Writing Beginnings That Don’t Suck (Writing Workshop)

Every great journey begins with a single step forward. Where your story is concerned, that first step is absolutely, without question, the most important one. Doesn’t matter how fantastic the rest of the book is, if the first few sentences don’t compel the reader into the next paragraph, and that paragraph doesn’t force them to finish the first chapter, then you’re sunk right out the gate.

Your opening line is the front line. It’s your readers first interaction with the story and everything, and I do mean everything, depends on those first few lines doing their job.

But it’s not just a matter of starting the story with whizz-bang-boom in the first few sentences and then resting on your laurels. That next paragraph has to latch onto your reader by the scruff of the neck like a rabid Daschund. The paragraph after that must add another meanie-weenie dog. The one after that? You guessed it. Another ferocious ankle biting fur-ball.

daschund

Ferocious and Delicious.

The first chapter of your story needs to heap puppy after puppy on the reader until they are crushed beneath the dog pile and couldn’t walk away even if they wanted to.

When it comes to opening your story, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and we’re playing for keeps. By the way, what’s up with all these dog metaphors? Hm… we’ll get to the bottom of that later, for now, let’s focus on what really matters: Writing a Stellar Opening! Or, barring a stellar opening, let’s write something that doesn’t completely suck.

Onwards and upwards as they say!

Okay, so now we grasp the importance of a great opening, but what does that even mean? What does a great opening look like?

When done properly, we barely notice a great opening. You know why? Because we are so enthralled that we don’t even stop to consider the fact that we’ve fallen headfirst into this majestic world of centaurs and jello fueled jetpacks until we come up for our first huge mouthful of air which, depending on how strong your opening is, could be hours later.

So what does a good opening need? I’m glad you asked, please refer to the handy-dandy list I’ve compiled down below:

What Every Good Beginning Needs

1) Hook the Reader

Hooking the reader can be done in all sorts of ways. Maybe there’s something really compelling about your character. Does he/she have a unique voice? A weird perspective on the world that immediately clashes with our own? If you’re from a more literary bent, then the language itself could be the hook. Read some Patrick Rothfuss and right off the bat you’re hooked by the sheer beauty of language.

Quick note: Not everybody can pull off this sort of opening. Nine times out of ten I’d say people fail because they come off as flowery and pompous. You don’t want to be that guy, so tread carefully.
Inevitably, whether you have a compelling character or beautiful language, the beginning comes down to the hook. The reason why the reader should invest their time in your story.

Most books do this with a question. Will Mary figure out who put the Butcher’s head in her freezer? Will she figure out whether or not she thinks it’s kind of sweet and romantic or a little too forward and a bit creepy?

Most books get put down because the reader is bored. They aren’t compelled forward; they aren’t hooked. If that happens, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

2) Establish Bond With Lead Character

Right off the bat we want to know who’s skin we’re going to be living inside for the next couple hundred pages. Introduce us to your lead character and then make us feel something for her. Do it quick, you’ve only got a hundred or so words to really grab me and yank me in. Don’t waste time.

Refer to the post Cheating Your Way to Likable Characters for ways to establish this bond. Here’s a quick list for you lazy SOB’s out there.

Jeopardy

Hardship

Underdog

Vulnerability

Likability

Inner Conflict

Don’t know what any of that means? Too bad, go read that other post.

3) Present the Story-world

This doesn’t mean info-dump or take a paragraph to describe the skyline and the underlying political system governing your little world. In the beginning every word counts double, so figure out ways to introduce the story-wono dumpingrld without taking a step sideways to draw attention to the fact that you’re introducing us to the story-world.

I’ve done other post on exposition and infodumping (CLICK HERE and I’ll prove it), but here’s the nitty gritty to help you navigate the treacherous waters of your beginning.

Exposition

Act First, Explain Later: I’m not going to stop and explain why Daryl is about to shoot Wesley in the kneecap. I’m gonna do it, and you’re gonna trust that it’ll all make sense in the near future.

Comprende? Bueno. Now get over here Wes, Daryl’s got something for you.

Iceberg Explanation: Give us only 20 percent of what you think we need. Leave the rest underwater.
Information Inside Confrontation: Whenever possible use confrontation, or interaction with another human, to sprinkle information and propel the story forward.

Example:

/scene/

The gun bucked in Daryl’s hand harder than he expected. “That’s for fucking my wife.”

Wesley whimpered on the blistering plasticene sidewalk, clutching his gut. “I didn’t—”

Daryl didn’t have time for more lies. He took aim at the space between Wesley’s eyes and fired a second time.

/scene/

Notice a couple things. We jump straight into the action without introductions or back-story. Daryl thinks Wes slept with his wife, so there’s his motivation conveniently dispensed in the form of dialogue rather than some kind of internal monologue.

Is Daryl justified in his actions or is he a jealous asshole? Don’t know. Is he even our point-of-view character? Maybe. Maybe not.

For instance, perhaps he has his wife tied up in the back of the car and he’s gonna kill her next. Maybe she’s our main character and has to get away from her insane husband. Then again, maybe we find out she’s been cheating on him for decades and Daryl just learned none of his three children are actually his. Now we can at least sympathize with his anger.

Either way, at this point, we don’t know, but hopefully we’re intrigued enough to find out.

What’s a plasticene sidewalk by the way? Shrug. Not a clue. That’s just a bit of world building to give you an idea that this storyworld isn’t exactly like our own world.

Also, that very first sentence “the gun bucked harder than expected” gives us some idea that Daryl probably hasn’t fired very many guns in his lifetime. So where did he get this weapon? Did he buy it from a crack addict on the corner of 28th and MLK? Possibly.

I guess we’ll just have to read on to find out, huh?

4) Establish Tone

The above example is sort of morbid, huh? It has the sort of grit that would play well in a detective noir or mystery/thriller piece. Which is going to be awfully disappointing if the story you’re telling is supposed to be humorous or a romantic comedy. You need to set the mood immediately, give the readers no doubt as to what sort of story they are reading.

Seriously, don’t get cute and write a super-gnarly murder scene only to undo it at the end of the chapter with the old:

“Joe and Beth sat on the couch as the movie ended, wide eyed and traumatized. Nobody said a word. Perhaps Die Hardest: Oblivion Now wasn’t a good first date movie choice, Joe reflected.”

morgan

Now, the example from above is gritty, but we could easily tone it down into something more lighthearted with a bit of work.

Example:

/scene/

The gun bucked clean out of Daryl’s hand and landed in a puddle of rain water. Daryl stooped over to retrieve the weapon. “That’s for sleeping with my wife, douche-nozzel.”

“What the he–?” Wesley whimpered.

Daryl took aim at the space between Wesley’s eyes, compensated for the anticipated recoil, and fired a second time.

The bean-bag round glanced off Wesley’s kneecap.

/scene/

Is this funny? Probably not. I’m not good at comedy, but the take-away is that it sets an entirely different tone from the first example. The action is pretty much the same but instead of murdering Wesley, Daryl has resolved to use a bean-bag gun. A weapon he is clearly not familiar with.
The important thing is that right out of the gate, with both of the examples, you more or less know the sort of story you’re in for.

5) Compel The Reader To Move Forward

Never give the reader a reason to put your story down. Make it difficult for them to say, “That’s enough for tonight”, by always compelling them to move forward. This means asking a variety of big questions and little questions.

In the examples with Wesley and Daryl we have a couple questions revolving around what brought the two men to that place in their lives, and what’s going to happen next. But you can only string action along for so long before it becomes wearisome. Daryl can’t just sit there shooting Wes in the kneecaps all day long.

No matter how beautifully it’s written, eventually we’ll get bored.

That’s when you as the writer need to…

6) Introduce Opposition

Oh, would you look at that, what a conveniently placed talking point.

The beginning of your story needs to set the stage for the larger conflicts to play out.

How do we do that?

Well, start putting the protagonist in situations beyond his/her control. Introducing us to their nemesis might be a bit premature, because we haven’t really gotten to sympathize with our Lead yet, but we can start making their life suck.

For instance, in that first example we don’t really know what happened in the moments leading up to Daryl shooting Wes. Perhaps Wes was actually the one who tracked down Daryl with the intent of killing him so Wes could marry his wife? There was a struggle for the gun and Daryl came out on top and took revenge. Now, let’s say a patrolling robo-cop-dog has heard the gunshots and is going to arrest Daryl.

robodog

Seriously, what’s up with all the dog references in this post?

What does Daryl do? Run or stay?

Questions have been asked, and now our MC has some decisions to make.

On the other hand, if this is the lighthearted comedic romp with bean-bag guns and the like then perhaps Wes is actually Daryl’s boss and while he isn’t going to press charges (mostly on account of the fact that he’s planning on marrying Daryl’s wife following their soon-to-be divorce), he is most definitely going to fire Daryl.

Now Daryl’s losing his wife and job, but he got to shoot his asshole boss with a bean-bag gun, so that’s cool. What’s he going to do now?

Questions and decisions.

This is getting on the long side, so let’s wrap it up with a quick list of things not to do in your beginning.

NO:
-excessive description
-backwards glancing: ie: flashbacks or navel gazing.
-lack of threat. <—No lack of threat? That’s a weird sentence, but you’re a smart person, I’m sure you’ll figure out. Right? Right.

And those, folks, in a really wordy nutshell, are the key elements to a really good beginning. In the future we’ll talk more about this because it’s just so damn important, but for now I want ya’ll to boogie on down to the comments and tell me what some of your favorite opening lines/chapters are, and why.

Go on, butt-scoot on out of here.

Dog Reference Quota: Exceeded

Dog Reference Quota: Exceeded

Time Heist and Parallel Get Reviewed!

I don’t like using the One Lazy Robot blog to tout my own books too much, but every now and then I get a review that makes me smile and I have the irresistible urge to share with ya’ll. This week I had two such reviews.

First came a review for Parallel from loyal reader, and author of the Agatha Christie’esque murder mystery, Death in a Red Canvas Chair, Noelle Granger. Noelle is one of my most favoritest (that’s totally a word) people to interact with on OneLazyRobot. Go check out her review and you’ll see why. (Hint: it’s because she’s awesome.)

Parallel - High Resolution

Click the Pic!

The other review came from Ted Cross, author of one of my favoritest (see, told you that’s a word. I wouldn’t use it twice if it wasn’t.) debut novels of 2014, The Immortality Game. Way back in December I did a review of TIG and Convergence from Michael Patrick Hicks. CLICK HERE to see why you should pick up these books. (Hint: it’s because they’re awesome).

Anyways, Ted reviewed Time Heist which is incredibly similar to his own book. If you like one, you’ll probably dig the other. Might as well do yourself a favor and pick both of them up. But don’t take my word for it, check out Ted’s review.

Time Heist

Psst.. also, did you know for a limited time only you can pick up your very own copy of Time Heist or Parallel for the low, low price of FREE? It’s truth. Pop on over to Barnes and Noble or Kobo and grab a copy.

Parallel Barnes and Noble Link!

Parallel Kobo Link!

Time Heist Kobo Link!

Time Heist is actually $.99 on Barnes and Noble ’cause they are slow to price match, but here’s that link anyways. LINK

Joining The Future Chronicles!

Here’s some news: I’m writing a Time Travel short story for The Future Chronicles, and if I were any more excited I’d need to take a potty training refresher course.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Chronicles, they are curated by none other than Samuel Peralta himself, and explore the truly mind bogglingly (Yes, bogglingly is now a word. As a bonus, it’s also super fun to say, give it a try) vast spectrum of sci-fi themes in a short-story format. Past editions have explored the ideas of AI, robots, telepaths, aliens, dragons. You name it and they’ve probably either already done it, or will soon do it.

I got tapped on the shoulder yesterday to fill a spot left vacant for the upcoming Time Travel anthology. I’ve only got 13 days to get this story up and running so I’ve put a couple other projects on the back burner for now, but I’m pretty darn excited to share this one with ya’ll. I’ve only ever done one other time travel story (Which was about a time-traveling vampire, and oddly enough one of my dad’s favorite stories. But he’s not biased, he just really likes sparkly vampires), so this particular theme is wide open to me creativity wise. Trust that I’m running rampant like a rabid rabbit high on alliteration (Is that a good thing? Hopefully?)

If you haven’t read anything of The Future Chronicles I recommend checking out the links below and giving them a shot. Each edition has a truly impressive stable of high caliber writers, you won’t be disappointed.

telepath the alien chronicles ai chronicles

Science Fiction Has Gotten A Little…Gay.

This is going to be another touchy subject so let’s all promise to be on our best behavior right out of the gate? If not, I’m prepared to throw down, if you know what I mean.

*smacks a riding crop menacingly into the palm of his hand*

Good. Now that we’re all reading the same book, let’s get on the same page by giving you a bit of my own background. I’ve lived in Oakland, CA for the past four years. Before that I lived in Minneapolis, MN. This is important because these two cities (If you include San Francisco into the conversation alongside Oakland) are like two super LGBT capitols of the world. So I come from a microcosmic world of LGBT acceptance.

This skews my perspective.

In addition, one of my sisters is dating another woman (Huzzah! I like women too, welcome to the club dear sister). I don’t really know if that makes her gay, or bi, or what… and honestly I don’t really care to define it. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy. Not everything needs a label.

I certainly don’t. I don’t want to be known as Anthony the straight guy. That’s so…restrictive and disingenuous and trying to fit me nice and neat into a box that most certainly cannot accommodate my girthy hips.

Sexuality falls along a spectrum. We’re all a little gay and we’re all a little straight. Accept that. Does that make you uncomfortable? Well, too bad. That’s your baggage, not mine.

Never thought I'd agree  on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

Never thought I’d agree on anything with a child named Honey Boo Boo.

But I will say this: If that previous assertion does make you a little uncomfortable, you should probably do some soul searching and figure out why that is because the world of tomorrow is coming and you’re falling behind the times. The rest of us aren’t gonna slow down and wait for you either.

So, in light of everything I just said, here’s what’s bothering me: Locus Magazine recently announced the shortlist for Best Sci-Fi and Best Fantasy book of 2014.

Best Sci-Fi

The Peripheral – William Gibson

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Lock In – John Scalzi

The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

Best Fantasy

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Steles of the Sky – Elizabeth Bear

City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

I don’t know how many of these, if any, you’ve read, but I’ve read 8 of the 10 books (Excluding The Magician’s Land–cause I didn’t really enjoy the first book in this series–and Steles of the Sky) and I noticed something really interesting: they all have a gay character.

I’ll get to why that stuck out to me as being odd a little bit later, but I want to draw attention to some of the praise these books received:

“They fell in love at a university in Saypur, but Vo turned out to be gay (Shara suspects he liked her boyish figure.”City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett

Annihilation has an Asian lead character, Authority a Latino and Acceptance has a gay man as protagonist. Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Those aren’t the reasons I’m falling so hard for this book. A big part of the reason is this: there are two characters, Jim Buchold and Rick Wisson, who are MARRIED. Yep. You got it. Two guys, married.Lock In – John Scalzi

This is also, it’s worth noting, a book as queer as the Bel Dame Apocrypha, if not queerer. The Mirror Empire‘s cultures all have multiple genders – three or five; and bisexuality is completely normalised and expected. The Dhai are a polyamorous society, where multiple-person marriages with all sorts of configurations of gender are shown without comment, and the men of Saiduan seem to be shared at their owner’s whims. Hurley has also included theOrlandoesque character of Taigan, who changes gender with the seasons; we see Taigan as both male and as an intersex individual in the novel, but presumably in future installments we’ll see her become female too.The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

“One of the main characters is gay. You don’t see a whole lot of homosexuality in fantasy, and you should …. One of them is sexually promiscuous. One of them is depressed. There’s a kind of range of psychological personalities that is a little bit broader than what you see in standard fantasy.” The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

This is what bugs me. We are still acting, as a community, as though the inclusion of gay characters in popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy is somehow…cutting edge. I don’t know if Steles of the Sky has any gay characters, but every other book on the list does. That’s 9 out of 10, which is like…90 percent or something.

crunched the numbers

Those are insanely high numbers. Now, you may be thinking that I’m somehow upset by this fact, but hey, I have gay characters in my own Firstborn Saga so it’s not like I’m petitioning for them to be removed.

Actually, I’m not sure what I’m petitioning for, because on the one hand I think it’s fantastic that the LGBT community is getting the inclusion they deserve–they are getting stories where, FINALLY, they get to be the hero–but the paradigm is shifting in a weird, unexpected way in that the LGBT community is now being…over-represented.

Huh? You all grunt as a collective.

Alright, don’t burn me at the stake quite yet, hear me out.

The National Center for Health Statistics does an annual National Health Interview Study and recently they began surveying Americans’ sexual orientation and what they found is that about 3.8 percent of American’s identify as gay/lesbian/bi/transgender. I’ll be the first to point out that there are some significant methodological issues with this survey.

– A lot of people don’t feel comfortable reporting one way or the other.

– A lot of people who participate in same-sex relations don’t identify themselves as gay, ie: “I sleep with men, but I’m not gay.” Huh? That… that is confusing. I agree, but remember, sexuality is a spectrum.

Anyways, I’m willing to grant that 3.8 percent is probably on the low end, so let’s round up to a solid 10%. Okay, so that means 10% of the population is represented in 90% of the Locus Award Eligible Novels for Sci Fi and Fantasy.

That’s INSANE (in both a good and a bad way). It’s good because I think gay rights is a super hot button topic right now. It’s good that writers are bringing awareness to this and being inclusive in their writing.

The bad side of the equation is that now, to write an award winning book, it almost feels like you have to include a gay character. As a result, everything is feeling a little.. same. A little.. forced.

Here’s an example of something else that affects ten percent of the population: Diabetes (which incidentally is the seventh leading cause of death in America). Now, imagine that 9 out of those 10 books all had a character suffering from Diabetes, and that a percentage of them even died from said disorder.

That’d be a little weird, right?

diabetes

How about mental disorders? Hell, we could focus entirely on Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder which together affect over 10 percent of the population. Include all mental disorders and you’re looking at closer to 25 percent of the population.

Okay, I guess if I had to state my gripe, it would be this: We’ve thrown open the doors of inclusivity, but by doing so we’ve pigeonholed ourselves to the singular character trait expressed in terms of sexuality.

I am not defined by my sexuality any more than my sister is. If the character in the book your reading is, then we’ve got a problem. We’re doing something wrong.

There is a caveat to this and it was mentioned in one of those reviews up above. Let me scamper up there and grab that real quick… hold tight.

*puts on some elevator music*

One of the characters is gay, and it’s A Very Big Deal in the way his history is presented.”The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

When introducing a character and making a point of their sexuality, it has got to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, then your character is a blatant attempt at ticking boxes on your Diversity and Demographics checklist.

Let’s leave off with this:

Gibson’s inclusion of gay characters as a regular part of Clanton’s community is commendable, and merits remark until such inclusion is no longer remarkable.” The Peripheral – William Gibson

The long, drawn out point I’m trying to make is this: the inclusion of gay characters, in and of itself, is no longer remarkable. It just isn’t.

Or is it?

*shrug*

Honestly, I just thought it was really cool how many awesome books are including gay characters these days and wanted to push your buttons to draw attention to that fact. Sucker! You’ve been had!

Time For Another Free Book!

Howdy kiddos and grownos (<– I’m making that into a word, so deal with it) last week I was giving away free copies of Standing Kill Orderlies. If you missed the boat, no worries, I’m back again this week with another free offer. Click the pic to be magically transported to Amazon where you can get a copy of Parallel for FREE!!!!!!! WEEEEE!! EEEEH! AHHHH!!! (are we done? yeah, we’re done.)

If you’re feeling real outgoing, maybe think about leaving a review or a flaming pile of dog poo wrapped in a brown paper bag on my porch. Either way, I’ll be psyched! Yaay for free paper brown bags!

Parallel - High Resolution

Standing Kill Orderlies Free!

Psst. Hey you, do you like free stuff? Of course you do, you’re a frugally minded individual, why wouldn’t you love free?

Okay, fair point, sometimes free equals shoddy workmanship. Also, just to play devil’s advocate, sometimes free = bed-bugs. You wouldn’t take a free mattress off the side of the road would you?

Wait, you would? And you’d sleep on it? Yuckers. You’re a particularly devout brand of frugal, aren’t you?

Anyways, I’ve got something for you and I promise it’s not shoddy or covered in bedbugs. For the next five days you can get my short story Standing Kill Orderlies (along with the bonus short Infidelity) for FREE from that little old marketplace called Amazon.

Seriously, all you’ve got to do is click on the picture below and you’ll be magically transported to that digital farmer’s market. If you want to earn extra brownie points, do me a favor and tell all your friends and families and neighborhood hobos with electronic reading devices so they can get their own copy!

Free is good. Very good.

Free is good. Very good.

Want to earn quadruple brownie points? Of course you do, brownies are delicious. Please consider leaving a review, whether that be on Goodreads or Amazon. It’ll make my day and I’ll throw brownies at your face-eating hole, what’s not to love?

Little Girl Ass Kicking Incoming!!!

Listen, I got a confession to make. Better come in close for this one. As some of you may know, I am a thirty-something middle-class white male. So I’m in like the 90th percentile when it comes to entitlement and privilege. I point this out because my demographic sort of shields me from a lot of the bull-shit the rest of the world has to deal with.

I try and be mindful of this, but the deck has been stacked, and I am the demographic companies and big budget advertisers aim to please (truthfully they shouldn’t try so hard ’cause I only got like $50 and some bread crumbs in the bank account). This is a poor excuse for my lack of mindfulness, but often times I’m oblivious to the royal shafting other people are getting because as I walk the aisles of Target, everything is designed to please people just like me.

I don’t see the problem. Until somebody points it out to me. And then I step back all bewildered, the blinders have dropped, and I’m staring straight in the face of an ugly truth.

This weeks ugly truth has to do with girls and the way companies market toys to them.

“Wait… this is about toys?” you say confusedly.

“Yes, yes it is,” I retort with ample sass.

“Um… alright.. keep going,” you say, keeping a wary eye on me.

“Fine I will.”

So earlier this week Marvel released their new Avenger lineup of toys and it has the world all up in a kurfuffle. Why? Well, because Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are pretty much nowhere to be seen. To be specific, Scarlet Witch has literally zero face-time, whether that be on the packaging or as a little siliconized plaything for children the world over. Black Widow faired a bit better, she’s on a shirt, on a video game starter pack, and on a shopping bag.

I admit, I spend less time in the toy aisle these days than I should. The fact that this was completely off my radar is therefore forgivable, or so I tell myself.

But this is some screwed up shit, and it’s not the first time. Gamora, the green skin bad-ass from Guardians of the Galaxy, didn’t get action figurized either!

When somebody pointed this out to me I had to sit back and scratch my head for awhile. I mean, come on people, what year is this? We’re possibly two years away from having a woman president and still we have to fight these sorts of lame gender battles.

You know what, I can’t put it more succinctly than this little girl, so give this video a little eyeball love real quick.

Holy balls. I want to point out two things real quick. First, little Riley is one articulate little girl. Yes, it’s likely she received a bit of coaching from her parents, but so what? This brings me to my second points, she’s absolutely right.

Black Widow is an awesome character in the Avenger’s movie. She’s not some token harlot, tramping around for the sake of showing some cleavage. She kicks legitimate ass, on her own terms, and don’t take no shit from nobody.

I want to be her when I grow up.

So, why is it then, that when it comes time to make the toys, the bad ass girl character gets zero love? Is it because superheros are for boys and princesses are for girls? If that’s what you think then you’re a shortsighted, small minded fool.

It’s still rare, but thankfully it’s becoming less so, that woman get represented in movies/books/comics in a way that accurately reflects their inherit badassery. As a society we’re carting around generations worth of gender baggage, and unfortunately, it’s not something we can just shrug off and be done with. We have to be intentional about the messages we send, and when Disney–one of the largest toy and media producers in the world–is still pushing these outdated stereotypical modalities, well, we’ve got ourselves a problem.

Girls are interested in more than pink dresses and princesses. Boys are interested in more than just superheros. Boys want to play with dolls, go for it. Girls want to play with action figures? Hell yeah, more power to you. But those decisions begin with a choice. A choice that, at this moment, is being made by big companies when they decide to do dumb-ass shit like not making Black Widow toys.

Here, to drive the point home, is another Riley video:

What are your thoughts? Tomorrow I’m gonna do another blog post outlining some of my favorite female characters on television, movies, and books, but why not get a jump-start on the conversation and tell me who some of your favorite female characters are? Hell, I might even use some of them in tomorrows post.

Perdido Street Station Review

I’m like the Grinch when it comes to giving out five star reviews. I’m stingy, but it’s for a reason. I reserve those magical five stars for books that are truly transcendent (whatever the hell that means). Typically this means the story has got to be on point, no dragging, no off-putting tangents that ultimately feel like literary weed-whacking.

weed whacker

Not to mention the prose has to be fresh.

Perdido Street Station is a highly acclaimed piece of speculative literature from China Mieville. Mieville, for those unfamiliar with his work, writes what he calls Weird Fic, and it shows in PSS. It defies categorization, what with its seamless blending of fantasy, steampunk, and straight sci-fi. PSS was my first experience with Mieville and (as I suspected from a guy who is consistently nominated for every award being thrown around these days) I wasn’t disappointed.

Well, let me amend that: I was only slightly disappointed.

This might very well be the first book I’ve ever given five stars to where I believed the story could have been improved. Usually when I give five stars, it’s to a book which is more or less perfect. Unfortunately, PSS isn’t perfect, but damn if it isn’t really good.

Let’s do a pro/con list lightning round style.

Pro: The language is beautiful and descriptive. China reminds me of Patrick Rothfuss with his haunting prose. He paints such vivid scenes that it’ll make your head spin.

Con: The prose is dense, with a weight that makes you feel sleepy and mentally exhausted after only a few pages. Over the course of a 600+ page book this becomes overwhelming. You might very well get crushed beneath those hefty prose. Read at your own risk.

i got this

Alright. If you say so.

no i dont

Yeah, that’s what I figured.

Pro: The worldbuilding is second to none. Seriously, I haven’t experienced such robust world building since the likes of Brandon Sanderson. That’s high praise in my book. China creates an interesting, weird world that is unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced, while grounding it in this earthiness/grunginess that ultimately makes it entirely relatable.

Con: There is such a thing as too much worldbuilding. That particular line in the sand is drawn somewhere near the end of Act 2 where the reader no longer needs in-depth, multi-page historical lectures. What they need is action. This is one of PSS greatest faults, in my eyes. China frequently drops the rising action he’s worked so hard to build by taking a sideways step every so often and launching into descriptive worldbuilding. PSS could easily have been 150 pages shorter, with a tighter story, had he removed the unnecessary details.

Pro: The story line isn’t half bad.

Con: Then again, the story line isn’t entirely good either. Well, no, wait. That’s not really fair. What I mean to say is the story line often gets lost beneath the crushing weight of heavy words and dense worldbuilding.

Pro: This book is straight up creative in a way I haven’t experienced recently. China really doesn’t pull out any of the stops!

Con: With that said, China might have benefited from pulling out maybe one, or even two, stops. Sometimes too much is…too much. <– Anthony’s crunchy wisdom nugget for the day.

too much

Overall, PSS is amazing. I loved it. And yet, I hated certain things about it. I think that’s the sign of a good book, though. That dichotomy of emotions pulls you deeper. At least it does for masochists like myself.

Sure, there are some things I would have changed about this book, but then you have to wonder if it would be the same story at all. *shrug* Hard to say. Regardless, this book is on my top 5 list for the year so far. If you’ve never read a Mieville story, I would highly recommend this story. Be prepared for a heavy, long read, however. You’re unlikely to fly through this book.

Also, as a public service announcement I’ll say this: China Mieville is one of those authors who will polarize readers based on his style. If you like the pros I’ve listed above, then you might really love China. If you lean more towards my views on the cons, then you might be in for a rough slog. Be warned, not everybody will like PSS.

But hey, risk not, win not. Or something. Pick up a copy and let me know what you think. Or, if you’ve already read it, get down to the comments and share your thoughts on Perdido Street Station. Love it or hate it, I want to hear from you!

The Hugo Post I Promised Myself I Wouldn’t Write

The other day I was in the bookstore and overhead two people talking about this year’s Hugo Awards. One guy was telling his female compatriot all about how some people cheated the voting process and hijacked the awards in attempt to push their own right wing conservative politics…or something like that. Truth was, and he admitted this in the next breath, he didn’t really understand what was going on. But hot damn if that didn’t stop him from having an opinion on the matter.

It seems like every Joe who’s seen Star Wars and owns a keyboard has an opinion on the matter. That’s fine, but increasingly what I’m seeing is that most people involved haven’t really thought through the situation for themselves. Instead, people are lining up, rank and file, behind respective figure heads and just copy/pasting their arguments for themselves. Which, ironically, is precisely what lead to this whole fiasco in the first place (slate voting).

In the past weeks we’ve seen some big name people (George R.R. Martin, John Scalzi, Brad Torgerson, just to name a few) throwing their hats into the ring and going toe-to-toe over a subject that, quite frankly, is a moot point. What’s done is done.

We are, as a community, literally crying over spilt milk.

sppongebob

I’ve sifted through a dozen or so pages worth of arguments from both camps on this topic and what’s really frustrating is that everybody is more or less spouting the same rhetoric. It’s all wheel spinning nonsense and it’s getting us nowhere.

One side keeps saying, “Yeah, we did this because of these reasons.”

The other side says, “Those are bad reasons, and the reason we feel that way is because of these reasons.”

To which the other fires back, “Ha, you call those good reasons? Take a gander at these reasons!” At this point George ‘Roid Rage’ Martin gestures seductively at a list of reasons splayed out in an overtly sexual manner on his exact replica Medieval bed spread.

I’ll be honest, that part of the conversation has been fun. What can I say, I’m a fan of old Grr “I’m a Bear” Martin. But I can’t help but feel like this is all just a big friggin’ waste of time. Not only mine, which admittedly isn’t very valuable, but for guys like Martin who really needs to start putting some words on the page if he’s gonna finish that Dragon book before that Grim Reaper fella decides to kill off his own main character.

Seriously, don’t die before you finish GOT, Martin. Fandom would rip itself apart from the inside.

got

Meh, that’s probably where the series is headed anyhow.

But then again, fandom is already sort of ripping itself apart, and it’s all because of a stupid award that in the grand scheme, matters very little. Ya know, I might amend that opinion if someday I ever get nominated for an award, but that’s precisely the point. The only people who really care are divided amongst two sorts of people: those who may or may not have stood a chance of winning, and those who have won in years past and don’t want to see the long Hugo tradition, and their awards by extension, denigrated by association with this years cluser-fuck.

I get why their upset, truly I do. Were there some really great books I’d rather have seen get nominated? Absolutely, but complaining about how I didn’t get my picks is counter-productive. All that can be done now is to read the books that made the list and decide based on merit which book deserves to win. It’s that simple.

Or atleast, you would think so. As it turns out, it’s not so simple at all. ‘Cause now we have people who were nominated, who legitimately stood a chance of winning the most coveted prize in their genre, pulling out of the competition. Marko Kloos who had a book up for best novel announced earlier today that he was declining his nomination. The day before Annie Bellett withdrew for best short story.

Kloos cited the fact that he didn’t want to get nominated, or have his nomination overshadowed and tainted, because he was unknowingly supported by Vox Day’s slate. Think about that. Kloos probably wrote a damn fine book, but because somebody else decided to use him to make a political point as to the fucked nature of voting in the Hugos, he has taken his toys and gone home.

And you know what, I don’t blame him. Shit, I only wish I had the balls to do something similar if I were in his position. (But hey, I’m weak and will be a puppet for whoever, whenever. Use me!!!)

puppet

Roger, Roger.

dancing storm trooper

People are so busy slinging mud across party lines that nobody seems to be noticing the ones they’re hitting are the poor saps who are simultaneously experiencing career highs, and lows, by the mere fact they were nominated for this years award. Listen, I respect guys like Charles Stross and John Scalzi who have both come out and said, “Man, I am so glad I don’t have a horse in this race.” But that’s the problem: the majority of the people arguing about this don’t have a horse in the race. And they’re glad of the fact because nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to win a Hugo this year.

Because the damn thing has been sullied. It’s toxic. An automatic asterisk on any person’s resume.

Unfortunately, it’s not being sullied by ‘slate voting’ itself. It’s being sullied by the community of writers that I look up too. People who’s professional approval would mean more than I care to admit, (because in my own mind I like to think that the only approval I need is my own, but shit, who am I kidding. If Scalzi or Stross threw me an ‘atta boy, I’d straight tinkle myself.) But when these luminaries come out and admit they are glad not to have been nominated, well, how’s that supposed to make the people who are nominated, who do have horses in the race, feel.

I try and put myself in the place of Kloos or  Bellett and I figure neither one of them would point a finger at anybody else and say, “You’ve cheapened this award and now I don’t want it,” but it sorta feels like that’s what has happened. We’ve cheapened this years award by even contemplating the scorched earth tactic of voting “No Winner”.

I’m not saying either side of the argument is right or wrong, because what is getting overlooked in this conversation is the fact that there is no such thing as right and wrong. Right and wrong is a perspective. You want an absolute? Go be a Sith Lord. Otherwise deal with the fact that both sides of this conversation are simultaneously right and wrong.

sith absolute

Hm… sure have been a lot of Star Wars references. Wonder what’s up with that….

Wait, since I’m on a soap box, let me wish-wash and flip-flop a bit (John Kerry made that shit look fun back in the day).

There is an absolute right and wrong here and it has to do with who is getting screwed. It’s the people who are up there on the nomination list right now looking down the barrel of an award that will forever haunt their professional career. That’s wrong. They didn’t ask for that, and they certainly don’t deserve it, but that’s what this whole damn thing has become.

Not that it’ll ever make it to them, but to Kloos and Bellett, I’m sorry that your moment in the sun was overshadowed by something so ugly. You’re both talented artists and will probably be nominated for more awards in the future, but still… this sucks for you. You made hard decisions and people are tearing into you for it claiming your discrediting the opinion of those fans who voted for you. That’s bullshit and I think we all know it.

To the rest of the community: let it go.

*Insert Obligatory Frozen Meme Here*

Frozen4

Well, try.

Move on and let’s figure out a way to fix the problem, to reach a compromise so that both sides can feel valued and accounted for, rather than engaging in finger pointing and name calling. We’ve tried that. Jesus, for the past two weeks we’ve tried that. It’s not working. It’s just making the whole damn thing too ugly to look at.

On a lighter note: Look! The new Star Wars Trailer!

Harrison Ford you sexy man, I’m glad you didn’t die in that plane accident. Mostly ’cause I wouldn’t be able to deal with all the tears from my girlfriend and her sister. Seriously, they have an unhealthy obsession with you. Please never die.

The Leviathan! Raawr!

A month or so back this short film lit up the interwebs. People went so bonkers for the Moby Dick in space that there are actually plans to flush this out into a major motion picture. Boom! Who says internet fame is worthless? (Most everybody, actually. But hey, this is one of those really rare moments when the universe turns on its head and starts acting all wonky…ya know, like quantum physics or something)

The Leviathan — Teaser from Ruairi Robinson on Vimeo.