Book Review – Murderbot Diaries
If you’re looking for a great escape, I highly recommend the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.
I stumbled onto this series by accident – it was one of those recommendations provided by the Amazon algorithm, but it just goes to show that computers really do know you better than you know yourself, because I’ve totally loved this series. I recommended it to all my family, and they’ve binge-read it too.
What’s the story about?
Don’t be put off by the ‘Murderbot’ in the title. The story is told as a semi-diary form in relentless first person. The protagonist is a totally paranoid android, named Murderbot (well, that’s its private name. In public it’s called ‘SecUnit’). Murderbot aka SecUnit is a robot construct, built of cloned organic tissue and electronics. Built as a security bot, it is leased by an evil company to explorers, miners and other participants in frontier missions. But SecUnit has a secret – it’s hacked its governer module. Which means the company can no longer tell it what to do. More importantly , it allows him to download as much media as he wants.
The story is set in the far future, in a civilisation dominated by the Corporation Rim, where might means right, and non-corporates which, as SecUnit says, can be great places or total shit-shows, you never know.
What is free will?
The Murderbot Diaries are fast-paced, as SecUnit faces various trials and deals with them using a mixture of old-fashioned violence and ultra-fast hacking. It’s funny, too, as SecUnit learns to talk to people without its protective armour, and argues (and sometimes befriends) other, also self-aware bots. But the best part of the Murderbot Diaries is the dry, self-aware voice of SecUnit, as it learns what free will means, what it is to have a friend, and slowly discovers what it really wants from life.
What is intelligence?
This series is a must-read for fans of intelligent, funny action-packed narratives. I especially recommend it for teen boys (which can be a hard group to find books for! 🙂 ).
I binge-read all seven books in the series, and then read them all again, because I loved them so much. Each book is a stand-alone, but as they take place consecutively, so it’s helpful to read them in order.
The first books are relatively short (and inexpensive), but as the series progress the books become longer, which is great because every story in the Murderbot Diaries is brilliant, so the longer the better, I think. I really, really hope it gets made into a TV series!!
You can find Murderbot Diaries online or (if you’re lucky) at a bookstore near you.
(note: the links in this blog post are Amazon affiliate links so I may gain a small commission if you click on these links and make a purchase)
PS, If you’re looking for books for teen boys, you might also like this blog post – Great Books for Brainy Boys
Exclusive Excerpt – Born in Blood
To celebrate the upcoming release of Rising in Blood, second and final (so far anyway) in the Vampire Queens series, I’ve popped an excerpt from Book No1, Born in Blood, below.
The inspiration for this scene was a very cold day spent wandering the streets of Den Haag (The Hague), Holland. The Hague is home to the International Court of Justice and the fabulous Mauritshuis Art Museum, where you can see amazing art-work, up close and personal.
The tulips as described in this scene were exactly as I saw them, as was the café where the story opens. BUT I never saw any vampires … (that I know of, anyway 🙂 ).
P.S. You can find Born in Blood on Amazon.
Chapter One – In The Hague
Outside the café, three young men leaned against a concrete wall. From their baggy, poorly made clothes, they looked like day laborers, waiting for their morning hire. Then one of them said something and shifted slightly, and the light caught his darkly delicate features, and I saw them for what they really were. My breath caught just as I was sipping my coffee. By the time I stopped coughing, they had disappeared.
“Those three men?” I asked the server. “The ones that were outside? Do you know them?”
She glanced out the window. “Did they look about twenty? And wearing old clothes?” She had a Spanish accent. When I nodded, she added, “Those men, si. They follow the tourists about, especially the girls. I tell police: ‘those men, they are bad’. But they say I am racist. Me, I am not a racist. I am Spanish. You like more coffee, Señora?”
I shook my head. “I’m fine, thanks.”
The white-walled café had wide glass windows, comfortable soft seats, and the coffee was fresh and hot. I might visit again. Except for those men. I glanced out the window. There was no-one outside, and the spring sunlight was bright. Perhaps I’d imagined it, and those men were completely normal. I shouldn’t be so suspicious all the time.
But at the counter, I paused. “Those men? The ones outside? Don’t go near them, okay?” Especially, I thought, at night.
“They are dangerous?” asked the Spanish server, wide-eyed.
But before I could answer, my phone rang. It was Shara, from the Court. “The Judge is ready for you. Can you be here in ten minutes?”
“On my way,” I said, and pushed the door open. The girl nodded a farewell. “Just don’t go near them,” I said again.
Outside, the wind was icy. It was early spring, just before Easter, and around the base of bare-branched trees, pink and yellow tulips were in flower. I huddled into my coat collar, trying to keep warm. If I took a shortcut through the castle, the palace courtyard would shelter me from the wind.
I should explain: the center of the city of The Hague (the Dutch call it Den Haag), is occupied by an ancient castle, surrounded by a moat. (A moat! In the middle of a city! How crazy is that?) The castle, built of dark stone with pennant-topped towers and deep-set windows, looks like something from a fairytale, but it’s grimmer than Disney: this was a castle for a beast, not a beauty. Walking through its gates always gave me a thrill.
I wasn’t here for sightseeing, though. Today, I was bound for the International Court of Justice and in honor of the occasion, I’d worn a pair of dress pants instead of my usual jeans. Boots don’t look great with suit pants, so reluctantly, I’d left my Doc Martins at home and wore black flats of patent leather. No way was Lottie (Lottie is my grandmother aka my boss), getting me into heels. I didn’t want to look any taller than my six feet – it’s hard enough getting a date as it is.
As I crossed the cobblestoned city square, I probably looked like just another professional; a solicitor, perhaps, carrying an over-large tote bag over one shoulder. Although I doubted that a solicitor would have a Glock or carbon-fiber knives in their bag. Most lawyers prefer to pay someone else to do their killing.
There were more tulips near the castle gate, like a false promise of sunny spring, and behind them stood the butter-yellow Mauritshuis art gallery. Once a rich man’s palace, the building now houses a small-but-perfect art collection. I’d always wanted to visit. If my meeting with the Judge finished early, perhaps I could squeeze it in later today.
The water of the moat splashed against the Mauritshuis walls. Swans glided past, like they didn’t feel the cold. Lucky swans. My hands were freezing. I should have brought gloves.
And that’s when I saw the three men from the café, leaning against the castle walls. They had their hoods pulled up, as though hiding their skin from the watery Dutch sunlight. One of them glanced my way. Not unusual – a six-foot woman stands out – but the set of his shoulders, and his look of casual expectation, made me pause. They were waiting for something, or someone. But who?
A troop of Japanese schoolgirls, laughing and talking, came toward me. The girls looked like something from an anime: identically dressed in short navy pleated skirts and carrying Hello Kitty backpacks. I arched, stretching my back – it had been aching all day – as the girls turned through the iron gates of the gallery. Their high-pitched voices faded as they vanished down the ramp that led to the gallery’s underground entrance.
As one, the men peeled themselves from the wall and followed, passing through the gates with fluid grace. I knew that intensity of stance. They were hunting! In daylight! No, that can’t be. I slid behind the side of the building and watched. The men didn’t talk, made no sound, as they disappeared down the ramp. Yes, they were hunting.
I should follow. But I hesitated, because it seemed so unlikely. I mean, who ever heard of a vamp attack in daylight? Besides, I was due at court, and it was never wise to keep a judge waiting. But I couldn’t just let an attack happen. How could I call myself a Hunter if I refused to hunt? So I followed the men down the ramp, into the gallery lobby.
Through windows, high in the wood-paneled wall, I could see the gently lapping waves of the moat. The men were nowhere to be seen, but the girls were clustered around a ticket dispenser and giggling.
I dialed Shara. “I might be late.”
“No. This is important, Shara.”
“But the Judge …”
“He’ll have to wait,” I said. “Shara, this is to do with my work.”
Shara knew about my work: about Ravensfell. She knew something about Lottie and our secret, hidden world. After a pause, she asked, “How long will you be?”
“Not long.” For surely, I was mistaken. Vamps would never normally hunt in public places during daylight hours. Unless they were hungry, perhaps. Then, who knew what they might do?
I turned, trying to locate the men. My back was still aching. It was my tattoo’s fault. Ever since I’d bought tickets to The Hague, it had been waking me at odd hours and keeping me restless in the airplane. I should have taken painkillers, but now it was too late. Hopefully, it wouldn’t slow me down.
The gallery’s entrance hall was almost empty. To the left was a bookstore, just opening for the morning, and to the right, beneath signs to the bathrooms, lay a bank of lockers. The entrance to the art gallery was behind me, up a set of stairs, past ticket turnstiles and a security station. The lobby was quiet, and the guards at the turnstiles looked bored.
“Madison, where are you?” Shara asked.
“An art gallery. You know, the yellow one, the Mauritshuis? Beside the moat.”
Above the turnstiles hung a banner with an image of a blue foaming wave and the iconic shape of Mount Fuji. The banner said: Monsters and Mountains: the Art of Katsushika Hokusai. Perhaps that was why the Japanese schoolgirls were visiting.
Beside the bookstore was a café, with attendants setting out chairs and tables. Surely, those men must be here, somewhere?
“Do you need help?” Shara asked.
“No. I don’t think so.”
The girls retrieved their tickets, stuffed their backpacks into lockers. I walked past them, as if making for the bathroom. And there, half-hidden by a wooden screen, stood the three men. They watched the girls intently, as if inspecting their next meal.
“Madison, I’m sending someone,” said Shara. “Brett O’Hagan. American.”
“Shara!” I hissed. “No!”
The girls shoved the locker doors closed, then, still chattering, headed toward the turnstile. I opened the bathroom door casually, and glanced behind me. The men had left their hiding place, and I hadn’t heard them move. Now they stood at the turnstile, feeding tickets into the slots. They must have bought them earlier. They had planned for this.
“Den Haag is my city. My city,” said Shara fiercely. “He’ll be there in ten minutes. I will alert security.”
But she had hung up.
I glared at the phone. What did she mean, ‘sending help’? What use would security be against vamps?
I couldn’t wait, either – I had to follow. If they were hunting, they’d be fast and vicious.
But I’d never make it through the metal detector with a sidearm, and I couldn’t afford delay-causing arguments. I hustled back into the bathroom, hid in a stall, and tucked my gun and its holster into my tote. My knives were carbon – we’d long since changed from steel because carbon was easier to pass through scanners – so I left them in their holsters: two at my wrists, one at my waist and one on each ankle. Quickly, I tied my hair back in a ponytail, getting ready for action. Leaving the restroom, I glimpsed my reflection. I could pass for a lawyer, I thought, and wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
I pushed the bag into a locker, bought a ticket from the dispenser, and headed up the stairs into the gallery. As I fed my ticket into the turnstile, I wished I was wearing my boots.
Want to read more? Check out Born in Blood on Amazon.
P.S. At time of writing this blog post, Born in Blood is also available for FREE via Kindle Unlimited.
Ever feel like relaxing on the couch and turning off the world? Yeah,me too.
This is my pick of escapist media-porn from 2021. Okay, so it’s not actually porn, but sometimes there is sex, or good looking bods. And there’s almost always action and adventure, because that’s my jam.
Here’s the list (in no particular order of) TV, Movies and Books. Enjoy!
1. TV Series
Henry Cavill in tight pants. Swords. Intelligent scripts, great characters, amazing world building. Humour. Oh, and Henry Cavill. There’s two seasons now. If you haven’t seen it yet, go and binge watch it immediately.
Great premise, the title tells you all you need to know! In this TV series you’ll find a secret order of warrior nuns, sworn to protect an angel’s halo. Here’s the description from Wikipedia: Ava Silva, a quadriplegic orphan, discovers she now has supernatural powers which force her to join an ancient order of warrior nuns. They shot the series in Spain, so the setting is gorgeous, and the plot speeds along with lots of satisfying twists. Second season coming soon.
The Foundation (TV Series)
This series is based on the Asimov series of the same name, but it’s a lot more interesting in than the book (yes, I actually said that). For a start, there are females in the plot, and the cast is diverse. The scope is epic, with a premise that the Galactic Empire is fading, and only the Foundation, a creation of psycho-historian Hari Seldon, can prevent the inevitable slide into chaos. The costumes are amazing, and there’s a good podcast that goes with it (only available on apple media, so sorry if you’re on android), but don’t listen to the podcast until you’ve watched the series, because: spoilers!
A strange yet appealing series, staring Alan Tudyk (Wash, from Firefly), an alien sent to wipe out humanity who crash-lands on Earth before he can fulfil his mission. Able to shape change, he becomes the town’s pathologist. The story is about the moral dilemma of failing to complete his mission, solving murders, dealing with a nine-year-old boy who can see who he really is, while trying to blend into this strange, inexplicable world of the humans. It’s funny and thought-provoking, and great entertainment.
I’ve been a huge fan of Dune since I first read the series as a teenager. This movie doesn’t disappoint. True to the book (but not as good as, of course), Dune relays the tale of Paul, heir to the Atriedes dukedom, transported to the desert-planet of Dune. Dune, where Spice, the most valuable substance in the universe, is found. This epic, multilayered adventure is great watching, but it is only the first half of the novel. I’m looking forward to the second movie.
This is a great popcorn movie. Bright, funny, staring Ryan Reynolds as an NPC character in a game (I didn’t know the premise when I went to see it, which made it even funnier), who wants a better life for him and his friends. It’s not deep or meaningful (okay, it is, but only a bit), but it’s heaps of fun.
I’ve had a dearth of reading this year. I’ve found it really hard to get my hands on books that are exciting, intelligent, not sexist, and funny. That’s why there’s only a few books here, which is a little embarrassing, because it looks like all I’ve done this year is watch TV. Although, thinking about it, that is pretty much true!
I’ve linked these books to their Amazon pages, so you can check them out for yourself. Full disclosure: These links are affiliate links, so I may earn a (very tiny) commission if you click on them.
Kate Daniels series – by Illona Andrews.
Set in a futuristic fantasy Atlanta, Kate Daniels is a mercenary who fights monsters and saves the day. Oh, and falls in love with a hunky shape-changer. This is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but better.
This YA gothic fantasy has a beautiful setting and intriguing characters. Serafina Sullivan, haunted by her sister’s suicide, moves to Fair Hollow, an old-moneyed town in upstate NY. At her new college she meets the enigmatic Jack, and the ageless, scarily beautiful Reiko. The book reads like a Tim Burton movie: lots of gothic vibes and extraordinary clothes. I loved it – I read it while in hospital, and it was a fantastic escape.
Okay, so DreamScapes is my own book, but hey, I edited the final version of this short story collection this year, and fell in love with the stories all over again. I hadn’t read them for some time, so the re-reading became a welcome escape. My favorite story in this collection is Blessed Creature – a dark tale starring Jenny, a magic-worker with magical tattoos, a monobrow and serious mother-in-law issues.
I stumbled onto Crown of Bones via the author’s twitter page, and man, I’m so pleased that I did. Crown of Bones is an epic YA(ish) fantasy, set in the world of Amarissa, where savants raise phantoms (creatures with magical powers), and non-savants are the underclass. The story follows Ash, non-savant scribe, sailor Kaylin with a secret past and Marcus, a prince and Ash’s best friend. It’s a fantastic read, full of excitement and danger, and I really loved the writing, especially how Wilder wrote in the first person for all three characters. The details of the world-building were outstanding and I highly recommend it. The second in the series is due Oct 22.
Panster – or Reluctant Plotter
True confession: I’m a pantser. I discover the plot of my novel by writing it – I am a very, very reluctant plotter.
This makes the writing process compelling; I never know what will happen next. However, it can also make the process extremely time-consuming. There’s been a few times that I’ve had to back up the truck (so to speak) and delete irrelevant sections.
It’s taken about seven books (and a lot of wasted energy) to figure out a process that works for me. Here it is.
Reluctant Plotter Process:
- Go for a long walk
- Decide on the main premise.
- Discover the main characters (also called MCs). Because it’s a romance, Born in Blood has two MCs: Brett and Madison.
- Jot down your story arc
- Summary outline
- Write the darn thing
The story I’m writing at the moment, Born in Blood, is about a vampire Hunter who falls in love.
To write Born in Blood, I had to understand my MC’s backstories, hopes, wounds. I had to know where they lived. What their hobbies are, and what they look like. Most importantly, I had to understand their thought processes and the language they used.
Side note: It’s not easy to develop fictional characters. For Born in Blood, I wrote short stories; scenes of pivotal moments in their lives. This helped develop Madison’s voice and revealed her motivations. Crazy, I know – given she’s totally fictional, and thus a creature of my imagination, but hey, until your characters begin reacting by themselves, you won’t have a story.
Once I have a handle on my characters, the story is a whole lot easier to write. Because then I know how they’ll respond to the many conflicts and pains that they’ll soon be facing.
Madison and Brett don’t know it yet, but they’ll be under stress through the whole entire story.
A story is putting your characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them.
Once I know how my characters will respond, I cement their reactions into a story arc.
Master Class has a neat little summary of the classical story arc. :
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
Traditionally, this is done in three acts (also called the three-act structure) .
I write my story arc on a large piece of paper (I like an A3), and using a black marker, I scribble what needs to happen to meet the arc’s requirements. Some people use post-it notes, others use a whiteboard. Some writers use a spreadsheet – that to me, is too far 🙂
Because I’m not a massive plotter, I find the action of writing/drawing/making a mess on paper helps.
Once I know the basic elements of the arc, I create the plot outline. Because I’m lazy, I use a template: a list of the key scenes used in a particular genre.
I put the arc on a piece of A3 paper, and write next to the key moments that will form the main events in the story. I call these events ‘plot points’ and I write all my scenes toward a plot point.
Some folks call these ‘beats’ – but to me, a beat suggests movement; a rhythm that drives the story. Not an actual scene. That’s why I use the term ‘plot points’, because to me, these points hang the story together.
It may take a few scenes to reach a plot point. Usually, to reach each plot point, there’s a build-up scene, a connecting scene, and finally a scene where the whole plot point takes place.
I try to structure each scene so it, like a story arc, has a lead-in, dramatic event, and conclusion. The dramatic element doesn’t have to be high action (although often it is!) – it might be internal transformation.
When plotting, don’t just think about the events that happen in the story. You also need to be mindful of your character(s) internal changes. To create a truly satisfying story, your MC(s) have to transform.
After my rough, paper-based draft, I input the outline into Plottr.
I’m still learning how to use this tool. Not being a dyed-in-the-wool plotter, I’m not totally in love. To be honest, I prefer a pen and a big sheet of paper. BUT the software helps keep a handle on characters, settings and action points, so I don’t have to hold every person in my head.
I’ve also found it useful for continuity. After I’ve finished a chapter, I add the key events into the software. This helps me remember who said what, when. Saves character’s repeating themselves or mentioning something out of sequence. (I could export the plot into word or scrivener at this point, but as yet, I haven’t bothered.)
Some writers use Scrivener to help them outline – plus, they write the story directly into Scrivener. This product hasn’t worked for me, but as it comes with a free trial, you may find it worth a try.
Starting to Write
Obviously, the best outline is nothing without a story.
I write in Word (MSOffice 365), and I turn on the ‘view navigation pane’ to help move through the story. This helps keep track of where I am in the story. By the time your novel hits 70,000 words believe me, you need to be able to move around the story quickly.
Here’s a video on how to use Word’s navigation pane:
Word can be buggy, especially if you muck around with the formatting. That’s generally because of a style error. If you’re not sure of how to use Word styles, here’s a blog post that may help.
By the time I’m 10,000 word in, I’ll usually have both the Style guide and the navigation pane visible.
After that, it is simply a matter of writing the words onto the page.
Ha! that’s the hardest part.
Why do I need to Plot?
Writing a novel takes ages. Even seasoned writers, who write full-time and churn out 3000 – 5000 words per day will take at least a month to write an entire book.
For new writers, or part-time writers, or writers-who-procrastinate, a novel can take years.
This means it’s essential to have an idea of where your story is going – that is, the plot. You need to know your characters, your settings, and what’s going to happen.
All this forms part of the plotting process.
Are you a Plotter or Pantser?
Generally, writers are either a Plotter or a Pantser.
Plotters tend to write each scene in advance. they know what the main turning points are, and the actions of each character. Sometimes their scene summaries are so detailed, they may as well be mini-novels. When they come to write the book, it’s simply a matter of adding the descriptive language, as well as some connecting scenes.
Pantsers (also termed Discovery Writers) discover what happens as they write. They’re called Pantsers because they write by the seat of their pants.
I’m a Pantser. So annoying!
I’ve always wanted to be a Plotter. Seems so much easier, and faster. No more writing and then deleting stuff that doesn’t make sense. If I was a Plotter, I could tap out a novel in a month. I’d be fast, streamlined, and in control.
Unfortunately, for me, plotting is like a kiss of death. Soon as I plot something in detail, I lose interest. Whenever I’ve tried to do a beautiful chart, setting out time and place and action and characters, I’ve never finished the book.
It seems that the reason I write is to discover what will happen next to my characters.
Risks of Plotting and Pantsing
If you’re someone who plots each scene, be wary. Even though you know what’s going to happen next, your reader doesn’t. They don’t want to know.
Readers want to be surprised.
If you’re a detailed plotter, make sure your story doesn’t become static. Watch for formulaic writing.
Don’t forget about connecting scenes. They probably won’t be in your plotting, but they can be as important as the main action points.
If all you’re plotting is the action, it’s easy to forget about your character’s internal monologues; their inward motivation. When neatly laying out each scene, don’t forget, your characters are essential.
The great thing about discovery writing is that your story will probably feel fresh, and exciting – because it’s exciting to you, the writer. And if you don’t know what’s going to happen, your reader won’t, either.
But if you’re a slow writer, like me, and you’ve not plotted out your story, there’s a risk that by the time you’re half way through the novel, you’ve actually forgotten what happened at the beginning of the story!
When Discovery Writing, it’s easy to disappear down a rabbit hole. Oh look, you think, I wonder what will happen if I introduce a new and quirky character? Then, before you realize it, you’ve wandered off on a tangent and your story has no structure.
Help! I’m a Pantser!
Don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with being a Pantser, and nothing wrong with Plotting. Over time, you’ll learn which method works for you, and over time you’ll discover how to avoid the risks of each.
There’s nothing wrong with being a Pantser. Nothing wrong with being a Plotter, either. Whatever works for you is fine.
And probably, over time, you’ll gradually become a Plotter-lite, or a Panster-lite.
The most important thing is: Keep. On. Writing.