Book Review : Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja

I can’t remember the last time I genuinely enjoyed a comedic novel for its humor and its plot progression. Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja is both a well written work of science fiction and genuinely one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I’ve had several moments where I put the book down because I couldn’t stop laughing.

Character Development
9/10

The story follows one R. Wilson Rogers as he’s swung back into his old life of military service. Rogers as a character is, in many ways, relatable to the everyday working person stuck in a dead end job and is written fantastically as such. We can all relate to the dull monotony of a day to day routine. His sarcasm to his fear all feel very natural and enjoyable to read. Joe Zieja does an excellent job of perfecting Rogers’ dialogue and exactly why he feels as disdainful, terrified or just annoyed at his everyday life. In terms of development, however, the supporting cast of characters aren’t as enticing or interesting (save for one whom I absolutely loved). But they served to purpose to really flesh out Rogers and provide for some great comedic material.

Setting
6/10

In truth there isn’t a whole lot of discussion regarding the setting. The story takes place in one location and there isn’t a lot of detail to go about it. I had a difficult time picturing anything but a sterile metal for anywhere within the ship and I’m not sure if that was correct. There also feels like a lack of world building behind why the events of the story were taking place. There were bits and pieces that could have fed into some kind of background history of the technology or the governments that agreed to the Two Hundred Years’ (and Counting) peace agreement. There isn’t a whole lot of world building however I feel that that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the Story is more about Rogers’ interactions with the staff and other supporting characters. In truth, I just want to read Rogers give a hilariously sarcastic explanation of human history in the future.

Plot
8/10

The story takes some time to get going but when it does, oh boy is it a fun ride. Zieja does a great job of introducing all the characters through Rogers’ perception of them and, in some cases, his revelations of just who they are. Everything that happens feels natural and is well explained as the story progressed. At no point did it ever feel like something happened for the sake of plot progression. Everything happened naturally (and often hilariously) as Rogers struggles in his day to day military service in the new military structure.

Writing Style
9/10

Humor in writing is incredibly hard to pull off and often dangerous. There’s always the risk that the joke falls flat or feels really awkward to read. Thankfully Mechanical Failure is a roaring success in terms of hysterical and well written comedy while still providing an enjoyable story. I took note of how many times the writing has me put down the book because I couldn’t stop laughing and I stopped counting after fifteen to be honest. Rogers is genuinely a funny character and the writing around his dialogue, thoughts and interactions with everyone is well executed and great fun to read.

What Writers can learn from this book

Stories will often have characters that try and play the comic relief to break up tension, however this trope is difficult to pull off and can risk failing miserably. Not only that, it can break whatever flow the story has as the reader just feels confused and sometimes insulted. However Joe Zieja masterfully pulls off the humorous character really well. Not just with Rogers, but with a whole bunch of the supporting characters. There’s one character whom I found to be my favorite and easily one of the funniest characters in any story. I wish I could explain why but to do so would spoil the beauty of how well it was done.

Final Verdict
8/10

 

 

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Work, Life, Writing Balance

Earlier I wrote about how disciplined writing can yield great results for progress. I wish I could remember who said it originally, but there was a saying that was told to me that really helped me continue writing. Treat your hobby and passion like you would work, that you have to do it and work towards improving yourself. Because of this, I feel that I’ve improved as a writer tenfold simply by trying to learn and further develop my own skills on a day to day basis.

I started contemplating on the whole idea of work life balance. For me, I started viewing both writing and drawing as work I do outside of work. Both have become more than hobbies to me, both became defining parts of who I am and what I do. I personally believe that, for anything that people consider to be their passions, it has to be worked on every day. But recently I realized that diving too hard into what you love can be dangerous. I found that I started neglecting other aspects of a well balanced life in order to do so. I would skip gym sessions, skimp on cooking and cut back on sleep to a dangerous degree. As I discovered last week, this certainly wasn’t healthy nor was it sustainable.

The unfortunate truth was that, as much as I love progress and that sense of accomplishment, I came to the ugly truth that my health was something I had to work on. I hate to admit it, but it took me some time to figure out just how to do that. The problem became simpler as I started organizing it as I did with writing and drawing. I schedule time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and when to go to the gym as well as time to read. It sounds ridiculous, it really does, but I found I had to do this to make sure I still got the amount of writing I felt I needed while still maintaining the important parts of a healthy life.

I think, however, the inevitability of things coming up is unavoidable. But sometimes it’s just something that has to be expected. It took me some time to understand this as I often sacrificed sleep to catch up on writing and editing. The past few weeks have taught me, however, that as much as I want to improve I can’t sacrifice my health for my writing. One of the obvious signs was actually how badly I struggled to write out my own thoughts. It was really unpleasant and I hope that my fellow writers don’t fall into the same mistake as I had. Disciplined writing is amazing, but not at the cost of my health.

I hope this helps 🙂

– Raphael

PS: I apologize for missing a week of posting. Part of that was a result of what was discussed here. But I hope to not miss any other posts!

Motivated Writing vs Disciplined Writing

Creating consistent results in writing had always proven to be the most difficult goal for me as a writer. I feel that I’m also not alone in this as other writers I’ve talked to have also struggled with achieving results. I wrote an article a while back when I heard about the idea of discipline over motivation and how that should get results and I thought I would try it. I would force myself into a disciplined routine of writing three to four hours every day rather than waiting until I felt motivated to do so. What I found was quite surprising.

For the first book I wrote, The Legend of Nariko : The Mark of Silverfrost, I wrote it purely on motivation and inspiration. I first started writing seriously in about 2011 and 2012. Anything before then was purely just scrawlings and fun doodle writings. But then I sat down and really worked on my story as inspiration came to me from music, books, and daydreaming. I came up with some of the best and most powerful moments of my book through daydreaming while listening to music. It was only after these brief times of inspiration that I would sit down and write. Aside from the anxiety of sharing my first book I ever wrote, I feel that this was probably the reason I took five to six years to finish my first book.

When I published my first book, I felt an overwhelming sense of purpose. Becoming an author was my goal in life and now I needed to finish this series I’ve started. To not do so felt like a disservice to the characters and the world I had created. As such I felt the need better myself as a writer. Five years felt too long to publish another book, I had to improve my ability to write. When I heard of the idea of discipline over motivation, I scoffed at first. The idea of forcing myself to carry out a creative task felt alien to me.

But I tried it regardless. Every day for four months I spent three hours in the morning and one to two at night. The results were quite surprising to say the least. Writing had become a matter of quantity rather than quality. I wrote whatever came to mind as I had to. No longer was I burdened to wait for inspiration to come to me, rather I forced it in order to progress forward. What happened was a great deal of world building and questions I forced myself to answer. Questions of my characters, of the world itself, that needed to be answered to progress the story. It forced me as an author to ask difficult questions of the narrative, to push past my writer’s block and work towards an answer rather than wait for it to come to me. Because of this, I was able to finish writing the second book in five months time as opposed to five years.

Disciplined writing has proven to be a difficult task. But the reward has proven to be worth the trials as now I can focus on editing my work in the hopes of publishing book 2 by the end of the year or early next year. I highly recommend a disciplined regime of writing every day to anyone struggling to finish their work. Not only has it helped me to push past my own writing block, it also helped me to grow more confident in my own ability.

I hope this helps any fellow writers struggling to finish their work 🙂

– Raphael

PS : Sorry this is a bit late! Got inspired with editing and couldn’t stop ^^”

Book Review : Dark Run by Mike Brooks

Very rarely does one ever pick up a book out of random in a bookstore and become pleasantly surprised. When I found myself in Portland one summer I visited the Powell’s City of Books store I had heard so much about. I spent hours in there while my friends wandered the city. Ultimately I wanted to pick something up to commemorate the trip so I found this book, Dark Run by Mike Brooks and thought why not? Little did I know this would become one of my all time favorite books.

Character Development
10/10

For anyone who watched Firefly and longs to revisit that kind of world (if you haven’t, I strongly recommend you do for an amazing ride) you’ll feel right at home with the characters of Dark Run. I honestly can’t recall the last time I had become so emotionally invested in all of the main characters while reading. There was never a moment where I rolled my eyes being forced through the perspective of a character I didn’t like as I loved them all. The captain, Ichabod Drift, is a charismatic smart aleck bastard of an honorable man but damn is it impossible not to love him for it. He’s mirrored quite well with Rourke being the soldier that she is keeping him in check and showing that she’s far more than just muscle. Without spoiling too much I can confidently say that the cast of characters truly shine most in their interactions with each other. The banter between them whether in a market, firefight or even aboard their ship feels so organic and real that I couldn’t help but laugh along with them.

Setting
10/10

I find setting to always be a difficult task in a science fiction novel. The world building in science fiction is often quite challenging depending on the depths of which the writer wants to explore a world and its culture. However what I appreciate about Mike Brook’s work is that he gives you enough to work with that you can let your imagination paint the worlds and stations for you. You’re given enough of what you need to know about a location and not an information overload that can often make it difficult to follow. What’s best, however, is that the culture of this space faring civilization feels well written and well thought out. The laws, rules and regulations that have to be manoeuvred around really highlight just how well the characters are at what they do and how real the law enforcement they thwart is in their everyday lives. It drives home just what a space pirate’s life is like.

Plot
10/10

God damn, sometimes I just really love a revenge story. There aren’t many twists to speak of but the ones that do show up are well done and never felt force. The inciting incident will surprise you as it did me and I loved this story for it. The pacing of the plot is perfect as it never slows down for a dreaded exposition dump. The ending is satisfying and I never felt cheated out of a resolution. The characters’ backgrounds are explored in a good amount of detail that never feels overboard or forced to create the narrative. The best part is just how the characters react to the plot as the story unfolds. Because you get to know their background and get a feel for who they are, it makes their actions so much more believable and compelling that I never once questioned why they did what they did.

Writing Style
10/10

The book is best described as a quick and enjoyable adventure in all honesty. Not because of the lack of content but because I literally couldn’t bring myself to stop reading. I was so sucked in that I kept reading more and more. I easily lost track of time as I poured through each chapter. The word choice was never convoluted or confusing and the style of writing for each character’s perspective felt natural for who they are. The quips and remarks of each character also helped to flesh out exactly what was going on and how they felt. I recommend this for anyone wanting to improve their own writing style as I found it enjoyable, fun and engaging.

What Writers can learn from this book

Mike Brooks’ Dark Run is a lesson in how best to show rather than tell. The highlight of the book was the nonstop action and the dialogue. My god the banter between every character was the best part of this book for me. I’ve honestly never read a book where the dialogue really felt like a conversation. The sarcastic way Drift remarks about everything to the cocky attitude of the pilot Jia (who is easily my favorite character by far) feels so organic that any reader can appreciate the work that went into it. I still struggle with dialogue as it’s often hard to escape that default character voice that comes out when writing a scene. To be able to enter into a character’s mind and truly speak to them is truly a difficult skill and I feel that Mike Brooks has truly mastered that ability.

The Show don’t Tell rule of storytelling is often the most difficult part of writing as it’s not a hard and steady rule. It’s a balancing act that is often difficult for most writers to accomplish, especially fantasy and science fiction authors. World building is easily the most arduous task as the impulse to simply exposition overload the audience is so compelling since it’s fair easier. The ability to show the world a writer has created takes time and the actions the characters take can often be more impactful than any paragraph regurgitation that can easily turn off readers. Thankfully at no point did I ever feel that happen in Dark Run. Each time exposition was given it was for that exact moment it was needed rather than forced. I highly recommend that any writer (myself included) suffering from the anxiety of Show don’t Tell read this book to really see how it can be done.

Final Verdict
10/10 Will Read Again

 

A book that will stay with you forever

Character Design : How do you write a deity?

While reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaimen, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the adventures of Thor, Loki and Odin. We live in a time where characters are expected to be deep and often complicated with various emotions. My first criticism of any story I read is whether or not the characters are dynamic and interesting or if they are static and straightforward. Typically if you can summarize a character with a single word, they’re likely not a round dynamic character and the justification for them as a protagonist is dodgy at best. Thor is brash and Loki is mischievous but both are often the protagonists of these old tales.

It got me thinking about how these old stories compare to modern stories. For the past few months I’ve been struggling with the idea of modern pantheons and how to shape them. Typically it would be straight forward as gods and goddesses can be flat and static as the stories of old, but what happens when a central character is one of those gods? I wasn’t sure how to go about this until I read the adventures of Thor and then compared it to the modern interpretation of Thor we see in the MCU. If he was anything like the Thor of old mythology, he would make for an incredibly dull protagonist.

The basis of a dynamic and interesting character is struggle. There’s always got to be something that is forcing the character to grow to try and overcome this struggle. But how do you make a God/Goddess struggle? What problem do you throw at something so all powerful that physical threats to them are almost laughable? Stories of old Norse gods never appear as though they are in dire life threatening situations. Even when Loki’s life is on the line it never appears as though he’s truly terrified for his life. It got me thinking how any struggle a deity must face has to be personal, something that attacks the very core of what that divine being cares about for it to be a compelling story.

MCU Thor is a prime example of this idea. In Thor 1 we see him humbled and learning to hold his ego in check. Pride, like with many Gods and Goddesses, is their ultimate flaw that can lead to a story about said deity learning humility and ultimately becoming a more mature being. Frankly I feel that this is a very safe and almost generic route for an immortal being. By no means is it bad or flawed and still enjoyable, but what if the struggle was to protect something other than themselves? What if this godlike being was powerless to save their people or those they care about until they overcome their own weakness and ultimately become stronger for it? In Thor 3 we see the revelation of what Asgard truly is and Thor’s own self discovery of who he is (not the God of Hammers) that he overcomes his internal struggle and gains the power to fight his sister.

I think stories focused around a deity struggling to better themselves can make for an exciting and interesting story if done correctly. It takes a lot of effort to make such a protagonist interesting and someone the reader can empathize with. I feel that while the old stories of gods and goddesses can serve to provide great sources of inspiration, their conflicts are not as engaging as they could be.

Book Review : The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

Anyone who loves well developed fantasy worlds filled with fascinating characters will love “The Shadow of What Was Lost.” I found myself immersed in the book making the large size of it easier to digest as the writing style is fantastic and easy to be entranced by.

Character Development
9/10

The story follows the tale of four different protagonists all following their own unique storylines. While they all work towards saving the kingdom, they do so facing their own trials often independent of the others. Davian’s struggle with essence and learning more about his Augur abilities is quite fun and satisfying as you see his progress throughout the story. Wirr is more than a sidekick along for the ride and it shows as you see him grow more comfortable and confident in who he is. But Asha’s story was the real winner in my opinion. I was excited and relieved to find her becoming a more independent character rather than a damsel to be rescued. Often I found myself more invested and excited reading about her story of subterfuge and pseudo-espionage. I would have given the Character Development a 10/10 had it not been for one issue. Without spoiling anything, I found one part of the story to be unnecessary and more damaging than contributing to the story. It felt like a strange way to put him in a situation where he was forced to learn something new. It’s not overall damaging to the plotline, but I found that it did pull me from the story and I felt detached as I pushed myself to read it.

Setting
8/10

The land of Andarra is full of wonder and intrigue as you learn more about the kingdom and its neighbouring lands. The surprising thing is just how deep this world is. With how thick the book is, it still only scratches the surface of the background lore and mythos. While I do find myself craving more information as to why the world is the way it is, I find it almost too deep at times. There are numerous references to past events, characters and societies that are a bit too much to remember at times. There were a few times I found myself confused as to who or what the characters were discussing. I found myself often confused when pulled out of the story into more of the background mythos. It almost feels akin to Tolkien’s world where there was so much in the background of the main story that it was easy to become lost in it. While most of the background lore in the story is explained in a manner that is both integrated into the story and doesn’t break the flow of the plot, I found some points where names and locations were thrown around that I had trouble remembering everything.

Essence is the main focal point of everything in the story. The way it is wonderfully crafted you can tell that a lot of care and attention to detail was given to make it a fully fleshed out magic system. At no point does it ever become convoluted, making for an easy to understand system of magic with clearly defined rules and limitations. The emphasis on the tenets and their limitations is also quite amazing to see just how much it affects the day to day life of the average gifted student. The intolerance and distrust you see in every day citizens is really well done.

Plot
8.5/10

With the exception of one point in the story, it never feels like the story falls flat. The plot moves along at a great pace and each chapter adds something new and exciting to the overall story. A word of warning however, there is a point where time travel happens. Now personally I HATE time travel with a passion. It’s almost never done right and often ends up in an overly complicated plotline that is difficult to follow. Now thankfully that doesn’t happen here but it still does slam the breaks on the story in an awkward manner that I feel was unnecessary. Likely it was included to be expanded on in sequels, but for the purposes of this book it was out of place.

The ending, while ultimately satisfying, ends off not in the cleanest of ways. 3 out of 4 of the plotlines end in a satisfying way while the 4th is honestly a bit questionable in its execution. I found myself pulled out of the story literally going “wait, what?” as I read through the final chapters whenever it centered around this character. It honestly felt akin to a Deus Ex Machina as there didn’t feel like there was a sufficient enough build up to quite justify the outcome. This was a shame as I felt like it almost cheapened just how well done and satisfying the other three plotlines were.

Thankfully this is offset by almost every other part of the story. The twists and turns are all well executed and the general pace of things is smooth, allowing for an easy appreciation of the events unfolding. All of the side characters are wonderful additions that add to the growth of the main characters as they move towards their objectives. Never was a character introduced where I found myself rolling my eyes. I even found myself caring for some of the side characters as much as I did for the protagonists.

Writing Style
9/10

Despite he length of the book, Islington’s word choice and structure makes it very easy to power through chapters and never lose interest. I found myself reading for hours before realizing just how long I’ve been reading. This kind of book looks far more intimidating than it actually is. At no point does the vocabulary ever become so complex that a dictionary is needed. He also doesn’t fall into the trap of fantasy novels where the author describes everything in immense detail. There’s enough detail that the reader has an idea of what they’re reading without being heavily restricted in their imagination of it.

What Writers can learn from this book

James Islington’s book is a story of epic proportions that’s more focused on character development rather than setting and that’s amazing in a fantasy novel. It creates more of an intimate feeling within the world as the reader is far more concerned with the well being of the characters as opposed to the world at large. I felt far more anxious about the fate of Asha, Davian and Wirr than I did about Andarra and that is a great feeling to have. It makes the book far more engaging and kept me reading for hours as opposed to forcing myself to do so.

The idea of a grand overarching world-changing event tends to be the focus of fantasy novels and at no point do I ever think that is a bad thing. But when you’re more focused on the grand scheme of the world ending event, it becomes difficult to care as there needs to be something the reader cares about within that world. In The Shadow of What Was Lost, I found myself coming to care more about the people within the world through the interactions of Davian, Asha and Wirr as they talk to the various side characters about world events, general news and even just simple banter help it to feel like a more realized world.

The deep background lore of the world is deep and it is one of my favorite aspects of fantasy novels. But every time there is a deeper lore to the world, it’s very easy to write as though your reader already knows the background of the world as intimately as you do. I found within this novel that I was thrown back and forth between current events and past events with myself finding far more interest in the former than the latter. I feel a big part of this is how the main characters in the current plotline felt far more human and relatable than the characters depicted in the past. Truth be told I found myself weary of those past characters quickly. I also found that the ending was made weaker for it. It speaks to James Islington’s ability as a writer that, even with this fault, I still found the book enjoyable and one of my favorites.

Final Verdict
8.5/10

Go read it!!

Note : I mentioned four protagonists, but only spoke of three. There is another character who is central to the story, however his identity is clouded in mystery. This is a topic I look to write an article on to further discuss the use of characters with a mysterious past.

New Blog, New Emphasis, New Goals

I’ve never been one to accept that resolutions had to be decided on New Years. I find spring is the best time to reflect on the past year and review what I would want to work on. A time when I would think about my failings in the past year and how I can improve myself.

2017 is a year I will never forget. It was the year I published my very first book. A life goal that in the past I never thought I would achieve. I lived in a constant cycle that I feel many of my fellow new authors are in where confidence in our own work is so very difficult. I found that I needed approval of others for work that I spent months on before I could feel proud of it. It went beyond criticism and feedback, becoming more about validation than improvement.

Now I find myself in 2018 looking back at that time and thinking how much I’ve grown as a person since then. I want to continue to grow as a writer, an artist and a reader. As such I’m revitalizing my blog and refocusing my efforts to improve myself and hopefully help other new authors in a similar place as myself. My aim is to post a book review every two weeks and a post on writing reflections every other week. I may also sporadically post artwork as well as I find it very helpful for character design.

I hope this helps and look forward to sharing more thoughts and ideas about writing. 🙂

– Raphael