Monday, August 12, 2013

George R.R. Martin -- in perspective!

Okay, let me start off by qualifying my post by saying that I really love George R.R. Martin. The man is an unbelievable writer from whom I, as an aspiring fiction novelist, can learn much. On a personal level (at least from his abundance of interviews and Con appearances) he seems like one of the coolest people in the world, or at least the world of novelists.

Furthermore, his epic Fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIF)  has brought tens of thousands of new readers into the genre, and has even given the genre a new surge of literary credibility, from literary critiques (you know, those critics who hate everything that isn't by, and for, literary professors). The popularity of HBO's adaptation to Martin's series has gone even further in reaching people who in times past have claimed to hate fantasy fiction. This is all great stuff. I'm not about to poo-poo any of this, however, ASOIF needs to be put into perspective. 

It seems to me that some of the series' most outspoken and vocal supporters (especially those who began with the TV series then moved to the books) are talking up the series into far grander and epic proportions than it actually is; not in the story world of Westeros, but within our world. Many of its fans speak as if ASOIF is the savior of fantasy fiction, or as many others seem to feel, the only fantasy series eve worth reading. We've all heard the rave reviews since the series hit the airwaves. 

It's groundbreaking!

 It's fresh and new! 

It's changed Fantasy fiction forever.

Martin's characters die shocking and gruesome deaths, and this has never happened in the "childish" fantasy of yesteryear.

It is "gritty" and "realistic" because all of the characters are "grey" and not "black and white." 

Look, I get that this is the series that you fell i love with. I get that this is the series that does it for you. And I get that, for many, many viewers, this is the first "adult" fantasy series they've ever read. But there are some points that I feel must be made. Not to talk down the series, but to simply put it into perspective.

First, and this should not even need to be said, but I'll say it anyway: Martin did not, in any way, invent the modern Fantasy genre. That credit goes to J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, I know. Lots of people find Tolkien boring and long winded (which is an ironic accusation when it comes from ASOIF fans, given that ASOIF was supposed to be a Trilogy), but we need to be honest, without Tolkien there is no ASOIF. A side note to this is that Martin himself heralds Tolkien as the grandmaster of Fantasy and doesn't, in anyway, compare himself to Tolkien or think that he is better than Tolkien. So the uber-Martin fanboys really need to stop trashing Tolkien. Your hero doesn't, so why should you?

Second, Martin is not even the first post Tolkienian Fantasy author to make Fantasy a legitimate, New York Times best seller genre. The two men most responsible for that are first, Gary Gygax, the co-creator of the Dungeon's and Dragons role playing game which allowed Tolkien fans to expand their imaginations into brand new worlds, but still experience all of the cool Fantasy tropes. 

D&D then paved the way for Terry Brooks to actually break the Fantasy genre into the New York Times best seller's list multiple times with his Shannara books. Brooks is probably the guy that convinced publishers that Fantasy fiction could be lucrative, and after Brooks' success dozens of others followed with their own best selling works throughout the eighties. Most of these sold to "geeks" and D&D fans, but there were a LOT more "geeks" out there than people realized.

And then, in early 1990 something fresh and new happened that took the Fantasy genre by storm. Something that would forever change the scope and direction of Fantasy fiction. No, the fresh and new thing had nothing to do with Martin or his series. The new and fresh thing was a book titled The Eye of the World, written by the late Robert Jordan. If there is one book, post-Tolkien, that changed the face of Fantasy fiction, it is surely book 1 of the grand epic, known as The Wheel of Time.

 The Wheel of Time series did something that the previous Fantasy books had great difficulty doing -- convince "literary" critiques that Fantasy fiction was a "serious" genre. If you've never read the Wheel of Time series (and I admit, I've not read them all yet) you should at least be familiar with what these books did, and how they changed the scope of the genre forever. Without Tolkien there is no Wheel of Time. But without the breakthroughs and new directions Jordan took Fantasy in the Wheel of Time, there is no Game of Thrones. 

Ah, but as we all know (or, rather, are told by the uber-fanboys) Martin's books ARE the first "gritty" and realistic Fantasy series to have ever been written. I mean, we all know this is true, right? Well, sorry to break it to everyone but Tolkien was slaughtering everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, in The Silmarillion decades before The Red Wedding was a bloody splatter across everyone's TV screen. Of course, the death and despair in The Silmarillion is not graphically depicted, that's not the point I'm making. The point is Martin, really is kind of a lightweight in the tragedy department when comparing ASOIF to say, the tale of Turin Turambar. The difference is that ASOIF depicts the tragedy in much more graphic detail, and Martin does have a gift for making you care for a character, only to rip them from you in some horrific fashion. He's great at it. But let's be honest -- he's not the first to do it. He's simply the first that many newcomers to the genre have experienced. And that's great! But let's not be snobish about it.

And then there is all of the sex and violence that ASOIF is known for. Is that something that Martin introduced to the genre? Nope!  I know lots of my fellow Fantasy fans dislike Terry Goodkind, but Goodkind was dramatizing the gut spilling, teeth kicking, gory, fight scenes along with scenes of torture, rape, murder, and beheadings, several years before A Game of Thrones was published. I mean, in one of Goodkind's books, there is a guy who wears a cape made out of human scalps!!! 

And as for torture? Well, I think every Fantasy reader knows that no one does torture quite like Terry Goodkind! Yikes!

Don't misunderstand me. Martin is a great writer. I love the guy. I think the books are awesome (even though they aren't exactly my cup of tea, because they are so depressing). I admit, I like to have some consolation by the end of a book. ASOIF has no consolation. But again, he is not the first writer to do that. And quite frankly, I feel there are a lot of awesome writers out there who, in my opinion, are better storytellers than Martin. Maybe not better technical writers -- Martin is perhaps one of the best technical writers writing today. But there a number of other Fantasy authors who can spin a yarn, far better than Martin does. Of course, it is unfair to say that, given that his series isn't finished. But I say this because, for those of you who are new to the Fantasy genre, there is a big world out there for you to explore. 

I know you fell in love with Westeros and some of it's characters. And I know you love to hate other characters, then have that hate twisted into admiration. I get it. But Martin was not the first to do this, and he is not the only one doing it today. Everyone gets to have their favorite series and favorite author. I encourage it. And Martin has broadened the Fantasy genre in a way that hasn't been done in twenty years. This is all awesome! I love it. I love Martin. And I love what he's done for the genre. But he is not the only game in town. There is way more to Fantasy than ASOIF. There are other writers who are better storytellers, but not as polished as a writer. There are other writers who are better than Martin, technically, but not as a good of storytellers. And there is everything in between. 

Read them all!

Or at least, read a few more. You may discover Martin IS your favorite author and that you enjoy death, with no consolation, your cup of tea. Hey, that's okay. But at least try other writers and other flavors of the genre. Until you read what else is out there, you'll never truly know for sure -- now will you?

Too many Fantasy readers -- even newcomers to the genre -- immediately fall into the "my favorite book is the BEST!" Even when that is the ONLY book they've read. Give something else a try. I had to read A Game of Thrones TWICE before I realized I really liked it. So I speak from experience. Broaden your horizons. Broaden what you read. Who knows? A new flavor, a new book, and a new author just might grab you by surprise.

Remember, that is what Martin has done for so many people already. Maybe someone else will do the same for Martin's uber-fans!

Monday, July 22, 2013



It's official! 

For the first time in recorded history a beautiful young woman, after having sexual contact with her male partner, has given birth to a male, Homo sapiens offspring. As has been reported throughout the media for the previous nine months, Kate Middleton (wife of Prince William of England) reportedly had sex with her husband approximately nine months ago. This unprecedented act of physical intimacy led to the startling, and some say miraculous, consequence of fetal impregnation.

 Up until now, human children have general been discovered in cabbage patches, or as some report, delivered by an annoying pickle eating stork. There are even some stories from the ancient world, that tell of several human children who were supposedly brought into the world through divine means, such as showers of gold or being hatched from rocks. Kate and William, however, are the first confirmed human specimens to have actually had marital relations which led to physical implantation of a human fetus. 

Doctors and scientists are still studying this ground breaking phenomenon. One research lab, based at Oxford University, is looking for volunteers to participate in an experiment to determine if the event can be replicated. "We need volunteers, and plenty of them," said doctor Oakin. "If indeed William and Kate were able to produce human children through the act of sexual intercourse, and if it turns out that other humans are able to follow suit, there may no longer be a need for us to continue to cut down forest lands in order to plant cabbage patches all around the world. There will be no more need to fight over land, and those too old or infirm to work in the fields will no longer be incapable of becoming parents. This may be the answer to all our prayers!" Skeptics, however, are questioning the legitimacy of the entire Kate and William story.

Dr. Markum, from the University of Wisconsin Madison, suggests the entire pregnancy is nothing more than a fraud. "No scientific tests were done in the days following the supposed night of conception. And I suspect that the Royal Family, along with all of the doctors involved, will not allow us to run DNA tests to determine if, in fact, the child has the same DNA markers as the parents. Ask yourself a question: What is more likely, that two human beings somehow managed to produce a third human being by the mere act of mixing some bodily fluids, or that the entire story is a fabrication by the leftist, liberal ultra-green Royal Family?" 

Some religious leaders have voiced their concerns with the child's alleged conception as well. "I mean, you're talking about going against everything the Bible teaches," said Pastor Greensburg of the Southern Baptist Conference. "The Bible clearly states that humans are created from the earth. We come from dust, and return to dust. The idea that babies can come into the world through some physical combination of human . . . fluids is not only absurd, but nearly blasphemous. I mean, it's bad enough some humans choose to have sex at all. But mixing sex with children? That's anathema!"

Contrary to these rare voices of protest, most people all around the world are elated for, not only Kate and William, but the entire human race. "We're going home tonight and have sex," said one elderly couple, who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. "I mean, if William and Kate can have a baby, why not us?"

Such sentiments have been echoed throughout the world, and even President Obama felt the need to chime in. "If the science turns out to be confirmed," said the President in an impromptu press conference in the Rose Garden, "We may no longer be forced to reply upon the fertility or infertility of the soil, to grant us future generations. We may be able to move into a new epoch of human history, in which humanity extends into the future through mutual and loving relationships! God bless Kate and William, and their Royal baby!"

Scientists point out that further study needs to be done on the matter. And it may very well be that Kate and William are an exception that proves the rule. But most are hopeful that the Royal child is the first among many millions who will be born, not from the dust of the ground, but from the mixture of bodily fluids and DNA.

As Dr. Oakin notes, "This may simply be the next step in human evolution. I can't imagine what the world will look like in the future, but if Kate and William's glorious news is any indicator, it will be a better world than what we have now! As the American President said, God bless the Royal family!"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pacific Rim vs Independence Day, deconstructing plot

 So, this week I saw Pacific Rim and was somewhat disappointed and underwhelmed. It was an okay movie, and, as a writer friend explained that his writing friend said, the more you like the idea of robots and monsters punching each other, the more you'll like this movie! I'm more of a character person, and wasn't that big of a fan of 2 hours of robots and monsters meets WWE (and I love WWE, or at least the old WWF). 

Pacific Rim failed on several levels and one of these was the seeming abandonment of the Hollywood Formula, as explained by Lou Anders on a 2011 episode of the Writing Excuses podcast. I hope to get some fellow Writing Excuses fans to deconstruct Pacific Rim once they've seen it, but several points that Lou elaborates on, seemed to be missing from the film. One other thing I noted was how heavily the movie borrowed from the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. 

Now, ID4 is not the greatest movie in the world, but I have always thought it was a fun movie, with fun characters, and a show stealing performance from Judd Hirsh. So tonight, since I'm laid up with a sinus infection and have nothing else I can do, I plan on watching Independence Day to "deconstruct" the plot to see if I can find the Hollywood formula, and how it followed it (and succeeded) compared to how Pacific Rim didn't follow it, and thus failed. Plus, Jeff Goldblum is one of my all time favorite actors. So what's not to love about this movie? :)

Okay, a number of things. But I think it will be a good exercise in trying to find what works, as part of a story's structure, and what doesn't. Not sure I'll succeed, but it should be fun, nonetheless. I'll post a follow up just for fun. 

That's all for now....


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Jurassic Park 3D!

So, last night a buddy and I went and saw Jurassic Park in 3D. I remember seeing it when it was originally released -- I must have seen it three times in the theaters and dozens of times (if not close to a hundred) over the years: first on VHS then DVD. It was one of my all time favorite movies and when I first heard it was to be re-released in 3D, I was excited -- well, more than excited, actually. I was giddy! This was my top "wanna see" movie of the year.

So, how did it go? In one word: AWESOME!!!

It's been a couple of years since I've actually watched it on DVD. And even though I've seen the movie enough to memorize lines, seeing it once again on the big screen made me notice things that I don't think I'd ever noticed before. It also brought back some great memories from my teenage years, which was my age when I first saw it. And seeing it in 3D? Well, it was amazing!

The nearly one hundred people involved in converting a twenty year old movie to the new Real D 3D technology did an unbelievable job. Was it flawless? Not exactly. There were a couple of parts where one could notice a bit of ghosting. This was the first time I've noticed that in any of the Real D 3D movies I've seen, and I assume -- though I could be wrong -- this was due to Jurassic Park not originally being shot for 3D technology. All of the other 3D movies I've seen have not had the ghosting effect, and they've all been shot in 3D and not converted in post-production. However, this is a very, very minor complaint, and was only noticeable in two or three scenes, usually when the people are inside talking. Never noticed it in any of the action scenes.

With that minor observation out of the way, let me say that I was really blown away by the 3D in this movie. The prologue, where the raptor kills the worker, puts you right into the 3D world and it really does feel as if you are there. From there on out, the entire movie really gave me at least a dozen "WOW" scenes, where the depth perception was just astounding. My favorite? Well, it's gotta be the T-Rex scene! I mean, that was ALWAYS my favorite sequence anyway, but in the 3D it was truly amazing -- and yes, even a bit scary.

The technology makes you feel like you're right there when the T-Rex breaks out of paddock. You feel like you're in the car with the kids. You feel like you're looking into the eyes (and mouth) of the T-Rex when Grant tries to trick it with the road flair. And the greatest scene of all -- my favorite -- you feel like you standing right there when the T-Rex EATS THE LAWYER who is sitting on the toilet! People in the theater laughed, clapped, and I almost couldn't stop. It's one of those classic moments in film history than will live beyond us all.

The rest of the movie is just as great. The raptors are scary -- the kitchen scene is -- well, pretty much as awesome as you remember, but even better in 3D. And of course, the ending is one of those "hero" moments that you just have to applaud for. 'When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.'

One final thing I noticed is just how real so many of the dinosaurs look. And that's probably because they are "real." Jurassic Park was made during a time when puppetry and animatronics were still consider "cutting edge." And even today, what was used in Jurassic Park would be cutting edge. The dinosaurs, and in particular the T-Rex looks like a real, living, breathing Tyrannosaurus. Throughout the movie Spielberg used both puppets and, the then new, CGI technology to make a nearly seamless film. The Brachiosauarus in the "Welcome to Jurassic Park!" moment looks -- real! I don't know what else to say. And this was using twenty year old computer animation technology. Sure, they've probably updated some of these scenes a bit, but still . . . .
I mean, think about it. How many movies today, using CGI, don't look even half as good as this? Spielberg did something that very few people have ever done since -- make you believe that what you're seeing on the screen is real.Yes, some of the science of the movie is a bit dated now, and we know more about dinosaurs now than we did twenty + years ago, but this is truly a classic movie.

One last thing to note was how much fun the audience had, both young and old alike. There were a lot of young people there who were either not old enough to remember seeing Jurassic Park in 1993 or weren't even born yet. So this was their first experience seeing it on the big screen! And I could hear people talking as they left the theater, saying just how great it was. For people like myself, who were in high school when this came out, it brought back my own memories as well. And while people say this all the time, seeing this particular movie in 3D, on the big screen, really was like seeing it for the first time!

If you've never seen Jurassic Park on the big screen, or know someone who hasn't you simply must go! Take them. You may not ever have this opportunity again. It will bring back memories, create new memories, and is just an all out fun ride, that will awaken the child inside of you!

And do it fast, because I believe this is only running in the theaters for one week.

Friday, April 5, 2013

So many books, so little time!

I'm an avid reader, or I try to be. I'm currently reading three books -- Terry Goodkind's final book of the Sword of Truth Series, Confessor, Kim Harrison's White Witch, Black Curse (book seven of The Hollows), and Bree Despain's The Savage Grace. Why three at once? Well, because I can't choose which book I want to read next, so I just begin multiple books at once -- and then realize I can't actually focus on more than one at a time and so two get shelved while I read the third.

The biggest problem is that while I'm trying to read three novels, I'm also writing two more books myself (another non-fiction, religious themed book that is bound to piss people off. It's in the very early stages, so it will be some time before it is out) and I'm learning the craft of fiction writing, in the form of a YA novel. All of this writing really puts a damper on how much reading time I can actually squeeze into a day. Not to mention after spending 3-5 hours staring at, and typing, words, I can barely stand to look at MORE words in the evening. So I tend to get burned out. Which means I have even LESS time to read all of these books.

That's not to mention all of my other daily activities, duties, and side projects that I have going at any given time. For example, I'm a pyrotechnician -- in other words, I blow up fireworks! Actually, I'm more into the artistic aspects of planning, laying out, and putting together a fireworks display. Yeah, blowing them up is cool, but to me, if it doesn't look good in the sky, it's not really that much fun. Anyway, this is the time of year when we start trying to get shows. We have three on the docket so far, but it is a lot of work. Far more work than just setting some stuff off in your backyard. There is a real art and science to it, and SAFETY is always priority number one.

So back to reading, or the lack of reading I've been doing.  I'm just too darn busy to write books AND read, and plan fireworks, and manage my multiple chronic health issues, and everything else that comes in a day. But what is a person to do? I love to write. And I love to read. And I'm not going to give up any of these other activities and jobs. Often I find myself not even watching television anymore. I suppose that's a good thing. I'd rather be reading. But life gets in the way.

So what is the point of this little blog post? Nothing really. I just felt like complaining, in a very public way, about how that old time adage is true -- so many books, so little time. What I wouldn't give to be like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and be able to read books in a matter of seconds. Just think, I could have read the entire Sword of Truth Series in two minutes, rather than two years. Yes, it took me two years to read that series. But that's another blog post for when I finish -- then you all can hear about my love/hate relationship with those books and Mr. Goodkind.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review of Evolving out of Eden, by Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen

For hundreds of years, Christians have attempted to "reconcile" the Bible, and what it says about how the world was created, with what science reveals about how the world came to be. Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution is a lucid and, dare I say complete, exploration of the various intersections between Christian theology and science -- in particular, the science of evolutionary theory.

For hundreds of years, Christians have been adamantly opposed to humanity's ever increasing knowledge about the way the world actually works. Galileo was opposed by the Roman Catholic Church. Darwin was, and still is, opposed by Christians from many different Churches. And in America, Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians attempt to smuggle creationism (that is, Bible stories about the creation of the world) into the science classrooms of our public education system. All in an effort to protect their long held, and false beliefs, that the Bible is in some way a science text book. Well, as New Testament scholar Robert M. Price and co-author, Edwin A. Suominen clearly demonstrate: the Bible is NOT a science book!

Evolving out of Eden essentially begins as layman's guide to evolutionary theory. Quoting extensively from leading scientists in the field, the authors explore the reasons scientists throughout the world insist that evolution is true, and has always been the mechanism for the creation of life on earth. It is, in many ways, a crash course in the basics of evolutionary theory, as understood and explained by scientists. But like the Bible, Evolving out of Eden is not -- nor does it pretend to be -- a science text. It's real strengths are to be found when the authors delve into the vast history of the Biblical creation stories -- of which there are many. It explains, how these stories came to be, what they meant for the writers of the texts, and how Christians throughout the centuries have interpreted and reinterpreted them, in order to make them fit with our ever expanding scientific knowledge. And it shows that, no matter how hard Christians have tried to force the Biblical creation stories into the world of science, it is always a futile attempt to force the square peg bronze age creation myth into a round hole of science.

While the authors themselves no longer consider themselves religious, they are not, in an way, anti-religious. They both have a great deal of respect for religion, Christianity, the Bible and Christian theology -- and their respect shows in their words. This is not a book meant to bash those who believe in Creationism, but a book meant to open up lines of communication that -- for the most part -- have been closed down, by us Christians.

Evolving out of Eden simply points out what some Christians and Church fathers (like Origen of Alexandria) always understood: the Bible is NOT a scientific text from which one can draw information about how the world works. It is a religious text, meant to explore humanity's quest for something more than the world. And any attempt, no matter how sincere, to reconcile the Biblical creation accounts with scientific facts, fail on every level.

As a believing Eastern Orthodox Christian, I highly recommend this book. It's educational, enlightening, at times funny, and above all it is honest and fair. Following the internet book review standards, I'm rating it five stars, with one caveat: by the very nature of the topics involved, somewhat technical -- especially near the beginning. I'd rank it 4.5 stars, because the technical nature may turn off some readers who aren't as serious about following through on the subject as other. However, that's not the fault of the authors, but rather the fault of America's lackluster science education system, so in order to not punish the authors in my review, who've done their very best to make a complex topic understandable, I'm giving it five stars.

It is a FANTASTIC book, and probably the best over all introduction to the topic of how evolution and Christianity intersect that I've ever read. If you have, even the slightest hint of an open mind, this book will change your opinions about the Bible, creationism, and science, while giving you a new respect for all three.