Tag Archives: Kindle Scout

Surreality Kindle Scout Campaign: Last Day

Just a quick note before spending the rest of the day hanging out for my wife’s birthday. This is the last day of the Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality. Thanks to everyone for their support so far. I’m not sure how things are going to go, but either way there have been so many of you who have sent their well wishes and nominations, and that means a lot.

If you haven’t voted, there’s still time. Go to https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T and nominate Surreality. If Amazon decides to publish it, you get a free copy. Remember to vote before midnight tonight.

Thanks so much to everyone!


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Surreality – The Caves Of Steel

We’re in week two of the campaign for Surreality, and I need your help more than ever.You can read the first two chapters (which includes the introduction to the character profiled in this post), and nominate at the link below. Help keep Surreality a “hot and trending” book on Kindle Scout. If Kindle Press decides to publish my book, you get a free copy and the satisfaction of helping an independent author. Thanks so much 🙂


Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite authors. He wasn’t exactly a master of prose, but he was definitely a master of ideas. He got more mileage out of three laws of robotics than most authors get out of a whole notebook full of ideas. His later fiction strays into some weird territory (not a big fan of the Gaia sections of the Foundation series or of the direction he takes some of the later robot novels), but one of his early works, The Caves of Steel, is one of my favorite books and an indirect inspiration for one of the characters in Surreality.


The Caves of Steel is a science-fiction mystery. The earth of this world is densely populated, with most of the population living in vast underground cities. Some colonization of outer worlds has begun, but the population of those planets is kept deliberately low to allow for increased wealth and extended lifespans. Robots are all but banned on Earth, whereas for the Spacers (the outer colonists) robots are an essential part of maintaining their lifestyle, and are advanced enough as to have a human-like appearance.

When a Spacer ambassador to Earth is murdered, Elijah Bailey is partnered with spacer robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve the case. Olivaw serves as a guide to Spacer culture and robots for Bailey, who’s a bit of a curmudgeon (his catch phrase is “Jehosophat!”), and doesn’t trust that the three laws are enough to keep a robot from being responsible for the murder. He also doubts R. Daneel’s capabilities as an investigator, since he is merely a program without the instinct or understanding of human emotions of a true detective.

Surreality is what I call a technological-mystery, though one of its characters, an advanced artificial intelligence, borders on science-fiction. Synthia, short for “Synthetic Intelligence-Algorithm”, is assigned to Detective Keenan when he is tasked with investigating a murder in the virtual world of Surreality. She serves as his guide and partner, since Keenan is a man not familiar with computers, or with this game world in particular. Keenan has some of the same doubts about Synthia’s abilities, and building their partnership through the book presented some of the same challenges, ups and downs.

In the world of Surreality we’re presented with three kinds of in-game characters, avatars, or characters controlled by real-life players, NPC’s “non-player characters” that serve as background ornamentation to the game’s environments, and artificial intelligences like Synthia, who live in the game world, but are more than just a few programmed responses.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”


“Are you real?”

“Of course I’m real. I’m as real as everything you see here,” she laughed. “I’m not real in the sense you mean, as in a human controlling a puppet in here, but I am real. My full name is Synthetic Intelligence Algorithm, or Synthia for short. Pleased to meet you.” She gave a little mock salute.

“So . . . you’re a program?”

“Not my preferred term but essentially accurate, though that’s a little like reducing your whole existence down to how you think. I have a body and interact with my environment just like you do. Yes, my thought patterns are determined by complex mathematical algorithms, but yours might be too. After all, you are a detective. Your thought process has to be ordered or you’d never solve a case, right?”

Synthia’s a little feistier than Daneel, and doesn’t have the same explicit restrictions. Truthfully she’s fun to write, and probably one of my favorite characters of the whole book (probably why she made the cover). There are things we’ll trust to computers, journals, blogs, that we might never say to the people in our lives. And characters like Synthia give voice to perspectives outside of the patterns our characters are used to operating in.

PS. Thanks to my mom who suggested I read The Caves of Steel back in the day.

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Surreality – The Author Photo


I’m much more comfortable with avatars, cartoons, or drawings of fractals than I am with pictures of myself. It’s not that I think I look bad. I’m a reasonably handsome, husky ball of joy. I just tend to see the areas in need of improvement when I look at pictures of myself. Not trying to fish here, just being honest.

This is all by way of saying that I wasn’t too thrilled to be doing the author photo for the Surreality Kindle Scout campaign, and I put it off till basically the day before.

My wife took the picture, actually about four dozen of them, and manipulated the final image to get what you see above. That’s my basement library and poker table in the shot and one of the approximately seven computers on which Surreality was written. I’m happy my wife insisted on the nicer shirt, as the just t-shirt shots were only okay, even though the shirt is kinda cool.

One thing I learned is that I apparently do not open my eyes. I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired or just have very narrow eyes, but I had to actually work to open them enough to be seen, without looking like I was a crazed psychopath. My eyes “crinkle” when I smile as well, meaning that a full grin would basically leave me blind.

What you see in the shot is pretty typical of my workspace, though with a lot of unseen clutter outside the shot. The open book is my random writing thoughts book, something that I would probably only share with somebody else after I’m dead. My goal right now is simply to fill it with a lot of nonsense that hopefully makes the words I write in books work better.

There were several coffee mugs tried in the shot but ultimately it couldn’t have been anything else but the OSU mug. The handle broke off once and we glued it back on because that is my Saturday game day coffee mug. It’s just that simple.

I’m also happy that my body blocked most of the manga behind me, though you can clearly see Love Hina creeping out from behind my left shoulder. Slightly better is the Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell and Dominion sitting above it. And that is a set of blueprints for the Enterprise-D you see lying on its side on top of a bunch of Star Trek comics trades. It’s research … okay 🙂 The gray box a few shelves up contains a DS9 tie complete with all of the aliens from that show. And trust me, this is nothing compared to the chotskie’s I have on top of my desk.


One week in and the campaign is going strong, but I still need your support. Please vote for Surreality using the link below, and receive a free early copy if Kindle Press decides to publish it. Share your support on Twitter, Facebook or Squirrelbook, the social-media website for squirrels. No chipmunks allowed!



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Surreality – Secret Origins

Hey everybody! Ben here. Right now the Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality is live, and I need your help! Nominate my book for publication and get a free copy if Kindle Press selects it! Vote and read the first two chapters at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T. Thanks so much for your help 🙂

Every year I try to come up with some kind of writing goal, and during college I extended this to specific summer goals, most of which were never actually achieved.

One of the first of these was to write 10-12 short stories in 12 weeks, a story a week. Actually, that still sounds like a pretty good idea. Maybe someday. But I’m not the kind of guy who thinks in short stories. My story ideas tend to inflate into novels, and pretty soon into entire series, and “Murder in Second Life” as I was calling it at the time, started pretty much the same way.

This was around the time when Second Life was coming into its own. It was kind of a weird anomaly at the time, more of a community than a proper game (and it had the crappy graphics to match). Still, people were building relationships, communities, and virtual sci-fi museums or really whatever they wanted. This was more than just a game, it was in truth another world, and I was interested in what form crime would take in this sort of environment, particularly murder.

Me doing some onsite research in Second Life. What's up with that hair?

Me doing some on-site research in Second Life. What’s up with that hair?

Death is a constant in video games, as is resurrection. But not Second Life. The game was designed to not have the objectives or weapons of a third-person shooter, or even the quests of an RPG. It was just a place to hang out, maybe design and sell some stuff, and interact in a more realistic way. Truthfully when I first started looking into this, I don’t think Second Life knew what it was going to be. Certainly the legacy of that space has been more community driven than creator influenced. It evolved, as my own world of Surreality continues to.

I like the mystery form, and I’m a guy who loves technology, but it was important to me to have the main character not be some kind of elite hacker or technology buff. This served both as a challenge to myself to make the material engaging to people who aren’t engineers, and a lot of narrative structures are told from the perspective of the “outsider” who acts as our reader surrogate for exploring our surroundings.

Actually, truthfully, this is a more sophisticated understanding of my main character than I had when I created him. I’m more of a “gut” writer. Keenan was largely born out of a love of classic detectives like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” which still leaves a few fingerprints in the final version of the book. What if a technological crime could not be solved by people good with technology, but only by people good at getting to the truth?

As I’ve written about, everything really started coming together after a suggestion from my wife. Don’t set the story in San Francisco, a place I have only visited once. Instead, move the real-world action to Columbus. We’re a culturally, politically, socio-economically diverse Midwestern city. We’re a growing center for technology, and more importantly, Columbus is my home. Writing about this place has given me an excuse to get to know my city better, and to use my love to really shape the narrative in directions I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

There are a lot of other bumps and jigs along the way, as with any book, more than I probably even remember. Some scenes, particularly those with Garfunkel, were inspired by my first dog, Simon. I was looking through my old notes the other evening, and there are times I have no idea what was going through my head. I think if you work on something long enough, while you can have a narrative as to its origins, there is so much that is simply organic, or even magical.


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