Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Answering Review Request: 'Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods"

James Warburton's mother asked me to read her son's book: Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods. His mother had to do because he is nine years old. This is likely his first attempt at writing fiction and so I will score it as such.

 "Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods" is old school high fantasy. There are semi divine children who use magic weapons to fight monsters and smite evil. I've read that sort of thing before but who cares? It's remarkably engaging. More importantly, there are no pretensions to originality which I find refreshing. Too many authors strive for a myth like 'originality' instead of making use of classical myths like this one.

On another level I enjoyed it because it's nostalgic. It reminds me of the kind of thing I'd write about when I was that age. Reading it made me smile. The biggest difference is grammar and spelling; at that age mine weren't as good.

It is twenty one pages long. This makes it compact and lays a bigger claim to 'fast paced' and 'action packed' than others I've read as a volunteer book reviewer. Also, there is a beginning, middle, and end. One would think that would be self-evident but some want to be 'innovative' by leaving cliffhangers when all it does is irritate. The ending here is what we call on TvTropes 'The Adventures Continues": the book ends with the start of Jake's next mission.

Considering this is a nine year old's first effort, it's amazing. If he refines his skill he'll become a splendid author.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Jake Johnson and the Half Bloods" an A

Click here for the next review request: Tainted Dawn

Click here for the previous review request: Predation

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Trapped On Draconica blog tour: The Geography of Draconica

Hello all and welcome to the next stop on the Trapped On Draconica blog tour!  If you've been following my blog you'll know I've reviewed this book before. You can read it here but for now I have something else for your enjoyment. Today Dan Wright is here to talk about the geography of Draconica.

1. Did the dragons name the world 'Draconica' or did the humans name it that in honor of the god-like role the dragons served in shaping it?

Good question! The early versions of the humans on Draconica were actually fairly primitive creatures (similar to cavemen or similar), so the dragons named it Draconica, kinda out of arrogance. But it made sense that they would name it as they created it.

2. According to the map, Draconica is a cluster of Island Nations but in the story flight and teleportation are used more often than boats. Is this because humans relied on dragons for transportation?

Not really. It just so happens that in Trapped on Draconica, we mainly focus on the Dragonkin and the Baalarian Empire (who have the powers you mention). Boats and ships do exist and are the primary form of travel – but some countries also have zeppelins that act as a sort of airport for some countries (this was created by the Republic of Garmany, who are a technologically advanced culture). So boats and that lot do exist as transportation, it’s just not talked about much in Trapped on Draconica.

3. Daniar says that 'the only memories we have of that once great race are of brutality and bloodshed.' Are the dragons the reason that Draconica is a cluster of islands?

You’re not actually too far off with this. There used to be this sea dragon called Nar-Gar, who was known for violent temper tantrums and attacking lands for no reason. Draconica was originally just one big island, but Nar-Gar would launch ferocious attacks against it, splitting the land into many pieces. Eventually, the other dragons had Nar-Gar killed so that he could not do much more damage, but the land had been split because of it. That’s how the islands came to be.

4. Baalaria was named after the dragon Baala, correct? Did he serve any other role in shaping the region and/or the country?

Yes that is correct. In actual fact, Baala was the dragon that taught Draconica about warfare after visiting Earth during the time of the Roman Empire. He created the Baalarian Empire and taught Draconica about warfare – but he was by no means an evil dragon. His teachings explained that war should be about honour and discipline, not killing in cold blood. In fact, for many years, Baala was an ambassador for war and no country could go to war without his say so – and without just cause.

This changed when his brother Leoni (founder of the Leonidan Kingdom) challenged his rule as he had conflicting opinions about warfare. They started a bloody war (known on Draconica as The War of the Brothers), which ended in both of their deaths. However their followers have continued this war for several years. Sadly, there is now no ambassador for war in Draconica, so countries can go to war without needing permission.

5. Is there a swamp dragon responsible for the Venomac Swamp? Or the vortex mentioned on the map? Is the answer to either of these spoilers for the next book in the series?

I think I can give you answers to this without too many spoilers.

For Venomac Swamp, it was actually created by Venomac, a dragon who was reviled by even his own kind. He was an ugly and deformed creature that everyone was cruel to, but Arkana, The Forest Wyvern, took pity on him and became his friend. However, Venomac mistook this for love and ended up stalking her, until Arkana became frightened for her own life and rejected him. Infuriated, Venomac breathed poisoned breath over her most beautiful forest land, corrupting it and turning into a vile swamp. Arkana was so devastated by this that she took her own life. What happened to Venomac isn’t clear, but the swamp is a grim reminder of his terrible wrath.

The creation of The Vortex is a little long-winded but I’ll try and cut it down. Essentially, when life of Draconica first existed, they used magic in their everyday life, as a suggestion by the dragon Kerrigal (who first discovered magic). However, magic in its rawest form is unpredictable and not easy to control, so Dronor taught the people of Draconica about science, helping them to use the resources of the planet and not rely on powers they did not understand. But Kerrigal became angry at his teachings being challenged and fought with Dronor. During a battle over the sea, he used his powers to create The Vortex in the hope that it would destroy his enemy – but it backfired and he got sucked in, presumably destroyed.

From then on, The Vortex was like a "no-go" area of the planet, as if you get too close you get sucked in. No one knows exactly where The Vortex leads to – but without giving too much away it will play an important part in a later Draconica novel.

6. Tell us about Skycrack Mountain. It is described as the most unreachable place in the world yet one can hear of events on other islands from the wind. There one can enjoy perfect solitude and yet stay informed of current events. Has it ever been used as a hermitage?

In actual fact, only Rana can do this because she has extraordinary hearing. Because the mountain she lives up is so high up in the air, she can hear the whispers carried in the wind. She is the only one to really take hermitage there.

Skycrack as a mountain range is unreachable due to the violent thunderstorms and heavy winds that constantly barrage the area. It’s a dangerous place to live and only the hyppagryphs of Draconica can seem to live there without any danger. Originally, it was the home of Karana The Storm Drake, and many believe that a part of his soul still lingers there, hence why the storms are so violent on that part of the world.


You can find out more info about the world of Draconica on the Trapped On Draconica Wiki.

Author Bio
Dan lives in the UK, his hometown being Canterbury, Kent. A huge fan of both Fantasy and Manga, he has a style that combines both within his writing, which lets him tell stories that are both dramatic and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. Dan also runs his own website, blog and even a wiki page that goes into detail of the world of Draconica. He is also a book reviewer, which he does independantly and on his website Read2Review. Authors who have inspired Dan are Douglas Adams, J.R.R Tolkien, Harlan Ellison, Alan Moore, Joss Whedon and Hiromu Arakawa.

Contact Dan via the following links:



TWITTER: @PandragonDan


Where to buy Trapped on Draconica;

Amazon US Kindle:

Amazon US Paperback:

Amazon UK Kindle:

Amazon UK Paperback:


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Answering Review Request: "Predation"

Simon Parkinson asked me to review his novel "Predation" and I've spent the last two weeks or so reading it. It's a hard science fiction space opera that pits the human Federation Space Fleet Nine against the lizard-like Drakk'Har Alliance on the planet Mindon-2.  I had difficulty rating this book because its strengths and weaknesses are the same things. What follows is the pro and con of World Building, Characters, and Plot and how I both liked and disliked all three.

World Building: Pro
I've said it once and I'll say it again; I love world building. Creating a fictional reality that the reader can immerse themselves in requires thought and detail and research. No one can accuss Mr. Parkinson of not including those in his story. He will explain how the ships work, the support system behind the military, the reasoning for the weapons, the enviorment in full sensory detail, etc.  I particularly enjoyed the Drakk'Har society from a anthropolgic point of view. While other stories have some Always Chaotic Evil race that everyone acknowledges as such with nothing more to it, Mr. Parkinson addresses this view point in Geneva Convention level detail.

World Building: Con
There is a reason why tropes such as Techno Babble and It Runs On Nonsensoleum exist: the author wants to get to the meat of the plot without dragging down the plot. Most of "Predation" is mechanics and protocol and other things delivered via Omniscient Narration. A space battle is interrupted so Mr.Parkinson can give a several page history of the human's development of hyperspace technology and why ships must travel to the edge of solar systems before using it. While the point of the lecture is relevant to the event it interrupts, it didn't have to be so long and frankly it sounds arrogant because it calls a number of real life theories wrong and posists its own. If it were my novel I would have put it at the back of the book in a 'notes' section.

"Predation" has a ensemble cast; there is no main character. On TvTropes we call these kinds of characters 'mauve shirts' because they have enough characterization to avoid a meaningless death in the name of action and instead receive a meaningful death in the name of tragedy.

Characters Pro
Despite being mauve shirts, the humans of the Fredation have enough sustanance to stand on their own. Jefferson, for instance, is a sneaky soldier, a calm sniper and also a prankster. Compared to other characters, she gets enough screen time to be a 'semi-main character'.  She, alongside Perkins, is my favorite character.
Also, because of the ensemble nature, Mr. Parkinson can move to all areas of Space Fleet Nine. There are scenes with the Marshal on the command deck, with squad/platoon officiers talking to the men under their responsibility, with the engineers in the landing bay, with the field commanders in their special moving HQ, and with Special Forces doing their intel thing. In this way, Space Fleet Nine itself becomes a composite character.
Like I said earlier, I liked learning about the Drakk'Har culture. The ritualized arrogance, differences in living, and other culturel nodes were more interesting than the humans and their stoic protocols.

Characters Con
Because they are mauve shirts it's hard to get attached to characters and if one doesn't care about the characters than one doesn't care about what happens too them i.e. the plot. A ship crash that doomed a couple guys is a downer but with the focus spread over the entire fleet the effect is minimized vs a decoy main character. In a sense they're like chess pieces; one does not mourn a pawn unless its loss endangers the rest.  I didn't have any big concern during the battles unless a handful of characters, like Jefferson for instance, were involved and even she took one hundred pages or so to get to that point. 
While the Drakk'Har culture is interesting, its characters are not. They are so similar (because of their Always Chaotic Evil nature) that they bleed together. The only way I could tell them apart was by their rank. Grunts did not have names or roles; they're mooks.  More importantly, their culture as a whole is so steeped in treachery I couldn't believe they worked together long enough to create a galaxy spanning empire and if they could, why it didn't implode in on itself.

Plot Pro

Space Fleet Nine's mission is laid out near the start: a clear and straight forward military expedition. I apperciate that Mr.Parkinson didn't include any intrigue or late game twist in accordance with the Unspoken Plan Guarante; that would have made the book dreadful. The humans go there, have some excitement along the way, and then implement the plan as described at the start of the book. The plot picks up here because the action starts up and there is little exposition left. Indeed, the second half of the book is much better than the first.  The plot focuses on Hill 170 so the characters there get more focus and by now have coalest into engaging characters. When he's not explaining the Hawking Zone, Mr. Parkinson can write a suspensful battle. Ch.22 "Swarm" is amazing in this regard. Most important of all, the initial conflict is resolved. There is no cliff hanger. The war goes on but this particular mission is resolved.

Plot Con

Two major problems: 1.)  exposition and 2.)  Suspension of Disbelief.
From the time Space Fleet Nine enters the Mindon system to their arrival at Mindon-2 the plot is bogged down in exposition and protocols and general minutia of military life. This is addressed with the phrase "hurry up and wait" and the saying that military life is 'hours of boredom separated by seconds of intense fear' but I don't want to read about bored soldiers. Unless it's a comedy but that's another issue.
As I said in 'Characters Con' the Drakk'Har spend more time and energy scheming against each other than fighting the humans. Whenever they encounter humans they are defeated or outwitted. It was hard for me to believe that the humans had been fighting a lossing war for the last three years because of this. While it is to some extent justified by the humans not knowing exactly how to fight them (for instance, they didn't know the Drakk'Har grew their ships in giant tubes instead of building in factories and so their early raids did little damage to the Drakk'Har war machine) I expected something more for such an important target. This breaks my suspension of disbelief which cheapens the human victory and denigrades the plot as a whole.

Without a doubt Mr.Parkinson gets an A for effort but an overall score is more difficult. For the problems listed above I'm tempted to give it a D but for the successes listed above I'm tempted to give it a B. I'll settle in the middle.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Predation" a C+

Click here for the next review request: Jake Johnson and the HalfBloods

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Avengers Asemble!

I'm finally getting around to reviewing this movie. It's the reason I watched the others: The Incredible Hulk, THOR, Iron Man 2, (but not the original) and Captain America. The first time I watched it it was my birthday back in July. Now, in November, I'm finally reviewing it. I will consider the points of 1.) Epic 2.) Humor. 3). Character and 4). Plot.

1. Epic

The very first live action super hero team movie. No one else has tried to make individual superhero movies and then bring them all together into one adventure. This film is action packed coolness from the time Loki zaps into Earth through Iron Man's trademark big entrances to HULK SMASH and the big alien invasion and how the avengers counter it.

More than eye candy; Joss Whedon made sure there were personal conflicts underlying the undeniably awesome battles. Loki and Thor as the classic Cain and Abel but also the conflicts between avengers like Iron Man vs Thor and other philosophical conflicts involving SHIELD and other people and/or groups.

2. Humor

There are multiple kinds of humor. First of all there's pop culture jokes but what makes them funny is how Captain America, being a freshly thawed WWII veteran, doesn't get them. Coulson's fanboying him is also funny; a stoic and professional MiB with vintage trading cards. Robert Downey Jr truly does a terrific job playing Tony Stark; his smug sarcasm and odd behavior is always fun to watch.

3. Characters

The characters do a fantastic job playing off each other. Tony rubs everyone wrong and is delightfully arrogant and hammy. Fury stays on the border of morality in his manipulation. Coulson has met everyone except Banner; there's great history there. Tom Hiddleston had way too much fun playing Loki but also shows the depth of the character. Mark Ruffalo is my favorite actor for Bruce Banner so far; angsts about the Hulk but not to the point of wangst and with a dry sense of (often self deprecating) humor.

4. Plot

One would think with a plot centered on a powerful item like the Tesseract it would follow a basic maguffin hunt, right? Wrong! Loki acquires the Tesseract in the first act. He's captured in the third out of five. It's a dynamic plot structure. I don't detect idiot balls or anything of the sort which makes the plot so much better. One of my favorite instances comes just before the climax. I won't spoil it (though anyone reading this likely already knows) but it involves Stark and it's something the audience can figure out at the same time he does.

I can't think of anything bad to say about it.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Avengers" an A+

Review for Age of Ultron can be found here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Inspirational Monday (for real this time) Whedon Editing

My first one was early and I found this fantastic quote the other day and one can't have enough inspiration right?

"There are certain things you accept going in that you're going to do a little too much to make sure you do enough."

I watched The Avengers for the second time yesterday, and then, because I liked it so much, I watched it again with Joss Whedon's audio commentary. When he said the above quote it struck me as everything a writer needs to know about editing in a single sentence.

He's talking about one of the introductory scenes were the avengers are being introduced to the audience one by one. It's about exposition and scenes that were cut because they were redundant. In the first draft and first shooting etc, one doesn't know where everything goes and affects other scenes; 'the domino effect' is the phrase he used. You want to explain everything as often as you think is necessary to make sure that it is in there in the first draft.

The first draft is called a 'rough draft' for a reason; IT'S ROUGH. There will be scenes that need to be expanded, scenes that need to be removed,  the pacing could be too slow or too fast, characters will not be as developed as they will be in the final version, etc. When writing the first draft of anything (a novel, a paper, a blog post) I console myself with 'the first draft is always crap'. This way I am not crushed by the awfulness I created and lose confidence in myself as a writer. The fourth draft could be drastically different.  The quote is about acknowledging that; you're going to do a lot of editing. "It's the nature of the beast."

The take away from the quote and this blog post is that an author should not get attached to the first draft because it will change by the final draft. It might be radically different from the first draft and an author should not be afraid to make those changes in order to make the story better.

P.S. I found so much good advice in the rest of the commentary, I'll probably make a few more posts with them. Make a series of it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Writer Quirks and Community

The first Monday of every month is inspirational Monday. Share something that inspires you so it can inspire the rest of us.  This, while I hope it is inspiring, is not my post for the month.

Today I'd like to share a blog post I read the other day, "How To Know You're A Writer". It was one of those 'quirk lists' that one can find in many places on the Internet and while most of them are simply a moment's amusement this one stuck with me.

It spoke of how writers bring notepads everywhere in case they're struck with inspiration or internally correct the grammar of others. Without thinking about it I've been doing all those things. It was like this 'community thing' where only another writer could understand that sort of thing on an emotional level. More than 'How to Know You're A Writer' but how to know you are a writer. Writers could recognize each other by the books under their arms.

Is one of my two favorites because it's true.  Whenever I'm fortunate enough to remember a dream, and awake enough to get up and write it down, my first thought is not 'how weird was that'? but 'how can I use this in a book?' Dreaming is fishing in primordial soup. There's some great stuff in there if you can find it and write it down before it vanishes like so much smoke

My second favorite. While I don't drink coffee I do drink Five Hour Energy and Gatorade and this new Neuro Sonic stuff.  Whatever it is, writers need their fuel. Again, a community thing. Sharing food and drink is perhaps the oldest social ritual we have. I imagine writing groups go through a lot of the stuff.

Speaking of writer community, the author of the "How To Know You're A Writer" post started NaNoWriMo today. She could use a little inspiration.