Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

I’ve already sprinted through three solid books in 2015, and have several around the house half-read, but Golden Son?

I devoured Golden Son.

It has the kind of compelling storytelling that demands your attention until the ride is over. For those that haven’t already discovered Red Rising, you should start there. Not only is the first installment amazing, but a massive bidding war was won by Universal and I’m pretty sure the movie will turn this into even more of a cult following than it already is.

I reviewed Red Rising (Post found here: http://ttinkin.com/2014/05/03/redrising ) if you want to read about it. Anyways, on to Golden Son and why Pierce Brown did it the right way.

1. Why not make your characters do the most interesting thing every time?

That’s what it started to feel like as I made my way through Golden Son. I wondered how Brown could follow an action-packed opening in a world without some of the constructs that the first book relied upon. The first novel involves an arena much like the type we see in Hunger Games and other dystopian stories. As we’ve also seen in those dystopian books, the authors struggle to maintain our interest as they remove the rapid-paced action of their original arenas.

Pierce Brown had no issue with that. The story takes us spiraling through one action scene after another. Betrayals are compounded by new alliances, new threats, and new challenges. In some ways, Brown is served by the populace he is writing about. The Golds in this society are simply lethal. There natural proclivities toward war and their insatiable hunger for power provides him the perfect backdrop for Darrow’s maneuverings. It really seemed like Brown was following one rule: do the most interesting thing. In each scene, he has his characters ratchet up the heat of what’s happening. Raised stakes, multiplying enemies, plots within plots. It makes for a joyride of a read.

I was at the World Fantasy Convention this Fall and Christopher Golden had high praises for Pierce’s work. He said that, in some ways, the story itself wasn’t something new. We’d seen lowly man rise up from the dust before. But he claimed Pierce’s writing and style and ability to drag us through his story at 150mph is just too good to pass up. I agree.

2. Internal Monologue

I always admire a writer that succeeds in their internal monologue because I find it so difficult to create. Genuine, internal feeling is difficult to conjure from thin air because, frankly, we have enough problems figuring out how we are feeling from moment to moment. Pierce has me feeling every emotion of his main character through genuine and provocative internal monologue. I simply love the way that Darrow considers others around him. At some points, the purpose is to analyze the threat they represent to his plans. At other points, he seeks to answer questions that each and every one of us ask about what it means to be human. He’s an easy main character to follow.

3. Present Tense

I’d love to analyze, at some point, how many authors write in the present tense. I’m not sure of Pierce Brown’s reasons behind choosing to write in this style, but I really find the present tense fitting for his purposes. Every scene seems to orient around dramatic actions, fighting, and moment to moment shifting in power. The present tense that’s employed in this story launches us forward and leaves us feeling active in the scene. I might as well be sitting at the war table or clawing through the mud after Darrow.

4. Sentence Structure

Recently, I noticed Joe Abercrombie discussing the topic of sentence structure on Twitter. He was lamenting the fact that we look at long, winding sentences as the “beautiful” parts of prose. In reality, a short and crisp sentence that fits the necessary tone can be just as lovely. The example attached to his post was Cormac McCarthy and his use of short sentences to emphasize, disrupt, and draw the attention of the reader to certain emotions. I really think the same thing is accomplished in Brown’s first two works. Really love the variance and I really hate that people will likely attack his use of short sentences as “uncomplicated” or “prosaic”. He knows his stuff.

Lastly, I will conclude by saying how much I loved his acknowledgements section at the end of the book. Sometimes, you just forget how much an author has gone through to get published. I just finished my first book. I had one very respectable agent take a long look at my novel (including rewrites and a second read), but we didn’t connect. Now I’m waiting to see if anyone will take my book on. I’ve just completed a second book, and I’ll begin a whole new process with it. It’s easy to read Red Rising and Golden Son, recognize the transcendent talent of the author, and think that there are just some people who it all comes to more naturally. Seeing the road he’s taken to get where he is was super impressive. It just shows that, if you really love doing something, you should continue to fight for your right to do it.

Either way, I highly suggest you get hold of this series before every single person you know is bragging about how much they like it. Someone once told me that it was the White Person’s Mecca to find a great band before everyone else does. I think it is EVERY reader’s journey through Middle Earth to stumble upon a great work of fiction that none of their friends have heard of. For me, that’s been Red Rising and now Golden Son.

Go get it!

A Guide to Cussing in Alternative Universes

No, this isn’t a blog biography of Gene Hackman.

While our culture’s realistic books and movies are sometimes jam-packed with every cuss word under the sun, it is the fantasy worlds we so love to escape to that often give us words that flit somewhere between dangerously corny and delightfully fun to say. Being someone that doesn’t cuss very often, it is always a treat to get hold of a new word from fantasy and drop it into casual conversations. Sometimes, I’m so ingrained in the fantasy world that it comes out in daily conversation. Sometimes people stare. Sometimes.

My first experience with the alternative cuss word of a far-off galaxy came in the form of Spongebob Squarepants. The genius writers of one of Nickelodeon’s most successful cartoons did a wonderful job removing well-known cuss words without removing the “I’m clearly cursing something right now” element. When Spongebob stubs his toe or forgets to do something or is terrorized by Plankton, it is common to hear him shout, “Oh, barnacles!” What an easy, kid-friendly replacement for cursing.

Sometimes, simple changes are the most natural and hilarious. In The Fantastic Mr. Fox, writers replaced cussing with… well, cussing. In a scene between Badger and Mr. Fox, we get to see the full extent of their verbal weaponry:

Badger: In summation, I think you just got to not do it, man. That’s all.

Mr. Fox: I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.

Badger: The cuss you are.

Mr. Fox: The cuss am I? Are you cussing with me?

Badger: No, you cussing with me?

Mr. Fox: Don’t cussing point at me!

Badger: If you’re gonna cuss with somebody, you’re not gonna cuss with me, you little cuss!

Again, not particularly in your face and a wonderful replacement to make a movie accessible and fitting within the universe of thieving foxes and talking badgers. But what about the truly alternative worlds? That’s where the necessity for newer and differently-originated cuss words comes from. We have our world and our languages and they developed a certain way. But if I’m diving into a different universe with different people and languages and development, well, they’re not going to have some of the same words. We suspend reality for certain things, but we also are forced to get creative when imagining how someone would curse in our sub-created universe. Here are some great examples I’ve encountered in my own reading:

1. Bloodydamn- Not too far from the beaten path, but a slight adjustment to a common word bleeds originality into the cuss words of Pierce Brown’s characters in Red Rising. As he would say, you’ll bloodydamn love his book.

2. ‘Kent-kissing- The inspiration for this post! I’ve been reading Brian Staveley’s new book, The Emperor’s Blades. In it, characters toss this word around in necessary situations (Example: I need a ‘Kent-kissing break from my ‘Kent-kissing job).

3. Belgium – In A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Belgium is “completely banned in all parts of the Galaxy, except in one part, where they don’t know what it means, and in serious screenplays.” To direct this word at someone else is both unthinkable and, if we’re honest, hilarious.

4. Merlin’s beard!- Just one of many clever twists in J.K. Rowling’s world, but the ancient and well-known wizard finds himself inserted into the cursing of modern day wizards in both this and the also-popular, “Merlin’s pants!”

5. Frak-  Perhaps the most popular and well-known cuss word in fictional universes, this sanitized Battlestar Galactica TV swear word may be the nerdiest and most used of them all.

So, what are some of your favorite alternative cuss words? Or how have you seen fantasy language impacted by world and setting? Thanks for reading!

Book Review: Red Rising

I was introduced to Pierce Brown’s novel, Red Rising, by a member of my writing group. Keith described it saying, “You want to be mad at it for being like Hunger Games, but it’s better.” The summation of this review is that Keith was right.

The story takes place on dystopian Mars. Our narrator, Darrow, is a Red. Being part of the lowest of a color-coded caste system, he and his people work deep in the bowels of a colony on Mars. Circumstances lead Darrow to join a revolutionary group that will use his skills and abilities to infiltrate the Golds by enlisting him in the “Institute”, an arena-like school for the social elite.

Here’s what I loved about this book:

1. Character motivation-  The Hunger Games gets off to a cleaner start than this novel. The system of selection, Katniss’ sacrifice, are all much cleaner than Darrow’s awakening into a revolutionary. However, Brown does a much, much better job of building a character that burns with anger over what happened to him and his people. Katniss has an embittered point of view that goes from hopeless to triumphant. Darrow gives us fire and passion throughout, and is far easier to root for.

2. Violence- Like many dystopians in the Young Adult genre, this book features immense amounts of violence. My take? If you’re going to have the violence in there, it should at least make sense and be well done. The Hunger Games pits young children against each other in a believable, violent setting. Red Rising does the same, only it does it better. The men and women heading into this arena are all built for violence. The system their mentors put them through is cruel and merciless. Brown does a far better job of providing us with tactics, gruesome descriptions, and turned tables. I think what stood out is how he can slow down those scenes and display what’s happening. His descriptive writing really reaches a level that Collins can’t touch.

3. Supporting Cast- To me, this was the major difference. If you think about the characters around Katniss, they’re okay. Peeta? He’s got that politician polish to him. Gale has that “revolutionary” thing going. Haymitch was a clever derivation from the “wise mentor” role. Some of the opponents even fascinate us in book one… Rue is heart-breaking and Foxface is a survivor and Cato is brutal and…. they all lack depth! They’re forgettable in the end. Not the supporting cast in Red Rising. Cassius is fascinating, and has a reason to hate Darrow that is undiscovered. Sevro is a chilling, demon of a character that we can’t help but love. Titan is terrifying, but only a shadow of greater evils to be faced. I was surprised by how well-done all of Brown’s characters were. Really easy to love or hate, but infinitely followable and understandable.

4. The World- Authenticity of language and world-building terms were just wonderful in this book. He had me wanting to say “bloodydamn” or “gorydamn”. I wanted to fight the Golds alongside the Reds. I wanted to talk in the HighSpeak with Cassius. There is just an infinitely cool and well-built world in this book by Pierce Brown.

In conclusion, if you liked The Hunger Games at all, you’ve found the next and better book to read. I really believe that this book outshines it’s predecessor in word for word writing. I’ll never deny The Hunger Games as a brilliant and entertaining book. It’s just not as clever as what Brown has done, and not nearly as well-written. Already looking forward to the sequel!

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…

One of the most universal truths in life? Things are against you. Life is full of conflict. There are things that are trying to stop you, people trying to stop you, even you are trying to stop you sometimes. Stories are no different. When you read or watch a story, you expect to have conflict (which, it turns out, is the number one answer for my students when asked ‘What makes a good story?’).

And if conflict is so integral and identifiable to us, doesn’t it matter a whole lot how we write our antagonists?

I use a pretty simple method for keeping up with my antagonists that is of my own invention. I don’t doubt there is something else out there just like this, but I promise that I’ve only ever seen it in my brain. In fact, I teach it in my classes. It is the Threefold Method.

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If we enjoy reading characters that are going through conflict, then the author should consider where the conflict will come from and how to include conflict in as many scenes as possible. I love the above method for its simplicity.

1. The Immediate Threat- These are the Draco Malfoy’s and ra’zac of the literature universe. Those annoying characters that turn into bitter rivals and always seem to be arriving on the scene to get in the last laugh or take advantage of our hero at a particularly vulnerable moment. The immediate threat is the person in the scene with whom our protagonist feels tension, or the person keeping them from getting what they want (or putting them in danger) at that given moment. This person can change from scene to scene.

2. Surprise Friends and Surprise Enemies– Severus Snape anyone? I’ll use William Forrester from Finding Forrester as a less obvious example. At the start of the movie, he is the immediate threat. On some level, he threatens Jamal’s life, and on other levels he threatens his integrity as a young black man. However, this clearly antagonistic character softens and eventually becomes the clear mentor and guide through Jamal’s heroic journey. These characters are some of the most fun to play with. Convince us that a character is good, then make them do the worst imaginable things. Convince that a character is rotten to the core, and then give them a touching scene with a fluffy puppy. Up to you!

3. The Overarching Enemy– A pretty common idea, but this is the threat that looms large behind and past all other threats. In Eragon, we don’t even meet Galbatorix for four books. He’s an idea, a presence that is felt throughout the empire, but he remains out of sight. Voldemort is similar. His methods of attacking Harry are very roundabout for the first handful of books. We know that a great evil looms behind each threat, but the fullness of his power isn’t realized for many books.

If you have a sense of these character types, it’s easy to juggle them throughout your scenes… Let’s take The Daedalus Incident by Michael Martinez as an example.

Immediate Threat- Cagliostro – the alchemist is established early on as a pressing threat. Martinez even has a notorious pirate poised as the “lesser” immediate threat alongside Cagliostro.

Surprise Friends/Enemies – Harry Yu and a few other residents on Mars fill in nicely here. The bizarre earthquakes threatening the life of Mars in our universe’s timeline cast suspicion in a lot of different directions. Who is the guilty party? Martinez leaves us to piece together clues that may or may not lead us to the right conclusions.

Overarching Threat- Althotas- Again, the other antagonists lead us to an overarching evil that has somehow been working behind the scenes and represents a far more dangerous reckoning for our characters. As much as they fear the immediate threat at times, they continue to view those threats in the perspective of this greater evil (in this case a cross-dimensional warlord with some serious anger issues and a potential need for plastic surgery).

 

Is this the only way to write your antagonists? Of course not! But the threefold method helps me immensely and reminds me to find different reasons for bringing in the surprise enemy or friend at just the right moments, as well as refreshing my character’s intensity through an immediate threat that develops, amplifies, or changes throughout the story.

I promise a blog about my recent wedding is coming ASAP! Hope you enjoyed the read.

 

A Mid-Book Review: The Daedalus Incident

“Never trust anyone that has not brought a book with them.” Lemony Snicket

My current book is The Daedalus Incident by Michael J. Martinez (https://twitter.com/mikemartinez72). I encountered the book through Sara Megibow (https://twitter.com/SaraMegibow) who, aside from being a wonderfully available agent willing to answer questions of interested authors, is great at championing her clients’ works. Out of respect for the advice she’s offered me, I decided to check out The Daedalus Incident.

And so far? I’m thrilled that I chose this one to read. The tale follows two storylines. The first features Jain, a gritty lieutenant involved in the mining operations on Mars in the 2100’s. Martinez does a pretty great job of projecting our current world forward in terms of technology and general space exploration. The world he’s built around Lt. Jain is believable, interesting, and a tasty treat for the science fiction fan. The other story features Lt. Thomas Weatherby and his undertakings aboard the HMS Daedalus in the 18th century.

The only catch?

Some kind of alchemical advancement has drastically altered the course of history. Martinez shoves us into the action as he shows the Daedalus traveling, not through the high seas, but the Void as they round Mercury. This alternative history drags in a number of curious, historical figures that everyone that’s been to high school has heard of.

My take: This is a very solid book. I have to admit that, after reading Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, I didn’t think I’d be up for another story featuring a “proper” naval commander. Weatherby grew on me quickly though. And his side of the story is jam-packed with wonderful, imaginative science fiction / fantasy elements. The mystery behind how the world has transformed so drastically does a wonderful job of pulling us forward in the plot. The worlds we get to experience? Creative and clever. I love this side of the story and cannot wait to figure out the mystery that Martinez is leading us toward.

So what do I not like?

I have to admit that Lt. Jain’s side of the story took a while to pick up for me. There is a mystery there as well. We begin to wonder if these two worlds and histories will collide (with cleverly dropped hints by Mr. Martinez). However, Jain is one of those “tough and gritty” characters that I have a hard time attaching to as a reader. The introduction of a Bill Nye-esque character helped pull me back in. I have to admit, I’m not a huge “hard science” guy, so there are parts where I drift in and out.

I also did a lot of thinking on the ideas of “the teaser”. Martinez deftly maneuvers between the two story lines, often leaving us with somewhat climactic discoveries at the end of each chapter. I first encountered this “leading on” of the reader in The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Her chapters are done so well that you are really forced to keep going and learn more. I noticed sometimes that in Martinez’s work, I was feeling two different ways.

Half of the time: Enticed. I wanted more. I loved it. It pulled me on through the text and I was genuinely getting goosebumps over the mystery.

Half of the time: Mad. I was enjoying that section and was upset that I’d have to read a full 4 pages of something I wasn’t as interested in to wait for the revelation of what they discovered.

I guess there’s just a balance to be struck in these kinds of stories. I know that I was writing a story with multiple perspectives and I had to stop. I just didn’t have the chops for it at that point.

Mchael Martinez not only HAS the chops for it, but he has succeeded in creating a genuine, genre-bending, thrill-seeking adventure book. Go find him at your local bookstore! Or order on amazon! Or anything! Whatever you have to do to get your hands on this good read. I highly suggest reading it if you have any interest in the following things:

Mars

Naval Ships

Some of our founding fathers

Romance / Fighting / Plundering

Alchemy

Alternative History

Life.

Until next time, happy reading!