Monday, February 16, 2015

News Briefs--2-15-2015


To celebrate my birthday this month, I'm giving away ebook copies of Shrine of the Desert Mage, Volume I of the epic Parsina Saga. Just go to the book's Smashwords page and enter coupon code HZ95W at purchase. This coupon is valid through midnight, 2-28-2015.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Parsina Saga is an exotic 4-volume Arabian Nights adventure about an impoverished storyteller who, through mistaken identity, must impersonate a mighty wizard in order to save the world. It comprises the following titles:
  • Shrine of the Desert Mage
  • The Storyteller and the Jann
  • Crystals of Air and Water
  • Treachery of the Demon King
This is a perfect chance to introduce yourself to this exotic adventure. I hope you enjoy it, and pleasant reading!

One of the disadvantages of ebooks is that you couldn’t get them autographed. Until now. A company called Authorgraph has started a service that allows readers to have an author give them a signature file that can be associated with the book in their reading device, or stashed in a collection the way some people maintain autograph books. I’m not sure exactly how the mechanics of it works; there’s a little more information here.

I’ve recently signed up with this service. All my full-length ebooks are available to be autographed. In my case, I opt to sign with a computerized script-style font rather than an “actual” signature. Why? Well, I don’t have a touchscreen device that would let me use a fingertip to make the signature--and have you ever tried to sign anything with a mouse? It becomes a totally illegible scrawl, worse than my real-life signature, which has become illegible in the past few yeas as well since I developed a slight tremor in my hand.

Is this a “real” autograph? That poses some serious philosophical and semantic questions. I doubt any appraiser from Antiques Roadshow will ever evaluate your ereader more highly because it’s been signed this way. It doesn’t indicate that you and I were ever necessarily in the same room. But it does show that we had an interpersonal relation, if only via email. Does email count as a real contact? I’ve had some that sure felt that way.

Goodreads is a well-established social medium platform for authors and readers alike. Now there’s a new player in the game: BookLikes. It has many of the same features as Goodreazds, but there are other places where the two sites are quite different as well. I won’t go in for long lists of comparisons; check them out for yourself. I’m signed up on both. I hope I’ll see you there.


A combination of factors worked to destroy my email system. The server I had been using announced they would be dropping me in January. I was preparing a peaceful transition to another server when health problems put me in the hospital for most of that month. (See below.) When I got out and back to work, I found that the software I’d been using, eM Client, was now suddenly demanding a password before it would open up. It had not asked me for a password when I installed it, and I had no idea what it might be. Nothing I tried worked, and the company itself was unable to help me. As a result, all my previous emails and address books are gone beyond recovery.

If you’d previously had any correspondence with me, assume I have no way to contact you now. If you’d want to hear from me again, please drop an email with your eddress to me at Thanks for your understanding.


On January 1, I awoke to find a mysterious, dark ugly rash creeping up both my legs from the feet past the shins. It was dark red, nearly black, with some threatening white blotches. There was no pain involved, but Mary has told me horror stories of watching someone she knew with diabetes in the ’70s getting multiple amputations until he eventually died. My first thought was: GANGRENE!!! I went immediately into the Emergency Room.

Good news: It wasn’t gangrene. But it was a mystery for quite some time. I ended up spending 18 days of January in the hospital with no pain at all while the doctors tried to find out precisely what this was. Long story short, it’s a sort of autoimmune condition called cryoglobulinemia, a disorder unusual enough that it was featured in an episode of House. In my case, the mystery isn’t so much what the disease is, but how I came down with it. It’s often associated with lupus as well as Hepatitis B and C. I’ve had none of those. But at least there is a treatment for it, an incredibly expensive chemotherapy-type dug called Rituxan. I’ve had one infusion already and at least one more coming up. Best of all I don’t have to pay a penny.

I love Obamacare! Don’t ever let Republicans tell you it doesn’t work.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Introducing QUIET POST

I'd like to introduce my latest novel entitled Quiet Post, an absurdist comedy set in the Quasiverse, a surreal land where almost anything can happen. Martia Rosenthal is a young woman who takes a diplomatic assignment there to escape a disastrous love affair. She's assured it should be an easy job because the town of Burgundy is a place where nothing ever happens. What could possibly go wrong?

During the course of her first two weeks she meets some outlandish friends and outrageous foes--and you'll be introduced to a new world where nothing is ever quite the way you think it should be. But you'll probably smile a couple of times as you go along.

4 Reasons to preorder Quiet Post

Quiet Post officially goes on sale August 16, but you can preorder an ebook copy now at Apple iBooks,  Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play. Visit the book's page at Parsina Press to get the links to where you can buy it. Also on that page is a link to a free PDF sample of the book (the prolog and first two chapters).

Why should you want to preorder the book? Let me give you a few reasons.

1) Be the envy of your friends

Be the first kid on your block to own this wildly amusing comedy. You'll have your copy already reserved and waiting for you so you can download it right on publication day.

You can preorder in complete confidence, knowing that your credit account will not be billed before the publication date, and the book will be downloadable when it's due.

2) Save money

The preorder price of the Quiet Post ebook is only $3.99. After publication date, the price will go up to its normal $4.99.

3) Get a free ebook

Email me ( a copy of the receipt showing you preordered the book before August 16 and I'll send you a Smashwords coupon for a free copy of one of my other ebooks. Check out the list of available titles at my ROGO page.

4) More free ebooks

Ordinarily, my ROGO program awards a free ebook to a reviewer of one of my books. But if you review Quiet Post before September 1 and it conforms to the regular ROGO rules, you'll get coupon codes for two ebooks of your choice. Reviews dated September 1 and later will still be eligible for a single ebook.

And of course, the best incentive of all is that you get the earliest chance to read a very entertaining book. I hope you'll give Quiet Post a try. And please visit the official Quiet Post Facebook page.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Creationism vs. the Lightbulb

One of the ways the religionists find to attack evolution is to call their myth a "science." Then they can tell their school boards, "Well, as scientists it's incumbent on us to explore all possible theories for a phenomenon. We have a scientific explanation for how life began, so evolution can't be taken as proven fact; you have to put our theory forward on an equal footing with it."

It is true that science must consider all possible explanations--in fact, it's incumbent on science to do so--but only if those explanations are consistent with the scientific method. You can't simply say "Biodiversity occurred because poltergeists from the planet Krylak made it that way" and expect that assertion to go unchallenged.

The first way of challenging these people is to ask them a simple question: Do you know what science is? I suspect most of them won't be able to answer even that basic question. Science is not simply throwing around big words or using the term "theory" to mean any half-cocked explanation you come up with off the top of your head.

I don't claim to know an all-inclusive definition, but I think I can offer one that most people in the scientific fields will agree to as a first approximation. Science is a systematic way of explaining why things are the way they are and how they work according to self-consistent rules, and devising ways of rigorously testing those rules through experiments and observations. Yes, alternative explanations must be considered, but those explanations must also be subjected to the same rigorous tests and experiments. If those explanations aren't consistent with other rules that have passed such rigorous tests, then they must be discarded, no matter how much you like them.

Real scientists, being human, aren't always good at discarding their own pet theories, even when they fly in the face of evidence. In the field of science I know best, astronomy, I can point to Fred Hoyle, the developer of the "steady state" theory, as opposed to the universe being created in a single catastrophic event. (I have to admit having liked this theory myself at one time; it had an elegant simplicity to it.) Hoyle clung to this theory for many years until the increasing weight of evidence crushed it beyond all hope. He even came up with a derisive term to ridicule the opposing theory: the "big bang." That term has since been accepted and embraced by his opponents, and is common parlance for something Hoyle was trying to make fun of; it has long outlasted Hoyle's own theory. [This should be an object lesson to people who try to come up with clever, snide names for their opponents' systems, such as "Obamacare." That phrase will become accepted terminology for a working health care system for the next generation or two.] Eventually, even Hoyle had to discard his own theory in favor of the big bang.

Even if the religionists can devise a semi-plausible definition of science, they'll come up hard against an important concept: All science must be consistent with all other science. Astronomy must be consistent with geology. Both of them must be consistent with chemistry. All of them must be consistent with biology, anatomy, physics, and so forth. If you assert "The world's only about 6,000 years old" and claim you're being scientific, you must show how that statement is consistent with all the evidence we have in all other branches of science.

A number of years ago I wrote a guest editorial in Analog Magazine called "Creationism vs. the Lightbulb." (This essay is available for a mere 99 cents at Smashwords and Amazon.) In it, I go step by scientific step to show how, if the fanatic accepts the theory of a working lightbulb (and only the craziest won't), he comes face to face with how it contradicts the fundamental assumptions of creationism. Without some really fancy footwork, something that would have made even the late Bob Fosse tangle his legs, he simply can't make his religious "theory" hold up to scientific scrutiny.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How I became an atheist

I was born into a not-very-religious Jewish family. I went to Hebrew School and had a Bar Mitzvah, the whole schtick. But I never really thought about it much or paid any attention. God was just something people said, sort of like the adults' Santa Claus. He was something that was there, like air, and you didn't really need to think about it in daily life. Maybe specialists in "air" thought about it, like the Air Quality Management District, but it didn't really affect me.

I can pinpoint the date my deconversion began: Jan. 14, 1962. I was a devout admirer of comedian Ernie Kovacs, one of the great geniuses of the entertainment media. (For anyone who doesn't know about him, check out his lengthy Wikipedia entry.) Although he'd been working in New Jersey radio for some time, one of his first television gigs was a morning show in Philadelphia, where I grew up. I thought he was hysterically funny--and obviously so did many other people, for he quickly moved on to bigger things. But as a little kid I had the wonderful pleasure of my mom taking me downtown to the studio where his show was broadcast and watching him from the audience. (She told me later that she lost an earring there and went back to the studio to look for it after bringing me home; Kovacs's wife, actress Edie Adams, helped her look. My mom never told me whether the search was successful.) Kovacs went on to appear in some movies--arguably the biggest was Bell, Book, and Candle--and did a series of half-hour TV specials for ABC. They were way ahead of their time in both form and content.

In the wee morning hours of Jan 13, 1962, Kovacs was driving home from a party in Los Angeles when his car hit a power pole and he was killed almost instantly. When I heard about it later that day, I was devastated. This man with the brilliantly inventive mind, who could do things with a television camera that no one else ever dreamed of, and was funny to boot, was gone from my life. I was depressed all day, and when I was going to sleep that night I cried and prayed for god to take me instead and bring Kovacs back, or at least transfer his genius into me so that I could somehow continue his work. Neither of those things happened; although I did become a writer, no one, especially me, has ever claimed I approached his level of talent.

I started deciding that if god couldn't perform that one little favor, for which I prayed with such heartfelt conviction, what good was he?

Over the years my atheism became more formal and intellectually based, but that was where it started. The petulant, spiteful actions of a child? Maybe, but it opened my eyes. Santa Claus existed merely to keep little kids in line, but he was useless when you really needed something from him that your parents couldn't deliver. I started paying attention to the man behind the curtain, and realized it was all just doubletalk and hogwash. I decided to believe in people instead. People may sometimes deceive you, people may also let you down on their big promises--but at least you know they're not perfect and can't expect miracles from them.

And Ernie Kovacs's Nairobi Trio still makes me laugh when I see it and cry at the same time for the lost work he might have accomplished.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Read an Ebook Week 2014

It's that time of year again. I'm helping Smashwords--and the rest of the world--celebrate Read an Ebook Week with some great bargains. If you go to my Smashwords site, you'll find a number of short stories, articles, and novels either free, 75%, or half off. If you're an ebook reader, this is a great time to stock up.

The bargains are as follows:


  • A Career in Writing
  • Creationism vs. the Lightbulb
  • Grim Fairy Tale
  • Haunted Houses
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young God
  • The Fix Is In
  • The World Where Wishes Worked
  • Tsar Wars
  • When There's No Man Around

75% Off

  • And Not Make Dreams Your Master
  • Crossroads of the Galaxy
  • Shrine of the Desert Mage

50% Off

  • A World Called Solitude
  • Alien Murders
  • Angel in Black
  • Assault on the Gods
  • Caravan
  • Counterfeit Stars
  • Crystals of Air and Water
  • Galactic Collapse
  • Ghosts, Girls, & Other Phantasms
  • Herds
  • Jade Darcy and the Affair of Honor
  • Jade Darcy and the Zen Pirates
  • Mindflight
  • Mindsearch
  • Outworld Invaders
  • Painting the Roses Red
  • Polly!
  • Putgatory Plot
  • Robot Mountain
  • Sanctuary Planet
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Stellar Revolution
  • The Devil Behind the Leaves
  • The Eternity Brigade
  • The Storyteller and the Jann
  • Traitors' World
  • Treacherous Moon
  • Treachery of the Demon King

As you can see, this is a pretty impressive list of titles. If you're missing some of my books or stories, there's no better time than today to pick them up. This sale lasts through Saturday, March 8; to get the special price, use the coupon code listed on the book's page at purchase.

This sale only applies to books bought at Smashwords, but you can get them in EPUB, MOBI, PDF, and almost any other format you choose.

There are plenty of other Smashwords authors also participating in this sale, so be sure to check them out as well. You can easily pick up a year's worth of reading in a single week.

Read an ebook! It's a better way to spend your time than biting your toenails.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Last summer I broke my right shoulder and tore my rotator cuff by tripping over a concrete block--you know, the kind they put in front of a parking space so the car doesn't go too far. This concrete block was in my apartment complex, in front of the space where our car has regularly parked for the previous seven years. Somehow this normally docile and predictable concrete block suddenly chose to jump out in front of me and I went sprawling onto the pavement.

So I spent the next two months with my right arm in a sling...and since I'm right-handedd, that left me pretty handicapped. I did learn that, with great effort, I could change a roll of toilet paper on its roller with my opposite hand, but that was one of my major accomplishments.

For many weeks after that I was consigned to the tender ministrations of Mistress Anh Thu. This lady, with knowledge of the mystic and dangerous arts, commanded my attention on a regular basis. At her prodding I learned what could be done with a simple baton. Then, when she found me pliable enough, she entangled me with elaborate pulleys, forcing me to do her bidding.

Now I'm on my own again. Bereft of her commands, I've resorted to my old routine of writing, returning to the novel I'd been working on before my unfortunate hindrance.  It's been laborious work, and I've been forced to use a word processor rather than my old method of quill pen by candlelight, but I can report some progress. A first draft is taking shape, and the rough version should be done in another two months or so. Then will come the really hard job of whipping it (as it were) into shape. Maybe my right shoulder will be less sore by then...

The new book is entitled Quiet Post, and it promises to be very different than almost anything I've written before. It will be funny, or at least comic, set in the Quasiverse--a place that's a combination of Oz, Wonderland, Discworld, and my own touch of the surreal, a place where nearly anything can happen. Martia Rosenthal, a normally competent young heiress fleeing the shattered remnants of a disastrous love affair, signs up for a hitch in the Quasiverse the way disillusioned young men used to sign up for the French Foreign Legion to get away from it all. Her rich and powerful father, concerned for his daughter's welfare, puts in a word with the head of the agency running settlements out there, and is promised that his daughter will be perfectly safe. She's being assigned to the town of Burgundy, a boring little settlement where nothing exciting ever happens. Martia will be safe; it's a very quiet post...

I'm having a lot of fun writing it, and I'm hoping readers will have just as much fun when they get to read it. When the rough draft is finished I'll post a sample online and open myself up to criticism. For right now, I'll just enjoy myself in private.

Price Reductions

I've established  permanent price reductions for the ebook versions of my classic military sf novel The Eternity Brigade and for all  10 titles in my space opera series Agents of ISIS. I hope those of you who haven't read them yet will check them out.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Family d'Alembert series vs. Agents of ISIS series

The "Family d'Alembert series" is today considered a "classic" in the field of space opera. Personally I don't feel old enough to be involved with creating a "classic" even though I admittedly started young, but for the moment I'll go along with that description. Let me explain here how I came to create the series, and the differences between the Family d'Alembeert series and the new Agents of ISIS series.

In the May 1964 issue of If Magazine, E.E. "Doc" Smith published a novella entitled "Imperial Stars." According to a letter he wrote to his friend Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, Smith intended to turn this novella into a series of books. Unfortunately he died before he could get around to it. He left behind no manuscripts, no story arcs, no further plot ideas or concepts of where to go next. He'd created a single novella and the concept for a prospective series, but not a series itself.

A decade later, I was commissioned to expand the novella into a full-sized book and then create nine more books in this universe, thus turning Smith's idea into what became known as the "Family d'Alembert series." I'd read and enjoyed Smith's earlier Skylark and Lensman series, so I was eagerly anticipating this assignment.

Unfortunately, it was not all I'd hoed for. The novella certainly had action aplenty, as befitted a Smith story, but the writing, the universe and the characters were hopelessly old-fashioned even for the 1960s when it was published, let alone the 1970s and later when I'd be writing the follow-ups. The text used bizarre words like "ultratoilsomely." The heroes were two-dimensional and way too goody-goody to be believable. The history and development of the universe were painfully naive, with an anti-communhist screed straight out of the 1950s McCarthy era. And while Smith was noted for the excellence of his villains, the ultimate bad guy here never once set foot onstage. Clearly this novella needed a lot of rehabilitation.

Having to stick closely to Smith's creation hampered me considerably, but I did as much as I could to make the characters and universe more believable, and I tried to come up with stories that were exciting enough to please Smith's legion of fans. I got letters of praise that told me I was succeeding, which was most gratifying.

Still, as decades passed, the initially creaky concept grew more and more outdated. Finally, in the mid-2000s, I decided to update the whole series. Since the original novella was the source of most of the problems, I tossed out "Imperial Stars" in its entirety. I created a universe without what I perceived as Smith's flaws, yet which could still accommodate the stories of books 2-10 that I'd created for the old universe. I wrote an entirely new first novel, Tsar Wars, to introduce the re-envisioned universe and slightly more believable characters. I made major modifications to the remaining 9 books to fit the new beginning.

The result is what I now call the Agents of ISIS series, something I feel is more appropriate for the 21st century. I make no pretense that the books are ultra-realistic; they still retain their space opera roots. But I've tried to make the characters a little more interesting. And unlike in the Family d'Alembert series, the heroes no longer have to find a pay-phone to make a call when they're out in the field--they can use their wristcoms.

I understand the attraction people have for a classic that's stood the test of time, so there'll be plenty of readers paying money for the books in the Family d'Alembert series. But as someone who's intimately familiar with both series, I must say that, because I'm a more experienced writer now, the Agents of ISIS books are better written and have more interesting characters. And, in ebook format at least, the Agents of ISIS books are considerably cheaper than the reissued d'Alemberts. I've also recently reformatted the ISIS ebooks, so they should be pretty clean.

The ten books in the new series are:
  1. Tsar Wars
  2. Treacherous Moon
  3. Robot Mountain
  4. Sanctuary Planet
  5. Stellar Revolution
  6. Purgatory Plot
  7. Traitors' World
  8. Counterfeit Stars
  9. Outworld Invaders
  10. Galactic Collapse
Go here to learn where you can buy them. Here's a sample of the first book, Tsar Wars. I hope you'll enjoy them. Pleasant reading.