The Last Argument of Kings – A Book Review

Last-Argument-e1432302193264The Last Argument of Kings – Inscribed on the cannon’s of Louis XIV

The third and final installment of the First Law trilogy, and it goes out with a bang. We’re treated to watching Abercrombie’s overarching vision start to take shape, and can see his writing improve even more. The characters still drive the story – Ninefingers still struggles against his more wrathful, Bloody side.Jezal dan Luther gets everything he ever wanted, and completely hates it. Sand dan Glokta is still delightfully twisted, and somehow is the most relatable character in the whole series. Ferro Maljinn realizes her dark destiny. and Bayaz gets seriously scary. Seriously.

That’s all I’ll get into for plot. In terms of the writing Joe gets a bit more refined, but in areas it felt a little rushed. In Before They Are Hanged the pace was even, and it felt like he kept control over the prose the entire time. While Last Argument is longer, there’s a lot more squeezed into it, and suffers from some of the shortcomings shared by many other multi-volume finales. Whether its movies or books, way too many times the final installment needs to tie a few too many threads into neat little bows, and the pacing and plot suffer. Last Argument is no exception, but its still a thrill to read. At this point, I’m so damn invested in the characters I can’t put it down.

This volume gets into a larger-scale battle in a more direct way than the other two. The siege of Dagoska was very intense, but was sublimely told through Glokta’s eyes from the parapets, more of an observer than front-line fighter. Abercrombie is very good at individual fight scenes, and smartly breaks bigger fights into smaller, easily-consumable pieces. He then allows the story to be told in the paces between the actual confrontations. The effect is intriguing storytelling that keeps the reader turning the pages to see what happens. He has a talent for finding balance between omission and inclusion of detail that doesn’t bog down the prose but keeps the reader in tune and interested.

In the third and final First Law book, we also get more overt magic (in the form of a gigantic nuclear cyclone in the middle of a city) introduced into the storyline. Before the effects of High Art were always tangible, but a bit more subtle in the preceding volumes. And it always came at a price. I always find “magic” to be an easy fix in Fantasy stories if not properly controlled and bound by rules. Its the sign of a strong author that they can create a fantastic world without sorcery and wizardry to rely on. Abercrombie is very good at incorporating just the right amount of mysticism, and it felt like the final act was a appropriate pay-off for the build-up from the previous two volumes.

Its just as gritty and raw as the preceding two books, and Joe again proves dragging high fantasy through the mud and mire is captivating.The whole trilogy opens a world he’s reached back into as well (The Heroes, Best Served Cold, and Red Country as well as some short stories all take place in the same setting) and features a lot of the same characters. Which for a nerd like me is like mana from heaven.

Needless to say, I highly recommend Last Argument of Kings, the rest of the First Law trilogy, and anything Joe Abercrombie writes.

This particular book gets 4-out-of-5 Back-Stabbing Betrayals…because in this book there’s way more than four.

Signing Off

Advertisements

Short Story: Krom

This particular yarn is the first in a series of origin stories (birth, adolescence, adult, etc.) for an RPG character in a Dungeon World Campaign run by PrimeLoki (check him out at https://primelokisden.wordpress.com/). I occasionally will use an RPG character to inspire a short story, and this one felt particularly strong:

Krom Thirst-Born

The cold chill bit like icy teeth. The stars and moon shone through a cloudless sky, and a breath hung in the air as a ghost, long after it was forgotten. Two figures stood outside a cave, armored for war. Moonlight shone off their cold steel, polished bright for the occasion, and they huddled near two torch sconces hastily nailed to either side of the cave mouth. Screams of pain echoed out, and the two armored forms shivered not just from the winter frost. One drawn-out wail, louder than its predecessors, seemed to make the torches sputter.
One armored figure, a black-speckled braid as wide as an axe head hanging to the middle of his chest, turned and peered back into the cave, darker than the night, and moved further into the torchlight. “By the God’s Black Bowels, I’ve never heard such a noise.”
The other figure’s helmed visage did not move. Its face was obscured by a woven cloth to protect against the cold, and a long braid, red as the fire of the torches, ran down to the small of its back. “Bringing a child into the world is not unlike taking a man out of it. It’s a bloody, violent affair. It shouldn’t surprise you it sounds the same.”
“Just because mine dangle and yours don’t,” The black-bearded warrior turned back from the cave mouth and spat on the ground, “doesn’t make you an expert.” Now the long red braid turned from the torchlight and the eye-slits of the helm pointed at her counterpart.
“How silly of me. I didn’t realize you’d given birth before.” She slowly and quietly bent down and scooped up a handful of snow into a gloved hand. A fresh layer had fallen just that morning. Eyes still locked on the other figure, who was busy mumbling to himself and shuffling his feet in the snow, she brought her gauntleted hands together and worked the snow into a round ball. As long as she was quiet, the other guard wouldn’t see what she was doing unless he turned his head completely. Such was the danger of a full-helm in the middle of the night. Once the snow was sufficiently packed and round, she stared at the black-bearded guard, judging the distance, and then softly tossed the snowball underhand into the night air.
It landed with a muffled tink of packed snow on steel, and a litany of oaths and curses. She’d judged it perfectly, and the bulk of the frosty projectile had landed in the small gap between the armor and helm. Her counterpart was cursing and digging into the gap with little success. His gloved hands would not fit into the space, and he shook and flagellated trying to shift the invading piece of icy snow.
She’d planned on remaining stoic, eyes forward, and feigning ignorance of the snowball, but the sight of Agar Stone-Splitter shaking and pawing at himself was too much. She brought a hand reflexively to her mouth to stifle it, but a soft giggle escaped her lips. Agar stopped thrashing instantly. His eyes, visible through his open-faced helmet, bored into her and for a second she worried she’d made a mistake in trying to lighten the mood. Then his bright ivory teeth split the black beard surrounding his mouth.
“Oh you’ll pay for that, Stout-Heart. You’ll pay dearly.” He reached down with both hands and started rolling the snow, gathering up a mound of larger than his head. As he packed it down, she drew the round shield off her back. “That won’t save you, girl. I’ll show you how a real Dwarf does it.” Agar raised the gigantic lump of snow over his head two-handed, and made to fling it at her like a catapult.
A sharp crack of wood on stone made him stop. Both armored warriors looked at the cave mouth to see a grizzled old Dwarf, with a shaven head and slate grey plaits of beard reaching past his belt. He carried a long staff with banded iron at both ends, which had put a respectable crack in the stone wall of the cave entrance. He wore loose black robes that somehow clung tightly to his form in the night air. As Agar dropped his snow boulder and Stout-Heart lowered her shield, the old Dwarf was glaring at them with bloodshot eyes.
“It is an honor to be chosen to stand Vigil. A sacred way we honor those who came before us. It is the same reason all Dwarf children are born in the earth,” The old Dwarf’s voice was ragged and deep, punctuated by heavy breathing. As he spoke, Agar and Stout-Heart took a few steps toward him and saw his dark robes had started the day a light tan, but had been dyed almost black by the shadows. And then the familiar smell, like stale copper, hit them and they exchanged worried glances.
Blood.

The old priest was practically covered in it. The pale torchlight gave it a black sheen, like oil or tar.
“I should beat you both senseless for this sacrilege, but there’s not time. Fetch the father. Quickly.” The two warriors turned their eyes toward each other again, didn’t move, and said nothing. Eventually Agar broke the silence.
“His father died in the raids, Slate-Jaw. The mother is War-Widowed.”
“A child born of war,” The old Dwarf looked down and shook his head slightly from side to side, “He will need that strength. Rouse the Jarl then, quickly.” The pair of warriors turned wordlessly at the old Dwarf’s command and stalked off into the night, moving with practiced ease in their heavy plate. It was a short jog to the Jarl’s stone Long-House, and after the inevitable complaints about the late hour, he listened intently and swiftly put on a long fur cloak over fur-lined breeches to follow the warriors back to the cave. None of them said a word as they hurried across the white snow, boots crunching with each footfall.
Jarl Ouric Storm-Bound was tall for a Dwarf, a full head above Agar, and just as old as Slate-Jaw, but his bushy hair and unkempt beard were shock-white, and he eschewed the braids and plaits common amongst the coastal Dwarves. He preferred to let his hair grow wild, and it was never wilder than when he was roused from sleep unexpectedly. Very few Dwarves could wake him without fear of retribution, but the mere mention of Slate-Jaw’s name had him rubbing sleep from his eyes and stomping through the winter night.
They reached the cave in silence. No more screams rang of its walls and out into the chill night air. The three waited in tense silence. Eventually they heard soft, crying noises rolling from the cave mouth, slowly getting louder. Slate-Jaw emerged, bloodier than before, his thick hands and arms caked in the dried ichor, made black in the moonlight. Both torches had blown out in the guards’ absence. In his arms, wrapped in a slightly-less bloody blanket was a wriggling child, crying softly.
“He is a strong boy, but his mother is gone. Something tore inside her during the birth. Nothing myself or the midwives did could stop it. She passed a few moments before he emerged. An orphan child, born in blood and death,” he held the mewling baby out to the Jarl, and the tall white-haired Dwarf carefully took the tiny baby into his arms, “It has been a long time since we have had a child slay the mother during birth, Ouric. Not since your father’s father sat in the Jarl’s seat,” He glanced at Stout-Heart, with a warm smile at odds with his butcher’s visage and the anxious tension in the air, “Dwarf women are made of granite and steel.” Unprepared for the intensity of his gaze, Stout-Heart looked down and studied the patterns her boots made as she shifted nervously in the snow.
“What does this mean?” Jarl Storm-Bound held the child to his chest but his eyes were slanted and his neck and back were bowstrings, straight and taut with tension. “Women have died from birthing before.”
“Indeed, but it is much more common after the birth. We had to pull this boy from his mother after she had died. And that marks him.”
“Marks him how?” The Jarl held stone-still while the tiny baby fidgeted in the make-shift cradle of his arms.
“He’ll bear the Stone Thirst all his days, I have no doubt.” Slate-Jaw took a step toward the Jarl and the mewling babe, and slowly stroked the child’s head to soothe it. The sight of the disheveled Jarl and the old priest, covered in blood, standing over the newborn like fresh parents was yet another eerie sight, and the two armored warriors averted their eyes. “The Old Words say a Dwarf born from death shall have a thirst he cannot quench, a hunger he cannot sate. Only the blood and death from whence he came shall slake his desire for the briefest of breaths. A Dodjagar, a death-hunter, they call them. There is little joy ahead for this poor child.”
“He has no father, and now no mother, Slate-Jaw. What do the Old Words say of that?”
“That is your decision, Ouric Storm-Bound. He has not been named. He shall bear the surname Thirst-Born until he comes of age, but he bears no true Name yet. It may be a mercy simply to take him to the trees and let him pass back into the earth.” They were doing little to cover their conversation, and upon hearing this Agar’s shoulders slumped and he gazed at the snow once more. Stout-Heart’s back tightened and she took a small step forward. Agar grabbed her wrist tightly and shook his head, unwilling to lift his helmet and meet her eyes. She stopped advancing but stayed coiled and tense, watching the two elders decide the child’s fate.
The white-haired Jarl stayed silent for a long time, looking down at the boy he held. He scarcely blinked, his only movement white steam rolling from his mouth and nose as he breathed out into the winter air. In the dead of the night their small village was silent, and in the middle of winter few creatures could bear the cold. The silence was sacred and complete. Agar and Stout-Heart willed their limbs not to shake their plate mail and break the reverence.
“No,” Storm-Bound’s proclamation cut the pregnant silence, “He shall have a name. And a chance to prove himself greater than his birth, same as any man,” He turned slightly so that he was facing the two armored figures, “Did either of you know the father?” Stout-Heart shook her head, but Agar stepped forward.
“A good man, by reputation. A good soldier. I fought with him in many raids, but never beside him. He was of the Steel-Hand family, and the mother was a daughter of the Forge-Born.”
“He can bear neither of those names,” Slate-Jaw interrupted from the cave mouth, rapping his staff on the ground to call the small group’s attention, “He is Thirst-Born. He will also need someone to care for him. No other Steel-Arm or Forge-Born dwells nearby. All the other clans have found their own safe places until the frost breaks, leagues from here.” He seemed to be looking past the Jarl and directly at the two warriors standing in the snow. Agar’s helm turned toward Stout-Heart, and his shoulders shrugged with the slightest hint of ivory peeking through his black beard.
“Comes with the honor of the Vigil. And I’ve already got three boys of my own, plus two girls.” He did nothing to hide the smile now, and even favored her with a wink. Stout-Heart muttered something long and full of hard consonant sounds, too low for any of three men to hear, and continued the string of thick oaths beneath her breath as she took deliberately stomp-like steps towards the Jarl and the baby. She had no children, and no designs on changing that any time soon, but the honor of the Vigil meant protecting the newborn child, and she wouldn’t retreat from her duty. But she didn’t have to be happy about it.
“No,” Ouric Storm-Bound stopped Stout-Heart’s boisterous march with one word, with both Agar and Slate-Jaw watching intently, “My sons are all grown, and my wife is in dire need of a new distraction.” The silence returned for a few moments, until he raised his head and smiled. The two warriors laughed at the jest, and Slate-Jaw’s solemn countenance broke long enough for him to share in the levity, albeit briefly. “I’ve a large house with few enough occupants, and we’ve raised boys before,” He held up a hand as Slate-Jaw seemed ready to interrupt, “I know he will need guidance, old friend. That’s where you come in. I’ve read of the Stone Thirst, and he will need your hand as well as mine to keep him on the right path.”
Ouric took a step forward and put a hand on Stout-Heart’s shoulder, “No need to make you a mother before your time, Thena,” her smile, obscured by the scarf, went unnoticed as she nodded her head in assent. The baby cooed softly, and the Jarl looked down with arched brows, “He should still carry something of his parentage, even if he cannot bear the family names. Agar, do you remember his father’s true Name?”
“Krom, I believe, Jarl Storm-Bound. Krom Steel-Hand.”
“Krom. A good strong name,” as the child reached one tiny hand up, the Jarl took the tiny digits between his massive thumb and forefinger, feeling the tiniest pinprick of warmth at the tips, “Fits him like a glove.”

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you might as well leave a comment. In all seriousness, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.

Signing Off.

From the Editor’s Desk: Internal Monologue

One of the joys of reading frequently and taking a hack-handed, bludgeoning swing at writing myself is seeing different conventions used in different ways. The one I’d like to discuss today is a favorite for the snarky and the serious, the scary and the scurrilous: internal monologue (or if the characters a bit nutty…dialogue). When do we use it? How do we use it? Is there an accepted mechanic for translating it into text?

The only valid answer you could get from anybody, anywhere, is I don’t know. And that’s because there’s no right or wrong way, mechanically speaking, to go about having your character talk with (or to) him (or her) self. As with all writing, you can probably do whatever the hell you want and still have a shot at being canonized (Anyone ever read Joyce?) but for the purposes of cohesive and narrative writing, it boils down to about six possibilities. This broad-strokes explanation is limited to third-person past-tense type writing, of course. If you take the challenge of writing in the first person, the inner monologue should happen organically, since we’re basically juxtaposing first-person sentiment into a third-person piece. Present-tense probably requires a few more identifiers, but can get a bit explanation-heavy if you aren’t careful.

Oh the mechanics are glorious indeed…but mechanics are only half the battle. The way you present the internal monologue can say a lot about the type of character that’s talking. He (or she) might be witty, pensive, bitter, reluctant, wistful, or any combination of those or a host of other emotional states. If you’re going to go the internal monologue route, make sure you give some thought to the presentation. It can make or break your prose, and the character you’re developing, in a manner so subtle you may not notice it at first. And on the flip side, it can make your rakish rogue or haughty heroine into an unforgettable pillar of the written word. You might not think so in a text medium, but presentation, as ever, always counts.

Below I’ll lay out the six options, and what they may communicate to the reader:

1) First Person Present; Italicized; With Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again, he thought. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

– As a rule, I don’t really like identifiers. I feel like they bog down moments in writing that should flow smoothly and quickly. But with internal monologue, it allows you to dictate the pace to your reader, and slow them down. Throwing in a “he thought” or “she mused” can establish your tone, and give the inner monologue an even, controlled calmness, in a moment of thoughtful or wistful reflection for a character.

2) First Person Present; Italicized; No Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

-My personal favorite. Italicizing inner monologue is an effective way of separating inner-most thoughts from regular text, and not breaking it up with an identifier keeps it whole and complete. This approach helps the reader feel connected to the character, and can create sympathy for even the nastiest of anti-heroes. I recommend this for the smarmy, wise-cracking characters who are really good at heart. It helps the reader build rapport through the bitterness and acidity that makes the person so enjoyable.

3) First Person Present; Not Italicized; WIth Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again, he thought. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

-As I mentioned, I’m a proponent of italics for inner monologue, but I’ve seen it work effectively without them. Keeping the identifier helps set an explanatory tone I wouldn’t recommend for main antagonists or protagonists. If you have a side-chapter, or an event explained through a short-lived, very minor character, this is the most effective and efficient way to get through it.

4) First Person Present; Not Italicized; No Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

-This approach always feels very literary to me. Very artistic. It also works well in stories with one very central character, and can help solidify the idea that the narrative of this book revolves around a single person. eschewing the identifier and the italics brings the inner thoughts of the protagonist into the prose, like they aren’t separate from the words. Not for the faint of heart, but a fun mechanic to play with and potentially a powerful convention for a story.

5) Third Person Past; Not Italicized; WIth Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. He’d done it again, he thought. Thank god wishes weren’t fishes. He’d need a bigger pond.

-This always feels weird and super-explanatory to me. I always fall on the side of “show me” not “tell me” in writing, and this is telling of the highest degree. It can bring across a simple-mindedness, however, that might be effective in separating important, or high-IQ characters, from characters with less going on between the ears. An excellent way to portray the inner monologue of an obedient flunky or clumsy servant, this approach creates distance between the reader and the character, which may not exactly be a bad thing.

6) Third Person Past; Not Italicized; No Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. He’d done it again. Thank god wishes weren’t fishes. He’d need a bigger pond.

-This is the ultra-narrative style that serves best when speed matters. If you want to get through a scene quickly and efficiently, without too much attachment, this is the way to go.

I’ll endeavor to bring you more little eccentricities From The Editor’s Desk; this is only volume two
In other exciting news, I’m pleased to announce I’m starting up an editing business for books, short stories, dissertations, reports, etc. If it has words, I’ll read it and let you know if it can be better. I’m dipping my toe currently, but I’ve got a few credentials:

-BA English Literature (Cum Laude) from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas
-Freelance Sports Columnist and Public Interest Reporter for The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Henderson Home News, and Boulder City News 2000-2008

I’ve already edited a first draft of a romance novel (attestation forthcoming) and a potential self-help style non-fiction book from an already-published author. If you’re interested, please contact me through this blog or e-mail me at gentlesandman@yahoo.com. I’m currently looking to get experience mostly, so if you think I might have something to offer after reading this post feel free to contact me.

Jurassic World: Worth the Price of Admission

jurassic world 2-xlargeI have a deep connection with the Jurassic Park series. I loved dinosaurs when I was little, and can still tell you all about Ankylosaurs, Diplodicus, Dromeosaurus, Allosaurus, and of course, Tyrannosaurus Rex. I had posters, toys, books, you name it, I was into it if it was even remotely related to dinosaurs. I credit Jurassic Park (the book) and Michael Crichton with sparking the fire that burgeoned into the inferno that is my love of reading. I was seven years old when I read Jurassic Park for the first time. While kids my age were reading about Maniac McGee and his pre-teen exploits, I was trying to wrap my head around genetic engineering and Ian Malcom’s addiction to morphine. But I loved those damn dinosaurs, and I loved the book.

I was so so excited for the movie to come out in 1993. It’s one of the few moments I can look back on and still feel a tingle of the pure joy you get as a child when you’re incredibly happy and nothing else matters but that happiness. I remember my mom took me to see it the weekend it was released, and afterward we went to Toys ‘R’ Us and I picked out the T-rex toy with the dino-damage around the ribs. I loved that thing, and kept it for years.

So now with the backstory, you understand my skepticism about a sequel 20 years later. But it was good. Really good. Not great, but really good. It managed to entertain me, bring back some of the nostalgia for the original, and give me a glimmer of that youthfully unblemished joy. It’s the sequel the original we were all waiting for, and definitely deserved. Some of the plotting is…novel (no pun intended) but at least makes a modicum of sense. Do you need to suspend some disbelief? Like an unruly child from a prep school. But they don’t jump any sharks, everything at least gets an explanation or some exposition, and also…dinosaurs.

uGNWnOm

I mean, I’d pay to watch this. Wouldn’t you?

The theme park feels real and expansive, and the nods to the original are tasteful and noticeable to an avid fan. It feels like they took some time to think and imagine what Disneyland with dinosaurs would feel like, and they hit the nail squarely, right down to the corny celebrity instructions included on the rides and the kiddie park where you can ride baby dinos. Militarism rears its ugly head, as does the danger of Over-Science, which I also felt to be a nice homage to the thematic elements present in the original book but glossed over in the original movie.

You’ll love Chris Pratt being Chris Pratt. Bryce Dallas Howard is very entertaining as well, and their sexual tension came off as hilarious and real, not forced. It was nice to see Vincent D’Onofrio enjoying a career renaissance in following up a great go-round as the Kingpin in Daredevil with a pivotal villainous role in a blockbuster, and B.D. Wong’s return as Dr. Henry Wu…nothing short of epic. But that might be the nerd talking.

Once more I endeavor to not reveal anything too plot-related Hopefully without that, you’ll still take my word that this movie is good. Made me feel like an anxious seven-year old again, a few minutes before it started, and delivered the action, suspense, and breathtaking visuals that made the first so memorable. This one had a little more humor in it, but also higher-stakes in terms of lives on the line, so the dichotomy fit quite well.

f66

One thing the movie didn’t have. But the quote fits.

All in all, I give Jurassic World 4-out-of-5 Theme-Park Construction workers. Cuz that fifth one was way overweight, and we know he didn’t make it.

Signing Off.

Before They Are Hanged: A Book Review

before-they-are-hanged-uk-pbVolume two of the First Law trilogy is just as good as the first, if not maybe a bit better. Its Joe Abercrombie’s second published work and the polish is much shinier than the first. Similar to Rowling, the growth and development of the writing conventions is tangible from the first book to the second. The setting is a bit more spread out, and primarily takes place in both the cold North and the hot South, and then the “edge of the world” which is sort of a dark, scary mixture of desert, arctic, and everything in between.

I try to avoid pot synopsis in these reviews, so there’s not a ton to say about the storyline other than its typical fantasy. There’s a war in the north, there’s a war in the south, and there’s a small group of intrepid companions looking for a magical thingy to help save the world by stopping the wars. Its the detail of the plot and the characters and their interactions that really makes the First Law and all of Abercrombie’s books so wonderful to read.

In the North? The craziest, most entertaining group of crusty Northmen, all barbarism and bloody-mindedness, join up with the polished steel but empty brains of the Union army, all under the watchful eye of Colonel West, the rage-a-holic put-upon most un-heroic hero that ever was penned onto paper. There’s also criminals who get consricpted, one of which is a woman, and then there’s jealousy and sex.

In the South? The crippled, bitter, yet somehow relatable and heroic Sand dan Glokta (an Inquisitor, by the way) finds a way to hold a fortress for months in the face of unbeatable odds against a savage army of cannibals and crazy people, all the while uncovering a conspiracy within the ruling council. Sub-plots of racial and religious tolerance, and also weird out-of-place mercy that still manages to fit into the story.

The Edge of the World? A wizard, his apprentice, a homicidally schizophrenic Northman, a spoiled-brat dandy fencer, and a murderous demon-blooded slave girl are all trying to save the world by finding the Seed, and trying to form bonds and survive in a barren, desolate place.There’s also some sex here too, which makes the reader want to stand up and clap, and also disappointment and severe battle wounds.

I could not put this book down, and I didn’t want to. I’d recommend this to anyone who looks their books with a twist of dark and gritty. Ignore the fantasy storylines, they’re almost secondary to the memorable characters and gritty violence.

Volume two gets the full 10-out-of-10 fingers. The Bloody-Nine be damned.

Signing Off.

How Low: Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team

us-soccer-1100x556

I get World Cup fever. I wish I could say I didn’t, but every four years, just like the Olympics, I fiend to start wearing red white and blue and watch a game I might give 3 minutes to if nothing else was on TV. Or if I didn’t have a good book to read. If I had to guess at a reason, playing sports was something that dominated my youth. Never for money, or really a hope of a scholarship, just fun and competition. Pitting yourself, brains and brawn, against another human, and betting that the time you put in practicing, sweating, and bleeding made you better than they are. That was fun. That was sport. And yes, when the World Cup and Olympics roll around there’s definitely money and panache involved, but to see athletes competing for their flag first and everything else (supposedly) second makes it matter more. To me, at least. And oddly enough, I first caught the fever back in 1999 watching MIa Hamm lead the ladies to a World Cup title. Since then, I’ve watched the women’s cup with just as much fervor as the men’s (and no, it wasn’t because Brandi Chastain took her shirt off to celebrate. Pervs.).

After watching game one this year, I’m encouraged by the play (at least in the second half), but terribly discouraged, to the point of boiling fury, about the storylines. First, the entire Hope Solo saga, and how it seems the other women, coaches, staff, etc. have to tip toe through a mine field of awkward questions and stone-walling on account of one member of the team. Yes, she is an important part of that team. The game Monday night would’ve been a damn sight different if a less-extraordinary athlete stood between the posts for the US. But the litany of internet articles and headlines should be devoted to the incredible accomplishments of the entire team, not the shortcomings of one (admittedly) highly-visible part of that team. Yet positive never sells.

Everyone should thank ESPN for holding onto the details of Solo’s arrest until the day of the United States’ first game of the competition. Never mind that this might be the curtain call on the grandest stage for one of the greatest athletes to ever compete in any sport. Forget that the United States, that juggernaut of athletic prowess, is finally among the favorites to win an international competition for the first time since the summer of 2012. Nope. Let’s make it about one player, and their domestic violence arrest.

But the blame doesn’t rest with the media. I’d say its a 80/20 split with Solo herself bearing and the way the entire situation was handled bearing the greater burden. During a year where domestic violence became a hot-button issue for the NFL, the mightiest and most visible of the professional sport behemoths, the governing body of the U.S. women’s team failed to act decisively. When we finally saw pro football players held accountable for their acts (at least in terms of domestic violence) by the league they play for, Hope Solo’s transgressions were swept under the rug and ignored. Heap this on top of her penchant for colorful commentary, her lash-out at Brandi Chastain, her criticism of her coach and replacement after she was benched in 2007, it all adds up to a negative image. The arrest details, while embarrassing, don’t really shock me. She’s clearly not a nice person. Neither is Michael Jordan, but millions still idolized him. It’s the entirety of the package that gets wearisome, and you can see it in the eyes of her teammates as well. This is not someone they want to rally around to help her through a hard time. She’s a commodity they value for her play, but if she suddenly retired, I doubt they’d spit on her if she were on fire. Harsh, but probably true.

Yet there she is, front and center. The U.S. team (not the players, obviously) made their bed, and now they must sleep in it. Warnings to reporters to keep questions focused “on the field” awkwardly short and terse responses from players, it’s all a bad look for the sport. She is a spectacular athlete, and makes the team better, but is it worth it? Prior to Monday’s game, I bet the answers would’ve been mixed. Post-three potential game-changing saves, I bet it’s unanimous. And that’s the rub. She’s good. Potentially game-making good. But is winning worth it?

And this headline, the laughable “redemption tour” for Hope Solo, over-shadows the very real farewell tour for Abby Wambach. Just how good is the heart and soul of the U.S. team? Once-in-a-lifetime good. She’s scored 182 international team goals. To put that in perspective, let’s roll call: Lionel Messi has 45, Cristiano Ronaldo 52, the immortal Pele 77. The closest man to Wambach? Ali Daei (ever heard of him?) from Iran with 109. The closest woman? Mia Hamm with 158. She needs one more goal to tie for most World Cup goals in Women’s history, and just three to tie the highest-scoring World Cup man. She’s blue-collar, hard-working, and from Western New York. What’s not to love? Yet she plays third-fiddle to the Hope Solo circus and the Alex Morgan show. I don’t dislike Morgan, but when the Bulls went to the finals in ’91, Jordan got the press and all the endorsements, not B.J. Armstrong (another young offensive specialist who came off the bench and occasionally started. I pray at least one person gets that reference.). What’s the difference? B.J. wasn’t prettier than Michael.

Between the Solo act and the struggle to be respectable and still marketable, this year’s women’s team has plenty of off-the-field adversity to face. But they are brilliant when they’re on the field, and all the distractions go away. I know we can’t ignore the media hijinks, the inevitable she’s-hot-she’s-not commentary in the background, and even the slowly settling dust of the FIFA scandal (which apparently saw the worst of the chauvinists, responsible for comments like “maybe more people would watch if they wore tighter shorts” get their just rewards). I’m not saying we have to. Let’s just try to focus on what’s important: these ladies have worked exhaustively to get here, and are representing the United States with a very real chance at international success. So turn off the internet (unless you’re streaming) and just enjoy the purity of the sport, and let all the static fade into background noise.

From the Editor’s Desk: Past Participle and Past Tense

One of my all-time favorite publishing houses is the Black Library. They do mostly licensed science fiction and fantasy out of the United Kingdom. I’ve read a great deal of fiction, non-fiction, classics, etc. from across the pond, but only when reading the action-packed militaristic stories from the Library did I finally notice how jarring their differing uses of past participles and tenses for verbs can be. Picture this: A blazing laser gun battle illuminated the sky like a kaleidoscope of fireworks, almost hypnotizing the running soldier. Explosions erupted on all sides, leaving him blind, deaf, and disoriented, as he desperately dived for cover. He heard-

Wait, dived? Why not dove?

Maybe it makes me a bit snobbish, but the first few times I read this it pulled me right out of the fictive dream. The next few pages I just kept thinking why would the author use the archaic form instead of the new one? It passed quickly, but after I put the book down it still nagged at me. And as I read more from the Library, I found more discrepancies: They swinged clubs and cudgels, not swung. They swimmed across the murky swamp, not swam. The tip of the flamethrower was lighted, not lit. There may be more I’m omitting, but the point remains: It was distracting enough to pull me out of the scene, so how can I avoid it in my own writing, or use it to my own advantage.

A little bit of research revealed my original hypothesis as correct: these participial and tense changes are a North American tradition. Strangely, some have lagged behind others in social acceptance. Swimmed sounds silly to even the most untrained ear, but up until ~1960 dived was considered correct, and dove would have been marked wrong on your U.S. English Grammar Exam (or more likely essay).

The typical rule from this arm-chair editor: when in doubt, change it in your prose (unless you’re writing in the UK, then do as you please). For dialogue, it opens up some interesting options, however. Any character from, or who learned English in, North America should always use the adjusted tense. But, if your work features a speaker from (or who learned English in) the UK, having them employ these vernacular affectations could lend a taste of authenticity to the character, particularly if your work is set in a specific time period.

I’ll endeavor to bring you more little eccentricities From The Editor’s Desk; this is only volume one.
In other exciting news, I’m pleased to announce I’m starting up an editing business for books, short stories, dissertations, reports, etc. If it has words, I’ll read it and let you know if it can be better. I’m dipping my toe currently, but I’ve got a few credentials:

-BA English Literature (Cum Laude) from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas
-Freelance Sports Columnist and Public Interest Reporter for The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Henderson Home News, and Boulder City News 2000-2008

I’ve already edited a first draft of a romance novel (attestation forthcoming) and a potential self-help style non-fiction book from an already-published author. If you’re interested, please contact me through this blog or e-mail me at gentlesandman@yahoo.com. I’m currently looking to get experience mostly, so if you think I might have something to offer after reading this post feel free to contact me.

The Blade Itself: A Review

944073I’ve been waiting a very long time to sink my teeth into this particular book. I sort of blundered into Joe Abercrombie (Ashamedly because he was next to “Abnett” on the shelf, and the books looked interesting) in the middle of his career, with the stand-alone story Best Served Cold as my introduction to his gritty, intense style. I was hooked, and read several books with his name on them, and was pleasantly surprised when they all existed in the same universe and made at least passing references to the previous volumes. But unbeknownst to me, it all started with the First Law trilogy, and The Blade Itself is the first of that triumvirate of awesomeness (I’m assuming).

This work is a raw, less-refined Joe Abercrombie, no surprise since it’s his first published novel, but everything that makes him great is there. He has a way of taking the things we love about high fantasy, the spectacle, the magic, the knights, the whimsy, and slamming it face first into the sludge of reality. And then he pulls you through the gutter for 500 pages and all you want to do is say thank you, I want more. He is masterful with fight scenes, excellent at characterization, and has a knack for witty dialogue. One or two times a few of the characters make somewhat uncharacteristic leaps of faith or trust, but these aberrations occurs mostly near the conclusion.

One of the ways he grabs me, and makes particularly poignant the low high-fantasy setting, is in the inclusion of disabled or physically handicapped characters. In Blade Sand dan Glokta is horribly disfigured, borderline crippled, and yet an incredibly relatable, and even by the conclusion a highly likable character (as likable as an Inquisitor can be, at least). Best Served featured a scarred protagonist in Monzcarro, and one of his more recent ventures, Half a King, is based around a prince with a birth defect that left him with one hand. Though this theme repeats in his works, its still a very powerful device to insert some stark reality into a story that revolves around swords and sorcery.

That may be Abercrombie’s chief genius, particularly in The Blade Itself. He has a gift for crafting very realistic representations of depressingly real human problems and conditions, and inserting them into a fantasy setting. One of the most powerful moments in this book to me, was the very vivid description of a put-upon brother losing his temper with his sister for basically drinking too much and illicitly rendezvousing with his best friend. It gets bad enough he strikes and chokes his sister against a wall, all told from his point of view. He stops abruptly as the anger recedes Afterward is a surprisingly moving revelation that the pair’s father abused them both, particularly the sister after the older brother went off to join the army. She accuses him of being just like him, and leaves. It was unexpected, bleak, and painfully genuine.

If you like your dungeons and dragons served with a side of wit, sans the whimsy, and don’t mind getting a little muddy and bloody along the way, this book, and any other by Joe Abercrombie is definitely for you. Before They Are Hanged is next in line, and if history is any judge, I’ll dive into that one and finish in less than a week (Yes, he’s that good of a writer).

The Blade Itself gets 9 out of 10 bloody fingers, which is the highest I can go (once you read it, you’ll get it)

Signing Off.