Is Our Writers Learning: The Fallen by Tarn Richardson (#SFWApro)

What I learned from THE FALLEN: The Darkest Hand Trilogy Book 2 by Tarn Richardson (couldn’t find cover art credits but all rights remain with current holder) is that if you try telling me the Inquisition are the good guys, I’m going to roll my eyes at you.

The Story: It’s the middle of WW I. The Darkest Hand, a sinister conspiracy plotting to free the forces of Hell, is manipulating events on and off the battlefield, and eliminating Inquisitors who might pose a threat. Poldek Tacit, the consummate Inquisitor (in this setting, they’re like Slayers), is in prison and under torture. Can he break out to help the woman he loves fight against the Hand’s next move?

WHAT I LEARNED:

In a historical novel, setting matters. I hate historical novels that bury me in detail, particularly if it’s expository (I’ve seen novels where people constantly exposit about their daily lives, much like the characters in the fantasy Black Wolves do). At the same time, I don’t really see much point in a historical setting if the story doesn’t make use of the setting.

Richardson does a great job on the detail during the scenes at the front, no question. But his scenes away from the front, there was nothing that particularly grabbed me. Nothing that made me feel this was distinctly 1915, rather than well, a few years earlier, a few years later.

Attitudes matter too. There’s nothing about the characters that seems particularly WW I either — for example nothing as distinctive as the way the real-life people in Testament of Youth consoled themselves with poetry in tragic moments. Maybe that’s one reason that while the action scenes fly, everything slows to a crawl during the talky scenes. And there are a lot of talky scenes.

Capitalizing a generic word rarely works. One of the lead characters comes from an order of nuns that tries to seduce priests to see if they’ll hold fast to their vows. The name of the order? The Chaste.

Seriously? Like “the Burned” in that recent Green Arrow collection, the name falls flat. It doesn’t make them interesting, and you’d think (well I would) that a holy order would have a more formal name (The Sisters of The Testing of Virtue or something — that one’s not great either, but you get the point).

Some bad guys just ain’t redeemable. Rather like Hellboy’s fondness for making witch-hunters the good guys, Richardson’s use of the Inquisition just sticks in my craw (it’s not so bad with Hellboy because I like Hellboy). The Inquisition were not good guys. They persecuted heretics. They hunted Jews. They hunted witches. Lots of innocent people suffered under the Inquisition, as did people who were guilty but only of disagreeing with church doctrine.

Presenting the Inquisition as heroic evil-fighters … sorry, no. It’s like writing a story where the witches at Salem really were guilty. I don’t think for a minute Richardson is pro-Inquisition in the real world, but it didn’t work for me even a little.

Richardson’s writing is good and I didn’t have any trouble following the story (even though it’s Vol. 2 and I haven’t read 1) but I won’t be picking up Vol. 3.

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Once again, the review is personal: Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger (#SFWApro)

I’m always a little nervous when a friend asks me to review a book on my blog (and sends me an ARC) because what if I hate it? Sure, I liked the last story I reviewed for my friend Michele Tracy Berger, but would I like her novella REENU-YOU (cover by Emma Glaze, all rights remain with current holder)? Happily I did.

Reenu-You is a miracle hair straightener that the protagonists, Kat and Constancia, both use. Unfortunately, it turned out to have A Few Side Effects like grotesque scabs, and before long they and a few other women of color are quarantined, then forced to go on the run from health authorities.

It’s not a thriller though. The plot is less important than the characters, their interactions (Kat, an Aspen ski instructor, and Constancia, a younger New Yorker, are very different) and their thoughts about hair, beauty and the beauty standards society imposes on them (Michele discusses this on one of John Scalzi’s Big Idea posts). I know from other reading that hair is (and has been for a long time) a really complicated subject for many black Americans, but it’s not something I run into much in fiction except in passing (this may, of course, say as much about what I read as what’s been written). And while stories that spends a lot of time on people simply sitting around and talking about stuff like that often doesn’t work for me, this one did.

I was a little thrown by the ending, which on first glance didn’t seem to fit where I thought things were going. When I looked at it again, yes, it worked.

You can find Reenu-You on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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More politics, starting with the good news.

The fascist alt.right candidate lost in France! And the American alt.right is sooooo miserable.

•Georgia’s restrictions on voting registration have been struck down. Though as noted at the link, the Supreme Court may undo that.

•The Washington Post says it would be next to impossible for insurers to use the aftermath of rape or sexual assault (STDs, PTSD) to charge survivors higher insurance premiums for pre-existing conditions. I hope they’re right.

•Congress tried to remove legal protections for users of prepaid debit cards. The effort failed.

•DNC head Tom Perez blasts Trump’s proposal for a new voter suppression commission: “Donald Trump shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the word integrity.” And more from there.

•Trump lies so badly, his supporters can’t keep up.

Now the bad/annoying:

•So Jimmy Kimmel talked about the importance of affordable healthcare and brings up his son’s health issues. The ever-vapid Jonah Goldberg concludes this is just the tactic Hitler would have used.

•Rightbloggers struggle to explain how awesome Trumpcare is. Unsurprisingly, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he’s ready to let insurers in his state raise premiums for pre-existing conditions. And Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho reassures us that nobody dies because they can’t get health care.

•A US attack on a Syrian mosque may have been a war crime. And Syria is using nerve gas, which is a crime against humanity.

•Russia has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from practicing their faith.

•It’s cultural anxiety (which seems to include all the racial/religious aspects of culture), not the economy that fuels Trump voters.

•An Australian politician complaining about immigrants says they don’t support Australian values like free speech — for example Jews object to Holocaust deniers.

•Republican voter suppression works.

•Yet another pundit explains that Trump’s incoherent, false statements are more authentic than Clinton’s truthful ones.

•Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has a new argument in favor of Trump’s travel ban — based on a case involving segregated swimming pools. Unsurprisingly, it’s the anti-integration argument Justice claims as precedent.

•A Tennessee law restricts all words in state laws to their natural and ordinary meaning. Which could mean that if two lesbians have a kid, only the one who gives birth is a legal parent.

•Firing FBI Director Comey for violating FBI policy (in announcing his investigation into Clinton’s emails) is kind of ironic: Comey’s guilty, but that’s obviously not what Trump cares about. The prevailing theory is that Trump’s trying to stop an investigation; an alternative suggestion is that Comey’s not happy he helped Trump win and Trump’s pissed about that. Unfortunately it’s unlikely any Repubs will raise a stink in contrast to Watergate, when people really did put principle ahead of party and career. Several Nixon officials actually resigned rather than go along with the cover-up. More thoughts along those lines from Echidne.

•A Democrat holds a town hall meeting … in a neighboring Republican district.

•Trump thinks health insurance should cost about $15 a month.

•Republicans keep supporting Trump because Republican voters support Trump.

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Clowns, mutants, pirates: books read (#SFWApro)

CITY OF CLOWNS by Daniel Alarcon and Sheila Alvarado (cover by Alvarado, all rights to current holder) has a journalist who recently lost his father reflect how his father’s life of petty thievery, and his not-to-secret second family by another woman, have shaped the journalist’s own life. Well done, not really to my taste, though.

XMEN: World’s Apart by Christopher Yost and Diogenese Neves has Storm struggling to balance her duties as Queen of Wakanda with her responsibilities as a member of the X-Men, a struggle made worse when the mind controlling Shadow King takes over the Black Panther. This is well executed but lost points for the use of the Shadow King, one of my least favorite mind controllers.

A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by VE Schwab starts well as female pirate Delilah Bard singlehandedly captures a rival pirate ship. And I like the setting in different alt.Londons that are linked together, some with magic and some without. Unfortunately I lost interest after the swashbuckling opening — from that point on there’s no real tension as everyone just wanders about thinking of life and exploring London (up to about page 200 when I gave up). And choosing Alucard as the name for one pirate really distracted me — characters who use the name are invariably Dracula (spell it backwwards) yet this guy doesn’t appear to be any sort of vampire (as Lin Carter says, don’t just throw recognizable names into a story). A shame the body of the book wasn’t as awesome as the beginning.

All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Before Captain America: 17 Other Heroes Who Were Secret Villains (#SFWApro)

As you may know, Captain America has been revealed as a closet Hydra agent all along (not that I think it will last). My new Screen Rant column looks at the long list of heroes who turned out to be villains under the cowl. We have the Cobra in the Shadow pulps, Moonstone in Captain America, the Thunderbolt and as shown above, Nighthawk in an issue of Daredevil (image by Gene Colan, all rights remain with current holder).

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Hookers and bridesmaids, a living planet and Woody Allen: Movies viewed (#SFWApro)

TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974) is a serious sociological study of the lives of women who work at truck stops — okay, no, it’s about the owner of a combination truck stop/brothel/hijacking ring (Lieux Dressler) who find herself at war with the syndicate when a couple of mobsters come out to New Mexico to take over her operation. And will her restless daughter (Claudia Jennings) side with Mom, or with the mob? Like a lot of 1970s drive-in fare, this was nowhere near as interesting as it looked. “These days every waitress along the highway has hinges on her heels.”

BRIDESMAIDS (2011) is the rowdy comedy in which Kirsten Wiig’s personal crises threaten to ruin her best friend’s wedding when Wiig overcompensates for apparently losing her buddy to a newer, cooler bestie. Very, very funny; with Melissa McCarthy as a raunchy bridesmaid (“I’m going to climb that tree.”), Jill Clayburgh as Annie’s mother and Chris O’Dowd as a nice cop (“Missing girl found safe at home — that’s the kind of adrenalin pusher cops live for.”). “At first I didn’t realize it was your journal, I thought it was a sad, handwritten book.”

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2 (2017) has a botched mission for an alien race scattering the team, then Star Lord discovering his dad is Ego the Living Planet in his mortal avatar of Kurt Russell). Not as tight as the first film but still a lot of fun. However I don’t really buy that a pre-teen kid abducted from Earth in the late 1980s would be such a big cheers fan (Knight Rider, sure). With Sylvester Stallone in a brief cameo as Starhawk. “Yondu and David Hasselhoff both had crazy kickass adventures and hooked up with hot women.”

TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)isn’t up to Midnight in Paris but it’s the best of Woody Allen’s other European fantasies. In many ways it harks back to his early sketch-comedy style with a mix of multiple unrelated plot threads some of which — Roberto Benigni becoming the most fascinating man in the world — are cheerfully absurdist (and The Singer Who Can Only Perform In The Shower was a comic shtick back when I was a kid). The only weak story is Alec Baldwin revisiting his youthful romance and his flirtation with intellectu

ain’t up to MIDNIGHT IN PARIS but it’s also a lot better than most of Allen’s European fantasies as Alec Baldwin visits his flashback booth, Roberto Benigni becomes the most fascinating man in the world, hooker Penelope Cruz disrupts a young couple’s trip to Rome and Woody Allen tries to make an opera star out of a man who sings in the shower. Reminiscent of his old sketch comic stuff (The Guy Who Can Only Sing Well In The Shower is, of course, an old, old warhorse), the only weak story is the Baldwin one — Ellen Page plays an intellectual seductress and the character is no more convincing here than the femme fatale in Melinda and Melinda.  “We shall report on his shave from the first to the last stroke.”
Switching to TV, BLANDINGS (2013) adapts PG Wodehouse’s best known series next to Jeeves and Wooster, the stories of Blandings Castle where Lord Emsworth (Timothy Spall) fusses endlessly over his prizewinning pig, his nitwit son keeps getting into trouble (think Bertie with no Jeeves to save him) and Aunt Connie (Jennifer Saunders) scowls on everything. Funny as hell, and with a great cast (better overall than the version Peter O’Toole did for the BBC). “His mustache looks like a maggot crawled onto his upper lip and died.”

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The tide has turned and caught me at full flood! (#SFWApro)

So as I mentioned a while back, I picked up three different paying gigs in addition to Screen Rant: the Leaf project (now wrapped up), freelance work for a network of legal papers and money management how-to articles for GOBankingrates. Only the latter two of the four never assigned me anything.

But then the week before my trip to Greenville, GOBankingrates asked if I was up for an article. I had to pass until after the trip, but earlier this week they called again. So I took the assignment (how to get pre-approved for a mortgage). The information was simple enough — it’s similar to the stuff I’ve done for Leaf — but like Screen Rant, they have their own format and style rules, and getting it written to comply with them consumed a lot of time. Not that they’re unreasonable, but it always goes slow the first time I try to follow a style guide. But it’s done, and assuming no problems, it will work out to a great hourly rate.

But all that work on mortgage pre-approval sucked up a lot of time I’d have spent for fiction. And the irrational conviction I Have No Time, I Can’t Get It Done when I have a tight deadline kept me up early. Plus I was working on two Screen Rants, this week’s (not out yet) and a big Wonder Woman article due in a couple of weeks. So it was a little frantic.

And today, the early rising got to me. I went to sleep right after lunch and when I woke up I just lay down with the pups for another hour. Then read for another hour instead of writing. I was in overtime for the week, so I don’t feel bad about it, but I almost never blow off an afternoon even so. Guess I was more tired than I thought.

So what did I get done?

•I reread Undead Sexist Cliches — the Book, because I did almost nothing on it last month and I needed a better sense of what I’d already covered.

•I got another 5,000 words done on Southern Discomforts.

•I had a great idea for my short story, Trouble and Glass, that will resolve some of the problems I’ve been having with it. I’d hoped to actually work on the text, but that time got lost in the nonfiction push.

•I was supposed to talk on the phone with someone I applied to for another nonfiction gig. And that we jumped to phone is a good sign, I think — however, life intervened on his end. Next week, hopefully.

On top of which I managed to keep up exercising, and to give the kitchen a really thorough cleaning while the dogs were in day care (it’s not the best way to spend my dog-free day, but it beats having them try to nose around me while I’m spraying cleaning products).

Next week, now that I know to budget time for the GOBankingrate, perhaps things will go smoother. We shall see …

Oh, and Digital Fantasy Fiction just reprinted my short story He Kindly Stopped For Me. If Death knocked on your door and asked to use your phone, how would you react? Feel free to check out the Story Behind The Story from when it first came out.

Cover art by Jack Kirby, all rights reside with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Story behind the story, Time management and goals, Writing