Book Review: CRYPTOZOICA by Mark Ellis

Cryptozoica

“This whole thing sounds like the plot for a lot of B movies.”

Thus speaks one of the main characters in Mark Ellis’s dinosaur adventure, Cryptozoica, and the statement reflects what I expected going in with this novel. I had reservations based on a handful of factors. The cover was brightly colored and a tad cheesy. I knew that Mr. Ellis had been a writer for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle line of macho testosterone-and-explosions books, and frankly my limited exposure to Gold Eagle books over the years hadn’t impressed me (though I never read any of the ones written pseudonymously by Ellis). And from the blurb describing the book, this seemed squarely in the pulp tradition of lost worlds, dinosaurs, beautiful women, and heroes named Jack.

That formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I happen to love pulp, as anyone reading my own work knows. But I can’t stand bad writing, and a good bit of pulp, both original and modern, is pretty awful.

By the time I finished the prologue — which dramatically ties the novel’s background to Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle — any reservations I had were chased away and I knew I was in good hands. Ellis’s writing is strong and vivid, as any good adventure writer’s should be, and he has an adept sense of story.

To go into much detail would be to spoil some of the book’s many pleasures, but I will say that it is both pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of tale and a lot more. The characters are all interesting and layered, the setting vividly painted, and the action swift and smart and full of cliffhangers. There is science, both real and weird, and Ellis’s excellent research adds interesting detail throughout. There’s a Dragon Lady, Chinese gangsters, secret societies, shifting loyalties, the requisite cool (and hungry) dinosaurs, and a few ancient mysteries. There are also some ever-topical themes relating to science and faith that are very pertinent in our current culture.

The book is nicely illustrated by the cover artist, Jeff Slemons, but I read it on my iPad and the images all loaded at a resolution just low enough to be annoying. It would be nice to see them more clearly (and I know it’s possible, as we managed to do it with my own illustrated novel, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom).

I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Get yourself to Cryptozoica for some good old fashioned adventure with modern smarts.

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I Love My Readers: Doc Wilde Now At A Lower Price! Buy It In Print, Get The Ebook Free!

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

I write to be read. And the more people who read my writing, the happier I am. (And, admittedly, the more solvent I am).

So I’m always looking for ways to make it easier for readers to get their hands on my stuff, and lately I’ve made some changes I hope will do just that.

First, I’ve dropped the price of my all-ages adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom in paperback. This is a very well-reviewed, cliffhanger-packed tale (“Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures.” — Kirkus Reviews) in a gorgeous volume full of beautiful illustrations by Aussie comics whiz Gary Chaloner. Its original price was $13.99, for the foreseeable future it’s $11.99. I’ll be making less per copy, but I hope that the change will make it easier for more folks to decide to purchase (especially since vendors sometimes cut the price even further: at the moment, Amazon has it for $10.79).

The ebook drops from $6.99 to $5.99, and contains all the fantastic Chaloner artwork of the paperback.

Kindle MatchBook

Also, a while back I entered the book into Amazon’s Kindle MatchBook program. The way this works is, if you buy the print book (or have bought the print book  in the past), the author can allow you to get the ebook for a reduced price. I’d initially set the price at $1.99, but I ultimately decided that I wanted to be even nicer to my readers, so I’ve set the price to $0.00. Buy the print book, get the ebook free.

This works even if you bought the original Putnam hardback. If you bought it from Amazon, you can now read the expanded, improved text of the Outlaw Moon edition, and see all the Chaloner artwork, for free.

By the way, you don’t need a Kindle to read the Kindle format. Amazon has Kindle apps for just about any gadget you can read on — smartphones, Macs, PCs, tablets — and you can get them here.

Mongo to Face THE BEASTS OF VALHALLA on HBO…Maybe.

The Beasts of Valhalla

About a month ago, I wrote a post about ten books that had a strong impact on me over the years, and one of them was George Chesbro’s magnificent mash-up of science fiction and horror and the detective novel, The Beasts of ValhallaThis is part of what I said about the book:

It stars one Robert “Mongo the Magnificent” Frederickson, a PI who shares both sharp intellect and deep compassion with Robert Parker’s Spenser, but, as a dwarf, has nowhere near the physical power. Mongo is an ex-circus acrobat, professor of criminology, and black belt in karate, and he’s a wonderful hero starring in a series of books of which this one is by far the best. Beasts of Valhalla starts as a detective novel but winds up somewhere in a dark, science fiction/horror territory, with Mongo acting as the daring hobbit facing dread evil in a modern day Lord of the Rings. This book ROCKS.

Now, it’s being reported that HBO is considering a ten-part adaptation of The Beasts of Valhalla starring Peter Dinklage. Since Dinklage first popped up on my radar years ago, I’ve dreamed of a Mongo movie starring him (and indeed, in 2005 there were rumors of such that ultimately didn’t pan out), and now it looks like we might be getting a ten hour movie with him based on the best book in the series.

Mongo

Please, HBO. Please. Please please please. Also, please.

FROGS OF DOOM! (ABC Wednesday, 2/19/14)

Frog of Doom

Lyonesse, Doc Wilde’s manor, was immense and imposing.

Its structure was an odd mix of gothic castle, log cabin, and Art Deco glass and steel, with an enormous white ash tree rising through its architectural core like Yggdrasil, the sacred World Tree of Norse myth. It sat on a high wooded hill eighteen miles outside the city limits of New York, a mighty guardian watching over the land.

Doctor Spartacus Wilde had designed Lyonesse, and oversaw its construction. He took its name from Arthurian legend: Lyonesse was the mystic island of Sir Tristan’s birth, a sunken land lost beneath the waves somewhere off the coast of Cornwall. Now, this modern Lyonesse was internationally renowned as the fantastic home and headquarters of the world’s greatest adventurer.

Half a mile from the hill on which the manor stood, a faint dirt track branched off the road into deep woods, ending at a well-camouflaged cave which penetrated deep into the bedrock beneath the rugged hillscape. This passage led to a spectacular underground bunker in which Doc Wilde stored his amazing assortment of vehicles.

As early evening twilight painted the hills above, an elegant jet-black automobile with three headlights zoomed from the bunker, eerily silent but for the crunch of tires on the gravelly cave floor. This muscular rocket of a car was a 1948 Tucker Torpedo. Only 51 of them had ever been made, and only 48 remained in existence. Some were in museums. Some were with wealthy collectors. They were virtually impossible to acquire.

Doc Wilde had three.

The Tucker accelerated swiftly. A titanium wall loomed in its path, but the vehicle did not slow. Seconds before impact, the wall snapped open, locking shut again after the car was through. Every hundred yards another such gate barred the way, but allowed the Tucker to pass. These indestructible gates were just one of the many security measures protecting Lyonesse.

The unusual automobile shot from the cave onto the dirt track through the forest.

Doc Wilde had made some modifications to the three Tucker Torpedoes so they would be truly adventure-worthy. Their steel bodies were reinforced with a spray-on armor coating, the windows were unbreakable glass, and the tires made of rupture-proof polymer gels. The old gasoline engines were replaced with solar/hydrogen engines of Doc’s own invention, eliminating all polluting emissions. And running boards had been added along the sides.

When the weather was nice (and sometimes when it wasn’t, if time was short), Doc liked to ride outside the car on the running board. In times of emergency, this served the additional purpose of making Doc visible to law enforcement officials, who knew that if Doc Wilde was breaking traffic laws, it had to be for very good reason, so they would try to clear the way and offer any assistance he might require.

The weather was nice now, and Doc was out on the driver’s side running board, the wind blasting through his hair, his mighty arms holding tight. He wore a white safari shirt with epaulets on the shoulders, khaki cargo pants, and leather boots. Over his shirt he wore his field vest, brown and full of pockets holding numerous useful tools and gizmos he always took with him on his travels.

Brian and Wren rode in the Tucker’s backseat, wearing clothes identical to their dad’s. The Wildes called these outfits their “danger clothes.”

Behind the wheel was Doc’s driver and pilot, an Irishman named Declan mac Coul. Declan’s hair and beard were shaggy red, and while he was just a few inches taller than 5 feet, he weighed as much as Doc. He was like a short bear and all muscle. There were many mysteries about Declan mac Coul, but one thing they knew for sure was that he could always be counted on completely.

Next to Declan sat Phineas Bartlett in a dapper suit and derby hat, holding a cane with an ornate eagle’s head handle of purest silver.

Spraying dust, the Tucker veered from the dirt track onto the main road into town. Bartlett scowled at Declan. “Slow down now, you misbegotten ape.”

“Funny you callin’ me an ape, all natty in that monkey suit,” Declan replied. But he did slow to the speed limit, as they were no longer on Doc’s private land.

When Declan and Bartlett addressed one another, the two men’s voices oozed disgust and dislike. But actually, they were the greatest of friends.

Wren interrupted their sparring. “Declan? Bartlett? Do either of you know what Ophrys means?”

Brian shot her a look. The little trickster hadn’t forgotten their squabble.

Bartlett chuckled. “You’ll need to wait till Declan learns English before you start tormenting him with Ancient Greek. But Ophrys means ‘eyebrow,’ if I recall correctly,” which he did. Phineas Bartlett recalled everything correctly; he had an eidetic memory (often called a “photographic memory”), and had total recall of everything he’d ever read.

Wren grinned at her big brother. “Gotcha.”

Declan snorted. “You would know that.”

Bartlett smiled. “The benefits of a high-brow education.”

Wren grinned at Brian even more. He scowled and tried to ignore her.

Bartlett gazed benignly at Declan. “Aristotle tells us ‘Educated men are as much superior to uneducated men as the living are to the dead.’”

Bartlett was familiar with lots of quotations.

“Well,” Declan said, “I reckon that means I’m superior to Aristotle, me bein’ alive and him bein’ dead. So why should I listen to him?”

Where’s Dad?!?” Wren suddenly cried. Startled, everyone glanced out the windows.

Doc Wilde was no longer on the running board. Continue reading

In Praise of Authors and Readers and No Gatekeepers: Some Counterpoints to a Piece in Publishers Weekly

Readers and Writers

Chris Pavone, an editor turned novelist whose entire career has played itself out in the traditional publishing world, has a few things to say about indie publishing in a piece over at Publishers Weekly. Spoiler: he’s agin it.

 In a market of unlimited book options, how does an audience make choices? At the moment, most of that burden is carried by the book business. The publicity and marketing campaigns and cover designs and flap copy—the things that publishers do—are not just methods of selling books; they’re also readers’ main tools for discovering books. The same is true of the curating and merchandising in stores, and book coverage in the media. Without reviews, staff recommendations, and endcap displays, unlimited choices aren’t narrowed down—they’re overwhelming.

You know what? There are already hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of books in what Chuck Wendig calls the “shit volcano” of self publishing. And yet, my job as a reader has gotten no more difficult. I have no trouble at all finding the books I wish to read, and the task of sorting through the crap to find the gold is precisely the same as it has always been. There are a lot of self-published books I don’t want to read, but there are also a hell of a lot of traditionally published books I don’t want to read.

And “unlimited book options” is a bad thing? More choices for the reader, more books in the world, is a bad thing? Many more good writers able to get their books published, and to make money from them, is a bad thing? I don’t think so.

 Second, if all books become cheap or free to readers, then writers are unlikely to earn much (if anything). Who will want to write if writing doesn’t pay?

 Ooooh, scary. But you know what? Writing pays about 10% when traditionally published books sell for their standard prices. But it pays 70% when independently published books sell. That’s seven times the royalty. So a $10 book from one of the huge publishing corporations will pay a writer a buck per sale; an indie book only has to sell for $2 to beat that (a much more attractive price to a buyer), paying the writer $1.40. If the indie book sells for $3, it nets the writer more than a 10% royalty on a traditionally published book selling for $20. At $5, the writer is getting a royalty of $3.50, three and a half times what he’d get for a ten dollar book from the traditional gatekeepers.

Who will want to write if writing pays better?

Third, without the gatekeepers, those who do write will create books that are worse—and not just authors whose dormant genius must be drawn out by patient editors, but all authors. Every book that doesn’t first have to get past a gatekeeper or two, or 10, before being put in front of the public will be worse.

What balderdash. Every book? Really? Even those by writers who’ve already been published by the big corporations and know their way around a gerund and a character arc? Even those by writers who hire professional editors to help them polish their material exactly the same way editors at traditional houses do? Even those by writers willing to do the work because it’s work they care deeply about, and work that may finally earn them a reasonable living?

I get what he’s saying, though. He’s saying, “I work in traditional publishing. Traditional publishing pays my bills [though probably not all of them]. Therefore, traditional publishing must prevail, lest I have to fend for myself and become more responsible for the quality of my own books, which is really scary when you’re as entrenched and calcified and hidebound as I am.”

New FROGS OF DOOM Review: “Tim Byrd is one heckuva author!”

A wonderful new reader review of Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is up on Amazon:

Kudos Are well deserved!, February 11, 2014 *****For the uninitiated, the book is a fast-paced, cliffhanger-packed, pulp-style adventure story suitable for all ages. It’s also on sale in honor of Valentine’s Day through Sunday for only $3.99 (usual price: $6.99).

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

Reading the Detectives (Song of the Week, 2/7/14)

PI

I’ve been reading to Nydia since last year (we began with Robert Devereaux’s excellent Santa Steps Out, which has been mentioned a few times before on this blog), and lately I’ve focused on introducing her to one of my favorite writers, the late great Robert B. Parker (whose strong impact on my life I wrote about here). The trend began with a viewing of Appaloosa, Ed Harris’s awesome film of one of Parker’s Hitch & Cole westerns (both of which I reviewed here), a nearly perfect movie but for a painful, hideous, off-key performance by Renee Zellweger, though everyone else is wonderful and I think the flick has Viggo Mortensen’s best performance. Then I read the sequel, Resolution, out loud to Nyd (it benefitted from exactly no Zellweger).

This naturally led to discussions of Parker’s most famous character, Spenser, who was, of course, a lot better on the page than he was on TV (Robert Urich did a pretty good job with him, but GOOD GOD Joe Mantegna was miscast like a Zellweger in the last telefilms made of Parker’s books). So I read to her the Edgar Award winning Promised Land, the fourth book but the novel in which the key elements that people tend to associate with Spenser (especially his relationship with Susan Silverman and the presence of the menacing-yet-honorable mob enforcer Hawk) really clicked into place. (This was also the book originally adapted for the Spenser: For Hire pilot, I’m sure for the same reasons). She loved it, and I really enjoyed rereading the book many years after I originally read it.

So, in celebration of our Parkerish season, today’s Song of the Week is an unusual choice: the cool sax intro of the show Spenser: For Hire. If you were also a fan of Spenser, Jesse Stone, Hitch & Cole, or any other Parker creations, feel free to comment below.