Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday .. and stuff.

I love Black Friday. I do, it's a guilty pleasure for me. Only since moving up to North Carolina have I actively gone out and waited in lines to buy trinkety-doodads at midnight and all that stuff. And then, the next day, I always lament that I spent too much money and what was I thinking and oh noes.

Like, for instance, I bought LOTR on blu-ray for $4 each. Such a good deal! But I already have them on DVD. Oh. And, really, if I were going out to buy LOTR - I'd buy the extended versions. Heh. This is essentially what I do on Black Friday. Buy stuff I really don't need (and buy stuff for other people that they may or may not want) and lament being broke afterwards.

That, and not shaving from now until the end of the year. These are my traditions. I am a simple man.

I believe in Black Friday, in that little boost to the economy that we desperately need and whosoever is in office will take credit for it. Speaking of politics, I did vote this year, but I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it. I'm tired of all the negativity and doomsaying in politics. Still, if you don't vote, you can't complain, right? Right.

Anyway, just checking in. While on my path to being a world famous published author, I have to get my house in order, and 2012 has kicked my ass with Chaos, which I can appreciate.

I'm working 6 days a week now, a far cry from a couple months ago, when I was lucky to work at all. I have a lot of goals to accomplish, to get things settled, so that my creative mind is unstressed and relaxed to where I can go back to Zherlios and continue telling the tale of Angtamin, Dubane, Kortirion and Nithacar the Battlerager.

But in the meantime, there's Fantasy Football and collecting MTG and Football cards. Working now enables those habits. Working also takes up all of my time.

Speaking of habits, I am slowly but surely converting my nicotine habit to electronic cigarettes. I've gone from a pack a day to a cigarette a day on average, and I feel that I'll be able to give up the solo cigarette here within the next week.

I love my job. That's a post for another time, but I'm very thankful to have found employment where I'm challenged and engaged and in a friendly, appreciative environment. It's a step in the right direction, and the frustration I've faced these last few years has finally got me going in the right direction.

Wherein the blog is a vehicle for catharsis, examination and eventual retrospect, I would like to thank the Universe for my good fortune, for the money that's coming in, for the love and companionship of my friends and family, for my much improved health, and for the little things too numerous to mention. I'm happier, on many levels, than I've been in a long time. Things will only get better from here. The novel's not going anywhere, it's still there in my head, and I will finish it and it will get published, one way or the other.

I do sometimes miss the camaraderie in engaging the sf/f community on the internet, the hot topics and drama and new titles and author news and such. But, for now, I'm okay with being excited about The Hobbit coming out next month and 4 months until Game of Thrones kicks off Season 3. Season 3 is going to floor people. Storm of Swords is the best book in the ASOIAF series (so far).

That's enough babbling for now. I hope you and yours have a great holiday weekend and have plenty to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fantasy Football - Weeks 10 & 11

I've picked up some hours at my day job, which is good news for my life and bad news for blogging. Week 10 was a bit of a joke. I went 2-0 - by virtue of my opponents not really competing.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge
The worst part is how narrowly I won.

I made the mistake of maintaining my faith in Reggie Bush. I'm a big Dolphins fan, and I really thought Bush was coming into his own after hurting his ankle earlier in the season. Not one, but TWO bad games in a row.

Week 11, notwithstanding major score adjustments this week, I went 1-1. Again, my victory was handed to me by my opponent, rather than me actually winning through clever decision making skills.

Click to Embiggen.
Click to Enlarge - Here, my roommate trashed me. 
All season, whenever I needed BJGE to perform, he hasn't. Then this week, I didn't really need him in the NFL league, and bam, he gets points. I had a bad feeling about the Monday night game, but the Bears did decently against the Texans, and I felt that the 49'ers weren't as good.

I'd say that I was wrong.

The upshot is that I am likely to make the playoffs in both leagues. I'm pretty sure that's by virtue of my receivers.

I have no plans to trade or hunt the waiver wire this week; I was going to pick up the MIA defense, but now I'm not so sure - I'm going to see what the analysts say and how the schedules look this week.

Unless any of you have some good ideas?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fantasy Football - Week 9

The good news is that my sinus infection seems to be going away (a little). The better news is that I'm down to less than 2 cigarettes a day. The bad news is that I'm cranky and want to go on a murdering spree.

Also, I'm now working 6 days a week.

And the poor, innocent blog suffers.

But not my fantasy football teams. Hell no, Angry Bill went 2-0!!

NFL League.

Click to Enlarge - Oh, there's a reason I won.
I suppose it wasn't much of a victory. Poor guy probably lives in the northeast and had no power or something, so he forgot to move his players around. But, let's face it, I had a good week - and even with his bench points, he wouldn't have beat me. There is now a 4-way tie for 2nd place in this league.

I found that I didn't need any depth in my RB position, so I traded Daryl Richardson for Jermaine Gresham this week. The biggest trouble I had in this league was the tight end position, DEF, and the Flex spot. The flex spot was just a matter of who to put there - between Law Firm, R Wayne and Mike Williams, I'm solid. Just a matter of making the right choices. Miami softened up in the TE spot, by giving Clay the TE TD for the week. And their DEF did pretty badly - first week without any interceptions, fumble recoveries and only 1 sack. But, I see that as a hiccup and I'm going to keep them.

ESPN League.

Click to Enlarge and see my triumph!
This week, I took down the #1 seed! Primarily because NE was on bye and he made some bad decisions for who to play - and also, when my guys do well, I'm pretty hard to beat.

I traded Shayne Graham for another kicker and I dropped Cecil Shorts - I don't need any depth at WR position at this point. Brandon Marshall and AJ Green are within the top 5. I'm going to hold onto both DST at this point, the Giants have a bye in Week 11. I'm hoping Amendola comes back and plays for my starting Flex spot. That will allow me to read the matchups and shift RB, TE positions around.

There's been a lot of trade activity, but no one's made me any offers, in this league. With playoffs coming up, I'm middle of the pack in the standings - I pretty much have to win from here on out.

*

I'm glad the elections are over - I am so weary of hearing the negative ads. It's going to be what it's going to be with our government - we still live in a country where people have the most freedom to make the most impact upon their own lives. For that I'm thankful, because - whether this blog reflects it or not - I have a bunch of things I want to do, and those things will get done no matter who the President is.

Also, after a string of bad purchases and refunds on Ebay, I believe I finally have a package coming this week - it's seriously been like 3 or 4 months, between waiting for a package, getting a refund, buying something else, waiting, getting a refund, etc. etc. Which could mean another post.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fantasy Football - Week 8

I apologize for the lack of content. I'm still fighting a head cold, and some other distracting issues, which make it hard to be creative. But at least we have this. Went 1-1 this weekend.

I'll add some commentary later.

NFL League.

Click to Enlarge - and cringe.


Waiver claims: Anthony Fasano for Kyle Rudolph. Miami Dolphins D/ST for Vikings D/ST.

ESPN League.

Click to Enlarge and breathe a sigh of relief on my behalf.
Waiver claims: Dropped Brandon Gibson, Andy Dalton, and Blair Walsh. Picked up Shayne Graham and Dolphins D/ST. Moved Danny Amendola from IR to bench.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fantasy Football - Week 7

One of the downsides of taking Cimzia is that it weakens the immune system. I've been a bit congested lately and I thought it was probably allergies, so I opted to take this month's dosage. This morning, woke up with a scratchy throat and now I've got the sniffles - guess I was fighting off a cold after all. I feel as if an elephant is sitting on my head.

In my continuing efforts to be consistent, let's talk about fantasy football instead of snot.

NFL League. I won, so that puts me at 4 - 3. But it wasn't pretty.

Click to see full size. 
Well, if the Bengals had a bad game, at least the Bears did better. Truly, Drew Brees (and the Viking defense) pulled me out of this one - and I feel comfortable starting him for the rest of the season. I thought to hold onto Christian Ponder to prevent someone else from picking him up - but he did so miserably that I dropped him in order to put in a waiver request for LaRod Stephens-Howling, who had a great game. The Cardinals have a decent defense, but their QB and offensive line are just falling apart this season. The way it seems to work is that the less talent you have at QB, the more you rely on the running game. Howling is as good a guess as any at this point, and BJGE has not scored a TD in 3 or 4 games now.

Also, my kicker is going on a bye week, so I put in a waiver request to pick up Robbie Gould.

All in all, going into the final stretch, I'm feeling confident. Once AJ Green comes back from the bye (this week), I should be in great shape. I'm in 3rd place in this league, behind two teams that are 5-2, so I'm only one game out.

Meanwhile, in the ESPN League, I took a thrashing.

Click to Enlarge and thus be able to mock me.
The biggest problem with this week was that the bye weeks forced me to rely too much upon the Bengals and that just went poorly. All my Bengals had their worst (fantasy) game of the year, more or less. Also, my bench did way better than I would have guessed - not enough to have won, unfortunately. Analysts were saying that the Panther defense was a sleeper and that the Giants defense would be in trouble against RG3. Boy were they wrong. I think I was right to be nervous about LaFell, Santana Moss was a lucky pickup, and I didn't expect Andre Roberts to do so well against the Vikings. But I'm rather pleased with my bench and it gives me some trading power (at the time of this writing, I've dropped the Panthers defense and picked up Pierre Thomas at RB).

Now my top receiver goes on bye this week. However, there's active trading in this game, so I'm going to try and fill my deficit at the RB position by trading away a little of my strength at WR. Because, as of right now, I have the #1 and the #6 WR's and after this week, they won't have any byes. My QB has already had his - I'm sitting pretty for the rest of the season after this week. I'm weak on the TE position and I've got no depth at RB, so I can't play the matchups.

This league will be much harder to make the playoffs. I'm 3-4 now and the top two opponents are 6-1. Based on Peyton Manning's return from a bye week this week and AJ Green coming back next week, I should be able to win from here on out, with decent play at the flex position. It'd be nice if Danny Amendola makes a return before then. But if those top guys don't get some losses, I'd say I'm out of contention.

We'll see what happens. Off to down some Vitamin C.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Collection Reflection - wk of October 20 2012

A few months ago, after my near-death experience, I decided that I needed a solid alternative/retirement plan. It's not that I don't have great faith in my writing - it's that publishing is a hard business to break into, and I wanted an alternative 'win strategy', as it's called in Magic: The Gathering.

Essentially, I wanted a hobby that would pay off in 20 years or so. I'm confident that my health will hold up until then, but I'm also realistic about what my limitations will be after a colon resection, when I start to get near to 60.

Initially, I began with Magic: The Gathering. I have accumulated a healthy bit of cards in 2 years, but I don't play much - so, as noted in my update post, I'm just striving to complete the sets, 4 of each ideally, with more than that in cards that have value beyond bulk pricing (as per starcitygames.com).

For my birthday, I got an amazon gift certificate, so I used that to get the new Duel Deck (Izzet vs Golgari) and then a 1000 card deal. Unfortunately, the 1000 card bulk deal wasn't all that impressive, and I forgot to set aside the rares / higher value cards.

Izzet vs Golgari - Because you can never really go wrong with a Foil legendary creature.

Although, I will admit, the 1000 card deal had a bunch of 3rd/Revised cards with it. I may have to save up and get some more 9 pocket pages, and add Revised to my inventory. As of right now, Revised are the oldest cards I have in my collection. 

Also for my birthday, I got a money card from Mom (my Mom rules), so I did indulge in a Return to Ravnica Fat Pack. (Normally, I pick up a booster box for each release, but times are tough, so that's gotta wait.) 

I haven't valued / inventoried Return to Ravnica yet, so here's a few that caught my eye. 

Ironic, since I already have one of these from the Duel Deck.
I do like Green. Not White so much. I wonder sometimes if the cards I find are trying to tell me something.

I don't think this card's going anywhere anytime soon. Plus, I got one in Foil. 

My collection plan has a 3 prong attack. The third prong is signed photographs. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten any, yet. But I am following a bunch of playboy models on twitter. LOL. This is one of those things I'm keeping in the back of my mind; investing in social icons is slightly more speculative. Still, if I accumulate 1000 signed photos in the next 20 years, that's going to be worth something. (But getting 50 a year would be awfully expensive, that's one a week, and they average about $50 each). I'm still in the planning stages, let's say. 

Which brings us to Tier 2, football cards. This has basically boiled down to picking up cards on a whim and sticking them in penny sleeves and putting them in a box. My roommate has hundreds (thousands?) of cards, and most of them are either autograph and/or jersey (memorabilia) cards. I'm following three teams this year: Miami, Tampa and Carolina. 

When I started off, I focused on finding Cam Newton rookie cards, but as the year went on, the good cards were already out of my price range. But, as I pointed out recently, I paid attention to the draft and the analysts this year. Truly, while there are some veterans that are great - the last two draft classes, particularly in QB's, has been pretty awesome. It's still possible to go out and pick up a 2011 pack and get lucky. Which  I do on occasion. 

But, for the most part, when so inclined, I scour EBay for good 'lot' deals and take my chances. I recently sold a bulk pack of Magic cards, so I had a few bucks to spend. I grabbed these: 

Ryan Tannehill rookie numbered Jersey cards. 
He's getting better with each game, plain and simple. The last rookie QB that the Dolphins drafted in the first round? Dan Marino. I know there's not a lot of Dolphins fans out there in the universe, but Tannehill is smart, stays poised under pressure and can take a hit. He doesn't repeat mistakes. Yes, he's still learning, but his passer rating is high and consistent. You really can't want more out of a rookie quarterback. Those cards might be the best $14 I ever spent. 

I spent the rest of my Ebay sales on another bulk pack, so we'll see if it shows up next week and if there aren't some good cards in there. Until the next, have a great weekend! 



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fantasy Football - Week 6

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I have a couple of Fantasy Football leagues. I suspect that serializing these posts would make more sense and be more interesting (from a historical and progression perspective), but that's not going to happen.

Let's dive right in.

NFL League. This league is completely random. I don't know any of my opponents. I just got tired of seeing the ads to join their FFL so I joined.
Carolina Coyotes (3-3). Here's how this weekend went.

Click to enlarge

I got lucky, because my high scoring guys did poorly. But my opponent did worse, by leaving 50 points on the bench. I watch NFL Fantasy Live daily, and they were pretty enthusiastic about Christian Ponder, so I went with him while Drew Brees was on a bye week.

Since my defense goes on a bye, I'm going for the Cleveland Defense on waiver wire pickup. Joe Haden's return changes their usefulness. Along those lines, with my receiver core doing so poorly, I'm dropping Davone Bess and Martellus Bennett and going to try and pick up Mike Williams. I'll stick with Drew Brees for the rest of the season - but I'm going to hold onto Ponder so that no one else can pick him up.

ESPN League - Gridiron Battlegrounds. Carolina (Kickin YoAss) Coyotes. This one is more meaningful to me - there's some good friends involved in this league. They are also die-hard, experienced fantasy players who know way more than I do about players and stats. I'm 3-3 in this league as well.

Here was my last game. You're going to see some of the same players; I've traded and picked up and waived players somewhat sporadically, in both leagues, up to this point.

Click to enlarge

I'm a big Miami fan, in case you couldn't tell. I thought that with Daniel Thomas out (concussion) that Lamar Miller would provide relief for Reggie Bush. I expected the Rams to be strong against the pass - I didn't expect them to stop the run and for Miami to get run over by Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson. 

Fortunately, I caught a break with AJ Green having an amazing night against the Browns (which was somewhat predictable - it was shocking that the Browns won), and then I clinched it with Peyton Manning's Monday night performance. Also noteworthy, if my opponent had played Greene (Jets) and Hakeem Nicks instead of Michael Crabtree, he would have won. 

This league doesn't have waiver wire priority (like NFL does), so earlier today, I made the following trades. I dropped Lamar Miller, picked up Brandon Gibson (someone has to replace Amendola). Dropped Dennis Pitta and picked up Anthony Fasano (with Miami going on a bye week, this may have been a mistake. It just seemed to me that Tannehill finally found some chemistry with Fasano, and Fasano was reliable clinch scoring last year). Lastly, I dropped Davone Bess and picked up Santana Moss. 

This league is much more active and competitive, and the waiver wire is seriously slim pickings. With Miami going on bye, and Chicago coming off their bye week, I'm feeling pretty good about my matchup this week. I've got Andy Dalton starting, and when you consider he's got the #1 receiver in the league in Green, it's not a terrible choice, despite the Steelers being a decent team. Coming off that loss to the Browns should hopefully be inspiring. I'm wavering a bit on Brandon LaFell - I gained him in a trade (for Eric Decker - I'm so kicking myself now), unless someone catches my eye, I'm going to see how he does as #2 receiver in Carolina this week. At some point, the Panthers will get it together, but sooner would be better than later. 

I'm increasingly anxious at the TE position, in both leagues, and I just dropped Antonio Gates this past in one of the leagues (and Jermichael Finley in the other). The RB position is pretty much blind faith at this point. 

First post on this topic - not sure what to elaborate on or what to omit, so I'll leave it there.  


Monday, October 15, 2012

Update October 2012

A few days ago, I glanced over here and realized it's been over 3 months since I've posted. Tsk. Things evolve, circumstances happen, and to be completely honest, I'm not sure what I want to do with this writing space. In the meantime, a brief summary that I can use to springboard into other posts.

Catalyst: I got my first rejection for Catalyst. It's psychologically useful to point out that all authors get rejected. You may recall that earlier in the year I was trying to streamline and edit and chop up the manuscript, to make it more submission-friendly. Tempo. However, if I'm going to be honest with myself, the truth is that I write pastoral fantasy. There's really no reason to believe that readers of the fantasy genre are not going to be able to handle additional complexity and details, so long as they add to the richness of the story. I feel that I scrubbed away too much, and in so doing, couldn't compete with either the meandering epics or the fast-paced page turners.

Ironically, it was suggested to me before, through Beta readers, when I complained about word count. Why not turn it into two books? "No, no, all the agents and publishers want fast and furious pacing." Says the man who read Rothfuss this year, who has seen A Song of Ice and Fire spend the year on the NY Times best seller list. To be revisited... there's a lot more story to tell. I think I'm going to have to embrace it, not run from it.

Health: I've been taking Cimzia for my Crohn's Disease for a few months now. It appears to be working, although I have struggled with weight loss, appetite loss and food sensitivity on and off for the past month or so. The stress of some things in my personal life has been unfriendly towards my recovery. However, on the upside - I was facing a 90% chance of intestinal surgery in May, and I am confident I have managed to escape the possibility for the near foreseeable future.

Personal: Circumstances, expectations and health issues have rippled outwards to make things pretty uncomfortable and stressful this year. I started a new job a couple weeks ago, which will alleviate some of the concerns. I reached out to family, in my efforts to be a better person and not a hermit on a hill. Not everything has turned out the way that I thought I wanted, but in the process I have learned more about myself and the areas in which I need to improve as a human being.

Magic the Gathering: My MTG post is my most-viewed post on this blog. And I haven't written about it since. Thing is, the only time I play is on my PS3. The friend who got me into MTG - ended up selling me his collection. So, moving forward, for the time being, I'm approaching MTG as a Vorthos and a collector. I've made it my goal to acquire at least one of every card printed - and then in 10 or 20 years, I'm going to sell my collection and retire.

Later today, you'll find a new page where I'm going to track my progress. As it stands now, I have cards from nearly every set (except Alpha and Beta). However, I only inventory and track what I have when the quantity of individual cards reaches a decent amount. So, for instance, I may have 50 cards of a 350 card set in a box on the shelf - but that wouldn't be worth the time and effort to put them into protector sheets while accounting for unacquired cards. I do a full inventory (of what I have and don't have), when the cards in the box reach a certain quantity threshold beyond a handful of commons.

Fantasy Football: This is the first year I've played fantasy football. Man, am I hooked. When I was in the hospital, I was bedridden and pretty much watched all 60 hours of the draft. Ha! I only work part time, so all summer I've been glued to the NFL network, their website, absorbing data. My friends? They still know more than me - I simply haven't paid attention to football in such a long time, that it's quite an effort to close the knowledge gap.

I'm in a league on NFL.com and ESPN.com - and I'm not doing too badly - so maybe once a week I'll post my FFL progress and thinking.

Reading Journal: I haven't been doing a lot of reading for enjoyment, which I -know- plays a role in my writing productivity. As well as my command of language. For me, reading a good book inspires the stories in my head. I won't make any promises here, not yet. But I believe that as I settle into the new job and new circumstances, that I will finish off my TBR pile and pick up a few more.

And that's it. For now.

What's new with you?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reading Journal June 2012 (Rothfuss, Kearney, Harris, Carey)

So this has been sitting in draft for some time. Sorry. Summer heat is beating me like a four year old in a Walmart. Big list, so let's get to it! 


The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) - Patrick Rothfuss. (2007)(Fantasy, Male, New Author, Series)
The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime- ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet's hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.
This was an interesting debut novel. Once again, I find what I've studied and read about the publishing industry at direct odds with what actually gets published. Here we have a flawless protagonist, a "story within a story" and meandering prose. All things that shouldn't get published. Yet, Rothfuss has received countless positive reviews. I read his blog, too, and Rothfuss is terribly likable. I wanted to like the novel.

Name took me twice as long to read as it should have. While the prose is amazing, nearly lyrical in its quality - the tale itself is akin to a lazy river. Great for immersion, I suppose, but not a page flipper. Kvothe is simply too talented: child prodigy whose every single circumstance makes him a master of some skill. In all the telling, nothing is told - I'm still not sure what the story is about - and since it's being told BY Kvothe, there's absolutely no tension. You don't have to worry about the protagonist dying, since he's sitting there in the Inn and telling his tale. Either he lives or he's mastered time travel or he's a ghost and this is some creepy Sixth Sense.

Make no mistake - Rothfuss clearly has some writing talent; but this style of storytelling didn't work for me.



The Ten Thousand - Paul Kearney. (2008) (Fantasy, Male, New, Series.)
On the world of Kuf, the Macht are a mystery, a seldom-seen people of extraordinary ferocity and discipline whose prowess on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. For centuries they have remained within the remote fastnesses of the Harukush Mountains. In the world beyond, the teeming races and peoples of Kuf have been united within the bounds of the Asurian Empire, which rules the known world, and is invincible. The Great King of Asuria can call up whole nations to the battlefield.
His word is law.
But now the Great King¹s brother means to take the throne by force, and in order to do so he has sought out the legend. He hires ten thousand mercenary warriors of theMacht, and leads them into the heart of the Empire.
I heard amazing things about Paul Kearney from one of the numerous book review blogs that I was reading at one point. I enjoyed this, plain and simple. Kearney's writing is strong and evocative. Apparently, this is a retelling of Xenophon's Anabasis - it also brought to mind The Lost Army by Valerio Manfredi. Either way,  Kearney has a great voice and even if the story lacked complexity (again with the victors telling their tale, you kinda know they're going to survive), the telling was enjoyable. And the military/battle scenes were superb. I'll certainly be reading Kearney again. 


Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood) - Charlaine Harris. (2012) (Urban Fantasy, Female, Series)
It's vampire politics as usual around the town of Bon Temps, but never before have they hit so close to Sookie’s heart…
Growing up with telepathic abilities, Sookie Stackhouse realized early on there were things she’d rather not know. And now that she’s an adult, she also realizes that some things she knows about, she’d rather not see—like Eric Northman feeding off another woman. A younger one.
There’s a thing or two she’d like to say about that, but she has to keep quiet—Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), is in town. It’s the worst possible time for a human body to show up in Eric’s front yard—especially the body of the woman whose blood he just drank.
Now, it’s up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl’s fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who’s set out to make Sookie’s world come crashing down.
One of my smaller reading goals for this year was to be caught up with Harris' series before the new True Blood season began. I enjoy the series... mostly for its ease of reading. It's fast, it's fun, it's entertaining. Having said that, some stories were better than others. I think Deadlocked gets closer to what was so enthralling about the series from the beginning: the likability of Sookie, the genre-blending elements, the humor, the action. Twelve books into the series, there's really no point to elaborate - if you've gotten this far, you're going to read it. If you haven't - the fact that I have is its own testament.


Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch. (2008). (Fantasy, Male, Series)

In his highly acclaimed debut, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch took us on an adrenaline-fueled adventure with a band of daring thieves led by con artist extraordinaire Locke Lamora. Now Lynch brings back his outrageous hero for a caper so death-defying, nothing short of a miracle will pull it off.
After a brutal battle with the underworld that nearly destroyed him, Locke and his trusted sidekick, Jean, fled the island city of their birth and landed on the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But even at this westernmost edge of civilization, they can’t rest for long—and are soon back to what they do best: stealing from the undeserving rich and pocketing the proceeds for themselves. 
This time, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the most exclusive and heavily guarded gambling house in the world. Its nine floors attract the wealthiest clientele—and to rise to the top, one must impress with good credit, amusing behavior…and excruciatingly impeccable play. For there is one cardinal rule, enforced by Requin, the house’s cold-blooded master: it is death to cheat at any game at the Sinspire. 
Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way up the nine floors…straight to Requin’s teeming vault. Under the cloak of false identities, they meticulously make their climb—until they are closer to the spoils than ever. 
But someone in Tal Verrar has uncovered the duo’s secret. Someone from their past who has every intention of making the impudent criminals pay for their sins. Now it will take every ounce of cunning to save their mercenary souls. And even that may not be enough.…

Damn. About 20 pages in, I cursed myself for waiting so long to pick up the sequel. Damn, damn, damn. Lynch is unbelievably talented. Red Seas is that exquisite combination of world building, intrigue, fantasy elements and characterization that every fantasy book strives to achieve and so few accomplish.

Bear in mind that this is not sword and sorcery. Like the first in the series, this is a fantasy version of Ocean's Eleven. Except there are consequences from Lies that must be handled. The characterizations are richer, deeper, more visceral. Locke is flawed, but empathetic. They're human. They make mistakes, they survive by the skin of their teeth, their victories pale in comparison to their ideologies.

I'm not a big fan of flashback sequences, but Lynch uses them to layer the story and its elements with a surgeon's precision. While there was possibly more naval jargon than I would prefer, it was a necessary evil for the tale. Second in the trilogy, Red Seas does an excellent job of telling its own story as well as building up the tension towards the final installment. It was brisk, compelling and entertaining. I'll definitely be reading the third and final installment, The Republic of Thieves, when it's available.


Kushiel's Mercy - Jacqueline Carey. (2009). (Fantasy, Female, Series)

Having learned a lesson about thwarting the will of the gods, Imriel and Sidonie publicly confess their affair, only to see the country boil over in turmoil. Younger generations, infatuated by their heart-twisting, star-crossed romance, defend the couple. Many others cannot forget the betrayals of Imriel's mother, Melisande, who plunged their country into a bloody war that cost the lives of their fathers, brothers, and sons. 
To quell the unrest, Ysandre, the queen, sets her decree. She will not divide the lovers, yet neither will she acknowledge them. If they marry, Sidonie will be disinherited, losing her claim on the throne. There's only one way they can truly be together. Imriel must perform an act of faith: search the world for his infamous mother and bring her back to Terre d'Ange to be executed for treason. 
Facing a terrible choice, Imriel and Sidonie prepare ruefully for another long separation. But when a dark foreign force casts a shadow over Terre d'Ange and all the surrounding countries, their world is turned upside down, alliances of the unlikeliest kind are made, and Imriel and Sidonie learn that the god Elua always puts hearts together apurpose.
Reading Carey is like coming home. She writes the most beautiful, lyrical and provocative prose out of any author I have ever read. Perhaps her stories are not as complex as GRRM or Scott Lynch - but she makes up for that through her creative worldbuilding and the erotic elements, the latter of which is extremely uncommon in this genre.

Possibly the most challenging thing to achieve in this genre is a well-written romance. Sensual and provocative elements seem well outside the scope of most fantasy authors. But this is where Carey triumphs - infusing and layering emotionally compelling aspects within a fantasy adventure. Truly, I think all fantasy authors should be forced to read Jacqueline Carey before they ever write about romance or sex in their novels.

Being the third book in her second trilogy, I suspected events would lead to certain conclusions. They did, but to Carey's credit, it was neither a direct path nor a predictable one. Imriel, as the other men in the series, is possibly a bit too perfect - though he is certainly more flawed than Joscelin. Sidonie, however, is a brilliantly construed female character, with equal parts vulnerability and strength, intelligence and youthful foolishness.

There is a third trilogy set in Carey's fantasy world, beginning with Naamah's Kiss. There's no way I can go very long without reading her, so I suppose I will be picking this up in the near future.

*

Whew. I suppose I need to strive towards more frequent updates, rather than these monstrous summaries. Also, in reflection, I have absolutely failed to meet my goals for non-fiction this year, so far.

Anything here catch your eye or interest? What have you read this summer?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Better late than never? In this case, yes.



The Games - Ted Kosmatka. (2012) (Science Fiction / Horror, Male, New Author)

Blurb from Amazon:

This stunning first novel from Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist Ted Kosmatka is a riveting tale of science cut loose from ethics. Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think. 
Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.
 The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic. 
 Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.
Simply put, this was the best science fiction/horror I've ever read. I admit that I do not read too much in either of those genres - and if I knew there were more like Kosmatka's review - I'd probably read much more.

The science fiction premise is intelligent and compelling. While I'm sure some could argue that there's a criticism being made about the future of genetic experimentation, the novel is neither preachy nor condescending. It treats it as more of an inevitability. It's handled well, in the near-future setting, and there were only three small sections of the entire novel where the science went over my head. I suspect it wouldn't have been an issue to those who read science fiction more often.

Characterization in The Games is brilliant. Each character is relatable and perfectly flawed... human. Silas is a passionate scientist who finds himself torn between his passion for science and his years slipping away from him. Vidonia is a well-written female, sensitive, intelligent and strong. Evan is a tragic character, trying hard to find love and acceptance in a world where he is too smart and naive for his own good. Kosmatka pulls no punches in dealing with their story arcs. He deals with each strand in the web without relying upon deux ex machina - each character in the tale comes to a completely reasonable and satisfying, if not tragic, conclusion.

While probably not written or intended as a horror story, the way that Kosmatka handles the gladiator creature is fantastic, honest and compelling. This is exactly what would happen, what should happen, within the circumstances he has constructed. That's what a horror is to me, at least - you cringe and fear at what may seem the inevitable worst case scenario - then fret and panic as it turns out even worse. I ripped through the pages.

Overall, Ted Kosmatka succeeds in writing an excellent story, compelling and tragic, honest and believable, which was full of depth, twists and turns. I couldn't put it down. If you're into science fiction - or horror - I strongly suggest giving it a read.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Reading Journal Spring 2012

I'm going to skip the part, for now, where I tell you that shortly after my poison ivy healed up, I helped my friends start a new business, I spent some time working on my manuscript, and then I ended up in the hospital and almost died.

Tales for another time. Here's what I've read!



Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris. (2009) (Urban Fantasy, Female, Series)
Amazon Blurb: Except for Sookie Stackhouse, folks in Bon Temps, Louisiana, knew little about vamps-and nothing about weres. Until now. The weres and shifters have finally revealed their existence to the ordinary world. And the backlash may have claimed the life of someone Sookie knew well. But her determination to find out who was responsible for the murder is put aside in the face of a far greater danger. A race of unhuman beings-older, more powerful, and more secretive than vampires or werewolves-is preparing for war. And Sookie will find herself an all- too human pawn in their battle...


Thoughts: I definitely wanted a break from the heavier material I'd been reading. Ironically, this wasn't it. This was Sookie experiencing darkness and tragedy and having terrible experiences. While a quick read, this isn't the strongest book in the series. However... please. If you've read this far in the series, you're going to enjoy this. Are some of the cozy, familiar elements missing? Does the story move forward in a reasonable manner? Yes and yes.



Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris. (2010) (Urban Fantasy, Female, Series)
Amazon Blurb: After enduring torture and the loss of loved ones during the brief but deadly Faery War, Sookie Stackhouse is hurt and she's angry. Just about the only bright spot in her life is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman. But he's under scrutiny by the new Vampire King because of their relationship. And as the political implications of the Shifters coming out are beginning to be felt, Sookie's connection to the Shreveport pack draws her into the debate. Worst of all, though the door to Faery has been closed, there are still some Fae on the human side-and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry...


Thoughts: This was better, and a necessary transition from the tragic events of the previous volume(s) into the reformation of Sookie, the sexy, stubborn, quick-witted, hard-nosed girl that readers (presumably) have grown to love. No matter what, this is good storytelling, just for the record. It's light, fast, and challenging enough. Urban fantasy has the advantage of not having to bog down with epic secondary world building, which leaves more room for character development and plot complications. My goal is to get caught up this series before the time True Blood returns for Season 5. I'm on track and enjoying it thoroughly. 



Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn. (2006). (Urban Fantasy, Female, Series)
Amazon BlurbCelebrity werewolf and late-night radio host Kitty Norville prefers to be heard and not seen. So when she's invited to testify at a Senate hearing on behalf of supernaturals, and her face gets plastered on national TV, she inherits a new set of friends, and enemies, including the vampire mistress of the city; an über-hot Brazilian were-jaguar; and a Bible-thumping senator who wants to expose Kitty as a monster. Kitty quickly learns that in this city of dirty politicians and backstabbing pundits, everyone's itching for a fight.


Thoughts: I didn't intentionally go on an Urban Fantasy bender, it just so happened that I had an Amazon gift certificate and this was in my TBR pile. Second in the series, this book presumably came with a lot of expectations, at the time. Vaughn is an exquisite storyteller, and while she broadened the stage towards the end of the first book, she cements her character's global reach and influence with this one. The story and character get relevant and meaningful in an epic way by the end of this tale. Mostly, however, I read Carrie Vaughn because I think she does a fantastic job of characterizing strong females who are still feminine. Kitty, as a character, while being the expected 'badass' heroine found in this genre, is also intelligent, vulnerable, sensitive and flawed. Kitty is a girl that's portrayed so realistically in contemporary terms (not the whole "I change into a wolf" thing, of course), you nearly expect to turn on the radio and catch her show, when you're done reading.

P.S. Dear Carrie Vaughn, if you ever read this, (Hi!) I think you should pursue doing a movie about female aviators, ala the story you did for the Warriors Anthology. Your sense of what works in a movie is pretty keen, based on your blog, and your approach and knowledge would (and has) make for excellent storytelling. Based upon the hype of the recent movie about the Tuskegee airmen, I think that your vision and writing would tell a story that would be a million times more provocative and appealing. For everyone else, I remind you that I am the Lord of IToldUSo. ;-)


The Winds of Khalakovo (The Lays of Anuskaya) - by Bradley P Beaulieu. (2011) (Fantasy, Male, New Author, Series)
Amazon Blurb: Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future.


When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo...


Thoughts: This was Beaulieu's debut novel, and is getting some additional promotion lately due to the release of the sequel, The Straits of Galahesh. Due to promotional pricing, I read this on my Kindle, but I can't recommend that to you, unless you're better with the technology than I am. There's a notable Eastern European / Russian flavor to the worldbuilding, which is great - except for all the words that you are going to want to look up via the glossary. I liked the magical system, (I'm biased towards Elemental systems anyway); I felt it was complicated, costly, and powerful and bordered on the spiritual as well. Without giving the game away, there were some aspects that I really appreciated. The story was suitably complex and interesting, with reasonable plot twists and turns. There was some decent character development, perhaps with room for more - which is the downside of a debut novel which also begins a trilogy... there has to be room for the character to grow. I think some of the secondary characters were overly idealized, a little two-dimensional, but again, this has room in the storyline to be addressed. Overall, even with some slow parts here and there (and strange words aside), this was an enjoyably fresh take on the genre - the worldbuilding alone is worth further exploration. I suspect those who are looking for something different in epic fantasy would be pretty well pleased with Beaulieu's debut.




The Games - By Ted Kosmatka (2012) (Science Fiction/Horror, Male, New Author, Stand Alone.)
Amazon Blurb: This stunning first novel from Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist Ted Kosmatka is a riveting tale of science cut loose from ethics. Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think.

Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.

The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic. 

Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.


Thoughts: This was received for Librarything.com's Early Reviewer program. I'll just say I loved it, and would be reading a lot more sci-fi horror if they were all like this. It will get its own post here within the week.

Update: Review is here: http://zherlios.blogspot.com/2012/06/games-by-ted-kosmatka.html

***

Well! I've been putting this post off for weeks! I'm sorry if the descriptions are somewhat rough, but I felt it was better to get it written and out of my head. I'd be happy to go into more detail about these books if anyone wants to chat about them.

While I'm recovering from - "things" - and getting back on track, I suspect my posting to be curtailed to about once a week. Please feel free to soak up the links on both sides of this blog, for entertainment and good book ideas and other such random fun stuff. Til the next.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Break!

Bandit says "It's okay." 
From poison ivy to new employment / work opportunities to a deadline I'm working towards... let's just call this Spring Break! Back in a couple weeks.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ah, Poison Ivy..

In case you don't follow me on Twitter, you may have missed that for the past couple weeks, I've been afflicted with poison ivy.

Truly, I don't want to bore you with the details, particularly since I'm still fighting it. Essentially, I've barely had a decent night's sleep in two weeks or so, for the itching and pain. Maybe I'll get some pictures at some point of the vile weed, but apparently what we had in our backyard is some genetic mutation of poison ivy, sumac AND oak, called ... I don't know. But it was a nasty purple thorny vine and the scratch it gave me lay dormant for a week.

Then it evolved into a hole and a huge rash on my left wrist, and left ankle. During which time I felt like amputation might be a reasonable alternative.


Fortunately, even in spite of my own bad ideas, it's begun to heal. 


I'm still not getting much sleep because it itches. And burns. And makes me want to scream. I finally started taking prednisone a few days ago, which has its own side effects, including stomach cramps and short term memory loss. 

But don't you worry about me. I'm fine. Sitting at a desk where I have to brace my left arm up in order to type has been - more trouble than it's been worth.

I've read a few books while this has been happening, and watched a couple things - all of which I'll detail in another post.

I just wanted to share with you my gory pictures... although I suspect, due to the quality of my webcam, they don't look nearly as bad on here as they do in real life. Color yourself fortunate.

Til the next.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Way of Shadows - Brent Weeks


The Way of Shadows (The Night Angel Trilogy) - Brent Weeks. (2008) (Fantasy, Male, New Author, Series)


Blurb from author's website:


The perfect killer has no friends. Only targets.
For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.
For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly — and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.
But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics — and cultivate a flair for death.
Back to reading fantasy, and the gritty stuff is like having a beer with an old friend. Despite the size of the book, I burned through it in pretty short time.

Probably by coincidence, my last few reads have all contained rape. I'm beginning to feel a little inundated with what defines "dark fantasy" - while I'm sure that sexual abuses are part and parcel of the more realistic depiction of a medieval setting - I'm not sure it's working as well as it could. But that's a small concern here, overall. Most of what's floating in my head is more tragic storytelling, and so it only makes sense that's what I'm reading and encountering.

Overall, this is an excellent tale. Weeks keeps the action going, taking his characters through hell and then beating them up some more. I particularly liked that the protagonist starts as weak and fearful, and by the end, he's come into his own confidence and power. There was a nice mix of world building, of balanced magic, of strong personalities and character development.

I definitely see myself continuing on with the series, though I find myself, at the moment, craving something lighter.

Any of you read this yet? What did you think?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bio of a Space Tyrant, Volume 1 - Piers Anthony


Bio of a Space Tyrant Vol. 1. Refugee - Piers Anthony (1983) (Science Fiction, Male, New Author, Series)


Some info from Wikipedia:
The series revolves around the character Hope Hubris and his family, and charts Hope's ascent from poor Hispanic refugee to Tyrant of Jupiter, a single person heading the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of the government. It is considerably more adult-themed than many of Anthony's earlier works.
Follows Hope and his family's flight from their home on Callisto to Jupiter. Hope's family sets out in a "space bubble" with many other refugees. The group is attacked multiple times by space pirates, and most of the adults are raped, killed, or kidnapped by the end of the story.
When I saw the premise of the story, the opening pages, about how the lead character starts as a teenager and will some day become known as the Tyrant of Jupiter - boy, was I excited. That's a helluva lot to tell in one story!

But it wasn't all told in one story, I later discovered.

If there was ever a tale with an absolutely tragic beginning - this has to got to be it. Even most of the dark stories I read aren't nearly as tragic as this one was.

Having said all that, Piers Anthony, even back then, was an amazing writer. Fantastic storytelling voice and prose. Maybe a couple sections didn't sit well with me, with too much infodumping and technical specifications. But, then again, I don't read all that much scifi.

This tale is not for the faint of heart whatsoever, and without a doubt, it's absolutely a veneered political statement on the state of immigration, which may or may not sit well with modern readers. As the premise for the start of a series, for the tale of a boy who develops into much more than what he started out as, it holds up well.

For the experience of trying a new author, I'm glad I read it. The reputation and praise generally associated with Anthony is well deserved. For the experience of reading a story about a youth who is changed into something more, something darker, based on his experiences - absolutely. Love it. We'll call it research.

Have any of you read this, or anything else by Piers Anthony? What did you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Writing | Fantasy Tropes Revisited

I am the editing and revising machine lately! Rawr. And I've not been posting much, sorry. Ironically, the blogs I watch have been posting so much more in recent weeks - I've had a hard time keeping up. 

Source: Actionpointcomic.com


Let's cut to the quik - I like fantasy tropes. No, I LOVE them. I know there's at least two generations of people who grew up with Tolkien and Asimov and T.H. White who have spent the past five or so decades watching their favorite fantastic stories told over and over and over again in books, television and film.

You know why those stories get retold? Because they're good! To this day, people still know about Helen of Troy ("the face that launched a thousand ships") and what a Trojan Horse is. That story is two THOUSAND years old. (Uh, right? Older?)

Anyway, I read this post by forthcoming debut novelist Jeff Salyards over at SF Signal, entitled "Jeff Salyards on Avoiding Tired Tropes When World Building."

Nicely written post, I really enjoyed it. GO READ IT. Here's an excerpt.
What they all have in common is they don’t lazily rely on established motifs or character types. Can you still write about elves? Sure. I guess. But if they are sing-songy, lyrical, tree-dwelling hippies, then you’re missing the grand creative freedom of being a fantasy writer. Make them terrifying cannibals, or disenfranchised revolutionaries. In fact, somebody’s probably done both of those already. Tread carefully. 
And I left a lengthy comment, like so:

This is a good post. Tropes are a tricky topic, you have to admit. On the one hand, there is comfort in familiarity – and it’s that comfort which allows the reader immersion, escape, into the entertainment that is reading. On the other hand, the market and experienced readers demand freshness, creativity, originality.
It’s almost impossible anymore to write something that hasn’t been told. Even traditional fables have tons of variants on the same theme, across different cultures. Yet they persevere throughout the ages, and are retold to each generation, in one form or the other.
I’m comfortable with the tropes, personally, and employ several. Theoretically, I make them my own, but there’s no reinventing the wheel, so why bother – it’s almost an insult to the reader. What I try to focus on is to take that wheel and put it somewhere unexpected, or go further back, and discover why the wheel is the way that it is. (Well, not literally wheels, of course.)
There’s only so many ways that “departing from the classic tropes” can go, before they go too far and THAT becomes the new trope. For instance, ‘gritty’ is the new big thing – but that’s going to wear itself thin. Fantasy wasn’t built upon rape scenes, and readers will get tired of that, just like they grew tired of the peasant boy who becomes a king. After awhile, a good old-fashioned ‘boy becomes King’ yarn will be more popular (again) than Blackie McBlackNight the dirty rotten scoundrel’s tale.
What’s an author to do? Write a good story: cream always rises to the top.

Truly, this is a topic that I could go on and on for days about. But I have revisions to attend! However, if you want to engage the topic with me - revisions can wait, because this is my favoritest topic ever!

Anyway, what about you? Tired of the same ole stories? Do you want a refreshing take on the classic tale? Do you want something more realistic? Both? Neither? How about a re-imagined Middle Earth where the Dwarves aren't comic relief and the Elves aren't entirely feminine? Hmm? Hmmmmmm?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Nemesis Worm - Guy Haley

Read my first science fiction of the year, and my first book entirely on my new Kindle. (And, it was free!)



The Nemesis Worm by Guy Haley. 2011. (Science Fiction, Male, New Author)

A standalone novella featuring the 22nd century's greatest detectives, The Nemesis Worm sees Richards & Klein involved in another high stakes investigation. Corpses are showing up all over Old London, and the finger of suspicion points right at Richards himself. Forced to clear his name, Richards and Otto uncover a fanatical group whose actions threaten the relationship between human and AI with destruction.
Unfortunately, there were some copyediting issues - but it was free, and the mistakes weren't all that glaring. I enjoyed reading something different than my normal fare - scifi AND a detective mystery. I suspect that if either genre were up your alley, this would be enough to make you want more. Technically, this was a standalone, but there's some worldbuilding elements and some character nuances that begged explanation.

This wasn't bad at all. The novella length didn't allow for the character development that I would have preferred. This felt more like a teaser to whet the reader's appetite for Reality 36which also came out last year. 

Any of you read it or anything else by Guy Haley? What did you think?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Video | HBO's Game of Thrones S2 Trailer, Power and Grace

If the first one gave you chills, then this one? Yes, this trailer is kicking ass.


Season 2 Trailer: Power and Grace

"The comet means one thing, boy. Dragons."

Bua ha ha! Also, more news and tidbits

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fantasy Races Physiology | Overview

True confessions of a world building geek.

Whether from mythology and legend or borrowed heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien's notes or the D&D bestiary, the fantastic races are another literary vehicle by which to explore the human condition, in a manner which is equally incredible and yet relatable.

No matter the origin of their usage, there are general expectations of the fantasy races which most readers will have.

My own world building includes several Fantasy races, hence the interest. I have mentioned elsewhere that I am not interested in calling a short, stocky bearded race of fantastic creatures Puddlefuds (or whatever) for the sake of being original. Nor am I interested in giving Elves facial hair for the sake of being different (with all due respect to those who have).

Rather, I'd like to go a step further; I want to explore what is expected of fantasy races as a trope, and craft some rules and ideas that I (and others) can build from further on down the line. In this, I expect to debunk some accepted ideas and give strength to others.

This becomes my new project, and I hope to get some feedback - because it'll make it more fun. I should note that I am not a doctor, psychologist, or a biologist, but I like to dabble. I haven't done the research (yet) to know whether someone else has already done what I'm about to do (I suspect someone has); if that's the case, then this becomes Zherlios canon and nothing more. No harm, no foul.

To begin, we have to answer the basic question of why there must be fantasy races to begin with. Because it's fantasy? No, of course not. There's plenty of fantasy tales that don't incorporate non-Human races. It's a lesson in cultural awareness. Non-human races allow us to explore (potentially exaggerated) themes of the human condition from the perspective of an outsider. The same holds true for aliens in science fiction.

In this post, I'm simply going to cover a few of the more well-known races and what will be my jump-off points for future articles.

Elves - In Tolkien mythology, Elves are a race of long-lived humanoids. They can represent longevity. Patience. A race that can look at humans and say, "Ah, you humans, always in such a hurry." They are nearly always attractive, graceful and particularly adept.

Physiology, not magic, can answer the questions of long life. Cellular regeneration must be high and overall metabolism must be slow.
Image source: Fanpop.com 
Dwarves - In Tolkien mythology, Dwarves are short, stocky, strong and bearded. Their affinity for mountains and mining seems to me a representation of labor as a human theme. Where power and magic can corrupt, can make humans greedy, Dwarves potentially represent the power of good old work ethic.

With Dwarves, we have to address muscle density. I've noticed that short, human athletes tend to have better muscle definition and are stronger, "pound for pound", then their taller counter parts. If you go with the trope that all Dwarves live in mountains (I don't see why that would necessarily be true), then there has to be some other considerations. For starters, a throat/nose/lung filtration system for the amount of dust that would be encountered in living underground, for mining, for forging, etc. (Otherwise, what, all Dwarves die at the age of thirty to emphysema?) Secondly, their blood would be more oxygenated from living at high altitudes where the air is thinner. Each breath has to carry more oxygen to the lungs, assuming near-Human O2 requirements, etc.

Which, aside, would mean that Dwarves outside of their natural habitat, and at sea level, would be virtually cheerful and giddy (if not flat-out dizzy) from the extra amount of oxygen. (At least for a few hours?)

Image Source: lotr.wikia.com
Halflings - These are pretty much Tolkien's creatures, through and through, despite the use of this race in fantasy games. I believe that Tolkien wanted us to connect to their simplicity, their love of nature and its abundance.

Physiologically, I am drawn to the idea that they are a race of people that work with their hands and go barefoot, in addition to the scientific implications found in Homo Floresiensis. I am reminded of GRRM's Hornfoot tribe in ASOIAF, as well as the particular talents of relatively short people throughout human history, such as Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone and Napolean Bonaparte. If we use Dwarves to explore muscle density in their stockiness, then we can use Halflings to explore agility and litheness - think "The Amazing" Yen in Ocean's 11.


Image Source: Scifiscoop.com 
This post is getting longer than I wanted it to be, so I'm going to summarize the rest.

Giants, Amazons, etc. - Whether an all-female tribe or an entire race, I want to explore the physiological aspects of a humanoid race that are much bigger than humans. Basically, fiction meets WWF, right? Casual observation has been that human giants tend to have reduced life expectancy.

Half Elves - To be honest, I don't buy into the idea of Half Elves as a race of people. Going back to the idea that Elves will live hundreds or thousands of years - would you get married and have children with someone who was only going to live ten years? And if you have children with them, your children would only live twenty years? It's a great idea as a fantasy trope (My character has the best of both races! Magical, but real and relatable, too!), but functionally it's ridiculous.

It'd be like marrying your favorite pet. Having said that, it has to be pursued - love is stupid like that, and doesn't always embrace practical considerations. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has heard of some crazy old lady leaving her entire estate to her cat and her butler. But, you better believe I'm approaching it with a scalpel.

Orcs, of course. Goblins, too. Evil things to represent the dark sides of humanity.

Dog people, cat people, lizard people. Yes. Well. Eventually.

Centaurs. Unicorns. Pegasi. Dragons. Why stop at the humanoid races... though I'd like to focus on the races that can some how, some way, be a reflection towards human themes in storytelling. This project, however, as an exercise in world building and magical realism.



And... I'm taking requests! What fantastic race do you want to put under the scope and scalpel?