What is space opera?

Okay, so I’ve been saying all year that NO FOREIGN SKY is space opera and INVICTUS isn’t, that it’s something else. What criteria, you may wonder, am I thinking of when I say that? Both take place in space. The settings are spaceships in both cases. We never even see a planet. What is the difference that I think is so important that these stories wind up in different subgenres?

What defines space opera? Well, let’s try to define the subgenre by example.

  1. Elizabeth Moon, Trading in Danger
  2. LMB, The Warrior’s Apprentice
  3. CJC, Chanur
  4. Kate Elliot, Unconquerable Sun
  5. H Beam Piper, Space Viking

As a side note, did you know you can pick up an H Beam Piper collection of 33 novels and stories for a dollar? Nice to see someone bringing back classic SF repackaged in accessible ebook form.

What’s not up there? Military SF, which intergrades with space opera, but is something different.

  1. Dave Weber, Honor Harrington
  2. David Feintuch, Seafort Saga
  3. Jack Campbell, The Lost Fleet series
  4. Joel Dane, Cry Pilot series
  5. Tanya Huff, the Valor series, my personal favorite by a lot.

For me, space opera means a fast-paced adventure story … set in space … with normal SF tropes, such as wormholes … where the stakes are high and keep ratcheting upward, with big consequences for winning or losing … and there are probably multiple battles against increasing odds … and the good guys win.

Military SF means that we’re following one or more military personnel … with a focus on the military organization … and there are probably battles … but not necessarily with increasing stakes … and the tone can be gritty rather than adventurous … and the good guys probably win, but not necessarily.

The focus on military personnel and the military organization is a big difference between space opera and military SF. If a book has those features, it’s military SF. If it doesn’t, it’s not. If you were drawing a venn diagram, there would be plenty of overlap, but also lots of books that belong to one subgenre or the other, not both.

What’s still not up there?

  1. CJC, Foreigner
  2. CJC, Cyteen
  3. KSR, the Mars trilogy
  4. Herbert, Dune
  5. Corey, The Expanse series, and I know that it lands on a lot of space opera lists, but I disagree.

I thought of grabbing stuff off “sociological SF” lists, but I don’t want to imply that everything that’s not space opera or military SF is sociological SF, because obviously it’s not. That’s why I picked The Expanse. It keeps appearing on lists of all-time-great space opera and I just don’t think it is. Maybe I should add, I just read the first book. But I don’t think it’s space opera. It’s too slow-paced. It’s too gritty. The focus isn’t right. It isn’t a romance in the technical sense — it’s not an adventure story. Adventure happens, but that’s not the same thing as being an adventure story. Ender’s Game keeps popping up on space opera lists too, and again, I don’t agree. As far as that goes, I disagree much more vehemently about later books in the series.

In my opinion, Invictus fits in this third group. It’s not an adventure story. I mean, at all. It’s got some exciting moments, but it’s definitely not swashbuckling in space. It’s not a fast-paced story with ratcheting stakes. The stakes are high throughout, but the reader can’t see clearly what those stakes actually are until halfway through. It’s got heroes yes, but not quite in the traditional mode.

Is it sociological SF? I would say, not exactly, or not quite. Of the books up there, it’s most like Cyteen, because it’s kind of a take on some of the same questions Cyteen addresses.

Side note: What is WITH publishers, anyway? Cyteen is not currently available in Kindle form. Sometimes I really cannot believe how ridiculous publishers are. If they’re reissuing Cyteen as an ebook, why first make it unavailable? If they’re just not bothering to make it available, what the hell is wrong with them?

Regardless, Cyteen is a book I love. I mean, I really love it. I’ve read Cyteen innumerable times, starting when Young Ari appears because the first bit is pretty grim and I don’t care to revisit that part. But even though I love this novel — I love Young Aris and Caitlin and Florian, and Justin and Grant — and I think this is just a fantastic novel, the society shown in Cyteen is honestly very iffy.

If you squint at it at all, you have to realize this is a society founded on large-scale slavery. The azi are slaves. Not using the word doesn’t change the basic fact that they are slaves. Creating them was not a great thing to do, founding the whole society on them, on their labor, was not a great thing to do, and yes, the azi who are important characters are amazing characters, but the whole society is founded on some pretty terrible ideas.

The Ubezhishche in Invictus were created just like the azi, or very nearly — I added one tweak which is, depending on how you look at it, actually not very far removed from how CJC did it.. But, unlike the azi, the Ubezhishche broke free of their creators, went off, and founded their own society. That’s the deep backstory here. And yes, this is very much a response to the society shown in Cyteen.

If you’ve read the Tuyo World Companion — I mean the part about inspirations — then you know that a huge source of inspiration for me goes like this:

A) I’m reading a book I really love

B) I run into something awful. Some terrible thing happens to a character I care about.

C) I think, “Oh no, aargh, how awful! That should never have happened! What should have happened is a much better thing, which is now in my head.”

And then later (often much later), this appears in one of by books as the situation leads toward a moment when a similar awful thing might happen, but instead a much better thing happens.

It doesn’t have to be quite like that. It might be a great scene, but one that didn’t fulfil the potential I think the scene had. I’ll rewrite the original scene in my head and then it’s pretty likely I’ll put something similar in a different context later. Or this can happen with characters, where I think the author misses the chance to really bring a great character front-and-center and I develop a character who is similar in some ways and put that character in the foreground, not the background. Lots of variations on this basic idea.

For Invictus, the inspiration was one hundred percent the azi in Cyteen. If you create a genetically engineered slave caste that is completely under the control of born-men supervisors, then if your slaves decide this is wrong and bring your society crashing down around your ears, you totally deserve that.

This story isn’t about that part. That’s the backstory. The Ubezhishche went in their own direction, and about the only thing they share with the azi now is that they really do not want to be born-men — in this case, Elysians. They’re just fine the way they are, thank you, and when their genomic designers tweak the designs, they have their own priorities in mind.

Despite this kind of backstory, this really isn’t sociological SF, or I don’t think it is. I honestly don’t know what subgenre it fits. As categories, I picked SF–General, SF-Adventure, and SF-Genetic Engineering. I don’t think this is actually an adventure story, but the categories are limited and I had to pick something. However, that doesn’t seem to be what Amazon is saying. Amazon shows the categories as SF-Space Fleet and SF–Space Marines. Well, the word “marines” does appear in the book, but really? I hope the wrong readers don’t pick it up on the theory it is Military SF. Or rather, if they do, I hope they love it, even though it isn’t Military SF.

Maybe in a few days, I’ll try to lay out all the recognized subgenres of SF and see if I can better identify where INVICTUS fits.

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Update: Progress!

Okay, so you know what gets in the way of being a hermit, pulling into my shell, and putting words in a row? Right, beautiful fall weather, that’s what.

What am I supposed to do, ignore this great weather? I took the dogs for ordinary walks around my house, but I also took some of the dogs to the park and then I took the other dogs to the park, and so progress was made, but not as much as if it had been 100 F or raining. Really nice weekend, and I hope you all had beautiful weather too, wherever you are!

BUT, I also did manage to get some writing done. I’ve got 25,000 words of SILVER CIRCLE and I’m fairly happy with it. I really want to re-read the entire Black Dog series from the top. I’m feeling like that would help. It’s not like SILVER CIRCLE is going badly; it’s fine; but I still feel it would help get back in that world and in everyone’s proper voice if I re-read the whole series. Do you realize it’s been three years, story time, since the beginning? The younger characters have grown up a lot, and I want to be sure that’s apparent.

You know, the only reason Natividad and Miguel and Alejandro were so young in the first book is that the publisher wanted it as YA and asked me to age them down a good bit. I can’t remember how old they were before that — I do have that draft somewhere, but I haven’t looked at it for a long time. Anyway, that’s why Natividad wound up just fifteen in BLACK DOG. It took some creative plotting to arrange story events in a way that prevented her from getting serious with Ezekiel until she was a little older. SILVER CIRCLE opens right after the last novella, the one with Keziah and Justin. By that time, Natividad’s eighteenth birthday is coming up pretty soon. To me, this is a more comfortable age for a serious relationship. Honestly, the whole story is a little easier to handle now that they’re all a little older. But they do need to seem that little bit older.

Anyway, moving ahead with that, so this is good! It’s nice to be working on something new.

HOWEVER, speaking of something new, you know how I said I’d be writing Tuyo-world folktales and stories about little incidents and whatever, dropping those in the newsletter? Well, I need to send out a newsletter sometime this month, so I have set SILVER CIRCLE aside for today and probably tomorrow. I’m writing an Ugaro folktale instead. So that’s fun, but a little bit of a tonal shift.

ALSO, yep, still proofing INVICTUS: CRISIS. I’m about halfway through this particular proofing run. I’m still (still!) doing a surprising amount of tweaking, mostly very small-scale, plus I’ve found, I don’t know, four or five actual typos.

If you’ve left a review for INVICTUS: CAPTIVE, thank you! If you’ve sent me a private note about it, thank you! I’m very happy to see that first reactions are quite positive, plus people aren’t screaming about the cliffhanger. Or not in a bad way! All I can say is, I hope everyone is also happy with the second half of the story! If you read an early draft and commented, thank you SO MUCH because you are definitely responsible for the final version smoothing out.

Coming up this week: Finish this proofing run-through for CRISIS, finish the Ugaro folktale and put together the newsletter, start reading BLACK DOG, make progress on SILVER CIRCLE. Also, take dogs to the park, because the weather is still very nice! Going to be a busy week!

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Yay! Always exciting!

Reminder #1: CAPTIVE ends on a cliffhanger!

Reminder #2: There’s a glossary at the back!

Every soldier knows there are endless ways to die.
Every Ubezhishche soldier knows there are far worse fates than death.

Sevastien one zero two four, S line third modification, has survived the destruction of his own ship and an enemy station. But he was rescued by the wrong side — by Nalyn Ila, captain of the Elysian destroyer Invictus. Now he’s facing a difficult problem: How to persuade Captain Ila and her people that he is not an enemy combatant. That if there was an act of war, it was committed by her people, not his own.

Sevastien is almost certain he was an innocent bystander of disaster … unless his own people set him up, aiming to get him aboard Invictus for reasons he can’t yet understand. Maybe they did. It’s just the kind of thing Ubezhishche Command might do.

Nalyn Ila is almost certain Sevastien is an enemy agent, placed aboard her ship by Ubezhishche Command. But no one, not her own people nor the enemy nor Sevastien himself, can possibly guess what use she might actually have for an Ubezhishche soldier. Even if he actually is an innocent bystander, she may be able to use him in her private long-laid plans. And if he’s actually an enemy agent … that might be even better.


Reminder! There is a glossary and a short note about history at the back. I have definitely read books where, only when I reached the end, I discovered a glossary or a dramatis personae. Then I kick myself because I wish I’d realized that earlier. Flipping to a glossary is a pain in an ebook, I know, but sometimes I think it’s worth the trouble. I’m therefore hoping readers notice these things are there when they skim past the ToC.

Meanwhile! I’m closing in on the necessary last tweaks to the second book, after which I’ll send myself a clean electronic copy, create a paper version and get a proofing copy in paper, and continue proofing. I’m feeling relaxed about this. There’s almost a whole month before I need to upload the final versions. I expect I will feel much less relaxed around October 5th, but at the moment, all is proceeding according to plan.

No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.
Especially when you can’t be certain which side is your enemy.

Nalyn Ila did her best to lay plans for every imaginable contingency. But some contingencies were not imaginable. Now Ila has no choice but to change her plans as fast as she can, trying to stay one step ahead of disaster. Without Syova’s help, everything she has tried to achieve will certainly fail.

Now that everyone’s secret plans have been revealed, Syova has no choice but to reassess everything he knows about his enemies—and his friends. The Ubezhishche people haven’t yet gone to war with Elysium … not quite. Now devastating war may be unavoidable. Unless Captain Ila is telling him the truth.

With the survival of both his own people and hers at stake, Syova had better make all the right choices.

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Archon Schedule

Okay, so the program schedule for Archon just came out. Not a lot of time to prepare! It’s Sept 29 and 30 and Oct 1. Barely more than 2 weeks away!

I usually go to Archon because, I mean, it’s right there. It’s about an hour and a half from me, which is about as close as anything gets. It’s hard for me to travel right now, but not so hard I can’t manage this.

Here’s my personal Archon schedule:

Faith, Religion, and Science Fiction

How have different books, series, or movies used religion as part of their storytelling? 29 Sep 2023, Friday 20:00 – 21:00

Wait, Didn’t She Die in the Last Book? 

When writing a series, how do you keep it all straight and consistent? 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 11:00 – 12:00

Write What You Know! (But Give It a Twist!)

The truism of “write what you know” feels inapplicable to writing science fiction and fantasy—but is it?
A panel of authors discusses how they used their real life skills and knowledge to inform their fantastic
worlds. 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 14:00 – 15:00

Rewrite, Revise, or Edit? Format: Panel

What’s the difference and how do you know which one to use? 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 16:00 – 17:00

Walking in Another’s Shoes, or Avoiding the Mary-Sue

Writing a protagonist who’s nothing like you. 30 Sep 2023, Saturday 17:00 – 18:00. I’m moderating this one, I see.

GM Ohhhhs – Genetically Modified Pets 

Could genetically modified pets be the ultimate in adorable or just a horror movie in the making? 1 Oct 2023, Sunday 12:00 – 13:00. I’m also moderating this one.

Now, if I’m NOT moderating, this is easy enough! Take fast notes about the topic and boom, done.

If I’m the moderator, then it’s a bigger deal. I’ll be coming up with leading questions for those topics, which ones are they again — oh, writing protagonists who aren’t like the author, great topic, glad I’m on that panel. And genetically modified pets. Sure, yes and yes for that one, although it’s hard to get into real, true horror movie territory without (a) weird supernatural stuff going on, or (b) weird handwavy science-y stuff going on. Out here in the real world, army ants do not eat everyone in a town and little fluffy critters don’t transform into demonic sprites if they’re fed after midnight.

Actually, the real answer for genetically modified pets is: let’s move ahead with genetic modification to edit out Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy in the dog and then we can do it the same with humans, since it’s exactly the same gene in both. Then we can tackle stuff that is caused in similar ways but not by quite the same genes, which encompasses oh, rough guess, hundreds of diseases. Simultaneously, we can tackle complex traits like heart disease. In all those cases, we could and should use dogs to pave the way for human treatments, because YAY LET’S GET RID OF MVD IN OUR DOGS is going to be pretty much the way reputable breeders feel, and once a genetic engineering technique is obviously safe in dogs, it’s harder for the FDA to continue letting people die of whatever disease, though I’m sure they’ll try.

However, the cute answer will no doubt include examples of genetically modified animals in SFF, and here I’m thinking of David Brin, of course, though I’m sure there are other examples. If anybody can think of genetically modified animals, pets or otherwise, in SFF, by all means drop that in the comments! Weren’t their tiny pet unicorns or something on Cetaganda in LMB’s novels? I remember the kitten tree, which is much more on the horror-movie side of the spectrum, but I think there were other pets that weren’t so problematic.

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Tuyo World Companion: quick note

If you dropped over to Amazon and left a review for the Tuyo World Companion, thank you! I appreciate that! I do think the book’s page looks a lot more attractive to prospective readers with a handful of reviews than without.

One review notes that the ebook doesn’t have a clickable Table of Contents. However, it does, or should, have a clickable Table of Contents. On my phone’s app, the menu icon provides a very short but clickable version of the ToC. If you go to the beginning of the book, you ought to find a much more extensive ToC, still clickable. I just checked again, so I know for certain it’s clickable for me.

Generally speaking, when you use Word to add a ToC based on headings within your document, the ToC always comes out clickable when you load the book to KDP. I’ve never had a problem with this not working, but who knows what random weirdness might be going on? If your version of the ebook does not have a clickable ToC, then something is wrong. Let Amazon know, and if they don’t know what’s wrong, let me know and I will tackle that from this end.

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Amazon’s problem with AI

In July and August this year, we were seeing a lot of posts like this:

Recently, an indie author, Caitlyn Lynch, tweeted about noticing that only 19 of the best sellers in the Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Romance eBooks top 100 chart on Amazon were real, legit books. The rest were nonsensical and incoherent, and seemingly AI-generated. …

The Motherload website later looked into dozens of books on the platform and saw that a few days after Lynch’s tweets, the AI books had vanished from the best-seller lists, probably removed by Amazon. 

They were, however, still available for purchase, and had enjoyed a significant amount of visibility before vanishing. Also, as Lynch very understandably speculates, the mass uploading of AI-generated books could be used to facilitate click-farming, where ‘bots’ click through a book automatically, generating royalties from Amazon Kindle Unlimited, which pays authors by the amount of pages that are read in an ebook. So, it doesn’t matter that these books disappear. The people running such a scheme could just upload as many as they like to replace the removed ones. 

This is obviously a problem, potentially a much bigger problem than I thought it would be. The obvious solution: Amazon needs to crush every fake AI-generated pseudobook like a bug and nuke the people uploading those books. I mean a ban-for-life, the way they do to identified scammers, which is what these people are.

I’ve seen a number of opinion pieces that declare that Amazon won’t do that because they don’t care about garbage pseudobooks as long as they’re making money. This is probably — I want to say obviously, but I’m not sure I’d go that far — wrong. I’m pretty sure about that. It’s wrong because Amazon is all about presenting readers with books that will make them happy, and wading through mountains of garbage pseudobooks does not make people happy. It makes them mad.

The problem, it seems to me, is that it’s hard to identify AI generated garbage.

The solution, it seems to me, is to get a lot better at identifying AI generated garbage as fast as possible, crush fake books like bugs, and nuke from orbit the people who are loading them.

Amazon is (as far as I’ve heard) very, very willing to delete your account and ban you for life if you try to cheat in ways they have decided matter. Once they nuke your account, you are done at KDP, because (as far as I’ve heard), they don’t give a lot of second chances. (They are apparently perfectly fine with scammers using various other methods they haven’t yet decided to care about.) (No, that is not ideal.)

While I guess this situation could play out in various ways, I will just note that Amazon KDP suddenly has a brand-new button on the “content” page at KDP. “Is any part of your book generated by AI?” asks the button. “Click yes or no.”

While there is no “Because we’re going to crush your fake book like a bug” notification, it’s pretty obvious that KDP will soon be able to exercise various options:

A) You check “Yes” to that question. They let you upload your fake book, but they drop it into a dungeon along with almost all low-content books. No one ever sees it. It’s not presented to readers in KU. Problem solved.

B) You check “No” to that question. They run the text of your book through an AI detector they are currently beta-testing and, if it fails, they give you one chance to explain why and then they crush your book like a bug and nuke you for lying to them.

And, basically, I would be fine with that. I would hope not many real authors will get caught if and when Amazon brings down an enormous hammer, but for crying out loud, 4/5 of all the top books are fake? That hammer needs to come down hard, as soon as possible.

Question: how good are AI detectors at this point?

I’ve heard they’re not great, at least the ones available free to whoever wants to poke at them, but the only one I tested identified my text as close to 100% human-generated. The one sentence that got flagged in the report I was writing was “See figure 1, below,” which I thought was funny. I still think that’s funny, and it also indicates that most text is going to come back less than 100% human generated because certain standard word combinations are just that — standard.

On the other hand, it ought to be possible to just draw a fairly arbitrary line, like “If more than 15% of the text comes back AI generated, it’s a fake book.” Or 25% or for that matter 70%, or anything that will let a detector reliably distinguish garbage pseudobooks from real books without generating too many false positives.

Here’s a detector: Copyleaks AI Content Detector. According to this detector, the first chapter of INVICTUS is human-generated. Or rather, there’s a 96.2% probability it’s human generated. Text of an email I wrote recently: 80.2% probability it’s human generated. I note that the conclusion just says “This is human text,” so 80% is good enough for this detector. It’s a short email; that may be why the probability dropped like that. It’s got fairly standard content; that may be why. A piece of a report I was working on a while ago: 69.5% probability it’s human generated! What a huge drop! That’s really interesting! You know what it still says? “This is human text.” I wonder how far the probability has to drop before it says it’s not human text?

I googled “text generator ai, found this site, and entered as a prompt: 1000 word story about a girl and a black dog. This is what the generator gave me:

Julia had always been afraid of black dogs, but when she met one on her way home from school one day, she discovered that this dog was different. The dog, who she named Midnight, seemed to understand her fears and gently led her home. A bond quickly formed between Julia and Midnight, and the dog became her loyal companion and protector. Over time, Julia’s fear of black dogs faded away, and she learned that sometimes the things we fear the most can turn out to be our greatest blessings.

This isn’t anything like a thousand words, obviously, so I guess the generator ignores that part of a request. Whatever, I picked up this paragraph and dropped it in the AI detector linked above. Boom! 98% probability it’s AI generated. I tried a couple other prompts and got similar results.

Here’s another text generator. It says to enter a prompt and hit go. I entered “Once a girl met a black dog” and got this:

Once a girl met a black dog in these circumstances she would just get up and leave, unless of course that dog was the source of the problem and was aggressive. But in that case, I would have to deal with it and our dogs would have to get used to each other. It was a little hard for my young dogs to understand that most of the time the dogs were the problem, not the owner. My birds were at home. The bird room is small and full of birds. Even the floor was littered with feathers and bird toys. It was the first time I’d had this many birds at once, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. My attempts to have them in groups were less than successful. Some kept wanting to be with other birds. Some would try to kill others. Some were fine with one bird in the cage and that bird would be perfectly happy, but as soon as another bird joined the group, then the others in the group would hiss and fight and peck each other. All my birds, even my sister’s ex – therapy bird, were afraid of the floor.

This is fascinating! I sure did not see the birds coming! I dropped this into a different AI detector and found that it is “8% human generated.” I’m told I should edit this text until there’s less detectable AI content. The first paragraphs of INVICTUS? 100% human generated.

Out of curiosity, I dropped the bird thing into Grammarly’s plagiarism detector, which thought it was just peachy. I mean, it said there were errors, but it didn’t say it was AI generated or plagiarized.

The first chapter of INVICTUS? Grammarly’s plagiarism says “significant plagiarism found.” Really? The book isn’t out yet! How can it be finding plagiarism? I’m really startled! It also finds a whole bunch of issues with conciseness, word choices, grammar, and punctuation. I’m not paying for any kind of report, but seriously? I did not have a high opinion of Grammarly prior to this moment, but now my opinion is much, much lower. In fact, all of a sudden I’m wondering if Grammarly is deliberately lying in order to get people to buy it in order to find out what part of their essay or book or whatever looks like it is plagiarized. Suddenly that seems like a plausible scenario!

On the other hand, this ten-minute test of AI detectors seems to suggest that they’re maybe, kind of, pretty much, good at detecting AI-generated text? I hear they aren’t reliable, but whenever I poke at them, they seem pretty good at it. I think it’s reasonable to get a score of 69% human generated and declare it’s human generated enough. That kind of conclusion seems likely to help prevent too many false positives.

Overall conclusion:

I think AI detection is going to get pretty reliable, I think people are probably working on that, and of course AI generation will get more subtle, but it’s not like “AI text generators” actually have brains or intelligence. I suspect detectors will get out in front and stay there for a bit. And … I hope I’m not too optimistic or pollyanna-ish, but I think it’s pretty likely Amazon is currently working on a detector and will pretty soon bring a giant hammer down on fake garbage pseudobooks. I hope I’m right about that, and that unanticipated side effects aren’t as dire as the problem that solves.

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The downside of being an early reader


I assume the downside is the extremely obvious thing that instantly leaped into everyone’s mind: What if you don’t like the book?

Having beta read various books for BVC readers, and having dealt (often) with editorial feedback from early readers myself, I see various possibilities here:

A) You hate the book.

If you really dislike the book, you have two options, it seems to me. The first: pretend you are a suitable reader for the book in question and provide appropriate feedback. You don’t have to love the protagonist to say, “I think when she does thus-and-so, that’s out of character.” You can say that even if you thoroughly dislike the protagonist. Ditto for “I’m confused here,” or “I’m skimming here,” or “I know commas are kind of a matter of taste, but imo the meaning of this sentence is wrong and you really, honestly need a comma here.”

The second option is to say, “I’m sorry, but as it turns out, I’m not really a good fit for this book. I don’t feel I can be a good first reader for it.” Sometimes that’s probably the best choice.

B) You don’t hate the book, but you think it has a lot of weaknesses. The same two basic options: Carefully point out the weaknesses as helpfully as possible or decide you haven’t got the patience, the time, or the skill to deal with it and back out of early reading.

Other than discovering you hate the book / think the book has a lot of problems, I’m not seeing a downside. Let’s see if Book Riot has something else in mind … Oh! No, totally different take on the question!

1) I can’t talk to anybody about the book. The book I read, and loved, way too early is a mystery book so I can only discuss it with someone who has already read it, or I’d just be handing out spoilers like they were going out of style.

That’s not a problem that occurred to me! But you know what, that could be painful! Is that an early-reader thing? That’s kind of a thing whenever you read a book, love it, and whomever you usually rave to about books hasn’t read it. Of course, they can read it right away and then you can talk about it, so that solves the problem.

2. Can’t review it because the review would be kinda negative and I don’t want to drag down the star rating with an early negative review. I don’t mind posting a negative review later, after the book has accumulated some positive reviews, but it’s a pain to remember to review it later. Not even sure I want to post a mediocre review if it’s going to be the first review.

You know, that’s really a nice thought. Thank you, Book Riot post author, for being reluctant to post a negative review early. This is someone named Jamie Canaves, and I now think Jamie is a nice person. It’s quite true that an early negative review is no fun, especially if it pushes potential readers away from the book. After the star rating has settled at a decent level, it’s much less of a concern.

Those are the basic reasons given in the post, so this is not at all “early reading as feedback for the author.” It’s “early reading because I got a review copy,” a different topic. This isn’t a concern for me because I don’t have time to read stuff early; I don’t even have time to read stuff late.

Speaking of reading stuff late, what did you think of The Witch King by Martha Wells? I see it has 1800 or so ratings and a star average of 4.4. That’s lower than I would have expected. Is it low because a lot of readers wanted Murderbot and this is something else? Or is it low because it’s not one of her best? I think her best are, let me see …

  1. Murderbot, okay, I’m just another sheep following this herd
  2. Cloud Roads and fine, okay, the whole Raksura first trilogy
  3. Fall of Ile-Rien
  4. The Fall of the Necromancer, and I know that is arguably better than the Fall trilogy, but I didn’t like it as well, so here it is
  5. Wheel of the Infinite, where I was not super happy by certain things about how the plot worked out, but loved the book overall
  6. The other two Raksura books

Those are my favorites, and honestly I could flip (1) and (2), because I just love the first Raksura trilogy. I’m hoping I’ll put The Witch King up in this set of novels, and series, but who knows?

By the way, does anybody know what the heck is going on with Martha Wells’ books? If you search on Amazon, Wheel of the Infinite does not appear to be available in any format. If you go to Google and search, then you can find it on Amazon that way, where the hardcover is pricey and the mass market paperback is INSANELY EXPENSIVE. It’s not available in ebook form, so good thing I already have it as an ebook and I hope it’s still there. This is where I suddenly realize I should back up all my Kindle books via Calibre.

My guess is, it’s going to be republished. The Fall of the Necromancer has been reissued in a collection with Element of Fire and I believe that’s quite new, so that’s what I think may be happening. But not sure.

Meanwhile, honestly, no major spoilers please, but what did you think of The Witch King?

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Update: Aaaah, book releases are stressful!

Okay, so today is the very last day I can make changes to INVICTUS: CAPTIVE before KDP locks its page in preparation for the preorder drop date, which as you know is this coming Friday.

This is fine! It’s been good to go for a week! But last night I decided to simplify the spelling of one word — very last minute, yes — so I did that this morning and then I felt compelled to scan through the entire preview for both the ebook and the paperback version ONE MORE TIME. They both look fine, but I have this terrible feeling that someday I will do something awful, like load the wrong book or something. I always feel compelled to check and then check again and today that’s over because now it’s too late. Pre-release jitters, ugh.

Oh, I hit “publish” on the paperback version about five minutes ago, by the way. KDP says it can take up to 72 hours, but usually it’s faster. I wanted to make sure the paperback drops about the same time as the ebook, and a few days early is fine with me if everything is in order. Which, jitters aside, it is.

I will be so interested in reader reactions! (This is a different kind of stress.) (A kind that lasts much longer.) I will be very particularly interested in reactions from people who read an early version, because I tweaked this one more than usual, not to mention adding extra scenes and chapters. But I’m interested in general because I expect a good many readers who picked this up will have read NO FOREIGN SKY, which is very different from this duology.

No Foreign Sky

  1. Is very fast-paced.
  2. Is not character-centered, though it does the heavy lifting for worldbuilding so I should be able to do more with characters in sequels.
  3. Has aliens, along with wildly different human societies.
  4. Is space opera, with multiple iterations of sharply rising stakes.
  5. Puts almost everything important right out in front of the reader.
  6. Even though some readers didn’t like names such as Kuotaan, the names are short and there are very few unfamiliar words.


  1. Is much, much slower paced, especially at first.
  2. Is character-centered.
  3. Does not have aliens, but does present wildly different human societies.
  4. Is not space opera, I’m pretty sure. (What is space opera? I should do a post about that.)
  5. Hides a whole lot of important stuff from the reader.
  6. The names aren’t difficult, but many of them aren’t familiar — and there are a fair number of unfamiliar words, lots of which are long, such as “vysovashirovasin.”

Every now and then, I indulge my liking for cool words. This is one of those books. In my opinion, English doesn’t offer enough words like “ovoviviparity.” Well, in the non-English-derived language in Invictus, I got to enjoy creating words with lots of v’s and y’s. The language is derived from Russian. There’s a note about this in the book, but I’ll add here that this whole thing with the language in Invictus occurred because I came across the word “ubezhishche,” which means “refuge” in Russian. I really liked this word, the way it looks, the way it sounds in my mind’s ear, so I dropped it into this story and came up with a backstory that justifies the language.

There is, by the way, a glossary in the back. Hopefully readers will notice that as they skim past the table of contents. If you were at risk of missing it, now you know it is there.

But my point is, given the many important differences, how will readers who liked NFS feel about Invictus? I don’t know! Aargh! I guess we’ll find out!

My own level of enthusiasm for this story has gone up and down a bit depending on how much I was struggling with revision at the time, but having just re-read Captive multiple times for small-scale tweaking and proofing, and then just having finished the first round of small-scale tweaking for Crisis last night … I am back to liking this duology quite a bit. That’s a relief.

Also! Thoughts of sequels are drifting through my mind. I’m thinking of doing something with Erec Chatham as a protagonist, Ketsova or Desya as another protagonist — Desya might instead pick up the pov in a different sequel — and someone from the Sokonakoh Empire as a protagonist or important secondary character. Very character-first ideas here. I’ve got no notion about any possible plot. Something arising from complications connected to the Invictus plot, I suppose.


Yes, SILVER CIRCLE is moving forward. You’ll be stunned to know that things are taking longer than expected; eg, we’re on chapter seven and juuuuust getting moving after much more time on the setup than I thought it would take. But it’s fun setup! I think! We’ll see what happens later, but I’m pretty satisfied with it so far. I’ll probably do some trimming, but that’s not something to worry about now. I have little boldfaced notes to myself about things I need to remember later. I’m doing foreshadowing and thinking, ack, what if I just forget the element I’m foreshadowing? Thus, notes.


You know, if you read the novella in the Tuyo World Companion, I’d appreciate it if you’d go drop a brief review on the book’s page. There’s exactly one review so far. If you don’t quite know how to comment on other elements, which is certainly understandable, then just a quick “Hey, the novella is good!” would perhaps reassure readers who aren’t sure they care about the world notes.

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Who in the world created this cover? Update: Now we know

You may recall this post at Do You Know Who Illustrated This Classic Wrinkle in Time Cover?

This post is by Molly Templeton, and here is the cover she means:

If you are of a certain age, you remember it well: The creepy, haunting, downright iconic—and totally weird—cover of the 1976 Dell edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. But while many of us remember being scared by (and/or fascinated with) this image, there’s an unexpected mystery behind it: No one seems to know who the artist is.

And, it turns out, she succeeded in tracking down the cover artist. Here’s that post, and once again thanks to Robert, who sent me that link.

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How to kill a character, part ii

Okay, so the poll was sort of fun! I’ll have to do another poll now and then, now that I know how to embed them.

Results for “Thematically, who should die?” — 22 votes for DO NOT KILL ANYONE, and Kim, you made me laugh with your comment!

If someone DOES die, four votes acknowledge that it might be thematically appropriate for that to be Grayson. Then there are single votes for Natividad, Alejandro, Thaddeus, Carissa, and Justin.

My main reaction to this is: Honestly, people! Hasn’t Carissa suffered enough? Various other votes here surprise me, but the ones for Grayson don’t. I was expecting some readers to point to him. Personally, if I were a reader, I would have voted for DO NOT KILL ANYONE.

We’ve got significant disagreement here, because under “Who should definitely NOT die?” — 17 votes for DO NOT KILL ANYONE, but nine votes for Natividad. Whoever picked her as a thematically acceptable death, you are in a minority. Two votes for Grayson, so we definitely have readers pulling for him to make it. Interestingly, Keziah and Justin both got votes. I know Keziah is a favorite with some readers. I like her too. (I like all these characters.) (Perhaps that isn’t a surprise.)

I’m going to pull out part of Kim’s comment here, because I think this is a good observation:

[D]eath isn’t actually the scariest thing that can happen to someone. Your stakes aren’t crazy high because everyone might die—it’s because of all the other horrible things that might happen to them, and to the rest of humanity, if they fail.

This is true! This is interesting because it’s a different way to make the death of a character more acceptable. I mean, suppose that the plot goes in such a direction that the choices are (a) death, or (b) something much worse than death. Imagining this dichotomy made me realize that this would be a way to get readers to accept the death of an important character. Oh no, the character is dead! But at least it’s not worse!

I’m not at all saying I’m planning to do that, I’m just pointing out that this is a different way to kill an important character without getting your book thrown across the room by furious readers.

Also, those of you who commented about TASMAKAT. I just could not WAIT for readers to hit that part and if you didn’t quite see how it was going to work out and then loved it, that is perfect and I’m really happy. This book is sitting at 4.8 stars with more than a hundred ratings, so it should be fairly stable at that rating. I wouldn’t be astounded if it eventually dropped to 4.7, I’d be pleased but surprised if it went up to 4.9, but plainly it’s going to stay in that range. Whatever quibbles people have with it, plainly most readers gave it a thumbs up, and that’s great. I will just note that I agree, intensity is quite possible without killing anybody.

Kristi, thanks for the heads up about character deaths in some of Elizabeth Bear’s other books. That kind of character death doesn’t sound like it would work for me.

Kriti, all through The Hunger Games, at various crucial moments, Katniss makes a very short, pithy public statement that captures something important and changes the direction of the story — she pulls people toward a better path than whatever they had in mind. This happens several times. Where does it NOT happen? Right at the end, when Katniss is standing by a microphone and shoots that woman, Coin, but she does not make a speech of any kind. This, in my opinion, was a MASSIVE missed opportunity. MASSIVE. I don’t remember if I stared in amazement at the page or not, but I definitely remember thinking, How could Collins POSSIBLY have failed to have Katniss step up to the microphone at that moment?

Also, though I have done pretty terrible things to some of my characters, I wouldn’t have handled Peeta the way Collins handled him. If you’ve read the World Companion, you know I often react to awful things in someone else’s book by thinking of what I’d have done instead, something less awful, something that perhaps redeems whatever terrible things have been going on. All through that part, I was thinking of what I would have done instead, intensely enough that it interfered with reading the book. The reason the Scholomance trilogy worked for me MUCH better than The Hunger Games is because there’s a much stronger redemptive arc that pulls almost everyone, and almost every terrible thing, into a better position at the end.

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