Good Stuff: L.I.F.E. in the 23rd Century by Jason R. Richter

wp-1489438469973.jpgI realized recently that you can measure the state of the union with Saturday Night Live as a barometer. It’s dark days for America when SNL is entertaining, troubled times when they have material to work with.
Following that notion, it’s no shocker to find a lot of comedy in new dystopian stories, and Jason R. Richter’s L.I.F.E. falls right in that vein. His vision of the future takes some of our brightest* qualities and cranks them to eleven: mindless consumerism, war-mongery, xenophobia, Christano-centrism (is that the word?), dependence on quick-fix psychopharmacology, hyper-sensitivity, reactionism, sheepism, use of the word “freedom” as a distracing bludgeoun while destroying the reality of the concept, our inability to deal with anything, and generally being collectively f$@#-witted.
(*: I said brightest qualities. Most visible, not best.)
I think this needed to be a comedy. Without the buffering jokes, the disheartening reality of the world in this book would hit way too close to the life we live in. It would feel like a tale of tomorrow, not of 200 years in the future. And that’s the point. Comedy functions to package awful concepts in palatable forms. You laugh and say “That’s so true!” But you keep on thinking about the idea, the concept, the warning. And you stop laughing. That is where this book fits; it its credit, and our detriment, L.I.F.E. is more of a mirror than it initially seems to be.
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Good Stuff: Abomination

25909020Have you ever had to give a book two attempts?

This was one of those for me.

Gary Whitta’s writing goes deep into both the history of the story and the hearts of the characters, delivering a full, rich immersion into a very real and immediate-feeling Dark-Ages England.

The first time I tried to read Abomination I think I was restless. I usually prefer books that read like a Luc Besson movie; Pow! pow! Blam! …sexy bit… gogoGO BIG FINISH and explode.

messin-wit-besson

Yeah, like that.

Maybe that makes me seem shallow. I dunno. I just get very impatient sometimes. I needed a book that moved fast like a river. Gary Whitta’s writing is more like an ocean current – deep, wide, but don’t think it’s not moving! I promise you, this book takes the werewolf/monster genre to thrilling, brutal, emotionally vibrant new places. (Fun fact: it’s not a wolf.)

The magic, the richness of the characters, the grotesquerie of the fiends in the fully-realized and very immediate historical setting stayed in my mind, and pulled me back when I was ready for a book to really sink into. The light is failing. Autumn’s closing in. Nights are growing longer. Time for a book about grappling with the darkness that lurks within all or us, eh?

Good Stuff: It’s All Fun and Games

28331715This is a fun, quick read kinda hanging out on the edge of YA fantasy. If you’ve seen the movie Knights of Badassdom, it’s a bit like that, but without Peter Dinklage trippin’ balls. (Maybe something to be worked into the sequel?)

To further differentiate this book from that film,  rather than fantasy elements invading a LARPing weekend, Dave Barrett’s LARPers are sucked into a fantasy realm – so this is a “portal fantasy,” though, thankfully, there’s no big flashy portal. I liked that. One moment they’re kids stompin’ through the woods, next moment “Oh, snap! Those arrows are real, yo!”

I also liked that, unlike many portal fantasies, there’s no over-dramatized freakout session (which, let’s be honest, would be accurate for many of our high-strung spazz-nick nerd friends, who tend to hyperbolize everything.) No, these characters are obviously true nerds. They’ve been dreaming of living in a fantasy realm all their lives. They’ve probably read all the portal fantasy YA novels they could get their hands on. So, when it happens to them, when they’re off Earth and realize their character stats are now real traits that they possess, their reaction is along the lines of “This is dope. Imma go throw fireballs at something.” I dig that; it lets you hurl right into the fun stuff of the story without the usual drawn-out freak-out.

(Side note; the kids in this story don’t talk like the lines I put in quotes above. That’s all me. But if the author wishes to drop some kids representative of more hip-hop/urban culture into the fantasy world in future books, that’d be dope. My only suggestion is that any Yo-Boys and anyone who says “Brah”  should be eaten by fungus monsters.)

If you’re looking for a light, fun read, a different angle on portal fantasy, or maybe a gift for that young geek in your life, you’ll find It’s All Fun and Games to be an exciting start to a new series.

Good Stuff: Asteroid Made of Dragons

26159959Not kidding. That’s what the book is called. If you’re looking at a title as jam-packed with ridiculousness as that, you know the content is either going to be awful, or awesome. Let me assure you: here there be awesomeness.

You’ve got a story here about a mathematical genius struggling to control phenomenal cosmic powers in her head, a guilt-wracked innocent murderer, a monster, and a penniless archaeologist with a flying motorcycle and her finger on the pulse of a shattering secret. And of course, over it all, is an asteroid.

The asteroid.

The one made of dragons.

What makes it all work is G. Derek Adams’ mastery of storytelling. His writing is engrossing, beautiful, exciting. There are moments of linguistic virtuosity in this story, of written jazz, that lit fireworks in my head. I’m not talking about big words. I’m talking about the right ones. I’m talking about knowing the rules, using them well, and having the relaxed courage to break them and the intuitive wisdom to know when to break them. There are no wasted words here. You’re dropped into a strange world, right in the middle of these peoples’ lives, and it all is made real with such natural storytelling that the pace never drops. No chunky exposition, just drips and drops and “figure the rest out yourself because we’re busy saving the bloody world! Can’t tell you my story, you can get to know me by the way I cope with all the things trying to kill me!”

So there’s the rub; perfect character development, wordsmithing juicy enough to make you get up and dance, and and unabashedly bold story that will shake down your preconceptions of what a fantasy can be.

I’ll be watching this guy.

NAME THAT HERO!

It’s contest time, fans and friends. Time to put your name up in lights!

But first, a little housework.


Now onto the juicy story! I’m going to re-name George after one of you! Yep, there are two protagonists in Beneath White Clouds, and one of you gets to be him/her. I can’t take this to the presses with the guy named George. If you can’t guess why, you’re too young. Let’s just say that the name “George” is just a little too close to the mark. So I’m going to rename him after one of you.*

How?

Anyone to place a super-reader order (3+copies ordered) by Sunday, Oct 2nd (by midnight pacific time), will have their names put into a randomization engine (which may or may not be a hat). One of the lucky ones will be selected to have George re—named after them.

Now you might wonder, “What if the winner’s name is totally feminine, like Samantha or Kisha or something?”

Well, then, it’ll be time for a social experiment of sorts. George is written as a male. If I end up with a feminine name for him, then he’ll go “under the knife”, so to speak.

I’ll change all pronouns and references to match his new gender, and might have to adapt a few gags, but otherwise I’ll leave his/her character, dialogue, behavior all the same.

That’ll be interesting to see, won’t it? Get those orders in – all supporters will be acknowledged in the book, but only one of you will get to be this guy:

I mean, srsly, who wouldn’t want to be that guy? Looks like one happenin’ dude right there. Guy’s got it going on.

*:  If you win, and your name happens to be George, we’ll figure something out. Re-name George after your Mom or Goldfish or something.

Good Stuff: The Life Engineered

26494475When the protagonist achieves Nirvana within the first few pages, you know you’re entering a story that’s goin’ places. When the first words a hero  hears after rebirth into physical life are “Brace yourself” you know the ride is going to be exciting.

J.F. Dubeau has created a post-human universe of gods, engineered life-forms tasked with repairing a damaged, uninhabitable galaxy while we hibernate in safety. Dagir is born into a lush universe, a vivid and thrilling trans-human society – and into instant calamity. She is quite literally made-to-order and unleashed barely in time to respond to a civil war that is staggering in its bredth and suddenness, though the causes for it are rooted in human programming written hundreds or thousands of years before.

If you’re looking for a fast pace and a grand scale (and that’s my bag, baby), you won’t be disappointed with The Life Engineered.

Writer ≠ Videographer

Before launching the Inkshares campaign for my “Beneath White Clouds,” the book needed a trailer. An audio-visual wunderfest to introduce people to the story. So I made this:

Making this was a helluva learning experience. Like with any DIY effort, it was a total pain in the ass… but worth it, and fun. I’d like to share with you some of the resources I found to put this together.


7072482_origWindows Movie Maker. This is nothing new. I used this briefly  back in college. Might not be what pros use, but it’s a powerful tool with an easy interface to  handle  the grunt work of  splicing slides, audio and video together. Limited in some ways, and a little twitchy, but it got the job done. Specs don’t say it’s compatible with Windows 10, but it worked just fine on my computer.


Now here’s where the trickiness ensued. Movie Maker was fine for putting my slides, captions and music together, but I hit some hurdles trying to record myself making a statement.

Well, the first hurdle is that delivering a prepared statement to the camera sucks  bad. Took me 50-odd takes. Many people across the web can probably offer better advice than me on that subject. But aside from tripping over my tongue over and over and over, I ran into some technical issues, probably related to having a  cruddy mic and webcam. The audio from my raw recordings was out of synch and quiet as a church mouse. No bueno.

So I had to rip the audio from the video, amplify it, then tie it back together. I found an easy tutorial on how to do it here. But I ran into hurdles with step 1; convert the video to an audio  file. The trouble is that free is not free.  The tutorial video is from 2011, and perhaps then RealPlayer was completely free. Nowadays, if you try to use the conversion part of RealPlayer, it will only convert 2/3 of your file. How lame is that? You have to buy  the full version to get it to convert an entire video file. So I looked around, and found a copycat industry. If you search for anything like “free video converter,” every “free” program you can install will do the same thing – do only 2/3 of the job until you pay up. I think most of them were just re-brands of the same software, and some were infected with garbage. Dookie.


tencoder-logo-iconI found what I needed  when I finally got smart enough to search for “open source.” Duh. I tell ya, reeally dumb for a smart guy sometimes. Anywhoo, I found TEncoder, a fantastic video  converter. I can”t tell you everything this program does, but it certainly had no problem delivering me a .wav soundtrack from a video. Piece of pie. The program’s got that open-source  feel, which means the GUI isn’t all shiny cotton-candy wiping your butt for you. But it does the job, and there are plenty of FAQs,  guides and boards to help you over any hurdles.


audacity_logoAudacity was the last new tool I added to my toolbox in the pursuit of crafting a goofy video.

With the isolated audio track in hand )or in hard drive, whatever) It was a cinch to pop into Audacity, amplify the volume, and export as a new, loud audio track. And that’s just scratching the surface. I don’t know everything Audacity can do, but I know it makes identifying and deleting white noise so stupid easy you’ll spit.


After that, it was a piece of pie to stitch the loud track to the raw video in Movie Maker, tweak it to synch up properly and export a good, useful video file with decent audibility.

The result  isn’t professional-grade, but it’s better than anything I would have thought within my capabilities before trying. So I end with a message of encouragement to all of you doers and makers: MAKE, and DO, and don’t ever think you can’t. We’re in an era where both artistic and technical power are in everyone’s reach. I’m not a director, editor, or sound engineer… but now I am (a little bit). So if you’ve got anything you dream of making, stop dreaming and give it a bash. I guarantee; the results of your attempt will be better than the results of hesitating and dreaming.