300 Reviews and Audiobook Awesomeness!

Greetings, faithful readers!  If you are here because of my “The Last Ship” reviews, welcome, but this ain’t gonna be about that.

Nope.  It’s gonna be BETTER.

Last night, my independently-published military sci-fi space opera novel A Sword Into Darkness (a button for which you will find to the right or below) hit 300 reviews with my bestselling retailer, Amazon.com.  Upon hitting this somewhat arbitrary milestone, I thought I’d tell you all how the book was doing, and let you know about some BIG news as well.

First, the BIG news: the audiobook for A Sword Into Darkness (ASID) is now available for sale at Audible.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes (soonish).  Read magnificently by Mr. Liam Owen of SciFi-Publishing.com, this is a TOTALLY different and exciting way to experience ASID.  If you’ve read and enjoyed ASID, you owe it to yourself to re-experience it with Liam Owen’s amazing narration.  He has this gentle, yet authoritative voice that really delivers when it comes to military scenes and science fiction exposition, and his characterizations and voices for all my different characters just have to be heard.  Honestly, like me, I think you’ll fall in love with the story all over again.

If you have yet to read ASID, this is a great way to encounter it for the first time.  This unabridged edition can be listened to in just under 12 hours, and I think you’ll have a lot of fun with it (4.4 stars in 300 reviews level of fun).  Have a commute?  Do you work out or clean your house?  Do you commute to and from your work-out before cleaning your house?  If so, and you never have the time to read, YOU HAVE GOT THE TIME to try out ASID as an audiobook.

And if you’ve never tried out audiobooks before, this is a great opportunity:  enroll with Audible.com free for 30 days, and your first audiobook (like ASID, hint, hint, hint) is completely and totally FREE!  Even if you don’t keep the audible membership, the audiobook for ASID remains yours forever!

 

Concerning reviews, and specifically my Amazon reviews which have the biggest base to draw from, folks really like A Sword Into Darkness.  How much?  Well, as of this writing, I have 174 5-star reviews and 93 4-star reviews.  Of those who just “liked” it rather than “loved” it, I have 27 more critical 3-star reviews.  I think a 90% success rate for connecting with your readers is a pretty darned good return on your investment.

The math whizzes among you might note that 174 + 93 + 27 does not equal 300.  As the aphorism goes, you can’t please everyone.  I also have 4 2-star reviews from folks which gave me points for writing the book, but didn’t like it, and two 1-star reviews, one from a guy who prefers Christopher Nuttall’s books (which I have no problem with, Chris is prolific and a damn good writer), and one guy who hated on my book so hard, I think I actually made his day.  His 1-star dismissal was, in fact, the second review I received, and that made for a bad day, but the days have gotten notably better since then.

The buyers who have written reviews (and it works out to about 1 reviewer for every 100 buyers/readers) have also shared some damn-fine write-ups.  Praising, critical, questioning, or whatever, each thing they tell me and other potential buyers are gold.  My writing on ASID has been favorably compared to Tom Clancy, Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, David Weber, and John Ringo.  I don’t know about all that, but each of those luminaries of genre literature are my heroes and favored writers, so if my book at all recalls them, I’m beyond honored.

What can you do?  Well, If you have not read (or listened) to ASID, today’s the day to give it a shot.  If you have read it (and/or listened to Liam’s narration), consider leaving your own review.  Either way, if you are in the market or are already a fan, I welcome you to peruse the reviews on Amazon and check whether you thought it was helpful or not.  The more upchecks the 4 and 5 star reviews get, the more favorably the Amazon algorithms consider ASID, which lets me do things like justify the time spent on working on its sequel, Lancers Into the Light.

And that’ll make everybody happy.  :)

The Last Ship, Episode 9 – “Trials” Review

Here it is — the penultimate episode of the inaugural season of television’s best semi-post-apocalyptic near-future naval science fiction!  How does it measure up with the rest of the season?  How well does it set up the season finale?  Does it commit egregious sins of engineering?  Does it kick ass!?!?

Ha, ha, hee, hee — READ ON, DEAR READER!

Plot Summary:  We start off with the latest episode of The Walking Dead, ummm, sorry (I get confused).  We actually start off in the woods with Tom Chandler’s pop, dragging a freshly shot buck toward a mobile home.  He’s bein’ a good neighbor, trying to share his bounty with the folks down the road, but they inform him that they have the “Red Flu”.  He leaves the deer in order to give them at least a shot and returns home to his cabin with Tom’s wife and girls.  She’s been out foraging, which he warns her to be careful with.  It ain’t Disneyland out there anymore.

Aboard the USS NATHAN JAMES, it is a time of reflection and change.  Physician-of-my-dreams Dr. Rachel Scott is converting her lab over to a testing ward for human trials of her vaccine, of which there has been one positive subject, her Central American monkey.  Meanwhile, we say goodbye to our young sailor killed last episode.  Post funeral, the Skipper vows not to lose another one (proving you shouldn’t give orders you know won’t be obeyed or make promises you know you can’t keep), therefore he intends to volunteer as one of the six subjects of the vaccine trial.  The XO (Adam Baldwin RULES!) shuts him down FAST and HARD, reminding him that they just saved his sorry ass.  But someone from Command needs to go into the trial, so the CMC informs them both that he’s already approved to go.

Hmmmm, one black guy in a medical horror episode, and who already has a demeanor of Christian martyrdom?  I wonder who’s going to be our first sacrificial pathos-building death today?

The six volunteers are the CMC, the CHENG, Kara (Sexy LT 2), Petty Officer Miller (our ginger wallflower from the tactical teams), Petty Officer Maya Gibson (the chick pining for her boyfriend during the candlelight vigil in episode 2), and TEX!  Tex keeps the jokes coming and they all nervously laugh their way through receiving the vaccine (which consists of two parts: a decoy to protect the body from infection, and another component that builds antibodies), and then the virulent virus itself.  At first everything is hunky-dory, and we get a bunch of nice character growth moments for all these characters about to die.

Ashore, Tom’s wife is raiding a Radio Shack for supplies and shortwave radio parts.  But she hears an encounter outside between an infectee and a ruthless survival type, which ends abruptly and messily for the infectee.  Tom’s wife skeedaddles, not noticing that she was hiding out right next to a recently dead infectee.

In the trial, the Skipper and XO can only look on in impotent horror as things begin to go bad.  Fevers, rashes, delirium, hemorrhages, convulsions, etc.  All bad, but also not symptoms associated with the Red Flu, and nothing the monkey ever experienced.  Kara almost dies convulsing from fever and an important detail is revealed that has a huge impact on Danny (Sexy LT 1).  Tex reveals the raw emotion he feels for Dr. Scott, free of any joking.  And Maya dies, breaking Miller’s delirious heart.  Chandler has Slattery invite all the crew down to say their goodbyes, since none of these poor bastards are gonna make it.  He says his goodbyes to the CMC.  Meanwhile, Rachel and Quincy are throwing everything against the wall, to see what might stick.  They practically drain poor Patrice of her blood plasma, hoping it will stabilize things, but no joy.  Then Rachel has a medical techno-babble epiphany.  The symptoms are not of infection, but of an auto-immune response!  The human gene our Typhoid Marty added to the original virus means this foreign human DNA is spreading through-out their bodies, and they are thus rejecting their own flesh.  The vaccine has indeed suppressed the virus, but the piggyback DNA was doing itwn level-best to kill them anyway.  Rachel mixes the primordial strain in with the vaccine, and BANG/ZOOM, it works!  Everyone immediately improves, withe the Sexy LTs bein’ all sexy together appearing to be an item again, Tex telling more jokes, the CMC (almost) dying for our sins (wait just a minute there, Tommy Boy), and the CHENG proving to be a workaholic.  Rachel and Tom Chandler hug (giving more material for the slash fan fiction written after last week’s kiss) and she announces that this is both a vaccine for the uninfected and a cure for the infected!

Ashore, Tom’s wife fixes her family a meal with her own two hands, then begins to feel the effects of the virus.

Dun, dunn, dunnnnnnnnnnnnn!  Dramatic cliff-hanging ending, y’all!

The Goods:  This episode belongs to Rhona Mitra and our character-and-cast “B” team.  It took 9 episodes, but I finally didn’t want to tear my eyes out while spending time with our happy, Sexy LTs.  I reserve the right to hate on Danny and Kara later, but this time they owned their roles and felt like necessary characters.  Burial at Sea!  Yeah, it’s awful, but it’s also a fascinating, exciting, and (thankfully) rare event.  We got off the ship and foreshadowed the events to come (Walking Dead meets The Last Ship), and we see a glimpse of some post-apocalyptic action.  I’m predicting next season will be all about either their efforts ashore, or them ferrying the vaccine worldwide.  No engineering sins today, which I worried about last week, since we spend so much time with the CHENG.  Tex is great, as always, and Quincy and Chandler have a necessary scene about moving forward.  The XO appears to be a Rachel-convert, which is great growth for that character.  I appreciate that my expectations were upset, in that the CMC did not perish!  And I love that they really do have a vaccine and treatment for the virus.  This show makes progress, and we aren’t treading water through the same episode and situation over and over again.

The Less Goods:  Cap’n Crunches and our WARFIGHTER XO largely get sidelined here.  I get it, but i miss those magnificent bastards.  Nothing exploded (which is always lame).  Not enough detail about the goings-on in the outside world.  I need more than a tease, please, but maybe next week.  Too much virology techno-babble, and I have no way of judging if it was nonsensical or not.  Why are dead bodies so uber-infectious?  They aren’t breathing any more in order to spread the virus, so what is it about them that kicks the virus into high gear?  Maya should have worn a red shirt, the poor gal.  She pretty much only had time to remind us of her dead boyfriend, and we knew she was doomed.  Everyone keeps talking about the distance to the CDC, but they also keep forgetting they have a whole helo in one of the hangars, which could, I dunno, maybe  FLY THEM TO THE BEST LAB in the nation.

Soooo, a well-accomplished, necessary story-line. without all the usual fun explosions and stand-offs, but totally enjoyable nonetheless, and congrats to Rhona Mitra for giving me my favorite episode of yours yet.  And I believe this set up next week with perfection.

Vaccines! Cures! Battles ashore!  Family reconciliations!  All this can be yours next week in the season’s ULTIMATE conclusion.  Catch up with you then!!

The Last Ship, Episode 8 – “Two Sailors Walk Into A Bar . . . .” Review

First of all, just to get it out there, that joke was terrible.  But the episode was damn fun!

This one was firing on all cylinders, implausible but fun.  We got answers, we got XO Slattery as a tactical god, we got confrontations and gunfights, ‘splosions galore, and the tidying up of a number of plot points.  Good job, Last Ship, good job.

Plot Summary:  Carried over from last week, CAPT Chandler and Tex are brought aboard the Russian cruiser.  Tex gets batted around and Tom protests, whereupon he is told that he doesn’t give orders there.  Chandler gets taken to Admiral Ruskov’s dining room, where he meets Quincy’s wife and kid.  He’s cool with the kid, reassuring her that her daddy loves her, and then playing stone-faced to Ruskov’s threats, sticking to name, rank, and serial number despite a final offer by Ruskov to go into business together, selling the vaccine to the highest bidder.  Chandler gets thrown into the brig in the same cell as a beaten Tex, under the watchful eye of one guard armed only with broken english.

Aboard the NATHAN JAMES, XO Slattery answers the HF radio when Ruskov calls.  He seems almost shocked into inaction, trying to answer whether or not he will trade Dr. Scott and her research for the Captain and Tex.  But he is deep planner nonetheless, using the extended time on the radio to better pinpoint the bearing to the Russian cruiser.  Down below, Dr. Scott has made a breakthrough and developed a working vaccine with Patrice’s DNA.  While the XO and the tactical staff try to come up with some way of getting the skipper and Tex back, Rachel busts into CIC with the offer of giving herself up.  They have the vaccine now, so Quincy and Rios can carry it the rest of the way, while Ruskov will get what he’s asking for and they get their people back.  Everyone wins (except one Rachel Scott). XO Slattery is a never say die sort, however (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  Rachel is to be a decoy and distraction while they sneak aboard to stage an escape.

She gets boated, and then helo’d onto the cruiser, where they frisk her and remove her life jacket, unaware it has a hidden beacon aboard to guide in the US tactical team.  She is taken before Ruskov and she demands to see the Skipper and Tex.  As soon as she sees Chandler, she rushes up and gives him a big, open-mouthed kiss, all to Tex’s dismay.  Ruskov chuckles and sends the boys back down below, while she takes Rachel to see Typhoid Marty and test the vaccine.  She quickly realizes that Marty is an immune carrier and the source of the human gene mod to the virus.  He gets weaselly and demands that she share the vaccine’s credit with him.  That pisses her off and she brings down Ruskov, who arrives angry at Marty for leading him on so long.  Then Ruskov goes full bad-guy and has Rachel vaccinate one of his own men, then exposes him to Marty.

In their cell, Tex is having an existential crisis due to Rachel’s kiss with Chandler, but Tom reveals that she passed an exacto razor blade and a note telling them the assault would begin at 0400.  At the designated time, Chandler calls the guard over to let him go to the head, whereupon he and Tex grab the guy, slit his throat, and escape.  They go through the ship, knocking off sleepy Russians and gathering weapons.  The tactical team has also snuck aboard, and they’ve killed a bunch of engineers and have rigged the non-nuclear half of the steam plant to blow.  They hook up with Chandler and Tex, who proceed to go find Rachel.  She’s still in the cruiser’s makeshift virology lab, waiting for either her patient to live or die.  But the Russians have realized that Chandler and Tex have escaped, so they go for her.  She pulls a .45 she had secreted away and kills the officer sent to fetch her, just before the tactical team comes in and rescue her. We finish with a running gun battle, triggered explosions going off all over the ship.  Chandler makes it a point to rescue Quincy’s family and they all get off before the Russian missiles explode within their tubes.  During the firefight, the ostracized enlisted man from last week proves himself, but gets shot and dies.  They all make it back to the ship, fade to black.

The Goods:  Ruskov calls Chandler out on his egotastic propensity to go on tactical missions when he should have his men lead.  XO Slattery being all crafty and planning out the perfect op to take out the superior Russian cruiser from within (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  The kiss, and Tex’s reaction to it, both at the time and later.  Ruskov (I hope he survived . . . .).  Guns!  Explosions!  USA, USA!!  Quincy getting reunited with his family and the surely awkward conversation that followed immediately after when his ass was placed back in custody.  Rachel Scott kickin’ ass, and shooting first, silencer or no silencer.  And the bittersweet ending, with our ostracized crewmember proving himself in the end, then getting killed.  The lack of any hint of engineering detail (except CONAS) and the COMPLETE lack of any sexy LT 1 & 2 nonsense.  This episode was not emotionally deep like episode 6, but it kicked the most ass since episode 2.

The Less Goods:  Having a WW-II battleship stand in for a modern Russian battlecruiser.  Guys, I get that you need a ship to film on, but did you have to include a tracking shot that CLEARLY includes turrets of triple 16″ guns.  Were you aware there is an ACTUAL Russian frigate up in the Fall River, MA naval museum?  I realize it is smallish, but you can’t get more accurate than the real thing!  Having everyone escape from said battleship while it is CLEARLY still moored to something.  The mechanics of the vaccine test, in that I’m pretty sure you can’t be exposed to both the vaccine AND the deadly virus near simultaneously and have a reasonable expectation of immunity.  And while I appreciate XO Slattery being more decisive this week than last, I wish he’d been MORE deadly and take-charge.  Adam Baldwing HAS the acting chops.  Release the BADASS!  I don’t hold it against him.  It’s the way the character is written and he is portrayed fine, but he could be SO MUCH MORE!  Moving on, the Russians have no waterside security, no radar, no lookouts, and can’t shoot worth a damn.  How did they get to be a super-power, again?  The gunbattle is  fun, but WAY too un-realistic.  Not enough character interaction in this ep, but that’s okay.  This sort of thing is all about the spectacle, and of that, this one has LOADS.

Now, with so many things wrapped up, I’m thinking the last two eps this season have GOT to turn everything topsy-turvy . . . AND I CAN’T WAIT!

 

Behold: GISHWHES Glory!

As threatened promised last week, a fan of my Daily Science Fiction short story “The Rememberists” asked me to participate in the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen 2014 as a published science fiction author, writing a 140 word story featuring actor Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an Elopus.  By doing so, I put myself into a circle of awesomeness including Misha Collins, Orlando Jones, William Shatner, David Brin, et cetera, et cetera, etc.

Pretty cool.  And here it is (fo’ freeeeeeeeeeee!):

 

TIES OF GLORY

By: Thomas A. Mays

 

“Collins!  The beast’s looped!  Set the anchor before it ‘ports away!!”

Misha Collins, actor and out-of-his-depth adventurer, swung the sledgehammer and set the piton deep into bedrock.  He turned to Laksim.  “Why are we staking down this elephant?”

Laksim circled the bellowing Indian bull.  “You wanted a supernatural adventure, like your show?  Behold!  Not an elephant . . . a mythic elopus:  the truth behind Ganesh and the source of all conspiracies!”

Misha shook his head.  “Looks like a tired old animal.”

“You see with three dimensions only.” Laksim struck it with a cattle-prod and four legs became eight tentacles, connected to Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, Queen Elizabeth, Dick Cheney, and three other worthies.

Laksim frowned.  “Couldn’t have done it without you.”

Misha looked down to see the last tentacle writhing within his own body.

 

Now, go share it with your entire social network, cuz it’s just dat cool.

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Another Salvo in the Amazon – Hachette Debate

Behold, a call to arms of sorts.  Thoughts?

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com

What say you, dear reader?

 

Doubling Down with the Devil

For those of you who have followed along for my journey through independent publishing, you know that the publishing strategy has been very important to me.  Who to sell through, who to advertise with, what price point, degree and duration of sales, etc.

I think I originally made a wise decision by publishing the e-book version of ASID exclusively with Kindle through their KDP Select program. It allowed me to get out there among a more active readership, with a bookseller who treated indies JUST LIKE SOMEONE FROM THE BIG 5.  I made a lot of sales, got a lot of reviews, took advantage of their countdown deals, and was even picked up as a Kindle Daily Deal once (HUGE SALES that day).  And all of that laid the groundwork for me to EXPLODE as soon as the e-book launch went wide on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and iBooks.

‘Cept that didn’t happen.  I made more sales, sure, and got out in front of people that don’t shop Amazon, but I primarily only sell well on those other sites when I held an advertised sale, and even then those sales are but 10-15% of what I continue to sell on Amazon, and now I don’t get the benefits of KDP Select.  But that’s fine, I felt more legitimate and better protected selling the book wide, since Amazon has recently been the subject of some . . . negative press.  And that’s fine too.  John Scalzi wisely points out that Amazon is not the indie-publisher’s friend, no matter what your bank account tells you.  They are in business for themselves, and if their sales model temporarily aligns best for those indies who publish through them directly, that is no guarantee of future alignment. 

But, for the moment, they do align, and are in fact becoming even more aligned.  If you look at my book sales page for ASID, you’ll find that I’ve removed my links for B&N Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and iBooks.  That is because I have stopped ASID’s sale there and am once again exclusively Amazon Kindle for the next three months. I have re-enrolled in KDP Select because of some new features offered.  I’ll see how they work out over the next three months and let you all know what it’s all about at the end.  Stay Tuned!

PS: New news about the AUDIOBOOK — it’s approved!  You should see it go on sale SOON!

The Last Ship, Episode 7 – “SOS” Review (and other stuff)

You ever had a day just sorta get away from you?  (Note, if you’re only here for the Episode 7 review, feel free to skip a bit, brother, down to the bold.)  I had all sortsa responsible intentions the night this aired, but dang it if “The Strain” didn’t come on right after and get me distracted.  So, fine, I’ll post in the morning.  But then the kids had to be driven to 4H day-camp, and after that, well, you gotta get the lawn mowed.  But that’s all routine, stuff that SHALL NOT STAND in the way of those clambering for my words.

But then this happened.  I was e-mailed out of the blue by a fan of my Daily Science Fiction short story, “The Rememberists” which appeared recently.  And this fan had an unusual request.  They wanted me to write a super short story as part of this grand online scavenger hunt.  Specifically, they needed a published SF author to write an original short story of no more than 140 words that contained the Supernatural actor Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an elopus (which, naturally, is a hybrid elephant-octopus . . . how do you not know these things?).

Well, that’s just ludicrous.  There’s no way I was gonna play in that sandbox.  I had reviews to write and lawns to mow.

Heh.  So, of course, by the time the lawn was done I had the whole story in my head.  I fat-fingered it into the computer, spent twice as long editing it down to 140 words, then sent it off to accolades and hurrahs galore.  But by the time it was done, I had to leave to host my area writing seminar and there-ya-go, day lost.  Soooo, many apologies for the lateness of this review, and if you wanna see my Misha Collins / Queen Elizabeth / Elopus short story, check back here next week when I’m allowed to post it!

Review

Whew!  Lemme get my breath here.  Building off the acting chops and dramagery of the last “Last Ship” episode, “SOS” had me calling for help at the end.  That was some goooooooood naval fiction, y’all, probably the best “thriller” episode yet.  This one had it all: high stakes, background info, redemption, sacrifice, combat systems scenarios, and a cliffhanger ending.  Lemme tell all-o-youse abouts it.

Plot Summary:  We begin with a flashback to our Russian Typhoid Marty, warning a colleague about the incipient epidemic, but saying he has a radical theory about how to treat it.  His buddy scoffs, until Marty insists he knows it will work because he has already tested it upon himself.  Buddy recoils in horror and flees, whereupon Marty’s wife arrives, coughing cutely, foreshadowing that the virus was not weaponized, but Marty turned himself into an immune patient zero for the altered virus.  And now he is aboard the Russian nuclear cruiser, commanded by Admiral Roznakov/Ruskov (I’ve seen it spelled both ways), which is fully repaired and on the hunt for the NATHAN JAMES

Back in the apocalyptic present, in Radio, our young COMMO freaks out about one particular distress call among the dozens they have been monitoring.  Seems that this girl had been aboard a fishing boat off Puerto Rico, first with 50 people, then 15, and now she is the sole survivor, out of supplies, but not sick even after being surrounded by the infected.  Dr. Hot (sorry) Scott is telling ACTING GOD ERIC DANE / CAPT Tom Chandler that she’s almost outta monkeys.  The virus’ tricky human gene mod has proven resistant to all her attempts at vaccination.  News of a possibly immune girl gives her hope, however.  The Skipper decides he has to risk it, so he calls out as an American fishing boat captain, asking the girl to provide her GPS coordinates.

Of course the Russians hear him and immediately see through the ruse.  They set a matching course and the race is on.

NATHAN JAMES and the Russians both remain over the horizon from one another and the girl’s fishing boat, which puts them about 35 to 70 miles from one another.  NATHAN JAMES takes two RHIBs over, with two tactical teams containing (of COURSE) the CO, Tex, one of our disgraced Petty Officers who tried to jump ship last episode, and the GUNNO.  After an in-depth search, they locate Patrice hiding in a cabin.  Patrice is freaked, but they convince her to go with them, just in time for the Zodiacs from the Russian cruiser to make their appearance.  The CO and Tex take the Russians on, guns blazing, while the other RHIB zig-zags back to NATHAN JAMES with Patrice.  Chandler and Tex take out one Zodiac, while the other makes a break for the fishing boat to see if they can recover anything.  The CO’s RHIB starts heading back to the destroyer, but their boat has been shot up pretty damn well and it sinks rapidly, leaving the pair of them in the ocean all alone.  Tex asks Chandler to call for help or beacon their position, but the Skipper purposely left their personal beacons behind.  As for the radio, he makes one call, telling the DDG to cease all rescue efforts, abandon them at sea, and stick to the mission.

The story splits into three parts, one with the CO and Tex sharing some nice character moments as they futilely swim toward a distant reef, aboard the NATHAN JAMES as XO Slattery (Adam Baldwin RULES!) considers whether to follow the Skipper’s final directive or to disregard it since he is now in command, and finally aboard the Russian cruiser, where Ruskov continues to act like a creepy megalomaniac, threatening Quincy’s wife and kid, as well as his own men.  Everyone is soon enough searching over the horizon for the Skipper and Tex.  NATHAN JAMES uses their helo, the Russians use a UAV (which the Amerikanskis promptly shoot down, comrade), and Dr. Scott discovers that Patrice has a natural immunity to all strains of the virus.

Soon enough, Chandler and Tex get fished out of the ocean, but this is a cliffhanger rather than a happy ending, as he finds himself hoisted aboard Ruskov’s helo, held under gunpoint!  Dun, dun, dunnnnnnnnnn!  What’s gonna happen next week!?

The Goods:  Answers!  The virus was not weaponized.  Instead it was born from the hubris of a benevolent Dr. Frankenstein.  Damn you, Science, and your cautious insistence on following protocols!  Tex is from Reno!  He and Chandler have some great character moments while they float around (kudos to Eric Dane for week number two), and I love the glee the Skipper had as Tex revealed he was all hot for Ms. Rhona Mitra.  I don’t blame you, big guy, I don’t blame you at all.  Ruskov is an unapologetic BAD GUY, and that is campy, but fun.  I like the progression of the plot, even if the situation with Patrice came about was very, very convenient.  Danny (Travis Van Winkle) did a great job this week, and he had a great scene with the XO (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  The aftermath of his relationship with Kara is a hell of a lot more interesting than the relationship itself ever was.  The RHIB on Zodiac battle was some exciting action and a lot of fun, as well as the UAV vs. SM-2 scene.  The challenges of over-the-horizon search and targeting were handled well, even if the details were not quite correct.  I liked that they addressed it as that is how the modern Navy does business.  I appreciated the nod they gave to the challenges of finding someone lost at sea.  And I really like the surprise of the wrong helo picking Chandler and Tex up (though it wasn’t that surprising of a surprise, it was handled well).

The Less Goods:  I asked for more focus on the enlisted side of things.  Pity they could not have found a better story than this one sailor dealing with his rejection after essentially being a selfish, indecisive prick.  Protocols for dealing with infection on this show REALLY need a good reality check.  The CMC and Dr. Scott greet Patrice with absolutely ZERO barriers:  no clean suits, gloves, or masks.  Kiddies, that chick has been living in a virulent disease-ridden environment for a couple of months.  Even if she is immune, she might either be a carrier, or at the very least be contaminated internally and externally with fluids rife with the virus.  That girl needs some extensive decon before she is not a danger to them all.  Then there is the CO’s breaking of EMCON.  He gave a nod to maintaining subterfuge, but he could have done a LOT better.  Mask your voice and accent!  Tell everyone you’re a Panamanian trawler!  Have someone with an accent speak for you!  Next, the XO’s indecisiveness.  I get that he is in charge now, and he has to balance loyalty and honor against the mission, but the character is very wishy-washy about the choice.  This is not a dig on Adam Baldwin, because that guy RULES, but the writing here for the character could be more in keeping with what has been established before.  Helo’s have special maneuvers for providing data to their mothership without giving away where that ship is, so it would have been nice for them to handle that better.  And, though I love having an SM-2 surface to air missile blast away a UAV, energizing the SPY radar is a horrible move if you want to remain unlocated.  It doesn’t matter if it was only up for 30 seconds, that thing is like a beacon and there is no way the Russians could not have counter-targeted them.

So, a GREAT episode with the promise of even more next week.  This is a fine follow-up to the acting high-point of last week and I grow as a fan each episode.  See you next time, and don’t forget to check out “The Rememberists” (it’s only 1000 words).