Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.



Oh, it's a happy layout accident, I'm sure, but made my heart skip a beat all the same. The actual good news is that it no longer says "Only 1 copy remaining," which means my Campanile publishers are on the job. Get your copy today! It's only a click away...

Lightfall's Amazon page, 10 November 2014

Lightfall's Amazon page, 10 November 2014

(P.S.: The Amazon editors realized their mistake a few hours later, replacing the circled text with "See the Best Books of 2014." Biiiiiiig difference!)

You could also check out the brand-new audiobook edition. It's the raddest! Click any of the sales links to your right. Much obliged!

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Meet the Wild Thing

My friends, I have smart friends. So it's not often--and by "not often" I mean "maybe once a year" that I run into anyone who might be smarter than any of my friends. This year, that man is author Josh Bazell. If you've kept up with my podcast (and really, why wouldn't you), you heard me name-check Bazell and his debut novel Beat the Reaper in my history lesson re the German dye manufacturer and Jew asphyxiater IG Farben. Bazell is a Columbia-trained medical doctor and Brooklyn-trained serial vulgarian. More than that, however, he's also the best new author I've read all year. In fact, he's my new read-on-sight authorial addiction, following closely on the heels of Junot Diaz and Jennifer Egan.

Imagine if Michael Crichton used his considerable medical knowledge to a.) come back to life, and b.) impregnate Robert Crais. The result would be Josh Bazell and a placenta liberally laced with cocaine. If you don't like four-letter words, not to mention five-letter, seven-letter, and twelve-letter, words, you will not dig Bazell. Might I instead recommend a heartwarming novel called Green Eggs and Ham?

As fast as I blazed through Beat the Reaper, I may have come in under time on Bazell's follow-up, Wild Thing. It's a murder mystery set around a Minnesota lake where an ancient leviathan may or may not reside and ingest random swimmers. Oh, and Sarah Palin shows up. The Sarah Palin. And then some!

For an example of Bazell's fiery smartness, consider this exchange from page 196:

"'So maybe it's like that thing Sherlock Holmes says, where when you eliminate all other options, the one that's left has to be the truth, even if it seems like it can't be.'

'Violet, I'm sorry, but that's the dumbest thing Sherlock Holmes ever said. How can you ever know you've eliminated all other options?'"

Burn, Conan Doyle! Also, and apropos of little, there's a vicious five-page takedown of creationism about halfway through.

How nerdy is Bazell? His 338-page novel Wild Thing is followed by 45 pages of references. I love this guy! Crichton fans, Beat the Reaper should be your next ebook purchase. You are welcome.

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Fifty Shades of Crap

This morning I did something I've almost never done: quit a book in the middle. And I want to tell you why.

When I was a kid, I finished every book I started, hundreds of them, just to appease my sense of OCD completism. Then, in grad school, time got mercilessly short, and I taught myself to speed-read. (It comes in handy these days only during intense periods of research; I prefer to enjoy every clever turn of phrase.) In my thirties, after a couple of odious clunkers, I made myself a deal: I'd give any book one hundred pages. If a book hadn't somehow impressed me by then, I could ditch it with a clear conscience. Even then I made it all the way through most books, even critical failures like Hannibal or anything Michael Crichton slapped together after 1996.

Then I made a promise to my friend Heather H., a perfectly rational adult lawyer in Oklahoma, who begged me to read the first Twilight novel cover to cover so I'd understand her shameless addiction to it. It took her about a year to coax that promise out of me, another two years before I honored it. Let me tell you, I've never regretted a promise more. Twilight is execrable. If you like it, you're wrong. It's just that simple. I'm sorry for my dogmatism, but sometimes the truth needs no defense. In the first chapter of Twilight, pallid protagonist Bella Swan insists she's "not the most interesting by any standard," then spends five hundred pages proving it. Despite Bella's fundamental inanity plus a serious blushing problem, THE HOTTEST VAMPIRE IN THE WORLD falls for her and spends four long books defending her from the advances of THE HOTTEST WEREWOLF IN THE WORLD, who also just happens to attend her high school in Forks, Washington, a rain-drenched burg with a population of 3,500 people.

Fast forward to 2011, when a London TV executive named Erika Leonard, writing under the ludicrous nom de plume Snowqueens Icedragon, posted a series of erotic Twilight fanfic tributes to various message boards. Encouraged by praise from utter imbeciles, none of whom found her and slapped her for calling herself Snowqueens Icedragon, she changed Stephenie Meyer's character names from Bella and Edward to Anastasia and Christian (because Isabella and Edward just weren't silly enough), split her efforts into three books, and released them as an ebook first dubbed Master of the Universe. That was May of 2011. That ebook, now called Fifty Shades of Grey, became a runaway bestseller--offering further proof, as if any were needed, that there is no God and the universe is driven by purely random nonsense. Fifty Shades has now sold over twenty million copies.

Let me put that into perspective for you. I also wrote a series of online pieces, compiled them into an ebook, and offered my efforts (now dubbed Rereading the Bible) for sale at the lofty cost of 99 cents. How many copies is twenty million? Well, if you printed a stack of the ebooks I've sold, then stacked all the books Erika Leonard-cum-E L James (no dots, please--she's British) has sold, her stack would be about twenty million times higher than mine. Give or take.

To be fair, Ms. James's book is at least as well written as Twilight, in that it is better written than the average Weekly Volcano article. To be equally fair, though, most of those articles are written while drunk or high. About the time I decided not to finish reading Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel I started reading purely to keep up with the zeitgeist and see what other authors were getting away with, I dogeared one page just to illustrate why I couldn't make it to the end. If you own the mass-market paperback, turn with me to page 155, please. First line: "He gives me a don't-be-stupid stare." Okay, that's acceptable. But keep reading.

The sixth sentence on the page is "Holy shit" (italics hers). Again, that'd be perfectly okay, except that--as Katrina Lumsden made instantly notorious in her animated-GIF-besotted Goodreads review--narrator Anastasia Steele (I honestly can't type that without grimacing) says "holy (something)" 172 times (italics mine). In one book. People also speak. In short. Staccato. Sentences. Too. Effing. Often. And this leads me to my main complaint about the book, which somehow, against all odds, is neither its impossible characters nor its preposterous setup. It's the writing itself, which is (with thanks to Ms. James for her repeatedly inelegant but, in this case, bon mot) utter crap.

In Fifty Shades of Grey, THE HOTTEST BILLIONAIRE IN THE WORLD falls for an oft-blushing virgin in Vancouver, Washington, a rain-drenched Portland suburb with a population of 161,800 people. Apparently convinced only telepathic centenarian vampires fall for virginal high school students, Ms. James upped Ana's age from 17 (how Mormon) to 22; yet Ana still bites her lower lip with psychotic frequency and possesses a much-discussed hymen. (Upon its demolition on page 117, she cries, "Aargh!" before climaxing from Christian Grey's "merciless,...relentless" pounding less than a page later. Like you do.)

Back to page 155. Christian is describing the loss of his own virginity while ordering Ana to eat, an action he engages in with inexplicable determination. "'I'm really not hungry, Christian,'" she replies, then apparently thinks, "I am reeling from your disclosure" (italics hers). Because, you know, that's how people think in their heads. People like, I don't know, nobody who ever goddamn lived.

"His expression hardens. 'Eat,' he says quietly, too quietly."

Too quietly! Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!

"I stare at him. This man--sexually abused as an adolescent--his tone is so threatening."

I'm sorry, but does that parenthetical phrase seem oddly located to anyone else? "Boy, I sure am enjoying this--I may have killed a hobo last night--taco."

"This is what it will be like if I sign," Ana thinks, referring to a bizarrely intricate BDSM contract, included in its entirety, "him ordering me around. I frown. Do I want this? Reaching for my knife and fork, I tentatively cut into the venison. It's very tasty. 'Is this what our, er...relationship will be like?' I whisper. 'You ordering me around?'"

You know...ordering her around?

See, that's just lousy writing. And if you don't understand why, then for God's sake, you have no business reading books for grown-ups. On page 160, only five pages later, Ana says of her hotter and, frankly, more interesting friend Kate, "She cocks her head at me and raises her eyebrows in a what-do-think-stupid look." Gentle Reader, if that was a typo, it was James's, not mine. I don't know what the hell a what-do-think-stupid look is, but when I read that, I probably displayed one.

The book's first Acknowledgement thanks James's husband Niall (another stupid name, but apparently genuine) for "tolerating my obsession, being a domestic god, and doing the first edit." The first edit? It had more than one? Who did the last one, Sarah Palin? (Cheap shot, Governor Palin. Sorry about that. We all know you didn't write your own book.) As the book evolved through three different media, did it somehow never pass through the hands of a single qualified editor?

And then there's that "domestic god" remark. See, Ana has an internal "domestic goddess" (referred to 58 times) because despite her obvious average-ness, she's really extraordinary. Well, that's the basis of all fantasy, right? Luke Skywalker is an insignificant farmboy, until he discovers he's the savior of the galaxy. Frodo Baggins is simply a mere Hobbit, until he discovers he's the only being in all Middle-earth who can handle the One Ring without slipping into murderous megalomania. Jesus is a carpenter's kid from a Palestine backwater who...well, never mind that. The point is, I get it. We like our supposedly nondescript fantasy heroes, because they allow us to project ourselves into those heroes. Except eventually, Clark must don the cape and turn into Superman--by which I mean you have to give the character significant qualities. You can't just leave him or her boring for 1500 pages. It misses the point of the whole grandiose exercise.

My problem with E L James is she simply isn't prepared to be a writer, yet she's reaping those rewards duly commensurate with being a very good one. I'll leave myself out of this. What about my friend Davee Jones, whose Finless is a work of BDSM erotica but superior to Fifty Shades in every possible way? Why hasn't Davee sold twenty million copies? You say, feeling sorry for Ms. James, that she must be prepared to be a writer, because she wrote a highly lucrative book. But here's the thing: Ms. James doesn't have a working English vocabulary. For the love of all that's, well, holy, she uses the word "crap" over a hundred times in 514 pages. She says "oh my" 79 times. Isn't Ana Steele supposed to be an editor? And really, isn't that the crappiest irony of all?

Shakespeare used a vocabulary of over 29,000 words. (Granted, he made 1700 of them up, but he did such a fine job of it that we still use Bardisms like gloomy and amazement four hundred years later.) The average American knows about 4000 words. So why is Ana's vocabulary so limited and infantile, not to mention jarringly British? It's as if you went to the hottest restaurant in town, but discovered the "chef" only knows how to cook using hot dogs, hamburger, French's mustard, and Ragu Pizza Quick Sauce. Yet Fifty Shades has now surpassed Harry Potter to become the fastest-selling paperback in the history of publishing. Aargh!

Before you accuse me of adding to the problem, I borrowed the book from my sister-in-law, who was given it by someone else. But seriously, if you're into this sort of thing, go spend the five bucks to buy my friend Davee's book Finless. You'll enjoy it a lot more, and you'll be done a lot faster--plus she name-checks Christianity so you won't feel like such an irredeemable pervo. If you're not into that sort of thing, you could always read my books. Start a trend! Or, failing that, you could read dozens of novels I've wholeheartedly recommended: Ender's Game by Ms. Meyer's hero Orson Scott Card, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, The Submission by Amy Waldman, Ready Player One by Ernie Cline, Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, literally any of the I'm-not-kidding-500-plus works of Isaac Asimov...

We really have to raise our sights, people. This is getting depressing.

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The Master of Miracles

"Tossing away the cigarette he'd been smoking, he mashed it precisely under one heel. Then he straightened his well-shaped body, tossed his brown hair back, closed his eyes, swallowed, and relaxed his fingers at his sides.

"With nothing of effort, just a little murmur of sound, Smith lifted his body gently from the ground into the warm air.

"He soared up quickly, quietly--and very soon he was lost among the stars as Smith headed for outer space..."

--Ray Bradbury, "Chrysalis," 1946

You'll see plenty of tributes to Mr. Ray Douglas Bradbury today, though maybe none so tearful and heartfelt as this one. I owe the man so much. I can still remember the day--God, I must have been five or six--when my mom caught me watching a Star Trek rerun and put Mr. Bradbury's S Is for Space in my hand. "Here," she said. "You might like this." Might like it? Holy cats, there was a naked astronaut right on the cover! This was clearly a book for grown-ups, far more challenging than Dr. Seuss or Encyclopedia Brown. S Is for Space is an anthology of Bradbury stories from the 1940s, first collected in 1966, only two years before I was born. Can it really have taken the world at large so many years to notice Mr. Bradbury's genius? I read that first story, "Chrysalis," with a hunger I never even knew I possessed. And when I reached the end, the passage I quoted above, oh, it wasn't just Smith who blasted up into space. My young brain went with him.

What a talent we've lost. "The Master of Miracles." That's what his publisher called Mr. Bradbury on the cover of my paperback edition of S Is for Space, and that's exactly right. I tell people he was my first exposure to literary science fiction, but that's not true, not really. Mr. Bradbury didn't write science fiction, he wrote future fantasy. I'm not sure he knew a great deal of science. "Science fiction is a depiction of the real," he explained. "Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal...It couldn't happen, you see? That's the reason it's going to be around a long time—because it's a Greek myth, and myths have staying power."

And oh, what myths! With the possible exception of Edgar Allan Poe, I can't think of a better, more prolifically, consistently wonderful story writer in the English language. In "A Sound of Thunder" (please don't judge it by that unwatchable movie), one misstep on a time travel hunting excursion has disastrous results. In "The Veldt," Mr. Bradbury and his "Happylife Home" basically invent the concept of virtual reality. "The Fireman" and "The Pedestrian," later remixed and renamed Fahrenheit 451, are two of our greatest cris de coeur against conformity and anti-intellectualism. And then there's "All Summer in a Day." God, remember that one? It scared me more than any horror story I ever read. In that story, Mr. Bradbury imagines a habitable Venus where the rain lets up only once for a couple of hours every seven years. School bullies, jealous of the fact that little Margot saw the sun from her previous home on Earth, lock her in a closet just as the clouds are about to part. It chills me now to think of it. I refer to the Pacific Northwest as "Bradbury's Venus," and I'm sad when people fail to get the reference. That story, and so many others just as perfect, colonized my brain the way folksy Midwesterners colonized Mr. Bradbury's planets.

And it wasn't just those inimitable short stories. The Halloween Tree was one of my favorite novels as a kid, and I reread Something Wicked This Way Comes only a month ago. The Master wrote plays, including a lovely piece called The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit--later expanded into a charming but little-seen movie. He wrote teleplays and movie screenplays varying from Moby Dick to Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. Many of his stories were adapted for a regular series, The Ray Bradbury Theater, on HBO and USA Network.

But look, all of that is on Wikipedia. You'll see it in every obituary. What you won't see is a shy teenage boy in Nowhere, Oklahoma who borrowed decades-old typewriters from his mom's friends, occasionally swiping time on shiny IBM Selectrics in the offices he cleaned for a living, tapping away in a desperate quest to write something, anything rich enough to bear comparison to Mr. Bradbury's work. Thirty years later, I've never succeeded. Oh, I'm a perfectly decent writer, I have no false modesty about that, but no one can ever be Bradbury good. He's the diamond at the core of Clarke's Jupiter, untouchably, perfectly brilliant. Those obituaries won't describe the stacks of books, whole library wings, I've plowed through over the years trying to find genre literature even remotely comparable to Mr. Bradbury's most fuzzily imagined toss-offs. Mr. Bradbury, and my mom, introduced me to speculative fiction, and now, like so many young dreamers the world over, I just keep coming back to it, unconvinced of the need for any other kind of fiction.

He was still writing! His most recent short story, "Juggernaut," was published only three years ago. But now the Master of Miracles has departed for deep space, traversing the starscape forever, leaving our world that much sadder and emptier. Except a backwater town, maybe, on the edge of despair in America's heartland, a little boy or girl will find a battered old copy of S Is for Space or R Is for Rocket or The Illustrated Man in a mostly-abandoned library, and after that first spectacular brainquake, the next great American talent will take fire. Mr. Bradbury, we'll owe you for that Promethean spark for centuries to come. Find your silence. I will never get over that gift you gave my life so many years ago.

Rest in peace, sir. Farewell.

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