Book Review: The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright

9781429948302

(This is Book 2 of the Eschaton Sequence, and the sequel to Count to a Trillion, which I reviewed in the past.)

The Eschaton Sequence, these five books published by Tor and written by John C. Wright, are interesting and imaginative. There’s a lot to sort through, and a vast amount of world-building not easily summed up in one blog post about a single volume in the series.

But I’ll do my best.

This book is fantastic for those who don’t mind large swaths of information dumped on you within the first three chapters. Ultimately, I enjoyed it towards the end, finding some of the best writing towards the latter half of the book. Some of the personal accounts, as they were relayed from specific characters’ points of view, struck me as either a A Canterbury’s Tale or Hyperion type of influence (Hyperion was itself influenced by A Canterbury’s Tale). The editing is awful, however, as obvious spelling errors seemed to fly by the editor’s watch; I expected more from Tor for this volume (of which I paid for the hardcover full price to treasure on my shelf).

The Hermetic Millennia is a direct sequel to Count to a Trillion, so if you hadn’t read that one yet, I recommend stopping here. Spoilers ahead! You have been warned. You can skip ahead to where it says “Spoilers Over”.

This book jumped quickly from the mid-third millennia of the first book (2050ish AD?) to the year 10,000 AD (with a couple slight stops on the way). Menelaus is trying to maintain control of human history and evolution while being thwarted by the Hermeticists every step along the way. Multiple evolutionary off-shoots of humanity spring up over time, and the reasons for their specific focuses are explored early on and later in the book. It’s an interesting element.

As far as the characters go, Menelaus himself is as fascinating as he was before, but the Blue Men, the main antagonists in the book, are lifeless and boring. The younger of their group, and a female that’s introduced later, are interesting, but by the time they got development it was too late. Likewise, the Chimerae, the militaristic group of caste-based genetically-created humans, have interesting elements to them, but not enough time to develop and I honestly forgot about the characters, since they faded away in the story over time.

The build up in the book is towards the mystery of the Blue Men as they dig into a tomb of Menelaus’ design, while searching for the person they refer to as “the Judge of Ages”. This is the mythological term for Menelaus himself. All of this builds to the ending of the book, and…

…nothing happens. The planning for an attack, a revolution, goes nowhere. The book just ends. I get that it’s essentially part two of a five part series, but a complete story would have been nice.

Spoilers Over

Despite this, Wright’s writing is on point. He’s a fantastic writer with a great handle on metaphor and imagery. I love the use of dialogue to tell the story, especially in interviews of specific characters.

I would recommend this if you liked the first book.


 

See if you like my other posts!

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

 

Advertisements

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

The_Voyage_of_the_Space_Beagle_(book)_front_cover

Older science fiction can be a little tricky. Sometimes you find yourself bored while reading the yellowed pages of an old hard sci-fi novel, or become enamored by the simple pleasures of pulp covers and ray gun wielding heroes.

In the case of The Voyage of the Space Beagle, I found myself fascinated.

Here is a set of basically found stories crammed together in a singular setting: the Space Beagle, a human vessel using futuristic technology (from the 1930’s) to travel through space and explore galaxies.

The book itself is interesting and fun. I’ve found that van Vogt’s writing style is a huge plus to his ability to address philosophical and psychological concepts in science and apply them to specific characters. In this book, the main character is a scientist named Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, a Nexialist.

Nexialism was coined in this book, and it is defined as the science that mixed all other disciplines together to the benefit of the whole. Interestingly, it was almost prescient in its understanding of cross-disciplinary studies, but modern science is still fractured by fields of study.

There are certainly interesting ideas in the book, but ultimately it’s a simple exploration story with several aliens and confrontations. The final story I found the most interesting, with an enemy that has to be read to be believed, and Grosvenor coming into his own finally.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes hard science fiction or older science fiction. It’s definitely a good read!

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

BookEditingThere is no scientific consensus on when to stop revising a first draft and how to move into a second. Stephen King mentions it in his “On Writing” (and I find I’m the same), that he’s the kind of writer who always wants to add things into his stories.

That’s probably a good place to stop your first draft and go into your second.

Here are the ideas I had for moving from a first draft to a second:

1. You’re done adding elements to your story.

The first draft is where you add things, where you add your foreshadowing, your themes between chapters, your exposition, etc. Hit your points and once you’re done, that’s it. There’s a time to stop and a time to move on. In this case, hit what you need to and move on.

2. Read it for consistency.

The truth is, a first draft is never good enough. Oh, if you’re Hemingway or something you can try to get away with it, but chances are you need to make revisions.

And every writer needs to read what he or she has written.

3. Make sure it flows.

I would make this your last chance to add anything. A good bit of advice I got early on was to add or move elements so that the story hits something important every three chapters.

4. Begin removing the unnecessary.

Clunky dialogue, exposition that feels forced, and any number of added elements can be removed to make it flow. There’s some great books on how to do this, but just know it’s important to stop adding things and start taking them away.

A good rule of thumb is to remove about 10% of the word count. For long science fiction stories (my forte) you can go from 120,000 words to 108,000-ish.

Also remember, with this, to show don’t tell. That means a ton of what you have in narrative form shouldn’t be telling your reader what to think, but leading them to think it.


 

You may like some of my other posts about writing:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Revising Your First Draft Novel

Also check out my book reviews:

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Also make sure to follow my on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Sc48The story of a military recruit entering into a space program seems commonplace in science fiction these days. There have been any number of attempts, from Marko Kloos’ Terms of Enlistment to Ender’s Game, but the original “Space Cadet” novel was by Robert Heinlein in 1948.

This book was one of Heinlein’s “Juveniles“. These were books meant to appeal to a teenage boy audience and inspire scientific ideas. Interestingly, he also wrote three stories for girls with a female protagonist, but that’s for another day.

The main character is Matt Dodson, but he often takes a secondary role. In the beginning, we learn about the Patrol and their efforts in our solar system. We learn about aliens and colonists and the state of governments in the future. It’s explained early on that the Patrol exists to make sure war never breaks out again.

However, things are a little more confusing than that. 

Space Cadet is one of those books that grabs you half-way through and forces you to keep reading. I was hooked at that point and refused to put it down. The part on Venus is a little odd, and almost jarring. It was interesting to see the characters interact in a situation like that, but the main character stopped feeling like the main character at that point. Also, the ending felt a little underwhelming.

Ultimately, I would recommend this for anyone who’s interested in some of Heinlein’s earlier work; it was the second of his “Juveniles”, which culminated in Starship Troopers as his thirteenth attempted entry.

Revising Your First Draft Novel

typewriter_keys_letters_numbers_type_old_vintage_antique-1167460Writing a novel is an exhausting, time-consuming process. But finishing the first draft gives you an excellent feeling! Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”

I already did one post about when to completely rewrite your novel, but what do you do if you finish it and want to revise it?

Here’s 5 tips for revising:

  • 1. Read It

Captain Obvious, to the rescue! It’s useful to also keep a pad nearby and jot down any themes or images you want to reference later in the story. It’s a nice idea to have some idea of symbolism or foreshadowing as you go through.

  • 2. Correct Grammar/Spelling

Really, basic correction from the first edit. These sorts of things should be fixed right away to avoid wasting time in the future.

  • 3. Add a Blank Page Between Chapters

I owe this idea to James Duncan from Writer’s Digest. An excellent idea that really helped me! I highly recommend it, as it’ll help you go through your manuscript easily.

  • 4. Write Down any Plot Elements You Need to Address

Sometimes you have things you want to address that are missing. This is easily fixed! Figure out where you wanted to go, and jot it down as well.

  • 5. Create a Checklist for Updates

Now that you have both the symbolism and plot elements you need to address, get down and dirty and create a check list for this. It’s useful, because it helps you figure out what’s missing in the story.

From there, you have rewriting and creating your second draft.

Have a good time writing!


Check out my other posts:

Finding Your Writing Style

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Going from Outline to Manuscript

And maybe you’d like to read one of my book reviews:

Book Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

1632-Eric_Flint_(2000)_cover1632 is a hard book to describe. It’s often listed with “alternate history” and “science fiction”, but it’s hard to nail down; it has elements of both.

Eric Flint has created an entire “Ring of Fire” universe with 1632. He gave birth to a regular anthology of short stories, spin off novels, and numerous sequels all set in the same universe.

1632 is the story of a small town named Grantville, WV which gets transported back in time to 1632, during the Thirty Years’ War. These Americans find themselves in Germany during a period of royalty and aristocracy. They are also the most technologically advanced society of the age.

The event that kicks off everything in the book is not explained, but the characters must deal with it. Ultimately, what we get is a story that’s both interesting and fun.

Interestingly, Flint and his co-writers in the Ring of Fire series have had to track characters who were transported back in time, because they saw too many ex-military characters would appear as a result of an author’s needs.

I really liked this book. I honestly thought I already did a review of it, but I didn’t see one. There’s a ton of interesting elements, from Gustavus Aldolphus interacting with the Americans and coming to respect their point of view, to the town converting a vehicle to a “war machine” and seeing the locals’ reactions.

I really liked that last one, by the way. Flint made sure the reader understood that these 17th century people weren’t mindless. They understood that machines were able to move things, and when they saw the diesel-powered vehicle, they didn’t think it was powered by magic, but weren’t sure how it was powered.

Also of note was the way people thought back then compared to how people thought now. One of the characters remark that the Americans are all commoners who think like nobility. It was an interesting concept.

All in all, I would recommend this one to anyone who likes character driven stories and alternate history.


 

Check out my other blog posts:

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

5057689

Van Vogt is an author I was unfamiliar with growing up. I read the book Slan because of the nudging of a friend. He recommended the book because he thought A. E. van Vogt was one of the most under appreciated authors in science fiction history.

I’m inclined to agree.

This book was fantastic.

There were parts of Slan that felt dated. Certainly the lingo used and the manner of speaking in dialogue. The main part that hit me as dated was how Kathleen, the female tendriled slan, is used in the book.

Slan is about a society in the far future where a supposed war had broken out between humans and advanced humans called slans. As a result, there are slans who live as humans, hiding in plain sight, but humans are afraid of these advanced humanoids. Slans possess terrifying powers to read minds, and the main character Jommy uses his intellect to get creative with technology to advance this ability.

Jommy is originally introduced as a child, and the book follows him and Kathleen as they grow up separated and try to survive in this world of oppression.

By far the best aspect of this book is how any twists and turns the story takes. One chapter Jommy is living with Granny trying to survive on the streets. The next chapter, he is plotting how to steal a starship. It’s fantastic.

Of note is a fantastic ending, and a perfect bow to the story at the end.

If you like older science fiction, especially the works of Asimov or Heinlein, I would recommend Slan to you.


You might like some of my other book reviews:

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Or maybe my work on writing:

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

Is Writing Every Day Necessary?

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Finding Your Writing Style

StateLibQld_2_171951_Intimate_portrait_of_a_man_writing_a_letter,_1900-1910When we talk about “style” in regards to writing, it’s often understood to stand related to “voice”, “tone” or even “structure”. In reality, it’s a nebulous idea, springing forth from readers and writers alike with no concrete definition.

You know what it is to have a specific style, but it’s hard to nail down.

Here are some bits of advice I came up with to help you find your own unique style:

1. Read Authors You Like

This seems simple enough, but a word of caution: if you try to mimic another author’s style it could end up disastrous. It’s good to learn from the authors you love, but if you create a voice that’s an amalgamation of their word-choice and tone it could come off as forced. That leads to the next idea…

2. Sound Natural

Don’t try to sound overly intellectual, or overly relaxed. If you are an intellectual, embrace it as who you are. This idea is important, but it’s said so often as to be meaningless: fake it until you make it.

It’s reasonable to sounds as you are, and if you think you sound awful, continue trying. As long as you’re true to yourself, how you write doesn’t matter. Eventually, creme rises to the top.

3. Work on Word Choice

If you lack a wide range of words to choose from, then you lack the tools to construct a story that is truly your own. You must, must, must, must, MUST, work on vocabulary! It’s pertinent for all starting authors to get that under their belt, or they will find a lot of creativity with no ability to construct a sentence.

If you have a lot of words to choose from, then you’ll have the ability to choose how you want to sound. That’s how it works!

4. Write

How can you find your writing style if you don’t write? Continually improving yourself is the only way to improve your writing. That includes vocabulary, as I mentioned, and actually writing.


I hope that helps! You may enjoy some of my other writing posts:

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Dodging Derivatives

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

{9220CD7B-7CA8-4202-AF3A-620105706D98}Img400

I used the cover I was used to for this book, growing up. It caught my eye because of how goofy it looked, and as a kid I wanted to see other kids in science fiction situations.

Honestly, Orson Scott Card’s most well-known book is one of my favorite books of all time, so it’s worth going through as a book review.

The main character is Ender Wiggin, a “third”. In this society parents are typically limited to two kids at a time. As a result, kids who are “thirds” are disrespected and treated poorly. Of note are his two siblings: Peter and Valentine. Peter is a kind of sadistic sociopath, while Valentine is a kind and loving person.

The story starts with Ender being tested for his capabilities. He is enrolled in battle school to learn to fight the “buggers”, aliens who apparently attacked Earth long ago, and Ender does progressively well. There’s a cast of interesting characters from across the planet (this was released in 1985, and one of the characters is from the Soviet Union). Of note are the zero gravity games, and their mechanics. Then, the twist at the end is widely regarded as one of the best in science fiction.

Critical reception was fairly positive. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a rare achievement.

I think my only problems with the novel have to do with the characters. Ender is interesting enough, but Peter is purely evil and Valentine purely good. I always hated that. Real people aren’t like that, and maybe you can argue that from Ender’s perspective that was the case, but Peter should have had something redeemable about him.

Likewise, I take issue to the 3/4 mark in the book, when Ender is established at battle school and they start to throw whatever they can at him to beat him. At that point it felt like there was little to no tension. Then, moving him to another kind of school with other characters felt pointless (at first). There was no tension in the simulated fights, because they were simulated to the character. He wasn’t risking anything by fighting simulations.

Overall, I hope you don’t take away that I dislike this book. It’s honestly one of the best science fiction books I’ve ever read. I have recommended it to friends who aren’t into science fiction and they loved it. It isn’t perfect, by any means.

(NOTE: Card himself has come to be something of a pariah in the science fiction community. I have no interest in his political opinions, and as such am reviewing this purely on the book’s merits. However, I think context is important: Card is a devout Mormon. As such, he has taken the Mormon position on homosexuality and gay marriage, and though I may disagree with him, I won’t burn his books because of it. )

Once again, I highly recommend Ender’s Game for anyone who is interested in science fiction.


 

Check out my other reviews!

Book Review: “The Lost Fleet” Series by Jack Campbell

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Also check out my posts on writing:

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

When To Completely Rewrite

Also make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

science-fiction-1864571_960_720

My background was originally in philosophy. Science fiction, while my preferred fiction choice, wasn’t what I wanted to do in college. I pushed myself to study philosophy because I found the ideas interesting. Yet, the career prospects were null and the hobbyist possibilities the same.

In thinking about philosophy in science fiction I think about the short story from the July 2017 issue of Apex magazine: The Turing Machines of Babel by Eric Schwitzgebel.

One day I may review the short story, but I mentioned the story on my twitter account. In the mean time, let’s talk about philosophy in science fiction. There are a few possible ways to incorporate a philosophical question:

  • 1. Directly asking the question.

You could, simply, have a character wake up one day and ask, “is there a god?”

It’s been done to death and often feels forced, but it’s a possibility.

  • 2. Indirectly answering the question.

Instead of making your main character or side characters ask the question, have them deal with an outsider who wonders about why they do a certain thing, which is tangentially related. So, instead of asking “is there a god?” you could have an observer watch the characters perform their actions and ask “do they do this for their gods?” Make it assumptive, and instead of answering the question of “is there a god?” we deal with the moral argument for god’s existence, for example.

  • 3. Showing a world where the question isn’t asked.

If you want to explore the question “how do you know what you know?” Then show a world where it’s all just assumed and no one questions themselves. In this way, you create a reality in the mind of the reader that you can explore and confront. How do these characters know what they know? Is that right?

  • 4. Showing a world that explains the question and your answer.

This is how The Turing Machines of Babel did it, in my opinion. The universe was explored in the story, with its explanations and questions all laid out in how the universe was constructed. Coming to that universe was the main character, and everything was explained through his research and understanding.


 

Well that’s a few examples and suggestions. I hope it helps!

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and check out some of my other blog posts:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman