Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

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In today’s world of graphic design, social media, and instant gratification, I think that you can, increasingly, judge a book by its cover. Of course, that’s not always true and it never stops sounding terrible to say aloud, but I’d be lying if I said that at least some of my purchases aren’t predicated on the quality of the cover design.

Vanity, more than anything, drew me to Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series. That, and it also has a kickass first sentence—which is another silly habit of mine that I tend to judge books on. I rarely venture into science fiction (for fear of there being too much science and not enough fiction, if you will) but Corey won me over in a quick blitz.

Leviathan Wakes is set several hundred years in the future where a technological wonder called the Epstein Drive allowed the ancestors of protagonists Jim Holden and Josephus Miller to settle Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and the Outer Planets. It’s a curiously limited advancement: Sol belongs to humanity but the stars remain well out of reach. As politics, revolutions, and vendettas threaten to tear the system apart a great conspiracy unfolds unlike any humanity has ever seen before.

I was thrilled by Leviathan Wakes because of the perfect balance it strikes between science and fiction. Corey’s future tries to stay as connected to reality and the laws of physics as possible, but the book remains accessible throughout. I’m reminded of another book that I read, 2312, which is premised on a similar concept but overwhelms the reader with hard science and pages on pages of technical descriptions that overload the plot.

Returning to Leviathan Wakes, readers are treated to hodgepodge cultures of the Belt, Earth, and Mars. While Jim is scouring the system in search of clues to identify the destroyers of his ship and crew, Miller is searching for a missing girl who is, somehow, at the center of it all. Security corporations run amok, United Nations black-ops teams, and Martian warships each make appearances that contribute to Leviathan Wakes being one of the most enjoyable and well-written space operas that I’ve ever read.

This first book in The Expanse series is a standalone novel, meaning that what you read is what you get. Corey has published three other novels, Abaddon’s GateCaliban’s War, and Cibola Burn as well as two smaller novels The Butcher of Anderson Station and Gods of Risk. I’m certain that I’ll return to this series in time, but it’s rare to encounter an excellent first-book that stands mightily on its own two feet as Leviathan Wakes does, and so I recommend it highly.

UP NEXT: A review of “The Bright of the Sky” by Kay Kenyon!

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Book Review: Shadows Linger

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Four years have passed since the epic final battle at the Tower of Charm in The Black Company, the first novel in The Chronicles of the Black Company, and readers once again experience the mercenary brigade’s adventures through the eyes of Croaker, the Company historian. Shadows Linger does not so much concern itself with the aftermath of the war against the Rebel but with the growing specter of the Dominator (the male counterpart to the first novel’s antagonistic sorceress and chief-employer of the Company, the Lady) and the forces that seek to return him to corporeal world.

As the Black Company purges the North of the last Rebel elements they are unhappily drawn to the distant fringe city of Juniper, a cold and religious place where a dreaded black castle inhabited by monstrous beings is engaged in the latest attempt to revive the Dominator. Currently entombed in the Barrowland, the Dominator’s minions are trying to build another portal through which he can return and usher in ten thousand years of darkness.

The Lady, ruler of the northern Empire, orders the Black Company to spearhead the siege but Croaker and the others inadvertently find themselves on the trails of Raven and Darling. Darling is the girl prophesied to be the White Rose who will ultimately destroy the Dominator and the Lady, and is a friend to the Company, which puts them on the defensive in more ways than one.

Shadows Linger is a strange sophomore installment because, in almost every way, it breaks from the traditional middle-book mold fairly regularly. Rather than center itself as a bridge between the first and third books Shadows Linger produces its own plot that is secluded enough that it can be read independently of the first book, but inclusive enough that it fits well with the trilogy. What’s more, it expands the narrative from Croaker to Raven and a Juniper-native called Shed. By doing so it better explores the depths to which these men will sink in order to advance their individual goals: Shed is a study in poverty and immorality; Croaker’s unusual relationship with the Lady grants us a peculiar view into the inner workings of a ruthless but almost humane tyrant.

But, like its predecessor, Shadows Linger shines when it’s Croaker that’s doing the talking. He, along with the rest of the novel, genuinely wrestles with what it means to ally with the lesser of two evils because as the Dominator nears his return,  Croaker and the rest of the Black Company must fight even harder to keep him down; and therefore in defense of the Lady. This central conflict overshadows Shed’s acts of heresy against Juniper’s dominant religion; and compliments Raven’s architecting the destruction of one of Juniper’s criminal overlords. Repeatedly, this book provides instances of characters picking the least worst option and never gets close to something as naive or unrealistic as a happy ending.

Shadows Linger provided a strong second installment in The Chronicles of the Black Company and is an excellent introduction to the final novel in this first trilogy. Succeeded by The White Rose, Shadows Linger did a great job of giving us more of the characters that we love in a world where the only choices are either bad or worse.

Book Buying Bonanza

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After my shopaholic stint at Barnes & Noble on my birthday, it’s safe to say that I’m stocked up on books for the foreseeable future. Eight books later, I’m still trying to figure out the order that I’m going to read all these excellent-looking novels. Also, I’ve noticed a trend: anything steampunk or urban fantasy wound up in the pile without hesitation—with a few exceptions. From smallest to largest, my purchases were: Continue reading

270 Pages Later

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This week marks several milestones. A birthday, a wedding, and now a page-count record breaker! This evening I reached 270 pages on my current manuscript, a number that surpasses the previous record-holder (my last manuscript was 256 pages) by a healthy 14 pages. What’s even more exciting is that I’m not finished with the current manuscript; checking my location against my roadmap for this manuscript suggests to me that I’m around 2/3 complete, overall.

I expect this current manuscript to be finished near the 350 page mark, if I’m lucky! That would be such an amazing feat, especially since I originally thought that this project wouldn’t be more than 250 pages long—and that was back when I also thought the first manuscript would be around 200 pages instead of the 256 pages it eventually became. Looking back, I can’t help but appreciate that this has all been accomplished in a little over 17 months.

To offer some perspective, I was struck by inspiration for this project in the wake of publishing SOMEONE TO REMEMBER ME last February. I wanted to create a very strong, very opinionated female lead and the notion more or less fell into place with another idea that I had been kicking around for ages: to write a more contemporary, more dangerous book that blended fiction and nonfiction, as well as the possibilities of fantasy with the starkness of reality.

I wanted to tackle terrorism and fanaticism; the dangers of the police state and the risks of the unbridled revolution. And the current project went from being planned to being written. Quite abruptly I began writing about Sarah al Villete, the terrorist waging a war against the world’s last government on the world’s last habitable continent. More for her personal lust for revenge rather than the benefit of humanity. Hundreds of pages later, I’m regularly examining the weary questions of war and faith—of what happens when belief clashes with the unwieldy nature of reality.

Originally, I wanted just one big book. I tend to go on a rant against the saturation of the Fantasy and Science-Fiction genres by series. It felt, to me, that whenever I picked up a book in that aisle it was always book three or four in the this-or-that series. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good series as much as anybody but sometimes you want one great, mind-blowing book. Not three or four. Just every once in a while, you know?

So I endeavored to write that type of book and, unsurprisingly, it turned into a total beast on its own. So here I am on part two of a three part mega-book that currently sits at 526 pages and 293,622 words. And it’s worth mentioning that those aren’t book pages—they’re freaking single-spaced, 8 and 1/2 by 11 pages which is sooo much more impressive than those tiny little double-spaced pages you get in normal books. Seriously, go take a peek in that book on your desk—I guarantee you that sucker is at least 1.5 or double space font.

But I digress.

This is a week of milestones, today included. I’m glad that this goes out to at least a handful of people who can appreciate the steady and onward march of creative progress. May your projects continue as swimmingly as mine have.

Comic Con 2013: It’s Like A Bad Relationship

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luck

(noun)

1 San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS Oakland, Dallas, Tallahassee, Oakland.

2 To currently live in San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS currently living anywhere BUT San Diego, CA.

When I think of the annual popular arts phenomenon that sweeps into the heart of Downtown San Diego, CA every year in late July I often experience an absolute bevy of emotions. That’s right, you heard me—a bevy. Going to Comic Con (for us ritualists who defy the odds and manage get in every freaking year) is a breathtaking, nerve-wracking, oft infuriating event that, despite the abuse it heaps upon us, leaves us wanting for more. After discussing it with a friend, we concluded that being a regular Comic Con attendee is like being a bad relationship of hopeless, and utter, dependence. Conversations about the lines (and the infamous Hall H ‘eyeball + pencil = tragedy’ event that was 2011) and subpar programming are rife and oppressive, but I’ll try to be level-headed in my reflection.

Which, incidentally, is remarkably positive this year. Looking back, I went into this year very excited but also reserved; the sheer hassle of the event had stripped it of its appeal in recent years. I should also note that going into Comic Con 2013 I was one very sick boy and, incidentally, that forced me to really conserve strength and to leave when I started to feel exhausted and not three or four hours after the fatigue set in. That prevented burn-out in the first two days which, in the long run, helped me enjoy the event that much more. So let’s talk Con!

Wednesday July 17

Preview night was straightforward but, oh Dear Sweet God, was traffic a nightmare. Ultimately, I only spent about an hour and a half at Preview Night because the 8 and the 5 freeways were such awful messes. Still, it was nice to think that I was cruising the floor on the emptiest possible night but it felt like there were WAY more people at Preview Night 2013 than in previous years. I honestly think they’re selling more 4 Day + Preview night badges now than they ever have in the past because that’s what it looked like on the ground. But, as is the case with most things, I can’t know for sure.

Thursday July 18

I didn’t do anything on Thursday. None of the programming struck me as particularly fascinating so I got there around 1pm and left around 3pm or so because, again, I was not feeling well. I credit Thursday with really forcing me to rest and recover because on Friday…

Friday July 19

…I totally overslept. I mean, I only overslept by like a half hour but that meant leaving at 7:30 which put me at the convention center by 9:00 and at that point the line for the panel that I wanted to get into with a passion—THE LEGEND OF KORRA—was crazy long. I gave up hope of getting in and walked the line, just to see how long it was when a friend from work flagged me down and singlehandedly salvaged my day. KORRA is Nickelodeon’s sequel to it’s animated smash hit AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, but KORRA wrapped up season one before last year’s Comic Con—which meant that I, as a fan, had been deprived of Korra for more than a year! During the cast and crew Q&A panel the show-runners  Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino showed us an awesome trailer for Book Two: Spirits.

…and then they aired the whole premier.

At which point I promptly pooped my pants.

So the actual panel was relatively brief, having ceded nearly all their time to the premier, which was indescribably awesome.

Skipping past the BONES panel (which didn’t interest me at all) we came to the next big event Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD. Now, I’ve been broadly following the development of this show and, as a big fan of Marvel’s THE AVENGERS I was excited to see Joss Whedon promote the new television show, since his TV chops are well-establish by now after BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FIREFLY, and DOLLHOUSE.

Whedon trots the whole cast out, everyone (me, too) freaks the eff out for Clark Gregg (#coulsonlives) and then they start taking questions. Second question is a lady who asks about seeing a clip or a trailer. Whedon sagely blames Disney, saying that the lawyers won’t let them show a clip or even a trailer. Everyone boos because, if there’s one thing we nerds understand, it is the indomitable evil that is the Walt Disney Company. Backpedaling, Whedon clarifies, “We can’t show you a clip. So we’re gonna show the whole premier.”

Cue the explosive applause, which sounded much more like a bomb going off, and then they showed the whole 40 minute first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD. I thought it was brilliant—I recommend that you check it out when it hits Sept 24 on ABC. Of course, we went bananas for it and subsequently showered our adoration upon Whedon and the cast but that, for me at least, wrapped up Friday.

Saturday July 21

Oh, boy. By Saturday I was feeling great and I chose to celebrate my renewed health in the most sane way possible: by leaving home at 4am with the foolish notion of getting into the Hall H line for the Marvel panel at the end of the day. I was at the Convention Center by 5:20am but the line, if you’re familiar with the area, wrapped behind the convention center and went as far as the marina. That, in the vernacular, meant that I was not getting in. Knowing that, I jumped ship to the Ballroom 20 line where I perched myself expectantly.

The morning’s first panel was ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND, a spin-off of the wildly popular ONCE UPON A TIME that debuted in 2011. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the creators and runners of both shows, mentioned that what they eventually showed to us of WONDERLAND was a rough cut but—and I preface this with an acknowledgment of slackened expectations—it wasn’t really all that good. None of the characters were particularly well-acted and the CG seemed over the top and this is tough for me to say, since I’m a fan of the original ONCE UPON A TIME.

Afterwards was the panel for the original ONCE UPON A TIME, a tactic intended to market the new show to us veteran fans of the first one. ONCE UPON A TIME had an incredibly strong debut in its first season but has really floundered in season 2, eventually straggling along for a stronger ending. With season 3 less than two months away, they had an uphill battle to prove to us that the excursion to Wonderland to save Henry will be worth our time. Kitsis and Horowtiz made mention that filming started this week, and that when the show debuts it will air 10 episodes without interruption in the fall with the remaining episodes airing uninterrupted in the spring. LOST, a show that Kitsis and Horowitz both worked on and that continues to exert massive influence over their newest creations, experimented with a similar concept by airing seasons 4, 5, and 6 uninterrupted in their respective Spring time-slots.

Afterwards, we transitioned to the FUTURAMA panel. Futurama was cancelled by Comedy Central—something that I’m incredibly sore about. THE SIMPSONS is 25 seasons old, not super funny, and yet still on the air. Futurama is ending its 9th and final season, still funny and relevant, but getting canned. Still, the show’s runners David X. Cohen and Matt Groening poked good fun and made it a panel to remember with drawing contests and airing part of the series finale: Fry is falling to his death, and has a time-reverse button that takes him exactly 10 seconds into the past—right after he made the fateful jump. Brilliant, poignant, and hilarious; exactly how FUTURAMA should end.

Then there was THE SIMPSONS panel immediately after; none of the voice actors showed because, let’s face it, the show is 25 years old and they don’t have to try anymore. Groening was up there with Al Jean and confirmed a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover among other things.

Skipping ahead to the FAMILY GUY panel, which is always good fun—Seth MacFarlane was off filming his new movie but most of the cast (sans Mila Kunis) was there. What’s always hilarious about this panel is that Alex Borstein and Seth Green, who are fully aware each year that there’s a sign-language translator in the Accessibility area of the crowd, persisted to spew out the most disgusting terms in an effort to fluster the translators. It’s hilarious but not something I can really repeat here, but, you know, YouTube it.

Succeeding the FAMILY GUY panel was the AMERICAN DAD panel which was less of an affair than its big brother panel given what I assume is the state of tumult the show is in. AMERICAN DAD was quietly cancelled by FOX and will finish the already completed tenth season on FOX but, and this struck me as bizarre, it has been picked up by TBS. Movements of this kind usually indicate that a show is in its death throes, and I hope this isn’t the case because I LOVE American Dad and find it superior to FAMILY GUY in every way, but I’m worried for the show’s future. THE CLEVELAND SHOW was also quietly cancelled but its lukewarm  performance and reception has kept it dead.

The end of the FAMILY GUY panel also meant a big break in my day. From there on out I was free to wander the floor of the convention hall, and below are an assortment of photos.

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The floor was packed; simply pulsing with humanity.

IMG_2293They reduced the number of independent artists this year, and decreased the amount of novelty booths. The wooden mustache booth was gone!

Also present were neat products and models.

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A large model of the USS VENGEANCE from STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

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The POWER RANGERS franchise is celebrating 20 years of childhood amazingness.

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A model of DEATHWING from WORLD OF WARCRAFT.

At 7:30, as something of a Comic Con tradition, I closed out my Con weekend by attending Kevin Smith‘s panel in Hall H. Smith is a strikingly genuine filmmaker who has devoted a better part of the last few years to advocating and supporting new and upcoming filmmakers. Always uproarious and often pensive, Kevin does a great job of balancing humor with real-world experiences. Beyond that, I can’t remember much because I was…so…very…tired… Nevertheless, he’s a brilliant guy and the crowd for his panel seemed noticeably healthier this year than in years passed.

Afterwards, I made the victorious journey home. Comic Con 2013 was an success! Great shows, great panels, great sneak peeks at the upcoming television season! This event really shines when it honors the nerds, the geeks, and the hopeless many who congregate and preach their favorite popular arts phenomenons—and that is exactly what happened this year.

I’m ready to start planning for the Con 2014—if I can get tickets, that is.

— Brendan

The Next Big Thing

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Shortly after the release of “Someone to Remember Me” I went through the writer’s equivalent of postpartum depression. My baby was out in the world, warmly received by friends and family—though not monstrously successful in that “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” kind of way. In retrospect, I could’ve been a little more generous with the vampires. I pushed out an update back in April that addressed the most glaring editorial shortcomings and I have more planned…eventually. For all intents and purposes, I continued forward in my writing and considered where to go from there. “Someone” marked the first time I’d ever actually finished a project from draft to publication and I was enormously proud of it. I was lost in the immediacy of it’s release and subsequent update. What next? Did I go back to former, existing projects and force them through to completion? I took stock of what was on the drawing board for a few days and nearly went back to work on my space-opera that’s been sitting at the 50 page mark for two years. If any of you are reading this and we’ve had this discussion before, I apologize for the repetition but 50 pages is my personal kiss of death. It’s where the writing typically gets real; where the sheen on the original idea wears off and I have to figure out how to fully, fairly, and enjoyably realize the entire project without losing interest. I don’t know if any other writers have this problem with their manuscripts but I do.

I can’t tell you exactly how I settled on what I’m working on now, which is a wholly new project, but if I had to take a guess I would say that it came as a result of Eight, the lead female character from “Someone to Remember Me.” Eight’s most telling line in the whole book is when she shouts “I’m nobody’s slave!” at the top of her lungs near the book’s end. (Kudos to my stepdad for slogging it through the end. Good on you, champ.) And in the days after letting her into the wild an image of a woman with a gun and a sword popped into my head and I knew she was going to make a ton of trouble for someone. That was the genesis of Sarah al Villete, the main character of my newest book. Unlike so many of the other characters I’ve written, Sarah is an anti-hero in the extreme. She is what we would classify as a terrorist, a person committing hit-and-run attacks against the standing government. In a nutshell, she gets stranded with a bunch of innocent people who are wrongly accused of being her accomplices. So it’s her choice to let them be captured and killed or to take responsibility for them. The best “book blurb” I’ve written is the following:

For two thousand years the Union of Man’s rule has gone uncontested, but now the unthinkable has happened. Sarah al Villete is leading a crusade of revenge against humanity’s last government, and the authorities are desperate to capture her.

When her latest act of terrorism goes awry, Sarah becomes the reluctant steward of innocent fugitives. Fleeing the Union’s overwhelming might, Sarah and her companions are confronted with the mysteries of the Union—secrets that could help Sarah topple an already frail civilization.

I outlined this story with a level of detail that I’ve never attempted before. I created a rough outline of “essential” events in a chronological order. Then I beefed it up with cool and interesting scenes and ideas that occurred to at the time. In the first week alone back in March I wrote 30 pages. About a month later (after the surgery to remove the golf-ball sized cyst from my right wrist) I slammed through the 50 page mark. By May I was at the 80 page mark. That was where I hit my writer’s block that usually occurs around page 50. For whatever reason my creative impulses ground to a halt, none of it seemed interesting anymore, and I wondered what I was doing and if I could make this work. I blame vacation and reading for getting me out of that funk, because here we are at the start of July and I just crossed the 150 page threshold. By comparison, my first novel Someone to Remember Me is close to 110 pages with lots of extra dead/empty space in single space, 12 point Times New Roman font in my manuscript file. (In the ebook format it comes in around 240 pages.)

For this novel I’m experimenting with new formatting. Read as: I don’t use chapter numbers or names, and there is no break in the narrative except for the name of the character in bold that the narrative switches to. I’m describing this book as a crossover between the Game of Throne multi-POV narrative structure and the revenge-centric plot from V for Vendetta in a book that is ultimately a tragedy scifi/fantasy novel. Though, atmospherically it is a much more modern novel than anything else I’ve written, since there are cars and cities and cellphones.

That about does it for this particular update. My blog has been upsettingly empty as of late, so I hope this post kindles some renewed interest on the part of any readers lingering in the shadows. That’s all for now, I’m off to Comic-Con 2012 tomorrow. Pictures, maybe? Definitely.