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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Unfinished Business

I started going through all my document folders yesterday in search of a story I had written but never finished years ago that I thought would do well to get my attention for a while. I think it's a good novella or long short or whatever you want to call it. Well, in that process I stumbled upon all of my other unfinished works, and there are a lot of them. I think endings are extremely difficult for me for some reason; obviously that is the case. Does anyone else have such issues with endings? In any case I decided I'd list some of the stories here with titles and brief descriptions of what I remember them to be about. It's interesting to see all the different ideas I've come up with over the years! It's also interesting to see what stories I've yet to finish. I'm sure some of these will be finished and edited in the future (in particular: Soul For Sale, Artemis, and Europa Strain).

Soul For Sale: This is actually a story I've finished, thankfully. It's one of my favorites that I'm working on getting published. Deals with a humanoid robot and his attempt to acquire the 'soul' of a doctor. "Soul" is basically a metaphor for someone's life. It's sort of a robots way to become more human and for other people to acquire prestige.

Artemis: Another that I've finished. It takes place in the distant future of Earth after a cataclysmic war forces humanity to make a haven out of space colonies. Artemis is a school colony for kids. Atlas, the main character, struggles to survive as her former friend turns on her and attempts to destroy her through manipulation and the like. It's a rather good story I think.

Europa Strain: This one is not yet finished unfortunately. I wrote it after reading about the missions planned for the moon Europa. This story is set in the relatively near future when research drones discover a super virus in the iced over oceans of Europa and a small crew of men become infected and have to find a cure before the virus infects everyone on Earth.

A Tear For Humanity: My first and only SF publication. It was published in a college literary journal and now that I look back I realize how weak it really is. The story is about a boy on his birthday who survives an alien attack in the L.A. area. One bomb, ten million dead.

Psychosis: A WW2 story about a man who loses his mind after being left behind in France. This is sort of a psychological horror/paranormal story. It's impossible to get published because it's not easy to sell...it's very dark.

They Call Him Benefactor: I don't remember where this story was going, but I opens in a giant gladiator style arena in the future...and the main character is pitted against big ugly aliens...

YA Something: The title of this is just what the document is titled. I never gave it a title, but it is the predecessor to WISB. This story also dealt with going to other worlds, only in this case it involved far too many main characters and too many HP references. I'll likely do something with it at some point in the future though--lots of editing to come.

Revival of the Ancients: My earliest attempt at a novel. It's far from being finished. I liked some of the story--mostly the plotline dealing with the character Arc and his wife Relena...and the old far Daval the dying wizard--but unfortunately there was far too much going on. This is why WISB has stuck exclusively thus far to one single viewpoint. There will likely be a break away later, but as of now I don't need it.

Down the Spiral: Fantasy at its very cliche-est. It needs editing and some nifty place to send it to really. Where the hell do you send slightly comical, yet unoriginal fantasy? That's why it's comical, because it takes elements from everything and makes sure to be cliche...the plot is a dwarf, an elf, a knight, and a wizard who go to find a magical scepter in a serpent's lair to save their kingdom...

Hate: In my Star Wars obsessed days I loved stories involving evil dictator types that could crush you head with a thought...so really that is all that this story is about and it isn't close to being one percent complete lol. Still, I love the name Lord Achirune...

Hello James: I don't write mainstream fiction very often. In fact, I'm relatively bored by mainstream. I just makes me sleep. This story is finished, just not edited. It's told through the eyes of a friend who copes with her best friends' attempts to commit suicide.

IDSTOR: Document title. I liked the idea of this one. What if you had to register to breed and had to meet a lot of requirements both mentally and physically? Now imagine you are a midget (or little person) who wants one...

New Story: Document title. A space pilot is abducted during an interstellar battle, but can't remember a thing. He finds himself forced to remember to provide information for mankind to better fight the alien threat. Think Fire in the Sky, only more forward...

Skylark: Another novel attempt. I loved the magic system in this. It revolved around hair, so naturally women were better magicians because they naturally grow hair faster. When you used magic, your hair burned away, so magic is sparing. But if you use magic and have no hair to burn, you die. Also had flying ships even though it's a very fantasy setting. Loved the idea.

If Vampires Could Be Depressed: Think about it. What if? They consume all sorts of blood, so what if they were capable of getting depression too? I wrote it as a sort of humorous story of vampires and how the epidemic of depression affects them. Humans deal with it far different, vampires see it as a plague.

Bean: Not to be confused with the name of the character from Ender's Game, nor when you add an 'er' is it to be confused with a slang term w are all aware of. No, this is yet another novel attempt with a magic system based in beans. Literally.

Comet Story: Document title. Not finished, but another novel I was working on. It had two plotlines going: one was dealing with a set of scientists doing some sort of experiment connected with the second, which dealt with a wanderer named Alan in a post apocalyptic world created by the crash of a comet.

Kiggles: One of my more experimental pieces. Around 500 words of rant from the eyes of a character trying to run a play where the cast are all trolls.

Broken: One of my favorite unfinished, err, novels/long short stories. Set in a distant, alternate world where psychic abilities act in place of magic, enormous manned bipedal robots called Robotic Defense Units defend the cities of man and elf alike, and evil men manipulate the weak with their mental powers.

So that is just a few. There are a dozen more of them of various lengths. I need to finish most of these :S.
Anyone have something they can dig up? I'm discovering all sorts of stuff in my archives lol!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chapter Twelve: The End of the Beginning

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

James had narrowly escaped death. In his mind he could still see the menacing white eyes of the creature, beast, whatever it was, thirsty for his flesh, thirsty for the sweet comfort he would have created inside its belly. Yet, he had survived.
The sword, to his surprise, refused to leave his hand. He tried prying his fingers away, laying there on the beach, but his hand, and the sword, seemed unwilling to let go. The blade itself shimmered faintly as if it were suddenly brand new. He couldn’t quite understand how it had all happened. He remembered thinking desperately about the sword, and then it ripped free and he found himself on the beach, blurry eyed, and exhausted, sword tightly in his hand. Magic, he thought. For some reason he felt as if he were becoming more used to the blurry vision and weakness. He had the energy to stand again; he simply wanted to lay there in the sand for a moment.
But Darl refused to allow him more than a few minutes, and before long, he found himself on his feet and hobbling through the open tunnel mouth and up a winding cramped tube. He dragged the sword behind him. Every so often the blade bumped Pea who in return grunted angrily and kicked it away. Darl, not at all to James’ surprise, became grumpier than before, grumbling to himself as they climbed.

The journey up seemed far easier than the journey down. At least James thought so. The biggest problem he found was drying off. The process made him tremendously uncomfortable and he started to feel the way a cranberry might feel after being drowned. Still, he prayed and hoped there would be a soft bed in Arnur and that he would be able to sleep. And sleep.
And sleep.
The tunnel no longer curved in strange winding patterns; rather, it kept relatively straight in a easterly direction. James took this as an advantage. It meant they would have a full understanding of which direction to look when they managed to get out of the tunnel.
Slowly the tunnel widened allowing everyone in the group to walk fully upright. James sighed as his spine popped. He stretched as best he could with the sword hanging from his hand.
Then a faint light appeared, intensified, and then the end of the tunnel presented itself. Pea quietly put out his torch and placed it in his bag. Darl broke into the outside world first, then James, and Pea shortly after. James breathed in deeply, closed his eyes, and reveled in the moment. He promised himself that should he ever get home he would never go spelunking. Not so long as I have a choice.
In the distance massive bangs filled the air like the sound of two enormous boulders crashing against each other, or a tremendous rockslide ripping away from a rock face. James saw Darl look back and for a moment thought to look too. He stopped himself in mid-motion. He wasn’t sure if he could handle it. Darl’s eyes were sunken; Pea, who had turned a moment later, looked on the brink of tears. The sounds continued and James built up the courage. He turned. The sight before him, a sight he had half-expected and yet could never fully prepare for, caused his knees to quiver, nearly buckling beneath his weight. Fires ravaged anything that could burn within Arlin City. Though he couldn’t see the main gates, he could tell that the walls had been crushed. Buildings buckled from car-sized stone missiles. But the fires hadn’t reached the two towers. Instead chains with links the size of human torsos stretched up the height of the structures. The Adul’pur shimmered. Faint black clouds enveloped the bridge. They grew in intensity, becoming like elemental serpents, surrounding the Adul’pur, but held back by an invisible force. Whatever held the clouds a bay lost its strength and in a sharp flash of light the Adul’pur shattered and exploded out into a green mist and disappeared. The black clouds dissipated just as sneakily as they had come.
Then, the chains became taut. A stone missile ripped low into Naz’ra. It hung in balance with gravity and the last remaining supports within its structure, and then it fell, toppling down in a maze of dust, slabs of stone and pulverized rock. The sound of it all seemed infinitely greater to him. He winced as it crashed and dropped to his knees. He watched the dust settle and tears began to well in his eyes. Then Al’Dul creaked, a long crack opening like the maw of a stone beast along its midsection. Another stone missile burst through it. Then it crashed, hitting the hilltop in two large pieces, fragmenting, and spilling dust down the hillside.
“We must go,” Darl said.
James buried his head into the ground and sobbed.
“James,” Pea said, “we have to go. There’s no time.”
“I-I…”
“Fear not. Luthien will pay for this.”
But Darl’s words had no affect on him. He broke down completely, feeling as though one of his parents had died. What have I done? What have all these people done to deserve this? He searched for the answers; none came. It’s all my fault. Every last bit of it. If I had never come here, none of this would have ever happened. God help these people. God help me.
“We have to move now. If his men see us, then all of this is pointless,” Darl said, then searching for the words, “all those people would have died for nothing. Don’t let that hang on your shoulders. Ammond knew there were great things meant for you. Luthien would not want you so desperately if you were just an ordinary boy.”
“There’s nothing great about me Darl. Nothing! I’ve brought such pain on these people.”
“That cannot be helped now. Get up. Come to grips with this reality.”
Pea put a hand on his shoulder. “Come, let’s at least get to Arnur.”
He crept to his feet and sucked back his tears, sniffled. Then he turned away from Arlin City, seeing the last of it crashing down in smoke and flames.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Darl led the way; James thudded behind with the sword drawing a haphazard line in the earth. They reached a wooded area and took cover within the branches. The cover lasted only a moment before they were back in the open field. Soon they had crossed enough land and put enough tall woods behind them that they could walk without concern. Even if Luthien’s men were looking their direction, they were out of sight.
Mountains loomed overhead, but cast no shadows now that the sun ran in the wrong direction and had passed high noon. Instead, the mountain-face glimmered—green where knots of brush and trees grew, grey where huge rock outcroppings raised their stony fingers to the sky, and white where ice and snow took over above the snowline. Somewhere in the hills was the golden road that led to Arnur, yet James hadn’t a clue how to find it. Arnur, being such a sacred place, could not be reached by a clearly visible road, and no man would build such a road to a place where one could keep hidden.
Passing through one last clearing of trees, the base of the mountains exposed a single passageway, enveloped on both sides by tall, cracked grey rock formations. The passage looked like an ill-used trail, perhaps once traveled by horses and wagons. In any event, they entered and found themselves in the shadow of tall cliffs. Their footsteps echoed and every so often the rocks would creak and a stone or two would crackle down to the ground. James had an eerie feeling about the place. It reminded him too much of the water filled cavern and he half expected there to be strange and abnormal creatures wandering the rocky crevasses. Thankfully I don’t have swim. His muscles, while still under the influence of the salve, had long since passed the point of exhaustion, instead sending signals that they couldn’t remember hurting anymore. He never understood how the body could forget pain. The body could become so exhausted that exhaustion itself would have little effect. Regardless, he knew that eventually, if this journey kept up, he would collapse completely. Or something worse. He shuttered at the thought.
The passage ran a straight course into the mountain and generously increased in altitude until it split into three directions.
“Great,” Darl said sarcastically. “As if we need more hurdles…”
“Tagron said to find the golden path,” James said.
Darl whirled around. “Really? Do you see any gold?”
He shook his head.
“Then which magical path do you propose we take.”
“Calm down Darl,” Pea said. “It’s not his fault.”
“No, it’s not. I am just not cut out for this sort of thing. I expected to die an old man in Arlin City. Not old and running from Luthien. I’ve run from Luthien before. Didn’t think I would have to again.”
James looked into Darl’s eyes. He noticed the age there in Darl’s pupils and in the grey stubble protruding from the man’s chin. How old is he? And what does he mean by running from Luthien again?
“Let’s rest until we can figure it out.” Pea ended the conversation by taking a seat on a nearby rock and gazing at the paths. Darl grunted and did the same.
James stood there for a moment eyeing Darl. He looked deep for the right words, or any words for that matter. Then, he said in a timid voice, “I’m sorry,” and took off his pack and propped it against a rock. He leaned against it and rested the sword, firmly attached as if by an industrial glue, next to his leg. He let out a deep breath and closed his eyes. The sensation of rest ran through him like a smooth wind. In his last thoughts, he thought of Triska and Gammon and prayed that their deaths had been as painless as possible. He thought of Arlin City and the people, creatures, and otherwise that had been destroyed in the battle. Then he thought of those that would be next on Luthien’s rampage. He wondered about Luthien’s sudden appearance, army in tow. How did he cross so much land so quickly? And how did nobody in Arlin City know about it?
And in those thoughts, he found himself swiftly falling to sleep. He didn’t fight it, rather allowed himself to sink completely into his pack and drift away.
* * *
When James awoke, his first instinct was to ferry his way into consciousness. He had had that desire his whole life and it had never occurred to him to do anything else. Then what he could only describe as his second instinct, the one that found solace in the magic he had only acquired days before, took over. He allowed himself to slip away from the waking world and found himself once again in the presence of Dulien and the warm feeling that followed. Through his fading vision he could tell that it was only a few hours from dusk, orange-red rays of brilliant light shining overhead.
“Death seems to be nipping ever so daintily at your heels,” Dulien said.
I can’t help it. It just seems to find me at every turn.
“So long as you keep one step ahead of it.”
What if I can’t?
“Then it is your time and you will ascend into the Halls of the Great Fathers.”
I am afraid. Luthien is too powerful. I could give myself in. So many have already died because of me.
There was a deep sigh, a long airy breath that echoed in the back of his mind. Then Dulien said, “In my many years I came to understand that death is only the fault of the one that gives it. Luthien’s rage may be driven by your presence here in this world, but he makes every decision to destroy the lives of the innocent. You did not choose this fate for them. Fate is simply uncontrollable. Don’t bare such a burden.”
James hadn’t thought of it that way and having heard it from Dulien he started to understand how little control he had over the past events. How was I supposed to know that coming here would cause all this?
“Exactly.”
Dulien’s response startled him, and then he realized that he couldn’t think anything without announcing it to anyone swimming around in his mind.
How did Luthien get here so quickly? And without being spotted?
“Luthien is powerful, but he is not powerful enough alone to move an entire army unseen over such a great distance.” The concern in Dulien’s voice brought a new sense of doubt to James.
But it is possible?
There was a long pause, eerily silent. James shivered.
“In theory, if one could acquire enough power, he or she could do just about anything.” Another pause. “Our time is running short. Don’t blame yourself. Study hard and learn your magic. Use it wisely and all will right itself.”
I have one more question. How did you die?
“I didn’t.”
Then he crashed wildly back into reality, all the while bewildered. When he came to, a soft pain throbbed in the back of his head and a moment later it dissipated into nothing. He reached his hands up to his face and rubbed his eyes. Then he noticed that the sword no longer clung to him, instead lying in the dirt next to his leg. He almost smiled, but stopped in mid-motion.
“Sleep well?” Pea said, leaning over a nearby rock.
“Good enough,” he said.
“Good. Darl is quite grumpy. I suggest keeping your distance.”
Then Darl bellowed, “I am not grumpy!”
“How can you tell?” He snickered.
“He starts mumbling incessantly to himself about events that probably never happened.”
The two of them laughed before Darl tossed a rock their direction and they were forced to dive out of the way. Then they decided it would be best to laugh in a calmer manner—hands over their mouths and gently vibrating with a sustained bout of chuckles.
After several minutes they stopped and James looked back where they had come. He hoped to see the remains of Arlin City. Instead he could only see the long plume of black smoke fading into the dying dusk sky, the remnants of that great city hidden behind a wall of rock.
“Any luck with the paths?”
Pea shook his head. “None yet. Darl has been sitting there for a while, staring. I imagine he could win a staring contest against any child in all of the Farthland if he were put to the test. How was your talk with Dulien?”
Dulien had a way of confusing him. It always seemed as though each conversation left him with even more questions. Dulien didn’t choose him, nor had Dulien died, but he hadn’t a clue what that all meant. And James could only make wild assumptions as to how Luthien had managed to transport an entire army undetected across the Fire Rim and on the several month journey to Arlin City. Not to mention keeping the immense supply line needed to keep that army combat ready running without a single soul noticing it. It was just as impossible for Luthien to take any other city in the Farthland without some form of word reaching Arlin City and ultimately the dozens of other settlements. Luthien might stop a messenger riding by horse, but it would be difficult even with the help of flying beasts like the gryphons to stop a volary of messenger birds—not to mention that gryphons were too bulky to be as agile as a hawk or falcon. That was the cost of having the muscular strength to tear a man in two.
Finally he said, “It was as confusing as the first time. He told me that I’m not to blame for what has happened. I’m not convinced. I still feel responsible.”
“It can’t be helped James.”
“I know that. But would all this have happened if Laura and I had not come to this world?”
“Yes.” Pea didn’t hesitate.
“How do you know?” James cradled his legs in his arms.
“The peace, if you could call it that, between Angtholand and the Farthland has been failing for years. Luthien only stayed back because he didn’t have the military might to crush us without sending his own people into poverty. He could win, sure, but such might cost him the relative social order in Angtholand. People might turn on him. The gryphons that have gone to his side might flee. The Daemonkind would likely usurp him of his power, possibly try to kill him. Luthien is powerful, but he cannot stand up against a legion of thousands on his own.”
“Then why would he come now? Wouldn’t the same problems exist?”
Pea rubbed his chin. “I would assume so. There is so much I don’t know about what has happened. I have the same questions as you. I know Luthien is powerful, but it seems impossible for him alone to have come so far without anyone knowing. We have few allies in Angtholand, but even they would have sent some sort of notice that his armies were on the move. This is all very strange.”
“Strange indeed,” James said under his breath.
“Listen to Dulien. You cause no undue hardship on these people. You simply brought forth an inevitable event.” Pea smiled half-heartedly.
James still couldn’t help feeling terrible. Brief images of Triska flashed through his mind—happy images. He remembered her warm embrace and the cozy feeling he had when he had entered her home. Even the thought brought warmth to his body, something he suddenly realized he would need soon. With the sun setting it would be very cold. The mountain regions of the Farthland suffered from colder temperatures than the valley floor. At night it dropped to an average of forty degrees and even colder during the autumn and winter months.
The last glimmer of light from the sun cast a ray overhead, giving the three paths a last flash of crimson light.
“Let’s just get to Arnur,” he said. “I’d like to finally get a lesson from you.” He grinned.
“I’d…wait, look.”
Pea pointed up to the three paths; James turned to look. A silhouette, for that was all you could call the figure that blinked into reality, came forward with shadowed arms held out in a peaceful gesture. Darl was upright before anyone else ready with his sword to attack anyone who came close enough.
The figure gave James the chills. It looked human, but bore no features other than two pinpoints of white light where its eyes were. It was literally a walking shadow completely unaffected by what little light the sun provided. When it walked its feet never touched the ground.
“Who wishes to pass through the golden path?” Its voice was eerily human, yet soft and neutral.
“We do,” Darl said firmly.
It eyed Darl, or made the gesture that would accompany such an action with the shadow of its face, and said, “Then I will tell you a riddle. Give me the right answer and your passage shall go unhindered. Answer me incorrectly and you can leave your path to chance. Two of these paths lead to death. Do you wish to answer my riddle?”
“Tell me your riddle specter. Take our answer as you will and leave us in peace.”
James thought he saw the silhouette smile, but shook his head thinking better of it. Then, as unexpectedly as it had come, the shadow began to sing in long sinuous tones, weaving interconnecting rhythms in major and minor chords:
“Through time and wind you bring me strength,
and beat back my chills forever,
but in my time you'll sound in length,
the ghostly thump of love so clever.
I cling to you in nightly terrors,
in hopes that you might live on,
but give to you my lively errors,
to my end so shall you be gone.”
Then the song ended and the shadow leaned back in a gesture of relief at having finished. Darl took a long moment to contemplate. James knew instantly that Darl hadn’t a clue what tell the shadow.
James looked to Pea. “Any idea?” he said.
“The sun and the moon?” Pea said.
“Can’t be,” Darl said, “it’s something more specific. The sun and moon have little to do with clever love.”
“It’s a stretch. On Earth many find watching the sun set and rise to be romantic. And some feel the same about the moon.”
“Still, it’s something else.”
He started to run ideas through his head. What brings you strength, fights back chills, and brings about love? And we cling to it to live on, but know by our own fault that when we die it dies too. He was silent for what seemed like ages. Pea and Darl were much the same.
“A blanket?” Pea said.
“What does that have to do with love? Or death for that matter?” he said.
Darl laughed—a loud throbbing laugh so loud James thought it shook the very foundations of the mountain. “I think the answer to that question should be left unsaid. You’re too young for that now. A blanket is loving enough. And if you treat it poorly you have to get rid of it.”
He glared. “I’m old enough!”
“I think it’s a blanket. It has to be.” Though Pea didn’t seem quite sure.
Darl nodded in agreement.
“I don’t think so,” James grumbled. Then he ran thoughts through his head again. Strength, beating, love, pain, and death. He repeated the words in his head.
“We have your answer,” Darl said.
The silhouette waited patiently.
“It’s…”
James ran forward and blurted out, “heart!” Darl’s bitter face forced James to curl away, but the answer had been said.
“You fool!”
“You may pass,” the shadow said.
Darl started to question, but the shadow disappeared just as swiftly as it had come, leaving Darl in utter bewilderment. The rightmost path sparked brightly and, as if a can of paint had been poured over the edge, the walls became a shimmering gold.
He sighed deeply, overwhelming glad that his answer was correct; he didn’t much like the idea of randomly selecting a path, nor did he enjoy the idea of dying. But he was right. Right as rain.
Pea patted him on the leg and scuttled by. Darl stared angrily.
“Well,” Pea said, “let’s get out of here. We don’t want to be caught up in the cold.”
James retrieved his things and followed Pea. Darl shuffled behind, grumbling again. The road to Arnur, the golden path, stretched out of sight, probably several miles—though he couldn’t be sure. Either way he would be someplace he hoped would be safe, away from Luthien and the army that would likely move on from burning Arlin City to the ground to burning crops, settlements, and anything else.
So he walked, slugging his damp pack over his shoulder. He had fixed the sword to the pack; he figured that one of the two swords that Darl had brought was going to be his. Having it magically cling to him had created a strange bond and he didn’t want to part with it.
He took one last look back at the skyline and the plume of smoke that still rose into the sky. Then he turned and trudged on.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Book Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

I have quite a lot of books that I have yet to read in my collection, and then I have some books that are classics or older books that I am reading for my literature class. So every so often I will be reading a book that is a classic or old, or just not necessarily from the last couple of years. The Forever War is a book I read for my literature class. So here goes my review.The Forever War is another military SF novel in much the same fashion as Old Man's War by John Scalzi was written. The only difference is that Old Man's War is relatively new in comparison. The Forever war is in first person, follows a single character--as should be the norm in a first person story--and deals with the concept of an interstellar war between mankind and an alien race known as the Taurans. The novel begins with the main character--William Mandella--being drafted into the first strike force for the United Nations Exploratory Force, emphasis on 'force'. This is not an ordinary draft. Mandella is a genius, along with practically all of his fellow draftees. Every single new soldier has an IQ of 150 or more and can contribute something to the war. Mandella was a physics teacher. Why get smart people for war? You can count on smart people to be able to think while blasting away the alien menace, which you would hope would put you in an advantage.
The most mind boggling part of this book was the way in which the soldiers traveled. This book was written a hell of a long time ago, so much of what we know about physics would probably make Haldeman's plan for interstellar travel pretty much impossible, but regardless here it is. They pass through things called "collapsars", which are essentially black holes. Since it is impossible to reach the speed of light, one can go through a collapsar and appear somewhere on the other end. The thing about traveling this way is that for those inside the collapsar, people practically going the speed of light, experience a completely different speed of time than those outside. Mandella might experience a week on ship time, while the Earth would experience years. Centuries pass him by like nothing. What I found interesting was actually trying to contemplate running a military with this sort of time dilation. How does one schedule someone for deployment when you haven't a clue when a ship is going to be coming back in? This was the one thing that just made it so amazing for me.
I think this is an amazing novel. It's not the best written SF novel I have read though. Haldeman is rather good at writing, but his style is not as strong as Scalzi's, in my opinion. However, this doesn't in any way detract from the effectiveness of the novel. I found myself caring about what happened to Mandella, and alternately what happened to his friends. He is able to draw that sort of emotion with me in his writing.
Haldeman makes the changes on the Earth over centuries look so real and natural. You start to wonder how you would react to a world that is so drastically different. What do you think you would expect if in two hundred years the Earth was overpopulated and there was need for some sort of universal birth control?
This book is essentially a classic. Everyone should read it at some point in their reading life. It's a relatively quick read and delves deeply into an ever changing world that you start to feel a little out of place. If you read this, think how you would react to a world so drastically different from your own? Would you be able to adapt to the changes? Or would you try to find a new home for yourself?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Major Score! Writer: 1 Fate: -2

K, the title really is just my odd sense of humor and it will likely make little sense. I just think it's silly.

So apparently I am one of the few winners of the Debut a Debut contest at Writing Aspirations. I've apparently won Ninja by Racy Li. It's somewhat of a dark urban fantasy/erotica from what I can tell. I'll be inserting it into my reading list now.
Additionally, I've managed to score quite a good collection of new books over the weekend, mostly from going to local thrift stores. The closest one to me tends to have a little section of scifi and fantasy, so naturally I migrate there from time to time. So here is what I got:

The Wilderness Four-1 / Across the Far Mountain by Niel Hancock
The Heaven Makers by Frank Herbert
The Abductors: Conspiracy by Jonathan Frakes (a.k.a. Riker from Star Trek Next Gen.)
Timeless Stories For Today and Tomorrow by Ray Bradbury
Sandkings by George R. R. Martin (huge score here)
Tales of the Velvet Comet #1: Eros Ascending by Mike Resnick
Orion by Ben Bova
The Best of Isaac Asimov by Isaac Asimov (duh, lol.)
Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
The Crack in the Sky by Richard A. Lupoff
Myth Adventures by Robert Lynn Asprin
The Deed of Paksenarrion (trilogy) by Elizabeth Moon
Krondor the Betrayal by Raymond E. Feist
TekWar by William Shatner (the Shat!)
Great Sky River by Gregory Benford
The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Thunder on Neptune by Gordon Eklund
Redshift Rendezvous by John E. Stith
The Lost Swords: First Triad by Fred Saberhagen
The Lost Swords: Second Triad by Fred Saberhagen
The Complete Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

And from Borders:
The Seeker by Jack McDevitt
Jupiter by Ben BovaSo I really made out rather well. Some new stuff, some dorky stuff, and a lot of old hard to find near-golden age stuff. I love Golden Age scifi. All that stuff set in times when we knew so little about physics that you could get away with almost anything. Ahh, so great.

Also, figured I would post my 'reading list'. This doesn't include the books for my scifi/fantasy lit class though, but I intend to review most of the books that I haven't read from that class.

Currently Reading: Venus by Ben Bova, Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

1. Shadow Fall by James Clemens
2. Seeker by Jack McDevitt
3. Ninja by Racy Li (e-book, won it!)
4. The Elder Gods Book One by David and Leigh Eddings
5. Cell by Stephen King
6. Two Wizards by Darren Reid (e-book)
7. Nebula Awards Showcase 2004: Edited by Vonda N. McIntyre
8. Jupiter by Ben Bova
9. Mad Ship by Robin Hobb
10. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
11. The Locus Awards: Edited by Charles N. Brown and Jonathan Strahan

So that's basically my 'to read' list for the time being. I didn't want to make it horrendously large simply because that would be crazy. I unfortunately don't have a Library Thing subscription so I can show random stuff from my book library and other such nifty features. I was under the impression that Shelfari had such things, but I can't seem the find them. Maybe there is another site that I can do the widget thing for free.

Anyone else have a 'reading list' or some such?
And have you found nifty deals in your local area such as the thrift store I mentioned? (I didn't mention the local library that has a 'fill-a-bag-for-5-bucks' sale during summer...my collection is upwards of six hundred books because of those things...)

Or, perhaps you know a neat website or some such that you found useful for finding amazing deals.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Writer's Friend--Music

I've had this idea floating around in my head for a while now. What exactly is the affect of music on writers? Are some inspired by listening to certain forms of music? Or do some not listen while writing at all?
In my case it can be either/or. Depending on the type of mood I am in, I can write while listening to music, but in other cases I have to have complete silence. I generally listen to music without words, though, namely classical and orchestrated soundtracks from movies.

So I am curious what music does everyone listen to when they write? How does it affect you?

And, alternately, has a song, or section of a musical piece, inspired you so much that you've actually written a scene set to it?
I ask that question simply because it seems that some authors, besides myself, have had this experience. Christopher Paolini wrote the final battle scene in Eragon while listening to Carmina Burana, a fantastic epic classical work by Carl Orff. If you listen to parts of it you'll understand why he was so influenced by that piece. I have tried looking for other authors that have had similar experiences, but have somewhat come up short. Over here at Quantum Storytelling Redchurch has written a blog about favorite writing music. He quotes using a lot of different forms of music, mostly from film composers.
In my case I find that I am increasingly influenced by two specific pieces of music from two rather entertaining films. One is from The Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack, track 13. I've actually written in my head an entire scene for The World in the Satin Bag. It's a very emotional scene too, one in which I am not at all excited to write. The other is the track entitled Kronos Revealed on The Incredibles soundtrack. I've not written anything for it, but every time I hear that piece I start to really think. It is a powerful and gripping piece from the film and ends on this dark, brass filled set of notes, intensifying to a climax.

So, what sort of music affects all of you in your writing?

And, if we take this in the opposite direction, perhaps something you have written inspired you to write a song or think of something musical. Spider Robinson worked with David Crosby to write a sort of 'scifi' folk song for one of his novels. You can see the interview here. It's really the dorkiest you can get, but makes you think a little.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Book Review: The Tower of Shadows by Drew Bowling

This is for the Debut a Debut contest I discovered here.
Every once in a while you stumble upon a great work of art within the fantasy genre. Take Eragon by Christopher Paolini for example. A young author writes a fantastic epic and well driven story, and succeeds. Not only that, Paolini wrote a sequel which, while not quite as good as Eragon, deserves just as much praise for the development of the various characters.
However, The Tower of Shadows is not one of these so called 'great works'. Rather, it is a terribly written, poorly plotted, and mindlessly pointless piece of fantasy fiction.
At first appearances, and at first glance, you get the idea that this is going to be a story that falls into many cliches, but has the potential to add some new and fascinating twists. The synopsis is gripping enough:(My version) "Long ago a demon called Apollyon broke free from his imprisonment. Two brothers are the only ones that survive in the village, taken to safety by the wizard Dale, and Apollyon was caged again. Wren, wandering into the village, also manages to escape with the help of Dale.
Some years later Cade, grown and possessed with great magical power, seeks vengeance for the horrible deaths of his parents. He hopes to bring Apollyon back and destroy the demon, forever banishing Apollyon from the world. He needs his brothers' blood--Corin--and a mythical dagger. Dale, however, hopes to protect Corin from the evil idealogy of his brother.
And so it begins..."

When you open the book, in the first 50 or 60 pages you start to ask yourself a few questions, realizing that the synopsis has just tricked you into reading something that might pass as a paper weight instead:

Who is the main character?
Honest to God question. In those first pages I mentioned you are introduced not only to the supposed main character (Wren), but to Dale, a wizard, two assassins who's names aren't important, but who play an important role, the bad guy (Cade), his powerful apprentice Damon, the brother Cade needs (Corin) and his friend Dusty and his Uncle or Father, or some such figure, Adriel (Dale's apprentice) and Wren's daughter (who's name escapes me at the moment). And mind you, we're inside all of these peoples' heads throughout those 60 or so pages. I wanted to know who was going to be the focus of the book, because with the POV jumping around all over the place I couldn't tell who was the central character. The synopsis told me it was Cade, the writing made it seem like it was Wren--though it on his daughter and other characters just as much on him.


Why does it take almost 100 pages before the story really starts going?
Now, I know in books of 400, 500, or more pages you wouldn't expect a full flowering of the plot in any way until probably around that 100 or so page mark. What I mean is, the plot is well on its way, it's heading slowly for the climax, and you have an idea of what is going on, even if you don't know all the facts, etc. Tower of Shadows is a 286 page book, this means that the central character should be obvious by page 10 and the plot should be well on its way by page 40 or 50. Rather, the plot doesn't kick off until you're so thoroughly bored with the pointless talk of the characters lives. Yes, we need that information, but not if you are going to waste our time and ignore the fact that there is supposed to be some evil stuff going on and the good guys are supposed to be gearing up for a fight.

Why do dragons of this world (Ellynrie) have four wings?
Now, for most of us fantasy readers or writers, we can dispell disbelief. But we also all know that dragons are enormous creatures of immense power and tend to have some sort of intelligence. We also know them to have two wings. So why four? I can't explain it. Theoretically speaking, a creature as large as a dragon with four wings would be incapable of much more than perhaps eating, sleeping, and reproducing. The brain mass needed to have some sort of sentience (even sentience to know to destroy human habitations on purpose) would be far too large and complex that such creatures would have to be more intelligent, or far more dominant than humans. Bowling never explains this. We're supposed to take it as it is. Unfortunately, I can see the problem with a four winged massive beast.

Alright, so those are some immediate questions. So now I'll address some other issues with the book.
First a positive.
Not all is bad with Tower of Shadows. Despite his constant switching of POV, Bowling's writing style is powerful. He can describe like nobody else. My biggest complaint in his writing was the excessive use of metaphors that really had no context in the story. The thing about metaphors is this: use them, but don't make it confusing. Despite that, if he had written this in the mind of Wren, fine tuned the plot and some other elements, I imagine this would have been a halfway decent novel.

Another issue with this novel that is less positive is the actual plot and action. First, the majority of the good guys get around on pure luck, despite the fact that Wren is supposed to be this amazingly accomplished fighter and for whatever reason Adriel is supposed to be quite powerful. Wren's daughter is, well, a useless and pointless character. She serves no purpose other than to drive Wren further on his quest for fear that that he might lose her. And if she had died I think his convictions would have been doubly strong. Instead, she parades around with Wren doing mostly nothing but crying, feeling bad for the mishaps that happen to her father, and doing insanely stupid things that any supposedly intelligent person wouldn't do: namely, if you can't fight, don't go running after the bad guy...
One of the hugest issues I had with the novel was the battle between Wren, the daughter, and Adriel. Now, Adriel can do some nifty stuff with magic, but not much really, and Wren is supposed to be a great fighter. But this is a dragon. Not a knight or some guy with a big knife. It's a friggen dragon. Does Wren kill it? Of course, he's a good guy. Does he have trouble? Nope. In fact, Bowling makes it seem like the act of killing this amazing beast was far simpler than fighting the assassins that had been trying to kill him for quite some time. So, he has harder times with a couple of humans who were easily killed by throwing knives and the like, but when it comes to a fire-breathing giant serpent, piece of cake.

So, essentially I thought this book was terrible. Bowling apparently began writing this in high school and published it I assume his freshman year of college as he is a sophomore now. Unfortunately for Ballantine, this is not a magical Paolini fluke. Rather, it is an example of why some young writers simply do not have the talent 'yet' to be great writers, or deserving of publication. This is not to say that I am jealous, as I have heard such arguments used before for people who write mean reviews. I applaud writers like Paolini and other debut authors. I'm a fan of J. K. Rowling, and others too. Tower of Shadows, plain and simple, is not a good book.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Chapter Eleven: Of the World Below


(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

The cold black enveloped him in every direction and he soon realized that his inability to breath was the result of being thrust many feet underwater. But with nothing but darkness filling his vision he couldn’t tell which direction led to the surface. He hung there for a moment, feeling the water he had accidentally ingested swimming in the bottom of his lungs and his reflexes telling him to cough. Then, he picked a direction and swam frantically. A few seconds turned to many seconds and he started to wonder if he had chosen wrong and that he would die in the bottom in a watery grave. Quickly he dispelled those thoughts and swam harder and faster. Then, miraculously, he broke the surface. The chill sensation of air tickled his face. He breathed hard and coughed wildly as his lungs begged to be free of their burden. He dispelled the water and phlegm that found its way back into his throat and then breathed a sigh of relief.
Looking around he could see nothing. Without the light from Pea’s magical torch every direction left him blind; his eyes could not adjust. To add, his arms were still burning and the only thing that kept him going was the burst of adrenaline injected ever so smoothly into his muscles.

James tried to float on his back in order to cool his aching body. He managed it, albeit crudely, and grinned at having remembered something he hadn’t done since he was five. The only thing holding him down was his pack, which he took great effort to keep centered so he didn’t have to flop around too much to keep afloat. What am I going to do, he thought.
The echo of voices answered his question. At first he couldn’t make out what was being said as the voices merged into a collage of sounds. Then, as if his hearing suddenly became more accurate, he could hear the faint arguing of Pea and Darl. Despite his fear he chortled. Then the joyful moment was over.
“I’m okay,” he said, practically screaming it.
A first there was no reply except the continuing debate above. Then, suddenly the echoes stopped.
“James?” Pea’s voice came, broken, through the tunnel.
“I’m okay. There’s water down here. A lot of water. I can’t see.” He slipped briefly, coughed up the water that ran into his mouth, and righted himself.
“We’re on our way!”
James waited patiently in the water, floating calmly. He could stand the dark—for a time. He had never been afraid of the dark, not really. His parents had told him he had feared it when he was younger, but he could never remember those days, and in some ways he was grateful not to. He instead fixated on the nights when his parents had told him to go to bed and he had simply remained awake fiddling with his computer. He started to wonder when he would get to use his computer again.
He floated there in the dark for what seemed like ages. The sounds of Darl’s work in the tunnel filtered through the air. Shortly after the languid glow of Pea’s torch send a shimmer of light through the end of the tunnel and James could finally make out the dark shapes of his surroundings.
The tunnel ended some twenty feet above him, simply cut off by the ceiling of a monumental cavern that stretched farther than the light could reach. We must be under the river, he thought. He wondered how far Arnur was from the river. He guessed a couple miles at least, assuming they didn’t get lost, something he hoped wouldn’t happen. There’s no time for that.
A cry of surprise from above forced James to look up just in time to see Darl falling haphazardly through the opening in the tunnel. He tried to move out of the way, but it was too late and Darl came crashing down a few feet from him, landing stomach first, and sending a wave of water over his face. Darl surfaced a moment later. Pea snickered.
“Not funny!” Darl said.
Then Pea cried out too and fell with a small plop, sending yet another wave of water over both James and Darl. Then Pea surfaced too.
“Right, not funny,” Pea said, the torch still held in his tiny hand. The flame hadn’t gone out, in fact, it had sunk an inch below the water and still glowed bright. James admired it for a brief moment. Then Pea said, “Well, what direction should we go.”
“I haven’t a clue where we are, let alone which direction is east.”
“I think we’re under the river,” James said. “But where under the river I don’t know. The tunnel didn’t exactly stay straight.”
“Pick a direction then.” Pea didn’t seem too pleased with the option, but opted for it nonetheless.
James hung his head back for a moment and let his ears sink, using his legs to keep him afloat. He floated there, silent and quiet, contemplating the next course of action he would have to take. East could be any direction, he thought. And if we go the wrong way we’ll all be dead.
Something gently tugged on his back. At first he ignored it, thinking it little more than the movement of water around him, a current, or perhaps Darl or Pea swishing around. It was only enough to grab his attention, nothing more. But, he soon came to realize that it wasn’t the swishing and movement of his companions that was causing the force on his back. Rather, something inside his pack seemed to be pushing against the side. He swirled around and brought the pack to his front, pushing slowly with his legs to keep himself up. The tug remained and he opened the top to look inside.
The first thought that came to him was that everything within the pack that hadn’t been wrapped in something waterproof, was soaked through. The rations that had been given to him, and the etiquette book—for reasons he could only attribute to the workings of magic—were the only items untouched, and motionless.
Then he noticed the egg. It tugged gently against the walls of the pack. James looked up to try and find out whatever it was that attracted it. Then a glimmer of hope fell into his eyes. The egg pulled towards the two metal swords strapped tightly to Darl’s back, a feat which James imagined required far more effort than he could muster to keep them afloat.
“I think I have an idea,” he said.
Pea and Darl turned to him.
“I need a piece of metal. Something small.”
The two of them flashed him bewildered looks.
“This egg,” he pulled it out of the bag, drooped down into the water and regained his balance. “It’s magnetized.”
If James had found himself in their company at a happier time he would have laughed at their expressions. Pea’s left eye shrunk, contorted in confusion, and he looked somewhat like a constipated child. Darl on the other hand appeared to be desperately trying to pretend he knew what ‘magnetized’ meant, but James could see through the vacant expression and tell that the man hadn’t a clue.
“Magnetized?” Pea said.
“Something that is magnetized attracts metals. Most of them at least. See,” he held the egg out toward the swords to demonstrate, “it’s attracted to the metal.”
Pea and Darl peered at the small event.
“Small piece of metal. Come on.”
Then the two of them began digging amongst their belongings until Darl produced a small shard shaped like a jagged crystal. James reached out and took it, looked it over, and then exposed it to the egg. The shard instantly stuck, pulled by invisible forces.
“Hold this.” He handed the egg to Darl, who took it at arms length and, despite paddling in the dark water, managed to keep it there.
James, meanwhile, produced the etiquette book and tested it on the water. It floated steadily. He grinned. Then he took the egg back from Darl, shook his head lightly at how ridiculous the man was acting, and removed the shard, placed it on the book, and paused.
“Someone needs to take the egg a good distance away. It will disrupt the shard and give me a bad reading.”
Nobody volunteered.
“It’s not going to bite you.”
“I should hope not,” Pea said. “I’ve never heard of a petrified egg that bites.”
“Nor this thing you call magnetism. Some sort of weird magic that is,” Darl said.
He rolled his eyes. “Trust me, it’s harmless. On Earth this is a source of amusement and study. Someone take it.”
Pea and Darl both looked at each other and seemed on the brink of argument. Darl, however, took the egg angrily from James’ hands and began to doggy paddle into the dark. A minute later—when the old man’s form had become a dark silhouette, faded, and then ceased to be visible—he called for Darl to stop.
“Now we just wait.”
He watched intently, unable to remove his eyes, at times forgetting he had to continue moving in order to keep from drowning. Sure enough, the shard pulled the etiquette book clockwise, spinning it gently. A few seconds later and the shard halted with its tip pointed directly north. He grinned wide like a child receiving his first bike.
“That’s east,” he said, pointing. “I’m not going to make it far. My arms are burning.” He had managed to ignore them for a short while, but the pain had come back.
Darl swam back. “A little salve will solve that problem.”
James stayed afloat as Darl produced the salve and generously applied it to his arms in a drunken manner, Darl flailing one arm about to keep afloat and kicking rigorously to keep balanced. Immediate relief followed and James let his legs rest. “Thank you,” he said.
“No need for thanks. I told you that you didn’t have the arms to be a swordsman. That fact remains true. Now I know you would fair no better as a sailor.”
He glared.
Together the three of them treaded water, pushing east into the darkness that dissipated as they approached and absorbed the light behind them as if they were traveling in a bubble of light. James was once again grateful for the powerful workings of the salve. For the second time he had been on the brink of collapse and the strange cream had given him an extra boost. He allowed his thoughts to wander from the dark, seemingly endless water-filled cavern around him. He wondered how the salve worked. Maybe, he thought, it masks the signals for pain. All the little cells screaming out go quiet. I’m hurting, but my brain doesn’t know it yet.
But how? That question held his attention the most. Granted, he understood enough about medical science back home to know that a shot or painkiller of some sort could remove pain. He even had experience with a cream that nurses used to numb the skin so that you couldn’t feel the prick of a needle. Yet, the salve seeped into the skin, into the muscles and tendons, and completely numbed them. He felt revitalized when the salve crept into his body, as if he had had a full nights rest. Stranger still, it seemed to help in the healing process, though it made little sense as to why. Regardless, his bruises, while still present, had healed to the point where only quick, jerky movements or a hard touch sent loads of pain through his body.
The only thing the salve didn’t hide was his desperate need for rest, a sensation that even his mind could not trick him to forget.
They swam for what James thought was at least ten pool lengths before earth rose beneath their feet and the water became shallow. Soon he was waste deep in water—Pea was up to his chin. He guessed that the water would deepen further on and took the opportunity to rest.
From where he stood he could see in all directions that the shallow water stretched out like a massive rock reef in a vast, black ocean. The cavern ceiling glimmered under the light of Pea’s torch, exposing the amber light of stalactites and strange yellow gems he had never seen before.
Then Darl pushed them on again. James groaned, but subsided and followed, trudging through the water until the earth abruptly fell away and he could no longer see the bottom. The three of them swam for another ten pool lengths, to which James’ arms finally gave their angry protest and began to lose their strength. Beyond, visible only by a flickering reflection, a coal black shore appeared. He sighed relief. Another pool length and he could see the opening to a tunnel. Salvation, he thought jokingly.
“Well, looks like this will end soon,” Darl said.
James agreed with a grumble.
Then, out from the dark beneath him, something brushed his leg. He looked down and saw nothing. But he couldn’t mistake the sensation of a massive object moving at great speed, something bumpy, coarse.
“There’s something in the water,” he said.
“Of course there is. We’re in the water,” Darl said, snappily.
“No. I felt something swim past my leg.” His voice shook. He had seen enough nature shows to be spooked.
“What are you talking about? Nothing lives down here. It’s dark. It’s dead. There’s nothing to eat.”
“Except us,” Pea said.
“Yes, but until we arrived there was nothing to eat.”
“This water could be quite deep. All sorts of things could live in the bottom. We’ve found such things on my world.”
He could tell that Darl still wasn’t convinced. Even Pea seemed skeptical, maneuvering in a short circle to display his interest and nothing more.
“We’re all tired. You’re probably just feeling things that aren’t really there,” Pea said.
Unable to convince them otherwise, James swam on cautiously. He had seen his fair share of shark movies and knew better than to start splashing around wildly. Maybe fish live down here. Harmless fish. He hoped deeply for that.
After they had crossed another pool length and the beach ahead shined brightly under Pea’s light, a high-pitched, barely audible sound rebounded off the walls in all directions. Then the sound grew into a loud whine akin to a whale. He listened, still swimming. Pea and Darl stopped.
Another cry, louder still, forced him to look down. In the darkness of the water a massive silhouette appeared, the image distorted by the rippling of waves and a slow current. The shape grew, moving at an amazing speed. Then details showed themselves. Two milk white eyes, lidless and ghostly, reflected the light from the torch, shimmering like two demonic pearls. Beneath those sat a set of holes, nostrils or something else, and farther below that a wide, black mouth opened. Three foot long, razor sharp teeth protruded from its jaw, some straight and others crooked and gnarled. A flipping pink tongue wobbled in the back of its throat. Black skin ran all along its face and down its back—part of which remained distorted by the dark depths—and bumpy ridges, wart-like bubbles, and fins ran along its entire length, one massive dorsal fin just beyond the top of its head. It bellowed a high, screeching cry as it came closer, and James attributed the sound to the sonar used by bats. The water around it began to bulge as its massive form pushed towards the surface.
“Move!” Darl yelled, swimming frantically out of the way. Pea, too, swam, thrusting his little legs like the fins of a beached animal.
James swam the opposite direction, away from the beach, trying desperately to get away of the enormous mouth. The creature, moving so fast that it couldn’t change course at the last minute, burst from the water, screeching all the while. Its body and fins tore through the surface like a mechanized plow. Then it crashed mouth first into the ceiling, clamped its jaws shut, turned, and forced itself around to dive back into the water. James had managed to get of the way when the creature broke the surface, but now found himself in the path of the creature again. He pushed himself the other way, back towards the beach, and by some miraculous fate, the creature dove past where he had been just a moment before. From head to tail it was at least as big as a school bus. Its tail was like that of a shark, thick, vertical, and muscular.
As the creature dove back into the water, James found himself suddenly swept down by a powerful undertow caused by the swishing of its massive tail. He instinctually flapped his arms, trying desperately to break the surface. The current drug him down until he could no longer see the light, and then, suddenly it let go and he furiously paddled and found himself break the surface some distance closer to the beach. Pea and Darl had somehow made it there and were screaming orders at him. Water in his ears clouded their words, and instead he paddled on and on, shivering.
He managed to get a few dozen feet closer to the beach before he heard the same cry as before behind him. Despite his mind telling him not to, and the Fearl sending him waves of better judgment, he turned to look. The creature swam swift and hard, its dorsal fin and the edge of its tail gliding smoothly through the water like an enormous great white shark. As it neared, its jaws opened like a set of torturous, pointed machines. He breathed, frantic, gulped water and coughed. His arms started to give out. Pain and a thousand sensations crept through is body.
Then it was on top of him, jaws clamping down and the wish of disturbed air whistling through the cavern. A moment later, a sudden screech of rage and hate, bubbling and burbling in a cry of agony. James looked back, saw the creature lurching down and preoccupied with a sword buried up to the hilt in its eye. It crashed down beside him in the water. With sound, it sought after him again, and he looked deep into the white ball of its remaining eye. A thick, milky puss flowed freely from the injured eye. He could see the pain there—rage, hatred, and darkness too. It started for him again, but before it could open its jaws he grabbed the hilt of the sword for reasons he couldn’t explain. Some fear induced instinct sent the urge and he obeyed.
The creature lifted its face and swam towards the beach, screeching as it went and shaking its jaws trying to tear the sword and James free. James clung desperately to the hilt. It reared up and tried to reach for the ceiling, but missed. Then it plunged into the water. He still clung to the sword and swayed in the water until his body bobbed above the creatures’ nose. It turned and shot for the surface. As it had before, it burst out and crashed into the ceiling, but James no longer dangled in front of its jaws. The effort helped the creature none, instead burying hilt deeper into its flesh. It crashed down into the water and swam towards the shore again, still shaking and roaring in protest.
His Fearl suddenly panged in the back of his mind. He listened, but could feel or hear nothing. Only a single image appeared in his mind—his image. Fear clinging to his senses, he thought hard on magic. His imagination ran with a thought and…
The blade shimmered, dinned and pinged, and, as he sensed magic pushing through him, yanked ceiling-wards and pulled straight through the creatures’ flesh. For a moment he hung in the air, suspended by a moment of zero gravity. The creatures’ screams echoed and hurt his ears. Then, it dove into the water and he crashed into the depths, only to be stopped a instant later by a hand that ripped him violently upwards and onto the rocky beach. For a brief moment his vision was stable and he could see the creature, frustrated and in pain, thrashing water in every direction, gurgling and spewing nebulous raven-colored blood, crimson briefly illumining within and dissipating as the creature made its final descent into the depths. The edge of the beach dropped instantly as if it were once a great cliff face.
Then, his vision clouded; his body protested, ached and began to give out. He heard Pea and Darl and felt them shake him to keep him awake. He closed his eyes, but didn’t go to sleep.
“I need to rest,” he said.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stuff & Book Review: Old Man's War by John Scalzi

First, some notes on relatively important dates:

Sunday, 11th: Chapter Eleven goes up!
Friday, 16th: New book review of Tower of Shadows.
Sunday, 25th: Chapter Twelve goes up!

Next, I wonder how many of you are note takers. There was a short bit in the comments in my last blog about Tolkien. I mentioned that when he died he left behind a garage full of notes that are still to this day being dealt with. The idea of that is staggering when you think about it.
So, I'm curious to know how indepth you all are in your note taking. Personally I don't take a lot of notes unless I'm dealing with a story that is hard scifi. For fantasy, it's mostly just making it up as I go. Take for instance my recent efforts for a hard scifi story. I spent about 10 hours worth of research this weekend to make sure that I stayed roughly within the parameters of modern physics as we know it. I had to make sure that star systems I wanted to use for the story could do what I needed them to do, etc. So, a good ten hours later I had over forty systems categorized and labeled for who controlled them, how many habitable planets if any, and the like. But for the story that is on this blog, The World in the Satin Bag, mostly I had an idea and I ran with it. Take Chapter Ten. I had no idea I was going to have the tunnel end in darkness. Not a clue actually. Originally I had thought they would get across and maybe get ambushed and be on their merry way to Arnur. But now, turns out my mind wanted to do something completely different. And, well there you have it. Chapter Eleven should prove to be most interesting in regards to the pace of the story. In fact, I think Chapter Eleven deals with one of my inborn fears that keeps me out of certain places in the world.So, as it is, it's time for a book review!
Old Man's War is a fantastic military SF novel. I was pleasantly surprised. My first reaction when I saw it was written in first person was that of disinterest. I have a huge problem getting into first person stories and rarely do such POV's hold my attention. This is not the case with Old Man's War (OLM from this point on).
The story is set in the far future. Earth has become basically a backwater world as mankind has colonized other star systems under the military power of the Colonial Defense Forces, an entity that controls the bulk of human resources. Yet, the odd part is that rather than desiring to have young, fresh recruits join from Earth into the CDF, they are looking for the elderly. John Perry is one such person. His wife has died and he has opted to join. The downside: he can never return to Earth, interstellar war is hell, and he has to survive for two years minimum before he can retire to a generous homestead on one of the many colony worlds.
The story itself starts out perfectly. I don't want to ruin anything, but from the get go you have an amazing clarity of who the characters are. Each character is dynamic, despite having only existed on the page for a mere few chapters. The humor between the characters is superb and I found myself giggling with joy at the witty remarks some of the characters made.
The pace is quick and sturdy, making all the twists and turns even more disturbing and surprising. I must say this is by far one of the best novels I have read in a long time. It held my attention from start to finish. The description of battle, characters, and the world Mr. Scalzi has created are amazingly portrayed. You get a great sense of what it must be like to be a soldier for the CDF.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys SF, in any genre.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Nifty Tools and Brainstorming

I decided that even though I have posted for this week, I would post again for the weekend because I've come up with some interesting information for those of you who are writers, and presumably this same information could come of use to perhaps businessmen and the like as well. At least I suppose so.

First, I'd like to thank all of you who have commented and have said nice things about my writing. I greatly appreciate it and I hope that all of you will continue to read.

I discovered this program called FreeMind from the blog of Jason Penney (Using a Mind Map to Organize Novel Notes). It essentially organizes notes for you into Mind Maps. What are Mind Maps? Well, remember when you were a kid and your teacher said, "Write one idea in a bubble and then start drawing lines to new ideas and thoughts, and then more thoughts and ideas on those", so that you ended up with this paper of connected thoughts and information? That's basically a Mind Map, albeit less complicated. Now, this isn't to say that using FreeMind is complicated. Not at all. In fact, once you figure out the very basic commands it's incredibly simple to use. Here's an example of one I'm working on right now. Albeit, I have some things closed off (lines that end in little 'o' things are ones that can be further expanded for more info within the program), simply because they would make it too big to get an accurate image of.
(Clicking the image should make it larger so you can see the words better)This makes organizing my thoughts so much easier. In fact, when I started doing it, I only have some minor ides of certain things. After a while I had huge lists of stuff on there because the Mind Mapping process allowed me to come up with more ideas. Now, this isn't to say that I use this to come up with story ideas, but it is saying that I'm using this process to organize valuable information. In the case of the above image, I've had to keep note of different stars, their types, and various other information that would come in use during the story that I'm modeling on this subject. So, essentially, that's Mind Mapping.
Now, this is a whole new thing for me and I'm still not entirely sure how I will utilize it for all my writing efforts. In the instance of science fiction the program comes in great use because it allows me to keep track of various little minor facts that otherwise would get forgotten--physics, star system information, and the like. With fantasy, I imagine I could do much the same, but I have yet to start Mind Mapping all my info for The World in the Satin Bag yet. Perhaps it will happen.

Alternately, I'm wondering what all of you do in your brainstorming sessions--you being the reader of course. Before this program, it was mostly coming up with a basic plot or event. In the case of The World in the Satin Bag, my first thought was of a boy who gets sucked into an alternate world. Originally I had no idea it would be at the state it is now. I had no idea that his friend would get sucked in first, nor that war would break out, or anything of that nature. I had expected that he would just gain magic from being there, and not because he had a Fearl--a concept I didn't come up with until more or less by accident while writing the scene when Laura gets sucked in. So my brainstorming starts out to be very basic. I don't flesh out entire ideas on purpose. For me, fleshing out ideas tends to leave me with little 'freedom'. I know I can change anything at any time, but the problem is I've already come up with a story I like. I'd much rather leave the majority of the plot unwritten in my mind so that I can have free reign in the direction of the story. The furthest I think ahead is what the next chapter is 'basically' going to be about. This is all of course referring to fantasy.
But for science fiction I have a lot more issues to deal with. I tend to have grand scale ideas of a aliens and Earth and humankind. So, my first thoughts are: How am I going to get Humans from here to there in reasonable time? How did they get there in the first place? Did someone help us? Are we alone in our fight for whatever might need fighting for?
I try to answer those, because they serve as the backdrop of my science fiction world.

So, I'm curious what those of you do to flesh out your ideas, or if you do that at all. Are you the type to simply sit back and go with the flow? Or do you like to work out the story ahead of time?