New requirement for Customer Review eligibility on Amazon

As you may have noticed, I love writing reviews of all (or almost all) books I read. The book reviews published on this blog are also submitted on Goodreads, Anobii (another social network for readers) and several Amazon stores, namely the US, UK, CA, AU, NL and of course IT stores.

At the end of the past week I published my review of “Stardance” by Spider & Jeanne Robinson on this blog and on my Italian blog (an Italian version of it). Then, as usual, I started submitting the same reviews on my Amazon account on the above-mentioned stores. Everything went well on Amazon IT, where I do most of my purchases (being Italian), and on Amazon US, where my Kindle e-readers are registered, but when I tried to submit the same review on Amazon UK, I received this notice:

Sorry, we’ve experienced a problem. Please submit your review again

Puzzled, I tried again, but I got the same message. So I tried to submit my review on the DE store, and again the same notice. At this point I tried to review a verified purchase (sometimes I purchase items on Amazon UK and DE), but I got this error again.

I was worried there was something wrong with my account, though I started to suppose that the problem (which wasn’t there on 4 April, the date of my last review on the UK store) was related to the age of my purchases.
I turned to the customer support and my supposition revealed to be right.

This is what I got as reply.

We had changes to our purchase requirement recently. To write a Customer Review, you must have used your account to make at least £40 in purchases on in the past 12 months. Once your order has dispatched, you’ll be able to write your first customer review (Promotional discounts don’t count toward the £40 minimum).

You can read the new eligibility requirement here.

Since I’m unable to submit a review on the other stores, I supposed that the requirements have changed (almost) everywhere only with a different amount and again I was right. It’s $50 on the US store (see here) and €50 on the DE and IT store.

What are your thoughts?

I think that forcing customers to spend £40 (or €/$50) every single year in order to be eligible to write a review, even on old verified purchases, is just a cheap and useless attempt from Amazon to avoid seriously addressing the issue of fake and paid reviews.

You know, I’m an Amazon customer since 1998 (20 years!), I spent so much money on four different stores (US, DE, UK and IT), I wrote hundreds of legitimate reviews, and now I have to pay a kind of “annual fee”, on each store (that’s the worst part!), to be allowed to submit more reviews.
I really have no more words to describe this. It’s just crazy.

Stardance - Spider & Jeanne Robinson

**** Dancing in the vacuum

The plot of this book certainly doesn’t lack originality, as it attempts to narrate dance, which is already difficult, but above all to do it in a science fiction context. The novel tells the story of Shara, a talented dancer who will never become famous because of her physical peculiarities (she doesn’t have a minute body) and who then invents a new type of dance in zero gravity: a star dance.
And in some ways the attempt is also quite good. In the scenes in which the narrator, the cameraman (and ex-dancer) Charlie, describes the choreography of Shara, for example, one almost has the impression of seeing her dance through the filming. The prose of the author (or rather, of the authors, because Robinson’s wife is also listed as author) is evocative and engaging here. The very fact of picking up a science fiction book and finding yourself reading about dance is strange, but in a good way. As long as the science fiction aspect remains in the background, actually, reading is pleasant and you are curious to find out what happens next.
Problems arise when science fiction comes up and shatters all the poetry.
Unfortunately, the novel suffers from being written over forty years ago. It isn’t just a problem of technological anachronisms, which as always are inevitable in books that try to imagine the future. In fact, there are numerous scientific inaccuracies. Some are probably due to the fact that at that time there was little knowledge on the effects on the human body of exposure to microgravity for long periods, but for others one cannot appeal to such an excuse, because they are relatively simple concepts of physics. I don’t know if these last mistakes are due to artistic licences by the authors or if they are the result of poor research. The problem is that some essential turning points of the plot are based on some of these inaccuracies and consequently the plot itself ends up losing credibility.
However, this is a pleasant reading that I decided to judge positively precisely because of its originality.

Stardance of Amazon.

The Missing - Caroline Eriksson

**** Abuse and madness

“The Missing” wants to be a genre novel, specifically a psychological thriller, but at the same time addresses the issue of abuse on women, which would put it in the so-called literary fiction. The result of this union is not entirely successful. The reader doesn’t exactly know what to expect and in some ways they see their expectations disappointed, but in others they are pleasantly surprised. The risk, however, is to lose them well before the end of the book.
I admit that at the beginning of this book I was reading very fast. This happens when I find the story slow and I want to get rid of it as soon as possible. For about half of the pages, nothing happens. The protagonist dumps her delirium on the reader, in present tense and first person. Given the context (two people have disappeared), her behaviour does not make the slightest sense. Every attempt to suspend my disbelief is put to the test, page after page.
Now, in a literary fiction book, it can happen that nothing happens, even in the whole book, but not in a thriller. Hence my disorientation.
The fact that the description on the back cover (in the Italian edition that I read) anticipates the first faint twist, which occurs at about a third of the book, certainly does not help.
When finally, in the second part, things start to move, the reading becomes more interesting and some unexpected ideas and changes of direction come up. Thanks to these I decided to give it four stars. However, a series of problems remain.
Besides the slow and improbable beginning, I found unbearable (as well as sloppy) the use of the point of view in first person for three different characters. It creates unnecessary confusion. And then there is the ending part that, instead of reaching the story’s climax, at a certain point collapses. Not even the last element that should act as a definitive coup de théâtre is able to save it, since it is a decision by one of the characters that is hardly feasible.
In short, “The Missing” has the merit of telling a story potentially able to amaze and engage from the emotional point of view, but does not quite manage to do so because of the very slow pace and unlikelihood that characterise most of the events narrated.

The Missing on Amazon.

Where the Shadows Lie - Michael Ridpath

***** Even in Iceland people kill

Halfway between crime thriller and mystery, this novel by Michael Ridpath is the first of his series set in Iceland and starring Detective Magnus Jonson (or rather, Ragnarsson).
Threatened by the boss of a gang against which he must testify, Magnus, a homicide detective from Boston, is sent to Iceland, which he is originally from, to collaborate for a short time with the local police and at the same time stay safe until the trial. He is thus involved in investigating the murder of a university professor who seems to have made an important discovery about a lost Icelandic saga that would have inspired Tolkien while writing “The Lord of the Rings”.
In an Iceland in which legend and reality, well evoked by the splendid prose of the author, are confused, we are told a story of investigations, interrogations and deductions, which occupy a large part of the book, making it mostly a mystery. To this the personal story of Magnus is added, which however remains quite marginal.
I must say that identifying the killer was not too difficult. As usual in these books, the more interest is focused on a character, the clearer it becomes that this is not the killer, so by process of elimination you get to the solution before the protagonist.
To tell the truth as I read this book little did I care to find out who had killed the professor. I was too involved on admiring Iceland, evoked by the author, among volcanoes, waterfalls, lakes and farms, and in appreciating his ability to credibly insert “The Lord of the Rings” in those contexts. I believe that the idea of imagining a link between this famous book and a lost saga is brilliant and is worth reading the novel.
I really appreciated the research work of the author. The very fact that he is not Icelandic (he is British) has pushed him to clarify many small aspects that a local author would have taken for granted and this has made the book even more interesting for people like me who are intrigued by the so-called land of fire and ice.
Overall I found this novel an engaging and informative reading, one of those that, besides entertaining you, teach you something.

False Flag - Jay Tinsiano

**** Complex and enjoyable story with a slightly slow start

This novella is the first book in a series of thrillers whose main character is Frank Bowen. Although it is a short text that is often offered for free to encourage the reading of the following one, it is completely self-conclusive and works well as a single book. Furthermore, the text is very good. I haven’t noticed typos or other errors (if there are any, they must be just a few).
The story takes place in the 90s in the period before the return of Hong Kong to China, while media attention is focused on the war in Iraq. The quite varied and well-described international environment and the details of the intrigues and procedures involving the various intelligence agencies are a sign of a considerable research effort that almost amazed me, since it is such a short text.
The plot is not overly original and there are some fairly predictable aspects, including the ending, but it has some unexpected twists, which keep the interest alive, and well-described action scenes.
Some parts are perhaps a bit slow. The beginning in particular isn’t exactly compelling and doesn’t make you want to go on in the story. If it hadn’t been such a short book, I would have probably abandoned it immediately. But I’m glad I didn’t do it.
Finally, I admit I had some difficulty in remembering the various characters, perhaps because they are many and are showed quite quickly. In my opinion, in this book there was material to write something much longer, which would allow the secondary characters to develop better, making them more interesting and memorable. This would have improved the whole story.
However, it was a good read that I can recommend.

False Flag on Amazon.

The Outward Urge - John Wyndham

***** An interesting alternative present and future

In 1959, when this book was published for the first time, we had yet to go to the Moon (it would happen ten years later, a few months after the author’s death) and the conquest of space was seen as a normal extension of the so-called Cold War. This far from optimistic scenario is the background to the story of a family of astronauts unravelling for two hundred years.
Wyndham’s pessimism, which I had already seen in his post-apocalyptic novel “The Day of the Triffids”, contrasts with the optimism of many other authors of the now-defined classical science fiction who imagined human beings travelling in space a few decades later; if they were still alive, they would be disappointed to learn that we are still struggling to go to Mars.
On the contrary, in “The Outward Urge” the conquest of space proceeds slowly, much more than in reality, and is closely linked to events of a warlike nature. With leaps of fifty years, the author tells us about four space adventures (a fifth was added in the second edition) of men belonging to the Troon family (English, as the author), plus the one of an aviator during the WWII, who was the grandfather of the first of these astronauts. Through their stories we are shown a grey future that for us is, fortunately, an alternative one, in which astronautics is the tool of a destructive war that leads to upsetting the political balance of our planet. Every story brings with it a gloomy atmosphere and is resolved in a depressing ending, except for the last one, about Venus (the Asteroids story wasn’t included in the edition I read), which ends with a positive note.
The speculative exercise of Wyndham seems almost a warning to the men of his time. It is as if the author had sublimated his worst fears within this novel in an attempt to find, at the end of the tunnel, a light of hope. To be able to appreciate it today, especially in the light of current scientific knowledge that highlights the ingenuity of the science narrated in this novel, we must try to put ourselves in the shoes of the author, who a little more than a decade after the beginning of the Cold War fears for the future of the world and try to imagine what would happen if its worst fears became true.
Reading this novel in a sense made me feel good, because the assumptions on which it is based no longer exist and its dramatic development nowadays seems absurd, but at the same time it has led me to reflect on how the perception of the world and the future can change dramatically over the decades.

The Outward Urge on Amazon.

Artemis - Andy Weir

**** Very well structured and enjoyable, but not extraordinary

“Artemis” is a techno-thriller with a well-developed scientific component, as I expected from Weir. If I wanted to make a comparison with the books of other authors, the first name that comes to mind is Crichton (sorry, Master!), for the fact that the whole story is enslaved to the intention to talk to the reader about science. However, any resemblances end here.
Crichton’s books, in fact, tended to revolve around a great scientific theme, often with moral implications, without necessarily bothering to use real or plausible technologies (it was enough that they seemed so), but above all they had a dramatic tone. Weir’s books, on the other hand, make people laugh. Its protagonists don’t take themselves too seriously and are always kidding, sometimes with the reader, even in life-threatening situations. It is clear that the author likes to get them into trouble and then find a nerd way to get them out. By combining these two aspects, we are dealing with new MacGyvers who use their knowledge and the few resources available to them to solve desperate situations. In this sense, “Artemis” looks a lot like “The Martian”.
There are, however, big differences. “Artemis” is somehow better written, in the sense that it has a structure that is better studied and characterised by a well-timed narration. Everything works perfectly. “The Martian”, instead, coming from episodes published on the author’s blog, presents the effects of an undisciplined seriality that sometimes bewilders the reader. But it is precisely its not being structured in the “right” way that makes it unpredictable and therefore more enjoyable.
In “Artemis”, on the contrary, even when we are faced with unpredictable twists, these are only so in substance (i.e. we don’t know what will happen), but not in timing, because they are so well inserted in the right point of the story that somehow we see them coming (that is, we know that something is going to happen).
In addition to this are a few clichés and an anti-heroine that eventually turns into a heroine, overwhelming the reader with a predictable wave of goodness, the consequence of which is a certain amount of disappointment.
Beyond all this what makes “Artemis” substantially weaker than “The Martian” is the significance of the plot. In the comparison between the story of a young criminal who ends up threatened by other criminals (who are much worse than her) in the first city on the Moon and that of an astronaut left by mistake on Mars (a desert and lethal planet), the first comes out with broken bones.
Despite this, “Artemis” is a pleasant and enjoyable reading, with a funny protagonist and with many stimulating scientific topics. It is made in such a way as to please as many people as possible, but as a result it cannot be completely loved.

Artemis on Amazon.

New year, new resolutions: 2018

As usual, at the end of December I find myself taking stock of the year that is coming to an end and setting goals for the next one.
Writing this article was relatively easy in the past years, as many of the projects I would undertake depended on factors under my complete control. One year ago, however, I had to limit my resolutions, as I didn’t know if some things that were at stake would have come to completion and therefore I wasn’t able to plan anything specific after the month of May. Now for 2018 it’s going to be even more complicated due to some pending matters, one of which ended just at the beginning of December, and then in the next few months maybe I will be able to understand a little better in which direction I should address my efforts. However, there are some fixed points: some resolutions on which I have clear ideas.

But let’s go by order, starting with the resolutions expressed a year ago that I managed to complete:
- I completed “Beyond the Limit” (the final book of the Detective Eric Shaw trilogy), I did the editing of the book and I published it on May 21 in Italian;
- I stopped for about a month after the completion of the first draft of this book, but I cannot say that I fully recharged my batteries, because I was quite taken by family and even health issues (I became allergic to mites);
- I tried to commit myself to promote the Detective Eric Shaw trilogy by means of offline events, starting with a book signing in Carbonia (Italy) a few days after the release of the last book. It was a very entertaining event and many people attended it. Unfortunately, no more events followed, even though I received several proposals, because due to organizational reasons, and/or due to lack of time on my side, it wasn’t possible to do them. But I trust that it will happen in the future;
- I devoted some time to FantascientifiCast (Italian podcast about science fiction), even if only in the first part of the year. In the second part it wasn’t possible simply because I didn’t watch any new science fiction series on TV and I saw very few new science fiction films. Moreover I mostly read old science fiction books. Fortunately, the second season of “Westworld” and “Mars” will be released in 2018, so I’ll probably come back to the podcast;
- I read about 52 books (I say about, because I’m writing this article well in advance, but I’m confident of reaching that number by 31 December);
- until to September I managed to schedule in advance the posts for this blog (and also for the Italian one), then I actually let it go (except for this post), because at the moment this isn’t a priority. I have a series of articles in progress (in Italian) and I have to write several reviews of books that I read, but beside this I’m going to write on my blog only when I feel I have something interesting to say, without trying to do it as a duty;
- I think I managed to plan my working time a little better. I enjoyed last summer, thanks to the particularly stable climate here in Sardinia. I also had a nice trip (a cruise to Denmark and Norway). In autumn I was able to dedicate to some interesting things (I’m writing about it later in this article) and to resume a certain work pace, after a long pause from writing that I really needed;
- finally I took stock of my first five years as a self-publisher. This is obviously a positive evaluation, but at the same time it is accompanied by the awareness that many things have changed in the publishing market and this requires the development of new approaches.

What wasn’t I able to do?
Unfortunately in 2017 I couldn’t repeat the experience of the class I taught in Varese, but I already knew that there was a risk of skipping at least one year. Hopefully I’ll do that again in 2018.
Moreover I haven’t written so much, but this was my choice. I started writing again, very slowly, in November, knowing that I have to increase my pace on January.

What else did I do or happened to me in 2017?
First of all I found an agent to manage the translation rights of some of my books, in particular of the Detective Eric Shaw trilogy. I came to this person after almost one year and a half of seeking representation, during which I discussed with other agents about a possible collaboration without being able to find the right agreement. Working with her took me some time to prepare the material she needed. In fact, this person does not speak Italian and has therefore no way to read some of the books she is representing, at least until they are translated into English. This forced me to write very detailed synopses for her. And I hate writing synopsis!
We are still at the beginning of our working relationship and I don’t have big illusions about it, but it represents a first step towards my search for new ways to reach more readers in markets where I might never otherwise arrive.

The second important event, which is also the most recent (it happened at the beginning of December), was the reversion of the English translation rights of “The Mentor” (first book in the Detective Shaw trilogy) by Amazon Publishing.
This suddenly put me in front of new choices and potential opportunities.

In the past months, while waiting for this to happen, I decided to resume studying specifically some aspects of the English language. I started studying this language as a child and I use it for work and in my private life for about twenty years (since I have access to the Internet). Moreover I have already translated other books in English (the “Red Desert” series and “Kindred Intentions”). But now with the reversion of the rights of “The Mentor” and with the collaboration with a British agent I need to make a step change.
Well, to tell the truth, all this is fun for me, since it involves practicing a foreign language, as well as reading books, watching films and TV series because I need to improve my writing skills and listening skills.
So, after a few months spent studying (let’s call it this way), I’m translating into English again: I started a new translation of “The Mentor”.

In 2017 I also followed nine MOOCs (Mass Open Online Courses), thanks to which I learned several things that will be more or less directly useful for my work. Some have been a kind of research for future fiction projects, others helped to improve my English, others to broaden my knowledge of fiction and writing in general, and others to add more knowledge to my scientific education. Among these, undoubtedly the most interesting (and long: eight weeks) was “Moons”, a course on the moons of the Solar System organised by The Open University on FutureLearn.
Apparently not satisfied, I already registered to five more courses for 2018 and I tend to think that others will be added.

Although I haven’t written much this year, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t create new stories. I have in fact written many notes, outline sketches and sometimes complete outlines for nine future book projects. These include also a short prequel (a novella) of the Detective Shaw trilogy, of which I already have a complete outline, although I don’t know yet when (or if) I’m going to write the book. It’s just a matter of deciding to write it.
In addition to these nine projects, there is also “Sirius. In caduta libera” (Sirius. Free Falling), but I will talk about it in the resolutions for the new year.

Among the new experiences in 2017 is Wattpad. Actually I have an account on the site for a couple of years and in the past I just published a preview of two books in English. Since last October I started to be interested in the Italian readers and, out of curiosity, I started posting my old fan fiction “La morte è soltanto il principio” (Death Is Only the Beginning). Its publication on Wattpad was completed just before Christmas (sorry, it’s in Italian only). It was also a way to review it for the umpteenth time and see if I could use it to find some more readers.
I don’t think I would ever use Wattpad to write a project in instalments, but it could be an interesting tool to do some promotional experiments.

At last, but not least, I started writing “Self-publishing lab: Il mestiere dell’autoeditore” (in Italian), a book based on the self-publishing class I taught at the University of Insubria in 2016.

In short, in the end you can’t say that I did nothing in 2017, can you?

Image by Tomasz Rozkosz
Image by Tomasz Rozkosz
And now here are my resolutions for 2018:
1) write and publish “Sirius. In caduta libera” (Sirius. Free Falling) in Italian, the fourth part in the Aurora saga. I’m starting to write it immediately after the holiday season and I intend to publish it, as planned, on 30 November. Speaking of this book, I will say more on it, when its translation is started. For now I only say that it is set about five years before “The Isle of Gaia (I must translate this one and another book in the saga yet), it’s main character is Hassan Qabbani (you know him from “Red Desert”) and that the story takes mostly place in Earth orbit;
2) finish translating “The Mentor” into English within the first few months of the new year (including the editing and proofreading process). This project is a priority, as I would like to have it available as soon as possible in its final version to evaluate the various opportunities for republication and promotion of the trilogy on the English market. In this regard, I would also like to be able to start the translation of the other books in the trilogy (maybe complete the second one), but I’m not setting any deadline now. Anyway, I promise that I’ll do my best to have the whole trilogy published in English as soon as possible;
3) complete the first draft of “Self-publishing lab: Il mestiere dell’autoeditore”. I would love to complete its final draft as well, but I prefer not to set any deadline. This is my first non-fiction book and it requires a different attention on my part both for the content and, above all, for the packaging. When I have completed it, I will program the details of its publication and promotion;
4) read longer books. In past years I decided that I would read an average of one book a week. I realise now that this is not for me, as it forces me to read several short or not particularly long books to achieve the goal. I don’t think it makes sense. As a reader my ideal novel has at least 400 pages, but if it has 800 or even more, and it’s a good book, it even becomes perfect to me, because it has a more complex plot. And I love complex plots. So I decided not to set a minimum number of books a year, but a minimum length (for example, 400 pages on average) for about 80% of the books I will read in 2018. Moreover, among these at least one third will be novels in British English, since this is the English in which I am translating my own books.

That’s all: only four resolutions, but all important and under my full control, except causes of force majeure.
What do you think?
Of course I have more projects, but I prefer to tell you about them when I decide which one to prioritise.

As usual, I want to conclude this article thanking all my loved ones, my friends, my collaborators, and my readers. With you, thanks to you and also for you, I do this work with determination and passion. And my results are also partly yours.
Thank you so much.

I wish you all a 2018 full of satisfactions and, if you like, I would be happy to know your resolutions in the comments of this article or on the various social networks in which I’m sharing it.
As we say in Italy, have a good end and good start!

Colonist of Space - Charles Carr

**** The future of the past

Four years ago I read “Salamander War”, the sequel to this book, and I appreciated it greatly, despite being old-fashioned science fiction.
“Colonists of Space” clarifies the previous events, that is, it narrates the journey of the Colonist’s crew to a planet called Bel, with all its difficulties. In my opinion there is a lesser originality than what will be seen in the next book, so much that it suffers more of the passing of time, but it was still a pleasant reading with some unpredictable twists and even a little action.
One of the most interesting episodes is the short stay in an apparently uninhabited planet, made necessary to carry out a repair. Two of the main characters, Dr. Hyde and Eleanor, move away to collect samples and soon the situation falls apart.
Some problems encountered during the journey are resolved with excessive ease, but all the novel has a very fast pace and a linear plot that, like the next one, makes it a perfect read for the younger ones and for those who, like me, sometimes wants to travel in space with fantasy without too much effort.
In the way the characters speaks, as well as in the whole text in general, there is a sense of formality typical of the past. It facilitates the identification of the reader in this future of the past, in which one travels from one star system to the other, in which gravity is dominated, but computers still use perforated cards.
The beautiful of fiction is that even an impossible scenario like this, when you read it in a book, seems quite plausible.

Colonists of Space on Amazon.

Get “The Mentor” before it’s too late!

When “The Mentor” was published two years ago and became an Amazon international bestseller, hitting No. 1 in the Kindle Store in USA, UK and Australia, I was amazed by how many readers had I copy of my book in their Kindle and actually were reading it. More than 170,000 people read my book, which was a lot more than what I hoped when I sold the English translations rights to Amazon Publishing.
Now, two years later, my agreement with Amazon Publishing is coming to an end and in about three weeks I’ll get those rights back, therefore the current edition of “The Mentor” won’t be available anymore (actually there will still be some copies in paperback for a while).
So this is the last chance for you to get and read this crime thriller set in London, and meet for the first time Detective Chief Inspector Eric Shaw and his pupil.

You can get your copy here:

The price is $3.99 in USA, 5.07 in Canada, £4.00 in UK, only €0.99 in Germany, France, Italy and Spain, €4.11 in The Netherlands, $6.49 in Australia, R$ 12.91 in Brazil, ¥6.87 in China, ¥ 471 in Japan, Rs129 in India, and $72.36 in Mexico.
The book is available as ebook, paperback and audiobook.
Moreover it is free for Kindle Unlimited members.

Of course this is not the end for Detective Shaw. He will return soon with a brand new edition (including a new translation, this time into British English) of “The Mentor”, which will be followed by “Syndrome” and “Beyond the Limit”, thus completing the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy.

If you want to keep informed on this trilogy, please subscribe to my mailing list.

This is how the trilogy looks like in its original Italian edition. Do you like it?

See you again very soon with the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy!