Widows-in-Law by Michele W. Miller: Book Review

Lauren and Jessica are the ex-wife and wife of a cad who becomes a cadaver in what appears to be an accidental death. With Brian’s dealings a shade or two murkier than most people realised, it could be murder.

The pair are thrust into the heroics of this novel when business colleagues from the criminal underworlds of gambling and arms-dealing come looking for money, missing since Brian’s death.

The novel is very plot-driven and a different beast to previous work by the author. It’s probably the most commercial novel to date from this scribe too, whose work (often in the horror genre, but this one is more mainstream thriller) has a literary quality.

Informative when it comes to the law and money laundering elements, this book’s also pacey and exciting.

Well worth a read. Get it here.

Interview: Claire Buss and the Gaia Project

Claire Buss is a science fiction writer whose first book The Gaia Effect won a publication prize. Her sequel, The Gaia Project, continues the story of Jed, Kira, and the array of characters in a world set two centuries into the future.

You have a husband and wife as main characters. Tell us a little about them?

Jed was a Force Detective but at the beginning of book 2 he is promoted to Captain of City 42 Guard and gets sent on a diplomatic mission to City 15.

Kira is an Archivist.

From what I remember, themes include genetic engineering, right?  Do you continue in that vein or is there focus on other stuff in the sequel?

No, not really – it’s more about hope in a dystopian setting. Man has screwed up but there’s still a little light at the end of the tunnel. The Gaia Project though is my Empire (Star Wars) in the trilogy – it’s when the bad guys fight back!

So do you have a chief villain running through the trilogy? Tell me about the bad guys.

In book 1 we knew them as Corporation. They were in charge of everything, they ran the city, the healthcare, the child allocation, the food supplies, education, training, tech etc etc but during Book 1 we discover Corporation have been deliberately keeping the population sterile. A radical terrorist movement blows up their tech building which leads to city-wide riots and all the Corporation Board governors being murdered. Remaining city officials step forward to create an interim government and hold a vote. Martha Hamble, one of my main characters becomes the new governor.

In Book 2, Corporation retaliate as New Corp – they’re more high tech, crueller and less worried about being the kind, caring government body that looks after you and are more interested in wiping out any opposition and keeping the remaining populace under their control with new technology, neural implants – designed to make you easier to control.

What about world-building etc? How do you go about it? Is Kira’s archivist role important there?

Kira’s role as Archivist is handy because she knows about the different cities – or at least she knows some of what Corporation allow them to know. She also knows more about the historical way of life (i.e. today) as the book is set about 200 years in the future.

In Book 2 we visit more cities – City 15, City 36 & City 9 and my characters have to start looking for a way off their island to try and get to some kind of safety.

The subtle tech assists are still in the story making life easier. The Daily Sweeps – a futuristic version of Twitter – is still a prominent feature.

And do we know yet what caused the radiation attack 150 years ago?

Yes, well I do. It was called The Event and it was a war using high energy radiation weapons that damaged the Earth so badly the remains of humanity were divided into 50 cities – that’s all we know at the moment.

So this sequel is the evil empire making a comeback?

The Gaia Project is my Empire (Star wars ref lol). Corporation are fighting back after the events of Book One and my MCs’ future is really uncertain.

Sounds like a good read, Claire. Thanks for the chat.

You can buy The Gaia Project now. You can find Claire Buss on Amazon, Facebook and elsewhere.

thegaiaproject

 

Avengers Infinity War review

Is it any less painful to watch a villain – made fallible due to his warped petard of principles – make an Abrahamic sacrifice? The Marvel heroes (the Guardians crew, Iron Man, Hulk, the Cap, Spiderman, Thor, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and more) unite against Thanos to bring an end to his stone-collecting ambitions, through which we see his trading of a soul for a soul. There are similar exchanges made or offered in this movie by the heroes.

Thanos’s population culls will be ameliorated by the acquisition of the infinity stones to empower him to commit his sustainability-inspired genocides at a fingersnap rather than by the bullet. With more than one stone still to acquire, it allows for a lot of spinning plates in this movie, kept up through humour and character-driven action. (At least) four narrative strands – involving Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man and Spiderman, and the earth-centred Captain America, Vision, Black Panther et al, are woven around the battle against Thanos.

The beauty of previous movies in this universe is that many are almost standalone. However, a passing familiarity with what’s gone before in the MCU is a likely necessity here. It’s also a definitive cliffhanger, so expect a sequel to tie all the loose ends up.

The characters exchange quips and barbs with aplomb. RDJr brings the existential weariness to Tony Stark that we’ve seen since perhaps Iron Man 3. Thor is as thoughtful as ever in his use of language, labelling his allies morons and more. The Guardians crew are on form as always.

 

 

Writing tips

Inspired by the wonderful Kim Chance and her How to Write Fight Scenes video, and I humbly disagree with just one point [BARK! BARK!]. Lots of great tips here.

I LOVE the idea of a battle or fight revealing something about character – fight scenes (probably) need a solid narrative purpose.

There are other solid tips among the ones she gives.

However, the one which I find a problem is Kim’s suggestion to use emotion rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of a fight scene – don’t do a play-by-play of each footfall of the combatant.

Issue 1

I take issue with Tolkien vs Peter Jackson. Yes, Jackson’s a different medium, but wouldn’t you want to have read Tolkien’s description of Legolas bringing down an oliphaunt? That’s action. Don’t you want to read Gimli say afterwards: “That only counts as one” (or whatever the line was relating to the gruesome body-count contest in which the two warriors are partaking against the orcs)?

Issue 2

Show don’t tell. Isn’t that what they always say? Show the tears streaming down the face at a fallen comrade. Don’t say “He was sad.” Again, broadly speaking, surely action vs emotion wins out here too.

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Showman: Movie Review

This movie-musical has had a critically mixed reception. I have not read the reviews. For good and bad, the music is of the “musical” variety with (from what I can discern) a fine awareness of current chart trends. Hugh Jackman does what he’s best at (and what he’s probably known least for) and he does a great job. His marching band uniform shares an aesthetic with Michael Jackson’s more militaristic stage costumes, and the performances are on a similar par throughout.

What’s the movie all about? Artistic endeavour of all kinds is sophistry. Whether we’re watching computer-generated lions, or we’re reading fiction that actually happened, it’s the creator’s vocation to convince us of the truth (or fact) of the creation, to persuade the audience.

The film certainly succeeds, on a level, through PT Barnum’s belief in this same artistic tendency. Alongside his love for family, Barnum’s a huckster and a showman, happy to ride on the coattails of the critically lauded and to promote those who’ve yet to succeed (or would have little chance of success without him). His talents, his decency, self-awareness and lack of same – mainly filtered through the prism of his sense of entrepreneurial spirit and will to succeed – are also apparent; this ambiguity is driven by an awesome performance from Jackman.

Zac Efron plays the more level-headed business partner (with a powerful falsetto in a great duet) who falls for one half of one of Barnum’s acts, a gorgeous lash-face of a trapeze artist played by Zendaya (the other half of Efron’s duet).

Adding a more moralistic element to play against the mild cynicism of Barnum, their arc is equally powerful.

Michelle Williams is on form as Barnum’s wife, and while Barnum’s shallower spin-doctoring skills occasionally broach his personal life to cause crisis, there are similar equally pressing issues in the other elements. There’s a complexity in Barnum and (having just seen a quote from one critic with whom I disagree) it’s wonderfully revealed as the movie progresses.

Blink and you’ll miss it moment:

In Efron’s first duet with Jackman, where they negotiate their first partnership, a nineteenth-century prophylactic flies from Efron’s pocket as they dance through a public house. (Just kidding. I was outside having a smoke. Nothing fell from Efron’s pocket. That’s why I missed that whole scene.)

I’m glad the critics didn’t enjoy this because I was pleasantly surprised. They can be a fickle bunch. Very enjoyable if (seemingly) long. (Note: As with all musicals, you need a long movie to fit the song-and-dance numbers in.)

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See & to each others’ YouTubes!
Lynn Lamb is an indie author with a number of book series under her belt. She’s recently released the second book in her Opus of the Dead series. That’s about a female executive in a cutthroat office environment who ends up being brutally murdered by a serial killer – most of the story takes place in the afterlife. Meanwhile, her Survivor Diaries series (hence her Twitter handle) charts the experiences of a group living through post-nuclear assault.
 Fashion mag editor and musician whom I’ve never engaged with beyond the odd IG comment (which I hope she didn’t regard as problematic!)

The Wild & Free (via ) A band whose lead singer is very fine and a talented dancer, and she’s a great vocalist too.

NY punk band with a big web presence:

Orsom Irish poet and spoken word performer:

is a great Balkans-born wordsmith and poet whose spoken word has a dash of hip hoppery about it from what I’ve seen.

A mag aimed at international students:

This chap is a booktuber and vlogger based in Japan where I believe he teaches English:

Joshua Robertson’s social media presence tends towards charting writerly progress with some great tips for his fellow indie authors (he’s been successful at it from what I’ve heard on the grapevine).

Mental health advocate Sarah blogs and writes about how to deal with everyday anxieties, its impacts on families and more.

Black Panther Movie Review

MILD SPOILER ALERT

Jeffrey Wright, a black Brit, plays American CIA agent Felix Leiter opposite Daniel Craig’s Bond.

Here, Martin Freeman, a white Brit, plays a CIA agent opposite Chaswick Boseman. The photo-positive – because you turn the colour up – nods to Bond continue in a casino sequence.

Black_Panther_film_poster

The entire movie subverts that franchise’s purported misogyny. The strength of the female characters is awesome, and there isn’t a bad performance among them. Angela Bassett as a matriarch is a presence of stability. Danai Gurira leads the Dora Milaje, a group of women comprising the royal guard, in a role where she places civic responsibility over the personal.

There’s a cultural richness to the Africa-set film that the continent itself shares, and it’s a movie aimed at everyone, and speaks to everyone. It pokes fun at racism in numerous ways. It shows how vested interests might win out temporarily – illustrating it in a hilarious fashion – but ultimately, humanity is all on the same team. This is played up by the fact that Michael B. Jordan takes the role of chief villain. Viewer expectation is confounded wonderfully by the performance.

Patriarchal roles are taken by Forest Whitaker as the avuncular antithesis to Idi Amin, and John Kani (previously seen in Captain America) playing the murdered king.

There are nods to Hollywood blockbusters and tv series where people of colour are rarely the stars, and perhaps nods too to dynastic (white, male-dominated) US politics, the Star Wars franchise, and even Newton’s Third Law. The humour is universal. And it stays true to the mildly glib tendency of the Marvel movies to use backstories such as the war in Afghanistan or the Holocaust as plot devices.

In truth, Africa’s resources have been pillaged and exploited by the powers to the east and west of it. Here, Wakanda’s resources have been protected by its status as an African El Dorado, as described by Klaue, a South African thief played by an excellent and deranged Andy Serkis.

Letitia Wright as Shuri takes the role of sister to Boseman’s hero with a sense of fun and warmth that will touch you if you have such a relationship with a sibling. There are beautifully funny scenes between the pair.

Lupita Nyong’o is another powerful female presence as ex-girlfriend Nakia. If everyone had an ex to rely on like T’Challa/Black Panther has, the world might be a better place.

It’s a testament to the movie’s depth that there’s so much to unpack, so many facets to admire, so many arcs that could have carried a trilogy, so many rounded and well-drawn character archetypes with which to identify, so much wonderful subversion. Yet the movie has a very solid resolution.

This origin story has so much going for it, and establishes multiple possibilities for the future of the franchise. Move over, Guardians of the Galaxy. This may be our favourite Marvel movie to date.

LockChain: Disrupting the global online travel agency industry

This post was inspired by a section of a recent podcast from the philosopher / neuroscientist Sam Harris, who chatted to decision theorist / computer scientist Eliezer Yudkowsky about why or how good people work within evil systems, citing societal problems as examples in point. For instance, we might ask why there are food or water shortages in some regions of the world when the planet is still resourced enough to prevent starvation, or why we continue to vote none-of-the-above, best-worst “nincompoop” politicians into power. There is what Yudkowsky calls (in the podcast) a coordination problem:

“Everything [people] could locally do on their own initiative is not going to fix the system and it’s going to make things worse for them.”

Rather than tolerating the status quo, people need to move to new marketplaces or vote in new politicians en masse. Many industry-disrupting platforms can be found operating in the cryptocurrency environment. Lockchain is a blockchain-based commissionless platform operating in the online travel agency (OTA) and accommodation provider space. Harnessing secure Ethereum Virtual Machine and Microsoft.NET server technologies, the app and platform has the potential to be used in the same way as big OTAs and other accommodation aggregators like Expedia, AirBnB, Kayak, Trivago, and Booking.com.

Compared to the OTAs (about 45%), hotels spend a fraction of their budgets on advertising (c. 7%). In effect, the online travel agent maintains its servers and shopping carts, and is market-focused. A hotel maintains its rooms and grounds, provides meals, security, a friendly face at reception, a twenty-four-hour bar, the newspaper at your door, and more.

Many of these bigname OTA services command huge commissions from their listed hotels when we make our bookings through them.

And hotels can be rewarded with more prominence on a hotel aggregator website if they get great reviews, for instance. But perversely, these hotels are often asked to pay more in commission for that prominence (sometimes 40% per booking). How can a travel agent highly recommmend a hotel and its great service, while undermining its ability to maintain that great service by taking more commission?

Startups using blockchain-based technologies aim to disrupt such insanity, breaking vicious cycles and mutual – often parasitic – dependence.

The “Coordination Problem”

The monolithic Amazon has undermined author earnings through its lack of monitoring of clickfarms that “fake” reads, while it clamps down on genuine reviews from colleagues, friends and families.

What of Apple and Windows? Apple has its critics today, but its Mac OS was historically superior to Windows, less likely to crash, less susceptible to viruses. Windows and Microsoft’s practices – on pricing and making certain applications like Internet Explorer freely available to undermine competition – prevented Apple (and other, superior operating systems) from gaining market dominance.

The blockchain environment challenges convention in various ways, offering people the opportunity to migrate to more cost-effective and secure services and platforms. Perhaps on a related note, in his podcast, Harris cites what he calls “the power of incentives”.

So how are regular travelers incentivised on LockChain?

Through lower hotel and accommodation rates, with zero commission to the online platform. If the agent charged 20% commission, the hotel, using the blockchain-based platform, can now instead split the difference with the hotel guest, or reduce the price to the guest of the hotel room by 20%. Guests enjoy better services from the hotel itself, which can perhaps take five or ten percent of that 20% commission it would have lost in a hotel booking, and spend it on chocolate mints on your pillows, or a complimentary pina colada on your arrival. Yummers.

On LockChain‘s app, hoteliers don’t artificially inflate their prices because of guarantees that they make to the online travel agents, who insist on offering the “best advertised price” (or similar) to their site users (while charging the hotels 20% of that best available deal). In keeping with the peer-centered, democratic, decentralised nature of blockchain technology, LockChain doesn’t hold accommodation providers to such guarantees.

Its CEO Nikola Alexandrov and CFO Hristo Tenchev have experience (both good and bad) in the cryptocurrency field. They got burned after establishing one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges (many of which operate at a loss, according to Alexandrov, as they’re under frequent attack from hackers), they’ve learned from their mistakes.

According to its Medium channel, at the end of last year, the blockchain startup could count 100,000 hotels in its listings thanks to partnership deals. Compare that to Trivago (“The world’s top hotel price comparison site”), which currently boasts (in its adverts in the UK and Ireland) a million hotels. Many in Europe (at least) have heard of Trivago. And who has yet heard of LockChain, already with a tenth the number of Trivago’s hotels on its books?

Find out more about LockChain on its site. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

YouTubers & Tweeters worth following

You can subscribe to these #YouTube and Twitter accounts. Far as I can see, all these Youtubers have fewer than 5000 subscribers or the hours logged to qualify for the video platform’s partner program. But the content is worth checking out.

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A California-based writer and young yogi seeking representation for YA fiction, Nicole’s video content and writing advice is often funny and insightful.

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Atlanta-based Costa Rican indie author of the Human Cycle series and collections of poetry, JD offers reviews and details related to indie publishing – and I’ve taken his advice more than a few times.

@baldbookgeek

Recommended by JD Estrada above, William is a “dapper” Englishman with a nice line in book reviews and impressive facial growth.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjnN95VP8h2NArEP_50otzg

A frequently parodic expert in all things Zen, Pryde’s more serious poetry impresses while her comedy content seems to skew those who dip their toes into the pool of wisdom without fully committing. (She’s a well-spoken Canadian-based writer – think of a better-looking, more grounded and/or Esoteric member of Seattle’s Crane family, maybe Frasier and Niles’ sister – for an idea of her comedy.)

Kevin is a poet and event organiser based in Ireland who collaborates with others to perform work in places of sacred, spiritual or historical significance. He describes himself as surrealist poet, but to be fair to him, his work can frequently be more profound than that tag suggests.

Silvia’s acting and musicianship (from what little I’ve seen) have consistently impressed me. London-based, she met me back in 2013 when she came to Ireland for tour guide work after I’d asked her for some details on the 2012 London Olympics, where she was a dance performer. She’s smart, opinionated, and Swiss-born. I’m sure I’d get an honest and different opinion from her whatever the topic.

Beronica is a Science Communicator whom I have met a few times. Originally from Peru, her channel features interviews with professors and academics, and covers events in STEM.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHK7Gr3jimiSR2kuPftv9pg

More to come.