Fantasy & Sci-Fi Network Christmas Sale

This weekend, December 17th and 18th, the Fantasy & Sci-Fi Network is hosting their annual Christmas Sale!

All weekend, authors of fantasy and science fiction novels, novellas, and short stories will be having awesome deals. Books will be either discounted or free, and there will also be giveaways and chances to talk with the authors! The sales will be posted in the Facebook event and on the Fantasy & Sci-Fi Network website. Grigory’s Gadget is on sale for $0.99 until the end of the month on Amazon and Smashwords!

I’ll be hosting the event on Sunday December 18th from 12 to 1 pm EST. You’ll be able to find me on the Facebook event page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #FSFNet. Feel free to ask me any questions about Grigory’s Gadget, writing, reading, or anything else! I have some questions/prompts ready to go to get the conversation rolling, but feel free to chime in with whatever topic you want!

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

I recently finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir on my brand-new Kindle (side note: I think I’ve been converted to eBooks…I never thought this would happen…but it’s just. so. CONVENIENT!) and long story short, I loved it!

I became interested in this book 1) because I like science fiction but especially 2) because it’s a self-published novel that BLEW UP in popularity and had a successful, popular movie adaptation (I haven’t seen the movie yet, but will watch it soon now that I’ve read the book). As a self-published author, this book represents a dream-come-true.

The book starts off with a team of astronauts on Mars who get caught in a sandstorm. The storm is so bad that they have to abort their mission and fly home only days (well, sols, in this case) after getting to the red planet. In all the chaos, astronaut Mark Watney is badly injured and lost in the storm, presumed dead and left behind as the other astronauts fly away. But, of course, he’s not dead. And now he has to figure out not only how to survive but how to get home.

This book is problem-solving session after problem-solving session, and it made my little engineer heart happy. If you’re a fan of the Apollo 13 movie (which obviously is based on a true story, not science fiction) imagine that but 1000x more complicated. The book is a roller coaster ride of “Oh, god, can’t Mark catch a break?” and “Oh yeah! Mark figured it out!” with a few “Oh no, Mark did NOT figure that one out!” thrown in for good measure.

My main criticism for the book is that the handful of chapters that are written in 3rd person (most of the book is in the form of daily logs from Mark) felt somewhat unfinished. They felt a little bare-boned (He said this then did that). At times it took away some of the heart of the story, as the only character that was really characterized effectively was Mark. But, we do spend the most time with Mark and he is the focal point of the story.

My only other criticism of this book is the ending. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending. On the one hand, it did make sense to end where it did, but my first reaction when I got to the last page was “Oh, that’s it?”.

Overall, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars, and would recommend to anyone who enjoys problem-solving!

Struggling With Fantasy Names

Genres like Fantasy and Science Fiction are notorious for having unusual names. Character and place names help set the tone and the setting of a story. The Lord of the Rings would read a little differently if it told a tale about Bob and Rick rather than Frodo and Samwise.

So we speculative fiction authors do (and should, in my opinion) use or create names the readers may not hear in their every day lives. But how do you know if a fantasy name is too complicated?

I generally don’t struggle with fantasy names, and as a result have a hard time figuring out when a name might be difficult for a reader. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Watervliet (pronounced WAH-ter-vuh-LEET) in New York, near other places with Dutch and Haudenosaunee names like Rensselaer (depending on who you ask, pronounced either RENS-slur or REN-suh-LEER), Schenectady (ska-NEK-tah-dee), and Niskayuna (NIH-skah-YOO-nah); or perhaps it’s because throughout my life I’ve known people with non-Western names.

So, how can a writer determine if a reader will be able (or at least willing to try) to pronounce a character or place name? One place to start is to use (or create) names that follow the conventions of the language you’re writing in. If that language is English, for example, readers may have trouble with Gaelic names. While both languages technically use the same alphabet, they read letters and letter combinations very differently. Therefore, an English-speaking reader may see the name Caoimhe and try to pronounce it as “Cow-EE-meh” or some variant, when the actual pronunciation is “KWEE-vah”.

Beta readers are a valuable resource for this issue as well. If your betas all come back complaining about the same name, it may be worth reexamining that name to see if it could or should be tweaked.

In my Gaslight Frontier Series, I’ve given my characters Russian or other Slavic names, and based place names on Russian words. Russian uses a different alphabet than English, so some trouble lies with transliteration. For example, the name Alexi could also be written as Alexei, Aleksi, Aleksei, etc. I chose to spell it as Alexi because it was the simplest transliteration.

Some names, though, still give some of my readers trouble. As the author, you have to decide if that will be something you accept or something you change. Only you can make that final determination.