Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut's best known work is part war memoir, part dark comedy, and part science fiction.  None of those genres make the book what it is.  Stellar writing, satire, and a voice like no other are what make this book one of the finest pieces of literature ever to be penned, and Vonnegut one of the finest novelists to put pen to paper.

The books' plot is jangled and fragmented, and follows a quite nonlinear narrative.  The main character, Billy Pilgrim, jumps around from one point in his life to the next, without real pattern or reason.  He has become "unstuck in time".  He's quite fatalistic, resigned to his fate, and simply along for the ride much of the time.  He is so not because of any negativity, but because he's seen his death and he knows why it happens.  There is nothing he can do to prevent it and he knows this.

We follow him as he jumps between life on the planet Tralfamadore (where he was kidnapped by aliens, thus unsticking him in time), to Dresden, Germany during World War II, to his life before the war and after it with his wife and son.  The jumps are at random, but allow him to have a realistic view on his own life and death without becoming pessimistic.

The plot is merely secondary to the reading experience, though.  What shines through is Vonnegut's ability to tell a story.  I think one of the paragraphs that shows that ability the most is how he describes a minor character near the end of the book.  He doesn't write a word about how she looks, but he doesn't need to.  When he writes that she is "a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies," the image in the reader's mind is crystal clear.  He has no need to enhance an image of her using any physical descriptions because she is already fully formed in the reader's mind.  With a single sentence, he accomplishes what most authors need several paragraphs to do.

And this is common throughout the book.  Many times he never really says what is going on directly, but rather talks about how a character relates to it.  And every time, the reader gets a clear vision of what is going on, without actually reading it.

The book has an intimate feel to it, as though Vonnegut is sharing an inside secret with only a single reader.  At several points in the book, he breaks the fourth wall and explains that he was there when a particular thing happened, inviting us to believe the whole as recounted memoir, and not just scattered incidents serving as inspiration for a work of fiction.  It makes it that much more believable, even when he explains that the alien Tralfamadorians can see in four dimensions, and have already seen every instant of history, past and future.

It's an interesting look at a wide array of colorful, interesting characters, more a study on human nature and personal interactions than classic story line.  It's a look into behaviors, and into our very souls.  We find ourselves drawn into the story not only for the plot and characters, but the way Vonnegut puts words together. All authors have the same words to use.  Kurt Vonnegut was better than most at arranging them in a pleasing manner.

So it goes.

It's available on Amazon, should you somehow not have it in your collection.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Forgot my Phone

It's a pretty common phrase nowadays: "I forgot my phone."  Hear it quite often, as a matter of fact.  Everyone has cellphones, everyone's life is practically tied to them, and they're little, often misplaced, items.  Along with that phrase, you'll also hear ones like "my phone died," or even "I lost my phone."  Happens all the time.

The technology is on the way to make those phrases obsolete, to throw them right in with "I would have called, but I didn't have a quarter," "I couldn't get a hold of you because your phone was busy," "I couldn't find a pay phone," and "I can't find the number because I don't have a phone book."

Pictured below, what we use today to write messages, take pictures, watch videos, read books, buy items, pay bills, retrieve information, and play games.  Among other things, such as actually talking to someone located elsewhere.

Ramsbury: telephone box, © Chris Downer

I think the end result will be a merging of several technologies, the first of which is "wearable, depth-sensing perception."  We're also seeing more of these sorts of advances with contact lenses supporting alternate reality.  Soon the two will merge, creating the first non-device-centric communication ability.

The next data point in this progression is implantation.  It's bound to happen.  We're seeing how this can be integrated with surgically implanted intraocular lenses.  Now imagine this, but fused with cellular phone, Internet, and GPS technology.  You'd quite literally have the virtual world available in front of you at all times.  Your phone would be with you at all times, because it would be a part of you, accessible with the touch of an imaginary button.

Of course, not everyone likes that.  Many would love to be able to escape from connection, to disappear into the woods on an extended camping trip, or go on vacation, without the need for a constant link to home, work, friends, or family.  Like it or not, we're connected, and that connection will only get stronger.

It's the future of communications, the forefront of the virtual world.  The only question is, how soon will it get here?  How soon will that connection fuse with us, allowing us to skip the devices and connect on our own?  Do we even want that?  And if we don't, how long will it be before we do want it?

I'd guess not long at all.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Great Amazon KDP Select Experiment

I'm doing a bit of an experiment.  What's new, really?  Separate Worlds has always been a bit of experimental fun.  It's told from two perspectives, it's a novella in a world of novels, and I threw it to the wolves in an attempt to learn the brave new world of self-publishing.  In that regard, I already consider it a success.  It's hardly a bestseller, hardly selling well at all.  After all, exposure is everything; just ask Snooki.  At least my book's coherent.  But I feel I learned more than if I'd taken the money it cost to publish it and spent it on a college course on self-publication.

And it's still a learning experience, still teaching me things about the business that I'll use, no matter if I self-publish again or not.  There are so many things to be learned about this business, and pecking out words in solitary hardly scratches the surface.

Marketing is one aspect many authors lack experience and expertise in.  It's not their forté; slinging words onto the page and conjuring images in readers' minds are.  But in spite of that - and more and more in today's publishing age - they have to learn it.

And that's where programs like Amazon's KDP Select come in.  Foremost, it's a marketing ploy by Amazon, a way to gather more attention to their products and sell them.  If you're an author, with books available for purchase online, that means it's your marketing ploy as well.

Essentially, when an author enrolls a book in the program, they allow Amazon to lend it to Amazon Prime members for free, while making a small percentage of the monthly fund allocated for it.  Using numbers from their FAQ page - not mine; I wish I had such numbers - we see that:

"... if the monthly fund amount is $500,000, the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 300,000, and if your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 0.5% (1,500/300,000 = 0.5%), or $2,500 for that month."

Now, it would be fantastic, downright amazing to reach numbers even close to that, but I'm going to assume the book won't be nearly that popular.  Its success is bound by the number of people who see it and choose to borrow it, and there we come back to that pesky exposure thing.  It will be an interesting experiment, though, and at worst it will offer my book for free to a large number of readers, who will hopefully find a great little story, a great escape from this world through a portal into another, at least for a while.

It's exclusively on Amazon for the duration of this program, as exclusivity to the Kindle is one of the stipulations of the program.  Enjoy, spread the word, share it with friends.  In fact, please consider writing a review on it. You can also spread the word by tweeting or sharing the following blurb:

Separate Worlds, by Jonathan Dalar. When worlds collide, perspective can mean the difference between life and death:

Hopefully I'll have some positive results to pass along in a few months.