Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Dork Review: The Hexslinger Series

I'm going to do something a little different with this review. I've been so busy with writing, work, and the holidays that I've actually been able to read both books currently in the Hexslinger series, so instead of reviewing them individual I'm going to put up a combined evaluation.

Let's see how it goes.

Okay, first book is A Book Of Tongues. Second is A Rope Of Thorns. So first off we can see a common naming convention; they're both a something of something. The next in the series, A Tree Of Bones is now available for pre-order. Gotta love consistency.

Another thing that's consistent, the books are pretty good. At times a bit dense with their descriptions, but filled with monstrous and interesting characters. Chess, the main character, is a prime example. At best he's a protagonist, and even that's a stretch at times as it could be argued he's the worst monster in the series. A lawless, murderous fiend with a dark secret even he doesn't know about, Chess is a force of nature contained in a red-haired, purple clothed dandy wielding two pistols.

I read elsewhere that Gemma Files creates characters that are monsters and then makes you care about them. In this case she's successful. I won't go into details, but let's just say you can almost feel it when Chess has his heart ripped away. (I'll let you guess if it's figuratively or literally.)

I recommend this series with one major caveat; be prepared for gay characters and more sexual detail than you may desire. This threw me for a loop when I first came across it. Outside of works specifically directed to a gay audience it's unusual to find that level of detail, and at first it can be uncomfortable for the reader if they're not prepared. You may be tempted to put the book down. Don't. Try to understand why your feelings and move past them, as the sex is part of who these characters are and removing it would leave a gaping hole in the narrative.

These scenes do border on erotica. The only reason they don't reach that level is because they are brief and not the central theme of the books. They surprised me for two reasons, their level of detail and because I normally don't read erotica, gay or otherwise. If any part of this is going to upset you, you may want to pass on this series. However, before you do, consider why it bothers you. If it's because the sex is man on man, ask why that upsets you or strikes you as wrong. I know I had to do some soul searching because of it, and I'd like to think I've become a bit more aware of myself. (And for any family members who may be reading this, no, I'm not gay.)

So, with that warning, off you go. Find the books on the Chizine website. (Not recommending Amazon right now due to recent business practices.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Dork Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

It's been awhile since I've done a movie review. Chalk it up to the normal autumn slump where there are few movies worth going to see.

So what did I think of it? A Game of Shadows comes very close to matching the first Holmes movie, both in content and in quality.

I was greatly impressed, but there was something missing, some unknown or unknowable quality the first movie had that this movie lacked. That's not to say this was a bad film, far from it, but I still think the first one was the better of the two.

I think what might be the problem was the use of slow motion, or rather the overuse. As in the first film it was used to breakdown certain scenes, such as when Holmes fights or when he explains his deductions. In addition to this there is a long scene of the characters running through the forest shot in slow mo that I think goes on for far too long. I discussed this with my friends after the movie and I get the idea that this scene was supposed to show the horrors of war (it makes sense in context), but I do think it could have been trimmed back a bit and still had the same impact.

Aside from that the movie hit all he right notes. Robert Downey Jr. remains excellent as Holmes, and Jude Law as Watson is the perfect companion. Both are very close to their literary counterparts without being caricatures.

I recommend going to see A Game of Shadows. It was fun, clever, and exciting, and only suffers in comparison to the last Sherlock Holmes film.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Cheapening of The Word Friend

Yes indeed. Facebook is doing it's best to kill the word "friend".

The other day I found a post about 10 Myths About Introverts. Now, for anyone who knows me personally it's no surprise that I'm an introvert. I think a lot of writers, published or not, are. Hey, we spend plenty of time in our own heads dreaming stuff up, and more than one pro at SFContario mentioned on panels that they need time away from people to decompress. Of the 25% of the population that is identified as introverted I'd be interested to see how many of those work in some sort of creative capacity.

So what does this have to do with the cheapening of the word "friend" or Facebook killing it? A lot actually. See the following:

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

That pretty much describes my attitude towards my friends. There are maybe three people I hang out with on a regular basis, and only a few people I'll go out of my way to run into at conventions. Not that there aren't a large amount of lovely people whom I've met and would love to run into again, but few of them would I call friend. I like them, but that's about it.

Friends are people I feel comfortable around, who I don't have to be "on" with, meaning I don't have to worry about every word that comes out of my mouth or who will think I'm weird if I say something odd. In fact, quite often I'll make an obscure joke about something fannish and my friends will be the first to pick up on it.

So what does this have to do with Facebook? Well, to connect with someone on Facebook you have to "friend" them, and each time you do it cheapens the word just a little bit.

I do what I can to counteract this. Everyone I've added on Facebook I've either met or interacted somehow, even it is just through the medium of email or instant messaging. I'm "friendly" towards them, in most cases, but I wouldn't necessarily call them friend. More like "friendly acquaintance".

I've added those people either because I find them interesting or pleasant to be around, even if I wouldn't say we're friends. And to those few people who I truly call friends, thank you for being in my life and I hope we have many more years of knowing each other.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why I Will Never Plagiarize

Over on Whatever by John Scalzi is a post on Quentin Rowan's response after being caught plagiarizing the works of multiple authors in order to get published. It's a fascinating example of complete and utter doucebaggery (Quentin's response, not John's post. John's post is pretty much spot on and very fair and balanced.). I recommend reading both.

I've already made a brief entry in the comments section of John's post, but I thought I should elaborate a bit further here on why you will never find me plagiarizing the works of others. There are a few reasons, from least to most important:

1. I could get caught.

 I'd have to live in fear of getting caught and exposed to the whole world. My career as an author come to a crashing and unrecoverable halt. At this point, Quentin Rowan's name is mud in the publishing world. He will likely never work in the field ever again. Heck, he was even fired from the bookstore that employed him because of this. No publisher would touch anything he produces now, and even if he uses a pseudonym he's done if anyone ever connects his real name to it, which is much more likely nowadays.

2.  I would lose friends.

I've been fortunate enough to make friends within the writing and science fiction\fantasy communities thanks to attending conventions. If I got caught as a plagiarist those friends would disown me so quickly I'd have whiplash. Now, don't get me wrong, these are good people. My crime would be so great they'd have to do it, and rightfully so.

3. I'd always know I cheated.

This is the most important reason for me. Ruin in the publishing world I could live with. Losing friends would hurt, a lot, but I've lost friends in the past through moving and drifting apart so I know it's survivable. Knowing that I got success by stealing and cheating would be what would kill me.

I was raised to take responsibility for my mistakes and give credit where it's due. They are two of the central tenants of my life. Plagiarism breaks both of these.

The comments section of John's original post provides many more reasons that I agree with. In the end, I want to recognized for my work and not something I've stolen. Getting published will be even sweeter when done by my own mental sweat and not thieving from others.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why A Rapier Is Not Like A Broadsword

Seems like a simple enough concept, right? Well, it is and it isn't.

Okay, I should provide a little bit of background on this one. While I was at SFContario this year I attended a panel on HBO's A Game Of Thrones television series. I'm a big fan of the books and have seen the entire series so far, so of course the panel was interesting to me. In addition, media panels at relaxacons or more "literary" conventions tend to be sparsely attended, providing a great opportunity to interact with the panelists when you don't have to fight to be seen or heard with thirty other people.

One of the panelists made what was a cogent argument on its face. If you haven't seen the series or read the books then be forewarned, SPOILERS ahead.

Still here? Okay.

Anyways, this panelist (who shall remain nameless so that nobody thinks I'm picking on him/her) questioned why Syrio didn't pick up one of the fallen broadswords after his wooden training blade was broken.

Now, as I said, on its face this is a sensible question. It's only when you get into the mechanics of swordplay that it becomes obvious why he doesn't.

Swords all have a different weight and feel. This is true for metal blades as well as their wooden analogues. For instance, the bamboo shinai I use for kendo will perform differently based upon where and how they are balanced.

Even two shinais of the same type can feel different depending upon a number of factors such as weight or how well-oiled they are. Also, there are sub-types that affect things as well. Shinais, which stand-in for katana, have different sub-types such as practice and dobari which affect performance. Practice shinai tend to be straighter and more evenly weighted while dobari are heavier towards their base so as to better simulate a real blade.

Switching between shinai types is difficult enough for me, and while I've spent some time in training I have nowhere near developed the muscle memory a true master has, so when I switched to dobari I didn't have to completely retrain all of my ingrained responses.

Now, this isn't to say it's impossible to cross-train to be able to utilize more than one style of blade. However, it does require a person who can compartmentalize their muscle memory responses, and that I have a feeling can be a rather rare trait.

So with that being the case, let's take another look at Syrio's situation. Here he is, with a broadsword at this feet and a broken training blade in his hands. Why stay with the broken one? Simply put, he'd be ten times as effective with a broken blade as he would be with a whole broadsword.

Trying to use the broadsword without any training would be suicide in the life or death struggle Syrio was in. His arms wouldn't be used to the weight. He could go for a lunge and find his back giving out because of the stress put on it. He'd get tired quicker. His ingrained footwork, which is the basis for all swordplay, probably wouldn't work with the broadsword. All in all, a bad idea.

So what is the point I'm trying to make? Aside from providing a more involved answer than I was able to give at the con, I wanted to put it out there for other writers to know\consider. If you're going to write stories involving swordplay than know the basics. Have a general idea between the rapier and the broadsword. Know what periods of history they were in and how they developed from what came before. Know their strengths and weaknesses.

Most of all, know what type of men carried these weapons. Syrio's choice of sword tells us as much about him as all the words he says and every drop of description George R.R. Martin provides us with.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Aurora Awards: An Analysis

As mentioned in my SFContario2 post, I was fortunate enough to be at the Aurora awards this year. They were a somber, dignified affair, held in a stately hall with food service provided by genetically enhanced monkeys. No, not really, but there was good food before the ceremony and lots of laughs during.

Robert J. Sawyer was kind enough to post the results for best novel (called best long form in English officially) on his blog, and looking them over got me to thinking: How much does the size of a book's publisher determine it's award chances?

Let me demonstrate using the recent awards. The following list is taken from Mr. Sawyer's blog:

1st: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer (Penguin Canada)
2nd: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Canada)
3rd: Stealing Home by Hayden Trenholm (Bundoran)
4th: Destiny’s Blood by Marie Bilodeau (Dragon Moon)
5th: Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell (Great Plains)

Notice a pattern? The top two entries were both published by Penguin Canada, one of the largest if not the largest publisher in Canada. Both books had strong advertising pushes. I've seen ads for Under Heaven all over the place, and Watch even had subway ads on the TTC.

Let's look at the others:

Bundoran Press lists only seven authors on its website, and the only one I've heard of is Hayden Trenholm. There are two reasons I've heard of him. One, Robert J. Sawyer has mentioned him on his blog and on Facebook. Two, I sat beside Hayden and across from his wife at the awards ceremony. Both seem like nice people, but I didn't have an extremely long chat with either.

Dragon Moon Press has in excess of thirty authors, and I actually know at least three, including the lovely Marie Bilodeau who's novel came in at number 4 on the ballot.

Great Plains is an interesting case. Unlike Bundoran or Dragon Moon they appear both less and more specialized. Unlike the other two, Great Plains doesn't appear to focus on one or two genres, hence the less, but they are focused on publishing Prairie writers, therefore being more specialized on whom they will accept submissions from. Interesting.

Of the three smaller publishers, I've since advertising for a few Bundoran Press items, such as Fall From Earth by Matthew Johnson, but not as much from Dragon Moon and absolutely nothing from Great Plains. Now, it's entirely possible I saw advertising for Dragon Moon and ignored it as I'm already familiar with a few of their authors and therefore the advertising has become invisible to me.

So what does this all tell me? Advertising budgets have a greater influence on the Aurora then some might think. The same with readership. Both Sawyer and Kay sell well from what I understand, in Canada and elsewhere. Heck, their names on a book are enough to get people to pick them up, and rightly so as both are good writers.

And this is a trend. In the ten years previous to this year's ceremony, all of the awards for best novel but one have been from major publishers, such as Tor, Daw, Penguin, etc.

Part of me wishes I could get my hands on the raw data involved and compare sales figures, advertising dollars, and awards votes to see the correlation. It would be interesting to see if a stable ratio would emerge, a sort of "award per dollar" calculation as it were.

That all being said, what conclusion can be drawn from this? The bigger your publisher the better your chances at an award. More voters are likely to have read your work and will vote for it. And how does one get to be published by a big house? Write a good book and have a whole hell of a lot of luck!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Con Report: SFContario2

So my brain has finally rebooted after SFContario2. I think it took this long since I was stuck in traffic in downtown Toronto for two hours, trying to get to the highway, due to what I assume was the Santa Claus parade.

Did I enjoy the con? Yes, definitely. It's always great to run into friends I only get to see at conventions and have a chance to catch up. Also, there were a lot of great panels and an overflow of great guests.

The highlight of the guests, for me at least, had to be John Scalzi, who was in full "performing monkey" mode. (His words, not mine). The Creation Museum slideshow on Saturday, where John took the audience through his photos of his trip to the Creation Museum while gently mocking it, was hilarious. I say "gently" mocking as at no point did he get into a fire and brimstone rant at how utterly moronic some of the notions expressed in the museum were. It was more like he took a pin, poked a hole, and deflated a great deal of mental hot air.

Another highlight was seeing J.M. Frey up and about. That woman is made of win. She recently went through abdominal surgery but still was able to show up and be pleasant and engaging, even if she was a bit tired. I'm glad to hear she's got another few books in the works, and I look forward to picking them up as they're released.

Another good thing was the Auroras. My friend Marie Bilodeau was up for best novel, and while she didn't win she was positive and upbeat, congratulating the winners and showing that, like J.M., she is also made of win. Marie didn't win this year but I'm sure there is a trophy with her name on it in the future. And hey, we were sitting at the table with the most winners that day. Maybe some of that good luck will rub off.

A personal highlight of the Auroras was being introduced to the other people at the table as a writer. While I do self-identify myself as a writer I am very careful not to claim myself as such. I'm self-deprecating on this, and call myself unpublished. One attendee was kind enough to call me "undiscovered". Be that as it may, to actually have someone else recognize me as a writer was a great mental boost.

The final highlight of the con for me was the final panel I attended. This was entitled "The Business of Writing", and the content pretty much matched the title. It started out with the moderator, Marie, throwing it open to questions to the audience. Mine was the first answered (helps when you know the moderator and slip her five bucks beforehand - no this didn't happen I'm joking). I asked what is the greatest business danger for new writers, and received some great answers and advice. Also, I learned a great trick to remember for myself when on panels in the future. Scalzi looked directly at me and made eye contact while answering my question, even though he was second or third to answer. This may seem like a small thing, but it took that moment from "hey thanks for giving us something to talk about" to "hey here's some information you could find useful". He acknowledge that I was the one asking the question and addressed the answer to me as opposed to being someone standing on high making grand pronouncements.

In no way should this take away from the contributions of the other panelists as they provided great advice/information as well, but it did strike me as something I should pay attention to if I'm on a panel and answering a question.

Going to conventions is a learning experience for me in addition to being enjoyable. I'm looking forward to next year's conventions as I think I'm done for 2011 at this point.

Would I go to another SFContario? Yes, but probably not next year as World Fantasy is in town then and I've already registered and booked a hotel room.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why Ghostbusters Is Still A Relevant Film

So Monday night was Halloween, and select theatres across the US and Canada had showings of Ghostbusters. Don't be surprised if you missed out. The showings were horribly advertised. The only reason I knew about them was because I listed Ghostbusers as one of my favorite things on Facebook. Really though, if they'd done even a little bit of print or TV advertising I'm sure they'd have filled those screenings.

Ah well, let's move on.

So my friend Jeff and I were watching the movie, and it hits me, everything that The Three Musketeers (which I reviewed here) did wrong, Ghostbusters did right.

Okay, so they are both very different films. Different genres, different settings, and so on, but at their core they are both ensemble stories. They are about groups of characters fighting towards a common goal. The Musketeers want to defeat Richelieu while the Ghostbusters want to defeat Gozer. So, while the candy coating may be different, the chocolaty inside is the same. (Yes, I'm writing this right after Halloween so candy metaphors are on my mind.)

So then, why does Ghostbusters remain a classic while the current version of The Three Musketeers have only a bargain bin fate in its future? As I said before, it does everything right!

First off, the characters a likeable. Peter Venkman is an asshole, unrepentant and over the top the entire movie. He's smarmy and hits on just about anything female with a pulse. But at the same time he's likable. You can see that under his exterior he actually does care about the guys he works with, and in the end he is a hero. He also has the best lines in the entire movie, such as "Back off man, I'm a scientist!"

Bill Murray does a great job of portraying Venkman. In fact, I doubt there is another actor living right now that could pull it off if they were ever to remake Ghostbusters.

The other thing Ghostbusters has going for it is that is succeeds despite its special effects, while the Three Musketeers failed because of its effects. The question today is not if it can be done, but rather if if should be done. Ghostbutsers used the limited effects of its time to great effect, giving some really funny and creepy moments. For instance, the eggs cooking on the countertop. It's creepy and understated, and works perfectly. If that scene had been done nowadays probably the eggs would have hatch and demon chickens would have gone flying around the room. Impressive, but much less creepy and it would have altered the overall feel of the film.

The only thing that could have been improved in Ghostbusters using today's effects would be the creature scenes where the two demon dogs run around. It's obvious when they are puppets and when they are stop motion creatures. If they decide to release a thirtieth anniversary print of the film this is the only thing I'd recommend changing.

In conclusion, my friend and I had a blast watching Ghostbusters, and I hope more classic movies find their way back to the big screen for special showings. They just need to be advertised better.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Dork Review: The Three Musketeers

Okay, I need to start this one with a fair warning. To properly illustrate my issues with this movie will require the use of SPOILERS. So, if you don't want to read those, then look elsewhere. Otherwise, continue below.

You may have already figured out I didn't like this version of the Three Musketeers story. I have good reason for this. Not only does it fail as a Musketeer story, it fails as a flick. There was only a single likeable character in the entire movie, and that was Queen Anne. The Musketeers were jerks, D'Artagnan was an arrogant little prick, and the villains were, well, underwhelming.

Add on top of this a story riddled with anachronisms that makes a half hearted attempt at cashing in on the current steampunk trend. Okay, there isn't any steam-powered devices in the film; the creators weren't that over the top, but there is multiple airships. In fact, the ending has a whole fleet of them headed towards France.

Yes, that's right, the ending shows the beginning of an invasion. It is such a rancid piece of sequel bait it defies expectations. I wish it was worst part of the film, but no, it just endcaps this dreck.

Do you want to know the worst part? The sin this movie commits against the whole Three Musketeer mythos and every previous rendition of their story?

It has no good swordfights!

I mean, what the hell? There's only a few times the Musketeers actually pull their swords in the entire film, and so many missed opportunities. Near the end they need to travel to England to retrieve the Queen's jewels, and one of the characters states they'll need to travel back to France with every bounty hunter and assassin standing in their way. This promises a running battle back to the Palace, which would have been awesome. Instead they hijack an airship and shoot their way home.

Yes, that's right, the Musketeers shoot their way home rather than fight dashingly. Sigh.

Finally, there's one other thing that really annoyed me. I'm a fan of the Horatio Hornblower movies that came out a few years ago, and I've studied military history around the era of the Three Musketeers, so I have an idea of how many men it takes to run a cannon on a ship. The airship duel in The Three Musketeers has the Cardinal's ship with only one man per cannon! On a ship that shouldn't have any kind of manpower issues. And, they have barrels with open flames standing around everywhere! In a room filled with gunpowder and cannonballs! Again, sigh.

Really, I don't think I would have had this much of an issue with this film it it wasn't advertised as a Three Musketeer flick. If they'd taken the basic story but changed the names around or changed the era then it wouldn't have been so bad, or just gone whole hog and turn it into a complete fantasy film then that would have been okay. But to produce a sub-par Three Musketeers movie is a terrible thing to do.

If you want a film with pretty settings and great costuming, go see this. If you want a good film that's actually entertaining, go see anything else.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In The Middle Of Everything

That's how I feel right now. Let me explain. No, is too much, let me sum up. (Gotta love The Princess Bride)

So, I just finished revising a story that had been sent to a few markets, and turned down by every single one. Oh well, it happens. After going through it again it's a much stronger story. Too bad I can't resubmit it to the places that rejected it. However, now I think this story is strong enough to use as one of my Clarion submissions, so it's all good. And, I can always make it my submission to Writers of the Future for this quarter.

Another story has gone in for a CBC contest. We'll see what happens with that. If it comes back I'll give it another look and think of other places to submit it. It's a really short piece, so it may be easier to sell. Heck, if it sells then great, if not, I can always rework it.

Another story just got rejected so I was able to give it a once over and fix a few things. This has gone to less markets than the first story, and I've never submitted anything to Fantasy and Science Fiction, so guess where it's headed?

Another story (seeing a pattern here?) is in with for review and critique so that I can get feedback on it. I'm really hoping this one will be my other Clarion submission piece. I feel both things I have are or could be really strong fantasy stories. That seems to be where my head is right now.

Finally, (yes there is an end to all this) the books I wanted in preparation for starting my next novel are in. My previous attempt at writing a novel, let's just say I wasn't happy with how it turned out. I learned a lot from writing it, the most important part being I can actually sustain a novel length effort, but it was several shades less awesome than I hoped it would be. The new novel I'm going to start writing combines some of my loves. It will have martial arts, magic, and a vaguely Eastern setting. Let's say, Eastern inspired and influenced but seen through a Western eye. I'm not going to use any specific Asian culture to base it on as I don't want to be disrespectful/get it completely wrong.

However, before I start writing I need to do some research and plan a bit. Right now I'm reading A Daughter of The Samurai, the story of a woman raised as Japan transitioned from the medieval period to the modern age, and it's given me some great background and setting ideas. Recently I purchased a book on Shaolin training techniques, another on Japanese architecture, and a third on Buddhist monastic life. All three of these will be fed into the wood-chipper that is my brain to pump out chopped bits of awesome.

Before I start the novel I'm going to make sure my Clarion submissions are ready, so the next few weeks I'll probably be writing less and reading a heck of a lot more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not Dead Just Busy

Sorry for the radio silence lately. I've been crazy busy the last few weeks between work, seeing my parents in their new place, and getting stories written and up to snuff for submission to Clarion. The workshop starts taking submissions in December and is open until March, so hopefully I'll know by Ad Astra if I'm going to Clarion next year!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Dork Review: Heirs of a Broken Land

So I was finally able to finish the lovely Marie Bilodeau's Heirs of a Broken Land series. Man, it's hard to squeeze in reading time at work, especially with how busy things are once September rolls around. (Yes I realize work is when I should be working, but being on a tech support phone line means downtime between calls that can be used for things other than work.)

So what did I think of this series? Very much the same as Destiny's Blood.

Marie's work has an epic scale. This series encompasses the fate of a continent split in twain by a magical barrier known as the "Wall of Loss". It has princesses, warriors, and sorceresses, and whole lot of strong women filling those roles. The fate of nations is decided by three women, each strong in her own way.

Now, I've never considered myself a feminist, but I do like to see believable female characters portrayed in fiction. None of the women in these books is a cliche. Each has her own strengths, and weaknesses, and each is given their moment to shine. The are portrayed as people as opposed to objects, and there is nary a damsel in distress to be seen. And the best part? They actually have realistic relationships instead of fairytale romances.

That isn't to say there isn't a fair bit of storytelling going on. These books were written before Destiny's Blood, but they have the same epic language that needs to be shouted out loud to obtain its full effect. The story comes to a crashing end, where a sacrifice needs to be made and the wounds of a broken land healed.

Again, my main quibble is that there isn't enough in these books. I think each of them could easily have been twice as long, as at times they do feel rushed and the passage of time is hard to keep track of. A minor quibble, and probably something more obvious to someone who reads a lot or has studied the techniques of writing.

Find out more about these books at Marie's website.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Word On The Street 2011

Yesterday was Word On The Street, 2011 edition, and I had a blast! And it all started with a cookie.

Perhaps I should explain that possibly cryptic statement. My Word On The Street Sunday started the same as they have the last few years, with me running late. My original plan has always been to be there by 11AM, and it has gone awry every single year. But at least I'm learning. If I want to get there I need to be up and out the door earlier. Also, taking the train from Burlington works a heck of a lot better than driving all the way into Toronto. (I learned that the first year to my dismay.)

So, yes, cookie. I arrived at the Burlington Go station too late for the 10:10 train, so I had to take the 11:10. While I was waiting a lovely young lady, who's name was Leann, I think (we exchanged names but I might be misremembering it or misheard it) offered me a cookie from a box she'd picked up at a bakery with her friend earlier that day or weekend.

Thus started my day, being offered a tasty treat from a lovely lady. So instead of spending the trip up to Toronto with my nose buried in the newspaper I'd just purchased I ended up chatting with Leann the whole time. Now, I know for most people this doesn't sound so special, but for me it was. I've always been a shy person, with a very thick shell. The fact that I was able to come out of it long enough to have an extended conversation with someone, never-mind that it was an attractive woman, is a minor victory for myself.

And it only got better as the day went on. So, after a pleasant trip up to Toronto I made my way to Queen's Park and wandered around. I had the good fortune to find Karen Dales and Violette Malan, two very sweet persons and outstanding authors. (Okay, so far I've only read Violette's work but every time I run into Karen she tries to get me to buy a book, in a no pressure friendly way, so I'm sure I'll submit and buy one eventually.)

Again I had a chance to chat, and again it was nice how easy it was to carry on an extended conversation. Honestly, fantasy and sci-fi authors have to be the nicest people on Earth. I mean, I've run into these ladies only a few times each yet I feel completely comfortable around them. As we talked I even mentioned that I was looking to apply to the Clarion Writers Workshop and they were both very encouraging and wished me success in getting in. Really, really nice people.

After I finished my wandering I ducked into the Wordshop tent. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but it's put on every year I've been to Word On The Street by the Humber College of Writing. There are some interesting lectures, but the highlight of the day is when they read out first pages submitted by the audience throughout the day, give feedback, and state whether they'd continue reading past the first page. One of the hardest things to do is to get an editor to read past the first page. And my page got read! And they said they'd read past the first page!

Validation is nice and all, but what really helped was the feedback Kim Moritsugu, a teacher at Humber, provided. This is all done anonymously, so no one knew it was from me, so the comments Kim and her fellow panelist Jack David made were without bias and honest.

All things considered, Word On The Street 2011 was a great day for me. I got some cool books, chatted with some cool people, and got a healthy ego boost (don't worry, my head hasn't gotten so big it won't fit through the door). I can't wait for next year.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two Years Already?

Wow, it's been two years since I started this blog. Two years since I started getting serious about my writing. Two years since I've said to myself, I'm gonna do this.

So where am I now?

Well, first off, I'm still unpublished. I wish I could say that this surprises me, but I knew from the beginning that it would be a long hard road before anything of mine actually hit print. Also, I knew then that my writing was nowhere near the quality it needed to be, but I've kept working at it and I have seen an improvement.

So how do I know I've improved? Two things; feedback and rejections. Okay, I start with the rejections idea since that's probably got people scratching their heads. One of my major accomplishments was to start submitting my stories for publication, rather than just writing them and saying "Gee, it would be nice to get published." None of them have been, but I've started noticing a change in the rejection letters I've received. The last few have provided feedback, rather than just stating "This isn't for us". Yes, it's still a rejection, but anything that helps me grow as a writer is to be cherished.

Now, about the feedback. Two things I've done to get this. First, I joined, a critiquing site where I provide critiques for others and they give me feedback on my work. It's helped a lot, both to pump me up when I get some positive comments about my work, and when weak areas are pointed out. Second, I've joined/help start a small writing group. So far there are only three of us, spread out over a large geographic area, but it's a beginning, and any and all feedback from fellow writers helps.

Aside from my writing, I've started going to conventions and meeting people (and picking up some great books I'd have otherwise missed on the way). In some ways this has opened my eyes to how the publishing industry works, especially when it comes to science fiction and fantasy. I've made a few new friends, and I hope I've presented myself in a positive light so that if and when I do get published I'll have a good reputation so that people will want to recommend my work. Of course, whatever I write has to be good enough to deserve the recommendation, but I find it's more likely to happen if people remember you fondly rather than thinking you're a dick.

Oh, and on a more personal note, I've been going to a gym for a full year now. This is the first place I've actually been able to do that. Most times, I'll go to a gym for a few months, get frustrated, quit, or start going infrequently. For the past year I've been going steadily, missing only the odd day for whatever reason.

So what now. Well, there is this CBC Radio short story contest I've just started working on a story for, and hopefully there will be an announcement on a new Tesseracts collection soon. So, onward and upward.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Dork Review: Fright Night

So Saturday I ended up going to see Fright Night in 3D with my friend Jeff. Now, Jeff saw the original while I haven't yet, so he was able to make a comparison between this version and the original while I was not.

Either way, we both loved it.

First off, let me just say that Fright Night makes good use of 3D technology, which is rare for a live action film. To be honest, most of the films hyped as 3D really haven't taken advantage of it, while animated films presented in 3D have.

The film's intelligent use of 3D is make most clear in a chase scene about midway through. I'm not one to geek out about filming techniques (I'm much more into the story behind a movie) but this was well shot, used the 3D to good effect, and was actually scary. The way it was shot made the audience feel the same way the characters did. The drama of that scene was enhanced, so that rather than being just another car chase like we've all seen hundreds of times before, this was viscerally terrifying.

I enjoyed Conan last week, but could have watched it without the 3D. Watching Fright Night in 2D would have taken something away from it. I recommend you go and see this flick in the theater so that you can have the full experience. It is worth it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Dork Review: Conan the Barbarian

"I live, I love, I slay, and I am content."

Those words pretty much sum up Conan the Barbarian and Conan's philosophy on life. The new Conan flick is much closer to the character presented in the books from Robert E. Howard and the comics such as Savage Sword of Conan.

Like the comics, this movie is firmly set in the world Robert E. Howard started and the comics enhanced. There are shout outs to various places in the Hyborean mileau, along with pirates, lusty (and not completely dressed) wenches, and brutal warlords. The world Conan lives in is harsh and unforgiving, much like him.

This is not a movie to take your kids to. The action is violent and brutal, and while Conan is the protagonist he is far from a nice guy. He was born in battle and has a grim outlook on life, rarely smiles, and really is quite good at killing. Momoa does a great job of capturing Conan's essence the putting it out there for the world to see.

So if you want a flick with hot women, brutal violence, and almost constant action, go see Conan the Barbarian. If you don't, well I think The King's Speech is out for Blu-ray (great film but not that many beheadings in it).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Dork Review: Destiny's Blood

I've had the good fortune of meeting Marie Bilodeau a couple times at conventions now. She's a great person and wonderful to talk to and hang out with. Heck, I even went to Polaris for the day because I wanted to show my support for her and the other Dragon Moon Press authors there launching When The Hero Comes Home. So it's about time I actually bought one of her books. :)

I ended up walking away from Polaris with Destiny's Blood and the Heirs of a Broken Land series. The series I'll review all as one piece later, once I'm done the books, and as the title of this post hints at, today I'm going to review Destiny's Blood.

Marie is a storyteller. This comes across in her work, in the words and in the pacing. This book almost cries out to be read aloud, and it has a mythic scope. The fate of races is at stake, not just the life of the Layela Delamores, the heroine. There's magic, love, passion, anger, evil, and sacrifice all contained within and presented at a break-neck speed.

The book does suffer from one thing though. It's too short. I would have loved to have seen more packed into it. Some of the minor characters could benefit from more "screen time", even if it meant slowing the pacing a bit. If the worst thing you can say about a book is that you wish there was more then it ain't doing too bad at all.

Check out more on Destiny's Blood on Marie's site, or order it directly from Amazon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Siege of Fort Erie and A Candelight Proposition

I spent last Saturday attending the Siege of Fort Erie with my friend Jeff. If you don't know what this is, well shame on you! Just kidding. Only history geeks and locals would know, and I qualify as both.

The Siege of Fort Erie was a battle that took place during the summer of 1814 as part of the War of 1812. At least that's what we call it in Canada when were not calling it the War In Which We Totally Burned Down Washington. Not that we're gloating or anything.

No, really, we're not. It was 200 years ago. Get over it.

Every year a few hundred dedicated volunteers reenact the Siege via an afternoon and an evening battle. The evening battle is followed by a candlelight tour of the fort.

So why did I go? Napoleonic history has been a passion of mine for years, enhanced greatly after watching the first Sharpe movie with Sean Bean. (This was before he did Lord of the Rings. Swear the guy has not aged in the meantime.)

If you're ever near Fort Erie when this event is scheduled you need to check it out. Especially if you're a writer, and especially if you ever want to write anything set in that era or involving similar technology. (Someday I want to write a fantasy series with muskets and Napoleonic themes.)

How to describe it? When a musket fires there's this distinct crack, nothing like what you hear from guns in a Hollywood movie. When a cannon fires you not only hear it, you can feel your stomach rattle from the sheer force of it. It really is an experience!

Both the musket and the cannon kick up a cloud of smoke. In the afternoon battle this wasn't too bad. In the evening battle it was much thicker. I can see where the term "fog of war" comes from. The announcer even made the comment that armies could fire off a volley and then retreat through the smoke of their own fire. That's a trick I'll have to remember for my own writing.

The candlelight tour was great as well. It's setup as if the tour group you're a part of is a group of volunteers being led onto the base during a battle. There are screams and gunfire in the darkness, troops running around, and even a makeshift surgery. The volunteers put on a good, if not Oscar worthy, show.

I had a great time, and I'm looking forward to the event in 2012. I know they're going to put on a spectacle for the 200th anniversary of the war.

Oh, and that candlelight proposition? During the tour one of the volunteers asked if I was single, and me being honest I answered in the affirmative. She then suggested I meet her later in the barracks.

Before you get you hopes up, or dashed as the case may be, it was soon obvious this was part of the tour. During the Napoleonic era women could only stay on the base if they were married to someone working there, so if their husband died they needed to find a single man quick or else get turfed. Really sad when you think about it. I'm glad that's no longer the case.

Monday, August 1, 2011

10 Signs The Gym You Frequent Might Be Too Hot

10. There's an ambulance parked out front alongside a few tubs filled with ice, ready for any heat-stroke cases that "may" arise.

9. You look across the room and see a heat shimmer. It's less than ten feet away.

8. You turn the cold water on in the shower area and steam comes out.

7. There are puddles all over the gym floor. They're from people sweating.

6. Your clothing starts to fall off you because of heat expansion.

5. The cook from the restaurant down the way kicks you off a machine so he can use it to fry an egg since his grill is broken.

4. The cactus the owner has sitting in the window is a dried out husk. You saw him water it earlier today.

3. The free weight you're lifting keeps flopping around, as if it's made of rubber. You ask the owner when he got the new novelty weights. He says those are the sames one's he's always had.

2. You notice black, tar-like shoe prints all over the gym, then you realize there melted bits of your shoes.

And the number one sign that the gym you frequent might be too hot:

1. Satan is working out next to you and even he is complaining about the heat.

Have a good night everybody and keep hydrated!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Dork Review: When The Hero Comes Home

I love small presses. Really, I do. They are so much more likely to put out interesting anthologies, such as When The Hero Comes Home.

So what's this book about? Exactly what it says on the tin. It's a collection of nineteen short stories from a wide variety of authors, some better known such as Todd McCaffrey and Ed Greenwood, and some not so well known but you should really look for such as Marie Bilodeau, Erik Buchanan, and J.M. Frey (pronounced Fry by the way), all about what happens when the hero comes home.

I had the good fortune to meet Marie, Eirk, and J.M, and have sign my copy of When The Hero Comes Home, at the champagne brunch launch at Polaris earlier this month. Check them out and then come back and read the rest of my review.

No, really. I can wait.

Done? Good, on with the review.

So, as I said, this book asks the question, what happens after the battle is over, the princess saved, the dragon defeated? What does the hero do once he's won, or at least survived, his quest, when the place he's come from has stayed the same while he has changed so much? This book answers those questions, with stories that run from humorous to heartbreaking, bittersweet to hopeful.

Let me highlight some of the gems inside, in order of appearance. Erik Buchanan's What Evil Remains gives us a picture of a veteran of a wizard's defeat dealing with post-traumatic stress, a good man who served his community and bears the mental scars to prove it. Truly heart-wrenching.

Brine Magic by Toni Pi is astounding, a compelling story about two boys adopted by the court of a fantastical undersea power who serve as guardians and warriors until they find themselves spit back into the real world and how they deal with the transition. Without any hyperbole I can say it's a magical and compelling story.

Oh, how can I go any further without mentioning The Legend of Gluck by Marie Bilodeau, a story about a barbarian returning home with the head of his defeated foe. It has a rotting skull and liquified brains, even an elven sorceress. What's not to love? (Also it gave me the opportunity to make a really bad pun based on the hero's name, something I sure scarred Marie for life when I messaged her with it.) :)

Another highlight is the Once and Nowish King by J.M. Frey. It involves King Arthur returning as a newborn baby with full adult mental faculties and the craziness that induces. It's funny and heartwarming at the same time, something Frey can easily pull off as evidenced by her novel Tryptych.

Really, there are no lackluster stories in this collection, and I could easily sing the praises of each of them. Pick up a copy from Amazon and enjoy, or go to the Dragon Moon Press site to check it out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reviewing From Hard Copy

Let me share a little piece of advice I got from Karl Schroeder comments while he was Writer in Residence for the Merrill collection and was kind enough to look at a story of mine.

Always make a final revision of your writing from hard copy, as in, print the dang thing out, read it over, and mark it up with a pen.

I just finished revising a short story previously called "Sacrifice" and now named "Into Each Life, A Little Rain Must Fall". I printed it out and went over it with a fine tooth comb, and discovered so many things the needed alteration and fixing it's not funny. And this is a story I'd gone over a few times while it was on screen!

Aside from catching more things, editing from hard copy lets you see how the story is going to appear on the written page much clearer than reading it on a screen. And, I find for me it's a little bit easier on the eyes.

So, from now on the final edit on anything before I send it off will be done on paper. I owe it to myself and anyone who ends up reading my stuff to produce the very best I can. And to keep working at getting better.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Dork Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

America F**K Ya!

Sorry, couldn't resist. All the time I was waiting to see Captain America: The First Avenger the "theme song" from Team America: World Police kept going through my head. Every now and then I'd say the above line out loud and have it echoed by my friend Gary, or even just say "America!" and he'd supply the rest.

The movie was good, on par with Thor with the level of writing and special effects. The humor was well placed and didn't feel forced, the actors hit the right notes at the right time and were even able to subtly put forth emotions that might have been missed or glossed over in other superhero movies.

But in the end, this is a superhero movie so go into it with eyes wide open. It's a good one, but don't expect Shakespeare. It ties in very nicely to the rest of the Marvel movies leading up The Avengers, and make sure you stay till then end of the credits for a little treat of what's coming out next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Improved Rejections

Sorry for the lack of anything new in the last little bit. It's just been too damn hot in my apartment's living area to stay on the computer for any length of time. Hopefully this heat wave will burst in the next day or so and things will cool down enough that I don't feel like I'm basting while I sit here.

So, you may be wondering what I mean by improved rejections. Well, the last couple times I've received a rejection notice, instead of the standard "Thanks but no thanks" response, I've actually been getting some feedback.  This is good to see, as it means I'm getting closer to writing a publishable story.

"But aren't all rejections bad?" you might ask. Not necessarily. Almost any feedback is good, as it offers me the opportunity to improve and to learn what that particular editor/publication thinks and is looking for in a story, so that when I have something else to offer I have an idea of what markets to target first.

So, not published yet, but things are starting to look better. Now excuse me, I need to find something tall and wet to fall into.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Writer's Guide to Kendo

I may have mentioned this before, and if not I'll mention it now, I practice kendo.

What is kendo you may ask? It is a SPORT based upon Japanese swordsmanship. Why the emphasis on it being a sport? Because it is not a practical sword art, and authors should not treat it as so.

Okay, a little bit of background may be in order on this one, so that you understand why I feel the need to post this. I was reading the first book of the Safehold series by David Weber, an author who produces work I normally enjoy. Heck, he can put vampires in military science fiction and make it work. (Look for it and you will find it, don't want to spoil the story it's in.)

Anyways, in the first book of the series, the character Nimue's background mentions that she was turned on to practicing kendo by one of her mentors/friends. So far, no problem. The real issue for me arises when she starts fighting in a world regressed to a medieval level of technology. Not only fighting, but fighting well and utilizing an "odd fighting stance".

My problem with this is that while there is competition in kendo, the goal is not to strike down your opponent. Kendo players (yes, you play kendo, you don't fight with it) are taught to hit, not to cut. So someone trained in kendo wouldn't have the instinct to slice someone down. Also, the fighting stance is very straightforward, with the feet shoulder width apart and right leg in front and the left heel slightly raised. Not really an odd stance.

You may be wondering, what is the difference between a hit and cut, after all both involve striking someone. To hit someone with a real sword would be ineffectual. A sword works best, especially the swords used in Japanese martial arts, when slicing. The hits in kendo are achieved with small movements and targeted at armored areas, places that would have been covered by traditional protection. Cutting requires a larger motion, the idea being to make contact in an unprotected area on the body and then follow through and slice through any resistance and therefore wound your opponent.

So, you may be wondering, if kendo isn't what we call a practical Japanese sword art, what is? Easy, it's kenjutsu.

Notice, both terms share "ken". An easy translation for this would be "sword". "Do" means way, and "jutsu" means art, so kendo is the "Way of the Sword", while kenjutsu is the "Art of the Sword".

Yes, this may seem an artificial distinction, but it's not. With a "jutsu" the focus was on a practical "art" that one could use to survive in a hostile world. With the coming of the modern age, a lot of the "arts" translated into "ways" and the focus changed primarily to spiritual development. So while kendo is not a combat art, it is a way of finding a deeper spiritual center within yourself, like a lot of modern martial arts who's focus is on self-development rather than practical application. Practitioners of a "do" can still be fearsome in combat, but only because part of their spiritual development is achieved through physical toil, meaning they can often be fitter even if they don't look it.

Are the jutsu arts still around. Of course! Jiujitsu is one focused on hand to hand combat, and there are even kenjutsu schools still operating. A lot of the remaining kenjutsu schools are family affairs, the art passed from father to son, or even daughter in these modern times. I myself had the privilege of practicing Ono Ha Itto Ryu years ago, one of the spiritual ancestors of modern kendo, and I know of at least one school of Katori Shinto Ryu in North America. These are both different styles, just like there are many different schools and styles of jiujitsu.

Another thing the bears mentioning is the difference in attitude. Different schools each had a unique, well, psychology is the best thing to call it. The art I practiced was very straightforward, brutal even, with lots of sword contact and forward motion. Other schools of kenjutsu are more subtle, having the practitioner lay traps for his opponent.

Kendo on the other hand is extremely forward and aggressive, much more than any kenjutsu school, since you don't have to worry about getting hit as points are scored only if the correct area is struck with the correct footwork and follow through. It can be very hard to score a point in kendo, depending on how strict the judges are calling things. You can whack at a person for an hour and not score if you don't have everything lined up just right, and kendo players are trained to ignore hits that wouldn't result in a point. More than once I've been whacked on the shoulder or ribs, spots that if I was in a real sword fight would result in severe damage and loss of life. All I ended up while playing kendo was, at most, a rather impressive bruise.

So, this goes out to all you authors, writers, scribblers, and scribes. Know the difference between kendo and kenjutsu, and write accordingly. It's a small detail, but it does stand out for those in the know.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Dork Review: The Name of The Wind

Two reviews in one day. Shocking, I know. What can I say. I have the day off, I needed to get the last one off my chest, and I've been wanting to write this review for over a week now but stuff kept getting in the way.

Alright, I'm a little late to the party when it comes to Patrick Rothfuss and The Name of The Wind. Especially considering it was published in 2007 and mentioned in numerous places. Which it should have been, considering it was a New York Times Best Seller.

This qualifies as a Book I Wish I Had Written. No, really. I hope someday to produce something this magnificent. This book is layered, switching from third-person to first-person viewpoints with ease, telling two different stories involving the main character Kvothe at the same time. It's a story within a story. (I'm avoiding making the obvious reference to Inception. Oh wait, I just made it. Dang.)

I devoured this book. It's close to 700 pages and I had it read in a few days, stealing time between calls at work to read as much as I could. Heck, if I could afford the time off I would have taken a day or two just to read it. The book is that good.

Rothfuss does a great job of deconstructing how myths and legends are created. Kvothe himself is a living legend, and as the novel progresses we learn the hard truths behind a lot of the stories told about him and about the legendary evil that influenced his early life.

Rothfuss also avoids many of the fantasy cliches we've all seen before, without belaboring the point. There are no easy answers in this book, and often what you would expect to happen is either subverted, inverted, or smashingly averted.

If you haven't already, pick this book up. I've already started on the sequel, which just came out. Hopefully we're not stuck waiting too long for the third book, but I can understand how writing this good can take time.

The Dork Review: Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon

Okay, I'm not going to lie. This review is going to be harsh and contain SPOILERS. If you loved this movie or don't want any of its plot points spoiled, do not ready any further. It's best for all of us if you don't.

Still here? Alright, let's proceed.

First off, let's get something clear. I enjoyed the first Transformers movie. I didn't mind the second, even though I understand why a lot of people didn't like it or found it offensive. Me personally it didn't offend, but then I'm not a member of any of any of the ethnic groups that would have been offended and I'm far from arrogant enough to think I should be offended on their behalf.

So why is Dark Of The Moon so much worse for me than the other two? It's boring.

Really, really boring. Even the "action" sequences got boring after awhile, and they were filled with giant, killy robots. My friend Jeff sitting beside me was yawning for the last little bit of the movie, that's how boring it was.

On top of that, most of the jokes in the movie were lame and/or came across as homophobic. The whole "Deep Wang" section was just so unnecessary. It was like trying to shoehorn in a little piece of The Hangover into an action flick.

And when the movie wasn't boring it was annoying. Shia LaBeouf's Whiney Whitwicky (patent pending) act was tolerable in the first movie, irritating in the second, and tiresome in this one. Part of me wanted to scream at him "Dude! No wonder that last chick left you, you whiney ass! Shut-up and enjoy living with your gorgeous English girlfriend who supports you!"

Speaking of said girlfriend, she really doesn't do anything in this movie other than make out with Shia and run around in tight jeans and heels. Oh, and show off her ass in panties in the opening shot of the film, just so that no one thinks Michael Bay has become gay when they see the "Deep Wang" section later. I have nothing against Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, but really, she doesn't do much of anything in this film. At least Megan Fox's character in the first two had some gumption, some spice.

Topless Robot has more here on what happens in this flick. If you need more reason not to go and see this travesty then check that link out.

Only take someone to see this movie if you really don't like them, or if they are easily amused by explosions.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Author's Thumbprint

Odd title, I know. Don't worry. I haven't been arrested and fingerprinted, nor have I been leaving incriminating prints around, but only because I haven't been doing anything nefarious at all. (Feel free to believe or disbelieve that statement.)

No, this post is about the "fingerprints" an author leaves on his work. How much of what an author puts down on the page is based upon who they are and what they believe in, and how much should there be?

First let me say this, no matter what an author does there's going to be a bit of them contained in their stories. This is inevitable. This is part of an author's style. The sheer fact that story exists can be attributed to someone wanting to put a piece of themselves out there, and every story is at first birthed within an author's mind. But does it always stay that way?

Let me give you an example from my own writing. Within that last few months I wrote a book. Not a great book, but not too bad for my first try. At least I proved to myself I could sustain a long term effort on one project.

In this novel there's a character that smokes pot on a regular basis. This was always going to be a part of this character, one of his defining traits. I don't like people who smoke pot more than occasionally. From my personal experience I've found them to be, well, unmotivated idiots. Again, this is from my personal experience and I'm sure there are exceptions out there, however I have yet to meet them. Also, I don't like the smell of weed. Really, really don't like it.

So, from the beginning this pot smoking character started off with a negative tone, in my mind. As I was writing the character began to change. He became more complex, more nuanced. I found aspects hidden inside him that changed my understanding of what he was. Instead of being just a one note character, a warning against drug use, he became a major factor in the story. I still don't like pot smokers, but the characterization in my story didn't suffer because of it.

I still have my opinions, but instead of the story being all about my views, and being blatant about it, it has a life of its own. Contrast that with something I was reading recently, where not only could I see the author's thumbprint, it was jumping up at my face. It was to the point it distracted me from the story, causing it to suffer. I did still enjoy the book, but it was tinged with a bit of disappointment.

I'm not going to mention the book or the author. I do want to be published someday, and it's unprofessional to go around slagging other people's work. I will say this though, it's made me more aware of my own thumbprint on the page, and while I do want to develop my own style I want to make sure that my stories don't suffer because of it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Dork Review: Super 8

Okay, I went into this movie without much hope. I'd seen the trailers, and to be honest, they made it seem dumb. Really, the only reason I went was because a friend had heard good things and we were going to wait till next week to see Green Lantern so a mutual friend could join us.

I'm glad I went. The movie was great!

How to describe it? Take Goonies, E.T., Close Encounters of The Third Kind, and a creature feature and smash them together. That combo may sound odd, but J.J. Abrams managed to make it work. This movie is an Eighties movie with a modern sensibility. It's post-modern Eighties.

And it has kids that can act! They seemed human, vulnerable and brave at the same time, rather than wooden and annoying like the kid from Phantom Menace. It helps that main female child lead is Ellie Fanning, younger sister of Dakota Fanning. It's obvious that acting talent runs in that family. If you don't believe me now you will after you see Ellie at the train station early in the movie. I half believe that the stunned looks on the other kids faces after she falls readily into her role within a role (trust me, it makes sense in context) is completely natural and not faked at all. I think everyone sitting in the theater was just as stunned as they were.

If you have fond memories of the Eighties, then this movie is for you. If you don't, but want to understand the spirit of that time, this movie is for you. And if you don't, well then this movie is still for you. It's just that good.

Whoever worked on the marketing for this film should really be sent back to school. The trailers do nothing to encapsulate the story or provide a tease to draw in a crowd. At least, not from my perspective. I'm glad I listened to my friend and went to see this.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My TV Curse

Want to know a sure-fire way to get a TV show cancelled? Get me to watch it!

Alright, so here's how it is. I don't watch a lot of TV now that I'm much more serious about my writing. Really, I watch maybe a couple shows here and there, such as The Big Bang Theory, Bones, and Dr. Who. Aside from my writing, another reason I don't watch many shows is that if I watch something in it's first season, it inevitably gets cancelled!

Case in point, the show Endgame. It was broadcast on Showcase up here in Canada,  and was about an agoraphobic chess champion who solves crimes from the hotel he's trapped in by his own mind. It was an unconventional, intelligent, engaging show. And it's been cancelled after one season. Same with Firefly, The Chicago Code, and so on. The only show I've started watching recently that lasted beyond a season was Lie to Me, and that's been cancelled this year.

Ah, you say, but what about the three shows I listed as watching up above. The trick is, I didn't watch those shows that much in their first seasons. In fact, I really dislike the first episode of The Big Bang Theory. I know what it's like to be a nerdy guy pining for the girl next door, and that episode reminds me of situations I'd much rather forget. It's almost physically painful. Eventually, after the numerous recommendations from a friend, I did give the show a chance, but I do my best to not watch the first episode when it comes on TV.

How about some other examples:
CSI - didn't see any of the first season until years later, one of the longer running dramas currently on TV
Space Above and Beyond - watched it religiously from the first season, cancelled either in its first season or soon into it's second, not sure if it ran long enough to have a second season.
Eureka - enjoy this show immensely when I can catch it, but due to when it plays I often miss it, had to buy the first season on DVD in order to watch it.
Crusade - follow-up to Babylon 5 that lasted thirteen episodes - one of the few shows cancelled where I didn't watch the whole season, but I did see the first few episodes.

Those are all the examples I can think of right now, but I'm sure if I really racked my brain I could come up with more. My luck even appears to be affecting current running shows. Dr. Who, which I really just started watching, Matt Smith is excellent by the way, is NOT getting a full season pickup next season, and is being split in half for this season. Yup, my TV luck at work.

Hopefully my luck changes next year and a show I love from the get go lasts for awhile, and I get to actually watch it. We'll see.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Books That Need To Be Reread

So I'm reading this book on samurai legends. It's full of stories of, funnily enough, samurai throughout the ages. They're taken from the original sources and translated, because amazingly I cannot read nor understand ancient Japanese script.

I've just reached a section taken from The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, something that I've already read at least five times by my count. So, am I going to skip this section? Well, the title of this post gives a hint on that. Of course not!

The Book of Five Rings is a classic, especially for anyone interested in the Eastern sword arts, which I am. (I have mentioned that I'm currently studying kendo and have studied Ono Ha Itto-Ryu in the past, haven't I?) Rereading it every few years is a good idea. It refreshes the text's information in my mind, and since I keep changing as I age, I may find a new truth in it. The same goes for The Art of War by Sun Tzu, another text I've been known to reread.

Now before you go thinking that ancient Asian military texts are the only thing I reread, I do the same with plenty of fiction as well. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card gets reread every few years, same with most of the Honnor Harrington series by David Weber, mostly because it helps me remember where the thread of the story's going and because they're just damn fun books. I used to reread the Wheel of Time books, until they reached a point I felt they were never going to end before Robert Jordan died. Unfortunately he did pass before finishing them, but I have been hearing good things about what Brandon Sanderson is doing to finish the series, so once it's all done I think I'll read them all, from start to finish, just to say I have.

So I hand this off to you, those who are reading my words. What books/series to you reread every few years, and why?

Monday, June 6, 2011

So When Do Things Slow Down?

I thought summertime was when life's pace was supposed to ease back a bit, you know, the lazy, hazy days of summer?

It's just been non-stop for me the last little bit. In addition to my regular kendo sessions we went up to Milton to practice with Sensei Morgan and his group. Wonderful bunch of guys, and it's always good for your practice to face people with a different style than what you're used to. The invitation has been given for them to come down in August for a practice/barbeque.

Other than this, my father's now retired and my parents are having a place up around Belleville built to their specifications. They've already sold their house and are getting set to move, and who knows what chores they're going to need my help with in that.

I've finally gotten around to admitting I need more storage space for my every growing collection of books, so last Sunday my dad and I ended up making a trip to Ikea to purchase a bookcase, and then we took out my dad's boat for it's maiden voyage. Must be nice to have such a surplus of time.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to set up the bookcase sometime this week. It may be tricky. Aside from my regular kendo practice, I'm going to Staff Day up in Toronto this week, which is always an interesting experience, but it means leaving at 6AM and not getting back to 6PM. Definitely a full day.

Add on top of this I've joined in order to get some critiques of my writing. My first submission has received feedback, and I'm pleasantly surprised. A lot of the things I thought would be issues aren't, and a host of great new ideas about that story have been generated by what people have been telling me. One person did say that with a little work I have a salable story, so hey, I'm on the right track. It's a little bit overwhelming. Add on top of that, despite how busy I've been with other things, I'm still writing and working on a new story. I want to finish the first draft of that before I go back and start revising anything else.

All in all, crazy, crazy, crazy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Dork Review: At The Queen's Command

It's been awhile since I've reviewed a book by a "major author", since most of the fiction I've been reading lately has either been small press stuff or older books that have been around long enough that a review won't help or hurt them. So without further ado, on to my normal blathering.

At The Queen's Command is the first book of the Crown Colonies series by Michael A. Stackpole, who is a New York Times Bestselling Author as the cover of the book is so proud to tell us. And well it should be. Getting onto that list is damn difficult, and any author would be more than pleased to get there. Heck, there are probably authors out there willing to sell a kidney to get on that list. (Not me. I like having both kidneys.)

I enjoyed the book. It was well written, with engaging characters and moved along at just the right pace. To give you an idea of the setting, imagine a world where the French Revolution predates the American Revolution. The war is set to spill over into the colonies and our man Captain Owen Strake of the Queen's Own Wurms is sent across the Pond to scout out the enemy and make a report. Of course, the nations involved are not France and England but their fantasy stand-ins. Still, if you know anything of early colonial history you'll find the inversion rather amusing, especially since it was Royalist France that aided America in revolting against the British. But enough jabbering about history.

From that simple opening the book goes on to plunge Owen into the woods, led by a trapper and his native guide/blood brother. There's love, betrayal, torture, zombies (yes, zombies. I know), magic, dragons, and a, well let me just call it a transformative ending. The colonies practically seethe with unrest, most of the "noble" characters are anything but, and the main antagonist is a complete monster, and dapper dresser. All in all, a good yarn.

The only thing about the book I really have an issue with is the way the firearms work. In order to shoot the characters need to channel magic through a firestone then touch that to brimstone powder to set it off. Very similar to the way historic muskets worked but with magic replacing physics/chemistry. Shouldn't be that odd right. The problem is, it's established early on that magic, for the longest time, was considered lower class and subsequently prosecuted/looked down upon. It wasn't until firearms came about that required magic in order to fire, that the upper class nobles suddenly found that they too could had traces of magic talent. My brain just rebels at the idea of magic being the only way to use firearms. I mean, if magic was held in low esteem, why would anyone research a way to use it to make firearms? Who in the lower classes would have the time, and who in the upper classes would fund it?

Add in the fact that each use of a firearm results in blood pooling in the arm used to trigger the firestone, meaning each trooper can only fire five or six shots at most before they're tapped out. What sane military would build a force around troops that can only fire six times at most before needing a break?

I did enjoy the book and plan to pick up the next one in the series. My issues with the firearms aside, it was a ripping adventure tale set in the fantasy equivalent of the New World. Originally I picked it up because I had an idea for a series very similar to this, set in a fantasy world at the Napoleonic level of technology, so seeing what other authors are doing will help me to avoid some of the pitfalls in creating such a world, and make my creation unique enough to stand out amongst the crowd.

Who knows, maybe I'll end up on the New York Times Best Sellers list someday. (I'm hopeful but not holding my breath.)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Dork Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

I'm glad to say that Kung Fu Panda 2 lives up to the same standard as the original, or even exceeds it. Of course, I'm saying this while my inner child is running around kicking and punching kung fu style while screaming "Cool!"

Kung Fu Panda 2 has all the elements needed for an animated movie to succeed. It's accessible to both kids and adults, without being condescending to one or juvenile to the other. It uses the fact that in animation, anything is possible, constructing a world of gravity defying acrobatic martial arts that feels natural, something is very hard to pull off. I mean, I love Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but at times the wire work in that movie feels like, well, wire work, as in you know it isn't real. With the Kung Fu Panda movies that intense action can be portrayed naturally. Well, as natural as is possible with animation.

The movie succeeds in both its visual and story elements. First, the visual. This is a gorgeous movie, with cinematic backgrounds and flowing, graceful characters. The story is heartfelt, with Po and the villain Shen mirroring each other. Both are dealing with issues they have with who they are and what happened with their parents. The story and visual elements collide and support each other during flashbacks Po experiences, the flashbacks being more stylized until an essential truth is revealed. I don't want to say much more, but the moment when the style switches is one of the most heart-wrenching in the film.

That's not to say that the entire film is a constant downer, tugging on your heartstrings until they snap. There is plenty of humor worked in, with moments that both kids and adults will find hilarious.

I enjoyed this film immensely. In fact, I would even be willing to go and see Kung Fu Panda 3 when it comes out. Let's just say the ending of 2 definitely sets up for a third installment, and I'm excited to see  this story continue.

Go and see it. Right now. You wont' be disappointed, well, at long as you have a measurable sense of humor.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Encouraging Rejection

No, I'm not encouraging you to go out and reject someone or something. I'm merely mentioning that I received an encouraging rejection for my story Riding Europa that included some feedback. The editors said that after a "close" reading they decided not to take it, and that the story started well but there were some parts that didn't work.

So what now? I have two other stories currently out for critique, one I'm working on right now, and another on the back burner as it's long enough that it should wait to make the rounds until I'm actually published. So, things are progressing.

For now Riding Europa is going to get put in the "work on it later" pile. I think I've exhausted the available markets, so I'll put the story away and take another look at it in a year or so and see if I want to rewrite it or just let it continue to lie fallow.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Story Monday: Not So Much

Well it turns out today won't be New Story Monday. Turns out this idea has grown a bit since I started writing, and combined with some other things I needed to get done today I'm just not going to get it all done in a day.

Still, I went from a basic idea to developing characters, a basic plot, and over two thousand words of actual text in under a day. That's something to be proud of. Previously I've spent my entire writing period on a given day just figuring out the characters and writing down a few notes. Today I did that and a lot more.

The plan is to get more done on Thursday and then finish the first draft this weekend if not sooner. Hey, not every day can go as planned. The best bet is to get done what I can and then just keep on moving.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Story Monday

Since tomorrow is a day off, thank you Queen Victoria, I'm going to perform an experiment. Normally it takes me awhile to write the first draft of a new short story, as in a couple weeks at least. Tomorrow I'm going to try writing a full short story, from idea to finished first draft, in one day. I'll get up relatively early, work on it the whole day, with breaks for lunch and such, and see what happens.

We'll see what happens. I don't think I'll have much time the rest of the week, as I've got kendo related events on Tuesday and Wednesday and who knows what else might pop up.

If you've got tomorrow off I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why Fans Are The Best Salespeople For Your Book

Alright, so this is a bit of a story, so please bear with me.

Last night a couple friends and I went out for sushi at a new place in town. Sushi Ai in St. Catharines, if you're in town check it out. Anyways, since it's a long weekend we all had things to do, so after dinner we went our separate ways. I headed to Future Shop to pick up a new set of headphones for my iPod, as the ones I have right now are dying.

Well wouldn't you know it, there's a Chapters nearby. (For those of you outside of Canada, Chapters/Indigo is a major chain of bookstores, really the only chain of bookstores operating inside the country.) So of course, being a bibliophile, I had to go in and browse. You'd almost think I planned it that way.

The store was under renovations. Turns out they're expanding the children's section, which I'm all for. I don't have kids, but get a child hooked on reading at a young age and they're more likely to remain a reader as an adult. Luckily they still had the science fiction and fantasy sections in place, so that's where I started browsing.

Guess what I found? Napier's Bones, a book I recently wrote a review for was on the shelves. Now, it was way down at the bottom, which is unfortunate, but hey, it's always nice to see stuff from Chizine in stores. So I snapped a pic with my phone and prepared to move on.

I rounded the corner and ran in to a lovely young woman and her mother browsing the other side of the fantasy section and looking at the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R. R. Martin. I make a comment about it being a great series and we get to talking. While we're talking it hits me, maybe she'd like to read Napier's Bones? It's fantasy, it's different, and I know it's a great read, so I walk over, grab a copy and bring it back and sing the book's praises. We chat for about another minute and then I leave them to their deliberations.

Now, you're thinking, so what, big deal. I recommended a book and that's it. Well, there's another part to the story. A few minutes later I was browsing in the Military History section and this lovely young woman and her mother approach me and thank me for the recommendation and say they're going to purchase Napier's Bones instead of the George R. R. Martin, all because of what I said. Cool!

Why did I recommend the book? Well, aside from it being a great read, I met the author at Ad Astra this year and saw him on a couple panels. He came across as personable, intelligent, basically a nice guy who knows what he's talking about. I know that this is his first published book, and that if it succeeds he'll get the opportunity to publish more, and I want to read those. Also, he signed my book as I was purchasing it, with a personalized salutation. So, I want to help him.

Now, so far I've only recommended this book to one person, but I'm sure I'll recommend it to others in the future. So, say based upon my recommendation, five people pick up the book, and they get five to pick it up, and so on and so forth. So one convention appearance could ripple outwards and end up selling hundreds of books. Who knows?

It's something for me to keep in mind if I ever do get published. As much as I like to stand at the back of the crowd and observe things going on, when I'm an author I'm going to have to be willing to stand in front of a crowd and project that presence and personality that will interest people enough to pick up my book, so that they can recommend it to others and start that ripple effect for what I've produced.

My only regret is that I didn't think to get the woman's number. I was so geeked out about the book and the author it didn't occur to me that, hey, this woman tracked me down through the entire store to tell me she's going to buy something on my recommendation. Doh! There's a reason I'm still single.

Oh well.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Dork Review: The Door To Lost Pages

Yeah, I know, two reviews in one day. I meant to put this one up earlier this week but couldn't as the back-end for Blogger was down. So, better late then never.

First off, let me just say that The Door To Lost Pages will always have a special place in my heart for one small reason: There's a quote from my blog in the very first page after you open the cover! It's from my review of Claude Lalumiere's Objects of Worship, and after I saw it I giggled for a good ten minutes. Really, giggled, it was terribly amusing and you should have been there.

Anyways, on the the actual review of this work. I greatly enjoyed The Door To Lost Pages. It takes some of the ideas that sprang forth in Objects and runs with them. Similar to that book, it's a collection of shorter works. It differs in that all of the works are set in the same world/realm/idea and tied together by a supernatural bookstore called, funnily enough, Lost Pages.

I think the best way to describe this book is Lovecraftian. Throughout the entire work there is an unspeakable eldritch horror hanging above, ready to invade our dreams. Every night a war takes place, a war that can only be seen by a few mortals, those who have the ability to walk through the door into Lost Pages.

I enjoy Claude Lalumiere's work. It's dark, it's sexy, unconventional, while at the same time remaining accessible. This is the kind of book you read when you want something different, something that will challenge your mind but doesn't leave you lost and wandering through a sea of overblown language and imagery. It's literary without being pretentious. It's what genre fiction can be when it takes itself seriously and doesn't hold to the idea that just because it's genre that it is somehow lesser than "literature".

I hope we see a new book from Claude within the next few years. In fact, I'm hoping we see a full blown novel. I'd love to see what he could do with a single idea and over 70,000 words to explore it in.

The Door To Lost Pages can be ordered through Amazon, here.

The Dork Review: Thor

Yeah, verily. I doth have a review of Thor, a moving picture of stupendous quality.

Thankfully the movie doesn't contain a lot of Shakespearean dialogue, which is surprising considering it was done by Kenneth Branagh. In fact, if I didn't know from the credits that Branagh worked on the film I wouldn't even realize it. That isn't a slight against him or the movie, but is in fact a compliment as it's a sign of a good director in my books when they don't try and stamp a certain style on every movie they do but rather let the story and the subject matter dictate how things fall together.

I saw Thor with two friends, and all three of us agreed that it was a good superhero movie. The pacing was just right so that at no point in this film did it feel like it was dragging. It was an origin story, but it didn't feel like it was an endless progression of exposition telling us who Thor is and why he's in the situation he finds himself in. In fact, the movie is much like the character it's named after, direct and action oriented.

And the visuals were amazing! Asgard actually looks like it could exist, with a techno-magic feel infused in the buildings, the costumes, everything. You can actually believe Thor when he says that he comes from a world where magic and science are one and the same.

And the movie actually had a sense of humor! In fact, all of the Marvel movies leading up to the Avengers have had a definite humorous undertone, being both aware that they are comic book movies and therefore deal with subject matter that can be by its very nature ridiculous, but at the same time saying that the world they exist in is both valid and real, and underlying that reality by injecting humor. In other words, more real because of the funny bits.

We saw the movie in 2D, and based upon other reviews I've read I recommend you go and see it thus. I don't think 3D would really add much to the viewing experience, and you'll save a couple bucks. Still, go and see it in theaters so you get the full effect of Asgard and you won't be disappointed. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Influential Economic Effect of Bad Movies

This topic comes out of a recent discussion at work about what movies are coming out this year and what ones my co-workers and I were planning to go see.

Sometime in the near future I expect to go and see Thor in theaters, spending money on a movie ticket and maybe some popcorn and a drink. So far I've enjoyed all of Marvel movies that are all aimed at the Avengers movie slated to come out next year. In fact, I can honestly say that my enjoyment of those movies has positively influenced my decision to see them in theaters and therefore has had an economic effect. I'm paying to go see them or buying them when they come out on Blu-ray.

Then there's the opposite effect. The last two X-Men related movies, X3 and Wolverine were such utter piles of crap that even though the trailers that were just released actually look interesting, I have almost no desire to see this movie. Same with the planned Spiderman reboot after Spiderman Three stunk up the screens. I will not be investing any money in experiencing these films.

What I'm wondering is, is my behavior atypical or is it shared by others? While these movies are tangentially related to the others, does the fact that a portion of fandom experienced a negative reaction to them influence the amount of money they will take it? And what about what the genres they represent overall? Will we see a slackening of superhero movies if people avoid these movies based on previous experiences with the same characters but dealt with by a different director/writer/actor?

I wish I could collect data on this, but it would be such a daunting task. I mean, even a well funded research team would have a hard time. You'd need to run surveys on patrons entering and exiting theaters to find out what film there are going to see and if previous films in the genre or "series" (stretching the term a bit) influenced their decisions. How many bad films does it take to kill a genre, or is it just shifting tastes in society over time that cause it?

Yes, I spend way too much time thinking about these things. Sometimes it does lead to interesting story ideas.

Second Draft: The Finishing

Whoo Hoo! Just finished the second draft of my very first novel. Though I don't know if it really counts as a novel, since the final word count is 66, 182.

Now we just need to see if Angry Robot books wants the full thing sent to them. If not, well I can always start shopping it around. Since this is my first long form work it's not likely to sell. Still, I've learned a few things. I can sustain the effort of writing long fiction, and then I can sustain the effort of revising it. I really do need to work in making my first drafts more dynamic, and I need to reduce the amount of repetition.

All in all, I'm happy. The book is what I set out to make, a small, personal story with a few characters in a dangerous situation. Even if it doesn't sell, writing it was a learning experience.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What The Hell Happened Last Night?

Sorry, I'm still in a bit of shock from seeing the Canadian federal election results. That, and I'm worried.

I'm worried what's going to happen now that the Conservative Party has a majority. The last time this happened was before I was an adult, with good old Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservatives, who introduced the GST, one of the most hated taxes in Canadian political history. Then, it being his third term in office, he graciously stepped down as leader for Kim Campbell and let the ensuing uproar hit her in the face. Yes, we briefly had a female Prime Minister. Too bad her party set her up to fail.

Now we have the Conservatives in power. I guess they became less progressive after they absorbed the Reform party. Not surprising, considering some of the Reform party's negative views on gay and lesbian rights. I'd call them the maple-flavored Tea Party, but even the Reformers weren't that idiotic. Still, with those ideas floating around inside the Conservative party, on top of their perceived preference to extend tax cuts to the rich, it should be an interesting four years.

Guess those attack ads were really effective.

On top of the Conservatives gaining power we saw the utter meltdown of the federal Liberals. Even the leader of the party couldn't get elected, and he should have been running in a seat that was a lock for them. Of course, he did commit the ultimate sin and say two very stupid things on camera. First, he mentioned that he wouldn't take a GST hike off the table. Again, most hated tax in Canada, not a good idea to say you might raise it. Yes, I know the quote was from a few years back, but it was stupid to say then and it dogged Ignatieff through this election, with the Conservative's cherished attack ads making sure to repeat it over and over. The second dumb thing he said, and I can't really fault him for this one as at the time he said it he didn't know he'd be coming back to Canada, was to call America his country while working down there. This really got played up by the Conservatives, to tap into that anti-American vein that runs through a good portion of Canadians.

There were some glimmers of hope in the election though. Seeing the Bloc Quebecois get pummeled by the NDP and reduced to only a few seats was amusing. It's nice to see Quebec voters reject a party that would only stand up in Parliament and ask, "What have you done for Quebec lately?" To me that shows a chance at a greater unity, a greater understanding, and a chance for things to be more inclusive. If only it was the NDP in power rather than the Conservatives.

Finally, and personally, I was overjoyed to see the Green party get a seat. I think they've come a long way in the last few years, from a whisper on the fringe to a voice that rings out clearer and clearer each time it's heard. Heck, a lot of the "traditional" parties are putting forth green ideas, so at the very least the Green party has highlighted the need for more environmental thinking from our elected officials. Let's hope the Conservatives listen.

As I said, I'm worried about the next few years. Parliament is very divided right now, with a right-wing party in the majority and a left-wing party in the official opposition while the center-left Liberals are but a shadow. Part of me hopes the Conservatives won't screw things up too badly, but another part of me knows they will and hopes they screw up bad enough that they'll never get back into power in my lifetime.

Oh well, we'll see.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Dork Review: Napier's Bones

2 + 2 = magic?

It does if the book is Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy. I must be honest, I never planned to pick up this book until after I saw Mr. Murphy on a panel at Ad Astra where he described the magic system, and then I couldn't wait to pick it up.

I'm, well, not exactly math-phobic but it was my least favorite subject growing up, so a book entitled after a mathematical tool is not something that would normally appeal to me. And that would have been my loss. Napier's Bones starts off like a rocket and doesn't let up on the throttle. The action is well written and believable, even when it dips into the fantastic. Add on top of that an intriguing magic system that embraces mathematics without clubbing the reader over the head with it, so that even the math averse will understand and enjoy it, and you have an amazing read.

When I say this novel doesn't let up, I mean it. It starts with Dom, who we find out is what's called a numerate (right now I'm resisting the urge to call him a mathemagician) and able to work magic with the numerical ecology that permeates modern life, barely survives the backlash from a confrontation out in the desert while searching for a powerful pieced of mojo, an item infused with mathematical essence that a numerate can draw upon. Mojo comes in many different flavors, from sports memorabilia to calculating tools, each with its own abilities and problems. As I said, this is a well thought out magic system and the inclusion of mojo is one of its masterpieces.

Dom ends up with a ghost in his head and an apprentice by his side while running from a force from the past that could change the way the world's numbers, and therefore the world, work. Murphy does a splendid job of making this threat believable without being over the top, scary without it becoming cartoonish. Even better, I found the book's ending satisfying, which can be hard to find sometimes.

I highly recommend checking out Napier's Bones. Especially if it motivates Derryl Murphy to keep on writing. I want to see what else his mind can produce.

Napier's Bones can be found here on Amazon.