Saturday, January 30, 2010

(Good Reads) Virtual Evil: Time Rovers #2

Virtual Evil: Time Rovers (Book 2) Virtual Evil: Time Rovers by Jana G. Oliver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While I thought Virtual Evil didn't quite live up to Sojourn, and while I found that it began rather slowly - it felt like a mid-book lull, paving the way before things explode - it slowly got its hooks into me and then got thoroughly under my skin. A tense, entertaining, enjoyable read.

In a lot of ways, I felt Virtual Evil was too obviously a Book #2. It picked up from the events of Sojourn with the sense that the reader should remember everything that happened in the first book. While I don't think everything needs to be recapped, I would preferred a few more refreshers. As aforementioned, it "hung" off the previous plot-points for a while without much forward motion.

Not related to sequel-ness, I also found some irritating technical issues: blatant info-dumpery and mid-scene head-hopping ... which is really a shame, because it undermined one of the best things about the book a little (see below). Until about two-thirds of the way through the book, the time travel element seemed largely incidental, though there were a few little references to it that were fantastic.

That is to say: one of Oliver's special virtues as a writer seems to be the ability to provide the reader with more information than any single character has, while effortlessly allowing you to keep track of who knows - or doesn't know - what, when ... and creating multiple layers of tension from wondering what's going to happen when X, Y or Z finds out about A, B, or C.

The Victorian period here is well-detailed and vivid, with an enjoyable interpolation of early forensics; the characters are intriguing ... the plot a labyrinth with cascading consequences that still continuously lead towards some logical (albiet, at the end of Virtual Evil, still somewhat veiled) conclusion.

As to those that mentioned the cliff-hanger: Y-E-S. I usually don't read a sequel right away, but I may actually break my habit here ... augh!

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

When it comes to issues with clients at work, it is not always my fault, so I need to stop feeling guilty, even when I'm the one getting yelled at.

On to writing stuff ...

Journal of the Dead: 3/4ths of the way through and making slow headway. There are some odd pacing things in this manuscript that disturb me - the story pacing is fine, but occasionally, there are several really short scenes in a row, usually because of travel / preparation time during which most of the entries would logically be brief updates. I think it's a weakness of the format, and I think the overall impact is minor enough that it's not a concern.

Almost finished with the free-write I've been expanding into a full story. This one, I'm concerned that I made it unnecessarily complicated. Did I need to make the main character sunsick? It adds to the stakes and gets the MC into a better position for the finale, but it also adds another character (a healer) and just generally makes the thing longer. Hopefully, if I can finish it and put it away for a while, I'll be to give it an honest eye and decide.

Scylla and Charybdis - about the same point as last week. Had a brainstorm about what to do with secondary character Upala, whose long intro chapter I had been thinking was unnecessary fluff. Now I've found how I'm going to tie it together. Really, I need to stop questioning my brain and let it do its own thing. Nine times out of ten, the problem solves itself. It's really weird having this sensation of an interior collaborator who rarely communicates with me, but always knows what she wants.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cosmic Cocktails

(My first Goodreads review, given 3 out of 5 stars)

Until I finished the last word of the introduction, I expected Cosmic Cocktails to have a more lighthearted, humorous, adventurous vein - a step away from space opera. For that reason, I was surprised when it started with a gritty, cynical tone ... darkly humorous, true, but the bar was not the friendly place I expected. The first story that really broke this mold was Favio deMarco, a little over a third of the way through.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection .. especially later on, it had a lot of heart and a lot of laughs, though there were several examples of lopsided pacing and somewhat confusing explanations.

A weakness in the anthology is that doesn't really seem to be in an ideal order. The first story is weak and sets a deceptive tone. The first several stories are all in first person. As previously mentioned, there's a lot of adventure and buoyancy that gets delayed until much later in the book. That said, "The Galaxy's Most Wanted" is a perfect closer.

A strength of the anthology is, with a few exceptions, every story felt as if it could have occurred in the same universe. Even if little details clashed, the stories seemed to create a cohesive big picture. (The stories that didn't still "felt right," they just had major setting details that contradicted the others.)

My personal favorites: On Unconfined Wings, I'm Not Ashamed and A Union Against All Odds.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Journal of the Dead current editing pass progress: over two thirds of the way through the manuscript (currently sitting open on page 82 / 121 waiting for my life to calm down enough to look it over). Working on the "scene of doom" and finding that it really doesn't read as being as long as it is ... thank goodness?

Had occasion to be surprised yesterday: arrived at a free write in a foul mood because I had an endless day, then lost power for just long enough to get cold, then couldn't get my internet back up and flurried in ten minutes late. Then I sat there and couldn't decide on how to interpret a theme ... which I myself had chosen.

With all that, you would think the resulting fragment would be complete garbage, but I actually came away with a very solid opening for a story. I'm satisfied and appreciative. Maybe my brain likes the pressure and just won't admit it ...

I've hit the point in Scylla and Charybdis where things start accelerating again. This subplot barrels straight forward into the full circle return to the station ... should be interesting. It occurs to me, though, if I'm trying to present an even-handed depiction of parallel societies, that one of the things I'm going to have to do is look at the length of each individual section and pare or expand as needed. Not that the word counts need to match exactly or that size (length) is all that matters, but a massive disparity is going to diminish the effect I'm going for.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two Stories

As sort of a counter-thought, I thought I'd mention these two stories:

After the comments on the last post, I was reminded to catch up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It was sort of late, so I only had a chance to read one story: A Serpent in the Gears, from the latest issue.

This is an excellent story, balancing an inward journey with outward adventure. The setting is intriguing with lots of (good) decorative flourish - even though I confess myself to not being all that thrilled with steampunk (it doesn't really push my buttons), it's a stylish take on it.

The second story is from the Cosmic Cocktails anthology I'm reading. It's entitled I'm Not Ashamed, by Greg Beatty, and while it isn't even my favorite story so far, it's a good example of a ruminating, slice of life, low-to-no plot story that I DID enjoy. (Don't read the following paragraph if you want to come onto this story with an unvarnished eye.)

The basic premise of this story is that aliens have taken over the planet and made humans their servitors. They derive a nasty amount of pleasure making them grovel / perform / make fools of themselves. A lot of the story is devoted to the illustration of this setting. Our narrator plays along with this one evening, telling childhood stories for the amusement of a pair of aliens until things get out of control, and he stumbles out in terrible shape. Then the reader finds out what's being implied before: parts of the farce were created to gather little nuggets of information against the aliens, in the hope of some day telling the right people, some day breaking free.

To conclude this summary: it worked for me.

Carry on.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I've been reading some recent fiction online, which is never a good thing for my state of mind.

Reading descriptions, I noticed a general predominance of contemporary fiction ... sometimes to the point where it was hard for me to even find a secondary world story to read. (Which I look for because it's more comparable to what I write, so gives me a better pulse on the market as I stand in relationship to it.) I don't understand the heavy skew. I enjoy both, but why is exploring the human state with cornflakes and corporate politics any more valid than exploring it through what happens (for instance) when a race of beings communicate telepathically?

The stories I read also had the characteristic that the story was diminished in favor of philosophical thought, extended metaphors and pure imagery. In one case, I simply found that the effect could have been much stronger if the story was shorter and more tightly focused on the core concepts. In another case, I found the lack of concrete details made the story something like an ice-sculpture: beautiful, but I didn't want to get too close to it.

Also ... what is the fascination with present tense? I realize that part of my reaction to it is personal: I spent a lot of time in online roleplaying games, where present tense is used pretty exclusively, so when I read present, my brain automatically goes "RPG session." But I generally find it has a distancing effect. I think if you're going to use it, it has to have purpose - for instance, the story needs to be told by the narrator AS it's happening. Or the narrator is an alien / child / otherwise has an unusual voice. Please don't just throw it on because it is trendy and cool. :-( I've only read a handful of stories where I felt the present tense added to a story, rather than detracted from it.

I see the craft in these stories, and I admire many of the turns of phrase. Believe me, I wish I could read one of these and go, "Wow, I want to write something just like this!" I suspect it would make my life easier. ;-)

But it scares me ... because I can't write like this. Because I pour my love into unfamiliar worlds, well-drawn characters and strong, driving plots (at least, I hope they are) created by the clash of the first two elements. Because I need momentum, I need an arc, to enjoy what I'm writing. I can't write stories that are events built around a musing.

If the things I keep reading are what fiction has become, then really, I'm a dinosaur. I just have to hope that I can sell to the novel market (where things tend to be more my speed) without major pro sales and then make my way into anthologies (also where things tend to be more my speed) by dint of that.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I was paging through old quotes I had in my files to add to GoodReads and found these I particularly liked:

Those who hear not the music think the dancers mad. ~Anon
Life is like music: it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule. ~Samuel Butler


I just got myself set up on ... I found the site through someone's blog, and it kind of intrigued me. I figured, since I often do reviews on the books I'm reading anyway ... why not?

Of course, my first pick is an anthology, which makes for a difficult review ... but amusing to me, for an obscure anthology randomly picked off my shelf, someone else has it on their currently-reading. Huh.

I also went through and added all the books I'm in (that are available on their system). I was nearly sick with relief not to find any negative reviews. Yes, I am that dorky.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


My poem with Every Day Poets has been assigned a release date: February 21. Believe me, I'll post a direct link when it's up. ;-)

Thursday Thoughts

Edit edit edit.

That's been my past week or so: lots of cleanup on the four pieces I finished recently and the short story I just sent out (see last week), with more planned.

Once the results for the F-W December challenge come out and I see how terribly I did, I'm going to tear back into my entry and edit heavily. Goals: punch up the humor (primary) so it sings instead of is squashed like a bug by me trying desperately NOT to be funny, and lay in a bit more foreshadowing as to the main character's change of heart.

I've found it bemusing how many people had a problem with the downer ending in this story. The vibe is a light, Hollywood romantic comedy (as one reviewer said), and I wanted to stand that on its head, but people really seemed to want Good Things (tm) for the MC and her fairy cohort. I do think playing up the humor so it's actively funny will make that pill easier to swallow, but I was surprised by the reactions.

Generally, I'm not an unhappy ending kind of girl. I tend to write longer stories, and I feel that all the blood, sweat and tears my characters expend ... they deserve the happy ending. It's often a bittersweet conclusion or a "Yes, but ..." conclusion, but I hate to go through a bunch of angst just to end on failure.

Interestingly enough, the short story I'm currently working on (my Jan challenge entry) also has an unhappy ending. I think I came to the realization it had to go that way as I was contemplating the main character's arc ... if you don't step up, if you take the easy way out, there are consequences. So yes, it was very necessary here.

I've done it a few times before, but most of the time, it's a surprise or an inversion ... the story seems to be moving along well, and then things go very bad. I guess there's just a limit to how much darkness I like as a writer ... but by contrast, Polestar - which starts bad and gets worse, leaving the MC on the wrong side of a no-win situation - is one of my favorite pieces. That one would be in circulation already, but I'm trying to sell its prequel first ...

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Farewell to Flesh

This story just sold to the next edition of Emerald Tales! It was written specifically for the Carnivale theme, and an offbeat interpretation of said theme, so I'm doubly pleased ... I was a bit concerned that I would be told I was reaching. But it was one of those weird quasi-dream inspiration things ... I had probably my worst bout of insomnia in 2-3 years, and the idea fully formed in my head while I was trying to knock myself back out.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

First post of 2010.

Didn't mean to be so quiet, but been kind of absorbed ... getting back into the work routine, had a New Year's Day wedding and a late-night gig the following evening. Wearing many hats. Looking forward to the resumption of my TV shows because there's nothing like mindless zoning out to help recharge the batteries.

Finished "Miles Errant" - an omnibus from Lois McMaster Bujold. Just fantastic. Now to get my hands on the next book ... it lies lonely and solo between this omnibus and the next.

Writing-wise, I spent most of this week working on what turned out to be a very long story - about 10k. I have the nagging feeling way too much of it is pure setup, though it's necessary to the course of events. I also realized that there are some things I'm just not comfortable writing ... I could feel myself twitching and turning my phrases to be as oblique as possible. I ended up setting the story in a world I'd used before - not a world I'd designed, but one that came up in writing the first story and seemed to fit this one pretty well.

Typed "Chapter Thirty" last night in Scylla and Charybdis. Anaea just got pinned as an imposter ... the story should take a wild leap forward from here.

Planning to edit my "worst day of work" short story for an anthology entitled "Music For Another World." Throw together a wedding that was a nightmare to prepare for and play with the idea of ghost brides and ... well, let's hope they'll buy it so people get to see. ;-)