File Size: 437 KB
Print Length: 408 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Nick M Lloyd (October 14, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author Website: http://www.nickmlloyd.com/#landingpage
In 1967, Star Trek introduced the concept of The Prime Directive in "Return of the Archons," one of the series' best episodes. There's some dispute over whether STOS's most productive writer Gene L. Coon, or Theodore Sturgeon came up with the idea (my vote is for Coon), but the concept has proved to be one of Sci-Fi's most durable memes.
In the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive states that it is forbidden for members of the United Federation of Planets to contact or interfere with the development of "pre-warp" civilizations unless the needs of the plot or to whip up another morality episode requires it. No Star Trek series has failed to mention the PD or to drag elements of it into their episodes, much to the happiness of the different screenplay writers. It's a given, in Star Trek, that if you introduce light bulb technology to a species too soon, they'll promptly use the extra reading time to prematurely create fusion reactors and melt down their planet.
Screen play requirements aside, there is good reason to take elements of the PD seriously. In one of my favorite history treatises, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, author Jared Diamond describes in stunning detail why Pizaro was able to defeat on the battlefield Inca forces that outnumbered his own 300-800 to one.
Still, when you put the germs under the sociological microscope, the issue becomes a bit muddier. Suppose, through some twist of history, it had been the Aztecs who developed iron working technology and blue water sailing ahead of the Spaniards. Driven by distant tales of a people who worshiped a strange blood god, the "Chyrstos," and legends of fabulous temples filled with gold and treasure devoted to assuaging the wrath of this god and ensuring his continued beneficence, the Aztecs land on the west coast of Spain and march on Madrid. What would have been the likely outcome? We know what happened in the reverse case.
What probably would have happened was that 90% of the invaders would have died before they reached any of the treasure temples. You see, what actually destroyed the foundations of pre-Columbian civilization was disease and plague. In facing "Stone Age" Spaniards, the Aztecs may have been able to bring superior technology to the fight, but inferior immune systems (ask the Martians from War of the Worlds how this can put a crimp in your plans to conquer all mankind. (And yeah, yeah, I know, most diseases don't cross species boundaries. Except when they do. Ask the influenza virus and your local duck).
Europeans, because of their interaction with different groups and nations and their domestication of populations of fowl, cattle, swine, dogs, cats etc., all absent in North America, were epidemiological supermen in contrast to the Aztecs. If any of the invaders had survived to flee back to Tenochtitlan, they would have returned carrying catastrophe and despair. (And the more you know about the Aztecs, the less inclined you are to feel sorry for them. Especially after seeing those on-velvet paintings of Aztec warriors and princesses that are popular in Mexico City.They always leave out the heart-yanking bits.)
I've also always been skeptical of the absolute moral posturing of the PD. For instance, despite much hand wringing and revisionism about native American Indians and their regard for nature, the overwhelming evidence seems to be that when Chief Seattle's ancestors crossed over the land bridge from Siberia to the New World, their immediate reaction to the undiscovered continent's mega-fauna was "Let's Eat Em!" And for the next several thousand years, it was Giant Sloth ribs on the grill and McMastodon burgers to go.
As for the Incas, they thought transporting children up steep mountains for ritual slaughter was a splendid idea. A picture of one of the dead children is here. Looking at this, you wonder. Who held the high moral hand in Pizaro's and Atahualpa's deadly game?
This issue, and others, are examined in Emergence, a fascinating new novel by Nick Lloyd. Set in the present, we discover that a highly advanced alien species, the Gadium, a race of burly lizards, with the females weighing in at about twice their male counterparts, are sure it knows what's best for Earth. Official Gadium policy is to actively intervene, guide and manage (with the help of an occasional planetary orbital bombardment), all with the very best of intentions, the course of thousands of civilizations throughout space. As long a you do what you're told, life under Gadium suzerainty is pleasant, with advanced technology being provided to the compliant at regular intervals. Step out of line and you can consider the aforementioned orbital bombardment alternative.
The Gadium manage the process of planetary "guidance" via an elaborate systems of surveillance that infiltrates every aspect of our communications, computing, and transportation infrastructure as well as our bodies. In a switch from Star Trek's focus on technology, what the Gadium are looking for are "emergents," humans who exhibit advanced capabilities that enable them to manipulate matter at the quantum, probabilistic level.
Managing a galactic-wide bureaucracy is no trivial task. While the first book is not completely clear on the exact means by which the Gadium achieve interstellar flight, the means used require that a severe relativistic penalty be paid. Members of the Gaidium are used to being placed into stasis for thousands of years as they travel from point to point, putting quite a strain on family relations. When George Orwell was asked to shoot an elephant, at least he did it in real time. When a Gadium is told to bomb a planet, or dispose of someone who's behavior may disturb the emergence timetable of a civilization, his or her family may have been dead for centuries.
Despite its power and reach, all is not well in the Gadium imperium. A strong dissenting force opposes the Gadium policy of active galactic intervention and management. To my fascination, author Lloyd has created a society where this opposition is expressed via a quasi religious argument focusing on the moral choices a society makes based on its belief in Niels Bohr's Copenhagen vs. Hugh Everett's multiverse interpretation of the most famous experiment in modern physics, the double slit.
And yes, if you want fully enjoy and understand Emergence and have not read about the double slit experiment, you need to take some time to fully appreciate its implications for modern science. Don' t be intimidated; it's not that hard to understand and huge numbers of Sci-Fi plots and novels key off of double slit. Think of this as an opportunity to build your nerd cred.
Emergence's narrative is built around two tracks, (with a brief side story meant to illuminate the main plot). The first, and most interesting, follows the intrigues and maneuvering of the different Gadium factions as they struggle for political supremacy in an increasingly roiled and factional political milieu. The second follows a group of Earthlings as they begin to realize what is taking place on our planet and one of their members begins to exercise his growing mental capabilities. I found this track at times a bit of a drag on the flow of the story, and think the amount of plot and the cast of characters devoted to it could have been cut down. I would have spent more time on the big lizards out in space and to two members of the earthbound entourage, Jack Bullage, a man on the brink of emerging into a new kind of human and Louise Harding, who first begins to uncover the Gadium surveillance of our planet. But this is a minor criticism.
Emergence is a very intelligent and well-written book that fascinates on many levels. You can think of it as a critique of Star Trek's original Prime Directive that examines the outcome of this policy from both the viewpoint of the society impacted by the concept and the toll extracted by the power that upholds it. A social and religious discussion of the fundamental moral nature of our universe. A political fable arguing progressiveness vs. libertarianism.
Regardless of which aspect of the book you choose to focus on, you'll be rewarded. Take some time out during the Holiday season to read one of the most stimulating Sci-Fi books I've read in a long time.
As I've previously noted, I'll be appearing on January 15th on a Digital Book World panel in New York entitled "Authors Facing the Industry: Data and Insights From Authors on the Publishing Business, Author-Publisher Relations, and Marketing."
Click here or on the image to view the full DBW agenda. Time is 3:00 to 3:50PM. You can save 5% on your attendance with Speakers Code DBWSPEAKERS; make sure you register today.
(Take the Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey Today)
This survey is brief and focuses on indie interest in potentially promoting their books via the programs I describe in my previous article, Escape from Stalag $7: Why Amazon's Pricing Box Is Bad for Indies. Everyone who participates in the survey will receive a copy of the full summary results as well as relevant cross-tabulations. More information at the link above. Your participation and personal information will be kept completely confidential.)
Last week, I posted on this blog an article Escape from Stalag $7: Why Amazon's Pricing Box Is Bad for Indies. The reaction to it was much stronger than I'd anticipated. On the first day after it went up, about four thousand people read it, and I estimate that after a couple of weeks have gone by, the number will rise to well over 10K. Clearly, this is a topic of interest to independent/self-published writers. And certainly one we have a stake in.
Reactions were on the whole very favorable, though the acclaim was by no means universal. Over at The Digital Reader, the site owner wrote a typical AAAG article mixing misstatements with a plea to not think about the issues I raised. A brief example of Nate Hoffelder in action:
+++ one, that people in publishing should not discuss the topic du jour, namely a contract fight which could have had an impact on the entire industry. +++
This, of course, is pure AAAG. Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, and the rest of AAAG didn't discuss the topic, at least not on any level playing field. They advocated on behalf of a $75B coporation in its fight with a $15B group of large publishers, a battle in which indies had no stake.
+++ two, that indie authors had any obligation to explain Amazon's policies, +++
More AAAG. Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, Nate Hoffelder et al, who position themselves as indie advocates, certainly had plenty of time to discuss Amazon's position vs. the publishers. Why can't they divert some of that energy to discussing Amazon's policies as they impact indies? After all, aren't they supposed to be our advocates? I'm not impacted by Hachette's agency pricing model, but I am by Amazon grabbing 65% of my international sales revenue.
The rest of the article is typical AAAG dreary, and never even attempts to address the issues raised in Stalag $7. You can read it here.
Over at www.teleread.com, things were more favorable (though they had a gentleman show up and try to claim that Amazon pays you royalties! Where do these people come from)? Michael Perry of Inkling Books provided some interesting Amazon math here:
As he notes, Amazon’s ebook goal is quite obvious and has been for a long time. When you sell an ebook through them, at all price levels they want to take 65% for a mere credit card transaction and file download that costs them mere pennies. Then they want to give you only 35%. Can most authors and publishers make any sort of decent living on that? No, particularly since Amazon intends to do all it can to drive down that price from which your 35% comes.
To get a rough estimate what that would mean, for a $9.99 ebook, Amazon will make $7 less costs that are probably around a dime. And it’ll pay you but $3.50 for all your months of labor. It’s making roughly a 7000% profit, while you can’t afford the rent.
Read the rest here.
Finally, Bowerbird@bbirdman provided a very detailed critique of my article, agreeing with some points and disagreeing with others. For example:
relaxing the box too soon, however, risks the principle (held devoutly by reasonable people) that e-books are cheaper to reproduce and distribute than paper-books, so they _must_ cost less or someone be robbing people. that the major publishers refuse to acknowledge this fact is what has caused extensive damage to e-books thus far. corporate publishers were in love with their big margins, and they knew e-books would eventually threaten them.so they've been doing their best to delay that inevitability.
The "Bird" also provided some suggested workarounds for Stalag $7. I'm not sure they're all practical, but the entire post is well worth your reading.
Read her comments here
As a result of the strong response to the article and reading the many comments made about it, I realized there was one voice absent from the issue and that is yours. I'd like to know the indie community's opinion on the issues I discussed in Stalag $7. Are you interested in greater promotional opportunities on Amazon? Which ones are you most interested in? Do you think the Amazon $7 spread on your pricing is equitable? Do you think that if you were allowed to promote outside the box you could do successfully? Do you price outside the box and if no, why not?
These questions are covered in the survey. It's brief, and should take less than five minutes of your time to complete. Everyone who participates will receive a copy of the full summary results as well as relevant cross-tabulations. More information at the link above. Your participation will be kept completely confidential.
Take the Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey Today
My thanks in advance to all who chose to participate. I look forward to hearing what you think!
(Just a quick reminder that I'll be appearing on January 15th on a Digital Book World panel in New York entitled "Authors Facing the Industry: Data and Insights From Authors on the Publishing Business, Author-Publisher Relations, and Marketing."
Click here or on the image to view the full DBW agenda. Time is 3:00 to 3:50PM. You can save 5% on your attendance with Speakers Code DBWSPEAKERS; make sure you register today. The agenda is very broad and provides extensive coverage of issues of interest to both traditional and self-published authors. I intend to ask some Amazon people some hard questions if can get near an audience microphone.)
During the Hachette vs. Amazon struggle, I started to visit some of AAAG's (Aggregated Amazon Ankle Grabbers) most prominent websites and ask some hard questions. As I pointed out in my series on the book channels, independents had no stake in the outcome either way, but AAAG's intense interest in the business practices of the publishers inspired me to spend time investigating Amazon's pricing and operations model as it applied to indies. This was an issue in which I had a stake.
The results were not very informative. I did learn a few things about how AAAG operates. The Passive Voice (a lawyer guy) deals with hard questions on his blog by not allowing them to appear via comment blocking. Ditto Hugh Howey. Joe Konrath was a bit better, but is given to rewriting history. As he squirmed and evaded my straightforward questions about Amazon's pricing and marketing practices model, the inevitable hints about being banned were issued and the history rewrites began. For example, despite copious words to the contrary, he suddenly announced he'd been OK with agency pricing all the while, though he'd have to be suffering from the same brain dysfunction that Guy Pearce exhibited in Memento for anyone to believe that.
David Gaughran was the worst. In two posts on his blog, I asked my hard questions and received the usual blast of blather and evasion. For example, he called my observation that Amazon's pricing model as it applied to indies was a modified form of agency "nonsensical." Apparently, while holing in up in Prague, he'd failed to talk to Hugh Howey about this issue, who referred to the model as "Incentivized Agency." Perhaps it was the different adjectives that confused him.
When I stayed on topic, I was eventually "banned" from the blog after the inevitable, unctuous, weaselly speech about his undying devotion to freedom of speech. Take this to the bank. When a blog owner affirms their commitment to First Amendment principles, you're about to be censored. It's how hypocrisy works.
But after all the fireworks and fun, the one thing I never ever received from AAAG were coherent answers to my questions, particularly the most important one of all. And that is: Why has Amazon placed indies in a $7 dollar pricing box? Why does it grab 65% of your revenue (not counting its transmission fees, which it charges on every transfer and which vary based on book size) if you price under $2.99 and the same if you charge over $9.99? This is an issue of critical importance to indies because it is not financially feasible to hand over that level of margin to a reseller for a download service. (And if you think Amazon is paying you a "royalty" when you fork over that 65% operating expense, please stop reading now. You are incurably ignorant and I cannot help you.)
The most coherent answer I ever received from AAAG acolytes was "because they can." When I'd respond that Hachette was therefore perfectly justified in providing that same answer to Amazon over the issue of agency pricing, AAAG people became very unhappy, though never informative or more coherent.
I'll give one member of AAAG credit for integrity and that is Dan Meadows of The Watershed Chronicle. He runs what I regard as an AAAG-lite site, and most of his articles on H vs. AMZ focused on his amazement that Hachette actually insisted on negotiating in its best interests, not Amazon's.
But to his credit, I've never seen any comment blocking or banning threats. And when he asked in an article how writers had benefited from the whole contretemps, and I told him how, he was honest enough to acknowledge that indies had benefited from the fight as Apple's and the publishers' introduction of the proposed 70%/30% agency split had forced Amazon to compete and offer indies the same deal for books in their pricing box. Prior to that, Amazon charged indies 65 points to use their download service regardless of the book's price.
(What, you never read that fact on the AAAG sites? Hmmm. Fancy that. You indies can make it up to Apple and the publishers by saying a little prayer on their behalf to the God of Book Publishing tonight. But don't go overboard. The publishers still need to rethink their royalty structure in this new era.)
What's Wrong With Amazons's $7 Dollar Pricing Box?
Let's count the ways. Before I begin, let me stipulate for all of the following points the underlying issue is that Amazon's policies are depriving indies of revenue now and in the future.
What Is To Be Done?
How can all the above issues be quickly resolved? The answer is simplicity itself. Amazon should lift all restrictions on book pricing and establish a uniform service fee for the use of its downloading infrastructure. Within this framework, the authors will quickly learn what works for them and their books. Amazon's "assistance" is not needed.
To help speed up the implementation of this logical and intelligent course of action, it's time for Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, David Gaughran and the rest of AAAG to raise their palms off the pavement, rise up, and ask Amazon, for the benefit of indies, the industry, and ultimately Amazon itself, to burn the price box. It's one way they can atone for the atrocious misreporting they provided us during the Hachette vs. Amazon battle. And in the end, AAAG's bottom lines and book sales will benefit as well.
In the last article of this series, I continue my look at how the publishers can push back against Amazon. If you've not been following this series, I urge you to read it from the beginning as it provides you with a concise but accurate explanation of the fundamentals of distribution in the book ( (and other) channels.
While the publishers have their work cut out for them, there are significant things they can do to remain a force in the industry. The most important factor working in their favor is that they are still the primary managers of content. As a channel entity, Amazon's core expertise is not in producing things, but in selling them. As a distributor/reseller, Amazon wants to sell products that are uniform in structure and whose sales easily scale if/when they catch the public's fancy.
Books meet the above criteria only partially. While both printed and E-books scale easily in terms of sales, their creation is often idiosyncratic and halting. Every book ever written or published by definition is unique. Books that aren't are called "copyright infringements."
A practical example of this is a Sci-Fi series by David Gerrold (famous for his "The Trouble with Tribbles" screenplay for the original Star Trek). I started reading in 1984 his series called the "War Against the Chtorr." The last book in the run was published in 1992 (A Season for Slaughter) and three more have been promised since then. I'm not holding my breath for the next release, don't think he'll ever finish up the tale, and feel a bit cheated.
The problem with a channel attempting to also become a content provider is evident in the struggles Amazon has had in establishing its house imprints. (Click Here for More Info.) Currently, the paper channel won't sell Amazon's house books because they conflict with the interests of the book channel (outside of Amazon). And the thought of dealing with hordes of cranky, emotional authors probably makes the teeth of Amazon's internal management ache. And the whole Hachette dust up may have have excited some bright-eyed, long-nosed legal beagle at the DOJ to start sniffing through the case archives and read up on the fed's successful monopsony case against the film studios decades ago. That thought gives Amazon's attorney the hives.
In high tech, there are examples of suppliers successfully integrating their operations with their channels. Apple is the most notable case. In the late 90s, Apple pulled most of its computer products out of the stores, shut down its OEM and licensing operations, and opened its own retail chain. But Apple is the exception that proves the rule. Apple closely controls its product production scheduling and planning. Apple sells its most popular products via a strict agency pricing regimen. Apple has always attempted to integrate its hardware and software technologies into unified products. And Apple is slowly edging away from the PC market as its focus turns increasingly to smartphones, tablets, and the upcoming new generation of flexible devices.
This is in sharp contrast to Microsoft, which has always relied on channels and third parties to grow and whose attempt to build a retail channel has been far less successful than Apple's.
A final point to keep in mind is that in most markets, channels do not sell. Channels exist to service demand. In software, company after company made the mistake of thinking that because a distributor had ordered X number of boxes of product into their warehouse they had sold something. They were always wrong. It was always the responsibility of the software publisher to create product demand and pull products out of warehouses. In E-books, nothing has changed except the cost of warehousing and shipping has dropped to near zero. Plow those savings back into your marketing.
A Change of Mindset Would Do You Good
Publishers must rethink their relationships with the author community and give up their traditional gatekeeper mentality while repositioning themselves as author facilitators and as writing coaches. The Amazon-Hachette battle uncovered the fact that there was a great deal of pent up resentment towards publishers. Many writers perceive them as an unfriendly blocking force that takes away opportunity from people who are certain they have a book or books in them. Publishers need to understand this and proactively reach out to this community and to the future revenue and profits they represent.
Gatekeeping makes no sense in the age of the electronic shelf. There is no limit to the amount of inventory the system can carry. There is no genre or market segment that cannot be served by the electronic shelf. There are no returns and shipping issues. The long tail is eternal.
In this milieu, rethink publishing as an analog to the baseball system, where different levels of talent are segmented into different circles and encouraged to improve their skills until they’re ready for the big leagues. With this model in mind, start to learn how to market into niches and genres, and build new imprints and product lines to service them. Leverage community to help manage these minor leagues and promote talent to the first rank. Both authors and publisher will benefit. This model also has the benefit of helping publishers break away from the blockbuster mentality that dominates their thinking. You may never find another World War Z zombie apocalypse best seller, but lots of people love the genre and you can probably make money by serving up a steady stream of well-written E-titles to people who like to settle down to a quiet afternoon reading about the rotting undead and mall massacres.
I also strongly recommend publishers turn away from the types of services packages offered by such groups as Author Solutions. They have been tainted by their use of tactics traditionally associated with exploitative "vanity press" businesses and are a growing sore on your business.
Mentor the Market and the Next Generation
One of the most powerful arrows in the publisher's quiver is their relationship with existing,well-known authors. For example, in this blog post, Hugh Howey is verklempt over a few nice words of affirmation from Stephen King (yes, that S. King) towards Wool. I find this a bit ironic as Stephen King was one of the "one percent" who signed that awful, awful, awful petition from Authors United criticizing brave, plucky, $75B Amazon for screwing around with the Hachette authors in its search for more margins on books and MDF (expenses ultimately paid for by the writers). Heck, King's wife signed the damn thing. How awful is that? But, nice words from the master of horror and suspense are very bankable and I guess all is forgiven from the self-publishing pioneer who introduced the concept of "incentivized agency" and author punishment if you want to price your book above $9.99 on Amazon.
My suggestion is that if Stephen King's ready to make Hugh Howey's day, perhaps he and his compatriots might want to help make some self-published authors' days as well? How about a reach out program sponsored by the publishers that encourages their authors to:
There are more ideas you can develop along these lines, but you get the idea.
Explore the New Venues Open to You
In the previous article I mentioned that paper is a trap for publishers. I stand by that statement, but I'm not only talking about the inevitable demise of print at the hands of digital. I'm talking about missing and experimenting with new venues and ways to sell books while focusing too deeply on managing a legacy business model (which the major publisher do need to do).
Here's an example of what I mean. I went to see Edge of Tomorrow this summer and loved it. The movie is based on a well-written manga, All You Need is Kill. I wondered on Mke Shatzkin's blog the other day why you shouldn't offer the manga, or perhaps a novelization of the book, to people who went to see the movie. I call this "Point of Event" distribution. Walk in the theater, download the publication to your smartphone and read the book after seeing the movie. This adds more value to your movie ticket and potentially offers new marketing awareness for both the book and the movie derivative. Or perhaps when you visit William Sonoma, offer a copy of a hot new recipe tome when you buy that latest, can't resist rubbing sauce? How about an art book during a major touring exhibit at your local museum?
These are just some ideas. There are more opportunities out there. But, of course, this concept can only be executed if you're thinking digitally. Won't work with paper. Too much risk.
Provide Your Own Service Layers to the Authors and Writers
In the last article in this series, I described the various service layers Amazon is controlling within the world of E-books. Experts such as Mike Shatzkin think it's beyond the grasp of the publishers to create a competing E-commerce platform for their own use a la the airline industry's SABRE system and he's probably right. But there are services the publishers can provide to existing and aspiring authors. These include:
I'm not saying that publishers shouldn't charge for the above services where appropriate, but pricing should be reasonable and not predatory. Publishers should remember that the above ideas and suggestions will ultimately provide them with far more information about their readers, writers, and markets than they currently possess and help them compete against the Amazon data juggernaut.
This brings this series to an end. My next article will take a closer look at the Amazon $7 roach motel and why's it's bad for indies. After that, I'm going to post up an article entitled "What Is Your Time Worth," along with a spreadsheet, that helps you compare the value of your time against the sales needed to ensure you don't end up working at Home Depot during the holiday season to make ends meet.
Kali - Destroyer of Worlds by Mike Kuykendall
File Size: 1084 KB
Print Length: 386 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1501030469
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author's website: http://mike-kuykendall.blogspot.com
Several years ago I read an article in, as I recall, the New Yorker about the problem of suicides at San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. I've sailed under the bridge once or twice and have driven across it many times. The road surface of the Golden Gate is about 200 feet above the bay, a little more than two thirds of a football field. From the water, the bridge certainly looks high, but to a New Yorker, not that high.
The Golden Gate is the second most popular suicide spot in the world, ranking only behind China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. Third place is held by Japan's Aokigahara Forest. Since the bridge was finished in 1937, an estimated 1600 people have leaped to their death from the span. The precise number will never be known because many people are not spotted jumping and/or never recovered after they impact with the bay. If you are one of the very few who survive the fall, you're going to be hurt, the water is cold, the tides swift, and fish have to eat too.
The physics of the jump are grim. It will take you about four seconds to reach the water and you'll hit it at a speed of approximately 75 mph ( 120 km/h), then decelerate to zero in a fraction of a second. Your organs are going to want to keep going and thus your heart, lungs, spleen, etc will often rupture or tear free of your interior. Multiple bone fractures are a given. Most people die almost immediately, but about 5% of jumpers don't, drowning in the cold water or thrashing about as they bleed internally to death.
The article was mordant but interesting reading, but the part I found most compelling was the observation of a man who was one of the 34 people who are documented to have jumped and survived. He told the writer of the article that as he lept off the side of the bridge and the plunge became irrevocable, he realized nothing in his life was so bad as to justify the action he'd just taken.
Kali - Destroyer of Worlds, begins at just such a moment. The chief protagonist, 12 year old Rebecca Wilder (no, this is not a YA title), has walked almost an hour into the woods intent on cutting her wrists open and ending her life. Parentless, a temporary resident in a series of foster homes, and deeply disturbed, Rebecca succeeds in opening an artery and begins to bleed to death. Like the Golden Gate jumper, the hard reality of death makes her rethink her decision. Unlike the jumper, she's in a position to change the trajectory of her choice and scrambles to stop the flow of her life's blood.
As she does, all hell breaks loose.
Hell, in Destroyer of Worlds, are two nearby but undetected neutron stars, each approximately 13 km in diameter, that collide, releasing blasts of gamma, X-Rray and microwave radiation from each body's pole. A neutron star is what's left over when a star about two times our Sun's mass comes to the end of its life cycle and ejects its outer layers. (Ten times our mass and you end up with a blackhole. What's created by stars in between that range is unknown, but I bet there's a good Scif-Fi yarn in there somewhere.)
The resultant beams of pure destruction intersect with Earth in the vicinity of northern Virginia, incinerating Washington, DC and hundreds of miles of the eastern US. A follow up blast of microwaves then slowly roasts many of the exposed survivors, leaving the US in ruins and the rest of the world in chaos.
This vision of the apocalypse is not pure speculation. Over the years, several scientists have theorized that some of the mass extinctions that have taken place in prehistory were caused by events of this type. And you'll be happy to know that there are detectable neutron binary systems spinning in our section of the galaxy, with the closest estimated to be about 1,500 light years away. If/when the two stars finally collide, they could be trouble. (I know I've given some of you something new to worry about, but, after all, you don't read a book such as Kali if you think the universe is all lollipops and fluffy bunnies.) And I thank God and Mike that I didn't have to read more about global warming and the UN.
Paradoxically, the arrival of Armageddon on Earth saves Rebecca's life. Positioned literally in the eye of the radioactive storm, she survives as everything around her dies. The abrupt decapitation of a unfortunate bicyclist by a flying chunk of doomed airliner enables her to crudely stitch her mutilated wrist back together using a bike spoke as a makeshift needle and bit of yarn from her frayed sweater as thread. (One of many "makes you wince" moments you'll experience in Destroyer of Worlds.)
As the maelstrom continues to rage around her, Rebecca goes insane and is reborn as Kali, the Indian goddess or aspect of death, time and change. The exact details of this transformation are left ambiguous in the novel. Has Rebecca actually been possessed, or is her new persona simply a manifestation of mental illness, possibly schizophrenia? It is left to the reader to decide. But regardless, as Kali makes her way through the post-apocalyptic landscape, it quickly becomes apparent that ending up on her bad side is a ticket out of this plane of existence.
There are other survivors of the disaster whose fates we follow. A group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station who realize they are doomed but decide to remotely attempt to remove the fingers of America's surviving military commanders off their nuclear triggers. The first Hindu American sub commander (a nice juxtaposition with our eponymous heroine) who slaughters his own crew and waits alone beneath the waves in an Ohio-class boomer for the orders that will enable him to unleash his ICBM's against the enemy, any enemy. A drunk who finds himself transformed into a local sherrif caring for a group of dazed survivors. The inevitable religious fanatic.
One character's fate in particular stands out in the novel. It is Abe Renson, a cancer-riddled dump truck operator who is caught in the irradiation zone while eating lunch and paralyzed in place. Over the course of several days, Abe slowly transforms into...something while feeling every moment of the process. It's a powerful scene that's compelling but painful to read. A literary equivalent to a scene in one of those Saw movies where someone gets to watch a needle sloowwlly approach their eyeball or is required to partially dismember themselves to escape a trap.
And obviously, when the transformation is over, Abe rises to play his part in the fun and ruin taking place outside the diner.
I'm not going to reveal any spoilers in Kali - Destroyer of Worlds, but I will say the book ends on a note of hopefulness (and many less characters than when it started). I found Kuykendall's writing style compelling. After a while, you feel like you're living the story, not reading it. But if you like to start the day humming a tune from Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music, this is not the book for you. Unless you like to carry a chainsaw while singing a few lines of "The Hills Are Alive."
Kali - Destroyer of Worlds is a gruesome, grim, well-written apocalyptic tale that bores a bit into your soul. Professionally edited and written. Not exactly good fun but more like a roller coaster ride through Hell. If this genre is your thing, buy it.
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Scifi/-fantasy only at this time. Make sure it's been professionally copyedited. If it's not, I'll know in about five pages and will reject the book. I don't mean to be a hump about it, but approximately 40% to 50% of the books I've received have had far too many typos, comma splices, misuse of dependent clauses, etc. (No, it doesn't have to be perfect. Most books have a few typos, including ones coming out of "traditional" publishing.) Your book cannot succeed in the market with such flaws and it's not fair to ask reviewers to read it in such a state.
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