Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Golden Compass, a short review



It was pretty to look at, but the story was softened too much to not frighten children like the book properly did. I give it one thumb up, 6 stars out of 10, a score of 5.5, and a couple approving nods at the uber-cool daemons. Other than that, it's sort of familiar fantasy, with the girl playing Lyra the best (and least overly dramatic) acting in the film. I'll probably pick it up on DVD just because I like Pan that much.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top 10 Videogames Not Played in 2007

I don't have any of the latest generation gaming systems. Yay, poor wins! It's just me and my Playstation 2/Nintendo DS hanging out. That's okay. I still like 'em a lot, and there's plenty of fun games to play on them. But this does mean I miss out on the big name games of year as I don't know anyone with a Wii (keep your comments and thoughts clean!), an Xbox 360, or a Playstation 3. So, I present to you my Top 10 Videogames Not Played in 2007:

10. Bioshock (Xbox 360). As a hardcore RPG fan, this one sounds yummy. A vast and rich underwater city, with role-playing elements mixed comfortably against shooting elements. Graphically, it looks stunning. I'm curious about the big dome-headed monsters and the little girls that follow them around all doe-eyed. This one hurts not to play.

9. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PS3). I play guitar and yet have never played a single one of these games. They do appeal to me, but forking over the money for the game AND the special gigantic controller make me a bit hesitant to pick these up. Still, they look like a lot of fun and from what the Internets tell me...they are.

8. Mass Effect (Xbox 360). I want to play this for the story. Epic space opera, blue-skinned aliens, and multiple dialog threads. Looks pretty, too. Alas, this is almost as far away from me as the moon.

7. Crackdown (Xbox 360). The YouTube clips of people leaping buildings in a single bound and tossing flaming cars across highways make this less-than-serious action-adventure romp look like a whole lot of fun.

6. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (Nintendo DS). Um, a portable semi-sequel to one of my all-time favorite RPGs? Thank you! This one was released a little too close to the holidays to allow my budge for splurging, but it looks interesting. Not a straightforward RPG, but one mixed with some strategy elements. Makes me think back to the good ol' days of playing Command & Conquer for hours upon hours. Only this time you probably get to control some Moogles. Win-win, I say.

5. The Eye of Judgment (PS3). Yes, I play card games. Yes, I play videogames. Yes, I've been waiting at least ten years for the perfect blend of the two to come around. Is this it? I don't know. But it sure looks like a good time, depending of course on who you are playing and how fun the rules are. Plus, Penny Arcade likes it and that's good enough for me.

4. Odin Sphere (PS2). I'm an old-school gamer at heart. Sure, one could argue this as choice as well, seeing that I choose not to spend the money of the big, fancy systems...but I really do like simple gameplay and 2D graphics. The crisp colors and amazing animation make this side-scrolling RPG desirable to me. It looks like a living, breathing piece of manga or something. Gimme, gimme, gimme.

3. Halo 3 (Xbox 360). I'm notoriously horrible at FPS games. That said, I've only ever played the single player portion of the first Halo and did moderately okay. Never tried the second one. Seemed like the trilogy's end got a lot of hype. I just sat and watched like a rock.

2. God of War II (PS2). Though I've yet to beat the final boss in the first God of War, I enjoyed everything leading up to it. The puzzles are fun, not too challenging, and a good break from the button-mashing battles. I'm a sucker for Greek mythology, and I thought about getting this one the day it came out, but thought the price tag was too steep for a PS2 game. I'll wait for this one to turn into a $20 Greatest Hit.

1. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3). This one looks to be everything I'd ever need in a videogame: an open-ended fantasy world, lots of towns and cities to visit, hours of gameplay, total freedom, magic, great graphics, replay value, you name it. Why, cruel gods, why haven't I played it yet? WHY?

There you have it. What game came out in 2007 that you want to play, but haven't yet?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Diet Soap #1 review

Oh, hey. My last review of 2007, of the genre-defying, anarchist Diet Soap #1, is now live at The Fix. Check it out!

LOTR: The Third Age

So, I bought this for $6.00 on a splurge of boredom over the weekend:



It's pretty insulting to the films, even more so to Tolkien's work, but it's mostly entertaining. In this linear-as-a-line RPG, a second fellowship follows the path of that of the original one, fighting most of the same baddies and really just making more or less of the same comments that Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, or Boromir might've made. The battle system is similar to Final Fantasy X, with characters taking turns based on actions, and the leveling up system is tediously mediocre. You gain a level, you get two points, you assign them to whatever attributes you desire. Rinse, lather, repeat.

And repetition is key here. I'm not even out of Moria yet and I've fallen comfortably into using the same battle tactics to defeat goblins and trolls. So I do that, gain a level, go to the new battle, gain a level. There's no towns to wander and shop in (isn't that, um, consider a sin in an RPG?), and everytihng is loosely tied in by cinematic movie montages narrated by Gandalf. Which, I'll admit, are nice to listen to.

I guess I'll be fighting the Balrog soon. Yeah, you know...the one that fell down the chasm. I wonder how'll EA will work that into the second fellowship's journey into sore losership.

So, $6.00 well spent? Probably not. But it gives me something to do when I don't want to do one of my 7 billion others things needing finishing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 10 Books of 2007

It's the end of the year, which means the top so-and-so lists are going to be coming out quicker than a dozen labor-abused elves toasted on extra spiked eggnog. Er, I don't know what that means. This is the first of a few lists I have brewing, and as always, mileage may vary. So many books to read, so little time to read 'em. I tried counting up how many I went through in 2007, but gave up around 55 or so. I'm going to be geeky and keep an actual spreadsheet for 2008 cause...I'm a geeky bibliophile.

Anyways, here are the Top 10 Books Read in 2007:

10. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

A girl I once knew used to joke that I'd buy any book with a dragon on the cover. I never argued with this, knowing it to be about 94.6% true. So when I discovered Tooth and Claw was not just a book with a dragon on the cover, but a book entirely about dragons...well, I forked over my cash.

A mix of Pride and Prejudice with a thousand smart, intuitive Smaugs equals a moving book about family, money, and power. I actually suggest anyone curious about this to go in with some generic expectations--dragons breathing fire at one another, caves of gold, greed ruling all--and its amazing how all that is twisted and contorted into something totally unexpected. Walton doesn't shy away from alien customs and traditions, instead embracing them and using them to fuel her characters on. My only complaint is that it became hard to truly "see" some of these dragons for more than just big, talking lizards. Still, I've read nothing else quite like it.

9. The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald.

I'm not big on romance novels, but toss some star-crossed lovers into outer space with a bunch of mysterious alien technology and a few bad-minded military members and I'm engaged.

The story is of Lieutenant Jodenny Scott leading a problematic crew and Terry Myell trying to escape past actions. Also, internal politics and Aboriginal cultural influences. The book kicks off with an explosion, continues to keep a pace filled with conflict after conflict after conflict, and does not tie everything up nice and neat in the end. Some threads will surely be examined more in its sequel, but what The Outback Stars does right is close in on the relationship between one Jodenny and one Myell. They're off-and-on, brooding about this and that, worrying about the minutiae of daily life and the stressful minutiae of daily military life, all while keeping their shit together. It's a fun time, despite some of the heavy themes. I like to think of this one as space opera with a ton of heart.

8. Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell.

Ah, this one is science fiction with an erratically pumping heart. Not a honest-to-gods direct sequel to Buckell's debut Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, at first, feels like a completely opposite experience. There's aliens keeping people as pets, dozens of spaceships, invisible armies, an escape via wormholes, and so much more. Nashara, an enhanced living weapon, may hold the key to saving humanity from the oppressive rule of the Satrapy.

Here's what I said in my review back in June: Well, Ragamuffin is fun, and with Buckell being a master of the short chapters it's a fairly fast read. I definitely suggest those that enjoy action-stuffed science fiction with a whole lot of cool to it to pick up this book right now. Postmodern space opera has never been so good. It's got a rich balance of characters, apt dialogue, and enough life-or-death moments to keep readers flipping pages.

I fully stand by that now, as well as realize that I'm itching real bad for the next book, Sly Mongoose, to come out.

7. Bone by Jeff Smith.

This took me forever to get through--not that I minded. The Bones get run out of Boneville, lost in a valley, and become integral parts in saving a land from a great and terrible evil. Plus, there's humor and a varied, engaging style of art to stare longingly at. Epic would be one word to describe Bone, as would awesome and super-duper-doo. The Bones themselves are fun, likable creatures despite their flaws; Fone Bone is blinded by love, Phoney Bone is one greedy sack of bones, and Smiley Bone is no swifter than a rock. But them, plus Ted, Rose, Thorn, Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures, and the Great Red Dragon all mesh together really well. There's never a moment where you look at the art and see a cartoon Fone Bone staring at a more realistic-looking Thorn and think, "Gee, that looks odd." Cause it doesn't. This is a must-read for any comics fan.

6. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.

This one came recommended to me from my sister, and needing a bit of young adult to fill the void that was left after I rushed through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (notably missing from this list)...I thought to give it a shot.

It's a dark science fiction story about cloning and what it means to be human, rather than an animal. Our hero is Matt, a young boy cloned from the drug lord Matteo Alacrán. He will, ultimately, play a pivotal role in shutting down Opium, a fictional country set between the United States and Mexico. Very interesting stuff, surprisingly deep for a young adult book. Meaty issues of turning poorer people into eejits (zombies), the notion of family as possession, and the constant reminder to Matt that he is nothing more than a savage beast make The House of the Scorpion a chilling, disturbing, and captivating read.

5. Gradisil by Adam Roberts.

I read this one over the summer and originally thought that I had a lot to say about it. It's epic in scope, spanning a troubled family's generation, dealing with space realty, war, and politics, focusing on murder and revenge and...but by the time I'd finished it felt like everything that could be said of Gradisil had already been written. And by better writers. So I remained quiet, despite many scenes in the book replaying silently in my head.

Gradisil is the story of the Gyeroffy family--namely Klara Gyeroffy and Hope Gyeroffy. A big part of the novel takes place in the Uplands, a settlement in the lower Earth orbit where the rich can spend voraciously and buy a docked home. The tension starts when a tenant seeking a hideaway murders Klara's grandfather in order to steal their Upland house. The book is split into three sections, with the first being the most rewarding. After that the pace is dimmed, but everything still culminates nicely, making Gradisil an excellent piece of hard science fiction, and making me even more impressed because I absolutely cannot stand hard science fiction.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert.

Well, what else can I say that I didn't already say in my review of this SF masterpiece? The worldbuilding and layering is simply phenomenal. The characters, for the most part, are intriguing, especially when Herbert already reveals most of their secrets to the reader. Sandworms are pretty cool, too.

Eh, I'll just take the summary again from my review: I really liked the world of Arrakis and its politics, but found everything fairly slow going. The story is mostly a big buildup to an end that has already been revealed to the reader by the prophecy that goes along with Muad'Dib. Too much focus on superfluous thoughts and constant questioning of everyone's intentions. Still, Dune is what it is--a classic coming-of-age story where science extends itself beyond the reach of imagination and giant spice-producing worms control the sands. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, what with all the omniscience, but still a solid read that every fan of science fiction should tackle at some point or another.

3. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia.

Hidden, underground worlds? Check. Chock full of Russian folklore? Check. Lots of neat birds? Triple check. Really, people, this is a must-read.

What I said a month ago: I was lucky enough to read this before it was released, and I've been wanting to talk about it for awhile, but...sometimes it takes time to let these things sink in. Structurally, the book is different from what I normally read. The focus, one might say, is on the woman Galina, who witnessed her recently pregnant sister turn into a jackdaw and fly away. She sets out to find Masha and the reason why this has happened. Along the way, Yakov, a quiet police detective trying to figure his shit out, joins her in the pursuit for answers. What they discover is a world beneath Moscow, a hidden place, where people hide and creatures of Russian folklore flourish. Sort of like how I enjoyed the historic legends and tales more than the true plot in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, I found the characters Galina meets underground, along with their pasts, far more intriguing than anything else in The Secret History of Moscow. Go, Father Frost! Still, the culmination of Galina's search is downright heartbreaking, making this the book that has stuck with me the hardest so far in 2007.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Marvelously written, this Ekumen novel is all about crafting a living, breathing planet brimming with odd customs and cold weather. Beautiful prose, striking images, a heartwrenching tale of love and understanding, a total flip of gender roles...this book does it all and beyond.

Here's what I wrote in October: This was good. Very, very good. A heavy read, and I'm still absorbing a lot of it. I think I enjoyed the myths of Winter and the Ekumen far more than the actually relationship between Genly and Estraven. The whole gender-changing race was quite interesting, and I can see how it would've impacted the field so effectively nearly thirty years ago. I'm glad I finally read this--though it's not the first work in the Ekumen series I've tried--and now I can say I've read four Hugo-winning novels.

1. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin.

Here it is, ladies and gents. My number one book read in 2007? Yup. I picked this up almost immediately after finishing A Clash of Kings, wanting more, more, more. Boy, did I get it! So much happens here that I can't talk about because it would spoil anyone who hasn't read it, but MAN. I thought I'd been caught off guard in A Game of Thrones yet here I was merrily reading along when WHACK someone is dead and then STABBITY another one is dead and the THWUNK dead dead dead.

This is epic fantasy at its best, where nobody is safe and the limits are pushed. Every chapter was another reason to stay awake reading, to stay up on edge, to feel nervous for whoever you were reading about whether it's a young, crippled boy or a bravely foolish mother. I'm saving A Feast for Crows for an upcoming vacation, but I doubt it could top everything that happened here. Which, if you haven't picked up on it yet, is a lot of shtuff. Martin writes with an attentive eye to detail, something that I appreciate and a technique that truly helps to immerse the reader into his world of Westeros. Fantastic all around.



Honorable Mentions
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Selling Out by Justina Robson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult


Well, there you have it. Go on, tell me I'm wrong.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Word of the year

"w00t" is named the word of year by Merriam-Webster Inc., and all I have to say to that is: Ha, you bunch of grammar n00bz just got pwned big time!

But seriously, w00t? I use it all the time, but that doesn't make it good.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Not dead

Hi, blog readers (all four of you). No, I'm not dead. Just very busy, both mentally and physically. Will try and post some things soonish. Blah blah blah...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All things published in 2007

So, everyone seems to be doing this. Here's what I had published in 2007:

Fiction
Nonfiction
  • Way too many book reviews and short fiction reviews at FantasyBookSpot, Tangent Online, and The Fix


I'm pleased with the year, and there's some leftovers that have sold and should hopefully be published in 2008. Onward like a thing that moves on...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Latest draft, yay

Well, taking a break from the novel tonight to reach first draft on a new short story, "The Working Girls," at 2,477 words. There's some suck in it still to remove, but it's nice and weird and a little homage to some people I once knew. No worries, they'll never figure it out. I promise you that.

Dang, it felt good to write something not set in a magical city of undead people for once in a long time. I will get back to the novel now that I've gotten this out of my system.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Crap Man

Okay, Tin Man sucks. Giving up after 17 minutes. Bad acting, bad dialog, bad plot points. I'd rather be reading...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The final stats

Well, November is over...and with it NaNoWriMo. I did not win. Then again, I did not do NaNoWriMo. I did National Writing Month (or NaWriMo for those that can't get enough acronyms in their daily lives), the goal being to simply write every day for thirty days. I set a minimum of 500 words a day, knowing that if I hit that I'd net myself a nice 15,000 words to the novel-in-progress.

Here's my numbers:

Day 1 2,273
Day 2 1,053
Day 3 1,046
Day 4 533
Day 5 2,367
Day 6 1,539
Day 7 514
Day 8 1,765
Day 9 913
Day 10 562
Day 11 553
Day 12 1,005
Day 13 586
Day 14 590
Day 15 1,354
Day 16 606
Day 17 0
Day 18 548
Day 19 524
Day 20 524
Day 21 646
Day 22 516
Day 23 584
Day 24 554
Day 25 723
Day 26 516
Day 27 505
Day 28 568
Day 29 603
Day 30 572
Total 24,642

Not bad, I say. Only missed writing one day and I blame that on beer, bars, and Philadelphia. Towards the end of the month the writing got harder as I edged closer to the final section of the book because everything before it was just push, push, pushing forward. Once I got there I had to actually sit down and think about some of the happenings and how to make them work. But I'm glad I did it...and I'm happy to take a little break from forcing myself to write every day. Sometimes I just don't want to, especially with the 9 billion other things I try to do.

Anyways, that's that.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dune - Review

Dune by Frank Herbert

A quick summary stolen from the back cover: Here is the novel that will forever be considered a triumph of imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad'Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family--and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

How I'd sum it up to another reader: It's the story of a boy believed to be the One, you know, the legendary Muad'Dib that will lead the Fremen of Arrakis to freedom. Plus, take revenge on those that sought to destroy his father and family. There's some sandworms and drugs and dueling, along with the creepy child and even creepier telepathy power scenes. Still, from the get go, Herbert lays the foundation of what is to happen and sees it through all the way to the end.

The cover sez and shows: An aerial shot that would make the Discovery Channel proud of some sand and a few people shuffling about in it. Lots of black, and then there's the word dune all nice, right justified, and purple. Evidently, this is a masterpiece as well. A supreme one, eh?

Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Absolutely zero unless folks out there would like to argue whether Mentats or Bene Gesserits are considerably wizardly. I'd say no, but that's just me. And sandworms are not dragons though I'd love to see a battle between such things, oh yesh. A fanboy can dream...

Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Surprisingly, and I mean really, really surprisingly, nothing too difficult here. Sure, I found myself stumbling over Paul-Muad'Dib and Thufir Hawat occasionally, but not even Lisan al'Gaib or Gaius Helen Mohiam could give me pause. That's right, nothing can stop me now!

Best part: Besides a main character named Paul that is more than emperor material? I dunno. The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is kind of kickass...in a cruel way. He's the sort of villain you love to hate. And not just because he has a vividly obvious sexual love for young men. His death (spoiler on a forty-year-old book!), sort of fitting, mostly awesome.

Worst part: Initially, I was really put off with the fact that we could be in every character's head all at once, but slowly got over it. I didn't like Jessica thinking about traitors in one paragraph to have Hawat revealing a deep secret in the next. Then, towards the end, I just found it annoying. I guess I would've liked a little more mystery.

Random thoughts and theories: I still don't know if I fully understand Bene Gesserit. The women in Dune are so cold and bitter, even Chani who Paul will come to love. Despite the women having a lot of Mentat powers, this is a very manly book. Men are the leaders, men give the orders, women are not to be trusted blah blah blah. Plus, Fremen adopting a sick tradition of cannibalism by taking a dead's "water" freaked me out. Truthfully, it might never stop freaking me out.

If said book could smell like any scent: Spice, spice, spice! Orange melange! The beach! SAND!!! Man, this one was too easy to answer.

If said book was a ride in Disneyland it would go like so: It would totally be a roller coaster. First, you wait in line with a bunch of blue-eyed freaks then, after swiping your ticket, you run across a heap of sand and hop into a maker (a.k.a. sandworm) cart and go from 0 to 70 mph in under four seconds.

If in school its grade would be: B+

Come on, write us a haiku:
The Voice, making him
Steer the maker, go Paul go
Spice is really nice

Overall, y'all: I really liked the world of Arrakis and its politics, but found everything fairly slow going. The story is mostly a big buildup to an end that has already been revealed to the reader by the prophecy that goes along with Muad'Dib. Too much focus on superfluous thoughts and constant questioning of everyone's intentions. Still, Dune is what it is--a classic coming-of-age story where science extends itself beyond the reach of imagination and giant spice-producing worms control the sands. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, what with all the omniscience, but still a solid read that every fan of science fiction should tackle at some point or another.

Books I might or might not compare to: Er, other Dune books most likely, maybe Grass! by Sheri S. Tepper

Some linkage:
Behind the scenes stuff, or, more matter to the point, everything you might ever need to know about Herbert's world

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Huh, how about that?

I just reached the point in the novel-in-progress (which I'm not talking about yet) where Microsoft Word has informed me that there are too many spelling errors for it to keep track of. Nice! Personally, I was getting tired of seeing those squiggly red lines every time I typed a character's name. Don't blame me for their spelling, Microsoft Word. Blame fantasy as a whole.

Latest purchases

While home over the Thanksgiving weekend, I went to the local library to check out their book sale. Here's what I got for a grand $0.75, which, truthfully, came from the cup holder in my mother's car. Yes, I'm that poor, people...
  • Misery by Stephen King
  • Momo by Michael Ende
  • Carson of Venus (Pirates of Venus/Lost on Venus) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I'm mostly interested in seeing how Momo compares to the Neverending Story, if it can at all.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Truth & Consequences" thoughts

Well, Heroes is still slowly getting a bit more interesting while retaining all the shtupid sludge that is teenage love drama, stolen comic books, and overly dramatic one-two lines that needed to be scrapped as soon as they were conceived. Still, things I liked:
  • Sylar killed someone! He's always more watchable when he's most primal
  • A woman keeping a shotgun in her peaceful garden
  • Elle spilling her slurpie, classic n00b mistake when staking out prey
  • Adam Monroe and that sneaky smile he wears with pride, how can you not like him
  • Mr. Muggles, watching quietly in the distance as HRG's ashes are laid to ocean, all while continuing to plot the end of Claire's stalker boyfriend existence
Things that sucked like a vacuum:
  • Um, the New Orleans chick? Does she even have a point? Her powers and storyline have absolutely nothing to do with the big arc, and frankly, she's kind of annoying. No one steals comic books anyway. Those thugs really wanted Micah's kickass Jansport backpack. Duh.
  • Nikki. Please, please, please let her take a needle to the neck in this short season's finale "Powerless"
  • Alejandro's one little moment of speaking English, used to show the audience that darn it he means business
  • HRG and his silly whining
  • This episode needed more Mr. Muggles
  • Maya hooking up with a mother-killing mofo, that's just kind of creepy, even by Sylar standards
I'm interested to see just how much they squeeze in the season's finale episode but I doubt it'll be much to get excited about. Personally, they never need to tell me what happened to the New Orleans chick. Everybody knows that when you get taken away in a windowless van, you don't come back. Right? Though a showdown between Hiro and Peter is enough to keep me curiously guessing which two "heroes" will fall. I guess Alejandro wasn't a "hero." He fell with a knife in his chest and NO ONE CARES HA HA HA YOUR SISTER IS MORE IMPORTANT WONDER TWIN #2.

Meh, I just wasted too much time thinking about all this...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Um, I read books

Here's some that I've tackled lately and not-so-lately...

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. In the world of dragons, it is a tradition for family members to eat the dead body of their parents when they've passed. Unfortunately for Bon Agornin's children, Illustrious Daverak, a greedy son-in-law, eats more than he was allowed. This is most upsetting, and eventually the dragon will be taken to court for compensation. Then there's a lot--and I do mean a lot--of drama concerning blushing dragons and the acquiring of gold, gold, gold. Politics get in the way, as is to be expected, and there's even some romance amongst the great creatures of lore. Though the book is somewhat based off Anthony Trollope's Victorian novels, there isn't much else out there like it. Fun, original, and interesting non-human characters make this a must-read. Alas, the book is out of print at the moment, I believe.

Scar Night by Alan Campbell. Deepgate, a magical city that hangs over a great abyss, is nothing at all like the kid-friendly Sanctaphrax in The Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart. So the book deals with a slew of characters: boy-angel Gill, the crazed Carnival, the poisoner Devon, Presbyter Sypes, Mr. Nettle, the assassin Rachel, and many others. The plot boils down to a race to stop Devon from creating angelwine, a potent drink that grants longevity. Well, Mr. Nettle really only wants to kill Carnival ever since his little daughter was bled dry as a sacrifice. The city is beautifully created, and the characters, while not too deep, all have their personalities which make them interesting. Actually, no. Gill is kind of boring, very passive, very emo sitting alone in his tower room hanging out with a bunch of snails. The book is fast-paced, with some epic scenes, but I was very disappointed to discover it was not a standalone. Spoiler alert, spoiler alert...the ending is a doozy of a cliffhanger. Kind of annoying.

The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One) by Joe Abercrombie. Ah, epic fantasy. You bloated bastard. Unlike its uncles and great-grandfathers (George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, and Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series), Abercrombie's book moves blindingly fast. This is thanks to characters such as Logen Ninefingers, a brute of a savage, and Glokta, a once favored swordsman crippled into a twisted thorn. Both end up employed for the Union, and some adventures happen and people are tortured and a couple of magic spells are cast. You know the drill by now. Also, total cliffhanger ending a la Scar Night, but not as upsetting. It's grisly sword-and-sorcery, with all the staples that come with the genre, but Abercrombie does have a craft for creating engaging dialog and sympathetic characters, and it is for every single one of them that I'll be picking up the second book in the series when it is released. I do, however, hope some of the amateurish writing improves. I can only take so many "Arrrgh!" he grunted moments.

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult. Small New England town mysteries, teenage witches, a focus on rape, court room drama, and characters that make you want to dive into the pages and help them out...just because. Jack St. Bride has just been released from prison after pleading guilty to a charge of rape. He quickly takes shelter in the quiet town of Salem Falls, hoping to start anew. But within a matter of weeks, he stumbles upon a campfire in the woods where naked teenage girls are dancing for the moon, and finds himself in a whole new mess of trouble. It's a moving read, both in pace and its emotional grip, and I've found Picoult's writing to be the sort of thing that one can ease into without any trouble. Sure, some of her happenings feel a bit too convenient, and the twist at the end sort of came out of nowhere, but otherwise Salem Falls is an engaging piece that questions society on a dozen different levels, focusing on reputation and fear, and allowing the reader to judge for themselves what qualities actually make a monster.

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia. I was lucky enough to read this before it was released, and I've been wanting to talk about it for awhile, but...sometimes it takes time to let these things sink in. Structurally, the book is different from what I normally read. The focus, one might say, is on the woman Galina, who witnessed her recently pregnant sister turn into a jackdaw and fly away. She sets out to find Masha and the reason why this has happened. Along the way, Yakov, a quiet police detective trying to figure his shit out, joins her in the pursuit for answers. What they discover is a world beneath Moscow, a hidden place, where people hide and creatures of Russian folklore flourish. Sort of like how I enjoyed the historic legends and tales more than the true plot in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, I found the characters Galina meets underground, along with their pasts, far more intriguing than anything else in The Secret History of Moscow. Go, Father Frost! Still, the culmination of Galina's search is downright heartbreaking, making this the book that has stuck with me the hardest so far in 2007.

Er, I'm sure there's other books I've read and haven't commented on. I'll have to scan my shelves later and see which ones I'm forgetting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bakery, a good topic

So, as you know, I'm writing this novel thing and there's quite a few bakeries in my magical city. Why? Well, I like a nice fresh loaf of bread or honey scone just as much as the next fellow. Anyways, I needed to look something up about bakeries and thought to see what Wikipedia had to say on the subject.

Not much. But this comment, which has not been edited out yet, has just about made my night:

THIS ARTICLE ON SUCH A GOOD TOPIC SUCKS ASS. Advisor please fix/add.


Oh, Wikipedia. You silly thing.

Here's the link to the article. I hope that line never gets removed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Boring metrics

Hey, Paul! Did you write a lot over the weekend? Huh? Huh? Didya?

Nope.

Friday: 606 words

Saturday: 0 words (I blame all the beer at PhilCon)

Sunday: 548 words

Today: 524 words

Yeah, I'm basically just hitting quota and stopping at the moment. Too busy with a thousand other things to worry about. Thanksgiving break looks like it'll be relaxing, offering plenty more time to type, type, type.

Okay, time to see if tonight's episode of Heroes is any good...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Beer me strength, people

Here's what I managed for NaWriMo today: 1,354 words

Also, my review for Electric Velocipede #13 is now up over at the Fix. Go on and check it out!

Lastly, tonight is the last new episode of "The Office," and while I support the strike I think it'll be a bit sad knowing there's less to look forward to in the upcoming weeks. Well, least I'll get some reading done then.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WOTF semi-finalist

Evidently, I'm a semi-finalist for the 4th Quarter. Though the bane that is my last name strikes again! So...someone smarter than me, please tell me what this means.

Ur doing it wrong

NaWriMo wordage for the day: 590 words

Just past the quota, but I did end up writing 1,700 words for a review of Electric Velocipede today. So take that and put it on a flag!

And lastly, here's my entry to John Scalzi's LOLCreashun Contest:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sporty Spec has arrived

NaWriMo wordage for the day: 586 words



I forgot to mention that I received my contributor's copy for Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic edited by Karen A. Romanko over the weekend. It's a nicely put-together book, and I'm not just saying that because I'm in it or that my story "The Sport of Kings" is first in the lineup. Though it helps! I kid, I kid.

Featuring work by 42 authors, there's bound to be something for everyone. Though I'm not afraid to admit that me and poetry get along like snails and salt. Or am I thinking of slugs? Eh, let's move on. So far, I've enjoyed "Perpetual Check" by E.C. Myers, a planes-traveling chess story with some emotional depth, and "Hang Twenty" by Jude-Marie Green, a lighthearted tale about a surferboy, his wolf, and their time amongst the waves. I hope to get to read some more of the stories later on, but I'm very much liking what I've seen so far.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bookworm alert

Damage done on NaWriMo today: 1,005 words

I finally finished reading The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie yesterday. I'll be saving my thoughts on the book for a real review, but it was slow reading. 432 pages of dialog, description, and action had nothing to do with it. I've just found myself not reading as much before bed...or any other time during the day. Spring and summer weather is my favorite reading weather, but the colder it gets the more I just want to cozy up with a blanket, some hot chocolate, and watch a flick.

At the moment I'm enjoying Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult. I've found her pacing and characters to be right up my alley, making the book go fairly fast. Then I'm off to tackle two Hugo-winning books one after the other: Dune by Frank Herbert and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.

After that I'm unsure of what I want to read next, which is...odd. There's probably a good 50 or more books in my apartment that I haven't gotten to yet. But where to begin? Oi, the trouble with being a bookworm...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Third marker passed

Well, here's my NaWriMo metrics for the last three days.

Friday: 913 words

Saturday: 562 words

Today: 553 words

I'm not as devoted to writing on the weekend as I used to be. That time is spent more on comics, reading, gaming, and just relaxing a bit. So the above totals are no surprise, but they are all past my 500 word quota which is all that matters.

In the beginning, I suspected that if I did 500 words a day for all of November that would net me a solid 15,000 words and put me right over the third marker of 45,000 words. Well, good news, folks. Since hitting those daily goals and exceeding them a smidge here and there, I've now crossed the 45K marker. Only two more to go though I suspect the novel to end around 70K. That's fine as there's a lot that I need to go back and fill in on the second work through.

The Waterways Novel

45,129 / 80,000 words. 56% done!

But woo...getting closer.

Gah, too much

Well, I can't avoid making a to-do-list. Clearly, it is the only sensible way I can actually think about--and see--what I have to get done. So, here it is, in all its glory:
  • Review The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
  • Review Issue 13 of Electric Velocipede for The Fix
  • Read and crit a short story
  • Rewrite "Firefoot"
  • Rewrite "Pigment"
  • Get today's quota of 500 words done
  • Finish secret comic thing, deadline being before December 1st
  • More 200 Sad Comics? Meh, we'll see
  • Start the end of this week's MyLifeComics as well as beginning of the following week's because...
  • Philcon 2007 this weekend, which I need to get mentally prepared for
  • Grocery shopping
  • Car needs an oil change
  • I'm sure there's more, but I need to get to work on some of these thingies so...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Like start X-mas shopping

Here's what I did for NaWriMo today: 1,765 words

I was going to make a to-do-list, but now I don't want to. Weird? Just know, I have things to do.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hit my quota

NaWriMo wordage for the day: 514

Not a whole bunch, but I met my quota, which is really what matters at this point. Besides, I'm working on other stuff at the moment. Mostly secret comic stuff. That's how the rooster crows...

Evidently there's no Pushing Daisies on tonight. Gah! Stupid country music awards show!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The sound of crickets

Damage done for NaWriMo today: 1,539 words

Do I have anything else to say?

::crickets chirping::

Guess not.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Curse you to the moon

Well, here's the damage for today's NaWriMo: 2,367 words

I also did a search of my Word document. Evidently, I like to curse a lot in this novel. And this isn't fake cursing, such as: frak, frell, or Jupiter's rings. I use the bad words. The ones that might make grandmommies blush. Ah. Oh well. It happens. There's worse things in the novel, anyways.

Gawd, this month is going to be full of super boring posts like this one. I apologize in advance.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Some metrics

Yesterday for NaWriMo: 1,046 words

Today for NaWriMo: 533 words

Aiming for 500 words a day has been very effective so far. Except for today, I find myself crossing that line rather quickly and then not wanting to stop. So, yeah, that's good and all. I'd write more today, but I've got other plans. Also, I'm not in the right headspace to kill off a certain character...which is coming up real soon. Yeah, that'll be a good time. Luckily, in my world, not all dead things stay dead for long.

In other news, Karen A. Romanko announces the good news that Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic has been published! W00t! It's available at the moment at LuLu.com, but will eventually be seen on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the other usual suspects. This one has my piece "The Sport of Kings" in it. That should be enough incentive for all you readers out there to pick this anthology up! I kid, I kid. Or do I?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Words, words, words

Just a quick post to mark down today's damage for NaWriMo: 1,053 words.

That is all for now. Back to Beetlejuice.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Yup, I wrote today

So, I guess I wrote today.

For NaWriMo: 2,273 words

And then I did some more work on the latest short. Strangely, I don't feel exhausted though I suspect I should.

"She Brings the Light"

New words: 272
Total words: 536
Pages: Page and a half
Deadline: None
Reason for stopping: Just cause I can, people!
Stimulants: A mug of hot chocolate
Songs played loudly: "Fill My Little World" by The Feeling
Exercise: Nada
Mail: Nada
Darling du jour: The smoke made the city only half-visible, maybe not even that, with building outlines so faint it became difficult to tell if some of them still stood.
Other writing-related work: Nothing though I'm still working through The Blade Itself, which, at some point, will turn into a review
Random thought: I am not happy that it is getting darker earlier. That is all. Paul out.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Doing NaNoWriMo sort of

Well, I'm not aiming for 50,000 words or starting a new novel. But November is a great month to get motivated about writing considering the droves of folks gearing up to write, write, write. So, currently the novel-I'm-not-talking-about is around 32,000 words. It's been sitting in the corner lately, waiting for me to do something with it (clean thoughts, people!).

Between comics and reviews and the writing of other short stories, I do not believe I can devote everything to the beast. My daily goal will be 500 words, which, if completed, will net me a solid 15,000 words by the end of the month. And that will put me over my third marker where I get to talk about the novel a bit. I think this is both doable and enough to keep me sane.

So, yeah. I've already started a new short tonight and will eventually be re-writing "Firefoot" from the ground up. I know there's a story in it, and thanks to some great crits I know what needs to go and what can stay and party. November shall no longer be NaNoWriMo to me. It'll just be WriMo.

"She Brings the Light"

New words: 264
Total words: 264
Pages: Not even a page yet
Deadline: None
Reason for stopping: Switching projects
Stimulants: Vanilla chai tea mmm
Songs played loudly: "Big Casino" by Jimmy Eat World
Exercise: Avoiding trick-or-treaters should count for something
Mail: A form rejection from Noctem Aeternus Magazine
Darling du jour: Mothers sending soldier-sons smut, and everyone seemed to understand the world.
Other writing-related work: Reviewing the novel outline, blah blah blah
Random thought: Pushing Daisies is a great television show! I might even call it the c-word one day!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Heroes, what the eff

Oh, Heroes. You're turning into that kid in high school that surprised us all by graduating on time with strong marks only to drop out of college by the second semester. You started so strong--and I'm talking about Season One here--and then somewhere along the line you decided you'd rather focus on 7th Heaven cheerleader drama and whiny angst-laden characters that makes me want to brown-bag vodka at every meal. And way to strip Hiro of everything that made him watchable. I actually keep hoping for the best during the feudal Japan scenes, but it's becoming ever so bland...even with tonight's twist. See? I don't care, Heroes! You lost me. Not in the truest sense; I'm still going to watch every Monday, but you could kill everyone but Peter off and I'd be somewhat okay with that decision. That's never a good thing so, yeah, in that sense I'm gone.

The show's biggest fault is that they introduced too many characters and plots without fulfilling previous ones. And this has bogged the pace down considerably. The Wonder Twins have been running since the season started: boring. The Mimic Girl has done some mimicking while mainly being uninteresting: boring. Kristen Bell showed up looking all sassy and stuff to kill an Irish lad: okay, that wasn't boring, but she is one of the new "heroes" so she gets a mention. Oh, and Claire's creepy boyfriend. If I was interested in teen dramatics, I'd watch reruns of Gilmore Girls. It's just all such a letdown from the comic-themed, comic-paced awesomeness that was Season One, with a GREAT villain and a simple message of saving a cheerleader. Here, I don't even know what the focus is on. Parkman's father? The cure? The remaining paintings? Alcohol on school premises? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME!

And if I see one more Bee Movie crapisode I'm going to drown myself in a vat of honey. Bee that, NBC. Bee that.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A new short at first draft

Finished up a short story this weekend. I actually started it nearly a year ago and got stuck in the middle. Inspiration finally came, and now the little dark urban fantasy thingy is at first draft. Around 4,200 words. I'm looking for first reader reactions because I don't know if it even works. Anyone up to read it? I'll gladly return the favor.

If so, e-mail me at pdabbamondi[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Good interview with Kristen Britain

Some weeks I feel like I post like a madman here. Others, erm...notsomuch.

Just been busy with reading, drawing, sleeping, some writing, and thinking. But I am surfacing to point-and-click you in the direction of this nicely done interview with Kristen Britain. The third book in her Green Rider series, The High King's Tomb, finally comes out next month, and I for one am looking forward to it.

Maybe more later. Keyword being maybe...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Page proofs pwned

This morning I read over the proofs of my short story "The Sport of Kings" for Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic edited by Karen A. Romanko.

I generally like this step a lot, mostly because by the time it gets to me I've been away from the work for long enough to not remember every little detail. To me, it's like reading somebody else's work. Weird, I know. Anyways, I'm happy to announce that I still like the piece. It's also one that might surprise some people; yes, I write about other things than supernatural horrors and robots.

Oh, wait. There's robotic horses in this.

Ah, whatever. Robots never get old (and if they do, it's time for an upgrade, I say).

I believe the book is going to the printer today. Neat-o.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Trunked like an elephant

Tonight I trunked 29 stories.

Trunking, for the unaware, is the process of putting a story hidden away for an indefinite amount of time--the idea of it being forever, of course. There is always a moment though that happens years down the line where one might consider pulling the dusty metaphoric trunk out, popping it open, and seeing if anything good inside is salvageable.

Anyways, most of these pieces have just been sitting around. They haven't gone out to a market in some time, represent my struggles with writing, and just aren't anything I'm overly concerned with getting out there. I am fairly content with my done stories at the moment, and I'm sure newer, hopefully better works will be materializing at some point.

So, yeah. Trunking.

Unless any of you can think of a perfect place to send a dialogue-only story involving two old men discussing the pros and cons of vampires over afternoon tea? I still kinda like that one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Progress finally

The Waterways Novel

30,214 / 80,000 words. 38% done!

So, I've crossed my second stop sign where I'm allowing myself to talk a bit about the novel-in-progress. For those playing at home, the rest stops are at these marks: 15K, 30K, 45K, 60K, 75K, and then whenever the irascible thing is dead and done.

That said, I am at the point where I think everything I've written is crap. My characters are whiny and meandering passive souls that make me wonder what I'm trying to do here. Bits of the city are interesting--to me, of course--while others don't feel quite natural. Useless secondary characters pop up like poles; I suspect some killing of them later on. A post today on Neil Gaiman's blog made me feel a tad better about the whole thing, and here is where I pause to quote a master:

You don't live there always when you write. Mostly it's a long hard walk. Sometimes it's a trudge through fog and you're scared you've lost your way and can't remember why you set out in the first place.

But sometimes you fly, and that pays for everything.


Right. So it's foggy here at the moment, and only about 500 words back did I realize something that I want to implement but will have to wait for the rewrite. So I made a note. I find myself making a lot of notes, both in the manuscript and on miscellaneous scraps of paper. My Word file is littered with [name] and [action scene] and [dirty stuff]. Keeping these things together and organized is like juggling sunburned babies. But really, having turned my editor off in me, I find myself at least moving forward. That's pretty important when it comes to such a big project. You can't edit what you don't finish.

I don't work on this every day though. Seeing that NaNoWriMo is coming up soon, I'll probably be even more turned off to work on it daily. I tried that before, and while I got words out it wasn't good. I struggle with being somewhat of a perfectionist, and when I write I'd like the first draft to be more solid than not. I'm not opposed to re-writing this sucker once it's finished, but I'd like for a lot of it to be minimal touchups. You know, the cosmetics.

Oh, and now I need to figure out how to get a certain dead fellow out of the water and upland so he can cause some trouble. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Well, that's it for now, really. See you at 45K, people. Remember: you can't edit what you don't finish.

The Fix is live!


Well, I think this is something I forgot to mention before, but I'm no longer reviewing for Tangent Online. I have, however, devotedly followed Eugie Foster over to The Fix, which used to be a print magazine from the publisher of Interzone that focused on reviewing short fiction. It is now online, looking all shiny and easy to navigate, and there's plenty more covered on the site such as poetry, podcasts, and a column from James Van Pelt. You can check out my first review of Analog's December 2007 issue if you'd like.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Here's some thingies

Finished reading Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves. This is now the fifth Hugo-winning novel I've read and, well, I liked it so-so. The book is divided into three sections, and each reads like a standalone novelette. This probably because each was published as a single story before being compiled into a novel.

Regardless, the plot deals with a race of aliens living in a parallel universe, or para-Universe as Asimov calls it, that plan to turn Earth's sun into a supernova, reaping energy from it once it's been destroyed. Section one is about scientists and their slow discovery of the para-Universe and the endless source of energy dubbed the Electron Pump. Kind of boring, and only made interesting because Asmiov choose to start things off further ahead than necessary.

The second section shows us the alien race; a fascinating culture, built on triads and the obsession for melting, we follow a trio of three immature aliens. One is a Rational, one is a Parental, and one, Tritt, is an Emotional. She's different than other "mids" in that she wants to learn, a desire only found in Rationals. This is where The Gods Themselves shine, here with the aliens, where Asimov fully explores a civilization where gender roles are tossed to the wayside (much like Le Guin does in The Left Hand of Darkness). Amazing stuff, and the surprise revelation at the end of what the triad really is--or rather who--caught me by complete surprise. I can see myself going back and re-reading this section alone: it's that good.

The final section has us on the Moon, where a purely functional society of Lunarites live. A somewhat cynical physicist named Denison has come to the moon to put into effect a theory he has that will both stop the sun from exploding while helping humanity even greater. He meets Selene, a woman born on the Moon, a native so-to-speak, and together they work toward a common goal. Some of this section was pretty interesting; mainly common stuff, like how a human from Earth would adjust to living on the Moon much differently than someone born there. The ending, while complete and fulfilling, felt a bit out of left field. As with anything that deals with para-worlds or time-traveling, some of it had me scratching my head, but otherwise it was a decent read. The aliens make it worth it for me.

--

I watched Saw III the other night. Eh. More "games" were played, this time with no hope for redemption. People talk about films like Hostel being goreporn, but no one dares say a word against this franchise. Sure, the first one was pretty original when it came out, but now I have to wonder what's happened to the magic. Is the purpose just to torture folks? I see there's a fourth one coming out. Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Jigsaw is dead. Gee, I wonder if it'll be a Jigsaw wannabe and that there will be more bloody games to play and that no one will really learn anything throughout the experience but limbs will be lost and guns will be shot and the average consumer will feel cheap, dirty, and dumb. I will not watch Saw IV. Ever.

--

Two rejections this weekend. One called my story "charming," which is a new one for me.

--

And yes, I picked up The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. It's quite fun, and makes me want to break out my SNES and ol' Link to the Past cartridge. The graphics are solid, but it's the gameplay that's damn addicting. Hack and slash and cuttin' grass! Bring on the rupees, baby. The sailing though is going to get tiresome, I predict.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I CAN HAZ ZELDA



Woo! Phantom Hourglass! IT'S MIIIIINE.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A multiple choice question

1. I am currently not blogging a whole bunch because I am doing a lot of...

A. Reading
B. Writing
C. Drawing
D. Sleeping
E. All of the above

Monday, October 08, 2007

Things I've finished lately

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. This was good. Very, very good. A heavy read, and I'm still absorbing a lot of it. I think I enjoyed the myths of Winter and the Ekumen far more than the actually relationship between Genly and Estraven. The whole gender-changing race was quite interesting, and I can see how it would've impacted the field so effectively nearly thirty years ago. I'm glad I finally read this--though it's not the first work in the Ekumen series I've tried--and now I can say I've read four Hugo-winning novels.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I picked this up for the PS2 a few months back, but never got around to finishing it up. The combat system is fun, but lacking in variety of attacks and enemies. The game was more frustrating than not, but after dropping to my death five times in a row I'd figure out the solution. Still, the end level/boss was complete crap and totally disappointing. I know this is the first in the series, which gives me hope that the later entries got better, but this one wasn't too great.

A new short story. Tis called "More's the Pity," and it clocks in at a chomping 2,500 words. I still need to give it a second read through, but otherwise I'm pretty pleased with it. Yet again I find myself writing about a neurotic journalist in the near-future that goes to parties where it is clear he doesn't fit in. Write what you know, they say, write what you know...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pushing Daisies tonight

Pushing Daisies is a show I've been very interested in seeing. It is looking to be a dark comedy/drama about a man with the ability to both bring back the dead to life and then kill them again--all with just a single touch. The show comes from Bryan Fuller, who created Dead Like Me, one of my top favorite TV shows...hmm, ever. The irony I'm sure will run wild once the show gets its legs, and I'm definitely drawn to the whole Gambit-Rogue love story between Ned and the (un)dead girl from his childhood. It's on tonight, people, so check your local listings and give the show a chance, I say.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress 22 - Review

I have four titles from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress series gracing my bookshelf: XIII, XVI, XVIII, and now XXII. Not the greatest collection to refer back to, but hey, I just started nabbing them a few months back. I'm positive the used bookstore down the road from me has more, and I'll be hunting for others in the near future as it is seemingly harder and harder to satisfactorily fill the genre stepchild that is sword and sorcery. For now, the latest edition of the fantasy anthology that started back in the 1980s as an answer to a lack of strong female protagonists in the S&S subgenre has turned out to be quite enjoyable despite some quibbles.

The anthology opens with "Edra's Arrow" by Esther M. Friesner, a somewhat stereotypical sword and sorcery tale set in a magical land now void of animal life. Edra, a huntress, which her sister Jir believes to be the reason the gods are upset and cursed their people, has taken on the task to discover where all the forest's game has gone. Along her journey she is visited by the spirit of a dead shaman who gives her a gift and a choice. While I thought the choice was both obvious and rather trite, Edra's actions and the ultimate outcome surprised me. A sound story, replete with beautiful imagery and a lead woman that seems to be everything MZB looked for in a protagonist.

"A Nose for Trouble" by Patricia B. Cirone had a lot of different ideas in it, but the story's plot and its reveals were far too neat and tidy for my taste and did not justify the mystery's length. It opens with Marina returning late from her mam's to Madame Fertaglio's to half-witness a murder. Now she's worried sick that the sniffers are going to discover her and place the blame on her, but that's far from the truth. Soon, both the living and the dead will come to her for help. Cirone's world-building is pretty strong, offering a locale somewhat different from what one might expect in a sword and sorcery tale of magic, mystery, and manifestations. I just didn't find the solution to the Peacemaker's murder satisfying, and it's quite clear that Marina is beyond passive. This could've been so much more.

Anshazhe, hired assassins, are attacking the unbeknownst siblings Lin Mei and Biao Mei in Kendar in "Night Watches" by Catherine Soto. Luckily, both of them are skilled enough to defend themselves. Lin Mei has been having bad dreams as of late, is concerned about the kittens her brother and her saved from a caravan, and grows more and more suspicious of everyone within the city's walls. I really enjoyed this intricate story. It has several moments of tense, well-written action, and I found myself examining every character Lin Mei came across just as scrutinizing as she was; the problem of the deadly killers is only one of two that the sister and brother duo have to deal with, the latter being the far more intriguing difficulty. And I'm still thinking about those portentous cats—what's up with them, anyways? From Soto's bio I see that there's other stories centered on Lin Mei and Biao Mei, which is like music to my ears.

"Vanishing Village" by Margaret L. Carter let me down. The story is that of Liriel and Bertrice, a duo of mage companions that stumble upon the vanishing village of Meadowmill in search of the Duke's son who'd gone missing some time back. They get in, but can't get out—not until they deal with the powerful mage in complete control of everything happening within the village's boundaries. This includes the weather, the repair of necessities, and the creation of food. The two are impressed and nervous, but confident in their skills. Upon meeting the mage keeping everyone locked in they…talk it out. In a world where mages "cast an invisibility spell" I was expecting a bit more of a showdown at the end. Even though the magic system didn't work for me—I like deeper, intricate spells over simple ones—I still wanted a battle of magic come the end. Some might like this sort of thing, but the story just didn't resolve effectively enough for me to be glad to have read it.

"Pearl of Fire" by Deborah J. Ross is one of my top favorites in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress XXII. Rayzel's Great-grandfather passes along a family heirloom—the Pearl—to her before he dies, mistaking her for Devron, its rightful owner. The magical necklace sort of, kind of works like the One Ring in that epic fantasy book…hmm…what was it called again? Lord of the Rings? Yeah, that's it. As long as Rayzel wears the Pearl around her neck, she cannot be harmed. A sword cannot cut her, a fire cannot burn her—she's unstoppable. And just like anyone might expect this gift quickly becomes a curse, but not just for Rayzel. I enjoyed the story well enough, but couldn't fight this lingering feeling that it's been done many times before.

As an author's first published story, "The Ironwood Box" by Kimberly L. Maughan is astounding. It concerns three sisters, two of whom are magically gifted. That third is Pansy, or rather Persal ne-Marit, who has been having terrible dreams lately about the ironwood box that she is to look over but not open. Feeling useless, she flees—a dangerous decision given the circumstances. Head Queen Iril is after all three of them, wanting what they have internally, wanting it for pure and selfish reasons. A battle ensues, and with it the truth of Pansy's purpose is revealed. Hopefully, there'll be more from Maughan in the future.

One of the anthology's longest entry, "Bearing Shadows" by Dave Smeds is the saddening tale of Aerise, a woman exiled from all that she knows after it is discovered that her baby has been ill-conceived. She seeks sanctuary with the Cursed Folk, and there she meets the father of her child along with a fate that will test time itself. Smeds' use of language and dirty, almost surreal visuals of the Cursed Folk are beautifully done. There's a rather poignant moment at the end of Aerise's journey where she reacquaints herself with someone from her past. It had potential to not work, to even ruin everything Smeds had been building up to, but it did better than work—it made everything worth it, even the hard times and the pain Aerise went through with her pregnancy. This would be my favorite story in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress XXII.

"Black Ghost, Red Ghost" by Jonathan Moeller is, simply put, a fun story. Caina, an Emperor's Ghost, is on a secret mission to discover if Druzen, the Governor, is guilty of supporting a slaving gang operating in the province. If so, it then is her task to kill him, and to kill him like a ghost might—undetected, swift, and cold. While sneaking around undercover in Druzen's ballroom, Caina meets a magus named Ryther, who, seemingly, has the same intentions of her. Or is there more to his story?

This is a story full of mystery and magic, its action scenes heavy and brimming with tension, its world both interesting and unexpected. Caina is a strong heroine, capable of both containing herself and solving the numerous problems that pop up to block her path. I enjoyed the twist at the end the best, how she reacted to it, and the problem's solution—the actually ending itself could've been more abrupt, but I still found myself having a good time, all while thinking of Moeller's work as a holy mixture of an episode of Firefly, an adventure akin to something Mercedes Lackey might storm up, and an explosion of fantastical espionage.

"The Decisive Princess" by Catherine Mintz is a short, very descriptive piece of alternate history. To say much more of the story would ruin its effect, and I'd just recommend anyone reading the anthology to not skip this one lightly; it's a strong story, deeply built with a scenario that forces a princess to make a hard decision. Mintz writes very well, and I enjoyed the subtleness of "The Decisive Princess," especially the way it is still popping up in my head days after I've read it. Now that's the mark of an excellent story.

"Child of the Father" by Alanna Morland is a hard story to talk about for many reasons: it's complicated, faster than a fireball, and just mentioning some of the characters and who they are can ruin the truly deviously set twist at the tale's end. I will say this much: the piece is well-written, with engaging dialogue and believable heroines, and the danger they face is both creepy and captivating.

First, there is death. "Child of Ice, Child of Flame" by Marian Allen opens on a grim scene: Casilda stands triumphantly over the town's slain champion, waiting to receive her prize for defeating such a warrior. Will it be jewels? Land? Or power? The prize she's given is certainly unexpected and has its own stout tale to tell. Allen manages to pack a lot into this short story, balancing both the history of the townspeople's culture and the plight of Casilda's choices rather well. It never feels like too much is happening when, clearly, a lot actually is going down.

"Skin and Bones" by Heather Rose Jones focuses on Ashóli, a Kaltaoven witch otherwise known as a skinchanger. The Marchalt of Wilentelu has chosen her to find the nearest village of skin-singers and bargain with them for his sake. She does, but soon finds herself bargaining for those she cares most about. I found myself a bit confused at exactly what skinchangers were in Jones' world, and suspect that previous Skins stories might clear that up. Ashóli is another strong example of the type of female protagonist that exemplifies a refreshingly ample amount of humility and heart. What the story lacks in terms of action it more than makes up in characterization. An excellent read, and now I must find others in the same universe to devour.

I find the inclusion of "Crosswort Puzzle" by Michael Spence and Elisabeth Waters to be a bit bothersome here. For one, it's half-written by the anthology's editor, raising (half) a red flag on its merit immediately. Second, from what I've gathered the Sword and Sorceress series has always prided itself on publishing both old and new authors, always eager to find fresh new voices in its slushpiles and make them heard loud and clear. So, er, yeah…I don't know. This, at first glance, just feels wrong.

With that said, let's move on to what it's actually about. Laurel and her colleagues are trying to solve the crosswort problem. See, crosswort treats melancholia, but it can also have the opposite effect and turn folks suicidal. Turns out the Royal Guard just ordered a huge shipment of the herb, whether they know its bad effects or not. So the question is: what can be done now? The story works well enough as a problem/solution archetype, and I liked a lot of the world-building. Magic is done subtly, and there's a lot of mystery in the beginning which is cleared up in no time at all. It definitely felt different than what I was expecting, and now after reading all the stories this one most certainly stands out like a wizard's tower in a grassy field. I'm not sure what that actually means in the long run, but it seemed worth mentioning.

And one last thing, which really has nothing to do with the story, but I have trouble reading the name Melisande as any other character other than that demon-laboring sorceress in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Everyone else just pales in comparison to her.

"Fairy Debt" by T. Borregaard does indeed have a fairy being in debt to a human king. Unfortunately for our fairy protagonist, her mother (who originally owed the debt) died and left the task to her. And the second unfortunate problem would be that she does not have working means, which as anyone knows means she does not have working magic. Her Aunt Twill offers her the only viable solution: working the debt back the tough way, with honest-to-fairy servitude. Borregaard's writing reminding me a lot of Terry Pratchett, in that it's both serious and silly; of course, it leans more to the silliness at times, but that's not a problem in a world where fairies go swimming in a rather dramatic river. This is an amusing story, and probably would've been a better choice to end the anthology on.

"Tontine" by Robert E. Vardeman is the type of dark sword and sorcery work that I absolutely love. Captain Jonna el-MMarran has returned to the tavern that, thirty years prior, her friends and her had given their essences (so to speak) to a bottle of wine. This is a magical pact, a tontine, one where the last surviving member of the group has to drink the bottle's entire contents. By doing so, they are not only drinking to their dead friend's memories, but vividly reliving them. The death of her three friends are dolefully experienced, and there's still a sense of accordance as Jonna finishes off the bottle and exits into the night. Dark, abnormal, and ruthless—overall, a story I'd highly recommend.

It's been a recurring crux that each entry in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress series ends on a short piece of humorous fiction. Thus, "The Menagerie" by Sarah Dozier, a tale of two kingdoms at war and the assassin being asked by both sides to help out. It's a quick history lesson, peppered with some sneaky tricks and magical creatures. The problem lies in that humor is more often than not subjective. I didn't necessarily find anything funny about the story, but I still liked it regardless.

I do hope the series continues on as there were some definitive standouts in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress XXII. The anthology covers a lot of topics and ideas, and bounces from one female lead to another with little transition. Still, each story stands on its own merits, making this easy to read and even easier to enjoy. Start with "Bearing Shadows" though; I promise you it's that good.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The latest to-do-list

Things to do that probably should be done more soonish than later:
  • Review Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress 22
  • Review The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
  • Review Analog, December 2007 for The Fix
  • Draw Friday's comic for MyLifeComics
Things to do that probably have no rush on them. No, scratch that. They have no rush on them:
  • Cross the 30K mark on the novel
  • Review Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
  • Review Killswitch by Joel Shepherd (but I should probably read the second book first before tackling this third one, eh?)
  • Rewrite "Pigment"
  • Rewrite "Nineteen and a Half Cats"

Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time?

I stole this one from Rob, who I'm pretty sure stole it from somebody else. What can I say? We're all a bunch of greedy, bloggin' blackguards.

Anyways, it's easy to play along. Just copy the list and BOLD the movies you have seen. Don't be surprised to see that I haven't seen some of the more, er, popular SF films. I'll preface this with the fact that I've asked for Blade Runner on DVD for Christmas--so don't yell at me and call me names!

1. Metropolis (1927)
2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
3. Brazil (1985)
4. Wings of Desire (1987)
5. Blade Runner (1982)
6. Children of Men (2006)
7. The Matrix (1999)
8. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
9. Minority Report (2002)
10. Delicatessen (1991)
11. Sleeper (1973)
12. The Trial (1962)
13. Alphaville (1965)
14. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
15. Serenity (2005)
16. Pleasantville (1998)
17. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
18. Battle Royale (2000)
19. RoboCop (1987)
20. Akira (1988)
21. The City of Lost Children (1995)
22. Planet of the Apes (1968)
23. V for Vendetta (2005)
24. Metropolis (2001)
25. Gattaca (1997)
26. Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
27. On The Beach (1959)
28. Mad Max (1979)
29. Total Recall (1990)
30. Dark City (1998)
31. War Of the Worlds (1953)
32. District 13 (2004)
33. They Live (1988)
34. THX 1138 (1971)
35. Escape from New York (1981)
36. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
37. Silent Running (1972)
38. Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
39. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
40. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
41. Soylent Green (1973)
42. I Robot (2004)
43. Logan's Run (1976)
44. Strange Days (1995)
45. Idiocracy (2006)
46. Death Race 2000 (1975)
47. Rollerball (1975)
48. Starship Troopers (1997)
49. One Point O (2004)
50. Equilibrium (2002)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My latest obsession

And yes, Feist's "1234" is that catchy little tune in those iPod commercials, but I still love it regardless. Plus, I'm a big fan of things done in one shot. Others that come to mind are the long war scenes in Children of Men, Semisonic's video for "Closing Time," and just about anything done by Daft Punk. Well, here's the video and man does she look like she's having fun in it:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

First draft, finally

The Streets of the City

3,663 / 4,000 words. 92% done!

New words: 599

And we've landed on the planet Ferstdraaft. I'm still going to need to read through it one more time to make sure it all gels (and probably make a specific scene a tad more traumatizing), but otherwise it feels pretty solid to me. Still, this had been a tough piece for me, much more straining than anything else I've written and I don't know yet if that is a good or bad thing. Should writing be easy or hard? Does writing something easily inherently make it good? Does working hard and long ultimately produce a gem of a tale?

I can't come up with any compact answer. Whatcha think about it?