Links from last two episodes

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Hi, all,

Haven’t been keeping up with the blog like I should. Apologies.

Here are the links for the last episode:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/3178

And the episode before that:

http://www.amazon.com/Wool-Part-One-ebook/

Narration on Protecting Project Pulp

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

In case you missed it, here was my narration of “The Whistling Corpse” over on Protecting Project Pulp last week, including an interview at the end with yours truly!

http://protectingprojectpulp.com/protecting-project-pulp-no-33-g-g-pendarves/

A Shoutout for the Sofa and Cheapskates on Amazing Magazine

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

This absolutely warmed my heart to read. Thank you, Diane!

http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/03/me-and-my-sofa/

Links for Cheapskates 11: Selections from Brave New Worlds

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Sorry for the delay here. Here’s the links mentioned in episode 11:

Selections from Brave New Worlds

Free Reads from Brave New Worlds

 

Text to Speech:

Natural Reader

Yakitome

Ivona

Ivona for Android and Amy Ivona voice for Android (separate download)

SVOX for Android (Too many sub-links to the specific voices and trial voices for me to deal with it now. Just… search).

Balabolka

Cool Reader app

Easy Text to Speech app

PDF to Speech app

Moon+ Reader Pro (Cheapskates alert! Paid app: $4.99 US) Apparently was recently removed from Google Play pending a piracy complaint by a competing developer. Story here. You can still get the full version from their website here, with a Paypal contribution of $5 (you have to scroll down a bit). You can also get it on the Amazon app store.

 

Links for Cheapskates 10

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Hi, all,

I’ve put the links for this time into the transcript below.

However, there are two that didn’t make the episode, that I dearly wish I coiuld have included.

First, this recent story on Escape Pod, which has probably the most unique twist on the tale I’ve ever run across. Crachit as alchemist… wow…

http://escapepod.org/2012/12/20/ep375-marley-and-cratchit/

And this episode of Drabblecast is worth mention… Norm taking a Halloween twist on the classic tale in his intro. The Lovecraftian take on “12 Days of Christmas” is pretty good, too. (Not for the kiddies).

http://www.drabblecast.org/2012/10/31/drabblecast-262-my-true-lovecraft-gave-to-me/

 

 

Transcript for Cheapskates 10: A Christmas Carol

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Greetings to my fellow coach-class passengers aboard the StarShipSleigh…I mean… sofa. My name is Adam, welcoming you to the Christmas edition of Cheapskates and bringing you reviews of free science fiction ebooks and audiobooks.
Yes, we’re changing up the theme music this week to make room for my favorite Christmas song… about despotic alien robots enslaving all humanity…
Well, Cheapskates there’s just <<Insert number of days here>> shopping days left until Christmas. And maybe, like me, the funds aren’t going quite as far as you’d like for all the gifts you’d like to give. So… I’m going to start off departing from my usual hints and review a few sites where you can earn a little extra Christmas scratch for the bibliophile in your life.
First is a site called Mechanical Turk at www.mturk.com. I could look up what a Mechanical Turk actually is, but I prefer my initial image of a Steampunk robot wearing a Fez. Don’t correct me. I don’t want to know.
Essentially this Amazon-connected company pays you for doing annoying, small or repetitive online tasks that aren’t worth the time for most people. And for the most part, yeah, a few pennies for the amount of tasks you have to do just isn’t worth it.
But, if you want some advice, working on the site just barely becomes worth it if you try the research surveys frequently posted to the site. After you do them for a while, you’ll recognize the legitimate ones. In the first place, the ones from a true college or university are never more than $10, and you’re usually flying high if you find one for $5. Mostly, though, the surveys worth doing range between a quarter and a dollar. Don’t ignore the cheaper ones. You can usually hammer those out a lot faster than the time commitment expected from researchers paying a whole dollar.
Also, never click blind – any task that tries to link using a site masker like bit.ly or the like is bad news bears.
A few of these are consumer or political surveys, but mostly you’ll be doing psychological surveys if you try this out. I’m sure I’ve distorted more than my fair share of graduate psychology students’ view of the mental landscape of the world by taking these surveys over the years.
You can also do OK with voice transcription, but these are more hit-and-miss. They often expect much for little reward, and more often than not the recordings are nearly indecipherable. To get a sense of how much you can make on MTurk – well, I’ve made just shy of $500 in the three years I’ve done tasks, and that’s with doing a few here and there over lunch hours – just slightly over 1,800 jobs, some big and some small.
You can either get the funds as a straight deposit to your bank account once you reach at least $10, or you can pull off an Amazon gift card with just a dollar. It’s a really easy way to buy some cheap Kindle books for the modern reader.
If you’re looking for something a little more passive, you can give SwagBucks a try. Again, if you’re not careful, you can end up signing on to expensive offers that aren’t worth the rewards. But if you’re patient, you can accrue points… I’m sorry… “SwagBucks” through some fairly benign methods – like doing searches, printing off and using coupons, viewing a few ads without obligation or playing some videos, which are easy to mute and ignore, or answering a poll that takes just a couple seconds. You can snag $5 Amazon gift cards for just 450 Bucks, $5 Barnes & Noble cards for 500 Bucks, and a surprising variety of eBooks and even eReaders – if you can be patient enough to let the Bucks accrue up to the five-digit range. There’s also the option to donate your bucks to charity, which I think is an admirable usage. It’s even a good gift to give to the person who has everything by helping out people who have nothing.
There’s also a wide variety of other stuff if you don’t care for books or… helping others, but we both know… that’s not the case, right?
My final suggestion is to try out Bing Rewards. This one is probably the safest of these options, as the main way to earn Rewards points is just to search using Bing. You can also get a few points by clicking on their sponsored links, but it processes pretty quick and you can usually just click and close. You can get Amazon gift cards, free Redbox DVD or video game rentals or – again – make a charitable contribution. By the way, I think it’s hilarious that Bing finds it necessary to shell out free stuff to get people to use their search engine. But if they’re giving it away, I’m willing to take it. Most of my searches are straightforward, and it’s not like Google’s going away anytime soon.
My apologies for the Amazon-esque leanings of these suggestions. It’s not necessarily my preference, but for whatever reason, Amazon seems pretty willing to associate itself with this kind of quote “easy money.” I should probably also give the disclaimer – I’m in no way being compensated for these suggestions by anyone. These are on the up-and-up and all based on my personal experience. Also this disclaimer: if you mess up and get your identity stolen, don’t come crying to me.
Hope these ideas help out with the holiday bills, just … be careful, OK?

All right, on to the good stuff. I thought with Christmas just around the corner, I’d review a free science fiction ebook with a Christmas theme. It was a little tricky to think of or to find a good one, though. And then I realized the perfect sci fi book was staring me right in the face.
I’m referring, of course, to that science fiction classic – “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
“Holy genre misclassification, Batman” – I imagine I can hear you all saying. But just… bear with me.
I’m going to trust I don’t need to give a plot summary, as infused as this is into Western culture in general and our holiday season in specific. But, just in case, here’s A Christmas Carol, in 16 words: Scrooge is a bad rich miser. Four ghosts change him. Now he’s a good rich man.
Theeee end.
What I want to focus on, instead, is making my argument for “A Christmas Carol” as a forerunner of modern science fiction and paranormal fiction.
First, there’s the obvious paranormal activity with the visitation from the ghost of Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. This might be easy to dismiss today, but I think it’s primarily as a result of the more cutsie-poo versions of the classic tale. These are particularly egregious when it comes to Marley’s ghost, the ghost of Christmas past, and the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. For example, the Mickey Mouse version put Goofy in the role of Marley and Jimminy Cricket as Ghost of Christmas Past. The Muppet version had two Marleys to accommodate Statler & Waldof doing their pun-laden knee-slappers. And a Sesame Street Christmas Carol had the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come played by a cute little robot called i-SAM, which was channeling the voice of Elmo.
El-mo!
Oddly, the 2009 computer animated Disney version - with Jim Carrey voicing scrooge AND the three ghosts -seems to come closer to the mark than most other films of recent days.
All of these trivial versions of A Christmas Carol, I think, has really distracted from some really creepy and brilliant description by Dickens in the original tale that’s nearly on a par with H.P. Lovecraft. Take this description of the Ghost of Christmas past, for example:
It was a strange figure— like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm. Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.

Then there’s this bit with Marley:
At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!

And finally this moment just after Scrooge meets Marley’s ghost, which is almost universally dropped from movie adaptations:
It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Marley’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped. Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night. Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out. The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

Apart from this, there’s just a lot of examples where Dickens makes some really unsettling use of metaphor: like when he talks about the air laughing, or describes Scrooge’s now-grumpy house as having gallivanted around in its younger days.
But let’s proceed with my points: apart from the paranormal and the elements of horror, we also have early examples of time travel by Scrooge traveling with the ghosts to past and future. I’d also argue that there are examples of lost or compressed time – see: “The Spirits have done it all in one night.” – and, I would contend, even a moment of alternate timelines when Scrooge asks, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
There’s even a passing moment of possible telepathy, when the Ghost of Christmas Past appears to read Scrooge’s thoughts.
But even if you don’t buy it as science fiction… that’s OK, I wouldn’t truly classify it that way, either… you can’t deny that the work has been embraced by those working in science fiction in fantasy.
Take, for example, these books found with just a quick search on Amazon: A Zombie Christmas Carol; I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas; A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead; A Vampire Christmas Carol; A Vampire’s Christmas Carol; Scrooge, the Vampire; A Christmas Carol & Steampunk Cyborgs; and Carol for Another Christmas… which apparently brings Scrooge into the digital age, this time as the moralizer.
All of these cost, so they’re not Cheapskate-worthy, but for the record… I wouldn’t pay for these anyway…
Prefer comic books? Well, there’s an issue of the “Batman: Noel” series that takes A Christmas Carol as its theme.
Not a DC fan? Fine: Check out the brand-spankin’ new “Zombies Christmas Carol” in the Marvel Zombies series released Oct. 31 of 2012, which apparently has Tiny Tim… eating… Bob… Cratchit.
Ew…
Not sure I can explain the apparently obsessive need to put zombies into Dickens, but, apparently someone’s buying.
If you’re wanting some quality, I’d recommend Tim Pratt’s excellent “The Ghost of Christmas Possible” – which you can hear for free over in the Podcastle archives.
Also, there was apparently an episode of Doctor Who in 2010 that used the Christmas Carol framework, which I have not been able to lay my hands on. The clips and reviews bode well, so it’s probably worth your time if you can find it.
And if you happen to be in Chicago around the holidays, you have got to check out “A Klingon Christmas Carol” by Commedia Beauregard – my apologies in advance for the pronunciation – at the Raven theatre. I know this sounds absurd, but those who have seen it say it apparently makes the transition well into Klingon, and it’s been popular enough to actually become something of a modern tradition for several years now.
In this version, rather than lacking compassion, Scrooge lacks honor and courage. This version is performed completely in Klingon with English “supertitles” and includes narrative analysis from the Vulcan Institute of Cultural Anthropology.
If you get a chance, I say go give it a chance.

Whether you buy that Dicken’s classic is proto-sci fi or not, you really need to give it a read. It’s short, and pleasantly clever and funny. I hadn’t realized that. You can hear it right from the beginning with the “dead as a doornail” section:
“Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.”
Other examples are Scrooge worrying that his contracts would be worthless as a U.S. Security – that never goes away, does it? – and accusing Marley of being “more of gravy than the grave,” meaning that he’s the result of bad indigestion.
If I have any criticism of the book, and it’s hard to find anything here to nitpick, it’s that Scrooge seems a little too willing to go along with the ghosts and change his ways. He’s set up as too entrenched for such a turnaround. The reaction in the aforementioned story by Tim Pratt seems more accurate – in that version, he hired a paranormal investigator.

I’ll link to free versions of A Christmas Carol online, including versions that reproduce the first-edition illustrations – very cool. That’s on my website: cheapskatesreveiw.wordpress.com. I’ll also include links to free audiobook versions of the story – among them a dramatized version on LibriVox of surprising quality. Of course, I’ll give you links to as many of those crazy derivative works as I can fit in.
Well, that’s all today for Cheapskates. Theme music – this month – is from “Chiron Beta Prime” by the great Jonathan Coulton under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial license. You can find Jonathan’s work at www.jonathancoulton.com.
This is Adam, reminding you that free doesn’t have to mean cheap

Good news: Nook and Apple users

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Hi! My book is now available on Lulu!

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/adampracht

This means that with any luck, all you Nook and Apple users can snag a copy soon!

Excellent story by Ken Liu

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Have you heard this story “The Perfect Match” by Ken Liu over at Lightspeed Magazine.

Mindblowing, creepy story, especially because it’s not a stretch at all.

Strong echoes of Orwell’s “1984” for me.

http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-perfect-match/

I might have to pickup reviewing the sampler version of “Brave New Worlds” for Cheapskates because of this.

A new way to enjoy Cheapskates

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Hi, Cheapskates,

Just taking a moment to let you all know about a convenient new way to enjoy Cheapskates through your Kindle!

I’ve signed up for “Kindle Blogs” on Amazon.com. Now anyone with a Kindle can have all of the content of this site wirelessly downloaded direct to your device for just $0.99 per month.

It’s a cheap and convenient way to stay connected with all the latest from Adam Pracht and Cheapskates, as well as giving a bit of support to me for the time and energy spent providing this fact article for free on StarShipSofa.

As always, you can always come straight to this site, but I hope you’ll at least consider the subscription.

Here’s the Link:

http://www.amazon.com/Cheapskates-Review-StarShipSofa/dp/B00A9YSD06/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1353960032&sr=1-1

Thank you!

-Adam

Transcript for Cheapskates #9: M. Darusha Wehm

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Greetings to my fellow coach-class passengers aboard the StarShipSofa. My name is Adam, welcoming you to Cheapskates and bringing you reviews of free science fiction ebooks and audiobooks.

No extras at the top today – sorry all. I’m doing NaNoWriMo – or national novel writing month, where you try to write 50,000 words all in the month of November. At the time I’m recording this, I’m behind the pace for reaching 50,000 words, but well ahead of my usual writing pace of, well, nothing. So, yeah, it’s all good.

Still, by the time you hear this I’ll probably be in the middle of that most productive of states – last-minute panic, so today’s review is going to be rather to-the-point, I’m afraid.

By the by if you’d like to see what I’ve produced so far, look for a link on my blog cheapskates.wordpress.com for a free copy of my book as its written – more or less in realtime. The book’s called “Schrödinger’s Zombie: Seven Weird and Wonderful Tales of the Undead” and is a collection of seven short stories taking an unconventional spin on the zombie concept. It’s by definition a work in progress so, please be kind.

All right, so…It’s been a while since I’ve addressed that “free science fiction audiobooks” portion of my intro, so l’ll just get right to into it with a review of some free audiobooks on podiobooks.com.

Namely, I think I’m going to take on the “Andersson Dexter” series of audiobooks by Canadian author and two-time Parsec Award finalist M. Darusha Wehm: “Self Made”, “Act of Will” and “The Beauty of Our Weapons.”

Some of you might recall that the last of these – The Beauty of Our Weapons – was featured in the “First Chapters” segment on the April 25 edition of StarShipSofa this year.

I… honestly didn’t remember this fact, and it was only after I let Tony know my plans for the next episode that he brought my attention to its previous inclusion on the show.

As seems to be typical with me, after I’ve listened to a podcast, they seem to sink into the huge “wall of sound” if you will, and I’m hard-pressed to remember where or when I heard a particular story.

So I hope you can believe me that I feel like I stumbled across these honestly. If I selected this series because of their inclusion on First Chapters, it was only on a subliminal level. In my own defense, it did come at the end of a three-hour episode, and it was the first chapter of the third book in the set, so there was a big learning curve to this world, and plenty of opportunity for this first chapters installment to slide off my brain of teflon.

No, what I feel attracted me to the series was not the first chapters segment but actually the description of the first book “Self Made.”

I’ve struggled with how to introduce the world of the Andersson Dexter novels, so I think I’ll just start here, with the description on Podiobooks that first drew me to download them. Quoting:

“Ever wish things were different?

Ivy Velasquez did, so she became someone else. In the 3D virtual world Marionette City, you can be anything you want — but everyone still knows who you are. Driven by her desire for a new life, Ivy takes her future in her hands when she makes another identity for herself. A brilliant designer, Ivy works for one of the huge firms which control the online system the world relies upon for both business and pleasure. But one day, Ivy discovers that her alternate self, Reuben Cobalt, had been murdered.

Since alternate identities are forbidden by the firms which control access to the nets and to M City, Ivy has nowhere to turn — until she finds Andersson Dexter. Part private eye, part vigilante and part cop, Dex sets out to uncover Reuben’s killer. Since the firms control almost every aspect of life, including law and order, justice for average people comes only at the hands of the outlaw organization to which Dex belongs.

Self Made is a murder mystery set in a vision of a future that seems to lurk just over the horizon. But above all, it is a story of how people strive to control their own destinies, and how that desire affects them and the people around them in ways they could never imagine.”

End quote

 

I mostly agree with that description. However the series  has much less to do with the character of Ivy than this introduction might suggest, and much more to do with Dexter – dex for short – and his relationship with a fellow vigilante slash cop named Annabelle whom he works with on the case. Annabelle, you might notice, doesn’t even get a mention here.

I also think the last sentence is a bit of authorial hyperbole – I just don’t see the story operating on that grand of a scale. But this is a small and forgiveable sin. It is, in fact one I’ve committed myself quite frequently in promoting myself. You have to do it.

But I see these novels as providing lots of pulpy goodness with a much lighter helping of quote “high literary merit.”

So, a bit more on the setting – I see the basic premise  as being quite similar to “Ready Player One” – the real world in general sucks and can be dangerous, but there’s a virtual world that takes the edge off. However, there’s still an antagonist who just might ruin it for everyone that must be defeated both virtually and in the real world.

Some of you might remember my brief mention of Ready Player One when I was explaining how to get a free audiobook from audible.

I still heartily endorse the audiobook version of Ready Player One, especially because it’s narrated by the one and only Wil Wheaton – probably better known to you as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation or possibly in his Evil Wil incarnation on Big Bang Theory, or if you’re a super-nerd, as the host of the web show Table Top which each week takes viewers on a tour of another great game for gamers. Table Space shares space with the matchless Felicia Day on the Geek & Sundry collection of web shows – this being the Felicia Day who starred as the heroine of “Dr.Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” – directed by the same Joss Whedon known for directing The Avengers and creating Firefly – and starring as the sympathetic villain Neil Patrick Harris, probably best known for his role as Doogie Houser on the classic show by the same name.

All right, I realize that was a rabbit hole of epic proportions, but those of you keeping score at home might note that I mentioned (counting) about a dozen awesome things right there… feel free to rewind and collect them all.

Ok, back to where I left the path to go tripping through the nerdy woods, where Andersson Dexter differs from Ready Player one I see mostly in two areas. First, that the technology to simulate virtual environments is not just external to the user, but implanted into their very cortex using customizable nodes. This can lead to an astonishingly realistic experience for those with enough upgrades, enough so that some come to prefer who they are in the simulation over the real world. There’s also some fun consequences of this – for example, I especially love the detail about downloading a large file makes their head feel heavier. This makes no sense from a physics standpoint, but somehow it still feels right to me.

Second, there’s the flavor of pulp detective novels that the books are set in. This more than anything else I think is what drew me into the books as a good detective story in a sci fi environment is an irresistible combo for me. Take as exhibit A on my shelves Isaac Asimov’s Lije Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw novels – “The Caves of Steel,” “The Naked Sun” and “The Robots of Dawn.”

Exhibit B is a short story collection I continue to revisit: “The 13 Crimes of Science Fiction.”

These are what I consider the epitope of that new favorite buzzword – “speculative fiction.”

Let’s listen to a bit of Wehm’s podiobooks narration to give you just a little sense of the style and feel.

[Audio selection]

Dexter’s “real job” it turns out is working for a group called the Cubicle Men. These are folks ostensibly working menial corporation jobs – largely customer service – but who in their spare time and while they’re working at the mind-numbing tedium of their real job, use that extra brain capacity to solve crimes and enforce vigilante justice for those who can’t afford to approach corporations to find a solution. Dexter is a gumshoe detective in the Cubicle Men and seems to be pretty good at his work. In Self Made, he helps a Ivy discover who committed the virtual murder of secret multi avatar Reuben.

I have to admit the whole Cubicle Men aspect was enormously appealing to me. I’ve been stuck in my share of dead-end, cubicle-dwelling jobs myself, and I can relate to that sense of hopelessness, of asking yourself every day – just what the heck am I doing here, anyway? I can see how a group like this could supply intriguing work and meaning in an otherwise meaningless life.

I had trouble in this first book buying into the concept at first. I just really had a hard time why this society was having such a hard time accepting the idea of “multis.” In our Internet age, it seems perfectly natural to me that there would be different ways and even different names you’d present yourself under depending on the audience and purpose.

Then I realized that Wehm uses multis as a stand-in for all kinds of issues of identity in our society, mostly those of the LGBT variety. Creating a multi in this society would be akin to the effect that, say, coming out as transgender would have in our own. That is, it completely reframes a person’s identity in a way fundamental to that society.

I still don’t quite see a way that the world of today bridges over into the world of Andersson Dexter, but at least I can appreciate what Whem is going for here.

The second novel in the series – “Act of Will” – is a straightforward serial killer story. Someone is selecting people – who he calls “candidates” – to be killed at his hand. Apparently not wishing to inflict pain, he takes advantage of people’s cybernetic implants and uses a device that induces pleasure rather than agony with each cut as he reduces his victims to ribbons.

He of course makes the mistake of crossing Dexter, selecting one of our hero’s acquaintances as one of his victims. This gets our detective’s attention and pursuit.

I did rather wish that this story had gone a little deeper into the mind of the serial killer. He’s selecting his victims and the fact that his victim is his choice seems to be important, but it’s never really made clear what criteria he’s using in making that choice. I think part of what makes a serial killer tale so interesting is that it takes us to scary, unfamiliar territory and helps us to get a bit of understanding into the mind of a predator. It’s conspicuously absent in Act of Will, and I felt like the overall novel fell flat because of it.

Another problem I had was just how easily the pieces seem to come together for Dexter when he’s solving a mystery. Part of the appeal of a mystery story for me is seeing how the detective’s mind works – especially if it’s in ingenious ways that I would not have considered. I like being awed.

But with Dexter, the pieces just seem to fall into his lap. He rarely has a dead end and his usual solution to a wrong path is to let it sit and go get a drink. I think this is as a result of two factors in the story. First, in a world where information is ubiquitous and searchable, there’s very little pounding the pavement. You just set the search parameters, let them run, and come back a few hours later to have it spit out answers. Useful, yes, but not it doesn’t do much for driving plot.

The second issue seems to be, unfortunately, also the result of the most interesting relationship in the series – the romantic connection between Annabelle and Dexter. Annabelle also happens to be a crack programmer and hacker, so whenever Dexter needs those skills, he just hands them off to Annabelle and, again, waits a while for the answers to come back.

I would say the final book of the series “The Beauty of Our Weapons” is also my favorite of the bunch because Dexter does solve at least part of the mystery with his own logic and cunning, apart from the help of anyone else involved. I also like that it has a more complex and multilayered solution and that there’s more of an epic, if somewhat faceless, foe by the end.

The basic premise of this one, by the way, is that someone is out there vandalizing parts of Marionette City, or M City, and in particular an online church which has created an interesting religious idea around the idea of virtual worlds and their relation to reality.

This book also, unfortunately, has Dex dropping his day job to work as a freelancer detective full-time, so I feel like it reduces some of that wish fulfillment I always enjoyed in the first two books to get away from the day job.

There’s probably a lot more I could write about these three books. There’s a lot more sci fi elements I haven’t even touched here, including food bricks, extended lifetimes, virtual substance consumption, and so on. But, well, I should be writing my own words before I get more behind on this crazy novel project. Give these novels a try, I do think you’ll enjoy them, and if you don’t I think you’ll realize it pretty quickly. A word to the young and the squeamish, however: These books do require a pretty mature understanding of identity of all sorts, but especially gender and sexual identity – though the descriptions were never particularly graphic. There’s also a fair share of violence, though again, most is left up to the reader to fill in the blanks. If these kind of subjects aren’t for you, then you might want to think about whether these books are for you, either.

I’ll post up links to the free audiobooks as well as Wehm’s site on my own site: cheapskatesreview.wordpress.com.

That’s all today for Cheapskates. Theme music is from “Re: Your Brains” by the great Jonathan Coulton under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial license. You can find Jonathan’s work at www.jonathancoulton.com. This is Adam, reminding you that free doesn’t have to mean cheap.

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