Review: The Fault in Our Stars Parody: The Fault in our Stairs

The Fault in Our Stars Parody: The Fault in our Stairs
The Fault in Our Stars Parody: The Fault in our Stairs by Adam Aarons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a damn funny book and I’m sure it ticks off numerous people, considering the serious subject and the book it parodies. Too bad. It’s definitely worth reading; it’s well-written and the riffs and jokes are really pretty funny. At least now I don’t have to read the original (or see the movie).

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Review: 1984

1984
1984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can you say about this one? It’s really the ultimate dystopian novel – the one against all others should be judged. Most everything that needs to be said or experienced about the genre can be garnered by reading this and Huxley’s Brave New World. Both books are somewhat prophetic, but 1984 hits far too closely on many marks with current society. Oceania is a world where power and control are the only things that really give The Powers That Be any sort of satisfaction, and the deprivation of the working class is the means of getting that.

If you haven’t read this book, you need to read it. And soon, before it becomes more of a historical document than a novel. And before it disappears…

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Balls Deep in Bariatric Surgery

While I know it has done wonders to improve some folks quality of life, I must say that after tonight’s consultation session at Reading Hospital, bariatric surgery is mostly a big racket. Of the hundred or so people in the room, maybe ten or fifteen were really obese enough to qualify (including myself). Mostly, the consultation was a waste of time, a waste of a trip to Reading through thirty miles of torn up highway, and a poke in the right direction.

I had been considering getting the lap-band type of surgery, which is the least invasive, and has a patient geared up to lose a pound or two a week (the other types, gastric sleeve and bypass surgery, provide a much quicker weight loss). I sat there and thought “Fuck, if I can’t do that myself by cutting out Cheetos and peanut butter sandwiches at midnight, I deserve to be slit up a fucking treat (which is what the other two types of surgery do to a person).” Also the doctor mentioned about one person whose lapband went through his stomach wall and came out his mouth. That didn’t sound too appealing.

Mind you, I have met some folks who are happy as clams with their surgery results, and more power to them! I am truly happy they got the results they wanted, and are true to themselves. I saw the results on one of Mona’s friends and it was truly amazing and inspiring.

But many people seem to go into this thinking that losing a few pounds the easy way (as opposed to dieting and exercise) is going to make them these wonderful, popular people. Sorry folks, if you’re an asshat to begin with, nine times out of ten, you’re going to be a bigger asshat as a slightly-thinner person. Consider the fact that you’re going to be on protein and vitamin supplements, among other medications, for the rest of your fucking life. That’s seems like it would be a major annoyance, and you’re gonna be taking that out on a lot of folks around you. And we won’t even get into the annoying flaps of empty, now-fatless skin that no insurance company will pay to remove.

The doctor’s spiel at the meeting, and the number of comparatively thin people there, made me realize why it takes an armload of paperwork to get insurance companies to pay for this kind of operation, even when it could seriously increase a person’s quality of life (or just keep them alive): The doctors treat it as cosmetic more than anything else. Sure, he said quite plainly that the insurance companies in this country deem weight-loss surgery as elective surgery (he did even use the term “cosmetic”). If the doctors are using it as a major profit generator (these are very short operations at about $10,000 USD each; he mentioned he had done three that morning), like face lifts or botox, yeah, the insurance companies are going to look down on that. Need bigger boobs? No problem. Need a face that makes you look like a Joan Rivers mannequin? We got you covered. Want to lose a lot of weight really quick? Buddy, you came to the right place.

The doctor and his representatives were virtually condoning insurance fraud to get the companies to pay for the procedure; you have to go through three to six months of counseling, losing weight to prove you’ve got the cojones to do it after the operation – but not TOO much weight. If you lose too much weight, you may lower your BMI too much to qualify, or the insurance companies will think you can actually do it on your own and not pay for the hack-and-slash. “Don’t lose weight too fast” the woman at the meeting said. “Lose some and then level it off.” In other words, you may have the wherewithal to lose the weight on your own, without a shiny blade being involved, but don’t do that, because then we won’t get paid you won’t get the full benefits of the procedure.

Yes, before you start leaving nasty comments, I realize that bariatric surgery IS the only option for some people. There are many legitimate conditions that preclude normal weight loss after a point. My PCP thinks I’m one of those cases, which is why he sent me there. I can’t walk more than twenty or so yards, or stand still for more than five or ten minutes, without having pains in my legs – to be honest, they feel like someone’s slicing my thighs with flaming, electrified katanas.  But I know it’s just a matter of pushing through that pain and getting more exercise and trying to eat less junk (and less of everything). It’s going to be slow at first, and it’s gonna hurt. But I also won’t be spending $10,000 (well, Medicare won’t be spending that, I should say, since apparently bariatric surgeons LOVE Medicare, as long as it’s the right one; however, they don’t like Obamacare, since none of the plans cover this type of procedure) on something that I can do without.

Beginning the first of the month, Mona and I are going to start watching what we eat a lot more closely. And I am going to start trying to exercise more. I’ve never been one to trust doctors unless absolutely necessary, since several of them have out-and-out killed members of my family, and my best friend. While my PCP certainly has my best interests at heart, I’m going to try my best to prove him wrong on this particular point.

Review: Santa and the Border Collie

Santa and the Border Collie
Santa and the Border Collie by Angelo Dirks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Damn, I wish I could write holiday stories like this! Nice, neat, kind-hearted. Mine all end up being like something Bill Shatner saw on the wing in The Twilight Zone.

This is yet again another well-written and finely-crafted story from Leland and Angelo Dirks. If there is a writing style that any indie writer should want to aspire to, Leland Dirks has got to be in the top five. I have yet to be disappointed on any level with this wordsmith. No wait, I have been disappointed. Several times. The stories ended. That was bad, because I wanted to read more, dagnabit!

As always, highest recommendation here!

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Balls Deep in Kindle Unlimited: The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

KUpost-pic
Original artwork by Jack Sparling, from House of Mystery #173 Copyright 1968, 2014 DC Comics, Inc.

Or at least that’s the way it seems in some quarters. Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new subscription-based e-book service, has been the hot topic for about five days now, which is of course more than enough time to know EVERYTHING about the service and EVERY SINGLE THING it could effect. Not.

Here’s the facts, as far as I can determine, for each end of the equation.

Readers:

Readers pay $9.99 a month for Kindle Unlimited. At the moment, all participants are enjoying a free trial month.

For that sawbuck, they get access to several hundred thousand books, of which they can borrow ten (10) at a time. If you have ten on your Kindle and you return a book, you can borrow another.

Unlike similar subscription services like Scribd or Oyster, KU does not require a separate app to use; e-books are delivered directly to your Kindle as they normally would be with any e-book purchase or library borrow (or can be downloaded to your computer to be sideloaded onto the devices if you don’t have a wireless connection).

The title selection currently includes a number of traditionally-published and independently-published titles, such as the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games trilogy, and the Life of Pi, along with a good collection of titles from indie writers. Most genres appear to be fairly well represented, with the exception of erotica (click the picture on the sidebar below to see the numbers in each category).

You can return your Kindle Unlimited titles from your Kindle if you go to the Kindle Store, select “All Categories”, choose Kindle Unlimited, and then pick My Kindle Unlimited books, which will bring up the proper interface to return them.

If you return your books via the internet on your Manage Your Content page, the book will be deleted from your Kindle the next time you sync it. So, if you’re reading one and haven’t finished, don’t return it that way. It WILL be deleted and no, it isn’t a conspiratorial scam like many might tout that sort of invasiveness after the 1984 debacle of a few years back.

Readers also have access to a select number of audiobooks (noted by the Audible Whispersync logo in the book listing), which can be downloaded much like you would from Audible.com (this requires a software download to your PC or laptop, or the Audible app on your Kindle Fire). I personally haven’t tried this yet, since I’m not a big audiobook consumer at the moment.

Categorys and numbers of titles in Kindle Unlimited as of July 22, 2014
Categorys and numbers of titles in Kindle Unlimited as of July 22, 2014

 

Authors: 

In order to participate in Kindle Unlimited, you MUST be a member of Kindle Select. If you are already a member, your books were automatically added to the KU library (if you do not wish to be in the program, you can withdraw them without penalty to your Select account for a limited time on the KDP website).

Naturally, the exclusivity rule applies as it would to any Kindle Select title: You cannot have your book for sale on any other venue but Amazon during your 90-day enrollment in order to use the program. Just like the commercial says, “membership has privileges”.

Authors will get a paid a royalty share, much like the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) for each book that is read at least to the 10% mark. That exact amount is unknown at the moment, but KOLL has averaged about $2.00 USD per borrow over the past year or so.

And that’s pretty much all we know. The two notable items that no one is quite sure of at the moment that, in my opinion, will make or break Kindle Unlimited are:

1. How many readers are going to re-up for a second month (and longer), actually paying the $9.99 monthly charge?

2. Exactly how much are authors going to get for each borrow from KU? Is it going to be the same amount as KOLL? Less? More than a regular royalty? Less than that?

We’ve got about a month to wait on the former, and about a fortnight on the other.

Another minor quibble that needs to be explained is that, if a reader doesn’t use Whispernet/3G/wifi and sideloads all their borrowed e-books on their Kindles, how does Amazon know if the 10% read qualification for payments has been met or not? Surprisingly, there still are some people out there without access or who choose not to invest in a wireless connection, so this is a salient discussion point.

For me, as an indie author, I’m looking at Kindle Unlimited as a great way to get my books in front of people that wouldn’t normally read them; I have one in Select right now, but the KOLL is really a crap shoot, since a Prime user only gets one e-book a month they can borrow. And considering I review every book I read (and have done so for going on two and a quarter years now), that means that other “power readers” may also be doing the same thing. Reviews are one of those sticky points that indie authors can never seem to get enough of … or often any at all. Hopefully this could be a much more inexpensive in-road for that that problem.

I do have to say that authors in the program had better make sure their books are up to snuff in terms of formatting, editing, and proofreading. I’ve read about fifteen books since the start of the Kindle Unlimited program, all of which were books that I had interest in, but not nearly enough to chance buying them. At least four of them so far would’ve been returned for a refund because of poor presentation (two were nearly unreadable because of formatting issues).  This program could be a boon to indie writers, but we cannot live up to the stereotype that’s been forced upon us by the less scrupulous segments of our own community through a lazy attitude toward the basics of publishing!

So the sky is not falling. Rome is still standing, and in fact, Nero hasn’t even gotten his fiddle out. The Silver Surfer has not located us yet. Darkseid’s still a few factors away from the Anti-Life Equation. It’s still the main aria and there are no Viking helmets in sight. Let’s all just sit back and let things progress naturally, so we can all make some properly informed decisions on Kindle Unlimited.

Review: It Rhymes with Lust: An Original Picture Novel

It Rhymes with Lust: An Original Picture Novel
It Rhymes with Lust: An Original Picture Novel by Arnold Drake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this tale is just a bit dated, as a rare, adult comic book noir, it is outstanding! A story of redemption and loss, crime and power; this original picture novel is straight out of the fifties. Mining widow Rust Masson runs Copper City and won’t stand for anything or anyone in her way. Hal Weber is the newspaper editor with a checkered past who becomes involved with Rust and her daughter Audrey, the only good person left in town.

It Rhymes with Lust is one of those stories in which you pretty much hate every main character in the telling, except for young Audrey, the voice of sanity in a town reeking of madness. The story is well-written, which isn’t surprising since comic book stalwart Arnold Drake (creator of Deadman and the Doom Patrol) handles those reins with Leslie Waller. The artwork is by preeminent “good girl” artist Matt Baker, and is oddly subdued from his normal bold sexiness – here the passion seethes relentlessly in his panels.

The book is set-up to the size of your standard pocket book/mass market paperback, making for easy reading. There’s no reason not to recommend this story to anyone – it’s just a good, old-fashioned, proper comic book soap opera!

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Review: The Weirdest Sci-Fi Comic Ever Made: Understanding Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Weirdest Sci-Fi Comic Ever Made: Understanding Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey
The Weirdest Sci-Fi Comic Ever Made: Understanding Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey by Julian Darius
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting treatise on a comic book series. I’ll give anyone props for writing about Jack Kirby (or any of the classic comic book art legends of the day), and this is one of Kirby’s stranger works. Not sure if it qualifies as “weirdest” even in Jack’s oeuvre, considering “Devil Dinosaur” and “The Eternals” from the same period.

The author does a good job covering the treasury-sized special and the individual issues of the short-lived series. Few non-comic fans will probably even remember the series, having been produced nearly a decade after the original movie had premiered. The only thing of note about it, besides Jack Kirby’s work, was the introduction of the character that would become known as Machine Man. The rest was all Kirby – his take on another form of science fiction (he’d already done the ancient astronaut/Chariots of the Gods thing with The Eternals and his own unique mythos with the Fourth World/New Gods over at DC Comics).

It’s an interesting and nearly enlightening read, but this is definitely just something for the comic book fan or the niche Arthur C. Clarke/Odyssey aficionado.

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