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Friday, March 30, 2007

Book Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Note: This is not on my review list because it is from my scifi/fantasy lit class. But since Elder Gods is a long book--and not one of the best books I've read thus far--I don't know if I'll be ready to review it until sunday.

Now, Neuromancer is one of those books that has created itself a whole league of copycats and followers--much like Lord of the Rings did. There's a good reason why: it is possibly the first book to ever suggest that computer technology would advance so far that things similar to 'The Matrix' could actually be possible. Gibson coined so many phrases, words, etc. in this one book alone.
That being said, such books are also the type that tend to be a little less accessible to a wider range of audiences, and for good reason. If you aren't prepared for the most complex, convoluted, and indepth of fantasy worlds, then you'll likely never like LOTR. This isn't to say that LOTR was a bad story, but for a wide audience it is not really the type of book that can be simply grasped. Most readers look for books they can just read and not have to think too much about. Neuromancer is one of those less accessible books. Gibson has created a fascinating world that seems on the surface to be a post apocalyptic, or dystopic technologically advanced place where violence, crime, and drugs are as much the norm as corruption and nifty gadgets...
The story is about Case, a 'cowboy' as he likes to refer to himself, or at least a 'former cowboy'. What is a cowboy? Well, think back to what exactly a cowboy is to begin with. Way back in the day, a cowboy wasn't your run of the mill westerner, rather they were in some ways the outcasts, the rugged people. Well, take that and add technology. Cowboys in Gibson's novel are essentially your outcasts--illegal hackers if you will. Case is crippled from stealing from his previous employer, who took revenge by damaging Case's body so much that he can no longer 'jack in' to the 'matrix'--not the same as the movie, but similar in that he has nodes on the back of his head, he visually sees a world of programs and code and even things that seem real, etc.
Now comes Armitage, a rather mysterious figure, who claims to be able to cure Case's problem provided that Case works for him--and Molly, a cyber-samurai with implants over her eyes to protect them, and a load of other interesting cyber-implants. Case jumps on it. You would too if you were offered your life back. Case soon finds himself in a twisted battle of AI's and other bizarre things that even now come to me in a haze of confusion.
The book is bold to say the least. Gibson did his research--or I think he did as I am not a computer junky, and neither is Gibson by the way. The world he's constructed is rather believable--a massive city complex called the Sprawl that is nothing more than a city growth stretching from Boston to Atlanta, illegal hackers, druggies, gangsters, implant ridden henchmen, and the like. There's so much more to the world he has created that I would likely have to write a rather long paper just to describe it to you in its entirety.
The biggest problem with this book is in Gibson's style of writing. He is not the most intriguing of prose writers and he has tried hard to tackle a subject that would suggest that there is little need for such prose to begin with. When you're talking technojargon it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the literary style many of us are accustomed to in speculative fiction. Because of this onset of massive new slang and the like, I found it very hard to keep track of everything that was going on. This is one of those novels that you should probably read a couple times to get a better idea of what exactly is going on.
Needless to say, this book is mind boggling. I did enjoy it quite a bit, and the discussion in class was rather riveting.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Have You Ever Felt Crippled as a Writer?

For the first time ever I actually felt...crippled in regards to my writing. How is this possible you might ask? Well here goes.
I've been desperately trying to force my creative self to start writing other work aside from WISB. I love WISB, don't get my wrong, but I do need to write other stuff. Mostly this means short stories and editing of stuff. Well, I finally got all my Moleskine books and brought the large ruled one with me to my cousins' b-day party and suddenly had some sparks of amazing creativity. But, there was a catch. I had completely forgotten what the word 'planar' meant. I'd put it in the title for really no reason at all, and then it dawned on me that I hadn't a clue what it meant. I didn't have access to a computer so I couldn't very well go off to and check, and there was no dictionary book anywhere in site. I literally sat there and felt my brain fizzle away into nothing; it couldn't take the strain I suppose.
How did this situation resolve itself you might ask...I had to text--yes I mean text message on a cell phone--my friend to have him look it up for me. I sat waiting for his response for a few minutes, all the while feeling those lovely surges of creative thought dying because of some stupid word.
Later that evening I finally decided I would go to the nearest Borders and see about getting some sort of super pocket dictionary and possibly a super pocket thesaurus. I figure of all places, Borders has to have it. Here comes problem #2. Apparently they don't make super pocket dictionaries. They make pocket dictionaries with about 1/10th the definitions in them, and that's it. It wouldn't have been so bad if 'planar' had been in said pocket dictionaries, but because that particular word is rather obscure, it wasn't. Now, if someone can explain how you can get a full edition of the bible in a tiny key chain book, but not a tiny little dictionary...I mean really. Take the size 10 font in the book, drop it to a 4 or 5--tiny I know--you could easily cram 300,000 definitions in there. But alas, no.
So, I started looking online for an electronic one. I don't like that feeling of being crippled in my writing. Well, so far there hasn't been a lot of luck because all of the electronic ones are a little confusing. Which one do I pick? There are a dozen that do the same thing, but there's no magic comparison of them all to figure out which one is actually the best one.

In a nutshell, this whole process has become rather crazed.

Anyone else experienced a similar 'crippling'?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Chapter Fourteen: Of Corrupted Passings and the Eighth Day

(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.)

Pack slung over his back, sword securely attached, James marched through the long corridor. Unlike the previous corridor, this one contained no rooms or alternate passageways. It rode straight arrow into the mountain. The Lean slipped in and out of shadow seemingly at random, though James knew there was some point to it.
The corridor, like the other areas he had seen, was lit by a luminescence that James could not quite explain. He had read somewhere that ancient cultures used mirrors to reflect sunlight into poorly lit areas, but as he glanced around he saw no such mirrors, nor any place where one could place them. The corridor was practically bare, with exception to the continuous stream of symbols and designs.
James remained utterly silent and fixed in thought. He looked at his hands, at the dried blood encrusted under his finger nails, and mentally shivered. I had no choice, he thought. They were evil creatures. He wondered if the corrupted Masters still bore a small portion of who they once were. Could their good selves feel the pain?

He shook away the thought. He couldn’t think about their pain—no matter how real it may have been. Their faces had shown him enough.
The corridor opened up into a small octagonal room. Each edge, aside from the one containing the corridor, had a single door. James secretly hoped they led into rooms and not more tunnels.
The Lean paused at one of the doors and turned back, or rather materialized his face in the back of his head.
“Master Willup is here,” the Lean said. “I will have him open the door.”
The Lean faded away. A moment later the sound of latches unlocking could be heard. Then the door slid open with a creak. Master Willup appeared. James gasped. Master Willup’s face was sunken—just like the corrupted Masters, now beyond dead and left to rot far behind. Two pale blue eyes peered out under drooping folds of skin. Long black sags hung above Master Willup’s cheeks and wiry, unkempt hair gave James the impression of a homeless man. Even the dying man’s hands looked misshapen.
“Welcome,” Master Willup coughed, then continued, “…to Arnur.”
Then the old man collapsed, sliding down the edge of the door only to land hard on the ground in a pile of saggy robes and old flesh.
When Master Willup woke the look of death was even more pronounced. An awful disease inflicted the man. James kept his distance. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to catch it. As much as magic seemed to run rampant throughout Traea, he could only place so much trust in medical science here.
The dying Master made Darl look like a youngster. More and more the Master began to look like the corrupted beasts that had attacked James. Thin, wheezy breaths were all that the man could produce.
The room that Master Willup had locked himself into was nothing more than a bedroom fixed with a small stove, a straw bed covered in scratchy blankets, and a dark oak stool. Pea sat next to Master Willup on the bed casting short healing spells that did nothing more than relieve some of the man’s pain. Pea was no healer and James could not wield this type of magic. Darl took watch at the door leaving it slightly cracked. James took the stool and sat on the far side of the room. The Lean paced the corridor.
“I have not seen such darkness in a hundred years,” Master Willup said. “Master Kellan, Warren, all corrupted beyond reason.” Master Willup coughed weakly.
“How could this have happened? You’re holy men, preachers of the Great Fathers.” Peas said.
“Even the most resolute can be weak of mind. I was able to withstand the corruption, but this disease now afflicts me,” Master Willup paused to cough, weaker than before. “It was the one who calls himself Nara’karesh. A beast from Loe.”
“A lyphon,” James said, remembering the blood thirsty creature that had nearly killed him. Master Willup’s pale blue eyes dug into him.
“If such a creature must be given a name it would be Loespawn. Evil runs through its heart, blood, and flesh. Not an inch of it is untouched by Loe.”
“I thought lyphons can’t use magic.”
“They can’t,” Pea broke in.
“No magic was used. Not by the creature. He brought with him the blood from the land of Loe, straight from the great seas that run crimson with the suffering of the damned.”
“The lyphon knew we were coming here,” Darl said. “That door was set as a trap for you.” Darl pointed at James.
James shook his head. It had all been a trap, set by some dark magic. All he had had to do was touch the door. Luthien is so strong. He remembered Luthien’s army. How many were there? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? The army had been so large that he hadn’t been able to tell its size. He had just seen dark silver armor stretching across the plain, surrounding the oak tree that made its home there.
“Darkness descends on the Farthland,” Master Willup said.
“If the lyphon was here…”
Darl cut him off. “He could come back.”
“It won’t be long before Luthien learns of the failure to destroy James.” Pea’s voice grew with concern.
James closed his eyes. He couldn’t imagine what they were going to do next. Luthien’s influence seemed endless. Even in places thought sacred and hidden. How the lyphon had gained entrance into Arnur over night, let alone learned which path was the right one, was beyond him.
“Come, someone aid me to my death. My judgment is at hand. I do not wish to die here.”
Master Willup held up his hand. James sighed and dropped his shoulders. He watched as Darl helped the dying man up. Pea did too, though the Littlekind could do little more than offer a compassionate hand.
James followed behind, dragging his feet and staring hard at his hands. They looked infinitely worn to him. Blood, dirt, cracks, and calluses all covered his hands. He saw all the pain he had inflicted in them as if they were windows into the past. Then he snapped out of it, threw his hands down, and looked forward.
Master Willup led them to one of the other doors, which in turn opened into another corridor. At the end of this was a cavernous room literally untouched by human hands. Crystals of silvery blue cast shining azure rays of light across a shallow pool of rippling water fed by an unknown source. In the center of the pool sat a flat rock, the top of which rose a few inches out of the water. The walls and ceiling were covered in strange formations of rock that created organic loops and curls.
Darl helped Master Willup to the rock in the center of the pool. Master Willup smiled as he climbed to the top of the rock and in a last push managed to stand. James marveled at this—that death could bring such joy to anyone. He could not imagine feeling such joy in death.
Darl retreated back to the doorway, ushered back by a cripple hand.
“I pray now to you Great Fathers. Take me, your willing servant, into your arms. Make me one with all matter of this world.” Master Willup managed to maintain his voice. “Judge me.”
Then Master Willup raised his hands, looked up into the crystals in the ceiling, and began to chant. James flinched at first, a reaction from the blast of sound that the corrupted Masters had used against him, but then he quickly realized how different this sound was, and how abnormal. Master Willup first began with a single melody that answered itself in a lower register. The melody was soft, slow, and melancholy, and James could almost hear imaginary chords playing in his head. Then, after the melody had repeated once, Master Willup sang a new melody, not separate, but simultaneous with the first melody. Taking the melancholy sound of the first melody, this new melody gave a distant bob to the sound. James stood aghast at how Master Willup could control his vocal chords in such a magnificent way and found himself tapping his fingers on his leg to the beat-- one, two, three, one, two, three. The melodies wound in and out of each other, winding up, winding down, and slowly gaining pace. Then the melodies changed completely, going in the same rhythm, at two different ranges and entirely different notes. The crystals shimmered brightly at this change, slowly becoming shiny points in the ceiling of blinding blue light. James covered his face. The lights suddenly moved, controlled by some unknown force, and focused in one single beam of light on Master Willup.
Then he recognized the melody and let his jaw drop. “That’s Sibelius,” he said. “Symphony number one, first movement.”
Pea looked up at him. “Sibelius?”
James thought to answer, but stopped himself. Now the melody began to gain speed, quickening its beat so that he had to count the three-four time in one—one tap for every three beats. He knew the melody now; he knew what would come next. He played the movement in his mind.
A new voice, no, voices rose from above, filling the cavern chamber. Only he looked up, as if the only one unprepared. A mighty chord of female and male voices struck all at once, unified in the music. Master Willup sang quicker, and four more taps on James’ leg later the voices from above sang again, and four more, again. The melody gained momentum; the voices played on every three taps. Then the voices dropped in volume, collecting in a long note, and at a snail's pace the sound crescendoed into a massive sound. At the climax everything fell off, the chamber became utterly silent. The blue light gained physical form, becoming a cloudy substance swirling through the air. James could not see Master Willup’s face from where he stood, and likewise could only guess at expression on the old man’s face—one of joy for being judged well, or one of utter fear for being damned. The substance swirled and consumed Master Willup, covering him like a soft blanket of ethereal magic. And as the man became enveloped a choir of male voices roared from above—a great fanfare of tenors, baritones, and sopranos.
Then in one swoop the light dispersed, pushed outward and dissipated into nothing. The blue crystals became dim and there on the stone was nothing at all.
Pea and Darl bowed their heads in respect. James did nothing but stare. He had never seen such a magnificent display. Light and music, all connected to some higher world.
Angels can sing, he thought, beaming.
“Consider us all very fortunate this day,” Darl said.
“Why?” James said.
“Only men like Master Willup have the opportunity to see such acts in motion. We witnessed a blessing this day. Confirmation that the heavens remain in glory.”
They left the cavern chamber quietly, something which James figured was entirely out of respect for the deceased. When they had reached the octagon shaped room he put his things down against a wall and sat down next to it. The Lean glided through the center.
“There are no others. Arnur is empty,” the Lean said.
“Are you sure?” Pea said.
“Yes, quite. I have searched even the hidden chambers. No other beings, living or dead, are here.” The Leans voice didn’t falter, an unemotional tone. He could feel, but could not truly express it.
“Does a Lean require sleep?” Darl said, tossing his pack to the ground. It slammed and clanged. The sounds echoed.
“Can you keep watch?”
The Lean nodded, or seemed to nod as its shadowy body shifted as if part of his body had been cut away. “There is a bathhouse through that door,” the Lean indicated a door directly to the right of Master Willup’s safe haven. “I suggest you cleanse your bodies lest the corruption of my Masters befalls you as well.” Then the Lean slipped away through the shadows.
James was the first to get up and head for the door. He couldn’t imagine that Pea and Darl were any less excited about being covered in the blood of their enemies, but neither protested when he rose and walked swiftly towards the door, pack and all.
The corridor to the bathhouse was narrow and damp. Bulbs of water clung to the walls. Hot air and a powerful rocky scent hit him in the face. It took him a moment to adjust to the new temperature, then he continued and found himself in a tall rectangular room. The ceilings were painted, or stained, he couldn’t tell which, with an infinity symbol—a pair of spirals that wound in opposite directions and met together as one in the center. He glanced at it only for a moment before turning to the floor. There three pools, carved by thousands of years of erosion, filled he center of the room. The two smallest pools steamed and bubbled, flanking the larger central pool. Nearby a rock formation distorted the air with waves of heat.
James quickly undressed and slipped into the larger pool. The hot water stung at first, then his body became used to it and he sighed with relief. He watched the water move around him as a slow current rejuvenated the little pool. A strange sheen caught his eye and he watched closer; his skin tingled. He noticed hundreds of strange pinpoints of light swimming in the water, like little fish barely visible to the naked eye. He watched them intently. They swam around his body and ran along his skin as if they were sentient. Blood and grime slipped away with their movements. Sudden sensations of cleanliness came over him, like the feeling after a spring rain well the millions of fragrances of nature pass along the wind. He dipped his head into the water, felt the tingles on his face, and twenty seconds later pulled up from the water, rubbed his eyes and let out a long breath. He looked at his fingers—clean, even under the nails. His feet, legs, arms, and face, all felt as if he had just spent a day in a luxurious spa. The little lights, content with their work, flittered away.
“Thank you,” he said out of a strange habit.
The lights paused, flittered in circles, and then converged in a small group in front of him. Their individual lights became a mass of shiny white in the shape of the word “welcome”. Just as quickly as they had come together, they dispersed in a hundred directions. James tittered.
I wonder if they’ll clean my clothes, he thought. He got out and shuffled over to his things. He found the blood stained clothing in his pack and quickly took them and the clothes he had been wearing to the pool. He took a shoe first and placed it into the water. The little lights came swiftly, converged on the shoe in its horrendous filthiness, and began cleansing it. Half a minute later and the shoe looked nearly brand new. He did the same with his other items, even his pack and the egg. All were clean in a matter of minutes.
“Thank you”. Again the lights formed “welcome” and swam away.
James, now with a pile of completely drenched things, began laying the items out on the rock floor to dry out. He knew it would take a while, but he figured that Darl and Pea wouldn’t want to leave the relative safety of what remained of Arnur to wander off in the woods. He leaned back in the water and breathed slow, soothing breaths.
The lights converged again. He watched out of the corner of his eye. The words “use hot stone” appeared and then just as quickly disappeared. He looked at the waves of heat from the stone he had seen earlier, then back at the pool. Then he slipped out of the pool again and began placing his clothes on the rock. Water sizzled for a moment and then the clothes began to dry. He ran back to the water.
“Thank you again.”
“Welcome again”.
James leaned back and closed his eyes, but the silence didn’t last as long as he wanted. Footsteps sounded down the hall and a moment later Darl and Pea were in the room, undressed, and in the water next to him. It had all happened so fast that he hadn’t the time to protest. For a moment he felt uncomfortable in a room with a tiny man and an old, grumpy swordsman, both naked and both enjoying the pleasures he had just experienced. But James soon realized how much safer he was in the room now that the two were with him.
“We leave tomorrow,” Darl said in the midst of a long winded sigh. “I’m not sure where. But we can’t stay here long.”
“Afeir isn’t far from here. Maybe a four days journey,” Pea said.
“Luthien has probably already been there,” James said. “He would have attacked Afeir first, then Nirlum.”
“And it would be more than a week before we could get there. Staying out of sight would be near impossible if Luthien has control of the air.”
“Then we go to Ti’nagal.”
James frowned. “Is there an easy way there?”
“Not really.” Darl spoke curtly.
“Then we’ll have to make one…”
James turned back and produced the etiquette book. He began to flip through the pages.
“You know, during such testing times, it is quite ordinary for people such are yourself to relax. You have endured much. I think your mind deserves the lack of activity as much as your body does.” Pea tapped him on the shoulder.
“I’m trying to find out what day it is,” he said, mumbling to himself as he found the calendar and began counting the days. How many days had the sun been out? Three? Yes, it had to be three. “I think I’ve been here eight days.”
“So?” Darl said.
James closed the book. “It’s March 12th here. That makes it December 9th back home.”
“And the point of this would be?”
“Today is my birthday.”
Pea gave him a look, a queer look of morbid sympathy.
Darl took in a deep breath and said, “Happy birthday.”
Yes, a very happy birthday to me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

(Writer: 5, Fate: 5) Edit: Writer: 6, Fate: 5...screw you fate!

Edit Again...Note: I've finally figured out how to add those pesky "Read Me" things. This will take a while to get the point where ALL my posts are converted to this format, but eventually all will be. Makes things more compact and neat for everyone.

Apparently I am now tied with fate. I got two more points for the following reasons: I actually finished Chapter Thirteen B even though as I was writing it I started to think I wasn't going to be able to. I'm not entirely sure that I like the direction it went, but it seems to have worked well enough as people seem to like it. The story has gotten excessively dark and I've added more and more subplots that now I am pretty sure cannot be sufficiently closed in a single novel. Too many. I'll have a post about subplots later.The second point comes in the form of a lovely acceptance letter from UC Santa Cruz (University of California). Apparently I got in. Good news. So I have been accepted into both UCI and UCSC, both apparently good schools.
But Fate still gets one point for managing to hold me back from finishing Chapter Thirteen when I had originally intended to finish it (two weeks ago), and also for taking away any semblance of brain functionality that I had the other night. Two stories go with this:1) I got home from work Tuesday and remembered I had a short paper due for my Spanish 2 class. So I went in search for my rough draft which had teacher edits on it. Searched my car--no sign of it. Went to my bedroom, search, same. Went back to the car, nothing. Back to the room, nothing. Finally went back to the car, and there it was sitting there under another piece of paper. I felt rather stupid after that.
2) After class was over Tuesday night I headed out to my car. Sat down in the seat, turned on the car, put it in reverse, and suddenly thought I had forgotten my glasses. So I stopped the car, turned it off, and got out, locked the car. I started running and then my glasses slapped me in the face and reminded me that I hadn't forgotten them. Needless to say I wasn't feeling all too bright.
And of course fate has received a point for doing the worst thing it could possible do to me. During the last few weeks I've been bringing books into the local used book store to see what they wanted. They offer store credit when you do this. But since it is a used book store they only write it down on a paper for you, nothing more. So I have no database to go to unfortunately. Now, as you might guess, I lost that paper. I had over 30 dollars worth of used books I could have bought. But no, somehow it traveled from my wallet--inside the part where you put the money--to some unknown location. I checked every pair of pants I could find, searched my wallet four times, search my car (which I'll try once more), searched my room and couldn't find it, but in my room who knows where anything is, and have had no luck whatsoever. Fate has committed blasphemy against me. I am utterly in disarray now. I tried to sit down and write, but could only get a sentence out before I wanted to go looking around again. Damn you fate to the infinite reaches of hell! Now to happier things. It would be of interest to those that read WISB that I have decided after all to draw up a map of Traea. I am not a great artist, but I can draw an okay map. Traea is a massive continent mind you. And the map I am drawing only touched upon about 3/4ths of the actual landmass. I am considering a couple possibilities in the near future:
a) I will finish up the map all on my lonesome and some how scan it and post it for everyone to see. This option comes with the disclaimer that I am not an artist, am not necessarily good at mapmaking, likely have not drawn it entirely to scale, and might have screwed up here or there on certain things.
b) I will finish the map, but in the process find someone who is far better at fantasy cartography to do a more professional quality map. Now, I am leaning towards this one. I don't know anyone who can do really good maps, whether for free or for pay, but if I can find one I will definitely consider it.
c) I will acquire one of those map programs--such as Campaign Cartographer--and attempt to do a good looking map on my own, based entirely on the one that I have drawn.

So, we'll see where it all goes. Anyone else have something to add on the matter of making maps?

Edit: I found my store credit! Aha! Up yours fate! Apparently it was in my sister's stuff in the other room. At some point today when she left for work it slipped out of her pile and out onto the floor. Yay! I bought books with it today! Yay!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Book Review: Ninja by Racy Li

I originally won this in the Debut A Debut Contest at Writing Aspirations for my review of Tower of Shadows by Drew Bowling--basically I was randomly picked out of a hat. I had originally thought to possible read this book for the contest, but decided to pick a 'safer' book due to its critical acclaim and what not. Now I know why I don't listen to critics and should be listening to the little guy inside my head.Now, Ninja is not your typical science fiction style novel. Actually, it's so far from what I normally read that I can't necessarily recommend it to anyone unless they are the type who enjoys this style of literature. What style is that? Erotica. And not just normal erotica, but some strange mixture of urban fantasy, scifi, and naughty erotic fiction. Having said that it has to be mentioned that because Ninja is erotica, there is heavy emphasis on sex and its related topics--graphic sex scenes, etc. I had to initially come into this book with a very open mind. Would I have normally picked this up (or downloaded it as it is an e-book)? I can't say. If it were just an erotic novel without any of the nifty scifi stuff in it, I probably wouldn't have given it a second glance. However, because Ninja has so much scifi and fantasy woven into the steamy love story I managed to plow right through it with my interest peaked.
Synopsis (Racy Li's version): In a parallel world of alchemy, demons and superheroes, even the most ordinary may harbor the most extraordinary of secrets. Liz Blackwell leads a double life, as an attorney by day, and a freelance spy on the side. Unknown to her, her geeky secretary Kent Alistair is the mysterious superhero known simply as “Ninja.” In the middle of an international game of crime wars, demons and mystical objects, can these two people learn to trust each other before it is too late?

Now, this world is a rather interesting one when it comes to genres. On one hand you have a world set after an alien invasion by a species known as the Joran, which in turn releases all the magic energy that creates all these superheroes, etc. On the other you have superheroes such as "Ninja", most of which are supposed to be registered by the government--well a certain entity of it. Then you also have magic and such. All this is woven into the world Li has created. Personally I thought she did a fine job pulling all these very opposite genre related ideas together.
Writing wise, Li is a decent writer. I found some grammatical errors and spelling errors, but otherwise I was not at any point confused by what she was saying or attempting to portray. The sex scenes were...well....steamy to say the least. For my tastes certain scenes were a little more risqué than I am comfortable with. Again, this is personal taste. Perhaps you like such scenes and would enjoy them a lot more than I did.
I think some of my favorite parts of the the book were in the descriptions of Ninja and his abilities. She has taken what we commonly know as a ninja and added on very powerful and magical based abilities. Ninja's can pass through shadow unseen for example, and not just "hiding" but actually practically invisible. So you learn really quick that in order to stop a ninja you have to have LOTS OF LIGHTS. There's other things too, such as how alchemists access their abilities, what they can control, how dangerous they are, etc.
The book ends pretty much giving you the hint that there will be a sequel, or should be. I am curious to see how all pans out in the end if such a book is written.
So if you are into erotica, this book is for you. If you can't handle erotica, avoid it. If you've always wanted a very futuristic or fantastic setting mixed with hot, steamy, and wildly passionate sex scenes and a strong--and very human--love story, then you should definitely check it out. You can find her website here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Aging Characters

Mr. Bramage brought up an interesting point about the main character for WISB--James. James, it seems, no longer feels like a child, and I began to think about this. It's true, James is no longer a child in any sense of the word. Children are essentially 'innocent'. They generally know what death is, but at the same time have no concept of it. Perhaps they have seen a loved one die, or heard about it, but in the mind of a child--at least from my childhood--the idea of 'death' doesn't really sink in.Understanding life and death is, in my opinion, something that comes with age.
So in a way, James has to grow up. He has to accept 'adulthood' sooner because his innocence has been torn away from him. This is all part of the character's journey. All character's face a struggle; this is simply his struggle. I like to think, however, that James still remains a child at heart. Much of his reactions, at least from my viewpoint, seem on that childish level--and I don't mean that in a derogatory way. But his emotions are on a more child-like level, and his reactions within his mind and with himself I like to think are still at that level. It also is interesting to think that James is 12--as of right now--which is an age of great changes anyway.
But, I suppose that all depends on how you look at things. This is all from my point of view as a child. I can't say that all children react the same. That would be a tremendously unfounded assertion.

So has anyone else had a character that quickly changed due to some sort of stress? Leave a comment, tell me about it!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Chapter Thirteen: Of Arnur and the Fall (Part Two)

(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.)

When James woke dawn was rapidly approaching, encroaching over the tip of the mountains like a massive hazy beast. Thin clouds filled what little of the horizon he could see—little more than a thin hole through the foliage around Arnur. He stopped all fantasies that he was home from filling him with sadness. Deep down he had hoped that he would simply wake up in a hospital somewhere with his parents looking over him with joyful faces. But now he discarded those thoughts, however happy and warm, and came to the full realization that he truly was stuck in another world.
Yet, one thought managed to make him smile: he had traveled farther than anyone else likely had. That made him, in an ironic way, a hero in the same way that Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin were hailed after returning to Earth. He reminded himself that he would likely never get the same welcoming because despite anything he would do in Traea, only the narrow minded people in Woodton, his parents included, would know anything at all about where he had been.

James sat up. His bones creaked; his muscle protested. He hurt in places where old wounds, now only noticeable by discolored lines, had plagued him. His hands traced over where the Lyphon had dug its malicious claws into him. I’ll have no scars to show when I get home.
James turned and nearly swallowed his tongue as he came face to face with two white marbles and an infinite shadowy blackness. He leaped up, stumbled as his blanket wrapped around his ankle as if it were alive, and then tumbled backwards with a yelp on top of a tiny figure. Pea, having been squashed by someone twice his size, cried out and became tangled in the mess that James had created. The two of them caused such a ruckus that Darl woke violently from his slumber, jumped up, sword in hand, and began turning hazy eyed this direction in that as if he expected to be attacked at any moment.
Then, as suddenly as it had all started, all went silent. James stood and helped Pea up. He brushed himself off and glared at the Lean. Darl, however, hadn’t grasped that nothing bad had happened at all, holding his sword in exhausted desperation.
“Put that thing down before you hurt someone,” Pea said, waving a tiny hand in Darl’s direction.
“I’m sorry. It…he was just there. Scared me. I freaked,” James said.
Darl still didn’t grasp what was going on.
“You can stay there all morning if you like.”
James snickered.
“Suit yourself. I say we get something actually worthwhile to eat. I don’t blame you for avoiding that strange culinary invention last night. It did taste better than it smelled. It looked better than it tasted though.”
James grinned and followed Pea to the fire, which has smoldered to glowing gem-like embers. With a simple work of magic Pea had the fire crackling. Then Pea produced two eggs from his pack, found two thin sticks, and gave one of each to James.
“The thing about Fidget Fowl is their eggs stay good for weeks when you boil them,” Pea slowly broke the shell of his egg and peeled it off. “And, they taste even better roasted on fresh flames.” Then Pea stuck the egg on his stick and placed it in the fire.
James followed suit. He watched the egg brown in the flames and expected that the whites would be set ablaze at any moment. But no such event occurred. He simply retrieved the egg from the fire and looked at the smoking oval.
“Like roasting marshmallows,” he said.
“Marshmallows. They’re a sugary squishy pillow. You cook them just like this over the fire. They’re good.”
“I’ve never met a pillow that I thought tasted good. Not to mention I’ve never tasted a pillow with the intention of eating it…”
He rolled his eyes. “They’re not really pillows.”
“Perhaps not, but describing something as a pillow doesn’t make it very appetizing now does it?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Now these?” Pea indicated his egg. “These are not a pillow. As far as I am concerned they represent all that is good about the food in this world.” Then Pea plopped the egg in his mouth and chewed it roughly.
James waited for his egg to cool, and when it did he took a small bite. He had had Fidget Fowl eggs before, but never like this. The flavor exploded in his mouth in a flurry of spices. He tasted fine garlic, rosemary, and a dozen other flavors that he could only describe as supreme. They banged his taste buds mercilessly with their goodness and he found himself gobbling the remainder of the egg like a starving man.
With the egg devoured he hoped that Pea had another. But no other came and he felt slightly depressed.
At some point during their conversation Darl had put down the sword and begun shoving everyone’s things into their appropriate places. When James turned back to his spot he found everything in perfect order, ready to be hauled at any moment.
“I think it wise you receive at least some sort of lesson from me today,” Pea said.
James nodded enthusiastically. He had been waiting for this for some time, but it seemed as though fate had taken every measure possible to prevent it from happening.
“A light lesson today. You’ve fiddled enough with your magic, but the first thing you have to understand about it is this. If you don’t know how to funnel and control your magic you’re going to continue going around passing out, falling over, or if your luck hits just right you’ll die a painfully slow death in darkness. But that’s neither here nor there.”
He nodded. His book had explained this, well, some of it. Pea had given details the book could not offer. Magic could kill you due to its intimate connection with life itself. All the times he had used magic without true restraint could have killed him, sucked him dry of everything that made him a living being and left him a milky white corpse on the ground. One had to learn to control how magic flowed. One had to know his or her limitations, for every magical being had a limit on how much magic at any one time they could use, and this same limitation could be built up like physical strength. All this Pea explained, and James listened regardless of his prior knowledge.
“First things first, let’s try doing something simple. It might be best to close your eyes the first few times. Feel for your magic. You’ll know it when you feel it.”
James closed his eyes and wandered his mind. At first nothing came forward, nothing except his internal doubts, which he gladly shoved aside. Then, faint warmth came. He dug farther and found the connection to the Fearl. Fixed to that, pulsing mildly, was warmth that sent shades of amber hues over his eyelids. He had felt it before, somewhere. The Fearl has wafted it through him, he knew that. But he had never felt the warmth escape him when he cast spells.
“I feel it,” he said softly.
“Open your eyes, but keep that in your mind.”
He did.
Pea produced a small stone and held it out. “Now lift this gently. Pull only a little from your pool of magic. You have to learn to know how much to use for such trivial things such as this.”
James wasn’t sure how to draw only a small portion of the magic within him. He tried by actually tugging in his mind at the magic, then he imagined lifting the rock.
It all happened in a matter of seconds. The magic left him, the rock shot into the air and disappeared, and Pea grumbled something about needing the rock for further lessons. Then his vision went hazy, and a moment later came back. Too much magic, he thought. And so much for my theory that I can’t use magic for unnecessary things.
“Alright,” Pea said, slightly grumpy from losing the rock, “let’s try it again. That was excessive.”
Pea produced another stone from the ground and held it out. James concentrated and reached for the magic again. He imagined dipping his hands into the magic like a pool of water, then imagined the rock gliding to him. He pushed, threw the magic out, and…
The rock lifted and snapped quickly through the air and thumped him in the chest. He coughed and tumbled backward, completely unprepared for such an act. Pea broke into raucous laughter.
“Th-that,” Pea started, unable to stop laughing. “That was f-f…good.”
James stood up and searched for the stone, found it lying next to where he had landed, and picked it up. Ignoring the laughter he tried again, concentrating, touching, and gently feeling the magic running through him. Then he imagined. He saw the stone in his mind, and dug imaginary hands into the magic as if it were a pool.
The stone slid from his hand delicately, swam through the air in a bobbing fashion, and landed softly on Pea’s head. Pea paused, looked up, and nearly fell over in a spasm of uncontrollable laughter.
James waited patiently. He held the stone in the air with a slow, steady flow of magic. No dizziness came; no ill effects whatsoever plagued him. He smiled. Then he dropped the stone, deciding it best not to continue suspending it pointlessly above an oblivious Pea. The stone plopped to the ground.
Finally Pea managed to get himself under control.
“Done?” James said bitterly.
Pea sighed with relief. “I have not seen anything like that in a long time.”
“Yes, well don’t expect to see it again.” James glared.
“Now, no need for such foul pleasantries. I just taught you a valuable lesson.”
“Yes, if I screw up I’ll get laughed at.”
“No,” Pea went on the defensive. “I said nothing of the sort. Never mind.” The little man collected himself and continued, “I want you to practice that for a while. Just make the stone hover, move it a little, things of that nature. Learn to control the flow and then you can move on to bigger things. You’ll understand the importance soon enough.”
Pea walked off, leaving James to ponder. He practiced over and over, repeating the same exercise and forcing the stone to glide around. The magic that flowed came through an imaginary funnel now, something he had created within his mind as a method for controlling it. He quickly learned how little magic was needed to move the stone—an amount so minute that he started to realize how dangerous magic really could be. Any user who possessed a sizeable cache of magic could tear down even the mightiest of manmade walls. And do far worse.
James thought he had been practicing for quite some time, but Darl interrupted him, having come full circle from a bout with insanity, and he found that only a half hour had passed. He stopped, let the stone fall, and found that Darl had brought him his sword. Not thinking twice he lifted it and examined the sharp edge. The blade shimmered again, or had never stopped shimmering. He couldn’t be sure which. It weighed no more than the wooden practice blades Darl had pounded him with. At first he thought it was lighter, but a moment later he realized that wasn’t true—the blade was simply better balanced. He moved through the stances while under the scrutinizing eye of Darl. When he misstepped he was verbally assailed. No matter how prepared James had come to Darl’s rudeness he could not easily take the insults and jarring. They constantly stung. One minute he lacked confidence and the next he had too much. He was incompetent here, and glaringly idiotic there.
The practice moved on to a short sparring match. James found he had far less control of his attacks than Darl, and not in the usual sense. Darl hit him several times, but never with the edge. Darl’s control extended to the point that the old man could easily slip the blade sideways in mid-swing so as not to cut flesh. James didn’t bother trying that and luckily had no worries for Darl beat him left and right, parrying and dodging every attack he made. But Darl had made sure this time not to harm James as much as the first lesson. Small bruises would suffice.
The morning grew thin and the sun found its way well above the horizon. Darl ended the training with a nod of approval. The gesture brought no warmth of achievement to James. He knew far too well that a nod of approval meant absolutely nothing coming from a man who would easily change his mind.
Darl took sanctuary in a pile of lumpy food; Pea, rather, closed his eyes and took a nap. James watched the sunrise. What was left of it.
Then a loud crack, like a massive mountain splitting in two, broke the silence. The Lean stood tall and made a motion that James figured was some sort of smile. James then looked towards Arnur. The massive gate creaked open, slowly revealing a long pillared tunnel. He could barely make out the complicated Celtic designs filling the walls inside. Shield knots, triskeles, and triquetas, among others, were connected in a huge array.
“Arnur awakes,” Darl said.
“Come, the Masters would be most pleased to meet you all,” the Lean said.
“At least someone is enthusiastic about all this,” Pea said sarcastically. Darl glared.
The fire was quickly put it, left to smolder under a mound of dirt. The Lean led up the stairs and into the massive tunnel. A strange luminescence filled the tunnel with a slight dim light. James studied the walls. He hoped to come to some understanding of what the designs meant. They were laid out in such a way that they couldn’t represent hieroglyphics, yet he was certain there was some symbolic value to the layout. He saw no connection before leaving the tunnel and entering a wide room that looked much like a lobby of sorts. Stone benches were laid out in each of the four corners acting as guides to new tunnels.
The Lean took the corridor directly across the main tunnel. James watched the walls again. Tiny gems glittering like cat eyes in the dark were embedded into the centers of the designs. He looked into them and thought he could see beyond into a far away room. He shook the thought away.
The tunnel split again and again, the Lean leading straight the entire time. Small wooden doors led to ignored rooms. Some rooms had no doors at all, empty and dank as if they weren’t manmade at all. Then the long corridor stopped in front of a studded wood door with a rounded loop for a handle. The Lean, unable to affect the physical world, simply passed through, leaving the three behind. Darl reached for the loop, tugged, failed to open the door, tugged harder, and stopped in irritation. Then Pea stepped forward, twisted the loop, and thrust the door inward. Pea rolled his eyes.
James followed, his pack and sword weighing him down. Before he could take another step his eyes widened and he turned and released his stomach on the corridor floor. When he turned back he had the instinct to do it again, but managed to suppress it. Darl and Pea were plainly in shock, but the only indication that the Lean felt anything was the wavering flicker around its form.
The corridor opened into a massive globe-shaped stadium style room. Steps led to nooks and crannies meant for the living to write and confer. Yet in those spaces no living beings existed. Rather, the opposite presided there.
Ten rows of rotting men, eyes removed from their faces, skin hanging, bodies sagging in such a way that they looked mummified. All this filled the rows in a full circle around the room. A horrid smell pierced James’ mouth and nose, stung his eyes, and made him wretch again. But it wasn’t the smell, nor the immediate sight that had caused him such sickness. He saw in the faces of the dead the look of terror, pure and horrifying in their own right, staring down at him as if where he stood had been the thing that had killed them. He found no solace in looking away, nor did Pea or Darl. The gravity of the situation was inescapable.
“Who could have done this?” James said. “Luthien?”
“Impossible,” Darl said, “he was still raiding Arlin City when we reached the mountains.”
“Then who?” His voice cracked, eyes watered.
“We must leave this place now. Evil still lurks here.” Darl stepped back to the corridor.
James didn’t hesitate; he couldn’t. He wanted to be clear of stadium more than anyone. His senses ran wild, filling his head with dark thoughts of the dead. He saw them as clear as a sunny day in his mind and when he attempted to suppress them they flashed brighter than before.
The group retreated to the previous room; the Lean appeared through shadow a moment later. James took a seat on one of the benches. His breathing quickened, the images still fresh in his mind. The black holes of their eyes came and went in his mind. He had seen death before, but never in such a manner. Heart racing he tried desperately to find an escape from the carnage.
“All of the Masters are not accounted for,” the Lean said. “And the door to the chambers was left ajar.”
Darl’s anger swelled. “James, go, close it.”
“The dead cannot harm you. Go!”
He stumbled to his feet and walked back to the corridor. Pea’s voice rose up just as he entered.
“It’s not safe here Darl. Not anymore.”
“Where else is there to go?”
“Over the pass, to Ti’nagal or Afeir.”
“That would take a week at least. We don’t have the supplies for such a trip. No horse or donkey. We’d never make it.”
Then their voices faded.
As he walked down the corridor his spine tingled. The closed and door-less rooms allowed fear to ripple through him. At any moment something could burst out from the shadows, grab him, kill him. He shuttered at the thought of becoming like the faces in the stadium chambers—eyes like endless dark holes that led nowhere, mouth open in toothless terror, arms raised in defense against the grim power that had destroyed them. He soon realized how irrational such thoughts were; no creatures or living beings of any kind were found when they had traversed the corridor the first time.
He reached the door uneventfully. Nothing that he could imagine happened. The door opened out into the stadium leaving him no option but to see the dead faces once more before being able to close the door. He took a few steps closer, shivered, and took a step back. I can’t see them again, he thought. Not again. This is too much. Raising his hands he could see how violently he was shaking. His hands shook as if miniature earthquakes ran up and down the bones of his arm.
James stepped forward once, twice, and then a third time. Each time he shook more. Finally he reached the door and jutted his arm out to reach for the loop. His fingers touched the metal, tips slipping away until he grabbed farther. Then he gripped the handle firmly and…
A flash of painful light crashed into the back of his mind. It ruptured forward like a flowering sun and returned his vision to normal. He tried to pull the door, but could no longer move his legs, his body, anything except his neck. He turned, tried to call down the hall, but stopped at the sound of a hundred raspy breaths ringing through the stadium chamber. Looking back the faces of the dead glared down at him as if they still had eyes. Their mouths closed, becoming pursed lips of hatred. He could feel their absent pupils digging into his mind. He resisted, pushed back as hard as he could. Then the procession raised one arm in unison and jutted a mangled finger in his direction. They opened their mouths once again. A loud, deep chant, a hundred baritone voices, rang in one massive musical minor chord. The vibrations of sound hit him like a violent wind, a hurricane gale. The brunt of it pushed into his chest, but he remained attached to the handle and floor. Wind battered him, smashed him hard. Air escaped his lungs. Time seemed to fly by. His eyes watered.
I can’t breath. He tried to gasp for air, but couldn’t. The force of wind held his lungs at bay. I have to get away. His thoughts wandered; his vision became hazy as tears were torn from his face. Magic. An image flashed in his mind. He remembered the force that had come from him during his last minutes on Earth. He reached for the magic in his mind, reached for the connection with the Fearl, with Dulien. There in the back of his mind he found it. He grabbed hold and pushed it forward. Then he opened his eyes and turned to tormented figures. His cheeks billowed with the wind. Then he imagined the force and sent the magic away from him.
A flash that rippled like water burst from him, pushed against the wind. Then it exploded outward and battered the procession of dead. Their shrieks rang loud and echoed through the chamber and down the hall. Faint wind licked at his face and hair. Briefly his vision faded to blackness, returned, faded, and returned again. The dead Masters rose as one, a collection of rotting corpses united in one violent stand. Their mouths hung open exposing their throats as black as underground caverns.
James reached for the magic again, but it was gone. He searched and searched, hoping to find some minute force he could use to free himself, to force his body down the hall. None came. The Masters stood tall and reached their hands in front as if praying to God. Then they breathed deep and James waited for another battering of wind—a wind that would kill him if he could not reach for his magic again.
A violent male voice sounded behind him, bellowing a cry of war. The silhouette of Darl, sword drawn high and ready to slice down at any moment, passed by, shortly followed by the tiny form of Pea. The Masters let go their melodious chord, but Pea moved swiftly and threw a series of spells their direction, breaking the chorus, and forcing the Masters to regroup.
Pea then whirled back to James. It took only a moment of examination before Pea shattered the door into a million splinters. The spell that held James broke in much the same way sending shards of dead magic in every direction. James moved freely, flexed his arms, his hands, and moved his body. The Lean appeared next to him and began to pace helplessly.
“Retrieve your sword James,” Darl said, dodging one of the Masters and lodging his sword into another. The dead man didn’t fall, but bounced back to expose the long gash in his belly. Pea ran swiftly into the fray and covered Darl’s back, flinging magic this way and that—shattering bones, tossing dead men here and there.
James hesitated. He second guessed his ability to handle the Masters, or anyone for that matter. Then Darl bellowed at him. Three more Masters were cut, one lost an arm, and another nearly lost a leg. But none died. Then one flipped down off the wall above and landed a few feet away. James lurched back instinctually, and then suddenly came to the realization that he could not expect Pea or Darl to help him.
He frantically grabbed for his sword, dropping everything—his pack and all—and tugging hard at the binding. The sword lurched free just in time. He twisted around and swung the sword high. The tip flew true and dug deep into the Masters’ chest. James followed through and forced the blade through the head. Blood the color of the darkest crimson splattered against the wall in thick globs. The Master had no time to make a sound before falling to the ground.
Like zombies, James thought. He was surprised at how smoothly his blade had passed through the flesh of the dead man. Then he turned to warn Pea and Darl.
“The head,” he said, screaming over the mass of shrieking corpses. “Strike them in the head. They will fall.” Then he jumped through the doorway and slid in to take a position next to Darl, forming a triangle. Magic spewed forth around him. He could feel the energy coursing through the air. He chanced a glance at Pea; saw the tiredness in the little man’s face.
Two Masters came at him, hands held out like claws. They bore no weapons, but the hatred burning in their sunken faces suggested that no physical weapon was needed. James leaned forward and dodged one of the Masters, who slid sideways and was cut down by Darl. Then he swung high and struck the second in the face. A torrent of blood hit him like a wind driven rain. He tried to shake it away, but had no time as another Master reached out for him. He batted at the arms, then kicked the Master in the shin, and smashed down as hard he could with the hilt of his sword and heard the shattering of skull. The Master crunched to the floor. He was surprised at his own strength.
Pea began using a stone that had come dislodged from the chamber floor. He passed it through the air like a bullet. Masters fell as they were struck in the head by the projectile. But Pea could not hold that for long as more Masters leaped through the air from higher levels in an attempt to break the group.
James saw the flash of magic before he could comprehend what had happened. The Masters from above were torn apart, but no blood came from their wounds. Pea slumped next to him. He lodged his sword into another Master, who in turn grabbed the blade and pulled him closer. He ducked just in time to have Darl’s blade swing over his head and through the neck of the Master.
Then James turned to Pea, helped the little man up.
“Come on Pea,” he said.
Pea’s face sunk, but he looked into James’ eyes and nodded.
James slashed into the belly of another Master, but moved too slowly to dodge another pair who dug their boney hands into his supertunic. The fabric tore as they yanked him from the group and tossed him effortlessly across the room. He slammed hard into the ground and slid until he hit the bottom step. His sword clattered several feet away and he coughed. He had had the wind knocked out of him.
James started to clamber for the sword. The Masters were too fast, converging on him on both sides in an attempt to box him in. It worked, for he had no direction to run and without his sword and magic he was utterly helpless.
Then, as if by some miracle, magic flowed through him. His arms tingled as he felt it moving through his veins as if it were blood. I have one shot at this. It’s over if I screw this up.
James thought hard in those last seconds, harder than he had ever thought. The magic flowed through him, but he could tell it was not the right amount to call upon the violent force from before. The two Masters came closer and closer. Then the one on his left stepped hard and forced a small slab of stone to lift up. The Master moved, un-phased. But James saw his opportunity and concentrated. He pulled on the remaining magic, left a little behind for protection, and gauged how much he would need in his mind. The Masters came closer, and closer, and closer. He could feel their breath, dead and putrid. They breathed unnaturally as if they bore the lungs of a massive beast.
James let the magic roll through him. He tore the slab of stone from the ground and willed it, no, believed it would smash the two Masters. The stone obeyed; magic rolled out of him in torrents. I’ve used too much, he thought as desperation hit him. He stabbed down in his mind in an attempt to stop the flow, but it was too late. His vision slipped away, leaving him a maze of blurry shapes. A kaleidoscope of colors exploded before him and then he slumped back against the step.
James didn’t pass out, not like he had before. Rather he remained awake in a sea of confusion. Sounds came to him in muffled waves; colors and light poured at him in such a manner that he couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. Figures passed by him, or so he believed, yet none came to him—neither to attack nor to help.
His lungs ran shallow. No pain, but the strange sense that he had suddenly acquired asthma. He wheezed. He dared not try to stand, and quickly found that even if he had wanted to his arms and legs wouldn’t allow it. When he moved his head he became viciously light-headed and had to close his eyes to regain composure.
All this happened in the matter of a few minutes. For a moment he felt on the verge of throwing up. Then clear sound came. He could hear the fight still waging on, but quieter now, as if fewer were on the defensive. Slowly vision returned too and he became aware of reality. Figures had passed by him—all Masters and all dead at his feet, struck down by Pea in a wave of magic. But James hadn’t sensed the magic in any way. The side affects had tore his senses completely away.
Three more Masters remained, slowly circling Pea and Darl like a pack of wolves measuring the strength of their prey. Pea slumped completely now, but held his ground. James could tell immediately that the tiny man bore little magic to dispel. Darl looked no better. Ragged breaths escaped the old man; scrapes, cuts, and bleeding gashes ran along nearly every limb. James desperately wanted to help, but knew immediately that he had no strength and no magic to give. He could no more lift a sword than stand. Full exhaustion had overcome him.
One of the Masters moved forward, feigned a lunge. Darl nearly fell for it, but in a fluid motion turned and caught a second Master on his blade, shoved the screeching to the ground. The third Master took the opportunity to attack, but Darl tore the blade from the second Master, slipped under the third’s attack, and swung around in a swift motion and cleaved the head clean off. The second Master did not stand, but rather gurgled and spat on the ground. Darl had somehow damaged its spine and it could no longer stand, but writhed in pain as Darl stepped on its legs, torso, and arms in the heat of battle.
Only one Master remained. Darl slid away from Pea and circled the walking corpse. The Master followed; face drawn low in a menacing gesture. The creature seemed to sense it stood no chance, but Darl had already cut off its only escape route through the door. So it shot through the air, an otiose undertaking. Darl simple batted the dark hands aside and beheaded the Master, loosing blood and flesh on the floor.
James soon came to realize that the entire floor was caked in blood, or rather running with the blood and flesh of the Masters, a veritable pool of crimson. His hands, tunic, and all were covered in it. He tried to move, but couldn’t. The scent of decay filled his nose, but he couldn’t wretch.
Bodies, too, covered the floor, lay draped over steps here and there, or simply didn’t exist for Pea had torn them to pieces with magic. Regardless, the entire room looked like a massive battle field untouched by the maws of buzzards and other eaters of the dead. He shivered.
Darl helped Pea to his feet, and then stared down at the last Master who roared violently, spewing bits of blood through the air.
“Beast,” Darl said. The creature didn’t respond, simply stared forward menacingly, mouth still agape. “Who corrupted you?”
The Master screeched.
Darl lifted his sword. “Beast, I will not slay you until you have spilled every drop of your blood upon this floor. I know you feel pain. I will see to it that your last days are filled with them. Now, who corrupted you?”
“Bring me pain,” the Master said. James shivered at the voice. It was bubbling with an inhuman hatred, at such a tone that the very vibrations sent every hair on James’ arms standing on end.
Darl delicately placed his sword, point down, on the Master’s leg. “Don’t presume to think that I don’t want to cause you unnecessary pain. You and your ilk have caused me enough trouble this day.” Then he pushed the blade into the skin, through flesh, and stopped when it hit bone. The Master screeched painfully. “Who corrupted you?”
The Master laughed, or tried to. All that came out was a strange gurgling sound, but James could sense the evil behind it. Darl stabbed again, this time in the opposite leg. The Master groaned loud.
“I give you one more chance. Consider it a gift. Tell me what I wish to know and your death will be swift, demon.” Darl snapped menacingly at the Master, stern and angry in a way that James had not seen before.
Another stab in the gut, drawn in a slow fashion towards the rotting flesh that used to be a chest, brought the Master to speak. “Al’na ner’avón ul al’soral la’muért.”
“Speak plainly!” Darl stabbed deeper into the Master’s gut.
The Master coughed, blood dribbled from its mouth. “Al’na ner’avón ul al’soral la’muért.” Then laughter.
Darl had had enough. James watched as Darl took the blade and drove it deep into the Master’s groin and began to force it up through stomach, chest, and all.
“Zagra! Al’na nar’avón ul la’soral al’muért. Zagra!” James could barely understand the words that had already been spoken. So much blood, so much pain was in the voice. Then Darl ended it, removing the head in a single stroke.
James suddenly regained control of his body, enough to at least lift himself. He groaned and forced himself from the floor and found refuge from the pool of blood on the first step. How many Masters really died? How many did I kill? He didn’t bother to count. There were bodies everywhere, what was left of them. Heads lay with their demonic faces twisted skyward like praying monstrosities.
Pea cautiously walked over to him. He shivered. So much bloodshed. He wasn’t sure what had caused him to so readily join in the battle. Animal instinct? No, something more.
“You fought well,” Pea said, now next to him on the step.
“Pass him no compliment. They were unarmed and ill-trained enemies. Their only advantage was in their numbers. An untrained man with a sharp blade would have done just as well.” Darl swiftly cleaned the blood from his sword using a small bit of fabric from one of the dead Masters, then retrieved James’ sword and did the same. If Darl felt any pain, the old man didn’t show it.
“Ignore him.” The exhaustion in Pea’s eyes was plain. Rest was a requirement for both James and Pea. “You wielded magic well.”
“So did you,” James said half-heartedly. He hadn’t expected any different from the Littlekind. Pea winced.
“Yes, well, we all have our limitations I suppose. Been a long while since I last found myself in such a position. Something tells me this won’t be my last.”
Pea looked him in the eye. He knew that look, a look of blame. But it wasn’t just blame that sat there. There was a bit of pride too. Pea looked proud.
“I think we all should leave this room,” Darl said. “I expect we have many wounds to attend to.”
The Lean appeared in the center of the room, pacing once again. He mumbled to himself, then followed Darl out of the room as if he had nowhere else to go.
James stood and made his way out, followed closely by Pea. He realized immediately why Pea kept near him. He could collapse at any moment, his body having been spent so. A humorous thought of Pea stuck beneath him after having passed out made him snicker.
He slipped by Darl, who had stopped at the doorway.
“Zagra,” Darl whispered.
“What does it mean?” he said.
Darl shook his head.
“The Master spoke an ancient language,” the Lean said.
“One long dead,” Pea said.
“Same as the tongue that spoke it. Have you the magic to seal this door once again?” Darl glanced down at Pea.
Pea nodded and a moment later the door reformed and the lock glowed red hot. The molten metal welded to the rock wall, sealed. James retrieved his pack from the hall, slung it over his shoulder.
They quietly moved through the hall. The Lean remained far ahead, volunteering as a lookout for any other corrupted Masters. The hall stretched longer than James had thought before, or perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him, clouded by adrenaline. Finally they reached open space.
“I will search the rest of Arnur. For now it is safe.” The Lean faded into shadow.
James dropped his pack and sat down on one of the benches. Weakness attacked his muscles, but he held himself up. Then he noticed how utterly drenched in blood he had become. His hands were stained red; his clothes were either dripping or clinging wetly to his legs. He shook. Tears welled in his eyes.
Then he bolted up and began tearing the clothes from his body. He didn’t care that Pea or Darl could see him. His only thought was to remove the tainted clothing from his body. He tore the supertunic clean off and in a matter of seconds he was completely naked. Blood had touched nearly every inch of his skin. He stumbled down the massive hall to the well outside. He didn’t have much strength left to run, but he did so nonetheless. When he reached the well he collapsed to his knees and reached in, drenching his arms, legs, torso, face, everything in the crystal clear ice water. Goosebumps formed on his skin, but he paid no attention to the cold. Blood ran in tiny rivers along his skin and eventually reached the ground. Little rivers of red like a miniature model of a sea inlet formed and rolled down the stone walkway.
He rubbed his skin until it hurt. Soon he realized that his shivering came not just from the freezing water, but also from a deep, overwhelming stream of emotion. Fear, hate, sadness—all poured through him. Blood still clung to him and despite his best efforts he could not clean himself of the corrupted mess.
“James,” Pea said from behind, “you did what you had to.” Pea dropped a set of clean clothing next to James’ leg.
James ran more water over the remaining bloodied spots. “I want to go home,” he said.
“And what of your friend.”
“Why did this have to happen to us?”
“I cannot explain fate any better than you. There is a purpose to it nonetheless.”
“So much hate and death.”
“Love and bravery where it counts.”
“Yes.” He rubbed himself. His shivering began to hurt.
“Arnur should have a bathhouse. Come, be dressed for now.”
James peered over Pea. Blood covered the little man too; all of them except the Lean were drenched in the stuff. Wounds had been tended to. Strangely it made him feel better about the situation. He had not been the only one to feel so tainted.
He clothed himself and followed Pea back to lobby, sat down, and hugged his shoulders.
Then the Lean reappeared again. James thought he saw concern in the white eyes, a flash of something, but second guessed.
“There are survivors,” the Lean said. “Uncorrupted.”
Darl paced. “Are you sure?” Darl, too, had cleaned his wounds, but was still covered in blood.
“Yes, I would know Master Willup if he had gone mad.”
“How far?”
The Lean shifted seamlessly. “Not more than a half mile.”
James caught Darl’s eye. “Get everything ready. I don’t want to stay near that cursed room any longer.”
Pea brought James a drink and a boiled Fidget Fowl egg. He drank and ate; a little strength ran through him. Then he put his pack on and, with Pea behind him, he followed Darl down the right hand corridor. He no longer cared about the engravings, carvings, and architecture on the walls. He slipped away into his mind and wandered through what he knew in an attempt to drive away all the darkness that had come into his life.
God help me to find Laura. God help us to find our way home.

Book Review: Shadowfall by James Clemens

This is by far one of the best fantasy novels I have read in a long time. Clemens' writing style is exceptionally strong and he proves that having multiple viewpoints can be worked successfully. One of the things that makes it work is the length. There is plenty of time to establish who the characters are, where they are from, their histories, etc. I found myself, especially towards the end, on the edge of my seat. Unlike other fantasy novels--Tower of Shadows being a prime example--Clemens doesn't show you the viewpoint from the villians. You don't know at any point who really is the bad guy. And because you aren't given that viewpoint the twists and turns come as an even greater surprise.
Synopsis (my version): Tyler is a fallen knight in the world of Myrillia where knights serve the many gods who live among man on the earth. He has had everything stripped from him: his future wife, his health, his pride and prestige. Then one night he witnesses the slaying of a god, something that is supposed to be impossible. When he goes to the dying god she blesses him with her own grace (magic basically) and he is immediately accused of being a godslayer. He finds that he has to uncover a vast conspiracy to clear his name and prove that despite a great daemon--left by the dying god--now held within his flesh, he is not a godslayer.Dart is a girl studying to be Handmaiden for whichever god will take her. There is something about her that nobody really knows about. She has an 'imaginary' beast friend who not really imaginary at all, but a constant companion to her. She too gets sucked up into the conspiracy working to destroy the foundations of Myrillia.
Kathryn is a Shadowknight (one of the knights that serves the gods). She also was formerly betrothed to Tylar. But news that he still lives and that he may be coming to kill he brings her into a struggle with discovering who is really trying to tear down Myrillia from the ground up. Is it a group of dissenters known as the Fiery Cross? Or someone else? Could it be Tylar?

You can't go wrong with this book. The characters are exceptional and drawn so well that you truly get an idea of who they are. The action is described perfectly, drawing you in. I didn't even notice that the book had many common cliches until the end, which immediately tells me that Clemen's writes in such a way that even common fantasy themes seem new. The world he has created--Myrillia--is fantastic. His system of gods and magic (called Grade, like God's Grace) is elaborate and powerful. You can easily grasp the limitations of it.
My favorite character in the book is Dart, and I'm not entirely sure why--at least I can't really say why because it gives way too much away about what happens in the book and I am not fan of spoilers. I think perhaps I like her because what she suffers is something some might call far worse than anything Tylar suffers. Read and you'll understand what I mean. I gather a lot of women would agree on that matter, then again, many might disagree. But I'm a man, so I can't say for certain.
The only problems I had with the book were based on my personal tastes. There are several scenes that he writes with great detail that just made my skin crawl. One in particular is a rape scene. I personally found myself disgusted. This is not to say that Clemens did a bad job, not at all. He wrote them well and got the desired effect from me I imagine. I just personally have problems reading scenes that describe such events in any detail whatsoever. I personally could never write such scenes--well that might be true, but I would certainly have a hard time doing it.
Nonetheless, this is a definite must read. Note this is not a children's book, so please don't read it to your children. It is very violent in some areas in such a way that is necessary. It is not excessive and not unneeded. Give it a read. I personally loved this book and hope many of you will too!

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Writer Meme and Some Other Stuff

I thought it would be interesting to:
a) Continue a meme I found on another blog
b) Put some updates of stuff on here since I am not quite done with Shadowfall by James Clemens to be able to review it.

The first meme was one I found at Kristine Smith's blog here:
"Turn to page 123 in your work-in-progress. (If you haven’t gotten to page 123 yet, then turn to page 23. If you haven’t gotten there yet, then get busy and write page 23.) Count down four sentences and then instead of just the fifth sentence, give us the whole paragraph (that it comes from)."

Obviously I'm going to take the sentences from WISB. So here they are:

He agreed. He had never been to a slaughterhouse as there wasn’t one in Woodton, and he had never actually left the valley where his home sat. Somehow he knew he didn’t want to go. Something about knowing how an animal was killed and prepared so he could eat made him think he might lose interest in meat altogether. He saw that as a loss, for he truly enjoyed the flavor of meat.

Technically they come from Chapter Nine on page four, but I decided to count my pages as published pages, rather than regular typed pages. Sort of like double spaced basically. So really those lines fall right on page 123.Next, just wanted to let everyone know that all that stuff I was selling on Amazon, well I've updated it with a lot of other stuff from fiction novels to non-fiction, etc. There's almost everything in there now that I think about it. So, feel free to look, pretty please! Check it out here.

I was coming up with my own meme to start, but I stupidly forgot to write down the idea for it and basically forgot what it was. So, alas, no meme from me.
Good news is I will be done with Chapter Thirteen (B) this weekend, will have read Shadowfall, and will have read half of Neuromancer by William Gibson for my lit class. Hopefully I'll get really far into Ninja too so I can review that on Friday of next week.
In any case, check out the post before this one as it deals with critique groups. I've also got in the works a post on stuff for writers--such as tools, software, etc. I'm not sure when I'll finish it as I keep finding new stuff.