Friday, August 31, 2007


I took a break from gorging on Michael Stackpole books to cleanse my palate by reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Actually, it wasn't truly to cleanse my palate. In reality I was hunting for gay sky pirates.
See, I read Stardust a few years ago. This and Neverwhere convinced me to read more Gaiman. I was thrilled to hear that the book was being adapted into a movie. But for the life of me, I couldn't remember any gay sky pirates in the book. Not a single one (although to be fair, a gay sky pirate in a Gaiman novel wouldn't exactly stand out of the crowd).
So off I went through the hole at Wall and into the land of Faerie, traveling with Tristran Thorn as he searched for the fallen star to bring back to the lovely Victoria Forester. And I tagged along looking for ... well, I shan't repeat myself again.
And I remembered why I loved this book.
Gaiman has a gift for words, one that I covet (I know... bad pastor, bad!). Coupled with his wild imagination, Gaiman creates unique worlds with every story he weaves. And while Stardust is short, it's an excellent outing through a miraculous world where stars fall from the sky, old witches eat hearts to stay young, and getting your heart's desire doesn't necessarily mean getting the girl.
And hey, I even found my gay sky pirate. Truth be told, I think my literary gay-dar is on the fritz because I didn't think the guy seemed that gay. Maybe I should just chalk it up to dramatic license on the part of the movie and move on.
Speaking of which, I have yet to see the movie adaptation. I'm hoping it's half as magical as the book.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Talion: Revenant

I guess I'm in a Stackpole kind of mood. After finishing his latest trilogy, I had a hankering for Talion: Revenant.

While this isn't Stackpole's first published novel, his author's notes at the end make it clear that this was the first novel he wrote. It's interesting comparing this to his last three; the plot is a little more simple and focuses around one character, namely Nolan ra Sinjaria.

Nolan is a Talion. The Talions are an ancient order of peace keepers. Some are trained as soldiers, some as cavalry. Some fly hawks the size of horses. Some learn arcane spells. Some are clerks. But Nolan is a Justice. Justices wander the Shattered Empire and set things right.

The Master of all Talions has a particularly dangerous assignment for Nolan. He has to head to Hamis to stop an assassin from killing the king. But this mission dredges up painful memories from his past, not only from his years before becoming a Talion but also from his days as a student.

What makes this book a fun read is that Stackpole seamlessly jumps from Nolan's mission to Hamis to his past. He always has something that makes the transition fit together (for example, at the end of one chapter, he receives a distressing written message from an ally; at the end of the next chapter, he receives a distressing written message from a former friend).

Nolan is an extremely likable character as well. You almost wish he could patrol your neighborhood by the time the book is done. While he is interested in dispensing justice, he wants to do so in a way that doesn't terrify the inhabitants of the Shattered Empire (a quality that not all Justices share).

If you want a taste of this story, read Shepherd, a short story about Nolan. And then go and read the book.

What has me hopeful is that at the end of Shepherd, Stackpole says that there could be another Talion book in the works. I hope there is. I enjoyed questing with Nolan for a second time and I hope I can do so again soon.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Okay, once again, I want this game.

According to what I've seen, it'll be released in March. I can't wait.

But I have a healthy suspicion that I'll need to upgrade my computer at some point to make it run nice and pretty.

Review Two-Fer -- "Cartomancy" and "The New World"

Last night I finished reading The New World by Michael Stackpole. But I can't talk about that just yet because that's the third book in the trilogy. I haven't talked about Cartomancy yet.

Cartomancy continues the story started in A Secret Atlas and, for the most part, focuses around the Anturasi family. All of them have trials to face.

Keles Anturasi is a prisoner in Felarati. He needs to find a way to escape from the clutches of Prince Pyrust and find his way back to Nalenyr. Jorim Anturasi, having learned that he used to be the god Tetcomchoa/Wentoki, must relearn his divine powers. Nirati Anturasi, having been brutally murdered, finds herself in a magical land with her grandfather, Qiro.

But there's more to it than just the Anturasis ... er, however you would make that name plural. The swordsman who called himself Moravan Tolo struggles not only to remember who he is, but he also faces an invasion by horrific creatures that serve the evil Prince Nelesquin. Ciras Dejote, Moravan's former apprentice, searches through the Wastes for the Empress Cyrsa. And Prince Cyron, the ruler of Nalenyr, must deal with both internal and external threats as he tries to defend his country both from Prince Pyrust and Nelesquin's invaders.

Complicated? You bet! But that's part of what makes this such a fun read. Like I said in my review of A Secret Atlas, it did take a second reading for me to keep all the characters straight, but by the time I read Cartomancy, it was a lot easier.

My only complaint is that I saw the surprise twist at the end coming. That's it, really.

That brings us to the final book in the trilogy, namely The New World.

Things have not gotten much better. Keles, having escaped from Felarati, discovers that he has incredible powers that he doesn't understand and can barely control. Jorim, having reclaimed his divine identity, finds himself trapped in the Nine Hells, trying desperately to stop Nessagafel, a fallen god. Nirati discovers the truth about her grandfather and her lover, Nelesquin, and fights to stop them.
And on the non-Anturasi front, Moravan Tolo, who has recovered his identity, continues to fight against Nelesquin, who looks poised to conquer the known world. Ciras Dejote has succeeded in finding Cyrsa's retainers and leads them into the battle. And Prince Cyron finds himself in an unlikely alliance.
This book was wild, to put it bluntly. Lots of fighting, lots of battles. Stackpole has a wit about him that keeps me coming back to his stories time after time after time.
The only problem with the story as a whole is that it was so complicated, I didn't see all of the connections. The best example of this is the struggle between the gods with Jorim and Nessagafel at the center. I didn't see how that connected with the fight between Nelesquin and Cyrsa until Stackpole explained it at the very end. It almost seemed like there were two unrelated stories in the book, both highly engaging, but I wish the connection would have been a bit clearer.
Naturally, I had a problem with the theology presented in the book. Stackpole's musings about the nature of faith and how it relates to the gods was interesting but fell kind of flat for me (for obvious reasons).
In spite of that, the climax was phenomenal and had me laughing out loud with delight.
If you haven't read Michael Stackpole, he's worth the effort. Trust me. You'll like his books.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: The Legend of the Firefish

CSSF Blog Tour

Like I said in my entry yesterday, this month's blog tour focuses on The Legend of the Firefish by George Bryan Polivka.

Shiver me timbers! If ye be lookin' fer adventuer on the high seas, matey, then look no further.

Oh, forget it. I can't do a whole review in pirate-talk.

Anyway, the story centers around Packer Throme, a seminary drop-out turned swordsman. He wishes to get on board the Trophy Chase and help Scat Wilkins, notorious pirate, to hunt the legendary Firefish, a ferocious creature known for its exotic meat.

The story is also about Packer's sweetheart, Panna Seline. Panna doesn't want Packer to go and so she leaves the safety of her home and heads out after Packer only to get caught up in an adventure and a plot bigger than her.

Polivka's writing is great. He kept my attention and, during a climactic part of the book, kept me reading. It was as if I had glue on my hands. I simply could not put the book down. He has an eye for swashbuckling adventure and his prose carries you through the action scenes.

Having said that, there were a few things that bugged me.

First of all, there's how Polivka handled point-of-view. Most books I read handles P.O.V. the same way: if the author is going to jump into the head of another character within a chapter, there's an extra return between paragraphs making it clear that a shift has happened.

Polivka didn't do that. Instead, he would jump to a new P.O.V. at the end of each paragraph instead of at the end of a section. That took a little getting used to because we'd suddenly be in someone else's head and I had no idea we were going to make the jump.

But that's not what bugged me. Instead, what bothered me is that even though he was handling P.O.V. shifts in his own unique way, Polivka would still throw in random section breaks at times that didn't feel right. It was the same scene, no major time had passed, but yet a new section started even though we had been bouncing between P.O.V.s in the former.

It's strictly an aesthetic thing, I know, but it bothered me as I was reading.

The second thing that bothered me was the fact that Polivka seemed to be keeping a foot in reality and a foot in the fictional, so to speak. The countries of Nearing Vast and Drammun are obviously fictional. So are the Achawuk and the Firefish. The Christianity, though, is straight out of our world.

I kind of wish that Polivka would have either kept the story entirely in our world, simply inserting the Firefish into this reality (and playing with the history of Europe in a counterfactual historical kind of way) or pulled the trigger completely and invented a Christianity-analogue for his fictional realm, one that would be easily recognizable and relatable.

I'm not sure how easily he could have accomplished this. I'm not even sure if it's a good idea. But for me, personally, it felt awkward.

There is one other issue I had with the book, but I'm not sure if I can or should share it. I'm still processing it mentally. Maybe I'll bring it up in the tour; maybe I'll keep it to myself.

At any rate, don't let my minor pet peeves dissuade you from reading this book. It be a rip-roarin' yarn of adventure on the high seas. Arrrrrrr!

An' be sure to cast yer eyes on what me mateys on the S.S. Blog Tour are sayin' as well.

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Wayne Thomas Batson
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Frank Creed
Lisa Cromwell
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Merrie Destefano
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Russell Griffith
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Lost Genre Guild
Terri Main
Rachel Marks
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John Ottinger
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Cheryl Russel
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Daniel I. Weaver

CSFF Blog Tour: Day -1

CSSF Blog Tour

Tomorrow the blog tour will start up for The Legend of the Firefish by George Bryan Polivka. I'll be submitting my review tomorrow and probably blathering on the other two days. But there's something that occurred to me this past month that I wanted to share with my tourmates. Rather than dedicate one of the three days of the Firefish tour to it, I figured I'd post it a day early so anyone traipsing into my blog can see this and hopefully react.

I had a brainstorm the other day about marketing Christian speculative fiction. Obviously we are all hoping to call attention to this worthy field. The way I see it, we basically are trying to reach out to two groups:

1) Established Christian fiction readers

2) New Christian fiction readers, perhaps people who like sci-fi, fantasy, and the rest but are unaware that there is a Christian version of it.

My idea deals with how to reach that second contingent. There is a place where sci-fi and fantasy aficionados gather on a yearly basis, a place where the powerful are flocking to see and be seen, a Mecca of sorts for those who might appreciate a good speculative read.

I'm talking of this place:

That's right, I think the Christian speculative fiction genre should invade Comic-Con International!

Even if you're not a comic book geek at heart (or a closet comic book geek like me), I'm sure you've seen the press that Comic-Con has been getting lately. This is the place where Hollywood goes to premiere their big ticket projects like the upcoming Iron Man movie or the fourth installment of Indiana Jones. Apparently this past year, somewhere around 10,000 people crowded through the doors for one day.

Could you imagine if we could get a booth at Comic-Con? I'm not saying that all 10,000 would pass by our booth. Some may even give us the fish eye. But there might be a few people who would stop by and give this well-deserving genre a look-see. They may even buy some books. They may even become fans.

So what would we need for a booth? Well, off the top of my head:

1) Money. And lots of it unfortunately. According to this form, it costs $1,800 for a bare-minimum 10X10 booth. I don't know if that's per day or just one flat fee.

2) Swag. I've never been to Comic-Con before, but my brother-in-law is a veteran. He says that the way to get people to your booth is to give out free stuff. Posters, tote bags, that sort of thing. If we're going to attract any attention, we would need to be able to shout, "Free stuff over here!"

3) Books. We'd need a stack of books to sell to the convention goers. Probably not that many, but we would want to be able to sell whatever we could.

4) Volunteers. People would need to man the booth. Probably a few shifts of people. That way it's not just one person trapped in a 10X10 space for hours on end.

5) Authors. It'd be cool if authors would come to sign their books. They could talk to potential readers and that might help a little.

6) Booth babes. Well, maybe not...

Now granted, this might be a little ambitious, but maybe it's time we think a little out-of-the-box. Even if we connected with a few new readers, it could be the start of something good.

So what do you think?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Secret Atlas

Third time's the charm, I guess.

I'm a big fan of Michael Stackpole. At first it was just because of his Star Wars novels (which, in my not so humble opinion, are better than those of Timothy Zahn. Yes, I went there!). But I finally decided to read his other books such as Talion: Revenant and the DragonCrown War Cycle. So I was extremely excited a few years ago when this book came out.

But I had a little trouble with A Secret Atlas the first time I read it. Lots of characters, lots of place names, and a very complex plot. I read it a second time when the second book in the series, Cartomancy, came out. And now I've read it a third time since the third book, The New World, came out.

I'm glad I did. I didn't fully appreciate how rich a world Stackpole created the first time around.

The story revolves around the Anturasi clan, the royal cartographers of Nalenyr. They are charged with charting the world around them, a world emerging from the throes of what they call the Cataclysm, when a massive release of wild magic brought about an ice age. The charts created by Qiro Anturasi, the clan's patriarch, allows the merchants of Nalenyr to prosper greatly, much to the envy of their neighbors.

Qiro sends his two grandsons, Keles and Jorim, out on expeditions into the unknown. Keles is sent to explore the Wastes, a place where wild magic still reigns. Jorim is sent south on a ship called the Stormwolf to discover new lands. Both men are accompanied by interesting companions as they put themselves in danger, trying to appease their tempermental grandfather.

But other forces are afoot. Prince Pyrust, the regent of Deseirion, is intent on building an empire for himself and threatens Nalenyr. And on top of that, sinister forces are building that could easily tear apart the world as the Anturasi's know it.

Like I said, I had to read this book three times to truly appreciate it. The world that Stackpole has created for his characters to inhabit is so rich and densely layered with cultures and history that it took me that many times to become truly comfortable with it. Don't let that daunt you, though! Maybe I'm just slow.

Part of the reason I had trouble with the density of the backstory is that I missed some details the first time through. For example, at the end of the book, a character reveals himself. This character is a major bad-guy who gets mentioned in passing once or twice earlier in the book. But because it was only in passing, I had forgotten about him completely when he finally popped up. I was completely confused the first time when I got there. The second and third time, though, I caught the earlier references.

That's only a minor criticism. Really, go read these books. They're a good magical romp set in a world that is slowly being discovered.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Jengajam Plugs Part Two: Electric Boogaloo

I'm such an idiot. There was a fourth thing I could have plugged:

Irruption, a fantasy short story I wrote that was published a little over a month ago.


Jengajam Plugs

I've been listening to a podcast by a guy who calls himself Jengaship. I met Jengaship at Red vs. Blue. He schooled me in a Biblical debate and I really respect him for that. He's a witty, erudite guy and he's now branched out into a call-in podcast called the Late Nite Jengajam. I can't always liten to it live, but I always catch up on my iPod.

Anyway, Jenga recently sponsored a contest at the Jengajam's website. He wanted witty, articulate comments on his posts. The winner would receive some airtime to plug whatever he or she wanted. I made a comment that was basically nothing but a silly sycophantic rant.

I won.

Which kind of put me in a quandry. I'm not some Internet celebrity with an impressive project in the works like some of Jenga's previous guests or even future guests. I'm just a barely published author who hasn't quit his day job of being a Lutheran pastor. What projects could I plug? It felt like something of a waste.

But then I put my mind to it and I realized that there were a few projects of mine (or in two cases, projects I'm remotely affiliated with) I could plug. The list started to grow and, before long, I realized that I had so much I could plug, I would run over. What to do, what to do?

So I decided to simply plug my blog and leave this entry for whoever decides to come along. Sorry for the long explanation for those who tuned in to the Jengajam, but here are the projects I could have plugged:

1) "Adventures in Dating" -- This is a machinima series produced by a lady named Decorgal. I provide the voice for one of the characters, namely Elijah. It's done in the Sims 2 and, to put it bluntly, Decorgal is a wizard with the Sims. She is. If she weighed the same as a duck, she'd be in trouble. As much as I enjoyed the Strangerhood, this is so much better.

I could try to sum up the series, but Decorgal did that already in this handy dandy video:

So watch the video, then go download the series and keep an eye out for me.

2) My TEW Diaries -- About a year and a half ago, someone introduced me to the Total Extreme Wrestling videogames (the current game is TEW2007). Entirely programmed by one wrestling fan in England, the TEW series puts you in charge of a wrestling promotion. You are the head booker. You hire, you fire, you book the matches, plan out the storylines, and try to bring your promotion to dominate the business.

For copyright reasons, the game isn't released with real world data (but the dedicated TEW community has crafted numerous mods that allow you to control the WWE/F and the rest at various times). Instead, the game is released with data for the Cornellverse, a fictional universe with over a dozen different promotions you can control. To put it bluntly, the C-verse is incredible. The backstory is rich and densely layered and fans can and do get lost in it easily.

What got my attention about this game is the "dynasty" or diary forum. People will tell stories about what's going on in their games.

Needless to say, that piqued my interest.

So I created a diary about a year and a half ago called "SWF - This Means War!" The SWF, or "Supreme Wrestling Federation," is roughly analogous to the modern WWE. I tossed in a few characters of my own and I was able to build something of a following with it.

When TEW2007 was released, I started a new diary called "MWA - This Means War!" It's basically a sequel to the first.

I won't lie to you, the diaries are long (especially the SWF one), but I'm proud of the work I've done in these.

3) The Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog Tour - I'm a writer who loves sci-fi and fantasy. I've even written a Christian sci-fi trilogy. Problem is, Christian sci-fi and fantasy is kind of a dead genre. There's not a lot out there and what little there is often gets overlooked.

To combat this, some people put together a blog tour. Every month, we blog for three days about a chosen book, magazine, and/or website. The idea is to generate buzz about the genre and raise awareness so there can be more opportunities for writers like me.

Believe it or not, it actually works. One way to gauge this is by checking out Technorati's Popular Books page. This ranks books by how much they're being discussed in the blogosphere (or, at least, the portion of the blogosphere that Technorati tracks).

This past month our blog tour took place immediately after the last Harry Potter book was released. Guess what books dominated the Technorati Popular Books page. That's right. Potter everywhere! But because of our concerted effort, we were able to get our book up to number 12 by the end of the week.

I've been participating in the tour for about a year or so. It's been fun. Here are a few of my favorite posts that I've made:

An interview with author Sharon Hinck -- Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Sin Boldly! - an essay in which I discuss whether or not Christian authors should portray "big sins" in their writings

Fearless Day Three - From our last tour. I hadn't read the book but I did some fast tapdancing on the last day of the tour and I think the results came out all right.

So there you go. This is why I couldn't fit it all into five minutes! Yes, I need to work on brevity. I'm well aware of that.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


I finished reading DragonFire by Donita K. Paul. This is a good continuation of Paul's series of books on dragons.
Kale and Bardon, married for three years, are faced with quite the crisis: Paladin, Wulder's protector of Amara, is gravely ill and at death's door. Burner Stox and Crim Cropper, an evil husband and wife wizard team, have broken with Pretender and each other, creating a seeming three-way war that threatens to boil over and destroy everyone.
In their desperate bid to save their beloved kingdom, Bardon and Kale must separate, Kale going with her father, Bardon with his mother-in-law, to bring an end to the fighting.
If you haven't read the first three books of the series, it's probably better to start with those before you get to this one (beginning with DragonSpell). The cast is large, the concepts and backstory tangled, and it's easier to simply start at the beginning and work your way here.
Paul once again creates an engaging story, one that kept me reading well into the night. I got lost once or twice, but I think that's because I started "skipping forward," jumping over paragraphs to see what happened next. Not Paul's fault at all, I just get sloppy when I read sometimes.
There is one thing that bugs me about this series, though, and that's the role of Paladin. Is he supposed to be the Christ-figure for the series? If he is, then I've got a major problem with some of the things Paul says about him in this book. If he isn't, then Paul should have made that clearer earlier in the series.
I guess incarnational theology is always a bit tricky to pull off in a fantasy series. In spite of my misgivings, this is a great book for Christians of all ages. But like I said, best to start at the beginning if you haven't already.