Polity Agent – Neal Asher

polity agent

I love Neal Asher’s writing and storytelling.

I just got finished with Polity Agent. It’s so…visceral and raw feeling. Everything is just big and getting bigger. That’s not the best part about it though, nor why I’m enamored with the story telling of Neal Asher​ (and Neil Gaiman. Yeah I know, I always somehow manage to bring him into the conversation).

Both authors are at different ends of the spectrum in how they tell a story, but both authors are geniuses of their craft. The stories they tell are just that–stories. There’s no grand epic scope laid out in a three part act that must show resolution of the big problem at the end of the book.

No.

Neal and Neil both just tell stories that just sorta end at a natural stopping point. The story we readers were privileged to read is just a glimpse into the exciting lives of some members of that universe.

…I think I may be getting my point across in not the right way.

Let’s put it another way. I’m just in awe at how websites and classes devoted to “helping writers become writers” talk all about the certain story approaches and ending styles you should do to ensure a reader enjoys the story; which in turn means more sales. Then along come these two authors who say, “Nah, I don’t like that. I’m just gonna tell you about what happened this one month with some people who live in this other universe. It’s pretty crazy. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

Needless to say, Neal Asher has joined Neil Gaiman on my list of authors I admire. Whose works I study. My dream is to eventually be a story teller of their caliber.

Should you read Polity Agent? Let’s just say, if you haven’t read a book by Neal Asher yet, you are doing yourself a disservice. Neal Asher is without a doubt the most imaginative sci-fi story teller alive. His books are always a joy to read. So yes. Read Polity Agent.

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Hell Divers

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I do love finding fast-paced books that get more chaotic as the story progresses then at the end…BAM! Everything is brought together to a nice conclusion. I find it a rare treat, a delicacy if you will. Sure, books like Hell Divers aren’t astounding works of literature that make you question life and what have you. Instead, they are so fun, books like these make me want to run out and buy every other book the author has written.

As for the story, it’s actually pretty good and throws some decent curveballs at you. It plays out like a movie, which made me think for sure I knew exactly what would happen near the end. Those parts I thought I knew would happen actually turned out differently. I’m being vague here to not give away spoilers, but am trying to get across that while the premise of the story is straightforward; the presentation is cleverly done.

Characterizations are good. Pacing is brilliant. The multiple sub-plots just plain work. All in all, Hell Divers is a really great read. One that is going to have me try out all the other series Nicholas Sansbury Smith has written.

If you like easy reads that move at a blistering pace then you’ll definitely want to give Hell Divers a read.

CARDBOARD HAS NEVER BEEN MORE INTERESTING – HULL ZERO THREE

 

A man pushed open the saloon style doors of Louie’s on Fox. The right top hinge squealed like nails on chalkboard, acting a better entry bell than a bell would. Paint flaked from the wooden slabs in so many places, regulars made it a game to guess what color Louie claimed the door was that day. As the saloon doors flap closed, the hinge making fainter sounds with each flap like that of an animal letting out their last gasps of life, the man walks with steady steps in the direction of the bar. Dirt, brought in by the miners at the coal seam just outside of town and blown in from lack of glass on the window holes and a proper door, rise in small tufts under the heavy steps of the man. A few of the patrons that sit at the five fight-weathered tables like fleas clinging to a dog’s back give the man a once over, and then look back at their liquid dreams in the dirty glasses in front of them.

Two brown fans, fan blades more gray than brown from the caked on dust, turn as lazily as a vulture on a thermal waiting for a meal to die. It does nothing for the blistering heat that envelops the place, but they’re not supposed to according to Louie. It’s about not allowing the air to go stagnant. The man doesn’t know about that, nor does he care, he didn’t pick Louie’s for its cosmopolitan ambience.

He makes his way to a bar stool with a sliver of cushion and fabric so thin the man does what every other patron to Louie’s does, he tries to pull off the fabric like it was a dirty towel Louie left on the stool. When the fabric doesn’t come free, the man shrugs a shoulder, and sits in front of the bar top that takes up almost the entire left side wall.

Gouges, pits, and scraps decorate the deep brown oak bar top with patches of lighter oak, where fights had removed large chunks, joining the display. The metal running along the edge of the front could have been brass, or copper, or any other type of metal. It was hard to tell from the blood and dirt stains on top of the divots and dents. Behind the bartop that would turn away anyone more refined than a raccoon, five shelves were screwed into the roughhewn cedar wall. Dusty bottles with hardly a drop spilled from their confines sat next to near empty bottles of alcohol, the glass hard to see through from the dirt that covered it.

An old bartender behind the bar shambles over to the man sitting and places a glass as dirty as the bottle in front of the man. The inside could be clean, but the man doesn’t hold his breath. If he was worried about his health he wouldn’t have been at Louie’s.

“Cheapest vodka ya got,” the man says. As the bartender ambles away, he sighs, leans on his elbows against the bar, and just stares.

~

Greg Bear is horrible.

Okay, let’s back up here, shine the dirty glass so things are a bit clearer. If you are an author, you know this one piece of advice because it is a constant. Everyone who gives advice on writing says it; be it a blog post, newspaper article, or just shooting the breeze. If you want to be an author you need to know this; and if you just like reading, not writing, it will make sense when you think about it.

Characters in a story are not supposed to be as flat as cardboard.

An example would be the mini-story above. We know one character is a man and he doesn’t care about his health. That’s it. Why he’s there, what drove him to Louie’s, what drives him to do what he does. They are all absent, but the bar is in great detail. So you have a fleshed out background, but a character as flat as paper.

An entire novel is not supposed to be set up that way, yet Greg Bear does just that with Hull Zero Three, and it works. Which is why Mr. Bear is such a cretin. A story is not supposed to be a great read if the characters have the depth of an atom. Yet, Bear takes that given, throws it on the fire, and then writes a story populated by cardboard characters that is a really good read.

There is a reason why the characters are so one-dimensional in Hull Zero Three. To provide the reason would give away what makes the book wonderful, but that doesn’t mean the story is supposed to succeed. Even though the characters have to be cardboard, Hull Zero Three should be boring, but I couldn’t put it down.

For two days I read the book every single chance I got. Two free minutes waiting for the kitchen sink to fill with hot water? I read. Walking from the car to inside, I read. I read at night by the light of my phone, and during the morning while waiting for bread to toast.

The main reason for why the story is so fascinating is that the story is interesting despite being populated by cardboard characters. I don’t have a clue how he pulled it off. No idea.

Hull Zero Three is a great read. It’s really good. I highly recommend it.

GRIMDARK FANTASY IS FUN. WAIT, WHAT? – THE BLADE ITSELF

I all but gave up on fantasy not too long ago; as little as one year ago I refused to read a fantasy novel. The reason I gave to myself is that I read too many fantasy books growing up, so many that I’ve been indoctrinated into every trope there is in the genre. What is original to someone else, is tired and worn out to me. Turns out I was being really picky and choosing the wrong books to read.

The genre of fantasy is filled with stories that use the same old tropes—good vs. evil, chosen one who happens to be a peasant and 4 years old, old gods wanting to get back into the game. However, the same goes for every genre out there, and it’s that way for a reason. Tropes are not to make a story original, rather they are used for familiarity, to increase reader enjoyment and, at the same time, sales.

So, when I gave up on fantasy because I claimed everything to read was just tired and worn out, that was just me not giving the genre a fair chance. Instead I wrote the entire genre off and ran to the sci-fi side of the fence. There I learned my reasoning for giving up an entire genre sat on thin-ice, and the tremendous value of Goodreads Groups; for I got to a point that I didn’t even like reading sci-fi.

How do Goodreads Groups and really awful picking of books figure together? If you’re a connoisseur of Goodreads, then you know the answer.

Movies. There are so many of them out there, so many painfully awful ones, that most of the time it’s better to wear an old hat than to pick out a new one. It’s one of the reasons Rotten Tomatoes was created; to help people learn which movies to stay away from and which to watch. The rating system on that site is so uncanny that if there is a green splat next to the rating, just about everyone is going to agree it’s not a good movie.

The rationale behind Rotten Tomatoes is more or less the same as the one Goodreads uses. What would happen if, in one place, anyone could rate and post a review of a book? Not only that, what would happen if people could create groups on that site, with posts that linked to the books that anyone—not just a book critic—could review and rate? You, I, get a site that is an absolute boon to your, my, book choosing needs.

Goodreads, the reviews I read there, and a Goodreads fantasy group are the sole reason I wandered back into fantasy with The Emperor’s Blades, and the only reason why I read The Blade Itself. And oh how happy I am for that.

The Blade Itself is a feat of storytelling. Joe Abercrombie somehow takes the old trope of a quest of strangers and turns it into THE MOST ENTERTAINING FANTASY NOVEL I HAVE EVER READ. If you read my thoughts on The Emperor’s Blades, you’ll know I love that book. However, The Blade Itself is in its own class.

I’ve read books that are more thought provoking; stories with sentences that are a feast for the mind; novels with plots vastly more complex, but never have I read a fantasy novel more entertaining.

It’s the little things that create the amazing entertainment value. Jezal yelling really loudly when talking to someone he thinks can’t speak his language. Glokta angry at stairs because he moves like a wizened ancient man. Logen’s practicality. Everything, and I mean everything, fits together so seamlessly that Joe Abercrombie has joined the short list of authors I will reread with glee:

  • Neil Gaiman
  • Neal Asher
  • Robert Jordan
  • Dan Simmons
  • Joe Abercrombie
  • Rachel Bach
  • Peter Watts

Should you purchase, or check out from the library, The Blade Itself? Do I really have to answer that? Yes? Well then, do yourself a favor and give in to the hype surrounding Joe Abercrombie; I did and found it to be completely justified, which is why I am so happy I stopped being a book snob and jumped back in the fantasy pool. Read The Blade Itself like I did. Read it now.

That ending hurt my head – Time Salvager by Wesley Chu

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It was 1992, ’93, when I saw what I remember to be my first time travel movie. Marty McFly with his awesome skateboard and cool pre-grunge outfits. Doc Brown, his crazy Albert Einstein hair and eccentric but lovable attitude. The oh so lovely, totally had a school boy crush, Lea Thompson as Lorraine Baines. Back to the Future was, and still is, an amazing movie; one that will be watched and loved for the ages; and while it may not have been the originator of time travel, the movie is my progenitor of a lifelong fascination with time travel.

The sequel I have watched more than the original, maybe. If I haven’t seen it more than the original, it’s a close second. Everything about the second movie is as wonderful as all the exciting, new, and novel things of the original. People still clamor for a real life hoverboard—not the Segway without handlebars sold today—and they still want self-tying shoes, TVs you can roll up and down like window shades, flying cars, holograms, clothes that dry themselves; Back to the Future 2 is just ridiculous for how wonderful it is.

The third Back to the Future came out and I ate it up. I still enjoy watching that movie. The ending is a bit hokey, but overall, enjoyable as a time killer. It lacks everything that made the first two special though, and…and I thought nothing of time travel movies for years and years after finishing up the Back to the Future trilogy. That is, until college.

I still don’t know why I decided to begin philosophizing on time travel paradoxes. I think it has something to do with The Langoliers, a novella by the venerable Stephen King; I’m not sure, or I could just be a glutton for punishment. For whatever reason, I became enamored with the idea of attempting to resolve the numerous, and I do mean numerous, paradoxes involved in time travel.

Quick tip: If you want to drive yourself bat shit crazy, try to come up with a concrete answer to existential questions.

Whenever I attempt to scrape the surface of time travel paradoxes, I am left frustrated because I come up with more questions than answers, which makes Time Salvager a perplexing double-edged sword of a book. On one side, the story is thoroughly satisfying. I honestly cannot think of something it lacked. It is marvelously written. While on the other side of the sword, Wesley Chu has frustrated me something fierce with his ability to write a time travel book that manages to not frustrate me until the very last page.

Now, when I say the very last page, I don’t mean somewhere around page 349 he frustrated me, but since I had so much time vested in the book, I continued reading. No. The damn ending of Time Traveler got me on the VERY LAST PAGE. Here he goes through 378 pages of a time travel book without making me want to tear apart his views on time travel, and on page 379, the very last goddamn paragraph, Wesley Chu goes there. The mother of all time travel paradoxes.

If you travel back in time and do something, is that because that was always supposed to happen? -OR- Is going back into the past to change an event not actually going to change the event, as the event played out in the way it did because you were/are always going to go back in time so the event plays out as it should? — Yeah, try to give a concrete answer on that. Make sure you room has padding on the walls if you do.

We go an entire novel and on the last page, last paragraph, last sentence, the above paradox gets thrown into the mix. You’re a cruel man Wesley, making me think on time travel paradoxes when I didn’t want to; a cruel, wonderful author, because of that last page, a better ending couldn’t happen. Even if you went back in time to change it.

Should you read Time Salvager? Yes, of course. The entire story is wonderful. It’s also a good starting book for a person wanting to know what the all the hub-bub is surrounding sci-fi.

 

 

 

Devi is one badass merc – HONOR’S KNIGHT

Honors Knight

 

When I was a kid, around twelve, I wanted to be a mercenary. A person who got paid for fighting, gave allegiance to no one, the ultimate badass. I got older, began playing Dungeons and Dragons, and then wanted to be an assassin, but not just any assassin–a mercenary assassin; which I later found out to be redundant.

I grew older as people are wont to do. My career wishes closer aligning to that of a productive member of society. A videogame journalist was on the table, chosen after falling in love with NexGen–the premier gaming publication that unfortunately folded. I became a Marine on a whim, the journalist swallowed by bootcamp, and once again I wanted to be a badass who got paid for fighting. I wanted to be Force Recon then Delta Force then that super clan destine group that doesn’t exist but gets written about by Robert Ludlum.

I graduated college with a Bachelors in Marketing–funny how life always follows a straight path from A to B–and one thing that never left me throughout the years was that twelve year old who wanted to get paid fighting for a living. It’s little like looking at a Lamborghini and thinking it’s an amazing car and I should have three of them. The practical and rational side of me sees how impractical the car is, how much it would cost to insure, and how very silly it would be to own even one of them. Same goes for wanting to be a mercenary, but that little boy’s desire still burns. That’s where HONOR’S KNIGHT comes in.

Rachel Bach has created a mercenary I can live vicariously through. That, said mercenary, Devi Morris, is a woman and I’m a man is moot as Devi is bar-none the coolest, most kickass, most badass character I have ever read about or seen in a movie. I’m not going to add “for a girl” as a disclaimer.

No.

Put simply. Devi Morris is the biggest and best badass ever to be created.

Devi is smart. Awesome in a fight–be it with guns, knives, swords, hand to hand, or fist to armor. And an in your face, don’t take shit attitude, with a gentle side that actually shows empathy rounds her out. And she’s a mercenary.

Unfortunately I can’t accurately describe how awesome of a character Devi Morris is without reading the books to you; and I wish I could accurately describe how goddamn fun HONOR’S KNIGHT is, though I’ll give it the old college try. Reading HONOR’S KNIGHT, reading about Devi, is just…it’s fun. A better word to describe reading FORTUNE’S PAWN and HONOR’S KNIGHT I cannot find.

I can honestly say, I have never had as much fun reading a book (or series) as I have reading the PARADOX series, which HONOR’S KNIGHT is Book 2 of.

To me, Rachel Bach has created something special with the PARADOX series; more importantly, Devi Morris. As now I can do three things simultaneously while reading the PARADOX series–read because I love to read; have fun doing what I love to do; vicariously live my twelve year old dream of becoming a mercenary.

Should you purchase or do a library check-out of HONOR’S KNIGHT? The answer to that in unequivocal: YES. However, you should read FORTUNE’S PAWN first so you know what’s going on.

 

Finally. A fantasy book worth reading. – THE EMPEROR’S BLADES

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I actually stopped reading fantasy a while back, maybe a year and half ago. It could be longer.  I got sick of the same old tired tropes that didn’t try anything new. Oh look. There’s a young child walking on a goat trail. Oh look. There’s a teenager tending to a flock of sheep. Hey. A wizened old mage and some dwarfs and an elf.

The Wheel of Time, Dragonlance Chronicles, and Drizzt paved a path so large that for decades just about every fantasy author followed upon the smooth path. Even Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ follows in their footsteps to a degree. It wasn’t until recently, about the last five years, that fantasy authors and editors looked at the carefully planted and manicured garden of books that had been growing for decades. They looked and saw how boring it all was.

I don’t know what author/editor combo it was, but there’s a duo out there who looked into that fantasy garden and decided to throw a barrel of dynamite into it. What was left after the smoke cleared was a rubble strewn crater-like path full of fissures, jagged rocks, and smoldering terrain that you learn how to traverse by jumping in feet first.

Which brings me to the greatness that is The Emperor’s Blades.

There’s no 800 pages of a little boy/girl who gets chosen by a wise old one. No raising the boy/girl in a lean-to in the woods that has a kitchen and a bathroom. No ridiculous apprenticeship. There are no chapters that are good for nothing but being an elaborate infodump to teach us what this new religion/government/culture is like all without furthering the story.

The Emperor’s Blades eschews those tired tropes that Jordan popularized and Martin has beaten to death. Instead, Brian Staveley deftly turns those tropes on their ears and spins a yarn as good as any I have read. The start of a tale that makes me want to run to the nearest bookstore (not library, because I need to see this on my bookshelf) and buy the next chapter in the saga.

I want to run (maybe drive really fast) to the bookstore, because–and I might be close to killing this poor horse–the Emperor’s Blades is not your run of the mill fantasy book. Let’s put it another way.

You think just because The Emperor’s Blades is the start of another fantasy epic that it places floaties on your arms, a lifesaver ring around your waist, a lifesaver around your chest, and then holds you under the armpits while you’re lowered inch by inch into the water?

Think again.

Stavely throws you off a bridge into chum infested, heavy shark traffic waters, then tells you to swim to shore while regaling you of stories about shark attacks.

The Emperor’s Blades harkens back to Glen Cook’s: The Black Company. Shit hits the fan from the opening chapter and just gets thicker in the air as the story progresses. The first book ends masterfully, though not without some quirks.

The quirks in the last few chapters don’t tarnish the great story though, and most will not even notice them. I may have picked up on it simply because I am an author and have done the same thing. What I’m saying is that there are times in a story that you just have to say, “hell with the buildup,” and let the tinderbox explode. Make the transition abrupt enough, say in the middle of an action/fight sequence, and the reader will likely not even know it happened. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like the story and Staveley’s writing style. I noticed the transition and appreciate the abrupt subtlety (yes, that’s a thing) of it.

Should you go out and buy/checkout from the library The Emperor’s Blades? If I didn’t make that clear enough, I’ll spell it out: YES. This is a wonderful story, and I am so happy I threw caution to the wind and bought it on Google Play Books. Now go. Buy or checkout The Emperor’s Blades. You’ll thank me.