Whines and other whelpish excuses

February 2, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sorry I have been way too busy to blog lately. After almost being outsourced at work, I decided it would behoove me to add value to my person by pursuing an MBA.

I am still writing, but not fiction. Mostly case studies. I am still reading, but SF is taking a backseat to Accounting, Statistics, Law, Finance, Economics etc.

So in the meantime I urge you to check out Dave Farland’s website and sign up for his daily emails. The guy really knows his stuff.

A quick review of Bones of the Dragon

February 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Quick Review | Leave a comment
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Bones of the Dragon (audiobook)Bones Of The Dragon
I’ve not read Weis and Hickman before, but my brother-in-law has thoroughly enjoyed some of their previous series. With that in mind I looked forward to Bones of the Dragon, the first in the Dragonships series following the fates of Skylan Ivorson and his clans of Vindrasi. Their lifestyle has been imperiled with bad crops, rough seas and their fighting dragons will not be summoned. A hated enemy attacks with the news that their gods have been killed and they must bow to new gods. Skylan rises as the Chief of Chiefs to fight back and win the 5 scattered relics that will allow his gods to reclaim the planet.

High points:
Good worldbuilding: competing gods, fully realized religion and societies. The actions of the gods effect the success of the tribes. Culture clearly borrowed from seafaring norsemen with real dragons! Somehow they only ever eat stew, though.

Narrator: They were going to have an actual dragon read the book but they couldn’t find one with a low enough voice, so they hired Stefan Rudnicki to do it.

Genre: gods, ogres, dragons, giants, ghosts, fairies, Druids, feral children, this book has many of the unusual races and characters we’ve come to expect in a ripping fantasy yarn. The bits about the dragons animating the ships and manifesting to fight are great ideas. When speaking of the origins of the fae and the gods that came to this planet, it takes on a science fictional feel. The giants are flesh spinners capable of planetary creation. The dragons and gods are super powered planetary defenders or attackers. This book is not a romance. There is not one healthy romantic relationship in the whole story.

Low Points:
Characters: Flat. Once introduced, buttonhole them and they won’t surprise. Skylan brash youth. Garn, gutless kid wise beyond years. Aylaen, tomboy who’d rather fight than curtsey. And on and on. Skylan begins the story very pious toward Torval, but easily falls to lying, though Torval hates deceit. The women are more believably portrayed than in most stories of this type. Worse than lack of depth, though is lack of likability. I feel bad for Skylan’s wife, and Garn seems like he might do something cool (spoiler: he won’t) but with Skylan I hovered between annoyance and aggravation the whole time. People plot against him and I can’t help but agree a little

Plot: Frustrating. Fools make unwise decisions and reap punishments over and over. I think the story goes for pulling me in with sympathetically fallible heroes in trouble who need to atone to save their way of life. For me their fallibility was so overdone that I thought it might not be bad for their lifestyle to be destroyed.

The main quest of the series entails recovering five powerful scattered relics. The bones of the Vektia Dragons. Once introduced the idea is quickly abandoned by the characters in favor of making poor choices to further their political ambitions and trying to cover them. That’s fine if it’s not supposed to be a plot-coupon book or series, but by introducing it the story creates an expectation in the reader that is put off, then delayed, then thwarted. It’s an unusual tactic, but not a rewarding one.

The gods also are less concerned with recovering the bones to save themselves than with alternately ignoring the humans, or catching them up in their lies to prove points. They ask the humans to save them and then hinder their every effort. The sea goddess’s tantrums sink Vindrasi boats in storms. Attacked by foreign gods, Torval himself squanders his giants fighting the Vindrasi and their dragon rather than use them in his own fight. Beset from without by their gods, attacked by enemies, and turning on each other, these Vikings are doomed and it wasn’t much fun to watch them fail again and again.

Skylan loses every fight in the book except for the one that’s rigged. The dedicated high priestess violates her appointed duties. Characters you are supposed to respect and pull for even fall off a gangplank to wallow in the water in front of all their enemies…TWICE!

The plot does have a few surprising twists that catch you off guard. Sadly both of them just made me smile, shake my head and say, “Wow. You fool. Now watch what you get.”
And get it they do. The story ends on a devastating note that I am sure is meant to propel me into the rest of the series wondering how the characters will overcome it. Instead of a cliffhanger, it struck me as a fitting end to the series.

If the series is about the Vindrasi rising up to reclaim the five scattered bones it might be best enjoyed skipping this first book altogether.

Palimpsest

January 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Life’s too short for bad books. You read so many and then you’re done whether it is debilitation or death. And the internets are rife with people throwing books at the wall.

But if the writing is beautiful…if the ideas are mind-blowing….
Palimpsest Cover

It’s easy to dismiss substandard fare, but this book defeated me. I brought it back to the library unfinished. It’s prose is almost heart-achingly beautiful (or heart-enjealousing to a writer) and it holds an embarrassment of rich ideas.

The problem was the structure. It was repetitive and that is tough enough, but it was also sinful.

If a book tries to appeal to me as a voyeur, I am the opposite of enticed. I take it as a diss. As a married man, father and disciple there is no benefit to me in imagining strangers rutting ad nauseum. This book did not insult my intelligence but my morality.

I tried to gut past it, but each of the iterations included strangers having meaningless, adulterous sex. After six such chapters back-to-back I became convinced that the narrator was going to drag me through countless empty couplings assuming I enjoyed it. My wife was going to roll over and ask, what I was reading. My God was going to say, “Be holy because I am holy.”

So it’s done. Finis. I have nothing but praise for the writer’s skill, and ear, and had I stuck with it I am sure I would have learned a lot about the craft, but this book did not use the considerable talent spent on it for good.

Have you ever had to stop reading a well-written book?

The Callback Technique

January 7, 2010 at 10:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized, Writing | Leave a comment
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Ah the mighty callback technique. Comedians use it to wrap up their shtick (some nights I think Letterman uses it exclusively). But it is powerful in other types of writing as well. For example a second viewing of M Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense shows numerous hints and details which point to the surprise ending. For me the details weren’t vivid enough that I immediately recalled them upon seeing the reveal and it was only through the magic of montage that they were brought back to me. And in one case I misremembered a scene completely, the one where he sits with the boy’s mother, for those who’ve seen it. I am trying not to be spoilerific in this post.

The second example is also the second most powerful for me. They occur in the writings of Gene Wolfe, my favorite Speculative Fiction writer of the past three years. Now, mind you, these are my interpretation of the stories, and so others may read the same and come to different conclusions. Also, a warning, I won’t be able to do these justice without some spoilage, so if you have yet to read The Knight or The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe skip to the section of asterisks ******

Is it just us left? Good. So you’ve good taste and you’ve already read those or you don’t think it’ll ruin your enjoyment and you’ve decided to risk it. Or you’re just a curious one. Okay last chance.

Alright you’re committed. Here’s the goods. In The Knight, Wolfe’s main character Sir Able of the High Heart is a boy in a man’s body. He starts working at a farm with a guy who thinks Able’s his brother. He tells Able about the Bodachan, brown elves who will work a whole day plowing his fields for a drop of human blood. Later, wandering the woods alone save for an infant that he is not sure how to care for Able comes across some Bodachan. They tell Able that they will trade him a dog for his baby. They will raise the baby in their realm, training him and strengthening him to come back and avenge his mother’s death upon his murderous father. Able hands over the kid and goes on quite contented (this reminds me of an immature limerick I will share later). At first I was just as glad that it worked out. Then it hit me. The only other thing I knew about the Bodachan was that they would work all day in the field for just one drop of human blood. Able had made a horrible mistake and I was the only one who knew about it! Well, me and the Bodachan. That impact displayed the power of the callback. One vivid detail, early on that seems like innocuous world-building, and yet because it was memorable (unlike Shyamalan’s red doorknob for me anyway) it immediately came to mind in a way that recontextualized the entire encounter. It didn’t support the reveal, it wasthe reveal.

Likewise in The Fifth Head of Cerberus there is a character who is searching for the Abo’s, the aliens that used to live on the planet before we got there. In collecting information he hears that the Abo’s were shapeshifters capable of looking like haystacks or rocks to avoid detection. Later as the man is climbing across the cliff face he is seen to clutch a rock, scream and then fall to his death. And that’s all we get. He had a climbing mishap. But the detail of the Abo’s looking like a rock rang in my mind and even though it wasn’t written on the page, I am convinced that what happened is he grabbed a rock which opened it’s eyes. He was startled and fell and ironically died just as he found what he was looking for. Again, vivid detail dismissed early comes to mind to change the meaning of the part of the story you are in with full emotional freight. Boom! Callback!

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End of Spoilers

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The third is for me the most powerful. To atheists or agnostics this one will probably not be as powerful as the Gene Wolfe stuff, but I guarantee he would agree this one is better. Full disclosure, I am a Christian and I believe the Bible is God-breathed using the different human writers over the centuries, cultures and continents to tell one story. One of the reasons I am convinced of this is the mighty callback. I was looking into some of the predictions and prophecies that Jesus fulfilled during his lifetime. There are some general predictions, like in Isaiah 53, written 700 years before he showed up talking about how the Messiah would be crushed for our sins, bruised for our iniquities, as well as some specific ones, like “by his stripes we are healed” referencing his scourging and the fact that he would be assigned a pauper’s grave but be buried in a rich man’s tomb. Those are powerful arguments as to the validity of Christ’s claims in my book, but that’s not what I want to reference here. Other prophecies were not specific or general predictions, but things that didn’t make sense until Jesus came. There were prophecies that he would come from Nazareth, Egypt and Bethlehem. How could this be true of one person? Then when Jesus came we see him born in Bethlehem, to Nazarite parents who have to flee and raise him in Egypt. Even more callbacky are the lines of poetry that David wrote, that seemed like just that for 1000 years until Jesus came. Take this one from Psalms:
Psalm 22:16 (New International Version)

16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

This was almost a millennia before the Romans even invented crucifixion as a means of capital punishment.

David was writing his lines of poetry. It wasn’t until Christ’s death that we could look back and this detail comes to mind, adding context and a hint to the plans of the Author behind the writer. Boom callback. And this example isn’t singular by any means. There are over 300 prophecies and predictions that the historical Jesus met in his lifetime. Little detaily stuff like that he would be served vinegar for his thirst and the like.

So whether the religious stuff is inspiring to you, or it sets your heathen teeth on edge, what we can all agree on as writers is that this callback technique is a powerful and ancient one, adding depth and resonance to the works that contain it.

My silence and hypocrisy

November 30, 2009 at 6:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Okay so my previous post is a curt, unfair review of Halo 3 ODST based on the nausea that playing Mombasa Streets gives me. Reading that one would think I beat the game and moved on. Not so. The reason I haven’t updated this blog in a very long time is that I have been engrossed with ODST. At first it was just trying to get all the achievements, but that was before I read a little article called, “Chasing Ghosts” that I stumbled across while looking for a map of the Audio logs. With another article here.
Well suffice it to say I love that kind of stuff. I have enjoyed playing an ARG and love reading Gene Wolfe novels. So after panning Mombasa Streets, I have been spending my free time there looking for Glyphs and J Banners and anything else hinting at a coded meaning. The other time I have been logging at the Secret Glyph Project comparing notes and focusing brainpower on the remaining mysteries. And the nausea is getting better too. :)I know, you all think I’m a huge nerd. I’m having fun though.

If any of you have Halo 3 ODST and want to help solve some mysteries head on over to the SGP!

Quick Review: Halo 3 ODST

September 30, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Quick Review | 2 Comments
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Ever wanted an all-day deep sea charter fishing trip, but lacked the money and time to commit to it? Never fear. Play the campaign for Halo 3 ODST for thirty minutes as the Rookie in night-time New Mombasa and you will have the lingering green-in-the-gills, lie on your bed with the pillow over your face wanting to die nausea usually reserved for small boats at high seas with inexpert captains taking waves broadsides. How do they achieve this? Make it dark, give your helmet a low light mode that doesn’t illuminate anything, but draws yellow borders around it and brightens the neon red lights of the city. Now give the camera a high turning speed and blur the brightened lights into a neon bleary smear. Now force the player to enter buildings and search dark halways with most walls right in front of their face. Now force the player to search for slightly more garishly yellow borders to download audio of an 800-pound man eating kebabs and burping. Play for fifteen to thirty minutes and you’ll be making deals with God to stave off hollering your lunch into the toilet.

But it’s kewl they have Mal and Jayne from Firefly!

Negative Onlies

September 25, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Posted in Writing | 5 Comments
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There are certain words and phrases that have accumulated in cultural parlance for which the positive use is vestigial, but the negatory enjoys widespread use.

For example, whenever somebody retains their faculties through a surprising, or violent occurrence they are referred to as “unfazed.” But rarely do you hear somebody relate: “I was completely fazed!” Faced maybe, depending on their vices, but never fazed.

When was the last time you heard someone telling you how great requited love feels? Or described their composite mixture as adulterated? If irregardless is an incorrect version of regardless, what is the form one should use when they want to admit that someone’s point is valid, regardful?

Also there are words referencing a thing’s opposite that are never really applied to that opposite. People refer to old people as “Spry” to indicate that they aren’t bunched up or gnarled or stiff, but you never hear young people, commonly thought of as vigorous/flexible/gymnastic, referred to as spry.

What other ‘Uns’ or negative onlies can you think of?

Sweet update

September 19, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I was gonna write a sweet update today, but my wife just got back from Meijer with some awesome biscuits and my daughter is screaming No for the sheer joy of it, so I’ll give you a writing prompt:

Write a story in which a character realizes that he can’t write right now because some biscuits would go really awesome with some sausage or honey.

Twitter Story Published @Outshine

September 7, 2009 at 9:31 am | Posted in Writing | Leave a comment
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I have a humorous, near future, optimistic story up at the twitter magazine @Outshine. For those of you linking to this blog from there, welcome! Take a look around, you can find some posts about writing, science fiction, and some advice from the pros on worldbuilding for the short story length.

For those of you unfamiliar with @Outshine or twitter fiction in general, basically they publish stories that are 140 characters or less. There are a few of them out there, paying and for the love markets.
@Outshine
@Thaumatrope
@TweettheMeat
@Nanoism
@7×20
@seedpodpub

If you would like to follow me on twitter I am @jonrock.

Jon Rock’s Heroic Shades

September 7, 2009 at 7:14 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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I am a leader for my church’s high school youth group. For weeks I have heard about how feminine my shades are. Frequent comments include: “Dude, why are you wearing girl shades?” and “Those look ridiculous on you.”

I even put my shades on the line in an Xbox showdown with a student that has yet to happen.

Halo 3 for girl glasses

Well all the controversy can peter out. While playing with my 2 yr old daughter (who by the way frequently referred to those glasses as, “Mommy’s”) the frame around the right lens snapped, liberating it from any further proximity to my face.

I have been told that they were leopard print, when they are plainly tortoise shell, that the lenses were too big and the ears too thin, but I still maintain, that although a wee bit fabulous those were in fact acceptably masculine glasses. Disagree? Well you are not just crossing me, you are crossing Will Smith. The tape on mine may make them look less heroic, but you can’t smack missiles around without some damage to your specs, right?

So if you still want to dis my shades you’ll have HancocK and JonrocK to answer to.

Blaow!

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