Friday, September 30, 2011


And so I continue my foray into the steampunk genre with Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. And this was a fun read, even if it's not exactly what I expected.

The Civil War has been dragging on for decades and the Russians are trying to decide whether or not to sell Alaska to the U.S. When they learn that there's gold in the Klondike, they start a race to build a machine that can dig it all out. The most likely contender is a man named Leviticus Blue, a scientist who builds a massive drill called the Boneshaker. Thing is, before he can deliver, the Boneshaker runs wild through underground Seattle, trashing the financial district and creating a big old mess.

Worse, in the aftermath of the destruction, a strange gas the locals call the Blight begins to seep through the town, killing people and turning them into zombies. To contain the threat, a massive wall is built around downtown Seattle.

And that's just in the prologue. Many years after this disaster, a young man named Ezekiel Wilkes decides he needs to get into the ruined city to clear his family name. He's really the son of Leviticus Blue and he's sure that his father didn't do anything wrong. He's bound and determined to face down the undead rotters and the folks still inside the city. But what he doesn't realize is that his mother, Briar Wilkes, is on his trail. She wants to make sure he gets out alive. But with a city controlled by a mysterious scientist Dr. Minnericht, no one is really safe.

I'm not sure what I expected with this book. I think I expected more gadgets, crazy inventions run by steam and gears and such. And while there were a few, it wasn't all that many. Cherie Priest seemed more interested in exploring the ruins of a vastly different Seattle.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy this book. I did. The counterfactual elements blended seamlessly with Priest's descriptions and I really enjoyed this story.

I'm coming to the conclusion that steampunk might not be for me. It's fun and all, but I'm not sure I'm going to be anything like a rabid fan. But with books like this, I might be willing to stick around a while longer.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Healer's Apprentice

I heard some good things about The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson and so a few months ago I downloaded it to my Kindle. There it languished for a long time before I decided I had better check it out.

It's the story of a young woman named Rose. She's been apprenticed to the town healer (imagine that) and because of that, she encounters Wilhelm, the duke's older son. After helping him, she winds up being drawn bit by bit into his world. Worse, it would seem that Rose is developing feelings for him and maybe even vice versa. Problem is, Wilhelm is betrothed to a noble woman, a young lady he's never met. How can he fulfill his duty when Rose occupies his every waking thought?

For the most part, this was a good read. It was a bit too predictable for my taste. I had the plot pretty much figured out a quarter of the way in. Dickerson managed to toss in one curve ball that fouled the scent a little, but not enough to really throw me off track. The faith elements were woven in nicely and I appreciated the subtle nod to some of the issues that sparked the Reformation.

So all in all, this book struck me as a solid read. Maybe the problem is I'm the opposite gender as the target audience and romance really isn't my genre. But don't let that stop you. You might just be swept up by a well crafted fairy tale.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

Okay, break time's over.

Yeah, I've been really bad about writing. I kept putting it off, thinking I could take one more day, one more week. No big deal, I can start again in June. In July. Of course, in July, our family grew by one and it's tough to write when you've got a newborn in the house.

Excuses, excuses.

But that's hopefully going to get better now. I recently got back from the annual ACFW Conference and it's kind of charged my batteries. Apparently some people found the idea of a pregnant teenage cyborg to be interesting. So I've got to start work on Hive in earnest.

Thing is, I haven't been keeping my wordcount updates . . . well, up-to-date. Last time I posted my count was back in May, when Hive clocked in at 50,393 words. Over the past few months, I've been able to tack on a word here, a sentence there. I didn't think it amounted to much. But apparently I did better than I realized. Added to the stuff I've written since Monday, that brought the grand total up to 64,165 words.

Excellent. That also means I'd better start wrapping things up, if I can. My original target was 80,000. I think I'll go over, but big surprise, I always go over.

Normally I'd set a deadline for myself or a prediction of some kind. Not now. I'm hoping I can keep this up, though. I've got a lot of stuff rattling around in my head that wants to come out and play. But the pregnant teenage cyborg needs to get out of the way first.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tropico 4

The Tropico franchise has been great from the beginning, and Tropico 4 is no exception.

For those unfamiliar with the games, you play as the dictator of a Caribbean island. You have to guide your country, making them prosperous either through trade or tourism. You have to deal with rebels and foreign governments, all the while trying to siphon away as much money as you can into a Swiss bank account. Well, not all the games were like that. Tropico 2 was about pirates. Go figure.

In many ways, Tropico 4 is just a spit-polished version of Tropico 3. The building models are pretty much the same (although the graphics are better). You still build your dictator from the ground up, selecting a background, a rise to power, and three traits, all of which give you particular bonuses and, in a few cases, hinders your performance. And then you're set loose on an island with agricultural and mineral resources.

The really interesting difference between the previous game and this one was the inclusion of a twenty mission campaign with a coherent storyline, one of a meteoric rise, betrayal, and revenge. That was a fun surprise; each mission forces the player to focus on a different aspect of island building. In one, you have to build a tourist mecca. In another, an industrial powerhouse. There were points where I was left scratching my head. For example, one mission took me a really long time, not ending until the game year hit the '90s. The next mission started in 1955. I realize it's a game mechanic that can't be helped, but it was a little odd.

Included in the game is the usual sandbox mode as well, allowing you a freeform game to play however you like.

I really like this game. It has some wry wit and humor and provides enough of a challenge to keep me coming back for more. I have no idea if a 5 is in the cards, but if it is, I'll be dusting off my dictator hat for another go-around.

Friday, September 16, 2011

When the Devil Whistles

A few months back, a few friends recommended When the Devil Whistles by Rick Acker, mostly because it was a freebie for Kindle. While I normally don't read thrillers, I figured I'd give this one a go.

Allie Whitman is a professional whistleblower. She goes into companies and ferrets out evidence of fraud against the government and then sues them. She's good at what she does. She and her lawyer, Conner Norman, are making a bundle off of these lawsuits, enough to form their own company, Devil To Pay. Life is good.

But things quickly begin to unravel as Allie goes after a new company. They have secrets, yes, but secrets that they are willing to kill for to keep quiet. And Allie has put herself in their crosshairs.

This was an okay book. I didn't get into it all that much. Maybe it was the genre, but for some reason, the characters didn't grab me. I think part of it stemmed from the fact that Conner, the lawyer, seemed a bit too perfect to me. I mean, I know that lawyers are human too and I wasn't expecting him to be a money-grubbing corrupt jerk. But Conner came across as superhuman and flawless.

The overall plot, while interesting, didn't grab me all that much either. Truth be told, I'm still not sure how it all fit together in the end. Maybe I started skimming toward the end of the book. That would be my fault, I guess.

What really surprised me was the fact that the Christian content was a bit on the light side. Yes, Conner and another character are church-going folk and yes, there's a quote about the devil whistling (hence the title), but beyond that, there wasn't much. That's not a complaint, mind you. Just an observation.

So should you read it? Sure, if you like legal thrillers. I just checked and as of this writing, the book is still free for Kindle.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This is all kinds of awesome

Ummmmmmm . . . wow? I think that just about says it all.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I just yesterday finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth. What can I say? My YA dystopian kick continues.

Set in Chicago in the future, society within this once great city has been split into five factions. The Abnegation are supposed to be the selfless civil servants. Amity stresses friendship, Candor will only tell the truth, Erudite searches out knowledge, and Dauntless are the warriors who guard the rest. When a child turns 16, he or she are given an aptitude test to see which faction they best fit in. Then they make a choice. If they stay within their faction, they can continue to see their family. If they leave to go to a different faction, they'll never see their loved ones again. The rule in this dystopian Windy City is "faction before blood."

That's what makes Beatrice Pryor's choice so difficult. She's been raised in Abnegation for her whole life, but it would appear that she could also fit in with Dauntless. It's a hard choice that she has to make, but make it she does. Now she finds herself caught up in a whirlwind, what with training, making new friends and new enemies, and a political Gordian knot that only she can untangle. Because Beatrice has a secret, one that could save the day.

If she can survive that long first.

This was a really good read. At least, I thought so. It was interesting to see how the factions interacted and how they all fit together. I also appreciated some of the thoughtful comments that Roth snuck into her story. What really surprised me was how much I kept nodding and thinking, This all sounds familiar.

Then I understood why. There's a reference to an infant baptism at one point (full immersion, no less!). And Roth's acknowledgments certainly explain why I found myself in agreement with her overall worldview.

So upside? I enjoyed this book. It was a fun ride while it lasted and if there are future books in this series, I'll be sure to check them out.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Outside Aperture

Yet another fan-made film about Portal. This one's a little . . . well, weird. But in a good way.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Pitching Advice Part VI

Just a few last minute comments from me, seeing as the ACFW National Conference is a little over two weeks away. I want to leave you with two thoughts about meeting editors and agents at a conference.

First of all, remember that they are human too. We unpublished author types often get ourselves worked up into a weird frenzy at the thought of meeting industry insiders. Even if we're not consciously doing it, we sometimes get this strange idea that editors and agents occupy a circle of existence reserved for either demigods or demons. You know, "These are the folks who walk the halls of the publishing industry, that heady nirvana to which we all aspire." Or, depending on how many times we've been rejected, "These are the gatekeepers who bar the way, the single-headed Cerberus who I must overcome to see my dreams become reality."

Let's just put it bluntly, folks. They're human beings, just like you and me.

Keep that in mind as you meet with them. While it would be nice if every editor and agent at a conference was chipper, friendly, and helpful, there's always the chance that you might catch them at an off time. Maybe they're hungry. Maybe lunch isn't agreeing with them. Maybe they just got an angry text from their significant other and they're hurting a little. Whatever the case, they may not be feeling their best and that may reflect on their interaction with you. It stinks, but what can you do?

Second, lastly, and most importantly, remember this: the editors and agents are on your side. More than that, they actually want to be there and meet with you.

Think about it this way: how big do you think the slush pile of the average editor or agent is? They could probably find some decent books without leaving the office. But there they are, sitting in a room, waiting to meet with you. Why? Because they know that you might just have what they are looking for.

This bears repeating: They want to meet with you.

If you're feeling nervous about meeting with an editor or agent for the first time, repeat that mantra to yourself. They are on your side. They may reject you. As a matter of fact, they may reject you a lot. But the fact that they're at the conference means that they're open to new ideas, your ideas, and they want to hear them.

My best advice: be professional, don't freak out too much, and remember, they want to meet with you.

See you at the conference!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Want You Gone

One of the great things about the Portal games is the inclusion of music. When I beat the first game, I nearly fell out of my chair as GLaDOS, the big, evil computer began to serenade me. And while knowing that she'd sing again in the sequel kind of made it less special, I still loved the new song, "Want You Gone."

But not, apparently, as much as the guy who made this video. To be fair:

If you haven't played the game all the way through, don't watch the video. But if you have, enjoy.

Warm Bodies

When's the last time you actually cheered for a zombie? I mean, really cheered for him or her? You might do so if they're about to take a chunk out of a really annoying person in a story, but I suspect that making a zombie a sympathetic hero is not easy.

Well, unless you're Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies. And it isn't that hard to cheer for a zombie if that zombie is R.

R is different from the rest of the Dead. He lives alone in a jet at an abandoned airport. He's introspective, wondering about who he is and where he came from. And that difference leads him to do something unheard of: while out hunting, he spares a young woman named Julie.

R doesn't know why he did it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he killed and ate Julie's boyfriend just a moment before he met her. Maybe it's something about her. Maybe there's something changing in him. But suddenly, R doesn't want to be a zombie anymore. Instead, he wants Julie. And maybe, just maybe, she wants to be with him too. But how can a Living girl and a Dead man be together when their worlds are so different?

If you're more observant than I am, you probably caught the literary underpinnings of this story (I actually feel quite stupid for not catching the "R" and "Julie" connection until about 2/3s of the way through). But don't let that throw you. This is a great book. R is an interesting, complex individual that you want to see succeed, even in the face of impossible odds. The zombie-fied world that Marion created is an interesting one too, complete with what appears to be a zombie culture that's fascinating to explore.

The ending didn't quite work for me. It was a bit too deus ex machina, although in keeping with the unheard "soundtrack" of the book (this book is big on music). But don't let that throw you. It's a fast read, and well worth your time.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


I've never really read Steampunk before. Oh, sure, I've seen some quasi-Steampunk movies (i.e. Wild, Wild West or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but I haven't really ever experienced the literary charms of the genre. I decided it would be best to rectify that oversight and so I purchased a few anthologies and a highly recommended novel. I started with Steampunk first.

This is a collection of short stories and snippets from novels. I skipped the novel snippets; I'd rather read a complete story rather than a piece of one.

For the most part, these were okay. The stand-out for me was Seventy-Two Letters by Ted Chiang, a well thought-out romp through bad science, golem mythology, and nineteenth century manners. I really enjoyed that story, mostly because it was close to something I had been brainstorming.

Otherwise, the other stories were okay. I'm not quite ready to declare myself a Steampunk enthusiast or affectianado or anything like that. I still have some more books to read. But it was a good jumping off point.