What I’m Reading: The Unincorporated Man


The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin

Again with the post-apocalyptic fiction. I am in a rut.

I found this book in a bargain bin at Barnes and Noble. I picked it up because my hubby said, “This looks like something you’d like.” He was largely correct.

The Unincorporated Man tells the story of Justin Cord, a man who awakens from cryogenic suspension into a society where everyone is incorporated. In simple terms, everyone has personal stock, and to own that stock is to own a piece of that person’s present and future earnings. This has been the norm ever since the “Grand Collapse,” an event much like the Great Depression on a global scale. Emerging from the near destruction of all humanity, the survivors created a world controlled by capitalism on every level. Your shareholders can determine your college, your career, and even aspects of your lifestyle in order to protect their investment, and unless you own a majority of your stock, there is little you can do about it. For the newly awakened Justin, this sounds suspiciously like slavery.

The novel was decently written, especially for a pair of first-time writers. The story was long, but it always held my interest. It had a unique premise, good description, and believable characters. It even had several moments of absolute brilliance. One chapter in particular had me breathless in horror as Justin finally understood the nature of the VR plague that brought about the Grand Collapse. The Kollin brothers are talented, and I admire their creativity.

However, I cannot recommend this book. Language was a problem to begin with. The chapter about Mardi Gras, which in the future is a week-long celebration similar to a bachelor/ette party in Los Vegas, made me irritated at the authors for wasting my time. But it was the gratuitous sex scene killed any possibility of my ever giving it to a friend. It left me so disgusted and angry that I will never read another book by the Kollin brothers ever again.

I was very disappointed in this book. I would have roundly praised the novel had the writers kept the story clean. Instead the book will once again be relegated to a bargain bin. I plan to sell it to Half-Price Books as soon as I can.


What I’m Reading: Fragment


Fragment by Warren Fahy

Though I haven’t written much over the last month, I  have been reading constantly. I saw this novel on display at the bookstore when it first came out and immediately wanted to read it. I finally bought it and finished it in a matter of days. If I didn’t work full-time, I might have finished it in a few hours. It’s a fast-paced thriller, and it will definitely draw you in from the first paragraph.

Fragment tells the story of a ship carrying the cast of a reality show about scientists who answer a distress call to a remote island and discover… well, lots of very dangerous things that want to eat them. Hender’s Island is not like any other place on earth, and as they explore, it becomes clear that these species pose a threat to the entire planet. This is Fahy’s first effort at fiction, and I’m definitely curious about his next novel.

In case you’re wondering, Fragment isn’t a remix of Jurassic Park. Fahy’s island is populated by things that are far more frightening and vicious than dinosaurs. His monsters are definitely unique, and the reader is drawn in by the mystery of where these animals came from. Fahy also takes a sarcastic tone in much of the storytelling, and he often has the characters make fun of themselves when the chase scenes or explosions begin to resemble a cheesy movie. Some sections are actually hilarious, especially when the manipulative producer of the reality show tries to create drama. It’s an entertaining read with very creative concepts and good use of popular culture.

However there were a few things I didn’t like. The biggie? Language. There is a lot of language in Fragment. I understand using some foul words when you’re being chased by a monstrous spider/tiger with razor-sharp teeth, and I know that in Hollywood people curse like sailors. It may have fit a character or two to scream obscenities over and over, but it ruined a good chunk of the novel for me.

I also got sick of the discussions of evolution and scientific theory. Many of those scenes felt like contrived “plot exposition.” It’s also hard to make long arguments about scientific details interesting. Even Crichton didn’t always manage that, and Fahy has some work to do before he matches Crichton.

Last, character development was weak. The characters were distinctive enough to remain separate in my mind, but not “round” enough for me to care about them. This was partially saved by the tongue-in-cheek writing style and by reminders that the characters are the cast of a reality show. After all, have you ever taken a reality show seriously?

In conclusion, if you can survive a lot of language and you love Michael Crichton, Fragment is a good summer read. Be prepared for some nasty monsters. Sometimes I’m tempted to check under my bed for a Hender’s rat…

Writing Slump


I haven’t written a single word on my novel since August. Part of it is due to being sick with a bad cold. Part of it has been work-related stress. And part of it is that I’ve just run out of steam.

I’m writing a science-fiction novel, and there is a lot of research involved with the plot and setting. After all, you can’t just set a novel on a future colony on Mars without thinking about some things. Like…

…how is the oxygen supplied?

…who is in charge of the colony?

…how do they handle the dust storms?

…what are the health implications of lower gravity, higher radiation levels, and dust exposure?

…what kinds of jobs would these people have?

…what would they eat?

…what would their homes look like?

I’ve read a lot of research on what NASA and private enterprises are planning for our first journey to Mars. I can rattle off lots of statistics about the planet, such as soil composition, atmospheric pressure changes, average temperatures, and weather patterns. I have six books from the library about Mars exploration, a huge library of web links, and several amazing documentaries. But it is still easy to be paralyzed by all the questions.

My novel is about a young college student who discovers a dying man in the desert near the research installation where she interns. It’s not about the length of a Martian day or wind variances in Valles Marineris. It’s about her. And that is where the questions get a lot more complicated. Such as…

…how much does my main character study?

…how long does it take to make her angry?

…does it make sense for my main character to like banana smoothies?

…what is her favorite outfit?

The answers are completely up to me. It’s a paralyzing thought, especially if I stop to consider what other people might think. If I finally finish this novel and get it published, other people will read it and think, “Why on earth would she like banana smoothies? That makes no sense.”

Silly? Perhaps. But I happen to think banana smoothies fit her just fine, even if bananas are expensive on Mars. So there.


What I’m Reading: The Adoration of Jenna Fox


The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

I just finished this novel, and I’m impressed. You’ll find it in the young adult section at Half-Price Books, B&N, or wherever you prefer to procure your fiction, but this is a good read for adults too.

Jenna Fox wakes up after a mysterious accident with no memories. She is seventeen years old, but she doesn’t remember a single day of her life. She finds herself living with her mother and grandmother in a house in California while her father works in Boston. As she becomes reacquainted with the world and slowly remembers pieces of her life, she suspects that her parents are not telling her everything.

The story is written in first-person, and the author makes use of free verse, dictionary definitions, and excerpts from Thoreau’s Walden to illustrate Jenna’s state of mind. Normally I don’t like it when an author uses experimental forms, but it was perfect for the tone of the story.

If you pay attention, you’ll figure out the end much sooner than Jenna does, but you probably won’t mind. I kept reading, curious what Jenna would learn and remember next. There are discussions of ethics, the nature of the soul, and the definitions of life and death woven throughout the story, and if you are a debate junkie like me, you’ll be hooked.

I highly recommend The Adoration of Jenna Fox for a Saturday afternoon. It’s a fun, easy read that will still make you think.


Novel Research: Google Earth


I have done a lot of research for the novel I’m writing, and it is especially difficult since I care about scientific details. That means I’m doing a lot of research about Mars. At the moment I am sorting through a collection of factoids about atmospheric pressure, soil toxicity, static electricity, and calendar systems for a 685-day year.

On top of all that, I’m trying to map the cities and research installations I’ve created.  Designing cities a world away could have been really complicated, but I found a handy tool to make it easy.

In case you didn’t know, Google Earth allows you to look at maps and satellite pictures all over the world. It’s very cool and definitely worth the download. You can even use a flight simulator to fly around the earth if you please.What does this have to do with my novel? Well, Google Earth decided to be even more awesome and added Mars to their maps. That means you can click on an icon and change your screen to a globe of Mars. It’s marked with the main important landmarks, touchdown points for the rovers, and cool pictures taken by the satellite orbiting the planet.

Currently I use it to mark locations for cities and research installations on my fictionalized Mars. It allows me to calculate distance with reasonable accuracy and determine how long it would take to get from say, the capital city to a geological research station in the desert (approximately 3 hours.) I’m also noting locations within the main cities, airports, shuttle points, and favorite hangouts.

You can do this with Earth maps just as easily. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the program. There are so many things Google Earth is capable of. For now I am content to enjoy tagging places where my heroine likes to hang out, her favorite restaurant, and the research installation where she interns. Has anyone else messed around with Google Earth? Let me know what I’m missing!