Lin-Manuel Miranda Will Warm Your Heart

I don’t know about you, but I frequently find myself in need of a strong dose of positivity in order to get through my day. It’s pretty nice to be able to wake up, struggle through the bleary-minded period right after waking up while my six subsequent alarms go off every other minute (anything less has, at least once, not brought me out of the bleary-minded period enough to actually wake up), and check my phone to find a nice, heartwarming good morning message from my favorite person on the internet, Lin-Manuel Miranda. He doesn’t send them to me specifically, but he tweets them out every morning and I’ve set up my phone to get notifications every time he tweets because he’s such a positive voice in the world. Since I also like to go to bed on a positive note, I always save his “good night” messages for as I’m climbing into bed. They’re just as positive and usually related to the earlier message. It’s often has some kind of flipped message or is a “ending/end-of-day” variation of the morning tweet. It’s a bit of a drag that they’re only sent out on weekdays, but I can understand his desire to stay off his official twitter account on the weekends. I sometimes feel the same way but I don’t yet have the luxury of time away from my craft, seeing as the time spent on my craft is actually my time away from the rest of my life.

The only thing better that getting those good morning and good night messages would be some kind of collection of those ideas. Which, guess what, is a thing that exists. Someone collected and curated a bunch of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tweets into a book called Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks For me and You. Gmorning, Gnight! is my second favorite book from this year, after only An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. With a wonderful selection of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Good Morning and Good Night tweets and illustrations by the amazing Jonny Sun, Gmorning, Gnight! is a ray of sunshine in what has otherwise been a rather dark few months for me. The positivity, love, and support of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tweets manages to carry through into the book without losing anything and actually gains a little more warmth thanks to Jonny Sun’s illustrations that capture and magnify the feeling of the tweets.

I honestly wouldn’t recommend reading this book from cover to cover. If you need a sustained burst of positivity, maybe read through a dozen or so pages, but you’ll probably be better off going to his twitter feed for that. While nothing is lost in the message itself, there’s something to be said for the freshness of the messages on Twitter. The message of each tweet isn’t any different from the ones in the books, but they feel much more immediate and relevant to the days we live in than Good Morning or Good Night messages from years ago. Thanks to the chaotic and difficult times we live in, the more recent ones have a certain amount of resolute weariness to them that gives them a little more oomph. If you just want something warm and positive to juggle around in the mind because you’re trying to pull out of a negative thought stream or you need something to give you that quick little boost, just grab the book and crack it open to any old page. You’ll find a warm message that’ll life the corners of your mouth and take the edge off the weariness in your heart. If that particular one isn’t working for you, or you have a habit of opening books to the same place all the time despite your best efforts (I can’t understand, much less explain, how I keep opening to the same set of messages every other time I open the book), just flip a couple pages in either direction and you’ll find something that works.

If you want to get the most out of this book, I recommend learning to meditate and using a message that resonates with you on any given day as the focus of your meditation. There are a lot of really wonderful images in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s message, both on his Twitter account and in his book, so they make excellent focal points for most meditation. Most of my favorite involve pacing oneself, going at one’s own speed, or focusing on marching to the beat of your heart rather than someone else’s. Since I struggle with the feeling that I’m not getting enough done or that I’m not working hard enough to make the kind of progress I want, it’s important for me to keep myself focused on doing as much as I can without over-extending myself. Given how often it shows up in his tweets and how many times it appears in the book, I think Lin-Manuel Miranda probably has a similar feeling. He wrote a whole musical about a guy who lived his entire life with this feeling, so I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that he understands the feeling, even if it’s not something he himself constantly struggles with.

That being said, there’s enough other imagery in here that pretty much anyone can find something that fits whatever is going on in their heart or mind. I rarely have to flip more than half a dozen pages to find something that resonates with me, even when I’m not struggling with feelings of running out of time. Everything from learning to forgive yourself, to stuff like learning to love or accept yourself. If you look hard enough and actually read through Gmorning, Gnight! from front to back, I’m sure you could find a message for any occasion. Someday, I might do just that. Instead of memorizing poetry or being able to summarize great thinkers of big ideas, I’m going to memorize the modern-day wisdom of self-love and self-kindness that Lin-Manuel Miranda espouses. Any time someone needs support, I’ll be able to draw wisdom and support from the annals of the greatest, kindest person on the internet. I bet there are other people out there who do similar things, but how many people have the kind of platform Lin-Manuel Miranda does who then use it to spread positivity and kindness? If you know of any, send them to me!

The kindness, care, and concern Lin-Manuel Miranda expresses at the entirety of the internet still manages to feel directed toward you specifically. Look at the subtitle of his book: “little pep talks for me and you.” He’s said before that his Good Morning and Good Night tweets are the messages he most needs to hear each day, but they seem so heartfelt and open that they couldn’t be for anyone but him and you, like the title implies. This thing, the way he manages to make them feel personal despite being shared with millions of other people, is why I’m still on Twitter and social media in general. I almost gave it all up toward the end of the summer but following his Twitter account (something that was off limits until I’d seen Hamilton, just like listening to the soundtrack was off limits) is what convinced me that the internet could still be a good place. John and Hank Green’s videos this fall, in addition to the talking they did during Hank’s book tours, helped solidify it, but I wouldn’t have made it that long with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tweets.

Since Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me and You is the hardcover version of those tweets, I honestly can’t recommend it enough. As I struggle to deal with my grandfather’s failing health, my own grief, and the complicated relationship I have with my family that is only made more complicated by the holidays and current circumstances, this book is pretty much the other thing that can pull me out of a negative spiral of emotions and thoughts. I recommend buying it and keeping it near your bed or wherever you do most of your reflect. It’ll be incredibly helpful.

 

You Should be Reading “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”

If you are a Human who uses social media, grew up on the internet, are a part of modern society, have regular access to the internet, or sometimes wonder how the world has become as angry and loud as it currently is, you need to read Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.” Ideally, everyone should read it. I doubt it’s the first book of its kind, but I don’t know if any other book like it speaks with as much experience, is written with as much clarity, or delivers as powerful a message as Hank Green’s does. This Science Fiction/Coming-of-Age-For-The-Modern-Twenty-Something novel is the beginning of something big that I can’t really put my finger on, but everyone I know who has read it agrees with me so I’m inclined to believe my gut on this one. You should read this so you don’t fall behind. Also, if you someone miss that feeling of something on the horizon or don’t really get what I’m talking about, you’ll at least have read a good book.

Even though this book doesn’t really fit into any of the modern genres, I still think it’s useful to talk about it in those contexts. This is a science fiction novel because it involves a world much like our own with a few changes, all of which could be explained by technological advances. It also talks about the way technology (in this case, social media) impacts civilization and offers some wonderful, insightful commentary on the lives of Humans and on Humanity as a whole. It is a Coming-of-Age novel because it involves the growth of a character from a more “childlike” mindset to a more “adult” one, even if all it really does is show an adult, albeit one in their early-to-mid-twenties, becoming wiser and more responsible as a result of the challenges they face and overcome. The book, at its core, is both of these things done in the best ways possible. The story focuses on a young woman who suddenly finds herself going viral and what she does as a result of that. She makes mistakes, she learns a more about how the world and Humanity works, and she ultimately makes a statement about the Human Condition.

Even though you can’t really separate it from those genres, it still shouldn’t be lumped into them without an asterisk. Instead of the usual coming-of-age story about a child becoming an adult or leaving behind the carefree days of youth for the responsibilities of adulthood, this story is about the uncertainty modern twenty-somethings face and the way that we struggle to find a place to exist in the world. Above all else, though, it’s a story about the internet and how Hank Green feels about it, as told through a fictional setting making use of hyperbole to make a point. If you don’t know who Hank Green is, he’s the younger half of the Vlog Brothers and the person who has most relentlessly pursued a pro-internet agenda. He’s started dozens of companies, or at least started dozens of big projects, like various educational shows with their own YouTube channels, a side channel for his process and projects as a whole, 2D glasses for people like me (well, people like his wife) who get headaches when we watch 3D movies, at least one charity, multiple conventions, and so much more. He has been a huge part of internet culture for a long time and he has firmly advocated that the internet is a good thing.

If you went to one of his book events or have read the book, you know he doesn’t really believe that anymore. Now, he seems pretty clear that the internet is a tool. Whether it is good or bad depends entirely on how it’s used. He has a lot more to say on the topic, but I don’t trust myself to properly recall the talk he gave at his book event and I will update this review with a video about it if he ever posts one (or if I find one he’s previously posted). To summarize, though, we basically failed to establish rules on the internet and that has allowed a lot of very angry and very loud people to have influence we should have denied them. Unlike physical societies or communities, there aren’t strict mores governing how we treat each other on the internet. Closely tied communities like the Nerdfighters (what the fans of the Green Brothers call themselves) might have some, but the internet at large does not, nor do a lot of internet communities. All of which is an important part of understanding what Hank Green says in his book during the times the protagonist, April May, interacts with her fan communities. Or strangers on the internet. Or the communities that sprung up specifically to oppose her. There’s a lot of really good social commentary that feels particularly relevant after the shitshow that was 2015 and 2016 wound up deciding to carry on through the present. There are entire characters, antagonists mostly, who map to some of the negativity and hate that we’ve seen crop up since then, and it’s all shown to us by someone who knows what it is like to be an internet celebrity, to be able to influence thousands of people with a single tweet. Someone who knows what that power can do to people has reached out and shown us what that power can do to the person who has it and wants to use it for good.

Even without all that, it’s still a really engaging book that addresses the age-old question of “what would it look like if we had an encounter with an alien species?” The story is about a young woman who finds what looks to be a new art installation in New York City when she’s heading home from work late one night, and how her life changes as she becomes the official face of what the world has taken to calling “the Carls,” which are the exact same art installation that appeared in cities all over the world at the exact same moment. There’s romance, heartbreak, violence, and even a bit of heartwarming friendship all mixed into a plot that could carry the book on its own. April May has to figure out what the art installations are and defend her beliefs about them in front of an international. audience before the people who are senselessly promoting fear and hate get ahead of her, or else she’ll lose what she believes in one of the best opportunities she has to be a force for good in the world.

The writing itself is clean, pleasant, and easy to follow. It reflects the way Hank thinks and talks in his YouTube videos. Hank tends to keep his sentences brisk and direct, heading directly toward his meaning like they’re going to lose out if they don’t get there quickly. It works really well for a book like “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” a story told as if the narrator were speaking to us or writing an informal blog post. There are a few places where that backfires a bit, ending in some grammatically correct but difficult sentences were the verb tenses combine to make a tangle of words, but there’s literally no way to avoid this in the English language if you’re writing a first-person narrative in the past-tense about events that happened but are still sorta of a part of life when the story is being told and specific things might even still be happening the day the reader picks up the book. I don’t really ascribe to the whole “English rifles through the pockets of other languages for loose grammar” derision a lot of people express (I literally studied the languages that combined to become English and the history of the English language, so I’ve got a view-point that most people don’t have), but I will say that past tense talking about events still ongoing is a pain in the ass to write. These moments that no one can avoid are the only burrs in the story and it wouldn’t have been as powerful any other way. Just keep going if you hit them. The meaning of each sentence is clear enough, they just sound weird in your head or out loud.

While we only see one character in detail, we get enough of a picture of the other characters for them to all feel incredibly real. Even the bossy, sorta nasty PR woman who basically takes on all of April May’s publicity and contacts stuff seems like a real person you’ve met even if she’s only in the story a handful of times. The main antagonist, who sees The Carls as something to be feared and hated rather than as something that could unite Humanity, even gets the same treatment. Despite appearing as a caricature of hate (like a lot of internet personalities), Hank Green manages to make it clear that this person has depth to them, even if all we see if their caricature because the narrator doesn’t spend much time on them. More than any one character, though, Humanity as a whole gets one of the best depictions I’ve ever read. We’re depicted as beings who want to simplify and who often define ourselves not by what we support but by what we fight against. Some of whom will embrace hate or fall prey to fear when we’re up against something we don’t understand instead of taking a chance on hope and love. It’s honestly kind of refreshing to see someone who regularly witnesses the best and worst of humanity as an online media presence show us in a truthful and complex light rather than just one extreme or the other.

You should read this book. Everyone should read this book. I’ve bought three copies and am planning to buy more, just so I can give it away to people. If you really want it but can’t afford it, I will try to buy it for you, finances permitting (I can’t afford to buy one for everyone, though I totally would if I could). Buy it for yourself and then treat yourself to an afternoon of reading. Knock it out in one sitting and then bask a book that is the start of something much bigger than itself. Maybe in a few more years, there’ll be an entire genre for books about finding meaning in the twenty-first century and trying to grow as a twenty-something. I can’t wait to see what comes of this movement and I’m going to do my best to be a part of it.

I Need More Stuff to Review

I’ve been struggling to find stuff to review every week, partly because I haven’t always had time to read new books, watch new shows, or play new games, but also partly because so much of the stuff I find these days has been out for so long it isn’t super relevant anymore. In terms of games and shows or movies, a couple of years old is enough to fade into irrelevance online. Books often have a long lifespan in the public eye, but not always, and a lot of the books I’ve picked up have tended to fall into the “cult following” area and I haven’t been able to find them online. I still review stuff I enjoy, of course, but don’t always write about it when I feel like I’ve got nothing to add to what is already online.

Which is why I’ve started asking for recommendations of books, comics, games, movies, TV shows, and media in any form. I posted on Twitter today (and have been getting so many responses it gets difficult to keep up with them all now that everyone is home from their day jobs and checking their notifications) and have gotten a lot of links to books, a couple graphic novels, some story or poetry collections, and one webcomic. I’ve gotten so many things I might need to start doing reviews more than once a week if I seriously plan to review everything. I don’t even know if that’s going to be possible, given the sheer number of responses over the last couple of hours alone.

I’m looking forward to it, though. It feels nice to be able to help out people who are launching their careers or trying to make a name for themselves on the self-publishing market. One day, I’ll likely be right there with them, trying to get exposure and reviews for my book so other people will become more interested in reading it. I hope someone else is willing to review my books then. Additionally, it’ll maybe get exposure for the other stuff I offer on my blog, the various poems and bits of fiction I post fairly regularly (still trying to get back on the “poem a week” horse and my crazy work schedule still hasn’t let up so it’s not happening), and I would love that. I love it when people read my stuff, so I can understand the excitement people feel when they see someone actually asking for books to review.

All that being said, I’d love if you recommended some things to me! Anything is fair game, at this point. As long as it is published and available for me to obtain, I will review it. Got an indie game you’re working on? Send it along! I can’t promise I’ll review it immediately, but I am happy to buy a copy and put it on my list. Know someone who is trying to launch a book series or a webcomic? Comment or email a link and I’ll check them out! All of us creative people are in this together and it never hurts to help someone out as long as you’re not putting yourself out too much. We both have something to gain from this and there’s no losers in this scenario. Except people who don’t like it when people share things they like, I guess. They lose out big time.

I don’t know if it’ll generate sales for these people, I don’t know if it’s going to get them a lot of exposure considering the relatively small number of views I get in a given month, but it’ll be a good project and it most-certainly can’t hurt.

The Man in the Golden Hat

While my favorite Terry Pratchett stories are those following the Night Watch and Sir Samuel Vimes in particular (because of the themes they explore and the cast of characters in each of them), my favorite Pratchett character is Moist Von Lipwig. This unfortunately named man is introduced in his first story, Going Postal, as he sits on death row. The narrator reveals that he was a swindler and crook who defrauded banks, cheated people, and convinced himself that he wasn’t doing anything wrong because everyone chose to be swindled (for common street swindles like the shell game) or because they tried to cheat him (by buying a ring supposedly worth a lot of money for a tiny amount and then selling it to a jeweler only to find out it wasn’t even worth what they paid for it).

Eventually, of course, he was caught and sentenced to die for all of the money he stole and hid. Of course, nothing is that simple in Ankh-Morpork, the city most of Pratchett’s stories revolve around. Lord Vetenari, the current tyrant, decides to spare Moist on the condition that he take a job as the postmaster of the city’s failing post office. As is his modus operandi, Lord Vetenari leaves out just enough information to make Moist Von Lipwig’s life interesting.

Moist wisely takes the job and the arc of each of his three books is set. Vetenari gives him a difficult, nigh-impossible task and he rises to the task, not only figuring out how to restore public faith in his assigned institution, but often taking care of several other problems for Vetenari. The plot of Going Postal isn’t just about restoring the postal service, but about fighting against the corruption plaguing the rapid-communication towers. These semaphore towers were bought out by a group of greedy men who wanted to milk them for all the money they’re worth, regardless of what it costs in people and reputation to do so.

Moist, of course, rises to the occasion, taking on the administrative challenge of the post office and the inter-personal challenge of facing down the head of the company that owns the semaphore towers. He puts his silver-tongue to good use, selling the entire city on the idea of a functioning post office and his new invention, stamps. The people of Ankh-Morpork are easily entertained, as Pratchett likes to point out, and Moist is a master showman. He gets a golden suit (with matching hat) in order to stand out, he constantly makes bigger and bigger claims, and he constantly steps up every challenge he’s given. When he manages to somehow squeak through as a result of sheer luck or some audacious plan, the people reward him with their belief in the dreams he weaves.

That is why he is my favorite. He talks big and never feels more alive than when he is taking some insane risk. He wants to be challenged and to risk everything on the power of his tongue and the ideas he can sell people. He talks his way out of almost every corner he’s in and then somehow manages to deliver on everything he promised. He feels like a fraud and knows that he’s selling an impossible dream to people all too willing to believe him because he makes them want his dream. All while wearing a flashy golden suit.

In his subsequent books, Making Money and Raising Steam, he finds himself in a few more tight corners and needs to put in a bit more effort to get himself out, but he always manages it somehow. Despite the fact that he was a con artist for most of his life, he has become one of the most beloved people in all of Ankh-Morpork. He gets his kicks taking insane risks for the good of the public and constantly helps pull society forward by, as he likes to say, “selling them the sizzle” because a sausage always smells better than it tastes.

He’s one of the few heroes in Discworld whose power lies in his words. Some of Pratchett’s protagonists have magic. Some have luck. Some have a keen detective instinct or impeachable ethics. Some are strong. But only two rule through the power of their words and only Moist Von Lipwig has more than one book. William De Worde, the editor and first reporter for the Ankh-Morpork Times, does similar things in a different way, but his power lies more in his access to printing things in a paper than the words themselves, so I prefer Moist Von Lipwig.

I don’t really identify with him or anything like that, I just like the idea of a hero who abhors violence and wins using the strength of his words. The ability to spin a tale so well that you can talk yourself into or out of anything is a power I’d love to have. More than any other power, honestly.

Ready Player One: The Book

After writing the review for last week, I sat down and powered through the rest of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I liked it a bit more than the movie in some aspects and a bit less in others. The plots are essentially the same: the game world’s creator passed away and left his vast fortune to whoever completed his puzzle first. There are a series of challenges and puzzles, each set awarding a key and then a gate, at the end of which is the prize: Halliday’s Easter Egg (in this case, an easter egg is something hidden by the developer of a game, usually as a way of leaving their mark on the game they created). The exact challenges are all different, though some are more similar than others, but the basic ideas of the competition are the same.

Overall, I probably liked the movie more, but I think that is a result of the different reference period. In the movie, the cultural references have been expanded to include more modern references in addition to the 80s references. While the movie was super fun to watch because I could look for things I knew, the book felt like it was touting the superiority of 80s culture and implying that there hasn’t really been anything worthwhile since. It wasn’t a huge deal because either I knew enough to understand the references or they were explained well enough by the narrator, but it felt a lot like I was talking to someone who is so convinced that they are correct in their opinions that they refuse to even listen to what you’re saying.

Despite this feeling, I actually liked the characters from the book more. They felt a lot more human and behaved a lot more like every gamer I’ve ever met. They get things wrong, they make mistakes, they’re all hyper-paranoid, success-obsessed dorks who are so focused on their current goal that pretty much everything else fades from view. The protagonist abandons his friend and, to a lesser degree, his quest for the prize, in order to spend time with his romantic interested. As soon as he’s back on the quest, after being rejected by his romantic interest, everything else fades away as he tries to make progress on the next puzzle between him and the next key. At the same time, some of their interactions felt a little off as well.  The eventual relationship between the protagonist and his romantic interest feels even weirder than it did in the movie, when she suddenly just gives the lead to him as soon as they meet. The relationships between the other characters who aren’t potentially romantic partners feels a lot more natural, so the contrast makes the fledgling romance stand out even more. There’s also a deus ex machina moment from Ogden Morrow, where he just shows up and fixes something.

That part was probably the most frustrating part of the novel that they thankfully changed for the movie. The protagonist comes up with this ridiculously complicated plan that relies on getting extremely lucky and not only does everything work out as he hoped it would, it all turns out even better than that. Everything just falls into place for him at the end. As soon as crunch time starts, gone is the fallible human character who made mistakes. He gets replaced by a god who is nervous about whether or not his plan will succeed, but who ultimately manages to pull it all off without any major stumbles, thanks to several other lucky occurrences from the past. There was no tension at the end of the book because it was so obvious he would succeed, and not just because I saw the movie. Plans that shouldn’t have worked, work. No one recognizes him or sees through a rather desperate plan. He manages to just have everything he needs to make it work, because he’s a little magpie who collects shiny things that just so happen to always be exactly what he needed later on.

 

That frustration aside, I think I appreciated the way they overcame the antagonist in the novel a bit more in the movie. It made for a much less tense and showy moment, but I like the critique a little better. The movie says it is easy to hide in a faceless crowd if you are faceless as well, but the book says that relying too much on technology to work for you without having a proper understanding of it allows other people to use it against you.

They also changed some of the points that the game world’s creator makes at the end, but I feel like the movie’s point made a bit better than the books. Even though I enjoyed the book, I felt like it was trying to say a few important things about the world but sort of stopped a few steps short of actually saying them because it just assumes you’ll understand. If you enjoy video games and want a cool book about a virtual reality world that doesn’t wind up asking questions about what is real and does the “real” world matter if we live our lives in the virtual one, you’ll enjoy this book. If you dislike pandering or feeling like someone is saying that nothing cool or worthy was created since the 80s, then you probably won’t like this book.

Getting Lost in a Wake of Vultures

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m trying to get into the Twitter Writer scene. As a part of that, I’ve started following a bunch of authors and trying to absorb what I can from them. One of my favorite people to follow is Delilah Dawson. I learned about her as a result of my first foray into the new Star Wars extended universe. I was admittedly rather angry that they threw out everything that was written before Disney purchased the franchise, but I’m excited to see where the new stories go now that I’ve had some time to get over what felt like a rather personal attack on some of my favorite memories

Delilah Dawson wrote the Captain Phasma book (titled “Phasma”) and did an amazing job adding to a rather underserved character in the films. Since I enjoyed that book, I followed Delilah on Twitter and have enjoyed the positive, affirming energy she brings to her Twitter account. At one point, she mentioned that the next book in a series she wrote under a pen name was about to have its release date announced. I had already started collecting her other books (mostly in online wish lists so I’d have stuff to look for during my quarterly visits to the local book store), but I hadn’t heard of this series. Turns out, she was writing an entire series under another name and I’d missed it because I never went to her website or her Wikipedia page.

Then I read a description of this series she posted and I knew I had to read it. There was no way I couldn’t. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tendency to pick up books by mostly male authors featuring mostly male characters, so this book by a female writer about a trans man of color seemed like a really enjoyable way to step away from my typical milieu. As both a reader and writer, there’s always something to be gained when I read anything, but reading stuff outside of my experience shows me more. Not always in a quantifiable “Here’s what I learned today!” kind of way, but in more of a subtle, “change the way I think without always being entirely aware of it” way. Which is really the best way, in my opinion.

Wake of Vultures is an amazing Fantasy novel set in the fantastical Old West. It has saloons, cattle rustlers, cowboys, vampires, monsters out of every tradition, and some amazing characters. There’s romance, personal awakenings, shootouts, and tense moments of near disaster. There were rough scenes that were hard for me to read. Things that made me put down the book for a little bit because I got so sucked in and the pain and desperation I felt in the characters was too real to handle all at once. I read the whole book in a day because I couldn’t stop to do anything else once I’d gotten started.

I sat in my chair in the little library we’ve got, under the same late-night light that helped me through the sympathy pain I felt while reading John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down, and powered through scenes that are outside my personal experience, but whose pain resonated with my own. Feelings of powerlessness, feelings of being trapped in something someone else chose and you had no ability to resist or prevent. I made it through the book just fine, but it was amazing, wonderful, and difficult read. A lot of the best books are difficult and the intensity of the emotions I felt while reading this one convinced me to move the rest of the series to the top of my “to buy” list.

I would really love to dig into specifics, but I feel like so much of the novel and my own interpretations of it was instrumental in forming what I eventually got out of the story. I don’t want to influence your experience beyond encouraging you to have it. The characters are wonderful, the writing is beautiful, the plot is twisty, the foreshadowing is clever, and the world rides that perfect line of being familiar enough to not need much information about it while still being foreign enough to be super interesting. Go read Wake of Vultures by “Lila Bowen” and learn for yourself what amazing story this is.

Oathbringer is Breaking the Pattern.

I really enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s writing. I haven’t yet read even half of what he’s written, but I discovered him through his completion of the Wheel of Time series and have been a fan ever since. While my enjoyment of his writing hasn’t quite reached the level of my love for Terry Pratchett or Patrick Rothfuss, I would still rank him among my favorite authors. My love of Pratchett and Rothfuss comes as a result of their craft and their characters while my love of Sanderson’s writing comes from the interesting and different worlds he has created. When I first started reading his Stormlight Archive series, I was instantly hooked on the way his world differed from our own. All of the creatures and the lands were different because of the enormous storms that visited most of the world, so everything either had some kind of rocky shell or carapace to protect it from the storms and weather.

While he doesn’t do as much world-building as he did in the first book, I’m still enjoying his series. The latest, Oathbringer, was just as exciting as the previous two, following a few main characters as they try to deal with the horrible storm that sprang up at the end of the previous book. Despite the early warnings coming from the protagonists’ group, most of the world doesn’t believe them and is thus caught unaware when all the shelters they have built to protect them from the normal storms fail to protect them from a storm coming from the opposite direction. While a lot of the previous novels was a mixture of action, character development, and political intrigue, this novel saves a lot of the action and character development for the end. Instead, most of the novel is a little on the dryer side, covering lots of history, some new perspectives and characters, some character development focused on one person in particular, and tons of politics.

Initially, I was surprised by the amount of people in my various social media feeds commenting that Oathbringer was rather slow and not as fun as the previous two books. After reading the book, I can kind of understand. I don’t agree, but I recognize that this book is a bit of a departure from his usual constant world-building with action to move the scenes along. I think that this book is important proof that Sanderson is going to be able make this potentially ten-book series a success. Plus, he’s managed to do it very well, mixing in plenty of interesting information that, while somewhat predictable in terms of plot and outcomes, does an amazing job of fleshing out people and the world. I really enjoy the sense of history this book has added to the series. It answered so many questions that I’d had since the start of the series and even threw in a couple twists I did not see coming at all. They caught me entirely off-guard and that was wonderful.

While the book’s major plot twist was unexpected, it was also kind of expectedly unexpected. Sanderson intentionally paints the characters into the corner, making it seem like they have no choice but to give in or surrender to the bad guys, because making something happen. Most of the time, it is only unexpected because it adds some new world mechanic or gives us some rule or information we didn’t have previously. There’s always some foreshadowing to pick out in retrospect and he always does a good job of laying the groundwork so whatever happens never feels entirely like a Deus Ex Machina, but there are a few close calls during some of the big moments (and that’s not just restricted to this book). I don’t mind it too much, but it can feel a bit annoying to have all this build up of a dramatic moment happening while you’re just reading along calmly because you know they’re going to magically get out of the tight spot using some brand new power or mechanic that develops right then. The best thing I can say in Sanderson’s defense is that he literally built that mechanic, the spontaneous power-up and new power moments, into this series.

I definitely recommend the book and the series as a whole because they’re honestly just so much fun to read. They move along well, are easy to read, and there’s just so much interesting stuff happening that they’re hard to put down.

 

One Goblin to Rule Them All

One of my friends has this annoying (but not really) habit of suggesting really great books for me to read. She’s single-handedly responsible for introducing me to some of my favorite recent (published in the last decade or so) books and authors. The Dresden Files, The Kingkiller Chronicles, finally convincing me to read Terry Pratchett, and so many others. A lot of the time, I’ve heard of the books she recommends and never got around to buying them. Interestingly, the books she gives me as gifts are almost always books I’ve never heard of that I wind up loving. My current favorite of these books is “The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison (the pseudonym of Sarah Monette).

The book follows the story of a young member of the ruling family of an Elven empire as he, Maia, is suddenly thrust from obscurity directly into the throne when everyone in line before him was killed in an explosion. Complicating his ascension is the fact that his mother was a Goblin princess who married the Elven emperor as part of a peace agreement with the Goblin King. Maia faced the rejection of his father who fulfilled the terms of his political marriage in only the strictest sense before sending them both into exile in the countryside and then by a cousin who abused him since the politically ambitious cousin was forced to act as the guardian of a politically unimportant half-goblin. You can probably see the beginnings of the themes in the book.

I love intrigue and character novels. Anything that explores people, the ways in which they build relationships, and how people come to understand or wield power can be incredibly interesting if written well. The Goblin Emperor does an amazing job of exploring political intrigue and the burden of power in a very complex world filled with people who, for the most part, just want to do their jobs. Despite the fact that there are no Humans in the story, everyone feels incredibly Human and real. Even the villains grow from caricatures into full characters with both positive and negative qualities as the reader is shown more of them, mirroring Maia’s understanding. Even the tone of the writing changes as Maia becomes more confident and knowledgeable, constantly reflecting his developing sense of the people around him.

While he is growing and just learning to function in the court, Maia has to face off against a few savvy political opponents who are trying to usurp his power in one way or another. The wife of the deceased heir and the lord chancellor both test him, doing small things to grow their personal power, but he manages to keep ahead of them. Most of the time, he figures out the right move to make using practical wisdom born of being a social outcast or by relying on the people around him who simply want to do their jobs as best as they can rather than get tangled up in political upheavals. A lot of the time, it is these less “important” people, who just want to do their best to support the kingdom, who make the difference in Maia’s life. Even as she shows them being subservient and deferential, Addison does them justice as fully “human” people in their own rights.

Despite being a mixture of Goblin and Elven blood, the only person who truly complicates Maia’s life for not being fully Elven is Maia himself. That isn’t to say there isn’t some degree of racism going on, as most of the political opponents he faces would likely not have been so clearly mutinous if he was wholly Elven. Addison shows it most clearly in the social and societal roles held by Goblins in the Elflands. Goblins who are accepted into royal service in the Elflands are often somewhat separated from their culture and heritage, and most of them are poor or doing menial work. They are shown as being rather drab and superfluous by many of the Elves who also encourage Maia to avoid exploring his Goblin heritage beyond what his mother taught him before she died. Eventually, Maia meets members his family from the Goblin kingdom and gets a clearer picture of their culture, along with many promises for more information on his heritage and family in the future. Since it furthers the peaceful coexistence of these two large nations, everyone switches to genuinely supporting Maia’s desire to learn more about Goblin culture and, most importantly, Maia begins to embrace his identity as a Goblin and an Elf more fully.

I don’t want to go into too much more of what goes on in the book because I’m already certain I’ve said too much. There’s so much I love about this book that it’s hard to hold back from gushing about it. If you read it and like it (I think you should and I hope you do), you should message me about it so we can discuss and dissect it.

Soonish: Fun Science and Funny Pictures

“Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything” by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith (a scientist and a writer/cartoonist, respectively) is probably one of the best books on the market for the casual sci-fi/tech nerd who wants a break from fiction. The basic premise is exactly what the title states, focusing on ten different technologies we can see on the horizon. It breaks them down into where we currently are, where we’re going, what the technology could mean, and then how it could ruin everything. A liberal dose of background information, interviews, jokes, and short comics is sprinkled throughout, keeping the science-sections from getting too dense.

Probably the coolest part of the book, for me at least, was how they were able to take turn some incredibly difficult science into an informative book that people would be able to understand and enjoy. The metaphors for the more complex bits of physics when they wrote about space elevators are clear and fun. The examples used to illustrate (literally and metaphorically) their points about space travel are easily grasped and, from what I understand, surprisingly accurate. Even the comics sprinkled throughout add to the reader’s understanding in addition to delivering quick jokes.

The biggest downside was how hard it is to read in large chunks. There’s so much interesting information packed into each Chapter that I haven’t actually read more than one a chapter in a single sitting. I usually wind up taking a break so I can digest what I’m learning and let it get comfortable in my brain before I start reading the next chapter. Which isn’t to say it’s poorly written. The Weinersmiths did a great job of making the entire book a delight to read and I’m excited to read each and every chapter. I just wound up reading only one chapter a day and starting another, much simpler, book to read after my daily chapter.

The other side of the problem is that I have a lot more interesting conversation topics now that I’ve learned so much about space elevators, interstellar mining, and programmable matter. While these things don’t come up very much in my typical day-to-day conversation, I’ve now got a lot of excellent ammunition for the next time my friends and I decide to drink and talk about how cool the future could be. I’ve already used some of what I’ve learned to start a discussion at work, during a meeting, since one of my coworkers used to work for an elevator company and a few others just love talking about future technology over lunch. This book is easily worth getting just for the conversations it starts.

My favorite part of the book, and what I consider to be the reason the book is so delightful to read, is the sheer enthusiasm the Weinersmiths pumped into Soonish. Even after a few years of research, writing, revising, and editing, you can still feel just how excited they must have been to learn about everything they covered in the book and there are even a few panels of comics in the book that show it plainly. If you follow Zach Weinersmith’s comic, SMBC, you can see a bunch of comics he wrote about it, scattered throughout the past year, showing just how enthusiastic he and his wife were. Reading a work of passion is always a much better experience than reading something someone felt forced to write.

I suggest picking up a copy of the book for your coffee table or library. It is on sale pretty much everywhere, right now, so I suggest getting it now while its cheap. Or later, when it’s less cheap. This book is easily worth thirty bucks.

Review: Stop Dragon My Chair Around

I honestly can’t believe I didn’t hear of The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams until just last year. Well, I should say that I wasn’t really aware of it until last year. I’m pretty sure I’d heard mention of it before, I just didn’t really register it as something I should read, which is surprising. This book (and the subsequent two books in the trilogy) is actually quite famous in a lot of fantasy circles as it was one of the main inspirations for famous authors such as Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin, urging them to go ahead and write their own fantasy stories. A product of the late 70s and 80s, it followed on the tail of the Tolkien craze but took a firm step in a different direction.

While Tolkien’s works were an attempt to create a mythology for England, inspired by the Nordic cultures around England, The Dragonbone Chair is an adaption of the Arthurian tale mixed with a few popular and more-modern elements, such as politics, character development, and more swords. Everything is better with more swords, generally speaking. Armories, wars, training regimens, the list goes on and this book has them all!

The protagonist of the Dragonbone Chair is a simple kitchen scullion, Simon (or Seoman if you’re using his formal name) as he explores his castle home, rises to become the assistant to a doctor, and then is launched into the wider world by events beyond his control. Throughout it all, he acts exactly like the teenaged city boy he is. He loses track of time and has difficulties with his studies because he is too busy day-dreaming and trying to learn about great battles or magic. He struggles to survive in the wilderness as you’d expect, even though he has some basic survival skills. He is clumsy, but genuinely kind and manages to hold onto that quality as the story progresses and he encounters trouble after trouble.

Simon, and the other characters, are easily my favorite parts of this book. Simon is human, but so is everyone else in the story–even the non-humans. There is a wonderfully diverse cast–mostly in attitude as there are few female characters in this series (I’m pretty sure this book wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test). The main female character, Princess Mirimelle, is introduced later in the book, though she features rather heavily from there on. Mirimelle may make rash decisions just as Simon does, but she is much more deliberate in her choices. Her composure under pressure and in unfamiliar situations provides a calmer contrast to Simon’s more emotionally-driven actions.

All of the characters are wonderful, from the scholars to the soldiers, to the royalty. Every single one of them has their own motivations and goals, but the story does a wonderful job of weaving them all together despite that. Because most of the story is told from the perspective of a younger person, the first half has a pervasive sense that everyone but the protagonist knows exactly what they are doing. Thankfully, this illusion is swiftly dispelled as soon as you start to read chapters or sections from the perspective of other characters, not too far past the halfway point. All of them have their struggles, their failings, and their moments of doubt or weakness.

The biggest problem I had with the story was the pacing. There were a lot of wonderful characters to read about and a lot of very interesting information to take in, but it was actually difficult to sit down and read sometimes. Not because it wasn’t a fun or interesting story, but because there was just so much information imparted in the first third of the book. As short as the book is compared to the final volume in the trilogy, it felt like a much longer read because the pacing and information overload made me want to put it down after an hour so I could rest a bit.

There’s so much to discuss about the book that I’ve had to re-write this review four times to make sure I actually focused on reviewing it rather than geeking out over the mythology and how this story has influenced other stories that I love. I’d rather do that in person, over a beer or a cup of coffee, anyway. I suggest reading the book and then convincing other people you know to read it so you’ve got someone to discuss it with.