Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Dork Review: Nukekubi

So now we're on to the third book I brought home from Ad Astra, Nuekekubi Stephen B. Pearl. Only one more after this and I'll have gone through everything I brought home. (Yes, this was a light con for book purchases for me.)

So where to start with Nuekekubi? I enjoyed the book without being completely blown away. On the positive column is this is a fantasy/horror book that's actually set in Southern Ontario, which is bloody rare. Canadian authors seem to have generally not been encouraged to set their stories in their own backyards, with the exception of Robert J. Sawyer of course.

In addition to that, the story involves Japanese culture and mythology, which I've been fascinated by for years. The nukekubi that gives the story its title is a type of Japanese goblin that has its hands and head detach and fly around causing problems. So, another bonus.

Third in the plus column is I can see a definite improvement in Stephen's writing. The last book of his I read was Tinker's Plague, a post-apocalyptic story set in the Guelph area, and while it had an interesting premise the story suffered from an overuse of exclamation marks. This may seem like a minor technical item, but it put the emotional emphasis that should have been conveyed by the dialogue out of whack and raised things to the level of melodrama. Nukekubi avoids this mistake and that is a big step forward for Mr. Pearle.

The fourth positive aspect of the book is the open-minded nature of the characters, especially the narrator, Ray. I don't want to put a spoiler out there so let me just say this: Ray sees women as people, no matter their circumstances, and while he has romance issues they aren't of the standard Neanderthal man-cave dweller sort. That in itself is refreshing.

Fifth, this book has a great ending that I didn't see coming yet at the same time makes complete sense and is satisfying. Really, it works so well.

So with all the positives I've listed above why aren't I raving more about this book? I think it's more technical issues. At times the dialogue just didn't feel quite right, making some of the characters feel a bit off, and I didn't feel engaged enough by the magic system Ray and his colleagues use. These aren't huge issues, but they're the ones that stood out for me.

If you're a fan of urban fantasy or books set in Canada then I think this is one you should check out. The positives I've highlighted do outweigh the negatives.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Dork Review: Destiny's Fall

The lovely Marie Bilodeau released the second of her Destiny series and I was lucky enough to snag a copy at Ad Astra. Between working on my own writing and fighting a nasty case of con-crud I was finally able to finish it today.

So what do I think of it?

Destiny's Fall is good continuation of the series. I can see a greater maturity in Marie's writing style while it still retains her storytelling voice, and I can see growth in how the characters are portrayed. They're more vibrant in this book, have more of an individual voice rather than just being swept along in the admirably done narrative. This is especially true of Avienne, who is now definitely my favorite character of the series. (What can I say, I have a weakness for redheads.)

The issue I noticed in Destiny's Blood is still present in Destiny's Fall. It's far too short. The book just seems to be ramping up when it comes to a conclusion. Also, there were some things mentioned but characters, told to the reader, that I would have loved to have seen played out on the page. One part in particular is the implantation of a magic jewel that sounds like it would have been an awesome scene but we only get told about it later rather than actually seeing it happen.

There are so many tumultuous events this book that happen one after another that I was exhausted by the end. I'd love to see the characters having a chance to talk more, to have a chance to truly digest what just happened to them.

Based on what I've seen, I think Destiny's Fall could easily have been twice its current length without losing any of its impact. As I said about Destiny's Blood, if the worst thing I can say about a book is that it's too short then it can't be all that bad.

(Yes, I've ready some really long books/series that should have ended pages ago... cough... Wheel Of Time... cough)

Go check out Marie's site and look into getting a copy of your own.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Survival Strategies For Introverts

The introversion panel at Ad Astra 2012 spawned the idea for this post. After it was over I started thinking, "What can introverts do to not only survive but thrive in an extroverted world?". Here's what I've come up with:

1. Plan ahead and have an escape strategy:

Sounds simple right? You'd be surprised how many people, not just introverts, fail to do this. Look, if you're an introvert at some point you're going to put into an uncomfortable situation, such as attending a party you really didn't want to or presenting to a group of strangers. Having a way to gracefully step away from something you're not comfortable with is critical as it will prevent you from getting too stressed and saying something you didn't intend to. And remember, internalize rather than memorize. You want to be able to give a good reason without sounding like you're reading off a prepared speech. (This also works in keeping down nervousness if you have to give a talk in front of others.)

2. Know your limit:

Now for the reason you have your exit strategy. At some point you're going to hit your daily allotment of dealing with other people. The great thing about being an introvert is we're pretty good with the intake and processing of stimuli. The terrible thing is we get overwhelmed by said stimuli much quicker than extroverts. May have something to do with internalizing and chewing it over rather than constantly sending stimuli outwards. Not a good or a bad thing either way. It just is.

So why do we need to know our limits? Two reasons: First, so we can break them, and second, so we know when to exit. One we've reached our stimuli breaking point we need to back off and recharge, otherwise we run the risk of doing or saying something truly stupid. I know that I can get rather, testy, if I've been surrounded by stimulus for too long without a break and an innocent comment could get me to say something I'll regret. It's important to know what your personal limit is so you can retreat before you make an ass of yourself and derail all the work you're about to do with strategy 3.

3. Break out of your comfort zone:

Now you may be asking, "Didn't he just say to stay within my limit?" No, no I didn't. The reason I recommend knowing your limit is so that you can break it every now and then in a controlled manner in order to increase said limit. Think of it as social weight-lifting. On a regular basis it's a good idea to work your social muscles to failure so that as they recover they become stronger. This means you'll be more comfortable is a wider variety of social situations and less likely to have a knee-jerk negative reaction when placed in an unexpected uncomfortable situation, such as having to train a group of people you've just met or fill in for your boss at a meeting.

An example of me following this advice was Ad Astra 2012. Talking in front of a room full of people is something I've never been overly comfortable with and being a panelist this year helped me a lot with that. I was in a relatively safe, controlled environment and was guaranteed an audience that was at least interested in what I had to say. In the end, Ad Astra was a huge confidence boost for me and should help with my jitters the first time I actually have to do a (gah!) reading from something of mine that's been published.

So pick something just outside your comfort zone that you have a little bit of control over and do it. Keep doing this and you'll see yourself better able to socialize and being an introvert won't be some much of a burden.

Okay, so those are the top three strategies for introvert survival and thriving. Now from some little things:

  • Master the head bob and umm - this way people will realize you heard them while your brain is chewing over their problem. The chin-stroke works well too, especially if you have facial hair.
  • Take a second before responding to anything and consider your answer - we may know it right away (thank you fast stimuli processing) but we appear more thoughtful if we take a moment and we refine the phrasing of our answer to be more sociably correct.
  • Don't be afraid to smile.
  • Don't be afraid to observe for a couple minutes before diving into an unknown situation. Again, use your data-processing abilities to give yourself a leg-up in as many situations as possible.
My final recommendation is always remember that being shy/introverted doesn't make you any less deserving of success or happiness than anyone else. Being a jackass makes you less deserving, and both introverts and extroverts can be jackasses, so don't be one.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Dork Review: Fighting Gravity

Being sick sucks, but having a good book to read does help mitigate things. Reading Fighting Gravity has helped sooth my post Ad Astra cold while giving my beleaguered brain something to focus on.

It helps that this book is an excellent read. I dipped my toes into it last night and then dived in fully today while sprawled out on the couch, devouring it in only a few hours. It's that good and that easy to fall into.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that Falling Gravity's main character, Jacob Dawes, is so well written. The entire book is first person in his voice, and Jacob is such a highly-self aware sort that he can comment on when he's made a colossal error without attempting to excuse himself.

This book could stand alone as a character study of one man's journey from crushing poverty to the rarest heights of scientific achievement, from obscurity to notoriety,  but it also includes themes of love, passion, and dangerous/dysfunctional relationships that form the story of Jacob's life. There is an almost fairy tale quality to this book.

Falling Gravity isn't perfect however. I finished this book with a lot of unanswered questions. With the focus being on Jacob and told through his first-person viewpoint a lot of the background of the world Leah Petersen has crafted falls to the wayside. My frustration at that could be due to the fact I'm very much a detail person. I like to know the why behind most things, especially why Earth in the future has an emperor, a variety of social classes, and so on. There are subtexts of class war/envy and bigotry that are present but not examined as much as I would have like to have seen.

One aspect that isn't explained his how accepting people of Falling Gravity's world are unconcerned about the fact that Jacob is in a gay relationship. Wait, let me correct that. People are concerned about the relationship, not over the fact that it's with another man but rather who that man is. One concern about books set in a neo-feudal setting is that the society depicted will have regressed in almost all aspects, and Falling Gravity avoids completely falling into this trope while still having some unsavory societal elements.

This is Leah Petersen's first book and I think she's done a marvelous job. What Falling Gravity does right it does very well and what it lacks doesn't prevent it from being a good read. The ending does leave open the possibility of a sequel, which I think would work great if told from a different perspective than Jacob's. Much like J.M. Frey, I think Leah has a lot of potential and I look forward to reading her next book.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ad Astra 2012 Con Report

It's Monday afternoon as I write this as it took that long for my brain to reboot. Ad Astra 2012 was a blast but extremely exhausting. I'm glad I took today off so I could nap and recover.

So where to begin on this? This was my first year as a panelist and I have to say I was extremely nervous going in. It didn't help that things were a bit chaotic the first day of the con and the registration for the panelists wasn't available until after 5 for some and later for others. That's not a criticism though. The convention recently transferred to a new hotel and I heard rumblings there were technical issues behind the scenes. Considering how bad it could have been I think the Ad Astra volunteers did a great job of running with things and should be commended on it. I hope things go smoother for them next year.

The funny thing is, the closer I got to my first panel the calmer I became and as soon as it started any nervousness I had disappeared, which is even more amusing to me as my first panel was about introversion. It was fun! I'm an avowed introvert. I spend a lot of time in my own head-space considering things and not a lot of time talking, so I was a bit surprised at how much I actually had to say and that I didn't find myself stumbling for words all that often. In fact, I'd like to think I made a useful contribution to the panels I attended. (The final determination on that of course rests with the audience of those panels.)

A lot of what I experienced is due to As Astra being a very welcoming convention. That was especially evident on the Introversion Is Not A Bad Thing panel as I remember someone making a point that at conventions the norms are hugely skewed in favor of introverts as to make people who in mainstream society would appear closed off suddenly becoming raging extroverts. (I exaggerate for effect of course.)

During that panel a term for those who straddle the line between introverts and extroverts came up - ambiverts. Those are people who can be introverted or extroverted, or at least communicate effectively with both sides, as the need arose. It was a great panel, and a wonderful way to start the convention.

I was honestly amazed at how well attended the panels I was on were, especially the one on criticism. That was one I expected the panelists to exceed the audience (which did happen in a couple panels I went to as a guest rather than a panelist). Even the panel I had on Sunday at 10:00AM was pretty well attended, and the audience didn't seem terribly hung over either. The only one that really didn't work out was the Lost Girl panel. Due to a scheduling conflict my fellow panelist was double-booked, and when only one attendee showed up we made the decision to transfer over to the Sherlock panel she was also scheduled for in the next room.

The final panel I did was one on book trailers, and I honestly don't remember signing up for it and was worried I'd have nothing relevant to contribute. I really find most book trailers tedious and have absolutely nothing to do with their production and distribution. I was honestly worried I'd be an outsider slagging on the whole idea while marketing mouthpieces said what a wonderful promotional tool they were, yadda, yadda, yadda. The reality was much different.

First off, the marketing people who were on the panel were intelligent and truly passionate about the books they sold and that came across. They were also willing to put up their own work for evaluation and listen with an open mind to the feedback provided. Passion can't be reliably faked, and I can usually tell when someone is nodding while thinking I'm a jerk for stating honestly that something didn't work for me. So I have nothing but praise for my fellow book trailer panelists, though I do think the person who created the first trailer we watched, thankfully not produced by anyone in the room or any company they were affiliated with, should be smacked upside the head not only for creating something so horrible but for posting it online. It was bad, very bad, so bad it became good and then crossed back over to bad again.

Aside from panels I attended three book launches, a couple parties, and came in second place to Toronto's resident super-villain Dr. Holocaust in an evil laugh contest, which wasn't so bad as the Doc went all out and I did get some compliments on my own laugh. I may have pulled something in my back to do it though. Time for some evil laugh training before my next attempt.

One of my fellow panelists said in conversation that now that I've started doing panels I'm doomed to keep on doing them, and you know, I think he's right. At Ad Astra 2012 I got to see a lot of old friends and made a few new ones. I'm looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My AdAstra Schedule... Wait. What?

So it seems I'm going to be on a few panels at this years AdAstra convention. How did this happen you might ask? I responded to a twitter comment from @AdAstraSociety thinking I was saying I'd love to attend a panel about Apple products and such when what I was actually saying was that I'd like to be a part of said panel. Yay for miscommunication! (Entirely my fault by the way.)

Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound as the saying goes. After signing up for one panel the lovely convention people sent me a list of others and asked if I'd like to be on a few additional, and being the glutton for punishment I am I found some that I thought I could contribute to. Here's the list:

  • Introversion Is Not A Bad Word - Friday 7:00PM - Floor 2 Salon 3
    •  Does society reward extroverts? Do we marginalize introverts?
      Too often, introverts carry the negative label "anti-social" while
      extroverts are labeled with the positive "people person." With
      the SF community dominated by introverts, it's time to talk
      about the difference between "shy," "anti-social" and ""; the
      positive aspects of , and what we introverts can do to be better
      understood by our extroverted friends and colleagues who
      insist on pulling us out of our shell.
  • Criticism and Critique in the 21st Century - Saturday 11:00AM - Floor 2 Salon 4
    • Developments in social media and web 2.0 technology
      continue to blur the line between amateur and professional
      critics. As North American colleges and universities produce
      record numbers of graduates, the media consuming public is
      transforming itself into something that feels it ought to be
      included in larger critical conversations. The purpose of this
      panel would be to explore how professionals and amateurs
      work together to evaluate genre media,
  • All About Apple... Love or Hate - Saturday 2:00PM - Arctic 
    •  Flawless design or Flawless marketing?
  • The Future is Fascist: The Military Command Structure As The Preferred Form of Organization in SF - Sunday 10:00AM - Melville Room
    • While a hierarchical rank system may be the best form of
      organization for military spacecraft, it is not the way we
      organize everything in society. Why is this structure so
      prevalent within SF as the way to run, not just military units, but
      cities and whole societies? Is SF anti-democratic?
  • Lost Girl - Sunday 12:00PM - Arctic
    • As this show grows in popularity what does it mean for the
      future of Lost Girl? Now an international sensation, what
      makes this show a success?
And yes, I do find it very amusing that the first panel I'm going to be on is about introversion. The introvert part of my brain is currently screaming at me "What the hell are we doing!!!" but I'm currently drowning him out with positive thoughts of how much fun this is going to be.