Books of the Week (Plus A Chance To Win A Copy Of Time Heist)

The best things in life are free. Right?

Well, that’s what they say atleast. We need some empirical proof before we can say definitively one way or the other. Otherwise we’re like anti-vaxxers going around all willie-nillie spitting in the noble eye of science.

There’s only one eye I spit in… death. And fear. And evil clowns (Which is an oxymoron ’cause all clowns are evil). Okay, I guess I’m a spitter. But never mind that.

So before we get to the book reviews down below, we’re gonna test the theory “The Best Things In Life Are Free”: I’m gonna give you the chance to win a FREE copy of Time Heist.

Time Heist

Dianne from Tome Tender has been very gracious in hosting and promoting said giveaway. Seriously, Dianne’s energy from promotion is staggering (thank you so much for all your hard-work, D). How can you win a copy of Time Heist, you ask? Easy, click HERE and sign-up. There is practically no spilled blood involved. Great, huh?

TIME HEIST BANNER 4

Click here to win a copy of Time Heist!

Alright, enough of the shameless self-promoting, let’s get to the Books of the Week!

1) Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delaney (For those who like flowery writing, vague plot, and explicit sex scenes)

dhalgren

Dhalgren is on a bunch of top-100 lists and as such I felt compelled to give it a read. As a writer I think it’s necessary to be well versed in the classics, which often gets me into books that I would otherwise avoid like the plague. Dhalgren is one of these books.

Let’s start by pointing out the things that make Dhalgren an interesting read. The writing is beautiful. It’s atmospheric and convoluted in a way that gets your mind working. At times it goes too far and becomes what I would lovingly refer to as “purply prose”. Some people dig that, but as a whole, I’m not one of those people.

Pretty writing is pretty, but there’s got to be substance otherwise you’re just eating literary cotton candy getting cavities without getting full.

Dhalgren is set in a mysterious post-apocalyptic world/city that is mysterious because Delaney intentionally makes it so. Too little information is revealed, and when it is it’s done so in such a way as to be vague and possibly wrong. What I mean by this is that often something is revealed only to be overturned a few short pages later.

It’s creating mystery and intrigue by saying “Ooh, look, the sky is red… or is it?” Dun Dun Dun.

this is the end

or is it

That’s not mysterious or intriguing, it’s just annoying. Add into that the fact that the main character has severe memory problems and you get a really ho-hum adventure.

So how do you spice up a ho-hum adventure? That’s right, you sprinkle in a healthy dose of sex, the spice of life (or is that paprika? Hm… I’m not culinarily (<– yes, that’s a word) inclined).

In the first 100 pages of the book we get three very explicit sex scenes that gallop through the broad spectrum of sexual orientations. Now, these aren’t short scenes either. So, if that’s your thing, good on you, you’re probably gonna dig this book. But gratuitous sex scenes hold no substance. Initially there is a shock value as the author explores sexual orientations that, at the time of its writing, would have been considered fringe, but this is 2015 and it’s not cutting edge, or intriguing, or honestly, very interesting.

Unfortunately, Dhalgren didn’t live up to the hype for me. It’s a lot of sex and trite mystery wrapped in pretty writing. But my opinion isn’t so unique as it turns out. Dhalgren, as I later discovered, is one of those books that people either LOVE like chocolate covered bunnies, or HATE like chocolate covered things that people hate. <— not sure where I was going with that.

Oh, also, Dhalgren is over 800 pages long, so get comfy.

2) Fool Moon (Book 2 of the Dresden Files)- Jim Butcher (For those who like snarky detective wizard mysteries)

Fool Moon

Fool Moon picks up about six months after book one, Storm Front, and deals with a cadre of werewolves/werewolf wannabees. Jim Butcher has done an interesting thing with this series by setting up a “monster of the week” type narrative. In the first book of the series we were dealing with rogue wizards exploding people’s hearts. This time we get the full range of werewolves. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching narrative (there is), but at this point in the series it’s so early that nothing firm has really been set into the motion. At this point in the story we’re still dealing with world-building, which is cool ’cause Jim Butcher has definitely created a unique take on magic in his little world.

I don’t have much to say about this book, overall it was good and entertaining. There is a ton of action in this episode, which, at times, borders on too much. But hey, I like action so I won’t knock it too hard for that.

One of the things that really bothered me about this book had nothing to do with the book itself, but rather in how I consumed it, which is to say I listened to it as an audio-book. The narrator, James Marsten? (That may or may not be the guys name), has a reading style that really bothered me. He breaths and gulps and swallows so goddamn much, and he does it right into the mic. It’s all for theatrical effect but fuckity-chicken nuggets it is annoying!

breathing into the mic

Stop Breathing Into the MIC!

The other problem I had with his narration was the fact that he didn’t really have the material mastered. He stumbled through, putting in awkward pauses as though sentences had ended prematurely. Then he would add in the rest of the sentence almost as an after-thought. It was so distracting and annoying that I listened to the book at 2x speed which made it sound like a coked up Smurf was reading the book to me, but hey, that was preferred to his otherwise grating performance.

/End Rant. *Drops Mic and Moonwalks Off Stage*

mic drop

*Moonwalks Back Onto Stage.* Oh, yeah. We’re not done here.

3) Moxy Land – Lauren Beukes (For those who like cutting edge, crisp cyber-punk, with an awesome narrative voice)

moxy land

I’d been wanting to read this for awhile because the cover art looked nifty, but the reviews on Amazon weren’t terribly stellar so I was hesitant. One of Beukes newer books, Broken Monsters, however, has been garnering a ton of really great press recently, so I figured what probably happened is that Beukes has writing chops out the wazoo, but there was a fundamental flaw in the plot of this particular story.

I love dissecting stories and seeing what worked and what didn’t, so I hopped into Moxy Land after rustling it up for next to zero money’s on Amazon. Cheap is good. I like cheap.

As I suspected the writing for Moxy Land was fantastic. Beukes took an incredibly difficult narrative style (alternating first person points of view every other chapter) and made it work pretty darn well. It’s rare to see alternating first person points of view because what tends to happen is that the characters all become a blur. They all start sounding alike and acting alike. Bad news where compelling narrative is involved.

bad logic

With logic like that no wonder the Dinosaurs ushered in their own extinction via nuclear Armageddon. Poor stupid Dinosaur politicians dooming everything doomable.

But Lauren somehow makes it work. Each of her 4 point of view characters is distinct enough to remain engaging. That alone is impressive and speaks to her impressive writing chops.

Moxy Land doesn’t rest on the strength of the writing, however. The world building is superb. It’s gritty and multi-layered with a depth that shows Beukes really knows what she’s talking about.

What I’m about to say next might upset some people ‘ cause I’m sure I won’t word it correctly and it’ll bring a shit-storm of hate in its wake. I’m prepared for that, but I’ll tread carefully.

The best Science Fiction/Fantasy women authors recently have been garnering a lot of attention for their unique and progressive takes on gender roles and sexual orientations and the cultural effects of those two dynamics on future societies: think Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, or Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.

mirror empireancillary

Don’t get me wrong, these are very important ideas with much fertile soil to be tilled. I think the genre as a whole is only strengthened by these types of works. But, my problem with these plot devices is that they become the entire plot. Sure, there is a story taking place underneath it all, but it’s being blurred over.

When people talk about Mirror Empire they talk about the unique matriarchal societies. When people talk about Ancillary Justice, they talk about the fact that Leckie only uses the feminine pronoun. What gets lost in all the hullaballoo is the story itself.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I tend to be a story guy. (Which, let me point out for those wondering, both of those books have great stories, but nobody ever talks about them. Only the gender issues.)

Now, back to Moxy Land and Lauren Beukes, who is one of new favorite sci-fi women authors precisely because she doesn’t let her story get bogged down by those facets of modern Sci-Fi which are quickly becoming tropes. There are compelling sexual orientations throughout the story, but they are flavoring which add a touch of realism, and not the point of the story itself.

The problem with Moxy Land, however, is that the story moves really slowly. Things are happening, but with so many point of view characters, it’s hard getting a feeling of urgency or forward progress. So the story kind of limps along until finishing with an anti-climatic fizzle. Oh, well. I chalk that up to Beukes being a newer author at the time of Moxy Land’s writing. I suspect she’s improved drastically in this area in her newer books which I’m eagerly looking forward too.

Pick up something by Lauren Beukes, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

4) A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle (For those who like old school, classic pre-teen sci-fi)

a wrinkle in time

Sad that it took 30 years for me to get around to reading this, but it did. I think I would’ve really liked this, had I read it when I was 14. This is one of those ultra-classics of Sci-Fi that I felt partly naked for not having read.

I’ll try not to judge it too harshly because it is a product of it’s time and I am not really it’s intended audience anymore. It’s a good book and I can see why it’s important to the genre as a whole. The writing is bland for the most part. The dialogue hokey. The plot can be distilled to “Love conquers all”, or “Individualism over conformity.” Take your pick.

This wasn’t my cup-of-tea, but hey, I’m more a coffee guy anyhow.

Oh, yeah. Here’s your cat photo of the week!

sleeping cat

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Parallel

Parallel gets its first review! Thanks, Ana! And for those interested in getting a copy of Parallel, follow the link in Ana’s review to my Newsletter and sign up, then within a couple hours a Griffon will deliver Parallel or Sins of Father (Your Choice!) to your little email boxy thing.

Ana's Lair

Parallel
by Anthony Vicino

Rating: 4.5/5

First of all, let me tell you about this author. Ever since I found his blog, One Lazy Robot, my days have been brighter and I follow it every chance I get.
Anthony’s writing style never ceases to amaze me. It makes me smile – who am I kidding, laugh out loud, really – and completely enthralls me. He is truly inspirational and seems to be an amazingly generous and kind person; at least that is the impression I got from the emails we exchanged. So I had a feeling I would like his work.

But enough gushing. I want to make it clear that me being a fan of Anthony’s multiple qualities and especially his ability to grip me with anything he writes well before I read any of his self-published work, that does not mean I cut him any slack when…

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Writing Workshop: First Drafts Stop For No Woman!

You all gave me some fantastic blogging ideas in the last post and I’m excited like a Kindergartner on the third day of school (once he’s gotten over his crippling fear of being away from Mommy, that is) to get to those topics. To give you all a glimpse of what is on the horizon in the weeks to come we’ll be chatting about body types in the media (specifically in comic books), how to organize/pre-plan your book, how to communicate with aliens, and how to write cyber-punk.

Today, however, we’re gonna get elbows deep into something that every writer, since the first Neanderthal picked up some charcoal and started scribbling Emu’s on his man-cave wall, has struggled with: Stopping.

writers block

Specifically the question posed to me was this: Do you ever feel like starting over from the beginning and diving into revisions with your manuscripts even when the story is not yet completed?

There are a Tonka truck’s worth of bad reasons to stop writing whilst in the midst of a first draft. Hell, you could probably fill up said child’s toy-truck with as many good reasons for stopping, too. But you shouldn’t.

You should never, ever, not even when you stub your toe and fall over, stop in the middle of a first draft. The temptation is there with a physicality that makes it almost impossible to ignore. But ignore it you shall, for if you stop a legion of bees shall descend from the heavens and fill your shoes with honey. Which sounds nice at first, but trust me, it gets old real quick.

Your brain is divided into two hemispheres, and it oversimplifies a *very* complicated subject to say that one side is responsible for *creativity* and the other for *logic*, but this is a simple blog, so that’s exactly what we’re gonna do. No, I’m just kidding, we’d never take a short-cut like that.

Or would we? See chart below.

brain hemispheres

Yes, okay, well…. I guess we do take shortcuts here, but that’s good for you ’cause it’s gonna save you all sorts of time.

Though it’s not so cut and dry as the picture would indicate, there is a lot of research to support the idea that the right hemisphere deals with language more fluidly/creatively than the left hemisphere which handles language in a more utilitarian fashion.

Anthony, what the hell does this have to do with writing that First Draft? I’m glad you asked, because honestly I’d forgotten what we we’re talking about.

Back on topic!

When you dive into a first draft it should be with that right hemisphere churning through the creative effluvia that oozes from your gray matter. You should pay very little attention to sentence structure, proper grammar, spelling, plot, internal consistency. None of this stuff matters. YET!

Your goal in that first draft is to just get the words out. Spray them onto the page and wherever they hit/stick is where they shall lay until you come around in the second draft with a scalpel and start getting surgical on that shit. But, until you hit the end of that first draft, you better not stop!

The reason goes back to our brain and the way it works. It’s completely normal, and a well documented phenomena, that, at around 30,000 words into a full length novel, the author, without fail, will have an epiphany in the form of a brilliant white light that may, or may not, be the result of an Angel’s divine intervention, to pass along the very important memo that your story sucks.

han solo

Unfortunately, it’s true. Your story probably does suck at this point. As the author you can step back and see more plot-holes than a Minnesota highway after the winter thaw. It’s inevitable that you’ll have the temptation to stop, go back, and fix it.

But that’s wrong, wrong, wrong for a number of very important reasons. First, from a conservation of energy standpoint, it’s a complete waste of time. Sure, you can go back and get that first half of the draft nice and spiffy, but then you still have the second half of the novel staring back at you like the dark eye of Sauron, and who the hell knows what’s going to happen when you dive into that guy’s pupil.

What I mean by that is this: even with a great outline, your story is going to take some organic twists and turns as your characters figure out how to go from point A to point B (or, if you have some really unruly characters like mine, they up and say “Forget this noise, I’m not going to A or B, I’m going to Disneyland!! Then you got a whole new problem, namely, humans running around in mice costumes. I ask you: How is Disneyland not the scariest place on Earth?)

So don’t waste your energies going back and fixing the first half of your story when you aren’t even sure it’s gonna jive with the second half. That’s the first really good reason to not go back and it pretty much boils down to me being lazy and not doing more work than needed.

zoidberg1

The second is this: when we hop out of first draft mode, we take our creativity cap off and put on our editor hat. We are switching sides of our brains as the task before us is of a completely different nature. Now we’re analyzing, cutting and pasting, making the language and words work the way they’re supposed to. Before, when we’re being creative, none of that shit matters. We’re throwing words at the wall and hoping they stick. During the second draft we go back to figure out which words are now worth keeping.

But here’s the trouble: the brain doesn’t switch from one side to the other at the drop of a dime. Most important, when the analytic portion of your brain takes over, it sours everything the creative side can put out. You become guarded and self-conscious about the words your putting down.

That, my friend, is a slippery slope. You can’t create your best works when you’re being guarded, self-conscious, or analytical. You need that free flowing nature child sort of creativity. The sort that doesn’t care if your words are actually making sense.

We’ll take our example from children here. They are wonderfully creative because they are unabashed. Their analytic skills are non-existent and as such their imaginations are extraordinary. As adults we don’t tap into that mind place so easily and alot of it has to do with the way creativity is ground out of us in middle school/high school/college. Conformity is the best way to survive the adolescent jungle of high-school. It’s not a good time to be weird, unfortunately.

But to create something beautiful and unique, you have to be weird. You have to be original. And you simply cannot do that when you’re being critical. So turn off that left hemisphere when you’re writing your first draft. Ignore it entirely and just leap into your first draft with reckless abandon. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to fix it later, but your first and most important task is to get the words out.

Until you’ve vomited all the words up and you’re left a dried up husk of a human, don’t stop.

Books of the Week 3/2-3/8

I apologize, the last few posts have been shamelessly plugging my own book, but I promise, that’s behind us….for now. Let’s get back to the basics and review a couple books I read last week.

But wait, hold up, before we do, I’ve got a little proposition for you. So, uh… why don’t you shuffle on over here. A little closer.

Right this way. Yes, that’s correct, into the dark alleyway.

alley way

Perfect.

You’re a brave, foolish, slightly unhinged soul for following strange men into darkened cyber-alleyways, but I would have it no other way. Now, the reason I beckoned you in here with my ululating siren’s call is ’cause I’d like your help in brainstorming some upcoming blog topics.

I’ve done a couple posts now on writing related topics such as pacing, and creating likable characters, and as a whole these posts have been very popular amongst the Lazy Robot crowd. Now, my question to you, dear reader, is what would you like to hear about next? I can ramble indefinitely on any old topic you throw my way, but hey, if we can make it educational, then all the better, right?

So, what sorts of things do you struggle with in your own writing process? This is your chance to voice yourself and I’ll do my darndest to help you. Though, fair warning, I personally would not take my own advice, so there’s that…

advice

Anyways, get down to the comments and let me know your ideas. I’d love to hear them!

Now, to the reviews!

Ubik – Philip K. Dick (For those who like mind-bendy, pseudo-time-travel stories)

ubik

You absolutely cannot discuss anything from PKD without using the word mind-bendy. It’s an inalienable right of the universe, or something. Seriously, try it.

See, told you so. *Obnoxiously sticks out tongue and waggles it suggestively* No, I’m sorry. Things got weird, and that’s not PKD’s fault. I apologize.

Anyways, Ubik is one of PKD’s most critically acclaimed novels and voted by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 novels ever written in the English language. Damn, if that isn’t high praise, then I don’t know what is.

I’ve read a fair amount of PKD, though I fully admit to having a long ways to go before completing his entire catalog (the dude wrote a ton of words, and I mean that as in a literal metric ton. You lay out all his words and I bet they weigh the same as an old school Volkswagon Beetle. But don’t hold me to that, ’cause I’m an American and haven’t a clue what a metric ton actually is).

metric

Now, in the grand pantheon of weighty PKD words, Ubik is surprisingly accessible to all sorts of science fiction readers whether they be greenhorns or seasoned comic-con pro’s. That’s not to say that it’s a simple read, however. True to PKD form the concepts in Ubik are out there and strength the elasticity of your mind. But that’s a good thing.

Your brain needs to step out of its comfort zone every now and then. If you don’t do an ample amount of stretching before hand, then a typical PKD novel can lead to a couple mental strains along the way. Ubik is sort of an exception.

The characters are interesting. The concept is simultaneously simple, and intriguing, from the get-go. And the world-building is robust.

I think the reason Ubik is a fairly easy PKD read is because it waits until about halfway through the novel to really snowball into full-fledged what-the-fuckery.

fuckery

BUT, by the time it does, you’re sort of ready for it.

Is this one of the best novels ever written in the English language? Pshaww… How can such a list even exist? Seems a silly subjective game, but if you ask me, when compared to other PKD novels such as A Scanner Darkly, The Man in the High Castle, Minority Report, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this doesn’t even rank.

Which shouldn’t reflect poorly on Ubik (a great, fun little read) but rather should point out what a brilliant writer PKD was (when he managed to keep his prose lucid enough for mass consumption.

Should you read Ubik? Yes, absolutely. Should it be your first PKD novel? Nah. Do yourself a favor and get Do Androids Dream… or the Man In the High Castle. But somewhere along the way you should definitely do yourself a favor and pick up Ubik if for no other reason than to tick it off your 100 Top English Novel’s Ever Written List. Don’t even pretend like you aren’t keeping track of them all.

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett (For those who want to read a dated hardboiled detective mystery)

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon was sort of the beginning of hardboiled detective mysteries. I’m not sure why I’d never read it before (I’m almost certain it was required reading in High School, but that just goes to show I don’t want to read anything ’cause I have to (what can I say, I’m a rebel)).

Anyways, I finally got around to it because a bunch of reviews for Time Heist kept mentioning my writing style having that dark, gritty noir’ish feel reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett. I couldn’t be sure if that was a compliment or not until I’d read the book, so I went ahead and picked it up a decade and a half after it was assigned to me in my Sophomore year English Class.

Consequently I wonder if this review could count towards the poor grade I most likely received in that class. Hm…might just get my GED after-all! Huzzah!

I like detective mysteries as much as the next guy and that’s what you get through and through with The Maltese Falcon. The writing is overall good, but it’s a product of its time (1929). Hammett obviously can’t be faulted for that because like it or not, we’re all products of our time, and I’m sure a century from now we’re all gonna look quaint and outdated, too.

back in my day

But that’s the problem with The Maltese Falcon–it’s really out of date. The stakes, which pretty much boil down to a golden bird, aren’t really all that high by today’s standards. Unfortunately this makes it difficult to care much about what’s happening in the story. It’s just not gripping.

Though, let me hop on the other side of the argument real quick and say that’s a lousy reason to judge a book. So, with that in mind, I’m gonna go ahead and say that this was actually a pretty good book. A  bit boring at times, which is purely a reflection of the times and not on the story itself.

If you’ve never read it, and you’re a fan of detective mysteries, then you should probably go ahead and pick it up for no other reason than it’s a classic. That’s not always a good reason for doing something. *Lord knows when The Maltese Falcon was handed to me in High School it certainly wasn’t a good enough reason*. But it’s the only one I can offer.

Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan (For those who like bad-ass science fiction with compelling world building, gritty writing, and a compelling storyline)

altered carbon

Altered Carbon was Richard K. Morgan’s debut novel back in 2002 and holy-butter-slathered-batman, IT IS AMAZING! I loved this book in a way I haven’t loved many books recently (no, not like that, you perv. Get your mind out of the gutter.)

What you get in Altered Carbon is a fascinating glimpse of the future where humans have settled the outer reaches of space and, along the way, implanted themselves with chips that save and load their consciousness so that when they *die* they can be reloaded into a new body, or what they affectionately refer to as sleeves.

There are some pretty neat cultural ramifications on this account because with enough money you can live forever, hopping from sleeve to sleeve. If you’re poor, well, you go on the stack until somebody with money buys you out, or they rent your body.

this space for rent

Our protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, was an Envoy (a super-soldier with some gnarly psychological damage that makes him a severely loose cannon). He’s no longer an Envoy (ya know, cause you can only play the loose cannon so long before you blow up something, or somebody, very important). So now, Takeshi is in prison, which means his mind is put into a virtual environment until he either works off his prison sentence, or until somebody buys his freedom in exchange for his services.

Back on Earth, that’s precisely what happens. Somebody, a rich old dude, needs Takeshi to investigate his murder which the police have dubbed a suicide. Now, this an interesting launching point because this rich dude’s mind has already been uploaded into a new body, but he doesn’t remember the events surrounding his death. Did he kill himself? Or was he murdered?

That’s the central question of the story and it gets Takeshi into all sorts of hijinks which he solves with no shortage of action in the way of high tech weaponry.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for gritty cyberpunk action adventure. But there is so much more to Altered Carbon, because the world building goes deep and deals with all the ramifications of these technologies on the resulting society. When done right, that’s science fiction at it’s best. How will the technologies of tomorrow shape the society of tomorrow?

If your science fiction story doesn’t bother with that question, then you’re doing it wrong.

you're doing it wrong

But Altered Carbon is doing it so right it hurts. Lucky for me, Altered Carbon is only book one in a series of three following Takeshi Kovacs. I’ll report back on the rest of the series, but let me just say, if this is a genre you tend to you enjoy, you will *love* Altered Carbon.

If you don’t, then there is something very wrong with you. No, I’m just kidding. You’re perfect and you smell very nice.

Okay, that’s a wrap. Remember our conversation at the beginning of this blog post where I solicited you for topic ideas? Good, now get down to the comments and give me all your creativity.

Tome Tender: Time Heist Review

The reviews for Time Heist have been pouring in over the last few days and my cheeks are just blushing with all the positive feedback. As a writer you try not to pay too much attention to reviews (despite how important they are) for fear that negative feedback will suck out your soul like a fruit bat going to town on a mango. Getting too wrapped up in the reviews can pull you away from your main focus (writing badass awesome stories), but when the good reviews come in, you should take a second to smell the roses, let its heady scent wash over whilst providing the sort of high that is illegal in the majority of states, and then get back to work.

Dianne, from Tome Tender, gave just such a review. Click the banner below to stop over and take a look.

tome tender

If, by chance, that gets you excited to read Time Heist (and you have the patience to wait), Dianne will be doing a giveaway through her site for a couple free copies of Tom Mandel’s story in the coming weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

Tome Tender Review

time heist

My rating: 4.5 stars

Series: Firstborn Saga – Book 1
Publication Date: December 1, 2014
Publisher: One Lazy Robot
ISBN: 0692336990
Genre: Scifi Detective Thriller
Print Length: 409 pages
Available from: Amazon

Time Heist (Firstborn Saga #1)My Review
Time Heist by Anthony Vicino

Part science fiction, part dark mystery/thriller, Time Heist by Anthony Vicino is a gritty trip through a world where one’s life on Earth has been calibrated by the technology of the government. One broken man, whose time can now be measured in hours may unknowingly hold secrets that could cause numerous deaths, but lead to uncovering the reality of the world and its “people.”

Our narrator, Tom Handel is a seasoned cop, who now lives in the hell of his past memories, and hating every day he wakes up alive. Malcolm is The Joker to Tom’s Batman, a nemesis who often gets the last laugh. But Malcolm is back, a higher form of intelligence, thanks to technology, Nanobots and his hatred for Tom. Able to manipulate one’s life line, Malcolm begins a game of hide, seek and destroy with Tom as he is unlucky target. With the aid of his law enforcement past, Tom leaves the seedy life he has been living and enters into a virtual and mental game of death in the race against his own clock. He is determined to take Malcolm with him when the clock strikes zero, or at least have all of the missing answers to questions he has beaten himself with for years. Will there be a clash of the Nano titans or is Tom so out of his element that when sucker punched with the truth, even death can’t come soon enough?

Picture a dark and stormy night; add the man in the shadows, the click of feet on pavement, a trench coat and this is the feeling of Time Heist. Now stir in high tech science fiction, fast-forward to a bleak future where no one remains unaltered and entering “the stream” of public consciousness can empower one with endless knowledge and strength, are you with me? Kick in dark grit, dark humor and a snarky hero who is far from perfect, out of the loop, but obsessed with one last mission and you are totally ensconced in Anthony Vicino’s world and you have a heaping helping of what type of read Time Heist is.

Mr. Vicino has pulled me out of reality and set me down in a world where I need to hit the ground running, leap buildings and watch the agony of the past come back in spades. There is no knight in shining armor, just as there is no back knight, but there is action, fantasy, great dialogue and fantastic trip through the mind of a man in his last hours, attempting to save his soul. But is her ready for the truth? Will it make a difference or will he learn that everyone is a pawn in a much larger chess game?

I need to add, when you get to those final words, do NOT stop, I was equally entertained by the author’s notes at the end, not one to spare words, Anthony Vicino rides his talent beyond the finish line with attitude and humor.

I received this copy from Anthony Vicino in exchange for my honest review.

Thanks again to Dianne for the blush worthy review. If you’ve never been there, you should check out the Tome Tender for insight into all sorts of great books. The reviews are well-written and top notch! CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT TOME TENDER!

Lego Back to the Future!!

I’m not gonna put too much effort into this blogpost seeing as how it’s a lazy Sunday morning and I’m still wearing sweatpants. But that’s okay, ’cause Back to the Future in Lego form pretty much takes care of itself. Sit back and relax.

Annual Book Review; Time Heist

Thanks to Dr. Rupert Harker for taking the time to read and review Time Heist!

Also, there’s a better than 12 percent chance that I am indeed Morgan from Chuck. Just saying.

Paranorensics - where forensics goes bump in the night

Time HeistI tend to go through phases of reading, but over the last year or so, my interest in reading has waned dramatically. It was therefore something of an impulse purchase for me to download Time Heist by Anthony Vicino from Amazon;

Click on the book cover to go to the amazon.co.uk link—–>

I bought this book for three reasons.

1 I like the title. “Time Heist” conjures up images of masked robbers with plasma rifles kicking in the doors of some futuristic bank vault.

Anthony Vicino2 I like the cover – simple, but evocative. Everything I have read about self-publishing says that readers do judge a book by its cover, and I’m no exception.

3 Anthony’s avatar reminds me of Morgan Grimes from the TV series, “Chuck.”

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Writing Workshop: Pacing Your Story!

A lot goes into writing a good story, unless somehow you’ve made BFF’s with a Muse. If that’s the case you don’t need me, and you should go frolicking through fields of daisies, jerk. For the rest of us, there are a lot of aspects of good storytelling that require conscious attention.

These range from having good mechanics (ie: knowing how to put together a sentence that sounds good, or atleast intelligible), to a strong plot (ie: interesting shit keeps happening!), to correct pacing (ie: your character doesn’t spend the first three quarters of the book splayed out on his back whilst sexy servants feed him grapes, and the last quarter of the book blowing up the moon.)

anchorman

Today, we’re gonna chat about pacing, because it’s one of those elements of storytelling that is a slippery bastard to nail down. As the writer, pacing can be one of the hardest things to keep track of. Which makes sense when you consider how much time you spend inside the story world. After awhile things inevitably resemble an unintelligible gaggle of words.

Are these moving too quickly? Are they moving too slowly? Is it moving at all?

Beta-readers are a great resource in this department. They come at the story with fresh eyes and can tell you when things are dragging and when they are moving too quickly. But maybe you don’t have a stable of virulent beta-readers on hand?

Well, bummer. You’re screwed. Sorry, Holmes.

No, I’m just kidding. There’s plenty you can do on your own. In particular I’m gonna share a little exercise I go through with my stories to make sure they are moving at a reasonable pace.

Here’s what you do:

First, get a piece of paper and write down every scene in chronological order. We aren’t talking about chapters, because oftentimes you’ll have multiple scenes in a single chapter. So go through and pinpoint all the different interactions your characters have whether they be big or small, climactic or anticlimactic.

In Time Heist I tended towards shorter chapters so while there are 39 chapters, there were only 45 different scenes. That’s a stylistic choice I made because shorter chapters, especially within the context of a thriller, make the book feel like it’s moving along at a quicker pace. By comparison, Mind Breach, the sequel to Time Heist (which has 4 point of view characters) has closer to 50 chapters and well over 100 different scenes. So your mileage is going to vary on this one.

Now, once you have your scene list, you’re gonna go through and assign an excitement rating somewhere between 1 and 10. 1 being very boring, as in your character is waking up from a nap. 10 being “holy balls my cat is on fire!” exciting.

batmanfunny

“I just woke up from a nap and my cat is on fire!”

Excitement in this context could mean a whole bunch of things. Your main character finding out his parents are getting a divorce will rate differently on the scale based on the kid. The kids growing up in an uber-religious household where he’s been raised to view divorce as a sin is going to react slightly differently from the hippy love child who’s parents only got married for the tax breaks.

It all depends. Conversely, not all physical peril is equal. Your average soccer-dad is going to respond to a bad automobile accident differently than your hardened black-ops assassin woman with a machine-gun leg.

badass woman

I literally can’t believe I found a woman with a machine gun leg. Go home internet, you’re drunk!

So go through your tale and figure out where each scene ranks. Once you have this all figured out, you’re gonna get a different sheet of paper and graph it out.

graph paper

Wait…. did he say, graph it out? That sounds an awful lot like math. I don’t like math. Can we make glittery unicorns instead?

Yes. Yes, we can. But later. For now, we’re graphing, baby!

On the left side of your paper create a vertical line and then break it up into 10 equally spaced lines. Then go through your scene list and plot those points out on the graph in chronological order. When you’re done, it should look something like this.

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If you did it right, you should see a series of peaks and valleys. If you’re story is one continuous line from left to right, then that means nothing is happening in your story. It’s flatlined. It’s dead. Sorry, bro. We did everything we could to resuscitate it, but some things you just have to let go.

But that’s not you. Your story goes places and therefore it bobs and weaves like a mongoose on Adderall.

Well, that’s not so much bobbing and weaving as it is just going in circles…which you don’t necessarily want your story to do….but…

*look a distraction!*

Back on topic. Boom. Okay, so up above I outlined three of my books in the Firstborn Saga: Time Heist, Infinity Lost, and Mind Breach. Each story is designed to do something different and so each graph is gonna look slightly differently, but what you should, ideally, see are consistent peaks following by consistent valleys. The peaks represent the climactic moments followed by a period of “calm” where less exciting things happen.

These undulations are important for a number of reasons. Think of it like a rollercoaster ride at Disney World.There is the slow build at the beginning which gives you plenty of time to contemplate how poor a decision you’ve made and how you’re likely to die clutching the hairy arm of the Armenian man wedged in beside you. Then there’s the exciting plunge, a few hair pin turns, a loopdeloop if you’re doing things correctly, and then there’s usually a boring section where you can gather your breath for one final push of embarrassing pre-teen screaming.

That’s what you want from your story. Now, it doesn’t always work like that. Let’s take a look at Time Heist which, right out of the gate, I’ll tell you packs an almost unhealthy amount of action between its pages.

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Now, one of the problems with the pacing of Time Heist is that it spends alot of time up there near 10 for climactic moments. Tom Mandel is constantly faced with near death experiences that frequently kill him. That’s the nature of the story I was trying to tell and the world I was building, so I rightly accept the critiques that suggest there is too much action. But that was unavoidable, and I knew it from the beginning. Time Heist is a story with a particular market that will love it, others will be put off by it. That’s okay, you can’t please everybody and it helps to know that at the onset of any artistic endeavor.

cant please

A couple things I would have done differently? I would have added a few scenes between the climactic moments. This would have stretched the story, giving the reader more breathing room between climactic happenings, and given them an opportunity to reflect on the impending doom.

Also, here’s an important take-away from the Time Heist graph: a scene that stays up at 10 for too long will become tiring, overwhelming, and the reader will eventually lose interest. You can only throw so much at your main character at once. Whoops. I broke that one in spades.

Let’s move on to the next story of the lot, Infinity Lost, which serves as a pseudo-prequel to Time Heist. It’s meant to be read after Time Heist, but it takes place hundreds of years before, so that’ll give you a bit of framework.

20150305_115854

Infinity Lost is a very different sort of story than Time Heist. There is very little action and the climactic moments don’t revolve so much around physical peril as they do emotional turmoil. In a lot of ways Infinity Lost is a character study.

Looking at these graphs is interesting because with a little practice you can see where your story needs a healthy dose of stimulants, or where you need to apply a judicious amount of horse tranquilizer. Time Heist could have used a little tranq’ing. Infinity Lost could use a little perking up, maybe a pot of coffee or something.

coffee

For instance, right at the beginning of the story there is a big spike (which delineates the stories inciting event, this is the moment that puts our main character into motion (since this is a novella, it comes really early on. We don’t have time for fooling around, ya know?)), but immediately following that spike there is a lull. That scene needs to be perked up a bit, the stakes need to be raised. Not a ton but a drop off that large is jarring.

The transition between Act 1 and Act 2 is a bit peculiar because the climactic moment at the end of Act 1 is less climactic than the moment at the beginning of Act 2. This might need some adjusting, or it might be alright. Won’t know til I get back in there and do some rooting around, but it’s something to be mindful of.

What definitely needs some overhauling is that fat, sagging gut in the middle of Act 2. The second Act is a notorious slaggard. It’s the longest of all the Acts and by extension tends to get a bit sluggish. From the looks of it, this is precisely what happens in Infinity Lost. So, easiest fix is to go find those scenes right in the middle of Act 2 and spruce them up.

Raise the stakes, so to speak. This will keep the reader engaged through the long, boring, death valley drive that is the second Act of most stories.

bored cat

A quick comment on that big dip you see in Act 3. That’s what’s called the denouement. It’s the break that comes after the climax, the moment where everything returns to normal, and we conclude on a happy note. I don’t end on a happy note, because this is part of a series, so at the end it starts building again to urge the reader forward into the next book, Mind Breach.

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As Infinity Lost is different from Time Heist, Mind Breach is different from the previous two. It follows from the POV of 4 characters, whereas Time Heist has 1, and Infinity Lost as 2. Mind Breach, in terms of action, is closer related to Time Heist, but it’s not the non-stop thrill ride that is Time Heist. That’s because the middle book in a series sort of fills the role of a second Act. This is where a lot of the world building takes place, and the finagling of characters and scenes to get everybody poised and ready for a climactic finish in the finale.

Mind Breach, of the three stories, is probably the best paced so far. It needs only a little bit of work at the end of Act 2 to give a more climactic thrust into the conclusion of the tale. But for the most part there is a good build in Act 1, continuous engagement through Act 2, and a nice thick climax in Act 3.

The reason Mind Breach appears to have better pacing is on account of the multiple POV’s. I’m able to break up climactic scenes for one character by hopping to a different character in the next chapter. Flip flopping like this is nice because it gives the reader a nice little mental break and it lets me, as the author, do some interesting things from a storytelling mechanics point of view. This wasn’t possible in Time Heist where there was only a single first person POV. Did the story suffer on account of that? Meh, perhaps. But what can ya do?

Alright, so your homework is to plot out your work in progress and put it down in the comments section so that we can all see it and brainstorm it together.

This was a lot of words. If you made it this far, you deserve a treat, so here’s a picture of Gilgamesh, the cat who thought he could fly, but couldn’t.

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Don’t worry, he’s not dead…just lazy.

Nightly Services

I took a short morning break from working on Mind Breach to churn out a little vignette for you guys. It’s short, and rough (no proofreading or spell-check for this guy!), but I thought I’d share it to give an inside look into my first-draft process.

First drafts aren’t always coherent, and rarely any good, but that’s okay. They’re the base, the mold you’ll be working from. Whittling away at the fat and clunky passages until you have something glittering and shiny worth looking at.

This passage was born out of an interesting play on words I thought up the other day. Can’t share that play here without giving away the story, but it’s an interesting exercise to take a simple sentence and construct a story around it. I challenge you to try it and share the results in the comments section.

Nightly Services

Joe ain’t a saint, but he’s a good man. He takes my confession and offers penance. It’s the same as every other night, stretching as far back as I can remember anymore. My sins are simple, but persistent. I get to him with hands already shaking. White knuckles closed tight, half moon circles gouged into my palms. Oily beads of sweat wreaking of despair trace highways through the dirt caked to my cheeks.

Joe stares down at me with stone hard eyes, his pupils like filthy black ingots that’ve been dragged through as many gutters as mine. There’s no judgment in those eyes.

The world judders as my own pupils track on the larger man towering over me. His face sags, sallow cheeks refuse to hang tight to the weary bones beneath as though his body bears the weight of countless confessions from men too weak to carry their own sins.

Joe ain’t a saint, but he’s a good man. He can’t absolve my sins, but that’s not why I come. He can help me forget.

For a man like me, forgetting is the best you can ask for.

In a darkened corner of this neon cathedral, men like me sit at red vinyl pews cracked with age and use, saying prayer to the blood of our lord. Their prayers go unanswered; God stopped coming here along time ago.

So we go to Joe. Our priest upon who’s shoulders we can escape this purgatory, if only until the sun rises.

The choir leans against a wall coated like a jigsaw puzzle in strips of yellow wallpaper. It belts a tune through tired speakers, an unintelligible moaning that fits the general mood of this place. Indecipherable words mingle with a discordant melody, saturating the air and pushing away the silence.

That’s good.

Red lights flicker behind the choir’s fogged glass. Worn buttons on the front give the illusion of choice, but nobody here has a choice. We’re here ’cause we have to be. Compelled by a demon deep within, forcing us back here night after night. Driving our irredeemable souls ever onward to a place God don’t even look anymore.

A broomstick of a woman sits in a broken wooden throne, leaning her head against the choir. Her eyes twitch beneath closed eyelids; drool trails from her mouth before pooling in her lap. If anybody notices, nobody cares. Shoulder length hair dyed red like the fires of hell is plastered to one side of her face. A hook nose bent twenty degrees in the wrong direction might have been beautiful once.

She’s the closest thing to an angel we got around here. If given the chance she’ll pickpocket your heart. But if you’re hanging around here, there’s probably not much in there to steal anyhow.

Joe places a fogged glass full of clear liquid on the altar before me. The world narrows, drawing tight in around the corners. My heart drags itself along to a ragged cadence.

The sour odor of sweat dripping off my temple reaches my nose. It mingles with the room’s heat, pressing down on me with an almost too real weight.

I pry my fingers open and take the glass between two shaking hands. Cupping the chalice of my lord, I stare down into a fluid that has the power to exchange fear for courage.

A band-aid for my soul.

I’ll have to rip it off in the morning, but dawn is a long ways away. Right now, bathed in the fluorescent glow of worn neon lights flickering their gaudy beacon of hope, I can’t be bothered to care about morning.

For now, I have sins to drown.

“Lord have mercy,” I whisper into the rim of my glass. He won’t, but it don’t hurt to ask.

I drain it in a single swallow. It burns on the way down, a purifying fire of absolution. This is my penance.

There’s another prayer on the altar waiting for my lips before the first is even in my belly.

Joe ain’t a saint, but he’s a good man.

Reviewing Made Easy!

I was having a conversation with Ana, a fellow reviewer with a blog HERE! about the nature of reviewing. Recently I’ve been getting a blush worthy amount of attention for my reviews, which is fantastic, but as I was telling my lady-friend, Katherine, I never set out to be a reviewer. The intention behind this blog was to create a conduit through which I could interact with my readers. That my reviews have garnered more attention than my published works is ironic, but hey, you gotta start somewhere!

Anyways, my conversation with Ana got me thinking about reviewing in a broader sense and what it means to write good reviews. I have a bathrobe and a pointy hat, but I’m not a wizard, so I can’t provide any magic answers. Or am I?

wizard

Are you sure? I have a pointy hat.

What I can do, however, is provide some little tips and tricks into my reviewing process. Some of these are really obvious, some of them maybe not so much. Will these work for you? Boy howdy, I don’t know. Reviewing is like writing a story, there is no right way, just the way that works for you.

So here’s some food for thought when you’re writing your next review, blog post, short story, love letter, or eviction notice.

1) Make your words do more.

I can be notoriously long winded. I type as fast as I speak, so if I’m not careful I end up with a deluge of words on the page. This is actually a common problem for most authors. A good rule of thumb is that the difference between your first draft and final draft should be -10%. Meaning cut out 10% of the unnecessary words. This gets rid of fluff and filler which have no nutritional value anyhow. They’re the literary version of popcorn: eating more doesn’t necessarily make you feel fuller, so cut them out.

What do I mean by this? Well, I went to my WordPress Reader, found a new blog post at random and took the first two sentences which read:

“I realize this topic is as incredibly deep and complex as it is general. I will start this by stating that I am not in robotics nor do I work with artificial intelligence.”

After a little jazzercising, here’s the passage minus the fluff:

This topic is as incredibly deep and complex as it is general. Now, I don’t work with robots or artificial intelligences, but…”

The first passage has 33 words. The second only has 22. That’s cutting well more than 10%, but hey, I like using my Fiskers! The substance of the draft remains, but it’s punchier and more succinct. Is it better? Hell if I know, but the point is it’s less likely to create ‘Reader Fatigue’ (a new disease I just invented). Reader Fatigue occurs when Mrs. Reader is subjected to too many unnecessary words and starts cognitively shutting down. Soon, she’ll start skimming, and all those hard fought words you bled to get on the page will be worthless.

hemingway

Side-note: Your blood is important, keep it inside you.

Another snazzy way to make your lazy words do more is to make them self-referential. Simple things like referencing earlier portions of a work give the reader a nostalgic sensation. It makes them feel as though they are on the inside of an inside joke.

This doesn’t mean be heavy-handed with your references: subtlety goes a long way. Then again I’m just a guy wearing a bathrobe and a pointy hat, so what do I know?

gandalf1

Yes?

2) Review The Stuff You Hate

It will happen, guaranteed that you will come across a work that you simply despise. As a reviewer you got some choices to make. On the one hand, nobody is holding a pair of safety scissors to your hair and forcing you to write a review. Momma always said, “If you aint got nothing nice to say, don’t not say nuttin’ at all.” Momma, with all her double and triple negatives, was a hard woman to understand.

But that doesn’t work for me. It’s a cop out. If you’re doing it right, people come to read your reviews to get your opinion, your likes and dislikes. If you only review the works you like, then the reader only gets half the story, half your opinion. Your short-changing them.

Some of the most valuable feedback is negative. Constructive negativity is a formidable force for good.

3) But Don’t Be A Dick!

Dissecting other people’s work makes you feel like a real jerk, especially when you have nothing positive to say. But hey, as a Reviewer that’s your job. As an Author it’s your job to take the criticism as best you can and keep trucking.

Reviewer and Author are not enemies. Don’t go out of your way to make somebody feel bad for their word-baby, that just makes you a bully.

Here’s a couple things I do to blunt the edge on my words when I don’t want to appear ‘ranty’.

First, use a compliment sandwich. The idea is that you lead with something nice, then say something mean, and finish with something nice again.

For instance, in my recent Jupiter Ascending review the general structure looked something like this:

I was really looking forward to the movie based on the trailer. It looked fantastic and I was very excited. Unfortunately, it sucked. Here’s why. But ya know what, that’s okay, ’cause the visual effects were cool with some neat action sequences so it wasn’t a complete waste of my money. I just recommend not wasting any of your own money.

That’s the watered down version, but you get the idea. This softens the blow by displaying a certain amount of objectivity. If you simply eviscerate a book or movie, then people are likely to think you are just bitter. If you want them to take you seriously, you have to soften the blow, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still throw the punch.

The second technique I use, and this doesn’t work for everybody, is to throw in a fair amount of self-deprecating humor. Making fun of yourself does a number of things: it invites the audience to not take you so seriously, while also diffusing any tension accumulated over the course of a particularly scathing review.

Self-Deprecating humor is tricky, though. If done incorrectly it comes off obnoxious and self-serving. Almost as if the writer is begging for somebody to come and say, “Oh no, that’s not true. That’s a lovely robe, and that pointy hat is very wizardly.”

not a wizard

yes i am

This won’t work for everybody, but it works for me because it stays true to my internal voice. I’m not putting on an ‘act’ so to speak, but I am making a conscious effort to highlight parts of my personality I want the reader to engage with.

4) Stay True To You

Whether you are a reviewer, or author, if done correctly, people are coming to hear *your* opinion or story or voice. People don’t pick up Stephen King books anymore, read the blurb, and then debate whether or not they think they will like the story. If they like King, they are probably going to like the story regardless of what its about.

This happens because King has a distinctive voice that the reader knows they’ll like. It’s the same with reviewing. People are coming to hear *you*, so don’t be something you’re not. Don’t try and emulate King. Nobody wants a King copy-cat. If they want to read a King’esque story, they’ll read King.

Give the audience something only you can provide. Your personality, marred and scarred with all sorts of quirks and foibles, is unique. So use it. This will take some thought on your part as you consider what side of yourself you want to present. Do you want to be ultra-serious with laser like directness, or more loosey-goosey with only cursory attention to detail?

jack black

That’s your choice and nobody can make it for you.

But here’s something to consider: Don’t try and be something you’re not. Besides being exhausting and impractical in the long run, readers will see through it. Use your natural strengths and weaknesses as an asset because only you, dear reader, have the peculiar mix of characteristics that makes you so gosh-darn irresistibly weird.

Anthony