BEC'S BLURB BOOK REVIEWS - The Candidates by Inara Scott

on Tuesday, December 21, 2010
(Note: Bec's blurb reviews are book reviews done by my wife, Rebecca. She reads about 1000x faster than me, so she gets through a lot of books before I can even finish one. She's going to provide brief reviews of these books, which I will post for your reading pleasure! Here is the first one!)
The Candidates
By Inara Scott

The Candidates by Inara Scott is essentially X-Men meets Harry Potter (author's description, not mine).  How could you go wrong?  Danica, the protagonist, has one main goal in life: to blend in so well that everyone knows who she is but nobody knows anything about her.  So no friends: that way it is easier for her to hide the fact that when she sees someone she cares about in a dangerous situation, sometimes things just happen... and there are too many coincidences for it to be anything but her own doing.  That all changes when she gets the chance of a lifetime: a full ride scholarship to the ritzy private school on the outskirts of town.  Suddenly she fits in... mostly.  But not all is as it seems at this too-good-to-be-true school, and it's not just the creepy gates that lock you in and the crazy strict rules.

This book seems to me to be very much character driven, and I must admit, I found Danica to be a very sympathetic, likable protagonist.  She isn't perfect, but in ways that seem natural instead of forced, and it's interesting to watch her blossom in her new environment.  As far as secondary characters go, Cam feels a little flat to me until the last few chapters when we finally get to see more of him than the shiny perfect front; I'm hoping that in future books we get a more in depth look at his character.  (I also hope Danica learns how to think coherently when she's around him.)  Jack was a little more interesting, but I wanted more screen time for him to really get to know more about him... Again, if I get it in the sequels that works; right now the lack of information we have on him lends an air of mystery to him (but not so much mystery that you are going crazy).

Really my only issue I had with this book is the whole romance aspect.  I have found very few books in which I actually like a love triangle; they usually drive me nuts.  As love triangles go, this one isn't awful - I mean, at least some of her decisions/actions make sense in the end - but it was still my least favorite part of the book.  If you like love triangles you'll likely disagree with me, as is your prerogative.  I'm not going to say too much more (I don't want to spoil anything) but I think a having a little more character development among the secondary characters earlier on in the book would have made me more pleased with the ending.

Overall this was a fast, interesting read.  Nothing objectionable as far as content goes; it will likely be enjoyable for anyone 10+ (including adults).

(Nathan's Note: I actually met this author at World Fantasy and had a wonderful discussion with her about first-time books [this is her debut novel] as well as her experiences at fantasy conventions. She is a very nice person and we got the book for free, so you should check it out!)

Back in Business: Warming Up (1,144 words)

on Sunday, December 19, 2010
In preperation for Effulgent Corruption, I've decided to put word to the page (at least 1k a day, including on vacation in Rome next week) on The Gears of Anbar. That's why it exists, right? For what I write when I'm in-between projects?

Anyway, I'm going to keep writing it and experiment with a few things. I also re-read most of Effulgent Corruption (what I wrote before) and I have some ideas on how to change it. Actually a lot of ideas. We'll see.

Here's a bit I wrote today. I haven't written since October, so it might not be exactly...pristine.

            Red Graphite was a lovely town. Was being the key word. It had welcomed us warmly, as Devent, Rosemary, and I had poised ourselves as wandering storytellers and minstrels. I’d sung a song while Rosemary played on a wooden recorder she’d stolen from the last town that had hidden us. Devent, despite grumbling, had entertained young and old alike with dashing stories of wandering heroes and devious monsters, scaring a few children so badly they had to be put to bed early. A few local girls, possessing both a simple beauty and weakness for alcohol, had invited Devent to stay back at their houses rather than the inn. His initial agreement earned him a scowl from Rosemary, and his gleeful acceptance turned instead to a sorrowful decline. I admit I had been jealous of Devent, so easily getting invited to bed by a veritable score of pretty young women.
            Several of their bodies lay in front of the burning inn, golden hair matted and splashed with blood and ash. I thought I recognized one in particular – she’d been especially insistent after a third pint – though it was hard to tell with her face so mangled. I had to look away, tears in my eyes as I sought something less painful.

- Chapter 1: Not the Worst Birthday

The Ghost of Nathan's Future

on Friday, December 17, 2010
Alright fellows, here's what's been going on in Nathan's neck of the woods.

1. I had a birthday on 12/12. I am now 25 and ancient. Awesome. Gift standout: I got a Kindle 3! Expect a review or at least comments about the thing very soon. Short version: It is fantastic.

2. I read the second Codex Alera book as well as the atrocious Witch and Wizard book, which I will review soon. I'm also 70% done with Name of the Wind, which will also get a review (hint: It's good).

3. I graduated from BYU, with a major in Psychology. Yep. I'm done with school. Hallelujah.

Now on to stuff you care more about: WRITING.

I'm considering starting a nightly writing word-count again, just to warm me back up for Effulgent Corruption this January. I'm still sneaking into Brandon's class (complete with beard and long hair) to do all that madness, but I've also had this hankering to write more Steelgods, so that would be a good time-waster. Since Steelgods exists as something for me to write when I'm not writing something enormous, it would be perfect.

I'm also planning on submitting Paradise Seekers to every editor in existence, as well as editing Steelgods and sending it to every agent and editor in existence. Yeah, it's kind of silly, but it also couldn't hurt anything, so I might as well do it and start plastering rejection letters on my writing room wall.

So that is it. I'm going to Rome next Thursday and will be there for a week, so we'll see if I end up writing in Rome. It could happen! But it probably won't. In either case, if I start writing again, I'll post bits up here. It's been too long (three months) since I've done serious writing, which is bad.

Expect some book reviews one of these years. Also my wife (Bec) might start guest blurb reviewing books too, so this blog will actually have content again.

BOOK REVIEW - Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

on Thursday, December 9, 2010
by Jim Butcher

Blurb Review

A unique mix of Roman and fantasy, paced like a mystery thriller, Furies of Calderon starts slow but quickly evolves into an addicting adventure that is both unique and familiar. It is a solid start to what could be a great fantasy series.

Long Review

The story of where the Codex Alera series came from is an entertaining one. Rumor has it that Jim Butcher was on a panel where they were arguing how important ideas were for a story. Jim argued that the ideas weren't as important as what you did with them, with regard to character development, etc. An audience member was rather violently opposing this, so Jim said, "Give me two ideas that don't work together at all, and I'll write a New York Times Bestselling series about it." The ideas? A lost Roman legion...and Pokemon.

Flash forward to now, where Codex Alera is a bestselling six-book series, starting with Furies of Calderon. Amazingly enough, Jim kept his word: the books are indeed a strong mix of Romans and Pokemon, and it works out quite well.

Except they aren't called Pokemon, they are Furies, sentient magic spirits that tie themselves to individuals during adolescence. They each are tied to different elements, such as earth, air, fire, water, as well as steel and wood. Hilariously, for people who know pokemon, each fury has a weakness to another type, almost exactly the same as the Pokemon games. However, the way Jim uses the furies makes the ideas unique.

Rather than summon them to fight, furies are fully integrated into a person's way of life. Upper class citizens usually don't name their furies, while commoners tend to have a more personal bond. They allow special abilities; for example, watercrafters are healers, and earthcrafters can change their appearance or push on the emotions of others.

All this is set up on a world similar to the Roman empire, complete with legionaries, authentic weapons, and more. At first I thought this would be stupid and wouldn't work, but the more I read the more I realize it is a totally awesome idea. So often fantasy firmly places itself in the middle ages; why have we avoided the Roman Empire? Combining it with pokemon makes the idea completely fresh and unique, and causes the world to be almost as enticing as the story at hand.

The plot of Furies of Calderon follows several members caught up in a growing political war between a rebellious member of the senate and the Great Fury (or Caesar, essentially). This book is essentially the start of the war (though it is by no means boring), and ends in a rather dramatic battle that is both exciting and excellent. Unlike The Dresden Files, it is told in third person, the prose is much richer (rather than Dresden's distinctly modern voice), and it jumps around between multiple characters.

The focus is on Tavi, the only boy without a Fury, Amara, a Cursor who is abruptly betrayed and the only hope for the empire, Bernard, Tavi's uncle and the ruler of a small village in Calderon that is about to be in the center of a huge conflict, and Isana, Bernard's sister and a powerful watercrafter. The story jumps around a lot, but never loses you. Butcher also rarely does that "oh my gosh what is going to happen!? viewpoint switch, sucker!" thing that I completely hate because it is so overused. It does happen, sure, but hardly as much as you'd think from a thriller writer.

The story, as mentioned above, involves a brewing war that centers on Calderon valley, where Tavi and Bernard live. It eventually culminates into a war between the "Romans" and savage men controlled by the intended usurper, but Butcher takes care to make you realize that not everybody good is good, and not everybody bad is bad. Similar to Dresden where there is a whole lot of gray, most of the characters and their motivations (on both the good or bad side, as we have a viewpoint character who is technically a "bad guy") seem completely justifiable. Fantasy often is the "good vs evil" battle, but Calderon isn't necessarily either way (a theme that continues throughout the series). It's more about personal struggles and the good of the empire, which can be hard for a reader to determine seeing every side of the equation (which is why the book is so good; real life isn't black and white either).

My only issue with the book is the fact that, having read 12 Jim Butcher books already, some of the character archetypes are... repetitive. All the girls are long-legged and busty except the one, strong woman who is more masculine than feminine (and looks as much and is unmarried). Males tend to fixate on exposed bosoms, and there is the traditional Butcher women: busty, beautiful, and evil, or busty, beautiful, and insane. And in the one instance where there is a character who is truly evil, he's so bad it's almost a joke. I knew exactly all the awful things he was going to do before they happened, just because I've read so many Butcher books I know what he finds "appalling."

Also, the other thing that Butcher loves: putting tons of sex off screen, and almost putting in on screen, but then having the characters be interrupted. Seriously, I don't even worry I'm going to read something raunchy when the main lovers are ripping each others' clothes off, because I know some soldier is going to announce an impending attack and break it up before I see anything. I KNOW HOW YOU WORK, BUTCHER!

There also a few points where I felt the characters were inconsistent (including an incident that caused Chuck to quit the book completely), but reading the second book this seems to be smoothed over.

Overall, one must remember that Butcher doesn't exactly have a great track record for staring series out strong. However, its the slow burn that he is good at, and once it gets started you can't quit. Already in the second book I'm knowing I'm going to enjoy this series, and even by about half-way through the first book I was sold on the series. If you think Romans + Pokemon at least sounds interesting, you should check this book out.

Though I still think you should read Dresden first.

I'm not dead

on Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I'm sorry for not updating all 15 faithful followers...but I'll have two book reviews and an update on my current writing scene shortly. I've been struggling to finish up school and graduate, which is a huge timesink, so I'm afraid the blog got thrown into the backburner.

As a plus, my birthday is Sunday, and my dear sweet mom got me a Kindle! So far I'm loving the thing (after having it for like four hours :P) and highly recommend it to book fanatics.

Carry on...

Update: I have been doing stuff and also things

on Saturday, November 20, 2010
So I've been planning Steelgods during this brief respite from writing, and so far it has been going...decently. I've constructed a document with character information (where I just name off characters and write everything I know about them). This exercise in the past has proven helpful during my actual writing of the characters, but then I'd save the document and never look at it again (exactly what I did with Where Gods and Mortals Dance). In either case, writing down things helps get the ol' brainstorming going, which has never hurt.
Next, I made a new document where I have all six Steelgods books, and I've begun an attempt to outline them. There are a few major issues with regard to the series that I need to address, but I am beginning to see a few possible answers to them.

1. The series needs a main, obvious antagonist. The first book had an antagonist, but it was not an enemy that would last the entire series. And while I know who the final antagonist will be, that is not going to be revealed until near the end of the series. So, for the next couple books, I need to have a clear enemy that will drive readers to continue reading because they want to see him/her/it fall.

2. The series needs more side-characters. I considered this while watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (decent, but not great HP movie). As those books come to a close, you see many key characters die. Many of them aren't main characters, or even side-characters, but minor people that you met once or twice. However, because you met them (and Rowling made them endearing), when you hear about their deaths you get a twinge of sympathy. As Steelgods will be only one book shorter than Harry Potter, I need to get some more side characters that I can do horrible things to.

3. The series needs clearer focus with regards to time and the main characters developing. I have ideas for what happens to Cevan, Devent, and Rosemary, but it can be hard to determine exactly where those ideas go. This can obviously be fixed by better series plotting overall, but doing extensive plotting was never really my strongpoint (discovery writer, ho!). Planning one or three books? Easy. Planning six? Not so easy.

These problems aside, Gears of Anbar itself has a few quirks, and in fact many of these quirks are issues I had with the first Steelgods while writing it.

1. Lack of progress. The issue here is: what is the drive of the characters? What happens that causes the end to be the climax of the novel? Who is the bad guy? Steelgods finally got one after about a week and a half of writing (he was already in the novel, I just wasn't sure how it all pieced together). Gears is having this same issue: how does it end?

2. Needing to outdo Steelgods. This is the second book. It needs to be bigger and better than Steelgods was. So far, at least the first third of the book (the amount that is plotted) seems to be much more exciting and interesting. But I am still troubled as to how the climax and end of the book will be. Can it outdo Steelgods? Can there be enough development and exciting things to beat Steelgods? My gut on this points to yes: Steelgods was very much a first book in a series. The scale of the issue was small (though its implication will reach out across all six books), focusing more on a Hero's Journey rather than a large series problem. The thing is: Gears needs to start the series' conflict. And though I have an idea, the lack of a solid antagonist (see above) is troubling.

3. What the crap happens in the second half? I wish I knew. I have about 200 ideas, but none of them have that "Eureka!" factor going for them.

There are a few things I can say, though.

1. Gears is going to be considerably longer than Steelgods. I'm guessing 150% of what Steelgods is, probably 150k? Maybe?

2. Gears is going to start a much larger conflict, one that will rock the entire Steelgods world.

3. Gears will be darker and have more action.

4. Gears will allow readers to take a step back and see the entirety of the world and the politics that shape it, and how those things play such a huge influence on Cevan and his future.

That's all the thoughts that have been going through my head. Steelgods hasn't really gotten to Alpha readers (nobody signed up...) and those who did get it haven't finished it yet. I can't edit a book without feedback, people!

Next up on my list is to plan Effulgent Corruption more efficiently. That is another book that could easily turn into a series (though it is currently planned as a two-book ordeal). Effulgent Corruption is also going to be way too long, I can tell you that already. I'm guessing over 200k. However, since I'm going to be writing it in January, odds are it will be finished before Gears. Gears will probably turn into next year's summer project...heck, I might write two Steelgods books in that time.

I also need to begin brainstorming for a third idea. I was thinking of writing an urban fantasy, or maybe a fantasy set during some time period people haven't used a lot. Not sure exactly what, though. World War 1 fantasy? That could be interesting. Or fantasy set in the colonial days. Hmm.

BOOK REVIEW - Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

on Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blurb Review

While it promotes itself as a B-movie action flick, Monster Hunter International manages to be both silly and serious, combining fantastic action and laugh-out-loud jokes with fun characters you’ll care about.

Long Review

Despite me thinking Larry is totally the man, I was worried about whether or not I would enjoy MHI. It wasn’t for lack of writing (in fact, MHI has probably one of the best opening paragraphs of any book ever) or even for lack of an idea (people hunting monsters like vampires and werewolves in a modern setting. Dresden?), but because of its own advertisement. Frequently touted as a “B-movie in book form,” MHI convinced me it was going to be a “popcorn” novel, one high on fluff and just fast adventure but lacking anything that would stick or prove substantial. And, while I love corny movies to death, they don’t require the same kind of investment as books. If I’m going to make an investment of several hours of my life, I want to know that the payoff is worth it.
            Well, MHI managed to convince me otherwise from its off-putting advertising. The book is indeed packed with copious, gratuitous, and bodacious amounts of action, killing, and just general bad-assery. However, underlying it all is a surprisingly solid story, packed with characters I actually cared about and was curious to see how they would survive their next near-death experience.
            Owen starts the book by killing a werewolf with little more than a pistol and his bare hands. Shortly after he is recruited by the titular Monster Hunter International, a group that kills monsters and is paid a bounty by the government for each kill. Sounds like a dream job, right? Especially if you are a gun-nut and are a huge brawler?
            Well, things quickly spiral out of hand. Without spoiling anything, Owen (our viewpoint) finds himself wrapped in a centuries-old plot that would involve not just the destruction of the world, but of time itself. These baddies aren’t messing around. They go big or they go home.
            The overarching plot provides a solid backdrop for a rather entertaining band of characters. While they do stray a bit into cliché or two-dimensional from time to time (and it seems everybody has some deep dark secret that is only revealed in a time of crisis), the dialogue and personalities of the characters are so well realized I easily forgave any faults I lobbied. Plus, as stated before, this is a B-movie (er…book). Clichéd characters fit in here perfectly alongside the insane action, cheesy one-liners, and a world where the guy always gets the girl. Even when she (of course) has a total jerk for a boyfriend who hates you. Cliché, remember?
            But it works, and it works so well.
            I first found the viewpoint character to be a bit annoying. He seemed like Dresden but less witty (and without magic), and he bugged me. However, given time I realized that he wasn’t Dresden; while he still jokes a lot he is a much different character. I was sold to Owen by probably the first third of the book, and everything after that was just golden. His jokes are corny and he is fully aware of it (as are the other characters, who pick on him from time to time for it). He likes to cuss out monsters before blasting them to pieces. It works.
            As for the action, oh boy, if you like books about awesome men and women with guns blasting monsters, you have plenty to love in MHI. While the book starts fast (and then hits a slight lull, probably the only part in the book where I put it down), it only gets faster once they start going on missions. After the first mission, the action starts and doesn’t slow down. Owen also gets the ever-living crap kicked out of him (also like Dresden) and still gets up and fights. It’s fantastic.
            Overall, I was a skeptic, but now I really want to recommend this book to everybody who has ever enjoyed urban fantasy. It’s extremely fast, funny, violent, and leaves you wanting the sequel (which I just picked up at World Fantasy, Monster Hunter Vendetta). Larry has certainly found a niche, and one that hasn’t been filled by any books in recent years.
            So, if you are looking for a corny, killer, gun-filled, monster-blasting, girl-getting, evil-smashing, hardcore action novel, look no further. And then, go grab the sequel. You won’t regret it.

Retro Gaming Madness and My Favorite Games

on Tuesday, November 16, 2010
So anybody who knows me should know my undying love for retro games. Mostly because I used to actually design and make video games that were in the vein of SNES/Genesis level graphics and features. I think I made about four or five complete games before calling it quits (including one made in 48 hours for a contest), but I just love that era. Pixelation and sprite work, when done well, really sticks out to me, especially considering I had to do it myself for hours and hours of my high school career. Everytime you play a retro game, know that someone had to draw that sprite, pixel my freaking pixel, then animate it in the same way. Now it often seems its just big budget games with no soul anymore (though I still love quite a few modern games, they don't have the same feel as sprite-based games).

I managed to snag an N64 with a couple great games, two controllers, a rumble pack, and a memory expansion for quite cheap (all the games below and two very good controllers for only $45). I'm working on building a small but awesome retro game library. Here's what I've got so far, and what is on its way:

- Banjo Kazooie
- Banjo Tooie
- Star Fox 64
- Donkey Kong 64
- F Zero
(coming soon/in the mail)
- Zelda: Majora's Mask
- Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- Super Mario 64
- Super Mario Kart 64
- Diddy Kong Racing
- Super Smash Brothers
(what I still want)
- Conker's Bad Fur Day (too stupidly expensive)
- Perfect Dark (should get this soon I hope)
- Turok 1+2
- Blast Corps
- Jet Force Gemeni
- Kirby 64
- Dr. Mario 64
- Harvest Moon 64 (also stupidly expensive)
- Paper Mario
- Yoshi's Story

And for fun, my brother-in-law's SNES which I have been adding games too! Games in italics are actually his but we are "borrowing" them indefinitely.
- Wario's Woods
- Super Mario RPG
- Super Mario All-Stars + World (suck it, Nintendo! I'm not buying your dumb re-release!)
- Super Metroid
- Final Fantasy II (IV)
- Final Fantasy III (VI)
- Chrono Trigger (!!! Yep, I was pumped when this game showed up)
- Super Mario Kart
- Zelda: A Link to the Past
(stuff I want but am still on the fence with)
- Killer Instinct
- All the Donkey Kong Games
- NBA Jam
- Super Castlevania IV
- Secret of Mana (not on the fence, just a pain to find)
- Yoshi's Island

I'm not going to get an NES (at least not for a while) because that is a can of worms in regards to my wallet that I can't currently get into just yet.
The perk is I didn't actually hand over money for these games; I got all of them (minus the ones bundled with my N64) off Goozex. Essentially, I gave them one beaten copy of Mass Effect 2 and got like 6 SNES games. Pretty amazing.

Anything I missed? Suggestions? Comments? I never actually owned a game system until the Gamecube, so I'm just reliving childhood memories from people whose houses I snuck over to in an effort to play these games (that or I'm re-living emulated memories). Most of these games I never played on the system of choice...ever (including Zelda 64), so this should prove to be quite exciting. Also, I'm finally making up for my years of emulation.

I won't lie: I'm pumped to play Zelda 64 and Majora's Mask again. Yeah, I know they probably haven't aged great, but just watching videos of both made me remember way back in 2002 or whatever when I had them emulated on my computer and played for hours.

Not looking forward to the water temple, though.

BONUS: So, you are probably wondering after all that what my favorite games ever are, huh? You know you were so you can go play them!
Actually I have a tie for first: Braid and Final Fantasy VI (III on the SNES).

Braid is a modern, beautiful puzzle-platformer with probably the best realized and best told story in any game ever made. The game fuses story with gameplay mechanics and common game tropes so amazingly well it will completely blow you away. It also was the only game that brought me to tears on the ending level, it was just that so immersive and divinely crafted. The game is on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, PC and Mac, so you have no excuse, and it only costs $10-15 (depending on system) because it was an indie game made by three people (a designer/coder, an artist, and a musician). Seriously. You need this game. It will change the way you think about video gaming. Just look at it!

Final Fantasy VI because it was the only Final Fantasy that I felt the story hit the fine balance between the old, non-existant stories of JRPGS and the new overwrought, melodrama-fest that plagues modern JRPGS. Seriously, Final Fantasy XIII can suck it. The game is gorgeous, has probably the best soundtrack of any game ever made, and crafts a deep and entertaining story. Plus, it's really fun.

As for this year, Super Meat Boy is my pick for not only game of the year, but certainly sits in my top 5 games ever (though I'm not sure where yet). Game's great, but not related.

That's a lot of gaming. I'll get back to writing soon enough.


I'm writing again.

on Monday, November 15, 2010
Not much (two paragraphs yesterday), but I'm going to try and put something down everyday. I figure that (since I'm still on "break"), putting token words to the page every day will always be better than nothing.

I made April and Ashe (a character introduced in Gears of Anbar) in Rock Band 3 and might make a few others for fun. Homeless Dan the Hobo Avenger is still the greatest Rock Band 3 character ever, though.

Here's a chunk of the end of the prologue of Gears of Anbar. 

            I can’t fix this, I swallow, trying to keep despair at bay. At long last, I’ve caused trouble so monstrous there is no recompense.
            I reach into my pocket and pull out a small object. Aside from my sword - Peacemaker’s Respite, which watches on from a distance away - the small silver gear now in my hand is the only remnant of a world that once was. It is the only reminder of a once complex, beautiful Creation. One I was so willing to destroy, when given the opportunity.
            My hand slips and the gear falls into the ash, gleaming in the dying sun. I reach down to scoop it up, and my hand gathers more soot than silver. In an instant I’ve returned to a time five years previous, the last time I scooped this gear from a handful of burnt remains.
            I close my fist tightly around the mess, feeling the black grime of what was once a world creep through my fingers. I extend a single finger, and begin to write in the ash. My words glow sharp against the black, sending a message to whatever is left of Creation.
             It is said you do not know a man until he has lost all that once defined him.
            This is what I have lost. 

And for something completely different, the first bit of chapter 1.

            I celebrated my seventeenth birthday by being stabbed, lit on fire, and thrashing and screaming as I traipsed like a madman around the burning village of Red Graphite. All in all, it was certainly not the worst birthday I’d ever had, but I can say with soundness it doesn’t make the top ten. 

So I'm failing NaNoWriMo. So sue me.

on Thursday, November 11, 2010
As I said previously, I always considered NaNoWriMo to be...dumb. Or, rather, not for me.
Well it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I'm failing hard at NaNoWriMo.
I blame school. Since I got back from World Fantasy, I've had either a test or a paper every day. Today is literally my first free day since then, and I still have a paper due tomorrow at 11 in the morning.
Added bonus: Super Meat Boy consumes my life, and we just got Rock Band 3 (with keyboard!) so I'm going to be busy for a while.
All together, I am debating just working on planning portions for Effulgent Corruption and Gears of Anbar rather than actually write. I need to get back in an Effulgent Corruption mood for January (I LOVE that story, it just kills me because its so hard to write).

But yeah, I'm a failure, but at least I didn't fail in May or September with my other two books. So I have that going for me. I would really like to write another book (four in a year would be a nice thing to throw around when needed), but at this point I'm not certain how possible that is.

However, I am going to get Alphas out for Steelgods soon, which should take some time as well.

So that's it. I'm going back to playing Rock Band 3.

Feel their might : The Gears of Anbar begins.

on Monday, November 1, 2010
It seems so soon, especially considering I'm fresh off of The Might of the Steelgods, but I have a document created (complete with new font and a space on my OS X dock) and so that means it's official: It's time for The Gears of Anbar for NaNoWriWhatever.

Few things to point out:
- We are dropping the collaborative project. It was just kind of stupid. Everybody is going to write their own thing, however.
- I'm going to tear through this and not care if it is terrible. I have to keep telling myself I had less planning for Steelgods 1 and it ended up ok, but it still is daunting. It will be nice to revisit these characters, though.
- I'm going to make this book as long as I darn well want it. I felt hindered in Steelgods 1 due to me trying to keep it under 100k (and finishing it within the month). Not going to happen with Anbar. 
- It'll probably take longer than just November, but I'm fine with that. I also have a goal of 1.5k daily (starting tomorrow) until the book is finished. I'm just too swamped with life at the moment to push myself further.
- This is more of a pet project than a serious one. Reason being it would never get sold unless Steelgods 1 was sold, so writing it is almost pointless. But I want to write it, and spending two months writing something I want to can't possibly be bad. Besides, I already wrote three books this year, I'm allowed some slack.
- Just because it's pet doesn't mean it's going to suck. I have a hunch it'll be better than Steelgods 1.

Next up, Alphas. I'm going to start sending out PDFs to those who have requested it, after I figure out my list of questions. I have a few that I wanted for sure, and I'll include them with the PDF. They also won't be as spoileriffic as Paradise Seekers' were.

Lastly, I wrote one sentence today. Yeah, whatever. I'll write more tomorrow. But here is that sentence.

"It is said you do not know a man until he has lost all that once defined him."
-The Gears of Anbar - Prologue: Without Atonement

World Fantasy Convention 2010 - "If your world doesn't have a moon, you are just f***ed."

World Fantasy 2010 Extremely Brief Overview

I had a great time throughout, as did Jason. Here are a few highlights.

- Went to a lot of great panels, including one where the quote in the header was said by fantasy legend Dennis McKiernan. The panel in particular was where we were talking about how lots of fantasy authors just say "screw it" to the laws of nature in geography, or do something funky like create a world surrounded by "the impassible ocean/forest/desert/etc." Out of the blue, McKiernan boldly declared, "Oh yeah, and remember: if your world doesn't have a moon, you are just f***ed." Quote of the conference.

- Speaking of McKiernan, his interview was completely fantastic in nearly every regard. In fact, just about every panel he was on was great.

- Talked to a LOT of authors and a few editors throughout. Mostly authors (I made quite a few friends at the signings and just on the floor), but overall people were very gracious and more than willing to share information if they had the time. It was quite fun.

- Met with Eddie Schneider of Jabberwalkee (aka the dude who rejected Paradise Seekers). Had a good talk about literary fiction (my English analysis classes finally paid off), some submitting ideas, what he likes in authors, and more. It was very helpful and quite interesting. I was also surprised that he is really young, like probably only a few years older than me, if that.

- Got like $200 in free books. I snatched like 6 copies of Warbreaker because nobody wanted them. I'm going to had them out to friends because they were free. The free books also allowed me to talk for almost two hours to authors at the signing.

- Jason and I tried to save money by "stealing" packets of peanut butter and jelly from our hotel's breakfast table every morning to make sandwiches later. The biggest irony of this is that we found out on the last day when we were about to leave that food for all World Fantasy events is provided in the cost of admission, meaning there was this huge room downstairs full of food the entire freaking time. Yes. We are stupid.

- Jason got Tom Doherty (founder of Tor) to sign his Kindle right after Tom gave a discourse about how ebooks are killing new authors. The irony was thick, and pretty much every other author who signed the kindle after that exclaimed, "Wait, you got Tom Doherty to sign your kindle?!"

- We walked all over downtown Columbus and never found a post office or a McDonalds. I JUST WANTED A DAMN CHOCOLATE SHAKE AT 11:00 AT NIGHT, OK? GAH. Seriously, like 2-3 hours of wandering for nothing. At least we finally found a White Castle.

- Nobody wore costumes, even on the day before Halloween. There were also no filkers. This was a relief.

- I had a really, really good time. Despite being antisocial when I was around Jason, I was considerably more extroverted when I was on my own, and that paid off at the signing.

Overall? I'd say it was an overall success, but one that will be improved upon as more and more cons are visited. We actually met a lot of people from Conduit who recognized us, and we were able to continue that "blossoming" relationship with these authors. I have a feeling that, the more cons you go to, the stronger these relationships with various members of the fantasy community will become, and some real great friendships can come of it. I already bought tickets for next year (It's in San Diego, which is totally driveable), and will be going to LTUE in February and CONDuit again in May, as well as WorldCon in August. I'm hoping to see a lot of these people again once that comes around.

So, resounding success, and I'm going to say it was worth the cost for the experience. I gained a lot of insight into the industry, editors/agents, and myself as a writer.

Also, if your world doesn't have a moon, you are pretty much f***ed. Seriously. That messes up everything.

World Fantasy 2010: It was a blast.

on Sunday, October 31, 2010
World Fantasy was pretty rocking, but unfortunately I came back to three tests and a paper, all of which I was unaware of until literally an hour ago.

So I can't blog just yet. Maybe after getting some stuff done and calming down a little.


I'm in Ohio, sittin in a hotel.

on Wednesday, October 27, 2010
That's right fools. Going to World Fantasy tomorrow with my pal Jason (it starts at 3 oh boy!). So far it has already been an adventure, if by "adventure" you mean "total lack of sleep."


We left at about 11:00 to go spend the night at Jason's Uncle's house by SLC airport. See, our flights left at 6, which meant we needed to be at the airport pretty freaking early. So we were. Problem was we didn't get to said uncle's house until 1, meaning I slept from pretty much 1:30 - 3:45. That was it. All my sleep.

I then flew to Dallis for a layover and then to Columbus. Due to losing two hours, we got in Columbus at around 3:00 pm. Magical.

We got driven to our hotel (the Red Roof Inn, also the cheapest place in downtown Columbus and within easy walking distance from food and the convention) and unpacked, then traversed the treacherous Columbus landscape until we found a nice irish pub and ate a very late dinner/lunch there. Hooray!

We also found the Hyatt where the convention is going to be. It's only about two blocks away from us. No driving/bussing required!

I then came back and took a nap despite it being like 6:00. It was a weird nap. I woke up with no recollection of where I was or what was going on.

I should have just stayed asleep, because now it is 9:00 and I'm not very tired. Actually, I'm craving caffeine. Maybe they have a soda machine somewhere in this place...

The con actually doesn't start until tomorrow at around 3:00. I have no idea how we missed this; we could have flown in tomorrow. Actually, due to the flights/plane tickets, it would have cost a lot more, but still...

I'm excited. Lots of authors and agents seem to totally dig this thing and I'm excited to meet new people (and buy their books). I actually have an alpha copy of Steelgods with me, and I have an idea at a pitch, though truthfully I'm hoping to converse more than sell. Though selling wouldn't hurt...

That's it from me. I'm kind of bored. Time to read Codex Alera until my body realizes exactly how sleep deprived it is.

Also, Word 2011 for Mac is quite good. Way better than the awful 2008 version. That is all.

Steelgods: Almost Done. World Fantasy: Almost Here

on Monday, October 25, 2010
It's almost that magical time. That magical World Fantasy time. It's also that magical time when The Might of the Steelgods book 1 will be edited and read for blastoff. Hoo-ray!

Re-reading it, I really enjoy the novel, but I can't help but notice certain sections are considerably stronger than others. This is usually due to character interaction (where when Cevan is alone he's a boring turd, but when he's with others and talking things get great), which is good to know (protip to self: keep Cevan around other people in The Gears of Anbar).

Also the pacing is a little weird, but it might be just me. I honestly have problems forcing myself to stop reading, but the overall quality of the pacing and writing certain differs in sections. I have a feeling the final 1/3rd is considerably stronger than the middle 1/3rd (but then again, it is act 3 where everything happens, so...).

I also have no idea how to fix this if it is in case. That's what alpha readers are for, I guess.

It'll be done tomorrow. That's my goal, anyway. I'll probably do one final read-through skim on the plane to Ohio (and back) for spelling and grammar errors, then start printing it. By then it'll be November so Deadly Clouds will be going on in all its glory and horror.

Oh yeah. World Fantasy. Gonna be fun. Not going to stress out about it. Just going to enjoy myself. That's the plan, anyway.


Alpha Readers Wanted! The Might of the Steelgods

on Thursday, October 21, 2010
First off, the title was changed from Might of the Steelgods to The Might of the Steelgods. Yeah, not a huge difference, but it matters to me. Hush. 
Second, I should have this book editing by next Wed. If not, I'm going to edit at World Fantasy. It's going to be ready by November, I swear. 
Which means I need Alpha Readers! Yay!

So! Here's what you get if you want to be an Alpha Reader person! It's the same rules as the Paradise Seekers Alpha party all the way back in July. Read it, I'll have a list of questions (probably not as long as Paradise Seekers, since it doesn't have all the deep crap that Paradise Seekers has), and I'd like general reviews and ideas. Grammar, spelling, etc. are also appreciated.

You are allowed to be as completely harsh as possible. In fact, it is suggested. You won't lose my friendship if you tell me you hate my book. I will be sad and cry and shoot people in Call of Duty, but I won't hate you.

So! I'm going to print hard copies, including two exclusively magical hard copies that will look like actual books (with covers and binding and everything) funded by Jason because he is awesome. The rest will get the still-nice-but-not-as-nice spiral bound affairs. However, if you are fine reading an electronic copy, it would be preferred.

I ended up needing five Paradise Seekers copies, and I still haven't got one of them back. I'll probably have four or five The Might of the Steelgods to hand out. Anyone who wants an electronic copy can get one. I can provide .doc, .pages, or .pdf.

To sign up, either comment here, shoot me a facebook message, or email spam me at theuselessgod(at) All work fine. Thanks in advance for all those who help!

NaNoWriMo - Collaborative Book

I know I'm going to regret this, but I agreed with Derek and Jason (writing group 1.0...or I guess technically 1.2 since two people dropped off the face) to write a collaborative book in November. I have a hunch it is going to be...interesting, maybe terrible, but a lot of fun.
We figured out the basics of the world yesterday, which involves poison clouds and inversion layers that make people insane, and people who have to live on mountains above the clouds to avoid going insane. Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems.
How it will work is we each get a viewpoint character, each is a different civilization adapting to this world-altering situation. We then can do whatever we want with them, referencing whatever everybody else is writing at the time (as we are going to write all three at the same time). After about 20 days, we will spend the last 10 days figuring out the final act where everybody meets up and madness ensues. I'm guessing this is when the book is going to go from "decent" to "completely insane nightmare." Should be fun.
We should call it Deadly Clouds. The lamest title EVER. I love it.
The downside is this means you'll have to wait for Steelgods 2. Or you won't. I'm considering writing it over November AND December, as the NaNoWriMo book will only be allowed 30,000 words for my part, which won't be too hard for me to do. I can start The Gears of Anbar (and I'll have Alpha copies of Might of the Steelgods out by then) and work on it at the same time. Maybe it'll work. Maybe not.
Which reminds me, Alpha readers! Wait, that's for its own post. I'm just over 50% editing, and I beat down one of the crappy chapters. The next crappy chapter is almost here (and I have some necessary revisions for the last battle chapter), but other than that it's just basic edits. Again, this is why you have other people read it: they find crap that you can't, because I keep getting drawn into the stupid book, making editing an extremely biased affair.
That's it. Rock out.

Steelgods Book Two, Editing, and me wishing I had graduated already.

on Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Editing is going well. I've officially finished the first act (as in, finished it five minutes ago. Yay!) and am moving on to act numero dos. I've made a few minor alterations, mostly clearing up stuff and refining things. I've found an interesting phenomenon I'd like to share.

I discovery write. This isn't news to anybody. Something interesting about discovery writing is often I drop hints at things or terms that I think would be cool, with the intent to pick them up later. In Steelgods, I can do this a lot because I'm hinting at future books. Of course, this means I have to remember everything that just popped out of my head at any given time.

As you can guess, this leads to a lot of loose ends, or just random drivel that I thought was neat at the time and later discovered wasn't relevant. All my books tend to have a lot of this: I go into some cute little detail about the world that I think is totally fascinating, but it holds little relevance to the plot minus just being interesting.

And, I have to axe them. Like trimming a tree or a hedge. Yes, they are part of the world, but they are just poking out. They are still part of the "hedge," sure, but they make it look disorganized and scattered. So, even though it hurts, it has to go.

I remember having to do this a lot in Paradise Seekers. I even cut an entire character arch/scene (that nobody ever saw, not even my wife) because, despite being totally cool, it just didn't matter at the end. I was padding a word count, or fulfilling self-indulgences regarding the story. So it had to go.

That's mostly what my editing has been in Steelgods, aside from general spelling/grammar/sentence structure. Even now, I'm thinking of cleaning out a term that I use at the beginning and never re-use (or maybe I'll use it again), even though I know it'll be relevant in future novels.

Speaking of future novels, I've been doing basic brainstorming/idea dumping for The Gears of Anbar (Steelgods 2), and I like where it's going. I have another love interest lined up for dear stupid Cevan (don't cringe! It's going to be good), as well as some cool ideas on how to both develop Cevan as a character and the world as a whole. While Steelgods was certainly fantasy, Gears will jump it further into its true steampunk...ness. I mean, their gods are steel. Of course it's going to have a lot of steampunk in it. Because steampunk is cool. Even if I never do the "victorian era" that usually has to be tied with steampunk. Screw that, I don't know anything about the victorian era, and I never thought it was that interesting. Yeah, I'm ruining steampunk. Whoops?

Anyway, I'm excited. This is usually how ideas work: I have a title and a general idea, but no plot. Then I start getting little bits of things I really want, scenes and what not that I think would be cool. Very often only about 1/2 of these actually make it to the book. Then, a plot arises from all these points and the underlying point, including the ending that usually is the point of the novel. Once I have all these basic bits, I can write.

So I have a weeks before November to figure that out. We'll see how it goes.

Also, I'm deciding if I'm going to write Gears and then leave the Steelgods series for a while, or keep going. It's intended for six books, but it seems silly to write series when the first book isn't published...then again I'd like to have three down so I can present them to someone if they ever ask. Can't hurt, right? Especially if I pump them out every month.

Effulgent Corruption is still on for Sanderson in January, though its going to take a bit for me to get back in the groove. I was thinking it over yesterday, and it was weird how much I'd forgotten. I remembered it eventually, sure (and I also remembered how much I like it), but it seems a bit distant now. Going back to it will be good. I'm considering scrapping the 20k I have so far and starting over, though. It was decent, but hardly up to par with my usual stuff.

That's it for me. School consumes everything. Not necessarily time - I usually manage to have a bit of free time - but totally all my energy. I get home at 5-6 every day, totally burned and ready to just do my homework and play video games. Which is why I should start writing again. :P

STEELGODS. I'll post the call for alpha readers soon, hopefully at the end of this week. I'll be doing the "collection of printed and bound copies" thing I did for Paradise Seekers, for those who hate reading on the computer. So if you are local, you can get a hard copy! If you aren't local...uh...I could ship it to you if you really wanted. Maybe.

That's it. Time to go write a paper.

World Fantasy

on Saturday, October 16, 2010
Also, I keep forgetting I'm going to World Fantasy Convention in Ohio in like...a week and a half. That's kind of a big deal. I need to print out some business cards to throw at random people or something.

I'm excited for it. I have heard it's pretty chill with regards to agents/editors/authors just willing to talk about whatever, which will be fun. I also hear people enjoy drinking a lot there, so I'd better bring my ID! (kidding...maybe)

I'll try and update my blog with a blow-by-blow while I'm there. I still don't know if our hotel has internet or not. We got a super-cheap one, and Jason and I are sharing a room to make it even cheaper (if he ever pays me back), so...that should be fun. Steelgods will be edited by then, so I'll have something to talk about I'd be willing to flash people should it be requested.

If not, I'm sure it'll be a great time none-the-less. If anything, it'll get me pumped for whatever thing I end up writing next.

By the Steelgods' Wicked Intentions!

Editing is quickening. Mostly because the chapters just past the first ones are actually in decent condition already; mostly just minor edits with regards to city locations (I hadn't written a full map yet) and a few terms that changed by the end of the book. Going well, most of the prose is decent too. Nothing I can't handle.

I finished Monster Hunter International, so expect a review of that soon. I wanted to run out and get Monster Hunter Vendetta the minute I finished it, but for some reason I restrained myself. I'll probably have to go snag it sometime; the first book was quite good in a cheesy sort of way. Very entertaining.

Starting Codex Alera on my wife's suggestion. It's by Jim Butcher, author of those Dresden Files books I have a love affair with. It will be yet another book I started, got about 100 pages in, and probably quit (Name of the Wind, Uglies, Way of Kings, I'm looking at all of you).

Also, The Scorch Trials, the next book in The Maze Runner trilogy came out last Tuesday. I should check that out as well sometime.

So many books to read, so many games to play, so much editing to do, so much schoolwork, and so little time. Hopefully I can get this all figured out.

Editing! Resume!

Bit from what I did today.

April lead me straight to the center of town, and gestured proudly at the landmark. A large metal tower, the gray metal reflecting the bright evening sun, jutted out from the cobblestones like a nail through wood. It was capped in a pointed, copper-columned tip, from which a light streamed. April spoke to me excitedly. 
“Isn’t it incredible? It’s the largest steel tower in Tempered, or so the bards say. Some even claimed it is bigger than most in the Steel-Imbued Domain. Go on, touch it!”
I stepped over a circle of flowers to reach the monument, shielding my eyes from its brightness. I placed a hand on the steel, it was cold to the touch and incredibly smooth. As I circled it, something peculiar bothered me.
“There’s no bolts, no couplings,” I noted, rapping it with my fist. It made a metallic, hollow sound. “What’s holding this together?”
“Nothing.” April’s grin widened. “It’s one solid piece of metal.”
I looked up the side. Sure enough, there were no lumps indicating bolts or screws. I scrunched up my brow.
“One solid piece? Wouldn’t it collapse on itself?”
April nodded. “It should. Both dad and I studied it for years; the thing should crumble into a pile of scrap, but it doesn’t. The story is they found it here, just sticking out of the ground, some remnant of a lost time. Maybe even a time when they made the Tinkers.”
I tried to look impressed. “Well, if you say it is physically impossible for this to stand, then I think I’m going to take a few steps back.”

Blogging instead of editing because ITS MY LIFE AND I'M IN CHARGE

on Friday, October 15, 2010


Been doing school and Starcraft 2, mostly. I figure I deserve at least a little break right? No?
Editing is going atrociously slow, which is really, really bad. Tomorrow I might binge and try to get a good half of the novel done. Again, this isn't major edits (minus perhaps the two "suckage" chapters), but it's enough to clear some continuance issues (like I discovery write and what I think of at the beginning doesn't always translate to the same thing at the end) and get it suitable for an audience that won't just poke me and say, "you spelled this word wrong. Idiot."

I was thinking about how a lot of times I've written stuff, only to go to the movies/buy a game/read a book and find bits of my ideas that were so unique when I thought them up in this stupid thing I've watched/played/read. Then I realize that, since the bastards beat me to it, I'm technically the poser now. What gives! The whole Paradise Seeker is secretly The Maze Runner suffered from that, but there are still a lot of bits that correlate unintentionally.

Now I know nothing is wholly unique. Pretty much anything you write is going to steal bits and pieces from other works. Truthfully, one's entire artistic experience could be considered a patchwork of all the media he/she has ingested, and then you sort of blenderize it, throw in a dash of your personality, and BAM, witches brew of your next book. That being said, I don't think people care much if they are reading the same book over and over (if they did, we'd only have like two books), but they certainly can tell if you blatantly ripped something off.

I'm just frustrated because Steelgods coincidentally had a lot of really, really weird crossover with an anime show. I actually only watched 10 minutes of the damn thing, and over six years ago no less, and still there's weird stuff. Ah well, I'll fix it eventually. If I end up caring.

Not writing sucks. Editing is a decent placeholder for that vacancy, but it is hardly substantial. I'm considering just taking Canyon Story (not the real title) and just barfing out a quick 50k thing without any planning allowed at all, just to see what it becomes. It'll probably suck, but an idea dump wouldn't hurt, and then I'd at least be writing something.

Maybe I could even try sci-fi. That would be new. Except I have no idea how to write sci-fi. That could certainly be interesting.

Well, I've blathered for a while. Enough talk, have at you!

No blog posts in a bit.

on Thursday, October 14, 2010
So much for daily updates. But you know what?


on Sunday, October 10, 2010
Here's a confession: I've always thought NaNoWriMo was stupid. I have literally no idea why the idea makes me so jaded. I didn't even know the damn thing existed until two years ago when somebody was like, "Hey! It's finish writing your novel month! ARE YOU GOING TO DO IT?!" At first I thought this was just some guy wanting me to finish my book (which it kind of was), but then I found out it was a real deal. Huh.

Let us now dive deep into the mind of Nathan Major, and try to find out why he thinks NaNoWriMo is stupid. Since I haven't really dug down to find whatever is spawning this deep-rooted contention, this might prove interesting. Especially since all my initial thoughts only produce positive correlations with the idea, but I still roll my eyes whenever anybody mentions NaNoWriMo. Hmm.

I think the first thing that bugs me is the fact that people do it and write something terrible. Now, I know this isn't fair at all to anybody. My first few books weren't great, and I honestly am a bit shamed that I touted them around as something halfway decent. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that has something to do with it. A lot of people, after writing their 50K, decide they are "real writers" now. They shove that thing everywhere like it's God's gift to literacy, when actually it's just some crappy thing you wrote in a month because everybody else was doing it. I don't want to read that. 

That kind of leads to what also might have me so jaded: everybody is doing it. Now, I'm willing to bet it has a fairly low % turnaround for people who actually complete their novels. I'd say 5% at the very best out of everybody who decides to try it. But, for me, knowing everybody else is going to write a book in the month kind of...cheapens it if I do it. I'm no longer being unique or special (Steelgod September, anybody?), I'm just doing it because it's a cool thing to do. I don't think of myself as non-conformist very often (I shop at freaking American Eagle, Aeropostal, and Apple Computers for crying out loud), but doing NaNoWriMo really seems forced. 

Actually, that might tie in to what is really, really the reason I hate NaNoWriMo. It's the same reason why I think "Black History Month" or "Breast Cancer Awareness Month" is so stupid: why can't we be aware of black history or breast cancer all the time? Shouldn't we be? Are we really so stupid we have to be reminded in order to get anything done, and then forced to have an entire month designated to that? NaNoWriMo is like that to me. It's something that, if you really were serious about writing, you should be writing or editing every day anyway. You shouldn't need to have some fabricated, titled month force you to write. If you have a great idea, write it now. I've heard people say they are "waiting for NaNoWriMo" to write something. Why the crap are you waiting? Freaking write that now! And don't tell me you are busy; I'll bet you money everybody has at least an hour a day to themselves. Get your butt off the couch where you are watching Sex and the City for the eighteenth time, and just do it. Don't make someone else make you.

Lastly, usually after NaNoWriMo, people just stop. They decide they are done; they've written a book! They'll write another next November. Again, stupid. If you really care about this, write frequently. Nobody got good writing one book a year. In fact, some people don't get good writing three books a year. Trust me. It takes a lot of practice. If you just write a 50k book every November, the quality will never improve. It'll just be crap forever. 

So there you have it. It still makes no sense. NaNoWriMo has tons of perks. It forces new-writers or those who have problems starting or trapped in outlining write. It gives people a finished thing to show off. Once you write one book, it is exceptionally easier to write more. It provides a community that will support and give feedback and force you to keep pumping out the words. It could also (for some of us) let you know that writing just isn't your thing; you aren't cut out for it. Look at how many good things there are for NaNoWriMo! 

So why do I still think it's dumb?

I don't know, so I'm going to test it. NaNoWriMo 2010: Nathan's doing it. He's writing Steelgods 2. Or Canyon Story. Or something else. Point is, I'm going to get all up in this. I'll sign up on the site or whatever. I'll try to get people to do it with me. Do community, all that crap, see if it really is all it is cracked up to be.

Then, when December 1st rolls around, I'll let you know how I feel about it.

This should be interesting. 

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Story Review

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Developer: Ninja Theory


What's this? I'm reviewing a video game? Well, not quite. See, I just finished Enslaved, a game that I had extreme biases against before picking it up. I played the demo, liked it, and decided it was worth a rent.

Blurb review for non-story stuff: The game looks fantastic. Andy Serkis, the actor for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, is now with Ninja Theory using the same tech to make their characters. It really, really works. They move like real people, but what is best is their faces. It's easy to convey basic emotions in games - anger, fear, sorrow, etc. - but it is harder to show deeper emotions, like remorse, envy, or a subtle hurt. Enslaved does this perfectly.

Now, a review of the story, which I felt was one of the best parts of the game (especially the fantastic ending).

It's loosely based on the Journey to the West Chinese fable. Anime-heads might realize that the original Dragonball was loosely based on this fable as well (I've only seen maybe two episodes of it, so I can't comment). You play as Monkey, the story starting you in a slaver airplane taking to you Pyramid, where...the slaves go. You don't find out until the end. The world has been destroyed and you are in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, overgrown by plants. It is very beautiful, despite the ruin.

Anyway, you manage to break out and crash the plane, and after you find a girl named Trip. Trip has put a Crown on your head, a headband used by the slavers to kill insubordinates. Trip has programmed it so she can control it and also, if her heartbeat stops, the crown will kill Monkey. Pretty much forcing him to do what she wants, which is to take her to her home. Thing is, home is 300 miles away.

Trip is a young, nieve teenager. Monkey is a hardened badass who is both extremely athletic and agile; Trip knows full well she needs him to survive. The world is comprised almost entirely of mechanical creatures (nicknamed "Mechs") that have every intention to either kill you or make you a slave of Pyramid. Needless to say, you spend most of the game killing mechs.

What works so exceptionally well is how Monkey and Trip, who start off detesting each other, end up forming a sort of relationship. It isn't romantic, per say, but it is certainly a fondness that could only have happened after miles of treacherous road together. It often starts with Monkey back-talking Trip when she gives him orders, snapping out at her, and even the basic animations to carry and throw her are rough and uncaring. By the end of the game, however, they'll actively ask how the other one is doing, check to see if they made a jump or not, and just talk. Watching these two characters interact was one of the best parts of the game.

Too often in games and books we see affection blossem too soon, too late, or at the wrong time. Everybody knew Trip and Monkey would see more eye-to-eye by the end, but despite the cliche it worked just so damn well that I didn't mind. Also, most of the scenes (especially a really, really well written one near the end of the game where Monkey and Trip are alone) stay true to the characters, despite everybody knowing they care for each other. Monkey is rough, world-weary, and rarely shows any emotion aside from anger. Trip is very emotionally attached but very optimistic. When the two at last sort of confess how they feel for each other, it isn't a blunt smack to the face. It's extremely subtle, but it fulfills that want. Monkey and Trip now want to stick with each other. Maybe not for romantic love, but for a dependence that is (at last) mutual.

This also leads to the completely steller ending. Many people have complained about it ("people" in this sense being gaming review sites) because it left a lot of things open. I think those people wouldn't know a good ending if it slapped them in the face. The ending is, literally, perfect. It does come a bit out of left field, but if you were paying attention to the many, many subtle hints littered throughout the game, the huge twist makes perfect sense. In fact, those are the best kinds of endings, the ones that you first are like "huh?" but then are like "oh wow. I see how that works. This is brilliant." 

Yeah, game reviewers are stupid. Good thing I'm here to clear that up.

I wish I could spoil the ending, but it's one you won't understand unless you play through the game. Needless to say, Enslaved, a game I thought would be little above mediocre, is easily one of my favorite games released this year. In terms of story, it blows just about every other game I've ever played away. There's more heart and real human emotion in this than any japanese RPG could ever hope for (and yes, I'm including Final Fantasy in that list). It's completely steller.

And look, I'm trying to give you a daily blog-post, so you get a game review. What will Nathan post tomorrow? Hopefully a Monster Hunter International review, since I'm about 1/3 of the way through it and the book completely freaking rocks. 

Also, Larry Corriea is awesome.

on Saturday, October 9, 2010
It is worth noting that Larry Corriea - gun nut, author, and just generally a badass - has made the New York Times Bestseller list. Jason and I had an entertaining conversation with him at Conduit about the New York Times Bestseller list, which makes him finally getting on it both ironic and totally awesome.

As he says in his blog post, this is a huge step for authors. Monster Hunter Vendetta being a bestseller will help push the rest of his career forward. Larry most certainly deserves it: he found a niche, wrote a great book to fill it, and now is reaping the reward.

Keep up the good work dude. Your books rock.

Editing Begins

My "postmortem" edit of Might of the Steelgods begins today! I'm going to try to cover at least two chapters a day, maybe three or four, in an attempt to tear through it. I also will probably rewrite or do extensive editing on two of the chapters I particularly despised. That's the plan, anyway.

There is reasoning behind this, and it is thus: I'm going to World Fantasy in Ohio with Jason at the end of this month. I'm a bit nervous, but I'm certain it will be a good experience. The goal is networking, obviously, and to find agents and editors that I can send crap too. Currently, however, I only have one project I feel comfortable sending out: Paradise Seekers. And while Where Gods and Mortals Dance would be a most excellent thing to go flaunting around, it requires rewriting a good 1/3 of the book. That's something like 60k, which would be very hard to do between now and October 27th.

However, Steelgods is already in decent condition, only having two main areas I think need work (minus general editing, of course). It is also more fantasy than Paradise Seekers, which is kind of a surreal YA traipsing around as a fable. I'm guessing it would talk all of a week or two to have it in good condition, perhaps even good enough to send out to willing Alpha readers. But most importantly, it could be something I'd be all for sending to an agent.

Which reminds me, like 75% of the people I submitted Paradise Seekers to never even got back to me. Come on, dudes! It's been like...four months! I have a SASE, just send a form rejection or something if you really don't want it! Just don't leave me hangin' like this!

At any rate, that's the current agenda. Quick edit of Steelgods, and in the meantime I'll spend my non-editing hours trying to figure out what the crap to do exactly with WGMD to fix it. If school and work weren't so damnably offensive into my writing time, I could probably have both done by the end of the month. I doubt that's going to happen, though.

What else to say? I'm considering doing some brainstorming to figure out another new novel to write, probably another standalone novel. I still have Steelgods 2 (titled The Gears of Anbar) and Effulgent Corruption planned out (as well as a very basic outline of The Truth Behind His Voice, the sequel to WGMD), but I'm...missing brainstorming. Maybe I'll dig up that old Canyon story I wrote a first chapter to back in June and see how that holds up. Get this: THE WHOLE WORLD IS A HUGE CANYON. ISN'T THAT COOL? No? Well, shut up! It's my idea, and I'm going to roll with it!

This has degenerated into me yelling at some unseen follower (all fifteen of you), so I should probably cut it off here. Done and done.

Not Writing Sucks

on Thursday, October 7, 2010
It's funny how quickly a hobby can become a habit, and a habit can become and addiction, and not fulfilling the addiction can cause withdrawals.

Point: It's been a week since I've written something, and I'm already going insane.

This might be in part with the fact that Might of the Steelgods, while having a resolution to the book, was left open for the rest of the series. I know my adventures with Cevan and co. are far from over, and that makes me really want to keep going with them.

Or maybe it's because I really like writing, and so not writing has become some sort of weird state of mind. It almost makes me wish I had some throwaway project to work on (which Steelgods actually was, but as I wrote it I become more serious about it) so that I could write and not care about the result.

According to plan, I should be editing Where Gods and Mortals Dance at about now. However, I have to do some serious planning before editing can begin, something I don't want to do. I want to write, not plan.

While I'm sure it will happen, it makes things interesting. Top it off with the fact I've been exceptionally busy (this week just won't end), and you have me wanting to just write and not care about if it sucks or not.

Anyway, the point is that I love writing. I spend much of my day thinking of future book/series ideas, or tinkering with the ones I've already written (or am about to write; Effulgent Corruption has had more planning time than any book to date except Lacrymosa). Not writing is weird now, even if I am enjoying the time playing Xbox or Starcraft 2. Hard to say.

Maybe I should just write some random crap and be done with it. Sounds like a good idea.

Starcraft 2 September, or, why Starcraft 2's Single Player Ruined Jim Raynor

on Sunday, October 3, 2010
Warning: Will contain some Starcraft 1 and Starcraft Brood War Spoilers (but not Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty Spoilers)

Disclaimer: Just because this might be considered a "negative" assessment of Starcraft 2, don't be fooled. I freaking love the game. It's probably the most excited about a game I've been in a while. Playing with friends is a blast, the single-player campaign kept me entertained throughout the whole experience, and I can see myself playing it from now until the expansion (Heart of the Swarm) comes out. This is just an assessment of Starcraft 2's story in relation to Starcraft 1 and Brood War.

Why Starcraft 2 Ruined Jim Raynor

Jim Raynor, for those who don't know, is essentially the "main character" (amongst a veritable throng of main characters) representing the Terran race in the Starcraft cannon. Raynor is an all-around likeable guy throughout. He was a small-town marshal on the also small-town planet of Mar Sara, who gets swept away by dreams of rebellion and freedom by revolutionary Arcturus Mengsk. However, as Mengsk's tactics grow more and more questionable (luring the ferocious alien Zerg to Terran worlds that oppose Mengsk and allowing the aliens to wipe out the populations), Raynor and his girlfriend Kerrigan begin to question Mengk's true loyalties. The final breaking point is when Mengsk abandons Kerrigan to the Zerg during a mission, which results in Jim fighting through Mengsk and becoming a renegade. Mengsk then becomes emperor of the Terrans and embarks on a plan to destroy not just the Zerg and Protoss, but Raynor as well.
Shortly after, Kerrigan is revealed to be not dead, but instead taken by the Zerg and changed to be their star warrior. Granted, this doesn't please Raynor much, but he knows better at that point than to fight her.

The thing about Raynor in both Starcraft 1 and Brood War is the fact that you are never really "alone" with him enough to see what makes him tick. This, in my opinion, is a good thing. It becomes a staple of Starcraft storylines that, should the crap really hit the fan, Raynor often shows up to help the good-guys overcome. During the Zerg invasion of the Protoss homeworld of Auer, Raynor shows up to help simply because he's become friends with some of the Protoss. This is despite the Protoss higher council wanting him to help them; Raynor just does the right thing when needed. At the beginning of Brood War, when Auer is collapsing on itself and the Protoss are warping to the Dark Templar world to escape, Raynor courageously volunteers (with his Protoss friend Fenix) to stay back on the ruined world of Auer to close the gate behind the fleeing Protoss.

So while Raynor often shows up to help during the worst of times, you don't really ever get to see what makes him tick. He's the "Gandalf" character of the Starcraft universe: you don't know how he has this army, or how he knows to be in a certain place in a certain time, but you certainly know he will be there if crap really gets ugly. Because of that, he has both an aura of mystery and a huge deal of respect and badassary (yes, that's now a word). Even when Fenix is killed in Brood War (by Kerrigan, of all people), and awful things keep happing to Raynor, he still puts on a good face and keeps coming back to the fight. In a game rife with characters who aren't what they seem, and where nearly every "good" character has some terrible dark underlying goal or flaw, Jim Raynor really steals the show.

And then, they made Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty

First off, what the crap happened to him? The left is his portrait from Starcraft and Brood war. You get to know this guy. You like this guy. And on the right (and in the title image) is the "new" Jim Raynor, complete with voice actor. That doesn't even look like the same person!

Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty focuses completely around Jim Raynor, to the effect that you are Jim Raynor (being a faceless "commander" in RTS games just isn't cool anymore). In it, you start with Raynor, four years past Brood War, drinking in a backwash bar and dreaming of a revolution. Well, pretty soon that revolution kicks off, and away Raynor goes on his epic adventure to extract revenge on Mengsk. Of course, Kerrigan (who has been surprisingly absent since Brood War), decides to show up in the middle, and prophetic Protoss revelations about the upcoming end of the universe don't make things easy. It's a quality popcorn plot, that hits all the right notes with regard to the plot itself, and also administering substantial fan-service complete with cliffhanger ending.

And it completely ruins everything I ever liked about Raynor, and what made him the centerpiece of my Starcraft experiences. 

Let's go back to saying Raynor is like Gandalf. In Lord of the Rings, there was a very good reason Tolkien didn't go into detail about Gandalf's past. He doesn't even go into detail about his amazing resurrection, magic, or...well, anything. Gandalf is Gandalf because he must be: he's one part plot-device and one part mysterious badass. Explaining Gandalf would take away an integral part of what Gandalf is. It would completely destroy the character. 

Back to Raynor. We all know he does good things for good people. But what happens when you are Raynor? Wouldn't that just be a magical adventure, roaming the galaxy helping people, getting revenge on Mengsk, that jerk you wanted to kill since the first part of the very first game? Trying to help Kerrigan?

Well, no. Actually, it kind of sucks. Not only sucks, but it ruins Raynor.

Here's the thing: going around randomly helping people just...isn't very exciting. Not only that, in terms of a story-driven game, it seems rather pointless. Two major story arches just open and close during this game, and since the ending decisions are so dramatic, I can't see any of these characters ever returning. So what was their point? To gain new units, sure, but what else? To show us more of Jim's character? doesn't. It just shows that he goes from place to place, helping whoever will ask him for help and then continue on. What's the point? It makes Raynor seem like the biggest "gopher" ever. Where was this revolutionary, this guy who would "Save the galaxy at any cost?" Instead I'm gathering artifacts that may-or-may-not have some attachment with the overall plot, saying colonists for whatever reason (and ignoring all the others), and helping some psycho Ghost. Why is this? 

But that isn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that Gandalf bit. Jim in Starcraft 1 was an enigma, and because he was an enigma it let your mind go CRAZY about how totally awesome he must be. Planet hopping? Friend to both Protoss, Terran, and a personal stake against the Zerg? Betrayed countless times, but still gets back on his feet and fights? That's awesome!

But Jim in SC2 isn't like that. It starts with him drunk in a bar, wooing over a picture of un-Zerged Kerrigan like a cliche. He initiates the "rebellion," sure, but he hardly seems completely in charge. He fights with his companions, gets in lame slumps, and constantly dwells on the past. While I knew Jim couldn't ever live up to the expectations I'd made for him, it's like Blizzard just took the "generic put-down hero" out of every other story and applied it to Raynor. Why? 

This problem, the saturation of Jim with disappointment and cliche, ruined the game for me, and in so doing almost ruined the Starcraft story. Here's how bad it was: when I first got the game, I was super pumped about the single player. However, after about four missions, I quit it for the multiplayer. I had to force myself to get back into the story, because I heard the ending was crazy (it was). But come on...I waited over ten years to get back to this story, and it was so poor that after about five missions I stopped caring? Something is wrong here.

Blizzard saved themselves because, as stated, the Wings of Liberty ending is just so completely crazy that everybody is going to get the expansion just to see what the heck happens in the universe. But I'm now more interested in the universe, not in the characters. Raynor, the mystical, roaming badass of the first game is gone. There's some new guy with his name and his past, but it isn't the same. 

RIP Starcraft's Jim Raynor. I'd say I hardly knew you, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Now, I have no idea who Jim Raynor is.