A Taste of Things to Come: The Hood and The Heroine Sample Chapter!

With the release of The Hood and the Heroine mere weeks away, I figured I would further tease the shit out of my audience, and give you guys a bit of a taste of what’s to come.  Enjoy your sample chapter.  Fragment.  Thing.

NOTE: this is the third draft version of the chapter.  If there are any noticeable spelling errors in the text, please keep in mind that this is still being worked on.  Although knowing my process, the third draft is where all the blatantly obvious spelling errors are fixed.  Still, try to keep in mind this might not be the final version of the chapter.

 

 

THE HOOD AND THE HEROINE: BOOK 3 OF THE GAEL SAGA

COPYRIGHT 2017 BY THOMAS J. BLACK

 

 

5: ROISIN

Our first mission was that night. I was legitimately surprised how quickly I was able to assemble a group. I thought for sure there were only going to be about two other people. Instead, I ended up with ten people who wanted to take part! Technically nine other people, since it was a guarantee Jennifer was going to come along.

In hindsight, I probably would’ve given them something a little lower profile than an arms deal on the docks. Sure, these were girls who were taking down muggers, and maybe the occasional independent crack dealer in Aventurine Cove. And I suppose even those gigs had all the potential in the world to go south. According to Jennifer, a few of them did.

It was the first time I had to lead an entire team. I wasn’t used to leading anything. I was on teams before, but the only reason gymnasts are on teams is because they represent a school, or a town, or a country. The only time it’s actually a team sport is if you have some sort of two-woman synchronized routine or something. And I’m pretty sure that sort of thing is reserved for swimming, or cheerleading. It’s basically just you throwing shapes on the balance beam, the uneven bars, or even just on the floor.

We got there before the deal took place, and I pointed out the places I used to hide when this was just a solo act. Before Adelson started making this more complicated, and had people meet with other people, who’d then meet with more people, and so on. We hid, and we cast our glamours to blend in with the scenery.

The dealer and his clients showed up a few minutes later. We watched as the dealer (a Russian guy) talked business with a group of men. I counted about five. We had the numbers advantage for sure… But I was having doubts ten girls on their first mission could beat six guys who’d probably done this a bunch of times before, and knew how to deal with trespassers.

The plan was going smoothly… Right up until Jennifer’s phone went off. It was set on vibrate, but even vibrating cell phones make noise. And the sound of the vibrating was enough to shatter her glamour. Worse than that, the damn eejit thought she could sneak up on the guy, and… Well, who knows? Guess we never will now.

Somehow, she avoided becoming a casualty. Hell, the worst she got was a black eye! We all dispelled our glamours, and went into action. I don’t like to throw shapes outside of gymnastics, but at the same time, this wasn’t my first fight. I knew how to dodge, I knew how to disarm, and I knew how to work in an occasional vault, or side flip in between. The other girls, meanwhile, stuck to weaving and dodging the old fashioned way, and for the most part, it worked.

At the end of the melee, all six of the men involved were disarmed, and secured for police pickup. Unfortunately, three of the Gaels were injured. I was no doctor, but I was pretty sure one of them was going to need a miracle, or a day and a half with the Earth to recover from those bullet wounds. All and all, it wasn’t quite how I wanted to end the first mission of the night, but I suppose someone more military minded than I would say the important thing is that the mission was a success.

And then he showed up. Right in the middle of our interrogation, I heard something. A couple of the girls panicked… And I can’t blame them too much. Again, it’s their first mission. Also, my plans for the mission hadn’t counted on him showing up.

I looked over, and saw one of the six men we’ve apprehended was now dead. A ninja star was lodged into his throat, and blood was fountaining out of him as he lay there on the ground.

Just as I was calming the girls down, I saw another ninja star come out of the shadows! I dodged… Only to realize the star wasn’t intended for me in the first place. The dealer I was interrogating got hit right between the eyes, and fell to the ground screaming in agony.

“Show yourself!” I shouted.

“Get out while you can!” a voice shouted back. It was clear he was using some sort of voice changer to hide his identity, but it was a little unsettling how deep he’d set it. It sounded like feckin’ Satan had just told me to get out.

To my annoyance, a few of the girls decided to take his advice, and bail. Before I could convince them to get back here, another ninja star came out of the shadows, and killed another of the dealers. Then another. And another. By the time I could get some semblance of order, only one guy was left standing. Before he could throw one more star, I got in front of the last target.

“This one lives!” I shouted.

“Why?” the demon voice demanded.

I thought it over for a second, and replied, “This is clearly an Adelson operation. If we can’t figure out where Adelson is hiding, he can at least forward a message for me.”

There was silence for a moment. Most likely, he was contemplating a possibility that hadn’t occurred to him. Then, he responded.

“You won’t get anything out of these guys,” he said. “But if you really want to advertise yourself to Dan Adelson that badly…”

Rather than finish his sentence, I guess he decided to take his exit.

The police eventually came, and apprehended the surviving dealer. I made it a point to glamour myself and go into hiding, letting Jennifer and The Gael Army take all the credit for it. And to be honest, they deserved it. Cell phone mishap notwithstanding, they handled themselves a lot better than I was expecting, and were able to improv just fine when our cover was blown. Considering ole Starman was another little variable we hadn’t counted on, they could’ve done a lot worse.

The man was apprehended, and taken to jail (I assume). The rest of the girls were also taken down to the station, but compared to the survivor, it was more for testimony than for any counts of vigilante justice.

I was able to sneak my way past the officers as they put up the tape, and began their investigation. The next morning, the details would be made public to the masses. And it wasn’t till I saw the reports that I realized what just happened.

The Gael Army did get a couple mentions, but as far as the media was concerned, we were just bystanders. They made it sound like we’d shown up too late, and tried to talk him out of killing all of them. It was annoying, but only slightly. Especially when it occurred to me right then and there that I had just come face to face with none other than The Blue Hood himself.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: My Thoughts

I ask you audience: what the fuck do you people see in Neil Stevenson? Because between this, and Seven Eves (heh, I see what you did there), I just don’t get it.
Recently, I joined a scifi book club. Yeah, I know, me being social. The end of days may be upon us pretty soon. Although I think The Kansas City Chiefs have to win the superbowl before it’s TRULY official. Whatever.
The scifi bookclub I joined chose The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. as their book of the month to read. Considering I’ve been spending the last couple of months alternating between Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland (a book series about dragons that I can’t decide on whether or not I might be a little too old for), The Demon Accord by John Conroe (a series of books I honestly liked a lot better when it was called Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter), and the occasional Yahtzee Croshaw book, I probably needed a change of pace. It’s just too bad that it had to be this near-800 page brick of a dud.I was willing to give Stevenson the benefit of a doubt. I couldn’t see my way past the first part of Seven Eves when I picked it up, but I still can’t decide if it was because of the story itself, or if it was because Mary Robinette Kowal’s voice really annoyed me. She has a weird accent that according to my memory, is very George Tekai.

But hey, sometimes, an author puts out a dud. I myself, in my infinite wisdom, felt like Homecoming: a Novella of Highfill, Kansas needed a sequel for reasons I can’t remember anymore, so yeah, even I’m capable of doing it. So maybe Seven Eves was just one dud in an otherwise steller catalogue.
If The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is anything to go on… Yeah, no. I’m officially in the minority. Hashtag-TJBHatesEverything and what not.
D.O.D.O. is a government organization built around the concept of time travel. For a lot of scifi guys, that right there is already a red flag. Time travel is one of those concepts that even GOOD authors struggle with. Add on the fact that Stevenson manages to include multiverse theory into time travel, and it becomes an even more tangled mess.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is read by at least ten different readers. And while I perked up when I heard Luke Motherfucking Daniels was one of them, the rest were a real mixed bag. Each reader reads from the perspective of one character, which is actually a really cool idea, and I really wish more audio books would do that. I’m not especially familiar with the other nine readers, though. I could tell you their names after looking up the book on Audible.com, but I couldn’t tell you who played who. Other than Luke Daniels, of course.
I will say, though, that whoever they got to voice Stokes was a SERIOUS miscast. Someone who is stranded in 1851 England with little to no hope of returning should NOT be this fucking perky. Everybody else in the recording, though, is passable at worst, and pretty damn good at best.
Then we get into the story. Oh god, the story.
Stevenson apparently decided to tell the story through a compilation of Stokes’ diary, government emails, memos, letters to the queen, transcripts of video conversations, and so on. It’s not especially obnoxious… Until you get to part 3, anyway. Then it becomes a serious fucking chore to get through.
The entirety of the book club can at least agree with me on the fact this was not a great idea. I personally believe they could’ve stuck with Stokes’ diary from 1851, and call it good.  It’d probably be three hundred pages shorter, but oh well. Length does not dictate quality of story. You’re talking to a guy who’s written books that barely hit the one-hundred page count.

I personally didn’t care for how the Stokes diary chapters basically announced what the chapter was going to be about.  I’ve literally seen titles for Dragon Ball Z episodes that left more to the imagination than this.

Some of the group think that Stokes was way too detailed in her descriptions, despite complaining constantly about hand cramps from writing with a quill pen, or shortage of ink or paper, and just that nobody could hope to remember the insane amount of detail put into each conversation. I see what they’re talking about, but honestly, that’s the one thing I personally could look past. Largely because by the time I’d gotten to parp 4, a fucking unicorn could’ve come through space and time, farted a rainbow, and blown up the Earth, and I still could’ve shrugged, said “whatever”, and used the book to squash cockroaches. If I had a copy of the print version, that is.
The story overall doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not really a story so much as it is a series of events. Someone in the group said it reminded them of someone writing a pilot to a TV show, and it’s not hard to see where he got that.

The concept of time travel in this series is heavily built around Schrodinger’s Cat.  IE, you can only travel through time and space when you somehow achieve a state of dead-alive.  if you can somehow convince the world you’re both dead and alive, you can convince the world you are both in the present, and…  Well, say, 1851.  That’s actually kind of a neat idea.

It’s just too bad we had to achieve the concept of time travel through WITCHCRAFT.

I have no problem with sorcery in my fiction.  Especially nowadays, where I’m a lot more open to the fantasy genre than I used to be.  It seems like they spend all this time talking about witches, and how they can do all this magic, but aside from turning an apple into an orange, or turning a can of white paint into a can of black paint in the beginning, the only thing the witchcraft is used for is time travel.  And maybe mind control towards the end.

The thing about time travel in this book that gets me, though, is that just because you accomplished this deed in the 1600s doesn’t mean it carries over to our specific present day.  Remember, I said this version of time travel includes multiverse theory ON TOP of past and present.  Meaning that the version of the past where you meddled probably isn’t the version of the past that’s on our timeline!  Meaning you have to go back in time at least FOUR OTHER TIMES if you want to accomplish what you want!  That, or create a disaster so catastrophic that the entirety of time and space has to go out of its way to rewrite more than one timeline in order to stay afloat.

Keeping that in mind, the only REAL way to change time is to basically burn down taverns, or murder super-important figures in time.  Otherwise, what’s even the point!?  It’s all an exercise in repetition.

But there in lies the theme.  The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is pretty much a 700+ page allegory on the mind-numbing repetitive nature, general incompatence, and bureaucratic nightmare of government.  Wow, a book that’s extremely critical of The United States government?  WOW!  Haven’t read that one before.  And in 2017 no less!  All we need now is a thinly disguised representation of Donald Trump, and we’ve hit the zenith of creativity that no one has ever thought of reaching!  *sigh*

Okay, let’s cool off.  I know I’m going to get hatemail up the wazoo from Stevenson fans no matter what I have to say (I hear he has a cult following), but let’s cool down.

As much shit as I give this book, I DID manage to see it to the end.  More than I can say for Seven Eves, that’s for sure.  The book was tedious enough to annoy me frequently, and make me consider putting it down to read something I actually WANT to read.  On the other hand, the premise was actually intriguing enough to where I actually wanted to see where it was going.  There was a good story in this near 800 page brick somewhere.  I just wish someone up in editing had taken out the chainsaw and made the effort to hack away the driftwood to get there.

The End of Oz: My Thoughts

If you want my opinions on the first three books in the Dorothy Must Die series, click here:

https://tjbauthor.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/dorothy-must-die-my-thoughts/

All caught up?  Okay then.  Let’s proceed on to book 4.

I have to say, book 4…  Was kind of a Letdown.

Part of me thinks it’s because this is where the series ends.  While young adult isn’t a demographic I regularly indulge in on purpose, I’ve actually been enjoying the books for the most part.  The fact this thrillride is over, and now I have nothing to look forward to every April is just kind of a downer.

It could also be that the eventual death of Dorothy that we’ve been waiting for since book 1 was kind of a lame-ass cop out.  I spent four books waiting for this bitch to get hers, and the series ends with the main character “taking the high road” on the death penalty like some sanctimonious, bleeding heart pro-lifer on their soapbox denouncing “the satanic institution of death row”.  Ugh, don’t even get me started: we’ll be here all night, and it’s already 3:00 in the morning as I write this.

All I know is rather than a satisfying final battle that leaves the antagonist dead, we get this bullshit morality ending, and Dorothy basically erases herself from existence using…  I don’t know, bailfire?  Does anybody outside the Wheel of Time fandom even know what I’m even referencing?  I waited three fucking years for this, you know.  I’m KIND OF satisfied The Noamb King got his…  Although The Noamb King was pretty one-dimensional by comparison .

It could also be that the FRIangle that has been a minor inconvenience since book 1 reaches its climax.  They finally boink in this book, and it gets pretty insufferable afterward.  Sue me, I wasn’t much of a hopeless romantic when I was their age.  Hell, I used to MST the shit out of this sort of lovey-dovey stuff.

It could also be that, in my humble opinion, chapter 23 was literally unnecessary.  You really could’ve ended the story on chapter 22, and it would’ve been less tedious.  Instead, we get this long, drawn-out, “where are they now” sort of ending that I was really wishing would just hurry up and be done with.

The End of Oz, like the books before it, is read by Devon Sorvari.  I forgot to mention it in the review of the first three books, but I honestly find listening to Sorvari to be the biggest ordeal of the series.  Even when the books are GOOD, I find her style to be slow and monotonous.  It hasn’t gotten better as the years have gone by, sad to say.  I’d like to think she’s giving it her all, and I can forgive a reader who’s a reader of about two or three voices tops, but I get the feeling Sorvari was getting paid by the hour the rate she was reading.

Hell, maybe I didn’t enjoy this one as much because I’m just not feeling the concept anymore.  It seriously took FOUR books to kill Dorothy, and they didn’t really KILL Dorothy so much as they clicked the delete button on her and undid everything she did as a result.  Did I mention that was very unsatisfying?  Because it is.

I probably shouldn’t be complaining too much in the longrun.  Shit, I’m a thirty-one-year-old man who has to self-publish all of HIS crap complaining about someone’s young adult series that managed to get for-real published.  Still, this book was actually kind of a letdown.  It’s the end of an era.  I just wish it didn’t have to go out with an apathetic shrug, mumbling “Whatever, it’s done.  I’m out of here.”

Will Save the Galaxy for Food: My Thoughts

Yahtzee Croshaw.  Now there’s a mouthful of a name if I ever heard one.  Croshaw is well known for several things: a couple other books I haven’t gotten to yet, a series of adventure games made with one of those Game Maker esque programs I’ve really been meaning to pick up, and perhaps the thing that sealed the deal and made me a fan for good, his game review series.

Zero Punctuation has become one of my favorite things to watch on YouTube lately.  Considering Youtube is on the verge of censoring itself into oblivion (apparently), it probably won’t be there much longer, but for now, I’m enjoying the trip.  Admittedly, if you don’t like the color yellow, you’re probably not going to like this show.  There’s a lot of yellow in the background.  But even if that’s a turn off, I’ve found looking away from the screen and focusing primarily on the audio works just as well.  I’m not a very vision-oriented person, though, so maybe that’s just me.  And maybe you like yellow, which in that case, go ahead and look at the screen.  Look to your heart’s content!

Semi-related note: did you know there’s an honest to god phobia of the color yellow?  I forget what it’s called, and I’m not exactly in any hurry to Google it, but yeah, that’s a thing.  Go figure.

While marathoning some Zero Punctuation one night, I saw at the end of one of his videos that he’d apparently written a book.  At the time, I didn’t know he was an author with two other books in the can prior to this one, so you’ll forgive me if I’m going in reverse order.  It’s like the Star Wars trilogy all over again.  The good one.  Not the prequel one, or the J.J. one we’re working on right now.

Fortunately, the books are unrelated.  Say for maybe a reference to his book, Jam, I read through Will Save the Galaxy for Food, and didn’t feel like I had to backtrack.  True, I’m GOING TO backtrack, but it’s because I want to, not because I have to.

I love these kind of space epics.  The Expanse is fun if you want hardcore science fiction in the real world…  Or about as close to the real world as you can possibly get.  However, I’ve always found my favorite scifi was the kind of scifi that threw up its hands and said “fuck it”.  Is there such a planet as the one he takes people on a tour of in chapter 1?  Fuck if I know.  We did discover a whole other solar system a couple months ago with three planets that could hypothetically support life and all, but man, I don’t fucking care.  We’re never going to see those planets.  Between the fact that, last I checked, a science-denying hypocrite by the name of Ted Cruz has a pretty high-ranking position in NASA, and the fact it takes literally for fucking ever to get there with the technology we have, it’s not happening in MY lifetime for sure.  So just give me a fucking fantasy to hold on to.

The book gives me flashbacks to the various Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, what with its mostly well-flushed-out environments, great characters (even the obnoxious one-percenter teenager and his pink-haired girlfriend have their charm), and dry British humor.  Although instead of a nifty device that was a laptop in the 1970s, a cell phone in 2001, and god only knows what it’ll be if they ever give us another Hitchhiker’s Guide thing in the present day, we have the captain of the S.S. God of Whalesharks.

The audio book is read by the author himself, Yahtzee Croshaw.  I have to admit, it’s weird hearing him read in a slow, reserved sort of way.  I guess I’m too used to his million miles a second ramblefest style from Zero Punctuation.  All the same, I love his performance.  No two characters sound exactly the same, and I imagine the captain himself with Croshaw’s normal voice.

It’s a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have two other books to get caught up on.

 

Book 3 Under Way!

Technically, I began work on book 3 of The Gael Saga yesterday, but I’m only just now getting around to announcing it here on the blog.  Never the less, here’s some details to keep in mind.

Book 3’s current working title is The Hood and The Heroine.  On one hand, don’t expect that title to stick.  On the other hand, don’t be surprised if, despite my recommendation, the title ends up sticking.

I have a bit of a habit of coming up with a working title, looking over my completed manuscript, and deciding that in the end, the working title is good enough to stay.  Lifers Wear Orange was originally a placeholder title till I came up with something better.  I was reluctant to keep the title at first, because it sounded too much like Orange is the New Black: a pretty good autobiographical book about what it was like to spend a year in a women’s prison that eventually got adapted into a Netflix show I gave up on the very moment I saw the “I miss the misery” angle coming down the hall.  After some time, though, it ended up sticking.

Some of the titles I have for book 3 are as follows:

 

A. The Hood and the Heroine.

B. The Diamond Club.

C. The Gael Army.

D. Diamond is Forever.

E. The War of Five Kings.

 

SPOILER: The Diamond Club is a new faction that’ll be making its debut in book 3 of The Gael Saga .  The Gael Army was introduced in book 2, but will ultimately play more of a role in book 3.  Apparently, here in the notepad in my head, Diamond is Forever is a sort of catchphrase the leader of The Diamond Club has for herself, but I’ve already dismissed this as a title.  Frankly, I’m thinking of not using that, period.

Naming the book after either The Diamond Club, or The Gael Army seems like the wrong way to go.  I like The Hood and the Heroine thus far, because a large portion of the book deals with the interactions/fights between Gael and The Blue Hood.  Also, while The War of Five Kings is based on a quote Dan Adelson makes in his first chapter, I have a feeling George R. R. Martin is probably going to sue me over it.  Though none of HIS books are called that, that’s ultimately what the war throughout A Song of Ice and Fire is called.  I don’t know, maybe I’m thinking too hard about all that.  I’ve only got about a chapter and a half down as of this blog post, so it’s possible I won’t use ANY of these titles.

I look forward to getting this book done with.  I was originally planning on ending this series on book 3…  Although at the time I’m writing this, I’m really liking the concepts going into The Diamond Club.  If I end up deciding on a book 4, try not to be too surprised.  Don’t count on it, but don’t be too surprised.

That’s all the news I really have for now.  Stay tuned for more TJB flavored goodness!

After months of writing, proofreading, waiting for cover art, getting distracted by Darkest` Dungeon, and still more proofreading, Book 2 of The Gael Saga (formerly known simply as Gael) is now available!

Roisin O’Malley: the masked vigilante known by many as Gael, has been arrested, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.  Dan Adelson, the criminal kingpin the media has since dubbed “The Teal Tyrant”, has SOMEHOW been cleared of all charges, and finds himself engaged in corporate warfare with the man who’d be his successor.  The police force, now reduced to a third of their original manpower thanks to Adelson’s previous efforts, find themselves barely capable of contending with an ever increasing crime rate, as well as a group of copycat vigilantes calling themselves The Gael Army.  And as if all of this weren’t bad enough, a masked killer has emerged, leaving a trail of dead bikers, gangsters, and even corporate assassins in his wake.  What will become of Sapphire City now that all out bedlam has broken out?  And what will happen to Roisin, now that she must spend the rest of her life in a cage with her arch enemy?

The Gael Saga has been one of my favorite things to write lately, and I’m really happy this one is FINALLY available for purchase.  Admittedly, this one didn’t come spilling out onto the page quite like book 1 did, but I’m still very proud of how this one turned out.

Fair warning: this book, like many in a series, operates under the assumption you’ve read book 1 first.  I’m not saying you’ll be lost, or confused, or anything if you decide to start here…  Although I do seem to be thinking it pretty loudly.  It seems idiotic that I have to say this out loud, but if my mom has proven anything, it’s that people have an uncanny habit of picking up a series right in the middle on the assumption you can start anywhere.  Believe me, the days of episodic tales are long over.  That’s just the way it is.

You can get your copies right here.

 

 

 

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits: My Thoughts

I love David Wong.  Admittedly, I wasn’t around for PWOT, and I don’t really follow Cracked all that much (I’m also guessing WISECRACKED is a completely different entity), but his books have entertained me over the many…  Four years.  I found out he existed around the time his second book, This Book is Full of Spiders, was new.  I ended up enjoying the shit out of it, and even picked up the legendary John Dies at the End right after I finished that one.

Apparently, I was significantly late to the party when it comes to his third book, but hey, the important thing is I got to it.  Eventually.  A year later.  STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!

Unlike his previous novels, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits doesn’t follow the demon hunting shinanigans of David and John.  Instead, it follows the story of Zoey: trailer trash turned millionaire.  And for the record, my spellchecker is thoroughly bitching me out over the spelling of the name ZOEY, but according to the page on Audible.com, I’m spelling it right.  So fuck you, spellchecker.  ALWAYS NAY-SAYING!  Dick.

The audio book is read by Christy Romano, and she is absolutely perfect.  She’s got a wide range of voices, her reading style never gets tedious, and her timing is on the mark.  I enjoyed this performance very much.  Which is good, because this book is a wee bit tedious in spots.So…  Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before, but a fat girl from the trailer park suddenly becomes an ultra-billionaire upon her father’s passing, and inherits a mansion the size of a small town.  She also finds herself in a town where there are no laws, no regulations, and no cops.  A libertarian dream come true…  Right up until you get to the part where everybody’s AWARE of the fact there’s no rules and regulations, and ultimately turn the city into a personal playground for killers, a safe haven for every illegal substance on the planet, and the battleground between the team of Zoey and “The Fancy Suits”, and one of the most psychotic people I’ve seen in fiction in quite a while.  I’ve literally seen Dragon Ball Z villains with more subtlety to them than the villain of this book…  But I guess when you don’t have to hide in the shadows, and your entire self worth is based on how many Twitter followers…  Excuse me, BLINKER followers you have, there’s probably no point in being subtle, is there?

I’ll give Wong this much: the world he’s built is fascinating.  There’s plenty of detail that has me thinking someone’s on the verge of writing a wiki.  Hell, if there’s more than one book in the series, that just might happen.  They made a wiki for Punch Out of all things, so why not?

While I know it’s played up for laughs, I actually don’t have a difficult time believing people would sooner switch on their blinker cameras on their glasses and stream a murder happening right in front of them in the name of subscribers than…  You know, actually helping the victim?  Or even running away in terror, for that matter.  The idea of a futuristic anarchy zone like Tabula Ra$a (I’m guessing on that spelling based on the few hints the audio book has given me) reminds me of similar settings I’ve encountered over the years.  It’s like a more futuristic Nightside, or a less demonic Midian.  But while the core concept sounds has a bit of a “SIMPSONS DID IT!” vibe to it, The city as a whole is original enough to where you don’t even think about it when you’re reading it.

If I have one problem with the book, it’s how Wong milks the suspense for everything it’s worth.  I go into this book knowing full well Zoey’s not a fighter.  She has no cybernetic parts like the villains, she has no martial arts training…  Hell, her only real skill is that she gives really good “massages”.  I went in knowing she was going to get taken hostage at least once.  I’m also aware the villain of the book is a bit of a drama queen, as is everyone in this universe.  I just wish the attempt at building suspense and tention didn’t go on FOR FUCKING EVER!

Look, I can appreciate good banter between hero and villain.  A villainous monologue can be pretty epic, and the hero’s moment of pure helplessness can be pretty intense when done right.  But man, I wish the punchline would hurry up and get here.  It’s one thing to know in your heart of hearts that the bad guys aren’t going to succeed in burying someone alive, and it’s another thing for it to drag on, and on, and on, and on.  All the while, you already know the punchline is coming, which ultimately kills the attempt at suspense dead.  Admittedly, I didn’t see the EXACT punchline coming, but I knew something was going to come along and save the day.

And it wouldn’t be an especially big problem if it didn’t happen over and over and over again.  By the time it got to the final battle, I felt absolutely no sense of urgency.  Hell, despite Romano’s performance, I actually wanted to hit fast forward just to get to the god damn punchline already!

The book is a whopping seventy chapters long, but much like Nax Barry’s Jennifer Government, it becomes significantly less intimidating when you realize the chapters are ridiculously short.  Half the time, chapters end in the middle of conversations, and the next chapter picks up right where the conversation left off!  I wouldn’t say it’s annoying, but it does make me wonder out loud why the author went that route.

These complaints aside, I actually enjoyed this story.  Admittedly, not as much as the David and John stories, but if Wong writes a sequel to this novel, I might consider giving it a read.

The Dinosaur Lords: My Thoughts

A year or two ago, I heard of a book in progress by the name of The Dinosaur Lords.  I legitimately can’t remember the last time I got excited for a book based on literally nothing but the title before that day, but I was definitely interested.  An epic swords and sorcery adventure with knights riding on dinosaurs?  SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!  This is literally the kind of nonsense you’re REQUIRED to read as a member of the male gender.  Remember that, F2Ms, there will be a test.

In the end…  I suppose it was my own damn fault for getting as excited as I did.  I think I may’ve set the bar a little too high on this one.  If I didn’t do it, the author certainly did.

I’ve grown to love the fantasy genre in my adulthood.  As a child, I really preferred scifi.  As a teenager, I preferred horror, and even considered the fantasy genre to be “nothing but a bunch of gay-ass hobbit crap full of elves and trolls.”  Try not to judge me too harshly: the words GAY and RETARDED had a nasty habit of meaning the same thing in the early 2000s.  But in adulthood, fantasy is actually pretty appealing.  Probably because the future ended up sucking ass.  Still waiting for my robot butler and awesome flying car, you know.  Fucking big oil.

Still, even as a guy who’s a lot more willing to shut his brain off and enjoy an idiotic sequence of battles between wizards and ogres or whatever, The Dinosaur Lords was a monumental disappointment to me.  And it’s not entirely hard to see why, either.

There are definitely dinosaur knight battles, but seems like they’re a little too far and few between.  Obviously, you have to have a story, or else it comes off as a montage of battles rather than a fantasy novel.  Still, I found all the attempts at political intrigue more boring than anything else.  It was a miracle I could keep half of these characters straight!

I honestly found Rob and the voivod more interesting than Melodia and the royal family.  I also found myself wishing the book would just pick one and stick with it.  Even if it went the boring route and picked the royal family, at least it committed.  The book will often shift perspective from the royals to Rob and the Voivod and back in one chapter.  Maybe it’s just how I write anymore, or maybe it’s just the kind of authors I read anymore, but it seems like a much better idea to build the chapter around one set of characters.  I suppose you COULD build the story around both sets, but it’d probably work a lot better if you just let Rob and the voivod have their own chapter, then have the royal family sort out shit in another chapter.

Each chapter begins with a passage from “The Book of True Names”, which is just a fancy name for an encyclopedia of dinosaurs.  And I guess that’s kind of cool…  Except sometimes, the dinosaur they talk about has nothing to do with the chapter about to unfold.  Or maybe I need to pay more attention.  Seriously, I was so fucking bored listening to this audiobook, it wasn’t even funny.  When they run out of dinosaurs, though, they give you a primer on the religion of the universe.  It’s honestly not as fascinating as it ought to be.

The audiobook is read by Noah Michael Levine.  Frankly, the way he goes about it, the Talkback app on my fucking Galaxy S5 would’ve made for a less mechanical reader.  My god, this guy is boring!  The dude reads the book with absolutely zero enthusiasm.  I imagine as a reader of audiobooks, you tend to get some that you normally aren’t a fan of, but god damn, bro!  The character dialogue is probably the only time NML shows any hint of personality.  I can forgive a reader for being a man of two or three voices, but I just felt like this guy could’ve been doing literally anything else but reading this book right now.

There’s at least one other book in the series as of this writing, but after this experience, I’m thinking of calling it good here.  I have no interest in pursuing this story past chapter 32.  Frankly, I thought about picking up where I left off in the fucking Demon Accord after this.  Yeah, The Demon Accord is basically gender-swopped Twilight at the point I left off, but at least the reader of THOSE books has some god damn personality.

Armada: My Thoughts

When I read Ready Player One, I was hooked.  I absolutely had to see what else Ernest Cline had written.  Audible.com did list another book by the name of Armada, and I figured “Hey, why not?  Ready Player One was pretty good.”

It’s kind of funny, really.  I went into Ready Player One almost WANTING to hate it.  It had everything that didn’t appeal to me: virtual world setting, 80s pop culture everywhere, a protagonist still in high school…  All it needed was a mopy emo vampire chick, and it would’ve been perfect.  And Art3mis came pretty close.  I wanted to hate this book…  But I ended up loving it.  I couldn’t put it down!  I wanted to know what happened next!  I was even kind of bummed out when it was over with.

Then I picked up Armada, really wanting to like it.  And…  Really, it ended up being more of the same.

It ended up being one of those scenarios where you somehow had a completely different book that told the exact same story.  Or at least one that was dangerously similar to it.  Cline only has two books (that I know of), and they read exactly the same.  Nothing wrong with familiarity, but when you’re having to depend on your own tropes this early (In Cline’s case, an obsessive dependence on old pop culture), it doesn’t inspire confidence on my part.

The ending also felt like an absolute cop out.  Of course the aliens are just acting in self defense, and human beings are dicks who want to destroy everything.  Again, this guy might not be writing for my demographic, but at the same time, been there, done that.

Also, I can’t help but smell me some sequel bate.  If you really want to read the book, be my guest.  Otherwise, just consider the ending of Rick and Morty season 2, minus the part where Rick goes to prison.  Earth becomes part of the galactic federation, and life is made both easier and harder at the exact same time sort of situation.

I don’t know, maybe I made the mistake of setting the bar too high this time.  Maybe I shouldn’t have read these two back to back like that. All I know is Armada was actually kind of a disappointment.  especially towards the end.

Ready Player One: My Thoughts

Virtual world fiction is probably among my least favorite subgenres of scifi-fantasy.  Dot Hack Sign was my first real exposure to the idea (back in the early 2000s when anime was all over the damn place), and I really didn’t care for it.  I just didn’t feel the same sense of urgency to anything going on.  It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but there was no real sense that anything going on in Dot Hack was relevant to anything going on in the real world.  I suppose when you’re in the game, and in the moment, slaying that evil ogre beast is the most god damn important thing ever, but video games tend to be more fun to play than to watch.  Although Game Grumps totally holds my attention.

Other works of virtual world fiction have come along, and…  Well, let’s just say it hasn’t been any better.

Sword Art On-line is probably the best modern example, and its first season was actually kind of interesting.  And it got you invested in the game itself, because if you died in the game, you died in real life.  There was urgency to complete the quest, there was commentary on how MMOs can, and sometimes DO consume your life, it had everything.  It’s just too bad they felt compelled to make a season 2 that completely underminded all the good things about season 1.  Then there was a season 3, and at that point, I was so annoyed with the show, I just flat out gave up.

There are other examples, and really, they all suck.  The idea of a virtual world just didn’t appeal to me for the longest time…  Until I heard about a man by the name of Ernest Cline.

I went in to Ready Player One expecting the worst.

“Virtual world, huh?  I’m skeptical, but I guess I got to listen to SOMETHING while waiting for Second Hand Souls to come out.”

“Oh god, it’s young adult.  I can’t wait to see what sort of heavy handed dystopian pseudo noir written in the present tense awaits me this time.”

“Oh great, 1980s pop culture.  Trying a little hard to cater to Generation Nostalgia, Mr. Cline?”

Really, by all accounts, I should’ve hated this book.  And yet, I enjoyed it.  From start to finish, this book was probably one of the better things I’d read in 2015.

There’s a reason to spend your entire life in a virtual world here, and surprisingly, it’s only PARTLY because by 2045, the entire planet is a fucking dump.  There’s urgency, dying in the virtual world has consequences, the characters…  Are probably the kind of people I’d have related to back when I was eighteen for sure, though replace all the 80s movies with professional wrestling trivia and nu metal.

I’ll try not to give too much away, but I will say this much: I kind of saw the reveal of H’s off-line self coming.  At At the same time, I was joking when I made that guess.  It’s amazing how often my jokes end up coming true.

The bad guys are a bit heavy handed in the sense “we wear suits and ties and work for a fortune500 company; therefore, we are evil!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha!”.  Still, this clearly wasn’t aimed at my demographic.  Maybe.  At the same time, though, Cline really knew how to make an IOI victory feel personal when it happened.  Dude finds the third key, and I actually remembered thinking “Oh shit!  Is the bad guy actually going to win?”  I’ve been reading fiction for ever now, and the only time I’ve ever thought that was when it was a horror novel, or a real depressing southern gothic sort of affair like William Faulkner.

They’re working on a film adaptation of this book at the time this was written.  While I can’t say I’m shocked, I can definitely say I was surprised.  It seemed like there were a lot of movies, music, and old TV shows to buy the rights to in order to use it.  Whatever film studio is making this is probably going to go bankrupt no matter what happens between that, and the excessive CGI that’ll most likely be included.

In a weird way, I’m more surprised somebody hasn’t tried making an actual MMO of the virtual world yet.  Call me crazy, but that just seems like good marketing gone to waste.  Hell, just clone Second Life and slap a bunch of 1980s movie posters everywhere.  You basically have the same thing then.

All and all, the virtual world subgenre is 1-4 for me.  Ready Player One is the 1, and until further notice, it’s pretty much the only good one.