Look Out Now! Review Time!

For today’s review, we look at a book that has been called a modern(ish) fantasy classic. Although it’s not universally praised, there are many in the fantasy world who adore this book. At the risk of alienating some of the precious few people who read this blog, I am going to go out on a limb and say that I did not love this book.

You may ask, what book are you referring to? Why wouldn’t you put the title first? Do you even know how to write? Fair points. Don’t despair. The book is…

THE EYE OF THE WORLD by Robert Jordan

This is the first installment in Jordon’s epic fantasy series: The Wheel of Time. He wrote many entries in this series, and even after he passed away, the books continued to come out. Also, Amazon is developing Wheel of Time into a series so it is relevant again.

Lan is the guy doing a wheelie with his horse. Moiraine is the wizard on the white horse with great posture. Rand, the main character, might be the guy whose body is partially severed by book binding.

I didn’t hate this book as much as some. I don’t curse its creation. Also, I’m generally aware of its common criticisms. It’s a Tolkien ripoff, its characters are dull and the story moves like a glacier.

It just so happens that I agree with these criticisms. Imagine that!

First, this book was not particularly shy about borrowing a little from Tolkien. In Lord of the Rings, we have Mount Doom. In The Wheel of Time, we have the Mountains of Dhoom. Honestly, this was the least of my criticisms. This book is very much its own book. It has its own fantasy setting. I didn’t read about a single dwarf or elf. Apart from plagiarizing a few geographical features, I did not see many other similarities. He probably should have landed on another name for the mountain. Mount Sadness? The Peaks of Annihilation! Death Summit! Death Summit clearly is the best choice.

But hold on there…I went this far without giving a synopsis. I feel great shame.

This book is about a dark, malevolent force that seeks to take over the world. Who will stop him? Who is the chosen one? Well, that brings us to a small farming town on the outskirts of everything. Three boys, roughly the same age, are being pursued by a dark rider. He is evil, and he has brought evil things with him. Fortunately, a wizard (an Aes Sedai) and her bodyguard (Warder) happen to come to the town just as evil descends. They all flee with an army of Trollocs (dog orcs?) on their trail. A few other people from the town come with them and they pick a few up on the way. It is a large party. They are not memorable.

That is a good segue into the second criticism. Our main character is Rand, one of the three farming boys. To me, Rand is …bland. (NAILED IT!) I had a hard time sympathizing with his character. Rand was paper thin. He just wanted to go home. He worried a lot. He seldom made important decisions. He was along for the ride.

The supporting cast of characters who filled out the remainder of the party are too many to name. Because there are so many, they do not get enough air time to allow for meaningful character development. One character goes dark side for a bit, another develops powers, there’s a strained romance. It felt very paint-by-numbers.

Finally, this was a long book. Let’s shave off about 300 pages and pick up the old pace. By the time they reach the actual Eye of the World, I was so over this book. The Eye itself, as well as the climax of the book, was confusing anyway.

Without beating this book to dust, I will say I rate it a 3.9 out of 10. It has its moments, certainly, but overall it just felt like a never-ending trek with one-dimensional characters. I started to understand why the Dark One wanted to kill them so badly.

One time in Disneyland, I was stuck on the “It’s A Small World After All” ride, and that song kept playing over and over again. I just wanted it all to end. That was this book. But I understand there are those who have dutifully read the entire series. More power to you. The books I prefer have a compelling plot, interesting characters, and a real ending. But hey, to each their own.

That’s all for now. I keep plugging away at the short story. It’s coming along. I look forward to typing at you some more. When these thoughts start piling up in my head, that’s when I put Pen to Keyboard.

[cue outro music]

This song shall never leave your head.
Advertisements

Hey! Here comes a Book Review! Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Image result for sleeping giants review

Welcome back. How have you been? I am well, thank you for asking.

Now that we have dispensed with the pleasantries, let’s get right to it.

Today, a review. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (I would rate the author’s name as a 10/10).

I picked this gem up at a book sale and it was the best $5 I’ve spent in quite awhile (Starbucks Nitro Cold Brew is a close second – so smooth). There is much to love in this book. Where to begin…with a synopsis of course!

Sleeping Giants is the first of the “Themis Files” trilogy (a trilogy I intend to finish). On Earth, there is a giant robot which was dismembered and buried underground in different locations all over the planet. This happened long ago by forces unknown. Sleeping Giants chronicles the discovery of the first robotic body part (a giant hand!), the systematic, global search for the remaining parts, and the process of learning to pilot the robot. As the story goes on, we also get a glimpse at its mysterious origins.

What immediately jumps out is the narrative style of this book. It was written as a series of files, i.e., recorded conversations, scientific journal entries and personal diaries. Primarily, you are reading question and answer interviews. The questioner is always the same person; an unseen, nondescript, clandestine, quasi-governmental figure who is shrouded in mystery (so many adjectives!). His character lends a dry humor to the story. He initially presents as a callous and unemotional figure, but as the story progresses, his character has more and more dimension.

Given the narrative style, much of the story is told through dialogue. It continuously impressed me that the author was able to interject description and setting through the dialogue. The only time it felt contrived was during the climactic action sequence (it required a character to constantly describe his actions through his own dialogue). Nevertheless, the style did not slow or dull the story. Actually, that’s an understatement. If anything, it quickened the pace of the story.

This book was a quick, exciting read. Part adventure, part science fiction, all robotic fun. It was 336 pages, but in actuality, it read much faster due to all of the white space on the pages from the question-answer format.

I certainly intend on reading the remaining books. Why not? They are inexpensive on Amazon in Kindle format and can be read in a day. Well, it can be read in a day if you don’t have adult responsibilities getting in the way (I hate doing the dishes).

Overall, I would rate this book an 9.1/10. It is smart, swift and fills the reader with awe from time to time. I am looking forward to reading (and reviewing!) the other two books in the trilogy. I have left a link below for you to check this one out. Highly recommend!

Well, that’s all. I look forward to typing at you more in the future. When these thoughts start piling up in my head, that’s when I put Pen to Keyboard.

[cue outro music – Paranoid Android]

I’m Sorry, My Nerd Is Showing

If your interest is fading as you read this post, drink every time you read the word nerd.

To the dozen wonderful folks who may be reading this , I am making a very personal reveal. Here it comes…

I am a nerd.

That may not come as a surprise to those who really know me, but I wanted to make a public declaration for reasons that will become clear.

But when you get down to brass tacks, what is a nerd? The meaning and connotations have changed over the years. In the 80’s-90’s, anyone who used a computer for reasons beyond word composition was a nerd. Remember Saved by the Bell? Those nerds were portrayed as the smart kids who wore pocket protectors and couldn’t play sports. They usually had trouble speaking. This was the same flavor of nerd (gross!) from the Revenge of the Nerds movies. I would wager that those movies (all 50 of them) were responsible for establishing the geek archetype. Booger was an interesting character because he resembled a sex trafficker more than a nerd. We all wear multiple hats, I suppose.

“Please step into my human-sized shipping crate.”

Over the years, these social classifications (nerd vs. jock vs. preppie vs. emo (still a thing?)) have blurred with the proliferation of technology. There are still purists for each group, but mostly people are a blended cocktail. You can be smart and play football. Athletes like video games. Nerds watch the NFL. It seems like everyone loved The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones (science fiction and fantasy are no longer the exclusive domains of the nerd).

If I had to define nerd, I would say a nerd has interests that are outside of the mainstream and not considered cool.

That being said, there are certain things in life that are categorically nerdy. Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, Star Trek: The Next Generation, anime, comic books. This list is not exhaustive.

How does that relate to me? I was in a Dungeons & Dragons group through most of high school. The Group met every Friday. I will not publicly out the other 6 members (well, one of their names rhymed with Smat Ward). However, I will say that these weekly sessions count among the best times of my life.

So, let me turn the bus around and bring it all back to something relevant to this blog. I love reading all genres, but I am partial to science fiction and fantasy. It’s nerdy stuff. Sometimes, it’s super nerdy. I am going to write about some nerdy things. Not like cringe nerdy, but the short story I am working on takes place in a sci-fi setting.

However, it is no worse than The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones or any other mainstream genre fiction. In my opinion, characters and plot make a story work, whether it is in Narnia or somewhere else.

I finished the outline for the short story this week. In fact, I even re-wrote the first scene.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope to type at you soon. When those thoughts pile up in my head, I put Pen to Keyboard.

[cue outro music – Space Oddity – David Bowie]

P.S. – I found this article which proves that nerds will always be better than hipsters. GET YOUR OWN THING, HIPSTERS!

https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/wd4apb/dungeons-dragons-is-officially-cool-again-115

Unwriting

I made a decision.

I will find my way back to creative writing through short fiction. However, I am finding the cobwebs are thick. But all is not lost.

As I mentioned in the first post, I wrote several thousand words of a short story last year. I became quite lost in it. Reading back over it, I was writing without any idea as to an actual story. No plot. Therefore, I did not know what was important, what would become important, who was the good guy, bad guy. It was basically a free write. I had the general idea for a story, but there were too many gaps and I did not know how to get from one point to the next. So instead the story meandered all over to the point I was feverishly researching how wheat grain is processed to flour. In hindsight, who cares how flour is made… (Spoiler: it is ground on a mill stone).

That point brings me to the essence of this post. There are two competing philosophies with respect to creative writing. There are those called pantsers and those called plotters. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants. Point of interest: “fly by the seat of your pants” originates from aviation and referred to pilots who were able to fly without instrumentation.

The idea of “pantsing” (do not confuse with the act of pulling down someone’s pants in public) is that the writing is organic. One idea naturally flows to the next. The plot is discovered in real time as the author writes the first scene, then the next, and so on. The characters draw from their own actions. All good things.

I imagine pantsing becomes easier if a writer has a strong sense of storytelling. I think of a chess player who can see three moves ahead. She/he knows where the story is headed well in advance. They see the roadmap in their head. (Was that a metaphor inside of a metaphor!?) The story elements flow from that on the page. This creates continuity.

That being said, I cannot do it.

I reviewed what I wrote in the short story and decided I need to go back and rework nearly everything. I would call this revision, but more involved. I am taking it down to the wood.

But won’t I just get lost again? Will this go-around be different?

I can only hope. I do not have time to waste by writing endlessly without direction (apart from this blog of course. That was a self-burn). Now I am plotting. I have a few hours into a story outline. I will get into details in upcoming posts once the outline has some cohesion.

That being said, I am painfully aware that lengthy scenes will need to be deleted. Characters will need to be rewritten to better suit the story. One character will be deleted. His name was Nigel. Nigel, you were a mistake. You were a secondary character, you were poorly conceived, and you did nothing to propel the story. You were truly doomed from the start. Good day. I said good day, sir!

The outline needs more work. Measure twice, cut once and all that. In the meantime, I will review some more books (engaging and thoughtful reviews!).

Anyway, I look forward to typing at you soon. When those thoughts start piling up in my head, that’s when I put pen to keyboard.

[cue outro music – Pure Imagination – sung by Gene Wilder ]

I “Read” a Book!

I read it with my ears. (It was an audio book). I assure you, I do read actual books as well.

As a general disclaimer, I am predisposed to like a book. Each and every one. I put my trust in the story, I suspend my disbelief, I put up blinders to those little plot holes. This is not without limits though. Sometimes I put my faith into a book, and it shanks me three times while I’m standing in the chow line.

The Alchemist did not shank me, but we are also not best friends. If we walk past each other in the yard, we would nod, then keep walking. That’s right you keeping walking!

Let me explain.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

“…for all the gold in your Fort Knox.”

(read by Jeremy Irons from Die Hard 3)

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation and when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

It’s not too often that I listen to an audio book. Admittedly, I have trouble focusing. According to my elementary school teachers K-5, I was not the best at paying attention or staying on task. There are so many different things to stare at, so many thoughts to have! Even listening to an audio book while driving strains my focus. Comforting thought for everyone!

Also, with an audio book, you do not have the ability to re-read a line or paragraph you liked. You do not dictate the pace. Jeremy Irons just keeps reading regardless of whether you want to take a few extra seconds to ponder that last line.

I chose to listen to this book because I was driving from Tulsa to Kansas City last Thursday. The book ended right as I pulled in to Kansas International Airport. It was perfect. A good omen, one might say.

As I mentioned, this book was read by Jeremy Irons (MCLAAAAANE!). He is a famous British actor with an impressive filmography. He has one of those distinctive voices… He could read from the obituaries and it would be captivating. Maybe he would pre-record my obituary? Everyone has a price. It could play on repeat during my memorial. I would love that. Making a note to myself.

A reader can make or break an audio book, and he did a tremendous job performing this book.

As far as the story itself, let’s start with a synopsis.

The story begins with a sheepherder in Spain sometime in the past. Who knows when… At first I envisioned the story taking place like a 1,000 years ago. About an hour into the novel, the narrator mentions a revolver and a rifle, so then it shifted the time period to roughly 100-200 years ago. The time period was never clarified.

This book was vague with respect to the characters as well. Most of them, including the protagonist, did not have names. The Boy / Sheepherder (the main character), the Englishman, the Merchant, the Alchemist…

Ok, I strayed from the synopsis already. Let me back up a bit.

This story is about the sheepherder’s pursuit of his own personal legend. You see, each person has a personal legend (i.e. their fate, conquest, purpose), and each person either chooses to pursue or deny their personal legend. The more one chooses to pursue their personal legend, the more the universe helps them to achieve it. (Like that quote from above! The one in italics! It’s still there!)

If we pay close attention, we can see the universe guiding us along. The universe gives us omens to follow. These omens, however big or small, keep us on course to meet our personal destinies. You can stop believing in coincidences. They don’t exist.

You see that butterfly over there? That is a good omen. You are on the right path. Wait, you say you stepped on it? Everything will probably be ok, but maybe you could take one big step away from me. Thanks!

In the main character’s case, he learned his personal legend in a dream. A child told him he would go to Egypt and find treasure at the pyramids. His personal legend was extremely specific.

Soon thereafter, the boy met a mysterious old man on a bench who explained that he should embark on this journey or suffer a life of regret. From there, he meets another person, then another person, sees omens, goes places, more omens. Talks to this person, that person. I don’t want to spoil anything.

Here is what I liked…

I like magic realism as a genre. I like taking a realistic setting and subtly adding touches of surrealism. Did anyone see The Prestige? Great movie. David Bowie! That movie to me exemplifies magic realism. There is a magical (or supernatural) element introduced in the story, but it is not the main focus or drive of the story.

When this story began, the story focused on the the sheepherder. It painted a rich portrait of his life, his family’s religious faith, his wanderlust. Within the first ten minutes, the main character has wonderful depth. Well done. This was accomplished against the backdrop of the Spanish countryside which was beautifully described. My hopes were up. The story was grounded and believable, almost as if I were reading historical fiction.

However, the author pulls a fast one. The book introduced a character that was supernatural / magical / a spiritual entity, and this character advanced the plot. Specifically, it was revealed very early that the old man on the bench who advised the sheepherder was in fact a wandering king who knows everything about the sheepherder because he speaks directly with God or a God-like figure.

Very similar to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

One thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling!

The old man character sets the plot into action by convincing the sheepherder to start his journey. To me, this felt inorganic. It deflated the mysterious undertones that the author had developed.

That being said, I did like the main character . He had depth and authenticity. His dialogue felt natural. Great flow.

However, this is how the book eventually betrayed me:

deus ex machina – noun

  1. an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.

The main character is bailed out during the climax by an inexplicable and unexpected supernatural being. It was totally lame! Lame! Lame! LAME!

Nevertheless, at its best, this book explores a person’s ability to understand the world by paying heed to the omens which guide us. An omen can be anything from a certain type of bush growing in the plains to indicate water ahead, or two hawks fighting in the desert to indicate a coming conflict. A person has a choice to follow or ignore these omens, and in its heart, this book considers the interplay between destiny and free will.

At its worst, the story is driven by unbelievable plot devices such as the wandering, all-knowing king who speaks with God.

I did not hate this book, but would I strongly recommend it? No, no I would not.

I would say listen to this book if you drive from Tulsa to the Kansas International Airport. Set your cruise control three miles an hour over the posted speed limit, do not stop for gas or a bathroom break (you got it!), and see if the book ends as you arrive at Terminal B. Consider it a challenge.

Overall, I would rate this book a 5.3 / 10. The prose and character building were superb, but the plot felt stilted. I liked the underlying theme, and the vagueness gave it the feel of folklore, but that did not get me over the plot issues. Also, I would also like to point out that this author has accomplished far more than I have. That point is not lost on me.

Well, this is the last paragraph. I hope you made it this far. Honestly, I did my best to avoid writing a book report. Too long? Too short? I’ll preemptively get in the fetal position to prepare myself for your feed back. I’ll get the hang of it.

Anyway, when those thoughts start piling up in my head, I put pen to keyboard.

[cue outro music – Starman – David Bowie]

Welcome – please take off your shoes – sit for a moment

So…hello. Introductions are awkward. Should we shake hands? Should we go in for a one-quarter bro hug? How about a high five? Too soon for that? The Romans would grab each other’s wrists and shake. The custom in China is to shake hands softly, but don’t look your counterpart directly in the eyes. Don’t even think about it.

It’s settled then: I will grab your wrist and shake it. Perfect. Do you do forearm curls? Me too!

Whew, I am glad that is out of the way. Ice broken. Onward.

I like to write. I have since I was wee tyke. Unfortunately, I have never taken the time to develop the craft. That’s not to say I don’t write. I do. In fact, I write almost everyday…professionally…as an attorney.

While legal writing does not whisk readers into awe-inspiring worlds full of enchanted forests, glittering teenage vampires and so on, I like to think that it keeps my writing tools sharpened and clean. Also, as I sit here, I could easily write 20 pages defining the legal threshold of a serious impairment of an important bodily function, but then you would never come back (would you? I can write that if you want. I’m really a people pleaser. Let’s start with an objective manifestation of an injury…).

Digressions aside, I would like to write a book. An actual book. Words, sentences, commas, periods, more sentences.

Like many people, though, I’ve wanted to do a lot of things in my life. Learn to ride a motorcycle, speak Chinese, run a marathon, start a business to earn passive income, get ripped… I could go on but that seems like enough for now.

I make attempts.

I learned how to ride a motorcycle but never got my driver’s license endorsement. I ran a HALF marathon and I finished it mainly with AARP members (good on them!). I was a fitness junkie for about a year (please direct message me with questions about my personal bests), but alas, I also like foods that will one day kill me. Like pizza. I like it so much. Or pizza rolls, are you kidding me? Don’t tell me what your recommended serving size is! You speak lies!

The point I am making is this: I have a mind which likes to get in and get out. Get after a goal, reach some early milestone or obstacle, then move on to the next object of my obsession. It rounds a person into a jack of all trades master of none type.

And please do not get the wrong impression. There are other aspects of my life that give me great fulfillment such as my family (thanks Alycia for being the only person to read this), and also my career which is very interesting and rewarding in its own unique way.

So, here I am. I, like roughly 40,000,000 before me, have thought it productive to start a blog (typing the phrase “start a blog” was quite startling and and deeply painful).

I want to write fiction. In 2017, in the height of my temporary-writing-obsession-phase, I wrote roughly 50 pages of an outline / crap, but the concept for the book is in there. It is there. I like the concept. A few characters are also there as well as isolated story elements, a dozen non-starters and an antagonist. I even have a title. It lacks shape, direction, a sensible plot, but it is there.

In 2017 / 2018, I wrote and wrote and wrote, but got the feeling I was spinning my wheels. Feeling frustrated I decided it would be better to write a short story instead. Get a short story done, bask in the glory of that accomplished, move on to the novel.

Unfortunately, I wrote several thousand words of the short story and realized I had become lost in it. So terribly lost. I understand the mechanics of a good story but it is difficult to string these ideas together. It turns out that writing requires perseverance. And talent. And patience. Also, talent again.

Anyway, I would like to test my mettle. My favorite stories take the reader to the edge of reality and give them a solid hip check into the unknown. If you come on this journey with me, I can be the one to hip check you.

I mean that metaphorically…or physically…I need subscribers. I can do either.

Stay tuned: I will discuss my “book” in its proto-slime form. I will discuss my “short story” in its sad, developmentally stunted form. And, because I need more content, I will also review books that I have read. Regarding the book reviews, these will not be the hyper-intellectual sort of reviews that can be found en masse on Goodreads or even a decent Reddit thread. No, I am not that smart. False modesty aside, I will do my best to ensure the reviews are engaging and thoughtful.

Also, I will talk about my life here and there. I am a person. I have feelings. Thoughts. Captain Crunch versus Cinnamon Toast Crunch: A Critical Analysis of…Crunch. It may get more personal than that. Many layers to this onion brain. At least five. Probably no more than ten.

With that being said, I hope to type at you more. When those thoughts start piling up in my head, that’s when I put Pen to Keyboard.

[cue the outro music – something upbeat – Beyoncé]