Review: No Time To Bleed by Dusty Sharp #bookreview #thriller

Every so often, a new writer breaks out onto the scene that causes you to wonder: where the hell has this guy been, anyway?  Dusty Sharp appears to be one of these.

He’s recently published a new novella, No Time To Bleed, as a prelude to a series of books featuring protagonist Austin Conrad, a salty old vet turned biker, who must navigate his way through a barrage of gunfire and unfortunate events, some of which were arguably self-inflicted.

Overview

This is a quick little read, both due to the length of the story as well as the fact that this is really a page-turning action shoot-em-up.  Not a lot of information is given outside of the fact that Conrad is done with his biker gang, The Rattlers, and simply wants to walk away from it all.  One gets the impression that this particular gang is a lot less of the weekend-rider, full time lawyer and dentist types and more of the blood-oath, we’ll shoot your ass if you cross us variety.  As the reader, your first clue is that they’re into some very serious shit, Conrad is on the run, and they’re coming after his ass.

And that’s about all the setup this story needs, really.  Conrad is a man who has strayed far enough away from his moral center that he’s decided enough is a enough.  He simply won’t be a party to it any more, consequences be damned.  He has one goal in this story: don’t get dead.

Review: 4/5 Stars

I can’t say where future installments will go, but for this particular novella, I would classify it as popcorn action.  The premise is simple, the characters and their motivations are clear; all the reader really needs to do is buckle up, pull his hat down tight, and hold on.  If you are an action buff; if you enjoy fast-paced action, you’ll read this in a single sitting.

I had a lot of fun with this one.  As someone who tends to look for the deeper meaning in much of his reading, it is good (decadently so) to put such mental gymnastics on hold and just enjoy a good old-fashioned shooter.  Dusty has the genre nailed in this entry.  A portion of this story is clearly a love-letter to the very best of 80’s action  films, right down to the campy one-liners.  The writer also demonstrates a deep knowledge of and abiding affection for the the Mohave desert and the historic back-road highways that stitch across it.  The setting in this story is as much a character as the bikers tearing up the landscape.

The only reason this story didn’t get five stars from me is that I wanted to know more about the protagonist than was offered.  I felt as though I was just getting to know who the guy was, with some very well written character background that aptly accomplished the two-fold task of getting you to care about the character as well as informing that character’s mental and emotional makeup in the present time.  But just as I felt I was really getting into the psychology of the guy, all of that stopped, the guns came out, and shit got real.  I felt as though I hit a stutter step and found myself preferring that this had been a novel rather than a novella.

This, I believe, is more of a personal preference than it is a failing on the writer’s part.  He’s clearly putting this story out as a teaser and, I assume, will be delving into a lot of these character aspects in future entries.  I get that you typically get less in a novella but for me, it just seems backwards.  I personally would have preferred a full length novel, maybe two, with a novella dropped after.  The challenge Sharp has set for himself now is that this short entry is going to get a lot of readers hungry for more; I’ll hope he’s able to put out more at a pace that keeps the interest up.

 

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Book Review: The Fear Saga #reading #bookreview #scifi

Author: Stephen Moss

Series: Fear the Sky, Fear the Future, Fear the Survivors

Overview

Through the vast expanse of outer space, a malevolent alien species has been watching us, coveting our world, and planning full scale invasion.  Their goal is twofold: completely eradicate the human race while preserving our planet in as pristine and undamaged a form as possible.  Because of this, their attack must first lead with a clandestine incursion; a small group of specialized agents must infiltrate our society at all levels, positioning themselves such that they can nullify our nuclear weapons capability and, therefore, our ability to destroy our own planet in a futile attempt to resist the coming armada.

Unknown to the aliens, however, is the fact that we know they’re coming, thanks to series protagonist Neil Danielson, who first notices the uncharacteristic behavior of an approaching meteor and begins to investigate.

The series starts out as a game of cat and mouse between a painfully small pocket of human resistance and the first wave of the invasion: seven incredibly advanced robotic agents supported by four all-seeing, all-knowing alien satellites positioned around the globe, all powered by an Artificial Intelligence capable of dredging every inch of our terrestrial and satellite-based communication networks for all data ever transmitted over the Internet.  It then evolves into a frantic race: the alien armada will be here in a decade.  We have that time to advance our technology to a degree that we have even a tiny hope of standing against them.

Review

I’ve been thinking about doing this one for a long time, now.  If I recall correctly, this was the first series that I stumbled across where I downloaded it strictly based on the narrator (R. C. Bray).  I saw a bunch of really positive reviews, the author seemed to be a hard sci-fi fan (like yours truly), so I figured I’d give it a go.

Story 4/5

Overall, I really loved this series, despite some problems that I’ll get into below.  It was all kinds of imaginative and I really respect the amount of work that Moss took upon himself in putting this story together.  I need to stress up front that, though there are a large collection of characters in these stories, these aren’t really character driven stories by any stretch of the imagination.  There are a few functioning arcs here and there and Danielson, the main character, even has some brief flashes of honest humor in the first book, but my opinion is that you don’t read these looking for terribly deep human interaction.

The main point of these books, to my mind, was to set up this seemingly insurmountable threat to which we would have to respond.  The aliens coming to curb stomp us are advanced enough that we as humans could rightly regard them as Space Wizards.  Luckily, not all of these aliens are on the same page; some of them aren’t excited about committing genocide against an entire species.  Because of this, we humans are given a bit of a leg up/cheat code by our extraterrestrial benefactors; a leg up that unlocks some pretty mind boggling avenues of scientific discovery.

This is the heart of the story and is also one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much, despite its flaws.  In essence, the premise is what we as a species need to do to get to a point where we’re capable of defending ourselves against almighty Space Gods.  At the start, we’re given access to some very key fundamental technologies that allow us to explode ahead by several decades (if not centuries) and a timeline of ten years to build up our capability.  The best estimate is that the invasion force will be here in ten years.  Now, what do you do with that?

This series is a love letter to technological innovation and happily satisfies the geek in me.

Writing 2.5/5

This is where the series runs into some problems.  My understanding is that this was Moss’s first series of books and I’m sorry to say that it shows in his writing.  Thankfully for me, Bray’s expert narration was able to save the clunky writing; it seems that he went to great pains to clean things up without actually modifying the narrative.  The way he emphasizes certain words over others, mutes the expression of those which would have been better edited out, and flexes his narrative muscles to keep the dialog flowing is a testament to his expertise.  Had I attempted the print version of this story, I can’t honestly tell whether I would have finished it or not.  I’ll provide a few examples:

The most minor (in my mind) issue in the writing has to do with grammar; these books are positively stacked from floor to ceiling with dangling prepositions (e.g. Where did they come from? versus From where did they come?)  When the book is told from a first person narrative, you expect to see this kind of thing; this is simply how people talk and it actually does sound natural.  The Fear Saga is told from a third person omniscient perspective, however, which means that you want to have your grammar game on point (if the narrator is omniscient, he/she should know how to structure a sentence as well).  My understanding is that there were several other issues in the print version as well having to do with commas and run-on sentences, however these are far less apparent in the audio form.  I will note that the first ebook in the series has been flagged on Amazon as having quality issues for both editing and broken links, so take that as you will.

Because I consumed these stories in audio format, an issue that truly did stand out for me was the author’s overuse of pet phrases.  Such things bug the hell out of me both as a reader and a writer; I’m always on the lookout to eradicate such things in my own books.

Stephen Moss absolutely loves the hell out of the word “proverbial”.  Good god, you guys, does he ever.  He loves it so much that he even uses it in inappropriate situations where words like “literal” or even “figurative” would suit far better.  Even worse, he seems to insist on using the incorrect “proverbiably” rather than “proverbially”, a reality that Bray suffers through dutifully as he reads the story.  The first time I listened to the series, I wondered in shock if it was just Bray mispronouncing the word.  When it happened over and over again, I realized the man was doing his job and reading the text faithfully as it was written.  On subsequent readings (yes, I have indeed listened to the series more than once, I actually enjoyed it that much), I inwardly cringe along with the narrator each time he hits one of these doozies.

Another example would be Moss’s love of the phrase or formula, “He did X, such was the Y of his Z.”  Just replace X, Y, and Z with appropriate adjectives and verbs as needed:

  1. “He would not falter, such was the strength of his resolve.”
  2. “She felt total adoration, such was the intensity of his regard.”
  3. “He rolled his eyes yet again, such was the repetition of the formula’s usage.”

You get the idea.

Apart from the above, it just seems to me that the stories would have benefited either from a few more rounds of editing or at least another set of eyes.  Certain phrases or passages of dialog stumble all over themselves and clearly stand out as a first draft attempt that just didn’t get cleaned up later on.  One specific phrase that stands out occurs either towards the end of the second book or at the beginning of the third book.  I don’t remember exactly who was speaking but the structure was so damned jarring that it was burned into my brain:

“…you will be being monitored…”

Holy crap, right?  That is exactly the kind of thing that you write on your first pass where you’re just trying to get the whole damned thing on paper.  At some point, though, you read back through what you’ve done and pick stuff like that out for correction.  You at least get a couple of friends to page through your work and let you know that you’re doing things like that.

This is the kind of thing where R. C. Bray’s skills really come in and save the day.  The first time I encountered the above phrase, I actually had to stop and replay it to confirm that I’d actually heard what I thought I heard.  Bray’s delivery on stuff like this is outstanding; he actually picked one of the forms of “be” to gloss over in the reading and focused on emphasizing the other slightly more than necessary, the overall effect being that you as the listener only really hear one of them.  At first I thought I was only attributing skill where none actually existed but, having listened to this series at least three times now, I have to believe that R. C. Bray is doing it on purpose.  It’s just too consistent to not be intentional.

Characterization 3/5

One of the things that fans of the series criticize heavily is the arc of Neil Danielson, what he does by the end of the series, and what happens to him as a result; a series of events that I won’t spoil here.  Unfortunately, those fans are wrong.

Moss was doing a very specific thing with this character and, whether readers want to agree with the outcome or not, it was well done, for the most part.  Danielson has an actual arc, each point along the way is properly setup, and the payoff at the end is well earned.  Whether you as the reader are happy with the outcome is a different story; Moss is exploring a what-if scenario, not engaging in wish fulfillment.  I salute him for having the balls to do what he did instead of trying to make everyone happy, which must inevitably fail despite the best of intentions.

On the other hand, many of the characters in this story end up being interchangeable, with the exception of a few notable extremes.  Certain characters truly stand out with defined personalities, however this is due to the fact that their personalities develop to a point a little north of over the top.  I’m looking at you, Ayala.  Many characters feel as though they lack nuance in presentation, both in their actions and their speech patterns.  A perfect example are the two agents John and Quavoce who, apart from the fact that they do different things in the books, refer to different backstories, and are given different accents by the narrator, have very little to make them unique from each other.  Their speech patterns are essentially the same as well as their mannerisms.  Without the assistance of the writer/narrator to tell you who is who (by use of names or backstory tidbits), these agents are essentially interchangeable.

Real people have ways of speaking that are unique to them.  They have phrases and placeholders that they tend to rely on that are unique.  In these books, all of the characters use the same phrases, structure their sentences in similar fashion, and so on.  It’s a shame, too, because that lack of characterization tends to flatten out the character arcs presented to the reader and creates a feeling of interchangeability that hinders your ability to connect emotionally with the characters.

I think I’ll cut it off there.  I could go on but what this really comes down to is that Stephen Moss is a talented science fiction writer with a hell of an imagination but with little literary polish.  My recommendation to him would be to keep at it because his stories are still engaging despite their flaws and he’s certainly built up a hell of a fan base, yet if he continues to add to his writer’s toolbox and focuses on perfecting the craft of his writing, my humble opinion is that his stories would improve be leaps and bounds.

Science 4/5

And, because this is a Science Fiction story and Moss cites hard sci-fi as an influence, I’m going to take a minute to critique this aspect of the Fear Saga.

Over all, the science in these stories is really good.  It’s all grounded in just enough reality that it feels plausible while still jumping far enough ahead into the futuristic that the reader absolutely will experience a sense of wonder as the scientists in these books learn to crawl, walk, run, and finally fly.  It is apparent in the reading of these works that Moss put a lot of time into researching the various scientific fields that he explores and even adapted a lot of his findings into some very creative (and fun) areas.

I will take issue, however, with two basic points of physics.

First, the aliens approach interplanetary speeds just shy of the speed of light through the use of gravity wells.  More specifically, then have the ability to transport their space craft into what I’ll call no-space, or at least a sub-dimension, wherein their mass doesn’t interact with objects in our primary dimension and yet is still effected by the gravity of said objects.  In other words, they go to a dimension where their ship can pass through a planet, however the gravity of that planet still attracts their ship in this sub-dimension, so they fall towards the planet’s center.

Okay, cool, except for the fact that they continue to accelerate after they pass the planet’s center.  The idea is that they ramp their speed up to near-light by chaining a series of these bodies together; planets, stars, etc.  This has a cumulative effect, you see, and they just keep getting faster as they pass through each body.

The problem is that gravity pulls towards the center.  If they went to a sub-dimension where they were pulled into the center of a planet’s gravity well, they would instantly begin to slow down as they passed that center point.  Eventually, forward momentum would be completely exhausted and they would reverse direction back towards the center.  Think of a pendulum that loses momentum on each swing until, being overcome by the pull of gravity, it hangs motionless.

So that doesn’t work.

The other issue I had was with the descent of the space station elevator cable.  I haven’t done the math on this, so I don’t actually know if I’m one hundred percent correct but my gut tells me I am.  They have a space station in orbit around the planet which they want to tether to the ground through the use of an incredibly long cable.  The cable is made of alien wizard technology, so we can assume it is strong enough to handle the load.  The cable is so long (over 20,000 miles) and its weight so prodigious that it cannot be lifted up to meet the station.  It must instead by lowered from the station down to the earth.

Now, I’m not gonna lie, this is one of the cooler scenes in the books and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  Even so, a little voice in the back of my brain kept insisting that the cable’s mass would eventually pull the space station down to earth as soon as it had enough chance to be effected by the planet’s gravity.  Essentially, the more it was lowered, the heavier it would have gotten, until the combined weight of the meter thick, 20,000 mile cable yanked the counterweight station out of the sky.  I suppose you could counteract this pulling action by having the counterweight extend out from the Earth as the bottom portion of the cable was lowered, using the cable’s own inertia to counteract the pull of gravity.  You certainly couldn’t do it with a stationary counterweight and some reverse-thrusters; we simply don’t have anything that hauls that kind of ass, even in these stories.  And if I recall correctly, reverse-thrusters are the solution in this story.  It’s a minor point, really, but the rest of the science elements of the book were so damned fun and also so well done that little items like this really stand out by contrast.

Narration 5/5

As noted previously, R. C. Bray’s expert narration does a lot to cover over many of the literary and grammatical shortcomings in the series.  He uses just about every trick and technique at his disposal (developed over a considerably successful career) to put the best face that he can on Moss’s work, and the reader’s ability to enjoy the story is greatly enhanced for his efforts.

My advice to any prospective readers would be to go get the audible version, especially if you find textual errors to be visually distracting.

Overall

If you are a science fiction fan, I really hope that this review doesn’t put you off checking out this series.  I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys good, hard science fiction as well as alien invasion stories that are smartly conceived (as opposed to the usual Roland Emmerich dreck).  For all of the flaws I’ve listed above, I’d happily shelf this series right alongside some of the other greats like The Andromeda Strain and Footfall (both of which had plenty of their own issues, by the way).

Stephen Moss has spoken of a probable fourth book in the series, Fear’s Orphans, and I for one hope he goes after it.  Additionally, I look forward to seeing what he chooses to explore in other universes.  The guy is definitely a diamond in the rough but his storytelling succeeds despite those rough edges.  With a little polish, I foresee some amazing work in his future.

@RAMriverside Please share and help me celebrate these amazing women! #writing #stories

I took my wife and son down to the Riverside Art Museum over the weekend for Mother’s Day, almost on a lark.  I’ve been with my wife for twenty years now (married for 12) and my son is 10; that’s twenty years’ worth of conventional valentines gifts and 10 solid years of conventional Mother’s Day presents which, after a while, kind of lose their impact.  This time around, I wanted to do something out of the ordinary and take my family to see something beautiful.

typwriter project

Cindy Herrera (left) next to her contraption while my wife and son chatter away behind it.

We arrived at the same time as the woman here in the above photo.  Her name is Cindy (or perhaps Cindi) Herrera.  She’s a local and seems to spend some of her weekends riding about on a bike outfitted with a cart that happens to be loaded up with three typewriters.  Three clunky, ancient, impossible to efficiently use typewriters.

Immediately, we were drawn in.  For some odd and wonderful reason, my kid (in an era of tablets and Youtube and other various wastes of time) is nearly obsessed with typewriters; every time he passes one in an antique store he wants to run his hands all over it and press the keys to see how they work.  He has an incredibly mechanical mind and something about being able to see the physicality of the typebars raise up out of the machine to strike the paper at the press of a button demands his attention.

I asked her what it was all about as my son investigated.  She offered a lovely smile and said that it was a little project she was working on.  She would set up shop somewhere likely to get some good foot traffic, write various questions at the top of the paper on each typewriter, and ask passersby to come respond to these questions.  The questions could be anything.  “Tell me something important from your childhood”, or something similar.  She said, “You don’t get to delete or revise what you write.  Whatever you set down is what it is, forever, typos and all.”  Apparently, she was compiling everything she collected into either an art exhibit or book, but I regret to say I can’t remember what the ultimate finished product would be.

I have since tried to find some kind of social media presence for Cindy or her project but have failed to get anything remotely close outside of a similar project being run in New York.  I’d love to know more about what she’s doing and what the finished product will be.

Ultimately, I’m hoping you who read this will share this around, perhaps help it to go a little viral (at least among the locals in Riverside, CA), and get a response from Cindy herself.

I loved the idea behind what she was doing and assured her that we would be coming back out to contribute after we had gone through the museum (she wasn’t finished setting up when we arrived and needed time to get everything situated).  She thanked me and waved as we passed through the door.

After the museum (which was delightful yet had nowhere near as much impact on me personally as the typewriter project, as you’ll see) we came back out to meet with Cindy.  All of her prompts had been established and she was already seeing some healthy foot traffic.  There was a man and woman standing in front of one of the typewriters on the left side of the cart.  The woman was typing out a passage clumsily, using only her index fingers.  I can’t recall the details of her face, only her teeth, which were bright and gleaming in the sun as she smiled.  The man, who I assumed to be her husband, stood behind her, smiling as well but more reserved.

In the meantime, my wife, son, and I looked at some of the other prompts to see what the subject under discussion was.  On the center station, a question read, “What can we do to improve relations in the local community?”  This was a generic question as far as I could tell; my son and I both rattled something out, equally generic and not worth mentioning.

I looked back up at the station on my right and saw that the woman and man from before were replaced now by my wife, who was looking down at the sheet.  The two who were there before her had gone without me noticing.  My wife only stared, not moving to write anything.

I came to stand by her and read the question on the paper.

“Describe something from your history that had a major impact on your life.”

Under this was the following.

“Dear cancer, you saved my life and made me enjoy the things i

have in my life.

What are you grateful for?”

– Unknown Survivor

Both of us felt as though we couldn’t get enough air.  My wife took a few steps back, put up her hands, and said, “Well, what do you write after that?  I got nothing.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the paper.  It just sat there looking back up at me; challenging me.  I’d forgotten what the original question at the top of the paper even said.  I just kept re-reading that last line.

“What are you grateful for?”

I put my hands on the keys; took them off.  I blanked my mind, put my index fingers on two keys, and then wrote the first coherent though I had.

“She said ‘Yes’.”

Review: Arisen Series @michaelstephenf @audbks #books #review

Arisen: CarnageI’ve recently downloaded Carnage, the 12th volume in the massive Arisen series (originally by Glynn James and Michael Stephen Fuchs but now just by Michael exclusively – more on that in a minute) and am in the process of tearing through it.  As the overall story has been refreshed in my mind, I thought I’d write a little about it here for anyone who may want to check it out.

Synopsis

The first thing to understand is that I’m covering the series and not just a single book.  This series is a modern day incarnation of the old school serial; it’s pointless to try and pick out a single book in the set.  There are certainly books that stand out among the rest but, really, the only way to consume this beast is to start at the head and work your way down to the tail a piece at a time.  If you try to get on the bus in the middle of the trip, you’ll have a leg ripped off.

The broad strokes of the series are as follows: the zombie apocalypse has already wiped out the vast majority of the world’s population.  Humanity has made its last stand at Fortress Britain (the British Isles are completely surrounded by water and, since the virus originated down in Somalia, they’ve managed a good job of keeping the virus out).

The entire series focuses on the efforts of a multitude of soldiers, sailors, marines, troops from other branches, and a small collection of surviving civilians to complete a single mission: find the cure.

In their quest, they must contend with challenges of ever increasing difficulty, ranging from constantly evolving zombies, the fact that resources are running out and what is actually left is mostly held together with duct tape (sorry; 100 mph tape) and tie-wire, and the brutal, antagonistic intervention of rival nations.

Spoiler-Free Review

This series is comprised of non-stop, shit your pants action.  Anyone interested in introspective naval gazing need not apply.  That being said, I don’t want to give the impression that there is zero character development happening; there is.  It’s just that between the reality that the vast majority of the characters in these stories are already at the very top of their game (and thus don’t have a great deal further to go by way of growth) and the fact that the author doesn’t really take his foot off the gas once he gets you rolling (except for some recuperative sequences that are few and far between), there just isn’t a great deal of opportunity to take a character from A to Z.  This is especially true towards the end of the series (which, I need to add, is not yet completely written), where entire books become an exquisite, play-by-play breakdown of some of the most intense running gun battles you’ll ever read.

Character development is actually happening in points; you certainly see it earlier on in the books when the author(s) is doing all the heavy lifting of introducing you to all of the different characters (and there are a ton of them).  Group dynamics and friction are a major factor in these times.  Internal struggles also come into play (characters tend to spend time second guessing their own motives, wondering if they’ll be able to make the tough calls, and so on).

The main target audience of these books (it seems to me) are unabashed lovers of zombies, military action, naval warfare, aerial combat, and spec-ops teams at the top of their games killing the hell out of each other.  If any of this is your cup of tea, jump into the series.  Now.

Ratings

Note that, given the content involved, I’ll be employing a slightly modified ratings system for this series of books.  Whereas you’ll typically see some form of star system, I find myself forced here to utilize the 5.56×45 NATO system.

Writing

5outof5

Easily five out of five head shots.  Even if you’re a run of the mill civilian (like myself), you’ll find that the author presents all of the military information, acronyms, and concepts in such a way that you can keep up with the story and, over time, you’ll discover that you’re even learning a few things.  The saltier characters (especially Gunny Fick, who ends up standing out early as a series favorite) are a joy to behold, having elevated the practice of vulgarity from competency to a form of artistic expression.

Story

4outof5

The only thing that keeps this arrested at a four out of five head shot rating for me is that the series goes on for so damned long (it’s not the actual length here; it’s the mileage).  The longer it runs, there are more opportunities to produce content that cannot possibly please everybody.  There are certain things that are happening in this book (things which I’ll get to in the spoiler section if you care to go there) that I don’t consider to be a big deal when they occur once or twice.  Now that the series spans 12 freaking books, with a 13th well on the way, there have been more chances for these little niggling items to pop up and annoy me and, frankly, the more I have to think about them the more I’m bugged by their existence.  Even so, I feel that I should emphasize that 1) the things that are bugging me won’t end up bugging the vast majority of the intended audience for this series, and 2) they aren’t bugging me enough to impact my enjoyment of the story.  These books make it really easy for you to just accept them for what they are and roll with it.

Characters

4point5

Four head shots and a punctured kidney.  These books are packed cover to cover with an ensemble cast of incredibly strong characters.  And I mean that: they are all incredibly, ridiculously, unbelievably strong.  This is something I’ll discuss below in the spoilers.  Now, the personalities of these characters are one thing – they are distinct, enjoyable, and easily identifiable, such that you can tell them apart easily by their behaviors and mannerisms.

On the other hand, everyone in these books ends up being so much of a bad ass (even the random civilian characters who have received no ultra-uber death commando military training) that your basis of comparison kind of flattens out over time and you start becoming numb to how awesome they are (a state of being about which you will be reminded frequently by the author).  It kind of reminds me of the old Homer epics like The Iliad and so on.  Every new hero that got focused on in those stories ended up being the GREATEST X that EVER Y’d!

You kind of get that sense here in the Arisen series as well.  It creates  a problem of unrealistic expectations as you work through the story.  You spend a ton of time seeing examples of these people pulling off unbelievable feats of skill and endurance; and yet later on when you see them behaving like humans (making mistakes, basically), you wonder what the hell caused them to brain-fart so hard.  This is compounded by the fact that you’re constantly being reminded that these guys are all hyper professional and the very best in the world at what they do.  It causes one to ask questions like, “Well, okay, but what about that last chapter when Professional Pete got into a pissing contest with one of his team mates over stupid shit?”

For a guy like me (a guy who tends to overthink this stuff), it makes it hard to decide what I’m witnessing: am I looking at characters who are flawed or an author who has painted himself into a corner by repeatedly insisting that the characters are basically god-like while having to deal with the reality that perfect characters are boring?

This is a tough one.  For a book to hold your interest, there has to be some sort of drama going on (I mean in the classical sense, not the high school variety).  If the characters are going to be flawed, that’s cool.  Thank god they’re human; I can relate to them easier.  Certain choices are still hard to work my head around, though, as I’ll describe below.

As stated, this won’t ruin the story for the intended audience and it certainly hasn’t ruined it for me.  It is there, though, and it is noticeable.

Performance (Bonus)

5outof5

This section is relevant only if you consume these books in audio format.  Once again, I’m discussing a book performed by R. C. Bray.  I promise not all of my reviews are going to be Bray books; I just happen to be listening to the latest in the series right now.  He’s actually the reason I picked it up; I tend to go on Audible and just scroll through the list of titles he’s performed until I find one that grabs my interest.  For those of you who are already fans, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Bray really, really has his work cut out for him in this series and he attacks it happily.  For one, there’s a huge amount of characters to contend with in this series (it’s like Jarhead War and Peace, seriously), and Bray’s subtle nuances of character and delivery are a major help in keeping everyone straight; I feel like I almost need that additional reinforcement to keep everyone firmly set in their appropriate bucket.  I’ve never been good with names but faces and voices are never forgotten.  Honestly, if I didn’t have the narrator holding my hand on this one I’d probably be having a harder time keeping up.

I’ve been through the whole series two or three times now (advancing like waves a little further up the beach each time, as new volumes are released) and the only thing I might be able to pick out is that I think one or two characters might have gotten modified accents along the way but it’s hard to be sure.  One of the characters in Alpha team, Alli (I’m going to assume I’m spelling it correctly here because I’ve never actually seen her name in print; only heard it spoken), I believe starts the series with a feminine no-accent early on and morphs into a more pronounced clip as it becomes clear in a later book that she was originally a native Somali.  It’s hard for me to tell, though, because if this did happen it’s very subtle; if this is the case it would indicate a bit of error correction after the fact, which is cool with me.  Actually, it would kind of impress the hell out of me, as it suggests that Bray is bleeding that in carefully over time so that it’s under the radar.  That’s kind of a jaw dropper if I’m right.

Another item that I’m even less sure of is that I think one of the Marine characters shifted from an American to English accent across a couple of volumes, although I’m seriously shaky on that one; don’t hold me, the narrator, or the author to it.  The only reasoning I can come up with behind this, if it’s actually true, is that Bray saw Marine in the earlier volumes and figured American Leatherneck and was perhaps corrected by Fuchs later, informing him that the character is a Royal Marine (the character spends all of his time in Fortress Britain).  Again, no clue if I’m right or not; I don’t even remember the character’s name at this point and, having only the audio copy of these books, it’s hard to go back and look it up.  Again, over the span of some 13 or 14 freaking volumes (however many the series ends up being), hiccups like these are to be expected and I don’t hold them against anyone.  They in no way impact my ability to enjoy these books.

Spoiler-Laden Review

While this isn’t the best series I’ve ever read, I’m going to classify it as a perfect series (perfect in that it does exactly what it sets out to do).  Now, I’m going to make some assumptions about the author(s) just based on how the series progresses.  I want to make it clear up front that I don’t know the guys, have never spoken with them, and I haven’t spent a great deal of time reading up on the behind the scenes info regarding why the series goes the way it does.  Everything I’m about to write is based on my experiences as a reader and what I’m able to intuit from the writing and the progression of the story.

First of all, Glynn James was involved as a co-author in the first eight books in the series.  He dropped out after that due to time constraints and commitments to other projects.  To my knowledge, there was no falling out between the two authors; James simply couldn’t keep up with Fuchs’s pace and didn’t want to slow him down.  So that’s One.

Two: James is primarily a sci-fi/horror writer, with some healthy bits of fantasy added in.  He cites writers like HP Lovecraft, Clive Barker, and Stephen King as major influences.  This is important.

Keep the above in mind, now, as I point out that, from what I can tell, Michael Stephen Fuchs is a military fiction writer.  He does action/thriller stuff.  It is especially evident in his writing; he really digs the military, you guys.

Consequently, we see throughout the series, a hard turn away from the zombie horde as the primary antagonist, just a bit after book 9.  It is around this time that the zombies fall into the background as a forgotten threat and the new primary antagonist is firmly installed: The Russian Spetznaz forces.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing.  I will say that if you come to this series wanting to see the very finest of the combined military forces of two of the world’s greatest nations engage in a slobberknocker with literally millions of Zeds, you’ll absolutely get that.  You can, however, expect a tapering off of this activity in the latter part.  In the last two books that I’ve read thus far (11 and 12), zombies haven’t even been a thing worth mentioning, having been completely supplanted by the Russian aggressors.

I think it possible that Fuchs may be feeling some zombie fatigue at this point, honestly.  Keep in mind, it isn’t just the books in the main timeline that he’s produced; he’s written a prequel and intermediary episodes as well; the dude is a writing machine.  I think he’s either just finished the 13th book (or he’s getting very close to doing so) and I don’t think he’s showing any signs of slowing down.  Specifically, I think he sees the end in sight and, if anything, is ramping up the pace to drive that final coffin nail home.

You can’t blame him, either (or at least, I can’t).  These books have done some pretty amazing and imaginative things with our friend the zombie over their many volumes; things that, I believe, have breathed new life into the genre.  He’s examined disease mutations, tidal horde behavior, and has executed massive, continent-wide battles in print that are outright fucking page turners the first time you encounter them (I’ve been through the series a few times now).  All that being said, how many volumes of this story can we reasonably expect the guy to keep turning out brain-eating behavior that is fresh and unique?

I believe this is the reason we see such a hard shift from zombie fighting to top-tier spec-op fighting late in the series.  For a guy like me, who didn’t come for the zombie action only, this is no big deal.  If you happen to be interested primarily in zombie action for your reading pleasure, I regret to inform you that this is going to drop off to nil towards the end of the books.  They are not finished, of course; there’s a good chance he brings them back – Britain does still have to be saved, after all.

All that zombie/non-zombie stuff aside, I’ll say here that there’s some character stuff going on that I think is starting to get a little clunky, due mostly to the fact that I’ve been reading about these characters for so many books now.  I’ve been listening now to twelve books of Handen doubting his ability to lead his team effectively.  Twelve books of Alli and Homer being stupid in love but resisting each other for the good of the team.  Twelve books of Hanough being a pain in the ass.  All of these things are fine for a couple of books, and these are pivot points around which some of the best character development happens in the series.  On the other hand, after getting twelve books in, I’d really like to see some of these get resolved already.

One of the plot points I had a really rough time with revolved around the Sarah character (who, for some reason, appears in my mind’s eye as T2-era Linda Hamilton).  Without taking up a lot of space to do a deep dive, she’s this series’ version of Lori Grimes from The Walking Dead.  It’s totally plausible that her husband gets chewed up into corpseburger and she’s cool with it.  The author even does a good job of explaining why that is later in the story and you find yourself disliking her husband right along with her.  But…her kid, man.  It’s been a while since I read this specific book (it’s early in the series) but she first watches as he’s eaten and then again sees him get plugged later on by Homer, if I have it all right.  A few days later, she is not only jumping into the sack with Handen; she’s also reveling in her new found freedom and actively flirting with all the testosterone factories on the carrier (yeah, she starts out somewhere in Michigan and ends up on an aircraft carrier off the East Coast later on – look, a lot happens in these books).  The unfortunate eventuality of all this (plus what I’m going to discuss next) is that she ends up being unsympathetic, if not downright unlikable.

And, this brings me to the Hanough->Sarah->Handen high school drama triangle…

There’s a lot of baggage, here, but the main point is that Sarah’s banging Handen, Hanough and Handen don’t like each other, and Sarah ends up being friends and flirting with Hanough later on, which Handen walks in on (of course), becomes intensely jealous over, which effects his ability to work effectively with Hanough, which Hanough uses to get under Handen’s skin, which further increases his own self doubt, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Did I mention that these guys are ultra professional, top tier operators who are the very best in the world at their game and won’t let anything get in the way of them completing the mission?

Oye.

Look, I’m cool with flawed characters.  They’re interesting and complex.  But when I see some shenanigans going on between characters who are supposed to be the biggest hardasses in the series and all of those said shenanigans resemble an old episode of Dawson’s Creek (it was a teenage drama TV show from the 90’s for you younger readers), I have to start asking questions about just what the hell is going on.  The inter-team drama between Hanough and Handen (without accounting for Sarah) is fine, by the way.  All of that is well set up in the beginning of the series with Ainsley and the fact that Hanough holds allegiance to him.  The friction  between Hanogh and Handen in this regard is well earned.  I just have a rough time swallowing these love triangle dramas between seasoned, capable adults.  You’ve established that they’re the best of the best.  That’s awesome.  Don’t turn around and hand me a scene where they’re acting like tipsy interns at the office Christmas party.  That undermines the whole best-of-the-best thing you just worked so hard to set up.

I probably sound overly harsh on these issues, and maybe I am, but it just seems to mar and otherwise flawless series for me.  All of the above aside, the series is absolutely perfect for what it sets out to do.  It is clearly written by a person who is deeply passionate about all things military, and that focus comes out wonderfully in every word, to the benefit of the narrative.

There are certainly cheesy things going on in these books.  There are a whole force of Russian Spetsnaz who are comically evil (seriously, half the fun you have in these books is listening to how screwed up Ivan is).  This is just fine for a series of zombie books, and yet I’m pretty sure that the real life Spetsnaz forces aren’t a bunch of torture loving Bond villains running around murdering everything in sight for the sheer joy of blood lust.  I’ve done some research into these guys out of curiosity; it turns out they’re soldiers a lot like ours.  They’re people of all ages from all walks of life who enlisted to serve their country and made it through a rigorous selection process to climb to the ranks of one of the top combat units of their nation.

Even so, I don’t care.  It’s a freaking zombie book.  Let the Russians be cartoonishly evil.  I’m accepting a wave of animated corpses sweeping across the globe, I can certainly deal with a bunch of Russians with Daddy Issues.  As I said; they’re fun.

I’ll also take a minute to note at this point that our protagonists run into gear drops like they’re playing Call of Duty.  Every time they turn around, it seems like they’re running into a hidden pallet of the best X gear ever to have been conceived.  The author himself even gives a tongue in cheek nod to the reader in one of the later books where a security team stumbles upon a whole locker full of bite proof, fire resistant, riot gear just in time to run a critical mission into a zombie-infested Middle Eastern city; all of which would have come in super handy in earlier books.

The characters in the book end up chalking the whole event to the evils of basic bureaucracy, inefficiency, and stupidity all around, while in real life, you can basically hear the author saying, “Give me a freaking break, okay?  It’s a zombie book.”

Ultimately, I give the dude a break.  For any of the flaws that I happen to pick up along the way, the stories more than make up for them in sheer, page-turning, popcorn-eating, high octane fun.  These books are just fun, okay?  That’s all they should be.  That’s all they’re really meant to be.  Go get in there and have some fun with them.

Why Audiobooks? #reading #audiobooks #books

audibleWhen I was young, I was convinced that audio books were for bone heads.  I had all these prejudices and beliefs around what made a “respectable reader” (never mind the fact that I never could get through a paragraph alive without spellcheck).  You had to hold a physical, paper book in your hand or it didn’t count as reading.  The books had to be from certain beloved authors or they were of little to no merit and were thus to be hidden in shame.

I had a lot of other really stupid ideas, too.  I was a kid, what the hell do you want from me?  Kids are dumbasses.

Even so, one of the conceits of my youth that held on a lot longer than it should have was this idea that listening to an audio book does not equal reading.  Okay, technically, it’s not reading, I get that.  But outside of the fact that you are not using your eyeballs to read and interpret letters from a page, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of difference.

When you read a book, are you consciously aware of the act of reading or has it become an autonomic activity that you don’t have to think about?  Are you able to just focus on the story?

Using your little socket peepers to consume a book should be the last damned thing that gets in the way of you enjoying a good story; it’s actually the dumbest reason I can think of to discount a book.  What are you going to tell blind people?  Do they not read?

Or so I should have been screaming at myself, years ago.  I was forced to turn to audio books by necessity.  I spend about three hours in the car every day (100 mile round trip) commuting to and from work.  I work really, really hard.  At night, there is a literal stack of books on my bedside table, but I can only read them for fifteen minutes at a time before I pass out.  My adult professional life was jacking up my ability to read, which I used to do voraciously.

Aside from all that, I detest drive time radio.  I hate the music stations, the talk radio, the commercials, the endless cacophony of mindless, wall-to-wall noise that vomits out of the speakers no matter what station you select.  My wife, who had been listening to audio books for a very long time (evidently, she was born with her head in the right place, whereas I had to undergo years of painful extraction to remove mine from my anus), suggested I try them for my daily drive.

I thought, “Oh, fine.  How bad could it be?”

A well performed audio book can be every bit as enjoyable as the original print form; it can surpass the original with a gifted narrator, elevating the experience to some hybrid of reading and movie-going.

I downloaded The Martian to my phone from Audible, plugged the phone into my car’s stereo system (yay, AUX!), and hit the play button.

And was instantly shown by one of the best performances the platform has to offer just what a weapons grade moron I had been.

Audio books have been a lifesaver for me over these last short years.  They have allowed me to get my book intake back up to an acceptable level (acceptable for me, anyway), they give me the ability to multitask (I can actually be getting something done in traffic), and they’ve opened me up to a new world of entertainment possibilities.  A well performed audio book can be every bit as enjoyable as the original print form; it can surpass the original with a gifted narrator, elevating the experience to some hybrid of reading and movie-going.

If you have limited your literary intake to print exclusively, I highly recommend that you expand your horizons.

Author Joshua Gayou on @MightyNetworks #SocialMedia #author #books #fiction

mighty networksI happened to see an ad for this new-fangled Mighty Networks thing run across my Facebook feed (ironically, they were advertising on Facebook to tell me how ineffective Facebook is as a platform, but that’s neither here nor there) so I thought I’d go take a quick look at what they had.  There were some pretty interesting things over there, I thought.  It seemed like there were a lot more options for personalized, live connection with other users, many of which were a lot more elegant and better done than what I’ve seen on Facebook, Twitter, and even through what’s available here on WordPress.  Because of this, I’ve gone and setup a presence there that I’m hoping will become a place that readers find useful.  Among some of the other features provided, you can go there for:

And various other stuff besides.  I’ve also added links to the areas I think will be most useful in the top menu bar of the sight (see below).

Joshua Gayou menu

Come connect with me, IF YOU DARE….

MUAHAHAHHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHAAAHHAHAHAHAHHAH!!!

Or, maybe go eat a pack of Oreos.  Those are good too.  But totally come say hi after getting your Oreo on.

What Writing a Book Taught Me About Reviewing Books #reading #writing #books #bookreview

I have a favorite quote that runs as follows:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

Anton Ego, Ratatouille

For a kids’ cartoon, this is one of the greatest quotes on the state of The Arts (in general) that I’ve ever heard.  Having written reviews on various films (and to a much lesser degree, books), I can say: yes – writing a scathing review lends itself to a certain perverse enjoyment.  Moreover, I do tend to enjoy similar reviews written by others regarding works that I didn’t like.  Yes, I know.  I’m going to hell.

Then I put my butt on the line and wrote a book.  I have a much different outlook these days.

I have ripped up various authors in the past whose works I considered to be inferior, although I can’t think of an instance of doing so in written form; I usually saved such activity for movies, which have always elicited a stronger, more visceral reaction from me.  But in casual discussion (either spoken or written comments on social media), I certainly have let it fly.

Man, I think all of that is over, for the most part.  I will say, however, that I’m reserving my right to pull the knives out for anyone clearly writing from a cynical point of view.  I’ll give you a good “for instance”, here…

I recently learned of a practice (because this kind of low-level industry stuff tends to fascinate me) wherein romance authors are going back and revising already released work in order to fulfill an ever increasing series of specialized fetish niches.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that this was a thing that you can do, and yet, having published a book, I have found how easy it is to upload a new manuscript any time I felt like doing so.

The more main stream your romance story is, the more competition you have to get noticed.  The more specialized your subject matter is, the more you stand out.  You get more attention.  It’s easier for people to find the book and send money your way.  On top of that, there are the thrill seekers who find themselves drawn to the bizarre out of morbid curiosity and you can probably get a few bucks out of them, if you’re outlandish enough.

Now consider: Author A releases a standard boy-meets-girl story to fairly decent reception.  A solid little base of fans is built up, all of whom buy into the romance and, for better or worse, fall in love with the characters.  Maybe this is a stand alone book or maybe it will grow into a series one day.

Perhaps a year or two later, Author A realizes he or she can generate a lot more notice and money by turning boy-meets-girl into brother-bangs-sister.  Names and relationships are changed, a few scenarios are tweaked, and cover art is swapped out.  A flood of new readers looking for an edgier, more forbidden thrill come rolling in, yet meanwhile a small collection of diehard fans are left wondering what just happened to a series in which they have invested a significant amount of time, thought, and emotion.

It sounds as though I’m escalating this quickly, yet I can assure you that there’s a thick, hardened, cynical rind on the self-publish industry; this is only what I’ve discovered in my short time thus far.  These kind of shenanigans are totally legitimate targets for vicious reviews, as far as I’m concerned.  Unfortunately, I tend not to read this kind of material, so you’re not likely to hear it from me.

All that aside, a lot of the young adult romance/fiction that I used to revile (the Twilight series standing in here as the patsy) was, at some point, the hard work of a writer who was excited about telling that particular story.  It doesn’t matter if I enjoyed the work or not; that story is the representation of someone who worked hard to dream up and create a tale about characters that he or she loved.  It doesn’t matter if it has technical issues, novice writing errors, or issues in plot, or if it is fan fiction, or what reading level it is considered to be.  In fact, some of Hemingway’s best work was on the level of See Spot Run, for God’s sake!

That author felt a drive to create something, and he or she sat down and worked at it.  They didn’t try to get famous for duck faced selfies or get IG hits for flexing their ass muscles in the bathroom mirror.  They made a thing with their own hands, minds, and hearts.  They’re not to be ridiculed.  Whether we enjoy their labor or not, they are to be celebrated, especially in this, our most illiterate of ages.

For this reason, I will never write an unfavorable review for a book I dislike (nor will I write a favorable review for a book I dislike, for that matter).  The author simply bled too much to have a jerk like me rip it to shreds.  I’ll keep my damned mouth shut, thanks.

Film, on the other hand, is a diversion created entirely through cynical means: a marketable product produced by committee for the sole purpose of ensuring a strong return on investment.  Open season, as far as I’m concerned…

Review: Solitude by Dean M. Cole #bookreview #sciencefiction #postapocalypse

Media: Audio Book (audible.com)

Producer: Blue Heron Audio

Performers: R. C. Bray, Julia Whelan

I recently stumbled upon this page-turner through the fact that I follow R. C. Bray’s Facebook fan page and keep up to speed on his new releases.  There has been a lot of buzz about Solitude running across my various feeds; incidentally, I happened to make friends with the author recently and I found some commonality in our backgrounds (he’s a badass helicopter pilot/I wrote instrumentation software for helicopter cockpits once upon a time in a previous career).  Additionally, there seemed to be some overlap between our two books, so I figured I’d better dive in and see what he had to say on the subject.

Publisher Summary

From the best-selling author of the Sector 64 Series!

Earth’s last man discovers that the last woman is stranded alone aboard the International Space Station. If you like action-packed novels, you’ll love the electrifying action in this apocalyptic thriller.

Can humanity’s last two unite?

Separated by the gulf of space, the last man and woman of the human race struggle against astronomical odds to survive and unite.

Army Aviator Vaughn Singleton is a highly intelligent, lazy man. After a last-ditch effort to reignite his failing military career ends horribly, Vaughn becomes the only human left on Earth.

Stranded alone on the International Space Station, Commander Angela Brown watches an odd wave of light sweep across the planet. Over the next weeks and then months, Angela struggles to contact someone on the surface, but as she fights to survive aboard a deteriorating space station, the commander glimpses the dark underpinnings of humanity’s demise.

After months alone, Vaughn discovers there is another. Racing against time, he must cross a land ravaged by the consequences of humankind’s sudden departure.

Can Vaughn find a path to space and back? Can Angela – the only person with clues to the mystery behind humanity’s disappearance – survive until he does?

©2017 Dean M. Cole (P)2017 Dean M. Cole

Spoiler Free Quickie

Writing: 5/5 Stars

The proficiency of Cole’s writing suggests that he is a person either naturally gifted or incredibly focused on perfectionism.  The writing itself is natural and effortless both from the perspective of the 3rd person narrative as well as the character dialog.  He shifts from formal description to idiosyncratic inner-monologue easily, effectively putting the reader into the character’s frame of reference.  I can only imagine that this skill must have made the book a joy to narrate for the performers.

Additionally, I could find no evidence of any repeated crutch phrases or expressions (many authors have an unconscious list of favorite terms or expressions that they overuse; it’s a massive pet peeve with me).

Story: 4.5/5 Stars

There were points in the story early on that bugged the hell out of me, which ultimately distracted me from the initial plot setup.  The end of the book managed to make up for this through a pretty impressive plot twist; however the initial mystery setup in the story jarred me a little and so I was distracted by it.  Unfortunately (given what Cole is trying to do with the story), I’m not sure there was an easy way around this.  I’ll get into details in the spoiler-laden section below.

Performance: 5/5 Stars

There’s not much I can say about R. C. Bray that hasn’t been said a hundred times already.  For my money, the guy is hands-down the best narrator/performer in the business.  He makes a book feel like a movie.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you haven’t listened to him.  Go rectify that right now.

The surprise for me on this book was the performance of Julia Whelan.  First, I need to get some undesirable business out of the way:

Women narrators have a much harder time doing male characters in this business.  This isn’t a sexist jab; it’s a reality of bio-mechanics and the physics of sound waves.  I don’t know what it is exactly – blame testosterone or estrogen – but something about the structures in the average woman’s throat makes it a lot harder to shift down to a male register than it is for a man to shift up into a female register.  It’s unfortunate but it is a reality; a very present reality that female narrators have to deal with.

Well, Whelan has got it figured out.  The bummer for any narrator performing a character of the opposite sex is that the best they can really hope for is to not be distracting.  That’s about your best case scenario: don’t distract the reader.  The worst case scenario is that you botch the job so bad that you have the audience laughing on every attempt.

I’m here to say: Whelan’s female characterizations were nuanced and well executed while her male characterizations were far above what I’ve come to expect from the female talent of the industry.  She did better than just minimizing distraction; she succeeded in selling her performance.  I was absolutely fine with every male she did in this book, evidenced by the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to her voice at all; I was paying attention to the character.

I would have to say that the only part of the performance that was a stumble for me (and this is ridiculously minor but I feel like I have to point out something) was that her interpretation of the male lead seemed just a little bit askew from Bray’s.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if either she or he had done the entire book; however because they were trading off POV chapters, there was a bit of a mental shift required on my part when I heard Bray’s Vaughn versus Whelan’s Vaughn.  Again: minor enough that I don’t even care.

Verdict

Are you still here?  Why haven’t you gone to download this yet?

Here Be Spoilers

This story is incredibly tight (it’s only about an eight hour listen) but there were about three or four chapters in the start where I found myself really distracted by the plot.  The setup is that some experiment has gone horribly awry at the CERN Hadron Collider, causing some nebulous energy wave to wash over the surface of the planet and vanish (potentially “kill” but I’m not convinced they’re all dead) all animal-based life.  Those not effected by the event have survived due to the fact that they are not physically connected to the Earth and are in a total vacuum (an astronaut on the ISS and an astronaut and test pilot conducting a hover test in a vacuum chamber on Earth).

So, here’s where I start nitpicking as an engineer.  Right away, I’m trying to dream up what phenomenon could possibly yield such a result.  Knowing what I know about the experiments conducted at CERN, I know there isn’t really anything they can do (awesome though the accelerator is) to create such an event.  Even assuming the power and influence of the machine could be scaled up to produce a gravitic effect capable of encircling the entire globe, there is simply no phenomenon even hinted at in today’s science that suggests an energy field of any kind capable of effecting only animal based life.  It’s certainly not anything we could produce by accident.

This is compounded by the fact that the authorities (US Government) in the story attempt to shut the event down by launching nukes at CERN: before this takes place, the idea that the energy wave comes from the collider is only a guess floated by the main characters, who are removed from all intelligence on the occurrence when they start postulating theories – meaning that I can write the idea off as a wild guess on the part of the characters.  The minute the United States starts launching nukes at CERN, I have to assign the theory a lot more weight within the confines of the story.  As noted before, the wave as described is a thing that the hadron collider could not possibly produce.  The fact that no one in the book is mentioning this makes me cranky.

I start second guessing myself as the book goes along.  Two things are happening at once here: the characters in the story are dealing with the problem and working through it, struggling to survive.  Meanwhile, in my car, I’m wondering if I have all my science wrong and if there’s some sudden breakthrough on gravitational research that I’ve missed somehow.  I noticed when they found the God Particle.  I rejoiced when they were able to detect the as-yet-only-theorized-about gravity wave.

Was I asleep when the scientists dreamt up the Man Made Carnivorous Energy Weapon?  I had some reading to catch up on…

At that point I would have taken any kind of explanation as a way out.  Hell, tell me it’s an alien attack and I’ll be happy!  In the end, I noticed I was missing way too much of the story and decided to chalk the whole thing up to Fucking Magic ™.  There was good shit happening in the book and I was missing it.

Once I calmed the hell down about the stupid collider, I was able to settle in and really eat everything up.  The story was told at a fast pace and didn’t allow much time to relax for a breather.  I will say that there were some bone-headed actions perpetrated on the part of Vaughn (the male lead), however these were in keeping with his character as it was established from page one, so these were not cheap gimmicks; they were earned.  The result, of course, is that you want to reach out and strangle the character rather than the author.  Good job, Author.

I tore through this thing all the way to the end of the story, where that damned collider came into the picture again.  Only this time, Cole threw a wrench into the whole thing with a nice little plot twist that managed to make me question everything I thought I knew about the setup in the beginning of the story.  The ending definitely created more questions than it answered but it was good to see that the author has a plan for what’s going on that is explainable through means other than FM ™.  I have some ideas regarding where I think he takes the story from here and, if I’m right, I’m all for it.  If I’m wrong he has at least earned my trust in this story sufficiently that I’m willing to sit back in the sequel and not drive myself crazy with so many damned questions.

The Beauty of an Economy of Words #writing #hemingway #wolfe

In the the great game of Chess, we have this concept of Tempo (or gaining tempo).  There are many detailed explanations of this with regard to the mechanics of the game, but the essentials behind the idea may be generalized as follows:

Tempo is gained when many tasks are accomplished with a single action.

In Chess, this is a simple concept to grasp; however it is not always straightforward to achieve.  Developing a piece while delivering check (as is noted in the linked article) is the easiest example.  In short, you want your one move to yield the most benefit.  You always want to be doing more than one thing at a time.

This concept is expandable to many other avenues in life, though the idea becomes more abstract.  In the case of writing, gaining tempo through an economy of words turns a straightforward sentence into a many-faceted work of art.

Hemingway was a master at this.

I’ve spoke about Gene Wolfe here before, I think, and if I haven’t I should do so more often.  He is another master of this technique, albeit in ways strikingly different from Hemingway.  Hemingway shocks with his deceptively simple style.  His writing asks the reader to unhinge the analytical brain and feel the meaning behind what he writes.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway

You must not spend a great deal of time on this statement.  If you do, it will be rendered meaningless and nonsensical.  The greatest disservice that happens in the American English classroom is when a writer like this is studied and the teacher asks the student, “What do you think he meant by this?”

No, god damn you.  Trying to force these things is like trying to recall a dream that doesn’t want to be remembered.  You must feel these things in your gut not understand them with your head.  Your head is not the place for Hemingway.  Your head is the shaking, fumbling fingers of an adolescent boy trying to master the clasp of a bra strap.  You belly is required for such things.

Wolfe, on the other hand, requires every bit of your analytical mind that you can muster.  Each idea that he presents has the potential to be a key that unlocks a greater puzzle.  With Wolfe, it’s a good idea to bring your A-game, else the experience of reading his stories may feel more like a fever dream than a diversion.

I want to share a quote from his story “Litany of the Long Sun”.  It will require that I do some explaining to set it up – this is going to contain spoilers.  If you plan on reading this book, I recommend you step out now.

Don’t say I failed to warn.

Maytera Marble, a synthetic being living on a space-bound generation ship referred to as “The Whorl” by its inhabitants, has seen better days.  She can remember a time before The Whorl, when she lived on a real planet.  This time is now so long ago that she may not necessarily remember the distinction between planet and ship or why one is different from another (the humans who live on the ship certainly don’t realize that there is a universe outside of their reality).  She knows only that, once upon a time, her body was not failing her.  Because she is a synthetic, she is being constantly assailed by failure codes and faulty systems diagnostics as they are overlaid in her field of view.  Being a Sibyl (akin to our Catholic Sister), she is a teacher of young human children; she hides her infirmities from those who love her.

It is important to note, here, that what they call the “sun” on this generation ship is a long heat ray that runs down the length of the cylindrical enclosure.  She can remember a time when the sun was a bright disk that moved across the sky.  The heat ray in the ship is referred to as “The Long Sun”.  The disk that she remembers: The Short Sun.

“Maytera Marble could remember the short sun, a disk of orange fire; and it seemed to her that the chief virtue of that old sun had been that no list, no menu, ever appeared unbidden beneath its rays.”

Wolfe, Nightside the Long Sun (p. 24)

This one small entry tells us so very much about Maytera Marble with so very little.  It tells us that she is melancholy, that she is rendered sad by her failing body and her memory of happier times.  It demonstrates that the short sun itself does not hold any special talismanic place of power in her mind outside of its rather simplistic association with a period in her life where she can remember that she was physically more.

It is instructive to note that by this point in the story, Wolfe has not yet made it clear that Marble is an artificial being – he hints and dances around the idea.  It becomes clear later; however Wolfe (in his deviousness) also goes to the trouble to blur the lines between synthetic and natural persons, greatly confusing the issue.  He toys with the perceptions of the characters in his story as he toys with those of his readers.

But, what incredible weight can be found in this passage!  It only becomes clear later (after perhaps more than one reading) what import should be assigned to these words.  You can never just assume that a sentence has but a single meaning with Gene Wolfe.  This is the beauty of his work.  He is the literary Daedalus; his body of work is the Labyrinth and we (the readers) are his Minotaur.

The Labyrinth