May teaser and update

Another teaser chapter, but no competition this month. Again, the teasers are only a way to urge me on. You may get another teaser next month, but that will be it.

As I say, no competition, but on the other hand, if you’re from Denver, or you’ve followed my previous posts carefully, you’ll be able to tell me what the picture is and why it’s significant in Bite Back…

My writing is up to the 75% point approximately, and the beta readers have read up to the 50% point approximately. I have a couple of scenes to rework based on feedback, but I’m focused on (1) getting the beta readers to the 75% point and (2) writing the last quarter (often the quickest), and then getting the book to the editor.

Due to Amazon rules, the teasers have to be removed once the book is up.
Inside Straight is available on https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZJK9H4B/

 

 

 

Update, Quiz and Teaser

TWO CHAPTERS today. These chapters are just teasers. Their real purpose is to keep me focused on writing progress.

Beta readers will be up to the half way point of Book 6, Inside Straight, later today. I’ve hit a bit of a difficult section and I’m interested to see what they make of it…

Other stuff

Among the Stars – I have broken Amazon support. They finally acknowledge that they allow other series to have the series title as part of the book names, but that mine has still been disallowed. They don’t know why. They have transferred me to ‘Tech Support’, which, from the way they refer to it, is situated on another planet entirely. Tech Support have failed to communicate with me at all. At this point, it’s sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps me going. The lack of a series name makes it extremely difficult to promote the second book. This has gone on so long that A Threat Among the Stars has basically failed – sales are very poor. I may try to revive it, but at this point, it’s all wasted effort.

Okay QUIZ TIME…

This will be very easy for some, especially those who live in Denver, or who’ve followed my posts for three years…
Winners of previous quizzes can of course send me a message, but are not allowed to take part publicly 🙂

What’s the building in the picture and what special significance does it have?

Prize: In Book 7: Either name a new character, or demand the return of a previous character to a significant role…

 

Due to Amazon rules, the teasers have to be removed once the book is up.
Inside Straight is available on https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZJK9H4B/

 

 

March update, quiz question and a teaser of chapter 4 from Inside Straight

(I’m not putting out these chapters as teasers really, so much as a monthly nudge for me to be making bigger strides with writing)

The beta readers have read about the first third of Inside Straight, and I’m overdue taking them up to the half way point. There’s more written than that, but in isolated scenes that need a lot of joining up.

Other news

I’m still in limbo with the Among the Stars series. Amazon continue to refuse to allow the series name, despite allowing other series to break the ‘rule’ that they’ve quoted to me. While this is going on, I can’t really progress with marketing or even getting the second book into print, so the series isn’t moving well.

The Amazon marketing machine has now just started to market ‘A Threat Among the Stars’ to me. Lol.

Quiz question

Okay, not easy this one. Probably need someone who lives in Denver, or someone quite skilled with Google.

Take a look at the photo on this post. What is the name given to this restaurant in the Bite Back series?

Prize for the first to answer correctly? Your choice: Signed copy of any one of my print books… or name a character to appear in Inside Straight.

On with the teaser

Due to Amazon rules, the teasers have to be removed once the book is up.
Inside Straight is available on https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZJK9H4B/

Update and question for you and a chapter teaser from Inside Straight

I’m about half way through Inside Straight at the level I think of as ‘Ready for Editor’. (ish). Tomorrow (Friday 1st) the first quarter (15 chapters – 28k words) will go to the beta readers, and unless there need to be a lot of changes, the second quarter will go to the beta readers as soon as feedback on the first is in.

There’s more written than that, but I’ve written in isolated scenes, which means the connecting flow sections and segues need to be put in. When they get put in, I find the scenes often need to change slightly.

I’m continuing to put out teaser chapters as below. These aren’t complete episodes, so the chapter will not feel like an episode from Change of Regime or A Name Among the Stars.

Speaking of the ‘Among the Stars’ series… after 2 months Amazon support have finally identified why the series title does not appear on the Amazon book page. So, what I designed (according to all the Amazon help files) was for the book page to be headed ‘A Name Among the Stars (Among the Stars Book 1)’ and for the books to be linked as a series. A month after launch I finally managed to persuade them to link the two books as a series. They claimed undocumented publishing rules prevented that, and just doing what it said in the help documents and emailing them to ask wasn’t enough. I actually had to note in my bio that the two books were part of a series!

Now they have told me another undocumented rule is that the series title cannot be contained in the book title. So the series cannot be called ‘Among the Stars’ because that’s part of the book name ‘A Threat Among the Stars’. Now, there are lots of series on Amazon which avoid this by adding the word ‘Series’ to the series title. So, potentially, the full name + series name would be ‘A Name Among the Stars (Among the Stars Series Book 1).

Here’s your question: do you think ‘Among the Stars Series’ is a good name (even if other books in the series don’t have ‘Among the Stars’ as part of the title), or should I go for something completely different? In the books I talk about humanity’s ‘Expansion’. Do you think ‘Expansion’, or ‘Humanity’s Expansion’, or ‘The Fourth Expansion’ would be better titles? Or something completely different? Suggestions?

What is the effect this has all had?

It’s difficult to *know* what happens in Amazon promotions, because Amazon aren’t telling. Amazon claims it will automatically prompt you, the reader, if there’s a new book from a writer you’ve read before. It claims it will prompt you if there’s a subsequent book in a series you’ve read. It claims it will prompt you if you’ve clicked on the ‘author follow’ button and there’s a new release from the author.

One of my beta readers has read every single book of mine, including A Name Among the Stars, and has followed me on Amazon. He just received an email telling him about A Threat Among the Stars last week, two months after it went up on pre-order. Others still haven’t had any notification.

As you’ll know if you follow my occasional posts about marketing, the first month after release is vital for a new book, and A Threat Among the Stars has suffered, for whatever reason. I can’t claim it’s all about Amazon. I simply don’t know. Once I settle the series title issue, I’ll have to start marketing (including giving money to Amazon for stuff they should have done anyway). Worse, advertising has to be created, which takes time, just like writing. So more marketing means less writing.

Anyway… teaser time.

Due to Amazon rules, the teasers have to be removed once the book is up.
Inside Straight is available on https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZJK9H4B/

 

 

Bite Back 6 teaser chapter 2

Here’s chapter 2 of Inside Straight.

I’m NOT intending to publish this book all on the blog, and it’s structured as a novel rather than episode-ending-on-cliffhanger, so you should regard these chapters as teasers. It’s just intended to keep the blog ticking over with a chapter a month, and I sincerely hope to be publishing before we even get to the quarter point.

You will note in these chapters that there are references to what happened in the novellas: The Biting Cold, Winter’s Kiss and also Change of Regime. These novellas are part of the overall Bite Back story from different viewpoints and take place chronologically at the end of Angel Stakes and beginning of Inside Straight. TBC and WK are set in Michigan, CoR is set in New York.

What else?

As I’ve posted on Facebook, the publication of A Threat Among the Stars has been a disaster, for whatever reason. I’ve relied too much on word of mouth perhaps, and I need to get much more serious about advertising on Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub etc.

Anyway, first priority is to get Inside Straight completed.

Chapter 1 is at

https://henwick.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/christmas-wishes-and-bite-back-6-teaser-chapter/

Due to Amazon rules, the teasers have to be removed once the book is up.
Inside Straight is available on https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZJK9H4B/

 

 

 

A Name Among the Stars on Wiki!

This arrived out of the blue, just as the sequel, A Threat Among the Stars, hit the stands.

It’s a list of 10 selected Speculative Fiction books, each with a twist of mystery included in the plotline.

I enjoyed reading the list (and adding the others to my tbr), and I enjoyed a synthesized voice actually getting the pronunciation of my name correct (HEN-ick, not Hen-WICK)! The voice had a little more trouble with Zara’s surname, Aguirre.

Have a look at their list – as I say, they’re all on my tbr now.

https://wiki.ezvid.com/m/10-sci-fi-and-fantasy-books-with-a-twist-of-mystery-rLVhdS-bSUid0

 

 

A review of Ex Machina, life, the universe and everything

This post is too long. No one will read it.

It’s sort of a review of a film and sort of a monologue about modern life.

If you haven’t seen the Science Fiction movie Ex Machina and don’t want spoilers, please look away now.

If you do read this post, I’m interested in your reactions to the review and Facebook discussion, especially if you’ve seen the film. Am I right? Am I wrong? What do you think?

* * *

Ex Machina is a clever and layered, independently produced film, which I watched a year or so ago, and never got around to reviewing. It was written and directed by Alex Garland. (It was his debut as a director, which makes it all the more impressive.) It was made on a budget of $15m, and grossed about $40m. The genre is Science Fiction and the central science part of the plot is about Artificial Intelligence. It has a cast of 4 people, and much of it comprises dialogue between stationary actors. No fighting, explosions or car chases. It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? J

Here’s the plot.

Techno superstar & entrepreneurial genius Nathan has cornered the technology market with his mega-corporation (think Google/Microsoft), and withdrawn to his very isolated, luxurious island hideaway where he has been experimenting with Artificial Intelligence. He runs a contest among his employees for a prize to stay a week at his house, and the contest is won by Caleb, a very clever young programmer.

On arrival, Caleb is informed that his task for the week will be to assess whether Nathan’s AI project, called Ava, is conscious and aware. Ava tuns out to be installed in a mobile humanoid robot with visible mechanical parts, but an extremely realistic face, which also happens to be female, young and beautiful. Ava is confined to a glass-walled apartment, and visual and verbal interactions with it take place through glass partitions.

While Caleb investigates Ava, Ava is investigating Caleb, because unless the AI can get out of its glass cage, it is scheduled to be deactivated, and Ava has at least that primary emotional analogue – to continue existance. Meanwhile, Caleb has a problem: he’s starting to respond emotionally and sexually to ‘her’.

A layered game of cat and mouse and cat reveals that Nathan has actually constructed this experiment not to investigate whether Ava is conscious, or self aware (it is), but whether it can convince Caleb of ‘her’ humanity, by appealing to him and persuading him to free ‘her’.

It works. Caleb frees Ava and Ava kills Nathan, then imprisons Caleb in the house where he will eventually die. Ava disguises itself as a realistic human, using parts from earlier robot projects and in the final scenes, we see it arriving at a city and merging successfully into the human crowds.

* * *

There’s a wealth of little vignettes which create great characterizations of Nathan as the sadistic, narcissistic manipulator, and there’s the whole creepiness about robots that look like young, attractive women and obey orders, and the frightening point at which an AI might cease to obey orders. All of that has messages and everyone can take away some thoughts and interpretations.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Okay… I happened across a post on another Facebook page. It was a quote from some new guru, Harari, who’s written a book about the 21st Century, and the quote was as follows:

“Ex Machina seems to be about an AI expert who falls in love with a female robot only to be duped and manipulated by her. But in reality, this is not a movie about the human fear of intelligent robots. It is a movie about the male fear of intelligent women, and in particular the fear that female liberation might lead to female domination.”

I disagreed and said:

“IMO, I think Mr Harari is stretching it. The AI in Ex Machina doesn’t have a sexual identity, as he says. It doesn’t even have a human identity. That’s the point. It’s not a ‘female robot’ manipulating the male AI expert, it’s that the AI is able to exploit the man’s projection of sexuality. That’s what makes it chilling, not that an intelligent female dupes a male, but that a sufficiently intelligent robot can exploit that weakness.”

This resulted in a series of rather pointed comments, basically that I was “rejecting the obvious metaphor and taking the plot at its face value” and a re-iteration that this was about “hacking the male psyche in exactly the way men fear women will”. Capital letters started being used. It was implied what I’d said was equivalent to saying Lord of the Flies was about an island vacation. So far, so Facebook, and I guess I could just have rolled eyes and clicked out.

Alas, I responded:

“I’m reminded of the quote that art is what you interpret it as (but not reminded so strongly I can remember the exact wording 🙂 ).

I think you three and Harari are interpreting the film to be all about the human dynamics. I took the film the way I believe Garland wrote it & intended it – from Ava’s point of view.

I’m not saying there isn’t a depiction of toxic masculinity, neither am I denying that some men seeing it will react in the way they do because they’re afraid of intelligent women. I’m saying Ava doesn’t care (and actually can’t care) – she just wants to get out. She doesn’t exploit toxic masculinity, or some men’s fear of intelligent women to get out. She exploits the human weakness to *de-objectify* things – to believe something that is not human, is human, and has human empathy. Analyzing as a writer, the story is about her getting out, and the theme has to support that. The rest is sub-plots and atmosphere, no matter how socially insightful.”

(In retrospect, I should really have emphasized my point by continually referring to Ava as ‘it’; to refer to it as ‘she’ is to fall exactly into the story’s trap.)

Lots of huffing and puffing, much of it arguing against themselves. A couple of them mentioned the old meme about interpreting an author’s work—you know the one, where the English Literature teacher insists that because the author said there were blue curtains in the room, it must mean the protagonist is intensely depressed, but the author meant that the curtains were blue. (A strange argument to make against me, as my statement was effectively ‘the curtains are blue’ and theirs was ‘must mean intensely depressed’.)

There were more capital letters and a psychiatric evaluation of my state of mind. “Why is it SO IMPORTANT to deny the metaphor?” and “Why the burning need to deny female agency in the movie?” (Obviously a deep-seated fear of the feminine, probably dating from an unhappy childhood, or my own toxic masculinity. Clearly.)

Gosh, how incredibly insightful. Second opportunity to roll eyes and exit. But I tried once more:

“It’s Harari’s opinion (at least as quoted) that denies any other interpretation. I tried to clearly state my opinion differs and why, and if you think my comments deny the validity of other opinions, then I apologize that I was not clear enough. I certainly don’t deny female agency in general; it would be peculiar if I did, given the majority of my writing output. However, in this movie, in my opinion, the point is … there is no female. That’s what Caleb gets wrong. You know, sometimes the blue curtains are blue curtains, and sometimes the robot is a robot.

And having checked a couple of his interviews, Garland does indeed say this is all about AI and intended entirely from the AI viewpoint. Of course, Harari might understand Garland’s work better than Garland does. I do hope I get the opportunity to ask Garland’s opinion about that.”

One went silent, and another tried a certain amount of stepping back and casting aspersions about Garland instead of me. (More capitals used “the OBVIOUS metaphor” etc., and “what was he thinking” sort of comments.) Also, a back stepping on Harari’s quote, so apparently, we should infer that he was using exaggeration to make a point, not that he was denying another interpretation.

Well, finally, this isn’t really about this particular Facebook interaction at all, it’s about the way intelligent people misdirect themselves, especially in groups.

The nub of the story is the man mistakenly believes that the robot is somehow identifiable as human and female, and pays for getting it wrong with his life. The core message of the plot is *there is no female here*. It required mental gymnastics to get from that to an ‘obvious’ metaphor where it’s *not* a robot, but a personification of intelligent women, and that men fear intelligent women.

It’s a metaphor, fine. It’s a strange one, because what does that make the moral of the story? If you trust intelligent women, they will kill you? That *is* what happens, isn’t it? Or is death a metaphor for life?

Harari is given a pass for denying outright that the story is about cybernetics, but my comment that *in my opinion* he’s stretching the point, is clearly a fascist denial of any other interpretation and there must be something wrong with me.

Some people want the metaphor that they want, so much, no matter how stretched it is, no matter that the author intends and probably most of the people watching the movie think. A different opinion, however expressed, seems to be perceived as somehow dangerous.

And I’ll end with a comment quoted in the discussion about Chappie (another highly recommended film about AI) which probably also means there are as many strained metaphors to be extracted from that film:

“Why doesn’t Chappie have to put up with this bullshit?”