Review

Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton

It was early 2004.  I had just signed a deal with Five Star to publish Goblin Quest.  This would be my first published fantasy novel, hopefully bringing me one step closer to actually Making It As A Writer.  With Five Star being a small specialty press, I was on my own when it came to blurbs.  So I e-mailed a few people I knew.  On a whim, after reading one of Wheaton’s blog columns about gaming, I wrote him a quick e-mail.

Six hours later, I bounded away from the computer, grabbed my wife by the arms, and said, “Holy @#$%, Wil Wheaton said he’d read my book!”

Not only did he read it, he provided my favorite blurb ever, calling Goblin Quest “Too f***ing cool for words!”  He also hooked me up with John Kovalic, who went on to provide another blurb.

It’s hard to put into words how much that meant.  I was a nobody in the writing world. I had friends signing deals with major publishers, and I was with a press that might sell 500 copies if I was lucky.  I felt like a fraud, and I was terrified people were going to find out.

Having Wil Wheaton agree to read the book, and his follow-up e-mails saying how much he enjoyed it … well, it didn’t make the crazy go away, but it helped.  It helped a lot.

So now it’s five years later, and I finally got my hands on Wil’s book Just a Geek [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], a collection of blog posts and original material chronicling Wil’s decision to leave Star Trek, his efforts to find work in Hollywood, the struggle to balance career and family, and his eventual decision to give this writing thing a try. 

I’ve read his blog for years, so I knew he was a good writer, and I fully expected to enjoy the book.  What I didn’t expect was how much I would relate to the stories he shared.  How many of you writers out there can connect to this:

The hundreds of adoring fans I’d hoped to see did show up . . . when people like Kevin Smith and the cast of the short-lived Witchblade took up temporary residence at tables near mine.

Yep.  That could be me at one of several group booksignings I’ve done next to folks like John Scalzi or Mike Resnick.  Or how about:

I would often be one of the final two or three actors to be considered.  But consistently coming in second or third was actually worse than not making it past the first round of meetings.  It was like scaling Mount Everest, only to die within sight of the summit . . . over and over again.

I think every writer goes through this stage, where we’re getting “Almost, but not quite” rejections and going bugnut insane trying to figure out why we can’t make the cut when we’re so freaking close.

There were other pieces that jumped out at me.  Wil mentions legal battles with his stepsons’ father, and the overwhelming lawyer bills that come with them.  (Been there, done that.)  He writes about choosing bewteen going with his family on a vacation or staying home in order to make it to auditions.  (Some of you might remember when I missed half of my family vacation in order to make the deadline on Mermaid.)

The point is, it’s an aptly-named book.  There’s a blunt honestly to the writing.  You don’t feel like you’re reading about a celebrity; you’re reading about a guy who, like most of the folks reading this review, is just a geek (albeit one with 10,000 times as many Twitter followers as most of us).  If writing is about creating a connection between author and reader, then Wheaton is a damn good writer.

If you’ve read his blog, you know Wil Wheaton can write.  Just a Geek shows he can do it at book-length, tying individual stories and blog entries together into a larger story, one which starts with Wil Wheaton trying to Prove to Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn’t A Mistake, and ending with Wil Wheaton, Author.

The book comes out in paperback at the end of this week.  Check it out.

Truthseekers: Welcome to Blackriver, by Rob St. Martin

I started reading Rob St. Martin‘s Truthseekers: Welcome to Blackriver [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]  on the drive back from vacation.  I finished it fairly quickly, and immediately jumped back into revision madness, so it’s taken me almost a month to actually post a review.  Bad Jim.

This first Truthseekers volume is a collection of intertwined short stories centering around fifteen-year-old Ashley Bennett.  When Ashley’s parents are murdered, she has to leave Toronto and move to the small town of Blackriver to live with her older cousin Mark.  Over the course of the book, Ashley begins to uncover secrets about her parents, her cousin, and herself.

I joked with Rob that the book reminded me of Buffy, only without the angst of the last few seasons.  Imagine Sunnydale as a backwater Canadian town, and you’ll start to get a sense of the book’s vibe.  Blackriver is located on the junction of several ley lines, so naturally all sorts of supernatural trouble ensues.  Ashley and friends go up against vampires, witches, ghosts, secret societies, and cow tippers.  Evil cow tippers.  Not to mention the thing that killed her parents…

It’s a fun, easy read aimed at a YA audience.  (I enjoyed it too, but there are those who’ll argue whether I qualify as a grown-up.)  Ashley’s secret is a fascinating one.  I saw it coming, but that doesn’t matter; I still like the implications about what she is and what she can do.

I liked the format overall.  It was nice to be able to read in bite-sized chunks, advancing through the larger story one self-contained adventure at a time.  Though there were a few times I’d start in on the next story and think to myself, Wait, why aren’t you guys doing more about X from the last story?

I only had two complaints.  The first was that some of the stories started slowly.  There’s a pattern of following Ashley through some of the mundane aspects of her life before we get into the weirdness.  I can appreciate the contrast, but after a few stories, I found myself wanting to skip the first few pages and jump ahead.

The second issue was with the ending.  I didn’t expect the book to wrap up every single loose thread, but I find it ironic that while the individual stories are self-contained, the book as a whole leaves you hanging. Though perhaps that’s a good reason to mention that Truthseekers 2: Birthright [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is also available?

Every time I try to figure out how to wrap up this review, I keep coming back to the fact that it’s a fun read.  Likeable characters, a good balance between the serious and the not-so-much, and an overall arc that has me curious about book two.

Rob is also on LiveJournal as Talyesin, and has posted the first chapter of the book at http://talyesin.livejournal.com/501876.html  Check it out.

Transformers 2: The Defacing

Amy and I snuck out yesterday to see Transformers 2 while the kids were at their cousins’ place.  (Please note – this was Amy’s suggestion, not mine.  Because my wife is that cool.)  Currently, the movie is getting trashed in the reviews.  21% at Rotten Tomatoes as of this morning.

But you know what?  I liked it.  It’s silly, over-the-top, with problems ranging from a cartoon plot to Prime’s face fetish, but like the first movie, that’s not the point.  You go in with low expectations, turn off your brain, and enjoy the spectacle of giant robots pounding the crap out of each other.  I thought some things worked better this time around.  It was nice to actually get some personality from Starscream.  On the other hand, sometimes Michael Bay’s idea of “personality” is problematic in the extreme.

Next up: the spoilers, including points that worked and didn’t, and a deeper look at Mudflap and Skids.

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The Sleeping God, by Violette Malan

The Sleeping God [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Violette Malan is a nifty book.

As heroic fantasy goes, this book has a fair amount going for it.  Well-built world and mythology that fits together rather well, badass mercenary protagonists who are more than just caricatures, a sprinkling of secrets and intrigue, and of course, a sleeping god.  Our heroes are mercenary brothers* Dhulyn Wolfshead and Parno Lionsmane, who take a job escorting a young girl back to her noble house but soon find themselves targeted by an ancient menace.

This is not the nifty I want to talk about.

What I loved about this book is the portrayal of Dhulyn and Parno’s relationship.  This is a partnership in every sense of the word, built around a core of love and trust.  As mercenary brothers, the two of them are bound to one another in a relationship as sacred as marriage.

Most fiction tends to show us the beginning of relationships, the eagerness and the passion and the fumbling and clumsiness as people learn more about one another.  All too often, this leads to fairly predictable tension and conflict, misunderstandings and mistrust.  The Sleeping God brings us a more mature relationship, and one of the healthiest relationships I’ve encountered in fiction.  They talk to each other.  They trust one another.  They’ve got each other’s backs.  They’re romantically involved, but the romance isn’t a neverending font of angst and drama.

I asked Malan about Dhulyn and Parno, and she responded:

“So often relationships, especially in fiction though not limited to that, seem to be based on the people not telling each other things.  This is so often the basis of the relationship in romance novels and soap operas, for example (and consequently on the part of living people who think that’s how they’re supposed to act). My idea was to have two people who simply told each other what was on their minds instead of making a hullaballo about hiding things from each other. Of course, it did mean that the tension and the conflict had to come from elsewhere, but I think the story was the better for it.”

Don’t misunderstand.  Malan doesn’t spend the whole book preaching about healthy relationships.  What she does is show us the advantage of Dhulyn and Parno’s partnership.  Individually, each of these fighters is pretty bad-ass.  But put them together and they’ll whoop anything you care to throw at them.

I also liked that the characters go beyond being “just” fighters.  Dhulyn is also a scholar, hunting for new books and theorizing about the evolution of children’s songs.  Parno is … well, that would be telling.  Suffice it to say, he’s also more than he first appears.

It took me a chapter or two to really get into the book, and the plot itself may be familiar to long-time fantasy fans. Mercenaries and ancient gods, dark priesthoods and scheming rulers … there’s almost an old-school fantasy feel to the book.  But then, I enjoy old-school fantasy 😉  I’ll definitely be grabbing a copy of book two, The Soldier King [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].

For those of you who’ve read Malan’s work, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  To the rest, what do you think about relationships in fiction?  What are you tired of, and what would you like to see more of?

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*Brothers is used as a gender-neutral term.  Dhulyn is female, while Parno is male.

Jim C. Hines