Fear is an Easy Sell

When I’m not writing, I’m a teacher. You can probably guess what I’m certified in – my specialty – without too much trouble. It doesn’t start with M and doesn’t require a Periodic Table if that helps at all – although I am getting better and better with my Stoichiometry (just ask my students).

I’ve noticed a shift over the last several years, and it is something I am concerned about and that is fear.

You see, I have a daughter who turns three in January and she’s starting to give orders. Not real orders of course, but the ‘this goes here, that is mommy’s, put it down daddy’ kind of orders. The ‘I’m trying to make sense of this world that has more to it than gravity and light’ kind of orders.

This means that, soon, she’ll start asking questions. Both my wife and I have discussed this turn and we’re not sure what to respond as she kicks into trying to understand and comprehend that bigger world. Whose perspective will be better for her.

The reality that I see is a wonderful and amazing place to explore. People are, in general, good folks with interesting stories who merely want an ear to listen or tongue to speak – an opportunity to share. There are fascinating stories out there with most people and, if you listen to them, chances are you can find someone or something to relate to with them.

The world is a similar place. There are wonderful places to explore – mountains to climb, trees to crawl through, parks to visit, etc. It’s an adventure that, if you take the time to examine, will give you something to relate to and remember.

Forest Blog

But…that’s not the attitude that most people have. I remember growing up that most of the attitude wasn’t quite as bright and springy as mine, but there was something still there: hope.

Now, though, I see something different: fear.

Fear has replaced that in many of the students that I interact with. I do have the over-the-top macho kids in my room, but when they get confronted, that attitude dissolves. There’s no guidance. Similarly, when I work with some of my co-workers and talk with some of my friends, fear has become a unifying factor. Rather it’s a worry for the future of the country, a job, or what’s going to happen tomorrow, it’s become an overlying part of things.

Yoda Fear

Even the TV shows have it more now. We call the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more ‘mature’ and ‘deep’ than their 1980’s counterparts – and that’s true. But at one point our entertainment was meant to entertain the kids and not us.

Don’t take this the wrong way – I love shows like TMNT and Avatar: The Last Airbender. My daughter loves My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Daniel Tiger (and Daniel Tiger is NOT in one of those ‘more mature’ categories in the slightest. It does have a sense of hope and excitement). But at one point the excitement came from wondering how Mikey was going to take down the Shredder this week and not if he was going to.

Our heroes are easily defeated. That only used to happen in the two-part episodes.

The same holds true of entertainment for adults. I’m really enjoying Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Once Upon a Time, and Agents of Shield (my TV shows are a bit limited – I have Netflix and not cable is my excuse).

There isn’t anyone to save us anymore and, while some of the shows do examine a person pulling themselves out of defeat and saving themselves, more often we are faced with a failure that we have to deal with.

And maybe that’s true. There is a lot of truth to the fact that, often, we are going to have to deal with meeting in the middle or the short end of the stick. That is life.

I don’t really have a problem with that. I wish there was more hope and adventure to my entertainment than there is – and I might be missing something (feel free to share). But it doesn’t usually feel particularly hopeful when I am watching.

Except maybe NCIS – because at some point, they have to deal with Gibbs and Gibbs doesn’t mess around.

Gibbs

But now, we’re not even getting the stick. We’re learning to be afraid to even reach for it.

It’s fear we’re being sold.

And it is an easy sell.

Look at Game of Thrones. Nothing against Martin – he’s clearly a writer with talent. I personally don’t particularly like Game of Thrones, but it’s popular and well written. But it boils with two things – sex and fear.

It’s an easy sell.

Even worse is the sudden advertisement of giving in to fear. Back during the first trilogy, I don’t know that there was anyone who was excited to be a member of the Sith (and yes, this is a specific cultural example. Sue me). The villains of the movie and the universe as far as Star Wars is concerned. Now, it pops up everywhere.

keep-calm-and-join-the-dark-side-132

Ignoring the Sith vs Jedi argument (that’s for another day as well), now matter how you look at it, they are the created antagonists of the films. We get strong implications (and sometimes visuals) of them casually murdering people. These are not people that would normally be a group that folks would want to join.

But they have embraced their fear and gained power for it. We’re embracing our fears, but it’s leaving us weaker – at least thus far.

I wonder if that isn’t because fear is so primal to our beings. It’s hard to establish a hopeful attitude – it takes convincing someone that there can be something better over the hilltop or beyond the horizon even though all of their current experience says otherwise.  You have to life yourself up to have hope, to examine the best that could be coming and work for it. It takes a tremendous amount of work.

 

Say what you like about Donald Trump, but he is definitely a Presidential hopeful. He’s putting in that effort and he’s trying to find ways to get to that ‘better’ that he sees. So is Bernie Sanders. And that’s all the politics I will mention for this post because I’m not going to get into the conflict of hope that comes from perspective. I’m sure it is one of the causes, but that’s a post in and of itself. Fear has that as well, but to a lesser extent.

Fear doesn’t. Fear says ‘that’s bigger, be scared’, ‘that’s faster, be scared’, ‘that’s different, be scared.’ It’s unifying and, relatively, universal.  And universal means easier to sell, easier to control. Some of those pundits that claim our new culture of fear is part of a government/corporate/etc conspiracy to control us and I can’t help but wonder in the back of my mind if there isn’t some truth to that claim. Fear does make for easy control and focus – hope, joy, and other ‘working’ emotions are not easy to create and hold in place.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day. I will leave you with this one:

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Book Review: Red Hot Steele (Daggers and Steele Vol. 1)

 

Cover Steele

But the book on Amazon HERE!

Things here have been a little bit crazy as of late, so I haven’t had a lot of time to write.

I have, however, had a lot of time to read. So, I grabbed up my tablet and looked through for something fun but different. The cover for this one caught my eye and it was on a promotion for $0.00 so I downloaded it.

It’s a crack!

This is a detective story that is playing with all of the tropes of a detective story while throwing in elements of fantasy. Apparently there is a movement towards fantasy-crime novels (something I didn’t know) and this was my first full dip into it.

The plot is, pretty much, a standard NCIS, CSI, etc plot. Someone’s been murdered and Jake Daggers (our narrator) has to solve the mystery. Unfortunately (at least according to his perspective at first) he’s just had his long time partner replaced with a newbie fresh from the academy. To make matters worse, the newbie is a woman and an elf. So he has to deal with the newbie and a murder. Lots of fun.

The plot is pretty much straight out of those style outlines, but that’s to make room for the characterization. Daggers is clearly the focus and it shows. He has a fantastic characterization and reading him is just like reading the old detective serials that used to be on the radio. I can hear Howard Duff’s Sam Spade as I read the novel and it’s fantastic. Daggers is not a fantastic role-model – some of his views and perceptions are out of that same era and it makes for him to be very much a throw back of the era. This is particularly true regarding his partner, Steele. And while his view of Steele changes over the course of the story and becomes somewhat better, that doesn’t happen for women in general. It’s a part of the character and the setting, so it makes for good characterization. Daggers has faults – lots of them (women just being one), but he is overall a likable character with a strong voice.

Steele, his partner, does a fair job of standing up to him and its pretty obvious that the rest of his team (there are four total agents on Daggers’ task force) don’t share his archaic views. She even calls him out a few times but, unfortunately, they don’t stick. The rest of the team just let it pass, so it Daggers does come off as a bit of a bully that the reader is expected to excuse. For the most part, I am a forgiving reader and I am anticipating that this will change over the course of the series. It’s an easy place to have character growth and development and I cannot imagine that the author won’t take advantage of it.

But back to the team. The team is interesting, though most of our experience is with Daggers and Steele (imagine that!). Steele gets some screen time and it becomes clear that she’s not going to take Daggers lying down – yet she sometimes lets things slide that make this inconsistent. It’s a significant flaw, and, again, I’m assuming the author is going to fix it eventually.

The answer to the puzzle becomes a bit obvious as the novel gets close to then end, but its still a good solution and fun to reach. The ‘getting there is half the fun’ trope really holds sway through the novel, and the novel is a lot of fun to read.

Despite the flaws of the story, this is a fun book to pick up and read if you enjoy shows like NCIS or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the price of free, you really have no excuse not to.

Characters: 4.5 / 5
Plot: 3.5 / 5
Action: 4 / 5
Value: 5 / 5
Writing: 4 / 5

Overall: 4.2 / 5

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW – FIERCE: Sixteen Authors of Fantasy

A Short Review of This Excellent Collection

 

BUY THIS COLLECTION. IT REALLY IS THAT SIMPLE!

uy this collection. At $.99 it is a steal and contains some excellent ‘firsts’ of several wonderful series.  At $.99 you are saving more than $20.00 just to buy these e-books. GET THIS COLLECTION.

Below are some short reviews of the individual stories and pieces:

Mercedes Lackey – Moving Targets 4.5/5 stars.

 

The book possesses typical Mercedes Lackey voice – fun characters in an interesting setting. At least, I think it does -it has been a long time since I have read any of Lackey’s work, so I don’t know if there is a larger continuum that the story fits in to, but it stands just fine on its own if it does.

Essentially, this is a short mystery that, very quickly, evolves in to a classic ‘Scooby-Doo’ style hunt – right down to the talking pet and ridiculous conclusions. It is a lot of fun and makes an excellent opening for the collection. There are a couple of confusing notes, but for the most part this is a fun and simple story.

Michael G. Manning – The Blacksmith’s Son – 3.5/5 stars

 

The book starts out slow, but picks up pace after 75-100 pages. The descriptions and characters are enough to keep someone reading, but if they aren’t given a chance the book may come off as somewhat lackluster. Fortunately I found the descriptions of the conflict and Mordecai’s motivations to be a lot of fun and well worth the wait. I especially liked when he finally gets to working against the antagonist (who’s a tad two dimensional) and how he tries to play off of the others idiocy. On the whole, a solid first effort.

K.F. Breene – Chosen 4.5/5 stars

I haven’t read any of Breene’s work prior, but a quick amazon search reveals she has a lot of work out there. That library of work shows in the writing of Chosen.

The hook is a typical one for the fantasy genre (it’s almost a trope!) but Breene plays it quite well. There’s a prophecy that says that a warrior will rise to free the Shadow Warriors to freedom. Typical fantasy, right?

Breene plays with the trope quite well and shows that it doesn’t have to be boring to follow through on such a hook. Her characters are very three-dimensional. Shanti, despite being a bit of a prodigy, comes off as very human. Her concerns are real and her history/backstory actually does come in to play in a reasonable way. The conflicts are not forced for her and they play off as very real as Shanti learns what her role in the future of her people is to be. Or at least is offered some good examples and reasons to consider how she is going to use her skills.

There are some hints of the authors other line of work with romance novels leaking in as well. These characters get naked an awful lot. It’s not a bad thing, but it does seem a little…weird given the conflict that Shanti is supposedly on the run from.

There are a couple of odd moments and some weird language that breaks the immersion of the story – phrases that just feel out of place.

On the whole though, this is a fun read and one you should check out.

Morgan Rice – A Quest of Heroes – 2.5/5 stars

This is one of the few let downs, I felt, in this collection. Compared to other works in this collection, it’s just not up to standard.

We have a boy who wants to serve the king in the way that the rest of his family (all brothers) do – guarding and protecting a powerful artifact (the series’ Sorcerer’s Ring) in the service of the King. Thorgrin is, of course, the youngest son and feels he has a lot to prove to his father and his mother, who largely don’t want him to serve anyhow.  This of course leads to his rebellion and leaving.

It all feels very typical and, while there is some world building and characterization, it never really stands out or makes a major impression. Maybe it is the​ lack of significant development on the characters. They all feel very two dimensional and fairly straight forward. The other problem is that the book is short. You reach the end and go …wait? What? What happened? It leaves a dissatisfied feeling. I know there are more in the series – it consistently appears in my ‘More from Kindle’ feed of recommended reading, so it’s probably a set up for more books, but I can’t help but feel it was a bit of a let down.

Michael James Ploof – Whill of Agora 4.5 / 5 stars.

So, we have the titacular Whill and his party of companions – a dwarf, an elf, and a justifier.  No, seriously, it’s a fun party with a lot of dynamics to it.

In all reality, this book feels like the beginning of an ‘epic’ series – there is a lot of world building. We have remenants from an old war -5000 years ago – and a country long at peace since then. Similarly, we have a king who wants to change that by invading another continent. At the same time we have a dark elf with some half-dragon hybrids who also want to cause trouble.

Will and Company have to stop it. There is a lot of world building in this novel which makes it a LOT of fun. I enjoyed reading and the one trouble I had with the novel came in the characters. While the world takes a lot of detail and complexity, the characters were very easy reads. Someone is either GOOD or EVIL. There is no in between and there is very little examination of the morals of their decisions or character.

Daniel Arenson – Requiem’s Song 4/5

Had a chance to read this one while on a trip in the car. Glad I had my tablet.

Requiem’s song is an excellent mix of detail and character. Here we have a world where we have a group who can transform in to dragons that are in hiding. We get through a lot of gory detail and precise description of the oppression the dragons have experienced. In very specific detail.

But, the world is compelling and the characters complex. I had a lot of fun reading this and enjoyed having a lot to mull over as I read. It helps that the story is interesting – I like their rise up and the ‘rebels’ recognizing that their actions will have actual consequences. My only qualm with the story is that I sometimes lost track of who was who and the person I was supposed to be excited for in the shifting mass of characters that were thrown at me.

Kate Sparkes – Bound 4/5

An interesting, if used premise with some well done characters.

In this world magic is banned and hunted down. One of our main characters hunts magic users, the other is a young lady who has always had a fascination for magic but knows better than to trust it. When she manages to save a sorcerers life things get complicated.

The fun part of this story comes in the characters. You’re going to get images of the tragic parts of Romeo and Juliet when you get to know Rowan and her betrothed – and not in a good way. It becomes clear that this is a central plot element and you get to ride out the shifting pulses of Rowan’s feelings as she tries to make both her new perspective and her old fit in to one unified vision.

It’s a fun romp, if a bit predictable. I wish there had been more world building, but the author was focusing more on relationships and character than on the environment in my opinion.

David Adams – The Pariahs

This is still on my to read list, but if it is anything like Adams’ other works, I am certain it will be excellent.

Amy Raby – The Fire Seer  4/5

I read this and had flashback to NCIS. It was GIBBS. If Gibbs had magic. That’s a good thing.

We have our main character, Taya , who is sent to investigate a series of murders. The trick? Her old nemesis, Mandir, is her bodyguard. To her it feels rather like a setup. Despite this, she launches her investigation and starts to discover things about her companions, and her world, that she just wasn’t prepared for.

The Fire Seer is a lot of fun and it’s the characters that really sell it. I love a good mystery and this story has all of the elements – suspense, curiosity, a believable ‘bread crumb’ train. But most of all we have a charming and charismatic narrator who sells us on the story. Taya is a lot of fun to read and to follow and she is what makes the Fire Seer a joy to read.

  1. Greenwood – Magic of Thieves3.5/5

This one shows up in my ‘You might also like’ feed a lot as well. I love the cover.

Anyhow, we have a decent opening – magic has been banned and Ilan has been born with the gift. To keep from being prosecuted and killed, she hides with a group of thieves lead by the brigand Rideon.

There is a lot of potential in the story. It opens up fabulously with a lot of excitement and interesting detail. Then it just…kind…of…peters off. It’s not that it is a bad story. There just isn’t a lot to keep you reading and certainly not enough to make me want to go back to the story and re-examine it. I like Ilan OK, and the plot is similar. It’s worth a read, but I don’t know that it’s one that I would go back to on a rainy day when the kid is asleep.

There is a lot of potential and I know there are some sequels out there. Grab this one and treat it as an introduction. If this is the first part of a greater world, then that world definitely deserves a chance.

David Dalglish – The Weight of Blood 3.5 / 5

There is a lot here that could have been great, but the devotion to violence and gore sort of lost me.

I love the concept of the story – a pair of half-orc brothers want to escape poverty so they join up with a powerful mage who makes him commander of his undead legion. They get their wish – but with a twist! It could make for a lot of fun given that the protagonists  Harruq and Qurrah are half-orcs – a traditionally evil race in most fantasy fiction.

Which proves to be its downfall.  Harruq and Qurrah are definitely protagonists, but they certainly don’t feel heroic. And their motivations and thoughts don’t really pull them in to anti-hero either. No matter how I looked at them as I read, I never really felt connected to them (Heroic) or understood their plight and sympathized (anti-hero). Maybe it was because I was busy counting femurs and gallons of blood – I’m not sure.

I do like that there is a conflict set up and that the brothers, ultimately, are faced with coming in to conflict with each other. It would have been nice if there was some more development there but it felt kind of rushed and a little bit too ‘simple’ initially. This is clearly set up for a series, so I see why it is ‘simple’ initially – I am sure there are more layers for later, but there should have been some more focus here in novel one to keep a reader interested. The concept has a lot of possibility in it – there’s no reason to hurry through and ignore the potential.

K.J. Colt – Bear Heart 5/5 stars

OK…it’s Klawdia! One of my favorites from Concealed Power and the Meligna series.

Once I realized that, I was super excited. I won’t say this is an unbiased review because Klawdia is a fun character that I enjoy in Meligna. That we have a story explaining her origin and some fun details of Meligna was enough for me.

Even without that though, we have a fun story with some interesting details about a complex character.  Again, I can’t be sure how much of this comes from Meligna and how much of it is straight from Bear Heart, but Klawdia as the protagonist sells us on this tribal world. That she is forced in to a conflict that relates to her personal honor and passage is fitting and her feelings regarding the help, and cheating, she is offered are complex but understandable. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and strongly recommend it.

Shae Ford – Poison 4/5

An interesting concept – I like how the title sort of wraps everything together.

This is a prequel to a larger world that I have not heard of, so I apologize if I miss some of the details.

Our protagonist is Olivia who doesn’t quite work with the rest of her people. She is separated by her powers as well as her personality – as I read her I kept having flashbacks to Hotaru Tomoe from the Sailor Moon franchise – which doesn’t help matters as the situation within the kingdoms devolves.

I find her inner conflict to be the central ‘villain’ of the story and Ford, through Olivia, makes a good battle of it. There are several forces on the outside as well, but they don’t play up as much as the Olivia vs Herself conflict does – and it is a fight she is slowly losing.

Which, while it is the central conflict of the story, feels a bit predictable. I never got the sensation that Olivia would ever be able to win the fight against ‘the Poison.’ Usually in a story like this we are given some inkling of hope – and indeed Ford does place a few inklings like this – but none of the proposed solutions ever comes off as possible or even truly considered as options through Olivia.

Having a protagonist lose is fine – it can make for a fun and interesting conflict, but the conflict felt so pre-destined that I didn’t really believe any of Olivia’s attempts or other items. Which is a shame, because Ford clearly likes his character and was having a fun time trying to create an interesting protagonist. It just doesn’t come off as something that ultimately was going to work out.

Endi Webb – The Maskmaker’s Apprentice 3.75/5

We have a rebel, Elu, who pushes against his role in his community and ultimately plunges the world in to danger. Majora’s mask style.

And really, I could have swapped Elu in with Link and his companion Thora in for Skull Kid and we’d have the basics of the plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the added elements to it certainly make this a better story than Majora’s Mask (please note – I am not someone who enjoyed Majora’s Mask. I was a Skyward Sword fan – yup I’m *that* Zelda guy) was. That I am comparing this to a Zelda game is a compliment in and of itself – there is no franchise in gaming I enjoy more than the Legend of Zelda.

The trick here is that there wasn’t enough development to the world to make me care that Thora was going around destroying things and unleashing evil. I wasn’t attached to the setting or the characters and that made it a less interesting book.

One big saving grace is Elu and Thora though – they are interesting and Elu’s personal considerations and conflicts are a high point of the storytelling here. They make the story interesting and sell it even with its weaker world development and lack of sympathetic population.

Michael Wallace – The Dark Citadel  3.75/5

There are wizards, griffins, and bad guys OH MY!

No, seriously. That should sell you on the story right there.

The Dark Citadel is a grisly fantasy with a huge cast of characters. Which is probably its greatest strength and its biggest failure. There are a number of protagonists and the antagonists they deal with only make it harder to track everyone. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones, only not as compelling. The violence combined with the sex and grisly scenes just are not my cup of tea.

This book was not designed for me as a reader. It’s not something I would grab off of the shelf, but it is well constructed and there is a lot of good character development if I could just keep the characters straight and the violence down. While I did not enjoy it immensely, this is a big genre at the moment and something there are probably a lot of readers out there for.

Terah Edun – Blades of Magic 4.5/5

The story is fairly simple – we have Sara, the daughter of a disgraced imperial commander. Her father was killed for deserting and, given what she knows of her father, this has always bothered her. This leads her to develop her sword skills and make some living wages to support herself and her mother for much of her early life.

When she comes of age, and a few tragedies, she finds herself working with the Mercenary Guild and beginning to unravel what really happened with her father and the Emperor. There are a number of sub plots and loose threads introduced and expanded on and it’s well balanced between resolution and mini-mystery.

I’ve always enjoyed Edun’s work and this is no exception. Sara is a fine main character and fun to follow along with. I also enjoyed Ezekiel as a bit of a challenge to Sara and her developing skills. That a `Battle Mage’ can transform in to a Berserker – like a classic Berserker – is also interesting and makes her accessing her abilities feel like there is some actual consequence to her magic use.

The other secondary characters felt a bit more static than I generally enjoy, but it comes off to me more as her getting things established than any kind of laziness on her part. To put it simply, this is a new aspect to her world and she is getting it prepared for the future. That static-ness makes it so that she can focus on Ezekiel and Sara and the mystery of Sara’s father while introducing elements that can grow in the future. Sara and Ezekiel are charming enough that I’m willing to be patient with those characters and I look forward to grabbing the sequel when I have a chance.

The world and society that Edun has built is interesting. It appears to be linked to her Courtlight series (which I am a huge fan of (I still need to finish the last book)), but this area and part of the world feels unique and distinct in comparison to what we read in the other series. It’s much more Roman/Greek-ish (for lack of a better phrase) over in these cities and for Sara. I also like the Mercenaries and their role and reaction to Sara. I don’t want to spoil it, but it makes significant sense given the world and the way Edun has established their purpose.

On the whole, this is an excellent new world from a great author. I encourage everyone to give it a shot when they have a chance. It’s completely worth the price asked at $2.99. I see there is a print price and, if Edun ever comes to my area for a convention or something, I’ll probably grab a print copy to get it signed.

 BUY THE COLLECTION HERE!