Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

David Loeff's musings on books and other topics

Tit for Tat

Amazon has been in a dispute with Hachette for some weeks. Today Amazon mass emailed its Kindle authors. The missive is lengthy, however its central message is that Hachette would sell more eBooks if they lowered their prices and that Amazon was trying to persuade them to do so. At the message’s conclusion, Amazon requests that its authors email Hachette in support of its goals.


I won’t be emailing Hachette and this is why: 1) basic economic principles suggest that if Hachette continues to sell high priced eBook, then I should sell more copies of my lower priced ones. 2) As an independent author, I don’t much care about what goes on between Amazon and major publishers. 3) Amazon grants more favorable terms to its major publishers than it does to its indies. For example, a major publisher can work out an agreement with Amazon to pre-sell a book before its release date. I don’t have the same bargaining power.


Bottom line, until Amazon decides to do more to help its indie authors promote their books, I see no reason to do them any favors. 

Just who are you really?
The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives - Shankar Vedantam

 Maybe you think you’re reasonable. Shankar Vedantam thinks maybe your're not. In the book, The HIdden Brain, he explores how we often think we're making rational decisions—when in fact, we are following our unconscious biases.


Vedantam's term “hidden brain” describes mental processes which affect our behavior without our conscious awareness of their influence. These result from errors in attention and memory; mental shortcuts we form and follow; relationships and social dynamics.

In some cases, it’s possible to train ourselves to identify and become aware of these hidden influences. In other cases, the influences remain hidden. American society however operates as if human behavior is primarily based on reason.


Vedantam presents an example involving a rape conviction based on false identification. The woman, who identified the wrong man as her rapist, became convinced of his guilt while she was praying in church. Initially uncertain, her doubts dissolved in the safety of her church.


Emotions can affect our memories and convictions — and that’s what happened in this case. After DNA evidence had proved his innocence, the woman met the man. Upon meeting him, the first thing she noticed convinced her that she’d been wrong.


Vedantam discusses how social scientists test for racial bias—and find it even among those who claim to be unprejudiced. We believe we live in a fair society, yet experimental evidence shows that people tend to recommend the harshest penalties to those whose skin is darkest.


Sexual bias is common as well. Transgender individuals report receiving greater respect and higher salaries when they change from women to men. The opposite is reported by those who change from men to women.


Our “hidden brain” is useful because it helps us make decisions quickly. However, those decisions are not always correct. By becoming more aware about how the hidden brain works, we can begin to make better decisions both as individuals and as societies.


Read longer review


5 Stars
Legitimacy: The Vanilla Cycle: Book One
Legitimacy: The Vanilla Cycle: Book One - M. H. Van Keuren
At 650 pages, a story becomes too lengthy, unless it’s skillfully told. And this book is very skillfully told. The characters and the future setting are believable and the story is interesting.

Part of this novel is set in space, however no light sabers are drawn and no ray guns fired. Indeed, the only instances of violence occur not in space, but in a Bangkok boxing gym and over breakfast in a refugee camp. Large battles are planned and fought, but the action doesn’t occur on battlefields. And the enemies do not readily show themselves. They mostly lurk unseen in cyberspace.

In some ways, Teague Werres, with his robotic lemur, reminds me of an early William Gibson cyberpunk. However, Teague is very much his own man, not Gibson’s. Son of American missionaries and self-raised in Bangkok, Teague is street smart and ambitious. Presented with an opportunity to study far from Earth, Teague finds himself among the wealthy and influential. If he is clever and lucky, he’ll survive with his integrity intact and avoid becoming their pawn.

Compared to Teague, Rob is less complex. He is somewhat naive, under-ambitious, and loves liquor too much. Yet his heart is pure. Before the two are through with each other, Rob and Teague will interact in complex ways leading to unexpected conclusions for both. The book ends where it should, however there remains much to learn about the fate of the two men. I hope there’s a sequel, and soon, because I really want to know what happens next.

I liked Van Keuren’s first book, Rhubarb very well. However, I enjoyed Legitimacy even more. While Rhubarb is a satirical romp, Legitimacy is wholly serious. While Rhubarb describes a simple man’s desire for romance and escape from a dead-end job, Legitimacy is more fleshed out and philosophical. Both books involve conspiracies. The one in Rhubarb involves space aliens, while the conspiracy in Legitimacy involves humans. You can imagine which conspiracy is more frightening. That’s right, people can do really scary things. What’s worse is that they can be subtle in how they go about it. This was an intriguing book. Like rhubarb pie, Van Keuren is addicting.
4 Stars
Rhyfelfawr Arthur; The Young King Arthur (Arthurian Age)
Rhyfelfawr Arthur; The Young King Arthur (Arthurian Age) - Cian Beirdd
In this concise work, the young Arthur learns hunting and statecraft from his father, becomes a skilled competitor, and then learns defeat and betrayal. After he is confined several days, he must choose between serving another king or risking death in order to escape. Confronting another king’s deceit, Arthur gambles his life once more.

Homeless and weary, young Arthur must prove himself worthy of serving a king less noble then himself. Of all his peers, only Arthur is courageous enough to hunt the beast that ravaged a village.

As the young Arthur achieves manhood, he must choose whether to be satisfied with local respect and celebrity, or to face the hardships of the road in search of a greater destiny.

The author captured my interest from the beginning and held it until the final page. I hope the author someday expands this story, exploring other incidents in the legendary king’s life. However, this work stands on its own as a complete, yet compact, tale. It does not imitate those eBooks, which like appetizers, tease, rather than satisfy.
4 Stars
Rhubarb - M.H. Van Keuren
Anyone who has ever held a sucky job will sympathize with Martin. All those long hours on the road--of course he listens to that ridiculous paranormal talk show. But, does he actually believe that stuff? Cheryl hopes not.

She's more down to earth. At least she was until the aliens abducted her. Now it's up to Martin to get her home again. This may sound like a farfetched plot, but the story works because its characters are believable. Even the aliens are believable. Their motivations are just as selfish as those of humans--a scary thought indeed. "Rhubarb" is a story that pulls you in and doesn't let you go until you're done reading. It delivers plenty of satire and thrills, and when you're done reading, truck stop pie will never taste quite the same.
5 Stars
Space Jockey (Science Fiction Short Stories) (Futura - Science Fiction Short Stories)
Space Jockey (Science Fiction Short Stories) (Futura - Science Fiction Short Stories) - Philip K. Dick, Algis Budrys, Jack Skillingstead, Joself Vasicek

As the title implies, each of these stories involves piloting a spacecraft. However, there the similarity ends. One craft is barely large enough to support a crew of two while several others have remote pilots. Just as the book supplies spacecraft in a diverse variety, it does the same with story plots.

Many of the stories deal with warfare, and some deal with military versus non-violent solutions. One such is Tara Maya’s “Food, Peace, Power”. In this story, two determined men, a military leader and a civilian pacifist engage in a contest of will and wits. You can’t read this story without respecting both men, their differing viewpoints and their conflict resolution styles.

Philip K. Dick’s “Mr. Spaceship” takes a different view of warfare. His protagonist views war as a bad habit acquired by humanity and never out grown. His solution involves a radical approach and a fresh start.

In her story, “Semper Audacia”, M. Pax presents warfare at its grittiest. Leda is the lone survivor of her brigade and now her people depend on her to save their civilization. There’s no room for hesitation or error, however Leda has ghosts her fallen companions’ ghosts to guide her. Are the ghosts real or has Leda gone mad? This story packs action and suspense into a tight container.

Another strong female protagonist can be found in Ethan Rodgers' “Farsider”. This tough pilot makes the best of her exile on Titan and finds comfort where she can.

Other stories in this collection address artificial Intelligence, quantum physics, quests to explore deep space, and the loss of one’s humanity. There’s quite a range of topics packed into one collection.

5 Stars
Way Station (A Collier Nucleus Science Fiction Classics)
Way Station (A Collier Nucleus Science Fiction Classics) - Clifford D. Simak
I read this as a child and later as an adult. I enjoyed it both times. This book was one of the first science fiction titles I read and it had a very strong influence on me.
4 Stars
Artificial Absolutes
Artificial Absolutes - Mary Fan
An overall satisfying work of science fiction with good character development. I would have enjoyed more exploration of the difference between human and artificial intelligence, and of the nature of the soul and whether or not an artificial being can have one. However, such an exploration would have been difficult to pull off without disrupting the story pacing.
4 Stars
The Arabian Nights Entertainments
The Arabian Nights Entertainments - Anonymous, Andrew Lang
This edition of the Arabian Nights contains only the most popular stories and none of the adult content that Sir Richard Francis Burton included in his multi-volume translation.

However, this translation is suitable for children while Burton's translation is not. Although Andrew Lang's language can seem somewhat archaic at times, it is nowhere near as archaic as Burton's.
3 Stars
The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights
The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights - A.S. Byatt, Richard Francis Burton, Anonymous
Although this edition is not a complete collection of Burton's translation, it is a very good selection. There are several ways to obtain the complete Burton translation in eBook form. One way is to download individual volumes from Another is to purchase the Halcyon Classics edition from Amazon. However, a reviewer reported that this edition does not have a hyperlinkded table of contents. The Quench edition from does have a hyperlinked table of contents. Other complete editions are available, but can be difficult to find.
4 Stars
Farewell Horizontal
Farewell Horizontal - K.W. Jeter
There is only the building, cylindrical and huge. And, choices are few: live a dull and conventional life on one of the horizontal levels, or live a creative, yet precarious, vertical existence on the building’s exterior.

Ny Axxter lives in a cyberpunk world, dystopian and corporate controlled. He’s just another gutsy punk trying to cut it on the fringes of a society run by faceless corporations. His journey is fueled by the need to survive. If he’s lucky, he might learn something on his journey, but in the end his hard gained knowledge will only scratch the surface of the unknown. However, only by surviving another day, and growing slightly wiser, does progress occur. It’s an exciting journey. Come along for the ride.
5 Stars
Parallel Worlds of Richard Purtill: Fantasy and Science Fiction
Parallel Worlds of Richard Purtill: Fantasy and Science Fiction - Richard Purtill
This collection contains a full-length novel, “The Parallel Man” and ten additional stories, including some never before published. Some of the stories are science fiction, some fantasy, some combine elements of both. Regardless of genre, they are all delightful. For example:

What would it be like to be so empathetic that it causes emotional distress, or to see the world through the eyes of others instead of one’s own? Richard Purtill addresses extreme empathy in “The Chrysenomian Way”, and the second theme in “Other’s Eyes”. The situations in both stories, like those of most Purtill stories in this collection, have unexpected, yet satisfying, solutions.

When live actors perform in the space faring Universal Commonwealth, their psionic technique creates rapport with their audience. In “Blackout” an actor learns that gods can also use psionic rapport. Will he be able to face down a god and stop its killing spree?

Can a vampire live a comfortable life on a Greek island among malicious and superstitious neighbors? Is the arrival of a beautiful stranger his key to escaping an eternity of lonely despair?

The final four stories in the volume are adapted from Russian folk tales. Although each of the four stands on its own, together they form a suite of related stories. Several feature a knight named Karl, a war veteran now weary of killing, who seeks nothing more than a worthy cause to serve. Karl’s heroic humility will charm those who read his adventures.