Self-Published Review: Azure by Grant Palmquist

November 2nd, 2013

azure-palmquist Azure by author Grant Palmquist follows the story of Asher Cain, a government employee and pilot of police drone aircraft, until his own government spies on him and finds that his thoughts are no longer 100% in line with theirs, and they instead turn on him, forcing Asher to run from the government to whom he was so loyal. Still reeling from the loss of his wife and child, he comes to understand how tyrannical the government actually is and seeks to find a way to live outside the nation.

This novel was problematic for me, and to tell you the truth I’ve been trying to write an effective review of it for the past week but haven’t gotten very far. While I see several other reviewers really enjoyed it on some sites I frequent, for me it left out a lot, or pushed too hard at my boundary for suspension of disbelief. I also had issue with some philosophies expounded upon in the work, but I will get to that a bit further down. There was nothing particularly wrong with the technical writing aspects itself, I just didn’t find the story overly engaging.

While the idea is a good one, and right up my alley, the execution was what got me. The biggest problem I had was the lack of motivation for almost every character in the book – from our main charachter, Asher Cain’s, 180° philosophical change, to the motivation of the government, to the romance that develops between Asher and Autumn. Asher is shown in the beginning as a naive, and rather weak person, and I felt more connection with him as a character then, than I did when he all of a sudden turned into a brutal warrior, fighting against the system. I felt like Palmquist didn’t do an overly effective job of showing that change to the reader, or why that change takes place, and the reasons he did offer up fell flat. In fact, most of the notes I made about this book while reading it were about various characters and the lack of motivation for any the actions they were taking. There is one time in particular that sticks out in my mind where Asher is grappling with the best way to save as many innocent people as he can, but in the same breath, he has no problem shooting those very same innocent people. It just doesn’t add up, and not purposefully so.

The romance that develops between Asher and Autumn very much didn’t ring true either – Palmquist offered me nothing to show why or how they connected, besides a few long stares between the two. Within the span of weeks the characters are deeply in love, but there’s no simpatico of their personalities or wants or desires that the reader is privy to. In fact, Autumn is basically a non-character, she has absolutely no personality, strength, or personal philosophy, so the fact that Asher falls madly in love with her is either indicative of a deep character flaw in him (which is not what the author was trying to do), or just lazy writing.

I also felt that Palmquist skipped over too many parts in the book – we come in after Asher’s wife and child have left him, when it felt like we should have come into the story right as they were leaving. Likewise, when Asher has to run from his old life because of persecution by the big-bad government, he finds refuge with a band of other people who are living beneath the streets, but we skip over weeks and weeks where we should be making the journey with him while he finds his footing in this new world that is so vastly different than the one he has lived in his whole life.

There are also some laughable good guy/bad guy aim and abilities moments that really shook me out of the story; Asher learns to fly a hovering vehicle for the first time and is able to outrun trained police on those very same craft, as well as his stellar aim with a gun that makes him able to kill at will, despite the fact he’s never held a gun before. Likewise, the police are absolutely incapable of shooting him whenever they try.

I also took issue with the author directly (or almost directly) lifting quotations from Star Wars and Psycho and incorporating them into his dialogue. I’m not sure if Palmquist even realized he had done it – but both quotations are pretty famous ones, and that irked me.

Now for the philosophies that really didn’t jive with me: all the women in the book are extremely passive and meek, except for Asher’s wife, who we never get to meet, so she effectively doesn’t exist for the reader. At several different points, male characters, who are supposed to be the good guys, refer to “their women”, and refuse to let them go up above street level because it’s “too dangerous” for women. In fact, the only woman who was strong – Asher’s wife – ends up dead because of her beliefs and the fact she wants to make a better life for herself. What the hell kind of message is that?

Technically speaking, Palmquist is a great writer – sentence structure, grammar, and the technical aspects of language are used correctly. But there’s almost no flow or beauty to the words, and the story suffers greatly from it. To me, it read like somebody who has spent a long time writing in academia, rather than writing creatively.

So, all in all, 2 stars for the idea which really could have worked, and the technical use of language. It’s an OK book, but the philosophies towards female characters, and the lack of character development and motivations really make this work fall flat.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Making Me Happy #3

October 16th, 2013

Okay, so I took this off for a few weeks. I swear I will endeavour to do better in the future. Because there are so many good things damnit, I’ve just been preoccupied.

1. Jamie’s Joke Of The Week

    Jamie Hyneman presents a joke to you once a week via a little video. The only downside is that there’s currently only four up, but the upside is that means you can spend under a minute laughing at Jamie’s awesome jokes. The other upside: there’s more to come!

2. Patton Oswalt Walks Us Through His Crushes From The Whedonverse

    Patton Oswalt is pretty unabashedly a lover of the geek stuff. I am unabashedly a lover of the Whedonverse. Patton Oswalt is also a great writer, comedian, and general person to listen to. This interview also highlights a bit of unexpected self-realization on the part of Oswalt which is fantastic. I also love the idea of the Whedonverse personality test thing. Somebody get on that please?

3. Candlemark & Gleam

    This small, indie publisher is one I discovered via reading City of Devils by Justin Robinson. After spending all together too much time on their website, I came to realize I want to read almost every book they’ve currently released. What they do is so much up my alley that it’s almost kind of spooky. So, finding a small publisher that I can really get down with is definitely making me happy. You can visit their website and buy a whole bunch of their books here.

4. Ridiculously Awesome Saga Cosplay

    This image is from Comic Vine, a photo snapped of some unnamed person dressed up as Prince Robot IV from my current favourite ongoing comic, Saga. See the photo here. So. Freaking. Awesome.
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Parasite by Mira Grant (Parasitology #1)

October 13th, 2013

parasite-miragrant I had been wanting to read a Mira Grant novel for a while, ever since she made a bit of a name for herself with the Newsflesh trilogy (Feed/Deadline/Blackout), so when I got the chance to read an advance copy of Parasite I jumped at it. Parasite is the first book in a new trilogy, aptly named Parasitology, with the second novel tentatively scheduled for November of 2014 (no word yet on the third). I think this novel is being touted as horror, but for me it fell far more firmly into the sci-fi/thriller genres, really because I didn’t find it scary at all, but I’ll get into that a bit further down.

Set in the near future, only about fourteen years away, the parasite for which the novel is named is actually a hybrid intestinal tapeworm (D. symbogenesis) introduced into the human digestive tract in order to prevent, cure, and regulate a whole host of diseases that have been plaguing humans. The tapeworm, genetically engineered by the big bad corporation of our story, SymboGen, can do everything from correct your allergies to dogs, to regulating medication from within your intestine, to help fix major organ damage after an accident. It’s the wonder of medical technology, and very large swaths of the human population have willingly ingested the tapeworm in order to make their lives easier.

That is, until people with the tapeworm start coming down with “sleeping sickness”, the platitudinous name of a set of symptoms that involve complete cessation of motor control, speech, and rational thinking. That is, of course, until they start getting violent and attacking people.

Dun, dun, DUNNN (that was the scary dramatic horror music).

This kind of book sounded right up my alley. I love horror, I love parasites and gross medical-type things, and I’m always desperate to find horror novels I really love (because I find so many of them completely derivative, or just badly written, or both!).

Unfortunately, I can’t say Parasite checked the box for me in the “well-written” or “original” departments. Not to say this novel is really, really bad, I just didn’t find it very good. It reminded me a lot of The Crazies in some respects (that’s the original Romero movie, not that crappy remake which was crappy), and if you’re going to write a book that is really quite close to the present day, please, please get some of your scientific bits right in the story. I’m a big believer in the suspension of disbelief, and when I read sci-fi, everything absolutely does not have to be scientifically accurate. I will happily take a healthy dose of psuedo-science if written right. But when writing something so close to present day, which isn’t being written as alternate history, there’s some basic stuff you have to get right. There’s also stuff that was just wrong that really had absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever.

While I was reading this book I was constantly reminded that I was reading it. Meaning, the awkward wording, or slow pacing, or scientific inaccuracy that would rip me right out of the narrative. I can always tell how into a book I am, because the more I’m loving it, the less little notes I’m scribbling down. Parasite has a lot of notes.

Example: Grant spends about five pages talking about carnivorous plants, and while I’m sure this was an attempt at very clunky symbolism, as an avid gardener and carnivorous plant junkie, stuff was just wrong (like venus fly traps eating meat). It’s not hard to double check your homework and make sure that stuff you’re writing somewhat extensively about is correct. Hell phone up somebody from the local carnivorous plant society. Send an email to somebody at a university that specializes in them. Call a greenhouse that has a really good selection, at least one person there will know what they’re talking about. That kind of stuff really isn’t hard to get right.

I could even get over the leaps of faith I had to make while she was building D. symbogenesis (like a tapeworm being able to manufacture medications within itself and then excreting it into its host), but there were lots of instances of little things that didn’t make sense, not within the story and world Grant used for this story.

At one point, Grant writes that a dead body has zero-risk of being contaminated by anything. As if decaying flesh doesn’t have lots of microbial action going on. That’s just ridiculous. A decaying corpse has all sorts of squirmy bacteria and invertebrates doing the decomposition dance. Something like that is really easy to check.

I know, I know, I sound like some insufferable a-hole that’s picking apart bits within the book rather than looking at it at a whole. Wait, I have more.

Over the past year or so (maybe because I’ve been reading more review copies of books) I’ve come to realize that a real sticking point for me is a narrator with an inconsistent voice, and Sally Mitchell – the main character in Parasite, whose viewpoint we see through for the whole story, is wildly inconsistent, and I’m not convinced that was purposefully so. Sally was the subject essentially resurrected from brain death after an accident, thanks to her D. symbogenesis implant, and in order to have her extensive medical bills covered, the family agrees to have all costs covered by SymboGen on the caveat that they get to track her progress. Six years after waking up, she’s still undertaking routine medical tests, which she bemoans endlessly. However, when she actually goes in for said medical tests, she finds them so relaxing she actually falls asleep during things like blood tests and ultrasounds. That is inconsistent.

I also find Sally Mitchell to be an extremely weak person, constantly complaining, yet unwilling to do much about her situation. In fact, it’s a good halfway through the book until she finally even speaks her mind out loud, an attribute which I found entirely irritating.

While I get that she is unsure of herself because she feels new in the world – having complete amnesia before the accident – six years on after waking up seems like more than enough time to get a hold of yourself and trust when something feels wrong enough to warrant any kind of action on her part. She’s more insufferable because her inaction, than sympathetic because of her lack of assuredness in herself.

There were also parts of the book that I found repetitive and redundant. Sally Mitchell is plagued by “drumming” in her ears – her heartbeat when her blood pressure starts to rise thanks to stress or anger, or apparently almost anything. It seems like every five or so pages the reader is treated to a description of the pounding in her ears. We’re also treated excessively to her dreams of the “hot warm dark” and a rather silly description of the difference between “hot” and “warm”.

Besides my general distaste for the main character, it’s really a bunch of little things that perturbed me enough through the read that I kept being yanked out of the story in order to roll my eyes in an exaggerated fashion. Redundant over-explanations also abounded of medical procedures that Sally undergoes, and they lacked any sort of interest or furthering of the story, only serving to effectively slow the story down.

Which was my additional big-problem with this book: for a horror/thriller it’s extremely slow moving, with very little either internal or external action. It felt like Grant was commissioned to write another trilogy, and instead of thinking up a longer story that warranted such, she drew out a one-novel story into three. The ending of this book was predictable, and I saw it coming from far off, and while that doesn’t bother me in and of itself, the journey still has to be good. This one lacked any real interest for me as the story was so slow and repetitive throughout. The characters came off as rather stupid for not jumping on the wagon and figuring it all out a little sooner.

Having said all that, there are a few snippets in this book where there is some action taking place, and the descriptions of these are extremely effective and engaging. Grant can write, that’s evident by these sections, so I’m not sure why the rest of the book failed so miserably for me. For that reason alone I’m giving the book 2.5 stars – middle of the road, and I’m sure some people will enjoy it more than I did, there were just too many things wrong with it for me to overlook any one of those things.

I’m still out on whether I’ll read Symbiont, the second book in the series. Perhaps in a year I’ll want to give it all another go, but at this point Parasite didn’t hold enough interest for me in order to warrant continuing on with the series.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Parasite will be released on October 29, 2013

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Recap of EdmontonExpo 2013

September 30th, 2013

Predator CosplayThis weekend I had the pleasure of attending EdmontonExpo 2013 – my first time attending, and the convention’s second year running. The official numbers haven’t been released yet, but word is approximately 30,000 people attended – up from about 15,000 last year.

Run by the same folks that do CalgaryExpo (but not the same people that do Vancouver Expo and FanExpo, despite the name similarities), the conventions very much felt the same, right down to the signage, although I would say the Agricom (or Expo Centre – whatever, it’ll always be the Agricom to me) is a much better location. There just seems to be more room to walk around, and the BMO centre in Calgary feels clunky to have to navigate because of the way they have to organize the flow of traffic. I attended CalgaryExpo in 2012 and the explosion of people absolutely flabbergasted the people organizing it – so much so that the bit of a clusterfuck it created has now become legend amongst the Alberta Con-going crowd (I won’t rehash here, I had very little problems myself, but if you google “CalgaryExpo 2012″ you’ll run across it). The nice thing is, the organizers really learned a lot from that year, and not only did CalgaryExpo this year go much more smoothly, but the organizers applied that experience here, so despite the doubleing of attendance, EdmontonExpo 2013 was very smooth and organized.

I would like to see Edmonton Expo find a bit more of it’s own voice, rather than be CalgaryExpo Jr. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of CalgaryExpo and look forward to attending every year, but let’s give EdmontonExpo it’s own feel. What that voice is, is of course left up to the organizers of the two events – personally I’d like to see perhaps more of a focus on actual comics.

I understand the desire for all of these comic conventions to move more into the pop culture world – it gets them celebrities, which in turn sells more tickets, which in turn next year allows them to get bigger celebrities and sell more tickets.

Chad Coleman - Signing TableAnd I’m not pooh-poohing it all together – I got to see John Barrowman three times this year and the man is a consummate performer and one of the most joyful people there is to see live just talking. I skulked around Chad Coleman’s autograph line just so I could catch a glimpse in person – and while I love The Walking Dead, I was really much more excited to see Cutty from The Wire.

What I don’t get is the attendance of people in pop culture who don’t have anything to do with sci-fi/fantasy/horror. Sons of Anarchy? I’m not sure what that has to do with a genre convention, besides the celebrity appeal to sell more tickets. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me, but it does, because if we’re going to have a genre convention, shouldn’t we stick with people who are known within those traditionally “geeky” genres?

But, having said that, I want to see comics artists goddamnit. Big and small and everything inbetween. I don’t want them to be shoved off in one little corner so you have to wade through all the merch and celebrity sections first. I get really excited about my favourite comics people, and when I go to a comic convention, I really long for the spotlight to be directly on them. The celebrities are really secondary for me, even if they are fun.

So, I guess that’s my biggest hope for EdmontonExpo – more comics guests and creators. And more of a spotlight directly on them. But I could say the same with CalgaryExpo, and practically every other comic convention that has turned into a “pop culture” convention. There’s a balance that can be struck, and I think the organizers of these shows are really missing that.

But, onto the actual convention, shall we?

I must first state that I was sick all weekend, wicked head cold that somewhat hampered my ability to get really down and dirty with the convention. I certainly rallied and did a bunch, but there were a few panels I missed out on because I really was just so exhausted I couldn’t do anymore. That sucked, because I missed some panels that I definitely wanted to see.

Geoscience of Star Trek PanelFortunately, I did get to see some great panels, and I really do applaud EdmontonExpo on their panel line up this year – it was much better than CalgaryExpo. CalgaryExpo unfortunately completely missed the boat on having comics-oriented panels (most of it was spotlights on celebrities, which I can give or take), but EdmontonExpo had a fantastic line up of not only comics panels, but they did a selection of academic panels related to sci-fi which were fabulous. They had four – Geoscience of Star Trek, Market Trending in Comics, Parasites in Science Fiction, and the Linguistics of Klingon. I saw all but the latter, and they all featured people from within the academic world (all PhDs if my memory serves), and how their studies are related to these different subjects. Fascinating! While I loved the big old John Barrowman panel, these really left me thinking and gave me actual knowledge. They were definitely my favourite part of EdmontonExpo and I hope they continue with these in future years.

They also had a host of strictly comics related panels – pencilling, writing, indie comics, women in comics, etc. Really, really nice selection, and it was impossible for me to see them all. I was really ecstatic with their panel selection!

I also got some really nifty art, which is always my main expenditures at these events. I got to meet some artists I love, and probably walked many more kilometres this weekend than I care to count.

The cosplay was something that really stuck out for me too; I’m used to see a lot of comic book related cosplay, but here there was a definite majority of Manga/Anime and video game cosplay, which had me scratching my head for most of it, as I have a complete lack of knowledge of the Anime/Manga world. Although there was an Ood wandering the floor that I missed, and that I’m super bummed about.

It’s got me thinking about cosplay – I really like the idea of cosplay, but I’ve never done it myself. My sister is super into it – she always dresses up like some Anime character that I’ve never heard of, but the question remains, what would I dress up as? It’d have to be comfortable to walk around in all day, that’s a must. I’m there for a show, not a fashion show. So that really has left me with three options: Forever Carlyle from Lazarus, Kaylee from Firefly, and Leela from Futurama. Notice they all sport pants and a tank top. Next year I might actually do it too, but the real attraction for me for cosplay is making stuff. I like making stuff. And I’ve already signed up to help my sister fabricate an arm contraption to go with her steampunk costume for next year, so perhaps my desire to make something in that realm will be satiated that way. We’ll see how I feel come early next year.

All in all, EdmontonExpo was a great show, and I can say that most likely everybody who attended was very pleased. I’ll definitely be attending next year (they’ve expanded it to three days), and I look forward to seeing what they change, if they’ll keep their academic panels, and if they get some more comics creators and artists.

One of these years I’ll be able to meet Jeff Lemire, Ed Brubaker, and Greg Rucka goddamnit.

Here’s just a few more snapshots for you (click to embiggen):

Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan John Barrowman - Signing Table

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A Graveyard For Lunatics & The Little Sister

September 22nd, 2013

Oh it’s been about a week – I totally neglected to do my Making Me Happy – but one thing is for sure making me happy – Edmonton Expo is in less than a week! I’m really, really excited about their panel line up too, as where Calgary Expo this year fell down on a lot of comic book related panels, Edmonton Expo definitely seems to have picked up the slack, and I’m stoked!

I think what’s been happening this week with me is that life seems to have hit the point, after the big move (almost three months ago) where things are starting to stabilize. We’re finally getting back into the swing of things, and hitting the stride where things feel like they’re starting to settle down. Almost all the boxes are away, massive moving bills are almost 100% behind us, and something of a routine is settling in. These are good things.

It’s probably helped with the advent of autumn – temperatures are dipping here, and the leaves have started to fall. It feels like everybody is back from the hubbub of a busy summer and starting to roost for the winter. This will be my first real winter in years, and while I’ll definitely miss the non-winter of Victoria, there are many more perks to the fact that we moved here; I think I can start putting up with some snow and ice again (ask me again in a few months).

So I’ve been reading a lot, watching a lot of streaming shows (European crime dramas are the best), and playing a lot of video games. Just generally taking it easy.

The Little SisterYears ago I had watched Marlowe with James Garner (1969), which is based on The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler. This was way before I was as in love with Chandler as I am now (also before I made a point of reading a book first before a movie). Fortunately it was soon after that I started picking his books up, and it was (also fortunately) before I watched any more adapted movies from his books, thus not ruining it for me. The reason why I stayed away from this book for so long is because I knew the twists, and I knew the ending. While reading Chandler is always good for the pure wit of it, another part is how he pieces it all together and keeps you at least partially in the dark the whole time. This book was still a fun read, but I do feel like I missed out on the several “a-hah!” moments because I was aware of what was going to be revealed.

Apparently this is considered one of Chandler’s lesser Marlowe books, but I laugh derisively at anybody who says that. I’d probably point my finger at them too. There might be some sticking-out-tongue happening. Point is, I disagree. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still didn’t have much of an idea how it was all going to connect up – while the movie connected up many of the same dots, it did it without the intelligence of the book, and without the charm (it’s probably bad I find Marlowe charming, but dammnit, he is).

The visceral reaction Chandler must have had working in Hollywood blatantly comes through in this book, I can’t imagine how much he must have hated almost everybody that was around him. But if somebody can turn that level of animosity into a quick, witty, acerbic mystery, well, let’s just say they have my love.

Then again, it’s no goddamned mystery how much I love Chandler.

graveyardforlunatics What I’m reading right now is A Graveyard For Lunatics, which is the second in a trilogy by Ray Bradbury that pays homage to his love of pulpy detective novels from the 40’s and 50’s (but of course with a dash of magical realism thrown in, as Bradbury is want to do).

The first one I really, really loved. It was written beautifully (one of the things I love most about Bradbury is his use of language), the mystery – while not full of twists and turns, and was simple – was unique. It was a fun book, and it was really fun to see Bradbury write in a style that he isn’t overwhelmingly known for.

A Graveyard For Lunatics on the other hand I’m finding really, really flat, which I have never said about Bradbury before. Ever. It’s overly wordy (for a man who knows how to use language so well!) and it’s disconnected. I had to get about 30% of the way in for anything to happen.

There is a third in the series, and I’m sure I’ll read that too if I can find a copy. I’m hoping this one stays on track a little bit more, now that we’ve actually hit the mystery part, and I’m hoping the third book stays a bit more on the straight and narrow.

It’s always really disheartening when you find a book by an author you love that seems so uncharacteristically not up to their level. Kind of like when you’re a kid and you find out there’s no Santa Claus.

On the comic front – I have a goodly amount to catch up on, so stay tuned!

I also plan on blogging Edmonton Expo, and while I said the same with Calgary Expo and then totally didn’t, I have the benefit of being on the home turf, so I imagine I’ll have more opportunity to do it.

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