Once a month ain't so bad. . .right?

Busy as a bee being forced to build bricks without straw.  Or something.  School battereth me to my knees with a cricket bat.  Little writing, much work.  Still poking away at a Shabak novel and working on a handful of short stories.  TFR revisions continue.

I have more ideas for awesome books than I think I'll ever be able to write. . .although the three jockeying for top spot in my "Write this next" index are pretty interesting, and include one historical novel, once comic mainstream novel, and one steampunk fantasy with a working title of BUZZSAW.

James Enge's THIS CROOKED WAY is out, and I have a copy, but I won't have time to read it until winter break.  Life is bleak.

Peace out, ghosts of my neglected blog!

I walk along darksome corridors

  1. Man, it's getting dusty around here.  Did you know that dust collection and sifting used to be big business in Edwardian London?  Teams of women would get paid miniscule wages to sift through heaps of dust for things like bits of bone, glass, scrap metal, coal, and cloth, which would then be sold to everyone from soap manufacturers to paper-makers.  I learned this in the first 20 pages of a Dickens novel (OUR MUTUAL FRIEND), which I've just begun for an English class.

Anyway, as a general recap, I'm still working (slowly) on a 3rd draft of my current work-in-progress, working title THE FORKED ROAD.  My computer recently came down with a case of dysentery (or some other Gold Rush camp disease) and may or may not be totally kaput, so that's thrown a monkey wrench into my fiction writing.  Heck, the gears were already slowed by the massive quantities of class and work I have yoked to my shoulders this semester.  Still, I soldier on, and do odd bits of writing to keep myself sharp.

Rogue Blades Entertainment has posted a brief interview with yours truly, in which I wax poetic about my hero worship of Arakawa-sensei and discuss my aspiration to take the sparkle out of a few vampire sexpots.

Also, I present the full trailer to SOLOMON KANE, the upcoming film featuring the world's #1 Puritan adventurer and slayer of evil: It looks absolutely awesome from where I'm sitting.  Not necessarily a faithful adaption of the original Howard stories, but I honestly don't care--if it's a good movie, it'll be a good movie on its own terms.  And any flick about a flintlock wielding warrior fighting demonic forces in search of redemption starts off on a good foot for Sean.  Highlight: "I AM NOT YET READY FOR HELL!"

I'm sure I will end up seeing NEW MOON, too.  Then I'll see SOLOMON again to wash the flavor out of my mouth.

Actually, while I'm on the subject, here's something hilarious for those who have suffered through some portion of the TWILIGHT saga: More later, folks!



DARKBORN, by Alison Sinclair is a cool book.  I would recommend it to my friends, particular those who appreciate Victorian-styled fantasy, unique worldbuilding, or a good romance of manners and revolvers.

See?  The important stuff is at the beginning.  Other remarks follow.

For some reason, I love the Roc trade paperbacks.  Something about the paper quality and the cover stock makes them particularly comfortable in my hands.  I first discovered this with E. E. Knight's AGE OF FIRE series (also highly recommended).

So the first thing that attracted me to DARKBORN was simply its layout and feel.  The blurb hooked me next.  A world where even the thinnest sliver of light destroys our blind heroes, who go about their Victorian-flavored society purely via the other four senses, augmented by echolocation ("sonn")?  Sign me up!  Opposite our Darkborn heroes lives an entirely parallel society of Lightborn, who need constant exposure to bright lights to avoid death.  Communication between the two is limited to letters passed through specially designed cabinets and comversations through padded paper walls.

The plot centers around a conspiracy surrounding two bastard children born from an apparent magical seduction of a noblewomen.  More mysteriously, the children are gifted with sight--a trait known to the Darkborn largely by theory.  The twins vanish, and the noble doctor Balthasar who took in their mother and delivered them is battered within an inch of his life by thugs.  Together with his wife, Telmaine, who hides her gift of magic from everyone around her, and the notorious border solider Baron Ishmael di Studier, a man increasingly enamored with Telmaine, Balthasar goes about the business of unravelling the mysteries surrounding him, which increasingly point to dark magic and a conspiracy that threatens to spark war between Lightborn and Darkborn.

The worldbuilding is very cool.  Rooms are described for their aural rather than visual qualities, and the range of echolocation is limited to about a city block, giving nearly every scene a unique angle.  Some might find the lack of a single visual description off-putting, but the author does pretty well dealing with the oddness and making a smooth read.  The other aspects of worldbuilding are cool, too, from the Darkborn system of sea navigation to the use of firearms and primitive automobiles.  The writing is erudite and yet makes for easy reading, with a vocabularly appropriate to the setting.

My only real complaint is the romantic tension between Ishmael and Telmaine.  It's well-handled from a story-telling viewpoint, but in addition to adulterious affection being Not Cool, I simply liked Balthasar too much to enjoy seeing him come within even remote proximity of being cockculded.  Telmaine continues to love her husband, but the love triangle between the three of them is left as an unresolved conflict for future books.  DARKBORN is the first volume of a trilogy, to be continued next May, I think.


Shoulder to the plow

Well, I've made the first inroads on the third draft of my big novel project (working title: THE FORKED ROAD.  Need something spicier).  It's a space opera with no space, shading into sword and planet. . .which would make it a planet opera, I suppose.  I'm also about 15,000 words into my attempt at a Shabak novel.  For those tuning in late, Shabak is the brave kabrisk featured in RAGE OF THE BEHEMOTH.

Speaking of that most awesome anthology, its been reviewed again, this time at heroic fantasy journal THE CIMMERIAN.  Here's what Deuce Richardson had to say about "Black Water":

“Black Water,” by Sean T.M. Stiennon is a tale I wasn’t sure I would like initially. The protagonist, Shabak, is a kabrisk, a member of a race of “Ancients” who ruled the seas before the advent of mankind. To put it bluntly, Shabak is a “crab man.” He is also the foster-father of a human boy. The boy, Drace, is the biological son of Valedarius, who was a mortal enemy of Shabak. The story is one involving the sins of fathers past and the sacrifices of foster-fathers present. The eponymous monster in this tale has ample reason for his vendetta; sort of a crustaceanoid
Roy Batty, in his tentacular, pincered way. For me, the battle that ensues between Black Water and Shabak evoked positive comparisons with the climactic show-down in “Xuthal of the Dusk.”

Slightly more mixed than other remarks, but I'll take it with a smile.


Nothing wrong a little dusting won't fix

I'm not dead yet!

I just moved into a new lair.  Conveniently located right next to my old one, which made moving a cinch, despite my rather large stash of books.  I'm currently laying down creep and spawning Sunken Colonies for defense while I upgrade my Hive.

In other news, I saw Miyazaki Hayao's latest film, PONYO.  Brilliant and wonderfully animated (as if I expected any less), with Miyazaki's trademark ability of making both the magical and the mundane extraordinary.  It veers more towards MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO than  PRINCESS MONONOKE, which is by no means a bad thing--the world can never have enough great childrens' movies.  Miyazaki's inability to retire once again yields rich fruit.  I particularly like how the adults take to magical goings-on with as much ease as the children, so we don't have half a movie devoted to tedious crap like "Son, you have a big imagination, but those are only fairy stories", or the oft-used "hide the supernatural being from the parents" plot.

I also appreciated a shout-out to my old friend ramen.  We still have many good times ahead of us before I graduate at last.

Moving is a strange experience for me.  I consider myself a man who is closely tied to home, particularly my own room, and my surroundings seem to form some critical lynchpin to my mental health.  I'm at ease when I'm surrounded by familiar books and posters, at ease in a familiar chair, with my familiar bed and bedspread ready to engulf me in sleep.  Which must mean I'm a homebody.

I wonder how this would play out if I ever get over to Japan for a significant length of time.  Only time will tell, and I am no prognosticator.

One more year of college, then graduation.  I'm shaking in my boots already.

Peace, all!


Ragin' Pagin'

I've been a bit remiss in trumpeting this, but RAGE OF THE BEHEMOTH is currently in print and shipping from Rogue Blades Entertainment.  I haven't gotten too far in the book myself, for which I blame my summer classes as well as work, but what I've read so far I've liked. . .including my own tale, which John O'Neill of Black Gate calls his favorite in the anthology.  High praise, coming from him!

What's more, Jason is running a truly excellent Get Out the Word promotion which, with only a little effort from your fingers, could net you a copy of RAGE for little more than shipping fees.

Act now, for soon you will be bored!


Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior

Recently, I caved in and joined millions of other Americans in rejecting the tyranny of Blockbuster and DVD stores alike.  I purchased a Netflix subscription, opting for the crystal angel who offers three discs at a time.  For the record, I just made a reference exactly one other person in the entire world will get.  You can thank me later.

(Courtesy of Johne Cook, here's an article about Netflix warehouses that makes the whole enterprise sound almost sinister, like a secret society)

Anyway, that's a lead-in to today's TOTALLY SW33T MOVIE REVIEW (TSMR), featuring ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR.

I enjoy kung-fu movies.  The main appeal stems, not from the plot, the characters, or any such externalities, but from the charisma and skill of the lead man, his stunt doubles, and occasionally the cineamatographer or set designer.  The story is a mere balsa-wood framework on which to drape action sequence upon action sequence before kung-fu chopping the whole assemblage to splinters.  There are occasional exceptions--Jet Li's FEARLESS actually has a very cool story of personal redemption and the true purpose of martial arts.  But by and large, the plot and characters are simply to provide the impetus for fists to fly and bones to break.

By that measuring rod, ONG BAK succeeds gloriously.  Our star, known in the West as Tony Jaa, is a fairly recent star to emerge from Thailand cinema, specializing in Muay Thai and Tae Kwan Do.  In ONG BAK he plays a naive country boy who hits the dark streets of the city (exactly which city I didn't catch) in his quest to recover the stolen head of his village's buddha.  His rural innocence--and his honorable use of Muay Thai--are placed in contrast to the gangland hit men and pit brawlers who fight for money and animal satisfaction.  So it actually scores a few thematic points.

The movie takes a while to build up to our hero unleashing his Muay Thai--he takes down his first opponent with a single quick move that involves him manuevering his knee to his opponent's head level in one graceful stroke.  Then we get a fantastic acrobatic sequence where he evades a crew of petty street thugs by leaping over cars, compacting his body to dive through a ring of barbed while, and cartwheeling between sheets of plate glass--call it Thai-style parkour.

The full power of Muay Thai is only unleashed when, in three consecutive fights, our hero dispatches a series of thugs whose fighting styles couldn't be more different (and I now know what a mainland Asian stereotype of a Japanese looks like).  His opponents include an Australian dude whose entire martial art seems to involve breaking tables over his adversary's head, tossing plates, and using refridgerators like battering rams.

To those used to the usual kung fu (as I was), this flick's Muay Thai is a cool novelty.  I'm not martial arts scholar, but I was stuck particularly by the heavy use of knee and elbow strikes (including some very painful skull bashes).  In addition, Tony Jaa eschews wires and stunt doubles--everything you see him do, he's actually doing, in the style of Jackie Chan's glory days.

As for the rest, the comic relief manages not to be overly obnoxious, Tony Jaa's hero is sufficiently likable to carry the film, and the martial arts are varied enough to ensure you won't be bored.  Recommended to anyone who appreciates a good kung-fu battle.  Watch it with friends, ooh and aah, laugh and cheer throughout.

(To Radical Cousin Matt: If I ever come out to Washington, we're watching this one together)


Highway to Heck

I hate travel.  That is to say, I like arriving and staying at cool places, but I tend to hate the process of actually moving from point A to point B.  Good companions and good food lessen the pain, but driving across country isn't my first pick for activity on a Sunday afternoon (or any afternoon, for that matter).

Part of it is that the highways always seem to slice out a cross-section of the world with a higher-than-normal concentration of ugliness and materialism.  A good example is the western entrance to Milwaukee, which crawls through a sprawling slum of old factories with yellow, smashed in windows.  Then there's the "Adult" Superstores and beer billboards and a steady flow of gas stations and McDs.  The dominant ethos is mechanical, fuel in and fuel out.  Casinos and Bacardi rum are trumpeted as the greatest joys in life.

On my recent four hour drive from Door County to Madison, passing through Wisconsin's patchwork of small towns and farmland under a steady drizzle, I got to philosophizing.  Thinking about what really gives human life value, meaning, and happiness, because as much as consumer goods and cheap food have improved quality of life and contentment, there must be more than Big n' Tasties and late-night comedies.

The usual answers came to me, and they're absolutely still true: God, family, friends, beauty.  But I also hit on one that's a bit novel for my thought: Creativity.  It seems to me that creativity--making something in addition to consuming and purchasing things--is good for the soul, whether it be simple sewing projects or writing Great American Novels (I do neither).  Or, heck, I'd qualify making AMVs or filk songs or even writing fanfic as creative endeavors.

Tolkien had the idea that, since humans are made in the image and likeness of a creator God, creation--more accurately, "sub-creation"--is an essential part of the human nature.  We have an inborn urge to think, to craft, to unite our hands, minds, and hearts in making something beautiful or useful from rawer elements.  Tolkien used sub-creation largely in reference to fantasy literature, but I think it applies to nearly any craft, from carpentry to opera composition.

Via craft and creativity, men no longer become passive creatures alternating between a minimum wage job and shopping runs to Wal-mart, or a gilded management job and shopping runs to. . .I don't know, Pottery Barn?  They become agents, actors, complete beings.  They reject conformity and bland sameness through creativity and the search for simple beauty in ordinary things.  A hand-crafted and hand carved desk beats sawdust composite furniture any day.

It's like this: My aunt and Trader Joe are mad tight.  Last time I saw her she was wearing a pair of earrings which one of the store employees had given her, crafted from laminated pieces of an old Trader J's gift card.  They were branded, but also hand-made and thoughtful--which made them awesome.  I'm no green-freak, or any foe of Wal-Mart and McD's (I actually enjoy a good clown-meal, oddly enough).  I just think creativity and craft even in small thing, or in a tiny area of life, helps seperate the men from the monkeys.

Man, this bloog is getting thoughtful.  Summer, what have you done to me?

Worlds too near

(DISCLAIMER: This post is odd and philosophical.  Be warned.)

The other night, in a warm summer twilight, I wandered a few blocks south of my student flat right near the UW football stadium, clad in a Team Rocket shirt with a gray fedora on my head. Despite having spent about 11 months in this apartment, I haven't spent much time walking around the neighborhood--my feet tend to carry me east, towards campus, classes, work, and the shops and restaurants of State Street.

It's an odd neighborhood to say the least. Old University Ave. is mostly bordered by student housing of various types, mostly contained in vintage brick buildings (with a few newer blocks of flats). Upstream, to the west, it fades into more traditional apartment blocks, with a few exotic restaurants (a sushi parlor, an Arabic restaurant, and Lombardi's, which is apparently one of Madison's classier establishments). There's also an Open Pantry, which I tend to raid for milk, Mountain Dew, and Pop Tarts.

North of my apartment, across a bridge spanning University, is the west end of campus, containing the agricultural and medical buildings.

So, out of possible exits North, East, West, and South, I chose South. South is by far the most intriguing.

I'd describe it as "Old Madison"--part of the city's hundred year-old core. The trees are tall and dark, the houses big and expensive, the alleys narrow and the flowers lush in overgrown beds. Almost every house has something particularly beautiful about it--I spotted one which looked like a Chinese city mansion, another that had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as what looked like a triple or quadruple split level, with clean right angles and balconies to spare. Another was a four-story mountain of red brick overlooking a tangle jungle of flowers, vines, vegetable gardens, and shading trees, with tall, etched glass windows pouring golden light. Place even had a round tower.

My single favorite dwelling spotted on this excursion would have to be one I found perched at the summit of one of Madison's many hills. The place's yard was essentially held in place by a wall of rough concrete painted creamy-white, and the entrance was a gate set low in the wall, with flights of steps leading up from a kind of gatehouse entryway to a veranda that apparently encircled the house behind a sculpted railing. The house itself had, again, a generous border of flowered garden and at least three stories of sweeping white wood and stone. It looked like the sort of mansion which might serve as a backdrop to The Barber of Seville.

The most feature which really struck me was a pair of glass double doors, open to the night, that opened onto a round balcony of the sort that Romeo usually howls under. I almost wanted to fetch a lute and lie in wait for some beauty to venture onto it. Too bad I can neither play lute nor sing particularly well. In these un-romantic times, I'd probably also get arrested for trespassing, home intrusion, or stalking.

Continuing my twilight adventure, I passed by a classy looking lawn party with a live jazz band and varicolored garden lights. Liquor gleamed in glasses as a shady student in dark clothing drifted past, a campus vagabond passing like a shadow through their wealthy world.

These people live barely ten minutes from campus, where cheap beer and Halo are the drink and entertainment of choice, and yet their lives and homes are a world removed. Truly, the gulfs separating people reach far deeper than physical distance alone could explain. The contrast between the two environments--the rush of campus and the shady, sweeping avenues of this upscale neighborhood--left me feeling oddly displaced, as if I had stepped into some completely different sphere of existence.

If my eccentricity can be tolerated, I might muse more deeply on this subject in the future. . .but, for now, I leave you with this post. Think of it as a travelogue in brief.

Wonderful indeed

"Awesome" is an overused word.  It used to be a forty-gun frigate of a word, the sort a man would utter in breathless astonishment as he watched Krakatoa erupt or beheld the first nuclear detonation at Bikini Atoll.  Now everything is awesome.  Either everything has gotten cooler since Krakatoa (possible), or "awesome" is the victim of word cheapening.  Like cool before it, although I personally prefer cool--it's nicely laid back.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about anything awesome.  Today's topic is simply wonderful.

Jimmy Stewart on IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

(Thanks to Overlord Johne for the link!)

A couple posts ago I mentioned a handful of movies I love enough that I don't really get sick of watching them.  IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE  has a slot on that list.

It's been called goopy and overly sentimental, and perhaps it is.  But I don't find any of that sentiment contrived or artificial.  You know what, I probably shouldn't wax poetic about how much I love it--I'd risk straying into the goop myself.  So I'll keep my remarks brief.

Life is disappointing.  If you disagree. . .lucky you!  E-mail me with winning lottery numbers.  But for the rest of us, life contains plenty of unfulfilled dreams, failed aspirations, plans that go awry, and endeavors which seem to reap nothing but weeds.  I'm not saying I live a life half as good as George Bailey's, but sometimes it's nice to reflect that a humble life, lived well and with courage, can do as much good or more as the heroic lives which get noticed and glorified.  To reflect that God is watching over us even in despair and disappointment, guiding us to the place we need to be.  Like George Bailey working a ramshackle building & loan and having a bunch of kids who, occasionally, get on his nerves, rather than traveling the world and collecting his personal harem.

It's a tribute to humility, to the men who keep the world moving by simple acts of kindness that might never be recognized or acknowledged in any visible fashion.  It delves into crushing despair, the kind which builds up over a lifetime, and manages to bring hope out of it.

Peace, all!