw, and we liked it that way. It was the two-dozen-or-so of us against the entire world, and we were determined to leave our marks on it. And we did, along the catwalk above the auditorium, on the light booth walls, and in the "student lounge," a secret corner of La Porte High School of which only a select few are aware of its very existence. We were quirky together, we were misfits together, and were brilliant together.

And after graduation, we never saw each other again.

And those instances don't take into account all the other molecules that flowed through my life over the years. My first real girlfriend when I was a teenager, Mary Ann. Missy, the Frick to my Frack who almost became my first lead singer (she was a HUGE fan off Robert Plant). Dave and Jon, two buddies from my Air Force days, who saw me through some of the toughest times in my life.


And then, molecules part. Some drift away. Some conflict. Some move away. Some just...disappear. And we never have another chance to tell them what they mean to us, how much we love them, or even to say how terribly sorry we are about...that.

That is the worst part about goodbyes. That is a word or an action that causes damage. And to leave someone damaged is the worst thing a person can do. I know. I've left some damaged people in my wake, much to my shame. And my punishment for that  is to live with knowing each heart is precious, and to have done or said that, and not be able to fix it.

My heart aches with each life I've left behind, every heart that has touched me, and every heart I've touched. I may never again see them, and I miss them all. But I can't live my life in regret, either. The best I can do every time the ache rises, every time I think of them, is to remember what good came of our time together, and to pray for their well-being and prosperity.

It doesn't make m miss them any less. But I hope that wherever they are, if they remember me, that they might do the same thing.

That makes it a little better.

It also reminds me that with each new relationship, each new person I touch, however briefly, our echoes live on long after we leave each other. It makes me more conscious of how I treat them in the Golden Moment of our interaction.

Maybe if we all were more aware of that, we'd scream a little less and start getting along.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

As If You Didn't Know

Greetings again, fellow castaways, riders on the Earth as we hurtle through space and time at unbelievable speeds.

First off, congratulations are in order for Abe. Grats, dude. Abe won a copy of Critical Mass, the third book in The NADIA Project. Which brings me to another point. The key to the win is, when the host asks for a comment, you gotta comment. I tried to make it super easy. If anyone has trouble leaving comment, email me at cyrus DOT keith AT yahoo DOT com.

Now for the topic this week: We've all seen what's been happening. eBooks are actually outselling hard copies in many markets, which is pretty cool. That's a lot of trees heaving sighs of relief there.

At the same time, there is the paradigm I seem to run into, which is odd to say the least. In my area, most folks still cling to their paperbacks and hardbacks, which is fine. Reading is reading, and reading is good. I like both, myself.

Even those with Kindles and Nooks are of the opinion that you aren't really  published unless they can walk into Barnes and Noble and see your work on the shelf. It's enough to make me want to bash my brains out with my keyboard sometimes. But then I have to remember, we're living in exciting times right now, with the transitions in the publishing industry. And with transitions come adjustments and shifts of mindset. Business practices an methods are changing as well.

It used to be  big thing to be published, and yes, "published" used to mean being in the big stores or even the mom-and-pop store down the block. But now, being published could mean you just threw something through the processing mill at Amazon. As a matter of fact, one of the kids at the local high school did exactly that, knowing the work was substandard. But he did it just to prove the "being published" meant a different thing now than it did only ten years ago. Of course, he pulled the book back down before I could hunt him down and hang him from the library roof. But he made his point.

Now, like any new technology, the human mind has to take some time to catch up. People have to get used to the new definition of "published." Does that mean being published doesn't mean anything anymore? God forbid. What it doe mean is that buyers need to be more aware that there is substandard work out there, and just because something is published doesn't mean it's any good. Not every self-pubbed author invests in editing and cover art.

Electronic publishing doesn't spell the death of paper books, not by a long shot. And it's sill not easy to get a book published the right way, by which I mean that some effort as been made to present it, to make it a quality work before it gets unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

But publishing has taken quantum leaps in technology and technique in the last few years, and some folks (even the big publishers) have yet to make the adjustments needed to catch up and keep up with the changes. Some still overcharge for eBooks. The recent price-fixing scandal showed us that the "old regimes" still cling to obsolete business models, and are tying their best to force the market to stay where it is. But in spite of their best efforts to steer market forces, the market won't have it. Some will get it, and prosper. Others will go by the wayside. Either way, adjustments have to be made.

"Published" still means something. Depending on your definition of "published."  Kind of like when one man got us thinking about the real definition of the word "is."