Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Spoiler-free... mostly)

I know, I know, I just blogged about being tired of reviewing things. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. Well... this is my blog, so I get to do whatever the crap I feel like, so I'm going to tell you a little bit about why you should go see the first of three Hobbit films Peter Jackson and co have so greedily made for us. I think it's disgustingly brazen of them to have adapted a slim little book into three films, but we all know everyone will see them. At least most everyone, and I can already count myself numbered in this crowd. I saw it at a packed 10:30 showing with a friend and my little brother, and I loved it. So will you if you give it a chance.

That isn't to say it is a perfect film. In fact, there are plenty of things to complain about. For one, its running time. And this is coming from a HUGE fan of the Lord of the Rings films. I bought all the extended versions when they came out on dvd. An Unexpected Journey, however, was definitely too long. By at least half an hour. My butt and legs suffered the most. And my neck, since we sat on the second row from the front. I felt that the theatrical release was what the dvd extended should have been.  I don't mind watching more of a film I like, as long as I have my own couch to laze on while doing it. Also, Jackson has taken upon himself to add to the source material. Know up front that this isn't a pure adaptation of the book. If you know this going in you can appreciate it for its own sake. I knew he would be doing this--he'd said so in interviews many times. He wanted to make The Hobbit a true prequel to his LotR films, and so connected them in ways the books never did. To do this he mined some of the appendices from the Lord of the Rings, but it seemed too that he pulled some stuff out of his you know what to make the film more "acceptable." (By this I mean he made it more acceptable by filmmakers, not audiences.) I won't give anything away, but there was an entire plot line this movie and subsequent sequels did not need. Not even a little bit. It added nothing to the story in my opinion.

The other thing that was a dumb move on Jackson's part was all the CGI effects. I don't mind CGI landscapes, or monsters that need to look better than robotic puppets, but it was used way too much this time around. In the earlier movies the orcs were just extras with masks. Now all of them are animated. Makes them look like cartoons. Why couldn't they have just done it the same way?

Okay, griping is over. Everything else I have to say is complimentary. Let the heaps of praise begin.

Two words: Martin. Freeman. Do I need to say more? Perhaps. If you've never heard of him or seen anything he's in--which is easy to do unless you're into British movies and television--you're in for a treat. Freeman is a superb actor. And as Bilbo Baggins he is perfectly charming. His performance steals the show... which is good, since he's the hobbit The Hobbit is about. Jackson and co really nailed the casting job for their title role.

The actors for the dwarves were all great, too. I don't know any of their names, and most of their characters had little development besides fighting scenes and gags, but they are much more distinguishable from each other than in the book, which pretty much treats all of them like the same person--with the exception of Thorin. Thorin was given an arc for this first movie that deals with the plot line I didn't like, but I did like the way his character played out. The actor did a fine job at portraying a king who has lost his kingdom. Another casting success with the dwarves. Ian Mckellan reprises his Gandalf role and he is as wonderful as ever. Never doubted he'd muck things up.

The music was perfect. The score felt like it had its own identity, but there were familiar bits from the Rings trilogy that felt familiar natural. I will certainly be getting the soundtrack to add to my "writing music" collection.

The one other thing I wanted to point out were the epic backdrops of the New Zealand countryside. What a beautiful country! Jackson has such an eye for scenery that it makes me wonder if he paints landscapes on the side. The filming is done with a truly artistic eye--even the parts with CGI backdrops. (CGI works great when its used for landscapes or buildings. Not so much when used for living things that move.) Watching the film was like shoving mint truffles into my eyes--a visual treat unparalleled by anything I can remember recently seeing. Your eyes and brain deserve to take in this film and savor it. (No I didn't see the 3D version. Probably never will. I hate 3D.)

So that's it. If you can make it through the nearly 3 hour running time you'll be glad you did. The Hobbit is a fun, mostly light-hearted story everyone should partake of. And who doesn't want to spend an evening returning to the wilds of Middle Earth? I enjoyed immersing myself in its myths and scenery once again. So will you. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mini Reviews

I've been absent from the blog for a couple of weeks. Mostly because I just haven't had the time. Work, family life, and writing (and Halo 4, let's be honest here) don't leave much time left over for blogging. Also, though, I got tired of the majority of my posts being book reviews. I'm not a book reviewer. I'm actually sick of going in-depth on book reviews, because I've had to be more of a critical reader than I want to be. Critical reading is great... sometimes. Most of the time, however, I just want to enjoy a book. Anyway, I will continue to post reviews but not as often, and I'm now (as the title of the post implies) going to be doing it a different way. From now on a book review post will include several books, and only have a paragraph about each. This will give me the chance to point out books I think you should read or avoid, but also let me do it in a less involved way. I don't want to dissect books anymore. I just want to enjoy them, damnit. And now the reviews...

Red Country, by Joe Abercrombie. This is Joe's latest standalone in his "First Law" world. It picks up several years after the end of his trilogy and continues the story of several characters readers have either come to hate or hate to love. Red Country is heavily influenced by western themes and story devices. I found it to be a bit too heavy handed most of the way through the book. I love westerns, and I love Joe Abercrombie, but the two should be a bit more distinct than they were in this book. Some parts of the story just felt like lazy add-ins because, hey, that's the kind of stuff you'd find in a western. The ending seemed less dreary than Abercrombie's usual fair, but the language and gore seemed pumped up from previous novels. Some parts were difficult to get through. Red Country gets 3 out of 5 stars.

Next up is Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin. This is the first of Martin's solo books I've read besides his massive epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. Also, it was my first true vampire novel. There was a lot about this book that I really loved. It takes place in the late 1850's, mostly aboard a steamboat called, you guessed it, Fevre Dream. The story takes us up and down the Missouri and Mississippi, through pre-civil war America. The characters were great, and the vampires weren't sparkly and pretty. They are monsters, as all proper vampires ought to be. The only problem I had with this book was its pacing. The ending dragged on and on. My mind wandered a bit in the slow parts and that is never a good sign. On a better note, those who have attempted to read A Game of Thrones and put it down for content, Fevre dream is much more a PG-13 book than an R. There aren't any sex scenes or F bombs. It is a horror novel, though, and so don't expect angsty teenagers looking for romance. People die. 4 out of 5 stars.

The last mini review for today is The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is a book that is a bit harder to review because I've read it so many times. Usually the books I review are ones I've just finished for the first time, and so have a stronger sense of what I liked and disliked about them. In my head, The Hobbit is amazing. After listening to it again for maybe the fifth or sixth time, I notice lots of things that are somewhat annoying. Mostly it's the writer in me that finds problems with it, and that's only because the styles writers use today are quite a bit different than how Tolkien wrote. However, if you can look past the dated prose, and the endless songs and such that interfere with the story (very annoying on audio, despite the narrator trying his best to give each a tune of its own), then I think this book can be enjoyed by all readers of all ages. The story itself is timeless, and it holds a fond place in my memories. Read it if you haven't, and re-read it if its been a long time. you'll be happy you did. (And for those of you like me who listen rather than read, Audible recently released this and the Lord of the Rings trilogy unabridged for the first time. Good times.) The Hobbit takes the cake with 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


After another lengthy nightstand read, I've finished my second K.J. Parker novel. It's called Sharps, in case you're wondering. And it didn't take me so long to finish because it was a lousy book. Quite the opposite. I'm just a slow reader... and Audible is dumb and doesn't have any Parker novels to listen to. Anyway, Sharps is great, and Parker is amazing. If you're looking for a change of pace with your fantasy, this could be the book for you.

Permia and Scheria are at peace for the first time in forty years. Both countries have been depleted by war. The time has come to toss out an olive branch and reach some sort of reconciliation. How do two nations with little in common do this? Why, a fencing tournament, of course! Problem is, though, that people tend to get killed when swords are involved...

Sharps is the story of a fencing team traveling through a somewhat hostile neighboring country, forced to compete in a sport that may get them killed. Each of the team members (all from Scheria) are forced by their government in one way or another to participate in this risky attempt at peace. It is a lot of fun spending time with these characters, seeing just how hard peace can actually be.

Like the other Parker novel I've read, this is a fantasy without a lick of magic present. I'm not sure it qualifies exactly as fantasy, but that is how Orbit is selling it, so there you go. It's a world other than our own, with different cultures, religions, etc. If that isn't fantasy I don't know what is.

Although Sharps is slow at times, I thought it a worthwhile read. It is told in mostly an omniscient point of view, but Parker certainly cheated a time or two for plot's sake, which ended up bugging me in the end. I'll forgive the book its weaknesses, however, because anything to do with fencing is just plain awesome.

Sharps gets 3.5 stars out of 5. Not as good as The Folding Knife, but still a fun and well written addition to Parker's work. I will be reading Parker's The Hammer or Devices and Desires next. I haven't decided which yet. K.J. Parker is an author every fantasy writer and reader should be reading.

That's all.

-Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Hope you have a great time with family and friends. I have so much to be thankful for in my life, and look forward to the few days of eating and being lazy ahead!  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pre-thinking through your chapters

I'm writing this post in response to my stupid brain. It's 5:30 in the morning, I'm sitting on my couch with the laptop, and I can't write a sentence in my chapter to save my life. It didn't take me long to figure out why. I didn't put any pre-thought into what I was going to write today. I woke up with the determination to write, but my morning productivity is usually determined the night and day before, when I've gone over things in my head to a sufficient extent. I have just wasted my time, and won't be reaching my word count goal today.

It is so important to pre-think what you will write. I'm a discovery writer. I hate outlines. This doesn't mean that I make up story on the spot every time I sit down to write. I usually spend more time thinking about what I'm going to write--more time than I even spend writing--before I put words down on the page. My problem today is that I didn't review the earlier parts of the chapter I'm in, and I took two days off from writing to vote on Tuesday, and then recover from election garbage on Wednesday. It's been since Monday that I've done anything. I haven't thought about this chapter since then. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

It doesn't matter if you are an outliner or not. You still have to decide before writing how you're going to approach a specific scene. An outline can tell you what will happen in the scene, but not necessarily how you will move through the scene (unless you are an incredibly detailed outliner). If you are having similar problems to what I'm experiencing this morning, let me suggest that you pre-think before you write. Take an hour or so the day before you approach a scene and work everything out in your head. It's even okay if you write down how you'll do it. I take lots of notes--on my computer and my phone. If you want to write efficiently, you always have to be thinking about what you're going to say. If you don't pre-think, you'll find yourself staring blankly at your screen like I did this morning. It's never fun to do this. It's a micro slice of writer's block, and it's annoying as hell.

So there you have it. A bit of advice that has helped me avoid being dumb. You're welcome.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Trouble with the Curve

This isn't a review for the Clint Eastwood movie, sorry. I don't have any interest in seeing it. Don't care for baseball. What this post is about is the learning curve found in fiction. Is it wise for writers to make their curve steep? Or should they create a gradual climb, easing readers into a story? It's an important decision writers need to make before beginning a novel.

Avoid the vertical learning curve.
You'll lose your audience before your
story makes it off the ground.
Every book has a learning curve. Whether it's fantasy, science fiction, historical, or modern-day thriller, every story has information in it that readers will have to learn in order to understand or fully appreciate it. How quickly should an author deal out this information? I've read books that do it every which way, which means there isn't a right or wrong way to do it. There are benefits and problems, however, no matter how you do it. Here are some examples:

Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling is a great example of how a writer would ease an audience in to a fantastical world. First of all, she begins her series with one point of view character. One boy, living in a normal world, with a boring life, and a few family members with easy-to-remember names. Her story, of course, is about an entire magical world hiding in plain sight, and so she introduces readers to said world a few steps at a time. By the time Harry reaches Hogwarts, we're totally sold on the world. We don't know how it works just yet, but she hasn't lost us with any difficult terms or concepts. By the end of the series, she has taken readers much deeper into the fantastical, introducing things left and right that we are expected to keep up with. Rowling uses the gradual curve to great effect. 

George R.R. Martin is another household name in fantasy, so let's talk about his great epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin's world starts with a much steeper curve than Rowlings, but he is writing to an adult audience, most of which have already been reading thick fantasy novels by the time they pick up his work. So is his curve a huge one that readers should be scared of? I don't think so. Yes, there are a lot of names and places mentioned in the beginning of the series that you'll quickly lose track of. The thing about his series, though, is that all of the important world information is repeated so many times that by the time you need to know it you've gotten it all down. What Martin does is brilliant. He has this huge world, with a large cast of view-point characters, but he starts all of the pov's--with the exception of one--off in the same location. This way, we are introduced to a lot of people, but they keep referring to each other and it is easy to keep up. Martin's curve will be steeper for newcomers to epic fantasy, but fairly normal for those who have read the genre before.

Steven Erikson is the best example that I've come across of a writer with a ridiculous curve. I think his is very nearly vertical at the beginning. If you want to know what I'm talking about, open up Gardens of the Moon--the first in his Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I've been reading epic fantasy for more than ten years and he lost me on that one...

Now you can get a feel for what I'm talking about. So, what are the pros and cons? A gradual curve will make it easier for readers to digest. It will probably mean you'll have a wider audience, which can translate into major success. The gradual thing has been done to death, though, and so experienced readers might roll their eyes and not give your "simple" story a try. If the learning curve is significant you can deliver a world that feels completely real--every corner can be fleshed out, every character explored. You'll probably have some hard core fans that will defend your story with their own blood. That hard core group might be small, though, and so your book could be great, but not widely read. Really, it's up to the writer to decide the type of story they want to tell, and then tell it. 

That's all.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Will you please just cuss already?

So, I have a bit of a rant I need to get out. I've talked about it before, but never in a post dedicated solely to the subject. Here it is: I'm sick of... nay, I loathe fake swearing in adult fiction. I hate it in YA, too, but I understand a little why it is a good idea to use there. But in stories for adults? There's no excuse. I don't care if it's more polite, more diplomatic, even more creative because it falsely gives readers a sense that they're in another world. Please, authors, stop doing it. It is plain dumb.

Now that I've got that out, let me take a step back. I need it to be clear that I'm not a fan of gratuitous language. I'm not a fan of gratuitous anything. I think that all things in fiction ought to be taken in good measure. So no, I don't want F words all over the page, or disrespectful terms for human anatomy every other paragraph. What I do want is for characters to feel real. This is the most important thing for me in fiction. In fact, it's the reason I read--to get inside another person's head, to see what they see, and feel what they feel. If I happen to be in a soldier's head, or a thief's, I want the experience to be truthful to that individual. This means when they cuss they need to cuss!

What about fantastical worlds, or futuristic worlds where language and terms differ from ours? This is the big question, really. Does it pull readers deeper into your world if you have made-up swear words? I submit that it does not. In fact, it detracts from said world rather glaringly. Why? Because it feels FALSE!

Fiction is a bunch of lies strung together into a story. Stories by their very nature are untrue. Even the ones that are based on truth. Parts are always either exaggerated for effect, remembered wrong, or purposefully skewed to make the teller look better. If we wanted just the facts we'd be labeling them as reports, rather than stories. All this is true, right? *everyone nods in agreement, or rolls eyes in exasperation* So what's the deal with fake swearing being bad? If fiction is false, and fake swearing is ridiculously false because it's... well, fake, then who cares? Shouldn't everything be fine and dandy? No, is the correct answer--in case you were wondering. It's not okay, because a story ought to be told in a way that the lie at its heart is forgotten. The best stories are the ones people believe in. The best stories are the ones that seem real. And so, please, please, please, just frick'n cuss already. (Best to keep the blog clean, I think... but if this were one of my novels, boy--I'd be drowning this post in obscenities!)

You know you want to. You know it'll feel good. You know it'll make your story feel more real because made-up swear words just sound dumb... no matter how cool you think they are. Words are power. They are meant to cause specific reactions. A reader's reaction (mine, anyway) falls completely flat when fake words are substituted in place of real ones. This destroys any credibility in a character or scene. Just stop.

Comments? Favorite naughty words you like to use? (Kidding, don't tell me.)

That's all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cursor's Fury

The third book in the Codex Alera series is, I think, the best of them so far. Jim Butcher is such a great storyteller. The world he has created in these books keeps getting deeper and more defined. It is an epic fantasy series every fan of the genre should read.

Two more years have passed between books. Tavi, now 19, is sent out on an important mission from the First Lord--to impersonate an officer in a newly formed legion, to learn what he can about the movements of the treacherous High Lord Kalare. The legion is supposed to be a safe place for Tavi, but then an invasion of Canim--a wolf-like people--threatens the realm and Tavi's legion is called to action. Tavi is thrust into a brutal battle that could very well mean the destruction of his people should the legion falter.

Meanwhile, the other characters do stuff that didn't really interest me.

For me, fantasy is all about the huge battles. It's what I like. As long as it's done well. Butcher does it well.

I say this is the best in the series so far. It is, but I have to admit that some of the side characters are starting to get on my nerves.

Minor spoilers ahead (for the series and book 3)

Bernard and Amara, for example. Their romance reached a high point in the last book (Academ's). In Cursor's, however, I felt their blushing and sultry looks at each other were unbelievable. They've been married for two years, for crying out loud. They're still acting like annoying newly-weds.

A few minor quibbles. I wouldn't be me if I didn't have any. Cursor's Fury was an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. 4.5 out of 5 stars makes it the best rated in the series so far. Whether you listen like me, or pick this one up to read, you won't regret the time spent in Butcher's fantastic world. (Best to start at the beginning of the series, though.)


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Academ's Fury

Academ's Fury is the second book in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series, and picks up two years after the first.  I liked the first book, despite its issues, but I really enjoyed this second entry.  Butcher expands on the world, the magic, and most importantly the characters.  If you've started the series but stopped after book one, keep going!  I think that this series is as good as any epic fantasy being written.

The main character, Tavi, has gone to the capital of Alera to be the First Lord's page.  Also, he is enlisted in the academy, and is training in secret as a cursor--one of the First Lord's spies.  A threat to the nation arises in the Calderon Valley (again) and Tavi and his family are thrust into the forefront of the action.  Tavi is the only known person in all of Alera without fury crafting abilities.  He is forced to use his wit and cursor training to defend his people.

My main problem with the first book was its pacing, which seemed never to let up.  While AF is probably about as fast in its pacing, for whatever reason it seemed to work better this time around.  Maybe because I didn't have to be introduced to the characters and world.

Kate Reading is great as the series narrator.  Still wished there was a man (preferably her husband who narrates Robert Jordan's books with her) for the male pov's, but Reading does a good enough job that I was able to just get lost in the story and not worry about a woman narrating a man's part.  I highly recommend listening to AF.

If you're into epic fantasy you most likely love the sub-genre for all of the reason I do.  We've already made it through the learning curve in this series by book two, so now it's time to reveal a bit of the past, and give more hints as to where the series is going as a whole.  I love when a fantasy digs deeper.  It's so fun to be immersed in a world that has been fully fleshed out, instead of one that it just a facade.  Butcher knows his business.  His talents as a story crafter are on full display in AF.  

Adventure, action, romance, epic battles, and cool magic.  Academ's Fury has it all.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What the crap is Epic Fantasy?

My post about space opera seemed to have been a bit of a hit, so I thought I'd take the time to spell-out other sub-genres of fantasy and science fiction for those of you unfamiliar with all of the minor and sometimes major differences.  I figured I'd get to my favorite now, and plan on doing more in the future.  So here we are, ready to learn about epic fantasy.

 What the crap is epic fantasy? Epic fantasy, sometimes referred to as high fantasy, is fantasy that takes place in a secondary world, such as Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, and is almost always (pretty much used to be always, until recently) about an entire world in danger.  It is about big, sweeping stories that can span continents.  More often than not stories in this genre have huge casts of characters, making plot and story complex and extremely detailed.  This isn't your little brother's fantasy, folks.  It is... well... epic.  

I hate calling it that (despite it being called that) because the word has become quite trendy these days, and you can no longer be sure what someone means by it.  If someone likes something they almost always call it epic.  It's the hip word of choice.  What happened to the good old days when everyone just said cool?  Oh well.  I'm getting off topic.  Here are a few things you can count on finding in your epic fantasy:

-A well-defined magic system, or magic not so rule-based but that is used heavily throughout the story--also known as hard and soft magic.  It is important to include both hard and soft magic as being allowed in the genre, despite most epic fantasies these days leaning toward hard.  I don't think I ought to get in to defining hard and soft magic this time, but I'll do a post on it in the future so that this makes more sense.  The basic thing you need to know is that magic is important to epic fantasy.  Stories in this genre can exist without magic (George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is pretty light on magic) but ninety percent of the time is full of it.

-A hero's journey archetype.  This is where one character--usually a young boy or girl on the verge of adulthood--begins the story powerless, and ends the story all-powerful.  Usually this means saving the world from destruction, and defeating evil.

-Political intrigue.  Epic fantasy moves at a slower pace than other genres.  It isn't all about the action.  Epic fantasy takes time to delve into national politics and court machinations.  It explores conflicts from multiple angles.  This is almost always my favorite part of these types of stories.

-Milieu.  Because epic fantasy takes place in a world not our own, pages and pages are spent on world building.  This is one of the biggest reasons epic fantasies are so darn thick.  Most readers read this genre because of the interesting worlds authors create.  Middle Earth is a place readers want to spend time in because it is so full of wonder.  If you're reading a fantasy taking place in familiar New York City, you, my friend, are not reading epic fantasy.

Most epic fantasy takes place in a pseudo-European medieval world, though it is increasingly popular to set these stories in Renaissance-esque settings, or other culture-influenced worlds (Silk Road settings are a new favorite).  Also, fantastical races, such as elves, dwarves, or goblins, are common.  (These days authors come up with their own races, rather than relying on those already familiar to readers.)

There you have it.  I hope you know a bit more about epic fantasy than you did before reading.  Here are some books to check out if you are wanting to give this sub-genre some time:

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
The Runelords, by David Farland
Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (considered the grandfather of modern fantasy)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October giveaway at inkPageant

Hey there.  The awesome people over at inkPageant are giving away a Kindle Fire this October to celebrate their first year on the interweb.  What is inkPageant you ask?  Well, it's a really cool place where tons and tons of blogs are collected that focus on the many aspects of writing.  There's book reviews, how-to advice, does and don'ts of publishing, and so many more cool blogs that have been useful and informative to me in my own writing.  I've discovered several blogs through inkPageant that I now follow regularly, and have picked up a few followers of my own this way (thanks, ya'll).  Head on over to the site to check out the contest rules.

 Support inkPageant by reading and submitting to them.  It's a great place to grow your audience, and to meet like-minded writers, all aspiring to make it into the pros.  Who knows--you might just get a Kindle Fire for participating.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

On The Book Shelf

As a follow-up to my last post, I thought I'd show you what's on my book shelf.  There were four books that influenced me above all others, but these are all the books I've bought over the years that I've loved enough to keep.  The ones I don't care to display get donated to used bookstores or friends and family.  (Can't help having certain ones on the shelf--my wife made me make space for some of her books as well.)

What's on your book shelf?

-I have to geek out a little... I have signed and personalized books from George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Orson Scott Card, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, and James Dashner.  I'll be really proud when I can add J.K. Rowling, Joe Abercrombie, and Bernard Cornwell to the list.

(I didn't give a whole shot of the book shelf, but, just so ya'll know, I made it.  With my own freaking hands.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The 4 Books that Influenced Me Most

I have read a lot of books over the years.  Most aspiring authors ought to be able to claim the same.  I have lots of favorites, written in many genres and styles.  Some stories have stuck with me since I was a kid, while others have faded into the forgotten corners of time.  I thought it would be fun to reflect on the 4 that have influenced me the most--specifically as a writer.  These are the stories that I not only consider some of the greatest out there, but are also the ones I look up to and hope to emulate in my own writing.  In no particular order, they are as follows:

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan.  This book played a huge role in my life because it got me hooked on fantasy.  Besides a handful of child books I can't even remember titles for, I'd only read one fantasy author before opening the pages on Jordan's masterpiece.  I'd seen kids in school reading The Wheel of Time series--I was the one poking fun at them for reading something so geeky (back then I figured fantasy was for the real losers--science fiction was the cool genre).  It wasn't until after high school that I swallowed my pride and picked Eye up.  I read the entire series in six months.  (There were ten books at the time.)  That was nearly eleven years ago.  I've been primarily a fantasy reader--and, incidentally, a fantasy writer--ever since.  I owe a lot to Robert Jordan and his epic story.

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, was the first science fiction I can remember reading.  My aunt recommended it to me after we watched Starship Troopers.  (I was in sixth or seventh grade--it was so cool that she rented an R rated movie for me to watch!)  Card was my gateway-drug into speculative fiction, and Ender's Game remains one of my favorites to this day.  Card created the perfect world for a twelve year old boy to get lost in.  This is a book everyone should read.  If I owe my love for fantasy to Robert Jordan, I owe my love of reading to Orson Scott Card.

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.  Hollywood did poor service to this classic a few years back.  If you're reading this and agree with me that Cristo is brilliant, but have failed to actually read the book--basing your opinion off of that crapy movie--I weep for you.  Seriously, read this novel.  It isn't just a great story.  It's essential reading for anyone desiring an education in literature.  The tale of Edmond Dantes is relevant, heart-breaking, and beautiful.  It is, in my humble opinion, as close to perfect as any work of art can be.  And it taught me that tragedy in fiction is powerful.  I think this is where my love of dark stories began, for Dantes's journey is as dark as they come.  It also has hope at the end of the tunnel--something that I believe all the best fiction offers.

Frank Herbert is the J.R.R. Tolkien of science fiction.  At least I and many others consider him so.  He didn't invent the wheel, but he turned the farmer's cart into a freaking Rolls Royce.  I was already a fan of science fiction when I first picked up Dune in jr. high, but I've never read an author since who has topped him for sheer mastery of the genre.  Dune showed me that a good story is more than just one thing.  It is character, plot, setting, delivery, and ideas.  Dune showed me that fiction can be big--that it can do more than simply entertain.  It has taught me to not give up (Frank Herbert was rejected many, many times before Dune was finally published), and that thought should go into my writing.  If I can write anywhere near the level of Herbert... Okay, scratch that.  It's fun to dream, though, right?

That's it.  It was going to be five books, but I had a hard time deciding on the last.  (I was leaning toward Shogun, but I was afraid I'd leave some other book out that had a bigger impact on me.)  I have to add that I was influenced to write this post by Justin, over at Staffer's book review.  Thanks, Justin!

What books have influenced you?


Monday, September 24, 2012

Pushing Ice

Pushing Ice, my friends, is such an awesome book. If you've never read Alastair Reynolds, this is a great place to start. It's much more of a hard sf story than, say, the Miles Vorkosigan books, but it's worth slogging through the thicker science mumbo-jumbo because the story is thrilling and moves at a good pace. Science fiction fans, give this novel your time!

Pushing Ice is about a group of comet miners in the 2050's, who work the solar system in their ship, Rockhopper. They are out on a job when something unusual happens. One of Saturn's moons--Janus--starts accelerating out of the solar system. Rockhopper is the closest ship to this phenomenon, and Earth sends her crew out to see what they can discover. As the mining crew nears Janus things go terribly wrong, and they are forced to make several hard choices, ultimately landing on Janus for survival. Problem is, Janus is gaining speed. The rescue of Rockhopper's crew becomes all but impossible as they are carried far from Earth, out into interstellar space.

Pushing Ice is excellent science fiction. The characters are wonderful, the settings imaginative and captivating. If I had been sitting while listening to this book I would have been on the edge of my seat for the entire 19 hours.

John Lee narrates, so nothing disappointing there. The ending didn't quite grab me, but 17 of the 19 hours were so awesome that I can live with where things were left. Pushing Ice is a standalone, so you'll have a complete story that will tie up most plot lines. I'd love it if Reynolds came back to these characters and gave them another book.  Pushing Ice gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game

I took a Science Fiction lit course at Dixie College years ago.  In it, I was introduced to several authors I'd never read.  Lois McMaster Bujold was one of them, and The Warrior's Apprentice was the book assigned.  For whatever reason (okay, I know the reason--I was too busy making out with my wife-to-be) I only skimmed the book to know enough to get the test questions right.

College students are bloody idiots.

 I could have joined the Miles Vorkosigan fan club back then.  Luckily I never forgot the book or author, and have just now finished my first Bujold book. It was great.  So great in fact, that I already finished my second Bujold book--The Vor Game--too.


This series is Space Opera.  Remember my post about the sub-genre last week?  Now you know what I mean when I say this.  It's great Space Opera.  Miles Vorkosigan is one of those classic characters--flawed but extremely capable and intelligent.  I wonder if Tyrion Lannister was somewhat influenced by Miles Vorkosigan, because they are very similar.  If Miles doesn't grab your interest, I don't know who will.

The Warrior's Apprentice follows Miles as a seventeen-year-old, trying to make it into his society's military academy.  He has high aspirations, and the family lineage and brains to back him up.  Problem is, he was born with serious birth defects--he's 4ft 9in tall, and his bones are as brittle as chalk.  During his physical exam for the academy, he breaks both his legs going over a climbing wall and his dreams of a military career are dashed.

And then he accidentaly becomes the admiral of a mercenary fleet...

TWA is a quick, fun read, and gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

The Vor Game was a better book--it takes place 3 or 4 years after Apprentice.  It won the Hugo back in 1991.  I would love to tell you all about it, but I can't.  Even the smallest of info has the potential to spoil Apprentice.  So you'll just have to take my advice--it's brilliant.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

If you haven't heard of this series, you're welcome.  If you have but haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?  If you like adventure, witty characters, romance, space battles, and just plain good story telling, you must read Bujold's Vorkosigan saga.

That's all!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Folding Knife, and my discovery of K.J. Parker

I just finished reading one of the best fantasy novels I've read this year--The Folding Knife, by K.J. Parker.  It took me two months.  Not because it's a long book (only 442 pgs) but because I am a slow reader, preferring to listen instead.  Audible doesn't have any of Parker's books available, though, so I did this one the old fashion way.  I will rave about the book in just a moment, but I wanted to point out that I'd never heard of Parker before a couple months ago.  I really have no idea how this author escaped my attention--accept that the books aren't very commercial (I've only read the one so far, but from the bit of research I've done it seems Parker's work is all this way).  They are more literary fantasy than anything, which made The Folding Knife a very different read from what I usually get in to.  That said, Parker is brilliant.  Commence raving...

I loved this book, but for some reason it is hard to pin down why.  You see, it does everything that I've been told not to do by writers in my own writing.  Ever heard of the "show don't tell" line?  Writers (or people who think they know about writing) love to say this.  What it means is that rather than just telling me as narrator what your characters are doing, you show me by putting me behind their eyes, by giving me a window into their minds.  This way I experience the world of your story as if I were in it myself.  It's a hard skill to master, but when it's done right it makes a novel so much better.  Well, Parker is all tell in TFK.  It is the strangest thing, but damnit I was still immersed in this story.  I've found that I think about its main character and the things he gets into.  I find that I care about the people and world.  I guess it doesn't really matter how a story is told as long as it is accomplishing this.

Also, there are huge passages of exposition.  The narrative is told in a mostly-focused-on-one-person omnipotent.  The pacing is slow and there isn't a drop of magic to be found.  This is a different fantasy, probably not for everyone.

The story follows one man's rise and fall from power.  I'm not giving anything away, since the very first pages of the book tell you that Basso has already lost everything.  It even tells you why.  Don't worry, though, knowing that the protagonist will ultimately fail doesn't hurt this tale in the least.  In fact, I completely forgot about being told in the beginning what happens, because I was so engrossed (and it took me a while to read) in Basso's life.  You can't help but admire this complex character.  There's a lot of political maneuvering, tons of economics, and a bit of warfare.  Think of the life of Julius Caesar after he's returned to Rome and you'll have some idea of the flavor of TFK.  If you don't like a heavy dose of tragedy in your fiction... never mind.  I'm not going to tell you to avoid this book if you only like happy endings.  Come on.  Stretch yourself a little.  This book deserves to be read.  It's practically demanding your time.

Not sure why the title is what it is--oh sure, there's a folding knife mentioned, but it isn't a serious theme or anything.  At least not that I caught on my read-through.  And no one is really sure who K.J. Parker is, nor if Parker is a man or woman.  Weird that an author needs so much privacy, but whatever.  Parker is a master storyteller, and this book was very well done.  The Folding Knife gets 5 stars out of 5 from this reader.

Meanwhile, a couple of days later...

Okay.  I know why the book is titled what it is.  Dumb of me not to think of it before, but it did come to me, if a little late.  I'm not afraid to admit I'm an idiot... on occasion.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

GUTGAA Meet and Greet

I was told by a friend about the Gearing Up to Get an Agent Blogfest that is about to begin, and decided to join in on the fun.  Here's a little introduction to me for those of you new here:

-Where do you write?
A: Typically, on the couch or on my "soft chair", which is the most comfortable piece of furniture in my house.  My Beagle chewed it up, my wife wants me to get rid of it, but I keep it because it's awesome.  

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
A: The window that looks out into the shared area of my neighborhood. (No front yard for me.)

-Favorite time to write?
A: I discovered a couple of years ago that early morning works best for me.  I crawl out of bed at 5:00.  I can't say it's my favorite, because I've never been a morning person, but I get the majority of my words written before my wife and daughter wake up.  I even tried really early (4:30) for an extra half hour, but I soon found out that no one in their right mind gets up before the buttcrack of dawn.  

-Drink of choice while writing?
A: I don't drink anything most of the time.  This morning, however, I did have a glass of apple juice to sip at.  I really like apple juice.  

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
A: I go through spurts.  If music is on, it's instrumental movie soundtracks.  My favorite soundtracks include: The Last Samurai, Appaloosa, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, any of the Lord of the Rings, Last of the Mohicans, and Braveheart.  Big, epic scores.  

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
A: My lastest inspiration came from a bigger-than-life historical figure, a somewhat lacking niche genre (YA Space Opera) and a little video game on the Xbox Live arcade.  You'll have to wait for the book to be published to see to see how they all mash up.  :) 

-What's your most valuable writing tip?
A: Write, write, write.  Perseverance is everything.  

There you have it.  Welcome.  I'm eager to meet new pals.     

What the crap is Space Opera?

Science Fiction and Fantasy have some funny insider terms that people unfamiliar with the genres tend to look at sideways.  Case in point: I posted my review of Caliban's War last week, and my dear sister (who actually reads my blog--very surprising) asked me what the crap Space Opera is.  I responded that it was exactly what it sounds--opera in space.  Who doesn't enjoy good opera?  Definition done.  She believed me for a minute, and then I couldn't help grinning at her.  No, Space Opera isn't opera in space.  In fact, music has nothing to do with it.  Space, on the other hand, is a very important part of this Science Fiction sub-genre.  So, let's break down Space Opera so those of you unfamiliar with the genre can understand it.  I think it's the easiest Sci-Fi genre for readers to get into, although that seems to have changed over the past couple of years as the dystopian has taken over.  (Yes, those of you loving Hunger Games are in fact reading Science Fiction... mmmwwahaha!  The nerds will get you one way or another!)

First and foremost, Space Opera is fun.  It's adventurous, it's romantic (not in the boy-meets-girl sense, but there can be that, too), it's large-scale, and it takes place primarily in space, or on an alien world.  This is the epic form of Sci-Fi.  Movies that fit into this sub-genre are Star Wars, Star Trek (especially the newer version), and John Carter (which nobody gave a proper chance, but it's a great movie).  Space Opera is more concerned with a great story than science.  If there is some kind of technology that is cool, but totally unfeasible under the laws of physics, it is likely found in a Space Opera, rather than Hard Sci-Fi.  If there is some sort of magic in a Sci-Fi story, like the Force in Star Wars, it is Space Opera.  Like I said, this sub-genre is fun.

The Fifth Element is a campy, fun film that pokes fun at its own genre.  For those of you who have seen it, remember the blue alien chick singing opera on the spaceship?  Funny stuff.  Luc Besson was purposefully making a joke about Space Opera.

Some would define Space Opera as being about galaxy-spanding empires, epic wars in space, and greater-than life characters.  This is true about some Space Opera stories, but not all.  Dune, for example, is an excellent story along these lines.  Leviathan Wakes, however, is a story that takes place in our own solar system, before humans have expanded out into the stars.  Both fall under the sub-genre  for reasons I've already listed, but each are very distinct in style and characters.  (And both kick butt.  Read them!)

Here are some of my favorite Space Opera books.  I highly recommend them, and have reviewed several on this blog at one time or another.

-Dune, by Frank Herbert
-Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
-Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
-The Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold
-Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey
-The Prefect, by Alastair Reynolds
-Hunter's Run, by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham
-Pandora's Star, by Peter F. Hamilton
-Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

I admit that I read more recent Space Opera than classic, but there are tons of other authors out there with great stories in the genre.  Find them.  Read them.  Love the form as much as I do.  And here's to hoping that you'll be able to read my YA Space Opera one day when I publish and take over the world with it.

That's all.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Captivating Readers

I recently stated on a blog that I preferred to be captivated by a story rather than surprised.  I love surprises and all, but I think that twists in stories are given too much credit sometimes.  There have been loads of books I've loved that haven't surprised me in the least.  I think it's fairly easy to write a twist that your audience doesn't see coming, and what happens after they've gotten past all the surprising parts in your book?  Will they want to read it again after they know how everything turns out?

 I would much rather read a book that sucks me in because of its rich setting or engaging characters--because it presents a world I would like to visit.  This is my goal as a writer.  I want to create stories that enchant readers, just as the books I read growing up did to me.

So, what captivates you as a reader?  Are you drawn to a story because of its alien worlds?  Interesting characters?  Clever prose?  Do you want a story to take you somewhere familiar?  How do you think you can captivate an audience?  What tools as writers do you use to keep your readers stuck in your stories?

That's all.  Something to think about.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Caliban's War

I grew up reading science fiction.  Dune, Ender's Game, Jurassic Park... all sorts of sub-genres and authors.  I loved being transported to places that might be possible in humanity's future.  In high school my tastes changed and I became primarily a fantasy reader.  Mostly because I love history, and fantasy opened me to worlds in the past.  I've been getting back into sci fi, however, and I've read a lot of great authors in the genre this year--Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Dave Wolverton, and John Scalzi. I found that I still love epic science fiction.  There is a lot of great stuff out there, but someone (or someones) always rises to the top and defines my taste of a specific genre.  For space opera--for all science fiction and its sub genres--this is the Daniel Abraham/Ty Franck team of James S.A. Corey.

Caliban's War is book two of The Expanse.  I had to wait to get into it because the audio version didn't release with the paperback a couple months ago (I'm too lazy to read).  I had a fun time with Leviathan (my review) but Caliban is where the story came into its own.  I can't wait to see what Abraham and Franck have in store for book three.

At the end of Leviathan the Universe as humanity knows it has changed.  An alien protomolecule is transforming Venus into Earth's greatest horror.  A tense truce exists between Earth, Mars, and the Belt, but the slightest provocation can set off the biggest war known to man.  And someone is kidnapping children on Ganymede.

James Holden returns as a point-of-view character, and three new-comers join him to continue this kick-ass story.  (Chrisjen Avasarala--a foul-mouthed grandma--is my favorite.)

There was a bit of a plot repeat from the first book that bothered me a little.  One of the characters in Leviathan is defined by his efforts to find a missing woman.  In Caliban one of the pov's spends the book looking for his daughter.  A small gripe, but I can't help that I felt like part of the book was retreading old ground.  Luckily, the two cases are quite different, and each takes the story and characters in different directions.  This for me was a small bump in an otherwise smooth ride.    

The last line of Caliban gave me chills.  Come to find out, Franck--who wrote it--said about the line, "...I think it's the coolest thing I ever did."  He obviously knew what a punch he was giving us, and how it would leave readers dying to get the next installment.  Trust me, it's awesome.  You'll have to read Leviathan first, though, to understand.

Caliban's War gets 5 out of 5 stars.  If you're any kind of sci fi fan, I highly recommend diving into this series.  We'll know in a couple of days if Leviathan took home this year's Hugo.  My fingers are crossed that it does.                    

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Concerning Breaking Bad's Walter White

If you're a writer and have yet to watch Breaking Bad, do yourself a favor and check it out.  You want to know how to write the perfect antagonist/villain?  Sink your teeth into this excellent t.v. series.  You can thank me later--after you've managed to climb out of the butt hole molded into your couch.

My purpose of this post isn't to review the show.  It's (Breaking Bad, that is) perfect--the best piece of television I have ever seen.  And that's saying something, when you consider how much I like Sherlock, 24, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The Walking Dead. (Yes, I just managed to sneak in my favorite shows in a post that has nothing to do with them--and I know you can't really consider anything about comparing them, since I've yet to review each on the blog.  Shut up.  Attempting to discover logic in my ramblings is futile.)  What I want to spit out is the reason why watching a high school chemistry teacher-turned-methamphetamine master chef is worth your time.  Walter White isn't a shining example of anything.  Do not do the things that he does!  However, if you want to learn how to write a villain watch (from the beginning of season 1) Walter's steep descent into evil.

I was trying to explain to my wife why I love Breaking Bad the other day. (I had just turned off the t.v. after a bleary-eyed ten episode marathon.)  This is what I came up with: I am able to sympathize (and the ability to sympathize with is the all-important key to a character's success) with Walter because of two things: 1. He is bad at being bad.  Walter White tries so hard to be the baddest dude around, but no matter what he does, he is always one-uped by the real bad guys. (One-baded doesn't quite make sense.) 2. He tries so hard to be bad yet still cares for his family, and so has some remaining ounces of humanity.  I despise everything else about Walter's character.  I won't give anything away, but he gets bad.  Evil.  Totally insane.  My wife isn't aware of this, but I was in tears (from shock, not empathy) at the end of a certain episode.  It is painful to see a man fall so far.  If it weren't for Walter's being such a terrible bad guy, I'd tell everyone to avoid the show.  The writers are brilliant, however.  They create perfect believability in Walter's journey into darkness.  It's pathetic, it's irrational, it's terrifying.  He is a character viewers and writers will not forget.

Seasons 1-4 are available on Netflix, and the fifth and final season is currently airing on AMC.  Another thing the people behind Breaking Bad are doing right is ending it.  All great stories have to end, and they are doing it at the perfect time--when the show is at its peak.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

King of Thorns

Honorous Jorg Ancrath is back, this time with a throne.  He's as mean, as clever, and as unmovable as ever.  Four years have passed since the end of Prince of Thorns.  An army is gathering to dethrone Jorg and claim his land, but they will let him and his people go free if he yields.  However, King Jorg does not like doing what he is told.  

Mark Lawrence has delivered an ambitious sequel, giving us a deeper look into the mind of Jorg.  Jorg is one of the most interesting characters I've come across in fantasy, and I can't help but enjoy the time I spend with him--despite the helping of disgust that comes with the experience.  For me, a writer has proven himself when he can make me feel for his characters.  It ain't all lollipops and sunshine with 'ol Jorg, but he gets at me in ways I can't explain.  He is one superbly-imagined, nasty bastard.

As a novel, I have to say that I didn't enjoy King quite as much as Prince.  It comes down to the structure of the story.  In Prince, there was a much clearer narrative--Jorg was moving inexorably toward a specific goal.  The flashback sequences were more... relevant to the way the story was revealed.  I never felt lost or bored.  King, on the other hand, didn't have the focus, the flashbacks felt awkward more often than not, and I lost track of things a few times along the way.  By the end, everything came into focus--and I enjoyed the climatic scenes and reveals, but it didn't wash out the experience as a whole.  I think the biggest issue was that I always wanted to be in the "Wedding Day" sections of the story, rather than the "Four Years Earlier," and journal parts.  The threat on Jorg's doorstep was all I cared about.

That being said, I still really liked King of Thorns.  I recommend, of course, that readers start at the beginning of the series.  I feel that the third novel, Emperor of Thorns, is going to be epic.  I think that Mark Lawrence is going to be a power-house name in fantasy.  I think everyone should buy and read Jorg Ancarth's story.  There is so much emotion in the pages of this tale--you can't help but be pulled in.    

I'm rating King the same as Prince--4 stars out of 5.  Didn't enjoy it quite as much, but that's just because of my taste in structure.  The writing, characters, and depth are all on par with Prince, if not better.  So a 4 it is.  

-By the way, did the audiobook again.  Great voice and narration like the last book.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Earth Unaware

Orson Scott Card is back with another entry in his Ender series.  This time, however, he is taking us back to the first invasion of the Formics, before Ender was born.  He's teamed up with Aaron Johnston (who co-wrote the entertaining Invasive Procedures with Card a few years back) for this new trilogy and they do not disappoint.  If you love space opera with great characters, Earth Unaware is a book you shouldn't miss.

 Usually I like to write up my own synopsis of the book, but I'm feeling lazy right now, and it was a few weeks ago when I finished the book.  So here's the synopsis from the Tor website:

The mining ship El Cavador is far out from Earth, in the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto. Other mining ships, and the families that live on them, are few and far between this far out. So when El Cavador’s telescopes pick up a fast-moving object coming in-system, it’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s massive and moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light.
But the ship has other problems. Their systems are old and failing. The family is getting too big. There are claim-jumping corporates bringing Asteroid Belt tactics to the Kuiper Belt. Worrying about a distant object that might or might not be an alien ship seems…not important.

They're wrong. It's the most important thing that has happened to the human race in a million years. This is humanity's first contact with an alien race. The First Formic War is about to begin.
There you have it.  The characters are great, the setting interesting, and the conflict quick and tense.  It reminded me a lot of Leviathan Wakes--which I reviewed not too long ago--though not quite as good.  I think it's the best science fiction novel Card has written in quite some time, and I'm excited to see where the series goes.  It did end abruptly, but I was satisfied with where things were left.  
The audio was a bit annoying.  Card's books typically have a full cast--different narrators for different characters--but EU was missing the familiar voice of Scott Brick.  His usual narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, is present but doesn't narrate any of the main characters.  I wasn't a fan of the two narrators that took up most of the book.  Would have been better to feature Rudnicki and Brick with the others doing for the minor characters.
Earth Unaware gets 4 stars out of 5.  I highly recommend it if you're an Orson Scott Card or space opera fan. 
P.S. Mr. Card, I love ya, man, but please finish the Alvin Maker series before starting another series!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Finally, the movie I've been waiting all year to see has arrived!  And folks, it does not disappoint.  In fact, this final Nolan/Bale Batman film is a slam-dunk.  If you haven't seen it yet, get your butts to the theater, and then go seven more times.

I've been a Batman fan for a long time.  I can still remember the Christmas I got a Batman action figure and Bat-mobile.  The toys were based on Burton's films.  The Batman had a string that pulled out of his utility belt.  It was awesome.  I remember being obsessed with Batman Forever, and defended it as the best of the films for a long while. That was until Batman Begins, anyway.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I loved each of Nolan's films.  Batman Begins proved that comic book movies didn't have to suck.  (Looking back, I think every Batman movie before Begins sucked.  I bought into them as a kid, but come on, they're lame.)  The campiness of previous films was gone, the hero was seriously disturbed, and the villains were as realistic as could be hoped for.  I was one of the doubters and never saw the film in the theater.  (I'd been stung too bad by the horrendous Batman and Robin, which even as a kid I hated.)  When I got around to seeing it on dvd I almost pooped my pants with joy.  Then The Dark Knight hit theaters, forever changing the super-hero genre.

The Dark Knight was a tough sequel to top.  Heath Ledger gave the best performance of his carrier as the Joker, and easily slaughtered every other comic book movie villain.  But it wasn't just Heath that make TDK such a success.  Every minute of that film was full of tense, interesting conflict, that tested Batman to his limit.  TDK was a tough one to beat, but The Dark Knight Rises did indeed do so.  Go see it and tell me I'm wrong.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Yard

In my last post I mentioned that a book cover rarely sales me on a book.  I must be turning into a big fat sucker lately--or not lately... I usually don't need much of a reason to buy new books--because another cover caught my eye at the book store, and I purchased the book (on audile--sorry B&N).  If you're a fan of Sherlock, you'll enjoy reading or listening to The Yard--the debut novel by Alex Grecian.

The Yard tells the story of several detectives part of Scotland Yard's murder squad.  The setting is 1890's, shortly after the last of the Ripper murders.  London is still reeling from the horror of "Saucy Jack," and the citizens are all too willing to distrust the police's ability to protect them.  When more mysterious murders start happening--one of the victims a murder squad detective--everyone assumes the Ripper has returned.

The characters are fictional, though based on several real-life detectives.  One character--a doctor--is on the cutting edge of CSI theory, and amazes the detectives of the Yard with his analytical and deductive abilities.  It's easy to assume he is the Sherlock of the book, but the doctor doesn't do the actual investigating.  This is left up to two detectives, one an old-school veteran, the other a newbie.  Together, the newbie and doctor give us the Sherlock nod.  Also, there is a beat cop unwilling to let a case go unsolved.  Each of the threads are woven into each other by the end, if only a little too conveniently.  I was completely satisfied by book's end, though, despite a few hiccups.    

There were a few points of writing style that got on my nerve.  For example, when the point of view for the villain is given (third-person limited for the most part), he is referred to as the bald man.  Pointless, since no one would think of themselves this way, and if a name was given he would be as equally unknown to the reader as he is as the bald man.  His identity is revealed so early in the book that it is completely useless to do this little trick.  It was like Grecian had been told to hide his villain's identity from the reader to create suspense, but then decided halfway through to just tell us who the dude was.  Thing is, the suspense came from knowing who the villain was--seeing how close he was to the detectives--and seeing how it all played out with the police on his trail.  If the suspense was supposed to be not knowing who the villain was, there never should have been a point of view for him.    One other thing that seemed odd were a few interludes sprinkled randomly throughout the narrative.  The interludes gave a brief window into the past of three characters--one when a character was a child, and the other two only a few years before the beginning of the story.  I understand why the interludes existed--they are there for an extra view of the main characters.  Problem was that they didn't actually add anything to the narrative.  The information given could have easily been done with a simple paragraph of exposition for each.  I would have liked the interludes to matter more to the tale being told, and maybe a bit more structure as to how they were presented.

I enjoyed The Yard quite a bit.  The narration was excellent, the characters were fun, and industrial London is always an intriguing place to visit.  I would have liked more mystery, and a bit of a darker flavor, but all in all, I can say that it is a novel worth your time.  A sequel is scheduled for next year.

The Yard gets 4 out of 5 stars.    

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Prince of Thorns

It is very rare that a book cover will entice me to read a book.  I'm much more of a word of mouth/review-reader buyer.  Illustrations are nice and all, but I want someone to tell me why they liked a book.  For whatever reason, this wasn't the case with Mark Lawrence's debut novel.  The marketing department succeeded this time, however, and I knew I had to read Prince of Thorns because of a pretty cover.  I'm glad I did.  It was an excellent novel.  One every dark-fantasy fan should read.

Okay, I have to amend the above statement... just a bit.  See, beginnings are everything--I had to hook you with my opening.  Now that I have, I'll be honest.  The cover for Prince of Thorns never did it for me.  I saw the book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, and never even bothered picking it up--because the illustration is too... I don't know... graphic-novelish for my taste.  (Not to bag on graphic novels or their readers--I've just never gotten into them.)  But I did say that a cover caught my eye, which is why I put the cover for book two, King of Thorns, up as well.  I haven't yet read KoT, but holy crap!  That is an amazing cover!  Without knowing a thing about Lawrence and his series, I knew I had to read it after seeing that badass owning the throne on a pile of corpses.  

So the cover for book one didn't catch me, but the story and characters did.  The tale Lawrence spins is at times terrifying,  and then beautiful.  I almost feel guilty for liking the main character, Jorg, so much, because he is one hard bastard.  It's quite refreshing, though, to read about a character who is so honest--so brutal because his world has made him so.  In my mind, Jorg compares to Jaime Lannister from GRRM's series (Jaime is by far my favorite character in Martin's world).  Both are the toughest dogs in the yard, and both  do terrible things for gain.  Like Jaime, though, Jorg is deeper than his outward actions.  It takes knowing Jorg's past (which we receive in flash-back chapters) to understand him.  I don't know that understanding him means sympathizing with him, but I believed his arc because of his history.  Pulling this type of character off is no easy feat.  Mark Lawrence knows his business.  I can only stand with my mouth open that PoT is this guy's debut.

Prince of Thorns is the tale of Honorous Prince Jorg of Ancrath, told in his own words.  A brutal tragedy shapes his life at the young age of ten, and he sets off on a path of fire and blood to carve out his destiny in a post-apocalyptic Europe (I think about a thousand years in the future).  The setting is very medieval, with hints of our current civilization in decay.  There are sorcerers, necromancers, mutant-monsters, knights, whores, and blood.  

PoT reminded me of two series while I listened to it (besides Jorg's likeness to Jaime Lannister).  There's a lot of similarities with Stephen King's Dark Tower series (at least the first book, Gunslinger, anyway), and Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series.  The world in PoT reminded me of Roland Deschain's, while Jorg's telling of his story made me think of Uhtred of Bebbanburg.  Both are great comparisons to me.  If you're a fan of either series, you'll probably enjoy Lawrence's work.  

Well, I guess that's enough gushing.  You'll hear more from me on this series and author soon after I give a listen to book two.  (Here's hoping the audio is out the same day as the hardcover--only a couple of weeks away.)  Prince of Thorns gets 4 stars out of 5.  Go read it!   

-Also, check out Lawrence's post about how he became a published author.  It's quite inspiring.           


Monday, July 9, 2012

I write like...

Came across this fun tool to analyze your writing style on this blog.  Click here to see which famous author you are most like.  If I used text from my western fantasy, it said I am most like Lewis Carrol.  If I entered text from my dark, viking-esque fantasy I am more like Ursula K. Le Guin.  And when I used part of my YA space opera it said I was like Shakespeare.  Don't know that I believe any of it, but it's fun anyway!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Amazing Spider Man

The Amazing Spider Man is, well... amazing.  It was a great movie--much better than the crap trilogy started ten years ago.  So far, it is the best superhero movie this year.  Go see it.  Enjoy it.  See it again.  They got all the beats right in this movie (although the murder of Peter's uncle seemed a bit of a rehash... would have been nice had they done something different with that, and I'm getting sick of New York City.  I hope Spider Man gets out of the Big Easy in his next outing, if only to chase a baddie down... be awesome to see him web-slinging across a different skyline for once).  This new film will make you embarrassed to even mention the Tobey Maguire series, like the Dark Knight and Clooney's horrendous Batman and Robin.

 I've only seen Andrew Garfield--the new spidey--in one other film (The Social Network).  He does a great job as Peter Parker, being more the rebel than geek.  And Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey walks circles around Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane.  Stone and Garfield have a chemistry on screen that Maguire and Dunst never even came close to.  I hope we get this new Spider Man Mary Jane free, because if Stone has to move over for some other chick, I'm gonna be ticked.  

The tone of this reboot is darker than before.  Like Batman Begins, it goes more in-depth to its main character, really trying to get at the root of what makes a superhero.  I felt the tone was ruined slightly by the very last scene, but I can't deny that it still put a smile on my face (no spoilers).  Parker learns through several tragic experiences that he has the responsibility to make the world a better place, and I think the writers got his character arc perfect in this movie.

The story never goes as dark as Nolan's Batman.  I wish it had--but I can live with where it is.  If The Dark Knight is the perfect adult superhero movie (which it is, though Watchmen and Kick Ass are a respective second and third), then The Amazing Spider Man is the perfect superhero flick for YA audiences.  Writers should pay attention to the smart try-fail cycles, the reversals, and pacing in this movie.  It was all spot-on.

That's all!

Friday, June 22, 2012

False Covenant

The second Widdershins adventure by Ari Marmell is in a lot of ways an improvement on the first.  If you have yet to pick up False Covenant and Thief's Covenant, what are you waiting for?  These little books are stuffed full of action, horror, romance, wit, and charm.  The characters are complex, the setting vibrant and interesting.  And, I am happy to say, the series will continue.  Marmell announced on his website a few weeks back that Pyr bought two more Widdershins novels.  This is one series you don't want to leave unread.

FC picks up six months after Thief's.  Our heroine (am I being politically incorrect by using that term?) is still recovering from the events that culminated in the first book's climax.  (Of course I won't give anything away.)  She is a bit wiser, a bit more cautious.  And she wasn't wanting to be a thief anymore.  Well, turns out life is hard when you can't steal for your sustenance, and so Widdershins finds herself in another caper that doesn't exactly turn out the way she had been planning.

Meanwhile, the city of Davillon is in disfavor with the Church.  A new Bishop has been sent to the city to whip its inhabitants into shape.  He certainly means well, but his schemes go sour and put the citizens of Davillon in real, terrifying danger.

I still have some issues with Marmell's point of view.  It's mostly third-limited, but he seems unable to resist pointing things out as the narrator.  Most of the time it doesn't detract from the story--it usually serves as pleasant bits of humor.  I would still prefer a tighter view point, however, but that's only because I'm biased toward a tight third.  Can't help what I prefer.

The horror in FC is brilliant.  The baddie in this book (had to be inspired by Jack, from Nightmare Before Christmas) is one of the creepiest villains I've ever read in fantasy.  I cringe to think what would have happened if this book were written for the adult market.  Things get dark enough with it being written for teenagers.

There was some language (F bombs) that I wasn't expecting.  Not that there is a hard rule in YA that an author must censor words, but it did come as a surprise.  Didn't really put me off... I snarf George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie books like fat kids snarf cake.  Made my wife wince, though.  She loves YA but doesn't enjoy R-rated content.

I missed the out-of-sequence story telling from Thief's Covenant--it was a different approach and I enjoyed it.  I suppose it wouldn't have really worked, since only six months have passed since the end of book one.  Maybe Marmell will do it again in a later addition?

False Covenant gets 4.5 stars out of 5.