Sunday, September 23, 2012

Iron Man 2

Last week I reviewed Iron Man 1 and said I was going to watch Iron Man 2 that sunday. I did and now I have time to review it as well. The tone is different and that should be expected. Tony is no longer a muggle transforming into a hero but a hero sustaining that image in a world that knows both of his identities. It's a great movie, not like the first, but in it's own way.

The plot has a tremendous emphasis on 'legacy' and appropriately Tony's first scene is giving a speech on the importance of leaving behind a bounty for the world's children, of course with his trademark arrogance ("I'm not saying that the world is enjoying it's longest period of uninterrupted peace in years because of me.") and dancing girls in skimpy attire designed to look like Iron Man. Sins Of Our Fathers appears on the other side of the coin. It turns out that Howard Stark is not solely responsible for Arc Reactor technology. Anton Vanko worked with him but they had a disagreement in how it should be used so Howard deported him back to Russia, where he spent forty years in a vodoka rage. His son, Ivan, seeks revenge on Tony for the suffering Howard's actions caused him.

Entwined with the idea of legacy is the future of the Iron Man technology. Countries such as Iran have been trying to duplicate it in the six months since the last movie ended and The United States Government demands that Tony turn over his technology to them. Senator Stern is made to look like a minor villain for his attempts to paint Tony as a threat and it's not hard for the audience to agree. What he wants to do is the same thing that the first movie's villain did: create a more lethal version of Iron Man and mass produce it for war.  Tony, being more paranoid than ever, refuses to do so and proclaims himself the world's guardian. ( "I have successfully privatized world peace.")

To contrast the first film, this story is not an upward climb of Tony becoming more heroic but a downward spiral as he self-destructs. He's dying from Palladium poisoning caused by the reactor that keeps him alive. His personal character arc is split between selflessly providing for the future and selfishly enjoying himself as best he can. The problem is this looks like erratic behavior because no one knows except Nick Furry and Ivan Vanko so he alienates his friends tarnishes his claim to be the world's guardian.

The climax is suitably exciting and resolves most of the plot threads but there is one left: the government demanding Tony's Iron Man technology. This could be because Rhodes keeps the War Machine model so they have what they want, or it could be that after a second disaster with someone stealing Tony's technology (which Tony himself has to clean up) they backed off for now. (Avengers offers a third option but I won't say it here in case you haven't seen it. It will come out on DVD this week. See it!) In any case, I would have liked to see something definitive. Though the award ceremony does show Tony and Uncle Sam are back on friendly terms.

As you can see, Iron Man 2 is a lot more political than it's predecessor but I believe this is an attempt at Deconstruction and it works well. It's a good source of conflict, nicely compliments the villain's Evil Plan and sharpens Tony's character as a Technological Pacifist, albeit an arrogant one.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Iron Man 2" an A.

The Stinger points toward the next Marvel Hero, Mighty Thor, and I will review that later this week.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by Jennifer for the Next Big Thing Meme

What is the title of your book?

A Mage's Power.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

This book was written to scratch three itches.
1. At the time I was watching a lot of general shonen anime. One after another the protagonist was an Idiot Hero who got by on guts alone. I found that annoying and so I challenged myself to remove that saving grace and start with a protagonist who had nothing at all.
2. I also wanted to write about tricksters because I like tricksters.  They're fun.  So I created a trickster that would mold this loser into a hero.
3. I noticed a trend in regards to magic in a setting. If the the setting was present day than magic would always be hidden. That bothered me because the reason (if one was offered at all) was flimsy at best. It seemed like the author didn't want to bother integrating magic into the 'real world' that their audience would be reading from so I decided to create my own. This became the stage for the trickster's work.

What genre would your book fall under?

Low Fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

No idea. I thought about it and simply doesn't compute.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A trickster drops Eric in a world where magic and monsters are as common as homework and hotdogs, so he will grow a spine.

Is your book published or represented?

It will be published by me at the end of September 2012.
UPDATE: There's a learning curve when it comes to setting a launch date. Certain issues have delayed it. Thankfully, it was a self-imposed deadline. The new launch date was set to Dec.31

How long did it take you to write?

The first draft took a solid year. The next eight or nine drafts took place in short bursts over the next five-six years while I wrote the next three books in the "Journey to Chaos" series.

What other books within your genre would you compare it to?

Protector of the Small by Tamora Pirece

Which authors inspired you to write this book?

Naturally, Tamora Pirece is the biggest.  Hajime Kanzaka, author of Slayers, is right next to her though indirectly. I've only seen the anime that was based on his light novels.  Masatoshi Midori, the scenario writer for Radiata Stories, also merits mentioning.

Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in your book.

The soul of my book is a childhood spent on Action Adventure RPGs. I'm a fan of Final Fantasy and other games by Squire Enix, such as Radiata Stories. I tried to put the essence of such games into the setting. An adventurer class system, monsters that lurked outside cities, traveling to dungeons to complete an objective, and a story that evolves beyond it's initial premise; I kept all those things in mind. I believe a fan of those games will like "A Mage's Power".

Monday, September 17, 2012

Answering Review Request: Trouble Shooter by Bard Constantine

Bard Constantine asked me to review his novel "Trouble Shooter". Being a detective story I was about to tell him 'no' but the detective lives in a science fiction setting and his request was superb so I agreed. I'm glad I did. "Trouble Shooter" delivers on several levels.

The first of which is character. The protagonist, Mick Trubble, has a vivid personality. He doesn't take himself or anything else too seriously yet still plays for keeps. It was a joy to read him narrate this adventure. Even better, his personality being this way is perhaps the most critical plot point in the story. On the flip side, other characters do not receive the same develop. This story is told by Trubble and so the other characters are filtered through him, which does more to develop his own character than theirs. They're good characters and I liked them (especially Poddar's friend, Rob) but they're overshadowed by the first person protagonist;an understandable flaw.

The second is the plot. This plot has more twists and dark secrets than a New Haven politician. Revelation follows Revelation like an onion with the same eye-widening effect. While this works well for page turning it sometimes feels as though Trubble is bouncing from one informant to another with a fight in between. Thankfully Mr. Constantine adds other events to prevent this pattern from gaining a stranglehold on the narrative. The other problem with the plot is re-read value: thrillers rely on suspense and plot twists which disappear after the first read. Again, Mr. Constantine provides another lure: Trubble's narration adds charm to narration that would otherwise be bland.

This is the start of a prospective series yet the book's conflict is resolved. That's huge for me. I love it when authors resolve a book's plot while leaving the door open for more adventures. The ending is very satisfying. I'd go as far as say it's my favorite part of the story.

The third is setting. Mr.Constantine knows how this world works and what it looks like etc. I always appreciate that in a story and that kind of effort in an author. The problem is the first person narration. Personally, I don't like first person narration because it doesn't make sense for someone to narrate the setting or their continuous thought pattern. "Who are they talking to?"  Without a justification like a  frame narrative or intentional fourth wall breaking, it simply doesn't make sense and so Trubble talking about a facet of the city, while interesting, is somewhat jarring.

One thing about the setting I should definitely mention is the dialect. There's a glossary up front for terms used in the book and what they mean. 'bought the farm'=die and 'berries' is slang for 'money'. On one hand I liked this because it added to the setting but on the other it was occasionally confusing and I had to return to the glossary.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Trouble Shooter" a B+

Click here for the next review request: Cloaks of Vermin and Fish

Click here for the previous review request: The Shadow of Black Wings

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Iron Man

The last time I reviewed a movie it was Captain America.This time I review a different sort of patriot: Tony Stark the Iron Man. Yes, I've been on something of a Marvel streak ever since I saw The Avengers on my birthday. You'll see a review for that soon enough, but first, here's Iron Man.

First I want to say this is a thrilling movie. Being a Super Hero film one expects great fight scenes and Iron Man delivers on every occasion. The MK I is a juggernaut coming out of the Ten Rings cave and yet you can see how clunky it is and not quite invulnerable. Contrast this with the MK III against the same group and it's no contest. The climatic showdown is without a doubt the best of the lot, not only for the greatest action but for turning the plot of 'War Weapon' vs 'Peace Weapon' into walking metaphors with Iron Monger vs Iron Man. It is poigant in addition to really awesome. Super Heroics at its best.

There's a heart beneath all the action. By leaving for the unknown world Tony sets out on an archtypal Hero's Journey that is as heartwarming as his battles are awesome. After he returns from captivity one can see that there was a hero underneath his hedonistic demeanor and he becomes more heroic as he builds the Iron Man suit. By the time he completes it, he's flying to save a village from raiders.

Robert Downey jr gives a wonderful performance as Tony Stark. He's funny, he's serious, and, most important, he's so genuinely heroic (and a jerkass) that he can make you think he's not reciting from a script. In fact, he isn't; many of his lines are ad-libbed.

Finally, Iron Man is an examplary case of how to use a romantic sub-plot in a super hero movie. 1.His relationship with Petter Potts is present and it's important but the only scene to focus on it exclusively is a brief Dance of Rommance. The rest is in the background as a subtext to the hero-sidekick interactions.  2. Petter has a role beyond Tony's Love Interest; she's the only (excluding Rhodney) person with his absolute trust. This is a plot point at many occasions and she is resonsible for uncovering the Big Bad's Evil Plan.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Iron Man 1 an A+.  I plan to watch number two tomorrow.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wiki Cleaner Award

Today I found a surprise in my mailbox at TvTropes; a message saying I was given the Wiki Cleaner Award!

TvTropes, I'm sorry to say, has numerous problems. Misuse of trope and Natter are two big ones that undermine our purpose of cataloging the devices of storytelling. Trope misuse creates confusion and natter transforms trope and work pages into thread forums. This is why intensive clean up is necessary.

For the last year or so I've been working on two tropes in particular: Beyond the Impossible and Xanatos Gambit: the former is defined as 'breaking internal logic' and latter as 'a plan in which both success and failure benefit the planner in some way'.  I spent an hour every night (two on the weekends) searching their list of wicks for incorrect usage. There was a lot.

Beyond the Impossible was frequently used to emphasis something, especially something badass or extreme.  From over six thousand wicks I brought it down to less than four hundred. Xanatos Gambit was often mistaken to mean 'generic plan' or 'evil plan' or 'exceptionally clever plan'. It had over three thousand wicks at its height and fortunately I had help with this one. Xanatos Gambit is infamous on our wiki because it used to have as many as ten snowclones and long term misuse. This attracted many tropers and we all pitched in bring the misuse down to eight hundred.

I'm honored to have received this award. It truly made my day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Answering Review Request: "Blood Skies" by Steven Montano

Steven Montano asked me to read his novel "Blood Skies". The ground is black, the water is brown, and the sky is well, the color of blood. That should tell you all you need to know about the setting: it's not a nice a place to live. On Tvtropes, we call this a "Crapsack World" because life sucks for everybody. Despite that, there are still soldiers like Eric Cross who fight to keep vampires out of human territory. The plot follows his mission to stop "Red" from selling vital human secrets to the vampric Old One.


Setting: The story takes place after "The Black" a mysterious event that transformed Earth into a poisoned and broken world rife with hostile supernatural creatues like vampires, ghouls, and assorted monsters. What's left of humanity has been at war with, well, the entire world really, but especially the vampires. Their weapons range from guns of varying size, to hexed salts, and mages. How magic works is crucial to the plot and revealed slowly so I won't spoil anything here. I will say, however, that it was fascinating and movingly written.

Far more interesting than the mechanics of the setting is the mood created by the setting. It really is a shitty place to live and Mr. Montano has a gift for illustrating just HOW shitty. The state of the cities is dark and gloomy and grimmy. Day-to-day life is a struggle to pull half-way decent food from border-line hostile soil. Vampire attacks are a constant threat and there are only just enough soldiers to avert a tragedy but the cost is regularly high. Most of the humans 'play hard' i.e. (drugs, alcohol, prositution etc) because the possibility they won't be able to the next day is just as high, and even then the tobacco tastes like it had been 'drenched in urine'.


The Plot I like. Bare boned it's a fairly simple Macguffin hunt but there's a lot of meat here. It is charged by the atmosphere and the character's drive to fulfill another, unrelated goal. The history of the world and the nature of the mission is revealed little by little. There's no  As You Know here and while it's a little bewildering at first it only adds to the Full Picture. Everybody knows this stuff. They're not gonna recite it for the audience's benefit because there is no audience, hence a sense of realism. Like strands in a coil of rope; there's a lot of them and they're coiled tightly.

The Plot's conflict is resolved, which I REALLY like. This book is the first in a series and there are more problems to come but this book's conflict is fully resolved. I can honestly say the climax is my favorite part of the book. It brings together plot threads, it is suspensful, it is true to the tone and the setting. However, there are two things I don't like about the plot.

1. If "Blood Skies" were a tabletop game then Mr.Montano would be a sadistic dungeon master. If something can go wrong it will go wrong. The tainted world, though great for atmosphere, is not relevant storywise and so its greatest impact is to make the characters more miserable than they would be otherwise. Any time something good happens something horrible is nearby.

2. SPOILER! All I'll say is that Cross' group does something stupid, they acknowledge it as stupid, and the results are tragic. Making it even worse is that it had nothing to do with the plot. The danger comes out of nowhere and has no further relevance than the said tragedy. It works WONDERFULLY for the Setting (to show a wider world with more troubles than the Protagonist's own) but in terms of plot it's an oddball and feels like a device to produce the tragedy.

Now for characters. On one hand, it's hard to judge the characters because so many of them die shortly after their introduction but on the other this itself charactizes all of them. Humans are fragil. There's little in the way of Plot Armor. Cross, the protagonist himself, wouldn't have lived through his introduction without his spirit. All the characters live in a precarious state of life and death which is great for suspense.

Cross himself is a great protagonist. He is set up and developed and ready for the story. No time is wasted making him 'identifiable' to the audience. I always apperciate that but my favorite part about him is his relationship to his sister, Snow. It's the most beautiful thing in this story.

Few characters get Cross' level of development. This is because a lot of them die quickly so I'm willing to give Mr.Montao a pass on them but there is no excuse for the vampires. Despite having their own society with cities and rules and and social stratification they are Always Chaotic Evil monsters who started a war for apparently no reason.

On the whole, this story has a good plot, setting and characters; mared only by a single Idiot Ball.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Blood Skies" a B+

Monday, September 3, 2012

Magic Music

The first Monday of each month is Inspirational Monday. Share something that inspires you.

"There will be times, on this journey, all you'll see is darkness......But out there somewhere, daylight finds you....if you keep believing in." -Phil Collins, "Look Through My Eyes

Music has power. To me it is the power to inspire. I listen to songs when I need a jolt or fresh inspiration. I have a file of songs arranged by story idea that I refer to when necessary. Some of them are about hope and determination, like the one quoted above. Others are high energy and either light-hearted or intense. Still others are somber. All of them have different ideas and themes and messages that mesh into creative power. I recommend all writers create a playlist for this purpose.

This month's post is part of the "Inspiration" series and is closely related to last month's "Aboard The Absolution" post. Many of those songs relate back to the shows I used to watch and still watch.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Reviewing Troper

If you've been following my book reviews you'll notice I'll use terms such as 'big bad' and 'idiot ball' and 'translator microbes' with links to a site called 'TvTropes'. This is because I find them useful phrases, but more importantly, it's because I've been assimilated into the Troper Hive Mind.

I discovered the site back in college.  It was both entertaining and enlightening.  Entertaining because despite being a encyclopedic reference it uses casual and engaging language. Enlightening because it zapped any pretensions I had to originality and thus freed me to enjoy the building blocks of fiction without fear.

Five or so years later I'm expanding the site's literature section with the books I review. TVTropes is a Gateway Drug and so I can lead my fellow tropers to those books in the hopes they will enjoy them as much as I did.  The following pages have been created by me so far:
1. Trapped On Draconica
2. Light And Dark The Awakening Of The MageKnight
3. The Shadow of Black Wings

The last one is the most recent one written by James Calbraith. A troper named dsana has been helping me fill it out. Its gathered an amazing 31 inbounds in two days. Perhaps more since I checked. I'll read its sequel in the near future because I like the characters and the world they live in. It's already out but I have out books to review before I can get to it.  Blood Skies by Steven Montano will likely be the next work to be assimilated.

I hope you will visit these pages and join our ranks. If you are a writer, there are many reasons why you should. See "Inspirational Monday-TvTropes" for more information.