Mar 31 2012

Book Review: The Lost Gate By Orson Scott Card

Posted by Mathias

Warning! May Contain Spoilers!

The Lost Gate is a fantasy novel where the old gods of history were really just mages, albeit powerful mages, who had come to Earth through Great Gates. Here they ruled over the people and often using them to fight wars and settle grudges on their behalf. However, so the Lost Gate’s story goes, years ago a Loki closed all the Great Gates and stranded the once gods here where their powers have been slowly waning. Great premise. That is why I picked this book up and wanted to read it.

The main story centers around Danny, a descendant of the Norse gods, living in seclusion with his family in the backwoods of Virginia. Danny supposedly has no talents at all, making him not much more than a common human and the scorn of the other members of his family who exhibit various skills that are a shadow to what the former gods could accomplish. Then Danny discovers a secret. That secret is that he really is mage. And not just any mage, but a Gate Mage; a Gate Father who is capable of creating gates to anywhere he wants to travel including the original home world of their people. The problem? Gate Mages are to be killed on sight. The story explains why this is and if you want to know why, then go ahead and read it. Danny is sent into self-exile to keep from being killed.

Overall the prose is good. There are many relevant scenes that focus on a young boy coping with both being a young boy and a powerful mage as well as the moral dilemmas his powers pose. The story is well told from those aspects. The problem with this book was that it suffered from a lack of action. The entire book reads almost as if it were a manual designed how to instruct Gate Mages in honing their talents. The book is rife with exposition of Danny learning how to make, control, move, lock, unlock and even finally “spin” a Great Gate. All this drags on drearily from the point where he realizes this is his power to the “climax” at the end. I use the word “climax” generously because what the ending really felt like was that Mr. Card had gotten to a point where he simply wanted to stop the story and needed to wrap things up quickly. If you blinked you would miss the “climax” because it was so short and completed in barely any time. Part of this, I think, comes from the point that Danny is simply too powerful and the system of magic Mr. Card created for this story made it impossible for Danny to not be able to end any conflict, literally, with a thought. Sure, he frets about not being able to do that, but in reality he is able to and finds a way to.

The best part of this story, I think, was not the story of Danny at all. It was the story of Wad back on the home world of the mages. But Wad’s story, while integral and intriguing, was a side story that was rushed through. The ending to Wad’s tale in this book was much more climatic than Danny’s and left me scratching my head as to why I felt cheated in being told so much about this Danny kid while Wad’s side of the story seemed like an afterthought.

Orson Scott Card promises the next book in this series and perhaps it will be better. But I don’t know that I will be reading it unless I am really convinced that the dearth of action which made The Lost Gate barely a tolerable read is corrected.

I give The Lost Gate an average rating of three out of five stars.

Mar 29 2012

Contradictory Advice

Posted by Mathias

I have been going through some of the feedback I have been getting on my novel project Under the Darkened Moon. It is funny how so much of what some say about it contradicts what others had to offer up.

One reviewer of the last draft, a published author, said there was not enough action and that the story would not peak a publisher’s interest due to this. Yet another reviewer, also a published author, disagreed and told me that there was precisely nothing wrong with the amount of high action in the story.

One reviewer griped that names, particularly Elven names, were too hard to pronounce. Another reviewer loved the way that I made the Elven naming system work and commented at length about that.

Basically, however, anyone who thought something was wrong insisted that what they saw as being wrong would be a hinderance to the book getting published. However everything that someone thought was wrong and bad with the story was liked by someone else.

I have essentially come to the conclusion that I am not going to fret over this sort of stuff. I am going to focus more on tidying up the story and fixing serious problems that still remain, like the few chapters that it seemed everyone, or nearly everyone, insisted were in need of more work in general. I simply cannot please everyone and the fact that something that one person found bad, another found ok or even “wondrous” will only result in me chasing my tail if I were to try and tweak said things.

Tastes vary.

Mar 28 2012

Best Fantasy/Fiction/Sci-Fi Books I Ever Read (Top 10)

Posted by Mathias

Ok, some of people have been asking me what the best fantasy/fiction books are that I ever read. So I compiled my top ten to give you an idea about what it takes to get over four stars in my opinion.

1) Dracula by Bram Stoker

    (5/5)

2) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

    (5/5)

3) Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

(5/5)

4) Dark Elf Trilogy by RA Salvatore

(4.75/5)

5) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

(4.75/5)

6) Animal Farm by George Orwell

(4.75/5)

7) The Once And Future King by TH White

(4.75/5)

8 ) Magic Kingdom for Sale – SOLD by Terry Brooks

(4.75/5)

9) Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

(4.75/5)

10) Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barre

(4.75/5)

That’s my top ten. Agree or disagree, I don’t care much. It is my list and no one else’s.

NOTE: On 8/26 I updated the title of this post to include “Sci-Fi” in the title.  Even though there are no science fiction books on this list (my top 10), I am working on expanding it further and there are some sci-fi books that are on the extended list.

This list contines in the following posts:

Best Fantasy/Fiction/Sci-Fi Books I Ever Read (11 Through 20)
Best Fantasy/Fiction/Sci-Fi Books I Ever Read (21 Through 30)
Best Fantasy/Fiction/Sci-Fi Books I Ever Read (31 Through 40)

Mar 28 2012

Under The Darkened Moon Next Rewrite/Edit Started

Posted by Mathias

I have now begun a new edit of my novel Under the Darkened Moon. Feedback from the last rewrite was good but I though of some additional things to put early in the story, particularly pertaining to the world’s magic system. I have touched up the first three chapters and have a group looking at them.

How many more rewrites there will be is uncertain. It will be done when it is done is the way I look at it.

Mar 27 2012

How I Rate Books I Read And Review

Posted by Mathias

Ok, so I get a really snarky email last night from someone that was not at all pleased with my review of Ian Irvine’s latest book Vengeance. I gave that book three of five stars which is a rating of average. But this upset person, obviously a fan of Mr. Irvine’s work, claimed that I gave the book a poor rating.

No, if I had given it none or one stars THAT would have been a poor rating. See, on a five star scale, three is average. That means I thought Vengeance was an average fantasy novel. I gave it that rating because of its many faults which I discussed in the review. To get more than an average review, a story has to really inspire me to give it such a lofty rating. To give you an idea as to what would it take to get higher than three stars? Well, Kristen Britain’s Green Rider got three and a half stars from me and The Alchemist got four stars which is one of the highest ratings I have ever given a story.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Executioness, the companion to The Alchemist, rated a fairly miserable two stars in my book.

It takes a lot to get me to rate a story higher than four stars. But three stars does not mean the story was bad. I see on a lot of sites like Amazon with reviews of books with people who are apparently very eager to give clearly mediocre books “five star” praise for some reason. Almost every darn book has a host of praise proclaiming it essentially the greatest story ever written. I usually ignore these glowing reviews by people that have obviously not critically read the story they are reviewing. And logic tells us that not every book can be “five stars”. Yet there are the reviews and averages ranging up in the 4.5+ star range for so many books.

I believe that I give the book a fair shake. Three stars, like I said, is an average representation of literature. The book is neither great nor horrid when it gets such a rating. It means that the author told a story and that story was conveyed in an average fashion. The story did not make me jump for joy nor did it so repulse me that I want to have the memory of having read it surgically removed from my mind. Don’t get upset with me because I did not go gaga for your favorite author’s latest release. If you really think his or her book is five stars and among the best books ever written then more power to you. I just rarely see a book that I would consider elevating to such a lofty standard.

And lest you think otherwise, I don’t even hold my own stories that I am working on among those high standards. I am not that delusional.

Mar 27 2012

The Yoke – Third Draft Completed

Posted by Mathias

Last night I picked up my short story titled “The Yoke” and gave it a fresh look. The editing process added roughly 500 words to the story and it stands at 6,534 total words with epilogue.

Current “readability” statistics are:

Passive voice sentences 1%
Flesch Reading Ease 85.7
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 3.8

Not sure if it still needs another edit or not. Will probably revisit it in a few weeks and decide.

Mar 25 2012

Book Review: The Alchemist And The Executioness

Posted by Mathias

Warning! May Contain Spoilers!

The Alchemist And The Executioness is two stories by two authors which share the same world. As such, I have reviewed the two portions of this story separately.

The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Alchemist is a story which follows a beleaguered Alchemist who, after years of failure and financial ruin, discovers a way to destroy the menacing bramble that is plaguing the world and closing in around Khaim.  Magic, forbidden except by those approved of by the local mayor brings bramble, a dangerous plant which poisons those who become entangled by it.  Instead he learns that his invention is going to be used to discover who is violating the ban on magic use using the same principles by which it destroys the terrible plant.

This story is told from a first person perspective and normally I do not like such stories.  However The Alchemist is a delightful read and a surprisingly compelling story with good plot twists which, even though half-expected, are still well incorporated.  The Alchemist is one of those stories that shows you do not need to have action after action after yet more action to have a compelling story.  This story is mostly low key but still well told.

I give The Alchemist four out of five stars and highly recommend it.  The thing I did not like about this story is that I felt it was incomplete and when you read it you will know what I mean.

   

The Executioness By: Tobias S. Buckell

No mincing of words from me on this one. For as much as I loved The Alchemist portion of this story, I absolutely hated The Executioness.   Again, told from a first person point of view, The Executioness exemplifies everything I normally hate about the way these types of stories are told.  The text is droning, like a journal told as it is being written and never gets started while skipping and hoping through the story of Tana as she tries to avenge her boys who are kidnapped by raiders.  The story was just not believable and it was a struggle to complete.

It seemed like there was so little story to tell that the author was compelled to skip forward in leaps and bounds to simply get to the end, and that was anti-climatic to say the least.

I do not recommend The Executioness at all and give it just two out of five stars

Mar 23 2012

New Project Opened – The StoneFlesh Curse

Posted by Mathias

At the risk of putting too many irons in the fire, I am opening another new project with the working title of “The StoneFlesh Curse”. The premise behind this story comes from a simple story prompt that I wrote a few days ago into my list:

“What if Medusa were not evil?”

I wrote a one chapter opening to the story already. Don’t know how long it will be when done but for now it will be listed under my novels section of this site.

Mar 19 2012

Conan – Proof Bad Writing Gets Rewarded

Posted by Mathias

This weekend I rented the remake of Conan to watch because I needed something to do. It was, to be nice, just simply further proof that bad storytelling gets rewarded a lot more than some authors like to think.

The story was, at it’s base, sound, but the way it was told and translated to the screen was horrible. The flow was horrible and haphazard. The characters were shallow. Nothing meshed. It felt as though the movie was just a bunch of random scenes thrown together with some gratuitous nudity tossed in to appeal to sexually deprived teenage boys.

Authors all the time worry about getting what they write picked up and viewed by the masses. They worry they their work is not good enough. And it might not be. But bad stories are put forth, published, turned into movies, etc. all the time. So take heart in knowing that even if your story absolutely blows there are people out there who are silly enough to promote it.

I can only wonder how many great scripts were tossed in the garbage so that the reboot of the Conan storyline could be made and then flop. Authors can take heart in knowing that bad stories get written all the time an promoted. But they also have to shake their heads and wonder if theirs will be scrapped in favor of such garbage as well.

Mar 18 2012

This Weekend’s Free Writing Exercise – Marinda From “The Yoke”

Posted by Mathias

Marinda is a character from my short story, “The Yoke“.  The following is a free writing excercise seeing events prior to that story from her point of view.

[Begin 6:34 PM]

The foul, little runt of a man drew far too close to me for comfort. He never seemed to give my personal space any consideration. The fact that he smelled like an unbathed horse did not help matters much either. Nor did his eyes; eyes that I felt wandered far too freely about my body with hardly hidden fantasies of what he would do to a woman if allowed to.

Often times I could just think, strongly in my mind, stop it! And it seemed as though he would oblige and withdraw his eyes. Sometimes he would even take a few steps away as well. But I knew it was just coincidence and my imagination. I was a mage, trained in the arts of elemental magic and not some illusionist who delved into the manipulation of minds.

My hand never moved much from the hilt of my long, thin sword whenever Halen was around. I think he got the hint. Whenever I did tell him of my displeasure with his closeness, like as now while we hid together in the weeds, he would just tug on the thick, silver band with the large orange stone about his neck as if using that as an excuse. It what an exact match to the one about my very neck.

Only once had we made the mistake of separating the collars too far from one another. The raw, once boiled skin under where the stone rested still bore the rippling from the burn that such as foolish action caused. Escaping from the bondage the stone and necklaces kept us in would not be simple. I needed time to study the device. But again, I am a mage and not an enchanter. I was aware of the art of imbuing materials with spells, blessings and curses, but I was not well enough versed in them to understand the process. Usually, enchantments were weak against elemental magic. As I had already stated, I just needed time to study the devices and find out how to break them.

Getting that time however was something that was easier said than done. He was always watching us; the man we only knew as “My Liege”. That was what the guards all called him. Never a name. Never anything less. Any time I had tried to look at the devices it was not long before either he or one of the guards was there to separate me into a neighboring cell. They did the same with Tsala, a Southman and a shaman who possessed a fair knowledge of magic but not as detailed as mine. She was also part of the “group” and her magic was spiritual in nature. Kort, our muscle, and also a Southman, was not versed in any sort of magic so he never tried to meddle with the devices. Halen had tried to use his thieving skills to get them off more than once but could never find any lock upon them to pick.

The collars seemed to have been cast directly around our necks although none of us remembered it happening. And as long as we did exactly as “My Liege” requested, other than the cells and the inability to escape, we had been pretty fairly treated. Although he did keep my spell book isolated, ensuring that I would not use it to try and hasten our often planned escape, he did allow me any number of interesting tomes to read. Although none of them were magical in any way, they did keep my mind sharper than not reading would have.

Halen put his arm around my waist. I wanted to slap him, but the gesture was clearly not in an attempt for affection. At least not primarily. He was guiding me to look down the trail, to the coach slowly coming into view. Then, after doing so, he did pull me closer to him.

I pushed him off. “Halen!” My tone was harsh but hushed. “Enough of that. Let’s just get this over with.”

“Aw come on darlin’, don’t flatter yourself.” Even as Halen denied what he had been trying to do, I knew better. He was not that good at hiding it.

[End 7:24 PM]