Patron Blog #1: Creation

(The following is cross-posted from Patreon. If you don’t know what Patreon is, basically it’s like an interactive Kickstarter, except that instead of funding one big project, you pledge a certain amount per creation, as much as you’d like to give, to support artists who are creating anything you can imagine. I’m trying this out as a way of gaining feedback and motivation to write my novel, and hopefully get a taste of what it’s like to actually make money for my art. I’m not trying to make a living on Patreon – not yet at least – but this is a great starting place for me. If you like what I write, or you like my music, or you just want to support me creating something in any way, you can become a patron and get access to a lot of neat stuff.)

patreon blog

I’ve always created stories.

As a child, the way I had fun was to wander around outside, on my own, using my imagination to create big adventures. My first inspiration was and continues to be video games, and I still remember when I was seven years old, running around the back yard with a stick in my hand that could be used either as a sword or a gun, whenever I needed it, and creating stories about my favorite video game characters.

The first game to ignite my imagination was Final Fantasy VII. I loved this game in a deep and profound way that can’t honestly be described. The music, the scenery, the vivid story hooked my attention and my imagination and never let go. I used to draw the characters on paper, then cut the pieces of paper out and use them as toys and have them battle. I would go outside and grab a stick, and sing the battle music and I executed turn-based combat all by myself, playing both the player character and the opponent, in what I’m sure was a hilarious sight to behold.

As I grew older I continued to play this way, and it’s the way I got out my creative energy. I never wrote down the stories that I made up, which started out as fanfiction, long before I knew that fanfiction existed, and even long before I knew that there were OTHER people who also loved Final Fantasy, Sonic the Hedgehog, Zelda and Mega Man the way I did. When I played with my toys, I created platformer video game style levels for them to hop around and pitted them against enemies in video game fashion. When I was thirteen, my method of play didn’t change, in fact it evolved. Now the stories I made up were a little more complex. There were villains with motivations, there were relationships between characters, and I even started to come up with stories that, even though they were heavily influenced by video games and television, were still my own.

At fifteen I continued to play this way by myself, only it was much more conspicuous to be seen waving a stick around and talking to yourself, especially with the emotion of someone acting a character on stage, so what I began to do was just go on long walks, and see the scenario in my mind, and speak the characters’ dialogue under my breath. When I was seventeen and started to enjoy listening to music, I would create dramatic music videos that often involved fight scenes between characters in the games I loved, or even my own characters.

I’m twenty six now, and I still come up with my stories this way. If I have an open space where no one can see me and a stick, I will indeed pick it up, use it as a sword, and engage in my own RPG style combat against imaginary enemies, create characters and soliloquize from the perspective of villains or protagonists. I also take copious notes and write a lot of scenes out of order, with the result being that many of those scenes no longer make sense in the stories the way they are now.

The first time I sat down to write one of my stories I was twelve. Well actually, technically the earliest story I can remember writing was a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction when I was in second grade. My mother still has the paper. I also wrote one in third grade about James Bond, in the style of the Nintendo 64 game Goldeneye. But the first earnest attempt to write an actual book, a real cohesive story, was when I was twelve. It was a fantasy story, intended to be an epic in the style of Final Fantasy. The concept was that the story took place in a world which had once been devastated by a great flood akin to those in various religious mythologies (indeed, the first thing I sat down and wrote was a prologue that occurred during the Christian Biblical flood), and a certain demon who could take the form of a great leviathan had survived the flood, and was now out to kill a young man whose destiny it was to vanquish him.

Not the most novel idea, but I still say that it wasn’t bad for a twelve year old. I didn’t get very far with the story, but it stayed in my mind and continued to evolve. I created more characters as time went by, added subplots. The main character’s brother was killed in the opening scene, but when I started listening to My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade, I decided that he had faked his death to protect his brother. When I started listening to Queen, I added a scenario in which the main character was thrown into prison in a gladiatorial coliseum, and created a character named Dexter to help him out of the situation, and funnily enough Dexter actually survived and is now a character in the novel I’m writing. When I became interested in choral music I created a mournful scene in which Dexter lamented the death of his lover (no longer a part of Dexter’s character in the new novel, by the way).

All of this played out in my head, very little was written down. And this is the way my stories have always been. Pages and pages of dialogue are improvised by me and most of the time I never write any of it down. It’s still the way I’m most comfortable writing, although now I’ve learned to either record myself speaking, or take notes as I’m talking.

Every idea spirals into a series of ideas, and eventually they start connecting to one another, and then there’s an entire story, complete with subplots and character arcs and relationships… but it’s all in my head. I speak the characters lines when I’m in the shower, when I fall into depression and I feel lonely I play a scene in my mind of two of my characters cuddling and falling asleep. These stories are a part of me, and they go with me wherever I go. These characters exist. And I want other people to see them.

Music is probably an important part of everyone’s life, in one way or another. But the funny thing is, I actually hated music (that is, pop/rock music, anything you might hear on the radio or on a CD) until I was a teenager. My mother actually commented to me how weird it was that I didn’t like music, and I did ultimately start getting CD’s (the first one was In The Zone by Britney Spears, the second war The Very Best of Cher), but I hadn’t developed any kind of passion for music yet. But over time I realized: I DID have a passion for music and I always had, it’s just that it was all video game music. Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and theme songs to television shows, I LOVED that music.

I started learning to play piano when I was sixteen, because I wanted to learn how to play a song I really liked (it was Axel F from Beverly Hills Cop, as remixed by Crazy Frog). My chorus teacher taught me to play the song and I instantly wanted to learn to play others. The second thing I learned were the opening chords to Roxanne by The Police (simply because that was the nearest songbook on hand in the chorus room), and then of course one day I realized that Final Fantasy songs could be played on piano, so I brought him the sheet music to one of my favorites, the Final Fantasy VII battle theme, and watched him play it. I was amazed. I was really, truly hearing the music, in real life, coming out of a real instrument.

From that point there was no turning back. Video game music was why I learned to play piano, and as I grew up and discovered Tori Amos, Amanda Palmer, Imogen Heap, Amy Lee and other artists who use the piano to communicate their music, I learned to play their songs, and I learn more about how to play every time I play one of their songs.

And that’s the thing. I’ve always thought that I couldn’t be a writer or a musician because most of my ideas aren’t entirely original, they’re borrowed. I borrow my story ideas from Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, I borrow my musical structure from Evanescence and Tori Amos. I’ve always thought to myself, “Well yeah I like to play music and write, but no one would pay for it, I can’t actually be a real artist, because everyone will see right through it to the sources from which I pulled.”

But I didn’t realize that everyone pulls from everyone else. No ideas are entirely new, and in fact most of the best stories are retelling of mythological stories and campfire adventures, with characters who are archetypes. Some of the best musical pieces in history are variations on themes from earlier times. Good artists create using borrowed ideas as well as their own ideas, and what comes out is something unique that no one else can create in exactly the same way as that artist created it.

Everyone’s voice is unique. Their vocal ability, the playing of their instrument, and the way they write their poetry and their stories, it’s unique to them. Neil Gaiman says, “Tell your story in the way that only you can tell it.” Every artist fights against directly copying their inspirations, and it’s terrifying to see something you’ve created and know that a part of it’s skeleton is borrowed from another artist. The bones holding together my stories come from more places than just my own imagination, and the chord used to keep my songs going don’t come from my mind alone.

But that’s okay.

What’s important is that the creation happens. What’s important is the warm, beaming pride I feel when I look at the screen and see the words that came from me. Their origins may have come from other places, the ideas and the concepts might have been borrowed, but those ideas were churned through my mind and I created something that only I can create. Sometimes it’s better than other times. That’s okay. Kesha says “You have to give yourself permission to suck.” And it’s true. No one becomes a great writer by starting out writing something brilliant, and no one becomes a great musician by composing their master work on day one. But the important thing is to KEEP CREATING.

So that’s why I’m here. I’m here to create. I’m here to write the novel that’s been growing and living inside of me. I’m here to write the songs that I sing to myself, and to recite the lyrics that I hurriedly copy down on sheets of papers, sticky notes, and the notepad of whatever device I’m holding.

I want to share it with you, and I want to know that you hear me. I want to hear your ideas about what I’m creating, I want to know what you think.

Everyone is going to die. Most of us are afraid of that. I certainly am. But it helps me to know that I can create something that will be here after I’m gone, a record of my thoughts. A story that talks about the things that are important to me. Characters who address the things I’m afraid of, the things I long for, the things I wish were true, and the things I hope will become true.

There is much work to be done. There are more details to go into and more specifics to explain. But this is where it begins.

The simple explanation is: I’m writing a fantasy novel. I write poetry, I write fiction, I want to write a nonfiction book about my experience with religion and maybe even an autobiographical book of stories from my life. I play piano. I sing. I write songs.

This is the first step.

If I keep going, I might be a real artist one day. Someone who wakes up in the morning and does what they love.

That is my dream. That is my wish, and my goal.

Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for listening.

Let’s get started.

Advertisements

2013: My Literary Journey

I look so ditzy in this picture.

I look so ditzy in this picture.

At the beginning of this year I made myself a list of goals. I failed most of them. However, one of them was to take the Goodreads reading challenge, which is a feature on the aforementioned website where you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books in a year. I wasn’t sure what number I should go with, as even though I own a great amount of books, I’m kind of a slow reader. My initial pick was 30 books, but at the last minute (being minutes ago) I changed it to 20, and realized I had actually already reached my goal! Is it an empty victory because I kind of rigged the system to fit my needs? No, because I still read 20 books, and just like on virtual pet sites, reading books increases your intelligence. Usually.

And here are the books I read in the year 2013.

Novels

301082

Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris

This was an easy read, and an absolutely ridiculous book. The author has kind of made it clear in interviews about the series that a large part of why she writes the books is money, and it really shows. A telepathic waitress falls in love with a Civil War veteran who also happens to be a vampire. She’s also being courted by a shapeshifter who stalks her as a dog. Good things about this book: it was cute, it was fantasy, and it was interesting. Bad things: the stereotypes were drawn with magic marker. There are two gay characters in the book: the first one we meet is a man infected with AIDS who is trying to infect a vampire with it and kill him. The second is a flamboyant drug dealer who sleeps with vampires and steals their blood. Both of these stereotypes (the AIDS-spreader and the drug-dealing slut) have been bad images that have been superimposed onto gay people for decades, and I find it extremely ironic that this woman has won some kind of award for gay rights because she includes gay characters in her books. Don’t get me wrong, there are gay villains in the world, but I don’t think you qualify as a gay rights activist if your gay characters are harmful stereotypes and your supposedly accepting protagonist basically says several times in the novel that she just overlooks the fact that the gay people she knows are gay, as opposed to actually being an accepting person.

In addition to this, the novel is a parody of everything southern, and unfortunately it seems to take itself totally seriously. The character development is lacking, as there are something like thirty characters in the book and apart from the main four or so, each gets about two lines of dialogue, and once Sookie and Bill sleep together, they never have another conversation for the rest of the novel, they just fuck on every other page. I find it very disturbing that Sookie reveals to Bill that she was molested by her uncle (oh look, more fun stereotypes), and Bill’s immediate reaction is to get all turned on and force himself on her, before leaving her asleep to go and murder her uncle. It’s just… really ridiculous. And I will finish my thoughts on the book thusly: Elvis Presley is a character in the book. The real, actual Elvis Presley. He is a vampire. I am not making this up. Moving on.

14935

Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen

Ah, now onto something a lot more classy. The first Jane Austen novel I read was Pride and Prejudice, and I was surprised by how hilarious I found it and how extremely enjoyable it was to read. I was expecting the same experience from this book and I got it to a lesser degree. The story was basically structured the same way as Pride and Prejudice: a woman meets a man who seems perfect, he turns into a complete jerk and breaks her heart, and then comes back to redeem himself, all while a wise elder sister wags her finger from the corner, before she herself falls madly in love with some charming devil herself. Well, it’s mostly the same thing here, but my issue is that the story is not as witty, the characters are not as funny or interesting, and the jerk who comes back to redeem himself actually proves himself to be even more of an asshole that we thought. For some reason, only the reader understands this, as the characters all forgive him his terrible behavior for no real reason. In the end, some marriages are thrown together for the sake of getting everybody married off and they all live “as happily as can be managed.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is actually a fantastic novel, it’s just not as good as I was hoping after having read Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s writing style is engaging and fast-paced, she doesn’t bother with minute details and entire months can pass in a paragraph; she gets on to the action and the dialogue and in every chapter there is a clear event that changed the characters or progresses their story in some way. Sense and Sensibility is a great novel, just maybe not the greatest Jane Austen novel. Still, I recommend it for someone interested in getting started with classic literature, although I might think Pride and Prejudice would be a much better starting point.

256683

City of Bones
by Cassandra Clare

And here we go. I was roped into reading The Mortal Instruments by people who worked with me at my old job. Let me simplify it: City of Bones is cute. It’s even interesting and entertaining. It is also completely unoriginal. Every single plot point is ripped from Final Fantasy and other video games, anime and manga, and other fantasy novels. It’s a hodge-podge of fairies, vampires, werewolves, and angels, thrown into a boiling pot. It made for an okay read, but I was very dissapointed by the lack of originality, and I saw every plot “twist” coming a mile away. It incorporates such overused favorites as: the best friend becomes a vampire, the brooding sexy guy is violent and abusive, the female protagonist is an idiot, and that old favorite, the villain is the protagonists father. Let’s also mention that there are cringe-worthy names like Lucian Greymark, the werewolf, Raphael the vampire (a direct rip in appearance and personality from Armand of Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles), and of course the evil demon-hunter amassing an army of nasty creatures to wipe out humanity Nazi-style: Valentine. It’s just… yeah.

1582996

City of Ashes
by Cassandra Clare

And then I kept reading! Shame on me, I know, but by this point it has been revealed that the two main lovers are actually siblings, and now their passion has become the incestuous love that dare not speak it’s name. What bothers me isn’t that they’re siblings, it isn’t that they continue to make out after they learn that they’re siblings, it’s that the description of the back of the book describes Jace as Clary’s sexy newfound brother, and kind of says up front: “Oh yeah, you ready for some steamy sibling love?” It’s just… unusual. “Unforseen” plot “twists” in this edition: the bad guy is gathering not one, not two, but three instruments of great power to summon forth the armies of hell and take over Hyrule, I mean the world, the best friend vampire becomes a SPECIAL vampire that can go out in daylight, and yet oddly after months, his mother notices no change in him whatsoever, and the main character is a magical savant with like, seriously extreme UBER ANGEL POWERS you guys, and they come from her talent as an artist, because she’s like, really misunderstood and stuff, like for real. Oh, and did I mention there’s a gay warlock who literally shits glitter? Like, glitter actually flies off of him every time he blinks or gestures or walks across the room. It only gets more predictable from here, folks!

3777732

City of Glass
by Cassandra Clare

And here we go, the third installment! Will all of the loose ends be tied up? Will the girl finally fuck her brother/lover and get it over with? Will we hurry up and kill the Hitler/Voldemort-style fascist enslave-everyone-to-do-my-bidding bad guy and go whee whee whee all the way home? Well, yeah. Pretty much. We learn that the protagonist is in fact NOT related to the love interest, who was born into one family that was killed so adopted by another who was killed and raised by the villain and given the same name as his real son who he kept in a cave around the corner who actually DOES want to fuck his sister and who is supposedly “killed” but will CLEARLY be coming back. Confusing? It’s alright, don’t think about it too hard, no one else did. The bad guy summons the power of the Triforce Mortal Instruments to get his one wish granted, and in a “surprising” twist the protagonist gets there FIRST! and she of course wishes for the bastard to die and for her loverboy who he just killed to come back to life. Both happen. There’s a party, we dance we kiss we shmooze we carry on we go home happy, whaddya say? As far as I’m concerned the series ends here. It ties up nearly every loose end, and any continuation of the series from here is clearly a marketing campaign. Though it was riddled with trite cliches, these three books were actually alright reads, just don’t go looking for any serious fantasy or deep, thought-provoking writing.

17160703

The Order of the Poison Oak
by Brent Hartinger

Here we go! The first winner of the bunch. Like it’s predecessor Geography Club, I read this book in one sitting, and it made me cry just like the first one did. The lovable gay protagonist of Geography Club goes to summer camp and of course meets a buncha hot boys he’s crazy for, but the first one turns out to be a total player and in the end he not only helps a group of kids who are burn survivors to regain their self-confidence but he actually falls in love with fellow camp counselor and they have nice happy fool-around time on the lake. It’s all very sweet, and I really, really enjoyed it.

17365069

Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies & Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies
by Brent Hartinger

Unfortunately, though the second Russel Middlebrook installment was as great as the first, the third one totally nosedives into barely interesting. There are some standard gay teen lit moments: parents being cold, unfeeling homophobes, priests trying to turn gay kids straight, and a love triangle between the ex-boyfriend and the new boyfriend, but for the most part this book was just boring. I wasn’t moved, I was barely even interested. The romance between Russel and his new boyfriend just disappears, he has a dramatic moment with his ex that we don’t get an explanation for, and the book is divided into two stories: the filming of a low-budget zombie film and all the teen drama that entails from Russel’s point of view, and the same thing from his best friend Min’s point of view. After you read the climax of the story less than halfway through the book, you have to go right back through the exposition again from another character’s perspective and claw your way to the other side of the climax to see what really happened. I almost couldn’t get myself to finish it, it was that much of a let-down.

215542

Pendragon: The Rivers of Zadaa
by D.J. MacHale

I have really loved the Pendragon series since I read the first five installments as a teenager, and I was very interested to know what happens next. It seems to be the consensus that this book is less intense and more formulaic than the ones before it: the main character, a dimension-traveling hero arrives in a strange new world, undergoes the trials therein, uncovers a plot that will lead to the worlds destruction, has a Rocky-like training montage, and goes to save the world, all while tiny bits of the overarching storyline are peppered in. At the end of this book though, I just didn’t feel like I could handle waiting four more books and going through countless, ultimately pointless sidequests, just to figure out what the hell the real story is, and what’s underneath everything, so I spent about another hour or so just flipping through the remaining books in the series to see what the hell is really going on and how things end. For the record, it was a little dissapointing, but I doubt I’ll ever return to this series to read the fully fleshed-out versions of the final four installments.

3124249

A Lion Among Men
by Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is one of my favorite books. It literally touches on every single aspect of what it is to be a living being: it covers sexuality, religion, politics, and the dirty underbelly of who people really are, all with a lot of really fun and witty wordplay. Well, after the success of the Wicked musical, Maguire returned to write a sequel called Son of a Witch, which, apart from having some legitimate gay romance, no matter how fleeting, was very lukewarm and felt like it was riding on the coattails of Wicked rather than continuing the story. I think the premise of writing sequels to Wicked almost ruins the point of the book itself, because it ends when the Witch dies. We know she’s going to die. We know the story of her life is a tragedy. There isn’t a happy ending tied up with a bow, there are huge existential questions and an ending that really makes you think. The sequels kind of ruin this atmosphere.

That being said, A Lion Among Men wasn’t bad. It’s centers around two characters: Brr, also known as the Cowardly Lion, and Yackle, an enigmatic figure from the original book who hovered around the edges of Elphaba’s life. I won’t give away the ending, but all of the parts about Yackle were very interesting and gave a broader view of the events in Wicked. As for Brr’s life, it was mostly his self-indulgent soul-searching travels across Oz (like Liir in Son of a Witch) and some kinky cat sex. It kind of sets up for a big finale in the final book, and yet it also kind of drops off right as soon as the action ends. An enigma of sorts, but interesting nontheless, and hopefully the final installment will make all this buildup worth it.

9747424

The Queen of the Damned
by Anne Rice

As with A Lion Among Men, this novel is a sequel to one of my favorite books ever: The Vampire Lestat. Anne Rice’s style is mostly unchanged: vivid, gorgeous descriptions of old castles and echoing cathedrals, intense, blood-soaked, heart-pounding passion, and the ocassional run-on chapter describing how frickin’ wonderful New Orleans is. We get it Anne, you really, REALLY like New Orleans. That being said, this book is actually the origin story for the rest of the Vampire Chronicles, it explains how the vampires came into existance and reunites a lot of lost loves with one another. Though there is a sense of danger in the terrifyingly powerful Queen Akasha, the most interesting parts of the story are the flashbacks to the origin story of the vampires, which takes place in ancient Egypt. Though I didn’t love this book as much as The Vampire Lestat, and I am STILL upset that there’s an entire character arc that takes place in one chapter, introducing a character, explaining her life, and then killing her at the end, it definitely feels like the missing chapter and the final piece of the puzzle laid out in Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.

18750

Beauty’s Punishment
by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

This is the sequel to The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, a sadomasochistic erotic take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. I feel compelled to mention, however, that the Sleeping Beauty tale is only used as a jumping off point for the story, because after the prince awakens the sleeping beauty with a kiss and a few impassioned thrusts into her virgin sex, the story has nothing whatsoever to do with the fairy tale, that I can tell at least. In fact, there really is very little plot in the Beauty books, it’s mostly a series of intense erotic fantasies brought to life in an ornate sexual dreamworld, kind of like an endlessly pounding orgasm that goes on for page after page, with very little over-arching story. As such, it was a good read for those qualities, but not because of a strong narrative and a deep back story; like with the first Sleeping Beauty book, this is more of an exploration of the human psyche, emotions and sexuality. There are metaphors for the human experience aplenty, particularly that of losing one’s virginity and growing as a sexual and emotional and living being. It’s a beautiful book, but it’s also grade A masturbation material, and I think it’s meant to be such.

Biographies

12868761

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
by Jenny Lawson

This is the hilarious life story of Jenny Lawson, who you may also know as the Bloggess. To put it simply, I frequently laughed so hard that I couldn’t hold the book still and had to stop reading just so I could laugh. The woman is hilarious, and she not only talks about her insane upbringing but also about the realities of dealing with severe, crippling anxiety, death, family, and growing up. Also there are some taxidermy animals and a proposal story that involves both suspicion of murder and kneeling in broken glass. Enough said.

18464216

Bossypants
by Tina Fey

Tina Fey’s autobiography was unfortunately not nearly as entertaining as Jenny Lawson’s. It describes Tina’s childhood and career as an actress and writer, the development process of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, with a few hilarious anecdotes here and there. Unfortunately the hilarious anecdotes get fewer and fewer, and though the tone remains light and funny throughout, I stopped laughing after the first half of the book and was just ready to be done. But it was still funny, and I’ll definitely give her that. Also, there’s an example of a “racy joke” somewhere in this book that is the most horrifyingly funny thing I’ve read in a while.

Graphic Novels

3451948 3451949

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Parts 1 & 2)
by Arika Himekawa

873 868

Fullmetal Alchemist (Vol. 2 & Vol. 3)
by Hiromu Arakawa

Sonic Genesis

Sonic: Genesis
by Ian Flynn

1696_400x600 25099

The Sandman: Vol. 1 – Preludes & Nocturnes
The Sandman: Vol. 2 – The Doll’s House
by Neil Gaiman

I’m not going to go into detail about all of the graphic novels I read, because frankly they are what they are. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time parts 1 & 2 were just slightly altered versions of the story of the original Nintendo 64 game, the second and third volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist were exactly the same story that you may have seen in either version of the anime, and Sonic the Hedgehog was, well, Sonic the Hedgehog. He got the Chaos Emeralds, transformed into Super Sonic, and beat Doctor Eggman, what else is there to talk about? I do want to mention Sandman by Neil Gaiman though, because this is a story I’ve wanted to read for a long time, and I finally got the chance to start. It is downright terrifying and extremely interesting, it builds a huge cosmology of gods and fantasy creatures that actually manages to be completely original while still borrowing heavily from various mythologies, and eventually I’m going to get to the character who shares a lot of personality traits with Tori Amos. I highly recommend Sandman, and I look forward to continuing the series, but as for the rest, I could take them or leave them, to be honest.

I mean, I've really gotta start reading some of these goddamn books.

I mean, I’ve really gotta start reading some of these goddamn books.

And there it is! The twenty books I read in 2013! Yeah, I know six of them were graphic novels but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m just proud of myself for having gotten so much reading done this year. However I really feel that I didn’t gain all too much from reading so many books, I was mostly just trying to rack up numbers for my year end score, and it felt more like a marathon or a competition than the actual experience of sitting down and reading and immersing myself in a story. As such, I think I will take the reading challenge again next year, but lower it to perhaps 12 books, one for each month, or even something lower, so that I can take my time and really absorb what I’m reading. I enjoy reading, but not enough to constitute reading 30 books in a year, at least not yet.

Review: Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi – Outcast

Outcast

Outcast (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi #1)

 Author: Aaron Allston
Publisher: Ballantine Books/Del Ray
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-345-50907-9

I consider myself to be a casual Star Wars fan. I enjoy the movies, Episode III being my favorite. I’m not as big a fan of the original trilogy as I am of the prequels, but I have seen all of the films at least once. I think to genuinely be a Star Wars fan you have to be a child of the 1970’s or have grown up with the movies being a part of your life, and that simply wasn’t the case with me. Science Fiction is not my all-time favorite medium of storytelling, but as Science Fiction goes, the Star Wars series is pretty much one of the Holy Grails (along with it’s longtime rival, the completely unrelated Star Trek series).

I was hoping for an adventure with this book and I was somewhat satisfied by the end. The novel begins a new series within the Star Wars expanded universe that follows up the events of the last sub-series, called Legacy of the Force, which focused on Han and Leia Solo’s son Jacen becoming the Sith lord Darth Caedus and attempting to take over the galaxy, and Fate of the Jedi centers around the aftermath of the civil war fought to protect the galaxy from Darth Caedus.

The book revolves around three plot arcs: the first involves a young Jedi Knight and bachelor named Valin Horn, who begins to perceive everyone around him as being impostors and goes on a rampage to attempt to uncover the truth. It becomes apparent once the story switches perspective, however, that Valin has developed a mental disease, and he is quarantined by the government and imprisoned in carbonite.

The second plot centers around Luke Skywalker, who is taken into custody by the government for failing to recognize the instability in Jacen Solo that led him to become the tyrannical Darth Caedus, and is subsequently exiled from Coruscant and relieved of his post as Jedi Grand Master. Luke and his son Ben begin a journey to retrace Jacen’s steps across the galaxy and learn what caused him to turn to the dark side. The final plot concerns Han and Leia Solo, who attempt to help Lando Calrissian discover what’s causing immensely powerful groundquakes that are destroying the mining planet Kessel, of which Lando is the main business proprietor and defacto ruler.

These three events unfold almost entirely apart from one another, and just when I began to become interested in the events of one, the story immediately shifted back to another plot and I had to begin involving myself with another plot again. The first hundred pages or so of the book do a great job of setting things up, and conversations between characters are very enjoyable: Allston’s characters are witty and likeable, and the exchanges between Luke and Ben are my favorite moments of the book. However, I found the most interesting plot to be the one concerning Luke, and there’s very little of it in comparison to the others. Luke and Ben travel to the planet of Dorin to learn from the Baran Do sages, a force-based order similar to the Jedi, about a force technique that Jacen Solo used to protect himself from detection and conceal himself in the force, but every time they begin to make progress on what Jacen’s experience with the Baran Do was, the story switches back to another plot.

The plot concerning Valin Horn, and the attempts of Han and Leia Solo’s daughter Jaina to discover what led him to his state of madness and to break him free from government imprisonment, is somewhat hit or miss. Jaina’s secret relationship with the leader of the Galactic Empire is interesting enough, as is the involvement of her government-appointed observer who happens to look exactly like her deceased brother Anakin, but I didn’t really feel very compelled by the whole thing. I kept wondering what was happening with Luke on Dorin, and since I never read the Legacy of the Force series, I wanted to know more about Jacen Solo and his turn to the dark side.

The third plot on Kessel was painfully slow and at times entirely boring. Han and Leia spend a lot of time exploring underground tunnels and shooting their blasters, flying around in the Millenium Falcon while thrilling battles take place, and I just wasn’t interested in any of it. They went to Kessel, discovered what was causing the earthquakes, detonated some bombs in a network of caverns and got out of there. The only interesting thing that happened during this plot was when another of the solo children, the very young Allana Solo, begins to hear a mysterious voice through the force that she presumes is malevolent, but we never discover who it is or why the voice was communicating with her.

In fact, none of the plots wrap up at all, with the exception of Luke and Ben’s plot, which basically involves them putting a stop to a misguided group of Baran Do hermits led by an old Baran Do master, and moving on to their next destination. The only real action of the book for me was the confrontation between Luke and the Baran Do master leading the hermits, but the whole flying section with the Rogue Squadron was completely uninteresting to me, and the several vehicle chase scenes on Corsuscant surrounding Jaina were only mildly entertaining. Ultimately I liked the book, but I really only liked the dialogue, the action all pretty much went over my head and the plot didn’t wrap up at all, but left me with a few unanswered questions that I don’t particularly want to read through another book to possibly learn the answers to.

This is the second Star Wars novel I’ve ever read, and while it was well-written and it’s characters likeable and charming, the plot didn’t really involve me enough to want to continue the series. I may read the next book in the series, but I’m certainly not anxious to learn more, as the characters in the Star Wars universe that I like the most have already died long before the events of this story, and without Anakin or Yoda to keep me reading, I’m only somewhat interested in what happens next.

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars expanded universe and really enjoy the space battles and chase scenes the series is known for, you’ll probably like this book, but if you want an engaging science fiction plot with big reveals and twists at every corner, you probably won’t get much from this. Outcast is an alright setup for the Fate of the Jedi series and is worth it for the great dialogue, but you may have to grit your teeth through some of the action if you find blaster pistols and spaceships extremely boring.