Reading Log: July 2020

Image Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/228665.The_Eye_of_the_World

So, this one is going to be a short blog today. I’ve not been reading a whole lot personally over this past month and I’ll explain why that is in just a moment. Basically, over the past month, I’ve done 3 things since the last time I wrote a “Reading Log” entry:

  1. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests, I read for & wrote my Prospectus and sent it to my Dissertation Director. My research focus is in what ways can Afrofuturism (specifically, film and other related media) be used to increase empathy and mitigate the affects of racism.
  2. Remembering my childhood summer days, I started writing consistently at night and using the fading summer sun at nighttime to work drafts and drafting–was able to finish 2 drafts (The Independent & Unhallowed) by doing this.
  3. Having gotten away from reading because of #1 & #2 above, I recently stopped writing so much at night, and trying to make sure I take time to read again.

Essentially, days were taken up with reading and writing for school (when not working) and nights were taken up with creative writing. This left little time for reading, but I could tell my stress level was going up. I’ve now cut down on the creative writing a bit and I’m making sure that I set a stopping time of sundown (when the sun actually goes down and I can no longer see well enough without turning on lights in the house) as my reading time. I’ve been doing that for the past week and a half, and so far its worked great.

The Eye of the World

I’ve not checked the sidebar to see if it is still grabbing the information from Goodreads correctly, but I went in and cleared all books from my currently reading list except the one(s) that I’m actually reading at my (own) designated reading time. For this month, that should be The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan.

Like Tad Williams’ works mentioned in a previous post, this book is an Epic Fantasy novel (I liked the ones from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s. It was just when Game of Thrones took over the landscape and got “discovered,” the epic fantasy landscape shifted and morphed into this pastiche of writers, each trying to be the next “GoT” that has really soured me on the genre lately.) I’m hoping the success of Brandon Sanderson, who himself was inspired by Jordan, will shift the genre back to a more palatable (and stable) stance–but that remains to be seen. This is the first in a 14 book series. Unfortunately, he died before completing the series–and Sanderson was asked to complete the series from Jordan’s detailed notes. I’m glad he was able to–there are several series that I’ve read over the years that were not resolved due to untimely deaths from authors.

When The Eye of the World debuted in the 1990s, it was “hot stuff,” the GoT of its time (without all the sex & violence). It captured the hearts and minds of the fantasy community at the time (and made a sizable impact to those outside of the fantasy landscape). Like GoT, it inspired a whole cadre of writers to write in Jordan’s style and genre. I’ve read the entire series and I’ve owned them all in paperback. Before I started school and began to have to deal with the “poor graduate student” conundrum, I was slowly working my way through and converting my Jordan collection into premium paperbacks (new) and hardcovers (from the local used bookstore). I’m only half-way through, but one of these days, if the money situation eases, I’ll try to complete the set.

As I only started a week and a half ago, and I’m not really in any hurry, I’m only a little over half-way through (this will be probably my 5th complete read through). I’m wanting to get to my favorite part–which is where Rand comes to a fairly large city and interacts with some important people–that’s all I can say without spoilers, but anyone who’s read the book knows exactly what scene I’m describing–and for it to be a serious, epic fantasy book, where the world is constantly on the line, Jordan displays some masterful comic timing and delivery along with wonderful world-building and characterization in that one fairly brief encounter. I love it and hope one day to write scenes of that caliber!

Well, you’re all caught up–sorry there’s not more. Have a great weekend!

Sidney


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Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

A Little Book by the Name of The Dragonbone Chair

"Tad Williams The Dragonbone Chair"
A young, tall lad with red hair carrying his friend  Binnabik, a young man with brown skin and jet black hair and who has an arrow lodged in his chest with a mysterious hooded traveling companion in the distance.  They are in a green tinted ruins with moss and vines and this entire setting is surrounded by a yellow, parchment-like background.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dragonbone_Chair

So, a word of warning: this blog post will be a little maudlin. 2020 has been a rough year. Not just for me, but for everyone. You can see it in the memes and in the news stories–this year has been one for the ages (in recent history obviously), and its only a little over half over. Usually we get days like this throughout the year. Sometimes we get months (I remember that Desert Shield had occurred only days after I had moved into my dorm room and it felt as if the world had upended itself — I was enrolled in college, but I was painfully aware that I had recently signed my required Selective Service form–for those outside America, its a required form for the military in case they need to draft you into military service), but rarely has there been a year so consistently full of challenges. It has been hard to do anything, including academics: either being a student, or being a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA), or being graduate student (which is, surprisingly, different from just being a student in that you have other responsibilities to attend to such as conferences, prospectus/dissertation, trying to find publication opportunities, financial aid and grant applications, and on and on and on). All this to say: that this year has been quite stressful.

Doctor’s Orders: Read

Luckily, about a year and half ago (Dec. 2018), I asked my Primary Care Physician for ways of dealing with stress. While exercise was something that he talked about, I felt that I was already doing that with my GTA position (something that I’ve missed due to not having classes), so he also suggested that I might want to read at the end of the day. As that was something that I’d done as a child. For those who don’t know, from my earliest days in school until I graduated from high school at the age of 18, I had a curfew, and it was fairly early (10:00 pm on school nights). Even in the summer, when school was out, my family had a fairly routine curfew of 11:30 pm. We never stayed up much past that time, and if any member of my family was still awake at 12:00 am, that was something so rare as to be memorable. Now, this changed slightly in the 1990s when talk shows really came into their own and ran longer formats, but even then, 12:00 am/12:30 am were pretty much the latest anyone (usually my uncle, who was the only one of us who watched the late night talk shows) stayed up. So, as a child, I would be in bed by 10:00 am, but I’d never really be sleepy. Since TV was out of the question (I’d get in trouble as curfew technically meant “lights out”), I’d read until I was sleepy. I had a bed night light that technically meant that I was “bending” the rules, but for the most part, my parents turned a blind eye to it as I was reading. I did get into trouble one time when I read too long (over an hour because the book was so good), but for the most part: 10 pm – 11 pm was my reading time. Last year at about this time, I began to do the same. I’d only read a chapter or two, usually no more than 20 minutes before I’d be too sleepy to continue, but I credit this reading with helping to successfully mediate the stress in my life. No, it wasn’t a perfect solution, but it at least helped.

The Dragonbone Chair and The (former) Underground in Atlanta

Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m a reader–given a choice, it is what I prefer to do. In fact, it is so ingrained in me, that in high school, we were given the opportunity to go on “college trips,” where we were given the choice to tour colleges in an “area” and teachers chaperoned us to those universities. I figured that I wouldn’t have the money to go far away, so I just chose the “southeastern area” trip, which was essentially the colleges in the same basic geographic area where I live (the states of Tennessee and Georgia). On the way down, I read–fantasy books by Raymond Feist, if I’m not mistaken (Magician: Apprentice, Magician: Master, Silverthorn, and A Darkness at Sethanon.) We visited several schools in the area (I remember it being a 2-3 day trip) and we also visited some malls in the Atlanta, Georgia area. One of the malls, The Underground (which sadly is no longer active the last I checked and is now pretty much defunct and a bad part of town to visit) was a mall built “underground.” I remember finding a cool bookstore (independent), but the back wall was rock tiles all stacked on each other). This was, unfortunately, in the era before cell phones, but I still have the image indelibly marked in my mind. I cruised the Sci-Fi and Fantasy sections and found a copy of an intriguing book: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. While I bought a copy and admired it on the trip home, I didn’t actually read it as I was still in the midst of the books by Feist. However, later that month, when I did get a chance to read it, I was hooked and I’ve been a reader of Tad Williams every since. This book is fairly typical by today’s standards, but remarkable by the standards of the day. It features a young boy protagonist, who becomes a warrior–sounds cliche’ right–but Simon never becomes the best at anything he does–he is more like an “everyman” character. He more or less “bumbles” his way through the story–more towards the beginning in Dragonbone Chair and less toward the end in To Green Angel Tower, but he is never the most powerful or the best at anything he does, although he does manage several incredible and impressive feats just by being who he is as a person. Make no mistake, Simon is not an “incompetent” hero and this is no Fantasy comedy story–it is Epic Fantasy at its finest. However, Simon is given the nickname Simon “Mooncalf” early in the story for his propensity to daydream when he should be doing his work and it takes him a while to lose that trait.

The Witchwood Crown

And now to the maudlin part: Tad Williams made this book into a trilogy (The Osten Ard Trilogy) and it was my favorite series of my late teens and early twenties. Well, he has a new trilogy set in the same universe, and I was fully on-board. I read the story The Heart of What Was Lost, what is being called a “bridge novel” in that it bridges the two trilogies together. I thought it was well done and back to form, so I picked up a copy of The Witchwood Crown, the first book in the new trilogy.

And I didn’t like it–and I didn’t get very far. It had aged up our heroes and they are bitter (due to life circumstances that could be considered spoilers). He did the thing that Star Wars did–age the protagonists out of relevance to focus on the younger characters, and I rebelled. I stopped reading, pretty much 6 months ago, and I’ve yet to pick up the book again.

I probably will finish the book, and who knows, maybe I’ll be surprised by the resolution and discover that Simon and Miriamele have relevant roles in the story (I doubt it, but maybe). Look, these are fictional character (not real ones) and writers want to reflect reality–but I can’t but help but feeling cheated. I got to miss out on the best bits of their lives (a la Star Wars) and I’m being asked to accept that their stories no longer matter–no, it the new generation that matters now, and these battered, bitter old grumps need to be put out to pasture so we can move on to these new and better characters (a la Star Wars), and as a writer and reader, I just rebel. There are so many times in which, by the logic presented with “out with the old, in with the new,” that Simon would not have made it in the original trilogy. There are so many times that Simon is either saved by someone older and wiser than himself, or the actions of someone who is older and wiser saves him incidentally than I can count in Dragonbone Chair, let alone the times in which older and wiser characters actively take part in the narrative — Isgrimmnur and Jiriki alone either directly or indirectly save Simon (and the ones he loves), so many times that one could almost make memes from it, and yet the author can’t do that for his protagonists: Simon and Miriamele. No, they have to become old and bitter due to tragedies that have befallen them in life (a la Star Wars), and we, the audience are supposed to then just accept their fate without because, hey, “life isn’t fair” (a la Star Wars).

This bugs me in so many ways because if life wasn’t truly fair, then there’s no way Simon (or Miriamele) would have survived their original adventures. To invoke it in their old age (after not letting the readers see their prime years) seems churlish at best. No, this isn’t an attack on Tad Williams, who remains one of my favorite authors, rather it is an attack on both ageism which states that anything good can only be done by the young/or come from someone who’s young, and an attack on this idea that protagonists are only special in their first/early adventures. That “specialness” always, somehow, seems to rub off the moment we need “new” protagonists. As a writer (and a reader), I have to object: if the characters were special before, then they should be special after–to do anything less is to do a disservice to the characters themselves and the story that was told before with those characters. And Star Wars–you really should be listening in to this conversation.

See, I told you it was going to be maudlin. 🙂

Have a great day!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

Reading Log: Shadowmarch

The four book covers for each novel in the series: Shadowmarch, Shadowplay, Shadowrise, Shadowheart.
Image Source: https://www.tadwilliams.com/books/series/shadowmarch-series/

So, today I’m going to talk about a series of books, both as one series and individually. The series is Shadowmarch by Tad Williams, one of my favorite authors. A quick bit of background: I’ve been a fan of Tad Williams work every since I discovered his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy in high school. I’ve told this story before on the blog, but I first found about Tad Williams after purchasing The Dragonbone Chair from a bookstore in Atlanta, GA in the (now disused and mostly abandoned, but then thriving) Underground Mall area. The back wall in this bookstore was pure rock, hewn from the ground, and so, even though I don’t always read every Tad Williams novel, I’m still interested when I hear he has a new novel.

Shadowmarch

I really like Tad Williams’ novels when he writes Epic (or what used to be known as High) Fantasy. Tad’s world building is impressive. I’ve tried to read his Sci-Fi series and his non-epic works (The Otherland books and The War of the Flowers), but none of his non-epic works ever capture me in the same way as his fantasy novels. Basically, Shadowmarch is the story of a war between the humans and the fae, but for reasons that are very hard to decipher–at least initially. While I won’t give a plot synopsis here, I will say that even though I bought everyone of the Shadowmarch novels, I’ve only read them once before, right after their initial publication. That’s unusual for me, as I only buy books (or keep books) that I truly love. I think it is because, after establishing all the major characters and relationships in the first book, they go there separate ways in the subsequent volumes, only to return together in the 4th volume (as a group).

Book 1: Shadowmarch

As mentioned above, this book sets up the world, character, plot, and relationships of the various humans on one side and the fae on the other. It gives us our two main protagonists of the book, Princess Briony and her brother Prince Barrick, and then sets into motion a war that is initiated by the faeries. These are not your traditional fae and are formidable opponents. This is probably my favorite book in the series in that it establishes the most things in the novel. While not small, we get a LOT of world building, characterization, and plot development in this novel.

Book 2: Shadowplay

I remember not particularly caring for this one when I originally read it, and upon rereading it, I think I know why. While it focuses on all the major characters, at the time, I thought the Princess Briony was, by far, the most interesting character, and the places where she wasn’t “on the screen” really dragged. Also, while I don’t hate Prince Barrick, he isn’t a particularly likable character in this chapter of the story (unlike Chapter 1, where he had Briony to balance him out and neutralize some of his rough edges), and since we spend so much time in his POV, or in the Guard Captain Vansen’s POV (who is with him), that we get to see/interact with Barick a LOT, which makes the whole book seem to slow down. I appreciate it more now than I did at the time, but originally, it was really hard to get through Barrick’s sections.

Book 3: Shadowrise

This is where I remember the series really coming into its own when I first read it, and even upon rereading, I still think this. I think the answer is two-fold: 1) we finally start getting some answers in the form of clues, revelations, and hints about the story. While a lot is in mythology, the answers given are like pieces of a puzzle and the more we’re given in this volume, the clearer the overall narrative becomes, and 2) Prince Barrick finally becomes likable. While far from perfect, you can see why he has been such a “jerk” in the past and his demeanor gets heavily tempered in this book. While Briony’s “journey” stops (she no longer advances the plot as she had before), she gets some fairly heavy characterization in the form of serious court “intrigue” that is deadly serious.

Book 4: Shadowheart

This probably my 2nd favorite book in the series. Firstly, because Tad Williams “sticks the landing” with this series. So many authors that I’ve read (and even admire) have books whose endings just fall apart from me. However, this book manages to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion (for me). I do wish the final battle had been a little more involved (I think the “obstruction” sub-plot to keep one of the side characters from enacting his final plan to help take out the ultimate enemy went on too long and could have been shortened), but the battle that was depicted was epic enough and, at 727 pages, the book was already long (having originally been planned as a trilogy, but having to be changed to a 4 book series due to the original size of the third volume), so I can understand that the climatic battle might have been shorter than I might have liked. Also, both Barrick and Briony get to shine in their respective roles. While there is an annoying romantic “triangle” that Briony is involved in, I can say without spoilers that it doesn’t get in the way too much, and adds a bit of depth to Briony’s character–in other words, the author has Briony dwell on it for a paragraph or two, sometimes interweaving through a section, but she’s never on the subject for too long (in my opinion). We finally get answers to our questions and the full tapestry is revealed and I think it is a successful end to the series. I’m glad I bought it, but wish I’d reread it sooner. It is a great series and would make a great story to adapt into live action (series or movie) one of these days.

Are you listening, Hollywood?

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
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    Next: Script, Issue #2
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Reading Log: Frankenstein and The Hunger Games

A journal with a stylized pen drawn banner with the words "Reading Log" on the left side and pen drawn books with titles written on the spine.
Image Source: https://allthehippieshit.com/bullet-journal-collection-2-reading-log/

So, I liked the way the blog post came together for my Writing Log post a couple of weeks back, so I think I”ll expand it so that I cover 4 or 5 different elements of my life in a “log” format and publish them (potentially) on Fridays–the day when I find it hardest to get blog posts done and out. I’m thinking it will follow writing, reading, video games, and some other fourth thing (not sure what that will be at the moment). Still, I really like the format, so look out for these on Fridays.

Now on to the log!

Frankenstein

This is a book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. I started it once before as I wanted to read it before watching Kenneth Branaugh’s movie adaptation of it. As I think I may have mentioned before on the blog at some point, I never got past the introduction/prologue of the tale and never watched the movie. However, my mentor professor, who is teaching a sci-fi literature course this semester, made it the beginning literary work to examine, so I read it along with the class and I enjoyed it. What I took most from it was how changed it is from the Boris Karloff movie. Now, I’ve not seen that one either, so one of these days, I really need to just go on a Frankenstein binge-fest, but I think I like the book’s quiet menace and contemplation on what it means to be different and hated. One could almost make a parallel between Frankenstein’s monster and racism based on the fact that the prejudice comes from the way the monster looks, not (initially) the way he acts. There is also something to be said about the nature vs nurture debate, in that things that happen later in the book are a direct result of how the creature was (not) nurtured rather than an product of its creation (birth). There is a lot to unpack in this novel, and one of the reasons that it is still such a classic even today. It makes me wonder why Branagh’s interpretation was so roundly disliked since it seemed to move back towards the book and be a much more faithful interpretation than than the Karloff story.

The Hunger Games

Like The Expanse, this is a book that I read at first and did NOT enjoy. While I liked the concept, I didn’t like (at the time) the way the characters were presented. It has been quite a few years since it first came out, and I think I read it–if not at the height of its popularity–quite close to it and I believe that it was probably “overhyped” in my mind and that helped to predispose me against it. I gave it 3 stars (out of 5) on Goodreads.

Rereading it, I’m able to appreciate it more. and I feel that it is a better book than I originally gave it credit for all those years ago. Another thing that I think helped is that understanding that I’m NOT the target audience for this book. No, I’m not talking about gender here or even YA, but rather, I’m not interested in the slightest in “Reality TV,” and that’s almost a requirement here. You have to be interested in the inside/outside machinations of that type of entertainment structure to really get into this book. In the intervening years, the “Battle Royal” subgenre has become a thing in video games, and while I’m not really big into that type of game, it is a reference point/touch point through which I can get into the story now–a book version of the “battle royal” genre.

I also liked the “Rue” subplot better this time around and the reaction to it really had the “weight” that I think it was supposed to have. As an African American, I may have been a bit miffed at the time at the outcry against Rue’s casting for the movie (and there was an outcry–I remember the news stories), and probably held that against the book–even though Rue is written in the book as a dark-skinned character. However, now that this controversy has faded, I was able to read the interaction as the author intended and found that it was a really captivating moment. Enough that I actually want to watch the movie. I even went back to Goodreads and gave it 4 stars (out 5).

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
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    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft
    Next: First Draft

Book Haul for June 2019

Several Fantasy novels displayed on a table with the spines and titles facing the viewer.
Image Source: https://www.nosegraze.com/january-2018-book-haul-wrap-up/

It is about halfway through the month and I realized that I hadn’t yet talked about the books that I bought for this month. I bought two books from McKay’s Used Book Store, a local used book store in the TN area (they may have stores elsewhere, but I don’t think so). I really prefer our local Friends of the Library book sale (the proceeds go back to help fund library events). I think I remarked on this previously, but as a child, I used to get an allowance and it allowed me to get approximately 2 books per month (paperback novels were about 3.95 on average, rising to 4.95, then to 5.95 at the end of my childhood).

Movies, Edited by Gilbert Adair

Film strip on a purple background framed by a gray border on the left and right sides.
Image Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/524993.Movies?ac=1&from_search=true

Movies, Gilbert Adair (Ed.), (ISBN 0141180846)

This is an edited collection of essays dealing with movies. I bought it because I really wanted to get more invested in my “specialization” field of film. While I’ll probably never be a “true” cinephile, I do love movies and (before I started the PhD program), I tried very hard to watch a film every week–either through Netflix or through Blu-Rays. The essays in the book run the gamut from theory, the pioneering aspects of movies, to the movie-going experience and even creating. It is a fairly large book (447 pages), but the essays (a least the ones that I’ve read so far) are fairly short (3-5 pages). I’d love to say that I’m going to finish the book this month, but chances are good that its going to take me at least two months to truly finish it. So, far I’m reading the theorizing section, but what I’ve read so far is fairly interesting.

It was the back cover blurb that caught my eye: “At the turn of the millennium cinema permeates all of our lives. From the Lumiere brothers’ first public film screening at the end of the nineteenth century to the technical wizardry at the end of the twentieth, it has both recorded and created our history. Its images and icons are part of our collective consciousness. We are all film buffs now.” In so many ways, this is true. While my lexicon is made up of the Force from Star Wars, today’s generation’s “Force” is J. K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter films. Those are the touchstone films that the newest generation understand and can reference–there “force” is the “Dementors” as I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of something “wraith-like” being described as looking like a “Dementor.” Films, do indeed, permeate our culture and are worthy to be studied.

Digital Fantasy Painting by Micheal Burns

A woman with a halter top and gun speaking into a communicator of some kind with two space ships at the top and bottom of the image and there is a warrior holding up a shining sword in the bottom left hand corner.
Image Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21093633-digital-fantasy-painting?ac=1&from_search=true

Collins Digital Fantasy Painting by Michael Burns (ISBN 0007160038)

This is a book that I picked up on a bit of a lark. There was another book that I wanted, but that book was far more expensive than I wanted to pay at the moment, so I got this one instead. Now, anyone who knows me realizes that art (outside of words) is not one of my strengths. I see the images in my mind, but (as we know from my writing), I often get frustrated when I can’t duplicate the images exactly on to paper. Now magnify that frustration by a factor of 10 when I try to do art. What I see so clearly in my mind, doesn’t even come close to being replicated by my fingers and it’s so infuriating that I can’t reproduce it. I did do a stint in the 11th and 12th grades where I tried to work on my artistic abilities, but the progress was so slow that I realized that, not only would it take years to progress to any decent sort of ability, but also that it would probably take away time from writing and becoming a better writer, so I slowly let the idea of art fade.

So why did I pick up this book? Well, it at least gives me insight into the processes and ideas and techniques that real artists use to create their works, especially in the “new” digital arena. Add to the fact that these are fantasy works and it was almost a no-brainer. The factor that cinched it for me, however, was the fact that there was a section on creating “maps” for fantasy worlds. As a fan of maps and a hopeful novelist one day, I feel that creating maps is something that I can do artistically. Some of my earliest “works of art” were hand-drawn maps of various countries for school “reports” about those countries. Having a book that gives me concrete techniques for doing something that I used to do as a child pretty much sealed the deal. I’ve started the book, but haven’t gotten that far. The book is short, however, and at 160 pages (many with illustrations), this is one that I do feel that I can finish sometime this month.

My goal is to get 1-2 books each month (like I did as a child). Since I probably will only finish one of these two books this month, next month might be a chance to get that more expensive book that I saw (if it is still there) so as not to get more books than I can read (I have too many unread books now, so I don’t need any more). Still, hopefully next month I can update you on 1-2 more books that I’ve added to my collection! Have a great weekend!

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
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Afrofuturism in Film

Afrofuturism movies: Unknown Movie, Black Panther, Get Out, and design for Afrofuturism.
Image Source: http://www.btglifestyle.com/blog/2018/03/12/afrofuturism-film/

I have a confession to make: I really like Afrofuturism in Films. That’s not much of an admission to you might say? Well, how’s this for one: I don’t really care for it in book form. I can tolerate it in its musical form, but the books have never really moved me in the way they seem to move others.

Why Not Books?

I think the reason is that the books tend to limit themselves far too much. Wait, let me qualify myself before I get myself into trouble. I may have mentioned that my uncle was a seminal presence in my literary life. He took me with him to the public library every month to check out books. Every month. While I had other interests besides fiction in terms of books that I checked out, fiction (specifically, science fiction and fantasy) were the primary genres that I engaged with as a reader (both in children’s books and in general fiction when I grew too old for children’s books). While my library didn’t buy “popular” materials at the time (or at least, not a lot of them), quite a few did end up in the collection as they received starred reviews in Library Journal or Booklist (which were the primary way books were ordered for the library back then). Now, I didn’t know this at the time and only found out that this was how books were decided on based on working there are seeing the process firsthand. However, surprisingly enough, two of the major writers that Afrofuturism has been formed around, Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, reviewed well and we had a fairly large (5+ books) collection of their work at any one time (usually closer to 6-7 books on the shelf at any one time). I would, from time to time, pick up a book from these two authors, but put it down again after reading the blubs on the back and the inside covers as they were always dealing with some social issue. I wanted galactic empires, world universe conquerors (like Thanos), spaceships, and heroism. While good in their own way, Afrofuturism stories were nothing like what I wanted to read.

Afrofuturism in Film

Not so for film. Even excluding Black Panther for the moment, the films of Will Smith in the 90s and early 2000s alone accounted for what I was missing from the books. Independence Day, I, Robot, I Am Legend, Men in Black, and heck, even Hancock, all are films that really show a diversity in subject and a grandness in scope that I felt was missing from the books by celebrated African American authors–and to be honest, in some ways, I still feel that they’re missing even today.

Based on my reading from Ytasha Womack’s Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi Film and Culture I think I figured out the reason: the films use Afrofuturism tropes as a secondary consideration and not part of the main plot, while the books make it part of the main plot and interweave everything (plot, character, setting, all of it) as part of the narrative. For me, that falls more under the category of Social Sci-Fi (a legitimate sub-category of Sci-Fi) that is rarely used these days. Social sci-fi deals with the underlying structures of society and how future societies deal with their societal problems. While you might think this is rife for exploration for science fiction, these types of narratives tend to feature very little in the way of plot and external factors. Much like the absolute worse things about Game of Thrones they focus more on inter-character/societal dynamics and interactions than they do with actual plot or motivating (external factors). For me, as a reader, I find these the types of narrative the most annoying and the most aggravating to get through.

Now one might argue that this is the purest expression of Afrofuturism, but I would argue that it is the opposite. Black Panther featured an external conflict (Killmonger), but in an Afrofuturistic context–does Wakanda hide its wealth and abilities from the world or does it have a greater responsibility? That question is not at the forefront of the movie, but it is answered by the characterization of the hero (T’Challa/Black Panther) and his plot of overcoming his challenge/driving question (can a “good man” be King). The Afrofuturistic elements emerge through the telling of a great narrative–the narrative isn’t “hijacked” to serve the purpose of developing an Afrofuturistic society.

Now, I will probably read one or two of the representative works for , Butler and Delany so as to say that I’ve at least “read” them, but I already know from past experience, I won’t like them very much. For me, Afrofuturism only works if you can weave a compelling story around it–just creating an Afrocenric setting and culture in the future that runs into some sort of internal cultural conflict just isn’t enough to get me excited about the genre.

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Finished Traveller RPG! Mini-Review

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Traveller RPG Book Cover – Picture of Spaceship with a planet and stars on a black background. Image Source: http://rpgknights.com/category/rpg/traveller/

 

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 17 (+5 past two weeks)
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)

Goal = 5 Pages a week.  Working on Rough Draft for the next 5 pages on Fridays/Over the Weekend.
Actual = 3/5 Pages done last week. I wanted to do more, but I had a 5000 word paper due by midnight Sunday, 22 July 2018, so I simply didn’t have enough time to really work on it as I would have liked.  Still, I did manage to write fairly consistently, even if it isn’t reflected here as I wrote other things (for a school setting).

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
    Traveller RPG: FINISHED!
  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 3 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 4 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Here is a summary from Amazon: “In this hip, accessible primer to the music, literature, and art of Afrofuturism, author Ytasha Womack introduces readers to the burgeoning community of artists creating Afrofuturist works, the innovators from the past, and the wide range of subjects they explore. From the sci-fi literature of Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, and N. K. Jemisin to the musical cosmos of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, to the visual and multimedia artists inspired by African Dogon myths and Egyptian deities, the book’s topics range from the “alien” experience of blacks in America to the “wake up” cry that peppers sci-fi literature, sermons, and activism. With a twofold aim to entertain and enlighten, Afrofuturists strive to break down racial, ethnic, and social limitations to empower and free individuals to be themselves.”
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Stepping Away from It

Sorry for not writing. Unfortunately, I still had an outstanding project due on July 22 and I spent much of the week trying to make sure that I was ready for it (I wasn’t, but that’s a blog post for another time). Regardless, it put a damper on my writing endeavors. I still wrote creatively (for the most part), but didn’t really have enough time left to pull together a blog post. Still trying to do these posts ahead of time, but some weeks that’s not an option, so it is sometimes difficult to get blog posts updated in a timely manner.

In a Galaxy Far Away

On Friday, as I was lucky enough to finish the Traveller RPG that I’ve been reading for most of the month. It was the book that I read after finishing Oathbringer.  The tagline for the book is Science Fiction Adventure in the Far Future. I enjoyed the book and believe that it would make a good game for those who are interested in playing either a Space Opera or Hard Science Fiction campaigns.

Space the Final Frontier

One of the things that I like about this game/system is the fact that it allows for one to play a generic Sci-Fi campaign or to tailor make a campaign to match any one of a number universes. There is an “imperium” that could be tailored for a Star Wars like rebels vs empire-like war. However, the best use of the game would be to create a campaign that is much more like an adventure game in space. Elite, Elite Dangerous, or even a “Space Cowboy” world like Firefly would be the best use of this system if one truly wanted to adapt the system to a specific universe.

For my money, I’d probably try to work and to create my own campaign for this rule set, using the “history” and “setting” to try to create something new and fresh.

Overall Grade: B

Sidney




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Finished Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Mini-Review)

Oathbringer_Amazon

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Independence Word Count: 6,000 words (+1,200 words)–1st Draft Finished (7/6/18)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

Goal = 5000 words  by July 7. 
Actual = 6,000 Words finished on July 6.  I wrote 1,200 words Friday night while I waited to go home.  I didn’t have a great couple of days, so I just wrote.  I only had 178 words for the 5,000 word goal, but when I got there, I wasn’t finished, so I just kept writing until the story was done.  I’ve given it to my alpha readers and then will do another draft whenever I get the feedback back from them.  I’ll probably work on a revision/revisions for the month of July before delving back into a new project in August.  Watch this space for future developments.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
    Traveller RPG: I started this a while ago as a book that I was reading just before bedtime, but I didn’t really make much headway.  I restarted it and I’ve just finished the introductory character generation section and I’m now moving on to the skills section and will be soon moving into the “lore” section.  This is a revamp (rules 2.0) of an old school British RPG from the 1980s.  Updated for modern times, this fairly short book still gives a great set of rules, game system, and lore that I hope will serve as inspiration for new sci-fi works in my own writing life.
  • For School:
    Ancient Rhetorics, Digital Networks: A book that combines New Media (digital rhetorics) and combines them with ideas and theories of the Ancient Rhetorics.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Finished Oathbringer Last Week

So, I finished Oathbringer last week.  I wasn’t intending to finishing it, but I can’t say that my week was the greatest due to the amount of schoolwork that I had this week and the fact that I didn’t do as well on my presentations that I would have liked.  So, as normal, I retreated into my books, specifically Oathbringer and finished off approximately 250-300 pages this week.  The book clocks in at over 1,200 pages (!) and I had been reading 2-3 chapters per day, until the last couple of weeks.  For those who don’t know, Oathbringer is book 3 in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series.

Dalinar’s Story

Each book in the series, so far, has a focus on one or two major characters while other characters are present, but are in the background.  In each of the two previous, we find out about the background of our “focus” character throughout the course of the novel.  Book 1, The Way of Kings was Kaladin Stormblessed’s story, while Book 2, Words of Radiance  was Shallan’s story.  Even though Jasnah Kholin is on the cover, it is actually her father, Dalinar, who is the “focus” of this novel.  We get to see his history and his motivations as to how he became “Blackthorne,” a figure to be feared and why he moved away from that persona.  Sanderson masterfully weaves the reasons into the story and by the end of the book, we see Dalinar journey on an arc that leaves Dalinar (and the readers) with an understanding of why Dalinar deliberately learned to restrain his battle lust.

Moving the Story Forward

What I like most about this Fantasy series is that it actually moves the story forward.   If there’s one thing Sanderson is good at, it is actually progressing the story.  For instance, the “Big Bad,” Odium, has been teased for two books, but this book, not only do we get to see him, we also get to interact with him and see what makes him the “big bad” in this story.  In other words, he gets Darth Vader it up.  Other contemporary fantasy writers (I won’t name names) tend to stay mired in the potential of the threat, rather than actually getting to the threat itself.  I really liked this book.  While it isn’t my favorite novel in the series–that honor still goes to Book 1, The Way of Kings–I still thought that it was a great novel that really engages the reader while moving the story forward.

Overall Grade: B+

A very good addition to the series.  Maybe not the best one so far, but it definitely slacked my thirst for new content in that universe.  Now that I’ve finished it, however, I’m consigned to wait another 2 to 2 ½ years for Brandon Sanderson to release another.

Sigh.

Sidney




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What’s On My Bookshelf? Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

masterandcomannderfarsideoftheworld_amazon
Russell Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.  Image Source: Amazon.com

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • Project Independence Word Count: @4000 words (+203 words)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

Goal = 167 words (5000 words by July 1).
Actual = Rebounded after a day with no words and was able to hit Scrivener’s goal of 167 words, but fell a bit short of my own 250 word (personal) goal.   203 words written last night. 

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novel, Stormlight Archive Book 3) (somewhere in 850s in terms of page count–more than ¾th of the way through.  Will post a non-spoiler mini-review when I finish.
  • For School:
    Ancient Rhetorics, Digital Networks: A book that combines New Media (digital rhetorics) and combines them with ideas and theories of the Ancient Rhetorics.
    Lingua FractalA Rhetoric book that details the convergence of Rhetoric and Technology and how they interact in today’s world.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

Reading two or three chapters in Oathbringer every day.  I really shouldn’t be, but it is so good, that I generally read it while eating dinner (and then I go back out to the library to do reading for school).   Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Game Mode On (What I’m Playing); Updated Weekly (Mondays)

  • Moving Game Mode On to its own (Mostly) Weekly Post

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

One of the rare non-genre works that I own (and like), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (MCTFSotW) is one of those movies that has the rare combination of detail and action combined with history that make it a compelling movie to watch for me.  I’m a history major, but what I find with most history movies is that they tend not to dramatize the action in a manner that I find compelling, preferring to let the exoticness of the setting and time-period to stand in for action and having the characters respond in a manner that “talks” the film’s central problem to death.  Not so with MCTFSotW.  While there is a fair shade of period specific dialogue, it doesn’t seek to resolve the film’s central question via dialogue, but rather through action, which is probably why I like it.

A Captain for All Seasons

This one is realistic not just for the action and ship to ship battles and games of cat and mouse, but also because of the characters.  The friendship between the captain and the doctor is realistically depicted.  Both are clearly friends, but the captain’s duty and his friends personal interests pull them in different directions and they find themselves at odds when duty and interests conflict.  There is even a compelling subplot involving a junior officer no one likes and his conflict with the hands on the ship.  This is the way that I wish most period pieces were handled.  Sadly, this one is the exception to the rule.  The movie version of Last of the Mohicans is probably the closest analogy to this movie.  If you like that movie, then you’ll probably like this one as well, although, to be clear, that one also had a strong romantic subplot between the women and men in the story that many latched on to and made it a must see for them, but this one is purely action and platonic friendship between the captain and the doctor.

Book to Film to  . . . ?

I haven’t really followed the financial success of this film, but gauging that there hasn’t been any follow-up movies, I would have to assume that it did not do as well as the filmmakers’ hoped.  As a librarian, I know this is based off of a series books by Patrick O’Brien (I shelved them enough times, even though I never got a chance to read them) and I figured that this would be start of a series of movies based on how good I thought it was, but alas, it wasn’t to be, I guess.  To be honest, with all of the interest of turning movies/book series into TV series, I fairly surprised that this hasn’t been found someone wanting to take on this property.  I remember that it has a fair number of books in the series.  While not nearly as enormous as Game of Thrones books, I sure that a strong “show runner” could get a BBC length season (10-12 episodes out of each book).  The special effects budget could be impractical, however, as the sea scenes would probably all have to be done with CGI which could get expensive quickly.  Still, it seems like a fairly good fit for today’s current crop of shows on streaming.

Well, that’s all I have for today–have a good day!  🙂

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

 

 

What’s On My Bookshelf: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (Signed Copy)

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The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson Book Cover (A Knight in Armor), Image Source: Amazon.com (Click for more info)

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 113
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1084 
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12 (+1)

Summer Reading

So, I bought Brandon Sanderson’s novel Oathbringer (Stormlight Archives Book 3) for my birthday to read as a reward for finishing the Spring Semester.  This semester was so challenging that I was actually tempted (and actually tried) to read Oathbringer before the semester was over.  However, there is a prequel novella called Edgedancer that BS suggested reading before diving in Book 3 proper.  Luckily, MTSU’s Library had a copy and I’ve started reading it in preparation for book 3 in the series.  Today, I wanted to have a quick look at another book on my bookshelf, The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archives Book 1), which I was fortunate enough to have signed by Brandon Sanderson when he came to LibertyCon here is Chattanooga several years back.

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson’s work is one of the few of the “New Generation” of fantasy writers that I like.  Even though George R. R. Martin has been around since the 80’s, his Game of Thrones series kicked off a resurgence of the GrimDark genre.  To be clear, GrimDark has always been around–Stephen R. Donaldson, a few of Piers Anthony’s early Sci-Fi works–not his YA or Fantasy, per se, and Dave Duncan–are just a few writers that immediately spring to mind whose works that I’ve read (and disliked) because of the GrimDark elements  Most writers of Sanderson’s generation are (of course) seeing the popularity (and dollar signs) of GoT and are  trying to emulate his success with their own versions.  Sanderson, however, tells a very different tale–one that, while having its own grim elements, eschews GrimDark for a more hopeful and elegant premise.  The hero is flawed, but not in a “antihero” sort of way, but more in that he keeps trying to protect, but it all seems to come to naught and he is so very tired of not succeeding.  In an era of “Me Too” GoT clones, this was very refreshing.  The world was very well built and I like the way Sanderson plots (he thinks up big, “set-piece” moments and then writes to those moments).  The ending has a bit of twist and ultimately it was the hero and the ending that sold me on the story.

Life Before Death

So, the above heading is the “creed” of one of the forgotten orders of (this world’s) “knights” in the book and is what Brandon Sanderson inscribed on my copy of the book when he came for LibertyCon..  He was very nice and must say that I enjoyed meeting him.  I was, surprisingly, tongue-tied but mentioned that that I was a librarian when I asked him to sign my A.R.C. (Advanced Reader’s Copy) version of the book that I had been given by another librarian a year (or two) earlier.  He was very respectful and said that he enjoyed meeting librarians and the the A.R.C. was fairly rare in that there weren’t many printed and signed my copy.  It is still a treasured addition to my collection even all these years later.  I can only hope that, if ever I reach my goal of being a published speculative fiction novelist, that I am as gracious and nice as Brandon Sanderson was during that event.

Anyway, that’s all for today.  If you’re in to Fantasy in any way, I would highly recommend checking out this series, starting with The Way of Kings.  It is an awesome start to an awesome series by an awesome author!

Here’s hoping you have a good week! 🙂

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

 

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