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.

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: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’ve n9732865ever read a story like this before, and it really wowed me. Fantasy? Sure. But Fantasy so well researched it could be historical fiction.

Through poetry and intrigue this story brought me on a grand adventure across a land heavily inspired by Tang Dynasty China, a culture that always seemed mysterious and thrilling to me in its complexity and sophistication, especially when compared to what was going on in Europe around the same time.

So  the scope is big, and well-planned, but the world is wrought effectively by keeping close to the protagonist, Shen Tai, who balances martial and poetic mindsets as he struggles with the trials that fall onto him.

And there are trials. For the performance of a selfless act, a deed which he undertook for purely personal reasons, Tai is given a gift that is anything but, a present that turns him into a political firebomb. Think of it this way; if someone gave you a fusion-powered personal hovercar with unlimited range, a completely unique vehicle, you’d think it’s cool, right? But then think about what lengths every government and corporate manufacturer would go to to take it from you?

Not such a good gift, eh?

That happens to Tai. Kind of. But it’s horses. Really good horses, and a lot of them. That’s where the story begins. The rest of this gripping tale follows Tai’s flight and fight to stay alive as every political faction in the empire moves against each-other and against him in the upheaval his staggering gift causes.

It’s a long tale, but the author’s mastery of beautiful language – simple on the face of it, layered with complexities between the lines, and always within a breath of poetry – pulls you fully into this world, makes it as real as your own. When you read this story, you’re not visiting a strange world. You’re living there, immersed in Tai’s existence, and you understand him and the people around him as well as yourself.

Stuff I know: distraction.

I cannot write in the same room as Gilmore Girls, or crappy modern “country music.”

I can write in cafes, bus stops, in the presence of heavy metal, hip hop or punk. I can write surrounded by Social chaos, so long as it doesn’t touch me.

But I can’t not pay attention to sticky cutesy pseudo-witty ping pong. I can’t ignore lyrics so awful stretched over music so overproduced it would make Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline come back and start shit-kicking.

Find your real distraction. Know thy enemy.

SKUGG SMASH! – the Summer sale at Smashwords

coverJuly marks the annual Smashwords Summer Sale. From now until July 31st, you can acquire some great ebooks at deep discounts in any ebook format.

I’ve put my novel, “BREAK!” into the sale. If you don’t know, it’s a fantasy. There’s adventure, trauma, music, old magic, new magic, lots of good things. I won’t go into it too deep here. If fantasy is your bag, you can find out more about the book at Goodreads, or download it for free from Smashwords for the duration of the Summer Sale.

I’ve got a special offer for anyone living in North America. The first person to publish a review of BREAK! on Smashwords (and feel free to post it on goodreads and Amazon, too) will receive a signed paperback copy of the book.

Yep. It’s a big book, might take a while… but I know there are some voracious readers among you. So there you go. First one to read it, review it, and contact me privately via twitter or the contact form on this blog gets a copy mailed to them.

Happy reading, everyone!

Empty Pondering: Independence Day (1996)

lead_960So I was thinking about the 1996 film Independence day, because… well, what else should I do with spare processing power? Don’t answer that. Not the point. The thing I wondered is this: Remember Jeff Goldblum’s character drawing A diagram of Earth to show how the invaders used our own satellite network to relay their attack signals?

Seems kinda funny, dunnit?

I mean, these critters had a mobile warbase capable of carrying an entire planetary invasion force from star to star. Wouldn’t they have their own satellites to deploy? If I were the boss Clam-face of all the Clam-faces, the first thing I’d do is send out some fighters to take out every single maggoty human satellite around Earth, then deploy my own. Why bother hacking them? I mean, mayyyyybeee it saved them a little effort but, again, they had the tech to wage war across the stars. Was it noticeable effort they saved?

What they did was like a billionaire stealing your coffee off the serving bar at a cafe. Sure, maybe he saved himself a little effort. Didn’t have to wait in line, didn’t have to give up three of his billions of dollars. But was it really worth it to him? He has the money. Heck, he could own the cafe if he wanted to. If he doesn’t have the time to wait in line, he could pay someone to get his coffee for him. And he didn’t even get the coffee he wanted. He got what you ordered. And finally, by stealing your coffee, he leaves himself open for an ass-whuppin’.

Which, incidentally, is how it played out in the movie. Yay for us.

This is a problem with storywriting. You want to create some kind of powerful obstacle for your hero to overcome. People want stories of those who did the impossible. No one wants to read stories about those who overcame the slightly difficult. But if you create a powerful obstacle, then you have to also create a way for your scrappy underdog to get through. But your bad guy is really, really bad. You’ve written yourself into a corner, and your only way out is a plot hole.

Scary Galactic Empire? Stormtroopers can’t aim, and they can’t figure out how to run security on massive installations. Three times in a row.

Unstoppable Martians? Forgot to take their Emergen-C.

Iron Man VS interdimensional battleship? He throws a nuke at it. They have, apparently, no point-defense or other active countermeasures capable of shooting down a thrown missile. On a military starship.

Militarily unbeatable Clam-faced invaders? Hmmm… let’s give them a woeful disinterest in cyber security.

This lazy writing trick is hard to avoid, especially in genre, where the drive is to out-super everything that ever was super before. If I haven’t done it already, I probably will in the future. But as long as I’m aware of it, maybe there is a chance that I’ll fashion a story where the underdog wins against a bad guy who isn’t actually really lazy or stupid, who is truly powerful, and not just sporting a facade of power. That would be a good story.

Keep what you kill

I often listen to music while I’m writing that fits the tone I’m trying to evoke in the scene. Gogol Bordello for for a wide-open-heart charge-forward amd laughter-with-underlying-sorrow kinda story. The Bronx and Refused if I need the vibe to be desperate, ragged and anti-authority.

It’s like I’m putting together the soundtrack for the movie version that will never be.

For the book I’m currently shopping around, “Beneath White Clouds,” I listened to Covenant and The Gorillaz while writing the scenes in the shiny future above, Sepultura and Machine Head for the grit, fire and human waste below.

For the book I’m currently working on, for the first time ever I’ve created a Playlist. So if you want a taste of what “Arenzael Unchained” will be like, see:
-Ivan Bjornson and Einar Selvik’s “Skuggsja
-Metal Message IV (random folk metal comp)
Amon Amarth
-And some Dragongforce for the occasional injection of levity and artistic Nitrous Oxide.*

So that’s what’s driving this next tale. I don’t intend for it to be pretty.

*Dethklok only counts for levity when you hear the lyrics. The music is all top brutal.