Beach Reading at its Best

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and old sage once said. And you can’t be all things to all people. Books are like that too. No book, no matter how brilliant or witty or marvelously written it may be, can appeal to everyone.

That’s because we are often looking for different things at different times. Sometimes we want serious fiction, sometimes humour. Or you may be in the mood for something light and fluffy. Mindless escapism. Crime drama. Or a spy drama. Or a steamy romance. Fun-filled adventure. To help the reader find the sort of book they are looking for, books are classified into different genres, and within each genre are categories and subcategories.

‘Hard’ sci-fi or ‘soft’?

Take, for example, my own specialty: sci-fi. Within that broad genre there’s serious “hard” sci-fi. One of the key promises within that category is that it will stay within the boundaries of real science. The Martian is an excellent example of this. All the science and technology portrayed in that novel is real and current. Then there is space opera. In space opera you get to make up your own science, and use fantastical made-up things like worm holes, time travel, warp drives, alien civilizations, and so on. Star Wars and Star Trek are very obvious examples of this genre.

A good book, regardless of its genre and category, will deliver on the promise that’s inherit within its category. And publishers put a lot of time and effort into coming up with titles and covers for books that will give customers a good feel for what can be expected between the covers.

Judging a books’ intention by its cover

I think my publisher, Franklin Street Press, did a great job coming up with the covers and titles for the two books (to date) in my Jack Winters Detective Series, which is about Jack’s friendship with alien coffee smugglers who have come to Earth looking for coffee.

I think the covers and titles of my books make it pretty obvious – there’s nothing series here folks. This is not ‘hard’ sci-fi. I’m all about mindless escapism, frankly. I get enough “serious” drama from my day job and reading the news.

Looking for ‘hard’ sci-fi in all the wrong places

But there’s just no pleasing some people. No matter how brilliantly witty the title and cover of a book may be in accurately portraying what a reader might expect between the front and back cover, some people still manage to get it wrong.

Recently a reviewer on Amazon criticized “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte” for not being very plausible. I kid you not. This reviewer also said that as sci-fi, it was a bit too “soft”. Now, that’s funny. Was this reviewer seriously expecting “hard” sci-fi with a plausible, realistic story line when they picked a book with a title like this, featuring an alien holding a steaming cup of coffee?

Hmmm…

Space Opera

Relaxing, humorous, and definitely not ‘hard’ sci-fi.

I wonder what his first hint was that this wasn’t hard science? Perhaps it was the cover with the picture of an alien holding a cup of coffee? Or was it the title, “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte”? Or maybe it dawned on him in chapter 21, when Aunt Beatrice complains about alien visitors landing their spaceship in her cabbage patch. I don’t know, but it’s hard to grasp how anyone could pick up a novel with such a title and cover and expect anything other than fun-filled escapism.

A good book delivers on its promise

I don’t mind being judged on the basis of what my books are intended to be. But being criticized for something the book was never intended for is just plain silly. He may as well criticize my book for not having any good recipes for baked lasagna.

I think my novels deliver exactly what you might expect from the kind of covers and titles I’m using. There’s no subterfuge here. It’s beach reading escapism at its best. I like to think of my novels as modern day dime novels. Fun filled adventures in space.

We all need to take a break to recharge and relax

We often turn to forms of entertainment to relax, recharge, and take a break from the seriousness of work and daily life. Dime novels came into vogue during the American Civil War, arguably some of the darkest years of the country. People needed a break from the horrible news, and TV hadn’t been invented yet. Dime novels provided an affordable form of escapism. During the depression people snapped up cheap “pulp” fiction and went to the movies. They needed the break.

That’s what myself and other authors writing similar books are trying to do. Provide light-hearted escapism. We need it these days. I can’t remember a time when the news was so consistently depressing and awful on so many different fronts.

If you are looking for light-hearted escapism, you’ve come to the right place. If you want serious, hard sci-fi with “plausible” story lines, that’s not what I do. You won’t find it here.

That’s my rant for the day.

Zuckerberg wants you living your life in the metaverse

Welcome to the Metaverse

The first novel I ever read was about a caveman, and how he lived, hunted and protected his family from saber-tooth tigers and Neanderthals. I was just ten or eleven, and I still vividly remember the experience of reading that book and how it so completely drew me into the story that I would forget that I was reading and felt like I was really living in that paleolithic world. The experience of that story is what got me hooked on reading, and I’ve been an avid reader ever since. It’s also the main reason I eventually started writing fiction, because I wanted to recreate that experience for other people.

Life is much more complicated now, for all of us. We just got through two years of covid-19 and lockdowns. Back in February, as we started to see the end of the pandemic and things seemed like they might be getting back to normal, I was looking forward to the news getting boring again. Trump was gone and the adults were back in charge of America, and the pandemic was coming to an end. We could get back into restaurants to eat-in (one of my favorite pass-times), and it was once again feasible to start travel planning and booking flights abroad.

Then the war started.

Doom-scrolling…

I don’t know about you, but there is only so much world news and doom-scrolling I can take. After a stressful day at work, I cannot spend the entire evening reading the news, with it’s warnings of global famine, the possibility of tactical nukes getting used, and the daily outrages committed by the Russian military on the good people of Ukraine. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating that we stick our heads in the sand and ignore what’s happening. I read the news and started supporting charities like the Red Cross that are focused on assisting the people of Ukraine.

But I can’t spend all my free time reading the news. I’m not sure that would be healthy. As I’ve blogged previously, I believe escapist fiction is a legitimate need. We all need to unplug from the daily grind of reality, the news, work, chores, and find a way to unwind and relax. Many people enjoy escapist fiction, and that’s why I write light-hearted sci-fi. Well-written fiction has a way of drawing you in so that you forget that you are reading and feel like you are living in that world. That’s when you know it’s a good book.

Too much of a good things isn’t necessarily better.

Relaxing and unplugging from reality with a good book or movie is one thing. What Mark Zuckerberg is trying to sell us with his Metaverse is something else entirely. Like most forms of mental illness and addictions, it’s a good thing that’s been taken too far.

According to Zuckerberg, the metaverse isn’t just about casual online browsing. He wants us to live there. In a recent podcast, Zuckerberg explained what that the metaverse is really all about: “It’s about a time when basically immersive digital worlds become the primary way that we live our lives.” (emphasis added).

“The primary way we live.” Did you catch that? Are you as disturbed by that as I am?

It reminds me of that cartoon movie that came out a few years ago, Wall-E. I remember very little of that cartoon, but the image of overweight adults in chairs glued to screens has always stuck with me. Remember? People lived on a spaceship, and never had to get out of their chairs. They spent all their time looking at virtual screens floating in front of their faces. Everything they needed was brought to them while they remained seated, completely absorbed in their screens.

They even sat around a pool, not even bothering to get into it, but remained in their chairs watching movies of people playing in the water. Morbidly overweight, they were so absorbed in their virtual reality that they’d even forgotten how to take care of their bodies. So lost in their virtual world, their real world and real bodies no longer mattered to them.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse is a big, horrid step in that direction.

Don’t be a Sucker for Zucker

Of course Zuckerberg and the other rich tech guru’s of the online world want us spending more time in their metaverse, to the point of living there. And of course they will position themselves as the bold visionaries of a bright new future. They’re not stupid. They know how insanely rich they will become if millions of people start actually, “primarily living their lives” there. It’s a great way to completely monetize our lives and make them even richer. Forget about billions of dollars. That’s now looking like chump change for these guys. They’re looking at becoming trillionaires.

I quit Facebook and deleted my account two years ago. I find Facebook, like most social media, a monumental waste of time. However, as silly as Facebook was (or is), Zuckerberg is trying to take us into even greater depths of nonsense. He wants us to quit reality, and join him in his new virtual world. We’ll be able to meet friends, hold business meetings, shop, work, socialize, all within the Metaverse. In other words, do our living there. Just like the people in Wall-E.

Apparently, millions of people spending hours every day on Facebook isn’t enough for Zuckerberg. Or isn’t making him rich enough. He now wants us to spend even more time and living inside his virtual world. What is he going to try selling us next? Automated systems that will bring us snacks without having to get off the couch?

Enjoy escapist fiction, but don’t escape reality

Reading good fiction or relaxing in front of the TV is one thing, and I believe healthy and normal. What Zuckerberg wants us to do isn’t healthy, and we must never let it become ‘normal’. Escaping reality by living in his virtual metaverse for hours on end can’t be good for us. It may be great for Zuckerberg. After all, he’s looking to monetize us – our time, our lives – to an even greater extent by getting us to buy into his version of ‘reality’, so he can add to his already excessive fortune.

Don’t be a sucker for Zucker. Don’t unplug from reality – unplug from Zuckerberg instead. The Metaverse is the product of a sick prepubescent mind that doesn’t want to grow up. Stay away from it and read a good book. Or make popcorn and invite some friends over to watch a movie. Start a new hobby that gets you away from the screen and doing something real with your hands, in the real world. That’s what normal, healthy adults do.

Do yourself a favour, and keep living in the real world. That’s my rant for the day.

Aliens, Spaceships & Latte on Goodreads

I just came across some really good reviews of my books on Goodreads. My overall rating is, as of today’s date, 4.27. Not too bad. I think its getting better, because the last time I checked Goodreads in the fall, my rating was lower.

Jack Winters, sci-fi detective

In an act of shameless self-promotion (I am in the business of selling books, after all!), I decided to post some of the nicer ones here in today’s blog. That way I get to say nice things about my books without having to think too hard. Just cut and paste! And just to keep myself honest, I’m including the link to Goodreads for my book.

As an author, it’s very encouraging to hear from fans who have liked my books. I really like my books as well… so it’s always good to hear from people who are on the same wavelength.

So here we go… Goodreads reviews….

Warren W. wrote: What a ride! I totally loved this book from start to finish! I love first contact books, and this one was really fun! I hope to see the relationships develop in a next book. I don’t drink coffee, but this made me appreciate the Interplanetary Java crowd! Well done, Mr. Wahl!

Phil wrote: Enjoyable Escapism. Different and humorous. Light hearted adventure akin to a 50s style sci fi show with better writing. An apolitical story where the writer just wants to provide an enjoyable read.

Tracy: Intriguing Storyline. When I saw the title I thought that the book would be funny but it’s more than that. It’s filled with action and great, relatable characters. It doesn’t get technical about the spaceship or space travel. The author doesn’t burden you with alien language, which can take away from the story. I look forward to reading more of Jack’s adventures!

R. J. wrote: A fun story. The author created an alien species I wouldn’t mind meeting. Alien science fiction is not my thing and I was pleasantly surprised. I read this book because I had the pleasure of meeting the author. I’m going to be looking for the next instalment.

Vancil: Excellent storyline! The title caught my attention and I just had to read the first couple of chapters. I was seriously hooked by then! Read this! You will enjoy!!!

Pat: Good…..real good ! This book was funny and thrilling. I am so glad that I took a chance on it. I am just about to download the next book in the series….so much fun.

Another ‘staying sane in lockdown’ blog post

What are you doing to keep your sanity these days? We are just coming out of our third lockdown… (only two more lockdowns now until Christmas.) Restaurants can have patio seating, but still no indoor seating. Stores can now have limited numbers of people inside. So it’s a little better now, and most people have had their first vaccine shot – so things are looking up and maybe we are getting to the end of it. (I’m trying hard not to think of the new variants coming out. Eyes shut, ears covered, and I’m humming ‘nah,nah,nah,nah…’ to myself).

As those who have been following my blog will know, a favorite theme I’ve mine over the last 15 months is “staying sane in quarantine.” It’s about the various hobbies and other things I do to keep my sanity. I’m writing novels, of course. And blogging, which I find relaxing. And I’ve taken up cooking: I learned to bake apple turnovers a couple weeks ago, from scratch! I even made the pastry.

And I continue to do metal work. I forged this pair of fire pit tongs last week, for moving burning logs around.

Fire pit tongs forged from a truck leaf spring

I forged these tongs from the leaf spring of an F150 pickup truck. My wife came up with the idea one night while sitting around a campfire with the grandkids a couple weeks ago. We were roasting hotdogs and making s’mores, and my wife was struggling to rearrange some burning logs, when she said to me: “You know honey, we probably don’t need anymore homemade forged knives, as awesome as they are. The 87 you made, which are now filling up our kitchen drawers, are likely sufficient for our needs for the foreseeable future. But if you really feel like forging, we could use some fire pit tongs.”

I took the hint and had fun making them.

Having a pair of fire pit tongs made from a pickup truck is pretty awesome, not to mention manly. The ends of the tongs come together so they can be used to pickup small burning sticks and coals, as well as large logs.

We’ve all been doing different things to cope as best we can. I love to write, and I can write for hours at a time and not notice the time go by. But after sitting all day with the laptop, I enjoy getting out to the shop and hammering on hot metal.

For some interesting hobby ideas, visit my other website michaelmanto.com where I go into great detail on this fun hobby.

Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog. Stay safe, and above all, stay sane!

Staying Sane in Quarantine

The Writer

We just got through a period of roughly 3 months of almost complete lockdown in which we were barely able to leave the house. Recently things have gotten better. In my province, Ontario, they’ve allowed restaurants to re-open, and just last week I sat inside a restaurant for the first time in 4 months. But we still need to be careful, and medical authorities are already warning of a second wave. We might be subject to another lockdown come the fall or winter.

Knowing how to maintain your sanity has become a vital new life-skill in 2020, and not everyone is coping so well.

How do you stay sane while in quarantine during a pandemic? I’ve kept my sanity with hobbies, two of my favorites being: writing novels and making knives.

This is a knife I forged from steel cable, using deer antler, brass and leather for the handle.

As much as I love the creative process of writing, it has one serious drawback: it involves sitting down at a laptop, which is essentially what I do for a living all day long. I’m a Project Manager at a large financial services company, in which I spend most of my day on the phone with my laptop in virtual meetings. It had always been a dream of mine to write a novel, and I’ve spent the last fourteen years getting up between 4 and 5 AM to put in a couple of hours writing before going to work. People look at me like I’m crazy, but that’s what you have to do if you’re serious about writing. It’s worth it and I feel really proud of my writing. To-date I’ve completed 7 full length novels.

And I’m glad I’m pursuing that dream, but I also needed to find something that got me on my feet, is physical and hands-on and kept me in shape (more-or-less). Gym memberships never worked for me, even before Covid-19 made them unwise. I’ve tried them several times and I’ve always found it too boring to keep up, and they are not a viable option during a pandemic.

What I needed was something physical that wouldn’t bore me to death, and keep me interested enough to stand and use my muscles for hours. So in the summer of 2016 I started another hobby – knife making.

I forge them by hand from raw hunks of high carbon steel. It seems to be working. One hot Saturday in the summer, I rolled my forge and anvil out into the backyard under a shade tree and spent the entire day forging.

I was in complete bliss, and lost almost 10 pounds. It was in that moment that I realized I’d found something that holds my interest enough to keep me physically active for hours at a time.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I made my own forge out of an old barbeque I found abandoned at the side of the road. For an anvil I use an old piece of railroad track that was given to me. Some good files and a couple of heavy hammers, and that’s basically all you need to get started.

The knife I made pictured below won’t win any prizes for beauty, but I had a lot of fun forging it.

I forged this knife from a car leaf spring. A piece of the leaf spring it came from is shown above it. The handle wood is from an old horse yoke that was left on the wall of our den by the previous owner when we moved into our house.

It’s important to have interesting hobbies when you are stuck at home self-isolating. Forging steel may not be your thing, but you could try baking bread. Take up cooking. Learn to sow and make masks. Take up carpentry. Start blogging or write that novel you’ve always wanted to. All these things have become huge since the pandemic. In my area stores can’t keep flour in stock because of the numbers of people who’ve taken up baking. I see that as a very positive thing. Stay safe and above all, stay sane!

Blogs for Coffee Lovers

Best Blogs for Coffee

As one might suspect, with novels such as “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte”, and “Coffee to Go, With a Spaceship”, that I rather like coffee. I don’t think that should come as too much of a surprise.

In today’s post I thought I’d share links to some of my favorite coffee related blogs. Sometimes it’s just really nice to ignore the news, Facebook, Twitter and anything else on the internet that can get too serious, and go to a website to relax and read about something you enjoy without having to hear anything about pandemics, Trump, US Presidential elections, economical calamities, financial collapse, or Justin Bieber.

And 2020 is still only half over, but we won’t talk about that right now …

Not that I don’t take what’s happening seriously. I do. But sometimes we all need a mental break. So here are some good coffee blogs, carefully screened to exclude anyone who might be tempted to talk about Trump. I’ll be updating this list from time to time.

Roasting Coffee Beans at Home for Beginners. This article explains how to roast beans at home without special equipment, using a pan on the stove top, or in the oven, or using a popcorn machine. An excellent all-around article for the beginner who wants to try roasting without making a big investment in equipment.

Oddfellows Coffee Roasters. Small craft roaster specializing in beans imported from farms owned and operated by women in Central America. Ryan’s Honduran dark roast is fruity and full-flavoured, yet smooth and low in acid.

Paris Coffee Roasters. A specialty micro roaster, offering dark and medium roasts of beans from Oaxaca Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Steve has been roasting for 18 years, and has learned how to bring out the best in every bean. His dark roast from Oaxaca is very popular with its creamy caramel and chocolate notes.

The Bean Ground Coffee gear buying guide and reviews. If you’re shopping for anything related to your favorite addiction, this is a good place to start. Also, good indepth info on coffee beans.

The Coffee Channel. A great all-round website for coffee lovers, with reviews, blogs, buying guides and recipes all about coffee. They also have a list of what they consider the best coffee blogs.

I Love Coffee. This is a fun website that focuses on coffee related humour, coffee quotes and fun infographics about the world’s greatest beverage.

Brewed Coffee. As they say in their About Us – “We are All about Coffee, including coffee news, tips, recipes, and more!”

The Coffee Hunters Journal These folks search the world for the perfect bean!

Have a great day and stay safe!

** Updated May 23, 2021

Alien abductions?

It’s way too hot to take anything seriously, and it is expected to reach 45c today, so here is a bit of humour I hope will give you a laugh.

This expresses in a nutshell why I am very suspicious of so-called abduction stories.

A “nothing whatsoever to do with Covid” post

It seems there is no news except Covid news. And for the last 8 weeks or so, what other kind of news has there been? What else mattered?

But some of us still remain preoccupied with much more interesting issues, such as “Do aliens exist?”, leading up to the most pressing question on all of our hearts and minds these days: “And do they like coffee?”

I don’t actually have the answers, but I’m pretty sure that …

Do aliens drink coffee?