Book Review: The Puppet Masters

Title: The Puppet Masters
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Publisher: Doubleday (1951)
Genre: Adult science fiction and action
Length: 175 pages (reasonable)
Series: None

Rating: 3.5 tweaks out of 5

Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters is a classic, genre-defining novel that gave birth to a legion of other stories about aliens arriving on earth and enslaving the human race. It is definitely worth reading, if only to see what Heinlein predicted back in 1951 and to get a taste of how the people back then envisioned their world, the universe, and the future. Personally, there were aspects of writing style that I picked up on and hope to employ in my own work. The few issues I had with the novel could be credited to the times in which it was written.

In The Puppet Masters, “Sam” is an agent in the employ of a secret intelligence organization that protects the United States of America and answers only to the president. He goes on a mission with his boss, the “Old Man,” and “Mary,” a red-headed beauty and equally dangerous agent. Their objective: To investigate reports of a flying saucer that landed in Iowa. What they find is, to all appearances, a prank. However, they can smell that something is fishy, and they notice people are acting strangely and wearing mysterious humps on their shoulders. So begins the war between humans and Titans, the slug-like parasitic aliens from a Saturnalian moon. Sam plays a vital role in defense and eventually offense against the Titans in a quick, energetic read.

To writers in the 1940’s and 50’s, the solar system and the universe provided a fertile garden for creatures and ideas. Every planet had life forms, including Venus and Mars, and humans travelled freely between them. On the future Earth, cars fly, cosmetic surgery takes seconds, phones are implanted, and marriage is a financial transaction. Heinlein made some very interesting predictions about technology and society. As a sci-fi writer, I hope to make similar leaps so that someone reading my work sixty years from now can laugh or nod in wonder.

I most enjoyed Heinlein’s skill in keeping his narrative bouncing along. The Puppet Masters races forward at breakneck speed, with minimal description. That’s not to say that it was lacking in anything. Heinlein managed to describe just enough, keeping my imagination alight with visions of flying cars, heater guns, and alien races. His dialogue and narrative voice are sharp and witty, and he doesn’t spend time in long conversations. The plot itself suffers from no issues that I saw. Everything is tight and makes sense, and carries the reader to a satisfying ending.

The biggest issue that I had was that the female protagonist, Mary, goes from a dangerous secret agent to a meek and fragile wife character in the snap of Heinlein’s fingers. Her dialogue drops from witty repartee to repetitions of “Yes, dear.” This was disappointing for me, though I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering the time period. Perhaps in conjunction with this issue was the lack of strong characters. Sam was a sturdy fellow, as was the Old Man, but everyone else was faded, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied.

Those were small irritations, though. I recommend The Puppet Masters to anyone who enjoys science fiction and uncomplicated adventure.

Author Bio:

Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was an American science fiction writer. Often called the “dean of science fiction writers”, he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre in his time. He set a standard for scientific and engineering plausibility, and helped to raise the genre’s standards of literary quality.

He was one of the first science fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades. He, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are known as the “Big Three” of science fiction.


Team Tweak’s Tips: Writing Queries

So you finished writing your first book and now you’re ready to send off that query letter. But wait! Before you start writing, have you done everything possible to give your book a fighting chance to make it on the shelves?

You poured your emotions, time, and sweat into the work of art you have created so why shouldn’t you give it the best chance possible of getting published?

I have put together some of the dos and don’ts for writing a query letter. I am definitely no expert and this is certainly not a comprehensive list but I am passing on the tips and knowledge that I gained from attending Brian Henry’s seminar, browsing through hundreds of websites, and, of course, not forgetting the advice and input from my writing buddies and editor friends.

Before you start writing your Query Letter:

  • Get someone to read over your manuscript.
  • Check your story for correct grammar, sentence structure, etc. You get one chance to pitch your book. Make sure you give it your best shot.
  • Do your research and make a list of the agents/publishers accepting manuscripts in the genera you are writing?
  • Confirm if the agent is accepting submissions by email or snail mail. For example, most agents do not accept attachments and prefer the query letter and sample chapters pasted in the body of the email.
  • When sending your query via email it might be wise to include the word “Query” in the subject line. Some agents have a filter set on their email and if the email has attachments or does not have the word “Query” in the subject line, it might go straight into their junk folder.
  • Follow the instructions exactly as given by the agents on how to submit your query letter. If an agents says to send the first 5000 words of your story then send only the first 5000 words. This shows that you have done your research and you can follow instructions.

What to include in the letter:

  • Your name and the title and genre of your book on the top left.
  • The Agency and Agent name below that.
  • Unless stated otherwise, greet the agent by their first name.

For simplicity, the following format makes the most sense:

Divide the letter into four paragraphs:

  1. The first paragraph introduces your book, including word count and what category your book falls into. If it is a series, mention it. You might want to compare it to other books, if applicable.
  2. In the second paragraph include a summary of your book. Sometimes it is hard to sum up 50000 words into a one paragraph. Try summarizing your book into one page, then use the elimination process to reduce it to few paragraphs, and then to one paragraph.
  3. In the third paragraph talk about yourself. Mostly, showing the agent your writing abilities. Maybe a course you took or a writing workshop you have attended.
  4. In the fourth paragraph thank the agent.

You have sent of your Query Letter. Now what?

Most agents are pretty good at responding within the time frame they state on their websites. If you don’t hear anything after that time has lapsed then, unless the agent has specifically stated for you not to follow up, go ahead and send another email asking for an update on your Query.

Finally, don’t give up. Just keep improving your skills and believe in yourself. Go to writing workshops, join writing groups, and keep learning and writing.

A wise man said: Getting your book published depends on three factors: Luck, luck, and luck. But who makes your luck?

Answer: You.

How would you describe a day like this?

October 26, 2013. It’s windy, cloudy and raining outside here in Toronto, Ontario. What a perfect day for writing a scary, sad or a depressing scene for your book. If you want to be really adventurous, you can write a romantic scene as well, I guess.

How would you describe a day like this? The best way is to go out and experience it first hand. And that is what I did this morning. I went out and stood in my backyard and this is what I heard and saw.

Raindrops pitter pattered against the walls of my house and against every other object in my backyard. What are they saying to each other as they fall? I wondered.

The rustling sounds created from the wind riffling through the leaves and the grass danced to my ears. How peaceful the sound is, I thought.

Tiny murky globules streamed down on the leaves of my cherry tree but only to bounce back up and then land on the luscious green blades of the grass. Finally they’ve reached their new home, I concluded.

The leaves swayed, the grass blades danced and every now and then the rain droplets cascading down changed their direction to accommodate the wind rushing through.

I realised I wasn’t alone in the backyard. There was the rain, the wind, the sparrows huddled up under the roof, and the squirrels peeking out from the hole in my neighbour’s tree, waiting for the rain to stop so they could go and look for their first meal of the day.

How would you describe a day like this?

Book Review: Reamde

Title: Reamde
Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: techno-thriller
Length: 1056 pages (behemoth-sized)
Series: None
Rating: 4.5 tweaks out of 5

This was my first book by Neal Stephenson and my first example of a techno-thriller. To begin with … I loved it.

Reamde took a lot of work to get into, but it was well worth the effort. Stephenson is like a mason of writing, laying down layer after layer of information that, though seemingly unconnected to the plot, eventually became pertinent. These layers, each of them described in extensive and vivid detail, gave me a lot to chew on while reading the first few chapters, until the real meat of the plot began.

With masterful skill, Stephenson wove together several different threads, starting with Richard and Zula Forthrast. Richard is the billionaire founder of a massive multiplayer online role playing game loosely based on World of Warcraft, called T’Rain. In Reamde, currency can pass from the world of T’Rain to the real world and back again. Remember this, it becomes important later on. Now, I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just leave you with a list of the many, many characters you’ll encounter in this cat’s cradle of a narrative.

Zula’s boyfriend, Peter, is the catalyst, launching Zula into a whirlwind adventure that crosses the globe. She is kidnapped by the Russian mob, befriends a Chinese woman, tracks down a Chinese group of young hackers with the help of a Hungarian hacker, meets and earns the respect of a former Spetsnaz mercenary, is helped along by an agent of the MI6 and an American military captain, and enters a firefight with a Welsh Jihadist at the homestead of a survivalist family in the forests of Washington State.

Oh yes, and there are guns, guns, guns, and enough technological information to make you think you could cut it as a hacker yourself (believe me, I tried).

Have I caught your interest yet?

The plot is a rollercoaster built on a scaffolding of intricately described scenes, actions, and characters. As a reader, you’ll be swept away on adventures that toe the line of ridiculous, but manage to stay safely on the side of plausible. Stephenson’s skills come through here; the amount of detail he includes makes it difficult not to believe that these people and situations aren’t real. I found myself wanting to travel to the locations that Stephenson’s characters ran and fought their way through.

Unfortunately, Stephenson’s strength could be viewed as a weakness. The immense level of detail can be overwhelming and can distract from plot and character development. Despite being over a thousand pages long, only ten days pass in the world of Reamde, making it a dense story. Think the density of dark matter. Depending on your preferences, you may dislike this immersive quality of Reamde. This is no quick “beach read.” However, if you want a story that will tackle you to the ground and toss you into a vivid technological world, then this is the one for you.

Author Bio:

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American author and game designer known for his works of speculative fiction.

His novels have been variously categorized as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and “postcyberpunk.” Other labels, such as “baroque,” often appear.

Stephenson explores subjects such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired.


Industry Q & A: Erin Hagget, Assistant Editor in Publishing

Name: Erin Hagget
Company: Scholastic Canada Ltd.
Position: Assistant Editor in Publishing
Genre: Early Reader to Young Adult
Astrological Sign: Curious minds need to know


Reading! Yay!

Scholastic is one of those publishing companies that most Canadians grow up with; children flip through book orders looking for what may become their new favourite book and then grow up with fond memories of Clifford and The Magic School Bus. Any author would dream of having their books make their way into schools.

Erin is one of my closest friends from the Book and Magazine Publishing certificate program at Centennial College; since then, we’ve worked together on the online pet magazine and meet up once in a while to attend industry events, such as book launches and Book Camp TO.

Team Tweak TO connected with Erin Haggett, assistant editor in publishing at Scholastic Canada Ltd., to ask for her insight into finding jobs in the publishing industry.

Q: What is your relationship with the book you work on and the writer of that book? We’d love a brief description of what you do and how it pertains to the author.
A: I’m an assistant editor, so I tend to work on a variety of projects. I usually work on books in the later stage of the publishing process, particularly the proofreading, ebook development, and reprints stages. Because I come in so late in the process, I rarely have any direct contact with authors.

Q: How can an author help in this process?
A: I can’t speak to specifics because authors aren’t usually directly involved in the type of work I’m currently doing, but being open, accessible, and enthusiastic is always great! As is meeting deadlines 🙂

Q: How did you end up in this field?
A: I graduated with a BA in Media, Information, and Technoculture from the University of Western Ontario before completing the Book and Magazine Publishing program through Centennial College.

Q: Do you have advice for others who want to get into your field?
A: Read everything you can, don’t be too intimidated by the tough job market, and talk to others in the field—nearly everyone you meet will be willing to give advice and/or assistance.

Q: What is your favourite aspect of your work?
A: I work in children’s publishing, so I love the variety of books I get to work on—they can be anything from picture books to YA novels. I also love that I have a part in encouraging kids to become lifelong readers!

Q: How do you start your day?/What do you like to drink while working?/What do you listen to while working?/Where do you do your best work?/What is your favourite colour?
A: I generally start my day by catching up on email, then jumping right in to my project(s). I’m not a coffee drinker, but I love tea, so I usually have a couple cups a day. I don’t usually listen to music or anything else while I work. I prefer a quiet environment, without a lot of distractions, particularly if I’m proofreading. I don’t have one favourite colour, but I tend to gravitate towards cool colours: purples, blues, and greens are my go-to palette.

When will I have time to write?

On Thanksgiving weekend I was all excited to start my day afresh, to spend all day writing and editing my book, when I realized that my homework has a deadline, but my book…does not.

That’s something many writers can relate to, the big question of, “When will I have time to write?” When, between the deadlines that seem as tangible as the keyboard beneath your fingers, will you have time to write? You need to hand your work in to your boss on time. You need to submit your assignment to your teacher on time. Your friends or your kids or your loved ones expect you to be somewhere at a certain time, and you want to be there. But you also want, and need, to write. Why? Because you’re a writer.

So when will you write?

Just do it. Nike had it right. Just do it. Just sit down and do it. Even for 5 minutes – and you’ll feel the difference! Once you’re writing again, you’ll light up inside and suddenly you won’t be asking, “When will I have time to write?” Instead, you’ll be writing.

And when a deadline is looming or you feel too busy, let this be your inspiration:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Book Review: Boneshaker

Title: Boneshaker
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Adult fiction, steampunk/fantasy
Length: Reasonable
Series: The Clockwork Century

Rating: 3.5 tweaks out of 5

Boneshaker begins in the Outskirts, the lands surrounding a walled portion of downtown Seattle in 1880, with Ms Briar Wilkes, a labourer in a water filtration plant, encountering a biographer for the mad scientist and inventor, Leviticus Blue. Why, one might ask, is part of 1880 Seattle all walled up? And why would the biographer of a mad inventor talk with Briar? The answer, dear reader, is Zombies.

In 1863, Leviticus Blue was hired by the Russian government to build a drill that would tear its way through ice and rock to get to the Klondike gold. So Blue built a machine. And then that machine tore its way through the Seattle underground, right through the bank vaults (most of which probably held Klondike gold, to be fair). There were earthquakes and toppled buildings and a great deal of property damage, but the worst consequence was that the machine broke into a vein of subterranean gas that had a rather unfortunate property: it turned living people into the living dead. The gas escaped and devastated several square blocks of Seattle. It would have done more damage, but they erected walls to contain it and everyone who could flee did so.

Sixteen years later, Briar was living with her son, Zeke, in the Outskirts just outside of the Seattle walls. Briar was Blue’s wife. Since he apparently single-handedly destroyed Seattle before disappearing, she was not well liked. But she got by and took care of Zeke while she was at it. One thing she could not do, though, was tell Zeke the truth about what happened to his father, Leviticus Blue. Zeke, an intelligent and headstrong youth, did not take Briar’s silence well and decided to break into the city to discover the truth.

Briar, knowing the danger he would face, went after him.

And so begins the adventure of Boneshaker, the story of a mother going after her son. There were airships and airship pirates, a princess, zombies, survivors, damp tunnels, gadgets, a one-armed woman, a masked man, and zombies. The point of view bounced between Briar and Zeke as they explored and encountered the inhabitants (both undead and alive) of apocalyptic Seattle, which gave me an excited little thrill as they got closer and closer to each other. The secondary characters were each unique and fun, the plot was relatively simple, Briar and Zeke were smart and fun, and the action was delightfully gory. The environment, though, was where Priest really shone. She created an exceptionally realistic world in and under Seattle, where the inhabitants must deal with the threat of the gas and the zombies, and the immensely more terrifying and dangerous threat of other living humans.

To cap it off, Boneshaker ended on an immensely gratifying twist, which left me satisfied after reading.

Boneshaker didn’t have flaws so much as minor annoyances. Although Briar was a strong and highly competent fem-protagonist, she was almost too strong and competent. For one, she was a crack shot with a shot gun that she had apparently locked away for fifteen years, and she didn’t have a history as a woman of the law or anything similar. At times, the quantity of environmental descriptions became overwhelming and I began to skim over them, though this may be an issue with the reader rather than the book. There were a few too many places where fortunate happenstance played a leading role; I found myself thinking “Well, isn’t that convenient” a little too frequently for my tastes. However, as I said, those were irritating but barely took me away from the plot and character.

I found Boneshaker to be a fun and easy read, without any deep thought required. I recommend it to anyone looking for a satisfying example of the steampunk genre with a dash of horror and action/adventure, but not if you want something that will linger in your mind.

Author Bio:

Cherie Priest is the author of twelve novels, including the steampunk pulp adventures Dreadnought and Boneshaker. Boneshaker was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award; it was a PNBA Award winner, and winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Cherie also wrote Fathom and the Eden Moore series from Tor (Macmillan), and her novellas Clementine, Dreadful Skin and Those Who Went Remain There Still are published by Subterranean Press. In addition to all of the above, she is a newly minted member of the Wild Cards Consortium – and her first foray into George R. R. Martin’s superhero universe, Fort Freak (for which she wrote the frame story), will debut in 2011. Cherie’s short stories and nonfiction articles have appeared in such fine publications as Weird Tales, Subterranean Magazine, Publishers Weekly, and the Stoker-nominated anthology Aegri Somnia from Apex. Though she spent most of her life in the southeast, she presently lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and a fat black cat.