December TBR List

Since my last post, November has sucked. (Okay, November has sucked since my trip to the Waco Friends of the Library Book Sale). I’ve moved. My brother is in the process of moving (which is a production of some considerable frustration that I’m not going to go into).

The only bright spot has been my completion of three Agatha Christie novels: Death on the NileThe Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, and Evil Under the Sun. Those three novels have reinvigorated my reading after some disappointing reads. I’m hoping my December to be read list will be as productive.

So, what is my December TBR?

First, I want to try and reread The Magicians by Les Grossman. I know I should binge the entire trilogy, but I honestly have a love hate relationship with the first book. I like the magical world Grossman creates. I like the Ellis/ Tartt inspired style. I can’t stand Quentin Coldwater. I really can’t stand Quentin.

Following The Magicians, I want to tackle, again, The Grace of Kings before reading The Wall of Storms (both by Ken Liu). I was planning on tackling the two after I bought The Wall of Storms, but circumstances force me to check it out of the library.

After the current installments of The Dandelion Dynasty series, I intend to tackle Otherland by Tad Williams (again). Hopefully, I’ll have better success this time.

I also have a history of the Medici, The Space Opera Renaissance, and a book on oil pastel to read.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a sizable dent before January. I have an Atwood/ Gordimer binge planned.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek: Beyond the Force Awakens (A Double Review)

When it comes to dramatic science fiction, no two names evoke as much passion as Star Wars and Star Trek. These two storied franchises have been pitted against each other for decades now. (Even if the two properties are apples and oranges). Conveniently, the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens was released only a few months before the latest Star Trek film, Beyond. That means I can do a double review and pit these two films against each other. Which one is the better film?

First, a disclaimer. I am a bigger fan of Star Trek than I am Star Wars. I have seen pretty much every episode of Star Trek (though I have only completed Deep Space Nine). I have also seen every film. My familiarity with Star Wars rests solely with the seven films. I have zero interest in the Expanded Universe or whatever the new version of it is.

All of that said, I am not going to tear either movie down for the benefit of the other. I enjoyed both The Force Awakens and Beyond immensely. I do give the edge to Beyond because there are elements in The Force Awakens which annoys me to no end.

The Force Awakens

On the whole The Force Awakens is a return to excellence for a franchise that suffered through a not well received prequel trilogy. The film is beautiful and finely acted. The narrative is pretty good save when nostalgia trumps originality.

The film looks amazing. From Jakku to the Starkiller Base everything is gorgeous. Even when the set is meant to look menacing. The CGI is excellent and seamlessly merges with the real sets.

The acting is very well done. The principal leads (Isaac, Ridley, and Boyega) are amazing. Fisher and Ford are great in the brief time they are on screen. Carrie Fisher is especially compelling as General Organa (pity she isn’t more prominent in the film). Gleeson and Driver a pretty good as the villains Hux and Ren. I am not fond of Kylo Ren. I think he is the new Jar Jar. But Adam Driver wonderfully captures that manchild.

I love the main narrative of the film: the search for Luke Skywalker. It allows the new characters a chance to develop outside of the parameters set by Luke, Leia, and Han.

I am annoyed, at best, by everything related to Starkiller Base. Narrative sacrificed to nostalgia of the original trilogy does not make for a good secondary arc. I would not be so annoyed if plot beats did not repeat from the first films. Is there not a ring system or asteroid field around the Resistance Base? Why not use some of them in mass drivers to assault Starkiller once the shield is down? Or come up with some original battle plan?

Overall, though, I did really like The Force Awakens. I especially like the new trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe.

Beyond

I cannot say that I have liked the Kelvin/ reboot Star Trek films. While successful, I do not believe that Abrams’s vision of Star Trek is anything other than turning a great science fiction franchise (flaws and all) into nothing more than a blockbuster without much soul. Of the three films, Beyond is the best. While not what I want in my Star TrekStar Trek Beyond is an enjoyable and fun film.

The film is beautiful. I especially love the Yorktown. That is an amazing scene. And the battles are awesome.

The acting is good. I especially like Sofia Boutella as Jaylah and Zoe Saldana as Uhura. I do think that Idris Elba and Shohreh Aghdashloo are underutilized in the film, though.

The story is good and fun if a little repetitive (the plots of all three Star Trek reboot films are very similar). I like the fact that the crew is split up and engaging in their own character arcs that further develop them all (rather than just Kirk, McCoy, and Spock).

My lone problem with the film, besides the lack of material for Elba and Aghdashloo, is the final battle. In a battle to save thousands if not millions of lives, is it not corny to rock out?

Despite that one grievance, I really like this film.

So, which film is better? Again,I give a slight edge to Star Trek Beyond. I cannot get over my annoyance with Starkiller Base. Or my hate for Kylo Ren.

The futures of Star Wars and Star Trek are bright. If you haven’t seen both these films, what are you waiting for? Go watch it now!

Friends of the Library Book Sale Haul

During the first weekend of November, the Friends of the Waco- McLennan County Library holds an annual book sale. The sale is massive. Usually, over a hundred thousand books are on sale. I always go crazy, buying far more books than I should. This is no exception.

Here is my haul.

For my step niece and my nephew’s Christmas presents, I bought:

The Doll’s House by Lothar Meggendorfer (a pop up book that my nephew will love and tear up).

Senor Cat’s Romance by Lucia M. Gonzalez illustrated by Lulu Delacre

Squids will be Squids by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Non fiction I picked up:

A Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis Totora and Keith Eubank

Wind in the Tower by Han Suyn

Feudal Society vol 1 by Marc Bloch

The Medieval Foundations of England by G.O. Sayles

The Celts by Jean Markale

Science Fiction and Fantasy I bought:

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

Conan the Valiant by Roland Green

Conan the Savage by Leonard Carpenter

Vellum by Hal Duncan

The Standing Dead by Ricardo Pinto

and by David B. Coe:

Seeds of Betrayal

Weavers of War

The Sorcerer’s Plague

An impressive haul, I think. And it only cost me $17.50!

 

Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice, and Terror A Review for the Fantasy Writer

I first heard mention of Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice, and Terror by Waller R. Newell in a post on Black Gate. I was intrigued and sought it out. But, as Tyrants is a new book, I had to wait quite some time to request it through interlibrary loan. Recently, I received a copy and have since read it. The book is a thought provoking read. I found my assumptions challenged quite persuasively in some passages. But I cannot help but feel the book does not adequately cover its subject. While I might not recommend Tyrants to a scholarly audience, I do think, with caveats, this book is useful for fantasy writers.

Tyrants is divided into three parts. While the introduction presents three types of tyranny, the book itself takes the chronological approach of ancient, early modern, and modern. The result is that garden variety tyrants are an afterthought(or addendum) to reform and millenarian tyrants.

Part One is, perhaps, the weakest part of the text. Newell focus on Classical writers interpreting, engaging, and condemning tyrants of garden variety, reform variety, and mixed variety hues. The problem, however, is that he does not engage with the origin of tyranny. For that, one must delve deep into the great Bronze Age world monarchies/ great states (Egypt, Hittite, Assyria, Babylon, and Mittanni) as well as the Persian Empire.

It must also be noted that I caught a number of factual errors in Part One. The war between the Olympians and the Titans is called the Titanomachia not the Gigantomachia (which deals with the Olympians fighting the Giants, not Titans). Athens is located on the Attic Peninsula not the nearby Peloponnesian Peninsula. Harmodius and Aristogeiton change places within a few paragraphs. And Cleopatra did not order the death of Pompey, her brother did (otherwise I doubt Caesar would have supported her let alone begun an affair with her).

Part Two explores tyranny in relation to state formation in late medieval and early modern Europe. There is a heavy component of period political theory by which the various monarchs are judged. This is, honestly, a very interesting part of the book.

Part Three is where Newell shines and is at his most persuasive. His examinations of the millenarian tyrannies of the Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and Nazis are very good and very terrifying. His tying of the the extreme Left with the extreme Right is convincing. His exploration of the rejection of the Enlightenment and the creeping radicalization of intellectual circles is thought provoking.

Newell does, however, lose some of his persuasiveness as he delves into Third World Socialism because, in part, he does not engage with useful concrete examples. The discussion is mostly relegated to the theoretical with a few practical examples.

After Third World Socialism, Newell turns to the merging of Third World Socialism and Nazism: Jihadism. Newell’s analysis is good, but I wish he had delved deeper. These final explorations seems rushed.

Despite my problems with Tyrants, I do think that the book is very useful for fantasy writers. It will provide, I believe, a firmer grounding and foundation in political and literary theory when it comes to world building. It must also be said that a writer does not have to agree with his sources or inspirations. I have (obviously) numerous arguments with this book. But that does not stop me from having being inspired or using what I learned to better help me with my writing.

Bond Films, Ranked

I’m a huge fan of the James Bond films. I think I’ve ranked the films before the release of Spectre. So, I think it is time to write a new list.

Before I begin, however, I think I should explain my preferences when it comes to Bond films. My favorite Bond films tend to hew closer to Fleming. I like Bond a little darker and “realistic.” I am not as fond of the Bond films that approach science fiction levels of gadgets and plots. So, it should not come as a surprise  what two films come in at the bottom of my list.

Without further ado, from worse to best,  here are the films.

24. Moonraker, This is my least favorite Bond film. It takes the science fiction elements to the extreme. Add to that it has Jaws, who I have no interest in. Just a really bad film.

23. Die Another Day, This movie is bad. The villain is ridiculous. Just bad.

22. The Spy Who Loved Me, Stromberg is a non entity as a villain. The plot is dull.

21. The Living Daylights, Yes, this film is one of the darker Dalton films. But the only good part about this film is Nekros in a speedo.

20.The Man with the Golden Gun, Easily the worst Bond Girl to date. Why is J.W. Pepper in this movie? And the final confrontation of Bond and Scaramanga should have been so much more tense and dramatic.

19.Live and Let Die, I like this movie. But I think it is too silly in parts. And, again, J.W. Pepper is in this movie, too.

18. The World is Not Enough, Second worse Bond Girl, who should not have existed. I feel that Elektra King should have been more menacing. I really want a strong woman Bond villain.

17. Quantum of Solace, The worst of the Craig films. I like Quantum. I like Greene’s plan. But there is something off about this film.

16. From a View to a Kill, Third worst Bond Girl which is mitigated by Grace Jones’s May Day and Christopher Walken’s fun turn as Max Zorin.

15. Tomorrow Never Dies, I like this film. Wai Lin is one of my favorite Bond Girls. But I would have liked her not to be captured so often in the final act.

14. Goldeneye, The best of the Brosnan films. I really like this film.

13. Diamonds are Forever, The worst Connery film. I am torn about this. I do like the campiness of this film, especially Charles Gray’s performance as Blofeld. But Diamonds are Forever is one of my favorite Bond novels and I do want a proper adaptation of the novel like Casino Royale.

12. For Your Eyes Only, Probably the best Moore film, though not my favorite Moore Bond film. I adore Carole Bouquet’s performance as Melina Havelock, Topol is a trip as Columbo, and Julian Glover is charismatic as the villainous Kristatos.

11.You Only Live Twice, I like this film despite the heavy science fictional elements. I like this film largely because Bond doesn’t save the day himself. He works with a team.

10. Octopussy, I love this movie. Objectively, it is a middle ranked Bond. But it has always resonated with me. I think it has a lot to do with the glamour of the film. Octopussy is my favorite Bond Girl, and Kamal Khan is a great villain. Plus Mishka and Grishka.

9. Dr. No, I really like the first Bond film. I enjoy the back and forth between Bond and Dr. No.

8. Casino Royale, I really like this movie. I like how the film updates Fleming’s novel for modern viewers. However, I’m not fond of the extended poker game sequence.

7. License to Kill, I like this movie. It is dark and menacing.

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, This is a gorgeous movie. And tragic. But I wish Blofeld was played by someone other than Telly Savalas.

5. Thunderball, I love this movie. Largo is amazing. Fiona Volpe is awesome. That is all.

4. Skyfall, I love this movie. It is so freaking well shot. And tragic. And it gives the supporting cast so much more to do than the average Bond film.

3. Spectre, I love this movie. It takes Skyfall and builds on it. The supporting characters are as important to foiling Blofeld as Bond is. What holds it back from being higher on the list is that I am not fond of Blofeld’s relationship with Bond. Nor am I happy with every other Craig era villain being connected to Blofeld and Spectre.

2. Goldfinger, This is a great movie. I can watch it and rewatch every day. Goldfinger is an amazing villain.Honor Blackman is great as Ms. Galore. Connery is mesmerizing as Bond.

1. From Russia, with Love, The best Bond movie, bar none. A great plot. A great set of villains. Bond is amazing. It has Lotte Lenya.

I’m going to end this post now. What are your thoughts on Bond films? How would you rank them?

 

Try A Short Story

I recently started watching booktube on Youtube. One of my favorite booktubers, Savidge Reads, posted a video a few weeks ago in which he gathered several short story collections and read the first story in each book. I enjoyed the video and decided I wanted to try it.

I don’t have that many short story collections in my personal library. Fortunately, I also want to read more books housed by the branch of the Waco McLennan County Library I patronize. I visited the website, typed in short stories, got a paper and pencil, and started writing down titles and authors. On my next trip to the library, I hunted down those books. The first five I found joined The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu as the books I would read. The following week, I added four more books. I really wanted to read two of those four (they were checked out during the hunt), I wanted to add another dedicated science fiction and fantasy collection, and I never read Alice Munro.

I have read the first story in each collection. I have ranked them. And the top ranking books get read to completion. The others get returned to the library on my next trip.

Here are the books with my thoughts on the stories (in the order I read them).

“A Burglar’s-Eye View of Greed” from Catch and Release by Lawrence Block. A very short story in which a burglar bemoans the state of the world from the used bookstore he purchased with his ill gotten gains. It is a good story. But it is dull and a bit flat.

“William Wei” from You Are Having a Good Time by Amie Barrodale. A very compelling character study of a man’s relationship with a woman he met on the phone. Enjoyable. But the style is a bit weird. In a good way.

“The Book Making Habits of Select Species” from The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. A bunch of alien species make books in some very weird and compelling ways that reveal interesting truths about how we communicate. This story is amazing. Just amazing.

“Nemecia” from Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade. A little girl grows to resent the beautiful, but abusive, cousin who has lived with her family before she was born. I love this story. It is really good.

“Paradise” from Problems with People by David Guterson. A widower and divorcee begin a tentative new relationship while dealing with memories of the past. It is a well written story. But not terribly interesting.

“Weird” from Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip. A couple enjoying a picnic in a bathroom tell stories of the weird. Not very good. Bland writing.

“Brace for Impact” from Are You Here For What I’m Here For? by Brian Booker. A high school senior recovering from an illness is taken to a house in which he meets a disabled survivor of a plane crash. I love the first part of this story. I love the narrator. I love his voice. But the story falls apart towards the end. And ends on a rather confusing note.

“Home” from Heartbreaker by Maryse Meijer. A woman and an older man interact. I really did not like this story.

“The Pier Falls” from The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon. You guessed it, a pier falls. Well written description of a tragedy. But what is the point?

“Dimensions” from Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. A woman enters into and is rescued from an abusive relationship. A very good story. But it does lag, though the time shifts keep the lagging down to a minimum. Doree is an amazing character.

Those are the stories. How do I rank them?

One: “Nemecia”

Two: “The Book Making Habits of Select Species”

Three: “William Wei”

Four:” Brace for Impact”

Five: “Dimensions”

Six: “The Pier Falls”

Seven: “A Burglar’s- Eye View of Greed”

Eight: “Home”

Nine: “Paradise”

Ten: “Weird”

So, there is the rankings. I must say I enjoyed this. I will definitely keep an eye out on several of these writers.

 

 

 

Golden’s Book Exchange Haul

Golden’s Book Exchange is my favorite used bookstore in Waco, Texas. Every even numbered month, Golden’s has a half off sale for the first Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of the month.

Here is my haul.

The Grey Mane of Morning by Joy Chant. I really need to break down and read her work

The Iron King by Maurice Druon. I’ve heard great things about Druon. Time to check it out.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre. I’ve wanted this book for years. Finally!

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie. I really need to give him a new look.

Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook. The first three Black Company books in omnibus form. I freaking love omnibuses.

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. I need to try some YA.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I’ve forgotten how much I love the Queen of Crime. I was hopping for some Poirot or Miss Marple omnibuses, but And Then There Were None is a good second choice. (I’m still kicking myself in the ass for getting rid of my Christie books years ago.

The Aeneid by Virgil. I got rid of this book years ago and have scolded myself for it ever since.

Finally, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I love this book. But it is not for me. It is for my niece.

A pretty good haul for a great price. Now I’ve got ten short story collections from the library I need to read for Try a Short Story. Expect a post on that soon.And expect another book haul November 5. The Friends of the Library Book Sale approaches. So exciting.

Stormdancer: Review

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff starts with the hunt for an arashitora and ends with an assassination. The novel is a mashup of Japanese myth, steampunk, and Dune. The originality of Stormdancer is marred by a well trod plot. I cannot say I liked this book.

I like the world building. Shima is a well realized world that incorporates its influences very well.

My problem, though, is that it is so obviously a Japan with the name filed off.

The characters are okay if a little typical. Yukiko is a well realized character, but her story arc is one told so many times in the genre that she becomes one of the crowd of similar protagonists.

The plot is well trod. I feel like  I have read this story several times already.

I really wanted to like Stormdancer. I really did. But I cannot deny that the book failed to resonate with me. Or even entertain me. Which is frustrating. I hate not liking a book.

The Superhero Blues (Reprise)

Carrying on from yesterday’s post, one option for all of the characters for Earth set fantasies is to move them all to my Superhero Project. It has been almost two years since I last wrote about “The Superhero Blues,” but my problems remain. As much as I want to write superheroes (especially superhero inspired epic fantasy), I still have several hangups that prevent me from moving forward. No matter how much I wish it weren’t so. Maybe I can work through these roadblocks.

The first issue I have is the plethora of superhero stories in publication or circulation. Superheroes are everywhere. Even in novels (which was not quite the case when I wrote “The Superhero Blues”). If I had written earlier, maybe I would have a leg up.

The second issue I have is one of originality. I want to write a superhero epic fantasy, not a metafictional comedy or a literary slumming trip. The problem lies in that every possible superhero story has been told. At least ten times over.

The third issue lies in how I want to tell the story. I want to mimic in novel form the breadth of comic book story telling. Yes, the easy approach involves a novel equating to a story arc. But that is not what I want. I want a set number of chapters spread over four or five books that tell a continuing story. That means that numerous story arcs exist in each novel and carry over between novels. I am not sure publishers would really go for such a mosaic novel.

But, should I really let my hangups prevent me from writing the story I want to tell? Shouldn’t I write what makes me happy? Is there, actually, an audience for this? Allow me to try and refute my previous three arguments against writing the Superhero Project.

Is there really a plethora of superhero stories in circulation? Yes to comics. Yes to film. Yes to television (the CW might as well be called the DC Network). But not so much when it comes to novels. There is currently, to my reckoning, no more than ten books (not counting Wildcards) dealing with superheroes. And certainly none that approach superheroes in the way that I want to.

Finding (or creating) a new take on a seemingly exhausted subject is an interesting challenge. (And, to be honest, it is highly tempting to push the envelope further than most comics seem interested in going). It is a challenge and temptation I am happy to tackle.

Am I selling publishers short? Yes, the mosaic novel (or multi arc novel) is out of fashion. But maybe it just needs the right push to get back in the game.

I should not let my fears hamper my creative impulse. I will write my Superhero Project. Will I be successful? I don’t know. But I won’t know if I don’t do it.

Style vs. Freedom: Earth and Secondary Worlds

I have a conundrum. I have a project. The specifics are immaterial to this post. The prospective setting, however, is. I am undecided between setting the project on present day Earth or a secondary world. The issue is one of style versus freedom.

The biggest selling point for setting my project on Earth is the style of major cities. I love the diversity of architectures. The dynamism of modern city life has always called to me. Even contemporary fashion has its appeal.

And let me not forget the pull of the small town. I may loath having grown up in a small town, but I cannot deny the appeal it has.

As much as the style of Earth attracts my desire to use it as a narrative canvas, I must admit that I am interested in occultism and the unexplained. For those who remember the Magic Project, my fascination with the occult and unexplained does cultivate an inclination to use real occultism and the unexplained as inspiration for my writing.

But my fascination with the occult and unexplained also weakens my freedom of imagination. I am, perhaps, too entwined with the fascination to be able to do anything but write a fantastic realist novel. And that is not what the project under discussion is (though the term does define the Magic Project very well).

Two other issues also impact my freedom of imagination: the required hidden nature of the occult and the presence of too much science and technology. A demimonde or occluded fantastic world existing alongside our experienced world isn’t what I want. I want something more known. I also really don’t want to have to explain away why modern technology doesn’t break the illusion.

Making up a world allows me to do what I want. I can have the level of technology I want without having to deal with the bits of technology I don’t want to deal with (yes, I recognize figuring out ways to magically beat modern technology may be fun). I also provide myself with a freedom to go as crazy as I want to.

The style issue remains. But I can make up my own style and draw inspiration wherever the hell I want.

So, I’ve convinced myself that a secondary world is the best option. Now I just need to figure out what to do with the characters I’ve already created.