25 August, 2015

Review - Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada gave me an epiphany and that's not always a good thing apparently.

Up to the moment I read this book, I'd started to convince myself that really the main thing that mattered to me in a book was readability. How much was a both looking forward to reading a book and how fast were the pages turning for me? Those are two things I thought a great deal of in terms of esteem (and star rating points).

Armada had all that. I did look forward to reading it and I thought the pages turned rather quickly all in all.

But I started to realize that even though I was enjoying myself, I didn't really think all that much of this story. It's rather bland for the most part and so chalk full of 80's nerdery it's almost as if no other nerdery is allowed or considered worthy.

Now, this 80's geekiness works really well in Cline's debut, Ready Player One (How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...), because it's essential to the story. Maybe we should add, because it was new, but I don't know if you can go that far. When the premise revolves around the 80s it just works.

Here, Armada's 80's affiliation has more to do with a kid's dead father's obsession and begins to grate in all the wrong ways. It's as if this geeky kid never realized there were other nerdy things to do ... even though he's obsessed with a very hyper-futuristic video game that all kids his age are obsessed with. It'd've been fine with additional, modern references - 80's references are fine - it's just that it begins to sound like that's the only worthy decade when that's far from the truth and arguably only the beginning of a very many great decades for geekery that only got better.

It's reinforced by the fact that only those other characters who also know 80's lore are considered with it, cool, on fleek (that's what the kids are saying these days right? *cough* *cough*).

To reiterate it's like the emphasis makes it seem like you're only cool (geeky) if you're up on your 80's geekery. If not, you're not actually a geek.

Now, I don't want to act like I didn't like Armada. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I admit that my expectations were nigh-on insurmountable after how much I fell for Ready Player One. I still enjoyed Armada, I just won't be fondly remembering my time with the book like I still do with RPO. It's a fun romp and I've forgone mention of the inconsistencies I saw (I think I gave it a hard enough time as is).

I'll still be scooping up Cline's next book, but probably not with as much fervor. Expectations have been tempered.

3 out of 5 Stars (recommended with reservations)

18 August, 2015

Guest Post - "Good Dialogue: Balancing Realism and Awesomeness by A.G. Wyatt



Good Dialogue: Balancing Realism and Awesomeness

Some people will tell you that good dialogue is realistic. Those people are barely half right on a good day. Good dialogue is a delicate balance between what’s realistic, what’s dramatic, and what’s just plain awesome.

So how does that work?

Balancing Realism and Drama

You need dialogue to seem realistic and to sound like we imagine people talking. That means slang, abbreviations, incomplete sentences, and touches of humor and awkwardness.

But that’s not the same as how people really talk. Any real conversation involves a bunch of repetitions, hesitations, and “er, hm” moments that just clutter up the scene. So throw in some realism, but don’t go too far.

Aaron Sorkin is famous for this. His dialogue seems realistic because characters interrupt and talk over each other, like in real life. But it’s hyper-reality, in which every word is cool, coherent and awesome.

Speaking of awesome, snappy one-liners and killer comebacks will make your dialogue memorable and grab attention, so throw in a few. But don’t use a whole bucketful — the more you have, the more obvious it will be that this isn’t real people talking.

The same goes for drama. This lies largely in the structure, so is easier to hide. Skip over the awkward fifteen minutes of developing a real plan, and cut to the summary. Have people interrupt each other at the perfect moment to add conflict and tension to the scene without hiding meaning. Have people join in at the perfectly dramatic right (or wrong) moment.

Structure for drama and use details for realism and awesomeness.

Voices: Being Consistent and Characterful

One of the most important things to do in good dialogue is to make the characters distinctive. Give each one particular phrases or ways of talking. These can be obvious, like Marvel comics’ robot bounty hunter Death’s Head, who ends many sentences with “yes?” They can be more subtle, like having a character use short sentences or ask a lot of questions. The character can be favoring long words, or plainer sounding ones with an Anglo-Saxon root.

If each character has distinctive verbal tics then they’ll stand out, making the dialogue clearer, more real and more dramatic. But be careful not to overdo it. Even Death’s Head doesn’t use his distinctive “yes?” as often on the page as readers remember, and only gets away with it because he’s not a totally serious character. Over use any element and the character will seem absurd.

Some Examples

It’s easier to show how this works through bad examples than good ones. So let’s look at a few (that I’ve invented — no real authors were hurt in the making of this article)…

“As you know, Gilbert, Ragaton was once home to an ancient witch who…”

Any sentence that starts “as you know” is a stinker. Using this to tell readers story background is neither dramatic nor realistic — only the most tedious people tell us what we already know. If I want them to talk about the witch, I’ll have to imply her existence:

“Is that poster meant to show the Ragaton Witch? It looks almost as ancient and wrinkled as she was.”

It’s not perfect, but it hints at the character’s snobby attitude and deep familiarity with the witch, while implying her existence.

How about a little back and forth:

“Why did you do it, Rusko?”
“I’m not telling.”
“Tell me or I’ll beat you.”
“Still not telling.”

That’s one way to take the drama out of an interrogation, and the realism - people don’t just answer questions directly, and the interrogator is being too on the nose. So instead:

“Why did you do it, Rusko?”
“Why are you such a fat pig, Cole? You’re like one of them big sows, rolling around in the—”
“You want to meet my friend Mr. Lead Pipe?”
“You want to go to Hell?”

Now Rusko’s fighting back with his words, “Mr. Lead Pipe” has shown Cole’s twisted sense of humor, and they’re both being a little bit more dramatic and characterful.

Good dialogue strikes that balance of realism and drama, as well as showing character. It’s not just nice to have. It’s vital.
____________________

MoonFall (MoonFall Series Book 1)
A.G. Wyatt is the author of the post-apocalyptic adventure series, MoonFall, and is presently working on his second series. When he's not writing, he's reading, or looking for inspiration near his hometown in Northeastern PA.

Links to A.G. Wyatt's social media profiles:


04 August, 2015

(audiobook) Review - The Martian by Andy Weir


I like to have fun with my reviews and I sure did with this one. Check out my review for Andy Weir's The Martian over at SFFAudio.com. Check out the trailer for the new movie, starring Matt Damon, here:


From my review:
Five stars for pure entertainment and because math made it suspenseful.  
That’s right, math made it thrilling. Look at it this way, you’re stranded on a planet that’s essentially trying to kill you. You could just keel over and die … like I would most likely do in the same situation, or you could figure out how to stay alive.

23 July, 2015

(audiobook) Review - City of Golden Shadow (Otherland #1) by Tad Williams

Tad Williams has been one of those authors I'd never really gotten around to even though he's a pillar of fantasy literature. Technically, I did read his story contained in Songs of the Dying Earth (which was excellent), but never one of his mainstays such as Otherland and his epic, Memory, Sorry, and Thorn series.

Apparently that day has come and I've officially read Tad Williams. And what did I think? I hate to say this, but mostly meh.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy City of Golden Shadow, but for the ending we get (i.e., the status of the characters at the end), there's not really a whole lot to show for it. It's a long book, and not really all that much happens. There are tons of mysteries, but I found myself not really caring about some of the main characters and that made it difficult to say the least.

At the same time, I feel compelled to go on. Though I was disappointed with where we got in the end of the book, I wasn't so much disappointed in the ending itself. It was exciting to finally see things moving along, to see progress. I was finally sucked in by the end, but how did it take just under 800 pages to do that?

I won't go into the story, I feel like I'm one of the last to finally discover Williams so it's weird describing it, but it's interesting and mysterious and I guess that's what kept my interest for so long.

Additionally, I listened to this on audio and I really wonder if I would have pushed through had I been reading this page by page. It's so long and slow-moving, I honestly think I might have given up. I'm glad I listened to it because I'm excited to see what happens now that the story can finally begin. But that's one long intro.

And I have to say that the narrator, George Newbern, did an excellent job. That certainly helped as well. His accents for the different characters, including Indian, Spanish, and Bushman (!Xabbu) were always impressive. He switched through them effortlessly as well and though some sounded similar, it was also distinct.

Overall, I'm glad I finally read City of Golden Shadow and after doing so (to completion I might add) I'm convinced that Williams deserves the praise he gets. I was bored at times, but interested and even captivated at other times. I enjoyed it in the end, but I don't know if it's worth the slog for everyone because it really was a slog at times. I'll have to read more in the series for more incite.

3 out of 5 Stars (for a slow start but eventual payoff - recommended)

Note: ARC received from audio publisher with absolutely no conditions. I reviewed it anyway. :)
Note #2: Usually my audiobook reviews appear on sffaudio.com, however, they already have a reviewer covering this series and so mine has become superfluous.