Thursday, April 27, 2017

Read for Fun: Fellowship of Fantasy - Fantastic Creatures

Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures is an anthology put together by the members of a Facebook group that I'm part of too. This is not a review request. From what I had seen, it looked like fun, and it was.  I'll look over a couple of the stories here in a paragraph or so each.

These are the ones that came to mind first. I suppose that means I found them the most memorable. However, it does not mean that these are the only ones I liked. While looking back over the table of contents, I decided that I liked basically all of them. Out of 21 stories, there was only three or four that I didn't like, or did like but felt were too incomplete to count as a full story.


"Three Steaks and a Box of Chocolates"
This is a fully formed short story; the setting in the desert region has a tactile quality and two central characters are impressively developed in little time. The plot has a solid set up and an intriguing build up to the reveal of the creature. The nature of the conflict is funny, cute and realistic. It has a fully conclusive ending which I like.

I'd say more about it but there's a minor mystery element involved that is part of the story's charm. Suffice to say that Burt is telling the truth when he says "Fluffy" is not a cat.


"The Golden City Captives"
This one has interesting world building in its fantasy aspects. The nature and underpinning of fairy society is one such aspect and how it can be exploited by outsiders is a fine twist. Then there's the mechanic of how shapeshifters are "born". It leads me to think about the why and the history while enjoying watching it happen.

The story also provides a glimpse of the human society which influences these factors, and, in turn, is influenced by them. I want to use the phrase "overflowing climax consequences" because it develops to a grander scale than I expected. The initial conflict is completed but it flows so well and so quickly into another that I was disappointed when it ended. Kinda of like screeching the brakes; I want to see more.


"Adventurer's Heart"
I found a classic fantasy-adventure role playing game in this one. There's this hunter on a vengeance-drive monster hunt. She happens upon a quest, truly like a game, and has to complete a chain of deals and kill a monster or two for someone else before she has the proper equipment to start her own hunt. It's a lot of fun to read.

Once again, this short story feels more like one part of a bigger story than anything self-contained. It's like the first episode of a season. If the author felt inclined to make the rest of the "season" then I would be interested in reading it. The protagonist and her world is that well established and interesting.


"Destiny's Flight"
I get a "fantasy version of the Crusades" feel from this one. A knight and "miracle man"(kind of like a lay cleric) escort a messenger to her destination. The knight has his armor and sword fighting, the miracle man effectively has spells for healing/buffing etc. and the messenger has a quarter staff and her griffin. They fight an evil knight and his own mount who want to kill the messenger.

There's also a budding romance and it has a foil in a happily married couple. It's a nice narrative counterbalance to the action. An even measure of both makes the characters "pop" as human (or griffin, as the case may be).

It feels conclusive, more so than the previous two, but it also feels like this setting and its results could be used to tell more stories.

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Trickster Eric Novels gives "Fellowship of Fantasy: Fantastic Creatures" an A+

Click here for the next book review (a request): Holindrian

Click here for the previous book review (request): Close Encounters of the Rubber Duck Kind

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Answering review request: Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind

Vincent Lemon asked me to read his novel "Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind". It is a science fiction story about all the universe being a reality TV show for other planets within the same universe. Yes, it is like The Truman Show, but weirder. I will look at plot, characters and polish and then assign a grade.

PLOT

It is hard to say that there is one because it never settles on anything in particular. It starts off with Calzone, a little green man alien, playing god with the planet that he narrates for. That drops off after a couple dozen pages and then it shifts into a mystery where Calzone investigates the company that he used to work for to discover its true purpose. That is condensed into a couple pages. Then the "Game of Life' for gods" thing starts up and that goes on until around 50 pages and then something else starts with a new viewpoint character, a new setting and a new conflict. That drops off after a dozen or so pages and something completely different yet tangentially related starts up. This goes on and on until the book ends.

Indeed, there is a certain plot structure where the initial state of things (Calzone designing a world for fun/entertainment for others) reoccurs with different conditions. The only reason the story ends is because of a more fundamental shift in its underpinnings. I think that's the plot. For certain, one could spin a Matryoshka Doll WMG out of this or analogize the stuffing out of it, but it doesn't inspire me to do so. It is quite boring.

Though it has surprises, twists, and unexpected plot developments, the tone is so dull that I don't care. Calzone, for instance, once lists off the events that follow a world-ending meteor shower in a dispassionate sort of way that shows he doesn't really care either. For a story that is about entertaining people, the story itself does little of that. In fairness, the start of each new plot thread is interesting and one of them had me excited, but that is it.

After a certain point, the story feels like nothing more than a collection of its own jokes. The "disgustingly healthy" Universal Health Food Machines, the rubber ducks, donuts and jam, pointy sticks, etc.

It had a better ending than I was expecting. By "better", I mean more conclusive, more tying-everything-together ending. However, there is still a major plot thread that is just left hanging.

CHARACTERS

The characters, as a whole, are one-dimensional.

Calzone is a creative guy who likes breaking rules, but he is basically a plot prop for his author and rotating bosses. There is one part of the plot where he acts in defiance of his bosses (and not out of boredom or knee-jerk contrariness) and displays a streak of heroic desire but that is brief and he returns to form soon enough.

Adam stuffs himself with pastries. While he displays some fear at going mad with boredom, like Calzone, that is just one scene. Bill is Adam's evil counterpart, just replace "pastries" with "alcohol" and "fear at going mad with boredom" with "anger at Adam winning at anything".

Bob has little screen time and a good chunk of that is during a period as a blank slate where he is used for an info dump.


POLISH

Grammar and spelling look good.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind" a D-


This was a free review request. The author wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Fellowship of Fantasy - Fantastic Creatures

Click here for the previous book review (request): Veil of Darkness


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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Answering review request: Veil of Darkness

Tim Metivier asked me to read his novel, "Veil of Darkness". It is a science fiction space opera with fantasy genre magic.

PLOT

I have great things to say about this book as a whole, but not about the plot. I have nothing good to say about the plot. This is because the plot is prologue.


That's the gist of it. The most direct plotline is an assassination mission on the Coalition's leader, Rokan Sellas, and while that is well constructed, it is diminished by the larger plot structure. We get several mystic types talking about doom and prophecy and about how this secular science fiction mission is pointless and will fail. It is a Foregone Conclusion. That makes it seem pointless. At the end of the book, one of them says that the prophecy is just now starting.


Smokescreen is another term I would use. Up front there is a detailed conflict. Namely, that the Federation is facing a separatist movement from the Coalition that is based on the inequality between Federation planets and the incompetence of the Federation as a whole. There are fears that war will break out once the Coalition builds up enough strength and one of the first major scenes is a planet pondering Coalition membership that could be used as a frontline base to attack Federation heartland. This is all good and clear and focused. I like this. It is a great set up for a space opera. Except there are those mystics and an Omniscient Council of Vagueness talking about how the Coalition is a distraction, the separatist movement is not really a problem, and the true treat is some generic evil and ancient creature of darkness. Yet, the whole book is about this assassination mission. It feels like a waste of time.

There's also a thing of rotating viewpoint characters by chapter. This appears to have become a trend; everyone wants to be like George R.R. Martin. There are as many as six viewpoint characters. One of them has absolutely nothing to do with the main assassination mission yet takes up a substantial number of pages. The other two feel like they belong in another genre, let alone another story, and they only appear the beginning and end. This dilutes the effect of all of them. The potency, familiarity and immersion of each view point character is diminished by the others.

The Science fiction and fantasy elements are poorly integrated. They happen in separate chapters (until the end) and to separate viewpoint characters. The general view is that magic is nonsense and the stuff that exists is nothing to worry about. The one character who experiences both never goes beyond Aura Vision and thinks he's going crazy.

As for the ending, I can't really call it an ending. Sure, the assassination mission is over but nothing is resolved. Instead, everything is set up. Like I said, the plot is prologue.

 

CHARACTERS


There is fantastic character development. Five or so characters are introduced at once and while it difficult to pin them down at first, the development over the course of the story was gradual and inclusive. Backstories, mannerisms, personality, ambitions are all integrated. I could hear self-generated voices in my head during their dialogue by the end. When Fleet Admiral Drogini speaks, I hear a badass baritone. The "Black General" is more of a flat stoic tone. Roger Warbanks makes me hear the voice of MCU's Star Lord.

As an example of the masterful character development in this story is Lester, a demolition expert. He really likes blowing things up. He has extensive knowledge in his field to the point where he can go beyond "boom!" and make a subtle art of it. In one scene, he kills guards with explosions while creating an entrance, does it all silently and he does it without endangering his allies that may or may not be too close to the blast zone. He is also restless, anxious about being out in the open, and he fidgets in a way that is meaningful to the narrative. He has a My Greatest Failure that is skillfully woven into the narrative without feeling like an info dump. His desire for promotions and using unorthodox means, such as the aforementioned subtle art, is also developed. This is level is typical of many characters, which is impressive given the cast.

The setting is similarly thorough. There are a lot of species in the Federation and outside of it to which have their physiology, society, culture-specific gestures etc. I had as much fun reading the glossary at the end of the book that I did with the main story because there are details that didn't make it into the narrative. The problem I see here is that every member of a given alien species tends to have the same personality and the same is not true of humans. It is....strange considering how thorough everything else is.

The villain of this work is split in twine, maybe, and each reflects its genre. The first is Rokan Sellas, who is traitor military man and the leader of the Coalition. The second is the ancient evil of vagueness, which may or may not be the same being as Rokan Sellas. The former character is arrogant and that's about it. Their charisma is more Compelling Voice than anything else and I didn't see a motive so I'm tempted to say "Generic Doomsday Villain". I know absolutely nothing about the ancient evil of vagueness other than that it is power and evil.


POLISH


Grammar and spelling are mostly clear. I might have seen one thing. Regardless, it is impressive.

Descriptions can get heavy. It's not purple prose but it is lot repetition. Some actions and some scenes are bogged down in wordiness.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Veil of Darkness" a B+

This was a free review request. The author wanted an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for the next book review (request): Close Encounters of the Rubber Ducky Kind


Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Sword Art Online volume 4

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