Alright folks, this is a post that has been a long time coming for many reasons (most of which I will cover here, the rest are covered in my patron page version of this..hahaha I’m sorry I can’t take my self that seriously, no one would pay me…or would you?(1).
Look I won’t shit my self(2): I haven’t been very good at posting lately. I haven’t posted much since I left the UK. A lot has changed. Regardless I’ll fill you in on what’s been going on in my personal/professional life since the last post.
My family life is going better than it ever has but there’s not much to say there other than: my kid turned 9, my girlfriend and boyfriend both had a birthday, and I’ve finally gotten back in touch with my best friend for the first time since his birthday (six months prior). MOVING ON.
What has been really eating up my time is both the event of my girlfriend giving me her old Galaxy Note 4, which has a VERY powerful drawing app (sketchbook) and working on freelance writing gigs.
If you like my comics please follow me at my instagram page “fin.louie”. I sent my comic portfolio to a local publication, The River Front Times (the RFT in St Louis) and I’m hoping they pick me up but if not I have a hashtag campaign to make sure they know what they’re rejecting.
Aside from my comics I’ve been working on short stories for publication, one of which I think I have a winner for publication. It’s titled…hahaha sorry can’t reveal any details until it’s bought. Soz but me being “in control of sensitive information” is probably the closest I’ll get to being a CIA agent or something.
Also I’m getting through my novel and I began the Dresden Files audiobooks. I plan to make small 500 word “impressions” of each book as I work my way through.
When my short stories get published (operative word: WHEN) I’ll re-post them here. I am actively working to find a place to post my content under “www.offbeatonpoint.com” for less than 10$ a year (3) but if not I will continue to post online in plenty of places.
What to Expect:
I don’t know. I plan to post “impressions” (like 500 words or less) of the Dresden Files because I’ve read several of these books out of order (like 6), when I’m normally an order freak but this series is an exception, My friend Evan got me to read the, currently, newest book “Skin Game” as my first Dresden Files book and I was hooked.
I have been playing with the idea of doing reviews of “play novels” because I found this nice website indiedb.com but that’s just a fragment of an idea.
Either way don’t expect much from me in the coming months except web comics. And also maybe a birthday post or something. I turn 30 next month.
I’m an asshole. Sorry I don’t have any actual patreon content but if you wanna give me money because you’ve liked my work thus far and want to see more I’m okay with that. I just have a hard time with the concept of having content behind a “pay wall” ie content you have to pay for to view. It makes me a bad business man but a good anarchist punk ie THE STRUGGLE IS FUCKING REAL!
Unless I’ve drank too much.
WordPress pretty much hates me, I’m guessing its because I am winning too hard.
Wow. It’s year 3 already and I nearly fucking missed it if it wasn’t for facebook’s “on this day” app. It’s been a long year, if you can’t tell. I haven’t had much time to assess this piece since I’m literally just remembering and subsequently writing this post the day of HOWEVER I HAVE GOT THIS! You watch…erm…read. You know what I meant.
Okay so I need to open with an apology (to like the 3 of you who read last year’s Manifesto and State of the Blog Post): I have almost failed to fill any of my intentional goals. Since I moved back to my mother city, St Louis, I’ve been forced to abandon a regular posting schedule which mostly includes giving the big axe to the columns “Working Title Tuesday”, “Rewind Wednesday”, “Thursday Night at the Cinema”, “Slam Saturday”, and “The Sunday Review”. I will occasionally write for those columns (I do have some things coming down the pipes for Thursday Night at the Cinema specifically) but due to changing circumstances I cannot commit to that many columns unless I can derive an income from it.
A Little About my Life Since Getting Home:
Since the last time I wrote one of these, many things have changed in my life. Literally almost everything for the better. After getting accepted into Lancaster University (in the UK) as a degree seeking student and beginning the residency application process, I was offered house and a very good job offer back in St Louis. As per my visa, I needed to return to the USA to renew my visa, I anticipated on going back to St Louis at some point over the summer, however with the job and house offer and admittedly some uni burn out, I decided to roll the dice and come back to St Louis for keeps. It worked out in one way and failed in another.
The job offer I had worked out very well for a time (company went under 6 months after getting back home) however within a few weeks of coming home I met the love of my life who welcomed me into her family and home and I cannot be more grateful for that.
I know I vowed to get out of the food industry but when the company I worked for went under and I had a family to care for, I needed what I could get.
I now work at a neighborhood pub/grill as a cook and it’s good, or at least the best kitchen job I’ve ever had anyway. I like the people I work with, the menu is relatively standard, and the customers aren’t fussy. The pay could be better but it’s not complete shite.
Projects I’m Still Working On:
So I have abandoned pretty much everything I mentioned in last year’s post with the exceptions of the first book in my trilogy of novels “A Band of Misprints” which is making EXCELLENT progress due to my loving and supportive family.
I plan to have draft one of part 1 done by September and likely sooner.
I recently just finished the first act of “The Adventures of Fin & Louie” and am beginning work on Act two.
I have also revived an old blog idea “Why? Answers to All the Questions You Never Asked” and have decided to add it to my current blog as a column. I have a lot of stupid information free floating in my brain and as much I have a lot of stupid questions floating around (mostly starting with “why”) and they need and outlet. My fiancée thought it was a good idea and seeing as she gives me many good ideas, I’m going to see it through for a whilst. I already have over 50 “why” questions written down since Monday which gives me faith it might be a good blog content outlet.
Statement of Intent:
I plan to finish draft one of A Band of Misprints and acts 2 and 3 of “The Adventures of Fin & Louie” and if FSM is willing, maybe I’ll finally get around to making coasters and business cards for OBOP (HINT: these would make an EXCELLENT birthday present around 23rd September).
Outside of book reviews, comics, and the occasional wild card post, I can’t promise much else at the moment. Life is too busy and non conformist stateside for me to be able to make any commitments when I’m not getting paid. However, speaking of getting paid, I have recently received some encouragement to submit my comics to the local community newspaper the Riverfront Times (or as the local cool kids call it, The RFT). I will keep you posted on how that goes. I’ll post either the acceptance or rejection letter because either would be a badge of honour.
Stay tuned folks, life is good and getting better. I have plenty more content coming, maybe some more Thursday Night at the Cinema pieces because YouTube’s algorithm has been really crushing it lately showing me new and interesting (to me) channels which is really exciting.
Because of this rut (I mentioned before about refocusing my blog but my intentions, like my life, things don’t always turn out the way I was expecting) and I had mostly all wrote off all the other columns (unless someone wants to write with me on this blog, still accepting applications, all you have to do is reach out with a couple of writing samples [CONTACT ME PAGE], no pressure though but there are benefits(1)) particularly “Thursday Night at the Cinema” because it’s so new and requires time, which as I’ve mentioned becoming a family guy has made me prioritise my projects dramatically.
However I recently discovered Patrick (H) Willems, specifically I discovered this guy on a Friday (which is usually my “work Friday night shift because, despite my [mostly] self-proclaimed talent and education, I STILL work in kitchens”) which when I work night shifts I have a hard time staying awake/productive through the day because my brain is like “Bro, you need to sleep until you go to work then stay up for hours after your shift”. So I did my usual Friday morning ritual “get my son on the school bus, make my fineacee coffee, then eat breakfast before going into my office to ‘work’(3)” and I kept falling asleep to Willems’s videos but thinking to myself “these are fucking brilliant! I need to revisit these later”. Usually when this happens I usually forget or don’t revisit because rut but this particular Friday I had an unusually, but not entirely unexpected, shitty Friday night at work and after getting home and bitching to my fiencee and my boyfriend(4) for a whilst about my night I went back down to my office to roll some cigarettes and I remembered Patrick (H) Willems’s videos and decided to revisit them whilst trying to unwind and I was GREATLY rewarded.
Patrick (H) Willems (I will refer to him as PHW from here out) is one of the rare YouTube creators whom I feel deeply reluctant to call a “creator” as that term is just so damn vague but I would more feel comfortably refer to as a true “director, cinematographer, writer, and visionary”. His videos range from the “TL;DR I have too much time and will explain [X] series to you” videos to original shorts that parody greats like Wes Anderson to original content like “The High School Reunion”. The guy is a fucking renaissance man in his field. I won’t lie to you and say I’ve watched all his content (because I haven’t) but I doubt I will because he does include vlog kind of material and honestly I visit YouTube almost exclusively because it is literally an incredible place to find young (as in experience) independent documentarians and filmmakers covering such a diverse body of subjects from theoretical mathematics (Numberphile) to people who over analyse movies/games (Mat Pat of Game and Film Theory) and literally everything in between (I wish I had a better example for “something in between” but again, rut; maybe Grickle?).
In the following I’m including what I consider a highlights/cross-section cut of PHW’s body of work:
I highly encourage you all to comment and debate in the comment section, whether related or not, about this piece. Any and all feedback is deeply appreciated.
I want to let the three of you who regularly read this blog that I am making, slow but regular, progress with my novel. I have the remainder of part one (of five) outlined so I can now make progress on the regular rather than flailing about anxiously without a direction. Now that I have part one of the novel outlined, I plan to finish the chapter I’m working on then I will begin drawing panels for act II of “The Adventures of Fin & Louie: Reluctant Partners in Crime”. I promise I am making progress towards finishing these projects. In fact, if you want more and haven’t caught up on Act I of “The Adventures of Fin & Louie: Looking for a Friend in All the Wrong Places” you can view them all here THE ADVENTURES OF FIN & LOUIE.
Stay tuned because there is more to come.
I can’t pay you but I will write you an excellent recommendation letter when you do seek paying employment and you will get free promotional material, when I have money and time to make it (I have ideas but money is the main struggle).
Usually includes a cup of coffee whilst I intend to watch a couple of youtube videos in my feed then write but I usually fall back asleep. Yes I do have a bed in my office because sleeping areas are surprisingly important to this insomniac (INSERT LINK TO INSOMNIA BOOK PREVIEW).
Both my home and sex life is exactly as interesting as it sounds.
I Stephen King’s “Insomina” on my girlfriend’s bookshelf and was instantly intrigued. See what you need to you need to understand about me is I struggle with sleep. I don’t particularly know what type of insomniac I am(1) but I know that I go a bit fucking balls-nuts (a phrase I coined when sleep deprived) mad when I don’t have enough sleep. I’ve had hallucinations about men with 3 arms (I wondered where he got his shirts), I went to San Diego with no plan and no money (I slept in a gutter), and purple tastes like crushed velvet (which makes the inside of my teeth itch which is as unpleasant as it sounds). These are the more amusing highlights (more typically I get really loopy, my brain feels ‘loose’, and I get really angry/paranoid).
However the good news is that I’ve started on some sleeping medicines that usually work(2) but Ralph Roberts, the protagonist of Stephen King’s novel “Insomia” isn’t so lucky (yet?). In this post I’m trying something a little different than the usual book review format. In interest of being able to post more often with compromising my desire to read anything I want despite the page length, I’m trying this thing where I do “first impressions” and depending on both the length of the book and the amount of time it takes me to read the book I will be doing follow up pieces which include “midpoint impressions”, a proper book review, and maybe a “final thoughts” piece where I write something after the has sunk in.
The book opens in a similar fashion as the Disney movie “Up” does with a prologue that paints the picture of an elderly couple in the dusk of their marriage. Ralph Roberts wife Carlyon has a terminal illness that keeps her in a constant state of physical and mental pain which is deeply heartbreaking. My first thought was that it was gonna take a few hundred pages for King to kill Carlyon but she ends up dying before Chapter One (and yes I cried a little bit). What’s interesting is that Carlyon’s death is a seriously small side story in the picture being painted so far. Just prior to her death Ralph had some strange experiences. Before she died he could hear a “death clock” ticking, not as a metaphor for his grief but as he describes it as a literal constant “tick-tick-ticking” that stopped when she died.
Another strange thing that happened is he saw his usually mild manouored neighbor Ed Deepeau getting into a paranoid fueled violent altercation with another guy claiming that he had dead babies in fertilizer barrels in the bed of the guy’s truck. After the the altercation Ralph is getting a ride home from a friend and draws a Chinese symbol (or so they say in the book and it kinda looks like it to my best guestimation(3)) which he has no idea where it came from or what it means.
Other than that, most of the plot has been establishing how small the town of Derry, Maine is and the daily dramas that happen in a tight knit community but there is this mounting sense that something just past the edge of the pages is coming. One of the clues has to do with this voice that speaks to Ralph but as it’s been presented so far it “feels” like his interior monologue but I cannot say specifically why it isn’t but I am pretty confident that it is something “not-Ralph”. There has also been mention of this entity “The Crimson King” which is supposed to be returning. The mention of this mostly comes from Ed Deepneau, the wife beating piece of shit, whilst Ed is in some strange paranoid rant. From the first time we meet Ed, from Ralph’s perspective, Ed has been “out of sorts”. Ralph notices that Ed has been acting increasingly paranoid, violent, and generally like “someone else” which leads me to believe that maybe he was a nice guy once or at least a slightly less belligerently violent and paranoid person.
I suspect these things have some ties into King’s Dark Tower series(4)(of which I haven’t read, YET), particularly “The Crimson King” reference, however I am REALLY trying to avoid spoilers but I may end up reading up on the Stephen King Multiverse because that shit deeply impresses and intrigues me.
So far, the book is good however it is what I would catagories as a… “sleeper” (HAHAHA I’m sorry but puns are funny and if you’re one of those fucks who repeats the stupid fucking phrase “puns are the lowest form of humour” then maybe you can stop reading my blog? I don’t know either way you make a little sad because not only is that phrase untrue, dick and fart jokes are the lowest form of humour [because they’re about
baseline bodily functions] but puns utilise many linguistic tools from rhyming to double entrendas and abstract thinking, anyway I should stop yelling at my imaginary audience (INSERT PIC OF JOKER “SOME PEOPLE HAVE IMAGINARY FRIENDS BUT I HAVE IMAGINARY FANS!)) becuase it has been slow but I only being 126 pages in, of 663 pages, I’m sure things will get intense soon and around then I’m sure the book will be GIVING me Insomnia in that way really good books tend to.
Stay tuned, folks: more to come on “Insomnia” and I promise there will be more comics coming (my next focus is to get a few comics drawn for Act II of “The Adventures of Fin & Louie: Reluctant Partners in Crime”)
Lunesta is one hell of a hallucigen if you are able to manage to stay awake. The last time it didn’t work part of me was laying in bed but the rest of me was going on an epic adventure 20,000 leagues under the sea with Captain Nemo wrestling sharks with my bare hands and, for some reason, flying out in space in the same submarine searching for the pearl of eternity which was supposed to grant us time travel capabilities with the side effect that our hands would randomly turn into Portuguese speaking gerbils. We were convinced it was worth it.
I eat a lot of Chinese food.
I recently had my mind fucking blown when I learned about Stephen King’s Multiverse despite the fact that since I was 10 I’ve read maybe 20 of his books which might be more than I’ve read form any single author.
So Marc, one of my lovelies, got me a cream-worthy-cool present: a pad of giant post-it notes. I got to work almost immediately.
A Band of Misprints (update)
So this thing may look like a giant jumble but I have it broken down into smaller sections.
Here is a rough sketch of the city of Big River which is the city in which The Big River Chronicles takes place:
Then in the first book, A Band of Misprints, most/all of the narrative takes place in The Neighborhood:
I have 3-4 main characters, depending on how you/I count, and I’ve made a relationship map for each main character.
So based on this list of statics…I’m no where close to finished. I would like to think that prose writing will go much faster now that every time I say “I’m going to work on some stuff” I write rather than “sit down at the computer fully intending ‘to write’, open google docs, realise I’m flailing around with no particular plan in mind but brute force pushing forward with chapter writing, cry a little on the inside at how overwhelmed I feel and generally how that makes me feel like a failure as a writer, play on facebook for a while, smoke a few cigarettes, watch some childrens’ show (Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, Phineas and Ferb, etc) for ‘inspiration’ (both a distraction and self consoling from my inside weeping because of insecurities)”, however dog only knows how long this first draft will take however I am confident I will have the first part, written in full prose and all, finished…lets say: by my birthday this year (23rd Sept). Realistically, I think I will be done with the first part sooner than that but I’m being kind to “Future Blake”.
The Adventures of Fin and Louie (update)
So I finished the first story arc in the first trilogy of “The Adventures of Fin & Louie”: Looking for a Friend(1) and the story so far can be found here: “The Adventures of Fin & Louie”.
Now I’ve had the general direction of this trilogy in mind: “Looking for a Friend”, “Fin & Louie: Partners in Crime” and [Sir Title Hasn’t Been Announced Yet].
I am thinking about redrawing all the comics in “Looking for a Friend” story arc on one piece of giant post-it with intention of being able to fit the other two story arcs on a piece of giant post-it as well. I may make them into posters or something someday. File that in the same place as my “I’ll make stickers/coasters for sale” statement (it’ll happen…someday when I have spare money or demand [if I get requests, I WILL find the money like yesterday])
I have not forgotten about the other projects I’m working on (“hair.” and “The St Louis Experience”). I have no idea when I will get closer to doing anything material with “hair.” however “The St Louis Experience” is something I might be able to start this spring. I would like to but here is my priority list of projects (my life is a waltz that goes like “family, work, projects”):
The Adventures of Fin & Louie/OBOP
A Band of Misprints/The Big River Chronicles
The St Louis Expierence
I will try to have another post up for Monday, a lot has been on my mind lately (personal, creative, projects, work, life in general) so I’m pretty sure I will be able to churn something out for Monday, if not know that it’s probably because I was getting into a fight with the Easter Bunny.
So stay tuned, good things are coming. Maybe more frequently.
You’ve thunk a writer like me could have found a easier way to phrase that, wouldn’t ya?
A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Serial Reader (full review here) and in my review I mentioned having an unofficial and non-intentional avoidance for kindle readers.
I really don’t know why I have had this unofficial kindle reader boycott, maybe it’s because I avoid apps that want me to enter payment information or something. I think it’s a money-fueled-fear aversion. Or maybe I’m a trendsetter. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
However since then my friend has given me his old kindle fire with the book recommendation “Alcatraz vs The Evil Librarians”
So today’s post has 3 parts:
An update on Serial Reader (I have found more bugs since the initial review)
A review of the book Alcatraz vs The Evil Librarians
Initial impressions of the Kindle Fire
Update on Serial Reader:
I’ve gone through a few phones since I wrote about Serial Reader(1) and one thing I’ve noticed is that I have trouble signing into my account across devices despite the “forgot password?” feature. The issue this brings up is that when you have to “re-create an account” (I literally had 3 accounts under the same email, same password) you lose your place in your book(s) and have to wait until the serial catches up to where you were in your book UNLESS you get a premium membership (pretty reasonable at about 3$) however the issue remains: IF I CANNOT SIGN IN, I CANNOT ACCESS MY ACCOUNT PREMIUM OR FREE-MIUM. This being the case, I’ve lost my place in the two books I was reading(2) a couple of times each.
Also it had this relatively minour/inconsistent bug where it doesn’t keep my place. It most often happened when I finished a chapter and then the next time I came back to read, it started me at the end of the last chapter instead of where I was into the next chapter.
So all things considered, I can recommend Serial Reader if you’re not going to change devices anytime soon but because of this issue I do have trouble recommending it for purchase.
Alcatraz vs The Evil Librarians Book Review:
Alcatraz Vs The Evil Librarians is about the titularly named character, Alcatraz Smedry, who is really good at breaking things. Not like being clumsy or destructive, in fact Alcatraz makes a very specific distinction between “break” and “destroy”\
There was that word again. Destroy. I felt my hair bristle in annoyance. I don’t destroy things, I thought. I break them. They’re still there when I’m finished, they just don’t work right anymore.
Shortly after accidentally burning down his foster parents’ kitchen we’re introduced to the eccentric Grandpa Smedry who reveals “Yer a wizard Alca…” No I’m sorry that was uncalled for, this book isn’t a Harry Potter knock off. For one thing, this book is much better(3). These books are very self aware in the currently fashionable post-modern style which includes that Alcatraz will speak to the reader directly and frequently, often noting how this being a story about his life and him as a character. We learn that the world we know is under the rule of a network of evil librarians (though why they’re evil is never fully explained…) and that there is another world somewhere around ours (I suspect it’s an “occupies the same space but not the same time” kind of situation but again, not entirely explained in this first installment) and it’s up to the extended and extensive Smedry family to recover Alcatraz’s father’s life work: The Sands of Rashid (which was stolen by the evil librarians).
I’ve mentioned before about my general reluctance to get involved in book series that span more than 1200 pages and/or 3 books however this series started and ended so very strongly that I’m interested in at least reading the next couple of books (there’s a total of 5 books and book 2 and 3 would have to be pretty amazingly bad for me not to try and power through the last couple of books). I will be taking a break on the series for a couple of books (variety keeps me going) but stay tuned because I do plan to review more as the series goes.
Thoughts on the Kindle Fire:
It’s pretty brilliant. I am a bit reluctant to admit it, it’s like admitting to liking Taylor Swift (just her early stuff, like most songs before the “Red” album), but I’m coming out and saying that I like it a lot so far. It just has too many damn features that I love, like the blue light mode, the highlight and note system, even the fucking cover is brilliant. The only things I kinda don’t like is that it’s a little too “COME BUY EVERYTHING! We’ll make it obnoxiously easy…” however I guess that’s apart of its brilliance. In Google/Amazon we trust (in a capitalist society, who needs governments anyway? I’m sure someday when Google or Amazon, if one doesn’t buy the other first, buys the US Government, Okay Google/Alexa will be happy to answer my question).
I’m really rough on phones. I blame my first phone, an old sprint sanyo , mostly because it was a fucking tank. I got that phone just as I graduated high school and it went through a litany of punishment, including one time where I played beer pong
with it, and it JUST. KEPT. GOING. I appreciate that phones have gotten much more complex and fragile since then but it seems to come at the cost of being so damn fragile.
The Sleeper Awakens by H.G. Wells and House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
I read the first 2 Harry Potter books and really just couldn’t get into them. The movies were okay. I’ve seen them all once because of my kid sister otherwise I probably would have quit them too after movie 4 I think. I remember there was a lull a bit around half way through the series.
***WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW***
Thoughts on the story:
“‘…we’re here to interfere! We’re trying to overthrow Librarian domination of the Hushlands, after all.’ ‘Why not just let people live their lives, and live yours?”
This is an excellent question and one that gives me the feel that these Smedrys are acting as “world police” liberating people, who didn’t ask for it, and with out regard for the consequences of crumbling a regime that in, the cannon of this story, is fairly peacefully and the further consequences of the sequential awareness of said “evil regime”. Alcatraz frequently mentions things like “I am no hero” and “I am not a good person” which makes me wonder if this is a foreshadowing of a moral crisis he will have later in the series.
“Do you have to have a point if you’re an evil sect of Librarians?” Bastille asked with annoyance.
This begs the question: Does evil have a “point”? (read: purpose) or more generally does any morality have a “point”? This, being a quote from one of the “heroes”, goes unchallenged which does trouble me a bit because it implies that Bastille, a native of The Free Kingdoms and a child still, has never been challenged to think about WHY librarians are evil and if there is a purpose to the things they do.
“The Scrivener [the founder of the evil librarian cult]. He taught that the world is too strange a place — that it needs to be ordered, organized, and controlled. One of Biblioden’s teachings is the Fire Metaphor. He pointed out that if you let fire burn free,it destroys everything around it. If you contain it, however, it can be very useful. Well, the Librarians think that other things — Oculatory powers, technology, Smedry Talents — need to be contained too.”
This is an interesting philosophy but one that’s kinda one dimensional. The deal with fire, both in reality and as a metaphoric symbol for society, is that in small amounts it can be sustained without burning everything in sight without oversight. Once a fire/society gets beyond a certain size, it can/will grow out of control without oversight. Now to continue this metaphor, a small fire may be able to contain it self but it hasn’t enough energy to do much whereas a large uncontained fire has enough energy to do a great many things but without oversight it will consume everything in sight which would be an effective waste of said energy. It comes down to the debate between Anarchism and Statism. Anarchism can work in societies up to a certian size but beyond that size it falls into a “Lord of the Flies” brutalism just as Statism works on large societies but when applied to too small of a society it becomes a sort of fiefdom. I’m not saying absolute of either works in any size society but a blind acceptance/rejectance of an opposing ideology is generally foolish.
“Librarians named mountains after themselves — just like they named prisons after [Smedrys].”
Still not sure of the significance of this but it’s certainly interesting.
“So, my parents game me up so that they would make a spy out of me?” [Alcatraz] asked.
This is some fucked up “the ends justify the means” shit here. I am more strongly suspecting that The Free Kingdoms have some more problems than is let on in this first book.
What did you expect? That [Grandpa Smedry] would leave [Alcatraz] here all summer, in the exact place where your enemies know where to look? With people that aren’t even your family? In a place you don’t really like, and that is depressingly normal compared to the world you’ve grown to love? Doesn’t that seem a little stupid and contrived to you?
Damn…that’s got to be shots fired at Harry Potter.
Okay folks, that’s all I have for you today. I’m working on finishing the “Looking for a Friend” story arc in The Adventures of Fin & Louie. If you’re interested in catching up on back issues, they can be found on my new page: The Adventures of Fin & Louie
Ramshackle Glory is the final band that Pat the Bunny was in/started before he retired in 2016. Pat seems to write albums that are heavily autobiographical, this one being no exception. Pat the Bunny is one of those artists that I discovered in the last couple of years where from the first album I listened to by him, Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, I thought “HOLY FUCKING CHEDDAR! This kid has a goddamn voice!” I mean that both literally and lyrically, like if you listen to Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains (link here) his lyrics are deep but his voice is so “ugly beautiful”. He is also one of the few artist who has made me jealous because when I started doing research into him, I found out the bastard is like MY FUCKING AGE (I turn 30 this year, for the record). Jealous not because of the life he’s lived, honestly I have pity for the unexplainable amounts of pain and drama he must have experienced, but for the depth of his ability as an artist. Sometimes life is just but it’s usually never fair.
Speaking of just and fair, Ramshackle Glory’s first album deals heavily with ideas of freedom particularly with regard to the things which hold us back such as grief, substance abuse, and political against. This isn’t to say Pat doesn’t have a sense of humour, which can be seen from his track titles “We Are All Compost in Training”, “Vampires are for Poseurs” and “First Song, Part 2” and lyrics like “No one needs to tell me how to get (get get) down // But won’t somebody show me how to get back up? // I thought about killing my landlord, but he was pretty nice// Instead, I paid my rent on time as often as I could” and “Who needs brakes when it’s all down hill from here?”\
Live the Dream is Ramshackle’s first album is a folk-punk memoir concept album about presumably Pat the Bunny (the lead singer) and some of the friends he mentions throughout the album, specifically Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist. The half of the album is a sort of descent into what seems to be a deeply low but ultimately growing period in his development as a person and an artist which said growth is gradually built up in the second half of the album. The second half of the album is both rhythmically and lyrically more uplifting and progressing through to the climax song (which is also my favourite song) Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist and the the outro song “First Song, part 2” which can be seen as a “redemption song” opening with “I took the needle out of my arm about a year ago today// ever since then i’ve been taking the needle out of my brain”. Overall it’s a rough but excellent album well worth listening all the way through for the appreciation of both the self referential and narrative lyrics starting with the lyric from the first song “But nothing’s been quite the same since you shot yourself” which seems to be a reference to Chuck in Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist.
Okay guys, I admit that things got a bit weird last week with my Valentine’s Day post (The Golden Ass: A Valentine’s with Something for Everyone) but to your, very likely, welcoming this week I don’t have anything nearly as topical nor as weird (but if you like weird, trust me there is plenty of weird left in the tank). No this week I have something fairly pedestrian in comparison to last week’s book, something more fantastical but in the traditional way.
This book, Furies of Calderon(1), is another series from the wonderful and imaginative Jim Butcher (best known for The Dresden Files books, I wrote a review of the first book in the series and can be seen here: Storm Front by Jim Butcher and my friend wrote a review on the comic omnibus which covers the events of the first three books here: Spoiler Free Book Review Dresden Files Graphic Novel Omnibus One). I got this book as a xmas present from my best friend Evan and was extremely excited when my other reader friend Marc told me the backstory to the conception of this series:
“How did you come up with the original idea for CODEX ALERA? We’ve heard rumours that it involved a bet on whether you could combine the Roman empire and Pokémon… is that true?
The bet was actually centered around writing craft discussions being held on the then-new Del Rey Online Writers’ Workshop, I believe. The issue at hand was central story concepts. One side of the argument claimed that a good enough central premise would make a great book, even if you were a lousy writer. The other side contended that the central concept was far less important than the execution of the story, and that the most overused central concept in the world could have life breathed into by a skilled writer.
It raged back and forth in an ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FLAMEWAR between a bunch of unpublished writers, and finally some guy dared me to put my money where my mouth was, by letting him give me a cheesy central story concept, which I would then use in an original novel.
Me being an arrogant kid, I wrote him back saying, “Why don’t you give me TWO terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH.”
The core ideas he gave me were Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon… Thus was Alera formed.”
See this series hit a golden triad of nerd-topia for me: Jim Butcher style fantasy, anime, and action/adventure. Plus after being recommended by two different reader friends who’s tastes I trust to be closely calibrated to mine (but both of their tastes are heavier on the fantasy side, I’m more of a realism/so-fucking-weird-it-leaves-you-wondering-what-you’re-doing-with-your-life kinda freak(2)), I knew I was in for a treat.
Furies of Calderon is an early Jim Butcher work, or at least it feels like it. Being published in 2004 he had a few Dresden Files under his belt and his experience shows in this book however that’s not to say there are no flaws with the inaugural piece in his 6 book series(3). This book has some imperfections which doesn’t hold it back from being an excellent fantasy adventure by it self but does keep me from being driven towards the 2640 page commitment that entails the rest of the series.
So O.K. Corral style here is my thoughts on the book: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly style.
Even this early in Butcher’s career he’s really good at misdirection or leading this reader to think that things are more grim than they are but still leaving clues to the observant to keep it fair. Let’s take an example from the second chapter after Alera and her mentor Fidelius are captured by the enemy and in a compromising position:
Aldrick drew his sword and said, “The old man [Fidelius] isn’t necessary.” He went outside the tent.
A moment later, there was a sound not unlike a knife sinking into a melon.”
(Furies of Calderon, 24)
At this point we as the readers have developed a 1.5 chapter (24 pages) bond with Almara and Fidelius and then we are lead to believe he was executed stage left however we later discover that he was faking his death and there was a literal melon being stabbed to simulate the sound of a man being cut through the gut. It’s small details like this that make me appreciate an author more because they’re thinking about the reader’s experience reading the book a second time.
Butcher also does a good job at inciting curiosity such as only partly explaining how the “Fury magic system” works, who some characters are like (Fade? Aldrick? The fucking entire Marat “species”[are they even human?!]) and locations like most of the map beyond “Vallis Calderon” specifically what lies beyond “The Shield Wall” (okay, I admit to being a “Game of Thrones” fan(4) and I guess I’m conditioned to have curiosities about a mysterious northerly wall).
Okay so Jim is capable of bad writing, as I learned from this 650+ page novel. Thankfully the bad isn’t concentrated in parts like books I could mention(5) however the mercy is spread among hundreds of too many pages in a couple of paragraphs segments:
[Pirellus] was lean with hard, fat muscle, and bore a slender, curved sword of metal blacker than mourning velvet in his hand.”
Goddamn that’s a deadly sexy description of a serious swordsman. This is our introduction to one of the most deadly swordsman in the cannon (as far as we know) and he was challenged by one of our main characters, Almara (as we have met from chapter one) however Butcher kind of ruins the sexy tight writing he showed us with spoon-feeding the reader exactly how deadly this Pirellus is
Pirellus was a master metalcrafter, one of the finest swordsmen alive. If he chose to engage in the duel, he could kill [Almara], and there would be little she could do to stop him. And yet it was necessary. Necessary to convince him of her sincerity, necessary for him to know that she was willing to die to get him to act, that she would sooner die than fail in her duty to Alera, to Gaius. She stared at his eyse and focused on the task before her and refused to give in to her fear or to let it make the sword tremble at all.
Notice this isn’t the beginning of a paragraph nor even close to the last page where we got a very distinct description of the swordsman and his prowess. It’s three pages later of sword-waving (in the metaphorical sense, Amara is a biological woman after all) and a very long paragraph of describing how deadly this Pirellus is, we are FINALLY granted some action (a page later mind) and that’s not even between her and her perceived adversary.
This nicely segues into my final and main complaint about the book which is a general complaint across most of the book but becomes most evident after page 490: the book is too long and accomplishes too little. I’m inclined to believe Butcher was paid by the page/word for this novel because the “climax” of the book was about 150 pages and the falling action was around 20 pages). In almost 700 pages, Butcher accomplished what could have been finished (with some tight editing) in around 400 pages (give or take, I didn’t count strictly but even given space for world building, there’s still a significant amount of purple text even for a fantasy novel(6)).
Thankfully there’s not much of this here. Butcher does make some minor mistakes that did bother me (such as using too many similar names in the same story arc IE Aldrick and Asturak, having some flat characters on both the “good” and “bad” side such as Bernard and Kord respectively, having places mentioned by name in the narrative but not appear on the map, etc) however the worst of the lot was at the end of the 150 page climax Butcher pulls a a GRRM and kills just about every character we’ve been following in this book including my personal favourie, Fade (for the mystery mostly but also he has the best name in this book) which is a pretty bold move. Except that it wasn’t. As the magic system works in this series there are healers who are capable of reviving people from the dead but it’s only available to extremely strong and experienced healers which even then it’s risky to both the healer and the patient. So after this long drawn out battle which has left everyone injured, dead, or otherwise indisposed, somehow there’s a healer available who can revive like 6 people (I don’t have the book in front of me but I can think of at least 3 people who are “killed”) which effectively tells me as a reader: THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES! DON’T WORRY NO ONE REALLY DIES!
This is a solid, if long, fantasy book. I have read much worse and I have read much better. The problem I have is that, like a blog post series, the interest nose-dives after the first installment and I won’t say I fully understand the loss of interest in every case but I can say I understand my personal loss of interest in this series beyond the beginning and that’s largely to do with the pacing of the novel and the ability for watercrafters (the healers of this magic system) to be able to reverse the condition of death even with seemingly-dire-canonical-implied-risks which ends up in being a Chekhov’s Gun full of blanks. It’s almost like a GRRM book except remove the lasting implications of tragedy.
I in no way regret reading this novel regardless of my apathy to continue with the series in general. If you like high fantasy and like Jim Butcher’s works you’ll very likely like this book however if you’re like me and kinda borderline on fantasy or generally a slow reader (my main reason for not reading more fantasy novels) you might be best off renting it from the library or generally passing on this novel. It’s an interesting world with some interesting characters but Butcher wasn’t able to cut enough fat for me to remain interested for the remainder of this series.
A good example of the realism I like is the “dirty realism” of Bukowski (see my reveiws of Bukowski’s “Post Office” and “Notes of a Dirty Old Man”) and a good example of “o-fucking-weird-it-leaves-you-wondering-what-you’re-doing-with-your-life” is Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace).
I am sorry to disappoint however I will not be reviewing all 6 books in this series, which is to assume I will finish all six books. I very likely will not for reasons that will be outlined.
I specify “Game of Thrones”(GoT) versus “A Song of Ice and Fire”(ASoI&F) because as I’ve read and deeply enjoyed the first two ASoI&F books, I was warned of way way too much purple text (filler content) come book 4 and 5 whilst when I just finished ASoI&F book 2 was when GoT season 2 was ending and it seemed like a good point to segue between the book series and the HBO series.
I appreciate that due to the nature of the fantasy genre, more time and text needs to be invested in developing the world however that does not give license for the author to be redundant in descriptions nor to drop 200+ word interior monologue thought processes of the characters we are following. Let there be some blanks that my imagination can fill, please.