Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review--Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

I probably would have a better opinion of this book if it had been written by almost any other author, but this is a Joe Haldeman book and I have come to expect far more from him than a story like Marsbound.  The main character is likable and believable.  The dialogue is realistic and typically Haldemanesque.  The story just didn't engage me, though, and it isn't helped by a group of aliens that I just wasn't buying into.  Haldeman knows to how create cool and weird aliens (see Camouflage, a really underrrated book) and unfortunately the Martians in the story only have the weird part of the equation nailed.  The other thing that was hard for me to swallow in the plot was the everpresent antagonistic relationship between the main character and her primary "opposition", a bitter and vindictive administrator...something just felt off about it. 

That said, the underlying idea in the book is a sound one, and I want to know where it goes with the sequel, Starbound

OK book, but in the context of knowing who wrote it, a little disappointing.

A Fortnight to Write

At my real job I've been stuck in this cycle of not using all my vacation time in the actual year in which it was generated.  As a result of this, I have two weeks worth of 2010 vaction time left over to use this year, and I am smack in the middle of week one (week two is to follow consecutively).

While I do have some other very important things to which I need to attend during this time, most of this period is earmarked as writing time.  The primary writing priority is in making a lot of headway in a rewrite and expansion of my NaNoWriMo novel, A Separate Breed.  As I was outlining the abandoned plotlines that needed closure and the extra background that needed to be added in order for certain characters to make more sense, I think I realized that they would not be adequate to give the book the additional length it would require.  I was stewing about this a bit on Monday as I made some changes to the first draft of the manuscript, trying to figure out what else there could be.  Was my story really that thin?

My writing style tends toward concision.  I'll never be someone to write 800 page novels or 10 book series.  I usually know what I want to say and I say it.

When I was finishing the first draft of the book back in November I had seen a news article that gave me an idea for a "next step" plot point.  It would have expanded upon the main situation of A Separate Breed in a logical way, but I didn't have time to include it and I wanted the story to be finished before the November 30 deadline.  So I shelved it, figuring I could use it in a potential follow-up novel.

Silly me.  That bonus bit of story, along with my other outlined items, is where my extra 25 to 35 thousand words are coming from.  No need to panic!  So now my original climax gets to just be a precursor to the real thing.

And we're supposed to be getting something like a half foot of snow tomorrow here in Toronto.  Blech.  This is really going to interfere with my scouting mission to an area of the city I need to write about.

Weather notwithstanding, this is my fortnight to write!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Abide Not By Ill Fortune

Here's a short piece from a few years ago:

I remember when I woke up early one Saturday, about four in the morning. Something had startled me from my slumber, and was immediately apparent in the absence of a dozing woman on the right side of the bed. I groggily sat up, looking toward the open bedroom door, using the tip of one ring finger to dislodge the crust from the corner of my eyes. I could just see the entrance to the bathroom down the hall: the door there was open and the light was not burning.

I wanted to go back to sleep, but despite being exhausted, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest until I knew why she was up, so I pulled on a pair of shorts and crept out to the living room. The light in the kitchen was on and I peeked in, seeing her sitting at the small dinette table facing slightly away and to my left, just barely allowing me to see the glum expression on the profile of her face. Resisting the urge to move to her side and ask her what was wrong, I watched her silently, her dark hair mussed from sleep. She was generally hard on her appearance after waking, self-deprecating without the humor, but I always thought that her hair in slight disarray made her more humanly beautiful, validating to me one aspect of the attraction I felt to her.

She wore an oversized San Diego Chargers t-shirt, her favorite sleeping attire, and was sipping a cup of tea, the purple box on the table indicating Darjeeling, the used teabag sitting on a napkin folded neatly into a quarter of its original size. She began to hum, and I struggled to figure out what the tune was. One instant it was the strain of a Strauss waltz, the next a Metallica riff—it was no song and every song, it was whatever she wanted it to be in that moment. To me it was an embodiment of her, unpredictable and comforting all at once, whimsical and beautiful.

As I rested my head against the wall, the humming ceased and she reached toward a thin vase in the center of the table, pulling one of two roses from the sparkling crystal. She always kept flowers on the kitchen table. She looked thoughtfully at the rose as water dripped from the stem onto the tabletop, inhaled its scent with her eyes closed, and sighed. I was reminded of a wedding we had attended the month before. It became apparent during the reception that she was becoming frustrated waiting on me to propose to her, and was perhaps doubting our future as time passed and I made no attempt to offer a larger commitment. I had made the decision then, and was in the process of devising exactly how I would go about asking her to marry me, naturally wanting it to be perfect.

Without warning she pulled a petal from the defenseless flower, and because of the quiet her voice seemed harshly loud: “He loves me.”

She carelessly flicked the separated petal away, took another sip of her Darjeeling. No sooner had the mug been returned to the table then off came another petal.

“He loves me not!”

Curiosity, warring with wanting to step forward and comfort her, had the best of me. I wanted to know how this would end.

Shortly, there were but two fragile looking petals on the decimated rose, and both of us could see that the result was not going to be the most desired one. Reluctantly, she pulled one off with quite unnecessary force. It made me think of ripping the tag from a new pillow.

“He loves me,” she mumbled forlornly.

She stared at the one remaining petal on the tortured flora and drew her feet up off the cold linoleum. It seemed that she was going to finish the ritual as she prepared to tear off the final piece, but she hesitated just a moment, and tore half the petal off, accompanied by a wickedly self-satisfied grin. “He loves me not.”

She plucked the last half-petal, and before she could give the final verdict, the verdict of her own choosing, I delivered it for her.

“I love you.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Respect the Earth

So, I watched a lot of CNN last night, having heard about the big earthquake in Japan just a few minutes after it happened.  I've seen a few people on social media freaking out about the end of the world, and it makes me shake my head because people just don't understand the ground they walk upon.  The planet is like a living thing, and it is always in some form of upheaval.  It is inevitable that disasters will happen, and they get more and more likely to kill scores or thousands of people as the population of the planet continues to skyrocket upwards.  Natural "disasters" are not getting more frequent, or more severe.  This is just the way the world works...take a few geology classes and if you don't already understand, your perspective may change a bit.  Hell, go seek out the recent episode of Nova that highlighted the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  Some very good basic explanations (and great educational graphics, too).

The images from Japan, particularly the tsunami sweeping across the rural areas of Sendai province, are frightening.  The planet is host to immense power, and we are like insects when she decides throw her weight behind her actions. 

Thoughts and prayers go out to those in Japan who were affected by this disaster.  The company I work for will likely do some relief fundraising as a result.  And I wish things like this never happened--people don't deserve to face these situations.  But always respect the Earth's power, and we'll be as prepared as possible when these inevitable events weigh upon us.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book Review: Soul Born by Kevin James Breaux

I will admit heading into this review that I have known the author for a couple decades, so granted, I'm sure I have a little bit of bias, and anyone who has read the handful of entries in my blog will be aware of this connection.  Following, however, is my honest opinion of Kevin James Breaux's debut novel, Soul Born.

My personal taste when it comes to fantasy has generally been works that include a great deal of detailed worldbuilding.  I love reading about history so when I consume fantasy stories about strange and exotic new worlds I often have the mindset that I looking for historical and geographical snapshots over and above a strong plotline and interesting characters.  This is usually what holds my attention in fantasy, because I am always looking for clues, for a broken potsherd that tells me about the way the people in the land lived their lives.

Soul Born is a very focused novel.  There are no meandering passages in this book and no exposition that isn't relevant to what's happening.  There is no scenic route to get to the destination.  The book is the GPS equivalent of telling you the quickest way to get from point A to point B.  And baby, it makes the book ROLL.

I'll note here that it took me a little while to appreciate this characteristic.  I had to put the book down half way through and think about it.  Something about the style of Soul Born then clicked for me, and I enjoyed the hell out of the book.  Most fantasy novels have clearly delineated good guys and bad guys, maybe some gray area third party that swings back and forth for a while until finally aligning with one group or the other for the Big Final Battle.  Not so in Soul Born: these people are not out for some high falootin' grand ideal, they are, each and every one of them, pushing their own agenda.  The result of this is a cast of characters that have a seeming tendency towards erratic actions, but in reality are simply adjusting their plans to the shifting tide of events in the story.  If the characters, Karn and Opal in particular, realize that staying the course isn't going to get them what they want, they simply head in a different direction.  It's kind of refreshing. 

There's no dead wood in the plot.  The characters are fun, if sometimes a little reprehensible.  The book is action, action, action.  It isn't your typical fantasy, and that's a good thing.  It really stands out next to everything else on the shelf because it breaks all the standard fantasy tropes. 

Thumbs up!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aspiring Author and Collector of Interesting Facts

I'm thinking that, with the news I received yesterday, that the little description of me above can perhaps now read like this:

Aspiring Author and Collector of Interesting Facts

I say this because I got an email yesterday afternoon that included the following sentence from an editor to whom I had submitted my novellette, The Tree:

"We enjoyed it and would like to publish it in TOLD YOU SO."

I'm feeling on top of the world with this news; it's like the culmination of years of dreams, and it's an excitement that I must admit I have rarely felt in my life.  If you are imagining me rushing to read and fill out the contract they sent me that will permit them to print my story in their anthology, you would be very close to the mark.

First phone call went to my girlfriend.  Second one to my mother.  Then Facebook and Twitter found out.  Yes, safe to say excitement was the word of the day.  I've gotten a ton of encouragement that has managed to help me get to this place, from the two women mentioned in this paragraph chief among them, and also from my good friend and award-winning author Kevin Breaux (whose first book, Soul Born, I will be posting a review of shortly...I finished it a few days ago and have been digesting my thoughts on it), among many others along the way.

Certainly, I still have to work very hard to keep this from being the only success I ever have as a writer, but my hope is that this starts the snowball rolling down the hill, and that by the time it reaches the ditch it could be used for the base of a very large snowman.

The Tree will be printed by Pill Hill Press in their conspiracy anthology Told You So later this year.  I will, of course, be crowing about it with more information as soon as I can!