Book Review – Junior Inquisitor by Lincoln Farish

Not a lot of people know this, but I grew up Catholic. Anglican Catholic, to be more specific. I have since fallen from the purer faith, but, at least in my eyes, Christian religion is indelibly tied to Catholicism. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people, but it’s just how I perceive the Christian world.

Any time you talk about religion, you have to be careful – people take their beliefs very seriously and I’m not trying to knock anyone else’s faith, just pointing out the eyes I used to look at the world of Lincoln Farish’s Junior Inquisitor.

I’ll get the meat out of the way and just say this: Junior Inquisitor is a hell of a lot of fun and if you’re into action and mystery, go buy a copy now.

This isn’t a religious book, per se. In the world of Junior Inquisitor there is evil present in the world. Not abstract evil, either. This is Evil with a capital E; the kind of thing Mike Myers would pronounce “Ayveel. Like the frooits of the deveel.” In fact, that kind of evil pretty much hits the mark that Mr. Farish is going for. In this world, most people aren’t aware of the underlying evil slowly eroding the world around them, but the Catholic church is well aware of it, and has been for some time. The Inquisitors are the tools the church uses to purge this evil.

Junior Inquisitor revolves around one Inquisitor as he stumbles into a hornet’s nest of evil. Excuse me; ayveel. Most of the tale is about him as he tries to do his job, but the story ultimately includes more Inquisitors as Sebastian attempts to purge a host of witches from the face of the planet.

Now, it should probably be noted that Farish’s witches aren’t Wiccans. There’s nothing kind or gentle about the witches in Junior Inquisitor and the magic they do is based on power pulled straight from deals with various demons and devils. In other words, these aren’t nice people we’re talking about.

So, while Junior Inquisitor takes place in a world that feels like our own, it’s very much set in its own world. And that world is inhabited by some terrifying things that not only go bump in the night, they also capture you and enslave your soul.

As I pointed out in the beginning, I’ve got a Catholic background even though I no longer count myself as one of theirs. But that background – even though Farish is using Roman Catholicism instead of Anglican Catholicism – made this book all that much more tangible, right down to the bureaucratic nature of all large organizations.

Part horror, part action, Junior Inquisitor is all fun. Even if you aren’t Catholic (or religious at all, really), it’s hard to not cheer on the exploits of a character that faces down the terrible things lurking in the darkness and shoots them.

Brother Sebastian is halfway up a mountain in Vermont, hell-bent on interrogating an old woman in a shack, when he gets the order to abandon his quest for personal vengeance. He has to find a missing Inquisitor, or, more likely, his remains. He’s reluctant, to say the least. Not only will he have to stop chasing the best potential lead he’s had in years, this job—his first solo mission—will mean setting foot in the grubby black hole of Providence, Rhode Island. And, somehow, it only gets worse…

If he’d known he would end up ass deep in witches, werewolves, and ogres, and that this mission would jeopardize not only his sanity but also his immortal soul, he never would’ve answered the damn phone.

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Book Review – Pawns by Patrick Hodges

I used to have this story rattling around in my head about a ship from the future that gets damaged in a firefight and crashes on a planet where magic was very real and very dangerous. It would have been an interesting examination of the inherent equality built into technology versus the inequality where magic – and therefore power – was concentrated in the hands of the few. At some point or another, I may still write it, but the key point of high-tech coming into contact with high-magic was the unique part about it and Patrick Hodges just beat me to the punch.

Such is life.

Patrick Hodges has finally made the jump from YA fiction (which was very good stuff anyway) in the real world to more adult YA fiction centered in a fictional world. This is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Joshua’s Island was an excellent examination of bullying and the general crap people deal with when they’re growing up, but Pawns is a much larger story. Some of themes are still there, at least in a nascent form, but the themes are background to the story instead of the driver of the story.

Pawns – Book 1 of The Wielders of Arantha saga has, at its heart, the same kinds of studies of growing up and learning to adapt, but packages it in a sci-fi realm where magic and technology are suddenly thrust together. So, now my opening paragraph makes sense.

Pawns is a unique mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, set on a faraway planet where the rules are different from what our intrepid Earthlings expect. It’s a tightly woven story told from multiple points of view and, while it’s the first in a series, gives us a solid tale.

And that’s the only real downside to the story. This book, like most first books in a series, is primarily here to introduce the characters and situation and get the ball rolling. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a solid story here, but Pawns’ primary purpose is to build a world. And, to be fair, it’s a heck of a world, richly detailed and populated with interesting characters. I don’t know how many books Hodges has planned for the series, but this one will definitely be the one to start with.

The fact that it’s a great read is just icing on the cake.

Seven hundred years in the future, the Jegg – a powerful alien race – invade Earth, wiping out half of the Terran Confederation.

In a hidden base under the Sahara Desert, a team of scientists works to mount a resistance against the invaders. Their plan is to fit an Earth ship with Jegg folding-space technology, and travel to the other side of the galaxy to find a mysterious energy source… one that could help them defeat the Jegg.

But just before departure, catastrophe strikes. Only two of the crew survive and make it to their destination: the team leader’s wife Maeve, and her teenage son Davin. What they find on the distant planet will forever change both the future of their family and their planet, as they enter a race against time… and against impossible odds.

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Closing In

Now that Greetings From Sunny Aluna is closing in on 90,000 words (with probably another 10k to go), it’s probably time to start talking about it. You know, ramping up interest in a book that’s not even done yet in the hope that when it finally drops it won’t land with a dull thud.

I’ve been doing more research about how to do a better job of pitching the story and learning about the quick hooks that will lure people into a false sense of security. No, wait. Excitement. A real sense of excitement. Even now, when someone asks me to summarize the Henchmen series, I’m usually at a loss and wind up changing the subject. As a result, the people that have taken the time to read it usually enjoy it, but it’s the getting people there part that’s still the problem.

What excitement might look like

Of course, there are three major components that can generate interest in a book: The cover, the blurb, and the first page. If any of those blow, you’re well and truly boned. That’s for people looking at the book, though. They have to actually see it in front of them before any of that matters. What about the times where you’re on an elevator or talking to people you work with? There has to be a way to summarize the plot to a point that it covers the gist of the story without being overly onerous. One line. That’s really all you get before people put their eyes on screensaver. And guess what, the blurb is far too long and formal to talk about while you’re at a restaurant.

Blurbs are important, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not what we’re after here. Information on writing blurbs can be found anywhere. Hell, I’ve written a post on writing blurbs. Everyone who’s ever written a blurb has likely written a blog post on writing blurbs. What we want is a blurb for a blurb.

Loglines work on that kind of level. They’re hooks designed to generate interest. They don’t tell the whole story, they don’t even really reveal much about the plot. The general gist of a logline is it’s a quick and dirty sales tactic, the kind of thing you can tell someone when you’re in an elevator without resorting to half-assed declarations about thematic unity or your book being a tale of redemption. If you want a good examination of loglines, go check out Sean Carlin’s post on loglines. He does a marvelous job of explaining how to distill an entire story into a compact statement that can be delivered at the drop of a hat.

That’s the kind of thing you need when someone asks what your book is about. No one is going to listen to a rambling discussion of how a super villain’s henchmen work with her to topple the United States government because they’re really pissed off about random things and, oh yeah, there’s this girl that they pick up and her father was into some shady things and that leads the henchmen to a place they never even knew existed. And everything goes all gooey-kablooey with invisible people and guns and stuff. Oh, and it also has bondage sushi in. Like totally right in the beginning, too.

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Zoidberg can be a real jackass.

How about: While celebrating their latest robbery, a group of villains bent on destroying the United States stumbles across a terrible secret that the government will do anything to keep hidden.

Or

In the New Mexico desert, a group of villains searches for the ultimate weapon – a weapon the US government will do anything to keep hidden.

Admittedly, not my best work, but both convey the general gist of Henchmen pretty well. And, yes, it does have bondage sushi in it, but only for a short while. While Albuquerque may not be by-the-books desert (I think we get too much rain to be true desert), most everyone thinks of New Mexico as a whole as being desert so who am I to disagree. I don’t work in the tourism department, I just live here.

So, now that I’ve prattled on a bit, it’s time to get to the meat of this post: notably drumming up some interest in the forthcoming (sometime late this summer) Greetings From Sunny Aluna. To do that, I’m going to try my hand at the two immediate challenges of getting someone to read something: the cover and my new friend, the logline.

The Cover:

GreetingsFromSunnyAlunaR2A3

The Logline:

In a world of magic and martial arts, four people with different reasons dodge gangs and violent cops to find and eliminate a mysterious crime lord known only as The Beast before he can kill more innocent people.

I think it still needs work.

Drop me a note in the comments about what works, what doesn’t work, and any other thing you feel like chatting about. I like chatting.

Code Wrangling

A few years ago, as one of my buddies and I were working through a particularly tenacious set of problems at work, we hit on the idea of putting together a blog to take notes on the problems we found and how we got around them. Well, now he’s gone and I’m likely on my way out, so I’ve decided to resurrect that idea.

It’s not going to be a technical blog in the traditional sense. I’m not planning on filling it with code 100% of the time because, let’s face it, there are already a bunch of those and if I give up all my secrets no one will hire me to work magic. What it will be is a high-level overview of snippets of problems. It should prove to be interesting.

There are already a few posts up there that I pulled from my LinkedIn profile, but there will be more coming each week. As long as I’m working in programming, that is. Expect to see notes on Geofencing, Android development, the odd bit of SQL, and plenty of architecture.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce my new sister blog to this one. Drop by every now and then and I’ll weave you a tale from code side. You might even find an answer or two.

Check it out here

It’s Been A Marathon

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It’s the last Friday of the month again and that means it’s time for another installment of the We Are The World blogfest – that monthly post where I try to point out something positive in a world that sometimes seems to be going mad.

In truth, it’s usually best to focus on the good stuff rather than perseverate on the bad things, but a gentle reminder is sometimes a good thing.

Fifty years ago the Boston Marathon was a men-only event. It was felt that women were just far too delicate to handle the rigors of running a long distance. Hell, it was 1972 before women were officially allowed into it. But in 1967 Katherine Switzer signed up for the race as K.V. Switzer and ran it. She even had to endure race officials forcibly trying to remove her from the race as she was running it, but managed to finish it in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

So, on the one hand it sucks that she had to put up with crap like that, but on the other, she proved her point succinctly by not only finishing the race, but surviving to tell about it.

This year, at age 70, she entered it again and finished in 4 hours and 44 minutes.

For the record, my estimated time in the Boston Marathon can be measured in weeks.

The specter of sexism is still prevalent in our society, but at least it’s slowly eroding. Personally, I never got sexism. Why would you want to marginalize 51% of the population just because they happen to look better in dresses? Seriously, it’s ridiculous.

Nowadays, women regularly run the Boston Marathon, thanks in part to the sheer moxie of Katherine Switzer who not only was the first woman to run it, but who ran it again when she was 70.

The We Are The World Blogfest is a monthly collection of feel-good blog posts about whatever each blogger happens to think was a good thing. If you’d like to join up, you can leave a note in the comments or check out WATWB’s Facebook page for more information.

This month’s co-hosts are Simon Falk, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal, Mary J. Giese, Peter Nena and Belinda Witzenhausen.

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Little Things

My old Kenpo instructor (now retired) used to say, “Kata is how the system expresses itself.” It was one of those little things he’d say that made perfect sense at the time as long as you didn’t think too hard about it. Later, I’d wake up at 3am or 4am or whenever the dog decided to go out, and I’d think, “Wait. What?”

Of course, after pondering for a bit, I’d come to almost the exact same conclusion that I had when I first heard it. Full circle.

Now, for those of you scratching your heads wonder what the heck a kata is, it’s a pre-programmed set of movements that’s common in the martial arts. Some systems live and die by them, others use them sparingly, still others eschew them entirely. Think of kata as a way of chaining strikes and blocks together and you’ll get the general gist.

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One of these people understands movement, the other does not

His intention was to point out that kata is a way to display the ebb and flow of the system. It’s not carved in stone, it’s not the end all be all of movement, but it allows us to take the bits and pieces of Kenpo and see how they can fit together. Each kata has a kind of theme with it, be it retreat, dealing with grabs, dealing with pushes, dealing with punches, or kicking people when they’re on the ground. And each of those kata are built up using techniques and transitions. In a way, kata is how the system expresses itself, by pulling the basics into techniques and then finally putting the techniques together into a coherent piece of expression. Ideally, in the final analysis of kata, they become moving meditation.

Since kata are built on techniques which, in turn, are built on basics, one could say a kata is a large system comprised of little things. They may look fancy, but at their heart kata are nothing more than a lot of things like steps, blocks, kicks, and punches all performed in a particular sequence. Which would imply each of those little things has to be done correctly to get the whole sequence to come out right.

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Otherwise someone gets shot.

This may seem like an esoteric thing, limited only to arcane aspects of the martial arts, but it’s really not. Every large system is built on little things, be it a book or a program or even just painting your bathroom.

Little things matter. In the writing world, it’s the small details that make the story come to life. Maybe a character’s penchant for peanut butter shakes or cheap beer doesn’t drive the plot, but it can say a lot about the character. That character, in turn, helps move the plot forward.

I’m not saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is wrong, I’m saying pay attention to those little details and treat those details with as much care you can. The end result, be it a kata, a program, or a book will be all that much richer for the attention.

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Even your chainsaw kata will look better.

Book Review: Transmute

Gotta love the good reviews. Go check Bryan’s own works; they’re pretty great.

bryan the writer

TransmuteTransmute by Eric Lahti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be fair, I am already a fan of Eric Lahti so I was excited when this book came out. I have read the entire “Henchmen” series starting from book 1 and have now finished “Transmute”. I love books in a series where I can get into the specifics of the characters. I get to grow to like and know those characters as if they were family members. You smile when they triumph, you wince when they’re in pain, and you feel sad when they fail.

Eric has a storytelling style all his own. He takes you from the beginning of the book to the end and pulls you through by your nose. His books offer the same adrenaline filled ride every time and consistently. With a mix of martial arts, witty humor, and his own brand storytelling I found…

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