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.

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Rebel Winter – A Book Review

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The takeaway from this may be that I read to much Warhammer 40K fiction. That being said, I recommend this book to just about everybody, especially fans of war fiction. The Imperial Guard basis in this book is Russian-influenced, so they drink clear alcohol, talk in rough chthonic tones, and have mandatory mustaches. Essentially, it’s awesome. There’s trench warfare, big orky  bad guys, less orky corrupt bad guys, and lots of explosions guns and death. What makes this older example of  WH40K fiction stand out is the topical, less straight-forward subject matter they discuss. There’s a commissar punished for spurning a homosexual advance from and officer’s offspring (and making the young lad kill himself) and discussions of relationships and even sex on the Vostroyan homeworld. Sounds weird for this to be noteworthy, but for a WH40K novel it’s almost unheard of. There’s also some very basic mention of juvenile love and sex (via a hilariously beautiful scene where a Vostroyan describes why he named his rifle), and light moments like this are usually not present in the Black Library as well.

Steve Parker sort of moves in and out of 40K fiction, and usually does pretty good with the Imperial Guard stuff. He’s got about four books out, 2 of which I’ve read. He’s intense, a little more realistic than most 40K authors, and always a good read. I’d recommend anything he’s written to pretty much any fan of sci-fi or war fiction. And not just because it’s all Warhammer 40K.

In summation, Rebel WInter is more realistic and more relatable than the vast majority of 40K fiction. It’s a great starting point for anyone who wants to jump into the Black Library.

Signing off.

If You Don’t Get It I Can’t Explain It To You Vol. 3: Professional Wrestling

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What is the appeal of half-naked uber-muscled men (and later scantily-clad women) pretending to fight each other and acitng out soap-opera-style storylines on live TV? If you don’t get it, I can’t explain it to you. But I’ll try:
I grew up with professional wrestling, so I might be somewhat biased. My dad and I used to watch together when I was little, and still one of the coolest memories I have is when my dad surprised me and my sister by driving us up to Toronto so we could go watch a WWF House Show. I’ll never forget watching the Undertaker fight Ric Flair in a Steel Cage. For me, it was ingrained from a young age. I was a Hulkamaniac back in the 90’s, and proud of it.
So…if you know its fake, why do people even care? That’s kind of a complex question. Through the 90’s into the 2000’s Professional Wrestling became Sports Entertainment, which to be honest is probably a more accurate term for what these people do. While still fraught with danger, the punches and kicks and throws are not real…but at the same time there’s only so much you can fake about getting thrown off of a 20-ft cage or getting dropped through a table.

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                 Oh Lord, Its a Chokeslam

But that’s not even the key appeal. What’s fun about it is cheering or booing your favorite face or most hated heel, and letting yourself get caught up in the moment. It takes a certain suspension of disbelief, sure. But that’s also why it can be fun. In the same way you might not understand a sports fan’s devotion to a crappy team, you won’t get a WWE mark. It’s about being invested, but in this case there’s the wink and a nod that the actual competition is fake, and the stories are fabricated.

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                 That…doesn’t look very fun.

For lack of a better term, it’s live reality TV (which is also scripted) where people get body-slammed and hit with chairs. Probably closer to a soap-opera than a TV show, since it’s often a little over the top. Why do people like crappy reality TV shows? Because you just want to see what happens next. I would caution people not to judge too harshly until you go to a live WWE event. The real magic of these characters, men and women alike, is how they can manipulate a crowd, and sway them to cheer riotously or boo vehemently with little more than a few words or choreographed fight moves.
Like it or not, this is probably a mutation from Shakespearean theater more than television, and it’s the most successful, long-running theatre drama in history. It’s live, over the top, and designed to get live crowds roaring and invested. That’s right, word nerds. Never thought about the relationship there, did ya? I now fully expect Old Bill’s ghost to haunt my dreams for eternity. Totally worth it.

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And neither does that (The Walls of Jericho)

If you want to read something that kind of makes sense of all this, try Have a Nice Day:  A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, the Mick Foley Biography. Even a snooty literary nerd will respect how well this is written, as it tells the story of an ugly, out-of-shape kid with dreams of becoming a pro wrestler, and all that it took to get there. If you ever wanted to try and understand the appeal of pro wrestling, read this book. You should probably read it even if you don’t want to understand.

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    Pure Awesome

Once more, I’ve tried to explain the unexplainable. I expect your thank you letters soon.
Signing Off.

Know No Fear – A WH40K Novel by Dan Abnett

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OK this one was 100% nerd fiction all the way, but it did have some intriguing elements the somewhat-less-nerdy may even appreciate. One of the few Warhammer 40K novels at the local library, it’s the latest Horus Heresy book that I’ve read. That is probably greek to most of you, so in summation: The Horus Heresy series (Now ~30 books strong) tells the history of the major events that brought about the grim darkness in WH40K. In more esoteric news, this series represents the best writing in the Black Library/40K universe, and numerous titles (including this one) have hit the NYT bestseller list for trade paperbacks.
As I’ve been writing, all you’ve heard is probably Nerd nerd nerdy nerd nerd (Unless you’re a WH40K initiate, then I of course have your rapt and undivided attention) and that’s ok. If you made it this far, I won’t bore you with plot synopsis most folks won’t understand. Suffice it to say Dan Abnett strikes again. Know No Fear one is fast paced, full of action and intrigue, and has a sad, somber tone following the cataclysmic destruction of an entire planet.

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What sets this book apart from just about any other sci-fi novel I’ve read (and I’ve read plenty) is how the planet Calth is destroyed. Any Sci-Fi fan is familiar with the many different and varied explanations for space flight: engines, thrusters, rockets, “burning”, gateways, hyper-sleep, Infinite Improbability. An analysis of the many fictional means for traversing the void could fill several books on its own, as could the myriad of fictional solutions to Faster-Than-Light travel (Hyperspace, Warp, Dimensional Bending, more gateways, and as ever the Infinite Improbability Drive). Also many and varied are the vehicles for this transportation, from small fighters to gargantuan battleships. What we see in Know No Fear from Abnett is the closest thing to a realistic description of the sheer immensity of forces these theoretical modes of interstellar transportation employ, and what could potentially happen if they were employed nefariously.
Essentially what happens is a gigantic starship (~2-3 km in length), made of hybrid metals and steels, is run into a planet at “real-space” speed, just shy of the speed of light. It rips through orbital shipyards and other huge space vessels along the way. Abnett paints a captivating, artistic picture of the pure destruction and complete devastation this ship causes on its bullet path to the planet’s surface, and describes the impact quite antiseptically as “extinction-level”. Then he reminds us that to the people on the planet’s surface, the 4-5 page description of grueling destruction would be nothing more than a red flash, followed by a marrow-rattling earthquake planet-wide. Sort of a jarring reminder at the kind of forces us Sci-Fi writers and enthusiasts play with in our prose.

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If you’re interested at all in a scientific approach to this kind of global-scale destruction, or you want to include it in your own writing, I suggest reading this book for ideas or just the experience. It was quite captivating, and may even appeal to someone that’s not a Sci-Fi geek.
The End.
Signing Off.

The Best Author You’ve Never Read Vol. 6 : Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton

I’m not sure if he belongs, because you’ve probably read him…but not lately. With the latest installment of Jurassic Park looming on the horizon of this summer’s blockbuster movie line-up, it might be time to go back and re-read the books that spawned the movies. Crichton was first and foremost a science fiction author, with an emphasis on the science. He loved to delve into the scientific minutiae of the occasionally obscure but no less fascinating technical details of the technology and ideas his books explored. This devotion to science could overshadow some of the mechanics of his writing, particularly in his later works, but he’s still nonetheless one of the most influential writers of the 1990’s, and had more success in adapting his prose work into movies than any writer of the era.
On a more personal note, Crichton also provided the base materials for my own literary renaissance, and was the first author to inspire me to want to read, and eventually, write. I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was a kid, and a bit advanced in terms of schooling for my age. My mom decided I could handle Jurassic Park, as I was borderline obsessed with the movie, and got it from the library for me over the summer. I was captivated, even if some of the scientific nuances were well beyond the comprehension of my seven-year-old brain, I loved it. Mostly because of the dinosaurs. But the writing was pretty good too. I re-read Jurassic Park every year, and I always get several waves of nostalgia throughout the prose as I remember particular moments that still resonate twenty years later: The first descriptions of the immensity of the Brachiasaurs and the raw power of the T-rex (always my favorite), the spine-chilling suspense of finding the Raptors escaped from their enclosure, the some-what surreal early encounter with a sick triceratops. I loved every moment, and still do.
Crichton didn’t just write about Dinosaurs. He has other technological thrillers like Sphere and The Andromeda Strain as well as less genre-specific fiction like Rising Sun and The Great Train Robbery. Outside of his books, Crichton also had a passion to direct and produce movies and TV shows. He directed, among others, the Western Sci-Fi Westworld, which appropriately was the first movie to incorporate 2-D CGI (and it’s a great Yul Brenner movie if you’re into that). Even more impressive, Crichton created and was the executive producer on ER, teaming with Jurassic Park buddy Steven Spielberg. In 1994, Crichton became the first and only person to have a #1 movie (Jurassic Park), a #1TV Show (ER), and a #1 Book (Disclosure) in the same year.

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Other than sheer awesomeness and success, here’s why you should read (or re-read) Michael Crichton:

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1) The Science – If you’re any kind of science geek, or you just think science is kind of cool (and who doesn’t?) you’ll want to read Michael Cricthon. He has an ability to explain complex technology and theory that makes it not only understandable to a layman, but also integrates it into an entertaining story. His early works in particular seamlessly incorporate heavy science, suspense, and narrative to create entertaining prose that pulls you in with the depth of detail in the science and the story. He clearly does exhaustive research, which makes the science fiction feel to some of his works a lot more tangible and realistic. Even his non-sci fi novels have elements of research in them, and an author that does his homework can craft a much more authentic story for the reader.
2) Back to Basics – If you’re looking for over-complicated plots or twisty-turny story arcs, you won’t find them here. Crichton’s storylines tend to be a bit more straightforward, which is what enables him to incorporate the heavy science and research aspects so well. A book can only handle so much detail until it gets bogged down, and Crichton understood this. He didn’t focus as much on where the characters were going in the plot, and instead focused on what they were doing and how they did it, and this is where the science comes in. Character development isn’t a big focus, but he still manages to make them feel very real and believable through their dialogue and actions. He also has a gift for giving his characters quirks and faults that make them more genuine.
3) Suspense – Crichton’s gift for suspenseful moments in his works makes the action more intense, and gives many of his techno-thrillers an almost horror-type appeal. Whether its dinosaurs and aliens stalking and terrorizing humans, or the more mundane yakuza assassins and virulent diseases, you can’t help but turn the pages in anticipation. I’d put his gift for suspense against Stephen King’s any day, and the two would be comparable.
As his writing career progressed, and he had more and more books made into movies, his novels began to feel more like scripts or screenplays, which is a bit unfortunate. They were still fun to read, but works like Prey, Timeline, Next, even Pirate Latitudes lacked some of the depth in his previous works, and even skirted the science a bit, making them essentially dialogue and suspense elements and not much else. I’d recommend earlier novels like Sphere, Jurassic Park, Disclosure, The Great Train Robbery, and Rising Sun if you’re trying Michael Crichton for the first time.
He inspired me, and Jurassic Park was the first book that really resonated and made me want to read and write. So I ask you, if you slogged through my own limited prose to this point:
What Book and/or Author first inspired you to read and/or write?

If You Don’t Get It, I Can’t Explain It To You Vol. 1: Warhammer 40K

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In the grim dark of the future, there is only war…

That’s the tag-line for anything from the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and it basically summarizes everything in the universe in 10 words. You’d think that’s bad…but its not. What the bloody Brits from Games Workshop have created is a black, singular Universe (Capital U) riddled with bloodthirsty traitors, super-human soldiers, terrifying aliens, and a host of other horrors that are solely devoted to exterminating human existence. While it sounds quite nerdy (and it is) the appeal can’t be denied. It’s easily the biggest licensed prose section in any Barnes and Noble (outside of graphic novels…and maybe Star Wars). The Horus Heresy series has sold over 1 million copies worldwide. You can buy Ultramarines:The Movie (special edition) at Best Buy, in the sci-fi section. There’s a Space Marine video game available on major consoles (PS3 and 360) and wilidly successful, albeit older, computer games in the Dawn of War series, and even a few mobile games with fair reviews. In the less mainstream there’s a Role-Playing game, Collectible Card Games, and of course, where it all started…tabletop miniatures.

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I digress: back in 1987, the Warhammer fantasy tabletop miniature game got a sci-fi brother in Warhammer 40K. This is the basis: you pay oodles of money for resin/plastic/metal pieces you assemble and then paint, all in order to play a rules-based tabletop game where you try to kill your opponent (or opponents) by rolling dice, casting spells, and using templates for bombs, flamethrowers, etc. The nerdiest of the nerdy, maybe outside of LARPing, yet it resonated.

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The universe itself is all about survival. I tried the tabletop, and it was fun, but the universe to me is more enticing than the game that spawned it. I consume the books like they’re crack, basically. Any video game they release, I attack. I’ve played all the Dawn of War‘s, repeatedly,and Space Marine. I could dive into all of the things that make it awesome to a geek, like the 4 chaos gods, the general grudging acceptance of short, violent lives, the menacing aliens and vile traitors. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you why you non-40K geeks should try at least reading some of the books.

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1) “Abandon All Hope” – The scope of WH40K is huge.It quite literally encompasses an entire universe. And in this universe, all human life is expendable. You’re one of trillions upon trillions. If you die, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme. And its kind of a nice change. Yes there are characters that play a bigger role, and maybe aren’t as disposable, The lingering spector of death, however, is always there, and you never know if your favorite character is going to survive, They usually do…but you never know.

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2) Visual Emphasis and Settings – Part of what the Black Library, Games Workshop’s publishing company for all of its books, looks for in its writing is a penchant for lush visual description. The settings of WH40K fiction are key components to most of the stories, and are generally epic and beautiful in scale. From giant hive cities stacked upon each other for generations and  gothic, immense starships lined with statues and bristling with weaponry, to verdant death worlds intent on killing and deep jungles lined with indigenous life and hiding dangers in the shadows. They strive for visual scale in their writing, and its one of the most consistently strong pieces of Black Library fiction.

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3) There is Only War – If you’re looking for romance, it’s not here. Any kind of humor (except maybe gallows) for the most part, not the focus. Excepting one very notable and awesome exception which I will discuss later. The very vast majority of Black Library 40K fiction is solely focused on all facets of war and conflict, and many do it very well. Not all, however, are based around the direct, shoot-at-each-other and then eventually hack at each other with swords. Some of the best things I’ve read from Black Library follow the espionage, cloack-and-dagger type storylines, where they fight behind the scenes of major conflicts to root out the underlying cause.

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4) Characters – As with most war and spy-based fiction, the characters matter more than the setting. You get attached to the well-developed ones as they struggle to make a difference in their tiny pocket of the universe. It can be gratifying to see a lowly human triumph in the face of world-crushing warp entities and gigantic super-human warriors. Some of the better writers also paint very vivid pictures of just how incredibly, incomprehensibly powerful some of these super-soldiers and chaos gods are, and yet still make them relatable to a real-world reader.

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5) Continuity – For the most part, there’s a great bit of continuity in the WH40K universe, not as a whole but in self-contained galaxies, or corners of the galaxy, where whole series of books take place and you see how the characters shape the balance and outcome of a long-term conflict. This probably appeals to nerds mostly, and sci-fi war nerds more exclusively, but its a cool facet of the fiction that should appeal to all readers. In particular, Dan Abnett is the prime example of this, as he has several series of books, some 10+ works long, that occur in the same corner of the universe (Affectionately coined the Dan-iverse by the folks at Black Library).

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In summation, Warhammer 40K is awesome. It’s super-nerdy, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like anything war-related and science fictiony, this is for you. Don’t let the table-top gaming originis scare you off, some of these authors have cracked the NYT bestseller list. Its worth your time, trust me.

Signing off.

I’m an Ordinary Guy…Burning Down The House! (Daily Prompt)

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Burning Down the House.”

My home is on fire! I can only grab five items (and all people and animals are safe). What do I grab?

Hmmmmm…Assuming I have the time, here’s what I’d take:

1) The Bookshelf – My dad built a wooden bookshelf for me when I was a baby, and I’ve had it with me, carrying my book collection, for as long as I can remember. No way I’d let this go in a fire. Realistically…probably not the best choice since I’d probably burn with it. But I’ve made the comment out loud that I want my coffin to be constructed of the wood from this bookshelf. Or at least to have it cremated with me. Either one. Morbid. Good start.

2) The Responses – I took 4 creative writing classes in college, and the responses I got from the other students and my teachers on my stories are things I treasure. I don’t have electronic copies…just the hard ones. And they’re in a big heavy box with a lot of other papers. Again…realistically and logistically not a great choice. But I wouldn’t want them burned in a fire. So I’d save them.

3) The Thumb Drives – I have all of my writing on these. The short stories, finished and unfinished. Anything I’ve ever written copied on a collections of thumb drives. I’d have to have these. The computer (where they’re also saved) is replaceable…but the thumb drives are not. Plus they are way easier to carry. So I’m 1-for-3 in practical decisions…hey, sounds like real life.

4) The TV – I have a 55″ Samsung that is basically the shining, phallic monument to my testosterone-fueled manhood. It is the one thing I always wanted but never asked for when I was a kid, because I knew we didn’t have the money. When I was finally old enough, I saved and got one. It’s not just the price-tag, it’s what it stands for that would make me save it. Also not very logistically intelligent…but more so than a bookshelf.

5) The Pin-Stripe Suit – The most recent of the prized possessions, it’s easily the most expensive article of clothing I own. And I can modestly say I look pretty good in it. Also, it was a gift. And a pretty awesome one. Also is a bit of a symbol of a big change in my life to something better than it was. In short, a special piece of clothing to me. It would be pretty easy to carry as well. So I’m 2-for-5 with practicality.

So there you have it, the 5 things I’d save from a fire. What would you risk life and limb for?

Saying Goodbye

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But strew his ashes to the wind
Whose sword or voice has served mankind,—
And is he dead, whose glorious mind
Lifts thine on high?—
To live in hearts we leave behind

is not to die

-Thomas Campbell, Hallowed Ground

Goodbye Gene. The world’s a bit darker without you in it. You touched so many lives, had so many friends, and went way before your time. You won’t be forgotten.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: A Grown-Ass Man’s Book Review (Part 4)

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Annnnnnnnd I’m back. This book took a little longer to hack through. Mostly because if you put the first three books together, they might be as long as this one. Might. I could do the math…but I don’t want to. I didn’t start a blog to do book reviews so I could do addition. That is nonsense. Anyway, this book is 600 or so pages. And it can drag a little bit in parts…but this is the first book where the nerd can really come out and flourish in the Wizarding World.

The first three books are very Hogwarts-centric, outside of the Azkaban mentions. Whether intentional or not you’re given very little real direction about how the Wizarding World works (point for alliteration). On a few occasions the world will open up a bit, but everything is centered around the characters at Hogwarts (as it should be) and a nerd like me wants to see more of how they fit into the universe the author created. This is the first time that Rowling opens up the world a bit more…and I can’t lie I got a bit of nerd wood. Also there’s intrigue, interrogations, internal struggle, and shape-shifting. Betrayal and subterfuge abounds. If Harry Potter has an Empire Strikes Back volume, it’s definitely Goblet of Fire. At least the last 60 pages or so. Empire is definitely the best Star Wars movie, and if you disagree you should take whatever device you’re reading this on…tablet, phone, or laptop…and smack yourself in the head with it. I don’t feel quite as strongy about Goblet, and I don’t know if it has unseated Prisoner as the fave, but its definitely second if not first. I like it when evil (sort of) wins.

You find out that witches and wizards are everywhere, not just in Merry Old England, which was kind of implied in the first three. You see contingent from Bulgaria, Ireland, even the good ol’ USA. There’s an in-depth look at a French school, and a deliciously evil Bulgarian one, during the oh-so-plotty Triwizard Tournament. As the series progresses Rowling gets better and better at her craft…but lord, having a French and vaguely Soviet school was apparently a invitation for her to inflict dialogue on us. Every time Viktor Krumm and Fleur spoke, nails screeched against a chalkboard inside my brain, and my eyes wanted to crawl out of their sockets. Yes, it was really that bad. Viktor sounded like a love-sick teenage version of Boris and/or Natasha. Fleur left out so many consonants I thought she might have been having a seizure. I prayed for the return of Hagrid’s stilted dialogue. Thank god they’re only in one book.

I may have gotten a little off the rails there. That’s really the only issue I had with this particular installment of the Harry Potter tales. Besides the expounding on the Harry Potter universe, the plot was even twistier this time around and we got more subtle reveal of the meta-plot. Also, Voldemort came back. Shit got real, real fast. In a scene that could have gone very wrong very easily, Rowling handles the big reveal in a very efficient, if mildly melodramatic fashion.

Rowling, aside from the dialogue, is definitely growing as a writer. The pacing isn’t as frenetic and fast here as in the first three (Maybe that’s why it took 600 pages to tell the story). And while it is longer, and some of the Triwizard side-plots could’ve been truncated a bit (the movie definitely made some strategic cuts without losing any of the movement), the length wasn’t too much of a drag on the reader. I found this installment relied lot more on the story and the action to move the plot versus relying on the characters to speed things along, like the first three books. The new additions to the line-up are not as fleshed out or enjoyable as the folks from the first three volumes, but I feel like that’s ok. Invest me in any more characters, and the book you’ll have to write will double as a brake-brace. For tractor trailers.

Fleur, Krumm, Madame Maxine, even Mad-Eye moody, portrayed so memorably by Brendan Gleeson in the movies, was a bit forgettable. Maybe that’s because he wasn’t exactly himself. The story is what mattered in this volume, and it was a nice change. All the old favorites were still around. The budding teenage romance angle, which managed to involve Krumm Fleur, Ron, Hermione, and Harry, is enough to make an almost-30-year-old laugh. Same with the awkwardness surrounding the school dance. The slimy reporter archetype of Rita Skeeter has an appropriate ending. The old favorites of Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid the Horrible-Speaker are still keeping everybody in line, and good olde Snape is still…haunting…the…grounds…in typical Alan Rickman-style. Which is smooth…and Snapey. We get more of his dark story as well…a Death Eater turned agent of good…or is he? Rowling’s use of meta-plot grows in this volume as well, and remains one of her strengths as a writer.

In summation: another good read. Not as fast, or as easy to get through, but still enjoyable. The characters are still good, even if the new ones aren’t developed as well. The story-driven aspect makes it seem a little less childish and a bit more serious, as it should since the subject matter is getting darker. Maybe not the best of the four I’ve read…but definitely a contender. Especially since it delves into nerd-indulgence and gives you the full monty of the Wizarding World.

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And now I’m through the halfway marker. No turning back.

Signing off.

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2015 Banned Books Challenge

The Best Author You’ve Never Read Vol. 3: Thomas Disch

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 Disch is one of those authors I stumbled into rather than sought out. My Dad is a Sci-Fi short story fan, and he borrowed a copy of Fundamental Disch form the library about 10 years ago. I picked it up, Double Time, and was immediately hooked. My angsty, college-age self was attracted to the simplicity of the darkness Disch represented in his writing. At least, his short stories. The more works of his I read, the more I liked. Wings of Song and Camp Concentration can be ranked right up there, in my opinion, with Sci-Fi classics like Stranger in a Strange Land or Slaughterhouse 5.

Disch played a key role in taking sci-fi from the pulp stories to serious literature. Yet he’s rarely mentioned now with his contemporary heavyweights like Phillip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and the like. He’s won just as many awards, and in some cases more.The only thing that sets him apart from these more renowned writers is the lack of modern-day translation, like movies and TV shows. The closest Disch ever came was a children’s book called Brave Little Toaster, which was a staple cartoon movie for me when I was growing up. Why not Disch? His prose is a bit more “out there” than many of his contemporaries, and isn’t as concrete. He’s a lot less science and a lot more fiction, and that may be why he wallows in semi-obscurity.

And for you video game nerds, you can probably thank Disch for contributing to the idea of open-world format games, like GTA, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Shadow of Mordor, and the like. He helped script the ancient Commodore 64-era game Amnesia. It was the first game ever to feature an open world, in this case a chunk of NYC a player could explore without linear limits. So read his books, nerds.

So here’s why you should read Disch (Besides owing him for the best video games ever created):

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1) Style – The man’s got it in spades. It permeates through his writing, making everything he describes feel cool and controlled. He’s got masterful control of his reader’s perception, particularly in his short stories. Nothing feels wasted, and every single word he writes has a meaning somewhere in the story. It gives his prose a depth that a reader happily struggles in vain to find the bottom of. There’s a timeless quality to the way he tells a tale. It pulls you in and refuses to let you go, and leaves you thinking at the end.

2) Discord – There’s a level of inherent crazy in just about everything he likes that makes the reader feel slightly off-kilter, not unlike Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a bit of an acquired taste to most consumers, but I find his crazy is subtle enough to make it more generally appealing to a reader. I’ve never been a fan of the weird kaleidoscopic drug fiction, but Disch doesn’t go quite that far. The unreality he creates is less LSD and more Hannibal Lecter. It gives a sinister edge to his work that I haven’t encountered anywhere else. May not be everyone’s cup of tea, but its a key component in his fiction that is prevalent throughout his work, and really sets it apart from any other writing of the time.

3) History – This is one of the fore-fathers of modern science fiction. He’s got all the chops of every famous Sci-Fi writer you’ve ever heard of and then some. I his time, Disch was on the cutting edge not just imaginatively but also functionally. He played with diction, delved more internally than the linear pulp sci-fi, and helped create science fiction in the conscious and the sub-conscious the way so many of the greats have. If you haven’t checked out Thomas Disch, and you’re any kind of nerd or sci-fi fan, it is your duty to at least check out something from the library and give it a shot. You might be surprised.

Disch is one of the greats. He’ll take your mind to a place you didn’t think it knew how to find. Go grab one of his books, or at the very least a short story. And then let the thank you notes rain.

Signing Off.