Friday, March 28, 2014

Read Somewhat Lately

King of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

The second in a marvelous grim dark fantasy trilogy, this really had me turning pages and I only took so long finishing because of how topsy turvy life has been the last few months.

Set in a almost familiar realm, we follow Jorg (now a king by his own hand) as he is beset by two seemingly insurmountable foes in two timelines. We know that he makes it out of one to be telling us about the current predicament but nonetheless we are transfixed with all the brilliant setbacks ferocious young Jorg is dealing with.

I read Prince of Thorns last summer and was very pleased at his setting (which I can't reveal-but needless to say it is gratifying and intriguing).

Things come to a spine-tingling head and I wondered how it would end, alas its all set up for the third book Emperor of Thorns - but at least that is already available. Very recommended for dark fantasy fans.

Space Punisher, by Frank Tieri and Mark Texeira

This came out a couple years ago and I meant to read it back when I was writing Gods in Darkness for Space Eldritch 1 - I was envisioning in my head some of the same brawling action in space.
Space Punisher is a little over the top (its an alternate universe rather than a space mission for Frank Castle) but its got a lot of great one liners and cameo's of Marvel favorites. I especially liked that the Punisher is handling the big bad space mafia better than the Avengers.

I enjoyed the twists and found it interesting but not quite the book I hoped for. Mark Texeira's art is always great and I am excited for Frank Tieri's return to writing Wolverine very soon - he was my favorite writer for that series next to Larry Hama's run in the 90's.

Inside is also Galactus: The Real Story = the greatest hoax ever pulled on mankind, a parody of all the conspiracy shows revealing the real story about perceived threats - I enjoyed it more the second read through.

Some Freaks, by David Mamet

A selection of essays and thoughts by brilliant playwright David Mamet. I always enjoy his insights into drama and human nature, he displays a rare quality of looking at whole subjects and having the wit to put into words some dynamic metaphor to bring it all together in a way I never thought of before.

I enjoyed one section so much that I had to bring in a new chapter into my shortly forthcoming Bless The Child in part based on his little essay The Laurel Crown, simply because I was so moved and had to share a little bit of that same essence.

Red Sonja: Beserker, by Nancy A. Collins and Fritz Casas

I have not bought a Red Sonja book in a very long time, but have been hearing good things about the current run by Gail Simone so I've meant to check it out and I also heard about this one shot Beserker, so having finished this one first (one shots are just easier that way) I'm kinda on the fence about it.
Sonja befriends a polar bear cub (that grows up way too fast in one winter) and then says goodbye.
Years later Sonja is accosted by some dinks that think she is a whore-that chainmail bikini-and what I have hated as an over used premise in too many Conan tales, she is far too easily bested by the local authorities and put in jail. Then thanks to a crooked judge she ends up in an arena for savage amusement. She is to be fed not to the lions but the bear - but its her old bear so they turn and fight their way out. The bear dies to save her and later she returns to enact vengeance.
The art by Casas is great and the look of Sonja wearing the bearskin in the end is cool -very Herculian/Nemeian Lion, but its just a so-so story. Not bad, but not great.

City of the Saints: Part One Liahona, by D.J. Butler
Steampunk old west with a very healthy mix of political intrigue and great twists on historic personages. This is only part one of four and I love it. Again if life wasn't so crazy busy right now I would be all the way through this series-absolutely my favorite read so far this year!

Set in 1859 on the verge of Civil War, multiple characters are converging for the sake of getting in on that Mormon madman Orson Pratt's wonderful inventions. Mark Twain, Richard Burton, and the long thought dead Edgar Allen Poe each vying for either the Union, England and the soon to be Confederacy as well as mysterious forces at work from within the Utah Mormon camp as well - Porter Rockwell and Eliza R. Snow.
All the side characters have me enthralled as well, Butler's writing is the perfect mix of action and drama and has that great way of making you root for all these people that are opposing each other.

The only downside for me was the cliffhanger ending, luckily all 4 of the City of Saints are available ad I'll be continuing on that very soon. If you like historical action and steampunk, I can't recommend this enough.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Counselor and Character

I was excited to watch 'The Counselor', directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy. In part because I have liked a lot of Scott's movies and I love McCarthy's writing but . . .

I was sorely disappointed.

From a cinematic standpoint, its great. Fantastic cast, wonderful imagery and intriguing nuances abound, but story wise it failed and it failed hard.

I read a piece over at word and film about McCarthy writing an unorthodox script that in time will come to be greatly appreciated, I wanted to believe that. I wanted to be "IN" on appreciating something genius that most people missed. But nope, this film just isn't what it was touted to be and I shouldn't be that surprised.

Now I'm not one to be offended at the over the top violence of McCarthy,  I dig Grimdark, he writes as savage as anyone these days - The Road, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and on the strength of those works I had very high hopes for The Counselor. But one thing McCarthy doesn't ever give is a satisfactory ending, not in any work of his I ever read. I truly hoped for this one to be different (partly because it is film) but alas no.

Ridley Scott who has made some great films is probably in a position where he can do no wrong (at least nobody working for him will tell him,  ala Lucas syndrome) but looking back at his last project Prometheus, we know that logic has just gone out the window in favor of sfx, and while they might be head-rolling sfx in The Counselor, they were just sfx none the less rather than STORY and CHARACTER and that is always a loser tradeoff.

Its not that there aren't merits here, there are, but unfortunately the biggest moment of genius and insight was 12 minutes into the extended cut, where the titular counselor is meeting an old Jewish diamond broker and they end up discussing the meaning of heroes - this scene was brilliant - but that's it, the rest of the movie is telling us how there are no more heroes and even when a character is pushed to the edge, we don't get anything satisfactory - sorry Scott/McCarthy and Word and Film, that's not something revolutionary that people will eventually appreciate. Not gonna happen - you should have all listened to the old diamond broker and represented heroism somehow.

So, I've been listening repeatedly to Robert McKee's STORY (see my last post) and he says true character is what a character does under pressure and that exactly is why The Counselor fails.

They may be portrayed by wonderful actors, but just having the characters have bad things happen to them does not make drama, it does not equal good story, it doesn't even make for a compelling horror movie that you tell your friends they need to see (Heads rolling again, we are informed of a sinister device early in the movie that we see executed toward the end - the old revolver in the drawer in the first act cliché) ~ Instead we see our characters in The Counselor find out they are in trouble and for the most part roll over and die. The one character absolutely still alive at the end isn't even a villain we want to hate, we just don't care, we never had any emotional appeal to be interested enough to hate the character - it is not a compelling tale nor a logical one.

I'm over simplifying things a little, but in essence they don't show us any metal when the going gets hard - they just die. It is not compelling drama and that's why it failed - not because people didn't "Get it".

A quote by David Farland seems appropriate right about now.
"I will respect my characters. This means that at the end of the story, I won't kill my protagonist or have him fail for no reason. I may have him die a heroic death, but if I do, there will be a purpose behind it, a deeper meaning, a compelling reason to end the tale tragically."

Monday, March 3, 2014

Getting Schooled: Robert McKee's STORY

The phenomenal Steven Pressfield always has fantastic advice to share over at his blog (as well as some of his friends too) he recently posted a piece here about how he still appreciates getting a recharge from the masters too. Mr. Pressfield has no ego and fully understands its about the art and that we never stop learning, (or at least we shouldn't stop learning) we can always keep progressing.

Namely the master Mr. Pressfield is referring to is Robert McKee, famed screenwriting guru, he calls him not just the best teacher of writing but the best teacher of anything.
Mr. Pressfield  highly recommended that all writers who care about their careers' go attend Mr. McKee's seminar. Pressfield says it will give you a veritable PhD in writing, and wouldn't you know it, now that I'm living in LA, McKee is holding a seminar not 15 minutes away from where I live in 3 days.


Life being what it is, kids, home repairs, etc etc, I just can't make it. BUT thankfully, my ever loving wife has the audiobook of McKee's STORY and I've been listening to that the last few days and I gotta tell ya, it is heavy.

It might even be better for me that I can keep relistening to the audio tracks and digesting everything McKee himself is narrating. There is just too much for me to truly blog about just yet, but I wanted to mention that I'm digging this and will get to point where I can better write about it when I have had a chance to go through it multiple times, and again I want to stress the concept of forever improving and learning. All I can say just yet, is that it is amazing.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sons of Dis

I just finished a short zombie story taking place during Caesar's Gallic campaign. I titled it "The Sons of Dis" being that it is based on a familiar enough oath from a favorite show, HBO's ROME. I expect those who watched it to recall Vorenus saying it a number of times, Dis being equivalent to Hades, god of the underworld. I came up with that thinking about what would the Roman's have called what are essentially zombies - zombies not being a word they could possibly have used.

It was kinda fun to think about almost doing fan fiction of something I liked watching so much and yet, being that Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus were real people is it still fan fiction?
So its submitted, lets see it get accepted.