2012: Disaster Porn

I finally saw 2012 on pay-per-view last week only because my wife was on call at the hospital that night and there was nothing on TV. My overall impression is it wasn’t a complete waste of 2 1/2 hours, but I’m glad I didn’t spend $10 to see it in a movie theater.

The first half-hour had me hooked. The main characters were were well drawn, though I think it was the quality of the actors portraying them. And the science behind the end of the world was plausible — as sci-fi stories go — for me to suspend disbelief enough to accept the coming apocalypse (although if you’re worried about the movie scenario, let real science calm your nerves).

But then the world ended, and that’s where things got silly. The main characters could only have so many earthquakes, lava, and crevasses literally chase them before the entire movie started to feel like a deus ex machina in reverse. And where were all the iPads? I mean, come on!

There’s no denying the special effects were spectacular, and that is what saved the movie for me. Yes, I like “disaster porn” — guilty as charged — because it brings me back to the disaster epics I loved to watch as a kid on Sunday afternoons (Crack in the World, When Worlds Collide, etc.).

And that’s pretty much the category I’d place 2012 — save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Or a night your spouse is working.

Book Review: Conventions of War by Walter Jon Williams

Conventions of War is the third and final novel in Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall series. Lady Caroline Sula leads the guerrilla war against the rebellious Naxids on the Empire’s occupied capital world of Zanshaa, while Lord Gareth Martinez commands a battleship in the Fleet task force waging a war of attrition on the enemy’s economic heartland a la Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”

I can’t say much more about the plot without giving it away, but I can say the book wraps up the series with an ending that — while not “happily ever after” — was appropriate to the characters considering their previous actions.

Williams did all the things in Conventions of War that entertained me in the first two books — military space opera without the technical jargon, conflicted characters I cared about, and “realistic” spaceships and space warfare. Don’t get me wrong, I love laser battles and “warp drive” ships like any good sci-fi geek, but it was interesting to read about the challenges starship crews face with high-gravity accelerations and decelerations, along with the months it takes to simply go from one end of a single solar system to another.

If I had any criticism it would be the first two-thirds of the book felt like Williams was killing time before getting to the brutal fight for Zanshaa and the ultimate space battle with the Naxids. While Sula’s guerrilla exploits against the Naxids were appropriate to the story (though a tad drawn out), the murder mystery Martinez had to solve seemed thrown in just to give him something to do until the final battle.

That said, I still enjoyed the book and the series overall. While not as entertaining as book two (The Sundering), it was a satisfying conclusion to one of the best space opera series I’ve ever read.

Books in the Dread Empire’s Fall series:

Best something-or-other for Writers

It’s Friday and it’s time for my “Best something-or-other” post! Well, okay, this is my first one, but it’ll be a series. Trust me.

Why not start off with something for all you other writers out there? These are links to sites and information I use regularly, and I’ve found them very helpful to my writing. Your results may vary.

Book Review: Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Well of AscensionWhen you pick up a Brandon Sanderson novel, you can be assured of an epic fantasy that does not follow the usual fantasy tropes, yet gives you everything you love about epic fantasy in the first place.

Well of Ascension is no different.

The second book in the Mistborn trilogy starts a year after the fall of the evil Lord Ruler in the first book, Mistborn. The Final Empire has fractured into several states, each ruled by a tyrant not much better than the Lord Ruler.

All except the Final Empire’s old capital Luthadel, where the idealistic Elend Venture has set up a parliamentary government, giving the skaa (the former slave/peasant class) the freedom they haven’t had in a thousand years. Back are Elend’s Mistborn lover Vin and her heroic crew of Allomancers who overthrew the Lord Ruler, but now the former scoundrels and thieves have positions of responsibility in the new government.

And responsibility for running a city is proving harder for them than overthrowing an evil tyrant. Aristocrats grumble and bicker, the skaa worship Vin as a god-like protector, and now two armies are encamped outside Luthadel and threatening to raze the city.

Meanwhile an ancient evil called the Deepness is rising again. Vin discovers that the fabled Well of Ascension can not only stop the Deepness, but keep Luthadel free of the tyrants besieging it.

Sanderson does his best to give us all the “cool” magic, battles, and monsters that fans of epic fantasy enjoy, while at the same time adding something new to the genre. While the Well of Ascension is the main “Macguffin” in this story, I like how the book does not fall into the standard quest plot. And when the heroes finally do find the Well, it turns out to be something they wish they’d never found.

Sanderson juggles a lot of different story lines, and does a fine job presenting the angst of the main characters in their new roles of leadership and responsibility. Sometimes he does his job too well, occasionally having the same characters complain about the same issues multiple times. The book might have been 100 pages shorter had he consolidated some of those redundant scenes.

But that minor quibble aside, I found the book to be a worthy follow-up to Mistborn, and an engaging set-up for the final book The Hero of Ages. Highly recommended.

The Cold War

I haven’t had a full-blown, phlegm-spewing, throat-scouring cold in over eight months, so I was overdue for an invasion. My immune system is strained, but holding up valiantly against the Virus Horde. Unfortunately the Horde is now entrenched in my sinuses. They force me to use up all the Puffs in the house, and they make the milk in my cereal to taste funny. My special forces (a.k.a., multi-vitamins and green tea) will soon rout the buggers, though.

It’s only a matter of time. Bwa-hahahaha– <cough, sneeze>

D&D for Kids

Monster SlayersI’m so excited — Wizards of the Coast is launching a new line of Dungeons & Dragons adventures for kids six and up called Heroes of Hesiod. It’s based on a new Wizards of the Coast novel for kids called Monster Slayers.

What better way to teach your children problem solving skills and creative thinking then by helping them hack up some monsters?

My daughter is almost four, so she’s got a ways to go before she could handle the mechanics of this adventure. By the time she’s six, however, I’m sure she’ll be ready to accept her geek heritage with pride. Or shame, whichever.


I’ve been asked what ZERVAKAN was about, so I thought I’d give you the “teaser” copy I wrote for it a while back. It’s epic fantasy but without the typical medieval milieu — it’s set in world similar to the American West during the mid-19th century. I wouldn’t call it “steampunk,” but my world does have steam engines, guns, and telegraphs.

And if you’re an interested editor,

Reason and science had given the Recindian Compact wondrous technology like steam engines, telegraphs, and gunpowder. The world had order. It made sense.

Until one night two multi-colored bands of light appear in the sky, spanning the horizons like rings around the planet. Soon after, unnatural storms assault the Compact’s cities. Whispers spread of ghoulish creatures haunting Compact forests. And then a message from a legendary race called the Mystics – ally with us to fight the growing evil or we all perish.

Desperate, the Compact’s leaders turn to Taran Abraeu, a disgraced history professor whose dying daughter forced him to accept societal ridicule and search for the legendary healing magic of the Mystics. His colleagues once mocked him. Now his research may be the only thing that will save them.

When Compact leaders ask Taran to accompany a secret delegation to the Mystic homeland, Taran is swept up in an adventure that forces him to fight a horrifying evil that only he among all his people can comprehend.

Pity City

My agent got another rejection yesterday for my fantasy novel ZERVAKAN. Once again it was a “positive rejection” — the editor said the book was good, but not great. At least I chose to see it as a positive rejection. The editor could’ve sent a form letter.

Anyway, I have a four-stage process for dealing with book rejection.

  1. Spend an hour in “Pity City” (as a former manager of mine used to say). Whine to my wife that nobody’s ever going to buy the book. Eat salty foods.
  2. Think about some of the successful authors I admire. J.A. Konrath wrote nine novels before he got got picked up by a major publisher. Brandon Sanderson wrote at least seven novels before his big break. Now he’s finishing the “Wheel of Time” series, the greatest fantasy epic of my generation.
  3. Remind myself I’m only on my fourth novel.
  4. Apply my butt to my chair and finish that fourth novel. Because this will be the one.

This seems to work for me. Your results may vary.