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? 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?)
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.
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 Nile, The 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.
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.
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 Trek, Star 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!
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!
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.
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?
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?
Two: “The Book Making Habits of Select Species”
Three: “William Wei”
Four:” Brace for Impact”
Six: “The Pier Falls”
Seven: “A Burglar’s- Eye View of Greed”
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 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.