Flooded Planet

Exploring the Future...until we get there

Category: Fiction

INVICTUS by Ryan Graudin

As a follow-up to my post titled Fire Sale, I offer my second update regarding those reading assignments I have handed myself. This, as a way of improving my own science fiction writing pursuits by digesting the efforts of others.

Although it is probably among the best of good writing exercises to provide in-depth critique of other writers’ yarns, I’m certain it’s one I’m no good at, and I’m probably not desirous to become so. It’s enough for me to know internally why I did or did not like a certain book. To communicate those reasons with conviction is the realm of the critic. I’m happily a hesitant stranger there.

Yet, it was undeniably me who said that we should compel ourselves as readers to be honest in our assessments of books, even to the extent of providing written justifications as to why our read was a smash hit or a big stink bomb. That said, I feel compelled to give this an honest shot.

INVICTUS by Ryan Graudin is a fast-paced, perpetually unpredictable romp through time and space aboard the book’s namesake with a claptrap crew of young over-achievers trying to “right their ship” as they also attempt to right past wrongs. As they soon discover, however, no bad deed goes unpunished forever, with more trouble never farther away than the next jump’s horizon.

While stealing valuable relics from civilizations long since perished for a greedy and dangerous black markets dealer, the crew quickly learns that their collective future will forever bump into the misdeeds of an ancient past until a surprise visitor-uninvited, and definitely unwelcome-provides the mind-bending clues they’ll need if they’re to escape a most unfortunate fate.

Everything the ship’s captain and his crew thought they knew about themselves, their past, and their mission will be turned on its head.

**

Graudin is a powerful writing talent. With great plot twists and turns, beautiful command of the written word, teenage emotions dripping off nearly every page, and imaginative settings I could envision in my head, she kept this reader mostly well-invested. She pulled me in strong with her opening scenes and I was off to the races. As I mentioned, the pace was breakneck, and probably a bit too much so for me (this coming from a guy who requires that plot move along briskly to stay interested in the story).

Better put, perhaps it wasn’t the pace so much as the details packed into that pace. And because of that ever-increasing mental burden, I felt the cantering story slowly leaving me further behind with every chapter.

I always try to imagine what a book’s tale might look like on the big screen. I threw this one up on the silver and, in my mind’s eye, it seemed to come off pretty well…until I envisioned the director attempting to translate in footage that stickiest of widgets in fiction-Time Travel. Trust me, this tale gets very involved, very quickly. Many passages required a double back by me, just to be sure I understand the intricacies of the tech.

In the end, and literally toward the very end, where I should have been exhilarated in the turn of each new page, I found myself actually a bit fatigued. Ultimately, I burned out, pulling up lame before concluding the last few pages. I’m not sure why, though I have my suspicions, and I believe the fault may be as much in my court as it is in Graudin’s.

The teenage chitchat became too tedious for this old man. And I didn’t swoon where I was probably expected to (again, I’m not the author’s target audience, so swooning at my age is just hard on the knees). Some of the later scenes-piling up on top of one another like the wardrobe-strewn time machine that served as home-away-from-home for these swashbuckling amateurs-became too bursting with emotion-filled longing for love’s first kiss. And the unknowns that were racking up, as well, began to make my head spin.

In the end, the dizziness induced by this adventurous race against time demanded that I dismount while I could still look back at all that ground I’d covered and not feel too much regret for failing to cross the finish line. The plot line was a lot to take on, and probably more than enough for me. I was disappointed to find that I was not in need of yet more INVICTUS adventure.

So yes, not so memorable characters (Eliot was by far my favorite), some interesting tidbits from history (with a particular focus on the Titanic and ancient Rome), inspired, imaginative, extremely well-thought out plot that I personally was never able to fully understand (again-Time Travel…requires suspension of disbelief through and through, and especially from someone who readily acknowledges he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed).

One problem for me might stem from the fact that I cannot properly decide if INVICTUS is primarily character-driven, or plot-driven, since it seems to possess an even measure of both. Is that a good thing? Possibly. For me, however, the author who can captivate me by hooking me, reeling me in slowly, steadily, revealing ever-deepening recesses of each character’s personality, motivations, and best-kept secrets-she’s the one I’m going to follow.

I think Graudin might have better scratched my reader’s itch had she shown me yet more of Farway, Gram, Priya, and even the bad guy, Lux. Even if this meant sacrificing an action-packed scene or two.

Then again, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m not Graudin’s target reader, and perhaps the level of personal backgrounds she afforded her story’s main actors was just about right for a target reader a third my age.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being stellar, I would rate this mostly solid read as a strong 7, and would definitely recommend it to the children’s children of friends and family.

Hard – Science Fiction

As a follow-up to my post titled Fire Sale, I offer my first update regarding those reading assignments I have handed myself. This, as a way of improving my own science fiction writing pursuits by digesting the efforts of others. I’m only somewhat pleased to relay (because I realize now that choosing so many books at one time was probably overly ambitious) that I have finished exactly one. If I’m reading, I’m not writing…a conundrum I must accept and conquer, heartburn be damned.

Carbide Tipped Pens is an anthology of seventeen short stories, collaboratively put together by Ben Bova and Eric Choi. Mr. Bova I fondly remember from his days at OMNI magazine some decades ago, and the sole reason I selected this book (name-recognition). I should include that for a young teenager longing for good reads over sometimes boring summer vacations, a subscription to OMNI, with a fresh issue arriving in the family mailbox each month, was about as magical as it gets.

After diving into one or two stories, I realized rather abruptly that I probably should have left this title on the shelf. Certainly not because of the stories, which are just fine. The problem, I’ve discovered, lies in my court. I wasn’t careful enough when selecting to realize that this one is stuffed full of “hard science fiction.” Took me no time at all to notice that I’m not a big fan.

Right now, I’m looking at the titles of all seventeen stories as they appear in the Table of Contents, trying to decide which ones best held my interest. Of those (almost 400 pages worth), perhaps only three mostly fit my reading style and interests. Of those, perhaps two were satisfying for the most part. And perhaps only one thoroughly entertained me from start to finish. The remainders proved to be difficult reading for me, not because it was uninspired writing, but because the plots left me feeling uninvested.

Not that I don’t like science as much as the next guy. I certainly do. That is, if the next guy isn’t too serious about it all, doesn’t get all hung up about the feasibility of the physics, and isn’t too bothered by dialog that, at times, feels like stilted conversations between engineers arguing over the finer points of unproven theories that are a bit beyond, if not his mental prowess, at least his reading stamina. Ignoring such indiscretions meant that only a small percentage of these shorts held enough entertainment value to keep me from scanning and skipping forward.

Short stories, more so than formats that have the luxury of time (read word count), must draw a reader in super quickly. If their whole plot only spans perhaps 20-30 pages, reader interest has to be established in the first precious paragraphs of page one.

It makes sense, then, to dwell on that very quality-“reader interest”-for just a moment. What is it that creates this thing in us, this desire, this yearning to know more? As we consume more stories over the years, we will come to know what kind of stuff draws us in quickly, then holds us in a stranglehold for the duration. We will also recognize those genres that may or may not hold us within their grasp as we do our level best to remain focused, giving the story a fair shake, so to speak.

And certainly, we will also come to know well what simply never trips our trigger, no matter how many soft fluffy cushions and delightful snacks we pile high around ourselves.

Such is probably the case for “hard science fiction” and me. Too much science, not enough fiction. It’s not likely that the hard stuff will ever become my good buddy; nor will we likely hang out together on the weekends. Just not a good fit.

The lesson I’ve learned is that reading is a journey of self-discovery, an exploration of one’s own palate, a refinement of its likes and dislikes as we invest our precious time in the experience, caring enough to acknowledge what gives us joy and satisfaction, and what does not. If something’s not clicking, don’t think of it as wasted time. Think of it as something newly realized about your own personal preferences. That’s a good thing!

If you want to throw a book against a wall, ask yourself why, then take the time to offer up a sincere answer. If you refuse to go to bed at a reasonable hour because you simply can’t put the thing down, again demand a reason. Write things down, make them stick.

In my case, I know I like action, suspense, plot twists, interesting characters, unexpected conclusions, themes that hold personal meaning for me. I won’t read something that is otherwise uninteresting simply because I’m supposed to care about the theme according to society. I’m selfish that way, and I hope you are, too. Diversity and divergence are expected. What you love I might shun. What I embrace you might reject.

So it goes.

I won’t dwell on what I didn’t like about Carbide Tipped Pens. And I won’t tell you which of these stories I liked best. I will share with you the reasons behind embracing what I did: superior character development, fast pace, lots of scene changes, interesting settings, plot twists, beautiful prose, tragedy, death, and all the rest. It’s a wonderful thing to see all the qualities of a good story done well. Nothing beats good writing. Nothing trumps a satisfying read. And if it takes sixteen so so reads to get to that one brilliant find, so be it (next time, however, I’ll be more careful in my selections).

Now go write! Or go read…something.

Conversion

It’s been a year and a half since I made any entries on this blog. A lot has happened in that time. So much change has driven me to shift gears. Flooded Planet is going to stick around, but its focus will no longer be on Climate Change. Instead, we will be talking about writing here, with a strong emphasis on Science Fiction. The motivations for such a drastic change cannot be summed up directly or intuitively.

The main reason is that, well…Climate Change has still been marching on in the year and a half that I neglectfully chose to stay away from this space. Nothing has reversed, slowed down, lessened, gotten better, eased off. No, I’m quite certain such wishes will go unanswered in my lifetime, and I’m already two-thirds of the way finished-assuming I even get to those golden years.

In the meantime, while I continue to watch the news, shake my head as I must, more concerned than ever about what’s coming our way, I’ve been writing a lot about things that have nothing to do with Climate Change. Intense efforts on a novel I started about a decade ago have resumed. Surprising to note that the source of my renewed motivation was my youngest daughter, one of my biggest fans (I will soon share with you the wonderful pain she put me through by forcing me to watch nearly the entire collection of Marvel movies together. While that doesn’t seem like an obvious tie-in to writing motivation, it’s still an important link that we must soon explore).

As I get older, the realization that unforeseen circumstances can keep us from our craft is more pressing than ever. We can be delayed, distracted, and discouraged in ways we find simply astonishing. With that in mind, should we not passionately pursue what brings the most joy to our hearts? Persistently? With a sense of urgency? I vote we say Yes.

Climate Change is being written about by the world at large, and there is little I can add that is fresh or insightful beyond the heavy-laden conversation that is already taking place. Consequently, this blog shall now devote itself to writing about the art of writing. Yeah, me, your host, G Squared (G2) hoping to share with you all the ups and downs that I’m sure to encounter soon as I put my final spit shine on that novel I mentioned and slap it up for sale on Amazon.

Let’s stay in touch!

(Time Capsule) They Aint Makin’ No More

(Fiction-originally appearing as blog post in 2007)

The demeanor was typical for a man of his age and station in life: reflective, pensive, questionably retired, combative against the resentment creeping in on all sides of his deteriorated mind.  I, the younger, always acutely aware of my elder’s longing for the better past, tried hard to suppress contrition in my responses to it, watching frail health progressively fail while listening to the incessant pinings.  I speculated with shame as to when it all might stop.  I thought of my little girl, and wondered if she, too, might eventually have to endure the same cruel abuses from her own aging parents.  Shuddering, I glanced over at Grampa.

He always loved the outdoors more than anything else in the world.  The persistent reports of environmental gloom and doom must have felt like daggers to his heart.  Small wonder he’s bitter.  There’s so much to regret—and yet I try to convince myself that there’s simply no point.  Weren’t we supposed to do better than they did?  Weren’t we?  The house he grew up in used to sit just a few hundred yards from where we now stood.

Holding out one atrophied arm so as to draw a great shaking arc with a gnarled old hand, he laid out the landscape that would hold the coming nostalgia as neatly as the driven pilings held the high-rise that was never meant to be squeezed so tightly onto the land, but, nevertheless, was.  Grampa cleared his throat.

“I can remember a time when all this was just lush green meadow,” he said matter-of-factly in that characteristic scratchy voice that accompanies advancing years.  He snorted with his big, overgrown nose, looking like a gnome calmly surveying a once grand homeland, now lost to the marauding invaders.  I waited a while longer, hoping the rest would come right on the heels of the opening rejoinder.  My expectation was in vain.  Having brought me here, his grandson, the land developer, so as to say his peace, he now turned to go.  His retreat was unhesitating.  I took this to mean that there could be little question of anything further possibly being appended.

His waddling gait picking its way toward the truck suggested that he was in a hurry to depart.  I saw him dismiss my ride with a wispy wave of one hand—the way he always swatted at flies in the summertime.  Peering at the incongruous mass of metallic gleam as it must have appeared through his eyes, I saw the truck take on the form of some hulking manufactured grazer, planted firmly on big black paws, dug in unabashedly while it tore at the last little plot of green that still existed here, trying to satisfy an insatiable hunger.  In an instant, I felt myself doing mental battle with fleeting pulses of shame.  Gas guzzling petro hog.  Western excess.  Narcissistic Capitalism.

We were on the backside of the project, just on the fringe of my latest housing development, defining the ugly landscape for as far as the eye could see.  I hadn’t ever glimpsed it from this perspective, a voyeur up here on the hillside peeping down onto the people’s rooftops.  The hill we perched on was barren and scarred, the victim of repeated visitations by heavy earthmoving equipment.  Having been violated over and over, she was now covered in that distinctive dark dried brown, bereft of trees and grass and wildlife of any sort.  I felt panic setting in.

Concerned by the careless manner in which Grampa might attempt to pull his frail body back into the cab without my assistance, I hurried to catch up to him, now irritated by the shortness of the trip, and the brevity of the explanation serving to justify the wasted gas.

I threw up my own hands in exasperation: “Well, Hell, Grampa, what did you expect?  That we should all just forever huddle close together in one small village that never aspires to anything bigger, so that the forest might grow and the flowers might bloom and the bunnies might continue to go hippity hop…and the friggin’ weeds can slither back to the outskirts of town?”

Grampa laughed so hard that he began to cough.  He passed right on by the truck, intent on making the short trek back to his apartment on foot.  I knew there’d be no stopping him.  He called to me over a small shoulder, “They aint makin’ no more of it, Johnny.  They aint makin’ no more.”

Thanks for stopping by!

G2

Living on Writer’s Block

For about the past fifteen years, I’ve been able to make my way in this world through my abilities as a writer. Since the time I was a young man, I knew that, for me, English and writing classes meant an “Easy A.” The dreaded research paper that has been a part of middle and high school curriculums since forever ago was an assignment I embraced, enjoyed, and excelled at. I was always mystified at how such easy homework could cause the excruciating writhing around and wringing of hands I saw my classmates experience, as though the idea of putting pen to paper was among the most painful requirements a teacher could command.

I imagine when the necessity of stringing words into cohesive sentences let loose of them for good, most decided it was time to get on with other pursuits. As for me, I went on to pursuit a degree in Technical Communication. Never got to see the dream all the way through to the end, but it didn’t slow me down any. Here I am, now in my 50s (how did that happen?), making a good living as a technical writer by day, writing my own blog by night, and also producing works of fiction whenever a spare moment of opportunity presents itself.

Having wanted to add the fictional component to this blog since the time I fired it up several months ago, I now feel that there is enough content posted that I can breathe a little easier. Writing for the sheer delight of it is a luxury I would gladly wish upon any writer who finds themselves shackled by the burdens and responsibilities of life, simply unable to find the time to indulge their talents. My advice would be to shrug off a few of those obligations if it means that you will then be able to engage in the activities that bring the most joy to your heart and satisfaction to your life. Otherwise, I wonder what’s the point?

Here is one of the strangest methods I use to engage my creative juices as a writer. I will doodle on a piece of paper using black ink, scribbling around, expanding out from a central area, filling in here and there until an image begins to present itself on the paper. As I continue, ideas will inevitably begin to form in my head about how I might describe, with a good story, what I see unfolding there before me. Once I have such ideas fairly firmed up in my head, I will venture over to the computer and tap out a short story that dramatically details the linear mishmash I have somewhat mindlessly managed to bring into the world. For you non-writers, that sounds just about boring, I know, but for me, it’s just too much fun.

I call these literary and visual art forms Toggle Switches. Why? Not sure. I think of the old days, when an airplane’s cabin would have been filled with a lot more toggles and switches than they probably are now, all meant to cause things to happen (or not to happen)…big things like…oh, lifting off into the clouds, for instance. The idea of being able to entertain my flights of fancy through writing I suppose has something to do with being the pilot of one’s own imagination, letting the destination be unpredictably determined based on the tilts and turns of our human creativity.

With that in mind, I’d like to describe one of these Toggle Switches. It lives over on my Etsy art shop called floodedplanet (no spaces if you’re looking for it by shop name through the Etsy website) under the Toggle Switches category on my shop’s home page. It’s called Dialing in the Driplets. It has a water-based theme, so it fits in really well with this blog of mine. You can read an excerpt as part of its description. It’s a digital PDF download and goes for the low, low price of just $1.00.

Thanks for stopping by!

G2

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