Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sassy Saturday: Brave the Orderly Reality Vice

Sassy Saturday!  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: Arin's Defiance

The context for this post:  Annala has joined a raiding party to free slaves from Latrot. Unfortunately, she has to pass through a region infested with spirits who want to kill her boyfriend.
_____________________________________________________


They marched the remaining miles to the Orderly Reality Vice. Then suddenly, they were inside it and the world was a mass of grey mist. Just as suddenly, they were not and the sky was clear. Behind the wedge, Annala explained to Eric that the chaotic nature of the Orderly Reality Vice made it vary in size.

“This is why shipping has decreased in the region,” she said. “Many regard it as too dangerous these days. We should be out of the fluctuation zone in about ten minutes.”

Whether or not she was correct was difficult to determine. Their watches no longer worked properly. Counting off the seconds didn’t work either. Every barrage of soul mist brought with it the wailing and confusion of the countless consciousness within them. They shouted words, numbers, and gibberish that made them lose count.

Eventually, one of the barrages didn’t recede. Here, it was neither cold nor hot nor any earthly temperature in between. Here, there was neither sky nor ground because the Orderly Reality Vice ripped apart such distinctions.

“DOWN!”

Annala tackled Eric to the ground just as something wraithlike soared overhead. Beyond the girl’s veil, Eric could see piranha teeth but nothing attached to them. Perrault barked at more such forms from on top of Kallen. Only when the threat passed did she allow Kallen to stand. Annala pulled Eric to his feet and grabbed his chin with her other hand.

“No float spells, grip my hand, don’t stop moving forward; got it?”

Eric grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”

She led him forward by the hand while her familiar acted as Kallen’s blind-seeing-eye dog. The four of them walked in the shelter of the swan formation of Sister Sagart and the Ordercrafter Hunters. As strange and dangerous as the area was to the four, it was worse for the forwards. More than once, Meza had to assert his authority over the younger ones in his team as their sanity ran thin and their wills faltered in the face of the enemy.

Salamanders flew in erratic circles. Undines screeched and sobbed. Gnomes did senseless dances. Sylphs tore themselves apart only to reform again. Ghostly apparitions flew around them, spreading their despair like miasma. The sight of Kallen or Eric enraged all of them and they attacked without warning.

“New body!” The words echoed in the mist. “Live again! New body! LIVE AGAIN!”

“Stay away!” Annala deflected the specter. “I won’t let you hurt him!”

“World breaker!” the spirit mist boomed. “Chaos maker!”

“Where am I?” wailed one voice. “Lady Life said I was to reincarnate. Said it was somewhere nice...where am I?

“Get me out of here!” screamed another voice. “It hurts! YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT! YOURFAULTYOURFAULT!”

“KAAAAAAAAA!”

One bolt from Annala’s Deathkiller bow drove them all back. It plunged deep into the cloud and released chaotic waves that burned their essence. It dissolved those that didn’t move fast enough. Perrault pounced on the ones advancing from the rear and shredded them with her teeth. The raiding party advanced, but where to they couldn’t be sure.

A crowd of spirits pressed together into an astral oversoul and, as if from a cannon, propelled itself past the Ordercrafter Hunters. It dodged Sagart and drove straight toward the demons. Annala stepped between them to intercept. It pushed her back and she dug her heels in, but the ground shifted and swept her off her feet. The composite monster rushed unhindered towards Eric and Kallen with its ghostly maw wide.

“Perrault! Go!”

The wolf was a golden-brown blur as it plowed through its target. The astral oversoul wailed and the sound rang in the raiders’ own souls.

“Not again! Not again! Not again! Not again!”

Chaotic residue from Perrault’s attack rushed outwards. Suddenly, the mists disappeared and were replaced by a world of fire, ash, and dust. Here, a duplicate of the astral oversoul battled Priestess.

It lashed out with its limbs and Priestess avoided with nimble leaps. She drew an arrow, shook it, and it became a lance. Then she plunged into the astral oversoul. It wailed as it was torn apart by chaotic energy.

Then a flash of darkness appeared on a cliff behind Priestess and a grim reaper emerged. It swooped down with its scythe cocked, and it was tackled by a golden-brown wolf.

This wolf bit its arm, so it transferred its scythe to the other and pointed at the astral oversoul. Black energy coursed through it and it rose again. It writhed in horrible pain until Priestess struck it down a second time.

“Hold him in place! I can’t have any distractions!”

Priestess recited chaotic prayers until the astral oversoul decompiled and drifted apart. Shrinking the lance back into an arrow, she put it away and pulled out a bag. She gathered the spirits into it and then the reaper sliced it in half.

“You can’t stop entropy!”

“Of course I can! I’m Maxwell’s Demon!”

__________________________________________________________________

Transcending Limitations, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as an ebook. The series is also available in Kindle Unlimited. The paperback format is available at Amazon and also at Createspace.

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).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sassy Saturday: the Defiance of Arin

Sassy Saturday!  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: Priestess at Work

The context for this post: Annala reenacts the heroics of her ancestral mother, Arin, during a festival's play.

___________________________________________________________________________

 
Smoke rose again to conceal the muses. Another wind spell blew it away, but not all of it disappeared. One area of the stage remained obscured and the sound of rushing water (from a backstage faucet) could be heard. Outside the smoke was a pool of water surrounded by stones, a patch of grass, and a crowd. These extras used cosmetics to look human.
“Muags is a mighty warrior, but so is everyone here,” Annala said. “No one is born strong; strength must be developed through work and dedication. Thus the power of chaos can be wielded by anyone.”
She raised her hand and this cued the SFX department. Typically, this sort of thing would be done by the actress herself, but in Annala’s case, it had to be someone else. This elf conjured a lightball and sent it to Annala’s outstretched palm. The actress took aim and the SFX mage fired it at a rock, which blew up.
“I shall teach thee and thou shalt ascend to the first level of chaotic enlightenment.”
“Then shall Muags be smote?” one villager asked.
“No mortal can withstand the power of chaos unless they themselves wield this power for the source of all power is Lady Chaos. If you make contact with her essence and learn to use it, then nothing in all of Creation will stop you.”
“You’re not speaking old-timey enough,” a second villager said.
“What?” Annala said.
The first villager smacked the second one.
“Verily the wisdom of chaos has altered the patterns of thy speech,” this villager said, “and thus it is that—”
A scream cut him off.
Backstage, three elves clanged swords together and then a trio of the village’s soldiers back-pedaled, fighting two soldiers each. Their swords were enchanted to create sparks and “clang” when they struck each other, and in this way, they struggled all the way back to the pool. All three fell dead at Annala’s feet. In a fury, she stood up and shouted, “Curse you!”
More SFX mages created a screen of light bolts and fired them upon the enemy soldiers. They all pratfell to their deaths. Then Annala knelt at the three allied soldiers and the SFX mages created a light show to signify resurrection. They rose to their knees and said, “Thank ye, lady priestess, for thy mercy and compassion.”
“Tis nothing at all. Return to your homes and your families.”
They did, and as soon as they were gone, five members of the crowd jumped Annala. Pinning her to the ground, they stuffed her mouth with a rag and bound her hands. Typically, they would also attach a fake slave collar, but in this case, the fox fur muffler was removed.
“Thou art a fine jewel, lady priestess,” said a sixth villager. “Lord Muags shall reward our service in adding thee to his collection.”
 Eric dashed on stage and ran this one through. Actually, he slipped his sword in between the actor’s chest and arms, but the guy fell limp all the same. Then he fell on the other five.
“Snakes!” he declared. “Infiltrators!”
Three of them engaged him while the other two pulled Annala off stage. Though he succeeded in slaying all three, his precious maiden was gone. The warrior fell to his knees and howled his despair. The smoke of the pool rushed forwards and consumed the stage.
“Release me, brute!” Annala screamed. “Thou shall not deny me liberty!”
The smoke parted and Muags’ throne room reappeared. The tyrant watched smugly as his latest prize was dragged in. Though she wore the tiara of a queen, she also wore the fetters of a slave. Her dress looked the same as before, but it was actually a “battle damaged” version.
“In good conscience, I cannot do that.” Ralm stood up leisurely and circled her with the air of an appraiser. “Delicate flowers belong in gardens where they can be protected and admired. Weeds are in the wild and these vile things stop at nothing in choking beauty.”
Annala’s ex-boyfriend cupped her cheek and ran his fingers from the slave collar on her neck to her bare shoulder, then back again.
“Your beautiful snowy skin is already tarnished with the dust and sun of travel; an ugly shade of brown. It would harm my sense of honor to allow a princess like yourself to live like a vagabond. If I picked you, then someone else might. Someone cruel and,” he licked his lips, “lecherous. You shall be my wife today and mother of my heir tomorrow.”
Annala bit his hand. She was supposed to merely gum it, but bitterness slipped in.
“I will be a corpse before I am either of those!” she shouted with such passion Remho shed a tear. “Tyrant! My guardian carries a sword for three reasons: defending my life, his own, and ending the lives of those who threaten others! With three strikes, you will die!”
She winced as he backhanded her. Normally, Arin’s actress would swing her head to the side while Muags’ actor motioned and someone backstage slapped a prop, but Remho changed the script this year. A genuine strike created a lovely bruise on his human star’s cheek and brought forth genuine tears.
“You are a fool, maiden! You are to me as that statue; if it displeases me, then I may have it dismembered and beheaded. It is also within my power to keep it polished. I could have these ropes removed, exotic food brought out, spacious rooms prepared, dresses of elegant nature made. Every luxury this world has to offer me, I can offer you.”
“You lie!” Annala declared, bravely staring him in the eyes. “There is only one thing in this world I desire and you cannot offer it. You may conquer a thousand nations and possess a thousand treasure hoards, but you can never conquer my heart nor buy my love!”
_______________________________________________________________________

This is the scene where the " the fair maiden slugged the dragon with her golem fist" line that I like to tweet comes from.

Transcending Limitations, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as an ebook. The series is also available in Kindle Unlimited. The paperback format is available at Amazon and also at Createspace.

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).

Monday, June 12, 2017

Answering review request: Star Racers

Martin Felando asked me to rad his book Star Racers: Win the Race. Save Your Planet. It is about a universe wide space race where the winner secures protection for their planet from invaders and local warlords. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

"Win the race; save your planet" is the slogan for Grand Battle, the space race in question. It is also a concise summary of the plot. The people who join Grand Battle come from planets that have big problems. United Plant Coalition, the force behind Grand Battle, pledges aid to those racers that win. My problem with this set up is that the link between the two is never explained. This is not a "Show; don't tell" thing because there is a talkshow host guy (Verus) who explains things about Grand Battle and how it works, yet he skips the link between "win the race" and "save your planet". The prize's basic role is to serve a macguffin for the story; only the beginning and ending directly have to do with it.

See, this story has a In Media Res format. It begins with Rev Ardent, the protagonist, starting a draft race to qualify and then it jumps back to before he was in any position to even consider competing. The majority of the story is him acquiring the necessary equipment and then making the journey to Grand Hotel, which hosts Grand Battle.  There's nothing wrong with this, in and of itself, but the set up suffers for it. The bulk of the story is made for suspense, tension, and drama yet the format guarantees certain things, which then deflates them. For instance, when Rev says that he is going to quit racing, the reader knows that it will be a Ten Minute Retirement at worst.

However, this is not to say that certain scenes are suspenseful or dramatic. The pre-Grand Battle scenes have a different cast than that at the race itself, and Verus mentions how Rev encountered a lot of trouble reaching Grand Battle, thus implying that he and Sashi are the only survivors of the previous cast. The battle abroad the starliner Stepp I is my favorite part of this story despite knowing that the two leads would survive it because it is still exciting due to the presence of other heroes whose fate is unknown and to the awesome things they do.

The setting that this story takes place in, its technology and culture, is interesting. For instance, there is a smartphone app called "JustThink" (sic) that enables the user to read someone's mind. The narration states that this app is "inexpensive" and there is nothing that one needs to do to the target in order to make it work. Here's the clincher; not only is the device legal to use, it is socially acceptable. The reporters present at Sashi's interview don't have to be covert at all. Sashi even wears a "smart shirt" that displays different messages depending on her mood, and these messages can be seen by anyone near her. This is not the only instance where private information is easily accessible by others. Just thinking about the implications of this are interesting. At the same time, the technology angle is pushed beyond my Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

An example of this is the pair of devices used by the Maelae to mind control. A needle is injected into someone's shoe, remains dormant for an unknown period of time, and when it reaches a destination, which is unknown, is can remove itself and propel itself towards a target whose location could not be known ahead of time; the needle has to find the target on its own. Then it injects liquid into the target which then quickly takes effect. This liquid makes the target berserk but, at the same time, controlled by the liquid to execute certain tasks. How in the world does it do that? There isn't even a handwave like "nanomachines".

After I read the ending, I began to think that "show, don't tell" might have been in effect, after all, regarding Grand Battle's prize. There are numerous references to charity throughout the story, like Besty's Lover promoting a charity that helps war refugees on his planet and the advertising income from one of Grand Battle's side shows goes to support the planets of racers who didn't qualify for the main event. I began thinking that, perhaps, Grand Battle itself is the universe's biggest charity event.

The ending itself is good. The conflict is closed and the premise resolved but there is still an element of And The Adventure Continues.

CHARACTERS

Rev and Sashi, the two leads, are great characters. Rev has this underdog theme matched with racing passion and Sashi has this Iron-Lady-in-training vibe. Rev is basically scared and anxious during all the combat scenes but is capable of harnessing that for impressive competence (including this really gutsy move he pulled on a Maelae destroyer-class ship). Sashi likewise has unshakable self-confidence while also being self-aware of her abilities and driven to improve them. They make a fantastic team in Grand Battle itself. It is their romance that I take issue with, specifically the beginning.

Rev is apparently head-over-heels for Sashi immediately, despite the fact that he spends little time with her at their first meeting and part of that is a private conversation with his AI sidekick. Sashi likewise even though she snubs him for his AI sidekick. Personally, it feels like Strangled By The Red String. The rest of the relationship is good but I don't get how it started.

Stepp and Kaedn don't have this problem. While the start of their relationship isn't shown, it is implied that Stepp made a decision between him and Verus, and this is implied to have been a big deal beyond the relationship itself, so I can assume that there was a good reason and a lot of thought going into it. Now about them individually.

I like Kaedn because he is a fantastic foil for Rev. He is a veteran star racer, well respected in the free city of Nightona that he lives in, and is both courageous and noble. When Rev meets him, it is really no surprise that he seriously considered quitting; Kaedn practically has "The Hero" written all over him. In particular, I like his first scene. It is a meeting with Shiemi, A.K.A. Mor the Warlord to discourage him from allying with the Maelae. On the one hand, he knows such an alliance would be devastating for Earth's free cities, but on the other hand, Shiemi is (or used to be) a good friend of his and his girlfriend and he doesn't want Shiemi to be backstabbed by the Maelae, which they are definitely going to. It is an effective Establishing Character Moment.

Stepp also has a splendid scene that establishes her character. It starts out with her on her private starliner, working on her tan and then having a childish argument with her best friend. It appears as though she is a spoiled and shallow actress, but then she gets a message that her boyfriend is in deadly peril. There's an immediate switch where she gives orders to her starliner's crew and then goes out to rescue him herself.

I could continuing writing paragraphs about the other racers in Grand Battle because they are given space to develop. Scrap Meat, for instance, has a chapter to himself that is great at developing him and his struggles. It is not out-of-place in the narrative either, because much of the story is framed as interviews for Verus' show, Action, Please. However, this review is already far too long (that happens a lot with me).


POLISH
It looks good. I didn't find much of anything wrong with spelling or grammar.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Star Racers a B+

Click here for the previous book review (request): Holindrian

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, June 3, 2017

The return of Sassy Saturday: Priestess at Work

Transcending Limitations has been published and that means the return of Sassy Saturday.  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: Annala tells the God of Order that he's full of crap

The context for this post: An adventurer known as "Priestess" goes about her regular business of fighting spiritual monstrosities.

__________________________________________________________________

The ground shook and the air trembled as the Astral Oversoul roared. The people of Coral Plane screamed and scattered, but there was no escaping the terror of its presence. One little boy was too slow and one of its many spiritual hands grabbed him from behind. He wriggled like an insect as the creature brought him to its great maw.

“NOT TODAY!”

A golden-brown blur severed the hand, then swerved in midair, back to the falling boy. Catching him in her arms, she placed him safely on the ground. Then she waved her staff over him and intoned the words of a prayer.

“Interesting times are dangerous times; boring ones safe. For now, stay safe!”

A pale gold aura encompassed the boy and she pushed him away.

“This will only hold for a few minutes. Go find your parents and don’t wander off again.”

“Thanks, lady!”

The creature whipped its mighty hand at her and she raised her staff to block it. The explosion of energy shattered the ground around her but couldn’t hurt the boy or her.

“You’re welcome. I’m here to help.”

The kid scampered off while the lady squared off against the Astral Oversoul.

It was forty feet tall and had a body like a dragon. Composed of soul mist, its body was also ghostly and transparent. It had many arms down its length and all of them were tipped with hands, claws, and feelers. Its head was a giant set of pincers with a mouth at the base.

 She herself was about five and a half feet tall. Her only armor was a fancy priestess habit and her only weapons were a bow, a quiver, a staff without a blade, and a holy paidrin necklace. The spirit monster reached out to grab her and she shouted, “Perrault, go!”

A golden-brown wolf appeared at her side and lunged at the hostile hand. Her teeth sank into its incorporeal flesh and melted it down to the creature’s wrist.

“Keep him busy while I prepare the killing blow.”

The wolf nodded and then darted up the soul creature’s main body. She bit and tore with each step, and each wound released a stream of grey gas.

Shrinking her staff, the priestess placed it behind her ear. Then she took the bow and nocked an arrow. Pulling the string back, she generated a magic circle underneath her feet. It contained routines for channeling her chaotic power in addition to her faith in Lady Chaos, along with the intended mechanical function. With the spell construction complete, she took aim at the dread beast.

“Return to the veins of Noitearc!”

She released the drawstring and the arrow struck the creature’s center of mass. There, it released its payload of holy power. Golden-brown light lanced up and down the monster’s body and disintegrated it. In its place was a towering mass of grey smoke and unearthly screaming.

Ten screams across ten thousand pitches filled the area. They came from the ten souls composing the former Astral Oversoul as they flew about in fear and confusion. Again, the arrow flashed as its secondary function activated.

From its point, a circle appeared in the air. This circle expanded until it was the size of a desk and its insides filled with a complex magical rune. It pulsed once and the writing faded to reveal a tunnel of rainbow light.

“Off you go!”

Air was drawn into the portal and the souls along with it. All of them resisted, but none of them escaped. Perrault tossed the last one in herself. Her mistress scanned the area to make sure they didn’t miss any, then she snapped her fingers. The arrow flashed a third time and the portal closed without fuss.

Perrault trotted to her mistress’ side and heeled. The priestess petted her head while rubbing her back.

“Good girl!”

“Cleaning up after your boyfriend?”

Floating behind the cleric and wolf was a demonic troll. He was squat in height and broader in bulk. His skin was pale, molting, and rotten. He wore an oversized and threadbare black robe through which ratty black bat wings emerged. The robe’s hood concealed his face except for his long and liver-spotted nose. His scythe was a worm-eaten wooden pole with a bronze blade coated in patina.

Looking at him made her sick, so she spoke with her back to him. “I wouldn’t have to if you did your job, Reaper.”

“I don’t have to until I fulfill my Final Wish, which you are preventing me from doing.”

Perrault barked at him.

“All I’m preventing you from doing is exploiting the souls of the dead for a petty grudge.”

“So much damage and so much trouble; it would be better for the world and everyone in it if you would let me kill him.”

The priestess gripped her bow tighter but still did not face him. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing her angered. One look at that ugly and smug face of his and she might launch another arrow at him. He loved illustrating how she couldn’t permanently kill him.

“You will never kill him.”

“‘Never’ is a big word, Priestess. Aren’t you always preaching about how ‘all things are possible with chaos’?”

The cleric spun around and nocked an arrow. “Including your death!

The reaper laughed. He pointed and laughed. The girl grumbled as she put away her bow and arrow. Then she knelt again and whispered into her familiar’s ear.

“Bite him.”

Perrault dashed forwards and snapped up the reaper’s left foot. He yelled and shook her to and fro, and when he finally dislodged her, it was because she took his foot clean off. The priestess laughed at him. She pointed and laughed.

“That was immature of you, Annala.”

The girl immediately stopped laughing. “Do not use my real name. You might cause a paradox. Unless you’re talking to my mainstream self, you have to call me ‘Priestess.’”
_______________________________________________________________________


Transcending Limitations, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as an ebook. The series is also available in Kindle Unlimited. The paperback format is available at Amazon and also Createspace.

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).

Sunday, May 28, 2017

FINALLY! Transcending Limitations is published!

I just hit the "publish" button at Amazon. Literally, I started this post immediately after I saw the word "done".  It was a great relief. I thought I was going to see that word last December. Delays of various kinds meant that it took another five months.  Now, it is finally done.

Amazon said that the review process could take as long as 72 hours so it is not available right now (that is, Sunday, May 28th). It will definitely be available by this coming Wednesday, May 31st. The original plan was to put it on pre-order but that needs to be 4 days in advance and I said it would come out in May so I decided to skip that.

The ebook has been released but the paperback is not quite ready yet. I need to apply the changes I made in the final read-through to that copy of the story first. I imagine it will trail the ebook format by a week or so.

Also, in case you missed it, below is the book trailer.

video


Update from 6-24-2017. The paperback format is available at Amazon and also Createspace.

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).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Answering Review Request: Holindrian

Macaulay Christian asked me to read his novel "Holindrian". It is a science fiction novel with many plots and themes but is chiefly concerned with a war of independence. I will examine plot, character and polish, and then assign a grade.


PLOT

This story has many plotlines. 1.)There is the flight from Earth due to environmental degradation, 2.) the settlement of a new planet which itself has other plotlines like the growth of the Balutu and a war with the savage inhabitants, 3.) the rise and fall of human civilization four times over fifty thousand years, 4.) the Balutu taking over the world to break the cycle and finally 5.) the world-wide revolt against the Balutu, thus leading to their fall. Actually, there is a sixth plotline, which is the frame narrative of the historian talking about all the previous ones. In my personal opinion, this historian did a bad job.


All of these plotlines are interwoven with each other. Not just by the chapter but within chapters with only a little bar of blank space as a section divider. There are time skips back and forth, as well as location jumps. Different characters are involved. It's confusing. To be frank, it sounds like the abridged version of a five book epic series. If such a series existed, then I think it would be great because what is here is great.

I have never seen a better case for Grey and Grey Morality than this story. The Baltutu's justification for taking over the world is that they are saving humans from themselves. In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves is a trope and here it is proven. The Baltutu have spent fifty thousand years watching humans drive themselves to near extinction four times and in different ways. By the time the Baltutu make their decision, humans are on the verge of wrecking their second planet. It is really hard to argue with Anshargal when he says conquest is necessary.

When the war of independence is brewing, there is a scene between two human viceroys where the loyalist is practically begging the revolutionary not to do this because they both know the war is going to have a tremendous death toll. Even as the morality scale appears to shift to Black and White with Anshargal becoming increasingly vicious and Holidrian is praised as the hero of humanity, there is still an undercurrent that Holidrian is the one making a mistake.

In fact, there is a faction in Holindrian's army that takes his "Freedom is good" philosophy further than he does and decides that all authority figures are bad, including Holindrian. Yep, Holindrian inadvertently inspired the creation of Bomb Throwing Anarchists.

The structure of Baltutu society is also something that I found interesting. The idea is to create small, self-sufficient, and subsistence-based communities. In this way, the Baltutu prevent humans from repeating previous mistakes (it is alluded that these mistakes are environmental degradation, chemical weapons of mass destruction, and over-indulgent commercialism). In order to keep them settled and content, the Baltutu ensure that all their lives are entirely hand-to-mouth. Art, literature, music, anything that is not strictly necessary to keep them alive is forbidden. They believe they have breed out violence, crime etc. by treating humans like cattle. In later scenes, the reader is shown the other side of this, and how heavy-handed, oppressive, and indeed, violent, it is.

The chief failing of this book, In my opinion, is that it is underdeveloped. As I said, it sounds like five stories smushed together. How the Balutu grew into their abilities is not shown. How they attempted to prevent humans from destroying themselves without resorting to conquest gets a single line. The conquest itself only has its end game described. There are several scenes between Enkirus, the guy who led the flight form Earth, and an alien guy who helped him, but they are so underdeveloped that I don't see the point of them. Holindrian doesn't seem to care that the humans he is freeing will likely destroy themselves again because there is no space allotted to him to either worry or prepare for it.

There's also a thing that bugs me. I'm not sure whether or not to call it a "failing". The Battle of Gathbiyya is basically a carbon copy of The Battle of Gettysburg, second day, Defense of Little Round Top. It includes the general situation of "you cannot retreat because you are the end of the line", the fishhook pattern, the bayonet charge inspired by a lack of ammo, and even the "right wheel forward" command. On Tvtropes, we call this a a Whole Plot Reference because it is far too big to be a shout out.


The ending, with this in mind, is only halfway satisfying. The premise is telling the story of "Holindrian's War" and that it does that, but it still feels incomplete.


CHARACTERS

In keeping with the book's underdeveloped nature, there are characters who could be more than what they are. For instance, Masschuel basically joins Holindrian in his war because following him is what he does. It's even on his tombstone. The Baltutu, despite a lone section describing how they all fit into their self-created pantheon, are mainly distinctive based on where they fit on the Anshargal -Holindrian scale. Anshargal is the war hawk, the oppressor, the Necessarily Evil Evil Overlord while Holindrian is the wise freedom preacher and rebel leader. Some characters, such as Oda, feel more like plot props or perhaps more like The Face of a cast herd rather than their own character.

POLISH

The arrangement of the plot lines baffle me.
The spelling and grammar is ok; I recall a handful of errors but nothing major.
The language choice is pretentious. This is at its worst in the beginning, where it is describing the flight from Earth. As an example, the narration states the Earth deliberately creates a mass destruction event as an act of suicide because it prefers to burn instead of existing in such a deathly state.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Holindrian" a C

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review, so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (request): Star Racers (for all time)
Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures
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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, May 13, 2017

Second Round of Edits are In! (Transcending Limitations)

My editor returned the second round of edits for Transcending Limitations. Today I started final read-through. I have this weekend and a couple days off next week so I'm confident that I'll finish in time to publish at the end of this month.

I also have the book trailer ready. It was made by Laura at LLpix Photography as well. Just like with the cover illustration, there were several things I wanted to change and she tweaked it until I was satisfied.
 
video
 
It's also on YouTube, in case you want to watch it there. This is the link.


On another note, I'm considering doing character interviews for the Journey to Chaos series. I have a few ideas but I'd like your suggestions as well. It can be anyone; main cast to one shots, and heroes to villains. Let me know in the comments below.

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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). 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cover Reveal: Transcending Limitations

Here it is, the official cover illustration for the fourth book in the Journey to Chaos series!
 


Like the others, it was made by Laura at LLPix Photography. Isn't she talented? She's also working on a book trailer for me. I'll post that soon; stayed tuned!

The book itself is in the second round of editing by Beth from BZ Hercules. The plan is still to publish sometime this month but that depends on how long the second round takes. I will keep you posted.

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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).
 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Read for Fun: Fellowship of Fantasy - Fantastic Creatures

Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures is an anthology put together by the members of a Facebook group that I'm part of too. This is not a review request. From what I had seen, it looked like fun, and it was.  I'll look over a couple of the stories here in a paragraph or so each.

These are the ones that came to mind first. I suppose that means I found them the most memorable. However, it does not mean that these are the only ones I liked. While looking back over the table of contents, I decided that I liked basically all of them. Out of 21 stories, there was only three or four that I didn't like, or did like but felt were too incomplete to count as a full story.


"Three Steaks and a Box of Chocolates"
This is a fully formed short story; the setting in the desert region has a tactile quality and two central characters are impressively developed in little time. The plot has a solid set up and an intriguing build up to the reveal of the creature. The nature of the conflict is funny, cute and realistic. It has a fully conclusive ending which I like.

I'd say more about it but there's a minor mystery element involved that is part of the story's charm. Suffice to say that Burt is telling the truth when he says "Fluffy" is not a cat.


"The Golden City Captives"
This one has interesting world building in its fantasy aspects. The nature and underpinning of fairy society is one such aspect and how it can be exploited by outsiders is a fine twist. Then there's the mechanic of how shapeshifters are "born". It leads me to think about the why and the history while enjoying watching it happen.

The story also provides a glimpse of the human society which influences these factors, and, in turn, is influenced by them. I want to use the phrase "overflowing climax consequences" because it develops to a grander scale than I expected. The initial conflict is completed but it flows so well and so quickly into another that I was disappointed when it ended. Kinda of like screeching the brakes; I want to see more.


"Adventurer's Heart"
I found a classic fantasy-adventure role playing game in this one. There's this hunter on a vengeance-drive monster hunt. She happens upon a quest, truly like a game, and has to complete a chain of deals and kill a monster or two for someone else before she has the proper equipment to start her own hunt. It's a lot of fun to read.

Once again, this short story feels more like one part of a bigger story than anything self-contained. It's like the first episode of a season. If the author felt inclined to make the rest of the "season" then I would be interested in reading it. The protagonist and her world is that well established and interesting.


"Destiny's Flight"
I get a "fantasy version of the Crusades" feel from this one. A knight and "miracle man"(kind of like a lay cleric) escort a messenger to her destination. The knight has his armor and sword fighting, the miracle man effectively has spells for healing/buffing etc. and the messenger has a quarter staff and her griffin. They fight an evil knight and his own mount who want to kill the messenger.

There's also a budding romance and it has a foil in a happily married couple. It's a nice narrative counterbalance to the action. An even measure of both makes the characters "pop" as human (or griffin, as the case may be).

It feels conclusive, more so than the previous two, but it also feels like this setting and its results could be used to tell more stories.

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Trickster Eric Novels gives "Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures" an A+

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

Click here for the previous book review (request): Close Encounters of the Rubber Duck Kind

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, April 18, 2017

Answering review request: Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind

Vincent Lemon asked me to read his novel "Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind". It is a science fiction story about all the universe being a reality TV show for other planets within the same universe. Yes, it is like The Truman Show, but weirder. I will look at plot, characters and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

It is hard to say that there is one because it never settles on anything in particular. It starts off with Calzone, a little green man alien, playing god with the planet that he narrates for. That drops off after a couple dozen pages and then it shifts into a mystery where Calzone investigates the company that he used to work for to discover its true purpose. That is condensed into a couple pages. Then the "Game of Life' for gods" thing starts up and that goes on until around 50 pages and then something else starts with a new viewpoint character, a new setting and a new conflict. That drops off after a dozen or so pages and something completely different yet tangentially related starts up. This goes on and on until the book ends.

Indeed, there is a certain plot structure where the initial state of things (Calzone designing a world for fun/entertainment for others) reoccurs with different conditions. The only reason the story ends is because of a more fundamental shift in its underpinnings. I think that's the plot. For certain, one could spin a Matryoshka Doll WMG out of this or analogize the stuffing out of it, but it doesn't inspire me to do so. It is quite boring.

Though it has surprises, twists, and unexpected plot developments, the tone is so dull that I don't care. Calzone, for instance, once lists off the events that follow a world-ending meteor shower in a dispassionate sort of way that shows he doesn't really care either. For a story that is about entertaining people, the story itself does little of that. In fairness, the start of each new plot thread is interesting and one of them had me excited, but that is it.

After a certain point, the story feels like nothing more than a collection of its own jokes. The "disgustingly healthy" Universal Health Food Machines, the rubber ducks, donuts and jam, pointy sticks, etc.

It had a better ending than I was expecting. By "better", I mean more conclusive, more tying-everything-together ending. However, there is still a major plot thread that is just left hanging.

CHARACTERS

The characters, as a whole, are one-dimensional.

Calzone is a creative guy who likes breaking rules, but he is basically a plot prop for his author and rotating bosses. There is one part of the plot where he acts in defiance of his bosses (and not out of boredom or knee-jerk contrariness) and displays a streak of heroic desire but that is brief and he returns to form soon enough.

Adam stuffs himself with pastries. While he displays some fear at going mad with boredom, like Calzone, that is just one scene. Bill is Adam's evil counterpart, just replace "pastries" with "alcohol" and "fear at going mad with boredom" with "anger at Adam winning at anything".

Bob has little screen time and a good chunk of that is during a period as a blank slate where he is used for an info dump.


POLISH

Grammar and spelling look good.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind" a D-


This was a free review request. The author wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Fellowship of Fantasy - Fantastic Creatures

Click here for the previous book review (request): Veil of Darkness


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, April 8, 2017

Answering review request: Veil of Darkness

Tim Metivier asked me to read his novel, "Veil of Darkness". It is a science fiction space opera with fantasy genre magic.

PLOT

I have great things to say about this book as a whole, but not about the plot. I have nothing good to say about the plot. This is because the plot is prologue.


That's the gist of it. The most direct plotline is an assassination mission on the Coalition's leader, Rokan Sellas, and while that is well constructed, it is diminished by the larger plot structure. We get several mystic types talking about doom and prophecy and about how this secular science fiction mission is pointless and will fail. It is a Foregone Conclusion. That makes it seem pointless. At the end of the book, one of them says that the prophecy is just now starting.


Smokescreen is another term I would use. Up front there is a detailed conflict. Namely, that the Federation is facing a separatist movement from the Coalition that is based on the inequality between Federation planets and the incompetence of the Federation as a whole. There are fears that war will break out once the Coalition builds up enough strength and one of the first major scenes is a planet pondering Coalition membership that could be used as a frontline base to attack Federation heartland. This is all good and clear and focused. I like this. It is a great set up for a space opera. Except there are those mystics and an Omniscient Council of Vagueness talking about how the Coalition is a distraction, the separatist movement is not really a problem, and the true treat is some generic evil and ancient creature of darkness. Yet, the whole book is about this assassination mission. It feels like a waste of time.

There's also a thing of rotating viewpoint characters by chapter. This appears to have become a trend; everyone wants to be like George R.R. Martin. There are as many as six viewpoint characters. One of them has absolutely nothing to do with the main assassination mission yet takes up a substantial number of pages. The other two feel like they belong in another genre, let alone another story, and they only appear the beginning and end. This dilutes the effect of all of them. The potency, familiarity and immersion of each view point character is diminished by the others.

The Science fiction and fantasy elements are poorly integrated. They happen in separate chapters (until the end) and to separate viewpoint characters. The general view is that magic is nonsense and the stuff that exists is nothing to worry about. The one character who experiences both never goes beyond Aura Vision and thinks he's going crazy.

As for the ending, I can't really call it an ending. Sure, the assassination mission is over but nothing is resolved. Instead, everything is set up. Like I said, the plot is prologue.

 

CHARACTERS


There is fantastic character development. Five or so characters are introduced at once and while it difficult to pin them down at first, the development over the course of the story was gradual and inclusive. Backstories, mannerisms, personality, ambitions are all integrated. I could hear self-generated voices in my head during their dialogue by the end. When Fleet Admiral Drogini speaks, I hear a badass baritone. The "Black General" is more of a flat stoic tone. Roger Warbanks makes me hear the voice of MCU's Star Lord.

As an example of the masterful character development in this story is Lester, a demolition expert. He really likes blowing things up. He has extensive knowledge in his field to the point where he can go beyond "boom!" and make a subtle art of it. In one scene, he kills guards with explosions while creating an entrance, does it all silently and he does it without endangering his allies that may or may not be too close to the blast zone. He is also restless, anxious about being out in the open, and he fidgets in a way that is meaningful to the narrative. He has a My Greatest Failure that is skillfully woven into the narrative without feeling like an info dump. His desire for promotions and using unorthodox means, such as the aforementioned subtle art, is also developed. This is level is typical of many characters, which is impressive given the cast.

The setting is similarly thorough. There are a lot of species in the Federation and outside of it to which have their physiology, society, culture-specific gestures etc. I had as much fun reading the glossary at the end of the book that I did with the main story because there are details that didn't make it into the narrative. The problem I see here is that every member of a given alien species tends to have the same personality and the same is not true of humans. It is....strange considering how thorough everything else is.

The villain of this work is split in twine, maybe, and each reflects its genre. The first is Rokan Sellas, who is traitor military man and the leader of the Coalition. The second is the ancient evil of vagueness, which may or may not be the same being as Rokan Sellas. The former character is arrogant and that's about it. Their charisma is more Compelling Voice than anything else and I didn't see a motive so I'm tempted to say "Generic Doomsday Villain". I know absolutely nothing about the ancient evil of vagueness other than that it is power and evil.


POLISH


Grammar and spelling are mostly clear. I might have seen one thing. Regardless, it is impressive.

Descriptions can get heavy. It's not purple prose but it is lot repetition. Some actions and some scenes are bogged down in wordiness.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Veil of Darkness" a B+

This was a free review request. The author wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (request): Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind


Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Sword Art Online volume 4

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).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don't let your Brain get in the Way of your Mind

What writer doesn't want to write more efficiently? This is not about the part of actually writing but getting into the general state of being that enables efficient writing. It is similar to my old posts on inspiration but is geared more towards the physical state of the writer than their mental state. I'm talking about non-caffeine methods of gaining the energy, stamina and clarity of mind necessary for writing.

1. Water

Staying hydrated is a big help. Just plain and simple tap water can do the trick. It helps with fatigue and clears away fog. I think it has to do with blood flow. A well hydrated body keeps the blood moving smoothly instead of like syrup and so oxygen is better delivered to the brain which invigorates the mind.

2. High Energy Music

I use music that is fast and energetic. It is stimulation for my mind. I believe others call this "epic music". I find that high energy music can push through fatigue. It can clear blocks when I am "not feeling it". A few certain songs can also aid focus by acting as white noise and/or creating a rhyme.

3. Food

As Sora from No Game No Life said, "The brain can function as long as it has glucose".
Mixed nuts and granola are my writing snack of choice. Whole grains are good for sustained energy; it think its the combination B-vitamins and fiber that helps produce energy and stabilize blood sugar. Nuts are for protein, oils and stuff. Sugar is also good but in limited amounts to avoid a crash. Dark chocolate with only a little bit of sugar has worked the best for me in that case. For this to work you don't want "snicker bar level" sugar (20 or so grams per bar) but more like "Honey Nut Cheerios level" sugar (9 grams per 3/4 cup) and preferably less. This is not endorsement or warning of either product but more of an example. What you want is just enough to get that zing benefit.

4. Stand up desk (specifically how I created my own)

Standing up is great. I get drowsy if I sit too long. Seriously, ten or twenty minutes of it makes me yawn. I find that standing up enables more fluid movement while I write which then aids my thought process. You don't have to buy anything for this. I didn't. The stuff I found on the market was either too expensive or had some flaw like the keyboard tray bounces or the structure as a whole was unstable. So instead I took a cheap plastic trash bin that I had on hand, flipped it upside down and placed it on top of my desk. If I want to adjust the height then I use a couple big and thick books. For the mouse, I have a cardboard box that is placed next to the trash bin. This set up is sturdy, stable, and easy to remove if I want to sit down for some reason.

5. Activity (martial arts personally)

This is similar to the stand up desk. Motion is great for writing. It helps the blood flow, increases respiration, gets some internal chemicals moving and all of which helps with sending more oxygen to the brain. I do techniques for a couple minutes and I am refreshed.

6. Deep Breaths
From the diagram! Both during acticity and writing itself, breathing deeply increases that all important blood flow. From the diagraph to get the deepest breath until you can't suck in anymore.

When following this advice, one needs to keep them in mind holistically. The stand up desk and activity can be tiring without enough snacks and water, and no amount of high energy music is going to work if the user is sitting all day. The goal is to achieve a "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" effect.

Those are my methods. What do you use to get into a writing mood?



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, March 25, 2017

New Release: Xenogeneic - First Contact

Lance Erlick released a new book today and I offered to help spread the word.
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Xenogeneic: First Contact is a science fiction thriller about first contact with an alien race that lost their civil war and wants to take over Earth.

Dr. Elena Pyetrov’s father vanished in space 18 years ago while searching for extraterrestrial life. As an aerospace engineer, Elena travels into space to search for answers and to continue his work. Her ship is pulled off course and crashes.

The alien Knoonk lost their civil war in a distant star system and fled to Earth’s neighborhood to hide and regroup. They fashion themselves as persecuted pilgrims in need of a new home—Earth. Unable to live in Earth’s toxic environment, the aliens kidnap and use humans to genetically modify their species to adapt.

Surviving the crash, Elena and her shipmates are transported to a closed cave system where the Knoonk monitor and control everything. Elena tries to make a connection with her hosts and find ways to work together, but Knoonk leaders rebuff her and force the humans to submit as slaves. The aliens use illusions, distractions, and social experiments to learn from their hostages and keep them off balance. Resistance by captive humans brings swift punishment to break the human spirit.

While Elena continues to look for ways to cooperate with the Knoonk, the aliens want to capture Earth for their species. With time running out, Elena must dig deep to uncover the alien plan and find a way to stop them before the human race faces enslavement and extinction.

LINKS





XENOGENEIC BUY LINKS:




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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).