Sunday, February 17, 2019

Earthware - Answering Review Request


Amr Nasser asked me to read his short story collection, "Earthware". It has a frame narrative of aliens doing anthropology on Earth's humans, and so the short stories are presented as snapshots of their work. This means that my normal method of evaluation is insufficient. However, I will still assign a grade at the end.

These short stories are basically dramatizations of areas in science or psychology etc. that the author finds interesting. The topic, question, etc. is presented as typically two people talking to each other while other events may or may not take place.

For instance, there is one where a scientist makes the argument that smart phones are alive/intelligent because they can do more complex tasks than ants. They can't make this known to us because they don't have the means to. The mad scientist then devises an experiment to test this theory. The story ends as this experiment begins. I can only assume this means that the author does not an answer and doesn't want to speculate.

That is a thing with most of the stories. They have no ending or any kind of resolution, be it happy, sad or otherwise. They don't even have a Sequel Hook or The Adventure Continues sort of ending. They usually end after a single twist, which is something I feel is common to short stories as a style. Overall, they all feel like great beginnings of stories, without a middle or an end. This is especially egregious with "The Chant" because it ends at its climax. After reading it, I sincerely thought the book's formatting cut off the last sentence or so.

"The light at the end of the tunnel" is more like a completed story. It takes the "life is a (subway) tunnel" idea and makes a society out of it, complete with sub-cultures. There are the creative types who make art and music as they go, not really caring about getting out of the tunnel. There are the KBOs (Keep Buggering On) who only care about getting out of the tunnel, but are never far ahead of the others. Then there are the nihilists, who don't care about anything and that includes the resolve to let the subway run them over.

They are all really short, some only a page long. "Brink of Survival" is so short and ends so abruptly that I have no idea what is going on. "Pulling through the curtains", on the other hand, is made stronger for this. It is about a guy with memory loss who is taking medication for it. There is a lot of confusion and few details in its narration. It is disorienting. That's because the protagonist is disoriented by their illness. The treatment is ongoing as the story ends, but there is a sense that it will end in time. It is well done.

The thing about short story collections is that they are a grab bag of quality. Some are excellent, some are dreadful and some are decent. This one in particular is difficult to find an average. I hovered between C- and B+ so I'll settle in the middle.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Earthware" an even B

This was a free review request. The author requested an honest review and so I provided one.

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Order of the Stick - On the Origin of PCs



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, February 9, 2019

Using Realism to enhance Fantasy - Geography and Culture

Recently I watched a Youtube video by WASD20 about making realistic maps for a tabletop game such as Dungeons and Dragons. It was a fantastic video that made me think more and more deeply about the maps I make for my fantasy novels. Yes, he addresses the surface contradiction of making the map of a fantasy themed game "realistic", but that's not what I want to write about here.

He said that following these rules made the map more realistic and, by this token, the players can immerse themselves more into the campaign setting. It also enables them to make assumptions about the layout and landscape based on reality. This then leads to information resources for them to use in their strategies and/or roleplaying. I believe the term for this is "versimilude". I looked this up: "the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability". Incidentally, he mentioned these rules would come in handy for publishing an RPG playkit….or a novel.

There are two rules that sparked this blog post.

The first rule is "no lonely mountains". Mountains are created through factors that generate several mountains, i.e. mountain ranges. He even pointed out that Tolkien's "Lonely Mountain" in Middle Earth is not actually lonely because the Iron Hills, Grey Mountains and the Mountains of Mirkwood are nearby. 

The second rule is "break the rules". By this he meant to break the rules deliberately. If you have a truly "lonely mountain" then there should be a reason why it is lonely, such as a wizard generating it for some arcane goal or a giant constructing a sculpture that appears as a mountain to humans.

It just so happens that I had a lonely mountain in a novel that I plan to write soon (it is after the one I'm currently writing which is the first one after The Highest Power). Instead of thinking "screw the rules, I'll do whatever I want", I thought of it as an opportunity. How can I deliberately break this rule? Then it came to me.

A reason for the mountain being lonely, and not only that but something that feeds into the society that lives on and around the mountain. Their culture, their religion, their history etc. can now be informed by this lonely mountain's origin.

Again, I'm citing these rules from "10 Rules for Believable Fantasy Maps" which is a WASD20 video by Nate. You can watch it for yourself by clicking this link.

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, February 2, 2019

Order of the Stick - On the Origin of PCs (read for fun)

I am a fan of the "Order of the Stick" main series and so I was interested in its prequel,  On the Origin of PCs.

This is an Origin Episode for the Order of the Stick. It was a fun thing. There is a mix of seriousness and comedy in how the main characters come together. Roy, for example, is fresh out of fighter college and seeking to defeat an evil sorcerer because his dad said he couldn't do it. There's an even a heartfelt speech at the guy's grave. Vaarsuvius, on the other hand, is introduced on a parody of "Iron Chef".

It was interesting to see the diverse initial motivations of the Order's members. Frankly, it's surprising that they all stuck together as long as they have. The final scene makes something that happens in the Godsmoot arc take on much greater weight.


It is not required reading for the main comic as anything in here that is necessary is already included there. Rather, I feel it enriches the narrative to know what happened earlier.

It is a quick read. I finished it about 2.5 hours.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Order of the Stick - On the Origin of PCs" an A+


Click here for my next book review (a request): Earthware

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Animal Farm

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).

Sunday, January 27, 2019

My experience with Adventure League (season 8)

I went to a café to play Dungeons and Dragons last week. It was an Adventure League sponsored thing (is "sponsored" the right word?) and the module was "Bad Business in Parnast". It was fun until the end.

This was a mystery themed quest. See, the party rolls into town delivering statues to a tavern, and the keeper of the tavern is the quest giver. He talks about how orcs have been causing trouble and he's trying to organize a defense but setbacks repeatedly delay the work. He asks for their help because they are armed and tough looking adventurers.

So the players look about the town, talk to people and investigate the setbacks/sabotage. That was fun. There was a good bit of roleplaying with the local blacksmith and the wagon/supply guy and a cleric. My character was a dwarf paladin and so I got to contribute by curing a couple horses and jumping into a burning building to save the tavern keeper's daughter (I failed both a Constitution saving throw AND an Athletics check and so I lost most of my HP).

The climax was a fight with the orcs who were causing all the problems. That was a close fight because everyone was rolling shit (including the wizard, whose Fire Bolt would otherwise have wasted the boss orc in half the time). I thought we were going to die the whole time but bit my lip from calling a retreat. In the end, my character was indeed knocked out and so was another guy's (by the last goblin, who ran away immediately afterward).

That was all fun. It was exciting. I was ready to sign up for the next Tier 1 adventure. Then we got to the rewards portion. The Dungeon Master gave everyone two "Advancement Points" and 2 "Treasure Points". There was no EXP, gold, or treasure. Furthermore, the other players left without a word.

I was told that Adventure League was in "season 8" which changed a lot of things. There was no "experience" in this format.  There was  only "advancement", and it was based on how long the module was supposed to take instead of what the players did. There would be no "gold" received except by leveling and no items except purchased, somehow, with "treasure points". Each session was a one shot pick-up-game, so you weren't likely to play with the same people again. Even if you did, it would be in a different story likely unrelated to the previous one.

All of this left a bad taste in my mouth. Given the nature of this campaign (helping out a small and out-of-the-way town with orcs), I wasn't expecting a big reward. Given my character is a classic For Great Justice type, he wouldn't even be looking for one. Yet, this state of things cheapened my experience, and soured me on the whole Adventure League thing.

One of the fun things about RPGs is finding treasure. You know, brave the dungeon, defeat the dragon, and you get this hoard of goodies.

Within this session, the party overcame this pair of bad guys and we disarmed them of their weapons. I was thinking about how we could use or sell their equipment and asked how we would split it up. Then another player basically said "leave it here; we just want them disarmed". I shrugged and said okay. What I realized later was that acquiring even these items, common daggers and crossbows, was apparently against the rules. The even bigger disappointment came at the end, where our party discovered that the boss orc was wearing Gauntlets of Ogre Strength. Did we get them? No.

Gauntlets of Ogre Strength are a 16 treasure point item. This meant we needed 14 more, and had to play 7 more modules. Then EVERYONE could get a pair. Yes, all five players, even though we only found one pair. How does that make sense? There is no in-story reason for it at all. I searched the internet for a story-based reason and I found the opposite.

Someone else wrote a blog post (or was it a comment on the blog) that "treasure points" were basically game tickets from a Chuck E Cheese; you play the game and then you exchange tickets for prizes. I immediately agreed with that person. What you, the player, did in the campaign did not matter. As long as you completed the main objective in the two or three hours the module maker set, you got tickets. Save up the tickets and get a prize.

What I gathered, from reading threads and reflecting and such, is that this is supposed to make campaigns easier for DMs to run by making everything simpler and more predictable. Also, that it was supposed to address player problems such as "who gets this special item?" by giving out-of-story tickets/treasure points.

From a certain point of view, it make senses. This set-up is more accessible for both new and old players. There is no commitment to a group or storyline. The rules on gold and treasure are so rigid that one could jump into any tier and any adventure by crafting a character of the appropriate level. What happens before doesn't matter and what happens after doesn't matter. It's convenient.

It also means you're basically playing alone. Remember when I said that everyone else at the table left without a word? There was no talking about the campaign, reflecting on how we worked together. There wasn't even a "see you next week" because there wouldn't be one. I reflected on my own and realized that there was no "party" but "five people working separately towards the same goal".

We spent most of the session separated, doing our own thing. I didn't think much of it at the time because we were all investigating. You know, "Let's split up gang, and search for clues". When it came to the battle, there was no unity there. I include myself in there.

I could have cast "Bless" to help everyone but I only had one spell left and I wanted it to save for Cure Wounds because I still had only half of my HP total  (I ended up using it on someone else because they had 1 hit point left and a lower Armor Class than me). We fought our own targets (except the Rogue who mechanically needed help for Sneak Attack) and did our own thing. Though another positioned himself to guard my character after he was knocked out, which was nice. The orcs had better teamwork.

Ultimately, my impression of Adventure League (season 8) is that it is a good system for quick and convenient tabletop D&D, but for one-shot campaigns with strangers I'd rather go online.  My impression of the specific module is much better. That was entirely fun.

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, January 19, 2019

Animal Farm (read for fun)

I first heard of this book in school, but I can't remember if it was elementary, middle or high school. I've had it for a while and never read it until recently.

The introduction of the version I have speaks of how Orwell wrote in against Totalitarianism and in protest of the Stalin/USSR/etc. fanboyism in England at the time. Yet, it was co-opted to be against communism. I can see that here. Personally, I see it as more against cults of personality regardless of what ideology/economic system, etc. they happen to preach. I also see it as a warning of how noble intentions can be corrupted by the greedy and ego-centric.

My only gripe has nothing to do with any kind of political theory. It actually has to do with the functionality of the animals. Early on in the story, there is mention of their difficulty using farming tools because they lack human hands. Yet they had no difficulty building a wall or a windmill. Then there's the pigs standing upright. As a metaphor for them becoming human (Full Circle Revolution) it is fantastic. But why would they do it at all? It's not like their fore hooves will be good for anything, and the other humans were already taking them seriously (this is putting aside how the animals can communicate verbally with humans).

Is Benjamin supposed to be immortal or something? ("None of you have ever seen a dead donkey").

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Animal Farm" a B+


Click here for my next book review (for fun): On the Origin of PCs

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf volume 7 - Side Colors


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, January 12, 2019

Spice and Wolf volume 7 - Side Colors (read for fun)

I bought this one because I like the series. This one in particular, Side Colors, is an interquel of sorts. It has three stories. One takes place between Volume 1 and 2, another takes place between 2 and 3 and the other (I think) predates the main narrative. I will look over all three and then assign a grade.

The first story is the main story. It is the longest by far. It is basically Holo playing Trickster Mentor/Cool Big Sis to a pair of orphan children.

It is from the perspective of one of the children, Klass. He and his companion, Aryes, are traveling to the ocean so they can fish for a living. The meat of the narrative is Holo teasing and teaching them (but especially Klass). It is an interesting change of pace in more ways than one.
Unlike Lawrence, Klass is never presented as Holo's equal. It is more like a boy who believes himself more mature than he is traveling with his big sister who is only too willing to prove otherwise. The fact that he's also traveling with his girl-crush increases the embarrassment potential all the more.
Secondly, this entire story takes place in the wilderness. They walk through grasslands on a cart road and then a forest. There is no town and so the cast is very small and the economic factor is likewise diminished.
It is not a complete story but rather a complete "arc" from such a story.


The second story has already been adapted to the anime. It the part where Lawrence has money changed so he can buy Holo's "town girl" clothes. It is short and fun. The real prize is the third story.


This one, I think, has also been adapted to anime. It is the victory dinner with Nora the shepherdess and Holo falling ill. This is a gem because it is from Holo's perspective. It was a fascinating look into her mind. For instance, she is deliberately Tsundere. This is for fun but also out of fear.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Spice and Wolf volume 7 - Side Colors" an A+


Click here for my next book review (for fun): Animal Farm

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): The Tao of Jeet Kune Do


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).

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Tao of Jeet Kune Do (read for fun)

I can't remember where I got this book. It's been a while. If I had to guess, I'd say that I bought it myself.

The introduction to the book, written by Linda Lee and the editor, says that the book contains little new information. It is mostly how Bruce himself liked to train and fight. I agree with them. Indeed, the first section on Zen and how it relates to the mindset of a Martial Artist echoes a book I read recently, "The Sword and the Mind". Both of them speak of how a martial artist should possess an empty mind so they can react quickly, and stress the importance of mental flexibility (i.e. not being fixed or rigid in methods).

 

Sometimes it appears like an instruction manual with explicit advice and lines like "the student should X" or "the instructor should Y". Other times it appears more like personal notes, such as the terms he doesn't define, the pictures without captions or explanation, and lines in parenthesis like "investigate Z for M purpose". I don't know how "crispy" relates to a martial art movement. I think it means something like a "snappy" motion.

 

I read Bruce expressing frustration at classical styles. They are seen as rigid, limiting and counter-productive because they inhibit innovation and individuality. "Organized despair" is how he refers to the forms/kata/etc. that these classical styles have. I can relate to that. There are times when I feel like they are more about looking good than being good. This book strikes me as a search for practical knowledge and methods. "Classical" is a pejorative.

Interestingly, he speaks positively of boxing. The practical sections, that of the specific "tools" and such, include images of boxing-like figures and refers to it often.

The techniques of Jeet Kune Do, based on this explicit technique section, involves a lot of feinting, deception and countering. Little attention is paid to kicking, at least relative to the fist techniques. While it may seem as though this is the same sort of limiting he criticized earlier, he says that what he includes here are simply templates; basic archetypes to use as needed. If they don't work, then forget them and trying something else.

I wouldn't recommend this book to a beginner. It strikes me as something for the intermediate and beyond to use to advance their craft. A beginning practitioner should develop self-discipline and a body of knowledge first. I base this recommendation on my self. Personally, I would NOT have been able to use as this book as a beginner. It would have been in one ear and out the other. Either that, or I would skip the methodology and go straight for the techniques, and thus miss the point entirely.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Spice and Wolf volume 7

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Jack's Wagers



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).

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Answering Review Request: Jack's Wagers: A Jack O' Lantern Tale for Halloween & Samhain

This is an old review request. I didn't receive it the usual manner (that is, by email) but through a giveaway on Goodreads (or maybe it was Facebook). Anyway, Wirton Arvel asked me to read it. The book tells an origin story for Jack of the Lantern (Jack O' Lantern). I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

While ostensibly being about a human guy named Jack who becomes the legendary Jack of the Lantern, I see it as being more about the narrator. The way the story is presented makes me think of an anthropologist collecting tales about Jack and then trying to syncretize them. There are lines like "people say this about Jack" and "this story says X event happened but that story says Y" and often referring back to the Just So origin of the Jack O' Lantern. The narrator also speaks of the changing of cultures over time and how festivals changed in the process -  Samhain and All Saints days are compared in a scholarly sort of tone.


It has a really slow start. The narrator speaks of the many ways in which Jack is a loser: a skinflint, a drunkard, a gambler, someone who blames his problems on others. This covers many chapters. So it gets repetitive.

There are three major events once the story finally gets going: the wagers from the title, Jack "inventing" the vegetable lantern, and then being turned away from the Gates of Hell while unable to find the Gates of Heaven. These events are far more engaging than the previous character-study-like first section. Frankly, they sound like folktales, which I assume is the point.


CHARACTERS

Though a lot of people emphasize Jack's life in this story, it is in the scene of the crowd. Only three characters have any distinction. 


There's Jack, of course. He's portrayed as a clever individual but far too irresponsible to accomplish much of anything. Most of the money he earns doing odd jobs is spent on alcohol or lost in gambling. It is in applying this cleverness more effectively that he succeeds in securing his future fame, along with a large amount of maturing and self-reflection.

This story's Devil is cut from the mold of The Devil Is A Loser. He is described as appearing to be a wildly handsome, charismatic and successful individual but is fooled twice in a similar manner by Jack, and the first time when he is a deadbeat lush. However, this story highlights that he always keeps his word.

The third character is The Narrator (or maybe the author). The narration has too much personality otherwise.  I can just hear them saying all this to someone with that air of academic enthusiasm of someone who enjoys studying folklore.


POLISH

It is a short book and I see no grammatical flaws, so that's good.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Jack's Wagers: A Jack O' Lantern Tale for Halloween & Samhain" a C+


The author requested a review so I provided one. I can't remember exactly what they said beyond that.

Click here for my next book review (for fun): The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Click here for my previous book review (a request): Amanda Moonstone and the Darkbane Sorceress

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).

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sir Edric Promotion

Hello! Today I'm helping a fellow author with their holiday promotion. His name is Thaddeus White and the promotion is for his Sir Edric series. This is a parody of the Medieval European Fantasy genre, particularly of chivalric cycles and quest narratives. I've read the first book, "Adventures" and found it both clever and funny. You can read a full review here.
________________________________________________________


Good news for fans of fantasy/comedy: from 23 December to 6 January all three of Sir Edric’s books (The Adventures of Sir Edric, Sir Edric’s Kingdom, and Sir Edric and the Plague) are being reduced to 99c each.

 

The adventures and shenanigans of Sir Edric and his pathologically loyal manservant Dog will be perfect for fans of classic British comedy. From battling mythic monsters to trying to evade his dangerous duty (and even more dangerous wife), there are twists and turns galore in three rollicking books.

 

A tiny selection of spoiler-free one-liners:

Adventures:

Very exciting. Not unlike having a scorpion dropped into your trousers.

 

Kingdom:

“How are you feeling, sir?”

“Depressingly sober. And my leg’s burning like a phoenix with chlamydia.”

 

Plague:

“I don’t wish to alarm you, sir, but you appear to be dripping amniotic fluid,” Dog said.

 

Purchase links:

The Adventures of Sir Edric



 

Sir Edric’s Kingdom



 

Sir Edric and the Plague



_______________________________________________________________________

Once again, the review for "Adventures" is here. I recommend it.

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).

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Answering review request: Amanda Moonstone Darkbane sorceress

Dan Wright asked me to review his story "Darkbane sorceress", which is the second book in the Amanda Moonstone series. I reviewed the first one and every other book that Dan has written for this setting. The review for the first one can be found here. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish, and then assign a grade.


PLOT


This is a revenge narrative. Thus, it has a much different look and feel from the previous plot's story of a villain maintaining power. This villain is also far more sympathetic, which makes the conflict tragic.

It has a theme of parenthood, and how devastating it is to lose children or fail them in some way. Indeed, many of the heroes and villains are defined by tragic experiences with their parents and/or children. It changes them personally and influences their behavior.

What I especially like about this story is the way in which it justifies events which would otherwise be narrative weaknesses, and thereby, instead turning them into narrative strengths.

For instance, there are points in this story where Saevita could kill the heroes cleanly, easily, quickly and without any Can't Kill You Still Need You caveats. She SAYS this is because she wants them to suffer as part of her revenge, but there are a number of things influencing her decision. I count three of them. Even when she whirlwind banishes the heroes to a spot within spitting distance of the one person in all of Celtland who could help them stop her, Fridge Brilliance states that this is her subconsciously sabotaging herself.

There is one thing that strike me as...how to say...lack-luster. It is the two principal villains, Saevita and Vladrac. By themselves, they are great (more detail in the next section) but they bear a striking resemblance to villains in Trapped in Draconica. To say is more spoilers for both books (Dan! If you want details, let me know and I'll send you a private message). As a long time reader of Dan's stories, this similarity stuck in my mind. Personally, I prefer Trapped on Draconica so these two paled in comparison.
 
The book has, in my opinion, the best kind of ending. The current conflict is resolved but its aftermath lingers and the conflict of the series continues.
 
Also, Daniar Dragokin cameo! Fun.
 
CHARACTERS
 
Amanda has certainly developed since the last book. Since she was in a bad spot in the previous book, I'm inclined to think this is more true to her natural self. A showwoman, a friend-to-all-children and fiery tempered.

Her issue with magic deserves its own paragraph. She clearly puts a lot of her self image into her knowledge of, and skill with, magic. She sees herself as "Amanda Moonstone the dragon gem sorceress". This goes back to her childhood, where we see her reading books about previous users of magic and desiring to use it herself. Over the course of the story, she has to confront this reliance in more ways than one.


Wilfred is a classic Useless Boyfriend (husband in this case). An amusing early scene is him heaving around one heavy bag while Amanda effortlessly lifts several with wind magic. While he is something of a Butt Monkey, he is also more than that. He is a Cowardly Lion and a pillar of emotional support. If he got some royal guard training, then he could be a fine Sword for his wife's Sorcereress.


Saevieta Darkbane is Amanda's foil. She is what Amanda would be given the wrong decision at the wrong time. It's like that Batman comic "One Bad Day".  She is sympathetic and tragic while also possessing classic Evil Is Hammy and a funny running gag that...in a nutshell...gets dark.

Vladrac is a nasty piece of work. Known as "The Butcher" and the leader of a mercenary group "The Singing Screams", he would be a vicious character even before one factors in certain Reveals. He is responsible for the most heart-wrenching tearjerker Dan has ever written. Seriously, those two scenes were hard to read.


Polish

I counted maybe five or so technical errors in total. This across several hundred pages so it is pretty good over all.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Amanda Moonstone Darkbane Sorceress" a B+

This has been a free review request. The author asked for an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review (a request): Jack's Wagers: A Jack O' Lantern Tale for Halloween & Samhain

Click here for my previous book review (for fun): The Lives of Confucius


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).

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Grown Man Playing with Toys - miniatures as writing aides

When I was a child, I would stage battles with.my action figures. Heroes on one side and villains on the other for the "fight". I would speak for them and move them along my room's floor. My furniture was their landscape; a bedside table was a fort and my bed a mountain.

There were stories involved. Immature stories they have been but I planned them out. One such story was a grand villain alliance trying to over-run a hero base.

As I grew older I stopped using the figures to tell the stories. I started keeping everything in my head. This was less expensive for someone as young as I was; my allowance went mostly into batteries for my Gameboy, and such.  So the figures I already had watched me move myself around the room while I thought out the story.

Now, as an adult, I have come full circle. I am using toys to tell stories again. They may be D&D/pathfinder/etc minis instead of Transformers but the point is the same.

I use them to mark the positions of characters during battles.

It is a useful writing aide. In my newest story (after The Highest Power), I used them to keep track of six or so soldiers that fought my new protagonist. I moved them along the wall of a keep to flank her and then decided how she would respond. Without this aid, the scene would be less structured and clear. It most likely wouldn't have such a grand conclusion either.


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, November 24, 2018

Read for fun: The Lives of Confucius


The Lives of Confucius is another book from a college class that I didn't have time to fully read at the time. It catalogues the many kind of "Confucianism" through the ages, and the faces of this famous philosopher, along with charting how he became popular. This makes it a intriguing mixture of literary analysis, cultural examination and historical development.
 
In a nutshell, I found this book to be a concentration of knowledge about Confucius. It is a useful reference to the many ways he was portrayed and is still portrayed. While there is a lot of information packed into these pages, the Suggested Readings section at the end of each chapter demonstrates that there is plenty more to read, research and form an opinion on.

The majority of the chapters are straightforward. The "historical" Confucius, the opinions of his early critics, the use of his name by the Han Dynasty, the academic debates and all the stuff about the Imperial/Ancestral cult stuff, all of these (mostly)  read as the author passively transmitting information. I found all of that interesting.
 
The further towards the modern era the book goes, the more it becomes interaction with the other voices in the, for lack of a better phrase, Market of Confucius(es). This is basically the final chapter, which is appropriately called "A Confusion of Confusciuses". In this chapter, Michael Nylan (the author of this chapter in particular) basically critiques many modern writers of Confucius as deliberately misconstruing the classics for their own goals or accidentally getting the wrong idea through faulty translations. There are three that he praises but most of them get flak. There's even a joke that I find worth including here because it does a wonderful job of illustrating his point. He writes that no one has portrayed Confucius as a proto-feminist yet but he expects that there will be one eventually.

There might even be yet another Confucius in the end of this book. Yes, one of the authors throwing their own hat into the ring; a Confucius of international cooperation, advocate of learning, and a practitioner of humaneness (which may or may not be the same as "social justice").

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Lives of Confucius" a +

(I.e. I don't know how to grade this other than the fact that I enjoyed reading it because it is the only book on Confucius that I've read).

Click here for my next book review (a request): Amanda Moonstone - Darkbane Sorceress


Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): No Game No Life volume 5


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).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Read for fun: No Game No Life volume 5

No Game No Life is one of my current favorites. This one here is Volume 5. Like the review requests, I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

This story does not immediately resume Blank's conquest of the Siren. It actually opens with Feel, their opponent in volume 1, visiting another elven nobleman. Yes, this is a snapshot of Feel and Kurami's schemes in the elf's country, and it is impressive. It has the same sort of multi-layer game-plotting and deception as the primary plot, and a similar sense of style. After the first reading session, I had to make sure I only read it at night, when I had more free time, because I didn't want to stop. What follows is a tender-moment, with much character development. Then a scene shift for an immensely funny scene.

Suffice to say, Yuu Kamiya brought his A-Game right out of the gate. The primary plot exceeds it.

The meat of it is a game of tag with the Flügels, which includes a number of twists and additional rules to fit the setting. It was thrilling. Not just the battle itself, which was amazing enough, but the fact that this is the first game that Blank goes into blind. The game and its rules are suggested by Jibril, so Blank can't do their normal "win the game before it starts" methodology.

The game appears to have the lowest skates of any game so far, but the real stakes are much higher and more personal.

This particular arc has a great conclusion to it; a satisfying resolution and with an unexpected result.

CHARACTERS

Jibril gets a lot of development here. This book taking place in her hometown, we learn a lot about her; her past, her relationships, and how she differs from other Flügels. For instance, while all the Flugel love reading, she is the only one who cares about the books themselves.

We meet another Flügel, Azrael. She is the First Unit and one of the Flügel's leaders. This makes her the big sister of the Flugel, and she is quite proud of that fact. Thus the comedic contrast with her behavior matching that of a flaky and annoying younger sister. There are a lot of layers to this character. Saying anymore would be a spoiler.

 
There is also a side plot dedicated to Stephanie and Izuna. It is awfully cute, and relevant to the overarching plot of the series.

POLISH

It looks good. Yuu Kamiya has this tight and flowing prose style that works extremely well in high energy scenes such as the game of tag, but also highlights slower and emotional moments.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "No Game No Life Volume 5" an A+

Click here for my next book review: The Lives of Confucius


Click here for my previous book review (also for fun): Dungeons and Dragons - Monster Manual 3.5E

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, November 10, 2018

Read for fun: Dungeons and Dragons' Manster Manual for 3.5 Edition



I picked this one up to add to my understanding of D&D and combat in pen-and-paper RPGs in general. A base of knowledge about monsters, and mechanics and varieties; this is certainly the place for it.

There is SO much more to them than the capacity to inflict damage to a player's health. Indeed, death-in-battle is the least of an adventurer's worries when there are creatures that can convert them into monstrous thralls, use them as incubators for its young, or trap their souls. Imagining all these creatures inhabiting the same world gives one the idea that the adventurers live in a terribly dangerous place. Granted, not all of them are in the Material Plane, that is, the world most humans inhabit. Even so, they exist and can cross over to join the native horrors.

It makes me think that stories such as "Goblin Slayer" or "Berserk" have the right idea of things. An adventurer is just one or two bad die rolls away from a dreadful fate, and even a skilled and experienced one may not be equipped to face a particular foe. It would be easy to become a Killer-Game-Master, and not even deliberately. The kinds of monsters appropriate for new adventurers are obviously outnumbered by the ones that are not, and even the weak monsters can get lucky or overwhelm with numbers.  How scary must it be, to live as a non-adventurer (a commoner farmer, for instance) in such a world?

It was a fun exercise, to look at the challenge level of each monster and work out what precisely went into that decision, and then compare it to other monsters. There's a particular plant monster, completely immobile and without a strength stat, that is a challenge level of 2 because of special abilities. This means it should be as tough as SIX goblins (challenge rating of 1/3 each). I didn't figure that out one. Then I came across a shadow-like monster with a higher rating, and a similar condition.


 I was puzzled until I realized a few things: it can only do strength-stat damage, and at zero strength, the victim turns into the same sort of creature within the battle. Every character has a lot more HP than strength and a non-strength character would go down faster.  I have a dwarf paladin at level 2 which has a strength stat of 15. Given initiative and maximized dice rolls, this shadow creature could kill him in as little as three turns.  I thought "this is something I'll fight from a distance".

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons' Monster Manual for 3.5 Edition" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): No Game No Life volume 5

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


I also reviewed another useful author aide, the Dungeon Master's Manual.

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).

Monday, October 29, 2018

Excerpt of The Highest Power - Danger of Chaos/Hypocrisy of Order

Hello!

This is a sample of the first chapter of the final book in the Journey to Chaos series. Right now it is in the beta-reading phase. This here is kind of rough.

It has gone through Microsoft's spell check and the Grammarly program but, right as I was selecting the sample, I found another error. It was a simple one that both of them should have caught but neither did. Anyway, it is more correct than it was before.
_____________________________________________________



            "Good, because we're this close to becoming Lady Chaos' avatar. All we need to do is..." The air in front of her shimmered.

            It became a square and then it further developed into a door. It swung open to reveal a tall human man. His robe was dyed golden-brown, same as Annala's, and cinched at his waist with a rainbow cord. His hair was shaved into a tonsure. In his hand he carried staff crowned by a spear blade at one end and an infinity symbol at the other.

            "Omnias!" The four shouted. Annala brandished her staff. 

            "What are you doing here?" she demanded. He raised his own staff and declared,

            "Chauffeuring!"

            He sidestepped while drawing his staff low across the gate. A figure in a silver-grey tunic and same colored pants stepped forward. A hood concealed their head. Stepping between Kallen and the chaos cleric, the figure reached up and threw back their hood.

            Eric was floored. With her long and silky green hair, large eyes, flawless skin and heart-shaped face, her beauty rivaled Annala. However, it was a colder, sharper beauty. His girlfriend was full of warmth and friendliness. This girl, with her narrow grey eyes, monochrome robe, and tightly braided hair, called to mind polished obsidian at the tip of a spear.   He heard Kallen gulp.

            "Ariel? Is that...really you?" The other girl nodded.

            "It is good to see you again, big sister."

            As if from a spring, Kallen launched herself forward and latched around Ariel. The glomp made her take a step back. Kallen squeezed her, stroked her hair and babbled incoherently.

            "Wow! You're...You've... I've been working all...look at you! It's amazing, you're amazing and..." She pulled back and took another look. She just noticed the same thing that everyone else on the pillar already knew.

            Her sister was human again despite living in Latrot all these years. The outfit she wore was a field version of that worn by clerics of Order. Her posture was rigid. Her eyes were cold. Silver-grey streaked her green hair. "How are you like this?"

            "I appreciate the phrasing, dear sister." Ariel's eyes sharpened. "You didn't ask 'why'."

            "I know why! Order brainwashed you, but it's not a problem. We, that is, Dnnac Ledo, we're very good at deprogramming, especially lately so..." She trailed off when she saw the eldritch light radiating from Ariel's right hand.

            All forms of magical and spiritual ability gave off light because they were powered by mana. It was mana and its higher forms (kon-life energy, paku-spiritual energy, and chaos itself) that composed the world and everything in it. Depending on its nature, the mana's color would change but there was always a color. The only exception was Order.

             Standing in contrast to Lady Chaos and her creation, the power of Order had no color. Like a black hole, the best mortals could perceive was a bizarre non-color resembling silver-grey. For this reason it was eldritch and there was only reason it could be coming from Ariel's hand.

            "I, Ariel Selios,  swear by all things holy, both orderly and chaotic, that I am not brainwashed, blackmailed, or being overtly controlled in any other way other than which is typical of ordercrafters and that I began serving Lord Order of my own free will because it is the desire of my heart and mind to do so."

            "Order does not abide lies..." Kallen recited. She shook her head. " There must be something that    "

            "This has been a long time in coming," Ariel said, holding her hands together at her waist. "I sought Order's shelter long before the Siduban Chaos Explosion. Did you forget the Tale of the Two Sisters? "

            "Did you forget? Lunas caused that explosion! He killed our parents! He's the reason we mutated!" Just saying the word caused it to happen, and Kallen's true form leaked through her human guise. The following words were spoken through four mouths. "Thousands died because of him!"

            "Lunas saved the world that day," Ariel replied, calmly and firmly. "I came here to explain that to you so that you may see the Orderly Truth through the lies of Chaos."

            "What? But...you can't mean..."

            "Yes, dear sister, I have come to deprogram you." Kallen backed away and slipped back into her false human form. "Please listen, otherwise I'll have to enslave or kill you."

            Kallen looked back forth between Ariel and a random patch of ground. "This...This can't....can't...this... sister...this...can't...can't...can't can't CANT'!"

            Eric stepped forward and grasped her hand. At once the peace and tranquility of her soulmate flowed into her mind and soul, then spread through her body. It didn't dissolve her stress; not entirely. She looked into Eric's eyes and he saw her pure confusion and raw panic.

            "I'm sure we can talk this out," Eric said, soothingly for Kallen's benefit. "There's no reason for fighting."

            "Indeed, Mr.Watley," a second new voice said. A second figure stepped out of the teleportation door.

            He was dressed the same as Ariel and then he threw back his hood to reveal two differences. The first was his purple hair and its stripe of black, and the second was the silver-grey circle on his forehead. "I told you before that I would rather we be friends than enemies."

            "LUNAS!" Eric shouted with the voice of a grendel and his hand became metallic claws.

            "Ariel and myself were sent here to neutralize the threat you pose to this world," the prince of Latrot said. "It doesn't matter how we do it as long as it is done."

            "The threat we pose?" Eric asked. "You have some nerve saying that after the stunts you pulled in Roalt and Dnnac Ledo!"

            "I will direct your attention to Sueno as a counter-argument," Lunas said. His tone was as cold and piercing as Eric's claws. "My country's attempts at politics-through-violence is nothing compared your girlfriend's reality crash. She endangered this whole world fruit with her recklessness and willingness to use violence to get her way." Annala stared at him with venom in her eyes.

            "Book of Zatos Volume 1 1:1 'Woe to you princes and enforcers! Hypocrites all!' You know full well the damage you do to the fabric of reality. Your Grand Obelisk rips and tears it every second of every day. Sueno was a mistake, yes, and I deeply regret it but it was also an accident born of desperation." She pointed her finger at him. "Your damage is methodical and deliberate!"

            Her finger moved to Ariel at his side.

            "Even your claims of truth and lawfulness are shams and abominations. Your god's servants kidnapped the girl at your side and warped her mind."
______________________________________________________________________


The previous excerpt is from later in this book, and features a battle with a tree monster!

To learn more about the Journey to Chaos series, you can visit Tvtropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/JourneyToChaos.

The Journey to Chaos series is available for purchase at Amazon: http://amzn.to/10NsG2i
 
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).