Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wordcount Wednesday

I'm still in the "mulching" process for Failstate. More and more pieces are coming together, but thanks to an extended Christmas break, I haven't done much more formal and official work on it.

But I did want to make this post to encourage all of you to head over to the Anomaly and cast your vote in Marcher Lord Select. I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating because this is the final round and I'm still in it! So if you are so inclined, please head to the Premise Contest ballot and cast your vote for Numb. And since you can vote for two, please consider voting for Dying for Dragons. It's by a friend of mine and, I think, one of the best of the bunch.

The Externally Focused Church

I first heard about The Externally Focused Church at a clergy meeting and was intrigued by the idea of congregations that are focused not on themselves, but on the communities surrounding them. So I tracked down a copy and, in my down-time post-Christmas, I took a swing through this text.

It was eye-opening to say the least. Authors Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson make the very persuasive argument that the Church has to get out of her four walls and into the community, acting as servants that do as well as tell. That means finding and targeting specific needs in the community around them, working to meet those needs, motivating members to serve in the community, and engaging people where they are, not necessarily to "win them for Christ" (although that would be a great thing should it happen) but to serve them out of Christian love and devotion because that's what God seeks in His people.

To put it bluntly, it's given me a lot to think about. And that's always a good thing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Hunger Games

Imagine a world where the continent we call North America has been divided up into thirteen districts. Thanks to a failed revolution, one of the thirteen have been destroyed. The remaining twelve must send two "tributes" to The Hunger Games, a demented reality show with tremendous stakes. Only one tribute can win. The winner receives special dispensations for his or her District for the year, including food, prestige, and bragging rights. The losers are all dead.

That's the world of Katniss Everdeen, a young woman from District Twelve. She's a poacher from a poor and derided District; they haven't produced a Hunger Games winner in thirty years. When the Hunger Games roll around when she's sixteen, she winds up the female tribute for District Twelve. Now she's thrust into more than just a deadly reality show competition. She has to navigate both the tricky waters of politics within the cruel nation of Panem and the even more dangerous seas of her own heart.

Okay, that last sentence was a bit over the top, but holy cow! I loved this book. Collins creates a vibrant and engaging world, one that I can sadly believe could come to pass. I mean, look at how ridiculous some reality TV shows have already gotten. It's not long before we'll see people duking it out to the death.

Katniss is a fascinating heroine. She's wily, resourceful, and more than just a little charismatic. In some ways, the plot is a little predictable; I was able to call most of the major twists as they came. But I didn't care because I was so invested in seeing Katniss succeed. There were a few times when I wanted to smack her for being dim, but I figure that was the point at times.

Anyway, great book, and I can't wait to read the next one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Psychology of Superheroes

I honestly thought this book would turn out to be more interesting than it was. The Psychology of Superheroes, a collection of essays written by psychologists about ... well, you get the idea ... purports to put the heroes on the couch, crack open their minds, and see what makes them tick.

Sadly, that's not always what happened. More often than not, it seemed like the essay authors had a personal pet theory to promote and glommed them on to whatever superhero seemed to fit the bill best. Oh, there were a few essays that sparked my interest, but by and large, I wound up skimming the essays looking for those sparks. Usually I wound up disappointed.

Oh well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Trinity Volume 1

I actually heard about this book while I was doing my research on Failstate. Someone (and I don't remember who) pointed out that the DC universe has a trinity of heroes in Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman and that someone finally decided to do a story acknowledging that. So when I spotted Trinity Volume One at my local soon-to-be-closed B. Dalton (so I could get it for half off), I snatched it up.

Basically the plot boils down to this: bad guys are trying to take over the world using a magic spell that somehow involves Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Tarot cards feature heavily in the plot for unknown reasons. And just about every DC superhero is involved in some way, shape, or form. Oh, and so is some alternate universe where everyone is evil.

In all seriousness, I had fun reading this one. Granted, I don't know all the backstory in it, which is okay. I'm somewhat conversant in names, identities, powers, and so on thanks to the various animated series put out by Warner Brothers and DC. I know, that's probably heresy to fanboys. Well, deal with it. I still didn't know who everyone was, but that's okay, it didn't really matter in the long run.

The only thing that really torked me off is the fact that they kept making references to trinities of different sorts (mostly steeped in the occult and tarot) and they missed, well, the obvious one. You know? Big Three? One of them has a supposed birthday coming up in a day or two? grumble grumble grumble. I know from my reading that both DC and Marvel tend to avoid Christianity (for the most part; I know about Nightcrawler), but come on.

My only other complaint is one of my own making. I had thought that this was a self-contained volume. Nope. A quick check reveals there are two more volumes out there for me to read. And I doubt I'll be able to get them at a ridiculously discounted price. Better start saving my pennies now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Star Wars Tales Volume 3

So I think I may be starved for some light fiction reading or something. I polished off another collection of comic stories, namely Star Wars Tales Volume 3.

I've got a small collection of these books sitting on my bookshelf. They're mostly good. Some of the stories they contain are pretty out there (an honest to goodness Star Wars/Indiana Jones crossover is by far the strangest). Since I tend to collect as much of a series as I can, I jumped at the chance to buy Volume 3.

All in all, it was about average. There was no overall theme to this one (unlike other volumes), just a scattershot selection of Star Wars tales. By far the best one is the first in the book, a fight that pits Darth Vader against Darth Maul. The rest are hit or miss, mostly misses, so far as I'm concerned.

Oh well. It's not a loss necessarily. I mean, Vader vs. Maul is still pretty cool.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

As part of a blow-out liquidation sale at a local B. Dalton, I snagged a copy of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? I justified this purchase by claiming it's research for my next novel. Ahem.

Anyway, let's get to it. The story was written by Alan Moore, the genius behind Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and other classics. According to the introduction, this was written about the time of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. And while I have some inkling of what that is, said inkling is not enough to make me really care.

So basically, this story came about when an outgoing editor at DC decided to "wrap up" the story of Superman. How would the Man of Tomorrow's career wind down? Who would ultimately stop the Man of Steel? In the first two parts, we see how Moore tells the tale. Superman faces down some of his greatest enemies, all told via an interview with Lois Lane ... er, Elliot, as the case may be.

Much to my surprise, the story wasn't all that fun. I guess I expected more from Moore. Part of the problem is that you have to be pretty familiar with the Superman mythos and continuity, especially from about the '50s through the early '80s. I, once again, have a little more than an inkling of understanding of said mythos thanks to an anthology book I used to check out regularly from my local library when growing up. But you had better know, for instance, that in the late '70s, early '80s (or thereabouts) that Clark Kent became a television reporter, and so on, or parts of this plot won't make any sense. While the final twist at the end of the story was a nice one, it ultimately left me indifferent.

The second story in the book was a crossover between Superman and Swamp Thing. This one too left me a bit disappointed. It didn't strike me as a big deal, more like it was filler.

The final story was pretty good, entitled For the Man Who Has Everything. Interesting story, fun to read. The small problem is, this story was adapted into an episode of The Justice League, so I pretty much knew what was going to happen. It was interesting to see how closely the TV show hewed to the source material. And seeing Jason Todd in action as Robin was certainly instructive. I can't say I'd want to see him blown up by the Joker, but I could understand why, in large doses, some people might.

So there you go. Not the best, not the worst. An interesting read nonetheless.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holy Superheroes!

So I'm continuing my research for Failstate, and that brought me to Holy Superheroes! by Greg Garrett. In the interest of fairness, the Amazon link I've provided is to the new expanded edition of the book. I read a borrowed copy of the original edition. That being said, I'm not about to rush out and buy a new copy because in the end, this book left me largely disappointed.

I was actually kind of excited to read this one. Seeing as Failstate is going to be a superhero story with some major Christian underpinnings, I really wanted to see what Garrett had to say about how faith and comics intersect. The book was, granted, a bit on the light side, much lighter than some of the other books I've read on the subject, but I was hoping it'd be chock full of theological goodness.

I came away disappointed. The book is more pop psychology than theology. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted more than Christ. Garrett even quoted himself (in a previous book on the Matrix trilogy) more than Christ. That should pretty much tell you what you need to know. But to get into more specifics, each chapter was superficial and shallow in how it treated its subject. Ultimately Garrett's book was more about social justice without any sort of grace-based foundation.

I might be too harsh on this, I don't know, but in the end, I wasn't impressed with Garrett's work.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Superheroes and Philosophy

Faster than an ontological imperative. More powerful than an existential quandary! ... um, okay, I can't actually keep that up. As part of my superhero reading splurge, I finished off Superheroes and Philosophy, a collection of essays that examines superheroes and how they intersect with philosophical ideas and ideals.

It's an okay book. It's relatively accessible, never delving too deeply into philosophical teaching. I could remember a lot of what they were discussing from the few philosophy classes I took in college. I chuckled when I realized that two of the authors reference the Ring of Gyges myth from Plato in their essays. That's always been one of my favorites. Even wrote an X-Files spec script based on it back in the day. But that's a different story for another day.

The most fascinating issues revolved around whether or not superheroes should use their powers for good. I also really appreciated Tom Morris's essay about Daredevil and his possible Catholic faith. There were fun issues about whether or not the Hulk and Bruce Banner are the same person. All in all, not a bad book.

Hitler finds out they cancelled "Dollhouse"

So yeah, Fox did it again a while back and decided that Dollhouse would only get half a season this time around and then it's done. Who woulda thought that Adolf Hitler would sum up my feelings on this news so well?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wordcount Wednesday

Look! On the web! On this blog! It's a Wordcount Wednesday! Been a while since I've done one of these, huh?

I could claim that it's not my fault. I've been distracted by something vaguely writing related (more on that in a bit). In reality, though, I've been putting off writing for supposedly good reasons and some really stupid ones.

Stupid ones first: computer games. I don't know why, but I've been sucked into computer games lately, more so than usual. I don't know why that is. But I've been playing Tropico 3 a lot lately and just a day or two ago, I fired up The Sims 3 again and created a real dirtbag of a Sim. I've been having fun making him as much of a jerk as possible. But those aren't good reasons to not write, and I know it.

I've also been on something of an MST3K binge lately. I don't know why, but I can't get enough of movies with theater seats in front of them. Huh. Can't explain it.

The good reasons are the usual: the job/ministry, family, friends, so on and so forth.

But never fear, intrepid blog-reader! I'm starting to get myself into the proper writing frame of mind. I'm sussing out ideas for a novel that I'm dubbing Failstate. That's the working title, obviously. It could change as I work. And Failstate is the reason why I engaged in a bit of superhero-themed writing (and why I have the clown wearing his underwear on the outside). Failstate is going to be a novel about superheroes.

I have no idea if I can pull this off. I'm already having trouble steering clear of "done before" concepts (I started outlining one idea to Jill tonight. She gave me a surprised look and said, "Incredibles?" And I realized that yes, I had basically ripped off the first ten minutes).

I'm not quite ready to start writing yet. I'm still doing some low-level research (i.e. reading some books about superheroes. Such as The Physics of Superheroes and Superheroes and Philosophy) and tonight, I sent out some e-mails to law professors to try to nail down some of the legalities surrounding vigilante activity.

Either tonight or maybe tomorrow, I'm hoping to fire up Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Pro software and start putting together an outline. I don't know if I'm quite ready for that yet, but we'll see what I can come up with as I work.

So yeah. Some writing stuff going on here.

But like I said, my attention has been somewhat distracted lately. As my regular readers (all none of you) are probably aware, I'm taking part in Marcher Lord Select. Well, it's round three and I'm still in the Premise Contest with Numb. So I have two questions for you:

Have you voted yet? And if not, why not?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

Why is it I always find out about these things after 9 million other people have already seen it? Oh well. LOVE IT!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why I'm wary of Twilight

More than a year ago, I subjected myself to Twilight and was left feeling a little empty inside. But there was one thought that kept surfacing, reiterated by other people and echoing in my own mind. How healthy is the relationship between Edward and Bella? A lot of people saw glimmers of what could be an abusive relationship. That, in and of itself, isn't necessarily bad. If the purpose is to shine a light on the abuse so young women will avoid similar situations, fantastic.

But that's not the point of the Twilight books. This relationship is "sooooo romantic." Edward is "soooooo dreamy." Rather than warn the readers, "There really are jerks who wish to destroy their partners," young women might be learning that destructive relationships are the pinnacle of romance.

Am I overreacting? Maybe. I haven't read any of the other books past Twilight and I haven't seen any of the movies, so it's hard to judge for myself.

But I'm not the only one concerned. Through a round-about clicking of links, I found this post that elucidates my concerns so much better, by someone who has seen the latest movie:

What Do You See In Him Again?

Just a warning: this rant has a few profanities in it, so be forewarned. But keep this number in mind: 15.

Why is this held up as so great a romance again?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Scrubs reboot

So here we go, the little show that could. Scrubs is back with a somewhat major retooling. Gone is the old hospital, gone is the Janitor. Is Ted still with us? I guess we'll find out.

Coming in are a new crop of characters. We have "new JD" Lucy. Some kid named Cole whose parents bought the hospital. A med school flunky who's back for more. Plus an Australian extra.

Carrying over: JD (for now) and Turk. Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso. The Todd is still kicking. And Denise "Jo" Mahoney survived the culling of the old cast.

I've loved Scrubs since almost the beginning and I'm not sure what to make of this. There were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments which is always good. Dr. Cox was his usual snarky awesomeness. I mean, he's always good for a tirade or two and a new crop of semi-incompetent med students will be great fodder for Cox.

But I'm not sure about this. What I'm worried about is if the new characters will be able to keep up the momentum. Lucy, for example, the female JD clone. Her "fantasies" haven't been as wacky as JD's, which is a good thing. If she had been total random weirdness, I'd be extremely frustrated. She seems flawed yet hopeful enough that she might be able to carry her part of the show.

I worry about the others. Rich-kid Cole, for instance. If he gets broken down, what will we find underneath? Is he just another Elliot in the making, soon to be cut off from his rich parents and have to make it on his own? How about what's-his-name, Dr. Cox's new protege? I'm intrigued about what happened to him his first go-through in med school, but once that mystery is revealed, what else will be there?

We'll have to see. Call me cautiously optimistic.

The Physics of Superheroes

This one made my brain hurt but in a good way. I stretched mental muscles that I haven't used since high school.

I finished reading The Physics of Superheroes by Dr. James Kakalios last night. Dr. Kakalios endeavors to teach basic physics principles via illustrations from comic books. I first heard of Dr. Kakalios because of his connection to the abysmal Watchmen movie. He apparently was a technical consultant (or something like that) who advised the movie folks on their science. I want to make this clear: I do not blame Dr. Kakalios in any way for the giant mess Watchmen became.

This book is based on a freshman seminar that Dr. Kakalios teaches at the University of Minnesota. I found one of the statements he made at the beginning of the book hilarious. He opined that many of his students didn't like science classes because they weren't sure how they would apply what they were learning to the real world. He goes on to note, "Interestingly enough, whenever I cite examples from superhero comic books in a lecture, my students never wonder when they will use this information in their 'real life.' Apparently they all have plans, post-graduation, that involve protecting the City from all threats while wearing spandex."

For the most part, Dr. Kakalios kept all of the principles and ideas accessible, using basic algebra to explain the math behind the ideas. There were plenty of times when the discussion started to scrape my scalp, but for the most part, I think I tracked with him. And the comic book examples did indeed help. For example, Dr. Kakalios was able to suss out the planet Krypton's gravity based on how high Superman could jump (before he learned to fly). He also figured out how much food the Flash might have to eat. He posited theories on how Kitty Pryde's power works. And he proved that Spiderman is guilty of manslaughter.

Don't beleive me? Watch the video and he'll explain it for himself:

I'm not sure if this helped me in my upcoming writing project, but it was a great read and worth the time.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Marcher Lord Select

So round two is upon us. Actually, it has been for the past two days. Today is the last day to vote in Round Two of Marcher Lord Select. Have you voted yet? Be sure to head over to the Anomaly and cast your vote in this exciting new experient! You have until midnight EST to do so.

And if you wouldn't mind, please consider voting for my entry in the Premise contest, namely Numb. I would certainly appreciate it. Of course, if you don't like my entry, feel free to vote for the ones you do like.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go sit on my pins and needles until tomorrow when the results are posted.


My favorite nerd-turned-spy is coming back soon and I can't wait, especially after seeing this preview:

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Blind Side

My wife and I just got back from seeing The Blind Side. I'd heard semi-good things about the movie (all the way from Oscar-buzz for Sandra Bullock to a relatively indifferent review from Entertainment Weekly).

I wasn't sure what to expect or what I'd wind up thinking about it. But it was slim pickings at the local movie theater (it was basically this or Planet 51; no way am I going to drink the New Moon Kool-Aid, thank you very much). So we took the plunge and, I gotta say, I'm glad that I did.

For those of you who have missed the previews, the story is about a kid from the bad side of Memphis named Michael. He's brought into a private Christian high school but he falls behind academically. When one of his classmates' mothers sees him on the streets, she invites him in and pretty soon, he has become part of the family. She helps him pull his life together and soon, he's the star of the football team with college scouts sniffing all around him.

It's definitely a feel-good movie, but it's one that I think a lot of Christians should go and see. As we left the theater, I mentioned to my wife that there are at least two sermons in this movie, summed up around walking the talk for real, if you know what I mean.

Go see it. And do some serious thinking about the talk we walk.

Breathing Grace

One of the highlights of the 2009 ACFW National Conference (at least, for me) was the morning that Dr. Harry Kraus was asked to give a devotion. Part of the reason why was because of the story he initially told (which puts me off from ever patronizing Jamba Juice). Part of it was that his devotion seemed a bit more ... well, devotional than others. But I really appreciated what he had to say.

So you can imagine how happy I was when I realized that one of the freebie books we got at the Conference was Dr. Kraus's Breathing Grace.

For the most part, the book didn't didn't disappoint. Dr. Kraus likens our need for grace with our physical need for oxygen. His central thesis is that far too many Christians operate with a "grace debt," one that leads to spiritual problems. In later chapters, Dr. Kraus diagnoses such spiritual problems and equates them with real medical conditions such as anemia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and sucking chest wounds.

Throughout the book, Dr. Kraus uses medical examples and stories from his practice both in the States and in Africa, where he works as a medical missionary. For the most part, the analogies are spot on (although a few of them left me scratching my head until he explained them in more depth). There were a few parts that caused my eyebrows to pop, but usually those parts could be explained by differing theological backgrounds (i.e. Lutherans define "means of grace" differently than Dr. Kraus does at one point).

It's a quick read, straight to the point, and definitely worth getting. I'm glad I got it for free, but I would have gladly paid money for it.

And that's it for ACFW books/freebies. I finally worked my way through the whole pile of books that I acquired in Denver one way or another. Well, that's not entirely true. There are two other books I got for free, but I read the first fifty pages of one and just could not get into it. And the other was a free romance novel by someone I don't know.

So it's on to the stack of research books I have for my next WIP. More on that in a few days.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Fire in Fiction

Yet another book I purchased at the ACFW National Conference back in September. Actually, the last I purchased (although I have three freebies I have to read yet). It's The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

Donald Maass is a literary agent extraordinaire. According to the biography at the back of this book, his agency represents more than 150 novelists and sells more than 150 novels a year. Credentials? He has them.

As a result, he's also seen a sort of blight that creeps into fiction. He describes it as passion-less writing that often inflicts writers, both beginners and those who are approaching the middle of their career. This book is designed to help writers at every level to infuse their books with fire so they can't be put down and so they'll linger with the readers long after they're done.

For the most part, Maass delivers. He touches on a number of subjects, such as maintaining tension on every page, creating memorable characters that do more than just pop off the page, how to infuse books with humor, how to make impactful action scenes, and so on. To help him illustrate what he means, he brings in examples from somewhere around a hundred contemporary novels from every genre.

In some ways, those examples are the book's downfall. Toward the end, it got to be too much. Every little section had at least two lengthy excerpts that kind of dulled my senses. Especially toward the end, I felt as if Maass was just showing us the good example and then saying, "Cool, huh?" without much instruction or explanation of what works so well and how an author can recreate the effect.

Not that I'm complaining. I'm actually planning on going through the book again and making a list of "gotta reads" because those sections did catch my attention.

And it's not all bad. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that relate to each point. I picked up some tips and ideas that I'll be applying to future books. So it's definitely worth a read.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Familiar Stranger

True story time!

The 2008 ACFW National Conference was held at a hotel in Minneapolis not twenty miles from my house. Since I was local, I was tapped to drive some of the board members and faculty from the airport to the conference. Not a big deal since I had to drive by the airport to get the hotel anyway.

The last day of the conference came and, as I was getting ready to leave the hotel, I realized I could save some people cab fare by giving them a ride to the airport. I mean, it was on my way, right? So I went down to the lobby, rounded up some departing travelers, and took them on their way. I had so much fun, I actually went back to the hotel and picked up a second load (but not before a gaggle of mystery writers suspected I was trying to kidnap them).

Fast forward to the 2009 ACFW National Conference in Denver. I happened to run into one of those passengers and she recognized me. She was happy to see me and told me that she had sold a book and that it was on sale in the bookstore. So naturally, I had to go buy a copy.

Well, maybe not naturally, but I'm really glad that I did. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to read The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry.

Denise Littleton finds herself in a crumbling marriage. Her husband, Craig, has become more and more emotionally distant over the years. One day, rather than go to church, he went hiking. Only he doesn't make it to the park. Instead, he's involved in a horrific accident.

As if that weren't bad enough, when Craig regains consciousness, he can't remember who he, Denise, or their sons are. He's suffered head trauma that's given him amnesia. As he learns about who he is and what kind of man he was, he's determined to do right by Denise. She, in turn, is delighted by the change in her husband.

But Craig was a man with many dark secrets, secrets that start to surface thanks to the accident. And that's before his memory comes rushing back and threatens to destroy everything...

Like I said earlier, I am so glad I bought this book. It was a great read. I couldn't put it down! Lots of twists and turns are woven into this story of a family's struggle to pick up the broken pieces of a man and his past. Some of the twists I saw coming, but the big one at the end completely blindsided me. Well, not completely. I had my own theory but boy, was I wrong about it!

I especially appreciated some of the theological thoughts that surfaced as I read this book. It was a fascinating study of a person becoming a new creation in Christ. To put it bluntly, Craig Littleton pre-accident is a jerk. Afterwards, not so much. And yet his past misdeeds keep floating to the surface and need grace to be dealt with. Awesome stuff.

My only quibble was Denise. There were a few times when I felt a little ... well, I'm not sure what word to use here. Unsympathetic? Disconnected? I'm not saying that she deserves what happened to her (any of it), but there were a few times when I didn't feel as close to her as I probably should have.

But maybe that's just me. Trust me, go out and get this book! And Christina, anytime you're in the neighborhood and need a taxi...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Day Late...

So yesterday should have been Wordcount Wednesday, but once again, I didn't have any real progress to report. Well, only that The Last Expedition was voted off the island in Marcher Lord Select. Numb is still in the Premise Contest so expect more whining . . . er, respectful requests for votes in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I've been playing around with ideas for a new book. I won't say too much about it now, but I will give you two hints about what it's about:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour: Curse of the Spider King Day Three

So should we hide our warts from people or freely acknowledge them? That's a question I wound up asking myself as I was reading The Curse of the Spider King, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. But before I delve too much into these thoughts, I'd better break out Godzilla once again:

Not much of one, but it's something that stuck out in my head over the past few days.

I mentioned this in my first post, but one of the common denominators for the young heroes/heroines is that they are given mysterious books that reveals their secret heritage. These books contain the history of Allyra, their true home.

Or at least, they contain most of the history.

One astute young man (and I don't remember which one; see my first day's gripe about there being too many main characters) notices that the table of contents seems to be missing . . . well, some of its contents. The different stories are sorted by years and some periods appear to have been redacted from the book. His tutor/guide admits that it's true, that there are portions missing from the history, that they were purposefully left out. Yes, our intrepid young heroes will learn those stories some day, but not right now. They'll learn about them when they need to (the need apparently to be judged by these many guides).

Maybe I'm drawing connections where none are intended (and if I am, please feel free to correct me in the comments; it wouldn't be the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last), but this doesn't seem wise, especially since these young men and women are supposed to be the rulers of Allyra. Shouldn't they have all the information available up front to help them truly understand what's going on?

This is especially troubling to me because apparently, some of this missing history helps explain why the many different races that also inhabit Allyra are so hostile toward them, including the titular Spider King himself.

I'm not saying that the kids in this book would be able to hammer out a diplomatic solution from the get-go. It would be a mighty boring book if they did. But without that missing information available to them, they might be tempted to categorize the many hostile races as somehow irredeemably "evil" (the quotes are deliberate here) and worthy only of being fought and swept away when instead (and this is the key point for me) these races do have legitimate grievances even if they are reacting to these grievances in an improper way. The tutor admits as much when confronted with the missing history.

Now I could draw uncomfortable parallels between the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict, especially the way we in the West tend to ignore the Palestinians' perspective. But more troubling to me is a potential parallel to what we do with new converts to Christianity. Do we gloss over our faith's past indiscretions? Or do we expose them to the light and label them for what they are from the outset? Which is better? Which is the more Christian thing to do?

This may seem like a trivial point, but I worry for the heroes/heroines of this story. They've only been told one side of the story in this conflict and I fear that when they learn the other side, the Spider King's side, they're going to be disillusioned, especially since we know that his grievances are legitimate (even if his methods cross the line). The same thing could easily happen to a new Christian (or a young one) who is only presented with the sunny side of the faith that ignores the darker corners, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Hundred Years War, and so on and so forth. That young Christian too could be disillusioned and potentially fall away when they learn the harsh truth that yes, Christians have screwed up pretty colossally in the past and we still have the potential to do it again.

But that's the amazing thing about grace. God's grace, poured out through Christ's death and resurrection, is big enough to swallow any sin, no matter how colossal, no matter how dark. That doesn't excuse the past atrocities committed in Christ's name. But there is redemption in spite of it all. That's why I think it's best that we admit to it, warts and all.

Have I gone overboard? Probably. Feel free to let me know. And go check out what the other tourists have to say:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Tina Kulesa
Melissa Lockcuff
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Cara Powers
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour: Curse of the Spider King Day Two

Like I said yesterday, there was one nagging issue that kind of bothered me about The Curse of the Spider King, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. It's a question that started forming about halfway through the book and was screaming in my ear by the end. I can sum it up pretty simply (and I don't mean this to be antagonistic or sarcastic):

Is this book Christian?

On one level, "Yes." The good guys believe in God (a fact that they make absolutely clear several times). There are one or two quotations from Scripture sprinkled through. The young heroes/heroines all seem to be Christian, one quite deeply, the others in a generic sort of way. So yeah, it's a Christian book.

But is it really? I'm not so sure.

There isn't any explicit mention of Christ or Christianity. I'm not saying that we have to be whacked over the head with a cross every other page. There doesn't have to be lengthy diatribes or recitations from Scripture. But there doesn't seem to be much actual grace in the book, none that I recognized anyway. Maybe I was reading it too fast (I admittedly waited to long to read this one and only finished it Saturday, so it's entirely possible I missed it).

What really cinches it for me is the fact that the so-called Christian elements aren't integral to the story. Yes, the good guys believe in God. They call Him Ellos. But remove that element and replace it with something non-Christian (magic, for example) and I don't think the story would have changed all that much. You could have had the same characters doing the same basic things with little change.

To put it bluntly, the supposed Christian content was nothing more than a MacGuffin. I brought up this issue in a past tour.

This didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book . It's still a great adventure. But I'm not sure tossing in a few references to God is enough to really make a story Christian. That's all.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Hopper and Batson were laying the foundation for more specifically Christian content in future books. Time will tell.

Be sure to check out the rest of the tourists and see what their thoughts are on this book:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Tina Kulesa
Melissa Lockcuff
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Cara Powers
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ

You'd think the title was trying to be a pun of some sort. But no, The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ by Randy Singer is just that. It's a study of the way Jesus answered the questions of His critics and what those answers say about Him, who He is, what He does, what He's all about. Singer, a former trial lawyer, puts the book together pretty well. I didn't particularly care for his book-end story, a fictional retelling of Jesus' trial before Pilate from Pilate's legal assistant's point of view (I've seen it done before and it was done better). But when Singer wades into the questions and answers, it's much more interesting. I especially appreciated some of the stories he wove into his arguments, especially the one about the bloody Band Aids.

Up to a point, that is. Singer really doesn't cover any new grounds. There are no real stunning apologetical insights . I've heard a lot of these arguments made before.

On top of that, there were a few minor historical mistakes made through the text (debatable mistakes, I guess) and some theology that made me cringe (I tend to get bent out of shape by anything premillennial). But that's no reason to not read the book. If you're looking for a book on apologetics that covers the basics, then this is a pretty good one. And it's relatively inexpensive on Amazon right now, so you really can't go wrong.

CSFF Blog Tour: Curse of the Spider King Day One

This month, we're talking about The Curse of the Spider King, the first book in The Berinfall Prophecies. This book is the combined effort of Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper, two powerhouses of Christian speculative fiction. I don't believe I've ever read any of their stuff, so I was excited to read this one and see what they had to offer.

The book is basically the story of seven young men and women. Strange things are happening to them. New talents emerge that defy logic. Trusted elders (teachers, librarians, and so on) pass on handmade books that somewhat literally suck the readers into their tale. And dark forces mass to kill these seven because they share a common heritage that puts them all at risk. An ancient enemy wants to destroy them and has unleashed a small army into our world to prevent these nascent heroes and heroines from returning to their true home . . .

I should write back cover copy, right? Right?

Ahem. Yes, well . . . Like I said, I was really looking forward to reading this book since it would be the first time I read something by either Batson or Hopper. So both of them at the same time? Perfect.

On the plus side, this is certainly an exciting book. Lots of fantastical creatures, an epic war between the forces of good and evil that spills into our realm, plus some incredibly intriguing characters (Kat was by far my favorite). I don't have any doubt that a lot of people will read this book and the subsequent sequels and thoroughly enjoy them.

However . . .

I enjoyed the book, it was a quick read. But in the end, I wound up feeling a bit unsatisfied. Part of it could probably be considered Monday morning quarterbacking (or would that be Monday morning editing? Post-publication rewriting? Nitpicky reading?). Keep in mind, the following is my grubby little opinion, so take it with a gigantic, boulder-sized grain of salt.

First of all, there were too many characters. Waaaaaay too many. There were seven heroes/heroines with backstories and abilities to discover. On top of that, you had their attendant helpers (at least two or three per main character). It resulted in a veritable forest of characters, so much so that by the end, I had lost track of some of them (a major problem at the very end).

This especially became a problem since all the heroes had very similar entries into the story. As in, they all followed the same basic pattern (something is strange, they get a book, they discover their ability, they're attacked, they learn the truth). The order may have varied a bit, but each part was there. And this happened six times.

Again, this is just my opinion, but it might have been better if they would have focused on two or, at most, three characters in this book. My vote would have been for Kat and Tommy. Let them be the main characters; relegate the other five to supporting cast. Then, with the next book, rotate them. Two more come forward, these two fade back. It would have cut down on the repetitive parts of the story.

The other perhaps picky part had to do with the history books given to the young men and ladies to reveal their true heritage. The writing voice of these supposed histories didn't feel right to me. The language seemed to modern, too story-like. You'd think a history, especially an ancient history, would sound a lot different than the rest of the book. For example, at one point, an ancient warrior from a different dimension thinks that his side doesn't have "any more cards to play." That phrase smacked me right between the eyes.

But there's a deeper issue at work with this book, but I'll discuss it tomorrow.

So if you've read the book, what do you think? Were there too many characters? Am I full of it? Go see what the other tourists have to say:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Tina Kulesa
Melissa Lockcuff
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Cara Powers
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tropico 3

So how would you like to be the dictator ... er, president of a Caribbean island? You'd have to build up your industry, attract immigrants and tourists alike to your little slice of paradise, and navigate the turbulent political waters. But there's plenty of danger. Not only could your loyal subjects rebel against you, your military might as well. And then there's the delicate balance El Presidente must strike between the United States and the Soviet Union. Can you rule your people effectively and amass a small fortune in your Swiss bank account?

If this appeals to you, check out the game Tropico 3. I nearly died laughing when I saw this latest entry into the franchise. I've played all the Tropico games in the past, including Tropico 2, a weird pirate simulator that actually proved to be quite fun (I mean, how can you go wrong when you can raise dead pirates to be zombie porters?).

You start with a somewhat versatile character creator. You can dress your dictator in military clothing, suits or tuxes, even as a pirate. Then you have to pick your leader's background. Did he go to Harvard? Is he a self-made man, an oil tycoon, a secret agent? Then you pick how he or she came to power. Military coup? Corporate buy-out? Installed by the KGB?

Then you have to pick four character traits. Two are positive. They grant your leader bonuses that will help you as you play (i.e. you earn more when goods are exported, you attract more tourists to your island, etc.). Two are negative. They hurt your standing with the political factions of the island, the foreign superpowers, or are even sillier (i.e. the Tourette's syndrome trait, which lowers your respect with the superpowers and a random political group but earns money for your political speeches when they're played on Pay-Per-View. Seriously).

Once your leader is in place, you're dumped on an island. A nice surprise is the inclusion of a campaign setting. You play pre-made islands with very specific victory conditions. For example, earn $500,000 to win your island's independence. Reform your politics from a monarchy to a full democracy. Deal with a jingoistic population that hates immigrants but desperately needs them to become an economic powerhouse. My one gripe about the campaign is the fact that there's no clue as to what traits your leader needs to lead successfully. I often had to start a mission, get the lay of the land, and then start over again with a properly made El Presidente.

There are also sandbox and challenge modes which I haven't fully explored yet.

The series got a graphical overhaul with this entry. The island is very rich and colorful. You can zoom in close to your citizens and watch them as they go about their daily lives. You can even jump in close and personal to your leader as he wanders around the island to interact with his beloved peons.

My one complaint is poor documentation. Part of that comes from the fact that I bought this game via Steam, which means I didn't receive any instruction with the game. There are some things that I just can't figure out on my own (for example, an icon that looks like a turnip with a red slash through it that occasionally hovers over my farms and factories. I have no idea what that means. It can't be good, but seeing as turnips don't play any part in the game, I'm not sure what bad thing is actually happening). The tutorial mode doesn't give you a lot of information. The only reason why I was able to slip into this game so easily was because I played the previous incarnations and this doesn't stray far from them.

But it's still a fun game. I've been playing obsessively over the past two weeks. I mean, I get to be El Presidente. How much of a kick is that?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Get out the vote!

Marcher Lord Select's polls are open and you can vote now! Go go go! (and vote for my entries, The Last Expedition in the main contest and Numb in the premise contest, but only if you want).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marcher Lord Select Round One

This is in lieu of my usual "Wordcount Wednesday" post, simply because I haven't been engaged in that much writing activity lately. I did look over a few chapters for a friend of mine, but that's about it. But yesterday I spent some time sifting through the entries for Marcher Lord Select. For those of you unfamiliar with what this is, I direct your attention to a post I made a few weeks back. The up-shot is that Marcher Lord Press, an up-and-coming Christian publishing house and the only to deal exclusively in Christian speculative fiction, is holding two different contests. The first is the "Main" contest. The winner of said contest will have his or her book published in the spring of 2010. The other contest, the "Premise" contest, will have three winners whose manuscripts will receive priority consideration by the publisher of Marcher Lord Press.

Since voting in the first round starts on Friday, I thought I'd share my short list of the entries I'll be voting for.

In the main contest, you must vote for anywhere from three (3) to twenty (20) entries out of the 36 entries. In this first round, judges have been provided the book's name, genre, wordcount, 20 word premise, back cover copy, and synopsis, so there was a lot of material to read. But like I said, I spent some time with it yesterday and came up with this short list of nine that I'll most likely vote for:

Flight After Death
The Last Expedition
This Side of Eden
Entropy Gate
The Traveler
The Mysterious Calling of Mike Malone
The Storm Clan Chronicles
The Polaris Deception
The Maze

I didn't list any of the extra material provided to judges simply because you should really go and look at it for yourself. I mean, how hard is it to click on over to the Anomaly forum, sign up for a free account, and peruse the material for yourself?

Anyway, after looking through the entries and my short list, I've noticed that I'm gravitating towards sci-fi. Maybe that's because it's what I tend to write. Maybe it's because there's so little genuine Christian sci-fi out there. It's hard to say.

On to the Premise Contest. In this case, judges have been given the title, the genre, the wordcount, and only the 20-word premise. Once again, judges must vote for three (3) entries and up to twenty five (25) out of the 49 entries. This is a much quicker read and I came up with a short list of seven that I plan to vote for:

The Watchers
Winter Awakening
The Tenth Month

Those are the entries that grabbed my attention and held it.

So why am I sharing this here? Well, once again, I'm asking for your help. I have an entry in each of the contests (The Last Expedition in the Main Contest and Numb in the Premise Contest) and I'd love it if you would vote for them. You don't have to. I obviously can't force you to. If you go through the entries and find ones that you like better, vote for them instead! But please do go over to the Anomaly and join the fun. Remember, voting starts on Friday and goes through Sunday. You have to vote for at least three entries in each of the contests.

And once you have, come on back here and let me know what you think of my lists. Agree? Disagree? Are there entries I should reconsider?

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Word Reclaimed

Imagine, if you will, a future where humankind has spread out throughout a dozen worlds. But it's also a future where owning books is forbidden, especially books that promote intolerant religions. Talmuds, Korans, and especially Bibles can land their owners in a heap of trouble with an organization called Kesek, a secret police with a mandate to keep the Realm free of subversive elements. Most people know enough to steer clear of them.

Unfortunately for Baden Haczyk, he's placed on a collision course when he finds a Bible while salvaging a ship that had been attacked by pirates. He sneaks it on board his father's ship and soon, he and his friends are plunged on a desperate chase with pirates and Kesek bound and determined to capture that Bible for themselves.

But that's not all that happens in The Word Reclaimed by Steve Rzasa. It's also the story of the Verge family, nobles within the Realm. A number of them are military men and women, sent to put down a rebellion on a distant colony called Bethel. But even there, things are not as they seem.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. Something about it kept me at arm's length the entire time I was reading it and I really don't have any idea what it was. Rzasa has put together a fantastic world in this story. You can tell that he put a lot of thought into the technology, the military units, the political systems, everything that governs how this world works. The characters are well fleshed out and believable.

The more I think about it, I think the issue might have been one of story balance. Like I said in the summary, there are basically two plot lines that go through this story. There's Baden and his Bible. There are the Verges and their military and political machinations. Until the very end of the book, these two lines do not cross in any significant way (although Rzasa makes it pretty clear about halfway through the book that they eventually will). The problem is that while both plots are significant, they disappear for long stretches. For example, we don't meet the Verges until a third or half-way through the book. And once their action takes over, Baden and company disappear for quite a while.

Maybe that's it. Maybe not. I don't know. Whatever the case, while I wasn't completely engrossed by this book, I did enjoy it and I'd be willing to come back to this world again.

The Golden Age of Video

This came to me via the "Best of YouTube" podcast. Kind of fun.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Jumping the Zombie Shark

So earlier today I was in the Mall of America's Barnes & Noble and I saw a new Star Wars novel, entitled Death Troopers. I scanned the back cover copy and realized what I was holding. Let's see here. A small group of survivors from a shuttle. Some sort of sickness that causes . . . dead Imperial troops to rise from their . . .

That's right. Star Wars zombie novel.

Okay, I'm not totally into the whole zombie thing. I don't know why it's not my thing, but it just isn't. So maybe I'm not the best judge of this. But really? Stormtrooper zombies? Really?

Perhaps the entire zombie fad has jumped an enormous undead shark. Time will tell.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The renowned Rev. Of South St. Paul shares a beleaguering list from a hack writer

One of the worst books I've ever read in recent years is The Da Vinci Code. Honest to goodness, it was horrible. And I'm not just talking from a theological point of view. Dan Brown wouldn't know an actual fact if it jumped up and bit him on his . . . well, the way I wanted to phrase that isn't very sanctified, so I'll just say "bit him" and leave it at that. I could go into more detail, but thankfully, the furor over that nonsensical book has died down and I'm not about to stir it up again, even in my tiny corner of the Internet.

Mr. Brown recently put out a new book. I haven't read it. I do not plan on reading it. I don't feel that it's a good investment of my time or my money to waste anything on that individual anymore.

And yet . . .

Earlier this week, agent Chip MacGregor shared an article from the Times that had me laughing. After reading it, I'm left puzzled as to how Dan Brown ever got published. So I now leave you with the same article: The Lost Symbol and The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wordcount Wednesday

So I'm doing my wordcount update a bit early today because I don't think I'll be getting any more writing done today or tonight. I just finished another read-through of Numb and fixed some time-line issues (I had accidentally introduced some temporal jumping that made little sense once I charted it all out). I guess next I'll be moving on to work on Return of the Mourning Dove some more.

But in the meantime, I need your help.

I've been talking about this for the past two weeks now, but I'm going to plug Marcher Lord Select once again. It's a publishing contest being sponsored by Marcher Lord Press. In the main contest, the on-line judges (that's you guys) will be able to pick a book out of 36 that will be published in spring of 2010. In the premise contest, three entries will be selected (out of the 49 that have been entered) to receive priority acquisition attention by Marcher Lord. The entries are now posted in the Anomaly, the forum board run by the publisher of Marcher Lord Press, and I want to encourage you to go check it all out. Free registration is required to participate. The voting for the first round starts in a week and a half (Nov. 13-15). You have to vote for at least three entries for your vote to count.

But I want you to do more than participate. I would like you to vote for my entries. I wasn't sure if I could reveal titles or anything like that, but I recently found out that I could.

So my entry in the main contest is The Last Expedition. It's listed in the first 10 entries. My entry in the premise contest is Numb and is toward the end of the entry list. I'm not demanding that you vote for my entries. If you read through the other entries and you find stuff you like better, I certainly understand and I encourage you to follow your own conscience. But please consider supporting me with your vote.

And if you'd rather hear my less-than-stellar voice explain all this, just click the player below.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


"We are of peace. Always."

I mean, seriously, how can you trust a race of aliens who learn the language but not the grammar?

Okay. Ahem. Sorry about that. I'll shift gears into the more serious review mode.

Obviously I watched the premiere of V tonight. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't watch the original. At least, I don't think I did. I seem to recall walking in on one of my babysitters who was watching it, but I could be mistaken. Who knows?

Anyway, the premise is the same. Alien spaceships drop out of the sky and hover over major cities. The leader of the Visitors, named Anna (played by Morena Baccarin of Firefly fame), assures the surprised and frightened inhabitants of Earth that they popped in to trade with us. We give them water and an unspecified mineral, they give human beings access to technology, such as advanced healing techniques that can deal with 35 different diseases.

Humanity falls all over themselves to welcome the Visitors. Well, almost everyone. There are a few who aren't too pleased, such as FBI agent Erica Evans or Father Jack Landry.

What leaves me scratching my head is that none of the world leaders seem all that suspicious. I mean, really, nobody thought that aliens from outer space might have ulterior motives for the human race, that "unspecified mineral" might be a euphemism for . . . oh, I don't know, soylent green? I mean, I understand that Barack Obama might not question it since the V took care of that whole universal healthcare business . . . Right. That was a cheap shot, sorry. But really? Only a few dozen people are suspicious?

I'm not sure where this will go. I'm not sure I'm totally enamored of it. But hey, I'll keep watching, only to see if the Visitors learn proper grammar.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Normally I'm not a fan of horror movies. They just don't do anything for me. I've never seen any of the Freddy or Jason movies. I steadfastly refuse to watch the various Saws. I made an exception for the Scream franchise and I did enjoy them, but that sort of movie normally doesn't tickle my fancy.

With one exception: I'm a sucker if the movie is supposed to be "real."

I don't know why I have that weakness exactly. But if something is supposed to be "real life," I'll be there in the front row, ready to go.

This isn't a new phenomena for me either. A little over ten years ago, the now-defunct UPN network aired a travesty entitled Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, which was supposedly "found footage" of an entire family in Lake County, Minnesota, being abducted by aliens. The footage was grainy and full of static. The family panic seemed real. The footage was interspersed with interviews with experts (including two I recognized, Stanton Friedman and Michael Shermer). UPN billed the whole thing as real. When it aired, my brother and I watched it and played "X Files" with it. He took the "it's real" stance. I tried to argue it was all fake. We were deadlocked until we saw the final credits and realized that the entire family and the aliens were all given credits. I used to have the thing on tape and even showed it to some college friends of mine. I still get chills when I remember the last image of the final abductee.

Of course, the next year came an even bigger scare, namely The Blair Witch Project. Once again, supposedly found footage about three young people who went into the woods looking for a witch and never came out again. And yes, I know, a lot of people didn't like the movie and I can understand why. Not a lot happened and when stuff did, it was out of focus. But again, that final image in the basement still haunts me. I seriously couldn't go into my own basement after dark for a week. I think part of this movie's success was from the fact that they built such a great mythos around it. The stars didn't do press until a few months after the movie was released, so there was that great question mark hanging over the movie (although let's be honest. If the footage was real, there's no way it would be released to theaters. Just saying).

There have been other movies that have tried this to greater and lesser effect. The most recent example was Cloverfield, a great monster movie supposedly made of "found footage."

Which brings us to what this review is really all about: Paranormal Activity.

The premise is pretty simple: a young woman named Katie has apparently been "haunted" since she was eight. She's since moved in with her boyfriend, a day trader named Micah (but pronounced Mee-kah), who decides that maybe they should turn her paranormal problems into a reality show. Yeah, like nobody would ever think to do that. Ever. They also consult with a psychic who somehow knows that this isn't a ghost, it's actually a demon. Katie and Micah do their best to deal with their nocturnal visitor, who steps up a campaign of terror over what amounts to a month or so of mostly sleepless nights. Things go bang in the night. Strange things happen to Katie. And it all builds up to a supposedly terrifying ending that really didn't do it for me.

I'm actually a little surprised I wasn't more scared by this movie. Compared to Blair Witch, this is the better movie in terms of suspense and build-up. Whereas the former was mostly shaking tents and blurry bloody body parts, this one was pretty obvious. When something spooky happened, you knew what was happening. And the "presence," or whatever you want to call it, certainly ramped up the terror games throughout the movie. There was one point where I was cringing in my seat, certain that the movie was about the end badly.

But the movie kept going. And I think that's part of the reason why I left the theater more bemused than frightened. If the director would have cut off the last minute or two and avoided the over-the-top effect he saved for the very last second, I would have been rattled pretty badly. But thanks to that last minute or two, I wound up rolling my eyes and thinking, "Whatever."

And I think that's another weakness of the film, definitely where it lacks against Blair Witch. Maybe I'm misremembering things, but I seem to recall that there was that massive question mark hovering over Blair Witch. Was this real? If it isn't, where are the actors? Who are they? That sort of thing. It wasn't until weeks into the run that the "truth" was revealed, that the actors went on Leno, that the whole thing was revealed to be fiction.

But I knew before I even set foot into the theater that what I was seeing wasn't real. While it certainly smacked of reality, I had that safety valve in the back of my mind. If things got too tense (and a lot of scenes trended that way for me), I could simply remind myself, "Hey, the actors are on this week's cover for Entertainment Weekly. They're fine. It's just a movie."

Don't get me wrong. There are some genuine chills and plenty of "jump-out-of-your-seat" moments that had my heart pumping and my palms sweaty. And it's an incredible testament to the keep-it-simple-stupid philosophy. I mean, this was made for $11,000, for crying out loud! I just don't know if it's the incredible phenomenon everyone makes it out to be.

But I still have that soft spot for these kinds of movies. Which is why I think my next excursion to the theater will be for a movie whose trailer I saw this afternoon: The Fourth Kind. I think they may be a little liberal in saying it's based on "case studies," but I'll still be ready to see what I can see. How about you?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordcount Wednesday

So let's see here. What can I say about writing this week? I did more work on my entries for Marcher Lord Select (you read that right, I'm in both the main and premise contests. Double your . . . never mind). I also did some promo work for said contest.

Oh, and I also got a highly encouraging rejection letter. And yes, you read that right too.

Funny thing about rejection letters. A few years back, I would have been devastated by a rejection slip from an editor or agent. Now I expect them. I'm even thinking of getting a frame so I can proudly display my latest.

Especially this one. It was for Numb but the agent in question had a few positive things to say about it and he even included some suggestions.

This is well nigh unheard of. You better believe I'm going to be paying attention.

So that's it for me this week. I'm continuing my "time-line" read-through on Numb. I've been doing a lot of mulching on a new story idea with my brothers-in-law. I call this one the superhero story. Catchy, no? Well, it's a work in progress. Not even in progress, I guess. Maybe a work in preparation. More on it when the time comes.

Now to go find a good frame . . .

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eternity Falls

Imagine a future world. A genetics company has hit a literal fountain of youth. They can shut off the aging process at a cellular level and allow people to live pretty much forever. Thousands of people have had the Miracle Treatment, as they call it.

Only now one of them is dead. From natural causes. And she's the company's spokesperson.

Enter Rick Macey, a private investigator hired by the vice president of the company, to figure out what happened to Greta Darling, an eighty nine year old actress who looks to be twenty two. The vice president, Sheila Dunn, believes that a religious nut is out to bring down the company and the Treatment. She hopes Macey, with his unique background in the Civil Defense and Intelligence.

The thing is, Macey knows she's not far wrong.

Now Macey is on a collision course with his past, trying to find a solution to this conundrum before eternity falls . . .

That's the basic premise of Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge. I don't think I've ever read a cyberpunk novel before. At least, I can't remember any. I don't think this one will be forgettable. Outerbridge created a very realistic world with a definite history and inner logic that hangs together quite well. The Los Angeles of the late 21st century is a strange mixture of glitz and desolation with colorful denizens and plenty of problems.

The theological underpinnings of the story were fascinating. I won't go into those either. But Outerbridge skirted a fine line and didn't fall over the edge with this one and I really appreciated what he did.

But most of all, this book was a fun read! Lots of adventure, action, and good humor.

My only complaint is that the romantic subplot seemed a bit tacked on. At the very least, the shift into it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. But that's a minor thing.

You can't go wrong with this one.