A miracle

TCS and corn

Brisbane, Australia is 14,920km (9271mi) from the little town where I hang my hat. As you all may know, Brisbane is where the Australian author John Birmingham lives and writes.

OK, this may seem like Cruel Stars month on my website, but I’m actually going a different direction today. Before I do, though, go buy the book. It’s pretty awesome. OK, ’nuff said.

9,271 miles is a long damn way, almost as far as you can get on planet Earth without jumping on a space ship. So why do I mention this?

Easy. I had occasion this morning to visit a couple of local book shops, one small and one large. To satisfy my curiosity, I took a look at the sci-fi section and looked at “B.” Both book stores had The Cruel Stars, this thing must be literally everywhere.

Think about that. An author 9200 miles away sits down at a desk and toils. After a long period of sustained effort, he submits his work to a publisher. There is back and forth, a series of edits and adjustments spanning the Pacific Ocean and thousands of miles. Finally, a publication date is set. Printing presses in New York (?), maybe, get fired up and thousands of books are cranked out. Thousands.

This process repeats itself worldwide.

In the meanwhile, digital copy is made, along with an audio book.

A release date is set for a worldwide Time on Target of 0001 hours, 20 August 2019. This time and date rolls westward as the Earth slowly spins about its axis. The lucky people in Brisbane get it first. Unfortunates in Hawaii get it last.

On the 20th of August digital code allows pre-orders to open books on devices worldwide, all of which runs in different time zones. Large booksellers such as Barnes and Noble start to ship hardcopies, stock people in thousands upon thousands of stores place the new books on wheeled carts and stock shelves.

A book launch by a major publisher is an astonishing display of logistics, marketing, programming, and execution.

As I stood in the little book store thousands of miles away from the author, these thoughts went through my head. I picked up a copy, leafed through it, and carried it to the register. It seemed that I wanted to purchase another hardcopy as a gift to my old Team Sergeant, so this book, copy XXXX of who knows how many thousand, left the store with me.

It rode on the back seat of my car. As I drove, I marveled at all the threads that came together to make the book’s journey complete. Had the idea to write this article, put the book in front of some Indian corn and took a picture. Sent the picture via my phone to the computer. This is another technological marvel that we take for granted.

Posted picture.

It really is a miracle, if you stop to think of it. An Australian product by a talented writer lands in Appalachia, thousands of miles away.

Miracles as a routine.

I took some time today to appreciate this one.

Hope my Team Sergeant likes it; The Cruel Stars is the ripe fruit of the labor of thousands- starting with JB, 9200 miles away.

This is amazing to me.

The Cruel Stars, a review

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BLUF- Recommend. Action, solid characters, cool premise and execution.

Today is another launch day, readers, for The Cruel Stars. You can get it in Australia here, or here for the US. It’s a book I’ve been looking forward to for a couple of years. First, full disclosure. I was a beta plus reader on this work, I had the privilege of watching it unfold from the ground up. Second, let me say that I’m a huge fan of space operas. I have been since I was a kid reading Asimov. So I’m pre-disposed to like this book. Finally, I’m a dedicated reader of Birmingham’s, which long time lurkers of this site have probably picked up on.

I say all of this to alert you that it’s pretty hard for me to be neutral about this book. So I won’t even try. I really liked it, at least the beta version. There’s been a little homework on my part on the web, looking at critiques by other readers. In that regard there have been a few common threads. Allow me to give my take on these.

Some readers haven’t liked the profusion of characters; there are five or six chief POVs in this book. Well, I didn’t have any trouble switching perspectives while reading, but then again I’ve been reading a lot of Vasily Grossman’s stuff lately. Wow, talk about a bewildering cast of characters; JB’s stuff is very straightforward as opposed to a Russian novelist.

Speaking of the POVs, I enjoyed them all. They had distinct voices. There wasn’t any carbon-copy BS in there. Whether the POV belonged to McLennan the crusty scientist or Sephina the space pirate, they were crystal clear and concise. No blurring, no confusion.

Other critiques are that this is an Honor Harrington rip-off. I’ve read some Honor stuff, and I’m not seeing this comparison. Sure, both series feature a female lead in space warfare. OK, but the similarities end there, as far as I’m concerned. Lucinda, the newly-promoted officer of the line, is thrust into a situation far different from anything in the Honorverse. Also, her background is quite different from Honor, and this plays out into a particularly vicious, bitter subplot with a nobleman named Chase.

Which leads into my next point. JB has created a very distinct universe; I haven’t seen something quite the same anywhere else. Think space blitzkrieg by murderous race purists against a genetically altered humankind, an imperfect society populated by distinct layers of haves vs. have-nots. Some critics have pointed out a level of sympathy with the Sturm, Lucinda’s enemies, until certain aspects of their “liberation” are revealed.

Personally, I like shades of grey in a book. This is realism. Good people are capable of great evil, and vice versa. No one is a saint.

This is particularly true in Cruel Stars.

Which leads into another critique I’ve seen on the web; scenes of graphic violence and colorful language. Yes, it’s true. The enemy in this lead-off to the series uses a diabolical means of launching their offensive against, well, all of humanity. The result is particularly nasty, and JB faithfully describes what would happen if such an attack took place.

Well, sorry, readers, but war is gross. There’s no other way to describe it. As to the colorful language… I’ve seen some pretty God-fearing soldiers bust out f-bombs left and right when the bullets fly. This is realism, too.

Soooo, to sum up. If you like space operas, you’ll probably like this book. If you’re looking for action, this will suit. If you want to laugh one minute while sucking in your breath the next, check it out. If you want to recoil in disgust and then root for your chosen hero to prevail, press the “buy it now” button.

The Cruel Stars, a recommended late summer read.

See if you can finish before the kids start getting on their busses. I’ve bought an actual hardcover; I eagerly await the polished result of Birmingham’s long labor. Rest assured, before those yellow boxes start to roll I’ll have been through it (again) cover to cover.

Check it out!

Author John Birmingham, Interview, 12AUG19.

approved JB

Readers, it is with great pleasure that I can say that best-selling Australian author John Birmingham agreed to do a mini written interview about his latest novel, The Cruel Stars. This book will be available on the 20th of August, it’s a great read and I plan to review it soon. Without further ado, I’ll turn things over to Mr. Birmingham.

  1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book? 

    I’ve always been a huge fan of space opera and classic sci-fi, but I’ve never had the guts to write my own. I’m not sure why. But if you are asking straight up what inspired me to write The Cruel Stars, it’s the novels of Peter F Hamilton, and John Scalzi and C. J. Cherryh and Isaac Asimov and Iain M Banks. I could go on. I’m deeply invested in James SA Corey in the Expanse series, and that’s before we get anywhere near other media like TV and film. It’s just a great, almost infinite field in which to tell stories. I’ve always wanted to go there.
    What specifically inspired me to write this series? To be brutally honest, failure. The last series I did, my Dave Hooper novels, failed for a whole bunch of reasons. I loved them as books. I worked hard on them. And I’m happy with them as creative works. But for a bunch of reasons I won’t go into here, they just didn’t work as well as they should have on the shelf. So I was looking for something else. Something very different.

    2. The Cruel Stars was in development for a long time. What was your greatest challenge with creating it?

    I really worried, to the point of obsession at times, about getting things right. And I shouldn’t have. It’s fiction. I remember interviewing Lee Child on stage in Melbourne once about how he put his Jack Reacher novels together. I assumed they were intricately plotted and massively researched. Well there is some research, but plotting? No. That jammy bastard just drops into it and gets going. Me, I spent about two weeks try to figure out how a spiral staircase in a micro gravity environment might work. In the end I had to remind myself this was a traditional military thriller, in a science-fiction setting. I’ve written a lot of military thrillers. I just had to relax into what I already knew. Finding a way to do that, to let go of my anxiety and relax, that was the biggest challenge.

    3. As the writing unfolded, which character became your favorite, if any?

    I had always assumed that Lucinda was the main character of this story. I like strong female leads and I was very much looking forward to learning about her as I wrote the book. But strangely enough it was the foulmouthed, irascible 700 year old Scotsman, McClennan, who was the most fun to write. His relationship with the advanced combat intellect, Hero, was like a marriage. Not so much a marriage gone bad,  as one gone deeply, deeply strange. They were both enormous fun to write and I always looked forward to getting back to their storyline. A lesser character, Jaddi Coto, was also a heap of fun to write.

    4. You use the beta reading technique to help develop the raw manuscript. How useful is this?

    I love my beta readers. It’s a process I tend to use a lot more in my independently published works rather than by trade published books, because trade publishers can be a little nervous about letting the intellectual property out into the wild with so many unvetted readers. But all of my betas are longtime readers and trustworthy with it. A lot of them have some pretty arcane specialised knowledge that they bring to the gig too. Not the sort of thing that some editor in a publishing house is going to know. It’s such a useful process that I really wish I could make more use of it for my trade work.

    5. Finally, having received the final proof, what are your thoughts regarding the completed work?

    I am very, very happy with this book. I love these characters and I can’t wait to get back into harness with them.

 

Thus concludes the short interview. I’d like to thank JB for his time, and I’d like to encourage my readers to check out The Cruel Stars. I’ve been waiting for this launch for a long time, I even ordered two hardcopies of this work.

When that plain brown box from Barnes and Noble shows up, don’t bother to contact me for a day or so.

Do check it out.

Preoccupied

Unknown

Fort Sill, the home of the US Army’s artillery, also hosts a number of other training activities. For example, I did the second phase of the Basic Officer’s Leaders Course there, the infantry phase. It’s a harsh, rugged landscape with a fairly unforgiving climate. Scorching hot in the summer, freezing cold in the winter with winds that cut through you like a knife. In other words, a great training environment.

Great training environment? Surely I must be kidding. No, I’m not. Misery focuses the mind, monotony and harsh conditions prepare the soldier for war. Napoleon said “The first quality of a soldier is constancy in enduring fatigue and hardship. Courage is only the second. Poverty, privation and want are the school of the good soldier.” He was right.

So at the moment a close relative is enjoying the hospitality of Fort Sill while she undergoes the US Army’s Basic Combat Training, an eleven-odd week gut-check.

Forgive me if I’m a bit distracted by this. I’ve managed a bit of writing for a friend, but I haven’t done much else. Right now she is in the communications restricted phase, the trainees typically don’t get phone privileges for several weeks after the start of the training process.

I have only vague, blurry memories of Basic. Hey, it was 27 years ago. Stuff like watching my supposedly perfect, inspection ready wall locker getting its painstakingly arranged contents dumped out into a heap on the ground. Running in the early morning. Stuffing food into my mouth faster than I thought possible. Long hours on the drill field. Learning the care and feeding of the M-16 rifle. And so on.

It is a moment of supreme disconnect for me to imagine this young soldier going through this hell, when I remember holding her as a baby. I know she will be beaten by pugil sticks. She will throw a live grenade. She will choke on riot gas… the list goes on.

So yeah, I’m a little preoccupied at the moment.

Hope to get to some serious writing, beta reading, whatever, soon. These dog days of summer are eating at me pretty bad.

In other news, Space X continues to do the miraculous, they caught one of their first-stage fairings with a recovery boat lately. This will save some six million dollars per flight. Also, there’s some work going on with solar sails; people are working on proof-of-concept stuff. Pretty awesome.

My thoughts keep returning to Fort Sill like one’s tongue worrying a broken tooth, though.

Good luck, soldier.

You’ll need it.