Sunday, September 25, 2016

Read for Fun: Seinfeld and Philosophy

"Seinfeld and Philosophy" is a book I bought some time ago. I read a few of its essays but then it got lost in the shuffle. I finally finished it the other day. The show about nothing has profound things in it. Since this is a philosophy anthology I can't use my normal grading method so I'll just sample three of the essays.

 "The Costanza Maneuver: is it rational for George to 'Do the Opposite'"?


This is one of my favorites. Not only is it interesting but it cleaves to Seinfeld as much as to the philosophy. I'd say this is one of the better essays in that regard.  


The title of this episode refers to the season five episode "The Opposite" where George realizes that his every instinct has been wrong so Jerry (jokingly) advises him to do the opposite of what his instincts tell him.  In pursuit of determining if this is a truly rational thing to do, the author of the essay uses concepts such as the Three Kinds of Rationality (minimum, median and maximum) and employs a test; it is rational if it is both feasible and reliable. 


The author of the essay also speaks of the comical mechanics in this central joke of the episode. Neither George nor the audience expects the Costanza Maneuver to work and the contrast with its great success is both startling and baffling. It's also about George's neurosis; that's always funny. 

Seinfeld, Subjectivity and Sartre


This one is about the constructions of the Self (identity, personality etc.) and how it exists in relation to others. It is not only that the persona of the characters is revealed through their interactions with others but that it is influenced and built by them. Examples include Jerry encouraging some odd plan or another by George and Kramer's eccentrics coming from all the strange people he interacts with.
This particular essay had another point to prove; that Jean-Paul Sartre advocated the relationally constructed Self instead of being an essentialist. The author of this essay goes to great lengths to disprove what I assume is a widespread and long standing interpretation. Of course, Sartre's play, "No Exit" and that famous line "Hell is other people" is brought up. In both the play and the TV show there are three (or four) unpleasant people locked in a room for a prolonged period of time as their punishment. Yet the author of this essay notes that the Seinfeld four don't see it as torture because it is their natural environment.
Seinfeld and the Moral Life

The author of this essay attempts to prove that the four main cast members are kind and compassionate people who regularly try to do the morally correct thing; yes all four of them.  While I disagree I'm more put off by the faulty logic and reasoning in this essay.

Before starting the argument to prove this, the author of the essay first separates "integrity" from the idea of "being moral" because someone can be a horrible immoral person with great integrity. While this is sound enough it also means there is less land to defend. When the author of the essay begins their defense of their argument they point to the few actions that could be interpreted as good and kind and ignores the context. It's cherry picking.
Then the author of the essay responds to possible counter-arguments by stating that being a "comedy of manners" is more or less the same as being concerned with morality because manners are about avoiding hurting someone's feelings. This ignores the possibility of being petty, superficial or self-interested. There is also the phrase "obviously false on its face". This sounds like the start of the Costanza Maneuvers' first section. It referred to the tendency of some people to believe they've won an argument by saying "you're being irrational". Saying that something is false does not prove it to be so.

 _______________________________

 There are others in this essay that I greatly enjoyed such as "J. Peterman the Ideological Mind: Paradoxes of Subjectivity" and the "Elaine Benes: Feminist Icon or Just One of The Boys". There are only one or two that I disliked and that's more about disagreement or whatever.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Seinfeld and Philosophy" an A


Click here for my previous book review (a review request): Fae

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Answering Review Request: Fae

Rhonda Parish asked me to read an anthology she edited call "Fae". Its theme is fairies and more specifically, the kind of fairies known as Fair Folk from the old folklore instead of the later, Victorian idea. The introduction goes into this in more detail. Suffice to say that there's a lot of diversity here. I will look at a couple for this review and then give the book as a whole a grade.
 
"Only The Eyes Of Children"

 This is a 1st person narrative with a smart ass half-fey. The protagonist, "Robin Archer", reminds me of Harry Dresden but he's not a detective. Instead, he's more like a vigilante. He Fights Like a Normal since his magic abilities are limited and take a huge toll on his stamina. He refuels with ice cream, coke and pork tenderloin sandwiches.


The trope, "Friend to All Children" is a big part of this story. It's an interesting take on the idea of changelings. Fae can't reproduce like humans can so they are both fascinated by and protective of children. They love playing with children in city parks and if they don't do this often enough then a compulsion could build up until they snatch a kid instead. Robin states that most Fae in the modern age are pretty good about returning them after a few days and the ones that don't usually raise the kids as their own with much love. In fact, he describes Tatiana the Fairy Queen as a paragon of maternal instinct. 


Another thing that makes this story interesting is the other part of the changeling story; the vast majority of child abductions are via other humans such as slave traders. That's the plot for this story, tracking down a certain cell of them in Indianapolis (incidentally, that city is supposedly bursting with Fae).

 
"Just Make Believe"

 The start of this short story sounds familiar, doesn't it? A child of adoption who has dreamed of performing magic discovers a supernatural mentor who teaches her to use her powerful latent magic and suggests that she might be a princess from the Fairy Court. However, this story has an altered sense of gravity. This girl is not the protagonist nor the view point character. That would be her "supernatural mentor" who is actually a Fae boy her age (or at least her mental age) who is ecstatic to make a friend capable of magic and has no grand adventure to Herald her into. Indeed, the plot is their budding relationship and the only conflict is personal.

The Fae boy, Robin, is a faun with illusion magic. Between his private insecurity, showing off to impress Nadia, references to stories like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the general tone of his first person narrative, he is high grade adorkable.

The supposedly human girl, Nadia, learns illusion magic. Neither of them know for sure how she is capable of it but Robin speculates that she has Fae blood. She's a nice girl and not in the sense of "nice as bland" but "nice as friendly" and "nice as compassionate" etc.

 
How useful is illusion magic when talking about teenagers who not only have "growing up" identity issues but also ones regarding their species and their relationship to each other?
 
"Water Sense"
It's about this kid in a desert. Everyone except him in this society has a "water sense" which I took as hydromancy. He's from a different tribe or ethnic or something and that's why he doesn't have this ability. For both reasons he is an outcast. He goes on this vision quest thing with a shaman mentor to determine the truth of his heritage and thus find his identity and water sense. It's interesting world building particularly the origin of the Water Sense and what it means for the tribes that exist off-the-pages.
I include this one in my review for a different reason than the other two. While I like it as well as the other two, this is the only one in the anthology that does not feel "complete". The others have their conclusion or resolution and any threads left dangling are more like Sequel Hooks at most.  This one feels like its missing its final scene; missing half its climax. I don't want to spoil the ending but I will make an analogy to illustrate my point; Karate Kid, Daniel going to Mr.Miyagi for training and then the movie ending as the tournament starts. 
There are others and I like them all. In fact, one of my review tweets is "the title of 'my favorite' keeps changing". That I wrote about these three does not make my top three; they were just the ones that I wrote about. If I were to tell you everything I liked about all of them then we'd be here all day.

 Trickster Eric Novels gives "Fae" an A+

Click here for the next book review (not a review request): Seinfeld and Philosophy

Click here for the previous review request: Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun

Brian Wilkerson is an independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Routine Mission Monster Slaying

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Fire Demi-Goddess vs Order Entity

The context for this post: A routine mission for Dragon's Lair Team Four in the aftermath of the Mana Mutation Summit.
__________________________________________________________


Tiza jumped into a batch of smaller monsters. These were a Frankenstein mixture of several vermin that were twenty times bigger than any one kind. They came up to her waist. She assumed them to have been sleeping underground when the mana storm hit. There were five of them, which she figured was unfair; she’d kill them all before Dimwit finished eating.

“I don’t have all those funky powers, but I can kill all the same.”

She struck first by impaling one through the back and blasting another further into the chaos zone. When the other three attacked, she weaved around them and kicked them around with bladed boots. Then she finished them with her sword. By now, the first one was dead from the poison on her blade. The toxins she used in combat had to work quickly if they were to be effective. She spent hours every day studying them before Sathel allowed her to even practice with them. The incident at the castle finally convinced her, although she was still scolded for sneaking out the poisoned sword.

The second returned from her punting, but it was too far away to finish off with her metal sword. Her mana sword, on the other hand, had just the right reach. Holding her metal one straight up with both hands, she focused mana into it. It flowed liked wax into a mold. Leveling her sword like a bow, she fired a mana bolt in the shape of a sword. It entered the franken-vermin’s mouth and came out its rear, leaving two halves of a monster in its wake.

Another swarm approached her blindside. Unfortunately for them, this particular sapient had no blind side. Again molding mana into her sword, she pulled her hands apart to create a new sword. Now dual wielding, she spun around and killed monsters left and right.

One leapt past her guard and bit her left thigh. She cried out and then stabbed it. She fought the remaining ones with it stuck to her leg. There were four more, so she estimated four strikes to finish the battle. With four steps, she killed them all.

Once they were all dead, she pummeled the one on her leg with a mana beam to make sure it was dead. Then she began the delicate process of removing its teeth. It was easier than she thought. It didn’t pierce her skin because a pulsating blue-grey aura blocked its jaws.

“Endurance….”

She didn’t recall Nolien casting that spell on her. It could have bitten clear to her bone and become a disabling injury, taking her out of the mission. Then she smiled. It was comforting to think he was watching out for her even outside of battle.
_____________________________________________________________
Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Fire Demi-Goddess vs Order Entity

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Annala schools Lunas at the Mana Mutation Summit

The context for this post: Lunas Latrot has launched a surprise attack on Roalt castle and one of his allies, a god-like entity called an "enforcer", has directly attacked Queen Kasile. With her divine magic shut down she has to think quickly before it steals her soul.
______________________________________________________________________


Kasile knew she was dying. Stripped of all mana, her kon was next and then her soul would be swallowed by the enforcer. That would be the end of her, and with her, the end of the Ataidar royal line. She paled and shriveled by the second. After all this time, the Sacred Fire bloodline would end without a drop of it being spilled.

An electric current raced across her brain as her final thought clicked.

She ripped out a chastity dagger and sliced down her right arm. Blood poured from the wound and she prayed to Fiol; not as the royal and semi-divine queen but as the Highest Public Servant. Instead of self-congratulating praise, she spoke of earnest supplication.  

Then the back of her left palm shined. The divine crest that was the Empty Throne of Ataidar burned in her skin. The Royal Crest that was the Crowned Tiger followed it on her right. Her skin became incandescent and the blood leaking from her wound became white fire. Her irises became pools of it.

She gathered the bloody fire in her hand and launched it at the enforcer. It hissed in pain and ceased draining her. In response, she staggered back and forth while a peal of laughter ripped from her throat. The visiting rulers backed away.

No wonder I’ve had trouble controlling it! All this time, I’ve been laboring under the wrong impression! I should incinerate the Fire Sage for his help.”

A pillar of fire roared into life around her. She outstretched her hands and blasted white flames to every corner of the room. It rose up the walls and floor and echoed her glee.

The true source, Fire Sage! The true Authority! Of course, I'm not queen. The throne is empty and the tiger is crowned.”

She raised her right hand above her head and a combination of blood and white flame streamed in a double helix around her arm. The blood soaked her opera glove, but the fire didn’t touch it. She brought it down, clenched, and both of them gushed forth.

“My blood; my heritage; my responsibility. This is Kasile Landros Ataidar, daughter of the daughter of Fire!”

“Madness!” Lunas exclaimed. “We must leave before she demands sacrifices! The enforcer will hold her off!”

Most of the visitors had already fled during Kasile’s speech. The rest followed Lunas’ command. Kasile pointed her right pointer finger and a beam of white death lanced out at him. The enforcer intercepted and absorbed it. The prince, last of the delegates, ran away.

Siron! Stop him!"

Pale faced and shaky-legged, Siron obeyed the command. On his way out, he checked for his rapier and dagger. Then the door closed, the lock melted, and a dome of white fire encompassed the door.

It’s just you and me now, enforcer.”

The fragment of Order twisted the room’s reality. Ethereal lights appeared from nowhere to wrap around the unconscious guards. There were two for every delegate, totaling over two hundred professional warriors. They arose and arrayed themselves around Kasile. The Sacred Fire above them all diminished and wavered. Some of it drifted into orbit around the enforcer and alignment changed into dark Infernal Fire.

“This is not that which needs to escape, Mortal Flesh.”

It launched the corrupted fire at her in rapid volley spheres. She grabbed them as they came and purified them on the spot. Then she gathered it all into a ball and pressed it against her cut. It transformed back into blood and shot back into her system and then again into fire. There was no difference. As blood drained from her body, fire replaced it.

I understand now. You accused me of lying about my status as queen. You are right. The Fire Sage is right. I am not queen.”

The mind-controlled bodyguards slashed with short swords and tomahawks. Mana bolts fell like rain. Kasile smirked and generated a dome of Sacred Fire. Not one of their bolts touched her and their weapons melted into slag before reaching her.

Fiol is queen here. She has ruled for two thousand years. I’m closer to Vice-Roy or High Priestess. Torch Day is to remind me of this fact: I am the torch carrying the fire, not the fire itself.

She thrust her arms to either side and sent Sacred Fire rolling over the bodyguards like a wave. It melted their armor and incinerated their clothing, but did not harm them personally. She gazed appreciatively, then snapped her fingers. Obeying her unspoken summoning, salamander spirits appeared around her.

Take these people to another room. This does not concern them. 

They nodded and scattered. While they grabbed guards large and small, she continued, “My divine power is similar. It’s not mine. I’m borrowing it from the real goddess, yet I claimed that it was mine. Order is a sly bastard.”

Blasphemy!”

Kasile placed her spotless left hand over her mouth in mock apology. “Ohh…Did I upset the emotionless drone?”

________________________________________________________________________
Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 


The next Sassy Saturday is Routine Mission Monster Slaying


Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Annala schools Lunas at the Mana Mutation Summit

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Spider in the Brush

The context for this post: The Mana Mutation Summit is underway and Lunas has begun to sway delegates to his plan. What he doesn't mention is that his plan basically means allowing Order to take over their countries. So Annala intervenes.
___________________________________________

Chanting a basic illusion spell, Annala created a landscape over the table and populated it with plants and animals. It was bright and colorful and all the creatures frolicked happily. Then she placed an Order Obelisk in its center.

“Order will occupy every area on which an obelisk is placed. If they covered the world, then Order would occupy the world. We all know Order is a Manifestation of Absolute Control; he wouldn’t be satisfied with only the mana of the area.”

The illusion obelisk put out feelers that grabbed the plants, the animals, and the landscape itself. Then it pulled mana out of them and the very color out of the image. It assimilated all of them into itself and directed them in clockwork patterns.

“No, he would want control of the air, the water, the ground, and the very souls of the inhabitants. Everyone would be under his control and nothing could happen without his knowledge and approval. He would outlaw all forms of magic, suppress spiritual power, and impose a strict caste system where everyone would fit into a neat box. Breaking out of this box would be literally impossible because Order would forbid it. Is this correct, Your Highness?”

Lunas said nothing.

 “If that question is too difficult, then would Your Highness like to explain the materials needed to construct an Order Obelisk?”

Lunas remained silent. He stared at the elf, attempting to invade her mind and compel her to fawn over him like other girls. His attempt failed. A barrier of will, love, and chaos kept him out. Kasile had regained so much confidence by now that he couldn’t use her to stop the elf either. In the end, he waved his hand as if magnanimously granting her permission to speak.

“Souls. To power an Order Obelisk, one must confine a soul within it. This is what animates the obelisk and enables Order to work his power through it. In other words, at least one person would have to be killed and confined inside it for each obelisk to operate. This fate would be eternal; there would be no ‘shifts.’ Cold stone isolation and constant penetration by Order forever. Is anything I’ve said regarding Order Obelisks incorrect, Your Highness?”

A third time, Lunas refused to speak.

Kasile banged her gavel. “Prince Lunas of Latrot, you have been asked a simple question that is of the greatest relevance to our mission and purpose. Please answer immediately.”

Kasile had regained her regal confidence. The Leash of Influence was broken. The answer was either “yes” or “no.” There was nothing he could do to avoid the truth any longer.

“No, Miss Enaz. It is all correct.”

Within his mind, hatred brewed. He had nothing against elves in general, but this one was getting under his skin. She was ruining his plan, and worse, she taunted him with those smug eyes and polite smile. She would be his next slave.

“A witch’s magic doesn’t sound so bad when contrasted with a warlock’s authority, now does it, honorable delegates?”

“Miss Enaz, am I correct in thinking that you consider me this warlock? Someone as bad as the perpetrator of the Butchin Tragedy?”

Annala shook her head. “Oh no, of course not. Perish the thought.” Despite her polite tone, everyone could see the daggers in her eyes. “You’re worse. The only word suitable for you and your father is ‘fiend.’ After all, you are denying the elves living in your country their chaos-given right to freedom, are you not?”

“Yes, we are.”

“You realize that your father’s regime commits acts, every day, that are banned everywhere else in the word, right?”

“Yes, I do.”

“You are aware that other countries consider yours a cancer, right?”

“Yes, I am.”

“You of Latrot are truly honest. No other totalitarian, exploitive, silver-tongued tyrant has ever admitted to such accusations so quickly and freely. You deserve a round of applause!”

She started off and, for a moment, the only sound in the room was that of her gloves beating against each other. Then others joined in. Lunas stood, took a bow, and then sat down again. He was imagining a collar around her neck and a gag in her insolent mouth.

“That is an additional benefit to the Order Obelisks. Because Order does not abide lies, any and all forms of deceptions would be impossible anywhere within an Order Obelisk’s area of effect, and every vow or promise would have to be adhered to in letter and spirit.” Annala spun to catch the eye of all the politicians at the table. “Please consider that in your answer.”

They most certainly did.

“Instead of giving up your way of life, as Prince Lunas suggests, my mother only asks for a token of friendship. All the Supreme Council needs is a show of good faith. Isn’t that right, Ambassador Enaz?”
___________________________________________________________________________
Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback.

 To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is http://trickstereric.blogspot.com/2016/09/sassy-saturday-fire-demi-goddess-vs.html

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Movie review: Swan Princess - A Royal Family Tale

Swan Princess (number 5): A Royal Family Tale. Watched it out of curiosity because I remembered the first three films. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

 PLOT

This is the most original/different of the Swan Princess sequels in terms of plot. There are no expies/former partners of Rothbart to serve as villains or holiday themes. Granted, the idea of a Chosen One prophecy is not original but I'm not thinking about that kind of scale but the scale of the series (you can see what I think about absolute originality at this here link). Also, Odette doesn't get kidnapped! Does that count as a spoiler? It's a point in this story's favor of altering the recipe established by the first three films.

The third point of difference is the sense of time. Every film following the first treated Derek and Odette as in the early stages of their marriage. The fourth film was about their first Christmas as a couple. This is the first one to go beyond that and give a sense of them being married for some time. Also, adopting a child certainly changes the dynamics. Again granted, Alise fills the Damsel In Distress role filled by Odette previously but having Odette being part of the rescue party is still a point of change; the fourth point of change. Another little spoiler alert: no changing into a swan this time (number 5!)

A sixth point is that there's a different sort of ending than the first three and the stock footage from the end of the first does not make an appearance here. That's a favorable thing about the switch to CGI right?

Enough about the differences. This plot itself is one that I like.

The plot of "chosen one preventing about a golden age" is classic medieval fantasy. Furthermore, that there is a band of rescuers with diverse skills (a hunter, a flyer, a chemist, etc.) further calls to mind the classic quest narrative.

Alise is not dropped in for the cute factor; she is well integrated into the story. The movie begins with Uberta saying I Want Grandkids and the main couple discussing it afterward. Alise' father is killed incidentally by the Forbidden Arts and Odette feels a kinship with her because of this. Alise herself does something to defeat the Big Bad.

 CHARACTERS

Alise is adorable. She is a cute little Woobie taken into the loving care of Odette and Derek. That the animators were able to convey so much emotion from her without having her say a word for 99% of the film is a credit to them. Her relationships with others are cute and sweet but not saccharine (YMMV of course).

Odette's more active role is much appreciated. In my opinion, she was always on the verge of it but plot hang ups interrupted it. It's not an Action Girl thing but a Plucky Girl thing mixed with All Loving Heroine. It's also a Mama Bear thing; in the words of Scully "there's no strength like a mother's love".

Derek is not an idiot for once. The movie's plot is not underpinned by some Idiot Ball like in previous movies ("What else is there?" to "I'll destroy the notes after the festival" and others). More perceptive with people and traps and doesn't go off alone anymore. Like with Odette, this character development is welcome in my book.

Scully the Scullion (i.e. Flying Squirrel) is my favorite character in this movie It is how his voice sounds both wise and comical. It is in his skill with potions.  It is the jokes he makes without reducing himself to mere comic relief.

 The villains are also a refreshing change of pace. Instead of an evil sorcerer and their single minion, a two person operation, there is instead something like a militant cult. Furthermore, the vast majority of them are well-intentioned extremists, which is also a first for this series.
 POLISH

 The CGI looks good in my opinion and main characters like Odette avert the No Flow in CGI thing regarding hair. I haven't seen the fourth film so I can't speak about its quality but the CGI here is good. After watching the first three films it can take some getting used to, that's all.

 Trickster Eric Novels gives Swan Princess (number 5): A Royal Family Tale an A+

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Spider in the brush

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Don't Underestimate Elf Tech

The context for this post: As part of the build up to the Mana Mutation Summit, Kasile hired Dragon's Lair Team Four to advertise her agenda under the guise of guarding supplies that she ordered for the Summit. Tiza is the only one truly guarding.

_____________________________________________________________________


Tiza stayed out of sight and unremarkable next to the laborers and hired guards. An outside observer would have no idea she was with the mercenaries at all. Internally, she grumbled about the lack of limelight while her humble teammate bathed in it; he didn't want it! Externally, she swept the area with Third Eye to check for threats.

What her teammates didn't know was that she wasn't lazing about in her hospital bed at the ICDMM; she was practicing. She examined everything around her and Retina provided her with exercises to push her limits. After a week of use and experimentation, she was confident that nothing could hide from her. She spotted a number of people who thought they were hidden and she could have laughed at them.

Part of Sathel's training involved hiding in plain sight. She didn't pay attention at first because she thought it was useless. Then Sathel said that failure would result in extra rope escape and poison immunity lessons. Now she realized its importance. No one else noticed the subtle draw of a dagger.

Like a spider in the brush, she scurried through the crowd as they chambered the weapon. Without taking her eyes off her target, she pinpointed theirs. Adrenaline rushed her system, but she was too late to stop them from throwing it. The dagger soared silently through the air and clanged off her shield.

"You're going to wish you didn't do that."

The attacker threw back their hood. "I don't think so, my Little Cocoon."

"Spider Daylra?! I'm working!"

"I know and I'm proud of the way you handled yourself on the job."

"Was it necessary to have Daylra's Dear sneak up on me?"

Retina paused just outside of sword's reach.

"Yes," Sathel replied.

"Finally, I appreciate Butterfly's help, but I don't need her here. Tell her to go away."

She turned on her heel and returned to the parade. No one noticed she was gone. Suddenly, Sathel choked up and rubbed her eyes. Her husband put an arm around her and she leaned into him.

"She would have done wonderfully in Squad Four."

"Yes, she would have."
___________________________________________________________________________
Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon.
If you prefer something solid, this book can be found in paperback on CreateSpace or Amazon. A Mage's Power is there too.

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next excerpt is Annala schools Lunas at the Mana Mutation Summit

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Answering Review Request: Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun

Jeffery Cook asked me to read his novel "Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun". It is the second book in his Dawn of Steam series. I rated the first one highly and you can that review at this link. I was excited to read this and it fulfilled my expectations. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

The main cast is continuing their exploration but in a significantly different context. The term Wham Episode is appropriate for a letter in the first arc of this book. Things are substantially more difficult for the Coltrane Crew this time around. For instance, they can't take the airship for granted and the probability that will die violently far away from home is a daily occurrence. I would go into detail but that would involve divulging a fundamental change in the status quo. What I can say is that the opposing airship crew is much more prominent in this volume and has different goals than the Coltrane Crew.

 

There is a great plot progression. There are five arcs in this story based on the location of their setting. Each one is simultaneously self-contained with its own introduction, climbing action and climax while at the same time building up to the box's climax and working to progress the series' overall story. This three layer structure is tricky to pull of but Mr.Cook does it very well, and not only that but he does it in the epistolary format, 'and not only that' but there is a two way distinction in the way in which this is done.
Greggory has three methods of recording this adventure: personal journal, letters to his employer and letters to his girlfriend, and all of them are different in the style he writes it and the information he provides. For instance, he is professional in the employer letters, affectionate in the girlfriend letters and only puts private information that he does not plan on sharing with anyone in the personal journals. Secondly, Greggory is not the only one recording the journey. There are also letters and journal entries from other members of the crew showing their private thoughts and plans and perspectives that differ from Greg's.


The ending is great. Like the previous, it contains one section of the overall journey and ends neatly at a stopping place. No cliffhanger is needed to force interest from readers because there are plenty of sequel hooks that are well imbedded within the story itself.


CHARACTERS

Greggory's character development is fantastic.
-->In the first book he had a well conceived and defined outlook on the world and its people, and he considered this to be "natural". He often commented on how Sam Bowe was an anomaly as a human being because she was the opposite of what he thought all women were. Now he realizes that there is a difference between what is "natural" and what is "normal" and specifically how "normal" is relative to one's location and company. His present location and company on the Coltrane airship have a different definition of "normal" compared to the society he is part of in England.
-->A second development is Action Survivor. In this book he has to lead companies of men into battle, defend forts and climb mountains. His role on the airship is chronicler and his role in the Napoleonic Wars was messenger but he performs these roles as well as he is able to. It's a running gag for him to write something along the lines of "it was an exciting experience but I never ever want to do it again".

The Coltrane siblings are also substantially developed. The reader learns with Greg about their history, the origin of their teamwork and the true extent of their skills and fame. Jillian has a journal entry that is fascinating in comparison to her behavior as described by Greg and James has a particularly moving journal entry near the end.

The other members of the crew continue to develop as well. Penn becomes the forefront cultural anthropologist in the places they visit and Sam Bowe has a The World Is Just Awesome viewpoint.

Unlike the first book there is now a clearly defined villain. In a way their appearance is sudden and shocking and in a way it is not. In either case, I find them to be a good and appropriate villain.


POLISH

The epistolary format is well maintained.

There are letter heads, dates (or not in Sam Bowe's case) and notes about whether or not Cordelia had to translate the letter from some other language into English (in the case of Jillian and James Coltrane). The style of writing is also different.
Most importantly, there are few direct quotes for dialogue. I always found it strange in the frame narrative of "the character is writing all this down in-universe" that the writer can remember the exact wording that each character uses for when they write down the event later. In this case, Greg only gives occasional quotes such as something Sam Bowe said which struck him as particularly odd or James Coltrane's Rousing Speech.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun" an A+


Click here for the next review request: Fae

Click here for the previous review request: A Matter of Belief


Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Don’t underestimate elf tech!

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Sassing Death Gods

The context for this post: Eric has been targeted by Samael, a death god who reports directly to Death himself, because of what he did to another reaper in Looming Shadow.  In order to save him Tasio made a wager with Samael that Eric couldn't clear a local dungeon without relapsing into monstrosity.  Annala is helping him do this.
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Monsters lay dead and bleeding at the cage’s boundaries. Their bodies were burned, electrocuted, or simply broken. Others sat and stared at the bars. Only an odd tail or abnormal limb marked them as anything but human and Eric knew this to be only superficial. He himself had, or could have, a monstrous appearance, but he was still human on the inside. However, the monster was also inside him, so it stood to reason that they would have monsters too.

“Hello,” he said and waved.

One of them approached the bars and mimicked him. She was a woman as tall as Basilard with long orange hair and skin with the consistency of sandstone. While her clothing was worn and torn, the gems embedded all over her body gleamed.

She smiled and asked, “Can you open the gate?”

“Yes, I can. Were you trapped in here?”

“Yes. Queen Kasile the VI thought it was more humane than killing us. It is difficult for us to make a living here.” She sniffed and her bright eyes welled with tears. “Please let us out.”

“Right away!”

He pulled out his Dragon’s Lair badge, but Annala grabbed his hand.

“This is obviously a trap.”

“This is obviously injustice. They’ve been imprisoned here for years, ever since Kasile’s mother sat on the throne. Just a month was enough to make me stir crazy.”

“Exactly, and so they must work for Nulso. Gruffle chose this spot for a reason. They’re going to attack us as soon as you release them.”

“They’re victims of Nulso! He ruined their lives with his ‘treatment.’ That could be me in there. How long until it happens again?”

“Eric…Think about this…”

“You don’t think I have?!”

He pulled his wrist away and slammed his badge against the gate. Its lock flashed and the many runes and spells warding the entrance shined briefly as they deactivated. A crowd of monsters gathered behind the gate with the crystal woman at its head. The gate opened before them and they filed out in an orderly fashion.

“Thank you for freeing us. Now we can eat to our heart’s content.”

“You’ll have to wait until the stores open in the morning.”

“Why wait when there’s food here?”

All the gems on her body flashed and bombarded Eric with the spells they unleashed. Caught off-guard, he took the full force of all of them. Only Annala’s spell shield, Mana Guard, prevented instant death, and even then, he was stunned. Two wolf-like monsters came from the crystal woman’s left and right and extended foot-long claws from each of their four arms with which to cut him up.

“Targets acquired,” Annala muttered.

A complex magic circle with many sub-circles rotated beneath her feet. In her eyes, she saw a bull's-eye's eye over every monster outside the facility.

“Fire!”

She released her arrow and it split into a dozen energy duplicates. The real one soared for the crystal woman while the others targeted her minions. Six of them found their targets and killed instantly while four more injured. The only ones to avoid the barrage entirely were the crystal woman and the knife wolves by using the bodies of others as shields. Then the solid arrow radiated sound that cracked many of the woman’s gems before she smashed it.

By now, Annala had fired a second arrow, which created just as many duplicates, and now they only had three targets. The monsters dodged acrobatically but the wolves were ultimately impaled by three each while the original found its mark in the crystal woman. Again, it produced the gem-shattering frequency and reduced her body to dust.

“Don’t underestimate elf tech!”
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Mana Mutation Menace, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is Spider in the Brush

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Journey to Chaos update (August 10th 2016)

A quick update regarding the status of various things in the Journey to Chaos series.
1. A Mage's Power
-Paperback version is out and available. If you go to CreateSpace and use the discount code GVE2H9WC then you can save two dollars.
2. Looming Shadow
-I put out a second edition for the kindle version because Grammarly found errors. Hopefully there aren't any more but, if there are, I will catch them when I do the line-by-line revision with the paperback version
-The paperback version is halfway done. I did Grammarly and now I'll go through it line by line. After that I imagine the process to availability will be quick.
3. Mana Mutation Menace
-I plan to go through this one with Grammarly to look for errors and that will be the second edition.
-Paperback will follow
4. Transcending Limitations (book 4)
-Beta reading continues.


To learn more about the Journey to Chaos series, visit the Tvtropes page. 

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Sassing Death Gods

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Escape from Mt.Heios

The context for this post:  Zettai is a new character. Up until now she has not had any extended "sassy" moments to highlight. She is a young girl (five or so years old) and a native of Ceiha. She fell in with Eric's group and has been learning magic from him. Stuff happened and now she running away from a grim reaper (not the reaper, which would this guy's boss, but the local one).

This is the last excerpt from Looming Shadow. The next book in the Journey to Chaos series, Mana Mutation Menace, will be featured next week.

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A cylinder-alligator-shaped beast colored in shades of purple from nearly white to nearly black. It had a primate arm, a bird wing, a lizard leg, and a fish fin. With these, it beat up the god that crashed into it. After the first five blows, Reno Grade punched its main body into the distance, but by then, Zettai had escaped again.

“It’s useless to hide from me, girl.”

In a heartbeat, he was directly overhead. She dove behind a rock.

“You were ‘killed’ by necrocraft and thus highlighted in my divine vision.”

The rock crumbled into sand under the force of his punch and she jumped away. Tripping over her own feet, she sprawled across the ground. She turned to face him and shouted, “G-Go jump in the Sea of Chaos!”

He grabbed her by the throat with his right hand and lifted her four feet up from the ground. Coldness filled her from head to toe and despair filled her mind and soul.

“I just might have to because of you. Modil knows that I violated my parole. Your selfish actions ruined my operation!”

“You know, for a divine being, you think a lot like a mortal.”

What?

“You abuse your power, pick on those weaker than yourself, and blame others for your own problems. A minute ago, I was scared of you because you looked like this unstoppable force of nature, but now, all I see is my dad taking out his anger on me because he’s too scared to confront its true source. You’re not a god; you’re a worm on a power trip.”

Reno Grade ripped her soul out of her body and held in his left hand. She shuddered but otherwise was unaffected.

“That felt…funky.” She shook her head and noticed her soul. “So that’s what they look like. Does this count as an out-of-body experience? Can I talk to myself like this?”

For once in his afterlife, Reno Grade was at a loss for words.

“Why…How…What?”

She smirked. “The so-called god is asking a puny human for revelations?”

Reno Grade glared. He would age her into dust for such an insult, but that other mortal stole his authority over senescence. If he went back for it, Tasio would no doubt find him and his trump card could not help him. Then another idea came to him. Although his face remained skeletal, Zettai got the impression that he was leering at her.

“There are a number of things I did to little girls when I was mortal. If you’re so sure I think like one, then perhaps I should do those things to you.”

Zettai kicked his arm, squirmed in his grip, and shouted, “Creep!” but he only leered more. With his prey in both hands, he flew up and out of the mountain’s Fog Cloud. He set his sights on the other mountain because her soul retained a positive impression of it and he wanted to change that. He flew unhindered and unaware that he was on someone’s radar.

A divinity such as the resident reaper was higher in standing than a planetary avatar, thus, someone that tracked avatars would easily be able to detect him. This was especially the case when he had just exited a Fog Cloud because it would have obscured his presence. The blip startled Emily and she asked Kallen what to do. Kallen replied, “Press the Smite Gods button.”

“Uh, Boss, is that really the smart thing to –”

“Emily, push the button right now.”

“Yes, Boss.”
________________________________________________________
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is Don't underestimate elf tech!

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dark Fiction without angst.


I don't (generally) accept Dark Fantasy/Dark Science Fiction review requests because the ones I have accepted include a lot more angst than darkness. There are pages and pages of the protagonist whinning about how hard life is and how unfair the world is; it gets boring. Furthermore, it can easily become pointless if the author is so focused on the angst that they forget to make use of it.

You want to describe the emotional toil from an apocalyptic event? Great. You want to establish a character's baseline for future character development (in any particular direction; not just idealistic or positive etc.)? That's good thinking. You want to make clear a character's motivation for a certain act or goal? That shows an eye for character  building.  Unless you do something with the angst then it does nothing but show the character complaining about their problems without doing anything to resolve them.  On Tvtropes, we don't call that "angst" at all. We call it "wangst".
 
This was really bad in one book I read because it was written in the first person. The protagonist couldn't go a page without decrying the corrupt and uncaring government, or how her teammates don't care about her, or the horrible things that happened to her family. All of this was in the narration, so she was essentially turning her head into an echo chamber of impotent self-pitying.
 
“Blood Skies” is an excellent example of Dark Fantasy without angst.  There's lots of suffering and a great deal of death but no one angsts because this is the status quo. The whole world is like this and has been for some time. Humanity has gotten used to it. This new normal has bred a certain mental detachment and a culture of playing hard because life is short.

"Attack on Titan" avoids this problem.  Whether the people are brave enough to fight the titans or run away screaming, they don't whine about it. During the Battle of Trost, Mikasa basically says, "I'm going to kill those titans. If I die then I'm dead." She is clearly experiencing great mental turmoil due to memories of the last time she saw a titan attack and a more recent personal tragedy but there's no wangst.  Similarly, her adoptive brother's attitude is "no matter how cruel the world can be, fight!". Even the more cynical members of the team, like Jean, are still taking action without long stretches of cynical postulating.

If angst exists in any story then it must be put to use and this is especially important for Dark Fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc.) because there are a lot of things that can cause it.  Use it for characterization or world building or a plot theme but don't let it hang there. Otherwise you get wangst, and that can get boring and pointless quickly.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Escape from Mt.Heios

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post can be read here: Fighting zombies, mages and memories

The context for this post:  Tiza and Nolien along with other allies are attempting to escape Mt.Heios, which is basically a den of corruptive magical energy and really powerful monsters.  On Tvtropes, this sort of situation is what we call "The Godzilla Threshold".

_________________________________________________________


Their destination was Mount Heios, where Tiza, Nolien, and Vaya were running for their lives.

Monsters everywhere were eating each other. They were slashing, biting, smashing, pounding, and melting each other. The tussle between a reaper and a Bladi drove then into a frenzy. Every monster without a meal looked to the small, insignificant-looking creatures and deemed them an easy target.

The fungi that Neuro was thrown into was poisonous to mind, body, and spirit, so he was out of action. Tiza had to carry him on her back. In his current state, he was the lightest of all of them.

Looking around, Tiza scanned the horde for known breeds and quickly guesstimated what they were and what they could do. Large, old, grown strong on a diet of Fog and the mana-drenched meat of others, they ranked as B class monsters. She took stock of her equipment and her allies and possible strategies in a moment. Then she closed her eyes, removed her safety mask, and muttered, “Spider Daylra, all conditions have been met.” The monsters pounced. She opened her eyes and shouted, “Light come forth!”

Suddenly, the monsters halted. Their instincts shouted danger of the creature that multiplied its own power instantly. Tiza's eyes glowed with blue light and her body glowed with a pale blue aura. She blurred past a monster and side-kicked a second to open a path down the mountain.

She deflected a third monster reaching for Vaya and then turned aside a fourth bounding toward Nolien. Her light flickered, but she took a deep breath and renewed it. Then she tossed both her companions over her shoulder and ran down the mountain slope towards the edge of the Fog Cloud.

The monsters followed her. Hideous and misshapen, they chased her relentlessly. It was only by the power of Videlicet Mens that she stayed ahead of them. Only with the greatest effort did she maintain its effect. She took one deep breath after another and each one empowered her to greater heights. They also eroded her health and sanity.

Her hair was matted against her head with sweat. Her body heaved; a feat made dangerous by the thick Fog. No longer taking controlled breaths, the Fog began to pulse erratically within her body. Her skin turned both sickly pale and translucent. Nolien recognized the symptoms, but she did not. She was no longer concerned with them. She was not aware of them. The light of Videlicet Mens blinded her to everything but her goal. She was developing monsanity, the insanity known only to monsters.

As the seconds passed and she grew wearier, the monsters grew closer. They grew close enough for Nolien to count their teeth. A titanic monster stepped into her path, but Tiza jumped ten feet and kicked it in the stomach. Empowered by Videlicet Mens, the Fog, and her fierce determination, she knocked it over and then ran over its face. She jumped off it and continued her sprint uninterrupted all the way out of the Fog Cloud.

On her way down, she tripped and skidded down the slopes. The three people she was carrying tumbled in three directions. She breathed as deep and fast as she could but it was hard, painful, and futile in the thin air of Ceiha. Nolien rushed to her side to begin treatment, then paused when he looked back at the Fog Cloud. The monsters were following them.

They started heaving as he did when he first entered Ceiha's territorial waters. It was slow and clumsy, but they continued stalking forwards. The smallest ones adapted quicker and moved faster. Soon, they would be overrun. Nolien was calculating the odds of running again when he heard something shocking.

Tiza whimpered. Nolien would never forget it. Indomitable Tiza was afraid. His own safety was suddenly less important and saving her became his priority. Now...how do I do it...?

You can't do it, Honorable Elder Brother. Give up.

The healer ignored it and made more plans, but it followed him. It pointed out every flaw in every one. He could hear it laughing at him. Admit it. You can't do it.

Tiza flickered like a sputtering candle and, suddenly, it dawned on him. I can't!

“As I am Chaos, you are Order divine. As the sun to the moon, you shall shine. Take my power and me mine!” His slip made his face burn. He swore he could hear The Trickster laughing. “I mean like a leyline! MANA TRANSFER!”

A blue tether shot from his staff to Tiza's back and, instantly, all her fatigue disappeared. Empowered by Nolien, she grabbed the horns of the monster about to gore him and used it as a club to bash, smash, and flatten the last three monsters pursuing them. Then she tossed that one into the air, channeled enough mana to her blade to make it a mana blade, jumped up to the monster's level, and slashed off all its heads before it crashed to the ground, dead. She landed lightly and stood tall. Then other monsters caught up with it.

Unlike the three before, these were bigger than she was. Their spirits were far stronger and, unlike her, they were not exhausted. Instead of fighting them, she retreated. While she could not defeat them, Ceiha itself could. Artfully, she drew them further and further away from the Fog Cloud. One by one, they suffocated on the thin air. The sense of self-preservation in the remaining monsters kicked in and they retreated to the Fog Cloud.

Nolien had never been more in awe of her. Together with the blue dress, she appeared as a sapphire reaper. Then she faced him and he saw a monstrous look in her eyes.

__________________________________________________________
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit the Tvtropes character sheet. 

The next Sassy Saturday post is Sassing Death Gods

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).