Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011

Well, since it seems like everyone is doing of of these "best of" I thought I'd do one too. I have to say, definitely a good year, despite the economic troubles here at home, great things were accomplished around the globe. Libya was liberated from its dictator, and will hopefully build a democracy for its people. Kim Jong-il kicked the bucket (not a year for dictators, I guess).

As for me, I have a few favorites of things that I discovered (or just really, really enjoyed) in 2011.

Best movie
I didn't see very many movies this year; Hollywood didn't have much to offer. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version) would have to be the best one, and after that, Cowboys and Aliens. Yeah, two dramatically different films. I did enjoy Captain America, though I didn't see it in theaters. Loved Loki from the movie Thor. As you can tell, I'm totally stoked to go see The Avengers next year.  

Best TV show
The Venture Bros., of course. Their fourth season has to be the best so far, and loved their special Jacket. Sadly, it's going to be another two years before we'll see new episodes. Honorable mention for The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly. I don't watch much TV, but what I do watch is usually, what I like to think, is the good quality stuff.

Best music
This one is a toughie because I've discovered so many great songs and artists, so I'm going to name the top ones that I enjoyed the most and my favorite song of theirs.
  • Emilie Autumn - Swallow 
  • Adele - Rolling in the Deep
  • Claire Maguire - The Shield and The Sword
  • Florence and the Machine - Cosmic Love (Though, I just heard Heartlines and it's amazing. Just about all her songs are fantastic.)
Yeah, I know, all female artists (but note, good artists, none of that auto-tune crap). Can't say I found many male artists this year that I like, they all sound soft spoken and boring. I don't see what the hype is about Coldplay, they really don't sound that great (Florence did a beautiful cover of one of their songs, tho). Yet, one of my favorite vocalists is Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. Now that is a voice I can listen to all day.

I should add that I do like some of WEEP's stuff (headed by Doc Hammer), but it's not for the vocals, but rather, the composition, which is this blend of retro new wave soft rock punk and synth. Yeah, that's a mouthful. If you haven't listened to the song "Worn Thin", I definitely recommend that.  

Okay, so before I derail too much...

Best book
The Skinner by Neal Asher -- bet that wasn't a surprise.

A close second is Evolution's Darling by Scott Westerfeld. I didn't review this book since it's been out of print for over ten years, but excellent "what it means to be human" kind of book. But there's a twist: Is it possible for a human to no longer be considered a person?

It's actually part erotica, which I normally don't read, but the Westerfeld takes an interesting approach, from the robot's PoV, and how the robot analyzes, while stimulating, the sex act. It doesn't sound interesting, but it really was. The title comes from how robots/AI are in constant change, can update ("evolve") themselves as often and at anytime. Whereas humans are limited to generations. Thus, AI is the darling of evolution. If you stumble across this book in a garage sale or used book store, I highly recommend picking it up. 

Best buy
Because we all like to buy things for ourselves, and this T-shirt from Threadless is my all-time favorite.

Well, here's to a happy New Year and many more good things to come!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version)

Yep, another less-than-Christmasy review, haha. It's been a gritty Christmas all around (actually, it's been a wet winter here).

I haven't read the book or seen the Swedish version of this film, so I can't make comparisons -- though a good film should be able to stand on its own.

Quick run-down: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a tarnished journalist, is hired by a retired CEO of a family corporation to investigate the disappearance (and possible murder) of his grand-niece Harriet, a 40-year-old mystery. Mikael teams up the asocial computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander (Roony Mara), and together, they dig up some nasty family secrets.

Yes, the content in this is very dark and disturbing. A major theme in the movie is violence against women, as we see Salander (not exactly "see", per se) anally raped by her guardian that the state issued to her (because apparently she was deemed "incapable" to take care of herself), as well as trying to catch a killer of women.

Though, this film isn't all gloom n' doom, there are some chuckles, and we watch Lisbeth's and Mikael's relationship bud. And Lisbeth's character was amazing, loved her because she never allowed herself to get knocked down. Yeah, I'm all for girl power and girls that can kick ass. But she also has layers to her, though she may portray a badass on the outside, there is a vulnerable side as we see she struggles against the state and in letting people into her life. The movie did an excellent job showing this as did the actress.

All the actors were good, actually. None of the roles felt pained or out of place. The soundtrack was also particularly good.
And if I may make a quick comparison to Black Swan, another disturbing film, while I enjoyed Portman's performance and the overall creepiness of the film, I never really felt anything for Portman's character. Whereas with Lisbeth, there was a determination that I admire and could see myself watching TGWTDT over and over again, despite the painful content. Black Swan I've only seen once that's good enough for me.  

To name a negative of TGWTDT, I found it hard to understand Daniel Craig at the beginning of the film, he seemed to mumble or the audio just wasn't capturing the actors words. But that was only an issue in the beginning.

But after seeing this film, I'm compelled to check out the foreign version as well as read the book (probably check it out at the library).

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On Similes: She's like a pile of turds on a summer's day

I'm in a writerly-giving-advice mood. The little editor inside my head has been working overtime, poor bastard.

Notice how the simile in the title, besides being completely odd, doesn't tell you what the subject (she) *is*. She's like a pile of turds on a summer's day, but what *is* she, per se? This has been an issue I've noticed ever since the great writing guru known as Rez pointed it out. Most similes don't actually tell you anything. It's all beating around the bush.

To put it into perspective (with my brilliant analogy):
Say I hand you a cup filled with hot brown liquid. You ask if it's coffee, and I reply, "It's like coffee."

I think we can agree that that response doesn't tell you what you're actually drinking -- in which case, I wouldn't drink it if I were you.

That doesn't mean similes are bad, though, I like to use them sparingly -- but that's just me. There is an easy fix for this, and that's adding in what exactly the simile is referencing, because you can't compare two things if you don't mention one of them.

So we would say: She's disgusting like a pile of turds on a summer's day. Now we know what she *is* (disgusting), and thus the simile helps to build on that knowledge, which is, disgusting in what way.

Next time: Cliches!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: Six Pump and Other Stories

Yeah I know, dystopia tales aren't exactly "Christmasy". But why not add a little grit to the holiday season? (it adds texture, you know)

This is a collection of ten tales by Paolo Bagigalupi (my first time reading him), and I'm going to do something different and grade each story on its own merits, because there's always a few hits and misses in these story collections. *Warning: Possible spoilers/rants ahead*

Pocketful of Dharma - This is the story about a boy named Wang Jun, living in poverty, happens upon a datacube that holds something significant -- and others are willing to kill to get it. 

Not a bad story, it had a bit of a slow start, starting with a description of a living building. But despite following this kid around as he runs from the bad guys, I really didn't care for the MC. Mostly due to a lack of personality; nothing more than a urban urchin. Though the ending was a redeeming factor, one of those "what happens next?" I know some people don't like those endings because they lack a resolution, but at the same time, it allows the reader to decide how things go -- and depending on your disposition, it may turn out well or poorly.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Fluted Girl - Now this story I loved, in fact, best story in this entire collection. What really compelled me to read this story in one sitting (and these aren't exactly short-short stories), was that I wanted to know what the heck a fluted girl was in the first place. The fluted girl is forced into this servitude along with her twin sister, and surgically worked on to become the prized possessions of a mistress, who is inflicting her own fate upon them. The characters are interesting, have personality, though, the fluted girl is a little flat, but that's okay since you want to find what exactly she does. Sort of twisted world where surgical modification, and not just boob jobs, but completely reworking the entire human body, becomes a means of entertainment. Very creepy. Once again, it has the "what happens next?" ending, which still works, I think.  

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The People of Sand and Slag - This was a story that could have been really good had the author not copped out. The set up is that we have these modified humans who can survive the toxicity of Earth, and yes, they can eat sand as well as regenerate whole limbs. They come across a dog, who managed to survive despite the harsh conditions. They quarrel as to whether they should eat or keep the dog. They keep it, and even though its a hassle, the MC develops some warm feelings toward the creature. The MC questions death -- why someone would even want to die, rather than to live forever -- and whether they can still consider themselves human.

But all this philosophical stuff is dashed away when the author pulls the "people are assholes" ending; I don't need to read a story to know that. They get tired of caring for the dog and eat it. Yeah, just like that. Even if the dog had to die, at least show that having the dog had some sort of impact on the MC. Maybe the MC decided to respectfully bury the dog, like it was a person, rather than meat. You know, something more meaningful.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The Pasho - A Pasho is a wiseman, history written on every inch of his skin. Now the MC, a new Pasho, returns home to his dry and dusty homeland where the people keep their blades sharp. The grandfather doesn't care for his grandson's newly appointed position of spreading knowledge, especially when that knowledge comes from the very people they use to slaughter. Grandfather refuses to change his ways, and plans to start war. So what does a a well educated young man do? Does he use his vast knowledge to convince his grandfather of the good things these people have done? Nope. Instead, we get the cop out ending, because it's so much simpler to kill somebody, right? Unfortunately, it does not impress, especially this reader.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Calorie Man - We follow Lalji as he goes on a mission to find the calorie man, a person he may be able to turn the tide against the genetic pests that haunt their world. Everything is grown and produced by the calorie companies, leaving humanity at their mercy.

Now this story has some silver lining, and we get some fighting action, too. But I had the same issue that I did with  Pocketful of Dharma, I just didn't really care about the MC. And I'm thinking this is an issue with Bagigalupi's writing in general, as I've heard the same complaints about The Windup Girl.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Tamarisk Hunter - Lolo hunts for water that hasn't been regulated by the government, and even plants new springs in the hopes they'll prosper and he won't have to move up north and leave is all he's ever known behind.

Now this story was terrible on several levels. First off, it's written in present tense, and the issue with present tense is that it comes off waaaaay too choppy. For example, in present tense: "I go to the store and I buy some cookies."
While in the past tense, you'd say: "I went to the story and bought some cookies". 

Say both of those phrases out loud. Now which one flows or sounds smoother to you? I bet it's the phrase in past tense, right?

The next offense of this story is that the narration is told in such a distancing way, which doesn't help me to become involved the MC's plight. And then, in the end, when Big Daddy (a throw back to Big Brother) comes a knockin', the MC does nothing. Maybe he would have done something, but the story ends and we'll never know.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Pop Squad - At the beginning of this story, I was indifferent toward the MC because he goes around with a crew and kills children and arrests their mothers because people are no longer allowed to breed in the future -- why breed when everyone lives forever?

But as the story develops, the MC really starts to think about what compels women, and the men who donate the sperm, to cut themselves off from society in order to procreate. Now this MC felt real, he has a conscience, though he doesn't quite fully grasp it, and intelligence. And unlike Bagiglupi's other character's, he doesn't opt for the asshole option when he tracks down, on his own, a woman and her child. It reminded me a lot of Decker in Blade Runner, when Rachel asks if he'd hunt her down. He responds, "No, no I wont...but somebody would."

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Yellow Card Man -  Our MC, Tranh, is a Chinese refugee who nearly escaped with his life after revolutionaries took over in his homeland of China. Now he has to survive in a foreign land, oppressed, hungry, and alone. Oh, and the Windup Girl makes an appearance in this story.

Oh gosh, once again, an MC that I did not care for. Not one bit. Worse of all, he goes for the asshole option. I get that there are assholes out there, I just don't want to read about them -- and if they are an asshole, give me a damn good reason why. Personally, I rather see a character choose the more creative option, it may not be fair, but it's better than cop out, I-don't-know-how-to-end-this-story-any-other-way. Lame, lame, lame.

Also, Bagigalupi, stop writing in present tense because you don't know how to do it very well.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Softer - Oh-my-god! A story that isn't dark and depressing -- who would've thought? This story is about a man who kills his wife, not on purpose, just one of these spaz moments, and then soaks with her corpse in a bath tub. Oddly enough, even though this character didn't have a sympathetic past, I actually found him very relatable; he was well-defined and that's how characters should be. Methinks Bagigalupi tries too hard, forcing foreign characters into his stories, and they end up being more stock than real.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (seriously, this story was a breath of fresh air)

Pump Six - Ah, now we come to our title story, and usually, the author saves the best for last. Well, maybe Bagigalupi thought this was his best, but for me, it was meh. I think because I've seen this done before, or at least this concept. Hell, Ayn Rand did it in Atlas Shrugged, just without the spec fic elements. The MC in this story is stuck in a world where the human population is slowly degrading (i.e. everyone is becoming stupider) and they're the only one with enough sense to see it. Yet, the MC is helpless.

However, the MC wasn't an asshole and I found him interesting, and at least he tried to do something, although I think he could've done more. I mean if I were him, I'd try to find other people with respectable intelligence in the hopes of rebuilding society. But I suppose that would be something for a novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

So, if I were to take an average...3.45 stars, though I'll round down and say 3 stars overall. That's not to say Bagigalupi is a terrible writer (but he is terrible at present tense), he's got some world-building chops and obviously understands other cultures and how to weave them into his stories. It's just his characters, overall, are not very well-written. And like I said before, this is a complaint I've read in Amazon reviews of The Windup Girl, which doesn't make me terribly interested in reading it -- I don't care how many awards it won. I'm not interested in reading an entire novel and not giving a damn about the characters.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Speak like K Stew

Notice anything different?

I had a random moment yesterday and decided to revamp the blog, a change is good once in a while. I find it amusing that I went from a cool color scheme to a warm colors (with a dash of teal). Probably play around with it some more. Wish the backdrop pic was bigger so I wouldn't have that ugly line, but that's nothing a little photoshop magic can't fix.

Anyway, for the sake of doing something on the blog (I do have another book review coming up - yay!), thought I'd share some more funnies from the awesome Key of Awesome.

And if you think that's a gross over-exaggeration of K Stew, check out this interview of her at Comic Con 2009.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sick of this! (and W1S1 update)

No, I'm not sick of W1S1, I actually really enjoy the challenge and it's been great so far! You can visit the official W1S1 blog, here.

So, what are my stats for this month?

Stories written: 3-4(?) (all of them flash ranging from 400 words to under a thousand; one I'm not quite counting because it turned out to be more of a vignette than a story)
Stories submitted: 14
Stories accepted: 0
Stories rejected: 14 (several of these were re-submissions of rejected stories)

Not bad, eh? I'm going to try Writer's of the Future again this quarter. Last quarter was my very first time submitting to them, and I was surprised at how quick they were to respond -- and reject it, haha. Other than that, going to enjoy the madness that is the holidays, and hopefully complete Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (it's such a fun game! though I do miss the post-apoc feel to Morrowind).

Anyway, keep on writing!

And as has become tradition, I have a YouTube vid to share. :) One of my favorites, too. Enjoy Lev's "Sick of This", I think some of you might relate -- I certainly did!

(btw, does anyone else hate the new YouTube look?)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: The Skinner

*gasp* I'm finally getting around to this review! I think part of the problem was that I like this book so much, and when I like something, it's hard to find things to talk about -- or in my case, tear it a part.

A brief rundown: Erlin, Janer, and Sable Keech set foot on the planet known as 'Splatterjay', each with an agenda. Erlin wants purpose to her long-life thanks to being infected by the Splatterjay virus which gives its host a sort of immortality. Janer, accompanied by the Hive-mind, is looking avoid boredom -- though the Hive-mind has plans for him. And Keech, a thousand-year-old reification (basically a corpse with cybernetics), has finally tracked down the remaining criminals of a human-trafficking gang.

The story starts off with Erlin, and Janer goes along with Erlin, but soon, Keech takes center stage as his story is the strongest -- not to mention he's literally a walking corpse! I always thought of him as the SF version of a lich. And yes, The Skinner has a bit of a slow start as we're introduced to all these wacky characters, but it's necessary to get you feet wet before diving into this complex world.

The most impressive part is how much detail Asher puts into, not only the world-building of Splatterjay, but also the history of the social, political, and environmental issues surrounding the planet. It's as intricate, and well done as Frank Herbert's Dune. Splatterjay is mainly a water planet, dominated by sea life and the giant leeches -- oh, and the leeches are nasty buggers. If you're bit by a leech, you become infected with the Splatterjay virus, and immortality may sound great, but if you don't consume off world foods, the virus will eventually convert you body in the bare necessities for survival; like a leech.

And that just goes to show you how odd this world is, yet terribly intriguing.

There are a few other similarities to Dune, such as the intro of each chapter is a bit is an ongoing story featuring the fauna of Splatterjay, and there fish-eat-fish cycle. Not directly related to the story, but it helps to give you an idea of just how vicious and unforgiving this world is. And much like how water is the most precious resource on Arrakis, death (or the means to die) is the precious resource on Splatterjay. Because sometimes, living forever isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

If there was a negative thing to say about this book, and I'm scrounging here, I'd have to say that Erlin turned out to be the most boring character, compared to the entire cast. She wasn't exactly proactive and became a sideline character who offered support to our true main character, Sable Keech. Plus, you just can't top a SF lich. Janer was saved from also the being boring by the sheer fact that he was linked to the Hive-mind, and the Hive-mind was pretty amusing. Yes, even characters who never even made an entrance were more interesting than Erlin! But eh, it doesn't detract from the story.

So my rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where's the story?

Today is a ranting day -- or night. It's late here.

Lately I've been reading quite a bit of literary fiction...oh yes, you can see where this is going. I've never been able to see the hype about literary, or why people get snobbish over it. I don't hate literary, but I don't find it enjoyable for the most part; it's like the author was so focused on the deeper layers of their story that they forgot that reading should be somewhat entertaining. If I have to decode each sentence in order to understand the next one and the one after that, then forget it.

But what really bugs me about literary fiction is that often times, there's no story. None. Nada. Zip.

Now let's lay the foundation for what a story actually is. A story is a work of fictional prose with a beginning, middle, and end. Then we have vignettes which are fictional prose of a single scene.

I'd say a lot of the literary I read falls into the vignette zone, and sometimes not even that. There's this trend where the literary work is nothing more than a giant metaphor, usually something to do with parents. Maybe this is some sort of resentment the author carries for all the times their parent's told them to clean their room. Regardless, a metaphor is not a story. Not even close.

I get that the whole point of literary is to make the reader think, but most the time, all I'm thinking is: WTF??? (not a good WTF, mind you) Or in the lesser extreme cases: Well, that's interesting...but where's the story?

You've got a beginning, you've something that could be a middle, though it looks more like filer, then it tapers off. Or more like the author quit writing because they had nothing else to say or the word limit cut them off. And for what? To impart upon the reader some deep conventional wisdom? No, sorry, I don't want to read about your so-called "wisdom" because it's neither conventional nor deep. Shit. I knew that already, give me something different, something exciting. Give me a goddamn story!

Again, I don't hate literary, and I certainly don't hate experimenting with writing, which I think most literary is. I just wish these literary guys would stop trying to be Hemingway, supposedly deep and thoughtful. There is some value to mainstream writing that you shouldn't forget while experimenting. The best literary, in my opinion, has been the stuff that combined mainstream mechanics with beautiful prose. I myself always aim for a beginning, middle, and end, even when the story is less than 500 words. And by virtue of the subject matter, layers develop all on their own. But I always remember that a story should be enjoyable to read on the surface level, and, more importantly, understandable.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy All Saint's Day! (and W1S1 update)

Well October has come and gone, and doesn't seem like it's been 31 days. Halloween was a little disappointing, decorated the house with lots of spiders and macabre, but probably only got about 20 trick-or-treaters. How sad! Of course, the neighborhood has grown up, most of the residents are now older folks without kids, so it's not surprising. But still, Halloween just isn't the same without a bunch of rugrats (not teenagers, and yes, had a few of those come to the door) running around in costumes.

Okay, so W1S1 Stats for October:
Stories written: 2 (one 3,500-word, and the other 1,600-word)
Stories submitted: 12
Stories accepted: 0
Stories rejected: 10 (several of these were re-submissions of rejected stories)

Not bad, I'm definitely getting the ball rolling on the whole submission thing. Doesn't feel like I wrote as much, even though I did (any story of mine that manages to break 2,000 words is considered long), probably because I did all the writing in the beginning of the month, then spent the rest of the month revising. I predict there's going to be more of that revising thing going on.

Just finished Neal Asher's The Skinner, so will be doing a book review of that soon. In the meantime, I leave you with the fabulous KOA's Halloween Battle! (dressing slutty isn't just for the girls anymore!)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Review: Ex-Heroes

Wow, where does the time go? Already five days till Halloween!! And then we skip Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas.

I have to admit, this is a recycled book review (with some revising), originally posted on Amazon, but it fits the mood of this season, zombies and superheroes -- oh yeah!

The set-up:  It's post-apoc LA where the undead outnumber the living, and only the superheroes manage to keep some sanity alive, protecting the remaining humans in a fortress. But of course there's gotta be super villains, right?

The ultimate highlight of Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes, for me, was the kick ass ending where the heroes duke it out with undead heroes (ex-heroes). There's at least three battles going on and all of them have you on the edge of your seat. You really can't stop reading when you get to the last 50 pages, which I love. And can I just say a much cooler ending that King's The Stand; I'm still disappointed that there was never big clash between good and evil in that book. 

But as much as I love intense action scenes, this book does has its flaws. Two of the heroes are basically knock-offs of more famous heroes:
Stealth = robot Batman
St. George/The Mighty Dragon = fire-breathing Superman

I would have appreciated a little more originality in those heroes, especially since we see them the most. I REALLY didn't like Stealth, though. I get it, she's got a mind like a computer, but does she have to be devoid of a personality and all morals? What's the difference between her and a villain? Perhaps she'll become a villain in the next book, that would be interesting. And if she doesn't like being objectified, why does she run around in a painted on body suit? You can't see her face but she'll show you her curves. *facepalm*

Then there's Zzzap. He is the most powerful of the superheroes and yet, he does the least of all them except be a battery for the community. Can you say 'lame'? I think the author realized at the end that Zzzap could take out all the zombie hordes and ex-heroes in 5 minutes tops, so he gave Zzzap the piss poor excuse that he didn't like burning up zombies (it felt icky). Now if Zzzap had been too busy fighting MidKnight (another ex-hero) that would have given us another cool battle, and nothing to complain about.

As you can see, the characterization was rather weak all around. We only get one chapter into each of these characters' lives, and as much as I appreciate not getting dumped with tons of backstory, we don't get to see enough of these characters' thoughts. This is where limited 3rd-person would have helped a lot in getting in touch with the characters as both superheroes and humans. Of course, to have done this, the book would had to have been twice as long, and as a debut novel, I know authors are hard pressed to make their books as skinny as possible because it's not cheap to print a book. So I'm not too sure if it's the author's lack of ability to create 3D characters, or that the editor was an idiot and cut out all the characterization.The 4-5 pages of advertisements (for other books) in the back of the book makes me wonder...

There are a few overused phrases, like Cerberus constantly saying "her arms ached for her cannons," which I think came up 3-4 times. Once again, a little variety doesn't hurt.

I also see this book becoming severely dated ten years from now. Clines' makes tons of references to movies and TV shows that are popular now, which makes sense since these characters are stuck in Hollywood. But who's going to recall half this stuff years from now? Or what about the younglings who haven't even heard about it? We may not even have TV in ten years! (I hope not, because cable prices are ridiculous)

Now, I originally gave this book 4 stars, but after some thought, I'd say 3 out of 5 stars is more appropriate. Three stars isn't necessarily bad, but I'll be honest, this is a popcorn novel. It's fun to read, and doesn't take long to get through, but it certainly isn't anything deep or thoughtful. I may get around to its sequel Ex-Patriots, though I've already bought a bunch of books, and don't feel like shelling out another ten bucks.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: World War Z

Ooooh yes, zombies! (and no, I'm not dead, just been busy writing n' stuff)

Ever since I read The Zombie Survival Guide, I have been a fan of Max Brooks' stuff, and he certainly doesn't disappoint in this novel. World War Z is set up as a series of interviews from folks who survived the terrifying war when zombies almost took over. If you've read "The Good War," it's a lot like that, and also an excellent book if you're interested in World War II personal stories. 

The level of realism in WWZ is, wow, astounding. I can tell Brooks did his research, as the whole situation felt real, not in a fictional way, but like this really had happened to us. The interviewees range from simple civilians to highly specialized military personal, even the vice president! (fictional, of course) They also come from all parts of the world, so we get taste of just how devastating this zombie attack was, which I think is what I like most about this. Just think, zombies don't drown, so we could have a sea full of undead, washing up on coasts all around the world! And there isn't a country that's safe, although Cuba comes pretty close to it. You never feel like your suspension of disbelief is ever stretched; he even gives theories as how the zombie virus may have spread. Infected organ donations -- yikes!

One of my favorite interviews was with Sharon, the mentally handicapped woman who reenacts, with eerie likeness, when the zombies attacked while her, her family and community were barricaded in a church. Here's an excerpt:
[Now she bangs both fists one the table, her strikes becoming chaotic as if to simulate multiple ghouls.] "Brace the door!" "Hold it! Hold it!" [She simulates the sound of shattering glass.] The windows broke, the windows in the front next to the door. The lights got black. Grown-ups got scared. They screamed.       
Another great interview was Sensei Tomonaga Ijiro, a blind Japanese man who lived in the wilderness and took out zombies with nothing but a quarterstaff. You can't get much more badass than that! Each personal story was well done, each with unique voices, felt culturally representative of the interviewee, not some stock characters. And each story showed how the Z war transformed them, whether they gained new insight or appreciation for life, or discovered some truly dark things about what they were capable of doing.

It's hard to find bad things about this book because it really is well done, and usually I can find something to nit-pick over. To view a war on so many levels and how it affects us all... and how it may not be completely over. If I had to complain, I'd say I wanted to see more of the interviewees Good-byes at the end. We only got a handful of them, and I wanted to see where their lives were headed, or their thoughts on how it was all going to turn out. So that was disappointing. Also, I thought a few of the military personal interviews sounded a wee bit too similar in voice, but that's a minor thing.

Rating: 5 out of 5 zombified stars!       

And how cool is this? There's going to be a movie of this coming out next year!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Movie Review: Jacob's Ladder

So it's that time of year to watch horror movies with the lights off and see how badly you can scare yourself. I first saw a mention of Jacob's Ladder in 100 Scariest Movie Moments -- or maybe it was its sequel... anyway, it looked really intriguing so I decided to check it out.

Quick synopsis: A traumatized (and possibly experimented on) Vietnam war veteran discovers that his post-war life isn't what he believes it to be when he starts seeing demons and flashbacks of his dead son.

*Warning* There will be spoilers.

This is one of those freaky psychological trips you take with the main character, not quite able to discern what is reality and what is a hallucination. Some of the images were great! And horrifying. Like in the beginning when Jacob is on the subway, and before he gets off, he sees a hobo with some sausage-link kind of appendage underneath a blanket. And you're thinking: WTF -- did I just see what I think I saw???
Then there was the scene when Jacob is crossing the subway tracks, a train rolls by, and up against the windows are these eyeless ghouls with gaping mouths.

The entire movie goes back forth between WTF and normalcy; these creepy moments popping out of nowhere, and then sinking back into the fabrics of reality. Is he dead? Is he just having one hell of a acid trip? Who knows!

Well, no. Turns out the director didn't want the viewer to keep on guessing -- which is unfortunate because I love open endings. I don't want closure; I want to wonder what happens next, to allow my imagination to run wild with gruesome thoughts of what could have happened, or what was really going on with poor Jacob.

A good reason not to piss off your girlfriend: she might be a demon!

But you're denied that with this film. In the end, we discover that *gasp* Jacob was dead all along and that the entire movie was his dying hallucination.  Does this sound oddly familiar to the cop out ending of the main character waking up and it turns out it was all just a dream?

For a movie this good, it deserved a better ending -- a significantly better ending. I mean where's the struggle if we know he's dead? I don't mind the MC struggling with the fact that he might be dead, he certainly did for a bit, but when it's confirmed that yeah, he is indeed dead, he just accepts it and, literally, walks up the stairway to heaven. That's not horror; that's cheesy! 

The whole being a guinea pig for experimental drugs/crazy-making-it-all-up angle wasn't played out to its full potential, in my opinion. It seemed like the movie was more intent on beating you over the head with the fact that he might be dead. Rather than letting us think that maybe he really *is* crazy.

But to end on a positive note, I thought the entire cast was amazing; the way they reacted made these WTF moments come alive and you were there with them.

So I'm going to give this 4 out of 5 hallucinogenic stars. A good psychological thriller with bits of gore splatter about, but ultimately could have been better.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Pic from >>here<<.
Yes, I've been away for some time. Partly because I got busy and partly because I'm not so interested in blogging. I'll try to do better this month since there's a little more atmosphere this time of year to inspire.

For the month of September, I managed to complete four stories (2 flash, 2 shorts around 2K and less), also submitted more this month (11 pieces!!), of course that will probably result in more rejections, haha. Currently I have 9 stories out, which has been my most so far (I think last month was 4-5 at most), so that makes me happy, even if they all come back as R's.

And in other news, I've been weightlifting to build some muscle since I'm a whisper of a person, and it would be nice to open jars without having to ask someone else to do it.

Now to leave you with the awesome Emilie Autumn (a suiting last name, right?) and one of my favorite pieces from her (she calls is Industrial Victorian), Manic Depression. Trust me, it's not a depressing song, it's quite lively you could say.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August: W1S1 (and other fun stuff)

 Yay for me, haha. I'm quite pleased with my writing progress for August. The low-down:

Stories written: 4 (3 flash, 1 short story collaboration)
Stories submitted: 9
Stories accepted: 0
Stories rejected: 5 (2 of these were sent back out in the same month)

Haha, I received two rejections within ten minutes of each other on the last day of August, way to end the month :P But I don't let that discourage me, because there are always other markets. I've already sent two of the rejected stories, and another one which I got tired of looking at.

And congrats to all the fine folks over at W1S1 for meeting their goals!!

As a bonus, I'd like to share some of my favorite short stories I've read in the month of August.

AN ELIZABETHAN TALE by Paul A. Freeman - very funny Shakespearean story over at EDF.

NIGHT VISION by Stewart Sternberg - creepy tale surrounding a mysterious black woman who helps others - for a price.

DEATH, REBIRTH. AN HEIR, A KARAKURI by J.M. Sidorova - if Blade Runner had been set in Japan and given a supernatural twist.

THE WORLD IS CRUEL, MY DAUGHTER by Cory Skerry - a twisted take on a classic fairytale from the witch's PoV.

And if you haven't already, definitely check out the Venture Bros. special From the Ladle to the Grave: The story of Shallow Gravy, which aired on August 28.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's Bane Cook!

Found this hilarious video from the awesome Key of Awesome crew and it made my day. Hope it brings some funnies for you.

I tried watching Dane Cook one time, but I just couldn't get past the first ten minutes of his act. For me, the guy made me cringe, not laugh.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What is in a Nym?

Names are funny things.

I've decided to drop the pen name S.E. Gaime after someone pointed out to me another, rather famous, author Neil Gaiman, and how his last name was very similar to the pseudo-name I've chosen. Damn you, Neil Gaiman! (just kidding)  The whole reason I picked up a pseudo-name was because I wanted a secret identity, kind of like Batman. You get to run around with mask and cape on the internet and no one knows it's you. It's a neat idea. Also, my real name occasionally confuzzles people. However, this same person said my name is also more unique than S.E. Gaime, and thus, more recognizable. Doesn't matter if people can pronounce it or not. And that's true. I still cannot pronounce this Russian fantasy author's name (author of The Alchemy of Stone), but I would certainly recognize the name if I saw her on the shelf of a bookstore.

So you can call me either defcon or Siobhan Gallagher - yes, a very Irish name. I also get to keep my anonymousness because apparently there are a lot of Siobhan Gallaghers out there - even a ghost ship!

Friday, August 19, 2011

I think I thought

A funny thing has occurred to me recently: I'm contradicting my earlier advice.

This is surrounding character thoughts in stories. I use to say: "Put character thoughts in italics to distinguish it from the rest of the text."

Now I say: "Italics? We don't need no stinkin' italics!"

It's weird, and it wasn't that long ago that I use to like character thoughts in italics, Now I find them annoying. To me, the italics are like waving a red flag to the reader, saying: "Look! See this right here? It's a thought!" And that's just lazy writing. If you're writing in a tight narrative, like 1st-person or limited 3rd-person, everything is already in the character's head, thus, it seems redundant to put it in italics. I've even found you can pull off nearly 1st-person thoughts in 3rd-person without reverting to italics. Allow me to demonstrate...

Tight 3rd-person narrative with 1st-person italicized thought:
She turned the octagon-shaped box in her hands. I wonder how it works. 

Tight 3rd-person narrative with nearly 1st-person thought without italicizing:
She turned the octagon-shaped box in her hands. Wonder how it works. 

See what I did there? I clipped the "I" from the beginning of the thought sentence, and it should be apparent that it's a thought sentence, otherwise, it doesn't work. And yeah, it switches tenses, but it's OK to do that, so long as it flows. When it flows, most of the time readers don't notice; it's only when they notice that cues them that something is off.  

I'll post longer passages later on to further demonstrate this style.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Save a Brony - be a Hobo!

So this is a shout out to fellow AWer Bart's group Sci-Fi Fantasy SpecFic SYW Hobos.
This group focuses on how to improve critiques so that everyone may benefit in their writing. Sadly, the group has been floundering lately. Yeah I know, not everyone loves to critique, but it truly is good exercise for your editing skills and you can learn a thing or two just from others' writing. And we'd love to have more folks join and participate. You might even get a pokemon code name!

Otherwise, Fluttershy will give you the stare of DOOM!!!!

btw, definitely check out the new My Little Ponies if you haven't already, it's a great show! (adults are allowed to watch cartoons, right?)

Friday, August 12, 2011

"I'll get to that later in the story" and other nonsensical things writers say

Now when I say "writers" I mean the ones who have yet to be published, who post their stuff on forums in the hopes for feedback from their fellow writers. However, I've been noticing lately that there are a lot of writers who dismiss the questions and advice from their critters.

What's that you say? You'll get to that later in the story?  Well, what happens if I stop reading right now?  Why is the answer to my question in act two rather than in act one? There must be this assumption going on that if a reader starts reading that they must read the entire story from start to finish. News flash: The reader is in no way obligated to continue reading, especially if they're finding plot holes in the first page of your story!

Here's another one: Ambiguous intros. Yes, by all means start your story with a disoriented narrator who rambles and doesn't have a clue what the hell is going on, because that's a sure fire way to confuse your reader and make them put down your story. Characters are great, but you need to give the reader a setting to vis-ua-lize, otherwise the characters are floating in space. Also, readers are going to imagine their own settings in order to make sense of your nonsense, and of course, their interpretation is going to vary. In one case, a guy had posted an ambiguous intro and some critters thought the setting was a warzone because the main character was bleeding all over the place. Surprise, surprise, that's not what the author had intended. But you know, what do you expect when you don't give readers that vital information? 

And no, explaining the intro afterwards does not count. Your intro either stands on its own or it doesn't.

Basic science brought to you by 
Professor Pinky Floyd
Oh, and my favorite: Being defensive! This goes back to the fact that if your story isn't doing its job (i.e. telling the story in a clear manner) then you're doing it wrong. You want to be stubborn and resist the suggestion given by people who are trying to help improve your story (granted, not all suggestions are good ones), then fine, no one really cares one way or another. However, I do care if you've wasted my time. Say "thank you" and just move along with your misconceptions. Don't snigger, don't try to explain your position, because undoubtedly you are wrong and just making a fool of yourself. Yes, I saw one person try to argue that "powerful energy" would leave a trail of pretty colors in a void. Has no one ever heard of refraction? C'mon, it's Pink Floyd's symbol!

Anyway, these are just a few of the joys of critiquing. Doesn't it look like fun? But really, I do enjoy critiquing because it not only helps the writer but me as well; it's good practice to hone in on your skills as a writer. But you know, sometimes...sheesh!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens

Ever since I saw the trailer last year, I've been anxiously awaiting this movie. SF meets Western flick - what's not to love? After all, Star Wars is just a Western in space.

A brief rundown: In 1873 Arizona, our hero (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere with no recollection of who he is or where he is, and a weird bracelet on his wrist. After getting into a scuffle with some roughians, he heads to the town of Absolution. There he meets a woman, Ella (Olivia Wilde), who seems to know more about what's going on. Our hero also finds out he's the wanted criminal Jake Lonergan, whom Colonial Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) has a personal grudge with. But when aliens attack the town and kidnap citizens, including Dolarhyde's son, Lonergan (his bracelet is the key to destroying the aliens), Dolarhyde, and Ella team up to track down the alien nemesis.

For once, in a long time, I've actually found a movie that I enjoyed immensely - no, really! The acting was superb, each character has a story-arc and grew a little by the end of the movie, lots and lots of action, good handling of tropes - and no, just because there were tropes does not make it cliche, and a satisfying conclusion. No, this movie isn't the deep brilliance of Blade Runner (my favorite move ever) but it's enjoyable. It doesn't drag in any spots or make you groan with sob scenes that take fooooreeeever. Yes, beloved characters died and there were tears, but they kept it brief.

There is criticism about the alien menace being too dumb. I'm just glad they're not insects! Though, they're kind of these weird mutant turtle things. I wonder if they like pizza... Anyway, one issue was that the bracelet/weapon that Lonergan uses originally came from the aliens - you know how it goes, careless worker leaves it out and the human test subject grabs it and runs away. Looks like someone is receiving a deduction from their pay check. In my eyes, considering that mysterious little Ella could also use this alien tech, I figure this technology is not exclusive to this alien race. Perhaps the bracelet/weapon, which operates based on the owners thoughts or emotions, was mass produced to fit all interplanetary species needs. I wouldn't be surprised if there a logo on that thing. And you know how dumb people can get a hold of guns? Well, perhaps this is the SF version of dumb aliens getting a hold of dangerous gadgets.  

Trying not to spoil this because I want you to see it. Yes, support the good movies! Instead of crap like Transformers franchise. Plus, I'd love to see Hollywood do more of this genre mashing, perhaps a fantasy western or space fantasy - or space fantasy western. There's lots of good tropes in these genres waiting to be used properly! Also, I'm sort of becoming tired of of superhero movies. Please, can we have something else?

So I'm giving this movie my rare rating of 5 out of 5 stars. Dumb aliens or not, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of this film.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Got Maturity?

This came up yesterday morning over at Every Day Fiction in the comments section of a particular story. Now I assume that the comment section is there not just so readers have a place to spill their enthusiasm, but that it's also a place to leave critiques. And don't start with the: "Oh, but it's already published, there's no point in critiquing it!" Have you ever seen a bad movie or read a bad book? Did you feel a need to criticize it even though it's a finished product? Of course you did! The amazing thing about human beings is that we can form opinions and express them. This is the nature of communication. And even if it's a finished product, that doesn't mean it's immune to scrutiny. The point of criticism is for you [the creator of X] to learn and improve on your craft. Yes, it's going to sting, but you take it and roll with it.

Now, there a few ways you can react to criticism: A) You can ignore it. B) You can acknowledge it and thank the critter for their time. Or C) You can become defensive of your work.

Guess which one is the immature reaction?

(If you said C, you are correct!)

I understand everyone has an ego and some egos are bigger than others, while some are very fragile. If you've got ego issues, then don't - I repeat - DON'T bother putting your work out there, because chances are, you've got a bit of growing up to do. And frankly, I'm quite tired of these children posing as adults, and then crying when they don't receive the praise they think they deserve. Sorry, but you're not entitled to anything, but whatever you do receive, be damn grateful, even if it's criticism. They read your story! Isn't that enough?

Oh, and don't forget, if you act all defensive on the internet, it's there for the whole world to see. So just think about that next time you feel the need to chew out a reader's critique.  

But yeah, I've had enough of these childish egos. Keep your stories underneath your pillow, maybe the writing-fairy will leave you a quarter.        

Sunday, July 24, 2011

ATHF and Rape

If you've never heard of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF) it's a absurdist comedy shown on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim segment. The main characters are fast food products (a milkshake, fries, and a wad of meat) and the humor tends to be very random. So random in fact, that rape was the joke for an entire episode. The episode Handbanana (you can watch part 1 and part 2 on Youtube) centers around Carl (the neighbor) being raped by an engineered hand-dog hybrid. And that's pretty much it. I can only assume that the writers intended you to laugh at the situation of someone being raped.

Rape isn't funny and will never be funny.

What's worse of all is how Carl is treated when he informs his neighbors that he's been raped, which is basically being ignored and not taken seriously. By the end of the episode, the neighbors watch with apathy from their home as Carl is raped in his own backward.
What were they thinking? I know this is an old episode, but it has never sat well with me, and not too long after watching it, I ceased watching ATHF all together. It's quite clear that the writers feel pretty secure about the fact that they will never be raped, and thus to them, a guy being raped is funny. Forget the fact that the one doing the raping is this ridiculous creature, because it's nothing more than a prop. Oh, and if Carl had been a Carla do you think this episode would have flied? But I guess because it's a guy being raped it makes it okay? 'Cause it's not like men are ever victims of rape. *sarcasm*

And it's this sort of attitude that harms the victims of sexual assault, that rape is looked upon as a joke rather than a serious issue for both men and women. This is done with very poor taste, much like someone telling a racist joke. It's not funny no matter how you look at it. No, of course the show isn't tasteful and much of the humor is crude, but that doesn't excuse it from making fun of the issue. And yes, I think the writers/creators should be held accountable, whether they know what they did was wrong or not, they need to be corrected. Because attitudes don't change unless you correct them. Although, some time has passed since the episode originally aired, I still feel it's relevant, especially considering that there are people who actually enjoy this episode. Which says A LOT about them when you think about it.

And if I ever get a chance to go to ComicCon in San Diego (next year, I hope), I will most certainly confront them about it if I can - oh, and I will try.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Just out of curiosity...

...would you read a novel about motherhood? Straight up motherhood, not a comedy about it. No, I'm not writing a novel about motherhood - wouldn't even dream of it. But I read this one blog about an author who did write such a book, because they wanted a book about "female" issues, instead of war, sex, and violence. Yeah, I'm not going to name the author, but it did get me thinking who would be interested in such a book. I'm a woman - well, I have ovaries so they must count - and I don't find the topic of motherhood to be an exciting read. Oh sure, there are trials and frustrations in motherhood, but where's the conflict?

Alien verse motherhood?
War, sex, and violence has oodles of conflict. That's why writers write about it and why readers love to read it. A book with no conflict is rather boring. I can't think of any conflict in motherhood of itself. However, the role of being a mother verse the role of being a employed (could be overworked, could be demanding) has ample conflict, but that's pitting motherhood against something, like Alien verse Predator.

Granted, I'm not a mother and this may be why it doesn't appeal to me. I'd actually be impressed if someone could write an engaging book about motherhood. However, I still feel like there would have to be something more than just motherhood, an event that shakes things up and turns the world on its side. Then again, motherhood may not be my cuppa.

Perhaps I'll just stick with freaky creatures and wormholes.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sex Doesn't Matter

No, not the act ‘sex’. I’m talking about the genitalia between your legs, because sex is the correct usage, not ‘gender’.  I’ve wanted to discuss the topic of sex in SF/F since a discussion of it had cropped up on AW.

Now, in a galaxy far, far away… science fiction was once a male dominated genre, and a lot of the characters in SF were male. Optimistically, I like to think that has changed and there are more women writing in SF as well as female characters in SF.

So what’s the issue?

Male to female ratios. Apparently, some think that if you don’t have enough women in your SF universe, your universe is implausible! Or, they may just call you a sexist, as is the case for Star Wars. It’s hard to cram an entire universe into a single book, and if you do, the book ends up being a couple thousand pages long. A linear story is going to focus on what’s important: the plot and the characters involved in the plot. So no, we’re not going to see the entire universe and all the diversity. And nor am I going to hold a magnifying glass to the background to see how many vaginas there are. Because gosh darnit! There’s gotta be a space pilot with a vagina! Is space pilot #4 important to the story? No. So who cares what it is.

The characters should serve the story, not the other way around.

Look, I’m all for characters with two sets of genitals or characters with no genitals so long as it makes sense. Are the characters going to bump uglies or exchange DNA through pili? Then yes, it would help to know what sex the characters are. But one thing I can’t stand is when sex (the act) is just thrown into a story and it isn’t part of the plot or character growth. Make it relevant or just get it over with, because you’re holding up the story! (sorry, minor rant)

Now if you want a pro-wrestling woman as your main character, you’re going to have to work around the limitations of the female body. Sorry, but no matter what fantasy world you live in, men and women are biologically different. And yes, you will need to explain how a woman can be a wrestler and win the belt. If technology is allowed, then the woman can use nano enhancements, thus leveling the playing field. If this is fantasy, perhaps a strength spell or the woman is from a race of Amazonians.

Sex doesn’t matter.

I think this is what LeGuin was trying to get at in her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, where the planet Winter is populated by hermaphrodites. Male, female, whatever, the story should still be able to go on without us getting hung up on who has what between their legs.

*Edit* Found this AWESOME rant by Limyaael which sums up my feelings about this whole issue. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Definition Wars (aka How defcon was right!)

Definitions can be tricky, everyone seems to have their own, and of course, they think their definition is correct. And of course, I must disagree with them. There was a bit of a discussion about SF (science fiction) on AW, whether a story set in the future is automatically SF or not. I'm going to refer back to a previous post, which I talked about how it's SF when it feels like it. Star Wars feels like SF because you have laser beams, space ships, and aliens. Granted, it's the softest of SF, but you can imagine the Star Wars universe was built up thanks to engineers and scientists. It certainly wasn't the Force.

However, I don't believe all stories set in the future are SF. To say all stories set in the future are SF is to bar fantasy from being set in the future. But that's not true. Emma Bull's Bone Dance is clearly fantasy despite it being set in post-apocalyptic America since it has gods intervening and a surreal, other worldly atmosphere. Then there's Ralph Bakshi's Wizards which is another post-apoc story, but it features elves and fairies as the main characters. Oh, and magic! I'm all for magic and technology mixing blood, however, if the technology is barely there, how can you continue to call it a SF? But - but it's set in the future! So what? Doesn't mean it's a SF, certainly doesn't feel like it's a SF.

So this is how it works (via venn diagram inspired by Buftysquirrel):

And thus I rest my case. However, I always keep my dukes up. Challenge me at your own risk.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Movie Review: Fire and Ice

Someone had started a discussion about Ralph Bakshi over at AW, and since I’m only vaguely familiar with his Cool World, I decided to better acquaint myself with his work. I was able to watch the entire movie of Fire and Ice on Youtube, and now I’m paying the price for it with a groggy brain. This may or may not be a side-effect to watching the movie.

The rundown (edited from wiki): From their stronghold in Icepeak, the evil Queen Juliana and her son, Nekron, send forth a wave of glaciers, forcing humanity to retreat south towards the equator. Nekron sends a delegation to King Jarol in Firekeep to request his surrender, but this is a ruse orchestrated by Queen Juliana, for Nekron’s sub-humans to kidnap Jarol’s daughter, Princess Teegra. Teegra makes an escape and comes upon Larn, the only survivor of a village razed by glaciers, who offers to escort her back to Firekeep. As Teegra is recaptured, Larn teams with the mysterious Darkwolf to save Teegra and to stop Juliana.    

If you think this sounds like every other epic fantasy then you’re right, it is. Not only that, it reminded me A LOT of the Taarna story from Heavy Metal the film, except I found Taarna to be much more interesting since it was a girl kicking ass rather than a girl constantly getting her ass captured. Geez, can’t these princesses keep themselves put of trouble? Though, Teegra (does anyone else find their names too similar?) isn’t all bad, she has some smarts and manages to elude her captors a few times and has a sense of dignity (despite her lack of clothing).

Taarna also rides a bird-dino hybrid, and funny enough, the heroes in Fire and Ice also ride similar creatures. Coincidence? Perhaps. Also, after watching Heavy Metal and Heavy Metal 2000, the violence in this film was rather tame, which isn’t terrible, but I was expecting a lot more gore. Or maybe it’s just me.

Nekron was the biggest disappointment. It would have been nice to see him more than just a bad guy, but a human as well, because the potential was certainly there, and don’t you just hate it when you see a missed opportunity fly by? Nekron could have been forced into this whole ‘world domination’ attitude by his mother, but perhaps deep down, that wasn’t what he truly wanted. Then Teegra comes along offering friendship and forgiveness, forcing him to see things in a new light. He would be conflicted: Stick with his mother’s plans or risk making new friends and allies? Now doesn’t that sound a bit more entertaining?

On a positive note, the setting and world is quite lovely, rich with detail and life. I like how the environment was just as deadly as the bad guys, and every step our heroes take could be their last. Also, I found the artistry to be very well done, though, there were times where I wondered what happened to Teegra’s nose. 
Can you spot her nose?
But alas, cool environments are not enough to make up for cardboard characters and overdone plots. Thus, I’m giving this 2.5 out of 5 stars. However, I won’t let this hinder me from seeing more of Bakshi’s work; it’s just clear to me that high fantasy may not be his niche.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Bone Dance

Quick summary: Sparrow, a trader of old and extremely rare videos and CDs in a post-Armageddon Minnesota, gets caught up in an internecine fight between two Horsemen, the last survivors of a group of powerful telepaths who caused the apocalypse.

*WARNING: Possible Spoilers*

I'm not going to go into the worldbuilding in this review of the book, because it didn't strike me as the most impressive overall. However, that's not to say it's bad. I just want to focus on the best (and worst) bits of the book, which of course, is all in my opinion.

This is the first book I’ve read from Emma Bull, and I have to say I’m quite impressed. The writing is rich with imagery, there’s some bits that make you go ‘Wow!’ And I honestly wish I wrote some of this stuff, haha. For example, on page 270:
The drums hammered at me, cut openings in my skin, laid their rhythm-eggs in the bloody wounds and sealed them up, to wait for hatching.
 Another kudos is that this book is very well written omni-1st person. I know that sounds odd, most folks don’t think of 1st person PoV as being omni, but it can be when the narrator is retelling the story as an auto-biography. At certain points in the story the narrator (Sparrow) foreshadows or offers a bit of information that he couldn’t possibly have known at the time.

I think the 1st person narration works is because it’s written like limited 3rd person. At first I thought this was 3rd person because of the way Sparrow describes his surroundings – but in a good way!  Also, there’s good justification for this story being written in 1st person, which I can’t say the same about other novels, but I don’t want to spoil it.  

However, like all books/movies, there are some issues. One was pacing. For the most part, this novel had a thriller’s pace (i.e. fast with lots of shit flying at the MC), but towards the end it hit a speed bump and never fully recovered. Sparrow had to literally drag himself to come face-to-face with the antagonist Tom Worecski, and it just didn’t have the same build-up as previous scenes. I felt like the first encounter with Tom held far more tension, rather than ‘might as well get this over with’ tone.

The climax was equally anti-climactic, but when do dues ex machina climaxes ever feel worthwhile? Here we have Sparrow who has just built-up his persona in the hopes he’ll be a match for Tom and what happens instead? A god rides Sparrow, destroys Tom in the process, all in order to get into Ego, because for some reason, a supreme being can’t get into a building. It’s certainly not the worst ending I’ve read, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it makes me shake my head. But I suppose the point of the book was Sparrow’s journey, learning to accept who he is and his place in this world, which I can respect, but doesn’t make me any less disappointed in the climax.

Also, in the end, all these characters popped up out of nowhere with impeccable timing to help Sparrow. Now I thought Sparrow was supposed to go alone, but it seemed he was being followed all along.

However, because I enjoyed most aspects of this book, I’m going to give it 4 out of 5 stars. Rounding up a 3.7 star. I will certainly check out Emma Bull’s other books, such as her popularly acclaimed War of the Oaks.  

One last point I want to make. Despite this story occurring in a post-apocalyptic world and having bioengineered humans, this is NOT a science fiction. Now I’m talking tone wise, because there are quite a few scenes that are surreal and mystifying, giving this an “other worldly” feel. Also, the technology plays, at best, a minimal role. I suppose the best way to put it is: It feels like a fantasy world, unlike our own.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Living in a Monty Python world?

I was going to blog about something else, but my brain has been eaten by zombies, so going to cop out and go for pointing out the stupid (which is never hard to do).

 NY Archbishop Fears Gay Marriage Will Make Us Asian

The actual blog post

Once, there was a time when people said stupid stuff and others would just laugh at them and move on. Now, you get to be the target of  newscasters, Twitters, and blogs (and yes, I know the irony of this post).

How is this even news? Seriously. It's so absurd, it feels like it came from a Monty Python movie or something equally ridiculous. For me, I had a good chuckle at this, because I didn't take it seriously - I mean, how can you? The guy is clearly out of touch with reality, probably could use some help...and an atlas. He's on par with those crazy old ladies that keep a hundred cats in their home and who believe they can talk to their kitties. So why aren't crazy cat ladies seen more often in the news?*

I wouldn't be surprised if this were the result of a mad lib:

(adjective) (noun) will make us (noun).

Because this is the only way it can make sense. Or perhaps he's just an attention whore and thought up of the most ridiculous thing to say (a-la mad lib) to get viewers, kind of like how Lady Gaga dresses up in meat. Well, it worked.

Now back to your 'the world is a horrible, horrible place' and 'who-gives-a-crap' news. 

*Note: I'm not talking about ladies who throw cats away.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Being Experimental

I've put my novel aside for what will be a duration of 6 months. Long time, right? This was recommended to me by my undeclared writing mentor, because the novel has a few kinks that need working out, a lot of which I should be able to pick out with fresh eyes. Because you know how after staring at your manuscript for umpteen hours that you become blind to all the mistakes in it.  

So, in the meantime, I'm experimenting with short stories. And you know, it's quite a lot of fun playing around with styles, POVs, and pacing. It's nice, too, because if you mess up, you only messed up on a few thousand words. Better that than to mess up a whole novel. And that's the great thing about experimenting with short stories: you can apply what you learned to novel writing.

Yeah, there will be some techniques that won't be carried over, like ambiguity about the main character, since you sort of need to know the character if you're going to stick with them for an entire book. But you may learn a new narration technique that works for you, and it may really jazz up a novel. For me, I'm learning to reign back on some crazy metaphor use so they don't stick out like sore thumbs in my writing.

So if you're stuck on your novel or needing a break, but don't want to take a vacation from writing, try playing around with short stories. Not to mention, there are LOADS of markets where you can submit a short story and make a bit of cash. Check out Duotrope's Digest for magazines (mostly eZines) where your short story might pertain to.

btw, I've updated my reviews page with Pirates of the Caribbean 4 movie review. So check it out!
I'm also going to recycle a few reviews from Amazon, because my book review count is looking pathetic.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Awsome webcomic: 5ideways

 EDIT 7/5/2014: The web domain that formerly hosted the comic is now a food recipe blog. 

I know, I know. I've been particularly lazy about making blog posts, but there seems to be only so many hours in a day and my hours keep getting sucked away. One of these days I will reclaim those lost hours! Well...hopefully. Anyway, while researching about penanggalan (it's a vampiric witch that can detach its head from its body, entrails attached) I found this uber awesome webcomic: 5ideways!

I don't normally read webcomics, probably because I'm not much of a comic person, but this one had me hooked from the first sentence: Something went wrong the night I died.

The comic has an anime style, set on a post-apocalyptic earth where the majority of humans have either been eaten or transformed into monsters. We follow Tom and Alex as they try to find other survivors. They happen upon a girl named Emerald who isn't what she seems. They also team up with their old general from the army, who is now trapped in the undead body of a kid, and Axolott, a humanoid covered in mouths - mouths filled with fangs. The story is narrated by Tom's dead girlfriend, Corey, although, something has taken her form and still communicates with Tom. For better or for worse.

The bad news: This comic is unfinished and remains unfinished since 2008. Sadly, the artist has moved on to other comics, although, there is hope that she'll return to 5ideways. I just didn't want to see such an excellent piece of work fall by the wayside. (ha! get it?) The characters are real and very interesting,  I especially enjoy the banter between the general and Axolott, and the setting is creepy fun! And who knows, perhaps reading this will inspire you to come up with a topsy-turvy universe of your own.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dey took er tropes!

Now, I've never read any of Iain M. Banks SF books, but I saw this article on his thoughts about up and coming  SF writers, and funny enough, it echoed what I had said not too long ago over at Worlds Unimangined. Granted, I didn't say it ever-so eloquently, but I tend to believe in relaying the message via blunt force trauma.   

From Bank's article:
Science fiction has its own history, its own legacy of what's been done, what's been superseded, what's so much part of the furniture it's practically part of the fabric now, what's become no more than a joke . . . and so on. It's just plain foolish, as well as comically arrogant, to ignore all this, to fail to do the most basic research.
 And to add to this excellent point: it's just not science fiction, but also fantasy as well, where people rehash tropes in a clumsy style, not realizing it's been done before. If you want to write SFF you have to, have to, have to read it. Sorry, but it's not like contemporary fiction where all you have to do is live life (or observe other people living life) and then write about it. Don't unwittingly repeat the mistakes of past SFF authors - learn from them instead! We're suppose to be moving the SFF genre forward, not backwards, but it can never grow (nor can we as writers grow and improve) if we don't acknowledge the past. It's not history that repeats itself (or in the case: tropes), it's humans who repeat history...err, tropes!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fairness Smairness

I’ve been wanting to post this since Sara Creasy (author of Song of Scarabaeus) came out with her view on Fairness in characters. Didn’t want to derail her blog since I have my own blog to do that sorta thing.

I do believe in the mantra “Life isn’t fair.” Life sucks then you die. I’m not fair to my characters (I do my darnest to kill them) and I don’t expect my characters to be fair either. A lack of fairness in a character does not make them unlikable, not all of us are “save the whales!” type people. And personally, I think that’s more realistic. If we were all so altruistic, we’d be at North Korea’s border, screaming at Kim Jong-il to release all those people in prison camp. That would be the “fair” thing to do, right? Sorry, but I don’t have a deathwish, and neither do my characters.

What works for me when writing and reading characters is: a) they’re interesting and/or b) they’re somewhat relatable (meaning, I can understand how they feel). Also, if they don't whine (too much) or get all angsty that would be great!

Let’s take Hannibal Lector for example. He eats other humans so we already know he’s not a fair guy, but then why do people love him so much? Well, because he’s a very intelligent, clever guy. You could just imagine yourself chatting with this man, sipping on your chardonnay, admiring his wit and knack for observation. Sure, if he invited you over for dinner you’d have to decline, but that doesn’t stop you from liking the guy.

Amazingly enough, a good author can turn any bad person into your best pal. As they say: “it’s all in the pen.” Thus, I’m not concerned if my characters come across as fair, make the world a better place types as they’re too busy trying to save themselves!