Reading the Sunny Randall series

So far, I have read three books in Robert B. Parker’s Sunny Randall series: Family Honor, Perish Twice and Shrink Wrap. Prior to this, I finished the Jesse Stone series.

I liked the Jesse Stone character because, despite his flaws that glare more than sunshine on Mercury, he was an intuitive man who knew how to get things done and knew how to deal with people. Sunny Randall is more talkative and doesn’t struggle with alcohol the way Jesse does, but she knows how to piece things together. Perhaps it’s Woman’s Intuition, or perhaps it’s just great writing.

When reading the Randall series, you know three things will happen: she will have a deep conversation with her ex-husband, Richie, her friend Spike will insult a customer at his restaurant and he will also manhandle someone who tries to harm Sunny. Spike is a bear of a man, flamboyantly gay and very unpredictable. It makes for very fun reading.

I am currently taking a break from the SR series while I return to science fiction. I’m re-reading Mercury by Ben Bova (which might explain my above analogy) and I also would like to read a sci-fi novel titled Sunborn, which deals with the exploration of Pluto.

Happy reading!

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

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Goodbye, ‘The Hunt For Red October’, hello ‘Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl’

Well, technically I didn’t finish reading read Tom Clancy’s novel The Hunt For Red October. I tried. Twice. This time, I made it halfway through the book before finishing the rest in skim mode. I’ll watch the movie soon when I can.

The idea was great, and I agree with a lot of Clancy’s politics. The problem was, I found this book to be far too technical. Clancy likes to describe technology, intelligence procedures and military equipment in explicit detail. It made for slow pacing and, frankly, boring reading. Yes, I know that President Ronald Reagan loved this book (which tells me his attention span was far longer than what his critics care to admit). But for me, while Clancy has great ideas, it just didn’t work for me.

Years ago, I tried reading Patriot Games and didn’t finish that, either. It seemed too far-fetched that Irish terrorists would travel to American soil to avenge a crime. I may try sometime to read Cardinal in the Kremlin, since it deals with a spy for America inside the Kremlin. Maybe. Other books are awaiting my time. Sometime soon, I’ll have to make some time to read Ben Bova’s Mercury. As readers of this blog know, Dr. Bova has turned into one of my favorite sci-fi writers. If you haven’t read Jupiter, do yourself a favor and read it…

I’ve read the first entry of Anne Frank’s iconic diary. This was originally required as reading in my high school in the freshman or sophomore honors English program, but since I didn’t take honors English until my junior year, I missed out.

Little did Anne Frank know, her writings to “Kitty” would become an important piece of literature.

I look at Miss Frank as a delve into two genres of literature: classic (it was written in the 1940s and, technically, was written not only in the prior century, but also in the prior millennium) and foreign (the German-born, Dutch-raised Frank was Jewish and penned her diary in Dutch). What we read in English is a translation.

Having a short attention span has always made it a challenge for me to start and complete classics in literature, especially if they seem slow or are filled with archaic language. We’ll see how this process goes.

I am determined to succeed.

Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.
 

 

How much do you read?

If there’s one dream I have as a writer, it’s being able to write full-time for a living. I’d love nothing more than to be able to write fiction, be a journalist, blog and write columns and essays full-time without the need for a second job.

Many successful writers, when asked the secret to their success of writing for a living, will tell you that any successful writer must do two things daily: read and write. Some writers will spend several hours churning out thousands of words of fiction, blogs, columns, essays, journals before settling down later in the day with some great books. And perhaps a few magazines.

I am envious of those who can maintain a heavy book-reading workload. Stephen King in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft describes himself as a slow reader but somehow manages to read scores of books annually. Wow. It makes you wonder what he considers to be a fast reader. Maybe, perhaps he had in mind the older brother of one of my friends. Andy told a reporter once that his brother, Peter, could read about seven books per week.

Not per year or per month. Per week.

I am in awe and honestly wish I were like these people. One of my goals in life, both as a writer and as someone who wants to learn about the world, is to become someone who’s “well read”.

So far in the past year I’ve read four books that I can remember. One was a biography on Jim Morrison, another was Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing while two were novels by science fiction writer Ben Bova. I am currently finishing up Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and plan next to read a collection of Bova’s short stories. After that, who knows? Whatever catches my fancy.

It is, of course, best to discipline yourself as a writer to read daily. By reading, you get an idea of what flows, what works and what doesn’t flow and what doesn’t work. Sometimes terrible prose can not only teach you how not to write, but it can also inspire you (“Hey, if this person can get published, so can I!”).

Perhaps this evening, when I get done blogging, I’ll do a little reading. Besides the two books I have checked out at the library, I have more than 100 books at home that I have yet to read.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Reading Asimov, Writer’s Digest, battling procrastination

Am currently reading Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. Funny collection of short stories. Have read about five so far, none of which seem similar to the movie made a few years ago. Maybe I haven’t reached the story yet, or maybe it’s just Hollywood for you. J.D. Salinger was said to be so furious over the butchering of one of his short stories into a movie that he turned down all requests over the years–including Jerry Lewis–to make A Catcher in the Rye into a movie. I also have a collection of Ben Bova stories I’ll read once this is done, along with a book titled The Sacred Romance.

Asimov’s style is similar to Ray Bradbury’s, but he gets into more technological info and he doesn’t get into the flowery, nostalgic language that Mr. B does.

I recently received the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest and will be perusing through that. The economic survival guide sounds like it will be very beneficial along with the formula for freelance success.

Procrastination. I hate it. But it comes very natural for me. I pray for the strength to overcome mental road blocks and blog on a daily basis. And write on a daily basis.

Done reading ‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ by Ray Bradbury

Well, except for the segment called …On Creativity. Perhaps I’ll read those poems someday when I purchase a copy of Zen in the Art of Writing. At this stage, the poems just didn’t work for me.

It’s only fitting that the last essay on writing in this book is called “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Mr. Bradbury says he chose the title for the shock value, as a way of getting more readers. Until recently (he wrote this essay in 1973), he didn’t know what zen meant. I imagine that in 1973 (the year of my birth), people were far less open to the idea of Zen Buddhism than what they are now in 2010.

I’m not a Buddhist, nor am I a follower of far eastern religions. While I hear the word “zen” frequently used I still had to look it up since I didn’t really know what it meant. From what I gather (and this is subject to change based on what a few friends who’ve studied Far East cultures might say), zen is the idea of enlightenment following a period of study or concentration. Hence, Zen in the Art of Writing is about studying writing and meditating on what you’ve gathered and coming to a period of enlightenment.

For many, Mr. Bradbury believes they have writing all wrong. Writing is not about writing solely to make money or to appease snooty critics (please, oh please do NOT get me started on how some filmmakers worry about whether or not they’ll get Roger Ebert’s coveted “Thumbs Up”). It is about learning the science of writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation, story structures) and then the art of writing (developing your own style).

In Bradbury’s experience, writing is a three-step process: Work. Relaxation. Don’t Think.

First, you work.

This, no doubt, is a major letdown for those excited by writing. I’ve been writing for most of my life, professionally for the past 10 years. Let’s face it: it takes work to write. Mr. Bradbury notes that surgeons practice on countless cadavers to prepare for an operation on a live person. An athlete will run miles and miles to prepare for a 100-meter race. A sculptor will practice chiseling countless rocks to prepare for that masterpiece on one slab of granite. Myself, I’ve written many short stories over the years (most of which are unpublishable) and am working on short stories and a novel in hopes of achieving a fiction writing career someday. For every column I write, there are the countless ones I’ve started and thrown away. There have even been those I wrote, completed and then didn’t publish.

We never quit learning to be writers (I imagine Mr. Bradbury would admit that at 88, he’s still learning how to write), but once you’ve put in enough countless hours of blood, sweat and tears and have worn down enough keyboards, pens, pencils and have cut down enough trees to produce paper and notepads, you finally reach the stage of relaxation. This is when writing evolves to where you can put it out without having to put in so much rudimentary work. Specifically, it feels natural and fluid, not so laborious.

Remember the first time you rode a bike? It felt awkward. But as you rode more it grew to where it was easier, and you could relax rather than worry about falling off all the time.

After work and relaxation, you reach the “Don’t Think” stage of writing. This is an advanced stage of Relaxation. At not thinking, it doesn’t mean you put things on autopilot and watch the words magically appear on your screen, out of your typewriter or on the piece of paper as your hand magically writes. Instead, it means you’ve written for so long that you can let the ideas flow and you can write using the basic principles and styles you’ve learned without having to think of them all the time.

Using the bicycle principle, how many of us really think of how we pedal and maintain balance? We’ve done it for so long that it’s almost automatic.

Mr. Bradbury recalls when he first began writing, he wrote for quantity. As he became a better writer and started to write publishable work, he evolved from producing quantity to quality. Experience yields good writing.

How do writers lose their way? Mr. Bradbury believes it’s from pursuing fame and fortune. The same rings true for other professions: one professional actor once told me that if a person’s motivation for becoming an actor is for fame and fortune, don’t bother.

A writer, Mr. B, should see themselves as a prism and should focus on beaming a new light into the world. Develop your own style that’s different from others.

This book, hence, is “zen” in that these essays are what Ray Bradbury has learned about writing. Someday, I hope to read it a few more times and add it to my library.

Next, I’ll be splitting my time between three books: short story collections by Isaac Asimov and Ben Bova and the book The Sacred Romance. I will probably blog about the latter on my Richard’s Two Shekels blog.

Richard Zowie is a writer, blogger and aspiring fiction writer. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

Zen in the Art of Writing: ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’

Maybe I’ve been working too much too lately or am just getting old (I’m 37), but I thought I’d posted this chapter commentary already. I haven’t, so here it goes…

Much of this chapter has to do with what was once a taboo genre of literature. Once dubbed inferior and not worthy of being read by those who desired to read fiction, science fiction has over the years slowly gained an acceptance. Currently, the top grossing movie of all time, Avatar, is science fiction.

Mr. Bradbury starts off this chapter with a reference to a poem of his about a boy in a semi-animatronic museum in the future. The boy stumbles upon Plato, Euripedes and Socrates.

Kids, Mr. B asserts, became teachers early on in this first time in history as they moved art and teaching “back in the form of pure illustration.” Sci-fi gives us a chance to ask “what if” and be creative.

When I think of some of my favorite sci-fi movies and books, I think of the “What if?” questions they answered…

What if man could design a pressurized space craft to enter into Jupiter and explore its oceans? (Ben Bova’s Jupiter)

What if artificial intelligence took over the world, lost a critical battle to humans and then invented time travel to try to kill the human resistant’s leader’s mother before he was ever born? (The Terminator)

What would it be like for humans in deep outer space with nothing to do but do scientific research? (Frederick Pohl’s Starburst)

What would happen if a corporation’s greed for profits almost allows a hostile lifeform to take over a ship and destroy the crew? (Alien)

What happens when robots do the unthinkable and start thinking for themselves? (Philip K. Dick’s Bladerunner, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Ray Bradbury’s Marionettes, Inc.)

I wasn’t born until 1973, so I was pretty surprised to learn that in the 1920s and 1930s, there was no science fiction in school curriculum and few in any libraries. Even up to 1962 it was difficult, according to Mr. B, to find anything written by Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Alfred van Vogt or Bradbury.

Why was this? I defer to Mr. B, since he was an adult and aware back then. He believes the perception then was that facts and not fiction were worth reading. Fantasy literature was considered escapist and a waste of time.

But inevitably, kids grew more and more curious and wanted to read these books. This led to an explosion. Sci-fi flooded the market. Instead of being confined to pulp fiction magazines or paperbacks in dime stores, sci-fi graduated to hard cover and was soon in libraries and first-hand book stores.

More importantly, according to Mr. B, sci-fi brought with it new ideas that then turned into advances in technology. People read these books and get ideas. Perhaps someone long ago read Jules Verne’s book about traveling to the moon and thought, “Why can’t we travel to the moon?”

This is one reason why I’ve grown to love the fantasy science fiction rather than the “hard” science fiction. Hard bores me. I’ve tried to read a few of these books and am amazed: unless you have an advanced science degree in physics or engineering, you’re often lost. Too often far too much time is devoted to technical information while the story line is left to wither. I like the stories that ask “What if?” and let the imagination take them where they will.

Richard Zowie is a professional writer who likes reading science fiction. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

‘Moonrise’ by Ben Bova

It took me longer to finish this book than it did Jupiter, but it was time well spent.

Moonrise is an interesting branch inside the science fiction genre, one that focuses on the business aspect of space exploration, colonization and mining. Whether future generations try to mine ore from an asteroid, set up a colony on the moon, harvest hydrogen and ammonia gas from Jupiter or water from Pluto’s moon Charon, it all boils down to one thing: can money be made off of it?
 
So, in Moonrise, veteran astronaut Paul Stavenger is convinced that moon colonization is the future of mankind. The earth is getting far too overpopulated, and being able to colonize the moon and harvest previous elements from the moon are key to our survival. He has to deal with much corporate bureaucracy from the Masterson Aerospace, which, by the gross financial mismanagement of its boss the egotistical Gregory Masterson, is slowly teetering towards bankruptcy. Even with the hot-selling Clippership and even with Paul’s vision of how Moonbase could easily be turned into a profit.
 
Tensions arise as Gregory Masterson II, Greg’s son, uses manipulated nanotechnology to kill Paul months after Greg commits suicide and after Joanna Masterson marries Paul (who had been her lover). Paul, realizing nanobugs are in his suit, chooses not to head to the next station to prevent infecting them with the nanobugs also.
 
Paul’s son, Doug, 18 years down the road tries to continue what’s been going on with Moonbase as Greg II ends up in charge in what is, without question, the worst personnel move in the history of science fiction novels (something we can attribute to Joanna’s overprotective ways as a mother rather than Dr. Bova’s storytelling). Doug is determined to make Moonbase profitable for more than one reason: due to a sabotage attempt by a disgruntled employee, Doug is exposed to radiation and must depend on nanotechnology for the rest of his life. Since the earth has all but banned the research, manufacturing and selling of nanotechnology, Doug must stay on the moon indefinitely.
 
Greg II, who is Doug’s half-brother, finally snaps when he sees his mother favors Doug and when he realizes he will finally be held accountable for an old murder. The climax ensues and the book ends with Doug looking at the moon and realizing it’ll take many generations to do what needs to be done.
 
What I liked about this book: The storyline was very interesting as it wove business with science and exploration. The characters came from all walks of life (such as the short, pudgy, half Italian and half Korean astronomer Bianca Rhee, who’s attracted to Doug). Once you sit down and read and devote time to it, it’s not easy to put down. Again, I liked Jupiter better, but Moonrise was a very good read. It’s a prelude of what’s to come in future generations: whether or not a profit can be made will be a major factor in whether or not to explore space and whether or not to try to harvest products for use on earth.
 
The book also opens up ideas for the future: how about space crafts made out of pure diamond? If diamonds can be found in asteroids or terrestrial planets like Mercury or Mars, perhaps it could work.
 
There were a few love scenes in this book but Bova kept the details to the bare minimum. We are spared from cheesy, Longarm-style metaphors for breasts, legs, and genitalia (such as “fleshy orbs”). Bova tells you just enough to let you know sex took place, whether it was enjoyable, what it accomplished, and leaves it at that. Too much information diverts from the storyline.
 
Also, there is very little profanity in this book, something else that impresses me greatly.
 
We read in this book about New Morality and their attempts to quell nanotechnology. I don’t know what Dr. Bova’s spiritual beliefs are (two websites say he’s an atheist), but I feel he’s pretty fair with his depiction of Christians. To me, he’s the antithesis of Carl Sagan, whose treatment of Christians in Contact could be described as an amateur caricature at best.
 
What I didn’t like about this book:  It didn’t seem as fast-paced as Jupiter. Paul’s death and then Doug’s life seemed like they could’ve been separate books of their own. Other than these, I had no complaints.
 
What’s in store for me now? Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You. Brent Curtis and John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God. A few weeks ago, though, I visited a used book store in Lapeer, Michigan and bought two more of Dr. Bova’s books and will no doubt be reading them in the next few months. It’s time I consider very well spent.
 
Richard Zowie’s been a professional writer for 10 years and is working on selling some of his fiction stories and writing others. He spends ample time assuring people that, yes, Zowie is his legal surname (howbeit Americanized from the German surname Zahnweh). Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

What I’m reading right now

I am almost done with Ben Bova’s novel Moonrise and will write about it when done. Next up will be Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. A few other books on deck after that, but I’d rather not get into them yet out of fear I’ll shift gears and pursue something else to read.

Years ago, I read that British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley read 16 hours a day. Wow! I wish I had time like that.

Richard Zowie is a writer, blogger, columnist, journalist, who wishes the eight hours of sleep he needs each night could be spent reading instead. Post comments here or drop him a line at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Review of ‘Jupiter’ by Ben Bova

Like my movie reviews, here’s how I review books I’ve read: I tell you the basic details and then what I liked and didn’t like and then my overall thoughts. It’s then up to you, the reader, to decide for yourself from there whether you want to read it. No Roger Ebert snootiness, no thumbs up or down. I find critiquing to be extremely subjective and seldom on target, so I take the modest approach. What works for me might not work for others, and vice versa.

Jupiter, by Ben Bova, is a science fiction novel about Grant Archer, a young, recently-married scientist who must complete his four-year public service at a space station orbiting Jupiter while his wife Marjorie remains on earth doing her service. Archer has no choice and is depressed once he arrives. As a Believer (presumably what Christians and other adherers of religious faiths will be called in this futuristic tale), he’s also sent by the New Morality to spy on what’s happening at the station.

Archer, who grew up in a Christian home, feels very conflicted as a scientist. He’s also very frustrated, feeling being stuck at Jupiter’s a waste of time when his field is astophysics.

Archer soon learns the station’s doing secret manned missions into Jupiter (something that’s absolutely impossible today due to the unimaginable pressure of the Jovian atmosphere and its oceans that make human existence out of the question) to look for intelligent life. This has New Morality very angry. Archer is eventually recruited into one of those missions.

This is an example of what one artist thinks Jupiter’s “surface” looks like. (Actually, Jupiter is thought to be one gargantuan ocean).

What I liked about this book: Wow. Just about everything. Bova does an outstanding job of pacing: he gives you enough technical details to set the scene and give you a mind’s eye of what’s happening but not so much so that you get bogged down and bored. He’s also not afraid to use his imagination and come up with some very ingenious ideas about entering Jupiter. The action is also very fast-paced with a few surprises here and there and a very satisfying ending. There were a few nights I stayed up well past midnight reading because, well, I had to know what happened next. I also took the book with me and read as I walked outside. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

Christians and religion are often portrayed with hostility in science fiction. I remember trying to read Contact and quitting in disgust over Carl Sagan’s horrific caricature of both Christianity and anyone who dares to be skeptical of evolution and ask questions. I don’t know Bova’s spiritual beliefs, but I believe he was very tasteful in his approach.

And, best of all, this wasn’t a corny space opera like Robert L. Forward’s Saturn Rukh. No cheesy metaphors for female breasts, no clichés like “body of a Greek goddess”, no space crews passing around herpes or some other STD. When Bova mentions sex a few times in the book, it’s used tastefully and to set the scene and little more.

What I disliked about this book: Very little. Nothing comes to mind.

The book poses a question: can you be a Christian and believe in evolution or extraterrestrial life? While I’m a firm believer in creationism and intelligent design, my answer to both is yes. One fellow Christian named Bob, who’s the brother I never had, leans towards evolution, as does his brother.

As far as ETs, my feeling is this: it’s a big universe. How do we know God didn’t create life elsewhere? There are many mysteries about God, and I suspect that the extrasolar planets are one of them.

Overall, Jupiter by Ben Bova was an excellent book that I loved. I will definitely read more of Bova’s books.