Archive for June, 2012

How do you do fantasy different? How do you take one of the oldest of our genres and make it feel different? How can you stand out among legions of Tolkien devotees? A good start is being Saladin Ahmed.  His debut has gathered a lot of buzz since it dropped back in February and I couldn’t fight it. I gave in to hardcover. Scandalous, I know, but well worth it.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is now! Inside the flap time! That’s right, I said inside the flap! This is hardcover territory after all and there’s a lot of space on those flaps. Let’s make it happen.

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and savings lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, is a hidebound holy warriors whose prowess is matched only by his piety. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of her Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the lionshape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time – and struggle against their own misgivings – to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

So first impressions. If anyone out there is working on being a writer in their own right and is having trouble with an opening chapter, look no further. Throne is an amazing example of a first chapter, a serious hook that will propel you on to chapter four before you recover from that first one. Following this excellent hook, the novel has a pacing I this is more spot on than a lot of stuff I’ve read. Even in the most intense moments, there’s something small to keep it from becoming too much, a breath of fresh air to make it feel more real. Leading up to the Final Confrontation, Adoulla drops a joke. I laughed out loud and the little bit of inanity in this super serious time of the book. The loud laughter was sleightly awkward because I was at work, but damnit, they’d laugh too. I won’t ruin in here, but you’ll know what I mean when you find it. It’s a perfect example though of the delicate balance between those moments and the dramatic and intense.

That’s just straight up good writing. What about the genre stuff? That’s where a lot of the buzz has been coming from. Well clearly, it is an Arabia based fantasy world rather than a medieval England based world. That’s huge. I can count on one hand how many faux-Arabias I’ve read before this. One was a seroiusly dated Gary Gygax penned novel which was just a DnD campaign without the THACO tables. Ru Emerson’s Night Threads books had some Arab based settings but only partially. I can’t even think of anything beyond that so getting this fresh setting not normally seen in American genre books is like walking into a candy story and finding out there’s something other than chocolate and vanilla. It’s the kind of thing I actively seek out and find hugely enjoyable like Kylie Chan’s Hong Kong or the Russia out of Night Watch. So it’s Arab instead of English. How does it stack up? Awesomely. The city of Dhamsawaat is almost a character in itself. I’d put Dhamsawaat in the same category as Camorr or King’s Landing.

Setting only goes so far. What else does Throne bring to the table? Ahmed gives us a fresh perspective on character. Adoulla is sixty. Epic fantasies are the realm of young untested warriors setting out to make their way in the world. Not here. Adoulla has two young’uns under his wing but this is his story, he is our reluctant hero. I don’t mean reluctant because he’s unsure of himself and if he can save the world. Adoulla has saved the world dozens of times, he’s more than comfortable with himself. Well… not the aches and pains of a body betraying him with age. He’s reluctant in that damnit he wants his tea. He’s at times crude and surly (I have a special affinity for surly) but when push comes to shove, gets the job done anyways.

And his young’us are tormented by their own demons, those figurative ones in between fighting the real ones. Zamia’s entire tribal band is slaughtered while she’s supposed to be their protector. Raseed is rightously strict with his holy vows as a dervish. But they’re both teenagers who don’t really feel happy about making eyes at each other but they do anyways. Yeah, teenagers making awkward eyes at each other is a story as old as time, but it works in this setting with these characters. They both feel bad about making eyes at each other and keep themselves from doing it. Emotions denied make for better stories than people getting what they want.

Oh hey the ghuls! I’ve been going on and on and haven’t even touched on them yet. They’re right proper Arabian ghuls and just as mean and nasty as you could want. The action flows without ever relying too much on one character’s strengths. There’s a lot of back and forth between Adoulla’s magic, Raseed’s swordplay and Zamia’s animal maulings. The plot that these enjoyable characters claw their way though starts out simple. “Some monsters killed this kid’s family. Go.” It’s sufficient to get things started but it mushrooms fast.

So I reined in my rambling there at the end and am trying to do so here, but I could seriously talk up the praises of this for a long time coming. And a lot of other people have done so. I am eagerly awaiting to go back to Dhamsawaat.

Flash Fiction Day

Posted: June 29, 2012 in Writing
Tags: ,

Chuck Wendig, author of the book I’m about to start, has a nifty thing he does over at his website Terrible Minds. It’s Flash Fiction Friday, which I’ve done a few times. Last one I did, I actually liked so much, I’ve polished it up and started shopping it around.

This week’s Flash Fiction Friday is a three sentence story. I like mine pretty well so you get to share it over here too. Also… Henri seems to be the insta-name I use all over the place. This is his fifth appearance. Make sure to check out the others. There’s some cool stuff happening.

Henri ran through the door at breakneck speed, stopping short with the dull jab of a gun barrel to his chest.

Angela smiled sadly as he felt her gun bruising his ribs already.

“Fuck,” one of them sighed.

Leaves of Flame

Posted: June 25, 2012 in Reading
Tags: , ,

I was chomping at the bit for Leaves of Flame by Benjamin Tate to show up in the mail since it’s the sequel to the newly Shelf of Honorized Well of Sorrows. It was the only book of the last Amazon batch that wasn’t damaged in the mail and I’ve been devouring it between feeding the infant.

No mucking about today. Back of the book time!

One hundred years have passed since Colin Harten – transformed to something more than human by the magic of the Lifeblood contained in the Well of Sorrows – used his new powers to broker a peace agreement between the human, dwarren, and Alvritshai races of Wrath Suvane. Since then all three races have greatly expanded their empires. And Colin has continuously sought ways to defeat the dark spirits known as the sukrael – and the Wraiths they have created to act for them in the physical world. Yet Colin has not been able to prevent the dark spirits from reawakening more and more Wells, thus extending their power across the lands.

Having mastered three of the five magics of Wrath Suvane, Colin has gifted each race with a magical Tree to protect them from incursions of the dark forces. He has also realized that unless a certain number of Wells are left open, their magic can never be stabilized, and the land will be torn apart by this uncontrolled force.

But now the enemy has located the one Well that is key to controlling the entire network, and if Colin can’t find a means to stop them from claiming and activating this Well, it could mean the end of all three races…

So starting off, I tend to have this thing with sequels where I go “Oh yay! Book two!” and never actually read the back of the book. Typing it out here was actually the first I read it and while I don’t think that the Back of the Book for Leaves misses some of the big selling points as much as with Well, I think there is some underselling going on here again. Now I figure that condensing a whole book down to three paragraphs has got to be a pain, otherwise I could be doing that rather than building submarines, but it seems that with Leaves it’s playing up the more traditional fantasy aspects of it. Colin is on a race to save the world! Ok that’s fantasy, but remember what I said about Wells. Thriller. That race to save the world isn’t some sort of old school D&D standard party. Leaves has more of the political wrangling (seriously, not exactly easy to make that interesting), backstabbing and conniving that the first book. The intrigue among the Alvritshai in particular take it to this to a cold war level I enjoyed the hell out of.

Speaking of the Alvritshai, we get to see a lot more of them and their culture in Leaves than we did in Well. Some of that background world building gets to come to the forefront here. Colin and a cadre of Alvritshai head to the northern wastes. There’s some mini ice age stuff going on in Wrath Suvane and the old cities of the Alvritshai are buried under glacial snow. Tate shows us the inner workings of an Alvritshai House and the shaman-chieftan relationship among the dwarren. Some of the world building set up in the first book continues along here as a set up for the finale. A lot of the “I want to know more about this” from Wells is expanded upon here to the greatest satisfaction. So this top tier world building went and build another, taller tier and set up camp there.

World building isn’t the end all and be all. That’s how you make a Dungeons and Dragons source book, not a novel. We’ve got our thriller plot and epic setting, we need the soul of the book now. Colin seems more realistically flawed here than he did in the first book. I think it is a reflection of the character’s evolution over the hundred year gap between the books. He loses touch with the world. Mistakes are made but he does what he feels is best at the time. That’s a common thing with the characters here and I’m glad. All too often, characters do what the book things they should do rather than what they feel is best. Some of the forces opposing Colin aren’t doing it out of anything evil or malignant, it’s what they feel is best.

In particular, my new favorite character is Siobhaen. She’s part of the religious Order of the Flame and gets stuck in one of the bigger moral quandaries of the book. She ends up rolling with Colin and kicking ass along the way. I know this is Colin’s story first and foremost but I’d read a whole book from Siobhaen.

Siobhaen isn’t the only new face we get in Leaves. We get chapters that follow the point of view of a dwarren shaman, a human leuitenant on the fringes of explored lands and a lot more focus with the Chosen of the Alvritshai. I’m calling this a neutral thing. The larger cast is well handled but there are some chapters that pull you away from a point of view you really don’t want to leave. A big cast like that can be a double edged sword sometimes although I think it is a well wielded sword here.

My only real drawback is Leaves has a bit of the Book Two Problem you can see coming from a long ways away. It’s the sort of thing that happens in trilogies of any medium. Hell, it’s even in Star Wars. The first installment has a self contained story arc but book two resolves bits and pieces while saving much for the third. It’s a complete non-issue when book three is sitting on the shelf ready to go, but Tate is still writing it. So this is less of a complaint and more of a “Keep going strong ’cause I’m all impatient!”

So go read the first book and then have at it with this one. This is an author to support so we can keep getting books like this for years to come. Hell, this is an author I wish was a Rhode Islander so I could talk shop over Wrath Suvane maps.

So a lot of people have harsh words for movie adaptations of books. It’s universal. I’ll bet people complained with Gone With the Wind came out saying, I don’t know, maybe they thought Rhett Butler wasn’t dashing enough. Although, it’s Clark Gable, so people probably complained he was too dashing.

I’ve been waiting for this Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter to come out so I can address this issue with a book I’ve read fairly recently. See, I’m a writer with a film studies degree. I spent four years making this stuff my bread and butter. I’ve written dozens upon dozens of papers. Some of my favorites were Akira Kurasawa’s MacBeth adaptation, Throne of Blood, my ridiculously intense analysis ofMaltese Falcon and my thesis on the films of John Frankenhimer.

I’m qualified for this. Let’s have at it now.

Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers. Oh did I mention spoilers?

Yeah, I’m not going to censor any juicy bits of the movie/book so consider yourself warned.

The short version of how I liked the movie…. I give it an A as a movie but a C- as an adaptation.

Stepping back and lookingAbe Lincoln from a fan’s point of view, it was a wild success of a movie. The pacing was steady and upbeat. The characters, particularly Lincoln himself, had solid character arcs. I loved the slightly awkward courtship between Abe and Mary. They had witty dialogue back and forth with each other the whole time. The frosting on the top of this cinematic cake are the fight scenes. The battles and fight scenes are mind blowing.

Seriously, Timur Bekmambetov could make a fight scene between a fork and a vacuum and I’d watch it. I loved his style in both Wanted and the Russian Night Watch (which was another A movie C- adaptation). The ax wielding martial arts going on in this movie is a beautiful thing. That action scene going on with the train is a wonderous bit of cinematic awesome. Over the top? Absolutely. But that’s not always a bad thing. Think of Bekmambetov’s other movies. Over the top is his staple.

So I’ll give the movie A.

But that’s watching the movie from a film guy’s point of view. As an adaptation, I was bothered by a lot.

See, some changes are inevitable. Film’s strengths lay in the visual, visceral and external. Explosions are so big you can feel them are something that only film can do. So combine that with the director’s flair for the fighting and it makes sense to play up the action parts of Abe Lincoln.

Now a book’s strengths lay in the internal and compartmentalized. The whole first act of the book is compressed into about two scenes of the movie. That’s a lot of the book to squish down but Lincoln growing up is not the meat and potatoes of the story. The important parts of his childhood are shown: being raised to find slavery appalling and his mother being taken by a vampire. Beyond that? We can do without his time as a rail splitter or the relationship with his step-mother. The core of his person is all we get because the film has a limited amount of screen time to get things done.

Even the gold standard of book to film adaptations had to skip over certain things.Lord of the Rings never showed one of my favorite parts, Tom Bombadil, on film. Even with nine hours of screen time across the whole epic, side quests had no space to develop.

So Edgar Allen Poe never gets to show his face in the film and we miss out on his childhood and that whole introduction about the modern day person finding Abe’s journals is gone. Abe’s posse of fellow vampire hunters never show up in favor of just two for the sake of centralization. Almost all of the politics are taken out of the film. I can accept these things. These omissions are literary strengths and would serve as a distraction in film.

Problem is the decisions that seriously mess with the essence of the story. These are changes that are not playing on the literary weaknesses and turning them into cinematic strengths. Here be those biggun spoilers I talked about. Abe knew about Henry being a vampire much earlier on, pretty much from the get go, in the book. It changes their relationship when he’s a vampire right away. I was glad that Henry’s reason for wanting to take out his own kind remained the same, but the mentor-student relationship is now on such different footing. It added a dramatic scene where Abe finds Henry nomming on a would-be rapist, but there is no reason to change their relationship. It has plenty of ups and downs in the book, why create more?

Mary never finds out what’s going on in the book. She doesn’t smuggle anything to Gettysberg and she certainly doesn’t shoot a lady vampire in the face with her dead son’s silver toy. Mostly she just loses her mind to grief and depression when their kid dies. She figures it out on her own in the film, she reads the secret journals that Abe writes (which we get excerpts from constantly in the book), which is keeping with her character, but it puzzled me why that would change so much. The author of the book, Seth Grahame-Smith, also wrote the screenplay so he must have felt some justification for it but I found it confusing and distracting because of its randomness.

The third seriously huge problem I have is an omission that didn’t appear in the film, but am hesitant to discuss because it’s that big of a spoiler. It’s the ultra mega spoiler of all spoilers. It’s the end of the book. See, the film ends right where Abe and Mary are about to go to Ford’s Theater. The last two pages in particular should have been in the film. They are awesome. The end of the book creates a completely different vibe and different experience than the film.

The book and the film end up being quite different from each other. Yes, I said that as an adaptation, the film gets a C-, but remember I said that by itself gets an A. The book by itself get an A as well. So if you can separate the experiences and enjoy each one for it’s own specific merits, they are both totally worthy, enjoyable and awesome thing.

The Accidental Time Machine

Posted: June 14, 2012 in Reading

Back to my normal genre stuff, this time I picked up a book that’s been on my shelf for a while. I got The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman a while back on a book run but haven’t had the right mood for a paradoxical headache that usually comes with jumping around the space time continuum. I think this may be the shortest book I’ve read all year, clocking in at a whopping 257. Ironically, it took me longer than the 800-page monster that came before it for a couple reasons. Firstly, I’ve been spending my lunch break on my writing again and the rest will come after the Back of the Book.

Grad-school dropout Matt Fuller is toiling as a lowly research assistant at MIT when, while measuring quantum relationships between gravity and light, his calibrator disappears – and reappears, one second later. In fact, every time Matt hits the reset button, the machine goes missing twelve times longer.

After tinkering with the calibrator, Matt is convinced that what he has in his possession is a time machine. And by simply attaching a metal box to it, he learns to send things through time – including a pet-store turtle, which comes back no worse for wear.

With a dead-end job and a girlfriend who has left him for another man, Matt has nothing to lose by taking a time-machine trip himself. So he borrows an old car, stocks it with food and water, and ends up in the near future – under arrest for the murder of the car’s original owner, who dropped dead after seeing Matt disappear before his eyes. The only to beat the rap is to keep time traveling until he finds a place in time safe enough to stop for good. But such a place may not exist…

That Back of the Book spiel was a mouthful, but really only does a good job of telling us about Act One of the book. This is all set up, not the meat and potatoes of the book. In the beginning, Matt is a down and out nerd. Yeah… not exactly something exciting for nerds to read about. But once things start happening and time travel goes on, Matt reveals himself as a very likeable physicist. There were a number of times where Matt could have acted like a real tool and taken advantage of Martha’s kindness, a woman he meets in the future version of Massachusetts.

Where he meets Martha in Act Two is a bit of a problem for me though. None of it is hinted at in the Back of the Book so it’s kinda spoilery. Matt lands on the New Hampshire border, it is the space-time continuum not just time, and finds out that the east coast is super duper religious. We’re talking crazy go nuts theocratic culture here. I’m going to be honest, that’s where the book bogged down for me. The world building was really awesome, I could sense all sorts of gears turning and moving behind the scenes with it. Problem is, what was left on the top to actually read about, is one of the those things that turns me off like woah.

Frankly, if it had talked about the theocracy that Martha came from on the back of the book, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered picking it up. Super oppressive religions are not something I like to read about at all whether its faux-Christian, faux-Buddhism, faux-Wiccain or just made up out of nothing.

Fortunately, Martha is cool and sticks around when they leave the theocracy. Holy hell that made me feel better when they left and it got way more interesting again. The time travel doesn’t get too paradoxical and head scratching. It had a lot of potential to do that, but I think there may have been a conscious effort by the author to keep it out of a hard sci fi realm and keep it more in a social science thing which is surprising considering Matt is a physicist. Like I said, I’m ok with that, nine times out of eleven I’m going to choose world building over tech.

So I ended up satisfied with this book. They get away from the stuff I don’t really like and we get glimpses of these futuristic worlds. While I was reading I was all good with that, and in a way, I still am. But it’s the classic “I want to see more of this aspect I’m not seeing.” But that’s one of those things I’m seeing now that I’m sitting down with my critical hat on. When I was reading it with my fan hat on, I was just thinking “Dude! Bears!”

The bear thing actually makes sense in context.

So over all, a quick fun read espicially if that theocracy thing doesn’t bother you like it usually does with me. I was left wanting more, but on the scale of horrible to awesome, it’s not hanging out on the horrible side.

Getting back to writing on writing and not just the books I’m reading, one of the topics that was floating around the blogs I read was the topic of women characters. A little more specifically, the issue of guys writing female characters.

For some reason people find this weird. It frankly baffles me a bit but I can almost fathom what some people’s thought process is. Strong women characters in SF not a thing that has ever bothered me a bit, I’ve been reading Honorverse books since I was a kid.

My own personal observations of this might be a little skewed. Much of my formative years as a reader were spent with the sci fi and high fantasy books purloined from my mother, authors like Mercedes Lackey and Marion Zimmer Bradley. But the demographics of SF are decidedly skewed towards guys. I don’t think I need to dig up any official documents to support that. Just check out the shelves. Making things worse, a number of women authors I follow have had stories of people being real jack asses to them because they’re women. I’m not intending this post to be a rant about equality and the handling of it (or lack thereof) by various people, but that’s the background of the genre. I have noticed that there are more women authors on the shelves today, but SF is still a skewed genre as a whole.

That was a bit of a rambley background there, so let’s focus more on the point. So if we’re all writers and one of the most important commandments for writers is Thou Shall Make Shit Up, why is it so uncommon for guys to write women? And this question doesn’t even address writing those women characters well.

I think it comes down to one of the first lessons writers are told.

Write what you know.

I was first told this in the first writing specific class I took in high school. My teacher was from Maine and said she went to college with Stephen King. Frankly, the bit about being from Maine was the only bit of evidence she ever shared substantiating this claim, but we were all in the fourteen to seventeen range and didn’t ask questions. My teacher attributed “Write what you know” to him, so I’ve always done the same, just with the added notes that its second hand. Because this is drummed into our heads at such an early age, I seriously think that it messes with people more than it should. “Write what you know” is the cause of all sorts of really bad angsty high school fiction.

The first couple novels I tried my hand at, the characters were just like me in a fantastical setting. Actually, they weren’t even that fantastical. The first one was an aimless twenty something guy working a crappy bartending job at catered parties who met a waitress that was actually the illegitimate princess of Brazil that just happened to be a sorceress. So can you guess what I my job was back then? And seriously, I wasn’t princess of Brazil.

“You’re talking about writing guys just like yourself!” I know, I’m getting through the subpoints to the actual point. See, my writing got a lot better when I abandoned this “Write what you know” theme. I had a class where our first serious fiction assignment was to do something “in the style of” someone else. I happened to be taking a Shakespeare class at the same time, reading Romeo and Juliet. We were on the party scene, which if I remember correctly, is Act I Scene III. I wrote a Shakespearean story about Rosaline, the woman Romeo ditches for Juliet. I wrote it from her point of view and my class did this big critique where stories were read anonymously. The most impactful piece of feedback I got was “You write like a girl.” This confused me a lot at first, but it was then explained as a compliment. Not a single person in the class thought a guy wrote it. It’s been four years and remains my favorite piece of writing I’ve ever crafted.

So I kept at it with the novel I’m working on. Two of the three main characters are sisters. Is there some sort of knack to writing women? Not in the least. But it’s helped my writing a lot. Why did it help my writing? Because they weren’t like me.

See, take “Write what you know” and throw half of it out the window. Write about things you know. There’s a reason my novel includes a lot of pirates, welding and weird tidbits of history. I know these things and can thread them in and around what I’m doing. That makes it fun for me which in turn makes it fun for readers.

Never write about who you know. At least not to start. Taking the characters I’m writing about and making them as unlike me as possible makes me stop and think about what I’m doing. Having a character be the opposite gender is a physical difference that acts as a red flag to make me slow down. Did Rosaline think in a fundamentally different way from any male character I’ve written? Not really. She got ditched by someone she cared about. That’s a pretty universal thing right there. When the characters were too much like me, it was easy to gloss over points because I know them too well.

All I had to do was … slow down. That’s it. Writing women characters well for me is no different than writing males well. Or characters comprised of computer code. Or mice. Or whatever. So there’s no knack to it. No mystical magical force or insight. Just ask my wife, I’m still pretty clueless.

This is outside my normal reading habits. Contrary to what a lot of people think of the genre reader, I do try to venture outside my normal section of the bookstore now and again. It’s very needle-in-a-haystacky for me though. I read the first Stieg Larsson book way back. Normally, when things get all big and full of hype, the hype itself turns me off them, kind of a “so big, it’s just annoying” deal. But I read it anyways, had a tough time getting through the first hundred pages, then devoured the rest of it and the second one. But I put off the third one. I have that thing I’ve mentioned before about mass market sized books. The third book was only in hardcover at the time so I dragged my feet for a real long time. Eventually I said “close enough” and got the taller-than-mass-market size.

And now I’ve finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest.

Back of the Book time!

In the conclusion of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, Lisbeth Salander lies in critical condition in a Swedish hospital, a bullet in her head.

But she’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she’ll stand trial for three murders. With the help of Mikael Blomkvist, she’ll need to identify those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she’ll seek revenge – agaisnt the man who tried to kill her and the corrupt government institution that nearly destroyed her life.

First off, remember how I said I haven’t read the other two in a long time? Like, a year and a halfish? Yeah, totally forgot that book two ended on a cliffhanger. I didn’t actually read the Back of the Book before cracking it open. I was all like “Oh! Book three, I’m all up in that.” SoHornet jumps right into things head first. I’m all for that. I like openings that start with movement and happenings.

But then bam! It gets bogged down real bad. I’m not sure if it’s a Swedish thing or a style specific to the author. I don’t come across too much non-English things translated, the Russian Night Watch books and the Japanese Battle Royale the only ones I can think of. Regardless, it slows down and gets very distracted from itself. The nature of the story requires a large supporting cast what with its conspiracies and murders and investigations, but the whole trilogy is undoubtedly at its best when it’s focused on Salander or Blomkvist. Salander, in particular, is one of the more fascinating characters I’ve read in years. The book focuses mostly on the supporting cast in the first half of the book. Ok, I can accept that. It’s still well written and a good mystery and such.

Too bad that the author clearly has an agenda. Now, a writer’s views on life and whatever seep into text whether consciously or not. And there are high profile authors I love like Orson Scott Card and China Mieville that have controvercial beliefs which turn off chunks of the audience. I like to let text stand for itself so can enjoy a book anyways as long as it doesn’t distract for the story.

As long as it doesn’t distract from the story.

I said it twice, it must be true. Larsson is all over women’s rights and such. Do not misconstrue my words, equality is a damn fine agenda to have, as long as it’s actually equality and not “let’s give someone else preferential treatment to someone else” crap. But that’s a different rant and not applicable to this because Larsson’s agenda really does seem to be about equality. The problem here is that it majorly distracts from the story. There’s the parallel plot, I can’t say subplot because it doesn’t really involve itself with the rest of the novel except in the most minimal way, involves Erika Berger, one of the other Millennium editors with Blomkvist, as she gets a new job and a stalker. It’s wickedly distracting from the story to the point where I was not only groaning aloud at a Berger chapter, but I was seriously thinking of abandoning the book if it didn’t pick up again fast. Again, don’t start thinking that I’m pro-stalker or some other nutty stuff like that.

The story is god. The story trumps all other aspects of the book and the soapboxing here just pulls me right out of the whole thing.

Fortunately, Hornet refocuses on Salander and Blomkvist when I was about ten pages from ditching the whole thing. From that midpoint, Hornet picks up a lot and becomes the fast investigative piece like the first two with minimal Berger-stalker diversions. Around the three-quarters point that bit wraps itself up completely and there’s two hundred pages of focused awesome. All the lose ends get wrapped up just the way that you want them to. Certain people make their mark, the right people get trounced and said trouncing is thoroughly satisfying.

I thought the character growth in Hornet was better than I remember from the other two, espicially for Salander. It gave a very impressive character arc through the whole trilogy and was one of the most satisfying aspects of the whole thing. Unfortunately, as a whole, I think this was the weakest of the trilogy, partly because the bar is set pretty high. It was a worthwhile read, despite the soapboxing, and I’m glad I got a proper ending to the trilogy.

Next up, The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman.

Mass Effect: Revelation

Posted: June 5, 2012 in Reading
Tags: , ,

So for this book, I’ve gone into territories that I don’t often go into and also gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes. The two are only partially related. Today’s book is Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn. I can hear you now “What’s wrong with that? I remember you going on and on about Mass Effect 3 a while back?” Well it’s a tie in book. Star Wars and Star Trek books take up shelves upon shelves in bookstores because they’re a proven commodity among nerds, but tie in books have a bad reputation for not always being the best there is.

As part of the Sixty-Four last year, I read two. Well… I tried to read two. Sooner Dead, a D&D Gamma World tie in set in Oklahoma (get the joke?), I liked. It was solid. I tried to read Homefront: The Voice of Freedom. That’s a tie in with the Homefront video game which was written by the same guy who wrote Red Dawn (Wolveriiiiines!). The story was the main selling point of that game even though the game is gathering dust. That book got technical and lame real fast and I sent it off to the used bookstore just as fast. But Mass Effect is known for it’s top shelf writing, so I figured I’d take a chance.

Before I go to far, let’s get to the back of the book so I can start dropping specifics.

On the edge of colonized space, ship commander and Alliance war hero David Anderson investigates the remains of a top secret military research station: smoking ruins littered with bodies and unanswered questions. Who attacked this post, and for what purpose? And where is Kahlee Sanders, the young scientist who mysteriously vanished from the base hours before her colleagues were slaughtered?

Sanders in the prime suspect, but finding her creates more problems for Anderson than it solves. Partnered with a rogue alien agent he can’t trust and pursued by an assassin he can’t escape, Anderson battles impossible odds on uncharted worlds to uncover a sinister conspiracy – one he won’t live to tell about. Or so the enemy thinks.

Chances are, if you’re reading this book, you’ve played Mass Effect. Ok, that’s cool. You can make some logical assumptions based off the cover of the book, not listed in the text. Saren, the villain of the first Mass Effect game, is smack on the cover. Can you guess who the “rogue alien agent” is? Also, Anderson is a primary character in all three of the games. As Revelation is a prequel to the games, he clearly lives through the ordeal. Although, the book is from 2007, the same year as the first game so when this was fresh you’d only know he was in the first.

Speaking of Revelation‘s prequel status, this book revolves around some of the really cool back story that is only hinted at in the games. Anderson starts out as Shepard’s boss in the first game and there’s a lot of talk of history between him and Saren. Then way later in ME3, Sanders makes an appearance. The game nerd in me thought it was pretty awesome to tie all that stuff in together.

But this is a book, so I’m getting out my book nerd hat now. This book is very… streamlined at times. Pieces of it move in a real quick staccato fashion where I think other books would dive a little deeper. Style has got to place a part of that, but I think the target gamer audience might have another part. But it’s not a distracting thing while I was reading it. It was the kind of thing that you realize on retrospect so I’d take it with half a grain of salt rather than the full grain.

Occasionally, Revelation degenerates into Gamer Weapon Mode. This was one of the big reasons I ditched Homefront last year. There’s a certain type of gamer who really enjoys all the nuances of guns and ammo. Now, Mass Effect is less of a shooter game than Homefront, but it still has a high armament pedigree. Revelation will throw down  with “He unholstered his pistol manufactured by yadda yadda I don’t care and knew the other guy was imposter because his weapon was made by whatever I don’t even remember manufacturers from the game.” That stuff is utterly distracting because it destroys the flow of the prose. I understand that there’s a section of this book’s audience that would loudly complain and whine if that kind of gun porn wasn’t included in the book, but that doesn’t mean I care one bit about it when I’m reading. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often in Revelation. Enough to satiate those who want it, but not enough to turn off those who don’t.

The story itself is worth of the Mass Effect name. There’s action and emotion and it’s a solid fun read. Strip this book of all its Mass Effect setting, I think it would still be a good solid popcorn read. I would compare it to a movie like National Treasure or a Clive Cussler book. It’s quick, it’s competent, it’s fun. I would recommendRevelation to someone who didn’t even have an interest in the games because it stands up on its own.

Next up… The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson


Posted: June 2, 2012 in Reading

A couple days ago I finished Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw. Yeah, I know, a couple days ago. It’s only partly laziness and the rest is the whole job and kid thing. Nonetheless, I am productive today and you can bask in the hilarity of this book.

What time is it now? Back of the book time!

In a world full to bursting with would-be heroes, Jim couldn’t be less interested in saving the day. His fireballs fizzle. He’s awfully grumpy. Plus, he’s been dead for about sixty years. When a renegade necromancer wrenches him from eternal slumber and into a world gone terribly, bizarrely wrong, all Jim wants is to find a way to die properly, once and for all.

On his side, he’s got a few shambling corpses, an inept thief, and a powerful death wish. But he’s up against tough odds: angry mobs of adventures, a body falling apart at the seams – and a team of programmers racing a deadline to hammer out the last few bugs in their AI.

Wait, what’s this you say? Programmers? Ayup. This may be the most meta book I’ve read in a long time. This book is Gamearth for the Warcraft set. Never read Gamearth? Well you should. And let me explain.Mogworld takes place inside an MMO. Our main character, Jim, is an NPC. This book owes a lot to World of Warcraft, in fact the author dedicates the book “To Blizzard Entertainment, for the three months of my life I’ll never get back.” Pfft. Three months. Amateur. Most people are lucky to get out of it with only a year.

So when I’m reading this book, my first thoughts are “Holy hell how come I didn’t know about this book already?” And it was closely followed by “Goddamnit! I already outlined this same book!”

As much as I am still pissed that I have to scrap the outline which I wanted to turn into the next novel, this book was amazingly hilarious. Seriously, if you have ever played World of Warcraft or EverQuest or any of the other myriad of MMOs that have dropped into the market over the years, you will absolutely love this. When it gets all meta, seeing player characters from the point of view of an NPC is hilarious. It points out just how much roleplaying is actually in one of these roleplaying games, and it’s not that much. When this book is showing us how we play our games from a different point of view, it’s hilariously absurd. The economics of quest rewards, and now Jim breaks it a little, is one of my favorites.

Mogworld is full of injokes, but that’s not it’s only selling points so here’s a little more of the plot and characters. The cast of characters, while they may not be the most well defined, they are comically well defined. Our inept thief, Slippery John, was already mentioned in the back of the book. Jim isn’t the only undead citizen brought forth to serve Lord Deadgrave the necromancer. Thaddeus is a priest constantly proclaiming them abominations of the lord and it’s up to him to fix all that, even though he’s undead himself. Meryl is the most chipper zombie you’ll ever see. She starts out as Deadgrave’s personal assistant and spends a lot of time putting Jim back together.

A little more of the plot… Well right from the start that’s pretty awesome too. It’s a roundabout quest for Jim to find his way back to the death which was so rudely interrupted. And it is a rather roundabout quest to the point where it would probably be a minus in a regular kind of book, but with the meta MMO theme going on here, it just keeps supporting that theme. There are reams of quests which take more and more and more steps than you really think they will, so I don’t see it bothering any readers of this book.

Speaking of readers of this book… I loved the hell out ofMogworld but it really is a niche book. Humor is very hard to do in writing, especially in genre writing. This book is chock full of humor, it’s coming fast and well executed… if you get the references. I played EverQuest for years. I played Warcraft for years. I get all the MMO tropes that are thrown around and turned upside down. If you’re not familiar with these themes, you’ll be lost and confused. But if you’ve ever dabbled in the never ending timesink that is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game… Why aren’t you reading this already? Go! Read it faster!

Next up… Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn.