Friday, July 18, 2014

Realm Keepers: Episode 1 review

The Breakfast Club meets Gandalf

+Garrett Robinson and Z. C. Bolger bring us this fun adventure which is the first segment in a larger story and thus gives the reader a chance to sample the work and see if they're interested in continuing on with it.

For those familiar with John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, imagine those characters being dragged to an alternate universe with magic where there are hoards of bad guys trying to kill legions of good guys... possibly because the bad guys wear black, and the good guys are all in bright gleaming armour. Maybe the brightness offends the eyes of the shadow people, I don't know. The Bad Guy seems to be evil just cuz.

It's FULL of cliches. Everything about it is cliched. But it pokes fun at its cliches with Calvin's character who figures out everything that's going on because he's read all the fantasy novels. I don't know yet if I'll continue on with the series... I might pick up the second episode to see if it starts to distinguish itself as something different, or if Gandalf - I mean Greystone - will continue to talk to them about how awesome and unique they are and tell them all about their destinies. I read a few reviews of Episode 2 and it sounds promising... switching the POV among the 6 main characters sounds like a fun idea, and seeing how Calvin was probably the funniest/most interesting of the bunch, I like the idea that he's up next for POV.
I won't get the full book yet, but I'll likely pick up Episode 2 soon.

4/5 stars

If you're interested in checking it out, this first episode is free! Check it out here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Derelict Review

I just finished reading +Lisa Cohen's science fiction book Derelict.

It is great!

As a matter of fact, I think it's the best indie book I've read, and I'm going to put it in my mental list of books I'd suggest for my kids to read when they're older.

The four main characters are well fleshed out and following their individual stories fully immersed me in their lives. Each character had problems with their parents (who doesn't at that age?), but as the story unfolds you learn more and more that puts you fully in the kids' corners.

I think the only thing I found to be somewhat unbelievable was how each of the four kids on the backwater space station was a genius at something. Ro and Jem with their programming, Barre with his music, and Micah with his botany. If there were other young people on the station, I don't remember them being mentioned, but the fact that it's a lightly populated base makes it statistically improbable that you'd have 4 kids who are undoubtedly geniuses.

That one minor point aside, the book was incredible. Just when you think things can't get worse they do. I was waiting for one other shoe to drop at the end, but it didn't play out the way I anticipated. And that was fine. I like being wrong sometimes, and by the end of the book I was more than ready for the kids to have one less obstacle in their paths!

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fast-paced, intriguing stories with no shortage of action and suspense. This was an easy 5/5.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Goodbye Facebook (again)

I've heard of two stories lately that have driven me away from Facebook. They've had a long history of ignoring people's privacy concerns, and now that they are looking to actively sell our data to advertisers, and information has come out about unethical research being done with their platform in the UK I'm moving out.

As some of you may remember, I left Facebook a long time ago for Google+ (find me here). The only reason I came back was because I wrote a book and wanted to spread the word through as many social media sites as possible. I have accounts on Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn for the same reason. I don't use any of them regularly except for Google+, where I post daily.

I've been irked with Facebook for some time now. Between having more advertisements in my stream than posts from people I know, Facebook harassing me to give them money when I have a post that does well for my writing fan page, and the "guilt trip images" that circulate like the plague there (e.g., My REAL friends will repost this..., Only 3% of people will share this..., etc.), I find the site more of a nuisance than anything.

To those who have followed my fan page there, thank you. I appreciate the support you showed me, but I'll be starting it up over on Google+.

I know my wife will be staying with Facebook because there isn't an app for Google+ on the Blackberry (If you know of one, let me know!). So if you're family, and you want to see pictures of the kids still, you can look at her stream. I never post pictures of the kids there anyway, since Facebook owns any pictures you post, and sells them to advertisers. (So does Twitter and LinkedIn, apparently... good thing I don't post anything substantial to either of those)

So, farewell Facebook.

To my friends and family who staunchly refuse to leave the NSA's/advertiser's wet-dream social media site, you have my other contact information, and I have yours. We'll keep in touch. :)

(My account will still exist - other sites that I use, such as Goodreads, use Facebook to log in. I just won't be logging into Facebook directly anymore)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Freedom to write

This has been a busy summer so far, and it might be quieting down a bit now. With both of my scientific conferences out of the way, holidays over, and things moving right along at work, I might be able to get more writing done.

That's not to say I haven't been writing. I have 20,000 words done on A Hero's Birth, and I finished writing my novella Demon Invasion. Both of those happened after my last draft of A Wizard's Gambit went out to my editor and beta readers.

I just feel like I have been slacking off a bit because I've had 2 or 3 weeks this summer where I've done no writing. I hate that feeling. Now that I'm committed to getting this trilogy done, I want to pound away at it until I'm finished. That will (hopefully) mean that the third book won't take as long to bring out as the second one is. I took quite a long break after A Noble's Quest was released, because I didn't know if people would even like it.

But after receiving kind words and wonderful reviews, I know I'm hooked on this now, so there's been no pause, other than those where I've been unable to write.

So here we are, 20,000 words into the book. Approximately 120,000 to go (rough guess based on the length of A Wizard's Gambit... it might be longer), leaving me with 40 weeks of writing if I do 3,000 per week.

I just looked at the calendar, and that brings me to April 11th, 2015: my birthday! Sounds pretty karmic to me.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Strongblade: The Game (idea)

This has been percolating in my head for months, and I want to see if it sounds interesting to anyone else.
No, this won't be done any time soon, but one day this is where I want things to go...

Yes, that's a real sword. No, it's not actually engraved with the name Strongblade. :)

Game: Strongblade


Time frame: 400 years after the Empire's Foundation trilogy

I'm planning a 4 book series (Tentatively called Strongblade Siblings) after the Empire's Foundation trilogy. It starts 400 years later, and the game would have a storyline that closely follows the books. That said, there would also be an infinite number of other directions you could go because there would be a sandbox mode that allows players all the freedom in the world. 

Character generation:

A series of several questions are asked. Rather than rolling dice, or having pre-fabricated characters, the player is asked about major life events in the course of their upbringing. Childhood memories, adolescent blunders, and finally what they have chosen to do with their lives. Each answer has an attribute attached to it, increasing that attribute if picked. There may be other perks attached to some answers as well.
The attributes are the classic d20 system stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
This system allows different players with different styles to create the character they want: You can use these questions to create your back story for role playing purposes, or you can just pick the answers that give you the stats you want.
Additionally, there will be multiple start points, and depending on the answers you choose, your character will be profiled and placed in a location that makes sense for your choices. You can wind up in one of several districts in the northern capital, Stowenguard, or in other major centres such as the traders city Chalice, the religious hub of Lanton's Hope, or Fort Croath on the northern border of the Blood Pass. Not into big city living? You might wind up in smaller towns, villages, or even druid groves, depending on your choices.

In terms of looks, I want every aspect customizable. I loved the freedom I had in Star Wars: Galaxies, back in the day, where I could alter colours and sizes of every part of my character.

All races will be available to play, but the primary race will be humans. By playing through the story and meeting new races, you will unlock those races to be playable with their own unique attribute questions, starting locations, mythos, and quests.
The way I envision it, the human character you first create is your "Hero" and can unlock many side characters, but the prophecy of heroes rising to defeat evil are relatively clear that they are human (or at least mostly human).

There is a general "character level" that requires experience points to increase. Experience is gained through questing/dungeon completion. I dislike grinding, so would not reward that aspect of the game.
When a character levels, they can find a trainer to teach them skills. Each skill has a certain point value (Level 1 skill = 1 point, Level 2 skill = 2 points) and you get points based on your level (if you level up to level 5, you get 5 points to spend).
Your character does not have a class. The skills will have prerequisites, so you can't attain level 20, and go get a top tier skill from any trainer, but you're free to dabble in whatever you want.

So if you want to create a jack-of-all-trades, you can make a character that uses heavy armour, and throws fireballs around the battle field while singing an inspiring song.

Character Classes (Hero):
There are many types of trainers for heroes. If you decide to go with a pure class and pick abilities from only one class, you will be able to pick the most powerful abilities available. However, there are other options... Hybrid (two classes blended together), Heroic (three classes blended together), or Multiple Class (pick and choose from whatever trainers). Here are the Pure classes:

Protectors wear heavy armour to take the brunt of assaults.
Aggressors use heavy weaponry in melee to bring enemies down quickly.
Hunters use ranged weapons and survival skills.
Druids (Wrathful) use nature's magic to protect their natural habitats through violent means.
Druids (Mending) use nature's magic to rejuvenate their natural habitats.
Stealth are roguish characters who sneak about and use skills to make life less dangerous.
Fast Talkers are akin to Stealth, but use their charm and wits to get out of tough situations.
Wizards bend reality with their force of will, starting out with basic force powers, and then specializing later with either Subtle or Overt magics, and further specializing in one of the four elements (Air, Water, Fire, Earth). Alternatively, they can choose to generalize. Generalized wizards have access to more spells, but aren't as powerful.

Any of those classes can mix to create a Hybrid. Depending on the Hybrid, you will either pick Abilities from both classes, or blend the abilities into new abilities that are not available to anyone else. For instance, a Bow Dancer (Hunter 1st + Protector 2nd) uses Hunter shots, and Protector defensiveness (skills more in line with dodging, rather than taking punches to the face). But the Hybrid class Archer (Hunter 1st + Aggressor 2nd) gets the blended ability Wild Shots. An Aggressor would have Wild Swings (extra attack, less chance to hit), but the Archer uses it to fire an extra arrow. Or Side Step Shoot allows the Archer to move out of melee range and fire in the same action (whereas the Aggressor would use Side Step Swing to flank the enemy in melee).

Almost all Heroic classes have blended abilities, mixing two of their three classes to make unique skills.

The negative to Hybrids and Heroics are that they drop to level 1, yet retain the same requirements to get to the next level. (For instance, if they needed 1000xp to get to level 2, then became a Hybrid, they would then need 2000xp to get to level 2 in the Hybrid class, whereas their Pure cohorts would be getting 2000xp to hit level 3). Leveling would be slow, so this could put them at a disadvantage, especially early in the game.

You can never have too many classes (Click to see larger).

Character Classes (Commoner):
I don't really feel like hunting down another dragon today, you think to yourself. Maybe you'd like to log in as a lowly commoner? Unlike Heroes, who are thrust upon the path of adventure, Commoners (Labourers, Merchants) are more settled and offer a play experience different from the hustle and bustle of slaying fiends. They start out the game with a profession, an apartment in a pre-established city (more on cities later), the necessary tools to start out, and a master to show them the ropes.
Note that Labourers and Merchants fill very different roles, but rely on each other for survival. The labourers can gather resources and use their trade skills to craft a dizzying array of items. From nails to palaces, labourers are essential for any economy. But the goods they make need to be moved, and while they could try to peddle them on their own, a Merchant with a shop can make life a lot easier, allowing the Labourer to do what they're best at. The economy is player based, so most people will want a Merchant, even if only to drop off their goods from their Hero to make space for more loot.

Big Picture:

Okay, that all sounds interesting, but what do you actually do in the game?
Well, the story line for the heroes will follow the plot line of the second series of books I'll be writing: Strongblade Siblings. They can choose to be good little adventurers, trying to fulfill the prophesy of halting evil, or they can fall off the path and do their own thing. The game is going to be wide open. There will be a strong story to follow, but it's not necessary.
What I want the world to be is a big sandbox. Want to go create your own underground fortress of darkness? Okay. Get a shovel and get to work. Want to make it a dungeon that players can try to raid for loot? Cool. You better find some stuff to populate it with. Want to create anything from a hermit's hut in the middle of the desert, right up to a sprawling metropolis with wizard police patrolling the streets and dragons to warm your bath water? Me too.
Yes, there are the pre-made cities, populated with NPC's, but you can make your own, with your own fully functional government of whatever style you want, from libertarian, to socialist. You can woo players and NPC's to come move to your city, or have children that grow to populate your city the old fashioned way. Don't like your rowdy neighbours with their pansy pegasus brigade flying around dropping rose petals everywhere? Go raid their city!
Sure, there would be premade dungeons for all levels, but the thing I've found with MMO's I've played is the reason I stick with a game is because of the community. If no one's playing, it gets boring fast. And when people get all the best gear from raids and don't want to raid anymore, the community is usually the only thing that holds them in the game. I want the community in Strongblade to be second-to-none.

Small group sizes:
Normal dungeons would be geared toward a 3 person party, and wouldn't require any particular class setup. Want to run it with three DPS characters? You can probably manage it if you're skillful enough. Of course having a balanced party would normally be advantageous, but I wouldn't want it to be necessary.
And for people who don't like playing with others, the Fast Talker set of skills is probably your best bet. You can hire NPC henchmen to fight alongside you and use your own commands to move them about the battlefield as you wish. Druids (Mending) can summon animal companions, and Wizards can summon elemental beings. Earth Wizards can even create long-lasting constructs that will act like permanent pets.  

Big group sizes:
There would be no shortage of epic conflict. The first large scale siege would be the battle at the Tower of Zakl, where the Strongblade siblings find a hidden path south and guide the northern army through it to raze the southern defenses. It is a monumental undertaking against a well-defended bastion of magical power. It is the opening move in a war in the purest sense.
What I'm envisioning is a Call to Arms feature where, when a big event is triggered, characters in the appropriate level range can be summoned to take part, and players who are too high can choose pre-fabricated, generic soldiers to control, and get a moderate reward for taking part that goes to their main Hero. Ideally the character(s) who trigger the events will lay out their strategies beforehand, and when others arrive they are assigned to groups that will have their own part to play in the battle.

Assault Zakl Tower across the plains (A), or try a surprise mountain assault (B)? Maybe both! Maybe something else.
Truly Unique:
There is one Strongblade. You want it? Go get it. You want to keep it? Good luck!
There is one Chosen of Sharrow. If you're it, Dowreth's followers will be after you. If you die, someone else will eventually take your place.
We've all played games where every top level player has the same "Legendary" items. In this game, there would be truly unique items and abilities that no one else in the game would have. Of course these items and abilities are beyond difficult to obtain. The Strongblade will be hidden in the depths of a demon-infested isle at the bottom of a dungeon designed to keep would-be heroes away. Titles, such as the Chosen of Sharrow/Dowreth/the Storm Lord require not only maximum level, but role played devotion to your god of choice. If NPC's kill you, they might just steal your stuff and become even more of a nightmare. 

Smart AI:
Tired of killing Bill while his buddies stand meters away and do nothing about it? Real strategy would be required to take on a camp of bandits where the scouts are on the move and not afraid to call for backup to face intruders. Do you send in your Stealth to take a peek while the rest of the party holds back, and hope she doesn't run into trouble on her own? Do you split up the party to draw their guards one way while your secondary group infiltrates the camp to find their goal? Do you take them in broad daylight, or wait for the cover of darkness, when your elven comrades can see better than your human enemies?
That dragon that's sleeping somewhere in the enormous cavern? Suddenly that's a serious threat if it wakes up when your bumbling kid brother kicks a coin across the floor.
If you can see it, you can bet it will see you. Some creatures will have better eyesight than you, and might plan for your arrival with tricks, traps, and magic of their own. Depending on your skills, tactics, and teamwork, fights would be different every time.

Good, bad, ugly?

That's a bare bones look at what I have in mind. I don't even know if it's all feasible at this point, but I can wait until it is.
I'm interested in your thoughts and opinions on the matter.
This project won't happen for many years, I'm sure. But if my writing does well enough, this is another dream of mine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Without Bloodshed Review

I'm starting this review with a bit of a personal story, because it's relevant to my finishing Without Bloodshed sooner than I had anticipated. If you want to skip the story and head straight for the review, head down to the line of *'s.

There we were, heading west on Highway 11/17 to Thunder Bay. With two hours left to go, we got slowed down by some jerk driving 60kph on a 90kph highway. There were 5 vehicles piled up, and we thought it was a caravan until 15 minutes in, they started to pass the first driver.

Back up to speed, I thought we were in the clear. However, every bridge in northern Ontario is under construction (due to years of neglect), so we came up to some traffic lights before one such bridge. I checked my rear view mirrors and noticed smoke pouring out of the back. There was a motel/shop that was closed down on the side of the road, so I pulled in, jumped out, and inspected the van. The smell of burning rubber assaulted my nose while the black flies attacked en masse. Despite the smell, there were no flames, so I got back in the van and told my wife the news.

There was no cell phone coverage at all, but fortunately there was a working pay phone. My wife went and called her mother collect, and she said she would get to us asap. Then she called CAA to coordinate a tow into town. The company said their closest driver was busy, but they should be able to pick us up in 1.5-2 hours.

My daughter, smelling trouble, took advantage of our weakened state and asked if she could have some snacks from the snack bin. Wanting to appease her during this unscheduled stop, we let her have whatever she wanted.

My wife's mom was first on the scene, so I unloaded the van and repacked it into hers. It's an older model, but she had anchors put in for the child seats. They didn't work perfectly, and I was worried about them getting into an accident, but it was the best we could do. Then they left me with our van, my wife's cell phone (for the address book to call them), and my e-reader.

The towing company was wrong. Their driver never showed up for me, but luckily the company knew where we were and called through to the shop. The owner came out and told me there was a call inside and I was informed that the tow truck driver was supposed to be back 1.5 hours ago and hadn't shown up. They would call CAA and figure out what to do. A while passed before the shop owner came out to let me know it would be another hour to hour and a half before someone could come get me.

So in this context, I had 4.5 hours to kill with only my e-reader for company. I slammed through the last portion of Without Bloodshed with time to spare for some solitaire.

[One of the calipers on the rear right brake seized, and upon inspection our power steering pressure hose was seeping fluid as well - just in case you're curious.]


Without Bloodshed - 4/5 stars.

+Matthew Graybosch's science fantasy is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it to anyone. The pace is quick, it's full of intrigue, the plot is complex, and Claire might just be my favourite female character of all time. I'm not sure if I should characterize her as a major minor character, or a minor major character, because the cast is quite large. There are a lot of heads you'll be in throughout the course of the story, and that can get a little confusing at points. It's interesting seeing what everyone's thinking/doing, but I think some of them might have been better left cut out to further increase tension for the reader (I found Chapter 1 killed what could have been a great surprise at the end). Furthermore, several characters go by more than one name, and they aren't simple names. I'm still not sure I can tease apart all the characters.
The one thing that made the reading experience strange was all the references to movies/music from previous decades, considering this story takes place in the 2100's. At first I thought perhaps it was a character or two who had a weird fixation with the distant past, but as more and more characters appeared to have knowledge of our own past (but apparently not our present), it felt more and more strange. Why would people have knowledge of an obscure bit of metal history, yet there is no mention of more modern day musicians? Perhaps because, ultimately, the repetitive nature of our current music industry is forgettable. Another thought hit me, and that was perhaps more modern movements were lost in Nationfall. But I couldn't come up with a reasonable answer for why that would have happened. In the end, the question remains. How many people in our current decade have a working memory of art from 100 years ago? Very few, I'd wager. Perhaps this will be answered in future books, or maybe not.
Either way, I eagerly await the next book for the masterful way Matthew Graybosch weaves the lives and plots of the characters together.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Two weeks in review

I meant to post this last week, but got really busy... so this is a two-week summary post, instead of one!

The Goodreads Giveaway is over! 

  • 764 people signed up for a chance to win 1 of 3 copies of A Noble's Quest
  • 307 people now have it marked "to read" on Goodreads. 
  • 3 lucky people down in the US will be receiving their copies soon! 
For a guy whose sales have been pretty flat, I'm ecstatic to have had such a great response! Having so many people see that the book exists is a huge marketing achievement for me, even if it doesn't necessarily lead to a big spike in sales.

A Wizard's Gambit is still out to beta readers. There have been a few hiccups, and I might need to find another one who can get through it pretty fast. We'll see.

A Hero's Birth is coming along nicely, half way through Chapter 3, and up to 12,000 words. I'm pretty much winging it at this point in time. I know there are notes somewhere on my desk, but there's also a hundred other things, and I'm pretty sure I know what I wanted to happen anyway. I can't say I'm entirely certain because my characters have been doing surprising things that I wasn't expecting. The main thrust of the story is still going where I expected... kind of. Although I had initially planned on Thomas and Sarentha to travel together at the beginning, as they did in our game sessions, Sarentha in the book has his own plans that don't involve a long trek with his lifelong friend. There's going to be some real tension between Sarentha and Thomas when next they meet, and I'm not sure when that will be resolved (if ever). I never know what these characters are going to do, or how they're going to react, until I write the scene.

If you've missed it, there are a series of YouTube videos I've created lately. Yes, a series! When I made Fancy Nancy Spectacular Spectacles, as read by Smeagol and Gollum I had no idea what kind of response I would get. I did My Mother is Mine for Mother's Day the following day, and between the two videos I now have almost 100 views! Even random people have stumbled across them and left comments, which is pretty awesome.

My cousin Rick made a request for classic Seuss, so I did Green Eggs and Ham.
This weekend I've done Where the Wild Things Are for a Google+ friend, +Michael Ireland.

And I've had more requests, too! Next up will be Yertle the Turtle, The Lorax, followed by a book from the Elephant and Piggie series (if I can find a copy... we looked in the library and didn't have any luck, so we might not be able to do that one).

Busy, busy, always busy! It's great!! Keep those requests coming! :)