Monday, June 24, 2013

Storm: Book Review


Evan Angler has annoyed me.

Storm, Swipe Series #3About two months ago, I sped through his first two books, Swipe and Sneak. The ending of the second left me hanging, waiting in suspense for the third book—and the end of the story, I though.

Now, finishing Storm, I’ve found there is still more to come, and the suspense is as high as ever.

In the first two books of the Swipe series, Logan discovered the secrets behind the Mark process, and then behind the government’s secret prison. Along the way—and on the run from DOME agents—he learns some other things aren’t as he expects them.

Now, after those breath-taking, and gut-churning, discoveries, Logan learns another secret. The virus meant to control the Unmarked has started to attack people. And, it’s the Marked that are getting sick, including Logan’s friend Erin. There’s no known cure, but there maybe someone who can help, far out in no-man’s land.

There’s another minor problem—a problem in the country’s midlands, where crops are dying from the drought. After the disruptions of a global war, natural rain is almost unheard of. So, the government has to manufacture rain—and the scheduled cloud-seeding is far behind schedule.

Like the first two books, I enjoyed Storm for its action. Some of the characters seem a little flat still, but reasonable for a YA novel. The speed of the plot also doesn’t leave much time for lingering on any character or incident, but Angler creates a very convincing dystopian world. He spends some time on both the suppression of religion in this peace-seeking American Union, as well as its gradually rediscovery and spread—connected to a few faithful and the new underground movement.

Other highlights—in the previous books, I appreciated how Angler explains the development of the new world order. This time around, I enjoyed his version of a West-Coast tech industry as far out in many ways as Silicon Valley is today. And, Angler himself makes his own cameo appearance this time around.

You might not have to read the first two books to understand the plot for Storm, since Angler does a fair job of retouching his characters here, as well as moving the action along at a fast pace. At the same time, you probably would miss out on some of the story. Besides, for YA dystopian novels, they’re worth the read. I’d say the same of this one.

#####

This week, Monday through Wednesday, is the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy blog tour for Evan Angler's new book Storm. This review was also posted today at Myrdan.com, as part of the blog tour. Feel free to check the site out for more on the book, including a list of other tour participants.
 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Deadpan Fiction & Dragons


Recently, I was thinking about how deadpan humor might be like fiction writing. As always, thinking is dangerous…

(I also have dragons too much on the brain.)

So, how would deadpan humor like fiction? According to most definitions, deadpan humor comes when someone relates something rather funny, or outrageously impossible, in a matter-of-fact, serious manner.

Perhaps you could contrast deadpan writers with those who do include a wink-wink signal in their story—something in tone that says…

“And wow—that’s when the dragon showed up! (Yes, I know there aren’t any such thing as dragons, but really I was just as surprised as you. Humor me, because I’m trying to tell a story.)”

Done right, it can be quite good indeed, though it’s not the style I usually use.

In fact, when I write, or tell a joke for that matter, I like to be serious about it. I might even be too serious—given the rough draft of a novel I’ve been rereading. I can also be a bit random, which is why I wrote this instead of actually working on my novel…
 
#####
 
“Last Tuesday was a bad day for me. I spent the morning trying to clean out the garage—everything I’d thrown in there since last winter—and that took me almost until noon. Then, once it started to look like a reasonable place again, I remembered that shopping run.
 
I checked my watch—11:38. Just time to pick up a few groceries and be back for lunch.
 
I was driving down the long hill when something flashed by me. I felt a lurch, and a crash, and my car spun once. As I smashed the brakes, it skidded and flew like a brick into the ditch. It settled slightly, before nosing against a tree with a dark crunch.

I sat frozen, clutching the steering wheel.
 
In my peripheral vision, I saw the blue car disappearing around the bend, followed by another flash. Black-and-white—a police car. A second, third, fourth followed. Then another and another, sirens muted, but lights flashing crazily.
 
Then everything was still. I stared straight ahead, noticing how one of the tree branches mirrored the crack in my windshield.
 
“Great,” I said. “Just great.”
 
Slowly, the smell of hot oil roused me. I shook myself, looked around, and tried my door handle. It opened, and I stepped out.
 
As I stood staring at the car, a police car pulled up behind me. The officer got out, leaving his door ajar and hurrying toward me.
 
“Everyone okay?” he asked. “Were you the only one in the car?”
 
“Yes,” I said.
 
“Are you okay?” he repeated.
 
I shook myself and looked away from the car, meeting his eyes almost accidentally. “I’m fine. I just don’t know…” I looked back at my car, listing against the tree.
 
“It’s okay. I’ll call a tow truck. Do you remember what happened?”
 
I told him I was just driving to the store, when out of nowhere…
 
He had his notebook out, jotting in it quickly, but he raised one eyebrow. Somehow the gesture made me feel simultaneously that he wasn’t surprised by my story, and that he didn’t really believe it. I wondered if he'd been trained for that expression.
 
“There were I don’t know how many police cars. I’m glad you stopped,” I added.
 
“Yeah—let me call that tow truck,” he said.
 
He was back a couple minutes later, with another series of questions, and a form for me to fill out. The form had questions about my insurance company’s information, my personal information, my car’s personal information…
 
“You’ll need to fill that out and mail it in,” he said. “I’ll just ask you a couple questions right now.”
 
About twenty minutes later, he was still asking questions when I heard the truck engine grinding up the hill. We both looked up and watched as the tow truck lumbered around the bend and swung off onto the opposite shoulder.
 
The driver got out and waved to us, before heading around to the back of the truck. In another moment, he reappeared and headed across the road.
 
That’s when the dragon showed up.
 
#####
 
[In the next chapter, which doesn’t exist, the tow truck driver explains that while dragons prefer coal, they can’t find any in this region, so they prefer motor oil…
 
“You should have seen our garage the last time one showed up—it was an inferno.”
 
“Oh,” I managed to say, as we peered over the logs. I cringed as a heavy crunch sounded through the overhanging branches. I know my car as already wrecked, but still…
 
“This one probably smelled the leakage from your car,” the driver added helpfully...]

 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shortcake Experiments



In addition to writing more recently, I’ve also had the chance to try some different types of cooking projects.

It’s been interesting.

For instance, earlier this week, I needed to whip some cream. Always before, I’ve whipped large amounts of cream, using that ever-so-handy tool called an electric hand-mixer.

This time, since I was only trying to do a small amount—say enough for two people—and I didn’t have that mixer ready to hand, I tried using a whisk. The super-miniature cup-of-hot-chocolate-sized whisk, to be precise.

As with all experiments, I had my purpose, hypothesis, materials, and procedure. I wanted to make whipped cream, I guessed that using a whisk would help me reach that goal, I had the cream and whisk ready, and now I just had to whisk the cream. It should have been enough, right?

Probably it would have been enough—if I had been patient enough.

I whisked for several minutes. Someone else whisked for several minutes. I tried whisking again for several more minutes. The cream seemed thicker, maybe a little bubbly, but it still ran like cream when we tilted the bowl. Results: no whipped topping in sight.

That’s when we got the idea or new hypothesis—I did actually; I’ll take the blame—to put the cream in a tub, put the lid on, and shake it.

New results: We got butter!

But still no whipped topping in sight, in the tub, or anywhere else I could find.

So, we stored the butter away for later—and dumped a new batch of cream into that ever-so-handy blender!

This time, after several minutes of beating in the blender, the cream seemed a little thicker, maybe a little bubbly, but still way to runny to count as whipped topping. Same again...

Final results: we just used semi-liquid cream.

And my experiment report?



Conclusion: it’s always helpful to have the right tools for a project.

Alternate conclusion: Strawberry shortcakes still taste good, even if my hypothesis was wrong in all three cases. (But please don’t tell my sister how I cook.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Impossible Things


When I started on this blog almost two years ago, I had big goals for posting regularly, posting about my writing projects, and above all writing out thoughtful posts.

I stopped posting for a while this winter because I ran out of thoughts. There I was as blank-eyed, and as lacking in inspiration as a...


Never mind.

Still, you may have noticed that last month’s posts consisted of photos and book reviews. I should probably note here that I wrote all except the last of those posts at the end of April, and scheduled them out through May.

Why? Because I’ve been busy. Preoccupied, you might say.

Now I’m back—sort of—and I’m trying to write again.

Not just an occasional book review, but something solid, something productive, something to do with a novel.

I have half a dozen novels in my brain right now, but I’d settle for just one.

Writing, however, seems to mean dealing with lots of impossible things. I could list scores of examples, but I’ll just mention the problem of sitting down to get something done on a regular schedule. It sounds impossible right?

It is a bit of a challenge, I must confess, especially after neglecting my writing for about six months.

I’ve written bits and pieces along the way, but I’ve been distracted. (A very good distraction, yes, but that’s neither here nor there—I refuse to be distracted from my topic right now.) At any rate, it seems almost impossible to clean out the dust and rubble of half-forgotten stories.

Fortunately, I'm also learning a lot about impossible things, and it seems they do happen. What things, you ask?

How about a dogfish, that is a catfish? Or rather, a catshark?

Or, what puts a fireman into the same category as a computer programmer? Apparently, both are creator/craftsmen personality types.

What if Mordor is across the river from the Philadelphia zoo? Though I wonder what the lions think about that. (And please, please—let me know if you happen to visit there and catch a glimpse through the Morannon.)

And, a video clip a friend sent me shows that it's possible to make an orchestra out of landfill rubbage:


So, who am I to say it’s impossible to write a simple thing like a novel?

(I'll get back to you on that one.)