Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Answering Review Request: "Hy Brazil"

Gerald Killingsworth asked me to review his book "Hy Brazil". It's about a young man from Victoria's England getting tangled up in an elfin civil war. I will examine plot, character and polish before assigning a grade.


This plot takes a long time to set up its conflict. The elfin civil war is not properly established until some 200 pages have passed. Edward, the protagonist, does not even arrive in Hy Brazil for 80 pages. Until then, the story reads like a bog-standard historical fiction and I'm lead to believe that the conflict is between England and Ireland; no "Hy Brazil" in sight.

I like historical fiction. If this entire book was about Edmund Spenser's secretary living in Ireland, I would have liked that. Unfortunately, every plot point in this section ceases to be relevant as soon as Edward sets foot in Hy Brazil.

After that there's this section with an Elfin City Lord. It goes on for a while but ultimately goes nowhere. All I can assume is that it's supposed to be a contrast thing with the Elfin Forest Lord (who is basically the same character on the opposite side of the fence). This city lord says he wants diplomatic relations with the human world but doesn't tell Edward why he wants this or what he wants Edward to do specifically. Thus the plot stalls during this period.

Shuffling is a problem. Instead of building up a situation, Edward is tossed from one to the next. Each has little bearing on the one before it. All the stuff about Spenser's writing, tensions in Ireland, and that thing about Calvagh being "kin to the Desmond" is erased. Lord HĂșon ’l Dainn's brand, the stuff in the city, and mine scene are similarly forgotten. The only continuity is Edward's work on elfin accents and the money he received, which is used to buy himself a pair of shoes (his 4th or 5th pair). "Salvage" is forgotten once "Flora" shows up and she is mentioned once after she's replaced by elfin lieutenants. There's no firm footing.  The Elfin Forest Lady straight up says that they're wasting time and that nothing important happened. (Filler!)

At the time, I thought it was like reading "five chapters of prologue." Now I phrase it as "endless beginnings of a story without any middle or end". I'd prefer to start in the forest and in the second chapter.

There is no ending. The story just stops. I have half a mind to think that the file was damaged in transit and that there's more to this book then the copy I have. Books need to have a resolution because otherwise they look unfinished.

There are a couple scenes I like in this story and they are descriptions of supernatural wonders. Mr.Killingsworth inspires awe with these scenes.

Also, I like the first five or so chapters that take place in the human realm. There's lots of detail here and a number of well developed characters. Edward certainly has a strong presence (always a good thing with first person narration) and the use of Calvagh as his foil (a bastard child like him but Irish and much nicer) makes them both better. Spenser, the poet, also makes a interesting contrast with Edward, whose writing skill is his tidy handwriting. It's a Technician vs Performer thing, as we say on Tvtropes.

Doubtless I would have enjoyed the human realm plotline more if I wasn't looking forward to the adventure in the elf realm. My disappointment with the elf realm plotline is likely due to having different expectations then Mr.Killingworth.


Edward is the only steady character. The others are inevitably lost in the shuffling mentioned above and contribute to the shuffling. It's a wheel of Edward meeting new people and being a jerk to them.

Out of all the many characters introduced in the human world, only two move into the elf world. Calvagh might as well have stayed behind because all he does is underscore Edward's jerkassery. He doesn't contribute anything to the plot.

Over the course of the story, more characters share this fate. "Salvage" does nothing and is not mentioned after his disappearance. "Flora" and her brother likewise. In the end, Edward has a half dozen or so lieutenants and I can't tell them apart because they are not visually distinguished and they all act the same.

Edward Harry, the protagonist, is a jerkass. He's arrogant, rude, treats others like dirt and sucks up to his boss. Occasionally, he'll recognize these traits but refuse to improve upon them which makes them worse. Being a bastard son is no excuse for his behavior because he meets three other bastards in this story and none of them are as bad as him. They serve to further emphasis his over-inflated opinion of himself and lack of manners.

 Early in the story, he thinks the Irish in his traveling party are discussing ways to kill him simply because they're Irish and he can't understand their language. His boss is writing a pastoral poem and says that Edward inspired one of the characters. Instead of being flattered, he is deeply offended because the character's name doesn't match up to his own, which is the first name of two English kings.

Late in the story, he deliberately pushes the buttons of his lieutenants because they don't treat him like a king which then justifies their dislike of him. The only people he treats with respect are people serving him, and they have to fawn over him like the Grogoch, or it won't count.

The one redeeming trait he has is that he finds murder distasteful, both in seeing it done and committing it himself. Even here he can sound like a jerkass because he sounds like murder is beneath him as a "wandering scholar" rather than morally incorrect. Also, he often contemplates killing elves he particularly dislikes, or about cutting their pointy ears off. For someone that does not hesitate to kill two elves over the course of the story, this is a worrying tendency.


There are no spelling or grammar mistakes.
The first person narration works well because it is within Edward Harry's personality to write down his daily activities. The first page is about how this is his story and that he is the most important thing in it. It's all the more in his personality to give the events his own slant.

Overall, I don't like this book. I find it boring, too long, and starred by a thoroughly unlikable character. HOWEVER, I like the human realm plotline and the elf realm plotline separately. Thus I will give three grades. One for human realm, one for elf realm, and one for overall.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Hy Brazil" the following grades:
1. Human Realm plotline = B- (It feels like Slice of Life and so closure is a non-factor)
2. Elf Realm plotline = C- (for the lack of closure)
3. Overall =  D- (i.e. not a "$15 for a paperback" kind of book)

Click here for the next review request: "Cluck the Undercover Chicken"

Click here for the previous review request: Disconnect

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Who Has the Best Mousetrap

"If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sure Ralph, that sounds fair and logical, but how do you spread the word about your superior mousetrap? How do you convince them that it is truly superior?

 Being a self-published author is a lot like being in the woods.  No one knows how great your book is because you are alone in the wilderness and obscured by many, many trees.  One's voice needs to carry out of the woods and into the ears of perspective readers. A self-published author is on their own for this task. Any help must come from people they hire or their friends and family.

When I started writing A Mage's Power, I didn't talk about it. No one knew about it. Thus, when the book was finished and I wanted to publish it, there was no one waiting at the door of my forest cabin, and no beaten path behind them. I delayed publishing for a year in order to build up my social network. I looked for authors on facebook, gathered twitter followers, started this blog, and joined organizations like the Independent Author Network and Book Tweeting Service. In this way I found a way to broadcast the virtues of my mousetrap, but many other people found it too.

If thousands of people are standing in the forest and yelling about their mousetrap, then no one is truly heard. It's like a cocktail party; one can hear a lot of voices but it's all indistinct chatter. Imagine every living thing in a forest vying for attention: every tree, bird, insect, mammal, and blade of grass calling to you. In the midst of all this is our mousetrap maker shouting at the top of his lungs. Who would hear him? Book reviewers.

I became a book reviewer to increase my own reach in the social media sphere, but in the process, I help other people stand out. I review their book and while reading it I share my thoughts about it on three social media platforms. I help others spread the news about their own mousetrap and whether or not its worth beating a path to their door. Its not so hard when two people are shouting the same message.

This leads to a third problem. It's called The Problem with Paid Reviews and Reviews, Not Endorsements. Sometimes I encounter books that have a handful of reviewers and they all sound the same. It's like the author paid a bunch of people to stand in a row and shout generic praise. There's nothing wrong with this when it's honest advertising. The problem is when the advertisers pretend to be reviewers. "Okay you have my attention, but how is your mousetrap superior to all the others?" A generic review might as well be empty because it can't answer this question.

For all that are here still reading, please allow me to direct you to my mousetrap: A Mage's Power

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Answering Review Request "Disconnect"

Gillian Adams asked me to read her short story "Disconnect". It's about a cop and a tech group that fight a Megacrop of virtual reality. I will examine plot, characters, and polish before assigning a grade.


In a nutshell, this story is like The Matrix and Neon Genesis Evangelion blended together and much shorter than either one.

From the start I'm reminded of Matrix; the first scene is the protagonist pulled out of Virtual Reality in a blind and helpless state, similar to Neo. The similarities continue to pile up from there.
-You have a small tech savvy group rebelling against a much larger organization that manages a virtual reality simulator which led to a city's decay because no one spends time outside the VR.
-This organization hunts the group with Men in Black
-The only way to stop them is with a special person who can use reality warper power to go to the machine's core and shut it down.
-At the core, this special guy talks to the bad guy in charge and makes a decision that involves his love interest.

There's so much background religious symbolism it's like watching Neon Genesis Evangelion.
-The protagonist's name is "Adam"  which is the first human man according to Judeo-Christian tradition. In other words, "one" but there's a further implication. Biblical!Adam is part of the reason that humans don't live in earthly paradise and Virtual Life is held up as such a paradise by its creator company and many users.
-The protagonist says "welcome to the promised land" when he ejects everyone from the VR and into real life.
-A networker who wears a "blood red dress" puts a "crown of twisted metal" on the protagonist's head in order to restore his memories and warns him that it will cause him great suffering. The protagonist insists on it so he can better help people.
-A virtual reality port set up in a decayed church with the protagonist on the altar. After he's hooked into the VR, (i.e. ritually sacrificed) he regains god-like reality warper powers.
-The person who causes much of this symbolism is called "Zen", which is the name of a form of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation. Buddhism in general regards life itself as suffering, which would include virtual life.
-The protagonist says that computer code lacks a "divine spark", in other words, a 'soul' and is therefore an illusion.
-Virtual Life is regarded as "hell" by at least one vandal who crossed out "bliss" on a Virtual Life poster and replaced it with "hell".
-Mr.Gold, the Virtual Life security chief, tries to tempt the protagonist with VR, which calls to mind Satan creating a false paradise that he can rule like a false god.

There a number of Fridge Logic points I'd like to bring up.

1. Despite the protagonist giving a speech about how VR is bad, neither he nor the other good guys seem to hate VR itself but the company behind it.
-The protagonist and his friend lost their wife and sister respectively. She was a hacker and killed for that reason.
-Another hero lost her husband to heart attack and she implies it was caused by the VR system.
-Zen herself points out that the heroes are fine using technology they claim to hate ("guns and computers") to fight Virtual Life.

2. Adam was wrongfully convicted of a crime, but the narration never states what crime he was convicted of. It feels like a plot device and further more his long time in VR is how he developed the powers he needed to bring down the people who convicted him. Why didn't they just shoot him? If he was trapped in their VR for twenty years they would have had ample opportunity.

3. The Protagonist was investigating a drug ring whose profits were being used to fund the VR. Why didn't they just charge a monthly subscription like everyone else? It feels like a Kick the Dog. Without this, what you have is a computer company defending itself against hackers and a self-admitted Luddite. They're overzealous to be sure but evil? The worst part is that the drug stuff is never mentioned after it's brought up the first time. Shouldn't stopping that have been part of their plan?

4. The only crime that Virtual Life (the program, not the company) is guilty of, is being too realistic, too useful, etc.

5. According to the heroes and the general landscape, the entire population of the city migrated to VR. Beyond the unlikelihood that absolutely everyone would make such a radical decision,  wouldn't a sizable number of people need to stay outside for maintenance, power production, food production, etc. or are there a bunch of robots doing this for them off-screen? (Matrix!)

There's no resolution. It cuts off right after the climax. For something like "bringing down a virtual reality where the population has become so immersed the real world has decayed" I expect to see some aftermath.

Despite all this, I enjoyed reading it. It was only ten pages so it was a small time investment.  It took me twice as long to write this review as to read the book.
Also, I didn't take it seriously. After the "crown of twisted metal" I stepped back and took this story apart like a Tv Toper. That made it fun.

There's a shape shifter duel in the climax. That was pretty cool.


The book is ten pages long so there's little room to develop anyone.  I got some classic "For Great Justice"  vibes from the protagonist but then he's overwritten by the Author Tract.

I get nothing from the other characters.


No spelling or grammar problems.

The writing is pretty good. Like I said in the plot section, I enjoyed reading the book. The Fridge Logic is just that, questions that come up after you finish reading the story. If you focus on the here and now without tangential details, then it's a solid story. It's just too short to fully develop itself.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Disconnect" a C+

Click here for the next review request: "Hy Brazil"

Click here for the previous review request: "Sheep's Clothing"