Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Mistborn Trilogy Review: 3/5 or 6.5/10

The Skinny: At the end of the day, there are better fantasy stories out there than Mistborn—probably from Sanderson himself.

Full Review: The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson

In 2009 I broke ground on my first major sci-fi series. Somewhere around two-and-a-half books into writing, I attended my first writers’ conference in downtown Chicago, at an old hotel on Michigan Avenue. Though I write fiction fairly profusely considering I’m not being paid a living wage to do it, I prefer memoirs, biographies, and journalism over most fiction. Authors who write in these genres tend to have a stronger grasp of the nuts and bolts of good writing and compelling narrative, while a lot of speculative fiction authors are great with broad concepts and intriguing ideas and worldbuilding at the expense of compelling prose. Though the latter fascinates me when done well, the former is necessary for me to truly enjoy a story.

In seeking advice from readers around this time, acclaimed author Brandon Sanderson’s name came up frequently. I picked up Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy (2006-2008) around the last the quarter of 2014 to see what a major author writing close to my genre was doing.

Avid readers often describe “devouring” books and book series much like Netflix enthusiasts “binge” addictive serials. I devoured Patrick Rothfuss’s masterful two first entries of the Kingkiller Chronicle (2007, 2011; The Slow Regard of Silent Things; the world awaits book three). Rothfuss’s journey to New York Times stardom is a writer’s Cinderella story, so as much as I love his books, he wasn’t the best gauge for what standards lead to success.

My experience with the Mistborn series was, by comparison, a slow weathering of a great stone. Or, if you want to keep the eating metaphor going: I nibbled away at it like I kid who doesn’t want to finish his broccoli. I completed the Mistborn series in September 2017 – approximately three years after I began reading. This bears some explanation.

Where Mistborn Succeeds: Worldbuilding

Mistborn’s greatest asset is its worldbuilding. Visions of ashen, gothic spires contrasting against the perpetual red of a dying sun paint clearly the picture of a world without flowers. Apparent love and effort were invested by Sanderson into developing the philosophical concepts underlying the world, portrayed in many of the dead religions chronicled by the Keeper, Sazed. The Mistborn world is believable sociologically, mythologically, and historically, which is crucial for constructing robust fantasy. The major events and people groups of Mistborn are believable because of their complexity. This is to Sanderson’s credit as a conceptualizer of high fantasy and mythopoeia, and, unfortunately, constitutes most of the good I have to write about the series.

Where Mistborn Falters: Bad Use of Voice

Major portions of the Mistborn books are unfortunate drudgery. The dialogue is often repetitious in the immediate context (i.e., it states directly what is already implied by action and dialogue) and, while colloquial, the idiomatic speech of the Mistborn world seems inconsistent both with the parlance of brigands and thieves as well as with that of scholars, kings, and noblemen. The language reads too much like contemporary American English. While clarity should always be a writer’s top goal, it need not come at the cost of narrative or characters’ voices which, to my eyes, often seemed the case.

Most of the characters’ voices bleed together due to similar vocabulary, syntax, and reliance upon the American idiom mentioned above. A few characters have distinguishing verbal characteristics, but these are often laborious catch phrases or buzz words like “good man” and “child” out of the mouths of Breeze and Tindwyl, respectively. I recall counting the use of the former phrase on one page of my Kindle edition of book three and found that in that particular passage, every line of dialogue by Breeze contained the phrase “good man.” A character should not be most clearly defined by the sum total of his catchphrases.

The only character I truly enjoyed in this series was Sazed the Terrisman. Sazed has the clearest character voice, his actions and inactions carry narrative weight, and his personal struggles with religion force much of his inner turmoil to contend with the world Brandon Sanderson created. No other character’s development makes better use of Mistborn’s mythopoeia than Sazed—the protagonists included.

Labor Pains and Fight Sequences

I recall from The Two Towers Tolkien’s description of Aragorn’s blade falling upon Uruk-Hai like bolts of lightning. Sanderson provides little such artistry in his fight scenes, which often focus on intricately-described choreography.

When it comes to writing fights, authors should follow Tolkien’s lead and not lose the forest for the trees. Painting with broad strokes and leaving sharp description to key moments in Mistborn’s battles would have kept those portions of prose moving more smoothly and would have helped the crucial portions of those sequences stand out.

Bland Characters

With the exceptions of Sazed and Spook (due to his subplot in book three,) the cast of side characters is sadly forgettable. Breeze is far more interesting as a thief than as an emperor’s aide, as the events of books two and three turn him into little more than an oenophile who provides occasional comedy relief. Ham’s philosophical queries are close to nonexistent by book three, and he is essentially relegated to a second-tier set piece by that point; most of his words and actions in book three could have been performed by any character. Clubs was never especially relevant or interesting, and the other secondary characters who come and go across the trilogy failed to provide meaningful impact upon the story or on me as a reader.

(Don't) Trust Your Reader

Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too. -Esther Freud
Sanderson often seems to be untrustworthy of his readers’ ability to make basic logical connections, egregiously restating established worldbuilding concepts even up into book three. One example in book three’s closing pages compares the character Marsh’s abilities to those of the Lord Ruler. Not only is this fact implied because of Marsh’s abilities themselves, but the same comparison is made earlier in the same book from the perspective of another character.

Sanderson’s reasoning for this is likely well-intended: his worldbuilding concepts are big and well-developed. There’s much to learn about the world itself, allomancy, feruchemy, and hemalurgy, and a lot of people could conceivably forget much of this information on the regular. Well-intended or not, the readers of the Mistborn trilogy are often reminded of remedial worldbuilding concepts. This unnecessarily lengthens the books, makes those particular portions of narrative boring to read, and whispers to me that the narrator doesn’t trust me to remember what I read earlier.

Mistborn's Greatest Technical Weakness: Abuse of Filtering Language

The biggest offense of the books is the abuse of filtering language – the words “could” and should” usually in connection with the subjunctive mood, expressing potentiality or ability over and above reality. This is despite most of the occurrences of filtering language referring to simple active states of being.

This is a narrative problem for two reasons. First, it unnecessarily lengthens the story overall. In Sanderson’s case, I’d reckon the Mistborn Trilogy would be thousands of words shorter without the abuse of filtering words. Second, the overuse of filtering language in contexts that are actually describing the simple past or present-active implicitly removes the reader from direct interaction with the events occurring. What often reads in the narrative as “Character X could hear the sound of Y,” could have been written as “Character X heard Y.” (This leads to a lesser issue of formulaic, repetitive, predictable prose if an author is not careful, but this is surmountable with creativity.) The abuse of filtering language caused much of the nuts and bolts of Mistborn’s storytelling to be repetitive and uninteresting to read. I gravitate toward journalism and biography precisely for this reason: authors writing in these formats have to exercise great skill in turning potentially monotonous details into literary hook after literary hook – and don’t forget the hard deadlines and word count limits. In my estimation, filtering language and unengaging prose are Mistborn’s greatest technical weakness.

An Unsatisfying Conclusion

The conclusion of the third Mistborn book left much wanting, not merely in terms of unanswered conceptual questions (more metals, events about the history that were barely addressed,) but in terms of untied character knots. The three-book metanarrative ends abruptly and unsatisfyingly. With little deep connection to the characters, it's hard to care when some die, others don't, and a newer, better world waits on the horizon for the survivors.

A Prolific Author, A Mediocre Trilogy

Along with Elantris and Wheel of Time, the Mistborn Series helped cement Brandon Sanderson as a modern giant of contemporary English speculative fiction. Sanderson’s enduring success can only mean that his style has matured since 2008. My gut tells me Mistborn is not the best measure of his skills.

At the end of the day, there are better fantasy stories out there than Mistborn—probably from Sanderson himself. 3/5 for its intriguing musings on religion and detailed worldbuilding. With more compelling characters and better prose, Mistborn could have been a powerhouse series that capitalized on Brandon Sanderson’s dense, imaginative mythopoeia. It’s not a story I plan on returning to.

Mistborn’s enduring legacy may not, in the final analysis, be the story itself, but its role in launching Brandon Sanderson’s literary career.

The images in this post are the properties of their respective owners. The author claims no ownership over any of the images in this post.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ark Book 2.5: Goddess from the Machine

After gaining some killer advice at the Chicago Writing Workshop 2016, I cut up the first Ark novel, An Autumn Veil, into the first two Ark novels: A Flood of Silence (previously: A Steel Horizon) and An Autumn Veil.

Book 3, A Labyrinth of Smoke, is still in the works, and book 2 has been undergoing restructuring now that it's standing on its own two feet. I've also been working on book 2.5: Goddess from the Machine.

Though properly a spin-off of the larger Ark saga, GftM features a plot and characters with touch points to AFoS and AAV, especially its protagonist and one other major character. It provides a fleshed-out background story for ALoS. Beta readers have already expressed appreciation of the characters and plot.

GftM is different than anything I've written. Originally a character study of an important, tangential character from AAV, the histories of the characters of the original short quickly overtook the narrative, ultimately demanding a more mature treatment. One of the funnest parts has been the dramatically different setting - different from anything else in Ark or from anything else I've written: the steampunk-inspired, libertine dystopian Machine City. Most of Ark thus far has taken place in untamed wilderness and lofty places of government. Writing a story that never leaves the big city has been a welcome change.

As GftM unfolds, the protagonist struggles to build a life of her own without the protection and steady guidance of her oldest friend, a mysterious vagabond-turned-vigilante called "Kid." The plot chronicles the protagonist's shift from grudging subservient to the Machine City's ills as she herself turns to a form of vigilantism to bolster the hope of the city's downtrodden proletariat. Her ultimate fate has a profound impact on the main characters from the first three major novels.

This story is darker than the main Ark novels. The plot deals with human trafficking and slavery, sexual assault, and taking vengeance into our own hands. It is told through a series of flashbacks interspersed with the present in which lessons the protagonist learned from Kid come to bear on her circumstances.

Upon completion, I estimate GftM will reach 90-95k words in length. The present acts and chapters are:

Part I: Some Measure of Peace
1. Like Yesterday
2. All I'll Ever Ask
3. 212793
4. The Copperpot
5. She Wept
6. A Measure of Peace
Part II: Constellations
7. Marjolaine Street
8. For Your Trouble
9. A Wholly Different Place
10. She Slept Alone
11. For Your Eyes Only
12. I'll Wake Up
13. The Vigilant
14. To Live Free
15. Lies In The Stars
Part III: A Star-Strewn Girl
16. 'Til I Get Back
17. A Promising Student
18. Old Marxus
19. Decisions, Decisions
20. Beat-Up Things
21. Requisitions
22. Scarborough Cavern
23. It's All To Lose
24. Invitation
25. A Singular Pleasure
26. To Lose The War
27. Names
28. Turbulence

If you've been with me this long, you've got my thanks.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Restructuring the ARK Series: An Autumn Veil and A Steel Horizon

In accordance with my first formal rejection for the ARK books, which, FYI, makes me a real author, I'm taking seriously the advice to not pitch a work exceeding 125,000 words in length. (One veteran speculative fiction agent said bluntly in panel at the Chicago Writing Workshop back in May, "I've never sold a sci-fi/fantasy book longer than 140,000 words.")

FYI: I attended the crap out of that conference.

The So-So News: I didn't feel like I was finished with An Autumn Veil after the first act, which is why I kept writing and revising for six years. But if I wanna sell, I've gotta play ball.

Other So-So News: This means I have to break An Autumn Veil into two books, one 97k, words in length, the other 107k words in length. Book two will be called An Autumn Veil. Book one will now be called A Steel Horizon. Also, prologues are no longer "in vogue," and the same veteran agent who's never sold a book over 140k words recommended cutting them. Thus, my prologue has been relegated to an interlude.

The (Potentially) Good News: I can now approach prospective agents with a book that (1) will more likely sell due to its reduced length and (2) feature the sequel right off the bat. Which means that I could potentially receive a double advance and double royalties because I will have sold two books instead of one.

Also: Goddess from the Machine, the first major spin-off novel, is about halfway done. Presuming I sell these first two books, I'll have something new out the door within a year and a half. Three is the magic number when you're selling a series, since we binge our media in this culture - and not just Netflix, y'all.

And I've updated my website to reflect the changes to the ARK series.

Here are the revised chapter and part listing for the first two novels in the ARK series.


Part I: Ghosts of Chimon-Jing
1: The Autumn Garden
2: Midnight
3: Ghosts of Chimon-Jing
4: The Trainman
5: The Conclave
6: What Friends Are For
Part II: Lying Awake
Interlude: The Prose of Fotius, Record One
7: Helmsman's Folly
8: The Merchant Arcade
9: A Special Place in Hell
10: We Should Be Sleeping
11: If The Stars Are Willing
12: Broken Promises
13: The Only Life I've Ever Known
14: A Well To Draw From
15: What Tomorrow Holds
Part III: A Steel Horizon
Interlude: The Prose of Fotius, Record Two
16: A Lovely Day
17: Revelations
18: City On The Winds
19: Storm Clouds
20: Event Horizon
21: To Reap A Whirlwind
22: Falling
23: The Heavens Remained Silent
Epilogue: The Prose of Fotius, Record Three


Part I: The Demons We Serve
1: Awakenings
2: Prison Cell(s)
3: The Voice On The Other Side
4: Greasers
5: The Knowledge Of Good And Evil
6: A Letter From A Murderer
7: Into The Hinterlands
8: I Am Of The Gifted
9: Judsung Hollow
10: The Wrong Business
11: The Bridge Of Nof
12: A Good Death
Part II: A Convergence of Fates
Interlude: The New Guy
13: Four Things
14: Hell And All Its Demons
15: Where I'll Stand
16: Puzzle Pieces And Pawn Coins
17: One Of Us
18: The Talisman
19: Signed, An Anonymous Appreciator Of Fine Mechanics
20: Which Way To Go
21: Arcologies
Part III: An Autumn Veil
22: Staying Dead
23: Lost And Found
24: A Threshold Of Courage
25: A Root Of Evil
26: Truth
27: Starlight
28: The Dryad
29: The Nonagon Directive
30: Deja Vu
31: The Blood On Our Hands
32: The Trainman And The Magistra
33: I Won't Let You Fall

And since you've read this far, here are the five major parts (no chapters!) of Goddess from the Machine:

1: Some Measure of Peace
2: Constellations
3: A Star-Strewn Girl
4: The Fear of Our Scars
5: Goddess from the Machine

If you've been with me this long, you've got my thanks.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Princess Azula: Villanous Femme Fatale

Do you like Avatar: The Last Airbender? Do you like great villains? Do you like Princess Azula of the Fire Nation? You can read about why Azula is one of the best villains in any story in the 21st century thus far in my newest article on Geekdomhouse.com, available here.

Comment, share, and link!


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Theology of Christian Geekdom

My article A Theology of Christian Geekdom has been acquired by Canadian Christian geek zine Geekdom House. You can check it out here.

I'm goin' north for the winter.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Great Review of the Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois

I'm happy to report that reviews for the Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois are overwhelmingly positive. Here's one of my favorites from episode 1, Peter Pan Complexes for the 21st-Century Man:

I had the opportunity to read a draft of the story prior to publication, and just finished reading the finished product moments ago.

QUANTUM FALL is a first-person present narrative, with the author as its main protagonist, and it involves time travel. Normally, this combination of elements would cause me grave concern, and in fact it did despite Mr. Martin's reputation. I confess, I was terrified by this prospect of first-person-present-autobiographical-time-travel-fiction.

I am extremely pleased to report to you, potential readers, that my fears were not only unfounded, I found myself a tremendous fan of the book even before I was done reading the acknowledgements. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Daniel Rodrigues-Martin is a capable and witty author--clearly well-read and versed in the art of crafting prose without becoming prosaic. His dialogue is amusing and crisp, his characters straddle the fence between the real and fantastic, and I hope he is willing to report to Mr. DuBois that this reviewer looks forward to reading more of their strange adventures through spacetime.

This is the first installment of what promises to be a fun-filled steampunk alt-history serial. It is a quick read, but worth every red cent on Kindle. I will be waiting in earnest for more, and recommend that you join me. It was a tossup between 4 and 5 stars, but I tend to be a little stingy with that last star on first-in-series books.

Buy The Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois, Episode 1, on Amazon.

Listen to Quantum Fall: Volume 1's playlist now on Spotify!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

An Autumn Veil: Final Chapter Listing

It'll be six years in November since I began An Autumn Veil.

I'm going through my final edits. Hopefully, the next people who edit this manuscript will be professional agents and editors.

Here's the final chapter listing.

Prologue: The Prose Of Photius, Record 1: The Burning Night

1: The Autumn Garden
2: Midnight
3: Ghosts of Chimon-Jing
4: The Trainman
5: The Conclave
6: What Friends Are For
7: Helmsman's Folly
8: The Merchant Arcade
9: A Special Place in Hell
10: We Should Be Sleeping
11: If The Stars Are Willing
12: Broken Promises
13: The Only Life I've Ever Known
14: A Well To Draw From
15: What Tomorrow Holds
16: A Lovely Day
17: Revelations
18: City On The Winds
19: Storm Clouds
20: Event Horizon
21: To Reap A Whirlwind
22: Falling
23: The Heavens Remained Silent

Interlude: The Prose Of Photius, Record 2: The Rain Of Ash

24: Awakenings
25: Prison Cell(s)
26: The Voice On The Other Side
27: Greasers
28: The Knowledge Of Good And Evil
29: A Letter From A Murderer
30: Into The Hinterlands
31: I Am Of The Gifted
32: Judsung Hollow
33: The Wrong Business
34: The Bridge Of Noph
35: A Good Death

Interlude: A Convergence Of Fates, Part 1: The New Guy

36: Four Things
37: Hell And All Its Demons
38: Where I'll Stand
39: Puzzle Pieces And Pawn Coins
40: One Of Us
41: The Talisman
42: Signed, An Anonymous Appreciator Of Fine Mechanics
43: A Convergence Of Fates, Part 2: Which Way To Go
44: Arcologies
45: Staying Dead
46: Lost And Found
47: A Threshold Of Courage
48: A Root Of Evil
49: Truth
50: Starlight
51: The Dryad
52: The Nonagon Directive
53: Deja Vu
54: The Blood On Our Hands
55: The Trainman And The Magistra
56: A Convergence Of Fates, Part 3: I Won't Let You Fall

Epilogue: The Prose Of Photius, Record 3: The Flood Of Silence

PROTIP: The second novel is called A Labyrinth of Smoke. And since you've been so kind to read this far, here is the current chapter listing.

Prologue: Rickshaw Lake

1: The Cloud Atrium
2: Ghosts In The Flame
3: Children In Tree Branches
4: The First Scar
5: Subsidence
6: The Conspirators
7: Coin, Fire, Ice, Blood

If you've been with me this long, you've got my thanks.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois Volume I Spotify Playlist

The Quantum Fall of Thaddeus Archibald DuBois Volume I playlist is available here for your listening pleasure.



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Film Review: "Maggie"

My recent review of Maggie starring Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger is available here.


Thursday, July 30, 2015