Story Review: Figures by Rachel Caine from Unfettered II

Story Review: Figures by Rachel Caine from Unfettered II

 

 

Cover
Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Figures by Rachel Caine is the ninth story in the Unfettered II AnthologyA woman narrates what it’s like to be a duelist for higher (or at least that’s how my mind converts the plot). But the person she’s talking to has a plan, and the big surprise is that person’s identity. 

Character:  This might be one of the shortest stories I ever listened to (eight minutes on the dot). There really wasn’t much time to do much of anything. This story is an interesting character study. It reads like something I might do if I were trying to develop a character, but there’s not enough here for me to connect with in my opinion. 

Exposition: This is probably why the story didn’t work for me. Like I said above, this is all just seven or so minutes of a person describing her job. Sure, it’s an interesting job, but it’s still just someone talking about it. Then the last minute throws a curve ball out of nowhere that only left me more confused.

Worldbuilding: This is probably the best of the story. We’re in this world where people with beef higher gunmen to duel over the issue in question (at least from what I remember). That’s a really cool idea, like lethal Pokemon for grown ups. I’d be interested in reading an actual story from this world, but listening to someone describe what is essentially a plot idea as a story itself didn’t work for me.

author Roxanne Carson at home
Photo by Robert Hart taken from the author’s website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Dialogue: I’ll have to give this an N/A. Sure, the narrator is talking to someone, but they’re not conversing. 

Description: Even I think this was too little. I don’t know what the guns look like. I don’t know how they dress. I don’t even know if they wear any sort of body armor or plate. I don’t know what the characters look like. I get no sensory data whatsoever. 

Overall: I’m not going to argue one can’t make a thrilling eight-minute story. However, I think if I were to take a challenge to write an eight-minute script, the last thing I’d do is choose to have one person talk for seven of those minutes. The concept is cool in terms of the premise of what the character does, but everything else either dragged the story down or confused me.

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Musings on Christianity 37

Musings on Christianity 37

Did We Really Descend From Adam And Eve

One of the biggest questions and most difficult concepts to wrap my head around was the concept of Adam and Eve. There are a lot of theories out there that seek to reconcile the Genesis account with modern science.

Scientifically, one should evaluate the facts. When someone uses science to debunk anything rather than learn, they’re not using science the right way. We learn from experimentation. We look at the facts and try to understand what they tell us. We may start with a hypothesis and test it, but we don’t alter the test or conditions to get to our hypothesis; we test the hypothesis and reconsider that hypothesis if it fails the test. Only through constant testing under the most controlled settings can we truly gain the most valuable information. The difficulty comes from the fact that history is not a controlled setting. We can no more effectively evaluate the genetic integrity of the most ancient human corpses than we can use the genetic integrity of someone born tomorrow to determine the integrity of those ancient corpses.

We don’t know the rate of degradation, and even if we determined that rate now, we don’t know that it is constant.

I mention these things because the effects of incest are clear in this time, generations after the Genesis account.

Of all the questions about religion, this is the one I feel the most confident in discussing. I’m not a scientist at all, but I am a journalist, and so I know a thing or two about research. 

What I’d like to share with you is an interesting piece of information I came upon, and how people reacted to it.

About six years ago, I was doing research for a book I was writing. I wanted to base one of the characters on Genghis Khan, and I learned that as of that year, 16 million people were descended form Genghis Khan. That information was from National Geographic.

I posted the information on social media. The post, like a lot of my social media posts, got about six likes and three comments. Here’s the interesting thing, all three comments didn’t dispute the fact that 16 million people descended from one human being. Instead, they said it should be higher!

Now I didn’t really think about this until my social media kindly reminded me about the post. I have a different set of eyes, a new heart, and a new mind after those years. I, like humanity, have evolved.

I can’t help but wonder: Why is it no one blinks at a National Geographic post saying at lest 16 million people descended from one man, but there are several people who then want to state it’s impossible for humanity to descend from one person?

This isn’t a scientific argument. It’s an argument of reasonability. It’s an argument that I present to you based on consistency. If you can accept that up to one percent of the world descended from one man, then I’d argue you have to at least consider that the world as a whole did indeed descend from one man. Especially if one argues that this singular heritage from a descendant about 800 years ago doesn’t result in any genetic degradation that would be likely today.

Now, one may argue, “but that’s only one percent.”

That percentage must only increase as we travel back in time. All of Khans brothers and sisters (I know of seven) descended from his father. The brothers and sisters of that man all descended from his father.

When my mother died, I looked at how many children descended just from her, and I was amazed. She had several sisters and a brother. The further back you go, the more narrow the family tree becomes.

Seeing this made the concept of humanity descending from Adam much more plausible to me that it was years ago. I lack the scientific expertise and acumen to prove this or demonstrate its plausibility in a technical manner, so instead I looked at it through a scope I’m more comfortable and experienced with.

If we accept that 16 million people descended from one man. Then we must also remember how a family tree works. The more children a pairing has, the more potential (not every woman born gives birth, and not every man born sires a child) there is for an exponential increase.

I found that report in 2004, and it was a year old. Today, as I typed this, I found another report from discovermagazine.com, published in 2010, that expanded on this information and went into detail about something called “super-Y” lineages. These are lineages that have a significant number of people descending from one father. The Y chromosome passes from father to son, so using that chromosome allows one to accurately track from father to father.

I understand this isn’t definitive proof by any stretch of the imagination. That’s not my goal. My goal is to help readers at least avoid immediately rejecting the Biblical account while simultaneously accepting a trend that at least shows a significant number of people can indeed descend from a single father.

Another important thing to note about the historical record is that while we all descended from Adam and Eve, the Bible records an extinction event that reduced humanity to Noah and his family. That’s significant because it shows something that current science has discovered and is working to understand. 

While spending some time researching the concept of humans and their evolution, I found a very interesting bit of research. A study by Mark Stoeckle of Rockefeller University in New York and David Thaler of the University of Basel in Switzerland published an article in Human Evolution, and it reveals a mitochondrial history leading back to, you guessed it, one original pair.

Now, news sites are debating what that really means and even its conclusions, because that’s how news and science work. They look at the data and test it. While this study shows a single couple did indeed produce the world as we know it, it says that couple existed about 200,000 years ago, which doesn’t align with the Genesis record either. The dating of information is sketchy at best though. Some dispute the mitochondrial data. Again, I’m probably not going to prove anything to readers definitively. However, I hope this at least opens your mind to the possibility.

Where most of this book looks at how I use the Bible to analyze my actions and thoughts, I felt compelled to veer a bit. The necessity arises from the concept of racism in the world. The most baffling thought to me is the idea of racism at all. We are the human race. This data indicates that at some point along the line of human history (however you measure and track it) we’re born of one mother and father. The evolutionary changes (and those were incredibly small, I promise) that caused our skin colors to darken or lighten or our eyes to narrow or widen are effects of environment that would, given the same amount of time in the same environment, absolutely change your physical appearance as well.

The Bible doesn’t just teach us to love every man as we want to be loved, it shows us that these are our biological relatives in some respect. We are one race. And as a member of that race, I strive to focus on that truth and obey the command to love others as I love myself. This chapter was just another way to look at that command and understand how it helps humanity.

For our panel: This chapter was based on research from a journalistic standpoint. Do you have access to more scientific studies that help explain the genesis account? Why are people so ready to accept genetic information about one historical figure, but so against the Bible as a historical record? Is there a good place people of scientific minds can go to obtain data for themselves? Is there a divide between faith and science? If there isn’t why are science and faith often put at odds? If there is a divide, how does a person with a scientific mind come to accept the Word?

Description: The most important thing no one should notice.

Description: The most important thing no one should notice.

Greetings all,

We’re still quiet on the Weech front in terms of announcements, so that gives me an opportunity to just talk about the craft.

Cover
I’m currently reviewing stories from the Unfettered II anthology. Here’s the most recent one

If you read any of my book reviews, you’ll see that I evaluate a book on a specific set of criteria: Character, Worldbuilding, Dialogue, Description, and Exposition. I’m of the opinion that if you’re really good at just one of those categories, someone will be interested in your book. The more you improve your ability in all of those categories, the more readers will appreciate your work. Sure, genre plays a role. Frankly a romance author could knock all those categories out of the park, and I’d never know because I just don’t like the genre. But in a world of averages, I feel my theory is true.

I’ve spoken about character before, and as I was brainstorming on what I wanted to write about, description popped into my head.

I affirm that description is critical, but it must be enough to help activate the senses, but not so much to notice. Therefore, description is the most important characteristic of a book that must never be noticed.

So I want you to do an experiment. You can follow along with me if you wish. Start by pulling up your current work in progress. If you don’t have a work in progress, write a couple hundred words.

Here is a scene from Images of Truth, the first book in the Perception of War saga:


 

shipfighter
Concept rendering of a Snake, a specops fighter from Perception of War.

The Var’lechen seemed to be the antithesis of Volition ideals. Where a Volition would only die to protect others and only fight so others didn’t have to, Var’lechen seemed to be willing to kill anyone so long as they drew blood. True, Var’lechen and Volition were equally willing to die, but the Var’lechen seemed to be willing to exchange death if only to increase the destruction.

“Barrick,” Bani said. “I have an idea.”

Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige listened even as ships passed by so quickly they seemed like only streaks of light to him.

“I’m open to ideas,” the human pilot grunted.

“I want you to fly straight at one of them.”

The silence matched Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s thoughts. Was he seeking a sacrificial death?

“Trust me,” Bani said. “Go straight at one of the bastards.”

Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft shifted, and the thrusters behind him flared as he headed directly toward an enemy.

I come to you willingly (MOON GOD).  Please let this death be worthy of entrance to your hallowed halls. 

The enemy craft’s thrusters burst to life to charge at Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s fighter. I fought for my comrades. I die so they don’t have to. I don’t know how to protect Barrick and Zango. Forgive me for that.

With 4-1 odds, the Var’lechen was more than willing to sacrifice himself in exchange for one (SNAKE).  Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige considered trying to fire, but freighter was still right behind the enemy.

The Var’lechen charged. Netriod, I will miss you, my friend.

The enemy fighter burst. Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft zipped through a quickly fading ball of fire. For an instant, he as washed in light, and then it faded.

“Figured they’d be willing to fly right into you,” Bani explained. “So we took advantage of their suicidal focus to shoot them down while they were focused on you.”

So it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t a truly worthy death anyway, Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige thought, trying to tamp down his disappointment. I’m glad my death didn’t require Zango and Barrick’s. That much was true. A true Volition would never want others to die with him. But am I cursed to live forever?

A strange thought entered Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s mind. He pictured the crew laughing and sitting together at the fire on (GYPSY PLANET). He thought of times he and Netriod played (SPACE CHESS) together. (MOON GOD) help me! Could I truly be wanting to live?


 

Hopefully, you have something up in front of you.  Now, what I want you to do first is just read your scene.

Things to note:  This is a discovery draft. There are details here that are buried in my notes somewhere and notes to myself that I need to address. I don’t let any of that get in the way of my writing. I make the notes and KEEP DRAFTING! I’ll address the issues in the next draft. I recommend you do the same.

Back on track.  After reading your draft, ask yourself:

What do I see?

What do I hear?

What do I smell?

What do I taste?

What do I feel?

I’m going to go back to my segment and do that for myself.

What do I see? Ships creating streaks of light. An enemy fighter burst. There’s a freighter in there somewhere (behind the enemy). A ball of fire.

What do I hear?

What do I smell?

What do I taste?

What do I feel?

Now you may say, “I’m aware of more than that!” True, but it’s all exposition. I’m TELLING you all the things that are happening. However, you’re standing in the gunner’s seat with Adobrym (that’s what I call him). You’re not a camera, filming the action. Also, in this current draft, I’ve done nothing to activate the other senses.

This is actually very common for one of my discovery drafts. I’m all about “what happened.”  I skip a lot of details and information. That’s fine when you’re burning through a draft. But when you edit, you need to do a pass for description, and you really want to be brutal. How can you change the “telling” to a “showing.”

Now go through your draft again (I’ll do mine) and point out those opportunities.  Here’s a smaller segment of my section, and the notes I’ve left to myself or edits I’ve made:


 

shepherd
Concept rendering of Shepherd from Perception of War.

“Trust me,” Bani said (What does Bani sound like? Accent? Tone?). “Go straight at one of the bastards.”

Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige felt the ship tremble as it shifted, and the thrusters behind him flared as he headed directly toward an enemy. The thrusters wrapped him is a bright white light. 

I come to you willingly (MOON GOD).  Please let this death be worthy of entrance to your hallowed halls. 

Dots of light appeared behind the (DESCRIBE THE SHIP)  as its thrusters burst to life to charge at Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s fighter. I fought for my comrades. I die so they don’t have to. I don’t know how to protect Barrick and Zango. Forgive me for that.

With 4-1 odds, the Var’lechen was more than willing to sacrifice himself in exchange for one (SNAKE).  Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige considered trying to fire, but freighter was still right behind the enemy. Black scorch marks covered the boxy freighter. Its exterior lights flickered. 

The Var’lechen charged. Netriod, I will miss you, my friend.

The enemy fighter burst. Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft zipped through a quickly fading ball of fire. For an instant, he as washed in light, and then it faded. In his exosuite,  Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige didn’t feel the heat of the blast even as he soared through it. The pressure of the explosion made his ears clog, and then the blast, with no air to keep it alive, faded, and Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige once more heard his own breath in his helmet. 


 

There are probably more opportunities in there. This is just a brief example. Ideally, you’d do this for a whole chapter.

Now, don’t overdo it, and don’t be overly repetitive. The trick is to add cues that are designed to activate the imagination. Don’t bombard your readers with the IMAX vision in your head, instead, provide them with a few moments that allow the IMAX theaters in their heads to come to life.

I hope this little glimpse into how I do things (I’m positive there are other methods that work) helps you with whatever project you’re working on.

If you have another technique, feel free to drop a link or post a comment.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

Story Review: The King’s Despatcher by David Farland from Unfettered II

 

 

Cover
Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  The King’s Despatcher by David Farland is the eighth story in the Unfettered II AnthologyDeval is hated by all the boys he trains with. He was found by the princess of the country, but all he’s received after being placed in training is scorn and distain. The story begins with the most important question, how can a man be true to a country he hates? The answer may lie in a very specific set of skills. 

Character:  I liked these characters. They were sympathetic and believable. I like Deval the most (I may be spelling that wrong. I listened to the audio book, so I only have sound to go on). The author did a fantastic job of showing the pain he was going through while still giving him a way to endure without corruption. 

Exposition: This was nearly flawless. Yeah, there was a tad of exposition hidden in some dialogue, but I do that myself, so I didn’t mind it at all. This story is very clean. There isn’t any part that drags down the story. My problem with the story is actually that I wanted more. I didn’t get the sense of closure I wanted. I’d be happy to hear if there is a direct continuation of this story out there. So as a teaser tale, it works, but I’m frustrated by the tease. 

Worldbuilding: The worldbuilding for this story is focused narrowly on the characters involved, but it teases a wider world. This is a nice mix in which the reader gains glimpses into a wider world, but remains rooted in the scene and events of the smaller story.

FarlandDialogue: This was solid. There wasn’t a ton of it, but the conversation between the princess and her father is great. It reveals character while providing context to the events. It’s quite masterful. 

Description: The description in this story wasn’t as visceral as I’d like. I can’t really picture much about the characters or the scene. If I’m reading a book, and you’re going to lack something, this is the one I’d pick. 

Overall: This is actually a great short story. It fell out of my top three because I didn’t get that sense of finality I like in a story, but it’s a powerful tale that has great characters. I really do recommend it.  

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Musings on Christianity 36

Musings on Christianity 36

Should We Seek Vengeance?

As the landscape of our country continues to recoil in the aftermath of protests and police brutality, I’ve noticed several people crying out. Some of the things I’ve heard frighten me. I’m not going to pretend to know what police should do. I’m not going to pretend to know how to move forward. Do I understand that people are persecuted and angry? Of course I do. Do I understand the desire for justice? Of course I do. But there are a few things that I contemplate as people discuss things.

We shouldn’t put our faith in man (Psalm 146:3). After all, it was man who led us to this point. It was Adam’s sin that brought the curse on mankind. It was men who formed our nation. It was men who formed the laws. It was mankind who passed on ignorance and racism to their children. It was men who killed all those for whom we currently cry out for justice. Man destroys and kills. Jesus, and only Jesus, saves.

I made it a point for the first chapter of this book to be plain about the nature of man, and it isn’t good. That’s not to say each person is himself or herself as evil as possible, but we are mortals of flesh with motivations borne of that flesh. People will pursue their desires, especially in such a time as this, where people are taught things like, “find what makes you happy,” or “live your truth,” or “you have a right to be happy.”

But what is the cost of happiness? How can truth, which is defined as that which is in accordance with fact or reality, be different for each person? If truth is only in accordance with reality and fact, than an individual can’t have a different truth unless he or she is in a different reality from another. We want truth to bend to our own perspective, but it is to truth we should submit our perspectives to. We should withhold our opinions until we have the truth.  I’ve mentioned this a few times in previous works, depending on how you measure happiness, everyone can’t be happy.

I hear a lot of people talk about money. Everyone should be happy, so everyone should have money. Money is a limited resource. There’s only so much of it in the world. I don’t know that anyone has actually sat down and determined the amount of available money in America and then tried to divide that amount by the number of people 18 or older. Even if that number was more than what some currently make, it might be less than you currently have. I chuckle sometimes at people who say things like, “The super rich should give their money to the less fortunate.”

That would be a very kind and generous thing to do. Those who did so would pile treasure for themselves in Heaven, if they are among the redeemed (Matthew 6:19-20). But for those of us in the middle, who are scraping by and starting to see themselves growing prosperous, how willing are they to give? Do you give to every homeless person you pass? Do you give to everyone who asks? If you do, then I applaud your generosity. However, if you’re not giving everything you don’t need, and remember, we’ve already discussed what need is in the previous chapter, why do you expect others to give? 

This might seem an accusatory chapter, but that only depends on your own conscience. If you’re of the opinion that you’re generous and helpful, then who am I to contradict you? But if you feel convicted, look at yourself and judge, because it is our own actions we should judge first.

Which leads me to the point of this chapter. I’m seeing a number of people crying out for justice, and you have that right, but I urge everyone to remember who justice belongs to.

“Vengeance is mine, and recompense for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly (Deuteronomy 32:35).”

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord (Romans 12:19).’”

I’m not innocent of this. But I honestly see it so differently now than I did even a few years ago. I meant what I said in the last chapter. I’ve given Heaven and Hell a great deal of thought, and I don’t want anyone to go to Hell. That doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them or that I agree with everything they say, but I certainly don’t want them to go to eternal damnation.

Now a days, I pray far more for salvation of those who truly wrong me than I do vengeance or even justice. I do this for a few reasons. First, if everyone deserves justice, we’re all screwed. Justice would be all of us going to Hell for our sins. Justice would be everyone being punished.

Again, people may buck at this idea, but just please ask yourself, “Am I perfect? Have I never sinned? At all?”

The price of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It’s that simple. A just response to sin would be our execution. But God in his mercy and grace showed his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8). 

If I want justice against my enemies, why do I deserve mercy? I posed that question to myself; I leave it to you to consider posing that same question to yourself.

But what do I know of true suffering? I’ve never faced racism or persecution. I’ve never been beaten by police or had my motives questioned just because of the color of my skin. I can’t have any clue what that’s like, and I certainly don’t know what it would be to endure that in some  way for more than 200 years. But I can’t make mankind love one another. All I can do is love the people around me the way I want to be loved.

I can also pray for justice in those circumstances.

However, it is in these times where we most desire vengeance that we must cling most strongly to the Word that tells us it is not ours to pay. I can pray that God brings justice, and I do. I pray even more firmly that people turn from their ways to Christ. I pray they honor the triune God who created man in Their own likeness, after their own image (Genesis 1:27). People who hold onto that truth can’t hate another man based on anything as fickle as skin color or nationality.

We should report crimes we see. We should watch out for our fellow man. We should spend time together and support one another.

Vengeance of wrongdoing can make one feel justified, but better that they wouldn’t be wronged in the first place.

I struggle with pride and frustration. I battle these temptations so much I understand Paul’s thorn (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). If I’ve made any progress in this, it was that I’ve learned how love can change a person. In a world where we seek justice and brotherly love, we can only attain such through Christ. Man has failed us time and time again.

I saw a few memes through the weeks where people talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. They say something to the effect that he protested peacefully, and people still murdered him. That saint suffered the same fate of our savior, who did nothing but preach love and fear of the Lord, and even after being declared innocent, the people cried out for his crucifixion. If mankind would kill the Son of God, what man, no matter how wonderful, stands a chance?

The fault lies in the heart of humanity. But like all evil, God used even that crucifixion for good, for it is by that crucifixion that Christ paid the price for our sins. As for justice? God showed Christ as the one perfect man by raising Him from the dead and placing Him at his right hand. And there, Christ intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).

My hope and desire is that people seek love, peace, truth, patience, and kindness. My hope is that people hold on to the truth that justice eventually comes to all. I’m not saying I don’t understand those who have had enough. I just urge people to stay above those who are wrong. Remain better than those who’ve harmed others. Keep yourself holy even if others are unholy around you or mistreat you. You do this to glorify God. You do this the remain innocent in a world of hate and selfishness. Where anger, pride, and hate have led men to murder, theft, and destruction, let love, peace, and mercy lead you to holiness, righteousness, and joy. 

For our panel: How can a people so long persecuted find any sort of peace? How can those same people maintain faith that justice will come? How do those who would see their black brothers and sisters receive justice and mercy help? How does a citizen support justice without taking it into his or her own hands? What ways can we demonstrate love and support for humanity?

Character Study: Rand al’Thor, a perfect acr

Character Study: Rand al’Thor, a perfect acr

Eye of the WorldWheel of Time is my second-favorite saga of all time. I joined the series after Knife of Dreams was out (though I started with Eye of the World), and I was hooked. I’ve read the whole series at least 14 times (1 time for each book in the series). There isn’t much news on the M.L.S. Weech front this week, so I thought I’d do a character study.

I’ve talked about character arcs a few times, and Rand is a fantastic analysis of character arc. Warning, there are spoilers here!

Characters need to grow: When we first meet Rand, we see a young man who thinks he knows how his life is going to go. He’s going to be a farmer, like his dad, and marry Egwene. He’s innocent. He’s naive. Eye of the World is essentially the story of a young man who must leave his home but desperately wants to return to it. The whole book is basically establishing Rand as a character living in ignorance (literally).

The Great Hunt forces Rand to act. Even in this book, Rand truly wants nothing more than to life to return to the way it was (a return to innocence). It is only his bond and desire to save his friend that keeps him on the path he needs to stay on. Which brings me to another point.

Characters need believable motivations: What else could keep a character moving along the plot line? Why would a character risk danger? In this case, Rand risks giving in to his power by putting himself on the Hunt. His loyalty to his friend is the motivation that makes us believe he’d do  something he’d otherwise never do.  The friendships established in the first book allow the reader to see that motivation.

Dragon RebornThe Dragon Reborn is such a clever tale for so many reason. Here we see Rand grow to accept who and what he is, and I don’t know that he has 5,000 words of screen time. We’re watching Rand grow from the perspective of those trying to catch up to him. This is the critical turning point. This is the book Rand realizes there is no returning to innocence. This book is Rand putting his fate to the test. He knows that only the Dragon Reborn could reclaim Callandor. I think this might be the book where people really fall in love with Rand. It seems weird to say, but this is the book where we see how heartbroken Rand is, and our hearts break with him. What do we learn about this?

Characters need to suffer: Sometimes, suffering can make us care for a character, and sometimes suffering can deepen how much we care. Either way, there must be conflict. In this book Rand is alone and struggling with nightmares and visits from Ba’alzamon. I have to admit, there was a large part of me that wanted it not to work. And that makes the story work.

The Shadow Rising is far more about Perrin than Rand. The scope of this series demands some books focus on one character more than others, and this is such a case.

Fires of HeavenThe Fires of Heaven has a victory of sorts, but it’s a tragic victory. Everything is thrown into chaos, and Rand must evolve from a character who has reluctantly accepted his fate to one who must take the path he has. There’s a lot that happens in this story. The first is that Rand actively pursues his role as the Dragon Reborn. He’s acquired a plan. He’s still untrusting of Moraine, and why should he be? She’s been manipulating him from the beginning. Sure, she was doing it for the sake of the world and for his own good, but it doesn’t make her actions less manipulative. Of course, the moment he starts trusting her is exactly the moment she “dies.”

Character must be isolated to grow: This isn’t the same as The Great Hunt. First, he didn’t want to be anywhere near Moraine to begin with. Here, Moraine became a crutch. In a way, she also would have been a hinderance. Like the power these characters wield, Rand isn’t something you can direct, only something you can channel. Taking Moraine in that way and at that time forces Rand to become a leader.

Characters need evolving goals: The first three books are all about Rand trying to return to where he wants to be. Fires gives Rand a new goal and a new motivation. We still see his innocence, characterized by his desire to prevent women from dying, and even in this, Rand must allow others to die. This hurts Rand. He desperately wants to protect others, especially women, so his goal becomes morbid rather than hopeful. This is the seed that was planted for his fall.

Lord of ChaosLord of Chaos changes Rand, and not in a good way.

Characters need to devolve every bit as much as they need to evolve: Rand’s capture and torture take someone who’s been manipulated before and pushes it to the extreme, leading him to be suspicious and distrustful of everyone. This betrayal changes Rand from one morbidly marching toward doom to a weapon. This was the most important moment since Moraine came to visit the Two Rivers.

Characters need anchors: Min and Aviendha (I’ll never see the value in Elayne) serve critical roles here. They represent who Rand used to be. They serve to give Rand some connection of love and trust that he desperately needs where others only fear him or what he must do.  Rand tries to avoid this in a few ways, but Min (my favorite of the three) refuses to leave his side.

A Crown of Swords is a darker book that shows Rand descending into darkness. he does things that are “right,” but his motivations and justifications begin to darken. This book, Rand (not the Dragon) receives power. That power, like always, begins to corrupt him. He starts to want to break away from his older person. Again, motivation is key. Love and trust leads to loss and betrayal, so here, we see Rand beginning to use people and seek power rather than protect.

The Path of Daggers is a tipping point. Rand is gobbling up nations and gaining power. His actions fill him with pride and hubris, leading him to a critical battle with the Seanchan.

Characters need to fail: Failures teach characters. Failures humble characters. This particular Failure shows how far Rand has fallen, and the scary thing is, he doesn’t learn from it. Instead, he’s insulted by the failure. He’s goes even bigger.

Winter's HeartWinter’s Heart becomes a sort of crowning moment of arrogance for Rand. He and Nyaeve cleanse the Source. Armies attack. The world watches in horror, and Rand does the impossible. It doesn’t actually do anything for him. He’s still insane. So are the Asha’men. As amazing as this is, it only means future men won’t lose their minds. At best, those already tainted will be saved from going completely mad. Rand’s falling deeper into despair, and this huge act of awesome power is great, but ultimately doesn’t do anything for Rand. He still has his anchors in the form of Nyneave and Min (and a few others). They continue to support Rand, who desperately needs that protection and that loyalty.

Many people hate Crossroads of Twilight. The plot doesn’t move an inch. It’s essentially a whole book of people reacting to Winter’s Heart. I had the advantage of being able to read straight through it to the next book, but I can understand how people who had been reading since the ’90s and wanted to see what happens next might have felt. I don’t imagine New Spring helped much either. Sure it showed us some new information in terms of back story, but we’re still left eager to see what happens next.

Knife of Dreams continues to push Rand to the edge. Everything he tries fails. Everything he tries comes to disaster. Failure isn’t new to Rand at this point, but this is different.

Characters need to be humbled: Here Rand isn’t just humbled, he loses a hand and almost loses himself to Lews Therin. The secret about his insanity is revealed. Where Rand was willing to go into the darkness for people, now it’s proven that he’s worthy of fear and distrust. This is important to show how close to the edge he is.

Characters need to appear as though they might go the wrong way: This is such a powerful writer tool and one so rarely used. We never worried that Harry Potter might become a Death Eater. We never worry that Luke would join the Dark Side. Those are great stories, but here is where Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time shine. We begin to seriously fear Rand would go too far. At this point, our fear is small, but we’re just a tiny bit afraid that Rand will simply become a ruthless overlord. Him saving the world seems farther away than ever.

The Gathering StormThe Gathering Storm brings all of this to a head. Rand is again betrayed. Rand is again hurt. Rand becomes convinced that ruthlessness and death are all his options. He seems to have lost all his faith in people and in the world. This is most obvious when he not only kills a woman, he erases her from existence and then (apparently) does the same thing to an entire building. Is it effective? Ironically, no. The whole idea of his abusive, excessive actions was to catch his enemy off guard, and it fails. Rand falls farther than ever, until he encounters his father for the first time since this saga began.

Characters need to remember their original motivations/who they are: There’s an argument that characters need to change. I prefer grow. Rand is clearly a different man than he was. He’s harder. He’s wiser. At this point he’s more sly and mistrusting. But he’s still motivated by love. In desperation, Rand returns to Dragonmount to seemingly end his own life, and then he realizes the beautiful potential in the world. Sure, one may fail over and over again, but each new opportunity is a chance to get it right. That return to hope is what saves the day and leads us to the new Rand.

A Memory of LightThrough Towers of Midnight (far more about Matt) and into A Memory of Light, we see the changed Rand. He has accepted that he is both Lews Therin and Rand. He has accepted that suffering is a part of life, but he has returned to hope. His encounter with his father and his love for his friends (and other forms of love) has become his anchor. Rather than morbidly thinking about getting the Last Battle over with, Rand instead looks to the future.

We still see the change. He’s certainly never pushed around by any woman again. He’s not manipulated. He’s powerful, but now humility and loss has tempered his ego in to wisdom.

Those are the things that made him ready for the Last Battle. We see the battle end, and Rand is a new man. Rather than going home (who can ever go home again?), he sets out to see the world through new eyes (literally). The boy who only wanted to stay home and live a quiet life has now left to live a life of exploration and adventure.

Rand is a beautiful character in an equally beautiful saga. Just writing this post makes me want to read the saga again (maybe not this year because a new Stormlight book is coming).  I just thought that  analyzing this story gave so much insight to how to craft great characters into great stories. I hope you found this post helpful.

A while back, I wrote a song dedicated to Wheel of Time. The recording isn’t anything near studio quality, but hey, why not? Enjoy!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Story Review: The Decoy by Janny Wurts from Unfettered II

Story Review: The Decoy by Janny Wurts from Unfettered II

 

 

Cover
Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  The Decoy by Janny Wurts is the seventh story in the Unfettered II AnthologyA young distant descendent of the throne is tasked with reaching the castle, where the entire royal family has reportedly been murdered. What role will this young man play in a rebellion that may change the inheritance for generations?

Character:  While they didn’t capture me completely, I did enjoy this character in the moment. Most stories are like this one was, a fun adventure that held your attention until the story was over. These characters were a lot like that. I remembered this story a bit better because of these characters and their deep backgrounds and interesting motivations. It’s a credit to the author. 

Exposition: This story is taken from a larger world I’m not familiar with. So there was a bit more exposition here than maybe someone would like, but it’s at least necessary for the reader to truly know the world. I think anyone reading a part of a story is either going to want that background or want to read the story because they’re fans of the universe. That means that even though we might have to suffer through a bit more exposition than we want, we go into this story with open eyes, knowing it has to happen so we know what’s going on. 

Worldbuilding: To me this was the weakest part of the story. This felt like an old sword and knights tale, which is fine for fans of the genre, but I was hoping for a bit more fantasy. This isn’t truly a discredit to the author, just a difference in taste of style. The author does a good job (requiring the aforementioned exposition) of setting the scene and the tone of the world, but I wasn’t very clear how this world fit into this or another universe. What I mean is I don’t know if I was reading fantasy taking place in the bronze age of earth or in a similar period on another planet. To defend the author, and hour-long story doesn’t give anyone much time to give depth to the world. The other defense is that this is truly part of a larger series, so if anyone really wanted to see more about this world, they could just go find book one.

JannyPortrait
Image of Wurts was taken from the biography page on the author’s website. 

Dialogue: This was pretty middle-of-the-road in my opinion. It wasn’t thinly veiled exposition, but I don’t know that I could say each character had a distinct voice. Still, the dialogue had a few moments that were touching, and that’s all I think a story hast to have. 

Description: Like most stories, I measure my feelings in this category by a question: Can I picture the story without feeling like I’m being beaten down by description. This story met that criterion. The author probably did a better job using the sense of sight than the others, but as I tend to rely on that most, I don’t realize the others are lacking until I go back and look for it.  

Overall: This is a nice sort of adventure fantasy. It bases its value of entertainment on the suspense of the riots and revolt that are happening. If you like horse-riding and cat and mouse drama, you’ll probably enjoy the story. I need a bit more magic and fighting in my entertainment, personally, but don’t let that turn you away from a well-written story. 

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Musings on Christianity 35

Musings on Christianity 35

What Holds Some People Back?

What is Heaven like? I’m actually reading a book about that right now. Oddly enough, you can read several accounts on near death experiences, but the Bible should be viewed as the authority on Heaven. This isn’t actually a chapter about Heaven. It’s just a question I want readers to ponder. If you’re like I was when I was younger, you pictured a world where you only did the things you liked doing here on Earth. Maybe Heaven is where you do nothing but watch football. Maybe Heaven is just a never ending feast with all your friends and family. Maybe Heaven is a giant party. None of those theories about Heaven are anywhere near correct, but I’m building to a point, so please bare with me.

While this isn’t a chapter about Heaven, I will tell you one thing I know without any reservation. Whatever you imagine Heaven is, Heaven is greater. The problem is that humans only know this broken, sinful Earth. Sure, there are fun things on Earth. But when we become fixated on the things of this world and start imagining Heaven as anything like this place, we’re not giving Heaven enough credit.

Imagine the best day of your life to this date. Imagine the happiest you’ve ever been. One second of Heaven will make that day seem worthless by comparison.

So why, then, would anyone not want to go to Heaven? Why, then, would anyone not seek the path to such a place?

The things that hold people back from believing are often tied to the pleasures of this Earth. God, our loving Father who gives us such wonderful things, blessed this world with so many wonderful things. One thing I feel happens though is that we start to see the gifts as God rather than the God who made the things we enjoy so much.

These gifts, which in and of themselves may not be sinful, become idols, which makes the action sinful. I’ve mentioned previously that anything you’re willing to sin to obtain or sin because you don’t get is an idol. One should look at their lives and consider those things. Time is a wonderful thing, and I struggle mightily with “my time.” The second I consider it mine, I’ve placed myself and the thing on which I want to spend my time on God’s throne.

These idols hold us back from the Kingdom because we’ve made that activity or action the ideal in our mind. However, Heaven is so much greater than anything you could do here on Earth. This is why Christians should be fixated on getting there. Maybe rather than imagine Heaven as a place where we can only do things we do here, we should imagine Heaven as a place where no matter how fun what we’re doing right now is, being in Heaven will be that much better.

Another thing that holds people back is money. Of course we want good things. Of course we want to provide for our family and ensure we have a comfortable retirement. It’s not sinful to have money. What is sinful is to make money God. God, who created the heavens and the earth; God, who created the world and the fullness therein, doesn’t need money. When you’re with him, you won’t either. His very presence and person is light and joy.

The concept of wealth is something I wonder about sometimes. Why do we need money? To buy stuff. What stuff? Food. People can plant food and raise animals for food. Sure, you’d have to buy the animals, but it could be done. This world has done an amazing job of convincing us that we “need” so many things. When you think about it though, humans don’t really need a lot to survive. Yet the quality of that survival is dependent upon amenities that span beyond survival. Sure, feed me some slop, shelter me from the elements, and provide me water, and I will continue to exist. However, we thrive as we have more.

So we’ve developed the thought that money is the need when money was literally invented as an exchange for the goods we actually need to sustain ourselves or thrive. Even in this world, money isn’t the need. At best, money is the means by which we obtain those needs. But Biblically, that’s not the way it really works. The way we obtain our needs is seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness. If we do these things, our Father, who is in Heaven, will add to us all these other things (Matthew 6:33).

How will God provide? He’s God! He’ll do it however he wants. But if he can arrange for the survival of wild animals and plants, he can absolutely ensure the survival of the race he created last, humanity, who are worth so much more than birds and plants.

So is money really sinful? Not in and of itself. Solomon was the wealthiest, wisest man of all time. Daniel was a king. Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. These are all saints. None of them were perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they had good times. They also had bad times. David was chased throughout Israel. He had to live in caves and beg priests for food (1 Samuel). Joseph was sold into slavery and then thrown into prison (Genesis). Solomon wrote an entire book of the Bible speaking about how he’d gone chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes).

It’s hard for people with money to enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:23).

I’m of the opinion that this is true because we start to worship the money rather than the God who blessed us with such wealth to begin with.

One who sees the kingdom of Heaven rightly, as so much better than all the wealth of the earth, wouldn’t covet that money so much.

That doesn’t mean we should be foolish or unwise with the money God entrusted to us. It just means we need to remember that this, too, is a gift from God, and we should worship the creator, not the creation.

It’s hard for me not to think about money sometimes. I have to remind myself that it’s not money I need, it’s God, the creator of all things who can give me everything I need. Like anyone, I work hard to earn a living. I aspire to earn more as an author. I wish I could send my sons to a Christian school. I want to pay cash for college for my sons. I never want to be in debt again. The trick is focusing on God rather than money.

There is a trick to being content in all situations (Philippians 4:11-13). It’s being focused on God.

We get held back because we blind ourselves with the things of this world. If our hard times become an opportunity to glorify God and seek Him and be grateful to Him for all He does, all will be well. If in our abundance we praise God and use what he entrusted to us to do His will, all will be well.

Maybe we think Heaven isn’t so great because some people we love won’t be there. Have you ever heard the phrase, “All my friends are in Hell”?

This one baffles me as a person. I’ve been through some hard times. And while the people we love can help us through these times, that doesn’t make them any less hard does it? Think about the Holocaust. Let’s imagine Hell as an eternal Holocaust (it isn’t; it’s so much worse, but it’s the closest analogy I know on this earth). If I promised you that every person you ever even liked a little bit would be there, would you really want to go there? Is there any amount of friends and family being beside you that would make such a horrid existence something you’d willingly go to?

Wouldn’t you instead do everything in your power to avoid such a fate and help those you love to do the same? Welcome to evangelism!

There isn’t a single person on this earth, no matter what he or she may have done to me, who I’d wish to experience that sort of thing. Sure, I’ve been angry and wanted justice or even vengeance, but even just based on the two or so books I’ve read about the Holocaust, I wouldn’t put anyone through that.

Instead, I want to go to Heaven. I want to go there so much I’m willing to give whatever I have to. But what we must give isn’t a sacrifice or offering. Instead, we must accept Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We must believe He lived a perfect life. We must believe He died for our sins. We must believe He was resurrected on the third day, and we must pick up our cross and follow Him.

That means letting go of the things that turn us from him, and we all have work to do that. I know I do, but it’s worth it. We talk sometimes about Heaven and Hell. There are people who believe in Heaven, but they don’t believe in Hell. I’d argue that even if Hell weren’t a real place (it is), that any place not Heaven is Hell. That’s how great Heaven is. There are people who believe in Hell and not Heaven. Neither of these groups of people make a ton of sense to me, but they’re out there. I’d do anything to avoid Hell and keep those I love from going there.

Please look closely at your life and the things you fixate on. Believers, fixate on Christ. I know you have children to care for and a wife to love (and God commands us to do so). I know you have to provide for your live,s and I promise I understand the need for rest and the desire to pursue goals. I simply beg you, make getting closer to God your primary goal. Consider anything that takes you from Him antithetical to your overall mission.

For our panel: Are you willing to discuss an idol in your life that you struggled to turn away from? What are some other things that hold us back from the kingdom? What do we do when we recognize an idol, but still covet it even though we know it’s wrong? What is Heaven really like? What is Hell really like?

Betrayed is With My Editor, Discovered is Being Drafted!

Betrayed is With My Editor, Discovered is Being Drafted!

Greetings all,

caught-front-coverI’m happy to announce that I’ve saved up enough to send Betrayed to Sara for edits. This means that once I get the edits back from her, I’ll be able to apply that feedback in my Developmental Draft. I’m three drafts away from getting that story out! Sara said she’ll need about two weeks to get back to me.

That gives me time to continue working on Discovered, the final book in the Oneiros Log. I’m already 10,000 words into that story, and I’m very pleased with what I’m seeing so far.

In Betrayed we meet two new characters, one of which is featured in Discovered. In Discovered, we meet four new characters. I’ve already decided I’m particularly proud of one of these new characters. Obviously, I think highly of all my characters, but every now and then one really charms me.

Oneiros, Caught is Book One, was originally just a bit of fun for me after working on The Journals of Bob Drifter. After talking to my brother about a few things I’d included in the back story, he really wanted to see where the story goes. The readers I’ve met agree.

Betrayed takes us from a place where Oneiros feels like they can live happily as a sort of super-hero family version of the A-Team to being literally hunted. The government has targeted Oneiros, and they’ve selected one of Dom’s old friends to lead that mission. This whole book humbles the family and shows that there are still deeper levels to the events that brought them into being. As is true of any of my stories, no one is safe. The events of this book forces every member of the team to truly look at themselves and each other. It was a hard book to write in a lot of ways because of how much these events test the team.

kaitlynDiscovered closes the loop in my opinion. Once I decided to write all three books, I always imagined it being the opening to a new super hero universe. Sure, there are other events that could happen, but I don’t currently have any plans to write any more stories in this universe. My dream would be to give the trilogy to Netflix and let them take the story from there.  So this story reveals the true origins of the team and the conflict with the mastermind behind it all.

I’ll keep plugging away on Discovered until Sara sends me her feedback on Betrayed. That means I’m hoping to be about 24,000 words into Discovered when I switch back. I might want to finish the Discovery Draft to Discovered before I do any revisions. It depends on how well I think that story is going (right now I think it’s great). If I do get right to work on Betrayed, I’d hope to have the Developmental Draft done by the end of July. This means I still have a bit of hope that the book will be released in 2020. Either way, Discovered will come quickly on its heels.

I wanted to take a moment to update you all on those projects. I thank you for the support and encouragement you’ve given me through the years. I hope to keep writing for a long time, and anyone sending positive vibes or posting reviews or recommending my books to others is a huge boost to my morale. Thank you so much.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Story Review: Aokigahara by John A. Pitts from Unfettered II

Story Review: Aokigahara by John A. Pitts from Unfettered II

 

 

Cover
Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Aokigahara by John A. Pitts is the sixth story in the Unfettered II Anthology.  A math genius spends her days working to earn an income via social media when she receives a strange encoded message that begins unweaving a mystery that will end in a development no one could ever imagine.

Character:  The characters in this story were sympathetic. There’s actually an interesting arc that connects closely to the to the plot. This piece (speculative in nature) does a nice job investigating the nature of conscience and thought. 

Exposition: Like a lot of speculative scifi, there is a lot of author musing here hidden behind the mind of the character. However, one should honestly expect that sort of thing in a story like this. While I noticed it, I don’t think the exposition dragged the story down. The whole thing only takes about 30 minutes to read, and it’s a fast pace despite the introspective nature of the story. 

Worldbuilding: This is deceptively good. The story opens, and each line and event opens up the futuristic world. Each time something happens, we understand the world better, and it feels natural. This was the strongest part of this story. Again, several of the stories in this anthology really do an amazing job of maximizing worldbuilding in short fiction. This story is no different.

Dialogue: There’s just not a lot of it in this story. What is there would probably lead to spoilers, which I work very hard to avoid. This is probably why the story didn’t resonate so much with me. I need some dialogue in my stories. It speeds the pace and gives me another way to connect with characters. However, that’s just a personal preference. This story is still well told. It’s just hyper focused on one character and doesn’t use dialogue.

Description: I’d say this is exactly where it needed to be. The scenes were the most vivid. I don’t quite remember the physical descriptions of the characters. I think the author was wise to minimize this since there was already a lot of detail invested in the speculative nature of the story. To add another 1,000 words or so of description would probably have only served slow the story down more. 

Overall: This is an interesting piece of speculative science fiction. It doesn’t have the charm most stories I like have. However, this story is really more about provoking thought and introspection, which this story does. If you’re looking for a quick story to get your brain going, give this story a shot.    

Thanks for reading

Matt