New Project, Alabasq

As announced on my Facebook page about…  Two minutes ago, work on my newest project has begun.

Alabasq: the planet of alwayswinter.  Where convicts and traitors to the empire are sent to die, and where “screamers” and “malamute men” reign supreme.  A warzone for some, and a never-ending hell for the rest.

In truth, I’d begun writing Alabasq in 2015.  This was going to be the next thing I attempted to get for-real-published.  Except for the fact that by 2015, I was really getting sick and tired of all the rejection.  Also, five chapters in, I really wasn’t liking the direction it was taking.

I initially gave up on the project, and left it on my harddrive to rot.  Two years later, I’m waiting sorta-patiently for cover art, waiting for something to do with my free time, and one of those things included looking over old projects to see if any of them could be salvaged.  Alabasq, weirdly enough, was the only one in the incomplete folder I still ended up kind of liking.  How I didn’t delete everything else, I’ll never know, but that one, I kept for sure.

Admittedly, I’m writing the entirety of the story from scratch.  The original version focused on two characters on opposite sides of the conflict.  I feel that, in hindsight, it’s a wiser idea to focus on just one.  One coin toss later, the story is still set on Alabasq.  It’s just that it’s going to STAY on Alabasq, and the perspective of the story is less War is hell, and nobody wins”, and more “we must overcome tyranny by casting aside the endless bickering of tribalism.”

I have no idea when this book will be finished.  Ideally, sometime in 2018, but I can’t guarantee anything.  At this point, I’ve only kept one chapter of the original project, and even THAT might be heavily revised to fit the new direction.

I’m also going to be on the hunt for a lot of documentaries and research material regarding wildlife and surviving in the tundra.  Probably going to find a lot of documentaries arguing that climate change is real, and that the Antarctic is suffering the worst…  And I won’t disagree with you guys on that one, but honestly, that’s not what I’m looking for.  All suggestions are welcome.  Leave them in the comment box if you have any.

Till then, I’ll keep you posted on what the progress is like over on my Facebook page as always.  I look forward to seeing where this adventure takes us all.

 

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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.

 

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.

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.

STILETTO: My Thoughts

When I first dove head on into the glorious world of Audible.com, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley was one of my first purchases.  My actual first was basically three of the then four A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and my second was a handful of Christopher Moore books.  In fact, I only ever bothered with The Rook in the first place because Christopher Moore…  Said something.  I can’t remember if he was showing his support, or trying to convince his fans to leave Daniel O’Malley the hell alone over an assumed slight, or a third thing, but I figured I’d give it a look as long as everyone else was talking about it.

The first Rook novel, released either in 2011 or 2012 depending on which source you’re quoting, was actually pretty good.  I don’t remember going into it with especially high expectations, but that has less to do with any opinions of Daniel O’Malley himself, and more to do with my general philosophy of “keep your expectations low, and you’re never disappointed”.  It kind of reminded me of X-men if they were less of an academy for wayward superhumans, and more of a James Bond like secret organization.  I genuinely enjoyed everything about this book.  Even if it felt like Myfanwy Thomas’ powers were weapons grade bullshit.

The first audio book was read by Susan Duerden: a woman who sounds…  Not necessarily bored, but I looked forward to character dialogue when she was reading it.  It’s been a while since I listened to book 1, but I remembered finding her to be a bit dull when reading the expositional stuff.

It’s either this exact reason, or the fact four to five years happened between books that saw to it that Duerden wasn’t called in to read book 2: STILETTO.  Instead, it’s read by…  Moira Qwirk?

Whoa whoa, hold on a minute.  You’re telling me the woman who used to blow the whistle on Nickelodeon GUTS! is reading a Daniel O’Malley novel?  In the immortal words of one Phillip J. Fry: “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have let my excitement get the better of me.  To her credit, Qwirk does a great job reading.  Hell, even her American accent is better than Duerden’s.  That being said, I probably should’ve started with book 1 again before bulldozing my way over to this one.  If for no other reason, then because I definitely needed a refresher course.  I’d forgotten all about Myfanwy’s estranged brother and sister, about the fact the organization is called The Checquy (which I’m assured by two different readers is pronounced CHEH-KAY), and a couple other characters from the first book.  Gestalt and Dr. Krisp were literally the only other Checquy members I could remember off the top of my head.

When I first started reading STILETTO, I was actually beginning to think we’d moved on from Myfanwy Thomas completely, and instead, we’d be focusing entirely on Felicity.  To a large extent, I wasn’t wrong, but Myfanwy ended up playing more of a roll in the story than I would’ve guessed.  I mean sure, she’s a key member in negociations and all, but I figured she’d only make a couple cameos at most.

Oh yeah, there’s probably spoilers in this review.

Honestly, the title STILETTO kind of confused me.  I figured it had to do with the grafter girl with the spikes that came out of her wrist.  I want to say tarkata style, but the tarkata race doesn’t have venom in their blades, so it’s probably not an accurate comparison.  I figured it might be the code name the villain used, or even one of the Checquy.  In the end, the only reason I can think of for the title is pure symbolism during Felicity’s ending monologue about grafter girl’s involvement in the partnership between The Chequy and the grafters.

Overall, the story was a bit of a slow start.  There was a lot of history to get through revolving around how the grafters went from superpower, to vanquished, to secret brotherhood, to terrorist organization, and finally to the fractured organization it has become as of book 2.  Not to mention Felicity’s back story, catching up the halfwhits who decided to skip book 1 entirely on who the hell Myfanwy Thomas is (I guess I kind of qualify?), etc.  Not to mention the Asian girl who could turn into smoke ends up getting killed off pretty early on, which sucks, because I kind of liked her superpower.  If I could have a superpower, turning into smoke, or mist, or something along those lines would definitely be number two on my list.  Sorry, but shapeshifter just holds too much appeal for me.

The man I came to know as “The Crystal Spike Killer” was, in all honesty, a complete and total waste of time.  At first, I thought he was going to have more involvement in the story.  Hell, at first, I thought HE was Stiletto!  He has a grand total of one encounter with Myfanwy, then you don’t hear from him ever again until the epilogue.  Then, he gets dispatched in rather anticlimactic fashion by a minor character from book 1.  I was actually kind of annoyed by that.  Okay, maybe he wasn’t going to be the final big bad, but at least make him a little more important to the plot than just some excuse to pad out the chapter count to 50.

Crystal Spike Killer aside, though, I enjoyed this book.  As I said before, Moira Qwirk is an excellent reader, and a refreshing departure from Susan Duerden.  It was a long hike, but aside from a couple of head-scratcher moments like “Why is this guy even in this fucking story?”, I enjoyed it.

Is STILETTO better than the first book?  I don’t think I’d go that far.  I’d say it’s maintaining the status quo of excellence more than anything else.  I’d recommend you give it a read, but I also recommend reading book 1 first.  This isn’t exactly The Dresdin Files, after all.

The Three Body Problem: My Thoughts

The Three Body Problem is a series of novels by Cixin Liu.  While I have a grasp of how Chinese works (not enough to speak it, but enough to pronounce most of the words I encounter), I honestly have no idea how to pronounce Cixin.  I’ve heard it pronounced SIX-IN, KEE-SHEEN, KEE-SHIN, and even CHEE-SHIN.  None of which appear to be correct.  But I digress.

As of this writing, there’s two novels in the series.  Also at the time of this writing, I’m still slogging my way through book 2 of the series.

Earlier in the month was actually the second time I tried reading book 1, and honestly, it’s a miracle I made it through in one piece the first time.  About this time a year ago, I’d commented that The Three Body Problem was kind of an ordeal to read through at best.

I’m willing to forgive a lot, considering this was originally a Chinese series being translated into English.  Believe me, I know a thing or two about terrible English translation.  Maybe I don’t speak a lot of Japanese, or any Asian languages, but when you watched anime as religiously as I used to, you kind of get used to a lot of it.  Somewhere around the mid 2000s, English dubs got a lot better than the stuff I had to endure, but I digress.

The Three Body Problem as well as The Dark Forest have pretty good English translations…  But sometimes, I get the feeling the plot might be a little too ambitious for its own good.

The plot, simply put, is that a race of aliens is coming to Earth with all the intention of destroying humanity.  Humanity is more than willing to fight back…  Except we’ve figured out that it’ll take about four-hundred years for the alien fleat to get here, and it’s up to us as a species to unite and stay united in the time left to us.  As you expect, humans are dicks, and this doesn’t end up being an easy feat.  It’s a pretty original approach to the clichéd alien invasion angle, but that’s where the positives come to an end, and a lot of the awkward “I don’t know, bruh” moments begin.

Maybe it’s because the audio version of The Dark Forest doesn’t feature Luke Daniels as the reader this time.  It’s always a little jarring to go from one reader to another where audio books are concerned.  My favorite example comes from one of my all time favorite series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The first Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book is read by Steven Fry, but then the other four books are read by Martin Friedman (I think that’s his name anyway).  Great, now I have to get used to some other guy’s interpretation of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s manner of speaking.  Hope you like New Yorker accents!

I want to cut the new guy (whose name escapes me at this very moment and I’m too lazy to look it up) some slack.  Luke Daniels is awesome.  He’s made the audio versions of The Iron Druid Chronicles truly some of the most memorable readings I’ve ever sat through.  It’s a pretty big act to follow…  And unfortunately, the new guy just isn’t doing it for me.   It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t tell you when it’s a new chapter.  Dude just keeps on reading as if everything’s one gigantic, continuous block.  For all I know, it might actually be, but not having the eye sight for print anymore, I can’t guarantee that one way or the other.

It could also be that Cixin Liu is getting a little too pretentious for his own good.  All I know is it’s usually a sign that the author is bouncing around in the background, bellowing “ASK ME WHAT IT MEANS!  ASK ME WHAT IT MEANS!” when the prologue is from the perspective of an ant.  Yeah, I get the reference.  Is it necessary?  I’d like to think no, but then again, I’m not the one writing the book.  Also, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not above being pretentious.  Hell, have you read HikikoMorey?

Compared to book 1 in the series, which focused primarily on two characters’ perspectives at absolute most, The Dark Forest seems to bounce all over the god damn place.  I don’t even remember anybody’s names half the time!  The only character that seems to be returning from book 1 is the chain-smoking detective, and I still can’t remember his name!

Also, I tend to have a real love-hate relationship with hard scifi.  I love that they’re going out of their way to try and keep it as real and down to Earth as possible, but at the same time, there are moments where the angry mob from Monty Python and the Holy Grail are screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” in my head, and I have to agree with them.  Sad to say, both books have this problem in spots, but especially book 2.

I really wanted to give this series a chance.  Really, the fact I could finish book 1 twice is nothing short of spectacular.  Unfortunately, by the time I get to book 2, I’m just not enjoying the ride.  I’m already finding myself checking the chapter count on my audible.com app, and groaning in annoyance when I see how much I have left.  I don’t even know why I bother continuing instead of doing the logical thing and abandon the book completely in favor of the next Hap and Leonard novel in my cue.  Oh well, at least I tried.