Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

TV Series Review: Z Nation

 

Just finished watching seasons 1 & 2 (all that is currently available) on Netflix and …

I liked it!

I should probably preface this by saying that I’m not really into zombies. They make no sense. I mean, sure, a disease that turns humans into ravening monsters intent upon biting other humans could be interesting and frightening, but how those same humans stay alive for years without food or water? There are these things called the Laws of Thermodynamics. Just saying. Vampires and animal shape-shifters are much more logical. I’d say zombies are the least sensible fantasy/paranormal/scifi monster.

But if you can set that aside for a moment …

What the SyFy Network (still hate the name) presented us with here is a post-apocalyptic world and a group of survivors on a mission to save what’s left of humanity. I like apocalypses. (That didn’t sound right, did it?) I like heroes. This was an interesting group of characters.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, the action was great, the characters were believable, and survival was not guaranteed. I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say Z Nation took a leaf from George R. R. Martin – who appropriately made a guest appearance in season 2!

As with most series, some episodes were better than others. The pilot got things rolling, though, so if you want to tiptoe into this story, that’ll be a fair test of whether or not you’ll like the rest of the show.

I was worried that after pulling off a great first season, the second would go downhill, but it didn’t. There was a slightly different tone – they had a little more fun with the premise in season 2 and took themselves less seriously. That tone worked for me better at some times than others (as you would expect). What’s important is that the stakes continued to go up throughout season 2, we learned more about what was going on, and by the end I was thirsting for more.

Good news: Season 3 is scheduled for next fall.

Bad news: Season 3 isn’t until next fall!

My only real criticism of this show, aside from the fact that zombies aren’t my favorite trope, is that I think there are some internal inconsistencies. I say I think because there are still some lingering questions that the show’s makers could answer in a way that would make it all pull together. I’m just … well, again, I don’t want to write a review with spoilers. And this wasn’t such a big problem that it will keep me from watching; more a minor annoyance.

All in all, I do recommend this series, especially to those who love apocalypse stories. I’d give it a strong 4 out of 5 stars.

“The Force Awakens” is Okay (Spoiler Warning)

Spoiler Alert: There are a few spoilers in this review. Don’t read if you plan to see the movie.

After a great deal of anticipation and a weekend of watching out for spoilers on the Internet, I had my chance to watch “The Force Awakens” last night. And it was an enjoyable movie, true to the original series in many ways, full of both nostalgia and interesting new characters.

It wasn’t great. And at the risk of inviting bodily injury from many friends and scifi peers — the original trilogy wasn’t great either. It was ahead of its time … trendsetting. The sheer simplicity of the story made it accessible to a wide audience, putting a scifi flick in the mainstream.

Now, 35 years later, I honestly had different expectations. I wanted more depth of character. I wanted the battle between good and evil to mean more, especially in the wake of the final moments of “Return of the Jedi” where Anakin Skywalker rejects the dark side. IMO, that moment is what turned an okay adventure story into a memorable one. But the prequel movies failed to demonstrate how Anakin turned to the dark side in the first place. There was backlash there, enough so that I hoped we’d deal more with light vs. dark in this new movie.

And at first I was hopeful. A storm trooper — Finn — refuses to obey an order to kill innocent civilians and abandons the First Order. What made him turn against his upbringing?

No really, what made him turn against his upbringing? I’m still waiting to find out.

But nowhere was the shallowness of the dark vs light conflict more apparent than with Kylo Ren, wannabe Darth Vader. And in this, too, the problem may be lack of understanding. He’s got a history that was only hinted at in this movie, but a history I needed to know in order to understand his desire to do evil and especially the confrontation with his father.

Luke Skywalker worked very well as a hero because at the beginning of the trilogy he was no one going nowhere. He didn’t have a history. The show became his history. Han and Leia were archetypes more than characters.

But in this new film, I just felt like I was missing things. It wasn’t even immediately clear who the main hero was supposed to be. The cocky pilot, Poe, didn’t end up playing much of a role after his intense intro. And Poe was meeting some old man who for some reason had information on the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Who’s the old man and why does he know anything?

There were a number of plot problems like that. The biggest one, IMHO, was R2D2 being in low power mode and suddenly waking up at the key moment for no apparent reason other than the plot said it was time. This movie relied too heavily on coincidence. Han Solo stumbling across the Millennium Falcon is another example. (Though they tried to hand wave that one away.)

The best and worst part of the movie was Rey. I liked her. And I was glad to see a woman in such a strong, central role. In fact, I generally liked that more women were involved in this new movie. And Rey is smart and tough, the way a good Jedi should be. But in a confrontation at the end of the movie with Kylo Ren, she somehow managed to come out on top despite the fact that she had no training in the force whatsoever. It was an unbelievable scene. (I mean that literally.)

I did like the nostalgia. I liked BB8. I’m curious to learn more about Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. I’ll watch the next movie.

But I’m not going to pretend to be blind to its faults. “The Force Awakens” was okay. And ultimately, that’s all it was.

Movie Review: The Martian

Excellent!

Watch this movie.

I just got the book by Andy Weir to see if the novel adds anything to the film, but even if it doesn’t, it’s still a great story.

So a guy gets stranded on Mars after the rest of his team leaves him for dead. Matt Damon performed the role to perfection, literally starving himself for it in the end!

It’s exciting. It’s funny. It’s clever. It’s everything science fiction should be.

Did I mention that you should watch this movie?

Book Review: Echo 8

Echo 8 by Sharon Lynn FisherThis was a quick, easy read — I finished it in one sitting.

Echo 8 is a blend of science fiction and romance that manages to treat both genres with respect. In other words, it works as both a science fiction novel and as a romance novel. The scifi is exciting and plausible enough to suspend disbelief for, and the romance is engaging without taking over the story.

I particularly enjoyed the worldbuilding element — the idea that a disaster caused some people from one dimension to transfer into another closely related dimension where they live as energy parasites — needing to feed in order to survive. The world continued to develop throughout the book in intriguing ways.

The characters were fairly well done, although limited time was spent on developing them. I usually don’t like love triangles, but this one managed to work for me, in part because it was always obvious which one Tess would choose.

My one complaint about this book is hard to describe … it’s a sense that there could have been more. The book was fast-paced, yes, but at times I would almost say rushed. I would have liked to see a more gradual progression of the major plots, more time spent on character development, and more time spent on the resolution (which came about too easily for my taste).

I do recommend this book to readers who love both scifi and romance.

TV Review: Orange is the New Black Season 3

So I just finished season 3 of Orange is the New Black and … it had its ups and downs. On the plus side, it developed a lot of minor characters in interesting ways. I liked the new corporate ownership, and how that effected things at the prison.

But Piper … the woman who started it all … she’s changing and I don’t believe the changes she’s going through. I mean, prison is going to change a person, but somewhere between seasons 2 and 3 she went too far too fast. I don’t like her, but it’s not just that I don’t like her, it’s that I don’t believe in her.

Piper was a relatively small part of the season, to be honest, and I liked enough of the rest of it to keep watching season 4. I just feel like maybe the show has lost focus a bit.

The Omniscient Narrator Must Flow

 

The fully omniscient narrator who sees all and knows all is out of style these days, but the perspective is rooted in a proud, long-standing history of classic literature. A fully omniscient narrator has no limits and no boundaries – you can use him freely not just to jump from one person’s thoughts to another, but from location to location. You can report on the doings of people and creatures whose lives and deaths will go unnoticed and unremarked by anyone else. It is a truly powerful perspective, and a truly limitless one.

 

But with great power comes great responsibility.

 

The advantage to today’s more popular perspectives – first person and third person limited omniscient – is that they are bound to a single character (at a time). The story is going to flow through that character. What happens next? Well, what does the character do next? What does she see and hear? What does she think? Whatever the answer, you have a powerful tool to keep the story in flow. The use of a snigle character’s perspectives helps you move the story effortlessly, keeping events orderly and maintaining the rhythm of the prose.

 

Yet there are times when the omniscient narrator still makes sense. I find it particularly useful in stories where no single character is the focus, yet there are a great many characters. It is also useful when you want to follow events that nobody sees or could possibly know about. When the world is in danger and you need to be in a dozen places around the planet to show it, some of them well below sea level or in the high winds of a hurricane, an omniscient narrator can be very effective. This was the case in “Mother of Storms” by John Barnes. Through an all-seeing narrator, we watched a chain reaction that created massive, never before seen hurricanes overtake the earth. In some scenes, we were the hurricane.

 

I’ve also found that the omniscient point of view works well in horror, when you want to show us danger that the main character isn’t aware of. Stephen King often uses an omniscient narrator that, at times, goes deep into certain points of view.

 

But regardless of why you have chosen to use an omniscient narrator – which can be simply because you want to and it’s your story after all – you have a challenge in front of you. You must find a way to tie events together. You must create flow.

 

An omniscient narrator is not the absence of a narrator. It’s not the absence of perspective. You still have someone telling the story, it just happens to be someone from on high. That person can get out of the way, be invisible, or can have a grandiose voice. That’s up to you. But either way, the narrator must guide the story seamlessly from one event to another.

 

Jumpiness. Look at this. Look at that. Look over there!

 

You can’t just bounce from topic to topic, place to place, or person to person without some kind of transition. The transition can be as simple as, “Meanwhile, on the other side of the meadow…” or as complex as an entire page of description as the narrator’s bird’s eye shifts slowly across that meadow. Either way, you must guide the reader from place to place, always mindful of what they are currently focused on and that it is your job to gently shift the focus to something else.

 

I’ve seen this mistake quite a few times as an editor. Usually, it feels to me as if the author hasn’t given point of view much thought at all – that they have confused the use of an omniscient narrator with the lack of a narrator. Other times, they may simply be rushing through the story, thinking that the omniscient narrator gives them leave to be anywhere at anytime, telling the story any way they see fit.

 

Authors who want to use omniscience – you have a proud tradition to uphold. Consider carefully why you’ve made your choice, and make sure you are writing with both purpose and perspective.

Cover Reveal: Hungry as a Wolf

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HUNGRY AS A WOLF

by Elizabeth Einspanier

BLURB:

Wolf Cowrie is back in his second adventure! In the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory in 1865, tensions run high between white settlers looking for gold and the Sioux people who consider this region their holy ground. When Wolf is hired to find out what happened to the workers of a mining outpost in the area, the general theory in Goldwater is that they were slaughtered by the Sioux. Wolf discovers something far more sinister lurking in the Black Hills, an ancient evil whose unending hunger drives sane men to ghoulish extremes.

 

And now … the COVER REVEAL

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Looks spooky!

Excerp:

It was a young woman of perhaps nineteen years of age, with auburn hair and brown eyes. She was well-dressed in a white blouse with leg-of-mutton sleeves and a narrow column of ruffles down the front. A dark blue skirt respectably covered her ankles and black boots, and her hair was pulled back in a style he could not readily see from this angle, with wisps curling delicately around her face. She was a pretty little thing as well, and Wolf wished he could have made her acquaintance under better circumstances—like, say, fully-clothed, rather than stark naked with only his hat to conceal his shame.

The two of them stared at each other for maybe half a minute—him in a state of poker-faced, heart-pounding embarrassment, her in open-mouthed shock. Wolf’s heart and his stomach had lurched in opposite directions when he saw her—his heart upwards to lodge in his throat, his stomach downwards to gurgle in low panic somewhere around his knees. He swallowed hard to try to clear the lump of nerves behind his larynx. Somehow, Wolf was the first to find his voice.

Ordinarily, miss, I’d be the first to tip my hat to a lovely young lady like yourself,” he said as politely as he could manage, with a glance down at the hat in question. “But I don’t think either of us wants that right now.”

She blushed bright scarlet and whirled out of the bathroom without a word, revealing the bun that secured her hair and slamming the door behind her. Wolf put his free hand over his face.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Elizabeth Einspanier is the self-published author of the Weird Western novella Sheep’s Clothing and the upcoming sci-fi romance novel Heart of Steel. Her short stories have been published in Down in the Dirt and Dark Fire Fiction. She is a member of the St. Louis Writer’s Guild and an associate member of the Horror Writers of America. She lives in St. Louis, but frequently spends extended periods in worlds of her own creation.

Links

Website: http://elizabetheinspanier.com

Blog: http://calliopeskiss.blogspot.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeekGirlWriter

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+ElizabethEinspanier/

Amazon Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/elizabetheinspanier

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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36-Point Font!

MessyDesk

People often ask me how I write when I’m legally blind. The answer? I use 36-point font and my monitor is on an arm that swings into my face so I don’t hurt my back! Or just look at the picture … apparently, they’re worth a thousand words.

(Oh, and I know my desk is a mess. It is also very representative. :) )

TV Review: Grace and Frankie Season 1

Grace and Frankie is yet another Netflix original series that pushes the envelope. Plus, they put all of season 1 online at once so you can binge watch to your heart’s content.

An all-star cast of wonderful, time-tested actors comes together with a story that is funny at times, heartbreaking at others. Grace has been married to Robert for 40 years, and Frankie married to Sol for as long. They’re in their seventies, they have grown children, Grace and Robert have grandchildren. And in the first episode, their husbands come out as gay. They want a divorce so they can marry one another.

Grace and Frankie are a classic odd couple, which might be some of the basis for critical reviews claiming that this show uses cliched tropes. Personally, I think some tropes were for a reason. Plus, in this case, it gives you two very different perspectives on how two very different families deal with a life-altering situation. Frankie, who loves her husband very much, is heartbroken. Grace, who wasn’t as warm toward her husband, was more embarrassed than anything else (which isn’t to say she was fine with this).

This is a quick show to watch. The episodes are 25 minutes, which made them easy to turn to at the end of a long day.

Overall, I’d call this show very good — 4/5. Why not 5/5? Well, I did just watch Sense8 straight through twice — and skimmed it a third time. So maybe I’ve got really high standards right now. :) But no, I think a lot of it was that as the series went on, I thought a couple of episodes were eh and I wanted to laugh a bit more. Plus, I’m in my thirties, so there might be a generation gap here. My mom was crazy about this show after just two episodes — it finally convinced her to buy Netflix streaming! (Come on, it’s only $7.99 a month!)

I definitely recommend.

Madison’s Song LAUNCH — with PRIZES!

I’m celebrating the official launch of Madison’s Song with four (4) book tours!

My own tour gets started today with a terrific review from Cassandra, Lost in Books.

The tour includes a $100 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway + chances to win signed copies of Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective. Here’s the full schedule…

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PLUS, I’m doing three (3) book BLITZES today. My book will be featured on about 100 blogs around the web, and there are 3 different chances to win a $10 gift card.

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