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Tag Archives: Books

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.

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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!

Soon, and hopefully before the end of the year, I will be releasing a novella titled Grimoire Game.

When two new college students, Austin and Caleb, can’t find a book of occult magic in their school’s ancient library, they decide to write their own as a game. They fill the grimoire with nonsense words and ridiculous ingredients, but when they try their first spell it works with frightening force.

 With each new spell they cast, the results become more unpredictable. Can they contain the power they have unleashed before it spins out of control?

I’ll provide an additional update once the exact release date is known.

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.

I just read a fascinating article about making it in traditional publishing. It’s both illuminating and disheartening. And completely unsurprising.

The thing is, most of us have a good story or two (at least) to tell. Many of us would love the opportunity to tell them, especially if we made a few bucks doing it. And of these, there’s a pretty good percentage that actually sit down and make an effort of a draft. How many of these are decent writers, I couldn’t say, but the end result is an enormous number of unpublished works. I dare say that a fair number of these would sell, at least respectably, if promoted properly.

Some could see this as condemnation of traditional publishing, and supporting independent publishing. But the thing is, that this doesn’t solve the problem. We use publishers (even before the days of print-on demand and e-books) as much for marketing expertise as for gatekeepers. Trying to get your name out there and get published is no easier, and probably harder. Yes, you can guarantee that your book gets published. Maybe you can even assume that you’ll get a couple of sales. But there aren’t any more people “making it” this way than with traditional publishing.

In the end, no matter what path authors take, their sales are as dependent on luck as hard work and talent.

Many – maybe most –  of the works that have had a strong influence on me are ones that have fantasy and action elements.  I grew up watching Star Wars at every opportunity, and later Star Trek and a bunch of different superheros.  The works that do not fall into these categories, though, that sometimes are the most profound.  such is the impact I felt from A Separate Peace, by John Knowles.

The timing with which my high school English class tackled this book undoubtedly was part of the reason this book resonated with me.  The book is, among other things, about struggling with your place in the world.  Gene, the book’s protagonist, struggles with his best friend’s apparent superiority.  Phineas was more popular, more athletic, and perhaps smarter as well.  Gene’s jealousy and guilt over what jealousy drives him to do, is the driving force of the book. 

As a teenager reading this book, I was myself struggling with feeling’s of inferiority.  My best friend of the time seemed to my teenage self, more popular, athletic, and intelligent, leaving me to follow in his tracks.  I felt as Gene felt.   But the book helped me see that what I saw through my jealousy wasn’t necessarily true.

Looking at it now, though, it also points out something that new writers can sometimes overlook: that action and fantasy might make books exciting, but it won’t matter unless we care about the characters.  And if we do care about the characters, we don’t need a strange world, or powerful enemies to care about their plight.

As I write this, A Memory of Light currently has only 2 1/2 stars on Amazon’s website.  While this might have been an indication that the long-awaited book hasn’t lived up to expectations – that’s not the case.   The reviews (by and large) either give 1 star or 5.  5 stars for those who have loved the book . . . 1 star from those who are griping that it isn’t available as an e-book yet.  Seriously?  What does that have to do with the quality of the book?  This seems terribly petty to me.

I understand that, for those who prefer e-books, this is another frustrating delay, and I can’t say that I agree with Tor for making you wait longer for it (although perhaps there are good reasons).  But giving a (presumably) good book that you are excited about bad reviews is, frankly, childish.

There are some reviews who claim that everyone’s reading e-books, so Tor’s either not going to get any sales or just doesn’t understand their consumer.  Let me point out:  Most Wheel of Time fans have been reading the series since long before e-readers were around (First WoT book=1990 [23 years ago], First e-reader = 2007 [5 1/2 years ago]).  And for the time being paper book sales still far outweigh e-book sales.