Saturday, November 29, 2008

No. 39 - The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

Started: November 29
Finished: November 30

Notes: This is one of those books (by one of those authors) that no one had heard of two years ago. Now, suddenly, the book and the author are the hottest thing. I'm giving them a shot.

Mini review: I didn't hate this book, but I felt somewhat underwhelmed. I expected something more, especially for a Pulitzer winner. The writing is pretty good, reminding me of Hemingway though not quite that sparse. The characters are ... hmm, well, they could kind of be anybody, though they're not bad. There's next to no back story. No history. No future. Just the here and now (not that there's anything wrong with that ... it was a nice change of pace in a lot of ways). The plot is practically non-existent, though there is one. I wasn't exactly bored reading this novel, but it didn't excite me either. I kept waiting for something to happen, and it never really does (it sort of does in the very end, but it's pretty much expected). One element that was very nice was the non-glorified realism of a post-apocalyptic world; this isn't an adventure story that turns the end of civilization into just a background for a shoot-em-up. No, this is pretty gritty in most ways (as far as I can tell, I've yet to live in a post-apocalyptic environment). So, I don't know. Didn't hate it. Didn't love it. Not really glad I read it, other than maybe to tell others "Hey, I read that." It's supposed to come out as a movie soon, but without a major rewrite I find it hard to believe this will make a good movie. All that being said, there's either a lot going on in this story that went over my head, or it's a post-apocalyptic version of Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea." I might, after a few years, turn to this one again to see if I pick up anything new from it. Or I might just see the movie. Weird. I'm not really split on this book, I'm just not real clear about my reaction to it. Maybe that's a good thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sword and Sorcery lives!

It's out! That's right, the second edition of "Return of the Sword" has been published. For those who might not know, this collection of Sword and Sorcery short stories contains my tale, "Deep in the Land of the Ice and Snow."

But wait! There's more! This second edition has a new book design, and this is the first official publication from Rogue Blades Entertainment. Expect more in the coming year from RBE, much more.

I know the editor/publisher, Jason, is quite excited about all this, as am I. "Return of the Sword" was formerly published by another company, but Jason Waltz took the big leap of his own and started RBE. His first anthology publication as an editor is now his first anthology publication as a publisher!

Congrats, Jason! And congrats to all the fine authors who have stories in this one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

No. 38 - Battle Royale

by Koushun Takami

Started: November 21
Finished: November 29

Notes: Though almost unknown in the U.S., "Battle Royale" has been quite the phenomenon in Japan the last ten years. I've seen the Japanese movie, and thought it brilliantly disturbing in its portrayal of violence, especially violence among young people (mainly 15-year-olds). So, this story obviously isn't for everyone. The plot is sort of a government-enforced "Lord of the Flies" story, but it's much more sinister than that, pitting junior high students in a death match against one another in which there will be only one winner/survivor. Yes, it sounds outlandish. But it's also very pulpish and very Japanese (I mean that in a good way). I like the movie so much, I was quite thrilled to snag up the original novel upon which the movie (and its sequels and the manga series) is based. This is an English translation, of course.

Mini review: Overly violent. Deeply disturbing. Yet a masterpiece of modern pulp fiction. By far and away the most entertaining novel I've read in some time. Definitely not for everyone, but writers of horror and other dark materials should read this and study it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No. 37 - The Shack

by William Paul Young

Started: November 14
Finished: November 21

Notes: Christian fiction isn't normally my thing unless it's also historical fiction, but the blurb on the back of this book caught my attention. Without giving too much away, the story concerns a man who has suffered an awful tragedy to his family, then one day he receives a note from God. The note says God wants to talk with our protagonist. There's more to it than that, more elements that pulled me in, but I don't want to give away any major plot points. And let me add, I also am interested in reading this book because it was self-published (not something I'm considering) but still has made it onto the NY Times bestseller list.

Mini review: Not a bad story, but I wasn't blown away. The writing is decent, but it was fairly obvious this was a first novel. The biggest problem I had from a story-telling point of view is that I felt the plot was a bit weak, especially in the middle; the idea behind the plot is excellent, in my opinion, but it could have used some strengthening. Now, from a spiritual standpoint, there were a few other problems I had with this tale. First, and mostly, I felt the religion in this story suffered from being overly simplistic. I don't, however, necessarily blame this on the author, or upon his religious beliefs or the story; I freely admit that it might just be I who am not emotionally or spiritually capable of understanding at this point in my existence. That being said, I have experienced a few moments of "eureka" or "revelation" in my life about something that seemed quite simple but turned out to be otherwise (or sometimes not) from my perspective. There can be great insight gained from what sometimes seems the most simple of ideas. Still, I generally expect more in my religious-oriented reading. Secondly, I felt the version of God shown in this tale was a bit too liberal for my liking. No, I'm not a fundamentalist or a Bible-thumper or even a hell-and-brimstone kind of guy, but I don't think of God (or the Trinity, if you prefer) as being all touchy feely and kissy huggy all the time. Sometimes, maybe, but not all the time. Again, maybe I'm wrong and it's just my own inability to accept. All that being said, this was an okay read, and there were a handful of very touching scenes. This novel is not something I'd suggest for the casual fiction reader, but my Christian friends might find something here for them. Overall, though, if I'm in the mood to read about man questioning God, I'll turn to one of my favorite books in the Holy Bible ... the Book of Job; God's answers to Job might seem simplistic, but there's a whole lot going on in that tale if you dig deep enough.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

No. 36 - Velocity

by Dean Koontz

Started: November 9
Finished: November 14

Notes: Something like twenty years ago, I had aspirations to be a horror novelist. To some extent, I suppose I still do, but I tend to think of myself as more of a dark fantasy writer nowadays. Anyway, back then I read as much horror and dark thriller fiction as I could, and that included pretty much everything Dean Koontz had written, probably 20 or so books at the time ... I'm talking the late 80s and early 90s. Eventually, I tired of Koontz. He was a good writer, but his characters started to seem too familiar to me and most of his plots started to sound the same. So, I gave him up, even though I'd been a pretty big fan of his and was well read in his material. Now, it's been at least 15 years since I've read anything by him, and he seems to be a bigger author now than he was then. So, I thought I'd give him another shot and I'd try out one of his more recent novels. Here goes.

Mini review: Not as good as some of the earlier works of Koontz's I've read, but overall not too shabby. The plot is interesting, though it stretches the believability factor sometimes, and after the first hundred or so pages the pace is nice and brisk. The one real problem I had with the story was that I never cared all that much for the protagonist; I didn't hate the guy, and sometimes I even rooted for him, but mostly I just sort of felt ... "If the guy dies, if the guy doesn't die, so what?" The ending, the last 50 or so pages, were quite nice, Koontz at his best. Hope I'm not giving anything too much away here, but what I liked best about the ending was the sort of no-fuss attitude the protagonist had when it finally came down to dealing with the antagonist; there had been some introspection (though not tons) throughout this novel by the protagonist, but when he had to do what he had to do ... well, he just did it and got on with things. I liked that. It was a nice change of pace from overly-thoughtful protags who have to ponder their every little emotion, especially after they've gone through a rough time.

Friday, November 07, 2008

No. 35 - Shane

by Jack Schaefer

Started: November 7
Finished: November 9

Notes: If the title of this book means nothing to you, then you're obviously not a great, in-depth student of films about the Old West (not that there's anything wrong with you not being such a fan of the movie genre). This 1949 novel became a pretty famous Western movie in 1953 starring Alan Ladd and Jack Palance. The film is probably best known as sort of the first "quiet stranger comes to town and turns out to be a former gunman and now he has to set things right even though he would rather not have to get violent" Western. Yes, I know that's a long description, but it's also a Western genre nearly in itself. There's probably a shorter title to this subgenre, but if so, it's not one of which I'm aware ("Shane" is not a Spaghetti Western, nor is it really a modernist or post-modernist Western; it fits in well with the Western movies of the 1950s while also precursoring the coming realistic, often violent Westerns of the 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s). Anyway, I haven't read a Western novel in a long while, ran across this one (which is for a movie I like -- can you tell?), and decided to give it a try.

Mini review: Was a little slow the first 50 pages, but picked up nice. Also had a good story without it being just another shoot-em-up. In fact, I think there are only 2 or 3 shots fired in the whole novel, and that's toward the end. Glad I read this one. Gave me even more appreciation for the movie, because I was glad to see the film's creators pretty much stuck with the book.

My only political post now that the election is over

According to the modern, U.S. political spectrum ...

I have no faith in government, so I can't be a liberal.

I have no faith in business, so I can't be a fiscal conservative.

And I have no faith in organized religious institutions, so I can't be a Christian conservative.

I don't even have faith in other humans to police themselves, so I can't even be an anarchist.

So, what the heck does this make me?

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Some writers like to curse. I'm one of them. There's probably not been a day in my adult life where I've not said "damn" at the very least.

And some writers like to curse in their writing. I'm generally not one of those, though I won't shy away from it if I feel it's important to a character and/or the story.

But why not throw in lots of F bombs in your stories? Doesn't it make it sound more realistic? Doesn't it make it sound more gritty?

Um, no. It generally makes the writer look pretty silly and immature.

Now, there can be a place and time for cursing in fiction, sometimes even a good amount of it. But it shouldn't be overdone. Why? Because even just a little cursing in writing can go a long way.

There are real-life situations where there could easily be a lot of cursing. I'm sure soldiers in the field don't worry about their language being salty. Heck, spend some time at an adult sporting venue, and you're going to hear all kinds of stuff.

But, again, in fiction, a little goes a long way. If you don't believe me, go read a book or story by an author who is known to use salty language from time to time. Stephen King, for example. Yes, King uses some curse words, but not as many as you might think. He doesn't need to. Why? Because that F word on page 113 is strong enough to remain in your subconscious for at least another 20 or 30 pages. If every single page had strong language, it would grow silly and eventually stale.

Also, for you short story writers, it's quite difficult to sell your tales to magazines if those tales have lots of strong terms. There are some magazines who don't care if you use curse words, most of those being smaller publications and quite often the darkest of horror mags (at least in my experience). But most zines and such aren't going to publish your story if it's got all kinds of strong language, mainly because they don't want to drive away any readers, but also because some editors feel strong language shows a lack of maturity in the writer.

So, I'm suggesting cutting back on the curse words in your fiction. I'm not saying to never use them, but to use them sparingly and only when appropriate. And, for you fantasy or history writers, if you have to use curse words, at least make them sound appropriate to the time and place of which you are writing; Conan didn't go around spewing F bombs. It would've sounded stupid.