Author Archives: sftheory1

Cozy Reading Night

Friday, I had a cozy reading night. The idea for cozy reading nights comes from the booktube channel “Lauren and the Books.” This was my first cozy reading night. I enjoyed myself. But I also discovered a few things.

A cozy reading night needs to be an event. There need to be snacks. There need to be drinks. There could be soft music or a fire whether real or artificial. There needs to be a comforting atmosphere.

One person alone does not make a party. Okay, one person could make a party. But I think I would have had more fun if I had visitors to read with me. A reading party if you will.

I read from seven to ten. I took on two novels and a short story. The short story was David Brin’s “Temptation” (from The Space Opera Renaissance) and the two novels that I started were: Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman and Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey. I enjoyed all that I read but I did realize something.

I don’t like to switch between multiple books. Rather, I like to sit down and binge an entire book. If I don’t like it, I will put it down, dnf it, and move on to the next. So I think I will pick a selection of possible books and pick one to read for the duration of my next cozy reading night.

My first cozy reading night was fun if not as successful as I hoped. But it did reveal somethings about myself. Mainly, I need to get out more.

The Books I Read in January 2017

I’m not happy with my January reading.

I wanted to start the year reading more literary fiction. I wanted to start the year off with a Margaret Atwood binge. Nadine Gordimer got in on the binge. I wanted to try Louise Erdrich. And I decided that I finally needed to complete a T.C. Boyle novel (after failing to finish Water Music and The Road to Wellville). ( I also added a few other books here and there. Too many honestly).

I started off with LaRose by Louise Erdrich. I read fifty pages. The novel started strong. I liked what I read. But gradually, an emotional dissonance in the narrative and a sojourn in 1839 (compared to the 1990s setting) threw me out of the novel.

From that defeat, I moved on to Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This is a difficult novel about a young woman who has devoted herself to her parents’ political struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. I really should try this novel again when I am in a mood for difficult and great literary fiction.

As far as Margaret Atwood is concerned, I tried to read Cat’s Eye for the second time (and was not into it) and The Handmaid’s Tale (which I will not get into- not a fan of dystopia).

I also tried Peter Ho Davies’s The Fortunes and really did not like it. Which is a shame.

As far as literary fiction is concerned, I really enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come. It is a powerful story about violence and what drives people to violence. I would give it a solid four stars. But the novel is not without flaws. I feel that Sarah, whose story starts out strong, falters as the narrative progresses, becoming little more than an appendage to Adam/ Colter’s story.

I also reread Wislawa Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand. I first read this selected collection over ten years ago and loved it. But this past reread has cooled my passion for this collection of poems. To say I am frustrated should be obvious.

The problem, I am sure, is that I allowed a form of unintentional peer pressure to create a desire to binge read too much literary fiction. Which ultimately put me off of the whole thing.

In addition to the above books, I also read three comic book volumes. I first read Midnighter volume 1 (“Out”) by Steve Orlando. The book was okay. I enjoyed it. But the art is disappointing, the narrative is disjointed (and not in a good way), and the final confrontation with the villain is beyond disappointing (I expected so much more from Prometheus). I later read Thor volume 1 (“Goddess of Thunder”) by Jason Aaron. I  really liked this volume. I am sold on Jane Foster as Thor. I want to see what happens to her. But, I feel Thor is too good too fast. She can do things her predecessor never did without any training. And every damn villain is a straw man misogynist. I also read Doctor Strange volume 1 again by Jason Aaron. I hated this comic book. Aaron not only rips himself off (the plot is basically Doctor Strange’s “God Butcher” arc) but also attempts and fails to capture Loki magic by imitating Gillen and Ewing. And the art is terrible.

Finally, as I wandered around my favorite library, I checked out Nick Harkaway’s  Angelmaker  and James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. I hated Angelmaker. And fell in love with Leviathan’s Wake on my second attempt.

I love this book now. Leviathan’s Wake is wonderfully written and exciting and enjoyable. I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to see them succeed. I yearned to see the mystery of Julie Mao solved. A solid four and a half stars.

There are some flaws. Miller is, perhaps, too much of a hard boiled dick stereotype (down to falling in love with the subject of his investigation). Julie Mao is a woman in a refrigerator who I feel could probably have taken over Miller’s role. But on the whole, I really like the novel.

So that is what I read last month. Again, I’m not happy with it. I want to read more. And finish more books. And like more books for that matter.

Hopefully February will be a better month.

 

Where Have I Been?

January has been a very busy and stressful month. So, I haven’t been able to blog as frequently as I wanted to. I’ll try to post when I can. But I don’t think I’ll be able to post anything with regularity until the end of February.

Art and Books on Youtube

Over the past year, I have discovered the joys of art and books on Youtube. Honestly, where have these channels been all my life? (Okay, Youtube is only like ten years old and many of these channels are less five years old, so please excuse my exuberance for these channels). So, this post is about my favorite art and book channels on Youtube.

Art on Youtube

The first art channel I subscribed to on Youtube was the Artist Network channel, which is the Youtube presence of the Artist Network website. I have enjoyed this channel for years. It is generally amazing, excepting for the fact that most of the videos are appetizers for full length videos on the Artist Network website. Still, an amazing introduction to many kinds of art.

The second art channel I subscribed to on Youtube is Graeme Stevenson’s Put Some Color in Your Life. This channel runs full length episodes of, you guessed it, the Australian television series Put Some Color in Your Life. This series is freaking amazing! I love it! So many wonderful and talented artists have been featured on the show. Do check it out.

Over the past year or so, I have subscribed to many other art channels on Youtube.

If you are interested in watercolor and many other arts and crafts, check out The Frugal Crafter. Lindsay is amazing. Especially when it comes to watercolor. Another good watercolor channel is Tim Wilmot, who creates amazing urban and landscape watercolors.

For acrylics, none can beat the Art Sherpa and her mother Ginger Cook. The Art Sherpa is a wonderful trip to watch live. And Ginger Cook is a delight to watch.

There is also Lachri Fine Arts with her numerous media.

What about pastel?

I have subscribed to several very good pastel oriented channels.

The first of these is Karen Margoulis. The others are Lindy Witton Studio, Gail Sibley, Marla Baggetta, and Bethany Field. They are all really amazing.

Booktube

I first discovered Booktube through a post on Tor.com listing various book oriented channels on Youtube, including some who focus on science fiction and fantasy.

I don’t remember who the first booktuber I subscribed to was, but special mention must be made to Mercy’s Bookish Musings. She is amazing and introduced me to many other amazing booktubers. Including: Savidge Reads, Lauren and the Books, Jen’s Bookish Thoughts, Erika’s Epilogues, Britta Bohler, Helen Jeppesen, and many others. Check them all out.

To be clear, many of these booktubers focus mainly on literary fiction with Harry Potter being the sole excursion into science fiction and fantasy (though Mercedes (Mercy’s Bookish Musings) and Simon (of Savidge Reads) do engage in genre fiction of some form at times).

For booktubers exclusively devoted to science fiction and fantasy, my favorite is SFF 180. Thomas Wagner is amazing. I look forward to his weekly mailbag and his reviews with great anticipation. I do not understand why he does not have tens of thousands of subscribers.

For the young adult oriented science fiction and fantasy fiction, Peruse Project and Benjamin of Tomes are very good. I love their videos. Their passion is infectious. Even if the books featured are far from your cup of tea. (I really need to write a post on my feelings towards SFF YA).

Anyway, these are the art on Youtube and booktube channels I adore. If you are ever interested in expanding your Youtube subscription, do check all of these channels out. You won’t be sorry.

Looking Forward To 2017

2016 is near its end. It has been, personally, a rather miserable and unproductive year on a number of fronts. It has been terrible in terms of reading. I procrastinated creatively. I post once in a blue moon it seems. And don’t get me started on all the celebrity deaths we’ve had. And the election. The only bright spot is- I have a new nephew. So, with any luck and a whole lot of effort, let 2017 be a much better year.

In the new year, I want to post more. I am not going to be foolish and attempt to post every day, but I do want to get back on a regular schedule with multiple posts a week. I want to focus more on books (in terms of my reading, library, and reviews), science fiction and fantasy, my writing, topical issues, and any other subject that strikes my fancy.

I want to be more engaged with what I read. And I want to be more analytical. Which means lists and writing down my reactions to what I read.

I want to be more active in the science fiction and fantasy community. I’ve been a lurker for far too long. It is time to get out there and engage.

I need to finally settle down and pick a damn project to write and finish. I must not allow myself to be distracted by nagging worries and, at the moment, more attractive projects that need more work.

Will I manage to achieve my goals and resolutions? I don’t know. But I am determined to try. If nothing else, I want to try and make 2017 a good year.

Is Earth Big Enough for Two Epic Fantasies?

Is Earth big enough for two epic fantasies? Right now, I am asking myself this question because I am sorely tempted to set both the super hero project and the magic project in same fantastical version of Earth. Given precedents in both novels and comics, I think it is possible to have multiple epic narratives running at the same time (or nearly at the same time). But, perhaps most importantly, do I want fantastic Earth to be a core setting in my work?

I want to write an epic fantasy dealing with super heroes. If one reads super hero comics from Marvel or DC, one will quickly realize that there are numerous epic stories running nearly concurrently. So, my own super hero project will best be served by keeping in mind that a super hero’s story is lurching from one epic crises to the next with a brief respite in between (if he or she or they are so lucky). And yes, I do want to put my creations through that wringer.

Rick Riordan’s mythology inspired works are all set on the same fantastic version of Earth. Each series has its own developing epic story that succeeds one another, though not always interacting. I am not familiar with Riordan’s work, but I do think this is the general gist of it.

So, it is possible to have multiple epic stories in the same setting. But is that really what I want?

That is the kicker, isn’t it?

Part of me is super excited to use a fantastic Earth for the bulk of my creative endeavors. It cuts a huge amount of time out of world building. I can focus on the fantastic stuff without having to invent everything whole cloth.

But, as readers of this blog will note, I do have serious reservations about using Earth, no matter how fantastic I remake it, as a core setting.

I am, perhaps overly, concerned with getting things right. If I have a hero who is a scientist, I, therefore, should know a bit about his area of expertise (and not fall into the trap of having a hero scientist prattle on in areas that aren’t his field). If I have stories dealing with realistic crime, I want to do the proper research. Wanting to get subjects right is a good thing. But it can also cripple an author who gets bogged down in the minutae of research.

Another concern, which I haven’t written about, is the contemporary temptation to be overly referential to earlier works. Referring to earlier works is okay. But I am not interested in turning my work into a metafictional commentary on fandom or transforming my characters into annoying fanboys and fangirls. I want to approach the story more seriously than that.

(This is my problem with the Young Avengers and one of my problems with The Magicians).

So, is fantastic Earth going to be a core setting? I am going to try it and see where it leads me. And if it doesn’t work? Back to the drawing board. Or writing journal/ keyboard and computer screen.

(By the way, how does fantastic Earth sound as a reference for Earth as a setting for fantastic stories?)

And Then It Hits Me. . .

I have wanted to write an epic science fantasy story for quite some time. On Wednesday, I got a significant amount of work done on a character sheet. I wrote away happily listening to public policy videos from my Youtube watch later list. I felt a euphoric sense of accomplishment. And then, the next day, it hits me. . . the story developing from the character sheet doesn’t work. Damn it all to hell. But all is not lost. Most of the plot elements work better in other places.

I have waffled between a real world or a secondary world setting for the magic project. This specific epic science fantasy had, as its protagonist, a sorcerer. But as I worked on the characters, I realized that this is not what I mean by magic project. A magic using protagonist, and antagonist, isn’t enough. A magic project implies (and freaking calls for) the work to focus on magic as its main subject.No matter how much magic I throw into this setting, the story isn’t going to be about magic. And that is not what I want.

(I’ve obviously changed my mind as to the setting of the magic project. I’ll write about that in my next post.)

The plot developing from the character sheet works, annoyingly enough, far more satisfactorily in my portal fantasy project. So, it won’t be so difficult rolling these characters somewhere into the portal fantasy. Or should I call that epic portal fantasy project?

I opened this post stating I have wanted to write a science fantasy project for some time. I wanted this project to be separate from the portal fantasy project. But the more I think about it, the harder it is to ignore the fact that the portal fantasy presents a greater opportunity to have a world that mixes science fiction and fantasy. So, there is a good chance this world gets merged with the portal fantasy universe (or I break it up and add bits of the world to other, newer worlds).

Finally, even the historical inspiration fits better being the basis of a different project. As I read on this period, the early Macedonian Empire and the Wars of the Successors, the more I want to tackle the subject head on, rather than obscuring it through the filter of a secondary world narrative. How I’m going to do that I don’t know. I’ve got so many other projects I want to work on.

As I write, I discover that the creative process doesn’t always proceed in ways that I expect. Sometimes work on one project works far better on another. Sometimes a project does not work well on its own. Sometimes I discover that I am wholly uninterested in a project and must, despite my reluctance to do so, abandon a project to the depths of my writing journals. No matter where my writing takes me, no matter how the final story reads, the process is always fun.

 

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!