Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Read for fun: In defense of SAO volume 4

In defense of SAO - Volume 4

Once, the original light novel makes clear that "OMG! Kirito is so overpowered!" complaint is baseless. This is over and beyond what the anime shows and the anime shows a lot. There's his attempt at soloing the Grand Quest at the World Tree, which fails just like it does in the anime and in the light novel we get an inner monologue of him berating himself for being so stupid and arrogant as to attempt something like that. Also, during the detour into Jotunheimen, he has to twice rely on a friendly monster to win a battle. The only way he manages to reach the top of the World Tree tower is with a lot of help from a lot of powerful people. Even then he would have failed if not for help from Yui and Asuna.

Yes, the supposed "Damsel in Distress" was instrumental in her own rescue. This is part of Adaptation Dissolution I suppose. The light novel makes clear how Asuna ended up in Sugou's bird cage and how long she's been there. Furthermore, it talks about how she's already tried everything short of the escape plan in the main narrative and the massive difference in power between her and her Game Master captor. Just because she's not a butt-kicking guild sub-leader all the time doesn't mean she's useless.

Sugou's minions using slug avatars still doesn't make any sense so that infamous scene doesn't appear to have any in-universe justification to make it any less icky, however, it is just one scene. It is not the whole novel and certainly not the whole series. Also, the novel shows how Asuna used the scene to acquire the Admin Access card critical for her ultimate escape.

There's also this theme of "real power" that I quite enjoyed. All through this volume and the previous, Kazuto has been using what amounts to a New Game Plus in ALO which gives him a tremendous advantage when he starts playing. However, he himself recognizes that this is not "real power" because it is just game code. Compared with Sugou in both the game and the real world, he can't compare because the man is a game master and an adult executive at the company hosting the server that contains Asuna's mind. Suddenly Kirito's sky high stats don't mean a thing. Then he gets a pep talk from "Kayaba" of all people on this subject and the idea of "real power" shifts; Sugou is just piggybacking on Kayaba and his "real power" doesn't belong to him. Then the theme is extended further with combat in real life and even with ALO players banding together to purchase ALO's servers from the bankrupt RECT Progress in the epilogue.

One thing I particularly liked about the 4th volume is how Suguha is viewpoint character. She gets a lot more development here than in the anime. The reader can see the "Kirito is Kazuto" reveal from her perspective and it is much more powerful than the anime, which, by its nature, is more limited in this regard. This is not to say that the anime does a bad job, but that, in my opinion, the light novel gives it greater room and weight.

The conclusion of the Grand Quest of Alfheim didn't get enough closure in the anime, in my opinion. Here we get a long scene confirming that, yes, everyone gets eternal wings as a result of the successful attempt on the World Tree. Leefa spends twenty minutes flying around at top speed. She loves flying which is entirely separate from her Kissing Cousins plot thread.

This volume marks another great entry into the series.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Volume 4" an A+

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Hidden from the Face of Humans


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Answering review request: Hidden from the Face of Humans

Susan Slack asked me to read her novel "Hidden from the Face of Humans". It is a historical fiction centering on the 30th Egyptian Dynasty (three generations). I don't want to call it a mystery because this is not really a mystery but more of a chronicle but I'll get to that later. I will examine plot, character and polish.

SPOILER WARNING!
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SPOILER WARNING! SPOILER WARNING! SPOILER WARNING!

PLOT

I like to call this a "dramatized and abridged version" of history. There aren't any dates (I had to go to Wikipedia for those). The characters and their relationships to each other are paramount here. Instead of a paragraph about, for instance, Chabrias being recalled to Athens from Egypt before Persia invades the later and the reasons why, there is instead an emotional and confrontational dialogue between Chabrias and Pharaoh Nectanebo I. If that conversation ever really took place, I don't know. I assume that Miss. Slack has done enough research to create a suitable facsimile because I doubt there was someone in that meeting recording every word. It's kind of like Thucydides. He admits to having created from whole cloth conversations between people based on the events that happened before and after the conversations that he knew for a fact took place but wasn't privy to.

The historical research aspect, as a whole, looks good. It is interesting enough that I did my own casual research and she hit every point. I found it fascinating that there was a rumor/legend etc. that Alexander the Great's birth father was Nectanebo II by way of his mother, Olympia, having sex with him after marrying Philip II of Macedonia. When I first read that in the book I was like "no way! She must have made that up" but then I looked it up and it was there. This is why I call it a historical fiction but not a mystery.

There isn't any mystery going on other than court intrigue and the reader is privy to all of that via Third Person Omniscient. Likewise, there is no investigation into Thermafi's murder. In a paraphrase of the words of one of the characters, "they just buried her and moved on". This murder happens in the first chapter but it is a disguised In-Media-Res sort of thing because the next chapter goes back decades. I was really confused when Thermafi appears later in the story. I thought she was the apprentice that was introduced at the same time. Furthermore, the murder itself takes place over halfway through the story and then the plot thread is dismissed except for one (at the time) minor character wanting revenge on someone specific. I forgot about her until the epilogue. There is no mystery.

The ending is a mixed bag in my personal opinion. There is closure on all points and some characters got surprisingly happy endings, all things considered. Although I have to wonder why it stopped where it did. After all, if this book holds that Alexander the Great is the illegitimate son of Nectanebo II, doesn't that still count as part of the same dynasty? After all, there was an "oracle" proclaiming him to be the "Son of Amun" and all that. The final ending is the second thing that I take issue with.

All of a sudden, the book breaks the Fourth the Fourth Wall. By itself this is weird and it gets more so. It talks about how, because the reader has read the book and discovered why this original character was killed, the gods of Egypt are free to leave the world so humans won't bother them anymore. This is a weird thing because the gods had been treated as fictions maintained by the priesthoods since the beginning of the story.

CHARACTERS

This is an ensemble cast. While the major focus is on the three men forming the 30th Egyptian Dynasty, it goes all over the place. There are chapters for the high priest of Ptah, for Athenian generals, for the many children of Artaxerxes I, his satraps and his various minions. To Miss.Slack's credit, I found them all to be sufficiently developed to avoid being plot props. Sometimes this can be done quickly and with minimum fuss, such as Mentor of Rhodes, and the character can go on to be useful. Other times there is a more extensive background thing or side story. In either case, it has the effect of making the story longer and expanding the scope.

In this dramatization, I have to question the intelligence of many people involved in these schemes. For instance, Artaxerxes I doesn't appear all that clever from this account. Although the "fake family" thing would be hard to discount, who would agree to a plan that says "support a rebellion against your enemy by emptying your treasury and sending it in one fleet, with a Persian messenger onboard it, to the rebellion directly, and then send your armies to another location and wait for the rebels to join up with you"? Even more so when the chief benefit for you is "once the rebels win, the country will stop invading you". I can only assume that the real account was either simplified for brevity or that this is a real life example of an Idiot Ball.

Thermafi, being absent from the historical record (i.e. an original character of the author), is exempt from most of this. She is portrayed as the wisest and most sensible of the characters to the point where she holds her own in a debate with Plato and is appointed to a brand new position "Overseer of the Throne". She claims that she doesn't have any magical spells or powers and yet she does stuff resembling a Jedi Mind Trick on occasion.

I like her character. She is not annoying like the OCs of fan fiction can be and she has flaws of her own (such as the dislike of any and all violence even there are attempts on your life and invasions of your country).  Yet, the men of the 30th dynasty rely on her to such a degree that it makes me wonder if someone like her were truly present at this time. This story would be remarkably different if she weren't. Maybe she was Unpersoned like Akhenaten.

POLISH

I didn't much in the way of spelling or grammar errors. Maybe a handful, but that's all.

It is the frequent and unannounced time skips that bother me. There is nothing in the first or second chapter that IDs the first chapter as In Media Res. I think it's an attempt at Once More With Clarity. Every chapter after that seems to skip forward in time. Nectanebo I's kids grow up between chapters; one chapter he's leaving his son with Theramfi as a legal guardian sort of thing and then a couple chapters later, the kid is a grown man with his own kid. There's another chapter where this one guy is putting a rebellion into motion and the start of the very next chapter says, in an offhanded way, that the rebellion has already been crushed. Not even the aftermath is shown, just talked about. It's like the story gets stretched out the further it goes. Alexander the Great only has one major scene. The rest is summary.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Hidden from the Face of Humans" a C

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

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 2

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organic Growth in Novels

Today I want to muse on the benefits and joys of organic growth in novels. This will be a stream-of-conscious thing so it may be a little disorganized. Anyway,

The organic growth that can occur in a novel's development is quite delightful. To find those surprises in development is like receiving a present spontaneously on a normal day. Seeing everything come together...it's like gears meshing and creating harmonious music.

 Circumstances that I never ever expected will turn up as natural as you like. I roll with those. For instance! There was a moment in the first draft of "Looming Shadow" where I realized that there were only two possibilities going forward: 1.) Eric is killed by his current enemy or 2.) Eric defeats this enemy but, by way of Geo Effects and Dangerous Forbidden Technique, he turns into a monster.  I had already ruled out "convenient rescue by a deity" in-universe and this was an important plot point so I couldn't overrule it. Likewise, Eric's allies were either occupied elsewhere with no idea where he was or unable to help if the previous two conditions were not present. I was scrounging for a way out of this apparent corner that I had written myself into when I thought, "if the most likely outcome that still allows for Eric's survival is mana mutation, then he will become a monster." So I let the story follow its natural course and Eric transformed into a savage beast known as a "grendel". This one decision led to tremendous character development for my protagonist, splendid world building, and, most significantly, the entirety of the following book "Mana Mutation Menace".

Characters! Characters that I created to be minor expand their scope as more is revealed to me. Others that I had planned to be important, even the central villain, don't materialize. The organic progression of the story determines the characters that are important. Put into another phrase, the characters determine their importance by pushing forward the story on their own narrative weight. Another example is Zettai. When I introduced her into "Looming Shadow" it was to demonstrate Ceiha's harsh "justice" system. Then she and The Trickster bamboozled me into adding her to the main cast. Then she plays a critical role in book 4, Transcending Limitations. I even have story ideas where she has the staring role.

The prewriting sees this happen a lot. There's this one story that I'm working on (which, in fact, inspired this blog post) where I thought that the protagonist would be this character. Then, as I continued creating possible characters for this world, I thought "no, it will be that character...". Then AGAIN I notice the enticing possible chemistry between a second pair of characters and thought "I would have to make them the primary characters to fully develop this" and that's where I am now. This second pair also provides opportunities to develop the original idea for this particular story and in a richer and more direct way as well. I love it when that happens.

It's not easy. It takes many drafts to see the connections and how everything will play out. It takes an open mind and flexibility. It's fun.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Read for fun:Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 2

As I said in my previous post, I enjoyed the first volume and looked forward to the next. However, this volume was a disappointment.

This time it has a repetitive plot; a revolving door of Big Bad minions trying to kidnap Ryurei in the same way and they are resolved in the same fashion. The "cliffhanger" ending to the volume lacks any and all force because of this. "This time there's nothing you can do about it" sounds like the author is self-conscious of this fact. I have no reason to believe this character.

There are three instances of Pervert Revenge Mode; it feels cliche, lame, and the third one is narm given its context. The first volume didn't have to rely on this crutch for Unresolved Sexual Tension.

The plot progression is minimal. Little motion is made towards the goal and there is little development in terms of the Big Bad's Evil Plan. The main plot for this volume is set up and then resolved too quickly to be entertaining either in a combat or world building sense. Likewise, little development is made character development-wise. Ryukei may or may have become a Shipper on Deck for his adoptive brother and Ryurei but other than that, not much.

The fight scenes are anti-climatic because Hiryu has no idea how to fight in dragon form (one assumes that this is obvious: use the teeth, claws and tail) and yet the two minions retreat despite this. They may or may not realize it but that it happens twice consecutively.

Overall, it is a let down after the promising first volume. I'm going to look into the third volume, but after this one, it is not high on my To Do list.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Tenryou Dragon Cycle volume 2 a "D"

Click here for the next book review (a request): Hidden from the Face of Humans

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 1


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Read for fun: Tenryuo the Dragon Cycle volume 1

I found this book at my local library while browsing and decided to give it a shot.

PLOT

It has a fast plot progression. Events move quickly to develop the conflict and move the story forward. Each scene is significant; little time is spent on comedy gimmicks or fan service. This makes it a quicker and more fun experience.

When I read on the back cover's premise that the two main guys were helping a princess look for a jewel, I thought it was going to be the series goal. Nope, she gets it quick and starts using it for functional magic to assist the main guys. The real plot is something else.

As far as I can tell, that plot could either be a revenge narrative or something with a grander scale. It's unclear as to what that could be. For a while, it even looked like the main cast could split because they don't have a common goal (i.e. conflict). It wavered for a while like the author didn't know what to do next.


CHARACTER

At this point characterization is pretty standard: Kiryu is this tough Idiot Hero, Ryurei is a driven Mysterious Waif, the Big Bad is a jerk, etc. I like that. I'm not one to sardonically remark on a lack of stunning originality. Instead, I can appreciate an well-constructed archetype. I look forward to seeing the characters develop and respond to challenges in the following volumes.

The Big Bad sounds sinister and acts evil but he also has this comical crush on Ryurei. It's a funny bait and switch where it sounds like he wants her gem in the sense of an Artifact of Doom but it sounds more like he wants to use for a And Now You Must Marry Me sort of Evil Plan. That's not funny but the scene is played for laughs because the Big Bad is framed as this overly enthusiastic fan.


POLISH

The art is skilled and appealing without being showy. I.e. Kiryu looks rugged and Ryurei elegant while being overly stylized as such.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 1 a B

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 2

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Phoenix Down


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Answering Review Request: Phoenix Down

Catherine Weaver asked me to read her novel, "Phoenix Down". It is a sequel to "Gold Dust" in the "Island of California" series. I have previously reviewed the first book and its review can be found here: "Gold Dust". For this book I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

The book's tone is immediately set. At the start, Alex wakes up to see a leprechaun riding a giant bunny and saying, basically, "come with me if you want to live". This leads to a new adventure and an awful lot of running.

The sequel to "Gold Dust" has a great plot. It is fast paced and follows the fallout of the previous book's climax. This makes it feel like an outgoing adventure and creates a greater sense of continuity. Furthermore, Alex's actions prove how much she learned from the previous book. Certain relationships also develop and I find it to be appropriate for their ages and experiences.

There is a good bit of world building. Phoenix Down is a magical catalyst and this develops the internal system of magic; by explaining what it can do, Miss. Weaver contrasts it with gold dust and standard magic. It's interesting stuff. Also, the previous book steered clear of population centers, so this one gives a good look at what the society on "the Island of California" is like. It's basically an Amazonian Lady Land but with some interesting nuances provided by the phoenix.

The "no-magic" effect returns and it is even creepier than last time. It is longer in duration and heavier in effect. The first chapter of it is called "we fight the zombies we've become" and shows Alex drifting in and out of Heroic Resolve and Heroic BSOD. No amount of third person description could match that; a fantastic use of show vs tell.

Finally for this section, I like how the plot develops. It holds an overall steady course but makes a number of twists and turns along the way. There are certain things that I wasn't expecting. Furthermore, I like how Miss. Weaver is able to resolve the major conflict in order to give the book closure while still leaving threads dangling for future books.

CHARACTERS

Alex Lee has transitioned from Unlikely Hero to more Reluctant Hero. She'd rather enjoy her Spring Break than go on another world-saving adventure, but she recognizes that Herman Mendez is a Big Bad and she's the one to stop him. Also, there's no more doubting her ability anymore; her actions, sometimes, but not her ability. As a result, her narration is more dry and playfully self-depreciating then panicked or truly putting herself down (although that sometimes happens too).

Ian has experienced a dramatic personality shift. His first scene in this book has him acting frigid to Alex and then going on a mini-rant about misogyny. It's like he was indoctrinated by Herman Mendenz or someone else in the pro-men/anti-amazon movement. More striking is his treatment of Celeste. The sum total of his motivation in the previous book was finding and rescuing her from Herman Mendez, and she is still being targeted by him but Ian doesn't seem to care. This happens before Dash is introduced and so I can't chalk it up to Jealousy-induced stupidity.

I like Celeste's development as well. While Mendez is still menacing her, she's stepped out of her role from the previous book; more working against him then just getting away from him. I can think of her more as "Alex's portal opening partner" then "Ian's captive cousin".
While the story doesn't specify this, I think that Celeste is more skilled with magic than Alex because she deliberately chooses to use only her singing voice when casting spells. For Alex, that is a handicap.
Third, Plucky Girl! While Ian and Alex had a break from adventure, Celeste still hasn't been able to go home yet. Both books have been a continuous adventure for her yet she's soldiering on.

The Mendez brothers continue to make great villains but for different reasons. Gabriel was previously Ambiguously Evil and now he reveals himself as The Unfettered For Science. Listening to him zealously talk about what he could do with Phoenix Down, just for the sake of doing it, is frightening. Herman, like before, is a power-hungry scumbag, and now he shows that he is vindictive as well.

POLISH

The book looks good. While I still think the first person narration is odd without a frame narrative, I now get the sense that one is incoming. It's like this is an auto-biography of how she became famous.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Phoenix Down" A+


Click here for the next book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle - Volume 1

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Kingdom Asunder


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Answering Review Request: Kingdom Asunder

Thaddeus White asked me to read his novel, Kingdom Asunder. It is a Medieval Fantasy centering on a civil war of royal succession in the country of Denland. It shares a universe with his previous works "Bane of Souls" and "Journey to Altmortis". The latter of which I have reviewed. You can read this review here. . I will examine plot, character, and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

The plot is fairly straightforward; Denland's regent has declared the king-to-be illegitimate for reasons of parenthood and now the kingdom's nobles, knights, etc. are taking sides. What follows is the political and military fallout of these decisions.

Despite what the Amazon page says, Karena is not the protagonist of this story. Rather, it has an ensemble cast with many characters the view point. I count at seven points with their own character arcs and subplots. Mr.White is one of the few authors that I've seen make this work. Seriously, I can count them on one hand. This is because the viewpoints overlap, they are consistent, they tell different facets of the same, immediate, story, and finally, because the narrative truly focuses on two or three of the viewpoints. One of them is Karena. The analogy I use in this case is that of threads woven together to create rope.

This is the first book in a three book series and so it is split between the series conflict, the civil war, and this book's conflict. This can be loosely described as setting the conditions of the former and the gathering of allies by both sides. Although there is plenty of action, the two sides haven't officially clashed yet. It is safe to say that this book's conflict has indeed been resolved, though the war goes on.

Related plot threads include a Hykir invasion, a shift in the balance of power between mages and mage killers (called "Hollow Knights", who are, by the way, awesome), and the experiences of Stephen Penmere (Karena's cousin) alongside the war.

One might think that it is ridiculous to start a civil war over the king being a bastard, and particularly in this case, where the usurper has been regent for ten years and practically raised the young man he's currently rebelling against but it is nuanced. There are certainly some in this rebellion for personal gain and couldn't care less about William's parentage. Then there are others who apparently take it seriously. I've read this sort of thing truly was important for people in previous time periods, and likely now as well.

CHARACTERS

Karena has a vivid Establishing Character Moment that also sets the tone for the series. She is an Iron Lady; confident, ambitious and ruthless. I quickly started thinking "this is going to be Game of Thrones level dark and bloody".
She's clever and can lead a group of commandos to infiltrate a fortress if necessary. She is an anti-hero of the pragmatic or unscrupulous variety and would easily qualify as a villain if not for the fact that her opponent started a civil war over the alleged illegitimacy of her younger brother.
There's also a running thread about her chaffing at the Heir Club for Men trope. This whole plot could have been avoided if she had been male or women could be the Denland monarch and she has to frame her actions as working on her brother's behalf in order to maximize her influence and it is still limited.
She has a couple Pet the Dogs moments, such as giving Emma a dress and the concern she shows for her brother, but, given the rest of her personality, it is hard not to see some selfish angle to these actions.

Personally, I like Stephen the most of all the characters. Part of it is being a Token Good Teammate who is largely outside the war and politics. He's going along with his cousins to write a chronicle of their war. His chapters are such a remarkable contrast in view to the others that they become foils to enrich the narrative. His Puppy Love with Emma is cute. It also spurs dramatic character development.

Villain-wise I don't see much. John Esden has a big scene at the start where he announces his intentions to his captive, Sophie. His appearance is that of Affably Evil, confidence and Well-Intentioned Extremist. She basically says that he's full of shit and I am of the mind to agree. His son, Stuart, has a smaller but wider role. I don't get much from him either. Personally, I think the Hykir make a bigger presence as a villains despite being an Outside Context Problem. However, I don't think this harms the narrative over all because there are other antagonists and other problems for the protagonists (I hesitate to use the word "hero") to struggle against.

POLISH

The book looks good. I didn't see much of the spelling or grammar errors.

Trickster Eric novels gives "Kingdom Asunder" an A+

Click here for the next book review(request): Phoenix Down

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Arrogance - Rescuing America from the Media Elite


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Author Interview: Robert Eggleton

Today on Trickster Eric Novels is an interview with Robert Eggleton, who is the author of "Rarity in the Hollow". It is a science fiction novel in addition to a tragic comedy. As the author describes it, "A Children’s Story. For Adults." At greater length, he describes the main plot:

"Lacy Dawn's father relives the Gulf War, her mother's teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage -- an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It's up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn't mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first."

Now on to the interview itself!

 
 
 
 
 

On your book


1. What is a one-line synopsis for your book? And is this a stand-alone or part of a series?



An empowered victim saves the universe. Rarity from the Hollow is a stand-alone novel. Future Lacy Dawn Adventures will also be stand-alone.


2. How did you decide when and where to set the story? What inspired the story itself?



The Earth setting of Rarity from the Hollow is a place well-known to me, an impoverished hollow between the hills of West Virginia filled with cranky characters. The off-planet setting, the center of Universal Governance, is a giant shopping mall. It is a projection based on the rise of Donald Trump into political power from an evening watching and projecting the future of the television show, The Apprentice. The story was inspired from my work as a children’s advocate for over forty years. In 2002, I accepted a job as a children’s psychotherapist for our local mental health center. Part of my job was to facilitate group therapy sessions for maltreated children. One day, a skinny little girl sat around the corner of the table from me. She spoke not of her abuse, but about her hopes and dreams for the future – a loving family that would protect her. She became my protagonist: Lacy Dawn.  


3. What are your current projects? What are you planning for future projects? What are you working on next?
The new edition of Rarity from the Hollow was released on November 3, 2016: http://www.lulu.com/shop/robert-eggleton/rarity-from-the-hollow/paperback/product-22910478.html. The eBook version was released on December 5, 2016: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017REIA44/ref=tsm_1_fb_lk I’ve got some short and longer Lacy Dawn Adventures that I’m trying to find a home for. The next full-length is Ivy. It’s almost ready to submit to the publisher, Dog Horn Publishing, a traditional small press, for editing.


5. Did you outline it ahead of time, or wing it?

I used a loose outline, modified as the novel progressed. My personal editing cut scenes that didn’t fit the outline, but I modified the outline to accommodate scenes which advanced the story line.

6. How is writing a book now different from writing your first book?

Rarity from the Hollow is my debut novel. The original edition of received twenty-five fives star reviews and forty-three four star reviews by independent book bloggers on Amazon. There was a formatting problem in the original: the italics for the internal dialogue were missing. It's likely that some of the four star reviews will be raised to five stars if reviewers are willing to check out the new edition. The novel was also awarded Gold Medals by two major book review organizations and was named one of the five best books of 2015 along with The Martian by Andy Weir and Revival by Stephen King on Codices, a Bulgarian book review site. The book reviewer is an Astrophysicist.
One thing that will be forever different when receiving the “final product” of anything that I write from the publisher is that I will check it out in its entirety. I’d worked so hard with the editor that when the book was released I didn’t even open it. The missing italics were found by book reviewers, one of which that was particularly embarrassing: Tales of the Talisman, Volume 10, Issue 4. I’ve studied critical reviews of Rarity from the Hollow and have learned a lot about mainstream expectations. My findings have affected the editing of the next adventure, Ivy. Yes, my writing is different than when I was striving for an avant garde audience.   

7. What do you know now about being a writer that you wish you had known before you published your first book?

I didn’t know anything about being a writer before Rarity from the Hollow was published. I was totally naïve – talent = success. It was almost like I expected to be discovered like Elvis singing on a porch stoop of a dilapidated apartment building. In hindsight, I’m glad that I didn’t realize the barriers to getting one’s work recognized when I decided to write a novel. The harsh realities may have been so discouraging that I would have never produced.


8. What is the most common rookie mistake you see new authors make?

I’m certainly no expert, but I have checked out quite a few self-published debut novels, mostly when offered free on Amazon. I’ve found several that were prematurely published without proper editing. I don’t personally know any of these authors and have never posted a negative review of anybody’s hard work, but I’ve imagined new authors getting so excited about having written a novel that they skip the most important final stage – independent editing by someone who comes at least close to qualifications as a professional.

9. What sort of author marketing have you found to be most effective?

I’ve never spent a penny on anything to do with having Rarity from the Hollow published or promoted. Sadly, the publisher, a struggling small press, hasn’t spent anything on advertising either. I’m hopeful that kind book bloggers, like you, will be effective in telling the world about my novel.

On Writing

10. Do you use beta readers, and, if so, what qualities do you look for in a beta?

No. I didn’t even know what that term meant until recently. Rarity from the Hollow was edited by three independent professionals affiliated with the publisher.

Personal

11. Where can we find your work?

Purchase links:





Public Author Contacts:







12. What book or books are you reading now?


I just finished reading two books and haven’t picked the next. Hit and Run is a very interesting psychological memoir written by Dr. Bob Rich, a prominent Australian psychologist. I don’t want to tell you the title of the other novel that I finished, written by a great book blogger who sucks as an author. If you have a recommendation, I read in all genres and prefer a literary element. I’m no longer into pure escapist novels. After all, there is literary content in Star Wars, although some readers seem to ignore it. 

 





Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Read for Fun: Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite

I was in a bookstore one day several years ago and I saw this book near the counter. I picked it up on a whim and I only got around to reading it late last year. This is non-fiction so I can't use my usual method of analysis but I will still assign a grade.

Disclaimer: I'm deliberately avoiding the politics and issues that he talks about in his book because they are irrelevant to my blog. I'm only interested in the logic of his arguments and the evidence he provides for his arguments.

Mr. Goldberg makes a lot of good points. For instance, when he states that "The New York Times has a bias" he provides the following explanation.  This is the idea that people of a certain stance started working for New York Times during the 60s, a couple rose to high positions within it over time, and valued pushing their goals more than being objective. Now the paper as a whole is different than what it used to be. I find this to be within reason; certainly the big wigs in a media company can drastically change the culture and output of such a company.
 
Then, Mr. Goldberg asserts, because the New York Times is the "paper of record", other media outlets play Follow The Leader. I can also see something like that happening from seeing similar articles across many papers across several months. This is just one example where I think he has a point.  If he's right about half of his total arguments then that would point to a problem in general media. However, his personal problem is that he lacks professionalism and this undermines all of his arguments. Again, I will only show a sample of examples.

The first sign of a lack professionalism: trashing reviewers.
 
In this book, he writes at length about reception of his first book, which covers the same idea of a political bias in general media. In short, a lot of people thought poorly of it and expressed these opinions. The subject is certainly relevant but given his lack of professionalism it looks like he's trashing his reviewers and throwing a tantrum about media outlets that didn't give him the coverage that he wanted. This is what you call an "Author Behaving Badly".

 
The second sign of a lack professionalism: creating straw men


He talks as if the anger from his former co-workers regarding his previous book is because they're upset that he's exposing their bias, puncturing their bubble, etc. However, I do not find that to be the case. When you say things like "sell their children into prostitution if it meant getting more air time" (page 221, the start of the chapter "liberal bias? Never mind!") anyone would be angered. In addition to this, when referring to them he creates a straw man to them look bad; a naïve, pampered, stuck-up elitist who claims to be smart but doesn't know anything at all and believes their audience is a group of unwashed, simple-minded hicks. It sounds like he just didn't like or didn't agree with his former co-workers and is venting frustration with name calling.


The third sign of a lack professionalism: reliance on anecdotes


His reliance on anecdotes is also a strike against his argument, regardless of what point he is trying to make. If someone can't verify his sources and information then he might as well be making it up. Sure one could argue that the people he's talking about would never admit to their bias when asked to verify, and it is a good point. However, it also allows Mr. Goldberg to say whatever he wants because it can't be properly cited. It's basically gossip.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite" a C

Click here for the next book review (request): Kingdom Asunder


Click here for previous book review (for fun): Killer Angels

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Read for fun: Killer Angels

My dad loves this book and he knew that I liked reading about history so he gave it to me. This is a novel about the American Civil War, specifically the Battle of Gettysburg. As I understand it, Mr.Shaara used primary sources, such as Longstreet's journal, to reconstruct events. I will examine plot, characters and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

The book is structured by rotating between the Union and Confederate armies chapter by chapter as the three days of the battle unfold. This means that there is no single protagonist. Instead, Longstreet and Chamberlain form deuteragonists with other chapters provided by other characters such as Lee and a spy. This means that both sides have their chance to say their piece which naturally provides more holistic information than either side alone could provide.

The narration is on no one's side. I find that professional and also impressive. This is not a historical textbook built on facts and figures. This is a historical novel built on emotions and motivations. Mr. Shaara makes everyone sympathetic, and if not sympathetic, then at least understandable from where they stand.

There's one guy in the story itself who plans to write a book about the battle and General Lee's tactics and he is blatantly in favor for the Confederacy. I find that a funny contrast with the character's own author.

Much of the action in the book is dialogue. There are two or more people talking before and after the various battles. This is because a lot goes into battles and not just strategy meetings or rousing speeches, but I was nonetheless surprised.

Another impressive thing is how Mr.Shaara sets up the battle. Looking backwards, it's difficult not to think of the Battle of Gettysburg as a Union victory, and a smashing one at that. However, Mr.Shaara's work on the context of the battle makes it seem unlikely if not impossible, and the three days of battle are touch-and-go. "Fix your bayonets and charge" is an awesome moment.


CHARACTERS

There is a large cast of characters here. The two that get the most focus are James Longstreet, a Confederate general, and Joshua Chamberlain, a Union Colonel.


Longstreet is portrayed by Mr.Saara as an Only Sane Man. He repeatedly tries to tell Lee and others about wiser tactics and strategy but is either ignored or denied. This leads to him lamenting the old school chivalry of the Confederate army and unknowingly predicting the outcome of Pickett's charge.

Chamberlain sounds like an Action Survivor. In contrast the professional soldiers around, he's less experienced and not so much in the soldier culture. However, as a college professor and master of language, he gives a great speech. Me and Dad consider his defense of Little Round Top to be the highlight of the story.

One thing that surprised me was Lee's depiction. Mr. Shaara writes him as this fragile old guy; both physically due to illness and also emotionally. Longstreet hesitates to argue or contradict him at times, like he's this glass idol. Also, he has a heavy reliance on army morale even when the enemy holds a superior position. Perhaps it is due to the narrow scope of the book but I do no understand why Lee is so highly regarded. I'll look it up some where else.

POLISH

It's a clipped tone; the narration often has short and brief sentences. I took this to be Shaara representing the thought pattern of what ever view point character he was using at the moment. It's definitely an emotional tone, be it somber, incredulous, hopeful or despairing.

There's a number of maps spread out through the story. They're helpful for visualizing the progress and movements of the two forces. Although it was sometimes hard to match who was with whom; maybe it was just me.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Killer Angels a B+


Click here for the previous book review (also not a review request): Heaven is for Real

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Arrogance - Rescuing America from the Media Elite.html

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Movie review: Assassin's Creed

I just saw this; like just now (I started writing this immediately after getting home). It was fantastic. It's hard for me to understand the negative reviews. I'll try to address them in my review but the main focus is going to be my own impression.

PLOT

The prologue does a good job of providing information about the series, the Assassin vs Templar war, and the Apple of Eden. There's this awkward text scrawl at the start but it passes quickly and the mission briefing for Aguilar is much more effective. There is no info dump anywhere around here.

Just like in the games, there are two plotlines: there is one in 1492 and one in the modern day setting of 2016. I don't think it is asking too much for audiences to follow two plotlines, and especially not when they interweave this much. The 1492 plotline follows the local chapter of the Assassin Brotherhood attempting to prevent a conquest of Granada by the Templars(via the Christendom coalition)  in addition to keeping the Apple of Eden stored there from falling into Templar hands. The 2016 plotline is the Templars researching the 1492 plotline through the Animus technology developed by Abstergo. Callum's personal plotline involves his conflict with his heritage, both in his father and his ancestor. It was interesting to see him introduced to this shadow war, gain information and waver back and forth on the fence before coming down on one side.  It's developed well in my opinion.


I like the use of the new Animus. Augmented reality with solid weapons instead of a chair makes sense from a Watsonian POV. Surely being able to move around and mimick movements and have something iconic in one's hand would aid the synchronization. The cutting back and forth aids the perception of synchronization as well as the concept of the Bleeding Effect (via muscle memory). Although, I can understand why some don't like it; it is kinda of jarring or even narmish to see Aguilar fighting real enemies in his present and then Callum lashing out at nothing and climbing aspects of a machine instead of Aguilar with a building. The first time the machine starts up is an extended process but that is just for the first time; likely so the audience can see how it works.


The game series as a whole has a grey-and-grey morality even if the individual games themselves do not. One can understand why Sophia wants to eradicate violence in humans at large while also  recognizing the extreme means and ends that she is working with and towards. It is easy to both sympathize with the ideas of freedom represented by the Assassins in general while also seeing that their methods are bloody (both for themselves and others).

I was not confused by the plot developments and had no difficulty following them. I thought there was sufficient exposition without going into info dump. I have a working understanding of the story's lore but I was also paying attention.

The ending is good. It is conclusive but it also has a sequel hook. Similar to the games, it is a single chapter in the ongoing war between Templars and Assassins.


CHARACTER

I like Callum Lynch. He's a complex guy; got a lot of layers. He's a Momma's Boy because he only has fond memories of her and something crucial regarding that happens in the main narrative. He has a mess of Daddy Issues because his Dad apparently killed his mom. He says that he is an aggressive guy but also that violence helped him stay alive which implies he would rather not be aggressive. He was "executed" for capital murder and yet it is the mercy that his assassin ancestor demonstrates that, to me at least, is the turning point in the climax.  He doesn't like the Brotherhood of Assassins or their Creed and comes to want to destroy them but then comes around to understanding them.


Sophia, likewise, is a complex Templar. She doesn't seem to care about the war with the Assassins and insists that Callum enter the Animus of his own violation despite her "life's work" hanging in the balance and the fact that time is not on her side.  It's more like convincing him to join her side, or at least her cause, and she wants to bond with him instead of using coercion and impersonal force like her father. It's the Templar goal of improving humanity by infringing on free will (in this case, the capacity and tendency for violence) but her methods and ideology are Assassin-like.

What I like about the Assassins' in general is that they are impressive but not superhuman. It's like a deconstruction of Charles Atlas Superpower. Their training makes their skilled and strong and quick etc. but they are still human. It makes their commitment to personal sacrifice more meaningful because the sacrifice is often necessary.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets development. There are two plotlines and two casts so there's not enough screen time to go around. However, I feel that this resource was well utilized and that minor characters were given sufficient development for their role.


POLISH

This movie looks amazing. I'm talking about the practical effects for things like the Hidden Blade and Leap of Faith. "CGI slogfest" does not describe this movie. When reading reviews along those lines, it sounded more like a generic insult then something specific with this movie.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Assassin's Creed 2016 an A+


Click here for my previous movie review: Doctor Strange (2016 MCU)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review for Fun - Heaven is for Real

A Trickster Eric Novels review

This book came so highly recommended from my grandmother that she bought it for me (and maybe some other relatives; I'm not certain). Before I get into the review itself I want to make something clear: this book is about Colton Burpo and not Alex Malarkey and it was Alex that disavowed his story, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, in 2015. Colton continued to stand by his own in the announcement's aftermath. Now into the review itself.

Todd Burpo is a good author. I say this because he uses the First Person Narration well. It evokes that sense of familiarity and directness that I've heard 1st person is supposed to be for (I rarely encounter it as such). He's also done a good job making these events into a narrative instead of a recitation events; the prologue leads to a sense of impending doom that is fulfilled in the hospital visit and leads back to itself and flows into the meat of the story; the Heaven visit. Yet this has a downside to it.

For a book ostensibly about Colton Burpo, his father feels more like the main character. First of all, he's the one writing this book and he does so in First Person Narration. Second, about half of the book (60 or so pages) is about him and his struggles prior to Colton's visit to heaven. Context and background are good and all but that is excessive. Certainly the "holding Rosie the spider" thing could have been cut out. After the hospital visit there are still a few more chapters before Todd Burpo writes that he suspected that something supernatural might have happened.

It wasn't an immediate thing. Apparently Todd didn't tell anyone for some time afterward and might not have done so at all if not for a particular question asked by his father, and even then he only talked about it when asked. After the initial shock, Todd writes that he only asked open-ended questions so he didn't "pollute the source" so to speak with leading questions. In fact, he even tried trick questions to determine if Colton is basing his answers on true observation or earthly knowledge and Colton passed the test (if he realized it was a test at all).

The main thing for truth and validity that I see here is that Colton was four years old at the time. Four year olds don't know how to deceive. Sure, they can make up stories but not deceive. Certainly they wouldn't have the patience or self-discipline to keep it up for a prolonged period of time. A kid this age would get bored and move on. There's also the factor of knowledge; even a preacher's kid wouldn't know this stuff. At that age, religious education is basically "God loves you" and "be nice to people" level stuff.

I don't believe it deserves to be labeled as "afterlife tourism" because Colton doesn't talk about how wonderful Heaven is. For certain he wants to go back there but doesn't go on at length about what it looks like. It's more about the people he meets there.  Nor do I think that "un-biblical" or whatever is a fair label either. Every time, (and if not every time then most), that Colton talks about Heaven there is a pause where his dad-as-narrator matches it with something from the Bible. Another thing, I've heard that some readers discount some of the "knowledge proofs" like Colton's mother having a miscarriage before he was born by suggesting that someone else told him without the parent's knowing or the parents told him and forgot they did so. When does "your mother had a miscarriage before you were born and it was a girl" come up in conversation with a four year old?

Finally, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Todd writes that he or someone else asked Colton about Satan numerous times and the kid would shut down every time; like it was too scary to talk about. He could talk about a war between angels and devils but Satan was too much. Speaking of that war, he gets serious. It's not like a kid talking about some awesome fight scene but some truly dreadful event.

To me, Todd sounds like he's telling the truth but he's not the one telling the story; his dad is so that is another level of discernment. Is his dad telling the truth about him? Maybe, maybe not; I don't have a means by which to judge him other than the book I have. I'm sure a lot of reasons or arguments could be made for not trusting him or the story since it can't be independently verified. For a skeptic that insists on rock-solid, physical, (etc.) evidence then I imagine that not even having such an experience themselves would convince them (Read: Agent Scully, although ironically she was more inclined to believe religious stuff than other "supernatural" stuff).

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Heaven is For Real" a B+


Click here for the next book review (not a review request): Killer Angels

Click here for the previous book review (a review request): Willakaville


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

I saw Doctor Strange shortly after it came out. I will examine plot, character and polish before assigning a grade.

PLOT

How can anyone compared this movie to Iron Man 1? Here are the only similarities: Arrogant and brilliant rich guy gets injuried somehow, his worldview changes, he develops new abilities and decides to become a superhero. That's it. That is all. It's high level, basic, general stuff, and it's going to be shared across a lot of stories. The reason for the arrogance, brillance and wealth is different; the injury is different and has a different context. The way the worldview changes is different. The new abilities are different and the way that they are developed is even more so. Their enemies and how they deal with these enemies are different. Their natures as superheroes and why they make the decision and where they are at the end of their origin are all different. "How Dr.Strange is different from Ironman" could be its own blog post and it would likely be longer than this review here.
Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows my feelings on The Fruitless Quest for Originality.

 In sum, Marvel Studios is making super hero movies. Therefore, they will all share certain characteristics because they are in the same genre. That's a good thing. Superhero movies are what people go to see (yes, different people have different tastes and go for different things (like Loki) but all these things are under the same umbrella)).

Despite the previous paragraphs, there's plenty of original stuff here.
1. This the first MCU movie in the fantasy genre. Previously enteries have all been science fiction or sufficently advanced science at most. Now we have sorcerers and mystic threats like Dormmau.
2. Kaecilius is neither the "unstoppable monster" nor the "white guy in a suit" that I've heard critics complain about in regards to MCU villains. He's driven neither by greed nor ego nor fantastic racism but a sense of great personal loss. The villain revealed in the stinger is also quite different from anything else seen in the MCU so far.
3. Strange is a doctor, and unlike Bruce Banner, he IS that kind of doctor (i.e. medical) which means the Hippocratic Oath comes into effect. You will not find a climax resolution like this one anywhere else in the MCU.
 
The movie follows a steady and logical progression. I've heard some say that the manner of which Dr.Strange first heard about Kalma-Taj is an unbelievable coincidence and to that I say "miraculous recoveries are going to make waves and other patients looking for miracles are going to ask about them". There is no instant expert here' "study and practice; years of it" are what it takes to be a comptent socerer and even shortcuts like phographic memory and reading books in astral form while your body sleeps only takes a novice so far so fast. Strange is outclassed by every sorcerer out there and he doesn't win via luck or asspulls (whether or not you consider the Cloak of Levitation to be one of those is YMMV).
 
The ending is great. Stephen Strange is all set up to act as Doctor Strange in future films but it doesn't have any of that Mighty Whitey stuff that people were worried about (the Ancient One is a more complicated topic) because of spoiler (I can discuss this with a reader privately if they would like to do so).  The stinger shows him in his classic costume and jumping into another dimensional threat adventure.

CHARACTERS

Strange is great. Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job with both the arrogance that Strange starts with and the selflness that he develops. He has distinctive traits like his watch collection, insistence on the Hippocratic Oath and the bookwormness. The circumstances of his heroism are also well played. He is a different kind of hero than any other presently in the MCU; he's not an atoner (Iron Man), or a boy scout (Captain America), a proud warrior race guy (Thor), secret agent (Hawkeye) a dad trying to make ends meet (Ant-Man) etc. He's just a guy looking for a cure yet he still steps up to save the world.
 
Mordo is also great. I've heard he's a flat character in the comics but that is definitey not the case here. He's a mentor figure. He shows compassion but he has limits. He helps others and yet has some frightening inner demons. Even after he and Strange part ways in the end he is not a clear cut villain. There's plenty of room for an argument about him being an anti-villain. The plot of the movie is such that his What the Hell, Hero? towards Strange is both right and wrong at the same time.
 
Wong has a small role but it is still a meaningful one. He's this scary tough librarian and also a straight man. Yes, he's both of them.

The Ancient One is a classic mentor figure. It's very well done. She is a formidable sorcerer, a wise teacher and leader, she has gravitas but she is still human. She has plenty of her own flaws and mistakes.
 
Kaechilius is a multi-layered bad guy. He came to Kamar-Taj a broken man seeking power, much like Stephen Strange. He was welcome in, trained, and assisted in overcoming his tragedy. He did but in a way that made him a super villain instead of a super hero. However, he doesn't think of his plan as an Evil Plan and he has some basis for this. He wants everyone to be immortal so they don't experience the loss of family like he has. He makes quite a touching Motive Rant during a pause in his fight with Strange. There's a spoiler that grants him another layer.

POLISH

If there is one thing everyone agrees on it is the amazing, mind bending, visuals. Inception has nothing on Doctor Strange.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives Doctor Strange (2016 MCU) an A+

For the next movie review, Assassin's Creed, click the title.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Answering Review Request: Willakaville

Mathew Heinecke asked me to read his book "Willakaville". It is a collection of short stories about the odd things that happen in the town of Willakaville. I will examine a few of these and then assign a grade.

As a whole these are morality tales. Short, plot drive narratives that illustrate the importance of performing one behavior and avoiding another, though some of them are more frivolous than others (the latter half of this sentence is not a pejorative; meant only to mean they are for entertainment rather than teaching). These are good morals and good lessons, in my opinion: "be polite", "be confident", "learning can be fun", etc.

The age range is very young on this. Personally, I think anyone ten years or older will roll their eyes at some of these. The age range might be higher or lower; I'm only guessing. The plots are very simple, their characters are similarly so, and require much in the way of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. When I was this age, I wanted something with more depth. Again, this is not meant as an insult but merely a generalized observation. The stories as individuals vary in terms of characters, plot, etc. with some better than others. That's why I'm taking a closer look at three of them.


"Transformation"
This one is great. The moral is sound and well delivered. In short, it is 'polite and helpful people are more popular than jerkass bullies' and has a 'stand up for yourself, also politely' moral interwoven with it.  It has a protagonist with depth. Instead of a bell curve, its plot is more of a roller coaster. To fully explain would be to summarize the whole thing which is another good point; it is a cohesive whole. Suffice to say that it is a piece that starts as a classic Fairy Tale type story and shifts into something more Magical Realism.

"Secret Passage"

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it gives factual historical information about how Philo of Byzantium is credited with the invention of the water wheel (or close enough). On the other hand, it gives out a random line about how women were banded in Ancient Greece. Gender equality was not that bad. Then again, it is the children who say this and they are not the expert that their teacher is, who values historical accuracy extremely highly.

The plot is nonsense but I think perhaps it was meant to be the "so ridiculous that it is funny" sort of nonsense. In that case, it just didn't appeal to me.

"The Mushroom Virus"

This is one of those that requires a tremendous amount of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. A kid puts a vitamin that his mom gives him into a science class petri dish and overnight this creates mushrooms that bring out hazmat suit guys and cause both the police AND the military to quarantine the city within the day. No one knows what the mushrooms do and yet everyone still panics. Then someone starts eating them and turns into a zombie. I feel like the whole purpose of it was the single line about how "garlic and oregano are natural anti-fungals". Maybe it was a moral about how "paying attention in class can come in handy".


When grading this I tried to keep in mind the audience that Mr.Heinecke was writing for. In some of the stories, I personally think he was talking down to kids because being silly and lighthearted gave way to being thread-bare and bland. In other stories, the plot was pretty deep while still being age appropriate or providing an engaging way to teach some lesson or trivia.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Willakaville" a C

Click here for the next book review (which was not a review request): Heaven is for Real

Click here for the previous review request: "Gold Dust"


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Answering Review Request: "Gold Dust"


Catheraine Weaver asked me to read her novel "Gold Dust". It principally features a schoolgirl's attempt to basically save her mother's soul. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

This story stars Alex Lee, a girl in California. She goes to school, visits her grandmother, and worries about her mom overworking herself. Combined with the Ordinary High School Student intro, it is a solidly characterizing but bland start. That goes away very soon and becomes something quite engaging.


Alex's initiation into the magical side of things is something both unusual and classic. She gives what she think is a common drunker a packet of manju. For this good deed she is rewarded with a truly magical wish. I'm more used to stories that start with the muggle protagonist getting caught in the middle of a supernatural fight. Then again, I watch a lot of fighting anime. Anyway, this is more fitting with the tone of this story.

It is fitting because of this world's Magical Underpinnings of Reality. The story's setting is based upon the idea of "Consensus Reality", that is, reality is composed by the thoughts of those living in it and those thoughts can change reality. This informs how magic works; anyone with the knowledge and skill can change physical reality or influence someone's mind through their deliberate thought and belief that it is so. This also informs the setting; there are two parallel worlds with two versions of California dating back to a time one thousand years previous. Passive but intense  and perpetual worldwide belief severed the single world in two. Most directly, it informs the Evil Plan. Alex's mother unwittingly signed away her 'thought power' in "imaginative rights" to the new owner of her company. She must have confused it for "Intellectual Property". Ms.Weaver makes model use of her setting to shape her plot. There may be other "save both worlds" stories out there but Mis.Weaver's version of that template could only happen in her setting.

There's magic lessons for Alex to learn this sort of thing. She is bored by this despite great personal motive to pay attention. On one hand, I acknowledge that a boring teacher is a boring teacher even if they are teaching functional magic but on the other hand this was the only way to save her mother which is pretty pumped up about. Personally, I found the lessons to be quite interesting but I was one of the kids who liked going to class (with one or two exceptions).
The magic system is consistent which is definitely a plus. Making sure that Magic A is Magic A is a big deal for speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction together) in order to maintain tension and avoid story breakers.
It is also creatively used. Alex conjures things from localized rain storms to long range surveillance to the Jedi Mink Trick by playing the proper tune on her flute (magic wand analogy) with the right thoughts and feelings in mind.


There is an alternate history for the "Magical California" which includes an Amazon Queendom and a royal army of griffins, but is otherwise similar to "Non-magical California". In fact, there's this amusing little scene where Alex accidentally transforms her history book into one for the Magical California and she's able to give a summary of the homework assignment correctly by mentally editing out the magical parts.

"Gold Dust"; it's not much of a spoiler to say why that's the title and I find it an interesting bit of world building. You see, gold is the most magical material in the world. It amplifies magical power and is the easiest material to transform into something else. That's why it's valuable in the Magical World. The Non-Magical world just thinks that it holds its value because it is among the most stable of elements. That right there is the key difference between the two worlds; distinctly different and yet Not So Different.

It is a great example of organic plot escalation. Alex starts off wanting only to get her mom back to her normal self but as she travels and events unfold, she gets pulled into other things and bigger things. She meets people with other problems and they help each other to solve all of the other's problems as the situation escalates over time. It helps that all of them have a bone to pick with the same guy.

The Evil Plan of Herman Mendez starts out as some petty power grab by a corrupt corporate executive but there's a wham chapter. At that point it gets....scary; a lot more dangerous, a lot more far-reaching, and a lot more sinister. Think "1984" if that book were in the fantasy genre; yes, that kind of creepy.

There is a fitting ending for a first in a series; Sequel Hook. Today's crisis has been averted, the good guys accomplished their objectives and the Big Bad is beaten, but he'll be back. I like to think of Alex's last action in the story as a non-verbal Badass Boast.

If I had to point out any flaws in the story, it would be a difficult thing to do. The only one that comes to mind is Martin agreeing to a contract that clearly sounds like a scam and this contract  is the backbone of the plot. However, greed has made people do stupid things before and this sort of behavior is mentioned early on so it is not really a flaw at all.

CHARACTERS

Alex Lee

--> She is an Ordinary Highschool Student who starts her narrative by telling the reader that she is ordinary and not star material. Normally, I find this kind of "ordinary identification" to be annoying but not in this case. In this case, it is relevant because the feature of ordinary that has the most attention is her lack of imagination. As it happens, her mother is a fantastic creative artist and confidant woman, who stands as a foil for Alex, and imagination is literally power.
--> Mis. Weaver further uses this trope to show Alex's Heroic Self-Depreciation; she actually has a strong and quick imagination and this is shown by her seamless and extended lies/excuses/story making early in the narrative.
--> I find Alex to be a realistic take on a school age hero (not protagonist; there's a difference although she is both in this case). Just the initial goal of getting into her mother's secured office and talking with her has the girl feeling nervous and overwhelmed much less the much bigger, more complicated, and more dangerous missions with higher stake goals that come after that. Yes, she gets scared, and yes, she panics but she soldiers on anyway (with a little advise remembered from her wise Buddhist grandmother). She thinks well on her feet, when she has confidence enough to do so. She also has a lot of help and not just from other kids or animal side icks but from adults as well.


Speaking of the adult characters, it's nice to see a story where the adults are helpful, and more importantly, reasonable. For instance, when Alex is trying to explain to her mom about the magical stuff going on, she is initially disbelieved until she does a bit of magic in front of her. After that not only does her mom believe her but she can do magic too and because of her greater confidence and imagination, do it a lot better than Alex. She is not the only adult this happens too.


Ian is a Determinator. That is his core trait. To find his missing cousin he spent two weeks hiding in a giant corporate compound dodging security guards. Another big character trait is his habit of falling for "impossible girls" which leads to distraction during the thought-control based magic lesson and occasionally later. It is both an amusing running gag and an age appropriate character flaw.

Celeste is quite the plucky girl considering her initial situation and what follows. She is also quite skilled with magic and can use it after informal lessons and only needs to sing; no magic wand required. She quickly makes friends with Alex and the two perform combination spells that are fun to imagine. Part of the humor in her character and powers is that she is a Beastmaster whom circumstances force to travel in a wedding dress; thus, the Disney Princess jokes.

Herman Mendez is the Big Bad. He's a Corrupt Corporate Executive, a Control Freak, a con artist, a kidnapper and likely also a pedophile. Yeah, he's a nasty piece of work. He's also Faux Evilly Affable which makes him more detestable, in my opinion, than if he were a Card Carrying Villain. He has little screen time but it is enough to demonstrate that he really is as bad as people say he is. There is no Informed Villainy here. He appears to be a Non-Action Big Bad which would fit with the other parts of his character that are present; hire thugs to get their hands dirty for him.


POLISH

The story is told in the first person. I did not find this to be intrusive except at two points. It's mostly used to show how frazzled Alex feels at basically every point in this book, yet still moving on.
I didn't' see any spelling or grammar problems.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gold Dust" by Catharine Weaver an A+

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Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).