Harvest

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Olga Werby and her novel Harvest.

Author’s description of the book:

Almost a century after Keres Triplets asteroid impact and subsequent nuclear exchange almost ended all human life on Earth, a strange artifact is discovered on one of the moons of Saturn. Who should be sent to the outer reaches of the solar system to initiate the first contact with an alien culture? Dr. Varsaad Volhard, an evolutionary-socio-historian, is chosen to help the world understand the alien civilization that left an artifact some thirty thousand years ago, before humans even learned to farm, at the time when other human species still walked the earth.

While Vars prepares for the mission, her father, Dr. Matteo Volhard, discovers nanobots among the microplastics he studies. The bots are everywhere and seem to have been created to bond with human cyber implants. Why? Matteo is made to keep his discovery a secret…as well as his and his daughter’s true origins. Both were donated to a Human DNA Vault as babies. Matteo was raised as a Seed before leaving with his young daughter to study ecology around the world. Who knows what? Who is in control? How does one communicate with non-human intelligence?

People seem to die in gruesome ways as their cyberhumatics go haywire on Earth and on Luna and Mars colonies. Is Earth under attack or is it all just a cosmic misunderstanding? Vars needs to use all she knows to solve the mystery of the ancient civilization on Mimas, as her dad battles the alien nanobots at home.

About the Author:

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master’s degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, “Suddenly Paris,” which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, “The FATOFF Conspiracy,” was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories — homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals — the social underdogs of our world.

Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of “Alien Dimensions Magazine,” “600 second saga,” “Graveyard Girls,” “Kyanite Press’ Fables and Fairy Tales,” “The Carmen Online Theater Group’s Chronicles of Terror,” with many more stories freely available on her blog, Interfaces.com.

Learn more about the author at her website, her author page on Amazon, on Goodreads, and on Face Book. You can also find her at Pipsqueak, You Tube and https://www.linkedin.com/in/olgawerby/

My review:

This is an incredible book on many levels. The thought and research that has gone into this story is breathtaking. The descriptions of nanobots gone amok are chill-inducing. The affection between the father and daughter is heartwarming. And the plot moves at a pace that makes it almost impossible to put down. What more could you want?

I love stories that tackle big ideas. You know, the meaning of life, the universe and everything. This book has no shortage of grandiose themes. In fact, my only two complaints are both artifacts of this. One, the book touches on so many major themes that it has to simply let some of them drop. Two, with a scope this big, it is hard to find a satisfying end to the story. Heck, it’s hard to find any end to the story.

Without giving anything away, I’ll just say I was a little less than satisfied when it was over. Then again, I don’t know of another book of this cosmic sort that has managed to come to a better conclusion.

Did I like it anyway? You bet I did. I’d recommend this novel to almost anyone, and certainly to anyone who enjoys science fiction. This is hardcore sci-fi that is both well-written and emotionally solid, and that’s no small achievement. It will leave you thinking for days (maybe for weeks or months, I don’t know yet because it’s only been days since I finished it ….) And even if you’re a little bewildered or uneasy at the end, I believe you will have thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

Purchase Olga Werby’s books on Amazon

Harvest

Becoming Animals

Suddenly, Paris

The FATOFF Conspiracy

Fresh Seed

Yes, there is a giveaway!

Olga Werby will be awarding 2 books to a randomly drawn commenter (LIZARD GIRL AND GHOST and SUDDENLY, PARIS) via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

My favorite excerpt:

“Sentient life’s colonization of the Earth is fractal. Even within a single ecosystem, there are many species that possess intelligence and self-awareness. But only one species becomes dominant.”

Professor Volhard took a theatrical pause here. Everyone in the audience knew where she was going with this, but it never hurt to add drama to a presentation.

“Obviously I am talking about humans. We are not the only intelligent, self-aware species on our planet–but we got lucky. We were blessed with favorable initial conditions, and our dominance was almost guaranteed. Lack of luck tends to permanently retard progress. Dinosaurs’ loss is our win.”

There were a few chuckles from the audience, but no big laughs. Varsaad Volhard sighed inwardly and moved on. She never knew how the lay audience would react, but this was all part of doing the book-selling lecture circuit.

Vars was tall and skinny with short, unruly, dark red hair and glasses to match. She looked a bit like a stick insect in her black pants and black sweater. For the tour, she was trying to dress more interestingly than normal–per instructions from her publisher–and so had added the bright orange scarf that her publisher sent in the mail. The instructions that came with the scarf told her to wear matching orange shoes, but Vars didn’t own any orange shoes, so matching black was as good as it got.

She hadn’t failed to notice that the cover of her book–Luck & Lock on Life & Love: The Human History of Conquest of Resources on Earth, Luna, and Beyond–had the same color orange titles as the scarf. Her agent or someone in the office was obviously trying. Vars made a mental note to figure out who that was and thank them.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish.

Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

180 Days: A Teacher’s Diary

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Sofia Faye Burke and her novel 180 Days: A Teacher’s Diary Through One Epic School Year.

 

Author’s description of the book:

180 Days is a fly on the wall experience into a high school classroom over one full school year (180 days to be exact).

 

Written as a diary by a teacher who was struggling to cope with everything from educational reform to school shootings, this work unfolds via the teachers’ lens of controlled chaos in a broken system. This book takes the reader on a journey from the dilemma of how to make it to the restroom and back before the bell rings to the agony of an active shooter training day, including acceptance of a newfound form of professional development.

 

Mrs. Burke writes about the daily challenges and rewards of life within the four walls of her classroom. The work is gritty, hilarious, and heart breaking at the same time. Hang on, a school year is one wild ride.

Purchase 180 Days on Amazon

Yes there is a giveaway:

Sofia Faye Burke will award a randomly drawn winner a $20 Amazon/BN Gift Certificate.

Enter here to win

My favorite excerpt:

On another fun note, today was fabulous picture day! This is when all students and staff go down to the cafeteria to have their school pictures taken for the yearbook. School photos are a fun notion when presented to you early on in the school year but then you get the images back two months later, suddenly you start talking to yourself, posing questions like: “Is that me?” “Do I look like that?” WTF? Now I just want to avoid the entire school photo process as the images are simply weird. They must have a schoolmarm filter.

Teacher Confessional: Do teachers really swear? Fuckin’ A, yes! We swear on bad days. But not in front of students. Maybe I should start as kids always love the teacher who swears in class. I think they relate and think it’s cool, but those same teachers talk of drinking “juices” and smoking for “medicinal purposes.” Not the best role model in my view.

Day 11: Student started to cry 9th period. Oh, I feel absolutely terrible. But it ended well. She was arguing with me about the directions and I asked her to go out of the room to talk, as I do not like to speak to kids in front of the class regarding discipline if I can avoid it. It just embarrasses students and they resent it.

I met her in the hall and she agreed that she was disrespectful. When you take away the audience, students immediately calm down and talk honestly. But then she broke out in tears and I asked her what was wrong. She told me she is bipolar and so everything is very sensitive for her. I apologized and asked her if she needed a break from class and she took a walk around the hall. She did not want to come back in so I logged off for her. I feel awful for her; you never know what is going on inside the students until you start to peel away those onion layers.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish.

Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

A personal note:

Why feature this book on this blog? Well, my main character Alex is a teacher too, and he and some of his adventures are loosely based on a real life teacher I know.  I read Mrs. Burke’s excerpts with great interest. Sounds like she and Alex could have quite a conversation. I wish her and her book the best of luck!

 

Justice Gone

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author N. Lombardi Jr. and his novel Justice Gone.

Author’s description of the book:

When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down.

A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran’s counselor, is caught up in the chase.

Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa’s patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers gets there first, leading to Darfield’s dramatic capture.

Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge?

About the Author:

Lombardi Jr, the N for Nicholas, has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).

In 1997, while visiting Lao People’s Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years.

Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc. http://plainofjars.net

His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.

His latest novel, Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.

Nick now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You can learn more about him on his Goodreads page.

My review:

This is a powerful book. It is difficult to put down even when it is difficult to read.

I was most impressed by the author’s unflinching determination to tackle a complex and emotional topic. He does do without glossing over anything or anyone. The research is impressive, the pace is relentless, and so much of the book defies expectations and surprises the reader.

This novel tears into the problems facing vets returning from war, any war, and it offers no platitudes or easy solutions. Rather, it invites empathy for the many characters struggling to do their best. Even for those for whom Lombardi has little sympathy (members of the press, a DA striving to enhance his career) there is a sense that these people are merely playing their given role in society. The real evil, the real villain, is war itself, and the author doesn’t see an easy solution to that problem.

I did struggle with the gore. In fact, the violence at beginning almost kept me from reading on, but by the time I was halfway through I was so glad I hadn’t quit. The large cast of characters is daunting, and the changing points of view were sometimes difficult to follow, but otherwise this novel is nearly flawlessly executed.

While it is hardly an uplifting book, it’s not a depressing one either. There is nobility in the struggles of the various characters. The second half of the book, with its court room machinations, even has a little humor mixed in with its staccato-like legal proceedings. Finally, there is enough justice in the end to not leave the reader hopeless.

I like a book that teaches me things, and a book that lets me see the world through points of view I will never have. I like a book that makes me think. Justice Gone does all of these in a compelling way and I recommend it highly.

You can purchase Justice Gone on Goodreads, on Amazon US, or at Amazon UK. It is also available at Barnes and Noble, at The Book Depository, at Waterstones and at Kobo.

Yes, there is a giveaway!

The author will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

My favorite excerpt:

Tessa had given much thought as to how she should dress for the occasion. Her first instinct was her Karen Kane pants suit, but dismissed that idea to wear her copper-brown print kaftan in its stead.

Now, with its folds caught in the vigorous September breeze, giving the illusion of a multitude of miniature flags fluttering around her, her thick locks of hair dancing around her head, she spoke to the crowd, slowly, deliberately taking her time. “Hello, my fellow citizens.” She stopped to survey the mass of people standing in front of her. Dramatic pauses replete with eye contact, if not overdone, were quite effective in getting one’s message across. Not surprisingly,  Tessa  knew  how  to get her message across, a special art in the realm of behavioral scientists. Public relations firms, advertising companies, political campaigns, all hired an army of psychologists to sell a product. And Tessa Thorpe, as someone who had thirty years’ experience as a criminal psychiatrist, could sell as well as any of them.

“We are here today for two reasons, two very important reasons that are essential to our well-being in a modern society. Freedom is one, and justice is the other.”

Enthusiastic cheers.

“When the call for war came, we were told that our enemies hated our freedoms. We were told that the citizens of Iraq had been held hostage by a ruthless dictator who denied his own people these freedoms. Our invasion of that country was sold to us as Operation Iraqi Freedom. And so we sent our young men and women off to war, the most traumatic experience a human being could ever go through, with the belief that they were fighting for liberty and freedom. And yet, one of those whom we had sent…had come back to us only to have his own freedom denied. His single offence at the time he was approached by law enforcement officers was that he was exercising his freedom to stand on a street corner.”This elicited a roar from the crowd.

“This is not merely tragic, it is an act of deplorable fraud, being denied the very thing he fought for!”

More heartfelt cheering.

“When I was young, we were made to pledge allegiance, an oath that ended with the phrase, ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ Well, Jay Felson was denied liberty…let us make sure he is NOT DENIED JUSTICE!”

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish.

Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

If you are interested in a review from me:

I like to read science fiction of all sorts, particularly anything involving the nature of time. My protagonist in Twists of Time is a justice seeking, time-warping high school physics teacher, so I am also predisposed to stories that center around issues of social justice, like the one reviewed above.

I am not interested in reviewing romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type.

If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Alex (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Final Note:  I received a free electronic copy of this book, which would never be enough to make me write a better review for anyone.

 

Not a Country of Immigrants

Citizens of the USA are almost all immigrants and their descendants. Were this not so, only Native Americans would hold citizenship here.

The United Arab Emirates is not a country of immigrants. For the most part, only the descendants of native Emiratis may hold citizenship. Those who move there will never fully belong, and neither will their children, no matter now many generations their ancestors have been there. As a result, about 80% of the population of the UAE consists of expats (and non-citizen residents who are the descendants of expats). The 20% who are citizens benefit from a wide variety of benefits involving land, housing, healthcare, and education, among other things. They run the country.

The UAE is a modern nation, newly built out of an almost uninhabited desert. Over the past sixty years, oil wealth and air conditioning have allowed thriving cities to spring up where only a few thousand people once huddled along the coast.

Visitors can’t help but be impressed with how clean and safe Dubai and Abu Dhabi are. Everything seems new and shiny, and helpful people abound.

Yet, if you begin to ask questions (something I have a habit of doing) you will find that most if not all of the friendly people serving your coffee and carting your luggage are not Emiratis. They are from Indonesia and the Philippines, or from India or Pakistan. Most (but not all) are Muslim, and they are in the UAE seeking a better life, just like your Uber driver in most US cities. The big difference for them is that they know they and their children will never belong.

So, why do they come to an Arab nation that is so determined not to be a country of immigrants? Well, the UAE is arguably the richest land of opportunity near their original homes. They appreciate the clean and safe environment, too. For many, the common religion is a big factor. They like the lack of income tax on money made here. In short, it is the best alternative for them.

Expats are held to a high standard of good behavior, here, and if deported they can never come back. Our guide brags about how the UAE led the development of retina scanning. Ours have been scanned and recorded when we entered the country, we are told. I find the fact chilling. They have the right to do this? I guess they do.

The point of the retina scanning is that no fake passports will work for those who are not welcome to come back. The UAE makes sure all expats know this.

I’m from a nation that has a horrible history of having overrun those who originally lived there. It’s something to be ashamed of, but after its ignoble start, the USA did become a land of welcoming opportunity to many and I was raised to be proud of that. So, I find the clearly articulated nativism of the UAE disconcerting.

I remind myself that one travels to learn about other lands, and other lands do not have to have the same philosophy as my own homeland.  Of course they don’t.

I look up the definition of “nativism” to make sure I am using it correctly. It is the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants. Yup, I’m using it right.

The UAE is full of wonderful sights and wonderful people. I’m so glad I visited, and I’d recommend the trip to others. However, I prefer the messy but welcoming enthusiasm with which my own homeland once greeted others seeking a better life, and I look forward to the day when the USA returns to being that sort of country.

 

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Can he manipulate time for the people and causes he cares about most?

Forward into the Past

Of course a science fiction convention is going to be partly about time travel.

Back to the Future got a nod at the 2019 Worldcon last week with a display of the DeLorean, but part of the convention also did some going forward into the past.

The most involved piece in the masquerade ball (which is more of a series of promenades onto a stage than a ball) consisted of costumed rogues and misfits from the future entering a gazebo-like time portal to go back into the Pliocene.

Meanwhile, fans of epic fantasy, and those aspiring to write it, were treated to historians and authors talking about the middle ages on several panels.

There was a discussion of alternatives to monarchies that authors could turn to to add some variety to their stories, and another giving advice on how feudalism worked in reality and how rare it actually was. There was even a panel about a list of misconceptions about medieval times, brought to life with Medieval Myths Bingo.

My personal favorite was a presentation involving weapons often featured in fantasy novels. Because both presenters were swordsmen, they focused on writing about swordplay while demonstrating specifics with each other and willing audience participants.

It was great fun, but I would also have enjoyed learning more about daggers, spears, battle axes and crossbows. Given the enthusiasm of the crowd, these two instructors could probably have conducted a full day seminar on weapons from the past and it would have been well attended. As it was, they invited participants to join them in the hallway after the talk to handle the weapons themselves and many of us took them up on the offer.

Time itself becomes a little fuzzy at an event like this, you know,  as the real world fades away and the surreal world of of nonstop fan activities takes over. One tends to forget if it is day or night, much less what day it is.

Most of us had to laugh when we saw signs like this pop up a couple of days in, but honestly it was helpful.

The past was also present in references to beloved science fiction from long ago. Dublin’s convention center peppered the areas around the escalators with warning messages like the one to the right. It was advice no fan could ignore.

Whenever we ventured out from the convention center, a lovely harp-shaped bridge greeted us. It was a fine reminder of the two prongs of this literature we came to celebrate: the sleek beauty of tomorrow and the magic we so often associate with yesterday.

Read more about my Worldcon adventures at And the winner, she is …., at  An Irish Worldcon: I’m here! at An New Irish Experience,and at Feeling at home.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

We have Groucho Marx to thank for this witty line. It pops into my head every time I think about how time flies.

Most of my life I’ve considered time, not money, to be my most valuable resource. Maybe I should have put it second to love, or joy, but if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t. Maybe I always thought I was going to die young. Lucky for me, I’m getting a little too old to do that ….

If you cherish your minutes like I do, you tend to be busy, focused and impatient. Friends marvel at how much you get done. They also wish you’d learn to relax more.

This last year has been more intense than most, as I seized the day, the week, and the months to re-release new versions of my six novels.  I was often up at dawn (not my normal), driven to get through one more chapter. I had to make these perfect. I had to get them done.

Then, I did. And, I was exhausted.

I had expected to finish a month sooner, and had scheduled some travel to unwind after my big push. Instead, I ended up rushing off on my trip, finally catching my breath on a five-hour cross country flight that was running over three hours late. Sort of like me. I woke up somewhere on the Pacific coast and thought now what?

Now what, indeed. I ate lunch at the beach. Put my feet in the ocean. Went to a party, saw a live show and a movie, and went wine tasting. I even tried my hand at some virtual reality game involving light sabers and music.

There was pizza and french fries for dinner, lots of ice cream, and plenty of wine. Sometimes that wine was drunk in the middle of the day.

I relaxed. I enjoyed myself. I had fun.

Wow.

Should I have wasted all that time?? You bet. You see, time flies like an arrow. Best use some of it to recharge your batteries and enjoy this wonderful gift of getting to exist. As the fruit flies will tell you, there’s no reason part of it shouldn’t be fun.