End of January Report

Sup homies

January was productive. Fell short of a few goals, started some habits, failed to start others, February is a reset button.

I did 10 episodes of the Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast, to which you should subscribe. Only great things in the future there.

Several old Engines of Liberty drawings are on my Instagram page, you can see them there along with new works in progress.

I am still writing SLEEPLESS HOLLOW, my intended release for October.

There are other work-based considerations taking up my time, but forward movement is still happening, stay tuned here for details.

Peace out.

My Best Reads of 2018

With 6 days to go, my stats for the year are as follows:

Total books read: 138

Print/eBook: 38

Audiobook: 100

Re-reads: 14

Did not finish: 27 (adjusted total 111)

And now for the best!

Calvin, by Martine Leavitt. A schizophrenic boy is convinced he can make his visions go away if he crosses Lake Erie on foot and meets Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown. Fourth of the Red Rising series, first in the follow-up trilogy. Gush gush gush.

Thunderhead, by Neal Shusterman. Second in his Arc of a Scythe trilogy, and worthy of its incredible first installment. My only knock was that it felt like the third act of the story was derailed by a need to add allegory to the 2016 US presidential election. Still, Shusterman told his story well, as always.

Shatter, by Aprilynne Pike. Second of two in AP’s excellent future corporate regency tale, billed as “Marie Antoinette meets Breaking Bad.”

MHM Sinners & Saints, by Larry Correia and John Ringo. Counted as one because of the series factor. I love Correia’s MHI world, and was shocked to find that I love Ringo’s take on it…almost more than the original. (Don’t shoot, Larry! I’m sure you agree.) A great tie-in trilogy with a stunner of an ending.

Quiet, by Susan Cain. Superb book on introversion, what it really is, how it manifests, why it is a benefit to society, and why all those Facebook pages kissing up to it are crap. Read this instead.

Only Human, by Sylvain Neuvel. Though this trilogy experienced a sophomore slump, the third installment brought it back around to greatness. Weird and unique, but ultimately brimming with imagination and an interesting view of life.

The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse. Did you watch those insane hearings this summer for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh? I mean before all the bogus rape accusations. If you remember the one Senator in the chamber who was saying anything at all that made sense, that was Ben Sasse. Read this book.

The Fantasy Fiction Formula, by Deborah Chester. Recommended to me by Lisa Mangum, this was a belter of a book that will one day make me a million dollars.

Dry, by Neal & Jarrod Shusterman. Hey, it’s Neal again! Dry talks about what would happen if southern California suddenly ran out of water. Crazy book, made all the more horrific because its premise isn’t that far off. While the actual occurrences are debatable, the self-interested human nature depicted in it is not.

80 years ago this Christmas, Karel Čapek died. So what?

Think about what sci-fi would look like without the term “robot” in it. Think of all the properties that would be vastly different, or gone altogether.

No C-3PO, and maybe no R2-D2 either.

Image result for c3po and r2d2 No Terminators, which probably means no breakthrough role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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No Optimus Prime, no Autobots. No new Bumblebee movie this weekend.

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Nope.

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Sorry, childhood.

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Will Robinson died because nobody was there to warn him of danger.

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Virtually no career track for Isaac Asimov, as presently constituted. The dude wrote an entire library of robot stories.

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Not to say someone else wouldn’t have eventually come up with the idea of man-shaped machine that could think for itself, and give it a name that would become universal around the world, but we’re going off of what did happen in our timeline.

The writer responsible for this massive genre cornerstone was none other than Czech author Karel Čapek, pronounced “kuh-RELL CHAP-eck,” who died on Christmas of 1938. Here is his Wikipedia article, and a picture of him.

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The term “robot” comes from a Czech word for “labor,” which was a central theme of the play he wrote, Rossum’s Universal Robots, set in a future where the robots performed manual tasks for humans, then eventually rose up and took over, and achieved sentience bit by bit.

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The play is about 60 pages long, and I meant to have read it before doing this post, but work and life have taken my focus and it fell down the list of priorities. Nevertheless, as we humans like to celebrate round numbers of anniversaries, I wanted to give his legend a boost on his 80th.

Personally I’m grateful for his work. Transformers and Terminator both came out in 1984, the year I was born, and they’ve had a massive influence on my creative work throughout my whole life. Robots have always been my thing and I’m sure I’ll write a lot of stories about them in different ways.

Between Stan Lee and Karel Čapek, I’ve been thinking a lot this fall about what kind of mark I want to leave on the creative world during my time. It will be a lot harder than it was in their day; competition is stronger and more plentiful, and it’s hard to stand out. Will I ever revolutionize sci-fi and fantasy like these men did? It is my hope, and can only happen if I work at it.

I do have the great fortune to stand on the shoulders of giants in my time. Thanks for your stories, Karel Čapek. Keep resting in peace, and Merry Christmas to you all.

Now get back to work.

Reading Roundup, Christmas Edition

Ever since I got a Deseret Bookshelf account, I’ve been blitzen’ Christmas books WHOOOOOO that’s a solid Dad Joke.

ALL MADE OF HINGES, edited by James Wymore. First of a three-volume set of “Mormon Steampunk” short stories, and many of these were very inventive. I personally enjoyed “Napoleon’s Tallest Teamster.” Full disclosure, I have a story in this series, but not in this volume–mine comes out in March.

CHRISTMAS BY ACCIDENT, by Camron Wright. Basically a cheesy Hallmark story, but it’s pretty meta because it’s about a dude who gets fired from his job and decides to write a Christmas book because he “can write this crap.” Which has to be what Camron Wright was thinking when he wrote this, and he did a very good job.

CHRISTMAS EVE 1914 by Charles Olivier. Excellent full-cast narration of the events leading up to the Christmas Truce between England and Germany in WW1. I had heard this story before, but this was the first time it was REAL to me.

LIEUTENANT TERRY’S CHRISTMAS FUDGE, by Gerald Lund. True story of an Army Air Force bombardier pilot whose plane crashed in France, and he subsequently became a POW mere weeks after getting married. While his wife was pregnant, he was locked up by the Germans, and spent Christmas 1942 in a camp. The eponymous fudge comes into play then. As “true meaning of Christmas” books go, this one is great.

We are coming up on the end of the year, peeps. As of today I have read 133 books, and finished 106 of them. I will give a full stat breakdown after Christmas.

Not that any of you out there are reading this blog. Get back to work.

So begins the avalanche of Christmas books!

When Thanksgiving lands on the 22nd, we will have what is mathematically the longest Christmas season possible at 33 days. Get your reading in.

I started with the audio of this gem by Tolkien, who wrote letters to his kids from Santa Claus and his Polar Bear. This book collects those annual Christmas Eve letters, some of which ran contemporaneously with World War 2.

Overall it was good, and some of it even ties in with his Middle-Earth races. I’ve heard the print edition is illustrated so that is cool.

That is all I really have for now, it has been a rough week for reading, but more will come.

Recent Reads, Fever Dream edition

This is a big update so let’s keep it quick:

The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski. This is from The Witcher, a popular Polish fantasy series that started in the 90s, became a video game, and will soon be a Netflix series with Henry Cavill. I got a ways into the audiobook before I caught the flu and spent a whole night dreaming CRAZY stuff about The Witcher while trying not to barf. So I couldn’t finish it. But it was interesting.

Squanto, Charles River Editors. A seasonal pick, and a really good one. It relies on a lot of original sources, which are rare enough, so it paints a more accurate picture than the footnote stuff you get in school.

The Witch Elm, Tana French. An extremely talented author, this book had a strong hook and gorgeous writing, but it wandered and ultimately failed to land for me.

Skyward, Brandon Sanderson. Love this dude, love his stories, this was one of his quicker-paced books and was really well done.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson. She’s a famous blogger, known for her humor, so I picked this up. It was really hilarious in parts, but like most blogger books, it got repetitive in tone and moral.

Veritas, Quinn Coleridge. A supernatural semi-frontier story in 1890s Colorado, featuring a main character who is a blind-mute. The latter half delved into a lot of darkness and torture but it was overall a good read and I will pick up the sequel.

Dragonwatch: Wrath of the Dragon King, Brandon Mull. A favorite series of mine, though apparently these are now coming out eighteen months apart? Bummer to wait that long. Typical good middle grade fantasy, though the ending cliffhanger involves a main character getting amnesia, and I kind of hate that as a plot device. Nevertheless I will read the next one…when I’m halfway to my next-next birthday. 😡

Shusterman’s waterless disaster novel is anything but dry

Neal Shusterman is in my top 10 of all authors, and it will be hard for anyone to edge him out for a long time.

Between the 4 Unwind books, the Skinjacker trilogy, the current Arc of a Scythe books, and such standalones as CHALLENGER DEEP and BRUISER, he’s proven himself competent and capable at delivering on the promises of his big ideas.

DRY is another standalone, co-authored with his son Jarrod, which I admit gave me a moment’s pause when I first heard about it. Was it mostly Jarrod? Was I in for an entirely different treatment from the eleven other Neal books I had loved?

I needn’t have worried, as DRY lands just as well as anything else the elder Shusterman has done. I would very much like to hear from both of them about their process and how they worked together to tell this story.

The premise is that Nevada and Arizona suddenly pull out of an arrangement with California that supplies most of their water.

Immediately society goes to hell, and people go feral, an idea that Shusterman explored back in Unwind, but this is a more grounded treatment.

DRY doesn’t depend on future tech or massive changes to the legal landscape of America. It’s not a “after [crazy thing X] comes [crazy thing Y], which parallels our reality.” Instead, it’s “we are very much on the cusp of this, because California has a water problem that they aren’t addressing.”

I don’t want to give anything away, because you should read it. I will only say these things about it:

1) The characters are great. Well-rounded, distinct in tone, and even though it’s mostly written in first person, the alternating viewpoints are clear.

2) The audiobook had six or seven narrators, which helped to expand the focus of the instant drought, and show how it affected so many people.

3) The book works well as a commentary on our society, in terms of emergency preparation, entitlement, self-interest, and the things people will do to each other when law and order go out the window.

I will say, in the end, that it was kind of a hard book to read, because it was so devastating, and so many people suffered. The Shustermans don’t cushion the blow with this story; if California were to lose its water supply in real life, millions of people would suffer, and the book allows us to safely examine that without the massive toll.

Final note, there is a content warning: numerous S-bombs and blasphemous exclamations litter the text. Convincingly so, but there. It would be a PG-13 movie.

Read on.

Ichabod Crane was not a sexy dude.

I wrote about this back in 2013 on my old blog, and it’s a good time to revisit this subject.

Washington Irving’s best-known tale is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, featuring lanky Connecticut schoolmaster Ichabod Crane versus the ghost of the Headless Horseman.

Everyone has heard of the story, due to its staying power over the centuries (Irving wrote it in the early 1800s) but Hollywood tends to butcher the important parts.

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The two most recent adaptations were Sleepy Hollow from 1999, wherein Ichabod Crane is a sexy supernatural detective played by Johnny Depp, in his pre-Jack Sparrow days.

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Later he was played by Tom Mison in the TV show “Sleepy Hollow,” which was a wild, wild departure from just about anything having to do with Irving’s classic (other than Ichabod, Katrina, and the Horseman.)

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Apparently Jeff Goldblum portrayed Ichabod in a for-TV version of the movie back in the early 1980s. This version of the character was closer to accurate, even if the story wasn’t.

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To date, the most correct portrayal I’ve seen is the animated Disney version from many many decades ago. Both the character and the story are directly adapted from what Irving crafted.

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I bring this up because I usually read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in October, and have for the past five or six years. Yesterday I plugged in the audio (I have the version narrated by Tom Mison, funnily enough) and as always, it’s a striking feat of language and emotion and storytelling.

This story always draws me in, and not just because Irving was a fantastic writer; I found out back in 2015 that I actually have a ancestors buried in the Old Dutch Church Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. (Their names were Dirke Storm and Gregoris Storm.)

Naturally this has fueled my imagination for some time, and I’ve poured that fuel into a story idea that I’ve been kicking around since my twenties. I’ve tried tackling it before, only to fail, but this is the year that I can make it happen.

So my NaNoWriMo novel is called SLEEPLESS HOLLOW. It’s a modern-day follow-up to Irving’s original story, one that treats it all as historical fact, and accurately portrays the characters he created.

I won’t get into too many details for now, just know that SLEEPLESS HOLLOW is going to be my big release of 2019. It will be about a year before you guys get to read it, but check back here for updates and snippets as I write and illustrate it.

And if you need something to hold you over in the meantime, head over to http://www.gutenberg.org and grab a free ebook copy of Irving’s Legend. Fall in love with it like I do every time I read it.

There is more to be discovered in that sleepy little villa…

Recent Reads

Here’s what I have read lately, what I’m reading now, and what I’ll read soon.

Previously…

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RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard. Verdict? It was a good book and deserves its fanbase. Did I get into it? Not really, but not through any fault of the novel; it’s a well-done assemblage of tropes for the young adult “fight the power” genre, and I already have favorites in that sub-category. The apex characters for me are Katniss Everdeen and Darrow of Lykos, and any new character would have to surpass them for me to go crazy over the book.

So check if out if you’re into that, it works pretty well on its own.

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DREAM OF THE IRON DRAGON by Robert Kroese. I’m Twitter-friends with Rob, but if I hadn’t really liked this book, I wouldn’t plug it here. Solid 5 stars, really cool story that starts in space in the future, and ends up with a spaceship crashing in Viking times. Stoked to read the next one.

Content note: fair amount of profanity including F-bombs, normal combat violence, no sensuality.

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THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, BBC full-cast audio rendition. It’s taken me about 15 or 16 years to admit it, but it turns out that I actually don’t like reading these books in their fully-caffeinated iterations, nor do I enjoy listening to them. I like the movies! And these condensed-but-complete radio readings are also pretty enjoyable.

Fun fact, this was recorded in 1981, and Frodo was voiced by Ian Holm, who later went on to play Bilbo in Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. Sam was voiced by Bill Nighy, a.k.a. Davy Jones from the Pirates flicks.

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POWERS OF THE EARTH by Travis J.I. Corcoran. Lamentably I gave it three stars, only because so many of the characters were just caricatures of one form of idealism or another, and the author’s favorites were always heavily presented as the smart ones (though a lot of them were jerks.)

To its credit, the book boasts high-stakes conflict and tension, and a wealth of imagination on the tech-and-science side of things. I can see why it won a Prometheus award for hard sci-fi. But if it lives up to the moniker of “Atlas Shrugged in space” (and it does), then it takes the strengths of Ayn Rand’s classic novel as well as its flaws.

 

And at present I am reading…

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One is a sci-fi about drillers that fight an evil dragon, and one is about how to write sci-fi about drillers fighting evil dragons.

Also:

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In the mornings I toggle back and forth between some Church history books, about the early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Man, we easily forget how comfortable our lives are in the modern age…

 

And coming up…

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds audiobook cover art

The final installment in a Sanderson trilogy, and

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A hike down the Appalachians.

 

Stay tuned, fans.

Reading Roundup, July 2018

What up. It’s the second week of July and I’m almost at 60 books read for the year. Some stats:

Average pace: 2.2 books per week, slightly inflated because:

Did not finish: 14

Print/ebooks: 17

Audiobooks: 42

Best-of-year candidates: 7

As you can see, I’m much more openly embracing the “bore me and die” mantra when it comes to not finishing a book. I’ve learned more about my own writing by reading so much, and ditching a book I don’t care for.

Basically I like to read books that move, and have energy. And I need to write the same way.

Two months of summer left 🙂