Monday, February 25, 2008

Sharpe's Triumph

I just finished Sharpe's Triumph by Bernard Cornwell. I've read a dozen books in this series now and really enjoyed all of them. There are only a few left to me, including the climactic Waterloo, but I saw there was a newer book covering events earlier in Sharpe's career, so I took it up before pressing on to the defeat of Napoleon.

Triumph concerns the Maratha War of 1803, a time when the British were still battling in India under the leadership of the newly minted general Arthur Wellesley, whom the world knows better as the Duke of Wellington and the man who defeated Napoleon. Sharpe is a sergeant when the novel opens and the book tells the story, now famous for Sharpe readers, of how this fairly green sgt. saves the general's life and earns himself a rare field commission for bravery, thus becoming an officer.

The novel was spectacularly absorbing. Cornwell uses a third person omnitient viewpoint to great effect. Through this lens we get not only the perspective of Sharpe and his enemy Sgt. Hakeswill, but Wellesley himself, three of the enemy leaders and several other minor characters. The shifts never seem abrupt to me, as Cornwell effortlessly draws the "camera" back between close-ups into the minds of the characters.

No one does battles like Bernard Cornwell, and even after the spectacular descriptions of sieges and skirmishes from other books, his depiction of the Battle of Assaye is exciting and detailed, with great respect shown to the bravery of the Scottish soldiers whose professional performance and ferocity routed an enemy seven times their number. These books are not for the faint of heart (yeah, yeah, what am I doing reading them then? lol) and there were times when the brutality was almost overwhelming. Cornwell delivers war that is both heroic and beastly, a great waste and a great triumph in all its chaos and carnage. As bloody as it gets, Cornwell writes with a a brutal poetry of death.

Like most of the Sharpe books, Triumph does follow the familiar pattern, with a beautiful woman who Sharpe beds, of course, and ending with a battle. But once again the tropes and familiar plot devices are minimized by great storytelling and writing.

Bernard Cornwell's advice for aspiring novelists.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Playing for Keeps

Yesterday I listened to the final episode of Mur Lafferty's podiobook Playing for Keeps. Mur is the inspirational podcaster of I Should be Writing. Some of her short works have been amazing, like the Escape Pod story "I Look Forward to Remembering You". So I eagerly subscribed to this podiobook, her first novel, I believe.

Playing for Keeps is a super hero novel, which is a pretty rare breed. It's set in the fictitious Seventh City and the supers are members of an acclaimed organization called The Academy. The main characters, however, are a group of slightly powered super rejects who hang out at a bar called named after its owner, Laura "Keepsie" Branson. She is called Keepsie because her power is that no one can take anything she owns. They freeze in place, paralyzed. Other humorous powers include a guy who can fire feces out of his hands, a fellow who is super strong for just a few seconds before having to rest, a cook who knows exactly how people like their food, and a waitress who can balance anything on a bar tray.

This motley cast is thrown into a situation where the "heroes" seem pretty ruthless and corrupt and the super-villains don't seem so bad.

I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. It was a fun take on super heroes and it kept up my interest. If it sounds appealing so far, you should definitely check it out. However, there were some problems for me and part of what I am doing with these reviews is trying to learn from the things I read.

Number one, there was just way too much bouncing back and forth from the bar to the academy to the bar to the park to the bar to the academy to an apartment to the academy, etc. All the while the characters are bickering about what to do. Not saying it wasn't realistic, it just wasn't the most entertaining part of the book.

Second, and this is more an issue of presentation, the "Story so Far" segments at the beginning of each episode were not that helpful. I could usually remember what was going on from week to week. Where I needed help was remembering who everyone was. There is a large cast of characters in this book. The supers were easy. What does White Lightning do? Give you one guess. But it took me til the 3/4 mark to be able to remember which of Keepsie's friends was which and who had what powers. Some were easier than others, but this is one area I think the podiobook presentation could have been improved.

Overall, Playing for Keeps was well worth my time and I listened to each episode within a day or so of getting it, usually the same day. For some reason this was one I liked to listen to on the way home, as opposed to Sigler's podcast novels which are always at the top of the list for the drive to work. *shrugs* Still a fun, interesting change of pace, especially for a first novel. Great job, Mur.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Goblin Jumper Cables

Tonight I start writing again. Between battling depression and preparing for the con, I have not written a word on Demons of the Neverwoods in a couple of weeks. Bad writer! Bad! Listening to Scott Sigler today really got me pumped up. Damn, that guy has so much energy. Can't wait to meet him on his book tour. By that time I darn well better have novel #3 done, at least the rough draft.

It helps that I am running a Neverwoods campaign right now, so there is even more incentive to get into the world and immerse myself in their strange culture. No excuses tonight. The bills are paid, the chores are done, I'm recovered from the Con. Yup, its back in the saddle again.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Roger Zelazny

As I mentioned below, I played in a game of Amber the Diceless RPG on Sunday at the con. This game reawakened my love for the Amber books and for Zelazny in general. For most of my teen years, the Amber novels were far and away my favorite series. His story For a Breath I Tarry is my all time favorite short work, and I think it may be partly responsible for my descent into Philosophy during college.

So, in between chapters of Nine Princes in Amber I wrote to Mike Stackpole (just because I know he is a Zelazny fan and might have some pull somewhere), to and to Ann Edenfield at American Publishing Inc. They own the rights to recordings of the first five Amber novels read by Zelazny himself! I think these should be available to Amber fans around the world, and not just as cassette tapes.

I don't know what will come of my activism in this regard, but I will keep bugging people until I see unabridged versions of Amber and other Zelazny classics on Audible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

DunDraCon wrap-up report

After missing the last three years, I finally made it back to DunDraCon (DDC for short) this past weekend. I had a blast. The con is very well run and even after three years away, it was easy to get back in the groove. Having said that, the biggest disappointment was the game masters, though I still had a great time.

Friday I arrived way early and got the room and into my first game choice. I think it was Echoes of the Past, a 5th level D&D 3.5 game. I will now know to avoid "DM may provide characters" games all together. I had made a special version of Renz, my favorite sorceress, for the game, as well as a sheet for Svanhilde, a rogue from WoW. No one else brought a character. I heard several people complain about the time it takes to make characters. Doesn't anyone else own a computer? Gods, it takes like 15 minutes with any one of a number of free online generators, let alone things like Character Gen or Crystal Ball. Anyway, the DM didn't have any characters made either so we spent the first 90 minutes getting characters. Then there was the 13 year old who sat next to me and was a total spaz, in spite of it being a "mature themes" game. The DM took NO steps to keep the kid in line or help him wiht his character. So who is the nice person to help out with that? Me, of course.

Note to DMs: Please please please do not allow the loudest, most obnoxious players to monopolize your time and attention. It's called Everybody gets a Turn! Really easy. I use Social Initiative and let everyone roll using their Charisma bonus, then take turns in that order. Really easy and it actually helps build tension and keep the timing straight.

I almost walked out of this game a couple of times, but I didn't want to be a dick. I had some fun. It was great to play Renz and as usual, kind of get my own story going on the side. There was this cute bard, see... lol And the player had no problem RPing in spite of the fact that I am the polar opposite, physically, of Renz. That was fun.

Saturday I got to run Cauldron of Shadows, the game I ran for my friends and novelized for Nanowrimo. It was a great time. No women players, but the guys I had were great sports about the whole thing. The power gamer from Friday's game even showed up and seemed to have a fun time with the roleplaying. Everyone stayed to the end at 3am, and everyone lived. I will have to do something about that. I think giving the Strega each a level of Witch is a good direction for that. Otherwise the feedback from my home team was very effective in moving the story along and plugging some of the holes. I was very well prepared and surprise surprise! the game was done in under the scheduled time and everyone had fun. Imagine that.

Several games of Magic and a few hours of fitful sleep later I played in a game of Amber for the first time. Amber is a diceless system based on the works of Roger Zelazny, who is one of my all time favorite writers EVAR! This was more of a LARP than and rpg. Two experienced players came in fabulous costumes that made me feel even grungier and lumpier than usual, but they were beautiful, especially the lady, and played the game like true Amberites. It was fun to play with my friend Sean on the other team. However, the GM was less than fully prepared and much of the time was spend sitting around waiting to speak with him. I think another GM would have helped. IT was still a fun experience, but it went 2+ hours past the alloted time and generally felt pretty disorganized. Having said that, I intend to play Amber again, and come in costume next time, if it is appropriate.

As a further boon, the game re-awakened my love for the Amber novels. I am looking forward to reading them again and then learning more about the RPG.

All in all, a great time and another invaluable learning experience as a GM and player. But geez, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, GAME MASTERS! There is just no excuse to not be ready. If life is that rough, cancel your game. I would.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This weekend I will be attending Dundracon in San Ramon, CA. This will be my fifth time, though I have missed the last couple. I am excited to get away for the weekend and immerse myself in gamer culture and play some games. New magic cards, yipeee!

I am also running my scenario "Cauldron of Shadows" on Saturday night. I first ran this a few months ago for my friends. Their feedback was excellent and I am looking forward to running the new and improved version. Can't wait to see what a different batch of people do with the characters. Should be really interesting.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dragon Song by Anne McCaffrey

It's been20 years since I read any of the Dragonriders of Pern novels, but since I have been loving Naomi Novik's books and I am writing "pet fiction" of a sort myself, I figured I would check them out again.

The beginning of this novel was very frustrating, as it seemed so contrived and unfair that "girl's can't be Harpers." Hello, the human voice (especially women's imho) is one of the most expressive and beautiful instruments in the world. It just defies logic, especially in a future setting, to so handicap your society with these kinds of limitations. But there is a twist here. It wasn't until the book was mostly over that I realized Menolee's parents were the villains of the story. Her dad is a big ass, but even her mother is despicable in the way she treats Menolee's hand injury.

By the end, I was truly moved and involved with the great protagonist and the world of Pern. There is a lot to learn here for my Neverwoods novel in terms of the society and the attitude of young people. The huge influx of new characters at the end was a bit mystifying at times, and the details about the drama between the dragon riders did not seem relevant to the story at hand, though I am sure it will make more sense when I have read more of the novels.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sold! To Flashing Swords

Well, since the contract came, I guess it's time to announce that I've made a sale. "Blood, like Roots" the Neverwoods story of Raana the hunter sold to Flashing Swords e-zine and will appear in the November edition.


They have a great crew there and the community of swords and sorcery writers that hang out in the forums are wonderful to chat with and learn from. I will be posting reading summaries of some FS issues in the future. Good stuff!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Escape Pod: Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths

EP143: Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths by Camille Alexa.

This was a really fun story with a great reader. What a thrill to hear a story by an author who posts over at the SF Reader forums!

Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths is the first person story of a girl turning sixteen. In her near future high school, cliques are formed around the Cause of Death that a person can learn, with their parents approval, at age sixteen. A very interesting take on the rite of passage. The language and style of the piece was perfect, as evidenced by the number of people of different age groups posting their praise on the EP forums. Seems high school never really changes much as an experience. =P

The really interesting part, to me, is after school when the narrator's dad shows up to take her out for her birthday. His reluctance about visiting the CoD kiosk was really well done and gave the story a ton of heart, which is something I really like in a story.

Personally, this story has great relevance as part of my WiP deals with a bunch of adolescent warrior/atheletes in the Neverwoods. Every step outside their home territory is a brush with death and a glorious end is revered in their society. So in a way, this story provided an example of a believable culture of death. It sounds morbid, but to the kids in Camille's cliques and to my young Gilthani, it is glorious and a way to find distinction and acceptance in a harsh world. Plus the teenie-bopper tone is just perfect in this story, which reinforces the attitudes I've given my characters. A lot to learn from in this story.