Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interview with the Founder


The PODBRAM website has evolved through several iterations since its inception a number of years ago. I have remained mostly mute on both my websites for nearly a year, so I think it is time for an update. Many new readers may stumble upon PODBRAM without realizing the true depth of its history, so here is a recap.

The first draft of my first book was composed in 1966-70. After receiving the unsurprising rejection letters from a few prospective publishers, I left the manuscript filed away for the next fifteen years. As real-life maturity arrives, most of us come to recognize in hindsight the immaturity we possessed back when we wrote our college scribblings. This was certainly true of my experience as I realized just how blatantly obtuse, nonsensical, and silly my earliest navel gazing had been. I began writing in 1984 what would be published decades later as my seventh book. I would totally rewrite my first manuscript as my third published work in 2002. My first published book consisted of a collection of stories I had published serially and locally from 1985 through 1994. The point of this convoluted path is that if we are to become serious authors, first of all we must act like it. If you go into the writing game thinking that your first manuscript will be the next bestseller, your delusions of grandeur are most likely preceding your reputation as a future author.

Now on with the show. In this PODBRAM interview I shall be referred to as 77TA66. That is my Discus name. My real name of course is Floyd M. Orr. You can find me all over the Internet if you care to look. The only reason I have a different Discus name is because I thought I had to have one when I first began with Discus years ago. Otherwise I never post or comment anywhere online except under my own real name. If you think you have ever read a comment on a blog that was written by me under any name other than Floyd M. Orr or 77TA66, you are mistaken.

PODBRAM: When did you first try to reach a national audience?

77TA66: When I began composing a serialized set of stories about Corvettes and other sports cars in 1985, I knew that I had a captive audience for them, the local Corvette club, which at that time at least, was the largest such club in the world at more than 100 members. These stories were typed on a 1959 IBM typewriter, but I planned to eventually publish them in a book format.

PODBRAM: What was the next step in your goal of reaching a larger audience?

77TA66: I knew that computers and the Internet would eventually reach a technological development point at which I could move my plan forward. I had fully realized by this time that my subject matter had limited audience appeal and a couple of publishers already completely controlled the genre. They had rejected my submissions by this point and I was not surprised by that. After all I was attempting to launch my own new genre, what I now call Nonfiction in a Fictional Style.

PODBRAM: Then iUniverse was launched in 1997, right?

77TA66: Yes. After thorough research I decided that iU was head and shoulders above the rest. The release of Plastic Ozone Daydream was a project of massive proportion! First of all, I tried to scan the typewritten pages into my Windows 98 computer. That's when I discovered that OCR software was far from perfect! After wasting an enormous amount of time and effort, I wound up retyping the entire book into Word. There were countless hours expended upon the inclusion of about forty photos and numerous other technical issues, but the book was finally released. Then the real fun began!

PODBRAM: I understand that you had few delusions concerning potential book sales. You never expected to set any element of the book market on fire.

77TA66: I thought if I did much of nothing in promotional effort, that I would sell about 200 copies. Many people had already read some of the material in the serialized stories. They had a basic understanding of the content. Some of them were even personally named in the book! I had hoped to spend some time and money on advertising and maybe sell 1000 copies.

PODBRAM: Things did not exactly turn out that way, did they?

77TA66: My wife and I were retired and we spent all our energy on the promotion of Daydream for a couple of years. We purchased and developed numerous mailing lists. We created flyers, posters, bookmarks, and T-shirts. We licked thousands of stamps and envelopes. We bought print advertising. I even went on a local radio show. Before it was over, we had released four books with iUniverse and spent something over $20,000.

PODBRAM: And you have now sold thousands of copies of your books, right?

77TA66: I quit keeping track years ago, but I can swear in court that to this day my first four books have not collectively sold more than 300 copies. The one of the four that my wife and I have always been certain should have the broadest audience appeal, Timeline of America, has yet to sell twenty copies!

PODBRAM: Wow! Let me catch my breath! I cannot believe you are still writing books. What happened next?

77TA66: Somewhere along the line back in 2000-2002, I began to really dig deeply into Internet research about this astounding phenomenon of Print On Demand books. What I discovered began to really open my eyes. It began with an iU author named Solomon Tulbure who called himself Lord Satan on the iU message board. He was a controversial figure who deliberately riled up a lot of people by spamming their in-boxes and message boards back before the government cracked down on such tacky behavior. In my opinion, he may have been tacky in his approach, but he knew what he was talking about! The fact was that iUniverse never gave a rat's ass if any iU author ever sold a single book and he was the first to fully understand this surprising new concept.

PODBRAM: Was he successful in selling his books?

77TA66: Many times more successful than 98% of the rest of us! His Amazon numbers may appear pathetic now, but we are now several years after his untimely death. It was ruled a suicide by the police, but he always claimed while alive that he would soon be murdered. That's another story.

PODBRAM: What was so significant about the Lord Satan story, as it applies to PODBRAM?

77TA66: Tulbure was not only the first to discover that iU cared only about publishing more and more authors who would sell a minimal quantity of books, but that Amazon was the only retailer that mattered for POD books, online or off. To this day, Amazon sells a minimum of 90% of all POD books sold! It matters little whether we are talking about POD, print, Kindle, or CreateSpace, it's practically all Amazon.

PODBRAM: Let's move forward about fifteen years to the present day. What has changed?

77TA66: In two words, CreateSpace and Kindle, both Amazon products, of course. CS has all but knocked competing POD print operations into the dustbin. The technology has advanced to the point that only a prospective author with more money than brains even considers paying iUniverse or one of their direct competitors, and this includes Amazon's own similar, full-service, overpriced imprint. Anyone with a modicum of computer experience can publish with CreateSpace. You may spend a lot of time with the learning curve, but in the end there is no comparable substitute for CS. My first book with iU had forty small B&W photos; my seventh (with CS, under my NIAFS imprint) had over 200 larger, sharper photographs. The only thing that has not changed is that they are still in B&W. Even CS still charges a ridiculous retail price requirement to publish a print book with color photos.

PODBRAM: I'm sure most of your fiction writers and readers want to hear about Kindle. That format has certainly conquered the world of e-books in an unprecedented manner.

77TA66: No doubt about that! If you want to reach a specific genre audience with a low-priced product, Kindle is king. For nonfiction, larger books, heavily researched works requiring higher financial returns for their creators, works with large numbers of photos, the Kindle phenomenon offers a conundrum beyond the scope of that faced by new fiction authors. The Kindle option does allow photos to be published in full color at a consumer price that will not choke an elephant, but even that concept fights an uphill battle against the common Kindle low-price strategy. I tested this premise with the design and release of my seventh and most recently published book. Only 7% of my total sales have been for the Kindle version, even though the price is a few dollars lower than the print version and nearly all of the included photos are in color!

PODBRAM: That is a shocker! Most POD authors struggle to sell even a small percentage of their output in print these days. The Kindle seems to have taken over. What about other e-book formats?

77TA66: My four iUniverse books and my one text-only CreateSpace publication have also been released with Smashwords, a company that makes them available in the Nook format for Barnes & Noble and in the miscellaneous other formats. My sales, and certainly my royalties, have been a steady trickle. Even I have been surprised at how pathetic the B&N sales have been, although B&N is clearly the ringleader of all my non-Kindle e-book sales. My CS books with photos are way too large in file size to be published with Smashwords.

PODBRAM: What do you see in the future of publishing?

77TA66: Not a pretty picture, that's for sure! With the caveat that I hope I am not offending the many Kindle fans out there, I have to say that there is a certain unmistakable something for nothing attitude that has become all too prevalent. The low price points of Kindle books on the retail consumer market drives that market, period. If you think the truth is otherwise, I am afraid you are sadly mistaken. If you are a new author trying to break into a genre fiction market, by all means publish in the Kindle format, but if you want to sell any serious numbers, your retail price point must be low, preferably below $5. You nonfiction guys can join me at CreateSpace. No other format or publisher is likely to ever surpass these two for the unknown and little-known author marketplace.

PODBRAM: Some experts think Barnes & Noble and other bookstore chains are already in their death throes? Do you agree with this?

77TA66: A couple of years ago, I was certain of it, but I recently read about a situation of which I was previously unaware. Did you know that once upon a time when Apple was struggling to survive that Microsoft invested a wad of cash in Apple to keep their competitor alive? They did this to avoid an attack of monopoly regulations from the federal government. Smart, huh? If it comes down to the wire, I would not be at all surprised if Amazon does the same thing with B&N. Otherwise, yes, I do expect we shall see the demise of the store chain and website, the latter of which has been quite pathetic since the store corporation took it over a number of years ago. The Kindle has undoubtedly stomped the Nook into the dirt.

PODBRAM: Will we soon see the extinction of print books?

77TA66: Only if the publishers change their outrageous pricing policies of books containing color photos, and only if nonfiction and research and reference books disappear from the culture. In other words, no. I think the dichotomy of Kindle for fiction and print for nonfiction will only grow larger. Unfortunately, the publishing of bullshit by celebrities will also continue to grow while the words of inspiring, intelligent authors will languish. As with everything else in our rotten culture, money screams and everything else falters.

PODBRAM: The current reality sucks, but could we leave this discussion on a somewhat higher note?

77TA66: My most recent book is my largest and most expensive, and it is also my best selling. The irony is that this is that same book that I started out to write and publish in 1984. Back then I changed my mind because I thought the subject matter held the least appeal for a wide audience. As I stated above, my book with potentially the largest and broadest market has been my weakest seller. After well over a decade in the publishing and marketing game, I have to admit that I have learned the lesson from Lord Satan. To become a success as a nobody author, you have to have a target market. You must be able to shoot an arrow into the bull's eye of that target, no matter how small it might be. You can tell potential readers how great your book is in the most perfectly scripted language you can muster and no one will care a whit. You cannot buy their attention with advertising, either. Unless your book's title is so generic and boring as to be nauseating in its lack of creativity, no one will search for it on Amazon. You have to spoon feed the potential audience. You have to hit the target. Think like Robin Hood or Annie Oakley and maybe you will get lucky and sell a few books. Welcome to a very exclusive club!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Scarlet Kingfisher


The Scarlet Kingfisher: 
Discovery of a New Species 
by Robert Henry Benson
(CreateSpace / 1-500-71684-7 / 978-1-500-71684-4 / August 2014 / 328 pages / Paperback $9.95 / Amazon $8.96 / Kindle $4.99)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM


When I was a youngster I went through a period when I read some of my father's whodunnits. One series he particularly loved was by Dick Francis, a one-time British jockey turned mystery writer. Frances must have written forty books set within the world of horse racing and I probably read ten before I went on to something else. Each one featured a different angle on horse racing, from the points of view of a jockey, trainer, bookie, owner, or the like. With each one I felt I had been given an inside glance by an expert into an interesting field I'd never have known about otherwise. To this day I've never seen a horse race live, nor bet on one, but I'm still happy to know a little about an area of our society that, until then, I knew nothing about. A mystery is a mystery, but if you can learn something while being entertained, how could that not be good?
In The Scarlet Kingfisher, a young professor looking to achieve promotion and tenure learns of a possible new species of bird in South Texas, something that is not impossible but extremely rare and noteworthy. Such a discovery would practically guarantee instant fame and a successful academic career. Complications ensue, of course: a dead body, bizarre behavior by the department head, a mysterious Asian billionnaire, being arrested and jailed by a small town sheriff, and more. There will be no spoilers here. It's a mystery.
All this is by way of saying that The Scarlet Kingfisher is an entertaining thriller per se, but perhaps even more interesting as a look at the life of a wildlife scientist, professor, and bird lover. We not only see the severe South Texas ranchland and wildlife through the mind of an expert far more observant than we are, we also get to watch him practice his craft using skills and techniques that are unknown and undreamed of by the general public. The story may change the way you think about "bird watchers."
The book reads cleanly. There are no major editing issues. 

See Also: Robert Henry Benson's Goodreads page
The Big Year, an excellent movie about birdwatching

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Two Worlds Daughter


Two Worlds Daughter
by Dr. Al Past
(CreateSpace / 1-496-13199-1 / 978-1-496-13199-7 / March 2014 / 316 pages / $13.66 paperback / $12.29 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)

 As a reader and reviewer of all six of Al Past's Distant Cousin books, I rate this one as the second best of the sequels. Of course you can never duplicate that first introduction to the exquisite Ana Darcy in the first book! Like my other two favorites, DC1 and DC3, Two Worlds Daughter is one of the longer books in the series, and I like them that way.

This DC6 stars Ana's seventeen-year-old daughter Clio and her ex-Navy SEAL bodyguard, Fergus. Clio discovered earlier in life, and in an earlier book, that she had special healing powers she could impart to patients through a special lightness of touch, an exquisite massage. She had proven prior to finishing high school that she distinctly had possession of a delicate healing power. In a search for more knowledge of this unusual talent, she joins a small entourage of doctors and nurses who are devoting two weeks of their time in a small town in New Mexico. Forever the protective mom, Ana insists that Clio travel only with a protector of both her person and her secret identity.

The story unfolds pleasantly, slowly and smoothly through the first half of the book. There may not be much excitement happening, but the reader is easily sucked down the rabbit hole of the storyline. The deep experience and professionalism imparted by the author guides the reader to a second half with considerably more action and surprises. The special relationships among the characters, Ana and her friends and extended family, Clio and her patients, and Clio and her recalcitrant traveling companion, will warm your heart much like that first meeting with Ana Darcy did. The book is never long enough as far as all the Distant Cousin Series go. The ending arrives all too quickly.

Two Worlds Daughter is the sixth book in a very entertaining fiction series suitable for all ages. Dr. Al Past has created a wonderful storyline with broad appeal. I highly recommend that any intellectually curious reader begin with the first book in the series. You will not be able to put it down. I also recommend a perusal of the Ana Darcy Blog (link below) to see the complete three-dimensional story that Al has created. Note that the story has been contracted to a movie agent, a fate it most certainly deserves. As All-American entertaining fiction, the Distant Cousin Series is hot stuff! 

See Also: Al's Ana Darcy Blog
The Original Distant Cousin 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ghost Ship of the Desert



by Michael Cole
(Foremost Press / 1-939-87011-9 / 978-1-939-87011-7 / April 2014 / 200 pages / $13.97 Amazon / $4.99 Kindle)

Reviewed for PODBRAM by Dr. Al Past

There are two reasons I looked forward to Michael Cole’s Ghost Ship of the Desert:  (1) I love sea stories set in the time wooden ships, and (2), I was raised in El Paso, in the great Chihuahan Desert. To combine both concepts in one story was an intriguing idea. My initial enthusiasm was dimmed somewhat, however, by the cover, which shows an improbable fully rigged ship (though without sails on the yards, true) lying half buried in sand. Its rigging is completely intact, with all lines and ropes tight—even the ratlines! These lines would need daily attention, even hourly attention, to maintain their tautness on a modern vessel, but on a ghost ship in the desert? That’s not going to be the case.
 
Still, I should know better than anyone that a book should not be judged by its cover, since I have penned a number of novels with astronomical photos on the covers though the stories are actually only about ten per cent science fiction, being set solidly on our good Earth. Several hard core sci-fi fans have objected in strong terms. They have a point, even if the stories are good ones.

Fortunately, Ghost Ship of the Desert turned out to be a decent story too, despite the further contradiction that the ship of the title turned out, on page three, to be a Spanish galleon. The ship on the cover is a vessel several centuries newer than the tubby, hardy vessels of the days of the Spanish Empire.

In the story, we find an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times is sent to report on a political squabble over the fate of the Salton Sea, a highly saline, highly toxic dumping ground for various California entities. In so doing, he stumbles into a murder mystery involving, among other things, the ghost ship of the title, a semi-deranged ex-SEAL Native American, rare and valuable black pearls, a gorgeous red-headed scientist with a violent boyfriend, and murder. The result is a mystery that fits squarely in its niche: a detective story replete with danger, romance, and a shadowy perpetrator or perpetrators. (As a bonus, we learn that back in sixteenth century and even later, the Salton Sea, now landlocked, was occasionally open to the sea, so that the occasional ship might indeed have sailed upon it. It’s not difficult to find lost ships and possible lost treasure mentioned online.)

All in the story is not smooth sailing, however. The text reads well enough provided you are not the sort who trips up at comma splices and similar copy editing oversights (as I am). There are some plot holes, not unknown in complex mystery stories. Most are minor, but I have to mention one which this former desert rat had to shake his head at: the notion that a three or four hour sandstorm could completely cover a Spanish galleon (or completely uncover it), and that after centuries under the sand and with some missing planks in the deck, the area below decks will remain open enough for a person to walk around and hunt for treasure chests. My family found the spring sandstorms sent drifts of sand into even a tightly sealed-up house. Left to accumulate for 400 years, I’m certain all our furniture would have been buried. And probably the refrigerator too.
 
Finally, I found the characters rather flat. The relentless investigative reporter and the traffic-stopping red haired scientist who inevitably falls for him fulfilled their functions in the story but were not quite unique enough to lodge in my long-term memory.

The bottom line is that Ghost Ship of the Desert is a worthwhile read but also a good example of the difficulty of putting out a polished, professional product independently or with a small staff. That requires meticulous attention to detail—to hundreds of details—a daunting task indeed, and that’s the good news. The rest of the story involves marketing, and we won’t even go into that here, except to mention that this blog offers quality advice and a good selection of the most helpful links in the column to the left. 

See Also: Other Books by Michael Cole

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Dog Did It


The Dog Did It: A Whodunit
by Jim Toombs
(CreateSpace / 1-478-26078-5 / 978-1-478-26078-3 / August 2012 / 274 pages / $10.99 paperback / $9.89 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM
 

I began The Dog Did It -- A Whodunit (Gabe and Tigger Mystery) wondering if it was another in the vein of Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery, by Spencer Quinn, a mystery told from the point of view of the detective's dog, and rather imaginatively so. I found reading that book something of a high-wire project, with the suspension of disbelief teetering throughout. The Dog Did It is more traditionally narrated, however, and reads well. The protagonist, Gabe Chance is not exactly a licensed detective, and the story isn't a mystery since we meet the bad guys early on and know what they're up to. If one needs a genre for it, adventure would do, or maybe suspense.

Brought back to Texas when his mother's will is probated, Mr. Chance finds that to inherit her money he must live in her house, drive her car, and care for her dog. He does so very reluctantly, and while reconnecting with people he knew in childhood, finds himself ensnared in a murder which eventually leads to further dangers for himself and others...and the dog. The story, flavored by its setting in the famously lovely Texas hill country, costars a Jack Russell terrier, which should appeal to dog lovers and especially to lovers of that breed. The lively critter is based, it seems, on the author's own dog of yore, who apparently inspired the book.

I found the story satisfyingly entertaining, though I could have done with more details regarding the character and history of the main character. For that matter I suspect those not familiar with the Texas hill country could also use a bit more description of that, too. Oddly enough, the most memorable characters were the bad guys, one of whom was a vicious professor and another a frighteningly dangerous (if entertaining in a shivery sort of way) sociopath.

Those who enjoy this book will be happy to know there is a second featuring the same dog and master. Both are attractively priced for Kindle.

See Also: Jim Toombs website

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Poison Ring



The Poison Ring by Freddie Remza
(Outskirts Press / 1-478-70541-8 / 978-1-478-70541-3 / May 2013 / 286 pages / $14.95 paperback / Amazon $13.46 / Kindle $6.99)

Let me begin by saying that, as with all my reviews, I have given a considerable amount of thought to my approach before proceeding. There will be technical criticisms in this review that will not appear in the Amazon review because PODBRAM is a place for authors to learn and Amazon is a place to sell books. Rest assured that I am not going to shred The Poison Ring here because it is a very competent effort deserving of the four stars I shall give it at Amazon. However, this book demonstrates several key lessons that I think are pertinent to the PODBRAM audience of fellow authors.

The Poison Ring is obviously a book for Young Adult readers, not for typical adults of all ages, but this fact is not noted on the book's Amazon page. If the prospective buyer checks out the Look Inside, the large print is a hint. I call the storyline Nancy Drew Goes to Nepal. The reading level is simple with lots of short declarative sentences composed in a typical third-person, past-tense style. There is an adequate level of show-don't-tell in the extensive dialog among the characters and the pace of the story is kept brisk to the end. The author is a retired teacher and there are discussion questions at the end. There is another bonus of ten B&W photos from Nepal in the back matter; however, the effect could have been improved by either moving the photos to their respective positions within the text or enlarging them to full-page size, or both. Ms. Remza is attempting to teach her student readers about Nepal and its culture, and she does an adequate job of this with the book. One detail the author missed is that the application of the past perfect tense would have been correct in several instances in the text. The story is told in a straightforward manner and the reader's interest will be held to the end.

This is Freddie Remza's fourth book with Outskirts Press, which brings up several points relevant to the PODBRAM readership. Although my own first four books were published with iUniverse, that is an approximate maximum number for an author to pay many hundreds of dollars to sell a small number of books. It's probably time for Freddie Remza to "graduate" up to CreateSpace. Whether or not the author paid for extra services at Outskirts, The Poison Ring is certainly one of the best proofread POD books I have encountered. Other than a minimum number of typos and the aforementioned tense issue, Freddie's fourth effort is a slick, professional product. If the author can reproduce this quality of work on her own at CS, she could be on her way to making more in royalties than she pays in fees.

The highest compliment I can pay to Ms. Remza is to state that in the genre of YA fiction, this book approaches the quality of that of ex-iUniverse author Dianne Salerni. She's not quite there yet. I think even YA readers could deal with a little more complexity in the plot and sentence structure. Her heart is in the touching zone and the technical quality of the product is commendable.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reunification



Reunification: A Monterey Mary Returns to Berlin  
by T.H.E. Hill
(CreateSpace / 1-490-49026-4 / 978-1-490-49026-7 / July 2013 / 226 pages / $12.95 / $11.66 Amazon)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

“Alas, poor Cold War, I knew it well. It was a war of infinite jest and most excellent fancy, fought more often in the shadows of the mind than to death, yet the lives of millions hung in the balance. It is a war without monuments, but not without casualties…”

Long-retired from the CIA, Mike Troyan returns to Berlin, where he once served as a military linguist – a Monterey Mary – at the Army Field Station in the 1970s. Now comfortably ensconced in academia, he intends to write a book about the Stasi, the East German secret police, and do a great deal of research in the Stasi archives, where the files they kept on almost anyone of interest have been pieced back together. But on his return he is almost immediately walloped by the realization that there was an informant among his comrades at the Army Field Station, an informant code-named MUSIK. He is also walloped in the face with a plate of currywurst by the mother of the head of the Stasi archives… a woman of his age who just happens to be his one-time Berlin girlfriend.

And with that, Mike begins unpacking and reviewing his suitcase of memories of divided Berlin, memories which are poignantly at odds with the present-day rebuilt, revived, and reunified Berlin. Everything he once knew so very well is either gone or changed almost beyond recognition; the Wall itself is gone, Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist attraction with the golden arches of a McDonalds’ in the background and manned by a pair of badly uniformed actors who pose for pictures with tourists, and one of the main recreational centers for American personnel in Berlin is now something called the “Dahlem Urban Village.”  “The sidewalk was full of people speaking German as they went about their business. All of them were unaware that they were walking down a street full of English-speaking ghosts who shimmered before me on their way to a PX that didn’t exist any more.” And when Mike’s daughter, Samantha comes to Berlin, about halfway through the book, the plot just thickens.

He remembers that particularly vivid past, as he tours present-day Berlin, by himself or with Samantha  – and accounts of the antics of his fellows at Army Field Station are interspersed now and again with how ominous the Stasi was to ordinary Berliners.” “The Stasi could make things not happen,” says one of the former East Berliners that he meets in his peregrinations about the city that he once knew so very well. “Your kids would not get into college. That apartment for which you were  three years on a waiting list was no longer available. The new car that you had paid for in full at the start of a six-year waiting list for delivery was suddenly delayed or postponed… and there was nothing you could do. There was no legal recourse because nothing could be done. There was nothing you could prove. There were no documents.”  For my money, that kind of impersonally deliberate bureaucratic malice is at least as chilling as the threat of overt violence, interrogation, and imprisonment with the threat of a capital sentence.

And now, to people the age of Mike’s daughter, what was once a very real menace is completely toothless, a rather shabby joke when not a focus for a weird kind of nostalgia. Only people the age of Mike and some of his old friends remember that it was all in grim earnest, as concrete as The Wall itself. One day, out of the clear blue sky, it all came down, dissolving into little chips of brick and concrete, valueless coins and clumsy relics like East German-made telephones (pre-bugged) and Trabant automobiles.

Reunification is quite readable, and nicely-plotted: part puzzle, part travelogue, part memoir and part history, with some quite nice turns of phrase, some of which I have quoted here. Mike on setting to work at the archives: “I’d worked in the salt mines of bureaucracy long enough to know the coin of the realm, and how to mint it.” For me, the passages which resounded were the melancholy episodes of re-visiting old haunts; just about every base which I served at in the 1970s and 1980s is either closed entirely, re-purposed by the host government or changed beyond all recognition. You cannot go home again, for strangers have taken it over.

Any criticism I have is directed at the basic formatting of the text itself; the margins are narrow, there is unnecessary spacing between lines and paragraphs, and the use of random fonts to indicate a shift from the present to the past, or to indicate a written document, is a little jarring. There are also inexplicable switches between the English and German conventions for quote marks around dialog. This does not reflect on the quality of writing or ability to tell an engaging story, but it does detract from aesthetic appreciation of the printed version’s pages. 

See Also: Voices Under Berlin, a 2009 PODBRAM Award Winner