Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why you need Beta Readers

Today I received my second beta reader's feedback. It made me really excited, both for the feedback itself and the fact that I'm closer to publishing "Looming Shadow".  With this feedback, I am more confident that my second book will be a success.

I didn't do the beta reading thing for A Mage's Power and because of this I didn't notice a grievous error in the manuscript.  The first chapter was disastrous. It turned off a lot of readers  and I know this for certain because such things are in several reviews. None of them like it and those that didn't dislike it only tolerated it. No one thought well of it until recently when one reviewer praised it. The bottom line is that it was a problem in the first chapter of my first book and I had no idea. I had no idea because I didn't show the book to anyone other than my parents. They're brilliant people but they are not fans of the fantasy genre and so they're not my target audience.

In the original edition of A Mage's Power, there was a section in the first chapter that involved Eric cyclying through a series of mysterious events. There's a dark mine where voices try to make him fall asleep forever, a volcano which tempts him into killing the office bully, a watery cavern that makes identity questions and other weird things. One reviewer compared it to Alice in Wonderland.

Piror to this is Tasio the Trickster talking about how he helps people and then a glimpse of a day in the hoo-hum life of Eric Watley. After the problem scene is an Urban Fantasy. The events of the problem scene never come up again and there is no context to understand them. That's why people don't like it.

It made a great deal of sense to me, personally. I thought through everything and made sure all the details were correct in the grand scheme of things. I was unaware that it would be baffling to a reader who had no context for it.

To those who are interested and read this scene before I removed it, I will explain. It was all A Secret Test of Character. It tested Eric's resolve to continue despite fear of danger, his determination to overcome obstacles in high stress situations, his problem solving and observational skills. The point was to make sure he had the bare minimum to survive in a place like Tariatla, where monsters are as common as mosquitoes.

"It was simply getting past that first initial chapter." This is a direct quote from a review. It's likely the kindest thing anyone said about this scene.  If I had sent this to more beta readers then I believe they would have pointed out this glaring problem. Then I could have removed it prior to the launch and avoided such statements in future reviews. Then I would have a higher rating and happier readers.

That is why you need Beta Readers

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Answering Review Request: Dawn of Steam First Light

Jeffrey Cook asked me to read his book "Dawn of Steam: First Light". It's about a Drean Team exploring the world to either prove or disprove that an adventurer's journals are non-fiction, and all because of a bet made by two aristocrats. I will examine plot, character and polish before assigning a grade.


This story takes place in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, and several people have gotten rich because of it. Two of these newly rich people decide to make a high stakes bet on Dr.Bowe's journals. These journals talk about his adventures across the world, from the American Wild West to India, to Japan, the last of these was closed to outsiders at the time, and the many wonders that he has seen. The bet is that he made all this up and so they hire crews to prove one way or the other.

This book covers the first leg of the trip, thus "First Light". It covers the bet itself, the Avengers Assembled scenes, and the trip across America. There's also an unplanned detour at a Spanish fort in Florida to claim it for England because a certain incident indicates war is coming.

Considering the story is told through Gregory Watt's journal and letters, and in professional and documentary tone, it can hardly be said to be thrilling despite its subject matter. The reader is further removed from the source of the action since Gregory Watts is not the one publishing this story in-universe. His wife is and after 65 years of marriage to boot. HOWEVER, that does not mean that this story is not dramatic or suffuse with tension. For example, there's this horrific storm that the airship is trapped in that leads to tragedy; since Gregory warns of the tragedy before hand (after all, his girlfriend is a delicate thing and might not be able to handle such awful happenings!) it has this "waiting for the other shoe to drop" sort of suspense; of knowing something bad is going to happen and being unable to stop it, because it's already happened.

Also, there is a subplot within the "exploring on a bet" main plot. Up until now, the in-universe public has been unaware of this conspiracy. Cordelia adds extra stuff that wasn't in the original publication. These are revealed in occasional interludes from other characters; other letters that hinted at something bigger and more sinister. It's quite a treat to find those gems.

There's a historical element; a deep sense of history. The events of the story take place in 1815 but the in-universe book is published in 1885. Thus there are footnotes for events that take place between the two. It is fascinating flavor text. It's the sort of small details that can push a story's quality higher.

The Ending is fantastic. Cordelia, the in-universe editor, decides to stop volume 1 after the group's first big achievement. This also marks the end of the first year of their adventure. Thus, it is a milestone and suitable stopping place.


The main cast is a Rag Tag Bunch of Misfits. Their recruitment fills tens of pages. While this may sound boring, the events that occur in the midst of recruitment and the colorful nature of these characters makes it quite entertaining. Gregory's English snarkiness makes it even better.

Gregory Watts is the Supporting Protagonist and documentary/photographer of the expedition. He wastes no time in establishing how silly he thinks the bet is and how it is obvious that Dr.Bowe fabricated his journals. He takes the job in spite of this because he believes such an adventure will bring him fame and fortune enough to convince his girlfriend's father that he is worthy of her hand in marriage. In other words, a modern engagement challenge.

He is an English gentleman. This means that he is polite, chivalrous and patriotic. It also means that he is prejudiced against everyone that is not English, has mild Stay In The Kitchen ideas, and is prone to backhanded compliments and stealth insults.

The people he recruits as follows:
-Sir James Coltrane and Jilian Coltrane are like paragons of English society for their gender. Respectively, they are the gentleman war hero/inventor and the proper lady Silk Hiding Steel social networker. They are dual leadership of the expedition.
-Sam Bowe is frontier hunter and the daughter of Dr.Bowe. She is their guide.  It becomes a minor running gag how her feats impress Gregory yet impress upon him that she must be insane for doing so.
-There's Eddy McBride, a Scottish sniper and a foil for James; gruff, quirky, Scottish, and snipping.
-Harriet is a Cute Clumsy Girl desperately trying to be a Proper Lady like her cousin Jillian. She's also a mechanic from her time on her family's farm in Virgina.
 -An Italian conman named Giovanni Franzini and his assistant,  Julietta Penn, who is a Romanian fortune teller. They provide less reputable skill sets.

There is no clear villain, just the "opposing crew" from the other side of the bet. Very little is revealed about them in the first volume but they still cause a great deal of trouble.

Dawn of Steam is an epistolary novel, that is, it takes the form of letters and journal entries. Never once does this atmosphere break. The illusion of historical documents and 70 year footnotes is perfect. It's impressive stuff.

No spelling or grammar errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dawn of Steam First Light" an A+

Click here for the next review request: "Crisis on Stardust Station"

Click here for the previous review request: Blood for Gold: The Fatal Tome

To read about the sequel: Gods of the Sun, click the link.

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America the Winter Soldier

I reviewed phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so now I will review Phase 2, in between book reviews of course. This one here is for Captain America the Winter Soldier.


The basic thrust of the film is Steve Rogers investigating the assassination attempt on Nick Fury and a possibile conspiracy within SHIELD. Joining him on this mission is fellow avenger Natasha Romanof and a new friend, Sam Wilson. Thus, it has a much different feel to it than his original. It is a spy movie instead of a war movie, which again, reflects Steve's temporal status as the "Man Out Of Time".

 I watched a Marvel feature which pointed out that, unlike Thor 2 and Iron 3, this sequel will be truly different from the first because Steve Rogers is the "Man out of Time". He can't go back to his original setting after saving the day. This greatly informs the plot in many ways.
-->For one thing, it's funny. The running gag of Steve not getting modern cultural references is continued here: the first scene shows that he has a notebook of things he's missed and wants to understand. Then, much later, he understands when Natasha makes a War Games reference.
-->It's also dramatic. Steve comes from a time where there was a clear line between "good guys" and "bad guys" but here he starts to wonder if SHIELD is the former or the latter. As shown in many of the advertisements, he says "This isn't freedom, this is fear."

There's a theme Order vs Chaos in this film and it's played with to a greater extent than many examples. Both SHIELD and HYDRA represent Order in different aspects, the Knight in Sour Armor and the Knight Templar, respectively, and both of them are opposed to an nameless and shapeless Chaos. It's basically Fear and Lack of Control that they're opposing. In pursuit of this goal, they force Captain America and his allies into a form of heroic Chaos, who in turn, are trying to return the setting to a nobler Order.

I didn't find any plotholes, fridge logic, or otherwise anything not structually sound plotwise. I looked but I couldn't find anything.

Considering the bomb shell that is dropped here, Marvel Studios does an admirable job closing the movie's initial conflict. At the same time, they drop a number of sequel hooks. Simultaneously, I am delighted at the closure of one MCU project and I'm excited for the next.

This movie is the first to truly examine Steve's Fist out of Temporal Waters problem. Avengers throws him right into the plot of alien invasion. Here we see how he's adapting; learning how to use the internet, catching up on things he missed, and enjoying the much better food and lack of polio.

He's also a SHIELD agent and there is significant friction betwee him and his boss, Nick Fury. It's like a Knight in Shining Armor working for a Knight in Sour Armor. What I like about his portrayal here is how he be Captain America, this paragon of virtue and integrity, without becoming a cheesy and/or jingostic figure.

This is also the first film to take a solid look at the internals of SHIELD and its agents. Nick Fury, for instance, is shown in his capacity as Director of SHIELD instead of Recruiter of Avengers. We see the sort of things he does and the politics that he has to manipulate. There's also more about the man himself and his history. Then there's Natasha Romanof. While we still don't know what happened in Budapest with Hawkeye, more light is shed on her past and she herself is further developed as a character.

As for villains, it's quite a contrast with the original, and again, it makes a poigant statement for our Man Out Of Time. Red Skull was a megalomaniac Obviously Evil Take Over the World kind of guy. The villain for this movie is subtler, more sinister, and therefore more dangerous. Alexander Pierce pulled the wool over on someone as paranoid and crazy prepared as Nick Fury, and his Project Insight is much scarier than the Chitarui invasion. Aside from the fact that it has flying and self-sufficent aircraft carriers, it feels like something that could happen in real life, or the near future at any rate. What's worse, he used an organization that was supposed to protect the world from people like him to do it.


This movie looks and sounds amazing. From the hand-to-hand between Captain America and the Winter Soldier, to the Helicarrier muntions, to Sam's Falcon suit, it's all breathaking.

The pacing is good too. We get a ground level view of what the world is like for Steve, then the plot builds up into a intriguing spy thing that becomes another epic climax.

For those that scorn "mindless superhero genre action" there's plenty of emotional moments here; plenty of scenes showcasing conflicting philosophies.

 Trickster Eric Novels gives "Captain America the Winter Soldier" an A+

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Old and New RoboCop

Two weeks ago I watched Robocop 2014 (my review for it can be found at this link) and last weekend I watched Robocop 1987. Many reviews of the former are written from the perspective of the latter, and so I thought it would be fun to do the opposite. There will be plot, characters and polish before I assign a grade.


I found the 2014 plot to be tighter than the 1987 plot.
In the 1987 version, you have many plot threads: (1.) There's the Old Man wanting to make Delta City on the decayed ruins of Old Detroit, (2.) Rick Jones promoting his 209 series, (3.) the rivalry with Bob Martin's RoboCop program, (4.) the hedonism of Boddicker's gang, and 5.) the non-sequitor news segments all in addition to (6.)  RoboCop's war on crime and (7.) struggle to regain his humanity. All together, it makes Robo feel overshadowed simply because there is so little time focused on him. I like it, make no mistake about that, but the 2014 plot line is more streamlined and so it feels more put-together.
In the 2014 plotline, everything relates back to Omni Corp's desire to sell robots in America. (1.) The Novak Element is about making robots look good and humans look bad, (2.) Robocop's war on crime is about proving robot effectiveness and (3.) his balance between human and robot is a deliberate PR move to warm people to the idea of robot law enforcers. (4.) Antoine Vallon's gun smuggling business is used to demonstrate the "Human Cops Are Corruptible" angle vs. the "Soulless Robot" angle.

There's satire and political commentary on both sides but, as with the plot, the 2014 version is more focused. It takes the mocking stick and pokes it directly into corporate political lobbying. Robocop is exclusively used by Omni Corp as a Public Relations stunt in order to sway public opinion and enable them to sell their purely robotic law enforcers on American soil. The point is selling these robots to fight crime in America, instead of the two step "clear out crime and then start an urban renewal project" with its corporate rivalry and backstabbing.

The 1987 version has many more targets. There's consumerism from all those commercials, criticisms of those that enjoy ultra violence (the gang's torturing of Murphy and blowing up cars while gleefully laughing), and corporate corruption shown best in the "bitches, leave" scene which involves snorting cocaine from a prostitute's breasts and culminates with Boddicker blowing him up because Rick Jones paid him too.

The criminals (corporate and otherwise) are also focused on different targets and both times they create a parallel.

Back in 1987, Robocop crushed a cocaine factory in pursuit of his killers and he was originally killed chasing bank robbers. The corporate side of things had Bob Martin snorting cocaine and Dick Jones planning to sell a white elephant that needed lots of service and spare parts, i.e. robbery.  ("Who cares if it works!?")

In 2014, the focus is on selling weapons. Alex is blown up because of a sting he did on illegal guns that he traced to the evidence bin in the police department, pointing to corrupt cops. On the corporate side, we have Omni Corps (possibly) bankrolling the Novak Element to give them good press and twisting the arms of politicians to influence legislation. Both sides talk about their need to push "product" and their product is weaponry.
It's worth noting that the cops in 1987 version were only "corrupt" in so far as they were owned and operated by OCP.

In both films there's the issue of robot replacements for police officers. In the 1987 version, the police are afraid of that happening and yet they go on strike, which causes anarchy. In the 2014 version, this is explicitly what Omni Corp plans to do but with pure robots instead of more Robocops. There's no talk of a strike, but perhaps that's because the police aren't privatized in the remake and "public servants can't go on strike".

Considering the twenty seven year difference between the two, there's a case of Technology Marches On between them.
In the 1987 version, you have wonder how Robo Cop arrives Just In Time to stop crimes like the convenience store robbery, the attempted rape in the alley, and then the robbery at the Gas Station. It's too quick for a police radio. The 2014 version resolves this problem of narrative necessity by giving him surveillance feeds. There are cameras all over the city and so RoboCop can monitor large sections of it at once and cycle through all of them quickly.

On the other hand, this means he doesn't need the data spike which means he doesn't get the data spike. After watching the 1987 version, I was disappointed that I didn't see it in the 2014 version. In addition to accessing data, it can stab people like a dagger and flip the bird to other people. It's a multi-purpose tool.

I believe these differences are based in the different times they were produced in. When the first one came out, I wasn't old enough to talk so I can't speak for that era. However, the 2014 version's talk of the War on Terror, laws governing the use of unmanned drones, and mouth piece news programs, is much more familiar to me than Detroit's crime problem, privatized police forces, and abandoned steel mills.
Also, a story about a robotic policeman is naturally going to make more sense in the era that has more advanced technology.

On a minor note, there's in-universe reasons for his differing levels of robotization. It's minor because it's a small detail but I've seen it brought up in reviews and Tvtropes so I'll address it here.

In the 1987 version, the scientists were excited about saving his left arm but Bob Martin, who wants a robot, insists on removing it for a full body change. In the 2014 version, Peter Sellers insists on saving the right hand because he wants a human effect for the PR Boost. In a deleted scene, he says, "you can tell a lot about a guy by his handshake." This fits the tone of both movies: impersonal product vs. appealing PR spectacle.


In 1987, Murphy has the TJ Lazar gun twirling trick. It may have come from a children's show but it is a distinct and more importantly "humanizing" thing. It was something only he did and he did it because his son thought it was cool and "I get a kick out of it." It remains after his mind was wiped and connects him to his memories as a family man.

Murphy 2014 has no such trait, but he compensates by spending more of the movie as himself instead of as RoboCop. Indeed, he is only called "Robocop" in a "Good Cop Bad Cop" joke by Lewis. Thus, we see more of him as he was/is and how his persona responds to increasing levels of robotization.

The portrayal of Murphy's family are polar opposite.
In the 1987 version, we only see them in memories. They've long since moved away. This is a great sense of loss for Murphy personally and means he has fewer people to interact with. More of his identity is gone because they are gone.
In the 2014 version, they are a more substantial presence. It is his wife that signs the consent form that transforms him and she helps him make the initial adjustment.  It is also his wife that triggers his "reboot" so to speak after his dopamine levels are artificially lowered.

In the 1987 version, the people who transform Alex Murphy into Robocop are background characters. They have no names and disappear once Robocop begins investigating his own murder. We learn nothing about them. The corporate guys take center stage.
In the 2014 version, the transformation team is condensed into Dr. Dennett Norton and his assistant. Dr. Norton is one of the main characters because he is the one programing Robocop and he is the lynchpin between Robots-Fighting-For-Justice and Corporate-Bottom-Line.  I place him in the top three with Peter Sellers and Robocop himself.


There's no doubt that 2014 version looks better. Even with nostalgia goggles, it is impossible to state that its special effects are inferior to 1987 version.  The 209 in the original looked silly but they look sinister in 2014.  The battles between them and Robocop are thrilling as opposed to funny.

Personally, I prefer the 2014 version but they're both great movies.  B+

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Movie Review: 2014 Robocop

This week's post will be different than usual. I watched the 2014 Robocop yesterday and I want to share my thoughts about it. While I was debating whether or not to give it a shot, much of the stuff I read about was comparisons to the original Robocop. Being a remake, that's fair enough but I'm going to judge it on its own merits. I've never seen the original and this one has inspired me to look into the old one.
Like a review request for a book, I will examine plot, character, and polish and then assign grade.


I like the plot. I like the way that the world is set up (the droid soldiers, the Dreyfus Act, the Novak Element) and why someone like Robocop is wanted. It's a solid grounding for the plot to come.

The story's conflict is a mix between Robocop solving crimes in Detroit and Omnicorp milking him for PR to overturn a law that forbids them from selling their product in America. On a third front, there's Alex's family and partner trying to hang onto the human part of him as he is steadily reprogrammed into a robot.

He wakes up as Robocop fully aware of himself and who he is, but this is steadily eroded as OmniCorp's CEO demands him to be more like the robots they're deploying elsewhere. Alex does not know that they're doing this yet he becomes more and more "soulless robot" as the movie goes on. The movie may be rated PG-13 but watching this sort happen is still unnerving.

For more on those that dislike the movie for its rating, I have this-War on Terror, political lobbying, biased media, poking fun at the last two, and Alex's body horror.

My only complaint plotwise is the decision to upload the entirety of the DPD's data base into Robocop minutes before his first official appearance. The opportunity for something to go wrong was high because that's a LOT of data going into a mostly human brain. Then when he has problems downloading the information relating to his own near-death, they don't skip over it. It feels like a weasel to make him act robotic.

There is a great ending. It has resolution but still has plenty of room for more Robocop adventures.

I like this version of Alex Murphy. On tvtropes, he's what we'd called a "Disney Anti-Hero" because he's heroic at the core and rough around the edges. We're introduced to him as a disrespectful cop, who doesn't trust his fellows except for his partner, and who comes down hard on criminals, but he's also a family man, a good partner, and incorruptible. Indeed, the car bomb is set up because two corrupt cops say he can't be bought.

Dr.Norton is a fascinating character because of the depth and berth of his persona. He's the one responsible for transforming Alex Murphy into Robocop and the following programing. It's clear that he's constantly weighing numerous values with each action. For instance, should he install the combat mode which makes Alex a passenger in his own body-without his knowledge-or let Mattox condemn him as a failure, preventing him from going home and seeing his family ever again?

Raymond Sellers is the CEO of Omnicorp and the Big Bad for this movie. However, he too has a fleshed out character. He's personable, friendly, and while he's interested in making money, he's not (initially) portrayed as an unscrupulous asshole. Even after he decides to turn Robocop into a martyr to advance his company's agenda, he doesn't become a mustache twirling villain. There's a classic villain ball at the climax, but that can be put down to (justified) over-confidence than evil gloating.


One thing that cannot be denied is that this movie looks awesome! The Omni-corp drones, Robocop himself, the various associated technology/gadgets and the battle scenes; all of these are sleek, stylish and make for a stunning picture.

I also like the pacing.  The main meat of this film is Alex Murphy as a human, who happens to be Robocop, so the first act of the movie that shows him as this human is essential. Indeed the importance (or un-importance) of  "the human element" is a reoccurring theme.

There's not a boring moment or time wasted. Even the intimate scene with Alex and his wife is used for character development because he breaks it off to investigate a car alarm nearby.  (In my view, this is the Chronic Hero Syndrome that is exaggerated after his transformation).

Trickster Eric Novels gives Robocop 2014 a B+


I have since watched the original Robocop. If you'd like to see a comparison review, click here