C. G. McGinn

Writer

Ramblings about Books and Writing

Filtering by Tag: books

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

I’ve read a lot of great books lately and have done little to tell you about them. I’m going to start with the last book I finished and work my way backwards. By the time I get to Neil Gaiman’s, The Graveyard Book, I’ll probably sum it up with one line, two words: It’s good.

Empire of Silence might as well take place in the Warhammer 40K universe, if 40K had a sex drive, and passion beyond the whole ‘grim darkness of war’ bullshit.

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Empire of Silence has a libido. It’s grown a pair, yet remains grim and dark and veering on the brink of war. There’s depth to the characters, a heretic-seeking clergy, noble houses of every shape and color, palace intrigue, gladiatorial events, xenocide.

It’s science fiction that often feels like high fantasy.

Marlowe is an arrogant sheltered protagonist that ultimately finds humility from his experiences outside of palace life. Don’t get me wrong, he still maintains his prickish mannerisms, but he’s seen some shit—he becomes: dynamic.

It’s the first book in the series. The next book, according to the all-knowing Amazon isn’t due out until July, so you have some time. It’s a long read, but Samuel Roukin’s performance in the audio version is amazing, bitter, and yet—soothing, like a dry bottle of wine, or a kick in the teeth.

Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier

There are far too many, gee-wiz, oh wow, the Internet of Things fanatics writing about tech. Everything Silicon Valley comes up with isn’t great, but those who report on it would have you believe otherwise.

Adam Curry calls these folks, Tech-Horny’s.

I like nay-sayers in the tech industry—those who question the status quo. People like John C Dvorak, who was a columnist for PCMag for three decades, who ‘made the mistake’ of writing a column disparaging the 5G broadcast spectrum, and was unceremoniously fired. Read all about it here. And here is the damning article taken down from PCMag: WaybackMachine

This brings to mind a rather grim quote by the late Michael Crichton—spoken through the voice of the late Ian Malcolm:

Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something.
— Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
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Are there dinosaurs, in this dinosaur park?

Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

5G might not be as bad as an island full of dinosaurs, but the scary reality is: we don’t know that for certain. We don’t know what the invisible waves of cellular signals are doing to our bodies, just as we don’t know what social media is doing to our minds. Its all just cool and awesome and shiny and new, and we think…great!

Jaron Lanier has been working in the Valley since the early 80’s. He currently works for Microsoft. He’s one of the smartest tech guys I have had the pleasure of reading and in his own, optimistic way, he too is a nay-sayer.

In Who Owns the Future he says, ‘nay’ to our current social media setup—where the few (Facebook, Google, Twitter) make money off of the many (us). He proposes a new system in which the many can make money by charging for the data they create.

In our present, data is free but we are subjected to advertisements and any information the big companies of Silicon Valley can glean from us is bought and sold, often without our full understanding or consent.

In Lanier’s idealistic future, we are in control of what we share, and we get paid for doing so. I’m paraphrasing. Lanier uses a lot of lofty language to get his point across and I will probably have to read this book two or three more times to truly capture the elusive spirit of it.

Where Dvorak is a cynic, Lanier is optimistic. However what they both have in common is that they actually question the status quo in the tech industry—a very rich conglomerate of corporations that can literally get someone fired for not being lockstep with the current narrative.

Sounds like the plot of a grim near-future novel, only all to real.

The Man in the High Castle

My cousin Scott wrote three very excellent posts on his blog about the Top 30 TV Shows of the Decade. You should go check it out, then come back and keep reading. Don't worry, I'll wait.  

Oh, you're back. 

I was talking with him about shows that I like, and The Man in the High Castle came up. He was about 3 episodes into season 1 at the time, and I was about 5. I told him it was slow to start but he should stick with it. For me the show was beginning to pick up. I had no idea just how awesome it was going to get in the remaining few episodes of the season.

The show is like that unsuspecting old-person, who's sitting across from you, playing cards, when suddenly he stands up and punches you in the face. Strangely, you don't seem to mind the sudden fist-a-cuffs.

I don't often recommend a television show--at least not here, but The Man in the High Castle should be watched and hopefully enjoyed. It's very different from the book, although the character of Frank Frink is just as useless as his literary counterpart--if not more so. Frink was sort of the defacto main character of the novel and his story fell short. His scenes in the show might be the reason the first few episodes run so slow. Once the focus turned to Juliana, things begin to pick up. Her character is also better developed in the show. She's no longer merely a set-piece, but plays a very strong role in the plot.

I don't dislike the book, but in this instance the show is a lot better than the original source material. I have similar feelings on the Lord of the Rings.

I'm looking forward to Season 2, and hope that it keeps up the momentum. It's a very good show and has the potential to go in many different directions, or dimensions.

 

Lately I've been Reading

Not a very long post today. Here are 2 very different books that I have read recently:

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

Maybe subconsciously I planned on reading the Loom Tower by Lawrence Wright, right before September 11th, but I hadn't meant to do it--if that makes any sense. I was looking for something nonfiction and the book had been burning a hole on my Audible wishlist.

It was an emotional read. It was a frustrating read. It was a read where you hoped for a different outcome but knew the ending long before the account began.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This is a YA Fantasy about thieves. But the book does not read like like YA. It's more adult than YA. The characters, though described as being teenagers, have experiences well beyond their years. This may have been one of those cases where Bardugo wrote for an adult audience, but her publisher felt it would sell better in the YA market.

I really enjoyed the book and have already picked up the next one in the series on Audible. I don't know what the sub-genre is officially called, but the Fantasy-Thievery sub-genre is one I'm happy to see more of. Authors like Bardugo, Lynch and Weekes are but a few that I have read, and all of them I greatly enjoy.   

 

Roger Debris presents, History

Reading Books:

The vid has nothing at all to do with "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova, but it was what came to mind when thinking of how I would write this entry. The Historian was written in a unique way, which at first will sound like a somewhat gimmicky way to write a story, but was executed really well in this particular story. The story is written as a series of diary entries, letters between characters and research material. The story begins with a 1st person perspective main character in her 50's recounting her early teenage years. But even these parts of the narrative are read as if they were part of a memoir.

The book is about vampires.

Specifically it's about Dracula.

And to break it down even further it's about the half-monster, half-historical figure made famous in Bram Stoker's novel, which was also written as a series of journal entries and corespondents.

I remember putting hundreds of copies of this book onto and off of the shelf in the "Literature" section at a now defunct bookstore, so I didn't expect this story to follow the same trends common in genre fiction. And it didn't. The book focused heavily on the history of Dracula the man, and of his realm in the Carpathian Mountains during the 18th Century.

The main characters, all heavily embedded in the camp of Science, were forced to come to grips with the reality that indeed, the Dracula of history had much more in common with the vampire of story and superstition.

I enjoyed this book but I felt that the last 100 pages were when the book really got good and I wished the earlier parts could have been like the later. This might have more to do with my own preference to genre fiction, and those last 100 pages were very much like a vampire story than hard lit. 

Writing Books:

I'm thinking about starting a Character Blog. This would be separate from this blog, which, despite what you may think is about a real life person. If it develops into something, I'll publish it as it's own work. Regardless of where it goes, it will be a good exercise in character development. It would also be a good way of giving you, the reader, a taste for how I write and what I write about. I realize that this little endeavor is based on a lot of talk on my part, with very little concrete proof of my talents. Unless you're part of my writing circle, you really have no idea what the hell I'm doing besides, well, this. This will either help entice or repulse you from my work. Regardless, you'll know what you're getting yourself into.

The link will be posted on the site's homepage soon. I'll also update this entry with a link should you be reading this after-the-fact.

In other news, Part 1 of the story is almost complete. I've probably said this before but it's much closer than it was the last time I said it. I'm on Chapter 6, and it will probably be the last Chapter of  Part 1. Of course, I think I might have said that about Chapter 5, so who knows.  

Up Next...

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

and

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Finding the Momentum

Writing Books:

The character of Aryel Lessard should have been one to come easy for me. Anyone how has gamed with me, from MMOs to pen&paper RPGs would know that a version of this character has been lurking in the echo chamber of my mind for close to a decade. But maybe since she had been around for so long that I stopped actually thinking about her. By 'thinking' I mean, putting some analytic thought behind who she is, and not staring dreamily into space, occasionally letting out carefree sighs while sucking down chocolate-covered strawberries.

I had to actually do some thinking when it came to creating the Basilisk because up until the start of this project, his formidable presence had not set foot into the hallways of my mind. What he wanted in this life I had thrown him in, and how far he would go to get those things were established, and written down. I had answered the questions that needed answering. By the time I started writing him into the story, I knew what made him tick.

With Ary, I'm still sort of finding that out. Which sucks when you've written an entire first draft and are just realizing one of your principal characters needs to go back to character development school. It feels kinda like a soldier being sent off to war when the commander realizes that he never learned how to shoot. I don't know. Maybe it's different. 

But Ary is a far better character now than she had been a week ago. And, until the beta-readers tell me otherwise, I think she's come a long way sicne the 1st draft of the story. It's not been easy, but it's been an experience I'm glad to have gone through because I've learned a great deal by going through this process. I used to write a 1st draft of a chapter, revise it, and then call it good. But it's not good. There are a lot of questions that need asking. I've written more revisions of just the beginning portion of Chapter 2 than I care to count. But it's important. I need to see what works and what doesn't. Yes, it's discouraging to not have all the answers when I sit down to write. Sometimes sessions feel as though I'm just spinning my wheels, but it's all important. It's all necessary. In the end I think it makes for better characters and hopefully a better story.

And it's important to keep even what you don't use. Because you never know when I scene might come in handy elsewhere. 

Reviewing Books:

Not going to write a review this week because I'm just under the 5-hour mark on finishing 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I want to see how it ends before I put my thoughts into words on the screen.

I used my 2 credits from Audible to get John Dies at the End by David Wong, and The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. Chris Samson recommended John Dies to me. Though I forget if he said to read the book first or see the movie. I remember him saying that the two complemented each other.

The main character of The Rook is a woman who is a high-level operative of a secret clandestine agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. My hope is that she is an example of a strong female character that I can hopeful gain insight from. We'll see. Dan O'Malley's only written one book according to Amazon and he may very well be as bad at writing woman as I am. But he's published and I'm not so he's probably doing something right.

 

Look alive, Sunshine.

The editing and revision process of the "Dream" story is going very well. Considering the sheer amount of work that is need to turn the 1st Draft into something ready for prime time, my awesome beta readers are more like alpha readers with what they've had to deal with.

They've been kicking my ass though and that's a good thing. When this is all over I think I'm going to have to 'make [them] a cake or something'. Perhaps subscribe them all to Omaha Steaks.

Since I discover while I write the 1st Draft, I basically told myself the story. The  plot comes out in an out-of-order way, characters are either really well thought out or cardboard cutouts, and settings are either over or under developed. But by the end I have a better idea of the story then I did before this all began.

I kinda feel that the revision process is where the most grueling work begins. Writing a story is easy, presenting it in a way that doesn't sound like the ramblings of a lunatic is hard.

To give you an idea of how it's going. In the 1st Draft, Chapter 1 was 2,803 words. In the revision it is just under 4000 words. That was the result of listening to my beta readers and establishing plot points right at the beginning that weren't fully realized until much later in the writing of the 1st Draft.

I always knew this story would be a series. By this point I know that it will probably end up being 3 books. Together the series will resemble a 3 Act play...or the original Star Wars movies. 

Finally, I resubscribed to Audible. I've never been a fast reader but I greatly enjoy books. Might as well listen to them. With my 1st two credits I got "Ready Player One" and "Snow Crash".

RP1 got good about halfway through, after the author stopped 'telling' me what his story is about, instead of showing me scenes and character interactions.

And maybe casting Wil Wheaton as the voice of the novel was ultimately not the best choice. I'd like to think he'd be a pretty cool guy to hang out with, but he's typecast as somewhat of a conceited prick. Again, he's probably cool in real life, but seriously, he 'sounds' like a high and mighty douche-bag. So when he, as the voice of the narrator-protagonist bestows upon me the virtues of the nihilistic mindset of Internet subcultures, popular in the comment section of Gawker, and splattered across the walls of Reddit, it comes across as sounding preachy. And, staying true to form, any opposing viewpoint is instantly dismissed by the hive-mind by labeling it: Bullshit.

To me this flaw in the book relates back to 'show' vs 'tell'. I, the reader was being told how it is. Period. Were I shown the culture of this polluted dystopian society on the edge of annihilation, where a 3D graphically intensive virtual reality version of the Internet is somehow able to run on solar energy, maybe just maybe I wouldn't have felt as though the author had an agenda. (On a side note, I wonder how much electricity is required to run just one of Google's data-centers, and could it run consistently on solar power?).

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Again, it wasn't a lousy book. The story, once it got going was good. By the end I really felt for the characters. Setting the scene needed work. And I feel that I can say this because it's what needs the most work in my owe story.

Snow Crash, on the other hand was awesome for 99% of the book. I felt the ending was too sudden. Where the ending worked was that it was very open-ended. I, the reader had the responsibility to determine what happened next, who lived and who died. This was fine. I don't know how I'd have ended it. But it felt incomplete to me, from the final line of the story to the sound of a different narrator informing me that, "This has been an Audible Production of, Snow Crash, but Neil Stephenson..." I was like, "That's it!" and then after a moment I thought, "well, OK, it works."

And today I began 1Q84 which is over 40 hours long! You would do well to expect another book review from me, 40+ hours from now, staggered between commutes to and from work.  

All-Time Best Books or All-Time (in my opinion)

Ok. Been away for a little while. I didn't leave town or anything. Just couldn't write. Anyone who works with me will tell you that the first two weeks of school are probably the most difficult. There are no winners, people! Whether you're a teacher, a janitor, or a lowly member of the IT Department, you're pretty much going to double-down on a Marine Corps Hell Week. This year was unusually rough compared to other years. 

On top of that, my last post left a rather unflattering image of a seething Comic Book Guy and perhaps alienated the geeks in the audience. To this I say, "Nerds, my people, lend me your ears! For I do not loath all of you! I merely ask that you relax when it comes to the things you're passionate about. Life's too short. "


Anyway, down to the meat of it.  

Had a great conversation about books with a coworker today. Her daughter is currently reading Misery by Stephen King and it sent me back to when I was a young impressionable 13 or 14 year old, when I brought The Stand, another awesome book by King, to youth group and got an ear-full from the youth pastor. I read a lot of King back then. The Stand is probably my favorite of his work, but The Dark Tower Series comes in a close second. If I were to group Stephen King books in order of CGMcGinn awesomeness, it would go like this:  

1. The Stand

2. The Gunslinger (Book 1 in the Dark Tower series, duh.)

3. The Wasteland (which is book 3 in the Drk. Twr. series) 

4. The Green Mile (I read it first in a serialized form and had to wait each month for a new section of it to come out. The suspense that came from waiting was insane). 

5. Wizard and Glass (Drk Twr. 4)

6. 11/22/63

7. The Shining

8. Cell

That's just books by King. You have to be in a Stephen King mood though, to read Stephen King. The Stand gave me crazy nightmares when I read it. I think if I read nothing but Steven King, I'd probably have the same feelings I have toward George RR Martin's "Game of Thrones" books.

And while we're on the subject, A Game of Thrones is definitely on my list of great reads. All the well written prose, the suspense and surprises, and character development found through the entire series can be captured in his first book. A Game of Thrones really could stand on it's own. Everyone should read the first book. They can probably skip the rest if it isn't their cup 'o tea. I can sum up the rest of the series by saying that, a lot of shit happens, a lot of people get the shit end of the stick, and a lot of people, good and bad die. 

Favorite "Sci-fi/Cyber-Punk series about a dystopian future where people live in cramped squalor, and hackers travel through cyberspace hacking a ruling class of corporations, gangsters, and artificial intelligence demigods".  Obviously it's William Gibson's Neromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. If you have not read these books then you are a sad and pathetic individual and should feel the shame I am sending through the interwebs directly to you, yes you...sitting there, waiting for a hotpocket to finish in the microwave. I see you. You disgust me! You also need to read Neromancer and all shall be forgiven.

Fav 'hard' sci-fi would be Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I have a feeling that Ender's Game is on a lot of peoples lists. It's sort of a big deal. 

Other books that are kind of a big deal and should be read are: 

1984

A Brave New World

Flowers for Algernon

Philip K Dick wrote a lot of stories and books that became big movies that you've probably seen. He wrote Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and more recently, The Adjustment Bureau, (just to name a few). Another book that he wrote that also became a movie, though it did not receive the critical acclaim as Blade Runner and Minority Report, was A Scanner Darkly. Keanu Reeves stared in the movie version, (not the book), along with a drugged-out Robert Downey Jr. (who probably wasn't acting at the time). I enjoyed the movie and I absolutely LOVED the book. Dick was heavily influenced by the drug culture of the 1970s and A Scanner Darkly was a unique look at an interesting fusion between the culture and science fiction. 

This is running long, so I'll end with Kurt Vonnegut Jr's "Cat's Cradle" and "Slaughterhouse 5", as well as "Breakfast of Champions, " which was adapted into a horrible movie starring Moonlighting's, Bruce Willis.

I'm sure I missed a lot of other great reads that are also in the collection. Should a discussing happen to occur below, I'll probably share more.