Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Answering Review Request: "Gold Dust"


Catheraine Weaver asked me to read her novel "Gold Dust". It principally features a schoolgirl's attempt to basically save her mother's soul. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

This story stars Alex Lee, a girl in California. She goes to school, visits her grandmother, and worries about her mom overworking herself. Combined with the Ordinary High School Student intro, it is a solidly characterizing but bland start. That goes away very soon and becomes something quite engaging.


Alex's initiation into the magical side of things is something both unusual and classic. She gives what she think is a common drunker a packet of manju. For this good deed she is rewarded with a truly magical wish. I'm more used to stories that start with the muggle protagonist getting caught in the middle of a supernatural fight. Then again, I watch a lot of fighting anime. Anyway, this is more fitting with the tone of this story.

It is fitting because of this world's Magical Underpinnings of Reality. The story's setting is based upon the idea of "Consensus Reality", that is, reality is composed by the thoughts of those living in it and those thoughts can change reality. This informs how magic works; anyone with the knowledge and skill can change physical reality or influence someone's mind through their deliberate thought and belief that it is so. This also informs the setting; there are two parallel worlds with two versions of California dating back to a time one thousand years previous. Passive but intense  and perpetual worldwide belief severed the single world in two. Most directly, it informs the Evil Plan. Alex's mother unwittingly signed away her 'thought power' in "imaginative rights" to the new owner of her company. She must have confused it for "Intellectual Property". Ms.Weaver makes model use of her setting to shape her plot. There may be other "save both worlds" stories out there but Mis.Weaver's version of that template could only happen in her setting.

There's magic lessons for Alex to learn this sort of thing. She is bored by this despite great personal motive to pay attention. On one hand, I acknowledge that a boring teacher is a boring teacher even if they are teaching functional magic but on the other hand this was the only way to save her mother which is pretty pumped up about. Personally, I found the lessons to be quite interesting but I was one of the kids who liked going to class (with one or two exceptions).
The magic system is consistent which is definitely a plus. Making sure that Magic A is Magic A is a big deal for speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction together) in order to maintain tension and avoid story breakers.
It is also creatively used. Alex conjures things from localized rain storms to long range surveillance to the Jedi Mink Trick by playing the proper tune on her flute (magic wand analogy) with the right thoughts and feelings in mind.


There is an alternate history for the "Magical California" which includes an Amazon Queendom and a royal army of griffins, but is otherwise similar to "Non-magical California". In fact, there's this amusing little scene where Alex accidentally transforms her history book into one for the Magical California and she's able to give a summary of the homework assignment correctly by mentally editing out the magical parts.

"Gold Dust"; it's not much of a spoiler to say why that's the title and I find it an interesting bit of world building. You see, gold is the most magical material in the world. It amplifies magical power and is the easiest material to transform into something else. That's why it's valuable in the Magical World. The Non-Magical world just thinks that it holds its value because it is among the most stable of elements. That right there is the key difference between the two worlds; distinctly different and yet Not So Different.

It is a great example of organic plot escalation. Alex starts off wanting only to get her mom back to her normal self but as she travels and events unfold, she gets pulled into other things and bigger things. She meets people with other problems and they help each other to solve all of the other's problems as the situation escalates over time. It helps that all of them have a bone to pick with the same guy.

The Evil Plan of Herman Mendez starts out as some petty power grab by a corrupt corporate executive but there's a wham chapter. At that point it gets....scary; a lot more dangerous, a lot more far-reaching, and a lot more sinister. Think "1984" if that book were in the fantasy genre; yes, that kind of creepy.

There is a fitting ending for a first in a series; Sequel Hook. Today's crisis has been averted, the good guys accomplished their objectives and the Big Bad is beaten, but he'll be back. I like to think of Alex's last action in the story as a non-verbal Badass Boast.

If I had to point out any flaws in the story, it would be a difficult thing to do. The only one that comes to mind is Martin agreeing to a contract that clearly sounds like a scam and this contract  is the backbone of the plot. However, greed has made people do stupid things before and this sort of behavior is mentioned early on so it is not really a flaw at all.

CHARACTERS

Alex Lee

--> She is an Ordinary Highschool Student who starts her narrative by telling the reader that she is ordinary and not star material. Normally, I find this kind of "ordinary identification" to be annoying but not in this case. In this case, it is relevant because the feature of ordinary that has the most attention is her lack of imagination. As it happens, her mother is a fantastic creative artist and confidant woman, who stands as a foil for Alex, and imagination is literally power.
--> Mis. Weaver further uses this trope to show Alex's Heroic Self-Depreciation; she actually has a strong and quick imagination and this is shown by her seamless and extended lies/excuses/story making early in the narrative.
--> I find Alex to be a realistic take on a school age hero (not protagonist; there's a difference although she is both in this case). Just the initial goal of getting into her mother's secured office and talking with her has the girl feeling nervous and overwhelmed much less the much bigger, more complicated, and more dangerous missions with higher stake goals that come after that. Yes, she gets scared, and yes, she panics but she soldiers on anyway (with a little advise remembered from her wise Buddhist grandmother). She thinks well on her feet, when she has confidence enough to do so. She also has a lot of help and not just from other kids or animal side icks but from adults as well.


Speaking of the adult characters, it's nice to see a story where the adults are helpful, and more importantly, reasonable. For instance, when Alex is trying to explain to her mom about the magical stuff going on, she is initially disbelieved until she does a bit of magic in front of her. After that not only does her mom believe her but she can do magic too and because of her greater confidence and imagination, do it a lot better than Alex. She is not the only adult this happens too.


Ian is a Determinator. That is his core trait. To find his missing cousin he spent two weeks hiding in a giant corporate compound dodging security guards. Another big character trait is his habit of falling for "impossible girls" which leads to distraction during the thought-control based magic lesson and occasionally later. It is both an amusing running gag and an age appropriate character flaw.

Celeste is quite the plucky girl considering her initial situation and what follows. She is also quite skilled with magic and can use it after informal lessons and only needs to sing; no magic wand required. She quickly makes friends with Alex and the two perform combination spells that are fun to imagine. Part of the humor in her character and powers is that she is a Beastmaster whom circumstances force to travel in a wedding dress; thus, the Disney Princess jokes.

Herman Mendez is the Big Bad. He's a Corrupt Corporate Executive, a Control Freak, a con artist, a kidnapper and likely also a pedophile. Yeah, he's a nasty piece of work. He's also Faux Evilly Affable which makes him more detestable, in my opinion, than if he were a Card Carrying Villain. He has little screen time but it is enough to demonstrate that he really is as bad as people say he is. There is no Informed Villainy here. He appears to be a Non-Action Big Bad which would fit with the other parts of his character that are present; hire thugs to get their hands dirty for him.


POLISH

The story is told in the first person. I did not find this to be intrusive except at two points. It's mostly used to show how frazzled Alex feels at basically every point in this book, yet still moving on.
I didn't' see any spelling or grammar problems.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gold Dust" by Catharine Weaver an A+

Click here for the previous review request: Crik


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Monday, November 21, 2016

Answering review request: Crik

Karl Beer asked me to read his story "Crik". I will examine plot, character and polish and then determine a grade.

The Amazon blurb says little about the setting or the plot so it is difficult to say much here without spoiling. SPOILERS AHEAD! There, you have been warned.


PLOT

When I first received this request and started reading this book my impression was "familiar elements in an unfamiliar plot" and that remains my opinion. No single element here is original but the way they are put together is unique. For instance, there are many stock super powers such as Beast Master/pest controllers, Dream Walker, Necromancy, Green Thumb etc. but this is mundane. Everyone in the village has one and this has been the case for generations. There is a creepy man living alone in the woods that has a sinister purpose but the mechanics of this verse give him a degree of distinctiveness. There is a quest through the Unknown World through which the "hero" becomes wiser and more mature but he hardly counts as a hero for most of it.

When I say the powers are mundane, I mean that they are treated, in-universe, as mundane. There is nothing special about having powers. Having powers is normal. Indeed, Bill is called a "freak" by some because he doesn’t have powers similar to how powered people would be called freaks in stories where having powers is rare. What Mr.Beer did with Crik is less common than the flip side and that is partly why I say it is creative. I certainly do not mean the powers or situations are "boring". Few indeed are the parts in this book that can, in my opinion, be considered "boring".

The other reason I say it is creative is because of the mechanics of how the powers work. Jack's Living Shadow, for instance, has a lot of details in how it works. The strength of nearby light determines how strong Yang is; stronger light casts a darker and more defined shadow which means Yang is capable of more while weak light makes him pretty impotent. Complete darkness is where he is at his strongest, which is something I did not expect. The following explanation made perfect sense; in complete darkness Yang is everywhere at once. He can come down on something (or someone) like a thunderbolt and smite them but he also has less control in this form because he is essentially formless; no hands or fingers. Therefore, he needs a light source for delicate work. In fact, he deliberately stays motionless every night because he is afraid of accidentally harming Jack. Yang is essentially Unskilled But Strong or Weak But Skilled depending on the situations. He has other powers besides these depending on the color of the local light; standard candles or sunlight gives him standard abilities. Purple light enables him to speak and other colors enable him to perform Exposition Beams.

This sort of detail is something that I love to see in fantasy novels. The part where Yang explains all this to Yang is one of my favorite parts of the book.

In addition to the powers, there are other mechanics of the verse that I like. The Narmacils are fascinating. Their life cycle, why they need human hosts, and the ways they can stretch their powers; all of this shows the thought Mr.Beer has put into the fictional species he has created. While Super Empowering is not a new idea (even the more specific version that tiny creatures are providing the power to human hosts is not a new idea) Mr.Beer has put his own personal spin on it. That is a clearer mark of a talented author than attempts to create something entirely new (it is a fool's errand to try).


The final battle is awesome. Here we have a village of diverse Talents vs plate mail warriors and ghosts with a zombie army reinforcing the former. It reminded me of a video game, a strategy-action one like Dynasty Warriors, where players had to move across the battlefield and fight different enemies in different situations.
There are a lot of characters here; a lot of named characters with individual powers and varying levels of skill in combat. Mr.Beer transitions between them well to give a good sense of the battle while also conveying the general fear and confusion of the villagers and Jack in particular.
The scene where Inara shows up with her zombie reinforcements is another one of my favorite moments. Coming up over a hill, riding her Noble Wolf guardian, flanked by the undead and she does this in response to a ghost walker's You And What Army moment.

The resolution is good; conflict resolved with a fitting aftermath. I like stories that have an aftermath, denouement, whatever you want to call it. It shows that they are more than just their climax; that they can continue beyond the high action. I suppose I like seeing where the sticks lie after the dust settles. In this story there is the intensely personal of Yang and Yin/Jack's reconciliation and the more wide-scale repulsion of the Ghost Walker Invasion with other threads like Inara finally going home to reunite with her family and the way the villagers react to a third secret let loose by the invasion.


This is the part of the review where I talk about the things I didn't like or the narrative weaknesses I see. There is a difference.

The Amazon blurb is misleading. The "horrifying secret" is indeed horrifying but it is hardly a secret. There are grave stones in the community's graveyard marked "ghost walker" and the protagonist knows tales about them. The part about Jack's shadow being his greatest enemy is simply Jack's paranoia; this is never remotely the case. The narmacils aren't a secret either. Parents tell their kids about them when they're 18 years old; it's a coming-of-age thing like the Birds and the Bees.
This is not a narrative weakness; it is something I dislike. It has nothing to do with the book.

-----> My next point is the narrative thrust of this book. Jack leaves the Known World, faces Trials and Tribulations, Descends into the Abyss, the whole Hero's Journey nine yards all because of the irrational belief that his narmacil is evil incarnate and has been subtly controlling him towards a mysterious-yet-definitely-sinister purpose. The book itself foreshadows their reconciliation but even without that it is easy to see The Blue Bird of Happiness resolution coming.
---> Adding to this effect is that the entire plot only happened because Jack was able to see a forest giant enter Crik and bury a narmacil egg at night and during a heavy rain storm. I kept thinking " a lot of people are going to get hurt or worse because of this kid's paranoia".
----> For sure there is positive stuff; Inara's rescue, the baby narmacil's rescue, Knell is no longer tormented by the Birdman, and Jack reconciled with Yang in a more powerful way then a talk with his mother would have been. It wasn't a pointless journey.
---> This is a narrative weakness. All Jack has to go on for his "narmacil are evil" belief is that his shadow has be engaging in petty mischief for years. Based on his interest, one would think that he'd be a Nightmare Fetishist. If the story can be averted by asking one's mother, with plenty of opportunity to do so, about were your powers come from that is a weakness. The wait-until-they-are-18 thing is also a weakness and Jack recognizes that it doesn't make sense. There's no explanation.
It is unfortunate that these points involve the protagonist and the reason for his quest. For me personally, they slowed down and made more unpleasant a story that I otherwise think is a good one.


CHARACTERS

---> I don't like Jack. He has the same interest in the macabre as Yang yet he takes Yang's interest as proof of evilness and then blames his own interest in it on Yang. This makes him a hypocrite. He has no evidence or indeed any reason to think Yang or other narmacil are evil and yet he adamantly believes so. This makes him paranoid and irrational. He wants to search for the house of someone he doesn't know exists and abandon his friend in the woods, of which his friend doesn't know how to navigate. This shows a lack of concern for others. He occasionally realizes how selfish he is for doing this but brushes it aside. This underscores his selfishness. He occasionally wonders if his distaste is based on Beauty Equals Goodness but brushes that aside as well. He refuses to listen to Inara, who has proven herself to be more knowledgeable about narmacils and Crik wood in general. This marks him as closed minded.
---> His fantastic racism in particular made this hard to read. I don't mean this in a political-real-world-analogous sense. It was boring and tedious and annoying. Rarely one page passed without him thinking through the 3rd person limited narration or dialogue about how the narmacils are obviously evil and that he is the only one rational for thinking this way.
---> I give him credit for overcoming the fantastic racism, at least in regards to Yang and the narmacil in general. He certainly doesn't lack for courage at any point in this narrative.


I like Inara. After all the torture and horror she experienced in the Marsh House she remains more reasonable, more friendly, and more optimistic than Jack. This is a sign that she is a tough girl, both emotionally and mentally. At the same time, she's not a Pollyanna. She certainly has been traumatized, such as the experience making her unable to appreciate things such as a beautiful day like she used to and wondering if her parents will still love her despite her new deformity. Personally, I find her view on necromancy to be interesting but, in this case, I can understand why Jack would find it abhorrent.

Bill is interesting for a number of reasons. He doesn't have a Talent so he has a different perspective on them then both Jack and Inara; a third voice in the debate. He is the only one without a Talent and so he is a "freak"; yes, the "normal one" is not normal because Crik's idea of normal is different from the reader's idea of normal. A third point is how his beastmaster power works; it's basically mind-control that only works on non-human and non-supernatural creatures. If his control slips then the Noble Wolf protecting the group suddenly reverts back to a Savage Wolf. There's also his academic interest. In contrast to Jack, he has read a lot more than comic books. This turns up on several occasions.


There is a rotating cast of villains: Krimble, the Ghost Walkers, and the Birdman. Three villains generally means a cluttered narrative, but not in this case. Mr.Beer does a good job of making all three of them distinct, relevant, evil-sinister in their own way. This is accomplished primarily by giving them each their own arc within the overall adventure.


POLISH

I found the prose to be long-winded and occasionally purple. One time I read a paragraph and then had to re-read it before realizing that it doesn't actually say anything. I much prefer the dialogue. The dialogue is often powerful, emotional, and heavy with characterization.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Crik" a B

For any who are confused by this rating, I provide the following two lists of positives and negatives. Hopefully, this will resolve any confusion.

Positives
1. Creative use of classic tropes such as Stock Super Power, Lost Woods, and the Hero’s Journey.
2. Well-thought-out original species (the narmacil); their life cycle, their need of hosts and the powers that they grant.
3. Skillful use of villains; all three are relevant and important without cluttering the narrative or making them bleed together.
4. Inara is all-around fantastic.
5. Bill provides a useful third point of view between Inara and Bill regarding the narmacil.
6. Awesome climatic battle.
7. Strong conclusion.

Negatives
1. Jack’s baffling and tedious Fantastic Racism (because he is the protagonist, there is a lot of it in the narrative).
2. Could Have Avoided This Plot regarding the nature and origin of Yang (this underpins the narrative and so it affects everything).

As you can see, the positives outnumber the negatives 3-1 but the negatives are more noticeable and prevalent because they involve the protagonist’s personality and the reason he goes on his quest.

Click here for the next review request: Gold Dust

Click here for the previous book review (not a review request): Seinfeld And Philosophy

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Annala tells the God of Order that he's full of crap

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Mad Scientist and a Monster Unicorn

The context for this post: Order has invaded Annala's hometown, Dnnac Ledo, and she is unable to fight him because a magical slave collar restricts her abilities. Then she realizes that the collar is the perfect weapon against him.

This is the last excerpt from Mana Mutation Menace. This means that it is also the last Sassy Saturday until I publish Transcending Limitations. That is going to happen sometime next year; like March or so.
____________________________________________________


Order's invasion was overwhelming. Both Meza's ordercrafter hunters and the village guardians were spread thin. Even the civilians had taken up arms to fight against the invading army, but it was still not enough. As the battle continued, four enforcers ganged up on Alexis.

Mustering her courage, Annala stood, hiked up her skirt, and ran forward. She had to do this; she had to because there was no one else. It was fear for her aunt that compelled hers; her aunt and herself. She feared that what she saw in her vision, and what happened to Alexis in real life, would come to pass once more. Thwarting such a nightmare was worth any risk.

The enforcers ignored her because she was designated as a slave. The Order Shield was as thin as air to her. Order himself didn’t notice her until she was under his nose. She slapped him across the cheek and shouted,

“Hypocrite! Your host stalked me for months despite the local government’s laws against stalking and the laws against private ordercrafters. He disrupted my life, sowed disorder in my community, locked this thing on my neck against my will, and kidnapped me. You yourself disapproved of that last one! Now here you are vandalizing like the original vandals! How can a being that protests to embody Truth and Rule of Law defend against such hypocrisy?”

Order hesitated. His pilfered body stopped moving and his aura dimmed a degree. Lacking his direction, the enforcers also lacked his vitality and elves all over the village suddenly found themselves an easier fight. Alexis fought her way out of her silver vapor cage and Meza banished the ones that attacked himself. Nulso’s body stood alone, except for Annala.

She backhanded him on the other cheek and again denounced him.

“You are like Theodosius I, who claimed to be the legitimate 167th Western Emor Emperor because he occupied the capital and convinced the Eastern Emor Emperor that it was so! In truth, he was a thug and a bandit who conquered with thugs and bandits. All you prove here is that your precious ‘stability’ is nothing but brute force and fear. Such things are chaotic in nature, devoid of any ‘law’ except the ‘Law of the Jungle.’”

  An ethereal tendril wound itself about Annala’s waist and up towards her neck and the collar resting there. Annala didn’t flinch; her fist clenched, her shoulders tensed, and sweat broke out all over her body, but she didn’t blink or look away. Neither did Nulso’s body. His sense of awareness was focused solely on Annala. Alexis and Meza took this opportunity to finally pierce his Order Shield. Annala’s intervention provided the opening they needed. To make sure Order didn’t notice, Annala slapped him a third time and continued her scathing criticism.

“You can’t kidnap me. You yourself recognized me as Eric’s property. To do so would be stealing. You can’t justify that. You can’t even use Eminent Domain because you lack the consent of the governed to form a ruling body of law.”

Sagart whispered hymns to boost Alexis’ and Meza’s strength.

“A mind such as yours is wasted serving Lady Chaos. You should join my administrators. I would place you in charge of every elf on this world; slave or free. I’ll even remove the collar.”

Alexis and Meza, working together and with the power of Sister Sagart's prayers, finally broke through. The latter ripped open a body-sized hole in the Order Shield with his bastard sword and the former lunged with her rapier. Order ignored the wound to his vessel. Hearing Annala’s reply was more important.

She smiled politely. “I must respectfully decline. While it is a tempting offer, the job security leaves something to be desired.”
_____________________________________________________________________
Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback. The series is also available in Kindle Unlimited.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Author's Show Radio Interview: Mana Mutation Menace

Mana Mutation Menace raido interview

At this link is a recording of the interview I did with the Author's Show about 1.5 weeks ago. What is really cool about this is that it's not on a blog with mail-in text but a radio interview. It's radically different from anything I've done in the past.

I didn't know this stuff was out there until a month or so ago. Then I got an email from Reader's Favorite saying I won a prize from this contest that I entered. No, not a medal prize for my book but a random drawing for entering. I looked it up and talked with the people at The Author's Show to find out what I needed to do to claim this prize.

I didn't have to go to a studio to make the recording. I did it over Skype. That meant that I had to download Skype and get a headset. Testing that was fun; Skype has an "echo chamber" number for that sort of thing that records what the user says and plays it back for them. So I recited what "T.A.R.D.I.S." stands for. All that was left after that was to wait for the interview time.

It was a fifteen minute interview regarding a number of subjects: what the book was about, what value readers can get from it, books from other authors that mine is similar to and other things. In retrospect, I think I could have done a better job but it was my first one so that is to be expected.

Mana Mutation Menace raido interview





Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sassy Sunday: Mad Scientist and a Monster Unicorn

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels, although technically this is Sassy Sunday.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here:Haggling with elves is easy for Emily

The context for this post: Nunnal Enaz, the mother of Annala, is evaluating the latest specimen in her mana mutation research. She does this by jumping into its cage and fighting it.

I redacted names in three places here because they are spoilers.
______________________________________________________________________


A lightning bolt shot by his head, just missing his ear, and struck a piece of machinery behind him. It exploded and two aides doused the ensuing fire. Nunnal and Meza returned their attention to the pit, where the monster was firing more bolts from its horn. They bypassed the shield as if it weren’t there.

“Recalibrate the shield now!”

“Working on it!”

Screens of light above the monster flashed, then it stopped the bolts like everything else the monster threw at it. Nunnal joined the elf at the terminal for the shield and looked over the readings for the last five bolts.

“A-Guy, did he do what I think he did?”

“Yes, Director. Instead of electricity formed from mana, he generated the bolts from earthly electron activity.”

“Monster intelligence is a fascinating subject. Add this to the database.”

“Yes, Director.”

“B-Guy, begin analysis of the monster’s insides, but use something that’s least likely to cause damage. That’s still \\\\\\\\  in there, after all.”

“Yes, Director.”

“C-Guy, take samples for later chemical examination and treatment. I want hair, scales, feathers, blood, and saliva. If you can get a shaving of the horn, do that too.”

“Yes, Director.”

“D-Guy, prepare fodder so we can see how he reacts to prey. Unicorns typically aren’t carnivorous, but given that this is a new breed, I want to know for sure.”

“Yes, Director.”

“E-Guy, start up the durability test implements.”

“Yes, Director.”

As Nunnal continued giving orders and rambling theories, her minions sighed and went about their work. The director was always like this when she got excited. It was best to keep one’s head down and avoid attracting attention.

“Just once, I’d like her to remember our names,” Bealir muttered.

“I’m not even a guy,” Caluly moaned.

Such tests and more were performed to learn about this new monster. As each result came in, Nunnal giggled like a schoolgirl in anticipation. As she became more involved, she stopped referring to the monster as “him” and instead as “it.” Then F-guy smacked her and told her of her slip. She coughed and thanked him and then walked to the pit and apologized to the monster. It responded by exhaling poison gas. The barrier adapted to the new material and forced it back to the monster, but before the monster could breathe it in, its horn neutralized the poison. Nunnal’s face lit up once more and she rattled another list of orders.

Then she jumped in.

“Hello, ///////////////////.”

The monster jabbed her forehead with its horn. It pierced her head and her brain, causing a good deal of pain. Her Seed of Chaos mended the damage. The light of her eyes never dimmed.

“So you don’t respond to your title.” She dodged three jabs. “How about ///////?” She dodged two more jabs but not the following energy blast. She let that one hit to determine what it felt like. “Concentrated. You know your stuff.”

It breathed more poison and she took a deep whiff of it. She continued dodging and observing it at close range while waiting for the poison to take effect. Then, all of a sudden, she blacked out and her body fell limp. The creature bit her stomach and chewed on its muscle. Then she blew it away with a chant-less wind spell.

“Poison that goes directly to the brain and shuts it down, thereby killing the target without damaging the internal organs or muscles. You are a healthy eater, aren’t you?”

She jumped to her feet.

“It also lends support to the theory that you can’t handle your own poison, but there are monsters like that. Generally, they don’t live long enough to be studied but—”

Another horn blast cut her off, and to her surprise, it was neither mana nor the pure electricity but wind. It blew Nunnal clear off her feet and onto her backside. The monster stomped its front right hoof onto her stomach and the front left talon onto her left wrist, then it spat slime onto her right hand. It quickly hardened and Nunnal found herself unable to remove it.

“Battle tactics? Fantastic! D-Guy, are you getting this?”

“Yes, Director.”

The monster lowered its head to bite her chest, forgoing any kind of attack to her head. This fascinated her all the more; it remembered that attacking her head merited no results. She spirit-flared the creature off her, broke the slime restraint, and jumped out of the pit.

“It’s possible that the battle instinct of a mercenary carried over,” she said to herself. “Indeed, muscle memory is a potent thing and well recognized in monsterology, even among mortals, and the capacity for killing is a primal one….”

______________________________________________

Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday is Annala tells the God of Order that he's full of crap


In other news, I did a radio interview with The Author's Show last week and it will be broadcast on this coming Tuesday. In it I talked about my writing process both for this book and more generally. If you could help me spread the word about it then that would be great; much appreciated.


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Haggling with elves is easy for Emily

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Conversion War Vision Quest

The context for this post: Eric and Kallen are in a situation where they need to acquire a lot of expensive items from the elven city-state of Dnnac Ledo.  The smith says that he is willing to trade and Emily steps up to negotiate.
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Sonic palmed a piece of ore and held it up to the light.

“This stuff is common iron. As good as it is, it gets boring to use the same old stuff. I’ve heard rumors that a grendel’s hide is made of a unique metal and I’ve wanted to use some of that stuff for six hundred and eighty years, but they’re rare creatures. By the time I catch news of one, someone else has stripped it clean! If you have a Seed of Chaos, then I could harvest it without doing you any permanent harm.”

“You want to skin me alive?”

Sonic frantically waved his hands. “I’ll pay you, of course! I’ve accumulated plenty of human money over the centuries and it’s not like I have many opportunities to use it.”

“How much are we talking?”

“How much do you want?”

Memories of the pawnshop came back to Eric and gave him pause. Discussing how much Pilaocv would pay him for Lunas’ influence choker came out gibberish to him. He settled on a trade because he couldn’t comprehend the economics. He’d rather not go through that again.

“How about a trade: three daggers, two swords, an axe, and two suits of body armor.”

“That’s oddly specific.”

Eric thought so too, but a lie came naturally.

“I want three daggers for myself and my two teammates, two swords for Tiza so she can dual wield them, an axe for domestic labor jobs, and the armor for Tiza and Nolien as well because they lack my and my mentor’s physical advantages.”

“Alright, that makes sense. Okay, first show me your true form.”

Eric reached for his grendel identity and allowed it to shift his human body into its true stature. It occupied substantially more space and this delighted Sonic. He fingered his way from Eric’s knuckles, up his arm, and down his back.

“Fascinating! The stuff I could make with this...” He grew an abacus in his stomach and set about making the calculations. “Now let’s see….considering your size…..” He moved several rings to the right. “Then balance that against the equipment you asked for.” He moved other rings to the left. After a couple permutations of this, the abacus dissolved into his stomach. “If I took four complete hides, then we would have a fair trade.”

“Deal!”

“What!?” Emily asked. “He wants to take every inch of flesh off your body! Four times! Even if you can grow it back, how is that okay?”

“Smithery is my Eternal Hobby,” Sonic said seriously. “It’s what I do to stave off chaotic madness and create meaning in my life. Opportunities like this are what I live for. Besides, it’s just skin. It’ll grow right back.”

“I don’t think you grasp how painful this is going to be for Eric,” Emily said.

“Emily...”

“Shut it, Eric! You don’t understand this either. You may have an elven girlfriend, but I’ve spent a lot more time around elves than you have. They think differently, and not because they literally have chaos in their brains. Their Seed of Chaos makes them apathetic. They think nothing of ripping arms off because they grow back. They can’t understand a human’s need for food because starvation can’t kill them. They think we’re stupid barbarians because we can’t spend our lives doing mad science for shits and giggles. Just because you have a Seed of Chaos, it doesn’t make you an elf.”

Someone clapped. Everyone looked up and saw that it was Tasio.

“Well said! I’m glad I dragged you here. You’re fun.”

“Go to the abyss. You’re worse than they are.”

Tasio shrugged and said, “Guilty.” Then he disappeared again.

The smith looked shocked and immediately bowed his head in apology.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give the impression that I wanted to avoid pain by pushing it on someone else. I assure you that elves still comprehend pain even if we do heal quickly from it. If I could transform myself into a grendel, I would, but I have no idea how to do so. I don’t know what they look like and I don’t know how their skin works. How about this? Three hides.”

Emily threw up her hands. “It’s like talking to a wall. I don’t think you’ve ever had your skin peeled off before.”

“You have?”

“Eight weeks ago; Bog of Poisoned Glory. I was helping Kallen find Forol so she could ask the goddess for a blessing. I was infected by a parasite that ate my skin before my eyes, then moved into my internal organs. Kallen had to give me two years off her life just to keep me stable enough to get to the ER. I was in intensive care for seventy-two hours.”

“Okay, two hides.”

“Emily, it’s all right,” Eric said. “If I didn’t believe in the idiom ‘no pain, no gain,’ I wouldn’t make it through Basilard’s training sessions.”

“One hide or Eric walks out and you’ll lose this opportunity forever.” Emily leaned in closer. Her stare was sharp and piercing. Her Evil Eye filled him with despair for lost time and crushed dreams. “For the rest of eternity, you’ll curse your greed overcoming your creativity.”

“Fine. One full hide for everything.”

Emily blinked and leaned back. “I’m glad we could come to terms.”

Kallen slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close.

“You drive a hard bargain, as usual.”

“It was nothing, Boss. Just practice.”  
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Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 


The next Sassy Saturday post is Mad Scientist and a Monster Unicorn


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Conversion War Vision Quest


Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

Yes, it's been a while. I've been busy with a lot of things. Anyway, on with the post.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Routine Mission Monster Slaying

The context for this post: Long story short, Annala is on a vision quest that will grant her understanding and empathy. It takes the form of stepping into the role of a holy warrior during The Conversion War.
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“One of the ‘lesser beings’ here is Annala; one among billions. Can you find her? If you succeed, you will pass my test.”

“My third one. I accept.”

“Fair warning; she may not be as you remember her.”

A girl awoke with a start. Heart beating furiously and sweat circling her brow, she sat up. Looking around, she saw no sign of anyone; a curious thing because she thought she heard someone call her. The sun was peeking through the windows, so she decided to dress. She put on a robe and walked to the back of her home for the morning cleansing ritual.

She took extra care washing her hair. Its rich golden-brown color was proof that she was the granddaughter of Lady Chaos. She could not be permanently injured, never ill, never die, and her beauty would only grow as she aged. She was truly blessed.

Once she was clean, dry, and clothed, she stepped inside the kitchen. As a chaotic acolyte, it was her job to make the morning meal. Her teacher’s wife caught and picked a lot of good food, so she was never hungry. In fact, with all the available ingredients, she could experiment: these nuts grounded into a powder and mixed with this sap made a tasty sauce, and boiling these certain leaves made a refreshing tea. Other experiments, she blushed to think, were not as successful. Her teacher and his wife ate them nonetheless and with good humor.

"Good morning, Annala," an old man said. Most of his hair fell down his face rather than his head. In that regard, he was similar to men his age, but his ears told otherwise.

"Good morning, Teacher," Annala said, bowing.

"Did you slept well?"

“I had a strange dream.”

“What have I taught you about dreams?"

"They are messages from The Trickster and we should pay heed to them. The reason they're so weird is because he wants us to improve our reasoning by deciphering them."

The old wiseman smiled kindly. "That's my favorite student."

The younger frowned. "I'm your only student."

"Good! Then I won't have to disappoint anyone when you finally succeed me."

This was a game they had played for as long as she could remember. She hoped to continue playing it forever and why not? Both of them were immortal.

If Annala closed her eyes, she could still remember the scene. Now it was gone...they were gone; killed by mortals. To think that the immortality bestowed upon them by Grandmother Chaos could be revoked made her shudder. She had never seen such eldritch magic before. Her fellow soldiers counted on her to protect them from it.

Far from her secluded village, she marched with a company of elven warriors. They traveled the countryside searching for signs of the dark arts so they could kill its practitioners. Thus far, every human settlement they came across used it and so they had been very busy.

Her job was to project the blessings of Grandmother Chaos to shield and inspire those around her. Between her power and their valor, even the empowered fiends were no match. Every trace was wiped out as if it had never been there. Humans bred like rats so there would be no harm done to their total population. Besides, they weren’t going to live much longer anyway. Their quality of life was so poor, their already short lives were cut even shorter. All she and her companions did was deny them a year or two.

She shuddered. The others noticed and guessed its cause but said nothing. None of them wanted to talk about the blasphemous power they fought against. All of them were too scared to think about it. The only reason they sought it out was because they were more afraid of its users appearing on their doorstep without warning. There were rumors that an entire village had been enslaved and their imaginations spun ever more horrid tales of what happened to them.

An ethereal hand pulled her mind out of the illusion and back into reality. She was in a dungeon and tormented by an ordercrafter. That was what these fiends called themselves: “Those empowered by Order to bring stability to this world.” In addition to the physical imprisonment, they pulled their captives back and forth from illusions to blur their distinction of reality and break their will.

Her wrists were shackled above her head and pulled so high she stood on her tiptoes, while her ankles were secured with manacles bolted to the floor. In normal circumstances, she could escape from these as easily as breathing via shapeshifting, but a metal collar clenched tight around her neck suppressed her chaotic ability. It made her weaker than a magic-less mortal.

“The Age of Elves is over,” the ordercrafter said. “Never again will your kind threaten us. You belong under our feet and putting those clever minds of yours to our benefit.”

“Go to the Abyss, temp!”

The ordercrafter forced a rag into her mouth. She tossed her head and thrashed in her restraints, but it was tied behind her head. The blood that was drenching it dripped down her throat and infected her with its diseases. They would cause her tremendous pain but wouldn’t kill her. While diminished, her Seed of Chaos would still prevent her death. Escape was impossible.

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Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

Click here for the next Sassy Saturday: Haggling with elves is easy for Emily.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Read for Fun: Seinfeld and Philosophy

"Seinfeld and Philosophy" is a book I bought some time ago. I read a few of its essays but then it got lost in the shuffle. I finally finished it the other day. The show about nothing has profound things in it. Since this is a philosophy anthology I can't use my normal grading method so I'll just sample three of the essays.

 "The Costanza Maneuver: is it rational for George to 'Do the Opposite'"?


This is one of my favorites. Not only is it interesting but it cleaves to Seinfeld as much as to the philosophy. I'd say this is one of the better essays in that regard.  


The title of this episode refers to the season five episode "The Opposite" where George realizes that his every instinct has been wrong so Jerry (jokingly) advises him to do the opposite of what his instincts tell him.  In pursuit of determining if this is a truly rational thing to do, the author of the essay uses concepts such as the Three Kinds of Rationality (minimum, median and maximum) and employs a test; it is rational if it is both feasible and reliable. 


The author of the essay also speaks of the comical mechanics in this central joke of the episode. Neither George nor the audience expects the Costanza Maneuver to work and the contrast with its great success is both startling and baffling. It's also about George's neurosis; that's always funny. 

Seinfeld, Subjectivity and Sartre


This one is about the constructions of the Self (identity, personality etc.) and how it exists in relation to others. It is not only that the persona of the characters is revealed through their interactions with others but that it is influenced and built by them. Examples include Jerry encouraging some odd plan or another by George and Kramer's eccentrics coming from all the strange people he interacts with.
This particular essay had another point to prove; that Jean-Paul Sartre advocated the relationally constructed Self instead of being an essentialist. The author of this essay goes to great lengths to disprove what I assume is a widespread and long standing interpretation. Of course, Sartre's play, "No Exit" and that famous line "Hell is other people" is brought up. In both the play and the TV show there are three (or four) unpleasant people locked in a room for a prolonged period of time as their punishment. Yet the author of this essay notes that the Seinfeld four don't see it as torture because it is their natural environment.
Seinfeld and the Moral Life

The author of this essay attempts to prove that the four main cast members are kind and compassionate people who regularly try to do the morally correct thing; yes all four of them.  While I disagree I'm more put off by the faulty logic and reasoning in this essay.

Before starting the argument to prove this, the author of the essay first separates "integrity" from the idea of "being moral" because someone can be a horrible immoral person with great integrity. While this is sound enough it also means there is less land to defend. When the author of the essay begins their defense of their argument they point to the few actions that could be interpreted as good and kind and ignores the context. It's cherry picking.
Then the author of the essay responds to possible counter-arguments by stating that being a "comedy of manners" is more or less the same as being concerned with morality because manners are about avoiding hurting someone's feelings. This ignores the possibility of being petty, superficial or self-interested. There is also the phrase "obviously false on its face". This sounds like the start of the Costanza Maneuvers' first section. It referred to the tendency of some people to believe they've won an argument by saying "you're being irrational". Saying that something is false does not prove it to be so.

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 There are others in this essay that I greatly enjoyed such as "J. Peterman the Ideological Mind: Paradoxes of Subjectivity" and the "Elaine Benes: Feminist Icon or Just One of The Boys". There are only one or two that I disliked and that's more about disagreement or whatever.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Seinfeld and Philosophy" an A



Click here for the next book review (a review request): Crik


Click here for my previous book review (a review request): Fae


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Answering Review Request: Fae

Rhonda Parish asked me to read an anthology she edited call "Fae". Its theme is fairies and more specifically, the kind of fairies known as Fair Folk from the old folklore instead of the later, Victorian idea. The introduction goes into this in more detail. Suffice to say that there's a lot of diversity here. I will look at a couple for this review and then give the book as a whole a grade.
 
"Only The Eyes Of Children"

 This is a 1st person narrative with a smart ass half-fey. The protagonist, "Robin Archer", reminds me of Harry Dresden but he's not a detective. Instead, he's more like a vigilante. He Fights Like a Normal since his magic abilities are limited and take a huge toll on his stamina. He refuels with ice cream, coke and pork tenderloin sandwiches.


The trope, "Friend to All Children" is a big part of this story. It's an interesting take on the idea of changelings. Fae can't reproduce like humans can so they are both fascinated by and protective of children. They love playing with children in city parks and if they don't do this often enough then a compulsion could build up until they snatch a kid instead. Robin states that most Fae in the modern age are pretty good about returning them after a few days and the ones that don't usually raise the kids as their own with much love. In fact, he describes Tatiana the Fairy Queen as a paragon of maternal instinct. 


Another thing that makes this story interesting is the other part of the changeling story; the vast majority of child abductions are via other humans such as slave traders. That's the plot for this story, tracking down a certain cell of them in Indianapolis (incidentally, that city is supposedly bursting with Fae).

 
"Just Make Believe"

 The start of this short story sounds familiar, doesn't it? A child of adoption who has dreamed of performing magic discovers a supernatural mentor who teaches her to use her powerful latent magic and suggests that she might be a princess from the Fairy Court. However, this story has an altered sense of gravity. This girl is not the protagonist nor the view point character. That would be her "supernatural mentor" who is actually a Fae boy her age (or at least her mental age) who is ecstatic to make a friend capable of magic and has no grand adventure to Herald her into. Indeed, the plot is their budding relationship and the only conflict is personal.

The Fae boy, Robin, is a faun with illusion magic. Between his private insecurity, showing off to impress Nadia, references to stories like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the general tone of his first person narrative, he is high grade adorkable.

The supposedly human girl, Nadia, learns illusion magic. Neither of them know for sure how she is capable of it but Robin speculates that she has Fae blood. She's a nice girl and not in the sense of "nice as bland" but "nice as friendly" and "nice as compassionate" etc.

 
How useful is illusion magic when talking about teenagers who not only have "growing up" identity issues but also ones regarding their species and their relationship to each other?
 
"Water Sense"
It's about this kid in a desert. Everyone except him in this society has a "water sense" which I took as hydromancy. He's from a different tribe or ethnic or something and that's why he doesn't have this ability. For both reasons he is an outcast. He goes on this vision quest thing with a shaman mentor to determine the truth of his heritage and thus find his identity and water sense. It's interesting world building particularly the origin of the Water Sense and what it means for the tribes that exist off-the-pages.
I include this one in my review for a different reason than the other two. While I like it as well as the other two, this is the only one in the anthology that does not feel "complete". The others have their conclusion or resolution and any threads left dangling are more like Sequel Hooks at most.  This one feels like its missing its final scene; missing half its climax. I don't want to spoil the ending but I will make an analogy to illustrate my point; Karate Kid, Daniel going to Mr.Miyagi for training and then the movie ending as the tournament starts. 
There are others and I like them all. In fact, one of my review tweets is "the title of 'my favorite' keeps changing". That I wrote about these three does not make my top three; they were just the ones that I wrote about. If I were to tell you everything I liked about all of them then we'd be here all day.

 Trickster Eric Novels gives "Fae" an A+

Click here for the next book review (not a review request): Seinfeld and Philosophy

Click here for the previous review request: Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun

Brian Wilkerson is an independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Routine Mission Monster Slaying

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Fire Demi-Goddess vs Order Entity

The context for this post: A routine mission for Dragon's Lair Team Four in the aftermath of the Mana Mutation Summit.
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Tiza jumped into a batch of smaller monsters. These were a Frankenstein mixture of several vermin that were twenty times bigger than any one kind. They came up to her waist. She assumed them to have been sleeping underground when the mana storm hit. There were five of them, which she figured was unfair; she’d kill them all before Dimwit finished eating.

“I don’t have all those funky powers, but I can kill all the same.”

She struck first by impaling one through the back and blasting another further into the chaos zone. When the other three attacked, she weaved around them and kicked them around with bladed boots. Then she finished them with her sword. By now, the first one was dead from the poison on her blade. The toxins she used in combat had to work quickly if they were to be effective. She spent hours every day studying them before Sathel allowed her to even practice with them. The incident at the castle finally convinced her, although she was still scolded for sneaking out the poisoned sword.

The second returned from her punting, but it was too far away to finish off with her metal sword. Her mana sword, on the other hand, had just the right reach. Holding her metal one straight up with both hands, she focused mana into it. It flowed liked wax into a mold. Leveling her sword like a bow, she fired a mana bolt in the shape of a sword. It entered the franken-vermin’s mouth and came out its rear, leaving two halves of a monster in its wake.

Another swarm approached her blindside. Unfortunately for them, this particular sapient had no blind side. Again molding mana into her sword, she pulled her hands apart to create a new sword. Now dual wielding, she spun around and killed monsters left and right.

One leapt past her guard and bit her left thigh. She cried out and then stabbed it. She fought the remaining ones with it stuck to her leg. There were four more, so she estimated four strikes to finish the battle. With four steps, she killed them all.

Once they were all dead, she pummeled the one on her leg with a mana beam to make sure it was dead. Then she began the delicate process of removing its teeth. It was easier than she thought. It didn’t pierce her skin because a pulsating blue-grey aura blocked its jaws.

“Endurance….”

She didn’t recall Nolien casting that spell on her. It could have bitten clear to her bone and become a disabling injury, taking her out of the mission. Then she smiled. It was comforting to think he was watching out for her even outside of battle.
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Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).