Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Answering review request: "Heart of Stone"

Lynn Keith asked me to read his story "Heart of Stone". It is a science fiction that appears to take place Twenty Minutes Into The Future. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

 This story is basically a game of keep-away. Connor Graham Stone is sailing the world with the "daughter" of his deceased girlfriend to give her a better life than a tool of the American military. The word "daughter" is in quotes because the child in question is a computer; the first sentient computer in the world.
The problem with this premise is that no one else cares about Joyce the living computer. The Chinese hunt Stone for a ring laser and because he killed one of their agents in self-defense. The Americans want him for the ring laser and a vague "national security risk" thing; either him selling them out or the stuff is stolen from him. They Americans don't appear to care which because the end result is the same. The Russians don't care about him or Joyce. Valentina proves as much when she says she couldn't convince her superiors that Joyce was special. Only two people even know she exists and neither of them is a villain. This blunts the narrative because the beginning is only indirectly connected to the middle.

There is no narrative thrust. Stone is all about staying off the radar and has no plan or goal beyond that. Furthermore, he is frequently out of focus. Many times there are long stretches where he and Joyce are off screen to make room for some other characters talking. Instead of a pair of protagonists, they feel more like living macguffins for the rest of the cast to fight over.

There's a lot of technical stuff. From sailing and the workings of computers or the internet to the components of a "water maker" or the actions of a patent office, it is fine grained stuff.  When the Chinese government makes a worldwide search for a match to Stone's thumbprint, it has to go through the whole computer logic of it including priorities in a task list and all the different functions triggered. This goes on for pages. To quote one of the side characters, "I understood about half of that".

There are several extended sex scenes. There is no doubt that they are relevant, and in fact, the first two mark significant turning points in either the plot or character development. My problem is that they are so graphic. I wasn't expecting it. This is the sort of thing that one expects in a novel that is overtly sexual in nature. Thus, I was blindsided. In retrospect, I say it is a clever way to include physical intimacy between a solid and digital life form.

My thoughts on the ending are mixed. On one hand, it is the kind of ending l like; the conclusion of the book's conflict along with a couple loose ends that can shift the story's weight into the next adventure. On the other hand, I don't like this ending. The resolution feels abrupt and I wonder why it took five years of sailing to reach.

CHARACTERS

There are a lot of characters here and few have any significant development. Some only appear in one scene.  I gave up trying to keep them straight and just thought I'd pick them up by osmosis.

Stone and Joyce have good development and a strong dynamic. Their dialogue is often fun and engaging but it is also weird. I call it weird because it has a number of contrasting dimensions.
 1.) Father/Daughter
Stone is helping Joyce's program to evolve which effectively means he is raising her as if she were a human child and she refers to her programmer (his girlfriend) as her "mother". He even has official custody of her and has to send regular videos to CPS showing what a good job he's doing (Joyce paints in an avatar of herself into the videos).
2.)Captain/First Mate
Much of their dialogue is composed of him issuing naval style orders. He gets mad when she stops obeying these orders.
3.) Lovers.
Whenever Joyce says that she "loves" Stone, I don't get the sense that it is a child's love for her parents. It's the context. It's also the fact that she sends interactive constructs that she created into his dreams for mental sex.

Joyce starts off being pretty stoic and polite; much like one imagines a computer would be. The "Wagner wake up protocol" is pretty funny but her true personality doesn't develop until much later. She becomes an inquisitive and stubborn girl with a mischief streak and little mercy.

Stone is a nice guy who takes promises seriously. He likes sailing and writes travel articles. He's  generally cool under pressure. Given the things he does in the name of keeping his promise, he has few limits.


The other characters are stereotypes.
1. Valentina is a Sensual Slav working for the Russian government. She can do nothing but flirt, flaunt her beauty and have sex with Stone or someone else. The effect this has on men is elevated to the level of mind control, like that of a vampire. At one point, she suggests that she could talk a man into cancelling his own surgery and the surgeon believes that she could do it.

2. The Chinese are all varying degrees of Yellow Peril.  A.) There are boatyard customs agents who "officially/unofficially steal" Stone's gun to sell on the black market. B.) There's the security chiefs who detains him for being a "foreign devil" and pumps him for information because he used to work in the American military's R&D, and also brings in a computer expert to hack into his ship's computer looking for intellectual property to pirate. C.) There's a security field agent who delights in torture and thinks nothing or murder. D.) The top brass "permanently retire" any agents who displease them. When an agent exploits a cyber security flaw in order to prove that it was there, they send another agent to seduce him, get all his information, and then garrote him.

3. The Americans are arrogant bullies who use the Patriot Act as an excuse to do whatever they want. One of them bluffs indefinite captivity in order to shanghai someone into working for them because this person helped them under the table earlier. In another case, a different unit breaks into a patent office, detains the employees, and steals both solid and digital files in the name of "espionage". The office was about to sue them for copyright infringement and, because they couldn't possibly win in court, this is their way of handling it.

There are exceptions (Valentina is the only Russian who appears) but this is generally the shape of things. Perhaps it's due to them all being military. The exceptions tended to be outside the military or government intelligence.

POLISH

I found a handful of typos; nothing major.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Heart of Stone" a C

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

Click here for the next review request: Tiny House Living
Click here for the previous review request: Strange Magic

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sassy Saturday: the Princess meets the Warrior

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday post, Friendly Strong Arming Into A Job, can be read here.

This week's Sassy Saturday picks up immediately after last week's. This is a special one because it is the first to have heroine co-stars. Both Tiza and Kasile feature here.
________________________________________________


The kidnapping made her father paranoid and so he forbade her from leaving the castle. That's why a royal nomad visited the Dragon's Lair. Somehow, he found out about that and now she was forbidden to leave her room. That's why an extra guard stood outside her door.

“All it means is that I have to be more creative.” She pressed her right hand against the floor. “By the royal seal of my right hand, I command thee to open!”

A crest engraved in fire appeared on the back of her right hand. The image of a tiger appeared on the floor beneath it and it grew to a length of ten feet with a line of power encircling it. From the border arose a curtain of light that blinded Eric. When he could see again, Kasile stood in the center of a large red crest. “'If all fails emergency escape system.”

 “Isn't this some kind of national security secret? Am I allowed to see this!?”

Kasile rolled her eyes. “If everyone doesn't at least suspect that we have something like this, then their intelligence division is a waste of budget.” She pulled Eric into the circle. “Come on.”

Once he was within the borders of the crest, Kasile said a command and Eric felt the awful nausea that came with teleportation. It took longer than the last time and the sensation was worse. When they rematerialized, they were standing outside the castle walls under the cover of trees and deep overgrowth. Eric threw up.

“See?” Kasile remarked. “I couldn't risk getting that on my dress.”

 On the way to the Dragon's Lair, she told Eric about the contest, pieces of “friendly, non-cheating” advice, and the prize for the final winner: a full scholarship to the University of Roalt.

Bitterly, she added that anyone who could afford the Royal Academy of Magical Learning would not need a scholarship. Then she monologued about how the contest was merely the vestige of an elitist history and how she was going to change it as soon as she was crowned Queen. Eric didn't mean to, but he tuned it out just like Dengel's monologues. The dead mage, however, listened intently.

The training hall was occupied, but only by Tiza practicing a battle dance. Two months ago, every step was a wobble. Now she truly danced through punches, kicks, and blocks. She struck the finishing move, yelled, and returned to the starting position. She was oblivious until Kasile clapped.

“Hey, Dimwit, you get a new girlfriend already?”

Eric blushed. “NO! Stop that!” Tiza chuckled. “Aren't you supposed to be at work!?”

“It was boring. So I came over for a lunch break.”

“But it's not even eleven o'clock yet.”

“Do I look like I care?” Tiza said, and took a long swig from her water bottle.

In order to avoid a nasty social bomb, Eric tried to start the fire magic lesson right then and there, but Kasile had other ideas. She wanted to see the battle dance again and Tiza proudly showed it off. The dance ended, the girls shook hands, and the bomb went off.

“You're the princess . . . A tent!”

“A tent . . .?”

“Yeah!” Tiza snarled. “I could make a great big tent with your cloth mountains!”

This only confused Kasile further. For her sake, Eric resumed his role as translator. Tent: a dainty and/or weak person, most often wealthy, who never does any sort of work and forces others to cater to them.

Instead of being insulted, Kasile merely smiled and said, “I like your shoes.”

Just like that, Tiza calmed down. “Really?”

“Oh, yes. They look a lot more comfortable than the high-heeled monstrosities I have to wear. They're good for kicking too, am I right?”

Tiza smiled. “Yeah, they are. I tried them on this desert pervert and—” She remembered who she was talking to and her smile inverted. “You're still a tent!”

Kasile smiled understandingly. “I know, dear.”

Tiza turned red. Whether it was from anger or embarrassment, Eric couldn't tell. She muttered something about “not wasting time on a tent” and stomped out of the Training Hall.

“Impressive . . .”

“No, that was practice. Now about those fire spells . . .”

____________________________________________________________________

A Mage's Power, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, are available for purchase at: http://smile.amazon.com/A-Mages-Power-Journey-Chaos-ebook/dp/B00AVMAISG

To learn more about the heroines of A Mage's Power, visit Tvtropes at: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AMagesPower.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Answering Review Request: "Strange Magic"

James Hunter asked me to read his book "Strange Magic - A Yancy Lazarus story". It is an Urban Fantasy staring a Mage Detective. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

What we have here is a mystery. Yancy Lazarus is called in by a friend to investigate supernatural murders and two gangs start gunning for him because they believe him to be responsible. What follows is Yancy figuring out what's happening and then defeating the one truly responsible. This part is kind of confusing because of all the misdirection, manipulation and one case of shapeshifting, but Yancy and company were confused by it too until they got it straightened out so it's an Intended Audience Reaction.

In addition to the mystery there is something more traditionally fantasy; a hero (despite your protests, Yancy, you are one) receives the Call to Adventure, goes on a journey and experiences numerous trials and tribulations over the course of this adventure. He also gathers a party of warriors and they storm an evil sorcerer's lair to kill him and rescue a damsel in distress. It just happens in California and the warriors are gangsters.

The tone is gritty. There's a spectrum of morality spanning dark grey to black, many of the locations are dirty and/or dangerous, and there's several foul-mouthed pissing contests between the power players here.
It's not easy or glamorous being "The Fixer". I'd say the only fight where Yancy doesn't get beat up real bad is the first one, and in this verse, Healing Magic is the Hardest so he has to tough it out. The combat magic, on the other hand, can get really messy really quickly.

The world building is good.  1.) There's lots of stuff about how magic works; its mechanics and possibilities and limitations. It also happens to sound cool when described.  2.) There's a supernatural world constructed around the modern day real life analog and not in the sense of this tiny little sphere while the rest blend in with the muggles. It is a universe of which the muggle world is only one, small, part. It's interesting stuff.  3.) There's a blend of mythological monsters, home-brewed monsters, and monsters of the human variety. In other words, the author generates plenty of baddies for Yancy to blow away with either flame lances or bullets.

The ending is good. The main conflict is resolved, no loose ends, and all in a concise and tone appropriate manner.

CHARACTER

Yancy Lazarus is built from the same mold as Harry Dresden; a smart-ass magical detective, who doesn't think of himself as a hero despite doing heroic things all the time, and has a troubled history with the organization that governs mages like himself. However, there are differences too.

Yancy is an old mage; sixty five years old. When other men hope to retire, this one is fighting street gangs, evil mages, and savage monsters. Wizards Live Longer in this verse so he still has the physical condition of someone in their forties but he has still has sixty five years of memories to look back on.

There's this sense of his age. He's old enough to have grandchildren, but he's never met them.
He's a veteran of the Vietnam War where he served as a US marine. There's a chapter about that and how his first experience with life-or-death combat affected him.

Shortly before the war itself he was stationed in Japan and took up kenjutsu because he was a fan of cheesy movies like Buddha's Palm. It's an interesting aspect that expands his characterization and also provides a useful skill in his line of work.

The people Yancy meets are a rough bunch, both his allies and his enemies. The running theme is that while they are nasty people, they are still people and not monsters. There's the Saints of Chaos, drug runners and gun smugglers, who have a strong sense of solidarity between them and gratitude for others that help them. There's the 16th Street Kings, who think nothing of shooting someone in the head for acting disrespectful, but are themselves professional and polite in their dirty dealings and their boss is a doting dad. Even the Big Bad himself is a Well Intentioned Extremist who believes he's making the world a better place with his villainous actions.

This is contrasted and underscored with real monsters in the Raksasha and Daitya; creatures from Hinduism that kill in brutal ways. The former act like Elite Mooks that are Always Chaotic Evil, and the later are Sealed Evil in a Can that want to unleash a still worse evil to wipe out country sized civilizations.

Harold the Mange is the most developed and distinct after Yancy himself. He is an obese dwarf thing that works as an info broker and Way creator (customized magic portals). He's so flabby that he connected himself to a set of spider legs for mobility.  He's shifty, cowardly and Yancy thinks of him as something like a stereotypical nerd. He also happens to be fantastic at what he does.

POLISH

The book looks good over all. I found one typo.

There was just one thing in this section that I did not like. There's never any frame narrative for the first person narration. The way Yancy narrates, it's as if he is holding a conversation with the reader and is anticipating their comments and/or questions. If someone is constantly breaking the fourth wall, I'd like to hear something about that. Does it have to do with the Vis? It does not affect the grade because it's a style preference.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Strange Magic - a Yancy Lazarus novel" an A+

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

Click here for the next review request: Heart of Stone

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Friendly strong-arming into a job

Welcome to another week of Sassy Saturday at Trickster Eric Novels.  Every week will be an excerpt from one of my novels showcasing a kick-butt heroine. If you want read about the original blog hop the link is here.

The previous Sassy Saturday excerpt, First Name Friendship, can be read here.

This one takes place long after the last one. Kasile is no longer a captive (whether this was a rescue or an escape is a bit complicated) and has invited Eric to the castle to discuss a future mission for him.
____________________________________________________________________
 
The mercenary was allowed through the curtain wall without argument. They had orders to let someone of his name and description in, no questions asked, by the princess herself. They didn't even insist he have an escort.

The title of “Princess Rescuer” might have raised his stock, but the ambiance was still far from welcoming. The last time he came, it was for a job and he was treated like riffraff. Now he was here as a guest and treated like a germ. Two guards stood at Kasile's door and announced his presence.

A princess cleaned and polished by a corps of handmaidens opened the door. She looked just as royal as the day they met, but unlike then, he wasn't dazzled by her beauty. They were too familiar for that. Instead of a princess, he saw a friend.

The princess’s penthouse was decorated in shades of red, pink, and gold. From her bed to her vanity to her bookshelf, the style of fire dominated. The princess sat at a table molded like an open flame and prepared with tea and biscuits.

Hands in her lap, she said, “Eric, I wanted to thank you again for all you've done for me.”

Eric slipped into the opposite seat. “You don't have to keep thanking me. We're friends.”

“I know, but thanking is all I can do. Father wouldn't agree on a reward . . .”

“It's okay, Kasile, you don't need to feel bad about it.”

Flames in her eyes, she politely asked, “Are you feeling my emotions again?”

“I can't help it! It feels like a cold draft.”

“To business . . .” Kasile ran a gloved hand through her hair. “I didn't invite you just to thank you again. I want you to compete in the New Scepter Magic Competition.”

“The what?”

“A week-long contest for mages under twenty-one years of age,” Kasile explained. “It is supposed to be open to everyone, but there are still rules that weed out anyone not enrolled at the Royal Academy of Magical Study.” She grinned like a trickster. “As a royal myself, I can bypass all those horrible pretexts and recommend someone.”

Eric deadpanned, “So I'm a tool in your latest political protest?”

“Eric! How could you say such a thing!?” Kasile placed her hand over her heart. “I would never call you a tool!” The grin returned. “You're my co-conspirator.”

“Tomeytoh, tomahtoh.”

“We're friends and friends help each other.”

Eric stood up. “As much as I'd love to get tangled up in your political conquests, I'm going to work at the Across the Sea restaurant so I won't have time for them.”

Kasile raised her cup. “Royal tutors are paid better.”

Eric pushed his chair in. “Was the old one a murderer? I killed an Ataidar citizen the other day. I can still see his blood on my hands. ”

“Not a problem.” She sipped her tea. “Your advocate already contacted the Knight of Justice and presented your case to him. He agrees that you shouldn't have to appear in court. If, for some reason, you do . . . I might have a few things to say.”

Eric slouched. “You don't take 'no' for an answer, do you?”

Kasile smiled charmingly. “That's how I was raised.”

This is a historic moment. I'm being strong-armed into a job. “Well, then, I guess I will accept the position of your magic tutor.”

“Great!” Kasile clapped her gloved hands together. “I'd like to start with barriers . . .”

Just like with mana spheres, she was a quick study and formed her first one within an hour. Not only that, Eric couldn't break it no matter how hard he punched or kicked. Dengel was absolutely ecstatic at this turn of events. He lectured (not bragged) about his elevated role as an imperial tutor in ages past and how delighted he was to be one again. Eric reminded the dead mage that he was the one teaching. Furious, the tenant dared him to teach fireballs.

“Kasile, how do you feel about fireballs?”

Kasile tilted her chin down and stared. She flung her arms out at the fire symbols in the room of the most recent descendant of the fire goddess Fiol.

“Right . . . Stupid question.”

“Even so, they're not fireproof.” She stood up and her gown's many layers rustled. “We'll need your guild's training room. Do you get teleportation sickness?”

“Uh . . . yeah . . . why?”

The princess held her skirts in one hand and walked to her vanity. “All the more reason to take this off.” She snapped her fingers and the laces and hooks of her beautiful dress undid themselves. Eric closed his eyes and covered them with his hands.

“I appreciate that, but it's unnecessary.” The princess hung up her dress because underneath it, she wore commoner clothing. Next to go was her jewelry, make-up, and gloves. The result was a girl who, while still pretty, didn't look particularly royal. She used a cloak and hood to conceal even that.

“Are you going undercover?”

Kasile shrugged. “It's not easy being a gorgeous and beloved princess.”

_________________________________________________
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://smile.amazon.com/A-Mages-Power-Journey-Chaos-ebook/dp/B00AVMAISG

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bravely Default method of quick characterization

This week's post is about characterization and specifically how to quickly provide characterization to a single character. Within the space of a scene, the reader will have a firm grasp of the character despite the fact that this character was introduced in this very scene. I discovered this method by watching it in action.

Lately I've been playing a game called "Bravely Default". It was developed by Square Enix for the Nintendo DS. Within this game are a number of bosses called jobmasters. These characters all work for The Empire and come after the heroes in military units. There's over a dozen of them, some of them only have one scene worth of screentime, and yet they are all distinct and developed. As I wrote Journey to Chaos, I wondered how they accomplished this. Certainly a video game with voice acting has more tools with which a character can make an impression but there was more to it. Image and sound were only two of the components of this method. There were three more: Monologue, Costume, and Introductory Scenario.

1. Monologue
Each character, as they were introduced, would go on a monologue. This would involve their motivation, their style of speaking, their method of operation, and any quirks they may have. They would taunt the heroes, who by their replies, would foil and underscore the latest enemy. At Tvtropes, we call this a Kirk Summation; the hero pops the villain's bubble by telling them how stupid their master plan is or the true horror of their well-intentioned goal.

2. Costume
Each job/class in the game has its own costume and this serves to further develop the jobmaster who initially possesses its asterisk. The White and Black Mages wear robes of their respective colors, the Knight wears plate mail, the Performer wears a dress and cutesy accessories, the Valkirye wears a different sort of heavy armor from the Knight, etc. The colors, the style,  and decoration give the character a distinctive look. For example, between her blue dress and white bunny ears, Praline makes an impression before she opens her mouth and sings. Also, whether or not the outfit has a practical purpose feeds into their abilities and thus into who they are. The Knight has high defense and low speed because he's moving around in plate mail, and by contrast, the Thief and Ninja are much faster but take more damage because they wear lighter clothes.  Characterization

3. Introductory Scenario
How the character introduces themselves adds to their first impression. On TvTropes, this is their Establishing Character Moment; the first action they take says a lot about them because it provides the first information that the reader receives about them. In Bravely Default, the Hunter jobmaster is encountered within a pocket of wilderness that is filled with corpses of a certain creature. As the heroes look around, the Hunter jumps from their perch atop one of these corpses. This tells both of the character's danger and their Hunter essence.

I first employed this method myself in Journey to Chaos book 4: (tentatively titled) Clerics at War. I thought about how I could establish this certain cleric. The first thing I had him do was arrive at a battlefield and administer Last Rites to a fallen disciple according to his own religious order (Introductory Scenario). Then I described how he was dressed; his monastic habit, his religious themed accessories, the symbolism of his magic staff, etc. (Costume). Finally, he engaged in a mostly one-sided conversation with Eric, my protagonist, about who he is, what he does, why he does it, and all in a manner I tried to make unique to him (Monologue). I needed to develop this character further, in both the book itself and in my notes, but this provided a solid staging ground for it.

This method can be used to quickly develop a character. Within one scene, their appearance, personality and motives can be established. From there, you can use the character actively in the narrative, such as for a boss fight.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Don't write Plots; write Settings

 When writing a story, don't write a plot. Instead, write a setting where such a plot can occur. This will increase your story potential and force you to think more deeply about your characters. Other authors and myself have seen this multiplying affect. It can work for you as well.


When I first began writing Eric's story, I realized that I didn't have the setting to support the story. So I created a setting that would enable Eric's primary plot, A Mage's Power. Then I split the second book in two because I saw more story potential within this setting. Thus, Looming Shadow separated from Mana Mutation Menace. While writing Clerics at Work (the tentative title of book 4), I had to go back and re-write two arcs because they had developed into more than arcs. The story potential of the setting Eric was in, or the story behind a side character, was becoming its own story. I will have to re-write the vast majority of book 5 (tentatively titled "The Highest Power") because I was so interested in this new area of the setting and the story potential of its people, that Eric's narrative became lost.

 The ways the characters of Tariatla interacted with each other grew more and more numerous. The history of a given location or event developed potential great enough for their own books. I couldn't use all of them in the series. "Journey to Chaos" is supposed to be Eric's journey after all. Then I thought, why not? I have the setting and the characters, so I'll just split all the plotlines up into their own books.

I created the world of Tariatla exclusively for Eric Watley, my first protagonist, and his adventures. Any other characters I had or plots I planned happened in other worlds. Then I realized how well they could go together. Then there were two series set in Tariatla. I continued developing plots and realized that they too could fit within this setting. At that point I realized that by grouping plots together in the same world, I made them stronger. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts", as the saying goes.  By looking at aspects of the setting and how they can be used to create conflict, I could create new plots. By looking at side characters and pondering what their lives were like outside of what occurred in someone else's narrative, I could write still more. As of this writing, there are nineteen (19) Tariatla stories in various stages of development.

When you write a story, it's not about writing a plot. Plots are tricky beasts. Instead, write a setting where a plot can occur. It's like a board game; you create the board and the pieces and the rules. Then you write a story from the ways in which these factors interact.

A plot is a strict set of events that goes from beginning to end and then it stops. It bends setting and characters and rules into knots in order to make events happen the way that the author wants. This is the Hand of the Author. It interrupts immersion, breaks willing suspension of disbelief and gives rise to things like Idiot Balls.  It's not organic but artificial. The setting and characters only exist for certain events rather than inherently creating events. It's a waste of potential.  It's like throwing away a resusable container along with the trash.

Fate Stay Night is a good example of this; a stellar example. Fate Stay Night is a visual novel with three routes. These are three storylines that can take place depending on the actions of the player (as Shirou Emiya). All the routes have the same backstory, the same premise and the same characters. The only thing that changes are the ways in which they interact. Depending on the way the characters move about in the setting, the events and the result will change. It's amazing how the first route (Fate Stay Night) differs from the second route (Unlimited Blade Works). I've heard that the third route (Heaven's Feel) is also different.
Furthermore, the main series has spin offs such as Fate Zero and Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya which use the same setting and characters but tweak a couple things to create a new plot. Fate Zero, for instance, takes place during the previous Holy Grail War that was fought by the previous generation. Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya focuses on a side character in the main Fate game, Illyasviel von Einzbern, and her own version of the Holy Grail War.

A Certain Magical Index is another example. The initial stories are about Touma Kamoji and his adventures in Academy City. Then you get Accelerator's story which is focused on him and Last Order and doesn't include Touma at all. He gets a spinoff called A Certain Scientific Accelerator and so does Misaka Mikoto, in A Certain Scientific Railgun. All three of them are the same setting and the same characters, but each is focused on a different person,  a different cast and a different slice of Academy City.

Touma sees the setting from the perspective of someone between magic and science, and as well as someone lacking the bulk of his memory. His take on events and people contrasts to Accelerator, who is compared to him like a foil. Accelerator stands at the height of science and what a lonely place it is. When the reader follows his path through Academy City it looks different. This is also true for Misaka, who is also high on the science side, and has her own views and challenges. These groups and their plots overlap.  Each of them could be considered The Hero of Another Story to the others.

What's the Hero of Another Story? It is a character that experiences adventures in the same plot as The Hero. They share the same setting but one's adventures occur off-screen (or in a spinoff) as compared to the other. This trope plays a significant role in the second draft of Journey to Chaos book 4: Clerics at War. It's been fun to hint at the adventures of this off-screen hero. I might have to write a book explaining them some time.

Writing settings instead of plots leads to a better narrative. The story potential is multiplied and the interaction of the character development and interaction is more organic and complex. I have experienced this and so I recommend it.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sassy Saturday: First Name Friendship


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 excerpt here picks up as Eric returns to Ataidar from his mission for Anuzat. He and Basilard take turns using concealment spells to hide from monsters in the Yacian Caverns. While resting, Eric has another meeting with Kasile.
___________________________________________________________________________


After half an hour, Basilard relieved him. He gave Eric a three-hour break and they switched back and forth until Anuzat called a stop. By then, Eric was mentally exhausted. He gratefully lay down and when he opened his eyes, he was in a dark void.

He rubbed his eyes, but the darkness remained. His first thought was that everyone's light stones had gone out so he pulled another from his pack and activated it. Princess Kasile lay next to him.

She was sleeping. Her hair was combed and her dress pristine. No jewel or hint of make-up was anywhere in sight. She lay peacefully asleep in the void.

Shrugging, he knelt by Kasile and gently shook her shoulder.

“Princess.” She moaned in her sleep and rolled over. “Princess, it's me, Eric Watley.”

Kasile slowly opened her eyes. When all she saw was darkness, she groaned. In a much brighter voice she said, “Is it morning already, Eric?”

“Uh . . . Your Highness, turn around.” Kasile did and blinked fine eyelashes. Then she hugged Eric with enough force to knock him on his back.

“Eric! It's so good to actually see you!” Eric mumbled “likewise,” too embarrassed to say anything else. Kasile's happiness dimmed and, still on top of Eric, she looked about. “Where are we?”

“I-I d-don't know.” Suddenly the girl realized she was lying on him. Her own cheeks turned bright red and she scampered off.

“I'm very, very sorry, Mr. Watley. I shouldn't have lounged like that. Forgive me.”

“Your Highness, I said it was okay to call me 'Eric'.”

She smiled. “Then you must call me “Kasile.' We know each other well enough by now.”

“But, Your Highness!”

“You told me about the time you went to a museum, were wrapped up in toilet paper, and put on display as a mummy! Would you tell that to any less than a friend?”

“But that was just to make you laugh!”

“Of course,” Kasile continued, undaunted. “Friends cheer each other up when they need it.”

“But . . . Your . . . Your Highness . . .” Eric protested helplessly.

Kasile smiled mischievously. “I order you to call me ‘Kasile.’”

With a smile of his own, Eric consented. “As you wish, Princess Kasile.” She gave him a royal whack on the arm. Rubbing said arm, he continued, “Well, I can't be dreaming. That hurt too much.”

“And you call yourself a mercenary. Shame on you!”

 “Hey, I'm a battle mage, not a fighter.”

 There was nothing but darkness beyond the range of Eric's light stone: pure blackness as far as the eye could see. What they stood on looked no different from the space above their heads.

Dengel, can you hear me?

“There is no need to think here.” For the first time, Eric saw him.

The dead mage was two heads taller than Eric and his golden-brown hair fell loose to his waist. His eyes were sharp, his nose slightly hooked, and, like all elves, his ears were pointed. However, they seemed longer than Quando's. He wore a cloak over a robe decorated with runes. He expected someone ancient, but Dengel didn't look a day over thirty.

“This is a Union Point of Telepathic Empathy or UPTE.” Eric blinked. Dengel sighed. “A 'mental meeting room': a metaphysical location created by the union of your and the princess's minds.”

“Eric, what are you looking at?”

If she can't hear Dengel, then of course she can't see him. “I'm talking with that friend I was telling you about. The one helping me plan your rescue.”

“I see. I look forward to meeting them in person.”

Eric turned away. “Uhh . . . He's more of an idea guy . . . So . . . he won't be doing any of the actual rescuing, and he's pretty far away from Ataidar . . .” In a matter of speaking . . .

“Eric . . .” Kasile sauntered to the battle mage and leaned in close. “I have a feeling you don't want me to meet this friend of yours.”

“T-that's n-not it, Your . . .” Kasile wagged her finger. “ . . . Kasileness.” Eric wanted to smack himself for saying something so lame, but Kasile giggled. “It's just . . . I promised I wouldn't tell.”

“Eric, since your budding relationship has created this space, we should put it to good use. Practice the theories I showed you earlier.”
______________________________________________________________________
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://smile.amazon.com/A-Mages-Power-Journey-Chaos-ebook/dp/B00AVMAISG

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Answering Review Request: Keepers of the Dawn


Herb Smith asked me to read his novel, "Keepers of the Dawn". It is a medieval fantasy that genre shifts into something else. It is also the first book in his Dawn Cycle. I will examine plot, character and polish, and then assign a grade.

PLOT

The plot is not as neat as the amazon blurb would have you believe. While the safe keeping of a MacGuffin is indeed vital to the plot, there is a lot built around this. Bartu and his "book" do not become central to the narrative for many, many chapters. This is a "stout" narrative; a lot of meat on its bones, maybe more than it needs, but it is strong for this reason.

The first part of the book reads like an anthology. It shifts location, perspective and time period from one character to another: a seer, a prince, a royal healer, a high priestess, a blacksmith, a mountain man, etc. Each one adds to a central narrative, but it is a broad one. The Vile/Penitent conflict, such as the last war, has many dimensions and each character adds one to it. This is interesting character development and world building; it does all these things fantastically but it is also plodding and low energy. It is like the reader is watching side events and can only infer the main events from what characters talk about them.

After a while, the plot narrows its focus and picks up pace. By now the reader has a solid understanding of the world that Bartu moves through and the characters he meets. In fact, the reader knows significantly more than Bartu does, which leads to some delightful dramatic irony.

The book's great twist is not original. I have reviewed another book that used a similar device and also played a video game that used a third version of this twist. It is well constructed, well foreshadowed, and makes sense, but it is not original. Much more impressive than any claim of originality, is how committed the story is to this given genre and setting while simultaneously laying the groundwork to overturn everything.

The book's ending is exemplary for how the endings of books in a series should end. There is no cliffhanger; the book's conflict is all resolved and wrapped up. However the conflict of the series is just beginning. The epilogue is used both to address any remaining plot threads from this book and also to point out what the reader can expect from the rest of the series. Thus, the reader is made to be excited about the next book for the next book itself instead of seeking answers for the previous  one.

CHARACTERS


Bartu is the protagonist. This eventually becomes clear. He's immature and doesn't know what to do on this journey of his other than "Keep the Keeper's promise" which basically means two things:  "protect the Book of Ancient Power" and "tell no one about the Keeper's Promise". He knows little else. I don't fault him or the author for this because his father laments that he is not ready for this adventure or for the full Keeper's duty, and that he has a lot of additional baggage due to being a mental deaf-mute whose mother died in child birth.
He's also hotheaded and given to purple prose which, combined with the immaturity, make him difficult for me to take seriously. Third, he's a pinball protagonist. Shadow gives him grief for this by replying to his question of "with whom should we stand" with another question, "why stand with anyone?" and saying that he is quick to give up his independence.
I gotta talk about Bartu's relationship with his love interest. It is horrendous. Within minutes of finding out that she's a girl, they're having sex. Afterwards, they use pet names like "my shadow" and "keeper-of-my-heart". On Tvtropes, we call this "Strangled By the Red String" because the author tries too hard to force the couple. With the way they speak, it's like they're in Romeo and Juliet.

Braxon by contrast, is more mature, more independent and yet still capable of working with and relying on others. He is also older and he was mentored by a wise and noble healer. Thus, it stands to reason that he is better off developmentally than Bartu.

Rue-A-Kai is the Big Bad and yet not. He's a classic "Evil demon overlord" kind of villain that leads a horde of Vile/Kalifai against the Penitent world. He is monstrous, cunning, powerful, and charismatic. Yet although he moves the plot with his active villainy, he does not have much screentime. Indeed, his army is always the greater threat.

 Rue-A-Kai's army is a Villain Sue. In the main narrative, after the anthology style narrative at the start, every battle they engage in is a curb stomp. The words used are "routed and crushed". The Holy Alliance has five armies to his one, outnumbers him 2-1 using only a tenth of the Penitent world's population, is staffed by soldiers who are not misshapen, and possesses a greater infrastructure for both defending and supply. Yet the Viles win every time. They are not hindered by things like time, distance, logistics, a missing commander-in-chief, or heavy casualties. What makes this particularly galling are two things.
The first of which is that the Holy Alliance is indeed hampered by things like logistics and distance. Several battles involve something along the lines of "if we can just hold out long enough for reinforcements to arrive" or "army x is too far away to help". There are also a number of scenes that talk about its difficulty finding new recruits, paying for the army's upkeep, and civilians grumbling about the war's ripple effect on their daily life. The second thing is that, even with these problems and Rue-A-Kai's advantages like superior magical might and uniting charisma, they kept the Viles in check twice already. Yes, both times were close calls but the third time they put up as much resistance as a wet tissue. It creates Darkness Induced Apathy to hear characters say, in essence, "all we can do is wait for a savior".

Pen-Um-Brah is a fascinating character. His loyalties and backstory and identity; how fluid and confusing it is makes him compelling. He is also the narrative face of how the Vile and the Penitent are Not So Different, which in turns makes the narrative itself more compelling.

Shadow is a meaningful name because she exists as a satellite character. First she is Zandow's adoptive daughter and then Bartu's love interest. There's little to her character beyond that because she pretends to be an auditory deaf-mute for much of the story. There's this one scene where she talks about self-reliance, how much she hates The People, and why she wears an eyepatch but even this is brought up only in contrast to Bartu. I'm not going to bother hiding her gender, because when an author deliberately avoids using gendered pronouns for a character who is constantly cloaked then it is clear that Samus Is A Girl.

 POLISH
I didn't see any typos or some such.
The shift from anthology to protagonist is seamless. The chapters just start following Bartu more often.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Keepers of the Dawn" a B


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

Click here for the next review request: Strange Magic

Click here for the previous book review (which was not as request): Identity Wars