Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Book Review: Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson

Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson was... you know, I don't know HOW I found it. I suspect it was on promo or something in some mailing list of discounted books or something. I'd never heard of Daniel Arenson before which is odd because he's written a LOT of books, and they're the kind I like. But somehow I kept not reading him.

Until now.

Earth Alone is the first in a series, maybe a trilogy. I should have looked before reviewing I guess but I just finished reading it and was excited to come tell you about it. Oops. I just broke the fourth wall. Please excuse me. I'm excited.

Earth Alone is military science-fiction if you had to shelve it that's where you'd put it. You'd be limiting the readership too much though. Listen. I know all about military sci-fi. It often starts with, here's the arc:

1) Meet the protagonist & see him in normal environment/home. Nice guy. Likable. Maybe a bit artistic/sensitive.
3) Bootcamp is hard, a series of examples of how hard it is and how overwhelming and "I just wanna go home, I miss... stuff."
4) Things start coming together, the company/platoon/whatever starts gelling and getting less haggard feeling.
5) Death. Someone dies. Not an important character but one that's been added in there, perhaps after the story was written because all boot camp stories need this person to die. You can literally remove them from the story and it doesn't change in any way. It just serves the purpose Coulton's Death did in The Avengers and brings the team even closer together. "We're doing this for DEAD GUY!!!"
6) Graduation. Everything's golden.
7) Off to war. OMG - it's horrible. I hate this. Thank Glob for all that training! this is what we trained for people! Our protagonist turns out to be a great leader of men but denies it and says he was just doing what had to be done.
8) Much death but remains of the troop go on to bigger things.

That happens in ALL boot camp stories. It's THE story arc and I felt like this book was doing the same thing. Hitting all the same beats as Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card - read the book, ignore the movie) Starship Troopers (Robert A. Heinlein - read the book, ignore the movie), and countless others that've gone before.

You know why it happens this way? Because it works. The death scene that is always there and that I always see coming even if I don't know who it's going to be... it's there and it is the *click*. It's the moment the hero goes from the person he was when we met him to the person he is going to be in the end. It's a transformative death, the chrysalis moment where he changes and the death is a punctuation mark, an exclamation point when done correctly, and a comma when done incorrectly (I'm looking at you Madonna's baseball movie A League of Their Own... nobody even knew who that character WAS! You knew the beat, but you did it wrong.)

This book hit all those beats, and you know it's going to. It's that kind of book. And it did it exceptionally well. To the point where I finished the last of the book (Beats 6-8 above) in Taco Johns eating their super nachos and drinking a giant tea and crying. Literally wiping my eyes with a napkin and sniffling crying as I read it. I cried from happiness and joy and sadness and pride. It was outstanding. I cried unashamedly and kept reading right there in public with a napkin in one hand as I blotted my eyes with it one at a time so I didn't have to stop reading. At one point I thought I was going to choke on my churro as I tried to swallow it and found that being "choked up with emotion" is more than a figure of speech. My throat rebelled against the idea of swallowing at that moment.

The characters are good. I liked them. There's one, a tiny girl, who has a story she tells about two times too often but, it's there to make a point so Arenson beats us over the head with it, the characters too. I get it. I went to boot camp and the mouthiness these characters had... and the punishments they were given... that part was unrealistic to me. They had quite a few more smart-assed remarks than I thought they should have. That bugged me some. But it didn't take away from how much I liked the characters, the story, or the book itself.

Listen, it's not A Tale of Two Cities, or The Stand (seriously, one of the best books ever written) but it's really really good. I read it on my kindle and on the last page when it offered to sell me the next in the series I clicked BUY NOW without a moment's hesitation. I won't read it next though. I'm wrung out. I need something lighter.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: Batman: The Killing Joke (movie)

 (Ignore the quality of this picture.
I took it with my cell phone to send it to a friend)
Batman: The Killing Joke was a really great graphic novel/comic and I've looked forward to the movie adaptation of it for a long time. I was thrilled to hear it'd be the voices from Batman: The Animated Series, my favorite Batman, by the way. If you're an Amazon Prime member you can watch it for free. It's included with Prime. 

I liked little things, like the TO in STORAGE blinking off and on so the sign next to Batman read "Gotham's rage." It was a nice touch, and something akin to what a frame in a comic would do. It was subtle, but it was there. That's one of the things about animated movies that I like. There aren't any accidents. Everything is drawn and done on purpose so something like this... it's intentional. I appreciate those touches. 

Just one bad scene... I liked it. I really liked parts of it. I was good with the Batgirl part right up until the scene under the gargoyle. That felt forced, but it wasn't the scene. The ambiguity at the end wasn't the one I expected from the comic, or the one I wanted. I'd spent the whole movie wondering how they'd do it and then they did it by NOT doing it. Still, I liked it and will watch it again. Probably skipping the Batgirl bits completely.

The scenes at the Fun-house were just as I remembered them, almost shot for shot (in my memory) from the source material right up until the ending... the ending was different and not what I had expected or really wanted I guess. I still have the ending from the comic in my head as the best ending and if you haven't read the comic yet watch the movie first and THEN read the comic I think in this case. There's something great about a comic. Looking at the panels and seeing the details.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Book Review: Crooks & Straights by Masha du Toit

Crooks and Straights by Masha du Toit is set in South Africa and is the story of an adopted big sister trying to protect her "special" little brother. I use the quotation marks here on purpose because he's special for a reason and that'll come clear.

Crooks & StraightsThe setting is one I don't see often enough. I really enjoyed the feel of the novel for being set in Cape Town, I think it was Cape Town, suddenly I think that's where the author is from lol. It doesn't matter because it's not our world or our town. Magic works and there are magical creatures, and djinn you can summon in a cup of tea, a magical mafia-esque underground, and hints of a totalitarian regime of purists (non-magical folk, AKA muggles in the Potterverse) growing in power. I suspect we'll get more into them in the second book.

Which brings me to my only real complaint, it ended too soon. I realized I was already 98% of the way through the book and there wasn't any resolution happening. It never DID happen. In a story arc type thing we closed the book because it was over around the time where Luke gets on the Millenium Falcon for the first time to leave Tatooine. Yeah, not kidding. WAY too soon. All set up, beautiful set up, interesting set up, great world building set up but then YOINK! The waiter takes the salad plates and presents the bill with no meal or dessert.

That being said, do I recommend Crooks and Straights? I don't know. I do like the setting and the characters, except the Dad. I thought he was a little hollow and underwhelming. He mostly got bossed around by the women and did whatever they told him to do whether it's his wife, the hired help, old woman down the road, or the daughter. He was there, but only barely. I don't remember his name even... Kesel maybe?

Yes. Get the book. I liked the story so far. I liked the setting. I want Masha du Toit to write more stuff and I'm a supporter of indie authors and it's worth the money. But get it knowing you'll want to get the next one because you're not really buying Book 1 so much as Part 1.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Father's Day

It's Father's Day, or close enough so as to count. If I were closer I'd be taking him out to eat today because I work tomorrow. (No, the picture on the right is neither me, nor my dad. It's a father/son I've known since the dad was the age of the son and it makes me smile whenever I see it. It's one of my favorite pictures in the world.)

I was talking to someone recently about something we'd been talking about doing, the mechanic's test at work. Evidently it's in three parts and takes from 6-8 hours to complete and MANY people don't pass it the first time.  The other person said they didn't want to fail it and have everyone know they'd failed. I said they'd do fine and the real question is how long do we have to wait after passing to become a mechanic and what kind of training is involved, and what if we hate it do we really have two months to say we didn't want it?

They asked, "You're already thinking of what you'll do if you pass?"

I said, "Um. It could happen. I've passed things by accident before."

The thing is, the idea of NOT passing it hadn't really crossed my mind as a serious thought. The same of the Pharmacy Tech Certification Test thing I had to take. A lot of people take it more than once. I toyed with the idea of what if I didn't pass it, but it never really felt real that I might not. I'm not a super genius. I really am not. But I am confident I can do what I set my mind to do.

I saw that growing up. Both my parents, from my point of view, seemed to make up their mind they were going to do something and they just did it. I'd never seen my dad roof a house before but then he did it. Chop down/up trees after a hurricane? Did it. Build just about anything? Yup. This was even before YouTube so he wasn't learning it on the sly by watching videos online. It was just a thing. Once you decided to do something you found out how to do it and then you did it.

If I had one thing to kvetch about growing up it would be that I was inadequately prepared for failure. It just wasn't something that came up an awful lot. It wasn't an option that was on the table. My parents, to my eyes, didn't fail and they did impossible things all the time. What's that? Want to go to Germany and be teachers? Okay. So, they did and we went to another country, half way around the world.

I'm sure there were times when they weren't as fabulously successful as they appeared and I probably never knew about the times that things didn't go the way they were supposed to, but the lesson I learned from watching him just DO stuff was that the expectation was, once you make up your mind to do something you'd better, by God, do it. Learn it, do it. In that order. There's not a lot of room in there for Mess up and start over or do it again. All that won't fit between the comma after "Learn it," and the words "do it."

So, this Father's Day I'm celebrating the confidence and expectation of success I got from both my parents. Not in a "You will be the best or you're a failure!" way, but in an "Of course you can do it if you want to. You just have to figure out how first and then do it," way. The expectation that we kids were capable of whatever we wanted to learn how to do and then DO, has turned out to be valuable to me in life.

The confidence in my abilities is good, but that first step is the important part so many people don't have. TONS of people believe they can do anything but not as many realize, "learn how" is the first part. Maybe it's because my parents were both teachers. They valued learning and reading and competence. Today I still have those values and I know where they came from. My parents. They believed in me before I did.

Thanks Dad. Thanks Mom.

Happy Father's Day, and eat something good for you! :P

And, since I know he'll see this because Mom will share it with him...


Friday, June 17, 2016

Book Review: Demon Invasion by Ryan Toxopeus

I've read +Ryan Toxopeus  before and enjoyed his A Noble's Quest which I also recommend.

Demon Invasion is high fantasy with magic very much present. It almost had to be with demons as the main characters. Set in the world of his novels this novella serves as back story and world building for the main books but is on itself a good tale and interesting read.

In the 90s and 00s I played a lot of DnD (2nd edition s the best!) and read a lot of Forgotten Realms novels and Ryan's stories evoke that same feeling of escapism and wonder. I like the way he tells a story and I enjoy his characters.

If I had one quibble it isn't about the story which is absolutely fine, it's the cover. It doesn't look consistent with the others in the series and if I weren't familiar with his writing already i wouldn't have gotten it. This is a case where the cover doesn't do justice to the story inside. The cover looks kind of stock and amateurish but the writing isn't at all.

If you want a quick summer read and enjoyed Forgotten Realms type fantasy back in the day I recommend the whole series. (The last book isn't out yet.)

Start reading Demon Invasion by Ryan Toxopeus for free with the kindle app.