A Writer's Rambling and Ranting

Thread Description
Rumors talks or rants about writing, book reviews, world building, and other writing topics.

Rumors

Or so they say...
Writer
Pokédex No.
258
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Jul 1, 2019
Messages
142
Pronouns
male
Pokémon Type
Fire
Pokédex Entry
A Pokémon shrouded in hearsay and urban legend, spoken of only in whispered tales and hushed gossip.
So, it has gotten into my mind recently that maybe I ought to just start talking about writing and stuff. I have thoughts and opinions and, apparently, some people like to hear thoughts and opinions. According to Douglas Adams, listening to other people's opinions are a very good way to make friends with them Which... I am absolutely not doing here. Instead I am sharing my own opinions, which he says can work too but usually not as well. But, well, perhaps he underestimates my secret plans to make friends by showcasing my own opinions and people who want to be friends with me listening to them, saving me the work of actually having to be social and interact with strangers!

Ah, who am I kidding, let's be real here. I just have things I wanna say and share and this is the community I'm part of. I might be better off making a YouTube channel for this or something so I could make money off of it, but that takes effort to learn how to make passable videos. And time. I don't have time. And I also need a microphone that isn't attached to a headset that is literally held together by electrical tape because I'm too cheap to buy a new one and too stubborn to use the better condition, but lower quality and older, headset of mine. There's also probably more relevant communities for this stuff, but that means joining other communities and that's not a decision to make lightly.

Unless you're an extrovert. Which is only most of the population but, eh, details.

So, here we are, a blog of my own to be cast off drifting into the Nuzseas. What's the point of this blog? Well... title. I'm thinking it'll mostly be me talking about writing stuff, book stuff, maybe about my own book I'm working on (which, is currently in the "scrapped all chapters and started over from a different angle" phase), writing processes and advice, world building, being super critical of works in an unfair manner, or whatever else. Stuff to get it off my chest so I can focus on other distracting thoughts keeping me from actually getting anything done. ...maybe this should be titled "A Writer Trying Very Hard to Appear Smart and Busy When He's Just Procrastinating" We can call it AWTVHASBWHJP for short.

Although, I guess now's a good point to mention I might share opinions of the dreaded C words. No... not the vulgar one. I mean controversial and contentious. I'll definitely try to be as inoffensive as possible but, let's be real: this is the internet of 2019. I've probably already offended the entire community of some website I've never heard of and they're busy firing up their angry posts and would be spamming the dislike button at exactly 87 seconds if we had a dislike button.


 
Last edited:

Rumors

Or so they say...
Writer
Pokédex No.
258
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
142
Pronouns
male
Pokémon Type
Fire
Pokédex Entry
A Pokémon shrouded in hearsay and urban legend, spoken of only in whispered tales and hushed gossip.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #2
Book Review

To Try Men's Souls

by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen​


((This review was originally part of the first post.))

Let's start with a nice safe book review! I've recently lost my vehicle (long story, maybe another time) and have been reduced to rely on bussing to get to and from work. Which is, oddly less stressful. The extra two hours a day sucks, but it's infinitely cheaper than the next random $500 repair bill showing up every three months. Like, really, never be responsible for the fueling and maintenance of a large pick-up truck if you're not stacked with cash. Everything about them is expensive and unwieldly and people will leave angry letters on your vehicle for parking next to them, even if you park just fine.

I digress. So, the book in question? To Try Men's Souls. And, to be fair, there's also a lot of other people that really deserve some credit since the foreword and intro talk about a team they had for research. Definitely a luxury! But, if you're trying to write accurate historical fiction, I suppose you could really need one. And if you're a former U.S. Speaker of the House like Gingrich, then affording one is probably pretty easy too.

Also, funny coincidence: I grabbed a book randomly off my shelf to read and this is the one that popped up a few days before the 4th of July, which is American Independence Day. Quite the coincidence to pull a patriotic book I didn't remember owning so close to a patriotic holiday, which I didn't finish until after said holiday.

As said, the book is historical fiction. Specifically, American Revolutionary War historical fiction about George Washington's 1776 Christmas Day campaign to cross the Delaware River and surprise attack the Hessian's stationed in the town of Trenton. The story is a fictional retelling of those events from the perspective of General George Washington, who's commanding the failing American army that is mere days away from their enlistments running up and about to dissolve since the war has been going horridly for them up to that point, and from a private in that army named Johnathan Van Dorn, who I assume is an original character in this story, and is part of the all but deserted Jersey militia and has a rather personal stake in that Trenton is where his family lives. There is also an involved b-plot about Thomas Paine in the months before the time the A-plot takes place and is about his struggles to write, and then publish, The American Crisis. Which, cool enough, is actually included at the end of the book so you can actually see what he worked so hard to accomplish.

Opposing the American forces is Colonel Johann Rall of the Hessian forces, effectively a mercenary army hired by the British to help put down the uprising. While he is the villain of the book, I hesitate to call him the primary antagonist as the real enemy to the Americans in the story are not men and muskets, but rather plummeting morale, low supplies, harsh weather, and the rough environment. This book is intended to be an inspiration and, when you read, it is. Imagine soldiers on a cold, winter night, as the clouds roll in and the rain turns to sleep, which turns into snow, in a severe storm. The army is sick, tired, ragged, and yet they have to ford a river that is starting to freeze in boats full of ice and slushy mud. And then march eight miles in the dead of the night, cross two ravines with rivers, while transporting artillery pieces. Oh, and did I mention some of them barely had uniforms? Heck, did I mention a lot of them didn't even own a pair of shoes?

And the only promise that awaited them ahead was victory or death. No other alternatives.

It's incredibly hard to believe but, spoiler alert (although can it be a spoiler when the events happened over 200 years ago?), they pulled it off. The world conspired against Washington as reinforcements bailed on him, the weather worsened, and the road became nothing more than a morass of sticky, freezing mud that was caked with bloody footprints of soldiers whose feet were too numb to realize they were leaving a trail of blood. And they were marching against an enemy who was well rested, well fed, warm, and world renowned for their deadliness and efficiency. The fact that is was pulled off is a hell of a miracle and just seeing the characters stubbornly push through, enduring all the hardship, and making that miracle happen despite every soul crushing setback is just... wow.

It's one thing to get a paragraph or two about it in U.S. history class. It's another to read a book describing it.

Paine's story is a lot less about stubborn refusal to surrender in the face of abject hopelessness and more about, well, the struggles of trying to write a piece that would rouse a would-be nation that was about to give up and then getting from the front to somewhere he could publish it without a loyalist shooting him for it or something. As a writer, I can definitely relate to a bunch of the issues he has in the story, such as the struggle to get anything down onto the page (much less while in a leaky tent that was pouring water onto your pages!), people expecting you to get writing done and constantly asking how it goes as if it was something you could just work on steadily like a more normal job, or the protectiveness one might feel for something that's not finished yet.

Granted, here's where the critique comes in. The book is good, don't get me wrong, but it has a few problems. Paine's story is definitely one worth telling, but other than him crossing paths with both Washington and Johnathan once, each, and Johnathan only able to press on because of that pamphlet, it's a little out of place here, I feel. It takes place before the campaign itself, which means the plot has to jump back and forth through time which is a little disorienting initially, but it's almost entirely disconnected from the A-plot and doesn't really have its own resolution. It hits the climax and then... nothing. I think Thomas' story probably could have stood to have been removed, expanded, and made into its own book. Again, it's a story worth telling and reading, but it's a story that ought to have its own focus.

And yes, it kind of lacks resolution. Paine's story hits the climax, completes it, and then... that's it. He's gone from the story and no more is written from his perspective. As soon as he's completed his goal, Paine steps out of the story. Johnathan has a similar issue. He hits his climax, settles it, and then he's done. He gets a bit of resolution, unlike Paine, but part is from Washington's perspective and the other part is a surgeon's report to Washington. We really ought to needed to be with Johnathan during that part as there was a lot of missed emotion and poignant moments that were sure to take place. Washington himself, however, doesn't suffer the problem. His overall story isn't over, since there's still a lot of war to do, but the battle is finished.

...and yes, again, I know "spoilers", but considering the U.S. isn't a British colony still, I think it's safe to say you're already spoiled before you even heard of this title.

Anyway, other minor points, the book sometimes will change perspectives suddenly and without warning. There are a couple of points where, one moment, you're following one character and the next, in a normally spaced paragraph below, you're suddenly following someone else! It's very disorienting and jarring! Most points aren't that bad and have the decency to give an extra line break or two before paragraphs, but sometimes those line breaks happen while staying with the same character, so you can never be prepared enough for the shift. Being more consistent in character jumps would have fixed this trivially.

The other bit is the ending. This is an inspirational book, facing down hopelessness, and, ACTUAL SPOILER SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT IT, one of the last things we get is the surgeon's report on the army. The report is somewhat bleak that, while there were almost no injuries or deaths from the fighting itself, a number of men were lost in the march to and from the battle and a one or two hundred would probably die in the next few days from disease, exhaustion, and exposure. It... kinda warps the message, despite how accurate it likely was. Like, it goes from "if you buckle down and face adversity, no matter how hopeless, you can accomplish great things" to well... that but tacking an "but you'll get sick and die afterwards" on at the end. Like, yay? I can settle for accomplishing merely good things in exchange for surviving, thank you very much.

Overall though, the book is definitely worth a read! It's quite motivational and inspiring. Like... if men can handle those conditions and still do what they set out to do, then I can face down my understaffed job and its infestation of crazy customers. I dunno if people not from the U.S. would get the same from it considering, well, this is U.S. history and all. But, then again, I've always wondered what their thoughts, impressions, and reactions were to things like the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and other historic U.S. wars. ...although I suppose it's not much different from my reactions to stuff like the French Revolution, the Yellow Turban Rebellion, or the crusades.


But yes, I have a few other books I've read on the bus thus far and want to get to. Specifically Ender's Game, Bones of the Dragon (oh lordy), and I'll be finished with The Salmon of Doubt in the next day or two I imagine. So, watch this space! Dunno if I'll review books I've read in the past since... it's been a while. If I reread them, then they'll be fair game!
 

Rumors

Or so they say...
Writer
Pokédex No.
258
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
142
Pronouns
male
Pokémon Type
Fire
Pokédex Entry
A Pokémon shrouded in hearsay and urban legend, spoken of only in whispered tales and hushed gossip.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #3
Book Review

Bones of the Dragon

by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman​


Oh lordy...

Remember how I said some of the things I put here might involve those dreaded "C-words"? This will probably be one of them. Except... I kinda get the vibe nobody will experience a much more acceptable "C-word:" care. I don't think anyone will have really noticed this title. I mean, heck, Wikipedia barely acknowledges it with an article that, as of this writing, is a whopping two sentences long.

It's also apparently a series and, while there's an article on the series, the other three pages for the books are blank.

So, I can probably safely tear into this without nobody batting an eye. Because, hooboy, does this book deserve some tearing into.

So, lemme preface this by saying that, normally, book gifts are great. They are friggin' amazing. I mean, I got one of my favorite books of all time, The Hitchhiker's Trilogy, by who I soon learned was my favorite author, Douglas Adams, as a gift. I may have eternally overlooked that utterly brilliant book.

However... when the people buying the books aren't reading them or doing much research, you also wind up with things like... well... this.

So, the front cover is promising at a glance, giving the claim that Weis and Hickman have written over a hundred books between each other. They also worked on the Dragon Lance stuff together, which I've read one book of, Time of the Twins. And, if memory serves right, I thought it was decent. It was pretty well written, but nothing ground-breaker in terms of technical skill or plot or world, but still decent. And I felt I could do better.

Granted, when I read it, I was in that super-arrogant phase as a writer where I thought my work was near flawless and there was little I could do to improve. Oh how so wrong I was! ...but, maybe a story for another time!

But yeah, that one was decent. This one though... well, I'm obviously procrastinating hard on actually talking about the book because... yeah, I ain't hardly got nothing nice to say here. Lemme stop my delay tactics.

Okay, so, the best way to describe this book: imagine you are watching a high fantasy movie for the first time. You know, like, Lord of the Rings levels of high. (That sounds wrong but, eh, leaving it.) Oh, but this isn't a normal movie though! No, every other scene, or even parts of full scenes, instead of getting to watch the scene itself, you get a teaser trailer for it. Yup, just a trailer letting you know what that scene was going to be out, but not the scene itself.

Now, ON TOP OF THIS, there's a guy sitting next to you. In one hand, he has a remote that let's him pause and unpause the movie. In the other, he has a tablet with a browser opened to the series' lore wiki. And every time a new character shows up, someone says or thinks of any sort of reference, some new concept is mentioned, we see a new building, or just because, the guy pauses the movie, navigates the wiki, and then starts reading off relevant lore entries to explain every little detail happening on screen.

So! Chapter 1 is about a hunting party returning to their village after an unsuccessful hunt. The four men split into two groups in an attempt to find game before hitting home. The protag talks to his friend a bit, but then they come across a boar and kill it with the protag getting hurt. Doesn't sound too bad, right?

Remember, at least half of what I described is being filled in with expositional teaser trailers rather than properly playing out the scene. And also, the guy in the seat next to us is constantly pausing to tell us about the gods of the world, the protag's religion, about his people, their culture, a failed raid, the protag's very active sex life that's made him father many children, and so on. About 2/3rds of the chapter itself is filled with our wiki friend reading this stuff of.

A lot of fantasy and sci-fi go ham with exposition lore and backstory, so this is fine, right? Ah ha ha ha, I was once naive like you as well. NO! This style of story telling is every. Single. Friggin'. Chapter. The crowning point of what I managed to stomach was the third chapter, walking through town to meet up with the invading ogres who asked to parley with the chief. It's a dangerous, tense situation. And guess what the story stops to tell us about? Guess! GUESS DAMN IT!

The architecture of the tribe's homes and how they pass the time in said homes during the winter months.

Like... seriously, what? And more seriously: whhhhyyyy?

Maybe it was just early chapters? Nope, I flipped to a random later chapter and opened up right into the face of more clumsy, forced, useless exposition.

Seriously, reading this book was frustrating as hell. Had I not been in public, I would have been shouting "GET ON WITH IT!" every time it wanted to stop, give me a teaser trailer of smelling the roses, and then tell me why roses were culturually significant to the village to the south. At my peak, I just wanted to scream incoherently and throw the book across the room. Or, well, bus in my case.

...plus it really doesn't help that Skylan, the protag, is incredibly unlikable. Imagine, if you will, the stereotypical dumb jock who people only pretend to like because 1) he's good at sports 2) he throws parties full of alcohol when his parents aren't home and/or 3) people want in his pants because he looks good. But other than that, he's loud, rude, abrasive, egotistical, and so forth.

That's Skylan. Only instead of a jock, he's fantasy Viking-expie.

If you've not realized it yet, I didn't finish the book, I only got a few chapters in before giving up. I looked up other reviews online and, in addition to mirroring my frustrations, other people point out that basically Skylan can do no wrong in the book, every time the plot gets going the protag returns home instead, and at some point in the middle everyone starts dropping f-bombs everywhere.

Just, no, please.

But, yeah... I didn't finish the book and someone would have to pay me for me to even consider doing it. I really want to open my front door and chuck the book into the street or light it on fire. But, I hate damaging or destroying books. (Although we'll see if I can maintain this stance if I ever get my hands on a copy of 50 shades). I also hate the idea of donating this thing and making someone more innocent than me suffer.

So, I am going to do the safe and responsible thing and bury this evil on my bookshelf, where it will hopefully never be foudn by future generations. Only I will know it is there and I will only have it serve one purpose: whenever I feel down and feel like my writing is absolutely terrible, I'm going to go to my bookshelf, find this book, and stare at the cover thoughtfully. Maybe look at a page or two if I'm really depressed.

And then, upon realizing that this book managed to not only get published, but start a serious four books long, I'm going to take a moment to lose some faith in humanity, and then take heart knowing that if something like this can be successful, then I certainly can be too.


...that or I'll trade it for a copy of Eye of Argon. At least that book is so bad its funny.


Anyway, next up, if I don't interrupt with a rant or something, I'll be talking about Ender's Game!
 

Rumors

Or so they say...
Writer
Pokédex No.
258
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
142
Pronouns
male
Pokémon Type
Fire
Pokédex Entry
A Pokémon shrouded in hearsay and urban legend, spoken of only in whispered tales and hushed gossip.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #4
Ranting and Rambling

Douglas Adams quote on Writing as Art

from an interview with the Onion A.V. Club​


Okay, so, I wanna toss another book review or something, but I wanna do Ender's Game next and I'm too tired to go try to tackle that one. So, we get this.

So, when reading The Salmon of Doubt, I came across an interview and one particular question, and its response, really stood out to me. Reading it, I was like "holy crap yes I've thought that all along but could never articulate it". Specifically, about writing, and literature, as art. ...and CD-ROMs too, since the question is originally about his CD-ROM Starship Titanic. (Or maybe it was an early conversation simulator type game? It kinda sounds like one.)

...although I guess to be more modern, he'd be talking about "Apps as art", but it was late 90s, and DvDs either didn't exist or were just coming out, so I give him slack.

Anyway, I'll shut up and share the quote with you. The line breaks are mine to try to make it a little more readable.


Douglas Adams said:
O: But, say, 20 years from now, would you like to be recognized as one of the earliest practitioners of CD-ROM as art?



DA: Well, I would just like a lot of people to have bought it. One, for the extremely obvious reason. But the other is that if it's popular and people really like it and have fun with it, you feel you've done a good job. And if somebody wants to come along and say, "Oh, it's art," that's as it may be. I don't really mind that much. But I think that's for other people to decide after the fact. It isn't what you should be aiming to do. There's nothing worse than sitting down to write a novel and saying, "Well, okay, I'm going to do something of high artistic worth."

It's funny. I read something the other day, just out of absolute curiosity; I read Thunderball, which is one of the James Bond books that I would love to have read when I was, I don't know, about 14, just sort of thumbing through it for the bits where he puts his left hand on her breast and saying, "Oh my God, how exciting." But I just thought, well, James Bond has become such an icon in our pop culture of the last 40 years, it would be interesting to see what it actually was like.

And what prompted me to do this, apart from the fact that I happened to find a copy lying around, was reading someone talking about Ian Fleming and saying that he had aimed not to be literary, but to be literate. Which is a very, very big and crucial difference. So I thought, well, I'll see if he managed to do that. It's interesting, because it was actually very well-written as a piece of craft. He knew how to use the language, he knew how to make it work, and he wrote well. But obviously nobody would call it literature.

But I think you get most of the most interesting work done in fields where people don't think they're doing art, but are merely practicing a craft, and working as good craftsmen. Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them. I find when I read literary novels—you know, with a capital "L"—I think an awful lot is nonsense. If I want to know something interesting about a way human beings work, how they relate to each other and how they behave, I'll find an awful lot of women crime novelists who do it better, Ruth Rendell for instance. If I want to read something that's really giving me something serious and fundamental to think about, about the human condition, if you like, or what we're all doing here, or what's going on, then I'd rather read something by a scientist in the life sciences, like Richard Dawkins, for instance.

I feel that the agenda of life's important issues has moved from novelists to science writers, because they know more. I tend to get very suspicious of anything that thinks it's art while it's being created. As far as being a CD-ROM is concerned, I just wanted to do the best thing I could, and have as much fun as I could doing it. I think it's pretty good. There are always bits that you fret over for being less than perfect, but you can keep on worrying over something forever. The thing is pretty damn good.

Sadly though, it's 20 years later and I don't think anyone sees Adams as one of the early practitioners of "CD-ROMs as art."
 

Rumors

Or so they say...
Writer
Pokédex No.
258
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
142
Pronouns
male
Pokémon Type
Fire
Pokédex Entry
A Pokémon shrouded in hearsay and urban legend, spoken of only in whispered tales and hushed gossip.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #5
Book Review

Ender's Game
Author's Definitive Edition

by Orson Scott Card​


Do you know what the problem is with a book backlog? Clearing it. Because when you clear the book backlog, you get the urge to talk about them. All of them. However, when you're as anti-social as I am don't know anyone who's read the books you've just read before, you have nobody to share with. Okay, sure, you can tell people who's not read them about them, but they're only gonna be like "Huh, cool" "Neat" "Interesting" "That sounds bad" or whatever but you don't really get a conversation out of it. So, you decide, why not save the hassle of repeating that awkward, one-sided conversation repeatedly and just do it all in one go with a book review. I'll tell you why. There's just one problem with it.

Book review backlogs.

When I started the first review, I had precisely three books that needed reviewing. Now that I'm on the third, as of this moment I'm typing this sentence, I now have four books that need reviewing. So if you tell me book backlogs and book review backlogs are no a problem, then I'm going to put my response to your revelation in my reply backlog and I'll get back to your comment in a few months.


Anyway, Ender's Game. Dunno if it was me hanging around on a sci-fi forum game for much of my high school and early college years, specifically for Escape Velocity Nova, and therefore being in a more sci-fi crowd or if this is more of a general opinion, but there always seemed to be a good bit of hype around Ender's Game. I didn't know what it was about or anything, only that it apparently was absolutely amazing, inspired tons of science fiction media, and had some super amazing "I am your father" level twist. So, true to form, I resolved to read it. And therefore I put it on my backlog of "books to ask for as gifts."

Eventually, it finally came up and was purchased for me as a gift. At which point it went into my book backlog. And then to my book review backlog. And now, finally, it's in my "paragraphs to be written" backlog. And now that I've worn that joke all the way out, I need to consult my joke backlog for fresher humor.

So, how did the super-hype novel that got a movie at some point stand up? Is it amazing? Errr... well...

Okay, so, the best way to describe reading the book is like... well, it's like slowly, lazily drifting through the plot in a sort of detached manner. Sometimes you'll drift closer to a plot event or scene to see what goes on in more detail. Sometimes you'll drift far enough away that years can pass in the span of a single sentence. It's kind of weird. The story bounces back and forth between showing us bits and pieces and telling and expositing about others, and, consequently, I didn't really feel attached to... well... anything or anyone. To say I was not invested wouldn't be accurate since I did kind of smuggle the book into my job to read the last couple of chapters so I wouldn't have to wait for the ending.

But otherwise... yeah, detached.

The plot is about a young boy, named Ender, who is a "Third", aka a third child born in a society that tries to restrict population growth to only 2 children per family. Naturally, this makes him the target for discimination. But at age 6, he's smarter than you will ever be. So, he gets taken to a military academy trying to find the next Alexander the Great or other mighty military leader to lead them to victory over the "buggers", who invaded some 70 years ago and were driven off.

...yes, the aliens in this book are called buggers.

So, in this academy, things are constantly arranged to give him as much adversity as possible, which he routinely overcomes, moves up ahead of people, becomes amazingly successful, goes to command school at age 11, and trains there before the twist ending. There is also a very very short B-plot involving his siblings, who are also insanely intelligent, in their bid to take over the world through social media. Yes, I'm serious.

There is some weirdness in the novel I can attribute to it being the book's age. Namely in stuff like the terminology. For example, devices that seem to be primitive tablet computers are called "desks". Zero-G is called "null gravity." Squadrons are called "toons". ...which I thought might be shorthand for "platoon" at first, but apparently a squadron is made up of toons?* It also features an internet, although theirs is a place for news and intelligent debate on political matters, completely unlike ours which is for posting cat videos are getting in heated debates over which starter is the best. I can cut the book some slack here since it was written in the 80s and a lot of these terms may not have been coined and Card could not predict the internet.

*At least in the U.S. army, a squadron is about ~10 soldiers and a platoon is made up of about 4 squadrons. In Ender's Game, squadrons are "toons" and platoons are "squadrons".

But that's about the only thing I can cut slack on. There's a few bits that kind of rubbed me a little wrong. Namely, the book really, really, really makes it difficult to suspend my disbelief. The military taking 6 years old for military training is difficult enough, but Ender makes it really difficult with how he's so damn near perfect. No matter what happens, he succeeds. Even when he stops caring and doesn't even try, he succeeds! And he beats everyone even when the odds are heavily against him. I can kinda handle this, but the chapter and a half long B-plot involving world domination, two teens manipulating and building legit political power through the internet and social media without ever getting caught until it's too late, took what suspension I had, snapped it in half, and burned it.

And another bit... Ender is incredibly unrelatable as a character. Like... okay, I should really stop myself since I could probably write a whole article dissecting Ender's character and why I don't think he really works as a good protagonist. Heck, I might actually do that later. But, let's just say, with his super intelligence, his near flawless execution on literally everything, and only losing like... once the whole book to someone else (and only because he literally did not know the controls) makes it near impossible to relate to him. Or at least for me.

I also take a bit of odds with the last part of the book. Without spoiling, Ender spends around 80% of the book working with and training with squadrons of soldiers in a zero-g environment to beat other "armies" of his peers in mock battles. He learns how to organize and control his troops, learns a lot of neat combat tricks like shooting his legs so he can use them as a shield (it makes sense in context, trust me), or crazy ways to maneuver. And then, in the final arc, nearly all of that is tossed out, tons of new lore, terms, and technology is suddenly thrown into the story, and he's commanding simulated fleets. It's like... you spend eight badges training Pokemon. But at the League, they're taken away and you're given a team of Digimon. Some of the basics still apply, but they all have new types, moves, abilities, and so on you suddenly have to use and master for the finale.

Also, might be somewhat spoilery, but the reveal with his subordinate officers in the final parts of the book doesn't work for me either. Why? Because the book breaks the "show, don't tell" rule a ton. I think the whole listless drifting issue could have been fixed by zooming in on focusing on critical points and Ender's relationships while expositional time skipping the rest rather than drifting in and out of the closer look. Granted, it's a much deeper and complicated problem than that, but that's a basic gist. As such, a lot of info we're simply told rather than shown, which makes some later parts not work for me.

As for the twist? Well, I think I've been spoiled on huge, amazing twists in this day and age that it no longer works. It may have been shocking back in the day, but for me, it was kinda underwhelming in the face of the modern plot-twist arms race.

All in all, I definitely do have some issues with the book, which might be that dreaded C-word, controversial, considering the book is probably pretty popular. Personally, I think if it's something you've wanted to look at, it's worth checking out. But ultimately, I don't think you're missing out on anything by not reading it. I dunno what was changed between the definitive edition I have in the original, so grain of salt if you get a copy of the original.

Still though, the same gift also brought me Speaker of the Dead, which is in the series. Despite my misgivings with Ender's Game, I'm still gonna give Speaker a shot down the line. I'm just gonna take a break in case the storytelling in it is also drifty as well.

Anyway, the next review in my review backlog is The Salmon of Doubt. And I am not sure how I'm gonna tackle that one properly.
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #6
Book Review

The Salmon of Doubt

by Douglas Adams

I swear I wasn't planning on this being more of a book review blog. Granted, I didn't expect to just fly through so many books. Next time around I'm gonna try to tackle on of those other not-review things. I promise!


So it's no secret that Douglas Adams is my favorite author. I just absolutely adore his style and a lot of the jokes I've used in this blog, and in other places, are inspired from the way he does humor. The stories and worlds he craft, as ridiculous, silly, and funny as they are still manage to be captivating and intriguing. He doesn't just crack jokes and carry on, he weaves them into a really good tale to go along with it that would likely still hold up if it were purely serious. ...although without the humor, they wouldn't be so good.

When I first heard about The Salmon of Doubt years ago, everything I heard about it suggested that it was a sixth entry to the Hitchhiker series that was unfinished when Adams died and another author took over. It left me both very interested but also very leery, since while I really wanted a better end to the series rather than the bleakness of Mostly Harmless, it wouldn't be 100% his work. Even still, it went onto my wishlist and eventually arrived in my hands.

So... cue me being very surprised that the book is not what I thought it was.

This book, one of, if not the, world's most introduced book (I mean, it has an introduction to the introduction, an introduction, a foreword, a prologue, and more) is more of a tribute to Adams. Most of the pages within consist of article he wrote and interviews with him. As such, it is very broad topically, covering things such as technology* (which was kinda fun for me to see articles on 90's tech, since I'm an I.T. major), dogs, trying to hitch a ride on a manta ray, doing a rhino charity walk, radical aethism, and so much more. And throughout it all, Adam's wit and humor is present in all of it, so even on topics you wouldn't normally be interested in, it's still quite entertaining.

*Adams has a number of complaints about 90s tech, like needing multiple word processors to get all the features he needed, connecting devices, portable devices, "dongly bits", and so forth. I think he would have been very pleased if he saw modern wireless technology, portability, and our feature-rich apps.

The last parts of the book leave the non-fiction behind and move to what I assume is all unfinished fiction. Or maybe at least unreleased? The first two tales are short stories: "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe" and "The Personal Life of Gengis Khan". Both are entertaining, although the former seems to just stop and seems like it might have been meant to be part of a greater whole. The second one is really hilarious, although it ends weirdly. I'm not being judgemental on them though, since I imagine they're both rough drafts not meant for readers like myself (although it's clear that either Adams was an amazing self-editor or someone edited them.)

The very last bit is the actual "Salmon of Doubt", several chapters of an unfinished Dirk Gently novel that Adams abandoned because the ideas he had apparently would have worked better for a Hitchhiker novel. Regardless, the entire written content is there, along with a few notes Adams wrote on how the story might have gone after. And, better for Hitchhiker or not, it's still a good, amusing read and it's a damn shame it'll never be finished.

All in all, I find it difficult to be critical of the work. I'm a fiction writer, not an article or interview writer, and I find it difficult to feel right about trying to sink my claws into a tribute collection to see where it bleeds. And on the fictional bits, they're all drafts so, while I could be critical there, it'd be the sort of critique I'd give to another writer to make suggestions on how they could make a stronger story rather than a released piece I can talk about how it reads for a reader.

Hence why I thought this book would be tricky to properly review. It's not a normal book and I've not seen enough articles and interviews from Adams to make comment on whether they've included the best pieces or not, so I'm kinda useless there. I can assume they cherrypicked some of his better or, hopefully, best ones, so there's that at least. And the fiction part... they're fun, but unfinished and never will be, so it doesn't feel fair to treat them like a regular publication.

So, the final verdict? If you're a big fan of Adams, I can definitely recommend this book. But if you're unfamiliar with him? No, this isn't the place to get into his work. Go start with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Or better yet, just do the whole Hitchhiker's Trilogy, which is the full series.


So, next time, I said I wanna do a more writing advice or ranting piece. Not sure which yet. I'm also gonna cheat my book review backlog by reviewing Quantum Tangle and its two sequels all in one go, which I just finished. And I got a nice, fat book lined up for reading next, so hopefully that'll stave off the backlog.
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #7
Writing Advice

Creating Cultures from Scratch​


Like everything here, I'm just winging this, going with some plans in my head and doing it in one go. No drafts, no editing, probably missing some things and going "oh well", and all that other good stuff that happens when you just sit down, type, and then post! So either way, don't take this or other advice sections to be "definitive" or "comprehensive". There will always, ALWAYS be other ways of doing things when it comes to writing. If not, then someone would have already mathematically calculated the perfect book and written it and there would be no point to writing anymore.

Anyway, the topic of creating cultures is one that's a bit close to me right now since it's something I'm doing for my own currently untitled novel (due for release in 2042!) When I went back to the drawing board and realized that I was going to have to alter the entire world from my original plan to make the narrative I wanted to tell function, I decided I'd do some real, serious drawing. No tracing the lines of other worlds. Looking at some for inspiration, sure, but my goal was to create something new.

Now if you wanna be quick and dirty, you can always do what lots of sci-fi and fantasy writers do and just grab some other real world culture (Imperial Rome's a popular one) and just do like... ROME IN SPACE! Or ROME WITH MAGIC AND REAL GODS! Or... you know, you get the idea. It works well enough that the average reader probably won't question it. And heck, in some tales this might be the correct thing to do, such as if you really wanted to seriously explore Furry Rome in Magic Space.

If that's your goal, then you're pretty much done with my article since this is going to be more about creating rather than adapting. There are similarities to the process, but I think they're more than distinct enough that advice for one isn't going to be 100% useful for the other.

So, first off, one needs to understand that culture isn't a flat, single entity. Culture is layered. The people in the United States are going to be different from people in France. But another layer, the people in Texas are different from the people in California. And another, the people in Dallas are different from those in Houston. And then you can subdivide by neighborhoods and communities within Dallas. But, the general populous of Dallas will still act as Texans and the general populace of Texas will act as U.S. citizens. How deep you go will depend on your story. If you're country hopping every few chapters, you probably don't need to dig deeper than U.S. versus France. But if it's all in one city, you'd have to consider not only the U.S. and the state/province/territory/etc. its in, but the different communities in the city if it is large enough to have multiple.

...thinking about it, I guess a short hand: the bigger the population, the more likely they'll have one or more extra layers to their culture and the more likely those layers will be sub-divided beneath the surface.

The second important thing is the main influences of the given culture: location and belief. Location being where the primary population of the given culture is located, and therefore how that impacts them, and belief being, well, beliefs, wants, interests, opinions, etc of the population. However, these do not hold even weights to all cultures. A society scrabbing out a living in a harsh desert is going to be heavily influenced by location while an internet fandom may be scattered all across the world, but their behaviors and mannerisms will be tied together by their shared interests.

Now for the fun parts: creating the culture. Location is the easier, though grows to become more nebulous the more widespread and larger the population is. But basically, where do they live and how does that impact them? And so, what sort of rituals, beliefs, interests, and behaviors arise from this? For the desert people, they may always get a large amount of rain on a particular week every year without fail. So depending on the impact of that rain, they may look upon it with anticipation and excitement and celebrate its arrival. Or if its a destructive force, they may fear it, view it as a curse from the gods, and design their dwellings in ways to minimize impact and may even try to placate the gods. However, for a large culture like historic Imperial England, citizens of the empire were spread so far across the world that the location had minimal impact on the citizens of the whole. Different regions had some different views, sure, but those are sub-cultures.

In short: location becomes more important and more influential the smaller your given population is. At a certain point it dominates the beliefs and tenants of the culture. Inversely, the larger or more spread out the less important a location matters.

Belief is the harder and is pretty much the always present one. As the internet shows, a culture doesn't really need a location much. I mean we have websites and stuff, and they might impact the way we behave, interact, and create. But, as we've all seen, a whole community can just up and relocate at moment's notice with comparatively little cost, effort, or consequence to relocation in reality. Beliefs, in the loose sense I'm using the term as outlined above, however, will always be present.

I believe that every culture has some sort of "core belief". For example, the U.S? It's freedom. A medieval European village may be held together by a belief in God. The Nuzlocke Forums are held together by the belief of "Nuzlockes are fun and worth sharing." Regardless, from this core tenant, almost everything else about the culture grows out. To take us for more examples, we thing Nuzlockes are fun and worth sharing, so we've developed a culture focused around documenting and posting runs. From there, things branch out into more beliefs and sub-communities, such as the comic and story communities here and their differing views on some topics.

So basically, for me, the approach to creating a new culture is to ask these questions.

1. How does the location impact the culture? Is it enough for it to force the culture to twist and evolve around it? Or does it only influence sub-cultures?

2. What is the core belief(s) that are critical to the culture's identity? What do they believe so strongly in that, without them, they'd lose their culture and identity?

3. What are the beliefs and tenants that sprout from the above? And what beliefs grow from those? And so on? This question is basically recursive as beliefs can spawn more beliefs that spawn more beliefs and so on.


So, an example from this sort of line of questioning, I'll use the protagonist's culture from my WIP novel: the Wild Fire clan.


1. How does location impact the culture?

In this particular setting, the impact is minimal. The group is held together more strongly by belief rather than location as the term "clan" is a misnomer and it actually spans multiple settlements and, therefore, that belief has directed them to settling in areas with minimal rain and wide, open areas.

2. What are the core beliefs that are critical?

Fire. Everything stems from flame and their interactions with it. They believe in freedom, to "burn free like a wild fire" and are reluctant to bow their head in rule to a larger force. You remove fire from the equation and they are basically a semi-honorable band of raiders.

3. What are the beliefs and tenants that sprout from the above?

Some examples: Rain puts out fires and prevents lighting others, so rain is seen as a bad thing. Members of the clan see rain as a bad omen and may refuse to battle or conduct business on rainy days if it can be avoided. Smoke is bad, since it is painful and uncomfortable to inhale, but it is seen as a necessary evil since fire produces it. Fire burns other materials for sustenance, so the clan often conducts raids on other clans for supplies. However, an uncontrolled blaze is destructive, harmful, leaves nothing for future fires, and often stamped out as quickly as possible, so raiders try to maintain control by only pillaging and looting what's needed and only fighting those who fight back rather than just burning every village they raid to ash. And so on.

And then these beliefs spawn more, such as fish and water fowl are considered "unclean" and not safe to eat unless "purified" by whole roasting it over an open flame to about the point its burnt. Fires are usually built to produce as little smoke as possible. Raiding is done at controlled intervals with a great deal of coordination and care so as to not to remove all the "fuel" from a location. And so on. I don't have every detail figured out.

...of course, I get to extra complicate things in my situation in that times are changing and a lot of the secondary tenants of the clan are starting slowly change and shift from "burning free like a wild fire" to "being the flame that powers the forge."


Either way, I might not have every detail figured out yet, and may never need to. But figuring out the cores of location and belief, I can grow and sprout the culture from there, discovering the branches and leaves as they come up, stemming naturally from beliefs above them. This isn't the only way to build a culture, and it might not even be the best one. But, so far, it's definitely feeling organic and real, something that makes sense.


So, if you're needing to build some totally new cultures with no template to work with, try this out! It's a fun journey to take, even if not an easy one!
 
Last edited:

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #8
Book Review

Quantum Tangle, Terminus Shift, and Entropy's End

by Chris Reher

Warning: These titles contain implicit sex scenes.


No, that's not a crazy title up there That's three different books in a trilogy. What is the series called? ...I dunno, it's not on the books anywhere that I can see. But it's a trilogy that potentially exists in a larger series, as the cover mentions several other titles that, based on the title names, appear to be set in the same universe.

Anyway, lemme say once again, book gifts can do some odd and unusual things you don't anticipate. I kinda never paid much attention to self-published books. I just... I dunno, never did. With a company published book, you can at least try to pretend they know what a half-decent book is and won't just throw any crap out there because it has a well-known author attached. Self-published though? It's neon sign that says "You're on your own, good luck!" when it comes to judging the quality of a title. So, these three, all showing up in the same Christmas gift, were my first ever, and currently only, self-published titles I own.

I normally don't talk about covers but... the self-publishedness is very self-evident. A normal book is covered with authors, titles, publishing companies, reviews from people you've never heard of and won't hear from again, big flashy rewards, and all the other stuff. These though? Simple, barebones: a title, an author, a synopsis, and cover art that looks like amateur photoshop work. Totally unlike Stolen Dream's banner.

So these books follow the exploits of space pilot Sethran Kada, a man from a species who's 90% human except glowy purple eyes and whose loyalty is vague and undefined initially until he's suddenly low-key in favor of the Commonwealth from book two on. He's basically a Han Solo type of guy, except without a Chewbaca, a debt to a space slug, or a friend with a lightsaber. And he's really, really good at what he does.

So why am I reviewing all three together? Well, series. And the books are short. Slightly over 200 pages each, I could shove all three of these into a lot of the tomes sitting on my shelf with space to spare. The plots are also... quite similar. Basically: Seth meets girl, girl needs help, Seth goes on quest to help girl, they have drama or romance until an implicit sex scene, and then the climax (pun not intended, ew) happens and the story ends. All three are like this, though Entropy's End has enough self-awareness to recognize the pattern and to re-arrange the order things occur.

In a little more detail...

Quantum Tangle starts with Seth waking up to find a sub-space being in his head, which quickly learns from him and his computer to become a woman named Khoe. However, as she dwells in his head, only he can see, hear, or feel her, although she can exert influence on the real world, such as being utterly insane at hacking. Her people are being pulled out of sub-space as their "alpha" (in-quotes because different characters call it different things) was captured from sub-space. So, they set off on a quest to find it and recover it.

Terminus Shift starts with Seth turning a rebel over to her people, only to get a mission to go recover unique rebel spanners. What's a spanner? In typical sci-fi speak, they can make uncharted hyperspace jumps, which is a big deal. He launches a mission to rescue them from being turned over to the nastier group of rebels, but only manages to rescue a woman named Ciela. And together, they set-off to find and rescue the other four spanners.

Entropy's End shakes things up a bit by building up the plot a bit more. Sub-space travel is having serious issues and, after a mission to rescue a doctor from the bad rebels, Seth and Ciela lose them in a sub-space jump and only emerge safely due to her spanner abilities. Some investigation and they make the same jump to where the destination had been changed to. They investigate the surface to find that there are "dyads" down there (basically a combination of person and sub-space being, aka Seth and Khoe in the first book). They leave to go relay the situation, but a bad jump back brings reunites Khoe and Seth. Subspace is dying, so the three of them set off to find out what's going on and to try to save Khoe's people.

The adventures that follow are pretty fun and surprisingly less shooty than you'd expect from someone like Seth (although there's still lots of shootiness). They travel to quite a few worlds investigating the mystery, trying to track down whatever's important to the plot, all the while dealing with a number of inconveniences.

...yes, I say inconveniences. A bit of a critique, but Seth might be too good at what he does. I mean, he does make mistakes and stuff at times and doesn't do things always perfectly, but other than losing the other four spanners in Terminus, he doesn't really pay much, if at all, for his mistakes. The guy could really have used opponents who were more on his level, since once you get used to him there's little doubt about whether he succeeds or not. (And the worst failure aside from Terminus required someone behaving kind of random and veeeery out of character suddenly to even happen.)

For the book itself, the prose is simple and effective. It doesn't do anything showy, but it relays the story without any irrelevant distractions nor does it try to be something more than it is. The story knows it just wants to convey a fun to read tale, that's it. And for that, I applaud it. Being all fancy and stylistic can be cool and all, but I've seen tales crash and burn because you can't tell what's going on beneath all the flourish. These books understand well enough to not let things get in the way of the story.

Aside from the above critique though, there are some grievances. The first couple are kind of minor. It's clear Reher didn't have a professional editor and may have even self-edited. Why? Stray typos here and there. Quantum Tangle also has an issue where it feels like some phrases and lines of dialogue were from an older revision and were missed in the final cut. All of these issues improve as the series goes. The other minor is Reher doesn't seem to be interested in giving a whole lot of details about the aliens other than the names of their species. Some physical attributes here or there. But it's not until book 3 that it's finally implicitly stated that most of them are just basically somewhat different humans.

More serious? Well, first the climaxes. I kinda feel like the trilogy tends to crash into the endings and then be suddenly done. There's no real main villains and, while the mystery is built up, the final encounters tend to not be so we're only meeting the primary villain towards the end of the story and learning all about him then and there. And then... it's done. (It also doesn't help that the bad guys tend to be below Seth in terms of skill and cleverness.) The stories are fun, but the climaxes are the weakest parts I'd say.

The other bit is more of a personal complaint, but Quantum Tangle introduces some unique concepts thanks to Khoe and her people and Entropy's End revists them a bit, but I really feel like all the possibilities and implications of "dyads" are woefully underexplored. I think it's a super cool idea and I was quite invested in seeing how Seth and Khoe would develop as a pair as Quantum progressed. But sadly, we never get that extra layer of depth to the concept beyond what's relevant to the plot or the characters themselves. Huge shame I say since, again, I think it's a really cool idea.

All in all though? The books' stories aren't really anything ground breaking, but they're fun and entertaining, so definitely worth a read. If you only pick up one, you could go with either Quantum or Terminus since, while the latter is a sequel, it barely touches on the first book except a couple of small references that are easily passed off as bits of backstory. Entropy though... you could read it solo, but I feel you'd really want the context from the first two books to get the most out of it.

So yeah, if you want a sci-fi romp with a bit of mystery and a bit of romance, here's a pretty good self-published trilogy for you.


So, next time on book reviews, we'll be tackling The Invention of Hugo Cabret. If you're familiar with the title and wondering why the heck I'd read that, well... remember: unresearched book gifts.
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #9
Writing Advice / Ranting and Rambling

"Should you outright state a character's sexuality?"​


So, some of you might have seen or remember that discussion in a Pokemon / Challenge Discussion thread about things that draw or turn people away from Nuzlockes. And the discussion kinda turned into a big back and forth about whether or not it was good to outright state a character's sexuality or "gay runs" or stuff like that. I'm... gonna do my best to avoid political and social arguments and the like here. I'm gonna focus purely on plot, character, and just story stuff on my thoughts.

Fair warning, it's possible that this might come across as controversial or contentious considering the subject matter, though going to try my best to not do so. Plus, I've purposefully waited for the discussion to cool completely before coming back to it. And again, I'm just focusing on plotting and character development and world building and that sort of stuff. That's it. No Real Life™ thoughts or opinions are intended to be expressed here.

That said, there was one post that I am either A) misremembering the content of or B) was removed or edited that asked something like "Why shouldn't you just say your character's gay?" First, let's rephrase that a little more neutrally: "Why shouldn't you just state your character's sexuality?" ...actually, we can do even better and broaden the scope of this topic a great deal, because the answer to this question encompasses far, far, far more than a character's sexuality. So, let's redefine the question one more time.

"Why shouldn't you just state your character's traits."

To illustrate my answer to this problem, imagine this hypothetical scenario. We have a set of characters here and we're gonna just outright tell you some traits. Character A is a furry. Character B is asexual. Character C likes cheese pizza. Character D is afraid of flying. Character E doesn't trust strangers. Seems a bit like a motley crew, hm? And a variety of traits here. So, where am I going with this? Well, let's put this into context. These are not generic characters, this is now Star Wars.

So now, Darth Vader is a furry, Han Solo is asexual, Obi Wan likes cheese pizza, Luke is afraid of flying, and Leia doesn't trust strangers. We'll put this information right in the opening text crawl, so it's explicitly stated so our audience knows what's up about these characters. But the rest of the movie? Entirely unchanged, it plays out exactly the same. Can you see the problem yet?

Answer: all the told character traits are either entirely irrelevant to the plot or are even in direct contradiction to what is shown. Going into the movie, you're gonna expect Darth Vader to be in a fur suit, have a plushie, look at art, or make at least some sort of reference to animals. But... he won't, it never comes up, so its irrelevant. Han's asexuality flies in the face of his shown character, where he's attracted to Leia, eventually marries her, and fathers a kid over the course of the series. In situations where Obi Wan could feasibly be eating, he's never seen eating cheese pizza, so it's irrelevant and possibly contradictory. Luke's fear of flying is just flat out obviously wrong. And Leia could maybe come off as a bit distrustful in A New Hope initially, but otherwise she warms up to people quickly enough that you can't really say she's more distrustful than normal.

Or if you want a less hypothetical example, look at the Suicide Squad movie. It flat out tells us Harley Quinn is fearless and is a psychologist. However, the movie shows us a scene where she gets nervous about driving a car into water and a scene where she doesn't understand why men are gawking at her after changing clothes admist them. Two traits that run contradictory to the actual story.

Basically, you're setting up certain thoughts and expectations in your readers/viewers. If you flatout state something, they're gonna expect it to be relevant, if not important. So, if you say it, it ought to come up as you said in the story. If they don't come up, then you're letting your readers/viewers down at best. At worst, you're outright lying to them because the story you showed contradicts the details you told.

Also, simply stating these facts is usually a flagrant violation of "Show, Don't Tell."

Now, now, two counterpoints I can hear. "But what if you tell people and then show them?" Well... honestly, you're gonna be better off by just cutting off the telling (if it makes sense to, gimmie a minute.) Not only will you save yourself some unnecessary keystrokes or drawing, but it just makes your narrative just a bit stronger overall. Plus, you also don't run the risk of coming off as treating your readers/viewers as being dumb. "Yes, I know she likes kittens, I can see that, you don't have to tell me!"

Counterpoint two: "What if it makes sense to tell it?" Well... then that's a perfectly valid exception. Show, Don't Tell is a guideline, a very strong guideline, but not an ironclad rule. For example, imagine three boys at school talking about girls they wanna date. One of them mentions wanting to date another character, Beth. Another mentions something like "Yeah, good luck, she only likes girls." This is outright exposition, sure, but it's natural exposition. A real world conversation could naturally and organically flow like that, it's perfectly believable. Plus, in this instance, if Beth contradicts the "only likes girls" trait, then it means the boy is wrong rather than the author/artist being wrong. And, therefore, the wrongness offers a natural point to build plot, character development, or character interaction rather than one that feels forced because the author/artist/readers/viewers/story demanded it.

Other examples:

-A character has a habit of telling factoids about themselves to others. If you do this, then they need to do it consistently as long as they hold that quirk.

-Another character is doing research on the character and discovers the information. Even better if they try to act or plan on the details they uncover.

-Another character points them out as having the specific trait for whatever reason, such as bullying, defending them, making a third person look stupid/bigoted, suggesting them as good for a task/role, etc.

-The character hides the trait but ends up confessing it and opening up about it. Best saved for more serious or plot-relevant traits, like religious beliefs or allergic to Pokemon in a Nuzlocke, unless you're wanting the story to be silly by confessing an obsession with Mario games or something.

-The character "discovers" the trait and realizes that they had it all along. Like... taking a psychology class and realizing the description of autism fits them like a glove.

-The character acquires the trait, on purpose or not. For example, renouncing a religion, getting blinded, changing orientation, etc.

-People with the trait are in opposition to a group without the trait, or vice versa, so the character gets "called out" by virtue of having sided with the former group.

I'm sure there's more. Just remember, for situations where you want to just explicitly state the trait, make sure it goes in a way that feels like it could play out that way in reality, rather than something contrived or forced just because you want the detail out there.

Counterpoint three: Okay, now I'm just thinking of this, but what about "What if I want to make a reference sheet/info sheet/similar that states a bunch of character facts outside of the story/comic/movie/etc?" ...personally, I don't see much purpose in this for anything other than creator's usage, but I also don't see the harm if it's done right. If released publicly, just make sure nothing on it contradicts what's actually happening. Case in point: N from Pokemon Black/White has one of these from an interview and one factoid says "He thinks he's perfect." However, in-game, N's personality shows no shades of him thinking himself as perfect. He's confident, sure, but his behavior contradicts that factoid. Perhaps not outright, but he definitely lacks the necessary narcsissm to see himself as perfect.

So basically, why not explicitly state a character's sexuality or other character trairs? Simple: Show, Don't Tell (except where telling makes perfect logical sense.) Sure, decide these traits behind the scenes for your own reference and just write them as you imagine them normally behaving. If their character trait you want to just tell comes up, then great! You got the information across in a way that advances the plot or character! And if it doesn't come up, then you've at least avoided distracting your readers/viewers with irrelevant information and possibly may have avoided contradicting yourself, which would damage your story as a whole.

Should you outright state a character's sexuality? No, show it instead. It's better for your character, its better for your narrative, it's better for you, and it's better for your readers/viewers. Again, the exceptions exist, but otherwise just remember to Show, Don't Tell.


Hopefully I explained things in as inoffensive of a manner as possible, since I do feel this is stemming from a touchy topic.
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #10
Book Review

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

by Brian Selznick​

Okay, so, I'm gonna belt out these next three book reviews pretty quickly, maybe even two tomorrow. I'm kinda tired of feeling pressured by the "book review" backlog, which is a creation of my own entirely, but still. So, apologies in advanced for potentially dominating the "most recent post" spot in the Blog forums, if anyone cares about that! As for the book itself...

THIS BOOK IS A LIAR AND A TRAITOR!

Why do I claim that? Why would I do such a thing? Oh, it's really quite simple, my dear readers. Oh so simple! I picked this title up off of my shelf hoping for a nice, long read. It's thick and heavy enough you could probably beat someone's skull in with it. Over 500 pages, hard-backed, the works! Oh, with this title, I shall catch up on my book review backlog and vanquish it so I can instead do them as I go. But no! No! This book gave me a promise and broke it. It betrayed me in the most vile of fashions!

I completed it in only two hours! How dare! Just... just... how dare...!

Okay, okay... deep breaths... deeeeep breaaaaths.

Caaaaalm.

We good?

We good.

So, like I've said a few times, unresearched book gifts can do some weird things. Today, starting on a new title, I think I got to the bottom of my weirdness by noticing the words "Best Sellers" over the barcode of the book. Suddenly, everything clicked into place about why the selection feels so weird. I can see it now: my family seeing I want a book for a present, not being picky, and knowing I like sci-fi and fantasy. So they go to a store. Go to the best sellers section because those have to be good, right? And they find a title that looks sufficiently sci-fantasyish. They buy it, they wrap it, they gift it, and they feel good about themselves for having successfully survived buying me another gift.

Hence how I'm now here writing a review for a kids book.

So, for the title itself, in all seriousness now, is a massive tome but also incredibly short. How so? This book isn't really 100% novel. I mean, part of it is the big font, wide spacing, and numerous pages not even being filled with text. But the big part is the fact that this book sees itself as bit of a... slide show? I guess that works, since parts of the book are not written, but instead illustrated. You'll have several pictures in succession detailing out a scene such as a boy chasing a girl through a train station. It's not a supplement, it's part of the story. It literally goes from words on a page to a series of pictures on a page.

...also, not a critique of the book, but I now realize that "a picture is worth a thousand words" isn't (always) true. Some of these slideshow bits could have been covered in a paragraph or two. But hey, not knocking it since it's a pretty novel idea (pun not intended) and I imagine its great for the kids reading it.

For the story itself, it's very simple: Hugo lives in a train station in mid-twentieth century Paris after his father dies and his uncle, who adopted him, disappeared. As apprentice, he takes care of rewinding all the clocks from behind the walls. His father found a damaged clockwork man, or an "automata", designed to write when wound up, in a muesem attic and tried to repaired it, but didn't finish. So Hugo tries to finish the work, believing the machine has a message for him. This involves stealing parts from a old man running a clockwork toy store, who Hugo interacts with and stuff as the story progresses. The second part of the story is about the old man's past and figuring out his ties to vintage movies.

And... that's it. I mean, yes, things go a little in more detail, but I try not to spoil things. But otherwise, it's a very simple, inoffensive, innocent, and straightforward plot. Good for a kid I imagine.

I don't entirely know how to critique this work, since I'm entirely not the target audience. I mean, the writing itself is fine. It's simple and effective, nothing flashy or weird, which makes sense since... kids. There aren't really any plot holes or anything, characters are used and developed about as effectively as you might imagine for a simple kids book.

But, well, I guess if there's one thing, it's the story entirely lacks depth. What you see is fully on the surface. If you peel back the layers, there's nothing underneath. It's incredibly safe and easy to understand, but it makes the story not exactly memorable. And I don't think playing so safe and plain is necessary for a kid's title. I mean, look at... oh, say, "The Lion King." The classic original, not the sequels/prequels/whateverquels or the CGI remake. Totally appropriate for kids of all ages, but there's stuff to dig into for anyone wanting to take a closer work, such as the facist symbolism behind Scar. Hugo Cabret though... there's nothing to chew on, nothing to really dig or analyze. It's all surface level and holds no secret for a reader who wants to really give some thought to their books.

Also, I'd say the title is one of those "wrong title" titles. The book is about Hugo, but, spoilers, he doesn't invent anything.

So, final verdict? I think the title could be a good one for a kid who likes reading and wants/needs to transition from simple picture books and heavily illustrated stories and into something a bit more advanced. Although I feel the size of the book might intimidate them, even if it'd make a great tool for bopping school bullies in the head, and some of the language might be above the age I'm imagining. But yet, the book might be too simple for anyone who might be at that language level or normally looking for books of that size.

So, I think this probably holds a niche spot of being perfect as a kid's first novel, but probably passable otherwise.

If you're a teen/adult looking for a read for yourself though? Skip it unless you really like children's literature.


Next time, we're gonna turn away from kid appropriate to entirely kid inappropriate by reviewing King of Thorns. Which is a title so edgy that I think I jus cut myself writing that line.
 

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Book Review

King of Thorns

by Mark Lawrence

Warning: This book contains harsh language, graphic violence, and other Mature-tier content.


So, heads up here: this is a sequel to Prince of Thorns. However, thanks to the arbitrary nature of gifting, I have never read Prince of Thorns nor do I own a copy of it. So I am likely missing on quite a bit of context here that will affect this review. So if you're a big fan of this series, please don't hold any bouts of ignorance resulting from starting in the middle against me.

Honestly though, if there's one thing Eragon and its series did right, it was that "plot so far" bit before the story begins that either refreshes your memory or, if you're picking up in the middle, gets you up to speed so you're not stumbling confused. I wish more sequels would do that.

Anyway, this book is incredibly edgy. Incredibly so. Like, the first time I picked up the book it cut me so badly that I had to go to the hospital and get stitches. I then had to buy cut-proof gloves that are used in restaurants in order to handle this book safely. I mean, just look at the cover art! If that doesn't tell you that you're about to be diving into the tale of an edgelord then I don't know what does.

But yeah, it's a gritty, bloody, and smelly journey. (Seriously, so many things in this book are said to stink or smell bad, you'd think the soil of this world is made of manure instead of dirt.)

So, this book is about... well... several things. It follows Jorg, who is best called a villain protagonist, who has recently become king of the Highlands, in a fantasy world that looks remarkably like Europe according to the map. To get more detailed than that and you need to understand that this story has four separate plot threads that all tie into each other.

Plot A is the present time in which the Prince of Arrow is making a bid to become emperor and so is invading the Highlands to capture them or force Jorg to surrender to his rule. As such, it is about Jorg defending his castle from an army of twenty thousand with only about a thousand men by using tricks and traps.

Plot B happens four years in the past and is the bulk of the tale and goes about Jorg's misadventures as he takes a Firesworn kid named Gog, who can't control his powers very well, to see a fire warlock named Ferrakind in a far-off land. They have several largely unrelated stops and encounters on the way and then do the same on a return journey. The events here are mostly to explain some of the tricks and traps Jorg uses in the present, I think. The story mostly switches between these two, with stuff happening in A then going to B to set-up and explain a thing that's going to happen in A.

Plot C are diary entries from a girl named Katherine, who Jorg is obsessed with. It's mostly a separate thing, but the diary becomes more and more relevant as the story continues and entries are more and more frequent. Otherwise, it's mostly just different perspectives on some events happening, starting with events I assumed happened in the first book?

Plot D is Jorg recovering some memories that were deliberately removed from his head because they made him insane. Debatable on whether it ought to be called a seperate plot or not, but the memories are told, in order, in expositional flashback, so... it's a plot thread. Just a small one that builds up to a twist that... uhh... is neat but doesn't amount to much, IMO.

Overall the plot is... well... okay, I'll just be honest: if you think too hard about this story and plot, it's not gonna work for you. If you like gritty edgy things and can just turn off your brain as you bask in it, then yeah, this story is probably pretty awesome as you revel in the detailed descriptions of sword wounds or Jorg being a jerk to people. I have a lot of criticism I could levy at this title's storytelling. But, lemme try to focus on the big, all encompassing points.

-This is first person and Jorg is the one telling the stories, save for Kate's diary entries. He's a reliable narrator, but good lord does he ramble. The first 10-15 chapters are by far the worse. He goes on tangents so much that it starts to become difficult to tell what's going on. It's not as bad as Bones of the Dragon, but I almost put this one down until I got passed that point and he chilled a bit on the rambling. He still does it, but with less frequency as the story advances.

-The bulk of the story is in the B-plot and, with it taking place four years before the A-plot, it really loses all the drama and tension it's trying to build. Like, there'll be nasty situations happening in the B-plot and I'll feel that twinge of "oh no, this is bad" and then a moment later I'll be like "wait, nothing with lasting consequence can happen to him because he's fine four years later, so meh" and then the scene loses all its excitement because I know the answers now. I mean, yeah, it's a safe bet in most stories the protag will be fine in the end, but it's never a sure bet like it is when events are taking place in the past.

-The story also has a habit of picking up and dropping things out of nowhere to best suit its story and doesn't bother to explain itself. Almost to the point of being a slideshow of unrelated things at times. For example, one of the book's several "villains of the week" Quallisadi (I probably misspelled that) shows up somewhat out of nowhere with no build-up by being present at a place Jorg arbitrarily decided to go. He does his villain thing, Jorg prevents it, and then he vanishes. Entirely. He barely goes mentioned for the rest of the story and has no impact other than setting up a thing in the A plot that the story needed to happen. Or another example, Jorg and crew are riding past a small fort and an archer shoots one of his companions in the head and kills him. Who are these archers? Why did they attack? No clue, the book never tries to explain it and its just a set-up for Jorg to kill them and for a character to be killed off. This event or the character pretty much go unmentioned for the rest of the story, to the point you could remove them both and the story would stay the same.

-A lot of the supporting characters are really poorly used. They rarely have build up and are often dropped without a second thought. I mean, granted, it makes some sense in the journey part, but they really start to feel less like characters and more like plot devices. Jorg's crew is also poorly used as well. Most of them don't do anything and a few are so insignificant that they'll basically poof out of existence for several chapters straight, despite some exposition bits stating how awesome they are. Like, take Rike for example. He's exposited to be a really big and nasty guy who'd kick puppies for fun and is utterly vicious in combat. But the whole story, he does little more than look angry and say some rude comments. And then, the plot decides he's not needed anymore, so he's dropped and hardly mentioned again.

-World building. This one's spoilery, so... The story makes frequent references to real world historical figures, like Sun Tzu, Aristotle, Leonidas, and so forth, which is jarring since its a fantasy world. Enough hints eventually come along to indicate this is a post-apocalyptic fantas world. You know, the sort where nuclear war or somesuch somehow reduced the world to medeival state and sensibilities but yet with magic and fantasy monsters. Which... as always, leaves so many questions! Like, why do stories of Leonidas survive but not anything modern? How did the world drop to perfectly fantasy rather than some blend of medeival and surviving tech? I could write a whole article on that topic. Later in the book, this stuff starts to get explored and referenced a bit more, as if the story is wanting to dig deeper into its own world. But, nope, in the end it's all just to explain why Jorg has a gun in the climax. >.>

-There's a huge, massive plot hole early in the book. Early on, Jorg attacks the invading forces in the valley with a group of archers. A group breaks off from the main force to charge them and they are lured into a rock slide. Cut to B Plot a bit. When we come back, the forces that were behind the force that broke off have somehow gotten past the rockslide and Jorg's forces, entirely without noticing each other, and is now attacking the castle that was behind Jorg. They like... literally teleported 17,000 men or something.

...I'll stop there since I could keep going for a long while. This book is filled with systematic head-scratchers.

I suppose it's pretty clear I did't quite enjoy this book. I analyze everything, even when I don't want to, even stupidly minor things like whether I should get a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit or a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit even though I know they're both gonna taste the same since I'm at Burger King. This is a title that you have to really enjoy gritty edgy stuff and also be willing to not thing too hard about it, because the stuff below the surface really doesn't work out if you examine it too closely. So, if you like this sort of thing and can turn off your mind and just enjoy it, then you'll probably enjoy this book.

Otherwise? This book has a lot of fundamental problems in its story telling, world building, plot development, and character development that really ruins the experience. It's readable for sure, since I mean I finished it after all. But... you're probably better off giving this one a pass.


Anyway, next time is... is... oh Arceus damn it. The Kruton Interface. *sigh*
 

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Book Review

The Kruton Interface

by John Dechancie

Warning: This book contains lots of crude sexual humor that's sometimes borderline obscene.


NO!



All right everyone! Thank you for reading this super insightful review! Next time we'll-

...what's that?

I need to actually go into detail?

....sigh, fine.


All right, so, to break the chain of gift books, this title was one from my dad's old collection that somehow wound up in my possession. No idea when or where or how he came upon owning it, but considering how yellow the page edges are, I'm gonna assume he either had this one for a while or didn't store it properly. Or both.

Anyway, so, I think it's pretty clear that my attempt at a most eloquent review that all other reviewers ought to be jealous of that I did not enjoy this book. At all. Take a glance back up at the warning about the crude humor. That's why. That's basically all this tiny little book is.

So, the premise is that a shapeshifting blob-like species consisting of entirely lawyers, the Krutons, are planning to stage an accident so that they can sue the human race. Meanwhile, Captain Wanker (yes, really), is assigned to the U.S.S. Repulse, the worst ship ever crewed by people that defy common sense, like a navigator who constantly gets lost, are assigned a mission to test a drive and go to do it. I put the book a little over halfway through and that's literally as far as those plot threads have gotten. Literally... that's the entire plot that's actually happened. The basic premise was only mentioned once since then as a "My lord, our plan continues" around the halfway mark.

So, over a hundred pages are filled with mostly unsubtle humor that 90% of is sexual in nature. We're talking about teenage level of sex humor, where a transport tube's controls are "suck" and "blow". If you've thought of the obvious humor there, you figured out the joke in the book. And these jokes are dragged on and on.

Granted, I'll admit the bit of the ship's doctor becoming "clinically dead" several times a month due to his drug abuse but with no consequences was kinda amusing and there was potential there a better story could have potentially run away with to hilarious territory. But uhh... that's it.

Yeah, I don't have much to say. There's almost no plot, there's character interactions but so far the characters have been entirely flat, and it's all mostly just like... a series of rejected comedy skits. If you like 4channish dick-joke humor, you might get some chuckles out of it. But, really, you can do better even for that. I only got as far in the title as I did because I had nothing better to do and it wasn't frustrating to read, although each page made me feel like I died a little inside so I do actually regret not just staring at the walls instead. I imagine the textures on the painted cinderblocks would have been quite insightful in comparison.

Fun fact though: thanks to this book, I realized that a small and light paperback, if thrown just right, can actually roll a short distance upon landing. Neat.


So, with that, my book review backlog is actually fully clear! I have no pending titles waiting for me to sit down and type about them, so maybe I can start ranting and raving about other things more! Assuming, of course, people aren't tired of how frequently I'm updating this blog. (I ought to really be spending all this time on actual fiction writing. >.>) My current work in progress book is House of Secrets: Battle of the Beasts, so that'll be the next review whenever I'm done with it.
 

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  • #13
Writing Advice

Games that give Experiences for Writers​


Now this is a small little topic since I wanted to write something here, but it's a little late and I don't feel like doing another review nor going to the C-word ranting article that's gonna come up. Besides, I've spared you all of my blogging for nine days now, so it's time for you all to suffer again!

Anyway, this is not "games with good stories" or "games with good lore" or none of that. No, nothing, nada, zilch. Game writing is very different from prose writing. Some conventions apply, but others do not and so forth. I might poke at that sometime, but not today. No, I'm throwing down some games that give good experiences that can help write certain things. After all, you can (or should) only write what you know. And certain games can give you that know without having to physically experience it. Which, IMO, is way more useful than reading a testimonial or whatever, even if the experience isn't entirely accurate.

This list is by no means comprehensive and I might update it as new ones occur to me or if anyone makes a suggestion I have experience with. I'm also keeping this to more general, realistic experiences. Most people aren't gonna write about a plumber who jumps on turtles, but there's a good chance their characters might travel the world on foot! Anyway, the list!


The Long Dark - Starting off with one of the most atmospheric games on the table, this one's referring more directly to the game's survival mode rather than story or challenge. A survival game, TLD is set in the wilderness of winter Canada when all the electricity just died and, in survival, your goal is to simply survive. This game is great on several levels. The atmosphere and the isolation are immense, as is the awe of looking at a frigid sunrise, beautiful as it is deadly. Not to mention, all the harsh choices and planning and adapting that comes from surviving in harsh conditions. You might not get to feel the cold itself, but the experience of trying to figure out what to bring without weighing yourself down on what might be a deadly, one-way trip, uncertain if wolves will track you down on the way, is unlike any other game I've played. And that's just one useful experience for writing!

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (modded) - Base Skyrim, it's just fantasy fun. But you start putting in mods, such as Frostfall, Realistic Needs and Diseases, Wet and Cold, and other survival mods, along with disabling fast travel, to force you to actually venture out on foot rather than clicking on the map, and not sprint everywhere, will give you a much bigger scope of what adventuring would be more like. Traveling long distances carrying all the supplies you need plus what you need to overcome whatever your journey is for and having to stop and deal with rain, hunger, snow, disease, or whatever else... it's quite a handy experience if your characters are going to be traveling on foot a lot! It'll definitely make you appreciate how big a world might be, even if Skyrim is actually kinda small as far as open worlds go.

Outward - Very similar to my modded Skyrim above, except it does it as the base game itself. Outward does some of these experiences better, such as having all the survival mechanics built in and so they flow a lot better, but some worse, like the random encounters on the road and regions being seperated by loading screens. More or less alternative option.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Mostly just world size and scope here. This one's notable in just how open the world is in verticality, giving a much different experience from, say, Skyrim. Just travel around on foot, especially at speeds real people would likely move, and you'll appreciate the amount of traveling an adventurer (or a Pokemon Trainer) would have to do and the uncertainty of what you might run into on the road.

Dauntless - Other, similar games like Monster Hunter or God Eater could work too, Dauntless is just the one I've played. (Or did until the Epic Games sell out > : / ) Basically though, if you're gonna have your characters fight big, giant monsters and the like, then these games are very helpful in seeing how such creatures might actually move and attack groups of smaller, sword-toting people. Can't speak for the other two games, but don't copy the actual mechanics if you want any realism.

Begin Edit! (10/18/19)

If you can afford it, Monster Hunter World is certainly a better reference than Dauntless. The terrain is more complicated, monsters interact with it, you can interact with monsters in more ways (like mounting them!), there's smaller monsters, multiple giant monsters, monsters can interact with each other (like one time a really, really big one picked up a smaller giant monster in its jaws and ran off with it. We chased it down and, once we cornered it, it chucked the smaller monster at us!), and more! There's also just more critters, which gives you more animations and visual aids to work with in imagining encounters.

Granted, MHW costs money while Dauntless is free (plus dealing with Epic if on PC) and Dauntless is hardly a bad reference for big giant monsters fighting and stuff.

End Edit!

Prey (2015) - Mostly the early game stuff, but the overall atmosphere of the game is cool. But really, early game, just the nervousness, anxiety, and paranoia a player might feel in approaching the game could be handy for writing similar emotions for your characters. ...or you could just use this game to get an idea on how to write a Ditto Apocalypse.

Subnautica - Less for the gameplay itself nd more the sense of exploration and the awe you might experience in discovering cool areas, which can translate to writing those same feelings. Just... be sure to play it unspoiled and on good hardware or you'll lose the effect!

Hacknet - It's not particularly realistic hacking, but it's still way more realistic than most titles I've seen. Either way, it'd give you that sort of experience without having to learn it on your own or venture into seedy areas of the internet.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes - Direct, hands on experiences with trying to relay, or carry out, instructions without being able to see the instructions or what the other guy is doing.


...I knooooow there's more. But, am tired and not thinking of them all that I've done on my own. Either way, feel free to share other titles that are good for snagging some experiences from!
 
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  • #14
Book Review

House of Secrets
Battle of the Beasts

by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini​

Warning: This book contains violent scenes that are, IMO, surprisingly graphic for what I assume is the intended age range (10-13ish).


Man, Chris has really fallen on hard times. I mean, this guy discovered the "new world!" And yet, now he's reduced to merely writing children's novels. Poor guy.

...wait, what? Wrong Chris? ...okay, well, I was about start wondering where he found the fountain of youth, so that makes more sense.

Anyway, the glory of book gifts continues and, this time, it bestows upon me both a children's book and a second in a series. So, like King of Thorns above, I'm going to have to review this from the perspective of someone ignorant of the first title and may mess up on some things. So if you're a fan of the series and get upset I'm being critical or something on a detail explained in an earlier (or later) title, please don't stab me. Kicking is okay, but only in the shins.

So, HoSBoB (because I don't feel like typing that out over and over) is a children's/possibly young teen's fantasy novel. Taking place after the first book, its protagonists, Brendan, Cordelia, and Eleanor Walker (or Bren, Deal, and Ellie) have found themselves to be incredibly wealthy, living in the house owned by the villains of the last book (wut?), and attending a school for rich people. Naturally, this being the start of a book, this doesn't all work out well. Bad things start to happen, such as Cordelia (I refuse to use that nickname) freezing from the inside, bullies beating up Bren, their father acting suspicious, the Storm King showing up and kidnapping Ellie, and, well, you know typical high school drama that happens to everyone.

Really though? "Deal" as a nickname for Cordelia? That's a really weird nickname and there's so many better and more sensical for that name.

Either way, this leads to Bren alongside Will (who is apparently a character from a book within the last book and went from WWI pilot to hobo), pursue the Storm King to rescue Ellie and to find Cordelia, who vanished. Naturally, the villain from the last book, the Wind Witch, returns once everyone's back together, who's wanting the "Book of Doom and Desire", which apparently can grant any wish. So she murders her dad and another guy, kidnaps the kids since they know how to summon the book and she's cursed to be unable to touch it, and traps them in a world made up of three other books.

At this point, meat of the story kicks off with the kids and their house trapped in Rome and eventually leads to stuff with cyborg Nazis and monks in the snow-capped mountains as the kids try to get home. And at this point, the plot kinda becomes less things following a logical order and more repeated instances of "Suddenly, this!" Usually in the form of "I wrote my characters into a corner, oops" and "I really need the plot to go this way" moments. And it's kinda here to the end that the plot, story, and so on just... falls flat a bit. I mean, I know it's a kid's book, but still!

I can get really nitpicky from here so... lemme just list things off. 1) A lot of plot events and stuff don't make a lot of sense or characters do dumb things and get out of it via luck. 2) The children protags are like... 9-15, yet act like full-blown adults usually except when they suddenly don't. 3) Only one of the protagonists actually grows and changes as part of the plot, the others are static. 4) The titular house isn't super important to the plot and the titular battle, while important, isn't really big enough or important enough to be the subtitle. 5) There's a certain air of... I'm not sure how to describe it, but even when things get really serious, things stay kind of... comic and cartoony so you never really feel the full weight of the danger, suspense, and so forth. 6) The fantasy worlds, particularly Rome, don't seem well researched. I know its fiction within fiction, but that feels like a cop-out. 7) The chapters are VERY short (about 75 total in under 500 pages) which makes the book feel rather choppy. 8) Eleanor is kinda... blegh. She gets a bit pretentious and preachy, especially about animals, to the point of demanding that the monks, whose primary foodsource are yaks, that they should become vegetarians so they don't hurt the animals. Like, really, what are they supposed grow on the top of a snowy mountain? Actually, wait, what are the yak's eating?

Personal opinion: I feel that it would have been a heck of a lot cooler for the three fantasy worlds to have been blended together rather than neighboring with very little crossover. Ancient Rome? Cool, but overly done. Cyborg Nazis? Cool, but overly done. Cyborg Nazis invading Ancient Rome? Now you have something unique and interesting!

...wait, no, City of Heroes did that already. Darn it!

Biggest issue though? You may have heard the saying that a story is only as good as your villain. While that doesn't apply to all stories (not all have villains), it really applies here. The Wind Witch feels generic evil with no depth and, after she sets things in motion, she's completely absent from the story save for a cameo until the very end (and her plan at the end doesn't make a lot of sense). If you're gonna have a big bad who shows up and personally sets the stuff in motion and is actively trying to get something, then they better be active in the story as well because they're supposed to be driving that plot! I think if she had been present and actively opposing the heroes then the plot wouldn't feel like it starts to meander and lose direction halfway through the book.

On a more neutral note, like Hugo, this book plays pretty much entirely on the table. It does have more depth in it, especially with the Storm King (who's probably the deepest character in the book, so shame he's killed off in short order), but there's not a whole lot to chew on. And, if you think about things too hard, you'll be scratching your head in puzzlement.

On the bright side, if you want a morality lesson for kids, there's a definite "money doesn't buy happiness" message in the book. But, I'll counter and say it does buy a hell of a lot of stress relief when it comes to junk like bills and emergencies.

All in all, it's a moderately entertaining book for an adult. I think a kid would get a lot more entertainment value of it and, if you got a child who likes fantasy and can handle a novel, this series might be a good option. You could proooobably do better, but what would I know? At that age I jumped straight from Goosebumps to high school level suspense thrillers and dramas because I had no idea what sorts of books I liked at the time.


Aaaaanyway, next time I'm reviewing something, it's gonna be... Star Wars: Lost Stars. Huh... Considering previous experiences with Star Wars books, this is either gonna be pretty interesting or really terrible. There's been like... no middle ground with those.
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #15
Has the Nuzlocke Writing Community Gone Soft?

Ranting and Rambling


Okay, enough reviewing and trying to be helpful by handing out useful writing advice, it's time to rant and rave and be a pretentious lunatic!

And that's gonna be the last intentional joke today because this topic will definitely hit the more controversial/contentious notes, I feel. Who knows, maybe the entire forum will just sagely nod at my words and agree with every letter? Unlikely though, so going to try to be as inoffensive as possible.


So, what do I mean by the writing community going soft? Simple: it's all about the critique. Now, this bit's anecdotal and it's entirely possible my early experiences on the forum were utterly unique. Or heck, it's entirely possible I was naive and blind to how things were really being ran. But all I have are my experiences and memory to work from, so we'll have to make do.

Back when I joined the forums in around 2013, the writing community was a bit different. Heck, the almost, if not the, entire community was different since the crowd was somewhere in the transition from the 4Chan origins group to what we have today. Either way, Discord wasn't a thing and Skype chat groups were these new, bleeding edge ideas and mostly were small groups hanging around with each other. There wasn't, as far as I aware, a centralized writing community. Writers were also in fierce competition with Comic and Screenshot runs for attention since they were all dumped into the same forum as each other, unlike later Zeta/Tapa where they had their separate sub-forums or like today where we have this super nifty tagging system. (Seriously, if you're not using the tagging system, you should.)

I dunno what all the factors that played into the differences, I can really only speculate without either having all the data before me or having a degree in psychology. Regardless, the community was a bit different. For the first, less important part to these rambles, it felt like all the small-time writers seemed to stick together. If someone commented on your run, you went to their run and gave it a read and commented. It was an unspoken rule and the comment trading seemed to be a factor in retaining readers. (But I could be wrong.) The popular people who commanded half a dozen or more comments per an update got a pass though, since you really couldn't reasonable expect to keep up with that many runs.

The second part though? Critique was giving out freely, unsolicited, and it was often intended to be constructive and was often intended to be polite. Slip-ups happened, yeah, but you can always screw up even the most mundane conversations fantastically by using the wrong word. Either way, I personally found this to be pretty awesome. People were coming to my story, giving me tips and advice and telling me what they felt I was doing well and doing poorly and I would return the favor and try to do the same to the best of my ability. I improved as a writer (and it helped break my stupid ego I had when I first joined) and the people I followed were improving as writers too.

We weren't perfect. Hell, I'd say I'm at least twice as good now as I was back then and I'm still impossibly far from perfection. But even if we weren't getting Features or Ganza votes or whatever else, our stories shined as we improved.

Or, at least, that was my perspective on things.

Cue me leaving the forum for a while due to a drop in readership (Other Adventures was a horrid place to try to do a storylocke in, let me tell you), a loss of motivation, and... I wanna say life was kinda being sucky and upheavely at the time too, which included me moving and working a job that was sucking the life out of my soul more and more. A few years later, inspired to redo my original run but better, I returned and found a very different community here.

No longer were there small-time writers going to each other and forming smaller, tight-knit-seeming groups. Everything was centralized to a Discord server where you were basically shouting your update notifications into the wind. And new run alerts too (which I ducked up royally by being a few chapters into Stolen Dreams by the time I found the server, so I couldn't make that announcement.) Rather than commenting, people only seemed to really talk about commenting and needing to do it more. And when people DID comment, it was either reactions or merely praise, rather than, well, critique. No suggestions, no advice, nada.

What happened? Not 100% sure, but an unrelated video I saw about a month ago about teachers remarking on the differences between classes of 1993, 2003, and 2013 gave me some possible insight. 1993 were a rough and tumble crowd, basically, screw authority, etc. But they were resilient and bounced back if bad things happened and were pretty independent about doing this. The 2013 crowd are much nicer, more aware of social issues (as evidenced by us having the option to list preferred pronouns on our profile), more respectful of authority and more. But at the same time, the teachers remarked they responded poorly to failure and criticism and often needed one on one attention to get going in the right direction.

Not strictly better, but not strictly worse. But it makes a lot of sense. This forum is likely mostly populated by middle/high school and college students who'd fit closer to that 2013 crowd. Why is giving unsolicited criticism seen as a bad thing now? (Seriously, I'm confident I've seen it mentioned a few times in the writechat not to give critique without asking to avoid hurting feelings.) Because, in general, the dominant age-range of the forum does not respond well to it.

Am I right? I dunno, I can only speculate as well as you can and this is a conclusion brought on by several sources of anecdotal evidence. But it seems to fit.

So, where am I going with this? Well... I feel this type of belief, of seeing criticism as a bad thing unless specifically asked for, is pretty well damaging to anyone who wants to improve or, worse, write seriously. Lemme bullet point this.

  1. If the writer in question has bad habits and you only give them praise, you're potentially reinforcing their bad habits, making it harder for them to improve.
  2. Comments can come across as shallow, hollow, and artificial. (Or, at least to me.)
  3. "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all." Problem is, if a novice writer posts a new run and nobody can give pure praise with a straight face, that writer is getting pure silence, which can kill their desire to write then and there because it gives the impression that nobody cares. Hell, I'm guilty of doing this too and I really ought to stop now that I've given it thought. How many people have given up because I didn't give them some encouraging words and a few pointers when I had an easy chance and nobody else was?
  4. If the writer in question wants to write seriously, then they're gonna have to face the critique sooner or later. If they ever publish, it's going to come to them whether they want it or not. And some of it will be downright mean. It's much better to start growing the Writer's Thick Skin™ now in a much safer community before the much wider, more merciless world gets a hold of them.
  5. If they react poorly to the critique even if done as nicely as possible, or they ignore, well, that's not the commenters fault. They're gonna get critiqued a lot in life anyway. Remember you 2013 guys, you have a much meaner generation who's gonna be your bosses for a good while, so you better start bracing yourselves for it, whether you like it or not!
  6. I understand writing purely as hobby and for enjoyment. Someone who absolutely doesn't want critique should clearly mention it somewhere. (And likewise, to be fair, someone who absolutely wants it should also mention that!)
  7. Probably the worse, IMO, is the "drive-by praise" comment. Someone clicks a new run, reads a few chapters, writes some praise, and moves on without ever returning. These suck. I mean, yeah, the moment the comment arrives its pretty awesome and there's that sense of euphoria. But then, when the days go by and turn into weeks, and then months, when the commenter never returns, even if your story goes in directions that mentioned they were dying to see, you start to wonder if they really even cared or if they were just trying to either feel good for making a bunch of comments or trying to be a top commenter on the writechat server. It just... totally sours the previous experience and disheartens more than it helps. I can understand maybe not having time to comment on every chapter or something. But hey, we have Like buttons now. Use 'em! They help more than you'd think since just knowing someone's reading is a friggin' huge help for the morale.

I mean, again, this is just my thoughts, experiences, memories, and the like. And yes, that experience I spoke about on drive-by comments did happen to me.

So, what do we do about this?

Well, it's pretty simple, I think. When leaving a comment, include some tips or advice or point out some errors or things that didn't work for you and explain why. But do so politely, civily, and nicely. And mix it in with your praise and reactions. (Just don't do the spelling/grammar check without asking. That's helpful, but also gets super friggin' annoying too. Focus on the consistent typos instead rather than being a spelling/grammar check.) And try to stick to runs too, even if it's just clicking Like after your comment, since, again, that does help a lot. If you wanna give deeper critique and you're worried about feelings being hurt? Ask if they've not clearly marked them for open season on critique. That way they're expecting it and you don't need to worry so much about upsetting them.

Mind, you're not obligated to stick to a run you don't like. I think, instead of poofing from a run you don't like the direction of, say something like "This isn't quite my cup of tea, but I'm sure others will enjoy it because of <instert praise you were gonna write here>" That way they won't keep expecting/hoping you'll comment more, but you're still hopefully making them feel good with the comment(s) you are leaving. Just be ready in case they ask for more details though.

And don't worry about upsetting me on critiquing anything I've written in this blog or my stories. I've taken the advice of "Writers need a thick skin. Because people will want to stab you." to heart. Yes, it was a joke in a skit. But if you've stepped foot off of your internet's front porch and into the internet wilderness and seen how vicious the wild internet denizen can be then you'll know how much truth is in that joke. Those of you who've given me critical feedback and happen to be reading this, I appreciate it and you guys are all awesome.

Anyway, also, sometimes I wonder if having some sort of critique-focused "read for read" group or similar would be a really good idea. Organizing and managing it would definitely provide some challenge though, but I think it'd probably be overall healthy for the community, or at least those participating.


Buuuut yeah, that's my take on the writing community's critique-adversity these days. In short, I don't think it's healthy or good for the writers here, especially those seeking to improve or seeking to become serious writers, and we really ought to be giving each other feedback beyond praise and reactions.
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #16
Book Review

Star Wars: Lost Stars

by Claudia Gray

Warning: Maybe not a big deal, but the book does contain an inferred sex scene. It's not "on-screen", but you clearly know it happened.


Star Wars content outside of the movies themselves is always a sketchy prospect. ...actually, heck, with the uproar over Episode 8 and the resounding "meh" towards Solo means the movies are potentially a sketchy prospect depending on your opinions. The books are of no exception. This would be my 4th Star Wars book I own and the first that's in the new "Disneyverse" Star Wars rather than the previous Expanded Universe. Previous experience told me the titles are a luck of the draw. The novelizations of Episode 1 and Episode 2 are not bad by any means and are a neat read, but they have their problems. Meanwhile, a purely EU title, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, was so wrong about the Star Wars canon it friggin' hurts.

It's been years since I've read these, so this is by no means comprehensive. But...

Episode 1's novel way, way, way overplayed Anakin falling in love with Padme, IMO. I'm pretty sure, if memory serves right, Anakin decided he was going to marry her.

Episode 2's novel, meanwhile, had some of the sloooowest actions scenes I've read. The author is good, but the fights in that went literally blow for blow. Go like... rewatch Anakin versus Dooku in the climax and try to describe every lightsaber swing. Yeah...

Splinter of a Mind's Eye just gets so, so much wrong. I think it was written before Empire Strikes Back, but I'm not 100% sure. But in it we see things like Luke's lightsaber having a normal battery pack and recharging it by leeching energy from Stormtrooper guns, Darth Vader getting sniped, Leia lightsaber dueling Darth Vader and not getting insta-deaded, Luke beating Darth Vader in a duel and dropping him into a bottomless pit, every critter on that planet seeming to have evolved to deal with lightsabers, and so on. It's really hard to read if you've seen more than A New Hope because it contradicts so much that's established by later movies.

Also, another aside, I'll get it out now and say that, some days I'm sad that Disney killed off the old EU, which means we'll never see the likes of things such as the Jedi Knight series of games. Or find out what direction The Forced Unleashed series was going with it supposedly intending to be canon. But then other days I think of some of the sheer stupidty of the EU like "The Galaxy Gun" or the "Sun Crusher" or people super obsessing over Mara Jade (who, mind, I'm 95% unfamiliar with) and feel better that those things are no longer technically canon.


Aaaaanyway, Lost Stars is a title in the new Disneyverse of Star Wars and I believe that it is a canon entry. This book is set during the course of the original trilogy, starting sometime before in the childhoods of the two protagonists: Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree on their planet on Jelucan with it being annexed to the Empire and their dreams to become Imperial pilots. And right off the bat, the book has good promises simply on the grounds of giving fresh, different perspectives. The population of Jelucan sees the Empire coming as a good thing, as if civilization is coming to their world and they're looking forward to all the positives it brings.

...sadly, things don't stay this gray and ambiguous forever as the Empire will quickly start getting some paintings in its usual, evil light by the time A New Hope rolls around.

Regardless, as one might expect, both protags make it to the flight academy and pass and join the Imperial fleet. And they continue throughout the book, experiencing a number of events of the movies from a different angle, although the angle changes again for one of them as, after A New Hope, one of them deserts, wanders for a few years, and eventually winds up with the Rebellion in time for the other two movies' events and to start setting up Episode 7.

...I'd give a spoiler warning, but that's written on that back of the book and its the whole premise of the novel.

Yes, while the book runs concurrent to those events, it's not about the movie's events. Rather it's about the two protagonists dealing with them, with Ciena's sense of duty, honesty, and loyalty being challenged at every step and Thane's sense of cynicism being challenged as well. (I think Thane has it easier.) And it's also about how their friendship, and romance, gets taxed and strained as they wind up on opposing sides as enemies. Meanwhile, movie events pass pretty quickly when they're not directly involved, which isn't often since they're often involved in roles that are in set-up for, support of, or in consequence of Luke's adventures.

And honestly, we never even see most of the cast. We only get glimpses of Darth Vader and Palpatine, Luke and Han only get mentioned, Leia appears a couple of times, and so forth. Which, makes sense, the book isn't about them. It's about Thane and Ciena.

It's not an action nor adventure type of story like typical Star Wars. It's drama and romance.

Honestly, the book was quite a surprise for me. It's pretty well written and getting fresh perspectives on things happening in the background of the movies is cool. Like, we know the Empire is bad because they boom planets, but why was there a rebellion before that? You get to actually see it in the way they enslave certain species, wreck ecosystems with strip mining, and more. You also get to see the rebels painted in different light rather than purely good guys. While we were cheering the Death Star going boom, characters in the book are trying to come to terms that friends and comrades were just snuffed out in the blink of an eye. It's great.

It's not a perfect book though. I think the biggest issue is that the book really as to contrive a number of things to keep Thane and Ciena meeting, to the point Thane, later in the book, outright remarks something like "This galaxy is not big enough." Some encounters make sense, such as when they both return to Jelucan in a later point in the story. Others make you wonder how and why did they meet again? The biggest culprit is when the rebel character is scouting the Imperial fleet amassing in preparation for the final battle of Return of a Jedi by hiding their squad in the ring of a planet. The Imperial character's commanding officer wants them to escape to report back. However, for some reason, they have the Imperial character, who normally doesn't fly craft anymore at that point since they're a commander now, to go into a small squad to hunt down the rebels and take them out. HOWEVER, said character is given a secret mission they have to hide from their squad to ensure at least one rebel survives to report back. Like... why not just not send a squad out in the first place if you want the rebels to report back?

I'd also critique the book for losing the nifty gray morality of the first act and growing more and more black and white as it goes. Like, yeah, the Empire is pure lawful evil in the movies, but it would have been nice if it had stayed more ambiguous in the books from the perspectives of the smaller people, rather than just blatantly throwing atrocities everywhere.

On the other hand, Mighty Oak Apocalypse is both a really silly and really awesome name for a spacecraft.

Aaaanyway, overall, this is definitely a title worth checking out if your a fan of Star Wars, particularly the original trilogy. The prequels or the new trilogy factor in very little, other than having the Battle of Jakku towards the end to put all those wrecks on the surface for Rey to scavenge at the start of Episode 7. If you're not into Star Wars though? Well, that's gonna be a lot more tentative. If you don't care for the mystical force and lightsabers and more fantasy-esque elements, Lost Stars has little to none of that at least. If you don't like the universe, then yeah, avoid it. Other reasons? Well... it'd depend on what they are!



So, for next time, I'm actually going to do something I've not done in a long time and reread a title! I will be tackling The Hitchhiker's Trilogy and, consequently, all five books contained within.
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #17
Writing Advice

Magical, Enchanted, and Legendary Weapons​



Okay, so now that I've successfully avoided being murdered by my job or assassinated by yet another customer unhappy that stores do not contain a magical Backroom of Infinite Stock That Employees Are Hiding From Them™, let's talk about a more fun topic, albeit one that's probably doesn't apply to most genres. Mostly fantasy, perhaps some sci-fi, maybe Pokemon if your Nuzlocke's world allows humans to make weapons that utilize the Pokemon's powers somehow (or its a non-standard Pokemon world). But hey, everyone loves a good Flaming Long Sword +4!

But now, how would such weapons actually be employed in a setting? Now, fantasy covers literally every possibility and then some, so I can be contradicted by rules and regulations about how things work in so many situations, so gonna set a ground rule here: all assumptions are if the setting is as realistic as possible and all weapons are eligible to receive enchantments. There might be some rule in your universe where Steve, the God of Accounting, only allows financial enchantments on crowbars, but we're going to ignore that. We're also going to mostly focus on the common stuff, and maybe some uncommon stuff, because hitting everything or every variant of a thing would be impossible.


First things first, lemme just get it out of the way: in brainstorming this, weapons with long reach seem to be the most ideal enchanted weapons. I'm thinking guns, crossbows, bows. Or, if only restricted to melee, then weapons like spears and other long-reach polearms or weapons that can be thrown Why? If the point is to nail the opponent with the enchantment and then let the magic do its work, then you'd want to do that as safely as possible. The only reason to use heavier, shorter ranged weapons would be is if armor could block the enchantment or if soldiers could be enchanted with some sort of projectile deflection thing. Hence, its often best to just shoot them whenever possible.

...yeah, it's not as exciting as fire sword man dueling ice sword man, but reality is often disappointing.

Anyway, let's break down some common enchantments!

Fire: Other than an intimidation effect, this one is actually kinda useless for direct combat! If its burning hot enough, it'll cauterize the targets wounds which... would hurt a lot, but it'd stop them from bleeding out. ...which, thinking of it, makes it a potential non-lethal option. HOWEVER, that's not to say this is useless! If your Fire enchantment just outright sets the victim on fire, well... yeah, just poking them with the weapon and moving on sounds awesome. Even if not, these would be handy against enemies with wooden shields, paper armor (yes, that was probably real), or other flammable equipment. Raiders would also love these weapons. No need to carry torches or lanterns or whatever else when looking to cause fires. Just carry a flaming sword or whatever and free up your other hand for something else! Or just carry less junk overall!

You could argue for heating fire weapons enough to melt through armor, in which case you basically have a (possibly low powered) lightsaber.

One potential problem with fire weapons is the heat they produce, which could wear the user down or even burn them. Granted, it depends if the weapons is always on fire or just ignites stuff it hits! If you got a group of heat resistant warriors, they could get into melee with fire weapons against armored opponents and fight via attrition, letting the combined temperatures wear down the armored foes fast!

Ice: On the other hand, other than specific "Ice weak" fantasy thingies, Ice seems pretty darn useless for the most part. If its cold enough where it could freeze the targets blood around the wound, that might make a wound more dangerous/lethal if the blood splinters and shatters in there. If it just utterly freezes a target solid though? Well, then it's less an "Ice weapon" and more an "instant death" weapon, in which case it'd be pretty darn ridiculous.

I could see Ice being nice for blunt weapons though, depending on how the enchantment functions. You could like, have a hammer that freezes on contact and then the force from the blow shatters, all in a single strike! Ouch!

Electricity: Basically just tasers. Sounds mundane, but a volley of taser arrows would be pretty wicked! If you amp it up though, these also basically become instant death weapons since you're gonna cause the target's heart to stop or something like that, not to mention painful electrical burns if they don't die!

Poison: Definitely no need to get close for this one if it can be avoided. Draw blood and let the poison do its work.

Acid: The corrosive element could be good against armored stuff, but it'll also basically just burn flesh underneath just as well. An acid melee weapon is basically a different flavor of lightsaber! Also, unlike a lot of fiction, acid doesn't just stop unless it reacts with the air or something, it'll keep eating away until its neutralized or cleaned away, so acid weapons are pretty dangerous if they're not neutralized by air or blood exposure.

Vorpal: Seen a few varities of this, but it usually seems make cutting more cutty, bashing more bashy, or whatever else. I mean... I guess in those cases nothing really changes, the weapons are just deadlier? Too many varieties, really.

Speed: These would be really, really nice on anything, but projectiles especially since you cut travel time, increase effective range, and increase the force of the impact. In melee, you'd also increase attack speed and attack force, although I imagine they'd be hard to control since the wielder would have to handle the increased momentum as well! Heck, an inexperienced user might actually send their Speed weapon flying right out of their hands by mistake! Or injure themselves by swinging too hard and too fast for their arms to handle.

Light: Usually setting specific stuff, but if the weapons glow brightly, maybe you could like... blind an enemy with them? Especially with a volley of glowing arrows maybe?

Dark: Again, setting specific. But like, if they darken the area around them, these would be fantastic weapons in dark and shadowy areas. Imagine a volley of arrows fired at night that the enemy can't see at all!

Sound: Seen a few of these. A big problem with them is that, for one, they just give you away, especially if the sound is very distinct and loud. Like, maybe it might intimidate someone, but... eh? Second, if the sound is loud enough to hurt the wielder's enemies, then it's loud enough to hurt the wielder (without sufficient protection). Sound is indiscriminate like that. And if it can do soundy-stuff like shattering rocks, not only would this become an instant-kill weapon, but the wielder would need a looot of protections to not be injured or killed by the weapon or even just hold onto it!

I feel like I'm missing a few other common ones, beyond basic "+1" and durability enchantments. I purposefully skilled stuff like "banishing", "anti-undead", and others since real world physics don't really apply to those!


Now, on legendary weapons... eh? Okay, okay, legendary weapons are cool and all. The hero comes in with his awesome Legendary Axe of Bad Guy Slaying that everyone recognizes and it's cool and all. It's fun. But ask yourself: how many real world weapons are considered "legendary?" Actually a few, but if you do research on them, you'll find they're "just swords" or whatever else. Some of them have some custom design-work, but otherwise they're no different than another weapon of the same style. They're legendary only because they were wielded by someone of historical importance, not because the weapon was anything special.

Okay, but having this unique weapons with all these cool unique enchantments and stuff is cool and fun though, right? Well, yeah, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If you're equipping an army, why would you make only one "super special" weapon to be wielded by the king, a champion, or the poor farmer boy spoken of in prophecy? If you can afford it, why not make a dozen? Or a few hundred? Or give everyone in your army one? Your forces are just so much stronger if everyone's wielding an Axe of Bad Guy Slaying rather than just the pro/antagonist!

Even if you can't afford to do the whole army, making as many as you can for your elite troops still seems like a good idea. And if you can only afford one, then you, as a ruler, really ought to consider fielding lots of cheaper things rather than putting all your eggs in the one super sword basket. Three hundred flintlock rifles are likely to be more effective than a single modern assault rifle, after all!

(Of course, there can be some plausible excuses to scarcity, like it being made from a metal that only comes from fallen meteors. But in that case, one still has to ask if making a weapon out of that scarce material is the best use for it.)

Also, there's the whole thing of the legendary weapon stealing the spotlight from its wielder. Maybe several heroes used it to do great things, but it was still the heroes doing it, not the weapon! I just feel like its more believable and more satisfying if, upon stumbling upon the wielder, people are like "OH MY GOD ITS STEVE FROM ACCOUNTING, RUN!" rather than "HE HAS THE LEGENDARY CROWBAR OF PAYCUTS, RUN!" Exceptions apply, of course.

Plus, it also feels more satisfying if the tool is still just a tool. Personal thoughts probably, but I just like it better if the hero/villain/whoever is dangerous and can do stuff without their legendary weapon rather than requiring it to save/ruin the day. That way the accomplishments and feats are attributed to the character rather than to the thing they're holding.


Mmm, but yes, anyway, those are my thoughts on some weaponry stuff. Of course, feel free to ignore the more realistic takes on enchantments and stuff because all those tropes are tropes for a reason and junk like Staves of Freezing or the Dagger of the Nuzforums are still fun to read and write about or use in games or whatever! But if you wanna be more realistic and such, hopefully I've given you some ideas on that!
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #18
Book Review

Hitchhiker's Trilogy


by Douglas Adams

Warning: So Long and Thanks For All the Fish has an implicit sex scene.


This review will cover the entire trilogy: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. ...yes, that's a five-book trilogy. That's also one of the least unusual things you'll find here.


So, I got the urge to reread one of my favorite books. Before I had received the title, I was only somewhat aware of the Hitchhiker's series, particularly because there was a movie that had some trailers and a few stray mentions in the community of a sci-fi game I was part of. So, when I received this tome for my birthday way back in the age of dinosaurs, I was very unfamiliar with it. In the end, this was probably one of the best books ever purchased for me.

I hesitate to call it THE best though. I mean, it still is one of my favorite series of stories, no doubt about it. But I also have quite a few great titles on my shelf, both fiction and non-fiction. I don't think I could objectively call any of them "the best". And subjectively? My mood will change in five minutes so that opinion would be of no value to anyone.

Anyway, but yes, when I call this a tome, I do mean its a tome! Nearly 700 pages long, it also sports larger pages, smaller font, and smaller spacing than all of the other titles I've read lately. If this more matched the norm, it'd easily be over a thousand, I think. As much as I love the title, reading it straight through isn't something I'd quite recommend as I started to get a little fatigued by the end. Too much of a good thing is a very real, and very irritating, phenomenon!

The titles largely follow Arthur Dent, a perfectly ordinary and boring englishman who, one day, escapes Earth with his friend, and often secondary protagonist, Ford Prefect, who's actually an alien from around Betelgeuse and has been stranded on Earth for ten years. The Earth is destroyed by Vogons, who are demolishing it to make way for an intergalactic traffic bypass, and Ford gets them to safety by hailing one of the vessels with his towel.

And this is one of the more tame parts!

The series follows Arthur as he travels the galaxy, mostly winding up in places without really planning to, as all sorts of improbable events occur (improbability is a huge factor in all the titles). The adventures are weird yet never too absurd and have an odd sense of internal consistency among all the strangeness. And its downright hilarious almost the entire time. You have everything from Perfectly Normal Beasts, space travel using "Bistromathics" (math that is calculated bu simulating a small, italian bistro), throwing yourself at the ground and missing, the search for the question to the answer of the meaning of life, the planet WhatNow and its only town OhWell, and so, so, so much more. And it all just... flows!

Also, Adams somehow mastered the art of "going off on tangents all the time but not detracting from the story." Like, this really stuck out to me because it's something I've complained about a few times before. But Adams does it frequently here and its somehow not distracting. I've run a number of theories through my head, but the only one I can settle on is "because his tangents are amusing". It's not stopping me to read wikipedia articles or ramble off-topic. It's pausing the story a moment to share a related joked. Or, at least, that's my guess of what's different here.

The titles are not perfect though, as much as I hate to say. And to be fair, I must point out my critiques. In a smaller one, some of the dialogue feels a bit... samey? And characters tend to repeat themselves a lot. It'll be something like "Did you know about this thing?" <insert non-dialogue here> "Ah, I said, did you know about this thing?" A bigger point is that some of the characters are... blah. Trillian, in particular, stands out as she's in four out of five of the books, plays critical roles in two of them, but feels like she just exists. And her existence is something I totally forgot about until I reread. Arthur, meanwhile, has his only character traits as "englishman", "boring", and "fish out of water" for pretty much the entire first three books.

Perhaps the weakest point of the books is the plotting. While super fun and entertaining, these titles more driven by the weirdness of the universe and you wanting to see more rather than the characters or plot. The Hitchhiker is outright missing a "middle" segment in terms of plot while Restaurant feels like two mashed together. Life does a bit better, although it's not the strongest plot, whereas So Long has almost no plot to speak of. Mostly Harmless has the strongest plot overall, but even then it only plays out as it does because of a completely Random event. Granted, I have to give the titles some slack since improbable occurences is a very strong theme in the titles, especially when the Improbability Drive is involved in the story. Also, apparently Adams was drunk when he wrote the first book and was way over deadline and was locked inside a hotel room when doing the fourth, supposedly writing the full manuscript in just three days.

There's also one other problem, but I don't know if you'll be able to see it since its Somebody Else's Problem. But I'll try to explain. So, here goes.





Overall though, I don't think the problems detract from the titles unless you're looking for books with strong plots or characters. Its a funny, amusing, good time, something to sit down and read for entertainment rather than glean deeper meaning. They're fun books. So, do I recommend them? Oh yes, definitely! I personally feel having the whole trilogy is the definitive way to read these titles, but you can pick and choose. Mind, the stories build off of each other quite a bit, especially the first three, so I'd strive to read them in order if at all possible! But maybe not all in one go since, as I said, all combined they're super long and you might get a little fatigued.

But seriously, read it! These are classic sci-fi titles and are ones that have aged well, to boot, and have been quite influential. I mean like, there's a reason one of the first big language translators on the internet was called Babel Fish!


Anyway, next time in review land we're doing... uhh... oh no. World of Warcraft: Wolfheart. I forgot I got a random WoW book as a gift. I never played beyond Warcraft 3 so... this'll be something. Low expectations but, who knows, the Star Wars title I did previously surprised me quite a bit, so maybe I'll get lucky again?
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #19
Book Review

World of Warcraft: Wolfheart

by Richard A. Knaak

Warning: Graphic Violence


Whew, okay, busy weeks for me that made me want to stab things. Luckily, nothing was stabbed except food by a fork or knife, but I do that on a nearly daily basis several times a day so that's not really any sort of event of note. Heck, there's a slight chance you might be doing that act too as you're reading this, you monster. Well no, you're not really a monster. The real monsters are the imaginary ones that make you finish books for the sake of reviewing them for fun and amusement.

...okay, this isn't on the same level as Bones of the Dragon or Kruton Interface. Not nearly. But I've been watching too much stuff like Cinema Sins and Pitch Meetings recently, so I can't help but be in the mood to poke fun at some fiction.

So, a bit about Warcraft and me first: I started the series way back in the yonder years when I had only single digits to my age and Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was bleeding edge amazing. My family got a demo on one of those CDs that came packaged with magazines back then that were filled with mostly demos and stuff. It was, basically, how you tried out software in an era where attempting to download software was something you planned your whole week around. Or if you wanted people's reviews on it? You planned your day around the several minute loading times web pages often had while praying AOL wouldn't crap out on you and make you refresh or reconnect.

A few years later when the family computer was replaced with a newer, shinier model and the older one basically became a new gaming console for my brother and I, my brother and I managed to get our hands on the Warcraft Battlechest, which had the first game, the second game, and the second game's expansion with it. Even though we sucked hard at RTS back in the day and had to shamelessly cheat our way through the game, it was amazing! Years later, Warcraft 3 came along and later its expansion and we gladly got into those, even going so far as to upgrade the PC we had at the time to get the game to run!

And that's where my relationship with Warcraft ended. I was super-excited for the MMO, but our computer couldn't run it and my parents was unwilling to fork over the monthly fee, so that was that. We moved on and Warcraft proceeded to grow into something foreign and alien while I wasn't looking. And, years later, here I am where my experience with the series gives me a small advantage over someone who's entirely unfamiliar, but leaves me scratching my head more often than not and wondering why certain things are present and why certain things aren't. A super WoW-lore guy could probably explain it all to me but, eh, whatever.

So, the story itself! Wolfheart's title and cover gives promises of the Worgen and some guy who looks like discount pre-Lich-King-Arthas. What the story is about? Mostly Night Elves. So, the new Orc Warchief, Garrosh, has decided he wants to take over the Night Elf forest/territory of Ashenvale. So, before the story starts, he sends a force to the snowy-undead land Northrend to capture some creatures that are capable of taking on an army (somehow without using an army himself to subdue them) and bring them back for invasion. Meanwhile, his omniscient forces using map hax move into Ashenvale, full of archers equipped with some serious aim hax, and start invading and destroy outposts manned by complacent, incompetent Night Elf commanders who supposedly have thousands of years of experience. Everything to try to regroup, fight back, get messages out, and so forth all fail nearly instantly because the Orcs are just that good. Why? Because Garrosh is clever, of course!

Meanwhile, two characters I actually recognize, Tyrande and Malfurion, two Nightelves in the new Night Elf capital, are setting up an alliance summit to meet for reasons that aren't ever fully explained. Before the summit, Tyrande is shown vague spoilers of the story's climax by her goddess and its decided that the human king, Varian, really needs to show up. He's apparently both super important to the spoilers but also super important to the point the summit is worthless without him being there. But, everyone shows up, the Worgen and their king reveal themselves and ask to join, but Varian proves to be the king of asshats since Gilneas, the Worgen's kingdom, was dealing with their own kingdom being torn apart by feral worgen during the earlier wars rather than ignoring their own problems and helping out. So, lots of needless drama ensues.

Meanmeanwhile, Night Elf Highborne are being murdered by an unknown assassin. This has nothing to do with the main plot and has little bearing on it other than making a couple of characters unavailable for the climax. This plot can basically be summed up like this: "Hey, someone's murdering us!" "We'll investigate for you." "Hey, hurry up, they're still killing us." "We're working on it." "They're still killing us, we're getting pissy and impatient." "We're working on it." "They're still killing us, we're getting pissy and impatient." And then all of a sudden the culprit is figured out, they try kill all the big highborne at once, minor climatic battle, and plot is done.

Back at the main plot, message finally reaches alliance, they form a big army to fight off the invading Orcs, the Orcs continue to beat them with maphax and aim hax. A little before the battle back at home, Varian decides to stop being an asshat, ends up making ammends with Gilneas, and then they go to the battle so Tyrande's spoiler visions can play out. The Orcs lose their hax, their big army-defeating critters are killed off, and the climax ends exactly as it was spoiled in chapter 1.

...I normally don't spoil the whole plot like this but, even with that vision aside, this story is so predictable that you can probably figure the whole thing out on your own by about one third of the way in. ...I mean, I did. So... yeah. Plus that synopsis retrains me from nitpicking the hell out of some smaller details by satisfying those urges.

Okay, as much as the plot doesn't really stand up to serious scrutiny, the technical aspects of the writing are solid at least. And I can't really fault too much of the plot and characterization because... well... I can only imagine the hideous constraints put on an author writing a book in such a massive franchise while using so many pre-established characters. Like... can't do anything to upset the status quo in the book or you'll upset the players not getting to play part of it so... yeah, you can't do a whole lot other than just... retell things or do things that don't matter. I imagine it sucks, even if the pay is probably good.

But, it does lead to the real, serious problem of the book: it's unengaging. Like, I don't find myself caring about any of the characters or anything, good or bad. I imagine it's expected you're already familiar with them from prior experiences, so no time is really spent establishing them. Tyrande, Malfurion, and Maive I knew, but so much has happened since Warcraft 3 I didn't know them very well (plus didn't Maive die in Warcraft 3?) It also doesn't help that Warcraft has gotten ridiculously high fantasy* these days. Like, Warcraft 3 was escalating it, but not to this level where it almost reads like fantasy super hero story. A lot of stuff just feels... unreal, fake. I have no suspension of disbelief. So, I'm unengaged and didn't care, only reading because the book wasn't bad and it filled time I had nothing else to do. It existed.

*There's two definitions for high fantasy. In traditional definition, low fantasy is fantasy set in the real world or one similar to it while high fantasy is set in its own world with its own rules. In terms of more modern media, particularly video games, low fantasy is usually more down to earth and often grittier with super natural power not being particularly easy to get or use, if present at all. High fantasy? Magic everywhere. Or similar. And often very Tolkienish too. But for example, Warcraft is high fantasy in the traditional sense, but in the more modern sense, 1 and 2 are low while 3 is kinda stradling a bit, leaning to high. This book? It's up in the clouds. Or another example: super hero comics are usually traditional low but modern high, whereas the original Star Wars is traditional high, but modern low.

As such, I think I can only really recommend this title to people who are deeply in love with World of Warcraft and its characters and lore. I think that's the only crowd who'll get enjoyment out of this. Which, makes sense as I think Blizzard would rather prefer foreigners to WoW start with the game rather than the novels and just use the novels for supplemental income and rounding out lore and characters for those who care. For everyone else though? Skiiiiip! This is the novel equivalent of picking up a new book and reading a single chapter out of the middle of it. It might be sorta interesting, but everything its building and working towards will be completely lost on you.


Anyway, next time, I'm giving the Ender's Game stuff another go with Speaker of the Dead. We'll see if this'll be a series I can get into or if I'll be dropping it.

...okay, let's be honest, I'm behind schedule on my blog again and I already know. So it's all fake suspense. But I'm sure some of you guys woulda figured that out anyway just by how long since it's been since my last post. Anyway, I'm gonna focus mostly on reviews to get caught back up (again) and then find some new stuff to rant about!
 

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #20
Book Review
With a Ranting and Rambling bonus feature!

Speaker For The Dead
Author's Definitive Edition

by Orson Scott Card

If I remember right, you don't normally capitalize the "minor" words in titles. But, considering the title of the book is also a character's title in the book, I think that its correct to do so in these circumstances. ...you know, in case anyone wants some semantics. But hey, if anyone wants to play that game, I'd counter that the book title is all caps everywhere its written. So take that!

...and yes, I've been writing the title wrong every time I've mentioned it in past articles. Whoopsie!

So, after giving this series a bit of cooldown, I move onto the next title in the four-book Ender series (which also has like... 4 more supplemental books?) However, this is currently the only other title I have from this series and... okay, I don't think I can keep up the facade. So, I'll be direct: if I have any say in things, it'll be the only other copy I ever have from Ender's stuff.

Sorry fans, but even though Speaker is supposedly the better book (or, at least according to the quotes on the cover), I just... did not enjoy it. Yes, I finished it, but I seriously considered putting it down. I doggedly kept going though just hoping some of the revelations towards the end might have been worth it, a few mysteries of me hoping I didn't out-predict everything. I got most of it though.

Aaaanywaaaay, Speaker takes place 3,000 years after Ender's Game. ...yes, that is not a typo. Three Thousand. Years. And very little has changed-

Wait, no, the book starts with a pocket guide on how to pronounce portuguese words. Study it and learn it well because there's a metric ton of gratuitous portuguese. There's also a little pocket guide to all the named colonists and their roles too. Fun ways to start off a book!

But, right, very little has changed since that Ender's Game culturally and scientifically. Oh, sure, there's hundreds of colonies now and a new government controlling them and the politics are a little different, but everything else is surprisingly very much the same or similar to how people acted in Ender's Game. And, weirdly, people and events that occurred 3,000 years ago are still hot topics everyone's talking about.

So... yeah, needless to say, my suspension of disbelief really doesn't exist this time around.

On a new world called Lusitania (which is, admittedly, a kinda neat name), a new intelligent alien species is discovered, still in tribal stages, who are called... *drumroll* THE PIGGIES! ...what? Did you really expect a half-decent name when the first aliens were called buggers? Yeah, I sighed deeply too, so don't worry. So, the Starways Congress decides to settle a portuguese, catholic colony on the world, but restricts them to a single fenced in area and decides to study the piggies in what they decide is the least intrusive way possible: by having someone go out and talk to them every day. But he's not allowed to mention anything about human-anything.

...even though the piggies can see the colony and, later, we find they're able to sneak in at will because there's no security other than an electric fence. But whatever, these are the enlightened geniuses some 3100 years from now, so who am I to question their infinite wisdom?

So, the "xenologers" both end up being killed by the piggies in what is clearly cultural misunderstanding and the xenobiologist, Novinha, calls for a Speaker for the Dead and goes into EXTREME ANGST MODE. Like... seriously, expect page after page of "oh woe is me" and "I deserve all my suffering" type of junk whenever she has control over the story's perspective. I nearly threw the book at a wall because of her. Ducking Novinha...

Anyway, the Speaker For The Dead who answers the call is... Ender! Yes, he's still alive 3,000 years later thanks to abusing the hell out of both relativity and his society's inability to find solutions to the problem in 3,000 years. He's now in his 30s and he's accompanied by Jane, the A.I. of plot convenience who poofed into existenced all of a sudden and follows Ender for reasons. Oh, yeah, she gets a whole chapter of backstory to try to justify her, but she's really just there to get Ender started before a really-out-of-character moment on Ender's part drives them away from each other after she's needed, so she only exists after to push things along.

So, 25 real-time-skip years later, Ender gets to Lusitania and now has to speak three deaths. So, this book that's about uncovering the mysteries of an alien species ends up focusing more on Ender researching about Novinha's husband so he can speak his death with a few side-references and scenes to the piggies to keep them at least kinda relevant so the climatic parts don't come out of nowhere. After a lot of research, and a little drama, Ender speaks Marcao's death. Which... sounds like a cool concept, but when you get to it it turns out to really just be a blunt, spoken biography.

Once that's done, thanks to Jane tipping off xenologer interference with piggie development (which she does for... reasons never explained other than "shaking things up"), the Starways Council decides to shut down the colony's systems and starts copying their files remotely in prep to delete them. So, the colony backs them up while one of the idiot xenologers tries to climb the electric fence and falls on the other side. So the colony disables their ansible (kinda, Jane just makes it look disabled to everyone off-colony), opens the gate, and saves him which, in effect, puts them in rebellion. The rest of the story is Ender going to meet the piggies, doing many times more in 40 minutes what took the xenologers 40 years to do, interfering like hell with them, and drafting a treaty with them.

There's other plot threads, but they're either pretty minor or mostly concern stuff that happened during the 25 year time skip. So, shrug.

So yeah... I didn't quite enjoy this book. A lot of the characters feel pretty incompetent, Ender is still 99% perfect, only faltering when he goes out of character, the Starways Congress is like one of the dumbest governments I've ever seen, and so much more. The mystery of the piggies was kinda interesting and is what held me, but I kinda solved most of their biology and culture quirks from the hints given in the book and only missed a couple of bits and I don't think the revelations paid off well enough. GRANTED, I had no suspension of disbelief the entire book, so I couldn't really care about anyone or anything.

Also, the book really likes to be weird with words again. Like "tabu" instead of taboo, "blond" instead of blonde, "ockham's razor" instead of occam's razor, and more. It also decided to invent a number of nordic terms for "degrees of being a stranger" and it uses them a lot, particularly "ramen", which are not noodles but instead means something like "alien but can be understood." I dunno why it went through all this trouble when words like neighbor, stranger, foreigner, off-worlder, alien, and the like already exist. It's only "alien" where it really distinguishes anything, between understandable alien and totally alien. Also... "xenologer" instead of "xenologist". The word is meant to be based on anthropologist anyway so... why?

But really though, the biggest stuff? Well, I gotta optional rant for that...

So, this book has a tech called "The Ansible", introduced 3,000 years ago in Ender's Game, which allows instant communication regardless of distance. This tech breaks the back of the plot of the book. Used logically, the entire story should not have happened. Period.

So, for starters, with Ansible tech, there's no reason to colonize Lusitania to study the piggies. It would have been simply to fly a bunch of drones in space (or whatever term Card might have come up with since drones weren't really things in the 80s). With tech from 3,000 years from now, they could even be mosquito sized and undetectable. Simply use the ansible to control them to spy on the piggies. In about a week, you'd learn everything learned by the xenologers in 40 years and the piggies could be spied on indefinitely.

But if we ignore that and send a colony anyway, there's no way it'd be some insular catholic colony. It'd be a research community, plain and simple, with proper security to make sure nobody's abusing anything. Piggies would never sneak in and the characters would not be on the world for the plot to happen, yet again. That world would also be busy as hell with traffic and stuff, not a place "hardly anyone ever visits". You have the discovery of the millenia, why does nobody care?

But if we ignore that and put the catholics there anyway and did this dumb "send a person out to chat" strategy and the start of the book happened as is, Ender would not pack his bags and just go. In a society where traveling can take between 20 and 500 years, you would want to travel as little as possible. As such, Ender would use the ansible to contact Novinha to talk to her and verify he was needed there at the very absolute least. This is important, because she cancelled three real-time days after he left. Better yet, we know this universe has hologram tech, so doesn't even need to leave. He can just use the ansible to be present in a hologram. Or he could control a robot or something. Either way, he never needs to step foot on the planet to do his job and, in such a society, people out to be used to, or even expect, people to virtually travel like that.

But lets ignore all that and get towards the climax where the Stairways Congress is shutting down the colony remotely. Yeah... no. Ansible tech, 3000 years after it was invented, would not be some strictly controlled, expensive thing. Look at radio. Look at phones. Look at television. Look at how the internet is becoming more widespread. THAT is what would happen. Everyone would have an ansible and there'd be private ansibles and the like. Additionally, the colony would have disconnected back-ups of their files just in case something went awry, that's just good, common sense.

And if we ignore that? Everything would be copied and deleted instantly before the colonists knew what was going on. It's ansible. It's instant. And the processing speed of computers in 3,000 years would put light speed to shame.

Also, did I say the Starways Congress is super incompetent? Like... reread the first couple of points in this rant for more how they should have handled this "minimally intrusive research". But also, they have no real power other than "threatening to turn off ansible connection". Which, in reality, there'd be pirate and blackmarket ansible, so it'd be an empty threat. And if someone wanted to rebel, they wouldn't give a damn, kinda like how North Korea doesn't give much of a damn of being cut off from the rest of the world. Hell, they want to be cut off!

But the Congress has a military, right? Yeah, but no presence on the actual planets. Like seriously, what? Someone rebels and your only response is to rally up some troops and fly them 40-500 years to the rebelling colony? Yeah, no, that's not going to work. That's way too much prep time and way too much time for the situation to change, whether the rebellion ending, the Starways Congress changing their minds, or whatever else. It's just... no. They need some sort of military presence on each world if they want to actually enforce stuff. Nobody's going to give a damn about a multi-decade response time. They won't.

And if you disagree with me, I'm going to get up and start walking to your house right now to punch you in the face. It'll take me hours, maybe days or weeks or longer, to get there. Feel threatened yet?

Let's not even talk about the problems with return trips or making part of your military forces unavailable for decades or centuries at a time...


In the end, I don't think I can recommend this book. It was actively frustrating me with a lot of the non-sensical, illogical things that it did and I kept ranting as you saw in the spoiler box above in my own head. I finished it, but I don't think it was worth it. I mean, I guess I learned ways not to do things, but you don't need to read a whole novel to get that experience. Aaaargh!

*deep breath*

Anyway, enough of that, especially before I go nitpicking and ranting for a couple dozen pages more (I really could). Next review, we have Henry VIII: Wolfman. Which... totally looks like a book my brother would have bought me. But before that, tomorrow, I'll have a special treat for you all!
 
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