Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

I just finished this epic fantasy novel (on Audible) a few days ago, and am overall unimpressed and a bit irritated.

Right from the start of the book I knew I was in trouble, when during an action sequence he describes a character falling by saying he ‘began to fall’ and what he saw on the way down. Hmm.. that sort of saps all the energy out of the scene, doesn’t it? Well, I thought, I’ll ignore it for now and see if the story is as great as everyone says, even if the writing isn’t so much.

Well, that’s not the last thing characters ‘begin to’ do. Everyone is beginning to do everything, in fact. I can’t count the number of times “And then I began to play” was said (the character is a musician). Why can’t you say.. I drew my fingers across the strings, I strummed an opening chord, I plucked out the first notes, the melody bled from my fingers, or something–anything other than ‘I began to play’.

You might think I’m being overly picky, but this happens so often throughout the book that it became a joke to me. I began to eat (I sunk my teeth into the sausage, because it’s always sausages in these damn fantasy epics), I began to walk (I hit the road, even that tired cliche is better than ‘began to walk’), I began to dance (I stepped and swayed in time to the music), I began to cry (tears brimmed in my eyes). It’s just so lazy it’s irritating, and when it’s used in an action scene it’s almost infuriating. In one scene a fire starts in a building the character is in, and the action is pretty intense and I was really into it when I heard “I began to burn” and all the action ground to a halt and I just groaned out loud. I mean come on! Anything is better than that! “My clothes burst into flame,” there, was that so hard? Imagine this throughout the whole novel. Literally every other paragraph someone is beginning to do something that they could have just done. 

Another sort of eye-roll inducing thing about this story is that the author is constantly pointing out how he’s not doing all sorts of cliche things. “Gee, it sure would be like a storybook if X happened, but it’s not going to, because this isn’t a storybook”. Well, it is actually a storybook, and since it’s a fantasy with magic and dragons, there can’t seriously be an expectation for the reader to suspend their disbelief enough to pretend that it might be a true story, so I can only imagine that these ‘look at how not cliche I’m being’ moments must be the author bragging.

Anyway, on to the actual story. I’m not going to give any spoilers but It seems like nothing really important happened. The story is told mostly in first person, framed as some famous or maybe infamous wizard dictating his life story to a scribe. Why, when dictating your life story, you’d go into such mundane details as what kind of shoes you were wearing or what you had for breakfast on your first day at the university, who knows. I don’t mean to be picky again, but most of the time I just don’t understand why he is talking about any of it. 

The protagonist’s goal throughout the story is to find out more about the creatures that he thinks killed his parents. But the story instead revolves around him trying to get into a wizard university, and trying to get enough money for tuition, and his feud with one of the other students, and a girl that he fawns over and chases around, and him trying to make money by playing his music, or trying to make money by selling some lamps he made, or trying to make money any other number of ways, and all sorts of other day to day nonsense which might fit into a regular fantasy tale I guess, but this is being told by the protagonist as his own life story. Why is he talking about all this pointless stuff?

I guess this is the first in a trilogy (great) so maybe it’s all important later. Unfortunately I just don’t care enough to get the next one.

I would not begin to (har har) recommend this to anyone, and I don’t understand why it was so popular.

Interstellar

I watched this cerebral sci fi flick over the weekend and I have to say it lived up to my expectations.

In the near future, a global blight has taken out Earth’s crops, and the remains of NASA plan to send the population to a new planet by traveling through a wormhole. The pilot, Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, must choose between being there for his family, or being there for the human race.

The science and ideas behind this movie are very big and very deep, yet it avoids the pitfall of being overly complicated or confusing. And at the end of the movie I was left with a sense of wonder, instead of a sense of ‘wait, what did I just watch? None of that made any sense!’ like so many movies seem to leave me with these days.

In one of the opening scenes, Cooper finds out that his daughter is being taught that the moon landing never happened, and was just propaganda used to trick the Soviets into bankruptcy. The world has become farmers, no longer explorers. Ideas and ingenuity are no longer needed, just farmers, and food. The situation reminded me of this article about poor people and ‘bandwidth poverty’. When you are so focused on just making it day to day, you don’t have time to think about bigger thoughts, to have creative ideas or make progress. You’re just.. living.

I liked the message of ‘do not go quietly into that good night’. Look up and out at the stars, instead of down at the ground and your feet.

I highly recommend this movie. The only complaint I had was that the music was just too damn loud and made my ears ache. I don’t think it’s me getting old, I’ve never experienced this kind of loudness in a theater before. Other than that, one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Novella

SO… I wrote one a couple years ago and it’s been siting in a figurative drawer collecting metaphorical dust since then because I hated it so much I couldn’t bear to look at it.

Well, I read it through recently, and it’s actually not horrible! Strange how cruel our internal editors can be in the moment… So I’m fixing it up and am going to publish it.

I’m working through it now and hopefully it will be ready in a couple months. The working title is Ghost’s Machine, and it’s a sci fi story about a shape-shifting assassin who is hired to kidnap a strange target. I’ll probably post an excerpt from it here in the coming weeks.

Also, I’m planing to release another story on Kindle, this time it will be one of my rare forays into fantasy! Look forward to a sneak peek at that here soon also.

Time for some editing!

Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe

I listened to this recently on Audible, and it was not what I expected.

Though this is marketed as a sci-fi, the setting is really more of a medieval/fantasy type world. The prose is also very dramatic, dark and flowery, which seems more fit to a fantasy novel.

The main character being a torturer who lives in a citadel and wears robes and performs rituals is another example how unusual this is for a sci fi novel.

The world, though, is very interesting. You get little hints here and there about what kind of world it might be, and figure out pretty early on that the ‘ancients’ used to fly between the stars and left behind strange devices none of which anyone understands.

It’s such a perfectly balanced handing out of clues and nuggets that I didn’t even realize how interested I was until the book ended, and my main driver for wanting to read the sequel was not curiosity about what happens to any of the characters, but to learn more about the world.

For anyone squeamish about the title, as I was, there is little actual torture in the book–and what there is is not overly descriptive. There are, though, many dark themes and thoughts on death.

Though some of the descriptions and dialogue seemed over-indulgent, it all added to the unique atmosphere of the book. This one is highly recommended by many, and now I can see it is with good reason. The only issue I had with it is that it ended right in the middle of a scene! So go into it knowing your’re going to have to read three books instead of one. Thankfully they are all available already.

Sci-fi and fantasy fans both will want to give this one a look.

It’s out!

My story In the Water, which I posted a preview of a couple weeks ago, is now available on Kindle! Follow the link here.

You can get it this weekend, starting tomorrow, for the special price of FREE, Saturday and Sunday only. (regularly .99)

Check it out!