Friday
May262017

The Hero of Ages

All right, here we go. Recently finished reading the final book in the original Mistborn trilogy (I understand there is another trilogy that takes place in the same world but centuries later). I liked it. It's WAY better than the 2nd book, The Well of Ascension.

This book is hard to talk about without spoilers, but I'll do my best. If you're worried about accidental spoilers, maybe don't read past this paragraph? I'll just say that it's a book worth reading for the same reason the other two Mistborn books are. It answers a lot of questions and ties up the storyline nicely (but not too nicely because that would be annoying).

Onward to probably spoilers.

So this book is faster paced, even if it does have some chapters that don't seem to go anywhere. I know some people really don't like Sazed's chapters and found them boring. But after hearing Sanderson talk about them and the things he did to keep Sazed compelling through his depression, I really enjoyed those chapters.

Unlike the siege chapters of the second book, I thought the depression chapters in this book were necessary. They don't move the plot, don't influence it at all until the very final pages, but these chapters still have a colossal payoff in the end. They do, however, build up Sazed's character, who has been my favourite since midway through Mistborn.

Narrative voice of the characters was a little better in this one as well, so that I could at least tell when something was in Sazed's POV based on voice if not the events. And I also pegged those little chapter openers as belonging to the correct character, which was confusing as hell until the final pages.

The hints are there all along about who the Hero of Ages really is, but I was still shocked and delighted by the reveal. I thought the ending was perfect. Endings are hard to nail, but Sanderson does it well here. I loved what Sazed did for Vin and Elend in the flowers. I loved Spook's final thoughts. Lots of cheering from me.

And okay fine I cried too shut up.

But the ending also left me with SO many questions (spoilery ones so you definitely want to stop reading now if you hate those). What happened to Marsh? And any other Inquisitors left at the end? What about TenSoon and the other kandra? And the koloss? The world is changed and restored so much at the end, but is there still a place for them? Could they be restored or not? I'm hoping the next book in the series answers some of this, but I'm not sure when I'll get to it. (So many books, so little time)

Monday
May222017

The Fifth Elephant

It's another Discworld novel! And another with the night watch. I enjoyed this story, especially Vimes trolling the werewolves, but at the same time nothing about it really stood out from the rest of the series. And while there was some excellent plot and politics got a thorough roasting, I just really felt like this was just one long string of Vimes doing zany things.

And there's something about the whole dwarfs and gender thing that just really didn't sit well with me. I think I get what Pratchett was trying to do there, but I guess he just didn't really pull it off. Or maybe he pulled it off for his time, but not so much now.

So this is another good one, lots of fun, but it feels a bit uneven too. Not the best of the night watch books but still good. It didn't help that I listened to it via audio and the series has a new narrator who I really dislike.

Monday
May152017

Badass Ladies Make for Good Stories

Last week I took a mental health day and spent the entire day watching my favourite Badass Lady Action Movies. BLAM! In the past couple of years, Hollywood has given us some excellent action movies prominently featuring badass women. Lots of movies have some excellent female characters in them, but these four films I love centre the female characters.

The films in question are Mad Max Fury Road, Ghostbusters 2016, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One. If you still don't understand why this kind of representation is necessary, I can't help you. And that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what makes me love these movies, the common elements they all have.

These movies get women right. Their lady protagonists aren't just the archetypal Strong Female Character that once had its place but I kind of loathe now. The SFC archetype was always too one-dimensional for me. She was just a pretty face who would kick your ass as soon as look at you. The ladies in the aforementioned films WILL kick your ass if they need to. But there's so much more to them than that.

They're REAL. They're strong in more than the "will kick your ass" kind of way. And they're not always strong. Sometimes they're vulnerable. Sometimes they fuck things all the way up. Ya know, just like real people.

So, I have watched these four films multiple times, but this was the first time I binged them all in one day. And watching them all back to back like this, I really noticed some things about what these movies do successfully. These movies not only get ladies RIGHT, they tell good stories too. Here's why:

Diversity
I've spoken a lot here and especially in social media about how important representation is in art. I love these movies with their gender parity (or tipped toward my gender, for once). And one of my favourite things about the new Star Wars movies are their reach toward full diversity by including marginalized people in heroic roles. Prime example: Chirrut blindly kicking an impressive amount of ass in Rogue One. When you've got a big cast in an ensemble team, it's especially unforgivable not to include diverse actors in the roles.

Trust
The characters trust each other. In some cases, it's automatic (usually because of immediate "save the cat" moments), like Finn rescues Poe and they become instant buds. In other cases, the trust is hard earned, like between Jyn and Cassian or Max and Furiosa where they have to prove themselves to each other. While it's interesting (and probably necessary) that characters don't all trust each other, I think it's important that the main character have at least ONE other character that she does trust.

Loyalty
Not only do the characters (at least some of them) trust each other, but they're loyal to each other as well. Like the wives in Mad Max or the rag tag heroes in Rogue One. Even if they don't trust each other, they're still loyal to each other. Often, they're united under a common cause, like Jyn's team trying to steal the Death Star plans, or Furiosa's comrades trying to escape tyranny.

Respect
Even when there isn't trust and loyalty is tenuous, the characters at least respect each other, even when they don't like each other. They might argue, there might be some sniping banter, but no one's ideas are outright shot down, no one is talked over. Everyone's demonstrated intelligence is respected. No one questions Rey's ability to pilot the Millennium Falcon. She says she's a pilot and that's it, it's accepted.

No Romance
There is no funny business between main characters. Side characters might have some romance, it might all be off-screen and exist only in subtext (think Capable and Nux in Fury Road). But there's no romance for the main character. I'm not saying romance is a bad thing, but it's so refreshing to see lady characters not treated as sex objects or viewed as only having worth if they're romanceable.

Ghostbusters actually breaks this between the theatrical version and the extended DVD release. There's a romance that's been added in and honestly, it's awful. It's pointless and awkward and detracts from the story and let's just stick with Holtzmann's cute flirting, shall we?

Humour
Some movies, like Ghostbusters, use more humour than others. But all of them have some. Even darker stories like Rogue One have light moments. Fury Road, the grimmest of the bunch, has some dark humour. This is just good storytelling in general, not letting it be nonstop tension or action or bleakness. Readers and viewers need even a brief respite and humour is the way to do it. So it's not surprising these excellent films use it.

Sacrifice
Usually found toward the end of the movie, or in its climax, a major character makes a huge sacrifice, often sacrificing their very life, in order to save their friends or save the mission. Someone is a big damn hero at a key moment. And it's always going to hit viewers in the feels. Like Nux at the end of the chase, or basically everyone on Scarif in Rogue One. Like in Ghostbusters and TFA, a character doesn't have to die for the moment to be effective and powerful. Think of inexperienced Finn taking on a Sith lord to try to protect Rey, or Erin diving into the ghost portal to save Abby.

These interconnected elements shared by my favourite movies make their stories powerful and they translate easily into storytelling. Films are really just the visual equivalent of books. Many of the overall structures are used in film and novels. And the elements that make for a good film can easily make for a good book as well. Stories are stories.

I look forward to using these elements in my own writing going forward.

Wednesday
May102017

Ad Astra 2017

Every year I say I'm not going back to this con (it is so poorly run that it is absolutely mind-boggling), but every year I get there and am surrounded by enthusiastic geeks and writer friends I rarely see. I always end up having a good time despite frustrations. (skip ahead for the afforementioned fun if you don't want to hear me grumbling)

I don't want to give up on the con because I want it to do well. Unfortunately, their AGM and feedback panel is so late (at the very end of con) I've never got the spoons left to go and voice my concerns. And I have so many concerns, not just the scheduling, which gets more abysmal every year. This year, a rough draft schedule for the public was posted less than a week before start date. As a panelist, I didn't receive my final schedule until a day before the con started. This is so beyond unacceptable I have no words for it.

While it might not be a big deal for some people, it meant some panelists couldn't find adequate childcare in time and had to drop out of panels last minute. It meant panelists could let fans know they'd be at the con, but couldn't let them know where they'd be or when. And then the schedule for the Guest of Honour was wrong. He ended up missing a panel because of it. He was gracious and stayed late after a reading to answer questions on the missed panel's topic, but that was absolutely not his responsibility. It was the con's responsibility to make sure his schedule was correct.

I won't go into detail, but I have serious concerns about the con's harrassment policy. Less so the policy and more whether it will actually be enforced. And when attendees question policy enforcement, they don't feel completely safe at a con. And, if you're familiar with the OdCon fiasco, you know this is a big deal.

And then there's the con's diversity problem. While the con has great gender diversity, it's failing pretty much everywhere else. I saw people with accessibility issues struggling all weekend. There are very few people from the LGBTQ+ community. All of the panels I was on or attending were very white. There are so few people of colour at this con. A con that takes place in one of the most diverse cities in the world. That is a very big problem.

But if you look at the Guest roster year after year, it's really not a surprise. Bring in a diverse array of Guests of Honour and attract a diverse audience. But this is something Ad Astra must actively pursue. They can't wait around for POC to just show up. They need to start inviting them. And they need to create an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome.

If I attend Ad Astra next year and if it's anywhere near as bad as this year, I will force myself to go to the AGM and feedback panel, no matter low on spoons I am (ideally, I will save spoons for this), and I will have my say. I will shout if I need to. I will do my best to bring a posse.

Okay, that was a lot to unload, but I think it also needed saying. But I did have fun at the con. A lot of fun. And I learned a lot too!

This year's Guest of Honour was Brandon Sanderson and he was superb. Top notch, A+ human being. As I noted earlier, he was very gracious (though clearly as frustrated as the rest of the panelists) about the scheduling clusterfuck.

Honestly, Sanderson is the only reason I went at all this year. I'm glad that I did. I became aware of the man from friends who are fans of his Writing Excuses podcast, which is excellent and is the first resource I recommend to new writers. He was available all weekend long and gave out writing advice and answered all sorts of fan questions (except the spoilery ones) without hesitation.

I first bumped into him in the elevators on Friday evening and then again in the con suite, where he held court in the hallway and answered questions for nearly two hours. When I asked him about his outlining process, he HANDED ME HIS PHONE and showed me the outline of his CURRENT WORK IN PROGRESS. Emphasized because when was the last time you handed your phone to a stranger? And if you're a writer, when was the last time you showed a stranger unfinished work? I'm not sure I could be so trusting.

As I mentioned earlier, he stayed behind an extra half an hour after a reading in order to answer questions on the worldbuilding panel he missed (because of the screwed up schedule). He stuck around to play card games with fans on Saturday evening. And when everyone else except one new indie author bailed on the final panel on Sunday, he was super professional and did everything he could to help the other author stay in the conversation.

I'm sad to say that I haven't done any writing since the con, but my head is swimming with information that I'm excited to put to good use. I've got the rest of the week set aside to get some writing done.

I think that even if Sanderson hadn't been there, I'd have had a good time. Which leads me to believe I'll likely go to the con again next year. I spent most of the time hanging out with authors I only see at cons, and other friends I don't see nearly enough of. I drank too much and didn't sleep enough. Hallmark of a good time for me. I was rarely in my hotel room.

I got to do an autograph session this time around. It was super disorganized, but I still signed books. I made some new fans and got to hear from old ones. I'm always astounded to discover I have fans. This was my first year without a dealer table, but the Book Scouts were kind enough to let me have a little corner of their table. So I was able to have stock available and still actually just participate in the full con experience.

It made it a lot more like ConFusion. I think I will go this route from now on, as I end up selling the same number of books, but now get to actually socialize, network and learn.

Anyway, here's hoping Ad Astra gets its house in order and becomes the top notch con it can be. I want to keep supporting it without feeling like I'm compromising my integrity in doing so.

And thanks to my pal Seann Alexander for the photos, including the stealth shot of Julie Czerneda signing a book! (that last one I took of Seann and Brandon playing tic-tac-toe, heh)

Monday
May012017

The Well of Ascension

This is the follow up to Mistborn but it really doesn't live up to its predecessor. It's still a good book over all, but I think it's a confused book. It doesn't know if it wants to be a siege book or a hero's journey book and it tries to do them both with boring results.

This could have easily been 400 pages shorter. I know a lot of people love the siege bits, but I found it (especially the length of story it takes up) to be completely unnecessary. It's likely all that boring crap in the middle is set-up for book 3, but that's still sloppy writing. Set up for later action should be dispersed throughout a story, not all clumped into one long slog.

I wish that I had just read the summary of this book from the back of book 3 and then just skipped straight from Mistborn to The Hero of Ages. But those 400 extra pages aren't the only problem I had with this book. While the world and characters are crafted well, Sanderson's writing is still fairly weak. These books were written about 10 years ago, so I expect he's a much better writer now.

One of the biggest faults with the book is the narration. There are several POV characters, which works well on its own, but I found myself often confused about whose point of view I was reading. The character voice just isn't there. I think part of the reason for this is that subtle emotional cues aren't there either.

But I've already started reading book 3, which is much better in terms of pacing, at least so far. I think anyone who enjoys fantasy siege warfare and/or politics will enjoy all of book 2. I am really really not that person.