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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Chronicle is an artsy superhero origins movie about three teenagers who gain telekinetic powers.  At first, it is a fun, light story about boys having mischievous fun.  By its end the story turns into something quite disturbing, and it delivers a punch to the gut that I wasn't expecting.  Was it a good film?  Absolutely.  Anyone interested in the barrage of superhero flicks taking over Hollywood ought to see Chronicle.  It manages to do twice as much as any of the big-budget blockbusters.

Chronicle is basically a "what if" about a kid who has been bullied his whole life.  I'm thinking of it as Magneto's origin story.  I hesitate to bring this up, but I couldn't help thinking about Columbine.  It was frightening to think about as I watched the main character's life spiral downward.  Some viewers may want to avoid the movie because of this.  I had no idea what it was about before renting it, so didn't have any expectations.  For me, Chronicle is the type of movie I'll probably never watch again because it wasn't about entertainment.  It was about the story--which is the sort that sits at the back of your mind, sinking in.  It's a story I'll think about for a long while.

My one gripe with the movie is the way it's filmed.  The whole thing is done as if it were found footage, meaning the camera is always being controlled by one of the characters documentary style.  Towards the end, when the story spreads out from the three boys, some of the footage is taken from security cameras throughout Seattle.  It makes it hard to really develop the characters this way, but it's at least an original way of telling a superhero tale.  I would have preferred if it had been done more like District 9--documentary style to begin with, but transitioning into a traditionally filmed movie.

Chronicle is PG-13, and didn't have much in the way of language or sexual content.  Check it out because of its story, but don't expect to sit down for a popcorn flick.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes is the first novel by James S.A. Corey, who just happens to be two dudes named Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck.  Abraham has written many books, while this is Franck's first (as far as I understand it).  I'm glad these two decided to team up, because LW is a very entertaining space opera, the likes of which I haven't read in a long while.  Everyone needs to read this book!

The book begins with Julie Mao, a rich Earther turned Belter sympathizer, incarcerated in a closet aboard the Scopuli.  The unpleasant sounds of crew mates being tortured around her are all she knows for several days.  Then silence.  When she finally gets the nerve to find out what's going on, she breaks out of her prison and discovers that everyone on board is dead... sort of.  I won't say more, but this creepy prologue sets off a chain of events that kept me glued to my iPod for twenty-something hours of sci fi bliss. 

Besides the prologue and epilogue, LW sticks with two pov's: Holden and Miller.  The chapters switch back and forth between them, spreading out screen time equally.  Holden is the XO on an ice freighter, returning from the ice fields of Saturn's rings.  He and his crew stumble upon the Scopuli and wind up in the middle of a conspiracy that could cost them their lives.  Miller is an aging detective given a missing person case; turns out, Julie's family wants her to come home.  It isn't long before Miller and Holden find themselves on the same path, trying to figure out what happened on Julie Mao's ship. 

I don't want to spoil any more of the fun.  All of the story takes place within our solar system, as FTL hasn't been discovered yet.  LW is full of action, great characters, and cool settings.  The tech is absolutely believable based on the world we live in today.  I can't tell you how happy I was when real-life physics came into play and ships weren't flying around like WW II fighter planes.  The ships get the shit kicked out of them in battle, the vacuum of space makes for very dangerous circumstances, and human relations are at an all-time low with Earthers, Martians, and Belters in a three-way slugfest.

There are Mormons.  I got a kick out of this... being one and all.  I usually hold my breath whenever members of the church are described in fiction.  The vast majority of people seem to be ignorant of us, and tend to treat us unfairly.  I can happily say that Abraham and Franck--besides referring once to members of the church as zealots--don't take shots at the church.  They only add more flavor to their story by including Mormons in it. 

The setting: Mars has been colonized, and is in the process of being terraformed.  Because of the difference in gravity, Mars-born humans are shorter and wider than Earthlings.  Colonies have also reached the outer planets and asteroid belt.  Humans born out there are tall and skinny because of low gravity.  I love how the different settings have affected mankind, and it makes for great tension between the different factions.   

I got into a bit of trouble on Twitter the other day.  I was part way in to LW and tweeted, "Not sure it's worthy of a Hugo nom... but it's entertaining anyway."  Daniel Abraham got my tweet apparently, ( I didn't include his @AbrahamHanover in the message) and tweeted me back saying "entertaining anyway" was fine by him.  He seemed--as much as anyone could, while communicating through 140 character texts--totally cool with my offhanded comment.  Thing is, I felt like a bit of a twit afterward.  I reconsidered and thought about this year's Hugo noms.  I've only read one of the others on the list--George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons.  I honestly enjoyed Leviathan Wakes so much more than Martin's latest.  So why shouldn't it be a Hugo contender?  It hit all the right buttons by its ending.  I will never again tweet about a book until I've finished it!

This review is getting overly long, but I've got to say one last thing.  I expected the current fad of gray moral characters to be the type to populate LW.  Abraham and Franck surprised me, however.  Holden and Miller are good.  Neither are perfect, and they certainly make some serious, serious mistakes, but inside... where it counts... they are good.  I really appreciated this about them.  I can only hope that the characters Corey team has created continue on this way.  Thanks, guys, for a great story.  Everyone read this, and pick up the sequel when it hits shelfs at the end of June.

Leviathan Wakes gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.                                         

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yes I Did!

So... I bought myself some toys.  That's right.  Legos.  Lord of the Rings Legos.  How cool is that?
I couldn't help it.  When I saw they were making these a couple months back, I knew I'd snag some as soon as they hit shelves.

I realize that I'm revealing my inner geek and I'm okay with it.  Freak'n Lord of the Rings Legos!

My wife rolled her eyes.  I told her it could have been worse.  There are, after all, several sets that cost $80 or more, and I didn't buy those ones.  Yet.  I certainly will, one of these days.  I can't just have that little wall for my Rohirrim to guard!  I need Helm's Deep!                                                                                          
I'm sure hoping there will be more sets soon.  It wouldn't be right for them to give the world these wonderful creations without giving us Bag End, Minas Tirith, Orthanc, Minas Morgul, or Edoras.

Thank heaven I married a woman who lets me be me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Digging through the trash

When I was sick in bed with a 103 degree fever a few weeks back, I had a lot of time to think.  As it turns out, I thought mostly about writing.  Go figure.  Anyway, I thought a lot about the projects I am currently working on (a total of 7 different books), and tried working through some of the problems I've been running in to.  The last book I was thinking of--the one I wrote 126,000 words on before quitting--turned out to be the one I pondered most.

I've never liked that I gave up on something I'd spent so much time on.  It took me nearly two years to get to its current word count, taking it through five drafts which were each rewritten from scratch.  (The curse of the discovery writer.)  In total, I probably wrote 210,000 words on this.  That's a huge, huge book for you non writers out there.  So to my point: I've started to do some triage on this untitled book, and what I'll come away with will, I think, turn out to be a 70,000-80,000 novel about a fifteen-year-old squire caught up in a religious war.  I've decided to lose all view points other than Pierre's, and to fix the story so that it is YA sword and sorcery, rather than adult high fantasy.

This book isn't top priority, but after cutting all of Pierre's story out from the main plot line, I have 48,000 words to work with.  It will all have to be heavily rewritten, since I've come a long way in the last two years.  It 's a solid 3/4 draft, though, and will be fun to flesh out when I'm at a creative impasse on my works in progress.

Just goes to show that a writer should never throw out old material.  You never know when something is going to fall into place... or when you're going to have a ridiculous amount of time on your butt in bed with a fever.    

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Desert Spear

The Desert Spear is the sequel to The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett, and takes several chances as a sequel that I'm not sure I liked.  The major one being that the first portion (almost a third) doesn't even feature the main characters from the first book.  When I started it I wanted to get back to the characters I'd come to love in TWM.  I was forced to wait for nearly 8 hours of audio before Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer got some stage time.  That being said, I still liked the book, if not quite as much as the first.

TDS starts off by jumping back in time, telling the story of Jardir and his rise to power among this world's pseudo-Islamic people.  He is a bit of a villain in the first book, and so it is interesting to gain perspective on his life and culture.  I came to appreciate him for the man he becomes.  Again, though, I wasn't really looking to be introduced to another protagonist.  Those introduced in The Warded Man were enough for me.  I suppose this is a case of the story the author is telling vs. the story I want him to tell.  Luckily, Brett is a great storyteller and I was able to overcome my annoyance with the way he developed things.

In TWM I was fairly certain Arlen, the main protagonist, was the Deliverer, returned to save mankind from the Corelings.  Now, though, I'm not so sure.  Jardir claims to be the Deliverer, while Arlen wants nothing to do with the title.  I really like that Brett is defying expectations.  He's using familiar fantasy tropes, but twisting them.  It makes for pleasant surprises.

(SPOILER ALERT) One twist in particular was the relationship between Leesha and Jardir.  There was a chance Leesha would marry Jardir and become a part of his harem.  It seems it isn't going to work out, but I was actually hoping for it after they'd spent time getting to know one another.  This would have been the ultimate surprise.  I'm still crossing my fingers for it in future volumes. (END OF SPOILER)

One thing I thought interesting: Jardir reminds me a lot of Dave Farland's Raj Ahtan.  I don't know if Brett has read The Runelords, but they are very similar characters... except that Jardir isn't a bad guy in my eyes anymore.  He appears to be the man Raj Ahtan could have been.  We'll have to wait for future books to find out how he turns out.

If you've read The Warded Man you have to continue with The Desert Spear.  The story doesn't move forward all that much, but it certainly deepens and sets the stage for book 3.  The fights with Corelings get tedious at times... there's only so many interesting ways to kill demons, but this is the major conflict in the series, so I don't know how to get around it.  The introduction of mind demons and mimics does help, and I'm eager to find out about more Coreling princes.  Also, I'd like to read more about Jardir's people subjugating the northerners, but I'm assuming that's what the next book (The Daylight War) will cover.

I give The Desert Spear 3.5 stars out of 5, if only because I didn't like it as much as the first, so can't award it the same score. (Maybe 3.75)      

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why we read

Dave Wolverton/Farland is an amazing writing instructor.  I've been lucky enough to spend a bit of time with him as I've attended his workshops and presentations at local conventions and seminars over the years.  Every time I hear him speak about writing I gain new insight.  Another thing I was reminded of by him at this latest workshop is why people like to spend time with their noses in stories.  It has helped me understand my own love of fiction, but also how I as a writer can best craft a tale that will capture the imagination of readers.

The main reason Dave gives for readers reading is stress relief.  Not a huge revelation really.  I think a lot of people would mention this as a reason for spending time in stories.  It isn't enough to simply know this as a writer, however.  You have to analyze what types of stress people are feeling in order to create something that will truly help your audience escape real life problems.

First, in order to relieve stress you have to build it up.  Yep, that's right.  Your readers have come to you to give them an escape, and you're going to make things a whole lot more tense and frustrating.  Think of Frodo (because classic examples are best) in The Lord of the Rings.  When you first meet Frodo, life is pleasant and happy.  The Shire is quiet and quaint, the hobbits cute, hairy-footed people.  Tolkien painted a picture for his readers to dive into.  He gave them a desirable setting they could lose themselves in.  What if the only thing that happened in the book was Frodo throwing Bilbo a party?  Would anyone have bothered reading if he never left the Shire?  Possibly... because there are always those weirdos out there... but the story wouldn't have struck such a chord with readers if Frodo just chilled at home in his hobbit hole.  Tolkien had to throw the Nazgul at his happy setting, had to send Frodo in a deathly race away from his home.  Frodo had to find out that the neat little heirloom Bilbo had left for him was in fact the item of power the world's dark lord most desired.  Frodo's life became extremely stressful, folks.  And that is what makes his story worth reading.  Things are so difficult for Frodo that readers can say, "Wow, the stress in my life ain't half as bad," thus being relieved.

As a writer you have to take your readers' emotions on a roller coaster ride.  The way to do this is by putting your lovable characters through hell.  When your character comes off successful at the end of the story (yes happy endings are a must), your readers will feel a very real sense of relief.  You as the author will hopefully put them through so much with your characters that when they leave your book and return to real life, they'll feel lighter because their own world is a cake-walk compared to the one you made up.  Not every story does this, but all of the greats do.

So writers, go forth and ratchet up the stress for your readers!  Try and make them weep and scream.  Make them laugh and ponder the deeper issues we as human beings face, like faith and honor, hope and love.  Don't let up on their emotions until the last page, so that when they put your book down they'll be ready to tell all their friends about it.  And then you can write another story better than the first.              

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I usually avoid films that get terrible reviews... at least I avoid them in the theater.  I'm a sucker for sci fi films, however, and so took the time to catch Lockout at the dollar movies.  Turned out to be a dumb decision, despite the cheap ticket.

Lockout is about a maximum security prison orbiting Earth.  How they justify the cost of putting criminals in space jail is unexplained.  Would have been nice to give us some reason for doing it.  The President's daughter pays a visit to the prison to make sure that the inmates are, in true liberal idiocy, being treated humanely.  Turns out the dudes locked up are pretty bad, and one makes an escape during inspection, and takes hostage the girl and prison staff.  Nice one, chick.  Should have just let the baddies rot in space.

Our hero, played by the under appreciated Guy Pearce (although if he were to be judged by this performance he deserves to be forgotten), is a lovable rogue, caught up in some business with the Secret Service.  He gets sentenced to 30 years prison time, and wouldn't ya know, turns out to be the only bloke willing to go after the damsel in distress.  As a side note, I'd like to point out that it is really freak'n stupid to have the head of American Secret Service speaking english with some sort of slavic accent.  Doesn't feel right, just saying.

This movie looked cool in the trailer.  It really did.  Someone, critic or marketer, tagged the film as "Die Hard meets Blade Runner."  Sounds like an awesome mash-up.  Problem is, it was all Die Hard, no Blade Runner, and only a lousy knock off at that.  Lockout is an "original idea" from Luc Besson, who gave us The Fifth Element. (I liked TFE, still do... even if it is terrible.)  Yeah right.  Show me original.  From the characters, setting, and plot, I'd say he "borrowed" from loads of other, better-made flicks.

Stuff gets blown up, bad guys get wasted, hero delivers snarky one-liners, and chick is a tough, can-do-it-all-by-myself sort of gal.  It could have been fun.  It wasn't.  Don't waste your time on this bit of garbage.

One last dumb thing I'd like to point out... okay, two dumb things: 1. cell phones in the future probably won't look like the iPhones we have today.  I'm betting they'll be implanted in our heads so we don't have to carry anything with us to use them.  If you're gonna do a sci fi film, at least take the time to have some cool tech.  2. One-wheeled motorcycles are stupid.  Come on.  How the hell would that even work, you lazy movie makers?  If you're going to give me some hover tech b.s., why wasn't the motorcycle just a hover bike?  Look out world, this hero rides a really fast unicycle.  Ooo, he's bad.    

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pandora's Star

I let a week go by without posting mostly because I didn't have anything to post about.  Also, though, I spent last weekend in bed, with a fever around 103.  Lots of fun.  Anyway, I'm mostly recovered and functioning normally, and have another book to review.  So here goes.

Pandora's Star, by Peter F. Hamilton, is a massive, ambitious, cool space opera.  I've never read anything from Hamilton before, and am glad I got this audiobook on a whim.  If you love epic storytelling, on a truly galactic scale, Pandora's is something to look into.

The book begins with a great bit of humor.  I still smile when thinking about the scene.  This is how it begins: It's around 2080, and the first astronauts are landing on mars.  It's a huge accomplishment for NASA and the human race.  Wilson Kime, the Mars mission pilot, sets foot on the red planet and discovers that he isn't, in fact, the first man to walk on an alien world.  Two hippies have beaten the NASA team there, and one is waiting for them in a home-made spacesuit, with the greeting, "Yo, dudes, how's it hanging?"  Kime and the astronauts are shocked speechless.  

The rest of the story picks up 300 years later.  Space travel was halted before it ever began, thanks to the two hippies, Nigel and Ozzy.  Humanity has spread throughout the stars via wormhole generators, which the two Californians created.  They've become the wealthiest men in the Common Wealth--600 worlds colonized and settled by mankind.  That's right, they're still alive 300 years later.  Not only have wormholes been created to travel faster than light, but the human body can be rejuvenated, so that no one need pass from mortality.  Family dynasties now rule the galaxy, ever increasing their wealth, power, and influence.  Capitalism has thrived in Hamilton's future.

The plot of the book is set when an astronomer witnesses the disappearance of a large star, called Dyson Alpha.  It is totally unexplainable, as the star didn't go supernova and explode.  Eventually, the government of the Common Wealth decides to send a starship to investigate.  Wilson Kime--the only living starship pilot--is offered the captaincy, by none other than the hippie who screwed him on mars three centuries before.

There are so many subplots in Pandora's Star that I can't remember them all.  There is a terrorist organization opposed to the mission to Dyson Alpha, claiming an alien is manipulating humanity into releasing some unknown terror.  There is a police investigator investigating things.  There is a fanatical warrior who falls in love with a powerful Common Wealth woman.  Ozzy (one of the two who discovered wormholes) sets out on a weird journey following "paths" among the stars, created by elf-like aliens.  Like I said: lots of subplots.  Most of them intersect with the main plot at one point, but a few are left unfinished for the sequel, Judas unchained.  Each storyline is filled with interesting people, usually doing interesting things.  There were some slow chapters, but the overall pace of the book moved along at an entertaining speed.  (That isn't to say this was an action-packed book.  It wasn't, but you don't always need a crap-load of action to have a good pace.)

I liked the book.  Like it enough that I will definitely be reading the sequel... especially since Pandora's Star is only half of the story.  It ends with several cliffhangers, which would probably be annoying if the second and final book wasn't already published.  Since it's out, however, all that is needed to finish the story is me getting the next half.  

John Lee narrated the audiobook.  He's narrated lots of popular novels, like Pillars of the Earth, and George R.R. Martin's A Feast for Crows (which has sense been re-recorded because Martin's fans booed a new narrator on the series's fourth book).  Needless to say, he's a great reader.

Pandora's Star gets 4 stars out of 5, and has a content warning for adult language and sex.  If epic space operas are what float your boat, you won't be sorry for checking this one out.  Also, catch my review of The Prefect, by Alastair Reynolds.  Both books are in the same vein.           


Thursday, May 3, 2012


I love westerns.  Always have.  For what ever reason, though, my love for the genre usually doesn't extend to fiction.  I don't know why, but I haven't found many westerns that I've loved reading.  Films... I'll watch a western film every night of the week, and then re-watch them the next week.  Ask my wife.  She loves it.  Anyway, I picked up Brimstone, by Robert B. Parker, on disc from the library, and finished it in two listening sessions.  (It's really short.)  It's about what I expected it would be, good and bad.

Brimstone is book three of a series that started with Appaloosa.  (Resolution is book two.)  I've read Resolution, but never Appaloosa.  The film adaptation of Appaloosa is probably my favorite western of all time, and I didn't want to spoil it by reading the book.  Great movie.  Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are perfect on screen.  (Played by Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen.)  I never wanted to spoil the film by reading the book, and that's why I started with book two.  I've only said all of this so that I can tell you I think the movie does a better job at portraying the relationship between Cole and Hitch.  There are things film can do very well that books can't, like the subtle facial expression that pass between Cole and Hitch.  On paper, their exchanges are very dull.  Here's an example: (the books are told in first-person, from Everett's point of view.)

    Virgil looked at me.  "What you think we should do?" he said.
    "Don't know," I said.
    "Don't know?" he said.
    "Nope," I said.
    Virgil looked away from me and we stared at the dusty road.

I made up the dialogue there, but I kid you not, that is how boring the exchanges are throughout Brimstone.  And the said, said, said, said, gets old fast.  Despite this, I still find Cole and Hitch fascinating characters.  I'm a bit baffled by it myself.  The plot of Brimstone is laughable, there aren't any reversals or twists at the end.  Cole and Hitch do exactly as they say they're going to do, and everything works out perfectly.  But they are still enjoyable to spend time with.

I suggest watching Appaloosa before reading any of the books.  That way, you'll picture Harris and Mortensen in your head as Cole and Hitch, and you can imagine the expressions that pass between them during their dry dialogue.  If you love westerns like me, Brimstone might do it for you.  But you have to love the characters to enjoy the book.  It is character-driven nearly to a fault.

Brimstone gets 2.5 stars out of 5.  If I were reviewing the Appaloosa film... lets just say there ain't stars enough to give.