Monday, December 9, 2013

GRRM: Words are Nipples on a Breastplate

Sorry for the extended hiatus, loyal readers. The semester is just now finishing up, and I'm finding that I have more time now for reading, and by extension, writing awful things about my betters. For the last few months I have not been idle, though, far from it. I've been listening to Roy Dotrice do awful readings of The Song of Ice and Fire books, (Let's just say that the whole Lannister Tribe had the same voice and accent except Jaime,) and finally finished A Dance with Dragons. I have to say I rather enjoyed the series. It's not my favorite by far, but that's just because the whole Political/Fantasy genre doesn't really get my motor running. That being the case, I thought that I might start off my return with one last article on George R. R. Martin's series. Seeing as it would be a gigantic waste of time and effort to go over the greats and flaws that were all five books, I thought I would just go with one small fragmented gripe I have for the series and that is Colloquialisms.

Now, for those that don't know, look it up on Wikipedia. Just kidding, it's a saying, a word, or a turn of phrase specific to language, but not written language for some reason. "Howdy" is a Midwest colloquial word. "Bless your heart" is a southern one, and doesn't mean what it implies. Colloquial terms are unique to regions, so when you go to a new state, a new region or a new country, you might hear someone say something that sounds familiar being used in a new and unique way. That's the wonderful thing about language: things change and things mean different things to different people. That being said, my biggest gripe about the Song of Ice and Fire books is that these phrases get used so often by so many people in so many different regions, (some of which are across seas,) that it seems almost ludicrous.

The ones I'm talking about are the ones referenced in the title and, to my knowledge at the moment, were used mostly in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons: "Words are wind," and "As useful as nipples on a breastplate." For the most part it's the former being used the most, and it's not just in one location. Cersei uses the term in Kings Landing, John Snow at the Wall, Doran Martel says it in Dorn, and people in Mereen use it as well across a freaking sea. The saying is bandied around so much that it actually sounds kind of ridiculous. I get that it's a Seven Kingdoms and people saying things in other kingdoms would make it go around, but really, the people over in the free cities speak another language entirely. The breastplate comment gets used a fair share, but honestly, they couldn't have something better to reference useless things to?

It reminds me of the first time that I heard the word..."Hashtag" (shudder.) I thought someone was pulling my leg. It's a dash, a number sign, a pound sign. Why are we giving new names to things that have working names. Then I heard it more and more and the more I heard it, the more I came to hate it. Hearing GRRM use the same phrase over and over again makes me feel the same way. I love his work, I would never wish to mince words with him, but having everyone say the same thing over and over again in different parts of the world and in different languages is worse than his need to create characters for the sole purpose of killing them off.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Is Bella Swann a Bug Chaser?

This piece is a bit darker than most, but I thought that I would do a truly serious piece to make up for my absence as of late. Right at this moment I should be working on a research paper, but the thought came so strongly to my mind that I had to write this down before I forgot.

Now, for those that don't know, a Bug Chaser, is a person who actively searches out people with HIV to become infected themselves. Far be it from me to make judgments on living people rather than people on print, this sick behavior is driven by many different views, most of which stem from fear. The most prominent of the reasons I myself have heard is that it is a freeing experience: once you have HIV, you don't have to be scared that one day you might catch it. Another reason I have heard is that HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be, and with special care and medication, people with HIV can live long, fulfilling, and even healthy lives.

These reasons are completely stupid. I would never say that they are wrong: people are human and are therefore prone to err and make stupid decisions because they are scared. What you do to yourself has effects on yourself only....only if you are a hermit and never interact with any other human being on the planet for the remainder of your life. What if you are unsafe...just once with someone that doesn't share your point of view. What if they get directly exposed by some accident. You are endangering the people you know, not only people who are not exposed, but to people that aren't. Did you know that the HIV virus can change in your system when two people with HIV expose themselves? That means that person's medication might no longer help them and their condition can worsen.

That being said, Bella Swann is a Bug Chaser. Vampirism is the fantasy equivalent of HIV. That's not to say it goes both ways, HIV is nothing like Vampirism. But in the sense, it is a death invoking bacteria that is spread through blood and destroys the immune system. In the same sense, Bella Swann seeks out vampirism because she is scared of real life. She can't relate to the people around her because she refuses to try, and the man who she loves more than anything on earth is a carrier for the disease. This combined with the fact that if Bella takes precautions, such as moving when it's apparent she isn't aging, and never stays in direct sunlight to expose her sparkly non-vampirism/humanity, she can live a long prosperous life.

So, what is the purpose of this article. Well, besides me reiterating that Stephanie Meyers is a terrible human being, be careful, because there are these kinds of people out there, and if you ever find yourself in the thrall of a sparkly vampire, find someone to hang out with or take up a musical instrument

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Off With His Head! Who Killed Ned? (Spoilers)

Off with his head! The noble death, though many might dispute it these days. A quick snip, if you're strong, or have a good blade, or a guillotine, and then no more light in those pretty blue eyes. *Snick* and the crowd goes wild. A morbid thought, to be sure, but with Sean Bean's record as an actor, is anyone really surprised? Was anyone looking at Boromir...I mean poor dear Ned Stark thinking to themselves, "Now here's a character that I want to see around for a long time"? Or for those who devoutly read the book, was anyone reading about the antics of this truly noble, and for lack of a better word, idiotic man, expecting him to have a long shelf-life?

Like I said in the title, this piece of writing is heavy handed with spoilers, so if you have not read the book, I would say go out and buy it now. It took me a little over two months to finish Game of Thrones, not because it was bad. Unclean Spirits was bad, and I got through that just fine. It's not even that it's distasteful, Prince of Thorns was that, and it didn't take me that long to finish that, though I would suggest to readers out there that you include it in your list of books you should read, if only so that you can read its much better successor, King of Thorns. No, if anything, it can be said that between rules changing at work and school starting up, Game of Thrones has one sin, and that is that it can't decide if it wants to be interesting or dull. I like my cat analogy I originally intended to put in this reviews ill-fated predecessor. A good cat, you can leave the door open for and it will come and go as it will. You leave food for it, and water every so often, and it will share with you affections. You don't have to keep up after a cat, because they are self sufficient. Game of Thrones is a feral cat that got into your home when you weren't looking and refuses to leave without biting you. It's fine as long as you leave it alone: you give it space and let it do what it wants. But, every so often while you are minding your own business, it will leap off a bookshelf at you and try to claw your eyes out. Take of that what you will.

Now if you haven't seen the show either, which is remarkably similar in many ways to the original source material, then get off the internet and go get it. Philistines...

So who killed dear old Ned Stark? It seems a pretty standard question for anyone who has read the book or watched the show. Cersei gave the order for his arrest, Petyr betrayed him, (duh,) Joffery gave the order for his execution, and Illyn cut off his head. *Snick*, no more Ned and let the War of Kings begin. There has been no real debate about any of the intricacies about the manner of his death, at least none that I have seen so far. But, it is a simple thing to look at, and since I live off controversy like many people live off bread and air, I think I'll spin it a little  bit so that I can get a rise out of you, or at least get you to think...just maybe I'm right.

Cersei Lannister: Oh, how everyone loves to cast an eye on Cersei Lannister. The eldest daughter of Tywin Lannister, she was, in a sense, sold off to Robert Baratheon, to become queen, and elevate the Lannister family, as Tywin loves to do. She is neglected as Robert's wife because he never truly loves her, and raises her children to be strong, independent youths, which she later comes to regret. When Ned Stark comes to her, telling her that she knows that her children are bastards, and that she and her children should flee before Robert gets back, what exactly did he expect her to do? It's really no surprise that she takes measures to protect herself, and for good reason or not, I don't really fault her for her cunning and ingenuity, only on the murder of her husband, which nobody in the book seems to pay any mind to. When Cersei sets up the death of her husband and succession of Joffery, she has no idea what's going to happen any more than anyone else does. She thinks she has things under control: Joffery becomes king, she becomes regent, and she's one step closer to more power than anyone in her sex has any chance of having. Little does she know that she becomes as much a pawn to Joffery as she was to her husband, if not more so because Joffery has no respect for her, or her position. I would not fault Cersei Lannister for Ned Starks death. The one death I would lay at her feet would be Robert's, and only done in self-defence, no matter how distastful it is. On a side note, anyone ever notice that you can't think of her as Cersei Baratheon...go ahead, it's pretty funny actually.

Petyr Baelish: What can be said of Petyr without ruining the plot of the other books. Master of Coin for Kings Landing, he's pretty much the most manipulative man in the kingdom, though not to the outward glance. He fawns over everyone, making nice with Ned Stark at one moment and insulting him in the same breath, but the thing you have to remember about Petyr Baelish is, he tells Ned not to trust him. Early on in fact, and if memory serves me, several times. if you look to one person and that person tell you, "Hey, don't depend on me, for anything," and you do anyway, what does that say about you? Do you mistrust a snake because it bites, or a cat for it's claws? If you poke at a sleeping bear and it mauls you, do you moan over what cruel fate it was for it to happen? Let's keep in mind that Petyr loved Catelin Stark so much that he proposed to duel Ned's brother for her hand in marriage even though he was of low birth. And, low and behold, after Ned's brothers death, rather than getting another chance, she's married off to Ned instead. How on earth did Ned think that this was going to be a trustworthy man, just because he was the Hand of the King, or even just because Petyr Baelish loved his wife? Petyr is a ladder climber, at his very nature, always looking to get a little bit higher. His "betrayal" to Ned was just another step in that direction.

Joffery: The boy king, the bastard child, the usurper's usurper. There is very little given to Joffery's motivation for having Ned Stark killed on the steps of Baelor rather than sending him off to the wall. Joffery, only being 12 or 13 years old and a prince, he's plucked from a simple life of pleasure from the two most powerful families in the realm to be a king with power to do whatever he wants. In a sense, hes not much different than Robert Arryn, who when given the slightest semblance of power, has a desire to throw dwarfs from mountain-tops for fun. I have a theory of my own about why Joffery had Ned Stark killed, and it's one that I know garners scrutiny, but I don't care, because it's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. The reason I believe that Joffery had Ned killed is that the two of them are so similar. Both are high born men in a lower position within the family, Joffery being a Lannister, directly below Robert in line of succession, and Ned being the second son of the Stark lineage, not thought to do anything besides be married to some high-born lady to become his brothers bannerman one day. In a sense, both men were fostered with Jon Arryn and Robert Baratheon, this being more clear with Ned, but when you think about it, since Joffery is a bastard child born of incest, Robert isn't really his father, and the hand of the King being the voice of the king, it's hard to believe that he didn't have a hand in raising Joffery, (especially since Robert doesn't seem to have spent much time raising the boy himself, being more of a big child, himself.) Both men are lead by their better natures, honor in Ned's case, and Joffery's sadism. Those same natures are the things that lead to their deaths, (yes I know this goes a little further in the books, but I needed to make a point.) I think that Joffery saw the similarities there, and a bit of, "neither may live while the other survives," went on in the background. Even with a confession of his traitorous actions, Joffery probably knew he would never stop until the rightful king was on the throne. But while I can understand reasoning for why Joffery might have decided to play Queen of Hearts with Ned's head, I don't actually believe that he's responsible for Ned's death.

Sansa Stark: This is where we begin to get a little further into conjecture, so you'll have to bear with me for a bit, I promise it makes sense in my head. While Robert is off on his ill-fated boar hunt, Ned goes to his daughters and tells them that he is shipping them back to Winterfell for safe keeping and breaking off Sansa's engagement. Both children act to their nature, which I like about GRRM's work. Arya is worried about her sword instructions and asks if her water dancer can go with them, which is all fine and good. But, Sansa...oh Sansa. I like to think of Sansa like a mix between a magic eight ball and a bobble head. I just imagine shaking her back and forth while her head bobbles back and forth while she says things like, "But I love him!" and, "Oh it's just like in the stories!" She cries because she wants to stay with a man she's known less than a year and was responsible for the death of her pet. Now, I get it, when a boy is mean that means he likes you and all that garbage, but Sansa Stark is so starry eyed and bobble headed that she goes a step farther. She tells Cersei Lannister about the plan to move, almost right after Ned Stark told her that he knew about her incest with Jamie. This causes Cersei to step up her plans to have Robert Baratheon killed, which leads to the capture and death of Ned Stark. One could say that she's just a child, that she doesn't know any better, but that's really no excuse for patricide. I like to think that more than anyone else, Sansa Stark is responsible for Ned being killed, but not the one that is responsible for killing him, which is the main point of this article. So who killed Ned?

Eddard Stark: Ned is responsible for his own death, but possibly not for the reason that you would think so. A lot of people complain that Eddard Stark is stupid: he tells Cersei about his suspicions about her children without talking to Robert Baratheon first. I mean seriously, he had the book, he had the bastard children, and he had a strong case. Robert was his best friend and loyal confidant, you can't say that he wouldn't have given it some thought. Ned couldn't have taken a horse to find the king on his hunt? He trusts a man who wants his wife, and has forever, and tells him not to trust him. He ignores the council of the one man in the kingdom, Varys, who is being up front with him, and ignores the council of Renly Baratheon, however rash it might have been. It's no surprise that everyone thinks that he's a fool, but I say thee, nay! These things don't make a person stupid. Not going how to play slap-jack doesn't make you stupid. Moving a piece poorly in a game of chess doesn't mean you deserve to be killed. Ned Stark doesn't know how to play the game because he was never raised to be the smart game-playing lord that his brother and father were. He was just supposed to get married off to some minor lords daughter and give kids. He was raised up to that without any prompting, and in my opinion, is the same to Joffery in the fact that he has no idea what he's really doing. He's going by instinct, and just because they are wrong, doesn't mean they are stupid. What he does that is stupid, is tell his children that he's moving them prior to actually doing it. He knew that he was going into a vipers nest when he went to Kings Landing, but he still took his children with him when he went. When he feels threatened, he does the only thing he can think to do, and that's to move his daughters out of the dangerous situation he's brought them into. That is the fatherly thing to do. But here's the kicker: he tells them what he plans on doing in advance. And not a few hours before hand, but days and days ahead of what he has planned to do. Ned Stark might not have been practiced in the ways of the "Game of Thrones", but he had fifteen years to raise his children and become a good father, and he fails in the one thing that actually matters, and that is knowing his own children. Sansa is a bobble-headed, starry-eyed, Joffery groupie, and yet he tells her that he's breaking up their engagement days in advance rather than just shipping them off with his best soldiers to keep them safe. What did he think she was going to do? Did he not know her at all? Was he not listening the entire time she was going, "Oh, I love Joffery, he's so strong, and brave and handsome-" *gag*. Ned killed himself the day that he decided his honor and best judgment was better than common sense of knowing his own children. Everything else falls into place after that, because that simple fact that he said something to the one person on earth that he should have: bobble-headed Sansa Stark, Kinslayer

Film Typos - Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters

So it's been at a few weeks since I've gone to see Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, and there is still something that has been bothering me since the credits got rolling, and that's this: Why did they make Anabeth's hair blonde?

I suppose I should backtrack a little, so lets go back to the first film, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. I know a lot of people were up in arms about the movie, but at the time I actually enjoyed it. Granted, once I went through the book series and saw the glaring errors, I could see what people were up in arms about, but other than that there was nothing that really effected me, and there's a good reason why. It's based off of a kids book.

These are not young adult books: the characters are all extremely young, the writing is juvenile, and the characters are all severely archetyped. Of course, the actors for the movies are all much older than the ones in the book, but that's just the way things go in movies. The whole point of going to the movies, though, was to be entertained. If you want a movie that is accurate to the book, then get a book no tape: you won't have to strain your eyes and if you get the right book then the voice actors can be quite entertaining, as well. I found the movie to be entertaining, but as far as things being wrong, it wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed by a sequel, unlike Eragon.

Now, on to the Sea of Monsters. Once again, I thought it was a pretty entertaining movie, but unlike the first time, I'd read the books, so I could see all of the errors, and to my surprise, they were pretty much the same as from the first movie. Things that would have been simple to put in were ignored, things that weren't important were forced in in their place and one spot that ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN IN THERE WAS THERE FOR NO GOOD REASON! This wasn't so much a surprise because like I said, they did this in the first movie. The part of it that bugged me the most though, was exactly what I brought up at the beginning: Why did they make Anabeth's hair blonde?

I know that this was one of the things people were really complaining about from the first movie. The actress who played Anabeth, or at least movie-Anabeth, (I'll get into that later,) was brunette, whereas the one from the book is described as being "blonde". I use quotations because it's never clear what kind of blonde, so I always just imagine here as some kind of dark blonde, not the bottle blonde I would expect from a daughter of Aphrodite. Apparently everyone raised hell about this, and it was such a big deal that they decided to make her blonde in the second movie. And let me tell you, it looks bad. I kept having to wonder if it was the same actress this time around. But, I can get past this for the fans sake, if only for one thing...nobody mentions all.

This movie is the epitome of a bad boyfriend, who comes over to your house and says, "hey, there's something different about you." And then just kind of goes away to hit on your hot mother. They made Anabeth blonde, and nobody makes a comment about it, even though it's kind of a glaring change. I can see people not wanting people to say anything about Chiron getting a face-lift from Bond to Ripper, but Anabeth is both the same character and a main one. They had plenty of opportunity to say something about it, but rather than do that, they just kind of ignore it, like it's some kind of boil they're too polite to notice.

I don't really see why they needed to make her blonde, and the reason is because this Anabeth isn't the book-Anabeth, but movie-Anabeth. Now, Jacob, that's absolute rubbish, you might be thinking, there's no difference between the first and the second, but there is. For whatever reason, the main plot point of the Percy Jackson books, that being Kronos, was ignored in the first book, meaning there was no underlying reason for Luke's betrayal, there was no deep backstory about Anabeth and Luke being close friends since childhood, and the Anabeth from the books was a runaway, she had spent very little time outside of the camp, and none of it was after she had gone there for the first time. The Anabeth from the movies is headstrong and knowledgeable, confident and strong, and while it isn't taken at the snail pace it was in the book, however obvious, the romance between Percy and her is more developed.

Now, you might be asking me what this has to do with anything. Well, the answer is this, because the Anabeth from the movie is so different than the one from the book, there was no reason to make any cosmetic changes to the actress for the sake of continuity. If you are going to make a movie that is loosely based off the text, then do it: go all out, make Percy a sea monster and Anabeth an incarnation of Athena, and make Grover a robot. If you make such glaring changes to the story then there is no reason for you to freak out that people are screaming for your heads that Percy isn't 12 and Anabeth isn't blonde, because you are already making changes to the things that actually matter, and every thing else...well it's just pointless pandering when compared to $)(*#(*$)(*% at the end of the movie. See, had you scared there for a second

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why: Twilight Has Filled A Niche and No One Can Fill It

This is not a good thing, mind you. I don't want anyone to read this title and go, "Oh, wow, Jacob likes Twilight, now." I have not recently suffered a blow to the head or started huffing paint...not to say that Twilight fans do any of those things. They do worse, they read the books.

There's been a meteoric rise in book-to-movie adaptations of YA novels, Young Adult books for the uninitiated, over the last few years. There has been even more in the last year since the final Twilight movie slumped, still-born and repulsive, out of the box office. For those of you out there, shaking your fist at me for being so heartless and cruel, let me remind you that Dynasty had already done a similar trope in their final hours of fame, and, as poorly received as it was back then, it hasn't gotten better with age.

Where was I? You'll have to forgive me, I could go on for hours about how awful the series is, but I simply wanted to make a point. This is not a review to cast a light on the spectacle of Twilight, because honestly, bad reviews do more for bad books than good ones, and every time I say the name of the series I can hear Stephanie Meyers' pockets filling with more ill-gotten money than a Nazi during Blitzkrieg. The point is that the series created a fandom with marketing and influence that I haven't seen since Star Wars came out with the second trilogy, with fans more obsessed than the people on Trekkies. And why is that? Who knows, it was the wrong place at the wrong time, and once that sparkly vampire was out of the box, it just kept glowing no matter how deep I buried it.

But, why is it that with all the Twilight, (cha-ching, dammit Meyers!) off brand movies coming out, none of them have been able to match the success that their predecessors have made before. I always think of it like a flight of geese: Meyers was the brain dead goose that somehow got to the head of the flock and made it easier for all of its less popular geese-cousins to follow in it's wake. Now Meyers has gotten tired and moved off to the side, and rather than a smarter goose taking the lead and getting the rest where they need to go, they've flown into the arctic, had their wings frozen and exploded in mid-air. And then someone came around and made a nasty facebook post about them.

So what did the Twilight Series do that the others just aren't getting? Well for one thing, everyone else is writing with a plot. Look at a general plot like Game of Thrones. The plot was central to the story without being the majority of it. The characters of the story revolved around the plot, and character development and conflict revolve around the characters. A good climax to the story comes along and effects the majority of the characters if not all of them, and ends with the reader wanting more. Regardless of whether you like a story-driven or character-driven book, you can all agree that a plot is important to a book. I like to think of it as a galaxy: the plot is the sun, the characters are the planets, development are the moons and the climax is a set of meteors about to destroy everything. Goofy as it sounds, it's apt for the point I'm about to make.

For Twilight, they skewed the entire galaxy, making it seem like they have a plot, but in reality, in it's place is only conflict. Rather than a plot-sun, Twilight's galaxy model revolves around conflict and little "forbidden romance" tropes to draw in readers. Think about it, the characters are in school but do they ever actually talk about school beyond the Romeo and Juliet sections Meyers forces down your throat in an attempt to sound worldly? No, she's got vampires and werewolves and a forced love triangle so weak it makes people wearing "Team Jacob" t-shirts look like people who wear "Vote Gore" buttons. Around their conflict-sun, float little character planets with no real development. 200-year-old Vampires don't really develop,  and when you try to make them it is contrived, and "Dynasty-Level-Weak". In exchange of a climactic meteor shower, a plot-shower is in it's place, spitting at the planets, hitting some, but mostly just aiming wastefully aside like a group of children spitting at someone off a balcony. They're not likely to hit you, and it's somewhat amusing to watch them try.

And that is the reason, in my opinion, that all of these other YA book-to-movie adaptations are failing, or at least not cashing in as well on the waning popularity that Twilight got. Books like Beautiful Creatures and (shudder,) City of Bones, are trying for the otherworldly romance of a "normal" protagonist and a soft-core gooey supernatural love interest. They think that this is the source of the popularity, a plot about whether they can make it or not, but in reality, 90% of Twilight is just about how wrong their relationship is and how they can make it work anyway. That's not a plot, but that's what sold Twilight, and that's why others have been failing in its wake.

So, what do we do? I know we are all getting a little tired of the YA movies coming out, and to be honest, after Percy Jackson 2.0, I just want the Hunger Games movies to be over so that I can get back to avoiding the movie theaters for awhile, at least until X-Men: Days of Future Past comes out. And, to be honest, I think that's what movies need to do: wait. Wait for the next fad so they can cash in on something moderately original and not so embarrassing. Because to be perfectly honest, if I find out they're going to try Eragon again, I might just blow a fuse and start throwing paperback copies of The Hobbit from the nearest water-tower 'til they lock me up in the looney bin.

Single Handed: Finale

As promised, this is the final part to Single Handed, both parts. I know it's a bit long, but just keep in mind that it's wrapping up two sections of a story. Not much to say about it: nobody has really had anything good or bad to say about the story up til now, so I'm just assuming it's been well received. I'm funny like that. So, without further ado, the Finale to Single Handed by Jacob Moore.

I was woken from the blackness by whispered voices. I didn’t care where I was. I was
warm, and I didn’t have a rabid wolf on me anymore, and that was all that mattered. I just laid
there for a while, enjoying not doing anything until the voices got louder and I could no longer
ignore them.
 Opening my eyes, I saw that I was in a hospital, lying on a bed in a gown too small for me.
An I.V. hung next to the bed, and considering I couldn’t feel my fingers, I bet it was on the good
stuff. Or dead: dead people probably couldn’t feel their fingers either, right? Definitely the good
 The room wasn’t empty, of course. A female doctor was arguing with a cop who was, in
turn, waving emphatically for her to get out.
 “It’s not appropriate,” she hissed as he pushed her firmly towards the door.
 “And I told you, I don’t care. He should have a friend here when he wakes up, not some
quack!” I recognized the voice, and while I was annoyed, I couldn’t help but smile at his
presumption. “Tell me what?” I asked. The doctor zeroed in on me like a missile, but the cop took the
opportunity to give one last good shove that sent her flying through the opened door.
 Over the sound of metal and plastic crashing to the ground, Lt. Locke called out, “You
two, keeper out…or shoot her. I don’t really care which,” and he slammed the door, walking over
to the bedside. In a city full of blondes and ravens, Alex Locke was an anomaly with his flaming
red hair and freckles over his Asgard pale skin. He was friendly enough for having as touch a job
as he had, and was almost always smiling ear to ear, even now. My father had always said he’d
never be a good cop: he was too thin, frail, and friendly. I knew better. If anything, Alex was too
“Friend, huh?” I said, smiling up at him. “Stretching it a little, aren’t you?”
 “Suit yourself, boss,” Locke said, sketching out a little salute. “Don’t know why we can’t
be both.”
 “What happened, Locke?”
 Locke’s face clouded over, but he grimaced as he started. “From what we understand, the
Wolves knew your route somehow. That’s being looked into. They hijacked a snowplow and
knocked the transport van over. The plow backed out and the Wolves swarmed the area,
making it possible for Fenton to escape. One of the officers called in for backup shortly after
things started.
 “My unit was in the area. I coordinated with five others, and we circled the wagons. We
got every one of them: ten total, three injured. We had light casualties over all, but the officer
who called in for backup was killed.” “Did you get Fenton back to jail?” I asked. Locke stopped talking and frowned down at
me, “What?”
 “I just said that one of your men died and all you want to know is if some scumbag is
back in jail?”
 I scowled and attempted to straighten myself in the bed, “What was his name?”
 “How should I know?”
 “If you can tell me, I can tell you what his unit number was, how long he’s been with us,
even how often he came in with scuffed boots. I’ll know his parents, because I’ll have to call
them and arrange his funeral expenses. I have time to mourn my officer later, so don’t tell me
how to prioritize! Now answer my goddamn question, Lieutenant!”
 By the time I finished shouting, my stomach was hurting and I had to remind myself that
I’d been recently stabbed. Locke turned around for a few minutes, but recovered, angry, but
controlling himself.
 “We found Fenton in the snow plow without the keys to start it. He was half frozen and
bleeding. He’s got some new charges against him now…now what?”
I was staring at him, aghast, “How did he get in the plow? I had him cuffed to me. I
couldn’t let him get away again. What did he do?”
 Realization seemed to come to Locke, and it made his already pale skin lighter, “We
thought you knew…there was so much blood. We didn’t think anyone could go through it and
not know.”
 “I passed out when he tried filleting me, Locke. What did he do?”
 “He cut off your hand…” The words didn’t seem to register, spoken so matter-of-factly…so blunt. He was talking
again, but I couldn’t put the words together. I felt around, and sure enough, I realized that I
could feel one hand, but everything below the other wrist was numb. I pulled my arm out of the
sheets and looked. The stump was well rounded with bandages, clean linen encircling an arm
that used to be whole.
I gazed at it like a man trying to puzzle out some sort of abstract art, and hours seemed
to pass by at a time before something inside me seemed to click out of place. With a snarl, I
attacked the bandages with my remaining digits, pulling at the neat, clean, offensive linen,
ripping and tearing at it in rage.
Locke reached for me, and I shouted, pushing him backwards where he crashed into the
wall. The door opened and two uniformed cops looked in, obviously concerned. I ignored them
and finished unwrapping the bandages. The stump was well stitched, but red and angry as it
came into the light. I looked at it, and felt the piece I’d lost slip further away. I’d sacrificed my
hand…my flesh and my blood…the only thing I had in this world.
“Where’s my hand?” I asked to no one in particular.
Locke looked hurt but answered, avoiding looking at my arm, “Fenton didn’t have it, and
we couldn’t find it anywhere. I’m sorry.”
“’Sorry?” I said, glaring at the stump…my stump, refusing to look at anything else. I’d lost
my hand, and what did I have now? “Get out.”
“I don’t think you should be alone right now, Kris -” Locke started to say.
“That’s Chief Tyler, Lieutenant!” I shouted, feeling the stitches in my stomach pulling, but
I couldn’t bring myself to care. “Now get your ass out of here! Now!”Locke frowned and walked back to the door where the officers had disappeared.
Grabbing the door, Locke turned back to me and glared. “Suit yourself, boss,” he said, and
slammed the door, leaving me alone. Just me…and the price of my obsession.
“Let me get this straight,” Locke said, perched on the edge of my bed while I re-wrapped
my bandages, having thrown the bloody ones in the trash when I’d gotten home. “Some woman
off the street pulls a gun on you and demands you open your safe deposit box. You take her
there, give her a ring and pull a gun on her. The teller comes in to check on you, the woman
shoots her, making everyone in the bank think the one-handed guy with the gun did it,
effectively stopping your pursuit. You then attend to the teller’s wound ‘til the paramedics show
up. Did I miss anything?”
I finished wrapping the bandages and turned back to Locke. After the paramedics had
taken Anna to the hospital, cops came to question me. Recognizing me, they’d called up to
Locke who had ordered me taken home. He’d shown up ten minutes later, bright and shiny in
his uniform and not smiling at all.
“Nope, that pretty much covers it,” I said.
“Oh good, ‘cause I’m trying to get a baseline for the new and improved, retired
Kristopher Tyler, but it’s not like they make a litmus test for this.”
“Hey, I was just going to get a new coffee pot.”
Locke raised his eyebrow and looked at the mess of sludge and glass around the room,
then back at me. I shrugged. I hadn't had time to clean before he’d shown up.
“Why didn't you go after her?” Locke asked, bringing us back on topic.“You know, I remember a young punk Lieutenant getting mouthy with me after I asked a
similarly insensitive question,” I said, frowning down at him.
“That ‘punk’ is Chief now, and understands how to prioritize,” Locke said, getting off the
bed and walking towards the door.
“Then you missed the point I was trying to make,” I said. “If Fenton had escaped, he
would have killed more people, maybe even more cops. If I’d chased after that woman, the
teller, whose name is Anna, by the way, would have died, even if I had caught her. My
responsibility is always going to be towards the people I can help, Locke.”
Locke seemed to think it over for a minute before nodding and going for the doorknob.
Before he opened it, he snapped his fingers in an all too familiar manner that made me glad I no
longer had my gun in hand. “That ring she took,” Locke said, turning around. There was an eager
glint in his eyes, but otherwise, he appeared calm. “What did it look like?”
“It was a cheap knock off of my grandmother’s wedding ring,” I said. “My mother lost
the original and didn’t have the heart to tell my father. It was a plain gold band…almost man-ish.
“No reason,” Locke said, frowning. “Missing evidence from the Wagner murders, but it’s
not your problem.”
“Welcome to my life, Locke,” I said, as he turned his back to me, opened the door, and
started out. “Sometimes things just go that way.”
Locke nodded and closed the door. I walked over to the kitchen. Everything was
connected to the ring. Fenton and now Helena both wanted it. I watched out the small, dirty picture window above the sink until all the police units drove off then walked over to the phone
and picked it off its cradle. Digging my fingernail into the seam, I cracked it open like an oyster.
Inside, where I’d removed the ringer three months ago laid a small evidence bag.
Nestled in it was a small ring with a minuscule diamond setting…a ring familiar to me since I’d
seen its owner wearing it so proudly in his youth. Just visible on the inside, dull and faded in the
fluorescent kitchen lights, read: Alex Elias Locke.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Single Handed Part 5

*Hey everyone. Didn't drop off the planet or die or anything like that. I know that I promised a whole week of Game of Thrones by GRRM, but unfortunately changes in policies at work made it so that I have to find new times to read, and with a new semester coming up, its going to become more so. I have changed things up by buying the audiobook for Game of Thrones, but as another slap to the face, the guy who does the audiobook is dull as...well he actually makes paste look interesting and watching paint dry like a worthwhile pursuit. So, to make up for my lateness, I'm going to post the next segment of Single Handed. There are only two more sections left after this, and I might combine the past a present endings into one post, just to wind things up. In the meantime, please enjoy*

Like many birds in the wild, businesses in Asgard tended to mate for life with their
locales. The First Asgard Credit Union was the perfect example. Even with the neighborhood
decline, they were still open at 9:00 AM every weekday and closed at five. Of course, they were
massively understaffed with only one teller and an elderly guard named Al who slept by the
door for most of his shift. The teller, a young woman named Anna, was busy when we entered. I flashed my keys at
her and she rushed forward when she recognized me.
 “What can I do for you, Mr. Tyler?”
 “I need to get into my safety deposit box,” I said, grabbing Helena around the waist and
pulling her close to my side where she yelped and grabbed my stump warningly. “We’re getting
engaged and I need my grandmother’s ring.”
 Anna’s look of excitement was tempered by the grimace on Helena’s scarred face and
rather than congratulate us, she simply nodded and walked over to the box vault and unlocked
it. “I’m really busy, Mr. Tyler. I’ll leave it unlocked. Just wave to me before you leave.” That said,
she walked back to her desk. I opened the door for Helena and we both walked in, shutting it
behind us.
 The room was mostly empty. A plain plastic table sat in its center. The walls around it
were etched with varying sized slots. Helena stayed by the door, her arms crossed as she
watched me walk across the room to box 289. Unlocking it, I took a box the size of an old VCR
out, and set it down on the table.
 “You haven’t told me what you want…” I said as I unlocked the box.
 “Don’t act stupid, Chief,” she said, smiling at me from her corner, “I want the ring.”
 I reached into the box and pulled out a small gold ring and tossed it across the room to
her. As soon as the ring left my hand, I reached back into the box and pulled out a little Walther
PPK handgun and pointed it at Helena, who disregarded it as she examined the ring in her hand.
 “Another fake,” she said with a sigh, a look of disappointment on her face. “You do realize
that the engagement is off now, right?” “Shame. I always thought I’d marry for looks, anyway,” I said. With my stump, I twirled
the box around so she could see the empty contents. “You must think I’m an idiot.”
 “Honestly?” she said. Taking the ring, Helena placed it on her right pinky and smiled
mockingly at me. “Okay Quick-Draw, you got me. Now what?”
 “Cops…jail…court…I figured we could do the whole song and dance.”
 “You’re forgetting something,” Helena said. “If I don’t get out of here, Graham’s going to
 “I’m not worried about Graham,” I said, cutting her off and smiling. “Third floors of most
of those buildings don’t hold heat. There’s not a chance a family of four would live there. I used
to be Chief, but I was a detective for a few years. Don’t insult my intelligence.”
 For the first time, Helena seemed to falter. “Everything’s coming together,” I said, keeping
the gun trained on her as I walked around the table. “Drug dealers getting free passes from cops
made me wonder who else was getting lucky. Well…Elias Fenton seemed to be a little too slick.
It was easy enough to get him to talk: all I had to do was play dumb and flash the ring around,
and before long he was answering questions I hadn’t even thought of yet.
 “The ambush was a mystery. Why make such a big deal about freeing him just to let him
get caught again. But it made sense when my…ring…was taken. I knew it was only a matter of
time before someone tried again. And here we are.”
 “Yes,” Helena said, her smile returning. “You, me, and the lady makes three…”
 Before I could ask what she was talking about, the door opened behind her, and Anna
stood there, shocked as she looked between me, the gun, and Helena. Helena took advantage
of the situation and grabbed Anna by the hair, pulled her gun out, and shot. Shouts of panic from the lobby echoed into the vault as Helena ran out, screaming her
head off. By the time I got to Anna and started putting pressure on the wound in her stomach,
Helena was already past Al and out the door.
 “Call 911, you idiot,” I shouted at him, ignoring the gun he pointed at me. “Now!” I
looked down at Anna, who was shivering in shock, “You’re going to be fine. Hold on: help is on
the way.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Game of Thrones: Gender Identity, Stories Untold and Week Two

So I finished week two of reading Game of Thrones, and I'm just as psyched, if not more so than before. Dear God, Joffrey is a loser! You know a lot of things got kept out of the show to keep the things that were important to the plot and the story in general, but I have to say: reading the book and watching the show gives you a different flavor all over.

One of the things that really reached out to me was the scene in Arya's chapter where she is talking to her father about Needle. In the chapter, Arya is talking to Ned about how how she doesn't want to be a Lady. She doesn't want to be some little woman who has to get married and have kids who do impressive things while she takes care of their home. At first, Ned seems really uncomfortable with this prospect, but after a while he returns Needle to her and even goes so far as to arrange a "Sword Dancer" from Braavos to come train her, (and how awesome is Syrio, huh?)

Now the things that was so great about this scene is that the perspective is all from Arya's limited third-person view; you have no idea what is going on in Ned's mind when he makes these decisions, and that makes him so much more than what he is. Think about the last time you asked your parent or significant other for a favor: you probably got the fifth degree about it before they made any kind of decision. Who's going to be there? Do we know their parents? How late are you going to be out? That's not to say that Ned doesn't give the token fatherly try of making sure she is absolutely sure.

What's interesting, is that if you changed the entire topic of the conversation to Arya saying that she thinks that she is a lesbian, I think Ned Stark would have made the exact same decision. And that makes me like Ned Stark all the same. He's a crappy hand of the king, and a naive Lord, but he really is a family man. When you compare it to everyone knowing about Renly Baratheon and Lorras, or even the way Varys is portrayed, (very simpering and creepy,) Ned's reactions are so much more conciliatory and welcoming.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is that there are a lot of things you just don't know about in this book. I mentioned before that this is a very "after" kind of story. Everything that is central to the plot: Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen's exile, Robert Baratheon's rebellion, magic and dragons. All of these things happened before Game of Thrones even started. That's fine, it's similar to post-apocalyptic stories where you know the world ended but not exactly how. What makes less sense is not revealing the information as it comes up.

An example is the old and new gods. I know from the show that the new gods are given names, but not exactly why they replaced the old ones? Who were the old ones? Were they part of the forest children myths? There are tons of things being thrown around, and only parts of the explanations are given over to the reader. This is similar to the gripe I had with Beautiful Creatures, where the character see's a lot of things and what isn't explained is just handed off as something you see every day. It could just be that the information is being saved for later on, but the way it seems at the time is that the information isn't important enough to share and I know that couldn't be further from the truth.

Other than that, I'm having a lot of fun with the book. I hope Martin lives long enough to finish the series, even though I know that even if he does fans will still be clamoring for him to do more because they do that. For now, wish me luck because I'm going to be doing chapters 31-45 and this is looking to be a busy week

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Game of Thrones:Week One

Okay, so I just finished my first week of Game of Thrones, (the book not the show,) and I'm pretty psyched so far. It pretty much coincides with finishing the third season of the show, which I'm actually pretty psyched. Surprise surprise when the first gratuitous sex scene in the book doesn't happen until six chapters in. Who'd have thunk. Anyway, I did fifteen chapters and counting, and like I said on my twitter, I have just a few notes, but I'll save that for last like usual.

First off, I know I'm late to the game, but really excited about the show. I usually wait until I finish with the books before I do the movies/TV shows. The test of a good movie adaptation is that it isn't perfect, but it holds up to the actual story AND it should only be a visual representation of the book. For example, everyone went nuts about how bad the Eragon movie was: the cast, the plot, the setting, the magic, everything. But for the Harry Potter movies, they were, for the most part, more readily accepted, even though there was a lot of content that was purposefully left out of the plot. And why? I like to think because the Harry Potter movies were never meant to stand alone from the books, but to just be a visual reference to the many events and characters portrayed in them. It also didn't over-reach like Eragon did by making major, and pointless, detours from the storyline. I also like to think that the books were already almost halfway done by the time the movies started and they didn't try jumping too far ahead of where they were at. Despite this, there were some parts of the book that were important to the plot that were left out because the directors and writers for the movies didn't know what was going to be important later on.

The nice part about the Game of Thrones show is that for the most part they are keeping extremely close to the actual text of the book. It's actually a little uncanny for me, especially after watching just one episode. For instance, the part in the show where Tyrion Lannister comes down and slaps Joffrey and then goes into the keep to have breakfast with his brother and sister is almost identical to the book, even down to what he orders from a servant for breakfast. Now that can sometimes be a little overkill for a series, or movie when it's derived from a book, but in this case it's incredible character building in my opinion and shows what an excellent writer Martin is.

Okay, so now that I've finished geeking out on the show, I think it's time that I moved on to the book itself. For this week I decided to keep it to fifteen chapters, seeing that by the time I finish with week five I'll be done with the book and ready for a final analysis. I know that on my twitter page I've been teasing a bit about the book, but I actually have found myself getting really immersed in the book, even with the fact that I've already seen everything that's happened in the show. Rather than that making it boring, it's really given me a bitter view of who I'm reading about and what's going on.

Now normally I try not to reveal too much about the plot of the books I'm reading, and for good reason. Go buy the book! The authors have worked really hard on these things, and it would be rude of me to reveal their works in detail. But with this already being such a groundbreaking work of fiction, and me doing a whole month worth of reviews, I think I can get away with a few more sneak peaks.

So the overall plot of the story up to where I'm at is the Lannister and Baratheon family went North to Winterfell to see Eddard Stark, nicknamed Ned....really? Where'd the "N" come from? Anyway, the King, Robert Baratheon had his right-hand man, named Jon Arryn, who was known by the title, Hand of the King. Jon was a mentor to both Robert and Ned and now Robert wants Ned to be his new Hand, but Ned is worried about getting engulfed in the politics and having to pick his family up and go south. But, a message comes from Jon's widow, intimating that the Lannisters had something to do with his death.

Now, Ned was going to take all but two of his five/six children with him, but the day before they were slated to go, his second youngest, Bran, who liked to climb, found the Queen and her twin brother getting it on in a secret tower. He was caught and thrown from the tower and nearly died, making him one of three children left. Not being able to take anymore time, the Baratheon's, the Lannister's and the Stark's leave for the south, leaving Ned's wife to take care of him. Ned's bastard son John Snow is going off to the Wall, basically a military encampment that mans a giant wall in the North to keep wild people from attacking the south.

While all of this is happening, my favorite character, Daenerys Stormborn Targaryn, who is descended from the Mad King before Robert Baratheon, is being sold off by her brother to a warlord so that he can get his throne back.

Now there's a lot more going on, but like I said, sneak peeks, not a synopsis and I think I'm actually cutting it pretty close with THIS much already. Most of the other things have to do a lot with politics and whatnot and I don't feel up to going into all of that. My reviews are long enough.

The first part that I wanted to get into real quick is the characters. There are two characters that I both love and hate and both of those stem from some excellent writing on Martin's part. The first is Tyrion Lannister. For those of you who don't know, (rocks, people, they are not good places to live under,) Tyrion is the third child of the Lannister patriarch. He was born a dwarf, accidentally killed his mother during birth, and has a lot of enmity sent his way. For this, and his physical shortcomings, he's trained himself to be smarter than just about anyone else. I love this character, he constantly runs circles around his friends, family and enemies and is just a generally likable guy.

The second is Sansa Stark, and I'm sorry but it just goes back to that whole thing that women can't take care of themselves in books. Which is bunk. I get the feeling she was meant to be a foil to her sister Arya, who is outgoing and tomboyish. Sansa just screams PINK all over the place, perfect and pristine and in love with Joffery the Prince. She's just so doe eyed and ready to follow the prince around that a lot of the things she ends up doing just irk me to pieces. I know that's her point, and for that I admire Martin. Because, it's easy to make a character that everyone loves, but it's a lot harder to make one that everyone hates. That takes talent.

The last thing I wanted to bring up is something that I noticed in the writing and isn't particularly good or bad. It just is. What I noticed is that each chapter is pretty much split in half between some expository monologue-ing and the actual meat of what is going on in the story. For instance, the first half of the chapter will be filled with descriptions of what is going on, who is there, what they are doing, before the character actually goes in and interacts. It's not bad because all of the information given is vital to the storyline, but it is a little bit of an eye sore for me. It's kind of like if you walked into a room and saw ten people, and took time to notate mentally who everyone in the room is, what they are wearing, who they are talking to, etc. In a book, it's a lot easier to believe that this all happens within a second or two, but in real life, your friends will likely be looking at you very strangely as you stand there for twenty minutes just looking at them.

So, week one is done. I'm starting chapter 17 tonight with all the thrills and excitement therein. Wish me luck

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Single Handed Part 4

The door to the back of the van was swinging in the cold wind when I came to. Shouts
and screams, and the unmistakable sound of firearms discharging chilled me in a way Asgard’s
endless winters never could. I took in my surroundings carefully before I did anything.
I was lying prone on the side of the van, the new roof where I’d been sitting was a dented mess,
and I thanked God I hadn’t had my spine crushed on impact.
 Fenton’s chains dangled uselessly near me, blood and a bit of skin on the left cuff. From
where I was laying, I checked my pockets, and sure enough, my cuff keys were missing. After thevan rolled over, Fenton must have wriggled his mangled hand out of the restraints and snagged
my keys.
 The fact that people were still shooting outside meant one of two things: either someone
was trying to kill Fenton, or neither side had gotten hold of him yet.
 Ignoring the pain in my head, I got up and headed out the van door. Seeing the scene
outside I was both grateful and annoyed that I’d left my service pistol at work. Being in an
enclosed space with Fenton without it had been a necessary precaution, especially in hindsight
seeing as I’d been unconscious. But, as I watched the muzzle flashes going off around me, I
missed its comforting weight in my hand, and had to stop myself from reaching for it out of
 Keeping low to the ground, I relaxed my eyes, seeing past the snow like my grandfather
had taught me. It seemed men and women were running every which way in the blizzard, taking
shots at the officers who were less successful in returning fire. I only hoped someone had had
the brains to call in for backup.
 I saw it while I was ducking out of the way of some punk, a small orange fleck keeping
low to the ground. Officers on either side were being kept occupied while Fenton shuffled his
way towards a blocky shadow that had to be one of Asgard’s many snowplows. While the
shooters were keeping each other busy, I ran down the street, ignoring the slicks of ice and
exchanging caution for speed as I gained on Fenton. The streets were clogged with parked cars,
the snow too severe to drive in, and Fenton was using them for cover as he made his way
towards freedom.Using my momentum and greater mass, I grabbed Fenton by the back of his jumpsuit
and, twirling him around, threw him bodily over a car. It wasn’t a clean throw: the tip of
Fenton’s foot caught on the roof and he shouted in pain before it was muffled by his fall. As I
walked around the car, Fenton hobbled to his feet, limping noticeably. I circled around him,
keeping myself between him and the plow.
 “You forgetting something?” I asked, smiling at Fenton, whose face was red from his
tumble on the icy streets.
Fenton snapped his fingers and grinned, though his eyes were dead and calculating. “Oh
yeah. I was gonna snag that stupid ring.”
 I waved my hand at him, “All you’re getting is a good look at it as I wipe that snarky grin
off your face. Don’t worry though, you’ll still be pretty enough for the pen.”
 “I told you, Tyler: I ain’t going to jail!” He snarled, and with surprising speed, he flung
himself at me.
 Maybe not that surprising, considering one of the cars behind him exploded in a dazzling
display of fire and shrapnel. The blast lifted us off the ground, and for the second time that
night, I flew.
This time I didn’t black out, but had the pleasure of crashing to the ground and having
two-hundred pounds of crazy land on me. Before I could move or even dodge the exploded car
parts landing around us, I felt hands wrap around my throat and squeeze. Looking up, I was
greeted with Fenton’s face, no longer grinning, but determined and calm as he slowly choked
the life out of me. The police train people on a lot of things…like getting a raving lunatic off your windpipe,
for example. Unfortunately, being twice concussed, and having black dots swimming in your
vision as your brain screams for oxygen, can complicate matters and make training seem very
far away. In the end it comes down to what really drives your will to live. For me, it was an
obsession…not with Fenton, but with getting the truth. How far was I willing to go to get it?
 The look on Fenton’s face as I slipped the loop of my personal handcuffs through the hole
in his hand was priceless. He looked from his hand to my right wrist where I’d already clicked
the other end. He even stopped throttling me, his mouth moving, but no sound coming out. I
had to admit, I was rather pleased with myself: I’d out crazy-d the mad man.
 “You aren’t going anywhere, you fucking nut job…” I whispered, my throat too sore to say
it any louder. It didn’t matter, because Fenton wasn’t paying attention. Instead, with his free
hand, he lunged to the side, and I had enough time to see something gleaming in his hand
before he thrust it into my guts. The agony of having hot metal invade my stomach was
indescribable. I was spared the job of describing it though, because after the third time he
stabbed into me, I passed out, and knew no more.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Game of Thrones: Introduction

Quite some time ago, I was walking through a local bookstore in Albuquerque when I had the most interesting discussion with one of the booksellers. I was talking about how long it had taken Patrick Rothfuss to write his second book, The Wise Man's Fear, (some four years and some-odd months.) The bookseller, my favorite up to date, had the most interesting of responses, to which I will paraphrase: "You think that's bad, we had to wait five years for A Feast of Crows by George R. R. Martin." To my distress, I had never heard of either the book or the author, at least not in a familiar sort of way that I do with Jim Butcher and his books or Stephen King. Color me surprised that George R. R. Martin was already four or five books into this epic fantasy series and here I was with my head in the sand wondering what the sky looked like. Needless to say, I went out my next payday and bought Game of Thrones, the first book in the series and started reading it that very night.

And ended reading it five minutes later.

I'm not ashamed to say that I never even got a proper length into the book, setting the book down before I had even finished the first page of the prologue. It happens to all men from time to time. Sometimes you start and you just can't finish. Hey, I have a great personality. But beyond that I've read over a hundred books this year alone and not all of them end up making the grade to being written about. But, Game of Thrones is different, as are the circumstances to why I couldn't get into it, as well as the reason I am trying again. There are a lot of reason why I didn't get into the book, most of them simply cosmetic. For simplicity sake I'll just stick to the top three.

#1) Immersion - As I stated in my review of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, the reason that I don't review epic fantasy books is because when you read something on that grand of a scale, it becomes harder to immerse yourself in it. So many things are being pushed at you, you are almost literally being dunked into a world of pure imagination, that it becomes more difficult to accept the rules of the game. For me it also becomes more difficult to separate myself from that world. Since the series isn't yet complete that means having to break away once I get caught up and wait for whenever Martin, a man in his 60's, finishes the book or doesn't. That was the same reason I didn't want to immerse myself in the HBO series based off the book: when a book isn't completed yet, they have no idea d who and what will become more important as the books progress. That means they will likely take liberties with character development, making the ending somewhat stunted.

#2) Hook - I didn't like the opening page. I'll admit it. In the opening part of the story, three throwaway characters are being introduced as a way to show the dangers in the North. I got bored reading the first page and that's a big no-no for me so I set the book down. It's as simple as that.

#3) Wikipedia - Great scourge of the internet world, Wikipedia has just about everything you could possibly want to know about the major events and characters of the series. When I couldn't get into the book, I looked up the series to see if it would get more interesting. To my surprise, I found that the elements of fantasy are quite interesting and come into play later on. What I also found was that it is very heavy on the political intrigue, something that bores me to no end. For that reason, I set the book on my "Need to read" bookshelf by my bed and waited until I had the inclination to do more with it. Since then I have picked the book up twice more and got exactly down to the first page of the prologue before I had to set it back on the shelf.

So, why am I picking up the book again? I have to say it is because of the HBO series. Friends and acquaintances have been bugging me for the last two years to watch this show, and now that I have HBO Go, I can finally watch it from season 1. Finding that the show is interesting at later points has grabbed my attention and set in me the inclination to read the book like never before. It's also set in me a distaste for the series that is new, and something I'll talk about briefly since this is just an introduction.

The Song of Ice and Fire series is definitely an "After" story, and that's always been something that has bugged me. Let me explain: have you ever watched a movie, played a game, or read a book where everything that is happening "Now" is something that happened after some great war? Heroes from that war are now leading, magic has disappeared from the world, evil despots are now beggars and exiles? This is an "After" story. Blips and dribbles of the story that happened before are let slip but they lack the true excitement that would be available if the author had written the events themselves. To me, stories like this have always lacked foundation and emotion. It's like finding out that your wife's/husband's cousin has died. You grieve for them for a little while until you find out that they never even knew they had a cousin. It's still sad, but it's so far removed and lacks the true emotional connection that it's more like finding out that your boss has a flat tire as far as knowledge goes.

But despite that, I decided to devote this entire month to George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones. I'll be reading as much as can in the week and giving my usual opinion-ing about what I thought so far. I know it's a little different than what I usually do, but, the book is so large and the scope is so wide that I think that I can get some good work out of it. Keep track on my twitter page as well, if you want to see where I'm at, as usual. Till then, good night.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

On Writing: Top Ten Things I Learned About Young Adult Fantasy Fiction

Okay, so I was going to do one more review about City of Bones by Cassandra Clare...but as anyone who follows me on Twitter or facebook knows, that idea has been scrapped. I couldn't write the review without getting irritated with it because the book was awful...just awful. Suffice to say, don't buy it: go buy Harry Potter or even the Percy Jackson books. City of Bones made Unclean Spirits seem better by comparison, and that's saying something.

So rather than rant and rave about a book, putting myself in a bad mood and ultimately getting myself into trouble, I decided to wrap up Young Adult month with a new list piece, since I haven't done any since the list of books I just can't get into anymore. This one will be the Top Ten Things I learned About Young Adult Fantasy Fiction, starting with number ten.

Number Ten: Save your questions for when there is a lull in the story, not when they actually come up.

A lot of information is bouncing around in a YA fantasy book. What are casters? Why do vampires sparkle? Why did they rip off Harry Potter? These things will likely confuse you as you read the book because there are so many things happening at once. Don't worry. YA books have you covered. YA books hoard questionable situations like Golum on an episode of Pawn Stars, rationing them out like Donald Trump as a guest start on Survivor. Don't worry though...all of your questions will be answered when the writers get stuck somewhere.

Number Nine: A man or a woman only has true value if they are together.

Life is dull and boring and without true zeal. When that special person comes into your life, they bring light and life and meaning that you could never have achieved without them. Forget that you know nothing about them and have nothing in common. As the song says, love is all you need. Well...relationships are all you need. Ever. Don't ask questions...just go with it.

Number Eight: Have your main character be a clean slate so they are more relatable rather than a role model.

It's a common misconception that many authors main characters have been incredibly boring, lifeless and dullwitted. I have to tell you that this is not the case. Authors have been writing characters as blank slates that readers can then project themselves onto. It's a kind of immersion that readers could never have experienced just by simply reading the book. Think about it, this way, you too can become a dull, lifeless, selfish teenager in love with a shiny disco ball. It's not lazy writing if people still buy the books.

Number Seven: Use caricatures to create characters who never have to develop or change.

Also known as archetypes, caricatures are basic story crafting ideas that have been used across the ages. The lone warrior, the hopeless romantic, the town fool. These basic ideas are used in formula writing because they are popular in almost every culture and transcend time. They also never develop as characters or really change. There's nothing wrong with this because if they did then you would be doing something original, and that would be unheard of. Just take your basic god of war, give him a sword and bathe him in blood. People like that kind of thing

Number Six: The journey is not important - it's the destination that matters.

Forget the old saying that it's not the destination that matters, it's the journey. Wait, switch that, reverse it. Forget all the wonder of what you would see along the way. Who wants to see that? Just get there as soon as possible, showing as little interest in what's going on as a five year old with ADD at the zoo who just wants to go see the monkeys. Readers don't want to waste time driving or flying a magic horse over cities. They just want to focus on what color the horses feathers are until they get to the castle they were headed to to begin with.

Number Five: Your parent got kidnapped? Better go train to save him...for a few months

Oh my gosh! My dad just got kidnapped? I better go off to train for a few years. I'm sure he'll be okay until I'm at least mostly done. Gotta save something for the sequel so that I can show just how much I still have to learn.

Number Four: Girls can do anything boys can, even if they shouldn't.

Now since this is such a touchy subject, I won't bullshit this one. I strongly believe that women can do anything men can, and always have. The fact is that it's a poor choice when they do some of the more suspect things that men do. Such as playing on the affections of the opposite sex to get the things they need for whatever reasons, (something I'm fairly certain a male character would be crucified for doing.) The opposite has been proven true, as well, taking female protagonists and devolving them back to helplessness like Clary Fray in City of Bones, and Kitty in Kitty and the Midnight Hour. Make up your minds, authors. There are good books out there with main female characters who kick ass.

Number Three: Plot? Oh, right, better put that in somewhere...

Authors have so much love to share that sometimes they forget that there has to be an actual plot, climax and conflict in the story that doesn't revolve around prom, or badly cooked pizza, or whether your best friend will have a date so that you can get the four seated table at the fancy restaurant. Don't worry, gentle reader: they'll get to it when they get to it. There's no rush, right? You are perfectly willing to sit through days of exposition to find out that something mildly interesting will happen for five pages before you go back to a picnic in the woods...right?!

Number Two: It's not stalking if you're in love.

Did you wake up in the middle of the night to find your boyfriend staring down at you, the window open wide, his breath slow and deep? Is he following you around wherever you go, staring down and even threatening any man who comes withing fifty yards of you? Does he often tell you how you are the only person he has ever loved and would do anything to keep you safe from an uncaring world that is only out to hurt you? Call the cops...this is not natural, it is not romantic, it is stalking and it can devolve to domestic violence. Not even kidding, I'd even suggest you carry pepper spray or a taser Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman style.

And....Number One: Teenagers are stupid and will buy anything based off Twilight, Harry Potter and Popular Mythology

Pretty much anything that can make money by being made into a moving that draws teenagers into the theaters will get a free pass these days. That doesn't make it good. The Eragon movie taught us that. Watching the preview for City of Bones, I can tell you that as bad as the book was, the movie is only about 2% based off the original source material, and the actual book is based off Harry Potter. Eragon was based on Star Wars. Beautiful Creatures was based off Twilight which was based off of a much better book, dumbed down for teenagers. Pretty much all major archetypes come from popular mythology anyway, which is why they transcend generations. Put a stop to YA authors insulting teen intelligence. Pick up a real book by Jim Butcher, or Brent Weeks, Mark Lawrence, Ilona Andrews, Rachel Aaron. All of these authors are incredible, and whats more important, they are easily accessible and they won't insult your intelligence

Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

What ever happened to the Great American epic teen fantasy? No seriously, this is me being serious, not snarky. I remember when I was a pre-teen, (back before it was called tween *gag*,) and into my teenage years, reading epic fantasy books written for teens. Mostly, they were by K.A. Applegate and her contemporaries who are my heroes even to this day. I never even got to finish the Animorph or Everworld series because I was tragically broke before they finished and too old for them afterwards. But, I know that writers must have written a few more books of that genre since then, I just don't see them now. Writers like Christopher Paolini and Rick Riordan have done an...okay job of picking up on it, but for the most part, YA writers seem to have missed out on the fantasy part of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre. What I'm seeing in exchange, is a lot of romance and not enough carnage.

Don't get me wrong, romance has it's place. It has it's own section in the bookstore, even inching into a new one titled: Paranormal Romance. It's even inching into Science Fiction; the new Enders Game movie trailer has been showing some girl smiling at Ender in it. Since it's not exactly my genre, I can't say for certain, but you know what I remember about Enders Game? Boys kicking each other's butts. That's not to say that there weren't women in there, but I'm fairly certain they weren't there to play slap and tickle.

The reason I wanted to say this, is of course because I'm reviewing Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Why did I decide to review this book? Because this is still YA month for me, and I didn't want to review Twilight...I didn't want to suffer a brain hemorrhage that series induces in the unwary. That being said, Twilight and Beautiful Creatures, five years away from each others publication date, at the least, are very similar in genre, style and plot. I've heard a lot of people complain about the similarities between the two, and to be honest, I don't get it. It's kind of like comparing a rock and another equally unimpressive rock and trying to say which would win if you pit them against each other.

And yes, I do know what I'm talking about. Being of literary mind, I did read Twilight about a year before the movie came out. Heck, I even read New Moon, to my infinite displeasure. That was about as far as I got before started to actually consider a Bonfire of the Vanities movement. I digress though, this isn't a Twilight review...I don't hate myself nearly enough right now to attempt that. Though, I will say this: writing a bad book, in every meaning of the word, no matter how popular, is tragic. Writing a boring book like Beautiful Creatures, now that is just plain criminal.

Beautiful Creatures is a lazy book, written back in 2009, but just waiting for that Twilight novelty to get out of the way to become more popular this year. To be honest, I'd never even heard of it before this year, and that was mostly because of the movie adaptation to come out. To be honest, the movie might get a little more popular if they hadn't cast Jeremy Irons in it, because the man is just too dated for a work like this. Just to get it out of the way, the overall plot of the book does owe a lot to twilight fame, only in reverse. Ethan Wate is a boringly dull teenager living in the South when a new girl comes to his town, Lena Duchannes, who is a caster girl, (a breed of human who can cast magic [oh, so imaginative]) and turns his world upside down. It's basically what would have happened if Edward Cullen hadn't been a shiny disco ball and Bella Swan had had more depth than a puddle of spit.

At first glance, it seems that the authors of Beautiful Creatures decided to try and make their characters as different from Twilight as possible, and in doing so, drained their characters of any truly interesting character traits. Instead, the book focuses on this things that keeps popping up in YA fiction and television shows, and that is: being different is bad and should be punished and anyone who accepts said different person is automatically some kind of saint. Lena isn't a fashion model or a beauty pageant queen, and is instead more of an average beauty, and because of this, (and her relation to her uncle, the town hermit,) she is immediately ostracized. And for what?

I know it's been a little over ten years since I was in high school, but I don't remember things being like that. Yes being weird meant that you didn't hang out with the jocks or cheerleaders, but it didn't mean the entire school hated you. There is always a niche out there that will accept you for who you are. And if not? Who cares? It's high school You will know these people for a few years and then likely never see them again. Even Ethan, who is completely blameless in tormenting Lena, like the others in his class do, makes a point of feeling bad because he feels he has done some amorphous wrong in the past like the others of his peers and this apparently makes him a bad person. This was a deal breaker for me, because at no point in the story does Ethan have an example of how he follows the crowd and makes people feel bad. In fact, early on it's made clear that Ethan just goes along and does his own thing most of the time.

But Beautiful Creatures can't seem to get enough of this, and indeed focuses on it for the rest of the book and almost nothing else. Even the main plot of whether Lena will become a Dark Caster or a Light Caster is shunted to the side for most of the book, instead focusing on how She and Ethan are going on their first date, or going to a dance, or just hanging out. I know all of these things are relationship necessities, but in a genre of fantasy fiction, it is just so, so, SO boring. This is something that YA books have in common, too. They are so focused on drawing young adults in with things that they might do in their own lives, or might have had to deal with at some point, that they lose the actual fantasy aspect of the book in the process.

I would have to say that the main problem with Beautiful Creatures is Ethan. As the main character, the story is told from his perspective with the exception of one pacing-ruining moment towards the end. The problem with him is that he is boring - not in the soul-sucking, brain-hemorrhaging way that Bella is, but almost just as bad. He is a man who sees four weird things right before his eyes and only asks questions about one of them for the better part of the book. What? Is he stockpiling them? Ethan has no qualities about him that make him important other than that he is in love with Lena. And their chemistry is so awful. I get it that they love each other, and that this is a very star-crossed lovers ordeal, but they have no real drive to be together. Lena, for the most part, spends almost every waking moment trying to get rid of him, calling him stupid, running away from him, not calling him. And yet he just keeps going.

Similarly to Twilight, I get an overwhelming feeling that the authors are drawing conclusions that a man or woman only have worth because of each other, and I have to say that that is bunk and leave it at that. Ethan goes about his life in a kind of bored fashion before Lena shows up. He plays basketball but doesn't really enjoy it. He has ex-girlfriends who hate him, but it's never really explained why or how they broke up, she's only there to be a foil to Lena and even that is pretty half-assed. The only thing he really is interested in is Lena, and that just shows a kind of codependency that isn't exactly a role model for young adults. It actually kind of reminds me of two things, one that someone mistakenly told me, and one that I brought up in a piece on writing. The first is that someone once told me that because I was a man, I wasn't fit to talk about anything female as far as writing, perspectives, etc.. Normally I would say this is bunk, but it goes back to the old adage of "write what you know", and obviously neither of the authors really know men if they think this is a positive reflection of the gender. The other is that there is a fine line between believe-ability and realism. It's believable that Ethan was a loner before Lena came along, (it happens,) but it is unrealistic that they should have to the kind of bond that they authors create because there is nothing to build off of.

Lena on the other hand is only interesting because she is quirky, and that's it. As a Caster, she has until her next birthday before she becomes light or dark, and has no choice in the matter. Because of this, she draws less attention to the caster part of her life and tries to live a normal life. What parts of her life that aren't Caster related are all about her being quirky and edgy. She has a necklace full of knick-knacks she has to remind her about her life. She dresses in uncool clothes. She plays violin. And she is constantly defined by other people as living with her uncle Macon. Even her powers are quirky and ill-defined. She's shown to have some power over the weather that is effected by her mood, cracks glass and even controls fire later on. But for being touted as one of the more powerful types of casters, she doesn't quite come up to par.

If I had a rating system I might consent to give Beautiful creatures 2 out of 5, possibly a 3 out of 5 after reading City of Bones. But I don't. I don't suggest reading this book to anyone who values good literature, but if you liked Twilight and wish it had gone on longer, then this is probably the book for you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Single Handed Part 3

The snow hasn’t always been this bad in Asgard. When the city was founded, it was cold,
yes, but only in the last fifty years or so did it get to snowing full time. Everyone and their
mother had a reason for it: from global warming to some sign of the apocalypse. Myself, I have
a theory, and one I’d shared with my father when I was fifteen. I told him that God was suffering
from Post-Partum Depression. God was trying to slowly drown us with the kind of careful,
absent-minded, neglect of a man with an unruly pet leaving for a week without feeding it.
My father, then a thirty nine year old SWAT sergeant and a devout catholic to boot, had
stared silently at me for a full five minutes before smacking me in the side of the head.
Still, as I walked down the deserted street, watching small snow devils race through the
drifts of powder like hyperactive children, I had to admit there was something, if not beautiful,
then scenic about the weather. As I watched small flakes march through the sky to land in the
clear streets and dance along as the wind blew them gently away, it was almost peaceful.
I would have enjoyed it more without the damn sweater my shrink had suggested
wearing after my, “little accident”, as he was fond of calling it. With every meeting I’d been to in
the past three months I’d felt myself drifting further and further away from him. With a little
Freudian beard, jackets with the elbows replaced, and a name so damned German I felt like I
was coughing it out everything time I said it, he was far and away the last person I wanted in my
head. I’d even stopped calling him by his name, and simply referred to him as “Shrinky-Dink” at
the beginning and end of every session. I doubted he was aware of the little twitch his eye
made at the sound of it.
In the part of town I was living in, it would have looked out of place seeing a six-foot-five,
three hundred pound man walking around in a t-shirt and jeans. The streets were empty of any
parked cars, (nobody in the neighborhood could afford one, anyway.) The buildings were all
plain, insulated stone so cracked and pitted it was a surprise anyone could live in them. Not one
of the buildings were above five floors, and many of the apartments above two were vacant due
to poor heating units.
“The sweater,” Shrinky-Dink drawled from his posh, Italian, leather chair, “will help you
adjust to being part of the crowd again.”
I’d have to have a little talk with him about the fact that my hand was so busy being out
of sight that it made me the perfect target for the young woman who slipped out of the alley to
my right and settled the barrel of a gun in my lower back. I was pretty sure that wasn’t his
intention, because wearing the sweater was already irritating enough without the threat of
digesting a bullet with my hand stuffed ineffectively in my pocket.
“Can I help you, miss?” I asked, more curious than anything. In a pair of ragged jeans and
a sweater, I wasn’t exactly shouting out “rich”, so I doubted I was being robbed.
“Look to your left, Chief,” the voice behind me spoke, her tone lacking any emotion. I
shuddered. Passionate people make mistakes, but someone who sounded like they didn’t care,
they were dangerous. I looked to my left.
It wasn’t immediately clear what she wanted me to see until I looked at the building
across the street and a little ways up. On the third floor of the apartments, in the third window
from the end, was a man waving at me in an overtly cheerful manner. He was short, squat, and
mean in a way I hadn’t seen since I’d seen the wolfish grin on Fenton’s face. He was wearing a
plain white t-shirt, and had a young woman in a chokehold, a knife pointed at her throat.
“That woman’s name is Norah Raines, and she has two children in the apartment. Both
of them are locked in their rooms and their father left for work an hour ago.” She spoke in such
a clear, precise manner, that I had no doubt that she had planned this all out, and a cold rage
bubbled up inside me like heartburn.
“You’re going to do everything I say, because if you don’t then someone is going to get
hurt. If you think for a second it’s just going to be you paying for any stunt, then you are sadly
mistaken. Now let me ask you, Chief,” she jabbed the gun barrel into my back for emphasis,
“Does Graham up there need to get creative, or are you going to be a gentleman for me?”
For half a second, I considered making her eat her own gun and going up there to make
sure “Graham” never threatened another family again. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Images of things falling apart on me, of things left unfinished because of poor judgment,
stopped me and I felt my shoulders slump in submission.
“What do you want, miss…?”
“Helena, and nothing illegal,” she said, shuffling around behind me. I imagined her
finding a creative place to hide the gun so she could mow me down at the slightest provocation.
This didn’t seem like a woman who took chances, even with gentlemen. “We’re just going to
make a little withdrawal from the bank.”
Helena moved around to my right side, and I got my first real glimpse of her. She was
pretty for a sociopath, in a cold, cruel kind of way. She wore a plain gray button down coat that
went down to her knees, covering a pair of thick work jeans. Her shoes were a kind of brave
stiletto boot, and I had to admire that she could walk on the ice covered sidewalks.
She had long, silver blond hair that cascaded down her back in a glistening sheet. Her
nose was a delicate button, and she had a full, pleasant face, marred entirely by the dead look
in her eyes as she looked at me. Her eyes were a shade of green I’d never seen before, almost
the color of dirty ocean water, or sewer sludge.
Well, I shouldn’t say “entirely marred”. The scars pretty much took care of the rest. From
scalp to her exposed neck, from nose to ear: the entire left side of her face was viciously burned
and ravaged. The skin was thick and irritated red where it wasn’t crisscrossed by dead brown
skin reminiscent of under-dried jerky. What were worse were the pockmarked sections of
chemical burns interspersed across her cheek. There was no doubt that all of this had been
intentionally done. It had all the marks of a sadist.
For the first time, Helena’s face lit up with emotion. Joy transformed her right side from
pretty, to damned near beautiful, and made the left side into a menagerie of horror.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” She smiled up at me. It was clear she was enjoying my discomfort. “It’s
one of those ‘man with no shoes’ moments for you, I’m sure. Now as you well know, a
gentleman always holds a lady’s arm on their walk.”
I growled deep in my chest, but did as she asked, grimacing in discomfort as I took my
arm out of my pocket. Helena watched, a look of eager anticipation on her face as my wrist
escaped the confines of the sweater. The end of my wrist, freshly bandaged before I’d left the
apartment, ached in the cold. The jagged remains of my right hand had long ago healed from
their stitches, but even mild weather made the stump painfully sensitive. My physical therapist
swore my insurance covered a prosthetic and would help with the sensitivity, but honestly, I
didn’t see the point. As I watched her, Helena shivered a bit, smiling to herself before placing
her arm around mine, the tips of her fingers caressing the edges of the bandages.
“Spectacular,” she crooned, humming a bit to herself. “Well, let’s be off.”