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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Royal Assassin

Robin Hobb's Royal Assassin is the second book in her Farseer Trilogy, and--according to many a professional--the best in the series.  I haven't listened to the third one yet, and probably won't for a while.  But I can say that this second book was quite a bit better than the first.

This trilogy is about a bastard son of a prince, who is raised from a young age to be the king's assassin.  In the first book (Assassin's Apprentice) Fitz is just learning how to kill for his king/grandfather, and in Royal Assassin is becoming much more comfortable and capable in his role.  He has to struggle with the morality of killing for his king, and learn how to honor his oaths to the man.  Also, he has to learn the two forms of magic available in this world: Wit, and Skill.  Wit is the ability to communicate with animals, a la Perrin style from The Wheel of Time, and it so happens to be forbidden on pain of burning; Skill is the ability to communicate with another person mind to mind, which comes in handy over large distances.  Kind of interesting that both forms of magic in the world are communications specific.  

I don't know why so many people say this is the best book in the series (having yet to read the third), but like I said, it is better than the first.  AA moved way too slow for me, and seemed a bit padded with unnecessary descriptions, situations, etc.  While RA suffers from similar problems at times, they are much less frequent, and maybe it's a better book simply because the character is older, and more interesting to read about.

The villain of the series is quite ridiculous.  The schemes he gets away with are very hard to believe at times.  However, when the story isn't focusing on the bad guy (which is most of the time), it is very enjoyable to listen to.  It's a lot like Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles--the plot is almost non-existant, forcing the reader to care about the character to enjoy the tale.  If you have a hard time with heavy character-driven novels, you'll probably be bored with this one.  If you love being immersed in a fully realized fantasy world, with one first-person pov, you'll definitely want to check this out.

I blogged a while back about how I don't care for assassins in fiction.  This is still true, even though I liked RA.  So little time is actually spent on Fitz assassinating anyone, that I find it a bit silly to include the word assassin in each of the three books' titles.  There's a lot less assassinating, and a lot more political intrigue.  I never felt uncomfortable with Fitz's dirty job (though he frequently feels this way about it).  It's nothing like your usual assassin-for-hire story that I hate so much.  

So give Royal Assassin a read or listen.  The narrator is superb, the writing is top-notch, and Fitz is an interesting character whose head is worth getting inside of.  The Farseer world isn't all that original as far as setting goes, but I didn't find anything about it to dislike.  I give the book 4 stars out of 5.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games

I have a feeling that, no matter what I say here, pretty much everyone will disagree with me.  I can live with that.  Here goes:

Hunger Games was a decent movie.

That's right.  Not a great movie, not even a good movie.  A decent one, and that's it.  This is why: The shaky camera was very annoying, the character relationships were quite unbelievable, and there was simply zero emotion behind any of the acting besides Donald Sutherland's as President Snow.  I'm sorry, folks, but Jennifer Lawrence played a very flat, boring Katniss.  Not really her fault, since Katniss's emotions were much more cognitive than visually apparent to other characters in the book, but still, it didn't work on film.  I can't imagine even understanding the relationships between the characters if I hadn't read the book.  I won't give away anything--incase someone out there hasn't read or seen the movie--but there just wasn't time to develop any believability between the characters.  And again, that freak'n camera work was headache-inducing.  What's so wrong with staying focused on something or someone for longer than a heartbeat?

The movie will make butt-loads of money, teenage girls will wet their pants with glee as they wait in line for their fifth viewing.  Blah, blah, blah.  I for one, wished the movie would have had more soul.  Then again, I thought the book lacked the very same thing.

At least it isn't Twilight.  I can happily say there wasn't a single moment in THG where I had to turn my head in embarrassed shame.  It's too bad, though, that John Carter will be crushed beneath THG's mega, teenage-pukefest averageness.  JC was definitely the better March flick.      

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thief's Covenant

Pyr is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishing houses.  It used to be that I considered Tor to be the one producing my favorite books.  Although I still think Tor is doing a great job, I get this feeling that Pyr and other "younger" houses are the ones on the rise.  It's because of books like Thief's Covenant that Pyr is turning into the go-to place for exciting sword and sorcery fantasy.

This cover is amazing.  Not only does Pyr publish awesome stories, but they're commissioning some of the best covers as well.  On to the review...

I heard about this book and another by its author, Ari Marmell, while at Worldcon in Reno last August.  Goblin Corps (the other book by Marmell) was out, and so I picked it up an Barnes and Noble while at the con.  I started reading GC, thought it was funny, but soon lost interest in its story and put it aside without finishing, and basically forgot about the author.  Then February rolls around, and people start talking about Thief's Covenant and I remembered I wanted to read it.  Now I have, and I've got to say that I enjoyed every page of this little sword and sorcery romp.

What's really cool about TC is that it's YA dark fantasy.  I'm a huge reader of epic fantasy with dark leanings.  Not so much into reading YA.  However, if this is what YA fantasy is (I don't think the majority of it is) count me in from now on.  You get all of the darker story elements without all the sex the adult stuff seems unable to live without. This is a big plus for me.  I am getting so tired of the smut that is so prevalent in modern fantasy fiction.  That's not to say TC is squeaky clean--I wouldn't have liked it if it was.  There's all sorts of bloody action scenes, and plenty of curses that make the characters believable as human beings.  (No fake swearing.  Sorry, Dashner.)  And the main character--a seventeen year old girl aliased Widdershins--is just plain fun to follow.

Widdershins is a thief-turned-aristocrat-turned-thief.  Her switching back and forth between life styles makes for an interesting story that the author chooses to tell out of sequence.  Books like The Lies of Locke Lamora do this type of storytelling really well.  It's something that I'm liking more and more in my fiction.  It might make some of the story in TC hard to follow at times, but I thought the multiple story threads all came together quite well in the end.

If you are tired (like me) of long, over-stuffed epic fantasy tomes, Thief's Covenant is a great choice for a change of pace.  With its slim 272 pages and quick plot, you'll be through it in no time.  The one thing I felt the book suffered from was too many pov characters.  I didn't count as I was reading but there were seriously around ten of them.  Way too many for a book this size.  One or two would have done nicely.  Also, Marmell slips in and out of third-person limited and omniscient as if the two narrative distinctions don't even exist.  This gets a little annoying at times.  I think the book would have been much smoother had the author stuck to one or the other.  That being said, if you don't even know the difference between the two narrative modes, it won't bother you in the least.

Thief's Covenant is my kind of book.  It's light on magic, set in a quasi-medival/renaissance city, has entertaining characters, has plenty of action, a darker storyline, and absent of all the fluff in so many fantasy books these days.  And (this is a big and) it inspired me to change the way I go about my own writing.  It has shown me that YA fantasy can still be set in a secondary world, with violence and adult themes.  The only YA fantasy I'm aware of is always set in our modern world, with some secret magic stuff going on in the background.  I hate that kind of fantasy.  I'm all about new worlds and settings.

Don't miss this book!  I give Thief's Covenant 4 out of 5 stars.

-As a side note, the sequel to Thief's Covenant comes out in June.  Nothing like waiting a couple of months for book 2.  Move over GRRM... it no longer takes six years to write a book!  (For those of you who will defend GRRM to the death, I only jest.  I know his books are much longer, and take longer to produce.  And he's my favorite, anyway, so nah.)

More on John Carter of Mars

There is an article up at about why John Carter is being called the biggest flop of all time.  You can read it here.  It's sickening, really, once you understand that this film was deemed crap by the very studio producing it.  I can't believe that Disney won't stand behind their product.  I can't believe this film isn't even going to get a chance.

Everyone go and see John Carter.  See it twice.  Let Disney know that their "flop" is actually a pretty damn  good piece of entertainment.  It's films like John Carter that reignite peoples' love in science fiction and fantasy.  Movies like this can help or hinder these two fiction genres that deserve to succeed.  I admit, I'm a bit biased, hoping to publish my own fantasy novels in the future.  However, the truth is that genre fiction is by far the best written work being produced these days.  You won't find as many well-read, imaginative authors, who write so many incredible, thought-provoking stories, in any other area of prose.  John Carter will help kids and adults unfamiliar with the greats of sci fi and fantasy pick up some amazing books.  And this, of course, is paid forward to the authors.

Long live John Carter of Mars.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

John Carter

My wife and I went to John Carter, expecting very little.  In fact, Rhonda had absolutely no desire to see it, and I just wanted to see something because I start going crazy if I don't go to the movies every once in a while.  So we went.  Both of us came out of the theater surprised--surprised that the movie turned out to be so good.

I've come to despise Disney movies over the years, except for the ones Pixar makes.  They have this need to include the stupidest, lamest things in their movies.  I don't need to get into it now, but almost every Disney movie is this way.  (First Pirates, not so much.  The other two, full of dumb crap.)  The Prince of Persia was a failure in my opinion because of its Disneyisms.  John Carter does have a few... let's be honest about that.  Disney is Disney, after all.  But the stupidity is very light, and JC pleases on so many levels.

A lot of people are complaining that John Carter is just a mixture of other movies that have come before it.  I chuckle when I read or hear people talk like that.  People, John Carter came before Star Wars, Avatar, Stargate, and whatever other movie/book you want to claim it is stealing from.  I've never read the books, but they were written nearly a hundred years ago.  John Carter has been around for a very long time.

I don't know how the books are classified into genre, but I'd say the movie is very much a sword and planet adventure.  Sword and planet is basically sword and sorcery, just knowingly on another world other than Earth... and there is technology that falls into science fiction.  As a fantasy writer, who leans more to the sword and sorcery side of the aisle than epic, I planned on seeing John Carter since hearing about it.  I hope that it makes its money back--it had a huge budget, so there is a big chance of this never happening.  I think that it would be a shame.  I'd love to see a sequel.

So if you're in to fantasy and science fiction, give John Carter a try.  Even if you're not.  You'll probably think the costuming is ridiculous, but google A Princess of Mars (the book the movie is based on) and you'll see the art associated with it.  The costumes in the movie are very faithful to the imagined world in the books.  I think it's awesome that Disney decided to stay so faithful to the source material.  I'll probably never read the books, but I'll for sure be buying this when it comes out on dvd.

And remember, my wife liked it.  That means it has to be good, right?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When the Muse Strikes

This post is not to be confused with Muse the band.  They suck.  Period.  What it is about is my writing this past week.  I've struck a vein of gold in my brain, and am spewing forth story like a fire hose set on flood.(Wouldn't it be cool if fire hoses actually had settings, like shower heads, or hand-held massage contraptions?  "Take that, fire!  See how you like it on soft drip.")

I started a YA fantasy, set in a secondary world.  I've never sat down to write a YA, but I have sketched out some ideas on a few and written a couple of chapters.  This time it's for real, however.  I am writing YA, and I'm having a blast doing it.  There are a couple of reasons for my switch in audience age groups.  I think that I will be writing YA for the foreseeable future.

The reasons are completely rational, I swear.  I've decided YA is a good fit for me right now because I can write a much shorter novel if it's YA.  I can really focus on adventure, and humor, and uplifting ideas.  I was finding it hard to do those things in my adult fantasy.  Also, it goes along with my last post--about Game of Thrones.  I very much enjoy reading darker stories, but truth is, I'm lousy at writing them.  I refuse to include extreme content, and so feel that my books were suffering because of it.  I want to be honest to my stories, and I feel that I can better accomplish this in YA.

Another reason is that I tend to focus on huge plots, spanning multiple view-points in my adult fiction.  Again, I read the type of stories that do this.  The problem is, I hate outlining.  For me, outlining is the death of creativity.  (That's not to say I don't spend time planning what I'll write.  I do, but mostly cognitively, rather than mapping out an entire novel on paper.)  I'm finding, though, that as I'm writing these huge books (roughly 120,000-150,000 words, so not technically huge.  To give you some perspective, The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson, and The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss--both extremely popular writers in adult fantasy--are around 400,000 words.  That is huge.  More like holy-shit insane.) I'm losing my way.  Yeah, I know how they'll end.  But the middle is bogging me down.  It's literally crippling my writing to try and work through these stories right now.  I just don't have the time.  I made it to 125,000 on my first untitled book.  Gunlord only made it to 80,000.  I intend to finish Gunlord in the future, but it needs to sit a while and simmer.  I'm not ready to write it the way I want to.

All the pros say it's better for a new writer to finish what they are writing before working on something else.  I really tried to take this advice to heart these last four months.  I just couldn't finish.  Every time I went to write Gunlord my fingers hovered above the keyboard.  I rewrote the beginning from a new perspective; I played with doing it in first-person.  Nothing was working.  I love the characters, my writing group seems to love the characters, but it isn't good to be a writer and not be writing.  For me, moving on to something new--that I'm very excited about--has made my life so much happier.  I kept telling my wife I was down, that I didn't know how to crawl out of the slump I was in.  I found my out.  It's in YA fantasy, and I'm going to run with it for as long as I can.  

So, I'm shooting for 75,000 words for this new book.  Want to know the title?  Course you do.  Just know that I'll kill you if you try and steal it.  It's titled: Merchant God Conspiracy, or The Merchant God Conspiracy.  Haven't decided which one flows off the tongue better.  I have one view-point character.  I have a very exciting, fast-paced plot.  There are gods, flint-lock pistols, and zombies (sort of).  I'm loving it.  I've written 8,000 words on it in four days.  That's twice my normal speed.

Anyway, I had to share my excitement.  So there you go.              

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Game of Thrones Season 1

I don't have cable, and so have had to wait a year for GoT to make it to dvd.  I bought it on iTunes the day it came out, and have watched an episode or more a day.  I've finished the season, and feel I should comment on some things.

Lord Eddard Stark in the godswood

HBO did a lot of things well with the show.  I thought most of the actors fit the characters perfectly, the scenery was amazing, the costumes were spot on, the filming, the music, the freaking Wall!  As I said, a lot was done well.  Having said that, I am very disappointed in the content they included.  I shouldn't have been surprised... it's HBO, after all.  And the books do have several scenes of adult content I wouldn't let kids read.  But holy crap.  There were so many scenes added to the show that don't even exist in the books, simply to have another bit of sex on screen.  

I have never watched an HBO series before.  Perhaps this is how they all are.  I get that sex is sexy.  What I don't get is why the people at HBO think it belongs in a show for its own sake.  So much of what they added had nothing to do with the story.  It only served to be tantalizing. 

Again, I shouldn't have been surprised.  I am unable to recommend the books to people--in good conscience--because of the explicit content in their pages.  However, I am quite open about them being my favorite novels.  George R.R. Martin is a master storyteller.  His grasp on character is nothing less than amazing.  I was told about A Game of Thrones nearly ten years ago, and have read it and its sequels nearly a dozen times since.  I couldn't resist watching when the story ended up on screen.

It is easy to overlook content in books when becoming a professional author is my biggest dream.  As a writer, you must be truthful about the world and human nature.  I believe this completely.  It is why I forgive authors when it comes to certain things.  However, 

and this is a BIG HOWEVER,

It is absolutely unnecessary to show the audience everything.  If a head is getting hacked off, cut away to another scene as the axe is dropping.  If a man and woman are about to have sex, leave the room as they begin to pull at each others clothing.  We'll get the point.  We'll know what just happened.  We'll still follow the story without being privy to every little detail of every little act humanity participates in.  I once told my wife's uncle that my goal is to write honest stories without being vulgar.  He seemed to think it a hard goal to accomplish.  It isn't.  Truth is, a story becomes much more powerful when the audience is left to imagine a few things.  The beauty, depth, and horror of words typed on a page, or scenes shown on a screen, are only as good as a consumer's interpretation.  Don't interpret intimate settings for me; let me, as reader and viewer, do this on my own.

I've said my peace.  If you want to watch Game of Thrones, know that there is a lot that is good about the show.  Know also that there is content you might be uncomfortable viewing.  I was uncomfortable.  Damnably so.  I intend to never watch the show again, unless I can find someone able to edit out what I don't want to see.  As for the books... well, I know which parts to skip at this point. 



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Assassins in fiction

I just finished listening to Kill Shot, by Vince Flynn.  I wasn't very impressed with the book for many reasons, but ultimately, it came down to the main character being an assassin.  I'm getting very sick of assassins in fiction.  One reason is that I think the archetype has been done to death.  This fact isn't my main concern, however.  The real problem stems from an ideological stance of mine: getting paid to kill people is wrong.

I'm not anti military, nor am I anti war.  I believe both are necessary evils that mankind will always have to live with.  I support American troops as much as anyone.  I have a brother-in-law who just became a marine.  I'm very proud of him for the choice he has made.  And yes, I know that soldiers may have to kill people during their time of service.  Assassinating someone is a totally different deal.  Soldiers are fighting other soldiers.  Assassins are plugging whomever their contractor has paid them to kill.  It's a line no decent human being should ever cross.

Assassins in fiction seem to like their job too much.  For example, Mitch Rapp in Vince Flynn's novels.  Mitch is a killer.  He knows it.  He takes pride in it.  And he contemplates killing his bosses if they screw him over.  He mostly targets terrorists.  And while I can appreciate the sense of justice in executing a person who murders innocents, Rapp doesn't limit his kills to terrorists.  (Minor spoilers ahead for A Song of Ice and Fire.)  Another example is Arya from George R. R. Martin's fantasy series.  Late in the series this little girl (about 10) decides she wants to learn how to kill people.  It it very disturbing to see how far down the path of murder she goes.  There are some popular fantasy series that I'm not sure I want to get in to, because the main characters are assassins.  

What do you think?  Are assassins easy to sympathize with in fiction, or are they archetypes that readers should shy away from liking?  Is it silly to even worry about what a fictional character is doing?  Can a reader disassociate his morals from that of the protagonist's, and still enjoy the story?  Or am I just going crazy?