Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Last, but certainly not least, we reach the fourth and final of the official installments of the Alien franchise. One could make an argument about "Prometheus" and "Alien Covenant" (to be released), however I think I'll actually discuss the book reviews themselves in a secondary post so that the review isn't inundated with nonsense.
Before we start, I want to clarify something that I didn't initially realize when I grabbed the book but recognized as I dug in. That is: "Alien Resurrection" has a different author. While the initial three stories were told by Alan Dean Foster, a true veteran in the industry when it comes to novelizations, the fourth one was done by A.C. Crispin. And, having just plowed through the previous three, I have to say that you could tell (in a good way!)
So, let's dig in.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Alien series, Alien Resurrection was the last of the "Quadrilogy" as it was affectionately known. Picking up several hundred years after the last installment, Ripley was dead and gone. That is, until scientists, utilizing DNA recovered from "Fury 161" are able to clone and recreate her. There's only one problem: her DNA has become intermingled with that of the Alien creature she fought so diligently against. Now, she is less than human; more of a monster that is linked both physically and mentally with the true prize the scientists hoped to acquire: a genetically recreated alien queen. But, as it would with these monsters, all hell breaks loose soon after a pirate crew arrives on the top secret science vessel. The few survivors must ban together to get out all while the ship barrels towards Earth with its monstrous cargo in tow.
The first thing that I noticed, as I touched on before, was the difference in the author. As I've mentioned in all three previous iterations, Alan Dean Foster has a deep and affectionate love for detail. Lots of detail. Occasionally, way too much detail. As it stands, detail is not necessarily a bad thing. However, sometimes the fine-toothed comb approach proves more of a hindrance than anything else, particularly in the first novel, when it brings the story grinding to a halt. As it were, the first three all definitely have a 'touch-and-go' story pace that resembles someone pumping the gas in a car. Alien Resurrection faces no such issues.
The fourth and final installment flows smooth as butter. While I technically still like Foster's "Aliens" novel better overall (primarily due to content versus style), I would be disrespecting Crispin's work by not recognizing that everything simply flows better. The book is a page turner if ever there was one.
The next thing that stood out compared to the previous installments was the similarity to the original screenplay. While this sounds weird, all previous iterations of the stories have featured severe departures from the canon. Things like "aliens with eyes" and "poisonous stinger barbs" are just some of the immediate thoughts, however all of Foster's novels feature information that is directly contradictory to established information from the films. Instead, Crispin sticks pretty solidly to the original story with only a few addendums that explore character motivation and background. Side characters that aren't overly explored in the original movie, such as Distephano the soldier and Purvis the hapless miner, are examined more deeply; making them more relateable and understandable characters vs. their relatively cardboard cutout design in the film.
Overall, the book is a good read. It's smooth and delivers and exciting and thrilling story that keeps you flipping pages to see what happens next. If you've read the previous books, its a good departure from the previous style. If you've seen the movies, it'll be an enjoyable translation of the onscreen action with just a little sugar to sweeten it up. Even if you haven't read/seen the others, I would definitely recommend this even as a standalone title.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
I wanted to take a moment and just apologize for the silence over the course of the last week.
Long story short, I've been doing what I can to insure that I have early posts scheduled and everything is flowing smoothly. Overall, I feel it's been going pretty well, but unfortunately I was pretty down for the count for the last week or so. A combination of work and sickness made it so I effectively had no time followed by no capability/drive to produce anything of noteworthiness. In other words, I crashed hard and didn't come back up for a good week.
So, with that sad, I just wanted to let you know that everything should be a bit more smoothed out now and we should be back on track. I hope I didn't miss anything too big or crazy. How are you? I hope you're doing alright.
Either way, I've had a passing thought for a while now that I've been trying to figure out an ideal way to react to. In short, I have a few faithful readers who I enjoy speaking to regularly and there are many more people I'd like to invite to join us. So what's a good way to encourage it? I've been looking at book giveaways and, while Xenophobia is certainly stuck hard in the editing phase (because I'm a horrible, terrible person) I've been looking at other possibilities for acquiring digital books that I could occasionally raffle off simply as a "thank you" to readers.
I believe I've found a good possibility for just that, but I wanted to raise the question:
Have you ever given away free books?
Are they your own or simply celebratory gifts?
What process have you utilized to do so?
I know I've seen a raffle system wandering across the literary blogs, but I can't remember what it is off the top of my head. I think it's Rafflecopter, but I'll need to look into that as well.
With pleasantries aside, let's get ourselves back on track. :)
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Continuing on our trend of reviewing the last few 'Alien' novels, it's time now for Alien 3! (I promise, we're almost done and will move on to different novels shortly).
To begin, let me say that this actually turned out notably better than I really expected. To many who know the original movies, 'Alien 3' is generally considered the weakest of the group. Out of place, a little slow, a little boring, and just generally an all around 'meh' experience, I don't think I can name anyone who claims 'Alien 3' to be their favorite in the series. However, I'm happy to say the book did a bit more for me than the movie adaptation.
For those that are unfamiliar with the film, 'Alien 3' picks up almost immediately after the events of the 'Aliens' story. The survivors of the incident on Acheron are in cryogenic sleep and on their way back to Earth when disaster strikes. The sleepers are jettisoned in an escape pod and land on a nearby planet: Fiorina 161. The unfortunate part? 'Fury 161' as it's called is a largely uninhabitable planet utilized as a Penitentiary. Upon waking on this desolate world, Ripley finds that the disaster that destroyed her ship might not have been an accident and that she might have brought something else with her down to 'Fury 161'. Now, with 'the company' en route, racing to collect the Alien specimen and silence any witnesses, Ripley is in a race against time to kill the creature that is picking off the prisoners one by one while realizing that she herself might have brought more than one Alien with her to the planet...
As I mentioned before, I was largely surprised to find I enjoyed the book a great deal more than a movie. Many felt that the original film was unnecessary, drab, and failed to really do anything interesting with the formula. While I can't argue against the fact that the film simply feels like a rehash of the first movie's 'picking-a-group-off-one-by-one' concept, there are a few things the book did very well.
First, we had a large exploration of Fury 161 and the prisoners who live on the planet. While we got a few bits of information in the film regarding the planet being a 'shit hole' for lack of a better term and that there is a lice infestation, we really didn't see more than that. In the book, there's a greater focus on what the planet is like, what drew Weyland Yutani to mine there, what creatures live on the planet, how the facility itself works, and what day to day troubles all of the above afford the prisoners. Likewise, all of the prisoners get a more in-depth examination. While I doubt you could name more than a couple of the prisoners in the film, you are allowed to get a feel for a many of them this time around. The one that really grabbed my attention was Gollick, who plays a pretty big role during the Alien Hunt later in the book but who is largely ignored during the film with the exception of a couple key scenes.
Likewise, the actual interaction with the alien and the sheer panic of the Alien Hunt during the mount and climax of the book are fantastically well done. While the film by no means failed to deliver in these scenes, the book did well to portray the panic and chaos in these moments when everything that could go wrong did. Likewise, Ripley's odd 'experience' with the Aliens is delved into a little more deeply in a way the movie can't simply by adding a greater understanding for the senses and thoughts that would be involved here.
In short, I was happy to have read this one. I was blown away that I my least favorite movie actually proved to be a better read than the first book's adaptation. Worth a shot if you enjoy the series.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Today I wanted to take a moment and talk about the importance of subtext and giving a story a purpose. In short, what is it that you really want your story to say.
To clarify, this was actually something I had a huge issue with in writing early on and is still something that challenges me to this day. However, giving your story subtext, a moral, or a meaning to the overall is what makes the difference between a story and simply imagining/fantasizing on paper. A story provides a goal or a narrative whereas fantasy is just that: the ideal wanderings of the mind. Allow me to give you an example that strikes close to home.
Consider Xenophobia. The original concept behind Xenophobia was just meant to be a little 'twist'. It was meant to describe this horrible place that just sounds monstrous and frightening but then the 'twist' was to reveal that we were actually talking about humans/Earth. While the concept is fun and the 'twist' is little more than shock-value silliness, there really isn't much else THERE. It's just meant as a quick, idle fantasy.
On the other-hand, where the story WENT is another matter all together (and the reason the beginning of the book is taking so much to re-write.) The story started to become an examination of human political behavior and is meant to reflect very real actions that are being taken today. You have people just sitting back and watching. You have people moving to war on grounds of fear and misunderstanding. You have people standing up in battles who were never invited and you have people who are just there to watch and amuse themselves.
With this in mind, a solid story will always involve some deeper meaning. It will allow a person to 'read between the lines'. Part of what personally helped me was a friend's recommendation.
"Anytime you watch a movie or read a book, try to figure out what the story
it ACTUALLY about? What is it telling you? What is the 'purpose' behind it?"
It was honestly a great exercise. It allows you to look at literature and entertainment with a whole different light and apply that seem concept to writing. If you're not able to apply a meaning and you don't know what you're actually telling your audience, why ever would someone bother reading it?
This isn't to say that every book out there needs to be the Odyssey and not every writer needs to be Shakespeare, but having a purpose behind your writing, a goal for the narrative, will give your story more substance. It will draw you away from the amateur habit of just writing endless description and either too much action or dialogue. Instead, it will focus you.
You could probably find thousands of ideas, however here are some ideas for morals and purposes:
- "Don't make a big deal about a minor problem."
- "The fallout of a lie may be worse than accepting responsibility for the truth."
- "A new friend may be worth more than an old one."
- "Don't bite the hand that feeds you."
- "It is not only fine feathers that make a fine bird."
- "Anger is a fire that burns all, friend and foe alike."
- "Necessity is the mother of invention."
- "Pride goes before the fall."
- "Misfortune provides insight as those those you should trust."
- "Deeds speak louder than words."
- "The power of one falls short of the power of many."
- "The wealthy are only as rich as how they use their wealth."
I hope this inspired some of you. Do you have any good ideas for morals or purposes? Share in the comments below for everyone to enjoy!
Sunday, April 9, 2017
"Ha ha ha!" laughed the villain. "My recipe calls for only the finest baby unicorn penguins! Even though eating one will literally cause thirty atomic bombs to go off around the world, I must sate my hunger!"
Sound familiar? How about this?
"It's truly incredible." said the side character in awe. "Now that you've thrown off the shackles of eating any kind of meat, you are clearly the best of us all. Our one true God has granted you the ability to smite all of the redneck gun owners who would do nothing but overthrow society with the desire to eat all that they see because clearly they have no morals or wills of their own outside of an insatiable desire for blood!"
How about this?
Honestly, I hope not. Because if it does you very well might be reading some serious garbage.
Now, before I receive another angry e-mail claiming I am supporting some weird nuclear-penguin eating agenda, let me just say this: this was the first random example of a terrible villain and hero that came to mind. Overly psychotic, blood-thirsty monster and exemplary, pure, perfect, holy hero who could never harm another soul. With that said, do you see the problem with these examples?
In short: these characters aren't even black and white. They're at best white or black in their design. That said: let's talk characters!
What makes a good hero AND villain really interesting is their relatability. While you might be inclined to make a villain truly monstrous or a hero a shining beacon of light, I would discourage you from such writing tropes. They're rarely done right and doing so makes them confusingly evil or unattainably good. Instead, look at it from both sides. Why is the hero good? Why is the villain evil? Where did they really come from that makes them who they are?
While I'm pretty sure I've used this line before, it's still one of my favorites and is definitely worth repeating.
"No one thinks that they're the bad guy."
With that said, consider that from the perspective of the villain. Most real people aren't going to actively make choices that are just outright evil. Example given, eating the one, lone unicorn penguin AND destroying the world via nukes linked to said unicorn penguin seems a liiiiiiiiiiittle out of realistic trains of thought for any given individual. Instead, consider the choices that got them there. Consider where they are coming from but also where are they going. There's a reason antagonists are called antagonists versus fucking-evil-bad-guys. It's because they are working opposite to protagonists. And that doesn't mean evil...just opposed.
But hey, let's apply that same logic to the heroes. Surely you've heard the 'misunderstood villain' shtick before, but what about the fact that the hero doesn't think they're the bad guy either! They're not the bad guy. Right? Riiiiight? There's no way that this guy whose a shit driver and cuts people off in traffic is bad. Or the guy who doesn't tip is bad. How about that hero who kind of hates black people. He's the good guy right? Well...he's the protagonist. And just as the villain isn't necessarily evil, the hero isn't necessarily good.
In fact, they're all just human.
Unless they're aliens.
Then fuck those guys, am I right?
PS: Sorry to all of my alien readers. I love you and couldn't help myself.
So going forward, I would encourage you to consider your heroes and villains both not as tropes, i.e. good and bad, but as people. People working towards opposite ends in opposing ways. People with goals that they want to fulfill for some reason or another. The thief who needs money. The fighter whose been misled. The princess with an addiction. The man with a mission. None of these are necessarily good or bad...it's just how you use them.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Every now and again, particularly when I'm going on tangents about writing subjects, I mention that I play Dungeons and Dragons. To my surprise, I've actually gotten a few emails on the subject in the past year. I didn't think much of it at first, but I feel like I should explore the concept a little because of the range of curiosity I've received.
First off, allow me to clarify. This is not a gaming blog. I won't go into the finer details of the games because it just doesn't fit here. Instead, allow me to clarify why it tends to come up within the realm of 'writing'.
So, to begin: What is Dungeons and Dragons?
For those who are unfamiliar, D&D is a tabletop game and is conceptually no different than a regular board game like Monopoly or Life with sets of rules and guidelines. While some people do actually use a board and figures, the real draw of the game for most people is what I often refer to as 'Interactive Storytelling'. There are plenty of different groups in the game's history that like to claim different things about the game (my favorite being that it 'teaches players how to use real magic spells and/or summon the devil'), but the game is little more than being able to direct a character within a fantasy story. Imagine the story of "Lord of the Rings" if you were able to control the actions of Legolas. Everything else is happening around you from the book but YOU as a player have the opportunity to control that single character, what they do, and how they react to the world around them.
Sounds interesting, huh?
I thought so, but this is where the writing comes in.
While once in a grand while I'll actually be a player, most often I act as what is known as the GM, which stands for Game Master. In short, I'm the one who has to wrangle and direct all the players along with providing a narrative and world to exist in. Modules, i.e. pre-done stories and adventures, do exist that can be purchased and utilized, however I honestly have never used one. Instead, I simply create my own content for my players to use. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not so much.
This brings us nicely to the next major point: Why do I find Dungeons and Dragons useful for writing?
Well, aside from the obvious challenge of having to create an interesting plot hook for players to follow, D&D forces your writing to the next level. For one, you can't really just have a cardboard cutout for them to explore. You need a world. Countries need cities. Cities need infrastructure. Locations need populations. People need personalities. Anyone or anything that a player is ever exposed to needs to have a purpose, a reason, an existence. Any player could decide that they want to strike up a conversation with a random character in the street or they might want to investigate some element of a location that seems relatively pointless in the scope of things only because YOU didn't imagine the use for it originally.
The same can be said for designing the narrative itself. It's very easy to set up a plot hook of "The king was killed by an assassin, go find out who did it and why.", but what about down the road? You now have to be able to plan for WHERE the players will go and how will they will act and design your game around that.What roads will they take? Who will they talk to? What will they find along the way? You need to be able to imagine every opportunity and option that a player will take (you won't be able to...but try) and then build those options. You need to be able to smooth the surface and be ready to lay the train tracks as the train is rolling. Sometimes this is something easily planned for but sometimes this requires you to think and write and act literally in the middle of the game; conjuring life to characters and places that hadn't even been considered yet.
So, in short, D&D is an invaluable tool for me that encourages creative thinking and narrative. It forces me into realms I hadn't considered before and, more than once, has actually contributed to my public works simply because it inspires me like little else can.
With that said, what really gets your blood flowing and helps you write? Is it simply writing alot or perhaps there's something else that gets your fingers flying? Let us know in the comments below.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
So, after some heated discussion with someone, I realized that I might need to add some clarification to my last post regarding religion in space. While I won't go into the finer details, the essence of the conversation went about like this...
"Why in the HELL are you talking about people's religions?! You have
a writing blog! Stick to your stupid little stories and don't pick fights!"
While this is not the direct quote, this is definitely the gist of what started the conversation. With that said, allow me to clarify.
I run a writing blog. I live under the belief that any topic within human existence can be focused on in writing. How they are handled will naturally be up to the author and based on the author the approach can be well-done or it can be offensive. The existence of a subject should not be a reason to start a fight with someone.
The fact that Muslim individuals might face an odd circumstance based on a currently followed belief is not trying to pick on Muslims. The face that Christian individuals are currently the most commonly represented religions in most science fiction novels/books/movies is not trying to pick on Christians. Pointing out observations and considerations is not attempting to be bigotted. Only applying hateful thoughts to those works is.
With that said, allow me to answer the first part of the question, "Why?" Religion, at least within our current context, is a huge part of human culture. It exists. Whether you consider one, some, all, or none to be good or bad, it exists. And, as it exists, it very well may be a source of inspiration for some people in their writing. Personally, I haven't chosen to focus too heavily on the topic in my own writing because I haven't had a story come to heart that was inspired by the topic. But that doesn't mean if there's a potentially interesting idea I think it should simply be ignored.
In short, what I'm saying is to two fold. First, to the writers: don't censor yourself if you've got a story to tell and it might be a sensitive topic. People can and will find things to get angry about. Sometimes they're very justified. Sometimes they aren't.
Second, to those that were offended: I'm sorry you took it the wrong way. The act of addressing a concept, of talking about a thing that exists, is not hate. If I ever spoke in a demeaning or hateful fashion on this topic or any other, you're more than welcome to point it out. But the act of simply talking about a subject that some people aren't necessarily comfortable with, whether it's because you're for or against it, doesn't make that topic any less viable. Again, for the people in the back: acknowledging something's existence is not being hateful. So once more, I'm sorry we don't see eye to eye, but I don't believe in hiding from something like religion just because it's a touchy topic.
With that said, I'll get off my soap box. I'm hoping I didn't scare too many away, but I needed to say my peace. Whether it was meant that way or not, I don't take kindly to being bullied over what I originally thought of as a largely inoccuous and academically interesting concept.
I hope you have a pleasant day and will hopefully see you again soon.