Don Quixote

Back when printing was young, fantasy stories were all the rage. They went by the name Chivalry Tales back then, and followed a well-defined formula involving stout hearts, unrequited love, and great feats of heroism against mythical beasts and evil sorcerers. Good fun.

Sometimes following a formula can be a good thing, allowing a reader and a writer to get down to business with little wasted verbiage. Interesting characters can make the formula worthwhile, and even in suspense novels there’s really not much question who’s going to win in the end. It’s about providing an enjoyable journey. There just aren’t that many plots in the world, when all is said and done; you can argue that every story follows one of a limited set of formulas.

On the other extreme, there’s “literary fiction”, the genre defined by the resolute insistence that it’s not a genre, the more extreme practitioners of which often take avoidance of formula so far that they also avoid having any plot at all. Whee.

But, even if formula isn’t necessarily bad, ‘formulaic’ is. If a story is just another rehash of the same old shit with no new twist or compelling characters, it’s not fun, and just confirms to the literati their snooty contention that all formula is bad. Jerks.

What do you do if you’re surrounded by mediocre fantasy novels? If you’re someone like me, you make an online scoreboard and fiddle with a parody called The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy. If you’re Miguel de Cervantes, you write Don Quixote. (Yes, I just said Quest and Quixote are siblings. You got a problem with that?) In Don Quixote, there is a scene in which a few of the more rational characters burn copies of many popular titles of the day, with commentary. A few they preserve. Let there be no doubt that this novel intends to disparage the knock-offs. The dude names names.

As a thought experiment, I repeated the book-burning scene in my head, substituting some of the bigger titles from the modern fantasy library. It was pretty fun. A few titles survive, by virtue of history or quality, while many are mocked and burned.

When I first loaded Quixote onto my readin’ machine and opened the virtual cover, I saw how big the sucker is. Holy crap, 1500 pages! It’s in two parts, separated in publication by several years. Interesting story — Cervantes kept talking about writing a sequel but he was too busy trying to transform theatre (without success). Then someone else published a sequel to his story and that lit a fire under his ass.

How do I know this? Because the very long book is prefaced by a very long introduction by the translator. He discusses other translations, their strengths and (mostly) shortcomings, and that was pretty interesting. He mapped the change in the perception of the story over time. He also argued that the story’s just plain funnier in its original language, as Cervantes has a terse, laconic wit that Spanish expresses particularly well. (While a chicken-and-egg argument might be fun here — does the language shape his humor or the other way around — the point remains, his jokes are tuned to the Spanish ear.)

When looking for an edition to link to here, I chuckled when I noticed that Amazon sold a “Spanish Edition” of the novel.

As fun as that part of the introduction was, things got really interesting when we came to the biography of the author. Cervantes was one remarkable dude, in a way I’ve been completely unable to capture in one or two sentences. He wasn’t put to death even after his third attempt to escape from an Algerian prison. I’ll leave it at that.

So, the story. It’s big, as I mentioned before. We meet an aging man of modest means, who has come to believe all the chivalry stories he has read as literal truth. The stories are, in fact, more true for him than anything else, and all his perceptions are filtered through the conventions of the fantasy story. The famous windmill incident happens early on, and is fairly minor, in the scheme of things, though it doesn’t go well for the good Don Quixote.

In fact, nothing goes well for him. His campaign to right the wrongs of the world is a series of disasters. Some of the mishaps are funny, some are merely sad. Other people suffer as a result of his delusions. Then there’s faithful Sancho Panza, his squire. Sancho, filled with dreams of inheriting an island kingdom following the inevitable triumph of his master (that’s how these things work, after all), follows Don Quixote (sometimes reluctantly) and receives his own share of abuse. As the story progresses and Cervantes gains more confidence in Sancho’s voice, his comments become both subtle and cutting, while maintaing his aura of simple servitude. It’s the sidekick that makes this story an enduring tale.

How many times do you have to be kicked in the face before you give up your quest? Don Quixote’s saving grace is that he will not, he cannot, give up. I suspect that many of the mythical heroes he compares himself to would have long since packed it in and gone home, faced with the downturns Quixote has faced. But on he goes, because hardship merely proves the worthiness of the cause. It’s not supposed to be easy. If he weren’t a nut job, he’d be pretty easy to admire.

Coincidence is a mover in this story. In the end, everyone who matters winds up at the same inn, and hijinks ensue. Blake Edwards made a living off this sort of stuff a few centuries later. Thinking about it, I’d be interested in seeing what someone like Edwards did with the story. (This translator did mention that Don Quixote suffered for centuries perceived as merely a bawdy farce. It seems now I’m proposing returning it to that low regard. But it would be fun.)

There are sonnets in this book. Lots of them. At first I didn’t know what to make of all the friggin sonnets. Then I realized that they’re part of the parody. The old chivalry tales are silly with sonnets. But… these are almost good, to my ear. It’s with the sonnets I felt the gulf of language and time most profoundly. Are they hilarious? Merely awkward? Over the top? Filled with contemporary references? Makes me want a time machine and a babel fish.

I wonder about the translation on a couple of fronts. Translating a work of literature from one language into another is difficult enough, but this translation has to cross centuries as well. In this version, uneducated commoners speak in what today comes off as really upper-crust language, and it’s ponderous and hard work to read. “Thee” and “Thou” abound. Regular folk in this story don’t talk like regular folk do here, now.

I contend that if Cervantes wrote his story today, in English, the word “fuckin'” would be in it. While adding a word like that would be an extreme liberty on the part of a translator, I don’t think it’s going too far to make regular guys back then speak like regular guys today. It would be a conscious decision by the translator to move the story across time as well as borders, but I think the result would more closely mirror the experience readers had back then. There’s an extended poop joke, for crying out loud, and the word ‘shit’ does not appear in this translation. I didn’t bother searching on ‘turd’. I might have used ‘steamer’, were it up to me to translate. The aromatic qualities come into play.

I’m done with part one, a bit less than halfway through the monster. The opening notes indicate that the translator at least thought part two was where Sancho really got going and that it is the better half of the opus. I’m… not eager to continue at this time. I will read the rest someday, I have no doubt. But not yet.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback. You should also know that if you have an electronic reading device, you can download this sucker for free. I chose to link to an edition with illustrations; I don’t know if it’s the same translator.

The Soulkeepers

It’s a strange omission in modern fantasy. Religion, that is. If religion does play a part in a modern fantasy, it’s because there’s some war between beings so powerful that we may as well call them gods. Sure there are angels and demons, but they’ve been stripped of their religious origins. The Soulkeepers, as well as scoring a refreshing two on the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam (the lowest score to date), allows that if you add magic to the modern world, then it only makes sense to acknowledge the belief systems already here.

Our main guy is Jacob, an Oahu boy, whose father was killed in Afghanistan. His mother disappears, and his dreams about the day she vanished are pretty strange. The result of his head being cracked open, obviously. Only the dreams don’t stop. Of course we know better than Jacob does that the memories and visions are real, and it’s a little annoying how long it takes him to accept the seriously weird stuff. But is that fair? We as readers know we’re holding a fantasy novel; Jacob has no such perspective. Wouldn’t you resist the truth? Still, I was ready for him to get it long before he did.

With his mother gone Jacob finds himself in a quiet midwestern town living with relatives he didn’t know he had, and doesn’t particularly like. He’s shoveled into a school that doesn’t welcome outsiders, complete with racist bullies (Jacob’s mom was Chinese) and to top it off the lady across the highway from where he lives is a (totally hot) spooky individual. Jacob’s anger puts him in her debt. You know that’s going to have repercussions.

Although Christianity (with a nod here and there to other belief systems) is a big part of this book, Jacob is not a spiritual guy; his new family’s weekly church expedition is tiresome and the family gathering that follows is worse. The only relief he has is his new best friend Malini, also an outsider. It is obvious to both kids that they are made for each other, and I thank the author for not teasing us along with a “will they/won’t they” plot line. Sure, the relationship has its bumps, but there are no contrived obstacles designed to milk suspense out of the situation. The bumps serve the plot.

There were a couple of times I thought the religion aspect was about to get heavy-handed. There are some Bible stories we’re asked to take literally, even while we meet a medicine woman in the rain forest. In the end though, the story avoids dogmatism and asks us only to believe in good and evil. To vaguely quote the book, “It’s not about who’s right, but about what’s right.”

We can root for Jacob to choose good but when he loses his cool it’s easy to understand why. He does some pretty bad things, bad enough to put him in a spot where the weight of those deeds promises to crush him. Only two things save him: The help of his friends, and, even more important, someone who needs his help. Jacob does a lot better when there’s someone who needs him.

That’s what I liked about this story. Jacob is far from perfect. He’s got some pretty nasty foes, but none that can destroy him the way he can destroy himself (…well, OK, eventually he meets some guys who could really mess him up, and he’s totally unprepared for the confrontation. But still…). Despite his ugly streak I was pulling for Jacob. When things go wrong, there’s no one else you’d rather have watching your back.

The lady across the street? In her words, “the closest thing to evil nearby”, and now his tutor. While the world may be black and white underneath, the people in it are lovely shades of gray.

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’d heard good things about Steig Larssen’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and when the movie came out my sweetie and I both thought we’d rather read the book before watching the movie. So, as a Christmas gift from us to us, we bought the book and its two sequels, and packed them along with us on the train.

IMPORTANT: If you don’t want to know who wins, STOP READING NOW! But really, you know already.

The books, all three of them, are pretty good. My sweetie and I may differ on which is the best; she hasn’t read them all yet, and so far I get the feeling our opinions diverge.

The first book is a mystery, while the second leans toward thriller. The third… I’ll get to that.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo puts a disgraced journalist in a position to solve a decades-old mystery and at the same time vindicate himself. The only problem is that a lot of talented people have spent a lot of time trying to solve the mystery, and all have failed. However none of those people had a 90-lb. dragon-tattooed social basket case who can hack just about anything helping them. Salander is pretty damn messed up. And with reason. Messed-up enough to carry a trilogy.

The start of the book is devoted to setting up the mystery. There’s tons of backstory about most of the main characters, long expositional dialogs, and then Blomkvist (the disgraced writer) gets a chapters-long exposition about the events of long ago.

I have to admit I got tired of all the exposition, especially since much of the backstory was then covered again in the natural discourse. At last all the setup is done and we can get on with the story. It’s a good story. As Blomkvist closes in on the answer to the original question, a new, larger evil looms, one still alive decades later and ready to kill any who come too close. It gets intense. Gritty, tight, anything-can-happen intense.

Then the book ends with five chapters or maybe more of literary masturbation. Let’s not talk about those.

Book two, The Girl Who Played with Fire was my favorite. It gets going and keeps going all the way through to the end. Funny thing here — it could be argued that this volume doesn’t end, which would put it right into my pet peeve wheelhouse. But the book does end, I say. Without giving too much away, the bad guys are stopped, the good guys are bleeding but probably not going to die, and if there was no third book, you could stop there and fill in the masturbatory chapters yourself.

What carries the story on is Salander’s past. She was not treated well, and it turns out the people responsible have a lot to lose. Book Three starts with a rapid undo of the conclusion of Book Two. Bad guys caught? Whoops! No! The cops were incompetent and for some reason see no problem with letting two people who tried to kill each other hang out in a hospital together without anyone watching them. Anyway, action resumes.

Then we get procedural. While I liked The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, it was my least favorite of the bunch. We see a lot of people doing a lot of things, and then other people doing other things, but for much of the book I didn’t get the feeling that the stakes were rising. Not for the central plot, anyway. I suppose this was supposed to be a chess match between the good guys and the bad guys, but the only source of tension was that the author deliberately withheld key parts of the good guys’ plan. Things got interesting after a while, when the bad guys start living up to their bad guy reputations. There’s also a crime that involves a gun that no one seems interested in tracing. Hm.

On the plus side, some of the character relationships do not follow the usual script. Alas, I can’t tell you about them. Just know that with my writer-cap on, I smiled.

I wonder if Steig Larssen heard the bell tolling and rushed the third book. It feels like a decent draft of a pretty good story. He just needed to go back and put Blomkvist’s balls into a slowly-closing vise, and find a better threat against Salander (top choice, Salander herself).

The end is reasonably satisfying, with a little more literary masturbation on the side. Maybe that’s why I like book two the most: Since Larssen planned to undo the ending anyway, he didn’t spend a lot of time adding public adulation towards the main characters. They fight through, and with talent and sheer will they prevail, and the story ends while they’re still bleeding. Maybe dying. But they won. We don’t have to know who made a bunch of money for a photo of a corrupt official being arrested, or how the television news validated our disgraced journalist. They won against evil, at terrible cost. The worldly rewards cheapen the victory.

A buddy of mine recently said (something like), “I read your reviews, and I like them, but it seems like you don’t like anything.” That’s actually not that close to what he said, but I have to admit I dwell on the negative more than the positive. Understand that the primary purpose of these critiques is to make myself a better writer (or at least a better editor). And honestly I have nothing against masturbation, it’s just that I don’t enjoy watching some Swedish guy do it.

All that said, these are good books. I liked them.

On a barely-related side note, while setting up the Amazon links above, I also found

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.


We’ve all seen the movies, with the hulking, shambling monster, a sin against nature, moaning and grunting and raising hell until the villagers with torches and pitchforks bring him down. It turns out that those Frankenstein movies have about as much to do with the original work as the movie I, Robot had to do with the original work. Which is to say, it’s pretty much the opposite.

When Mary Shelley wrote her seminal story, she made a monster that is big and powerful, but also swift, dexterous, and above all articulate.

The monster is condemned by one thing only: he is so ugly, so unspeakably hideous, that every human, even his creator, cry out in horror and shun his company. So ugly that at one point he is cast out by people he’s been secretly helping for a year, once they get a look at him.

He’s a little pissed off about that. Does that justify the evil he perpetrates? The monster argues quite eloquently that it does. His is the voice of the outcast: If you will not treat me fairly then I shall wage war upon your kind. Dr. Frankenstein is almost convinced that he should help the creature.

Did I enjoy the read? Really… it was ok, but not great. I finished it, though it hardly gripped me. Shelley loves her some English language, but ultimately I think the language owned her, rather than the other way around. All the characters spoke in long paragraphs of high-falutin’ language that ultimately wore me down. Surely at least one of the people in the story could have had a different voice.

Though I did have to laugh at the biggest “as you know Bob” I have ever read. An “as you know bob” is a part of the story where one character tells another something they both already know, for the benefit of the reader. In this case, there’s a letter from Frankenstein’s sweetie that says, “allow me to spend a few pages telling you about the person who lived in our house for five years that you used to love but may have forgotten.” She even tells Frankenstein how he used to laugh at the girl’s jokes. In case he couldn’t remember. Wow.

Functionally there were parts of the novel I couldn’t swallow as well. People not acting like actual people. An assumption that people born to wealth are inherently more interesting, even after they’ve fallen on hard times. Then there’s the part where a guy lives in close proximity to a family for an extended period without being detected, even while he was actively helping them. If chopped wood appears in your woodpile each morning, might you not watch one night to see who your benefactor is?

The good thing about this story is that, unlike the countless derivatives, it is not a simple “man’s creation turns on him” tale. In this one, the creator turns on his creation first. Because it’s ugly. Culpability for the evil that ensues is shared. The well-spoken monster gives the creator plenty of chances to make things right—in the eyes of the monster. In the end, when the hatred that has sustained him loses its focus, the monster knows that it is time to go.

No villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks here.

The more I think about it, the more I think Hollywood is ripe for this story, the way it was originally written. “the bad guy is really the good guy!” is a staple now. The tragic fallen, the victim of society and all that. Shelley was ahead of her time, and now is her time for a Hollywood resurgence. A good screen adaptation could do Shelley the favor of giving characters distinct voices and trimming the long-winded passages as well.

The Weight of Blood

Many of you who read these pages will be familiar with The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam, a tongue-in-cheek series of questions every aspiring fantasy novelist should review. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions, you should seriously consider pitching your story in the proverbial dustbin and starting over.

I have started reading a story, the first part of which is available for free from the iBook store, called The Weight of Blood (The Half-Orcs, Book 1), which accomplishes something I’ve never seen before. The title scores three points.

Other than The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy, what titles have you seen that proudly proclaim that no cliché is too stale to put in the ensuing story?

(As an aside, the story’s not bad so far. I’ll fill you in later. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.)

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Wrapping up Shadow of the Sun

As I mentioned previously, I picked up Shadow of the Sun by Laura Kreitzer for free as the first Kindle book I loaded onto my shiny new iPad. Her goal, I’m sure, is to get people to read the first volume and subsequently pay for the following volumes.

While I found the story interesting, I will not be one of those to pony up for the sequels. The pity is that some of the flaws in this volume could easily have been avoided. Others are more systemic.

I marked more than twenty errors of grammar or editing while I read. That’s not very good, but for very long passages that I read while working out, I was not able to mark the errors I found. It would not surprise me if there were fifty errors in this volume that a good proofreader would have found. A misspelling on the first page, for crying out loud, and the horrific offense of using setup as a verb happened somewhere in there.

The other way strong editorial guidance could have helped is with a long stretch of story that went: “I was so sad I thought I would die! Then I got SADDER and I really thought I was going to die from the sheer weight of sorrow. Then I got EVEN SADDER…”

All this piling of sadness on sadness, punctuated with backstory, got pretty old. Then the action begins! And ends! After a long action sequence earlier, this climactic one at the end of the book was over in a flash, and seemed like it was just to get us moved on past the parade of pathos and into the next book.

Ah, the next book. This volume actually did feel like something was concluded: Act One. We get a real sense that the main character is moving on (after a heartbreaking funeral scene). Considering how open-ended the ending was, It did provide some closure on what had gone before.

Meanwhile, there was an extra dude in this book, whose only purpose was to fulfill the rule that spunky female leads must have more than one alpha male hot for them. This character did absolutely zero in this book but be a nice guy who miraculously survives shit that blows away supernatural beings. In the teaser for the next book, we see he will play a much larger role. Note to Ms. Kreitzer: you could have just waited and introduced him in book two and no one would have thought twice about it. I think a good editor would have suggested that Nice Guy not be there the whole time.

Having said all that, I didn’t dislike the book. With more action (not just violence–nudge, nudge) and less moping it would have been a fun read and I might have been tempted to pony up for the next episode. As it is, there are just too many other more-tightly-written spunky heroines with multiple suitors, and some of them aren’t even Chosen Ones.

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.


Shadow of the Sun: Moving Along

So, I’m more than halfway through Shadow of the Sun now, and I’ll be finishing it. There were some things I was hoping for that did not come to pass, but there are encouraging signs.

Let’s start with the disappointments, before I get to the the plusses.

When last I wrote about this story, I was only three chapters in and we had a smart and possibly spunky young woman in a job she didn’t seem suited for on the surface but in fact might be perfect for. In short, she might have been a Stephanie Plum of supernatural investigation.

Honestly, I’m ok with Miss Plum but I’m not a diehard fan. But if you’re going to write a series based on a single character, you need to learn from Stephanie’s success. Plum is a bounty hunter from Jersey, charmingly unqualified for the job, yet able to succeed through willpower and cleverness. Most important, outside of the fantasy genre one expects a series of books that allow the character to grow but each book will be a satisfying read on its own. I had hopes that Gabriella could be a kindred spirit, someone confronted with a never-ending variety of crazy situations, and have to work each one out. Hell, you could even get a little humor out of that.

Nope. Gabby is a chosen one. Nothing particularly wrong with chosen one stories, fantasy is thick with them, but… fantasy is thick with them. It’s kind of refreshing when someone who’s only mildly exceptional gets stuck in these situations and has no power of prophesy to bail her out.

An observation: There are attractive bad guys in this story, but there are no ugly good guys. An overweight human is a nasty human.

A storytelling issue: roughly in chapter four Karen said, “We need exposition! Summon the council of Elders!” (Not quite a direct quote, but pretty close. And I will use that line someday.) The elders convene, and expose. Thank you, elders, be sure to pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and remember Ol’ bitchy? She has faded away, without elevating the story in any way. She’ll probably pop up later, but honestly setting her up ahead of time was not worth the damage she did to Gabby’s credibility. (Gabriella hates being called Gabby, but I feel like we’re pals now.)

When reading in bed, I started marking the editorial errors, which I can’t do while on the trainer (can’t hold my finger still enough). There are a lot of errors (not even counting missed-hyphenation errors, which I chose not to mark). Maybe I can send my marked-up version back to the publisher. Seems like with e-publishing they could put out a patched-up version pretty quickly. It’s nice to feel constructive but right now there are a lot of errors in front of me that should have been caught before the thing hit my reading device. Missing words, for crying out loud.

The (main) love interest: Too fucking perfect. Roll-your-eyes feminine wish-fulfillment. I hold out hope for a lot of things to improve in this story, but that’s not one of them. He will be forever perfect. (OK, maybe in book three there will be a little doubt, but I’m not likely to read book three.)

Whew! Now the good. Fewer in number but greater in magnitude. The warning by the demon-guy near the beginning may not be what it seemed. (That doesn’t explain why he wasn’t clearer with his message, though, or why he didn’t make any effort to deliver the message in a way that could possibly succeed.) Good vs evil isn’t as neatly-sliced as most people want it to be. That right there is a big win for me, and enough reason to keep me reading.

Another biggie: The pace of the story makes me think that before I reach the back e-cover of this volume something large will be resolved. We just had a big battle and a sympathetic character died. Gabby’s mysterious past is rapidly being demystified, and overall it feels like I’m reading a story that fits in the space provided. Kind of sad that “it might have an ending” is reason to push on, but this is the lot of the fantasy reader these days.

The above wouldn’t matter, but I’m actually interested in how this plays out. I get the feeling that the mystery of the extra key will not be answered this volume, and that’s ok if some other closure is achieved. But the extra key is an interesting mystery, one that implies that yet another faction might be at work. (I’m still sorting out the factions, all of whom have ‘of’ as a middle name, and many of which are fragmented and their members have no firm identity to start with and to hell with it I’ll figure out who’s bad by whom they try to kill.)

Gabby herself, despite being a chosen one, is really pretty all right. She’s discovering power, but what legitimatizes her identity is her selfless nature, her insistence that they all get out together. That’s what makes her a hero. That trait is played pretty hard a couple of times — hammered, really — but this is the reason we like ol’ Gabby. She doesn’t need any of the other shit she can do if she carries that well. (Writing challenge: create a savior of super beings who has no innate superpowers beyond inspirational leadership.) She’s showing the best of human traits even as the definition of human is being warped. We all want to have that strength.

And so I keep reading, and root for ol’ Gabby, and now I know that the author is not afraid to kill good guys, which raises the stakes (though honestly I wonder about the permanence of death in this case). There are enough snakes in the grass that you start wondering if everyone is a snake. That’s pretty fun. (I’m pretty sure I know the next snake revelation, but that’s mostly ok, as long a Gabby doesn’t seem to be willfully ignoring her own observations.)

Let’s see where this goes.

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Shadow of the Sun – First Impression

Today I got my iPad, and the first app I loaded was Kindle. Absolutely one of the things I’ll be using this for is reading. Before I commit to paying good cash money for eBooks, however, I wanted to give a test drive with a title I didn’t have to pay for. I went to Amazon’s top 100 free books.

A surprising number of the free books are books about how to write books. I flipped through the list, and paused at Shadow of the Sun. First, that’s a good title. Second, it looked like fantasy and I like that genre. There was a respectable number of stars next to the title, and it was free. First in a series, which I’ve gone on about at length before, but I have to say that if you give me the first part free and let me decide whether I’m in for money, my anger is less intense.

[And aside here: FAIL for the newbie experience with Kindle’s iPad app. I loaded it, launched it, and poked around for fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to get a book. I read the “Welcome to Kindle” book over and over, where it promised access to 920,000 books. But how? Finally I went searching on the Interwebs and discovered that among the new “features” of the latest Kindle app for iOS was the removal of the link to the bookstore. Seems like that might be worth mentioning in the “Welcome to Kindle” message. It’s the core of the business and all. This is the kind of out-of-box startup experience that other companies get right.]

So, back to Shadow of the Sun. Speaking of out-of-the-box experience, there was a grammar error in the fourth paragraph of the prologue. I was reading on the trainer for the first time, so I thought it was just my eyes jumping that caused the sentence to parse funny. I read it again, then broke it down. Yep. Bad Grammar. Hello and welcome.

The prologue is less than a page long and is made to supply tension before a story that starts well enough on its own. Were I the editor, I’d chop it.

By “starts well enough” I mean that it’s a good setup and we get to some real shit pretty quickly. There are some problems, however. Backstory density is high, much higher than it needs to be. Gabrielle’s mysterious parentage can wait. I don’t care if she thinks she’s a good skier. The old “have your main character look in the mirror so you can describe her” trick is used. And there’s no way in hell she wouldn’t have fired her assistant by now. That’s the one piece of backstory I would have appreciated: Why is this bitch still employed? (Side bet: is she really evil or will she come thorough in the end? Really evil is favored 9:2 – my respect for this storyteller will bounce dramatically if Snoopy McBitchybritches isn’t in league with the devil.)

It occurs to me as I write this, that with my new-fangled technology I probably could have marked the grammatical errors as I read, so I could reference the choicest of them now. Not a good sign for a story when errors like that become a statistic. Were I the editor of this book, there would be fewer errors, not even counting the eschewing of the hyphen the way kids do these days. That’s an indictment of the state of publishing more than a criticism of the author, but in the current complete vacuum of editorial involvement (at least as editors), the author has no one but herself to rely on to make sure things are right.

Then there’s the whole “I work in a paranormal research facility but I can’t tell my boss what happened because he’d think I was crazy” logic. Sure, Gabrielle’s supposed to be a skeptic, but that’s the kind of reasoning a character does when she’s trying to make the story work for the writer. Generous of the character to sacrifice her credibility that way for the sake of the story. I’m willing to bet her boss will say, “You should have told me!” far too late.

We’ve met the devil now — or perhaps his lawyer — and I’m hoping he’s not as stupid as he seems. It’s all about the wheels within wheels, or at least the hope for same. Black powerful flaming-eye guy (note hyphen) comes out all big and scary and says, “don’t wake up the angels!” If I’m the devil (and you don’t know I’m not), the only reason I’d act that way is if I did want the angels to be awakened. Just calling them angels in is a blunder on the part of the bad guys; angels have had pretty good press over the centuries.

So there’s a lot of hope that the story is smart where so far there’s no reason to believe it is. Warts aside, I want this story to succeed. It’s an interesting situation, and a character I think I could like, if I got to know her more organically. I’m still reading. It’s flawed, but it might be awesome. It might be… flaw some.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this (er… free) book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.


I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have bought this book, but the author is part of the Kansas Bunch*. Exchange is Dale Cozort’s first effort, and while it’s got a few warts, it has a lot going for it as well.

Bias alert: I know Dale. He’s a good guy. If I didn’t honestly like his book, I simply wouldn’t review it. Strangers don’t get that same courtesy.

I’m going to start by picking at the first couple of pages. Exchange wasn’t as clean out of the gate as it could have been. Logistically, I was confused, and though the situation was inherently confusing and hectic, I had drawn a mistaken impression of the perimeter of the exchange zone that fuddled me. Then there’s a paragraph of backstory about the protagonist’s daughter that sticks out badly.

“Uh, oh,” I thought.

Then the story gets cranking, the backstory info is covered gracefully again where it should have been, good people emerge, many more bad people emerge, and the most interesting people are the ones you simply can’t classify. I like stories with people like that. Everyone has their own agenda.

So here’s what’s going on: Every once in a while, a patch of our world switches places with a patch of an alternate Earth. The exchange lasts a couple of weeks and then everything switches back. On the other world humans never rose, but many other mammals picked up a pretty good dose of intelligence to fill the void. There are some pretty clever critters out there, and the bats are freakin’ crazy. The mightiest of the alternate mammals are the bears, who can apparently shrug off many rounds from high-powered rifles (twinge of skepticism). Venturing out into the forests of Alternate-Earth is “going into bear country.”

I might have named the novel Bear Country.

While the bears are the poster-children of the more-dangerous mammals, it’s the monkeys you really have to watch out for, and the wolves are pretty gnarly, too. But there’s one other creature out there even worse than those. There are people out there, nasty ones, who stayed behind after previous exchanges.

There’s only a few hours notice before one of these exchanges takes place. During that time the city is evacuated as much as possible (it always seems to be a city that gets sucked to the other side) and the military moves as much stuff into the exchange zone as they can. Then of course there’s the crazies — also known as the protagonist’s former boyfriends — she sure can pick ’em.

[Flashback to alpha female telling protagonist something like “I don’t know why, but I think you will play an important role in all this.” Aargh. Note to self: if I feel the need to justify a big decision as a hunch on the part of the decider that way, better to just not. Either decide if this is where I want to spend my coincidence**, or restructure so there is no decision. But I digress.]

One of the cool things about this story is that I started to notice things that contradicted what the characters believed, and then the characters started to notice them, too, and question their beliefs. Give the alert reader a cookie! Another cool thing is that you start to see something much larger unfold, and anchoring it all you have a protagonist who must grow and accept her own shortcomings.

Something big is going on. Bigger than cities getting sucked temporarily into another, more dangerous world. There are hints, and at the end of this book much is explained. But not everything. The book has an end, a real true end, but there is still a lot more going on.

Here’s why you should buy this book: it’s got some warts but it introduces a great universe, some interesting characters (including strong females), and there’s a lot going on. Buy it to say, “Hey, Dale, you put yourself out there and I respect that. Keep going.” Also, the more of you who buy it, the more motivated Dale will be to write the next one. Could Exchange be better? Absolutely. Am I going the read the next one? You bet your sweet ass I am.

* I don’t think the Kansas Bunch knows they’re called this yet. Members of the Bunch who are reading this: get used to it.
** The coincidence is the moment in the story that transforms it from ‘this could happen to anyone’ to ‘this did happen to this particular person’. It’s why they’re in the story, and not someone else. A second coincidence… well, you better be Douglas Adams.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle
, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Andromeda Breakthrough

Our story opens with a British military officer being awakened by the Super-Mega-Holy-Shit alarm, the alarm that (our officer reflects) most people thought would only happen at the outbreak of World War III. He gets on the phone and is told that it is not WWIII after all (phew), but his men are needed pronto at the secret base nearby.

They rush to the scene (more or less) where the soldiers are told to wait while the officer goes and has tea spiked with rum (“of course”) and talks about what happened. Apparently the fog is too thick to mount a search for a pair of unarmed civilians. So they don’t even walk around the perimeter of the base. Meanwhile, the officers chat away and drink rum. Maybe that holy-shit alarm wasn’t really necessary.

And so we begin Andromeda Breakthrough by Fred Hoyle and Hohn Elliot.

Quick aside, here – I didn’t think I’d get so long-winded writing about pulp fiction. Of course it’s not well-written, of course there’s a conversation in which a deal is made that turns out to also have also been made by the same parties some time in the past. They’ve even kidnapped people together! So, no real need to go into detail in my little book report. But I did anyway. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do. Sometimes it’s so I can avoid the same mistakes, and sometimes the writing is genuinely funny. Anyway, back to the setup…

It turns out the computer at the secret facility has been destroyed, and it also turns out that the computer is like none other on Earth. The instructions on how to build it came from space. Once built, the computer gave them instructions on how to build a weird chick, and with her help it began passing on instructions on how to make all kinds of ground-breaking stuff. Interesting theme #1: what are the motives of the race from Andromeda who sent the information?

Apparently even having built it once, the Brits are unable to make another one, and their dreams of being the world’s dominant power are shattered. Also, the weather is going to hell.

SCIENCE-FICTION AT ITS FANTASTIC BEST, the cover proclaims. Happily for the rest of the genre that’s not really true. The story was first published in 1964, and while there is fun to he had over dated references and offhand sexism, it’s not those things that sink this story. It’s bad writing. Yet, there are a few bits that are prescient, and even a message for the scientific community (which the scientists in the story manage to forget at the end).

Just for giggles, let’s take a look at the bad guys, shall we? There’s a small oil-rich nation on the Persian Gulf, but they’re really just the puppets of a multinational corporation with ties everywhere. The name of that company: Intel. I just looked it up and the Intel we know was founded in 1968, four years after this book was published. If I was head of AMD, Intel’s rival, I might fund a movie version of this book just on general principles.

The top Intel honcho we meet is a beautiful and competent woman (though of course she’s not afraid to use her body to get ahead). Her second in command is an ex-Nazi. The authors go out of their way to make him a nicer-than-usual ex-Nazi, but his glimmers of conscience don’t stop him from murdering people.

Opposite them we have a dashing scientist over whom girls swoon (“Don’t trouble your head about it”, he actually says to a female), a weird-but-pretty manufactured girl, a plain-looking (and therefore asexual) female scientist who manufactured the girl, and a few others. Most people in this story are frightfully decent, and as we all know decent people are able to judge the character of anyone they meet at a glance. We know this because the writers don’t trouble us with what our friends actually observe, but take us straight to the conclusion. He looked like a good guy.

A phrase that stuck with me: “jerked slowly”. There are plenty more where that came from.

The authors really don’t show us the world through the characters’ eyes at all. We just jump from head to head in each scene, reading what each participant thinks. When they think at all. Good lord, a guy helps commit treason and by the end he’s forgiven due to his being an effective bureaucrat. Good guys escape their captors regularly. Scientists create unknown organisms, built using instructions from an alien race whose motives are questionable, and pour the samples down the drain. This little behavior almost destroys humanity and earns the careless scientists a severe tongue-lashing from a minor character. No other repercussions seem forthcoming.

Not all the nice people make it to the end of the story, which is good. The Arabs are, in general, fine, wise folk (The French and German people don’t come off so well). The writers made an earnest attempt to put female characters in positions of power, and if they sometimes undermined themselves, hey, it was 1964. Much of the story portrays an effort to fix the climate—which the good guys broke—events that resonated with me as I read it during a heat wave. So, there’s a lot to say for this story. I just wish a better writer had tackled it.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

The Hammer of God

It’s an interesting setup, one that’s been worked pretty hard in the years since Arthur C. Clarke first published The Hammer of God.
There’s an asteroid heading toward the Earth, and even though humanity has actually been preparing for this inevitability, diverting the thing is going to be a tough proposition. The strength of this story is that there are people on Earth who want the killer asteroid to hit, making the conflict a human one, rather than strictly man-vs-nature.

That’s when we also start to hit the problems with this novel. We get a rough sketch of where the bad guys are coming from, then Clarke just waves his hands and says essentially, “So anyway, they’re nuts. You get the idea.” His initial effort to humanize the crazies is abandoned and they’re just crazies.

Then there’s the radio signal from outer space. He begins to explore it, then just says, “and that made the crazies even crazier.” Not to mention that the circumstances surrounding this signal from space included humanity setting off a bomb of epic size. A tiny fraction of such a weapon would have been sufficient to solve the whole asteroid problem.

Instead, we have a plan to put a giant rocket on the planet and nudge it just enough to spare the Earth. There are problems, of course, and it’s up to the artificial intelligence of the story to come up with the completely obvious next thing to try.

The main story is interlaced with scenes that serve the same purpose as Disney’s Tomorrowland: Look how cool the future will be! It is indeed pretty awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Overall, it feels like Clarke wrote a draft to establish the story and the world it takes place in, then rather than writing the actual novel he published that. There are long, long passages of exposition. Ideas sprout but never bloom. Powerful events are described from a distance, if at all.

Mr. Clarke has done much better.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

The End of Signs

I’ve written a couple of episodes as I made my way through the first installment of a fantasy story called Legacy of the Stone Harp by James G. Anderson & Mark Sebanc. For closure, I thought I’d record my impressions now that I’ve completed the first volume.

I won’t be reading the second. Through the course of the first book I was sustained by intellectual curiosity: How many fantasy standards will they pack in? Will there ever be a meaningful female character? And most of all, How egregious a cliffhanger will the book end with? (For those new to these pages, I have a peeve about buying something that claims to have a story inside, yet actually only contains a fragment. I think most fantasy authors have completely lost the ability to create substories that fit within the larger arcs of their epics, and thus make the individual volumes of the series into enjoyable reads.)

Let’s look at how The Stoneholding: volume one of The Stone Harp performed on that last criterion.

In fact… not bad. There was actually a feeling at the end of the book that an important phase of the quest had been concluded, and a new phase would soon begin. The authors did a way better job of this than most fantasy writers do these days. So, credit where credit is due.

Except… actually the story reaches that point quite a bit before the book runs out of pages. We spend the last few tiresome chapters touring around the underground kingdom of the people of the hammer — a race of people who are shorter than surface-dwellers, renowned for their abilities as blacksmiths, and who are most decidedly not Tolkien’s dwarves. Really. How could anyone think that?

OK, everyone would think that. If you’re going to put Standard Fantasy Dwarves in your story, you may as well label them correctly. SFD’s are SFD’s, after all. Making them slender doesn’t change things. One temptation for me to carry on with the story: Who will they meet when they go into the forest in the next volume? I’m guessing SFE’s and the satisfaction of being right almost makes the toil worth it. But not quite.

Nearing the end of the book, having had more than enough of the guided tour of the dwarf kingdom, I found it difficult to finish out. On the last night I sat back in bed and sighed audibly before picking up the book. Only a few more pages to go. My sweetie chuckled. I picked up the book and dragged myself through the last pages, curiosity about the way it ended being my only fuel. If only the characters would stop being so stupid.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

As a very long addendum I’ll attach to this episode my take on the score this story has racked up (so far) in the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. That there hasn’t been a significant female character yet means that many of the questions remain open. Still, it’s a pretty damn impressive showing, pushing the cliché-o-meter right through the red and into the magenta.

Note: Those who created this exam suggested that if you answer yes to any of these questions you pitch in the novel and start over. I think this story is hovering in the 15-18 range right now.

  1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
    Actually more happened in the first fifty pages than the following 200
  2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
    Yes, and his best friend is one, too!
  3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?
  4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
    I think it’s safe to assume that’s how this will play out
  5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
    The artifact is a sacred flame, but yes.
  6. How about one that will destroy it?
    Why, there’s another artifact that, in the wrong hands…
  7. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about “The One” who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?
  8. Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?
    I’m going to say ‘no’ on this one, until more characters actually show up
  9. Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?
  10. Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?
    Probably not. I suspect there’s a bad guy behind the obvious bad guy, though.
  11. Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?
    No. The guy that was duped was the son of the local ruler.
  12. Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel?
    I think ‘incompetent’ is closer to the truth
  13. How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”?
    Not yet.
  14. How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”?
    Oh, yes.
  15. Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around?
    We’re still waiting for a significant female character.
  16. Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?
    So far, no.
  17. Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?
    Absolutely not!
  18. Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters?
    There are peripheral characters who are like this
  19. Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters?
    There’s always hope for the next installment
  20. Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”?
    For the most part the pseudo-dwarves are a cheerful bunch, to the point where this particular batch embidies a flawless society where everyone is happy.
  21. How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?
    I’d put money on pseudo-elves arriving later in the story (maybe they’re the ninjas!) but we haven’t seen them yet.
  22. Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?
    So many questions that would require reading the whole damn thing to find out.
  23. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?
  24. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?
    Landlocked so far, but there are oceans on the map.
  25. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?
    I’m not sure, but I’d guess that this highland culture is a little more realistic than most.
  26. Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like “The Blasted Lands” or “The Forest of Fear” or “The Desert of Desolation” or absolutely anything “of Doom”?
    Three maps with silly names, no ‘of Doom’
  27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then?
    We’ll see. Much is unexplained
  28. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?
    At the rate they’re going, I’d be amazed if they wrapped this up in three volumes.
  29. How about a quintet or a decalogue?
    That’s more like it
  30. Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book?
    It would be if it were bound in one volume
  31. Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you’re still many sequels away from finishing your “story”?
    I get that feeling, indeed.
  32. Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books?
    Not that I’m aware of.
  33. Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?
    They aspire to that title, I guarantee.
  34. Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group?
    I’m going to have to guess no. Otherwise they would have introduced more characters by now.
  35. Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?
    Happily, no.
  36. Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names?
    Not yet. We’ll see when they finally start their quest.
  37. Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?
    They do, but it’s an ethnic thing and they all go by nicknames, so it’s not obnoxious
  38. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named “Tim Umber” and “Belthusalanthalus al’Grinsok”?
    The authors seem pretty consitent on this score.
  39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?
    The dwarves are renamed, and we’ve seen hints of ninjas.
  40. How about “orken” or “dwerrows”?
  41. Do you have a race prefixed by “half-“?
  42. At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?
    They’re mysterious forbidden caves, that lead to a dwarven city. So, yep.
  43. Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG?
    Doesn’t feel like it. More would happen if they did.
  44. Have you done up game statistics for all of your main characters in your favorite RPG?
    I’m guessing no.
  45. Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast?
    Wizads of the Coast would not want this.
  46. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls?
    So far the only tavern was for a kidnapping.
  47. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t?
    I have no problem with that aspect of the story.
  48. Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?
    I suspect they will – they’ve taken long enough just to get started.
  49. Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won’t break the plot?
    Yes, absolutely.
  50. Do any of the magic users in your novel cast spells easily identifiable as “fireball” or “lightning bolt”?
    No. A lot of the magic centers around music, which is pretty cool.
  51. Do you ever use the term “mana” in your novel?
  52. Do you ever use the term “plate mail” in your novel?
    I’ve seen references to armor, but not that phrase
  53. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term “hit points” in your novel?
  54. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?
    I wonder. Is the golden harp supposed to be solid gold? If so, it would weigh a ton.
  55. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?
    I was not sorry to see Star Thistle exit the story; he seemed to exist solely so the authors could gush about how goddam wonderful he was. But at least he got winded.
  56. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?
    Not yet.
  57. Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it?
    There’s a magic sword that glows lurking in the plot somewhere – but the guy last known to have it hasn’t bothered mentioning it to anyone else. Odd. I doubt it would return if thrown, however.
  58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?
  59. Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor?
    Not yet.
  60. Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more? [info]
  61. Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?
    I probably won’t read far enough to find out.
  62. Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns?
  63. Is your hero able to withstand multiple blows from the fantasy equivalent of a ten pound sledge but is still threatened by a small woman with a dagger?
    Don’t know yet, but things seem to be setting up that way.
  64. Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man?
    Only if the arrow is carefully aimed to be nonlethal – which our two boys can do.
  65. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an “on the road” meal?
    We’ll see when they finally get on the road
  66. Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead?
  67. Do you think that “mead” is just a fancy name for “beer”?
    The dwarves make mead, and it’s actually mead.
  68. Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?
    And one ethnically-endowed skill.
  69. Is the best organized and most numerous group of people in your world the thieves’ guild?
  70. Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death?
    I’m thinking… yes.
  71. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?
    The main character is a bard. He’s adequate in battle, however.
  72. Is “common” the official language of your world?
    No. One of the good guy’s advantages is understanding different languages.
  73. Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before?
    The jury’s still out on this one.
  74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?
    Pretty much.
  75. Read that question again and answer truthfully.
    It’s really not good enough for the comparison.

Warning Signs, Part 2

About halfway through the first volume of the fantasy epic Legacy of the Stone Harp by James G. Anderson & Mark Sebanc (there’s no point mentioning the title of the first volume since it in no way represents a story), I had to laugh. The question: At this rate, how many volumes will it take to finish this beast?

This is a quest story, a fantasy staple, in which a group of people must go and find an important thing before the evil guy gets it. Only, here I was a couple hundred pages in and the quest hasn’t started yet. They haven’t even assembled the ragtag band of unlikely heroes yet. I started laughing when the wise old man spread out a map and outlined “first you have to go here, then here, and then here,” and spelled out the dangers, both known and suspected, along the way.

Twice the main good guy has asked the old man questions that hint at really important information, and the wise old man has said, “I’ll tell you later,” or “There’s no time for that now,” or some other way to keep the main good guy in the dark so the plot doesn’t break. I don’t even remember what those questions were anymore, but I remember being annoyed. I think the wise old man isn’t the only one keeping information from our guy. His own father is the guy from the prolog, so we all know he knows stuff, and last we heard he was carrying a magic sword as well. The sword glows when the rightful king holds it, so it’s pretty obvious why that hasn’t been unlimbered yet — it would break the plot.

Now I’m three-quarters of the way through volume one of god knows how many. One more likely party member has been introduced (still no female candidates unless you count whoever left the bloody footprints), but the quest is no closer to starting. The old guy’s been whacked on the head and may not live to tell those nuggets of information he’s been saving for later. Note to wise old men in all fantasy worlds: Tell the guy what he needs to know right away! Information taken to the grave does no one any good.

There are some caves the old guy said not to go into, and you know what’s going to happen there.

This story is not what you’d call fast-moving. Case in point: the good guys are holed up in a mountain retreat, the only haven from the bad guys. Among them is a traitor, who steals the Magic Thing the Good Guys Really Need and runs off to give this item to the bad guys. Our two main good guys chase him down and by spontaneously increasing the IQ of a giant eagle they get the Magic Thing back. Hooray!

Then, in the next chapter, they allow the traitor back into camp and guess what? The traitor steals the goddam MTtGGRN again, and this time he gets away. Oh no! Total accomplished in the first theft/recovery sequence: nothing. You could chop it from the book, whack the geezer on the head in the second theft, and not miss a thing. In fact, the theft/recovery/trust-the-traitor-again chain of events was really pushing the preposterometer into the red anyway, so the book would be better without it.

Uh, whoops, I suppose that was a spoiler. I’m not worried, I doubt many people get that far into this thing.

I’m forging ahead with this monster, nevertheless. Part of the pleasure I’m taking from the book is mentally checking off each fantasy cliché as I encounter it. For a while now we’ve been rehashing the same old clichés, so it will be nice when the select few set off into the caves to face the unseen dangers there.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Warning Signs

I’ve finally finished reading through my Kansas backlog, and my Things I’ve Borrowed from John backlog, and I’m back to the Books I Got at the Convention backlog. It’s the most inconsistent of the backlogs on my shelf, but I was in the mood for good ol’ sword and sorcery fantasy and there was one sitting ready for me.

Now, these days, it seems fantasy writers are simply incapable of fitting their stories inside the covers of a single volume; in fact, It’s gotten to the point where giving your reader a satisfying experience in a single book is considered a negative. So, the first warning sign was not unexpected: at the bottom of the front cover, we find Series Title: Book One in large type.

The second warning sign was also on the cover — there was an ampersand. Two authors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it increases risk. Will the voice of the writing be consistent?

I opened the cover and turned to the inevitable map. Can’t have a fantasy novel (er, volume? fragment?) without a map. And… another map. And… a third map. I scanned the maps for anything named “of doom“, but happily I didn’t spot any. There were a few choice names to be found, like ‘Mountain of the Quivering Cromlech’, which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. But then, maybe in context the silly name will make sense.

Only one more obstacle before we reach chapter one: the prologue. Gotta have a prologue. In the first movement of the prologue we have some tension, a nice chunk of action, a glowing sword, and derring-do. In the second movement we have our hero (of the prologue) riding a horse, thinking back on what has happened since all that action. My guess is that I’ve now experienced the different styles of the two writers.

There’s one guy on the good guy’s team that he doesn’t like the look of, which brings us to the action-packed third movement, which included betrayal, death, an impression of a Greater Evil, escape, and a ninja. Yeah, I’m sure when the story gets back to them they’ll have a different name, but it was a ninja.

And now, on page 37, we reach chapter one, and the story gets off to a leisurely start, including a brief history lesson on all that’s happened between the prologue and the present. There are a whole lot of names and places whizzing past, and I hope I’m not expected to remember them all. The convenient reflection by the hero is followed by action, and we see that while our guy has strengths, he’s got a lot to learn. One of the good guys found an artifact in the woods while they were at it. I hope that wasn’t a coincidence — that will really piss me off if he just happened to run across a key plot token in the woods on the day the bad guys arrive.

It all boils down to this: There are two buddies, and they’re about to begin a quest for an important thing to defeat the evil guy. And there will be ninjas. Not sure if the magical geezer is going to join them or not.

Exactly what I was hoping for.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.


Harlean on the Move

This is just a quick note to tell folks that Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction) has moved her blog from MySpace (which is becoming a fiction) to Blogspot. Right now she’s moving her favorite posts from the old to the new, so you can get a nice ‘best-of’ album right now to introduce youself to her inimitable style. Check it out!