Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Arrival wins the Full Moon Fantasy Award!

Hey everyone!  I find myself beyond ecstatic today, because I can officially call myself an award-winning author.  The Arrival just won The Self-Publishing Review’s Full Moon Fantasy Award for the year’s best self-published fantasy novel!  (High fives all around to everyone who’s been there to support my writing endeavors – I appreciate it, and I would have quit a long time ago without you.)  Here’s a link to the announcement page.

Copy and paste it into your browser if the link doesn’t work.  Check it out!

Also, I’ll be appearing on The Self-Publishing Review’s site soon for an author interview, a guest post, and other cool features.  I’ll try to keep everyone posted.

“The Tolkien Reader” Critical Book Review

No one – and when I say no one, I mean NO ONE, not Robert Jordan (who greatly influenced my writing style), not Brandon Sanderson (my favorite author), not J.K. Rowling (who wrote my all-time favorite books), not even my own mother (who taught me to read) – had as much influence on my becoming a writer than the father of what we know today as the Fantasy Genre.  J.R.R. Tolkien has been my hero since I first read The Hobbit at the age of eleven, and continues to be the inspiration for everything I write now.  He created something extraordinary in Middle Earth. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin – they’re not just stories.  They’re not just words and characters and compelling plots.  It’s a living, breathing world.  Middle Earth is a real place – a place of wonder and magic and beauty unrivaled by any creation of imagination since.

That is my ultimate goal.  If I ever can capture even the tiniest glimmer of what he did in his world, I will have fulfilled my dream.  If I can ever give just one reader the tiniest sliver of the same sense of wonder and passion and reality that he created in his tales of the dark realm of Mordor, or the agrarian peacefulness of The Shire, or the magic of Lothlorien, or the fading beauty of Rivendell, or the majesty of men in Gondor, or the might of Gondolin, or the love of Beren and Luthien or Aragorn and Arwen, or the titanic struggle of the Valar before time began – I will die totally, and completely, fulfilled.

That is the influence Mr. Tolkien has had on me, and The Tolkien Reader takes us deeper into who the man behind the Faerie Realm really was – and deeper into that perilous realm itself.

The Tolkien Reader is made up of four entirely separate sections: The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, Tree and Leaf (which is, itself, made up of two separate entities), Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Adventure of Tom Bombadil.  I will, of course, cover everything separately.

The first tale told is The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, which is an original interpretation of Tolkien’s concerning an archaic Scandinavian poem of the same name.  While I enjoyed this immensely for several reasons, it is highly unlikely that the ordinary reader would find it an entertaining read.  I found it interesting because it gave me further insight into my idol, J.R.R. Tolkien, and because I find his critical translations of archaic language fascinating.  But, as I said, if you are just looking for a traditional read or aren’t looking to give your brain a massive linguistic workout, you may want to skip this one.

Tree and Leaf is actually two separate sections as well:  a short story titled Leaf by Niggle, and a (now famous) essay by Tolkien called On Fairy Stories.  This is, in my humble opinion, the best portion of the book. On Fairy Stories is easily my favorite essay of all-time.  If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and educate yourself by picking up a copy.  I’ll not lie, it’s probably a bit over the heads of the average reader, and Tolkien doesn’t pander to those who aren’t there to seriously study the material.  It’s both incredibly intellectual and study intensive.  For those who find themselves able to get through the concepts and reflect on them, it’s also highly rewarding.  This is the premiere work on fantasy stories, and, in particular, the fairy tale.

The other part of Tree and Leaf is Tolkien’s allegory Leaf by Niggle.  It is, including even The Lord of the Rings, probably my favorite story by Tolkien, which seems strange considering that it is only twenty pages long.  That’s part of its appeal, though, and it is incredible that Tolkien told such a heartfelt – and poignant – tale in such few words.  This is allegory at its very best.  I highly recommend it to any person – whether they are a reader or not, whether they enjoy fantasy or not.  If you don’t do anything with the rest of your life, read this story.  Even if you’ve only got an hour left to live, it’s well worth the time.

The third section is Farmer Giles of Ham, which is a short story (maybe novella length) about a lowly farmer who becomes the hero of the land.  This is solid, traditional fairy tale work, and good reading for any Tolkien fan or lover of Grimm tales.

The fourth section is where we dive back into the realm of Tolkien’s most famous world – that of Middle Earth – in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.  Anyone who has read The Fellowship of the Ring will immediately recognize Bombadil, who is a quirky enough character to stick out in anyone’s mind.  This is a collection of poems, not all of which are about Bombadil.  For those not interested in poetry, this isn’t your cup of tea.  If you love reading whatever you can get your hands on concerning Middle Earth, however, this is definitely for you.  One area in which I’ve always felt Tolkien never received enough credit was in his poetry work.  He writes excellent, lyrical poetry.  Some of the additions here are lovely, bringing to mind the beauty of nature among other things straight from the realm of Faerie.

In summary, The Tolkien Reader will delight fans of Tolkien, while the drier and more studious portions are likely not what the average reader is willing to dig into.  If you take nothing else away from this, read Leaf by Niggle!

Warriors – A Critical Book Review

Warriors, a collection of short stories and novellas by some of today’s best fiction authors, is a captivating and wonderful compilation of twenty unique tales (and an excellent, thought-provoking essay by George R. R. Martin detailing the evils of genre categorizing).  Obviously, some of these stories are better than others.  Most are very good, some are undeniably awful, and a few are truly fantastic.  Since Warriors is not a “novel” but an anthology, I’ll address each story individually with a short blurb about its contents, author, and my opinion of the work.

Introduction: Stories from the Spinner Rack, by George R. R. Martin

Why even bother with the introduction, you ask? Because it is one of the most brilliant essays I’ve ever read.  I didn’t read it once.  I didn’t read it twice.  I didn’t even read it thrice.  I read it four times.  It’s that good, and it perfectly sums up everything I’ve ever thought about genre division.  Yes, genres can be a good thing, but in today’s world, they have begun to block the expansion of the world’s collective reading mind.  Of course, we all have our favorite types of tales, but we shouldn’t lock ourselves away in what we prefer and lose sight of what is really important – a good story.  Those can come in any shape, form, and, yes, genre.  George R. R. Martin explores this concept flawlessly, and any reader will be better for having experienced it.

The King of Norway, by Cecelia Holland

Cecelia Holland is a renowned historical fiction author, and she sticks with what she knows on this story of adventure, peril, heroics, and bloody battle, set during the heyday of the Viking domination of the northern seas. It ranks somewhere in the middle of the stories in this novel for me, which is not a bad thing, since the majority of these tales are well worth reading.  It was a good start to Warriors, and, factoring in my love for works of adventure and battle (not to mention Vikings.  I mean, who doesn’t like Vikings?), it made for an enjoyable read.  One con that comes to mind:  the main character seemed a bit flat to me.

Forever Bound, by Joe Haldeman

From the science fiction author who brought us the classic novel The Forever War comes another look at the future of warfare in Forever Bound.  Surprisingly, most of the story is about sex, not combat, which normally would irritate me.  But Haldeman’s characters, settings, and mindsets are inextricably bound up with physical contact – in essence the sex, and their reasons for engaging in the particular coupling occurring in the story, is essential to the situation and the overall plot.  That being the case, I didn’t have a problem with the sexual nature of Forever Bound.  (When sex is just thrown in for “HEY, SEX!”, then it rankles me.  I don’t need or want flesh shows for no particular reason.  That’s just pandering to horny people to read your stuff.  If you’re a reader looking for pornography or bodice rippers, go watch/find those.  There’s plenty out there.  Don’t write a story filled with sex just to have sex.  If it advances the plot, character development, etc. I’m fine with it.)  Anyway, a decent story overall, but, as most of the stories in Warriors are better than decent, nearer to the anthology’s lower end.

The Triumph, by Robin Hobb

The Triumph was another decent read, so not quite on the better end of the stories in Warriors.  It was one of several that concerned Rome/Carthage.  In this case, we see from the point of view of an ex-Roman Legionnaire, who has to watch his friend and commander suffer in a brutal public execution.  In particular, it addresses issues like loyalty, friendship, patriotism, defiance, and, most important, learning when it is time to rest from conflict and hang up your sword.  While wonderful issues to ponder in a story, unfortunately they were explored through a series of flashbacks about a giant snake the Legionnaire had confronted with his commander in the past.  The flashbacks weren’t particularly engaging or effective in my opinion, and they made the story and themes suffer.  I’ve not read anything by fantasy writer Robin Hobb, but based upon this story, I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’d pick up one of her books.

Clean Slate, by Lawrence Block

Here we come upon one of the more intriguing and exceptional stories of the volume – as well the most disturbing. Lawrence Block is an accomplished mystery/thriller writer, and he brings us to a dark and disconcerting place in Clean Slate.  Once again, we have another highly sexual story, this time concerning incest and – I’m unsure what to call it – willing molestation, perhaps?  Yeah, like I said, a highly disturbing story, but no less impossible to put down for all of that.  What is most explored is the effect, mostly psychological, of sexual abuse.  I couldn’t put Clean Slate down, but it did make me feel like I needed to shower after reading – repeatedly.  Fans of the television series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit would find it highly appealing, I’ve not doubt.  You’ve been warned.  Read at your discretion.

And Ministers of Grace, by Tad Williams

Is it just me, or are all of fantasy writer Tad Williams’ stories about religious indecision? I can’t help but think the guy must struggle constantly with his own spirituality, because he writes about characters who can’t decide if God exists or not CONSTANTLY.  Frankly, I’m getting tired of the same ol’ theme, Taddy.  This one is about a religious assassin from a god-fearing society who is fighting a war against a purely atheistic society.  Repetitive theme reminiscent of Tad’s The Burning Man.  Story is “shrugs” OK.  I think this is a wonderful and potent theme to work with, but Mr. Williams has done it to death.  Time to move on, sir.

Soldierin’, by Joe R. Lansdale

This one is about the frontier’s Buffalo Soldiers during the wars with the Plains Indians – in this case, the Apache. This was a decent read, with some funny humor – and some that missed the mark, straying into borderline degrading.  I enjoyed it, though, and Lansdale managed to tell his tale without getting too preachy about racism or slavery. Soldierin’ is good historical fiction that includes humor, survival, and a look at the lives and motivations of black cavalry soldiers on the frontier in the late 19th century.

Dirae, by Peter S. Beagle

Beagle’s short work in Warriors is a bit out of the box, and it’s pretty good because of his asymmetrical thinking.  It details the brief, violent existence of a powerful girl, who doesn’t know who she is or why she exists.  I figured out what was happening fairly early on, but the unique concept didn’t suffer too much because of the decidedly clairvoyant attempts at mystery.  A fun and…invigorating read.  It made me feel like sometimes everything does happen for a good reason.

The Custom of the Army, by Diana Gabaldon

First, I had better point out that I have a clear bias against Diana Gabaldon. I hate her stories.  Remember that stuff I said about throwing sex into a story because why the hell not?  Sex sells!  That mindset is incarnate in Mrs. Gabaldon, and it drives me nuts that her novels (The Outlander series) are as popular as they are.  This story is another novella about her popular side-character Lord John Grey.  He is an English military officer in the 18th century – and he’s gay.  Don’t forget that part, because Gabaldon surely won’t let you.  In his every tale, he is going to find some other secretly gay guy (somehow), he’s going to know instinctively that he’s gay (somehow), and they’re going to hook up by the end of the story.  It’s maddening.  Not only does coupling like that not happen even to straight people, who can reasonably assume that they have a wide playing field of options around to score with, but homosexuals in the 18th century would have had a much more difficult time of such because they would be afraid of being caught.  Homosexuality wasn’t tolerated in that century, and while Gabaldon acknowledges that, somehow Lord Grey still manages to find a sexual partner in every story without giving himself away to others.  Admittedly, other than the inexplicable gay sex, I find Lord Grey to be a compelling character, and this particular story was much better than many of his other adventures.  (Though he does hook up with a gay Indian before the Battle of Quebec.  Seriously, Gabaldon?  A gay Indian?  Can we get any more implausible in our quest for sex scenes to serve our readers?  (Palm slaps face)  I’m not saying an Indian couldn’t have been gay in that time period, I’m saying that the odds of something like that happening in 18th century America between an English gentleman and an Iroquois scout while surrounded EVERYWHERE by British soldiers is slim to…nope it’s just an impossibility.  By the way, I don’t want to rag too much on the gay scenes, because Gabaldon does this with straight sex scenes too.  In her works (of any length) there are going to be copious sex scenes, often with no reason for them, and many times, there is just NO WAY they would occur.  It just, ugh…Sorry, moving on now.

Seven Years from Home, by Naomi Novik

This story was not in any way unique. Novik uses a form often used but rarely well, in which the narrative is presented by way of a journal, and it is the result of the protagonist’s integration into a culture alien to her own. Dances with Wolves, anyone? The Last Samurai? Avatar?  (There are countless others.)  Despite falling into a boorishly used trope, however, Novik’s tale does manage to entertain, and by the time I turned the last page, I realized I had become as enthralled in the chain of events as I had in almost all of the previous stories, in spite of my first inclination toward irritation at the preference of delivery.  Just goes to show that when you think you’ve seen, heard, and learned it all from the old and much-used, it can surprise you and teach you something new.  This was a good one.

The Eagle and the Rabbit, by Steven Saylor

I’m not sure how I feel about Saylor’s contribution. It is another of the Rome/Carthage based tales, this one from a Carthaginian’s viewpoint.  It takes place after Carthage’s final fall, and details the eradication of all peoples of Carthaginian blood by way of death or slavery.  It was an intriguing look at the psychology of the broken mind, but the conclusion was a bit lackluster.

The Pit, by James Rollins

The Pit is about gladiators. Not gladiators of ancient Rome or any of the other savage contests conducted throughout history between men.  In fact, it isn’t about men at all, but it is about warriors.  Warriors of a different kind, perhaps, but warriors all the same, with courage, ferocity, and will-to-live equal to any contest of man.  My one complaint, which we see a lot in today’s fiction on screen and in books, is that Rollins did some major projecting of human concepts, emotions, and ideas onto animals, which is great to see – occasionally.  This has been WAY overdone in the past thirty years, and is starting to grate on my nerves.

Out of the Dark, by David Weber

I really liked this story at first, then it started to drag a bit in the middle, and finally the end killed the plot for me. Out of the Dark had an interesting and inspiring concept, but then Weber attempted to mix myth with a world already well established as “normal” (Normal for sci-fi, anyway).  The result was an unsatisfactory conclusion that felt like it came out of nowhere and had no place in the story.  I did find Weber’s specific concept of a galactic community made up and divided by different species type (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore) to be exceptionally interesting, though.

The Girls from Avenger, by Carrie Vaughn

I can’t say that the plot was incredibly entertaining, but I did enjoy being introduced to a piece of history with which I was ignorant. I never knew that female pilots were used in World War II, and I found the idea behind the story (the actual history and struggle with sexism the female pilots faced) to be both well presented and somewhat inspiring.  Learning about these largely unknown American heroes was a treat.

Ancient Ways, by S.M. Stirling

I had never heard of S.M. Stirling or his alternative history novels, but thoroughly enjoyed this short story, so I may have to pick up a book of his. Ancient Ways takes place in a future in which a technological apocalypse has occurred.  No machines or mechanical devices work anymore, and on the steppes of Russia and around the Black Sea, a young Cossack can hardly imagine the world being any other way.  Our Cossack protagonist runs into a warrior very different from himself – in more ways than one – and sets out with him to save a princess.  The concept might sound hokey, but I assure you, this doesn’t feel like a Disney movie – at all.  You’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Ninieslando, by Howard Waldrop

I have only a few things to say about Ninieslando.  1)  It made no sense.  2)  Other than some interesting passages about life in the trenches during World War I, it was incredibly boring.  3)  The main character was unbelievably flat and had no personality.  4)  It made no sense.

Recidivist, by Gardner Dozois

I can’t say I enjoyed this much. Recidivist takes place in a world in which humans have been overthrown by AIs who have almost no interest in them and who do things seemingly at random.  The plot wasn’t incredibly coherent, and the ending was not great.  Dozois’ theme was perseverance, even after you’ve already lost.  Great in theory – now I need something to make me believe it.

My Name is Legion, by David Morrell

Even if it was a bit predictable, My Name is Legion was a great read.  Detailing some of the French Foreign Legion’s actions in the Second World War, Morrell’s story shows how much “Honor and Nobility” (the FFL’s second motto) cost men of the Legion.  It is poignant and stirring and is only slightly tarnished by the main character’s insistence that not only was God punishing him, but that God should unquestionably do so.  This is one of the better stories of the entire volume.

Defenders of the Frontier, by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg’s tale of estranged soldiers long dedicated to their cause but long forgotten by their people (or worse), was stimulating. Its presentation, style, and mystery were sufficiently captivating to have me fully drawn into the plot – until the conclusion.  For such a good read, Defenders of the Frontier had a dismal ending that concluded nothing and left off almost right where it started (or behind where it started).  So, naturally, I was disappointed by Silverberg’s story, because it promised much – specifically, some answers – but didn’t deliver.  I’m still mad about that, but I can grudgingly admit it was one of the better additions to the volume.

The Scroll, by David Ball

The Scroll managed to be both darkly satisfying and utterly unappealing at the same time. I don’t know how to describe it.  I hated the antagonist for his cruelty.  I hated the protagonist for his cowardice.  I hated the events that happened.  I hated its conclusion.  And yet, David Ball managed to keep me immersed in the plot the entire time, despising what was happening, drowning in the brutality – but absolutely caring that it was happening.  And that is the sign of a great story, is it not?  When it makes you feel something?  When it makes you care about the events and the characters and the people despite its fiction?  I hated this story – and I loved every minute of it.

The Mystery Knight, by George R.R. Martin

We have come not only to the last story, but also to the best one. Three cheers for the return of Dunk and Egg!  For those of you haven’t read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, you’re missing out.  For those of you who have, but have not experienced The Hedge Knight novellas, you’re missing out even worse, because you came close but never touched Martin’s stories of true genius. The Mystery Knight is the third installment detailing the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire, Egg, following its predecessors, The Hedge Knight and The Sworn Sword.  I first read The Hedge Knight in the fantasy anthology Legends, and have been in love with Martin’s Westeros of 100 years previous to A Game of Thrones ever since.  Don’t get me wrong, I love our heroes from Martin’s wildly popular fantasy cycle, but his big, slow-thinking, honorable hedge knight from generations before will always be my favorite champion.

And there you have it. The Mystery Knight caps off a wonderful collection of adventures of all different sizes, shapes, lengths, types, genres, and quality, but overall, I feel vindicated in testing the waters. Warriors is a success, in my humble opinion.  I’ve heard that the new sequel to this volume is now out, called Rogues.  After this experience, I’m sure to give it shot.