Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Most Disappointing Read of 2015

As you can see by the title I have some strong feelings about this book. Some strong, negative feelings. I'm just not sure if I want to say this book is bad or just okay. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The premise of Armada is something very similar to movie The Last Starfighter. In both stories a young man who is good at a video game (arcade games in The Last Starfighter and computer games in Armada) gets recruited by a secret organization, who was using the game to train and recruit people, to fight aliens in space and Earth using the technology that was in game. The difference between that movie and this book is that in Armada its not the 80's but modern times, though the history of using video games to recruit people does go back to arcade games in the book, and in Armada the alien invasion directly affects and comes to Earth whereas in The Last Starfighter the fight is way out in space against an enemy that may affect Earth if they are not stopped.

This similarity should not be a major problem since many a story in the history of storytelling begs, borrows, and steals from each other. There is nothing new under the sun. This is especially true of Ernest Cline and his love for Geek culture and the 1980's as well as making video games more a part of a person's life than just entertainment, as seen in his first book Ready Player One. It seems like the perfect fit for Mr. Cline to take the premise of The Last Starfighter, where video games have a direct and significant impact to our world, and give it his own twist. It seemed like an interesting idea. I had such high hopes for Armada. I wanted it to be as good as Cline's first book.

It was not.

Armada stands on its on legs as being a truly disappointing read. The comparison between The Last Starfighter, though fitting for Cline's literary milieu, was too on the nose. If you have never seen the movie then I can understand how this book might be fun to read. But with video games becoming a greater part of people's lives, to the point that e-sports is getting ESPN recognition, this book seems to have come a bit too late. The story is not only too tongue in cheek in borrowing from The Last Starfighter but this kind of story has been done to death in all mediums from TV, movies, and even in video games themselves.

Another major problem I had with this book was the ending (what a surprise). Armada is written in such a way that it seems self-contained. A one and done story, not the beginning of a series and yet the open ended-ness of the book seems to beg for the next stage of the saga that will never come. I'm not sure if Cline is going to write any more books concerning this story and if he doesn't then the ending to Armada, though the most fitting for the story, is too open about the possibilities. The ending seemed like it wanted to leave the reader with deep questions to ponder about the future of mankind if it was put in this particular situation but instead I was left with not questions at all. I was only left with apathy.

So I guess this book was okay. Or bad. Somewhere in between those two. Either way I would not recommend you read it. Go read Cline's first book Ready Player One instead.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Dune

This is the most influential science fiction novel of all time and you still haven't read it yet. It's the story of a desert landscape and desert people, who must wear special suits to retain the moisture of their bodies, living on a planet with the most valuable substance in the universe that basically allows for interstellar travel while the rest of the political powers in the galactic empire fight for control of this desert planet. If none of that means anything to you, if you cannot make some connections between the world of the book and Earth of today, then where have you been living? Do you watch the news? This book is dripping with relevance for our modern day like the ocean is wet with the salty liquid state of H20. This is an important book! But don't my word on it.

"Like the best science-fiction and fantasy novels... there is little that is cute or cuddly" 
    -Jon Michaud, The New Yorker

"Words worth remembering in the age of Obama." 
    -Sam Jordison, The Guardian

"Good book"
    -David, Amazon

"The story is fantastic, but the writing will always remain unbearable"
    -Bookworm Sean, Goodreads

"I loved it but is the rest of the series worth reading?"
    -CHERNO-B1LL, reddit
My overall review for this book is: it's good. It was difficult to read at times and the plot favored brief description of action instead of the action itself which kills the pacing of the book but the overall world Frank Herbert has built along with the characters that inhabit it are interesting, well written, and very deep. It is a vibrant future full of humanity, spice, and religion as oppose to your typical sci-fi future of metal and machines. This book is worth reading and if you fall in love with it then by all means continue on with the series. I enjoyed it but did not feel the need to read any further.
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I hope you had as much fun reading this review as I did writing it. Be on the lookout for a new review next Friday from my top reads of 2015 list. Also on Wednesday there will be an extra review over the most disappointing book I read from last year. Have a good Friday.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Story Craft-- Why Endings Are Important

these are the facts
Without a shadow of a doubt, without fault or error, endings are the only thing that can make or break a story to the point of ruining the entire experience. Even more so than sloppy or boring characters, a slow or confusing plot, a bad ending can make a story go from being good to becoming terrible. I know this may seem obvious or you may immediately refute such a claim, and that is okay. A story is like going on vacation, the beginning and middle can be rough, flights delayed or realizing you forgot your phone charger at home but if you make it to your destination then the whole trip was worth while. So I would like to show you an example of how a bad ending can ruin what is, for the most part, a good story and how a good ending can make a somewhat tedious, and at times uninteresting, story worth reading. 

THE BAD ENDING

The Dragonriders of Pern-
This story, this world, should have been the greatest story I have ever read. It checks off all the boxes for things I love in stories: dragons, space exploration, time travel, interesting social/economic/technological understandings. This story is the ultimate bridge between fantasy and science fiction and for most people is a beloved series of books. Not so for me. In a series of 22 novels spanning a history of 2500 years I have only read the first three books because the ending of that original trilogy did not live up to the world and the characters that Anne McCaffrey's had created. The ending just sort of sputters on, hinting at what might come, while allowing the conflicts of the past to just be over. It seemed that McCafferey was more interesting in the larger narrative and forgot about the story she was writing. The first two of the original trilogy: Dragonflight and Dragonquest, develop not only the world and the social/economic issues along with the larger physical danger that makes the need for dragons so important but also the characters that live in this world and grow through the trials and solutions to the problems they face. White Dragon, the third book, pushes those characters aside in favor of younger characters. This would not be a problem especially in light of the larger story, and yet it fails because the novel has no story of its own. Instead White Dragon becomes part resolution for the previous two books and part bridge book to set up the rest of the series that followed from this story. A bridge does not an ending make. A bridge is not a destination, just another part to the journey. It is a non-ending and for me that is a bad ending. I felt cheated of an ending even if it meant there would be a new beginning in the next part of the series. This 'bridge work' did not make me want to keep reading. It made me feel like I wasted my time reading the first two books which were good reads. I wanted to like these books and certainly many people do and would disagree with my assessment but for me the whole story was ruined by the lack of an ending.

THE GOOD ENDING

The Martian Chronicles-
This novel did not start out as a single story. It was cobbled together by Ray Bradbury from his many short stories about Mars, through rewrites, into a more cohesive, single story. From chapter to chapter the story of Mars, from the first expedition and the extinction of the Martians to the colonization in earnest of Mars by humanity, jumps from character to character or sometimes only a vignette of the scenery, while almost never returning to the same characters from previous chapters. Each chapter, because of the way the book came together, tells its own story within the grander story of Mars. Some of these story/chapters are interesting and some are tedious and dull and so whether each chapter is good or bad they are over quickly giving the reader relief from the bad chapters while making the reader long for more of the good. This make the novel, especially if a majority of the stories are not interesting to you, difficult to read. It was tempting to set the book down and never finish it. It didn't feel worth the effort to reach the end because the uninteresting was outweighing the chapters that were engaging. But the ending to this book is worth it. Up until the last paragraph of the story I was glad to just be done but the very last sentence of the story made the entire book worth reading. Even if I reproduced the sentence here it would not have the impact and power that it does at the end of the novel. Not that this was on purpose by Bradbury but the effort of reading those grating, uninteresting chapters, made the reward of reading that last line in the context with the novel such a pleasure. It changed my entire outlook on the story,which had been negative almost from the start. I love this novel.

Ultimately these two examples won't mean as much to you until you read them and I recommend that you do read them both. You may love The Dragonriders of Pern and want to read the rest of the series but I don't think you will hate The Martian Chronicles. My point is that endings are powerful for stories, so much so that they can effect and change the mind and feeling of the reader towards the entire experience.
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I hope this has been fun and even more so I hope you have a greater appreciation for stories through analyzing the endings of stories. There will be more Story Craft post to come so be on the look out. Happy hump day.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Weekly Update

Coming up this week:
~Tomorrow, Story Craft-- Why Endings Are Important
~Friday, review over Dune

Exciting stuff. Comment, share, let me know what you think.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Bleak Future for Everyone!

I think when asked the question pertaining to entertainment, "What are you in the mood for?" the usual answer is "something light, or funny, or fun." Funny and fun are two very enjoyable categories but sometimes you want something else. Something heavier. You feel like putting aside that milk chocolate in favor of something darker. This could be because you're already sad. Life is a constant cloudy day and you just want something to reflect your feelings. Sometimes you want to indulge in the sad and tragic because you're burned out on the fun and funny. Or maybe you're finally in the right place to watch that certain something your friend keeps recommending to you that will make you reflect on the emptiness of life and the darkness of mankind. If you are at that place to enjoy you some razor sharp commentary on life with a coat of post-apocalypse wrapped up in near future science fiction then Oryx and Crake is right for you.

The story follows Snowman as he lives in the ruins of an empty Earth. Before the 'event' that killed off humanity the world was dominated by multi-national businesses with their employees living in nice compounds separated from the rest of the world. Snowman (formally Jimmy) lived in one of these compounds where he met his life long friend Glenn who eventually goes by Crake. Acting as adviser, in the present, to the human like beings known as Crakers, Snowman undertakes a journey back to one of these now abandoned compounds to gather supplies. Along the way to the compound the reader is shown flashbacks of Snowman's childhood, college years, and early career of the time he spent with Crake and the events that led the world where Snowman now lives. Quite the cheery place we have here.

This story speculates on the future of western culture and science and asks, "What if we continue down this road? What if responsibility is abandoned in favor of advancement and comfort?" These questions are running through the mind of Crake while Jimmy follows him along, loyal and ignorant, until Crake finally decides: there is not turning back, so we must start anew. Not only is the world that Jimmy and Crake live in controlled by multinational companies, a bleak commentary on our present life, but the world that Snowman lives in, inherited, is far worse not only for its emptiness and danger but also for its likelihood of happening. The real power Margaret Atwood brings is creating not just a realistic future but one that seems inevitable. That the parts and pieces are already in place turning, moving humanity towards a population of one. And those are always the darkest and most powerful of stories. A story you not only believe could be real, for we all believe in the reality of a good story since that is what so engrosses us in the telling, but one that feels like you're living out right now.

I would like to address, as a side note, how the author talks about this novel. Margaret Atwood does not like to refer to Oryx and Crake as science fiction but rather as an adventure novel or in the genre of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction, at least for me, is the umbrella that covers not only science fiction but also fantasy and any other fiction that steps outside of our reality even in the slightest. I think that the technology and the future setting, even in the flashbacks, all fit well within science fiction but the mood of the story, the language and focus of character and the mental process of those characters, seem firmly grounded in literary fiction. This is not really important to whether you should read this book or not and you can make your own call on what genre Oryx and Crake belongs to, it was just interesting to me.

Overall my score for this novel is: it's good. I might be a bit weird in how much I like these kind of dreary, depressing kind of stories. I know they are difficult not only in the reading but in the wanting to read them but the power and the lasting memory of such a story far outweigh those on the lighter side. Usually.
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I hope you enjoyed the third review from my top reads of 2015 list. Next week I will be reviewing what is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written: Dune. Should be fun. Hope to see you then. Have a great Friday.


Friday, April 1, 2016

No Heroes

V.E. Schwab's super powered world is grounded in one much like our own except a bit bleaker. The mundane problems of everyday life are set alongside the possibility for humanity to achieve something more than human but unlike a comic these abilities are not gift at all.

The story follows two college friends, Victor and Eli, as they discover there are humans out there gaining special powers, known as EO's (ExtraOrdinary people), which can only be 'received' by having a near-death experience. Undertaking this dangerous experiment, with Eli going first, both friends end up with extraordinary abilities and an altered worldview. Eli is given an auto healing ability and the almost religious zeal that everyone else with abilities is evil and must be killed. Victor, unbeknownst to Eli who refused to help him, does the same experiment emerging with the ability to make people feel enormous amounts of pain with his mind. Pain enough that can kill. And that's exactly what happens. As Eli's girlfriend helped Victor with his own near-death experiment he revived and, though accidentally, killed her in the process. Victor goes to prison for her murder, thanks to Eli, and Eli continues his crusade against all EO's while Victor plots his revenge.

The greatest part of this book is the growth between Victor and Eli from friends to despised enemies. Their interaction is reminiscent of the relationship and attitude between Superman an Batman. None of the EO's exhibit powers on the same level as normal comic heroes. None of them can fly or have super strength and they are all vulnerable to any weapon a normal person would be vulnerable to. All except Eli. His healing ability means that he truly cannot die. He gains an ally in Serena; an older sister of two EO's whose power is much like Kilgrave (the Purple Man) from Jessica Jones. Her loyalty allows Eli to kill any EO's he wants and never be caught since the police will do and think whatever Serena says. Victor gains allies as well, a brute of a cell mate who is also a tech guy, Sydney the younger sister to Serena, who can bring people back from the dead, and finally a US military veteran who can go into a shadow version of reality where he can disappear and walk through walls.



Even though Victor has more allies than Eli it is Eli, with his one ally, which has the advantage. Eli sees his work as righteous, good, a correction to the order of the world, becoming the nightmare version of Superman that Batman always feared he would become. Their battle of wits, plans, and powers come together, after a very dark road, in the most sinister and satisfying way. No one is a hero here but Victor, though out for blood, seems to be the lesser of two evils who befriends genuine, good people. If you can't root for the protagonist then cheer for those that follow him, for they are better than he is and he doesn't want to kill them. Which is nice.

My overall rating for this book is that its very good. Looking back at my top reads of 2015 I think this book and the previous one I reviewed should have been number ten and nine instead of eleven and twelve. Oh well.
~

I hope this second review from my top reads for 2015 has helped you in deciding what to read next. If you would like to see my top reads of last year that list it can be found here. The first review from that list is can be found here. Be on the look out for next Friday's review over Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. As much as you can have a pleasant and peaceful weekend.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Story Craft-- Why Stories Are Important

I would hope that anyone reading this would not argue that stories are devoid of importance. I also would like to assume that none of you might make that extreme argument that stories are just an extravagance that should be abandoned in favor of practical needs. Stories are a form of entertainment, this cannot be denied, and yet it is the power of entertainment that allows stories to penetrate deeper into our lives. With our mental defenses lowered we are quelled into believing a fantasy that dares not only to pass the time pleasantly but also to change our very way of thinking. Which changes our being.

Stories are sneaky. As far as fiction goes, stories are lies that we are led to believe are true as long as we are immersed in them. We know they are not true, at least as a whole, and yet we are drawn into the lives of the players who play out the scenes set in far off places, worlds unknown and unreal, or simply somewhere in your neighborhood. We know they are not true and yet we experience them as if they are. We want to believe they are true. We want to be a part of these character's lives. We want to draw closer to them, understand them, even though we will never be able to.

I had a professor in my undergrad that said the end goal of fiction, at least literary fiction as opposed to genre fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, thriller, horror, romance, etc.), was to allow the reader to gain empathy for someone else, someone different than the reader. The differences can be subtle, one small thing changed from a life that seems just like your own, or they can be vastly different in culture and understand, in what is sacred and taboo. I would argue that even in most genre fiction the goal is to show empathy and I would further argue that the medium of sci-fi and fantasy can do it better sometimes than literary fiction... but that is a topic for another day.

Stories, though, are not limited to fiction. It's the holidays, you and your family are sitting around the table. The food has been eaten or near enough, all of you are content and even restful, and your uncle nudges your dad with a long smile on his face. He begins with, "you remember that time in high school..." or "you remember when dad used to..." and you are all swept away in a story that you have heard a hundred times before. And then when that story ends another begins from across the table, and on and on into the evening, all ranging from the hilarious to the sad reminder that someone is no longer sitting at the table with any of you.

This is the power of stories. To entertain, to remind, to understand, and to make sense. To feel what others felt in their life and to grow closer to them, to understand them better by the stories they tell of the life they lived and how they perceived it. And it is because of these same reasons that the most profound writings are not in essay form but rather in stories. Religion, philosophy, and history are all best remembered not in bullet point summation but in stories. Without stories, true or false, real or imagined, we become dull people. Isolated from the rest of humanity, worn out and forgotten.

Whether than a story is about infamy or virtue all stories teach and change those that read them. So a word of caution to all you readers out there, be careful what stories you take in. Some are good, some are great, and some are just bad. I suppose its a good thing you read this blog to see which stories are which.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Earth Has Music For Those Who Listen...

... Its bright variations forever abound; with all the wonders that God has bequeathed us, there is nothing that thrills like the magic of sound.

This quote from George Santayana echoes the emotion and power found in Silvia Moreno-Garcia's book Signal to Noise. Set in the late 1980's Mexico the book follows three outcast friends: Meche, Sebastion, and Daniela as they discover the magic they have together through music and what drove them apart as Meche returns home in 2009 for her dad's funeral.

The story of Signal to Noise is simple not only in the type of story that it follows while the characters are teenagers but also with the mystery that surrounds their dissolved friendship. Please do not be misled into thinking that something simple is something not done well. The plot is simple not as a hindrance but rather to not become a distraction to the art at work. It is the beauty in the simplicity that makes this story so wonderful to read.  The reader discovers with the character's the magic they can feel and how to use that magic.

The core of the book is found in how the magic works and how it affects the characters. How it brings them together and drives them apart. The magic is based around music but not in the making of music, Rather it is in the picking of an album or tape with the potential for magic, an object of sound humming with magic, then playing that album while joining hands and willing a mutual wish into existence. The author captures the universal draw, the strong nuclear force of music especially as it affects teenagers. Music has a sway, a major influence, a power with young people. It is not a power that enslaves but empowers for the listener. Music encourages and enables like no other art force and all of you reading this cannot deny that power. You remember. The style may have been different then but the power was the same. And Signal to Noise, like a scent that brings back cherished memories, draws the reader back to a time when music had power and rhythm, When music was life.

Overall my score for this book is that: it's good. No, it's very good. I recommend this book for anyone where music was important for sculpting your life or if it wasn't but you want to know what that feels like. When remembering this book and mediating on it, I find that I like it a lot more than I originally did.
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Sorry that I did not get that article about the importance of stories posted this week. It will be coming next Wednesday for sure. Also be on the lookout for next week's review over Vicious by V. E. Schwab, an interesting approach to the superhero novel. Comment, share, let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by and have a good, good Friday. 



Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Top Reads From 2015

Here are my top reads from last year. Most of the books were not actually published last year but were drawn from a list of all the books I did read last year.

  1. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  2. The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman
  3. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  4. Declare by Tim Powers
  5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  6. The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan
  7. The Bees by Laline Paull
  8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke
  9. Dune by Frank Herbert
  10. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  11. Vicious by V. E. Schwab
  12. Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I know this list is a bit late but I wanted to post it here for two reasons: 1. I have been on vacation this week so I have not written anything and 2. because this list will determines the next twelve reviews I do write. Next Friday and for the weeks that follow I will be reviewing each of these books/trilogies starting with the Moreno-Garcia's musical magic coming of age story set in 1980's and modern day Mexico, Signal to Noise. There will also be some extra book reviews in the coming week like my most disappointing read of 2015, or reviews of books I am currently reading and finish, and possibly some additions to my 'bad' book list. There will also be some talk on creative writing to come so be on the look out. I look forward to writing about all of these good (or great) books and I hope y'all look forward to reading about them here.
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I leave you with Mitch Hedberg. Have a great day.




Friday, March 11, 2016

Incantation and Invention

Humanity and Nature. Two forces intertwined, and sometimes at odds with each other, ever since humanity began to tell stories. In much the same way as humanity and nature are usually at odds so too are magic and technology. One word belongs to one genre and the other word to a different genre rarely brought together in one story. Which is exactly what Charlie Jane Anders does in her debut novel All the Birds in the Sky. Not only does Anders create a story both grounded in fantasy and science fiction she also ties each side of the magic/technology struggle to the much older struggle of humanity and nature. To the point that the struggle between the two sides overshadows the characters that live out that very struggle.

One is said to be the loneliest number, so to remedy this Charlie Jane Anders gives us two protagonists in her debut novel. Patricia is a witch who discovers her powers by talking to a bird and being led to a tree where the Parliament of Birds resides. Laurence is a computer whiz who discovers a two second time machine schematic on the internet and then makes one. Both kids meet each other early on, going to high school together before departing for college and reuniting years later in a world nearing the brink of ecological and economic downfall. They're shared experience in high school as out casts and yet friends to each other helps to shape the people they eventual become. Patricia a full-fledged witch secretly helping people at night, coordinated with other witch and wizards in the area while working part time by day. Laurence is a part of a think tank of the smartest engineers in the world trying to make a portal device to take a remnant of humanity to another world since this one seems to be dying.

Now if that description along doesn't pique your interest then I'm sure you're a normal human being with different tastes than I. But come on. How could you not be excited about this blend in genres? The fusion of technology and magic and their association with humanity and nature is impressively done and the way these two side of speculative fiction come together in the characters is engaging and interesting. It's just a cool book to enjoy.

sometimes they don't get along

With that being said Anders' novel is not without its faults, at least in my mind. There is a point in the novel about three quarters of the way through that the magical world and the technological one come together in the battle that a majority of the book has been building up to. It feels very much like the climax moment of the book and yet there is still an whole quarter of the novel left and another 'battle between the genres' leading finally to an ending that seemed lackluster in comparison to the rest of the novel. It felt like an ending that left me wanting. A denouement that goes on too long with a abrupt ending that easily wraps up the plot while undercutting the emotional build up for the two characters. Its resolves by fixing all the problems with one small decision, not only for Patricia and Laurence, but also the entire world.

Ending are important to me. The can make or break a book faster than any other part of a story. I have read a few books where it was a slog to get through, though not altogether uninteresting, and yet the ending ties up the whole book, making more of each part, to the point that all the work to get to the end was worth it. The book was worth reading even if almost every part until then suggested otherwise. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is one example of this kind of story. Anders' novel does the opposite. It is so well done and interesting until you get to the end and it soured the experience for me.

So, my overall score for the novel is that it's a good book. Because my experience with the novel was lessened by the ending I had debated whether to give this novel a score of 'okay' instead of good but I stand by my decision. I would still suggest that each of you read this novel. You may not have the same reservations about the ending as I did. I know that many other reviewers out there did not seem to have a problem with the ending at all.
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I hope this review was helpful in your adventure to become or even surpass me as an avid reader. If you have any questions about my scoring method please check this post. Have a lovely Friday.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Vikings, Telepathy, And Betrayal... Oh My


All those thing from the title and more can be found in Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy. This story follows Fitz, the bastard son of the king-in-waiting for the Six Duchies, as he literally grows up within the politics and intrigue of the royal court. Starting at the age of six in the first book Fitz is taken into the care of King Shrewd, trained as an assassin, fights head on and within the shadows against not only the viking like Red-Ship Raider but against the plotting of Prince Regal who wishes to have the crown for himself. And there's more. Far more than I wish to describe to you. But I will refrain from spoiling too much as I do describe a few aspects of this story that are worth noting for their brilliance within the story, the ability of Robin Hobb in crafting the story, and for their creativity within the fantasy genre itself.

A major draw for me with these books was the realism that Hobb creates with the main character. Fitz is a likable, nay lovable, character a true underdog if there ever was one and yet he reacts to the situations he is put or brought into in a way that is closer to how you or I might react instead of the typical protagonist of a fantasy story. Being the illegitimate son of the king-in-waiting you might think that, though people dislike him, that he rises to the challenge, triumphs over his enemies, and becomes the king that the Six Duchies needed all along. Instead Fitz is not only hated but is actively insulted and injured almost without reprieve or guilt in those that do it and all that Fitz does in revenge is take the punishment and try to live his life as best he can. Now lest we forget the titles of the books in this trilogy, Fitz is able to do survive (emphasis on survive) all of these things by being trained in the only skill useful to a bastard of the royal line: to be an assassin. Well having the Skill magic common to the royal line and the beast bonding magic known as the Wit also helps. 

Speaking of magic. Robin Hobb creates such unique magic systems in this trilogy and especially with the description of the Skill. Magic communication between minds is not new to fantasy but the unique way the Skill works is a lot closer to telepathy as it is most commonly seen in sci-fi or comic book stories. While still remaining mystical the Skill manifest in an assortment of ways in the books like: communicating mind to mind, seeing through another’s eyes even if they are miles away, controlling another person’s actions, making someone feel fear even if they are not afraid of a certain thing, making someone believe they cannot see you even if you are right in front of them, and even torturing and killing someone by the Skill alone. A very useful and diverse magic. The Wit magic, one that bonds a person to an animal, seems less unique to fantasy. Yet the way the Wit works, being similar to the Skill, and how Fitz uses them together to overcome his enemies is not only very fun to read but brings a refreshing and unique take on beast type magics.  

Unique weapon is unique. 
One final thing that this trilogy does that made it so enjoyable to read was it how it broke away from the conventional pattern found in a trilogy. In the first book (or movie) there are evil-bad guys (girls) and they must be stopped and for the most part they are. The second installment has the evil-bad guys (girls) come back and show just how big and bad they are leaving the good-right guys (girls) defeated and sad. Third act/book/movie shows the good-right guys (girls) rallying back and finally defeating those big, bad, evil people once and for all (unless there is a sequel series). That is not quite what happens in the Farseer Trilogy. Instead, though Fitz survives at the end of the first book, ultimately the whole thing still ends in favor of the villains. The second book actually has a lot more positive growth and positive encounters for Fitz up until the end, and in the third book though good triumphs over evil it does not happen until the very end. You are kept wondering the entire book if Fitz-and-gang are going to actually win or not. You even begin to believe, despite not wanting to, that they might not win at all. Even though the ending of each book follows the conventions of a three part story the whole of the trilogy does not and that’s the true beauty of what Hobb has written. She makes us believe the good guys won’t win and when they do it’s triumphant and fulfilling. There is no Deus ex Machina tomfoolery just the ultimate hope you have for Fitz, despite all Hobb does to try and destroy it, come roaring up from the dark pit of defeat into the full light of victory.

My final score for the Farseer trilogy is that it’s very good. A must read for any one whether you like fantasy or not.
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Hope you enjoyed this book review there will be one up each week. If you would like to know more about the scoring method click here. If you enjoyed the review than share it with your many, many friend and talk about how much you want to read these books. And if you did not like this review than share it with your friends and mock it endlessly. Have a wonderful Friday. 


Friday, February 26, 2016

Books That I Think Are "Bad"



All of the books that I would rate as "bad" will be collected here in this post. As I come across more "bad" books the list will be updated. Enjoy.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

And it's not because of the author's politics themselves but rather how they are presented in the book. The fact is this story is boring. It is too caught up trying to prove that the author's way of thinking is correct that she forgets to tell a story. There is a reason this book is not adaptable to a film, or at least a film worth watching. That reason is there is no real story to follow in the book, no characters are created that anyone would want to read about, so even if you were to add in action and spectacle the whole thing still falls flat. There are hints to an interesting story lying around: with mysterious copper mines that produce no copper, the American government scheming to take complete control of the economy using thing like mandatory amounts of books published by a publisher based on how many were published in the 'standard year' that the takeover happens, a international Icelandic pirate who raids relief ships from America to the People's States of Europe. All of these things are mentioned and discussed briefly but never elaborated upon. Now to be fare I did not finish this book. Out of 1188 pages I made it to about 790 before I finally gave up on the book. I have since read the plot synopsis as to what happens from where I stopped and I did not miss much. In those remaining 398 pages John Galt, the avatar for Rand's philosophy, gives a 70 plus page speech on just what he (Rand) believes. A very similar ending can be found in the Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

I'm sure there are a few, or many, of you out there who like this book. I do not and I recommend you do not waste any time reading it.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

It's really not fair of me to put this on the list since I've never been able to read more than two chapters. But come one book. Come on Conrad. I have tried on four separate occasions, each a year or so apart, to read this book and I cannot. Nothing hooks me. Not the promise of the plot, not the characters, nor even the language itself. It is all so boring. I hate to use that word because a boring book can be rewarding to finish, and maybe I will finish this book some day. Until that day comes this is where Heart of Darkness remains.

~

Here is my sword collection. It's nice to vent sometimes.

A Brief Explanation of My Book Review Scores

For book reviews on this blog I will be using the scoring spectrum as follows: 
Bad 
Okay 
Good 
Very Good 
Great
Now to most of you that may look a lot like a five point system. Actually, it’s more akin to a four point system. Let me explain. 

Imagine a three story office building. Okay now imagine that building also has a basement. The basement represents ‘bad’ books. The basement is not a place where people work but is more like a storage space, a place where you would put things that you might as well have thrown out since no one will ever come down to retrieve what was stored there. Moving upward to the first floor we find the ‘okay’ books. There is nothing wrong with the first floor, its nice, a waiting room or lobby of sorts. It has some nice decorations and certainly has a purpose but it’s mostly empty and serves only a limited purpose. On up to the second floor we get the real work, the multiple use and purpose, the richness of the work that comes out of the building. The second floor represents the ‘good’ books. Most books I review may fall under the overall score of ‘good’ and though according to mathematical definitions that would make these books average for me the score is a reflection of quality. These books are good, above average. Better than okay. Now for the score of ‘very good’ we start to see the four point system. Very good books are represented by a balcony/rest area midway between the second and third floor. This is an area that allows people to relax and see the world around the building in a better way than through a window. This is a place only open to those that are already on the second floor but restricted to those who excel in the work done there. To put more simply if ‘good’ is a 3 on the four point scale then ‘very good’ is a 3.5. And finally we get to the third floor, the ‘great’ books. This floor is as large as the others but is only occupied by a scarce few. These are the folks who set the standard for what work should be. The quality that books should try to reach. These few do have access to the balcony between floors but choose rather to ascend to the roof where they might see the entire world instead of a balcony only facing one way.

This is the building.
Now that was a long explanation for what could be summed up simply as: bad=1, okay=2, good=3, very good=3.5, and great=4. For those of you who see things better if there is a number attached to it then please use those numbers to help you understand my overall score of a book. For me, I’m a words person, so I like to use words to describe the quality of a story hints the long metaphor versus a short number scale. My goal for this way of showing the quality of a story was to have a spectrum that has more positive nomenclature than negative. I think most books are worth reading even if they end up with a score of ‘okay’. There will be less books with a score of ‘bad’ for me than those that have a score of ‘great’. This might make me seem too optimistic or maybe too easy on books that you might give a less favorable score. I’m okay with that. We are all going to have strong opinions about what is good and great, and what is bad or worse and I am no exception. We all have swords.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Books I Think You Should Read, part 3

The final countdown has reached zero (part 3) and as the kids are saying these days: its an oldie but a goodie.


Call of the Wild by Jack London

Synopsis (from Amazon) “The story opens at a ranch in the Santa Clara Valley of California when Buck is stolen from his home and sold into service as a sled dog in Alaska. He progressively reverts to a wild state in the harsh climate, where he is forced to fight to dominate other dogs. By the end, he sheds the veneer of civilization and relies on primordial instinct and learned experience to emerge as a leader in the wild.”

And so we end this series of recommendations on a book about a dog, from a dog’s perspective, if that dog was Jack London. This book is great.

Overall this book is the easiest to read and the most straightforward in style and plot among the books I've recommended in this series. There is no additional content necessary to understand this story and there are no mental acrobatics necessary to understand what the story is telling. The only hill that needs to be overcome is that the main character is a dog named Buck and the narration is, for the most part, from Buck’s perspective.  

Jack London’s construction of Buck’s perspective, though distinctly dog like, is also very human. You start to believe that these are the things that person might actually do. Buck labors with others to accomplish task of those in authority. He must adapt to extreme conditions and survive deadly climates. He fights against those that wish to oppress him. He find lasting and loyal friendship and is driven to do terrible things when that friend is attacked and killed. All of these things are distinctly human. The Golden Gate like bridge that Jack London had built between man and animal in Call of the Wild gives a greater understand of humanity, that comes so more easily from this type of writing, which leads to a greater empathy for people in general.

Because of this strong connecting to humanity while using a non-human perspective Call of the Wild also acts as a gateway book to those stories with odd perspectives found in fiction. Lets look at an example of this. If I were to tell you about this really cool book, great world building, well thought out and empathetic characters, an epic struggle against oppression while trying to build a new life you might say “that sounds cool, tell me more” to which I would respond “it’s called Watership Down and it’s all about rabbits” to which you might respond with “okay…” and walk away wondering why are we friends. This is only a slight exaggeration of every case in which I recommend Watership Down to people. A book about rabbits is a hard sell to a lot of people and yet if you can be swept away by the life of Buck then you will be more open to reading a book about rabbits.

This was one of the first books I ever read that made me want to read and so holds a special place in my heart. It may not actually be your cup of tea, whether you like it hot and Earl Grey or sweet and iced, yet I say give it a try. It’s easy to read, easy to understand, and will open you up to a whole world of stories you never even considered before. (Fun fact, you can download the ebook of Call of the Wild for kindle for free, so there's that.)

~

We've come to the end and what a wild ride it as been eh? Well not wild, but fun. Fun for me at least. I hope these recommendation help you who are reading to broaden your reading horizons, or if you have never sailed the waters of fiction before, then I hope they have given you the final push to come and get your sea legs. Be on the look out for more book reviews to come, new and old, along with some posts about creative writing in all its forms. You may not  always agree with what I have to say, especially if its about a book you hold dear, and that's great but I ask that you respond not with bladed edge but rather with kindness and grace and I will strive to do the same. We all have swords but let us all strive to live our lives in a way that we will never have to unsheathe them. 


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Books I Think You Should Read, part 2

Part 2! Part 2! Who could believe we would make it this far? I know I had my doubts. But since you're here I suppose you could take a look at my next book recommendation. 



If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

Synopsis (from Amazon) “If on a Winter's Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct, through which two readers, a male and a female, pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.”

It took me three chapters and rereading the synopsis on the back of the book multiple times to figure out just what in the world Calvino was doing with this book. Every other chapter, labeled with numbers, is set from the perspective of You, the reader. The other chapters all have titles, because they are all the first chapter to ten different fictional books that You the reader are reading. And You the reader turns out to be a character within the novel that meets a girl in a book store reading the same fictional titles books you are reading and on and on and on. Also romance ensures (which I do have a soft spot for well done romance).

If you hadn't noticed yet If on a winter’s night a traveler belongs to the genre labeled metafiction and this was my first rodeo into said genre. I absolutely fell in love with it. Metafiction is a wonderful genre that wants you to read the book while realize you’re reading a book. Why is that important, you might ask, or more importantly: why is that cool? Here’s why it is cool. If you are reading a book that is on some level aware that it is a book or rather makes you aware that it’s a book then you become involved in the story. Literally. You are now a part of this story because the story recognizes you as a reader and also itself as a story. The story transcends your own imagination, becoming tangible, a part of your life beyond what you see in your mind. The interaction of the author and the reader becomes something more than storyteller but rather a real life tour guide through some already lived adventure. With the author addressing the reader the story seems to resemble a person's journal or someone recording history instead of some author making everything up. Though you must in some ways use your imagination when you read history, the accounts seem real and hold more meaning since real people lived through those events. Metafiction brings that same feeling to a reader while still maintaining that its all just a story. I know that may not makes sense for you if you haven't had the opportunity to read metafiction. The feeling of disconnect alone, of almost believing a tale that continues to claim it's not true while using techniques that make it seem like a historical account, though overwhelming will bring a new appreciation not only to stories themselves but to how people tell true stories. 

If on a winter’s night a traveler is not the first book to employ metafiction in this way or even to use metafictional writing in the most interesting and engaging way (see House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski) but I believe it is a seminal work within the genre. The story itself is engrossing and the metafictional structure and writing only add to the enjoyment instead of distract, which you run the risk of doing when you write metafiction. If you want to try out this genre this is the book I recommend. Be warned though, this is a challenging book to read. It can at many times seem slow (boring) but I believe it's worth while to finish even if it feels more like work at times than play.I know it is difficult to do, to read a difficult or even a seemly boring book. And yet if you're going to commit time to read a story wouldn't you want to spend that time reading something that's going to be great? This book is great. The effort is worth the adventure. 


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Books I Think You Should Read, part 1

For my first post I would like to answer that very popular question that I rarely get asked: What books would you recommend I read above all others? It’s a short list of long parts so I've broken it down into three. I think these reading recommendations will serve as a good introduction to my way of reviewing fiction and also a glimpse into what exactly I like in fiction or what kind of fiction remains with me emotionally and intellectually. Well, without further ado, here is the first of three (though they are in no particular order).



Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Synopsis (from Amazon) “In the aftermath of his terrible war, Ender Wiggin disappeared, and a powerful voice arose: The Speaker for the Dead, who told the true story of the Bugger War. Now, long years later, a second alien race has been discovered, but again the aliens' ways are strange and frightening...again, humans die. And it is only the Speaker for the Dead, who is also Ender Wiggin the Xenocide, who has the courage to confront the mystery...and the truth.”

This is an odd one to start with because it comes with caveat. Since Speaker for the Dead is a sequel to Ender’s Game it would be helpful to go ahead and read Ender’s Game first before you dive into Speaker. A side note here: Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead are the two books that helped me formulate my definition of what makes a good book versus what makes a great book. (For those of you just dying to know that definition is: a good book is one that you cannot put down but must consume and consume as if your life depended on it; a great book is one that fills you with so many questions, emotions, and understanding that you must put it down and rest for fear you will be overwhelmed and die.)

Alright, so back to Speaker for the Dead. This book is very different from its predecessor in that there is little space action, or action at all, going on. The book is made up of people talking about who they are, how they relate to the aliens in question, and how should they react to their alien neighbor's odd and violent customs. The growth of Ender Wiggin from child prodigy to full adult, who is still a genius, but not as special or rather special in his infamy shows a great depth of character. The reflection of humanity within Ender is much clearer than most would like to see when looking at a fictional mirror. Sci-fi is supposed to take us to the stars and the future, to places and to things we can only imagine but also believe we can attain. Sci-fi is hopeful in its outlook and melodramatic in its forecast. And yet science fiction has always been like a corrective lens to our lives, a magnifying glass to the dim and sometimes distant problems of the world. Speaker for the Dead does not come up lacking but shines brightly into the fog of our world and its problems and prejudices. Couched within the mystery and violence that these new aliens follow, we the readers begin to see what it means to know someone who is different and to connect with someone whose culture has no context within our own. We begin to see all people as just they should be seen, as people.

If you’re not ready to take a long look at yourself and your own prejudices, because despite what we would all like to believe we all have them, then I would save this book to read for last from this list. Any book that makes you look at yourself and see the flaws within you, lets you see them as flaws, and then shows you that they must be changed is a powerful and worthwhile work of fiction. I wish I could say I could not put this book down but I cannot. I had to put it down, multiple times. It was great.