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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Neil Gaiman: InterWorld

InterWorld (InterWorld, #1)InterWorld by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a writer I believe that it is important to read young-adult and children's books. Just as important, if not more so, than the classics that are so often praised and looked for.

This may seem strange. Why must we, who are adults and intellectual read something that is meant for kids? Well, in part, it is because we must always know what it is that younger people are reading and are interested in. This is partially due to the fact that, even if you are writing philosophy it is a good idea to have your finger on the pulse of what the future generation is thinking and feeling.

Another reason, however, is that we must always be vigilant for those who are writing badly and feeding terrible thoughts and propaganda to the young so that we can work to prevent that. Children are insightful and the world before them is full of terrible things that they may never be ready for.

The fantasy novel or the fairy-tale is a way in which we may reveal these awful and terrible things to our children, along with other complex things in a way that they may process.

So, the big question, does "Interworld" fulfill these requirements. The short answer is yes. "Interworld," is a novel that just about anyone could grasp. The language is simple and easy to latch onto, yet it still retains the trademark flair of a Gaiman story, being full of strangeness and the like.

Furthermore, the themes at work here are ones that are large, even for most adults. At one level we have the simple theme of belonging and the lack of place, something that everyone has felt at least once in their life time. However, this theme of lack of belonging is not just one of being an unpopular school child, but rather one that morphs and shapes into the feeling of utter displacement. Truly not belonging where one was once welcome.

This is a huge theme in the first of this series. However, even as this theme begins to go by the wayside we are confronted with the consequence of actions. Death is a hard thing to talk about. Even those who have been affected by it, as I have, do not always know the best way to speak of it. It is the great equalizer and the ending of all things. To speak of such a thing is a great feat, one made near impossible when speaking to the young, who do not fully understand that death is ever coming closer.

In "Interworld," we are confronted with that death and it is made even more profound because it is the death of the self, literally.

There is, of course, that strange combination of the pulp (which may be due to the other author's contributions) and the absolutely strange. Gaiman manages to blend elements of fantasy and science fiction, weaving them into a plot based on the idea of different dimensions. This strangeness helps to balance out the themes at play.

While the themes at play here are heavy, they are laid subtlely and placed in a way that we are never left feeling as if the author is preaching to us, but rather that this is real life at play.

If anything, this book shows that books for the younger audience can be dark and, at times, unhappy. They do not have to shelter, but can rather reveal, helping to balance out the great horror that awaits our children as they reach adulthood.

View all my reviews or buy the book here: InterWorld (InterWorld Trilogy)

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Pat Rothfuss: The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We've talked about Pat's first book, "The Name of The Wind," the book that reintroduced me to fantasy, that made me fall in love with it, and that gave me a goal as a writer. Indeed, without Pat I wouldn't have come to love Gaiman, enjoy Sanderson, or find Butcher's mix of crime fiction and fantasy to be enthralling.

Hell, I wouldn't have found Lynch and his beautiful Gentlemen Bastards.

As with any writer there are issue with the work. In "The Name of The Wind," Patrick had a firm, if a bit shaky, grasp on his voice. There were times when what he wrote was so damned stunning that I could hardly believe. There were also time when it could start to stray into purple, but those moments are few and far between.

The biggest issue that many readers have found is that Kvothe appears to be a little too great. As I said in my previous review, I believe that to be somewhat intentional. After all, he flat out says he starts a great deal of the lies that surrounded his own legend. Pat is a clever man and, from what I've gathered through my reading, a lot of this story uses the "unreliable narrator" to drive it.

After all, when we tell a story how often do we tell the truth objectively? As Woody Allen states in his masterpiece "Annie Hall,": "Things rarely go the way we want them to in life so I think that's why we try to make everything perfect in art."

Or something to that effect. My point is this, storytelling and music are the first two great human arts. Even in paintings we get a story of sorts, or else a reason.

What comes with this telling of stories is the telling of lies, unintentional or otherwise. So, when Kvothe speaks of himself or Deana, we can conclude that to one extent or another his is fulfilling his own wishes, much like some other real storytellers do.

Now, as far as the story goes in this book, it is easy to say that this book wasn't as great as the first. After all, a big part that we all love about the first book is the school with all its oddities. Here there is so little of the school and much more exploration of the world itself.

Here Kvothe is a court mage essentially, and a damned mercenary. There are legends told and more courtly games played. No school time mischief or drama.

Now, there are two really important reasons why this shift is important. The first of which is that it address an issue that I had with the first novel in that I felt the story was rather underpopulated. It felt as if there were not a great many people living in the world. Growing up in a small town myself, I can see that the reason behind this was simply that Kvothe was not really living in the world at large. This book changed that and that is a good thing.

Along the same lines we have the fact that, though a traveler, Kvothe is rather short sighted in his understand of the world and how it actually works. In part he is a teenager and, as such, claims more understanding than he has. However, the larger part is that, though a studious and well rounded person, he hasn't has first hand experience. Being told something or reading something is vastly different from doing that thing.

So, when we see Kvothe being forced to stifle himself or else he may be killed. Or see him being punished for insolence, this is important. These are lessons that, while he may not fully grasp them now, are helping to shape him into the more reserved, less hot-headed, wise man he has become. Even after learning from the Lethani, Kvothe is still a brat, but it is clear that, to one extent or another, his time in court as well as him time among the Lethani has helped to change him and make him a little more reserved.

Now, the sex in this one is a big issue for some. I will say that I thought it a nice touch, though I believe there were a few instances that I felt could be cut. Not because they were offensive, but more so because they were a little pointless in my book.

All in all, this was a damn fine book and, while some may feel a bit upset that it did not really bring us a great deal closer to the end, remember that the journey is more important. There are more reasons to read something that to reach its end. In anything, it is the end of a thing that we try our best to avoid.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bloodstone: Karl Edward Wagner

BloodstoneBloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book. I mean that. And, honestly, it came close many a time to reeling me into it, only to fall short and leave me wanting.

Allow me to start by telling you what this book did well. Wagner has a talent for setting a scene, one which I can easily relate. His descriptions of people and of the world that they inhabit is enchanting. He knows how to turn a phrase and really pull the reader into the story.

As a writer myself I can understand the love that Wagner has for setting a scene and really trying to make the world as lush and real as possible, even when it is fantastic. He and I, it would seem, both have taken a perverse pleasure in doing such, in feeling as they we have crafted a beautiful description.

In those instances where Wagner sets the stage for his characters he is a master. In those moments I am so fully immersed and impressed that I can't help but feel gleeful that I am reading this book.

However, the real damning problem comes when Wagner has his characters speak.

Speech is a tricky thing. You have to craft speech that is unique to each character, that reveals what is necessary for the reader so that they may understand what is happening, and the dialect must be fitting to whatever period in time you are trying to conjure. Naturally this is a rather tricky skill.

Now, I would not expressly say that Wagner fails out right. However, there are times when the speech feels too plain, too modern in the mouths of the speakers. That is not to say that our characters should speak with "thy's" and "thine's" or whatever other thing, but there must be some cleverness or some sort of alien quality to reel the reader in. At times Wagner falls very short of this, however, I would say that is only a small part of the problem

The other part of the issue, for me, is that when Kane explains something he goes on, droning so that there is little mystery left for the reader to puzzle out. Because of this we know what is going to happen and yet we lose a sense of danger and excitement.

Characters explain the motivations of everyone and comment on why they are doing this. They fill the reader in on detail after detail and, well, it sounds strange.

This, in other words, becomes and issue of telling instead of showing and as we all know, it is always the job of the writer to show rather than tell.

Another issue is that Kane, being an immortal, feels like he lacks motivation to do things. This is a small issue as he does do things and tries to accomplish things, it more so feels like we lack a why.

Wagner, though skilled in many ways, has the issue of not knowing what to explain and what not to explain. This is common enough when we are unsure of our voice as a writer, yet, though there are some rather powerful passages, there is nothing that pulls this tale through the rough for me.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

An Update

Many of you who read my blog may be wondering why I haven't updated the blog with any new posts recently. Well, part of the reason is that I am in the middle of a move between states and that makes it hard to be on here, as I'm sure you can understand.

However, another reason is that I am compiling and editing a short story collection that I will be publishing, hopefully with in the next few months. While I love blogging and sharing my opinion with you all my writing comes first. It is also difficult because I need to find a way to make money and though there are free sign-ups for audible, amazon prime, links to buy things, and other ads from google that can generate me some money it hasn't yet. That's fine, I'm not doing this to just for money, however, it would help and allow me more time to spend here if I were getting some more support.

Overall, I am busy, but don't let that make you think I am going to stop blogging here. At the beginning of May I plan to return to doing reviews and talking about the writing process. In the meantime I will try and update and give glimpses, as I have done recently, on my short story compilation.

For the rest of you, please continue to read my blog, share my blog, comment on my blog, and even click on an ad or sign up for a free trial. It really would help me out a lot and if you cancel, well, that's fine too.

Thank you all for being so patient and stay-tuned. I haven't left you all out to dry.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How to Improve your writing

We've all written a piece, spent time with it and edited it and picked away at it just to have it be said, "yeah, this isn't bad but, well, it needs a lot of work." And in those times it can be painful as writing is a personal thing and every time we ask ourselves, "how do I do better?"

Well, half of the process is, of course, continuing to write. If we do not write and continue to try new things then we will never get any better as writers, but will stagnant instead. However, to just write endlessly is not enough.

If we as writers really want to become better then we must begin the process of reading. This is likely either strange or obvious knowledge. After all, what kind of writer is not a reader as well? Yet still, it is not enough to just read.

Allow me to explain. As I've stated before, when we want to write it is important we start off as readers. Part of this is so that we can understand the structure of a story. After all, without reading we can not see how writers work and how the manage to tell you everything you need to know yet,  at the same time, leave you with enough rope to hang yourself with questions and analysis.

It is this second part where we begin to develop a critical opinion. To use a different example, for those that want to direct a film they must, themselves, be lovers of film. After all, without a love of film then the act of directing would be laborious, one that was more akin to working a job than to creating art. Further, without a knowledge of film one will not be able to understand how a film is made. After all, much like a writer, a director does not include every aspect of the character or the world they inhabit but only what is important so that the reader, or the viewer, may gain some understanding of what the author or director is trying to convey.

It is through this critical voice and this ability to analyze a text that we begin to understand how to write and create. Therefore, it is import for us as creators to absorb everything that we can, good and bad, and learn to filter that so that we may create ourselves. If we do not do this then we will create nothing.

Now, for those that want to start on this you can check out (and buy) books from my suggested reading here:

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dick's work is philosophically remote in a way that few other science fiction writers are. One on end we have Dick's question about freedom, sovereignty, religion, and what it means to be human. On the other hand we have his drug use and the fact that he was going a little bit crazy.

Let us start with the former. Dick's works as a science fiction writer were strange, hard, and full of pulp. He wrote about androids being hunted down and victual reality machines. He wrote of psychic powers and alternative history. These are the sorts of things that people expect when reading science fiction. The fun and camp of it all, and Dick was a master in that regard.

However, these were just tools. A framing device so that he may ask questions that were bigger than all of us. This often took the form of drug-like fever dreams where suddenly the main character was left questioning reality.

Dick often said that he felt like he was an anomaly that the Universe needed to correct. He felt as though the FBI was watching him a lot as well. This paranoia of something big and in authority was what fueled Dick's works. It is clear that Dick did not care for police or for religion, at least in terms of power and control.

So, when he wrote, naturally he had his characters be exposed to powers much larger than they were. He would take the every day man and explore what it meant to be human and what authority could do. Yet, Dick was not so one sided as to say religion was horrid, nor authority. His characters were often men of authority subject to the changing rules of the world they lived in (see Minority Report) and, as a lover of psychedelic drugs, Dick felt that spiritual experience could be had. It was the institution that plagued him.

Dick was not the first to tackle ideas this huge, nor was he the last. Rather, Dick was the best. He wrote like a machine, as if constantly afraid that if he did not then there would be no way for him to come to understand reality. Dick wrote for the reason that many of us write, to exercise whatever demon lurks in our minds.

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," was written before Dick really went into the murky depths that would be his later, and much more dense, works (see Ubik). That is not to say that this book is without thought, this is the story of a man who doesn't know what being human is anymore and, for us outsiders it is a feeling that can be understood. Here Dick examines the human condition against the external forces of religion and desire, later, however, he would show us how those same forces would work within us and lead us to some sort of spiritual awakening. "Do Androids Dream" was the seed that grew into that strange plant.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Isaac Asimov: Foundation

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Isaac Asimov was a genius who thought that people who were geniuses were pretentious. He wrote pulp science fiction, invented some laws of robotics, and was a proud humanist.

In many ways Asimov is akin to Philip K. Dick. They both wrote science fiction that found itself entrenched in the pulp side of things. However, these two managed to take the science fiction genre and add some real insight and thought. They both possessed a unique vision of the future, one that could be dark and cruel, or good and kind.

However, the similarities stop there. Dick's works could be dense and surreal, filled with strange occurrences and religious epiphany. Asimov was not so surreal as that. Dick's work relied on the every man, while Asimov was a fan of the academic.

This is not to say that Asimov is not readable or that he is unperceptive to the average person. Rather, he puts it on the people who have access to knowledge to be leaders and to use their knowledge wisely so as to lead us to a better future.

This is shown best in Foundation. Here we have a sprawling space opera that shows the rise and fall, trails and tribulations, and the work required to make a civilization grow. It is deep and the action is not that of the laser blaster being fired or a space war, but more the tension of the politics, the not knowing if they new civilization will survive the failing empire that surrounds it.

To some this may seem a rather boring undertaking and, at times, it can drag. However, the thought that Asimov put into this work and the way in which he shows us how one civilization might raise. It is a story of people and republic, not of heroes and dragons. While this story may take place in outer space it is not so far removed from the world that it fails to represent what challenges we face as humans.

If I have not said it before then I will say it here and now: the most amazing thing reading can do is connect us back to the world in which we live. It is not about escaping the problems of the world, that is not what makes art powerful or moving. It is rather that, be it just something that makes us smile and laugh, or something that makes us think of what is around us, we come out of it and feel more connected to what surrounds us.

Many times it is assumed that a writer writes only to entertain or to allow escape, however, that is not the case. Entertainment is a fine thing. I won't lie to you and say that I don't find Bay's Transformers films entertaining, or find Batman & Robin to be something fun to watch. However, when I am finished with them then I have been given nothing, have taken away nothing. When I am done with Foundation or with Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey I feel as though I been given something, as though I have come away and found myself a better person, a person better connected with the world.

Asimov is a man that understands that, perhaps better than he is given credit for.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

When Death Came To Town: A Short Story

     It had all started with noise, just as most everything in the world does. This was, however, a different sort of noise. It was not the sort of noise that pulls itself together into a collage, a picture suddenly and slowly coming into focus. No, that was not the kind of noise that this had been and as Pan sat, her long auburn hair blowing around her face like wisps of flame, she felt the pang of loss.
It had been normal the day before and the whole of the town was bustling, busy as bees. The sun was not shining down upon then and no beautiful smells came gently carried into the town. It was, in fact, a gray day, one where the cloud blocked out the sun and left the air cold and the world empty. It was the sort of day where the only smells were those of burning logs and oil meant to keep the chill out of homes. It was the sort of day Pan disliked her job as town guard.
   A guard position, or so it was said, was not a profession for a young lady. It was tradition that the youngest men of the town would put their time into, come out of, start families, and be vaguely familiar with martial skills. This was ordered by the king for each town, city, and hold to uphold in case there were ever invasion from the ever present mage threat. Pan, however, had felt differently and, through a test of skill, she had rightly earned her position. Though, truth be told, the guards operated more like a police force, settling disputes and marital quarrels. On the off occasion that there was something to be killed it was most often a bandit or some sort common draccus that wondered too closely too the town. Or else it was a spitfire hawk hunting game and killing the chickens. Very rarely had there ever been any real threat.
Well, expect, Pan thought as she strolled through town, her short sword kept still so as it would not bang against her armor, for that time a stray pack of black dogs wondered near. The creeping death that they brought with them killed a few townsfolk and nearly crippled our farms.

  The armor that Pan wore was a listless silver that did not reflect the light that pressed against it but rather absorbed it, pulling it into the depths of its own oblivion. It was old armor, the sort that had been used by many before her, yet Pan felt a claim of title to it. When she donned her armor she was no longer the child of a baker, no longer the wild daughter of the town smith but the sworn sister of the town guard.
  Pan had power, a fact that she smiled at, even on the most bitter and gray days.

  “Guard! Guard!” a voice called to Pan's left and she spun toward it. It was the town crier shouting to her, waving his meaty hand in the air, beckoning her to come.
  “Yes,” Pan called back, donning her most commanding of voices, “what's the problem here?”
  “A boy I paid to pin up these posters, as sent by our King, has not returned and it has been several hours. I fear something may have happened to him.”
  The town crier was a fat man named Hendrik who had dodged service with the guard due to his poor health. It was well known that when news would come from the King and it could not be simply shouted in the streets he would pay local boys and girls to tack the fliers to the door of every resident.
  Yet in all that time he had never once come to any of the guard for help with a missing child. It was something that simply did not happen.
  “I will find the boy, Hendrik, and make sure that no harm has come of him.”
  Hendrik's huge frame shuddered as he exhaled in relief, “Thank you, Pan, thank you. The boy's name is Jeremy. I do hope you find him.”
  Pan nodded and set off. The boy, Jeremy, was one that was familiar to her. He was a kindhearted child no older than ten. Oft times he would follow Pan on her patrols, discussing with her all the gossip of the town and complaining of his older brother, Thomas.
  On one particularly memorable instance, Jeremy had complained of Thomas' constant desire to play mage and knight, a game in which one person takes up a wooden stick as a sword and whacks the other while they try and use their spells to stop the knight. In reality it was a cruel little game that older brothers everywhere invented and practiced as a way to terrorize their younger siblings. Naturally, refusal failed to stay the hand of the knight, so, feeling equal parts bold and foolish, Jeremy decided to exact revenge by coaxing the local stray cat to relive itself on Thomas' shoes.
  Pan had snorted in laughter when she heard, “you, my boy, are smart as the crack of a whip.”
  Jeremy smiled from ear to ear at that, “there's reasons not mess with a mage.”
  Remembering the event Pan quickened her step and began her search for the other small children in the town. They would be her guide to finding the poor sweet boy.

  Finding the boys was a rather difficult task. The first thing that Pan had done in search of them was to stop by the houses of several of the children that Jeremy was wont to run with. The mothers and fathers of the house were rather surprised and afraid of her presence and it only made matters worse when she informed them of her interest in their sons and daughters. One mother in particular broke down in tears at the mention that Pan was in search of her boy.
 “Oh, what has little Graham done now, oh tell me he hasn't hurt himself, please please, tell me he's okay.”
  Pan stifled a nervous laugh and comforted the woman. When she knew what it was that Pan wanted with her boy her demeanor changed drastically.
 “I couldn't tell you where that boy is. I never see hide nor hair of him except when it is time for him to eat. He's just like his father, running around all day and only coming home when he wants a hot meal.”
  The woman's ranting continued on for a few minutes more and, when at last Pan managed to disengage herself from the woman's woes she had no further questions to ask.
Barring the help of the mothers and the fathers of the town Pan was left to old fashioned footwork to locate the other children. For near a hour she walked the town, going where the children were known to frequent.
 The clear blue steam that flowed not a few yards from the town was a known sanctuary to the children. It was there they would go to play their games of knights and house, or to try and capture or antagonize all forms of wildlife. In the summer months they would jump into the cold water, washing off sweat and mud that clung like brambles too them, refreshing themselves for more mischief. This was the first place that Pan checked and, ducking under the thick brush that had grown in over the past few months of fall, she found not trace of the children.
 “Black damn,” she swore as she untangled herself from the brambles and bushes, her auburn hair tangling in every branch, as if they were trying to pull her in and keep her. The thought made her shiver and, she thought, it would be good to get a trim before the days end.
  If the children were not near the water it was known that they would be off in the fields further from the town. The fields were not a place that the children often dared to venture. It was far enough from the town that, were something to happen, there would be no chance for help. Yet, it was this very prospect of danger as well as the fields open, endless flatland that appealed so greatly to the children.
  As Pan came to the old elk tree that stood sentinel, marking the separation between the small and crowded wood and the open field, she heard the cries of children and her blood ran cold. The shrieks and cries she heard were not those of children at play, but the frightful screams of children who have come face to face with something monstrous, something dangerous.
 Pan drew her sword and ran toward the sound of shrieking children.

 The children had grouped together at the opposite end of the field and, directly in front of them was a snorting Steel Boar. The creature was digging its metallic hooves into the soft ground, rooting up the ground. It's head was tucked low, its blade like tusks were white as bone and as long as Pan's forearm. It was clear, Pan noted as she approached the boar from behind, that the children had been dodging the mechanical hybrid for some time. Each of them shone with sweat and the ground all around was torn to pieces.
 And there was, Pan noticed, the stench of fresh blood in the air. A shiver slithered down her spine at the thought.
 Pan shouted out, “Hey!” and the Steel Boar ran forward a few yards, turning just short of the children and stopping adjacent to them to see where the sudden sound had came from.
 It locked its eyes with Pan and she stared down at the beast. It dug its hooves into the dirt and Pan entered into her fighters stance, legs spread wide, body hunched low and sword angled above her head like a scythe.
 The boar took charge at her, a full on dead barrel. The world slowed as Pan focused on the beast, everything narrowing to a thin tunnel and when the boar was just a few yards away, Pan shifted her weight, turning away from the charging animal and expertly slipping her sword under the Steel boar to its soft, fleshy belly.
 Pan twisted and, bring her blade up with her, she dug deep into the flesh of the boar. The wet sound of tearing flesh and blood and intestine spilling form the body filled Pan's ears for a moment and she knew the beast was dead.

 Pan turned and looked down at the hybrid animal. It's back was all metal and wires, its tusks, though appearing natural, were made of an alchemical mixture that made them strong a steal and hard as bone. From what little Pan knew of these creatures they grew and functioned like their organic brethren, yet they were twice the threat. The only way to slay one of these beasts was the cut at its underbelly; an unenviable task.
 Pan flicked the blood off her sword and walked toward the children. Though the beast was dead they huddled and shivered in their fear and, all subtly dotting the grass around their sweaty, dirty bodies there was blood.
 With two big steps forward Pan was inside the cluster of children, pushing them apart. In the heart of their sweaty mass was Jeremy who held the head of his gored brother.
Kneeling down Pan asked, “What happened here.”
 “We were playing mages and knights when we heard the boar rustling in the grass. Thomas threw a rock at it and it charged him. We all ran from it at first but Thomas tripped and stuck him,” said Jeremy, his voice slight and quivering.
 “Fucking idiot,” Pan cursed, “how bad is he?”
 “He's still awake, but he stopped moaning just before you got here.”
 “Alright then. Jeremy, I need you to take off your shirt-yes that's right. This should be plenty.”
  Tearing the shirt and stretching it apart, Pan wrapped it around Thomas' wound, tying it off tight as she could. Then, hefting him up onto her shoulder, Pan called the other children and they began their walk to town, moving quickly as they could. The jostling and bumping of the road rekindled Thomas' moans and promoted Pan to make small cooing sounds, slowly calming him back into silence. Yet even as he was silent Pan could hear the bubbling in his breathing as the blood began to pool in his lungs.
 “Come,” she said, beckoning the children to pick up their pace, “we must hurry.”

  Returning to town Pan commanded the gaggle of dirty children to return home, excepting Jeremy.    There was, to her small surprise, no argument roused from the children and, after they had gone, Pan walked with Jeremy to the town physician, a man freshly appointed to his position after several years studying at Ase'ar, The University of The World.
  “After I hand Thomas over to the physician I will go to your parents and tell them what happened. You will stay and give your brother support, Jeremy.”
  The boy nodded and silence lulled.
  The physicians hut small and packed with a hundred different types of medical tools, potions, powders, plants, and so on. An alchemical chandelier hung about them and cast blueish light over the room that mixed with the gray light of the outdoors, lending a peaceful aura to the room. Despite how densely packed the hut was, everything was in place and perfectly ordered, though what that order was Pan could only guess at. Still, the scalpels and saws and braces that hung on the wall, as well as the rainbow arrangement of potions, eased Pan's mind.
  Standing up, the physician looked at the three who had just entered into his hut, defiling it with the blood and dirt and sweat that caked their bodies, slithering down to the floor. His coat was eggshell white and hanging around his neck was a large metal pendant, patterned with a snake sneaking up a rod, the identification of his profession as an arcane doctor.
  “What what?” he said, stepping toward the trio, “what's happened?”
  “It was a steel boar. Gored the boy when he was in the field. I did my best to tie off the wound and keep him from bleeding out,” Pan said as she passed Thomas to the physician.
  Quickly stepping away with the boy the physician set the bleeding boy down upon a table in the left most corner of the room, directly beside the majority of his medical instruments and potions. Once down he stripped him of his clothes and removed the make-shift tourniquet, pulling caked dried blood from the wound. Picking from the wall a small hooked tool and a mirrored glass the physician picked at the wound, pulling the flesh back like a marionette, moving the flesh and his mirror so as to see the lacerations that the steel boar had caused Thomas.
  Replacing the mirror the physician grabbed a bottle full of yellow-green liquid, a small pair of tweezers, and some balls of cotton. Pulling back the red-black flesh the physician fished inside of Thomas, pulling out dirt and fragments of cloth. Once sufficiently satisfied that nothing lurked within the wound the physician removed the stopper from the bottle and, turning it upside down, he soaked one of his balls of cotton. Taking up the ball in his tweezers he began to liberally wipe and dab at the lips of the wound, removing the dried blood.
  “The boys condition is not good. Are you aware of the infections that come from the tusks of a steel boar?” asked the physician without turning away from his work.
  “No,” Pan replied tightly.
  “They are siege beasts, you know. They were made with the intention of charging foes in battle, weakening the line. Their armored backs make them hard to kill, but their alchemical tusks are the real trick. They are made from the same bone that make up their organic cousins, however, the draccus was a clear inspiration for its effectiveness. Those damned tusks are made porous so that the bacteria can seep into the tusks. Fucking Black Alchemists. Toy with nature, make a war beast, and then, when the wars done, nothing left but to let it free.”
  The last part was said under his breath, yet Pan heard it.
  Kneeling before Jeremy she whispered, “I'm going now. You stay here. I will send word to your parents.”
  Jeremy nodded, his brown eyes far away. Pan hugged him before she departed and she felt his warm, brackish tears touch upon her cheek.

  Hendrick ran toward Pan, calling out to her and weaving one of his bulbous hands above his head,      “Guard! Guard!”
 Pan slowed enough to allow the crier to catch up to her and when he did he asked, “have you found Jeremy?”
 “Yes, Hendrick. I found him in the field. He was playing with some of the other children. There was some trouble with a steel boar and now he is waiting with his brother at the physicians. It does not look good.”
 Hendrick's fat head turned the color of the moon, his eyes and mouth resembled craters now more than the features of a human face. Pan did her best not to stare at the horrified man, instead allowing the silence to grow wild between them.
 “Is Jeremy okay?” The criers voice was as thin and wispy as the wind or else a single strand of hair.
 “Yes, physically. I cannot say as to how his mind handles these things.”
The crier nodded and looked glum. He knew that something must be done, he could feel it deep within him, begging him to move like living flame under his foot. Yet, as to what must be done he could only grasp.
 Finally, “I will go to the boy. Wait with him. You are going to retrieve his parents, yes?”
 “Of course.”
 “Good. Tell them that I will take care of their bills. They will have enough to worry about without the pressure of a doctors bill.”
 Pan nodded and, with only a bit of shuffling about in uncertainty, Hendrick left her to deliver her morbid message.

 Thomas and Jeremy's parents took the news of their sons possible death as well as was expected. Their mother, a thin woman with a round face stared off, glass eyes, her brown and gray hair a messy halo about her. The rag that was in her hand had found itself wrapped tightly around her fist and pulled tight, as if she were tying off the outcry of pain that bloomed within her.
 Her husband, a lean, muscled man with leather brown skin, wore a broken face. Tears fell freely from his eyes as he wrapped her arm around his wife's shoulder. The couple seemed pale and shriveled. Pan got the impression that every bone in their body had been replaced with fractured glass and, with the slightest touch or movement they would shatter into dust to be scattered in the wind.
Yet off they went, shuffling in bug-like fashion as Pan watched, her heart heavy as lead in her chest.

 Having had her share of tragedy, Pan decided to treat herself to a drink and lunch at the Lightning Tree, a small inn that had sprung up in place of the Pissing Pig, which had burned to the ground five or so years back. The Lightning Tree received its name, or so the owner, a man with sandy hair, a long pointed noise, and golden eyes, claimed, from the great beast of a tree that had been used to build it. According to him, in his home land there was a tree that had produced the most beautiful of fruit. It was a pale fruit, the color of the stars, and it was used primarily for brewing.
However, the Seven grew jealous of this tree and the worshipers that sprung up in its honor. It was planted by fae and was, therefore, an affront to them and as such they sent a bolt of lightning to burn the tree. However, the great beast that was the tree stood against this trail and, though it was blackened, it did not fall or burn, but nor did it produce fruit anymore. So it was that as time passed and the worshipers of the tree and its planters died off that the tree was forgotten by the town from whence it came, at least until Mr. Walker came to use its black wood for his inn.
 Pan loved that story and all the other stories that Mr. Walker would spin like a spiders web, entertaining her as she ate.
 Today was no exception, “Pan, have you ever heard the story of Simmon de Feor ?”
 “No, sir,” said Pan between mouthfuls of warm honey bread.
 Mr. Walker grabbed a jug of warm smelling summer cider, pulled up a chair beside Pan, and poured himself a mug, allowing the spiced cider to fill the air, making it pregnant.
 He took a long drink, “Well, Simmon de Feor is more commonly know as Faesmith. Does that ring a bell for ya?”
 “Oh! Of course. He made the same sword Oren of the Vale uses. The blood-drinking sword.”
 “Yes, that is likely his most famous creation. Or maybe it was infamous? But that doesn't matter, what matters is how he learned to craft as he did.
 See, Simmon went to The University of The World and learned everything from rune-craft to naming. He was a top student and, it's said, he was dear friends with Oren of the Vale, before he was “of the Vale.” He could craft the most intricate of runes, the kind that would make the smiths of legend weep. The sort that were dangerous and beautiful. The sort that broke the Iron Law.
 He could, or so they say, sing to his creations, caressing them gently with magical energies. Yet, even with all of this, Simmon was no better than any genius might be. 
 He merely built upon what others had done before him. He was not an innovator, just an exceedingly clever student. Until, of course, he stumbled across a book.
 See, dear Pan, all great stories and adventures start with the discovery of a book. It is with them that we can open up the doors that were once locked. They are keys and clues and the only real, true treasure in the world. And when Simmon found this book the doors were blown wide.
 He packed up his things and left only a note and he searched from land to land for whatever secret thing was in that book, of which there is no shortage of speculation.
 Those that believe in the Seven will tell you that he made a deal with a fae woman, impregnating her with his mortal seed in exchange for a secret magic. Those who worship the fae will, curiously, tell something similar. And to an extent they were right.
 Simmon did find a woman, and a beautiful one at that. He found a women in a far off land where night stretches on forever and the purple lands are populated with creatures whose names have been lost to the time, blown in the wind. And he fell in love with this woman, deep and true as any love could be and, in that land of night skies and purple lands, where the waters tasted sweet as honey, he resolved himself to stay.
 But, of course, this story would be nothing without tragedy. Of course there were those that travel the land, seeking out the fae that make their home among the humans. Those who wear the mantle of the Seven and, when they find those ungodly creatures, they destroy them.
 And so, one a day when Simmon had left his lady love to journey and discover his new land, these men came and slew the woman, mangling her body and leaving it to leak blood into those sweet waters. When Simmon came and found his lady dead, it is said, he found those men that took her life through magical means and took from them their lives. And when he was done he returned from that enchanted land, now tainted by the touch of death, and vowed never to tell the secrets of his lady love.”

 Mr. Walker was silent then and that silence radiated outward, sucking sound from the room. Pan quietly sipped the last of the spiced cider she'd ordered for herself and sat, soaking in the silence around her.

 Then the noise came, descending down upon them with indignation. It was the sound of screaming and alarm bells. It was the sound of invasion, of marching death.
Pan jumped up from where she had been sitting and, sword drawn, ran out into the chaos. The sirens wailed and screamed madly, begging and pleading for attention. People screamed and babbled, shouting questions that were promptly ignored.
 Mr. Walker came out then, “What's happening?” he shouted above the wail of the sirens.
“Invasion,” Pan replied, absently.
 Mr. Walker muttered something then, something that Pan did not understand at the time, something that would not come back to her until years down the road when she remembered this grim day and when she did finally remember what he said this day would all make sense. But now, as she was, her mind was too far gone, fear gripping it and adrenaline pumping through her veins.
 The rush of danger pushed her into action and Pan ran forward, heading toward the town gate where she was sure the guard captain would be. She swan upstream, past the growing horde of frightened town-folk, some of which carried their children to their breast or lead them by hand, pulling them should they slow. Those without children dragged their material goods or else their animals with them. At one point Pan saw the physician, a sack filled with what she was sure was medical equipment and, just a few paces behind him, was Jeremy. Where were his parents?
 Turning off from her course and dodging thee gaggle of runners Pan ran headlong into the hut that had been the physicians. Inside there was no semblance of order. The walls had been picked, their contents in the bag of the fleeing physician or else on the floor. The impression of God-like cleanliness that had pressed upon Pan when she had come earlier had been disrupted and, in its absence, a rift grew. Chaos had been here, like a wind storm or else the fury of the Seven.
 Holding the hand of their boy, huddled in the corner, were Jeremy's parents. They were stoic, statuesque, a perfect part of the scenery.
 “You must go,” Pan said, her voice louder than the sirens and the screaming, “it is not safe.”
 There was no response from either aside from a blank stare, “did you not hear me? Can you not hear the alarms? It is not safe. Something is happening and you must leave.”
 Still they stared, their eyes fathomless, abyss-like.
 Anger flurried within Pan's chest, fanned hot by the black faced statues that stood before her. She stepped to them both and, only a few inches away, pulled back and slapped the both of them hard across the face.
 “You will leave here now. You will find your boy and the physician, or else I will drag you both from here myself,” she commanded.
 “What of him? What of Thomas?” asked the mother with a croaked whisper.
 Pan looked down at the boy on the slab. His chest rose and fell with great effort and with each breath came a gurgling sound. His skin had lost its color and, to Pan, it appeared as though he were slowly decomposing into nothing.
 She knew he would die and, in those broken faces that his parents wore she could tell that they knew as well.
 Nantosila, take this one, Pan prayed, into your wormed embrace. Dear Goddess, from the sky he came and on your soil he walked, now weary he comes into the Earth so he may rest.
 “You must leave him,” Pan spat these words as if they were poison, “you know he will not recover and to take him with us would only bring him greater pan. Give him to Nantosila, or else Jeremy may grow to resent you both, or else suffer a similar fate.”
 Jeremy's parents stood there, silently, and the distance between Pan and them widened and deepened.
 “Okay,” said the mother, her voice little more than a whisper.
 However, as she shambled like a corpse for the door her husband stayed. She looked back at him, eyes dull, but said nothing. She merely left him there, towering like a lonely giant above their dying son.
 “I'll bury him,” he said, seeing that Pan's eyes were fixed on him, “I'll bury him.”
 Pan left him there, allowing him the privacy to preform his morbid task, and continued to the town gate.
 When she was only a few yards away she saw her commanding officer, standing tall and gallant as always. The sight of him in his metallic gray armor, gray hair being tossed by the wind, and sword at the ready eased her mind. Commander Bryn had fought in the King's army when he was a young man and had received the King's grace as reward. Anywhere he went he would have power and position. Bryn would never want for money nor land nor, if ever something befall his wife, women.

 Commander Bryn turned and saw Pan's approaching her. His wrinkled face looked grave as he squinted to see her in the orange light of the setting sun. Bryn raised a great, mangled paw and waved her to him.
 “Sir, what's happening?” Pan asked, standing tall and brave next to her superior.
 “Take a look,” Bryn said, passing a telescope to her.
 Peering through it Pan saw the grim death that was soon to be upon them; a siege of the Black Alchemists. Their dark robes and mutated bodies giving them away immediately. Pan felt the touch of fear and grim certainty that soon nothing would be left of her town but the ash customary whenever the King's Justice descended upon the land.
 “Sir, I don't understand. Why are they coming here?”
 “To kill every last one of us, Pan.”
 Pan looked at her commander then, looked at the man she had so long considered to be fearless. She looked at him and saw all the fear and anger and regret painted plainly on his grizzled, angular face.
 “Why the hell would they do that? We're loyal to the crown. We worship the Seven and pay our taxes in full.”
 “The Black Alchemists aren't sent out for taxes. You've heard the stories. You know why they'd be here.”
 “We aren't harboring any criminals!” Pan replied, indignant and fear-filled.
 The guard commander was silent, his eyes focused forward. He was still as water, but only deceptively so. Below the surface the waters churned and shifted with the kind of angry bitterness that sought to drown the first fool to dip their toe.
 “Round whatever of the town is left and leave. They will track you, but better a life on the run than the torture that awaits you if you are caught.”
 Pan did not pursue the guard commander beyond that and shame and fear were born in her as a result.
 Her first stop was to the Lightning Tree in search of Mr. Walker. She came rolling through the doors like lightning, loud and booming with her voice, calling out for her old friend. She called and searched frantically but found not hide nor hair of him, or much else that would indicate that he'd ever been there.
 Puzzled but frantic Pan left the Lightning Tree with reluctance and went about checking every corner and home in the town. Most people she encountered screamed and shouted, oblivious to her directions in their total fear. Many a time Pan found herself with sword in hand, shouting and spitting frantically, even threatening, so that they would compose themselves and leave.
 Children cried, snot dripping from their noses as they asked and begged their parents for explanation. People, as is their nature, gathered together what they could, trying desperately to hang onto their lives through their collected junk. Pan would force many of them to leave behind all but the essentials and when the townsfolk would fight, kick, and scream, Pan would leave them to their fear and dread, leaving them with the promise that they would not be coddled or cared for because of their stupidity.
 The gathering of the frightened took the better part of an hour and as the whole of the town ascended the hillside Pan turned to see the place she had called home. She watched as the first fires began to spread and the scent of blood began to taint the air. She watched as a convergence of mutated figures descended upon the town like flies or a black plague. She listened as they burned and killed, stabbing at the heart of her home and, years from now, when Pan was asleep in bed with her lover, well, who would blame her for awaking in a sweat, the scent of blood in her nostrils.

 All this Pan watched without shedding a single tear as a black cancer formed within her and gorged itself on regret and anger and the knowing of answers to questions unasked. Slow poison spread through her veins and, turning away, she found herself glad of Mr. Walker's, no, Simmon's, disappearance.

*Apologies for fomatting issues, one and all. Blogger is not a fan on indents. Aside from that, I hope you enjoy this peak at the collection of short stories I am working on and, if you like me then you can find me on facebook or subscribe to the blog for regular updates on said collection and regular posts. Thank you.*

Friday, April 17, 2015

Toula Mavridou-Messer: Mortal End: A Simmering Pit of Jiggery Pokery

Mortal End: A Simmering Pit of Jiggery PokeryMortal End: A Simmering Pit of Jiggery Pokery by Toula Mavridou-Messer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a really interesting blend. It had a sort of Gaiman take on Terry Pratchett humor, which I found to be very interesting. It also managed to build an interesting and grotesque world.

It isn't often when I find a book that builds up a world quiet so well as this one. It really felt like the town had history to it, demented as that history may have been. History is a funny thing. It can easily be over-looked when creating a story and a lot of times it isn't a huge deal when such things happen. Walking the line between a vivid world and a vague world is an art in and of itself.

That is not to say, of course, that creating a world is not important. Far from. Environment is key as without it there is no way to influence the characters and their actions. That being said, there have been many great novels where the setting is secondary, such as Vonnegut's "The Sirens of Titan."

This novel, however, constructs an interesting and plausible world with ease. Further, it produces a history to that world and its characters. It does this without arduous details and lists of family histories, which is far from easy, even for the most seasoned of writers.

I also enjoyed how each character had their own motivations and plans. Each character had his own personality and way of doing things, yet they were also uniquely damaged and deranged.

There were, however, times when I felt that these characters fell a little flat, yet those times were few and far between.

No, if there were any real issues I had it would be that, at times, it felt as if the multiple threads of story were a little too spread out. It did not feel as though they connected and, during those times, I felt myself removed from the setting.

Aside from that, however, this book was quick, strange, and easy to read. If you are looking for a dark fantasy mystery that you can breeze through then this is a great place to come.

View all my reviews or buy the book here Mortal End: A Simmering Pit Of Jiggery Pokery

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How does it all end? Bringing you story to a close

Starting your story can be the hardest thing in the whole process. The first step in a journey is often the hardest to take and, in terms of your story, if the beginning is not interesting then you have already lost the reader. It's a lot of pressure and everything in your story much be deliberate,, or else you will lack cohesion.

Yet, another problem that comes up is often bringing the story to a close. Once the journey has begun I have found it is much easier to keep trucking along, at least when compared to actually starting. Your characters have goals and motivations. Events have been set in place and, in many ways, the story isn't in your hands. It is as though it is being channeled in this phase.

But there comes a time when a heroes tale must end, and whether you are choosing to kill your hero or marry them off, it has to be satisfying. It has to make sense.

We have all read at least one story that we beautiful all the way up until the end. Maybe the author just didn't give us what we wanted (as is the case for Mass Effect 3) or perhaps the ending felt as though it were wish fulfillment (such as the ending to Naruto) or, hell, maybe it was just a bad ending and the whole damn thing needed fixing.

So, as story tellers, how do we avoid this?

On way to avoid an unsatisfying ending is to have a clear idea of what it is you are trying to say with your story. This may sound like the kind of advice you would get from a high school English teacher, yet it is nonetheless important advice. By knowing what the story is as we write it we are able to have better control of tone, our characters, and plotting. That is not to say that your story should not be allowed to "take you places." It is important to allow the story to come freely and naturally, as difficult as that may be at times. Deliberate does not mean predictable, it simply means that things happened for a reason. At the time of writing a certain passage you may not have thought about how important that would be later on in the story and it is then we must edit as needed.

Knowing exactly what your story is and how you want it to end will help to get away from editing or feeling as though the story started out one way and then ended in a completely different way.

Now, let's say you know what you want to do with your story. You know what you want to tackle with it and you know exactly how you want it to end. Let's say that you write your story and, hold on, there isn't enough room in this book for it to be finished without there being over a thousand pages. Okay, that's fine, oh, but what's that, you are actually going to need another fifteen books to finish one characters story? Oh boy, that may be an issue.

Now, before we get into why having a series that stretches onward into infinity is a bit of a problem, I feel I should clarify. There are exceptions to this rule. I'm a fan of Game of Thrones and Martain does a good job of having an extended series of epic fantasy without it feeling as though the story is endless; The reason for Martain's success in that regard goes back to that planning thing I mentioned about.

There are also authors that do novels set in the same world but use different characters (such as Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence). Those novels are exempt.

So, let's say you need to have your series be the length of The Wheel of Time series in order to really tie everything together. If that is the case then I suggest you re-evaluate your story. I say this because it is important that only the important events are in your story. You may think that this does not effect the ending, however, most readers look for things to be concluded in some way. If you were to write a story and leave hanging plot threads by the conclusion then, ultimately you have failed to deliver a satisfying end to you tale.

Many of us have heard that the journey is more important than the ending and, in terms of writing, that is often the case. What your characters experience and how the world around them influences them and they, in turn, influence it is often the most rewarding part of reading a story. However, once we get to the end it is important to feel as though the journey mattered. If our story is overly long then the conclusion much be all the more epic so as to satisfy the epic tale.

However, if when we come to the end of our story we feel as if the ending makes no sense, or that the author has given us, the readers, the ending we were hoping for despite evidence otherwise, then we feel as if the journey was of no importance. As I've stated many times, your story and the events that unfold within it much be deliberate. If you have no control over what is happening and let the story get too far away from you then you end up writing little more than a random list of events that have little to no impact on each other.

Even in post-modern writings the story ties itself together in a strange way. It does not matter on the path we take when we go from A to B, only that we reach our destination and all the events and plot threads are neatly tied up.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Naruto in Retrospect

Naruto, Vol. 01: The Tests of the Ninja (Naruto, #1)Naruto, Vol. 01: The Tests of the Ninja by Masashi Kishimoto
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Naruto is probably one of the most popular manga/anime that has enjoyed success, and it is very easy to see why. In the character of Naruto we have someone who refuses to give up on his dreams. Someone who is not a genius, but rather a normal person that comes to be a genius through hard work. Naruto, throughout this story, grits his teeth and never give up.

In the face of fellow Ninja, such as Sasuke or Neji, you know, actual genius's, Naruto is able to hold his own.

However, there is a fundamental issue with this little cliche. See, fantasy of any type is usually pretty cookie-cutter. Saving the world from an evil wizard with a magic sword that the farm boy inherited from his long lost relative is pretty standard stuff. Everyone knows at least one book of the sort. This alone does not mean that Naruto is bad. If you can put an interesting spin or have a unique vision then any cliche can become a classic.

The problem with Naruto is not what makes it like other things, it is what the author uses to try to set it apart.

In both Naruto and it's squeal manga we are often presented with issues of killing, or hate, of pain, and of belonging. Some of these issues are handled decently. In fact, I'd say that the parallel but separate paths that Sasuke and Naruto follow are interesting and handled very well.

However, Naruto early on declares that he will not kill. This isn't a huge issue, though it is strange as you would think that, due to the fact he lives in a society where his chosen profession dictates that killing is necessary, he would have been raised and come to understand that to kill is necessary and, perhaps, honorable. Still, if that was not the way the world was created then fine, I suppose it is vague enough to be up for speculation. The real issue, however, is that, unlike Trigun where there is a psychology and reason behind the characters inability to kill, Naruto seems to decide against such a thing simply because he his a child and does not understand.

This would be fine if they treated the decisions that Naruto and Co made as child-like. But no, they treat them as if they are law. Naruto is not progressing and maturing, but rather shaping the world to fit his philosophy. In some ways that is the point. The protagonist is supposed to try and shape the world, however, for the world to not really affect them or change them, well, that's another issue.

On top of that, Naruto's ban on killing does not seem to really ever be an issue. There are times when a hero must face things that are unpleasant and transgress what they believe is right. It is in those times the mettle of the hero is tested and they are changed and shaped. To put it simply, the journey should change the hero by the end, if it does not then you have done something wrong.

Further, Naruto lacks maturity as a manga. Characters die but it does not feel as though the death is significant. For a specific instance there is the death of Neji toward the end. When he dies it does not hold impact. This is due to an issue of character development that plagues the story. Not one character is three-dimensional throughout the entirety of the manga and that is a big problem.

Now, to put this in perspective, a manga like Dragonball Z, which I enjoy, is much better, Yes, the story is just basically people fighting and the themes are not always deep or meaningful. However, the comedy works well and it does not bother bogging itself down with pseudo-philosophy. Instead we focus on the actions of our characters.

Whereas in Dragonball Z we have the character of Vegeta, prideful, arrogant, and often times a total dick, we see that he can rise above these traits. And we do SEE them. When Trunks is nearly killed we see Vegeta react, not talk about reacting. When Vegeta realizes that he loves his wife and child and wishes to protect the earth and his home, he puts aside his pride and blows himself up in an act of redemption.

Vegeta, in the story of Dragonball Z, is a constantly changing character. One who has many sides and evolves because the events of the story shape him, not the other way around.

On the Naruto side we have Sasuke, a character that is very similar. Sasuke, however, only goes further and further into the darkness, embracing his inner emo. Sasuke is defined by his pride and hatred and little else, making him flat and tiring.

Overall, Naruto can be fun, I suppose, but as far as its popularity and the love it gets from fans, well, all I can say is that Naruto is offensive in terms of its plotting and characterization and, aside from the action, which can be fun, there is little that really makes this an enjoyable experience, but at least it's over.

View all my reviews or you can buy Naruto here: Naruto, Vol. 1: Uzumaki Naruto

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett: Good Omens

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a really popular book, and for good reason. After all, Terry Pratchett (R.I.P) and Neil Gaiman penned this novel and they are two of the biggest most recognized names in the biz. That being said, this book is also a big let down considering who it came from.

The first half of this book is really great. The interaction between the angel and the demon and the mutual understanding of the ineffable plan is both entertaining and fun. There are some interesting insights are nice little japes at religion as well as atheists.

However, it is when the book shifts focus to the children that it goes down hill. These kids are dry and boring characters. They don't do much of anything but argue over the definitions of things and how to play games.

Another issue with this book is that I found the voices of both these authors sort of buried. Pratchett's eye-rolling, groan-worthy, humanist humor feels watered down. The same can easily be said for Gaiman's trademark "weirdness." Part of this may be due to the fact that, from what I understand, this was rather early in both of their careers.

That being said, it is an fun and breezy read. It is, in effect, like popcorn. You won't pull much out of this book but, well, its delicious and sometimes that's enough.

View all my reviews or buy the book here Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

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Ty Segall: Slaughterhouse

Buy the album here  Slaughterhouse

I remember the first time I heard Fun-House by The Stooges. That album blew me away. It is chaos, pure and full. I have never heard an album just as crazy and chaotic as Fun-House, even from my favorite band of all time, Nirvana.

Then, one day, there comes along Ty Segall, a man akin to Jay Reatard in the fact that both were punk prodigies. Yet, whereas Reatard was concerned with mortality, Ty was an absurdest.

Needless to say, I loved everything Ty had released up to this point and, when the album came out I loved it too. In fact, I remember hearing that this album was sort of a spiritual successor to Fun-House.

Now, any fan of punk music will tell you that that is a big claim and, in many ways, I agree. This album contains an energy all its own. It is messy, sloppy, noisey, and angry.

When you listen to this album all you want to do is fuck on the floor and break shit.

With tracks like "Diddy Wah Diddy" coming in with a monstrous riff just to turn into a fucking pile-up, well, what else can you do. Or the short re-recording of "Oh Mary," to get you moving and jumping.

However, all that being said, there is an element lacking to Slaughterhouse. When I heard Fun-House I felt like I was stepping into a world. A crazy, colorful, disjointed world not unlike the kind I think of when I listen to Lightning Bolt.

Slaughterhouse, on the other hand, does not have that. It doesn't feel as cohesive to me. Whereas I felt that every song on Fun-House served some greater purpose, Slaughterhouse is just a collection of great rock tunes.

That is not to say that Ty does not deal with themes. In the world of Ty Segall there is a theme of displacement, of being someone else. Yet, while this may sound terrifying, here on Slaughterhouse he plays around with the surreal, wearing his John Lennon influence on his sleeve.

On "The Tongue," I get the sense of Ty saying that his words are there to be given to anyone that will listen and, when that song breaks down, it is heavy as a Sabbath tune.

Overall, Slaughterhouse feels medieval. It feels torturous and heavy, as if it is trying to equate the day to day of the modern world to some sort of laborious slavery. But regardless of themes, if you are going on a road trip or just want to rock out, this is something you need to own.

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors working. Not only does he really know how to transform setting and play with myth, but he is highly allusive and terrifying at times. Not to mention superbly beautiful. Gaiman is a master of fantasy and I haven't read a single thing of his that I did not love.

However, Neverwhere was on one of the more middle of the road efforts he has produced. This does not mean that I do not absolutely adore this novel. The way it plays with the setting of London and its strange underground is highly interesting.

In Urban Fantasy a secret underground is a popular choice to establish the magical. This makes sense. We all like to imagine there is something magical going on somewhere and that if only we could reach it our lives would be enriched.

Gaiman takes that cliche and uses it. However, the Underground in Neverwhere is more a place to be weary of than it is to strive to join. It is filled with magic and crime and its own very unique set of ritual. To intrude upon it, like some big ignorant beast, would be tantamount to singing your own death warrant.

The characters too are interesting. We have Richard Mayhew, the every man being sucked into a world beyond his imagining that must adapt or die. We have the Lady Door, who is seeking out the truth behind the tragedy that has befallen her. We have, and this is perhaps the best character, Marquis de Carabas, the stranger, the rouge, the mystery.

These characters, of course, work on cliches that Gaiman is only too willing to turn on its head.

However, it did not feel as though he succeeded here. Nor did it feel that this world was as horrifying as some of his other, or as strange. That is not to say that it doesn't feel like a Gaiman novel, simply that it is a little more polished than some of his other works.

Regardless, this is not a bad novel. In fact, it is one of the strongest Urban Fantasy novels I've had the pleasure to read. But if you want a good start with Gaiman's work, I suggest maybe start elsewhere, like the one on this list ( http://thesmokingpenandpad.blogspot.c...).

View all my reviews  or by the book here Neverwhere: A Novel

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly


Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" is a really great hip-hop record. Like, seriously, it is one of the best hip-hop records that has come to be in recent years.

There have, of course, been other rappers, to play the game Kendrick does. Saul Williams is one and, perhaps most notably, Tupac was another. However, Conscious hip-hop isn't a very popular style. 

Part of this may be due to the fact that it is rather difficult. Yet, Kendrick handles heavy topics with finesse. He managed to, on his last record "Good Kid, Mad City" turn a song about alcoholism into a great single. On "Good Kid," Kendrick was able to talk about the duality between being who you are and belonging. 

That being said, there was one issue that I and a few others had with "Good Kid," and that was, despite its finesse and Kendrick's great flow, it felt a little bit too trendy. When I first threw on "Good Kid," I couldn't help but feel that it was hip-hop for hipsters and, due to that feeling, I was not fully able to enjoy it.

Here on "To Pimp A Butterfly," however, Kendrick has managed to prove that he is doing this his way and being trendy doesn't matter in the slightest. 

This album is a progression and is in every way better than "Good Kid."

Yet, there is an issue. Good as this album is it is, perhaps, a little too talked about. Perhaps because this album is doing something that hasn't been seen in so long people are talking a little too much about it. Future listeners, I am afraid, may find this record lacking.

So I will tell you, good as this album is there are some issue. Kendrick does sometimes sound obnoxious and on a few songs it seems as though Kendrick will spit a line or two and then just back into a chorus. 

Like many Hip-Hop records this album is a big listen. It is long and, because it deals with big themes, it can feel as though you are being buried under some depression. Even at the albums "high" point I feel a little bit beaten down.

However, to those that are curious and really want to listen to this record, I urge to check it out. It is great. Perhaps it isn't the classic that everyone is saying, hardly any album is as perfect as you hear. Walk into this album knowing it is about the human experience and is, therefore, a human product, not a fashioning of some deity and you will find a harrowing experience.

How to actually Start your story

How to actually write anything at all, or at least how to take those thoughts and images that buzz in your head and put them on to paper is a problem that plagues all writers. Whether you write fantasy. horror, poetry, or lyrics to a song one is always gripped with that horrible fear that they will not be able to get down what it is in their head.

So, how  do we fix this issue? How do we overcome this problem. In part this is a problem that can not get fixed. It is a force of nature for the creator. Just as a wildfire must sweep over the land, destroying the brush and leaving the seeds and ash for new, fertile things to grow, so to must the creator feel the icy grasp of nothingness. Without this we would not have to push ourselves. We would not have to probe our minds and tease out the worm of an idea.

That being said, there is a certain bravery that comes with creating. All good or great creators have an inner critic that lives within them. This beast of a thing is like a devil, constantly whispering in your ear that nothing you write or create is worth the time you put in it. This inner critic wants you to polish something until you do not know how to fix it and, at that point, it prods more, telling you to hide what you have created for fear of judgement.

In some ways this is good. The critic is our own filter that drives us to being as great as we can. He is also a force of nature and to do without him would thereby allow us to write whatever thing passed into our minds and, as we all know, not every thought is a gem.

However, this does not mean that we should listen to this inner voice always. There must be a balance between "eh, this is okay," and "I must never allow this to see that light of day." That is perhaps the hardest part of it all. To sit and read while a part of your brain tells you that what you pour onto the page is pure shit.

This is why we have beta readers, to give us notes and opinions that are not our own.

Bukowski probably said it best in his poem "So you want to be a writer." At no point did he say it was an easy task to write and he was write. Those of us who write do not do so because it is an easy task. We write because we must.

We creep into our little rooms and write because, deep inside us, there is something akin to a demon. Writing and creating is as exorcising and, upon returning, we are exhausted, dehydrated, and in desperate need for food.

Yet we return to that world.

So, to those of you who have had writers block or have had an issue starting your own stories. In one way it is as simple as one word after another. Yet in others it is as hard as all that. Do know, however, that if you choose to write or create that you will need to be brave. At times you may have an idea that will not come and you must simply let it age, like fine wine. At other times things may pour from you freely with only a handful of them ever being any good.

Be brave and write. The only way to start that story or write that song is to do it and allow nature to work through you. Most of all, do not concern yourself with giving away this work and selling it. Writing is as much an art as anything, perhaps you wish you to treat it like a job, yet you must still pay your dues to the art side and write simply to express and create.