Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Medieval is Not Fantasy

Far too often I see mundane medieval labeled as "Fantasy". It's not Fantasy unless it has fantastic elements. You can have Low Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Fantastic Horror, Romantic Fantasy etc but it has to have fantastic elements. Having knights and princesses in a civilization that resembles Medieval Europe does not count as Fantasy. I don't understand how someone can make that mistake. It's infuriating.

I assume that this misconception comes from the fact that traditional fantasy stories are set in the distant past and especially the Medieval European period. Back then you had priests that claimed to draw power from various gods, magicians with their spells and potions, wide-spread beliefs about a bestiary of monsters and spirits that roamed the countryside. It's easy to place a fictional story about evil sorcerers and dragons and other such supernatural things in such a setting and this setting also contains knights and princesses and other mundane things that go hand in hand with the supernatural. Therefore, it's easy to accept that they were associated over time and then lumped together further once society moved from the Medieval to the Modern. Some stories go as far as to state that the two are incompatible. TvTropes has several entries for this sort thing:

1. Magic Versus Science-The two are seen as rivals either in their operating principles or in their users.
2. Science Destroys Magic-The two literally cannot coexist.
3. Doing in The Wizard and Doing In The Scientist-One is explained as the other.

There are more but I believe I've made my point here. Scientists are seen as belonging to the Modern Era and Wizards/Witches/Magicians etc as belonging to the distant past. This is why I can understand someone calling a Medieval Setting "Fantasy" because even if there is just superstition instead of the real deal, it can still count as a fantastic element. I understand it but I don't agree with it. Unless it's real it doesn't count.

On one hand it's a matter of being accurate. I have different expectations of a Fantasy novel and  Historical novel and I want to know which one I have in my hands before going in. On another hand, I feel like it's a cheap marketing gimmick to draw in readers.

For instance,
I once had a review request from someone who had zero fantastic elements calling their story "Fantasy". I asked him about this and he replied that his events "were implausible" in real life and that it was made them "Fantasy". Furthermore, he said the fantastic elements would make his story cliché. He wanted to be unique, not predictable and for that reason he didn't add fantastic elements. The result of this is teenagers fighting terrorists with toys.  How is one supposed to accept such a premise? I imagined all them getting gunned down in their first confrontation. The third point was the most upsetting; he said that adventure and heroism made it "Fantasy" and in this way claimed that any story with a Hero's Quest/Journey is automatically "Fantasy". 

A "Hero Quest" does not make something into a Fantasy! That can exist in any story of any genre! Joseph Cambell proved this with his model of the Hero's Journey. It is a universal template: "Supernatural Aid" does not have to be from a god or a fairy godmother but from a mundane and earthly friend or parent or anything like that, nor do  "Threshold Guardians" have to be a troll guarding a bridge, it can be a bully or a test or something else mundane. "The Unknown World" can be a mysterious forest, a new school, or simply a changing social environment. Challenges, danger, and courage are things that exist in many genres, not just fantasy.

This is why I don't accept review requests from people that push a "Fantasy" novel that is clearly not Fantasy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Answering Review Request: Dark Space 2, Invisible War

Jasper Scott asked me to review his second Dark Space Novel, Invisible War.  I gave his first book an A+ , and to this day it shares this honor with few others. I had high expectations of this book, but unfortunately, I was disappointed. I will examine Plot, Characters, and Polish before assigning a grade.


There are a lot of problems here. 1.) The title says "Invisible War" but it's more like a roadtrip with bickering children. 2.) The stupidity of many characters. 3.) The Scythians' disparity of power. 4.) There are three (possibly four) plotlines in this story that never intersect and have no bearing on each other. 5.) There's no resolution for any of the plotlines at the end of the book.

 The main plot is entirely moving from Point A to Point B. I figured, "Okay, they'll be there by the end of the next chapter and then we can move on." Instead of a quick trip, the event is stretched out over hundreds of pages. The interludes to other plotlines make it feel even longer. There's no plot development. It's just a series of things going wrong to make the overall situation worse. By the end it was starting to feel like there was a sadistic game master in charge of this plot instead of the talented author from the last one.

 Everyone's carrying an idiot ball to facilitate this cosmic train wreck.
 1. The previous overlord made a video of the "holo-skinner disguised as the overlord" thing, including directions where to find spare holoskins, it's labeled "legacy" and Atton doesn't delete it when the Big Bad is moments from taking over his ship. You'd think he'd have a "Emergency Delete" program for a case like this. This leads to Brondi's expanded evil plan.
 2. Ethan makes no attempt to resemble the previous overlord except for his holo-skin, which makes everyone suspicious of him, and he steamrolls people with Supreme Overlord authority. This makes everyone happy to overthrow him. He gives Kurlin a sample of his blood which leads to the man learning his secret, and when blackmail comes, he fails to point out that Kurlin and himself were in a position of Mutually Assured Destruction until it was no longer helpful, and instead, a spiteful Taking-You-With-Me move.
 3. In addition to his failed computer security, Atton silences loose ends in the worst possible way which makes him look worse later. On Tvtropes, it's what we call a "Revealing Cover Up".
 4. Kurlin is obsessed with getting off the Vailant because he thinks its dangerous despite the entire universe being dangerous to humans at this point. For some reason he thinks he will be safer in one space station than another when both are in enemy territory.

There are three plotlines here (maybe four). There's the ship moving to Obsidan Station, Brondie dealing with an invisible soldier in his stolen ship, and Destra (Ethan's wife) doing stuff ten years before this story starts. None of them intersect or influence each other. Anyone of these could be a full story (and no doubt a good one based on the last book) if they were given the space of a full book, but they're not. They're compressed together and the author switches based on a reason that I cannot fathom. It's the same mistake highschoolers and college freshman make; your premise is not specific enough and so your paper is a generalized and unfocused mess. It's especially appalling because the first book was so focused and cohesive.

There is no ending for any of the storylines. The action simply cuts off at the darkest point. It's that Goading Cliffhanger that infuriates me. It's not an author tactic; it's a business tactic. I don't like being left hanging. I want closure for the book's conflict, especially in a series. To do otherwise is lazy and greedy.


From a character perspective, the only good part of this story was Alara's identity crisis. In the last story, a slave chip was implanted in her that overrode her personality with a different one and the bulk of her scenes in this plot are about her dealing with that dissonance. It was interesting to see her perspective on it contrasted with that of others that knew her before, and those that didn't.

The section on Idiot Balls from the previous section states how I feel about the other characters.

 The Scythians are still a void. After two stories I expect to learn something about them but I know nothing about them. They might as well be random space monsters for all the influence they have on the plot.  It was okay in the first book because they were in the background, but now they're not, and so I want to see some motivation.


Nothing major in terms of spelling or grammar. The only polishing problem is the story splicing mentioned earlier.

I considered giving this book the lowest grade but I ultimately decided against that. It has some good points and it's not as bad as another book I reviewed.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dark Space II: Invisible War" a D-

Click here for the next review request: "Destiny of the Wulf"

Click here for the previous review request:  "Journey to Altmortis"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Blog Tour-Book Interview with Micheal Gilwood

This week is something different. I got an email from Tracy Kauffman asking for potential stops for her  "Literary Book Tours". My experience with Book Tweeting Service has been positive so far (I assume that's where she got my email and interest) so I decided to help out.

Today's post is an author interview between Tracy Kauffman and Michael Gilwood

1. Would you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

Everything has to start from somewhere.. even an author has to begin with that first paragraph before molding it into an art. I typed my first paragraph at the age of nine on my dads typewriter for my next door neighbors dad after he’d asked me to say something in a sports column. He was so impressed that he gave me the column for quite a while.

2. Which book or books are you currently promoting?

The book I am presently promoting is Anomaly.

3. How did you come up with the idea for this book ?

The idea I came up with originally when I was twelve. It is a book I started seven years ago.

4. What can you tell us about your main characters?

The characters are all scientists.

5. What made you decide to become a writer?

Writing is something that I have always done from a very young age.

6. Do you have a general idea of what direction you want the plot to take ahead of time? Yes, most definitely.

7. Have you ever had second doubts about a story you’ve written?


8. What other projects are you currently working on?

I am presently completing a compilation of short stories. Two novels are in their final stages and I have nine more novels in a variety of stages of completion.

9. How long have you been writing?

Forty years.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell us that we have not already covered?

My next novel is called The Tower. I am a musician coming from a very musical family.

11. Tell me something about yourself that might be funny to others? (other than writing)

I once went to a general meeting. There must have been two hundred people present there. The spokesman was quite boring and quite honestly didn’t stop talking. I am pretty good at imitating and so I started to mimic him. At precisely that moment, he stopped talking and everyone in the meeting turned around and looked at me.

12. Tell us something that you did that might be considered dangerous.

When I was younger I went to catch a train and I was mugged at knifepoint. They took whatever I had on me.

13. What is your day job?

I teach English.

14. Tell us the worst criticism that you’ve received about your book.

Up until now, I haven’t received any bad criticism.

15. What advice would you want to give other writers?

Only to keep at it and never give up. Write whatever you feel, whatever you see.. try and see it from a different perspective then write what you see. Write your feelings, what you smell and taste.

Buy Links: 
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The preceding interview was conducted by Tracy Kauffman of Literary Book Tours. It does not reflect the views or opinions of Trickster Eric Novels or any of its associates or subsidiaries. (I've always wanted to say that!)



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Inspiration of the Protagonist in Genres

Previously, I've written about the dichotomy of the protagonist (Loser or Champion) and how they can be used for escapism (Pros and Cons).  This post is going to be more about fictional inspiration and what happens when a protagonist does not bring this sort of strength to bear in a story.

It all started with a review I received for A Mage's Power. It spoke of its reviewer's dislike of the protagonist and how much more interesting the secondary characters are in comparison.

My protagonist, Eric, was written to be an archetypal loser. When I started writing him I wanted him to have nothing going for him; no special excellence to set him apart. This was to be a self-imposed challenge because of a trend I saw in the anime I watched at the time. They all had  special protagonist powers: great strength of will, hidden talents/chosen one status, or a superpowered evil side. I wanted Eric to have nothing and work up to the level of hero without such privileges.

At the time I didn't know as much as I do now about protagonists in general and that medium in particular. I didn't know that I was writing something similar to a Harem Hero but without the harem. The usual case for that sort of  protagonists is that they are indeed less interesting than the characters around them. 

Tiza is a tomboyish glory seeker, Aio is a high energy prankster, Basilard is a veteran mercenary and all around strong individual. Even Nolien is defined with his healing and shifts between gentlemanly and snobbish behavior. Looking back on it now, I see that if one that does not feel sympathy for Eric than they feel consider him inferior.

I believe this has to do with what a reader is looking for. In other words, what they want out of the protagonist. When it comes to fantasy/adventure, Tiza or Basilard are closer to traditional protagonists, instead of Eric, who goes with the flow. This review was lukewarm; praised the secondary characters but didn't like the primary one.

Readers want to cheer for the protagonist. There are exceptions to this, but in many cases, they want to cheer. It's like a race; the front runners are the cause of excitement and the spectators are rooting for them. Eric is somewhere in the back of the pack where no one can see him. The goal of my self-imposed challenge was to develop him into someone that was cheer worthy by the end of the book, but then the book's over and there's nothing to cheer.

Fortunately, there's the second book. I can safely say that the Eric of "Looming Shadow" is not the archtypcal loser of "A Mage's Power".