Archive for July, 2012

Geek Dad-To-Be: T-minus One Month

…give or take. And with the date rapidly approaching, I’ve hit a rather major dilemma. The realization that I would likely be kicked out of the hospital if, while my wife is recovering, I start knocking on other doors in the maternity overnight stay part of the hospital and say “I’ve been sent from the future to stop your child.” Is it weird that having that actually happen has worked its way into my list of irrational soon-to-be-a-dad concerns? Yes, I know this anxiety both is and isn’t the plot of The Terminator, but I blame the Vlogbrothers and their Evil Baby Orphanage, a sanctuary set up deep in the Himalayas where babies who are going to grow up to be evil are sequestered and raised in a more loving environment. It nicely ties up both the nature and the nurture halves of the argument.

It also needs to be an anthology. I already have my story outlined in my head. Are you listening, Vlogbrothers?

My dad and I had lunch yesterday while my wife and mom were off at the baby shower. Discussion got onto child raising advice. We appear to be in the post-For-Dummies era when it comes to advice, as a generation that grew up self identifying as nerds and geeks suddenly discover they’re going to be parents. And so while we have the classic “What To Expect…” trilogy, I’ve taken to pouring over The Baby Owners Manual which takes the approach of child raising couched in the terminology of the owner’s manual. I’m reading other books while preparing, but it’s nice to have something to fall back on that reinforces the information, but has a little more fun with it.

I still have phases of disbelief and moments that reality overwhelms me all at once. I expect these may last for a few more months. Who knows, maybe a few more years. I have this odd fear that it’ll never feel entirely real.

And that’s one of my other anxieties, living right alongside the kidnappers-from-the-future one. In a way, it’s nice to have a silly anxiety to fall back on.

We’ve been through classes on what to do when my wife says “it’s time,” which will probably involve me panicking and making at least two wrong turns even though the drive to the hospital is a subset of my daily commute to work. We’ve toured the hospital, where I learned that the chair provided for the dads in the recovery room reclines “a little” which is to say you can slump down in it. We’ve had classes about what to do after we bring our newborn home, because for some reason they’re going to trust us with a newborn that they’ll just let us take home from the hospital what the fuck?

Though on the bright side, my mom did get us a bib very similar to this one. Because she’s my mom and she rocks. And she probably doesn’t work for the time traveling kidnappers.

I don’t think.

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Flash Fiction: The Paradox

Getting a late jump on a Wendig challenge, but finally got my story in mind. This week the challenge is time travel, in any way shape or form. So let’s do this.

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Things I Know I Don’t Know

I went to a university with a wide spread of divisional requirements classes. These included a requirement for two courses of History, Philosophy, or Religion. I picked philosophy and religion.

In high school my social studies course senior year was AP US Government, junior year was AP US History (alternative option was Virginia Government and Virginia History).

All of this is to say that the last time I’ve taken any formal classes in world history was my sophomore year in high school, which ended just over 17 years ago (shut up, I know I’m young and/or old). That was World History II focusing on 1500 to the present. Tack on another year since I received any formal education in something that happened anywhere on the planet before the year 1500, and even that was the standard western civilization approach to history. Babylon, Egypt, Greece, then stay in Europe with maybe a day spent on “oh, yes, and there were things going on in Asia and Africa too, I guess.”

I’m trying to correct this. This is where you will come in.

This is all because I found Crash Course: World History on YouTube. As the name implies, it’s a rapid overview of the world from the Agricultural Revolution through, as of this writing, the Seven Years War. The end goal of the series is 40 episodes of 10 minutes each. 400 minutes of world history. It’s enjoyable as hell, but since it can only scratch the surface, it’s left me wanting more.

Thus far the more has been the BBC podcast series A History of the World in 100 Objects. It was a limited run podcast created in 2010, 100 episodes of 14 minutes each. 1400 minutes of world history. I also have waiting on my iPod an iTunes U course on the Early Middle Ages. 22 episodes with a focus on the years 400-1000, running about 50 minutes an episode. 1100 minutes of world history.

Add it all up, and that’s 2900 minutes. Just over two days if played end-to-end. Perhaps I’ll get to the end of it all and feel that my push for a better understanding of world history has been satiated, but right now I doubt that. So, as I do occasionally, I’m looking for recommendations. Largely, I’m looking for the kind of thing I can put on my iPod. So even though a picture says a thousand words…I’d probably prefer the words. Which makes things a little more complicated. World history isn’t something that people tend to podcast about. Most of the ones I found only ended up producing three or four episodes. Sampling my way through iTunes U has felt hit-and-miss in terms of listenability (hard to listen to a guy with a monotone voice recorded from the back of an echoy lecture hall while driving). YouTube suggestions are also welcome, this did start with a webshow afterall.

Oh, and I wouldn’t say I’m cheap, but I do have a baby on the way so shelling out for things like The Great Courses isn’t quite in the pocketbook, so free is an ideal price point.

Given all that, I put it to you, my readers. Do you have personal experiences with something that might scratch this weird itch I have?

Update: In some searching while putting this post together, I did find Columbia University’s inaugural World History course was filmed and put online at YouTube. If you’re interested in the whole series, that’s the link in the last sentence, but I found this fascinating. It’s the opening course, and the first 45 minutes is a history of world history.

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Chain of Drafts

On Twitter Jaye Wells asked the following question (not to me, mind, but to Twitter in general): “Question for the writer folk. Are your drafts short or long? I always end up adding 5-10k in revisions (sometimes more).” This is one of those things that’s different for everyone. Indeed, some people said their second drafts double in length, others immediately pointed out Stephen King’s math that first draft minus 10% equals second draft.

Here’s how I tend to view my drafts.

Rough draft: This is draft represents a complete story, largely the story that I set out to tell. I use this word because it is very rough. Numbered drafts are reserved for those drafts I’m willing to let anyone other than a coauthor see. However, this draft does have a complete plot, it has most of the characters who will end up in a story, there are no missing scenes (which is not to say I won’t have to add scenes). It is a draft, rather than an outline.

First draft: This draft typically makes the story longer. It includes such steps as making sure the voice of the characters are consistent throughout, or just that the characters even all have distinct voices. It seeds in any red herrings or Chekhov guns I want to use in the story. It even, in extreme cases where I have themes, is where I tend to make sure everything is pointing towards the theme. I’ll also use this draft to layer in additional description. It’s my first draft I’m willing to let people see, or what I might also call my alpha reader draft.

Second draft: This draft typically makes the story shorter. This is where things get punched up, and where I’m more likely to implement the ideas purposed by King or in The 10% Solution. The process of adding everything the first draft added will often screw with the pacing of the story, or of scenes, this is the chance to preserve the new story I created in the first draft, but with an eye towards where I over bulked. This draft may end up longer or shorter than the rough draft. Typically longer. I’ll add 10%, then take away 10%, and while that sounds like equilibrium, it actually is a net gain in words when you run the math.

Additional drafts: These are the rock tumbler drafts. Each time I run through the story using finer and finer grit until I’m happy with the polish. There aren’t a set number of these drafts, and it’s rare that I don’t do at least some polish on a story between submissions, as the time it’s out with an anthology or publisher is typically just enough time to think of something else I wanted to do with it.

So how many drafts does a story need? Exactly as many as it does, no more and no less. And that’s something I can’t even pretend to describe, because I’m still figuring it out myself, and possibly always will be.

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Flashathon 2: Electric Boogaloo

Today is July 18th. Well, actually today is July 17th because I wrote this post yesterday, but I posted it today, which is actually tomorrow, July 18th, and let’s just start this whole thing over because it’s already confusing and off-subject.

Today is July 18th. Which means we’re only three short months from the key central day on this blog: FLASHATHON! Since it’s never too early to bring it up, and I probably should have done so already, I thought I’d take this opportunity to (a) say that yes, we are doing it again this year (b) explain what it is for those who don’t know and (c) explain what’s going to change this year for those who participated last year.

I feel like (a) is already handled, so let’s get into (b).  What is Flashathon?

Flashathon is a yearly flash-fiction writing marathon of insanity. The origins of the event date back to about this time last year when I mentioned on Twitter that it would be interesting to do such a marathon, in the spirit of folks who do blogathons and the like. The problem with saying things on Twitter is that, even though I don’t have a lot of followers, I do have some. Particularly one Day Al-Mohamed, co-owner and operator of my blog-away-from-home Unleaded and fellow Cat Vacuumer. She saw that tweet and thought it a brilliant idea. From there we gathered prompts from Capclave panelists, friends, and each other, and the first Flashathon was born.

It was a small event, most participants crowded into my living room, but it was a lot of creative insanity. Since them, I’m aware of at least one story that started in Flashathon being sold. For actual money. Which is awesome.

Last year the event consisted of twelve prompts, one posted each hour. The prompts, however, are entirely voluntary. Some folks wrote from them, some folks wrote their own flash-fiction pieces, some focused on adding a given amount to their work-in-progress during the hour. The focus of the event isn’t rules. It’s creativity.

So what’s changing?

First, the date. Last year we did it the Saturday immediately following Capclave. This year I was asked by another Unleaded member if we could push it back one week so that she could better participate along with the students of a class she teaches. So we’re going to do it October 27th this year.

Second, the length. Last year the event ran for 12 hours. This year it will run for 18. However, the goal will still be to participate for 12 hours. This is largely because the noon-midnight time period left a lot of us feeling burned out around 10:30. Running it longer lets participant pick and choose their 12 hours. We’ll start at 9am Eastern and run until 3am, aka midnight on the west coast. 12 hours, whether consecutive or spread out, will still be the goal. Day is already pushing me for an “overachievers” accomplishment, but I’m hesitant.

Otherwise, the event remains what it was: rules light and creativity heavy. I hope this year the event gets bigger and better than it was last year.

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The Battle of Frederick

I’ve never been to a Civil War reenactment. That’s fine, most people probably haven’t. Except living, as I do, in Northern Virginia, it often takes a very concerted act to never attend a Civil War reenactment. I know people who move from the west coast to the east coast who are surprised at how much of a big deal the Civil War is on this side of the country. I myself grew up all through the South, and we’d learn plenty about the War of Northern Aggression (though we always glazed over just who won or lost), but even then nowhere has been nearly so stoked in the Civil War as the area around DC. I suppose living in the suburbs of one capital with another two hours south does that. Both battles of Manassas, Gettysburg, and Antietam are day trips, and a skirmish happened within walking distance of my house.

This area lives the Civil War like Yorktown lives the Revolution. Especially now, in the heart of the sesquicentennial. Which I came so close to spelling correctly.

So this weekend the wife and I were looking for something to do when we stumbled on a Civil War encampment going on in Frederick, just an hour up the road. We struck out, glad for something to do, and even considering it a research opportunity for Nickajack. Which it was, thanks to a fashion show of women’s clothing that actually gave us two interesting plot points.

But the star attraction was clearly the Civil War encampment and reenactment. For those of you not on the east coast who haven’t seen one, a Civil War encampment is a big camp-out for reenactors where they pitch their tents and hang out in heavy wool clothing during the absolutely armpit of a DC-area summer for a weekend. Keep in mind this is me talking, in the best of conditions I don’t understand the appeal of camping. Yes, I was a boy scout once, I left for a reason. Well, many reasons, but that was one of them. Camping in the middle of July while wearing 1860s period-appropriate clothing? Not something I can even remotely wrap my head around. Then again, I’m sure many of them wouldn’t understand the appeal of reading old pulp science fiction while sitting in a garden, we all have our odd habits.

General William Tecumseh Sherman, photographed by Matthew Brady, c. 1864

There was a hypothetically Federal camp, and a hypothetically Rebel camp, though the sides were intermingling. Generals Lee and Sherman were sitting in tents only a few feet apart as we walked through. I would like to state for the record that the camp’s Sherman was about as spitting of an image as one might expect for a small reenactment in urban Maryland, and that his tent was explicitly labeled “General Sherman.” This point will be important later.

Come 2pm and it was time to gather under the high tension lines, running from the nearby power relay station, and experience a civil war reenactment. This particular event featured roughly two dozen Rebels behind a wooden barricade, backed up by a cannon, three dozen Federal troops, and one cavalryman from each side staying several dozen yards away so the kids could see the horses. The tide of the battle went something like this:

The Rebels were entrenched behind their wooden barricade when, right on schedule, the Federals emerged from a corn field. The Rebs opened fire and one of the Feds fell. Several volleys of gunfire were exchanged, the cannon fired once, and the Feds returned to the corn. Much cheering and flag waving from the Rebs. The Federal troops then reemerged, and stood around for a little before against opening fire, and again retreating to the corn. This was repeated a third time. After that, the Rebel troops prepared for a charge by crossing in front of their barricade. This was stymied by the Federals again emerging from the corn. Twice the Rebels were about to charge, each time they only took one step before being ordered to halt. Several of the grey coats fell, the rest retreated, the Federals advanced, and we were told the battle was over and the North was triumphant.

I’m not sure what I expected out of a Civil War reenactment, but it was not this. Granted (get it, GRANTed, cause it’s the Civil War), it was a small reenactment but in the end we could only be confused by what we’d seen. There were no interpreters on the sideline explaining the battle to us, or telling us what the retreats to the cornfield represented. Were they other armies arriving? Was it several hours worth of actual battle, condensed? Several days? Real time? I don’t know if this is a feature of larger reenactments, I’m sure if someone has been to one I’ll be elucidated in the comments below.

This is almost exactly what the event didn’t look like.

After we got home (and had a brief power outage) we set about looking up the battle we watched to see if we could make any sense out of what we’d seen. The organizers of the event described the battle as Sharpsburg, a name I didn’t initially recognize. Because I’d always heard it called Antietam. What we’d witnessed under the high tension lines in southern Maryland was an odd representation of the bloodiest single-day battle of the entire war. The battle that gave Lincoln clearance to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The battle that William Sherman was nowhere near, being down in Mississippi at the time.

I can make no mental connection between what we saw on a field in Maryland and what transpired 150 years ago this September. Perhaps I’m not supposed to. I wonder if the entire reenactment would have made more sense if it was only meant to be an anonymous skirmish between the two sides, rather than one of the most notable battles of the entire war.

I also wonder just how representative this was of reenactments. Certainly it was nothing compared to last year’s massive sesquicentennial reenactment of the first battle of Bull Run. That event featured over 1/3 as many participants as the battle itself, and even the people watching the event were morbidly period-appropriate, as that was one of those early battles that families came to watch with picnic baskets. I suspect that a majority of reenactments look more like what we saw. Some weekend civil warriors having a camp-out then putting on a show for the tourists. In the end, I’m left with far more interest in the process behind the reenactments than the war. How they choreograph the action, how individuals decide which side they’re representing. I read up on it a little before the big one in Manassas last year, but actually seeing it reignited the questions.

Especially “why?”

No no, don’t worry, I’m not going to get into reenactments. Certainly not. Just that they’re the latest thing to fascinate me.

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Flash Fiction: The Wondering Chamber

Time for another Chuck Wendig challenge. This week it’s simple, write a story of up to 1000 words of less that starts with the sentence “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.” Of course, I spent a good time mentally outlining a story that featured a wandering chamber. Let’s do this.

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Unrelated: Bees and Kickstarter

Two unrelated items.

First, I mentioned in my post about the big storm that both our beehives were knocked over by a falling branch, and have since gotten questions about how the bees are. We reassembled the hives on the spot, but weren’t able to take a full look at the hives until this past weekend. I can report that both queens were spotted (get it, it’s a pun because queen bees are typically marked with a spot of paint) during the inspection, so all the branch did (to the bees at least) was put a massive dent in one of our outer covers and riled up the hives. They’ve been devouring sugar water at a high rate of speed, but that’s a good thing at this stage. Got to get the stores together to overwinter.

For now, we’re filling up the feeder jars as quickly as the bees empty them, both otherwise letting them live their lives. Once we saw both queens, we removed any need to go deeper into the hives for the next few weeks.

Second, anyone who follows Kickstarter is probably aware of the controversial new project wherein Penny Arcade is using the site to raise $250k (though they’re really looking for $1million) in order to remove all advertising from their site. No one has asked, but I still wanted to share my thoughts on the project.

Thought the first. I don’t believe this is within the spirit of Kickstarter. I’m not going to say that Kickstarter should only be for the unknown and unheralded, it shouldn’t. I’ve seen many established products and brands use the site as an end-round of the games making process (such as for Double Fine and Ogre) or drives to fund reprints (such as for Order of the Stick). However, the Penny Arcade project strikes me more as a company seeking business expenses, not creating a product. As quoted from the Kickstarter guidelines:

A project has a clear goal, like making an album, a book, or a work of art. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced by it. A project is not open-ended. Starting a business, for example, does not qualify as a project.

I can’t help but wonder if the name “Penny Arcade” is what got this project green lit by Kickstarter. Obviously I don’t know Kickstarter’s reasoning, and I won’t pretend that I have an encyclopedic enough knowledge of past Kickstarters to know the precedents. However, in spite of my thoughts on whether it should or shouldn’t be within Kickstarter’s guidelines, I’m not joining the outrage because…

Thought the second. I don’t believe that Kickstarter is a zero-sum game. That is to say, I don’t believe there’s a set amount of money that is going to be donated to projects on a given day, and that the Penny Arcade project is taking money out of the mouths of projects that are less ambiguous about their adherence to policy. The people who are donating the Penny Arcade are donating to Penny Arcade. Hell, it could even be a net positive if people are funding a Kickstarter for the first time, and finding other projects while browsing around the site.

There’s one exception to the zero-sum issue, the staff picks. Currently the Penny Arcade project is taking one of the three Staff Pick spots within the Comics section, an exposure that it clearly doesn’t need. So do I think that it’s strictly within the rules? No. Do I think that makes it inherently a bad thing? No.

But I’m just me.

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Things to do at SDCC, Other than SDCC

Hotel del Coronado, circa 1900

I’d like to say that I’ve never been to San Diego Comic-Con. I will not this year and, even though it’s the holy grail of geek events, I can’t foresee ever attending. It sets off my anxiety just considering attending a con that massive. Though if this is the future, and you are my publisher or publicist reading this, I take it all back and would love to sit on that panel you landed for me.

I have, however, been to San Diego. As such I feel extremely confident giving one piece of advice to anyone and everyone going to Comic-Con: Enjoy San Diego. Yes, I know you’re there for the events, but stick around a few extra days and get out of the convention center (though it is an architecturally awesome convention center). A few tips based on my time there.

1) The Padres are in town the week after Comic-Con. At least, if you’re reading this immediately before Conic-Con 2012. Seriously, if you are even remotely a baseball fan, you need to go to a Padres game. They’ll be playing the Astros, so we’re talking two teams that have already combined for over 100 losses this year, but you’re not going for the quality of the baseball. You’re going for the quality of the stadium. Petco Park is an absolute gem of a baseball stadium, and is within walking distance of the convention center, right in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter. Speaking of which…

2) You’re in the Gaslamp Quarter!  Well, you might not be depending on how long you waited to get a hotel, or how cheaply you made your reservations. But if you aren’t, you should be. Get new reservations for the extra days you’re staying. It’s a hip district with great food and is eminently walkable. Of course, there’s a few stops you’ll want to make outside the Gaslamp, so rent a car for a day or two, get out, and enjoy the fact that…

3) Coronado is a bridge away. Between the massive Naval station on the northwest point of Coronado and the golf course on the southeast edge is a community with beautiful beaches, parks, views of San Diego, food, shops, and just great places to cruise or walk around. Take Orange Avenue from one side to the other. It also features the Hotel del Coronado, which originally opened in 1888 and has hosted presidents and dignitaries throughout its history. Of course now that you’ve got that car, you probably want to drive it a little farther and find…

4) The San Diego Zoo earned every bit of hype. Seriously. Yes, it’s absolutely that awesome of a zoo. Do the sky tram while you’re there. Just…just do it, okay.

San Diego has been one of my favorite cities to visit, and it’s one I’m hoping to get back to some day. Not for Comic-Con, but just for it’s own sheer awesomeness. So don’t let me here that you went all the way out there just to stay in a convention center for a few days and leave again. Because that would be a crying shame.

Update: Meant to say this but, 5) EAT! Even if you’re only planning to do SDCC, at least get out of the convention center long enough to get some food. I won’t say it’s one of the great food cities of the world, but there are any number of fantastic meals to have. I’ve had some fantastic Mexican food in both the Gaslamp and in old town, seafood, and even wandered on a great sushi restaurant on Coronado that, no, I can’t remember the name of. Plus, there’s a recommendation down in the comments for a place called Hash House A Go Go which I have not tried, but now intend to next time I’m in town. San Diego is also the heart of Rubio’s country, a fast food Mexican place that I’ve enjoyed my few meal at, and has several Pinkberries, though they’ve now brought their tangy frozen yogurt to the East Coast.

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Ace Double Review G-618

This book won my little vote of which Emil Petaja story to read first. For obvious reasons: Vikings in Space! We’re stepping away from space opera with G-618 and into the world of the fantasy double, two stories taking place on a forgotten earth of the deep past. Though first, I’ll warn you…there were no vikings in space. Sorry.

The Stolen Sun

He had to bridge 100 generations

Like an umbilical cord, the cortical hook-up linking Wayne Panu to his ship involved them in an unheard-of rapport, even in the ranks of the unique esper-pilot fleet that warred against the world-engulfing Mephiti.

In the outward surge into the far-flung galactic worlds for colonization Man had found but few habitable planets–but now even those few worlds were challenged. The Mephiti–dread, all-embracing fog forms–were Man’s match as they fought him planet for planet in the race for habitable space.

And only Wayne Panu, with his extraordinary ESP talents that went beyond the mind and the here and now–whose senses were strangely linked in the past to the heroes and legends of the ancient Kalevala–could retaliate in this fantastic war that devoured suns and swept across the ages of eternity.

Yes, I know what I just said about G-618 being a break from space opera and towards fantasy, then I post the summary from inside the cover and it’s a story about Mankind’s massive war against their dreaded alien enemy the Mephiti. And, yes, that is what the first act of the book is about. Wayne Panu is a specially trained military pilot who is psychically linked to his ship, and together they bomb planets, destroying all higher order forms of life. Often preemptively, without visiting the planet. Because in the end it’s easier to completely wipe out an entire intelligent civilization if you know nothing about it. Same reason you don’t name a lab rat you’ll need to one day kill and dissect, I suppose. It’s a job that Panu is good at, which troubles him deeply, especially when a young pilot learning from him is killed by the Mephiti. It’s a story that I really wish I read more of. However, act two open with Panu chasing a giant bronze ship, which results in him being thrown back into time and into Northern European fantasy.

That’s right about where the story lost me.

I understand that the man out of place, even the man out of time, is a common trope within the fantasy genre. However, creating such a rich and fascinating world, and keeping me in that world for so long before pulling the rug away, was a bait-and-switch that I never entirely forgave the book for as I read. I’ve heard tell of a fake Harry Potter book in which Harry is transformed into a Hobbit, and then the entire text of the Hobbit is copied before an epilogue where Harry once again becomes a wizard person, dear reader. I would not for a moment suggest The Stolen Sun was created in the same cynical effort to dupe readers, I give it far more credit than that, but just in the way that it presents one story then tells a completely different one…yeah, I wish I could disguise my frustration, but there it is.

That’s not to say the interior story wasn’t interesting, but it had several elements that felt like they were about to tie into the act one narrative that didn’t. The Mephiti have no sense of sight, and they engulf worlds in darkness. In the interior story the sun, as the title suggests, has been stolen. My expectation was always that our hero would end up fighting the Mephiti in the old north. Nope. Or that he might have to use his enhance psychic senses to solve the underlying problems. Again, nope. So I was torn away from a story I was quite liking to plop down into another story where the character has a fantastically identical name and otherwise doesn’t feel like the same character. Panu is a complex character in act one, through the rest of the book we’re presented with a character whose development includes making the decision to not rape the 16 year old girl he’s pinned to the ground, which I guess is a point in his favor, though not one I would have actively sought to award. He’s fantastic at figuring out his way through a series of three page-filling tasks assigned by a witch whom he is trying to impress to have a chance to marry his near-victim.

At least there was a cameo by the sampo, which cheered my inner Mystery Science Theater fan.

In the end, this was the book decided upon by the choose-based-on-the-cover poll I ran, which proves that it’s not the best way to judge a book. The story telling was strong enough, especially in act one, I just feel too betrayed to give it a good score.

Two out of five sampos.

The Ship from Atlantis

The epic sequel to King of the World’s Edge

When the warrior Gwalchmai set out from his homeland to bring world of new conquests to his father’s emperor, he sailed into perils more strange and awesome than even the King of the World’s Edge had known.

For Gwalchmai was cast adrift in a dread Sargasso where ships from all the world’s past were entombed, and there he found the enigmatic Ship from Atlantis, last artifact of a once-great civilization…and the beautiful Corenice, sorceress and woman of star-metal.

Together they face a menace as old as Atlantis itself, and fought to save the Earth’s peoples from the powers of ancient darkness.

First, I’m going to say I need to track down King of the World’s Edge. The Ship from Atlantis starts with a “Last time on Merlin’s Godson” chapter that includes King Arthur, Vikings, Merlin and Mesoamericans. The two books were later combined into a single title called Merlin’s Godson, prequel to Merlin’s Ring, which has a cover fantastic enough that it landed on Good Show Sir.

Shockingly, the fire-breathing swan makes sense.

The book can be seen as either the middle book of a trilogy, or the second half of a full-length novel. Either of those makes it an awkward entry point to the story. At least it has a distinct beginning, even if it does come with a catch-up infodump, and a distinct ending, even if it does come with a cliff-hanger to lead the reader into Merlin’s Ring. In many ways the story reminds me of video games.

Stay with me, it’s a two-part analogy.

Part one: In the sequels to Assassin’s Creed II, there was always a mechanism near the beginning of the game to strip Ezio of all the fantastic lethal gear he’d earned in the previous game, everything that made him far too deadly of a character to play at the beginning of a game. At the beginning of The Ship from Atlantis our hero sets out with a longship full of magical gear and capable men, just to lose his crew in a massive fight off the Florida keys, and his own memory while floating through the Sargasso Sea. Thus he ends up fittingly reset to start an adventure.

Part two: In video games, as well as movies and books, Nazis are a fantastic bad guy. They represent such an unmitigated evil that the media consumer doesn’t fret over them being dispatched by the hundreds, or even thousands. Such a force of pure evil is a well-traveled trope within fantasy. Orcs, trolls, Uruk-hai. They want our heroes dead, and we see them die in mass numbers without any moral quandary. The “ancient darkness” in Ship from Atlantis are characterized by watching passively as a mother beats her child to death. It’s an efficient way to set up the big evil, space is at a premium in these Doubles, but I can’t say it was an effective method.

The story strings together tropes in an inoffensive way. Fast-formed romances, harrowing battles fought while impossibly outnumbered, the promise of tragic lovers to find each other again in another lifetime, it’s the general construction of a fantasy story. Each element was well written, but none really set my world on fire. That doesn’t sound glowing, nor may the number score below, but at the same time I’ve already mentioned a desire to read the first book, which I understand is disjointed, and certainly the follow-up, which was nominated for the World Fantasy best novel award.

In the end, the two stories share some bits in common. They mix some science fiction in with their fantasy, Ship from Atlantis including ancient Atlantean interactions with aliens. They both present a fantasy secret history of the earth. They both are middle books in longer series. And they both feature their main characters running from fire breathing swan ships bent on exacting revenge.

Wait, no, that’s just this one.

Three out of five swan ships.

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