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The Pilot

February 19, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, The Craft  4 Comments

Her lover liked to hold her hand and she found it cute.

She liked cute. When she traded the perpetual frown for the goofy grin, really, she felt like she had boys all figured out:

Young men that frowned all the time, sucked. Those that smiled, not just at her, but, for example, at their moms, ruled.

This was a good rule. A girl could live with that rule. The rule went with cuteness like chocolate syrup went with ice cream.

***

She had no idea what the minister was saying. She vaguely remembered the words from the rehearsal.

Suddenly her hand was in his.

He turned to her and smiled.

You take my breath away, his eyes said.

***

“Push, Darling.”

“I am pushing!”

A tired smile.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Okay, new plan. You push!”

He grabbed her sweaty hand.

“I’ve got you covered, Babe.”

***

Her daughter’s baton went up, up, and up, so high she was sure it was going to hit the gym ceiling.

It came crashing down, impossibly fast. She caught it, spun around, and did a split, just like that.

He turned to her, put his hand in hers, and gave her a little squeeze.

“That’s our girl,” he said through misty eyes.

***

“I don’t understand,” he said through labored breath, a breath as old as the world. “Why can’t I see?”

She touched his face tenderly. “It’s just time to rest,” she said.

“I am tired,” he admitted.

“You’ve been awake, a long, long time.”

“Thank you. For everything,” he whispered.

“I love you,” she said. She had to say it. She so wanted him to hold on to those three words. Just three words. Surely he could take those with him.

“I’m scared,” he said.

She grabbed his hand and held it in hers. Fingers weak but intertwined.

“My turn, now. I got you covered, Babe.”

He smiled.

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

January 04, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

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For anyone new popping up on the scene, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here).

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt was my holiday me me me book, but it turned into much more than that. For the novelist interested in speculative fiction, Darkship Thieves is a course of science fiction om nom nom nom with a major serving of romp and romance.

Here’s the book blurb:

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger—who turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime—if she managed to survive . . . .

You can always count on the publisher, Baen, to deliver some classic sci-fi with a bit of the libertarian thematic, but Darkship Thieves is a not-so-subtle homage to Robert Heinlein, and that is one reason it is worthy of study. Once a reader gets into that, the book comes into its own in a major, major way, and how Hoyt does this is a bit of the ‘ole awesomesauce.

Essentially it goes like this: any Heinlein fan is going to read this book and start grinning like a dork about a quarter of a way through it. Halfway through the book the little science fiction libertarian in you will go “this is soooooo good,” but then, like the dogs of war unleashed, the novel takes off on its own and doesn’t end until the reader is breathless.

And Hoyt does this with an exploration of love and honesty, two great libertarian themes so worthy of needing exploration in science fiction.

Heinlein was the master of the libertarian thematic but he also dabbled on the edges of libertarianism beyond the personal affirmation and the economic delivery from tyranny. The core of libertarian philosophy centers around peaceful interactions between people in a “trust, but verify” relationship. A person has to believe in the overall good of mankind, yet expect the odd duck to cause problems and thus plan accordingly.

Thena finds herself as the obligatory fish-out-of-water in a libertarian society after being rescued by Kit, a genetically modified pilot who makes a living stealing power from the terrans. Kit brings her to Eden, a large asteroid with refugees from a nasty war back on Earth. Eden is, for the most part, an anarcho-capitalism society.

Oh, but Kit. Kit is so nakedly honest, so honorable (not to mention a bit of a studmuffin), Thena falls in love with him. She falls hard. She’s a product of a declining civilization, a civilization kept together through understated oppression and slight of hand. When encountering pure goodness, it drives her a little crazy, and she is drawn to Kit not so much because he can get inside her head (literally) but because Kit is simply Kit and no one else. Hoyt brings out the craziness in Thena as she realizes the core of her beliefs are a lie, and then, like a master novelist, Hoyt dials it up to eleven when Thena finds out her life has been a lie.

Thena, my fellow writers, kicks-ass throughout the entire novel despite all of the setbacks a cruel universe throws at her. And yet, when faced with the prospect of losing the first real taste of love she has ever known, she goes on an unholy libertarian rampage that is both epic and intensely personal at the same time.

I could prattle on and on about how Darkship Thieves is a marvelous science fiction book in a classical sense, with wonderful uses of technology and some truly clever settings. At its heart, however, it is a romantic love story wrapped up in a personal coming-of-age yarn about good triumphing over evil.

For a novelist in any type of speculative fiction, I give the novel five slices of bacon up out of five.

The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby

December 06, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  61 Comments

Update: Comments closed, winner selected!

pericles commissionHere I insert my standard disclaimer: I target my book reviews to novelists.

Also, if you would like to win a FREE copy of The Pericles Commission, comment on this post. I will select a commenter at random and mail you the copy. You need only to have a valid postal address somewhere in the world. The contest ends December 13 at noon, Pacific Time.

The Pericles Commission is a wonderful debut novel by researcher and writer Gary Corby. A murder mystery set in ancient Greece, the novel is also a political thriller, a coming-of-age-story and a cultural study all in one tight, little, whirlwind package of historical mystery goodness.

And Corby pulls it off masterfully.

Thus, I give you a disclaimer. If you are a novelist who likes to write murder mysteries (as I do), this book will make your head spin. Corby’s artistic creativity at putting a mystery together has the capability of frying your poor writer brain if you attempt to deconstruct the novel beyond its entertainment value.

The plot goes like this:

Early one bright, clear morning in Athens, 461 B.C., a dead man falls from the sky, landing at the feet of Nicolaos.

It doesn’t normally rain corpses. This one is the politician Ephialtes, who only days before had turned Athens into a democracy, and with it, kick-started western civilization. It looks very much as if Ephialtes was assassinated to stifle the world’s first democracy at its birth.

But Ephialtes has a lieutenant: a rising young politician by the name of Pericles. Pericles commissions the clever young Nicolaos to expose the assassin.

Nicolaos walks the mean streets of classical Athens in search of a killer. He’s totally confident he’ll succeed in finding him.

There are only a few small problems. Pericles is looking over his shoulder, critiquing his every move. Nicolaos would like to get closer (much closer) to Diotima, the intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis. He’d prefer not to go near Pythax, the brutally tough chief of the city guard. It would definitely help if the main suspect weren’t Xanthippus, a leading conservative and, worst of all, the father of Pericles.

But most of all, what Nicolaos really needs is to shake off his irritating twelve-year-old brother, Socrates, who keeps making helpful suggestions.

Can Nicolaos save Athens, democracy, and the future of western civilization?

Oh, how I loved Nicolaos, and Corby’s voicing with his main character leaves a reader not so much seeing the wonders of ancient Greece through his eyes, but living it in a visceral, immersive escapism that I had not experienced in a murder mystery since Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Realtime.

There is a certain purity in murder mysteries. There’s a dead body. Sometimes more. The stakes are high, and beyond the expert voicing and characterization, the gem of The Pericles Commission is its sheer relentlessness.  For this novel is relentless in the stakes. Corby ratchets them up again and again and again until a reader is left almost panting with tension, reading furiously as nothing so much as the fate of humanity is on the line.

This novel happily dances around thriller territory and simply calling it a historical murder mystery is an understatement.  If you are a writer, don’t let the fabulous research blind you, or the mesmerizing voicing nor the purity of how the setting comes alive. Never has a historical book been so much fun to read. It was intelligent escapism at its highest form, and that, dear writers, was simply awesome. The Pericles Commission is not so much a novel as it is crack for mystery lovers.

Don’t forget to comment below to win a chance at a free copy!

Good vs. Evil in the Shade of Ink

November 19, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

Ah, the life of a consultant: the move from one contract to another.

Perfect for the little ADD Monster inside all of us.

This is an exciting re-engineering contract. I get to plumb the depths of the undocumented and air our all the deficiencies.

So, what does that have to do with writing or reading?

Nothing! Ha! But I am behind in my blog list of things to do (as you can see by the lack of updates). This always happens when I switch contracts. I need to find my rhythm. I am almost there.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the artistic expression of the battle between Good vs. Evil. Then I watched this movie:

The Indy movie Ink is gathering hype, as it should. The pacing is masterful, right from the slow beginning to the crescendo of the ending. The extraordinary clever writing. The understated special effects.

But, dear 9.3 blog readers, this is, at the core, a story of Good vs. Evil in the most basic sense to its most insidious. It encompasses every major Good vs. Evil thematic you could possibly imagine wrapped up in a glorious narrative rapture, from the overt to the slices of gray so thin you can see through them.

I don’t normally review movies, but I will review Ink after I post my next book review.

Bottom line: If you have a Good vs. Evil theme in your writing, don’t even talk to me until you’ve seen this movie.

The Why

October 16, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, Plot, The Craft  0 Comments

Some whys need no asking. There is no reason to ask “why” someone broken into my car and ate my Altoids and took all my D&D dice, he just did. Nor was there a profound why when King County Sheriff returned my dice. It was the deputy’s job, and I was thankful.

True story, by the way. But I digress.

A writing friend asked me for some advice. After the “I am not published” disclaimer, I told her if she really wanted to improve her characterization, she needed to start asking the hard questions about herself and be prepared to deal with the truth of her self-assessment.

I gave her a kissing example (no, I did not kiss her, geeze). Why, when I was a young man in my teens, did I kiss one girl and not another?

The easy answer would be opportunity. That’s only a small truth to a larger answer. Did I kiss the right girl, or the wrong girl? To not answer the question of kiss, for a writer, is to make the unsaid claim that kissing isn’t important.

The romantics in us know that kissing is everything.

Right?

Right!

Self-reflection can dive into the danger zone. Mistakes we made are a part of us and to wish they were not leads to self-loathing.

That’s the rub. The writer has to look past that. She has to answer why. Sometimes the answer is full of regret. There is no second-guessing in the almighty pursuit of the why. Even guilt is a substandard emotion when digging at ourselves for the truth.

This leads me back to kissing; kissing is visceral. It is a physical act of desire, passion, lust and love. Sometimes at the same time.

Mmmmmm kissing mmmmmm

Oh wait, what were we talking about again? Oh, that’s right. Writing.

There is always the story of the boy or girl that got away. And that’s why I brought up kissing. It’s more than the boy and girl that got away as a universal story of longing, regret, and loss. It’s the reality of not kissing. Think about it. It’s one thing to say “oh, that’s the one that got away,” and quite another to say “we never kissed yet I can close my eyes and feel her lips on mine.” Never held hands. Never made love. Never fought, never made up. Never admitted a mistake with a sheepish grin.

The why. Always the why. Don’t tell me why that one got away. Tell me a story about why you didn’t kiss.

Son of Ereubus by J.S. Chancellor

September 26, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, The Craft  4 Comments

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Every epic fantasy series worthy of a recommendation from me and my friends pays homage to what I call fantasy je ne sais quoi.

I will attempt to describe the indescribable anyway.

As readers, we enjoy books but wallow in the really good ones. My buddies and I chew through fantasy novels like a Rottweiler puppy going through a bone. Here at Rehabilitated Hack Writerville, however, we review books for fellow writers. I target this book review to novelists, not simply readers.

Real fantasy has an intangible quality that makes it distinctive and attractive and this has little to do with world building and more to do with raw, creative talent that one could say is the voice of the book.

Son of Ereubus by J.S. Chancellor is like a warm piece of olive bread slathered generously with fantasy je ne sais quoi. So very delicious. Oh, did I eat the whole loaf? Whoops.

On the surface, leave no doubt that Son of Ereubus is creepy as hell. I would not call it a horror book but there are many horror elements on display. Indeed, the level of creep is so persuasive that, like the inhabitants of the human world and their protectors, a reader gets used to it. There is a certain, brutal aesthetic to the plot.

Underneath the surface, however, is a complex tale of which I’m not going to attempt to describe, so let’s just go with the back of the book:

Since time immemorial, Man has lived in fear of losing his soul to the darkness of Saint Ereubus. For generations, the Ereubinians have wielded that power and ruled like gods. Three thousand years ago, Man irresolutely placed his faith in a mythical world. That world, Adoria, now holds Man’s final hope. As the last stronghold of Man is threatened, the fates of three strangers become forever intertwined and everything they once believed will be irrevocably changed as they discover…

Their time has run out.

Chancellor packed Son of Ereubus so full of Epic Plot Goodness, it makes that plot summary akin to saying your favorite vacation spot in the entire world is “nice.”

That, my writing friends, makes the book worthy of study. Seriously. The plotting for this fantasy novel is incredible.

And that’s just getting started, for Son of Ereubus is a rare novel indeed: it’s character driven epic fantasy.

The characters Ariana and Garren are the yin and yang of the novel, and they both compliment and repel each other in a perverted harmony.  Ariana is a  powerful yet feminine character who seems continually frustrated that she is able to outthink everyone around her, yet they treat her as a “normal” woman, which she is so very not. I love Ariana. So spunky. So sassy. So in need of getting laid.

But I digress.

As much as Ariana is a special treat to read in a fantasy story, Garren, my friends, completely runs away with the novel. I was a quarter of the way into the book when I closed it and looked at the cover and went “Yesssss, this is going to be so awesome!”

Garren is the anti-hero and even before he grasps the ugly horns of self-determination, he strangely becomes a sympathetic figure. How Chancellor made me feel pangs of sympathy for such an evil fuck, I have no idea. Chancellor’s voicing with Garren is as complex at the mythos and plotting of the novel. She tricks the reader into thinking Ariana is a creature of chaos—wherever she goes, she sows the seeds of change. Compared to Garren, however, Ariana is a piker.

This is what pulls Son of Ereubus into brilliant epic fantasy. The creepy Armageddon undercurrents with the intertwining, complex plot and mythos combined with outstanding character voices come together in a wondrous opening novel of a trilogy.

Like I said, earlier, however, Son of Ereubus is fantasy je ne sais quoi and I believe that comes from the intense themes hiding behind the action-infused plot along with all the other hallmarks of an epic fantasy novel. It’s war, in Son of Ereubus. It’s not just a war for man and the souls of the human race, but also a war between good and evil, fate and self-determination and even a war between hot-blooded lovers.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the Guardians of Legend series, for Son of Ereubus was pure epic fantasy awesomesauce.

Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle

August 29, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  8 Comments

Disclaimer 1: This is a book review for novelists. There are many other reviews about Cinders, this one is for those who like to write books.

Disclaimer 2: I placed 3rd in one of Michelle’s short story contests in a blind judging. Please don’t think I’m doing a bit of quid pro quo, because I can assure you I am a vicious reader.

I always thought Cinderella was a bit of a whore.

You can’t blame Disney’s Cinderella for being a whore. The girl’s stepmother and sisters abused her, making her life a living misery. Going back to the classic tale, we can all put ourselves in her shoes (get it—put ourselves in her shoes? Oh, I am so clever!), and who can resist the charm of the Prince searching for the girl who enticed him and then taking her away to live happily ever after?

The classical definition of a whore is somebody who does things for selfish reasons. Add a bit of the magically seduced prince, and there you have it.

Thus, it was with trepidation that I started reading Cinders, attracted to the book because I love novellas and I thought the cover was smashing. It was supposed to be a coming-of-age-story with a bunch of girly girl mixed with whimsy. I was even expecting talking animals.

Goodness was I mistaken.

Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle is a literary wonder with perfect, sparse prose obscuring a multi-layered depth that is haunting as it is breathless. When I finished the book, I just sat there in my chair outside staring at the trees in the sun. Cinders captivated, disturbed, infatuated, crushed, bewildered and beguiled me.

It’s difficult to know where to begin on an in-depth review with something so overwhelming complex born of simplicity, but there is the obvious. The prose.

Argyle’s delicious, sensual, twilight and shadow prose.

Here is one example:

Not yet. Let me sing you a song.” He sat with her near a bush with white flowers, the same ones in her hair, and as he sang, the smell of clover grew stronger. He helped her lie down. Petals fell from his hair when his lips brushed hers. She closed her eyes and saw Isaac bruising Rose’s horse, his arm moving up and down, the cat licking her paws.

See, I’m a red-blooded American Male. I like my steak waved in a warm room, apple pie and watch movies where stuff blows up in space. A productive evening for me is when I’ve managed to clean all the guns without running out of CLP.

Yet, that excerpt right there made my heart go pitter-pat. I read that and I was breathless, the feeling you get when you look at a girl for the first time and realize you’re crushing hard.

For the writer, Cinders is a decent into the visceral, as that example shows.  It’s not a la la la literary going to describe a flower in twelve metaphors visceral, but a dark, sensual, haunting flowing river of words that sits at the bottom of your gut like a fiery Cognac. Argyle’s prose is sparse, her mastery with such few words speaks to a deep, creative talent, and she uses her creativity to breathe life into the lifeless.

In Disney’s adaptation, Cinderella is a story about a girl becoming a woman in order to escape her awful life while snagging the man of her dreams in the process through magic and rodent Tom Foolery.

“Cute talking animals” is code for “this is a child’s story for entertainment” and as such that’s what Cinderella, the character, was.

Argyle’s characterization is so fascinating and her Cinderella is a compelling, complex figure different from the original literary tale before it. It is impressive how Argyle turns a vapid fairytale shell into a young woman, but Cinderella here is a wonderful, flawed person yearning to make her own choices.

And make them she does. I was rooting for Cinderella through the entire book because her yearning selfishness, even though justified, was tragic to behold.  Even at her worst mistakes, at least she made them. Choice. Has there ever been such a literary theme worthy of published words?

But I digress.

How I loved that seductive, lethal yet empathetic Cinderella. What, you say? Cinderella? Lethal? Seductive?

Oh, yes. That and more. Cinderella makes mistakes, and people die. Cinders, my friends, is a book with an impressive body count, like any good fairytale. Despite the darkness that Argyle serves up as pebbles falling into a still lake, the book isn’t about death, but about life: living, learning, and loving.

She also loves, oh how Cinderella loves. Her love is consuming and fearful; she loves with her mind and her body, and her passions and desires elevate her from her magical prison of her own making while driving her to the cliff of despair. Argyle pulls this off with mastery for the complex wrapped around the simple.

Cinders is a love story, but it’s also a coming-of-age-story, and the truly amazing part of this novella is the themes and plot intertwines to the point where it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. It’s also a raw story with under-the-radar world building, a world that comes alive in the fewest words possible. The setting is so vivid, it mesmerizes the reader who turns page after page and all too soon, the end of the book comes like a punch in the gut.

The ending is a study in perfection, a true “didn’t see it coming, but should have,” moment of pure bittersweet. That’s the summation for the writer: Cinders is a study in perfection. The perfect cover. The perfect tagline. Even the bookmark is perfect. The perfect story. Perfect prose. The perfect novella. It’s magical. You could stick this novella in a time capsule, move it forward two hundred years, and for the lucky reader who dug it up, she would say “oh!” and yearn for more.

Argyle banished Disney’s whore from my mind. It was as if she never existed, and in her place is a woman of empathy and beauty, a mixture of danger tempered with love.

Perfect.

Momma Was Wrong

August 12, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Characterization, Setting, The Craft  2 Comments

Momma always told him to watch out for certain girls, and after a while, he learned “certain girls” was Momma’s code for “girls who want in your pants to break your heart or make off with your wallet.”

The girl in front of him was Momma’s worst nightmare.

It was Valentine’s Day in Southwest Washington. That meant the cold, ever-present rain.  The fireplace was going at it with the snap and crackle to remind everyone that it was there, the sleeping dog next to it, trying to will herself closer in warm doggie dreams.

The Merlot bottle stood half-empty, sitting on the table next to the photo album. They had been giggling over the photos for quite some time.

She had disappeared while he was fetching cheese and pouring the rest of the wine, but now she was back, wearing her dancing heels and the red dress she loved to wear salsa dancing, the one with the slit that went to the ceiling. She put on slow jazz, the singer with her sensual tale of love and longing in French, all sexy and warm.

He stood and put a hand around her waist, and one across her back. One of her hands came up behind him and she ran fingers through his hair. She swayed into the music, swayed into him, and her lips came up to his ear. She smelled of grapes and flowers, but also that dangerous woman scent that she loved to use like a weapon.

“Dance right into me,” she whispered. “Dance into me.”

Momma was wrong. The girls that knew how to say the perfect things at the perfect time were the ones that needed watching.

It was their eighteenth wedding anniversary.

“Dance right into me,” she said again, and sighed when he kissed her.