Station Eleven

It’s been awhile since I read Emily St. John Mendel’s Station Eleven. This review is long in coming for a book that I absolutely loved. I’ve bought a copy for some friends. It’s excellent and I can’t recommend it enough. 

It’s difficult to fully categorize Station Eleven as a post apocalyptic fiction. Half the story takes place after 99.6% of the entire population has died. The other half takes place in flashbacks that are fully realized and let the reader experience characters pre-pandemic lives.

What Station Eleven isn’t, is a dreary downer of a post apocalyptic tale. “Survival is insufficient.” Is a quote that shapes the theme of Station Eleven. Following a troop of actors through landscapes and scenarios is a vastly different take than many other post apocalyptic stories. Plays are performed for the settlements that have risen after the fall. Joy and needed escape from the new normal are brought to the people and received by the players themselves. 

Unlike other post apocalyptic stories, I found Station Eleven to be a bit more hopeful. There’s  a strong bond in the friendship that is easier to come by. While not void of the typical threats experienced in post apocalyptic tales, foreboding doom doesn’t permeate the entire work. There is not an overabundance of violence. This is the cleanest smelling post apocalypse I’ve imagined.

Full disclosure, I listened to the audio book. Which means when I read the book, I’ll be reading it for the first time. I guess I could watch the show too.

Should You Look Up Words You Don’t Know While Reading?

Books

An essay on Book Riot begged a question, Should You Look Up Words You Don’t Know While Reading?  It was a question that I thought didn’t even need to be asked. Granted it was not even 7:00 A.M. and I hadn’t had my full ration of coffee. 

Why wouldn’t you look up a word you don’t understand? As the essay goes on to point out, you could make an assumption based on the context. Even if you assume wrong, not knowing a single word would not send the entire text collapsing down around the reader in fire and ash. 

These are fine choices for the participation award crowd. However I ask, what if the reader assumes wrong. What if the narrator is unreliable or the character waivers or has their, well character, challenged. This unknown word could be the glimpse behind the curtain to a much deeper and rewarding read. 

Well as it turns out, some Smarty Pants types have done some research and relayed some data that the essay cites. The data shows that people don’t retain new words for very long. Very long being about thirty seconds. Granted, this seems to be based on looking up words while reading. Maybe running into a story and a lot more words splits our processing and soaking up new words power.

When I read Gideon the Ninth, I had to look up a bunch of words. Too many to recall. In my review I mention two words, “prolix” and “soto voce.” I remember the latter clearly, but the former is a bit murky. In fact it’s downright ethereal. Too be honest I looked it up and I was entirely wrong. I think I even used it in conversation once. I felt like a knob after doing so. 

Where was I? Right. It’s beneficial to know that we don’t retain new words for very long. Especially when we’re distracted right after learning the new word. Beneficial because it means we can do something about it and that I’m not stupid. We’re all stupid! Good news for me, bad news for us. I’m still going to continue to look up words while reading, but will try to note, review, and solidify them in the relatively near future.

Mockingbird

Mockingbird

I loved Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig! It’d been awhile since I’d read a new Miriam Black novel. She’s crass, self-destructive, and broken. Yet underneath her cynical protective shell, is the unbroken person she used to be. It may be the person she genuinely wants to be. 

Being tied down to Louis hasn’t been all that good for her. Though Miriam won’t allow anything to be good for her. Whether it’s to hurt herself or save some stranger, Miriam perpetually seeks out destruction and harm. Soon, she’s on the road to a entirely new mystery.

Mockingbird’s mixing of urban fantasy, horror, and mystery leads to a darkly disturbing and thrilling read. I had to put on some music and request I be left alone to plow through the last third. 

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

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Ghost Stories of an Antiquary gives readers a chance to see a bunch book worm types make poor decisions in these intriguing old times tales of horror and suspense. Not gory and not necessarily scary, but eerie. Though the suspense of  Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad did make me put down the book for the night in order to have a restful sleep. 

If the works H.P Lovecraft or Robert W. Chambers are found intriguing, then Ghost Stories of an Antiquary should be added to the TBR list. Also, check out the podcast, The Magnus Archives. The creator was inspired heavily by M.R. James.

Wanderers

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig’s magnum opus, Wanderers, is not for everyone. As many other reviews point out, it’s a lengthy read. The page count is as high as many fantasy and science fiction books as well as Wanderers chief inspiration, The Stand

Wanderers hits a little close to home in 2021, even with it’s publish date in 2019. It’s as much a story about politics as it as about a pandemic. Wendig’s characters don’t stray to far from their real life inspirations. There are a lot of similarities and parallels that readers can easily extrapolate. I wouldn’t say Wendig is prophetic, just really good at seeing what so many others see, and what some clearly do not.

If you’re a a fan of Wendig, then there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from picking this up. Though none of the characters were quite as interesting as Miriam Black, it’s got all of the lewd grittiness of Blackbirds and nearly three times the length. In the end I’m not sure if the length helped or hindered.

Have All The Big Science Fiction Or Fantasy Series Already Been Made Into Movies Or Television Shows?

Have all the big science fiction or fantasy series already been made into movies or television shows? That was a question posed on The Book Riot Podcast. With television shows for Foundation, The Wheel of Time, and The Lord of the Rings all coming out soon, as well as Dune, and so many other series having already made the transition, it was an intriguing question. 

Now, I love fantasy books and I was basically talking to the podcast as an interviewee whose mic was on mute. Especially as some of what I thought to be obvious choices hadn’t been listed. I understand that the question took into account how well known and “cool” the series is. Along with how much content there was to convert to the visual mediums. 

Below are a few of the series that came to mind:

Conan, done the right way. If you’ve read Conan you know what I’m talking about. Conan was a testosterone fueled barbarian of a man. But there was so much more going on in that melon of his. Conan is thoughtfully stoic and an ultimately unsatisfied and unhappy man. Questioning the world while carving out his place in it and striving to leave a legacy. Yes, he had muscles and killed whatever needed killing. But he also had some deep thoughts about life and what it is to be human, though more specifically, a man. 

A straight translation would be a bit toxic by today’s standards. Not to mention racist. That’s why I think it would be poignant to view Conan through the lens of men’s mental health. Focus on his thoughts and gain a better understanding of his actions. Conan deserves the subtle treatment after all the short attempts that, while entertaining, miss the mark. 

Malazan Books of the Fallen is actually the first series I thought of in regards to the initial question. While it may not be a widely known gateway to fantasy, it is just ever so slightly beyond the threshold. The main series is voluminous, being comprised of ten huge books. With several other series and novels supporting it. The first book was a movie script at one point in time. 

The setting and cast is sprawling. There are many vibes and beats that are similar to Game of Thrones. Yet, there is a humor that wasn’t present in A Song of Ice and Fire. There isn’t so much hopeless drudgery going on either. There is definitely magic in the world! It’s been there the whole time, it didn’t go anywhere. There are many different types and boy do people know how to use them. There are so many characters, magic users and others alike that can be described as, “Badass.” How could there not be when people are ascending into godhood while other gods are dying. Did I mention that the series has been completed? 

The Black Company was written well before the Malazan series and served as a huge inspiration. Almost a little too much. As in imitation is the sincerest form of flattery too much. Don’t have to take my word for it though. Read The Chronicles of the Black Company around the same time you read Gardens of the Moon. What I’m getting at is, if Malazan seems too ambitious, go with The Black Company.

The Black Company is often credited with a couple of accomplishments. The first being, bringing fantasy to a human level. These characters aren’t chosen ones, but simply soldiers for those chosen types. For a quick reference think Rogue One. The second is having characters that aren’t heroic by default, in fact they follow quite an evil path. The Black Company is a band of mercenaries. In this case, they’ve been hired by an evil wizard named, The Limper. They fight a campaign as per his wishes. What’s interesting is how the first book is written as war journal. Other books in the series take on a more traditional third person point of view.

Dragonlance came to mind a little more slowly than it should have. It’s well known enough and has the most content to adapt from. I remember having a discussion with one of my friend’s dad who was at least his kid’s age older than I was, and how he had read tons of Dragonlance. For me that was amazing to stand in the presence of an elder nerd. The series has been around since the eighties and has a large ever replenishing group of readers. Maybe it didn’t make The Book Riot list because it’s a shared world. However, the core books were written by the same people.

The cast and stories are contained. Focused sharply on eight characters that mainly stick together the entire time. No need to have to trace lineages and allegiances. Dragonlance may be too straight forward by today’s standards, but it’s also something the younger folks could watch as well. 

Is there a series you think I left out?

Ring Shout or The Hunting of Ku Kluxes In The End Times

Ring Shout continually slid along the scale between like and love. The premise is great! Evil hateful monsters in the guise of humans called, Ku Kluxes, enrapture other humans with their hateful machinations. African-American resistant fighters hunt them down and kill them. 

It’s fictionalized history and revisionist Lovecraft put together. Taking place in 1922, the characters as whole have seen World War I, The U.S. Civil War, slavery and its downfall, as well as the Tulsa massacre a year prior. There is so much history crammed into the book. There’s also a lot of folktale roots and influence, both in the story and how the story is presented.

After wondering about the length, wanting more depth in the characters and just more space for the story to breath I realized something. Ring Shout is not only inspired for folktales, but it is also a pulpy fantasy book that should could have been written sixty years ago. That realization pushed Ring Shout into love territory. It explained the brevity and the elegant simplicity. There’s plenty of things glossed over, but all the reader needs to know is that there are bad things that need killing and heroes to kill them.

Book Blurbs: “Do we need them?”

Photo by Rashtravardhan Kataria on Unsplash

Book Blurbs were the topic of an article I read the other day. Essentially, the purpose and future of book blurbs were called into question. Who relies and is influenced by blurbs? Do they even help sell books? Some blurbs can ride the line between flippant and miracle item. 

Book blurbs for me are simply noise that my super nice brain auto-culls from existence for me. I typically only notice them post transaction, as I’m putting my book down for the night. “I read it all night!” The blurb states in a flexing manner. Causing me to wonder if something is wrong with me because I am a responsible failure who is going to sleep instead of staying up all night reading. To be honest, even if I wanted to I can’t physically do it. I get sleepy while reading later at night. 

Personally, I do not care who has signed their name or said whatever about a book when I buy it.  Let me qualify that some. I do frequent book blogs, reviews, and podcasts that may sway me or enlighten me on the existence of a book. Typically though, it’s an advertisement or a spoiler free review. Telling me what the book is about is going to influence me more than someone’s blurb. 

Not being able to put the book down or reading it in one sitting sounds like I’m going to have a rough few days and develop a UTI. 

If I go to party, I want to go home. If I play a video game, I will want to go to bed. Even if I’m having a great time. There’s more great times to be had another time and keeping a schedule is going to make me feel a whole lot better. I want to read a book by Hunter S. Thompson, not be Hunter S. Thompson.

Also, how true is that? How many people have read these books in one sitting and couldn’t put it down? Who has torn a book in half and yelled, “A masterpiece! I must go buy another copy!” 

What do you think? Are book blurbs necessary? Are they as effective as they once were?

Hounded

Hounded is overall okay. It’s the first book in The Iron Druid Chronicles that currently sits at the count of nine, arguably ten, but whatever. Being that it’s the first book there are a lot introductions in this book. Characters and the world, are introduced and constructed well enough for the story. I just felt like there were way to many characters and plot threads going on.  

Hearne builds from Irish folklore and culture. Magic, creatures, and pronunciation of words harken back to Ireland. Which I assume he is from or at least his ancestors are. There’s a glossary at the front of the book that goes over the pronunciation or words and names which is truly helpful. Some words are completely different than I would have presumed. 

There’s a humor in Hounded that I enjoyed for the first half. Then it became slightly less funny. Being able to communicate with his dog was probably my favorite druid power and a source of much of the humor. 

Hounded started out strong. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one hundred pages. After that, it got a little soggy. It felt like a collection of short stories were combined into a larger work. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. I think I will give the next book a try. If not the next in the series, Oberon’s Meaty Mystery: The Squirrel on the Train does sound like something I would be into.

The Guest List

The Guest List is a fantastic mystery novel. Lucy Foley has created a suspenseful story that never loosens its grip, but doesn’t exhaust the reader either.  She also seemed to have said “Hold my beer!” and engineered the entire story to keep the reader guessing the entire time. Which is what a mystery novel should do, but she’s taken it to another level. Almost as if she has called out readers for a challenge. The reader doesn’t even know who has died at the beginning!

The whole story takes place somewhere between twenty-four and forty-eight hours. Chapters are told from the perspective of the five main characters. Which gives the reader a chance to get to know and become familiar with – even attached in some cases – to the characters. As an avid reader of fantasy I can’t help but be reminded of A Song of Ice and Fire.  

There isn’t much that can be said without giving too much away. Not knowing anymore than the blurbage on the cover is the best way to approach this – and pretty much – every book. Like mysteries? Want to keep guessing? Then read this!

Middle Grade Book

I’ve been writing a middle grade book since the July 2020 Camp NaNoWriMo. Well, there was plenty of prep work before then. I remember that I wrote the outline on a ferry ride from Vancouver Island in February of 2020. Prior to that there was the project that this one spun off of. That original project is still being worked on and would be the perfect companion for this book. Though I spectacularly failed Camp NaNo it was where I really started writing the first draft.

The story is a departure from anything else I’ve ever written and is my second middle grade effort. To be perfectly honest, this book has been exactly what I needed to work on in the spare moments of 2020 and 2021. Something that is hopeful, kind, and full of love. Celebrating everyday life and giving respect to the challenges and trials folks face on a day to day basis. Plus, I find the characters are wonderful to spend time with.

My writing time for the last three quarters of 2020 was completely decimated. Almost to the point of non-existence. In addition to the failed Camp NaNo I found time to make some notes here an there, but not much else was done. During the first three months of 2021, I dusted off the project and started adding to it. Fleshing out some parts and bridging any gaps that had been left. Within a few weeks I had a complete rough draft. Once April rolled around I started revising and editing, using Camp NaNoWriMo as motivation. Not that I necessarily need external motivation. I’m already feeling motivated on my own account. The feeling of wanting to finish has now turned into the feeling of needing to finish. 

For many years writing a book to completion has been something I’ve wanted to accomplish. It would be absolutely incredible to be able to say, “I wrote book.” Being able to get it in front of readers would be a dream come true. 

I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself though. Each day I do some editing and each day I find more I want to change or add. I’m thinking by the fall, I can get a few people to begin beta reading. 

What have you been working on? Did 2020 give you the time you needed to write or did it take it take it all away? Did you learn a new skill during 2020?

Why I Started Blogging

I started blogging because I’d always liked to write. However simply liking to write wasn’t enough. I had to make time and actually do the writing.  Blogging allowed me to do this. Once I started blogging, liking to write quickly turned into wanting to write, followed by needing to write. At some point in time I actually became a writer.

Before blogging, I tried my hand a few times at writing books. Writing a book is a daunting challenge to enter into. All those characters and events, not to mention all the pages with all the words! If you’re not committed to a schedule things can go off track easily. So I tried some short stories. Which felt a bit more comfortable. Though sometimes I felt like I was dealing with more than a short amount of pages could properly handle. Short stories are deceptively difficult to write. There is a certain art to containing the characters and events within a short amount of pages.

The main goal of blogging was to just write and get comfortable with writing consistently. Chiseling out daily chunks of time and keeping a schedule was important. Life will always attempt to create things that need to be done. Some are truly a priority while others can wait. Having the opportunity there to write for myself was necessary. I felt secure having a few cordoned off spots of time in the morning and evening. I don’t always take advantage, but it’s comforting knowing they are there.

Blogging gave me a chance to express and analyze thoughts. More importantly, I was able to run posts through multiple drafts and editing. Being able to write, revise, and publish repetitiously was a fantastic learning experience. I was able to affirm my style of writing and hear my voice clearly. I gained a better understanding of my thought process and how I actually felt about the topics and subjects I was writing about.

Getting posts up was a great confidence builder. Especially on the posts that started gaining traction. Comments and interactions directly on the post or through social media were great motivators to continue. Being able to entertain and engage people with my posts was satisfying. We may write for ourselves, but isn’t the idea to have other people enjoy reading our work?

What got you into blogging and what’s kept you there? What else do you write?