Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review - Firmament: Radialloy

 It's the last Friday of the month, and that means (according to my newly made up rules) that I have either a book review or an author interview to post here. Of course, that assumes that I've either read a book sometime this month or talked with an author. Unfortunately, the only author I've talked with is myself, so I guess that means it's a book review.
   Firmament: Radialloy is a science fiction story, set up kind of like Star Trek. And, since I'm bad with writing descriptions of stories, here's what Amazon has to say about it:
The year is 2320. Andi Lloyd is content with her life as the assistant to her adoptive father, a starship doctor, but her secure world turns upside down when she begins uncovering secrets from her past. When her father mysteriously starts losing his mind, she finds that she can no longer count on him to guide or help her. With mutiny breaking out on the ship, and two factions desperate for a valuable secret she holds, she must race to help her father and herself before time runs out.
   Isn't that fascinating? Is your interest peaked?
   I first saw this book only a few months after it had been published and thought it was interesting. Since the author was self-published (and I was looking into that) I could find a new book and support a independent author. It was a win-win situation.
   Enough about how I heard about the book, what about the story itself? Well, the story is well-crafted. The story, though, isn't the best part about this book. The characters are. Andi is delightful. She's an orphan, taken in by her father, The Doctor, who is not a Time Lord (sad, but true). August is the shy navigator (fangirl favorite) who I thought was good, but not exceptional. I most resonated with Crash. He's a brash, brave pilot of a small spacecraft, but who thinks he knows it all. The most interesting part of his character is that he is brought on as a joker (which I can relate with) as well as tending to be a bit of a know-it-all. This is, in fact, basically how he is seen almost as soon as he arrives on the spaceship: he is set up against the resident pilot of the starship. This initial conflict really made him interesting to me. Unfortunately, he's not around for much of the book (good thing he's more of a major player in Book 2!).
   What about the plot? Well, as I stated before there are some twists and turns. The part about The Doctor (still not a Time Lord) is quite troubling. Andi has no idea what is going on with him, same as the reader. And when certain new arrivals start to act suspiciously, things really go topsy-turvy. Things turn into a high-sea adventure (but in space) for a while, though on a much larger scale. The climax is tense, and there is my major problem with it. I've read the book twice now and, while I have a basic understanding of what happens, whenever I actually read the last couple scenes I am confused. The first time I let it slide, because I was so caught up in the excitement of the novel and I wondered if I had just missed some things. The second time, however, I read a bit more carefully and I was still confused on what exactly happened.
   Still, other than that qualm about the ending, the book is well written and I would recommend it. You can pick up the book on Amazon: (link here) and you can find out more about J. Grace Pennington here.

   What about you? Have you read Firmament: Radialloy? What did you think? Or have you read any independent books that you might recommend? Tell me in the comments below!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Not Me

   I have difficulty writing characters. I've always preferred coming up with plots or cool twists to character arcs, while never actually being able to move the character along the arc. Still, characters are the heart of the story. They carry the reader throughout a story and without good characters, even the best plot is brought down. Therefore, I write characters as well as I can. In order to keep from falling into cliches, I craft all my characters after the character I know best: my own. This works well for villains as well as heroes. Unfortunately, especially since my stories are told in first person, all the characters end up feeling like they all have the same character.
   So I am learning as I go. I try to craft each character after myself, as to capture a sense of realism, while still making them separate from myself. The hardest part, interestingly enough, is realizing that not all people have the same morals and ideologies that I do. Naturally, this is most easily recognized in the villains. Villains do horrible things, sometimes thinking it is admissible because of the goal and sometimes just doing it for fun. However, their deeds are recognized as horrible. I don't have to wrestle through with the question of whether a good character should do that thing because the character is evil! It is much harder to have a good character do a deed which, though it disagrees with my morals, is not actually wrong.
   Say, for instance, Rambo becomes angry and kills someone out of revenge. That is wrong. And even though he is a good character, that is explained because he has shortcomings. However, to have Rambo do something which I disagree with, such as go to war, is harder for me to write because I have not put myself into the mindset of someone who believes in Just War. Rambo, by doing that, is not wrong. People can be good and noble and disagree with me. In actuality, it brings more realism to my writing to have characters which disagree. The challenge is to write well characters who disagree with me.
   There is another challenge in this 'character writing' stuff: lack of redemption. I'm the type of person who wants all the bad guys to apologize at the end and everyone to live together as one big happy family. Sure, it's cheesy, but wouldn't that be amazing? All I would have to do to stop a mugging would say, "Hey! Stop that!" and the mugger would apologize and we'd go out for tea. That's not how it works in life, and, therefore, that's not how it should work in stories. Yes, there is redemption in life, and there can be redemption in story. However, not every character gets redeemed and that must be recognized. Sometimes it takes leaving the villain to die to truly create good art. Sometimes, in life or in story, people must be left to their own devices. They may choose good, they may choose bad. But in the end they must choose. If Rambo decides he wants to become a greedy millionaire who rips animals off until everyone around him is poor, and chooses to stay that way, then do I have the guts to let him stay there? Sure, the other characters (Butch and Spot, etc) will try to change his mind. But some character's minds just won't be changed. Do I have the courage to say, "I have my morals and you don't and, even though it's sad for me, I'm not going to force you to change."?

What about you? Have you ever really connected with someone who has different morals than you? Have you ever had to allow someone to go their own way in life? Comment below and tell me about it!

Friday, May 16, 2014

From the Inferno to the Iliad

   A few months ago, I read The Divine Comedy for the first time. It was a long, complicated book, but a fascinating read. I understood some of it, but much of it was confusing to me partially because of the way it is written and partially because it references a lot of culture and literature of that time. Because of such, I realized I would need to do some background reading before I could completely understand Dante's masterpiece.
   Logically, the Aeneid would be the place to start, since Virgil (author the Aeneid) is the guide of Dante through Hell and Purgatory. However, the Aeneid, to my understanding, is based largely off of Homer's Iliad. In order to fully comprehend the background of the Aeneid, I should read Homer first. That is why I am now listening to the audiobook version of The Iliad. It is an interesting read, uh, listen (but that's a whole other blog post).
   Another thing I am reading is Deuteronomy. It is the fifth book of the Bible and is largely a recap of the first four books before it. It tells of how Moses led his people out of Egypt and of Israel's wandering in the wilderness as well as the laws God handed down for the Israelite people. Most people would consider this difficult reading (and I agree). One might be more willing to read the New Testament, as it is more theologically relevant and more interesting. However, in order to truly comprehend the New Testament, one must have background. Just as I need to comprehend Dante's literary background before embarking on the Inferno (and the other two books of the Divine Comedy), I must comprehend Jesus' Jewish background before truly understanding the Gospel he teaches. Context is important, not just the textual context, but the chronological context as well.
   I've found this is true in my writing as well. As I look back at what I've written through my lifetime, it is interesting to discover much of what I've created corresponds to what I've read or learned over that time. If I am studying Greek mythology, my novels tend to have dashes of gods and heroes thrown in. If I am studying deep theological issues (such as free will or penal substitution atonement theory) my writing also seems to touch on those topics. In order to to deeply understand my writing, it helps me to look back at what I was going through or thinking about at that time.

   What about you? Has learning the context of a story helped you to understand in better? Can you see this same idea working in your creative life? Comment below and tell me about it!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Reasons to Watch Popular Films

   As some may know, I enjoy listening to podcasts. One that I listen to often is The Sci-Fi Christian. On one of the recent episodes, one of the hosts asked why people would choose to consume films or novels which were average, if not downright terrible. This is an interesting question to say the least. This caused me to consider my own 'entertainment' choices. Why did I choose to watch the films I watched and read the novels I read? I came up with several answers of why I choose to consume films or novels which are not brilliant instead of works that are.
1. Entertainment Value
   This is probably the weakest of the reasons. However, there is something about a superhero film or a mindless thriller that is entertaining. If it were not so, I doubt they would be so popular. Such stories can form a means of escapism, wrapping up my mind in the intriguing plot or hilarious comedy which separates me from the tragedy of real life. That's not to say that this is the best option for choosing such content, but it is a factor.
2. Cultural Engagement
   When I hear my friends talking about a book or film that is popular, there is a yearning inside of me to be able to add to that conversation. When the Hunger Games became popular, I wanted to read the series merely to find out for myself why people were so interested. I also wanted to be able to engage with people on that subject in order to build relationships. Discussing shared experiences is a means of creating or building friendships.
3. Relationships
   There are those people who are more willing to go see a superhero film than go see a dark, thought-provoking film. That is not so say that superhero films cannot be though-provoking, but with superhero films one is not forced to consider deeply theological or ethical choices. The great thing about superhero films and mindless thrillers is that one can just watch the story and forget about it at the end. However, two people can sit together and watch a less than stellar film and bond over the experience. The film may not be incredibly stimulating or though-provoking, but it requires two (or more) people to sit together for a long amount of time and, at least, converse slightly before and afterward. If in nothing else, they can agree that the film was a waste of their time. However, it was time they spent together enjoying (or ridiculing) a film. Some of my most enjoyable times have been making fun of a bad movie with my brother.
   Remember how I said a great thing about thoughtless films is that they can be taken at face value without much thought? Well, that is true. However, there are few films which are not, upon further reflection, teaching the viewer ideologies and presenting situations to be mulled over. It is not forced on the viewer to consider the ramifications of the scene, but, upon further reflection, the questions are still there. How does one respond if a villain threatens to kill an innocent bystander? What would I do if my enemy were about to kill an entire city and it was up to me to stop him? Can a bad thing be done for a good reason and still considered just? Questions like these invade all sorts of films and novels which, at first glance, might be considered mindless. The question is are we discerning enough to see them?
   My point is not to say that watching a 'dumb' film is okay. My point is that sometimes watching the popular superhero film or reading the popular romance novel may be more than about how great a work of art it is. Even an average or less than average novel can still teach about love and show the destructive power of evil.

   What do you think? Do you have reasons for watching the popular movies which aren't very good? Do you have reasons for reading that book which isn't that great? Comment below and tell me about them!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Struggle

   Have you ever been in the moment when you know you need to do something yet have no resolve to actually do it? That's how I feel now. I know the blog post is late. I know I need to put one out consistently or I'll stop altogether. Still, I have no idea what to write about. Therefore: I write the first thing that comes to mind. This is quite dangerous. Why? Because I have a strange mind.
   Still, this is the only place where I actually have a schedule. Sure, I have cows that need to get milked every day and pigs that need fed. But that's stuff I'm required to do. This is the only real thing I put upon myself to do that I've actually kept up. I tried writing books every Christmas, but eventually I failed at that. I tried writing novels, but that's been slowly pushed back. I've had Trapped (Kitten Mysteries Book 2) sitting halfway through the fourth edit for probably a month or two now. This is the only thing that has come out Friday after Friday. I enjoy blogging (most of the time) and I want to continue. Still, at times like this I have to look at my reasons for pursuing this and wonder if they are enough.
   I want to encourage people with this blog. I want to entertain them. I want to (if only to make a living) sell books. I want to interest and show people different sides to things. I want to see what people think and love to see it when people comment on a post. I just wonder sometimes whether its all worth it. Am I entertaining or encouraging? I don't think I'm harming anyone. However, not harming anyone is hardly something to brag about. The golden rule isn't "Don't do to others what you wouldn't want done to you." It is a positive rule: "Do to others what you would want someone to do to you." And that's what I want to do. I want to actually be doing good, not just refrain from doing harm.
   So here I sit. Typing away at this computer hoping to put together a competent blog post two hours after its due. Could I spend this time better? Probably. So why do I spend time at this? That is the question. And I guess, for now, I should either be content with the answer "I don't know", or stop altogether.

   Sorry to be so depressing. Still, sometimes I have to, need to, take a look at the things I do and decide whether they are advancing my own life and others'. Because sitting still isn't really an option; at least, not a good one. It's either forward or backward, there's not point standing here.