Wednesday, August 31, 2016

UPDATE: NEW PAGE - THE MIDNIGHT LAKE


Every now and then, a weird or wacky idea pops into my head. A lot of these are fun to think about for a little while, but never go anywhere. Others, I actually find a way to bring to life. Such is the case with a short little work of multi-media fiction that I call "The Midnight Lake." If you want to check it out, you can head over to the brand new page that I've made to showcase this project. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

REVIEW: PATIENT DARKNESS

Death has come to Odols...

INTRODUCTION 

Shutt follows up his supernatural mystery novel, BROODING CITY with a sequel set a few months after the events of this series' debut. I thought the original was a fun, interesting story that did a nice job of introducing the world of the Sleepers, people with supernatural gifts whose moral compass seems to be ambiguous. The story followed Arthur Brennan, a police detective and former member of the shady organization of Sleepers run by a mysterious man named Benjamin, as well as the young Jeremy, whose powers were only just beginning to manifest. The story took a long time to tget going which was one of my main criticisms. It wasn't until the last quarter or so of the book that all the pieces came together and I could feel myself getting into things. I also felt like the parts featuring Jeremy came off as being much stronger than those featuring Arthur and the people in his corner of the world. I just didn't really like the characters on this side of the story all that much. The interactions were definitely quirky, but I think there was some layer of sarcasm coating it all that just didn't resonate well with me. In spite of the slow build up and characters I didn't connect super well with, I was definitely pulled into this mysterious world and the shocking events at the novel's end left me wanting more. Needless to say, I was very excited when the author reached out to me with a copy of his second novel leaving only the gentle request for another review in return.

Please Note:
  • While I'm very appreciative of the author giving me a free copy of his work, this gratitude in no way affects the contents of my review. 
  • As with all of my reviews, I tried to keep this spoiler free, but do note that there ARE some heavy spoilers for BROODING CITY's ending which are referenced due to their importance in the plot of PATIENT DARKNESS.
MY RATING 
4/5 Like it's predecessor, I felt that PATIENT DARKNESS struggles a little with establishing it's premise and really pulling readers into the crux of it's narrative. There are notable improvements made since the first outing, but also some areas in which the book flounders.

CHARACTERS
One of the things I was rather skeptical about when starting this story was the fact that Jeremy is now murdered. This meant that I might be reading a whole book from only Arthur Brennan's perspective. This time around, I still felt hard pressed to truly buy into the relationships between Brennan and characters like Sam, Greg, and Bishop. I will say that I actually liked Sam and Brennan quite a bit more than I did previously. Their characters aren't all that drastically different, I think they might just be a bit more developed at this point and their banter felt a little more authentic to me. Greg is clearly meant to serve as the comedic relief, but I didn't find him to be as clever as it seems like he was meant to be and he doesn't really contribute as much to the story as I would have liked given how important he was to saving Bishop at the end of the last book. I wanted to see a little bit more of his powers and how they evolve, but he's instead mostly seen dorking around on Brennan's couch. Bishop I still don't get at all. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to like her or not and I kind of hope that she's not meant to be overly relate-able because she just makes no sense to me at all.

The real standouts here are Benjamin, who readers get to spend a lot more time with, though his true intentions remain a bit of a mystery. Then there's Alex Bruding who really stole the show for me. She serves as that sort of secondary main character in Jeremy's stead. She's not only the daughter of a wealthy medical genius with ties to Leviathan (the main antagonists from the previous book), but also a woman who was born with supernatural gifts. Her powers are by far the most interesting abilities revealed so far. While Brennan's true/false thing, Jeremy's memory absorption, and Greg's non-specific ability to locate people in peril are all cool, there's nothing quite like a good telepath. For Alex, it's really just a sixth sense that  she's always had and uses as naturally as her ability to hear. She's also just way more compelling than Brennan or anyone else. Hers is a world of shady backroom deals and material excess. This makes her a complex and sometimes unpredictable character. The world as she understands it as well as the very nature of her powers changes throughout the course of the story and it was a ton of fun to watch her adapt to those changes.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world continues to be one of the main selling points of this series for me. The seemingly mundane streets of Odals are becoming a lot more interesting as more supernatural characters start to emerge from the woodwork. There aren't any particularly notable locations really. Alex's apartment complex and her father's mansion are certainly distinct and Brennan's cozy apartment is an interesting setting in that it's adjusting to there being two full-time residents living in it now. Most of it is typical mystery-thriller fare with morgues, dormitories, churches, and hospitals thrown in for good measure. Where the real world building takes place is in how the secret underground of the Sleepers is explored in greater detail.


In this installment, the portrayal of the sleepers as monsters of the night is greatly challenged. Lines are blurred with the inclusion of numerous other figures with supernatural powers whom are not affiliated with Benjamin's Sleeper organization. There's a killer on the loose posing a threat to human and superhuman alike. Then there's people who've stayed utterly removed from it all like Alex and her father. If this all sounds a little vague, that's partially because there aren't a ton of concrete revelations delivered to readers about what exactly the Sleepers are and what they want. Instead, there's mostly a lot of doubt thrown in. Small truths like what really happened to Brennan's sister muddle the previously established ideas about how Sleepers are the big bad of this world. There are a lot of little hints dropped about what might actually be going on, but nothing solid as of yet.

PLOT/TONE 
Where this novel ultimately struggles most is in how it makes the deliberate choice not to give too much away. While neither of the entries in this series are particularly lengthy, they're still at full novel length so I did find it slightly off-putting to have no clearer picture of what the actual threat to Odals is than I did at the end of BROODING CITY. While this decision definitely builds up a ton of intrigue for the next book in the series, it also prevents the story from feeling as rewarding as it should. Perhaps if the final conflict was a bit more dragged out or if more was revealed about one of the principal antagonists, then it would have concluded a little stronger. There are still plenty of interesting little twists, but nothing as showstopping as what I was hoping for. This issue is compounded by the fact that I felt like the opening half of the book was very very slow. Shutt spends an awful lot of time reminding us of what happened in the previous book before really allowing his readers to be tossed into the events of this new story.

After the foreboding words delivered by Benjamin during BROODING CITY's Epilogue, I was expecting to get tossed into something far more exciting. I felt like the story kind of gets the reset button hit on it. Between the constant restating/overstating and the fact that there's a brand new mystery for Brennan to solve in somewhat typical contemporary noir fashion, it felt like this just didn't do enough to outdo it's predecessor. There are little things like how Brennan is trying to find love again (and using a sketchy dating site to do it), moments with Benjamin, and just about every chapter with Alex that do standout in my mind as points where the novel felt worthwhile. I ultimately just wanted things to pick up a little sooner than they did and provide me with a little more satisfaction by the end.

CONCLUSION 
PATIENT DARKNESS is a worthy continuation of the story that BROODING CITY began. It greatly deepens the intrigue surrounding the dark Sleeper underbelly and gives readers cause to doubt their previously established ideas about it. A couple of the characters come off a little better than they did previously and those featured in Alex's chapters are all top notch. Most of the interpersonal interactions still didn't resonate with me on Brennan's side of things so I hope to see more from Alex's corner of the world in the next book. With all the hinting and posturing going on, the third book in this series has a very high bar to live up to indeed. If you read and enjoyed BROODING CITY, then this is definitely a book you'll want to pick up. I have a feeling that there are some really awesome things to come with this series and while I was mildly disappointed with the rate at which the narrative has progressed, it seems like Shutt has set all the pieces in place for a tremendous third book.

You can check out more reviews on PATIENT DARKNESS at Goodreads. Kindle and paperback editions of this book can be found on Amazon.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

REVIEW: ENDER'S GAME

Heroes robbed from the cradle...

INTRODUCTION 

Few books are as widely revered as Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S GAME. It's widely referenced and I always had an idea of what the basic plot points were but never actually experienced the cultural phenomenon for myself. I went in with some pretty lofty expectations, hoping this piece of classic science fiction would live up to it's sterling reputation.

MY RATING 
5/5 ENDER'S GAME is not only a brilliant scifi ensemble, but also a deep and occasionally harrowing examination of what it means to be both a part of and apart from humanity.

CHARACTERS
One of the toughest aspects of this story is that nearly all of the key characters are young children. Ender, Petra, Bean, Alai, Valentine, and Peter are some of the more notable members of the cast, but there are a host of others who play an important part in Ender's journey towards saving humanity. All of them are children who never really get to have a childhood. They're picked as the best and brightest that humanity has to offer and are asked to be brilliant for the rest of us. It's a big burden to bear and Card paints a stark picture of how this pressure molds them into pseudo-adults. All too early, these characters learn the meaning of evil and are exposed to injustice much sooner than they should be. But in spite of their early maturity, it's also evident at times that they really are just kids trying to play the role of something more.


Ender's character is one of the most compelling I think I've ever seen in a piece of fiction and I found myself relating to certain aspects of his character throughout the story. In spite of being extraordinary in every physical and mental way imaginable, he's also flawed in just enough ways to make him someone my heart ached for. I don't know if I've ever routed for a character more than I did for Ender Wiggen and there was this bizarre sense of responsibility I felt for his pain by simply reading through the story. What's most interesting about him though is how dangerous he is. The idea of having a boy his age be as deadly as some of the most powerful action heroes is definitely a disturbing one. It also messed with me a little since there's still an innocence about Ender that can only come with a character of such youth.

WORLD/SETTING 
The Ender Universe is one that is both glittering and shrouded in darkness. There's a certain timelessness to a lot of the science fiction technology that shows up. From the spacecraft, to the "desks" that the kids use for their schoolwork, there was just enough description to give me an idea of what these things were capable of, but never so much that I didn't find myself using my own imagination to decide what exactly they looked like. It was really interesting to read a piece of science fiction with such and open-ended set of visuals since most novels in this genre painstakingly describe each technology employed or reference common science fiction fare which most readers will instantly be able to see in their mind's eye. It's a rather bold choice to build up a world in this way, but I liked it quite a bit. It gives the book a lot of flexibility in that I would have no idea what year it was written in by simply reading through it. This may be one reason why the story continues to resonate so well with audiences so many years after it's publication.

There are three main areas in which the story takes place: earth, the battle school, and a third, more secluded locale where the finale is set. Each is crafted with a loving hand and without spoiling too much, I will say that a lot more time is spent on Earth than I expected. This is a good thing too because the political intrigue it holds is quite entertaining and learning about things happening there helped bring some clarity to events taking place in space. It's not quite a dystopia, but rather a world that is eerily as dysfunctional as the one that exists today. The battle school is a whole world unto itself. The rules are different there and so are the people. This is  a place that's entirely meant to raise up a generation of soldiers by nearly any means necessary. This is also the most interesting setting in the book, largely because of the battle room where gravity doesn't really exist. It's in this room that Ender grows into the warrior that his teachers want him to be. It's where he discovers himself, defines his values, and develops his strategic capabilities. This may not be The Hunger Games, but  some of the mock battles held in this room are definitely not gentle either. In the interest of having no spoilers, I'll just say that the end of the book brings readers to a couple of wonderfully exotic locations where the story's climax and resolution take place. There's also a very interesting virtual space referred to only as the "fantasy game" where some intriguing, albeit trippy, moments take place. All in all, there's plenty of science fiction goodness going on in this world and I found every inch of it to be worthwhile. 

PLOT/TONE 
It has been a very long time since I've read something as emotionally draining as this piece of fiction. I just wanted to see the suffering end for these children, but Card gives short enough respites from the darkness which helped keep things from getting heavy enough where I wanted to put the book down. It's an elegant mix of pain and relief that kept me rushing through the pages with a desperate need to know how it would all end. That said, this story is certainly not for the faint of heart. It's unapologetic abuse of it's young characters is really quite difficult to bear and what's more disturbing still are the implications it has on what it means to be human. It's actually sort of hard to imagine this as a piece of Young Adult literature. I know YA being a genre or sub-genre is more of a recent development in how people categorize books, but there are some distinct indications in Card's writing that this is supposed to appeal to younger readers.In my opinion, this isn't really who I would recommend the book to since I feel like it's about as much of a kid's book as LORD OF THE FLIES is. I suppose on some level the story does appeal to anyone who's felt like they're different for one reason or another and it does do a good job of trying to reconcile that type of pain. That said, it just felt a lot more like a look at the adult world through a child's perspective.

This idea is reinforced by the brief moments that feature dialogue between the adult characters who run the school as well as with two key members of Ender's family. In these moments, readers get a break from the excitement of Ender's life and are offered some deeper insight into the finer points of how this world works and what it takes to be an important part of it. The socio-psychological depth that is explored is partially what makes me think this is almost more of an adult book. There are a lot of insightful statements made about the topics of politics and war which, while not totally inappropriate for kids, probably wouldn't really be fully appreciated by them either. In his prelude to the book, Card argues the point that children are often very adult-like in their thoughts and actions. As someone who's still fairly young himself, I definitely don't disagree with this statement, but I think there's also a number of things that a child shouldn't have to worry about or experience until they are older. The kids in this story are definitely not shielded from very much and in some cases are even manipulated into maturing way earlier than they would if given a normal childhood. It's the way that they're robbed of their innocence that I found to be the most disturbing and the shocking twist at the end definitely lands the final blow. Fortunately though, there's also a lot of childish charm scattered throughout which helps lighten the mood. Sometimes it's a funny quip and in other's its an inventive way of dealing with bullying, but in all cases, it definitely reminded me that these really are just kids trying to find their way like any other person their age.

As a completely unrelated side, one thing that made me genuinely uncomfortable about this story is how frequently the characters are described as being naked. It's never in a sexual way, but I still found the nudity to be confusing and unnecessary. Maybe it's just a generational thing, but I don't think it's too much to ask for the kids to have been wearing underwear at the very least during scenes where they're hanging out in their bunks.  

CONCLUSION 
I'm definitely glad to have finally read this classic piece of science fiction. It exceeded all of my wildest expectations and I can easily see why this is such a cherished story. A part of me is glad that I waited till adulthood to read it though. I think, like many YA titles, I got more out of it coming in with a more mature point of view than I ever would have as a high school or middle school reader.
There's a lot of very deep thought that went into crafting this narrative and I love how much it made me pause to think about what was really going on. I felt very deeply for each of the characters and became invested in their world very quickly. There's not much to say other than that if you haven't read ENDER'S GAME already, you should definitely pick it up. 


More information and reviews on ENDER'S GAME can be found at Goodreads.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

UPDATE: CELEBRATING MY 50TH REVIEW

I've had a lot of fun since starting the blog. While I don't read as much as some, I've been pretty pleased with the number of books, stories, and graphic novels that I've read through since I began. As of today, I've written forty-nine reviews on this blog, accounting for over fifty different pieces of fiction (this includes my review roundup posts). As I approach the arrival of my fiftieth review, I wanted to look back on those that I have done so far and link to them here.
  1. An Unexpected Bonding
  2. The Stonegate Sword
  3. Klubbe the Turkle and the Golden Star Coracle
  4. Bypass Gemini (Big Sigma Book 1)
  5. Your First 1000 Copies
  6. Napism.info
  7. The Devil's Playthings
  8. Injustice Gods Among Us Vol. 1
  9. Hollow Towns
  10. Fade to Black
  11. Everyone Dies at the End
  12. The Devil's Child
  13. Injustice Gods Among Us Vol. 2
  14. Stormdancer (The Lotus War Book 1)
  15. Mini Review: Sinking
  16. Whispers of the World that Was
  17. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games Book 1)
  18. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Book 2)
  19. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery
  20. Brooding City
  21. The Strange Library
  22. Mini Review: The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye
  23. The Martian
  24. Unstable Prototypes (Big Sigma Book 2)
  25. Batman the Long Halloween
  26. Day of the Fish Zombies
  27. White Wind Rising (Gunpowder and Alchemy Book 1)
  28. Sixth of the Dusk
  29. Review Roundup: New 52 November!!!
  30. The Buried Giant
  31. Review Roundup: The Immortal Iron Fist
  32. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Book 3)
  33. The Immortal Weapons
  34. Somewhere In Between
  35. Atomic Robo The Everything Explodes Collection
  36. Sung in Blood
  37. Dimorphic
  38. Atomic Robo The Crystals Are Integral Collection
  39. Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars
  40. Illuminae (Illuminae Files 01)
  41. Perfect State
  42. The Goblin Emperor
  43. Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth 
  44. Review Roundup: Free Comic Book Day
  45. Stardust
  46. Review Roundup: Days of FCBD Past
  47. Rat Queens Volume 3: Demons
  48. Mini Review: Pandemonium
  49. Marvel 1602

Four the fiftieth post to be marked with the "REVIEW" tag, I'll be trying out a slightly different format which gives the reviews on my blog a little more pzazz than the versions I post on Goodreads. I'll also be trying to make the first couple of these reviews books that I either loved or really enjoyed in order to celebrate fully celebrate this shift.

To start things off, I'll be reviewing a beloved science fiction classic, ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card!

Review to be posted tomorrow!

TWINS TO THE THRONE: AN EPISODE OF BIRTH


*.* Twins to the Throne *.*

=================
| An episode of birth |
=================

The emperor trails his slave girl through the dim corridors of his palace. She makes haste, shuffling her sandaled feet as quick as she can while remaining ladylike. This is a situation that would surely justify running, but his majesty has not given her permission to do so. The emperor takes long, deliberate strides behind her. He too feels this is an occasion for more than just hasty walking, but he will not suffer to be seen doing so in front of his barbarian captive. A maroon cape falls over his right shoulder and sways with each step. His breastplate glitters in the muted light and a wreath sits securely over his curly hair. This is the way an emperor ought to look, with a dignified swing of his shoulders and a chin held high.
 At last, they come upon the bedchamber where the girl opens door and steps aside. The emperor shoots her a coy grin as he passes. Better for her to think this is but a trivial matter to him. The emperor cannot appear worried, even in his own household. But the way his empress screams on the bed does worry him. Her ladies in waiting scurry around, holding her hands, dabbing her forehead with cool water, and fanning her writhing figure. The midwife crouches between her legs, waiting to see the babe emerge. She pops up over the skirts of the empress’s dress from time to time to issue commands or soothing words, but the emperor knows this is not going well.
Gods, let this child be a son,” the emperor prays, though his words are inaudible.
The screaming and the twisting and the hustling about goes on until the emperor feels exhausted just standing here.
“Keep fighting, my love,” he says.
This time his voice rings out rich and deep for all to hear. It’s the most he can offer his empress right now. Were he a normal man, he would be by his woman’s side, holding her hand, whispering sweet things to her, and sweating under the stress of the moment. But he knows he mustn’t do that. He understands that to rule also means he must live life imprisoned by his own power. He stands there, frozen in place like a cool, magnificent sculpture. He studies her olive skin, her wetted, dark hair, and the determined glint in her eyes. He admires the way she pushes through the pain.
At last, a wailing infant is withdrawn. A slave comes over with a knife and chops the cord that tethers the babe to its mother. Then another comes and wraps it up in a swaddling cloth. But something is wrong. The midwife should be taking it over to the empress. Instead she crouches back down in front of her as if the job is not yet done. A slave brings the child over to her emperor. Shock and confusion rack his mind, but all he can do is remain stone-faced as he accepts the infant.
“A boy, my lord,” the slave informs him.
He returns with a nod before turning his gaze down to the baby boy. The sight of his warm brown eyes calms the emperor. He might be whining and stinky and covered in blood and slime, but he’s the most beautiful thing the emperor has seen.
He’ll make a good prince,” the emperor decides.
Then a second small voice echoes through the chamber. The emperor looks up to see another baby in the midwife’s arms. The empress lets out a loud sigh and collapses against the bed, no longer conscious. The midwife brings the second child over to its father.
“Another boy, your honor,” she tells him.
“Thank you,” he replies, though his heart sinks with the news. “You’ve served us well.” The emperor’s voice is steady although his heart races.
The weary old midwife departs from the chamber, escorted by several slave girls. The rush of joy that came from the emperor’s firstborn son is now dashed by the presence of the boy who came but minutes after his brother. The empire cannot have dual emperors. Yet do not these boys have an equal claim to the throne? They’ll grow up being the same age with the same face, same hair, and same voice. They will, for all purposes, be the same man, but there can only be one of them. The handmaids fuss about the sleeping empress while their emperor wanders to the bedchamber’s balcony. He steps out onto it through the open door and breathes in the warm air.
“Is this not also my child?” he says looking out at the tall buildings with steeple roofs.
All the emperor can see is a vision of the chaos that these twin princes will bring to the empire. He sees them fighting over their claim to the throne. And why shouldn’t they? Is one supposed to accept a role as the second son? No, these would be proud boys. These would be brothers destined to turn on one another.
“Tygren,” the emperor says, feeling his general’s presence behind him.
“I got the news, my lord,” the soldier replies.
“What would you do to protect this empire?”
 “Anything.”
A silence hangs in the air before the emperor concludes, “I need you to take one of them away.”
“Where?”
“Somewhere close, someplace safe, a farm maybe. If anything happens to his brother, I’ll need him to be within arm’s reach and I –”
“It would be unbefitting to sentence the boy to any crueler a fate.”
“Indeed,” the emperor groans.
“What of the empress.”
“She’s not to know of this arrangement. We’ll craft a fiction that she bore only one.”
“It will be done. Which one am I to take?”
The emperor looks at the younger twin. He should kiss the boy on the forehead or at least say he’s sorry. But he’s not sorry, he’s the emperor. So he hands the babe over to Tygren who departs with a bow.