N.J. Tanger’s “Ascension”: Masterfully Written Science Fiction

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This intriguing and suspense-filled tale intricately describes what it might take to reach an interstellar destination, both in the way of motivation as well as technology, to say nothing of the type of individuals who would assume such a feat.

Nathan Beauchamp, a member of the writing team known as N.J. Tanger, is the sole author of this episode in the Universe Eventual series which expands upon the workings of the interstellar vehicle, Chimera. The ship is designed to support a population comparable to a small city for years to come through hydroponics and other self-sufficiency techniques. It provides holographic scenery reminiscent of Earth; possesses a sophisticated power system; and includes a political structure drenched in intrigue.

The conspiratorial reason for leaving Earth is fascinating and smolders with much of what is seen in today’s corporatism-saturated world. Colonization is motivated by their destination’s rich deposits of ecomire, which I assume to be the next generation of uranium, i.e., it represents a powerful energy source rarely found elsewhere and motivates a power hungry (both literally and figuratively) corporation to finance the venture. Furthermore, they intend to maintain their tentacles in those making the journey through whatever means necessary. Some colonization efforts are about survival, others about profits, this one possessing elements of both.

New but intuitively familiar terminology provided a unique and convincing environment. For example, referring to the enforcement arm as “regulators” was cold and effective. The personal agenda of various characters provided plot complexity, but without over-populating the story. Yet, the massive dimensions of the ship, the number of those onboard, and their evolving culture and social strata were conveyed effectively. The main character, Ashley Samuelson, was credible and relatable, personalized further by the first person narrative point of view and the intimate details of his personal life and relationships, including a romantic one.

One of the most clever sci-fi elements serves as the mainstay of the plot and that is the means by which the Chimera is guided by its navigator with the support of a few assistants, one of which is Ashley. To travel through the esoteric, paranormal dimension described as “fractal space”, “stitches” are laid to form a connection between Earth and their ultimate destination through “The Everything”. Once this pathway is laid, other ships will traverse it more quickly, so the implication is that they are creating a wormhole. This is accomplished through the combined efforts of the navigator, who’s enclosed in a mysterious spherical work station, where he or she is psychically entangled with the ship’s artificial intelligence. This combination of thought energy provides the creative power to chart its course, stitch by stitch, an interesting play on the apparent consciousness/matter interface implied by quantum theory. Navigator assistants deal with resolving any paradoxes encountered along the way.

Not just anyone can perform this critical navigating function, so when their existing navigator dies unexpectedly of mysterious causes, it presents a significant threat, not only to their mission, but their very survival. The quest to find a new navigator combined with investigation into the death of the original one provides various provocative insights into the risks of AI as well as allowing it to interact with a human.

This complex tale is presented via a masterful style that demonstrates some of the most delicious prose I’ve seen. As a writer myself, I savored numerous vivid descriptions, such as a look of “distilled hatred”; “her angry, beautiful, treacherous eyes”; “stumbling my way into the truth”; “fear masqueraded as anger”; as well as several others.  I suppose the fact such jewels jumped out at me as exceptional descriptions could be considered throwing me out of the story, but for me it was in a good way. Some of the imagery was nearly blinding, which is not easily achieved without slowing down the story. However, the literary precision was such that the descriptions integrated with the action and increased the suspense, which made various scenes play out like a movie in my mind. The author’s skill itself made this tale a joy to read.

This story is part of the Universal Eventual series, yet stands alone. However, if you’ve read any of the other stories, it helps fill in a few of the gaps. It has been a while since I read Chimera and this makes me want to read it again. If you enjoy meaty hard science fiction with plenty of advanced technology and intrigue while maintaining a strong human element with philosophical implications as deep as you care to go, all of which is packaged with strong, skillful writing, I highly recommend this story.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

“Stxeamtown” by John Reinhard Dizon is an Uproarious Steampunk Classic

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“Stxeamtown” by John Reinhold Dizon operates on so many levels that it can only be compared to such works as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Alice in Wonderland” and Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” To say it is brilliant is totally inadequate. Readers of all ages can enjoy its genius, though if you choose to read it as a bedtime story your young children may not understand why you laugh uproariously from time to time.

This brilliant satire creates a vivid post-apocalyptic world in which the few survivors following the “Big Bang” form a variety of societies. This was my first experience with the “steampunk” genre and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual twist on a post-apocalyptic world. The teenage protagonist is Trip Nortel, short for Amitriptylene, his name credited to the custom of finding baby’s names in pre-Big Bang formulary volumes. Trip is an Abovegrounder, a subculture that lives on the rooftops unbeknownst to the Grounders below due to a perpetual cloud of water vapor that obscures visibility; steam is the primary power source, having been rediscovered following the Big Bang. Abovegrounders are held to strict rules, including the need to be obsequious toward tyrannical “young-uns” by meeting their every demand. Those who don’t follow the rules are “crossed-out,” i.e. given a lobotomy, and sent to the ground below. Those who don’t make trouble don’t fare much better since upon reaching the ripe old age of 30 they, too, are banished. The rules are enforced by Big Boys who maintain limited contact with Traders below.

Trip falls in love with Lyrica, another Abovegrounder who lives on a different rooftop. She’s not only beautiful but wears stitched clothing rather than the wraps worn by most of the others. The two exchange Morse code messages in which they express their affection and finally the day comes that Trip finds his way to Lyrica and the pair makes a precarious escape to the ground, some rooftop friends subsequently joining them.

Once amongst the Grounders, Trip immediately connects with influential people who advise, “He who moves the most paper is the one who goes farthest ahead.” He’s quickly dressed in stitched clothing like the others in styles reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ world of fantasy. Eager to learn, he soon finds himself elevated to the upper echelons of society. The hero and his girl are instrumental in instituting numerous changes, including starting a school system to educate the Idiots, i.e. those “crossed-out” and cast from the rooftops, so they can reach their full potential. Things get more complicated as their Abovegrounder friends lament receiving unequal benefit from Trip’s influence and stir up trouble by associating with the Traders Guild and the Society of Black Beards who enjoy strong drink. The complications of the culture clash that follows are ultimately solved and of course everyone lives happily ever after.

While this tale is presented in a style similar to the best of fairy tales (which I assume is typical of steampunk), more sophisticated readers will be greatly entertained by recognizing the allegorical themes running throughout the surprisingly intricate plot, colorful characters and their societal predicaments. Dizon’s dry wit is only matched by his genius in creating this must-read allegorical tale that bears a striking resemblance to the world in which we live. If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would.

Don’t miss it! You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Amazon’s Review Policy Explained

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Most indie authors have encountered, either personally or vicariously, some of Amazon’s gestapo review policies. When reviews are so important to a book’s ranking, it’s no wonder that restrictions are frustrating and often confusing. More than anything, I simply wondered what was behind it? Clearly Amazon’s goal is to sell product, so why would they institute rules that compromise sales? It seems that “fake reviews” should be recognizable to any intelligent person and be discounted with an eye-roll as opposed to throwing out the baby with the bath water and tossing legitimate ones.

Well, I attended a free webinar the other day entitled “3 Catastrophic Marketing Landmines That Can Get You Into Serious Hot Water With The FTC Today: And What You Need To Know… ” that provided a classic “Aha!” moment that explained what’s more than likely behind Amazon’s review policy.  If you hurry, you can listen to it until June 4, 2017 here. [NOTE: If you should join their program, note that I am NOT an affiliate and will NOT receive any compensation. Rather, I’m sharing it because I feel it’s information that others can benefit from as I did.]

So what’s the deal? Why is Amazon being so ornery about reviews? Not surprisingly, it’s none other than our friend (?) the US Government, more specifically the Federal Trade Commission, a.k.a. FTC. Like the IRS, this is another government agency you don’t want to tangle with. They have strict rules regarding deceptive testimonials, which includes whether there was any material compensation involved; in other words, a paid affiliate needs to be disclosed, with what constitutes payment a somewhat grey area. Deceptive testimonials, another no-no, can obviously include reviews from friends and associates who may claim something is the best thing since the cell phone when in reality it’s not. We’ve all read books from time to time that had multiple 5-star ratings that were clearly undeserved. So, being compensated for a review in some manner or an inflated testimonial that is unlikely to represent the opinion of others are to be avoided.

In other words, the bottom line is Amazon is covering their butt against consumer complaints to the FTC, which is the prudent thing for a business to do. If you have a website where you offer products to consumers, there are various alligators in the water regarding disclosure with which you, also, should be aware. As with any government regulation, ignorance of the law is no excuse and failure to comply can get you into serious trouble. All authors need to be aware of such regulations, especially if they have a website where they have affiliate links or sell their own books.

But my main point here is that Amazon is not doing this to make our lives difficult, but to protect their interests and comply with government regulations. It’s no wonder they ignore our complaints since we certainly don’t wield the punch of Uncle Sam.

That said, I can’t help but wonder what the FTC would do if authors complained about the way Amazon handles trolls?  Undoubtedly it’s covered in our contract to their benefit, but as our sales agent, if they allow trolls to jeopardize our sales, it would make for an interesting conversation….

FREE Family History Tips and Tricks!

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If you’re into genealogy, family history, memoirs, family folklore, or scrapbooking, don’t miss out on these tips and tricks available for FREE for a limited time. But hurry, this offer is only good until May 17, 2017.

You already know that memories worth keeping should be preserved. Here’s how! In most cases, all it takes is your smart phone! If you’re not sure what to include, are short on ideas, or think family history is limited to a bunch of boring pedigree charts, then you really need this book! Download your copy today!

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Tips for Indie Writers: How to Create Your Own Book Trailer with Power Point

Okay, just made another book trailer and thought I’d reblog this. I’ve also updated the original links since the original videos were updated and thus removed. My latest and greatest is here: https://youtu.be/G3xRKqmz7qw . [NOTE:–My friends at Fresh Ink Group helped touch it up, but the bulk was done on Power Point. You can find the original on my YouTube Channel here https://youtu.be/jPryRDll9ZQ.]

One thing I learned making this video that wasn’t necessary for the others was the need for transitions from slide to slide. If you use the same background for the entire video, it’s not necessary. But if you change the pictures, you need a transition. It’s a whole lot of fun to do and exercises another part of your creative side. These are very basic, but tremendous fun. Give it a try!

Marcha's Two-Cents Worth

booksinboxBook trailers have become a popular means to draw attention to your book. The main advantage they have over other types of promotional material is their ability to include sound, specifically music. As I’m sure you’re aware, music can set a mood quicker than anything else and reaching a person at the emotional level helps prepare them to receive and accept your message. You can hire a professional to create a trailer for you or you can put one together yourself. If you have Microsoft Office then you should have Power Point which is the only software you need to create a simple but effective video trailer. Besides that you only need three things:

  1. Background picture
  2. Music
  3. Catchy phrase, quote or other hook

Yes, it really is that simple to get started. Don’t worry, I’m going to take you through the process, step by step.

Background Picture

This should be…

View original post 2,877 more words

A Right or a Privilege?

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Since when did coming to America, more specifically the USA, become a right instead of a privilege? When did the beckon-call of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” become license to come here to promote violence or expect to be taken care of without maintaining certain standards of behavior? Coming here to make demands is not how it was intended to work.

America was once known as a grand melting pot, a nation of immigrants, many fleeing tyranny, others seeking the “American Dream.” Unless you’re a Native American, your ancestors at some point were immigrants. A melting pot, however, implies blending in, becoming part of the whole in a harmonious way. A country is founded on common standards of behavior and beliefs enforced by the rule of law. A common language is another important feature.

Democracies fail due to too much diversity. Too many people demanding that everyone else bow to their demands. Too much criticism and intolerance on the part of many coming here. Too many expectations to be taken care of at the expense of the government which, of course, is funded by the taxpayers. This entitlement attitude has gotten out of hand and will destroy us morally and economically. The melting pot and American Dream were never intended to tolerate destructive, radical behavior. Today we are no longer a melting pot, but a lumpy, unappetizing stew of flavors that clash instead of blend.

Back in 1907 Theodore Roosevelt said: “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

This is the essence of the “melting pot” concept and in the early 20th century it worked. But it has been abandoned, resulting in the pigs’ breakfast we see in our society today. Sometimes to gain something, you need to let something go. Becoming a true American isn’t compatible with clinging to old beliefs that are probably why you left your homeland in the first place.

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Ellis Island

I am growing very weary of President Trump being criticized for his recent action stopping the inflow of refugees. Place the blame where it belongs: On terrorists and radical Islam, not the President trying to protect the USA from the chaos we see in Europe. Maybe “Making America Great Again” involves returning to the melting pot concept. Maybe those seeking refuge in the USA need to leave some of their beliefs and expectations behind.

Freedom of religion doesn’t mean imposing it, often violently, on everyone else. Tolerance and peaceful coexistence is required, two qualities antithetical to Islam. If the USA yields to their demands, it fits the old analogy of letting the head of the camel into the tent. As long as there’s a risk that those who wish to destroy us are among the refugees, as has been demonstrated in Europe, calling a time-out to assure such are not included is the logical thing to do. It only makes sense to learn from others’ mistakes. Unfortunately, many innocent people are caught in a snare intended for others. But when change is required, that isn’t unusual. It’s not easy to stop a train. Sometimes you just have to slam on the brakes, even though sometimes it results in derailment. How many have been students pursuing a college degree when the requirements change midway or farther through their coursework? Such is life.

Cities generally have clusters of communities where those who share a common heritage or ethnicity gather to live. It’s natural for human beings to want to socialize with those who share common beliefs and cultural roots. However, as these communities grow, they can lose touch with the fact they are just one faction in a nation of many. They develop views contrary to the well-being of the nation as a whole. Tolerance dissipates and arrogance takes it place, wanting to impose their will on others. They want to destroy the very principle of freedom that allowed them to come here in the first place and mold America into the nation they left behind. Rather than contribute to America’s strength, they contribute to her potential downfall.

I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with America. There are many policies I don’t agree with, including many President Trump is promoting. I believe we should protect the environment and wildlife. I believe that corporations such as Big Oil, Monsanto, and Big Pharma have too much power and control, that the healthcare industry is horribly broken. Gutting regulatory agencies is definitely not the way to fix these out-of-control industries. I believe we should take care of our own working poor, military veterans, and Native Americans before those who would seek to destroy us. As a nation we are beset by a multitude of problems, but ignoring one does not solve the others.

I believe in common sense which, as has been said before, is not all that common. Rather, selfishness reigns. But we have to start somewhere and get on the same page. Those who believe coming to America is a right and not a privilege are the ones who have created the immigration crisis we see today. We need to return to the “melting pot” concept, which is what made America great in the first place. Diversity without cooperation is a recipe for disaster, thus that lumpy, unappetizing stew that will surely cause heartburn.

It’s been said that democracies don’t work in families or prisons. They also tend to fail when a nation becomes a mass of screaming children, all wanting their own way. Unless someone steps up and draws the line, enforcing the law, history has taught us that what follows is usually a dictatorship. Common sense and compromise are required to save us. Tantrums and making unreasonable demands will eventually lead to an even less fortunate situation as the government is forced to restore order and safety to the populace at large, as is its responsibility.

Pardon another cliché, but those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Why Democracies Fail

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Whether or not you have any belief in metaphysics, it seems the severe weather plaguing the country today serves as an interesting commentary on protests that spanned the nation and even the world this past weekend. The winds of change are seldom a gentle breeze.

While some were sipping champagne in celebration of the events associated with Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, others were crying in their beer. Of course, for the past eight years of the Obama administration, these sentiments were reversed. Thus the pendulum swings again.

It’s been said and proven throughout history that the average lifetime of a democracy tends to be right around 200 years. The USA has currently survived for 240. Beating the odds? I doubt it.

Unlikely as it may sound, the insights I’ve gained as a professional astrologer have helped explain why I believe this is so. Here’s the Readers’ Digest version of the stages I’ve recognized, without the astrologese:

  1. A nation is founded on the principles of freedom by a group with common standards and beliefs which unify them. Unifying factors often include religion and a common language. A set of governing laws are set in place to keep society protected and under control.
  2. Over time, freedom results in a proliferation of beliefs, some of which are contrary to those on which the nation was founded and possibly its laws as well.
  3. If these factions are tolerant and peaceful, coexistence can be achieved. If not, protests and demonstrations ensue. Diversity in many cases eventually turns confrontational and combative, particularly if those involved feel oppressed or violated.
  4. When protests become disruptive, violent or destructive and are contrary to the rule of law, it’s the government’s job to restore order. If leaders don’t do their job, protests continue to escalate until they can no longer be tolerated. At that point, they either prevail and effect an overthrow of the status quo, or they are squelched.

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  1. If a heavy hand is required to restore order, then a dictatorship, the usual successor to a democracy, assumes power, silencing the dissenters by whatever means necessary.

Not a pretty picture, is it? I see Donald Trump taking over this country somewhere between Stages 4 and 5.

There is such a thing as too much freedom when either tolerance is absent or extremism is present, thus causing some factions to want to eradicate or control those with opposing beliefs. In a country that has polarized into a two-party system, extremism is particularly likely. As these ideologies become farther and farther separated, both eventually abandoning country’s the founding principles, the populace is forced to choose one or the other, even though in many cases their true beliefs may lie somewhere in the middle. I can see positive aspects of both prevailing parties, but cannot endorse either 100%. However, when election time rolls around, I’m forced to make a choice. I can remember more elections in which I voted against someone as opposed to for. That, in itself, is a sad commentary.

For a while, as one party gains power and the pendulum swings their way, its opposing factions will be quite disenchanted. After a while, this discontent reaches critical mass and the opposition wins the next election. Then the pendulum swings the other way. The more antithetical beliefs and values become, the stronger the desire to gain complete control and annihilate the other, which inevitably leads to corruption. Or as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. This cannot go on forever.

Sadly, both sides accuse the other of hate. That is what disagreement evolves into when issues are volatile and so extreme that compromise and/or mutual understanding become impossible.

The United States is at a very critical stage of its evolution as a country. Ironically, it was never intended to be a democracy. It was designed as a Constitutional Republic. But given the freedom granted to its citizenry, it’s no wonder it has trodden the same path. Those original laws set in place by the Founding Fathers to maintain order were gradually repealed as they offended the masses. And here we are.

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There are too many factions, some easily given to violence, too many languages, too many religions, special interests and various other issues that divide us. Some revere Old Glory, others desecrate her. Some believe the environment should be preserved, others that it’s expendable. And this doesn’t even consider the corruption and corporatism that has sullied the entire system. This begs the question of who’s organizing the more violent protesters and in some cases even paying them? And why? To drive us more quickly to stage 5?

Thinking America can be put back together is like upending a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle and expecting it to land on the floor assembled. Astrology shows the USA’s evolution quite clearly. Interestingly, it’s course is entirely independent of who’s in the Whitehouse. Either way, the future does not look bright.

5-Stars for “Rarity from the Hollow”by Robert Eggleton

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At first I didn’t know how or where to begin to categorize this story. Two sitcoms, “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Third Rock from the Sun”, come to mind.  It’s clearly in the Sci-Fa genre, a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, always effective for establishing an environment ripe for just about anything to happen. I must say that once I got past the first third of the book, which could be a bit troubling due to the horrific living conditions and home environment of the young heroine, Lacy Dawn, that I laughed–a lot.

The author’s style is unconventional, which I consistently admire, at least when it works, which it did. Written in an omniscient viewpoint, it took a little while to get used to the inner dialog of all the characters. Each individual’s spoken statements were typically followed by an italicized blurb of what they were really thinking. While at first it was confusing, it was nonetheless effective in getting to know the characters.

The story itself is definitely unique as well. It centers around a young girl named Lacy Dawn who lives in poverty in a dysfunctional and abusive rural environment. This is not ever expressed in a horribly graphic manner and does a great job of setting the tone and setting, though there were times I was worried about whether it would get worse. Much to my relief, it didn’t. Her father, Dwayne, is a Gulf War vet with a severe case of PTSD. Her mother, Jenny, continually reminds her daughter (as well as herself) that Dwayne “used to be a good man.” Their neighbor, Tom, is a good friend of the family with a “secret garden” that he pays Lacy Dawn to tend.  The produce involved is not so much mystical as illegal, given that its marijuana.  Needless to say, numerous joints are rolled in the course of the story.

Lacy Dawn believes that it’s a child’s responsibility to fix one’s parents. This is certainly different than the usual practice to blame one’s parents. She’s not only highly intelligent, but has been chosen to save the Universe, a task for which she is being groomed by DotCom, an android who has arrived from elsewhere in the cosmos and lives in his spaceship on a nearby hill. At first it was difficult for me to figure out whether DotCom as well as Lacy Dawn’s conversations with the trees and her deceased friend, Faith, plus her ability to float “Roundabout” to visit her spacey friend, were simply part of a child’s vivid imagination. Either way, it was believable and contributed to the mood of the story.

I don’t want to get into spoiler territory so won’t say anything further about the basic story, other than to say that the remainder is entertaining. It’s loaded with plenty of raw humor along with interstellar jaunts to strange new worlds populated with numerous aliens. The characters were definitely well fleshed-out by their hilarious inner dialogs, reaction to various situations, and crude honesty.

Underlying all this, however, at a deeper level, is a rather sad, even tragic, commentary on our society. The fact that such situations exist is no secret. Otherwise, the story would not have been so believable. Neither is there any magical or interstellar entity out there to rescue those caught in the trap of poverty, need and abuse. So often the thought patterns of those living in such conditions revolve around sexual satisfaction, a good cannabis harvest, and whether the food stamps will last until the end of the month.

My only criticism of the story itself, at least at the superficial level, is that toward the middle it felt a bit disjointed. The plot broke down somewhat with too many “shopping trips” to “The Mall” where momentum was lost. The ending, while satisfying, was slightly less than I’d hoped for.

Thus, you may wonder why I awarded this story five stars. That’s because it made me think. Very few stories I’ve read recently manage to do that. There’s sufficient symbolism to place this story soundly in the literature category. What better disguise for difficult topics than humor?

There’s Lacy Dawn, the child who’s been exposed to and seen things no ten year old should, who has genius potential and wise beyond her years. Fixing her parents versus blaming them, what a concept. Then there’s DotCom, the android from another world, who’s there to help Lacy Dawn achieve her destiny, yet he begins to evolve and become a bit too human under the influence of people who would best be described, albeit rudely, as white trash.

The materialism of The Mall, principles of capitalism, what constitutes a celebrity or inspires human motivation to excel or achieve can all be found lurking beneath a raw and sometimes vulgar look at the human condition. Even the ending holds a powerful message when looked upon more deeply. Who’s really in charge and is it a higher or lower lifeform? The answer to that is definitely politically incorrect, a term invented to cover up that which will ultimately destroy civilization if we continue to yield to its misguided allure.

If you want a cleverly orchestrated story saturated with sci-fi and fantasy and packaged with plenty of crude, bathroom humor, you’ll enjoy this book tremendously. If you can’t deal with coarse language, don’t even bother. If you enjoy reading stories at a deeper level and analyzing what they’re really trying to say, you’ll likewise enjoy it, probably even more. Brilliant satires such as this are genius works of literature in the same class as Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ecopy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Interview with Simon Jones, Author of “Fall of Empires”

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MF: As a self-declared history buff, do you recall what first drove your interests backward in time?

SJ: I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember. As a very young boy I remember my father and grandfather spending hours with me playing with toy soldiers and telling me stories from history. My grandfather made a replica warship out of a tea trolley with sections of broomstick for cannons and a hidden cassette player inside which played ‘Hearts of Oak’. He also built a replica Saturn V and a mock up of the surface of the moon which covered the entire dining room table and taught me about the space race. My parents took me all over the place to castles and museums and my Mum, who also loves history, encouraged me to read historical books from an early age. I also had a wonderful history teacher, Mr Bastable, who could make even the dull bits of history interesting. With all those great influences I was always going to grow up loving history.

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MF: It certainly sounds as if you were primed by your upbringing to love history! Have you travelled to many of the locations relevant to your books? Which one(s) inspired you the most?

SJ: I have been fortunate to have travelled to lots of great historical sites around the world although there are still lots more on my list. Visiting Egypt and Rome whilst writing ‘The Battles are the Best Bits’ were hugely inspirational and I incorporated my memories of those visits into the book. There is something very powerful about standing on the very spot where great events happened and you can feel the resonance of them somehow. Sadly most of Fall of Empires takes place in Syria and Iraq which are not very tourist friendly these days. I have been to Istanbul which also features heavily, though apart from the Hagia Sofia and the walls there is not much left of the old Byzantine Constantinople.

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MF: That is so true about historical sites. You can definitely feel their complexity. When you read about an historical period, do you typically picture yourself living during that time?

SJ: I think you have to. Not in a fantasizing sort of way but in terms of your outlook, your values and your expectations. I don’t think you can write objectively about history either as fiction or non-fiction unless you take a step back from your 21st century based values and judge people and events by the standards of the time in which they occurred. In ‘The Battles are the Best Bits’ I found myself justifying acts of slaughter which today would be judged as war-crimes as perfectly reasonable actions under the circumstances. The ancient world was a much more violent place than the modern world and human rights and the value of human life were seen very differently. This was a world in which the destruction of an entire city and the slaughter, rape and enslavement of its population was a legitimate act of war. To write about this period effectively you have to remove yourself somewhat from the here and now. Dealing with these events objectively I think gives them even greater impact in the mind of the modern reader.

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MF: The context is definitely a huge factor that takes some effort to understand. Even today cultural differences prevent many from understanding others’ actions.

Your book “Fall of Empires” earned over 280,000 reads on Wattpad, which is amazing! At what point did you decide to take the plunge and publish your work as a print book?

SJ: In some ways I regret the decision as there is no doubt that by sharing your work freely you reach far more readers than you do by charging money for it. I decided to ultimately publish the book as a result of the positive reaction to it from readers and from the site administrators who obviously see a lot of books. So I was confident it was of sufficient caliber to warrant publication. I already had one book in print so was under no illusions how hard it is to reach readers in such a saturated marketplace. I have a very limited appetite for self promotion however so I only have myself to blame.

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MF: I totally understand your attitude toward self-promotion since I feel much the same way. Writing is the fun part, marketing, not so much, though I do enjoy helping others promote their work.

As a history aficionado, do you have a favorite historical figure? If so, why?

SJ: You would probably expect me to name a military figure from the ancient world but I would say my favourite historical figure is Charles Darwin. His contribution to science goes without saying but his journals reveal an adventurous and daring spirit. During the voyage of the Beagle Darwin undertook numerous arduous journeys into the interior. He braved hostile natives, inhospitable terrain and even ventured into a warzone in pursuit of scientific enquiry. I think a lot of people picture him perhaps getting off the ship from time to time and strolling around with his magnifying glass but he was a real man of action. He was also a genuinely decent human being with little time for the superiority or snobbishness that characterized Victorian men of his class and would happily break bread with anyone he encountered on his travels no matter how humble their station. He abhorred the slavery which he witnessed in South America and vowed never to return to any slave state.

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MF: Darwin was truly one of history’s great figures. Few are familiar with, much less appreciate all he did or the man he was. And speaking of familiarity, most people are acquainted with the adage, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Which lesson do you think today’s leaders are failing to learn?

SJ: I think that the Middle East is the prime example of failure to learn from history. Time and again western governments have imposed clumsy solutions on the region which fail to take account of centuries of conflict and complex divisions understood by only a handful of experts. The poor handling of the Arab Spring and the rise of Isis are just the latest examples. Events of a thousand years ago or more still resonate in the region alongside more recent tensions and no doubt once the latest Iraqi crisis and Syrian civil war are finally brought to a close, another imperfect solution will be imposed by the west and Russia, adding another layer of complexity and more seething discontent.

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MF: The Middle East has definitely been a problem area for millennia. It seems to me that much of the problem is that they are still stuck in the 7th Century culturally whereas the rest of the world has progressed. It’s impossible for us to understand what most modern westerners consider a barbaric mindset.

I find it interesting that you have a degree in Genetics and worked for the Forensic Science Service. Have you ever had your DNA traced to see if you’re genetically connected with any of the areas that draw your interest?

SJ: I have not. To my knowledge my family has been traced back to Elizabethan times living as farm labourers and domestic servants in the south of England but that’s only one branch. It would be an interesting thing to do one day. I’d like to find out if I have a bit of Viking in me!

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MF: I’ve done some genealogy in the past and it’s definitely an advantage to be familiar with history when you’re trying to figure out where a family lived before they popped up somewhere, usually due to some migration due to events at the time, whether political or weather related.

While our cultural and genetic roots define our foundation, some historical figures such as General George S. Patton believed that he had been a warrior in a previous life. Have you ever had any experiences (e.g. deja-vu) that gave you the impression that you had actually lived during another specific time?

SJ: No. I don’t believe in previous lives but when I visit ancient places, where so much has gone before, I do get a sense of feeling the history of the place. Places like the Roman Forum, the Valley of the Kings, the Terracotta Army. There is something special in the air or in the stone that makes the hairs on your arms stand on end. That’s the closest I’ve got to something like that. I had a similar experience at Dachau too, for obviously different reasons.

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MF: Those who have never visited a place that had a significant role in history can’t understand that. It’s definitely almost tangible, the echoes of past events that cling to an area.

Have you started work on your next book? Tell us about it and what inspired you to write it.

SJ: I am not writing a present as I decided to give up my job and become a teacher and sadly no longer have time for writing. That same love of telling stories and passing on knowledge is what made me want to go into teaching however and so I get the same satisfaction from planning and delivering lessons. I’m teaching science but I try to get a bit of history into my lessons wherever I can.

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MF: That’s awesome! I’m sure you’ll make a fabulous teacher. So many students need some background to put what they’re learning into context, i.e., some additional information that has meaning and makes it relevant. When I was a child in school, the emphasis in history class comprised memorizing dates and places, which was mighty boring. I didn’t care about it at all until I got into genealogy.

Balancing a career of any sort with writing is always a challenge. Which part of the writing process is your favorite?

SJ: The research. The writing really is an outlet for the learning in my case. Whilst most probably see research as a means to end, for me the writing is the justification for the research. It gives it a purpose beyond learning for its own sake and a vehicle to share that learning. Whilst that vehicle was previously writing, now it is teaching.

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MF: I’m sure your passion for history and sharing it will make you a great and memorable teacher. No matter what subject you’re teaching, it has a history, especially science, which ultimately impacts society in important ways.

Do you have any future book ideas outside the historical fiction realm? In other words, do you have any real-life experiences in forensics that would lend ideas to mysteries or thrillers?

SJ: I think that market is well and truly saturated, so no, it doesn’t interest me. The biggest crime in my forensic experience was the closing down of the British Forensic Science Service and the biggest mystery is how it was allowed to be so badly run for so long. Someone should write a book about that, but it won’t be me.

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MF: Sounds like a wise decision. Do you have a favorite author or favorite book of all time, perhaps one that inspired you to become an author?

SJ: There are few books I have read more than once and I can only think of one I’ve read more than twice and that’s The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. It is truly uplifting and got me through some very lonely times in my life. The film didn’t do it justice.

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MF: Thanks for the interview, Simon! I’m sure your work will benefit many as will your foray into teaching and sharing your vast knowledge and love for this very important subject.

Simon’s book is available at the following places:

Publishers Book Link

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Create Space

More about Simon Jones

Biography

Goodreads

Blog

Greek Fire: Interview with Konstantinos Karatolios

konstantinos

One of my favorite sayings is “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately, we see such consequences all around us. And it’s no wonder, considering the way they taught history when I was growing up, which was primarily to memorize dates and events without context. Bor-ing!

Quite frankly, I didn’t have much interest in the subject until I started researching my family’s genealogy several years ago. At that point it had meaning, as events at the various time periods affected my progenitors, specifically by precipitating migrations to say nothing of wars. Now that I’ve lived long enough to see a significant number of historical events transpire before my eyes, it’s even more interesting. At this point, I love it, but it’s taken me a lifetime to get there.

Thus, I find it tremendously encouraging to see a young man such as Konstantinos Karatolios embracing history. As you can tell from his name, he’s Greek, and thus hails from a culture with a long and rich history. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, “Troy”, about the Trojan War and I can easily imagine Konstantinos in the role of Achilles, formerly portrayed by none other than Brad Pitt. If Konstantinos goes into teaching after completing his PhD, I’ll bet dollars to donuts he’s going to have a powerful affect on increasing interest in the subject, kind of like Indiana Jones did on archaeology. 😉

So without further ado, let’s learn some more about this good-looking guy who’s intelligent enough to realize what a treasure trove history is , long before he’s as old as dirt like myself, and discover his motivation to write “Greek Fire,” from which you can find an excerpt below the interview.

You can learn more about Konstantinos here as well as his website and connect via his Facebook page.


MF: Few civilizations have a history as rich as Greece. Which time period do you find most interesting?

KK: There is no doubt that there is a focus on the Classical Period and I truly understand the popularity of this era. However I think that if you scratch the surface you will find that other periods are very interesting as well. One of these is definitely the Mycenaean era. Despite all that I chose to write about the most ambiguous period of all. The medieval period, i.e. the Byzantine when we are talking about the East. It is definitely the least appreciated of all but it promises some of the biggest thrills to those who  bother study it.

MF: Who do you think is the most fascinating person in Greek history?

KK: That’s a really tough question. However it is my opinion that it’s not the charismatic leaders that make the important era but it is a significant era that calls for a charismatic leader. The same applies for artists and scientists too. What would Mozart have been if it wasn’t the historical period he was born at?

MF: How much truth to you think exists in Greek myths? Do you think they’re true stories embellished with time or purely symbolic?

KK: I think that myths are myths and we shouldn’t take them as facts. However no story is made without having a historical core. Difficult as it is our job is to find that core and see how it correlates with history.

MF: Was there something specific that drew your interest to Greek Fire?

KK: Greek Fire is covered in vagueness. It’s not only the fact that the way it was made was a state secret. Byzantines knew how important it was to possess a weapon that the opponents didn’t knew what it was and indeed we know that there were cases when armies surrendered just hearing that the Byzantines had it. So we have a weapon mentioned in a lot of sources but with a way that it doesn’t help us historians to draw definite conclusions. On the other hand the modern opinion of Greek Fire is oversimplified and totally unacceptable. The combination of these too made me interested in Greek Fire.

MF: Did you have any interesting experiences while researching your book?

KK: Researching is always an interesting experience by itself. All these little disappointments when you find out that things were not as you expected them to be on the one hand but also the huge satisfaction you get when you discover something new, is something difficult to describe.

MF: What’s the biggest challenge you found researching historical events?

KK: The biggest problem for a Byzantinologist is definitely the lack of sources. In many cases we must make the most with almost nothing.

MF: If you had access to a time machine, when and where would you want to go?

KK: It goes without saying that I would travel to the Byzantine Empire. I truly hope that they wouldn’t burn my time machine down using Greek Fire! It would be highly ironic!

MF: What is your favorite place to go when you’re seeking some inspiration?

KK: The ideal place for a writer is somewhere where he or she can be totally isolated from other people and not distracted at all. I have to admit that this is too good to be true. Usually I just lock myself up in my office but that’s never as isolated as it sounds!

MF: What are you currently working on?

KK: I’m working on my PhD. I try to find out everything there is for the education of the princes of the Macedonian Dynasty, at the Middle Byzantine Era. I am looking to return to Greek Fire as soon as I get the chance to do it.

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Excerpt:

“The wonder of the thousand-year Byzantine Empire could not have been achieved without an army that allowed it to maintain its existence for so many centuries. This was despite facing constant challenges from external enemies that differed significantly in their nature. In this context, what had been inherited from the Romans and the adoption of new weapons and tactics in battle were of equal importance. “Greek fire”, if not the most important of these weapons, was surely that which achieved the greatest fame of all. It was used throughout the course of the Byzantine Empire and granted resounding victories to its navy. Its use verges on legend, and yet almost all we know about it and its use is clouded by the vagueness of the primary sources.”

You can learn more about “Greek Fire” at the publisher’s site and pick up your copy from Amazon here.