Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Reading List: 2010 Edition

RSS readers (and, inevitably, Facebook readers), this post has some java script that doesn't show up on my Google Reader feed, so you may want to click over to get the full effect.

As with last year's post, I reflect the same sentiments that this idea is not original, but it is mine.

This year, I have kept a fancy spreadsheet with all sorts of bookish information on it and personal notes on the books read.  If you would like to see all the data, click here.  (Conveniently, this spreadsheet also includes a tab at the bottom for 2009's data.)  In total, I've read 71 books, compared to 2009's 55, an increase of 29%.  The collected results are below.

Oldest Book: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954
Audio Books*:  11
Library Books: 41
2010 Books: 17
Books Forsaken: 1 (Robert Jordan's The Great Hunt) 
From Publishers/Authors Received: 11
From Publishers/Authors Reviewed: 9
Most Popular Author: Robert Kirkman
Most Popular Publisher: Image Comics
Busiest Month: September (17 reads)
Total Page Numbers: ~18,152
Female/Male: 10/30

    As you can see from the Genre Breakdown, almost half of my reading this year was spent with graphic novels or comics, at least from a quantitative point of view.  Page-wise, graphic novels only accounted for 5430 pages, a modest 30% (compared to the 46.5%).  This is strikingly similar to last year's chart, and, since I still don't consider "Graphic Novel" a genre, I have crafted a sub-genre breakdown of reads.

    This chart is eliminating the "Graphic Novel" genre class and instead looking at a broader spectrum.  Several of these can (and do) overlap, so really this graph doesn't serve much of a purpose but to give you a different perspective.  Heck, the same thing applies to the main genre filter, too.

    It's hard to pick favorite reads.  There are so many things that go into the choice that this list could change at any given time.  Still, I have endeavored to create some sort of list here.  Each book is linked with a review/thought if applicable.  They're also in no order.  And I struggle to know whether or not to include re-reads, so I've tried not to but for one...

    The Warded Man, by Peter Brett
    The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Hellboy Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm, by Mike Mignola
    Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, by David Foster Wallace
    The Passage, by Justin Cronin
    The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien (re-read)
    The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke
    The Warded Man is without a doubt the best fantasy novel I've read this year.  It was fresh, exciting, and the story was just flat out awesome.  The same can be said about Collins' Hunger Games series.  These books were brilliant, and I read all three this year.  A friend loaned me DFW's essay collection, and this was a fascinating book that I recommend everyone give a go.  The Passage was much hyped, highly acclaimed, and held up pretty good to the high expectations I sat for it.

    As always, there were plenty of things I didn't get around to reading, and my TBR pile only increased.  One novel I hoped to knock off was One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I never even cracked the spine.  The same goes for any Dostoevsky.  I also only read one STAR WARS novel, sadly, but I hope to rectify that soon.

    There were a few disappointments, too.  For one, Bill Willingham's excellent Fables series took a blow with The Great Fables Crossover arc, but fortunately recovered by issue #100.  Also Ted Dekker's Green was a huge letdown, cringe-worthy at times in its awfulness.  Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold was another tragedy, focusing too much on stalling the plot, lengthening the pages, and its lack of any likable characters.

    In the end, 2010 was another great year spent with books and comics.  I accomplished a lot, and I've plenty left to get through.  March will bring Rothfuss' newest (and long-anticipated) Wise Man's Fear, which has been pre-ordered for a while now.  There's also supposed to be some kind of Brandon Sanderson Mistborn novella sometime next year, which should be pretty sweet.  And I won't be holding my breath, but GRRM could even pull something out from ASOIAF if we're really lucky.  Here's to hoping we are.

    *Audio Books that were either partially listened to, combined with actual physical reading, or entirely listened to.

    Tuesday, December 28, 2010

    Hellboy: A Five-Part Review

    I spent the last several days immersed in Hellboy, tearing through three graphic novels and watching two films. All are reviewed below.

    Volume 6: Strange Places
    Strange Places continues the fascinating saga of Hellboy, this time taking the reader to strange places such as the bottom of the sea and a mysterious island.

    The first arc, "Three Wishes," picks up where Volume 5 left off. Hellboy has left the BPRD and gone to Africa. At some point he gets tossed into the ocean and this is where "Three Wishes" takes place. This story delivers a very fine plot and hints at a few more secrets to the Hellboy universe.

    The second arc, "The Island," was an equally fun and entertaining story. This one tells a creation story for Hellboy, and to me, this was icing on the cake. I really liked "The Island" quite a bit, and the Epilogue was perfect.

    Overall, Strange Places is a fine addition to the overarching story of Hellboy. It's made clear some things, muddled others, but at the end of the day, it's got me wanting to start Volume 7 (which I already have)

    Volume 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories
    The Troll Witch and Other Stories is another collection of one-shots and different folktales accounted in the Hellboy universe. I really like these quick reads, especially discovering all the different legends and myths from other cultures. This was a great addition to the series, and though it doesn't add much to the overall arc, the layers it adds are fun and enjoyable.

    This is the first volume where a new artist is introduced, but only partially. The art style was something to get used to. While not as amazing as Mignola's, it's still fitting to the feel of the book.

    Volume 8: Darkness Calls

    Darkness Calls was an incredibly fast paced arc that made me turn page after page just to get to the end and see what happened. Hellboy gets whisked away into Russian folklore and is put up against the Baba Yaga, who's still mad at Hellboy for taking her eye. Meanwhile, the Witches are plotting something big, and by the end of the collection, it looks like the future is going to get rough for Red and the BPRD.

    This collection is one of my favorites from the series so far. Mignola hands over the art reins to a different artist (Duncan Fegredo) who does a great job at creating the feeling of Mignola's art. Mignola is a master of minimal panels and simple color palettes; Fegredo adds more complexity to his illustrations, and it works.

    Darkness Calls is a fantastic Hellboy collection, especially for anyone with interest in Russian culture. This would stand on its own, but depth and understanding would certainly be lost. Highly recommend.

    Hellboy  --  (Live action film) 
    Back when the first Hellboy movie came out, I was in high school and thought the film looked ridiculous.  Who the heck was Hellboy?  Particularly, I thought Abe Sapien looked stupid, and Hellboy was just plain cheesy.

    Then, after falling in love with the comics, I had to rectify the situation.  Guillermo del Toro created the movie, so it had to be good, right?  And it better be, since I bought Hellboy 2 on blu-ray the day after Thanksgiving.

    Anyway, we popped in the borrowed movie last night and settled on the couch for a Hellboy marathon.  The plot of the first film is somewhat similar to the comics, but there are some things that in no way hold up to the trade of mediums.  For one, the Ogdru Jahad, while cool, are nothing as awesome as Mignola's vision.  Another big difference was Rasputin's character and how he acted/looked.

    Still, the movie was fun to watch, and the story mostly congruous with the source material.  A new recruit for the BPRD comes on board to help keep an eye on Hellboy, and the audience is pulled along with him.  John Myers isn't particularly memorable, but his role necessary as a protagonist to explain some things to folks unfamiliar with Mignola's creation.  The point of the movie is that there are dark things that go bump in the night, and the BPRD exists to bump back against them.

    Overall, not a bad way to spend two hours, and a great bridge for folks that don't like comics, but definitely not as good as the actual books.

    Hellboy: Blood and Iron  
    (Animated film)

    Apart from the standard animation and corny voice acting for some characters (Hecate!), Blood and Iron was a fun cartoon movie to watch that is in no way fitting for young kids.  Ghosts, vampires, wolves, witches, evil gods & goddesses, and plenty of other murderous evils abound, and I wondered if kids would get scared watching something like this.

    This was partially written by Mike Mignola, and it's definitely more complicated than the live-action film.  The story is told through flashbacks and present-time, recounting the legend of Erzsebet Ondrushko, a vampire that would bathe in maiden's blood to retain her youth, and her relationship with the thrice-goddess Hecate.

    I enjoyed this hour and change, even if I loathed some of the voice work.  This would be great around Halloween time, I think.  Plus, it's on Netflix!

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    A Merry Christmas Wish and A New Video

    Greetings.  I come before you with a humbled heart and an open mouth, hungry for just one drop of ambrosia or something comparable (Mudder's Milk, perhaps.)

    Today begins my three day festival of Christmastime.  The 23rd of every year is my extended family's reunion/get-together/smorgasbord, and in just a few short hours I will sit and sup and feast like a king.  As one who loves to eat, especially good, home-cooked stuff, this is an event I look forward to every year.

    Follow that up with two days of presents and more food and you've got a satisfied-but-oft-miserable Logan.  (I  too much, leave me alone.)  Good times all around.  Hopefully we'll get to play some Rook, too.

    I find myself thinking about presents and gifts and stuff and really wish we didn't live in a society where this was the understood and accepted thing to do.  I mean, I love giving and getting gifts, but how many of those gifts are given/received for the right reasons?  How many are done out of mandate?  Where's the love from that?  Why are we obligated to buy so many gifts?  Is Christmastime just a season of money exchanging and fulfilling traditions?  Sadly, I think so.

    Anyway, that's not the point of this.  I don't expect that to ever change, partially because I know my family would never go for it, and partially because our society is too far gone in that direction.  So I continue to follow the traditions and dream of ways to rock the catbox a little for next year.

    I hope you all have a truly, madly, deeply wonderful Christmas.  I know I will.

    In the spirit of Christmas, I've had a song stuck in my head for a few days, which I've taken the liberty to record and post up on that youtube thingy.  It's embedded below, if you'd like to give 'er a listen.  I think it sounds pretty good, and hopefully you do too.

    So, I hope this post wasn't too depressing.  A cynical view on Christmas and a song about double suicide.  Wow.  That's in no way where I intended to go.  I think perhaps I should just stop now.  Look for a full week next week.  A book review or two.  A summary of 2010's reading, with all the bells and whistles.  Promises promises.

    Have a great Christmas, everybody.  Seriously.  Enjoy the thing that makes you love and feel loved and remember to think about Jesus every once in a while. 

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    People Are Idiots: A Practical Guide to Living Life and Enjoying Every Minute of It

    People are idiots.  That's my life's motto.  In the Book of Logan, the key verse* is, quote, "People are idiots."  Once this idea is fully grasped and understood, when its profound meaning seeps into the core of your soul and you embrace its truth as a lifelong mantra, everything else gets relocated to the back burner.

    So, why have I waited so long to share this amazing secret?  That, dear readers, I cannot say.  But, with the holidays practically here, I offer up this life-changing motto to help you get through the Christmas season.

    1.  People
    The first word from this verse is People.  Not Dogs or Walruses or Rocket Ships or hungry, hungry Hippos, but People.  This includes every single person on the face of the planet, from the tiniest, most innocent little babe to the oldest, grouchiest wretch alive.  You.  Me.  Every single one of us.  We're all idiots.  What does this mean?  It means that we're all capable of acting idiotic and making poor decisions.  It means we sometimes pull out in front of people when we shouldn't, or we decide to forgo using a turn signal because, really, why should I when I know I'm turning here and it doesn't matter whether or not anyone else does.  They're not the ones turning.

    The qualifier here is that people includes each and every one of us.  We're all screw ups, therefore, we all screw up.  Sure, some folks are more idiotic than others, but that's beside the point.  Why compare one rotten apple to another when no one wants to eat a rotten apple in the first place?

    2.  Are
    It's not "People were idiots."  While this is true, as I suspect people have always been idiots, that verse is not found in the Book of Logan.  No, the linking verb are connects the subject, People, with the descriptor Idiots.  The word Are is in the present tense, meaning that right now, at this very second, people are being idiots.

    This is always true.  There is never a time when a person can stop being an idiot.  Since the Initial Screw Up, we're doomed to being idiots.  Thus, people are-- have always been, and always will be-- idiots.

    3.  Idiots
    What is an idiot?  Well, in the Dictionary of Logan, a supplemental reference book highly recommended for day to day life, the word idiot is defined as
    idiot: [id-ee-uht], noun, a person that does something stupid, foolish, dumb, or senseless, whether in ignorance or not.  See also People.
    Now, can you think of anyone that does not fit this category?  Personally, I cannot.  Your mom, she's an idiot.  Your pastor, he is, too.  That coke-head down the street?  Idiot. We all make foolish decisions from time to time, some more than others, and half the time we may not even be aware of it,.  This, friends, is what makes us idiots.

    But what does this all mean?  Why point this out?  Am I rubbing salt in a wound?

    Perhaps, but not intentionally.  I suppose there are some delusional people out there that think that they're perfect, and I can see no reason why to argue with this person.  Their self-denial is of itself idiotic.  But for the rest of us, the ones desperately looking for something, take heart.  See, I give the gift of my life's motto as a present for the benefit of mankind.

    When you fully understand this teaching, you begin to see the world in a new light.  So what if that lady took your parking space or that kid cut in front of you at the checkout line.  It might have been intentional, but it could have been completely ignorant, too, and they have no idea that they've just infuriate you.  Shrug your shoulders and smile.  People are idiots.  They're simply slaves to their idiotic nature, just like you.  How likely is it that you've wronged someone without realizing it?  Is their ire deserved?  

    Some say yes, but I argue a strong no.  See, the principle to understanding People are idiots is the principle of forgiveness and self-realization.  Do unto others as you'd be done unto.  Embrace this teaching and you find yourself truly loving everyone and forgiving all their idiotic ways.

    So this Christmas season, don't let the stress of it all get to you.  Remember my motto and smile when your drunken uncle accidentally lights the kitchen table on fire and forces the family to flee for their lives out into frozen, sloshy winter weather.  People are idiots.

    *Corollary: If People are idiots, then it reasons that all people act idiotically and therefore their actions can, at any given time, be idiotic, depending on the people directly and indirectly involved.  Example: One person may see something stupid or senseless that another person sees as perfectly sane and reasonable.  The beauty of this verse is that regardless of point of view, every person is still an idiot, and so their thoughts and reasonings may be tainted by idiocy. 

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    Patrick Rothfuss' THE WISE MAN'S FEAR Update

    Just minutes ago, the esteemed SFF blogger Aidan Moher of A Dribble of Ink posted up "An Aside: The First Review of THE WISE MAN'S FEAR by Patrick Rothfuss."  As a devout minion of Mr. Rothfuss, I greedily read Aidan's aside, and then followed his link to's website with the actual review, which I now pass on to you by way of clicking here.  In short, the wait is so definitely worth it.

    Hold on a second.  If The Wise Man's Fear is to be released on March 1, 2011, that gives me a little over two months to re-read The Name of the Wind (it'd be my 3rd or 4th time, but ironically, I've not done a book review over this, my absolute most favorite book ever, nor do I think I could do it justice...) before the new book gets to my house.

    See, I've already got the book pre-ordered from  If I'm lucky, maybe it'll actually arrive early.  (Let's not consider it arriving late.)  And, to make it even more awesome, I didn't have to pay a dime for the book.  A few weeks ago, I earned $5 in Borders bucks, and then Borders sent me another special offering me $10 in Borders bucks for a limited time.  So, with this $15, a 40% off coupon, and a loaded Borders card, I pre-ordered the book and it was all paid for from either Borders or my gift card funds. 

    My mind's kind of gone loopy.  Whenever I start thinking about The Name of the Wind I get all excited and fangirlish.  It's embarrassing.  Stop it!  :)

    Crap.  I just used an emoticon...  Is there a shot at redemption for me?

    Just to be clear, has a review of Patrick Rothfuss' second book of his Kingkiller Chronicles, The Wise Man's Fear.  If you want to read this spoiler-free review, click here.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Life at the MLC: Paycuts & Layoffs

    I vaguely remember mentioning in a post about losing a day per week at work.  Times have been somewhat stressed and strained here at the Mexico Lightbulb Corporation.*  For starters, my paychecks have all been rather late, and this gives way to a stressful existence from time to time.  As we're a private consulting firm, our work comes from winning contracts.  Our biggest employers are either the State or the City/County.  Unfortunately, as the economy is in a slump right now, so is the number of jobs generated/ funds allocated/ money in my pocket.

    Yet, I am so very thankful to have a job.  I could be a statistic in the Unemployment Camp right now, and I'm not.  I don't know what I would do if I lost my job.  I mean, I know God will take care of us, but the way He would do that may not be to my liking.  So let it be known that I am very grateful to have a job, even one where I've taken a 16% decrease in my net income.

    My boss called me to his office yesterday.  "Take a seat," he said.  A bit nervy, I obliged.  "First off, let me start off by saying your job is safe..."  Well, starting off this way was both comforting and equally terrifying, but he continued.  The MLC has made the decision to layoff six employees.  That's 20% of the workforce.  I instantly felt sad for these people, especially considering that Christmas is next week.  Again, I'm extremely grateful to have my job, and I'm pretty sure that I'll have it for as long as I want.  Nevertheless, it's still worrisome to know that the MLC is having these troubles. 

    I'm sure I'm not alone.  I look around and see so many businesses closing up shop and people struggling to make ends meet.  The MLC has been established for 70 or 80 years, and we've been through things like this before (so I've been told), but it's a first time for me.

    Really, the worst thing about the changes is knowing that Keisha and I are going to have a baby next June.  Before then we had planned on having some debt gone.  We don't have that much debt, comparably, but still, it's more than I want, and I want to have money for our kid.  Plus, my insurance sucks ($5000 deductable, which I was informed is going up next year), so I'll be paying a lot out of my pocket to have a baby.  Knowing that finances are going to be crazy for the next year or so, I've been looking around the house for things I can sell and things I no longer need.

    I'm an optimist.  I believe that things'll pick back up soon.  I mean, I am getting to take off one day per week where I don't have to work, which clears up free time for plenty of things (Video games!  Keisha!  Writing!).  On the other hand, I think I'd rather make a little more money.

    Oh well.  There's nothing I can do about it.  It's forcing us to really look at our purchases and spending and make smart decisions.  Hopefully these are lessons we'll keep for the rest of our life.

    *Mexico Lightbulb Corporation is not the real name of the company for which I work.  It was chosen on a whim to remain somewhat anonymous.  Plus, I just thought it was funny.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Hellboy: Conqueror Worm, a Review

    Hellboy Volume 5: Conqueror Worm returns to the narrative story of Hellboy and the BPRD after a few issues of short, folk stories. Hellboy, along with Roger the Homunculus, gets a new mission to go to a haunted castle in Germany and see what's going on. Apparently a Nazi space capsule is headed right for it, and Hellboy needs to stop whatever evil plans are in store.

    This book is a beautiful story in the Hellboy universe. Right from the beginning, with the opening lines taken from Poe's "Ligeia" and "Conqueror Worm," the mesmerizing art of Mignola's book sucks the reader in. The creepy context of the mission is hair-raising, and the subtle shades of dark in the black backgrounds--a skull here, a gargoyle there--add to the experience of reading in the Hellboy universe.

    Apart from the exceptional artwork, the plot is relentless. Some base knowledge of events prior make Conqueror Worm a deeper read, but I think this would be fine for new readers as well. I found the Nazi involvement and the twisted scientists completely believable. I loved the exposition that spanned the first few pages. The climax was intense, and the resolution satisfying.

    In addition to the plot, the character building was great. I loved the relationship between Hellboy and Roger, as well as Hellboy and his boss at the BPRD. And what's not explicitly stated in dialogue is more than obvious in the art. You can see Hellboy's displeasure from his scowl, or his anger in his slitted eyes. I also liked the side characters, especially Lobster Johnson.

    Really, Conqueror Worm is probably my favorite Hellboy graphic novel I've read as of yet. Every panel is lovingly cared for, with attention focused where it needs to be, whether its in the foreground or the background. I can't recommend this series enough, and I can't wait to dive into Volume 6.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    The Desert Spear, a Review

    I loved The Warded Man. The story was unique; the action intense; the characters memorable and likeable; and all around the book was just plain fun. So there was no doubt I would read its sequel, The Desert Spear.

    The Desert Spear has several POV characters, unlike the three from The Warded Man. One of the new characters, who appeared briefly in the first book, is Ahmann Jardir. In fact, the first third of the book focuses solely on Jardir, from his childhood and up to his current status as the Shar'Dama Ka. In this, we learn a lot about the Krasian culture (and its fascinating language), and we also get to see a few events that took place in The Warded Man from a different POV.

    I'll admit, I wasn't completely won over from the beginning. I wanted Arlen and Leesha and Rojer, not some newcomer to the party. But the more I read, the more I grew to like Jardir. It was also entertaining to learn more about the Krasians and their ways, especially regarding the demons. They are a desert dwelling culture that reminds me a lot of Arabic culture, which is too often ignored in fantasy fiction, and this definitely became more interesting with each page.

    But eventually this intro bit ends and we get back to our familiar characters from book one. We get to see how life is going in Deliverer's Hollow and what progress Arlen has made. Demons still rise every night, but not everyone lives in fear of them any longer. The folks of Deliverer's Hollow have taken up arms and are standing alongside their Deliverer.

    I really can't say much about the book to remain spoiler-free. I really liked the twists and turns the plot took. I loved the parts of the warrior mindset of the Dal'Sharum, but they had some things I didn't care much for, too, like how women are viewed & treated in their society. I would have liked more pages devoted to Arlen, but I appreciate how Brett is playing with the character of the Deliverer. The continued rise and threat of the demons each night is still prevalent, and just because Arlen is the Warded Man doesn't mean everything always goes smoothly for him. In fact, The Desert Spear introduces some new demons, and this was a real treat from the book.

    If anyone read and liked The Warded Man, then I'm sure they'll pick up its sequel. The Desert Spear was a great read, filled with adventure, love, magic, demons, politics, and the other elements that make up a great fantasy story. While I didn't enjoy it as much as the first book, I still spent many nights past my bed time reading, and if that doesn't make a book good, then I don't know what does.

    If you've not read this series, do your self a favor and pick up The Warded Man. It's an excellent read, and its sequel proves that Peter Brett is an author to watch for in the genre.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Flash Fiction Friday: The Monster

    As mentioned yesterday, this is a test to see how effective a story can be told using only dialogue/monologue.  I might have taken some liberties and switched POVs, which could be cheating, I suppose,  but oh well.

         “So what you’re saying is that that thing escaped? A thirty foot tall monster somehow escaped?”
         “Yeah, boss, that’s what I’m telling ya.”
         “It’s probably out there right now, eating little kids and drowning puppies. How does that make you feel, Johnson? Like a security guard?”
         “No, sir, like an, uhm, insecurity guard, sir.”
         “Funny. A security guard is, and correct me if I’m wrong, supposed to keep things secure. Things like that monster, that horrible, pillaging, destructive monster. I think I can hear an old lady crying out for help. You hear that, Henderson?”
         “Yes, sir, I do hear it.”
         “What does it sound like she’s saying to you?”
         “It sounds like... help me! If Johnson would’ve kept this thing locked up I wouldn’t be dying right now! Ack! HELP!
         “That’s exactly what I heard, too, Henderson.”
         “Come on, now. That’s--”
         “Is that gunfire I hear?”
         “I believe so, sir. Big guns. Armor piercing, by the sounds.”
         “It’s gonna take more than guns to bring it down. A lot more than guns. Have to call in the Big Boys, I guess. And I don’t like calling in the Big Boys, Johnson, in case you were thinking I did. So I’m gonna make a few phone calls, and when I get back, I want you to have this sorted out. Can you do that for me, Johnson? Can you have it together?”
         “Excellent. Come on, Henderson.”


         This is News at 6, and I’m Caleb Mason. Tonight our top story is our only story, folks. I’m sure by now you’re all aware of the complete destruction of New Mexico and half of Arizona. I’m really not sure what to say that could put to words the enormity of the situation. All I have are a few details.
         First, the monster is still unaccounted for. Officials believe that it is trapped somewhere within the Estrella Mountain National Park. The area is currently completely surrounded by military forces from Arizona and California. Temporary walls are being constructed at this moment to keep it at bay until a more feasible solution presents itself.
         We’re still unsure what exactly it is. The President is scheduled to make an announcement at eight, and hopefully he will fill us in with more information. All we know is that the thing appears to be unstoppable. The best thing you can do is pray for the people over in Arizona and New Mexico.
         Pray that whatever it is it’ll be stopped before it’s too late.


         “What do you think it is, Jen?”
         “I’ll tell you exactly what I think it is. My friend Max used to live over in New Mexico and always said he saw weird stuff going on out in the desert. He was kind of a conspiracy theory guy, but he swears that one night he was out minding his own business when he was kidnapped and taken to some underground lab or something. Says that there were a bunch of doctors and scientists and stuff doing experiments on him. Before he got out he says he saw a bunch of animals being tested on, too. I think this thing must be one of those mutated animals or something.”
         “That’s ridiculous.”
         “It’s not any more ridiculous than a thirty foot tall turtle looking thing walking around the city, is it?”
         “Point. Still, if Max was kidnapped, how’d he get out? They just let him go? It doesn’t make sense.”
         “No, he snuck out one afternoon in an export truck. Got right outta New Mexico that day and been on the run ever since.”
         “I don’t believe it.”
         “Don’t matter whether you believe it or not, it’s the truth.”


         “Can you believe that thing’s been trapped in there for three weeks now? They still ain’t any closer to stopping it.”
         “Yeah. What’s creepin’ me out is how it’s just pretty much sat still for most of that time, like it’s hypnotized or somethin’.”
         “Yep. Hand me that tape Kerry, will ya?”
         “You guys think this wall will really hold it in there? I mean, look at all the damage it did making its way here.”
         “It’ll hold it in, Abe. Yer just a worrier.”
         “Don’t look now, but here comes Jim.”
         “I’m not paying you guys to stand around and talk. Get back to work!”


         I have decided to take my life as punishment for the destruction I have caused. When I started working on this project I had only good intentions in mind. Somehow, along the way, my path to good turned down a dark and twisted road that I did not see until it was too late. By then, the project was no longer mine, and when I started complaining I was forced to step aside.
         I know now that I should have came forward earlier with the documents on the accompanying flash drive, but should have’s are worth as much as a promise from a liar. There’s too much money poured into the project and I’m sure that no one will actually stop the thing before it’s too late.
         I’m sorry for everything and never meant for any of this to happen.
    Word Count: 860

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    What Makes a Story?

    Ever since my rebuttal post of "The Problem With Trilogies," back in September, mind you, I've been turning over the idea in my head at what makes a story.  The top two Google definitions of story are:
    • narrative: a message that tells the particulars of an act or occurrence or course of events; presented in writing or drama or cinema or as a radio or television program; "his narrative was interesting"; "Disney's stories entertain adults as well as children"
    • a piece of fiction that narrates a chain of related events; "he writes stories for the magazines" 
    At first glance, this seems like a straightforward answer, but the more you look, the more confusing it gets.  For example, the "particulars" of a story will very likely be different between two different people.  That's why you may get a book with a lot of extraneous stuff, like Justin Cronin's The Passage or Jordan's Eye of the World.  There's plenty of things that didn't contribute much to the plot, but instead to an overall feel or tone of the book, yet these things are subjective to the reader. 

    Of course, the other extreme is people who approach a story with a minimalistic eye.  Cormac McCarthy's writing is so bare that his stories omit most punctuation and offer only needed adjectives.  Needed, again, is subjective, but you get the point.

    It's odd that both of these approaches can tell a story, and the only reason for one over the other is author's preference.  Still, my mind can't help but wonder how far a writer can go in one extreme and still tell a story.  Because really, what are adjectives and adverbs but extra words?  And how many prepositional phrases does a story really need?

    So, since I enjoy flash fiction, I decided to take some of my ideas and put them to the test.  What particulars are really needed to tell a story?  How much can a writer omit and a reader still understand?  Essentially, how much interpretation does a writer want his reader to have, and how much does a reader want?

    The first flash fic piece I wrote that played with the idea of story-telling was "Through the Rain: Or, Through a Season."  It's one of my favorite flash pieces I've written, and I feel like it succeeded in its purpose.  The next piece that played with the ideas of stories will appear tomorrow.  The goal: tell a story using only dialogue/monologue.

    Now I realize that stripping down stories to their core may make for boring reading, but so would maximizing a story.  In fact, I'd argue that too much is more detrimental to a story than too little.  In an extreme case, you could tell a story like the supposed Hemingway story,
    For sale.  Baby Shoes.  Never Worn. 
    It's not really a good story, but it is a story.   Yet, in its simplicity, it tells so much.  It begs so many questions, but it's all we have.  On the other hand, spending extra words and tangential thoughts in a story does not block the narrative, as the story is still told, but it does leave the reader with similar questions.  Chiefly, why was all this extra stuff included?

    There's really no definitive answer.  Everything is so opinionated and subjective that getting a definitive answer is impossible.  Instead, we have what's considered normal and fits the general audience of readers.  As long as they're comfortable, there's no reason to upset the system.  I guess I agree with this, but at the same time, I'm equally curious about all the other ways to tell a story, too.

    It's like looking at a painting.  Fransisco Goya and Michelangelo painted amazing works of art, but so did Salvador Dalí or René Magritte.  There's no reason to compare the two styles, though many do.  Likewise, there's no reason to compare one story to another, though we inevitably do.  Who knows?  I'm curious to see how the story progresses over time, though.

    Bits & Pieces
    • WIRED magazine has a great article on Six Word Masterpieces from plenty of famous authors.  I particularly love Joss Whedon's "Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so."  You can read all the others here.
    • There's so much more to say on this subject, but it's all ultimately moot.  I have my opinions, you have yours.
    • My Sunday School's Nativity Project is this Saturday.  Keisha and I will be spending all day tomorrow setting up, and then all morning Saturday at the Project.  Hopefully it's bigger & better than last years, which was awesome.
    • Should have The Desert Spear finished tonight.
    • My paycheck is now officially one week late, and likely won't be here until next Monday or Tuesday.  This sucks.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    The Silmarillion, a Review

    The Silmarillion may be the most difficult book I've ever read, and likewise the most difficult review I've ever written. It's incredibly dense and filled with so much information and so many stories that a proper review would be quite long. In essence, it would be like reviewing the Bible, to which The Silmarillion is often compared, and that would certainly be no easy task. Nevertheless, I have tried, and this is the result.

    I imagine any reader of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit would be somewhat familiar with The Silmarillion. This book, written as a collection of myths and legends, is epic in its scope, spanning from the creation story to the end of the Third Age (i.e., after Frodo destroys the Ring). The Tengwar inscription inside gives the best description of the book that I've read.
    "The tales of the First Age when Morgoth dwelt in Middle-earth and the Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils to which are appended the downfall of Númenor and the history of the Rings of Power and the Third Age in which these tales come to their end."
    That sentence contains so much in its simplicity that it's almost deceiving. It demands questions. Who's Morgoth? What are the Silmarils? Ooh, what else can I learn about the Rings of Power? And what the heck is Tengwar? While The Lord of the Rings may hint at some of these things, the answers can only be found in The Silmarillion.

    So what is The Silmarillion? It's essentially the bible of Middle-earth and all of Arda. It's Tolkien's legendarium, his masterpiece and life's work. It's a history book of things forgotten by many, and cherished by others.

    After I read LOTR in 8th grade, and then The Hobbit, I got The Silmarillion. I tried to read it, but I've never been much of a fan of history, and this just lacked the beauty Tolkien's other works had, so I sat it aside, intending to give it another chance some time later. After a decade of waiting, the time finally arrived.

    This time through it didn't seem as much as a history book as I remembered. Sure, it was dry from time to time, but for the most part I rather enjoyed the read. For one, it felt like reading a book on some other culture's myths, and I suppose this is actually what I was doing. Also, some of these stories are so breathtaking and tragic that it's hard not to get pulled into the tales. Yes, The Silmarillion may seem like a history book, and it is, in some ways, but it is also so much more.

    The entire volume is essentially one long story arc, but it is broken up into several different parts. In the beginning, after Ilúvatar has created the Ainur, one of his creations rebels and seeks his own song. It is this, the rebellion of Melkor, also called Morgoth, that has led to the ills of the world (Arda) and the problems that follow the creation. Time and time again different heroes rise up to oppose Melkor and his followers, and this is what The Silmarillion consists of, hero stories. Stories with characters you want to root for, despite their long odds. Stories with villains so dastardly that you pray for justice.

    These tales are fascinating. Tolkien's mythology is humongous, and each story has the epic feel associated with things like The Odyssey or The Iliad. Yet, as Tolkien writes in The Fellowship of the Ring, the tales are all fair, "though [they are] sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth..." Indeed, there are a few silver linings throughout The Silmarillion, but mostly everything is heavy and tragic. This certainly does not limit the enjoyment of the book, however, as we already know how it ends 'ere we start (provided some simple deduction).

    One distinct difference between this work and Tolkien's others is that The Silmarillion tends to lack the overly-wordy description that is famous throughout the LOTR. Here we get some description, but nothing like the adjective-heavy words commonly associated with Tolkien. There still seems to be some extraneous information, but this was no problem really.

    The hardest thing about reading The Silmarillion is the gigantic cast of characters. Not only are there numerous people named, but so are the lands and rings and swords and whatever else Tolkien fancied Proper Nouning. (Can I do that? Use "noun" as a verb?) Add the fact that there are many different languages in Arda, and you may get one character with three different names, if not more. For that reason, I occasionally got lost trying to recall who was who and who's son someone came from and the proper lineage and blah blah. If I read this again, I think I may keep a notebook handy for side notes.

    The Silmarillion is a beautiful book that I regret took me so long to finally crack open. I think I had some preconceptions about how the historical writing would pan out--that I would be bored and not enjoy the read--but I was wrong. J.R.R. Tolkien is a master at what he does, and it's evident that the time and love he put into this book took many years. It's sad that the man didn't live long enough to see his life's work published, but at least the book hit publication.

    Overall, for anyone that read and enjoyed the Lord of the Rings, it's a no brainer. The Silmarillion is a must read if you're interested in any of the background of Middle-earth, especially Elven history. On the other hand, I would also recommend this book to anyone with a strong interest in mythology. Tolkien borrowed from Norse and German mythology, and lovers of these legends may enjoy The Silmarillion as well. In the end, The Silmarillion is not a light book, and perusing would be difficult, but the reader will find excitement and tragedy within its pages.

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    Rememorandom: 500 Posts Later

    You very likely noticed a stark change here on Rememorandom if you happened to stop by after Friday afternoon.  (Unless, of course, you read via RSS feed or Facebook.)  Since the beginnings of my blog, back in 2005, I've always kept with a simple motif: keep it green.  See, green has always been my favorite color, and since this is my blog, I figured it should be reflective of me.  But then I noticed the stat counter on my blog that I was approaching my 500th post and thought there should be a change or two.  So I started playing around with Blogger's limited tools and my rudimentary HTML knowledge (plus a basic Google search) and came up with what you see now.

    At first I wasn't sure about it.  The only greens left were for hyperlinks, and that's a faint green at that.  But, the more I looked at it, the more it grew on me.  I'm not one of these people that hates change.  A little change every now and then keeps us always on our feet and keeps us from getting complacent, comfortable, and idle in our daily life. 

    Another change, apart from the color scheme, was the two gadgets on the right of the page.  The "Currently Reading" box changed from one book cover to a montage of all the books I'm currently reading.  I had a "Up Next" box or somesuch prior to the "TBR" box, which really wasn't true, as I'm never 100% sure what book will be up next.  (Usually this process is determined by a number of factors, including, but not limited to how much I enjoyed the book I just finished reading, how long certain items have been in the TBR pool, whether or not the book is in at the library (and it's due date), and other things.)  My new "TBR" box is a better idea of what's to come.  I'm considering doing a similar montage for yearly reads, but I'm not sure about that yet.  (All of these montages are linked to my Goodreads account, and they were created from that site.)

    My first post, "Alpha," stated that "Mostly it [this blog] will probably be random thoughts going through me, similar to a journal. Perhaps I shall write on current events. Mebbe religious thoughts. Mebbe STAR WARS. Definitely STAR WARS."  For the most part, this is still true, though perhaps the motivation has changed since then.

    At the time, I probably had no desire to start book reviewing like I do now.  I really just wanted to keep up with my life, and being a child of this techno world, blogging seemed the way to go.  Of course, there are many posts dealing with creative writing, and this is still another reason Rememorandom has kept going.

    I think I've fallen into a rather succinct pattern for posting.  I review every book I read (if not here, definitely on Goodreads), and I enjoy reviewing.  But what reader doesn't like recommending a good book they've read?  In no way do I consider my reviews even a third as good as the blogosphere's esteemed SFF bloggers, but these are my words, my recommendations, and my joys.

    Lastly, and mentioned above, is the creative writing content.  If I've got the next installment written, I post a serial piece on Writing Wednesdays, otherwise I treat the day as a regular post.  I've also started writing flash fiction, which has been loads of fun and rather trying, and these sometimes appear on Flash Fiction Fridays.  Plus, even if my posts aren't creative writing, they're still a writing exercise.

    When I started, I had no Followers and few readers.  That pretty much stayed the same until late 2008/ early 2009, likely because the blogging from 2006 until then was sporadic at best.  Now I have 39 public Followers and I don't know how many RSS & Facebook readers.  On some levels, I view this as a success, that I'm somehow attracting readers.  But honestly, it doesn't matter if I have 39 Followers or 39000, I'm still blogging for the same reason.

    However, I do enjoy meeting new people, and whenever I get a new reader, I make every effort to visit their blog (if they have one) and check it out.  I've met several folks with similar tastes in music, books, and whatnot, and these friendships are special.  When a blogger stops writing, I wonder what happened to them.  Did they burn out?  Did they spontaneously human combust?  Will they ever come back?  Who knows.

    The Future
    Rememorandom has no plans of retiring any time soon.  Where once I went from irregular posts to daily posts to semi-frequently posts, I think I have enough material to keep me busy for a while.  There are nigh a hundred books on the TBR pile, not to mention the occasional surprise read, and I fully intend to review them.  Keisha is pregnant and we're expecting our first child come June/July 2011, so this will undoubtedly generate some posts.  I am constantly thinking of stories to write and explore, and while many of them seem to start and get abandoned, a few do actually make it on to completion. 

    I am proud of Rememorandom, and as long as I remain in this mindset, I see no problems continuing my blogging.

    So, for those of you that have read my blog, I thank you and hope that you continue to do so.  And for those of you that have not read my blog, the ones that are not reading this sentence right now, I shake my right foot at you and call your dog names.

    Any feedback is appreciated.  What do you think about the new layout?  Is the text hard to read?  Are the colors distracting?  Does my site take longer to load now because of the gadgets?  Anybody else hate cold coffee as much as I do?

    Saturday, December 04, 2010

    FREE New Joe Purdy Album "This American" Available Now

    Completely unexpected but infinitely grateful to Joe, I'm pleased to let everyone know that Joe Purdy has a new album available right now as a FREE download.  The album, This American, is a fifteen track piece of undeniable beauty.  Joe has never disappointed me with his music, and This American is  to par with the rest of his stuff.

    If you're interested in getting the FREE download, go here to and do so.  While there, you can listen to his other eleven albums in their entirety for free as well.

    This is the perfect opportunity to try out Joe Purdy, my favorite singer/songwriter in the business.  This American will be free for the month of December, so hurry on over and get yours today!


    I got to see Joe in concert last year in Nashville, and I'd love to do so again if he ever comes remotely close.  Of course, remotely close to Western Kentucky is a 3-4 hr. drive.

    On an unrelated note, you may notice that my blog has a slightly different appearance.  There'll be a special post about this next week. 

    Happy Weekend for all who read this!

    Friday, December 03, 2010

    Flash Fiction Friday: Transcending

    One more step.  That’s all it would take.

    One more step and I won't have anything else to worry about.  No more pain or competitions with Oliveer or staring at the others and wondering why we even are in the first place.

    One more step and everything’ll turn white and black and blurry and whatever else it turns when you go through the Transcendental Door.  But first I need to go through this door.

    Pay no attention to the sounds coming from the other side.  That’s not moaning; it’s laughter.  It’s a choir singing praise songs, not a group of people crying.  Remember the promises of things better.  What did Ranhii say?  Focus.

    It takes faith, Jamos-vin.  Faith without action is dead, though, and you must act to transcend.  The greater the act, the greater your reward, Jamos-vin.  And when you doubt, know that you are not alone.  We’ve all questioned, and been made stronger because of it.

    His words are soothing, despite their rasp.   Calming.  Familiar...

    They’ve been locked in there for almost two days now.  Seven people, all nameless faces, complete strangers to me and, likely, to each other.  They’ve all been stripped of their clothing and chained to each other, with one man’s leg chained to a structural column in the center of the room.  Deprived of food and water and left alone in near darkness.  Other than this, they’ve not been harmed.  Yet.

    I turn the handle and step through.

    The room smells like human waste, but it doesn’t bother me.  The crying dies.  A few brave eyes flicker to me but most look away.  It’s the first time they’ve seen me.  I was a shadow in the darkness when I collected them, swift and intentional.  None had a chance.

    They still don’t.  Before tonight ends, I will transcend and these people will bear witness.  They will be mine, just as I was Ranhii’s before I took his place, and just like one of these will one day rise up and take mine.  It is the way of things.

    If they could see my face now they would see me smiling.  The years of pain are over.  How could I have been unsure just moments ago?  This has always been my purpose, to procreate and transcend.  Slowly we are infiltrating them, becoming human in our appearance.  One day the tide will shift, and our race will no longer be confined to shadows.  By then, when they realize what has happened, if they ever even do, it will be too late.

    I stand in the doorway for a moment longer, letting the back light shine on me as I release my tendrils.  The ones that are looking at me begin to weep, and their hysteria spreads to the others who can’t help but look and see what’s happening.  For one glorious instant I am revealed to them.  Their mind’s can’t comprehend what they’re seeing, but it’s no matter.  They don’t have to understand to know what’s about to happen to them.  They can hear it in my laugh.  See it on my appendages.

    I gently close the door behind me, and we’re once again consumed by darkness.  I can’t help it.  The laugh erupts from me, a cackle of pure delight.  I can feel it in my soul as the process begins.  It’s beautiful.

    That’s when the screaming starts.

    Word Count: 563

    Thursday, December 02, 2010

    On Stars and Beauty

    Call me lame, but I enjoy looking at beautiful things.  A green Kentucky field of ripe crops with a clear blue sky above, maybe a few wisps of cirrus clouds.  A mountainous roadway, winding up and down the valleys through orange and brown colored trees, splashed with the autumnal glow of harvest time.  Or a pure white blanket of snow, untouched and undisturbed, lying in its natural state apart from man.  Or, truly, looking into the infinitely deep blacks and browns of my wife's eyes.  These things, and many more, are all beautiful sights to see.

    But there's one sight that always sucks me in, and that's when my gaze falls upon the night sky.  Ever since I was a young lad, back in elementary school when we were allowed to look at a solar eclipse using a paper plate or something, I've been fascinated with the heavens.  Couple the awesomeness of constellations with my young love of Greek mythology and I was a kid who spent time looking at stars.

    I'm still that kid who spends time looking at stars.  I'll take the dogs out at night and inevitably my face is turned towards the heavens.  Orion shines down on me, his sword and shield drawn up in a fighting stance.  And there's the Big Dipper, the Great Ladle in the Sky.  These same stars were seen thousands of years ago, and there's something about that that I find amazing.  And then I look to the dim glimmers of stars, the ones that disappear completely when I focus on them but reemerge when I flick my eyes away.  How far away are they?  How old is the light that I'm looking at now?

    At times I contemplate the emptiness of space.  While we often focus on the heavenly bodies- the stars, planets, nebulae, comets, asteroids, and all other things- most of space is void and empty.  Some may find this daunting.  Depressing.  But I see it as a thing of beauty.  It's a contrast that's needed to distinguish the awesomeness of the stars that I so love.  Without the void there would be no reason to notice the stars.

    Now that winter is looming, the cold night air provides an often clear sky that almost always captivates me whenever I'm out at night.  I find myself staring at the moon, wishing beyond wish that I could be there and see what Earth looks like from afar.  See how much larger Mars or what the Sun looks like from the Moon.  Different perspectives give different insights.  It's not from visions of grandeur or ego but a true desire to see the planet we call home.  See how small and insubstantial it is in the big picture, as well as how small and insubstantial we are, too.

    And yet, despite being a tiny speck in the eyes of the universe, we are nevertheless significant.  The ability to think and reason, to love and hate, to discover joy and endure suffering.  We are all unique creations, made in the image of the One who made the beauty of the heavens, and if there is beauty in all of God's creatures, then we, too, are beautiful.  We have purpose.  Meaning.  Why else would we have been made?

    It's hard to fathom why God chose to make us.  I mean, I know we were created to glorify and worship Him, but why us?  Isn't the pure glow of stars a more glorious song to God than a prayer from a fallen and dirty man?  Is what makes us beautiful the fact that we were made by God and in His image or the fact that we're individuals with unique properties?  Or is it the beating heart within us and the longing spirit we have that seeks to find some sort of meaning in this life?

    Earth is so screwed up.  We have people starving to death because they can't find food to eat.  Freezing for lack of somewhere to shelter.  Dying because of someone's rage and anger.  It's death that taints the beauty of our world, and we only have death because of the first sin.  And because of that, we're all marred by the ugly stain of sin, and I feel that that makes us ugly to God, so much so that He can't stand to even look at us.

    The stars, they're not plagued with this problem.  The celestial bodies all floating around in the universe are not rendered ugly by man's sin.  Maybe this is why I find them so beautiful, why I'm inexplicably drawn to looking at them and seeing their beauty anew each and every night.  Pure and untainted, the views in the heavens are nearly the most beautiful thing in the universe.

    The only thing they fall short of is the beauty of a person who's come under the blood of Christ.  Because even though the stars and planets are unblemished, a person saved by the grace of God has been re-made in the likeness of His Son, Jesus, who is part of God Himself.  It's this act, the act of salvation, of being justified in God's eyes, that puts us above the beauty of the stars.  And this love is even more unfathomable than the question earlier.  Why would God choose to save us?  His love is beyond reason, but I'm thankful nonetheless.


    Surely I'm not the only one captivated by stars and astronomical beauty.  Heck, I know I'm not.  David Crowder Band has a great song, aptly titled "Stars," that I've embedded below.  I'd recommend watching it and looking at the wonderful imagery put together and listening to the words Crowder sings.

    Wednesday, December 01, 2010

    Invincible: Vol. 1, a Review

    I'd never heard of Invincible until my friend Alex introduced the comic to me. An Image imprint, and written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, I was interested. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 collects issues #1-#13 of the series, spanning over 400 pages in a beautifully illustrated hardcover edition.

    Mark Grayson is a seemingly normal American teenager. He goes to high school, where his biggest concerns are girls and class. He works a part-time job at a local fast-food joint to make extra cash. His family's an average middle class family, where his mom's a homemaker and his dad's a successful novelist. From all appearances, the Grayson family is completely normal. Of course, as you've no doubt inferred, they're not. Mark's father is secretly Omni-Man, the world's most powerful superhero. His abilities are seemingly endless, and Invincible: Volume 1 begins with Mark starting to develop some of his father's powers.

    The story of Invincible is a classic coming-of-age tale. Mark struggles to master his new abilities and still maintain his normal teenage life. He begins taking down baddies, even going so far to help his father a time or two. He meets with his dad's tailor who creates him a superhero outfit, and soon he's christened himself Invincible. Adorned and ready, the budding superhero sets out to follow in his father's footsteps.

    The plot throughout these thirteen issues is largely devoted to setting the stage. We're introduced to many of the world's heroes and a few villains. We get to see some of Invincible's powers, as well as Omni-Man's. The dynamic between father-and-son superheroes is an absolute joy to read, and I was turning pages quickly to see what would happen next. And wow. When you think you know what's going on, Kirkman throws a curve ball.

    To help propel the story we have some fantastic artwork. The illustrators, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, coupled with the fresh and sharp colors each page offers, make for an excellent feast for the eyes. And, unlike many other superhero comics, Invincible is not afraid to show blood and guts. This striking difference may not be noticed by the casual reader, but as someone that's read a lot of comic books, this was an unexpected delight. The contrast of gore on the immaculately clean panels is, strangely, appealing.

    Another thing that I really enjoyed with this collection was how much fun it was. Kirkman weaves some rather witty and fun lines throughout his yarn, and I cracked up more than once. Plus, Kirkman pays tribute to many familiar heroes (Batman, Green Lantern, and many others), and it's obvious how much the man likes the genre. In fact, the whole overall feel and progression of the plot is so fun to read that this volume is over long before you know it.

    There's not really anything I disliked about this read. It had everything I was looking for in a comic book and then some. If you're looking for a fresh new superhero comic that's different than your standards, I strongly recommend trying Robert Kirkman's Invincible. My public library has the first five Ultimate Collections, which spans the first 59 issues, and I'm definitely going to be checking these out as time permits.