Refactor this Novel

I just finished another novel by one of my favorite science fiction writers, Robert J. Sawyer, and it is — I am sad to say — the biggest disappointments I’ve ever had from his writing. The novel is Refactoring Humanity and is ostensibly a first contact story, which is one of my favorite sub-genres of SF. But the first contact elements of the novel are overwhelmed by the cringe-worthy back stories of the characters.

Of the three main characters — Kyle, Heather and their grown daughter Becky — I am not sure whose back story is more depressing and triggering. Early on, we find out that Kyle and Heather are married but living apart to give each other some space. Soon after, Becky accuses Kyle of having sexually molested her when she was a teen. This made my skin crawl. (I almost stopped reading at this point.) Then, almost immediately on top of that, we find out that the couple had had a second daughter who committed suicide. I did stop reading at that point, wondering if the science fiction elements were even worth the pain of watching these otherwise two-dimensional characters deal with tragedies and crimes that would send a normal person to a mental hospital and/or prison.

But I did decide to go on, just to see where the first contact tropes enter the story. It turns out that Heather, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, is one of hundreds of scientists researching strange signals being sent from Alpha Centauri. Kyle, meanwhile, is also a professor at U of T, specializing in quantum computing.

These two threads of the story get combined with the darkness of the family drama and trauma. Some have said that this leads to an optimistic conclusion. I guess, maybe, if you looked at through a dark lens, you might be able to get there, but I certainly couldn’t. The rest of the information on the novel would be spoilers, so I won’t go there.

I’m generally thick-skinned when it comes to tragic characters, but nothing here seems to work. I simply cannot recommend Factoring Humanity.

I do, however, highly recommend Sawyer in general. I have found his novels to be incredibly insightful and scientifically fascinating as a rule, just not this one.

On a scale of one to ten platypuses, I would give this novel three; picking out which three would be hard because I wouldn’t want to subject a platypus to this novel.

Peace and hair grease,

Keith Parker

June 19, 2021

3001: Not Too Far Off

In general, I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire 2001 series of novels. Although written over a three-decade year period, the loose series holds up quite well, with each book being quasi-independent as technology and world events changed.

This novel follows Frank Poole as he “returns from the dead” and finds himself in the year 3001. While I first thought this would be a “fish out of water” story, I later found that this is yet another exploration of the monolith (“big dumb object”) and its impact on human evolution.

While the plot is loose (there is not a lot (or any) dramatic tension or conflict), the concepts and the characters’ observations were able to evoke that sense of wonder that I love from science fiction; it is my comfort food.

Ferengi? No, please

Today’s SF thought: I hate the Fernegi in Star Trek. I hate their looks, their voices, their insipid rules of acquisitionqaaaQqqq, their sophomoric humor, and their blatant misogyny.

This is a tough one, too, because I’m a lifelong Trek fan, but Quark and his comrades utterly ruined DS9 for me. Let me put it this way: I would rather watched “Spock’s Brain” over and than watch a single Quark-centric episode.

Asimov sex? No!

When I started high school in 1978, I was proud that I’d read every piece of fiction that Isaac Asimov had written to date. You’re probably thinking, “Damn dude, I bet you got beat up a lot on the playground.” Fortunately for me, I grew up in a town of geeks and nerds (Huntsville, AL) where everybody had a little geek in their blood.

I can’t remember whether Asimov published additional works of fiction while I was in high school. I suspect he did, but my interests were shifting from science fiction and fantasy to girls and beer. However, when Asimov released his now-famous Foundation’s Edge in 1982 when I was a freshman in college, I was definitely first in line at Walden Books. And as Junie B. Jones would say, “Wowie, wow, wow.”

But today’s review is not about Foundation’s Edge. Rather, it is my thought on its sequel, Foundation & Earth, which I did not read until 2021 (one month ago at this writing). In a way, that seems really weird: here is a series of novels that I had fallen in love with as a pre-teen, and yet I never knew how it ended. Without further ado:

Asimov really shouldn’t do sex.

The man was a genius when it came to grand, sweeping concepts in science fiction. He basically invented the idea of “Galactic Empire”. Hell, he did invent the science of psychohistory. And his robot fiction examines some truly fascinating ethical dilemmas. But his sex scenes and dialogue/exposition on sex and gender is cringe-worthy.

But I was impressed with the way that he developed Golan Travize. The protagonist, who was searching for Earth in the previous volume, has a feeling — yes, an honest-to-God emotion from one of the classic science fiction authors — that the future of the galaxy lies not in the technological prowess of the First Foundation or in the mental abilities of the Second Foundation but, instead in a third option: an expansion of a planetwide group consciousness named Gaia to the entire galaxy. And for some reason that is not revealed until the end, he needs to find the mythical planet Earth in order to validate his decision. Given that I have followed the plight of this futuristic future (ahem) my whole life, I was generally pleased with how his struggle enfolded, which finally culminated with one of Asimov’s famous twists (actually, two) at the end.

I’d give it 7 Far Stars out of 10. It’s essential and easy reading for any fan of Asimov’s future history.

Rendezvous? Yes, Please

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly fascinated by our solar system. While it isn’t necessarily surprising given that I’ve been a science fiction fan my whole life, my taste in speculative fiction has consistently run toward the everyday: A normal person thrown into extraordinary situations. Think Billy Pilgrim’s time-hopping, or the kids who are are terrorized by the unknowable “It” in Stephen King’s eponymous classic. But hard science fiction, especially based here in our local star system… well, that’s a new one. My wife says that it is because I now work at NASA, but that can’t possibly be it. (Yeah, I know: Irony doesn’t work well in print.)

One of the best recent examples of just such an excursion across Sol’s landscape is a novel that I had not read until 2017: Arthur C. Clarke’s classic Rendezvous with Rama. While definitely short on character development, this is one of those novels where the setting itself, the massive and enigmatic starship Rama, is a character in and of itself. (Like a lot of classic science fiction, women are not treated fairly… FYI.)

The geek in me was held fast to Clarke’s accurate science and engineering, and the little kid in me was in awe of this massive “big dumb object” that has suddenly invaded our space. What was the purpose of the circular ocean? Why did it have three giant cones at one end? Why was there a mechanical crab sent for clean-up duty? Why was there an artificial flower growing (!) out of a matrix of metal rods?

And then that poor kid, Jimmy Pak, peddling his skybike along the zero-gravity axis of that beast of a spaceship. Even though I didn’t know diddly shit about Jimmy as a person, I kept pulling for him. Would he make it? What would he find? If he crashed, how would they ever rescue him?

The real reason for this fascination, as I said, was Rama itself. For a big honking spaceship that did nothing more than come into the solar system only to leave again, it sure left a lot of mysteries behind (Ramans do everything in threes). And think that it is that aspect of the novel — the unknowable — that is the reason that Rendezvous with Rama fascinates me so.

If you like space science and engineering, you really can’t go wrong with Clarke.

I’ll give it 8 out of 10 mechanical crabs.

Zero Drama – The Blackout Series, Book 2

I have never liked The Acapocalypse; it’s always seemed so… final. By extension, I don’t like post-apocalyptic science fiction. I did, however, Bobby Akart’s first novel, Zero 36 Hours, a try since it was set in the nearby (to me) town of Nashville and involved characters that were pretty much in my own demographic (although the family was more conservative and religious than I am). But, the price was right: free. And to the author’s credit, I was left wanting to read more about the family and their plight.

So I bought the sequel. And, well… yeah.

The second book of The Blackout Series picks up where 36 Hours left off, with the world having been plunged into darkness by a solar flare. The first novel did a fantastic job of building suspense and endearing you to the normal (if affluent) American family that has to suddenly become doomsday preppers. Here in this second novel, their prepping has paid off a little too well: The HOA of their neighborhood finds out about their supplies and threatens to loot them to share the goods. Colton, Madison and Alex do a good job of thwarting their antagonists, and even get on the good side of the HOA, which seems to have become the de facto government of their suburban Nashville neighborhood. Things get a little weird toward the end, though, when the neighborhood has to fight off a looters coming from Nashville proper. The looters were Black, a gang from Nashville proper. I have to admit, that gave me pause: Why bother injecting race into the novel? Why couldn’t they have simply been a gang? There was no character development, so their race had no bearing on their part of the story; they were simply there to shoot at the family’s neighborhood. I found that weird.

So it’s hard to review either of these novels without saying a word about the author’s constant injection of his conservative political beliefs, which seem to be rooted in the suffocating conservatism of the 1950s. While Akart certainly has plausible deniability by writing in an intimate 3rd person POV, it’s not hard to guess where Akart falls on the political spectrum: He loves the military (the government) but hates FEMA (also the government). During 36 Hours, I found this aspect of the story amusing. I even guffawed once. After all, there are lots of conservative families in the affluent areas of Nashville, so it made sense. But as the story continues in Zero Hour, this kind of politicking becomes tiresome.

To Akart’s credit, though, he was able to craft three solid characters that I cared about. And he created a scenario that is unbelievably frightening if you stop and think about it. It’s one of those “end of the world” scenarios that I would seriously wonder whether I would want to survive <shudder>. Nonetheless, the suspense was good, but not as good as its predecessor. I’ll give it 5 out of 10.

Blog on hold.


I haven’t posted since 2016, when Jack Parker and I were scrambling to get our novel Madness Rising out the door (it didn’t fit) and to the publisher (who didn’t make us rich).

Since then, my writing has been a thrown in front of an oncoming, high-speed freight train. In essence, my blog is now the Wile E. Coyote of the writing and blogging world.

So… I am toying with ideas of where to take this platform next.  Like that clever coyote, though, I will be back, but the focus may shift, away from fiction and <gasp> into a more serious area.  Or not… who the hell really knows what a writer will do, huh?

As always, buy low-sell-high, kiss passionately, laugh often, meditate frequently, do unto others, have a little wine if you’re able, call your mama if you are able, and always remember that you can skydive without a parachute… you just can’t do it twice.

Take care,



A few weeks ago many of us fell in love as the story broke of a free-spirited little New Zealand octopus named Inky, who made his way out his aquarium, ambled across the floor of the research lab, and snaked into a small drain pipe that led to his ancestral home in the Pacific Ocean. Many of us, smitten by a cephalopod of such serious purpose, wonder about his whereabouts, his healthcare, his forwarding address.

Less than a week ago I was talking to an overbearing acquaintance about my latest novel, and mentioned that the book’s primary antagonist is a savage nightmare with tentacles like those of octopi. The acquaintance, concerned by my lack of fundamental biology and spelling, jabbed a finger in midair.

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “An octopus has arms, not tentacles. And the plural of octopus is octopuses, not octopi.”

He huffed, stomping off.

I puckered my lips, pondered this. Since he was probably correct, I decided that, like a good protagonist, I had to take action. Since Jack Parker and I are the gods of our mythical world of Newtonia, I have decided to create octopi in its oceans. And you know what our octopi possess? Tentacles.

That’s the beauty of being a guy who tells lies for entertainment: I can do whatever the hell I want. Just like Inky.



Wanna read more about Newtonia? Read MADNESS RISING, available for Kindle.

Copyright (c) 2016 Keith Parker


I hate pickles. Loathe them. Pickles suck. Pickles are worse than chili served in high school cafeterias, worse than liver and onions, worse than the cabbages sold in Soviet-era grocery stores.

I love cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers are divine. When God sits on His Throne in Heaven, He eats cheeseburgers. On Earth, not as it is in Heaven, cheeseburgers come with pickles. The people who defile cheeseburgers are Philistines. They should be shackled outside the city gates, spat upon and ridiculed.

On average, I order two cheeseburgers per week. With the notable exception of Five Guys and Fries, who have adopted a civilized business model allowing you to tailor your own burger, I am forced to caveat every cheeseburger order.

“Ma’am, could you hold the pickles on that burger, please? Thanks so much.”

Note that I could say, “Hold the pickles,” but I’m from the South. In the South things  take longer than they should. Like Free Bird.

Since I’ve been old enough to order my own cheeseburgers the pickle caveat has stolen 24,960 seconds from my life. That’s almost seven hours, wasted because some asshole in ancient times drowned a cucumber in brine, fermented it, and later slipped that unspeakable horror between his crusty lips.

Not a single character in my novels eat pickles. When you read MADNESS RISING, you will see that not a single character is burdened by the yoke that is the pornography of the pickle.





Tentacles, Robots and Revelations

Madness Rising.

Part II of Nina Dreifuss’ battle with an insane alien creature teaches her lessons that she never wanted to learn: There’s more to life than paranoia about pimples, cutting comments from catty classmates, or the will-they-won’t-they of teen sexual angst. 

Part II begins here with Chapter 12
Chapters 1 through 11
Read it for free. And share with your Sci-Fi YA reader friends, colleagues and mortal enemies. 

Peace, y’all 

Keith Parker
This blog is © 2015 by Alan Keith Parker

The novel, Madness Rising, linked above, is copyright © 2015,  Alan Keith Parker and Rev. Jack Edward Parker. All rights reserved.