Some days the universe decides I need to be surprised. Apparently it’s Sci-Fi award season, and now Vox has me on his list of people to vote for in the John W Campbell award for “Best New Writer.”

I asked him if he was sure. I mean, I’m flattered, but really? His reply:
Rolf, there is literally no new writer who better illustrates the importance of story over style than you do. What so many people fail to understand is that while technical skill is nice, it’s a secondary, if not tertiary aspect of good writing.

We don’t still read Asimov due to the beauty of his prose. We read him for the stories. And while technical skill can be developed and improved, you’ve either got stories to tell or you don’t.

Great. Even my publisher thinks my style sucks. 🙂 . On the other hand, if the story is good enough to do well in spite of such a great handicap, maybe it’s something. We will see. Be a bizarre twist of fate if it happened. Looking at the winners of long ago, there are some impressive names there. Looking at more recent years…. not so much.


Cool. Very cool, and very unexpected.

Just got word from Vox Day that The Stars Came Back has been nominated for a Prometheus Award for this year. It’s the award given by the Libertarian Futurist Society.

Past winners include Sarah Hoyt, Harry Turtledove, L. Neil Smith, Vernor Vinge, Terry Pratchett, Ken MacLeod, Poul Anderson, James P. Hogan, J. Neil Schulman, and many more big names. Even if I come in last place, just being nominated to potentially stand amid such a group of names is quite an honor.


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.