W.B.’s Book Report: The Martian

Cast Away meets Apollo 13” is how more than one reviewer describes Andy Weir’s compelling page-turner The Martian. In a world where everything needs to be a reference to something else, I suppose that description works as well as any.The plot of the book does indeed contain elements that will remind the reader of both movies, although Mark Watney never befriends a volleyball.

And it doesn’t cover Weir’s unique voice, the humor, and the care taken to walk that thin line between realism and the absurd. For all of the headaches and dangers that Weir sends the way of his astronaut stranded on Mars, I never once said “Oh, come on, now you’ve jumped the shark,” or “Oh, please, that solution was way too convenient.”
This is a great novel that takes readers to the real Mars — as real a Mars as contemporary science can speculate — and never lets up until the story reaches its powerful conclusion.
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Launch day – Myke Phoenix: Year of the Dinosaur

For nearly two decades Myke Phoenix has protected the people of Astor City from the forces of evil in the world, battling crime bosses and costumed villains and strange creatures who want to rule the universe. But lately it’s been quiet in the old town – almost … TOO quiet!

“Lately it’s just been everyday crooks and the occasional mobster,” Paul Phillips (Myke’s everyday alter ego) says one night. “It just seems like we don’t need Myke Phoenix anymore.”

But then —

A bizarre lunatic starts kissing the women of Astor City at random. A fire-breathing spider the size of an elephant wreaks havoc downtown. Aliens land in a hill outside town and start borrowing people’s bodies. An old familiar villain returns and holds Paul’s wife, Dana, hostage on a dark and stormy night. Another old familiar villain, half man half duck Quincy Quackenbos, goes straight and is kidnapped after being released from prison.

Suddenly Myke Phoenix was working overtime. Could it be the work of his old nemesis, the evil talking dinosaur, Deinonychus?

In a story that evolves over the course of 12 episodes – mainly because your humble narrator liked the sound of the word “dodecology” – the protector of Astor City fights the fight of his life with a growing cadre of strange and wonderful new friends. By the time the story rumbles to its jarring conclusion, the lives of Paul and Dana Phillips have been changed forever – nor will Astor City and their world ever be the same again.

This massive volume collects the 12-part series that rebooted the story first told in “The Adventures of Myke Phoenix,” with a special bonus story (“A Myke Phoenix Christmas”), author’s notes and other fun content.

If you like superhero stories that don’t take themselves too seriously, if you like your adventures told with a dash of whimsy, you’ve come to the right place. Join the Myke Phoenix revolution with this baker’s dozen power pack.

Click here to download it for Kindle apps. Here is one version of the paperback. Wait a few days for other options.

Who is this guy anyway?

The completion of a project gives a guy a chance to stop and take a deep breath. As the world awaits Tuesday’s release of the Myke Phoenix compilation Year of the Dinosaur, I find myself taking a deep breath and contemplating what the bibliography so far means.

Since I was 10 years old and found a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #4 at the old IGA in Milton, Vermont, I have enjoyed superhero stories. Well, even before that – I do remember enjoying a Legion of Super-Heroes story or two before the summer of 1963 – but Spider-Man and Marvel Comics made me a fan. A few years later I heard about a series of 1930s pulp hero reprints of a superhero named Doc Savage, and Cold Death started me on the path that would lead me to Myke Phoenix.

My Myke stories are designed to take you about an hour to read, approximating the comic book experience or perhaps a TV show. Year of the Dinosaur collects the 12 stories I’ve written in the past year or so, with a bonus short called “A Myke Phoenix Christmas.”

I first conceived of Myke when I was a late-30s radio news reporter. I finished four stories and started several others, but the lack of a practical outlet to share them with the world led me to set the project aside. The indie publishing movement provided that outlet, and those earlier stories have been available since 2008 as The Adventures of Myke Phoenix.

But of course, my world view goes beyond the confines of the superhero adventure. (That is not to say we couldn’t have a lengthy conversation about the superiority of Marvel’s The Avengers to any Superman or Batman movie ever made.)

I’ve always thought war was stupid, and I’ve come to think of states as counterproductive to individual human endeavor. That led me to write The Imaginary Revolution, the memoirs of the man who led the planet Sirius IV to independence from Earth and beyond to a commonwealth that had no state government apparatus. As discussion raged over what form of government to establish for the newly free world, protagonist, Ray Kaliber, asked the simple question, “Why do we need a government at all?”

The story is a sequel of sorts, or at least set in the same universe, as The Imaginary Bomb, a space opera perhaps best known as a series of podcasts I voiced in 2006. The universe is based sometime in the future from now, when humanity has discovered how to tap the power of the imagination as an energy source. As too often happens with new technology, someone has considered the implications of weaponized imaginary power, and my interplanetary truck drivers get tangled up in stopping the imaginary bomb before it hurts someone.

I also have a collection of short stories, Wildflower Man, anchored by the story that has gained quite a following in its podcast form, if I may say so. I haven’t transferred that book to digital form because, to be honest, I wish it was a little longer. I keep meaning to write a few more short stories to pad it out. One of these days.

I’ve also collected some of my essays on a couple of themes. Refuse to be Afraid is about empowering yourself to battle through the fears and impulses that keep us from the greatness we could accomplish: Refuse to be afraid. Free yourself. Dream.

And A Scream of Consciousness discusses ways to fight past the distractions of everyday life and concentrate on the needs of this moment, right now. These two books, and the “What I Believe” section of The Imaginary Revolution, probably sum up what I might pretentiously describe as my life philosophy.

So there are seven books, five fiction and two non-fiction, that hopefully will entertain you, perhaps could change your life, and at least will tell you a bit about who this guy is anyway.

If you’re reading this on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, the day I wrote this, you have until tonight to get a free download of Firespiders Unleashed, the pivotal Myke Phoenix story that opens the trilogy that also includes March of the Alien Dead, Claws of Death and Talons of Justice. Yes, it’s a four-part trilogy. I blame Hollywood. Or perhaps Douglas Adams.

Starting Saturday I’ll be devoting most of my shameless self-promotion to the collection that climaxes with those four stories, Year of the Dinosaur. But I really do like the way the saga ends, so if you want to cut to the chase and save a couple of bucks, buying the individual stories is a pretty good investment.

In any case, those are the motivations that drove the bookshelf of my stuff to date. So now you know.

1 reason why this little ebook must be finished on time

This is the most exciting part of the creative life: When the going gets tough.

I made a goal to write 10 new Myke Phoenix stories in 2014, for a total of 12 in the latest series. That’s one a month through October. My sub-goal was to have the next month’s story finished when I released this month’s. That means The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur was supposed to be finished by March 3, when I released Duck Man Walking.

I should have May’s story almost finished by now, but less than two weeks before the release date of April 7, I’m halfway through the dinosaur story. This is the exciting part.

Anyone who’s followed my creative journey – I think there are four or five of you – knows that I am pretty good at setting goals and getting started. The problem comes with the arrival of what Seth Godin calls The Dip and Steven Pressfield calls The Resistance. This is when, if I don’t watch out (and I usually don’t), the quotidian of daily life interferes and the project gets set aside. My office and the Internet are filled with partially finished Bluhm projects.

It would be easy to shift the deadline – sure, I could finish this story by May and just move everything back, because at this stage almost no one is paying attention – but that’s a slippery slope. Nope, I have to have this story done by April 7, and the May story not long after that, so that by June I’m a month ahead again.

Why? Why press forward to meet a deadline that only I, of 6 billion people on the planet, care about?

Because the alternative is to let inertia take over, to yield to the Resistance. And I prefer to keep pressing forward.

So: Ready or not, something called The Puzzle of the Talking Dinosaur will be released to the ether on April 7. I’m terrified. And excited.

W.B.’s Book Report: Unicorn Western

It began as a laugh among friends. It has evolved into a nine-novella epic with the promise of two more epics to come. The story of how Unicorn Western came to be is almost as much fun as the actual story.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant are two-thirds of a podcasting team that meets weekly to talk about writing and self-publishing. One day the other third, David W. Wright, took exception to Platt’s stated desire to write a western someday. Too much trouble, too much research needed to make it authentic – for example, do you know what color was the smoke from those old six-shooters? Hilarity ensued.

The solution to Wright’s objection: Put a unicorn in the story. That way when people question what appears to be an unrealistic detail, you can respond that this isn’t the real Earth: “If we’ve filled the world with unicorns, I’d say we can do anything we want!”

 A few short months later, the joke is a series of novellas available as ebooks separately or in ebook and print as Unicorn Western: Full Saga – a sprawling tale of magic and prairie justice that spans decades and pays homage to at least nine films along the way. (Because I need an occasional break from electronic screens, I opted for the 690-page book.) There are plenty of in-jokes and winks that will bring a knowing smile or a laugh-out-loud to people familiar with the films and The Self-Publishing Podcast – my favorites are the prophetic owls – but the story creates a mythology all its own and stands up as a rousing yarn despite its goofy origins.

This is not Atlas Shrugged or even Lord of the Rings – the main thing it has in common with those works of literature is its length – but the payoff is definitely worth the long ride; the authors entertain and make you care along the way. Unicorn Western is the reader’s equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, well worth the time invested and leaving you with anticipation of the sequel(s).

Are you ready for a little revolution?

It’s only a matter of days before the novel The Imaginary Revolution will be published. I have prepared a sampling of chapters from the novel to whet your appetite for the real thing.

The story of how Sirius 4 threw off its shackles will be available for public consumption starting Dec. 15, 2012 – Bill of Rights Day – in both ebook form and a handsome, hardcover print edition. This is your opportunity to get a taste of it so you can decide whether to put it on your Christmas list.

The link below (click on the colorful green button with the blue whale) will lead you to a place where you can download a .zip file containing the Imaginary Revolution sampler in .pdf, .epub and .mobi forms. Enjoy! And consider coming back on Dec. 15.

Click here to download your free sampler of chapters from the novel The Imaginary Revolution, scheduled for release on Dec. 15, 2012.

Give up the zombie lifestyle

Are you tired of shuffling around, shambling through life not especially aware of where you are and where you’re going, except that you have a gnawing desire to eat brains?

You’re not alone – well, maybe except for the brain-eating part – and you may find a way toward a more focused life by reading my little book A Scream of Consciousness.

Have you ever stopped what you’re doing with a sudden sense of awareness and frustration and said, “There’s more to life than this!”?

That’s a scream of consciousness.

Have you ever opened your eyes and realized with a peace beyond understanding that the world around you is overflowing with beauty and possibilities?

That’s a scream of consciousness.

Have you ever felt a surge of energy when you realized exactly where you needed to be and what you needed to be doing to have the life you were born to have?

That’s a scream of consciousness.

Now, how do you maintain that sense of joy and purpose moment by moment, every hour of every day?

That’s the purpose of my little book A Scream of Consciousness.

It’s a quick read; you should be able to zip through it in an hour or so, and then come back for a reminder of how to Be Here Now and stay aware of the moment.

If you’re not convinced this is a book you need to read, my friend Wally Conger and I spent some time talking about the concepts in the book – and overcoming the zombie lifestyle – in this podcast interview. Give it a listen and then come back here to buy the book.

And if that doesn’t do the trick, here are three sample chapters.

A Scream of Consciousness: Wake Up and Embrace the Present Moment is designed to help you experience life in its fullest, every moment. Thanks for reading this far, and if you’d like more, you know what to do.

A place for books

Call me a Luddite.

The news story I posted from 2001 the other day was actually my second choice for a post. What I really wanted to do was reprint the column I wrote not long after, expanding on the thoughts expressed by the man who tried to circulate a petition supporting something called the Constitutional Rights Clarification Amendment.

The problem was, I couldn’t find that old column. It may be on the hard drive of the home computer I was using in 2001, which is in a storage container. But it’s apparently not anywhere on the Internet anymore, because the Great and Powerful Google couldn’t deliver it to me. No doubt it’s preserved on paper somewhere, although I can’t find a printout – but there are collections of the defunct Green Bay News-Chronicle here and there that must have the original column.

A lot of stuff stored on computers 10-20-25 years ago is pretty tough to retrieve. It’s not common to find a device anymore than will read a 5 1/4″ floppy disk of data generated on a Commodore 128. If you didn’t make a hard copy, it may be as good as lost forever.

This compatibility issue is at the root of why I’m reluctant to give up paper and books – you know, those information storage devices made out of dead trees. I don’t need a certain software or hardware or any electronic device to read things I wrote in 1972 – I just need to find those notebooks and use my eyes. The pen or pencil or typing on paper still works just as well as it did then.

Last week I attempted to take Seth Godin up on his offer of a new, free book: The Flinch by Julien Smith. The catch: The book is only available via Kindle.

I don’t have a Kindle, nor do I currently have the money to buy a Kindle. No problem – there are free programs that allow you to read Kindle ebooks on your computer. Except that Kindle for Mac only works on computers equipped with a later Mac OS system than mine, and I don’t currently have the money to upgrade. My only options to obtain this “free” ebook, it seems, involves spending money I don’t have.

I would be more than willing to spend $5-$10 for a book that can be read 200 years from now, but I’m less inclined to spend $80-$100 to buy software or hardware that will obsolete in less than 10, so that I can have the same book for free. The first thing I usually do when I download an ebook is to print out a hard copy so that I know I will always have it.

We’re talking about the storage of ideas and information. One technology (print) has proved to be fairly reliable for centuries. The other (digital) is constantly evolving, and ideas and information published with earlier versions are constantly becoming harder to access. As a result I believe hard copies will be important for a long time to come.

J. Paul Getty is credited with giving the advice, “Watch what the herd does … and do the opposite.” My observation is that the herd is abandoning paper and rushing from electronic toy to electronic toy. That’s why I’m more convinced than ever that books are a better long-term investment.