Category Archives: Books + Publishing

Publishing news and opinion, series(ous) consideration of books.

Review: Galaxy Quest – The Journey Continues

I’m back from vacation and that means I read a lot of comic books. Here’s a review of one of them.

Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues

GalaxyQuest

Writer – Erik Burnham, Artists – Nacho Arranz, Roger Robinson

I was pretty excited when I heard this series was coming out, and doubly so when it was available on NetGalley. Galaxy Quest is one my favorite camp movies and we just recently watched it after the passing of Alan Rickman (probably not the most fitting tribute but to each his own). So perhaps my disappointment with this comic series is due to high expectations, but I’ll leave that for you to judge.

The comic series picks up several years after the events of the movie. The cast is still together and are doing the Con circuit in anticipation of the third season of the new show. The security guy is contemplating a spin off series, a move that is annoying some of the main cast, blah blah TV machinations.

The main story involves the consequences of using the Omega 13 in the movie. An alien race that managed to lead a successful revolt against a technocratic oppressive government, fails when the timeline is reset and the government is able to repel the rebellion. Members of the rebellion enlist the Galaxy Quest crew (plus the Apple commercial kid) to take down a super-weapon and correct the mistake they caused. I think this was an interesting set up premise, that then failed in execution.

This comic had several execution problems starting with a Deus Ex Machina ending. Apparently humans are immune to the death ray thingy for “reasons” and so are able to destroy it without a hitch (spoiler?). The B-plot of aliens posing as the main crew at the cons is underdeveloped and could have been a real source of humor which the comic largely lacked. Also, the lack of likeness rights made it difficult to tell characters apart (particularly when not in their makeup). And Burnham’s writing of Rickman in particular reduced that character to griping the entire time. Perhaps in the hands of Rickman the lines would have come across better, but he didn’t seem quite as pouty in the movie, at least to me.

The setup at the end for “continuing adventures” borrows the plotline from the beginning of the four issue arc, and seems like a rushed attempt to make this a continuing series, which I doubt it will be. BTW, the transporter body switching gag was not as funny as they’d hoped it was. Futurama’s return did a similar episode to much better effect (particularly Scruffy’s appearance at the end). The comic tried to do some callbacks (fan-service) to the movie, but these came across just as references and not as actual humor.

IDW’s doing a run of “nostalgia comics” from Ghostbusters, to Back to the Future, and Galaxy Quest, to varying effect. Of those three, I’d say this was the worst of the lot.

(2.5 Stars | I’ll give it a three on NetGalley, but you’re better off just re-watching the movie)

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Review: Rot & Ruin – Warrior Smart

Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart

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Writer – Jonathan Maberry, Artists – Alex Ronald & Tony Vargas

Continuing the adventures of the apparently popular book series, Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart finds a band of teenagers wandering the zombie infested countryside searching for a jet they may have seen (and that never comes up again) only to soon find themselves trapped on a farm with crazy breeders.

Let me back up a bit.

What looks interesting and cool about this series is the kid with the sword. We get the idea that this is going to be kind of a wandering samurai kind of book set in a zombie apocalypse (zombies here are called “rotters”). The other teenagers have some “backstory” to explain the various types: the city kid, the feral jungle girl, the crazy redhead, and the aforementioned sword wielding kid dealing with the loss of his brother.

This whole volume feels like it could have been an episode of The Walking Dead, and not in a good way. It is humorless, and adds little to the zombie canon (we still have to make ourselves smell bad and move slow to trick the zombies). I did like the idea of labyrinths and written instructions as a way to weed out zombies, and the idea that zombies only really move when there are brains to eat, but I suspect these aren’t really new ideas, just things I hadn’t encountered before.

But my biggest complaint is how much the story telegraphs a “shocking” plot-point, and then spends the rest of the volume dwelling on that point.

Our (heroes?) are saved by a pregnant young girl and are taken to a farm with a lot of strapping young men, no women in sight except for some in their 50’s, and very little visible animal life, including the mysterious “cows.” If you’ve been reading this genre for more than 10 minutes you know that the “cows” (*Spoiler alert I guess*) are going to be the pregnant young women, all locked in a barn, and sure enough we readers find this out maybe 10 pages later. Our main characters don’t realize it until a full chapter later, to the point that I thought the big reveal was going to be some other even more horrible thing these farmers were doing (not to say that the cow thing isn’t horrible, because it is).

What I object to most about the “cows” is that it is only in this story for shock value. There are a lot of interesting motivations to explore here, maybe even some parallels to human trafficking, but the writer treats the women like the cattle the farmers believe them to be. We get no personal narratives, no women making this choice for themselves, they’re just brainwashed and don’t want to leave. This isn’t what we thought this story would be about. Weren’t we going after some jet or something?

There are long drawn out and implausible fights. People fight, get captured, ramble a bit, escape, fight, get captured, and finally escape again. And the conclusion is that kids aren’t monsters I guess because they chose not to kill one guy, even though they killed many other people in trying to escape, and pretty much left the farm at the mercy of the rotters.

*Blecch*

You know what would be cool? Take the classic manga Rurouni Kenshin, steeped in Meiji era politics, and just add zombies. That would be the zombie samurai epic we deserve. That would add a whole new dimension to the whole “I’m not going to kill anybody” arc of Kenshin. Would Kenshin kill Zombies? Nobuhiro Watsuki, I’m looking at you.

Orororo.

(2 Stars | Even for zombie faire this was terrible)

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Making an Adult Coloring Book: Kitchen Shelves

A number of the images in my fractal adult coloring book came from looking at objects around me. This is a set of shelves in my parent’s kitchen:

KitchenShelves

Understanding and creating new fractals means breaking shapes down to their most essential features. For L-Systems, which make up the majority of the images in my book, we call these essential features the axiom, or base image. The shelves are made up of five sections, a larger center section, and four small squares connected on each side. You might think the most essential feature is the whole shelf, but actually the most basic shape is a single square:

ShelvingKitchenL1

For simplicity, I made the shelves equal on all sides, rather than using rectangles of different widths, but the basic principle is the same. The above square is the axiom of our L-System. With each iteration (stage), we add four squares to each side of the square(s) from the previous stage. If we add a smaller square to each side of this base image, we get something resembling the kitchen shelves:

ShelvingKitchenL2

Not a bad model, but not very interesting to color yet. So let’s add four new smaller squares to each side of the four squares we added:

ShelvingKitchenL3

This is getting better. Already we can see how adding smaller squares creates interesting overlapping sections. At this stage we added 16 new squares, so let’s add 64 new squares to the next level (four on each side of the 16 squares we added):

ShelvingKitchenL4

And so on:

ShelvingKitchenL5

The level of intricacy used for a final image has to balance the expected medium (colored pencils and gel pens) with the ability to create many different types of patterns. The above stage is the one used in the book, but when using a computer to color, we can go to even higher levels of detail:

021_Little Boxes (1)

The above image was colored by my wife, who consulted with me on the best images to select for the book, and suggested their level of difficulty.

Creating new fractals is about seeing the potential for art all around you, even in the most basic and mundane parts of our lives. Simple patterns can be expanded into something intricate and beautiful. And deciding how to color these new patterns adds an even greater level of artistic expression. A simple object can be transformed into a universe of variations. That’s what I enjoy most about creating the coloring book, seeing how others take a pattern and make it their own.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn more about fractals, check out my Adult Coloring Book: Fractals available on Amazon.

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How long does it take you to buy a book?

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This will come as a surprise to exactly no one but I have a big fractal book wish list. I’ve actually become kind of obsessive about it since I’ve been focusing more on a specialized area of fractals, while still considering options for broader fractal surveys.

Back when I was writing A Programmer’s Approach, my method for selecting books was simple. Search “fractal” in Amazon. Buy any book that looked vaguely helpful and that cost $0.01 (+ $3.99 shipping). Of course even then there were special books that I would pay a little extra for, but overall I was looking for a broad survey of authors and perspectives.

Considering that I have a full bookshelf now of fractal books, and that the bookshelf has started to bleed over onto my desk, I do not need more general books.

But, and again this might surprise you, specialized books are expensive. A lot of the better fractal books fall into one of two categories: college textbook or obscure lecture notes from a math conference. In college spending $120 on a textbook was a necessary evil. In later life, especially one that expects it to take a while to make $120 from a fractal book, that price is a little steep.

I’ve started to camp on books, throwing their Amazon listing into a wishlist called the “buying queue” and I’ve noticed something weird. Usually, even an expensive book, will have two sellers who have the lowest price. These two prices will leapfrog each other down by a few pennies several times a day. It can sometimes take weeks of waiting, but you can knock a couple of bucks off the book’s price if you wait long enough.

However, if you wait too long and somebody snatches one cheap copy up, the other cheap copy shoots up in price to match the second lowest price, and they fight it out again. I’ve observed this behavior on comic books, DVD’s, regular books, etc. I’m pretty sure it must be a setting in the Amazon Marketplace, coupled with an algorithm. Either that, or all marketplace sellers are exhibiting the same behavior.

With the buying queue, a good five minute segment of my day is looking at a book, gleaning as much information as I can from the preview or the reviews, and deciding if this is the day I will buy it, or if it’s the day I decide to take it off my list entirely, or bump it down to a secondary wish list I check less often. I’ve had books I’ve debated over for months, doing the online equivalent of picking it up, flipping through the pages, and putting it back down again.

With reference materials in particular I want as little overlap as possible, while still getting something that builds on other material I have. I prefer electronic books just because I will read them more often, but still acknowledge that there’s nothing like flipping through a real book. I have limited shelf space, but I’m always willing to clear away the chaff for something great. And, probably most difficult, all of these books aren’t popular, so there’s virtually no reviews or sales rank to give me a sense of whether it is actually good. Occasionally I can find an academic review if I do some digging, but that only sometimes helps.

Do you think it’s too late to start a Kickstarter campaign so I can buy more books. I’d do it for my Star Trek comics as well, but I have a hard enough time convincing others that reading comic books is “research.”

Ah well. Maybe I’ll go to an actual bookshop this weekend and stare at those books for a while. Happy Friday all.

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Your Kindle Doesn’t Know How Much You Read

I write mysteries, and I know there are some people out there who like to skip to the end before they read the rest of the book. I’m not a big pain about spoilers, but this one has never made any sense to me. I’ve heard that for some people it eases the tension, or gives you an idea if you’ll like how the book turns out before reading the whole thing, but part of being a mystery writer is trying to build tension and interest, not reduce it.

SkipToTheEnd

But if my book were on Kindle Unlimited, then those people who skipped to the end would be making me more money.

So here’s what happened.

Last summer Kindle Unlimited changed its rules for how it pays out to authors from the lending library fund. Prior to the change, authors were paid by the borrow (if the reader read 10%). This system resulted in a lot of short books getting paid the same as longer ones. In fact, this happened to me with my Fractals You Can Draw booklet (unintentionally I might add). I made about $0.35 for every sale, and $1.35 for every borrow.

The new system was supposed to pay you by the page read (at a rate of roughly half a cent per page). But as it turns out the system was flawed. Kindle reported the number of pages read by the farthest position in the book, not by the number of actual pages read. So if your readers skipped to the end without reading anything else, instead of counting for just 2 pages, that read counted for the whole length of the book.

Scammers naturally took advantage of this, using click-bait techniques and phonebook sized dummy books to rack up as many “pages read” as possible. In February, Amazon limited the maximum number of pages to 3000, which could still net you a little over $12 a book.

And here’s how it affects indie authors like me.

For starters the scammers are taking a big chunk out of the total lending fund, which is a fixed pool we all fight for a piece of (you can read a great analysis of this situation here). And if the scammers are top performers, they not only get the pages read, but some nice bonuses as well. And they negatively add to the reputation that all self-published books are crap.

But the other side of the coin is that Amazon’s failure to write good pages read detection code affects authors who use “scammy” techniques to provide what they think is a better reading experience.

One of the best ways for someone who’s never read your book before to decide if they want to buy from you is to read as much as possible. So a lot of authors chose to put the Table of Contents at the back of the book instead of the front, since the eReader can take them straight to it anyway. This meant that the TOC wasn’t taking up valuable sample book real estate. And even those who didn’t make this choice deliberately may have inadvertently done it by using book conversion tools like Calibre. In fact, some older eReaders prefer the contents to be at the back, otherwise they can’t detect them.

All of my eBooks actually have a front TOC and a back TOC to have the widest range of compatibility. Newer eReaders, like my current Fire, render the TOC as a side-bar, giving me direct navigation. To take advantage of similar navigation techniques on older readers, both TOC locations were required. But I have a hunch that at least some of my pages read (particularly the 582 spikes), resulted from someone going to the back TOC before reading the book. Again, not the reason I put that TOC there (for a book that was published several years ago I might add), but a factor nonetheless.

Earlier this month Amazon starting sending quality notices to authors requesting that they reformat their books or have them removed from sale. Amazon later revised this policy, stating that the back TOC is not recommended, but not in and of itself a violation of the publishing guidelines. I haven’t received a quality notice for any of my books (and Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is the only enrolled in Kindle Unlimited anyway, though that hasn’t necessarily mattered to those getting the notices). If I do get a notice I will give my strenuous objections for why I want to retain backward compatibility. And then I may end up reformatting the book anyway.

The funny thing is, if my book were purchased by a regular library I’d get a tiny chunk of that sale, once per book, not per read, or per pages read. Kindle Unlimited, as a subscription service, is a different animal, and I think authors are entitled to a chunk of that pie. But I’ve always looked at it more like the library model, a way for people to try before they buy, or to get my book to people who can’t afford it, but still want to read it (though this last falls apart a bit with a $120 a year service).

I think Amazon needs to act with a more nuanced hand and instead of painting all indie authors with the same brush, try to enact better controls for getting rid of crappy books. And they need to write the code to actually detect pages read, rather than try to punish others for their lack of foresight.

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Some other great articles on this subject are here and here. If all this is kind of making you annoyed with Amazon, there are many other great places to buy eBooks including Smashwords, where my latest cyber-noir mystery, Surreality, is available for all of your eReaders and without the nasty DRM.

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Making a Fractal Coloring Book

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A lot of the projects I take on are just natural extensions of the things I immerse myself in (i.e obsess about). Even before being contacted by a publisher I’d been considering a fractal coloring book project for a little while. I had a lot of the programs I’d need, and 1000’s of images I’d generated in producing my previous two fractal books and subsequent posts. All I  would need to do is select the best of them, maybe write a good intro, and I’d have a quality book.

I think the only way we take on big projects is by deluding ourselves into thinking they’re not big projects, then plowing forward full steam ahead.

For a start, fractals that are good to color have a very different set of criterion from most of the fractals I’d been creating up to this point. You want something intricate but not so detailed that you can’t color it. You want some kind of pattern, but nothing too regular. You want something very open to interpretation, but with some common points of reference to give you guidance. You want a good variety of images, while providing people enough of what they’ll like. You need to cater to different difficulty levels, and because I like to teach about fractals as well, you need to use different generation techniques.

That’s a lot to think about when you’re trying to make 25 images.

Creating fractals for this book fell into one of a few different modes. There were a few, including the dragon curve and the Apollonian Recursive Gasket (see below), that were “classic” fractal designs that I felt just had to be in a book like this (though for the life of me I couldn’t get a Mandelbrot Set image I was happy with, maybe next book). In the case of the gasket, my insistence on including it might have had a little to do with spending 8 hours trying to write the code that would correctly generate the image (including learning a new way to think about circles, more on that some other time).

004_Bubbles (1-3)

Other designs were created by looking at things around me, a pattern on a quilt, a set of kitchen shelves, and playing around with some L-Systems interpretations of those objects until I got something I liked. Or other times I would draw out a small axiom on paper, sketch out a potential replacement rule, and just see what happened.

The third method involved perusing the thousands of Julia and L-System pictures I’d previously generated for my two fractal books and for posts on this site (this is where my new $50 kindle came in handy). The Julia images in particular took a lot of work, as the generation time to get an image with a good drawing edge is pretty long (2-8 hours on my quad-core laptop). L-Systems by comparison usually take at most only a few minutes, meaning you can experiment a lot more with tiny changes to see what the new result might be. This is probably why 19-20 of the images in the final text are variations on L-Systems and Turtle graphics.

Overall I produced well over a hundred images, culled from potential lists in the 1000’s. By comparison the selection process from those 100 was pretty simple: print the image out, run it by my wife to see if it’s a good candidate, and try not to make too many agonized screams when an image that took many hours to generate is rejected. Actually, my wife had a lot of good suggestions for potential ideas, or questions about tweaks I could do to make an image better.

The initial arrangement of the final images was done on my basement office floor, with one of us playing goalie to keep the dogs from walking all over the paper. Some things are just easier when you can see them out in front of you. We marked each image with a crayon indicating the rough level of difficulty, and moved sheets around until we got an arrangement we liked.

And this was all before I’d written a word.

Just to be clear, this was all great fun for me. I’ve seen other examples of coloring books where people slap together a bunch of stock images, or throw a bunch of their own previous work in without a lot of thought as to whether it would be fun to color. I didn’t want to make a book like that. I always like to create something new. Sure, there were times when I’d create 15 images and only get one good one, but that’s pretty much the experience with every creative endeavor. And there were plenty of “rejected” images that I had a new idea about, and made something even better.

This applies to just about any kind of writing. Writing something you later cut is never wasted effort. Everything is part of the process of making the final product, and even the things you look at and go “what was I thinking” had a part in shaping the final whole. And into making you a better writer or artist.

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My new book, Adult Coloring Book: Fractals is available now on Amazon. Published by Green Frog Publishing. You can see some of the fractals from the book, and color art by my wife (“the little red-haired girl”) on my new website bentrubefractals.com.

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New Release – Adult Coloring Book: Fractals

So here’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of months…

FinalFrontCover

My latest book, Adult Coloring Book: Fractals, is available now on Amazon!

I’m excited to publishing this book with Green Frog Publishing, a small Indie Publisher based in Vermont. This book is actually the second in a series of coloring books, the first of which is a great set of hand-drawn images of the Adirondacks by Dave Campbell.

This book has been a real collaborative effort, including the proofreading talents of one Mr. Brian Buckley, cover and website art by my wife, and editing by Cecilia Bizzoco. Green Frog’s been just great, providing a lot of personal attention and developmental feedback to make this a better book than anything I could have done alone.

The Adult Coloring Book: Fractals is a collection of 25 fractal images for you to color and enjoy. Along the way you’ll learn the basics about fractals, and how some of the individual images were created. Most of this is all new material exclusive to this book (we’ll talk more later in the week about the production process). There’s also an extensive glossary with even more fractal explorations and resources (any glossary that includes a definition for the “Genesis Effect” is okay in my book).

I think fractals are uniquely suited to adult coloring books in that they offer a lot of freedom for interpretation. How you color these images is entirely up to you. Just seeing some of the work my wife put together really made these fractals come alive for me.

You can check out some of the images from this book on my new website BenTrubeFractals.com or buy the book from Amazon.com. Particularly check out the “Play with Fractals” tab for some of the unique L-Systems in this book.

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