Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Sand Stinger Duel


Welcome to another week of the Sassy Saturday Blog Hop.  Except, it's technically no longer a blog hop. Jasmine Walts, the founder, decided to discontinue it due to lack of participation and her own lack of time to promote it. However, I like the idea of it so I'm going to continue with my own excerpts.

The purpose of the blog hop used to be showcasing excerpts from our novels about kick-butt heroines. Every Saturday is a new post. If you want read more about it, the link is here.

In today's post, Tiza has a formal duel with Tej, who is a warrior from the desert nation of Kyraa. The judge is a giant sapient snake. That'ssssss why he ssspeakssss like thisssss.
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The platform was stone and climbed one foot off the ground. On top was two feet by two feet of sand. Somehow, it stayed compacted; Eric suspected nomad air magic. Tiza stomped her way up and stumbled on her hem with each step. If she has trouble walking, how's she going to fight?

“Non-warrior Tisssa Sssprial, have you challenged Warrior Tej Dwssssor?”

“Yes.”

“Warrior Tej Dwssssor, have you accepted?”

“Yes.”

“Thisss isss now an official duel and I, Elder Akag, will pressside. The combatantsss will now announssse their prizzzesss.”

Tej flashed Tiza a smile. “A kiss from my opponent.”

She glared. “Honorary Warrior Status.”

“Combanantsssss, are you ready?” Tiza drew her sword and held it before her with both hands. Tej drew both scimitar and crossed them. “The duel sshhhall now commensssse. It will not end until one of you hassss been knocked from the ring, issss unable to continue fighting, or givesss up. Begin!”

Tiza rushed and fell flat on her face. The sand did little to muffle her eloquent opinions of long skirts. She pushed herself up and took another ready stance. Eric face-palmed, Nolien sighed, and Tej's smirk became smugger. The same thought ran through the minds of all three: This won't take long.

Tej made the first official move, slicing toward her hands with his left. She backed up a step and blocked, then ducked as his right slashed at her head. From her crouch, she swung at Tej's legs. He caught her sword between both of his and hooked it. With an upward pull, Tiza's sword flew out of her hands and out of the ring.  

Being disarmed wasn't going to stop Tiza; it wouldn't even slow her down. She stepped to the outside of Tej's next strike and grabbed his arm. She pulled downward while simultaneously hooking his leg. Tej rolled with the sweep and grabbed her arm as he went down.

It was over as far as Eric could see. Tej was hovering over Tiza and pinning both her hands above her head with one of his own. Tiza twisted and squirmed, but couldn't break free of his grasp. She tried kicking but, by the way Tej had positioned himself, her legs couldn't reach him. When all her efforts failed, she lay limp in the sand and turned her head away.

He used his free hand to grab her chin and make her face him again. “Well, my lovely scorpion, it appears I have won.” He leaned in. “I'll take my kiss now, if you please.”

Tiza spat a mouthful of sand into his eyes. Tej screamed in pain and his hand flew to his eyes. Tiza slipped out of his grip, pushed herself out, and stomped on his back. Sand rushed up his nose, mouth, and ears. The next thing he felt was warm steel crisscrossing at his neck.

“You were saying?” Tiza taunted.

The duel flashed in Eric's eyes: the fall, the cursing . . . She planned it!
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To learn more about the heroines of A Mage's Power, visit Tvtropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AMagesPower.

A Mage's Power, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, are available for purchase at
http://amzn.to/10NsG2i
 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Read for Fun: Identity Wars

I stopped by my local library and pick up a comic book consolidation. It's called "Identity Wars" and involves Spiderman, Deadpool and Hulk transported to a parallel universe for adventures with their doubles. It's composed of three annuals from each of their solo series. Like a review request, I will examine plot, character and polish before assigning a grade.
PLOT

Identity Wars is three separate stories that unite into one larger narrative. As an author myself, I consider it a model for this sort of structure. Each story can stand alone by virtue of self-contained plotting and unobtrusive exposition regarding the other two stories, but they also flowed into and connect with each other. In fact, the ending of Spiderman's story and the end of Hulk's story make a neat, fitting and impressive connection.

Spiderman's story is rooted in how his counterpart is recognized as the greatest, and only, superhero in the world in addition to being an industrialist CEO on par with Tony Stark. The "For Want of a Nail" effect is strong here; Uncle Ben didn't die because the bullet merely injured rather than kill him.

Deadpool's story records his conflict with Deathmask, a crime boss. Alternate Wade Wilson is "the overlord of the underworld" and Deadpool wants to do something about that. Despite the violence of the story, it is pretty comical as per usual with the Merc with a Mouth.

Hulk's story is one of separation. Bruce Banner doesn't transform into the Hulk in this alternate universe because his counterpart is the successor of Dr.Strange. The Sorcerer Supreme banished the hulk to Hell and has become a demon due to its corruption. Thanks to a deal Mephisto made with another mortal, it is loose. The story is a powerful thing and pairs well with Spiderman's along the lines of Great Power and Great Responsibility.

The Identity Wars end in the classic superhero fashion: "And The Adventure Continues"

CHARACTERS

As an alternate universe, the story takes a look at how circumstances could have changed the three heroes.

For Spiderman, the bullet that killed Uncle Ben only wounded him here. That event causes his advice, "with great comes great responsibility" to shift to "with great power comes a responsibility to stay powerful". This change is reflected in a Spiderman who is so powerful that every other superhero quit due to feeling superfluous, and whose moral compass has a significant shift towards the Well-Intentioned Extremist angle.

Deadpool's story is comical. That is to say it is black comedy where he and his supposed counterpart "Death Wish" have bloody good fun together. His real counterpart is "Death Mask", a crime lord. He's more concerned with killing the guy then his backstory. Since he is "Wade Wilson" it's likely a multiple-choice past anyway.

Hulk's story, like Spiderman's, has an interesting twist. In this universe, Bruce Banner became a disciple of Doctor Strange and cast his version of the Hulk into Hell. He is now a wizard instead of a scientist, and his Hulk is now a genuine demon due to Hell's corruption. The 616 Bruce Banner is now also Hulk free as a side effect. Between science, magic, and hellfire, it's like this boiling down of power to its purpose.

POLISH

The artwork looks great. The layout of the cells is engaging and easy to follow.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Identity Wars" an A+

Click here for the next review request: Keepers of the Dawn

Click here for the previous book review (a request): "Winterreise"

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Fight in a Mana Storm


Welcome to another week of the Sassy Saturday Blog Hop.  Except, it's technically no longer a blog hop. Jasmine Walts, the founder, decided to discontinue it due to lack of participation and her own lack of time to promote it. However, I like the idea of it so I'm going to continue with my own excerpts.

The purpose of the blog hop used to be showcasing excerpts from our novels about kick-butt heroines. Every Saturday is a new post. If you want read more about it, the link is here.

This one stars the novice mercenaries fighting monsters born of a mana storm. I liked developing this concept because I wanted to create a In-Universe explanation for the constantly re-spawning monsters of video games like Final Fantasy.
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Anuzat's ears twitched and she called a halt. Less than a mile ahead the air was thickening. Fog gathered from the sand to the clouds; a stadium for Chaos! It swirled, churned, and crackled with energy. A spark of light illuminated the cloud as it channeled from one end to the other. All at once, it ejected into the distance and its crash was a fireworks spectacle. In its wake was a new rock formation. More bolts charged and discharged in all directions. They crashed to earth or exploded midair in fantastic displays of light and sound. A mana storm!

Oblivious to the cold night air, Eric watched in awe. So that's what they look like . . . The xethras filled him with disgust and fear, but this, though more terrible, filled him with wonder. Whatever the bolts touched, they mutated into something new: a clump of sand became solid rock or flowers, a patch of sky became colored wind, and rain fell from nowhere; a cherry bomb version of the Big Bang unfolding before his eyes. They shot open as a bolt flew directly at him.

The caravan dove to either side and it exploded between them. In its wake arose a rock of bizarre design. It sat in a hole of sand proportional to its mass and dragged Team Four down with it. Pieces broke off, fell with a thud, and stood up. One rotated in Eric's direction and launched towards him. He dived again and it burrowed into the sand wall. Nolien deflected a second with his barrier. Tiza whacked a third back into the pillar with her sword. That must be some sword . . . Anuzat crushed a fourth under foot. Before they could celebrate, bigger pieces came to life.

“This is what I'm talking about!” Tiza cheered as she engaged a rock golem a head taller than she was. “Alone in the wilderness, ambushed by a freak storm, attacked by brand new monsters!” Her cloak swayed as she dodged its blows and jumped. “A mercenary's life for me!” She sliced it down the middle, her blade glowing with runes designed for stone cutting. She landed lightly and turned her back on the monster as its two halves fell to either side.

“I'm gonna die!” Eric shouted as a golem chased him in circles. It punched from behind and clipped his pack. Eric spun to face it with narrowed eyes. “Aio's in there!” He ran back at the thing and whacked it with the mace end of his staff. The impact rattled his arms, but the golem stumbled and fell on its side. Anuzat smashed it with her big feet.

“Nice hit.”

“Thanks . . . Nolien!”

“Finished.” The healer jerked his thumb at a golem standing still. “Petrification spells work better on things already made of stone.”

“Fascinating,” Anuzat deadpanned. She kicked the sand cliff and a ramp formed. “Now we need to get out of here before something else spawns.”

“Wait for trophies!” Tiza pried off a chunk of her kill. “Stories are better with visual aids.”

Said kill reformed as two kills. The one Anuzat crushed spawned ten smaller versions of itself. Nolien's petrified victim lumbered towards them with a sleek new coat. The three novices grabbed Basilard and dashed up the ramp. Anuzat collapsed it before the golems could follow.

Still the mana storm raged. New forms of life were crawling out of the sand or taking flight and they preyed on those already living. The sapients; jackrabbits, lizards, and others happily ate them.

“Run!”

They sprinted as another bolt flew over their heads and exploded. Drizzles of Fog fell to earth and spawned healthy green moss. Another landed next to them and transformed the sand into a flowerbed. A third formed a sinkhole in their path, forcing a detour. A fourth spawned a new monster; a towering lizard with stone skin and frilled neck. It roared, they screamed, and the chase began. A fifth struck the huge beast and it became a fish-shaped tree. For the next ten minutes, Team Four dodged the storm's bolts and the monsters it spawned. Then, with all its energy discharged, the cloud dissipated. It left behind a changed landscape.

New rocks, new plant growth, new animals breeds, sand of different colors, and even the air itself was charged from the mana pillar. All that remained now was a thin Fog lazily circulating the area where it was born. The most radical mutations lay in the center; the boundary was almost normal.

“How often does this happen?” Eric asked Anuzat.

“Impossible to say. Sometimes once a year. Other times, one every—” She cut off at the sound of heavy footsteps. Through the Fog, she could see silhouettes of bizarre creatures slinking, flying, stomping, and eating. “Let's leave before those things notice us.”
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To learn more about the heroines of A Mage's Power, visit Tvtropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AMagesPower.

A Mage's Power, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, are available for purchase at
http://amzn.to/10NsG2i

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Chatting with a defiant captive


Welcome to another week of the Sassy Saturday Blog Hop.  Except, it's technically no longer a blog hop. Jasmine Walts, the founder, decided to discontinue it due to lack of participation and her own lack of time to promote it. However, I like the idea of it so I'm going to continue with my own excerpts.

The purpose of the blog hop used to be showcasing excerpts from our novels about kick-butt heroines. Every Saturday is a new post. If you want read more about it, the link is here.

Context: as described in this excerpt here, Princess Kasile was kidnapped despite Eric and Tiza's attempts to protect her. Here's a look at how she's been doing since then.
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Nolien said he would do a little more work on Basilard's injuries before turning in himself. Eric told him not to overwork himself and Nolien reassured him. Too tired to argue, Eric went to sleep.

 His whole body felt stiff, as if he had been in the same position for hours on end. His wrists, elbows, ankles, and knees all felt as if he rubbed them against a rock all night. His mouth was dry and breathing was difficult. His body moved without his command.

I'm in Kasile's mind again! . . . I wish I knew how this worked . . . Your Highness! Can you hear me? He, or rather she, stirred and mumbled . . . Mumble twice if you can hear me. Kasile's mumble was loud and frightened. I guess I'd be startled too if I suddenly heard voices. Princess, I'm Eric Watley. We met outside the— Kasile mumbled twice, quieter this time.

How?

So it works both ways.

Well, of course. If you're in my mind, you should be able to hear my thoughts.

Princess, do you have any idea where you are?

No. It was the most amazing thing. Eric could feel Kasile's fear as if it were his own. They put me in a sack and blindfolded me. They only take it off for . . . Fear.

He couldn't tell what she was going to say, which ruled out mind reading. If I concentrate hard enough, maybe I can trace the link like a phone . . . The only problem was he had no idea how to do that.

Have you been harmed?

No.

Have you heard them say anything?

NO! The only reason they come at all is to force food down my throat!

Sorry, Your Highness. I didn't mean to upset you.

No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled.

They talked about other things: the state of the kingdom, if anyone was hurt at the Joust, Eric's missions, and popular CV shows. On every subject, Kasile was calm and polite. It was as if she were entertaining a guest at the castle instead of being held captive in an unknown location.

“Wakey, wakey, Your Highness! Time for breakfast.” Kasile breathed fresh air as the sack was removed. Your Highness, what would happen if you tried to shake the blindfold off?

Evil Eye.

The gag was pulled out of her mouth and something else was shoved in. Kasile coughed and sputtered, but the food-of-unknown-origin was continually pushed in. It tasted awful. It might have been garbage. Eric didn't know what would get her first: disease, malnutrition, or suffocation.

Evil Eye spiritual technique. By focusing on their conversation, she could block out the awful food. Their leader used it on me at the Joust. Extreme hatred, sorrow, or fear is forced into the target's soul using the practitioner’s eyes as a medium. In short, it is a “death glare” taken literally.

I assume it only works when the practitioner’s soul is stronger than the target's.

Exactly. I would have defeated them all if their leader hadn't come.

The loosely termed “food” stopped, but before Kasile could take a clear breath, her hair was yanked back and a thermos wedged between her teeth. The water was even worse. Only sewer water could taste this bad . . . So . . . how were you separated from your guards?

Kasile didn't reply. She was busy spitting the water in her handler's face. To Eric's great surprise, she wasn't struck or even cussed out. The rogue simply put the thermos back in.

I was going to congratulate Culmus, but the Dark Fog hit and the Black Cloaks appeared.

You are quite bold for someone tied up in a sack.

Haven't you heard? I'm more than Ataidar's princess; I'm the descendent of its patron deity.

Really? I thought that was just a national myth.

Fire's Avatar founded Ataidar during the Avatar Alliance two thousand years ago. She's the reason I haven't been raped or fondled; my ancestor is a virgin goddess. Sexually assaulting me is like shouting, “Smite me, oh mighty smiter!”

The generously named “meal” ended and the gag was forced back in. Kasile didn't struggle as it was knotted behind her head and the sack retied.

It didn't stop them from kidnapping you.

That was my fault. Fiol has more important things to do than attend jousts in case a princess can't protect herself. She's too busy to handle my every little problem! I should've been strong enough to defeat them! . . . I really should have . . .

The rogue's footsteps echoed as they left Kasile's cell. The door swung shut and its lock clicked. I don't know whether to be happy they don't come often or sad that I'm always hungry.

 Eric could tell she was forcing a smile so he humored her. I'd rather go hungry than be in the same room as that guy. Phew! She giggled and Eric patted himself on the back.

If you're staying long, I can call for mental tea and biscuits.
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To learn more about Kasile and A Mage's Power, visit Tvtropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AMagesPower.

A Mage's Power, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, are available for purchase at
http://amzn.to/10NsG2i

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Answering Review Request: 79 Wearable Robotics Companies & University Programs Around the World:

Marcus Pyles asked me to read his book with the argument "science fiction becoming reality". It sounded intriguing and the book itself was short so I decided to give it a shot.

What Mr.Pyles is offering here is more like a pamphlet than a book. It is even shorter than the page count would lead one to believe. Each page has two small text boxes; one for each company. In each box is the company's name, what they do in 1-3 sentences, their location and their website address. There's a preamble at the start and then a "further reading" thing at the end. I read the whole thing in 14 minutes. It's worthy of three stars but I gave it a fourth because there are occasionally humorous comments mixed in.

There's interesting stuff going in "wearable robotics". It ranges from prosthetics for limbs that Mr.Pyles writes is advanced enough to dance with, to augmentation for workers and soldiers that increase strength and decrease fatigue, and also devices for Virtual Reality.

This is a niche product. I found it interesting but I don't see myself buying something like this. However, if I were involved with this industry in some fashion (a student doing research, looking for a job, putting together a presentation for a job I had etc.) then I'm sure I would find 99 cents a good investment.

I have no idea how to score this. Trickster Eric Novels gives "79 Wearable Robotics Companies & University Programs Around the World" a ?

This has been a free review request. I received in exchange for it but a free copy of the review.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Answering review request: Winterreise - An Urban Fairy Tale

Daphne Du Bois asked me to read her novel "Winterreise:An urban fairytale ". This is the second book in the The Annwn Cycle . I will examine plot, character, and polish and then assign a grade.

I had previously reviewed another work from this author, "From Fairies and Creatures of the Night, Guard Me" and rated it highly, so I have been looking forward to reading "Winterreise". In fact, the first chapter of the later is one of the stories in the former’s anthology, and this increased my anticipation. You can read its review here.

PLOT

First of all, yes, this is the same "Winterreise" from the composer Franz Scmubert. The protagonist of this story is Penny and she is a music student in college who is both writing a paper on it and also performing it. That’s why she is far too busy for epic quests through the supernatural Hinderlands, but the Erlking has other plans for her.

What follows is, in one view, a fairly standard adventure: heroine ventures into the Unknown World, meets a Mysterious Waif, and becomes emotionally committed to saving her from the dreadful fate imposed on her from uncaring gods and evil cults. However, one of the great things about this book is how different/strange/unusual a story Miss Du Bois can spin from these building blocks. The climax is especially intriguing and compelling in both how it adheres to the tradition of such stories while simultaneously being very different.

It also has a mystery element to it; Penny has to unravel the nature and history of her new friend's curse in order to save her. Additionally, she has to find out the identity of the person behind all this nasty business and how to stop them.

It’s like a double consciousness. On one hand, the world is literally run on genre conventions. Numerous characters will talk about how "x is the way things have always been done" and the importance of stories and lore. Penny refers to this as "Hinderland logic". On the other hand, there is a sense of real life and common sense; ignoring the genre conventions in place of something more practical. The most effective way to get anything done is to keep both in mind.

The story is peppered with little references to old stories like the Norse Sagas and Arthurian Lore, and also later stories like the King in Yellow. There is nothing "contemporary" which I like and feel is a good choice. It will prevent the work from becoming, as we say on Tvtropes "an unintentional period piece". In other words, dated.

It has a great ending; a fulfilling ending but I still want to see more. The conflict is closed but it was such a fun story I wanted to see more of the aftermath.

CHARACTERS

Penny is the protagonist and the story's heroine. I called her an Unfazed Everyman back in the review for "From Fairies" and now I get to see more of her personality. Due to the epic scope of this story, Penny can show the heroic traits that didn't have an opportunity to shine in the more light-hearted fare of the anthology. She is both brave and compassionate. Altogether, you get scenes where she will say something like "I don't care if you're a god, you're not trapping someone in an ice coffin," or "I drink too much coffee for your magic sleeping flowers to affect me". I imagine all of it this is said in a dry, deadpan, tone.

The Erlking is the quest giver here. Penny figured as much and is frustrated that he gave her one without her noticing. I find him a delightful character. He's like a trickster figure with his Fair Folk mentality, manipulations, and cryptic dialogue but he has much more dignity than someone like, say, Loki, who is also in this story. His conversations with Penny are fun to read in this regard. It's hard to tell what his motivations are which makes for a slippery character.

Penny's new friend, whose Identity I will not reveal because it is part of the mystery, is quite the Woobie. It is no surprise Penny felt such a need to help her; she is so lost and lonely and tragic. At the same time, she is not some wall flower that could be replaced with a statue. Her speeches about her oath, her former profession, and her memories are vital to the plot. She also does something awesome at a crucial moment.


There are other characters that I like in this story but to list all of them would make this review too long. Even those with smaller roles and less screentime are memorable.

 POLISH

I found three spelling errors; just three. They shouldn't be there but it's not enough to affect the grade. Otherwise, it looks great.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Winterreise: An urban fairytale " an A+

This has been a free review request. I received nothing in exchange except a free copy of the book.


Click here for the next book review (not a review request): Identity Wars

Click here for the previous review request: Rebel Trap