Book Reviews

The Sorority

You know you've done it. Don't lie. You go into a videostore. You have no idea what you want, you just wonder around the isles, and you see a movie. You look casually from left to right, snag the box, and flip it over quickly and scan the back. You want to get it, but you can't bring yourself to take it up to the counter. You didn't go into the, um, backroom, so you don't have one of those videos, but this video is still tacky enough to embarrass. So you go up to the cashier with copies of On Golden Pond, The Godfather Part II, and Sorority Slaughterhouse VII.

Tamara Thorne wrote The Sorority trilogy as the literary equivalent of a teen exploitation horror movie. It has dozens of girls in a sorority house, an evil sorority president, sex, ghosts, oral sex, dead football players, group sex, human sacrifice, and chipmunk sex. Reading a book like this makes me cry. In college I couldn't get laid to save my life.

Eve, Marilynn, and Samantha spent a summer of their childhoods together at Applehead Lake Cheerleading Camp "eight years ago." One night, the sneaked off to the boathouse and the rowed out to the island in the middle of the lake. Everybody knew that the town of Applehead sits at the bottom of the lake, and sometimes you could see the ghost of Holly Gayle walking about. A strange sound, a howling, drew the little explorers from the beach inland, to the mouth of the cave, and...

Eight years later, the girls find themselves reunited at nearby Greenbriar University, all pledging the Gamma Eta Pi sorority--for different reasons. Eve wants to join Gamma for its fabulous cheerleading squad. Marilynn is attracted to the sorority's history of ghosts and death. Samantha, the journalist, knows that something evil is brewing here, and she plans on breaking the story.

And what is the story? Malory Thomas, president of the exclusive Gamma Eta Pi, is also president of the sinister Fata Morgana, the sorority within the sorority. The Fata Morgana need to offer a sacrifice to the Forrest Knight by Halloween, and Eve would certainly make a worthy lamb.

The Sorority trilogy consists of the books Eve, Marilynn, and Samantha. Each book, of course, tells its story from the title character's point of view. The books follow each other chronologically, each book picking up the story from where the previous book leaves off. The reader must read all three books in order, as they certainly do not stand alone.

It thrills me that Tamara Thorne wrote the story deliberately as a guilty pleasure. She intentionally broke many rules of good storytelling to give the movie a B-movie flavor. Eve, the "hero" of the fist book, is a wimp, which is usually a no-no. The sex in the book, and there is a lot of it, is completely gratuitous and silly and funny and fun. And, I mean, come on, a sorority of evil college students performing human sacrifice in the middle of the woods!?! I loved it.

But the books commit two deadly sins that ultimately makes this a "thumbs down" review. The books build, and build, and build up to the climax, a big fight scene between the evil Malory and one of the girls, the scene we've been waiting for. DON'T GET SCARED! And then Thorne completely wimps out at the finale. I don't know if she got bored, or afraid that she couldn't pull of an exciting ending, or if some other conflict raged within her, but the story just peters out at the end, ruining the story as a whole.

The other problem has to do with padding the books. This is not really a trilogy. In fact, if I had money to bet on it, I'd wager that the book was finished as one book, and then split into a trilogy by the publishers. This should have been one novel, The Sorority, divided into "Book I: Eve," "Book II: Marilynn," and "Book III: Samantha". Chapters that ended on right hand pages had blank pages following them to make the following chapters begin on a right had page. This format stretched the books significantly, making them seem longer than the 190-200 pages they actually are. Instead of printing one book at 550 pages and selling it for $7.99, the reader must purchase three books at $5.99 each. For that I have to reject the book on principle, and say "Shame on you".

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The Sorority, a trilogy by Tamara Thorne
Published by: Pinnacle Books
Genre: Horror
Author's Webpage: www.tamarathorne.com

Eve
Published on: June 2003
ISBN: 078601539X
Buy This Book

Marilynn
Published on: July 2003
ISBN: 0786015403
Buy This Book

Samantha
Published on: August 2003
ISBN: 0786015411
Buy This Book
  [Read more...]

Gilbred Guteater

"If Harry Potter bores you, if you thought The Lord of the Rings had too many slow parts, Gilbred Guteater will rock your world."

This quote appears on the back cover of Gilbred Guteater, by David S. Watkins. It shouldn't. Watkins really shouldn't remind the readers that they could spend their time reading something else.

The thirty second sum up of Gilbred Guteater: Ten year old Gilbred Goodeater (yes, Goodeater) flees his clan after killing another child for laughing at him. He accidently sets the evil wizard Lord Elkengarth free from his magical imprisonment. Gilbred goes on to find a mentor and learn magic and fighting. A mercenery, working for Elves, finds Gilbred. Gilbred and the Elves make a last stand against Elkengarth and his orcs (I swear to God.) to keep the wizard from coming to full power. He has sex with an elf warrior. The End. Or is it?

In this novel, Watkins intended to write the literary equivalent of a shoot-em-up video game. Constant action, fast pace, ultra-violent battles. Watkins pushes this as a main selling point of the novel, but it is ultimately what makes Gilbred Guteater a bad book.

God, I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just briefly go over the writing itself. The book has the basic first novel feel, i.e. too much narrative, not enough scenes, not enough dialogue, and not enough detail. All in all, Amateur Hour. But the problems go beyond that.

At its core, a story entails a character that has a goal, which he either does or does not accomplish. Frodo discovers that he has the One Ring, so he sets off to Mount Doom to destroy it. Harry believes that Professor Snape will steal the Sorcerer's Stone, so Harry sets out to stop him.

But in this novel, things just happen to Gilbred, and he goes along for the ride. He's walking along a pond, and just happens to find a magic elven sword, and then just happens to find a cave imprisoning an evil wizard. He accidentally sets the wizard free using the magic sword he just happened to find. Later, he just happens to find someone who can train him in just about everything, and the guy takes Gilbred in, no reason given as to why he would. And on and on. Maddening. This type of moving from one scene to another works in a video game: you walk into a room full of monsters, you kill them all; you drop down into the basement, face more monsters, kill them all; you inch your way into the wine cellar, face more monsters... It doesn't work in a novel.

And Watkins misses the point on what makes successful fantasy, or any successful story. Why do millions of people love Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings? Because people care about Harry and Frodo. They care about Gandalf and Hermione. You cannot write an engaging story without writing engaging characters, and Gilbred Guteater doesn't have one interesting character. Hell, Watkins doesn't even bother to give many of his characters names. The only character with any backstory is Gilbred, and it is barely there.

How can we pull for these characters when we know next to nothing about them? Why does Sierra know so many different things about different lands? Did he travel as a soldier? A mercenary? A tradesman? The reader never finds out. Why do some call Sierra the Silent One? Why does the evil Lord Elkengarth want him captured? Why does Kelly become a mercenary? Why, why, why? These questions need answering. Why should I care one drop about these people? Since Watkins gives me no reasons to, I don't.

Epic battles and heroic men and sexy women and cool magic in and of themselves will not make a story good. You gotta give the reader someone to root for.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Gilbred Guteater by David S. Watkins
Published by: 1stBooks Library; December 2002
ISBN: 140338567X
Genre: Fantasy
Author's Webpage: www.guteater.com
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The Hades Project

What would you do if you had chased a demon possessed mass murderer for hundreds of miles, and he finally gave you the slip? What would you do to find him? How about calling on your local bald, dominatrix, demon-raising, black witch? Come on, raise your hands if you expected me to say that!

Michael Pacilio works for the Office of Scientific Accountability, a federal agency. His division of the federal government usually handles cases of fraud occurring in federally funded scientific research. But every once in a while, they need Pacilio for the big cases, the tough cases.

In Fairfax, Virginia, eleven scientists experiment with opening portals into parallel dimensions by using witchcraft. The feds find ten of the scientists dead at the worksite, and call in Pacilio to investigate. But, whoever murdered them didn't simply murder them. He beat, tortured, incapacitated, raped, burned, disfigured, disemboweled, decapitated, and displayed them. And the eleventh scientist, Peter Barbour, has run.

Pacilio follows the trail of dead bodies until he finds a woman who Barbour left alive. And what she tells Pacilio leads him to believe that someone, or something, has taken control of the good scientist.

But where does the demon want to go, and what does he want to do when he gets there?

Readers will find The Hades Project, by Justin Gustainis, a tight and exciting read. He has created a wonderfully over the top villain, and has added a supporting cast to match it. Along Pacilio's hunt for this horrific killer, he meets up with a part-time hooker, an ER doctor who likes to play doctor, a demon-raising dominatrix witch for hire, a Jesuit exorcist, a hypocrite preacher megastar, and the ghost of an old buddy from Viet Nam. The author throws just enough monkeys in the wrench to make you wonder how all the threads will tie up in the end.

However, this is a debut novel, and it shows in the writing. Gustainis too often uses euphemisms and clever word play when simple language would suffice, especially when describing the actions of the demon Asmodeus. Instead of simply calling him by name, the reader gets phrases like "The thing that once was Peter Barbour," or "The demon moved Barbour's hand and..." Gustainis also consistently referred to Asmodeus as "it" instead of "he," which became distracting very quickly.

The author shows his inexperience the most, however, in his dialogue. He tries to put far too much information in his character's mouths, when it should simply have been put into narrative. This lead to conversations that I have heard described as "As you know, Bob" dialogue, or "Jim, this is a positron" speeches.

This kind of dialogue goes something like:

Evo: Michael, I'm feeling a little guilty.
Michael: Why's that, Evo?
Evo: Well, I just think we've been getting too much credit for the success of the Dragon Page. As you know, Michael, not only are we on the Bookcrazy Radio Network, but we're on syndicated radio in two states, as well as Cosmic Landscapes Internet Radio.
Michael: So, what's wrong with that?
Evo: Nothing. I think it's wonderful, but I don't think Joe Murphy's getting the credit he deserves.
Michael: Really?
Evo: Well, let's look at the facts. You're the author of Mistress of the Dragon and Dragon's Fire, Wizard's Flame, I know, but what do you really do for this show? You get the guests and talk to them. Big hairy deal. I am in charge of the website, and talk to guests too, neither of which, incidentally, has anything to do with my main passion, which is herbalism. But a trained monkey could do my job.
Michael: So?
Evo: But Joe, he writes REVIEWS! He writes the newsletter. Surely, he is our backbone. Our show, which was rated as the second most popular show on Bookcrazy Radio, would crumple and die without him.
Michael: So, what do you propose we do?
Evo: I think we should call it "Joe Murphy's Dragon Page, starring his humble followers, Michael R. Mennenga, and Evo Terra." Maybe I should even change my name back to "Travis." This is my real name, remember Michael?
Michael: I remember.

Writing dialogue in which the characters tell each other things they already know, in order to convey the information to the audience, is a hallmark of bad writing. And The Hades Project overflows with it. The entire epilogue consists of almost nothing but this type of speech. Somehow, the television show CSI gets away with it, but it doesn't work here.

In creating The Hades Project, Justin Gustainis wrote a good story, but I think he needed to write a few more drafts to make it a good book.

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Hades Project by Justin Gustainis
Published by: Brighid's Fire Books; September 2003
ISBN: 0971327866
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Mistress of the Dragon

As a wizard who has spent a lifetime studying and creating magic, do you think anyone could surprise you anymore? How much joy would you feel if strangers came to your home and wanted you to see something different, something NEW? Something even you, in your one hundred and four years, have never seen. Wouldn't you find the opportunity for such an adventure worth leaving your cave for? Worth leaving your beloved cat for?

Neferes believes so, and so he travels to the nearby village of Oricam to see the winged, scaled girl captured by the townspeople. There he finds Patrill, the daughter of a human mother and dragon father.

Neferes learns the story of Petrill's origins from her father, Tigora. A tale of forbidden love, betrayal, loneliness, obsession, and death. The great, dying dragon asks Neferes to tell the story to his daughter, so she can finally understand her parents and forgive them for the life she has had to endure.

Since Michael told me he likes it so much, I'll divide the review into the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: I like original ideas, and while one can easily find half-breed creatures in science fiction and fantasy, I have never run across a half-dragon before. Oh, to sit down to a fantasy novel devoid of elves and dwarves! Mark the calendar at such an event. Circle the date twice, since you'll find no heroic quest, either.

Like Interview with the Vampire, Mistress of the Dragon tells of the isolation felt by those different from the norm through the metaphor of monsters. Michael appears to feel very strongly about this theme, as it arises not only in this book, but also in his children's novel Dragon's Fire, Wizard's Flame as well. Michael's writings teach the value of tolerance, a lesson we as a species should take more to heart.

And, finally, not only do we have the unique Petrill, but we also have a supporting cast worthy of future tales, should the author want to take another swing at this world. Michael set up a world and characters worth returning to over and over again.

The Bad: Mistress of the Dragon essentially tells two stories at the same time. One story, the story of Petrill, takes place in "real time," while the story of Tigora and Morana, Petrill's parents, takes place in long flashbacks told by Tigora to the wizard Neferes. The story suffers from this structure. I believe that to strengthen the story, Michael should have simply told the story of Tigora and Morana in this book, and left the story of Petrill for a sequel. Both stories could have supported a novel each, and some of the final sequences would have more suspense if the reader didn't already know that Tigora would survive to tell the tale.

Also, this structure causes the book to suffer from Saving Private Ryan syndrome. Namely, that in parts of Tigora's telling of the story, he talks about events that he could not possibly know about, since neither he nor Morana witnessed them. A more traditional narration could have prevented this problem.

And, alas, The Ugly: The book had no professional editing, and it shows. Yewl find typoes. Lot's ov tipeos. And sum reely, realey, long parigraphs. So, blame the publisher, suck it up, and keep reading.

But, I have no doubt that for the sequel (you will write a sequel, eh Michael?) he'll run it by an editor first.

Mistress of the Dragon by Michael R. Mennenga
Published by: PublishAmerica, Inc.; August 15, 2001
Webpage: www.dragonpage.com
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Guide to Writing Fantasy

I heard recently that eighty-one percent of Americans believe they have a book in them. I believe if you polled fantasy fans, that number would be in the nineties. And I'm just talking novels, I'm not including all the movie and TV screenplays we have in mind. It's one of the best aspects of being science fiction and fantasy fans: you live a big chunk of your life in your imagination.

But, ask anyone who has ever tried to write fantasy, and he or she will tell you. It ain't easy. How do you make a fantasy world? How do I make up a type of magic that doesn't seem stupid? How do I make interesting characters? And on, and on, and on.

Well, now there's help. The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy is a collection of nineteen essays on the craft of writing, the business of writing, and what you need to know to write intelligent fantasy.

The book begins, appropriately, with an overview of the history of fantasy, making it clear that fantasy comes from a rich tradition dating back hundreds of years, and not simply starting with Frodo and the magic ring. The history of fantasy includes King Arthur, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and the ancient myths of every land and culture.

The next several chapters focus on the craft of writing fantasy, with chapters focusing on Characterization, World Building, and Race Creation, among others. Of course, many of the lessons applied here can just as easily be applied to writing in general.

The middle chapters consist of beginning reference materials specifically for the fantasy author. Since many, many fantasy novels take place in a medieval/feudal setting, there are chapters dedicated to medieval clothing, food, and medicine. The chapters give information of these topics in a real-world historical sense, and also include ideas as to how they may differ in a fantasy setting. How would people's diets be different of foods could be imported by magic? What if foods could be made to last by means of mystical refrigeration? They teach the reality, giving a proper jumping place to dive into the unreal.

Then come the fun chapters. The Errol Flynn, Hercules and Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Blade chapters. Combat, Martial Arts and Fantasy, Arms and Armor. Don't know the difference between a pistol and a musket? A cuirass and a gorget? Jeet Kune Do and Tae Kwon Leap? These chapters are for you.

The essays finish off with Humor in Fantasy, Research, and Market Resources. Following Market Resources is a list of the authors who have contributed to the book.

But the big question is, of course, whether or not the book will help you write your big fantasy novel? Yes, it will. I, like most fantasy fans, has a book in mind. This book has given me several helpful pushes in the right direction. Can't ask for more than that.

The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy
     edited by Darin Park and Tom Dullemond
Published by: Dragon Moon Press; July 2003
Webpage: www.dragonmoonpress.com/guide.htm
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The Book of Daniel

Imagine an entire world populated only by men. The oldest have only recollections of their wives and mothers. The youngest have never even seen a woman except in old movies and photographs. Who would hold all the cards in a world like this? The one who could bring the women back.

Over a generation has passed since the plague. Seventeen year old Emmit stops and stares when Daniel first comes into town for supplies. With his smooth skin, and delicate frame, Daniel comes the closest to a woman the young man has ever seen. But Daniel will change that.

Daniel leads Emmit to a place, a secret cave lined with exhibits that look like stolen relics from a circus side show. Grotesque, misshapen fetuses pickling in jars, various abominations that should have returned to the ground long ago. Emmit follows Daniel into a far back room, and sees the fruit of all that horrible labor. Inside a coffin lay the sleeping beauty. A full grown, living woman.

And Emmit can have her, if he'll help Daniel take over the world.

Ever since man has had the ability, he has tried to improve on nature. We breed animals and plants to promote one characteristic over another. We manufacture sheep that produce more wool, watermelons without seeds. Modern women can go to facilities and pick out donor husbands for their children based on looks, intelligence, and talent. Now, with the science of cloning becoming more and more advanced, we'll soon have the ability to shuffle DNA like Ricky Jay can manipulate a deck of cards.

But if we try, will Mother Nature come around and bite us on the karmic ass?

The Book of Daniel explores an earth gone wrong due to the hubris of mankind. Hubris in destroying the balance of nature via genetic engineering, and hubris in thinking that man can restore the balance through the science of cloning.

In creating this new world, Lynn Terelle also opens other paths for the mind to go down. What new rules would emerge in a society with only one sex? How far would a man go just to have a woman for his own?

The author weaves these issues into a gripping story with twists and turns that truly surprised me. And the ending sets up a diabolical sequel.

The only criticism I have of the book concerns it's very old-fashioned style of prose. The book relies heavily on narrative as opposed to dialogue and scenes. This makes for a very fast and sparsely detailed read. I would have enjoyed reading more about the standards and mores of Terelle's world. But I'll leave that for a future book.

The book begins with a quote form Albert Einstein, "God does not play dice." Hopefully, as mankind's knowledge of science grows, we will embrace God's wisdom.

The Book of Daniel by Lynn Terelle
Published by: 1stBooks Library; August 2002
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Peace & Memory

What does Mark W. Tiedemann's Peace and Memory offer? It has an interesting, well thought out universe, a bizarre and entertaining ensemble of characters, thought provoking dialogue on social and political issues, action, adventure, twists, turns, irony, and a hair raising finale.

Which is why, for the life of me, I can't understand why I didn't like it more.

Shipmaster Tamyn Glass simply wants to live her life, run her mostly-legal shipping trade, and stay out of the way of anyone who will make her life complicated. Too bad Benajim Cyanus finds her.

He seeks her out to tell her that Sean Merrick, an old friend of Tamyn's, and a wealthy tycoon, and one of the founders of the Commonwealth Republic, is dead. Benajim needs Tamyn's help to illegally bring Merrick's body back to Earth to bury him. But, for the Commonwealth to even acknowledge Merrick's death could rip the government open from the inside out.

And thus the adventure begins.

Tiedemann's universe is divided into three arenas, two physical, and one virtual. The xenophobic Pan Humana is separated from the expansionist Commonwealth Republic by a barrier called the Secant. Permeating both of these worlds to varying degrees is the Flow, a virtual world accessible to almost anyone at the touch of a finger.

To succeed in this reality, a ship must master working in the real, and in the virtual, at the same time. Ships attack each other with cannons and with computer viruses simultaneously. Crewmembers with implants in their brains to connect them directly to the Flow have to keep one eye open to see what's happening in the room around them, while controlling the ship and hacking into high security computer systems with their minds.

How can Tamyn breech the Secant without being seen? Can she trust Benajim Cyanus, a stranger with no memory of his life before he met Sean Merrick?

Tiedemann is a fine writer. It is no wonder that on the cover of his new book, he has blurbs from the likes of Laurell K. Hamilton and David Brin. All of the things I listed in the opening paragraph are there and more.

But, for some reason, the book just didn't hook me. I had to make myself read the book in spurts and stops over a period of two weeks. I feel like saying "it's not you Mr. Tiedemann, it's me. Can we still be friends?"

Peace & Memory by Mark W. Tiedemann
Published by: Meisha Merlin Publishing; July 2003
Author's Webpage: marktiedemann.com
  [Read more...]

Review: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by J. K. Rowling

A million people pre-ordered Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I guess that makes me one in a million! (Thank you, I'll be here all week.)

Honestly, though, you can't imagine how I felt when I opened my door mid-Saturday morning, and found the box from Amazon.com sitting there. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. For the next two days, I didn't turn on the TV, didn't shave, barely bathed, and left the house only once or twice to get a couple of snacks (and didn't bother to brush, my teeth look nasty).

I was determined to read the entire book before I had to go to work Monday, and at 870 pages, that was a big task for me, as I probably don't even clock in at 40 pages an hour. But at ten minutes to eleven o'clock on Sunday night, I read the last page.

I don't know if the book was worth the three year wait, but it's a pretty damn good book.

And a big book, but I'll try to explain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. Buttercup is marry Humperdink in little less than half an hour, so all we have to do is get inside, break up the wedding, steal the Princess, and make our escape, after I kill Count Rugan... Wait, scratch that.

The book starts off four weeks after the end of book four. Harry is at the Dursleys' home on Privet Drive. Harry and Dudley are attacked, and Harry uses magic to escape, breaking the laws against underage wizardry. He receives a letter from the Ministry of Magic telling him he will have to face trial, as this is the second time this has happened. (The first time being when Dobby floated the dessert in Chamber of Secrets, for which Harry got blamed.)

Later that week, Harry is visited by several wizards, who take him away from the Dursleys', and bring him to the secret headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, an orginization started by Dumbledore to resist the rise in power of Lord Voldemort.

And then so much happens that it will take another five pages just to summarize. So let me hit the high points. The Ministry of Magic, headed by Cornelius Fudge, is on a campaign to bring down Dumbledore, as they are unwilling to believe that Voldemort is back. The Ministry pushes its way into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and all hell breaks loose. Harry's scar, which in the past has shown a kind of connection between Harry and Voldemort, is working overtime. Hagrid tries to convince the giants to aid Dumbledore, and brings back a little something to keep in the Black Forest. And, we get to see Dumbledore and Voldemort fight. Sweet.

Here's some other random items of interest:

Several new character are introduced, the two most interesting being Luna Lovegood, a Ravenclaw fourth year, and Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and the Ministry appointed High Inquisitor of Hogwarts. A truly evil woman.

Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom kick ass and take names in this book. Especially Ginny, she is so cool.

In a flashback, we see a professor's memory of being a student at Hogwarts.

Ron and Ginny both try out for Quidditch.

We see inside the Ministry of Magic for the first time.

And, of course, as any fan who browses the internet knows by now, a main character dies. This has been one of the best known and most exciting rumors about this book, and I believe is a big reason for the huge sales numbers.

I also think that because this information was so well known, Rowling let that knowledge color the way she wrote it. In a good way. This book is full of suspense. Every time someone points a wand at another, every time a threat is made, you couldn't help but wonder if someone was about to be toast. And, a lot of wands are pointed, a lot of threats are made. It made for a very exciting read. And Rowling doesn't cheat, a main character does indeed die.

A few months back, I reread the other four books, so they'd be fresh in my mind when The Order of the Phoenix came out. I've noticed that Rowling's writing gets better with every book. I can't wait for the next one. Especially if it's for another three years.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Published by: Scholastic; June 21, 2003
Author's Webpage: www.jkrowling.com
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Review: "Calculating God" by Robert J. Sawyer

When I first heard about Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids, I decided to wait several months for the paperback. It disgusts me that during all that time, I could have purchased Calculating God to hold me over, but didn't.

If you read science fiction, you have to read Robert J. Sawyer. That's all there is to it.

Calculating God explores such mundane questions as "Was the universe designed by an intelligent creator?" "Is there a God?" "Does he influence the affairs of man?" "Why is there life in the universe?" Sawyer's answers are the most imaginative you will ever read.   [Read more...]

Dragon DelaSangre

I was recently at my favorite Chinese restaurant discussing the Matrix: Reloaded with my waitress. She told me she had the most peculiar feeling as she realized that it was the best-made-bad-movie that she had ever seen.

I feel the same way about The Dragon DelaSangre.

Alan F. Troop writes well. His prose has a nice, tight style, and he tells a well constructed, if somewhat convoluted, story. I enjoyed large portions of the book. But the story suffers from two miscalculations that makes the book unfulfilling overall.

Peter DelaSangre lives on his own island just of the coast of Florida. He and his dying father come from a line of dragons. Fortunately, they can shapeshift into human form, allowing them to interact with humanity.

Peter picks up the scent of a female dragon, and sets off for Jamaica. He finds her, fights for her, takes her (and takes her, and takes her), impregnates her, and brings her back to his little island, where they can live happily ever after.

And they would, too. If it weren't for Jorge Santos. Jorge's sister, Maria, was seen with Peter just before she disappeared, and he wants to either find her safe and sound, or hunt down and kill the man who harmed her. What he doesn't know is that he'll never find her, because Peter ate her.

Did I mention that dragons eat people?

And therein lies the rub. The first zig in this zag world. I hated Troop's dragons. There is nothing about these dragons that makes them worthy in the least. They care nothing for humans. They don't hate humans, they don't like humans. They just don't care. They also care nothing for art, literature, work, education. Nothing. Basically, the math goes like this:

Dragons = spoiled, rich, Southern belles that grew up on Daddy's plantation
Humans = black slaves

Why would you make your hero someone almost impossible to like? And his wife! Don't get me started.

Not only that, the antagonist, Jorge Santos, is COMPLETELY sympathetic. His sister was murdered. You want him to find justice.

His desire to kill his sister's murderer leads up to the dramatic climax at the end. And it is dramatic. In the end, though, you can't help but think that the wrong guy won.

The other miscalculation was simply a matter of pacing. Dean Koontz once wrote that the biggest mistake writers make is not putting the hero in jeopardy within the first five pages.

Peter doesn't find his wife until page 79. (And after he catches her, you wonder why he doesn't throw her back.)

He doesn't meet Jorge Santos until about the mid-point. The book is really slow until then.

So, I probably won't be reading Dragon Moon, the sequel, but if Troop decides to write another series, I may give it a look, he's got the talent.

One final thought: other websites have compared this book with Interview with the Vampire, and made comparisons with Peter and Louis, and Elizabth and Lestat. But where Anne Rice succeeds in making Louis engaging to the reader, Troop fails to do so with Peter. An entire thread could be made discussing the reasons why.

The Dragon DelaSangre by Alan F. Troop
Published by: Roc; March 2002
Author's Webpage: www.dragonnovels.com
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Morevi

I've been a Bookcrazy listener since about September of 2002. Ever since Laurell K. Hamilton did an interview on The Neckel and Eggert Show.

The interviews and advertisements on the station are overwhelmingly for books published by small presses. I love listening to the interviews of what are mainly first time authors. Their awe at finally being a "real" writer, the undercurrents of fear and apprehension at their world suddenly becoming a bit larger and stranger than they had anticipated. I still eat it up.

But, as I mentioned earlier on this forum, until recently I hadn't actually bought any of their books. I balked at the price tags. I was suspicious of the quality. Sure, some of these authors had wonderful ideas, but could they write?

So, Tee Morris replies to my post, and says I should read his sample chapters for free. I did (great website, btw). Well, I should say, I read the Prologue. Wasn't that impressed.

But the book still intrigued me. The idea of reading a book written by two people who had never even met was too cool to pass up. And I also felt like I should be supporting Bookcrazy and The Dragonpage by actually buying their authors' books. So I sent Amazon.com my $23.95 (dear Lord, for a PAPERBACK! BTW, it is now available for $19.95). About six weeks later, Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana was sitting in my doorstep, wrapped in a plain brown package.

It was worth every fucking cent.

This is a good book. Not a good "first novel". A good novel. Tee, Lisa, you should be very proud of yourselves.

The Gist: The book centers around two characters. Askana is the new (and first) queen of Morevi, a kingdom that exists in a world separate from ours, but connected to ours through a magic portal called "The Rift".

Askana rose to power by overthrowing the king. The Old Regime, lead by men, has fallen. The New Regime, lead by women, has a tenuous rein of a country still weak from civil war. To the west, the kingdom of Eyrie threatens to overrun the vulnerable Morevi.

Askana hires a pirate, Rafe Rafton, to spy on Eyrie. Rafe is an Otherworlder, come across The Rift from a strange land called England. When Rafe thwarts an attempt to assassinate the queen, the adventure begins.

And what an adventure it is.

Not really knowing how to review a book, I'll just break it down like this...

The actual book itself: This is a beautiful looking book. The picture is a mountainous jungle landscape that goes across the front of the book, around the spine, and across the back. Askana and Rafe stand in the foreground, in front of a waterfall.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, the print of the book is small. As printed, the book is about 371 trade paperback size pages. If printed in a more normal sized font, it would be closer to 500 pages, I'm sure. You get used to the font quickly, as it's not so small to be distracting. Though for me, a slow reader, it made my progress seem SLOOW at times.

The last page is an "About the Authors" page with quite nice black and white images of the authors.

And what about the story? Glad you asked.

The Good: First of all, you got to love a fantasy book that is not about a quest to far off lands in search of a magical MacGuffin. No all-powerful rings, swords, books, jewels, datters, etc. ad nauseum. The plot is believable and straightforward. It's a story of political intrigue and a romance. I wonder if having a female co-author was helpful in breaking the fantasy mold a bit.

Another little thing, just in passing. Each chapter has it's own title. Class.

The world building is well done. It is far too easy in epic fantasy to love the world you create so much that endless detail is given in unending narrative about the history of people and places that don't warrant the time. Not done here. Enough history is given that the places seem real, but not enough to make you want to skip pages.

The best aspect of the book, to me, is the secondary characters. Though not all of them are as fleshed out as they could be, they've got potential. This book ends with an ensemble cast that you know have many more interesting stories to tell us.

And that leaves one more thing. Sequels. I heard it said recently (by Michael Mennenga?) that if you intend to write a story that will have sequels, you have to make the first story big enough to support more stories to follow. The sequel has to be a NEW STORY, not a rehash of the first one. This novel sets up the world nicely for more stories. Enemies were made. People, good and bad, rode off into the sunset, perhaps to be seen again. Morevi's future is still somewhat uncertain. Many places to go, many people to do many deeds. More history to learn.

The Bad: Ok, I wasn't sure I was going to include criticisms, but I'm a picky reader, and I can't write an honest review without pointing some things out.

This is obviously a book written by fans of science fiction/fantasy television and movies. Several of the fight scenes, especially in the beginning and middle of the book, go from (relatively) realistic action to Xena and Matrix type violence. People kicking people while doing back flips jumping from one ship to another. Punches throwing people across rooms. Women grabbing men twice their size, and throwing them across the floor. Rae gives Buffy-esque witticisms when facing opponents. The final battle scenes of the book were told much better, I think. More believable.

The book also seems to pay homages to other books and movies that are a little too on the nose. The most obvious example is that there are Elves in this world. Also, Rafe, along with his first mate, Nassir, seem an awful lot like Costner and Freemen, from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. And there is a scene towards the end of the book that is a Pulp Fiction reference, of all things.

I also had a little trouble with some of the narrative style on just a few occasions. The authors liked to reveal characters slowly, often making references like "The man walked..." or "The voice rang out..." and revealing who the "man" is or who the "voice" belonged to a paragraph or two later. This technique was way overdone.

There were also some inconsistencies in the book. Rafe was supposed to come from King Henry the VIII's England, but is obviously a modern day American. All the people of Morevi and Eyrie, though they have their own languages, seem to speak English as their main language, though few from Morevi's world have ever been to England, or even seem to know of it in the first place. It reminded me of watching Star Trek.

And I know that two twenty-first century authors, writing about England in the 1800's, are going to be a bit anachronistic, but constantly referring to "pistols" and "bullets" instead of "muskets" and "musket balls" seemed glaring to me.

And, finally, the book was written in the omniscient point of view, and the viewpoint often changed around as quickly as the dialogue did. Usually, it didn't matter. Occasionally, it was distracting. Sometimes, it was confusing, especially if the viewpoint was bouncing around several people of the same gender. There were many female characters, and it occasionally became difficult to know which "she" was which.

But these are minor complaints in what was really an outstanding book. I'll be reading whatever these two write in the future. And, one of these days, it's going to happen. I'll go to a book signing for Lisa Lee's and Tee Morris's new book. I'll be late. I'll have to stand at the end of a line of 300 fanboys wearing Darewear. After a few hours, I'll make my way to the table and have both of them sign my copy of Morevi. I'll introduce myself to Tee and tell him I know him when. Trust me, it will happen.

Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana
     by Lisa Lee & Tee Morris
Published by: Dragon Moon Press; May 24, 2002
Authors' Webpage: www.morevi.com
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