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

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.