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Category Archives: Books

Grimoire Game is now available. E-books are available from most major retailers. Print books, unfortunately, are only available from Amazon or Createspace.

Anthony Burgess’ novella A Clockwork Orange has intrigued me for some time.  Although I have never seen the movie, I was already familiar (on a very high level) with the plot.  The book impressed me in a number of ways, though.  Given how well this book is known, this review **WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This version had a forward by the author, explaining an important difference between the original American version (on which the movie was based) and the international version.  Essentially, the final chapter was left out of the American version, significantly reducing the growth of the protagonist, Alex (more on this later).

The first aspect of the book that surprised and impressed me was the use of slang.  The slang, an invention of Burgess, is used throughout by the main character and some of his cronies.  The inclusion is delicately and consistently handled.  Alex switches between the slang and normal speech as required by the situation.  The words, with a few exceptions, sound very much like the sort of slang fifteen year old hooligans would use.  I couldn’t help imagining the work that must have gone into the invention and execution of this language.

The philosophical discussion in the book is one of the key elements of this book.  Fundamentally, the book is about the importance of choice to morality.  After Alex’s vicious and horrifying crimes early in the book, he is subjected to a procedure to brainwash him – he is no longer able to chose to do evil.  And thus, unable to chose evil his good actions do not make him good.  Indeed he is no longer human.  He is a ‘clockwork orange’ – looking like a natural, valuable creation, but being no more than an automaton. This is a theme I’ve seen before, and important to the human experience.  Most notably (from my opinion) in the final chapter of the Wheel of Time.

Now to come back to the final chapter, which was included in the version I read.  Leading into the final chapter, Alex has been ‘cured’ of his brainwashing.  He is now capable and desirous of choosing to return to his former violent life.  Burgess notes correctly that ending the story here does not give Alex any growth.  He is at the same place he was at the start of the book.   This leaves an interesting circular story, but  with a dark overtone.  Burgess desired for his protagonist to change across the story, thus the inclusion of the final chapter, where Alex becomes disinterested in the life of violence he has led and turns his thoughts to the future – marriage and children.  The narrative falls short for me, though.  There is no real explanation to why he is no longer excited by violence.  Furthermore, his transformation was not tied into the rest of the story.  This would have been a natural enough, though would need a delicate touch to avoid suggestion that he was not being “forced” to change his ways.  It also seemed quite sudden, especially for someone whose life to this point has been driven by the desire for violence.

The book works well for what it is trying to achieve, and I think works equally well with or without the final chapter, though this of course impacts the feel of it.

Grimoire Game (which I described in my last post), will be released December 30th.

It is currently available for pre-order. e-book versions are available at Amazon

Although there isn’t a pre-order, per se, the Smashwords page is up.  On the 30th, the print version will be available (only from Amazon or Createspace, unfortunately), and other e-book sites will begin to have the book.

Any reviews you leave will be greatly appreciated!

One thing I am often irritated by when reading  is characters who make obviously poor decisions.   Movie characters aren’t immune, of course.

Of course, characters are allowed – and should be – human.  They will undoubtedly have foibles, and making bad choices is certainly going to be a part of that.  In real life, bad choices are usually a result of: incomplete information, poorly predicting the possible outcomes, or acting under pressure.  Most authors navigate this masterfully, showing why a character will make the wrong choice in a given situation.  The best writers will make you understand the character and their  so well, that you feel convinced that it’s their best option – or even a good option – at the time.

And then there are the characters who do obviously stupid things because they’ll be “fun” or just because they’re impulsive.  Even impulsive people have motivations, though, and even they understand when there are risks involved.  I can be impulsive myself, but there’s always a line that doesn’t get crossed.

A recent book I read, the first installment of the Cirque du Freak series (by Darren Shan) had one of those moments where I squirmed because the character was doing something just plain stupid.  Stealing a giant, deadly, and hard to control spider from a vampire?  Sounds like a great idea, right?  And why did the character feel compelled to do this?  In his own words, “I’m note sure . . .”

So to all my fellow writers out there:  If your character must do something stupid, at least give him a reason.

 

In early 2015, I’ll be releasing my next novel.  The exact timing will be determined by the remaining editing process.  Right now, I’m sending copies to my beta readers, though there’s still a lot of work let to do.

This will be the first book in what I’m tentatively calling the “Weight of Power” series.  Here’s my first take on the book description:

Since the dawn of time, the powers of evil have worked to destroy creation. Over the centuries, monsters of terrible power – Impurati – are created, each with the power to bring destruction to the world. Each has been turned back by the Guardians – warrior wizards whose purpose is to protect the world from these Impuarti.

But the Impurati cannot be destroyed. Instead they have been imprisoned, locked away for all time. Now someone is releasing the Impurati, making an army of these demigods. Can the current Guardians turn back this seemingly unstoppable force?

 

A portion of the books I choose to read are done specifically because they are popular.  This makes me feel terribly unenlightened, but at the same time, as a writer, it’s important for me to understand what is popular.  I’d like to believe that the most wildly popular books are also the best written, but this is usually not the case.

And so I found myself reading Divergent, by Veronica Roth, after its recent theatrical release.

The book is about a girl toughing it out in a dystopian future.  Apparently that’s in vogue right now.  There is enough different in the setup not to dwell too much on whether or not this work took its cue from the Hunger Games.  Besides, any time you compare works in the same genre, you’re bound to find similarities.  What I noted, though, was the similarities between Katniss and Tris.

Both heroines find themselves in tough situations where they are pushed to violence.  What surprises me, though, is how both brush aside these acts.  I understand that for both of them, these are intended to be unavoidable or emotionally charged.  I have trouble seeing it that way, though.  Specifically, at one point Tris tells a friend (who has admittedly given her reason for anger) that if he comes near her, she’ll kill him (?!).  At another time, she shoots a friend (who is zombie-fied) in the head.  She couldn’t have stopped him without killing him?  Seriously?  Admittedly, Tris shows some remorse for this, but doesn’t even think whether she had another option.

I certainly accept that literature is filled with anti-heroes, with moral ambiguity, and with otherwise good people who make bad choices.  We writers try to make our stories (even sci-fi/fantasy) seem real, after all.  But both Tris and Katniss are, as far as I could tell, intended to be relatable heroines, not anti-heronies.  If poor choices are made in the heat of the moment, shouldn’t this be reflected in the writing?

In the end, I did find Tris more likeable, and less self-centered, than Katniss.  Her shifting moods and varying application of selflessness was perplexing, though.  I haven’t yet been able to tell whether this is a character quirk, sloppy writing, or because she is “Divergent” – which in the context of the story might be an acceptable explanation.

I liked the book enough that I will probably continue the series, but I certainly wasn’t spellbound enough to be in a hurry.

I started reading Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series mainly because of how much I enjoyed his Old Kingdom series.  Rather than trying to review each book individually, I’m going to review the series as a whole.

The setup is simple enough: The Architect (i.e. God) has long since gone missing, leaving her will to be executed by seven trustees – who instead broke and imprisoned the will and took control over The House (a sort of central command station for the universe).  Each of the trustees is designated a day over which they have power (Mr. Monday, Grim Tuesday, etc.).  When one part of the will is freed, it selects a human to be the heir to the kingdom.  The heir, Arthur, must now defeat each of the trustees in turn to release the remaining parts of the will.  And suddenly we have a convenient setup for a 7 – book series.

One thing I particularly like: Arthur is not the “Chosen One”.  He is not special in any way, aside from being good-hearted.  He is chosen merely because he is in the right place at the right time – in this case, the precipice of death.

As Arthur confronts each of the trustees in turn, he travels through the house, he encounters a world with Nix’s characteristic creativity.  Every new area has unique people and locales.

The plot, from a high level, is not terribly surprising, and the storytelling, though engaging, wasn’t as captivating as the Old Kingdom series.  This was a fun series, but not one of my favorites.

These days, a good portion of the reading I do is via audio books on my commute.  This is, for me, an efficient use of my time as well as a nice way to relax heading home from my day job.

As an aside: I have a friend who is a fellow writer, as well as being a librarian.  Her husband likes to tell her that audiobooks don’t count as “reading”, so she shouldn’t count it on books she’s read.  I think this is silly, personally, though I’m sure he’s not alone in his opinion.

There are some books that I listen to that don’t engross me.  That in itself, of course, shouldn’t be surprising.  Not every book can be The Wheel of Time.  It occurs to me to wonder, though:  Does the reader impact my perception of the story?  Would I have found it more interesting or engrossing, the characters more relatable, if I had read the book myself?

Most readers do a remarkable job.  I have just enough acting experience (during my college days) to appreciate how difficult it must be to bring a world to life with your voice.  A few of the readers, though, have struck me as off on their tone.

We’re all told to judge on substance, not the superficial. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  But we do.  Every day we judge people based on how they are dressed, how they look.  We decide on which book to pick up off the shelf because it has more interesting cover art.  As a writer, particularly, I find it unsettling that I may be deciding whether I like a book based on a reader, rather than the content.

OK, I Am Number Four first came to my attention because of the movie based in the book.  And I can’t tell you how much I hated the title.  As ambiguous as titles are anyhow, I felt this was even further afield.  As though I should know the answer to the question that kept popping into my head: “four what?”  It even crossed my mind to wonder if it was a reference to something I should know.  Like if a movie was titles “I Am 24601”, I’d know it was Les Mis.  But no – The title, and the book has the same title, is a reference only to the itself.

And so I avoided the movie, as even the trailers I saw didn’t help explain what it was about.

Now a couple of years later, I happened to see the book as I was trying to decide what I should listen to next on my commute.  And I was struck with the same though, “four  WHAT?”  And I decided that the title bothered me enough that I was willing to listen to the book to find out.  Mental note: start giving my books irritating titles.

The answer is that he is the fourth of nine aliens, who escaped their home world’s destruction by coming to earth as children, and has been living incognito.  (Each has a mentor, as well – more on that later).  Maybe not the most original idea, but it kept me listening.  He’s being chased, naturally, by the bad aliens that destroyed his planet.  But wait – they have to kill the nine IN ORDER.  So it’s significant that he’s number four (especially as we learn in the opening scene that number three is killed).  This seems like an unnecessary complication – almost like the title came first and the story was written to fit it. 

At the start of the book, we find that the four and his mentor have been moving around all his life, never in one place long, always changing identities – so although he’s referred to as John Smith for most of the book, it’s not his real name.  This is to avoid the bad aliens finding him before his powers have developed.  Yes, the aliens and the bad guys (but not the mentors, conveniently) have magical powers that they can use to fight.  It’s through some sort of this magic that they must be killed in order.  The blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements, isn’t done well in my opinion.  The magic isn’t consistent – each will have their own abilities – and unpredictable.  There doesn’t seem to be any underlying rationale for who can do what.  In my own opinion, this would be easier to accept in a straight-up fantasy.

Despite all this action-related background, it seemed like an enormous amount of the book was spent dwelling on teenage issues.  Four spends a great deal of the book a) mooning over a girl or b) trying to avoid the move and change of identity that always comes – mainly because of the girl.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this character is a teenager, and teenagers obsess, particularly about the opposite sex, but the book at times seemed more focused on that than the EVIL ALIENS who could be attacking any minute.

I won’t say I hated this book – I didn’t.  I liked it well enough not to stop halfway through.  I just didn’t think it was all it could have been.

Reading Young Adult books, especially those deemed “popular” is often a mixed bag.  Some of my very favorite books fall here, touching just the right chords to remind me of the emotional trials of my younger days.  Others are more lighthearted, able to slip past traps that might subdue a book for older audiences.  And then there are the other books.  The ones that are popular not because they are well written, but because they can tug on excitement or romance.  I suppose this is true of all genres, but with the recent boom in movies based on Young Adult (and fantasy in particular) books, it seems more prominent here.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins was certainly not the worst offender I’ve read.  Far from it.  The story was entertaining, and the world that she describes, though nothing novel in terms of dystopia, is certainly interesting.  On a high level, I enjoyed the book, it was only in the details that I found displeasure.

The writing, while mostly very good, did tend to veer into trying too hard.  It takes a skillful hand to balance between “not enough” and “too much” description, and Collins at times has too much.  For me, at least, it distracted from the story.  Another item I found issue with was with what could be termed technical details.  Katniss is impossibly good with her bow.  Wounds (and there were plenty) seem to waver between extreme and mere nuisances, depending on the needs of the story.  Similarly, the younger girls (Rue and Prim), who are both 12 years old, seem to be described as younger.  I couldn’t help picturing an 8 or 9 year old.  Some of the effects af the mysterious technology shown in “the Capitol”, I found to be questionable.  I’m  willing to give these to the suspension of disbelief, though. 

My biggest problem with the book, however, is that I simply didn’t like Katniss.  I found her to be suspicious and self-centered.  In a book that relies on the reader rooting for the heroine, I just couldn’t make myself do it.  I would have been happier for Peeta or Rue to have won. 

In the end, while I wouldn’t talk someone out of reading this, I also wouldn’t encourage it. 

Read at your own risk.