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.

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5 AMAZING SCI-FI READS – AN UNCONVENTIONAL LISTING

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Ahh, the list of things to read. As varied as fingerprints and as accurate to the total stranger as Steve Harvey announcing a winner of a beauty contest. They are fun to read though, as a book lover will eventually run across one or two books they haven’t read before, books that catch their eye and entice them to read.

Now, this is not an essential read list. There’s no such thing. To claim a book is an essential read is the same as saying, “That’s the best movie ever!”. It’s pure opinion and does not take into account the preferences of generations. For what is considered wonderful writing to an older generation is now considered stilted and out of touch with a younger generation.

For instance, most people who began reading between the ‘50s and ‘80s will refuse to believe that Asimov, Herbert, Niven, Clarke (to name a few) don’t resonate very well with today’s generation. Yet the writing is so drastically different, stilted if books published in the 2000s are the new standard bearers, that people who began reading in the 90s and 00s will look at those authors, from the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction, as boring compared to the authors who have begun publishing during the last twenty or so years.

If you flip the train, the same holds true. The older generation will try out some of the newer books, but for the most part stick to the long dead writers or those authors who began writing back in the ‘60s. The newer generation of authors are just uninteresting to them.

So, essential read lists? An emphatic, NO.

A list of novels with tight writing, gigantic ideas, and ridiculous action? This is for you.

 

FORTUNE’S PAWN

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Fortune’s Pawn is a blend of ideas taken from pop-culture sci-fi movies and books. There is a mysterious ethereal force akin to Star Wars. Mercenaries wear giant suits of armor, with some serving a monarchy, similar to Warhammer 40K. The crew of The Glorious Fool is ragtag, digging up thoughts of Firefly. And there is a type of xenomorph like from Alien.

There is a mysterious ethereal force akin to Star Wars. Mercenaries (warriors) wear giant suits of armor, with some serving a monarchy, similar to Warhammer 40K. The crew of The Glorious Fool is ragtag, digging up thoughts of Firefly. And there is a type of xenomorph like from Alien.

The thing about Fortune’s Pawn isn’t so much about the extraneous parts—the universe is quite interesting—it’s that Rachel Bach has created a main character in Devi Morris who has so much panache and badassery, she will grab you by the throat on page 1 and won’t let go until the last word of the last sentence. And you’ll thank her for it.

Action upon action, hurtling toward conclusion at a breakneck speed, Fortune’s Pawn is the most entertaining book you’ll have read in years.

 

BLINDSIGHT

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Hard sci-fi. A tough sell to the crowds that want more fiction than science in their stories. However, sometimes an author comes along that manages to bridge that gap. Alastair Reynolds comes to mind, and now Peter Watts, both utilizing a mixture of hard sci-fi and outlandish fiction to create something memorable.

Blindsight follows a handpicked crew sent to investigate an alien object transmitting a signal. Standard fare right? Well, throw in a man with half his brain carved out at a young age who can’t feel empathy, a woman literally living with multiple people in her head, a man who may has well be a cyborg, a highly lauded soldier who is now a pacifist, and a vampire from the Pleistocene era resurected to be the ultimate soldier; you now have the makings for one strange story.

This first contact story is so marvelously written that you may be a little bummed at the end of it when you remember not every story is written so great. It is recommended to be read on an ereader with a dictionary downloaded, as the biology terminology is a bit heavy at times.

Blindsight is a first contact story completely unlike any you have ever read before.

 

DARK INTELLIGENCE

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Neal Asher writes like Peter Watts; you want to read every word in every sentence, not skipping so much as a “it” or “the”. In regards to Watts, every word needs to be read as near every sentence is crammed with difficult language, making it easy to get lost. Asher on the other hand, spins such a brilliant tale, you’ll find yourself not speed reading simply so you can savor every morsel of what he dishes up.

Dark Intelligence is that and more.

In what is possibly the finest science fiction novel ever produced, we find ourselves immersed in a story following the machinations of the single most fascinating character in literature: Penny Royal, an evil genie AI. The rest of the cast is as memorable: Thorvald Spear, a resurrected human with a chip on his shoulder; Riss, the snake-like assassin drone; Isobel Satomi, a career criminal who should have been more cautious when speaking to a genie. There is so much greatness crammed into this book, it is a shame not every sci-fi lover has read it.

Next to Hyperion, Dark Intelligence may just be the greatest sci-fi novel ever written.

 

REDSHIRTS

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Enjoy Star Trek? Did you get a kick out of the “third man” during the free fall scene in the Star Trek reboot movie? Hell, do you enjoy reading humorous books? If you can say yes to any of them, do yourself a favor and read Redshirts by John Scalzi.

From an author who has the balls to do stand-up comedy on occasion, the story of a redshirt ensign stationed on a starship that may resemble the USS Enterprise is exactly what you’d think: an absolute riot. The dialogue and description Scalzi creates in Redshirts is not only gut-busting funny, it’s some of the best he’s produced across all his novels.

Redshirts is a great read to start your week, end your week, or just lose yourself in any day of the week.

 

 

ANDROID HUNTERS

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Androids, an existence stricken from record and unofficially public enemy number one for the butchery of an entire world. Android Hunters, genetically enhanced humans with a singular resolve to hunt down and destroy every last android. The most powerful criminal empire in the history of humanity. And an android who wants to be human, who also may be the most powerful weapon ever created.

Characters inspired by mythological heroes, gods, and titans. Technology that follows Clarke’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Betrayal. Manipulations. Terrorists.

Android Hunters checks every box a sci-fi fan could want; and then when you blend all of those elements together, and throw in a world of pristine beauty juxtaposed against the brutality of a secret war fought by android hunters against androids, you get a story with a blistering pace that will leave you on the edge of your seat; wanting, wishing, waiting for more.

 

 

4 WRITING TAKEAWAYS FROM DAREDEVIL (TV)

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Daredevil, a Netflix Original Series, is one show in the growing stable of Marvel television shows. Serious at its core, it’s sprinkled with humor like a master chef adding salt to a dish; not too little so it has no affect, but not too much so the humor ruins the vibe. The writing stands head and shoulders above competition even outpacing other Marvel enterprises, with production values on par with big budget movies. Combined, the recipe makes for the best Marvel show and one of the best television shows ever produced.

Now, yes, Daredevil is a television show and thus naturally inferior to curling up with a good book, yet through the phenomenal writing of scripts and show pacing, a writer can takeaway quite a few great tips.

 

SLOW REVEALS

Daredevil excels here. The first episode origin story that tells the audience why the hero is filled with angst and why the villain is evil and hates the hero, is skipped in favor of the natural lifestory reveal. The writers of Daredevil decided the story should follow the person; Daredevil, Matthew Murdoc, is someone who works in the shadows and by night, and his story reveal follows that work ethic.

In the first episode we are introduced to Matthew Murdoc at the end of the crash that gives him his abilities, then thrust directly into his nightlife routine of beating the snot out of criminals. It’s here the viewer is given a taste for how the show will play out: the past will be revealed, not all in one huge chunk—an infodump if you will—but over time in small bite sized pieces. It’s like when you meet a new person. That person, or you, don’t make introductions and then launch into a backstory covering from age 5 up to three minutes ago. It’s weird and unnatural. Writing should take a cue from real life on explaining backstory like the writers of Daredevil follow.

 

RELATIONSHIPS NEED CONFLICT

No surprise here. Romance is the largest book genre by sales volume because relationships are full of tension. Women, and men, don’t purchase romance books because they are all huge, sentimental, love struck, romantics. Some may read romance for that reason, but in general, people yearn to see or read about relationships that are full of so much conflict that interested parties would have split long ago in real life, but they continue on at least speaking terms in the story. It’s a storytelling device that the romance genre excels in, and here Daredevil follows with greatness.

The writers in our show create tension between every single character, even Foggy and Murdoc who are best friends, and the drama is built slow like a pot of water coming to a boil. Conflicted relationships that develop over time, not in three sentences, are fascinating—in real life, in movies, television, and especially novels.

 

SURPRISE

It’s difficult to give an example from Daredevil about the surprises the writers use. To do so would ruin some of the most amazing scenes ever created for a television program.

The writers of Daredevil are able to produce these shocking scenes, not because they reach a point and think, “Let’s throw a twist in!”. Rather, they set a character down a path, with a morality you think you know they follow, and then force the character onto a road that could make them possibly go against their moral code.

It is difficult to envision without proper examples, so watch at least through Episode 11 of Season 1. When you do, keep in mind that twists like that cannot happen to every character in a novel or show. The more characters you toss moral twists at, the cheaper each subsequent one becomes. Going back to the salt analogy; too much can ruin a dish while too little will have no effect.

 

UPPING THE ANTE

Daredevil starts small and then increases the pot like an overconfident drunk playing poker.

Many TV shows and novels believe that if they lay out this massive, convoluted plot from the get go, they can coast to the end and keep the attention of the reader/viewer. The writer(s) could not be more mistaken.

Again, this is one of those that examples from the show would ruin what the writers have created. Suffice to say, every single episode throws another pepperoni on the pie, just one piece, enough for added flavor but not overpowering. By the end of the season, those single pieces create a mountain ready to topple over and create a surprise ending.

How do you do that in a novel though when most novels are not serials? You can up the plot ante with each chapter, subtly building until the penultimate chapter is a pressure cooker with the lid about to explode off.

 

 

Hooray for book lights!

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Got these two little beauties with a Barnes and Noble gift card by daughter got me for my birthday. Now I can lay in bed and read while my wife sleeps, rather than sit up on an uncomfortable couch.

Great book so far too.

Oh man, I gotta read a book?

READING

Reading [ˈrēdiNG]

NOUN

  1. the action or skill of reading written or printed matter silently or aloud

 

Three years ago when I was still writing ANDROID HUNTERS, a coworker told me something that shocked me so intensely I just sat down—a little bummed truth be told. He said, “I don’t read books, just watch TV. I don’t have enough time to read.”

How was I to respond to that?

  • “I hate you, because my dream relies on people reading.”?
  • “Can you at least buy my book?”?
  • “Uhh, stop watching TV and you’ll have more time to read.”?

I didn’t have a clue how to respond, so I sat down and began responding to emails like he had said nothing. It’s been at least three years since I’ve heard those words, and they still haunt me; so much so that I passively look for research into reading that I can share with a person I will likely never see again.

INCREASE THAT VOCAB OF YOURS

TV relies on imagery and sound to get across most of the points the show is making, in turn exposing you to precious few words. What words are said are catered to the lowest common denominator so everyone can understand.

Why do you need a larger vocabulary when a TV show doesn’t need it? Well a TV show doesn’t need confidence to talk to a supervisor at work. A TV show doesn’t need to sound articulate in a professional setting. So, crack open those books, expose yourself to some new words, and start speaking with new found confidence with articulation that stuns even you.

STOP SPENDING ALL LUNCH BREAK READING THAT TWO PARAGRAPH EMAIL

Without exposing yourself to the written word, automaticity and word recognition speed are greatly delayed. Not recognizing leads to less involvement in reading, which leads to less word recognition, until you’re communicating in grunts and hand gestures. *

*Okay, maybe not grunts, but you won’t have to spend ten minutes reading a two sentence email.

ANALYTICAL SKILLS, YAY!

We all love solving puzzles, being able to spot a pattern someone else can, winning at games. Hooray for competition! How about improving your odds of beating that total stranger/friend/coworker by showing off mad analytical skillz gained by reading.

WRITE BETTER

Do you like writing? Do you want to one day write the next great American novel? Do you just want your emails to not sound like a five year old wrote them? Good luck doing that without reading. A LOT.

DON’T BE THAT PERSON

It’s easier to talk to someone who is empathetic, something everyone learns eventually.

Studies have shown that by broadening your horizon through reading, your mind will open and be more receiving to lives outside your insular one. In other words, you may never have known someone who suffered through cancer, but by reading books with people going through sickness, you will literally increase your empathy for a real person suffering from an illness. And be realistic, at least one time in your life someone will look to you for empathy; do you really want to have to give them the cold shoulder because you don’t understand?

ENTERTAINMENT

Books can be consumed in more areas than watching a TV show. You don’t have to worry about putting away a book on an airplane before departure and landing. A book can be read in an area without cell signal. It doesn’t need to be charged. You don’t need to wait for a company to throw tons of money at a show just so you can see something different, because there’s a never-ending barrage of new and interesting content waiting to increase your vocabulary and make you a better friend.

BEST OF ALL, READING IS FREE

Go into a library (for free), get a library card (for free), and start entertaining yourself without waiting for a computer that has a timer (for free).

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.