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.

Image result for schwarzenegger terminator

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

Image result for optimus prime and autobots

Nope.

Image result for robocop

Sorry, childhood.

Image result for iron giant superman

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

Image result for will robinson robot

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

Image result for isaac asimov robot books

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.

Karel-capek.jpg

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.

Image result for karel capek rur

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.

I just saw a Classic Cartoon Christmas Moment.

A couple of facts up front:

1) I tend to deal with something akin to seasonal depression once Christmas is over, and I never know why or how to deal with it.

2) The older I get, the more I want to head it off when I see it coming.

3) Tonight, Saturday, December 15, 2018, at 6:32PM on my back deck, as I grill pork for lunches this week, I think I finally may have beaten this thing. At least for this year.

The above song, “Old City Bar” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, always gets me thinking about how I spend Christmas. I once wrote a poem based entirely on the line “If you want to arrange it/this world you can change it…” because I really wanted to do Christmas right.

It’s a holiday about God keeping a promise to send us a Savior. And I think one reason I get gloomy after Christmas is maybe because I have made all kinds of promises to God to be a good Christian, only I don’t think I am. At the end of the day I don’t serve all that many people, or in a meaningful way that I can see.

Well, this year something great finally happened, and not to me–to my friend Lisa.

The short version is that she has had a crap year. Lost some extremely close family members, things like that. If you know her, you know the details, I won’t share them here.

Well, the cherry on top came when her car super-died last month, and a reliable replacement can break the 10k mark pretty fast.

Her brother Dennis came to the rescue and rallied the troops. Everyone who knows Lisa chipped in $10 here, $20 there, and she had the money she needed in an instant. Today she bought the new car and thanked everyone who helped. It felt really good to see my name on the list.

I’m not rich, but seldom do I struggle, and for as much as I consider the value of things I spend my money on, I’m glad I found myself in a position to help someone who needed it.

All those kiddie Christmas cartoons were right: there’s a true meaning of Christmas, and it isn’t about getting things. (Unless you’re Lisa this year, in which case it kinda is.) Maybe it is more about how you get them, and how you give them.

Maybe it is about how we keep our promises.

That’s all. Merry Christmas, you guys. I love you all. Go listen to the entire “Christmas and Other Stories” album by TSO. It’s beautiful.

See you out there. 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.

MCU Villains, Ranked.

Based on charisma, motivation, impact on the protagonist, and impact on the overall story.

Batroc the Leaper, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Nothing against MMA legend Georges St. Pierre, but he had a throwaway role. His only job was to get his butt kicked by Cap. Never heard from again.


Malekith, Thor: The Dark World. Easily the weakest Marvel film, in part due to its bland and forgettable plot, driven by a bland and forgettable villain. Still, he helped our heroes find the Reality Stone.

Yellow Jacket, Ant-Man. Marvel loves to introduce heroes by having them fight a bad guy who has the exact same powers, and it’s a lousy mechanism. By 2015, seven years into the MCU, even the writers seemed tired of it when they put Darren Cross into the story. He did nothing but die.

Whiplash, Iron Man 2. Cool visuals? Sure. Absolutely nonsensical? Even more so. At least he had history with Iron Man, even if it was one-sided. His motivation centered purely on fighting Tony Stark because their dads disagreed once.

Abomination, The Incredible Hulk. What started out as an intriguing story devolved quickly into a smasher, with the main villain getting dumber as he got stronger. Two-dimensional, but not as bad as some others.


Mandarin, Iron Man 3. As HISHE points out, this movie is basically The Incredibles, and the Mandarin is Syndrome. Plus there was some sleight of hand that was funny, but still sorta meh in the end. Nevertheless, this advanced Tony and Pepper’s relationship, and showed that Tony is more than just his suits.

Queen Alia. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Lost in a pileup of villains, she only really merits a spot because she has extensive wealth, great tech, and will soon give us Adam Warlock.

Captain Taserface, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. He overthrew Yondu and eventually led Queen Alia’s forces to the planet Ego, nearly killing all of the Guardians as they literally were saving the Galaxy again.

Crossbones, Captain America: Civil War. Not unlike Batroc the Leaper, Crossbones was a throwaway villain in Civil War. However, he rates higher because he has a history with Cap, and his actions directly trigger the central conflict of the film, throwing the entire MCU into chaos.


Kaecilius, Doctor Strange. Another case of first-movie-villain, with similar powers. I give Kaecilius points because he had an interesting monologue with Strange, presenting him with information that would test his loyalties and make him question his own priorities.

Ronin, Guardians of the Galaxy. He was ruthless and stone cold, though his motivation was somewhat one-dimensional. Still, he introduced the Power Stone, and gave the Guardians a taste of success in saving an entire world from an Infinity Stone. They wouldn’t be so lucky next time.


Ghost, Ant-Man and The Wasp. She ranks higher because of her unique motivation, and what her condition revealed about Hank Pym’s history.


Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger. While Red Skull is another case of First Villain, Hugo Weaving’s performance really enlivened the character, and was a strong counterpart to Cap in his movie. He also gave us the Space Stone.


Killmonger, Black Panther. Another case of First Villain, elevated by Michael B. Jordan, who made this otherwise two-dimensional (and jerkish) bad guy pop off the screen. Didn’t agree with his motivation much, but he showed major tactical prowess.

Hela, Thor: Ragnarok. Okay, so Thor has a sister. She takes over Asgard, and is…grumpy. That’s about it. She’s almost a repeat of Loki from Thor, but with more power. During her time in Asgard, she reveals that the Infinity Gauntley in Odin’s treasure room is a fake, which solves some things.

Ego, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Dude. Kurt Russell. Peter’s dad. A homicidal maniac trying to spawn a child so he could consume the entire universe. Do the math, that is twice as bad as Thanos. Still, he failed.


Alexander Pierce, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Dude. The head of S.H.I.E.LD. was the head of Hydra.


Iron Monger, Iron Man. Jeff Bridges is a beast, and his role here solidified just how uniquely smart Tony Stark is, and just how close to home were the people who wanted to kill him. Plus, the first MCU villain! However, sadly, another case of First Villain.


Loki, Thor, Avengers. Speaking of First Villain, here’s another Norse god, with a penchant for mischief. Even though his plan made little to no sense, he managed to pull the Avengers apart while inside a prison, and nearly succeeded at conquering both Asgard and Earth. Bonus points, he introduced the Mind Stone.


Ultron, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The best villains are the ones you accidentally build yourself. From James Spader’s perfect swagger and rage and quippiness, to his willingness to just kill the whole world, to the “there are no strings on me” jingle…yeah. Ultron’s movie may have been a mess, but it was a fun mess, and he was a great villain.


The Winter Soldier, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. For all intents, he was the true antagonist of this film, presenting a completely unique challenge to Cap: you have to beat this man, and you can’t do it by killing him. You have to remind him who he is. Winter Soldier’s very existence has huge repercussions for the MCU.


Helmut Zemo, Captain America: Civil War. He took down the Avengers without superpowers, with limited resources, and with sheer determination and brainpower. Even though he was caught and imprisoned, he still got away with it.

Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Finally! A blue-collar villain, a working man who had had enough, and Michael Keaton did a heck of a job playing him the whole way through. Especially when that third act reveal popped up. A superb villain.


Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War. Underwhelming, right? I mean, he kind of has to be number one. Strongest, biggest impact, and the first villain to actually pull off his plan. Ego tried to kill everyone. Thanos was more dangerous and only had half the goal.

And since I know you will ask: I am not officially including any of the TV shows, for 3 reasons:

1) They are, unfortunately, not part of the continuity of the movies.

2) Most of the shows suck.

3) These villains have at least 13 hours to establish themselves, which gives them more weight.

Nevertheless, two honorable mentions:

Kingpin, Daredevil. I can’t sum it up, you just have to watch the show. What a magnificently crafted character.


Kilgrave, Jessica Jones. Give someone Jedi mind powers. Remove all their morals. Dial up the evil to 11. Yeah. Kilgrave was the one redeemable factor from one of Netflix-Marvel’s worst shows.

Did I forget anyone?

Best nine remind me I need to draw more.

2016 was my most art-heavy year, what with finishing Engines of Liberty 3 and then knocking out Kill The Beast.

Not that I put too much stock in Instagram likes, but it’s a mathematical fact that my content reaches more people when it is art.

I don’t know which 9 photos will make the list this year, but I expect one of them will be a meme. We’ll see.

Takeaway is: I should draw more. Been too busy this year (2018 has been a major slog, work being the chief reason.)

So expect more of that. In 2019 I will spend 10 minutes a day drawing, and I’ll post each day’s progress. That’s when I’m not actively illustrating a project.

Not that anybody cares because nobody reads this blog. Get back to work.

Marvel have been foreshadowing this for a while…

Of the many predictions for the inbound, unnamed, 4th Avengers film, my personal favorite centers on Captain America trading his life for his friend, Bucky, aka The Winter Soldier.

It happened in the comics, and Marvel have planted the seeds for this all along, hinting at Bucky one day taking up the shield.

It’s time. Probably gonna happen. Guess we’ll see. I can’t wait for that trailer to drop, supposedly soon.

Okay, so…Captain Marvel reax

This is the new Captain Marvel trailer that dropped this week. The last one had some cool bits in it, and left me with some questions, the biggest one being:

Does this script ever call for Brie Larson to emote?

And I’m not the only one to wonder this. She just has one tone of voice, one look on her face the entire time.

The new trailer is more of that, though it appears that we have a clearer sense of why: Carol Danvers flies a subphotonic plane that somehow shoots her out into the galaxy, and while she is out there, she fuses with a Kree and gets…massive, massive overpowers.

Marvel has put out 20 films, most of them good, some of them great, few of them bad. After an average of two films per year over a decade, I trust them.

That said, I am a little worried at how much this looks like Green Lantern. I’m also concerned that they might be making the Marvel version of Rey from the new Star Wars films: emotionally bland, and just stupidly overpowered for no reason.

But if there is a reason why they are only showing this side of the character in the trailers, then the justification should be good.

I do suspect that a great deal of this story will be a setup for Avengers 4, in much the same way that Captain America’s first movie was a setup for Avengers 1.

We shall see. Captain Marvel comes out in a few months.

It’s too bad that “TRON Legacy” wasn’t better.

I’m on mobile so I am not sure if the link embedded the video. It’s from the light cycle fight in TRON Legacy.

It’s already been 8 years since that movie came out. I had always heard of the original from the 80s, and I watched it before seeing this new one, in case I missed the story.

Truth be told, the sequel was kind of a mess. Disney had this old IP lying around and thought hey, we can do a sequel! Or a reboot! Or an updated version of the original, with new graphics!

Worst of all, we could try all three.

Scene for scene, it’s almost exactly the original movie, but with much better graphics. Even dialogue beats are copied. Visually it is stunning, narratively it doesn’t really seem to know what it’s after, other than your cash.

The one unassailable component is the score, by Daft Punk. Perfectly fitting, and always good for a listen. I just bought the CD the other day.

Disney has tried to do a third movie, and even had a cartoon spinoff for a while, but I think the sad truth at this point is that they have a cool concept, a cool world, but not a cool enough story to sell it all.

At least we got Daft Punk, though.

December writing update

Hey, Dreads.

Last night I finished a short story for an anthology about lesser-known fairy tales. Mine’s based on a Spanish story. I sent it in and now the waiting game begins.

The other project I worked on during November was a romance novel. There’s a lot of secrecy around this one, so no details here.

The most important update for today is that I am taking another crack at my fantasy epic, Brimstone. This is my “blast crew goes to Mordor” series and I love it more than most of what I have written.

It just had some flaws in the mechanics of the story, and I think I know how to address them now. It will be a good palate cleanser from these other two stories, and it will get a considerable monkey off of my back too.

I need to rearrange some chapters, rewrite others, and cut about 20% overall. This will be Graham at his Genghis Khan-iest.

Get back to work.