Describing a Sci-Fi story as “Unbelievable” is NOT a Good Thing


** Review of “Return of the Sagan” by Neil Patrick O’Donnell

I don’t enjoy giving a book a bad review. As an author myself, I know it hurts, unless someone has such an iron-clad ego that they don’t believe it and thus fail to heed what it’s saying. Thus, when I do so, I try to stick to the facts of what a book’s deficiencies are so the author knows what to fix. Of course any review will always have a high level of subjectivity, but I try to judge a book as fairly as possible, based on its merits.

This story got off to a good start and has tremendous potential to become an epic saga of a starship gone for 300 years and now returning to Earth, only to find the human population extinct. That’s a big story. The main character, anthropologist, Francis Burns (no relation to Frank Burns of M*A*S*H fame), is believable and endearing with his OCD and quirky obsession with Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was a nice affirmation for gender equality that men and women shared high military rank in the story. The names of the vessels were well-chosen and credible. Authors are always advised to “write what you know” and O’Donnell did a great job with OCD and the geography of the Niagara region as well as military jargon and protocol. Generally, I believe that the world of “fandom” would particularly enjoy this story and would make a good target audience.

However, there are numerous things that need to be fixed before this story can be taken seriously by true science fiction fans. It’s important to note that “fandom” comprises individuals who are very well-versed on details and to earn their loyalty and respect you’d better get the particulars right. Unfortunately, I would give an “F-“ to some elements in this story, which I’ll explain farther down.

I must say that I truly hope the author can take my comments as constructive criticism as opposed to bashing, which is not my intent. I believe this story deserves serious editing at the line, copy and content levels so it can become the great saga for which it holds promise. If I were its editor, here are some of the things I would suggest to bring it to its potential glory.

1. It’s best to open a story with the main character, not someone who will largely disappear or be absorbed. Furthermore, there were too many characters, especially in the beginning. They weren’t all faceless, but most didn’t have a distinct personality. Due to the scope of the story, several characters are justified, but they need to be humanized and developed to hold the reader’s interest.

2. The author’s writing style is reasonably good, almost to the point of what I would call “strong.” However, there are few relatively easy to fix stylistic issues that would result in considerable improvement. Probably the most noticeable would be to eliminate the repeated use of the POV character’s name. Interestingly enough, this didn’t occur until later in the story. It’s distracting for a name to be repeated a half-dozen times or more in a single paragraph, especially in places where the person in question is the only one involved. That’s why we have pronouns. If there are two people of the same gender involved in a scene, a reminder of who’s talking or doing what from time to time is useful, but effective pronoun use is essential to readability. You don’t want the reader thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know it’s him already!” or, conversely, having to stop and reread a section to figure out who’s speaking or prevailing in a fight scene.

3. Typos are almost inevitable in any novel, my personal favorite in this tome being “zero-gravy” which would probably slip past a spell-checker, but some were grating such as the consistent use of the wrong homonym. One or two I can handle, but this was excessive. I’ve never seen so many. I suspect a good grammar checker would catch these since in most cases they represent an entirely different part of speech. For example:

solar flares, not flairs

waver in the limited light, not waiver

reigned in magnificence, not reined

soul was allowed to leave his care, not sole

waved Francis to take his seat, not waived

pour out of the satchel, not poor

higher branches, not hire branches

fell from the satchel right past Francis, not passed

4. The military jargon and procedures were convincing and came across with an air of authenticity. Good job there. However, the technical aspects were so far beyond feasible that it detracted from the rest of the story. One minor example is the use of paper onboard a starcruiser, which is beyond doubtful.

5. And speaking of a starcruiser, no matter how much of a conspiracy buff you might be with regard to UFOs, it would be more credible for the ET’s from Zeta-Reticuli to provide Earth with a ship with interstellar capability with the volume of three aircraft carriers than for us to suddenly acquire one, much less populate it with F-15E Strike Eagles. I would think that most people, particularly sci-fi fans, would know that these aircraft could not possibly fly in space. Just out of curiosity and as a detail-oriented person myself, I asked a friend who’s a former pilot about that. Here is what he said:

“The F-15 could not be controlled outside the atmosphere as the airplane’s control surfaces depend on air flow to cause changes in roll, pitch, and yaw.  Thrusters are required to maneuver in space.  If it had thrusters, I suspect that the structure would overheat and breakup during reentry.  Initial reentry mach is far higher and would generate far more heat than the F-15 materials could withstand.  The engines are air breathers and can’t burn the kerosene without oxygen.  Then there’s the little issue of gravity.  The fuel tanks, lubricating oil tanks, and hydraulic reservoirs depend on gravity to operate.  The pickup points are in the bottom of the tanks.  The fuel tanks have baffles to keep a small amount of fuel available for negative-G use.  The engines are okay with the oil on them for a short time and there is pressurized hydraulic fluid in the system. 

“The fighters and trainers that I flew were limited to 30 seconds negative-G or inverted flight.  Zero-G is not negative-G, I’m not sure if there would be any difference.  The F-15 cabin is pressurized to 5 psi above ambient at altitude.  (It is unpressurized to 8,000 feet, maintains 8,000 feet until it requires 5 psi, then maintains 5 psid.)  There should not be any issues with DCS if the pressurization were functioning but it won’t be because it uses bleed air off the jets and the jets won’t work in a vacuum.  Therefore, the crew is exposed to vacuum with probable deleterious results. Another issue: the generators are driven by the engines and if the engines aren’t turning you are down to battery power which will only power essential systems for a short duration.  The longer I think about this the more reasons I come with as to why the F-15 isn’t a spacecraft.”


Yes, there are readers who are acutely aware of such facts and inaccuracies of this magnitude detract from the story as a whole. It would be more credible to make up an entirely new craft (think X-wing or Tie fighters) than use one inappropriately. Even a mention of the aircraft being retrofitted would have helped, even though that would be extremely unlikely due to what it would entail.

6. Some plot angles, such as the potential for a conspiracy on the part of political figures, were dropped. If this will be developed in a sequel then that should be implied more clearly.

If I were to deduct one star for each of the above points, the book book have a negative rating. Of course all the work the author put into it is worth something and it did have some redeeming value, even though reading much of this book was downright painful. Nonetheless, I persisted to see how it would end, which was handled reasonably well and provided fertile ground for a sequel.

As noted earlier, the premise is interesting and has tremendous potential, but the execution left far too many shortcomings if you’re picky about the science being accurate and expect proper grammar and style that doesn’t keep tossing you out of the story, shaking your head. These issues require attention to pass muster with the ranks of true science fiction fans. Besides some good editing, a cadre of good beta readers are a valuable asset that I highly recommend.

If you’re so inclined, you can pick up a copy on Amazon here:

Sneak Preview -Marcha Fox’s Upcoming “Terra Debacle”!

Thanks for the pre-release review, John! Current release date is December 1 and it should be available for preorder sometime before that. Stay tuned!

John Reinhard Dizon's Blog


The Terra Debacle by Marcha Fox is a highly entertaining, suspenseful and thought-provoking sci-fi novel surrounding the exploits of Thyron, a mutant form of sentient plant life with highly-developed thought processes and limited extra-sensory perception. It comes as a quasi-prequel to the author’s Star Trails Tetralogy, where the character appears as a protagonist in the Brightstar family saga. Set in the late 70s northwestern USA, it uses the controversial Air Force investigation of UFOs as part of the storyline. Gabe Greeley, an exobiologist at NASA, is contacted by Colonel Jenkins at Hill AFB in Ogden, They request his opinion on an exotic lifeform discovered by personnel at the base. Greeley arrives at the base and is introduced to Thyron, and there the adventure begins.

Fox could not have selected more fertile ground for such a cross-genre romp. This is easily comparable to a dark version of ET – The…

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New Thriller in Elle Klass’ “Ruthless Storm Trilogy” Just Released!

The Mind boggling conclusion to the Ruthless Storm Trilogy. Release date October 14, 2016.

My characters are fictional but crime, murders and serial killers are real. No crime is victimless. Buy In the Midst of the Storm during October and every cent Elle receives will be donated to to help real victims.




Google Play



The thrilling conclusion is filled with suspense! Here’s an excerpt:

The cold air chilling her to the bone, she walked swiftly towards her apartment. Her mind cloudy from too many beers. A trail

through the woods surrounding her apartment complex opened up to her left. If she stayed the course of the street-lit sidewalk, it’d take her longer to get home than if she took the path through the woods that led almost directly to her door. Her body shivering, she decided to take the chance and cut through the woods. Really, it was just a small chunk of trees with a well-worn path that most people used for walking their dogs.

Halfway through the shortcut, she heard voices talking. She slowed her pace and listened but assumed it was a couple walking their dog.

“What the hell are you doing?!” yelled a male voice.

She jumped and on instinct plastered herself against a large tree and scanned the area. Hoping she was fully camouflaged by the thick trunk. She peeked her head around it and spotted two young men. One had jeans sagging past his buttocks and a red jacket. The other wore all black and he held a glinting silver object. Her mind flashed back to the shining object and black eyes that chased her within her nightmares. She breathed deeply, trying to stay calm, and considered her options. The last time she’d run through woods didn’t fare well for her and she ended up in a coma for a week.

Running was out of the question. Going forward was out of the question. She felt the cool metal of the pendant against her chest and remembered its soothing qualities. Taking a deep breath, she

crouched, using the trees for cover and squat-walked towards the next tree. She couldn’t avoid the piles of leaves littering the ground, but hoped her steps were gentle enough the guys would consider them an animal.

The voices moved closer to her and she went into near panic mode. Breathe, breathe. They’re probably just smoking pot and mean no harm, she soothed herself, but the feeling in her gut sent shivers of horror flying through her body. Bad memories resurfaced and she saw his face, the monster, Evan’s face. She closed her eyes, attempting to gather her courage.

Leaves rustled beneath their pounding footsteps, growing closer with each one. No longer able to control her fear, she took her chances and ran.

“Who’s there?” called one of the men, as Eilida sprinted through the woods. Not watching where she was going, she ran smack into broad shoulders and a rock hard abdomen. Waves of horror shuddered throughout her body.

Listen to the In the Midst of the Storm Soundtrack!

It’s sexy!

He wanted to make all the bad in her life disappear and he wanted her. The vibes bouncing off Eilida suggested she desired him just as much. Setting his plate on the table, he turned to face her and cupped her face in his hand. Then he brought his lips to hers. His sexual hunger matched by hers.
When they released the kiss, she set her plate beside his and brought her body closer to his, melting in his arms. Their mouths met again as their hands explored the other’s assets. His hand lingering on her perky breasts as he lifted her shirt and drew his tongue closer to them for a taste…

Why I’ve Been Off the Blogmobile

terradebaclefronttI’ve been off the blogmobile for a while, as you may have noticed. Why? Because I’ve been doing what authors do, which is, in case you’re not aware, write. I’m in the process of finishing up my latest novel, “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51” which chronicles what happened to Thyron and Aggie while they were at Area 51, which occurred in Star Trails Volume II, “A Dark of Endless Days.” I thought it would be another short story like “The Sapphiran Agenda” but, as it turned out, it became a novel, though only about half the length of the books in the series. It’s in the final phases at this point with my planned release date December 1. I’ll let you know when it’ll be available for pre-order on Amazon.

Meanwhile, here’s a peek at the cover as it currently stands and a short excerpt. If you haven’t read the series, then you need to know that Thyron is a flora peda telepathis, or telepathic walking plant. You can learn more about him in “The Sapphiran Agenda” which is free on Smashwords. You can pickup a copy in the ebook format of your choice here:

Onboard Impounded UFO

Hill AFB

Ogden, Utah

May 28, 1978

1445 MDT/2045 GMT

Thoughts cloaked, Thyron sat perfectly still on the bench occupying the Cerulean Nimrod’s lower deck where Creena had witnessed him tromp the ‘troid in a tysa game during their journey, one of his most cherished moments of botanical victory. Before him, a bearded man with dark hair teased with grey straddled the bench, scrutinizing him with curious, green eyes while a small group of uniformed humans clustered around.

“Clearly it’s a botanical lifeform,” the man stated, removing a small light source from one of many pockets in his tan jacket.

Invisible within his carefully arranged, multi-faceted leaves, Thyron rolled his eyes. Classifying these people as morons was far too generous.

“Strange,” he went on.. “It looks like an oxalis palmifrons – gigantea hybrid. A type of wood sorrel. Quite common in Brazil. South Africa and Mexico, too, as I recall. I wonder if it was brought here or harvested?”

“What do you suggest we do with it, Doctor Greenley?” asked an older soldier of considerable rank, judging by the plethora of decorative patches and dangling metallic ornaments on his chest. His uniform, unlike the others, was a shade of blue similar in color to coagulated Sapphiran blood.

“We need to secure it in a sealed environmental chamber to assure its safe arrival at the Nellis lab, Colonel. It looks rather hardy, but we don’t know what its heat tolerance level is, which could be exceeded during the trip across the desert, and it shouldn’t be exposed to contaminants like molds, fungi, bacteria and such, that could prove lethal. Fortunately, I brought along an environmental control chamber on loan from NASA’s Life Sciences Exobiology Branch.”

“Great. Let’s do it. We need to get this vehicle off the tarmac. The crane’s ready to load it up on a flatbed and secure it in a hangar until departure tonight at oh-three-hundred.”

Greenley removed a small, notched strip of metal from one of his pockets and handed it to the nearest soldier who had hair the color of iron-rich dirt, which Thryon found rather pleasing. “Here’s the key to my rental car, airman. It’s in the trunk. Two of you should be able to handle it.”

Airman? Thyron thought. Odd. He didn’t look as if he could fly.

“While you retrieve the ECC, I’m going to take a sample to study in the astrobionics lab when I get back to Houston,” the botanist continued, reaching into another pocket. “Then I’ll be able to determine conclusively whether it’s a native species or extraterrestrial.”

Take a sample?

Instantaneously, an ancestral defense mechanism lurking in his DNA activated that Thyron had never experienced before. His cytoplasm tingled as it gathered sulfur dioxide stored deep within his primary bulb and started to combine it with water stored in his lush, divided leaves. Fortunately, the burning sensation tipped him off to what was happening just in time, preventing a toxic cloud of sulfuric acid fumes from injuring and possibly killing everyone within ten meters.

The mental concentration required to perform this humane action precluded cloaking his concurrent mental response, however. As soon as the thought escaped, all he could do was hope that no one within range was psi-sensitive.

He was wrong.

The botanist’s eyes widened and jaw dropped, hand gripping the cutting device frozen in midair.

“What’s wrong, Dr. Greenley?” the officer asked, stepping closer. “Are you all right?”

The scientist closed his mouth, blinked a few times, then turned his head in the speaker’s direction. “Holy guacamole! It just refused. Rather adamantly. I swear. To be exact, I had the distinct impression it said, and I quote, ‘Like hell you will.‘”

Several more mouths fell open amid a few chuckles of disbelief.

“What’s that smell?” one of the airmen asked.

“Well, it wasn’t me,” Greenley stated, somewhat defensively. “Whatever this species is, Colonel Jenkins, I suspect it’s intelligent, perhaps even dangerous.” He straightened and stepped back, returning the cutting tool to his jacket’s hip pocket and securing the flap. “I’ve seen thousands of botanical species, from the tropics to Antarctica, from mountain tops in the Andes to the depths of the Mariana Trench. But this specimen’s entirely different from anything I’ve ever encountered anywhere on Planet Earth.”

The colonel took a deep breath and blew out his cheeks. “Yeah. I’d say that’s intuitively obvious, doc,” he said. “Intuitively obvious.”

* * *

The Star Trails Tetralogy Box Set is available at most online retailers through the links below.

For more information about individual books and reviews visit the series’ website at

Start the Star Trails adventure with “Beyond the Hidden Sky” for FREE!





Barnes & Noble:

The fate of worlds orbiting 2 suns

I found this particularly interesting since my Star Trails Series involves a planet orbiting two suns. However, mine is especially weird since it does so in a lemniscate (figure-8) pattern.

These Tatooine worlds, as they’re called, might be the ultimate survivors, as their 2 stars begin aging in ways that are sometimes threatening or even catastrophic.

Source: The fate of worlds orbiting 2 suns

Moon and Venus next few evenings

On Enjoyed an outstanding star party last night at Canyon of the Eagles’ Eagle Eye Observatory. There were probably 100+ people that showed up to beautiful skies. World Space Week is next week! It’s easy to see Venus, Saturn and Mars.

October 2 and 3, the moon is near Venus. And Venus is bright! If you catch it low in the twilight, its brightness might surprise you.

Source: Moon and Venus next few evenings

9 Things That Cost Your Book 5 Stars – Guest Blog Post By An Amazon Top Reviewer

Excellent points! As a reviewer myself I definitely agree with every single one of them.

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

head shot your humble host

Meerkat agreed to do a follow up post about stuff we writer types can do to avoid getting a less than stellar review from a reviewer.

Here are some of the top pet peeves. (Emphasis added by me)


There are lots of reasons why I love a book and I usually see something great in all books even if they’re not my favourite genres, but there are definite reasons why I don’t like a book and if these crop up, it feels as if the book still needs editing – and it’s hard for me to give it 5 stars.

1 – Spelling errors, grammar errors, typos, etc.

I know these are perhaps the least important for some people to check and I don’t mind the very odd typo (I’m guilty of them myself) but if every page of a book has typos and…

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Why Earth has 4 seasons

If you don’t know why we have seasons, here’s a great article on the explanation. It’s also notable that astrologically, each change comes about as the Sun ingresses a Cardinal Sign of the Tropical Zodiac, i.e. Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn.


Some assume our planet’s changing distance from the sun causes the change in the seasons. That’s logical, but not the case, for Earth.

Source: Why Earth has 4 seasons

Review of “Faithless Elector” by James McCrone


Don’t let the enigmatic title and somewhat bland cover of this political thriller fool you. While the subject sounded interesting and very apropos for the times, which is why I decided to read it, I had no idea it would suck me in like it did. I could hardly put it down and even stayed up late, missing a new episode of one of my favorite shows, “Blindspot,” to finish it. Believe me, that takes something pretty gripping.

There were so many things I loved about this book. First of all, I learned more about the Electoral College and the process the U.S. has for electing its president. Many years ago I remember a political science class in college where the professor stated that we should have a national primary, get rid of the electoral college process and go with a strict popular vote to elect the president, which made sense to me. That was back in the 80s and clearly nothing has changed. The complexity of this process leaves too many loopholes for corruption, as this intense story points out.

In this day of computers it simply wouldn’t be that difficult to assure the integrity of elections which is obviously not happening. I could go off on a complete rant about that, but this is a book review, for heaven sake. So I won’t. But I enjoy learning something from a book, especially when it’s packaged in a fast-moving, gripping story where you can’t read fast enough to find out what will happen next. There were parts where I wouldn’t have dared take my blood pressure. Yes, it was that intense.

The characters in this book were strong and believable. The main character, Duncan Calder, is a political science professor. He’s charming, intelligent and undoubtedly handsome, but not someone who is accustomed to being plunged into a world of intrigue and murder. It was very credible, the way he adapted, using his intelligence and survival instincts. All of the characters were also vivid and believable, particularly Imogen Trager, a former grad-student of his who is now working for the FBI. The history these two have is believable and handled in a very convincing way. They were very human and nothing felt contrived.

The descriptions and imagery were fantastic. The author described the various settings using prose that read like literary ambrosia. Yet, he knew when to cut to the chase, literally, and make the story and plot move at a breathless pace. It reminded me so much of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels that I loved, books I gave up like an addiction back in the days when I had a day job because they would force me to stay up into the wee hours of the night finishing them. Like those best sellers, the sense of danger of this thriller is palpable. There were a few brilliantly funny lines that had me laughing out loud and a touch of romance, masterfully intertwined within this incredible. I not only look forward to the next book, given not all the mystery was resolved in this one, but will probably read this one again. That, also, is something I rarely do. If I could give this book 10 stars I would. Don’t miss it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.