Monthly Archives: December 2014


I got an email from Eric S. Raymond, often known as ESR in the open source software movement, asking for a review copy of my book, saying he’d heard it was just exactly the sort of thing he plugs on his blog from time to time.

Uhhhh, yes! What format would you like?

So, at some point in the not-to-distant future, there will hopefully be a plug for the book to his ~22k followers. That would be a heck of a Christmas present…

Merry Christmas

Have a good one, may your family and friends be healthy and happy in the new year.  May your enemy’s schadenfreude be minimal, and your plans be effective. Illegitimi non carborundum (don’t let the bastards grind you down), and may you be as lucky as Helton for at least a day 🙂

A thought regarding style versus content

Over at Vox’s blog he had a post about Amazon’s editor’s pick for books. Among other things he said “a novel consists of four elements, Style, Story, Characters, and Ideas.”

I worked a long time on TSCB, and I thought it had some great characters, a solid story, and some interesting ideas, and the writing style was what I like to call “serviceable,” that is, clear and easily read and understood. Not particularly flashy or eloquent, more Hemingway than highbrow.

I knew it needed polish, so I hired an editor, and I think I got a good one. She worked hard on it, and she definitely improved it, but it was a process that definitely raised my blood pressure whenever I received an email from her. She made a lot of very good criticisms, and my writing absolutely improved. But when she started making a second pass to polish it up a bit, I suddenly realized after struggling mightily with a massively rewritten paragraph that I liked my original version (well, slightly modified by the first pass) much better. And, more importantly, I was able to put my finger on what exactly the problem was. I like simple, clear, easy to read and understand prose that means exactly what it said, and the heavily rewritten version was what I saw as being much more “literary.” It didn’t sound like me, or my characters, at all. I said “I’m done.” I finished up by rejecting many of the most recent edits, asked her what I owed her, made sure the formatting looked good, and hit the big PUBLISH button.

I like clean, simple, easy-to-understand sentences. I like having likable characters. Occasional poetic passages to capture a mood are fine, but an unending series of bad things happening to bad people in a depressing story? No, I’ll take a pass on that. I don’t care how great the style is, if I don’t like the characters, I can’t learn anything useful from them, and there is no significance or value or cool ideas in the story, then it’s a waste of my time.

Reviewing a review – 01

Not all reviews are created equal. While I greatly appreciate the many one- and two-line “‘da book rocks!” five-star reviews, they don’t tell me much about what exactly they did or didn’t like about it.  They also don’t tell prospective readers anything to help make up their mind directly, unless you go through their other reviews to see where some stranger’s reading habits overlap with your own.

One of my favorite reviews was a four-star review by “Russell May.” He was also kind enough to post the same review at GoodReads. While it was only four stars, he said a little bit about how he found it, what his misgivings about it were, what he likes, and a few general thoughts. It’s the sort of review that could really help someone decide if they want to spend their hard-earned money on the book.

Thank you, “Russell May.”


Just passed 100k words on Insanity’s Children. Now in the home stretch, I hope.  Still open to recommendations for bad jokes and puns to add. A new company makes an appearance – Kadath Heavy Industries, an arms maker.


One of the things that I keep realizing is that there are themes running though TSCB that I put in almost subconsciously, themes that I keep seeing popping up in various other places.

One theme is the risk/reward of technology. I came across one of Vox’s reprints of an article he wrote about the Unabomber’s Manifesto. The Unabomber was afraid of technology, or more specifically that it be used by government to enslave people, and by companies and people to take from them their ability to support themselves, to make them dependent on goods and services provided by others. He wanted to have us all return to something like an Amish tech level or lower, on the theory that when you are in tune with nature you can’t be tech-traped (or something along those lines). That has problems to say the least.

In TSCB, the Armadillo warships and their AIs scared the government so bad that they put the kibosh on it, and reverted to an effectively lower and inferior level of military technology. Taj saw that for humans to be the most useful, they had to know how things work. She is constantly teaching everyone on board everything she can (a bit more on this in the sequel). From the fundamentals of language and math and story-telling with Quinn (note she doesn’t just tell him stories, but has him tell them back to check for understanding and cement the knowledge), to how to operate sensors and coms and understand how they work to anyone that spends time on the bridge. She requires the use of checklists so that the crew know the function and condition of the ship’s systems.

In the classroom I encounter a specific dichotomy regularly. Kids think they don’t need to learn and know things because they can “just Google it.” but they struggle to find good web resources and evaluate what they do find because they know so little. Often they lack sufficient fluency with math fundamentals to easily see more advanced concepts. They have a difficult time differentiating wikipedia and The Onion from peer-review papers (if they can find them). Technology can be a tool, or a crutch. Taj is, in a way, the ultimate tool, but she refuses to be used as a crutch because she has learned by hard experience that by definition crutches are for the crippled, and a team where everyone is as strong as they can be will be the most effective.