Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sassy Saturday: This is Deathkiller Bow

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 can be read here: Dangerous Grunt Work

The context for this post is that Eric has finally reached Roalt, Ataidar, and reunited with his school friends. When the school day is over, Eric learns that an ordercrafter has been stalking Annala. To assure him that she has it under control, she brings out a special weapon.
_______________________________________________________

 “I guess that would be useful for evasion, unless he used Interdict to prohibit such casting, but I doubt he has the power or authority to do that on his own. In any case, it would be a useful set-up.”

She reached into a pocket and pulled out a charm shaped like a quiver. She said the words “heavenly change” and it became a full-sized quiver filled with arrows. She pulled out a second charm shaped like a bow. She said the words “heavenly change” and it transformed into a full-sized longbow. It was gleaming white from end to end, with golden runes engraved on its surface and wrapped along its length.

“This is a Death Killer bow. It works as a function of channeled life energy infused with chaotic energy; the first is in opposition to death anti-energy and the second is the primordial energy of which the universe is made and can be destroyed. The filigree work as compressors for the instant rune algorithms that control the energy flow when the string is pulled. Said algorithms are braced by information slots that can be filled and cleared as needed based on the enemy involved and, in doing so, bypass a number of defenses that could otherwise allow the target to negate the arrow's force or otherwise hinder its trajectory. I created it to destroy reapers and so it should prove effective against a mere divinely enhanced human.”

“Eric, translate!” Revas demanded. “She's explained five times and I still don't get it.”

“It uses special energy to attack its weak point.”

“Ooohhhh...”

Annala wrinkled her nose. “‘Special energy' is a gross over-simplification but correct.” She cleared her throat. “Revas, Oito, as you can see, I have this situation under control, so you can go to the chem lab. I bet Norej has set a welcome prank for you by now.”

“That two-faced jerk! I’ll get him for that!”

Revas ran out the door with Oito quickly following.

Annala giggled. “Shall we go?”

Eric placed his hand over his heart and bowed his head. “Rest assured, Lady Annala. This mercenary will escort you safely home.”

She giggled again. “I’ll withhold your pay if you don’t.”

They left the school side by side and mingled with the other couples. The fact that they were together was a bigger topic of discussion than the fact that they had weapons out. Eric kept his staff ready and Annala kept her bow in hand.

There was no trouble for several blocks, not even traffic. Crowds parted when they saw The Trickster's Choice guarding a female elf. This picture joined the others on the Internet and a couple Chaosians declared it an omen and threw up their arms in prayer. All the attention made Annala uncomfortable so Eric sought to divert it to himself. Holding his staff high with one hand, he demanded peaches and noble titles for his service in escorting the priestess of Lady Chaos, Golden Cicada! This made Annala smile and she paused her scry conversation to add something.

“For the record,” she said to the crowds, “I am not seeking any scriptures on chaotic enlightenment.” Then to the person on the phone, she continued, “That's your job, Auntie H...”

When they were five blocks away from the school and seven from Annala's apartment, the trouble began. Eric felt it as a wave of intense spiritual power. It made his hair stand on end and opened the pores in his skin. He never felt something this powerful; not from Basilard, a veteran mercenary, and not from Dengel, a legendary elfin mage. He gulped and held his staff in a defensive posture. After two more blocks, they found him. Nulso Xialin stood between them and their destination.

He was a middle-aged human man, but his sickly pale skin made him look undead. He wore his platinum blonde hair in a low ponytail and it draped around his neck like a collar. The irises of his eyes were pure silver grey, and the eyes themselves were sharp and focused on his elfin prey. He stood a good foot taller than she. His clothes looked stiff enough to serve as armor and an old-fashioned camera rested on top of his coat. He was further protected by a bubble of eldritch light encompassing his body and soul. It made Eric’s skin crawl. Annala cowered behind him.

“You can't hide from me, Golden Hair. Today, I will solve your mana mutation problems.”

“Her only problem is you,” Eric declared.

“Don’t you know? Elfin shapeshifting is a controlled mana mutation and she can’t do it. She hides from this problem like she’s hiding from me.”

Annala stepped out from behind Eric and notched an arrow. It pointed at the ground, not at Nulso. Nevertheless, the bow glowed as it powered up and a magic circle appeared beneath her feet. Eric recognized only a handful of the runes, and they were “bypass defenses,” “empower,” and “kill.”

At once, the street cleared as civilians moved into buildings and off the street. Nearby stores closed and homes locked. All of them knew that a fight between an elf, the Trickster's Choice, and an ordercrafter was bound to be destructive. Others watched from windows and balconies. They knew that such a battle was bound to be entertaining. The only business still open was a popcorn vendor.

“Who’s hiding? Leave me in peace!”

Nulso spread his hands in an open gesture. “Your arrow can’t hurt me. Come with me and I can help you. Otherwise, something bad will happen to your mortal friend.”

Annala smirked. “Thank you for threatening him. Ataidar has very good self-defense laws.”

She released the arrow and it pierced Nulso’s bubble like a shroud. It lodged in his chest and discharged its payload of magic power into his body. While he didn’t shout, it was clear he was in great pain from the grimace he made.

“Cute and Intelligent Elf Girl: 1. Lame Order Drone: 0.”

_________________________________________________________________
Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at Amazon

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit its Tvtropes character sheet.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Journey to Chaos Print Version Process

I've been wavering on the issue of creating print versions for The Journey to Chaos series for some time now. The paper book business looked so much more complicated than the digital book business that I didn't want to get involved. Then I read a thread in a novelist group I frequent that was basically titled "Are paperback books worth it?" The answer was a resounding "yes" with examples of how they can be used beyond "selling from Amazon/one's website" etc.

I started the process a couple weeks ago. It's basically like doing the whole thing over again. There were things I didn't know about that caused delays.
 
I knew that a different cover was needed  but there are some other image problems that I have to fix before I can move the process forward. Create Space, for instance, requires that all images be 300 DPI. This is supposed to make for optimal printing. The cover illustrator I work with knew about this and so sent me a perfect thing to upload, but the map maker did not (because I did not) so I had to re-commission it.
 
The manuscript needs to be formatted differently than an ebook so that's a separate file from the editor. This means I have to do the post-proofing check again in addition to any other stuff that might be there but shouldn't, and make sure it looks right. This could take a month or more if I want to continue writing Journey to Chaos book 4.
 
There's also the Create Space website. I spent an entire Saturday learning how the first part worked and troubleshooting the technical errors that it found in what I uploaded. Hopefully experience will ease the process going forward.  
 
That’s the current status. I hope to have print versions of A Mage’s Power available soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Answering Review Request: Sky Ghosts

Alexandra Engellmann asked me to read her novel "Sky Ghosts: All for One". It is an urban fantasy about the secret war of superpowered heroes and villians. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish and then assign a grade.

I am reviewing the third version, which as of this writing, is the most recent one.

PLOT

Jane and Patricia (A.K.A. "Pain") are a pair of Sky Ghosts. This is an organization of humans with superhuman abilities that fight crime in New York city. Lately they've been fighting a war with a rival organization, the Sky Beasts, that's led by a rogue member. At the story's onset, Jane and Pain rescue a pair of civilians from a group of Beasts and take them into protective custody. This is because they overheard that the Big Bad is terrified of one of them for some reason and wants that guy dead. So the Sky Ghosts keep both safe while they try to figure out what's going on.

It's a good start; David encountering Pain while she is at work chopping heads off and is shrouded by darkness. It is a mysterious action-y scene. Thus it is a successful Audience Surrogate introduction. The exposition that follows is long but also interesting. However, that's where it ends.

The bulk of the plot is the four of them ( Jane, Pain, Chad and David) hanging out at safe houses waiting for something to happen. It's either an attack from the Big Bad or a development in the Big Good's investigation. This movement is sluggishly pushed along with a I Have Your Wife which leads inevitably to the You Said You'd Let Them Go/I Lied combo. While I say Tropes Are Not Bad, those are annoying and when they are a plot's backbone, it rankles.

Because there is so little fighting between the opening scene and the climax, the book can feel like a romance with an action veneer. In other words, an excuse plot to force two pairs of the opposite gender to stay hidden in a small place for days at a time. The romance is slow roasting and has its cute/sweet moments, but I don't know the cause of it other than this forced togetherness.  The extended epilogue supports this view as it is more concerned with Chad's relationships than the mission of the Sky Ghosts.


The final confrontation is resolved by a hunch. It sounds like a Deus Ex Machina. I understand the implications given earlier but a less charitable fan would call it an ass pull.

I read the amazon blurb while reading this and I feel a need to debunk a few things
1. "Fantasy novels not centered on romance". Romance is a significant part of this. Indeed it underpins the climax and the Belligerent Sexual Tension has more focus than the fighting
2. "Unique world-building and superpowers". The world building and superpowers are not the least bit unique. A secret organization of in-born super-powered people that can fly, self-heal and create supernatural barriers? Seen it several times. Nothing exactly like this but it is not unique. The fact that the author can name eleven different franchises that are similar to it is proof enough.
3. "Many-layered plot design with a lot to explore". There is indeed a lot to explore but it is not explored. On the contrary, I found it be wasted potential considering how much time is spent in sitting on their butts in safe houses bickering like school children.
 
It's a decent ending. Closing up and looking forwards.

 CHARACTERS

Pains is the only fully developed ancharacter. She is the only one with dimensions. I count the following: bloodthirsty, introspective, Big Sister Instinct, One of the Boys, a foul mouthed Broken Bird leading to Defrosting Ice Queen.  She has inner vulnerability and fear.  Alexandra Engellmann did a good job with her, but the others are less so.  


 Jane is defined in contrast to Pain: less mean, more level headed, less bloodthirsty, younger etc.. 


 Marco is crude comic relief. 


Peter is Da Chief who feels the Chains of Command. There's little about him other than his position as the leader of Sky Ghosts.


 Eugene is just a faux evilly affable villain; a plot device to bring the two leads together. He has little screen time and is scarcely developed beyond the threat he posses. He's basically " the leader of the bad guys that we can't kill because he has an impregnable personal shield". 


 Chad and David are interchangeable for the first part of the story. The same two bewildered civilians. After a certain event they diverge, but like the sisters, the divergence is in how they contrast each other.  Chad becomes more temperamental and broody while David transitions to excited and Unfazed Everyman.

POLISH

It looks good; no typos.

Trickster Eric Novels gives Sky Ghosts a C


Click here for the next review request: TitanBorn

Click here for the previous review request: The End

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sassy Saturday: Dangerous Grunt Work

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 can be read here:The Girlfriend of an Exiled Mage

The context for this post is that Eric has returned to Tariatla and Emily has unwittingly come with him. He's reunited with Kallen Selios and they approach an area seared by a mana storm.
_______________________________________________________

The trio entered a glen transformed into a crater ten feet deep and five feet wide. Trees for another three yards had been ripped apart or transformed into something else. The surrounding snow was, as oxymoron as it sounded, a fertile wasteland. Plants were growing here when there were none elsewhere, but at the same time, they appeared toxic.

Kallen approached the edge and looked over. At the bottom was a creature sparking with mana; half human and half something else. It was he who had screamed.

“Hello, down there! Are you still sapient?”

The man raised his head and showed her his face; it too was only half-human and becoming less so by the second.

“– Lumberson, please help me. I’m Patrick Lumberson, please help me. I’m Patrick Lumberson…” A large mana arch sparked over his head and he screamed again. “Please help me!”

Eric pointed his staff at Patrick and chanted, “Just like a wooden boat –”

“Stop!” Kallen said. “It’s too late! Save your mana for offensive spells!”

The transformation completed a second later. The creature lying in the pit now was a hairless mole-like creature with thick muscle and hide like leather. It was about six feet tall with its weight evenly distributed along its body. Ice crystals grew in various parts of its body, from its head to its arms and back and belly. It was equipped with grinding teeth and four sets of serrated claws. Patrick Lumberson was now a Fizger; a monster known to trawl cold regions.

It sniffed the air and detected warm bodies. Rising to its feet, it jumped clear out of the hole and charged the trio without preamble. Emily ducked behind Eric and Kallen moved in front of him.

Kallen deflected the blows from its fore claws with her mage spear while dodging the strikes from its hind claws and jaws and, all the while, she chanted, “Invisible assassin, come to my aid! Be my hope and be my blade! Ice Daggers!”

Five clumps of snow arose around the vicious monster. Instantly, they melted and refroze into blades. By her will, they hovered into position over the monster’s vulnerable spots.

“Strike!”

They flew into her target. Propelled by her magical power, they punctured its hide and through its muscle to pierce internal organs. It died on its feet and then slumped at Kallen’s, but none of its blood blemished her appearance. Her personal barrier repelled it. She stabbed it a few more times to make sure it was dead, then took out a small dagger and began cutting it up.

The sight made Emily throw up. Eric knelt to support her and rub her back. She smiled appreciatively at him, but the sounds of Kallen cutting bone made her shudder.

“What…what was that? What happened!?

Kallen finished sawing off an arm and put it off to the side. “Eric, explain.”

“What you just witnessed is known as ‘mana mutation.’ It’s the process where high concentrations of mana transform the local matter at the molecular level. If it happens to sapient creatures, their minds are scrambled, and they turn into monsters.”

“Is that going to happen to me!? This is too high and what about contagion? Will –”

“Emily!”

Kallen separated another limb from the main body and put it aside.

“It won’t happen to you as long as you stay away from mana storms. This guy was unlucky enough to be caught in one.”

“…Is that it? The end? Boom-monster?”

“Yes,” Kallen said while cutting through the monster’s neck. “As of today, there is no method known to humans that can restore a victim’s sanity, but I’m working on that.”

“You are? You’re a doctor?”

Kallen paused. “What’s a doctor? Eric, is that the Threan word for ‘researcher’?”

Eric cast a waterball for Emily wash to the vomit taste from her mouth. She was too surprised that he could generate clean water to register that she was drinking out of his hands.

“Technically, it’s the name of the highest academic degree that someone can be awarded, but the most commonly known is the ‘Doctorate of Medicine.’”

“Oh, so it’s kind of like ‘Sage of Healing’?”

Eric nodded and Kallen resumed cutting.

“In any case, I’m not a doctor. I’m a field agent for the International Community Dedicated to Mana Mutation. I do the dangerous grunt work that makes their boring grunt work possible.”
_____________________________________

Looming Shadow, and the rest of the Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at: http://smile.amazon.com/A-Mages-Power-Journey-Chaos-ebook/dp/B00AVMAISG

Journey To Chaos book 3: Mana Mutation Menace is on sale for 99 cents on Amazon until May 20

To learn more about the heroines of Journey to Chaos, visit Tvtropes at: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AMagesPower.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dynasty Warriors Inspiration

I've been playing Dynasty Warriors 6 lately. This is a tactical action game based on the Three Kingdoms Period of China. As of this writing, I have cleared the story modes for five characters. It's been a lot of fun but there are also many challenging and frustrating elements to it.

The fields are big and so it can take a while to get from place to place. Unless you have a maxed out horse who favors speed, you'll spend more time marching from base to base then fighting.  The terrain can be complex and so it's easy to get lost or find yourself going in the wrong direction; rivers without beaches or the twists of ridges can corral a player who doesn't know them.  The press of soldiers and hidden archers can be overwhelming even for a one man army.

I imagine it is similar to real life battles during the period, except a lot easier. Even putting aside the physicality of it such as no flagging stamina or debilitating injury there are many advantages.

-->There are the musuo attacks and special attacks that couldn't be done in real life.
-->There's special abilities of weapons and horses such as "Arrow Dance" which can make a character immune to arrows.
-->If a character dismounts or is thrown from their horse, enemy mooks can't steal it.

-->There's no risk of friendly fire which is amazingly useful in regards to the above-mentioned press of soldiers.
-->There's an interface map in the corner of the screen that tracks the player's location and that of every other character in real time. Players can hear allies call for help from a distance and this is also indicated on the map.
-->There's instant health recovery items in food and stat power ups that can be found in the field.
-->Once the mission's objective is completed, nothing else matters.
--> Enemy soldiers will flee their bases under certain conditions even if the player's character is fighting them alone. 
-->Each stage has its own progression and so the player can learn to anticipate events and trouble areas. A player can move their character into position ahead of time. It's like having clairvoyance.

After writing all of this out, it doesn't sound anything at all like real battle, does it? Despite this, I failed several stages, several times, even on easy mode.

Even with all of these advantages, I couldn't accomplish the mission. I couldn't get where I needed to go in time to save an NPC due to transit time or being caught up in immediate problems.  I'd get lost in the terrain and isolated from both my character's allies and the mission objectives.  I'd bite off more than I could chew and my character would be killed. This strikes me. Real life campaigns must be much more complicated and thus more difficult. What must it be like to face the "preparation screen", so to speak, and know that you are essentially going in blind? That you only have one chance?

I believe it will be useful for the next main series I have planned. I foresee many war sequences and it is also set in a similar time period. If I take this and adapt it to the situation in my fictional universe, then I will have a model to work from.

Journey to Chaos doesn't have any war sequences, and certainly nothing like Dynasty Warriors, but the logistics of it are still useful as a reference.


 As a final note, the game's soundtrack played in my head as I wrote this.
____________________________________________________________
The Journey to Chaos series, is available for purchase at: http://smile.amazon.com/A-Mages-Power-Journey-Chaos-ebook/dp/B00AVMAISG

A Mage's Power will be free on Amazon until the end of today, May 3rd 2016.

To learn about the Journey to Chaos series, visit Tvtropes at: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AMagesPower.



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).