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:
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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 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:
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