Archive for March, 2010

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The Legend of Steel Bashaw by Petar Meseldžija

March 31, 2010

I was surprised this morning by a bit of news in my inbox from my friends over at Flesk Publications, and thought I’d best do what I could in spreading the word about Petar Meseldžija’s forthcoming adaption of of the Serbian folktale Baš Čelik, entitled The Legend of Steel Bashaw. The synopsis that follows will tell you what you can expect from the story, but it’s worth knowing that it will also be accompanied by over 60 of Meseldžija’s superb illustrations.

This is one of those projects that excites both the reader and history major in me — given that it’s a folktale that we’re not nearly as familiar with here in the west, produced by an author/illustrator extremely knowledgeable in the source material itself. A rare opportunity indeed, so you can consider this pre-ordered.

A contemporary retelling of this classic Serbian folktale!

By Petar Meseldžija

Over 60 illustrations
64 pages, 9 x 12”

Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-933865-30-0

$19.95

On the edge of a forest as old as the mountains, they still tell a tale deep into the night…

The Legend of Steel Bashaw is Petar Meseldžija’s adaption of Baš Čelik. A folktale he first heard as a boy, it was given nightly life by Serbian storytellers illuminated by fireplaces and burning lamps.
Built from the same impossible truths that the ancients used to craft all myths, this tale concerns itself with a kidnapped princess, the deeds of a heroic prince, battles lost or won, death and redemption. As with all the best stories, it also traverses lands real and imagined, ranging from the primeval forests of the Balkans to the kingdoms of the dragons and beyond.

But unlike most tellers of legends, Meseldžija knows there is a truth underlying this oft-told tale. He grew up with it and once held crumbling proof of that truth in his hands. It’s that experience which provided him with the main inspiration for this book, and it’s that same certain knowledge which informs every word and image in The Legend of Steel Bashaw.

Meseldžija has crafted a tale as vital as Beowulf, Homer’s Odyssey and the other great stories. His paintings bring his characters and their worlds to vivid life. The Legend of Steel Bashaw is his gift to the world, and it is a masterpiece.

This looks to be something very special, and at $19.95 I’d reckon you won’t want to miss it, in what I’d imagine is a fairly limited print run. Be on the lookout for it this August.

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The Secret of Kells (and 2-D Animation)

March 29, 2010

An avid reader, I’m also a hopeless animation nut (evidenced perhaps by the several hours I spent this weekend gathering all the necessary coupons and discounts I could find to pick up Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on Blu Ray for a swan song, so as to add those to my collection as quickly as possible) so pardon an aside here because Cartoon Saloon and Buena Vista International’s The Secret of Kells looks nothing if not extremely stylized, witty, and utterly original. Definitely worth talking about.

Features such as this are all the more miraculous as, sadly, it seemed that several years ago 2-D animation was on its last legs and it was a sorry state of affairs because there seemed very little interest in reviving the medium from the most influential sectors of the industry. I remember shaking my head in disgust as former heads of Disney decided that the form was all but dead and that CGI alone was the wave of the future (as much as I enjoy it, there is room for all  mediums to thrive), but thanks to the visions of numerous creators at Disney Animation Studios (+ the timely ousting of a few executives) and animation studios such as the folks at Cartoon Saloon, here, it appears that audiences are once again embracing the unique possibilities 2-D animation brings and that 2-D animation will likely continue to thrive right alongside it’s CGI brethren once again. Definitely so, if the critical success of features like Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and the Secret of Kells is any indication.

Anyhow, here’s the official synopsis of Secret of the Kells followed by a trailer you won’t want to miss:

Brendan is hard at work with his uncle, Abbott Cellach, and the other monks, helping to strengthen the abbey walls against Viking raids. But a new life of adventure begins with the arrival of Brother Aidan, a celebrated master illuminator who initiates Brendan into the art of illumination, awakening his hidden, but extraordinary, talents.

In order to finish the magnificent book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a secret quest that will take him, for the first time ever, beyond the abbeys walls into the enchanted forest where dangerous mythical creatures hide. It is here that he meets the fairy Aisling, a mysterious young white wolf/girl, who will become his closest friend and helper.

But with the terrifying Viking Hordes closing in, will Brendan succeed in his quest to illuminate the darkness and prove that enlightenment is the best fortification against barbarians?

If this looks like something that’d float your boat, keep an eye out, because despite its limited theatrical release, The Secret of Kells is indeed receiving an awful lot of critical praise and will surely be collected in some form so that you and I can take it home and add it to our collections.

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Recent Book Acquisitions

March 25, 2010

I would suspect that the majority of folks that visit Follow That Raven have a fairly large collection spanning multiple genres (and one of these days I’m going to have to post a few pictures of my humble ‘ol library, following some renovation we’ll be doing in that part of the house) and I know that I’m always finding ways to add something new to my own ever growing collection, so from time to time I’ll be sure to share what I’ve been parting with my hard earned dollar in order to obtain. So, here’s the damage I did this last several weeks thanks to a sale at a local retailer (and my wife allowing me to splurge a little), but as the both of us are always on the look out for a good deal, rarely will I pay the retail cover price. Of course, that means I have to exercise a little more patience, but in the end I end up saving an awful lot and it makes the journey to obtain them a little more interesting:

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1776 HC by David McCullough ($14.98)

Conquest by Man by Paul Herrmann ($5.79)

From Apostasy to Restoration by Kent P. Jackson ($8.99)

If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy – From the Revolution to the War of 1812 HC by George C. Daughan (~ $4.50)

John Adams HC by David McCullough ($17.50)

John Paul Jones: Maverick Hero HC by Frank Walker (~ $4.50)

Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson ($16.30)

Sasha: A Trial of Blood and Steel Book 1 by Joel Shepherd ($6.62)

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (~ $14.99)

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And as always, I’m also glad to hear what you might have recently picked up.

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Review: Yokai by Stan Sakai

March 22, 2010

Yokai by Stan Sakai

Publisher: Dark Horse

What Drew Me to the Book: I’m already a huge Usagi fan, and Stan Sakai celebrated Usagi Yojimbo’s 25th Anniversary in 2009. I jumped at the chance to add this to my collection, as I always do. These last twenty-five years have been spent carefully crafting, and lovingly applying to paper the adventures of a master-less samurai named Miyamoto Usagi (loosely based on Japanese hero Miyamoto Musashi) who travels the dangerous towns and countrysides of feudal Japan on a journey of the soul, often finding himself front and center in a brouhaha that was previously unconcerned with him, all because of a good heart and a nearly unmatched sword.

Well, one of the ways Stan was able to celebrate the 25-year milestone was by giving fans of the long-eared ronin and newcomers alike a full-length, fully painted, stand alone graphic novel entitled Yokai which features one of the things Stan most enjoys drawing alongside Usagi: monsters! Fortunately, Japanese folklore is chock full of interesting monsters just screaming for Stan’s unique art style to commit them to paper as only he can, and it seems a project that was just waiting to happen. Here’s a little background, then, on the anniversary project by Stan himself as found in the interview wrapping up the volume:

I wanted the story to be special, because I had never done a painted story on this scale before. Two stories came to mind. One was the return of Jei, one of my more popular characters, and this story about the yokai, the ghosts, goblins, and haunts of Japanese mythology. I needed a standalone story that those unfamiliar with Usagi could enjoy, but that would satisfy the longtime readers as well.

Japan has such a wonderful tradition of mythology and folklore, with not only the really horrific monsters, but also the goofy ones, such as the animated umbrella or the animated teapot. I wanted to do something with these creatures from folklore. There’s the legend of “The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons,” where every summer the demons get together and parade through towns, scaring people. On this particular night, however, they actually want to overrun and conquer Japan. But they need a living soul to guide them, so they kidnap a little girl, and her mother begs Usagi to rescue her. That’s how the story of Yokai came about. I wanted Usagi to go through a wide range of emotions, so there’s a lot of action, drama, and humor.

I actually had the privilege of  speaking with Stan for a few moments at an event in Austin, Texas several months before Yokai was released and his enthusiasm about the graphic novel was palpable. At that point he hadn’t decided on the story just yet and had apparently been mulling over ideas for some time, but it wasn’t difficult to discern that this was a project close to his heart and that fans would be in for a treat.

The Review: Now, having read the story I can say that the long anticipated wait was very much worth it. The pacing is brisk, the story itself is very clever (made all the more fun by a signature plot twist near the end) and the painted visuals are stunning. In fact, one of the “goodies” included at the stories conclusion is a step-by-step illustration of how an individual panel went from pencils, to inks, to painted illustration and wrapping your head around the kind of time and dedication this must have taken on this scale quickly becomes apparent. Just beautiful stuff.

While it is not the deepest of Usagi’s stories (but, boy, are there plenty of those in the multiple Eisner award-winning series!) it is certainly a fun ride and well worth pulling off the shelf over and over to revisit. And incidentally, for the long time Usagi fan, there’s even a revelation or two about Sasuke the Demon Queller, one of the more interesting supporting characters who populates Usagi’s world, that I thought added another satisfyingly rich layer to the tale, along with that touch of tragedy that so many of Usagi’s adventures are asked to carry with them. So keep an eye out for that if you’ve not already plowed through it already.

The book is beautifully bound in a small, attractive, hardback and retails at $14.95. Please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy and if you enjoyed Stan Sakai’s painted work, see if you can’t track down “Return to Adachi Plain,” another fully painted 8-page story found in The Art of Usagi Yojimbo collection that will aptly introduce you to one of the most fateful days in Usagi’s life and that will likely spur you on to collect his many adventures for years to come (one of my own all-time favorites). It’s been a fantastic ride so far and we can  look forward to much, much more to come which may the best news of all. So, here’s to 25 more years of Usagi with a hearty “thanks” to boot!

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Firefly

March 21, 2010

Despite being late (late, late) to the party, I just thought that I should probably update you folks as to the fact that I’m loving Joss Whedon’s Firefly. I’m fairly sure that’s a prerequisite of having a blog dealing with speculative fiction so I’m glad to finally have begun taking care of that…

Anyhow, I saw Serenity shortly after its release, and it was really good, but there was a lot of set-up that I wasn’t aware of so I’m finally making time to enjoy Firefly in its entirety thanks to my shiny new Blu-Ray collection. Just thought I’d let y’all know that I can now join the ranks of the brown coats out there, despite my general unworthiness in being so late aboard.

In other news, my wife and I are also really enjoying NBC’s Chuck, after finding the time to check it out. Here’s to hoping there’s much more to come!

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More on Brandon Sanderson’s Epic, The Way of Kings

March 17, 2010

It’s been really nice to have a little extra time as of late to spend reading, and thinking about speculative fiction literature again (following one of the most hectic chapters in my life thus far) and to spend some time just meandering the net in search of information on what looms on the horizon. Well, on March 16th, Sanderson provided readers a bit of perspective on his upcoming fantasy epic, The Way of Kings, including a little wisdom as to what we should and should not expect from the upcoming novels.

“KINGS is what you might call my baby, the grand epic I’ve been wanting to tell for many years. I now feel my writing skill is capable of doing the story justice.”

Some insight then, from Sanderson’s blog:

POINT ONE: This book is the start of a longer epic.
KINGS stands at 425,000 words right now. I’ll be trimming that down to (hopefully) 380–390k when I do the next draft. (Which will be the final draft.) That will put it at roughly double the length of MISTBORN or ELANTRIS. The series is called the Stormlight Archive, and Tor purchased four books from me. I’m not planning that to be the end, though I’m cautious at locking myself into a certain number of books. (Though I do have the entire series plotted, and am fairly certain I know exactly how many books it will be.) For now, let me just say that it won’t be as long as the Wheel of Time, but will be longer than anything I’ve attempted so far.

POINT TWO: It is not a replacement for the Wheel of Time.
I will be sorry to see the Wheel of Time end, just like many of you will be. It will be difficult for me on two levels, both as a fan and as a writer. I’ve been reading these books since I was fifteen. More than half of my life, now, has been spent with Rand and company. My career has been shaped by them, and several years of my life recently have been dominated by their stories.

However, I don’t intend to replace the series. I have to be my own person, approach storytelling in my own way, and write with my own voice. To intentionally set out to replace the Wheel of Time would be monumentous hubris. The Wheel of Time doesn’t need replacing. It’s still there, on our shelves, just like it’s always been. Once it’s complete, that will be (in many ways) even better. We’ll be able to read it straight through, beginning to end, without waiting.

POINT THREE: I think KINGS is one of the best books I’ve ever written.
I think the characters are incredible, the magic imaginative, the scope and history of the world impressive. I think the story is exciting, and has a depth beyond what I’ve been able to do before. I’m trying some new, exciting things for me—some nonlinear storytelling, some great internal artwork, and layers of depth to the storytelling.

POINT FOUR: However, the book is just a book.
My editor, bless his heart, compared THE WAY OF KINGS to DUNE and LORD OF THE RINGS in the catalogue copy that he wrote. He’s a wonderful man, but I cringe when any new book is compared to masterworks like those. DUNE and LotR have proven themselves over decades, passing the test of time. They had monumental influences on their respective genres.

No new novel has the right to claim such a comparison out of the gate. If you go into KINGS expecting the next LORD OF THE RINGS or DUNE, you will be disappointed. I am not Tolkien or Herbert. I am what I am—a largely unproven writer still in the early days of his career.

Early in my drafting process for this book, I fell into some traps by putting too much weight upon the future of this novel. I began to think that KINGS would be the book that would define my solo career, and I began to worry (with all of the recent eyes that have been watching me) that this book needed to be something incredibly jaw-dropping and earth-shattering, otherwise it would be a failure.

That’s a bad way to be thinking as you write a book, and probably an even worse way to be thinking as you start reading a book. The Wheel of Time didn’t start to really make its mark until book three or four; it was the same for Harry Potter. Series like this take time to build. Beyond that, you can’t go into a series with the mind-set that it needs to be a huge blockbuster to be successful.

I’m not sure what I want people to think about this book. I want them to read it, enjoy it, and say nice things about it. I want them to anticipate it and talk about it on blogs, waiting for the day it is released. But in the end, it’s just a book. Let’s not hype this thing to death.

POINT FIVE: Have I mentioned that it’s big?
I started working on THE WAY OF KINGS fifteen years ago. I wrote the first version of the book in full back in 2003. It was always planned to be big. You don’t grow up reading Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, and Melanie Rawn without wanting to do your own big epic. When I showed it to my editor back in ’03, he thought it was too ambitious to be published, at least as my second novel.

There are thirty magic systems in this world, depending on how you count them, and around six thousand years of history I’ve mapped out. There are dozens of cultures, a continent of enormous scope, and a deep, rich mythology. However, when I say things like that, you have to realize that very little of it will end up in the first book. The best fantasy epics I’ve read begin with a personal look at the characters in the early books, then have a steady expansion into epic scope.

I’ve spent many years thinking about the epic fantasy genre, what makes it work, what I love about it, and how to deal with its inherent weaknesses. And so I’m trying to make use of the form of the novel (meaning how I place chapters and which viewpoints I put where) in order to convey the scope without distracting from the main stories I wish to tell.

Anyway, I don’t jump between dozens of characters in this novel. There are three central viewpoints, with two or so primary supporting viewpoints. I intend the first book to be its own story, focused and personal. I don’t want this to be the “Wow! Thirty Magic Systems!” series. I want it to be a series about a group of characters you care about, with a lush and real world that has solid and expansive depth.

We all wrestle with hubris, and it’s a credit to Sanderson’s character that he bares his worries for all to see — where the promotion of these books are concerned — striving to keep our expectations in check, but to simultaneously expect something great if we can keep things in perspective (i.e. not expecting the next Tolkien). But as far as hype goes, it is certainly my belief that the majority of readers are able to see beyond the hyperbole and form worthwhile conclusions on their own independent of what someone else has to say, be it a cover blurb, review, or publisher’s press piece and that Sanderson probably needn’t worry about Kings own comparisons with other grand epics. It’s been done to death before and will certainly be done again and again. I’d reckon it can be deemed an honor that his turn has come. Whatever the case, based on what we know so far and on its own merit, I’m really excited for this.

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Under Heaven, Chapter One by Guy Gavriel Kay

March 17, 2010

As far as I’m concerned, this is how marketing a book is done. Penguin Group (Canada) has done an amazing job putting together a fully functional website chock full of goodies in order to promote Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest work, Under Heaven. So, please, do yourself a favor and check out all that they have to offer, from wallpapers to bookmarks, and including a number of beautiful music files by the internationally acclaimed Liu Fang featuring traditional Chinese Pipa music, an inspiration for Under Heaven in fact.

Talk about style and substance:

In his first year the lake froze, he could walk across to the isle for a few weeks. The second winter was milder and it did not freeze over. Muffled in furs then, hooded and gloved in a white, hollow stillness, seeing the puffs of his mortal breath, feeling small against the towering, hostile vastness all around, Tai took the boat out on days when waves and weather allowed. He offered the dead to the dark waters with a prayer, that they might not lie lost any longer, unconsecrated on wind-scoured ground here by Kuala Nor’s cold shore, among the wild animals and far from any home.

Under Heaven Chapter One .pdf download

Incidentally, I thought the humility of the principle character in the introductory chapter was very impressive, if I caught that sliver of insight into his character correctly. It may very well be that Tai is not a devout man, or even a good one, but I get the impression that his informing the reader of the fact, in light of the honorable work he appears to be doing and the reverence he pays his family, is more a sign of deep humility than an indication that we actually take him at his word. Thought that was rather cool in such a short introduction, alongside the haunting atmosphere as a whole that I found very refreshing in the prose.

Consider it pre-ordered.

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Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

March 16, 2010

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: MacMillan

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling…

What Drew Me to the Book: Brandon Sanderson’s name was seemingly everywhere when I started Follow That Raven and, as with several other authors whose work I began seeking out the last couple of years, I had heard almost nothing but praise for what he had been able to accomplish thus far. What’s more, all that I had uncovered about the books seemed to be the elements of a good story that would draw me in most: that the characters felt real and were relatable, that the stories were very entertaining, and full of unique world-building skills — as well as the rarer ability to create compelling magic systems that operated within prescribed boundaries with consequences attached — within those worlds.

Granted, it also didn’t hurt that he was fairly new on the scene (relatively speaking). I didn’t feel that the task of starting at the beginning of his works and working through them one by one nearly as daunting as some of the other authors I was interested in trying out and after enjoying his short story “Firstborn”, I was raring to get started on Elantris, Sanderson’s debut novel.

“Elantris was beautiful, once.”

The Review: I should say, right off the bat, that it was a privilege to be formally introduced to Sanderson’s work through this exceptional novel. Elantris, unlike some other works of fantasy & sci-fi  in recent months that have taken a little too long to gain momentum within their narratives, I was almost immediately drawn into the story thanks (or no thanks) to the tragedy that befalls one of the three chief protagonists in the story, prince Raoden of Kae, within moments of the novel’s opening sequences. As Roaden looks out his palace window, surveying the once vibrant city of Elantris that looms on the horizon, we learn of the god-like beings who once inhabited the great city following the Shaod. These were former citizens of Arelon who were (seemingly randomly) transformed into long lived god-like creatures with silvery skin, white hair, wise beyond their years and with powers to heal the sick, transform earth’s elements into food, and perform intricate magics for the benefit of themselves and others. They had been the guides and protectors of Arelon for so long, they were loved, respected, and sought out near and far for their unique gifts.

Only something happened 10 years ago.

Elantris and her inhabitants fell to a curse that left the city in ruins and the once god-like creatures to fall into a pitiful state of near-death, though unable to die in the conventional sense,  in which they resemble something much more akin to walking corpses than demigod. The power that once changed Arelon’s citizens into Elantrians with amazing abilities, now marks them with graying skin and dark splotches throughout their bodies, unable to heal themselves, and exiled within the walls of the decaying, dilapidated, city walls of the fallen city with an undying hunger and precious little food to quench their desire. Hope is gone in Elantris. That is, until Prince Raoden awakens one morning in horror to find that he too has transformed into an Elantrian, exiled to the fallen city, lost forever to the world he once knew…and the young bride to whom he was betrothed.

The novel then follows the plight (and perhaps more appropriately termed “blight”) of the former prince Raoden as he strives to survive in his new condition and surroundings, the adventures and machinations of his former bride-to-be Sarene who remains married to the prince thought dead as Arelon law dictates, and the cunning plan of a religious zealot named Hrathen who seeks to convert the city of Kae en masse before a more thorough threat from a distant land seeks extermination as a more viable option for the ‘unbelieving populace.’

Elantris is an ambitious novel from out of the gate as the story weaves seamlessly through themes of hopelessness, bigotry, oppression, politics, religion and war — yet never feels quite heavy handed as it does so, and almost always managing to entertain throughout the extended journey. Where hope could easily be abandoned at every turn, where it is expected, and at times when things seem awful bleak for everyone involved, there is always a glimmer of hope to hang on to thanks to the convictions of a handful of men and women who refuse to give in to despair. One could perhaps level the charge that such a principled world view by a few of the stories protagonists is somewhat naive and unrealistic given their situations, and at times I wondered how their actions might be received by the more cynical reader, but I was definitely buoyed up by the actions of several of the characters and if I’ve learned anything from real world history it is that good men and women are often exactly where they need to be when a hero is needed — and it is no different here.

Though always engaging, the novel really picks up at its halfway point, grabbing the reader and never letting go until the final epilogue ultimately concludes. I was on the edge of my seat as the conflict throughout the story came to a head, and I really should take a moment to praise Sanderson a little for bringing so many of the characters to life, from the main protagonists to the supporting characters, in ways that make the reader care for so many of them. For example, there is one well established character who picks up an axe near the end of the story who could easily be the main focus of a full length novel all his own, as a layer to his character is further revealed in that scene and the potential for a vivid back story is sought by the reader (certainly this reader anyway) and perhaps one day we will find out more. Additionally, the “villain” of the piece also turns out to be more than one might have initially expected and his story/perspective becomes more and more fascinating as the novel progresses. No doubt he’ll go down as one of my favorite characters in recent years and I look forward to revisiting the book again to see how later revelations cast light on his journey throughout, giving a greater insight to his actions.

The novel wrapped up nicely and as the end loomed near yesterday morning I was certainly saddened that the experience would end, which is always something of a sign of a really good book for me. Though it is worth mentioning here that one of the coolest things about this story is that Sanderson has provided his readers an awful lot of “bonus content” upon its conclusion in the form of extensive annotations, commentary, and even a bonus short story entitled “The Hope of Elantris” which can be purchased as a downloadable file for a measly .49 cents on on amazon.com, or read for an even measlier “free” price on his official website. I’ll be enthusiastically checking those out now that I’ve finished the novel and am really looking forward to the chance to dive further into the inner workings of the novel and see what else will be added to my experience with the book. Elantris was a lot of fun, and for a debut novel it was all the more impressive. So for the final verdict, definitely comes highly recommended by me.

Now, I just have to decide which Sanderson novel to tackle next. I’ve got both Warbreaker and the Mistborn trilogy patiently waiting in the wings and I’m torn as to which to start first!

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On “Characterization”

March 11, 2010

Now don’t take this as me saying I’ve got it all figured out, but it has always bothered me when I hear a writer criticized because his creations(s) lacked “characterization,” at least on the basis that (a) there wasn’t a “complex” inner dialogue (usually attributed to a character with an actual value system), that (b) the character’s decision came too easily, or (c) because the critic didn’t necessarily agree with a conclusion that was reached, etc.

I stumbled upon this quote by James Enge, author of Blood of Ambrose which I thought summed up the whole thing pretty well:

I don’t think introspection is the only or the best way to develop character. People are what they do: in John Hocking’s trenchant phrase, ‘Action is character.’

James Enge

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(New) Tron Legacy Trailer

March 9, 2010


Be sure not to miss the new trailer for Tron Legacy. Just watch your back while you do…

To say that I’m excited about this would be a huge understatement (but that’s nothing new to those of you who also grew up loving the original with your trusty Frisbee by your side).

December really can’t come soon enough.