The Ravenous Flock by Adrian V. Diglio

The Ravenous FlockAwake. Trapped beneath the rubble of an avalanche and circled by bickering vultures flying overhead, Grindor the Ravenous is pulled from the debris and rescued from almost certain death. Though, during recovery, he finds himself in a whole new world of trouble as his savior, Ocamyr, is holding him captive. Ocamyr, a large man-sized hawk, has grown obsessive over how Grindor obtained his master’s ring. Worse still, the vultures are following him. Grindor realizes he needs Ocamyr’s help more than ever and for better or for worse, decides to tell Ocamyr the tale of the ring. Discover Grindor’s past, learn how he got his name and the story behind his ring in this no-holds-barred fantasy adventure!

I can’t say I was expecting much from the above blurb; I’ve never heard of the author, I was wary of reading about man-sized hawk creatures, and the cover is terrible. I got it as a spur of the moment purchase on Kindle some time ago (it was free). And I’m so glad I did.

It was good. Very good, even. The man-sized hawk creatures weren’t as ludicrous as I’d imagined (they’re called Avians because, of course they are), and the writing is actually very good. Mr. Diglio is, indeed, a skilled writer with an eye for prose. Don’t judge a book by its cover, indeed. The short story is part of the world of his series-in-waiting called The Blacksmiths, the first installment of which is called The Soul Smith.

The Soul Smith has an interesting background. It was actually on everybody’s favorite crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter. While Kickstarted is a natural place to fund smartwatches, game consoles and potato salads, it’s not a platform I would have expected to be responsible for allowing Fantasy novels to get published. But, apparently, that’s exactly what happened here. Diglio ran a Kickstarter campaign to get funding for his (already completed) novel so he could get it edited and published. Well, he succeeded and the novel should be out any week now.

Speaking of which, there was a preview of The Soul Smith at the end. It was the Prologue of the novel, and boy! It was riveting. A first person narrative of some… thing that is being forcefully transformed into some other thing. Jaws stretched and pulled into a new shape, scales hammered onto raw flesh, eyeballs unceremoniously shoved into the skull… it was brutal, but beautiful. I could really picture everything that was happening. Without a doubt, the best preview I have ever come across. This is how to use a preview to full effect, publishers! Take notice.

Since the point of the short story was to tempt the reader into buying the novel, Mr. Diglio has entirely succeeded. I’m giving it a 5 / 5. And I am definitely looking forward to getting the novel when it is finally published.

Sleeping Beauty by Mark Lawrence

"Beauty" is a stretch...

“Beauty” is a stretch…

Jorg Ancrath needs shelter from what looks to be a hell of a storm, and he and his traveling companion stumble upon a cave. A ghost, or memory, of a woman warns them to turn back. But Jorg isn’t one to respond to warnings or threats, is he? He goes right in, and al most immediately runs into trouble. There is another ghost in the caves, and her plan involves a lot more than warnings. Perhaps Jorg should have listened this time…

If you enjoyed Jorg and the world of The Broken Empire trilogy, then you will enjoy this short story. According to Mark Lawrence, “It’s really a bit of fun, prompted by a challenge from a reader to warp the tale of Sleeping Beauty around that of young Jorg Ancrath.”

Like its fairy tale namesake, Jorg wakes up with a kiss. But this is no fairy tale. Not surprisingly, Jorg ends up in a hairy situation. He has the worst luck, doesn’t he? But then, through a combination of cunning, foresight, and good fortune, he escapes. Jorg has the best luck, doesn’t he?

This short story is by no means not critical to the trilogy, and you won’t miss anything if you pass over it, but it adds a little more to the character of Jorg by reinforcing his willpower, stubbornness, and refusal to bow down to fear. Plus, it’s just fun as hell. I’d give it a 4 / 5.

During the DanceI also read During the Dance, a very short story by Lawrence. It’s only about 2,000 words, and has nothing at all to do with The Broken Empire. Hard to describe. It’s about a boy who lost his little sister, but regains hope many years later. Very brief, but touching. It’s completely free on Kindle, so go ahead and pick it up.

Meritropolis by Joel Ohman

“He couldn’t change the past, and he couldn’t control the future. But he would beat the present into submission.”

MeritropolisIn a dystopian world, thousands live inside a walled-off community that runs on “the System,” where every individual, young or old, is assigned a score judging their worth to society. The lucky handful of High Scores enjoy a safe, privileged, and learned life, while Low Scores are shunned, struggling to eke out a living in the slums. But even they are luckier than the unfortunate few who are judged to have such low merit that they are exiled from the city, thrown outside the doors to the inhospitable wilderness. A wilderness full of dangerous hybrid creatures, creatures for whom humans are little more than prey. But Charley doesn’t think it’s right to place a number on the value of human life, and as he’s finally coming of age, it’s time someone did something about the powers-that-be.

I actually didn’t realise when I bought Meritropolis that it was the first in a (planned) series; I was under the impression it was a standalone. But the ending makes it clear there will be future entries to the story.

While nothing to write home about, Meritropolis makes for a simple, quick and adequate read. The writing is pretty simplistic; not that the author is a ‘bad’ writer, per se, but he’s no Patrick Rothfuss, whose prose seems to seamlessly meld from word to word.

The premise is of a walled-off town, some time in the future in the year 12 A.E., or After the Event. The city ranks its citizens on their ‘merits,’ hence the name. While we are never explicitly told the factors that affect the scores, we can surmise that intelligence, strength, quickness, good looks, etc. will all allow one to have a higher score, and the scores are regularly updated (weekly, it seems). High Scores – those with a merit score of above 100 – generally have a more privileged life, better food and housing, access to education and such, while Low Scores live in the town’s equivalent of slums. Anyone with a score lower than 50 is “zeroed,” which means they are cast outside the gates, where they will certainly die on their own.

Predictably, our protagonist, Charley,  is a bit of a prodigy with a very high score for a teenager, but hates the System because his Down’s afflicted brother was zeroed when they were kids. Now he spends his days dreaming of coming up with a way to take the System down.

I felt the author missed some opportunities which would have made the novel more interesting. For example, it is never clarified how, exactly, the scores are derived. How do they go about measuring individuals? What is the basis for the scores? Is intelligence more or less valuable than strength? Not only would this have been informative, and helped flesh out the world that these characters live in, it would also open the door to interesting subplots. We could, for instance, have a subplot involving citizens competing and scheming against each other to increase their scores.

There was also very little in the way of characterization. Sure, we know Charley is angry because of his brother, but that is really all we know about him. Other than the fact that he is way too god at everything he does. During the course of the novel, he quickly climbs up the High Score list and by the end has the highest score in the city. Too bad it happens right when everything is falling apart and the city is already on the verge of destruction.

I also didn’t think enough thought was put behind the name of the city. Meritropolis sounds perfectly logical at first, but not so much when you realise that there are other, similar cities around which work on the same System. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler. It’s pretty obvious from page 1 that Meritropolis is not alone.) What are they called then? Do they have innocuous names like Sacramento? Do they have variations of this name, like Meritville, Meritburg, Meritstan? Or are they just sequentially numbered like Meritropolis 1, Meritropolis 2, and so on? This seems like a petty complaint, I know, but these kind of oversights are, I feel, a hallmark of YA fiction. That’s one reason why I might find the occasional YA novel entertaining, but never quite as immersive as an adult fantasy novel.

Ultimately, this book is just adequate. You probably won’t remember the book a few weeks after you read it, and you certainly won’t remember the characters. In fact, I actually had to look up the protagonists name as I was writing this. It seems in the month or so since I read the novel, it had slipped my mind.

I’m in a good mood, so I’ll give the book a 3 / 5.

I Don’t Like China Miéville

China Miéville

China Miéville is a much acclaimed author in the rather vast field of Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF). More precisely, he describes his own works as “weird fiction” and is part of a handful of authors whose works are classified as New Weird. What is New Weird? According to a quote from the Wikipedia article, the genre is broadly agreed to be one which “subvert[s] cliches of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends.”

This seems to be the consensus among fans, too. I was having a discussion on one of my favorite forums (over at Best Fantasy Books – definitely check them out) where a member wrote something similar when I mentioned that I didn’t like Miéville. He said, “Mieville can be quite devicive[sic], likely because he stakes out new ground and affronts the reader’s sensibilities.”

I disagree. That sounds to me the equivalent of that old job-interview cliché – when asked to name his area of weaknesses, the candidate replies with a non-weakness such as, “I’m too hard working.” Interviewers don’t like such an answer, of course, for the obvious reason that it isn’t really a weakness at all. It really is a way of complimenting yourself while masquerading it as a weakness. I feel the above quote is just as convenient.

My dislike of Miéville is simple and two-fold – First, I read novels because I expect to be entertained. Sure, some novels will be like the typical “summer blockbuster” with quick and mindless action, fun but not particularly smart or thoughtful and usually with a fair number of holes in the plot. The Maze Runner, a series I recently finished reading, comes to mind. Others will make you think, feel, wonder. It’s plain that these authors spent a great deal of time crafting their story, and they’ll stay with you a long time. (Think The Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire.) But, at the end of the day, I have to enjoy them. I didn’t enjoy Mieville’s books. Breaking new ground and thinking outside the box is all well and good, but not if it comes at the expense of an enjoyable and interesting narrative.

Second – and this might be a large part of why I felt as I wrote above – I find Miéville’s books to be very pretentious. From the language and words he uses to how he very deliberately attempts to “affront the reader’s sensibilities.” None of that seems to me to be part of the ‘flow.’ They weren’t by-products of the larger narrative. They were (in my opinion) carefully crafted to appear as such. The novel wasn’t the point; the attempt at uniqueness was the point. It just happened to be crafted around the prose of a novel, almost coincidentally.

Perdido Street Station

It’s like he was hell-bent on impressing upon the reader that, “I am not your average Fantasy novelist! Don’t believe me? Look at this!” If he was an architect, his buildings would be asymmetrical trapezoids, with random protrusions that jut out of the facade, so there was no level or clean surface, and the main entrance would be in the back corner. And he wouldn’t do it because they had functional properties, or they were practical or environmentally superior, or they had a deeper/emotional significance, or even because they just looked good. He would do it purely because he wants to be seen as different. And I find that very annoying.

Where did I get the above impression from? I don’t know. It’s just this weird feeling I got that nothing about the book mattered. That there was no point to it. It just existed as a showcase for his ‘unique’ writing abilities.

I admit that Miéville’s imagination is definitely not in question. I have read too of his books, Perdido Street Station and The Scar. Probably his two most famous novels. Perdido? Not so much. I didn’t find that very imaginative, though I will fully admit that I found the novel so dull and boring that I barely remember anything about it. The Scar, though, was imaginative. I liked the idea of the floating, on-the-move city, as well as the… method they were attempting to improve their movement (trying to avoid spoilers). Too bad everything else about the book was forgettable.

In case my feelings weren’t clear, I am not a fan…

The Alternate Universe: Top 25 Newspaper Headlines If Andreas Lubitz was Ali Lubitz Khan

McDowski:

How sad is it that this post is right on the mark?

Originally posted on crashing... smashing... clashing...:

This is a work of fiction. Having said that, it is not intended as "humor".
There is nothing humorous about 149 people being killed. 
The only reason to publish the blog post is to reflect on the hypocrisy and 
duplicity of media outlets and the people in general.

The recent bewildering plane crash of the Germanwings Flight 9525 is extremely condemnable and sad. No sane person could commit suicide and kill 149 other people as well… Unless he happened to be a Muslim. Then he is definitely not insane.

The moment the news started resurfacing that it was the co-pilot who deliberately crashed the plane in the Alps, taking his life along with 149 other passengers, including the pilot and flight attendants with himself, there was a slight murmur of this startling act being related to terrorism. However it was all hushed up when the authorities revealed the identity of the co-pilot. The Co-pilot…

View original 586 more words

Pakistan Cricket is clueless

According to ESPNcricinfo, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has decided to appoint Azhar Ali as the new captain for the ODI team, replacing the retired Misbah-ul-Haq.

This is simply a bad decision.

In a twist of irony, the other day I was discussing the future of Pakistan cricket with my friends. I mentioned how it was most important that Pakistan change their old tactics, forget about the cliched we-need-a-calm-stable-batsman-in-the-middle-order and get with aggressive. This wasn’t really rocket science. The sport of cricket has changed significantly since Pakistan’s heyday in the 90s. Just look at the four teams that made the World Cup final – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and India. You know what they have in common? All of them have an aggressive and attacking approach to the game. Misbah, Younis Khan… Pakistan’s middle order was a relic of the old days of cricket. What Pakistan needs to do, more than anything, is adapt to the modern game. Change their entire approach, and start anew from the ground up, construct a team that fits in with the demands of the sport. And that starts with appointing an appropriate captain.

My friend argued that they should re-instate Shoaib Malik. I argued that Malik hadn’t played in a long time, and besides, Pakistan cricket needed to just blow itself up and start fresh. And that meant not repeatedly going back to the same old people.

So, of course, the very next day after my conversation with my friends, the PCB decides that Azhar Ali will be the new captain. A Test match specialist batsman, someone wholly unsuited to the modern ODI format, and someone who has only played a grand total of 14 ODIs in his entire career. In fact, he hasn’t even played a single ODI since January 2013. That’s over two years without ODI experience, from a batsman who clearly never fit into the format to begin with. Of course PCB thinks he should be the new captain. The folly of this decision is shocking. Instead of adapting to the modern (i.e. attacking) game of cricket, PCB has decided to go completely the other way and make the team even more defensive, inevitably digging the team deeper inside their cramped hole.

Even Malik would have been a better choice than this. He, like Ali, hasn’t played an ODI in two years. Unlike Ali, however, Malik was suited to the ODI game. Unlike Ali, Malik does have a fair amount of ODI experience. Most importantly – unlike Ali, Malik actually has captained the team before. And he did a pretty decent job, too. You’re not going to find any odes written to his stint, but the result were actually impressive. In the 36 ODIs that Malik was captain, Pakistan was victorious 24 times. In fact, in terms of win percentage, of all the ODI captains that Pakistan has ever had, Malik’s rate of 66.7% ranks right at the top. I still stand by my original argument for not looking to the past, but, man! Malik would have been a better choice than Ali.

What disappoints me almost as much as the decision, if not more, is the reaction of Pakistan’s fans on the article’s comment section. The majority actually seemed pleased! Lauding the PCB for going with a “level-headed” player. It’s unbelievable. The fans are as clueless as the Board, convincing themselves that a ‘safe’ choice is the right choice.

Maybe the decision was good, after all. Not because Pakistan will have success under the captaincy of Azhar Ali, because they surely won’t. But only because, perhaps, this is the selection we deserve.

Welcome to the next few years of mediocrity.

Apple Stinks at Names

For a company widely accepted to excel at marketing, Apple is really terrible at naming their products and services.

There is the obsession with the lowercase ‘i’ in front of names. Just stick the letter ahead of the product and call it a day. We’re going to make a phone that will revolutionize the telecommunication industry. We’ll call it… i…Phone. What about a tablet, that is like a digital pad? The i…Pad, of course! Cloud services? i…Cloud. And the iMac, iPod and iTunes have been around for years and years. Hey, we have this awesome smartphone platform with an advanced operating system; it’s the best mobile OS that there is! We’ll call it… iOS!

Then there are Apple’s non-‘i’ related products, that are just as poorly named. They made a box for streaming content to your television. It’s called… the Apple TV.

And this grand tradition continues with Apple’s latest high profile launch. The unimaginatively named “Apple Watch.”

Firstly, the primary name. Apple is the name of the company, so the name of the watch is really just… ‘Watch.’

You have the low end one, called the Watch Sport. Imagine:

The Ugly One

The Ugly One

“Which watch is that?”
“The Sport edition.”
“Of what?”
“The Watch.”
“Which watch?”
“The Apple Watch.”
“Ah.”


The Other One

The Other One

The middle one is apparently just called Watch:

“Hey, which watch is that?”
“The Watch. As in, by Apple? The Apple Watch.”
“Cool. It’s not the one that costs 10k, right?”
“Haha. No, no. I’m not that rich.”
“So is it the Sport edition, then? Or… er, the other one?”
“The other one…”


And the Watch Edition:

The Stupidly Priced One

The Stupidly Priced One

“Wow, nice watch.”
“Thanks.”
“Is that the new Apple Watch I heard about?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Which edition?”
“That’s right.”
“Huh?”
“You’re right. It’s the Edition.”
Which edition?”
“The… Edition edition.”
“Riiiight….?”
“The Watch Edition? The expensive one? Look, I spent ten grand on it, alright?”
“Ah, okay. Got it.”