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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy Nation is a remake, or a reboot of an old 60's novel, written by H. Beam Piper, titled Little Fuzzy.  For this reason, I was very hesitant about trying FN.  Remakes of movies and t.v. series are bad enough, but a novel?  Come on.  Thanks be to sales on Audible, because their little scheme got my to pay $8 for an audiobook I would have otherwise ignored.

John Scalzi wrote the remake.  You may have heard of him... if you pay attention to science fiction, anyway.  He wrote the Hugo nominated Old Man's War, and its subsequent sequels: Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe's Tale.  I've read OMW and GB, so FN wasn't my first Scalzi read.

Fuzzy Nation isn't anything like Scalzi's other books--at least when it comes to genre.  Yeah, it's sci fi, but all of his other books I've read are  military/space opera.  The best sub-genre I could use to describe FN is off-world courtroom.  (Let it be known I've coined a new genre.)  And I've got to say that I enjoyed it very much.

I am surprised at how close this story is to James Cameron's Avatar--only because Avatar was so huge and so recent.  Let's be honest: Cameron stole all of his ideas from better sci fi stories than what he could come up with on his own.  That's what writers and movie directors do--steal from things that have come before.   I haven't read the original by Piper, but Scalzi's rendition is set up the exact same way as Avatar.  Humans go to planet, do terrible things to planet, strip mine planet, and kill local inhabitants.  The only reason we were ever there was to get filthy rich, and to laugh our asses off at the poor alien critters we squashed under our boots.  You've seen this story a thousand times.  I get sick of capitalism getting demonized so much in entertainment, but the fact is, humans are greedy all too often, and corporations do get out of hand sometimes.  Even though FN is very similar to Avatar, it is written so much better than that lousy flick.  I got over the similarities pretty fast, and got caught up in the story Scalzi was telling me.

Where Avatar has mindless action scenes, Fuzzy Nation has courtroom proceedings.  Only one gun is fired in the book, and it happens off screen.  There are a few bar fights and other brief bouts of violence, but for the most part, FN is action free.  Luckily, Scalzi is a master of dialogue, so it is pure pleasure just listening to the characters spar with one another through entertaining conversations.  The protagonist is a likable fellow, despite claiming at the end of the book to be a bad man.  He seems very realistic to me as a person--something Scalzi always pulls off with his characters.

I haven't told you much of the plot, but it isn't important for me to.  Think Avatar, but written well, not full of naked blue people, and without the big battle at the end.  Instead, the aliens are cat-like, small fuzzies, the protagonist doesn't have sex with any of them, and all the fighting is done in front of a judge.

Fuzzy Nation gets 4 out of 5 stars, for its entertaining dialogue, well-rounded characters, and great court scenes.  Oh, and for the cute, huggable fuzzy things.  Pick it up if you're in the mood for some enjoyable scifi light.

(I don't know if this is true with the print version, but the audio version includes the original novel, Little Fuzzy.  Nice little bonus there.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Death of Kings

I just finished listening to Bernard Cornwell's Death of Kings.  If you've never read anything from Cornwell, it's time to try out this master of historical fiction.

I had the random luck of pulling one of Cornwell's books off the library shelf several years back.  Since then, I've read close to twenty of his novels, and claim him as one of my favorite authors of all time.  He writes about several different periods of history, including, the Napoleonic Wars, the Hundred Years War, the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, Prehistorical, and the Dark Ages.  I've read books set in each of these periods and all are excellent.

Death of Kings is book six in his Saxon series, centered around Alfred the Great of England.  The series is told from the point of view of Uhtred, a Northumbrian lord raised by the Danes.  Uhtred is torn between his people--the Saxons--and the Danish warlords that he loves.  He has served Alfred faithfully for years, and as the king is dying wants to finally be his own master.  But, as Uhtred would say: fate is inexorable.  He finds himself pulled back into the plots and conflicts of other men.

Cornwell's Saxon series is probably my favorite of his works.  However, by DoK (book 6) the series is becoming too formulaic.  The same types of conflicts arise in each volume; Uhtred is still the same man he was 5 books ago.  I love the character, but feel a strong character arc is sadly absent.  Also, despite the book's slim 330ish page count, DoK seems padded with phrases, descriptions, and scenes I've already read about half a dozen times.

Even with the flaws, I found myself loving the book by its final pages.  If you love vikings and early English history, you can't go wrong with this series.  Even if you don't have an interest in the period, I'm willing to bet you'll be captivated by the story of England's formation.  Don't start with Death of Kings if you are unfamiliar with the series.  Start at the beginning (The Last Kingdom), and thank me later after you've had six entertaining books to read through.

For you fantasy writers and readers out there, Cornwell is a must.  George R.R. Martin himself is a huge fan of Bernard's work, and describes Cornwell's action scenes as being among the finest in print.  If vikings aren't interesting enough for you, read Agincourt--my favorite standalone of his, or The Archer's Tale.  You'll be entertained, and learn a good deal about history while you're at it.

Death of Kings gets 4 out of 5 stars.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year

Why do people always feel like the beginning of a new year is the time to start doing something they've always wanted to do?  Isn't it kind of stupid to recommit to things only once a year?  Personally, I make and break goals about a thousand times a week--I don't save them all for January 1.  So if you have some New Year's resolutions, congratulations.  Hope you keep to whatever it is you're aiming at.

One year ago I started writing on a new project.  It was one that I'd been thinking of for a couple of years.  It is the only project I had a title for before I began.  This might not seem like a big deal, but the title of the novel gave me the focus I needed for the story.  Fast forward a year, and the damn book still isn't completed.  I've written nearly 80,000 words.  Should be close to the end, right?  It ain't.

I have something called Canevergetothendingitis.  It's a very serious disease that some discovery writers suffer from.  Of course, those planners--those perfect little happy outliners--suffer from another serious disease I've heard referred to as Writingisboringcuzijustconnectdadotsosis.  Which of these diseases is more debilitating you might be wondering.  I'm not the one to ask.  I've only experienced the one.

Where is this post going?  If you're expecting this to be the part where I confess to really having New Year's resolutions, you're crackin.  I already said they're dumb.  No, I'm committing myself to something quite different.  I have decided to make an Old Year Declaration.

An Old Year Declaration could be described as thus:

1. When one makes a choice to stick to the choices one has already made.
2. Working towards a goal you have already failed, but very much want to accomplish.
3. Realize that, hey, you're just being lazy, and it's time to stop whining about how hard it is to actually finish something, put your butt in your chair, and get to work!

My Old Year Declaration is as follows:

I, Jordan, master of many things that are too complicated to explain on a blog that nobody reads, do make this Old Year Declaration, on 16 January, 2012, 10is p.m., GMT, to finish what I have started at the beginning of the previous year.  I will not spend time thinking up a gazillion other story ideas... well, okay, I will think about other ideas, but won't spend any large amount of time (the writing of more than 6,000 words) on newer projects until the completion of draft 1 for Gunlord is in the can.  I will outline said draft so that I can finish the bloody thing before the end of another year finds me with a dumbfounded look plastered across my face.  I will make Gunlord the best, kick-ass fantasy/western I can possibly create.  I will send it to many publishing houses of fine repute.  I will not focus on any other projects until my brain is exploding from an extreme case of awesome overload.  This I do declare.

Shouldn't be too difficult to get done.  Either my little girl is getting easier to take care of, or Rhonda and I are finally becoming adjusted to life as parents.  I am in no way saying life is a cake walk, but I've decided that I am ready to function again as a writer.  My writing schedule will have to change a bit, but that's okay.  Rhonda will have to help me help myself, but that's okay.  I'm going to finish what I've started.  And you know what?  I'm finally excited about Gunlord again.

That's all.