Updates and Apologies

Mark here. I’ve been really absent lately, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve got my excuse, but… It’s an excuse.

I’d say it’s a pretty good one, too, though.

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You see, I was beta reading Oathbringer. According to this post, it is currently ~514,000 words long. For some perspective, the entire Lord of the Rings (The trilogy, not just one of the books.) is only 473,000 words long. So the beta reading process took about 2.5 months. I might talk about it somewhere later, but for now, all I’ll say is it was intense, exhausting, rewarding, and it’s over. Also, Oathbringer is a freaking amazing book and you want to preorder it now. November 14th is the release date, and you will want to read this as soon as you can. Trust me.

Oathbringer is the only book I’ve finished reading this year. It’s the middle of March. I tend to average about 50 books per year, give or take, so that’s a ridiculously slow rate for me. The problem was, every time we had a break between parts of the book that we were reading, it was only for a few days, and I didn’t have time to get through anything else. Limbo isn’t fun…

But that is done now, and I’m back. I’ve got a (movie) review ready for later this week, and I’m starting several other books very soon, in hopes of getting back on track with the blog.

I’d like to finish with a huge thanks to my coblogger Shannon for keeping things running while I was busy on Roshar!

Book Review: Seveneves

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I read this book because it was one of last year’s Hugo Nominees.

This book was very much hard sci-fi. Much harder than most of the other books I’ve read, and probably too hard for a lot of people. If you want a story about just characters, Seveneves is probably not the book for you, though that doesn’t mean those stories aren’t there. I would personally have to say that I enjoyed it, in part, because of the science, rather than in spite of it. It is explained so well, and in a way that is so relevant to the plot, that it never bored me. I’m generally much more of a fantasy geek than a sci-fi nerd, and will happily read pages on invented magic systems. Stevenson managed to turn the science here into a fascinating story, even without extrapolating very far into the future for most of the ideas.

That being said, this book had one major problem, one jarring element, that kept it from being amazing for me. WARNING: If you highlight the next paragraph, there are MAJOR SPOILERS for part of the plot.

The first 2/3 of the book are an intense, brutal, amazing survival novel. Then, once we have survived as a species, it jumps thousands of years into the future, starts over with a completely new set of characters, and follows an entirely different plot—that of our return to Earth. I found this jump to be jarring, unnecessary, and it darn near ruined the book for me. It didn’t feel like the same book at all. Honestly, if I could just go read the first 2/3 of the book, and consider it a complete novel, I would be perfectly happy and I would have enjoyed the book a lot more. Then the last 1/3 can be a companion novel, released a few years later. They should not be called the same book, at all.

The book did not move quickly at any point. There was no overwhelming sense of urgency to the plot, no need to get things over with and get to the next exciting bit. Rather, it took its time and it did it incredibly well. It still managed to have a rising tension that permeated basically every page, and somehow drew me through the entire thing. I’m not sure how well it would hold up to a reread—and I don’t honestly intend to find out—but it gripped me on my entire first reading.

The premise of the book is very simple, and it’s laid out on the first few pages. It’s a simple “What if?” question that I’m sure many people have contemplated before. I didn’t even feel that any of the results or reactions to the inciting event were outlandish—every decision felt realistic, every happening totally possible. It scares me a little bit, sometimes, how easily our modern society could fall into chaos and disappear. The progression of ideas, and the level of intriguing plot and tension that Stevenson was able to create with such a simple idea shows off his skill—you don’t need a list of “WOW!” ideas to make a great book, you just need everything to be solid, and be a good writer.

Not only did I feel that all of the scientific extrapolations in the book were solid and believable, but also the character actions and reactions. People made some bad decisions, and I sometimes wanted to bash their heads together and just yell at them to cooperate. I was able to get inside the heads of several of the characters from the book, and in many cases, I cannot deny that I would also have made some very bad decisions had I been in their places.

The title of the book makes no sense before you read it—I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it until I figured out what it meant. Once I did figure that out. . . I think it’s genius. But I won’t spoil it here.

In summary, Seveneves was a very good book, with understandable character decisions and a believable sci-fi plot, that, despite it’s slow pacing and simple premise, entranced me and drew me through. Unfortunately, there’s then another book that is half the length of the first one, tacked on to the end, and it didn’t fit at all, though it was good in its own right. I’m going to give it three of five stars, and recommend that you at least read the first two parts—but if you don’t read the third part, you’re doing just fine.

Oops.

I’m mostly done with a very nice WorldCon review post that’ll probably have to be split into two or three parts. I was planning to have it all ready tonight for upload.

Then this thing called Oathbringer came along for beta reading.

Don’t expect to see a lot of me for the next 2 months. I’m going to be very busy. (I’ll still try to post, and will likely get reviews done, at least. And maybe I’ll get Shannon to clean up the WorldCon post and post it. Or maybe I’ll have a little free time, somewhere. We’ll see.)

Book Review: Sleeping Giants

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This book has been compared to World War Z (which I have not yet read), in part for its format. It’s a very interesting format. I wouldn’t quite classify it as found footage, but it’s not really an epistolary either. It’s told through interviews, occasional surveillance videos, and other such things. Mostly the interviews, though. Perhaps the most similar book that I’ve seen recently is Illuminae. (This one doesn’t have any illustrations, though.) The format is done really well, though there are times I could tell that the author was forcing himself to use the format, and it doesn’t really fit. Overall, though, it works really well, and brought a fresh feeling after reading so many books told in the same limited 3rd person viewpoint.

One trick that Neuvel tries to pull with this format is an unknown narrator. The person who conducts most of the interviews attempts to keep himself a mystery during the book—and this element really didn’t work for me. Because we only get to know a few characters in the book, and most all of them have met and been interviewed by the narrator, I feel like the narrator will end up being someone we don’t actually know, and therefore the reveal won’t be a shock.

The overall story is very intriguing. It’s a mix of a conspiracy story, mystery, military tale, and HOVER FOR SPOILER. The interweaving of so many layers makes it really gripping, and I enjoyed the story the whole time I was reading. It was a very quick read, despite the plot sometimes not moving super quickly (and sometimes jumping over months at a time), so I felt the plot was overall well written.

Two elements in particular that the book excelled at were the mythological aspect underlying many of the discoveries that were made, and the linguistics applied while deciphering the “foreign” texts. While both of these were done with very few actual details, and much of the story was implied, the parts that were there were done very well, and I loved the depth they added to the story.

My biggest complaint with the story is the ending—or lack thereof. I didn’t feel like there was actually any climax or resolution to the story. It doesn’t feel like the first book of a story—it feels like the first part of of a larger book. This really disappointed me, and I honestly don’t recommend reading it until you can read the second, and maybe third, parts. This really ruined my sense of enjoyment, as the book didn’t give me any closure, or really even that much indication that the end was coming, until I turned the last page and there simply wasn’t another page.

In summary, Sleeping Giants was a really interesting read that pulled me through, layering multiple plots very well with a cool storytelling style that only occasionally felt stretched, but let me down significantly at the end when there was no real climax or conclusion to the book. I give it 3 of 5 stars, and recommend it as part of the series, perhaps to be read once the other books have been released.

The Posting Schedule

Hey all! Mark and Shannon here. We’re going to talk a little bit about what’ll be happening with the blog this coming year, including our goals and we want to give you some idea of what we’ll be posting when.

We’re planning to kick it into gear this year with a minimum of three posts, two of which will be reviews, every week! It should be fun. It’s a lot more than either of us have done for a sustained amount of time before, so yes, we’re a little bit nervous about things. Yes, we know the plan is a bit ambitious. But we think we can stick to it, and we’re happy that you’re along for the ride.

Our weekly schedule will hopefully look something like this: One review on Tuesday, one “other” post on Thursday, and another review on Saturday. At least one of the reviews each week will be a book review, but we can’t promise that they both will be. As you may have already noticed, I (Shannon) have been reviewing some comic books, and I’m hoping to branch into visual novels as well.

We may also start doing movie reviews, as I (Mark) don’t know if I’ll be able to read a new book every week this year, and have definitely been watching a lot more movies lately than I used to. (I saw Rogue One, Rogue One, Snowden, Collateral Beauty, Dr. Strange, Arrival, Fantastic Beasts, The Secret Life of Pets, Moana, and Independence Day all in the last two months or so.)

We’re not currently receiving any review copies other than ones we happen to get by luck, but we’re hoping to change that eventually, once we have this whole schedule thing down a little bit more. We’ve signed up for a Netgalley account, which I (Shannon) will likely be making the most use of. I (Mark) am not much of an e-book person, so I’m hoping I can pursue physical review copies a bit more.

The “other” posts will be in a wide variety of areas, though we’ll try to keep most of them related to the blog, reading/reviewing, and us. We have a lot of convention reports coming up, including Mark’s report from WorldCon last year, Shannon (and possibly Mark)’s report on ICFA this year, Mark’s JordanCon report, and perhaps we will throw in a report or two on any signings that we go to that end up being particularly fun. I (Mark) reserve the right to write random Sanderson posts when I want to, too.

We look forward to seeing everyone in the comments section in the new year!

Book Review: The Dinosaur Knights

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Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review (Which is rather late. I’m sorry.). This has in no way affected my review of the book.

Before I get into my review, I’m just going to pause for a moment and admire that cover some more. Richard Anderson continues to be my favorite cover artist.

If all you want is dinosaurs beating things up, and you really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Dinosaur Lords, then there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Though there’s also a chance you might not. The pacing feels much worse in this one, dealing with lots of random events off in odd corners of the empire, interspersed with random tense scenes, before it really gets going in the second half of the book. I had a lot of trouble getting into this one, in part because of the pacing, and that’s why this review has been delayed by so much, and also part of why I’ve not been reading as much for the past few months. (Yes, it took me a few months to get through the entire book.)

I don’t know if I glazed over the descriptions in the first book because dinosaurs (I know I was rather enchanted by the dinosaurs), or if they’re simply worse in this book, but I was appalled by the prose in many places, from HOVER FOR NSFW to a character “lustily puking” into a bush. I was simply thrown out of the story way too often by awkward lines such as these, and honestly felt the book would have been much better for another line editing pass.

Part of the descriptions that wasn’t necessarily badly done (with a few exceptions like the one above) were the unnecessary oversexualization of everything. Many characters show up naked, arbitrarily, or are old lovers, and so on, and it honestly became rather tiring after a while. It didn’t drive the plot forward, most of the time, and I really wish some of it had been trimmed.

Another part that I may have brushed aside in the first novel were the typos. However, I read an ARC of The Dinosaur Lords, so I expected that any typos I saw would be caught during the copyediting and proofreading stages, and so ignored them. Since then, I’ve done several gamma reads (proofreading, essentially) for other books, and I noticed a lot of typos in this one–more than I typically expect to see even in a first pass proof. And I was reading the final book this time. It took me out of the story every time I saw one, and I had to resist marking up my book to correct them all.

On a more subjective level, I also felt that some of the characters were rather inconsistent. Many of them semi-magically develop talents for new skills, especially fighting, and with one character in particular, this abrupt reversal from how she was before, stretched the limits of my belief. I would have preferred a smoother transition for several of the characters.

I also would have preferred a smoother transition between chapters – oftentimes a large amount of time would pass between chapters, but reading them back to back I didn’t pick up on this until later in the chapter, oftentimes leaving me a bit confused and disoriented. Again, I feel this is an issue that could have been fixed with another editorial pass or two.

If there’s anything the book is good at, though, it’s dinosaurs. And, like the first book, it delivers. Tense moments abound, and the climax is epic. Despite my many qualms with the book, the combination of the massive battle near the end and the reveal in the last pages make me almost want to read the last book. Almost.

In summary, the book could have used another 3 editing passes: One to fix chapter transitions, remove unnecessary sexualization, and clean up the pacing; a second to clean up the prose and descriptions; and a third for copyediting and proofreading, to clean up the multitude of typos. If you can get through all of those things, and you really want to read about your dinosaurs, you might want to go ahead and read this book, but although I have to give it 2 of 5 stars because the ending was pretty good, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book.

2017 Resolutions

1. Write and Submit.

What I want: I want to be a writer. I don’t need to make a living out of it—and I’m honestly not sure I could handle the stress (and lack of rigid schedule) that would come with doing so. But I still want to write stories, get better at it, and have a few of them published, if possible. I have a few short stories that really need to be submitted to places, and a few more that just need a revision or two before they’re ready to submit.

What I’m doing: My goal is to write 250 words/day. No increases in requirements after a month or anything, just write and be steady. Every day. I’m joining a new writing group at the beginning of the year, and I’m hoping that all of us can motivate each other to write, read, critique, and submit more, and stay on track with it.

2. Blog regularly.

What I want: A minimum of three posts per week, some ARC/release day reviews. Basically, I just want consistency. Also, this will force me to write more, and stay in the writing mood.

What I’m doing: As you’ve hopefully noticed, I’m now co-blogging with @conflictedesire, and this adds a lot of accountability. It also means that, most weeks, I don’t have to do all three posts myself. We’re aiming to split the reviews at one each, and have on of us do another “other” post on whatever seems relevant. This week, it’s this post.

3. Budget efficiently.

What I want: A regular budget that lets me know how much I can spend on things like keeping the URL for this blog (no longer at .wordpress.com), keep adding to my book collection, and have enough cards to enjoy playing Magic. I also plan to attend another few conventions in the coming year, and I’m hoping I can start saving money for the future…

What I’m doing: For starters, I’m working a full time job now. I’ve got a list of my expenses each month, and once I have a few other things settled, I’ll try to have set limits on what I spend on my hobbies each month. I’m kind of looking forward to handling all my finances, though it’s also quite terrifying.

4. Work on personal projects.

What I want: One or two personal programming projects that I keep working on and attempt to make something out of.

What I’m doing: I know what projects I want to do, and I have people to keep me accountable while working on them. One of them is a joint project with one of my best friends, and she’s going to make me stick to it. Another is more personal, but I’m excited about it, and hopefully I can use that to keep me going. We’ll see.

5. Travel a bit.

What I want: I really enjoyed going to WorldCon these past 2 years (I’ll hopefully have a 2016 WorldCon retrospective post up soon), and I’m hoping to branch out into some other cons this coming year, as well as attend another few events.

What I’m doing: I’m signed up for ICFA and JordanCon in March and April, respectively, with airfare and hotels booked. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people at each of these conventions, and seeing some that I’ve met in the past. There’s also the release of Sanderson’s next Stormlight book sometime near the end of the year that I’m planning to take some time off to work at, which should get me out of the house in those later months (I’m not planning on doing WorldCon because it’s a bit too far away this coming year.). Fingers crossed that all of those work out for me.

6. Work out.

What I want: To be fit.

What I’m doing: My office has a gym in the basement, and I’ve filled out the paperwork to be able to use it. I sporadically started using the gym at my university last fall, and I hope that, now that school is over and things are hopefully more predictable/stable, I can be regular about going to the gym and working out.

7. Read regularly.

What I want: To read a lot more. 2016 was probably the worst reading year I’ve had since I learned how to read, and that’s really sad. I did do a significant amount of beta and gamma reading during the year, as well as preparatory rereads of other works so that I knew the continuity, and I didn’t really count these into my books read. They felt more like work, even though they’re books from authors whose work I absolutely LOVE, but I’m hoping to do more pleasure reading and get some new books read this next year. I also want to reduce my TBR.

What I’m doing: I have the blog to keep up with—a review every week—and that alone is some good motivation. In addition, i’m budgeting time every day to read, and hoping that, again, with a more regular work schedule, I can stick to this. I don’t want to set any hard and fast goals for the year, as I’m notoriously bad about tracking some of this stuff, but to do a review each week, I’ll say 52 books seems reasonable. I’m trying not to buy any new books unless A) I’m planning to read them immediately and B) I’ve “earned” them by net reduction of my TBR stack.

So there you have it. Those are my big goals for the year… I’ve not been the most successful about sticking to all of my goals in the past, so we’ll have to see how it goes this year. I’m optimistic, but not overly so. I hope.

Book Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

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I likely haven’t read enough books to do a best of 2016 list for this year, so I’m just going to have to say it here. THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR. It was such a delightful surprise, and I blame it all on my friend Jessie, who got it for me for my birthday.

The book follows a motley crew of characters as they travel around the galaxy, and it’s basically a character study. We get to know all of them and their backstories, to one degree or another. And they’re all delightful and lovely. I teared up several times through the book, and always in good ways.

The book deals with so many issues, tackling everything from speciesism to personhood, giving them all a very “human” perspective–even though the viewpoints are from many different species. I love how it managed to be relevant to so many of the issues we face in the world today, while never really preaching about them, or making me feel like I had to believe a certain way or I was wrong.

This was one of those books I fell in love with within the first few chapters. It maintained the same quality throughout, lovely descriptions, beautiful characters, luxurious pace. I had to stop fairly often to flail at Jessie in DMs, and I may have accidentally been so enthusiastic that she started rereading the book. #SorryNotSorry

The book is not hard sci-fi. Despite the fact that it makes an attempt to solve the problem of the expense of FTL travel, as well as being literally set on a worm-hole making ship, and having a character explain how the ship works at one point, it is still very hand-wavey, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s about the characters, and how amazing and real they are.

If I have a complaint with this book, it’s the relative lack of cohesiveness to the plot. The chapters felt rather episodic, and often disconnected from each-other. I’m used to 14 book long epic fantasy series, where the first paragraph of the first chapter ties intricately to the last chapter of the last book, and foreshadowing is set up millions of words in advance. Thus, the fact that events from one chapter I expected to have more impact later did not sometimes bothered me, as well as the fact that the overall plot didn’t really become relevant until the last few chapters of the book.

But I was more than happy to ignore that because that’s not what the book was trying to do. It was focusing on its characters, the best of whom was Sissix. Sissix looks something like a dinosaur/lizard, but I’d have to refer to the book to describe her exactly, and I’ll go ahead and let you read it instead. Suffice to say, I fell in love with her, and there were plenty of times I wanted nothing more than to put the book down and give her a hug.

This book was also really refreshing for its underlying sense of optimism. I haven’t really been in the mood for dark, depressing reading lately, so the lovely bits of joy that show up all over this book were a welcome relief. It is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

If all of the above isn’t enough to convince to you read it, how about this: When I finished reading the book, I was over at Shannon (new coblogger)’s house, and I closed the last page, then immediately handed her the book and demanded that she read it. I’m still pestering her about it, and hoping reading happens soon… Also, when Amazon had their holiday sale, while I was only halfway through the book, I didn’t hesitate to pre-order the next one immediately.

In summary, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a delightful, upbeat, lovely, character-driven space opera about a motley crew built of an assortment of delightful and deep characters from a number of species, taking a trip across the galaxy, and even though there’s not a ton that happens, I absolutely adored this book, and don’t hesitate to give it 5 of 5 stars and my highest recommendation.

Becky Chambers’ website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Where I Have Been

Hint: Not blogging.

So I’ve had a busy, if not terribly eventful, year this year. I’ve had stuff going on, and I’ve not spent as much time as I would like on the blog. I’m finally going to start getting back into it, but first, I think I owe an explanation of some of what’s been up with me.

1. I haven’t been reading much.

This is is pretty self-explanatory. I had a long-lasting reading slump this year, and I haven’t read more than a dozen books, at most, since the last time I posted. Given that I sometimes read that many in a month, that’s a depressingly small number, and it also doesn’t give me much to talk about. Some of that reading was rereading, some of it was alpha/beta reading, so only a little bit was books I could blog about. I’m hoping to change that soon, but for the past while, yeah. Not a lot of books read.

2. Work and School.

I’ve had my last 3 semesters of school to finish up. I was also also working full days MWF, so my evenings and weekends were largely taken up by the HW. I just haven’t had as much time lately for reading or writing, and when I do have time, I’m often exhausted and simply don’t have the energy to do what I need to. Thankfully, I gradumagated last week, so I’ll have evenings free now, at least. (Free, haha. Like I don’t have other projects to work on.)

3. I have friends now.

Two of them, yeah, but they’re good peoples. I spend a good bit of my free time with one or both of them, and am actually being slightly social for the first time in my adult life. It also sucks away at my time and extra energy. I’m happy to have them, and they’re awesome, but it certainly cuts down on other things I can do.

4. Depression.

It sucks. It’s been kicking my butt this year. I’ve recently started working out, and it seems to be helping considerably, though I still have plenty of bad days. There’s not much else to say about this.

I’m going to get back into blogging now, though. I have several reasons for this. Some of my reasons for not blogging are going away, and I miss writing for the blog. I’ve been to several conventions and other events recently that have me excited to blog again, and also read more books, hopefully, and I have plenty of things I want to talk about. Some of them I think will be pretty exciting. Also, I have some big news for the blog going forward (besides the fact that I’ve moved and am now at mentalmegalodon.com and not mentalmegalodon.wordpress.com, and there’s been a site redesign), and I’ll be talking about that news as well as my plans for posts that will be coming up.

Book Review: The Last Mortal Bond

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Staveley started his trilogy strong with The Emperor’s Blades (Go read it if you haven’t done so already), and The Providence of Fire was an excellent continuation. The Last Mortal Bond continues that tradition and delivers exactly what I expected, even if it didn’t do so in all the ways that I expected.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST 2 BOOKS AFTER THIS POINT. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE FINISHED BOTH OF THEM.

The first two books set up a lot of conflicts and problems for our characters–Ran il Tornja, the Urghul, the Ishien, etc.–and it takes a lot to resolve them all. The Last Mortal Bond is a brick of a book, coming in at 649 pages in my hardcover copy, and it makes good use of all of them. A number of conflicts are still left open at the end of the book, but given that Staveley is already writing more books in the same world, and that he wraps up all of the most pressing threads in satisfactory manners, it works excellent as an ending.

Staveley has really managed to take the tension up a notch here, with everything from the massive, army-clashing, city-destroying battles, down to the personal fight between 2 or 3 people, and even within some of the characters, and it doesn’t leave much room for breathing, even in such a long book.

A large part of the tension also comes from the fact that Staveley does not shy away from killing characters when necessary, and earlier than you might be expecting–and there were certainly some impactful deaths I was not expecting.

Staveley also manages to throw in a few more twists, and unexpected turns, as well as taking us to some really cool new locations as we begin to explore more of his world. I’m glad that we’re going to get to go back and see even more of it, as even the small glimpses we get of some of the foreign lands are enticing.

Although the trilogy started by focusing on the three children of the Emperor, this book is completely taken over at several points by my favorite Staveley character, the star of the cover art, Gwenna. I will admit that I didn’t like her very much in the first book, when she spent a lot of her time arguing and generally being obstinate, but now that we get viewpoints and some real action from her, she really shines. I can’t say much more about her without spoiling a lot, but trust me. She just gets more and more awesome.

There’s not a lot more to say about this book, honestly. If you liked the first two, you’ll love this one, with numerous twists, nobody being safe, awesome moments all around, though especially from Gwenna, and threads tied up in satisfying ways that nevertheless beg more exploration of the world that Staveley has created. 5 of 5 stars, and since the trilogy is now complete, and all of it is awesome, you really have no excuse for not going out and getting and reading them all right now.