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Book Review: Ice Forged

Amazon Cover - Ice Forged

Book Cover from Amazon

Below is my the second Apocalypse Fantasy novel book review this year. (Click here to see the other: Shattering the Ley). I guess the end-of-the-world no longer applies to just the Young Adult (YA) sci-fi and horror genres.

Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

Condemned as a murderer for killing the man who dishonored his sister, Blaine “Mick” McFadden has spent the last six years in Velant, a penal colony in the frigid northern wastelands. Harsh military discipline and the oppressive magic keep a fragile peace as colonists struggle against a hostile environment. But the supply ships from Dondareth have stopped coming, boding ill for the kingdom that banished the colonists.

Now, as the world’s magic runs wild, McFadden and the people of Velant must fight to survive and decide their fate …

From Gail Z. Martin, author of the beloved series THE CHRONICLES OF THE NECROMANCER and THE FALLEN KINGS CYCLE, comes a new fantasy adventure for the ages.
Welcome to the end of the world.
Welcome to the beginning of THE ASCENDANT KINGDOMS SAGA.

MY REVIEW

Brought during a Kindle sale to kickstart the advance copies of Gail Martin’s next book of the series.

I normally don’t buy High Fantasy, disliking the formulaic approach of the quest – gather the friends – travel the lands – etc. Somehow an author writing High Fantasy never quite makes the world or situation real to me, but the world-building aspects of a magical planet suddenly have magic no longer working the way it should intrigued me. I’ve met Ms. Martin at conventions and the price was right so I decided to go for it.

The first book of The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga focuses on the death of magic and the immediate consequence following. The magic system is just unique enough and is tied to why magic can go from tame and usable in every day life (better tasting beer, a tweak to keep pests out of crops, major magic to use in wars) to a feral, dangerous force roaming the countryside, more ferocious and hungry than any monster.

I liked the Siberian-style prison colony, but wished the continental magic countries and their politics were a little less generic. The world-building fell just a breath below the intriguing I was hoping for. On the other hand, this was the first book of a series. The author needed to define the world, the characters AND the situation. I look forward to book two to see if world becomes uniquely its own as the medieval magical apocalypse continues.

As for the story itself, again just shy of being really good. It just didn’t pull me in all the way, but then I am not a fan of High Fantasy so I am not the best judge success or failure in this genre. Some bits are repetitive, but just enough so that if you need to put down this 600-page tome for a day or two (such as for going to work), you can slip into the story again without flipping back.

The ending is anti-climatic. Some other reviewers thought this was a down-point. I, for one, was happy not to see a big final battle that needed to get bigger and badder with each continuing book of the series. This book is about failure: moral good being punished for doing the right thing the wrong way, a good kingdom falling to a bad kingdom because it obeyed the rules of right, a prison at the end of the world overturned by its convicts – and the convicts discovering they still needed to do everything their keepers made them do, coming home in triumph and discovering there is no home left, and finding all the clues they need but still unable to pull things off. Of course the final scene will close in failure; but it sets up the possibility of success for the next book.

A book I look forward to.

Writing Exercise: Expanding on Dialogue

Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The most common mistake I run across while editing is something I call “Screenplay”, where the writer goes into dialogue-only mode – forgetting to add location cues, speaker indications, action, exposition, and other narrative. Other people call it “Talking Heads”, and it is about as exciting as watching stick puppet talk without the puppeteer moving the sticks.

Now, when you are writing the first draft, you may find only dialogue occurs. This is fine, spew the information in your head on the page. You can’t fix it until it is written.

For the flash Grass, which came in just over 2,000 words, the initial exchange was 100% dialogue. The alien visiting my head asked “Why do you dedicate so much land to non-food?” while I was mowing the lawn, and the conversation devolved from there. After getting stung by a yellow jacket, I retreated indoors and decided to type out the exchange. Initially I tried to add some narrative while typing up, but nothing wanted to happen. I knew the exchange was between a human and an alien ambassador and nothing else. Two hundred words vomited from my fingers onto the page in 28 lines of dialogue. That was it.

Then the hard part. Adding in the narrative. Yes, I could have left it in screenplay or movie script format – that is the point of flashes after all, getting things out quickly -, but I wanted to know more. The end result was ten times as long as the initial product, and I did not add a single line of dialogue. If anything the dialogue shrunk a little when I modified the alien’s vocabulary – just a word here and there. The dialogue is substantially unchanged from the initial voices-in-my-head moment while mowing.

Since you are going to write dialogue sans any narrative (and, believe me, you are going to write dialogue sans any narrative) you should practice adding narrative to dialogue. Preferably before you send your manuscript off to a content editor.

WRITING EXERCISE: Either take dialogue already written in play format or create five to ten simple lines of your own without thinking of the scenario at all. You can find dialogue online by searching “screenplay examples” and clicking on images. An example of five simple lines of dialogue is “Hello” “Hello, how are you doing today?” “You know.” “Yep.” “Any suggestions on how to get the red out?”.

If you are using previously created dialogue ignore who the speakers are. Now that you have some generic dialogue, pick a genre and two characters: Fantasy with an elf and orc; science fiction with a spaceship captain and crew member; a mystery with the murderer and investigator talking, anything you want. Add the narrative to your dialogue. It should at least double the length of the dialogue. 

Here is a secret, just between you and me, dear writers. You want to increase your word count for a document, go find those “talking head” areas in your Work-In-Progress and flesh them out. You can even try that right now as a second writing exercise for today if you want.

***

“Hello,” echoed through the empty store.

Jazz bit back a curse from popping her head against the counter top when she tried to stand. Stuffing bags underneath the cash register in preparations for next week’s sales had hid her from view. Standing, rubbing her head, she put on her best customer service smile and said, “Hello, how are you doing today?” before focusing on the customer. Correction, police officer. Who did not look happy at all; his uniform was a wreck. Another one stood in the open doorway of her little mall shop, her uniform pristine.

“You know.” He growled before glancing over at his female partner, who nodded and stepped outside.

Remaining overtly perky while reviewing her recent activities for any slipup which might have brought the officer to this particular store, Jazz replied, “Yep.

“Any suggestions on how to get the red out?” the officer asked, moving his right hand over his clothing from shoulder to waist in hovering indication.

Walking around the counter to lead him to the appropriate cleaning supplies, Jazz, sometimes known as the supervillian Prankster, smiled wide while no one was looking. (initial dialogue 19 words – final result 188 words.)

Geeking Science: Planet of Mystery

Logo from the Planet of Mystery GoFundMe

I am lucky enough to live in a small city with a planetarium – one which had an amazing astronomer named Jim Craig running its programming for over 20 years. This guy geeks science so hard he would go to writer’s conventions state-wide and be on science panel after science panel on his weekends off, because science. He has a tattoo of NASA. When he was let go from the day job, he immediately pounded feet to his computer and started making those astronomy videos he used to make for the planetarium and local school system at home. He named his new production company “Planet of Mystery” and started creating its first program “Red Planet Rising”. The aim is to have low-cost videos available to planetariums, science centers, schools, and other people and entities interested in life, the universe, and everything.

I think if you cut Mr. Craig, he would bleed starlight.

Unfortunately starlight doesn’t pay the bills, or, more specifically the computing power to crunch the videos in any meaningful time frame. If you’re interested in helping out a proven educator provide low-cost quality videos, please consider the Planet of Mystery GoFundMe campaign. Even $10 can make a difference.

The link for the GoFundMe campaign is: https://www.gofundme.com/planetofmystery

Flash: To Do List

Image from the internet Hivemind, adjusted with the symbol of the future military.

He took to the List an anger, a rage, he never felt before. Never before did he have people to protect. His people. Jonathan blazed through the crowded hallways of the Admiralty of the Green Fleet headquarters toward the courtroom where the List of Inquiry would be held, people unconsciously stepped back into the crowd giving him clear passage through the hallways.

“Captain. Captain Fairhurst.”

The voice behind him cut through the red haze driving Jonathan forward. No one would calling him that unless they were from his ship. His steward had given up desperately needed sleeptime to sew the bands on his surviving purples; the dress whites he was presently wearing were picked up from the commissary only an hour ago and were pinned with his last in-station approved rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. So the combat-minted captain paused to look behind while a man taller than he, used the wake Jon had cut through the crowd to close quickly.

Jonathan did not recognize the man, and after the long trip in with the fatally damaged ship he knew his crew. Dropping his eyes to the man’s wrists where the green cuffs decorated the whites and held four thin bands of a full captain and a gold star indicating attachment to an admiral’s council, his more natural state of curiosity reigned in his anger. A captain of the List of the Green. Why would one of the genteel crowd want to talk to him?

Stepping to the side, closer to a wall, monitoring the closing captain and the door to the Inquiry, Jonathan waited. He twitched up his purple cuffs with the single gold band. The ill-fitting monstrosity the commissary had gifted him needed tailoring. The sleeves were too long, the shoulders too tight, and the legs not capable of an airtight seal with his boots if decompression occurred on the port station. The only fit he was sure was the high-neck collar into the purple cap’s emergency mask. The commissary petty officer had searched a precious quarter hour before finding a combination which sealed around his thick neck. A quarter hour he had set aside to arrive at the Inquiry in good order. Now he had five minutes before the Masters at Arms guarding the door to the Inquiry opened up the courtroom.

Glancing at the name tag once the man cleared the crowed, Jonathan acknowledged the thin six-foot, caramel-skinned superior officer with a barely regulation salute. “Captain Torres-Diaz.” His eyes ran over the pins on the whites, nothing from combat and only the single required year in space. Ah, one of those Torres-Diazs.

The other man returned the salute with perfect precision before removing the white captain hat and tucking it under his arm. “I’m to be your advocate for the inquiry.”

Raising his shaved eyebrows in surprised, Jonathan replied. “When an advocate did not show up with the summons, I assumed the Inquiry would be informal.” He hadn’t assumed anything of the type, and felt his rage return, reddening his neck and ears, fortunately mostly covered by the high collar. While the trip had given his twenty-year old temper time to be tempered, he had expected to be safe once in port and not thrown to the wolves. After four years and getting his crew back to human space, he had relaxed until the summons arrived last night two hours after they managed to dock.

Torres-Diaz nodded. “Normally it would be, but with the Green going out for a month of maneuvers tomorrow, they wanted get this done quickly to let your sailors go home without a cloud.”

“I can see that.” Fairhurst smiled. The other captain took a step back, changing his stance. Pushing away thoughts about the less than twenty-four hours summons and what that entailed in breaking the regs, Jonathan rearranged the smile and decided to test how bad the lynch squad waiting on the other side of the doors would be. “Well, I am glad to have you. You have had access to the ship’s log and records we squirted when we got into human space sixteen days ago. What do you want me to do?”

The green captain from a family of lawyers on the well-established colony of Sainte Teresa Avila tried to hide his wince by changing his stance to be more casual. “I received the records when I got the assignment this morning. I also have the List of initial Inquiry.”

Breathing in through the smiling teeth, the combat seasoned captain stared at the older, taller, and senior officer through eyes black with four years of hell. “What did you do to get this?” The lawyer had to have screwed up big time.

Brown eyes broke from his instantly and looked over the Jonathan’s broad shoulders. “The inquiry will start in two minutes.” He tapped the tablet he carried and Jonathan’s buzzed. “Those are the questions. Try to run your answers by me before responding.” Torres-Diaz dropped his eyes back to the black pits before him. “I will try to save you.”

“Sir, may I give you an order?”

The thin lips of the civilized desk-jockey navy man pursed.

“Save my crew.”

The masters-of-arms opened the courtroom doors and the crowd, which had kept conspicuously back from their conversation, moved.

The admiral advisor took his cap from under his arm, dusting the insignia on it thoughtfully. “I can’t save everyone.”

“To the deep with me, give me the words to save them. I got them this far, and I promised them home.”

The Captain of the Green returned his cap to his head and waved Jonathan toward the List of Inquiry.

(Words 942 – first published 9/17/2017; From a prompt – the story had to start with “He took to the list…”)